Saturday, March 30, 2019

MBB: The State of the Program

So, the dust has settled.  OU has a new coach and Buffalo will have one soon.  UB lost a ton of players and their next class was JUCO players designed to keep the program moving forward.  Those guys seem to be fleeing the coop and it looks like UB might not keep their assistant who recruited all those guys...which is not to say that UB won't continue to be the conference's lead program but that there might be a break in the reload-cycle.  And if Rob Lanier (the moment's favorite and a guy who is coveted by Tennesee fans and yet being rejected as a loser from Siena by some UB fans) isn't the right choice, then the whole thing can turn in the other direction pretty fast.

Beyond that, OU lost its better players when it did not renew Saul Phillips. In today's transfer crazy environment, it is something you have to factor in when you have a coaching change, especially one the school causes.  Actually, I think you see evidence of that concept across the MAC.  Contracts notwithstanding, I think you would be surprised that Montgomery, Murphy, and Whitford are still in their jobs after long tenures not breaking through.  For perspective, if BG used their standard, Louis Orr would still be here.

Point is, that's a big decision when you hire a coach.  The most important decision and one that is harder to get out of than ever.  So, you want to make the right choice.  Pretty much have to.

Which brings us to BG.  I've been a little surprised at the undercurrent I'm hearing from BG fans that they kind of hoped Coach Huger might get hired away somewhere based on this year and let a new guy pick up with the team that is returning. 

Again, I find that surprising.

I'm not going to claim that I am sure that Huger will put the program back where it needs to be...more on what I think that is in a minute...because I'm not and nobody should be.  This is a thing you have to do, not have the potential to do.  And he hasn't done it.

A couple of things.  First, the initial years of the Huger tenure were rough, no doubt.  What he walked into was tough, though.  You want to talk about transfers?  BG was a couple clicks from having a situation like the one Gene Cross left at Toledo.  Clearly, you had guys who were not bought in and I believe he did a good job keeping a team on the court.

There's a time limit on that,  though.  You wanted to see progress last year and it seemed like we were and then we lost the last 6 and all the transfers and it was not great...and then we're picked last and then we're treading water pretty bad and we get embarrassed by Cleveland State...and then things came together and you saw what happened, which is one of the 2 top seasons BG has had since WVU, probably the best given the appearance in the tournament final.

So, if you're going to blame Coach Huger for problems in the years leading up to this season, it seems a little unfair to act like this year was in spite of him.  I point to 2 things in particular.  First, I believe BG succeeded this year with less talent than UT and UB had.  BG played a stronger team game, had parts that fit together well and were generally tough to beat.  That's a reflection of coaching.  Second, I believe Coach Huger showed his ability to adapt and grow in his job when he took stock of the program with the players after the CSU and altered his style.

Again, do I know he's going to get it done?  No.  To me, there's reason to believe he will, though.

He has two years left on his deal.  I'd think he will get an extension...something that is fraught with risk, for sure.  But, I'd have no problem with adding a year on the deal based on what we saw this year.

All right.  Back to the question of whether he will get it done.  Let's talk about what "done" means.

Yes, 1968.  We all know it.  We all want to make the NCAAs.  But that can't be the only measure of success and, in fact, it misses a key step.

In this league, making the tournament is hard.  It is downright cruel.  You're basically taking an entire year's worth of effort and deciding it in 72 hours in a zero-sum contest where everything has to go right.  Strict merit isn't enough on its own.  You need the cosmic tumblers to click into place.  This idea drove Keith Dambrot from the MAC.  UT's coach called it out as he neck-veined on David Briggs. 

To me, the way you get there is to be in the conversation all the time.  Four years out of 5.  Getting byes.  Getting to the semis.  You have to spin those tumblers often...not twice in 16 years, as BG has done.

For example.  Since the WVU year, BG has made the MAC finals once.  They have been to the semi-finals four times.  Beyond that, they've had four winning seasons in that time.  Won 20 games twice.

Let me show you another MAC team's record over the same period of time.

2 NCAA tournament appearances
8 20 win seasons
9 seasons with 10+ MAC wins
5 losing seasons
5 top 4 MAC finishes

Got a guess on who that is?  Western Michigan.  Yes, I know they were awful this year. Also, yes, fine, we should want to be what Buffalo was this year.  That's a historic anomaly, though.  I'd think if we can get BG's program to look like what we see above--and it's totally doable--we will be where we need to be.  And in the tournament twice.

Which means we need to begin to string together seasons like this one.

Do we have the coach to do that?  Time will tell.  It will happen or it won't.  But, for the first time in many years, I feel like we've got some evidence that we can get the program where we want it to be.  My next post will look at next year, but in the meantime, I'm a) not interested in re-booting with a new coach and b) on the optimistic side of the ledger.

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