Archive for Friday, April 6, 2007

Mayer: Hoop titles rarely a quick deal

April 6, 2007


How dare Bill Self go four years without bringing another NCAA basketball championship to Kansas! So he has Big 12 titles of varying kinds running out his ears, glossy win-loss records, tremendous public support and respect - he hasn't won The Big One. OK, it took wonder boy Larry Brown five years here to do that.

Roy Williams spent 15 years without a collegiate title at KU, then got his first one two years later at North Carolina with four guys Matt Doherty had left.

Miracle worker Billy Donovan had nine years at Florida without a championship before nailing the two golden fleeces to the wall. Self merits a few more seasons of grace.

Let's rehash some legends.

The iconic Phog Allen was in his 35th season here when his 1952 club produced NCAA and Olympic championships. His 1922 and 1923 Kansas teams were voted national champs by the Helms Foundation, but that's not quite what Donovan did for '06 and '07.

Adolph Rupp was a sub on Phog's 1922-23 titlists and took over as Kentucky coach for 1930-31. It was 19 seasons before The Bloody Baron of the Bluegrass took home the top NCAA hardware. He did it with a flourish, leading his Wildcats to '48 and '49 wins. Kentucky won again in '51, but all three of those titles were badly tainted due to fixing scandals for some of Rupp's stars. He won again in 1958 before retiring in 1972.

St. John Wooden? He was two years at Indiana State and 16 seasons at UCLA before his incredible string of triumphs, 10 in all, once seven in a row. But during that dynasty a champion had to win only four games in the tournament in contrast to the current six.

Another Kansas product, Dean Smith, was in his 21st year at North Carolina before a Michael Jordan shot let him cut down the title nets in '82. Smith won another championship before running up the all-time victory total (since eclipsed by Bob Knight). Hank Iba, 10 years at Okie State. Mike Krzyzewski, five years at Army, 11 at Duke before '91.

Bob Knight? He won in his fifth season at Indiana, but trained for six years at Army before that. He won three titles at Indy.

Lute Olson has dealt considerable misery to Kansas. He was in his 24th season as a head coach at Long Beach State, Iowa and 'Zona before he and his surprising youngsters dumped Kansas so painfully in 1997. That was another of those years when KU had the tools for a title but fell too soon.

Branch McCracken, at 31 the youngest title-winning coach in NCAA history, led Indiana past Kansas in 1940 in his second year as Hoosier boss. Doggone if he didn't beat KU again, by a point, in 1953.

Any coaches in their first season ever capture the brass ring? Two readily come to mind. Ed Jucker led Cincinnati to total victory in 1961 and 1962, beating hated Ohio State in the process. Jucker apprenticed two years at Merchant Marine and five at Rensselaer. Then Jucker was one free throw away from a third straight title in 1963 before Loyola of Chicago played only five men and lucked out in the title game.

Michigan assistant Steve Fisher was elevated when Bill Frieder was fired (for taking the Arizona State job too early) and won the title in '89. Still, no coach has prevailed his first two seasons as Jucker did. Dick Harp almost triumphed in his rookie year here, '57, except for Joe Quigg's two free throws. Oh, those damned free throws!

So Bill Self has a chance to reign supreme in 2007-08, his fifth season a la Larry Brown. With all the coaching and player changes, that's well within reach.


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