Friday, October 20, 2006

Commuter schools and random thoughts

In the current college basketball climate, it’s interesting to watch how a euphoric three weeks can change a program, and in many ways, a school.

After George Mason upset UConn in the Elite Eight last season, the school received national exposure, became the so-called “media darling” (awful term), and head coach Jim Larranaga probably secured recruiting classes for at least the next three seasons.

Actually, it has happened this year. Check out the team’s season outlook.

The Patriots solidified commitments from a few junior college transfers, a declining trend with major programs which now opt for mostly prep school talent. Obviously, mid-major programs will take JUCO transfers. Are those players less refined than prep school athletes now? Topic for future discussion.

Basketball here, not academics. At least, not yet. Also a topic for future discussion.

Truth is, George Mason is one of the preseason favorites in the Colonial Athletic Association, even after losing three leading scorers to graduation. The Virginia-based commuter school and Larranaga are building a quality basketball program. The school is also increasing its enrollment numbers by 4 percent each year as part of a school-wide initiative. Even though this year’s enrollment numbers will not be released for a month or so, it will be interesting to see if those numbers exceed the average 4 percent increase because of George Mason’s run last March.

Interesting plan for a commuter school that's working.

Also, George Mason will play three nationally televised games this season and maybe a fourth with a few scheduling changes.

Finally, Larranaga was recently inducted into the New England Basketball Hall of Fame. Check out the list of inductees. Perhaps a little bit of six degrees of UConn, including Tom Penders.

CLOCKWORK ORANGE

Just like every year, Syracuse has secured a number of nationally televised games.
You’ll be able to see one-third of Syracuse’s schedule this season, including both dates with UConn. (Monday, Feb. 5, ESPN, and Saturday, Feb. 17, ABC).
The Huskies have 13 nationally televised dates.

Also, I like some early season Jim Boeheim training tactics. He brought the Orange up to Fort Drum in upstate New York (yes, further north than Syracuse).

But it was only for one day. Try that for a week. In the snow. In January.

NICE ALTERNATIVE

Jim Calhoun did not mince words when he spoke after his team's 10-minute scrimmage at Men’s Basketball Madness. His reaction on the UConn bench during the festivities perhaps spoke volumes of his overall impression of the night.

Here’s an idea, though. Yes, Midnight Madness events are a nice opening to the season for fans. But maybe after a few weeks of practice (maybe a scrimmage when players are conditioned and a little more in tune with what the coaching staff is trying to do) UConn can try what Pitt has done the last three years.

Of course, any opportunity for an unnecessary injury or an unnecessary showcase is usually frowned upon. Again, just a nice alternative.

SLEEPING ON JERSEY

Always searching to say a good thing or two about New Jersey.

Finished reading “The Miracle of St. Anthony” this summer, a detailed account of the Jersey City school coached by Bob Hurley Sr. Good read if you get the time.

But that’s northern Jersey. Not sure if that counts. If you can still see Manhattan from your doorstep, your Jersey qualifications are in question.

But head downstate to Rutgers, the most popular commuter school in the country that, much like the rest of the state, is trying to reshape its public and political image. It has in some ways. I like the football turnaround. I also liked Quincy Douby’s basketball philosophy on the court last season.

Still, it’s always a toss up with Rutgers in the Big East every year.

This season is no different.

The Scarlet Knights had the most unbalanced scoring output last season of any Big East school. After Douby’s 25 points per game, no other Rutgers' player averaged double figures.

They finished 19-14 and have lost Douby to the NBA, but they return some talent. Where do they finish? We'll find out beginning next week at Big East media day at the Garden.

Final thought of the day and week. I came across this site about noted Rutgers’ alumni.

Of course, James Gandolfini of “Sopranos” fame wore tassels there after four years. But the list runs deeper. There are “Real World” contestants, a few rappers, a few NFL players and Kristin Davis from “Sex and the City.”

So apparently, if you want to star in a cable television show or play on special teams in the NFL, Rutgers is the way to go.

And if you’re really ambitious, you can be commissioner of the NBA.

See you next week.

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