Hoops and Helmets
have the best combination of football and hoops?
By Richard Cirminiello |
2002 Hoops & Helmets |
2003 Hoops & Helmets |
2004 Hoops &
All-Time Greatest Hoops & Helmets
If you’re an alum or an ardent backer
of a particular school’s football program, it’s a safe bet that you
closely monitor the hoops team as well. Especially when the
calendar page turns to March. If that program happens to be Utah or
Louisville, the odds are even better that you’ll be needing cosmetic
surgery to remove the smile from your face. As a fan, you’ve had
plenty of reasons to feel the local pride these past six months.
Some campuses like USC, Georgia and
Michigan have had little to crow about since the bowl season ended.
Countless others, like Washington, Duke and Illinois, couldn’t wait
until the football season was over and Midnight Madness commenced.
Only the truly fortunate have feasted their eyes and their emotions
on quality products in both major sports.
As in the past, the
focus of this unconventional Sweet 16 is on those fans who’ve had
their cake and dunked it too. They bowled in the winter and now
they’re preparing to dance on into the postseason.
– Urban Meyer’s departure aside, not much went wrong in Utah
this past winter. The football team capped a perfect season with a
blowout Fiesta Bowl win, becoming the first non-BCS team to ever
earn a BCS bowl berth. And behind Aussie import Andrew Bogut, the
Utes swept through the Mountain West with a 13-1 regular season mark
on the hardwood. The Top 15 squads have combined to go an
irrational 39-5 over the past six
months to give Salt Lake City its most highlights since the Winter
Olympics set up shop for three weeks in 2002.
Winter co-MVPs – QB Alex Smith and C Andrew Bogut
– If not for a heartbreaking three-point loss to Miami last Oct.
14, Louisville plays in a BCS bowl game, and likely supplants Utah
as this year’s head honcho in hoops and helmets. The 11-1 Cards
combined a point-a-minute offense with an underrated defense to form
the best team in school history. Rick Pitino’s kids have been on
cruise control for the past two months, losing just once over that
time to sew up the C-USA regular season and tournament titles. They
enter the NCAA Tournament with a 29-4 mark and a No. 4 seed in the
– QB Stefan
LeFors and G Francisco Garcia
– For the second straight year, the Sooners dispatched all
comers in the regular season, only to take it on the chin in the BCS
Championship game. The Orange Bowl loss to USC, however, can’t
erase a memorable season, which featured 12 wins, a Big XII title, a
shutout of Texas and the debut of freshman sensation Adrian
Peterson. Kelvin Sampson has engineered quite a turnaround in
basketball. One year after being a rare no-show in the NCAA
Tournament, the Sooners were the top seed in the Big XII tournament,
and head to the Austin bracket as the No. 3 seed.
Winter co-MVPs –
Adrian Peterson and QB Jason White
– For the third year in-a-row, the ‘Horns are Top 5 timber in
this space, but it sure hasn’t been easy. The losses of P.J. Tucker
and LaMarcus Aldridge to academics and a hip injury, respectively,
helped keep the basketball team on the bubble for the past month,
and clawing for their seventh consecutive tournament bid. In the
fall, on the other hand, Texas experienced a breakthrough. No, they
didn’t beat Oklahoma, but they did play in a school-first BCS bowl
game, a thrilling, last-second Rose Bowl defeat of Michigan to
RB Cedric Benson
– If the wide expanse between Randy Edsall and Jim Calhoun continues
to gradually narrow, UConn will be a fixture here for the
foreseeable future. Edsall and the football program achieved new
milestones in 2004, winning nine games in their Big East maiden
voyage, and earning the school’s first bowl invite, a 39-10 spanking
of Toledo. After taking half the season to locate their mojo, the
reigning national champs are beginning to percolate as they prepare
to defend their basketball crown. The 22-7 Big East co-champs in
the regular season are seeded second in the Syracuse bracket.
C Josh Boone
6. Boston College
– Once a
candidate for a No. 1 seed, the 24-4 Eagles limp into March, losers
of four of their last eight games, and owners of a still-respectable
No. 4 seed in the Chicago regional. BC rode the broad shoulders of
Craig Smith to a 20-0 start, rising as high as No. 4 in the polls.
In football, it was a pretty typical fall under Tom O’Brien; nine
wins and a December bowl victory for the fifth straight year. They
earned a share of the Big East title, but would have won it
outright, and a trip to the Fiesta Bowl, if not for an
incomprehensible gag to Syracuse in the regular season
Winter MVP –
F Craig Smith
Defense, defense, defense. Both Badger teams had plenty of
it this winter, and while it hasn’t produced any titles yet, it has
been the catalyst for an aggregate winning percentage of .750. On
Nov. 13, Wisconsin was 9-0, and had dreams of a Rose Bowl or maybe
more. However, they were humbled that afternoon by Michigan State,
which began a three-game, season-ending slide. Bo Ryan’s cagers
have been typically stingy, en route to their third straight
twenty-win season, and a No. 6 seed in the Syracuse regional.
DE Erasmus James
and F Mike Wilkinson
– Surprising late-season rallies and perseverance have been the
Hawkeyes’ calling card in 2004-05. In the fall, Iowa battled
through a slew of season-ending injuries in the backfield to reel
off an eight-game winning streak, punctuated by a 56-yard touchdown
pass on the final play of the Capital One Bowl to stun LSU. In
basketball, Iowa overcame the February dismissal of leading scorer
Pierre Pierce to gut out 21 wins and one of the final at-large bids
to the NCAA Tournament.
QB Drew Tate
– In Baton Rouge, football was down a bit, and basketball was up a
bit. Put them together, and you’ve got an above average season for
sports fans on the Bayou. A couple of early-season SEC losses ended
any chance of the Tigers repeating as the BCS champion. However,
they rebounded nicely late in the year, and came within a miracle on
the final play of the Capital One Bowl from finishing in the Top
10. LSU has put a saddle on sophomore Brandon Bass, and ridden him
to 20 wins and a share of the SEC West title. Bass became the first
Tiger since Shaq to be named SEC Player of the Year.
Winter MVP – F Brandon Bass
10. Oklahoma State
– A disappointing end to the football season was offset by yet
another terrific year from Eddie Sutton’s kids. The Cowboys got off
to a 5-0, raising expectations beyond their youthful capabilities.
A 2-5 finish, however, included gut-wrenching losses to Oklahoma,
Texas and Texas Tech, and a blowout at the hands of Ohio State in
the Alamo Bowl. Adding insult to injury was the departure of
popular head coach Les Miles to LSU in January. Led by one of the
best one-two punches in America in Joey Graham and John Lucas, OSU
shook off a shaky close to the regular season to win the Big XII and
rise to the No. 2 seed.
F Joey Graham
and G John Lucas
11. Texas Tech
– The Masked Rider has been wearing out his pony thanks to the
breakthroughs both teams have had this year. While the Red Raiders
won 20 games under Bobby Knight for the fourth straight year, they
reached the Big XII tournament final for the first time since the
league was formed nearly a decade ago. In football, Mike Leach led
Tech to eight wins, none bigger than the dismantling of then-No. 4
Cal in the Holiday Bowl. It was the type of signature victory that
could benefit the program for the next few years.
Winter MVP –
– No one
seemed to really want the Big East championship this year, so
Pittsburgh snuck in with a huge win in the Backyard Brawl, and
earned a fat paycheck to be Utah’s speed bag in the Fiesta Bowl.
The 2004 season marked the anticipated debut of quarterback Tyler
Palko and the expected departure of head coach Walt Harris.
Indoors, the Panthers have been rather schizophrenic. The same
squad that lost to Bucknell and St. Johns also won road games at
UConn, Syracuse and Boston College. At 20-8, they’re the No. 9 in
the Albuquerque region.
13. North Carolina
– The Tar Heels have risen from their four-year slumber, and are
back among the nation’s elite in college basketball. That return to
glory in hoops, coupled with the school’s first bowl game in three
years, made for the most exciting winter in Chapel Hill since 1997.
On the hardwood, the top-seeded Heels are 27-4 and fresh off their
first outright regular season ACC title since 1993. On the
gridiron, Carolina won the required six games needed to qualify for
the Continental Tire Bowl and save John Bunting’s job. The high
water mark came when Connor Barth’s last-second field stunned Miami,
causing fans to storm the field and tear down the goal posts.
F Sean May
– After an un-Gator like 7-5 season, the program’s worst since
1989, recognition here seemed far-fetched last fall. However, ever
since Ron Zook got the hook, things have been looking up in
Gainesville. Florida won in Tallahassee for the first time in
nearly two decades, replaced Zook with Urban Meyer, the nation’s
most sought after head coach, and closed strong in hoops with seven
wins, including a 70-53 mauling of Kentucky to give the Gators their
first tournament title in school history. Florida has run their
record to 23-7, and earned their No. 4 seeding.
Winter co-MVPs –
QB Chris Leak and G Anthony Roberson
Surprise, surprise. The Mountaineer basketball and
football teams pulled a role reversal this winter with the latter
underachieving and the former picking up the slack and
overachieving. Neither team made much sense this year. In
basketball, West Virginia jumped out to an improbable 10-0 start,
displayed a softer middle than Mr. Incredible and then rallied for
an at-large berth by becoming the first No. 8 seed in Big East
history to reach the title game. Football, too, had a fast start,
but with expectations soaring, and a league crown reportedly just a
formality, the ‘eers got waxed in November, and dropped a bowl game
for the 11th time in 12 tries.
Winter MVP –
– Definitely the most improbable of this year’s H&H Sweet 16. The
Miners won 27 games and the WAC tournament, neither of which would
register on the Richter Scale. The football team’s performance,
however, was jarring enough to cause a shift at the San Andreas
fault line. Mike Price inherited a UTEP program mired in a
freefall, and coming off a 2-11 season, and led them to eight
unlikely victories, a second-place finish in the WAC and a
postseason invite to face Colorado in the Houston Bowl.
G Omar Thomas
On the Bubble: Georgia Tech, Minnesota,
Ohio State, Southern Illinois, Miami,
New Mexico, Arizona State, Texas A&M, Iowa State, Miami (OH), UCLA,
Cincinnati, Syracuse and Alabama