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5 Great Sideline Stars

January 11, 2004 Columns No Comments

Coaching Under the Radar

by Jim Woods

When you think about a list of the top college basketball coaches in the country immediately a few names come to mind. Right now you are conjuring up images of the super CEO’s of college basketball who wear the $1,000 suits and are on television two or more nights a week. We all do and they are all great coaches. They have reached the pinnacle of a profession that only 326 people yearly are lucky to hold. However, they are not the only coaches who deserve our attention. I want to give a little respect and a little attention to some coaches who you may not see every week on ESPN. Tune in during Championship Week in March and you very well may see these men roaming the sidelines.

Fran Dunphy, University of Pennsylvania

Where do you want me to start? The five undefeated seasons in the Ivy League, eight Ivy League titles, a .650 winning percentage in fourteen seasons, seven 20-win seasons. I could bore you with more stats, but just trust me on this; Dunphy is as good of a basketball coach, as you will find anywhere. To be able to win consistently in the Ivy is no small feat. The other thing you have to respect about Dunphy is Penn will not duck big name opponents. Last year alone, Penn defeated Southern California (USC), Villanova, and Temple. This season they knocked off St. John’s and Manhattan in Madison Square Garden to capture the Holiday Festival. Look for “Dunph” to once again capture the Ivy League title and be a tough out again in the first round of the NCAA Tourney.

Bruce Pearl, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

It’s opening weekend of the 2003 NCAA Tournament and I’m watching Notre Dame in a battle with a little known UW-M team. Not only is the quality of play on the court top notch, but I can’t help but noticing the Milwaukee coach who is sweating through his suit and working the sidelines with a passion and energy second to none. I had heard of Bruce Pearl before and had watched his team on film, but I had never witnessed him on this stage. He had UW-M in the spotlight and they were going to make the most of it. Eventually they would lose a heartbreaker, but the program has arrived. In only his third year as a Division I head coach, Pearl had won 23 games and a Horizon League title. The fact that he is back to back Horizon Coach of the Year should come as no surprise when you realize he won 231 games in nine years at Division II Southern Indiana, including a DII National Championship in 1995.

John Beilein, West Virginia

Coaching in the Big East doesn’t usually place a coach below the radar screen for long, so I better get John Beilein on this list right now. He is inheriting a rebuilding project in Morgantown, and based on past performance there is no reason to doubt he will win there. Last year in his first season at WVU, they finished with a record of 14-15. This mark, though below .500, was better than many expected. In 25 years as a college head coach, Beilein has had 22 winning seasons. He is also the only active coach to have won 20 games as a junior college, NAIA, Division II, and Division I head coach. The Mountaineers currently stand at 7-3 and will be a tough opponent for anybody in the Big East.

Bob McKillop, Davidson College

Very few coaches make a successful jump from high school head coach directly to Division I head coach. Bob McKillop is an exception to the norm. After a successful high school coaching career on Long Island, McKillop moved south to revive the Davidson basketball program. He has certainly done that job. They are a mainstay atop the leaders of the Southern Conference, and his career winning percentage in the league is .657. He has reached the 20-win plateau in four different seasons during his fourteen-year career, and was 25-5 in 1996. Winning consistently at a mid-major school with stringent academic standards is very difficult, but McKillop has more than proved it can be done.

Stew Morrill, Utah State

During the past six seasons, perhaps no coach has had as much success outside of the limelight as Stew Morrill. Since taking over the Utah State program in 1999, what Morrill has done has been nothing short of remarkable. During that span he has led the Aggies to a record of 127-43, including a 9-1 start this season. Only six teams nationally have recorded more wins than USU’s 103 over the past four seasons. Last season’s squad took Kansas right down to the wire in a first round NCAA game, and in 2001 they knocked off Ohio State in a first round contest. Prior to his arrival at Utah State, Morrill had great success at both Montana and Colorado State. Three of the seven best records in CSU history were posted during Morrill’s tenure and his 23 win team in his final year at Montana advanced to the NCAA tournament. Look for the Aggies to win the Big West again this season and once again be team a top seed will not want to see under their name in March.

Other Notes from “The Sideline”

• Rutgers came up just short in their attempt to knock off #1 ranked Connecticut Tuesday night. Trailing by one point with seven seconds remaining Rutgers needed to get a steal or send the Huskies to the line. The Scarlet Knight went aggressively for the steal choosing to trap the inbounds pass immediately in the corner, however they did not get the steal, Connecticut threw over the trap and Rutgers could never catch back up to the ball to foul. That is the danger of trapping in the end of game foul situation. If you do not get the steal you are leaving a man open and then it becomes a game of “keep away.” Excellent job by the Huskies of moving the ball rather than holding onto it and taking their chances at the free throw line where they had struggled for the game at 48%.

• It seems to me that officials’ jobs have gotten a bit easier with the ability to go to the replay for ten minutes to figure out if a shot should count or not. The Providence/Texas game ended on the correct call, but did it really need to take that long? I understand the horn, :00, red light synchronization issue, but what happens at every mid major and low major game that isn’t on TV. Those officials must make the call in real time and stick with it. Essentially replay in college basketball is a high major thing.

• Watch out for the Seton Hall Pirates. Point guard Andre Barrett has the Pirates clicking on all cylinders. Since starting center Kelly Whitney’s return in mid December, the Pirates are undefeated including wins over Ohio State and DePaul. Their only losses are to ranked teams Purdue and Louisville. Louis Orr has this team playing with unbelievable enthusiasm and energy, and they enter Big East play this weekend against St. John’s on a seven game win streak. A strong test against Providence awaits early next week, in what could be an indicator of who the fourth best team in the Big East is.


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