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Tuesday, March 20, 2007

And they're off. Internet speculation has settled on three candidates: WVU's John Beilein, SIU's Chris Lowery, and Xavier's Sean Miller, with Beilein's buyout and age posing issues for his candidacy. (BTW: the buyout is $2.5 million, not three as reported last year. It declines by 500k each year of his contract. Also, the Martin interview referenced earlier has this quote about Amaker's buyout:

Q: Are you going to pay him the buyout?
Martin: Of course we will. Understand that has been funded every year and that accumulated.
Odd question. It's basically "Are you going to get sued for doing something stupid?" Interesting answer though: the 900k Amaker is owed has been rolled up already and isn't an unexpected expense coming out of the U's coffers. Further evidence that Michigan is ready and willing to pay a competitive salary, as the 900k sitting around was earmarked for the basketball coach either way, be it in the form of a buyout or a raise.)

Of the three mentioned, Lowery is my preference for reasons outlined in this USA Today article:
"They invade your personal space," Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg was saying the other day. "I love their attitude. I think it's their mindset."

So this time, the underdogs are bringing their defensive nightsticks, You will find no more intriguing clash of style in the Sweet 16. The unstoppable force will be wearing white, the immovable object maroon. [this passage incorrect, since Kansas has the best D in the country and an average offense, as pointed out by Wonk -ed]


"I don't think we sell them on defense. We sell them on winning," Lowery said. "Defense is a part of that."

"Anything time you drive," Virginia Tech's Zabian Dowdell said, "you can expect to be cut off by another defender."

That's the whole idea. Ruin passing angles, interfere with flow, be ready to help, never quit. Not until the shot clock runs out, or a brick clangs off the rim.

"The biggest thing is," Lowery said, "they trust each other."

On its weekly notes, Southern Illinois includes testimonials from past victims. This from Missouri State coach Barry Hinson, on preparing to play the Salukis:

"We run down to the police station and we get all the German Shepherd attack dogs and we just bring them onto the floor, and we rub meat juice all over our arms, and we just get ready to practice."


"People say we slow down," Lowery said. "We don't slow down. We just make you catch up, and stay at a pace of intensity on defense throughout the game. At the other end, we're not gong to let you breathe."

(We should bring Barry Hinson along as Designated Guy To Give Awesome Testimonial Quotes if we hire Lowery, no matter the cost.) There are some concerns. SIU does play slow-down: Kenpom has the Salukis 312th in adjusted pace. The accusations that Big Ten basketball is basically the Carlisle Pistons versus the Riley Knicks are not likely to decrease if he's hired.

But good God, y'all:
                      Offense               Defense
Raw Efficiency : 104.4 (135) 93.5 ( 18)
Adj Efficiency : 109.2 ( 81) 86.7 ( 12)

Effective FG% : 52.1 ( 85) 47.7 ( 80)
Turnover Pct. : 22.3 (229) 24.3 ( 25)
Off. Rebound% : 31.4 (241) 28.9 ( 12)
Free Throw Rate: 31.9 ( 22) 49.8 (326)

3-Point FG% : 37.4 ( 61) 34.9 (180)
2-Point FG% : 49.8 (130) 45.4 ( 61)
Free Throw Pct.: 69.1 (172) 70.6 (248)
Block Pct. : 8.5 (130) 11.1 ( 64)
Steal Pct. : 10.7 (235) 10.5 (115)

3PA/FGA : 36.0 (118) 32.7 (122)
A/FGM : 54.9 (179) 51.3 ( 62)
Lowery's offense is plagued by turnovers -- ugh -- and awful offensive rebounding. Everything else is at least okay. Now consider this: SIU has one senior and no one playing significant minutes taller than 6'7". More impressive than their tourney run has been their ability to lock down a Sweet 16 seed from the MVC. SIU is a legit team that has an identity without anyone who will even sniff the NBA. He's the guy.

More. Sun-Times article on SIU's efforts to keep Lowery:
He put me and Tony [Young] and me against each other, and I thought he was trying to run us off, make us transfer schools," said Jamaal Tatum, the Salukis' leading scorer. "… He made things difficult for us. But he expects so much out of the players that he will push you. I'm thankful he did because I've become a lot better player."

Southern won consistently before Lowery got there, so it is realistic to think it could win without him. But why take chances?

"He's the total package," Moccia said. "He's 34 years old. He has such a great floor demeanor. He can recruit. He's a great family guy. And he's unbelievably, wildly successful. That's kind of a rare thing. That's why we really want to keep him."

And why a lot of others might want him.
Lowery made approximately 300k this year. If we go after him SIU will probably increase that significantly, but I doubt they can go as high as we can.

Even more Lowery. From a pre-NCAAs PC this year:
REPORTER: Both of you, I know I'm putting you on the spot because your coach is sitting next to you, but what's special about playing for Coach Lowery?

YOUNG: The biggest thing about playing for Coach is he's one of the coaches that understands his players. You've got a lot of people that push you to do things you don't want to do, he gives us the freedom to go out and play the way we want to play but within his offense and the things he wants us to do. And he really rides us and makes us strive to be the best we can be as far as people, as far as players, really just all around. He doesn't settle for us being second best. He doesn't let us settle for it either.

TATUM: I'll agree with Tony on that. He definitely pushes us. When he came back from Illinois and we got our first workout with him, he put me and Tony against each other and I thought he was trying to make us transfer schools or something the way he came at us, but he was just expecting a lot out of us, he knew it was going to be a big year and he knew that he had some shoes to fill and we had some shoes to fill and that we had to be a good team and we were a great team that year and he came back and he really put it on us and made things difficult for us. That's the thing about him, he expects so much out of all his players that he will push you and I'm thankful for what he's done because I've become a lot better player under him.
"Young" and "Tatum" are two starting guards.

Two notes. Amaker has been all class as the outgoing coach. Reports are he called Legion and encouraged him to stick with his LOI, and he's also sending out notes to various people associated with Michigan. This went out to some alumni association presidents:

I just want to sincerely thank you for the opportunity that I was given to be the basketball coach at this tremendous university. I will always be grateful for it.

I truly loved teaching and coaching at the University of Michigan. I loved representing you, and I wish you all well.

Please continue to support the team and the new coach--they need you and deserve you!

Thank you so much for everything, and GO BLUE!

A similar email went out to the Maize Rage:
Maize Rage,

I just want to thank all of you for all of the support that you've given our basketball program and me during my time at Michigan. You've been phenomenal, and I will always be grateful for your support and enthusiasm for our team.

I truly loved coaching and teaching at Michigan, and I will always be grateful to have had this opportunity. I loved representing you, and I wish you all well.

Please continue to support the team and the new coach--they need you and deserve your support!!

Thank you again for everything you've done for me and Michigan Basketball, and GO BLUE!

Coach Amaker
Yes, this makes me feel a bit heelish for the constant snark, if you're asking.

All fixed now. Deadspin found hilarious video of a Kansas State player eating popcorn on the bench during an NIT game:
Far be it from us to understate the importance of the NIT -- no place is more dangerous than Crisler Arena in mid-March! -- but during the Kansas State-DePaul game the other night, an injured Wildcat sat on the bench eating popcorn.
Yeah, that momentary pang of sympathy is all better now.

Facilitate this. Article in the Freep yesterday from Mark Snyder:
"Usually the perception within the fan base is higher than the reality, like with football fans at Alabama who think they should go 12-0 every year," said Yahoo Sports columnist Dan Wetzel. "With Michigan basketball, it's the opposite. The perception in the fan base is, after so many years of the program having excuses made for it, the fans' view is lower than the reality college coaches put on the program. College coaches say that's a top 10 job."

Wetzel noted that the state of Michigan has incredible talent and there are more than enough players for Michigan and Michigan State to both thrive. He said Michigan kids are still split 50/50 on Michigan and Michigan State, with that number leaning heavily toward U-M in Detroit.

The bluster about Michigan's limited facilities and disinterested fan base is not a driving factor, Wetzel said.

"Michigan can recruit nationally," he said. "It's an unbelievable school and campus; the only thing missing is structural advancements. Those are down the line. You can get guys out of major conferences to take this job. You can get a coach out of (the) ACC, Big 12. You can't get them to leave North Carolina, but from most places, you can."

There are further quotes from Jay Bilas, who's telling anyone who will listen that Amaker walked into Beruit six years ago and made it a happy bunny meadow:
"It's a high-level job, it's a Big Ten job," said ESPN analyst Jay Bilas, who coached with Amaker as assistants at Duke. "Now it's on a solid foundation, starting at the starting line instead of 20 yards behind like before (Amaker) arrived."

Bilas said the facilities are a significant problem and one could "make an argument" that the Minnesota job -- another high-profile opening -- would be competitive with Michigan because of its recent small-scale renovations.

"What they need to do is to find the best possible coach without regard to some type of template that the media likes to throw out," Bilas said of Michigan. "The bottom line is there are a number of coaches available. But in order to have an outstanding basketball program, you have to show a commitment to basketball, not just a coach but the entire community. Michigan hasn't made that commitment, and until they do ... they'll have issues to face."

Crap, I say. Amaker did walk into a bad situation, but no one held it against him when his first two years were miserable. The NCAA sanction cloud was always overblown -- after his first year, which everyone gave him a mulligan on, Michigan faced no significant recruiting restrictions -- and the facilities argument is being blown way out of proportion. Did Crisler Arena turn it over twenty times a game more often than not? Did the lack of a practice facility offer Smith and Coleman as sophomores? Was the brick in the locker room unable to improve Michigan's players? The overwhelming reason Michigan was not good at basketball the past two years was Amaker's lack of coaching ability, and anyone offering up weak facilities arguments is covering for a very, very nice man who can't coach.

The most irritating thing is that the facilities meme espoused by people trying to find any reason to argue for Amaker has spilled over into the mainstream media as a major reason the Michigan basketball program sucks. It's not. Since Steve Fisher left in the wake of Martingate, Michigan has been run by Brian Ellerbe and Tommy Amaker. Ellerbe does not and never will have another D-I job, and I'd bet you a dollar Tommy finds himself in the same boat. Ten years of mismanagement by coaches is the reason the Michigan basketball program finds itself brought low. And since the all-encompassing ennui around the team has discouraged financial contributions for a freakin' decade -- one in which the facilities race really got started -- there has been no money with which to build the hypothetically opulent palace in which Amaker still would have been a very nice man who can't coach.

The AD at Michigan doesn't operate like the AD at other schools. They won't take on debt and they are self-funding (including 70% out-of-state scholarships at 30k per year -- you can make the argument that the AD helps support the university, not vice versa). When local columnists opine that Michigan must shell out for the program they neglect to mention where this money is going to come from.

Take the baseball program, which brings in almost no revenue. Rich Maloney showed up, looked at a decrepit and uncompetitive situation, and immediately started raising capital for a new stadium. At this very moment a multi-million dollar replacement of Fisher stadium is underway because Rich Maloney went out and found the money for it. If you really want to blame someone for the supposedly sorry state of the basketball facilities, you can find him wearing a mock turtleneck on the next bus to Durham. In this case: win, we'll come, and you'll build it.

Mr. Basketball. Is recruit Manny Harris, who says he's still a recruit... probably:
"I'm going to wait and see who they hire," said Harris, the 27th winner of the prestigious award, selected by the Basketball Coaches Association of Michigan in conjunction with the Free Press. "But my heart is still with Michigan."
Further bit about Amaker being all class:
Amaker had some advice for Harris.

"He told me 'Michigan is still Michigan,' " Harris said. "It's still a good school."

More on Harris from a Rise article earlier this year.

Etc.: ESPN Wojo says Tubby should leave before he's axed. Fat chance; the Canzano column that started the Ernie Kent speculation; Minnesota grumbling about being second banana.


Anonymous said...

Well... its hard for me to accept the fact that a school as rich and wealthy as Michigan can't afford to improve its facilities. We didn't compete not solely because of lack of facilities and a lack of providing additional assistant coaching funds. His coaching incompetence played a major part in that.

However, you can't sit there and expect us to be a good team, when provided less resources than the teams we are competing with. You will, because as a fan its entirely alot easier to blame performance on just the coaches, rather than the administration. Its the same deal with MSU and football. People can sit there and say, well JLS is a terrible coach, but the fact is, when they go through 32432432 coaches, and get roughly the same performance, its time to look up top at how you do things there. Fans don't want to do that because its alot harder to correct that problem.

You can sit there and deny that Martin has been something short of a terrible A.D. and say the basketball failures ar due to coaching primarily. But the fact is, worse coaches are winning more in the major conferences. You guys want 10 dollar results when you are only putting in 1 dollar in. We were putting 1 dollar in, and we got 1 dollar results.

WolverBean said...

Coaching article in the Daily today. Said basically the same things you did, only a day later. I've noticed the Daily has a habit of doing that sometimes (it happened re: hockey pairwise as well); makes me wonder how many on their staff read your blog.

WolverBean said...

Apparently that didn't link. Here's the article