Feb 102004
 
Authors: Vince Blaser

File under: Sports/Columns

Vince Blaser

2/10/04

With about a month left in the 2003-2004 college basketball regular season, a front-runner has emerged for national coach of the year.

It’s not Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, Jim Calhoun of Connecticut, or even Stanford’s Mike Montgomery or St. Joseph’s Phil Martelli, both of whom are coaching undefeated teams.

No, it’s Joe Scott of Air Force.

Joe Scott? Air Force??

If you’re thinking Air Force usually sucks at men’s basketball, you’re right. Since 1979-1980, the Falcons first year in an athletic conference, they had a 215-424 record entering this season, with a 70-296 record in Western Athletic Conference and Mountain West Conference games. The Falcons best season during the span was a 14-14 campaign in 1988-1989. Last year the Falcons went 12-16 overall and 3-11 in the Mountain West, good enough for last place, which they were picked to finish in again this season.

After the Falcons held on for a 52-44 win over our road weary Rams Monday night at Clune Arena, Air Force improved to 17-3 on the season, and leads the Mountain West with a 7-1 conference record.

Though the AFA can give a waiver to a player that is too tall to fly an Air Force jet, the Falcons have always been a small team. Their starting center this season is 6-foot-8.

So how have they done it?

First and foremost, Scott has got his team to believe they can win the Mountain West and make some headway in the NCAA Tournament in March.

Scott played basketball at Princeton University, leading the Tigers to an Ivy League title and a victory in the first round of the NCAA tournament in 1984. He was an assistant at Princeton for eight seasons, including three Ivy titles and two wins in the NCAA tournament.

He took over the reigns of the Falcons three years ago, struggling just as his predecessors at the Academy did. But Scott finally has his recruits playing for the Falcons and all of them are now believers in his system.

His system features a slow-it-down offense with players cutting on the backside of the play to the basket and coming off screens for 3-pointers. Defensively, the Falcons play a zone defense that collapses down quickly on big men and flies to the ball.

The Falcons held CSU to their lowest scoring output of the season Monday, the eighth time Air Force has held a team to less than 50 points this season.

Scott has the Falcons getting it done by committee. All five starters on the Falcons went into the CSU game averaging between eight and 12 points per game. Guards Tim Keller and Antoine Hood lead the 3-point barrage for the Falcons, both averaging about 11 points per game. Center Nick Welch also averages double figures in scoring, and leads undersized forwards A.J. Kuhle and Joel Gerlach inside.

The writers on the East Coast cannot overlook the absolutely amazing turnaround of the Falcons under Scott.

Granted, if St. Joe’s or Stanford goes undefeated this season, Martelli or Montgomery pretty much have to win the award for coach of the year. But if either stumbles, Scott has to be the frontrunner. It is the most amazing story in college basketball this season and Scott needs to be recognized for it.

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