College Basketball Nation: 2011 NCAA tournament

Perfection is possible in 2013-14

November, 1, 2013
11/01/13
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John Calipari has assembled one of the most talented recruiting classes in college basketball history. Perhaps the best ever.

[+] EnlargeAlex Poythress, Willie Cauley-Stein
Mark Zerof/USA TODAY SportsAlex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein will be joined by what might be the best recruiting class ever.
That's no exaggeration. With six McDonald's All-Americans and returning vets/NBA prospects Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, Kentucky should be the favorite to win the national title.

There's even talk of a possible undefeated season.

And that's not a crazy thought. Multiple teams have come close to perfection in recent years. But they've all stumbled at some point.

We haven't had an undefeated college basketball squad since Indiana pulled off the feat in 1975-76. Will Kentucky or another title contender repeat the feat in 2013-14? We'll see.

But here's a list of the squads that nearly achieved perfection in recent years:

Kentucky (2011-2012), 38-2: Anthony Davis and Co. were clearly the nation's top team throughout the 2011-12 season. The Wildcats won the national championship with a team that featured six picks in that summer's NBA draft.

And they nearly finished that season without a loss. They won their first eight games before Indiana knocked them off their No. 1 perch with a 73-72 loss on Christian Watford's buzzer-beating 3-pointer in their ninth game of the year. Later that year, the Wildcats lost to Vanderbilt in the SEC tournament. By then, however, they'd earned a No. 1 seed in the Big Dance. But their rally in 2011-12 proved that an undefeated season is not a pipedream.

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Canaan
Joshua S. Kelly/USA TODAY SportsIsaiah Canaan and the Racers opened the 2011-12 season 23-0 before falling to Tennessee State.
Murray State (2011-12), 31-2: The Wildcats weren't the only team in Kentucky pushing for an undefeated campaign that year. Isaiah Canaan and Murray State nearly achieved that feat the same year that Kentucky won the national title.

The Racers won their first 23 games. And then, Tennessee State ended their streak with a 72-68 victory on Feb. 9, 2012. Canaan had 31 points that night, but it wasn't enough to help Murray State maintain its streak. Steve Prohm's squad won its next eight games but ultimately lost to Marquette in the third round of the NCAA tournament. It was a great ride, though.

Memphis (2007-08), 38-2: For Memphis, the 2007-08 season ended on the wrong side of "Mario's Miracle," after former Kansas star Mario Chalmers hit a crucial 3-pointer in the Jayhawks' national championship game victory over the Tigers. But it's easy to forget how good Calipari's team was that season.

Memphis was 26-0 before suffering a four-point loss to rival Tennessee on Feb. 23, 2008, that ended its 47-game home winning streak. Derrick Rose had 31 points in that game, and Tennessee star Chris Lofton struggled in a 2-for-11 effort, but the Vols still earned the win and ruined Memphis' bid for perfection. The Tigers won their next 12 games before their national title overtime loss against Kansas.

Illinois (2004-05), 37-2: What a heartbreaking season for Illinois. Bruce Weber's squad had everything any coach would want in a national title contender. Dee Brown and Deron Williams formed one of the nation's top backcourts. On March 6, 2005, Illinois possessed a 29-0 record. And then Matt Sylvester happened. The Ohio State reserve hit a 3-pointer in the final seconds of the Buckeyes' upset of Weber's squad that day.

Illinois won its next eight matchups and reached the national championship game, where it faced a stacked North Carolina squad. Sean May scored 26 points, and the Tar Heels shot 52 percent from the field in a win. Illinois wasn't perfect. But it was close.

Saint Joseph's (2003-04), 30-2: Phil Martelli's squad landed on the national radar when a pair of NBA prospects (Jameer Nelson, Delonte West) led Saint Joseph's on one of the most captivating runs of the last 10 years. Saint Joseph's won its first 27 games of the 2003-04 season.

But on March 11, 2004, the same Xavier squad the Hawks had defeated earlier that season shocked the program with an 87-67 victory in the Atlantic 10 tournament quarterfinals. Critics suggested that the loss proved Saint Joseph's wasn't worthy of a top seed in the Big Dance. In the NCAA tournament, however, the Hawks defeated Liberty, Texas Tech and Wake Forest before suffering a two-point loss to Oklahoma State in the Elite Eight. The Hawks were good, just not perfect.
Somehow, college basketball practice will begin this week.

We can credit a new NCAA rule that allows teams to start practice two weeks earlier than past seasons.

It’s a great step. The earlier, the better. Throws off the traditional Midnight Madness schedule a bit, but we’ll adjust.

There are obviously a million storylines.

Here’s one of many: Every Final Four team from last season will feature a new point guard this year.

I don’t know. I think that’s interesting.

It’s even more intriguing when you consider the strength of the foursome. Louisville, Wichita State, Michigan and Syracuse all boast the talent to make another trip to the Final Four.

That potential, however, is tied to the performances of their new floor leaders.

Louisville: Peyton Siva to Chris Jones -- There’s a lot of buzz about Kentucky, but rival Louisville might be the best team in America. Chane Behanan, Luke Hancock, Wayne Blackshear, Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell are all back. But Siva will not be easy to replace. He was Pitino on the floor, a point guard who manned the position for four seasons. Chris Jones doesn’t have that Division I experience. But he might be more talented. Jones, the consensus No. 1 junior college player in the country last year, should step in and help the Cardinals by giving the program a versatile and skilled point guard. Plus, he’ll have Smith in the backcourt next to him. That should make life easier on him. But his voice on the court and in the locker room will both be significant. Those are the traits that will be the most difficult for Pitino to replace.

Michigan: Trey Burke to Derrick Walton Jr. -- There are shoes to fill. And then, there are craters. The latter is closer to the situation that Walton will enter in his freshman season. Walton, ranked 30th in the 2013 class, is following Trey Burke. He doesn’t have to be Trey Burke. He can’t be. Burke won the Wooden Award last year and authored one of the most impressive performances in NCAA tournament history when he led Michigan over Kansas in the final minutes of a come-from-behind win in the Sweet 16. But Walton will still face pressure as the probable point guard for a Michigan squad that shouldn’t fall far in 2013-14. Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III are both potential lottery picks. They’re backed by talented veterans and freshmen. Let’s see how Walton adjusts to this grand role in his first season at the collegiate level.

Syracuse: Michael Carter-Williams to Tyler Ennis -- Jim Boeheim has a few holes to fill. But the Orange also possess a solid crew anchored by C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant. The biggest question centers on the point guard spot. Carter-Williams was a big point guard who created matchup problems on both ends of the floor. He could slash to the rim with ease. And he was the perfect player for the 2-3 zone. Ennis, a Canadian star in this summer’s U19 world championships, is expected to start at point guard for the Orange. The early praise is high for the 6-doot-2 guard. And he definitely has the pieces around him to guide Boeheim’s program deep into the tourney.

Wichita State: Malcolm Armstead to Fred Van Vleet -- Armstead, who transferred from Oregon, was a veteran leader who was physical and aggressive for Gregg Marshall’s squad. He was a strong defender. And he had no problem penetrating and willing his way to the rim when necessary or desirable. But he was also a leader in the locker room. All of those components helped the Shockers on their way to the Final Four last year. This is a team that was just a few plays away from upsetting Louisville in Atlanta. And some of the best players from that team return. Van Vleet, a former top-100 recruit, is not a new face. He will accept more responsibility, however, during his sophomore season. He might not be the scorer that Armstead was. But the Shockers could be more fluid with him running the show.
Coach Mike Krzyzewski makes a lot of money.

That’s not surprising. Compensation for private-school coaches is not disclosed the way salaries are for coaches at public schools due to a bunch of legal stuff that I will not attempt to explain. “Private school” essentially means “we don’t have to tell you anything we don’t want to tell you.”

So although we always assume coaches at private institutions make as much, if not more, than their peers at public universities, we’re never 100 percent sure.

Tax records, however, show all and they’re public -- even for private schools. And by obtaining those documents, USA Today learned that Coach K made $9.7 million in total compensation in 2011.

[+] EnlargeMike Krzyzewski
Jamie Rhodes/USA TODAY SportsAccording to USA Today, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski's $9.7 million in compensation in 2011 is a record for a college coach.
That's not a typo.

That’s Lil’ Wayne money.

That’s a record, according to USA Today:
The amount is the greatest single-year compensation total for a college athletics coach since USA TODAY Sports began tracking the pay of football and men's basketball coaches in 2006. Louisville men's basketball coach Rick Pitino received a little more than $8.9 million in total pay in 2010-11.

Krzyzewski earned more than $7.2 million in the 2010 calendar year, and just less than $4.7 million in 2009.

The new return shows that Krzyzewski received:

  • $1,978,401 in base compensation, nearly the same as in 2010.
  • $5,642,574 in bonus and incentive compensation, nearly $1.9 million more than in 2010.
  • $1,982,097 in retirement and other deferred compensation, a little over $500,000 more than in 2010.
  • $59,616 in other reportable compensation such as family travel.
  • $19,344 in non-taxable benefits.

As a private school, Duke is not required to make public its employment contracts.

Duke Vice President for Public Affairs and Government Relations Michael Schoenfeld, who provided the return in response to a request from USA Today Sports, said the university does not comment on individual contracts.

However, in addressing Krzyzewski's overall compensation, he said: "By any measure, Coach K is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, college coach of all-time. This takes into account his 33 years of service at Duke, his unparalleled success as a head coach -- in 2011 he became the winningest (NCAA Division I) head coach of all-time -- his commitment to the academic achievement of the student-athletes and to Duke University."

Mike Krzyzewski is arguably the greatest coach of all time. He has four national championships and more Division I wins than any coach in history. Under him, the Blue Devils have been national title contenders (or winners) in the 1980s, 1990s, 2000s and 2010s. Next season, he’ll have a national-title-contending squad led by Jabari Parker, a McDonald’s All-American and future lottery pick.

That’s an impressive legacy and true longevity.

But that’s a lot of dough, especially the portion that’s based on bonuses and incentives ($5.6 million).

“Hey, Coach K. Thanks for showing up today. Here’s another $100,000 ‘thanks for showing up bonus.’”

It’s still difficult to argue against Coach K’s compensation (nearly $2 million is deferred) if the barometer is based solely on what his peers currently receive.

But the discussion can’t end there.

I was all set to argue that Coach K deserves the cash, and suggest that there’s no reason to be upset about it. And then my man Eamonn Brennan chimed in and reminded me that Parker and his teammates won’t get a slice of that.

It’s a notable contrast.

Coach K makes nearly $10 million and the players who’ve fueled his success -- and escalating income -- get nothing beyond tuition, room and board. And that whole myth about college athletes having all of their expenses paid was challenged by a National College Players Association study, which revealed that the average athlete on a full ride paid more than $3,000 in out-of-pocket expenses to attend college during the 2010-11 school year.

So the debate will persist. It has now reached the courts with former UCLA star Ed O’Bannon leading a lawsuit against the NCAA, which involves compensation for athletes.

Coach K will continue to earn nearly $10 million per year. Probably more in the future. Parker, who will likely stay for just one year, will receive the opportunity to compete for a Division I program. That exposure will be vital in his mission to make a living in the NBA.

Without Parker, however, Coach K and his colleagues would not warrant the seven-figure salaries they currently receive.

So the idea of Coach K earning nearly $10 million and Parker & Co. potentially leaving Duke with debt is not easy to digest.

McLemore shows potential in easy win

December, 8, 2012
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Ben McLemore can do whatever he wants to do with a basketball in his hands and hardwood underneath his feet.

Now he knows it. And that’s the problem.

For everyone else.

In Saturday’s 90-54 win against a Colorado squad that was ranked nationally a few weeks ago, No. 9 Kansas dusted off its former Big 12 foe as if it were dirt on its shoulder. It was a lopsided effort from tip-off.

The Jayhawks immediately pressured the Buffaloes, who panicked and ultimately fell into a deeper hole. It was never a real contest.

Kansas’ best performance of the season, however, correlated with one of McLemore’s most productive outings of the year. He didn’t finish enough (6-for-16, 10-for-11 from the free throw line), but he was truly his only enemy.

He can get to the cup or create his own shot if, when and how he wants. And that’s a great starting point for any player. He also executes with a rare ease for a player so young.

The returning Jayhawks expected this version of McLemore. He was a partial qualifier last season, but the NCAA allowed him to practice.

The team’s 4-for-4 shell drills helped it stay fresh throughout the 2011-12 season. Without any real competition, however, McLemore took a more serious approach to those sessions.

“He turned that drill into an offensive drill for him instead of a defensive drill for us, and just tried to make plays every time he caught the ball and tried to score every time,” said senior Kevin Young, who finished with 16 points, 8 rebounds, a block and 2 steals. “That made us a lot better last year.”

This season’s stat sheets explain Kansas’ flaws more accurately than its nearly unblemished record.

In another year with another strong recruiting class and another set of impressive veterans, Bill Self’s program looks like a contender for its ninth consecutive Big 12 title. But stretches of dominance have followed bouts of mediocrity.

The Jayhawks struggled late in a 67-64 loss against Michigan State, their only defeat of the season. And Chattanooga led by eight at halftime in their next matchup.

“It just hit us that we’re at home, we’re losing at home,” Young said of that halfway deficit.

Since then, the Jayhawks have played with a fire they’d lacked in the first few games of the season. The new mission: punch them in the mouth early.

First-half scores in their next three games? 50-21 against Washington State; 39-25 against St. Louis; and 40-32 against San Jose State.

Against Colorado, they were simply dominant, much like their promising young star could be in the coming months.

The Jayhawks welcomed the talented Buffaloes to Allen Fieldhouse but tossed them out the front door in the opening minutes.

Jeff Withey (8 points, 7 rebounds and 5 blocks) scored within seconds of the tip. In the suffocating blur that followed, Kansas seized a 10-1 edge and then led 25-8 with 11 minutes, 49 seconds to go. By then, the Buffaloes had forced nearly a turnover a minute.

A dejected Colorado squad kept fighting, but it felt the noose. At halftime, the Jayhawks led, 43-22. They’d forced 12 turnovers, shot 14-for-20 inside the 3-point line (mostly on fast breaks created by turnovers) and made 9 of 11 free throw attempts.

“When they were down, I think it was like 10-1 or something like that, you could tell that they were getting kind of frustrated with us,” Young said.

The onslaught never stopped.

But will it continue?

Before the Jayhawks kick off Big 12 play with a Jan. 9 matchup against Iowa State, they’ll face Belmont, Ohio State and Temple. They could -- should -- win all three games. And they could lose them, too, if they’re not prudent and strong for two halves.

It hasn’t been easy for the Jayhawks to maintain their intensity, Young admits. And that’s why they’ve wrestled with inconsistency.

But when McLemore elevates, the Jayhawks will follow him. Colorado knows that now.

It’s even more important for the freshman to understand that.

“I think it’s a big part of who we are, because we need him to score for us and to play the way he’s playing, it helps the whole team, brings energy to the team and it just gives us all confidence,” Young said.

Reasons Kansas won't win the Big 12

October, 11, 2012
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On Thursday morning, the sun rose. The morning paper landed on doorsteps around the country. Traffic jams stalled its highways.

And Kansas was picked to win its ninth consecutive Big 12 crown by the league’s coaches.

No surprise, right?

To date, Bill Self’s program has won at least a share of the conference championship each of the last eight years.

The league announced Thursday that the Jayhawks were the unanimous picks to win the conference title for the 11th time. Kansas was followed by (in order) Baylor, Oklahoma State, Texas, Kansas State, West Virginia, Oklahoma, Iowa State, Texas Tech and TCU.

It’s easy to justify this prediction. Jeff Withey might be the best interior defender in the country. Multiple weapons from a team that lost to Kentucky in last season’s national title game return. There’s also a strong recruiting class led by Perry Ellis.

But it’s not a flawless projection. Yes, I think the Jayhawks will win the league, too.

Here’s why it’s not a guarantee:

  1. Jeff Withey’s offensive game: Maybe he won’t need one. But the Jayhawks lost 34.3 ppg with the departures of Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor. Withey recorded just three double-digit efforts in the last 11 games of the 2011-12 season. He was 2-for-8 in the national title game. I know he spent a lot of time working on his offensive game this summer. So improvement should be expected. The Jayhawks need more from him on that end of the floor.
  2. The point guard situation: Kansas has won without true point guards in the past. Tyshawn Taylor wasn’t really a true point guard last year. But he was a playmaker. Elijah Johnson, who will probably play the role for Self’s squad this season, will make better decisions and his performance in the NCAA tournament proved that he’s capable of leading the program. But he’s also the team’s greatest scoring threat – although Ben McLemore could eventually assume that role. And I think he’s better playing on the wing next to a point guard who handles the ball the majority of the time. Until we know if Naadir Tharpe and/or Anrio Adams can play point guard within Self’s system, Johnson will take on that responsibility. It’s not a question of “Can he play point guard?” But “Should he play point guard?” is legitimate. Right now, he doesn’t have a choice.
  3. Baylor and Oklahoma State: If the Marcus Smart buzz is accurate, then Oklahoma State could shock the league in 2012-13. Both Smart and LeBryan Nash are pro prospects. Markel Brown (10.5 ppg) could explode this season, too. If Travis Ford’s squad plays smarter and enhances its defense (No. 107 in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted defensive efficiency ratings), it will shock the Big 12 and the country. The Jayhawks’ more immediate threat is a Baylor squad that possesses one of the top backcourts in the country (Pierre Jackson, Brady Heslip, A.J. Walton and Deuce Bello) and a shot-blocking 7-footer who can also handle the ball (Isaiah Austin). That might not be enough to end Kansas’ streak. But both teams could prove to be serious threats.
  4. Replacing Robinson: With a blue chip program such as Kansas, elite athletes rotate in and out each year. Ellis is one of the top freshmen in the country. He’s expected to step in and immediately contribute. And he won’t have to do it alone inside with Withey returning. But Robinson spread his toughness throughout the program. Proof? Missouri-Kansas Round 2. Robinson’s heart carried the program in its toughest moment of the regular season. And I think the Jayhawks will miss that. Other leaders will emerge. But how will they match Robinson’s intangibles and spirit? He played with a grit that ultimately defined the Jayhawks as they reached the national title game. Who will play that role this season? Who will Kansas turn to in those difficult stretches?
  5. You can’t win them all: At some point, a team must fall, right? Kansas hasn’t tasted second place in nearly a decade. And with the personnel the Jayhawks will have this season, it’s unlikely that they’ll experience that feeling in 2012-13. But, never say never. The Jayhawks can’t win forever. Or can they?
Christian Watford Jed Jacobsohn/Getty ImagesIndiana senior Christian Watford (2) knows he needs to improve on his rebounding if he is to take his game to the NBA.
Editor’s note: In the buildup to Midnight Madness, we are taking an in-depth look at Joe Lunardi’s top five seeds in a series called Countdown To Madness. In addition to the Insider pieces, Eamonn Brennan will offer Three Big Things about each team, and we’ll have Five Questions with a player or coach from each squad.

Indiana finished the 2009-10 season with a 10-21 record. The Hoosiers won just four Big Ten games that year, senior Christian Watford’s first at the collegiate level.

But the program and the 6-foot-9 forward have blossomed. The Hoosiers will enter this season as a top-three squad in most preseason rankings. They have the tools -- a strong frontcourt tandem of Watford and Cody Zeller, talented veterans and a nationally ranked recruiting class -- to make a run at the national title.

Watford has been pivotal (12.6 ppg, 5.8 rpg and 43.7 percent shooting from the 3-point line last season) in the program’s resurgence. The senior recently talked to ESPN.com about the NBA, this season and his personal goals for 2012-13.

After a strong finish last season, you considered the NBA. What made you return?

Watford: I just felt like I wasn’t done yet. We weren’t done as a team. I felt like we can only get better. We can only be on the upside of things. Coming in here, we weren’t like that, and I kind of wanted to bring the program all the way back. It was difficult. As a kid, you always want the chance to go play in the NBA. A chance to fulfill your real dream is always tough to turn down, but patience is a virtue. I just wanted to wait it out.

How did Indiana stay focused during those tough years?

Watford: It’s been a constant grind since I got here. For a minute, things didn’t seem like they were getting better, but in all actuality, they were. We worked hard every day. We spilled our guts, and we’ve done a lot to get to this point, and now we’re here. You just want to keep getting better. That was the main thing. Coach [Tom] Crean did a great job with that. We never got discouraged. We started to see results. Once you start to see results, it refocuses you. It was hard, but we had to do it in order to get better.

There’s a lot of Final Four/national title talk surrounding the program right now. How has the team handled those expectations and the pressure that usually comes with them?

Watford: It’s no pressure. I feel like we’ve been through a lot. So we know what pressure is. We’re not really concentrating on that. We’re just focusing on getting better day by day. We hear the rankings, but it doesn’t really mean anything to us until April when it’s Final Four time.

How will you blend the strong freshman class with the core that returns?

Watford: We lead them. When I first got here, we didn’t have anybody like that to lead and to talk to and mentor these guys. That’s what we’re here for now. They come right in, and they’ve got the same goals as us.

Crean said your rebounding has to improve if you’re going to get to the next level. Do you agree?

Watford: That’s got to be my biggest improvement besides points. I’ve shown people I can score the basketball and shoot the basketball. I’ve just got to get my rebounds up and show some more toughness.

The players who made Calhoun a success

September, 13, 2012
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Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun will announce his retirement Thursday, per ESPN.com’s Andy Katz. Calhoun’s career spans more than 40 years. He’s sixth among Division I coaches with 873 wins. He’s won three national titles.

A variety of talented players helped him achieve those feats. Here’s a list of Calhoun’s top 10 players of all time:

  1. Reggie Lewis -- Before his tenure at Connecticut, Calhoun led Northeastern for 14 seasons. Lewis, who suffered sudden cardiac death in 1993 as a member of the Boston Celtics, averaged 24.1 points per game as a sophomore and 23.8 ppg as a junior under Calhoun. Those Northeastern squads (1984-85 and 1985-86) amassed a combined 48-14 record, won a pair of Eastern Collegiate Athletic North conference titles and reached the NCAA tournament both seasons with Lewis in charge.
  2. Richard Hamilton -- “Rip” was ridiculous in college. That entire 1998-99 squad fed off his bravado. He was relentless. And he didn’t care about anything but winning. He led Connecticut to the national title in 1999, the same year the Huskies went 34-2 and didn’t lose one road game (11-0). The Huskies also defeated a Duke squad that was one of the greatest teams to have never won a national championship. Hamilton, the 1999 Final Four’s most outstanding player, is second on Connecticut’s career scoring chart (2,036 points).
  3. [+] EnlargeUConn's Richard Hamilton and Jim Calhoun
    AP Photo/Doug MillsRichard Hamilton led Jim Calhoun and Connecticut to its first national championship.
    Ray Allen -- One of the greatest shooters in the history of the game, Allen epitomized “textbook form.” And he had that subtle cockiness you couldn’t see in interviews but that always emerged on the floor. He averaged 23.4 ppg as a junior. He was a two-time All-American shooting guard. All of this before he played Jesus Shuttlesworth in “He Got Game.”
  4. Donyell Marshall -- He always looked like he’d gotten out of bed minutes before game time. But that sleepy gaze was deceiving. Marshall might have been Calhoun’s most dominant player. He scored 855 points during the 1993-94 season (25.1 ppg), No. 1 all-time for Connecticut. He also was a consensus All-American that season who blocked 111 shots, then a high mark for the program. And he scored 42 points in two separate games.
  5. Emeka Okafor -- He’s never quite lived up to the expectations in the NBA. But during his three seasons at Connecticut (2001-04), Okafor was one of the most dominant players in the country. He was a monster on defense (his 441 career blocks are in the top 10 in NCAA history). He was a two-time national defensive player of the year and All-American. And above all, he was Calhoun’s anchor on the 2004 squad that won a national title.
  6. Kemba Walker -- Walker dazzled with an unrivaled Big East tournament performance in 2011. He scored 130 points as the Huskies defeated five teams (four of them ranked) in five days. The Huskies, losers of four of their previous five regular-season games, limped into that tourney but managed to grab the crown once Walker donned his cape. And he didn’t stop there. It was just the start of an 11-game winning streak that concluded with the Huskies winning the 2010-11 national championship. Walker also is seventh all-time on Connecticut’s career scoring list (1,783 points).
  7. Chris Smith -- The program’s career scoring leader (2,145 points in four years) led the Huskies to the Elite Eight in 1990 and a 31-win season three years after Calhoun kicked off his term with a 9-19 campaign. In his career, Smith led the team in scoring three times and assists twice. Smith is a legend based on his stats but also because the Bridgeport, Conn., native stayed home and played a key role as Calhoun built the program.
  8. Cliff Robinson -- He turned the headband into a fashion statement with the Portland Trailblazers. But before his lengthy pro career, Robinson led Connecticut to the NIT title in 1988. He averaged 15.3 ppg during a three-year career. He was the leading scorer on Calhoun’s first squad during the 1986-87 season. A year later, the Huskies had won 11 more games (20-14) than they had the previous season thanks in part to Robinson’s 17.6 ppg and 6.9 rebounds per game.
  9. Ben Gordon -- Gordon was Okafor’s counterpart on the 2004 national title team. He was small (6-foot-3), but strong and aggressive. Gordon finished his career with 1,795 points, sixth all-time for Connecticut. He’s also second all-time in made 3-pointers (246). Okafor earned most outstanding player honors in the 2004 Final Four, but Gordon’s 127 points (21.2 ppg) led the field.
  10. Khalid El-Amin -- The Minneapolis product played three seasons for Calhoun, and ended his career with 1,650 points, 10th in program history, and sixth all-time in steals (186). On the floor, he was the aggressive point guard who helped guide the Huskies to the national title in 1999. In his final season with the program (1999-2000), he averaged 16 ppg and 5.2 assists per game.
PITTSBURGH -- Quick thoughts on Gonzaga's 77-54 victory over West Virginia on Thursday in the second round of the NCAA tournament.

Overview: West Virginia traveled 75 miles for its second-round NCAA tournament game, Gonzaga 2,000. That was about right for the cruising speed for the teams, too.

While Gonzaga zipped, zigged and zagged, the Mountaineers looked like they were anchored to the court.

The Zags ate West Virginia up offensively, shooting 56 percent from the floor and a blistering 53 from behind the arc. They were also smothering defensively, forcing WVU out past the arc, from where the Mountaineers could hit only 3-of-17.

It was nothing less than a clinic from a team that, like West Virginia, is young, but is blessed with the one thing the Mountaineers have lacked all season -- decent shooting.

Senior forward Kevin Jones scored only 13 points -- and that’s not going to win many games for WVU.

Turning point: Approximately 16 seconds in. The Mountaineers led 2-0 ... and that was about the end of the highlights for West Virginia. By the end of the half, Gonzaga owned a 40-22 margin, completely dominating and outplaying the Mountaineers. It didn’t get better after that.

Key player: Robert Sacre came to Pittsburgh salivating at the chance to play some East Coast power ball. The Gonzaga forward didn’t really get that game, but he was important nonetheless, contributing 14 points and six rebounds. He got the outside part of the inside-outside compliment from Kevin Pangos (13) and Gary Bell Jr. (14).

Miscellaneous: The 23-point loss marked the worst for West Virginia coach Bob Huggins since a 21-point defeat to Duke in the Final Four in 2010, and nearly matched the 24-point beating Illinois handed his Cincinnati team in 2004. … This is the third year in a row Gonzaga has won its opening game in the NCAA tournament. ... These are two of the younger teams in the country. Gonzaga has three freshmen and four sophomores on its roster; West Virginia has seven freshmen.

Next game: Gonzaga faces No. 2 seed Ohio State, setting up a couple of terrific battles Saturday — between Pangos and Aaron Craft at the point and Sacre, who has been begging for more physical games, against Jared Sullinger.
When are two words worth $17.2 million? When you have many more millions -- correction: billions -- riding on this little thing called the NCAA tournament.

Yes, according to USA Today's Steve Weiberg, last October the NCAA quietly went about securing the trademark rights to the term "March Madness." The NCAA paid the sum to get sports and entertainment marketing company Intersport to stop using the term (most recently) in programming for mobile devices. Intersport is, according to its website, an "award-winning innovator and leader in the creation of sports and entertainment based marketing platforms" [sic]. More concretely, it plans events like the high school slam-dunk and three-point contests that take place the same week as the Final Four and, in fact, took out the original trademark rights on "March Madness" more than 20 years ago.

There have been other, smaller claims on "March Madness," particularly by the Illinois High School Association, which shared the trademark with Intersport before relinquishing control but retaining use of the term for its state basketball championship tournaments, according to Weiberg.

If $17 million seems like a lot of money for the rights to a popularly used phrase, consider the following: The NCAA has a $700-million annual budget. That budget was made possible almost entirely by the massive (read: 14 years, $11 billion) television rights fees CBS and Turner paid the NCAA to broadcast the NCAA tournament. The NCAA tournament is frequently referred to as "March Madness."

I'm not sure $17 million isn't disproportionate to the cause at hand here. After all, it's not like people are going to be confused when you say "March Madness" simply because a marketing company uses the words on an iPhone app. That term will always be associated with the NCAA tournament. It's not going away. But with that much money on the line, one can understand the vigilance.

Final conference power rankings

April, 7, 2011
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With the college basketball season now in the books, let’s take a look at the final ESPN Stats & Information conference power rankings.

One quick note on the final ratings. We are not using the RPI or the Associated Press poll in the final ratings as we did earlier in the season, as neither publishes their results post-tournament. Thus, the human bonus is completely based on the coaches' poll, and the computer ratings (Pomeroy, Sagarin and Massey) are each given one-third weight.

On to the ratings …

After a basketball championship that saw only two of its 11 teams outperform expectations, the Big East falls to No. 2 in the final rankings. Although UConn did win the championship, it defeated only one school that was seeded better (San Diego State). The only other Big East school to reach the Sweet 16 was Marquette; however, it had to knock off one of the Big East favorites in Syracuse to get there.

If we look at how each school from the Big East performed in the tournament relative to what it was expected to do based on seed, we can see that the Big East had a horrendous tournament.

Two schools made it further in the tournament than they were expected to based on seed (UConn, Marquette).
Three schools made it exactly as far as they were expected to based on seed (Villanova, West Virginia, Cincinnati).
Six schools did not make it as far as they were expected to based on seed (Syracuse, St. John's, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, Louisville, Georgetown).

Compare this to the new No. 1, the Big Ten, and you can see why the Big East fell. We will throw Northwestern into the mix as well, as it was the only school from either conference that competed in the NIT.

Two schools made it further in the tournament than they were expected to based on seed (Illinois, Northwestern).
Four schools made it exactly as far as they were expected to based on seed (Michigan, Penn State, Michigan State, Wisconsin).
Two schools did not make it as far as they were expected to based on seed (Ohio State, Purdue).

As you can see, the Big East underperformed in the postseason, while the Big Ten just performed. This is the reason for the switch.

The Pac-10 and SEC moved up one spot thanks in large part to Arizona and Kentucky each defeating two schools they were not supposed to. The SEC was also the only conference with two teams in the Elite Eight.

Stat Shot: A closer look at the UConn win

April, 6, 2011
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UConn InfographicESPN.com

Video: Huskies return home

April, 6, 2011
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UConn returns home to rainy Connecticut as national champions.

Video: Looking back at the 2010-11 season

April, 5, 2011
4/05/11
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As Connecticut is crowned National Champion, Andy Katz looks back on the season that was in college basketball.

Video: Keys to Connecticut's victory

April, 5, 2011
4/05/11
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Much of the spotlight is on the game's ugliness, but Hubert Davis points out players and performances that put the Huskies over the top.

Video: Wrapping up the title game

April, 5, 2011
4/05/11
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ESPN.com bloggers Eamonn Brennan and Diamond Leung give their final thoughts on UConn's national title win over Butler.

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