So much of college basketball's preseason centers around the talk of the players and the teams that are expected to have a successful season. Luke Winn has even developed his own formula for determining who will have a breakout year. But rarely do we go back at the end of the year and take a look at who failed to live up to those expectations.
There is a valid argument to be made that the 2011-2012 Pac-12 was the worst power conference ever.
One day last month Al Scates, the UCLA volleyball coach, was sitting in his den rhapsodizing about a favorite subject: his national championship rings. "I rotate them depending on how I feel," said Scates, 71. From a drawer in his cluttered desk -- a Coltrane CD, photos of a golf trip to Scotland -- he pulled out a pair. "This one, the 2000, is a little big, so it's good for flying, when my finger swells." He strolled to his bookcase, where rings lined up on a shelf, a glittering history of his 50 years as the Bruins' coach. "Look at '72," he said, plucking it from a velvet case. "It's so small now, it makes a nice pinkie ring."
Wednesday was so much more than just the first day of college basketball's spring signing period. With the nation's top two recruits -- Shabazz Muhammad and Nerlens Noel -- announcing where they intend to spend their likely one-and-done seasons, every 2012-13 projection hung in the balance. Muhammad surprised no one by committing to and signing with UCLA, while Noel kept Georgetown and Kentucky fans waiting before revealing a 'UK' symbol shaved into the back of his trademark flat-top.
Wednesday was quite a day for Shabazz Muhammad. After being named the No. 1 recruit in the final Rivals150 rankings for the class of 2012, the 6-foot-6 senior forward from Las Vegas (Nev.) Bishop Gorman made his much-anticipated college decision. Muhammad committed to UCLA over finalists Kentucky and Duke.
Here's a quick roundup of Saturday's slate of college hoops:
This story appears in the March 5, 2012 issue of Sports Illustrated. Buy the digital version of the magazine here.
A few thoughts on Saturday's crop of college hoops:
Proponents of college football's current system harp repeatedly that having a postseason playoff would devalue the regular season. They have a point. Really, how can you get excited about games that don't have do-or-die consequences (*cough* brand message trumping reality *cough*)? Those 27 million people who pay to watch college basketball in person every year before conference and postseason tournaments? Idiots, clearly.
NASSAU, The Bahamas -- Blowing past defenders is Ryan Boatright's specialty, but the one opponent he couldn't get around was uncertainty.
Walt Hazzard, the dazzling point guard who led UCLA to its first NCAA basketball title and starred in high school, the NBA and the Olympics, died after a long illness, according to the UCLA Bruins' website.
With the impact non-BCS teams have made on the last few NCAA tournaments -- four Final Four teams in the past six years -- there's no denying the level of talent that has landed on teams outside the football majors. This season is no different and you could very easily see a team (or two) from this list pop up in New Orleans. Here's a quick primer to make you a truly national fan of the college game:
The first season of the expanded 12-team league should be wild. Any of five teams can realistically win the title and how a number of young players and transfers develop will have a large say in who eventually take the crown. It's tempting to say there's no elite team in the league this season, but most would have said that last year, too, before Derrick Williams exploded.
Since the summer evaluation period closed on July 31, no team pulled off a bigger recruiting coup than Connecticut. The defending national champs convinced the No. 1-ranked center in the Class of 2012, Andre Drummond, to not only commit to the Huskies but reclassify to the Class of 2011. And despite having no available scholarships due to NCAA-imposed penalties, the school managed to free up a full ride for him by getting redshirt freshman Michael Bradley, who spent most of his youth in a Tennessee orphanage, to "volunteer" to give up his scholarship for one season. UConn's maneuvering was at once deft and diabolical, and Drummond will be a key part of its bid for a repeat national championship.
SI.com asked several current and retired SI writers to offer reflections on the best team they ever covered as sports journalists. Here's Joe Jares on the 1968 UCLA men's basketball team:
Sweet 16 stories in the SI Vault
TAMPA, Fla. -- By weight, UCLA center Josh Smith -- who said Friday that his most recent glance at the scale showed 323 pounds -- is 1.89 Erving Walkers. Walker, Florida's junior guard, is listed at 5-foot-8. That makes Walker 1.21 feet shorter than Smith.
Since Duke was the latest team to lose its No. 1 ranking, it's only fitting that we begin this week's mailbag with a pair of e-mails from Blue Devil Nation, one searching for hope, the other expressing concern.
Change will be evident from start to finish during the 2011 college baseball season, beginning with the bats. NCAA-mandated restrictions have removed the ping and the pop from them, to the point that coaches are predicting lower scores and shorter games as pitchers dominate the hitters. The road to the national championship still leads to Omaha, Neb., but it detours downtown, where TD Ameritrade Park, built at a cost of $128 million, has replaced historic Rosenblatt Stadium. Expect to see some familiar faces during opening ceremonies of the College World Series, however. Half of the teams in the top 10 here reached Omaha last year.
Steve Lavin stories in the SI Vault
The University of Connecticut women's team lost to Stanford 71 to 59 on Thursday night, ending its record-setting run for consecutive college basketball wins at 90.
The University of Connecticut women's team set a new college record for consecutive basketball wins Tuesday night, breaking the mark of 88 games set by the University of California-Los Angeles men's team.
Before the back-to-back national championships, before the comparisons to the UCLA men's basketball teams, and long before the gender debate over how to view a college basketball winning streak, there was MaChelle Joseph and her scrappy young team from Georgia Tech.
Geno Auriemma is an entertaining guy. The brash, amusing UConn coach has been great for women's basketball.
In October 2009, the NCAA's Division I Board of Directors approved recommendations for a set of new rules governing recruiting in men's basketball. As part of those reforms, the board made clear that if a coach or school violated them, the board would "[e]ndorse and strongly encourage the use of suspensions of a head men's basketball and/or assistant men's basketball coach by the enforcement staff, in the case of secondary infractions, or the NCAA Division I Committee on Infractions, in the case of secondary or major infractions, from coaching in NCAA tournament games or regular season games."
Good news, Hoopheads. It's time once again for America's favorite sophomoric exercise.
Player of the Year: Derrick Williams, Arizona
Russell Westbrook is not just another player on another team trying to prove itself. He's a leader of a team trying to prove itself, and the pressure is on him this season to lift the Thunder to even greater heights than last season.
Back in the 2008 offseason, I tested out a statistical method of identifying breakout sophomores. It was based on a Basketball Prospectus study of players' possession usage over their first three seasons. BP concluded that freshmen who act like role players -- by using a low percentage of their team's possessions while on the floor -- are unlikely to ever grow into go-to guys. While playing time often changes between years 1-2 or 1-3, the data showed that a player's offensive mentality tends to stay largely the same.
A year ago, Drew Gordon was a primary building block at UCLA, while Tennessee's Emmanuel Negedu was still two months away from suffering cardiac arrest that nearly killed him.
Looking for signs of life in Pac-10 basketball? Good luck. A few months away from its final season as the 10-team entity we've known for years, the conference is dormant.
John Wooden stories from the SI Vault
Related stories for July 14, 2010 issue
Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we creep within two months of the Bengals and Cowboys kicking off the NFL's 2010 preseason in the Aug. 8 Hall of Fame Game in Canton...
He was known as the Wizard of Westwood, the architect of a dynasty at UCLA that will never be equaled. But John Wooden leaves behind a legacy much larger than victories on a basketball court.
SI looks back at nearly 50 years covering the Wizard of Westwood.
If death had granted him a moment's reprieve to convey the sentiment, John Wooden would have declared his passing on June 4, 2010, at age 99, as a joyous transit. After the loss of his wife of 53 years, Nell, in March of 1985, the old UCLA coach came to regard life as essentially time to bide until he might be with her again. He had encamped with Nell at the Final Four, first as a conquering coach and then as a conventioneering one; but without her he couldn't bring himself even to go. For his first years as a widower Wooden slept atop the covers of their bed so as not to have to slip beneath them alone.
NEW YORK (SI.com) -- Former UCLA men's basketball coach John Wooden was being treated Thursday at UCLA Medical Center, according to a broadcast report.
NEW YORK -- Looking cheerful and spry while clutching a cell phone in his left hand, Steve Lavin stepped on to the patio at the Hudson Hotel last week on a balmy spring night in midtown Manhattan. As he plunked into a chair and ordered a drink, he greeted the waitress like a lifelong pal. "Hey Rachel, how ya doin'?" he asked. Lavin engaged her for a few minutes about her schooling -- she's studying interior design -- and then offered me a sheepish smile. "I've been here so long that everyone is like family," he said. "We had the interview here and I never left."
The final bit of news from college basketball's late signing period came out of Portland, Ore., on Wednesday night, when five-star forward Terrence Jones stunningly signed a financial aid agreement to play for Kentucky -- despite the fact that he "committed" to Washington in a press conference 20 days earlier. In the world of recruiting, the definition of commitment is always being adjusted to include more gray area.
The cover of Sports Illustrated's Jan. 18 issue showed Alabama running back Mark Ingram scoring a touchdown in his team's national championship victory over Texas accompanied by the headline: "DYNASTY."
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