The Morning Dish – Wednesday, March 6th, 2002
by Andrew Flynn
Three More in, and a New “Tournament”
Three more confereces underwent coronation ceremonies last night, bringing the total number of teams in the dance to 11. The Sun Belt, Horizon, and Mid-Continent Conferences each held their finales, and one was extremely close, one was respectable, and the other, not so much.
In the Mid-Continent finals in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, top-seeded Valparaiso knocked off 6-seed IUPUI 88-55, in a final score that didn’t surprise many. Valpo has been the class of the conference all season, while IUPUI had Cindarella fever during the Tournament, knocking off Oakland and Oral Roberts. But in the end the clock struck midnight and IUPUI was left with a pumpkin, instead of a slick hoopty to cruise to the ball. Or something.
In the Sun Belt, preseason favorite Western Kentucky overcame the Ragin’ Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette 76-70 in New Orleans. The Hilltoppers finish the season with a 28-3 record, and probably would have received a bid even if they had fallen last night. Talk about peaking – their win streak is now at 18 games going into the dance, tied for longest in the nation.
The closest game was the surprise Horizon finals, where a top seed couldn’t be found as far back as Saturday. No matter – the boys from Chicago provided the crowd in Cleveland with something to talk about. 6-seed Illinois-Chicago defeated 5-seed Loyola-Chicago in overtime, 76-75. Even though the Flames shot poorly down the stretch, they were able to generate a 12-2 run towards the end to force the OT. It came down to the final shot, where Cedrick Banks nailed a slick jumper with five seconds left in the bonus frame to put Flames over the top as the clock expired. Even though Butler or Detroit may have been a prettier package for the selection committee, UIC goes to the dance with a respectable 20-13 record.
Also, as mentioned yesterday, Princeton buckled like a belt, losing to Penn 64-48 last night, thus setting up a three-way tie for the regular season title. To sort it out, Princeton will play Yale at the Palestra in Philly tomorrow night, and the winner will play Penn at Lafayette’s campus Saturday night (don’t ask). That winner will have won the inaugural Ivy 3-team tournament.
Coaches Cut Loose: In what appears will be an ongoing story, a few more teams decided to sever ties with their underperforming coaches yesterday. The Big South’s Liberty Flames basketball coach Mel Hankinson was fired after a lousy 5-25 record this season, combined with a 36-77 record since Hankinson’s hiring in 1998.
More surprising was the firing of Bradley coach Jim Molinari, the dean of the Missouri Valley Conference. After 11 seasons, Molinari had a 174-152 record, but this season’s 9-20 mark didn’t get the job done in the eyes of a newer administration. Under Moliari, the MVC’s Coach of the Year in 1996, the Braves has had 3 20-win seasons, 1 trip to the Dance, and 5 trips to the NIT.
Coaches Stepping Down: DePaul coach Pat Kennedy announced his resignation yesterday, ending his five-year reign as coach of the Blue Demons. Kennedy, who was 9-19 this season, missing the C-USA Tournament, wraps up a stormy career with a 67-75 overall record. There was speculation that he was on the outs prior to this, and the school has indicated that they’re starting a national search for a replacement.
Also, we now have the youngest D-I coach. Jeff Capel, yes, that Jeff Capel, has been named head coach at Virginia Commonwealth, after Mack McCarthy resigned after 28 years of coaching. Capel is 27 years old. McCarthy will remain at VCU in an administrative capacity. No word yet on a possible NIT berth for the Rams, who were 21-11 this season in the Colonial Athletic Association. Capel’s father is coach at Old Dominion, where the younger Capel was an assistant for a year. Capel’s mentor at Duke, Coach K, was 27 when he took his first gig at Army.
Nolan Richardson Update: For the first time in March, there isn’t any news that’s worth passing on. Enjoy!
The Northeast Finals, New Britain, Connecticut. The other 18-game win streak belongs to Central Connecticut State, who face the 7th-seeded Quinnipiac tonight at 7:30 pm EST. What’s up with all of these 7-seeds? The Q-Braves toppled No. 2 Wagner and 3-seed UMBC to get to opportunity to run into the buzzsaw they call the Blue Devils, on their home court. Nice while it lasted.
Plenty of Tournaments start, however. The Atlantic 10, Big East, Big 12, Big West, Conference USA, and Mountain West all get under way.