The Daily Word: Feb. 28-March 4
More Daily Words: Feb. 21-Feb. 25
Friday, March 4
Temple coach John Chaney will not be in attendance at Saturday's senior day against LaSalle, according to the Owls' spokesperson.
The suspended Hall of Fame coach has been at practice every day and in constant contact with the team, but games are off-limits.
Chaney will miss the ceremony for former walk-on Wilbur Allen. Chaney gets attached to his players and even though there is only one senior, he apparently is upset that he won't be able to share in Allen's final home game.
Temple officials contend that any decision about Chaney's status for a possible NIT or NCAA game is still not known, in large part because it hasn't been discussed.
The coaching staff does expect Chaney to return to the bench if and when the Owls are in the postseason.
We didn't get into our national coach of the year awards on the Web site, but there are a few worth handing out this season.
National coaches of the year: Illinois' Bruce Weber and Boston College's Al Skinner. Weber is on the verge of coaching the Illini to an undefeated regular season and a potential No. 1 seed.
The Illini played a strong schedule, going against Wake Forest, Gonzaga, Cincinnati, Georgetown, Arkansas and everyone in the Big Ten. Going undefeated and dealing with everyone's best shot, every game, has to be one of the toughest things to do in this sport. Weber has the players loose, yet dogged in their determination to continue this remarkable run.
He has handled the media circus with ease and doesn't seem to be feeling any of the heat for a coach who wasn't used to being in the spotlight.
Skinner is one of the most easy-going coaches you'll find. His style works perfectly with this group. He's one of the most passionate competitors you'll meet, but he chooses to exhibit it in more of a reserved manner. Skinner maximizes the talent of his players about as well as any coach in the country.
The Eagles were a possession away from beating Georgia Tech in the second round last season. They lost Uka Agbai but replaced him with Sean Williams. Skinner has done a masterful job getting senior Jermaine Watson to accept his role over the past three years and he knows how to use his personnel like no other, ensuring that Jared Dudley and Craig Smith get the most out of their ability.
The Eagles are on the verge of clinching the Big East title Saturday (or at the very least a share) in large part because the BC staff found the hidden gems around the country, tapped their inner drive and ensured that they maintained the confidence to win that Skinner exudes every day.
Best turnaround: Dan Monson, Minnesota
I remember sitting with the Minnesota staff over the summer and going over the Big Ten and wondering where they would finish. They were confident, but also realistic at the time that it might take a few more years.
Monson never lost faith that he could reach the Gophers and get this program turned around. He wasn't under any heat from the administration, just an anxious media.
Everyone should chill now that Monson coached the Gophers to a 10-6 Big Ten record.
Minnesota was 3-13 in the league last season and that was WITH first-round draft pick Kris Humphries. The Gophers reinvented themselves, especially after losing guard Adam Boone for the year with an injury prior to the season. Monson should plant roots in the Twin Cities because he's proving he could be there for some time.
Remarkable run: Dick Bennett, Washington State
Bennett continues to stun those who question whether or not he could get it done at Washington State. The Cougars aren't going to the postseason but they have become one of the tougher outs in the Pac-10 the past two seasons.
The Cougars are coming off another stunning win, a road victory over Stanford Thursday night. Earlier, Washington State beat Arizona in Tucson for one of the most surprising results of the season. The Cougars also had UCLA beat in Pauley and Arizona in Pullman. Washington State will be in the conference tournament, which was a preseason goal.
Bennett said he'll coach one more season. That's the worst news for the rest of this league.
Midas touch: Houston's Tom Penders, Georgetown's John Thompson III, Miami's Frank Haith and Texas A&M's Billy Gillispie
These four turned losers into winners in their first year on the job.
Houston was 9-18, 3-13 last season, and are 18-11 and 9-6 in Conference USA through Thursday with a slim chance to stay on the bubble. Penders' casual nature has clicked and makes the Cougars a sudden player in the newly configured C-USA next season.
Thompson's work moved the Hoyas from a 13-15, 4-12 Big East team under Craig Esherick to a 16-10, 8-7 bubble team is one of the biggest surprises of the season. Thompson isn't even coaching the way he wants just yet. Still, he has cultivated the development of one of the top freshmen in the country in Jeff Green. JT3 has the Hoyas ready for the transition to the 16-team Big East.
Miami won in Leonard Hamilton's later years. They were decent under Perry Clark when he first got the job. But Haith didn't let this program slide back in its first year in the ACC. The Canes were 14-16, 4-12 a year ago in the Big East but are 16-11, 7-9 in the ACC. The Canes are on the bubble, though probably an NIT team at this juncture, and Haith has instilled a winning attitude with this program after it dipped the past two seasons.
The Aggies were lost in the Big 12 last season, failing to win a game in 17 tries (including the conference tournament). Gillispie was always the one candidate for this job. Texas A&M zeroed in on him at UTEP once they knew Melvin Watkins was out.
He hasn't disappointed. Gillispie had a remarkable swing at UTEP when he took over that job. Now he's in the midst of coaching the Aggies from a 7-21, 0-16 mark to a 18-8, 7-8 record through Thursday.
Kansas assistant Tim Jankovich is in the mix at Tulsa and could be the frontrunner at his alma mater (Kansas State) if the Wildcats decide to make a move on Jim Wooldridge.
Jankovich has always been a well-liked assistant at all his stops and is ready for another shot as a head coach after a brief stint at North Texas.
Thursday, March 3
Barry Collier is on a roll. The Nebraska coach has won three straight, including wins over Oklahoma State and at Iowa State.
The latest was over Colorado on Wednesday night.
Was that enough to keep his job? Well, apparently it was never in question, even though there was some call for it in Omaha.
Collier has three years remaining on his contract and said he's not feeling any internal heat. Juniors and freshmen are leading this squad, a sure sign that this team should be a potential NCAA team next season. Junior Jason Dourisseau scored 19 in the win at Iowa State. Freshman Joe McCray scored 22 in the win over Oklahoma State.
Nebraska (14-12, 7-8 and tied with bubble team Texas A&M) ends the regular season at Kansas State.
The incoming recruiting class is being hailed as a solid group, notably Kansas City point guard Marcus Walker, who earned a four-star rating from Scouts.com (whatever that means).
"This group never gave up," Collier said of the Huskers, who were 9-8 at one point.
The key for whether Nebraska can get over the hump is if the Huskers stick with Collier. Bringing in someone new wouldn't make sense, considering it would be another rebuilding process. Nebraska is close and Collier feels next season could be the one that turns the corner. The Huskers are NIT eligible, and that itself is an accomplishment.
Wake Forest sophomore guard Chris Paul could graduate in three years, which might push him toward staying for his junior season. The word out of Winston-Salem all season has been that he wants to ride out with close friends Justin Gray and Eric Williams, both juniors. Paul hasn't said one way or another whether he is definitely returning for next season. But the folks at Wake Forest aren't too worried at this juncture. If he does return, don't be shocked to see Wake Forest back where it started this season, as a contender to win the national title.
Meanwhile, Texas officials were quick to say Wednesday that freshman guard Daniel Gibson isn't going to declare for the draft. But it's still premature. A number of NBA officials expect a slew of players under 20 to declare in case there is an age restriction in place for next season.
Word circulating about NBA draft
If the NBA and the players association come up with an age limit that is two years after a player graduates from high school, it could open up a mess with prep schools. How would the NBA determine a player's eligibility for the draft if he goes to a prep school for one or two postgraduate years? The prep school trend is strong and it lends itself to a potentially troubling definition.
At least one NBA executive thinks that once a proposed age restriction is put in place, elite players likely would skip college and play on traveling teams or in Europe for a year or two until their class is eligible for the draft.
Add Arizona assistant Rodney Tention to the New Mexico State list. Tention has spoken with athletic director McKinley Boston. Texas Tech assistant Pat Knight is also expected to be in the mix. Arizona State assistant coach Tony Benford has already interviewed for the job.
Minnesota coach Dan Monson would like to profess that the Gophers (20-9, 10-6 Big Ten) should be in the NCAA field. They won their last four games (two on the road) and went 5-4 on the road (4-4 in the Big Ten plus a nonconference win at Nebraska).
The Gophers were tentative against Penn State Wednesday night, nervous that a loss would have ruined their chances for an at-large berth.
Rhody looking to soar in 2005
Coach Jim Baron said Rhode Island could get two more years out of Dawan Robinson. Robinson, who has been out all but one game this season with a foot injury, earned back his fourth year of eligibility and is planning on applying for a sixth year due to a medical hardship for 2006-07.
Robinson, who averaged 15 points a game last season, would be an impact player for the six-win Rams next season. Meanwhile, senior Jamaal Wise will be back in 2005-06, too, after sitting out the year with a leg injury. The Rams are optimistic that they will be an A-10 contender next season.
Wednesday, March 2
New Mexico coach Ritchie McKay is doing his best to politic for an NCAA Tournament bid.
The Lobos are doing even more: They're winning.
New Mexico is now 22-6, 22-3 with star player Danny Granger in the lineup. Granger missed three road losses (at Air Force, Utah and BYU) with a knee injury.
The Lobos are the only team in the Mountain West to beat Utah. The Lobos followed up that win by taking out San Diego State and UNLV on a road swing. They close the season at home against Colorado State.
Granted, the non-conference strength of schedule is brutal, checking in at 317. But McKay said he had no idea that Tennessee wouldn't be a tournament team when he scheduled the Vols. The Lobos did beat Santa Clara right after the Broncos beat North Carolina. And the one non-conference home loss was to Wake Forest. Ask the Demon Deacons if they thought the Lobos were a tournament team and the answer would be yes.
The same is true if you quiz Utah.
"Since we lost to Wake Forest, we've played two minutes and two seconds of basketball with Danny Granger where we haven't won the game and that was the last two minutes at Wyoming," McKay said. "We essentially haven't lost with him in the lineup since that Wake game."
The Lobos aren't just a one-man band. Guard Mark Walters has been on a tear of late, scoring 22 against Utah, 20 at San Diego State and 14 against the Runnin' Rebels.
"Why are we an NCAA team?" McKay said. "We've got one of the best players in the country. We've got five starters in double figures and we're 5-2 on the road with Danny Granger.
"I know we're getting stuck with the schedule thing, but we beat the 12th-ranked team in America in Utah," McKay. "I know we can't have a bad loss and we've got to beat CSU."
McKay is confident that if the Lobos get to the MWC final and lose to Utah they should get a serious look, if not get a bid. He's making a strong case and could be on the selection committee's board for the discussion if that occurs.
Saint Joseph's deserves credit
Phil Martelli was frustrated with his team's poor offensive execution in December. The Hawks were dreadful in the non-conference but have made one of the nation's more dramatic turnarounds in conference play.
Saint Joseph's won the A-10 outright with a win at George Washington on Tuesday, asserting that the Hawks are still the conference's team to beat. The run to the regular-season title might be Martelli's second-most significant achievement, behind only the undefeated regular season of a year ago. The year was made even more challenging by the John Chaney/Nehemiah Ingram- John Bryant incident.
Martelli and his staff have done a wonderful job of staying true to their style, getting the role players to stay consistent and ensuring that Pat Carroll and Chet Stachitas get good looks. It has helped that Dwayne Lee has settled at the point. The Hawks were always inside-challenged, but they make it work. Tuesday night's performance was another example of how the Hawks have a solid program, and didn't just have a great team a year ago.
Martelli should be coach of the year in the Atlantic 10, hands down.
Davis should be given another shot
If anyone needed convincing that Mike Davis should be back next season, all you had to do was watch Indiana play Wisconsin Tuesday night.
The Hoosiers pass the eye test of being an NCAA Tournament team, as long as they beat Northwestern at home and win the 4-5 game (assuming that's where they land) in the Big Ten tournament.
Regardless, the Hoosiers have improved throughout the season and have a core of players that could rule the league next season, assuming there are NBA defections at Illinois and Michigan State, coupled with senior losses at those two schools as well as Wisconsin.
Bracey Wright will likely return and Marco Killingsworth is sitting out this season after transferring from Auburn. The Hoosiers could be the pick to win the Big Ten and a lock for the preseason top 20 if everyone returns.
Indiana had a shot to beat Wisconsin in Madison. They were one possession away from getting the win. This team clearly responds to Davis's coaching, and Indiana athletic director Rick Greenspan has said all along that he wants to see progress. There's no way he could miss it Tuesday night.
Fourth-year Tennessee coach Buzz Peterson had a meeting with the hierarchy of his administration Monday, and he didn't receive a vote of confidence, according to reports out of Knoxville.
Peterson apparently will be evaluated at season's end. He mentioned that he has to be more involved in recruiting and has a vision for the program, but admitting any recruiting shortfalls is probably not the best thing to say when you're fighting for your job.
Talk of bringing in a veteran assistant coach is real, and that could be a way for Peterson to save his gig and return. The Vols end with games at Kentucky and against Georgia before the SEC tournament, so Tennessee doesn't figure to make up the three games to get to .500 and gain NIT eligibility. ...
If the Virginia job opens, don't be surprised to see South Carolina coach Dave Odom and Notre Dame coach Mike Brey as two of the names on the list.
Tuesday, March 1
Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie wants the selection committee to take a pass on using the road-adjusted RPI this season.
Because he claims he might have scheduled differently had he known the road wins would carry so much weight.
The adjusted RPI was announced in the fall, well after schools had set their schedules. Texas A&M played 10 of its 11 nonconference games at home. The only road game was at Penn State. The Aggies started the season 11-0, winning all of the nonconference games. The biggest win probably was the one over Houston.
"They should have told us to play more road games," Gillispie said. "They really should use last year's formula when these games were scheduled. A lot of teams have totally different numbers. You don't change the test after you've given out all the information. That's what they did."
Texas A&M is in the NCAA Tournament conversation with Big 12 wins over Iowa State, Texas Tech and Texas. The Aggies are on a three-game win streak, which started with a road win at Colorado and continued with home wins over the Cyclones and Red Raiders. The win over the Longhorns was way back on Jan. 12, when Texas was at full strength with P.J. Tucker and LaMarcus Aldridge.
The Aggies (18-7, 7-7), who play at Oklahoma State on Wednesday and close the season at Baylor, have a realistic chance at eight Big 12 wins, but they are hurt by a dreadful strength of schedule. Texas A&M purposely played the soft schedule to gain confidence with a group that didn't win a Big 12 game last season. Gillispie made the right move in his first year, but now he's saying he might have played one or two more road games to help his RPI.
The Aggies' InsideRPI is 74 as of Tuesday morning, but the nonconference strength of schedule is 315. Texas A&M is 2-6 against the RPI top 50.
"It's amazing that we're even talking about this," Gillispie said.
The reasons for the A&M turnaround (from 7-21 and 0-16 a year ago) lie in three areas: the maturity of junior wing Antoine Wright (17.7 ppg, 6.4 rpg, up from 13.5 and 4.1 a year ago), the surprising impact of freshman Joseph Jones (12.6 ppg, 7.1 rpg), and a home-court advantage at the "12,500-seat" Reed Arena (announced attendance was 13,136 for the Texas Tech game).
"That's the biggest thing," Gillispie said. "We've broken our attendance record four times. We're putting more and more people in here."
East Carolina isn't in full search mode yet, but it will start happening fast. Don't be surprised to hear that George Mason's Jim Larranaga is in the mix as well as Terry Holland (the current ECU athletics director), South Carolina assistant Ricky Stokes and American coach Jeff Jones.
Outgoing coach Bill Herrion should land on his feet, likely in the Northeast. He's willing to be a top assistant if he can't get a head coaching job.
The Pirates are 4-4 in their last eight games and have clinched a spot in the Conference USA tournament. This is a young team, and the next coach is walking into a good situation with the Pirates staying in a weaker C-USA.
Herrion actually was told to stay quiet and be a fund-raiser when he was relieved of his job last week. Needless to say, Herrion chose to let it be known he's out. The Pirates administration actually thought it could get away with no one knowing Herrion would be out until after the season.
Herrion is owed the final three years on his contract.
Tulsa is starting to whittle down its list
The Golden Hurricane is still strongly considering interim coach Pooh Williamson, who was an assistant to John Phillips, who quit earlier this season. However, Texas assistant Rodney Terry, former North Carolina coach Matt Doherty, Oklahoma assistant Bob Hoffman, ESPN analyst Fran Fraschilla and possibly Michigan State assistant Doug Wojcik all could be in the mix.
Former La Salle coach Billy Hahn has been itching to get back to coaching, and there are reports that he's willing and able to be a top assistant. No word yet whether there is interest from Maryland coach Gary Williams, Hahn's old boss, who will have an opening now that Mike Lonergan will be the new head coach at Vermont.
Monday, February 28
Louisville coach Rick Pitino has no plans to play Memphis next season, but he might not have a choice.
Pitino told ESPN.com Saturday that the Cardinals haven't had a conversation with Memphis about playing the Tigers, contrary to a report in the Memphis Commercial Appeal Saturday that said the two teams would continue playing next season even after Louisville leaves Conference USA for the Big East.
Pitino said the Cardinals would play Marshall and one other Conference USA team, which he said would be revealed soon.
Memphis coach John Calipari said he expects the Tigers will play the Cardinals next season because television would dictate the matchup.
He could be right. Under Louisville's exit agreement from C-USA, the Cardinals have to play two C-USA members (Marshall joins in 2005-06) over the next five seasons. Four of the five departing members -- Louisville, Cincinnati, DePaul and South Florida -- chose this option so they could keep the NCAA Tournament men's basketball units (read: money). Marquette opted to leave its earnings from the NCAA Tournament the past six years behind so it wouldn't be tied to a scheduling agreement.
Louisville would rather not play the Tigers again with a brutal Big East schedule forthcoming. But the Tigers definitely want to keep the Louisville and Cincinnati games next season. ESPN is expected to choose Louisville-Memphis or Cincinnati-Memphis or both, since it has to televise a few conference games in the newly configured Conference USA. These series would be home-and-home over a two-year period.
Connecticut junior guard Rashad Anderson said last Monday that he envisioned returning to the court this weekend against Syracuse. But that could be wishful thinking.
Anderson still needs to get his stitches out this week after spending 12 days in the hospital for an infection on his leg. The infection got into his lungs and kidneys and "nearly killed him," according to Anderson. Anderson was released from Hartford Hospital on Feb. 21.
Anderson, the Huskies' leading scorer, still needs to get his conditioning back and still hasn't practiced. It's premature to say he would be ready to play against the Orange. The more likely scenario is for him to dress for the Syracuse game and then possibly be ready to play in the Big East tournament.
Incoming Vermont coach Mike Lonergan has a tall task. Replacing Tom Brennan at Vermont will be as tough as replacing a legendary coach at a high-major level.
Sure, there isn't media pressure in Burlington, but Brennan and the senior class, led by Taylor Coppenrath and T.J. Sorrentine, will be irreplaceable for some time. The Catamounts expect winning now and are trying to fund a nearly $60 million basketball/hockey facility to replace Patrick Gym.
Lonergan, who will finish the season with Maryland as an assistant coach, will have to recruit the community at large as much as the nation for players. Brennan, who will continue to do his local radio show, remains an institution with the locals. Lonergan can't duplicate Brennan's personality but he still must be as personable for the program to have the same attachment to the community it has shared over Brennan's career.
Vermont lost to Maine on Sunday without Coppenrath (flu) and Sorrentine (hamstring) and now likely has to win the America East tournament to earn its third straight NCAA Tournament berth.
Wrapup from College Hoops Today
Once again, our guests on ESPN Radio Sunday had a few revealing comments:
Florida forward David Lee said the Gators are running less in practice this season with assistant Larry Shyatt, and that's why they seem to be fresher this February than in his previous three in Gainesville.
Indiana coach Mike Davis said the Hoosiers are in the conversation for an NCAA bid now that they beat Michigan State in overtime Sunday in Bloomington. The Hoosiers are one win away from 10 wins in the Big Ten with two games remaining -- at Wisconsin and against Northwestern.
Illinois coach Bruce Weber said this off weekend for the Illini was the perfect respite for his team to get recharged. He gave the players the time off and he went recruiting. Weber said he's not worried about getting his players motivated this week. They've got their last home game, against Purdue, and then could be going for an undefeated regular season at Ohio State over the weekend.
Weber said he called Southern Illinois coach Chris Lowery Saturday while he was cutting down the nets after winning the Missouri Valley Conference title with a win over Wichita State. Weber was instrumental in recruiting the core of the SIU team. He coached SIU prior to joining Illinois two seasons ago.
Holy Cross coach Ralph Willard said the Crusaders can win a game in the NCAA Tournament because they've already won 11 road games this season.
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