Who Are You: Bethune-Cookman

Kevin Danna brings his insights and observations heading into Monday night's contest versus the Bethune-Cookman Wildcats.

Things were heading in the right direction for Bethune-Cookman. By their standards, the program was rolling down in Daytona Beach: Three straight winning seasons- their only three at the Division-I level, for that matter. An NIT berth last year was the Wildcats' first NCAA Division-I postseason tournament appearance, a berth they earned by winning their first-ever MEAC regular-season conference title.

And then things got a little nasty. Clifford Reed, the school's most successful head coach in program history, was fired in June for "insubordination and failing to cooperate with an investigation into his program," according to a USA Today article (here's the rest of it: Clifford Fired)

What does that mean? His son, CJ, who just so happened to be the MEAC Player of the Year at Bethune-Cookman, was the lone suspect in an alleged sexual assault case in an incident with a player on the B-CU women's basketball team. Clifford refused to let investigators question his son before the woman decided not to press charges.

Clifford is gone. And so is CJ, who transferred to Central Florida after his father was fired.

In steps Acting Head Coach Gravelle Craig, a longtime Reed assistant, who is left to deal with a somewhat-depleted roster that also lost its third-leading scorer and top rebounder Alex Starling to graduation. In addition to a new head coach, the Wildcats also have seven new faces on the floor, five of them Junior College or NCAA Division-I transfers.

So, with all this turmoil, how does the 2011-12 version of the Wildcats stack up to last year's conference championship squad?

Tough to tell.

Through 11 games last year, the Wildcats were 5-6, two better than what B-CU currently sits at (3-8). However, they only had one more win against NCAA Division-I competition at this juncture last year. Plus, when it's a team like Bethune-Cookman that has to play so many guarantee games in its non-conference schedule to collect paychecks, it's pretty hard to discern anything about them until conference play begins in earnest.

If you're looking for any sort of parallels, this might be the most telling- the Wildcats lost to Baylor on the road last year by 44 points. That was a Bears team that, while coming off an Elite Eight appearance, turned out to be not all that good and didn't make any sort of postseason tournament. This year, Baylor is an undefeated and top-10 team in the national rankings, and they beat Bethune-Cookman by 27 this past week.

It's also a game I had a chance to catch on ESPN3. Right off the bat, you can tell that Bethune-Cookman is going to have a tough time beating any BCS school because of how small they are at each position on the court. There isn't a soul above 6'7'' who plays significant minutes on that team, and they really only consistently start one dude who is 6'6''. They don't have a prayer in trying to keep even on the glass, having been outrebounded in that Baylor game by 10 and then by 22 against Saint Mary's this past Saturday.

BUT…they held their own as well as they could have against Baylor. They held a Bears' team that loves to run and averages 78 per game to 69. The Wildcats held true to their slow-the-game-to-a-halt identity and rarely let the Bears speed them up when the game was still remotely in doubt in the first half. Baylor threw a press at the Wildcats out of one end-line out-of-bounds situation and B-CU handled it with ease. Granted, the MEAC side from Daytona Beach had a helluva time trying to put the biscuit in the basket and that slow-you-to-death style sure didn't help create many open looks against a bigger and better Baylor bunch, but at the very least, they didn't play scared. They did "them."

Perhaps their most impressive player is Garrius Holloman, the skinny 6'6'' guy who has to start as a forward on this small team. He is a very lanky kid who can stroke it and is pretty athletic. He was hot early against the Bears, knocking down a couple of outside jumpers. It's a shame he has to waste his athleticism in the post on defense because he has the look of a kid who could really guard on the perimeter with his length and quicks. He could play and get significant minutes at a school that is a level above the MEAC.

His teammate and leading scorer Anthony Breeze did, transferring as a graduate student from Appalachian State and also having played at Coastal Carolina, where he was an All-Freshman selection in the Big South. He's got some muscle in him at 230, but is a little more vertically-challenged at 6'5''. He had a pretty nice baseline move against Baylor that led to a two-hand jam.

For what it's worth, I think this is a team that will be significantly better than their predicted finish of 8th in a 13-team MEAC.

What will that mean against Stanford? Probably nothing. Stanford is not averse to a defensive-minded contest, and, combined with B-CU's style, probably could hold the Wildcats south of 40 or close to it. So as long as Stanford can get to 50, there shouldn't be much to worry about.

A win against the MEAC ‘Cats and it will be the quickest Johnny Dawkins has ever gotten to 10 wins in a season from a calendar perspective (Stanford started 10-0 in 2008-09, but didn't get their 10th win until December 30 against Hartford in a game that was a little tougher than I think any of us expected). But most importantly, a win on Monday keeps Stanford on schedule for its most impressive non-conference slate of the Dawkins Era and gives the team little more momentum heading into the Butler game on Thursday.

See ya there.
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