Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Harbinger of Success?

For the first time since 1999 (and only the second time ever), we have 2 teams seeded #12 or lower that have reached the Sweet Sixteen. Midwest #12 Villanova and West #12 Western Kentucky both face #1 seeds (Kansas and UCLA, respectively), which makes it likely that these seeds extend their all-time Sweet Sixteen record from 1-19 to 1-21 (only #12 Missouri in 2002 has won a Sweet Sixteen game).

Sidebar: I was at that 2002 West Regional Semifinal in San Jose when two Big XII teams (Missouri, Oklahoma) took out two Pac-10 teams (UCLA, Arizona) in their own backyard. But even in San Jose, those results were overshadowed by news that defending National Champ and AP #1 Duke had been upset by Indiana.

In addition to the onslaught of media attention that these types of teams receive, many coaches have used success in March as a springboard to "greener" pastures. For example, Bruce Pearl parlayed his success at Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2005 to land the job at Tennessee the following year, and he has taken the Vols towards the elite of college hoops in three short seasons.

But interestingly, the complete track record of these "miracle workers" is spotty to say the least. Sure Tubby Smith (Tulsa, 1994) went to Georgia then won a National Championship at Kentucky in his first year there, but he has since been summarily run out of Lexington and has ended up at Minnesota. Mike Jarvis (George Washington, 1993) got his chance at the big time at St John's and laid an egg, Steve Alford (SW Missouri St, 1999) went to Iowa for a few years and now is solidly mid-major at New Mexico, Kelvin Sampson (Oklahoma, 1999) can't seem to get off the phone, and Ben Braun (Eastern Michigan, 1991) literally just got fired today from Cal after a dozen middling seasons. And suffice to say that Quin Snyder didn't leverage his 2002 Missouri experience into long-standing success.

Perhaps the most interesting coaching move in this group is Mack McCarthy (Tennessee-Chattanooga, 1997), who took the Associate Head Coaching job at VCU the following year. Full disclosure: he did so knowing that Sonny Smith, his longtime mentor, would hand him the reins soon thereafter.

So the lesson for sudden hot coaching prospects like Darrin Horn at Western Kentucky is perhaps to follow the lead of Mark Few (Gonzaga, 2001) and stay at home. But if the Hoosiers come calling (sorry again, Kelvin), would he be able to say no?

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