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The Off-season Was Pretty Intense (Remember Bobby Knight?), but This College Basketball Season Should Be a Memorable One

November 16, 2000|CHRIS DUFRESNE

Last year, Bob Knight shot someone in the off-season. OK, it was an accident (hunting).

This year, in a switch, Indiana President Myles Brand put Knight in the crosshairs and pulled the proverbial trigger.

It's official: The off-season in college basketball has become more interesting than the regular season.

Can we fast-forward to March?

Our top five preseason stories:

1. Indiana fires Knight. After 29 years of temper tantrums, chair-chucks, arrests in absentia, berating referees, hurling vases, knocking out sports information directors and one incriminating 2.3-second grip on a kid's neck, Knight played out his final act in Bloomington. Apparently there is only so much that winning three national titles, 11 Big Ten titles and knowing Jeremy Schapp's dad can overcome. Knight got the ax on Sept. 10 after failing to adhere to the "zero tolerance" policy Brand imposed on him as a condition of employment.

"What's up Knight," the phrase an IU freshman quipped to Knight that led to the coach's downfall, takes its place next to "What's the frequency, Kenneth?" in the parlance parlor of strange-but-historical utterances.

2. What's Bob going to do now? Knight insists he will coach again, but where? Big Ten presidents took out an advertisement in the Chicago Tribune to voice their support of Brand's decision to fire Knight, which probably dooms Knight's chances of returning to Assembly Hall as the visiting coach.

Our fear is that he is ultimately headed west, to a school with wide-open spaces and plenty of trout ponds, a place, perhaps, that has run afoul of the NCAA in the past. That place might fall hook, line and sinker for Knight, who graduated his players and never had a major NCAA infraction.

We haven't quite put the pieces together yet, but the composite sketch looks something like Southwest Montana State at El Paso.

With 763 wins, Knight is only 116 shy of Dean Smith's record.

Meaning? He's coming back, sure as Steve Alford's jumper.

3. Roy Williams stays at Kansas. Williams might win a Daytime Emmy for his performance in this teary drama. When Bill Guthridge abruptly resigned as coach at North Carolina, Williams' dream job became available. Williams was once Smith's prized coaching pupil and odds-on long-term successor to Smith's legacy (Guthridge was strictly the transitional guy). Smith even took the lead in wresting Williams back and, boy, wasn't he surprised when Williams said the word few men have said to Smith: "No."

Twelve years deep into his Kansas project, Williams in the end could not break up his new Jayhawk family. It was win-win for Williams. He has four starters returning and this could be the year he finally brings a championship to Lawrence.

4. Refs to Blow the Whistle on Players. Years ago, the Big East came up with a plan to combat rough play in its conference by allowing each player six fouls a game instead of five. Turns out it wasn't worth the spike in medical coverage.

Yet, everyone knew something had to be done this year in the wake of the rugby scrum that took place in Michigan's 53-41 win over Wisconsin in last year's national semifinal game.

So, the Men's Basketball Rules Committee came up with the novel idea of enforcing rules against rough play that are already on the books.

Yes, this could be the end of Wisconsin basketball as we know it.

It could also mean even longer games and more foul shots.

"We had a scrimmage and that whistle blew a lot," Oregon Coach Ernie Kent complained recently. "I told the official, 'We're here to scrimmage not to shoot free throws.' "

5. We're No. 65? Two years ago, key members of the Western Athletic Conference defected to form the fledgling Mountain West Conference and changed the configuration of the present NCAA tournament format.

After a probation period, the WAC and Mountain West conferences each receive automatic bids this season, bringing to 31 the total number of automatic berths. Add those to the 34 at-large bids and you get 65, meaning the two champions from the lowest-rated conferences will meet in a "play-in" game the Tuesday after Selection Sunday. The winner will play the tournament's top-seeded school.

Our best guess for this year's play-in are Hampton of the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference versus Alabama State of the Southwest Athletic.

Now, some bookkeeping. Fifty schools this year have new coaches. For a full accounting, we suggest an Internet search.

A recap of the major moves: Mike Davis takes over for you-know-who at Indiana, Matt Doherty went from Notre Dame to North Carolina, Mike Brey went from Delaware to Notre Dame, Bill Self jumped from Tulsa to Illinois, John Calipari fled the NBA (can Boston's Rick Pitino be far behind?) to take over at Memphis, John Thompson III steps in at Princeton for Bill Carmody, who takes over at Northwestern for Kevin O'Neill, who took an NBA assistant's job when he realized Northwestern had never been to the NCAA tournament and would not likely get there any time soon.

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