Press Break The Post's Rundown of Local and National College Basketball
Bracketized - December 5, 2008

Each week in this space, Press Break will run a bracket-style tournament with user voting determining who advances and ultimately "wins."

Catholic Coach Steve Howes has entered the pantheon of rags-to-riches stories, joining Jimmy Valvano, the 1983 N.C. State Wolfpack and Rollie Massimino and the 1985 Villanova Wildats and Cinderella herself (Royal Ball, time unknown). Not even Jim Larranaga, author of one of college basketball's greatest upset runs, has made it as far as Howes, who handily defeated American's Jeff Jones to reach the final of this week's event. Joining him there is a man who knows something about the mercurial nature of tournament play, Georgetown Coach John Thompson III.

Once again, the question is "Who is the area's best coach?" Vote today. We'll crown a champion by Monday.

By Matthew Rennie  |  December 5, 2008; 8:42 AM ET
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The battle of who can stuff the ballot box rages on!

(Also known as the battle of whose students and alumni have less to do and can avoid work better on a Friday afternoon).

Because, in reality, this isn't even close and we all know it.

Posted by: etpietro | December 5, 2008 1:18 PM

hate to burst the conspiracy theory bubble, but catholic's had a boatload of support since round one. heaven forbid a dinky little d3 school's fans actually show some school spirit!

sour grapes much?

Posted by: meethinks | December 5, 2008 2:33 PM

School spirit isn't a function of having the best coach in the area. If that's what this poll were... k, but it's not.

Defensive much?

Posted by: daf34 | December 5, 2008 2:48 PM

Hey, I have no problem with a D3 school showing spirit, thats awesome. However, it seems pretty clear that something fishy is going on. Catholic will be down a few percentage points and then they'll get several hundred votes in a few minutes and open up a 20 plus point lead.

I'm not complaining though, it was made clear that there are no rules in this poll.

JT III is by far the best coach in the area though!

Posted by: kwm23 | December 5, 2008 2:56 PM

Why is it not close and we know it? Because JT3 is a big name and coaches at a big school?

What does that actually have to do with pure coaching ability?

I think if you understand the job that D3 coaches have, you'd understand that its quite possible a successful D3 coach like Steve Howes is a better pure basketball coach.

Recruiting is much harder--you have no scholarships to offer and have to thread the needle between going after good players but not great ones, because the great ones think they can do D1 even if they aren't good enough. Its tough to keep programs together year to year because you have no scholarships keeping kids there.

There are more D3 teams and making the NCAA tournament is statistically tougher (more teams, fewer slots). You don't get tons of tape and advance scouts to tell you exactly what the other team does--you have to have fundamentally sound players that can adjust.

I would argue that a good D3 coach could be every bit as good as a big name D1 coach. Catholic has a remarkable history of being a top notch D3 program. The coach before Howes went on to a D1 program, but he's no better coach today than he was when he was winning a national championship at Catholic.

The only real true way to test would be to give each coach the same resources and players. Obviously that can't happen, so its a judgement call. Good D3 coaches work just as hard and know basketball just as well, so if a particularly successful one like Catholic's wins a poll like this, good for him.

Posted by: BBFan | December 5, 2008 3:09 PM

Outstanding response, BBFan! Very thoughtful and well-reasoned.

Posted by: SAC1812 | December 5, 2008 3:25 PM

I never said there weren't some great D3 coaches, I have no doubt JT III is the best coach in the area though. In his first 8 years as a head coach he won 5 conference titles and rebuilt a Georgetown program that had become irrelevant nationally into a powerhouse that made the Final Four and won 30 games in only his third season.

This man can coach, not to take anything away from Howes or any number of other good coaches out there.

Posted by: kwm23 | December 5, 2008 3:57 PM

BBFan makes a compelling case for how, in the abstract, a D3 case CAN be just as good as a D1 coach. The post, however, contained no information supporting the notion that Coach Howes is the better coach than Coach Thompson.

Coach Thompson has taken, in four short years, a team from complete irrelevance on the national scene to the final four and to back-to-back Big East championships. before that, he was extraordinarily successful in the Ivy League, dealing with many of the same issues facing D3 coaches - no scholarships and student-athletes whose priorities might not always include basketball.

Unless you can provide some concrete evidence why Coach Howes can compete with that, I will continue holding the previously stated opinion (by etpietro) that this discussion isn't even close.

Posted by: BillBarker1 | December 5, 2008 4:13 PM

I would invite you to check out the link under Coach Howes name and you can find a very impressive resume.
First, as an assistant: 7 seasons, 7 NCAA tournaments (much more competetive in d3) including a trip to the Elite 8 and twice to the Sweet 16, 5 regular season conference titles, and an .823 winning %.
As a head coach: first 3 seasons, 3 20-win seasons, 2 conference championships, 2 NCAA tournaments, and continued strong recruiting
This is not even mentioning the academic achievments of his players which lack at Georgetown and most d1 schools. If you wish to read about the numerous awards of his players and team, read his profile.
JT3 has an equally strong basketball resume, but again, as others have mentioned, he does not have the challenges that Howes and other d3 coaches have. Before you brush off a coach, learn about him.

Posted by: portmanrc | December 5, 2008 4:31 PM

well said, portmanrc.

thompson may indeed have the better winning percentage as a head coach, but he's also working with all-star talent courted courtesy of g-town's much deeper pockets. catholic? not so much. and yet in his four short years as the cardinals head coach, howes has lead a CUA team to:

+ WIN (and not just compete in) two conference championships

+ playoff berths in two NCAA tournaments (again, in a d3 system where less teams earn bids)

+ three 20+ win seasons

+ three seasons of post-season play

rebuilding a franchise is hardly unique to the hoyas. howes started his tenure as head coach fresh off of legendary CUA coach mike lonergan's departure, and with ZERO returning players from CU's 2001 NCAA Championship team at his disposal. what's more -- he proved his mettle as a rebuilder again last year, coaching his team to a 23-6 record... all with a squad consisting of ZERO seniors and nine freshmen.

ultimately, both thompson and howes are clearly outstanding coaches well deserving of any and all honors awarded their way. but given the uphill battle inherent in coaching ANY d3 program, perhaps you can see why CUA fans are coming out in a full show of support.

Posted by: meethinks | December 5, 2008 4:44 PM

well being the best coach in the area not only consists of what goes on on the court but off the court as well .. Catholic has a much higher graduation rate [ 100%] and it's graduates go on to other high level jobs . i'm not positive of the graduation rate at GTWN but i do know it's not 100 %... as stated earlier D III kids are out there busting their butts day in and day out because of their love of the game not because the were given a free education because they could play ball

Posted by: cuabigdog1 | December 5, 2008 5:45 PM

No one is trying to take anything away from D3 coaches or Catholic's coach, but facts are facts. And since you brought up the disparities between coaching at a "big" D1 school and a D3 school, then lets compare the coaches' records against their peers. In four years, JT3 has a D1 Final Four, a D1 Sweet 16, two regular season league titles and one conference tournament title.

He accomplished these feats with three and four year players who were unheralded when the came in. JT3 rebuilt Georgetown from a team that was 13-15 the year before he arrived. He graduated four seniors last year, and the one early departure was a lottery pick. None of these kids were high level recruits when they came to Georgetown.

I can't say I know enough about D3 to say whether it is more difficult to compete agaisnt other D3 teams than it is for D1 teams to compete against other D1 teams. I do know that JT3 has reached more or at least as many significant coaching benchmarks in less time. That's also in an environment where there is much more player tunrover because of transfers and the NBA. So it might not be a rout, but I'd still take JT3. This contest should definitely not be so lopsided.

Posted by: shermadk | December 5, 2008 6:09 PM

Shermadk, thanks for comparing apples to apples. Given all the talk about the inherent difficulties in coaching at a D3 school, I was beginning to think that Catholic was playing in D1.

As far as the players go, let's be serious, if any D3 player had D1 abilities, they would be at a D1 school (something tells me that a "free" Gtown diploma has got some pull). Frankly, the implication that D3 players love the game more and are therefore will to pay for their educations is silly.

Posted by: jbishop1 | December 5, 2008 9:03 PM

I sat in on a recent CU game...and can't understand how the CU coach has made it this far in the poll.

I watched the CU coach go only 1 or 2 deep during the game...stayed close for 30 minutes, then watched the wheels come off.

Good game management would have kept players fresh. The team seems to have had a revolving door of late by past players and the present group all seem to be about the same size, with similar abilities.

Go deeper on the bench...keep the horses fresh.

Posted by: Schill | December 5, 2008 11:24 PM

Which game was that? They've lost two games, both away, so you're probably not from around here...

One loss was to a very good Carniege Mellon team in Pittsburgh. It was a very close game and Catholic lost by 5. No wheels came off any buses.

So it must have been the Haverford game, which was right before a break and the 3rd game in less than a week. Catholic is an extremely young team with mostly freshman and sophomores, and they didn't play well in that game.

But frankly, you're still full of it because you are factually wrong. In both games Catholic has lost, they had 9 players play DOUBLE DIGIT minutes. 10 guys got in both games. So in terms of rotation, I have no idea what you are talking about. I should also add that so far this season, Catholic has been without one of their best players, a senior, because he also plays football. He did not play against Haverford.

Anyway, next time try not to make stuff up. Turns out they keep boxscores of games, and people will find out you're a liar.

Posted by: BBFan | December 6, 2008 1:25 AM

1. Did CU (or someone associated with the school) really send out an email to its students (including grad students) to vote in this poll? If so, that's pathetic?

2. A lot of you are forgetting about JT3's time about Princeton, both as an assistant and head coach. No athletic scholarships there either, and he did pretty well.

3. "georgetown's much deeper pockets?" HAHAHAHAHA. Are you serious? I'm sure GU's basketball budget exceeds CU's, but we're not talking about UNC, Kansas or even UMCP here. Have you seen the on-campus facilities at Georgetown?

4. Catholic may have a 100% graduation rate, but when CU has to worry about players leaving early for the NBA, or transferring to other schools because there's too many talented players in front of them. And your statement about "it's graduates go on to other high level jobs" may work against Maryland or GW, but not Georgetown. If they're not in the NBA, GU players are running TV networks, working on Wall Street, or running the government. Heck, off the top of my head I can think of former GU basketball players: NFL commissioner, chair of US House Judiciary Committee and, now, Obama's National Security Adviser. I'll stack that record up against anyone.

Posted by: kchoya | December 6, 2008 8:36 PM

What is pathetic is the arrogance at Georgetown. You have a superiority complex which makes you look foolish. You're running the government and Wall Street? Is that why the country is falling apart? Great job. Last NFL commissioner was a real winner too. Maybe Georgetown grads should just stick to playing basketball.

The question posed was, "Who is the area's best basketball coach?" For all you Georgetown geniuses, that does not exclude Division II and III coaches; if it did, Howes would not have been included on the list. The implication of the question is, "Who's performing the best?" To argue that Thompson is automatically better than Howes because he coaches a Division I program demonstrates a basic misunderstanding of the question and poor reading comprehension.

Both coaches are doing an excellent job, and their records reflect this. Given the records of the other coaches included in the poll, these results are probably about where they should be.

Catholic University's students and alumni have a tremendous amount of pride and competitive spirit, and we will always vigorously support those associated with this great university. It takes less than 5 minutes to fill out this poll or post a comment, so if those at Georgetown think we have nothing to do or that we're spending too much time on this, they're not too swift themselves. It must bother you a great deal that you may lose in these poll results.

Posted by: cardjm | December 7, 2008 4:43 PM

I keep hearing that the D III tournament has fewer teams. Georgetown has been a 7-seed, a 2-seed and a 2-seed each of the past two seasons. It's not like having 65 teams in the tournament is what got them in!

Posted by: bwh5 | December 7, 2008 6:42 PM

Division III is considered worse than Division I because the competition isn't as good. Surely this is the case NOT SIMPLY because the players aren't as good-- but also because the other coaches are not as good. Moreover, basketball is a competitive sport and programs want to hire the best coaches and DI salaries are a lot bigger than DIII salaries its usually the case that the best coaches get jobs at the best programs. Now maybe Howes is a rare exception, someone who has chosen to work in DIII because he likes it better but even if thats the case he's still succeeding against inferior competition. Moreover, recruiting at DIII schools isn't going to be driven by the basketball coach to the same extent as in DI schools- not even close. The fact that basketball isn't necessarily the most important thing in a DIII recruit's life just means the basketball coach gets less credit for landing good recruits.

JT3 doesn't have a 100% graduation rate for two reasons. The first is that players transfer because they aren't getting enough playing time. This problem doesn't occur at DIII schools and is just another thing JT3 has to overcome that Howes doesn't. The second reason Georgetown doesn't have a 100% graduation rate is that some of its former players are making millions of dollars in the NBA. Given that a lot of our players come from less-than-rich families I don't see why this could possibly be considered a coaching failure.

Posted by: jackgu | December 7, 2008 7:22 PM

They did send out an email to the alumni and students. Instead of polling the alumni and students who have no idea of who is the best coach( and who stuff the ballot box)---poll the players and ex players. Then you'll really see who is the best coach.

Posted by: dugann1 | December 8, 2008 9:07 AM

Hmmm, on one hand you talk about the “superiority complex” of Georgetown, but, at the same time, you state “Catholic University's students and alumni have a tremendous amount of pride and competitive spirit, and we will always vigorously support those associated with this great university.”

The only difference I see is a matter of bias towards Catholic. It doesn’t bother me that some random internet poll may deem Steve Howes a better coach than JT3, and I bet it makes no difference to any other GU alum or fan. The truth is most objective people will admit that JT3 is the best coach.

The problem lies with this holier-than-thou attitude regarding Catholic versus Georgetown in terms of graduation rates, funding/resources, etc. The fact is Georgetown one of the best schools in the country at enabling its student-athletes to be successful on and off the court. We’re not like UMCP where winning (at least several years ago) came at the expense of academics.

Posted by: kchoya | December 8, 2008 11:19 AM

This really wasn't a contest to determine who is the area's best college basketball coach. It should be an indication as to how media coverage should be divided amongst these college basketball programs. Clearly UMCP and Georgetown are overserved and more coverage should be given to programs like Catholic University whose response to this poll was obviously overwhelming.

Posted by: tod_sloan | December 8, 2008 12:02 PM

"They are Division III athletes, and participation in organized athletics completed their life. While most excel in only one sport, all excel in the one life they have been given. For them, athletics does not define or dictate or limit; athletics is not life for the D3 player. Life is more, and they live it to the fullest. Once the last horn is sounded and the last scores tallied for a career, life goes on for the D3 player, as it will for their D1 and D2 brethren, the vast majority of whom will never be noticed by the professional ranks. No student-athlete opted to attend a D3 college because of the scholarship opportunity—after all, D3 schools don't offer athletic scholarships. They are D3 athletes because they exemplify the student-athlete ideal. They realize D3 participation will allow them to have more opportunities at this point in their life—athletics just one among many—than will their bigger-school counterparts, and those experiences will benefit them in immeasurable ways throughout their life after college."

- Please don't take away from a college athlete. It takes a lot of time and dedication no matter what level they are playing on.

I have coached on many different grade levels (elementary to high school) and to many different ability levels. A coach is not only someone with a winning season, but who has the support of both his/her team and institution. A good coach sees coachable opportunities even in a loss. Though you can demand perfection, you must also demand that your team learns from any mistake they make and move forward. Those are the qualities you should be looking for in the areas best coach.

Posted by: ctbirds06 | December 8, 2008 12:09 PM

OK lets settle this with a 6 game series between Catholic and Georgetown. But with one twist. Let JT coach CU for 3 games and Howes Georgetown for 3 games and then for the next 3 switch them back. This has the potential to tell us many things for example,
1. Who is the better coach.
2. Which University shop for better players.
3. Which players respond emotionally.

So I would say lets settle this at Verizon center and Bob Knight be the judge. How about that..

Posted by: KarK | December 9, 2008 10:59 AM

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