Just after UCLA announced its hire of Steve Alford as basketball coach, USC piggybacked with its naming of Florida Gulf Coast coach Andy Enfield to fill the vacancy left when it canned Kevin O’Neill early in January.
I’m not going to presume to predict whether Enfield will succeed at USC. But there’s a little bit of a B movie quality to what just happened.
You know the story: Enfield’s team, a No. 15 seed, blew away Georgetown and handled San Diego State to become the first 15 to march to the Sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament. Naturally, Enfield became a hot commodity, and USC hired him. He had a meteoric rise at FGCU, getting it to the NCAA tournament in two seasons — his only two seasons as a head coach anywhere.
I’d be very surprised if, on March 17 — Selection Sunday — USC athletic director Pat Haden had ever heard the name of the coach at Florida Gulf Coast. But Enfield got hot at the right time, and Haden pulled the trigger.
FGCU was a dunking, rollicking team that, at least until it got comeuppance at the hands of Florida last week in the regional semifinal, was the story of the NCAA tournament.
But in the interest of equal time, I’d like to ask: Where was it in the regular season? How did a team that waxed Georgetown lose 10 games before Selection Sunday? Is it completely impertinent to ask how FGCU lost to Maine and East Tennessee State and Stetson and twice to Lipscomb?
Do you suppose, when Enfield was being introduced to the press in LA, Haden said, “Now give it up for the coach who, although he couldn’t beat Lipscomb, will rattle UCLA’s cage!”?
We’re living in a time when the NCAA tournament is perceived as everything, dwarfing all that came before it. We’ll leave the debate for whether that’s a good thing to another day, but it’s unmistakable.
This was a college season when the game drew heavy criticism; scores were down (Vanderbilt, a BCS-conference team with some basketball history, twice scored 33 points). For the casual observer, the game — with contact allowed to flourish — became unwatchable. The general public tuned it out.
I perceived it locally. Even as the college basketball season was at full throttle, even as the state had a No. 1-ranked team for the first time, on sports-talk radio, all the rage was about Seahawk free agency (sno-o-o-o-re) — half a year from the start of the NFL season.
But when March comes around, madness takes over, no matter how desultory the regular season. Everybody jumps into office brackets and people stay home from work to catch games. The interest in the tournament seems to translate to: That’s the only time anything happens in college basketball.
Apparently, that’s the way it works at USC, too.