We lost another of college basketball legend on Wednesday as Jerry Tarkanian passed away at the age of 84.
It’s been a tough week in college basketball, as Tarkanian’s death comes just five days after the passing of Dean Smith, another legend of the sport and a contemporary of Tarkanian’s. That the two will go down as being opposites in some ways is irrelevant, but also is a fitting representation of the diversity of coaches from their time. At their core they were both terrific coaches that leave us a whole lot of memories.
“Tark the Shark” twice built powers from next to nothing on the West Coast, first turning Long Beach State into one of the top West programs not led by John Wooden-the 49ers advanced to the Elite Eight twice, losing to UCLA by two in the 1971 West Regional Final-and then most famously building UNLV into a national power, the apex of course being the 1990 national title and the unbeaten run in 1990-91 until being shocked by Duke in the Final Four. He finished his career at his alma mater, turning Fresno State into a top 25 contender.
Tarkanian’s teams did it with flair. They were fast-paced-UNLV averaged 110.5 points per game in 1975-76, with no three-point line and no shot clock. (College basketball coaches and rules makers: are you listening?) There was the famous Gucci Row, where one celebrity after another appeared to watch Rebels games. There were fireworks, light displays, and even a shark mascot in honor of the coach. Essentially, UNLV was the L.A. Lakers “Showtime” before Showtime itself.
It can sometimes feel self-serving and narcissistic to interject one’s own memories at times like this, as if they supersede the person one is remembering. On the other hand, memories of the lost are what we are left with, and one of the great honors we can give them is to remember them.
Jerry Tarkanian’s 1986-87 UNLV team was one of my first favorite teams to watch. The Runnin’ Rebels (different from the rest of the schools’ teams, which were just known as “Rebels”) lived up to their nickname, regularly cracking the 100-point mark. There also was the Towel, and the stylish uniforms-the western script with red and silver. And, of course, a lot of terrific players on that team, some with great nicknames: Armon (Hammer) Gilliam, Gerald (Daddio) Paddio, Jarvis Basnight, plus one of the first real three-point gunners in Freddie Banks.
Of course, Tarkanian also did things outside NCAA parameters and standards, and that’ll always be a part of the Tark story. There were low graduation rates for a long time and a lot of fights with the NCAA. Some revisionist history is now implying Tark was an innocent victim of the NCAA’s misplaced wrath, but there was almost certainly antagonism on both sides, and the fact is all three of his schools-Long Beach State, UNLV and Fresno State-were put on probation with laundry lists of violations while he was there or shortly after he left. Let’s call it a draw, with both sides having their share of guilt, and the way both pushed each other may not have necessarily been a bad thing.
Regardless, Tarkanian is a legend of the sport. For winning-more than 700 victories in his career, and this was before the time when 30-game seasons were long-for doing it with style, and for influencing the sport so much in an influential era. Just like Dean Smith, he will be missed.
Wednesday’s Action: Another busy night
- The Atlantic 10 is officially a mess. Four teams are tied for first place after VCU, Rhode Island and George Washington lost and Massachusetts won.
- La Salle has been playing better of late and knocked off VCU 74-69 in double overtime. The Rams continue to struggle without not only Briante Weber but, more importantly, Treveon Graham, who should return soon.
- Also in the A-10: St. Joseph’s beating Rhode Island 65-64 was really no surprise, but Duquesne handling George Washington 78-62 was a big surprise. And Massachusetts overcame a six-point deficit late to defeat St. Bonaventure 55-53 on a three by Jabarie Hinds with eight seconds left.
- Villanova showed why it’s atop the Big East, hitting timely shots against the Providence zone in a 74-68 win on the road in front of a raucous crowd.
- Georgia may have the most valuable win of the night, a 62-53 triumph at Texas A&M. The Bulldogs stayed one step ahead down the stretch and won the only regular season meeting between the two.
- Ohio State played without Marc Loving again, but he was not missed in a 75-55 win over Penn State. Sam Thompson scored a career-high 22 points. Also in the Big Ten, Maryland got back on track with a close 68-66 win over Indiana as Melo Trimble and Dez Wells scored 18 each.
- Virginia slogged through for a 51-47 win at North Carolina State, winning in its first game without Justin Anderson. A missed opportunity for the Wolfpack, while the Cavaliers were outstanding on the glass with a 43-31 advantage.
- As if to prove that it can score when it wants to, Northern Iowa rung up a 50-point first half on the way to a surprisingly easy 83-64 win over Illinois State. Also in the MVC, Wichita State took care of Indiana State with ease, winning 74-57 on a night when Ron Baker had just five points. Fred VanVleet scored 21.
- Boise State continues to play terrific basketball. The Broncos dumped Air Force 67-42 for their school-record eighth straight win. Also in the Mountain West, San Diego State blew out Wyoming 67-41. The Aztecs continue to respond well coming off losses, but this is not a good showing for the Cowboys.
- UCLA was stellar at home again and dealt a blow to Oregon State, defeating the Beavers 75-59. Oregon also continued to separate from the pack in the Pac-12 with an 80-75 win at USC.
- Miami’s postseason hopes took another hit with a 72-70 loss to Wake Forest. The Hurricanes are looking NIT-bound.
- High Point’s John Brown is amazing on a regular basis, and he scored 34 and hit the go-ahead free throws with three seconds left in a 73-72 win over Winthrop. Also winning in the Big South: Charleston Southern, which topped Coastal Carolina 83-72, and Radford, an 80-75 winner over Longwood. Radford, CSU, High Point and UNC-Asheville all are tied for the top spot in the Big South at 9-4.
- Colgate and Bucknell continue to lead the Patriot League. The Raiders won at Boston University 76-69 while the Bison edged Navy 52-51 despite shooting 28.6%.
- Seton Hall starting guard Jaren Sina has left the team, effective immediately, a mutual decision after meeting with coaches yesterday, according to the Asbury Park Press. Sina had started 23 of 24 games this season and was averaging 7.0 points and 2.3 assists per game. He leaves a Pirates team that was one of the better stories in the country the first half of the season but has lost 7 of 10 games to drop to 15-9. According to the newspaper story by Jerry Carino, “internal strife has been a prime contributor to the downslide, as friction between the freshmen and upperclassmen grew over the past few weeks.” Intriguing situation but also very unfortunate.
- St. John’s center Chris Obekpa missed his team’s 86-78 win over DePaul on Wednesday due to an ankle injury. While Seton Hall has fallen apart, the Red Storm are hanging in there and have won three of four after a rough stretch in the Big East.
- Texas forward Jonathan Holmes missed the Longhorns’ 66-43 win over TCU on Wednesday as he continues to recover from a concussion. Holmes is the team’s second-leading scorer, averaging 11.5 points plus 6.4 rebounds.
- Oregon State lost to UCLA on Wednesday, and earlier in the day coach Wayne Tinkle announced that Victor Robbins will serve an “extended suspension” after he received a DUI citation on Sunday. Robbins had already been serving a 10-game suspension, and he leaves the Beavers without his 10.3 points per game this season for the foreseeable future.
- Arkansas-Little Rock senior guard DeVonte Smith has left the team to focus on his family, according to the Associated Press. Smith had played in 21 games and started eight for the 9-14 Trojans, averaging just over two points and two rebounds per game. According to the story: “(UALR) Coach Steve Shields said in a statement Tuesday that, since the birth of Smith’s son last October, Smith has had to spend more time on his personal life. Shields said it was in Smith’s best interest to drop basketball, remain in his classes and leave school in May with a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice.”
Tulsa at Connecticut (7 p.m. EST, ESPN2) The Huskies still have a pulse and could really serve the rest of the AAC well with a win here that would help reel the Golden Hurricane back to the pack.
Minnesota at Iowa (7 p.m. EST, BTN) Like UConn, the Gophers aren’t dead yet, and can get back into the NCAA tourney discussion with a road win here.
Sacramento State at Eastern Washington These two have separated from the pack in the Big Sky. Sac State has won seven in a row, EWU 10 of 11. The Eagles’ one loss? Sacramento State.
Stanford at Utah The Cardinal has looked rather ordinary of late but appears to match up well with the Utes. This is the only regular season meeting between these two in the Pac-12.
St. Mary’s at BYU (9 p.m. EST, ESPN2) Always entertaining matchup in the WCC. Gaels are solidly second behind Gonzaga, while the Cougars are just trying to separate from a pack of teams fighting for third.
Mississippi at Florida (7 p.m. EST, ESPN) Some might call this a lose-lose game for Ole Miss, but road wins are never bad for teams looking to boost NCAA tourney credentials.
Northeastern at Hofstra (7 p.m. EST, NBCSN) The CAA is wide open with six teams in the hunt for the regular season title, including these two.
Tennessee-Chattanooga at Wofford The Southern Conference’s top team hosts arguably its top challenger.
Have a great Thursday.