Former longtime Michigan State Coach Jud Heathcote passes away

Coach helped Earvin “Magic” Johnson become a superstar in guiding the Spartans to the 1979 NCAA Championship over Larry Bird and undefeated Indiana State

Late Monday night, ESPN along with CBS Sports and other media outlets were the first to mention a press release sent out by Michigan State University confirming that former veteran Head Coach Jud Heathcote died at the age of 90 in Spokane, Washington.

Prior to taking the Michigan State job in 1976, Heathcote spent five years tolling the sidelines at Montana compiling a modest 80-53 record.  But it was the three times that the Spartans won the Big Ten regular season title gave him the most satisfaction.  His overall record when he retired in 1995 was 419-274 (.605 winning percentage).

As most loyal fans know, Tom Izzo took over the program after spending 12 years as an assistant.  Coach Izzo had nothing but true praise in a statement released by the school:

“The basketball world is a sadder place today with the passing of Jud Heathcote.  No one cared more about the welfare of the game than Jud. He was a coach’s coach and a mentor to many….Without a doubt, he was one of the most influential people in my life — giving me a chance when no one else would. Any coaching success I’ve ever had is because of him. Long after he left Michigan State, he was still one of the first people I would call when I had a tough decision in coaching or life.”

His greatest accomplishment was winning the 1979 national championship over then undefeated Larry Bird and Indiana State 75-64 in what NBC still claims the record for the highest rated college basketball game in history, at a whopping 28.1 rating.

After my parents were kind enough to let me watch the game on that Monday night of March 26, 1979, you just couldn’t help but smile during the initial post-game comments asked by then esteemed NBC Sports reporter Bryant Gumbel.

Playing against an uncertain backdrop when the United States was suffering through double digit inflation and at some places saw very long lines since gas supplies were running short, the final minute of play at the Jon Huntsman Center on the campus of the University of Utah was simply pure “Magic” indeed:

Coach Heathcote will be missed, especially in the Big Ten Conference and the nation in general.  Thank you for all of the memories, especially during that amazing 1978-79 winning season.

For more about the 1979 championship game, I highly recommend longtime CBS Sports analyst Seth Davis’ exhaustive 324 page account from 2009 simply titled:

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Seth Davis cover from 2009 book, courtesy of images.macmillan.com

 

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Say Hello to Grand Canyon University

Newest full-time member of NCAA Division I Athletics is located in Phoenix

As first reported by ESPN, CBS Sports, and many other websites on Wednesday–the Grand Canyon Antelopes (or what the school simply calls them Lopes) will make their full-time debut in the Western Athletic Conference during the 2017-2018 academic year.

Founded in 1949, the school colors are the very fashionable combination of purple, black, and white.  According to their Wikipedia page, their student enrollment (as of September 2015) is 19,500 with another 60,700 individuals enrolled online.

What is most significant about this move is that GCU is the first university to be for-profit while competing in Division One athletics.  The school was at one time, a non-profit winning several conference titles between the years 1995 to 1998.

Most recently, ESPN was inside their basketball gym during Final Four week when they played host to the annual Collegiate 3 Point Shootout and Slam Dunk Championships.

They will join fellow newcomer Texas-Rio Grande Valley in the eight team WAC in all sports.

About This Solar Eclipse Thing

“May the shadow of the moon fall on a world at peace.”

Former ABC News anchor Frank Reynolds made that wish during last solar eclipse on the morning of February 26, 1979

SONG SELECTION:

The Cars, “Let’s Go”

Found on the 1979 album, Candy-O (Expanded Edition available online and on all streaming media players)

In case you forgot to either a) buy those special glasses, or b) cut out some holes to fit your eyes out of a simple cereal box, along with a piece of white scrap paper, and aluminum foil (Reynolds Wrap Heavy Duty I would recommend) and some tape to hold it together…

I could only imagine the next time it will happen, since we saw many small towns holding twice as many people as the town’s population (case in point–Casper, Wyoming where they nearly doubled their town watching the solar eclipse from 50,000 to having nearly 100,000 people late Monday morning)…

but Southern Illinois University took full advantage, as 15,000 people filled up their football stadium–complete with the cheerleaders performing in the end zones as if a football game was about to start while dancing to Michael Jackson’s legendary 1983 hit song, “Billie Jean”…they will get to experience it again in the true ‘path of totality’,  which will be happening Monday, April 8, 2024.

Although that eclipse will occur several hours before TBS airs that year’s National Championship game, the NCAA better choose their Final Four site wisely.

Glendale, Arizona anyone?  Minnesota?  Who knows?

The site where the Final Four is held every five years at Lucas Oil Stadium (since the NCAA relocated their headquarters to Indianapolis from Kansas City many years back), could resemble similar gridlock last seen when the New York Giants barely held off the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLVI.

In other news…Seth Davis of CBS Sports found new employment after being laid off earlier this summer at Sports Illustrated.  He will be on the same staff as former longtime ESPN.com college basketball writer Dana O’Neil at The Fieldhouse.

Sign up to be the first to read their articles and blogs starting on October 1 at this Twitter handle:  @TheAthleticCBB

Back to my regular scheduled blogs soon.

Big Ten to use condensed schedule during 2017-2018

This past Wednesday, the Big Ten Conference announced their conference schedule.  In the first five of December, each of the 14 schools will play two games (one home and one away) separated two days apart.  All of the coaches were hoping to give their players the chance to spend the holidays with their families and friends, since the 2016 portion of the schedule had four games on December 27 and another five to kick off 2017.  From January 2 to February 25, there will be at least one conference game during 51 of those 55 days.

Couple that with Northwestern having to play all of their home games nine miles away from Evanston at Allstate Arena (the former longtime home of the DePaul Blue Demons) while Welsh-Ryan Arena is getting a much needed facelift from the inside out) and Williams Arena on the Minnesota campus will be used for concerts and parties featuring national celebrities for six days.  One must safely guess with Jimmy Fallon will be bringing his Late Night act into the Twin Cities to kick off February in time for Super Bowl LII, as the Gophers will be busy on the road during the biggest game of the year (which will take place five nights before the Winter Olympics began over a half world away in Pyeongchang, Korea).

The bigten.org website has the full schedule, but the television slates will be announced sometime in October from BTN, ESPN, CBS Sports, and the newcomers in Fox Sports.

All of this leads into the 21st Annual Big Ten Tournament, to be played for the first time at the home of the 2018 Grammy Awards–Madison Square Garden in New York from February 28 to March 4.  This much I do know–CBS will be covering their first NYC conference tournament games since they had the Big East way back in 1995. Some teams may be off a full two weeks before the NCAA Tournament, something current Iowa coach Fran McCaffrey knows very well after leading Siena to a dramatic double overtime upset over Ohio State in the first round of the 2009 NCAA Tournament.  The Saints had a full ten days off between games, something that Minnesota Head Coach Richard Pitino or longtime Michigan State Head Coach Tom Izzo have not had huge a break in the schedule.  Normally, most Power 5 schools get no more than five or six days off prior to the NCAA Tournament.

Here is the first slate of games to chew over.  Hopefully, I will find the time to blog more about these matchups and maybe do a brief podcast once the turkey break is behind us for another year:

Friday, December 1:

Defending Big Ten regular season champions Purdue at Maryland

Illinois at Northwestern, to be played at Allstate Arena in Rosemont, IL

Saturday, Dec. 2:  Penn State at Iowa

Indiana at Michigan

Ohio State at Wisconsin

Sunday, Dec. 3:  Maryland at Illinois

Nebraska at Michigan State

Rutgers at Minnesota

Northwestern at Purdue

Monday, Dec. 4:

Iowa at Indiana

Michigan at Ohio State

Wisconsin at Penn State

Tuesday, Dec. 5:

Minnesota at Nebraska

Michigan State at Rutgers

Quality Road Wins Vital For NCAA Tournament Qualifying Going Forward

“Effective with the 2017-18 season, team sheets will place greater emphasis on where the games are played rather than the ranking of each opponent.”

Statement by the NCAA after the Men’s Basketball selection committee met in Chicago from July 11 to 13, 2017 regarding selection of teams and seeding guidelines

For far too long, the NCAA valued those schools who were hot in the last ten games they played and would be rewarded with top 5 seeds.  A road win in January and February did not carry much weight in-conference, as opposed to a mid-major powerhouse such as when Belmont went on the road a few years back and stunned North Carolina, in Chapel Hill of all places.  That did not ultimately help IPFW when they stunned Indiana last December, since that game took place in Fort Wayne.

Things are going to finally change, and hopefully for the mid-majors clamoring for years for fairness–this might be the dawning of a new era.

What the new table will look like going forward hopefully should be more cut and dry than what broadcasters have been trying to decipher for years.  At least, for the average fan–the RPI (Rating Percentage Index) may soon be going the same way as Kodak cameras, the Edsel automobile, Handy Andy, Builders Square, and Borders books–once great places to do business but no longer exist.

Effective in November, each school’s games will be divided into four columns.

CBSSports.com detailed it in this fashion in a July 14 online article, according to overall RPI rankings:

  1. Column 1: Home games against teams ranked 1-30, neutral site games vs. top-50 teams, road games against top-75 teams
  2. Column 2: Home games against teams ranked 31-75, neutral site games  vs. 51-100, road games vs. 76-135
  3. Column 3: Home games against teams ranked 76-160, neutral site games vs. 101-200, road games vs. 136-240
  4. Column 4: Home games against teams ranked 161-351, neutral site games vs. 201-351, road games vs. 241-351

What this means is that for example, if the 70th-ranked team wins on the road–that game will carry just as much weight as beating a top 25 team at home.  This could lead to a major boon for more at-large bids, and better seeds for smaller mid-major programs.

One NCAA source close to the meeting mentioned in the article about Monmouth when they barely missed out in 2015.  You might recall, they lost a few games with lesser teams ranked in the 200s on the road.  Even though they had some quality wins against Power 5 teams over Notre Dame and USC, it did not carry enough weight for them to merit an NCAA bid.  Those games will be penciled in red under the third column and not the fourth if those losses occur at home instead of on the road.

Expect also KenPom.com’s offensive and defensive efficiency rankings to be tweaked with their intricate software just in time for the new season.

Come 2018-2019, a new method of modern metrics could be introduced to possibly replace the RPI.  Created in 1981-82, it is one of the key metrics used to build data sheets for teams that have similar rankings and ultimately those numbers are crunched to make up the seeds for each of the four regions.  During the 2017 Tournament, teams like Kansas State and Wake Forest had enough of a strong schedule to be part of the last four teams selected in the 68 team field.  Schools like Illinois State and Syracuse were sent to the NIT since they did not have that one quality win on the road that the Selection Committee often covets.

Look for the NCAA to possibly run some type of a composite ranking system, plus the thinking is that they might establish an independent but separate and unique formula next season as a test run of sorts.  Their goal is to see how this type of composite metric can be better utilized and how the new individual ranking system performs vs. other established metrics before signing off on a total overhaul of the RPI as we know it.

It is best then to close out this interesting blog with two thoughts.

First, here is what Senior Vice President of NCAA Basketball Dan Gavitt mentioned right after the meeting concluded last month:

“The bottom line is we recognize the need to continue using more modern metrics and the need to make those more front and center in the sorting of data for the selection and seeding process.  However, it’s also critical to have a long-term solution that is tested in real time, so we can roll something out that we have complete confidence in, is mathematically sound and is acceptable in every stakeholder’s eyes.”

Finally, Note To Self:

Just in case if any eager fans wish to comment about any school “on the bubble” in either January or February, please forward a link to this blog to avoid any and all future confusion.

Maui Invitational To Feature Some Tantalyzing Matchups

Wichita State will probably be the favorite, but look out for either Notre Dame or Michigan to make some noise on the island of Maui

The matchups were announced by ESPN and the Maui Invitational Twitter page (@MauiInv) on July 18, a full twelve days before Wichita State star sophomore guard Landry Shamet underwent surgery for suffering a stress fracture in the fifth metatarsal of his right foot.  The timetable for a full recovery, according to Matt Norlander of CBSSports.com, is 12 to 16 weeks.  He will be spending the next two weeks on a hard split, then transition eventually to crutches for the next 6 to 8 weeks.

This means he would more than likely begin play on or around Monday, November 20 when the first round of the Maui Invitational begins.

All times listed are in Eastern Standard Time:

First Round
2:30 p.m. Marquette vs. VCU, ESPN2

5 p.m. Wichita State vs. California, ESPN2

9 p.m. Notre Dame vs. Chaminade, ESPNU

11:30 p.m. Michigan vs. LSU, ESPNU

Semifinal Round, Tuesday, November 21:

First 2 winners play at 1:30 p.m.,

the 2 winners on the bottom half of the bracket play at 10:30 p.m.

Both games to air on ESPN.

Championship Game:  Wednesday, November 22 at 10:30 p.m., ESPN2

Something to keep in mind:

Landry Shamet’s injury is different than when he was forced to redshirt two years ago after suffering a compound fracture in his left foot.

The reigning Missouri Valley Conference Freshman of the Year averaged 11.4 points per game to go along with 3.3 assists and 2.8 rebounds for the Shockers last season.

With the Shockers getting ready to debut in the American Athletic Conference this fall, Gregg Marshall will have a steady supply of senior leadership to hopefully bring the Shockers back for another potential run at the Final Four.

Three year starters in Conner Frankamp, Shaquille Morris, Rashard Kelly, and Zach Brown should bring lots of excitement in Wichita, Kansas and elsewhere.  Most experts and bracketologists are projecting the Shockers as a preseason Top 5 team once the season starts shortly after Halloween.

Will Wade left VCU in the spring to be the new head coach at LSU.  If the alphabet soup game turns out right, it will be very interesting watching.

Final early storyline from me features Mike Brey having Notre Dame once again being loaded with talent.  Year in and year out, they play to their full potential and get spirited efforts from the starters to the bench and the Irish will be another team to look out for.  Thanks in large part since the announcement of Bonzie Colson deciding not to enter the NBA Draft, he will be sticking around for one more year.  The Fighting Irish are coming off a 26-win season, as they are hoping to get past their 2017 NCAA Tournament hangover after starting the second round game in Buffalo so slowly against the familiar press from West Virginia.  Notre Dame also is fortunate to have the steady hands of senior point guard Matt Farrell leading the charge.

I hope to do a short blog and podcast once that weekend rolls around, so I can give fans a primer on what to expect during those last three hectic days leading up to the Thanksgiving holiday.  And yes, there will be more holiday tournaments to feast your eyes and ears on (and add your hungry mouths as well) during that long four-day holiday weekend.  Yes, my online fans–the plate will be full even before the cranberry sauce is added right next to your turkey and my favorite dish, the stuffing.

Bottom line is this:  These games will play a larger role in how the Selection Committee will choose the 2018 bracket.  I will have the key details in my next blog soon.

Pleasant dreams, everyone and I hope the West Coast is trying their best to stay cool during their record heat wave.