Virginia athletic director Craig Littlepage, a former member of the NCAA selection committee, would be smart to take a hint from the league’s first-round losses by Boston College, Clemson, Florida State and Wake Forest.
In each case, the schools made coaching hires beneath the national radar. Obviously, all four coaches had good-enough seasons to bag impressive wins and earn tournament at-large invitations.
On the other hand, it’s probably no accident that the three ACC first-round winners — Duke, Maryland and North Carolina — are led by high-profile coaches with long histories of postseason success.
Granted, Mike Krzyzewski was a no-name when Duke AD Tom Butters found him at Army. But Butters made the move only after then-Indiana coach Bob Knight guaranteed the Blue Devils they would be getting a winner for the ages. Plus, that was in 1980, a few years before the NCAA event
became such a dominating national happening.
At a time when the college game is constantly getting drained of talent by the NBA, coaching has become important than ever. Don’t believe it for a second when prominent coaches — West Virginia’s Bob Huggins, for one — contend that the regular season is ruled by the coaches while the postseason belongs to the players.
There’s a word for that sort of statement: Crutch. To put it another way, is there anyone out there who seriously believes Cleveland State’s personnel is 15 points better than Wake Forest?
As the candidates to succeed Dave Leitao are sized up, Littlepage would be smart to look for established March winners first. Anything can backfire, but aiming high is the safest way to go.
In other words, make Tubby Smith, Jeff Capel and Sean Miller tell you no before looking elsewhere.
• SI hits and misses
If your brackets are busted and you’re feeling a little dumb, take heart. There’s always comfort in company, and Sports Illustrated is right there with you.
In its preseason national look, SI had Notre Dame No. 6 in its poll, Tennessee No. 10, Davidson No. 18 and Miami No. 19.
On the plus side, SI’s top five teams — North Carolina, Connecticut, UCLA, Louisville and Purdue — were still hanging around at the start of Saturday’s second-round NCAA games. Another nice call — the magazine singled out Siena as a long-shot that would make a tournament splash. The Saints eliminated Ohio State in their opener.
• Network changes?
This is still on the back burner, but the NCAA has the option of finding a new television network after the 2009-10 Final Four in Indianapolis.
While the long association with CBS generally has been a success, ABC, NBC and Fox would dearly love to get the lucrative March rights. Some NCAA movers and shakers already
are expecting an all-out bidding war even in a tight economy.
But therein lies a golden lining for the NCAA. With people staying home more and pinching pennies whenever possible, TV ratings are increasing.
And if CBS happens to lose the tournament to ABC (parent of ESPN), don’t at all be surprised to see a courtside analysts lineup that includes Knight, Dick Vitale and — yes — Billy Packer among others.
Packer’s long run of postseason work began with NBC in the mid 1970s. He switched to CBS only because it landed NCAA rights, but he was never totally happy after the change. Odds are ABC/ESPN would offer him a deal he wouldn’t refuse. -- Caulton Tudor, (Raleigh) News & Observer