- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 18, 2003

Look who isn't in the NCAA men's basketball tournament: UCLA, North Carolina (for the second straight year), Georgetown (ditto), Arkansas (ditto) and Bobby Knight. That's as big a story this year as who is in the tournament. It's a jungle out there, folks. Just ask Steve Lavin, who was cashiered yesterday in Westwood in the wake of the Bruins' first losing season since 1948.
(To give you an idea of how long ago that was, UCLA's 1948 schedule included such titans as the "Oakland Bittners," the "Sacramento Senators" and the always dangerous "20th Century-Fox" team.)
Knight is so dissatisfied with the job he did at Texas Tech this season that he's refusing his $250,000 salary. He really shouldn't take it so hard, though. He is, after all, working in Lubbock now the tumbleweed capital of the world. Or, to put it another way: Nobody figures to be making a movie about the Texas high school basketball tournament anytime soon.
But getting back to today's subject or one of them, anyway nothing is forever in college basketball. That's why Georgia was willing to hire a guy like Jim Harrick, despite the whispers about him at UCLA and Rhode Island. Harrick, for all his flaws, is a proven winner, and there are precious few of those in the college game.
The biggest mistake any program can make is to start believing it's The Program that wins games. It's never The Program that wins games. It's The Players who win games, and it's The Coach who gets The Players and teaches them.
UCLA, North Carolina and Georgetown are finding this out the hard way. You don't get the same results with Steve Lavin (or Walt Hazzard or Gary Cunningham) that you get with John Wooden. Do the folks at Carolina and G-town honestly think The Program is going to turn Matt Doherty into Dean Smith or Craig Esherick into John Thompson? Dream on.
I don't mean to single out those schools, though, because there are plenty of others in the same situation. St. John's and Villanova, for instance. Not too long ago, you may recall, they were annual forces in the NCAA tournament. (The Wildcats reached the Elite Eight five times in 11 years from 1978 to '88, winning the title in miraculous fashion in '85.) But then Rollie Massimino moved on and Looie Carnesecca retired at St. John's and, well, it hasn't been quite the same since, has it?
The same goes for Houston. Basketball people were never that impressed with Guy Lewis' grasp of X's and O's, but he did take the Cougars to five Final Fours in the '60s and '80s. And in the 17 years he has been gone, the program has all but dropped off the radar screen. None of his successors has won so much as a game in the NCAAs.
Marquette, under Al McGuire, used to be pretty good, too, as was UNLV under Jerry Tarkanian. But the After Years haven't been nearly as thrilling. As those universities discovered, they didn't have an established program, they had an established coach. Big difference.
The NIT field is teeming with the teams of yesteryear North Carolina, Georgetown, Villanova, St. John's, Virginia. You'd think it was 1950 … and the NIT still mattered. But, no, it's 2003, and the college basketball world is spinning faster than ever. So much so that the NCAA selection committee, I fear, is getting a little dizzy.
That was quite the scheduling goof they made with Brigham Young, wasn't it? They were so busy coming up with some cockamamie rationale for inviting Alabama that they forgot BYU doesn't play on the Sabbath and penciled in the Cougars for a possible Sunday game in the round of eight (before realizing their mistake and making contingency plans).
It certainly didn't do much for the credibility of the committee. But then, tournament selection committees have never been confused with the Supreme Court. And besides, what happened in the women's tournament to George Washington was almost as ridiculous. The poor Colonials have to play Oklahoma in Norman in the first round, even though they're seeded higher than the Sooners (seventh to OU's 10th). What did Joe McKeown do to deserve that?
GW better hope McKeown doesn't get discouraged and leave, because he'd be a hard man to replace just as John Wooden, Dean Smith and John Thompson have been. And just as Lute Olson will be at Arizona, Jim Calhoun will be at Connecticut and John Chaney will be at Temple. Wonder if those schools have any idea what might be coming.

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