Category Archives: college basketball

Colorado State makes a bet on redemption

There’s never been any doubt that Larry Eustachy could coach.

Anybody following Big 12 Conference basketball at the turn of the century will recall the back-to-back conference championships at Iowa State featuring star players Jamaal Tinsley and Marcus Fizer. Eustachy and his upstart Cyclones came this close to the Final Four in 2000 before losing a memorable Midwest Regional final to eventual national champion Michigan State.

Of course, Big 12 fans might also remember Eustachy’s meltdown at the end of that game, a public hint of the private demons that stalked him when the games were over and the television lights had been packed away.

Four years later, after the sort of internet-fed public disgrace with which we have since become familiar — a Missouri student snapped and posted photos of a drunken Eustachy kissing college co-eds at a party after a game — he found himself starting over with a program at the University of Southern Mississippi that even basketball fans barely knew existed.

The road back, both personally and professionally, led him to Fort Collins on Thursday, where he became head coach at Colorado State, a school with a president and new athletic director dreaming of greatness.

“The Southern Miss job really interested me because of the culture,” Eustachy said on the Dave Logan Show. “There just is no basketball culture there, and I’m one who has lofty goals and thinks I can change the world. The previous coach, the coach I followed, I picked the last game that he was the coach at and I counted the people in the stands and there were like 218 of ’em. And I thought, well, here’s a perfect place to try to educate the fans, to try to build some type of tradition.”

In his first season, the Golden Eagles went 2-14 in Conference USA play, good for fourteenth in the standings. Conference USA doesn’t even have fourteen teams anymore. Eight years later, they were 25-9 overall and 11-5 in the conference, accepting their first NCAA tournament bid in twenty-one years.

“To say it was easy, it was not,” Eustachy said. “It was very difficult. We were in for a marathon, not a sprint. And we got it to a point where we were getting four or five thousand people at the game and I just thought it was time to have a new challenge.

“When this opportunity opened up, I just am in love with this region, you know? I had been at Utah State. I grew up on the beach of Southern California. I love the beach and I love the mountains. I just thought this would be a perfect place to reach other goals of mine, particularly with a program with such potential.”

The internet pictures made Eustachy more famous than he’d ever been as a successful basketball coach. Iowa State announced his departure in 2003 as a resignation, but Eustachy calls it what it was — a firing.

“It was truly the best thing that ever happened to me,” he said. “I’m a recovering alcoholic. I have the disease of alcoholism and I have no problem talking about it.

“I never understood just what it meant to have that disease and be an alcoholic. I thought that was the guy under the bridge with the paper bag. I mean, I never drank during the day. I never drank before a game. I never drank before a practice. I never drank before a meeting. I drank when the day was over. And how can I be an alcoholic if I’m National Coach of the Year, winning back-to-back Big 12 championships? But I was. But I was, is my point.

“I believe there’s somebody much more powerful than me I choose to call God guiding my life, and he dropped me to my knees and humbled me and made me reinvent myself. I know it happened for a reason. So I don’t look back. I wouldn’t change a thing. I don’t need to be at Duke. I don’t need to be at Kentucky. I need to be at a place that has a chance to win because losing’s no fun. So I’m at a perfect spot in my life and would rather be nowhere else.”

In keeping with the tone that CSU president Tony Frank and athletic director Jack Graham want to establish, the first economic incentive in Eustachy’s five-year contract rewards him if his players graduate and there are no major NCAA violations on his watch. After that come the usual incentives for winning. Asked about CSU as his next stop, the 56-year-old Eustachy responded this way:

“The next and the last, and I’ve got a contract to prove it, because if I tried to buy myself out, I’d have to take out a loan. I love the area, I love the vision of the president and the athletic director and I really think it’s been an untapped basketball program, I really do.”

Before leaving for Nebraska, former CSU coach Tim Miles left the program in much better shape than the one Eustachy found eight years ago at Southern Miss. The Rams made the NCAA tournament field this year for the first time since 2003. They went 20-12 overall, 8-6 in the Mountain West Conference. In fact, Eustachy’s Golden Eagles were the only team to beat the Rams on their home floor last season, a 79-58 thrashing in November.

“I’ve completely changed as a person, Eustachy said. “I haven’t had a drink, in a couple weeks it’ll be nine years. But the game hasn’t changed. I really think there’s just one way to play the game. I think players want parameters built around them. I think players want to be coached hard. They certainly don’t want to be belittled, and we don’t do that. What we do is we mold character and we teach them how to play the game the right way.

“We’re very demanding. We don’t believe in taking plays off. We push it up the court offensively and take the first good shot available. You’d have to ask them, but I think players love playing that way and love playing for not only me but the staff that I have.”

Not that many college coaches last long enough to amass 400 career wins, so you know Eustachy has been around just by the career 402-258 record he brings to Fort Collins. CSU gives him a chance to take an unrecognized program to the national stage. Eustachy gives CSU a chance to achieve its suddenly ambitious athletic goals. And together, they have a chance to make a public statement about the power of redemption.

Colorado’s game plan tonight in the NCAA tournament

After Murray State eliminated Colorado State from March Madness this morning, the University of Colorado is the state’s last hope to advance beyond the round of 64 in the Division I tournament.

In fact, Colorado is also the Pac-12’s last hope after Cal, the conference’s only other tournament invitee, was eliminated in a play-in game Wednesday.

You might think, as I did, that CU’s best chance against the athletic, high-flying Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV would be to take the air out of the ball and turn tonight’s matchup into a half-court game, as Wisconsin did when the Badgers beat the Rebels 62-51 in December. But CU coach Tad Boyle said this week on the Dave Logan Show that’s not the plan.

“Here’s what the game plan is,” Boyle said. “Now, what the game plan is and what unfolds are sometimes different things, but we still want to run. When we get stops, we’re going to go, we’re going to attack. We always want to be in attack mode. I think in tournament basketball, the aggressive team has the advantage. So we are going to be the aggressor on both offense and defense. We’re going to attack. We’re not going to take the air out of the ball. We’re going to run.

“But what we have to do is we have to control the tempo of the game so that we can dictate when we do that and when we don’t do that. And that’s where I think, when you’re playing UNLV, you’d better dictate the tempo. If you let them dictate the tempo and you go toe to toe, athlete to athlete, we probably come up a little bit short.

“But we are going to run. We’re going to just pick and choose our spots. Off misses, rebounds, turnovers, we’re going to go. Off a made basket, you may see us execute in the half court. So I think you have to learn how to win games. If you saw us play in L.A., we were aggressive offensively when we had the advantage. But when we don’t, we’ve got to be smart, we’ve got to make them execute in the half court, because I think maybe advantage Buffaloes when it comes to that. But we’ll see how it plays out.”

In this morning’s game, Colorado State wanted to slow Murray State’s transition game, and largely succeeded. The Racers’ 58 points were their second-lowest point total of the season. But the Rams sabotaged their chances to stay close with a fatal 21 turnovers. Many were bad decisions, but Murray State also seemed to anticipate much of CSU’s interior passing game, frequently picking off feeds in the paint.

Like the Rams, the Buffaloes are underdogs as a No. 11 seed. When Dave Rice’s UNLV team gets out and runs, it can play with anyone, as it proved by defeating North Carolina in a 90-80 November track meet.

“We’ve got our hands full,” Boyle said. “We’ve got to (play good) transition defense, getting back, and they shoot over 23 three-point shots a game. They really use that to their advantage. They do it from a lot of different spots on the floor, a lot of different positions. If we can get our defense set, which is going to be easier said than done against those athletes, I like our chances. But that’s going to be a key to the game.”

CU came up big in the Pac-12 tourney, winning four games in four days to take the conference championship and earn its automatic bid to the big dance. Sophomore Andre Roberson and senior Carlon Brown were the tournament standouts, but the Buffs also got important contributions from seniors Nate Tomlinson and Austin Dufault and freshmen guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker.

“Carlon Brown played with a sense of urgency, an aggressiveness, a confidence that we really needed,” Boyle said. “And that was infectious to our whole team. He made Nate more confident, he made Austin more confident, he helped our freshman guards, Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker. I thought Austin Dufault had a great tournament.

“I think if you point to two guys, probably Carlon and Andre really stepped their games up, but Nate was terrific. I thought our freshmen played very, very well for freshmen. Spencer Dinwiddie was 4-for-4 from the three-point line in a championship game. I mean, we had some great performances. And I thought our bench played well when they needed to play well. Shane Harris-Tunks gave us some big-time minutes.

“To win four games in four days, you have to have contributions from multiple places and we got that. I was really proud of what these kids did. But all that stuff’s behind us. This is a new tournament. We’ve got to refocus, re-energize and we’ve got to approach Albuquerque just like we did L.A.”

Can the 23-11 Buffs pull off one more upset and make it to the round of 32? Tip-off is scheduled for 7:57 p.m. mountain time on TruTV.

Nine years later, can a Colorado team make it out of the first round?

The last time the men’s teams from Colorado and Colorado State both made it to college basketball’s big dance was 2003. You don’t hear much about it because both were one-and-done, eliminated in the round of 64.

Colorado was the No. 10 seed in the South region that year. The Buffaloes were dispatched by the No. 7 seed, Michigan State, 79-64. Colorado State was the No. 14 seed in the West. Duke, the No. 3 seed in the region, sent the Rams home 67-57.

So the question this year is whether either or both Colorado schools can get beyond the round of 64 and get a little taste of the Madness. Both are No. 11 seeds this year. The early line made Murray State a 3-point favorite over Colorado State and UNLV a 4 1/2-point choice over CU.

So which Colorado school has the better chance to pull the upset?

If you judge by who’s hot and who’s not, it’s CU. The Runnin’ Rebels put the runnin’ back into Nevada-Las Vegas basketball under first-year coach Dave Rice, but they started faster than they finished. After compiling a gaudy 21-3 mark out of the gate, they lost five of their last ten, including a 66-59 defeat to Colorado State in Fort Collins on Feb. 29.

By contrast, after losing three of four to finish the regular season, Colorado roared back to life in the Pac-12 tournament, winning four games in four days in Los Angeles to take the conference championship in its first Pac-12 season and earn an automatic bid to the national tournament.

The challenge for CU coach Tad Boyle will be avoiding the temptation to let UNLV dictate the pace of the game. The Rebels thrive in the open court. They love to run and gun, sharing the ball and showing off high-flying moves that may remind you of Jerry Tarkanian’s teams (Rice was a member Tarkanian’s 1990 national championship team). Unselfishness is their hallmark. They were second in the nation in assists and fourth in field goal percentage. In fact, they outran North Carolina, ranked No. 1 in the country at the time, for a 90-80 victory back in November.

On the other hand, the Rebels struggle when forced to play half-court basketball. Wisconsin took the air out of the ball in December and prevailed 62-51. New Mexico obliterated UNLV 65-45 in February.

Because they don’t like to slow it down, the Rebels are also not great at holding leads. They blew advantages over TCU and CSU down the stretch of the Mountain West Conference regular season.

Slowing it down is a challenge for the Buffs because they, too, like to run. The temptation will be even greater playing at altitude in Albuquerque, where Colorado’s high-altitude conditioning should be an advantage. Still, having lost its top four scorers from last year’s squad, this particular CU team is not that explosive. It averaged 67.6 points per game, 183rd in the nation. The Rebels’ 76.7 points-per-game average ranked 24th.

At 6-foot-7, sophomore Andre Roberson emerged as a do-everything star for the Buffaloes this season. He led them in rebounds, steals and blocks, was second in scoring and assists and is their best on-the-ball defender. If he and senior Carlon Brown continue to lead as they did in the Pac-12 tournament, and if the Buffs can resist the siren song of UNLV’s pace, they’ll have an opportunity to advance to the round of 32.

In Murray State, CSU faces a similar challenge. The Racers, as their name suggests, would love to make it a race. They averaged 74.2 points per game this season in the Ohio Valley Conference, good for 40th in the country. The Rams, at 71 points per game, were 101st.

The Racers played only two ranked teams all season — Memphis and St. Mary’s — but beat them both. Against many tournament opponents, the Racers would seem small. Their starters measure up at 6-feet, 6-1, 6-3, 6-7 and 6-7. As it happens, the Rams are even smaller, featuring a starting five that come in at 5-11, 6-2, 6-3, 6-5 and 6-6.

Tim Miles’ bunch doesn’t want to run, largely because it lacks the depth to substitute freely. So it shouldn’t be tempted to get into a track meet. The Rams excel at offensive efficiency in the half court, moving the ball, moving without the ball and getting open looks. They are fifth in the country in three-point shooting and led the Mountain West in field goal percentage. But they struggle to rebound because of their lack of size.

“We’re undersized all the time,” Miles said last week on the Dave Logan Show. “We defended pretty well in the conference. We were the third-best defensive team in league play. Now, we had some troubles earlier in the year. And we lost Pierce Hornung, who’s on the all-Mountain West defensive team, for six and a half games. He got his bell rung, a concussion, during the Stanford game when we were up 13. And we lost that game and then went 3-3 without him.

“But since then, those kids have really defended, hung around on the boards and we play offense with a good pace. What I mean by that is we don’t really fast break because we don’t have a lot of depth, but when we’re in our half court offense, it’s hard to keep up with our guys. They really run hard and cut hard and play well together.”

In short, the keys for Colorado and Colorado State are pretty similar. Both must resist the temptation to allow their games to be turned into track meets, which will be more tempting for the Buffs than the Rams. Both must defend tenaciously in the half court, rebound the ball without dominant size and execute efficiently at the offensive end.

Neither is favored, but each has an opportunity to pull off the upset by playing disciplined basketball.

NCAA chief: Eight-team college football playoff possible

Frustrated by the glacial pace of progress toward a true college football championship, fans appear willing to settle for the four-team playoff now under discussion as the best they can do. So it came as something of a surprise when Mark Emmert, president of the NCAA, suggested the possibility of an eight-team playoff Wednesday during an appearance on the Dave Logan Show.

In fact, Emmert, who has been promoting a variety of reforms since taking over the NCAA 22 months ago, said “there’s a good probability” some form of playoff will be approved by the end of this summer.

“In 1A football, football at the highest level, there’s never been a championship, there’s never been a systematic way to determine who’s No. 1,” Emmert said.

“All the other college sports do have such a championship. The BCS was in my opinion a very good step in the right direction where we finally, after 80 years, had No. 1 playing No. 2. If the conferences and the university presidents that I work with would like to move toward a championship, and I think there’s movement in that direction, then we’re more than happy to run it for them. We know how to run championships. We’re really good at that.

“I think we’re likely to see some significant change to the BCS or movement toward a four- or maybe even an eight-team playoff system, but we’ll have to wait and see. It will probably be decided this spring and into the summer. There’s a good probability that we’ll get some kind of model like that, I think.”

As Emmert, the former president of the University of Washington, tries to drag the tradition-bound NCAA into the 21st century, he also faces a more complicated problem — whether to provide some form of revenue sharing to the collegiate athletes in football and men’s basketball who collectively generate billions of dollars in television revenue for the NCAA and its member institutions.

Emmert said he would never support paying salaries to players or making them employees because that would make them professionals. But faced with a particularly ugly season of scandals in 2011 — from a booster providing players with prostitutes at the University of Miami to athletes exchanging memorabilia for tattoos at Ohio State — Emmert has been pushing a proposal to enhance athletic scholarships with an extra $2,000 stipend.

That plan was tabled last month at the NCAA convention after many schools objected, expressing concerns about the cost. Another reform to allow multi-year scholarship commitments to athletes was approved, although that too had its critics among schools fearful it would tie the hands of new coaches.

“I’ve been really clear, as have all of our university presidents, that we should never, ever pay students to be athletes, that that’s not the business that we’re in,” Emmert said. “We’re in the education business. And our student-athletes should be just that, serious students who happen to also play sports.

“But on the other hand, we also want to make sure that they’re getting a fair shake. So we just, for example, last week approved a new policy that allows universities for the first time in 40 years to actually make multiple-year commitments to student-athletes, so they know that they’re going to have scholarship support for more than one year, assuming they do everything right in the classroom, assuming their behavior is right. They take care of their stuff, the universities will take care of them,” Emmert said.

“The other thing that we’re working on right now that’s still in the construction phase but will probably be rolling out here in a few months is the idea of covering the full cost, the real cost, of being a college student. A college athlete right now, if they’re on a full scholarship, they get tuition, fees, room, board, books and supplies, which any of us would love, but above and beyond that, we also know that there’s travel costs, there’s miscellaneous expense costs, there’s clothing allowances. And that shortfall between what an athletic scholarship is today and what (the real costs are) on average across the country is about $3500. So we’re looking at what we can do to close some of that gap, so that students who are spending so many hours a week and a year on their sport, who rarely have a chance to work part-time jobs, in fact have everything that they need to be successful in their university studies.”

It’s a complicated proposition. At the many schools where the athletic department does not operate in the black, adding $2,000 a year to the cost of every athletic scholarship would require cuts elsewhere. Critics point out that many of the same schools complaining about the cost pay enormous salaries to their football and basketball coaches.

Emmert seems aware that the NCAA has to deal with two growing problems. The first is a widely-held perception that all its high-minded rhetoric about amateur athletics and student-athletes conveniently allows it to collect and distribute billions of dollars in TV revenue to member institutions without sharing any of it with the athletes who generate it.

The other, more immediate, problem is that many of the athletes generating that revenue in football and men’s basketball come out of poverty, leaving them susceptible to boosters, agents and others willing to circumvent NCAA rules by providing cash and other benefits under the table. That, in turn, leads to a never-ending parade of embarrassing scandals like those at Miami and Ohio State last year.

The NCAA has always been reluctant to admit that the university system represents a de facto farm system for the NFL and NBA. As a result, some college athletes do not quite meet the “student-athlete” ideal. High school basketball prodigies, for example, could once jump directly to the NBA, as stars such as Kevin Garnett and LeBron James did. Today, such players are required to spend a year in college (or overseas) because of a minimum age instituted by the NBA.

Many college coaches, including Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski, have complained this rule leads to a “one-and-done” mentality among the nation’s top basketball players that takes away from college basketball and makes a joke of the “student-athlete” ideal.

“Coach K and I are in complete agreement,” Emmert said. “I want young men and young women who play our games to be in college because they want to be in college, not because they have no choice or because they see it as simply an intermediate step.

“I love when somebody has the skill and ability to go make a living playing sport. I think that’s fabulous. But to have them just come to us for one year — or, let’s be honest, one semester — simply because they have no choice and they don’t want to be there and they’re not serious students, I think that detracts from intercollegiate  athletics and doesn’t help and I’m hoping that the NBA and the NBA Players’ Association can see clear to change that rule.”

Alas, that’s not likely considering the debate during the most recent NBA labor dispute was between maintaining the 19-year-old minimum age and extending it to 20.

The NCAA has long faced a dilemma it would prefer not to acknowledge. Among most of the 26 sports, 89 championships and 400,000 athletes under the NCAA umbrella, the student-athlete ideal is alive and well. But the constant stream of scandals in football and men’s basketball taints them all and makes the organization’s pious claims sound hollow.

There are certain contradictions that neither Emmert nor anyone else can do much about. College football and basketball are, in fact, the main feeder system for the NFL and NBA. That’s not changing. The NCAA and its member universities represent a free farm system for those professional leagues. Football and men’s basketball generate billions of dollars in commercial revenue that support many other sports and university expenses. So neither the pro leagues nor the NCAA are about to abandon the current system.

But the NCAA does have an interest in cleaning it up because the scandals, predictable as the seasons, are embarrassing and undercut the credibility of everything else the organization does. Since taking over the NCAA in April 2010, Emmert has aggressively pursued an agenda of reform and greater transparency. He deserves credit for doing so. How successful he is remains to be seen.

“I’ve been focusing on the integrity questions,” he said, “making sure that our rules actually make sense and that we apply them in ways that promote the kind of behavior that we’d all like to see around college sports.”

As part of his ongoing outreach efforts, Emmert will be in Denver on March 8 to speak to a City Club of Denver luncheon at the Marriott City Center downtown.