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Memphis didnít just lose a
basketball coach when John Calipari bolted for the Bluegrass. The Tigers
also lost their automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.
They certainly didnít
maintain it with the announcement that 31-year old former assistant Josh
Pastner would take the programís reigns. Though a decorated recruiter,
he has zero experience leading a Division I program, let alone one that
was considered one of the nationís 15 best.
While some might suggest
that his hound-dog recruiting should keep Memphis permanently atop
Conference USA, there is an important footnote that should be attached
to his rťsumť. While he is a slick salesman in the AAU and summer camp
circles, he has always had coaching heavyweights Lute Olson and Calipari
waiting to close the deal.
Now he must assume that
Pastnerís hiring is a
fairly clear indication that Memphis couldnít attract another home run
hitter to replace the departure of one of the gameís coaching giants.
The only other explanation for the hire would be an attempt to salvage
one of the nationís best recruiting classes, which is a short-sighted
perspective that doesnít guarantee long-term results.
But it could certainly lay
the groundwork for parityís return to C-USA. That seems more inevitable
than the possibility that Memphis will remain an annual 30-game winner
that runs through conference play unscathed.
Up-and-coming Tulsa Coach
Doug Wojcik has the Golden Hurricane threatening a return to the days
when it was an annual contender for the Big Dance. Calipariís exodus
could be the remedy Wojcik needs, as Tulsa now has a legitimate chance
to secure C-USAís lone tournament bid.
Ditto for Mike Davis at
UAB, Tom Penders at Houston, and Tony Barbee at Texas-El Paso. All three
are much more experienced front men than Pastner, and an inevitable
retreat by Memphis provides each with an entryway into the Field of 65.
While most will insist
that Calipariís departure was a huge blow to C-USA, there is an outside
chance that this could enhance the leagueís overall perception. With
increased parity, it could shed many of the punch lines that were
attached when Memphis was bludgeoning league foes with regularity.
Instead of one lead dog,
C-USA could become a solid pack of three or four. That ultimately could
lead the conference out of the one-bid category and into the same
competitive category as the Atlantic 10 or Missouri Valley Conference.
Itís not exactly where
C-USA was during the pre-expansion days, but it would be a step in the
right direction for the leagueís perception.
No madness this March
This yearís NCAA
Tournament didnít live up to its annual billing. From start to finish,
there was very little madness as the higher seeds reigned and blowouts
were the rule.
Outside of a little magic
from Western Kentucky and Siena, there werenít many candidates for the
glass slipper this year. Arizona, one of the last teams to make the
field as a 12 seed, didnít count given its standing as one of the
nationís top-tier programs.
Much of the charm in March
is contingent on surprising runs from schools expected to check out
during the first weekend. Itís why we fill out brackets and telecommute
during the first Thursday and Friday of the tournament.
But anyone who watched the
CBS Selection Show should have known from the start that the tournament
would lack the inspirational runs that have highlighted it in the past.
The NCAA selection committee sent its at-large invitations almost
exclusively to schools from Bowl Championship Series conferences,
leaving out the likes of Creighton and St. Maryís.
It was a move that won the
committee praise from talking heads on Selection Sunday. Itís also one
that helped pave the way to one of the dullest NCAA Tournaments in
Another key element
missing from March Madness was the analysis of Billy Packer, formerly a
fixture at the Final Four. CBSís decision to remove him in favor of
Clark Kellogg was praised by many college hoops fans who felt Packerís
style was far too negative.
What fans got instead was
a complete 180, an exuberant cheerleader who, at times, was just plain
annoying and goofy.
Love him or hate him,
there simply is no one better at breaking down a game than Packer. He
offers no-nonsense insights into the game that the casual fan otherwise
wonít pick up, and he generously divvies out both praise and criticism
when each is appropriate.
Whatís most interesting
about Packer is that each fan base was convinced that Packer held a
passionate grudge against its team. That was true among most ACC fans
who were certain Packer had it out for their team, as well as from other
leagues whose fans were convinced he was a propaganda artist for ACC
commissioner John Swofford.
Sure, Packer had his
flaws. He occasionally made statements that came back to bite him, like
his criticism of the NCAA selection committee prior to the 2006
tournament that too many ďmid-majorsĒ made the field. George Mason
proved that, perhaps, there werenít enough.
But all in all, there
simply isnít a better college hoops analyst than Packer. CBS would be
wise to lure him back.