Anthony Grant likely coached in his final BracketBusters last weekend.
Grant led Virginia Commonwealth University to a 57-52 win at Akron last Saturday. The teams will meet against next year at VCU and Akron coach Keith Dambrot admitted the obvious when looking ahead to 2008-09.
“I’m looking forward to going down there to play them next season, though I’m not sure who VCU’s coach will be,” Dambrot said.
Grant figures to be on the short list of every big-time program looking for a coach at the end of the season. Grant would have been at Florida this season if Billy Donovan had not changed his mind and backed out on a deal with the NBA’s Orlando Magic.
Grant is certainly flattered to be considered one of the nation’s up-and-coming coaches. However, he also realizes it would be patently unfair to talk about it now that his team has clinched the Colonial Athletic Association title and has its sights set on also winning the conference tournament.
Thus, Grant is focusing solely on VCU’s chances of getting back to the NCAA Tournament and making some noise like it did last season when it upset Duke in the first round and took Pittsburgh to overtime before losing in the second round.
“The goal every year is to win the conference,” Grant said.
And that is why the entire BracketBusters concept, which completed its sixth year last weekend, draws mixed reviews from mid-major coaches. Grant sees both sides of the coin.
“It really comes at a bad time of the year because you’re in the stretch run in your conference and that’s every team’s primary focus,” Grant said. “At the same time, I understand the benefits of it. It gives a lot of mid-major programs like us some national television exposure on ESPN, which is always helpful. And it gives you the opportunity to play a quality opponent. Beating a team like Akron on the road is a feather in our cap.”
That was enough to get VCU excited about playing a non-conference game in late February.
“As a player, you always want to compete against the best teams,” senior guard Jamal Shuler said. “This game was a real challenge for us and it gives a feeling of satisfaction to come away with a road win like this. It can only help our confidence going into the conference tournament.”
Whether it is enough of a feather in VCU’s cap to get the Rams into the NCAA tourney without the benefit of winning the CAA tournament remains to be seen.
VCU is 22-6 overall and 14-3 in the conference. However, the Rams are only No. 72 in the Pomeroy Ratings, though No. 46 in the RPI.
Grant plays it close to the vest when asked if his team has done enough to merit an at-large berth to the Big Dance.
“That’s not our focus now,” Grant said. “That’s something to worry about later. Our plan is to win the conference tournament.”
VCU has the type of player who can carry a team in a conference tournament championship in junior guard Eric Maynor, who is averaging 18.0 points and 5.2 assists a game. The offensive clearly runs through Maynor as he is 94th in the nation in percentage of possessions (28.5).
Shuler, Maynor’s backcourt mate, is averaging 15.9 points.
The Rams’ strength is its defense as they lead the nation in three-point field goal percentage allowed (27.2), third in effective field goal percentage allowed (42.0) and 33rd in adjusted defensive efficiency (90.5).
While VCU is certainly a bubble team, it has a fan in Dambrot.
“I like them a lot because they are a lot like their coach, just very smooth and very calm,” Dambrot said. “They play their game and don’t get rattled, which is a tribute to Anthony Grant.”
So far, so good for Dan Dakich in his stint as interim coach at Indiana.
He has guided the Hoosiers to wins over Northwestern and Ohio State in the wake of Kelvin Sampson resigning last Friday after the NCAA not only found that he committed five major rules violations concerning impermissible phone calls but also that he lied to investigators and school officials.
Dakich played at Indiana for Bob Knight and was an assistant coach under him for 12 years before spending 10 seasons as head coach at Bowling Green. Dakich came back to Indiana as director of basketball operations this season and will likely become a sentimental favorite among Hoosiers fans to keep the job on a permanent basis if he orchestrates a deep post-season run.
While there is a sizeable segment of Indiana boosters who would like Knight to return after he abruptly retired at Texas Tech earlier this season, the possibility of that happening seems unlikely. The most logical choice would be New Mexico coach Steve Alford, a former Hoosiers star, though Xavier’s Sean Miller and Wright State’s Brad Brownell are two other names being mentioned frequently in speculation.
Dakich, for his part, isn’t openly campaigning for the job as he is just trying to keep Indiana in the thick of the Big Ten race during the final 10 days of the regular season.
“It’s not the way you want to get the job,” Dakich told the Indianapolis Star. “There’s a responsibility with it that I accept on a multitude of levels, mostly to the players, the fans. I haven’t given (getting the job on a permanent basis) a lot of thought simply because it’s a difficult situation.”
Tennessee--the State, Anyway--Takes Over
The state of Tennessee is not considered a hoops hotbed but it has been the epicenter of college basketball over the past week.
Last Saturday, Tennessee traveled to Memphis and notched a 72-69 win over the Tigers, who were ranked No. 1 in The Associated Press poll. The win enabled the Volunteers to move up from No. 2 to the top spot in the poll.
“It was a special night of basketball in the state of Tennessee,” Volunteers coach Bruce Pearl said. “Two great teams played very hard and it was a shame either had to lose.
“It was one of those nights that people would ask, 'Where were you the night Tennessee upset Memphis at Memphis?' Somewhere in Memphis. Maybe out on Beale Street. At the game. In Nashville, watching at home. It was an event. People told me that not since Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson fought there had there been so much excitement in Memphis.”
Three nights later, Tennessee traveled to Nashville and was upended 72-69 by Vanderbilt. The Commodores have pulled upsets each of the last four times the No. 1 team in the AP poll visited Memorial Gymnasium, beating Florida last season, Kentucky in 1992-93 and North Carolina in 1987-88.
“It’s an honor to play a No. 1 team,” Vanderbilt forward Shan Foster said. “It’s like Coach (Kevin) Stallings told us before the game, a lot of guys go their whole careers without getting a chance to play a No. 1, so we knew how important this game was. We prepared very well for it.”
According to the Pomeroy Ratings, Memphis is No. 3 in the nation, Tennessee is No. 17 and Vanderbilt is No. 43.
Team to Watch
This week’s Team to Watch is Southern California, which seems poised to return to The AP top 25 following three straight wins over Oregon, Oregon State and Arizona. The streak has raised the Trojans’ record to 18-9 overall and 9-6 in the Pacific 10 while they are No. 24 in the Pomeroy Ratings.
Guard O.J. Mayo, one of the most ballyhooed freshmen in college basketball history, leads USC as he is averaging 20.1 points a game. Three other Trojans are also scoring in double digits: freshman forward Davon Jefferson (12.2), sophomore guard Dwight Lewis (11.1) and sophomore forward Taj Gibson (10.5). Gibson (7.9) and Jefferson (6.0) have also been rebounding stalwarts.
Mayo is 14th in the nation in percentage of shots (34.7), 19th in percentage of possessions (31.3) and 40th in percentage of minutes (89.7). Gibson, meanwhile, ranks 61st in percentage of blocks (8.0) and 94th in effective field goal percentage (59.3).
While almost all the hype surrounding USC has been about Mayo’s scoring prowess, defense has been the Trojans’ backbone. They are 10th in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency (86.9) and 14th in effective field goal percentage (44.1).
Games of the Week
The top five games for the week of Feb. 29-March 6, according to the Pomeroy Ratings, with all times Eastern
No. 11 Kansas State at No. 1 Kansas, Saturday, March 1, 9 p.m., ESPN
No. 13 Stanford at No. 2 UCLA, Thursday, March 6, 11 p.m., Fox Sports Net
No. 9 Marquette at No. 10 Georgetown, Saturday, March 1, 2 p.m., CBS
No. 2 UCLA at No. 21 Arizona, Sunday, March 2, 4 p.m., CBS
No. 12 Washington State at No. 13 Stanford, Saturday, March 1, 4 p.m., Fox Sports Net
John Perrotto is an author of Basketball Prospectus.
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