Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Upgrades in Competition

So the Big Ten men's college basketball coaching landscape has evolved. Iowa hired Butler's coach, Todd Lickliter, who just won the Coach of the Year award from the National Association of Basketball Coaches. Lickliter (Can this really be his name? Hilarious!) led Butler to a 131-61 record in six seasons, including a 29-7 record this year, in a season where Butler beat Gonzaga, Maryland, Indiana, Notre Dame, and Purdue. Alas, Butler did lose to Indiana State, thus blowing their chance at an undisputed Indiana state collegiate championship, although they still would have needed to beat Evansville, IUPUI, and IUPUFW. (With their victory over Valpo, Butler was 4-1 against other intra-Indiana division I basketball programs.) Butler also lost to Loyola of Chicago, University of Illinois-Chicago (UIC), Wright State (twice), and Southern Illinois, going down by four in one of ESPN's "Bracket Buster" games. The losses to Wright State deprived Butler of both a regular season conference championship and a Horizon League tournament crown, not unlike with Bucky and the Ohio A&M. Butler proceeded to get an outrageously high seed (a #5) in contrast to Wright State (a #14), but Coach Lickliter's team largely lived up to it, knocking off the Terps and Old Dominion before giving Florida one of their most competitive games of the tournament.

Over in the dirty whore of Ann Arbor, the University of Michigan reeled in West Virginia's coach, John Beilein, who posted a 104-60 record in five seasons at West Virginia, playing in the more competitive Big East. Beilein's Mountaineers have also gone on decent runs in the post-season, winning the semi-dubious NIT this season, and making it to the Elite Eight two years back, only to get shot down by Rick Pitino's Louisville team. You may remember--that team was led by the wonderfully named Kevin Pittsnoggle. As the winner of this year's NIT, West Virginia won the distinction of "Best Team Not Given An At-Large Bid" also known as the "Why the Hell Did You Choose Stanford Over Us?" Award. In order to acquire Beilein's services, Michigan paid $2.5 million to buy out his contract with WVU. Personally, I'd eagerly shell out $2.5 million not to live in Morgantown, so getting someone else to pay that sum to reel you out of that bizarre hellhole is an impressive feat.

The question is, how does this bode for the rest of the Big Ten, and in particular, the Badgers? Personally, I think it's an improvement for both teams, but I'm not freaking out. Both coaches are decently successful, have steered their teams to big wins against other good teams, one doing so in a big conference. However, neither have shown a knack for reeling in, discovering, or developing high level talent, unless A.J. Graves counts. (And he might.) Perhaps I'm getting spoiled or complacent, and perhaps the results of this year's tournament indicates that I should be more skeptical, but I feel like if Bo has equal talent, he can and will beat you most days. I think Beilein may have trouble keeping the best kids in-state, or away from Sparty, and I don't believe Iowa, with it's population of 3 million, produces enough talented kids who don't want to go to Kansas (like Kirk Hinrich). So I expect them to be pretty good coaches, but not challenging for the top of the Big Ten good, unless they bust out with some very talented recruits, or turn what's on hand (Iowa's freshman forward, Tyler Smith, perhaps?) into something far better than it has been. If I were picking one to worry about, it might be the unfortunately named Coach Lickliter at Iowa. He didn't start anyone over 6'8" and came within a few missed three-pointers of taking out Flordia. He should be able to do something good with the current Iowa team.

In other news, the Packers hired the first female Vice-President in team history. When I read this, I had several reactions. First, the thought "Why is ESPN coverning intra-team mid-to-upper level promotions? Must be a slow news day." Second, closely follwing the first thought, was the question "why the hell didn't this happen twenty years ago?" Then, upon reading the news release, I came to the realization that the Pack's new VP of Finance was named, and I'm being completely serious here-- Vicki Vannieuwenhoven. Yes, that's a fifteen-letter last name. Hells, yeah. Keeping it real! If anyone has any inkling about how to pronounce Vannieuwenhoven (don't worry I'm not a spelling savant, I just pasted that again), or what that name might mean, please let me know. Anyhow, congratulations to Ms. Vannieuwenhoven!

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