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Saturday, February 14, 2009

Programs that have lost their status

This poll of former national college basketball powers has brought the glaring reality that coaching determines where a program goes in this country. Seeing traditional powers like Kentucky & Indiana struggle for almost a full decade and prestigious academic schools like Stanford disappear on the college landscape has made this fact even more evident. Below are my top ten programs that have fallen into relative obscurity and really have the ability to come back into the spotlight.

10) Virginia:
-College legend Ralph Sampson is instilled within Cavalier basketball lore and epitomizes the Virginia program. The supercenter never brought home an NCAA title but helped raise the bar in Charlottesville. Former head coaches Jeff Jones and Pete Gillen put together some excellent squads in the 90s with Jones leading the Cavaliers to the Elite 8 in 1995. Both coaches resigned with the inability to take Virginia to its fan’s desired pedestal and no one might ever. Virginia is determined to get to the Final Four and has the resources to pursue this endeavor but actually getting to that goal remains in question. Regular NCAA tournament appearances may be a more respectable mission.

9) Georgia Tech:
-It seems like an eternity since the Yellow Jackets made their Cinderella run to the NCAA championship in 2004. Paul Hewitt looked to be capable of carrying the Bobby Cremins torch with his tournament run. Unfortunately, the Rambling Wreck has been met with mediocre play and the possibility of Hewitt being terminated. When the Yellow Jacket are at their height, an NBA first-round draft pick is usually present (Kenny Anderson, Chris Bosh) on the bench. A highly regarded incoming recruiting class may save Hewitt’s job and restore pride to the Yellow Jacket basketball program.

8) Stanford:
-Since Mike Montgomery’s excursion to the NBA, the Cardinal has struggled to return to being one of the premier programs in America. The Cardinal is not a traditional power and only entered the top tier in college basketball about ten years ago but still don’t belong outside the top 25. The Lopez brothers brought a brief resurgence last year but Stanford is no longer discussed in the same conversation of the Dukes and UNCs anymore. Stanford has too many advantages i.e. education, finances, and facilities to lag behind its Pac-10 brethren.

7) Seton Hall:
-Would things be different if the Pirates had captured the title over Michigan in the 1989 National Championship game? Without a doubt this program is nowhere near the status it fostered in the late 1980s. P.J. Carliesimo absence on the sidelines has proven to be a difficult to overcome. The Seton Hall campus is situated in the fertile New York metropolitan recruiting ground and must stop high school phenoms from fleeing to Connecticut if success is ever to return to The Hall.

6) St. John’s:
-Like Seton Hall, St. John’s has found its program in the doldrums of the Big East since the retirement of their Hall of Fame coach Lou Carnesseca. The Red Storm faces the similar quandary of losing top New York area talent to Jim Calhoun and his UConn Husky program. No team that has tasted the Final Four (1985) deserves a miniscule existence in America’s top basketball conference. The program might possibly need to look into leaving Madison Square Garden and focusing on connecting with its campus. This will be difficult since it has been reported that St. John’s is a notorious suitcase college.

5) Cincinnati:
-Former head coach Bobby Huggins took the Bearcat program to success unseen since the glory days of Oscar Robertson. His exit has also returned the Bearcats to obscurity within the Big East. It could be due to no longer playing in the relatively weak Conference USA or the fact that Huggins loss has damaged their recruiting allure. Cross-town rival Xavier’s success seems to mute that point. Either way, the university provides a wealth of history, state of the art facilities, and a basketball mad city to help support the program’s rise back to prominence.

4) Maryland:
-Did head coach Gary Williams just decide to mail in his job after achieving total victory in 2002? It sure seems that way considering the Terrapins dramatic drop off the collegiate basketball radar since the Juan Dixon led Maryland team won it all. Nowhere near the same amount of talent comes through College Park since the title run as did before. Astonishing how quickly this program disappeared. Just seven years removed from an unmatched climax, Williams finds himself facing a pink slip after this season; unfathomable just a few years ago.

3) Arizona:
-Wherever Lute Olson has gone he has brought an unmatched ability to recruit. Olson’s family drama of the past few years and eventual retirement/resigning places an interesting situation in Tucson in regards to future success. Will the Wildcat program maintain its status as an elite destination for recruits or just another Pac-10 university based in a relative wasteland of a media market? Currently it status has been the latter.

2) Indiana:
The fall from grace from one of the most famous basketball programs in the U.S. can be traced back all the way to the General late Indiana career and not because the combustible Bobby Knight was shown the door in 2001. By the late 90s the Hoosiers were no longer regarded as one of the top 5 elite schools in the country. Knights drill sergeant demeanor had rubbed McDonald’s All-Americans the wrong way and recruiting suffered accordingly. New coach Tom Crean looks to bring a more contemporary atmosphere to Bloomington along with stellar coaching strategy in hope of returning Indiana to its former greatness.

1) Kentucky:
-America’s most successful college basketball program is now eleven years removed from its last national title. Former coach Rick Pitino’s success at rival Louisville has not helped the matter. Current head coach Bill Gillispie (2nd Year) has been brought into Lexington to restore order for the success starved Wildcat program. The immense pressure to win at Kentucky may be just too much for any coach to overcome.
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