On a Friday that had limited game action – just four games were on tap – there were a few possible stories to lead us off. We’ll take the one that should be the most positive, although the news itself was not, in a sense anyway. Utah State head coach Stew Morrill will retire at the end of the season, ending a terrific career, especially with his great run at the school. College basketball will be a bit poorer without him running a program.
There aren’t many coaches who have done a better job under the radar than Morrill did. He will be very tough to replace, and it helps that he’s been a great fit. There have been opportunities to take other jobs, but Morrill, a native Utahan, has stayed put.
Morrill is in his 29th season as a college head coach and his 17th in Logan. By far the school’s winningest coach, he’s guided the program through three different conferences now that the school is in its second season in the Mountain West. The Aggies have had unprecedented success under Morrill, including having the sixth-best winning percentage in the nation in the past 14 seasons. Over the prior 14 seasons, they won at least 21 games every year, before going 18-14 last year. 12 of the top 13 seasons in school history have come in his tenure.
The honors have followed for him. Morrill has won conference Coach of the Year honors six times, including three in the WAC at the school and two more in the Big West, and he has coached three WAC Players of the Year. Other schools have been interested in him.
The 62-year-old has been nothing if not understated, just like the program. The Aggies have had lots of success, and at times have been noteworthy for being on the NCAA Tournament bubble, but Morrill has stayed largely under the radar while continuing to win. He doesn’t have a big head coaching tree, though he’s had a couple of assistants get head coaching jobs. He’s not a big name. Simply put, he’s been a quiet winner – to the tune over 600 wins.
Maybe the best stat of all is this one: he has had just one losing season as a head coach, when his Colorado State team went 14-17 in 1991-92.
Morrill’s contract isn’t up for a few more years, so he is truly going out on his terms. He’s earned that much, and in this business, nowadays many coaches don’t get to do that. Good job, Coach. And good luck once this season is over.
NJIT continues to pick up some good wins, and we need to give a big tip of the hat to Jim Engles for the job he’s done. It’s a very tough job given that they don’t have a conference and thus don’t have a path to the NCAA Tournament, which doesn’t help recruiting, but he’s made them a solid program given their situation. On Friday night, they beat Ivy League contender Yale 78-71, getting 23 points and five assists from Damon Lynn and 22 points from Tim Coleman.
Keifer Sykes had a banner evening for Green Bay, scoring 34 points and handing out four assists to lead the Phoenix to a 79-63 win over Milwaukee. That improves the Phoenix to 2-0 in early Horizon League play, while Milwaukee is winless.
The other two games on the night both saw a team win its first conference game of the season. Quinnipiac beat Monmouth 68-64, in the process handing the Hawks their first loss of the season, behind Zaid Hearst’s second straight 27-point game, this one on 11-17 shooting including 5-8 from long range. Toledo beat Akron 84-67, putting both teams at 1-1 in early MAC play.
Referee Karl Hess has been in his share of controversy over the years, but usually that has to do with his officiating. Now, however, he is paying a price for allegedly making an ethnic remark at Atlanta hotel magnate Mit Shah during the Louisville-Wake Forest game on Sunday night. Shah shared Hess’ remark on his Twitter after the game, with the verbatim content being: “Karl Hess to me at the Wake-Louisville game tonight…”When I’m older, I want to sit in your seat & watch your Egyptian ass ref a game” #Wow”. Shah is of Indian descent and a New Jersey native who grew up in Winston-Salem. From this, the ACC has cut ties with him, and he stepped away from an assignment for Saturday’s game between Houston and Memphis in the American Athletic Conference. Hess officiated the national championship game in 2007 and has officiated in five other Final Fours.
Craig Victor will transfer to LSU from Arizona, which gives LSU one more talent boost. The freshman forward announced his plan to transfer just a few days earlier, and he went with a school he was interested in while in high school. Johnny Jones continues to add talented pieces, having received a commitment from big-time prospect Antonio Blakeney a week earlier.
Florida reinstated center Jon Horford on Friday, but he won’t play in Saturday’s game against Mississippi State. The Michigan transfer was suspended before Wednesday’s game at South Carolina, along with walk-on Zach Hodskins. Hodskins remains suspended as of now.
Over 140 games are on tap, and conference play is in full swing.
- The day begins with an American Athletic Conference showdown as Cincinnati visits Connecticut.
- ACC play is highlighted by Louisville at North Carolina in the afternoon, then a nice matchup with Virginia traveling to South Bend to play Notre Dame early in the evening.
- In Big 12 play, Texas tries to bounce back from being blown out by Oklahoma when they go to Stillwater to play Oklahoma State, while Oklahoma hosts slumping Kansas State. In the evening is potentially the best matchup as Iowa State visits West Virginia.
- In Big East play, Georgetown visits Providence early on, then Seton Hall travels to Creighton before DePaul tries to continue its surprising start as they travel to Villanova.
- Ohio State visits Indiana in a game that could get either team moving in the right direction. Later, Maryland tries to bounce back as they head to Purdue
- In noteworthy SEC games, Kentucky visits Texas A&M in the afternoon, then LSU hosts Georgia in what might be the best matchup of the night.
- Ivy League play gets going with the first weekend of rivalry games, featuring Penn at Princeton and Harvard at Dartmouth.
- Old Dominion heads to Western Kentucky for a battle of 2-0 teams in Conference USA play.