College basketball 2011-2012 started Nov. 11 on an aircraft carrier, which was the late Al McGuire’s favorite phrase to describe a 7-footer with the mobility of a glacier.
McGuire, who coached a national championship team (Marquette over North Carolina, 1977), died in 2001 at the age of 72.
Explaining that year-round recruiting demands had turned his profession into “a young man’s” venture, McGuire retired after that 1977 NCAA title win in Atlanta. He was 48 and quickly began a successful, and lucrative, career as a television analyst opposite Billy Packer.
It’s too bad Outrageous Al isn’t still around to witness the coaches who are dominating the “young man’s” coaching game.
- There’s 69-year-old Jim Calhoun, whose Connecticut team won last season’s NCAA championship.
- There’s Mike Krzyzewski, 64. The Duke coach soon will pass his former mentor, Bob Knight, on the all-time victory list.
- There’s Roy Williams, 61, at North Carolina. His No. 1-ranked Tar Heels will be on that ship in San Diego to face Michigan State in the historic sports event.
- There’s Jim Boeheim, 66, whose Syracuse team will be among the favorites to win the 2012 NCAA title in New Orleans. That’s where his 2003 team won the title over Williams, then at Kansas.
- There’s Bo Ryan, 63, whose Wisconsin Badgers are expected to battle Ohio State for the Big Ten championship.
Ironically, the college basketball coaching business has become the domain of the sport’s Old Masters, and there’s reason to think the trend will hold straight through the April 4, 2012 title game in the New Orleans Superdome.
Here are a few predictions on what will unfold between now and then, by the fours.
- N.C. State: The Wolfpack won NCAA titles in 1974 and ’83 but hasn’t earned a bid since 2006. That drought should change in Mark Gottfried’s first season.
- Indiana: A program with five NCAA titles, the Hoosiers will get back in the tourney field for the first time since 2008.
- Michigan: Once a Final Four regular and the winning team in 1989, the Wolverines have slipped but won 21 games and landed a tourney bid last season. The 2011-12 should make a deeper run.
- Oklahoma State: The program Hank Iba built into a national power in the 1940s and ‘50s has been gradually rebuilt by current coach Travis Ford and could be close to scaring Kansas in the Big 12.
FOUR TOP PLAYERS
- Jared Sullinger, Ohio State: A 6-10, 275-pound sophomore, Sullinger averaged 17.2 points and 10.2 rebounds as a freshman and probably would have been among the first three in the NBA Draft had he declared.
- Harrison Barnes, North Carolina: After averaging 15.7 points but shooting only 42 percent as a freshman, the 6-8 Barnes should be more consistent.
- John Jenkins, Vanderbilt: Not well known outside the Southeastern Conference, but the 6-4 junior is probably the best perimeter shooter in the country.
- John Henson, North Carolina: At 6-10 and barely 210 pounds, the junior forward blocks more shots than some teams.
FOUR FINE FRESHMEN
- Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: A wing player with Barnes-like versatility.
- Andre Drummond, Connecticut: Super center in waiting.
- Adonis Thomas, Memphis: Fast, physical forward with a shot.
- Anthony Davis, Kentucky: A 6-10 big man with perimeter moves.
FOUR LITTLE ENGINES WITH STEAM
- Gonzaga: This season’s Butler?
- Creighton: Next season’s Butler?
- Long Beach State: This season’s Virginia Commonwealth?
- Drexel: Next season’s Virginia Commonwealth?
FOUR FOR THE FINAL FOUR
- North Carolina: Tar Heels are the best team out there, but the best team frequently doesn’t win the biggest game.
- Kansas: The Jayhawks and Tar Heels played for the championship in 1957 in the days of Wilt Chamberlain and Len Rosenbluth.
- Ohio State: Last season, the NCAA selection/placement committee put UNC, Kentucky and Ohio State in the same regional. That won’t happen this time.
- Syracuse: If Boeheim wins a second national title in New Orleans, he just may hang ‘em up and turn into a full-time golf hustler.