By Adam Fleischer
As far as midseason stories go, this one’s pretty big.
Late Monday, we found out that Texas Tech coach Bob Knight would be resigning, effective immediately, midway through this season. This is a notable story for a couple of evident reasons—namely that Knight has the most wins for a coach in NCAA Men’s basketball history (902), and that coaches rarely leave their teams in the middle of the season. To me, these factors definitely make this turn a bit surprising, even if many did think he would move on after the season.
Dick Vitale wrote that Knight lost his desire to teach and the urge to coach. Reading this really struck me. Although I’m not a huge fan of Knight’s coaching tactics, his energetic antics through the years have been well documented and, even in recent years, his passion seems to have been there. There are certainly other factors that played a role in his decision, including that his son Pat (pictured with Coach Knight, photo: AP) now gets a head start on coaching a team that he was likely going to take over at seasons end anyways. I’m not questioning the reasoning, simply stating my surprise. Fatigue is one thing. Loss of passion is a whole different story, and I didn’t see that kind of turn coming from Knight’s direction.
Reasons for retirement and coaching methodology aside, there’s no denying what Bob Knight accomplished in his 42-year coaching career. After starting at Army (where he coached Mike Krzyzewski), he spent 29 years at Indiana, winning three championships, and rounded out his career with nearly seven full seasons with the Red Raiders. He won hundreds of games, coached a lot of talented players, created a great deal of controversy, was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1991, and even had his own TV show (remember Knight School?). Exactly how he is remembered remains to be seen and, quite frankly, might not matter that much. After all, he won. There’s no way around that and, at the end of the day, that’s all that really matters (see: New York Giants).
Knight’s resignation is the latest headline in a set of notable stories that surfaced in the days since I last checked in a little over a week ago. We can put to rest any thoughts of Kansas’ undefeated season, as they were downed by Michael Beasley-led in-state rival Kansas State last Wednesday. The Jayhawks have bounced back nicely, handily beating Colorado and Missouri in their last two games. Kansas State, who looked good in surpassing the previously unscathed Jayhawks, may have gotten into a little groove. The team’s three leaders in per game averages of scoring and minutes (Beasley, Bill Walker, and Jacob Pullen) are all freshmen, so it’ll be no shock if the squad continues to improve as they get more experience playing together. However, they already experienced one bump in the road. It could have been some sort of hangover from the big Kansas victory, maybe it was the inexperience showing, or maybe it was neither, but the fact remains that Kansas State fell to a Missouri team depleted by suspensions in their very next contest. Despite the outcome of this game, K State still must be taken seriously with only one Big 12 loss while Mizzou, missing multiple key pieces, is bound to see continued struggles.
One team that is having somewhat of a combined experience of the Wildcats and Tigers is the UConn Huskies. After losing three out of four in early January, the team has won five straight, even though guards Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins were suspended for some of the time (although Wiggins has been since reinstated). The sophomore guards—Dyson is a starter and Wiggins contributes off the bench—were caught with alcohol on campus and are both minors. This has proven not to be a distraction for the Huskies, who have compiled wins over Marquette, Indiana, and Pittsburg (all ranked), as well as Louisville and Cincinnati since January 20.
I particularly like the UConn story and team because starting forward Jeff Adrien is from Brookline, a town that borders the part of Boston that I grew up in (but yes, I am a Giants fan). He’s two years older than I am and I remember going to see him play a number of times in high school when he was regarded as one of the best players in the state. For some reason, though, I was never that impressed. Looking back, I was partially a hater by nature, partially a hater because my boys who went to school in that town loved him and my school had no one of the caliber, and partially a hater because I didn’t think his game as an undersized four man without much range or ball handling skill could translate to a big time Division 1 level. Since his arrival on campus, though, Adrien’s been proving me wrong and I’ve been thrilled to watch. His weaknesses have improved and his intensity, rebounding, and defense have all remained on point. This year, he’s averaging 14 and 9 as an important part of a well-balanced UConn attack. If Adrien continues to get his, big man Hasheem Thabeet keeps improving, and A.J. Price plays like he has been, then expect UConn to rack up some more W’s and maybe once again scare some people come March.
A few other thoughts on things that probably deserve more space than I’m giving them:
Before bouncing back against Northwestern on Sunday, Indiana suffered back-to-back losses to UConn and Wisconsin.
Stanford beat Washington State on Saturday, further blurring the picture of the best team out west.
In case you haven’t heard anything about Drake yet this season, now is the time. The Bulldogs haven’t lost since the second game of the season (at ranked Saint Mary’s) and lead their conference by three games. If they’re really that good isn’t quite a definitive “yes,” but there’s a real chance they might be. Watch out.
Wednesday night at 9, Duke takes on North Carolina at the Dean Dome. This game pits a pair of one-loss teams and bitter rivals up against one another and should be a great one to watch. Also of note is that UNC PG Ty Lawson might be kept out by an ankle sprain, an injury which will certainly impact the game whether he’s able to go or not. Hopefully we’ll learn more about each of these teams by the end of the game. Look out for some post game thoughts the following morning.