Tuesday, February 9, 2010
Updated: February 10, 10:20 AM ET
Quick hitters from around the country
Quick hitters from the road while avoiding a pending blizzard:
• Kansas doesn't play or act like it feels the pressure of being the favorite. The Jayhawks are quite relaxed in their demeanor and handle road situations without pause. There really is no attitude around this crew, either. Kentucky has the Hollywood, star-attraction aura because of the intense interest from the fans and statewide media, which watch its every move. Within the commonwealth, Louisville has fans in its own city but not all that many beyond that. There just doesn't seem to be any first-class status with Kansas this season. Maybe that's coach Bill Self's approachable personality or the way the team is marketed by its handlers. I've covered countless elite, highly ranked teams in the past two decades, and I'm not sure I've come across a team that puts off as much of a pedestrian persona as this one.
• I was wrong about Texas. I thought the depth of talent would be a plus, not a negative. Clearly, losing Varez Ward to a freak quad injury in November hurt this team. Ward wasn't as much of an offensive liability as Dogus Balbay or Justin Mason, and his defense would have helped on the perimeter. You can tell how much Damion James wants to win, but he can't do it alone. Dexter Pittman has been a major disappointment in the Big 12 with his inability to produce in the post. The inconsistencies of freshmen J'Covan Brown and Jordan Hamilton have stunted the growth of the team. And, as is almost always the case, when a player transfers there is a good reason. Jai Lucas was not a major hit at Florida and clearly hasn't found a way to be successful yet at Texas.
• Who had Marcus Morris as the key to the Jayhawks being a title team? Anyone? If you did, let's see your bracket in March.
• Cannot say enough about what a win Villanova had over West Virginia on Monday night in Morgantown. The Wildcats were ripe to be taken down a peg after getting blown out at Georgetown and then slugging through the snow to get to West Virginia to play a team that was amped to climb into the Big East title race with Syracuse. If there were doubts whether Nova could get to the Final Four -- and I had some -- that win erased them. Kansas at Texas was supposed to be the game of the season. The next game to earn that distinction is the one between Villanova and Syracuse on Feb. 27 at the Carrier Dome.
• Siena continued to roll through the MAAC with a win over an injury-riddled Fairfield on Monday. The Saints, with the nation's longest winning streak (15), have become like Butler in the Horizon and Gonzaga in the WCC -- a team that has crossed over into being a dominant presence in its particular league. The key for the Saints has been keeping Fran McCaffery in Loudonville like Gonzaga has with Mark Few and Butler has with Brad Stevens. If one of the Big East, New York-area jobs opens (St. John's? Rutgers?) and McCaffery is approached, what will he do? The Saints have been successful with previous coaches like Louis Orr and Paul Hewitt, but they're in a groove now that might be hard to duplicate without McCaffery.
• If one of those Big East jobs does open up, Rhode Island's Jim Baron has to be considered as well. He might not want to go now that he is finally about to eclipse the NCAA tourney hurdle with the Rams for the first time in a decade, but it's hard to find another rebuilder like Baron who loves being in the trenches.
• Fairfield coach Ed Cooley is in my top five friendliest coaches to everyone in the game. I've been to Boston College (where he once coached) and Connecticut games where he has appeared in the stands. He loves to be around the game, and everyone who sees him is pulled in by his infectious smile, gregarious personality and enthusiastic spirit.
• Oregon got crushed by Oregon State on Saturday, which begs a few questions. Oregon coach Ernie Kent has had nine lives with the Ducks, but the university should make a move only if it knows it can get someone it truly covets (i.e., the annual attempt to lure Few back home). If not, Kent's young squad should be much more of a force in the Pac-10 in 2010-11 when Oregon moves into new digs. The other question is, if Oregon State can finally play as well as it did against the Ducks, does that mean the Beavers could be a tough out in the second half of the Pac-10 season? Why not? The Beavers have the potential to be a Pac-10 tourney final team if they play up to their capabilities in moving the ball, passing from the top with precision and exhibiting patience.
• If you've never had a chance to catch a game in the sweatbox of Mac Court, you've missed a true hidden gem. The Ducks' home will be gone after this season, and it never got its due. The stands go straight up, the noise level can be deafening and, when there is precipitation outside, there is perspiration inside. I don't doubt that Oregon (with Nike's help) will put together a state-of-the-art facility for the Ducks, but in college basketball terms, Mac Court should go down as a historical site.
• I won't be surprised if the NCAA doesn't opt out of its current CBS contract, since a number of conference commissioners like the money they know is coming in the next three years. But a new television partner in 2014 is probable with some sort of expansion. I think you'll see it be incremental, say with 68 teams before a major change. Of course, I could be totally wrong, if the NCAA pushes through the idea that it already has 97 teams in the postseason (since it runs the 32-team NIT). The NIT television contract ends after this season, so that is still a curveball in these discussions. The NCAA could always do a bridge deal with the NIT and ESPN again to get it through the next round of negotiations for television partners in 2014 and beyond.
• My colleague Pat Forde made some compelling arguments for Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim to be named national coach of the year. The more the season plays out, the more it appears he should be the front-runner, with Kentucky's John Calipari on his tail. Wisconsin's Bo Ryan should win the honor in the Big Ten and Virginia's Tony Bennett in the ACC, providing there isn't a complete collapse. Texas A&M's Mark Turgeon is my front-runner in the Big 12 for keeping the Aggies in the top four of the conference without Derrick Roland (freakish broken leg in late December at Washington). New Mexico's Steve Alford has to be the leader in the MWC (although BYU's Dave Rose can't get enough awards for his courageous battle against pancreatic cancer). The most competitive race for the coach of the year honor in a conference will play out in two conferences -- the A-10 and the Pac-10. Baron, Charlotte's Bobby Lutz, Xavier's Chris Mack and Temple's Fran Dunphy should all be considered (I always thought Richmond and Dayton would be near the top). Meanwhile, the Pac-10 race for coach of the year is as muddled as the search for a champ. Arizona's Sean Miller, Arizona State's Herb Sendek, Washington State's Ken Bone and USC's Kevin O'Neill, who has kept the Trojans in the chase for the title despite a postseason ban, all have legitimate claims to be considered.
• Kentucky got much-needed praise for the "Hoops for Haiti" telethon that generated $1 million in relief aid. But Duke should be applauded as well for keeping Haiti's plight in the limelight and on television by wearing bright yellow patches on its uniforms.
• I still haven't found one NBA scout, general manager or player personnel director who will tell me they will take anyone other than Kentucky's John Wall No. 1 in the draft, assuming he declares. Ohio State's Evan Turner might win the national player of the year award, but he won't supplant Wall as the top pick. Even if a team like Utah, which has Deron Williams as its lead guard, were to get the top pick (it holds New York's unprotected pick), the Jazz would take Wall.
• I'm not sure I've seen Eddie or Sean Sutton look as well rested and relaxed as I did Monday night in Austin. The two Suttons were at ease mingling through the media room after the Kansas-Texas game. Eddie had a deep tan but was still formal in a sport coat and tie. Sean looked quite dapper in comfortable, stylish clothing. The former Oklahoma State coaches continue to be looked upon quite fondly in the Big 12. Nine years after 10 members of the Oklahoma State traveling party were killed returning from Colorado, Eddie still wears his "10" pin on his lapel. He will never forget.