Tag Archives: Big East Basketball

Farewell, Rollie Massimino

When news broke that Rollie Massimino died, the basketball world was understandably heartbroken. The passing of the famed head coach who led Villanova to the NCAA title in 1985 came on the heels of the death of another coaching legend, Michigan State’s Jud Heathcote.

To be sure the Wildcat faithful and the fans at Keiser University, the NAIA school where Massimino spent his final years coaching, have naturally paid their respects. And so, too, have those who remember Massimino’s tenure at Cleveland State, where he was head coach from 1996 to 2003.

And rather than dwell on his final two seasons with the Vikings, which ultimately led to him stepping down, I’d much rather hearken back to 1996, when Massimino was hired to take over a Cleveland State squad that had languished under the final season of Mike Boyd, both in the win-loss column and in the stands.

Here’s a snippet of what I had written that May after he hosted a Select-Your-Seat night at the Wolstein Center (then the Convocation Center):

The Cleveland State basketball team hasn’t played a single game yet under new head coach Rollie Massimino. and yet, they have finally stepped into the big time.

It made no sense to me at first how one small head coaching change could vault the Vikings’ sad hoops team into national recognition. But in one fell swoop, it has.

The name and the energy of Massimino has brought CSU to the limelight. Why? Because Massimino has something that no coach in a 250-mile radius, including Cincinnati’s Bob Huggins has, a Division I basketball championship ring.

Now, to the uninterested person on the street, that wouldn’t even get a dull roar. But for the basketball-hungry fans of CSU, or basketball fans in general, it means everything.

While the Massimino’s debut campaign in 1996-97 showed a modest improvement in terms of wins and losses for the Vikings, he did, however, provide enough starpower to get the likes of Georgetown and Michigan to come to Cleveland. And CSU also notched a surprised win against Detroit Mercy in the Midwestern Collegiate Conference tournament that years as well.

Even long after his departure from Cleveland State, Massimino’s influence could be felt at all levels of the basketball coaching ranks. In fact, at least four the players on that 1996-97 squad, Derrick Ziegler, Dean Rahas and Malcolm Sims, all currently coach at the high school level.

Of course, there’s the well-heralded Massimino coaching tree in college, that includes, among others, Villanova’s Jay Wright and recently-hired Youngstown State head coach (and former CSU manager and player) Jerrod Calhoun.

And that influence will be more of Massimino’s legacy than anything else. Despite the 90-113 record at Cleveland State, there was never any shortage of that contagious enthusiasm he brought on the sidelines for every game. And what seems like a bygone era in which high-major schools shied away from traveling to mid-majors, Massimino delivered, from his first year bringing in the Hoyas and Wolverines and all throughout his tenure, hosting, among others, Cal and Florida State.

When I first heard about Massimino’s death, I wasn’t entirely sure how I was going to write this column that would inevitably going to happen. As it’s been well-chronicled, my role in the latter years of the Massimino era at Cleveland State was that of an enemy combatant, to be honest.

But, like all things, the passage of time makes us all think of the good more than the not-so-good. And that’s truly why when I sit back and remember Massimino, I think back more than anything to the man who openly embraced the college kid trying to make his way as a sports writer.

Good-bye, Coach Mass. I, like so many others, will miss you.

Email Bob at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @bobmcdonald.

Image via CSUVikings.com

For Villanova, A Champion’s Hangover

It’s happened in consecutive years now, the media overrates the defending national champion heading into the following men’s basketball season. We saw it with Duke after its 2014-15 championship– the Blue Devils were picked to win the ACC and return to the Final Four in 2015-16 by most major publications.

Now it’s happening with Villanova.

The Wildcats return talent, most notably Josh Hart and Big Shot Kris Jenkins. Jalen Brunson returns with a full year of play under his belt, expect him to take a leap.

There’s a lot to be excited about.

Talent, experience, a proven head coach who now has a national championship to solidify his place in the upper echelon of NCAA head coaches. How could the 2016-17 Villanova Wildcats possibly be overrated?

Ryan Arcidiacono is gone.

Arcidiacono led Villanova in assists, three point percentage, steals and minutes. The stats don’t begin to define his importance to the 2015-16 Wildcats. Not only was he their leader on the floor, he was their leader off it. A man Jay Wright could trust to get everyone in position both offensively and defensively.

Coming off of its 2014-15 national championship, Duke lost Quinn Cook. While his fellow departing teammates Jahlil Okafor, Tyus Jones and Justise Winslow would grab the headlines, Cook is who the Blue Devils turned to when they were out of sync during that season.

His departure left the Duke with a leadership void (and along with the departure of Tyus Jones) one true point guard on the roster in incoming Freshman Derryck Thornton. It didn’t work out for Duke and Thornton, and the Blue Devils would finish with seven conference losses and a Sweet 16 loss to Oregon.

It’s easy to point out Duke competed in a tougher ACC, and lost more talent coming off of their national championship than Villanova has coming off last year’s title. The Wildcats should be able to compete for a regular season Big East title, with safe money going on them finishing anywhere between first and third in the conference.

The issue is not with where they will finish in conference, it’s where people have them placed nationally. Many have the Wildcats as a top-five team nationally in their preseason polls, which is puzzling.

The same media members who refused to take Villanova and the Big East seriously throughout the 2015-16 are now stating the Wildcats have a good chance to repeat as national champions. A team which got hot, playing their best ball down the stretch, is expected to continue to play at such a high level without the man who enabled it all the come together.

I’m not buying it, and neither should you.

Josh Hart should be better, Kris Jenkins should be better, Jalen Brunson should be better– Villanova will not be better.

Arcidiacono, their leader, is gone. Daniel Ochefu, their main interior presence from last season is gone. Omari Spellman, who many media members touted would replace the play of Ochefu, is ineligible.

The Wildcats has returning talent, and one heck of a head coach, but believing they’re a top-five team heading into the 2016-17 season is an insult to what Ryan Arcidiacono brought to the 2015-16 Villanova Wildcats.

Email Zak at [email protected] or follow him @playorbplayd.

Image courtesy of justinknabb, Flickr