Category archive: Morehead State Eagles
Luka Pajkovic played three minutes against Ole Miss in a 24-point loss for Mississippi Valley State last December.
Then-Delta Devils coach Sean Woods got in Pajkovic's grill, according to the player and a MVSU athletic department official, and grabbed his shirt. There was nothing egregious about this situation -- Woods was continuing to show his intensity and demand for quality of play and effort.
Woods was coaching Pajkovic, just like every other player on his team last season when he took the Delta Devils to the NCAA tournament. He was intense, passionate and committed to making the team better on every possession.
Pajkovic loved every second of it.
And that's why he said he left Mississippi Valley State for Brevard Community College in Florida and why he will return to play for Woods next season at Morehead State.
Woods was suspended for Monday's game against Norfolk State for his actions in a loss at his alma mater, Kentucky, on Wednesday night. He got in the face of guard Devon Atkinson three times and shoved Atkinson back toward the bench. It was likely that physical contact, and the coverage of Wednesday's game, that forced the university to make a decision.
"I had a strong connection with him," Pajkovic said Friday. "What happened the other night, that's nothing. That's the way he coaches. I don't see how that's wrong. I know there are different opinions. I talked to him on Thanksgiving. He didn't want to talk about it. Everyone is making a crazy deal out of it.
"He was on me the whole year and it was worse with me," Pajkovic said. "He expected a lot from me and that's why he does that, to get you motivated. I'm going to Morehead State. I'm used to that type of coaching. He gets the best out of you. He pushes you and that's the way he coaches."
Morehead State athletic director Brian Hutchinson said in a statement Friday that the school stands by the hiring of Woods after Donnie Tyndall went to Southern Miss. Hutchinson said that coaches should be teachers who "reflect the core values of the university, which include valuing the individual and treating people with respect. Near the end of the game, Coach Woods' interaction with one of our student-athletes fell short of that value and was unacceptable."
Hutchinson said Woods needed time to contemplate his actions and what should be his appropriate conduct.
Woods wrote via text late Wednesday night that he was just coaching his guys. But on Friday he wrote that he apologetic and acknowledge his behavior "was inappropriate and unacceptable."
It took too long for Woods to apologize and that contributed to the story gaining attention. He could have said he was emotional about playing Kentucky and when the game got away from Morehead (it was tight for some time) he made mistakes in how he dealt with Atkinson. He should have said he was sorry right then and made the point that it wouldn't happen again.
We live in a public forum in which everything is discussed. Whether physical contact with a player was acceptable or not 25-plus years ago is irrelevant. It is no longer respectable behavior now.
Coaches have been fired for physical contact. You can argue that is ultimately what led to Bob Knight's dismissal at Indiana.
A Mississippi Valley State official said what Woods did in getting in the faces of players during a game at Maryland and then again against Kentucky paled in comparison to his coaching style with the Delta Devils, but that no one paid attention to him in the SWAC. The official wasn't saying this was wrong, but just the way Woods coached.
"Coaches get in your face and you should be able to take it," Pajkovic said. "If you can't take it, you're not going to get the best out of you.
"People don't see him in practices, they only see him in games. What he did with me wasn't physical contact," he said. "My coach back home [Belgrade] used to push me too. I've always had crazy coaches, but in a good way. That's the coaching I love. After what he did last year, he's going to do it this year. He's a good coach.''
At the latter, Donnie Tyndall took the Eagles to the NCAA tournament twice and produced a first-round pick, Kenneth Faried, who helped upset Louisville in the Big Dance. At the former, Tyndall looks to continue the momentum built by Larry Eustachy, who took USM to the NCAA tourney for the first time in 20 years before heading off to Colorado State.
Neither stop is along the main road. Like he had to do at Morehead, Tyndall has to be creative to make Southern Miss relevant. He had a number of issues to tackle when he took over in Hattiesburg and discussed them in detail with ESPN.com this week.
Transfers: There are four on the roster for 2013-14, but two really stand out. Johnny Zuppardo (Arkansas State) and Stefon Johnson (Gardner-Webb) are lesser known, but Aaron Brown (Temple) and Chip Armelin (Minnesota) played at big-time programs and should contribute once they're eligible.
Tyndall said it was critical to add players like Armelin and Brown, who played significant minutes at big six schools. Incoming freshman Davon Hayes will be a contributor, but there simply wasn't enough firepower in the Class of 2012 to make much impact.
"We felt like it was really hard at our level to find four or five players who could play right away and eligible this late," Tyndall said.
At a school that has thrived by picking up second-chance players, transfers are sometimes a means of survival.
Retaining Neil Watson: Tyndall had to re-recruit the junior guard who led the Golden Eagles with 12.3 points and 4.4 assists a game last season.
"Guard play is so important, and he's one of the best guards in the league," Tyndall said. "They won 25 games last season. We lost a lot, but there is residue from a team that now expects to win."
Create an identity: Tyndall wants to impress upon his players that he will be pushing them in the fall. He hammered home some tough offseason workouts, especially in this new era of being able to work out with the players.
"We wanted tough conditioning practices and the tempo in which we're going to practice and play," Tyndall said.
Scheduling: Southern Miss is a program that will always struggle to get games. Hattiesburg isn't a destination for a home-and-home series. That's why Tyndall had to scramble to find quality games, even if the series starts on the road. He landed a road game at Wichita State and signed off on Southern Miss being in the Georgia pod for the Legends Classic. Georgia will move on to the semifinals in Brooklyn, N.Y., against Indiana (UCLA-Georgetown is the other matchup), while USM simply gets neutral-site games.
Patience: Eustachy eventually established a winning culture at Southern Miss. The makeup of Conference USA is changing now that Memphis, Houston, SMU and Central Florida will depart for the Big East in 2013. C-USA is adding a traditional postseason team in Old Dominion as well as two programs with the potential to be competitors for Southern Miss in Louisiana Tech and Texas-San Antonio. Also in the fray are solid programs such as Marshall, Tulsa, UTEP and UAB.
"I think when we took over Morehead State six years ago, it was one of the bottom five programs in America," Tyndall said. "We had four wins, and the program hadn't been to the NCAAs in 25 years. Then we had three 20-win seasons and two NCAA tournaments. That's a pretty good program. We had a first-round draft pick in Kenneth Faried. We didn't have much tradition or success. I was the first guy to move to a better or lateral job from Morehead State.
"It was thought to be a dead-end job, but I graduated and played there. There was a great deal of passion, and that is at Southern Miss too. It's got a great football program, baseball program, and Larry had a great team last year that won 25 games. We can sell a lot about Southern Miss and Conference USA."
The atmosphere of the Carrier Classic, with its overwhelming sense of patriotism and the sheer uniqueness of playing a game on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson, along with the historical significance of that vessel, will be hard to top.
The view was magnificent. The Naval presence in all its glory and uniformity was as impressive as one would imagine. And the appreciation from the sailors for the break from the daily routine was genuine.
If you missed that game or any of the matchups on opening weekend, you're in for a treat because you won't be able to turn on the ESPN family of networks from 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday until about 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday without seeing college basketball on the screen.
Here are some questions to ponder as the fourth annual Tip-Off Marathon begins with Washington State at Gonzaga and ends with an NIT Season Tip-Off game the following night from Stanford.
1. Will Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski become the NCAA's all-time winningest coach? The Blue Devils play Michigan State in the first game at the Champions Classic (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) from Madison Square Garden. Duke struggled against Belmont in its opener and then blasted Presbyterian on Saturday. Neither result should come as a surprise. The Blue Devils are usually the home team in New York, but it will be interesting to see how many Spartans fans are able to make the trip, especially if some of them just went to San Diego. Still, Michigan State has a real shot to upstage Coach K. Despite their loss to North Carolina, the Spartans were the aggressor, outrebounding the Tar Heels convincingly 42-31. The Blue Devils have as much size as North Carolina, so the challenge will be similar. But MSU must shoot better from 3-point range than it did against UNC (2-of-20). Another key to the game is seeing which team converts timely perimeter shots. If Duke wins, we'll have the unique setting of Krzyzewski winning No. 903 and passing his former coach Bob Knight, who will sit courtside calling the game for ESPN.
2. How will the Thomas Robinson-Anthony Davis matchup unfold? This could turn out to be one of the more anticipated frontcourt showdowns during the nonconference schedule, as this individual battle highlights the second game of the Champions Classic between Kentucky and Kansas (ESPN, 9:30 ET). Robinson began the season as the go-to guy for Kansas, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds against Towson. Meanwhile, Davis, UK's highly touted freshman, blitzed Marist with 23 points and 10 boards in the Wildcats' 50-point rout. Kentucky has more options than KU and can lean on Doron Lamb or Terrence Jones to get it plenty of points. But the tussle between Robinson and Davis will be good theater throughout the night.
3. How will Ohio State's Aaron Craft and William Buford handle Florida's perimeter? We're not conceding the Jared Sullinger-Patric Young matchup (well, we will for these purposes), but this game may come down to the guards. Florida's set of Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Brad Beal and Erving Walker is off to a sensational start. Rosario scored 19 points off the bench, while Boynton scored 19 and Beal 14 (Walker added 10) in a rout of Jackson State. Craft and Buford will be tested defensively more so than they were a year ago, when Ohio State won easily at UF during this same event. The Buckeyes, who host the Gators at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2), are the No. 3 team in the nation because of Sullinger. But this will be the first time OSU may feel the loss of defensive specialist David Lighty.
4. Can Belmont emerge from the brutal opening weekend with a split? The Bruins nearly nipped Duke in a comeback that fell one possession short. The next challenge is a visit to in-state Memphis at noon ET on ESPN. Belmont won't have any awe factor in playing the Tigers. The Bruins should come into this game oozing with confidence after their showing versus the Blue Devils. Memphis is still a young team and a work in progress. The Tigers have more talent, but the question is whether they will show patience against a Belmont team that will want to run and run and run. This could be one of the most entertaining games of the day.
5. How will Baylor handle its one and likely only test during Perry Jones III's suspension? Jones must sit for three more games after accepting an extra benefit. The Bears beat Texas Southern on Friday and Jackson State on Sunday. The two games that follow Baylor's home matchup with San Diego State (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET) are South Carolina State and Texas-Arlington. This is not the same Aztecs team from last season after the roster was gutted by graduating seniors and an early-entry NBA departure. Still, they are athletic enough to cause problems. The Bears have options with Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller and Anthony Jones, but this game should at least push Baylor a tad more than the first two did during Jones' suspension.
6. How will Gonzaga's guards respond after a poor first outing? The Bulldogs showed in a tight win over Eastern Washington that they can rely heavily on Robert Sacre (22 points and 10 boards). But the perimeter shooters went 3-of-13 on 3s, and Marquise Carter was 2-of-11 and Mike Hart, Gary Bell, Kevin Pangos and David Stockton were a combined 6-of-15 from the field. Washington State is a team in transition, and the Zags should win this game. But Gonzaga has plenty of tougher challenges ahead, and so its guard play will need to improve. Still, this will be a good chance to see Sacre and Elias Harris on display against the Cougars, tipping off the Marathon at 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday night (ESPN).
7. As for the two women's games on the Marathon schedule How will Tennessee perform after coach Pat Summitt's health diagnosis? If you saw Robin Roberts' piece on "Good Morning America," you know it is clear that the Lady Vols are determined to win a national title for Summitt. The Tennessee coach also seems as driven as ever in her quest to keep coaching while she battles early-onset dementia. This should be an emotional game, as they all may turn out to be, for the No. 3 Lady Vols as they host No. 7 Miami (ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET). And how will Texas A&M handle its status as the reigning champs? The Aggies aren't expected to repeat as national champs, but they have established themselves as an elite program. The primer to the Tennessee game won't involve as much theater, but may be as competitive a game when No. 9 Louisville goes to College Station to play the No. 6 Aggies (ESPNU, 4 p.m. ET).
8. What should we expect from Texas' Myck Kabongo? Kabongo is an impressive young man who handles himself with poise and class. Now he has to translate that onto the court against a talented Rhode Island squad that lost at George Mason by two points in its season opener Friday. The Longhorns will lean heavily on Kabongo to start the season. How he handles this first assignment will be a strong indicator on what to expect, as URI will push Texas from the outset (ESPN, 4 p.m. ET).
9. How will Drexel handle the hype as the CAA's favorite? The Dragons play at Rider (ESPN, 6 a.m. ET) when most people might be waking up to watch the Marathon. Drexel is the early pick to win the Colonial Athletic Association, a conference that's receiving some buzz after placing its second team (VCU) in the Final Four since 2006. Drexel will be minus the injured Chris Fouch, but Samme Givens and Frantz Massenat should be enough to beat Rider. But the Dragons could do themselves a service by looking impressive, too.
10. How productive can the Saint Mary's frontcourt be this season? Randy Bennett anticipates that this frontcourt will be more productive than the one led by Omar Samhan, who led the Gaels to the Sweet 16 two seasons ago. That means Rob Jones will be getting help from Kyle Rowley, Brad Waldow, Mitchell Young and Beau Levesque. Jones dominated Fresno Pacific with 25 points and 12 boards, but Northern Iowa -- coming off an impressive road route of ODU -- will be a much more formidable foe for the Gaels (ESPN, 2 a.m. ET).
11. What should we expect from LeBryan Nash? Well, if you believe the hype, Oklahoma State has an all-Big 12 player who can elevate it to the NCAA tournament. The Cowboys will likely have plenty of chances to feature Nash against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the NIT Season Tip-Off (ESPN3, 8 p.m. ET).
12. How polished will Syracuse look? If they defeat Manhattan on Monday, the Orange will face either Albany or Brown on Tuesday (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The early indication is that this veteran team will be ready to compete for the Final Four. Of course, Syracuse isn't being challenged as much as some other teams, but the Orange smacked Fordham in the opener as Dion Waiters complemented Kris Joseph quite well.
13. A surprisingly close game? I'm going with Austin Peay at Cal (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET). The Governors should be one of the favorites in the Ohio Valley Conference. Will Triggs and TyShwan Edmondson could play at any level. California is one of the Pac-12 favorites, but the Golden Bears will be tested in this CBE Classic matchup. Guards Allen Crabbe and Jorge Gutierrez will be tested versus Austin Peay.
14. What are the chances of a surprise to end the Marathon? I think Stanford will have a tough time with either SMU or Colorado State at home in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Mustangs or the Rams are fully capable of being a pest and upsetting the Cardinal (ESPNU, 11 p.m. ET). Stanford first has to get past Fresno State, of course, to be in this matchup. To do that, Aaron Bright, Chasson Randle and Josh Owens will have to really take control.
15. How will Miami score inside? The Hurricanes are sans Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble due to injuries. The given has been that the Canes have the guard play with Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott. But Rutgers will try and make Miami (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) beat the Scarlet Knights on the inside. This could turn out to be one of the closer games in the Marathon.
16. What should we expect from Villanova? This is somewhat of a blank slate. The Coreys -- Mr. Fisher and Mr. Stokes -- are gone. Maalik Wayns will be the dominant presence, but there are plenty of other options as Mouphtaou Yarou, JayVaughn Pinkston, Dominic Cheek and James Bell could all star against La Salle (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET). The Wildcats are an unknown in the Big East, and this game will at least give us a taste of what we may see.
17. Is Kevin Jones ready to be a star? For two seasons, West Virginia's Bob Huggins has been waiting for Jones to emerge. He scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a season-opening seven-point win over Oral Roberts. Kent State will hardly be a walk for the Mountaineers (ESPN, 10 a.m. ET). Darryl Bryant can offset Jones' production, but the offense will likely flow through Jones as he adapts to being the front man for the Mountaineers.
18. How ready is Hawaii to make a run at Utah State? Gib Arnold has gone through a complete roster makeover and coached the Warriors to an impressive 19-13 record in his first season in Honolulu. Utah State beat BYU to open the season while one of the WAC favorites, Nevada, was flat at home in losing to Missouri State. Hawaii has a real shot to make a move in its final season in the WAC before heading to the Big West. Establishing an identity in a new conference is always key and ensuring that Cal State-Northridge (ESPN, 4 a.m. ET) is well aware of what it is in for when it visits the Stan Sheriff Center would do wonders for a first impression.
19. What will Morehead State and College of Charleston look like after losing their stars? This game could be one of the more competitive because of who both teams lost, rather than who they gained. Morehead State no longer has Kenneth Faried, while Charleston is without Andrew Goudelock. The Eagles made the NCAA tournament last season, defeating Louisville and then falling to Richmond. The Cougars reached the NIT quarterfinals before losing to eventual champ Wichita State. Regardless of how these teams look (ESPN, 8 a.m. ET) on Tuesday, you can expect them both to be factors in their respective conferences by February.
20. What are the chances Virginia Tech doesn't end up in New York for the NIT semifinals? We'll find out Tuesday night. The Hokies will likely play George Mason, assuming the Patriots beat Florida International and Virginia Tech knocks off Monmouth on Monday. Mason beat Rhode Island by two in overtime in its opener, and while it is a more depleted roster than expected when Paul Hewitt took the job, this is still a formidable squad. Virginia Tech used balanced scoring to beat East Tennessee State by 11 in its opener, but hitting 5-of-18 on 3s was an indicator that the perimeter shooting may not be the Hokies' strong suit.
Other notable names to watch: Does Tu Holloway have a monster game for Xavier against IPFW (7 p.m. ET)? Will Cincinnati's Yancy Gates dominate against Jacksonville State (7 p.m. ET)? How will Harvard fare as the hunted team on the road, even against a rebuilding Holy Cross squad (7 p.m. ET)? How will Dayton's Archie Miller fare in his road debut as head coach at Miami-Ohio (7 p.m. ET)? Will Mike Scott be a double-double performer for Virginia against Winthrop (7 p.m. ET)? Will LSU avoid plunging into irrelevance by winning at Coastal Carolina (7 p.m. ET)? Will Butler avoid a shaky 0-2 start by winning at home against Chattanooga (7 p.m. ET)? Will Saint Louis prove to be the team projected as an A-10 contender and win games it should -- even on the road at Southern Illinois (8 p.m. ET)? Will Missouri State continue to win on the road and take down Arkansas State (8 p.m. ET)? How impressive will Royce White be for Iowa State against Drake (9 p.m. ET)? How will Wyoming play for new coach Larry Shyatt against Northern Colorado (9 p.m.)? Will Arizona State start its climb toward respectability by winning a game at home versus Pepperdine (8:30 p.m. ET)? Will Utah State follow up its BYU win by beating rival Weber State (9 p.m.) on the road?
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.