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:
Who had the worse week, Jim Calhoun or Bruce Pearl?
I'm going with Calhoun here, because the NCAA rendered its verdict and he actually received his penalty. Calhoun and the school still have the option of appealing the NCAA's decision (they have separate lawyers, which is not unusual), but my understanding is there's a chance they won't. Still, at least they know their worst-case scenario.
Pearl, however, does not. All the NCAA did last week in his case was issue a notice of allegations. Pearl's official hearing in front of the Committee of Infractions won't take place until June. The final verdict won't come until a couple of months after that. It's going to be a long, restless six or seven months for him.
Why did the NCAA only give Calhoun a slap on the wrist?
Actually, I disagree with this premise. In some people's eyes, anything short of a postseason ban or a one-year suspension amounts to a "slap on the wrist." There's a lot of room between those two extremes.
The sanctions placed on Calhoun and his staff will make it a lot more difficult for them to recruit new players. (For example, only being permitted to pay for five official visits instead of the allowable 12.) The three-game suspension of the head coach is virtually unheard of in cases when that coach was not found to have directly committed major violations. It also sets a precedent eliminating the plausible deniability that too many of these guys hide behind. Plus, there's the larger issue of what all this has done to Calhoun's reputation. Many of the same people who assert this was a slap on the wrist have noted that his legacy is stained forever. Can't have it both ways.
The main reason why UConn was not given a postseason ban was that the player at the center of this whole storm, Nate Miles, never played for the Huskies. Miles did enroll but he was soon expelled after a string of transgressions, the last one being a violation of a restraining order. Had that not happened, Miles would have suited up for UConn, and this thing would have been in a different stratosphere.
Keep in mind as well that the two most recent postseason bans handed down by the NCAA in men's basketball, Syracuse in 1993 and Maryland in 1990, both involved findings of direct cash payments from boosters to players, among a large litany of other major violations. In Maryland's case, head coach Bob Wade took recruits to a sporting goods store owned by a booster and let them pick merchandise off the shelves. Then he lied to the NCAA about it and held staff meetings to encourage his assistants to do the same. Yes, Miles received improper benefits from the former team manager turned NBA agent, but Calhoun had a couple of layers of insulation from those transactions. I'm not saying this thing is pretty, but it would have been precedent-shattering, to say the least, if the NCAA had hammered UConn with a postseason ban.
So you think the NCAA's penalty went far enough?
Actually, I don't. The reason I say that is because this case involves an NBA agent. We are operating in a different climate than existed in the early 1990s with respect to agents. They are an enormous cancer on college athletics, and since the NBA Players Association is MIA when it comes to sanctioning these vermin, the NCAA needs to fill the void by severely penalizing programs who affiliate with them. My preference would have been for the NCAA to suspend Calhoun for more than three games, and I think at least one of those games should have been in the Big East or NCAA tournament. To be fair, though, that is a very subjective argument. The bottom line is this was no slap on the wrist.
In the NCAA's infractions report, UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway was quoted as saying that he had never seen Calhoun so involved in a player's recruitment. What does that say about their relationship?
It says that it is over. The relationship between Calhoun and Hathaway, who took over in 2003 after Lew Perkins left for Kansas, has never been lovey dovey. Hathaway obviously did not like what he learned about how Calhoun's program was operating, and Calhoun does not feel that Hathaway has properly backed him up, in public or in private. How bad is it between those two? As one person close to Calhoun told me last week, "I think Jim would talk to Geno [Auriemma] right now before he would talk to Jeff." That's bad.
What does the UConn decision tell us about what will happen at Tennessee?
Many people have tried to read the tea leaves by focusing on the penalties meted out on Calhoun, but the more relevant situation is the one faced by Calhoun's former director of basketball operations, Beau Archibald. He is the only one in this case who was found to have lied to the NCAA. Archibald, who was let go by UConn last fall, was issued a two-year show cause penalty, which means if another school wants to hire him it has to demonstrate to the NCAA why it should be allowed to. The school also has to explain what measures it will put in place to monitor Archibald's activities. The penalty does not ban anyone from hiring Archibald, but it basically renders it unfeasible.
Still, as the saying goes, you never cross the same river twice. While both Archibald and Pearl lied to the NCAA, Pearl essentially lied once, and unlike Archibald he came back a few weeks later to correct the record. Archibald was caught telling lie after lie after lie, not only during his appearance before the committee on infractions but during his initial interview with NCAA investigators. Yet, even though the NCAA has levied much longer show causes in the past, it only saw fit to make Archibald's last two years. Pearl can take some hope from that.
So Pearl has to feel pretty good about his future, right?
Uh, wrong. Even though Pearl and his athletic director, Mike Hamilton, tried to play off the release of the notice of allegations as if it contained no surprises, there was one head-scratching revelation. Four days after Pearl first addressed this situation in an emotional press conference, he committed a secondary violation when he improperly spoke to a recruit during a non-contact period. This is what is commonly known as a "bump," where a coach talks to a player for a few minutes even though he's not supposed to. Bumps happen all the time in recruiting, so it's not a huge deal -- unless you just had a big press conference announcing that you lied to the NCAA. People at Tennessee and the NCAA have to wonder if this is a man who simply can't help himself.
Furthermore, it seems clear that even though Pearl has already served an eight-game SEC suspension the NCAA is going to hit him pretty hard. Yes, he came back to the NCAA and cleared the record, but not until after he had what can charitably be described as an inappropriate conversation with the father of one of the players who attended the now-infamous barbecue at his house. That player's father told the NCAA that he got the impression that Pearl was trying to influence his future testimony. Whether or not that was really Pearl's intent, that was not a call that should have been made, and it undermines the credibility Pearl hoped to regain by asking for a second interview with the NCAA.
Finally, consider the case of former Oklahoma State wide receiver Dez Bryant, who was ruled ineligible because he lied to the NCAA about his relationship with Deion Sanders. It's hard to imagine the NCAA would go any easier on a coach for committing essentially the same crime. If anything, you'd figure the NCAA would want to go harder on a coach than a player.
Bottom line: Will Bruce Pearl be coaching at Tennessee next year?
Hard to know for sure, of course, but I highly doubt it. After SEC commissioner Mike Slive suspended Pearl for eight games, Tennessee chancellor Jimmy Cheek said, "Bruce is our coach, and he's going to be for many years." Last week, Hamilton issued a statement pointing out that almost all of the information in the NCAA's notice of allegations had been previously reported. Still, my understanding based on conversations I've had with people at Tennessee is that the school is bracing for the worst. They want to keep Pearl, but they are becoming resigned to the likelihood that the NCAA will make that all but impossible later this summer, either through a lengthy suspension or a show cause penalty. The administration has not decided on specifically what penalty would force it to jettison its coach. Those folks will know it when they see it, and my anticipation is that they will see it.
• Duke and Texas might be trying to get No. 1 seeds, but they'd be better off as a two seeds. Why? Because if either beats out BYU as the last 1 seed, that team would likely be sent out west to Anaheim. If they're a 2, that would mean BYU gets sent to Anaheim, and Duke and Texas would both get to play closer to home -- Duke in Newark or New Orleans, and Texas in San Antonio. Shoot, if I'm Texas, I wouldn't care what seed I was if I could go to San Antonio for the regionals. I mean that literally: Texas is better off being a No. 4 seed in the Southwest than a one seed in the West.
• Speaking of Texas, I won't overreact to the pratfall at Colorado, but I do think it's worth mentioning that much of the perception of this team's excellence is tethered to its huge comeback victory at Kansas. This is not an excuse, but that game was played the day after the Jayhawks learned that sophomore forward Thomas Robinson's mother had died suddenly of a heart attack. The players were up all night crying with their teammate, and they grieved all morning without wanting to eat breakfast. The team was able to ride its emotions to a 15-point lead, but after that KU ran out of gas. Would Texas have made that comeback if the tragedy hadn't happened? We'll never know for sure, but I believe the answer is no.
• Getting back to BYU, the tournament dodged a bit of a bullet because the West regional will be played in Anaheim on a Thursday and Saturday. If it was scheduled for Friday and Sunday, the committee would not be able to send BYU there because the university, which is operated by the Mormon church, does not hold events on Sundays. Imagine if BYU were a No. 1 seed but couldn't be sent to its native region. The committee would have to either swap BYU with one of the other 1 seeds, which would mean that other team would be unfairly sent far away from home, or the committee would have to drop BYU to the 2 line and send another 2 seed to Anaheim as the 1.
• Tim Floyd is an excellent coach, but he put on a reprehensible display last week when he got ejected in a loss at ECU and needed to be escorted off the court by a police officer. Coaches' sideline behavior seems to get worse every season, and this was one of the worst examples I've seen in a while.
• Here's another reason why this George Mason team is different than the one that made the Final Four in 2006. If you recall, the '06 squad was a bubble team that ended up as an 11 seed. This year's team has played itself way past the bubble and is looking at a 7 or 8 seed at worst. Not sayin' this team is going to the Final Four. Just sayin'.
• If George Mason does make the Final Four, Ryan Pearson's beard is going to become a part of tournament lore. That thing is borderline rabbinical.
• San Diego State point guard D.J. Gay recently went through a stretch where he committed exactly one turnover in seven games, but it's disconcerting that Gay had his two worst games of the season against BYU. After failing to score a field goal in the teams' first meeting in Provo, Gay had just two field goals and attempted zero free throws on Saturday. I'd rather see him commit a few more turnovers if it means he's attacking the rim more aggressively.
• I'm a big fan of Ken Pomeroy's efficiency ratings, and I check his website often to look up all sorts of cool stats (even though I only understand about half of them). I also have no problem with members of the selection committee consulting those efficiency ratings to inform their decisions. But this notion that the efficiency ratings should replace the RPI as the primary organizational tool is totally ridiculous. The only thing that truly matters on a team's résumé is wins and losses, not a particular statistic, and that's all the RPI takes into account. I mean, look at Pomeroy's ratings: Washington is ranked 10th, Maryland is 16th, Utah State is 17th and Belmont is 21st. Is anyone really going to argue that those ratings serve the committee's purposes better than the RPI?
• How intent is Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg on preventing his players from being distracted by all the injuries the team has suffered? He doesn't even like to have his injured players in the gym during practice. The team has lost four players to season-ending injuries and ailments, and during practice they are somewhere else doing rehab work and getting treatment. The Hokies have shown remarkable resilience in the face of all those injuries, and it obviously paid off Saturday night against Duke.
• I love that UCLA coach Ben Howland is still bringing his freshman center, Josh Smith, off the bench. It's a great example of a coach figuring out what makes a kid comfortable and sticking with it. Smith had 17 points (and just three fouls) in 20 minutes during Saturday's thrashing of Arizona. I still don't think any of the Pac-10 teams are making the second weekend of the tournament, but UCLA is the most likely do to it.
• I understand guards are going to have shooting slumps from time to time, but there is no excuse for continuing to jack up shots without getting to the foul line. Case in point: Villanova's Corey Fisher shot a combined 4-for-26 (including 0-for-16 from three) in home losses last week to Syracuse and St. John's. He also attempted two free throws against the Orange and none against the Red Storm. If Fisher is not going to drive himself, he can at least do a better job dumping the ball inside and letting the team's bigs do the dirty work. As I've said before, a good player knows how to play well when he's not playing well, and right now Fisher is not playing well.
• I'm continually amazed how many box scores I read where only one non-starter played double-figure minutes. Stop saying this or that team has no depth. Most teams have no depth.
• I have enormous respect for the way Kansas State guard Jacob Pullen has gotten his game together. Pullen had a hard time finding the basket early in the season, but in Big 12 games he is ranked first in the league in scoring (21.8), sixth in field-goal percentage (42.0), ninth in assists (3.43) and 10th in free-throw percentage (79.1). Besides warranting consideration as Big 12 player of the year, Pullen has shown great maturity and toughness. Bravo, son.
• Teams that play poorly on the road usually don't advance far in the NCAA tournament. That's a huge concern for Missouri and Kentucky, who are both 1-6 on the road in their respective conferences.
• If the end of the season is approaching, that must mean it's time to fire up all the Tubby Smith rumors. Smith will be mentioned with every prominent job opening, and while I have long believed he would leave Minnesota for the right offer, people need to realize that that right offer will have to be upwards of $3 million. That's a lotta Benjamins to be throwing around, especially if you have to throw around a lot more to buy out the coach you have.
• Props also go to Brad Stevens for righting the ship at Butler. The Bulldogs went into their game at Cleveland State on February 5 having lost four of their last five, but they haven't lost since. If this team gets into the tournament, it will not only derive confidence from its strong finish but also from last year's success.
• It's always interesting when teams that weren't on anyone's radar screen all of a sudden play themselves into the bubble picture during the last week of February. This year's examples are Michigan, which got a big win at Minnesota to improve to 8-9 in the Big Ten, and USC, which swept the Arizona schools at home last week to move up to fourth place in the Pac-10. Remember, USC beat Texas at home and Tennessee on the road -- if the Trojans keep winning they'll have a pretty strong case. And the Wolverines' regular season finale at home against Michigan State on Saturday is gonna be huuuuuge.
• One more USC thought: I found it pretty interesting that Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill complained that the refs were protecting Arizona forward Derrick Williams, and then Williams only shot two free throws when the teams played last Thursday. I'm sure that's a total coincidence.
• With all the attention showered on Jared Sullinger, I hope people still appreciate how valuable senior forward David Lighty is to the Buckeyes. Lighty, who was my All-Glue captain last season, put in one of the best defensive performances of the season when he pilfered six steals in Ohio State's win over Illinois. Bruce Weber couldn't say enough about the kid after the game. It didn't take a sleuth to discern that Lighty is exactly the kind of player Weber wishes he had right now.
• One under-the-radar reason why Louisville is such a pleasant surprise is the unexpected contribution the team is getting from freshman Gorgui Dieng. A 6-foot-10 center from Senegal, Dieng is not like many African kids who have great ability and potential but not much feel for the game. He actually looks like a basketball player out there. Dieng missed five games because of a bad concussion, but he returned on February 16. Two days later he turned in his best performance of the season when he had 13 points and 12 rebounds in the win over UConn. He added six rebounds in just 16 minutes off the bench in Sunday's overtime win over Pitt.
• Incidentally, I freely admit that I was rooting for Pitt to make a desperation heave at the end of overtime following the technical foul that was called on the Louisville male cheerleader, just because it would have been so epic. You know you were doing the same.
• Did you see Michigan State senior forward Durrell Summers try a fancy reverse dunk when he had a breakaway opportunity in the second half at Minnesota? You could see how ticked off Tom Izzo was considering what a disappointing season Summers has had. Just put the ball in the basket, man.
• Very few people outside of geeks like us are hip to Boston College junior guard Reggie Jackson, but the dude has had an All-ACC season. He is averaging 18.4 points, 4.4 rebounds and 4.4 assists while shooting 49.5 percent from the field, 41.5 percent from three-point range and 80.5 percent from the foul line. Those percentages are especially impressive given all the attention Jackson gets from opposing defenses because he plays on a mediocre team.
• I don't believe the specter of an NBA lockout will have any impact on the decisions of college players to enter the draft. Remember, the collective bargaining agreement doesn't expire until July 1, which would be after the draft. Players will make their decisions based on their projected draft position. That's all.
• I love it when leagues allow the team that finished first during the regular season to host the postseason tournament. Really gives the regular season a lot more meaning.
• Anybody else out there thinking Xavier is ready to extend its streak of three straight Sweet Sixteens? Tu Holloway deserves consideration for first team All-America -- he's that good -- and sophomore forward Jeff Robinson scored a career-high 22 points last week in a win over La Salle. In other words, this very good team is still getting better.
• Finally, a few of you sent e-mails in response to my column about Utah State superfan Wild Bill Sproat asking how you can help him with his $200,000 debt from medical bills. If you'd like to help or want to read more about him, you can go to wildbillsproat.com.
(Last week's ranking on my ballot in parentheses)
1. Ohio State (2)2. Kansas (3)3. Pitt (1)4. BYU (6)5. Duke (4)6. Purdue (10)7. Notre Dame (9)8. Louisville (13)9. San Diego State (7)10. Texas (5)11. Syracuse (20)12. Georgetown (9)13. St. John's (22)14. Florida (12)15. Vanderbilt (14)16. Connecticut (15)17. Villanova (11)18. Wisconsin (17)19. North Carolina (18)20. Utah State (23)21. Xavier (25)22. Kentucky (21)23. George Mason (NR)24. Missouri (19)25. Arizona (16)
Dropped out: Texas A&M (24)
Once again, the real action was at the top of the poll. I didn't have Duke as my No. 1 team last week -- I had Pittsburgh. Since they both lost, I needed a new No. 1. I try not to be too slavish in following my previous week's ballot, but Ohio State and Kansas are basically a coin flip at this point, so I kept them in the same order as I had last week. I'd have no argument with anyone who wants to rank Kansas first.
Those two are also battling for the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament, but even that doesn't really matter because regardless of how it turns out they can both be sent to their native regions -- Ohio State to Newark and Kansas to San Antonio. Pitt's mission from here on out won't be just to overtake Ohio State in the polls but also on the seed line, which would allow Pitt to play in Newark instead.
My two big movers at the top were Purdue and Louisville. I just can't say enough about the jobs both of these coaches have done. I don't usually leapfrog teams over other top teams who haven't lost, but in a season where so few teams have been able to win on the road, Purdue's spanking of Michigan State at the Breslin Center deserved special recognition.
Villanova is a hard team for me to figure out right now. On the one hand, the team has lost four of its last six. On the other hand, three of those were to teams currently ranked ahead of the Wildcats (Pitt, Syracuse, St. John's), and the fourth was a road game at Rutgers that was decided on a freak four-point play. On the other other hand, those first three losses were all at home, and a good team knows how to hold serve. In the end, I decided to split the baby and leave the 'Cats at No. 17.
With so many ranked teams losing again last week there was only so far I could drop teams on my ballot. I was not quite as high on Arizona as my fellow voters last week, and their lost weekend in Los Angeles bore that out. Texas A&M got the boot after its second loss of the season to Baylor. It took me about two seconds to decide that George Mason should be awarded the new vacancy (although I did give UCLA some consideration). George Mason hasn't lost a game since January 8th.