Wednesday, July 25, 2012
Five offseason storylines in C-USA
By Eamonn Brennan
Editor's note: ESPN.com’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on Conference USA, click here.
Five offseason storylines in C-USA ...
1. The end of the Memphis era: And what an era it was. Since 2003, Memphis has won six regular-season titles, six conference tournament titles, made eight NCAA tournaments (including the NCAA-vacated 2008 season, but, you know, whatever) and generally lorded over the rest of the league, only occasionally halting to quench some rebellion or another. Since 2003, when then-coach John Calipari resurrected a proud program from a decade of irrelevance, this has been Conference USA's marquee attraction. After this season, that neon sign will go dark. In 2013-14, the Tigers will complete their conference realignment to the survivalist Big East. The departure is a double-edged sword for the conference. It will open the floodgates for other contenders while almost single-handedly robbing the league of much of its national cachet.
2. Is that … that's Larry Brown's music! Have clipboard, will coach: This is the undying unofficial motto of Larry Brown, who returned to the college ranks to take a job at -- wait for it -- Southern Methodist. Why would one of basketball's historic figures, a Hall of Famer, the only coach to win a national championship and an NBA title, return to the college game?
Blame it on the love. Or blame it on the tidy sum SMU -- which is eager to build a competitive (read: relevant) program before its 2013-14 foray to the Big East -- shelled out for the hire. Details of the contract were not disclosed by the private school, but SMU is spending $40 million on an arena renovation, has built a practice facility and hired Illinois State coach Tim Jankovich (plus a coterie of well-regarded recruiters as assistant coaches) to a coach-in-waiting position when the 71-year-old Brown decides, as he so often does, to leave.
Danny Manning arrives at a Tulsa program that hasn't been to the NCAA tournament since 2003.
With a legendary coach, a band of connected assistants, a new practice facility and a newfound enthusiasm, where does SMU go from here? The first season will be a holdover, a transition until the real fun begins in the Big East, but even so, admit it: It's going to be fun to see Brown on a collegiate sideline once more.
3. Danny Manning takes Bill Self's old job: Tulsa's head-coaching position -- which has produced Arkansas legend Nolan Richardson, Kansas coach Bill Self and Minnesota coach Tubby Smith and counts Billy Gillispie, Flip Saunders, Kevin O'Neill, Tom Izzo and Mike Anderson as former assistants -- comes with a certain pedigree and a certain expectation of success. In seven years, former coach Doug Wojcik led the Hurricane to several solid seasons but never quite got over the hump. Replacing him is former Kansas legend and Self assistant Danny Manning, who coincidentally took Jankovich's old job at Kansas and won a national title with Brown at Kansas. Whether Manning can get Tulsa back to the NCAA tournament after a nine-year drought remains to be seen, but for sheer name recognition, it's hard to do better than the guy whose collegiate surname was "and the Miracles."
4. Turmoil at Central Florida: Any day now, the NCAA is going to rule on the case UCF brought in front of the NCAA committee on infractions in April related to Chicago-area "mentor" Ken Caldwell's alleged habit of working with an agent to steer players to UCF and giving those players some $16,000 in benefits along the way. UCF has already self-imposed strict penalties, including three years of probation, the vacancy of men's basketball victories for 2008-09, 2009-10 and 2010-11 and reductions in scholarships and recruiting days. UCF coach Donnie Jones also received a three-game suspension. Meanwhile, UCF star Marcus Jordan (son of you-know-whom) was arrested July 1 following a disturbance outside an Omaha, Neb., hotel. It has not been a banner summer for the Knights, that's for sure.
5. Conference tournament relocation: Memphians eager to watch their Tigers go for one more C-USA tournament crown before their Big East defection must have been sorely disappointed by the league's June decision to relocate the conference tournament to Tulsa. Why? Because Memphis is leaving, and the league wanted to punish it, at least symbolically; it did not like the idea of giving the Tigers a conference tourney home-court advantage in their final season of membership. The ticket sales in Tulsa aren't likely to match what Memphis fans would have shelled out, but all's fair in love and realignment.