Bill Trocchi
Friday November 23rd, 2007

When Joe Pasternack took his New Orleans team to face No. 21 NC State in Raleigh last weekend, observing the difference in the two programs' home arenas was pretty simple.

"Theirs is the Ritz-Carlton, Four Seasons," he says. "Ours right now is the Motel 6."

And yet it was the Privateers, a program on its third coach in three seasons, who walked away with a 65-63 victory on the pristine floor of the RBC Center. Reserve T.J. Worley banked in a three-pointer with 1.7 seconds left to give the Privateers the improbable win over a team considered third-best in the ACC, behind North Carolina and Duke.

"A lot of teams probably would have been a little hesitant going into a top 25, ACC gym, but our guys really welcomed the challenge," Pasternack says. "They believed they could win, which was half the battle."

New Orleans has done nothing but battle since Hurricane Katrina struck the city, leaving a struggling program to face newly insurmountable challenges. The team spent one semester at the University of Texas at Tyler when the school shut down in the storm's aftermath. Upon returning, with the 9,000-seat Lakefront Arena in need of significant repairs, the Privateers were forced to play their home games at the Human Performance Center, a P.E. building on campus with 1,200 wooden bleacher seats. Two years later, the Privateers are still playing home games there, with Lakefront Arena scheduled to re-open next season.

So when Pasternack refers to his home court as 'Motel 6', that might be too kind. The Privateers share the floor with an adult volleyball rec league. The building, built in 1968, houses one team locker room, which is reserved for visiting teams. For two years the team used an assistant coaches' office, which was a converted classroom, to change. This year, they've partitioned off part of the gymnastics room for their locker room.

"It's not like a real locker room, but it is better than what we had," says senior Bo McCalebb, the reigning Sun Belt Conference Player of the Year.

By contrast, NC State's RBC Center opened in 1999 with a price tag of $158 million. It houses 61 luxury suites, 19,722 seats, 580 television monitors, a 9,000-square foot restaurant and $5 million worth of JumboTron scoreboards, which is significantly more than the annual UNO basketball budget.

"I've been in Big Ten, Pac-10 and several NBA arenas, and it is one of the best I've ever seen," Pasternack says. "It is an NBA arena."

It also houses some future NBA players. Wolfpack forwards J.J. Hickson and Brandon Costner have a good chance to be in the league at some point.

"They have two lottery picks," Pasternack says. "Our guys are just hoping to win the lottery."

The school may have hit the lottery with Pasternack, a New Orleans native who has been tabbed to bring some stability to a difficult situation. The season after the hurricane, Monte Towe left the program to be an assistant at NC State. Buzz Williams was hired, and he left for an assistant position at Marquette after going 14-17. When head coaches are leaving to become assistants, you know things are not going well.

Enter Pasternack, a 30-year-old who figured out very early in life he wanted to be a college basketball coach. Pasternack went to Indiana to be a student manager for Bob Knight in order to pursue that dream.

"When you go to college, you are preparing for your career," he says. "If you want to be a lawyer, you go to Harvard. If you want to be a basketball coach, you learn from, statistically, the greatest coach of all-time."

Knight recommended Pasternack to Cal coach Ben Braun upon graduation, and Braun made Pasternack his video coordinator for two years before elevating him to full-time assistant for the next six years. Braun said his players never had a problem taking instruction from a coach who never played college ball.

"They respected his work ethic," Braun says. "There's no player I had that did not respect his work ethic. As hard as he worked, he just made the players want to work harder."

And now Pasternack returns to the city of his childhood as the head coach of a program he watched make two NCAA tournaments under Tim Floyd. Pasternack reached out to Floyd and invited the popular coach back for a Tim Floyd Roast/UNO fundraiser in September, which Floyd agreed to. The USC coach also said he would be interested in bringing his Trojans back to New Orleans once Lakefront Arena opens.

"The most fun I've ever had in coaching was at the University of New Orleans," says Floyd, who was there from 1989-94. "It was a tremendous time in our lives. It is a town we are going to go back and retire to some day. I love the place and love the University, so if we can help them by playing there, we will."

It is Pasternack's team now, and the rookie is attempting to teach the third system some of these players have had to learn in three years, and then build a program with players he will have recruited. Unlike the previous two coaches, who were not from the Crescent City, Pasternack will not be looking to leave anytime soon. And he's already given his weary players a moment to remember with the win at NC State.

"It was such a special thing to watch these seniors [in the locker room]," Pasternack says. "Everything these guys have been through, from the hurricane to the coaching changes -- nothing seemed to have gone right for them for four years. To see the jubilation in their faces ... this was the best thing that has happened in their careers."

In the 1989 NCAA tournament, 14th-seeded Siena shocked No. 3 Stanford in the opening round. The next generation of Saints fans got to celebrate another win over the Cardinal last weekend.

In the second year of a home-and-home contract with Stanford, Siena posted a 79-67 win at the Pepsi Arena in Albany, N.Y. Vermont transfer Josh Duell led the way with 16 second-half points as the Saints controlled the bigger Stanford lineup.

"It's a great feeling to beat a program of that caliber, especially with your fans there," says Siena coach Fran McCaffery. "It just makes the next game bigger. We had great expectations coming into the season. Now with a game like this, the expectations are off the charts, so you have to make sure the team focuses."

Stanford beat Siena 92-72 in the season-opener last year, but Trent Johnson's team was unable to repeat the performance in upstate New York. Stanford forward Taj Finger is from Bedford, N.Y., which was one of the reasons Stanford agreed to the two-year contract.

"I give Trent a lot of credit for going on the road," McCaffery says. "A lot of coaches won't do that."

McCaffery now turns his attention to Ivy League favorite Cornell and city-rival Albany in what he's calling the most difficult schedule Siena has ever faced.

When Sam Houston State handed Bobby Knight his first loss at Texas Tech in 2000-01, the Hall of Fame coach liked what he saw from the Bearkats and their coach Bob Marlin. Knight invited Marlin to spend some time with him in Lubbock and the two became friends.

As part of that friendship, Knight agreed to a two-for-one contract (two home games, one road game) with Marlin and Sam Houston State last year, and he may regret it now. While the Red Raiders took care of things at home last year, it was Sam Houston State that won the home game last week, extending the nation's third-longest non-conference home win streak to 38.

The Texas Tech game is the biggest game on the Sam Houston State schedule, and was billed as such as soon as the game was finalized.

"It has been talked about so much, our players did a nice job putting it in perspective," Marlin says. "As it built up, the day of the game felt like Christmas. It's here! We talked about it so long."

The two coaching staffs went out to dinner the night before the game, but the next day it was all business. The Bearkats started the game 3-for-17 from the field, but rallied and hung on for a 56-54 win when Texas Tech missed two three-pointers in the final 15 seconds.

The significance of the game hit Marlin as he saw his friend walking down the corridor of the Johnson Coliseum following the press conference.

"I looked at him walking down our hall and thought, 'I'll never see that sight again in our building,'" Marlin says. "It's not just [Texas] Tech. How many times do you see the winningest basketball coach of all time?"

Belmont pulled off its second BCS win of the season, beating Alabama 85-83 when Justin Hare hit a jumper with 2.2 seconds left. It was the first win over an SEC team for the Bruins, who have been to two consecutive NCAA tournaments. Earlier this season, Belmont beat Cincinnati 86-75... Australian freshman Patty Mills scored 37 points to lead St. Mary's to a 99-87 upset of No. 12 Oregon on Tuesday. Oregon coach Ernie Kent returned to the school that gave him his first head-coaching job and suffered his first loss of the season. St. Mary's is picked second in the WCC behind Gonzaga.

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