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NJIT over Michigan? It's no longer the biggest shock in the state of Michigan's -- or the country's, really -- college basketball scene.

Texas Southern's 71-64 overtime win Saturday over No. 25 Michigan State is the biggest upset of the year. Chris Thomas had 22 points, and Malcolm Riley scored 20 points for the Tigers. The Spartans went 4-for-21 from the 3-point line.

They didn't have Branden Dawson, who missed the game due to a wrist injury, but they were still favored -- by a country mile.

Let's put some context on this thing so you understand how crazy it was:

  • Ken Pomeroy gave Michigan State a 98 percent chance of victory.
  • Texas Southern was 1-8 entering the game, a record that includes a 40-point loss to Gonzaga and a 26-point loss to Eastern Washington.
  • Texas Southern was ranked 279th in ESPN.com's BPI ratings entering the game.
  • This is the first win for Texas Southern over a ranked team since the Tigers defeated No. 16 Minnesota on Dec. 21, 1994. That's right, folks. It has been nearly 20 years to the day since TSU beat a ranked opponent.

It seems all the Michigan State fans who cracked jokes -- and bought NJIT shirts to gloat -- about their rival Michigan's recent slump will get a little bit of what they dished out after the Spartans suffered arguably the worst upset loss of the year.

[+] EnlargeTexas Southern's Mike Davis
Mike Carter/USA TODAY SportsFormer Indiana coach Mike Davis and his Texas Southern Tigers got a win at Michigan State on Saturday.
Michigan's losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan weren't pretty, but this is certainly on par with those two. It also extended a surprising nonconference start by the Big Ten.

Indiana has a home loss to Eastern Washington. Michigan has lost four in a row, including those back-to-back losses to NJIT and Eastern Michigan. Nebraska has a loss to Incarnate Word.

But Michigan State's loss to Texas Southern probably tops them all.

One man's misfortune is another man's miracle, though.

Mike Davis has been on the sideline multiple times at the Breslin Center. From 2000-06, he was the head coach at Indiana. His final years weren't great, especially in East Lansing. In his last two losses to the Spartans during his time in Bloomington, the Hoosiers lost by a combined 28 points.

"I've been in here a lot with some really good teams, and we got smoked in here," Davis told ESPN.com. "I'm feeling very good with our game today."

Davis credited two factors for the win: a tough schedule and winter break.

Gonzaga defeated Texas Southern by 40 points in Spokane in its most recent game. That helped, Davis said. They've also faced Indiana, Florida, SMU and Tennessee -- all losses for the Tigers. Texas Southern's strength of schedule is ninth nationally, per the BPI.

Davis also said his staff has been pushing his players harder now that the semester has ended and they have more time to practice.

"We've been running pretty hard," Davis said, "almost like training camp."

Texas Southern, much like a multitude of HBCUs and low-major programs, spends the bulk of November and December on the road. Of its 10 games this season, nine have been road games.

Davis said that will help his team once SWAC play arrives.

"I am [on cloud nine]," Davis said. "It feels good to be up here too. … I just thought we had a chance to win the game. I told them, 'Let's play the last five minutes like we played the first 40.' It's a great win for our program, players and university."

And for Coach Davis.

CHICAGO -- UCLA freshman Kevon Looney declared he wanted another “stab” at Kentucky after the top-ranked Wildcats ran the Bruins off the floor by 39 points on Saturday.

UCLA coach Steve Alford clarified that after losing 83-44 to Kentucky at the United Center.

“Not right now,” Alford said. “I appreciate Kevon’s enthusiasm, but not right now.”

Not many teams will want anything to do with Kentucky after how it embarrassed UCLA on Saturday. The Wildcats opened the game on a 24-0 run, which was eight points shy of the record between two Division I teams. UCLA opened the game shooting 0-for-17 and didn’t record its first points until 7:53 into the first half.

Kentucky continued to roll and expanded its lead to 41-7 by halftime. It was the lowest point total in a half for UCLA and the fewest by a Kentucky opponent since 1943. The Wildcats had more blocked shots (eight) than UCLA had points in the first half. The Bruins shot 3-of-37 from the field in the first half and didn’t reach double digits until 1:45 into the second half.

[+] EnlargeDevin Booker
David Banks/Getty ImagesDevin Booker led Kentucky in scoring with 19 points on 7-of-10 shooting in a rout of UCLA.
Calipari swears he didn’t even know the actual score in the first half.

“I didn’t look at the score in the first half,” Calipari said. “I did not know what the score was. I knew it was pretty good. ... To be honest, I didn’t know where it was. The second half, I glanced up there one time because they said it was in the end zone.”

Even as the Wildcats kept adding to their lead, they kept finding reasons to push for more.

“We have to keep playing against ourselves,” said Kentucky freshman guard Devin Booker, who shot 7-of-10 and scored a game-high 19 points. “Coach always stresses to us that we’re not playing against the other team -- we’re playing against ourselves. Just keep playing, and you can’t look at the score. Just keep going.”

Calipari added: “You know, we’re trying to build something here, to say, you’re going out, playing against yourself, and you hear these kids talking about it. World-class teams play against themselves. They don’t play against the opponent.”

Alford said he thought Kentucky has what it takes to get through the entire season undefeated.

“[If] they continue to play at that level defensively, I’m a firm believer they’re got a chance to run this thing out,” Alford said. “They’re that good. They’re that talented.”
Why do you love college basketball? What is it for? What purpose does it serve in your life? Can you enjoy a game only when your team wins?

Or do you also care about style? About aesthetics? About the pure joy of lightning fast, guards everywhere, relentless running and gunning? Do you unapologetically love offense? Is your enjoyment of a game affected as much by the how of the outcome as the outcome itself? Do you value the journey as much as the destination?

If so, the Indiana Hoosiers -- fresh off Saturday's 82-73 Crossroads Classic win over No. 23 Butler -- have just the team for you.

[+] EnlargeIndiana's Yogi Ferrell
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsYogi Ferrell scored 20 points for the high-flying Hoosiers in a win over Butler on Saturday.
There are many reasons the Hoosiers are America's most watchable college basketball team, and all of them were on display Saturday. Tempo is a good place to start: Against Butler, the Hoosiers, who usually hover around 70 possessions per game, pushed the pace up to 75. The ball never really stops in Indiana's offense; even on made shots, Tom Crean's players sprint to inbound the ball and get it up the floor as quickly as possible. If there are any openings, IU takes them.

The best part? It works, and it's not just about speed. On Saturday, the Hoosiers shot 71 field goals (and made 30 of them), went 8-of-17 from 3 and turned the ball over just 11 times. IU entered Saturday scoring 1.24 points per possession, fourth best in the country behind only Notre Dame, Duke and Gonzaga. They average 56 percent from inside the arc and 42.1 percent beyond it. Crean's team plays fast and makes everything in sight, and the results are often spectacular.

Why play this way? It's not just a coach's preference (though that certainly helps). It's also personnel. Crean landed one of the three or four best freshman guards in the country in James Blackmon, Jr. (who didn't play well Saturday in shooting just 2-of-12 from the field), whom he starts alongside junior guard Yogi Ferrell (who was devastating in Saturday's second half and remains generally underrated), fellow impressive freshman Robert Johnson, slashing "forward" Troy Williams and center Hanner Mosquera-Perea. That five mixes with a steady rotation of shooters and role players, all of whom spread the floor.

Oh, and this designation -- most watchable team -- has as much to do with what the Hoosiers' do poorly: defense. Indiana entered Saturday allowing 1.005 points per possession, 173rd in the country. Butler fell just below that mark Saturday and finished around .97, but only because they clanged a procession of mostly open 3-pointers in the second half (and finished 3-of-16 from 3). Indiana's lack of genuine size creates easy post opportunities, no effective back-line help on penetration and real trouble on the defensive boards. This is the curse of Indiana's offensive gifts. The same things that make them great with the ball make them easy to exploit on the other end.

But hey, that's their problem! For the viewer, it's a bonus. So what if that style doesn't guarantee a win? (See Louisville 94, Indiana 74.) So what if it drives the die-hards a little bit nuts? College basketball has plenty of sloth and plenty of defense already.

If you want to have some fun with your 40 minutes, the Hoosiers' weird combination of pace, efficiency and lackluster defense is the best value proposition this sport has to offer. Win or lose, they are not to be missed.
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PHILADELPHIA -- They used to call this "Monday" in the old Big East.

OK, maybe "Big Monday," but the combo white knuckler/brass knuckles battle Villanova and Syracuse staged on Saturday afternoon wasn’t anything out of the ordinary.

What once happened when two teams met in a rivalry built on the organic foundation of time and experience -- instead of the manufactured base of conference realignment -- might have produced extraordinary basketball. But it wasn’t unexpected.

Which is why the early theme heading into this particular version of Cuse-Nova really didn’t make much sense. In both theory and logic Villanova, ranked seventh, should have had its way with the Orange, unranked and so out of sorts its own coach spoke in reverse hyperbole about it.

In reality, Syracuse led by 12 at the half and already had 41 points on the board.

In theory and logic, the Orange, up five with 10 seconds to play, should have won.

In reality, the Wildcats hit a 3, stole an inbounds pass, scored on a layup to tie it and then won in overtime 82-77.

[+] EnlargeJayVaughn Pinkston
Bill Streicher/USA TODAY SportsThis shot by JayVaughn Pinkston capped Villanova's late rally in regulation, sending the game into OT.
“I really didn’t understand why going into this game, everyone said we should be able to handle them," Villanova coach Jay Wright said. “This is Syracuse-Villanova, and it’s never been anything other than what you just saw."

Forget the people who merely watched the game, those who actually played in it still couldn’t process how it all happened.

Here’s the description, if not the explanation: After Trevor Cooney hit two free throws to put the Orange up 69-64, Villanova's Josh Hart drained a baseline 3-pointer with 10.8 seconds to play. Still all the Orange had to do was inbound the ball to the right guy, hit a few free throws and get out with a confidence-boosting win. Instead Rakeem Christmas got the ball, got trapped and turned it over into the hands of Ryan Arcidiacono, the Wildcats’ sure-handed point guard. He found JayVaughn Pinkston under the basket. The senior scored the layup to tie the game and force OT.

Fifty seconds into overtime, Villanova took its first lead of the entire game. The Wildcats would never trail again.

“I’m not really sure what happened," Pinkston said. “I’m not sure I can even explain it."

Really it was Syracuse that agreed to keep this thing alive, opting to honor its traditional Big East games against the likes of St. John's, Villanova and Georgetown even after it moved south to the ACC.

It was done for the sake of tradition, for nostalgia and history, all important and worthy intentions.

But putting aside all of those warm fuzzies, in pure basketball this particular game was big, too.

Big for the Orange, a team that just a few days ago Jim Boeheim referred to as "not anywhere near a good basketball team." Villanova’s lack of defense may have offered an assist, but Syracuse’s offense was more fluid in this game than it had been all season. The Orange shot 63 percent from the field in the first half.

More, point guard Kaleb Joseph, derided by plenty in Central New York as the primary root of Syracuse’s evil, dished out 10 assists one game after coughing up eight turnovers.

“I thought we played the best we’ve played all year," Boeheim said. “It was a great effort, but the end of the game we couldn’t get the ball inbounds. They made a great play, and that’s the game."

The real beneficiary here was Villanova.

The Cats have big plans; they’ll even tell you about them.

Asked if he enjoyed playing in such a tight game Hart said, “Yes and no. I wish we could win every game by 15 or 20, but you know that’s not going to happen. We need this to prepare us for the conference and for April."

A team can play only two games that month -- in the national semifinals and the national championship game -- and if the Wildcats intend to play then, they needed this game.

To date, Villanova’s big wins are against VCU and Michigan. The first is OK, the second not so much.

The Cats have just one more non-league game left, against NJIT (insert Michigan joke here), before the Big East season begins. And while the league will offer some challenges -- St. John’s looks much improved, Georgetown is always a worthy adversary -- Villanova really ought to have its way.

The conference, which blazed out to a 37-2 start, has come back to Earth a little bit, 43-23 since that beginning heading into Saturday’s games.

But the Cats didn’t need this to build their resume. If Villanova keeps winning, that will take care of itself.

The Wildcats needed to get, as coaches love to say, punched in the mouth because quite frankly they might not get many more jabs the rest of the way.

A year ago, remember, Villanova brought a gaudy 28-4 record into the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats shuffled out of their regional in Buffalo, New York, at 29-5 and done for the year.

“We needed this for a lot of reasons," Wright said. “We didn’t come into this game with the focus we should have. Over the course of a season, that’s going to happen. It’s not about playing perfect every night. You’re not doing it. But if you don’t play perfect, it’s about how you react."

Games like this, that tend to be as much about what happened in the last decade as the last 10 seconds, don’t allow much for perfection.

But they do allow for extraordinary.

North Carolina flashes its potential

December, 20, 2014
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CHICAGO -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams has a bit of the Grinch in him, as of late.

Williams has had his players running more, pushing their intensity in drills and practicing longer in the past week than he had been doing. Sophomore forward Kennedy Meeks didn’t downplay the difficulty of the practices, either, and described it as a "tough" week for him and his teammates.

Williams, of course, has his reasons. He had high expectations for this season’s team, and it wasn’t meeting them through 10 games. They picked up quality wins against Davidson, Florida and UCLA but struggled in losses to Butler, Iowa and Kentucky. He publicly questioned his team’s maturity and knocked its decision-making and rebounding leading up to Saturday’s game against No. 12 Ohio State.

The Tar Heels responded positively, for the most part, in an 82-74 victory over the Buckeyes. Williams wasn’t especially pleased with how his players performed at the end of each half, and they still made some decisions he might never understand, but he could at least joke about it, having won the game.

"I’m extremely relieved," Williams said. "I’m not sitting up here saying I’m as happy as I can possibly be. I don’t hear the happy song in my ears right now. We stunk it up down the stretch, and I think we’ve got to get better there."

Williams’ players were singing that same tune.

North Carolina junior guard Marcus Paige can see the potential of his team. When he’s knocking down shots, Meeks and Brice Johnson are working off each other in the paint, J.P. Tokoto is influencing the game in a variety of ways, Justin Jackson is getting involved and the bench is contributing, the Tar Heels look like a team that deserves all the hype. The problem is all those elements haven’t exactly clicked consistently for North Carolina.

"We have a long ways to go, in terms of reaching our ceiling," Paige said. "It’s not even close because you see how we played today. We showed flashes where we could be a really good team and kind of had a mediocre trot through the second half and barely get the win. We can’t have that."

Paige took some of the blame for North Carolina’s inconsistencies Saturday. It wasn't exactly a memorable trip to Chicago for him. He shot 4-of-12 from the field and 2-of-8 on 3-pointers and committed a team-high four turnovers. Williams nearly lost his mind when Paige shot a 3-pointer with six seconds left, and Ohio State scored to end the first half after Williams stressed waiting for the last shot. In the game’s final two minutes, Paige missed a wide-open layup and missed two consecutive free throws. He finished with 16 points and four assists.

If Paige had that stat line against any other solid team earlier this season, the result wouldn’t have likely gone in North Carolina’s favor. He shot 5-of-17 in the loss to Butler and 4-of-16 in the loss to Iowa. On Saturday, he didn’t need to carry the load, as five other players scored eight or more points and Johnson, Tokoto and Meeks combined for 30 rebounds. Defensively, the Tar Heels held Ohio State to a .347 shooting percentage from the field. The Buckeyes came into the game with one of the country’s best shooting percentages at .537.

"You see now with the transformation of Kennedy and the maturity of Brice that I don’t necessarily have to [have a great game for us to win]," Paige said. "I still have to play better. I didn’t play very well today."

Williams doesn’t expect Paige to have that type of game often.

"I’ve never seen Marcus Paige miss as many open shots as he did in the second half -- and two layups," Williams said. "But I still think that says a lot about how good we can be because eventually he’s going to start playing."

Paige’s teammates have high standards for Paige as well, but Saturday proved they can get by against a ranked team without Paige having to go off.

"If it’s not his day, it’s not his day," Johnson said. "Somebody else has to step up. That’s just one thing we’re going to do. We just have to help him out some games. Some games he’s going to turn up and be able to knock down all his shots. Those games when he doesn’t, myself, Kennedy, J.P. and the rest of the guys, we have to be able to cover up for him and let him be a facilitator during those games."

Williams began his postgame news conference stating he was just glad it was the Christmas break, and they could all go home. It’s not as if the Tar Heels should anticipate a happier coach when they return, though.

Paige said the Tar Heels were OK with that, as well.

"We haven’t been busting our rear ends on every play, every possession," Paige said. "That’s on us. Coaching by fear gets you to that level. If he’s going to run us an entire practice, I think our incentive to play harder is going to be higher. I mean, it works. ... If he’s going to have to coach like that, honestly, I’m all for it."
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University of Louisville junior forward Montrezl Harrell can’t lose his cool.

Not the way he did with 38 seconds left in the first half of a win over Western Kentucky. Harrell was ejected for the first time in his career when officials deemed he threw a punch at WKU’s Avery Patterson after a scramble for a loose ball.

[+] EnlargeMontrezl Harrell
AP Photo/Timothy D. EasleyMontrezl Harrell was ejected Saturday when officials deemed he threw a punch at Western Kentucky's Avery Patterson.
Harrell might have to sit out the Cardinals' next game, against Cal State Northridge, and if there’s a silver lining in all this, it’s that the next name on the schedule is not Kentucky. The Wildcats await Louisville on Dec. 27.

The Cardinals survived without Harrell against the Hilltoppers. But he’s too much of the heart of this team to put his teammates in this predicament.

Harrell sets the tone for Louisville. He was leading the Cards with 14 points, six rebounds and two assists before he was ejected.

It should be noted that within the Commonwealth, the Louisville-WKU rivalry is a little more intense than folks nationally probably realize. The Hilltoppers led the series 39-38 entering Saturday’s game.

When coach Rick Pitino first took over at Louisville, he wanted to delay playing the series. That prompted Western’s then-athletic director Wood Selig to openly suggest they would stop all sports from playing Louisville. There was even talk at the time that the state legislature would have to get involved. The acrimony died down, and from 2008 until now, the teams have played every year.

It’s hard to tell what exactly set Harrell off. He went after a loose ball with Western guard Brandon Price on the ground. There didn’t appear to be any extra pushing from Price, but Patterson and two other Hilltoppers players hovered over him. As Harrell stood up, Patterson shoved him, and Harrell swung back.

Harrell treats every opponent as a rival, anyway. That’s why Harrell drives the team -- it goes beyond just his physical skills. He’s always had an edge.

He expects his teammates to match his intensity. There is a hint of intimidation, too, that lingers and makes it so teammates don’t want to cross him by taking shortcuts.

After a lackluster performance against UNC Wilmington on Sunday, it was Harrell who essentially expanded on Pitino’s postgame speech as to why it was unacceptable. Harrell’s voice began rising to the point that he was doing more than speaking to reporters; he was also letting his teammates know their effort had to change moving forward.

The Cardinals can make a run for the ACC title in their first season in the league, with Harrell leading the way. They can make a deep run in March, with Harrell leading the way.

Harrell needs to keep his edge to keep the Cardinals running. But the Cards need him to keep his cool, too.
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ACC

Afternoon Links: Reading the zone

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
12:45
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What we're reading while we feel bad for people with birthdays in late December. Submit links via Twitter.
  • Why on Earth would Thad Matta show football film to his college basketball players? No, it wasn't about "toughness." It was about zone defense: "What we were trying to show them was when the offense comes, and every time the offense shifts, the defense shifts," Matta said. "That was the gist of what we were trying to get them to understand. There were some NFL clips in there, just the best clips that we could find of the quarterback comes up, he calls an audible or whatever, guys are moving this way, then you see the defense move and you see the linebacker hitting the linemen and moving them. We just were trying to get our guys to understand when the offense moves against our zone, we have to move, too. You have to constantly be adjusting was what I wanted to show them."
  • How quickly can Cliff Alexander improve? It was the overriding KU question in October. It remains so. A month in to the season, KU's freshman big man -- the No. 3 player in the class behind Jahlil Okafor and Myles Turner -- has shown plenty of current skill and tons of upside. How quickly can he develop it? Tom Keegan wonders if the winter break might be just what the doctor ordered.
  • Rush the Court's Brendan Brody looks at Indiana sophomore Troy Williams, whose huge leap in efficiency has made him a far more effective scorer in Indiana's top-10 per-possession offense, but whose improvement -- thanks to the blistering pace set by James Blackmon Jr., Robert Johnson and Yogi Ferrell -- has gone largely unnoticed. Now, if Indiana could just play defense ...
  • The same Eastern Michigan zone that frustrated the Wolverines into a brutal home upset loss last week gave Michigan State, the best 3-point shooting team in the country, fewer problems this week. But Tom Izzo still came away impressed: "Even though it was a 20-point win, that's a damn good team," Izzo said. "They are going to win a lot of games this year. I really believe that. They are well coached, play hard and I'm happy for Murph [EMU coach Rob Murphy]. They are off to a great start. Their zone could frustrate the Spurs. They are pesky. I'd like to learn a little about it to be honest with you, that's how impressed I was with it."
  • Iowa State forward Jameel McKay is, after years of waiting (and for a variety of reasons), eligible to get back on the floor. He will do so when Iowa State meets Drake at the Hy-Vee Big Four Classic this weekend. The Big Four Classic is Iowa's in-state doubleheader featuring Iowa, Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Drake. I know that, and I know it's sponsored by the grocery store chain I frequented as a child, but "meets Drake at the Hy-Vee" nonetheless triggered a very vivid image of Aubrey Graham sitting down for a value-priced meal from the Chinese counter. My brain is terrible.
Most North Carolina players could give a brief rundown on what they know about Ohio State guard Shannon Scott heading into Saturday’s game with the Buckeyes in Chicago.

The significance of his father? That was a bit harder for the young Tar Heels to remember, even though Charles Scott’s journey is extremely significant.

Willie Cooper was the first to integrate the Tar Heels freshman team in 1964. Scott was the first black scholarship basketball player at North Carolina in 1966. He paved the way for them all: Phil Ford, Michael Jordan, Antawn Jamison, Sean May, Ty Lawson.

[+] EnlargeShannon Scott
Kirk Irwin/Getty ImagesShannon Scott might be an Ohio State Buckeye now, but his father Charles was one of the most influential players in North Carolina history.
Scott is the school's sixth all-time leading scorer and has his No. 33 jersey among those honored -- not retired -- in the Dean E. Smith Center rafters. He helped lead the Tar Heels to Final Four appearances in 1968 and 1969.

“Did I go with the idea of being a pioneer? It was the ‘60s and at that time you do things because they needed to be done, not with the concept of being a pioneer,” said Scott, who lettered from 1967-70. “It was the era of integration in many circumstances and I just happened to be one of instruments of integration for the University of North Carolina.”

His love for his alma mater and his former coach is unquestioned. Scott’s other two children, Simone and Shaun, both graduated from UNC. He returns to Chapel Hill at least once each year and visits coach Dean Smith.

Scott might not wear scarlet and gray at the United Center, but this is the one time he won’t exactly be “shouting N.C.U.” as the fight song suggests.

“Luckily it has only come up once in four years and I hope it comes up once again, maybe in the NCAA championship,” Charles Scott said. “It’s going to be tough rooting against North Carolina, but that’s my son out there. Make no mistake about it, I will be rooting for my son and his team.”

Scott once envisioned seeing his son follow in his footsteps to Chapel Hill. Many summers he would bring Shannon Scott back for basketball camps.

Shannon Scott, a 6-foot-1 senior point guard, also dreamed of playing in Carolina blue when he got serious about basketball in middle school. Things changed as he got older and he thought about forming his own legacy in a program.

Carolina made the decision easier for him, with a roster that included Larry Drew II and Kendall Marshall. Scott, who was rated No. 34 in the class of 2011 by Recruiting Nation, didn’t want to be the third point guard.

“I had to decide did I want to go and be my own person or the son of somebody,” said Shannon Scott, who currently leads the Buckeyes and is second nationally with 7.8 assists per game. “I felt like trying to have my own name, I had to go somewhere else rather than become ‘Charlie Scott’s son’ had I gone there.”

Truth is, being the son of Charles Scott would carry weight wherever he attended school. Shannon Scott could never really just stay in the background on any team. His dad shared stories here and there, but mostly he heard from other Tar Heels fans of the sacrifices his dad made to play.

Shannon Scott heard about his father being passed over for the ACC Player of the Year award as a junior and senior. He heard the stories of isolation and how his father didn't really form lasting and deep bonds with his teammates because he could not hang with them socially outside of basketball. And he heard about his father playing in front of crowds that threw objects at him on the court and stopping at restaurants that wouldn’t serve the team.

“The server would just never come over, the whole team would be waiting to get their food and they would never have anything just because he was there with them,” Shannon Scott said. “Stuff like that is crazy, but I understand that it happened.”

As inconceivable as segregation is to players who saw Barack Obama elected president in their teenage years, they all respect what Charles Scott went through in order for them to play.

North Carolina freshman forward Justin Jackson met Charles Scott, whom he called “one of the great Tar Heels,” when Shannon Scott came to Houston to work out at a John Lucas’ camp.

“Playing college basketball isn’t easy, let alone having to keep up with your academics, and we don’t even have to deal with the whole race issue and everything like that,” Jackson said. “He definitely made a huge mark on college basketball as a whole and the University of North Carolina.”

Scott joked that when he’s recognized by current players for being the first, it just makes him feel old.

Such was the case when Carolina’s sophomore forward Isaiah Hicks sought out Scott for a project in a history class last semester. Hicks said he got a B on the paper, but talking to Scott about his experience was the real lesson.

“Nowadays you can’t imagine going through that stuff, you can’t picture it because it’s not happening to you,” Hicks said. “Of course, I had to thank him.”

3-point shot: Key points from Duke's win over UConn

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
9:06
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Andy Katz recaps three key points from Duke's 66-56 win against UConn on Thursday.
Go ahead. Laugh it up.

I read the comments. I know what you're thinking. And I'm fine with it and I deserve the criticism.

Not only did I fail in my quest for a perfect 5-0 weekend, I didn't even come close.

2-3?!?!?

C'mon, Northern Iowa. I mean, I was right on the overtime thing but not on the outcome. Same with Kansas-Utah. That was a battle.

Just one problem, for the purposes of my limited accuracy: The Jayhawks won that battle.

Kentucky over North Carolina was easy and my 15-point prediction for UK's margin of victory was off by only one. UCLA wasn't in Gonzaga's league. We all knew that.

But I was WAY off on Iowa State-Iowa. Let me explain my pregame reasoning. No Bryce Dejean-Jones for Iowa State in a rivalry road game. An Iowa team that was just over a week removed from that road win over North Carolina. Still, I forgot how personal this game is for the guys involved and disregarded Iowa's challenges in similar high-profile matchups in recent years.

My prediction of a three-point win for Iowa was ultimately a 15-point victory for Iowa State.

This week? I'm asking Santa for anything above 2-3.

Last week: 2-3

Overall: 17-8

UCLA vs. No. 1 Kentucky (United Center in Chicago), 3:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, CBS: The Bruins aren't bad. In some ways, they've surpassed expectations. Who thought Bryce Alford would evolve into an all-Pac-12ish point guard for Steve Alford? Norman Powell is one of the best all-around players in the country. Kevon Looney is a pro. But they're not capable of solving the Kentucky problem that might perplex every opponent the Wildcats face this season. It's a broken record, I know, but if you're dealing with a shot-blocking crew that protects the space within the arc better than any team in America and throws multiple 6-foot-10-and-up future pros at you on offense, how can you stop that over 40 minutes? UCLA won't have that answer during this CBS Sports Classic matchup.

Prediction: Kentucky 80, UCLA 60

No. 12 Ohio State vs. No. 24 North Carolina (United Center in Chicago), 1 p.m. ET, Saturday, CBS: In North Carolina's three losses, Marcus Paige committed three or more turnovers. He also went 14-for-44 from the field in those matchups. If you can pressure him, you can clog North Carolina's offense. And Shannon Scott (3.0 SPG), now one of the nation's top point guards, is the perfect guy to apply that pressure. Plus, the Buckeyes are a good 3-point shooting team that will stretch UNC's defense in a scrappy, tight game. Also, D'Angelo Russell is the truth. And the college basketball world will see that this weekend.

Prediction: Ohio State 69, UNC 67

No. 15 Oklahoma vs. No. 16 Washington (MGM Grand in Las Vegas), 9 p.m. ET, Saturday, ESPNU: A couple of surprising teams here that could make their respective conference races quite interesting. Oklahoma has emerged as a contender in the Big 12. Ryan Spangler and Houston transfer TaShawn Thomas form one of the best frontcourts in the country. The Sooners are holding opponents to a 40 percent clip inside the arc, 29 percent outside it. But the Huskies have Nigel Williams-Goss and a strong offense that has scored 76 points or more in six of its past nine games. But it hasn't faced a team with Oklahoma's balance or a player like Buddy Hield.

Prediction: Oklahoma 74, Washington 70

Indiana vs. No. 23 Butler (Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis), 2:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, Fox Sports 1: The Hoosiers' offense is legit. Their 87.5 PPG is fifth in the nation. But their defense, on a per-possession rating by Ken Pomeroy, is 187th in the country. That's how they lost to Eastern Washington despite scoring 86 points. Butler, which boasts wins over Georgetown and North Carolina, is the opposite. Can't trust the Bulldogs' offense. Roosevelt Jones went 2-for-9 in each of his team's losses (to Tennessee, Oklahoma) and that messed up everything but also showcased Butler's limits. I'll take Yogi Ferrell, James Blackmon and a team that shoots 42 percent from the 3-point line.

Prediction: Indiana 77, Butler 71

No. 17 Maryland at Oklahoma State, 2 p.m. ET, Sunday, ESPNU: Le'Bryan Nash (17.7 PPG and 6.4 RPG) is quietly putting together an impressive season now that he's the star of the Cowboys' show. His team's only blemish is a weird 26-point loss to South Carolina a few weeks ago. But Oklahoma State has been one of the nation's best defensive teams. Maryland is still winning without Dez Wells, who will return soon. In the meantime, the Terps have relied on freshman Melo Trimble (not enough folks are talking about him) and Jake Layman. Maryland could be a player in the Big Ten. But it will suffer another blemish in its first true road game of the season.

Prediction: Oklahoma State 79, Maryland 77 (OT)

Mike Krzyzewski 'coaxes' Duke to win

December, 19, 2014
Dec 19
12:07
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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Mike Krzyzewski wanted his players to run something called "51."

Apparently, they did not.

That inspired the Duke coach to do a little multitasking. He asked the official if he might use one of his timeouts, while simultaneously jabbing at the air as if the oxygen had done something truly offensive, before turning what would make a withering glare wither toward his players.

"They were out to lunch," Krzyzewski said, explaining why he asked for the break just 41 seconds into the second half of Duke's game against Connecticut. "They were in la-la land."

That wasn't exactly how the coach described the locale to the Blue Devils. A few ducks were involved, or at least a word that sounded an awful lot like "ducks," from the seats behind the huddle.

It was a vintage Krzyzewski rant, a squinty-eyed, red-faced bit of brimstone that is as much part of the coach's fabric as his jet-black hair.

Except this season, it was a first. Duke played 380 minutes, 41 seconds of basketball before the Blue Devils met their maker.

That's how good they have been. They have reduced the competitive, tightly wound, wildly demanding Krzyzewski into a sedentary bystander, reserving his ire merely for his good buddies, the fellas in black and white stripes.

He was a little ticked after Duke's game against Elon, but not so much that he had to call a tirade TO, as he did here.

"He lit into us pretty good," freshman Justise Winslow said, smirking to underscore the understatement.

Now for the kicker: The diatribe worked beautifully. The Blue Devils broke the huddle, their tails collectively between their legs and their egos tossed into the garbage can, and proceeded to go on a 14-2 run.

UConn, a team with a 4-4 record that belies how tough it is, would threaten again, but never overcome, that sprint as the Blue Devils won 66-56.

Now, it should come as no surprise that Krzyzewski, a man on the heels of his 1,000th win, should know when to hail 'em and know when to assail 'em.

What's most telling about all of this is how these particular Blue Devils responded. It's true they are freshmen, but being a freshman isn't terribly unique anymore. There are rookies in key roles everywhere in college basketball.

No, what's different here is that these particular freshmen had made it all look so easy. They opened the season with a decisive win against Michigan State, and two weeks later went to Wisconsin and left with a 10-point win.

Heading into the game against UConn, Duke was beating its opponents by an average of 26.9 points per game.

Outside of that game in Madison, Wisconsin, against another team with Final Four aspirations, the Blue Devils hadn't really broken a sweat.

"The upperclassmen, we've been on teams that went to the Elite Eight, that lost in the first round," senior Quinn Cook said. "The younger guys hadn't really been in a dogfight."

And then, along comes UConn. The Huskies' quickness, mostly in the form of Ryan Boatright (he of the Kemba begat Shabazz begat Ryan lineage) forced 19 turnovers; and their zone, swarming Jahlil Okafor, helped limit Duke to just 37.5 percent shooting for the game.

Technically, UConn led for only seven seconds in the entire game, but Duke just couldn't put the Huskies away. When Krzyzewski called that timeout, the Huskies cut the Devils' lead to just one.

So what did the wide-eyed freshmen think of their first Krzyzewski undressing?

"It was encouraging," Winslow said. "He only does that because he believes in us and has confidence in us."

"I'm glad it happened," Tyus Jones added. "We can't accept mediocrity. We can't be OK with making mistakes. He expects perfection from us, and we need to expect that, too."

After Duke looked less than inspired against Elon -- despite winning by 13 -- Krzyzewski challenged his team to not be normal.

Normal teams, he explained, struggle against Elon after an exam layoff.

Great teams don't.

He knows of great teams. He's had a few.

And he knows he's got a great one here. Krzyzewski isn't playing this one close to the vest or tempering expectations for fear of another Mercer NCAA tournament debacle. He has said from the get-go this team is special and that his freshmen are far from ordinary.

Normal, then, isn't acceptable. Normal is the equivalent of complacency.

Normal is how the Blue Devils looked 41 seconds into the first half, and normal is what inspired Krzyzewski to unload.

"Sometimes, with a team -- especially a young team -- they can get a little annoyed with how hard a team is playing against you," he said. "UConn was playing very hard against us. When that happens, you have to play just as hard. So I was a little annoyed with them. But they responded, and that's a sign of a really good team."

Or a great one.

At least not a normal one.

#Top10Thursday: Best point guards

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
9:30
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College basketball is anchored by a variety of talented point guards. True leaders and distributors who’ve been pivotal throughout the 2014-15 season.

Here are the top 10 point guards in the country. Agree? Disagree? Tell us on Twitter by using #Top10Thursday.

1. Fred VanVleet, Wichita State

Fred VanVleetWilliam Purnell/Icon Sportswire
On Tuesday night, Wichita State was a mess. The Shockers were down 11 points to Alabama late when VanVleet (3-to-1 assist/turnover ratio) did what VanVleet does. He was responsible for the assist on Darius Carter’s game winner with 12 seconds to play.

2. Delon Wright, Utah

Delon WrightAP Photo/Rick Bowmer
The reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week entered the season surrounded by hype after his effort last season. How has Wright (16.2 PPG, 4.8 APG, 35 percent on 3s) handled that buzz? Well, he’s validated it and made a case to be considered the nation’s best point guard.

3. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga

Kevin PangosAP Photo/Young Kwak
Mark Few's crew has been pegged as a possible Final Four squad. All the pieces are there. And Pangos is having his finest season overall. He has a lot of weapons, and the Zags' offense has been so balanced because of his effectiveness (10.4 PPG, 5.4 APG, 1.3 TPG).

4. Monte Morris, Iowa State

Monte MorrisReese Strickland/USA TODAY Sports
The Cyclones are ranked sixth in adjusted offensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. The fact that Morris has 52 assists and only eight turnovers has certainly been a factor in that success.

5. Tyus Jones, Duke

Tyus JonesAndy Mead/YCJ/Icon Sportswire
He’s quiet -- nothing flashy about him -- but effective. Everyone eats when Jones (9.8 PPG, 5.6 APG, 1.6 SPG) is running the show. Not easy to earn the starting point guard slot. At Duke. As a freshman.

6. T.J. McConnell, Arizona

T.J. McConnellAP Photo/Rick Scuteri
The veteran helped Arizona reach the Elite Eight last March, and Zona is a national title contender again this year. The Wildcats have as much talent as personality, and McConnell (6.1 APG) is the leader who keeps them together and focused.

7. Brett Comer, Florida Gulf Coast

Brett ComerSpruce Derden/USA TODAY Sports
The mayor of Dunk City is still throwing lobs in Fort Myers, Florida. A bunch of them. Comer is the national leader in assist rate (53 percent) -- assists divided by the field goals made by the player’s teammates while he is on the court -- per Ken Pomeroy.

8. Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington

Nigel Williams-GossAP Photo/Stephen Brashear
The Huskies are 8-0, own a top-20 ranking and have a win over San Diego State. How? Well, the growth of this sophomore compared to last season has turned Washington into a top-tier team in the Pac-12.

9. Ryan Harrow, Georgia State

Ryan HarrowAP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Ron Hunter’s squad could run through the Sun Belt again. Harrow, a transfer from Kentucky, is having a monster year for the Panthers (19.9 PPG, 5.9 APG, 40 percent on 3s). Harrow & Co. could be dangerous in March.

10. Shannon Scott, Ohio State

Shannon ScottKirk Irwin/Getty Images
Aaron Craft was a special player for the Buckeyes. But his departure made room for Scott (fifth nationally with 7.3 APG) to slide back into his natural position. And he hasn’t disappointed for a Buckeyes squad that could challenge Wisconsin for the Big Ten title.

3-point shot: Dayton dismisses two

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
8:52
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video
Andy Katz discusses Dayton's decision to dismiss two players and Wichita State's narrow win against Alabama.
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Here's a question: What happens when you mix two teams that average 29 percent shooting from 3 and 46 percent shooting from 2 on offense, both of which play some of the sport's best and most physical defense, both of which rank among the 20 slowest teams in the country?

Wednesday night, we got something like the best-case scenario -- and an optimistic sign for Cincinnati moving forward.

The Bearcats' 71-62 overtime win against San Diego State was never going to be an aesthetic marvel, not with these two teams. It was always going to be decided by defense, by strength, by weak-side rotations and boxouts and long-armed players doing athletic things around the rim.

And so it was: San Diego State shot 5-of-25 from 3, and was 2-of-17 before a late, ahem, flurry. Cincinnati went 4-of-11 from long range. Both teams were held well under a point per possession for much of the game; it wasn't until overtime, and a parade of free throws (another flurry!) that the Aztecs inched over the efficiency benchmark. Together, on 49 made field goals, the two squads combined for just 21 assists. Fluid offense, this was not.

Much of this would have been true last season, too, when the Bearcats had Sean Kilpatrick and the Aztecs had Xavier Thames, two of the best and most important guards in the country. This time around, both teams are again playing masterful, ball-killing defense. But both have huge holes where a capable perimeter leader -- a scorer with range and the passing to make teammates better -- so recently stood.

[+] EnlargeCincinnati/San Diego State
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanIn a game dominated by defense, Farad Cobb managed to score all 12 of his points after halftime to lead the Bearcats past San Diego State.
Still, there was reason to be bullish on the Bearcats.

First was the demonstration of the known. Cincinnati went toe-to-toe with a team that is in some ways its mirror image on the defensive end, trailed at various points throughout a tight second half, and pulled in front just enough at the end to require a minor miracle from SDSU.

That late 3-pointer flurry from the Aztecs? That came as they were chasing Cincinnati in the closing minutes, desperately cutting two-possession leads and hoping for missed free throws on the other end. The penultimate play of the game, the one that forced overtime, was courtesy of help from the officials: With three seconds left, Winston Shepard's drive to the left baseline ended in a flail that seemed due less to any contact than Shepard's own lack of control. But the officials whistled it, and Shepard made both free throws. Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin went ballistic all the way through his own team's final attempt. He had his reasons. That his team pulled it together so comprehensively in an overtime it probably didn't deserve to deal with was itself a testament to its toughness.

Defense, toughness -- those are the knowns. There were also some hints at the unknown. Coming into Wednesday, just two members of Cincinnati's rotation could be said to be playing efficient offensive basketball. One was freshman Gary Clark, who finished with 10 hard-earned points and five equally hard-earned rebounds. The second was Farad Cobb. Cobb, a junior, is the closest thing Cronin has to a 3-point specialist -- he's shot 37 3s this season (at a 35 percent clip) to just 17 attempts inside the arc. In the first half against San Diego State, he was 0-for-3 with zero points. In the second, he contributed all 12 of his points. His ball handling -- and one especially big shot down the stretch -- were major keys in overcoming one of the nation's least forgiving defenses.

These were not overwhelming statements of purpose. Just hints. But they did point to a reasonably bright immediate future for a Cincinnati team ostensibly decimated by departures -- a team no one talked about as a possible American Athletic Conference title contender this season.

The American looks different now than it did in October. Memphis has fallen flat. SMU is missing Markus Kennedy. UConn lost three games in a row in recent weeks, including a home loss to Yale. Tulsa, a sleeper contender, saw the Huskies' defeat to Yale and raised them a home loss to the Southeast Oklahoma State Savage Storm, which is a (totally real!) Division II program.

But Cincinnati looks different, too. Before Wednesday, it already had a stout defense and a brutal home-court atmosphere, and those might have been enough to push to the top of the American alone. But on Wednesday night, it flashed maturity, toughness, and just enough offensive acumen to look truly intriguing going forward. Is it the prettiest team in America? Not even close. But it might just be the best team in the American.

Afternoon Links: Fair market value

December, 17, 2014
Dec 17
3:00
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What we're reading while realize that we still have Christmas gifts to buy. Submit links via Twitter.
  • So you say you think college basketball players should be paid. Preach! But how much? Using a fair market value metric modeled on the NBA collective bargaining agreement -- wherein players receive at minimum a 49 percent split of all league revenues -- Business Insider found player value ranges from $1.5 million at the high end (Louisville) to about $500,000 per athlete per year at the low end (Northwestern) for the 20 men's basketball programs with the most annual revenue. Four programs break the $1 milliom mark: Louisville, Syracuse, Arizona and Duke. Kentucky, Indiana, and Ohio State come in above $800,000 each.
  • With almost all of the nonconference schedule finished, MLive.com ponders the quality of Big Ten basketball.
  • Speaking of the Big Ten, one of the problems with conference realignment is it runs the risk of creating inbalanced intra-conference schedules. When you have 13 teams in your league, your choice is to either a) hope the league office does a fair job scheduling games several months in advance or b) play 26 conference games. The latter isn't really a choice at all. The Quad City Times, my hometown paper, wonders what will happen when the Big Ten has too many teams and too little time.
  • Lexington Herald-Leader columnist Mark Story takes a look at the state of Indiana basketball, mired in a longer "slog through relative mediocrity" than any blueblood program in the country, and asks if Kentucky fans might be able to muster a little sympathy for their northern frenemies. The headline? "C'mon, UK backers, don't you feel a little sorry for Indiana basketball fans?" I'm going to take a wild guess here: No. They don't.
  • Our own C.L. Brown's latest Coach Speak column sat down with St. John's coach Steve Lavin, who talked about his program's long road to relevance, Chris Obekpa's short-shorts, and whether he could be convinced to don a Lou Carnesseca sweater: "On the right occasion and if it fit well. I might have to drop 20-25 pounds because at this point, I might look like Winnie the Pooh with this Buddha belly I'm carrying around. If I do some ab work and cut out the carbs and drop 20-25, I'd be willing to put on a Coach Carnesecca sweater to honor the Hall of Famer and everything he represents about basketball and St. John's history in particular." Silly old bear.

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