Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Interview with John Gasaway, Part Two

From 2004-2007, John Gasaway was the author of the world's best blog focused on 2004-2007 seasons of Big Ten Hoops. Since that time, John has moved to Basketball Prospectus, which has assembled a "Dream Team" of sorts for the tempo-free basketball enthusiast. On October 28, John's book (co-authored with Ken Pomeroy) will be out in stores. We've already reserved our copy, and we really think you ought to as well. It's like $15 on Amazon, and that's a pretty good bargain in today's economy.

Readers of this blog (all six of you!) have presumably noticed that this blog is inspired quite a bit by Gasaway's old site. In that vein, we have adopted one of his maxims: send us stuff and we will blog about you. Well, John was nice enough to sit down and answer a few questions about his book, the Big Ten, and college basketball in general. We'll gladly take the attention from such a tempo free celebrity.

This is part two of the interview. For part one, click here.

How do you see the Big Ten shaping up this season? Is this conference capable of getting more than four NCAA bids?

Capable? Of course, it's just that four sounds about right at the moment: Purdue, Michigan State, Wisconsin, and Ohio State.

The Boilers look beautiful on paper, of course. When you outscored your conference opponents by a robust 0.11 points per trip the previous season and you have everyone coming back (Scott Martin notwithstanding), recent history says you're poised for a really special year. True, it won't happen automatically: it'll be hard for this team to shoot as well on their threes as they did last year. But there's plenty of room for improvement on their twos and, besides, Robbie Hummel might already be the most versatile player in the conference.

Michigan State's been hampered the past couple years by their turnovers--that is until the TOs ceased with weird suddenness last February. I don't think the Spartans will be world-beaters on D but if they can just stay out of their own way on offense, look out. This is the deepest team in the conference and Raymar Morgan, oddly, gets too little love.

Wisconsin will slip a little this year but they were so incredible last year--really, they were the best in-conference team in the country besides Kansas and Memphis--that they can "slip" and still be very very good. I will go way out on a limb here and predict that the Badgers will take excellent care of the ball, crash the defensive glass, ignore the offensive glass entirely, and never foul. Shocking, I know, but put me on the record.

And what Thad Matta's done at Ohio State is just too incredible to be believed. If B.J. Mullens is as good as advertised, the Buckeyes will again see yet another freshman go in the first round of next summer's NBA draft. OSU is already the only program in the country to have sent freshmen to the NBA in each of the last two drafts. But three in a row? At a football school? With a program that was reeling from an ugly recruiting scandal when Matta was hired? Unbelievable.

What about the rest of the Big Ten? What team will show the most improvement? Can Indiana win two games?

I actually put the Hoosiers down for six wins in the book just to be showily, albeit recklessly, contrary. Point being simply: with my own two eyes I saw Rutgers win by double digits at Pitt last year. (Heck, I saw Northwestern win a conference game.) Anything's possible.

One thing to keep in mind is that in November and December there will undoubtedly be ugly losses, courtesy of the bottom half of the league, that will trigger end-of-the-conference-world pronouncements. But can any losses really be worse than what we saw last year? Michigan losing by 11 at Harvard? Iowa losing at home to Louisiana-Monroe? When those doomsayers come around proclaiming the Big Ten's "worst year ever" in a few weeks, just remember "worst year in a year" would be more accurate.

If you had to take over today as head coach of one Big Ten team, which job would you want? Assume that no players would transfer or decommit because of your hiring.

Without question, Indiana. Strong program, great tradition, absolutely no experience on the roster, absolutely no expectations. Those fans will show up and cheer that team on and if by some miracle they beat Northwestern or Iowa in Assembly Hall said fans will be delighted. And if I get the team to 7-11 I'll probably be national coach of the year. What's not to love?

Do you believe in the "system coach?" By that, we mean not just a coach with a certain style of play, but rather coaches that can do "more with less" because of a certain style of play. Or is it just that these so-called system coaches have underrated players?

I definitely believe in system coaches though under a slightly different definition. I think Bill Self and Ben Howland are system coaches even though their players happen to arrive as highly-ranked recruits. Bo Ryan's a system coach's system coach, of course. Heck if John Calipari decides to stick with this dribble-drive-motion thing for a while you could mark him down as a system coach.

To me, being a really good basketball coach is much more impressive than being a really good football coach or baseball manager. In those other sports, your team checks in with the bench at every single discretionary increment (the pitch in baseball and the playcall in football). It's micro-management carried to an extreme. But in basketball the coach has to be able to build a system, point it in the right direction, and see where it goes. It's much more like real life that way, I think.

John, thanks for stopping by, and best of luck with the book and the upcoming season.

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