As Jim Boeheim began his “This Is It” tour through the Big East this week he obviously felt sentimental about the league he helped mold into a basketball powerhouse.
Syracuse University decided to leave for the ACC two years ago and in hindsight it was a good move considering Louisville and Notre Dame - in all sports but football - decided to bolt as well. That doesn’t mean the move is any less painful for the longtime Orange coach.
“I’ve been coming here for 34 years,” Boeheim told the Fayetteville Observer prior to the Orange’s game this week at Providence. “That’s a lot of history. Every one of these games is a little bit of sadness for me.”
Those of us who enjoyed watching the Big East in the early ‘80s know exactly where Boeheim is coming from. ESPN still featured tractor pulling before the Big East arrived and loaded the fledgling network with the likes of Pearl Washington bouncing around the Carrier Dome, John Thompson and Hoya Paranoia, and the feathery touch of St. John’s Chris Mullin.
We watched Rick Pitino and P.J. Carlesimo take rag-tag teams at Providence and Seton Hall to the Final Four. Rollie Massimino recently recorded his 700th victory, but none was bigger than April 1, 1985 when his Villanova Wildcats slayed Georgetown for the NCAA title. Lute Olson built Arizona from scratch, but Jim Calhoun’s nothing-into-something project at Connecticut is more impressive.
Since 1984 only one league - the ACC - has claimed more national titles than the Big East. Sadly, football ruined ex-commissioner Dave Gavitt’s baby.
“It’s Houston and SMU and you can’t even name all the teams that are going to be there and when they’re going to be there,” Boeheim said. “It’s not the same. The ACC is a very stable league, I think -- knock on wood, knock on some president’s head. We hope it’s stable. But who knows? Nothing’s really stable.”
While the Big East is passe, the Atlantic 10 is on the rise thanks to newcomers Butler and VCU. Saint Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli said both schools have forced the A-10 to up the ante across the board.
“They challenge everybody on their campus to do their jobs better, to promote better, sell more tickets, schedule in the future, recruit, coach your team better, run your administration better,” Martelli said. “Neither one of those teams came in here to finish fifth in the league. They came in here to win the league and to win the league you have to be the best at everything and clear indications are that’s what they are doing.”
There weren’t any glaring omissions from the Wooden Award Midseason Top 25 but at least two players - Indiana’s Victor Oladipo and UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad - should have received consideration.
The knock on Oladipo in the past was that he was only a defender but he’s shooting 67.2 percent from the floor - a higher percentage than teammate Cody Zeller - and averages 13.3 points a game. He hasn’t ignored his defensive duties and guards the opponents’ top perimeter player.
Muhammad started slowly after missing three games because of NCAA issues and played his way back into shape. But during the Bruins’ current eight-game winning streak, he’s averaging 20.1 points while shooting 47.1 percent for the season.
Another player worth noting is Gonzaga’s Kelly Olynyk, who has put together back-to-back 30-point games.
The last time North Carolina was 0-2 in ACC play - in 2008-09 - the Tar Heels went on to win the national championship in convincing fashion over Michigan State. But this year’s team isn’t drawing any comparisons to the ‘09 champions - four-time All-American Tyler Hansbrough was the star - and it wouldn’t be shocking if it dropped to 0-3 after today’s game at Florida State.
The problem is in the backcourt with freshman Marcus Paige at the controls. There’s little doubt Paige will eventually run the offense with poise, but the Heels need him to play with more consistency (12-for-37 shooting the last five games) and limit his turnovers.
Just when we thought Tubby Smith had lost his touch - Minnesota was 38-65 in the Big 10 in the previous five seasons under Smith - the Gophers strong-armed Illinois on the road Thursday, 84-67, to move up to 3-0 in the league and 15-1 overall. All of a sudden Minnesota - with wins over Michigan State, Northwestern and Illinois - resides in the same building as Indiana and Michigan in the race to the Big 10 penthouse.
Minnesota’s next test comes today at noon against the fifth-ranked Hoosiers (14-1, 2-0) today at noon (Big Ten Network).
Pat Skerry won’t win national coach of the year, but he deserves some praise for the job he’s doing at Towson.
A year after the Tigers finished a dreadful 1-31, the Tigers are 8-8 overall and sit atop the Colonial Athletic Association at 3-0 with a four-game win streak heading into today’s game against Northeastern. Towson went 395 days without a victory before defeating UNC-Wilmington last season to break a Division I record 41-game losing streak.
Some people had Manhattan as a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference darkhorse (blush). The Jaspers prospects could change now that coach Steve Masiello is considering redshirting star guard George Beamon, who has missed most of the season with an ankle injury. Manhattan will be young next season and Beamon’s return - as well as Rhamel Brown and Michael Alvarado - would be a nice boost.