College Basketball Nation: Alex Oriakhi

Numbers to Know: Weekend recap

February, 11, 2013

Player of the Weekend – Alex Oriakhi, Missouri
Oriakhi scored a career-high 22 points and grabbed a season-high 18 rebounds in Missouri’s win over Ole Miss. He now has eight double-doubles this season after getting only two last season for Connecticut. Oriakhi is the first Missouri player with at least 22 points and 18 rebounds in a game since Leo Lyons, who had 27 points and 18 rebounds against the Oklahoma State Cowboys in February 2008. Oriakhi had 10 offensive rebounds, one shy of the most by any D-I player this season.

Stat Sheet Stuffer – Gary Talton, Illinois-Chicago
Talton had 23 points, nine assists and eight rebounds in a triple-overtime win at Youngstown State on Sunday. Talton is only the second D-I player to reach those numbers in a game this season. Marshall's DeAndre Kane had 33 points, 11 rebounds and 10 assists against Hofstra on November 18. The last Horizon League player with at least 23 points, nine assists and eight rebounds was Cleveland State’s Norris Cole, who had 41 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists against Youngstown State in February 2011.

Clutch Performer of the Weekend – Jerian Grant, Notre Dame
Grant scored 12 points in the final minute of regulation against Louisville on Saturday, shooting 4-of-4 from the field and 3-of-3 on 3-point attempts to help the Irish send the game into overtime. For the rest of the game -– the first 39 minutes and in overtime until he fouled out –- Grant shot 0-for-7, including 0-for-4 from behind the arc.

Bench Player of the Weekend – Garrick Sherman, Notre Dame
Sherman didn’t check into the game for the first time until overtime. By the time the five-overtime marathon finished and the Irish finally defeated Louisville, Sherman contributed 17 points and six rebounds. The 17 points were the third-highest total of his career, and certainly the most he’s ever contributed without playing a single second in regulation.

Scorer of the Weekend – Nate Wolters, South Dakota State
One game after scoring 53 points, Wolters continued his scoring tear by netting 36 points to go along with seven assists and six rebounds in a loss to the Oakland Grizzlies. Wolters scored or assisted on 19 of South Dakota State’s 28 field goals. He’s the first D-I player this season with at least 36 points, seven assists and six rebounds in a game. He’s the first player to post those numbers while shooting 60 percent from the field since South Florida's Dominique Jones in January 2010.

Observations from Saturday afternoon

February, 9, 2013

Kansas coach Bill Self was in the postgame handshake line after his team’s 72-66 loss to Oklahoma when he looked up and saw hundreds of students rushing the Lloyd Noble Center court.

His lips didn’t move, but as he tilted back his head and rolled his eyes, it was obvious what Self must’ve been thinking.

“Are you serious?”

A victory over Kansas hardly seems like a big deal these days -- or at least not monumental enough for a court-storming. Saturday’s setback against the Sooners marked the third consecutive loss for the Jayhawks. And it came just three days after a defeat against last-place TCU that some are calling one of the biggest upsets in decades.

KU certainly played better Saturday than it did against the Horned Frogs, but this is still a team that looks mentally frazzled and out of sorts, which is almost unthinkable for a Self-coached team. Point guard Elijah Johnson missed a pair of easy layups in the waning minutes, and small forward Travis Releford shot a 3-pointer that barely nicked the front of the rim.

Even worse was that a KU squad known for its defense allowed a good-but-not-great Oklahoma team to shoot 45 percent from the field. Because of it the Jayhawks -- who have won eight straight Big 12 titles -- are now toting three losses in a row for the first time since 2005.

[+] EnlargeGeron Johnson
Chuck Cook/USA TODAY SportsGeron Johnson's 25 points, 8 rebounds and 7 assists led Memphis to its 14th win in a row.
Things won’t get any easier for Kansas on Monday, when No. 13 Kansas State visits Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks defeated the Wildcats 59-55 in Manhattan on Jan. 22, but the two programs have gone in opposite directions since then.

Here are a few other observations from Saturday’s afternoon games:

1. It might be time to consider putting Memphis back in the top 25. Josh Pastner’s squad picked up a huge victory Saturday by defeating Southern Miss on the road 89-76. The Golden Eagles are considered the second-best team in Conference USA behind Memphis, which hasn’t lost since falling to Louisville on Dec. 15.

The Tigers are 20-3 overall and 9-0 in Conference USA. I realize Memphis doesn’t have a ton of quality wins. But Pastner can’t control what league his team is in -- and at least the Tigers haven’t lost games they’re not supposed to lose, like seemingly every other team in the country. There’s something to be said for avoiding upsets, especially when everyone is gunning for you as the top team in your conference. Memphis’ only three losses are to Minnesota, VCU and Louisville. The Tigers host the conference’s other top team (UCF) on Wednesday.

2. The teams that pulled the two biggest upsets in the country this week didn’t exactly capitalize on the momentum. Arkansas, which whipped No. 2 Florida 80-69 on Tuesday, got embarrassed at Vanderbilt, 67-49. Three days after toppling Kansas, TCU was back to its old ways in a 63-50 home loss to West Virginia.

3. Georgetown coach John Thompson III doesn’t get nearly enough credit. The Hoyas’ 69-63 victory over Rutgers marked their seventh win in their past eight games. Included in that stretch are wins against Notre Dame and Louisville and two victories over a red-hot St. John’s squad.

Each year, Georgetown seems to lose stars to the NBA draft or seasoned veterans to graduation. But Thompson always responds. He always has guys ready to step in. Heck, this Georgetown team lost its second-leading scorer and rebounder (Greg Whittington) to academics midway through the season -- and the Hoyas got better. The man is an excellent coach, plain and simple.

4. Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan needs to send Ben Brust a thank-you card -- or, at the very least, he could ease up on him during the next round of conditioning drills.

Brust’s desperation 3-pointer from just past half court forced overtime against No. 3 Michigan on Saturday, and the Badgers capitalized with a 65-62 win. Brust also saved Ryan from what would’ve been a slew of criticism for not fouling on the previous possession with the score tied. Michigan guard Tim Hardaway Jr. made the Badgers pay with a 3-pointer that made it 60-57 with less than three ticks remaining. Wisconsin had fouls to give. If the Badgers would’ve lost that game, Ryan would’ve been crucified.

But Brust saved his coach moments later with the heave that gave his team new life. Wisconsin has now won four of its past five games. Its past two victories have come in overtime. Another great stat: Wisconsin has won six of its past seven home games against top-five opponents. Amazing.

5. Texas point guard Myck Kabongo will take the court for the first time Wednesday after a 23-game suspension for illicit dealings with an agent. At this point I’m not sure Kabongo will make much of a difference for a Longhorns squad mired in its worst season in recent memory.

Rick Barnes’ team shot just 39 percent from the field in its 72-59 home loss to Oklahoma State and missed 17 of its 18 attempts from beyond the arc. Texas also went 12 of 21 from the foul stripe. Barnes has been questioning the Longhorns’ effort all season, and it will likely take more than the return of Kabongo -- who was mediocre as a freshman -- to get things right.

At 10-13 overall and 2-8 in the Big 12, Texas is almost certain to miss the NCAA tournament for the first time in Barnes’ 15 seasons.

6. Less than 48 hours after losing at Texas A&M, Missouri turned in its best performance of the season in a 98-79 victory over Ole Miss.

My initial reaction is, so what?

The Tigers have been winning home games all season. But they’ve looked like a completely different team on the road, where their lack of toughness and poor decision-making (particularly by point guard Phil Pressey) have been alarming. Losses at LSU and Texas A&M are flat out inexcusable considering the talent gap between Missouri and those two teams.

Still, I saw things Saturday that made me think the Tigers’ victory over Ole Miss was more than just another home win. Three players (Pressey, Alex Oriakhi and Keion Bell) scored 20 or more points, and Oriakhi had 18 rebounds against a Rebels squad that spanked Missouri less than a month ago in Oxford. Missouri had only nine turnovers and shot 47 percent from the field.

If Bell becomes a bigger contributor and if Pressey (only one turnover Saturday) turns the corner, we may look back on Saturday’s Ole Miss win as a pivotal moment in Missouri’s season. Frank Haith’s squad should be high on confidence after this one.

7. During his time at Kansas and North Carolina, Roy Williams has rarely had teams that built their reputation on defense. But the 2012-13 Tar Heels have been particularly bad on that end of the floor.

Miami shot 54.4 percent from the field in Saturday’s 87-61 victory and went 15 of 26 from 3-point range.

North Carolina has allowed an average of 79.6 points per game in its seven losses. In five of those games, the opponent scored more than 80 points. The Tar Heels need to get tougher.

Video: Scuffle breaks out in Missouri win

February, 9, 2013

Alex Oriakhi and Reginald Buckner engaged in a brief scuffle during the second half as No. 21 Missouri defeated Ole Miss 98-79.

3-point shot: Oriakhi's crucial impact

January, 23, 2013
1. Butler's Rotnei Clarke might be this season's most important traditional transfer, one who sat out a year. But it's hard to argue against Missouri's Alex Oriakhi as the most invaluable immediate transfer. Oriakhi had 18 points, 11 boards and didn't miss any of his 10 free-throw attempts in Missouri's victory over South Carolina. Missouri coach Frank Haith said via text late Tuesday that Oriakhi had been huge for the Tigers, a presence at both ends of the court. Oriakhi's standing has been even more important with the loss of Laurence Bowers to a sprain of the medial collateral ligament in his right knee. But this is exactly what Oriakhi wanted when he left Connecticut. He wanted to play in the postseason -- but, maybe just as crucial to him, he wanted to be featured more. If Missouri is going to be relevant deeper in March, the Tigers will need Orikahi and a healthy Bowers to go along with tough-to-defend Phil Pressey.

2. No one should be stunned by Alabama's SEC resurgence. This is the same Tide team that looked like an experienced, versatile squad in winning the 2K Sports Classic in November. Alabama doesn't have the overall non-conference resume to get an NCAA bid, but the Tide have a legit chance to finish in the top three in the SEC. That doesn't guarantee a bid -- just ask Pac-12 champ Washington a year ago. Still, the Tide have improved, weathered injuries and are a tough matchup going forward. Meanwhile, let me know when anyone makes sense of NC State (loses to Wake Forest) and, suddenly, Louisville playing poorly, sloppily and without urgency in losing at Villanova.

3. The Big East's departing seven Catholic, non-FBS schools are working on an exit plan, a television deal (sources continue to say Fox has an inside track) and ultimately a commissioner. The current commish who would be a fit is the West Coast Conference's Jamie Zaninovich. He has managed a private-school conference well of late and worked at Princeton, so he is not foreign to the Northeast. He had to deal with expansion in adding BYU and, next season, Pacific. Zaninovich already has contacts in the television industry and credibility within the NCAA tournament selection committee as a member. The committee might need to be lobbied to ensure an automatic berth once the league is formed.

Stats in the Paint: weekend outlook

January, 18, 2013
Let’s get you warmed up for the season-opening "College GameDay" road show (live Saturday from Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis at 11 a.m. ET on ESPN) by taking a look at some notes and nuggets from our college hoops advanced-stats research team (a group we call the “Stats in the Paint” team).

Top games

(6) Syracuse Orange at (1) Louisville Cardinals, 4 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Syracuse stat to watch: The Orange average 40.8 points per game in the paint, the most for any team in a Big Six conference.

Syracuse has scored at least 40 points in the paint in 11 games, two more than any other major-conference team.

Louisville stats to watch: The Cardinals average 25.2 points per game off turnovers, the most for any Big Six conference team.

The Cardinals scored a season-low 14 points off turnovers against Duke on Nov. 24 in their lone loss of the season. For the season, they score 33 percent of their points off turnovers, the most for any major-conference school.

Player to watch: Peyton Siva had 12 points and 11 turnovers in Louisville’s two losses to Syracuse last season. In five career games against Syracuse, Siva has never scored more than eight points. But he could make up for that on the defensive end. As an on-ball defender, Siva is holding opponents to 28 percent shooting, with 17 turnovers forced.

Common bond: Syracuse is allowing 81.7 points per 100 possessions. Louisville is allowing 81.8.

Stat of the day: A No. 1 team hasn’t lost on its home court in four years. The last 22 No. 1-ranked teams to lose have done so on the road or at a neutral site.

(8) Gonzaga Bulldogs at (13) Butler Bulldogs, 9 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Gonzaga stat to watch: Gonzaga is shooting 51.7 percent in the half court this season, the second-highest percentage in the nation. Creighton leads the nation at 51.9 percent and is the only other team shooting at least 50 percent in the half court.

Butler stat to watch: Butler grabs 39 percent of its missed shots this season, the highest offensive rebounding percentage in the Atlantic 10 and 19th-best in the nation.

Butler grabbed 17 offensive rebounds and had an offensive rebounding percentage of 59 percent in its last game, against Richmond, its highest offensive-rebounding percentage in the past three seasons.

Common bond: Gonzaga and Butler are a combined 12-2 this season against teams from Big Six conferences. As the chart on the right shows, they have very similar stats.

(17) Missouri Tigers at (10) Florida Gators, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Stat to watch: Florida has allowed 19.6 points per game in the paint this season, the fewest among schools from the Big Six conferences. Missouri is averaging 37.1 points per game in the paint, third-most in the SEC.

Player to watch: Missouri's Alex Oriakhi has 52 points off putbacks this season, second-most in the SEC.

(11) Ohio State Buckeyes at (18) Michigan State Spartans, 6 p.m. ET (ESPN)

Stat to watch: This will be a test of strength against strength. Michigan State averages 35.8 points per game in the paint, the second-most in the Big Ten. Ohio State allows 21.9 paint points per game, fewest in the Big Ten and eighth-fewest among Big Six teams.

(21) Oregon Ducks at (24) UCLA Bruins, 4 p.m. ET

Stat to watch: Oregon scores 26 percent of its points off of turnovers this season, the highest percentage in the Pac-12. The Ducks average a Pac-12-best 19.8 points per game off turnovers.

The Bruins, however, turn the ball over on 16 percent of their possessions, the lowest percentage in the Pac-12.

Video: Missouri 84, Alabama 68

January, 8, 2013
Alex Oriakhi scored 16 points and pulled down 10 rebounds as No. 10 Missouri won its SEC men's basketball debut, beating Alabama 84-68.
Unlike shooting or rebounding or point guard play or the variety of other specific basketball skills we’ve been highlighting in our Best of the Best lists throughout this week, the category of “most important” is far trickier to quantify. It depends not only on a player’s contributions, but on the team around him and where the two dynamics meet in the middle. There is also a constant temptation to conflate “most important” with “best” or “most valuable,” and those arguments (hello, baseball) always make my head hurt.

My editors asked me to name the 10 players most important to their teams in the country, and that’s precisely what I’m going to try to do. But I also attempted to avoid the rabbit hole that is individual talent at the mid-major level. Instead, I tried to narrow the criteria down to players most important to their teams’ chances of winning a national title, or making a deep tournament run, or maintaining some level of national relevance. Let’s give it a shot:

[+] EnlargeIsaiah Canaan
AP Photo/Dave Martin, FileWith much of last season's cast gone, Isaiah Canaan is even more key to Murray State this season.
1. Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Last season, Canaan was hands down the best and most important player on a team that went 31–2, leading his team in minutes, points, assists, offensive rating (122.2), 3-point field goal percentage (45.6) and a wide swath of other statistical categories. He dominated the ball, scored at will and facilitated to boot. He was really, really good.

And that was on a team that included seniors Donte Poole, Ivan Aska and Jewuan Long, on a team that already was beginning to bring along guard Zay Jackson as Canaan’s new backcourt partner. The first three players are gone to graduation; Jackson is missing the entire season after pleading guilty to wanton endangerment for running over two people with his car in a Walmart parking lot. (True story.) So Canaan, already crucial to his team’s success a year ago, becomes the primary returner on a squad that still very much maintains conference-title and NCAA tournament aspirations. No one player in the country will mean more to his team this season.

2. Cody Zeller, Indiana: Zeller, the AP Preseason Player of the Year, obviously is important. He is the unifying force on a team that desperately needed exactly what he provided as a freshman: interior scoring, rebounding, strength, efficiency, you name it. He led the Hoosiers in field goal attempts by a wide margin, and Indiana fans could frequently be heard complaining that Zeller wasn’t getting enough touches. Truth is, they probably were right. Before he arrived, with similar personnel, Indiana won 12 games. Afterward, they went 27–9. He doesn’t get credit for all 15 wins of that improvement -- other players got better, too -- but there’s no question his impact was immense. You know all this already.

Here’s the twist, though: All offseason, we’ve been praising the Hoosiers’ depth, and there’s no question Tom Crean has a wealth of pieces at his disposal. But right now, aside from Zeller, the frontcourt is looking a little slim. Forward Derek Elston (better as a 15-foot jump-shooter anyway) is injured, and the eligibility statuses of freshman Hanner Mosquera-Perea (a wide-shouldered rebounding force) and Peter Jurkin (a 7-foot center) are both up in the air. Zeller already has much riding on his shoulders, and more help was supposed to be on the way. If it isn’t, Zeller’s task becomes even more daunting.

3. Doug McDermott, Creighton: Last season, there were two players in the country who used at least 28 percent of their team’s available possessions and posted offensive ratings (a measure of individual player efficiency) above 120. The first was Damian Lillard, who did this for the Portland Trail Blazers the other night. The other: Doug McDermott. He shot 63.2 percent from inside the arc (on 400 shots) and 48.6 percent outside (on 111), and he rebounded well on both ends for good measure. Creighton has guys who can play. Grant Gibbs is a sublime entry passer, Jahenns Manigat is coming on strong and Ethan Wragge can shoot it. But there’s no getting around the fact that McDermott’s incredible inside-out offensive versatility was the main reason his team boasted the fifth-most efficient offense in the country last season, per Seeing as Creighton’s defense was so lackluster, the Bluejays very much needed that offense. Even assuming they improve somewhat on the defensive end this season, they’ll still need to score like crazy in 2012-13. That’s where McDermott comes in.

4. Peyton Siva, Louisville: Every time we talk about the huge talents returning at Louisville, we talk about how good the defense is going to be. This is for good reason: It was the best in the country last season, good enough to get the No. 4-seeded Cardinals to the Final Four. It will keep them in excellent shape in the season to come. It’s bankable like that. Then, after we sing the defensive hosannas, we get around to talking about how so-so Louisville’s offense was, and how if the Cardinals are truly a national title contender they have to find ways to score.

Siva is the most crucial piece in this discussion. The UL senior point guard is 5-foot-11 and quick as lightning; the problem is that he just isn’t very efficient. He shot 24.6 percent from 3 in 2011-12. He turned the ball over on nearly a third of his possessions (29.3 percent). According to Synergy scouting data, Louisville uses Siva more frequently than any other player to initiate pick-and-roll sets at the top of the key, a play type it favors as a team, but he is merely average in his execution. Why? Because defenses don’t have to respect his jumper. They play under the screen, the play dies and Louisville goes to Plan B.

To me, if Louisville is going to turn its offense to something more coherent, Siva is the key. Without a more efficient performance at the point guard spot, the Cardinals will still be a brutally tough out. But they won’t reach their full potential.

[+] EnlargeRyan Harrow
Mark Zerof/US PresswireNC State transfer Ryan Harrow takes the reins of a talented, but again young, Kentucky squad.
5. Ryan Harrow, Kentucky: The NC State transfer is getting his moment in the John Calipari point-guard spotlight this season, a vaunted role typically reserved for NBA lottery picks. That spotlight can be harsh -- never more so than from Calipari himself -- but there are good reasons for Calipari’s insistence on point guard excellence. For one, his dribble-drive offensive system (which he has used variously in recent seasons, and might return to more in 2012-13) thrives on point guard play more than most.

The second reason? Harrow, who spent last season on the bench after a freshman campaign in Raleigh, is in many ways a veteran in Kentucky’s latest amalgamation of highly talented but still raw freshmen. His ability to run an effective offense, while dealing with players still getting used to each other and the college level at the same time, will be key to Kentucky’s success this season.

6. Trey Burke, Michigan: Burke has something of a similar challenge to Harrow’s, but one accentuated by what could be a major adjustment at the offensive end. Last season, Burke sprang onto the scene at the helm of an archetypal John Beilein-style "spread the floor and fire away" 3-point-shooting team. The team’s three most efficient shooters are gone, replaced by touted freshmen (Glenn Robinson III, Mitch McGary) unlike anything Beilein has had the luxury of landing during his tenure in Ann Arbor. Now, Michigan’s best lineup will look more conventional, with big, athletic, bruising players.

This could be a boon on defense, but it will require a shift on offense; it seems almost unfathomable the Wolverines will shoot nearly as many 3s this season. At the middle of it all will be Burke, a preseason All-American who will see his distribution and leadership abilities fully put to the test.

7. Adonis Thomas, Memphis: It was tempting to put point guard Joe Jackson in this spot. The same could be said for center Tarik Black. Jackson has still yet to harness his immense talent in a totally cohesive way; Black can’t seem to stay out of foul trouble. But I decided to go with Thomas. Why? For one, he’ll be stepping into former Tiger Will Barton’s shoes, and there was no mistaking Barton was the best player on a pretty underrated 2011-12 Memphis team. But Thomas could arguably be even better, at least on the offensive end; by all accounts, the 6-6 small forward has been utterly lacing long-range shots all offseason. That versatility would make Thomas, who played power forward until his injury last season, an utter nightmare to guard and could introduce a new dynamism to a Memphis offense that was already pretty good in the first place. I’m really intrigued.

8. Lorenzo Brown, NC State: C.J. Leslie is the obvious pick here, but I think we kind of know what we’re going to get with him. He’s athletic, he’s one of the best in the country at catching on the block or elbow and diving to either side of the rim, and he should be locked in from start to finish this season. Maybe that’s presumptuous, but I’m taking Leslie’s productivity as a given. (OK, it’s definitely presumptuous. Make me look smart, C.J.) Brown, on the other hand, feels more crucial because, like some of the other PGs on this list, it is his job to make the whole Wolfpack thing work. That includes integrating Rodney Purvis; playing better defense at the point of attack; and keeping Leslie involved and finding sharpshooter Scott Wood on the wing. If Brown has a top season, NC State might indeed be worthy of that lofty, tourney-run-infused No. 6 preseason ranking. If not, the “overrated” refrain will ring out early and often.

9. Phil Pressey, Missouri: Senior guard Michael Dixon’s indefinite suspension probably won’t last too long, but that’s hardly the only reason Pressey deserves a nod here. Along with Dixon -- who is more of a catch-and-shoot player than Pressey, a gifted ball handler, penetrator and creator -- Missouri’s backcourt has kind of a crazy/thrilling challenge on its hands in 2012-13. The Tigers have to replace the losses of Kim English, Ricardo Ratliffe and Marcus Denmon with four transfers: Keion Bell (from Pepperdine), Jabari Brown (from Oregon), Alex Oriakhi (from Connecticut) and Earnest Ross (from Auburn). Those players have all been on campus for a while, and it’s not exactly like figuring out guys you just picked up in an open run ... but compared to the rest of the country, it’s not all that far off, either.

10. James Michael McAdoo, North Carolina: It will be easy, in the coming months and years, to forget just how good North Carolina’s 2011-12 frontcourt was. That’s what happens when you have gigantic expectations and bow out of the NCAA tournament short of the Final Four. But let it be known: Tyler Zeller and John Henson (and, oh yeah, Harrison Barnes) were really good. Not only did they control the paint and score easily on the offensive end, but they were fast enough to race down the floor in Roy Williams’ up-tempo system, getting easy buckets on offense and turning UNC’s interior defense into its overall team strength.

Given all that, McAdoo has a ton riding on him in 2012-13. He was a highly touted recruit who probably could have been a lottery pick last season, but he chose to avoid that route (word to Marvin Williams) and come back to prove himself on the college stage. Carolina returns some promising wings (P.J. Hairston, Leslie McDonald) and brings in a really interesting frosh at point guard (Iowa native Marcus Paige), but McAdoo will be in charge of the low block. If he lives up to his heady NBA potential, look out. If not, UNC will labor. It’s that simple.

Top 10 moments of the Jim Calhoun era

September, 12, 2012
After 26 years, three national titles and 873 total career wins, Connecticut coach Jim Calhoun is, at long last, calling it a day.

There have been a few times in the past few seasons when it made sense for Calhoun to retire, when folks like your humble author looked at his situation -- maybe he was going through health problems, or suffering a sudden recruiting dry spell, or being penalized by the NCAA, or winning his third national title in immensely unlikely fashion -- and thought "Yep. It's time." And each and every time Calhoun would prove us wrong.

He did that a lot. He turned a little-known Yankee Conference regional entity and struggling Big East also-ran into a national brand with a fervent statewide fan base. He toppled the 1999 Duke Blue Devils, college hoops royalty, to win his first national title. He did it again in 2004. Seven years later, in 2011, when few thought Kemba Walker and Co. had any chance to one day cut down the nets, Calhoun completed his legacy. Along the way, he was always himself -- brash, defiant, irascible, playful, intimidating, all of it.

Calhoun's legacy, his larger curve of success and recent NCAA troubles, will be discussed widely in the coming days, before and after he announces his retirement at a news conference Thursday. In the meantime, here's a look back at some of the marquee moments -- and best quotes -- of his career.

(Note: I want to give a special thank you to the Hartford Courant sports section, whose excellent archive of Calhoun moments was crucial to the quick assemblage of this piece.)

10. The hiring, 1986: In 1979, UConn was one of seven founding members of the Big East Conference. But before Calhoun took the job, the Huskies averaged a mere 15 wins a season. At his introductory news conference, Calhoun was asked if UConn could -- gasp -- one day become a national power. His response? "It's doable." Yes, yes it was.

9. "Not a dime back!", 2009: In a 2009 postgame news conference, a freelance reporter writing about Connecticut's statewide budget shortfall asked Calhoun if he, the highest-paid public employee in the state, should give up part of his salary. Things did not end well for that freelance reporter.

[+] EnlargeJim Calhoun
AP Photo/Ed ReinkeA 77-74 victory over Duke in 1999 gave Jim Calhoun his first national championship.
8. "The Shot," 1990: Four years after his hiring, Calhoun had the Huskies in their first NCAA tournament in more than a decade, when, with one second remaining and the Huskies trailing 70-69, UConn's Scott Burrell heaved a full-court pass. It found UConn forward Tate George, who turned, released, and swished a shot just before the buzzer, stunning Clemson and giving Calhoun his first marquee moment at the program. (YouTube it. He looks young.)

7. The first national title, 1999: UConn was very good in 1999 -- it went 34-2, featured Richard Hamilton (who averaged 21.5 points per game) and Khalid El-Amin and won the Big East regular season and tournament titles -- but it nonetheless entered its national title game matchup with an Elton Brand-led Duke team as a considerable underdog. No matter: UConn took down the Blue Devils in a 77-74 thriller, one that cemented Calhoun's status as one of the nation's elite coaches.

6. Six overtimes with Syracuse, 2009: We all have those sports moments that are stamped into our memories forever; I'll never forget where I was when I watched Connecticut and Syracuse battle for six consecutive overtimes -- six overtimes! -- in the 2009 Big East tournament. The Sporting News called it the "game of the decade." Though he later learned to accept the game's remarkable place in history, immediately afterward ("Never have I been involved in a greater test of what an athlete has inside," he said days later), at his postgame news conference, Calhoun was his usually defiant, hypercompetitive self:

"I'm not exhausted. The players are probably exhausted. I'm not -- I could practice right now. Foul shooting, probably. I'm sure in the summertime I'll look back and say what a historic battle it was. Right now it's a loss."

5. The (in)famous Ryan Gomes quote, 2004: After the eventual national champion Huskies lost to Providence on Jan. 24, 2004, thanks in large part to Waterbury, Conn., native Ryan Gomes' 26 points and 12 rebounds, Calhoun was asked -- not for the first time -- if he had missed Gomes' star potential when passing on him during recruitment. Calhoun unleashed a legendary, and actually self-effacing, verbal fusillade:

"It's the dumbest [bleeping] question I've ever heard. I've explained it 1,000 times. I [fouled] up. I didn't take Ryan Gomes. Does that make you happy? Jesus Christ almighty. ... It took 18 months to sell the kid to Providence. It's been written about. It's been talked about. Don't shake your [bleeping] head. You asked a question. I'm telling you how I feel about it. I took Emeka Okafor and Caron Butler. They're not bad. I can't take every player. We have 13 scholarships. ... And if you want me to say I [fouled] up, I [fouled] up. Write it. ... You want me to say I [fouled] up? For the fifth time, I [fouled] up. So put it five times."


4. The second national title, 2004: If Calhoun's first national title placed him in the game's highest current coaching echelon, his second national title -- in which Emeka Okafor and Ben Gordon began the season ranked No. 1, and finished it that way, too -- placed Calhoun in the broader historical pantheon. Along the way, UConn toppled another very good Duke team in the Final Four before dominating Georgia Tech in the championship.

3. The Indiana upset, 2008: The 2007-08 season was a relatively average one, by Calhoun's standards; the Huskies finished 24-9 but were bounced in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Still, Calhoun experienced one of the most fulfilling moments of his career on Jan. 26, 2008, when his team -- which was missing Jerome Dyson and Doug Wiggins thanks to suspensions -- rallied to upset then-No. 7-ranked Indiana 68-63. After the game, Calhoun explained the perspiration on his clothing, and came as close as a guy like him ever could to tears:

"This sweat that you see wasn't the game. The sweat was me hugging every single one of those kids. Quite frankly, they deserved more than a hug from me. They deserve a hug from the state of Connecticut. They deserve a hug from the university. They deserve a hug from our fans. ... To do what we did is certainly the greatest win I've had since the national championship team [in 2004] beat Georgia Tech. It could even beat the Duke game when we came back from down seven [in the 2004 national semifinal]. It takes a lot to really, really win me over, because I always look for that perfect game. But when you have a perfect heart and perfect effort, you can't ask any more of the kids. ... I'm not going to break down and cry. That's not who I am. But the pride I feel in them, the hugs I gave to them are why athletic competition brings out things in people that are very, very special."

[+] EnlargeJim Calhoun
AP Photo/Bob ChildJim Calhoun called his 2004 induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame the "greatest honor I've ever received."
2. The third national title, 2011: Before the 2011 season, no one expected all that much from UConn. The Huskies went just 18-16 in 2010, and lost three talented seniors (Stanley Robinson, Jerome Dyson, and Gavin Edwards) in the offseason. And then, from the first tip of the Maui Invitational in November, something funny happened: Kemba Walker became a bona fide star, while the rest of an unheralded group -- including forward Alex Oriakhi and silky wingman Jeremy Lamb -- emerged as the perfect complements to Walker's do-everything leap. UConn faltered mid-season, and Calhoun was saddled by the Nate Miles recruiting scandal.

But his team never lost a single tournament game -- not in Maui, not in the Big East, and not in the NCAA tournament -- as Calhoun earned his third national title and the deserving coronation to his career. After the game, longtime UConn assistant George Blaney called his friend "One of the greatest coaches that ever was." After a career of almost nonstop success, Calhoun's legacy didn't need the validation of a third title. But he saved his best coaching job for last.

1. Hall of Fame induction, 2004: After his second national title, Calhoun was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame. He called his speech he gave the "hardest speech I've ever written," because the Hall of Fame was the "greatest honor I've ever received." In that speech, in that unmistakable Boston accent, Calhoun -- a gifted coach, an occasional bully, with a record of success and a recent history of NCAA trouble, and everything else that he was and is to Connecticut and the sport -- eloquently described why we all love this game all too well:

"Basketball is a game that has blessed me. It's a game that's consumed me, that's given me so much. Basketball doesn't care what color your skin is. It doesn't care what language you speak or what religion you practice. It doesn't care if you're big or small, fast or slow. It simply asks you to play, to compete, to lose with dignity, to win with humility, to make your teammates look good, and to respect your opponent.

"The game asks that you work to improve, that you put something into it, and that you also give something back to it. The game is universal. It is a language that unites all of us."

Editor's note:’s Summer Shootaround series catches up on the offseason storylines for each conference. For more on SEC, click here.

Five offseason storylines in the SEC ...

1. Life is good in Lexington: At any other program, with any other coach, when you win a national title and send your six best players to the NBA draft, you are not supposed to compete for a national title 12 months later. But this is not any other program, or any other coach. This is Kentucky as led by John Calipari, a finely tuned college hoops machine.

After harnessing the insane talents of Anthony Davis and the team-first ethos of Michael Kidd-Gilchrist -- the NBA draft's No. 1 and No. 2 overall selections -- Calipari has cleared the "one-and-dones can't win a title" hurdle, if it existed in the first place. So now what? Naturally, Calipari reeled in another talented recruiting class -- the No. 2 class in the country, according to RecruitingNation, the first time in four years Kentucky hasn't been ranked No. 1 -- that includes the No. 1-ranked player in the class, center Nerlens Noel, and top-15 recruits Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin. Sophomore power forward Kyle Wiltjer, a top-20 recruit in 2011, will take on a much larger role, and former NC State transfer Ryan Harrow will step in at point guard.

Is Calipari's latest refresh as good as Davis & Co.? Doubtful. Then again, few teams are. What's certain is that the Wildcats will again be ranked in the top five to start the season, will defend like crazy and are a clear threat -- if not the outright favorite -- to repeat as national champions. Indeed, the state of Big Blue Nation is strong.

2. Missouri and Texas A&M deepen SEC hoops: Few realignment moves have driven as much discussion (read: vitriol) as Texas A&M and Missouri's respective decisions to leave the Big 12 and join the SEC. The 2012-13 season will be the first for both under the new banner, and the Tigers are more likely to make an immediate impact. In addition to returning guards Michael Dixon and Phil Pressey, a big-time breakout candidate, coach Frank Haith has assembled a transfer-heavy team (Alex Oriakhi, Jabari Brown, Keion Bell, Earnest Ross) that should compete for the SEC title right away. Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy has a more protracted rebuild on his hands, but if A&M continues the program growth it experienced in the past decade, the SEC -- where basketball has always been football's little brother -- will be much stronger for it.

3. South Carolina lands … Frank Martin. Huh? South Carolina is not a basketball school, but the Gamecocks made the best -- and most surprising -- hire of the offseason when they persuaded Kansas State coach Martin to leave his budding program behind. Martin has relentlessly denied rumors that his departure stemmed from untenable disagreements with K-State athletic director John Currie, particularly involving senior Jamar Samuels' NCAA-imposed ineligibility debacle in March. For his part, Martin sounds sincere when he says he felt embraced by South Carolina and that he relishes the chance to build something from scratch in Columbia. It will take a while, but Gamecocks fans have every reason to be thrilled.

4. Other new faces in new places: Martin wasn't the only offseason coaching change in the SEC. At LSU, Trent Johnson -- whose final three seasons never came close to his debut 2008-09 campaign -- was replaced by former North Texas coach Johnny Jones. Meanwhile, after two turbulent seasons that capped a 14-year career at the school, Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury retired. Former Purdue and Clemson assistant Rick Ray, who was an applied mathematics major and Chicago-based actuary before deciding to take a chance on coaching, gets his first crack at a head-coaching gig in Starkville.

5. Vanderbilt starts fresh, to say the least: Did any team in the country lose as much this offseason as Vanderbilt? The Commodores waved farewell to their top six players, including all five starters: All-SEC guard John Jenkins, Jeffery Taylor, Festus Ezeli, Lance Goulbourne, Brad Tinsley and backup forward Steve Tchiengang. That's the entire core of coach Kevin Stallings' excellent four-year run in Nashville. With few proven reserves waiting in the wings, the 2012-13 Commodores are the biggest mystery in the league.
1. UNLV is seeking a waiver for Roscoe Smith to play immediately after transferring from UConn. The problem is that Smith is going to be a junior and the rule clearly states that a player can be eligible immediately only if a postseason ban is the length of his remaining eligibility. UConn's ban is only one year. That’s why rising senior Alex Oriakhi of UConn could play at Missouri without sitting out. UConn officials are watching what the NCAA does with Smith's case closely, and, according to a source, aren’t happy that it’s even being broached. A source said that giving Smith a waiver would open the floodgates to allow other players to leave immediately. There have been no requests from any other players. But if Smith is granted a waiver then it would essentially be a new way to implement the rule. The Runnin’ Rebels are making the case that Smith won’t get a chance to play in the postseason if he stayed. But the source said the postseason isn’t guaranteed so a waiver based on this case makes no sense to the Huskies.

2. Butler’s early move to the Atlantic 10 means Horizon League teams are trying to replace two games. Preseason favorite and last season’s regular-season champ Valparaiso is looking to replace the Bulldogs with a similar high-profile game. The Crusaders, who traditionally struggle to get home games, are at Nebraska, Missouri State and Kent State and are trying to get games with New Mexico and Kansas, both on the road, but not exclusive to those schools. The Crusaders will have a strong schedule, but it won’t be at home.

3. UCLA put out its schedule Thursday and the Bruins have three to four games that will ultimately judge their season and possibly the Pac-12's season. The league and the Bruins have struggled in nonconference games the past two seasons. The onus is on the Bruins to perform well in November and December. That means the Legends Classic game against either Georgetown or Georgia in the semifinal is a must win, assuming Indiana beats the other team to set up a UCLA-Indiana final on Nov. 20 in Brooklyn. The Bruins also play San Diego State in Anaheim and Texas in Houston on Dec. 1 and 8, respectively. That means the Bruins should know if they’ve built a postseason résumé by early December.
1. Connecticut forward Roscoe Smith has transferred to UNLV and the Runnin’ Rebels will file a waiver to have him play next season instead of sitting out. The case, according to a source, will be built on Smith’s desire to play in the NCAA tournament. UConn is banned from the 2013 NCAA tourney due to a poor Academic Progress Rate. The Rebels are perfectly willing to have Smith sit out next season, but are making the attempt. This will be an interesting case for the NCAA. The rule has been that if there is a postseason ban, and you have as many years left as the ban, then you can transfer without sitting out. That’s why UConn’s Alex Oriakhi, who will be a senior, is eligible immediately at Missouri. If Smith, who will be a junior, gets the waiver then the NCAA will be open to criticism for its lack of consistency in interpreting the rule.

2. There is hope for Smith based on the Trey Zeigler case. Zeigler was granted a waiver to play immediately at Pitt after transferring from Central Michigan. Zeigler left after his father Ernie was fired. His transfer is no surprise, but a coach being fired isn’t an out of the norm hardship for a player. No one said Zeigler had to stay at CMU. He didn’t, but now because his father got fired he received a hardship waiver. That’s fine, but it shows once again a lack of consistency by the NCAA as to why some players get a waiver and some don’t.

3. Memphis tried to get Kansas to play a home-and-home series to no avail. But the Tigers are still loading up on their nonconference schedule in their final season in C-USA. Memphis coach Josh Pastner said he has games against Louisville, at Xavier, Tennessee, as well as playing in the Battle 4 Atlantis (Louisville, Duke, Missouri, Minnesota, Northern Iowa, Stanford and VCU), and that he is locking in home games against Ohio, Harvard and Loyola (Md.) -- all NCAA teams last season.
Editor’s note: Each week, writers will debate a topic of interest in the college basketball landscape. Today’s topic: Which teams are garnering too much (and possibly unwarranted) preseason buzz? Which teams aren’t receiving enough? For the former, click here to see the selections of Eamonn Brennan and Dana O'Neill.

Jason King: Missouri

I’ve seen a few preseason college basketball polls that have Missouri somewhere between No. 20 and 25. But in the majority of them, the Tigers aren’t ranked at all.

I don’t understand it.

This is a team that returns a Cousy Award finalist (Phil Pressey), the national sixth man of the year (Michael Dixon) and a forward (Laurence Bowers) who averaged 11.6 points and 6.1 rebounds two seasons ago before missing 2011-12 with a knee injury. That’s a solid trio -- and those guys may not even be the best players on the team.

Since Frank Haith’s arrival last offseason, Missouri has become a home for transfers seeking a fresh start after things didn’t work out at their initial stop. Some folks are referring to Mizzou as Transfer U. The label is fair. As many as four transfers are expected to either start or play major roles for the Tigers.

What’s interesting is that these aren’t your average, run-of-the-mill transfers. Forward Alex Oriakhi started on Connecticut’s 2011 NCAA championship team. And the other three were the best players on their respective rosters before deciding to take their talents elsewhere.

Guard Earnest Ross averaged a team-high 13.1 points for Auburn two years ago. Keion Bell, who is also a guard, scored 18.9 points per game for Pepperdine in 2010-11 before electing to leave. Sharpshooter Jabari Brown -- a consensus top-20 recruit -- earned a starting spot in Oregon’s lineup last season but quit the team after two games.

Bottom line: We know all of these guys can play because they’ve all proven it. The one exception is Brown, but he’s the most highly touted of the four. Brown, Bell and Ross practiced with the Tigers throughout last season, so it’s not as if they won’t be used to Haith’s schemes and coaching style. Oriakhi doesn’t arrive on campus until this summer, but the senior veteran should adapt quickly.

Along with its speed, quickness and prowess from long range, Missouri’s biggest attribute last season was its chemistry. Not many teams in the country operated as a unit quite like Mizzou. That cohesion will be hard to match in 2012-13.

Still, to me, this team is too talented -- and its players are too proven -- to leave the Tigers out of the top 15.

Myron Medcalf: Arizona

Where’s the love for Arizona?

If we’re going to hype Kentucky and UCLA based on their impressive fleets of incoming freshmen, then we should boost Arizona, too.

The Wildcats will depend on highly touted freshmen next season. Just like Kentucky. Just like UCLA.

But Sean Miller’s program hasn’t received a comparable slice of buzz, even though he had the top-ranked recruiting class in 2012 prior to signing day. And the Wildcats could end up with the Pac-12 crown next season.

Yes, Josiah Turner is gone. But Solomon Hill and Nick Johnson are back. A healthy Kevin Parrom should help, too.

But the veterans will be the backstory for next season’s talented bunch.

Miller has brought in the No. 3 recruiting class in America, according to He has three five-star post players that could make an immediate impact -- not to mention recent transfer Mark Lyons, who is available to play right away after graduating from Xavier. He averaged 15.1 ppg last season and can be a major contributor if he keeps his head on straight.

As for the freshmen, Kaleb Tarczewski, a skilled 7-footer, and power forward Grant Jerrett are top-10 prospects. Brandon Ashley is a 6-8 forward with finesse. He’s top-20.

I watched Ashley ball on the summer circuit last year. Hard to imagine he’s the third-rated prospect in any class. Gabe York is also a talented young wing.

The Bruins’ youngsters will snatch the preseason headlines that precede the 2012-13 campaign. But by the end of the year, we’ll be talking about Arizona’s freshman leaders, too.

I just think Zona is a stacked young team, and that obviously carries weight following Kentucky’s run to the national title.

The greatest concern for a UA squad that imploded last season will be chemistry. Will the first-year guys blend with the veterans? That will be the most crucial component of the 2012-13 season for the Wildcats.

But again, John Calipari and Ben Howland will have the same challenge next season.

They’re all going to rely on skilled freshmen.

And if that’s the formula, then the Wildcats deserve far more buzz for their potential to disrupt the national scene next year.
He’s still trying to work out the logistics, knowing full well it will be about as popular as a summertime homework assignment.

But if Frank Haith has his way, when Missouri travels to Europe this summer, his players will leave their cell phones behind.

“We want them to be able to get to know one another, to really have a bonding experience,’’ Haith said.

[+] EnlargeMissouri's Frank Haith
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesMissouri coach Frank Haith will be adding four notable newcomers to his lineup next season.
With good reason. Stealing a page from the Fred Hoiberg handbook, Haith this season will add four transfers to his lineup, hoping that the express route to experience will help the Tigers' transition from the graduation of their three-headed heart (Kim English, Marcus Denmon and Ricardo Ratliffe).

Transfers are rampant right now in college basketball, with more players switching allegiances every year. Geography, playing time, coaching changes or stylistic loggerheads are just some of the reasons fewer and fewer people are being true to their school choice.

It doesn’t necessarily look good for the game, but the choices aren’t always for the worse. Hoiberg took his recollected talent to the NCAA tournament this season, ending a seven-year drought for Iowa State.

It can work.

At least that’s what Haith half hopes and expects when he adds Keion Bell (from Pepperdine), Jabari Brown (from Oregon), Alex Oriakhi (from Connecticut), and Earnest Ross (from Auburn) to the fold this year. All but Oriakhi spent this past season on campus, able to practice and watch the Tigers up close.

“I think it can be tricky, but the thing that was good for us, these guys got to see how last year’s team won,’’ Haith said. “They saw how chemistry played such an important role to our success.’’

Haith felt like he had little choice but to look for players unhappy with their current circumstances. Hired in April of last year, the class of 2012 was either spoken for or knee deep in its final choices. He knew he’d be losing the bulk of his team -- only a season-ending knee injury allowed Laurence Bowers to return in 2012-13.

So he rolled the dice, welcoming in two seniors (Bell and Oriakhi), a junior (Ross), and a freshman that lasted just one semester at his first stop (Brown).

All come to Mizzou for different reasons. Bell, who led Pepperdine in scoring the past three seasons, wanted a chance to showcase his game at a higher level; Oriakhi left because the Huskies are no longer eligible for the postseason thanks to an APR ban; Ross, Auburn’s leading scorer and rebounder, denied Tony Barbee’s assertion that theirs was a mutual separation, instead insisting he wanted to move on. Brown, a one-time top 30 talent, left after playing just two games for Dana Altman at Oregon.

It’s a unique blend of talent (Bell and Ross led their respective teams in scoring last season) and experience that most agree will help Haith keep things going at Missouri.

If, that is, he can get all the personalities to coalesce.

“We want all of our guys to have leadership skills, but obviously these new guys have to earn respect because they haven’t done it here,’’ Haith said. “Phil Pressey, he wants the role that Kimmie had last year -- to be the vocal leader. Laurence is more like Marcus, a guy who will lead by example. I think it is our job to help them find the right way to lead.’’
As you may have seen by now, resident Bracketologist and all-around awesome dude Joe Lunardi released his customary "way-too-early-but-nonetheless-really-fun" April edition of the 2012 bracket Monday. As you may have seen by now -- or likely guessed, based on our poll last week -- the Indiana Hoosiers are the early pick to receive the top spot in the field, with a Pittsburgh-Ohio Nos. 8/9 matchup looming in the second round.

Can Indiana survive to the second weekend? I don't know! This is just a snapshot. It's just for fun. The chances it resembles the actual bracket are obviously always minimal at best. (Though preseason rankings are more telling than you'd think. Seriously!)

But I did notice one seeding that intrigued me in a genuine "oh, that feels maybe a little bit low" kind of way, because that is the absolute ceiling for disagreement with a 2012-13 bracket chosen in April 2012. That team is Missouri; that seeding is No. 5. Why? Because I wonder if Missouri won't be a good deal better than we think at this point in the offseason.

The latest news out of Columbia, Mo. came Saturday, when UConn transfer Alex Oriakhi revealed he would play his final year of college hoops -- which he can participate in right away, thanks to a transfer exemption caused by Connecticut's APR-related tournament ban -- for the Tigers. ""Missouri needs a center, and I'm going to be the center. It's a perfect match," Oriakhi told the Kansas City Star, and he's right. With senior forwards Ricardo Ratliffe and Steve Moore both gone, the Tigers desperately needed some legitimate Division-I size, and Oriakhi is definitely that.

The rest of the lineup is looking pretty intriguing, too. Missouri has serious personnel losses to contend with -- in addition to Ratliffe and Moore, guards Marcus Denmon, Matt Pressey and Kim English were all seniors, too -- but their returners are more than capable of excelling in those players' absence. One is Flip Pressey, who emerged as one of the nation's best point guards as a sophomore in 2012. The other is Michael Dixon, a reserve who played starter minutes. The fact that Missouri coach Frank Haith can lose Denmon, English and the elder Pressey and still have a backcourt this promising is a testament to how incredibly deep Missouri was at the position last season.

They won't have that depth in 2012-13, but they may be far more balanced in the trade. Oriakhi will play alongside power forward Laurence Bowers, who -- remember him? -- tore his ACL in the preseason and missed the entire 2012 campaign. Bowers' return should add to a beefier, more conventional front line, but still one capable of contending at the highest levels of the Big 12 SEC next season. And if Haith can find a worthy reserve or two stashed on his bench -- or among a 2012 recruiting class that hauled in seven new players -- his lineup may be a difficult one to contend with. (Update: Other than the Big 12/SEC fix above, Twitter follower @mikemoreau85 reminds me that Oregon transfer Jabari Brown, a talented 6-foot-5 guard, could join the team as soon as December. So factor that in as well.)

It may also have some glaring holes. Frankly, it could go either way. So while I see Joe's slotting of Missouri at No. 5 as entirely reasonable, I could also see the Tigers' major personnel losses obscuring what could remain a really dynamic, albeit more "normal" (i.e., less guard-dominated) team in 2012-13. Fortunately, we've got about six months to figure this all out, so we don't have to commit to any predictions just yet.

But it's safe to say this much: The 2012-13 Missouri Tigers are going to look vastly different from last year's version, and they are going to be fascinating to watch, even if for entirely different reasons. Frankly, I can't wait.*

*It is around this time every year that I begin soliciting readers' ideas for one truly important quest: A time-travel device that will take us to October 15 -- Midnight Madness -- without having to deal with the rest of the offseason. Any and all designs to this effect should be submitted in the comments below. Together, we can break the space-time continuum and watch college basketball year-round. It's what Einstein would have wanted, you guys.

Hall of Fame and three-time national champion coach Jim Calhoun will face his toughest on-court challenge yet, trying to motivate UConn without the opportunity of playing in the postseason in 2013.

The NCAA officially informed the Huskies on Thursday that the latest appeal to be eligible for the 2013 postseason was denied based on a four-year period of Academic Progress Rate (APR) scores.

The Big East decided during the conference tournament to adopt a new policy that any school that isn’t eligible for postseason cannot participate in a conference tournament, regardless of sport.

Calhoun issued a statement through the school Thursday, admitting that the university and coaching staff should have done a better job academically with the team, and that implemented changes have had an effect.

He added, “We will continue to strive to maintain that success as we move forward.’’

Calhoun has two seasons remaining on his contract, and new athletic director Warde Manuel said Thursday during a conference call with the media that Calhoun has given him no indication he won’t go forward as the coach.

“Jim is our coach,’’ Manuel said. “Jim is committed to working to ensure the student-athletes do what they’re doing now -- to focus on academically being successful, and being successful on the court.’’

[+] EnlargeJim Calhoun
Cal Sport Media/AP ImagesNext season, UConn coach Jim Calhoun will have to motivate a team with no chance of reaching the postseason.
A number of sources close to Calhoun said he will not retire. Actually, this latest setback will likely embolden him even more to stay and get the Huskies through this hurdle, instead of him quitting on the program when it needs leadership most. Calhoun, who has survived two bouts of cancer, eight broken ribs and recent back surgery, is considered one of the toughest coaches in the country.

Calhoun returned from back surgery for the final regular-season game against Pitt on March 3 after missing eight games, then coached the Huskies in the Big East and NCAA tournament. Calhoun was suspended for three games to start Big East conference play as part of the penalties related to the recruitment of former student Nate Miles (not related to the APR issue).

The Huskies have already released junior forward Alex Oriakhi. He can play immediately somewhere else, because his former team is not allowed to play in the postseason in his final season of college. Kentucky, Duke, Florida, Missouri and North Carolina, among others, are interested in his services.

Manuel said no other player has asked for a release. Oriakhi is the only junior on the team.

The Huskies are awaiting NBA draft decisions from sophomore Jeremy Lamb and freshman Andre Drummond. Calhoun said two weeks ago that he would expect Lamb to leave if he were in the lottery, but wasn’t convinced Drummond would bolt after initial conversations with his family.

The Huskies have one star recruit coming in the fall in Omar Calhoun. They also return rotation players DeAndre Daniels, Enosch Wolf, Niels Giffey, Roscoe Smith and Michael Bradley, as well as a potential all-Big East backcourt of Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright.

Preparing to play a season without the ability to reach the postseason isn’t the norm, but it’s not unique.

Two seasons ago, USC found out in January that it was banned from the postseason, including the Pac-10 tournament.

“It will be a challenge,’’ said USC coach Kevin O’Neill of what Calhoun faces next season. “If anybody can do it, Jim can. He commands the respect to keep them up.’’

O’Neill said he was helped by having senior transfers in Mike Gerrity (Pepperdine) and Marcus Johnson (UConn), who still wanted to play because they had nothing else left on their eligibility clock.

O’Neill said he focused the Trojans on trying to win the Pac-10 regular-season title. Calhoun will likely focus on the Big East regular-season title.

“Our guys continued to play hard, and we were in the hunt until the last two weeks,’’ O’Neill said. “We were fortunate to have seniors. If it’s a younger team, it’s going to be really hard. [UConn] will have a whole year in advance, and you’ve got to motivate the guys to go to the weight room to work their a-- off every single day, and that will be difficult.’’

Manuel isn’t holding out hope for a change in the policy in time to save the 2013 ban.

The Huskies have argued that the NCAA should compute the APR based on the immediate four-year period. Instead, the NCAA started it in 2007-2011.

The men’s team had an APR of 978 in 2010-11, and according to UConn had a perfect APR score in the fall of 2011.

Manuel said he views the Huskies as being penalized twice since it already lost a scholarship due to the poor APR, received a public reprimand and a reduction of practice hours. Manuel said the board of directors changed the level two penalty on Oct. 26, 2011 to go from the above mentioned to include a postseason ban.

“We knew the initial penalty when we submitted our information, we knew the punishment, there was no new data,’’ Manuel told later Thursday of the expectation that the Huskies, in the fall, would receive the above mentioned penalties instead of a ban. “And then they changed the penalty.

“None of the freshmen on this team cost us a point,’’ Manuel said. “The players on this team helped us stay perfect. These freshmen weren’t on the team and their data won’t be calculated.’’

But Manuel said he has moved on and the Huskies must as well, to a season that will end with the last regular-season game.

The Huskies can still win a title in 2013. But just the Big East regular-season championship. That’s it. As a result, this will be Calhoun’s toughest task to date to ensure his depleted team is motivated enough to reach that goal.