February 9, 2009 11:55 am ET by Kyle Whelliston
BATON ROUGE -- When the ax started falling in the SEC last month with midseason firings, the thought around here was that it was kinda cute. Four such severances in four years seemed like another indication that the pressures of BCS basketball were getting to be more in line with those of the pros, where seven coaches have been fired so far in 2008-09. The power conferences were getting increasingly like the NBA, we thought, and the next logical step would be 48-minute games or shoe deals for individual players. Didn't figure that this bad idea would hit our level so soon.
On Friday, Tennessee State embarrassed Cy Alexander by firing him 12 games into the OVC season. The reason given was the need for a "new direction," the same phrase we've been hearing for years at the higher levels when an NBA team gets out to a poor start. From everything we saw and heard at the OVC tournament last March, this would have been done last summer if the Tigers hadn't come out of a seven-seed to make the title game against Austin Peay. The school was just waiting for the right excuse, and a 6-16 overall record was good enough.
Alexander, who's coached for 24 years, deserves better treatment and more respect than this. He took South Carolina State to five NCAA tournaments, won three coach of the year titles in the MEAC, and is still spoken of as a living legend around that league. In the OVC, which honestly isn't a much higher level of basketball (and plays almost just as many guarantee games), Alexander was eight games under .500 in league games since 2003. The very least TSU could have done was let him coach until the end of the season.
Obviously, this isn't the pros. There's no trading deadline, and players have to wait a year if they want to go anywhere else -- which is 365 days longer than schools have to wait to alter course with coaching changes. Either way and in any event, TSU would have to wait until summer recruiting to start on this "new direction." With the intricate systems the NCAA has in place, few things could be more disruptive than a midseason firing, or a more blatantly indicative of executive ego.
Unfortunately, we're going to see a lot more of this going forward. Here in the mid-majority, we really thought we were immune to this kind of nonsense... but like the off-court player issues that have become part of leagues like the WAC, WCC and America East, this has become a much less enjoyable pursuit.
Atlantic 14: On Saturday, a city team with a name the national media still can't pronounce led nearly wire-to-wire, shot 81 percent in the first half, and didn't need a basket for the last 7:44 as Duquesne X'ed out the No. 1 team in out TS-22 index 72-68. It's hard to imagine that this will destroy anything more than the Musketeers' (20-3, 8-1) poll ranking, as Xavier lost in Pittsburgh two years ago and somehow regrouped to make the Round of 32. It wasn't the ball control issues that we've been talking about all year that sunk Xavier, it was a freak shooting half against the nation's No. 8 field goal defense. Dayton (7-2) took its second A-14 loss of the year on Sunday, a turnover-riddled 13-point drop at Charlotte, in advance of the big XU-UD showdown on Wednesday. Saint Joe's is between at 7-1; at least there's a clear top tier this year.
Horizon League: Over the past month we've had Butler's trip to Wright State, the third of a three-game road stretch, tabbed as the potential first league lsos of the year. That happened last Tuesday at Green Bay, the Bulldogs (12-1) looked a little shaken on Thursday at Detroit, but Sunday was a classic Butler win: outplayed in nearly every aspect of the game but one. The Raiders beat Butler on every hustle-board category, but only shot 27 percent and the Bulldogs won going away, 69-51. Now Butler only has one more conference road game in its five remaining league games (at Milwaukee, Feb. 18). Green Bay is still a game back at 11-3, having won five in a row, including this four-point decision against those Milwaukee Panthers.
Metro Atlantic: We thought that Siena (12-1) might have a league loss in them somewhere along the line, and a roadie at the team the Saints obliterated for the MAAC title last spring seemed like a perfectly logical candidate. Ryan Thompson, a player who was injured for that blowout, ran through the lane to score the winning layup with 3.4 seconds remaining to claim a 90-88 win, to the delight of the increasingly educated and wonderfully profane Broncs Zoo. Siena's headline: Nobody's Perfect. Ain't that the truth; right, Davidson?
Southern: There was a hint back on Dec. 29 -- the Davidson Wildcats have played some close SoCon games this year, but they haven't seen the kind of clear and present danger that the Charleston Cougars presented in that four-point televised decision. On Saturday night at home, the Cougars broke through and clipped the league champs' 43-game league win string with a 77-75 victory. It was an bummer end to a 27-game home win streak at Belk Arena, as well; in front of a stunned crowd of 5,223, C of C erased a 14-point Davidson lead in the final quarter, and it marked the third time in four games the Wildcats failed to convert more than 40 percent of their shots. Stephen Curry had 25 points on 7-for-22 shooting. Now the longest SoCon win streak belongs to... The Citadel!?! The Bulldogs have won seven in a row and are three games back of Davidson at 10-4. My winning season!
Western Athletic: We have to end on a positive note, and perfection can still be found at this level. Princeton is 4-0 in the Ivy (we'll discuss that tomorrow) and Gonzaga is 8-0 in the WCC (despite, ummm, this). But Utah State, curd kings of Hoops Nation, are on an 18-game win streak and have smote and vanquished all 11 aspirants in their league. In an eight-point win over La Tech Saturday, the Aggies burst out to a huge lead, got bored and let the Bulldogs in, but kept the tempo slow and ran their stuff to pull out yet another victory. But that Thursday date up at Idaho looks a little scary...
Tomorrow: Bizarro Valley, Ivy, Patriot, SWAC.
U'useless Stat of the Day
We were stuck in some intense travel on Friday, and had to use one of our few remaining get-out-of-jail free cards with GMHN (hopefully, we made up for it with a two-hour chat). If we'd been in one place at one time that morning, we would have mentioned a Big Sky game from Thursday night that really caught our attention.
Portland State, champions of the conference, have sagged a bit since their epoch-defining win over Gonzaga over Christmas break, and are currently stuck in second place at 7-3 behind streaking Weber State. But against Northern Arizona on Thursday, a nice 12-point home win, the VIkings really left their mark. Or rather, didn't. They committed only five infractions all night -- and two players (forwards Jamie Jones and Julius Thomas) were in "foul trouble" with two. Thanks to Portland State's genteel nature, the visiting Lumberjacks were only able to manage a single and-one opportunity and no two-shot situations.
In 2008-09, the low whistle count matches this Oregon State-Arizona Pac-10 contest, and this ex-UMPFN guarantee game. In the past four seasons, just 15 teams out of 39,037 squad performances have managed just five fouls.
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