Wrapped up in this maniacal time we call March Madness, it would be foolish to forget spring is also awards season, a spectacle of subjectivity in a month already saturated with speculation.
The Insider presents its nominations for Division I Coach of the Year. All are worthy, one will win. Stay tuned, blah, blah, blah.
1. Ronnie Arrow (South Alabama): Outside Auburn’s Charles Barkley, this state is supposed to be about football. So it may seem odd to the rest of us how this tiny school in Mobile has been to the NCAA tournament seven times in its 39-year history, and it’s about to earn trip No. 8 with a 23-win season to date. If the Jaguars win the Sun Belt Conference tournament they’ll earn their second automatic bid in three years, and the second-year coach will get votes.
2. Keno Davis (Drake): The history is staggering, and not for good reasons. The Des Moines, Iowa, school’s program began in 1907, went to its first postseason tournament of any kind in 1964. The Bulldogs went to three NCAA tournament appearances from 1968-1971, and haven’t been anywhere close since. The Tigers won the Missouri Valley Conference regular-season title, and an RPI of 15 with four wins against the top 50 means they may get an at-large bid regardless. One other nugget: Davis’ team was picked ninth in the MVC (sound familiar, Arizona State?), probably because they start two walk-ons.
3. Scott Drew (Baylor): Probably the best pure story of the season, since (for some reason) Drew took over a program on the death penalty balance beam (a program probably saved by the school’s own self-punishment) following the murder of player Patrick Dennehy in 2003 and subsequent cover-up by former coach Dave Bliss. They’ve played without postseason, with seven scholarship players and recruiting restrictions for most of the past five years. Yet Drew found a way to find players willing to play when there was nothing to play for in Waco.
4. Matt Painter (Purdue): You have to go down to the sixth-leading scorer on the team (Nemanja Calasan) before to find an upperclassmen. Purdue has allowed 70 points twice since New Year’s. Nobody averages 13 points or six rebounds per game. Purdue’s won 16 of 18 games heading into Tuesday night’s tilt with Ohio State, and have a chance at the first regular-season championship since 1996. Not bad for a third-year coach following his former coach in the legendary Gene Keady.
5. Herb Sendek (Arizona State): Why not a second consecutive Coach of the Year from the Pac-10 (Washington State’s Tony Bennett won last season)? Already the front-runner for Pac-10 Coach of the Year next week (not that he’s wondering or worried about it), Sendek and the Sun Devils were picked ninth in the Pac-10 and instead are about to become the fifth team in 29 seasons of Pac-10 basketball to go from last place to .500 in one season. Featuring a regular rotation of four freshman and two sophomores. A good way to tell his methods are working: The Sun Devils snapped a five-game losing streak with a two-game winning streak midseason, and in the past month his team has suffered painful losses (at Washington State and home to UCLA) and come back to win gotta-have-it games 30 hours later.
And the winner is ...
Who knows, but this young-un’s gut says it’s going to come down to Keno Davis and Scott Drew, who took over an absolute debacle at Baylor, and that’s being generous. Sendek takes third place.
Give the edge to Davis, since “Keno” is a great first name, it’s his first year replacing his father, the Bulldogs hadn’t finished better than .500 in the MVC since 1986, which is why no existing radar was built wide enough for Drake to appear.
He won’t play football if Charlie Weis ever calls, but at 6-foot-8, 250 pounds, sophomore Luke Harangody can do almost anything these days.
The kid who described himself as having no chance of ever leaving the bench in his career, chewed out teammates for giggling after a loss this season. He cut his body fat percentage in half from a year ago, and now leads the Big East in scoring (20.5 per game) and is second in rebounding (10.5 per game). This year, Harangody, Michael Beasley (Kansas State) and Tyler Hansbrough (North Carolina) have a chance to become three of five players from BCS conferences in the past decade to average 22 points and 11 rebounds in conference play.
You have to go a little beyond the 6-8 Atlantic 10 record to see why Dayton is in contention for the tournament. The Flyers (18-9) are No. 38 in the RPI, with their only nonconference loss to George Mason in mid-November. They subsequently beat Louisville, Pittsburgh, Miami (Ohio) and Rhode Island, and narrowly lost to Xavier two weeks ago after being blown out by the Musketeers in January. The Flyers, who have been through significant injuries, need to sweep lowly St. Bonaventure and a solid St. Joseph squad to finish the conference season, then win a conference tournament game to be safe.
Stanford at UCLA, 9 p.m. Thursday. Why the ESPN wonks haven’t picked up this game for TV is beyond comprehension to this Insider, especially since their game plan is No. 18 Michigan State against mediocre Illinois, and No. 14 Connecticut against a bad Providence team. If UCLA wins, the Pac-10 regular season title is officially the Bruins’ for the third consecutive season. If Stanford wins, the two schools would be tied for first with the Cardinal left to play at USC and the Bruins hosting Cal on Saturday.
“Nobody wants to go to the NIT. It’s like the champion of the losers if you win that.”
Florida freshman, whose Gators are defending national champions but lost almost everyone of substance to graduation or the NBA, and are barely hanging on to the NCAA tournament bubble.
Our top seeds: North Carolina (27-2), Tennessee (25-3), Memphis (28-1), UCLA (25-3)