Cougar hoops: Observation & analysis

WASHINGTON STATE'S quest for a new basketball coach has given rise to a couple of interesting threads of discussion. Foremost, of course, is the speculating and forecasting around who should or will be hired. Second to that has been the scrutiny of WSU's basketball facilities.

I'll touch on both here, but facilities first.

While light years from a shambles, it's pretty clear -- despite what Bill Moos said yesterday -- that WSU must invest in its hoops facilities to keep pace with the rest of the conference. Consider just the recent developments around the league:

  • Utah has unveiled plans for a $24 million basketball operations center.
  • Arizona, on the heels of locker room, lounge and film room upgrades, is now planning an $80 million overhaul of the McKale Center.
  • Oregon State opened a $15 million basketball operations center last summer.

    Between 2009 and 2012, Colorado, Arizona State, Oregon and UCLA cut ribbons on state-of-the-art new basketball centers. And just a few years before that, USC opened the Galen Center and Stanford renovated and expanded Maples Pavilion.

    So where's Washington State?

    The simple answer is that when it comes to facilities, WSU is all about football right now. And for good reason: Football drives the economic fortunes of the entire athletic department. If football is healthy, the entire department benefits.

    WSU must get football right. That is the No. 1 priority, period. Moos and Elson Floyd have made no secret of their approach.

    As a result, the Martin Stadium luxury suites project was completed two years ago, the Football Operations Building will open on May 19, and attention will then turn to a new indoor practice facility which will benefit multiple sports.

    That's a ton of investment in athletics in one compressed period of time. Plus smaller but pressing projects for baseball and soccer are in the works.

    There's only so much money and bonding capacity to go around. Consequently, basketball has to wait until football is fully taken care of -- unless a deep pocket or two steps up to make an immediate difference.

    That's not to say the athletic department can't do more to help hoops. But right now, football is king.

    THERE ARE REPERCUSSIONS to that fact when it comes to finding a new basketball coach. Our story about Leon Rice on Monday illustrates the problem, as did an earlier story we ran about two notable coaches, identities withheld from us, who balked at the possibility of coming to the Palouse given the facilities situation and other issues.

    The reality is that WSU likely won't be in a position to invest in hoops facilities for a good two to four years. For an established coach, that's a big pill to digest when looking at what has been built or soon will be built at the basketball programs around the rest of the Pac-12.

    A $1 million annual salary, or thereabouts, will no doubt take the bite out of that reality. Inheriting DaVonte Lacy, Ike Iroegbu and Que Johnson and hanging onto Tramaine Isabell will help as well.

    But there seems little doubt the facilities issue will very much shape the hiring process. A Ben Howland, for instance, wouldn't seem likely to be interested (not that his personality would fit in Pullman anyway). Neither would Eric Musselman, the associate head coach at Arizona State with the fascinating résumé, who may be looking for his next gig to be a platform for returning to the NBA.

    Ernie Kent might be interested because he likes Moos, knows how to recruit around average facilities, and, after three seasons out of the game, may see it as a last chance to get back into the rodeo.

    A Randy Bennett type, with not a lot left to prove in the WCC, might see it as a final career shot at the big time. A similar tale could be told for Big Sky Conference scions Wayne Tinkle at Montana and Randy Rahe at Weber State.

    But do any if them possess the "flash" Moos says he wants? No, no and no.

    An assistant coach from a top-flight program, like Kenny Payne at Kentucky or Damon Stoudamire at Arizona, would seem a better fit, especially when you factor in Moos' comments yesterday about getting a first-class recruiter.

    AND THEN THERE ARE THE two guys who will have their teams playing in Spokane this week as part of March Madness.

    One is younger, far out of the limelight, reaping the benefits of his steady build at North Dakota State. And the other is a little older, also off the beaten path, in his seventh year of outstanding work at New Mexico State following an impressive run as an assistant for various great coaches.

    On Thursday in the Lilac City, where WSU happens to be hosting West Regional games, Saul Phillips, age 41, will lead his 12th-seeded N.D. State Bison against Oklahoma, while Marvin Menzies, age 52, will pit his 13th-seeded New Mexico State Aggies against San Diego State.

    This convergence of geography and timing has not gone unnoticed among CF.C message boarders. And for good reason: these guys are very intriguing possibilities.

    This marks the Aggies' fourth trip to the Big Dance in the last five years under Menzies, and in each of the last two seasons they advanced to the second round. For the Bison, it's their second trip to the Dance under Phillips (2009) after posting a second-straight 20-plus-win season.

    Phillips, in some ways, is a Tony Bennett clone. Young, self-assured, a product of the Wisconsin Badgers coaching tree. He's paid his head coaching dues in the outback of hoops and no doubt would jump at the chance to coach in an elite conference. He signed a five-year extension with N.D. State last summer that pays him $175,000 a year.

    Menzies, on the other hand, would likely have a statue built in his honor in Las Cruces if he stayed on his current trajectory there for the next 10 years. In 2013 he signed a contract extension through 2017 that contains a base salary of $286,110 a year. He's a California native who previously was an assistant at Louisville, UNLV, USC and San Diego State. For a West Coast guy with proven credentials and a birthday that's closer to 60 than 40, would a Pac-12 opportunity be a dream come true?

    If you're in Spokane, and you happen to spot Moos ducking in and out of rooms at the Davenport this week, we may have a sense of where he's taking the WSU basketball program.

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