SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The idea, of course, is for NBA teams to get a look at the draft prospect.
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.
Let the NBA draft risk assessment continue.
How far will a college go to win the NCAA tournament? And why do so few athletes graduate from college?
The University of Connecticut men's basketball team cannot compete for next year's national championship after the NCAA denied the school's appeal of a postseason ban based on its athletes' academic performance.
With the NCAA tournament wrapped, we have almost three weeks until we know precisely who is going to the NBA and who is returning to school. Another couple of weeks after that, and we should have a final tally of which recruits are going to which schools.
The 2012 NCAA tournament is finally here, and with it the endless speculation that accompanies each bracket. The 68-team field has been dissected from every angle, and the hunger for information is insatiable. Can Kentucky defend its top overall ranking? Can UNC recover from an injury to John Henson?
Is your brain scrambled from trying to decipher all those names and all those seeds and all those brackets? Fear not. Your resident Hoop Thinker has arrived in the nick of time. Let's take a spin through the four regions and see what comes to mind.
I used to consider myself a reasonably qualified expert at filling out NCAA brackets. While I rarely won an office pool (only your co-worker's buddy's nephew is allowed to win the office pool), I usually held my own, particularly in identifying early-round upsets. It wasn't a case of in-depth knowledge about the actual participants as much as applying lessons learned from previous tournaments. I favored teams that won big nonconference games and finished strong. I shied away from wildly inconsistent clubs. I looked for unsung mid-majors heavy on seniors or blessed with capable big men. You wouldn't want take my picks to Vegas, but you would be surprised just how many purported stunners I saw coming.
Here are a few thoughts from Saturday's slate of college hoops:
During its 69-63 victory at Vanderbilt last Saturday, top-ranked Kentucky sank the Commodores behind a game-ending 8-0 run. Doron Lamb connected on a pivotal three-pointer from the left corner, and Darius Miller converted a crafty layup in traffic to clinch the win. The Wildcats improved to 25-1, thanks in large part to double-digit scoring efforts from Lamb, Marquis Teague and Terrence Jones.
Today is a landmark day at the University of Connecticut, where the school's president, Susan Herbst, announced that she has hired a new athletic director. He is Warde Manuel, a 43-year-old former football player at the University of Michigan who spent the last six years serving as the AD at the University of Buffalo. Manuel replaces not only Jeff Hathaway, who was forced out of the position last summer, but also Paul Pendergast, who had served as an interim AD while Herbst conducted her search.
A few thoughts on Saturday's crop of college hoops:
When word spread Friday afternoon that Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun was taking an immediate leave of absence -- his fifth while in charge of the Huskies -- it prompted immediate thoughts of a conversation with Calhoun from last season. Not one of the several about Kemba Walker's brilliance or his team's shocking stampede through March, but a longer sit-down in the coaches' locker room at Gampel Pavilion on the eve of the campaign's first scrimmage.
WASHINGTON -- UConn has as much talent on its roster as any team in the country. On paper, the Huskies are as good as anyone this side of Kentucky and North Carolina, which is what makes its recent slide so surprising. After an ugly 58-44 loss to Georgetown on Wednesday night, the defending national champions fell to 14-7 overall and 4-5 in Big East play.
As college basketball teams across the country ready themselves for the stretch run, a certain reality is beginning to set in:
A few thoughts on Saturday's crop of college hoops:
This is the time of year when you start seeing a lot of RPI numbers being thrown around. It can be hard to figure out which ones are worth paying attention to. Not to worry. Your resident Hoop Thinker is here to help.
Here's a roundup of Saturday's upset-laden day of college basketball:
Andre Drummond is a very young man on a very young team, but the big freshman displayed a maturity beyond his years as UConn locked down a 64-57 home win over West Virginia. The 6'10" rookie has been a defensive force for the Huskies ever since he first set foot on the hardwood in Storrs, averaging 2.6 blocked shots per game, but he played his best offensive game of the nascent Big East season as UConn scrabbled to recover from a five-point halftime deficit.
You can feel it, can't you? A new year. A new belief. A new chance for your team to be this year's VCU, or this year's UConn, or this year's ... well, your team.
STORRS, Conn. -- A week's worth of national media attention led up to last Thursday night's game at Gampel Pavilion. ESPN2 was in the house and there was big-game buzz in the air. Yet, aside from the 10,000 or so UConn loyalists in attendance, mostly everyone else around the land was checking out the opponent: Harvard. Yes, an Ivy League school was the headliner against the defending national champs.
STORRS, Conn. -- Nationally ranked for the first time in program history, the Harvard Crimson fell 67-53 to UConn Thursday night. Here are three quick thoughts off the landmark night:
NASSAU, The Bahamas -- Blowing past defenders is Ryan Boatright's specialty, but the one opponent he couldn't get around was uncertainty.
It's an old cliché, but it happens to be true: The best thing about freshmen is they become sophomores.
Sports Illustrated will announce its choice for Sportsman of the Year on Dec. 5. Here's one of the nominations for that honor by an SI writer.
In the weeks leading up to the 2010-11 season, one of the preview pieces I worked on was a list of the game's 16 biggest "Impact Defenders." Some of the rankings were based on my opinion from watching the previous year's games, some were based on input I solicited from scouts and coaches, and some were based on tempo-free statistics for rebounds, blocks and steals. It was a fun list to compile, and Florida State's Chris Singleton was my choice at No. 1, but the level of subjectivity bothered me.
In preparation for the 2011-12 college hoops season, SI.com breaks down the best of the best in each of the six major conferences. Seth Davis serves up his picks for Player of the Year, breakout candidate and more for the Big East.
Zen Hoop Thought: If someone realizes how immature he is, does that not make him uncommonly mature?
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.
MANHATTAN, Kan. -- After Kansas State's players had finally climbed down from the scorer's table, and the court at Bramlage Coliseum had been cleared of the purple mob, and a panel of Wildcats had answered question upon question about just how, exactly, they ended No. 2 Kansas' 20-0 start, Bill Walker concluded Wednesday evening's festivities with a inquiry of his own:
On Friday evening, Hurricane Irene was bearing down on the East Coast, hours from making landfall in North Carolina. The panicked, wall-to-wall TV coverage of the storm left little room for other stories; from a p.r. standpoint, it was a poor time to release any unrelated, positive news into the world, if you wanted anyone to pay attention. It was fitting, then, that Andre Drummond of New London, Conn., the No. 2-ranked player in the Class of 2012, who for years had avoided the recruiting-circuit spotlight by pretty much not talking at all about his college recruitment, chose this moment to pick up his iPhone and send a stunning tweet. "Husky fam," the 6-foot-11, 270-pound center wrote, meaning UConn fans, "welcome me cause I'm coming this year!!"
Not everybody groans when another top NBA draft prospect decides to return to school.
Ten days have elapsed since a forgettable national championship game, providing ample time to move on to offseason matters, but I've been nagged by a question: Did UConn actually play phenomenal defense in holding Butler to 41 points on 18.8 percent shooting, or was Butler just awful?
One of the beauties of Twitter is its role as facilitator of instant bar-stool chatter. In this case, one of my followers (@JaredKraus) posed a very interesting question in the wake of Connecticut's incredible run to the national title: Was it the best postseason run ever?
Related Galleries for the April 11, 2011 issue
UConn Men's Basketball stories in the SI Vault
Fans celebrate after UConn defeats Butler to win the NCAA's men's basketball national championship.
HOUSTON -- Jim Calhoun knew better than to answer the burning question in a swirl of confetti Monday night. "The worst time to make a decision about any kind of coaching situation," Calhoun said, "is to do it in the great emotion of great things happening to you."
HOUSTON -- The ball is in the air again for Butler as the final seconds tick away in a championship game. Only, of course, nothing is the same at all. A year ago, the ball was in the air -- Butler's Gordon Hayward had pushed the basketball toward the basket from 45 feet away in the desperate last second -- and the ball seemed to stay suspended for way too long, like a balloon slowly losing its helium. If the ball bounced away, like long shots mostly do, Duke would win a great game and become national champion. But if it went in (and it looked like it might go in!), Butler would beat Duke in perhaps the most thrilling college game ever played.
HOUSTON -- The visions came to Kemba Walker at some point during his historic comet-ride through college basketball's postseason. The Connecticut guard can't remember when they began, but he knows that by the time the Huskies arrived in Houston for the Final Four, he couldn't close his eyes without seeing them. Walker's mind had crafted a hoops fantasy slideshow. A ladder. Scissors. A net. His teammates standing on a stage, smiling and singing along to One Shining Moment.
HOUSTON -- Do not expect, in 35 years, to click on some future version of YouTube and find a clip titled "Brad Stevens likes the F-word" that features the coach verbally undressing a reporter who asked a somewhat silly question about a recruit who got away. If you'd like to see something like that now, simply insert that phrase into Google and replace "Brad Stevens" with "Jim Calhoun."
HOUSTON -- We can all agree those were two very competitive games played at the Final Four on Saturday night. But let's be honest: They were not particularly well-played. Three of the four teams shot less than 40 percent from the field. The four made a combined 26 out of 84 three-point attempts, a rate of 31 percent. The two losing teams combined to shoot 48 percent from the foul line, yet both were still in position to win in the closing minutes.
HOUSTON -- As officials huddled late Saturday to determine how many ticks should remain on the clock when Connecticut guard Shabazz Napier stepped to the free-throw line, Napier scanned the crowd. He sought his mother, Carmen Velasquez. Napier found her, but seeing his favorite member of the NCAA Tournament-record crowd of 75,421 didn't offer much reassurance.
If there was ever a perilous time to be a professional prognosticator, this is it. In case you haven't noticed, we so-called experts have been turned on our heads during this unforgettable NCAA tournament. You might say we've been Shaka'd. That might not be great for us, but it sure is great for the sport. All season long the rule in college hoops has been to expect the unexpected. So nobody should be surprised that our picks have been so wrong so often. Of course, we like it when our picks turn out to be correct, but isn't being wrong half the fun? (That's called rationalizing. I've gotten good at it.)
Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams and Harrison Barnes are all considering their NBA futures, whether in the draft this June or in 2012. They are the top American prospects and yet, despite their promising pro careers, all three are envious of Kemba Walker, Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones, who enter the closing weekend in Houston with more college basketball to play.
When the run finally ends, when Connecticut guard Kemba Walker either walks off the Reliant Stadium floor in defeat or clips a net as a national champion, basketball historians will have to dig deep to find a better postseason by a college player. When the Huskies face Kentucky in Saturday's national semifinal, they'll play their 10th consecutive single-elimination game. They haven't lost yet, thanks mostly to the 6-foot-1 guard from The Bronx who doesn't believe a shot exists that he can't make.
My hometown of Boston is not a mecca of college basketball. Here in the Hub we dig the pro game. The Celtics put the NBA on the map, winning 11 championships in 13 seasons in the 1950s and 60s. We've celebrated Auerbach, Cousy, Russell, Havlicek, Bird, Parish and McHale.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Shortly after Connecticut's stars were hustled out of the locker room for their podium interviews Saturday night, the rest of the Huskies huddled around a flatscreen at the front of the room. On the screen, a local TV hairdo broke down the most thrilling moment of their lives.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Connecticut guard Donnell Beverly saw his roommate bouncing around this past Sunday and wondered if fatigue would find Kemba Walker. After all, Walker had just carried the Huskies to seven postseason wins in 11 days. Did he ever get tired? "Man," Walker said as the pair watched the Texas-Arizona game, "I wish I was on the court right now."
If this week is anything like last week, then we are one lucky group of Hoopheads. The first three rounds were chock-full of great performances, exciting finishes and all kinds of crazy plays. Last week I predicted we'd see the kind of surprising results we've come to expect from this season. This week, however, I peered into my crystal ball and envisioned a return to form. Here's how it will all play out.
NEW YORK -- To hear Kemba Walker tell it, he knew exactly how the last 18 seconds against Pittsburgh would play out before he even left the Connecticut bench.
Notre Dame found itself in a tight spot last Saturday in Storrs, Conn. The team's best player and leading scorer, Ben Hansbrough, had thrown a foolish elbow and fouled out with 8:24 remaining. UConn responded with a 13-0 burst that gave the Huskies a five-point lead with just over four minutes left. After the Fighting Irish called timeout, the home crowd stood and cheered in anticipation of what seemed to be an inevitable win.
NEW YORK -- Each time Kemba Walker stepped to the free-throw line during the first half of Wednesday's Big East tournament game against Georgetown, a pocket of red-clad St. John's students behind the basket greeted him with the taunt "Hardy's better." With all due respect to Red Storm star Dwight Hardy -- no, he's not.
According to this week's AP and Coaches polls, as well as the RPI ratings, Connecticut (21-9) is one of the nation's Top 25 teams. According to the latest bracket projections, the Huskies are in line for a No. 5 seed in next week's NCAA tournament, putting them near the top quartile of the 68-team field.
The hard work is done. The fun stuff is about to begin. So as we bid adieu to the 2010-11 regular season, your resident Hoop Thinker is ready to bestow the major year-end awards in each of the Big Six conferences. Herewith:
I wish I could just write about seeds and bubble teams today, but last week's headlines preclude it. At the very time of year when the world finally turns its sights to college hoops, our beloved sport suffered twin black eyes with the revelations regarding NCAA investigations at UConn and Tennessee. There seems to be a lot of confusion about these two cases -- what happened, how they're related, and where both schools go from here. Here are answers to the main questions last week's events raised:
The University of Connecticut men's basketball program will be penalized for recruitment violations, including a suspension for head coach Jim Calhoun, the NCAA announced Tuesday.
Of all the major season-ending awards, coach of the year is the hardest to define. Most people seem to believe the coach of the year should be based on a one-year evaluation period where the main criterion is exceeding preseason expectations. But to me, there should be a lot more to it than making a bunch of poll voters look dumb. If that's the most important measurement, half the coaches in Division I should get a trophy.
HARTFORD, Conn. -- The circus is scheduled to arrive at the XL Center on May 4, but with Bruce Pearl back for a one-game respite from his half-the-SEC-season suspension, there was the potential that this afternoon would provide a fair proxy.
STORRS, Conn. -- In the hallway outside UConn's locker room, after a hard-fought, last-second 61-59 win over Villanova, Jim Calhoun was asked, in numerous ways and levels of subtlety, if his team -- picked 10th in the Big East preseason poll -- is overachieving.
The holidays may be over, but that doesn't mean you have to stop unwrapping presents. And there's no better way to ring in the New Year than by reading the annual Hoop Thoughts Stock Report. Who's headed up? Who's headed down? Everything you need to know about where (and where not) to invest is right here.
PITTSBURGH -- Five things we learned from No. 6 Pittsburgh's 78-63 win over No. 4 Connecticut on Monday night:
College basketball seasons may not fit squarely into one calendar year, but that doesn't mean 2010 didn't feature more than its fair share of compelling storylines. Here are the top 10:
Because he was in such demand by the media, Kemba Walker was the last man to board the UConn bus following the Huskies' 84-67 win over Kentucky in the championship game of last week's Maui Invitational. Walker scored 90 points in the Huskies' three wins, which included a semifinal upset of then-No. 2 Michigan State, making him the easy choice for tournament MVP. But for all the cheers he heard inside the Lahaina Civic Center, the best ovation was yet to come.
STORRS, Conn. -- UConn point guard Kemba Walker, the undisputed leader of this year's youthful Huskies, sat in the team's weight room answering questions after their uneven exhibition-game performance against American International College. Each response was delivered in upbeat, politically safe tones -- until one reporter asked whether the Big East media poll, in which the Huskies were picked 10th, had gotten anyone's attention.
STORRS, Conn. -- After his team's shootaround before last Wednesday's exhibition opener, Jim Calhoun slowly ambled off the Gampel Pavilion court, headed down a corridor and stopped in front of the locked door to the UConn coaches' room. A sign to the right of the door identified it as "The Bunker."
Last season, after I ranked the most difficult nonconference schedules, the teams at Nos. 1 and 3 (North Carolina and Texas) imploded, while the teams at Nos. 2, 6 and 7 (Michigan State, Duke and West Virginia) made the Final Four. The lesson, I suppose, is that a tough schedule is a good and vital thing -- but only if you have the right personnel to endure it.
Friday was a really bad day for UConn basketball. But here's the really, really bad part:
Whenever I run in to my fellow hoopheads on the street, they tend to ask me the same few questions. The most common are:
In case you haven't noticed, the calendar has officially turned to February. This is the time of year when teams should be fine-tuning their engines -- change the oil, replace the spark plugs, that sort of thing -- in preparation for the long stretch run.
While UConn practiced on Tuesday afternoon in Storrs, Jim Calhoun was at home, serving the first day of his medical leave of absence. His doctor had recommended that the 67-year-old Hall of Fame coach "address some temporary medical issues" -- issues that are not a cardiac problem or cancer, according to a UConn spokesman. Calhoun is a three-time cancer survivor who has also dealt with lesser health problems: He missed UConn's first-round NCAA Tournament game last March after being hospitalized due to dehydration, and this summer, broke several ribs (and later fainted) in a charity bike-race accident. So while Tuesday's news about his health was breaking, it was not, in any way, out of the ordinary.
It's a new year, a new decade and a new season in college basketball.
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