College Basketball Nation: Chris Allen

Michigan State hasn't had many down years under Tom Izzo. Even his worst campaigns are, by anyone else's standards, very good -- and even then they are rare.

The 2010-11 season was that anomaly. It wasn't just that Michigan State went 19-15, and barely limped into the NCAA tournament as a double-digit seed (speaking of anomalous). It's that the Spartans, for perhaps the first time in Izzo's career, never actually seemed to care. After back-to-back Final Four trips in 2009 and 2010 with many of the same personnel -- led by talented guards Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers -- apathy was the only explanation. You could just see it.

That season was also among the most turbulent of Izzo's career. In the summer preceding it, Izzo dismissed sharpshooter Chris Allen from the team. That same summer, Korie Lucious was arrested while driving over the legal limit. A few months later, in the middle of the season, Izzo dismissed him for violating of team rules.

Reasons for the suspensions were never given, but rumors abounded, and in this case they lined up with what we all fairly or unfairly assume "violation of team rules" really means: failed drug test(s).

This summer, after finishing their careers at Iowa State (Allen in 2012, Lucious in March) both players confirmed those reasons.

Allen did so in a Facebook post: “… to athletes who smoke WEED its not worth it, Yeah it makes you happy and forget all the BS you thought your coach was on with you but at the same time it's a easy way to get you out of a respectable program and of course it's deeper than just weed but that's for me and the people that was at Michigan state those years to know.”

Lucious did so in an interview with Black Athlete: "I was smoking. I don’t want to tell a lot of people that but I was smoking a lot of weed at Michigan State. That’s the real reason I got kicked off the team and I let my mom, family and friends down."

So … that was settled. Lucious also attributed his issues at Michigan State to stylistic differences, saying Izzo "didn't respect his game," that "even if I dribbled in between my legs and he would just yell at me and say “this isn’t And-1 streeetball.'"

OK then. The only question: What does Tom Izzo think of all this? Coaches' lips are usually held firm by privacy laws, but following both players' public admissions, on "Mad Dog in the Morning," Izzo addressed the whole deal.
“There’s certain things that, coaches put up with a lot. Just like parents do,” Izzo said. “I mean, nobody throws their kid under the bus if he makes a mistake. But if the kid repeats the same mistake over and over, then it’s not a mistake, it’s a habit. When it becomes a habit, those things are hard to handle. And I think in Korie’s case, I’ll never understand … I guess I almost appreciate him saying we have a good program, I’m a decent coach, it’s just I don’t want to put up with the ‘And1’ stuff. I mean, I’ve put up with a lot of stuff from a lot of players. And his scoring didn’t change that much at Iowa State. You can change addresses, but you better change your character before you can really change. And I think that’s the lesson I try to teach all guys.”

In other words, there is casual marijuana use -- which is probably a bad idea for any athlete, as Allen wrote, for reasons both physical and legal -- and then there is direct, repeated defiance of the things your coach has asked you to do, with "hey, please don't indulge in illegal substances" somewhere near the top of the list. That's the real issue. It's not the details. It's the concept. Disillusion and apathy afflict more college basketball teams than any drug, I'd wager, and if you were wondering how a Tom Izzo-coached team that went to back-to-back Final Fours and returned its two best players finished 19-15 just one year later, well, now you know.
The man they call "The Mayor" -- one of the truly great nicknames in college hoops history -- won't be leaving his mayoral chair anytime soon. Because late Tuesday night, that chair became considerably more gilded.

Hoiberg
That's when Iowa State announced that Fred Hoiberg, the second-year coach, former star, Ames native and all-around Cyclones legend had agreed with the school to a hefty contract extension. The extension will replace Hoiberg's current five-year, $4.5 million deal with an eight-year contract worth $1.5 million per year, keeping Hoiberg signed until the 2021 season.

In case you aren't into math, the extension more than doubles Hoiberg's current $800,000-a-year contract, and it's hard to argue the man isn't worth the lofty raise. In just two seasons, Hoiberg has hoisted a languishing program -- one that fired its last successful coach (that coach: Larry Eustachy) after he was photographed with coeds and beer cans (that beer: Natural Light) -- out of the bottom of the Big 12 and back into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2005. The turnaround came thanks mostly to Hoiberg's ability to lure once-troubled transfers like Royce White and Chris Allen, and form them into a cohesive, defensively solid bunch.

But it was also thanks to Hoiberg's decidedly underrated coaching. The proof, as we've written before, is in the post-timeout statistics: As SI's Luke Winn discovered last month, Hoiberg ranked tops among all college coaches in points per possession in post-timeout situations. Contrary to assumption, the Cyclones actually improved when Hoiberg had time to draw up a play. For someone who had never been a head coach before he took over at Iowa State -- something which nagged at even the most dyed-in-the-wool Cyclones fans -- Hoiberg easily exceeded everyone's x's and o's expectations.

So, to recap: The most popular man in the history of Iowa State basketball, who resurrected his former program from its near-decade-long doldrums in his second season, who bolstered his team with near-term transfers and is building it with long-view recruiting, and who also -- guess what? -- can really coach ... just signed an eight year deal doubling his salary through the 2021 season.

Yep. That sounds about right.


LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- Chris Allen played his first three years at Michigan State, experiencing two Final Fours and a Sweet 16 with the Spartans.

His old team expected to do great things in March. Back in the NCAA tournament as a senior with Iowa State, Allen senses an entirely different feeling.

"People see us and say, 'That's Iowa State. Who are they?'" Allen said. "But you can't worry about the name on the front of the jersey. You just have to worry about the players."

Plenty of folks saw the name Connecticut and automatically assumed the Huskies would brush past Iowa State in the second round of the NCAA tournament. UConn was the defending national champion, after all, while the Cyclones were a collection of castoffs at a program that hadn't gone dancing in seven years. Forget that Iowa State was seeded one spot higher, at No. 8, than Connecticut. Everybody was already looking forward to a third-round matchup between UConn and top seed Kentucky.

Except that Iowa State's players were better than Connecticut's. A lot better, and they showed it during Thursday's 77-64 dethroning at the KFC Yum! Center.

The Cyclones felt disrespected leading into the game and believed they would win. In the waning seconds, big man Royce White barked at the Iowa State radio crew, "I told you!"

"Nobody picked us to win," White said. "That bothered me a lot. Personally, I was as tuned-in as I've been all year to this game as far as my effort."

White showed it on the first possession of the game, throwing down a dunk off a rebound to set an early tone. Twelve minutes later, Iowa State led 36-14 after what coach Fred Hoiberg called his team's best stretch of the season.

[+] EnlargeScott Christopherson
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesScott Christopherson (15 points against UConn) transferred to Iowa State from Marquette in 2008.
The Cyclones hit eight of their first 11 shots and drilled six 3-pointers in the first half. But this wasn't simply the story of a team getting hot from outside and pulling off an upset. Iowa State didn't make a 3-pointer in the second half and instead took it to the Huskies physically, outrebounding them 41-24 and just wanting it more. After UConn cut the lead to six points at the under-eight-minutes timeout, Iowa State responded by scoring seven consecutive points and grabbing four offensive rebounds during that stretch.

"That's just hunger," White said. "That's us being the underdog."

UConn suffered from the same disinterested, disjointed vibe that plagued the team all year. At one point after a Cyclones run, Jim Calhoun called timeout and just stared at his team from the court for several moments, unsure of what to say. He later said the Huskies got caught "being nothing more than a street sign as [Iowa State] went by us by a thousand miles." With a 2013 tournament ban looming plus Calhoun's uncertain future, who knows what path Connecticut takes the next couple of years?

Truth is, Iowa State presents a tougher matchup for Kentucky than UConn ever did. This is a team that beat Kansas, Kansas State and Baylor this season and plays an odd style that is not easy to prepare for in one day.

"We have a lot of stuff that's abnormal to the college game," guard Chris Babb said.

That starts with White, a 6-foot-8, 270-pounder who often brings the ball up the court and initiates the offense. Hoiberg puts four shooters on the court with him most of the time. Teams that can spread Kentucky out and shoot -- think Vanderbilt and Indiana -- can beat the Wildcats, though it will still take a monumental effort.

There's very little that's conventional about Iowa State. Hoiberg had never coached at any level before he was hired two years ago. Looking for a quick fix, he brought in six transfers, four of whom are playing for the Cyclones in this tournament. Some of them had checkered pasts.

"It's kind of weird, because we have so many different people coming from so many different places," said guard Scott Christopherson, who transferred in from Marquette in 2008. "But we have all bonded together."

They used that togetherness to knock off the defending champions. Up next is the No. 1 team in this year's tournament. Win that one, and people will know all about Iowa State.

"There's nothing better you could have as far as a plot line for an underdog that wants to achieve something great," White said. "We've got to embrace the spot we're in now."

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The games in Louisville have all wrapped up, and the chalk advanced with every higher seed winning by double digits. But the late-game result still might surprise some people.

Here's a look at No. 8 Iowa State's 77-64 victory over No. 9 seed Connecticut in the final game at the KFC Yum! Center on Thursday:

Overview: Fans and TV executives probably wanted the appetizing third-round matchup between Kentucky, the presumed favorite in this year's field, and defending national champion Connecticut. But you get only what you deserve in the NCAA tournament, and Iowa State certainly earned its way into a matchup against the nation's No. 1 team.

The Cyclones had a better season than Connecticut and were the better team on Thursday night. They rode a hot-shooting start -- making eight of their first 11 attempts -- to a 22-point first-half lead. And even though Fred Hoiberg's 3-point-loving team didn't make a single triple in the second half, it surprisingly outmuscled and outhustled UConn.

Don't sleep on this Iowa State team, whose unique style of play could cause Kentucky trouble. Just ask the defending champs.

Turning point: Connecticut's Ryan Boatright scored seven straight points, the last of which was a 3-pointer, to cut Iowa State's lead to 58-52 with a little more than eight minutes left. But Kemba Walker was not walking through that door. The Cyclones would score the next seven points by beating the Huskies around the rim.

Key player: Chris Allen knows how to win in the NCAA tournament from his days at Michigan State, so it was no surprise Allen made a lot of winning plays when needed. The Iowa State guard scored a team-high 20 points, including a key putback to repel UConn's second-half rally. Honorable mention to Royce White, who had 15 points and 11 rebounds.

Key stat: We knew Iowa State could shoot it, but we weren't sure the Cyclones could push around a Big East team. But that's exactly what they did on the backboards, outrebounding the Huskies 37-20.

Miscellany: UConn became just the fourth defending champion to lose its first game of the NCAA tournament since seeding began in 1979. The other three teams to do so (1996 UCLA, 1988 Indiana and 1981 Louisville) were all No. 4 seeds. ... The 42 points scored by Iowa State in the first half were one more than Butler managed in the entire national championship game last year against Connecticut. ... Two plays that seemed to sum up the Huskies' troubles, if not their season: Roscoe Smith threw up a Hail Mary from beyond half court near the end of the first half, only there was still more than three seconds left and he let Iowa State have the ball back with time remaining. And at the end of the game, Jeremy Lamb attempted a wind mill dunk just before the buzzer. He missed, badly.

What's next: Iowa State will face No. 1 overall seed Kentucky in the third round Saturday. The two teams met in their second game of the tournament 20 years ago, with the Wildcats winning.

Top 10 Thursday: FSU's turnaround

February, 23, 2012
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In the moments that followed a 79-59 road loss to Clemson on Jan. 7, Florida State’s coaching staff accosted players in the locker room about the multiple gaffes that had led to the lopsided score.

The Seminoles’ stubborn defense had failed them as the Tigers shot 49 percent from the field. They committed 16 turnovers. And their 24 fouls led to Clemson’s 28-for-33 mark from the charity stripe.

But as Leonard Hamilton and his staff pointed out the team’s flaws, Bernard James stirred in his seat, especially when coaches questioned players’ collective effort.

[+] EnlargeMichael Snaer
Melina Vastola/US PresswireMichael Snaer and Florida State are rolling with wins in 10 of their past 11 games.
James, who scored 10 points and grabbed eight rebounds in that game, felt a need to speak. With a declarative tone, he told everyone in the room that he had played hard. And he asked his teammates, who’d just suffered their sixth loss in 10 games, if they’d done the same.

“I just kind of snapped right there. I kind of defended myself,” James told ESPN.com. “I felt like I played hard that game. I placed the blame on certain individuals. It wasn’t to tear anybody down. I just felt like somebody needed to take responsibility for the loss.”

That moment broke the ice for a Florida State squad that turned a postgame discussion into an intervention. James said the Seminoles expressed their frustrations with one another. They talked about the missed assignments that had led to their poor start. They vowed to implement more accountability.

“We pretty much had to let the frustration out to start off on a new foot,” said junior Michael Snaer.

They’ve won 10 of their past 11 games, a mark punctuated by wins over North Carolina and Duke. Tickets for Thursday night’s home game against Duke sold out in 15 minutes.

The Seminoles’ evolution was evident on the final play of their 76-73 road win at Duke on Jan. 21. After Austin Rivers tied the game on a late drive, the Seminoles didn’t panic. They just executed.

James said he “knocked the snot out of” Seth Curry on a screen as Luke Loucks drove up the floor and found Snaer in the corner for the winning 3-pointer.

“Something would have went wrong [if that had happened before the Clemson loss]. Something would have been out of place,” James said. “The reason why that play worked was because everything happened the way it was supposed to.”

Hamilton could see the surge coming. Even after the Clemson loss, the coach said he believed his team was struggling because it hadn’t jelled yet. Xavier Gibson had switched positions. Loucks was still getting comfortable as the starting point guard. Ian Miller was unavailable at the start of the season, but he’s averaged 10.5 points per game since his Dec. 22 return.

But Hamilton agrees that the Clemson loss jolted a team that needed a midseason wake-up call.

“That game just brought us back to reality,” he said. “It kind of refocused us.”

Here’s a list of the other squads that have managed to turn things around this year:

Drexel -- The Dragons lost four of their first six games. But they’ve lost just one game since Dec. 3 and are riding a 14-game winning streak. They’re on top of the CAA with a 15-2 record.

George Mason -- Paul Hewitt endured some early struggles in his first season at George Mason. Nonconference losses to Florida Atlantic and Florida International seemed to spell trouble for the Patriots. But the Patriots found some poise as the season progressed. At 14-3 in the CAA, they’re tied with VCU for second place.

Iowa State -- The Cyclones suffered from the chemistry issues that come with being a team that relies on transfers. Despite possessing talented players such as Royce White and Chris Allen, the Cyclones lost at Drake, to Northern Iowa at home and at Michigan in their nonconference season. Would they find a way to click and extract the full potential from their roster? Yep. The Cyclones are fourth in the Big 12 with a 10-5 record, and they’re probably headed back to the NCAA tournament.

LIU Brooklyn -- The Blackbirds own the Northeast Conference right now (15-1). But they lost six of their first 11 games.

Notre Dame -- It all started with Tim Abromaitis suffering a season-ending injury in November. The Fighting Irish’s 65-58 road loss to Rutgers on Jan. 16 was their eight defeat of the year. But that’s the past. The new Fighting Irish have won nine games in a row.

South Florida -- The Bulls are on the bubble with a 10-5 record in the Big East. In late December, that would have appeared to be a misguided forecast. From Nov. 19 through Dec. 28, the Bulls lost seven of 11 games.

UNC Greensboro -- The Spartans are on top of the Southern Conference’s North division with a 10-7 record. Somehow, this team recovered from a 2-14 start to its 2011-12 campaign. Now that’s a turnaround.

VCU -- Shaka Smart’s Rams look dangerous again. After losing most of the starters from last season’s Final Four team, the Rams lost three of their first six games. But Bradford Burgess (12.9 ppg) has embraced his role as a leader on and off the floor. They’re tied with George Mason for second place in the CAA at 14-3.

Washington -- There’s a lot of bad in the Pac-12. But the Huskies are one of the struggling league’s success stories. They lost to South Dakota State 92-73 at home Dec. 18. It was their fifth loss in seven games. But the Huskies have lost just three games since that disaster. They’re 12-3 in the Pac-12 and making a legitimate push for an at-large berth.

Conference Power Rankings: Big 12

February, 20, 2012
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Saturday’s game between Kansas and Missouri will go a long way toward deciding this year's Big 12 regular-season champion. Both teams have identical 12-2 conference records, but Missouri gets the nod in this week’s Conference Power Rankings because of its victory over the Jayhawks on Feb. 4 in Columbia.

1. Missouri: Frank Haith’s squad eked out another hard-fought road victory Saturday when it defeated Texas A&M 71-62 in College Station. The win was the seventh straight for the Tigers, who will try to avenge a Jan. 7 loss to Kansas State on Tuesday.

2. Kansas: The Jayhawks had an easy time with last-place Texas Tech in Saturday’s 33-point win. Forward Thomas Robinson continues to make a case for national player of the year honors. The junior is averaging 17.7 points and 11.8 rebounds.

3. Kansas State: Angel Rodriguez scored 15 points to lead the Wildcats to their best win of the season against Baylor on Saturday. The 57-56 victory upped Kansas State’s Big 12 record to 7-7 and will greatly enhance its resume on Selection Sunday. Two more tough tests await this week. The Wildcats visit Missouri on Tuesday and host Iowa State on Sunday.

4. Baylor: The Bears are in a downward spiral with losses in three of their past four games. Scott Drew’s team failed to score in the final two minutes of Saturday’s home defeat against Kansas State and looked completely disorganized and lost on its final two possessions. Getting healthy at Texas on Monday won’t be easy.

5. Iowa State: Scott Christopherson scored 25 points and Chris Allen added 16 in Saturday’s 80-69 victory over Oklahoma. At 9-5, the Cyclones are now tied with Baylor for third place in the Big 12 standings. Standout Royce White has had three single-digit scoring outputs in his past five games.

6. Texas: Saturday’s 90-78 loss to Oklahoma State in Stillwater snapped the Longhorns’ four-game winning streak. Texas was outscored from the free throw line 43-14. At 7-7 in league play, Rick Barnes’ team desperately needs a home win against Baylor on Monday to enhance its NCAA tournament hopes. Texas lost to the Bears 76-71 on Jan. 28 in Waco.

7. Oklahoma State: The Cowboys are the Big 12’s most improved team; especially when they play at home. Oklahoma State has now defeated Missouri, Texas, Iowa State, Texas Tech and Oklahoma in Stillwater. They still have home games remaining against Texas A&M and Kansas. Keiton Page had 40 points in Saturday’s win over Texas, when he was 20-for-20 from the foul stripe.

8. Texas A&M: The Aggies have lost five of their past six games, and with Kansas coming to town Wednesday, things may get worse before they get better. Point guard Dash Harris hasn’t played since Jan. 23 because of a foot injury. Elston Turner averages a team-high 14 points.

9. Texas Tech: The Red Raiders didn’t do much to capitalize on their Feb. 11 victory over Oklahoma. They turned in a dismal offensive performance in a 47-38 setback against Texas A&M on Tuesday before getting stomped by 33 points at Kansas on Saturday.

10. Oklahoma: The Sooners have lost six games in a row and eight of past last nine. Wednesday’s home game against Oklahoma State looks like a possible victory, as the Cowboys have been terrible on the road. Still, it’s been quite a collapse for a team that opened the season with wins in nine of its first 10 games.

Get to Know: Iowa State's Chris Allen

February, 15, 2012
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Sometimes, Chris Allen would overhear people in his new community talking about the Final Four, playing in it, seeing Iowa State reach that stage or just watching it live.

But the senior guard wouldn’t interrupt.

Instead, he’d just chuckle quietly.

[+] EnlargeChris Allen
Michael C. Johnson/US PresswireBuilding off of his experience at Michigan State, guard Chris Allen is making a name for himself with the Cyclones program this season.
By the time Allen reached Ames prior to the 2010-11 season, he’d played in two Final Fours with Michigan State. Everything that college basketball fans and players alike dreamed about, he’d experienced.

In Ames, Iowa, however, he was just a transfer seeking redemption and another chance to return to the pinnacle of college basketball. Few knew his background.

“The biggest difference was just being somewhere where you’re known and everybody knows you and loves you to coming to a new place where you have to earn and build your respect to have that same thing where you’re at,” Allen told ESPN.com. “Don’t nobody know who you are. So you have to build a name for yourself.”

Fred Hoiberg didn’t mask his recruiting philosophy when he took over the Cyclones program in the spring of 2010. Iowa State’s former star did not want to wait to win.

His targets: a variety of talented transfers who’d been labeled risks, based on the way they’d left their former programs.

Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo dismissed Allen after the 2009-10 season.

"It's been no secret that Chris Allen's been in a tenuous positions since the spring," Izzo said then in a statement about Allen’s dismissal. "There were multiple obligations that Chris had to meet in order to return for his senior season. While he did make progress ... he has failed to meet all the obligations and will not be part of our program this fall."

Hoiberg said he called Izzo before he recruited Allen. Izzo told Hoiberg that the Georgia native deserved another opportunity.

Based on the progress Allen has made thus far, Hoiberg said he’s happy with his decision to recruit him.

Allen, he said, is in the gym more than any player on his roster. His experience has also helped him and the team overcome some early struggles.

“It’s been great to see that hard work pay off,” Hoiberg said during the Big 12's media teleconference Monday.

Allen has been a valuable component for Hoiberg’s Cyclones, a squad that Joe Lunardi placed in the field of 68 in his latest bracketology report for ESPN.com.

Allen said he’s excited to compete for a program that’s trying to redeem itself.

“It was normal for us to get to the tournament [at Michigan State]. It was normal for us to get to the Final Four. It was normal for us to the get to the national championship game,” Allen said. “For me to come here and it not be normal, it kind of makes you hungry. That’s definitely something that I want to get here. .. I want to leave my mark. I want to be remembered.

Allen is averaging 12.3 ppg, shooting 82 percent from the charity stripe and 38 percent from beyond the arc for one of the most surprising success stories in the country. He scored 25 points in his team’s 69-46 victory over Texas A&M Saturday.

He’s blossomed off the floor, too.

The senior said he’s matured since his transfer to Iowa State.

And he tries to convey his mistakes to some of the team’s younger players in hopes that they’ll avoid them in the future. He certainly has a story to tell.

Few have experienced Allen’s ups-and-downs. In 2009, a pre-Final Four rally at a Detroit Mall unified the entire city. Allen and his teammates were serenaded by thousands of Spartans fans.

More than a year later, months after Michigan State had returned to the Final Four, he’d been kicked off the team.

Allen, however, said his dismissal induced growth.

“I feel like it’s a learning experience,” he said about the last two years of his collegiate career. “I feel like life is going to put a lot of adversity in your way. Either you fold under the adversity or you can build on it. And that’s what I’ve just been trying to do.”

Roundtable: Four burning questions

February, 2, 2012
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Editor’s note: ESPN.com writers Eamonn Brennan, Jason King and Myron Medcalf are joined by ESPN Insider John Gasaway to discuss four burning questions in college basketball.

Seems everywhere you look, there's a jumbled conference race. Which one intrigues you the most?

Eamonn Brennan: The Pac-12. And I’m not kidding. Unlike most leagues, this one is wide-open. Sure, Cal is the favorite, but Washington is coming on strong and Oregon is hanging around. Plus, none of the top teams in the conference are so good that they can't be upset by any of the dregs on any given night ... AND there's a legitimate possibility these guys will end up fighting for, what, one at-large bid? It's downright fascinating.

[+] EnlargeMike Scott
AP Photo/Andrew ShurtleffMike Scott and Virginia have made the chase for the ACC crown an interesting one.
John Gasaway: The ACC this year intrigues me. No league's been dominated by two teams the way this one’s been dominated by a certain two teams. But in 2012 we have two feisty newcomers in the form of Florida State and Virginia. In the standings and in terms of per-possession performance, all four teams are more or less equal right now. This shapes up as an epic confrontation between traditional haves and have-nots, and it's going to be a jewel of a conference race. And in closing, I wish to offer a subliminal message: Mike Scott for ACC POY. That is all.

Jason King: The Big 12 race intrigues me most. It’s a three-team affair, and I honestly can’t decide which is better between Baylor, Missouri and Kansas. I thought it was the Tigers, but then they lost to a dreadful Oklahoma State team. Then I switched to the Jayhawks, but then they were upset by Iowa State. Baylor has already lost to both schools, but there’s no shame in falling at Allen Fieldhouse, and the Bears have bounced back nicely from the Mizzou defeat by winning three straight. Baylor is clearly the most talented team, but I’m not sure that even matters. I expect there to be a three-way tie for first when Kansas visits Waco on Feb. 8.

Myron Medcalf: The Big 12. Kansas, Missouri and Baylor are all set to battle over the next week or so. Then you have this Iowa State team that’s been gold at home and played its way into the conversation. So many teams struggling on the road. I think there will be a lot of movement in the Big 12 standings in the coming weeks. Should be fun.

In order, who would make up your top three right now in national coach of the year voting?

Brennan: Steve Fisher immediately and unflinchingly replaced one first-round NBA draft pick, three senior starters and the heart of last year's team, and look at the Aztecs just one year later. Remarkable. Then let’s go with Steve Prohm. The first-year coach has done a brilliant job guiding Murray State through its as-yet undefeated campaign, with all the unique motivational challenges and solutions that kind of quest entails. I’ll take John Calipari at third. Maybe it’s more of a statement inclusion than anything else, but every year we expect Kentucky to be good (for good reason), but we tend to underrate the job Calipari does not only in recruiting these players but in getting them to play stifling team defense together from Day 1. Managing stars is hard enough when you've got one or two. Calipari manages entire teams of All-Americans and future lottery picks and does it better than anyone year in and year out.

Gasaway: Thad Matta at No. 1. This is the best team he's had in Columbus, even if no one realizes it yet. John Calipari: This is the best team he's had in Lexington, and as good as this visually spectacular defense is, the offense is even better. Then Randy Bennett at Saint Mary’s. If I had to choose one D-I coach to take a randomly selected group of five D-I players and score the most points per possession, I would take a long look at Bennett.

King: Right now I’d rank them in this order: Frank Haith (Missouri), Tom Crean (Indiana) and Bill Self (Kansas). There’s usually a transition period with a first-year coach, but that hasn’t been the case in Columbia. Despite a flurry of offseason controversy and the loss of one of his top players to a knee injury, Haith has turned the Tigers into legitimate Final Four contenders. Crean’s team has struggled of late, but touts victories over Kentucky and Ohio State. Not many teams in the country lost as much as Self’s Jayhawks, who returned just one starter from last year’s squad. The Jayhawks are as thin as they’ve ever been under Self, yet somehow he has them back in the top 10 and in position to win an eighth straight Big 12 title.

Medcalf: Steve Fisher is No. 1. Look at what he lost and look and what he’s done with that Aztecs program. I’d go with Frank Haith at No. 2. His Missouri team has no size or depth and he might just win the Big 12 anyway. Murray State’s Steve Prohm is my third. A first-year coach who’s undefeated heading into February despite losing three starters? Impressive stuff.

Which currently unranked team would you NOT want to face off with in March?

Brennan: West Virginia doesn't look like much fun, I'll tell you that. Kevin Jones can bury you before you know it. And despite the Huskies' struggles, I doubt too many teams want to see UConn in an elimination game. And I would happily take a pass on Middle Tennessee State, which plays hard-nosed pressure defense and forces a lot of turnovers, and could be an absolute beast to deal with in a neutral-court situation in March.

[+] EnlargeGarrett Stutz, Chris Hines
AP Photo/Mary AltafferDon't be surprised if Garrett Stutz and Wichita State pull off an upset or two in March.
Gasaway: The best team in the country outside the Top 25 right now is Wichita State. The Shockers have dropped a couple of games in Missouri Valley play and, unlike a certain Valley rival of theirs, they don't have a high-scoring star whose name can be effortlessly linked to a smash hit single. (Teach me how to Garrett Stutz!) All Gregg Marshall's team does is combine outstanding offense with punishing defense. You do not want to see this team in your bracket. The Shockers were born to be badly under-seeded, and people will yell at you incorrectly when you lose to them.

King: I feel sorry for the No. 3- or No. 4-seeded school that draws Long Beach State in the NCAA tournament. The 49ers are one of the top 30 or 40 teams in the country. Dan Monson’s squad has traveled all over the country and faced Kansas, North Carolina, Louisville, Kansas State, Xavier and Pittsburgh. It won’t be intimidated by anyone.

Medcalf: Iowa State, although the Cyclones should be ranked next week. They have experienced transfers (Chris Allen has played in two Final Fours). And they have college basketball’s enigma in Royce White. Who do you put on a guy who’s 6-foot-8, 270 pounds and can play point guard? Kansas and Kansas State are witnesses.

Because of some high-profile misses, the perception is that officiating has been awful this season. What's your take?

Brennan: It hasn't been universally awful, but it's been bad more often -- and more glaringly -- than not. The good news, I think, is that the restricted area has made it easier for officials to call the block/charge, which is always the most difficult and most maddening play in the game. But beyond the high-profile bad calls and the usual complaints, the real issue this year has been the way referees manage games. Now, after NCAA officials coordinator John Adams sent last week's memo, I fear we'll see a marked rise in technical fouls as the officials' needle swings back in the other direction. What a thankless gig, huh?

Gasaway: The officiating this year has been no more or less awful than customary. True, the missed goaltending call in the West Virginia-Syracuse game was both blatantly obvious in real time and unusually decisive. It occurred in the closing seconds, and it had the net effect of deducting two points from one team in what was then a two-point game. I think people reacted to that decisiveness, and I don't blame them. That being said, in any given year human-based officiating is what it is.

King: I think the officiating has been noticeably bad. In the last week, I’ve seen three really bad calls that affected the outcome of games. West Virginia got hosed against Syracuse, as we all know. Texas’ Myck Kabongo was clearly hacked on a game-winning shot attempt against Missouri as time expired. And moments before Iowa State’s Royce White hit a game winner to beat Kansas State, Wildcats guard Rodney McGruder was knocked from his feet as he attempted a shot from the free throw line on the other end. What’s even more frustrating is when refs call ticky-tacky fouls to make up for missing the hard ones.

Medcalf: I don’t think the problem is with officiating. The problem is with the limitations of instant replay. Coaches and officials need more flexibility -- not unlimited review power -- to fix the wrongs. I think officiating has been fine. The late-game blunders have made things look worse than they really are.


AMES, Iowa – Matt Pressey wanted to speak his mind.

The chatter that followed his team’s 16-point loss at Kansas State on Saturday — which snapped its 14-game winning streak — became fodder for the critics who thought the Tigers’ lofty ranking belied their true standing.

Had Pressey heard the jeers from the naysayers in recent days?

His response began with a shoulder shrug.

But before he could open his mouth to answer the question after his team’s 76-69 victory at Iowa State on Wednesday, Missouri coach Frank Haith interjected.

“We didn’t hear that criticism. So we don’t listen. Things we can’t control, OK?” Haith said.

He sounded like a man who just wanted to forget.

Everything about Missouri’s loss in Manhattan, Kan., seemed to justify its doubters.

They’re not big enough. They’re not deep enough. They’re not tough enough. They’ll struggle outside of Columbia.

But everything about the Tigers' gritty victory over Iowa State suggested otherwise.

They’re extremely fast on the perimeter. They’re crafty enough to guard bigger squads. They scored 40 points in the paint even though they’re one of the smallest teams in the league. And on a night when their leading scorer struggled, six other players recorded double figures.

The Tigers never used the word “need” in describing Wednesday’s victory, but it was an essential win for the program.

Some squads still haven’t recovered from stinging losses suffered weeks ago. Losing became a trend for Pitt and UCLA, two teams that suffered tough defeats in the early stages of the 2011-12 season.

To stop one loss from affecting their future, the Tigers would have to show more moxie on the road than they appeared to have Saturday.

“To win on the road, you’ve got to have that kind of mental toughness,” Haith said. “You’ve gotta be able to withstand runs because teams are going to go on runs because of the crowd.”

[+] EnlargeMissouri's Matt Pressey
AP Photo/Charlie NeibergallSenior Matt Pressey, left, said he and his Missouri teammates worked on mental toughness after suffering their first loss.
So Haith set aside some time to talk about all of the problems that affected his Tigers in the Kansas State loss. There were many.

They were outscored 44-25 in the first half. They were crushed on the boards. And they hit just 29 percent of their 3-pointers.

Once those issues were discussed, Haith told his team to forget about the loss and move forward.

“We spent a lot of time on that Sunday talking about K-State and then, there was no more to talk about,” Haith said. “We were on to the next game. We were on to preparing ourselves. Once we got done with it, it was talking about the toughness thing. We physically got whipped. … They understood we cannot let that happen again.”

Déjà vu, however, lurked at Hilton Coliseum.

An Iowa State squad that connected on 8 of its 12 first-half 3s -- including Scott Christopherson’s halfcourt shot just before halftime -- and followed the lead of a 6-foot-8 point guard/power forward Royce White (16 points) looked like the better team early.

But Missouri’s premier qualities emerged in the second half. The Tigers hit 59 percent of their shots after halftime. And although Marcus Denmon (1-for-5 for just 6 points) struggled, six of the seven Mizzou players who saw time for Haith scored in double figures.

“If we do a good job of being aggressive … They’re going to have to pick their poison,” Pressey said about his squad’s versatility.

The Tigers met every Cyclones charge in the second half with their own surge. After Chris Allen nailed a 3-pointer with 22 seconds on the clock to cut Missouri’s lead to 3, Denmon knocked down four free throws to seal the win. That was with both Kim English and Steve Moore on the bench with five fouls.

Chest-thumping and fist-pumping spread through Missouri’s bench as the Tigers fought off the Cyclones with five players. The team’s intensity rose with every ISU threat.

They wanted the test and another chance to prove themselves in a hostile environment. And they elevated their collective game against the challenge.

“The whole week we focused on being mentally tough," Pressey said. "Not so much physically, but being mentally tough on both ends, defense and offense.”

Missouri’s deficiencies could continue to cause problems, especially as it prepares to play some of the league’s bigger teams. But the Tigers say they don’t care about their weaknesses or the critics who emphasize them.

They’re comfortable with who they are. They also realize that they’re going to pose matchup problems for opponents, too.

“We’ve got a lot of guys who can score it,” Haith said. “It’s no secret. We’re not going to get any taller between now and the end of the year. We’re not going to add any more dudes. This is what we got.”

AMES, Iowa – Here are my quick thoughts on Wednesday’s Iowa State-Missouri matchup.

How it happened: Iowa State lost its leading scorer, rebounder and passer five minutes into the first half when Royce White went to the bench with two fouls. But Ricardo Ratliffe went out for Missouri soon after with the same problem.

The undersized squads played small ball for most of the first half. But Iowa State had the momentum.

The Cyclones missed two key opportunities, however, to extend a lead against a top-10 opponent. The No. 9 Tigers went scoreless for a five-minute stretch midway through the first half, but a turnover, a misguided alley-oop and bad shots prevented the Cyclones from seizing the opportunity.

And after Scott Christopherson, who led all scorers with 19 points, nailed a 50-foot 3-pointer at the halftime buzzer – Iowa State was then 8-for-12 from behind the 3-point line and shooting 48 percent from the field – the Cyclones came out of the locker room with mojo. But they started the second half with four missed free throws and a turnover, squandering another chance to build a lead against Missouri.

The Tigers, seeking a victory after a 16-point loss to Kansas State over the weekend, turned it up a notch in the second half. Their perimeter speed was clearly a problem for the Cyclones. After taking a two-point lead two minutes into the second half, ISU never led again.

Mizzou was led by Matt Pressey (14 points), Ratliffe (12 points) and Phil Pressey (12 points). The Tigers shot 59 percent from the field in the second half.

After Chris Allen (17 points) hit a 3-pointer with 22 seconds on the clock, however, Iowa State was down just 72-69. But Mizzou sank four free throws in the final seconds to seal the victory.

Iowa State’s greatest challenge came at the free throw line. White scored 16 points, but he was also 2-for-8 from the charity stripe. His team was 13-for-25.

Star of the game: Matt Pressey led six Tigers in double figures. He was 5-for-8 from the field and made all four of his free throws.

Most awkward moment: Iowa State fans yelled “Sit down!” as Steve Moore went to the bench with his fifth foul late in the second half. One problem … White was at the line shooting a free throw. He missed it.

Turning point: Allen threw an ill-advised alley-oop to White near the seven-minute mark with Iowa State down 57-55. Missouri scored off the turnover, kicking off a crucial 9-3 run that gave the Tigers breathing room late with a 66-58 edge.

What the win means for Missouri: The victory will help the Tigers forget about the disaster at Kansas State and quickly rebuild their confidence.

What the loss means for Iowa State: It means that the Cyclones aren’t good enough to squander key opportunities to pull away from talented squads. But they lost this game due to some fixable flaws. The Cyclones should still be a factor in the Big 12.

Up next: Missouri will host Texas on Saturday; Iowa State will travel to Kansas the same day.
1. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has hyped up Royce White's impact on the Cyclones quite a bit and with good reason. He was penciled in to be a star at Minnesota and will likely be one for the Cyclones with his consistent rebounding and inside scoring. But another enigmatic transfer from the Big Ten -- Chris Allen out of Michigan State -- has been just as solid, making 8 of 9 3s and 13 of 16 overall in a controlled team scrimmage last week, according to Hoiberg. Iowa State scrimmaged at Nebraska over the weekend and Huskers’ coach Doc Sadler said the Cyclones can shoot the ball extremely well. If the point guard position goes well then Iowa State could be a sleeper.

2. Hoiberg was just as complimentary about Nebraska’s size (it’s OK, neither coach talked about the specifics of the actual scrimmage since the NCAA is so consumed about news from these “secret” scrimmages). Sadler said this is his best team in Lincoln, but he needs to get Andre Almeida and Christopher Niemann healthy for the Huskers to be a force in the frontline in the Big Ten. “I like our team,’’ Sadler said. “I think we’ve got a chance. It’s by far the best team we’ve had here if we get everyone healthy.’’ Hoiberg said the Huskers’ are an improved shooting team, too. “And they’re just so big,’’ Hoiberg said.

3. Sean Miller has turned Arizona back into a national program, similar to what Lute Olson was able to accomplish in recruiting. The commitment of center Kaleb Tarczewski, a New Hampshire product, securely puts the four-player class in ESPN.com’s No. 1 spot for 2012. Miller wasn’t the first choice for Arizona but he clearly was the best option and sped up the rebuilding process at warp speed after two years of interim coaches. Compare the Indiana and Arizona situations and it’s not even close. Indiana had NCAA sanctions to deal with while Arizona nearly had a roster overhaul before Tim Floyd’s departure at USC sent top recruits to Tucson and set the stage for an Elite Eight team to be delivered. Now Miller is recruiting similar level talent from across the country to keep the Wildcats as a legit power for the next few years.

TAMPA, Fla. -- Almost mercifully, Michigan State’s season-to-forget came to an end Thursday night.

The 10th-seeded Spartans, who were ranked No. 2 in the preseason polls but needed a late-season push just to receive an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, fell to No. 7 seed UCLA 78-76 in a second-round game of the Southeast Regional at St. Pete Times Forum.

Even after finishing the season with a disappointing 19-15 record, the Spartans did the only thing coach Tom Izzo could ask them to do -- they fought to the very end.

After trailing by 23 points with about 8 ½ minutes to go, Michigan State cut UCLA’s lead to 78-76 and had the basketball with 4.4 seconds to go. But senior guard Kalin Lucas was called for traveling while trying to dribble through a triple-team down the sideline, and the Spartans’ improbable comeback was over.

[+] EnlargeKalin Lucas
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesUCLA's defense held Kalin Lucas to only 11 points and five assists.
“I’m crushed and disappointed because we just got off to such a poor start, and yet I’m so proud of these guys,” Izzo said. “They’ve been knocked down so many times this year. I don’t think I’ve ever had a team that’s gone through as much, and yet to battle back and almost put themselves at a chance to win was incredible. I’m incredibly grateful to them.”

In the end, though, the Spartans were never able to live up their lofty preseason hype against one of the country’s most difficult schedules.

MSU lost eight of its first 20 games and was plagued by off-court distractions. Guard Chris Allen was dismissed from the team in May and transferred to Iowa State. On Jan. 26, Izzo kicked guard Korie Lucious off the team for an unspecified violation of team rules.

Izzo even ran into his own troubles with the NCAA and was suspended for one game for committing a secondary rules violation.

“It’s been a year that I’ll never forget for a lot of reasons,” Izzo said. “It’s kind of a fitting way to end, because I’ve been telling these guys all year, we’ve just got to keep battling back. Where some people have just fallen off the face of the earth with one of these seasons, we didn’t. I kept telling them we’ve got to be like a boxer and just keep getting up.”

Even a heavyweight like Michigan State endures seasons like this one. The Spartans’ 15 losses are their most in a season since a 16-16 finish in 1995-96, Izzo’s first campaign. The losses also equaled Michigan State's total from their previous two seasons combined.

Izzo said he hurt most for seniors such as Lucas, Durrell Summers and Mike Kebler. After MSU played in the Final Four in each of the previous two seasons, it went one-and-done in their final college season.

Lucas fought back tears while addressing reporters in MSU’s postgame news conference.

“I think I had a great four years here,” Lucas said. “I had a great coach that pushed me every day at practice, and I had great teammates that pushed me every day at practice as well. The loss hurts, but at the same time these four years have been great.”

Lucas, the team’s leading scorer, battled back after rupturing his Achilles’ tendon in the NCAA tournament last season.

UCLA focused much of its defensive attention on Lucas, and he missed his first eight shots. He finished with 11 points on 4-for-14 shooting and had five assists and four turnovers.

“I know it had to be rough for him,” MSU forward Draymond Green said. “I feel like he had a great career, and he hasn’t had many games where he just couldn’t get anything to fall. They did a great job defensively on him. They pretty much keyed on him the whole entire defense, and he did a great job of still getting everybody else involved.”

Lucas finished four points shy of reaching 2,000 points in his career.

“It hurts me,” Green said. “I’m a big fan of my guys reaching milestones, and the loss hurts me, but I think I’m kind of hurting because he came up four points short of 2,000. For everything he did for this program, I get to come back for another year so I can be sad about the loss later. I think I’m hurting more about him not getting them four points.”

Izzo said he won’t remember these seniors by their final campaign. They were part of teams that reached the Sweet 16 in 2008, the national championship game in 2009 and the national semifinals last season.

“I’m proud of all those seniors,” Izzo said. “I hope people look at what they’ve accomplished in their four-year career because it is unbelievable how many games they won and crowds they played in front of and what they’ve done.”
If your only source of information on Korie Lucious was the Michigan State guard's Twitter feed, you'd probably think Lucious had too many breadsticks at dinner.

Late Tuesday night, as Tom Izzo released a statement revealing his season-long dismissal of his junior guard for "conduct detrimental to the program," Lucious himself reacted to the news on his Twitter account. His tweet -- bound to enter Michigan State lore, and already generating some rather hilarious 140-character comedy -- was simply this: "Man did I really mess up this time...off 2 the gym I go!"

If that apparently unironic missive seems like the work of someone who maybe just doesn't quite get it, apparently Izzo and the Spartans agree.

What other explanation is there for Izzo's sudden, unexpected decision? We don't know what Lucious did. Like so many collegiate dismissals, the terms of the announcement were left intentionally vague by both coach and player and, per the usual, it will probably take between a day and a week, and maybe longer, for anything more than rumor and innuendo to emerge from the conspicuous silence.

[+] EnlargeTom Izzo and Korie Lucious
AP Photo/Charles CherneyTom Izzo dismissed guard Korie Lucious from the team for "conduct detrimental to the program."
Thing is, the reason doesn't really matter. Whatever line Lucious crossed -- and he was already on thin ice after his suspension related to a charge for driving while intoxicated in the offseason (he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor reckless driving) -- it was enough for Izzo to kick him off the team in the middle of one of the more disappointing seasons in the vaunted coach's career. The Spartans were already a struggling, underachieving, baffling bunch. It now appears they're in crisis.

You know the story of MSU's season by now, but just in case you missed something: Michigan State entered the season ranked No. 2 in the nation. The Spartans returned the core of a team that made its second straight Final Four appearance in April, including star guard Kalin Lucas, who missed the 2010 tournament run thanks to a ruptured Achilles tendon in his left heel.

Throw in a celebrated recruiting class and an expected dose of Izzo's masterful tournament wizardry, and it's no wonder the Spartans were seen as the one true threat to Duke's reign in 2010-11, and no wonder Michigan State forward Draymond Green told me he expected to win the national title at Big Ten media day in October. Of course he did. Why wouldn't he?

Those were halcyon days. Since then, the Spartans have been exposed by quality opponents (Duke, Texas, Connecticut, et al) and conference also-rans (Penn State) alike thanks to a turnover-prone and inconsistent offense that can't seem to get its considerable talent -- players like Lucas, Green and Durrell Summers, to name a few -- to congeal into anything resembling a competent side. Instead of competing for a Big Ten title, Michigan State has stumbled to a 12-7 record after 19 games, including a 4-3 mark in Big Ten play, and the Spartans have been noticeably reeling all the while.

It hasn't been much better of the court. After all, the Lucious dismissal isn't Izzo's first personnel issue of the season. The coach dismissed guard Chris Allen in August after a prolonged deliberation period during which Allen worked out with the team and told the media he expected to return before his coach eventually sent him packing. Allen's absence has left a noticeable gap; without him the Spartans lack a consistent long-range threat. It's one of the main reasons -- alongside Michigan State's ongoing and much-discussed turnover woes -- Sparty hasn't scored at an efficient rate this season.

There have also been issues with the inconsistent Summers, who Izzo benched for a "lack of enthusiasm," as well as forward Derrick Nix, who nearly left the team in November over concerns about his playing time. In the meantime, Izzo was himself suspended for a silly recruiting violation incurred at MSU's summer camp.

Here's the thing: Izzo is occasionally -- OK, frequently -- treated with deference by the media. It's no surprise why. For one, he's very, very good at his job. More than that, though, Izzo is genuine, professional, and considerate in his dealings with the ink-stained, quote-starved wretches in the interview room, most of whom just want coaches to treat them with the same respect those same coaches demand of their players and staff. (Unless of course those media members are trying to figure out whether he plans to leave the Spartans for the Cleveland Cavaliers job. As Izzo himself admitted, that was not his finest hour.)

You attract more flies with honey than vinegar, which is a horrible cliché but also happens to be true, and Izzo has attracted plenty of flies in his tenure at Michigan State. You can question whether that should be true or not -- some fans tend to think reporters are whining when they complain about coaches who thrive on psychological press conference power plays, and maybe those fans have a point -- but like it or not, it is true.

All of which was a wordy way to preface this: You can probably expect some folks to claim Izzo is being "brave" by dismissing Lucious at this point in the season. Some will argue that he's "taking a stand" and "setting an example" and "sacrificing wins for the good of his program." All of which is probably correct. But it's also correct to say that this Michigan State team -- a team with enough talent to make it to the Final Four without its best player eight months ago -- has been a disappointing mess from the moment it took the floor in November.

Does anyone think Izzo has had a good season? Are the Spartans improving in any tangible way? Why can't this team get control of its destructive addiction to turnovers? Why haven't Summers and Delvon Roe developed into consistent players? Why hasn't Izzo told Lucas to stop shooting so many inefficient long-range 2s? And -- most importantly -- why has the past year been a nonstop rush of personnel issues and off-court drama? If I'm a Spartans fan, I may think Izzo is a god, but I'm still asking those questions. Among many others.

Fortunately for those fans, believe it or not, there is some good news here. For one, Michigan State still has the majority of its Big Ten schedule left to play, and if we know anything about Michigan State under Tom Izzo -- and in particular this group of players -- it's that it's never too late to figure things out just in time for a surprising tournament run. First rule of college basketball punditry: Discount the Spartans at your own risk.

The other bit of sunshine is that Lucious, for all his brilliant shot-making ability, was not a particularly effective player this season. His offensive rating to date is 92.9 (which is below average nationally). He shot 28.4 percent from beyond the arc despite having the second-most long-range attempts (81) on his team. He turned the ball over on 24.8 percent of his possessions, and his effective field goal percentage (40.4) was the lowest of any Michigan State player.

Lucious' suddenly available minutes are likely to go to freshman guard Keith Appling, who hasn't exactly set the world ablaze himself, but who has been a much more accurate shooter all season long. If the Spartans can get Appling to take care of the ball -- something neither he nor Lucious have done well this season -- this team might even improve.

Of course, there's also the chance that Izzo's decision snaps MSU out of its season-long funk, imbuing this team with a much-needed sense of urgency for a critical February stretch run. You never know.

In reality, though, this dismissal is basically what it looks like: A struggling, disappointing, distraction-riddled team canning one of its starters at just the moment it desperately needs experience, leadership and -- most of all -- effective guard play. If things were already bad in East Lansing, on Tuesday night they officially got worse.

It's enough to make a Spartans fan want to blow off some steam. As Lucious himself might suggest: Off to the gym you go?
Last night, news broke that former Minnesota forward -- and noted ne'er-do-well in his Gophers career -- Royce White was denied a waiver by the NCAA that would allow him to play at Iowa State this season. The basis of the waiver appeal was White's lack of on-court time at Minnesota. That basis was awfully funny, given that White's off-court transgressions and oddball YouTube behavior were the very reasons such a key member of Tubby Smith's 2009 recruiting class wasn't on the floor grabbing rebounds (and was eventually dismissed from the team). It's not like White got a raw deal.

Anyway, Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg says the Cyclones will "exhaust every option" in an attempt to get White eligible this year. That includes an appeal process that would ask the NCAA to overturn its initial decision, and that doesn't seem too likely.

The good news? It doesn't matter anyway.

Oh, sure, White would be a nice addition for the Cyclones this season. Before his flame-out in Minneapolis, White was a top-40 recruit known for his polished low-post skills, athleticism, and versatility. He would be an immediate help at Iowa State.

Then again, so would anyone. And that's sort of the point: Royce White or no, this is a rebuilding year in Ames. The Cyclones lost their three best players from a team that won 15 games last season, and only senior guard Dionte Garrett returns with any measure of Big 12 experience. The entrance of White might win Iowa State an extra game or two -- and that even feels generous -- but it's not going to change the trajectory of the program in the short term.

Next season, when ISU adds three transfers (Michigan State guard Chris Allen, Penn State sharpshooter Chris Babb, and Southern Illinois forward Anthony Booker), is the year the program should look to for its first leap forward under Hoiberg. White will be eligible by then, and if he can stay in the good graces of his authority figures, the Cyclones could have a starting five just this side of "pretty good."

That's not the case this year. The denied waiver is a bummer for Iowa State, but Hoiberg shouldn't take it too hard. Royce White isn't changing the Cyclones' 2010-11 prospects whether he's on the floor or not.
Not that it would have mattered anyway, because Korie Lucious is only 20. But the point stands: Lucious' arrest Monday morning on charges of drunken driving is bad news for Lucious, for coach Tom Izzo, and for the Michigan State Spartans in general.

The news is still coming in, but here's what the world knows so far. Lucious was pulled over at 2:30 a.m. Monday in East Lansing. He was administered a breathalyzer test. He registered a .09 blood alcohol level. The legal limit in Michigan is .08. Lucas isn't yet old enough to drink, so the legal limit doesn't apply to his predicament; he would be in trouble even if he would have been at .07 or .06. (Lucious' age makes the theoretical discussion over whether .09 should be considered "drunken driving" beside the point.)

In the meantime, Tom Izzo is waiting to comment until he "gathers all the facts."

The immediate repercussions are hard to gauge. Punishments vary as widely as coaching styles. Lucious could miss a percentage of the season, or he could miss all of it. That will depend on how lenient Izzo is feeling, whether Lucious shows the appropriate amount of regret, and whether Lucious has a record of renting space in Izzo's famed doghouse, a la dismissed senior guard Chris Allen. (Which, to my knowledge, he doesn't.)

Speaking of Allen, two things. One: If Izzo was willing to dismiss his senior guard for a variety of closed-door, team-related, non-illegal offenses, does Lucious stand a chance to be back this season? And two: As Jeff Eisenberg notes, does Izzo wish he'd have repaired things with Allen rather than boot him off the team? Lucious' improved play in 2009-10 -- especially his impressive stint in place of injured guard Kalin Lucas -- was one of the reasons Michigan State was supposed to be able to easily discard Allen. They had other pieces in place. But what now?

All of that remains to be seen; we'll wait for Izzo's response to the facts he continues to gather. But at this stage, it's all ugly. Michigan State's wild offseason just got a little bit wilder.

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