Wednesday February 13th, 2008

Plenty of news coming out of Indiana, so let's jump right in:

What are you hearing about Kelvin Sampson and his job security at Indiana regarding his latest NCAA violations? -- Brett, South Elgin, Ill.

Let's be clear: Kelvin Sampson's job is now in serious danger, and Indiana faces a tough decision at a time when the Hoosiers have the talent to win a national title.

The big question all along has been whether the NCAA would deem the violations committed by Sampson and his staff to be "major" or "secondary," and now we know that the NCAA is in fact alleging that five major violations took place. If the NCAA does indeed rule that way in June, it would be the second time in three years Sampson (the former NABC president) has been nabbed for major violations -- and the first time for the entire Indiana athletic program since 1960.

Just 23 months ago, in his first Indiana press conference, Sampson promised the mistakes his staff made at Oklahoma -- 577 improper phone calls --wouldn't happen again. According to the NCAA, not only has it happened again, but the NCAA is alleging Sampson repeatedly lied to investigators representing both Indiana and the NCAA. In the NCAA's letter to Indiana obtained by the Indianapolis Star, the enforcement staff writes:

"Concerning Sampson's provision of false or misleading information, Sampson repeatedly provided the institution [Indiana] and the [NCAA] enforcement staff false information regarding his involvement in violations of the Committee on Infractions' recruiting restrictions. [NCAA Bylaw 10.1-(d)]."

If Sampson is ruled to have committed major (and not just secondary) violations, I can't imagine a scenario in which he would keep his job.

The question now becomes: How does Indiana respond? The No. 13 Hoosiers are 20-3 and a serious contender to reach the Final Four. Does the university want to take any action now -- like firing Sampson or ruling itself ineligible for this season's NCAA tournament -- in an effort to head off potentially more severe punishments by the NCAA? Or should Indiana wait until it's required to respond to the NCAA allegations after the season is over?

Keep in mind, it's a virtual certainty that Indiana's two best players -- senior D.J. White and freshman guard Eric Gordon, a surefire NBA lottery pick -- won't be back in Bloomington next year. The short-term play would be for IU to go for glory this season, even though the negative media publicity surrounding Sampson could be a huge distraction for the team.

On Wednesday morning, Indiana athletic director Rick Greenspan issued a statement saying that he was "extremely disappointed" in the allegations, which he called "a grave concern," but he stopped short of taking any further action.

Whatever Greenspan ends up deciding, I sure wouldn't want to be in his shoes right now. Or Sampson's, for that matter.

I'd planned to lead off this week's 'Bag with the back story for my feature in this week's Sports Illustrated on the Dribble-Drive Motion offense, which is now being run not just by the top-ranked college team (Memphis) but also by the top-ranked high school team (Bob Hurley Sr.'s St. Anthony of Jersey City, N.J.) and -- in elements, at least -- by the top NBA team (the Boston Celtics).

The high-octane DDM attack, developed by Vance Walberg during his days coaching Clovis (Calif.) West High and Fresno City College, has turned into the hottest thing in American basketball, and over the course of a month we found more than 200 teams across the country using it at every level of the game. (There's even a cool map with dots for every team's location in the SI mag package.)

From the moment I started working on the story in early January, I wanted to portray it as the biography of an idea, exploring how a basketball innovation happens and then spreads, sometimes to the detriment (and against the wishes) of the innovator himself. In the end, the story led me down all sorts of unexpected paths and taught me several new things about today's game.

Here are a few things worth pondering:

• At the same time that Walberg is receiving more professional respect than ever before (from all the coaches around the country running his stuff), he's also going through the most difficult moment of his 30-year coaching career. I first interviewed Walberg in his office at Pepperdine on Jan. 9. On Jan. 18 he abruptly resigned, citing personal reasons. I knew Pepperdine wasn't winning many games, but I had no idea that the situation was bad enough for Walberg to resign midway through his second season.

The SI story takes a closer look at what was going on in Malibu, but it's safe to say that the near-cult of high-school and small-college coaches using Walberg's stuff was crushed by Walberg's decision. By their lights, Walberg was one of them -- a high-school and juco grinder who'd made it big.

• I loved talking to Memphis coach John Calipari and Bob Hurley Sr. about why, as successful coaches, they decided to completely change their offenses. It's a good lesson for any of us not to get too stagnant in what we do for a living.

• The sub-culture of high-school coaches who pursued the Walberg offense and defense absolutely floored me. Walberg and Calipari have held clinics for more than 400 coaches at a time, but they have been unwilling to reveal all their secrets in any instructional videos. Yet Herb Welling, an assistant coach at Omaha (Neb.) Central High, performed some CIA-level espionage work, teaming up with John Jordan, the coach at St. Francis High in La Cañada, Calif., to "crack the code," as they put it.

"The Internet has made it a small world," says Jordan. "Herb is a good guy and was obsessed with finding out more" about what Walberg called the AASAA system (for attack-attack-skip-attack-attack).

Back when Walberg was at Fresno City College, Jordan would drive six hours nearly every week to scout Walberg's games and practices, and he would also attend every clinic Walberg held. "In one clinic you'd never get that much," he explains. "You'd have to go to this and that and put together meticulous notes and save them. He'd throw out terminology that wouldn't make any sense to you unless you'd been to something maybe five months previously. Then you'd be like, 'Oh, that's what that means.' It would really fill in a lot of holes for me and Herb."

Welling, a 45-year-old security guard by day, not only used the offense to help lead Omaha Central to the last two Nebraska state titles, but he passed it along to his pal Bob Hurley at St. Anthony. And that wasn't all.

• Welling also made two Dribble-Drive Motion instructional videos for Sysko's, one of the nation's top instructional video retailers. And if you could believe it, Welling's video is Sysko's top seller over the past 12 months, exceeding the sales for videos by Mike Krzyzewski, Roy Williams, John Wooden, Bo Ryan, and a Who's Who of top basketball coaches. Interestingly, the No. 2 seller was Pete Carril's videos on the Princeton offense, while No. 3 was Chris Lowery's video on defense.

• Welling argues that basketball coaches share information far less than football coaches. He pointed out one underground Web site, fastandfuriousfootball.com, that has reams of inside information on trendy pigskin systems -- from Urban Meyer's spread offense to Mike Leach's pass-happy attack -- but Welling noted that no such equivalent exists for hoops.

• One of my favorite parts of this story was communicating with more than 200 coaches about their fascination with Walberg's brainchild. (SI reporter Caitlin Moscatello also spoke with a bunch.) Thanks to Walberg's daughter Heather and to Memphis director of operations Andy Allison, we had a contact database for coaches who've communicated Walberg and Calipari about the offense or attended their joint clinic in Tunica, Miss., last summer.

I can't tell you how many times I said "I love coaches" to myself while reporting this story. I got dozens of long e-mails from coaches who couldn't stop talking about it (often in all-caps). Here's a small selection:

"MY KIDS LOVE PLAYING IT." -- Frank Sciolla, Pennsbury High boys' coach, Fairless Hills, Pa.

"I HIGHLY RECOMMEND THAT ALL COACHES USE WALBERG'S PRINCIPLES OF DRIVING AND KICKING IN WHATEVER OFFENSE THAT THEY ARE RUNNING. GETTING TO THE BASKET, UNDER CONTROL, IS THE NAME OF THE GAME." -- Patrick Callahan, Nome-Beltz (Alaska) High boys' coach

• There were a few teams running the Walberg stuff (or elements of it) that came in too late to be included in the magazine map this week:

Sherwood, Ark., Sylvan Hills High, boys'; Cypress, Texas., Cypress Springs High, boys'; Houston, Texas., Klein Forest High, boys'; Medford, Wisc., Medford High, boys'; St. Francis, Wisc., St. Francis High, girls'

Is this year's Duke team that good? -- Hill Bullock, McKinney, Texas

In a season in which every top team has apparent flaws, I've come around to the idea that Duke is a genuine national-title contender despite having no real presence in the post. Would this Duke team have had all sorts of problems with, say, last year's Florida team (with Al Horford, Joakim Noah and Chris Richard down low)?

Of course, but those Gators aren't around anymore. The team that would be the toughest matchup for Duke this season is probably inside-heavy Kansas, but Texas (another spread-offense team that's only slightly beefier than Duke) showed you can beat the Jayhawks as long as you make smart decisions, defend well and get decent contributions from your bigger players.

What's most intriguing about Duke is that the Blue Devils have won all but one game despite giving up double-doubles to a crazy number of opposing posts: UNC's Tyler Hansbrough (28 and 18), NC State's J.J. Hickson (14 and 10), Maryland's Bambale Osby (20 and 15), Clemson's Trevor Booker (15 and 10), Pittsburgh's DeJuan Blair (15 and 20), Davidson's Boris Meno (13 and 10) and New Mexico State's Justin Hawkins (16 and 11).

What can we conclude from that? As long as Duke continues its lockdown defense on the perimeter, its inside weakness may not matter that much. And believe me, these Devils can defend. Case in point: On the same possession against Boston College, 6-8 Kyle Singler shut down super-quick point guard Tyrese Rice when he attempted to drive to the basket, then switched to defend big man Shamari Spears and force a bad shot. On the same possession! Unreal.

Do you think Bob Knight deserves the Bobby Petrino comparisons? Why did Knight go out as a quitter on his players? -- Mark Moore, Seguin, Texas

Can Texas Tech honestly say that the basketball is any better after having hired Bob Knight? Last I looked, the team was playing to less-than-capacity crowds and it was looking at a bid to the NIT. Wasn't the program in the same place when the General arrived? -- Phil O'Donoghue, Florence, Mass.

Good questions. I don't think Knight's players were served well by Knight's decision to resign in midseason, just as I don't think the in-season coaching changes that have been so common this year (Pepperdine, San Francisco, Oregon State, LSU, etc.) were good for the players on those teams.

As for whether Texas Tech is any better off having hired Knight, that's a question that will ultimately be determined by how well Pat Knight does there as a head coach. At this point I'd say that Texas Tech has gotten a lot out of Bob Knight's time there, though much more from a publicity perspective than an on-the-court performance perspective. The fact that media outlets outside of Texas even act like they care about the future of Red Raiders basketball is a step up from where the program used to be.

Has any team had a better turnaround this year than Purdue (from losing to Wofford at home to winning at Wisconsin)? -- Ryan Kelly, St. Charles, Mo.

I thought the Boilermakers would make a run for the Big Ten title ... in 2009. But what's happening right now in West Lafayette is something special: a young team under the impossibly young-looking Matt Painter is getting noticeably better every game. That sort of thing is always exciting because you don't know what ceiling this team might have.

If you're asking about turnarounds, I'd have to put Maryland in Purdue's class -- and maybe even slightly above the Boilers, since nobody expected the Terps would have hiccups like losing at home to Ohio and American. We'll see what happens between Maryland and Duke on Wednesday night, but Gary Williams' crew looks like it's headed to the NCAAs, and I didn't think I'd be saying that a month ago.

In your opinion, does Washington's win over UCLA make the Pac-10 look stronger (since the ninth-place team beat the first-place team) or weaker (since the first-place team lost to the ninth-place team)? I'm aware that it's just semantics, but it's an interesting argument about the strength of conferences around the country. -- Jeff Steele, Seattle, Wash.

If you've been reading here much, you know that we don't get too caught up in the "Which is the best conference?" debate. But I do think it's a sign of the Pac-10's depth that a team near the bottom of the league standings can take down a national-title contender. The Huskies needed a win like that, too. It's probably the result of Lorenzo Romar's hyper-successful turnaround of the program (with terrific players like Brandon Roy and Nate Robinson), but the past two seasons in Montlake have been disappointing, to say the least.

Keeping in mind that a bad matchup in the tournament could ruin Memphis' season, what style of play will give the Tigers the biggest problems? -- Todd, Spartanburg, S.C.

Any team that hopes to have a shot against Memphis will have to have multiple quick, skilled guards who can handle the Tigers' defensive pressure -- it was instructive to see how the Tigers completely neutralized Gonzaga's Matt Bouldin (a skilled, not-quick guard) recently. What's more, any Memphis-killer will have to mix up defenses, preferably inserting some junk D and different zone looks the way UTEP did in keeping its game close with the Tigers. Lastly, you have to find a way to expose Memphis' two main weaknesses, its mediocre three-point shooting (34.2 percent) and brutal free-throw shooting (58.4 percent).

Why do coaches always sit players in foul trouble? Wouldn't you rather have a player foul out than not maximize his playing time while finishing with four fouls? -- Reed Baessler, Des Moines, Iowa

A lot of it depends on whether a player can stay aggressive despite being in foul trouble. I'm surprised that more coaches don't do what Kansas State's Frank Martin did with Mike Beasley when B-Easy picked up two quick fouls against Texas A&M last month. Martin simply subbed Beasley in for offensive possessions and subbed him out whenever possible before a defensive possession.

Also, no coach wants to be seen as a redux of Guy Lewis, the Houston coach who left Clyde Drexler in to get his fourth foul in the first half of the 1983 national title game. Even though that's an extremely rare occurrence, people always remember the glaring error more than the fact that the percentages were probably against that happening. To me, it's the "Fear of Looking Like an Idiot" angle that prevents a coach from being more creative when a player picks up two first-half fouls. (And yes, that's the same "Fear of Looking Like an Idiot" angle that keeps so many coaches from fouling the opposing team in the final seconds when they're up by three points.)

Kansas scored 100 points against Baylor but did not make a three-point shot. When was the last time a team scored 100 with zero points from beyond the arc? -- Jonathan, Seattle

Got me, but that's an interesting nugget. Any readers have an example?

Last year we had a coaching domino chain involving four really good coaches: Tubby Smith, Billy Gillispie, Mark Turgeon and Gregg Marshall. Half a season is not sufficient time to properly judge any new coach, but what is your impression of each of them so far? -- Kyle Meadors, Nashville, Tenn.

Winthrop's Randy Peele had his feelings hurt by your question, Kyle, since his 16-9 Eagles may have a better shot of reaching the NCAA tournament than all of those coaches except for Turgeon. You're right about a half-season not being enough to judge a coach's performance, mainly because it's not enough time for a guy to show what he can do with his own recruits. Both Gillispie (at Kentucky) and Turgeon (at Texas A&M) have felt significant pressure from their fan bases in Year 1, and they've done a so-so job of handling it. Gillispie appeared to have righted the ship at Kentucky in recent games, but Tuesday's 41-point loss at Vanderbilt won't help matters. Meanwhile, Texas A&M has now proved it can win a road game, which should ease some of Turgeon's concerns.

As for Tubby Smith at Minnesota, you have to call his first season an unqualified success to this point. The Gophers are 15-8 and 5-6 in the Big Ten, and the general attitude around the team has changed for the better. Marshall's first season at Wichita State has been underwhelming, as the Shockers (10-14) have gone 3-10 in a down year for the Missouri Valley. But having seen what Marshall was able to build at Winthrop, I think he clearly deserves the chance to do the same thing in Wichita.

With Drake's double defeats of both Illinois State and Creighton, does any Missouri Valley team other than the Bulldogs have a snowball's chance in San Antonio of making the field of 65 unless it wins the conference tournament? -- David Amulet, Fairfax, Va.

Short answer: No. Neither Illinois State nor Creighton has a good enough non-conference résumé to rate consideration for an at-large bid. While we're on the topic, how crazy is it that Drake is four games ahead of the field in the Valley race? All due respect to 'Bag pal Seth Davis, but how can he choose John Calipari over Keno Davis for national Coach of the Year?

Got some interesting response to last week's discussion about the lack of women coaching men's college basketball teams:

The key aspect of the "women coaching men" scenario is recruiting. Pat Summitt is a good coach, but let's face it, the reason why Tennessee is consistently great is that the Lady Vols consistently bring in great talent. And that is the obstacle preventing a woman from coaching a big-time men's program. If you're a sought-after high school player (or a parent of one) are you going to risk the future on a person that may or may not be able to coach the men's game? Not until she proves she can win at that level. -- David Cook, Ellicott City, Md.

Regarding the questions around a female coaching a men's team, I believe the most interesting question for all "institutions of higher learning" would be this: If your school does not interview, let alone hire, women to coach men's teams, why do you believe it is an acceptable practice to hire men to coach women's teams? -- Tom Simpson, New Carlisle, Ohio

Realistically, I do think the main challenge for a female coach in men's basketball would be recruiting. But what I find troubling is that colleges are supposed to be places where ideas aren't all in lock-step with each other. Call me crazy, but I honestly don't think it would be that big of a risk for a men's team to hire Pat Summitt or Vivian Stringer. What's worse is that I can't recall an instance in which an athletic director even called a female coach of their caliber to seek an interview for a men's job. What's wrong with at least looking into it?

How in the world do you find time to see so many movies? Are you paid to do reviews for some unmentioned publication? Better question: How do you get the 'Bag Lady to see them all with you? She went with you to four movies in one weekend? My wife won't see anything that's longer than 90 minutes and doesn't have Reese Witherspoon or Matthew McConaughey in it. -- Jamie Rosenberg, Bradenton, Fla.

It's not hard at all, Jamie, if you make it a priority and you love good movies. It probably helps that there are no kids at 'Bag Central, and we have a first-rate new movie theater just five minutes away here in Baltimore.

• I'm taking nominations from readers for the nation's most notorious/envelope-pushing student fan group. Any new details of exploits from this season would be much appreciated.

• If Texas' big guys (Damion James, Connor Atchley and Gary Johnson) can continue playing as well as they did against Kansas, then the Longhorns should be back in the national-title discussion.

• Were my eyes deceiving me, or did Marquette's Ousmane Barro really get caught for goaltending on a three-pointer against Notre Dame? Amazing.

• The over-the-top chest bump by Illinois' Chester Frazier on Indiana's Gordon during introductions in Champaign last week was one of the most classless displays by a player I've seen in a long time. (As a result, we're no longer having fun by imitating Muhammad Ali saying "Chest-uh FRAY-zhuh.")

• Intriguing sight: In Gonzaga's overtime loss at St. Mary's last week, the Zags had freshmen Austin Daye and Steven Gray on the floor at the end instead of Josh Heytvelt or Micah Downs. Yet instead of sulking, both of those guys had their arms locked with their teammates on the bench.

• We can't tell you how fired up we are for Tennessee at Memphis on Feb. 23.

See you next week.

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