Friday, December 28, 2007

Eddie Sutton: Back in the Saddle

In college basketball, when a school has to make an in-season coaching change, is it is the standard operating procedure to replace the outgoing coach by elevating an assistant (from the existing coaching staff) to the status of "interim coach." Kevin O'Neal is the Interim Coach at Arizona because he was the top assistant when Lute Olson had to leave to tend to "personal matters." Last year, Assistant Coach Jim Molinari became the Interim Coach at Minnesota after Dan Monson was sent packing. When Indiana fired Bob Knight, Mike Davis was installed as Interim Coach and promptly guided the Hoosiers to the 2002 Final Four -- which led to Davis being rewarded with a multi year contract and a promotion to Head Coach.

I could continue to list examples of assistants who have taken over as Interim coaches, but I'd be here all day -- and Drive and Dish readers would quit reading this post.

My point is: if a coach has to be replaced when the season is in progress, the appropriate course of action is for the school to elevate an assistant coach to interim coach. This maintains continuity because, aside from the departed Head Coach, the rest of the coaching staff remains in place. They, in turn, continue to run the same system (offense, defense, plays, etc.) that the team had prior to the Coach's departure. Furthermore, it allows the school to conduct an in-depth coaching search after the season. The new coach is then able to hire his own staff and implement his system before the start of the next school year.

But that's not what the University of San Francisco did when their coach left. On Wednesday, San Francisco announced that Coach Jessie Evans would be taking "a leave of absence." Remarkably, they announced that Evans would be replaced by disgraced former Oklahoma State Coach Eddie Sutton -- who had no prior connection to USF and is coming out of retirement to take the position.

In light of this development, Drive and Dish held and emergency editorial staff meeting to discuss Sutton's hiring at San Francisco. This was no minor feat, since so many of our staff were on vacation for the holidays. But despite our many logistical headaches, we managed to convene and agree on the following conclusion:

San Francisco's hiring of Eddie Sutton is total horse shit.

If Eddie Sutton had really wanted to get back into coaching, he should have gone about his job search in a more traditional manner. Sutton should have waited until the conclusion of the college basketball season (when coaching vacancies open up) to contact schools in need of a new men's basketball coach.

But Sutton isn't actually serious about getting back into to coaching. Stuck at 798 career wins, he's only serious about getting into the 800 win club. He even admitted as much when he was announced as USF's coach on Wednesday!

Coach Sutton was forced out at Oklahoma State after the 2006 season following an in-season leave of absence that the university imposed upon him when he was charged with DUI in conjunction with an auto accident. For the purpose of damage control, Oklahoma State forced forced old "Fast Eddie" (who had struggled for years with his raging alcoholism) to seek treatment at a rehab facility. OSU then named Sean Sutton to be his dad's replacement, even though Eddie Sutton never backed off from his stated intention to return as the Cowboys' coach.

Oklahoma State knew exactly what they were getting when they hired Eddie Sutton. Long before he arrived in Stillwater, Coach Sutton had a well-documented checkered history. While the head coach at Kentucky, Coach Sutton famously ran a renegade program that landed UK on NCAA probation. Obviously, the Oklahoma State administration was well aware that Sutton was no angel when they decided to hire him in 1990. They knew that he was something of a reclamation project. After all, Sutton was only one year removed from a highly-publicized scandal that caused the NCAA to impose severe sanctions on Kentucky's basketball program in 1989 (Kentucky had traditionally escaped the eye of the NCAA infractions police, despite well-known rumors of shadiness that stretched as far back as the 1940's). But Oklahoma State also knew that Eddie Sutton had taken Creighton, Arkansas and Kentucky to the NCAA Tournament -- his Arkansas team got as far as the 1978 Final Four.

A generation earlier, Oklahoma State -- then known as Oklahoma A&M -- had been a basketball power under the stewardship of legendary coach Henry Iba. But the post-Iba era (i.e., the modern era) had not been kind to Oklahoma State basketball: the program had fallen so far from its previous elite status that, at the time of Sutton's hiring, the Cowboys had only played in the post season three times since 1957. Oklahoma State's rationale for hiring Sutton isn't terribly difficult to understand: Sutton is an Oklahoma State/A&M alum who played for Coach Iba in the 1950's, and more importantly, he has a long track record as a winning coach in college basketball. Oklahoma State hired a proven winner who provided a direct link to the program's glory days. However, OSU also knew that hiring Eddie Sutton would be a gamble . . . but it was a gamble that they were happy to make.

And Eddie Sutton didn't disappoint.

Coach Sutton turned an Oklahoma State program that had been moribund for three decades into a consistent winner. He took the Cowboys to Final Fours in 1995 and 2004. But OSU's on-court success came with a trade-off: Eddie Sutton had significant baggage, and he didn't exactly change his ways while in Stillwater. During his tenure at Oklahoma State, Eddie Sutton's teams were stocked with so many players who had been processed by the criminal justice system that OSU earned the nickname "Second Chance U."

Sometimes, given the extensive off-court problems that so many of its basketball players had encountered, it seemed as though OSU could be better described as "Third and Fourth Chance U." Whatever the case, the second chances finally ran out for the old coach who had offered so many second and third chances to so many troubled players over the years. When Sutton's 2006 car accident led to his being charged with DUI, there was no way for Oklahoma State to retain a sliver of respectability without disassociating itself from Eddie Sutton.

And it looked like the end of the road for Coach Sutton's career when his legendary drinking problems led to him being more or less pushed out at OSU. With his reputation as a cantankerous, unscrupulous, cheating old man with a drinking problem, no reputable institution of higher education was going to hire Eddie Sutton to lead their basketball program. Sutton understood this. So when San Francisco -- which, once upon a time, was a basketball power (Bill Russell played there during the Eisenhower administration) -- decided to let Sutton come on board to get his 800th win, old "Fast Eddie" jumped at the opportunity.

Which is really sad.

Eddie Sutton is an old, drunk, serial rule-breaker who is selfishly taking over a team that he's had no previous contact with (one wonders if he even knows anything about this year's team), and which he has no intention of coaching beyond 2008. What's worse, he's doing it 1/3 of the way through the season. That's just not fair to the current USF players. They should be given the opportunity to play for an interim coach, who the university should elevate from the remaining coaching staff. The interim coach would then continue to run the current system for the remainder of the season.

Drive and Dish wonders what could have prompted USF to make such a preposterous mid season hire. We wonder if they were just trying to make headlines. Whatever their motive was, the hiring of Eddie Sutton makes the University of San Francisco appear desperate for attention. San Francisco used to be a big time basketball school. It looks like they long to be relevant again.

But if that's the case, the joke's on USF. In college basketball, a school becomes relevant when it's basketball program wins on a consistent basis. Staging a cheap publicity stunt will not put a college basketball program on the fast track to relevance. Worse yet, by making headlines with their ridiculous decision to let Eddie Sutton sit in for his 800th win, the University of San Francisco has essentially made itself even more irrelevant than it already was.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas From Drive and Dish

Drive and Dish would like to wish all of our readers a Merry Christmas.

May there be peace and good will on Earth, and may all of your hoop dreams come true.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Eve: Scouting Report on Santa

It's Christmas Eve and Drive and Dish is getting ready for Santa's annual visit. Unfortunately, I have a strong feeling that I'll be getting a lump of coal in my stocking again this year. That's what I got last year. It looks like it's becoming a trend.

Oh well, whatever.

Santa still gets it done for millions, if not billions, of other people throughout the world. So Drive and Dish is giving him some love. But this wouldn't be a Drive and Dish post if we didn't break down Santa's game. So here's Drive and Dish's scouting report on the "jolly old elf:"


Santa began his career during the third century A.D. as the Bishop of Myra, which was a Greek colony in the Roman province of Lycia, Asia Minor (modern day Turkey). At the time, he was known as Saint Nicholas. So Santa started out, in essence, as a Greek guy named Nick. But just as Lew Alcindor transformed into Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, in the late 1800's Saint Nicholas transformed into Santa Claus -- we'll get to that in a minute.

It's believed that Nicholas was a participant in the first Council of Nicaea in 325 A.D. It was at the Council of Nicaea that Nicholas is said to have slapped Arius across the face. The Council later termed Arius a heretic and banished him from the church. But that didn't stop them from disciplining Saint Nicholas for assaulting Arius. Saint Nicholas was booted from the Council and defrocked from the priesthood. But the night after they kicked Nicholas out of the Council and the priesthood, the other Bishops all had the same dream: in their dream, Christ and the Virgin Mary appeared with Nicholas, who was wearing his Bishop's vestments. The Bishops' mutual dream caused them to reconsider their harsh punishment of Saint Nicholas. So they quickly reinstated Nicholas to the priesthood and to the Council of Nicea.

Saint Nicholas was also well known for his heroic acts. As a young man, he saved a sailor from drowning. For this reason, Nicholas is the patron saint of sailors. Furthermore, Nicholas was famous for coming to the defense of the falsely accused. He saved many men from being wrongly put to death. There's also a legend that Nicholas resurrected three children who had been slaughtered and made into meat pies by a butcher. Although this legend seems ridiculously far fetched, it served as the inspiration for the British story Sweeney Todd (which is now a hit Hollywood film).

But without question, Saint Nicholas is best known for anonymously giving gifts in the middle of the night -- a trait that he's continued and expanded tremendously in his current Santa incarnation.

Saint Nicholas is believed to have begun his gift giving career when he helped a poor man who had three daughters, but who couldn't afford a dowries for them (which would have prevented the girls from getting married, and may have forced them into a life of prostitution). On three consecutive nights, Nicholas anonymously threw three purses filled with gold into the man's home. Legend has it that on the third night, the man waited up to thank whomever was throwing the purses. So Nicholas climbed the roof and threw the purse down the chimney. The purse landed in one of the daughter's stockings, which she had washed and hung over the fireplace in order to dry.

Saint Nicholas' transformation into Santa Claus took place over many centuries and on three continents. In Europe, people began celebrating the feast of Saint Nicholas on December 6th. German children began to put boots outside their homes, in hopes that St. Nicholas would fill them with gifts.

Over time, in his German appearances, Saint Nicholas began to be accompanied by a helper: the blackened, demonic Knecht Ruprecht. Nicholas rewarded the good children by giving them gifts, but Knecht Ruprecht beat, and sometimes consumed, the children who had been naughty.

In many parts of Germany, the Krampuses -- evil, drunken, sex-crazed troll like creatures who carried chains -- would come out and terrorize villages before Saint Nicholas' arrival. But the Krampuses would always flee when Saint Nicholas and Necht Ruprecht showed up.

In Austria, Belgium and Switzerland, Necht Ruprecht didn't beat or eat naughty children, but he did stuff them into a big sack, which he would later dump in the river in order to drown the naughty kids. is Holland, Saint Nicholas was called "Sinter Klaas," and he was traditionally accompanied by mischievous African helpers who dressed in Moorish garb. These guys were called "Zwarte Pieten," or "Black Petes." More recently, the Dutch have discontinued the tradition of the mischievous black guys because of the obvious negative racial overtones.

Saint Nicholas didn't actually transform into Santa Claus until after the wild success of Clement Clark Moore's 1822 poem, "Twas the Night Before Christmas (also called 'A Visit From Saint Nicholas')." Moore's Santa was a purely American phenomenon. "Old Saint Nick" became a "jolly old elf" with a belly that jiggled "like a bowl full of jelly." Santa's status as a rotund old man in a red suit (rather than in the red vestments of a bishop -- as Saint Nicholas had worn) was further cemented by Thomas Nast's wildly popular illustrations in Harper's magazine (1860's- 80's).

Today, Santa Claus is bigger than ever. He's become a global icon. He is the face of Christmas.

Strengths, Weaknesses

1). Santa has been around since the third century. Therefore, he's getting old. Amazingly, however, age hasn't appeared to slow him at all -- in fact, Santa has gotten bigger and better over the course of time. From his beginnings as the Bishop of Myra, to his canonization and subsequent career as Saint Nicholas, to his modern incarnation as Santa Claus, Santa has evolved and adapted his game to fit the times and his surroundings. In that regard, Santa reminds us of Michael Jordan.

Jordan continued to evolve throughout his career. He began his NBA as a skinny 21 year old electric, high flying, ball hogging scoring machine. It was widely believed -- in NBA circles -- that Jordan would never be a part of a championship team. He was seen as being a flashy, "me first" show off. But he wasn't seen as being a team player. And he certainly wasn't seen as a winner. But Jordan changed his game, and he went on to win championships. Upon returning from his first retirement, and with 25 lbs of added muscle on his frame, Jordan worked the turn around jump shot into his game. Jordan became the most dominant player in the game -- winning three more championships -- when he was in his mid thirties.

So, Santa's age is a concern. But he's shown no signs of slowing down, and he's continued to expand his game year after year . . . just like Michael Jordan did.

2). Santa's many incarnations (Bishop, Saint, pagan fighter, Council of Nicea participant, life saver, gift giver, "jolly old elf," world wide icon of commercialism) make him an unusually versatile talent. Sometimes it seems like there's almost nothing this guy can't do. And character isn't an issue, because there's absolutely no question that Santa is a total class guy . . . he's a Saint for God's sake!

But Saint Nicholas did assault of Arias at the Council of Nicea. And even though that was an isolated incident and it happened a long time ago (about 1800 years have passed), one can't overlook the fact that Saint Nicholas had a long association/partnership with Knecht Ruprecht, who was a demonic child abuser, child drowner and occasional cannibal. Plus, in the Netherlands, Sinter Klaas runs with a posse of trouble makers (Zwarte Pieten).

So, although Santa is a good guy, he's got some old friends who are, basically, thugs. Thus, Santa has some guys in his entourage who could cause him problems down the line. So Santa is in the same boat as a lot of NBA players. He's a good guy, but his boys can be trouble. The good news is that Sinter Klaas has cut basically cut ties with the Zwarte Pieten in Holland. Hopefully, Santa's association with Knecht Ruprecht and the Krampuses will be a thing of the past too.

3). Santa has put on a significant amount of weight over the years. Santa's still unstoppable when he puts his mind to it (which, fortunately, is every year). But one has to wonder if the excess weight will eventually catch up with him. Santa's weight, when combined with his advancing age and all the mileage that he's racked up carrying that heavy sack around, cold cause him some serious problems. He could probably prolong his career by shedding some pounds, but, unfortunately, he just keeps getting fatter every year. In that sense, Santa reminds us of Shaquille O'Neal.

Just like Santa, there's nobody else who can do what Shaq does. O'Neal is absolutely unstoppable -- when he wants to be. But he's been around forever, and he keeps getting heavier as the years go on.

4). When he was Saint Nicholas, he did everything for himself. He was a one man team. But now Santa has a great team around him. His elves do most of the tough work. And the reindeer have taken much of the load off of Santa's back. Santa can rest his bag in the sleigh as he travels, only having to lug the heavy sack around once the sleigh lands on a rooftop, and he goes down the chimney.

In this regard, Santa once again reminds us of Michael Jordan. Jordan was a one man team, until the arrival of Scottie Pippen and Horace Grant. Once the Bulls became a great team, they started to win championships. As great as he was, Jordan couldn't do that by himself.

Santa's recent success has been facilitated, at least in part, by the great team of elves and reindeer that he's assembled. And fortunately, the team from the North Pole shows no sign of slowing down.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Pittsburgh Edges Duke

Last night, #11 Pittsburgh beat #6 Duke in overtime at Madison Square Garden.

Duke struggled with quick Pitt guard Levance Fields and with Pitt's bulky front line. Excluding DeMarcus Nelson and Gerald Henderson, Duke doesn't exactly have the most athletic team. And their big men are tall, but slight.

This may sound trite, but Duke really needs to get stronger and more athletic. Basketball keeps becoming a more physical game. Duke has no shortage of talent, but they're falling behind in terms of the overall physicality of their team.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Purdue Loses to Wofford

Last night, Purdue lost at home to tiny Wofford College 69-66. Despite the fact that the Boilermakers are a young team, Drive and Dish expected them to make it to the NCAA Tournament this year. And although last week's upset of Louisville will look good on Purdue's resume, Wofford will stand out as a really bad loss.

Purdue should still be competitive in the Big 10, but c'mon. There's no excuse for losing at home to freakin' Wofford!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Knicks Fans Protest Isiah Outside Madison Square Garden

Today, Knicks fans staged a protest rally outside Madison Square Garden to demand that the Knicks fire Coach/General Manager Isiah Thomas.* Most of the protesters carried signs. Someone brought a giant pink slip. The national media had it blanketed. It was a top headline on And it was big news on ESPN radio. It was an AP headline. Shepherd Smith reported it breathlessly on the Fox News Channel.

But at Drive and Dish, we have one question: WHO CARES?

There's no question that Isiah Thomas has failed with the Knicks. And, as such, it's not surprising that Knicks fans want to run him out of town. Frankly, I couldn't believe that Knicks fans tolerated Isiah as long as they did. Isiah was initially popular in New York. And while I thought the coterie of Stephon Marbury, Steve Francis, Jamaal Crawford, Jalen Rose and Eddy Curry was a train wreck waiting to happen, most Knicks fans were ecstatic about the amount of supposed "star power" that Isiah was assembling. In fact, if you listened to Knicks fans and the national media (which are often one and the same), the Knicks were a dynasty-in-the-making.

But now, after years of ineptitude, Knicks fans have finally had enough. OK. But it certainly took them long enough to figure out that Isiah isn't the best guy to run that franchise: Just as he wasn't the right guy to run the NBA franchises in Toronto and Indiana. And he wasn't the right guy to run the Continental Basketball Association (which went bankrupt while under his stewardship).

But this shouldn't be national news. The Knicks are a bad team. Bad teams' fans often campaign for the team to fire the coach ... and the General Manager. That's extremely common in the world of professional sports. It's also common in college sports (ask Kentucky fans -- they ran Tubby Smith out of town last year, now they want to run Billy Gillispie [Smith's replacement] out of town). Hell, it's not even uncommon for high school fans and parents to try to get the coach canned.

The only reason this is such a big news story is because it's happening in New York, and because the team at the center of the controversy is the Knicks. Believe me, fans of under performing teams want to get rid of their teams' coaches in every corner of the globe. When the Green Bay Packers don't win the Super Bowl, their fans want the coach fired. That happens almost every year. Similarly, nearly every July, Cubs fans start to clamor for the manager's scalp. And just this summer, the coach of Pakistan's national cricket team was killed after a Paki loss.

But it's New York. It's the Knicks. So it's big news.


* - Click on the box titled "Discussion Board" under the photo of the protesting Knicks fans in the linked NY Post article, then scroll down and read the comment by "Costa in Greektown" -- I know Costa and I agree with his comment 100%.

By the Way:

This protest comes on the heels of the Knicks ejecting a fan from his seat for carrying a "Fire Isiah" sign at the Knicks game the other night. Apparently, Knicks fans are really, really mad at Isiah now.

What took them so long?

Southern Illinois Continues to Spiral Downward

Just days ago, Drive and Dish noted Southern Illinois' recent struggles on the hardwood. Last night Southern Illinois, fresh off of an embarrassing loss to Saint Louis, fell to Western Michigan 57-41. On Sunday, Drive & Dish discussed the Salukis' dearth of scoring. Against Western Michigan, SIU only managed 41 points. That's pathetic for any team, let alone for a team that was ranked #18 in the AP Top 25 a few weeks ago and was widely expected to win the Missouri Valley Conference.

As we stated on Sunday, this Southern Illinois team isn't as good as recent SIU teams have been. SIU lost it's two best guards (and their leading scorer and "go to guy") to graduation. But they still have three very good starters (PG Bryan Mullins, F Randal Falker and F Matt Shaw) from last year's Sweet Sixteen team. Some fall off was to be expected, but the Salukis shouldn't be this bad.

What's worse, Southern Illinois needed to beat Western Michigan in order to start turning their season around before conference play begins. Now SIU appears to be falling into the abyss.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

O.J. Mayo: By the Numbers

Although it's still relatively early in the college basketball season, USC freshman point guard O.J. Mayo has been the beneficiary of a massive amount of media hype. His arrival in Southern California was heralded with dizzying pomp and circumstance. Because of Mayo's star power, USC -- a school with little basketball tradition -- has been a fixture on national television this season.

But the jury is still out on whether or not Mayo is good for USC basketball. In high school, Mayo had a reputation for being a punk and a selfish basketball player. He had several off the court transgressions and had jumped from high school to high school. Yet he was also widely considered to be the best player in the class of 2007 (even though he was already 20 years old).

USC knew what they were getting into when they signed Mayo. And the electronic and print media (who have pushed O.J. Mayo down college basketball fans' throats) had to understand that anointing Mayo as college basketball's new golden boy was a risky proposition. But, despite having broken a teammate's jaw during a practice altercation and twice being held out of the starting lineup for disciplinary reasons, Mayo was impressive in his first few college outings. He may have thrown up a gazillion shots, but his talent was undeniable.

However, nearly six weeks into the college season (and with the conference season rapidly approaching), O.J. Mayo's faults are starting to become apparent:

Mayo ranks sixth in shots attempted for all Division I basketball players.

And with 36 turnovers through 8 games, Mayo had the second worst assist to turnover ratio in college basketball.

Thus, according to (which is, admittedly, not the most reputable of sources), O.J. Mayo's draft stock is dropping:

"people were expecting LeBron, and he just isn't that caliber of talent .... his point guard skills and shot selection have been suspect at best through the first nine games of his college career.

Two straight four point losses in which May shot 6-20 and 6-21 have taken the Trojans out of the Top 25.

Mayo needs to limit the bad shots and look to pass the ball .. Mayo is already 20 years old leading some to question his upside. He doesn't show much ability to elevate his teammates' play, and his early season run in with Daniel Hackett (broken jaw) added to the speculation that the troublemaker reputation he'd built in high school was still true."

Drive and Dish offered it's opinion of O.J. Mayo at the start of the season. And after having seen Mayo through his first 9 games, we stand by that opinion.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Gilbert Arenas Rips Players for Turning Down Big $$$

For those who didn't know, Washington Wizards star 2 guard Gilbert Arenas has a blog. And he posts all the time. So much so that Arenas has become known as the NBA's first superstar blogger.

Last week, Arenas caused controversy by ripping Luol Deng, Andre Igoudala, Emeka Okafor, Anderson Varejao and several other young NBA players who have recently turned down large, multi year contracts (scroll down to the subject header: "Let's Talk Contracts").

Arenas argued that the young players had erred by turning down such big, guaranteed contracts. Read the whole thing. "Agent Zero," as Arenas is known, sheds light on many players' attitudes toward contracts, and the often ill-informed thought processes that many young NBA players employ with regard to their finances.

This week, Arenas revisited the subject. His recent comments -- which detail a debate he had with his father about last week's blog post -- are spot on. Arenas argues that $12 million per year is too much for secondary players such as Igoudala and Varejao to turn down. He thinks that these players let their egos get in the way of making sound decisions about their finances.

Drive and Dish concurs with Gilbert Arenas. NBA players often spout the cliche: "the NBA is a business." But they often don't seem to understand the nature of that business, or their respective place in that business.

Well, the NBA is a business. But it's show business. And, just as in the music and film industries, entertainers (and professional basketball players) have to take advantage of any "breaks" that come their way. Those "breaks" may not come around again.

Southern Illinois Falls to Saint Louis, In Danger of Falling Off Map

Last night, Southern Illinois lost to Rick Majerus' struggling Saint Louis Billikens 56-51. Earlier in the season, Southern Illinois was ranked #18 in the AP top 25. Now, with a 3-4 record that includes blowout losses to USC and Indiana, as well as bad losses to Charlotte and the aforementioned Saint Louis Billikens, Southern Illinois is in danger of falling off the college basketball map.

Southern Illinois has made six straight NCAA Tournament appearances. They made it to the Sweet Sixteen in 2002 and 2007. They have been a perennial powerhouse in the underrated Missouri Valley Conference. And after Gonzaga, Southern Illinois has probably been the most consistently visible (in terms of time spent in the AP top 25, national television coverage and overall recognition) mid major program in college basketball (George Mason's trip to the 2006 Final Four was big, but SIU has been visible for a longer period of time).

But if SIU doesn't turn things around soon, they won't be in the Tournament in March.

So what's wrong with Southern Illinois, and what can they do to get their season back on track?

Southern lost guards Jamaal Tatum and Tony Young to graduation. Tatum was their go-to guy for the last three seasons. Without Tatum, the Salukis don't have a proven scorer, or a player who is comfortable in the scorer's role. Right now SIU doesn't have a guy who is capable of creating shots for himself or a guy who's proven to be able to make big shots when the game is on the line.

Tony Young was a lock-down defender who evolved into a big time perimeter scorer (although he was always the second option, after Tatum). Young was also a fifth year senior and the undisputed team leader. With the tandem of Tatum and Young, in additon to tough, lock down defender PG Bryan Mullins and scrappy big men Randal Falker and Matt Shaw, Southern Illinois was as talented as just about anyone in college basketball (remember, last year SIU was one missed layup away from beating Kansas, and earning a trip to the Elite Eight).

This year, however, SIU has some holes to fill.

In Mullins, Southern Illinois has one of the best defensive minded point guards in college basketball. But Mullins isn't a big scorer. He's good at running the offense, he can penetrate and distribute and he'll hit open three pointers. But Mullins isn't the type of player who can carry the Saluki's offensively.

Forward Randal Falker gets a significant amount of media love. He's the current face of Southern Illinois basketball. But he's not a natural scorer. Falker is an energy guy. He's effective as a rebounder, defender and garbage man. But he's not a polished post scorer.

The other forward, Matt Shaw, is a good rebounder and a nice perimeter shooter, but he's not really an inside scorer either.

Southern Illinois was overrated at the start of the season. The current team doesn't have the weapons that previous SIU teams have had. That said, Chris Lowrey's teams are all hard nosed, scrappy, and defense-oriented. Southern Illinois will be competitive in the Missouri Valley Conference. But they won't dominate the Valley this year, as they did the last two or three years. In fact, right now they don't even look like they'll be a legitimate contender to win the conference. But they'll be competitive. You can count on that. And if they can finish in the top three in the Valley, they will still have a good shot at making it to the NCAA Tournament.

But they've got to get it going soon.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Does Bruce Weber Have a New Friend?

Illinois head basketball coach Bruce Weber's recruiting woes are well documented. Although he's widely considered an outstanding game coach and a good guy, Weber has never been able to convince top level high school basketball players to matriculate to Champaign. In fact, it's gotten so bad that in the last two or three years Weber's inability to recruit elite talent has become something of a legend.

That could change.

More here.

For background on the disparity between Bruce Weber's coaching prowess vs. his struggles on the recruiting trail, read Dave Parker in today's Joliet (IL) Herald News.

Saturday, December 8, 2007

Tom Izzo, Michigan State Survive Scare at Bradley: Drive and Dish Shows Izzo Some Love Just for Scheduling Game

This past Tuesday, #9 Michigan State traveled to Peoria, IL to play the Bradley Braves, an unranked, but scrappy team from the underrated Missouri Valley conference. A crowd of 11,500 braved a winter storm in order to set a Peoria Civic Center/Carver Arena record for attendance (the arena has a capacity of roughly 11,000). Tuesday's game marked the first time in over twenty years that Bradley played host to a team ranked in the AP top ten. After being behind for most of the game, Michigan State rallied to escape with a hard fought 66-61 win. A major factor in Michigan State's shaky performance was the hostility of the Bradley crowd. Bradley students, alumni and fans packed the normally sterile Carver Arena to create what Michigan State coach Tom Izzo termed an "electric environment."

Tom Izzo should be commended for scheduling a "two and one" series with Bradley. It's difficult for Missouri Valley teams to find non conference opponents from BCS conferences like the Big Ten. The MVC is widely considered to be one of the best conferences in college basketball. And Valley teams have a reputation for playing a tough, scrappy, defensive-minded brand of basketball. But the Missouri Valley is still technically a "mid major" conference. Thus, teams from major conferences stand to gain little by playing Missouri Valley teams: the Valley teams are almost certain to challenge the "major" conference teams (and maybe even beat them) but the "major" conference teams aren't likely to be rewarded for close wins over "mid majors" in the RPI rankings or by the NCAA Tournament selection committee. So they usually won't play the good Valley teams.

Give Izzo credit. He knew that Michigan State didn't stand to gain much by playing that game (in either the RPI rankings or in the eyes of the selection committee) -- and he knew that if they were to lose, or even struggle with Bradley, they could pay for it all season long (and that it could, ultimately, affect their Tournament seeding).

But Izzo took his Spartans to battle an unheralded opponent in a hostile environment. And after surviving Tuesday night's scare, he's relieved to get out with a win and thinks his team will be tougher in the long run for having played the game.

That's why Drive and Dish is showing Tom Izzo some love (actually, Tom Izzo is probably my favorite coach in college basketball -- I've respected and admired him for many years -- so it's hardly a surprise that D&D is showing Izzo love). We believe that you've got to give credit where credit's due.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Chip Reese, World's Greatest Poker Player, Dead at 56

Chip Reese, arguably the world's greatest poker player, died yesterday at age 56.

Drive and Dish is normally focused on basketball, but we think the story of Chip Reese should be better known. With professional poker's recent boom in popularity, it's surprising that more people aren't aware of man who was often described as the best poker player on the planet.

In the summer of 1974, Reese (who had just graduated from Dartmouth) was set to begin law school at Stanford. On his way to Palo Alto, he stopped in Las Vegas to play a few rounds of poker. He parlayed $400 into $66,000 and never made it to Palo Alto.

Although many fantasize about doing so, few people are able to make a living as professional gamblers. Chip Reese not only made a living as a professional gambler, his earnings made him a wealthy man.

More here.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

IU's Cellvin Sampson Profiled in Lexington Herald-Leader

This Saturday, Kentucky plays at Indiana. IU vs. UK has always been one of my favorite non conference rivalries in college basketball. Those two flagship state universities carry the torch for the basketball obsessed residents of their respective states. I can't think of two better states for basketball than Indiana and Kentucky. Basketball is so deeply rooted in the cultures of these two border states that the game is practically in the natives' DNA.

So in preparation for Saturday's upcoming IU v. Kentucky game, the Lexington Herald-Leader has what may be the definitive profile of Indiana coach Kelvin Sampson and the ethical maze that the Hoosier basketball program now finds itself in (including, but not limited to, Sampson's apparent disregard of the NCAA's recruiting bylaws regarding phone calls to recruits).

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Georgetown: Early Favorite for Final Four

In tonight's Big East v. SEC showdown, Georgetown beat Alabama and West Virginia (in their first year under new coach Bob Huggins) annihilated Auburn.

The West Virginia v. Auburn game was never in doubt. West Virginia blew the Tigers out from the opening tip off.

Alabama gave Georgetown trouble for most of the game, but couldn't hang at the end.

Why are these games relevant? Two reasons:

1.) - Because three players looked like sure fire NBA prospects.

Georgetown center Roy Hibbert, Alabama power forward Richard Hendrix and West Virginia forward Joe Alexander will all be NBA players.

Roy Hibbert returned to Georgetown after toying with the NBA draft over the summer. He made the right decision by going back to school. Hibbert is a giant: he's 7'2," with a very wide body, despite the fact that he's dropped a significant amount of weight in the last two years. The weight loss has allowed Hibbert to show surprising mobility and agility for a guy who is - even with the weight loss - such a mountain of a man. Despite his mass, Hibbert plays a finesse game: in order to maximize his effectiveness at the next level, he'll need to learn how to better utilize his size (not just his height) to his advantage. Hibbert needs to power up to the rim when he has the ball. He needs to be more aggressive on offense. But he has good hands, and has outstanding basketball instincts.

Roy Hibbert looks like an NBA lottery pick. His game isn't pretty, and he's not exactly a force under the basket. But Roy Hibbert will be a nice center at the next level. And he's only 20 years old. This kid has come a long way in a short time (the massive weight loss, the improved athleticism, the improved court sense, etc.). He's still only starting to scratch the surface of what he can be. While I don't expect him to be a perennial NBA all star, I think he'll be a good NBA center (especially if he goes to a team that has a lot of other pieces). Ultimately, I see him being similar to Brendan Haywood at the next level.

Alabama's Richard Hendrix is a big, strong, athletic power forward with a great feel for the game. He has the build and the skills of the prototypical NBA power forward. He's not a new school Kevin Garnett/Dirk Nowitzki type slashing and perimeter shooting power forward. He's an old school, back to the basket, rebounding tough power forward. And he's for real.

Hendrix's game is very polished. He defends and rebounds well. He uses his body and his athleticism well. And he's got all the requisite offensive skills - he scores in the low post, he has a nice 10-15 foot jump shot, he has a good understanding of the game, he passes well and he makes his free throws. This guy is no project. He should be able to contribute the minute he sets foot on an NBA floor.

Finally, West Virginia's Joe Alexander has, seemingly, come from nowhere to establish himself as one of the best college players in the country -- and as a legitimate NBA prospect. This guy was a tall, skinny, frail forward last year. Bob Huggins has made him gain weight and get tougher. He has.

Alexander is an extremely explosive leaper (on one alley oop dunk, his head was parallel with the rim). He has nice lateral quickness and down court speed. This guy is just an effortless athlete (although he doesn't look like he's really playing hard, he goes past you or jumps over you).

Joe Alexander plays power forward, but he's a totally finesse player. He's no back to the basket guy -- he catches the ball and faces up to the basket. Alexander is most comfortable taking his man off the dribble. He either gets to the rim, or (more often) takes a couple dribbles and stops for a mid range jumper or a turnaround. This guy plays like a smaller, more athletic Dirk Nowitzki (I'm not saying that he's in the same stratosphere as Dirk, but he plays with a similar style). He'll probably never be a true power forward, but he'll - no doubt - get his run at the next level. Expect him to be compared to former NBA great Tom Chambers - athletic, high flying white big guys almost always are (probably because they come along so infrequently).

As for the second reason tonight's games were relevant:

2.) - Georgetown.

After watching Georgetown, I'm convinced that they're good enough to make a return trip to the Final Four. They lost forward Jeff Green to the NBA, but they don't look like they've skipped a beat. Their guards are all solid: they make smart plays, handle pressure defense well, they don't turn the ball over, they have the ability penetrate and get into the lane and they nail their perimeter shots. Georgetown's front line, led by Hibbert, is also top notch.

This team has all the pieces. I still don't think they'll win the national championship, but they have the look of a Final Four team for sure. And yeah, it's early ... but Georgetown looks like they're for real.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

CBS Sportsline on Mayo, Rose & Recruiting

In preparation for tonight's USC v. Memphis game, CBS Sportsline's Gary Parrish talks about the respective recruitment of USC freshman O.J. Mayo and Memphis freshman Derrick Rose.

Key lines:

"If you don't have a mentor, uncle, friend, cousin or AAU coach of some kind working for you with an elite prospect you are just wasting your time recruiting," one high-major assistant told me recently. "Without somebody working for you, you have no shot at that prospect. Absolutely none."

Three Days After Peeing in His Pants During a Basketball Game, Bill Walker Makes "Pampers" Reference ... With No Hint of Irony

In Monday's Chicago Tribune, Brian Hamilton did a profile of Kansas State's Bill Walker titled, "Next stop, the NBA." With no apparent hint of irony, Hamilton quotes Walker as saying that he and O.J. Mayo have been "friends since pampers." Really.

Given the fact that, just last Thursday, Walker urinated in his pants during a timeout in Kansas State's overtime loss to Oregon, the editorial staff at Drive and Dish can't believe that Bill Walker would have the audacity to make a "pampers" reference ... unless it were something along the lines of, "Hey, do you think they make pampers in my size? You see, I've beeen having bladder control problems and I could probably benefit from wearing some XXXXXL pampers so that I don't continue to piss in my pants (and on the court) when I'm playing basketball."

Drive and Dish would like to thank you, Bill Walker.

You are the gift that keeps on giving.

By the way, we suggest you look into wearing Depends.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Washington Wizards Honor Earl "the Pearl": Can You Dig It?

Last night, the Washington Wizards honored former Knick and Baltimore / Washington Bullet Earl "the Pearl" Monroe, the man whom Washington Post Columnist Mike Wise said "changed the culture of the game (basketball)."

Wise says that although young people think that "improvisation and creativity started with Michael and now resides on an AND1 bus," Earl "the Pearl" was holdin' it down before "Jordan or LeBron's mother were born."

Unfortunately, most people don't know much about old school basketball. If you don't know about "Earl the Pearl," or old school basketball in general, read the article and take notes.