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Game Preview - Oklahoma State vs. Bradley - Ford just another horse on the coaching carousel

Oklahoma State vs. Bradley in Las Vegas - November 27 - 7:00pm -

Travis Ford signed a seven-year contract that will compensate him to the tune of $1.3 million per year to coach the Oklahoma State Cowboys. If history has anything to say about it, Ford will never see the end of that deal.

Ford has made a name for himself as one of the hottest young coaches in America. He won't turn 40 until December 29, but the Kentuckian is already on his fourth head coaching gig, and looks to be climbing the prestige ladder quickly. Now, all he needs to do is make some noise at the national level, and keep his reputation as the Master of Opportunity.

Following a successful playing career at Missouri and Kentucky, Ford entered the head coaching world without ever having served as an assistant. After working for three seasons as the top man at NAIA's Campbellsville University, Ford jumped to Division I by accepting the job at Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels finished 61-80, including a 28-52 conference record, during Ford's tenure, but the final of his five seasons sealed his upward fate. EKU finished the 2004-05 season 22-9, won the Ohio Valley Tournament and entered the NCAA Tournament as the #15 seed.

It wasn't long after the Colonels lost their tournament game 72-64 to Ford's alma mater Kentucky that the coach bolted for the University of Massachusetts. Again, his squad got out of the gates slowly, but he led the Minutemen to 62 wins in three seasons, including two NIT berths.

Following the 2006-07 season, Ford signed a five-year contract extension that would have kept him in Amherst through the 2014-15 season. "We are thrilled that Travis has made a commitment to UMass basketball," athletic director John McCutcheon said. "Travis has brought Minuteman basketball back to national recognition with his solid leadership."

Ford was also excited about the deal. "I am excited to know that UMass is committed to building the men's basketball program back to one of the best in the East and that I will have the chance to be at the helm for many years to come," he quipped. Yet, he left for Oklahoma State just 12 months later, following a 25-11 season, and a trip to the NIT Finals. He turned down offers from Providence and Louisiana State, prompting McCutcheon to state publicly that Ford would be his coach for "years to come" just a week before leaving for Stillwater.

Plus, Massachusetts boosted his $400,000 salary just days earlier to try to entice him to turn down the Providence job. He was even rumored to be in the mix for the Kentucky job, amongst others.

Ford just simply collected his $200,000 buyout and headed for the Sooner State. Master of Opportunity, indeed.

McCutcheon took the high road, despite the fact that Ford never mentioned to him the contact with Oklahoma State. The loss of Ford clearly hurt the program, as Massachusetts finished 12-18 last season under rookie head coach and alumnus Derek Kellogg.

Let’s not be quick to isolate Ford for chasing the golden basketball to another city. 2009-10 was the first season in the last 16 that featured less than 40 coaching changes in Division I; many of these moves are coaches with ambition, blind or otherwise, and a desire to better their situation, as well as fatten their wallets. It’s true that if Ford fulfills his entire commitment to Oklahoma State, his suitcase will be unpacked for the longest amount of time amongst his four coaching stops. But he isn’t the only horse on the coaching carousel, which will continue to spin, regardless of who is onboard.

To compare, the average tenure of current coaches in the Missouri Valley entering the 2009-10 season is 4.00 years. This number is skewed on both sides; Creighton’s Dana Altman and Bradley’s Jim Les represent 22 of those 40 years, but six of the ten league schools picked a new leader in the two seasons prior to this one. The four-year average tenure is longer than that of the Big 12 and Pac-10, as well as many other conferences. Movement happens all over the country, not just in our backyards.

Success of a head coach is often unfairly measured in wins and losses. Under this criterion, Ford is a marginal coach, at best. He sports a 213-158 career record, including 93-86 in conference play. His peripheral numbers aren't impressive.

What Ford should be recognized for is his ability to lead and instill confidence and hope into young men. He has the natural ability to get the most out of his players, and has established himself as one of the nation's top recruiting coaches. Jumping from school to school is commonplace, and Ford's standing amongst the country's best young coaches shouldn't be smudged by his past. He took over the Oklahoma State program and led them to the second round of the NCAA Tournament in his first season.

Oklahoma State has their guy… a coach they believe can return the program to national prominence. Now let's see how long he sticks around…

Game Preview:

High-performance. That's the best way to describe Oklahoma State in their first four games. The 4-0 Cowboys are averaging 85.2 points this season, and are shooting 47.1% from the floor. True, they have played all four games at home against teams that would have trouble against my Peacock Junior High championship team of 1992, but no foe can be taken lightly.

Potential All-American James Anderson is off to a torrid start, posting averages of 23.0 points and 9.0 rebounds per game, and widebody junior Marshall Moses has grabbed 43 rebounds in the four contests this season. 5'9" sophomore Keiton Page has been the Cowboys' only three-point threat thus far, hitting 12-29 from distance, including six in his last game.

The Cowboys rank eighth in the country by hitting 57.1% of their two-point field goal attempts, so Bradley will have to force Oklahoma State to either take bad shots or beat the Braves from the perimeter.

Oklahoma State primarily uses an eight-man rotation, and starts a small, quick lineup. The Cowboys have allowed 33 offensive rebounds against four weak opponents, so the opportunity could be there for Taylor Brown or Will Egolf to clean the offensive glass.

Last time out:

Bradley defeated Presbyterian College 71-58 behind 19 points and 10 rebounds from Brown.

Oklahoma State downed Prairie View A&M 80-58, led by Page with 22 points on 6-10 shooting from three-point distance. Matt Pilgrim registered 15 points and 12 rebounds in 15 minutes off the bench.

Projected Starting Lineups:

Oklahoma State Cowboys
G – Ray Penn – 5’9”
G – Keiton Page – 5’9”
G – Obi Muonelo – 6’5”
G – James Anderson – 6’6”
F – Marshall Moses – 6’7”

Bradley Braves
G – Eddren McCain – 5’11”
G – Sam Maniscalco – 6’0”
F – Andrew Warren – 6’5”
F – Taylor Brown – 6’6”
C – Will Egolf – 6’9”

Prediction:

Anderson is the best player in this game, and one of the select few in the Big 12 that can single-handedly control a game. Look for Chris Roberts to see an expanded role in this game in an attempt to slow Anderson down. Bradley coach Jim Les will likely stick Warren or Roberts (or both) on Anderson to keep Taylor Brown fresh to rebound. Page can beat you from the outside, but the Braves match up well against the rest of the contributors for the Cowboys. It will be closer than the score indicates, but the Cowboys will end up on top, 78-65. Book it!

It was pointed out to me that exhibition games shouldn't count in the Book it! records, so my Book it! regular season record: 4-0.

For official game notes, visit the award-winning BradleyBraves.com!

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