Former Wichita State basketball coach Mark Turgeon doesn't like his side of the bracket in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Win or lose, Maryland faces a team its new coach would rather watch on TV.
At least his best friend can relate. Wait, that's part of the bad news.
After playing Alabama, Maryland's second-round game will either be against Colorado or Wichita State on Nov. 18. Colorado is coached by Tad Boyle, Turgeon's former Kansas teammate and WSU assistant. Few coaches like to compete against their best buddy. The alternative isn't much better — Wichita State is where Turgeon invested seven seasons (2000-07) rebuilding the program.
"You don't look forward to any of those games, to be quite honest," Turgeon said last week in a conference call. "A lot of great memories at Wichita State. I'll see a lot of familiar faces."
Boyle is in a similar position. His Buffaloes play WSU in the first round on Nov. 17. He spent six seasons at WSU and also counts on seeing Shocker friends in Puerto Rico.
"I'd rather not play Mark," he said.
Both coaches savor their WSU days as important in their growth as coaches. Boyle remembers how going on the radio to take calls after a devastating loss to Northern Iowa in 2005 helped prepare him for those situations. Both men will tell you coaching at a place where fans care so much is a great teacher.
"I had to put a lot into it," Turgeon said. "I was able to build a program, pretty much do it from the ground up, which was a great experience. I had a great athletic director that was behind me 100 percent, a fan base that was behind me 100 percent."
Turgeon grew up as a coach as the Missouri Valley Conference rose in stature. Coaches such as Bruce Weber, Matt Painter, Dana Altman, Tom Davis and Royce Waltman helped the MVC earn multiple NCAA bids from 1999-2007. Turgeon's WSU teams contributed with NIT bids in 2003, 2004 and 2005 before its NCAA Sweet 16 in 2006.
"I'm a much better coach because of the seven years I spent at Wichita State," he said. "I used to thank Tom Davis (Drake) all the time for making me a better press offense coach because his presses were so good. It was great timing for me at a young age to coach against such great coaches."
The bracket isn't friendly for Turgeon and Boyle for competitive reasons, as both are well aware. Turgeon and Boyle are rebuilding their teams. The Shockers are not. Neither is No. 19 Alabama, last season's NIT runner-up.
Maryland is down to seven scholarship players and Turgeon is counting on walk-ons for depth. Sophomore point guard Pe'Shon Howard is out for 11 weeks with a broken left foot suffered in late October.
"We couldn't afford an injury to one of our two point guards, and it's happened," Turgeon said.
Colorado joined WSU in the New York for the NIT semifinals last season. NBA lottery pick Alec Burks and Cory Higgins are gone, leaving Boyle with a different team.
"We lost over 75 percent of our scoring," Boyle said. "I don't know what this team is going to look like."
New money — The NCAA legislation that will allow schools to pay athletes on full scholarship up to $2,000 a year for living expenses isn't causing consternation at WSU.
The NCAA will allow conferences to decide if their schools participate. The MVC is allowing schools to decide on their own. The money is intended to help athletes pay for the "full cost of attendance" to college, beyond what is paid for by the scholarship, room and board and books. An athlete could use that money for travel, clothes or movie tickets, for example.
Athletic director Eric Sexton said the decision came easily at WSU. To not offer the money could be used against Shocker coaches in recruiting. Sexton doesn't want to send his coaches into a recruiting battle at a disadvantage.
"We follow the bylaws and fund our scholarships to the level we are allowed to," Sexton said. "We want to be in a position where we give our coaches and our sport programs the best opportunity to compete."
Sexton estimates WSU will budget around $120,000 for the allowance. It will have around 58 athletes on full scholarships in men's (13) and women's basketball (15), volleyball (12) and women's tennis (8). WSU's other sports, all of which generally hand out partial scholarships, will account for 10 more full rides. For example, most track or baseball athletes are on partial scholarships. Coaches can, in rare cases, award a full ride.
Finding $120,000 isn't easy. At some MVC schools, especially the small, private ones, athletic directors are thinking hard about the pros and cons. WSU is in better financial shape than some of those schools, but it's still an addition to the budget.
"We go fund raise and fund raise," Sexton said. "We should be trying to provide the best experience and best support we can within the NCAA rules."
At Bradley, athletic director Michael Cross told the Peoria Journal Star his school is weighing the stipend. Bradley has around 50 full-scholarship athletes.
"Institutions are going to have to come to grips with what it means for them," Cross said. "There a lot of schools that are struggling with budgets, not just athletic budgets. It's going to be tough to justify giving additional aid to athletes."
Back in black — It escaped my notice that WSU pulled back above .500 in MVC men's basketball play last season.
The 14-4 record makes WSU 495-490 in 66 seasons in the MVC.
When coach Gregg Marshall started at WSU in 2007-08, he inherited a 457-456 MVC record. WSU slipped below .500 with two losing conference seasons, then climbed back with 12-6 and 14-4 marks.
Turgeon went through a similar routine. He inherited a program that slipped to 381-388 in the MVC play following the miserable 1990s. It took him until the 2005-06 season to get on the positive side, when a 14-4 record made WSU 449-446.
The .503 winning percentage in MVC games ranks WSU sixth, behind Creighton (.584), Missouri State (.577), Bradley (.564), Illinois State (.560) and Southern Illinois (.545).