Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz)
3/15/12 2:33 PM
Naismith Award announces it's coach of the year finalists with Boeheim, Self, Haith and Calipari.
...one Detroit player sees an potential advantage over Kansas.
“I think we might be a little bit more athletic than them,” Titans guard Chase Simon said.
UDM center and Horizon League sixth man of the year Eli Holman said it might come down to a battle of wills.
"I know Kansas is coming off with a loss, with a chip on their shoulder they're going to be motivated to go at it," he said. "But I think Detroit has been playing just as good a (level of) basketball in the last six weeks as we played all year and we're coming in with a chip on our shoulders. We don't want this to be our last game. I can speak for myself and for (guard Chase Simon) as well and the tougher team is going to walk away from this."
Kansas has been focusing on itself, rather than external factors, and players and coach Bill Self said the team has responded with some of its best practices. The Jayhawks admitted that they have reviewed scouting reports on UDM but have not watched much game tape. The Titans say that's a mistake.
"Well, coming into this game, I know they said they didn't watch a lot of tape on us," Simon said. "Now, I don't think that's a good thing.
Detroit Free Press
The Jayhawks aren’t crazy about sitting around all day waiting for their first NCAA Tournament game.
“I feel like it’s one of those things where I feel like I’ve got to tone it down a little bit,” senior Tyshawn Taylor said. “I don’t like playing the last game, but that’s the draw, and we’ve got to take advantage of the situation the best we can.”
“We’re anxious to play, and we will just wait our turn,” junior Elijah Johnson said. “I was watching teams earlier, and they were turning the ball over and having jitters and just watching, and it’s fun to watch the teams that you never thought would play each other, play each other, so I’m enjoying the process. I’m not in a rush.”
…About 1,000 fans attended KU’s 40-minute shoot-around at CenturyLink Center. Justin Wesley concluded the proceedings with a vicious dunk to the delight of the spectators. The Jayhawks held a regular practice at Omaha Central High School before the 5:10 p.m. shoot-around.
…On Sunday, Detroit’s Eli Holman said he wasn’t worried about KU’s Thomas Robinson and that Robinson should be worried about him.
Of that statement, Robinson said: “He’s confident. I hope he backs it up. I mean, that’s a different part of the game. I expect somebody to try to challenge me. We’ll see when the game happens. I don’t have a comment at all.”
Noted Tyshawn Taylor: “I heard the quote. You are able to see everything over Twitter these days. I don’t think they were being disrespectful, just competitors. If I was on Detroit’s team and we were playing Kansas, I’d be telling my guys, ‘Look, man, this is what we’ve been waiting for all year. We’re not going to back down just because it’s Kansas.’ I expect that from anybody we play. I’ve been telling my team the same thing. We can’t sleep on them because they are Detroit. They’ve got guys that can put the ball in the basket like we do. We’ve got to play.”
Teahan and fellow senior Taylor were so upset following the Baylor game, they called a team meeting Saturday.
“It was just the players after we watched film,” Teahan said of the locker-room session. “(We talked about) just how everybody has to take care of their job, listen to coach Self because he is right and make sure we are a team the next couple weeks because we feel we can play with anybody in the nation.”
Today, KU meets a Detroit team (22-13) led by sophomore guard Ray McCallum, a former McDonald’s All-American recruited by KU and other powerhouse programs. Despite the presence of McCallum, Detroit is a double-digit underdog today.
“I think it’d be a lie to say there weren’t a little bit of nerves going out there at first, especially when you are such a high seed going against a low seed. You see upsets happening,” Teahan said. “If we play like we know we can play and respect our opponent, things will work out. There are some nerves. I think that’s natural for all teams.
“I think we got a little lackadaisical (last year in Elite Eight against No. 11 seed VCU). We thought we had already made it to the Final Four. We didn’t have to play many high seeds. If we focus on what we do and practice the way we’ve been practicing, I think we’ll be all right.”
Taylor, who likely will guard McCallum some tonight, respects the 6-2 floor general who averages 15.6 points a game with 138 assists against 79 turnovers.
“They will go as far as he takes them. They go as he goes,” Taylor said. “My job as defender is to cut the head off, basically, make shots for him as hard as possible, frustrate him. I’m sure he’s saying the same thing about me.”
The Horizon League tourney champs have four other scorers averaging in double figures.
“We’ve got to put our heads down and play,” Taylor said. “After all the media and the shoot-arounds, it’s still ’ball. I want this to be the longest run and make this last as long as possible because it’s my last time for sure. I’m excited for that and just playing.
“If we come out and match their intensity and be as excited to play as they are, we’ll be fine,” Taylor added. “I think we can beat any team in the country if we come ready to play. If we turn it up defensively, rebound the ball well. I watched Syracuse (narrow victory for No. 1 seed over No. 16 UNC Asheville). They got off to a slow start, but they won. I’m sure we’ll go through some runs, stages it’ll look ugly. You’ve just got to play, man.”
“Hey 23,” a young fan standing in the front row hollered toward the layup line. “Go between your legs.”
Anderson never looked into the stands, but he did go between his legs and throw one down. If that ranked an 8.5, the 10 came at the end of practice. Anderson got up so high and came down with such force on a windmill that a screw popped out of the basket. Holman picked up the screw and explained that the power of his earlier dunk loosened it. (It reminded me of what I told my sister when she opened a jar I couldn’t: “Yeah, but I loosened it up for you.”)
Dunk competitions lead to credit-grabs, but individual competitions don’t change basketball teams. Holman articulated a far more meaningful factor in finishing the season with 10 victories in 11 games.
“We bought into the defensive system,” Holman said. “Our team was usually a little more offensive, but we bought into a defensive mind-set.”
Holman rattled off the defensive contributions of a handful of teammates, including 6-10 center LaMarcus Lowe, who averages 2.2 blocked shots a game to go with Holman’s 1.4 blocks.
“He’s so long he can block shots standing on his tip-toes,” Holman said of Lowe. “When you have the kind of players we have and they all buy into the same program and are not playing to their individual talents, you can play with any team in the country. But you have to stay humble. Once you get out of that humble mind-set and into arrogance, you’re going to fall apart as a team.”
Humble and confident, the perfect blend for team sports.
“It took our confidence straight through the roof,” Lowe said of the late-season surge. “It’s just like hitting 10 of your first 11 shots in a game. The rim looks like an ocean to you. You feel like you can shoot anything. You feel like you can take half-court shots and make them. We got hot at the right time. We’re coming in here flying high.”
Said Holman: “We’re trying to shock the world.”
“The comment kind of got blown up a little bit,” Holman said. “So I’m gonna clear that up now. That wasn’t exactly what I said. Thomas Robinson is a great player. He’s projected as one of the top five picks in the (NBA) draft (in June), and the guy’s a beast down low. But what I’m saying is, Detroit’s here, too, now. And we’re coming to play.”
In its entirety, Holman’s original comment read: “Confident? We have a lot of confidence. Robinson? I can handle Robinson. He has to handle me. These are the moments you want as a college player. You want to play against a player like Robinson.”
Holman said he saw nothing wrong with what he said. Of course, he also made it clear he understood why it created such a stir.
“I got phone calls from California, with people saying, ‘Man, what’s going on?’” Holman said. “A lot of people understood what I was saying, but some people didn’t. When I said it, it didn’t seem bad. I didn’t say I was coming in to guarantee a victory. I didn’t say I was gonna drop tremendous numbers. I didn’t say that.”
Although he never backed down from the intent of his comment, the 6-foot-10, 270-pound giant said he was happy to hear that KU’s national player of the year candidate and likely All-American took no offense to it.
“Robinson replied back and said that he likes confident players,” Holman said. “He got it. There was no hatred, there was no disrespect, nothing like that.”
Another element of the aftermath that Holman enjoyed was the extra attention it brought to his team, a squad some have called the best 15 seed of all-time.
“Everything was Kansas, Kansas, Kansas, and I guess when the comment came out, it was, ‘OK, let’s see what Detroit’s talking about now,’” Holman said with a grin.
"I have seen a few of his dunks and he's a freak," Kansas guard Tyshawn Taylor said of Anderson, a 6-foot-6 forward. "He's athletic, he's got a big body and he can get up and off the ground."
He sure can. Just check him out on YouTube, or better yet, ESPN, where he made the network's top plays of the night with his thunderous dunk against Valparaiso in the Horizon League tournament final.
Second-seeded Kansas (27-6) surely will have a huge home-crowd advantage, with its campus only 3 1/2 hours away. But a well-timed highlight dunk might spur the 15th-seeded Titans (22-13). And the Jayhawks know it.
"Dunks definitely change games; they're not just two points," Taylor said. "They definitely change games, the momentum swings and changes, and so, you know, that's going to be a good matchup for (guard Travis Redford) to have to match him on the wing. And I can't say take his athleticism away but take the highlight plays away, and limit him. He's a tough kid, but he's going to come out hungry and ready to play, and we've got to match that intensity."
Kansas has its own dunk machine in 6-10 forward Thomas Robinson, and the Jayhawks have experienced the inspiration a big dunk can bring.
"That's the difference between being up by 10 points and having somebody get a dunk like that, get their team pumped up, and that's not something that we look forward to letting happen," Kansas guard Elijah Johnson said.
"Just limit his chances and I think we will be able to pull it through."
Detroit Free Press
"He's a crafty player," Taylor said of McCallum. "He's the coach's son so he has a great understanding of the game. It's going to be a tough guard for whoever has to guard him but he has to play defense and we're going to make him have to move around.
"We learned about him briefly that he doesn't want to guard too much so we're going to put him in situations where he has to be a defender and maybe that can wear him down offensively. But he's good."
McCallum defended his determination on the defensive end when informed of Taylor's comments but also said there were times he didn't play defense as well as he should.
"I do like to defend," he said. "During my freshman year I didn't defend that well. But I've picked up and committed myself to playing defense, especially in the (Horizon League) tournament. I realized I had to defend."
…Former Chicago Bull and color commentator Steve Kerr , who will work the Detroit/Kansas game, likes what he's seen of McCallum.
"He's an impressive guard," Kerr said. "He's probably as good as any point guard in the country."
Prediction: Detroit was disappointed it wasn't granted a higher seed, and playing a team like Kansas isn't a good draw. But it could be that it's the Jayhawks that will come out tight, fearing an early exit. If that's the case, Detroit can make a game of it. Still, you can't dismiss Kansas' talent level or the competition it is accustomed to playing. Kansas 81-69
Detroit assistant Derrick Thomas is the son of Emmitt Thomas, a former Kansas City Chiefs player and now an assistant for the NFL team.
“He’s going to have the Kansas scout,” said McCallum, the Titan coach. “He should have a head start because he grew up with the Jayhawks.”
McCallum said his team can open a game up with three-pointers. Really?
Detroit has made only 30.2 percent from beyond the arc this season. His son has made only 25 percent — 30 of 120. Simon is 30.5 percent (47 of 154) and Calliste 35.2 percent (56 of 159).
“We’re streaky,” the coach said.
The biggest man in the cramped locker room accepts his title hesitantly.
Jeff Withey, the soft-spoken 7-foot center, is capable of being Kansas’ biggest game-changer. That’s the way teammates see it. His coach doesn’t necessarily disagree. Withey shrugs it off.
“He’s biggest the X-factor to any team in the country,” KU forward Thomas Robinson said.
Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor, of course, will shoulder the bulk of KU’s scoring, but Withey’s defensive presence, his ability to grab offensive rebounds and block shots, can alter outcomes in a far more nuanced way.
When the Jayhawks play 15-seeded Detroit on Friday, other players will probably finish with more points and more attention. But Withey could have as big a say as any in settling Kansas’ tournament fate.
“When Jeff’s being Jeff defensively, I think it’s hard for teams to beat us because we have two beasts down there,” Taylor said. “He’s definitely the X-factor, man. If he plays good, the sky’s the limit for us.”
Usually in conference games, players can gain an understanding for the level of contact allowed. With different crews at the NCAA Tournaments, there is no pattern.
KU coach Bill Self, however, said any discussion with Robinson about avoiding fouls can be counter-productive.
“In his mind,’’ said Self, “he might think of it as not guarding. ... If you really study (Robinson), he’s not getting his money’s worth on his fouls. His fouls are ticky-tack, even though he’s not getting as many of them. I wish he was more aggressive and was playing his man more aggressively before he catches it.’’
Hey, Self is the coach. Still, Robinson must be careful. His aggression at times this season led to him glowering over opponents when he should have walked away. An unfamiliar ref might assess a technical.
This week, one big man for Detroit engaged in smack almost as soon as the NCAA draw was announced, though Eli Holman clarified Thursday that he was not being disrespectful.
Who knows? Robinson may still use the comments as motivation, but he’s too good to let his chain get yanked by the sixth man on a first-round underdog.
“He needs to play with effort and energy to be effective,’’ said Manning, “regardless if he’s making shots or catching the ball in the post or not. He’s an effort and energy guy first, and everything else falls into place from there.’’
If Robinson keeps it all channeled right, his long minutes could well lead Kansas on a long run through the tournament.
“Connecticut didn’t have the best team last year, and they won it,” Self said. “Duke the year before didn’t have the best team, and they won it. It’s not always that. It’s the team that finds lightning in a bottle and gets hot. I do think we have the pieces in place to do that.”
This Kansas team enters Friday’s game against Detroit from a different trajectory than its predecessors. The Jayhawks are a trendy Final Four pick, but they aren’t the favorite. The President didn’t pick them this year.
They’re also entering the tournament off a loss, providing Self one more chance to grab his team’s attention.
“I feel like we’re all battle tested,” Taylor said. “We’ve been through it. We’ve been through the fire this season.”
Speaking of deceptive 15-seeds, Detroit might be the most talented 15-seed in the history of the tournament. That's because guard Ray McCallum, Jr. -- son of coach Ray McCallum, Sr. -- turned down a host of elite programs to play for his dad two years ago, while transfer forward Eli Holman, a former Indiana prospect, patrols the middle with more athleticism than you usually see from Horizon League forwards. Kansas should win this game but the Titans have talent and they'll definitely give it a go.
ESPN: What to watch for on Friday
The Titans have had a great run, but tonight they face one of the great programs on the biggest stage. KU makes the NCAA tournament a regular part of its schedule and although the Titans are playing great, going against Kansas in the second round of the tournament after a 13-year drought is a tough task.
Prediction: Kansas 87, UDM 75.
Detroit Free Press
Doug Anderson’s first name might as well be Dunk. The most compelling reason — maybe the only reason — to watch Detroit take on Kansas in Friday night’s late Midwest Regional mismatch is to see what manner of flying tomahawk monstrosity the 6-foot-6 Anderson drops on the second-seeded Jayhawks.
Maybe something like this, from his game against St. John’s:
NY Times: Hello, my name is Dunk--I mean Doug Anderson
WE Videos: KU in Omaha
LJW Omaha photos
LJW: Releford keeping eye on little brother
Saturday Tip Times announced
Kansas NCAA Tournament Guide (includes video greeting from Coach Self, Bob Davis' 2011-12 Top 10 Radio Calls, video highlights on player pages, more)
The Jayhawk Television Network will air an hour-long NCAA Tournament Preview Show on several local and national affiliates March 14-17. Host Bob Davis will sit down with Kansas head coach Bill Self and All-American forward Thomas Robinson to discuss all things Kansas basketball as the team heads into March Madness. The show will feature a season recap, plays of the year and a preview of the upcoming NCAA tournament. The show can be seen statewide and nationally on the affiliates below:
March 16 at 7 p.m. – KSMO – Kansas City
March 17 at 10 a.m. – Metro Sports (Kansas City)
KSNW-NBC – Check local listings
Cox Communications (Oklahoma) – Check local listings
*All times are Central
Investors Business Daily: Phog Allen, Kansas' pioneering basketball coach
Grantland: The Rules of the Game. Bill Self, Kansas, and Basketball History
...KU shared the same locker room (at different times) as Missouri’s players Thursday.
“It’s a little ironic, kind of funny,” Kansas senior Conner Teahan said. “I don’t know if we’ll be cheering for them to win. They’re a Big 12 team. We want the Big 12 to be successful. It’s hard to cheer for them. I guess they are not part of the Big 12 any more.”
Taylor and Johnson discussed the issue together at a podium in the media room.
“I’ll root for the Big 12 because I know that any win will help our conference,” Johnson said.
“They’re not in the conference. They’re in the SEC now,” Taylor responded.
“You know what, Ty, you’ve got a good point!” Johnson said.
“So it doesn’t matter, really,” Taylor concluded.
Tyshawn Taylor wore “Beats by Dr. Dre” headphones and walked slowly, hauling a bag on his shoulder. A few paces ahead, Thomas Robinson moved toward a pack of blue warmups and equipment bags.
It was just before 4 p.m. on Thursday afternoon, and the Kansas team bus had arrived to a loading area adjacent to the CenturyLink Center, site of Friday’s NCAA Tournament games. Moments later, the Jayhawks began to weave their way through the inside of the arena, arriving to the front of a locker room with two blue signs posted outside:
One read: “MISSOURI LOCKER ROOM”
The other: “KANSAS LOCKER ROOM”
“I grabbed Tyshawn,” said KU junior guard Travis Releford, who missed the second sign. “And said, ‘We’re in the wrong locker room!’ ”
So this was Omaha on the day before Kansas and Missouri began their respective NCAA Tournament runs. Missouri and Kansas shared a locker room, the Tigers arriving in the late morning, the Jayhawks pulling up a few hours later. The front page of the local newspaper dedicated its tournament preview edition to Kansas and Missouri — and a weekend-long (and most definitely longer) “Border Cold War.” And all the while, both teams responded with subtle disdain packaged as apathy.
“Couldn’t care less,” Mizzou senior Kim English said.
“I hope they are enjoying the weather,” Taylor said.
…A black-and-gold Mizzou flag hung from a window at the corner of 10th and Dodge streets. Down the street, KU fans exited Farrell’s Sports Bar. And dozens and dozens of fans wearing familiar colors descended on the bars and restaurants in the Old Market. It was as if a family arrived at a picturesque vacation destination — only to see that their annoying neighbors had picked the same resort.
“We can’t get away from them,” said Levi Cooley, a 33-year-old from Columbia.
“The hatred has never waned,” said Jay Newland, a 36-year-old Omaha resident who grew up as a KU fan in Iola.
…“As lifelong Mizzou fans… losing doesn’t matter to us,” Jay Lindner said. “But getting there is a huge deal. This is fun. This means a lot to us. If we don’t make it the next six games, and we don’t make it to the championship, we still had a good run. That’s a difference between us and KU fans. If they don’t go there, that’s all there is for them.”
The basketball team from the University of Detroit figures to have a small but passionate band of blue-and-red-clad fans on hand as it takes the floor in Omaha tonight against the University of Kansas.
But it's a pretty good bet Detroit will have lots of other backers in and around the CenturyLink Center today dressed in black and gold. In truth, they won't be true Detroit fans. They're just University of Missouri fans, dutifully carrying on a century-old tradition of loathing all things Kansas.
"My hatred for them is so intense," said Jim Alford of Chillicothe, Mo., a 1975 Mizzou grad. "I wish for every one of their opponents to drill them at every opportunity."
…"I think it will be energetic and passionate — that's my politically correct response for 'ugly,' " said Julie Hammond of Lawrence, a former KU cheerleader.
Typically, fans of one school will root for other schools from their conference to win in the NCAA tournament, figuring any win by a conference team is good for the whole. But the consensus among KU and Mizzou fans interviewed Thursday is that there won't be much of that sentiment in Omaha this weekend.
"I can't ever imagine wanting KU to win anything," said Andrew Elmore, a Mizzou grad and now university employee. "My wife would be just as satisfied with KU losing as Missouri winning — and I know she's not the only one."
…History professor Butterfield said that, as a Mizzou grad, there's a part of him that would like to see both schools win out until the final game. Then the Tigers could beat the Jayhawks, once and for all, on the biggest of stages. But given his Mizzou DNA, he said, he'd probably be just as happy to see the Jayhawks lose in a really embarrassing fashion anywhere along the way.
"It's so ingrained that a Kansas loss, no matter who they're playing, is what you want to see."
Omaha World Herald
Big 12/College News
The Illini got rid of Bruce Weber a week ago and VCU coach Shaka Smart is near the top of every list for potential replacements that Google can research.
"Certainly for a program of our stature,” Illinois athletic director Mike Thomas said in a news conference last Friday, “I think it's important we're playing at the highest level."
Sort of like what Weber’s predecessor, Bill Self, accomplished in Champaign and is now doing at Kansas.
“The Illinois job is a terrific job,” Self said Thursday. “It’s a great job.”
Self had that “great job” for three seasons, and did a great job while in Champaign before leaving for an even greater job at Kansas.
“The reason that it is a great job is that there are so many potential recruits right there in your state,” Self said.
Aside from lack of success, another criticism of Weber was his inability to recruit Illinois players well enough. But Self isn’t buying that Weber deserved to be let go.
“In my opinion, they had a coach that succeeded there,” Self said. “Bruce won a lot of games. Not as many games (in) the last couple of years as he did when he started, but he still had a pretty good run.”
Self guided the Illini to three NCAA Tournaments in three years and advanced to an Elite Eight and a Sweet 16. He did so “primarily” with Illinois kids.
“When we had a pretty good run there,” Self explained, “there was just one guy (Deron Williams), of course he was pretty good, on each of those teams, well maybe two, that actually contributed in a big way, that were out of state.”
Whether Smart, Butler’s Brad Stevens, Duke assistant coach Chris Collins, or any of the other names being rumored about end up in Champaign, Self is confident that success – big time success – can be achieved.
“It’s a great job and great school,” Self said. “There are so many positives with it. We loved it there. You can certainly win and win big there.”
Kansas, North Carolina, Duke, Florida, Michigan State and San Diego State are expected to win today.
Why them, in particular?
They’re coached by men who have won national championships.
They have the GPS, or at least there is an expectation that they know how to navigate their way through the bracket.
Getting to the NCAA Tournament isn’t enough for this group: Jim Boeheim, Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun, Bill Self, Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski, Billy Donovan, Tom Izzo and Steve Fisher.
They have to win once they’re there.
Maybe that’s why Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim filibustered during his postgame news conference, spending as much time talking about a USA Today story on Academic Progress Rates as his team’s seven-point escape of UNC Asheville.
After a long explanation of how Boeheim thought the newspaper got the story wrong, he paused.
“Thank you, coach,” the moderator said.
“I’m not done,” said Boeheim, who droned on about a subject that he wasn’t asked about.
For much of that game, it appeared the Orange could become the first No. 1 seed to fall to a No. 16, but they made enough free throws down the stretch to avoid the embarrassment.
Anything to avoid the subject.
Successful coaches feel the pressure. Two in Omaha, Florida’s Donovan and Kansas’ Self, own rings and have developed a defense system for dealing with inevitable March losses.
“I made this comment after I won the national championship in 2006, that you could start the tournament over and there may be a different winner at the end of it,” Donovan said.
Gone are the defending national champions. Gone are all the ribeye-juicy storylines between UConn and Kentucky. Huskies coach Jim Calhoun, whose feud with UK coach John Calipari goes back decades, would have given his tonsils to send the Wildcats to an early spring break.
But Iowa State has its own story to tell. Chapter One: Why Kentucky Had Better Not Overlook Us.
UConn did. Or at least it played like it did.
The Huskies were down by 20 with 8:45 remaining in the first half. A disgusted Calhoun, arms crossed in anger, called timeout and then stood alone, some 10 feet away, as his team waited in a semicircle. It was as if he simply couldn't believe what he was seeing.
Sitting to my right on press row were several Kentucky assistant coaches. They knew what they were seeing. It was vintage 2012 Iowa State basketball: lots of 3-pointers, lots of rebounds, lots of fearlessness.
If Kentucky, the No. 1 overall seed, needed a remedial course in what happens when you overlook an opponent, UConn provided it. Maybe the Huskies were looking ahead.
"If they did," Calhoun said, "they made a hell of a mistake. I don't think they did. For whatever reason, we get caught as being nothing more than a street sign as they went by us a thousand miles an hour in that first 10 minutes of basketball."
Those opening minutes, said second-year ISU coach Fred Hoiberg, were "the best 10 minutes" the Cyclones played all season.
You’re probably going to see a lot of Frank Haith over the next couple weeks, so let me give you a primer on what you’ll learn about Missouri’s basketball coach.
With a resume that would be generously described as modest, Haith was something like the 28th choice when Missouri had to replace Mike Anderson in April, or so the legend goes. The hire wasn’t criticized as much as it was lampooned. Frank Haith? The guy who was one more mediocre year from getting fired at his last job? That Frank Haith?
Fast-forward a year, and Missouri is a No. 2 seed in the NCAA tournament and Haith is being pushed as the national coach of the year. This will be sold to you as evidence of vindication, one of those March feel-good stories you should embrace.
I’m here to tell you there’s another side to that story, and it’s sickening. Because when I see Frank Haith, I don’t see a coach who turned around anything at Missouri. I see the luckiest person in his profession, and not just because he inherited a roster with seven seniors that literally any competent coach could have taken to the NCAA tournament. No, much more impressive than anything Haith did on the court this year is the way he spent six months floating above the chaos his regime left behind at Miami.
If Haith deserves an award for anything, it’s the all-time con job he’s pulled by diverting attention from what’s been going on at his former program, even though by all rights of fairness Miami and Missouri should be inseparable. Miami wasn’t just mediocre under Haith. It was, we now know, mediocre and dirty. And only one part of that equation is suffering the consequences.
While Missouri chases a Final Four, Miami won its NIT opener last night against Valparaiso, 66-50. That’s sad because at 19-12, Miami was plenty good enough to make the NCAA tournament this year. According to an official release from the selection committee, Miami was No. 2 among the teams left out, meaning the difference between the NCAA and the NIT was one win.
And why didn’t the Hurricanes get that win? You could point to any number of reasons, I guess. Like everyone else on the so-called bubble, Miami had its chances and came up short.
But we’re talking about one win here. One win. And if we’re going to lavish Haith with coaching awards for winning games at Missouri, at least consider how he’s still causing Miami to lose them.
The Pac-12 has been rightfully beaten down throughout the season. Washington, the regular-season champ, didn’t even get a bid. Cal didn’t put up much of a fight against a middling South Florida in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, adding even more insult to the league’s off-year.
But if an underdog or Cinderella can still come from a BCS league (in football terminology), then Colorado fits the description.
This simply shouldn’t be happening. But it is.
The Buffs, picked to finish 11th in the league to start the season, won the Pac-12 tournament with four wins in four days and have moved into the third round of the NCAAs after holding on to beat No. 6 seed UNLV 68-60 Thursday night at the Pit.
Maybe even more surprising than the score and the Buffs moving on is how much they have become a hoops haven.
The Colorado crowd was by far the most boisterous of any of the eight teams in attendance. The raw euphoria from fans young and old had the security at the Pit sprinting out in anticipation that Buffs backers might actually storm the court. A number of fans, who were a part of an impressive CU contingent of about 2,500, had started to move down to the lower level, gathering right above the band in what looked like a precursor to a storm.
But this is the NCAA tournament, where storming is as forbidden as taking a Coke can onto the floor without an approved plastic cup cover.
“I feel like our guys are playing well, playing with a lot of confidence and we’re just going to try to keep it rolling,’’ said Colorado’s Andre Roberson. “I just feel like we can take down Baylor coming up.’’
Michael Snaer was a McDonald’s All-American in high school with plenty of college choices.
He liked Marquette and Missouri. And as a native of Moreno Valley, Calif., of course, UCLA was an attractive option. So was Kansas, and Snaer said he built a good relationship with coach Bill Self.
Those schools had plenty of hoops history. Florida State had just reached the NCAA Tournament in 2009 during Snaer’s senior year of high school – and that was after a decade-long drought. But in the end, Snaer’s heart told him to go across the country to FSU.
“That was probably the biggest thing that helped me make my decision,” Snaer said. “They didn’t have that tradition. It was somewhere you could come in and make your mark. As a competitor, why would you not want to do that? Go somewhere where you can create your own history. I knew I had a chance if I came here to do something really special.”
As Harvard’s Wesley Saunders stood in front of a white board holding a green marker Wednesday, his teammates roared in laughter.
They were playing hangman in the locker room before the 12th-seeded Crimson’s practice in preparation for their first game of the NCAA tournament, Thursday against No. 5 seed Vanderbilt.
The word Saunders had chosen for his teammates to guess was pulchritudinous, except he thought the 15-letter word was spelled “pulchritunous” and did not include the two additional needed letter blanks to spell it correctly.
When Saunders’ teammates realized his error, they hooted and made him stand next to the misspelled word so they could take his photograph with their cell phones.
“It was close,” said Saunders, a freshman guard. “Don’t ask me what it means.”
Saunders’ teammates rightfully laughed off his mistake. But the rest of the Ivy League and former Harvard coaches don’t find it at all funny that coach Tommy Amaker denies the university has lowered its academic standards for basketball recruits during his five-year tenure.
It’s coincided with the Crimson (26-4) making its first NCAA tournament appearance since 1946. And while reaching unprecedented heights this season, including a Top 25 ranking for the first time, they have done so controversially under Amaker, who replaced Frank Sullivan after he was fired in 2007.
“They clearly made things easier for the new staff,” said a former Ivy League assistant coach, who spoke only on the condition of anonymity.
Yet despite a report in The New York Times four years ago in which athletic director Bob Scalise admitted the Crimson were pursuing recruits with lesser academic credentials, Amaker steadfastly denied Wednesday that his program’s academic standards have changed.
“Our standards are incredibly high and challenging as they always have been,” said Amaker, who has a 92-55 record at Harvard. “I can’t imagine that ever changing at Harvard.”
But Harvard has changed its academic standards under Amaker, who came to the Crimson after being fired at Michigan. His hypocrisy is a source of angst in the increasingly high-stakes Ivy League, which since Amaker’s arrival at Harvard has had every other men’s basketball job change except for at Yale.
If you listened closely to the Kansas State University vs. Southern Mississippi University NCAA tournament game last night you might have caught a chant directed at K-State basketball player Angel Rodriguez that went beyond rowdy boundaries of a typical college crow chant.
“Where’s your green card?” was chanted by a group of students that CBS Sports and Buzz Feed reports were members of the Southern Miss band.
Rodriguez, a Puerto Rican born in San Juan went to high school in Florida.
The chant happened as Rodriguez, a freshman, was at the free throw line in the first half of last night’s game.
The chant was audible on the TV telecast.
Southern Miss President Martha Saunders released a statement on the incident apologizing to Rodriguez.
"We deeply regret the remarks made by a few students at today's game. The words of these individuals do not represent the sentiments of our pep band, athletic department or university,” said Saunders. “We apologize to Mr. Rodriguez and will take quick and appropriate disciplinary action against the students involved in this isolated incident."
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