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Forde Minutes: When did college basketball become an old man's game?

Pat Forde
Yahoo Sports
Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has only gotten better with age. (AP)
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Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has only gotten better with age. (AP)

Forty names, games, teams and minutiae making news in college basketball (five-team parlay cards sold separately at UTEP):

THE COACHING GENERATION GAP

There are 11 active college coaches who have won national championships, and they aren’t getting any younger. Of that group, just one of them hasn’t turned 50. Take a bow, Billy Donovan (1), you represent the game’s younger generation of elite coaches.

Still.

Where are his contemporaries? Good question.

The 48-year-old Donovan won his titles at Florida in 2006 and ’07. He was followed by then-45-year-old Bill Self (2) at Kansas. Since then, the championship coaches are skewing older. The last five titles have been won by coaches who, at the time of the net cutting, were 59 (Roy Williams in 2009), 63 (Mike Krzyzewski in ‘10), 68 (Jim Calhoun in ‘11), 53 (John Calipari in ‘12) and 60 (Rick Pitino in ‘13).

The same was largely true before the Donovan-Self stretch – five straight titles won by coaches between the age of 54 (Krzyzewski in ‘01) and 61 (Calhoun in ‘04). But between John Wooden’s last title in 1975 and Krzyzewski’s third in 2001, the majority of the hardware was won by younger coaches.

Of those 25 titles, 15 were won by coaches either in their 30s (Bob Knight in ‘76, Jim Valvano ‘83, Steve Fisher ‘89) or 40s (Joe B. Hall ‘78, Denny Crum ’80 and ‘86, Knight ’81 and ‘87, John Thompson ‘84, Larry Brown ‘88, Krzyzewski ’91 and ‘92, Pitino ‘96, Tubby Smith ’98 and Tom Izzo 2000).

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Billy Donovan is one of very few under-50 coaches in the modern game who've won it all. (USA Today)

So in the last 10 seasons, the same number of national titles has been won by coaches in their 50s and 60s (ten) as there were in the previous 25 seasons. Two theories on why:

• The older guys are sticking around longer and staying on top of their game. Williams, Krzyzewski, Calhoun and Pitino all won titles past the age where Al McGuire retired (58). Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim – whose Syracuse team is undefeated and ranked No. 2, after a Final Four trip last year – are older than Wooden was when he stepped down (64). Joe B. Hall hung it up at age 56, John Thompson at 57, Nolan Richardson at 60. Older Americans are healthier than ever, and team travel is less of a grind than it once was. If coaches can withstand the stress of competing and succeeding at the highest level, career longevity can be extended farther than ever.

• The younger generation is lacking enough well-trained, star-in-the-making coaches capable of breaking through the Gray Panther blockade at the top of the sport. Donovan, who cited his immersion training as a graduate assistant at Kentucky in his early 20s under Rick Pitino, said as much Monday.

“There was an avenue for myself 25 or 26 years ago to get into college coaching,” Donovan said. “I was able to do everything but go on the road recruiting.”

Today those opportunities are much more limited by NCAA rules, in terms of hands-on coaching, on-site scouting and any kind of recruiting contact. A lot of aspiring young coaches are put in basketball operations roles, which are largely desk jobs. Because of that, Donovan believes they simply aren’t getting the same learning experience.

“An administrative role now doesn’t allow guys to do anything,” he said.

Then there are the ops jobs that go to either older former head coaches, brought on for their expertise, or untrained middlemen who are being paid back for delivering recruits. (Although the NCAA now has a rule on the books regarding the latter, it can be circumvented.)

“Guys are getting jobs based on players they can bring in there,” Donovan said. “I’m not sure we’re helping those guys. That position is not being used to develop a young coach.”

THE NEXT WAVE

Despite the generation gap, there are a group of 40-somethings – and at least one 30-something – out there who is poised to break through and win big. The Minutes identifies eight coaches under 50 who can win a national title in the near future:

Sean Miller (3), Arizona. Age: 45. In his favor: A job at a school that is serious about basketball and has championship hardware in its trophy case. Drawback: None. Miller is pretty much the total package as a coach and recruiter. Best run to date: Elite Eight in 2011 at Arizona and ’08 at Xavier. How soon could it happen: This spring. His Wildcats are undefeated and ranked No. 1.

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Tom Crean reacts logically to a call. (USA Today)

Tom Crean (4), Indiana. Age: 47. In his favor: Oversees a Cadillac program that wants to win titles and sits in a talent-rich state, and Crean can recruit with the best of them. Drawback: May have had his best shot for the foreseeable future last year, when the No. 1-seeded Hoosiers fell in the Sweet Sixteen to Syracuse. Best run to date: Final Four in 2003 at Marquette. How soon could it happen: Depends on who is going pro off the current team, but there is more talent arriving for 2014-15.

Thad Matta (5), Ohio State. Age: 46. In his favor: Deluxe recruiter has built the Buckeyes into an annual power, winning a minimum of 29 games in each of the previous four seasons. Drawback: Is he good enough in-game to win six straight in the tournament? Best run to date: NCAA runner-up in '07. How soon could it happen: Even with a 15-2 record, this team does not look like national championship material – and it will lose two key seniors and possibly others. Next year’s recruiting class is very strong.

Fred Hoiberg (6), Iowa State. Age: 41. In his favor: Has proven he can win at a non-traditional power and by cobbling together a roster of transfers. If he can do that, imagine what he’d be capable of in a better job. Drawback: The NBA has its eye on Hoiberg and may grab him before he can reach his full potential in college. Even if he stays in college, he’s an Ames guy; can you really win a title there? Best run to date: Round of 32 each of the past two years. How soon could it happen: The Cyclones are 14-1 this season, with several big victories – but all at home. If they can prove their worth on the road, they’re a threat to at least make it to Dallas.

Shaka Smart (7), VCU. Age: 36. In his favor: Regarded as one of the brightest lights in the business. Should continue to have opportunities at bigger jobs every year. Drawback: Smart has been very selective so far, choosing to stay at VCU. That’s probably smart (pardon the pun) but it’s not a place with realistic national title aspirations. Best run to date: Final Four in 2011. How soon could it happen: Depends when (and where) he’s finally offered a job he cannot refuse.

Steve Alford (8), UCLA. Age: 49. In his favor: Has taken over at a place that should have all the accoutrement to win a title. Drawback: Alford is a good coach, but nobody has accused him of being great yet – especially at tournament time. There have been some notable flameouts. Best run to date: Sweet 16 at Southwest Missouri State (now Missouri State) in 1999. How soon could it happen: This team doesn’t appear up to the task, and roster churn is always an issue at a place with NBA talent. But if enough players stay, Alford is bringing in a loaded frontcourt class for 2014-15.

Travis Ford (9), Oklahoma State. Age: 44. In his favor: Ace recruiter who has constructed the Cowboys’ best team in a decade. Drawback: Does he know how to win in March? Ford is just 1-4 in the NCAA tourney in his career, with the lone victory coming five years ago. Best run to date: Round of 32 in ’09. How soon could it happen: A season-ending injury to forward Michael Cobbins may be enough to prevent this team from a potential title run – but prior to that the 14-2 Cowboys looked like legit contenders.

Brad Stevens (10), Boston Celtics. Age: 37. In his favor: Brilliant mind and a proven track record, taking two overachieving teams to the Final Four. Drawback: Not currently coaching college basketball, and may not again if things go well on the NBA level. Best run to date: national runner-up finishes in 2010 and ’11. How soon could it happen: If/when Stevens decides to return to the college game, he will take a great job and should theoretically have an immediate chance.

Five more under-50s who have accomplished a lot, but have to change some things to join the above list:

Jamie Dixon (11), Pittsburgh. Age: 48. He’s won 20 games in each of his 11 seasons as a head coach, and at 15-1 is a cinch to make it 12 in a row this year. He’s advanced as far as a regional final, losing on a coast-to-coast drive by Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds in 2009. The drawback: Plodding tempo and sketchy perimeter shooting have led to some notable March meltdowns for highly-seeded Dixon teams.

Mick Cronin (12), Cincinnati. Age: 42. Rebuilt the Bearcats into a contender, working on a fourth straight NCAA tournament appearance. Crashed the Sweet 16 in 2012 as a No. 6 seed. The drawback: His teams can struggle badly to score when it matters.

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At 47, John Thompson III is closing in on 280 career wins as a head coach. (USA Today)

John Thompson III (13), Georgetown. Age: 47. Has had five teams garner top-three NCAA tournament seeds, and one (2007) advanced to the Final Four. The drawback: On a ghastly run of NCAA flameouts, going 2-5 since that lone Final Four season. Rigid style of play seems to struggle when facing unknown opponents in a one-and-done setting.

Tony Bennett (14), Virginia. Age: 44. Only has one NCAA tourney berth in his first four years in Charlottesville, but this team looks like it will get there. Bennett is 2-1 in NCAA openers and his Washington State team advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2008. The drawback: Another guy whose teams can just shut down offensively, often at precisely the wrong time.

Scott Drew (15), Baylor. Age: 43. His 2010 and ’12 teams earned No. 3 NCAA seeds, and both advanced to the regional final before falling to the eventual national champions. The drawback: Drew can amass talent. The hard part seems to be focusing it in terms of effort, execution and basketball IQ.

Josh Pastner (16), Memphis. Age: 36. His teams have gotten a little better every year: from NIT to a No. 12 seed to a No. 8 to a No. 6 last season. Won his first NCAA tourney game last year, and then the Tigers were pulverized by Michigan State. This year’s team is experienced and athletic and has the potential to make a run. The drawback: His teams have looked a lot like Drew’s – an inefficient and chaotic amalgam of athleticism – without advancing as far as Drew’s.

BECAUSE IT’S NEVER TOO EARLY TO PANIC

Eight teams that need to score some quality victories or get the train back on the rails to avoid bubble stress in February:

North Carolina (17). Tar Heels have plenty of quality wins: over Michigan State on the road, over Louisville on a neutral court, over Kentucky in Chapel Hill. The problem is the proliferation of bad losses: Belmont, UAB, Texas, Wake Forest, Miami – none of which are likely NCAA tournament teams. UNC is No. 53 in the RPI and off to an 0-3 ACC start, which means a losing record in league play could nullify those nice November-December victories. This has been a troubled season ever since P.J. Hairston (18) immersed himself in NCAA violations, but it’s been downright weird with the fluctuations in performance from week to week.

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Russ Smith's 18.1 points per game this season hasn't been enough for the Cardinals. (AP)

Louisville (19). The defending national champions should make the field of 68 – but where they are seeded will depend on whether they can win some of their relatively few remaining big games. The Cardinals are No. 39 in the RPI and are 0-2 against teams ranked higher than that. Beating SMU (No. 40) and Southern Miss (No. 41) is nice, but those were both at home and not enough to dazzle the selection committee. There are two games left against Cincinnati and Connecticut, one against Memphis and one at SMU. After losing Chane Behanan (20) to dismissal and Kevin Ware (21) to injury, a team that once had the luxury of depth is now scrounging for bodies.

UCLA (22). The Bruins are 13-3, have two blowout Pac-12 victories and a close loss to No. 1 Arizona. So what’s the problem? They’ve played exactly one true road game and lost it, to Missouri. The best win is over Arizona State, and the Sun Devils aren’t an NCAA tournament team at this point. Five of the next seven are away from Pauley Pavilion, so it’s time for the Bruins to make some deposits in the body-of-work bank.

Missouri (23). The Tigers are rooting for UCLA to win those games, because that is Mizzou’s signature win to date. But that might have been canceled out by a home loss to Georgia last week. In order to solidify an NCAA bid, Missouri will have to do two things it has struggled with over the last year and a half: win on the road and win close games. Going .500 in an uninspiring SEC would guarantee nothing.

Indiana (24). The Hoosiers are on the outside looking in at this point, which makes games like tomorrow night (home against unbeaten Wisconsin) absolutely vital. In fact, Indiana might need to win out the rest of the way at home – which would include victories over the Badgers, Michigan, Iowa and Ohio State – to earn a bid. And even then, it would help to have something on the road/neutral record as well.

Oregon (25). The Ucks (no D) have lost three straight, putting the lie to their 13-0 start. Now comes a three-game road swing, against Oregon State, Washington and Washington State. Oregon has not played as well since point guard Dominic Artis returned from NCAA suspension and must figure out how to get some stops.

Illinois (26). The last week has been a diverse mess for the Illini, with a failure on defense Wednesday (giving up 95 to Wisconsin) and an offensive fiasco Sunday (scoring 43 against Northwestern). Bottom line: Illinois is winless in four road games to date, and that will have to change to make the NCAAs. Looks like a team running into reality after an overachieving start.

Colorado (27). The Buffaloes plunged immediately into crisis mode when leading scorer and assist man Spencer Dinwiddie (28) tore his ACL against Washington on Sunday. Victories over Kansas and Oregon are great, but Colorado will be appraised by the selection committee on what it does over the next two months without Dinwiddie.

ROAD WARRIORS OF THE WEEK

There is nothing more precious in conference play than beating a good team on its own home court. The Minutes will recognize the best road victories each week between now and conference tournament time. This week’s honorees:

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The Hawkeyes nearly dealt Wisconsin its first loss of the season. (USA Today)

Iowa (29). Big win: at Ohio State on Sunday. Ken Pomeroy put the Buckeyes’ initial win probability percentage at 75.2 percent, and that rose to nearly 95 percent when Ohio State took a nine-point lead with less than 13 minutes remaining. But the Hawkeyes outscored the Buckeyes 40-21 the rest of the way. “We got down nine and really retained our composure,” coach Fran McCaffrey said. “I thought it was time for our team to come out and play like we did [Sunday]. We just had to do it.” Keep playing like that and Iowa will be in the Big Ten race for the long haul.

Texas A&M (30). Big win: At Tennessee on Saturday. Pomeroy initial win probability: 93 percent for the Volunteers. That elevated to between 95 and 100 percent for the first 30 minutes, as the Aggies trailed by as many as 14 points. Their only lead of the game was 3-0 in the opening minutes – until Antwan Space hit a 3 with 4.4 seconds left for a one-point victory. Suddenly Texas A&M is an improbable 2-0 in the league, with two winnable games this week (South Carolina and at Mississippi State).

Georgia (31). Big win: At Missouri last Wednesday. Pomeroy initial win probability: 90.2 percent for the Tigers. The Bulldogs were up 10 in the first half and down five in the second, but gave up a 3-pointer in the last minute of regulation to send the game into overtime. Georgia made free throws in the final minute to end the longest active home-court winning streak in the country. Like Texas A&M, Georgia is a highly unlikely 2-0 in the SEC.

California (32). Big win: At Oregon on Thursday. Pomeroy initial win probability: 76 percent for the Ducks. Oregon was coming off its first loss of the year, at Colorado, and didn’t figure to be upset at home. But the Golden Bears hung in the game throughout and outscored the Ducks 25-14 in the final seven minutes. Now Cal is 3-0 in the Pac-12 and half a game out of first place.

Memphis (33). Big win: At Louisville last Thursday. Pomeroy initial win probability: 85.5 percent for the Cardinals. Game was back-and-forth until the Cardinals took a six-point lead with just more than five minutes to go, and still led by five with less than four minutes to play. But the skittish Tigers went against type, scoring the last seven points for what probably was the biggest win of the Pastner Era.

Kansas (34). Big win: At Iowa State on Monday. Pomeroy initial win probability: 66 percent for the Cyclones. It’s never a big surprise to see the Jayhawks win on the road in the Big 12 – but Iowa State had been a hot team, and this young Kansas bunch had lost two of its three road games coming into Hilton Coliseum. The Jayhawks jumped on Iowa State at the start of both halves, played efficient offense and pretty well controlled the game.

TEAM NAILBITER

Which team’s fans have endured the most sweaty palms and heart palpitations so far this season? The Minutes says it’s a dead heat between these two:

Nevada (35). Eight games decided by three points or less, plus another overtime game. Wolf Pack is 6-3 in the single-possession/OT games, but just 9-8 overall. In six games, the winning or overtime-producing basket was made in the final 10 seconds – two of them at the buzzer. Nevada is the surprising leader of the Mountain West Conference at 4-0.

Butler (36). The Bulldogs are the anti-Nevada, losing most of their close games. They’ve played five overtime games, plus three others decided by three points or less, with a 3-5 record in those games. Butler is 0-4 in its first season in the Big East, with three of the losses in OT.

UNDER-THE-RADAR LOVE

Each week The Minutes will laud a player from an out-of-the-limelight team or conference who deserves some pub. The first for 2014:

Tevin Calhoun (37), Troy. The Minutes loves stories about the guy who has one magical night, when the basket is huge and everything goes in. That was Calhoun last Thursday, when he poured in 35 points on Arkansas State in a 98-84 Troy victory. The senior’s career high prior to that game was 18, his season high was 14, and he hadn’t made more than two 3-pointers in a game since February 2013. Then he dropped seven 3-pointers on Arkansas State in nine attempts. Maybe it’s the start of something big for Calhoun – but even if it isn’t, he had one game to tell his kids about someday.

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Mark Fox hugs Brandon Morris during Georgia's win over Missouri. (USA Today)

COACH WHO EARNED HIS COMP CAR THIS WEEK

Mark Fox (38), Georgia. He started the year feeling some heat, after three losing records in his first four seasons in Athens. That only intensified when the Bulldogs started 1-4. But they regrouped to get to 6-6 entering SEC play, and then Georgia got the previously mentioned upset at Missouri. That game came just days after Fox’s father died, and the sight of the coach in tears on the bench is one of the most memorable scenes of the season to date.

COACH WHO SHOULD TAKE THE BUS TO WORK

Mike Krzyzewski (39), Duke. Can the most accomplished active coach in the game really be put on the bus? Sure he can. The Blue Devils started league play 1-2 and are 0-2 in true road games – and when the losses are to Notre Dame and Clemson, that isn’t good. Then Duke tried mightily to blow a 13-point lead at home to Virginia Monday night, until a lucky bounce on a Rasheed Sulaimon 3-pointer dropped with 19 seconds left for the go-ahead points. For a team with six McDonald’s All-Americans, the product on the floor has been underwhelming the last two weeks.

BUZZER BEATER

When hungry in the basketball mecca of Lexington, Ky., The Minutes recommends lunch at Ramsey’s (40). Plenty of quality comfort food to be had just a few blocks from Rupp Arena. Have a meatloaf sandwich and a slice of pie and thank The Minutes later.

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