Womhoops Guru

Mel Greenberg covered college and professional women’s basketball for the Philadelphia Inquirer, where he worked for 40 plus years. Greenberg pioneered national coverage of the game, including the original Top 25 women's college poll. His knowledge has earned him nicknames such as "The Guru" and "The Godfather," as well as induction into the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame in 2007.

Friday, December 28, 2012

The Guru's College Report: A Surprise Frontrunner Seems to Emerge in the Maggie Dixon Rookie Coach Race.

By Mel Greenberg

And so the mission on the last of the quiet days on Thursday before the post-Christmas phase of local and national schedules kicks back in was to re-visit the massive coaching carousel of Division I coaches who landed in new offices, particularly the large group of Division I rookies who also becone candidates for the WBCA's Maggie Dixon Award, to see of a frontrunner exists.

And believe or not, it appears a clear frontrunner has emerged which satisfies both the letter of the law and the spirit of award intended when the WBCA created the honor for the late Army coach, who in her first year led the Black Knights to their first Patriot League title and ensuing appearance in the NCAA tournament before Dixon died suddenly of a heart condition a day after the Women's Final Four in 2006.

A special committee named by the WBCA exists to deliberate and determine the Maggie Dixon winner but the Guru, having served on a past committee, decided to mine the data, since he already had all the specs, to see what comes up.

Bear in mind there is still a long way to go and anyone can still come out of nowhere through conference play and into the NCAA tournament to emerge in a photo finish.

But for the moment, there are frontrunners and a frontrunner in front of the frontrunners the Guru believes.

Michelle Heard-Clark, previously an assistant to Jeff Walz at nationally-ranked Louisville, has the best overall record with a 10-2 mark at Western Kentucky, which finished a lowly 9-21 overall last year.

The next three -- Jennifer Roos at Bowling Green, Holly Warlick at Tennessee, and Keith Brown at Georgetown -- represent continuity in having received promotions off the staffs of the previous head coaches.

Warlick, following the legendary Pat Summitt at Tennessee, would become an interesting discussion. By letter of the law, she is a rookie though many will argue that it is a matter of gray lines to consider her a rookie in the Dixon spirit considering the number of years she served by Summitt's side.

Technically, getting to the Final Four would be seen as an improvement on the final eight finish of a year ago, though others right now look at the Tennessee performance at the moment distancing the lowly perception for the year, especially in the wake of the season-opening loss to Tennessee-Chattnooga.

But Clark-Heard has come in totally new and so far has the Hilltoppers in a major turnaround. The next best would be the work of Aaron Roussell at Bucknell, having previously been a Division III head coach at Chicago, the town where Dixon served as one of Doug Bruno's aides at DePaul before taking the army job.

With those standards, the next contender for now might be Jonathan Tsipis at George Washington trying to restore the Colonials to their past glories after he served as associate head coach to Muffett McGraw at Notre Dame, which finished national runnerup the last two seasons.

But much has yet to happen, though the list below more than likely might contain the winner, especially if his or her team pulls upsets, wins a conference title and/or advances in the NCAA tournament.

Without getting into names, when the Guru served on the committee several years ago he thought he had a winner all wrapped up down the stretch. But another rookie pulled an upset to win a conference title -- their team would not have received an automatic bid -- and then pulled one of the all time shockers in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

So you never know.

Here is the list for the moment, which includes records going into the break as a cutoff starting from one game under .500 to the best and here is what has resulted. For now, just the overall records are being listed and also the final overall of last season to gauge the improvement.

Michelle Clark-Heard, Western Kentucky 10-2, Final last year: 9-21
P-Jennifer Roos, Bowling Green 8-3 Final last year: 24-7
P-Holly Warlick, Tennessee 7-3 Final last year: 27--9
P-Keith Brown, Georgetown 7-4 Final last year: 23-9
Aaron Roussell, Bucknell 7-4 Final last year: 5-25
P-Kevin Cook, Winthrop 6-4 Final last year: 18-13
Tarrell Robinson, North Carolina A&T 6-4 Final last year: 15-16
Jonathan Tsipis, George Washington 6-5 Final last year: 11-18
P-Michael Brooks, Bradley 6-5 Final last year: 18-16
Vic Schaefer, Mississippi State 6-5 Final last year: 14-16
P-Joe Tartamella, St. John's 5-5 Final last year: 24-10
Kellie Lewis-Jay, Florida Atlanttic 6-5 Final last year: 17-13
Gary Brodhead, Louisiana-Lafayette 6-6, Final last year: 7-23
P-Joe Haigh, St. Francis, Pa. 5-5 Final last year: 14-16
Kerry Cremeans, Denver 5-6, Final last year: 19-12
Natasha Adair, College of Charleston 4-5 Final last year: 7-23
Brooke & Scott Stoehr, Northwestern State 4-5 Final last year: 6-23
P-Lee Buchanan, Eastern Illinois 5-6 Final last year: 22-9
Steve Lampher, NJIT 6-7 Final last year: 13-17

P-Promoted from associate or assistant head coach (total 8)

Meanwhile, as a quick footnote on existing head coaches who made major moves, teams are not the only ones who have or are bolting the Big East for new opportunities.

Terri Williams-Flournoy left nationally-ranked Georgetown to head to Auburn, where she has the Tigers at 10-2 after they finished overall at 13-17 last season.

Likeiwse, Kim Barnes Arico left a similar situation at St. John's for Michigan in the Big Ten, though she is more on a maintenance run at 10-2 with the Wolverines, who were 20-12 overall, but the test will be to get better than the 8-8 record in the Big Ten.

Karen Aston left mid-major North Texas to return to a former place of employment at Texas in the Big 12 where she has the Longhorns at 7-2. They were 18-14 overall last season and 8-10 near the bottom of the conference.

The Guru will return to this topic at the end of January after the first half of conference play is completed and we'll see how the Dixon field is shaping up at that point of time.

On Friday it is back to the local channel, barring breaking news, as the Guru does a triple header -- two rounds of the Saint Joseph's Hawk Classic and then over to Drexel hosting American.

Look for tweets at @womhoopsguru. He needs about 15 more of you lurkers to join the crowd and make the follower total hit 2100 before the ball drops to usher in the New Year and 2013 Monday at midnight.

-- Mel

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad


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