From the top of the bracket to the bottom of the bubble watch, we break down the final push for placement into the 68-team men’s March Madness tournament.
If you’re going to find a Cinderella heading into March Madness, then you’ll need to find a program with a head coach wielding the magic wand capable of transforming a pumpkin into a runaway carriage. Butler’s .500 pace this season without Brad Stevens proves just how much of a difference one coach make. The SMU’s Mustang wagon has enough horsepower under its hood to turn buzz into March magic thanks to Larry Brown, who often shows up to programs in need.
Joe Glass is the Jimmy Sexton of NBA coaches. He’s also Brown’s travel agent. Brown has coached 14 teams in 39 years.
Brown is an unofficial UPS deliveryman delivering wins to moribund programs and franchises. Smooth waters on extravagant yachts bore Brown. He’d rather chase the Moby Dick in a rickety sailboat into the eye of a storm.
Thirty years ago, Sports Illustrated scribe Gary Smith pondered whether Kansas would be Larry Brown’s final stop. Let that marinate for a moment. Thirty years ago, Brown had already established himself as a gallivanting nomad coach experiencing chronic wanderlust. Kansas was the fifth head coaching job he’d held down in 20 years and he lasted at his first collegiate coaching gig with Davidson College for all of 84 days.
The question seems almost as laughable now as calling the Internet a fad or the Hornets trading Chris Paul to the Lakers. I was surprised after Brown’s hiring that he was allowed to disappear off the map.
Brown quickly whipped a 13-16 pile of onions into a 22-10 group of Rock, Chalk, Jayhawks.
That same season, the infamous Dave Bliss’ SMU Mustangs ascended all the way to No. 2 in the top-25 rankings.
It’s a shock to think he played at North Carolina for four years instead of transferring after every semester. In his five-year ABA playing career, Brown played for five different teams.
Brown usually rubs people the wrong way during his quick exits and even though SMU hasn’t reached that fork in the road—yet, he was as blunt as ever when he took the SMU job in April of 2012.
Days after settling into his new digs, Brown decided not to renew the scholarships of four players including starting point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas. It was a somewhat prickly beginning for Brown, who allegedly told Samarrippas that he "wasn't good enough to play for him."
A quick browse through SMU’s roster indicates that this is already Brown’s type of team. None of the Mustang’s top-seven scorers were eligible to play college hoops last season. I’ve never seen a roster quite like the team of basketball journeyman who’ve linked up in Dallas-Fort Worth.
Their top-four scorers are all transfers from other D-1 programs and the other three are freshman.
Starting point guard and leading scorer Nic Moore transferred from Illinois State in 2012.
Starting power forward Markus Kennedy is a sophomore transfer from Villanova.
Rim defending center Yanick Moreira is a 2013 JUCO transfer
Senior two-guard Nick Russell transferred from Kansas State before Larry Brown's hiring in 2012 and played last season.
Shawne Williams left Texas after collecting splinters during his freshman season with the Longhorns.
Swingmen Ben Moore and Keith Frazier are both freshman. Frazier was a McDonalds All-American.
Larry Brown and a rotation consisting of carpetbagging transfers is fitting. It almost sounds like Brown, who nearly transferred to St. Johns or NYU, is living vicariously through his players.
However, his second season has produced the fruits of his labor. On Saturday, the Mustangs mollywhopped the American Athletic Conference’s pacesetting Cininnati Bearcats during Moody Madness.
Next season, SMU’s annual Moody Madness could take on a more significant meaning when Emmanuel Mudiay, the Class of 2014’s top point guard steps on campus.
Brown is the only coach to win both an NCAA title and an NBA championship. If he’d stuck with one NBA franchise, he could have worn as many rings as Gregg Popovich and if he’d hitched his career to Kansas or UNC in the 80s, Coach K and Jim Boeheim would be chasing him for first all-time in career wins. When we discuss the best coaches currently roaming the sidelines, we tend to get distracted by championships and wins, but Brown is an outlier.
“I look in the mirror, I know I’m 73, but in my heart I don’t feel that way,” Brown told the New York Post in advance of Thursday night’s snowed-out game at Rutgers. “I want to coach because I love it. I don’t want to sound hokey, but when you play for Frank McGuire, Dean Smith and Pete Newell — they taught me a lot — I want to share what they taught me with a lot of people. I don’t want to stop doing this.”
The oldest Division I coach in America seems to find more value in spreading his knowledge across the land than hoarding trophies. Nobody expects the Mustangs to replicate Danny and the Miracles' championship–except the individuals on his staff and roster.
“Our goal is to win a national championship, which might have sounded crazy a couple of months ago," Cannen Cunningham said after their 21-point pummeling of No. 7 Cincinnati. “We’ve seen the bottom. We’re trying to get to the top. I think we can do it.”
The win vaulted them to No. 23 in the nation, but they've also got victories over ranked UConn and Memphis on their resume. Last month, he compared SMU to the early days of John Thompson II's reign in DC before he turned the Hoyas into an elite program.
“I look at what he did at Georgetown and thought [sic] I know I am not John Thompson, I see there’s potential for the same thing here,” Brown said to the New York Post. “We’ve got a good city. It’s a fine school in an improving (conference). There’s a lot of talent in the area.”
Among all the mid-major programs curled up inside the comfrotable confines of the Top-25, there's no potential Cinderella that has a coach who compares to Larry Brown.If anybody can compel his team to conjure u a little March magic, that's your guy.
CLIMBING THE LADDER – Coaching Hot Seats Power Rankings
Brown’s wandering eyes always seem to moving at the speed of light. Now that SMU is cruising over the obstacles that have typically hindered their program’s ascendance into the Top-25 and are now rising up the rankings for the first time since the aforementioned 84-85 season, the first question we should be asking is ‘what’s next for Larry Brown’? This week, we’ll do the legwork for Joe Glass and list the top five jobs that Brown’s agent will be keeping him updated on the status of. (Fortunately, for SMU Brown's son L.J. is a freshman at SMU.)
Sidenote: Doug McDermott is still running away with player of the year.
1. Travis Ford, Oklahoma State – Just one Tourney appearance in six years doesn’t bode well for Ford. Smart’s little shoving contest only illuminated Ford’s shortcomings.
2. John Thompson III, Georgetown – His father may be a coaching legend, but JT3’s seat on the bench is toasty enough to keep him warm during this snowy winter. Too warm. His Princeton offense has never really caught on in D.C, but worst of all, the Hoyas are about to miss the NCAA Tournament, which may or may not be a bad thing for Thompson IIII because when they do participate in the Big Dance, they usually end up getting served by some hungry, lower seed. He's not old enough to construct his own Georgetown. So why not revive the actual program he's modeling his current program after?
3. Steve Lavin, St. Johns – Despite St. Johns’ recent upward trajectory, the Johnnies are still on the bubble. Brown nearly transferred to St. Johns after Frank Maguire left UNC for the NBA’s Philadelphia Warriors, so it would be the perfect opportunity for Brown’s second chance to end his career in Madison Square Garden with a basketball program that’s not as fundamentally flawed from the top down as the New York Knicks. It was also the program Maguire began his coaching career with.
4. James Dickey, Houston – One of the more intriguing openings for Brown could be Houston within his own conference. It’s a program that has an illustrious history. If anyone could be the sherpa to lead Houston back to its peak, Brown is the man.
5. Tom Izzo, Michigan State – Technically, this isn’t a hot seat, but the Detroit Pistons are readying to put the full-court pressure on Izzo to become their head coach next season. If it does open up, there is no more attractive job than this one. On the other hand, is frigid Lansing, Michigan, an optimal destination for a 73-year-old? Probably not. However, it’s worth keeping an eye on.
GAME RECOGNIZE GAME
No. 3 Florida at No. 14 Kentucky
Florida and Kentucky should be bigger rivals than they are. These are the top two programs in the Downey SoftEastern Conference, yet it doesn’t feel like it has the same degree of intensity as a clash between other perennial national championship contenders or even tilts Duke between Syracuse. Kentucky brings star power and an NBA Draft Lottery machine to the hardwood, while Florida operates as a four-year foster home for lesser regarded recruits that swarm to the ball on defense like bees to honey.
VCU at No. 12 Saint Louis
A win for Saint Louis Saturday would effectively lock up their regular season A-10 title. However, it’s been difficult to get a read on the Billikens thus far this season. They’ve only played two surefire tournament teams and they lost both matchups. VCU’s HAVOC attack is one of college basketball’s most renowned defenses because they force turnovers and allows the Rams to race out in transition, but Saint Louis’ dull man-to-man is third-nationally in defensive efficiency. VCU thrives on turnovers. Don’t feed them turnovers and the Rams offense will starve. Saint Louis swept VCU last season because they don’t turn the ball over.
Pick: Saint Louis
No. 21 Wisconsin at No. 15 Michigan
Not even Ohio State’s claustrophobic pressure defense could halt Michigan’s highly prolific and efficient offense from scoring at will. As this young team hits its stride, they’re beginning to look more and more like the team to beat in the Big Ten. If it’s close down the stretch, they may want to prioritize their defense around stopping Traevon Jackson, who is the Badgers best distributor, but who has a penchant for drilling go-ahead, last-second shots. The Badgers aren’t as individually talented from top to bottom, but they are an experienced bunch.
No. 19 Texas at No. 11 Iowa State
Texas is supposed to be back on the bubble. This was a make or break season for Rick Barnes. Instead, they just finished throttling Oklahoma State while resting their own leading scorer, Jonathan Holmes and are on the brink of overtaking Kansas for the Big 12 lead. Iowa State’s Melvin Ejim took the night off on Monday after his 48 point, 18 rebound performance against TCU by scoring a season-low six points. He’ll need to find a middle ground between scoring at ease and napping on the floor.
Iowa State is also Jekyll and Hyde on the floor. They’re Jekyll on offense, fourth in scoring and first in team assists per game. Hyde on defense, as exhibited by giving up 102 points against West Virginia’s firing squad. Texas is a little more chemically balanced and defend the paint fairly well.
IN THE BONUS
This week is the 10th anniversary of College Dropout’s release and if there’s anybody that could have taken a lesson or two from young Mr. West, it’s Marcus Smart.
During his sophomore season, he was ballerific like it was all terrific, but on Saturday night, the reputation Smart has spent his life building nearly fell down.
It’s not just perception turning on him. He may be shoved out of his top spot by point guard-needy teams by an up-and-coming freshman with a more cerebral game.
As I said last week, this would never have occurred if he’d chosen the pro route after his freshman season and become the first point guard taken in the 2013 NBA Draft.
The fact is that he has no idea what he's doing in college. That major that he majored in don't make no money, but he won’t drop out, scouts and coaches will look at him funny.
Smart’s difficulties are compounded by the fact that Syracuse point guard Tyler Ennis is beginning to encroach on his draft positioning. Ennis isn’t as spectacular as Smart, but he’s already more of a pure point guard than Smart. Smart’s assist-to-turnover ratio doesn’t qualify on NCAA.com’s top 250 in the stat.
Ennis already has the third-highest assist-to-turnover ratio in all of college basketball as a freshman and as if his poise in pressure situations wasn’t already being touted enough, last night he kept No. 1 Syracuse undefeated by connecting on a contested, buzzer-beating and leaning 35-footer.
Among players who have attempted at least 100 3-pointers this season, Smart is last in shooting percentage from behind the arc.
Jeff Orr is in Marcus Smart’s rear view mirror, but the next one-on-one challenge for Smart will be proving himself superior to a contemporary point guard. Ennis may not be more talented than Smart, but his basketball IQ appears to have developed quicker than Smart’s.
It's not about being the best all the time. It's about being the best at the right time. pic.twitter.com/NIQVtc9Zvx
— DJ RedHerring Dunson (@CerebralSportex) February 13, 2014