The sound produced by the Texas faithful in the Longhorns' 80-69 win over Oklahoma on January 13th was impressive. We know that Longhorn fans certainly have the capability. I asked ESPN's Fran Fracilla what keeps the Erwin Center from being amongst the elites in basketball environments.
"On a given night in January or February, when Texas is playing another highly ranked team, the atmosphere can rival anybody's in the country," said Fracilla, "but what separates a Duke, Kansas, Kentucky from everybody else right now is how the crowds turn out in November or December, regardless of who the opponent is."
Kansas sold out Allen Field House every single game last season. The opponent didn't matter. For games against Western Illinios, Pepperdine, and even Yale, the Jayhawks sold out the arena. The issue for Texas is not individual games, but consistency over the long haul (ironically this may be the biggest problem for Rick Barnes' inexperienced team as well).
Naturally, the traditional competitiveness of the team plays heavily into it. You'd see the same difference if we compared Texas football to Kansas football, but that also brings up the point as to whether or not you really can have both. Fracilla definitely thinks you can.
"Both Rick [Barnes] and I coached at Ohio State," said Fracilla. "To me, the old St. John arena which produced legends like John Havlicek and Jerry Lucas was one of the loudest places in the country in the winter. Their football, I think, is as revered in their state as Texas Football is in the state of Texas."
Early in the season, Kevin Durant was asked if he knew he was coming to a football school and Durant said he's hoping to "bring it to a basketball school." But he's likely going to find little success in that endeavor.
However, the larger issue is how much of a negative effect this will have on the program in terms of recruiting. Recruits can be wooed by the allure of playing in the great environments and famous arenas in college basketball, but that's not the main factor in recruiting.
Texas basketball underwent a significant change in the 2002-2003 season when T.J. Ford led the Longhorns to the Final Four in New Orleans. But as important to the program as the run in the tournament was, equally important was Ford's individual accomplishment of being drafted No. 8 overall in the NBA Draft despite a serious back injury.
LaMarcus Aldridge was a top-level NBA draft pick. Durant will be a top-level NBA draft pick.
Would the team be aided by a great environment every game? Absolutely. The home advantage may have bigger effect in college basketball than in any other sport and individual contests. But in recruiting? Not so much. Some players may be swayed a little bit one way or the other, but the top-flight athletes are thinking about something else.
The point is as long as Barnes keeps sending players to the NBA, they could play in front of three people. The talent will still come to Texas.
Slippery Rock Season Review
by Ross Lucksinger
Jan. 15, 2007
Kicker Ryan Daniel's potential game-winning 48-yard field goal fell short with 43 seconds left to play in the season finale as Slippery Rock fell just short of the NCAA playoffs. The Rock finished with a 7-4 record after their season-ending loss to Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference foe West Chester. It was a tough loss, but Slippery Rock walked out of Thompson Stadium with their heads high after fighting through a tough 2006 campaign.
Slippery Rock went into the season without Josh Kniess, SRU's all-time leader in all-purpose yardage and relied on a running back by committee attack of Travis Sarver (660 yards), Damarcus Cleckley (459) and A.J. Saunders (403).
The Rock's best weapon was quarterback Nate Crookshank. The third-year starter threw for 2080 yards while completing 61.6 percent of his passes. Crookshank had 19 touchdowns through the air and 14 picks, along with 162 yards rushing and three TDs on the ground.
They had the weapons on offense and defense, holding the conference third-best pass D (the Texas DBs might be able to learn a thing or two from The Rock). In the end, it was mental mistakes that did in Slippery Rock, finishing 11th in the 13-member league in turnover margin (–8) and ninth-worst in penalty yardage (52.8 per game).
Slippery Rock started the season with a 51-21 loss at Youngstown State, giving up 424 yards to the Penguins. It was a rough start for The Rock, but SRU then rattled off four consecutive victories. Wins over Millersville, Mansfield, Kutztown and Clarion had The Rock on a roll, but in early October it came to an end as Slippery Rock lost a heartbreaker to Shippensburg 28-21, in which they committed five turnovers. Another loss, this time to California U. of PA, dropped The Rock's record to 4-3.
Then they got their legs back under them with a 35-0 drubbing of Lock Haven on Homecoming and the run was back on. Consecutive nail-biting wins over Edinboro and Indiana University of PA put Slippery Rock on the verge of a playoff berth with only a single regular-season game to go. But the 21-20 last-second loss to West Chester in what was essentially a playoff game (West Chester earned a playoff bid with the win) ended a promising season for team from Slippery Rock, PA.
The players of Slippery Rock had much to be proud of in their 2006 campaign. They had a winning record and five players earn All-PSAC-West honors.
They also have much to look forward to next season. Crookshank will be back as a fourth-year starter in 2007 for Slippery Rock. Leading rusher Travis Sarver and receptions leader Colin Golden will be back as well to an offense that was fourth in the PSAC in scoring. First-team All-PSAC and first-team academic All-American offensive tackle Mike Butterworth will be back to protect Crookshanks blindside. Expect the Rock to be an irresistible force in the PSAC next season.
By the way, if you're wondering why I'm breaking down the 2006 season for the Division II Slippery Rock University of Pennsylvania…ask your parents.