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Matt Vautour: National attention could do little to help Jim Crews at Saint Louis

Could Jim Crews be the national coach of the year and not be the coach at Saint Louis next year?

Both are possible. Crews should be a very strong candidate for the national honor. Not only has he led to the Billikens to the top of a very good Atlantic 10, but they’re ranked — No. 18 in The Associated Press and No. 19 in the Coaches Poll— and have a handful of signature wins.

More impressive is that he’s done this all as an interim head coach. He’s led the Billikens through the uncertainty that came when Rick Majerus stepped down unexpectedly and the heartbreak that followed when he died.

The combination of success and circumstances will be looked at very favorably when voters cast their ballots for coach of the year.

But he’s not the favorite for the award as Miami’s Jim Larranaga seems to be leading at the polls. It could happen though. SLU is surging and Miami is coming off of a tough loss. Will that be enough to earn him the Billikens’ job permanently? There are no guarantees.

Saint Louis is believed to be in consideration to join the new conference being formed by the seven departing Big East Catholic schools. Conventional wisdom says if that league stays at 10 teams, SLU is out, but if it goes to 12, the Billikens will likely be added.

SLU is a pretty attractive job if it ends up in that league and SLU president Lawrence Biondi has leaned toward hiring big-name coaches (Majerus) before. He might be able to land one in that league.

Crews can coach, but his recruiting is in question. He was successful early in his tenure at Evansville in the late 1980s and early 1990s. But he was 21-37 in his last two seasons there and 59-140 in seven seasons (2002-09) at Army. To be fair, Army is one of the nation’s hardest places to win at, but fairness isn’t always a factor in these things.

BOBBY V. THE AD — “Valentine hired at Sacred Heart” sounds like a funny pun for Feb. 14. But sadly that’s not case. Bobby Valentine, the lifelong baseball man, has no experience whatsoever in college athletics and now he’s going to lead a Division I department?

Nobody is confusing Sacred Heart with Texas on the NCAA food chain, but to be successful even little schools need good leadership, somebody who’s been a fundraiser, or knows NCAA rules, or has connections when hiring coaches. Valentine has none of those things. His sizable ego, which played a part in how disastrous his time was managing the Red Sox, better be in check, because there’s a lot he doesn’t know going into this job. He could be catastrophic in charge of the whole department.

But he has name recognition and college administrators are too often blinded by the idea of making an initial splash.

Ask Florida International how that approach worked out when it hired Isaiah Thomas.

RYAN KELLY RETURNING? — Duke forward Ryan Kelly could return before the end of the regular season. Kelly, who was a key part of the Blue Devils when they were dominating in November and December, has been sidelined since Jan. 8 with a foot injury. His stamina and rust level will be in question, but Kelly at 75 percent playing reduced minutes would likely give Duke’s title chances a lift.

MY TOP 10 — 1. Indiana, 2. Gonzaga, 3. Michigan, 4. Miami, 5. Duke, 6. Arizona, 7. Florida, 8. Georgetown, 9. Kansas, 10. Louisville.

For the rest of my Top 25 visit the College Hoop Week Guide at GazetteNET.com/Blogs/UMassSports/.

GAME OF THE WEEK: — Duke at Miami, Saturday, 6 p.m. ESPN — The last time they met the Hurricanes crushed the Blue Devils 90-63 in Coral Gables, Fla. Duke needs this one for redemption and any chance to catch Miami for the ACC regular season title.

ATLANTIC 10 GAME OF THE WEEK: Butler at VCU, Saturday, noon ESPN2 — It wasn’t that long ago that it looked like this game would decide the Atlantic 10 title. Saint Louis’ recent surge took that off the table, but this will still go a long way toward determining Atlantic 10 seeding next month in Brooklyn, N.Y.

TOUGHEST WEEK: Syracuse — After losing to Marquette Monday night, the Orange host No. 10 Louisville, Saturday at noon.

NEW NICKNAME PLEASE: Missouri — After Bulldogs, there’s no more overused mascot in Division I than the Tigers. There are three in the SEC alone.

Mizzou can do better.

I couldn’t come up with anything that tied into the school’s famous columns that have stood on campus since surviving a huge campus fire over 100 years ago, and something as direct as the Missouri Columns seemed lame.

Actor Jon Hamm is a Mizzou alum, but I can’t imagine that the Mizzou Madmen would ever get past the school’s administration. So I’m going with the Missouri Merlins. A Merlin is a species of falcon know for fighting with other bird of prey, making it plenty tough enough to be a mascot.

Plus, sharing a name with King Arthur’s wizard creates some fun mascot potential.

ON THE ROAD TO — Back to back trips to the NCAA Tournament for Harvard.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Follow UMass coverage on Twitter at @GazetteUMass. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage.

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