Posted on: August 2, 2010 12:39 pm
We've unveiled No. 2 on the CBSSports.com list of the nation's best combined football/basketball schools.
It is ... drum roll, please ... Texas.
Click this link to read my column about the UT basketball program.
No. 1 will be unveiled Thursday.
Posted on: November 3, 2009 5:12 pm
I laugh when recruits spend months talking about how they want to win and play in the NCAA tournament before ultimately committing to a bottom-tier program in a BCS-affiliated league. Brilliant! I always want to tell them that the secret to winning and playing in the NCAA tournament isn't picking a major conference program regardless of the program, it's making sure you select a program that's good-or-great relative to its league, regardless of the league.
I was reminded of this while looking at some facts about Western Kentucky.
Forget Memphis, Xavier and Gonzaga, i.e, the three programs widely recognized as the best of the non-BCS.
I'm not even talking about them.
Just look at freaking Western Kentucky.
Because the Hilltoppers are the class of the Sun Belt -- picked to win it again this year, by the way -- they've been to five NCAA tournaments (2001, 2002, 2003, 2008 and 2009) this decade. Now look at the list of schools from power conferences that cannot match five NCAA tournament appearances this decade:
Posted on: September 3, 2009 10:48 am
Edited on: September 3, 2009 10:50 am
There was a lot of uncertainty around the Western Kentucky program this time last year.
The coach was gone (Darrin Horn).
So was the star player (Courtney Lee).
The only things present were a group of guys with nondescript careers to date, a first-time head coach from Rick Barnes' staff at Texas, and a seemingly overambitious schedule that was going to stockpile losses, most were sure.
"We lost a lot and I could've probably taken the easier route and put together a little less-aggressive schedule, but I felt like in this particular year we were going to need to have a good chance to win our league tournament in order to get to the NCAA tournament," WKU coach Ken McDonald told me last October, at which point I wished him luck and planned to later lecture him on why a first-year coach should worry more about getting easy wins than taking tough losses.
But I never delivered that lecture.
McDonald went on to win his division of the conference and the conference tournament.
He should've been the Sun Belt Coach of the Year.
So it should come as no surprise that the now second-year coach has assembled another ambitious schedule (NIT Season Tip-off, South Carolina, Southern Illinois, Louisville, Vanderbilt, Mississippi State, etc.) but the difference this year is that most assume the Hilltoppers will do well against it, and nevermind that there are seven newcomers. Sure, Orlando Mendez-Valdez (top five name in college basketball last year, no question) is gone, meaning those 14 points per game will have to come from somewhere else. But a solid core led by A.J. Slaughter is enough to make Western Kentucky the Sun Belt favorites, and the Hilltoppers are spending this preseason conducting themselves accordingly.
"I like the way they're handling it, and the new guys have been great," McDonald said by phone this week. "They can all play a little bit."
Still, this will be Slaughter's team.
He averaged 16.0 points and 3.6 assists last season.
You can expect him to be the Sun Belt Player of the Year.
"He should be," McDonald said. "He's had an unbelievable summer. I got him in at D.J. Augustin's camp, he went down and worked out with T.J. Ford, and he went to Chris Paul's camp, too. He really did have just an unbelievable summer. So I think he's ready to rock 'n' roll."
Posted on: March 11, 2009 7:26 pm
Edited on: March 11, 2009 7:29 pm
A year ago at this time, Ken McDonald was flying on chartered planes.
A rookie coach flying high.
Even when he's on a bus.
Posted on: December 2, 2008 2:23 pm
Edited on: December 2, 2008 2:26 pm
Thank God Ken McDonald has an unlimited text plan on his cell phone.
"Everybody was excited," McDonald said after his upset of Louisville. "I got more texts than I did when I got hired."
Among those congratulatory texts was one from Georgia coach Dennis Felton.
That's McDonald's old boss.
Not to mention the man McDonald will coach against late Tuesday when Georgia visits Western Kentucky for a non-league match-up, and it should be wild considering the Hilltoppers are coming off Sunday's win over Louisville, and that Felton used to coach Western Kentucky back when McDonald was on his staff as an assistant.
"It's going to be fun," McDonald said by phone. "It'll be different, but it'll be fun. And the crowd should be great."
WKU enters 3-2 with nice victories over Southern Illinois and Louisville, plus a new-found confidence. That's the result of success, after all, and it's crucial for McDonald, a rookie coach who, like all rookie coaches, needed something tangible to show his players to make them believe in him and what he's doing, because that's usually the battle for first-year coaches, trying to make players another man recruited believe in someone for whom they didn't plan to play.
"With a new staff, at some point the players have to kind of believe in what you're doing," McDonald said. "And this helps with that, and it helps get your guys to believe and understand that if we play hard we can win. But what you don't want to happen is for them to think we've arrived, because we've got a long way to go. We've won a couple of good games. But we have a long way to go."
Posted on: October 3, 2008 9:32 am
Ken McDonald didn't inherit the Western Kentucky team that just went to the Sweet 16.
But he scheduled like it.
And there's a purpose behind it.
"We lost a lot and I could've probably taken the easier route and put together a little less-aggressive schedule, but I felt like in this particular year we were going to need to have a good chance to win our league tournament in order to get to the NCAA tournament, and that's what we're about," McDonald said by phone. "So I decided to try to prepare to win the conference tournament."
Thus, the Hilltoppers and their first-year head coach have a non-conference schedule that will make them play at Houston (Nov. 15), against Southern Illinois at home (Nov. 26), against Louisville in Nashville (Nov. 30), against Georgia at home (Dec. 2), at Tulane (Dec. 6), against Florida State in Miami (Dec. 28) and at Mississippi State (Jan. 5). That's no simple task for a team trying to overcome the losses of Courtney Lee, Tyrone Brazelton and Ty Rogers. But it should let McDonald know what type of roster he has before entering the heart of the Sun Belt portion of his schedule and, of course, the Sun Belt tournament.
Meanwhile, recruiting is going well.
Western Kentucky added its third Class of 2009 commitment in a span of six days when Caden Dickerson committed Thursday night. The 6-3 point guard from Texas joined Jordan Swing (small forward from Alabama) and William Green (small forward from Florida) in the Hilltoppers' class.
Posted on: April 2, 2008 11:38 am
Tuesday was a crazy day.
First Sean Sutton was canned.
Then Tom Crean bolted for Indiana.
All the attention paid to those developments made me lose track of a few things I wanted to address here. But now I'm going to address them here because I'm in between radio interviews and have a few minutes to type.
-- Hopson commits to Vols --
It was no surprise when Bruce Pearl expressed his desire to remain at Tennessee on Tuesday.
You would too if Scotty Hopson just committed to your school.
Hopson pledged his allegiance to the Vols on a Tuesday visit, meaning Pearl will now coach -- unless I'm forgetting somebody -- his first McDonald's All-American next season. The 6-foot-7 wing is a dynamic scorer, somebody who should be a starter from the outset and help offset the losses of Chris Lofton and JaJuan Smith. So this is a huge deal by any measuring stick -- a credit to the work of UT assistant Steve Forbes, who has been relentless in his approach to Hopson since the Kentucky native opted not to go ahead with his commitment to Mississippi State in the early signing period.
-- Western Kentucky is looking for a coach --
Hiring an assistant at a major program worked last time for Western Kentucky.
That's why it's likely the school will move similarly to replace Darrin Horn.
And the obvious choice is Texas assistant Ken McDonald.
McDonald worked at WKU from 1998-2003 and helped Dennis Felton lead the Hilltoppers to three NCAA tournament appearances before leaving with Felton to take over at Georgia. McDonald spent one year there and then joined Rick Barnes' staff at Texas, where he has assisted his boss in further establishing the Longhorns as one of the elite programs in the country.
Far as coaching searches go, this should be simple.
McDonald makes sense at WKU on a lot of levels.
He'd be good there.
-- There will be no Florida-Ohio State NIT final --
Ohio State beat Ole Miss in the NIT semifinals.
But Florida lost to UMass.
Consequently, we will not have a Florida-Ohio State NIT title game this season, which will deny us a repeat of last year's NCAA tournament title game. And that's too bad. But Ohio State still has a chance to snag another runners-up trophy if it can manage a loss to UMass. So that's a reason to watch the championship, if you were looking for one.
Posted on: March 21, 2008 6:49 pm
Edited on: March 21, 2008 6:50 pm
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- College basketball is a funny sport.
Here's another example: Darrin Horn is in his fifth season at Western Kentucky. He won 15 games in his first season, 22 in his second season, 23 in his third season and 22 in his fourth season. But because the Sun Belt is traditionally a one-bid league, Horn had missed the NCAA tournament all four years, and word in basketball circles as recently as a month ago was that if he didn't make the NCAA tournament this season he might be replaced.
Seriously, WKU officials/boosters were prepared to consider a change. And then South Alabama got knocked out of the Sun Belt tournament. And then Western Kentucky won the Sun Belt's automatic bid. And then Western Kentucky beat Drake in the first round of the NCAA tournament. And now Darrin Horn -- a man who was on the hot seat a month ago -- is merely a win over San Diego from reaching the Sweet 16, and if that happens he'll suddenly be labeled as an "up-and-coming" coach, at which point Western Kentucky will be lucky to keep him.
So to summarize, Horn is no longer in danger of losing his job.
Instead, WKU is now in danger of losing its coach.
Again, college basketball is a funny sport.
And Horn is gonna get the last laugh.