College Basketball Nation: Fran Dunphy

DAYTON, Ohio -- All season, Iowa State has been confounding opposing defenses with endless floor spacing and perimeter shooting. All season, Ohio State has breaking the wills of opposing perimeter players with endless defensive harassment.

Unstoppable force, meet immovable object. Rear end, meet couch.

On Sunday, when Thad Matta's No. 2-seeded Buckeyes square off with Fred Hoiberg's No. 10-seeded Cyclones, Ohio State will try to decode one of the nation's best offenses, Iowa State will try to maintain its trademark up-tempo scoring against Aaron Craft and Shannon Scott, and the rest of us will get to watch arguably the best strength-on-strength matchup of the NCAA tournament to date.

Iowa State finished its season with the most efficient offense in the Big 12, a style predicated on the versatility of a group of lightning-quick guards and 6-foot-7 freshman forward Georges Niang, who is as at home on the perimeter as he is on the low block. The Cyclones have their coach's blessing to shoot early and often, particularly from deep, and 43.7 percent of their field goal attempts this season have come from 3-point range (the eighth-highest mark in the country), where they averaged 37.2 percent.

The Cyclones ended the 2012-13 season as the eighth-best offense in the country, per KenPom.com's efficiency rankings; they averaged 1.17 points per possession, the same number they put up in Friday's demolition of No. 7 seed Notre Dame.

Put less numerically: Iowa State spreads the floor and hoists a whole mess of 3s, and when the Cyclones (23-11) have it going, they are not only one of the most effective offensive teams in the country but also one of the most ecstatic viewing experiences in the sport.

And Ohio State hasn't seen anyone quite like them.

"Michigan does [play that style] a little bit; they'll move their bigs around in a pick-and-roll," Matta said. "But I can't recall anybody [that plays] that far out."

[+] EnlargeGeorges Niang
Frank Victores/USA TODAY SportsFreshman Georges Niang was a force for Iowa State against Notre Dame, scoring 19 points on 9-of-13 shooting.
As fun as Iowa State has been, and as excited as fans have been to see the most popular player in program history lead them back to relevance with an entertaining style, the Cyclones have to be cringing in advance of a meeting with the Buckeyes. For most of the season, but especially the past month, Matta's team has been ruthless in its destruction of opposing offenses.

The Buckeyes haven't lost since Feb. 17. In that span, they manhandled Minnesota, Michigan State, Illinois and Indiana -- the last of which came on the road, on senior night, against the best offensive team in the country -- before beating Michigan State and Wisconsin en route to the Big Ten tournament title.

In that span, the Buckeyes have allowed just 0.88 points per possession. Only one team -- Michigan State -- managed to score more than a point per possession.

To put that less numerically: Ohio State has been flat stomping people.

"That's a scary team," Hoiberg said Friday night.

Craft rightfully tends to draw most of the national attention, and thus the credit, for Ohio State's defense, and much has been made of the secondary scoring from Craft and winger Sam Thompson during Ohio State's undefeated month. But the Buckeyes (27-7) have also been spurred on by the emergence of sophomore guard Scott as a savvy perimeter defender -- probably the Buckeyes' best all-around defender at Indiana -- and the length and athleticism of Thompson and Lenzelle Smith.

All of which makes them almost ideally suited to match up with the Cyclones, to match up man-to-man out to 25 feet and prevent the kind of penetration that downed a sluggish Notre Dame.

If Ohio State can play the Cyclones to a draw on the defensive end -- probably a conservative expectation, given what the Buckeyes did to Indiana -- then Deshaun Thomas, one of the nation's best pure scorers, should be able to handle matters on the offensive end. The Buckeyes avoid turnovers and score the ball at a top-15 rate nationally; Iowa State's defense doesn't rank in the top 100.

That's why Ohio State is the No. 2 seed and Iowa State the No. 10: The Buckeyes excel on both ends, whereas Iowa State can be one-dimensional.

But boy is that dimension fun to watch, and perhaps never more so than when it meets with the nation's hottest, most perimeter-inclined defense Sunday.

"It's going to be, I think, a fun matchup," Hoiberg said, in typically understated fashion. "And hopefully we're competitive."

News and Notes from Dayton
  • Matta was asked Saturday whether it was fair to judge conferences on their record in the NCAA tournament (as of Saturday, the Big Ten is 8-1). "We're all representing one thing and one thing only, and that's our university now," Matta said. "I want the Big Ten to do as well as it possibly can, but I say that from the standpoint of I know the other coaches from the Big Ten; they're worried about one thing and one thing only, and that's advancing. … Maybe in the end, when we have our spring meetings, we can all high-five each other because we had a great year, but I think for the most part it's CYOA -- or whatever that is."
  • The biggest concern for Temple entering Sunday's matchup with No. 1 seed Indiana is star guard Khalif Wyatt's left thumb injury, which he suffered in the second half of Friday's victory over NC State. Wyatt left the game at the time to have it taped up by a trainer, and it was noticeably tender in the second half, but the senior still finished the game and made the lion's share of key plays as the Wolfpack stormed back in the second half. Wyatt said the thumb was "a little sore" Saturday, but X-rays searching for serious damage came back negative. "It will be fine by [Sunday]," Wyatt said. The good news: Wyatt, whose 19.8 points per game put him atop the Atlantic 10 -- and among the nation's top 20 scorers -- in the regular season, did most of that work with his right hand.
  • Wyatt's clearance means he'll be the biggest defensive assignment of the day for Indiana, a role that is typically fulfilled by Hoosiers star Victor Oladipo. Oladipo wouldn't confirm whether he was going to check Wyatt exclusively Sunday -- "It's up to the coaching staff," he said -- but it's safe to assume the hyperathletic national player of the year candidate will spend much of his afternoon trying to prevent Wyatt from taking over the game. "He knows he's really good," Indiana coach Tom Crean said of Wyatt. "I don't know the young man, but he knows he's really good. You can tell there's no stage too big for him."
  • Wyatt may be able to overcome Oladipo and the Hoosiers defense for his usual scoring output, but a far bigger question looms for the Owls on the defensive end: How does a team that allowed 1.03 points per trip, eighth best in A-10 play, plan to stop the most efficient offense in the country? "How we run our offense will dictate how we play our defense," Owls coach Fran Dunphy said. "If we shoot good shots, then we'll be in pretty good floor balance, because one of the concerns about Indiana is they push the basketball on makes and misses, have a great transition game, and they find each other very, very well."
  • On Saturday, Dunphy admitted that he and Wyatt "didn't hit it off all that great when he was a freshman," that Wyatt was "a pain in the butt sometimes, and he'll be the first to tell you." But the two have long since come together. "He's grown, and that's what happens," Dunphy said. "When you sign on for these guys, it's not perfection. You sign on for the good and for the bad. … But I'm glad it all worked out, and he's going to be graduating from Temple University in May. I couldn't be more proud of him, how he's turned out as a man."
  • One reporter asked Hoiberg which college hoops program he would most like his suddenly resurgent Cyclones to "mirror." Hoiberg's response: "Kentucky. Nah, I'm just kidding. I don't know."
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DAYTON, Ohio -- NC State was never the sixth-best team in the country. We should probably get that out of the way.

NC State's now-infamous preseason ranking was less the product of the team's quality and more of the hype that accompanies tournament wins and top recruiting classes, particularly when they arrive in tandem, as they did in Raleigh, N.C. Expectations ballooned. They were always unrealistic.

It would be unfair to grade NC State on that curve. It would also be unfair to overlook the brilliance of Temple guard Khalif Wyatt, who scored 31 points, including a 12-of-14 performance from the free throw line, in Temple's 76-72 win Friday -- or to ignore that this is now Temple's eighth win in its past nine games and the best Fran Dunphy’s team has played all season.

It would not be unfair, however, to say that even if the Wolfpack weren't a top-10 team, ultimately they still had a disappointing season; that a No. 8 seed was far less than a team with one of the best offensive arsenals in the country could have achieved, that Friday's first-round tournament exit was an ending far below their considerable talent and that, above all, their defense -- or lack thereof -- was to blame.

"At times we were really good defensively. At times we were not," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "This particular team never seemed to get to a point where we could sustain and maintain great defensive effort the entire game."

[+] Enlarge Temple and North Carolina State
Ethan Hyman/Raleigh News & Observer/Getty Images NC State's defense could not contain Temple's Khalif Wyatt, who scored 31 points in the Owls' victory.
That was the case on Friday, particularly during the Wolfpack's nightmare of a first half. NC State began stagnant and sluggish, and as shots failed to fall (it shot 10-of-25 in the first half), whatever defensive energy NC State typically derives off its offensive potency waned. Shoulders slumped. Wyatt, one of the best scorers in the country, and forward Jake O'Brien (who went 5-of-7 in the first frame) took immediate advantage, as the Owls made 16 of their 30 field goal attempts and shot 5-of-11 from 3.

By halftime, NC State trailed, 38-22. When its offense went quiet -- and it happens to every team at least once in the tournament, though usually not in their very first minutes -- the Wolfpack couldn't get stops.

The second half was better. Lorenzo Brown came alive, T.J. Warren created a pair of turnovers and the Wolfpack started feasting on their typical combination of low-post looks to the tune of 50 points while going 19-of-27 from the field. If anything, the second-half spurt might be even more frustrating for NC State fans, not only because it highlighted their team's inability to stop a totally fearless Wyatt -- who made every big shot and got to the line 12 times (and made 11) in the second half -- but also because it presented such a striking contrast from the first half. Accusations that NC State had attitude issues, that the reason it didn't guard people was because it didn't try, rumbled off and on all year.

Forward Scott Wood testily dismissed that notion in the postgame news conference -- "You can come watch us in practice and tell us if you think the same," he said -- but Gottfried was more open.

"I think this team struggled with a lot of things," Gottfried said. "Number one, we had some immaturity at times. It just seemed hard at times to have everybody buy in all the way. And for us to get better in the future, everybody needs to. Our young guys need to learn that lesson.

"At times this year, that just seemed to be a struggle for our group," Gottfried said. "That was a hard thing for us to overcome basically all year long, from the way we started. Some of the young guys, some of the older guys, and building character every day and doing things right every day, putting the team first, and then personal success and glory comes later. It always does. But you have to trust that. We struggled with some of that this year."

Whatever the intangible root causes, the end result was a defense that ranked 192nd in the country in points allowed per possession (1.017) despite a lineup chock full of lanky, athletic, NBA-coveted talents. At times that talent was enough to get NC State by, but not Friday. Not against Wyatt, a quirky but dominant scoring guard, and not against a less-talented team that nonetheless trusts in him and each other.

On the penultimate possession of the game, before Wyatt iced the game with two free throws, and while NC State players reminded him of the importance of the shots ("they were talking a little bit," Wyatt said), he turned to his teammates assembled near the half-court line and said "I got this."

"They trusted me to to make two shots at the end," Wyatt said. And then he did.
In addition to plenty of just-plain-great games -- Louisville's win at Syracuse, Marquette's big home win over Notre Dame, that amazing Duke-Miami thriller at Cameron Indoor Stadium -- Saturday was also filled with bubble action, from the start of the day to its finish.

That's typical, of course; this is the time of year when NCAA tournament at-large selection very rapidly shifts from the theoretical to the concrete. What isn't so typical is the level of carnage wrought on this Saturday, the sheer number of teams with bubble hopes that suffered losses -- some of them devastating.

How do I know Saturday was a bubble massacre? Your Tennessee Volunteers -- a new bubble entity this week after their victory over Florida -- managed to lose at Georgia (RPI: 142), 78-68, and, according to our own Joe Lunardi, moved into the bracket. Yeah. That happened.

That is one of the things worth remembering about the bubble, of course: It's all relative. We need to get to 68 teams somehow. And if everyone falls apart, maybe, in the end, no one does.

Here is your Saturday Bubble Watch update:

WINNERS

Creighton: For months, Creighton had no place in the bubble conversation. It was assumed, and not unfairly so, that the Bluejays and star forward Doug McDermott would rather effortlessly coast through Missouri Valley Conference play, maybe suffer an upset or two, and not have to worry much or at all about locking up an at-large bid in case Arch Madness proves to be exactly that.

And then things came apart. Creighton dropped a game at Drake. McDermott's scoring dried up in a hard fall at Indiana State, which was followed by a close home loss to Illinois State and a 61-54 upset at Northern Iowa. The Bluejays barely got past Evansville -- a fourth straight loss would have started a major panic -- and last Saturday's trip to Moraga, Calif., for a BracketBusters matchup with Saint Mary's didn't go so well, either. All of a sudden, Creighton, a lock in our Bubble Watch since the month-old first edition, was at semi-serious risk of missing the NCAA tournament.

Its fans can breathe easier now. McDermott's 15-of-18 shooting, 41-point masterpiece led the Bluejays to a 91-79 win over Wichita State -- another surefire tournament team in its own right -- Saturday afternoon. If there was any doubt in the selection committee's mind, having your All-American reclaim his status with a Bill Walton-esque shooting performance over the best competition your league has to offer should just about shore everything up. Finally.

Boise State: Boise State will be just as thrilled about the aforementioned Bluejays' big win -- all season, Boise State's best bubble credential has been its surprising late-November win at Creighton. That win looks much better now.

But Boise State should mostly thank itself, and by "itself," I mean Derrick Marks. Marks had a McDermott-like day: 38 points on 13 of 18 from the field with 5 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 steals. Most important is he did it in a 78-65 win over Colorado State, a top-20 RPI team and a very good one to boot. (It's worth making a distinction, as teams ranked in the top 20 in the RPI aren't always actually good, but CSU definitely is.) Marks put his team on his back, to steal a phrase from that awesome Marshawn Lynch YouTube video, and the combination of a win over Colorado State and Creighton's big win will put Boise back into the serious at-large conversation -- the fifth team from the nine-team Mountain West to deserve such talk.

Oklahoma: The Sooners snuck up on us this season. It's OK to admit it: No one really expected much in Lon Kruger's second year in Norman, and if there was any expectation at all, it was to keep getting better and maybe surprise a few people in an otherwise-down Big 12. But Kruger's group of unheralded, workmanlike guys has done much more than that. By now, the Sooners have all but locked up an NCAA tournament bid. Sure, sure: There was that loss at Texas earlier in the week, but Oklahoma's convincing win over bubble-stuck Iowa State on Saturday was huge, and the Sooners' computer numbers -- a No. 29 RPI, a No. 9-ranked SOS, a No. 28 nonconference schedule figure -- and big wins over Kansas and Oklahoma State make them impossible to ignore. They have West Virginia and TCU left. If they handle business, they're in.

Massachusetts: It is worth noting, of course, that even after beating Memphis at home this week, Xavier's RPI is still just No. 87. It is also worth noting that the Minutemen's only top-50 win came at La Salle, which, while a decent team, is nobody's idea of a season-defining power. But even after noting all that, we should also note that UMass won at Xavier on Saturday, something the touted Memphis Tigers were unable to do just a few days prior. That definitely counts for something. With a home game against Butler next on the docket, Derek Kellogg's team still has time to make some noise — or at least reverse the damage of last week's loss at St. Bonaventure.

Arkansas: So, what's a home win over Kentucky worth these days, anyway? It's a good question: The Wildcats beat Missouri in their own building just seven days ago, but that's their only top-50 win of the season, and it's safe to say the selection committee won't hold John Calipari's team in vaunted regard with injured forward Nerlens Noel out. So it's hard to know how much this victory can aid Arkansas' late push toward the bubble finish line. But I do know this: It can't hurt. On a day when so much of the rest of the bubble, particularly the SEC versions, seemed intent on imploding, a win over a fellow bubble team counts as a totally positive development. (A win at Missouri on Tuesday would be even better.)

California: Hey, remember when Cal was kind of bad? It happened this season, I swear it did -- it was just Dec. 29 when a depleted Harvard toppled the Bears in Berkeley, after all. You can be forgiven if you don't quite remember, because it hasn't been the case for weeks. On Saturday, Cal rattled off its seventh consecutive win, a 62-46 destruction of visiting Colorado. This stretch began with a win at Arizona and included a home victory over UCLA and a win at Oregon. With no bad losses weighing them down, I'm not sure how the Bears could miss out on the tournament now.

UCLA: The Bruins completed their season sweep of Arizona Saturday night at Pauley Pavilion. UCLA wasn't really on the bubble -- not like some of these other poor, desperate souls -- but even so, it's safe to say sweeping the Wildcats makes you a lock. This file is officially closed.

LOSERS

Kentucky, Tennessee, and — gulp — Ole Miss: Does anyone from the SEC actually want to go to the NCAA tournament? Is everybody already thinking about spring football? What on Earth is going on?

We talked about Kentucky in the Arkansas blurb; the Wildcats remain one of the more intriguing at-large cases for the committee to handle, but I'm not sure their status as a just-above-the-bubble squad was totally damaged by a loss at Arkansas. And Tennessee, as we mentioned in the intro, managed to lose at Georgia and still move into the bracket. Wait, what? Huh? How does that happen?

[+] EnlargeAndy Kennedy
Spruce Derden/USA TODAY SportsAndy Kennedy has seen Ole Miss turn a 17-2 start into a 21-8 mark after Saturday's ugly loss.
The answer brings us to Ole Miss.

On Saturday, Ole Miss lost to Mississippi State. It's a little bit difficult to explain how bad this loss is without sounding a little bit mean to the Bulldogs, but I don't live in the South, so I don't have to couch my insults with the written equivalent of "Bless your heart": Mississippi State is horrible. Awful. The Bulldogs were riding a 13-game losing streak, to no real fault of theirs or their coach's, as -- thanks to injuries and being at the start of a rebuilding process -- Rick Ray has just seven scholarship players at his command this season. Mississippi State's RPI is No. 236. It began Saturday ranked No. 277 in the KenPom.com efficiency rankings, just one spot below mighty Samford. Many fans believe this to be not only the worst Mississippi State team, but the worst Southeastern Conference team of all time.

That team beat Ole Miss on March 2.

Not only is it a disaster for the Rebels, who have lost in recent weeks at Texas A&M and South Carolina and have turned a 17-2 start into a 21-8 mess, it's also a disaster for coach Andy Kennedy, who began the season on the proverbial hot seat and needed this Ole Miss team to be the redeemed group that got back to the NCAA tournament. It looks less likely than ever that is going to happen. And why? Mississippi State. It doesn't get much worse than that.

Arizona State: Speaking of stalled redemption songs, it's been hard to not root this season for the Sun Devils, who soaked up freshman point guard Jahii Carson's dynamic skill like a sponge en route to a very legitimate spot in the at-large conversation, a far cry from the depths of the let's-just-pretend-it-never-happened 2012 campaign. But Herb Sendek's team appears to be fading a bit late: It fell at home to Washington last Saturday, missed a close one at UCLA on Thursday, and suffered an absolutely brutal 57-56 loss at USC on Saturday. The Washington loss was easily the worst, but because USC began the season so poorly (before it fired coach Kevin O'Neill), a one-point loss looks worse for bubble purposes than it actually is (as USC has been playing really good basketball for about a month). Just tough breaks here.

St. John's: This week, the Red Storm suspended D'Angelo Harrison, one of its most gifted and frustrating players. Whether that departure can be blamed for Saturday's loss is questionable; what I do know is a loss at Providence for a team with an already very shaky bubble case is not a good thing. You probably know that, too. Failing two wins in its final two regular-season games -- at Notre Dame, versus Marquette, good luck -- Steve Lavin's team may well miss the tournament.

Iowa State: Poor Cyclones. Really. Sure, Saturday's 86-69 loss at Oklahoma was ugly on the score line, but a) Oklahoma's good, and b) can you really blame Iowa State? After what happened in Hilton Coliseum this week? Being on the receiving end of one of the worst calls of the season -- in a sport that feels ever more infected by awful officiating -- hurts. Not beating Kansas when you should following an emotionally intense performance. Seeing Fred Hoiberg's young child crying on the sideline hurts. Of course, no one in that locker room will be throwing a pity party, nor should they: Iowa State still has a very good chance of getting into the Dance. But the Wednesday home game against Oklahoma State looms large.

Indiana State: Ah, Sycamores. You thrilled us with your win over Miami at the Diamond Head Classic; you dazzled us with victories at Wichita State and against Creighton. Unfortunately, you've now lost five of your past six, including Saturday's loss at Evansville (RPI: 100) and defeats to Missouri State (RPI: 212), Bradley (RPI: 171) and Drake (RPI: 131). Failing a deep run in Arch Madness, the dream appears to be over.

Akron: Before Saturday's shocking loss at Buffalo, a 12-17 team with an RPI of 241, Akron's last loss came on Dec. 15. Hopefully the committee takes that into account, because this really is a good team. But the margin for error for mid-majors like Akron is always razor-thin. You can't lose random league games to bad opponents, and when you do, you should probably pick a team that isn't Buffalo. It'll be really interesting to see how this résumé will be viewed going forward.

SURVIVORS

Temple: Temple had just regained its footing. The Owls had a rough, wild February, wherein they played five consecutive one-point games in conference play, a stretch that included a home loss to Duquesne. But things were looking up: A win at UMass, a home non-one-point-win over La Salle, a double-digit win at Charlotte, and Thursday's solid home victory over Detroit all injected a little life into an at-large profile that included a big win over Syracuse, a nice win over Saint Louis, and not much else. And surely the Owls would take care of things at home against Rhode Island on Saturday, right? Wait … right?

Right. Phew. Temple held on for a 76-70 victory over a Rhode Island team that has played a lot of its Atlantic 10 foes really tight in the past two months; shaking the Rams off is no easy feat. (Just ask Saint Louis, which last lost when Rhody upset the Billikens in Saint Louis. True story.) That Temple was able to do so must have elicited a major sigh of relief from fans, and coach Fran Dunphy, and not necessarily in that order.

Cincinnati: It's hard to say Cincinnati would have been in bubble trouble with a home loss to Connecticut on Saturday, but our eyebrows would have been ever so slightly raised. It would have been Cincinnati's fourth straight loss, after all, albeit to three solid-to-great (UConn, Notre Dame, Georgetown) Big East teams. The Bearcats held on for a five-point win over Kevin Ollie's scrappy guys, and there's little reason to raise eyebrows now.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

Alabama: When you're a bubble team in the SEC -- oh god, here we go again -- you don't get many opportunities for marquee wins. Missouri is decent but not great, whether in the RPI or otherwise. Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas and Ole Miss don't come anywhere close. (Obviously.) Really, your only opportunity to drastically change the perception of your team or the trajectory of your season -- or both -- is to beat Florida. Florida's really good. If you can knock the Gators off, you deserve to be viewed differently. If you can do it at Florida? You should probably get into the NCAA tournament on sheer principle, which is why Alabama's 12-point loss in Gainesville on Saturday, while expected, is still a missed opportunity: Shockingly enough, the Crimson Tide had Florida well within striking distance as late as the final two minutes of regulation. That final score is a mirage; this game was close, and Alabama just couldn't quite get there when it counted.

Baylor: It's been easy to poke fun at Baylor this season. The Bears play a wacky zone defense. They've probably underachieved. Those uniforms. Etc. But I refuse to make fun of Baylor after Saturday's absolutely brutal last-second loss. It would be easier than ever. The Bears did inbound the ball out of bounds over the the full length of the court without touching it with one second left, and then allowed Rodney McGruder to get free and fire a game-winning 3-pointer within that one second on the ensuing baseline out-of-bounds play. That's a borderline-comical way to lose. But it's also incredibly brutal.

That is, of course, in part because Baylor desperately needed a big win to buttress its bubble case; the Bears are directly atop the bubble right now, and the biggest flaw in their résumé is their lack of marquee wins. The visit from Kansas State was a plum opportunity to knock off a really good team with a really good résumé, and Baylor was just that close.

"Ouch" doesn't even begin to describe it.
If someone tells you they know how to rank all 16 Atlantic 10 teams at this point in the 2012-13 season, that person is lying. To be honest, I was tempted to update John Gasaway's Tuesday Truths efficiency margin data to include Wednesday and Thursday night's games, and just use that in place of power rankings -- my little artistic protest against indecipherable hierarchies, a silent screed against the pointlessness of delineation. But then I realized you guys would probably think I was being lazy. We can't have that.

The good news in all this is I'm pretty sure, even this far removed from the date, that the A-10 tourney is going to be completely insane. In the meantime, let's just do our best?

1. Butler. I know, I know: The Bulldogs were handled on the road at Saint Louis on Thursday night, losing 75-58 and never really threatening from the end of the first half onward. But I'm leaving the Bulldogs at the top of the league for a few reasons.
  • I'm not inclined to punish teams too much for losing to other good teams on the road.
  • Based on overall performance throughout the entire college hoops season -- when Butler got wins over Marquette, Indiana and Gonzaga, and only lost to Illinois during the height of the Illini's 3-point-shooting wizardry in Maui -- it is awfully easy to make a pure "resume" case for the Bulldogs at the No. 1 spot.
  • No one else has truly stepped up to claim the spot.

Is this a ranking by default? Sure. But I'm not really sure who else you'd take here, and so Butler remains in place. For now.

2. La Salle. Here's another excellent example of why the current A-10 is such a chaotic rankings haven: Last Wednesday, La Salle toppled Butler at home. On Saturday, the Explorers traveled to Richmond, Va., and got the best league win of the season to date, a 69-61 victory at Virginia Commonwealth in which they didn't let VCU kill them on turnovers and held the Rams to just 0.95 points per trip in their own building. Here come the Explorers, right? Right!

That is, until Wednesday, when La Salle lost at home to Massachusetts 61-60. Being held to 60 points on your home floor by a defense as mediocre as the Minutemen: not a good look.

Even so, I dare you to find me an A-10 team without at least one confusing or just downright bad loss in recent weeks. It isn't possible. So La Salle gets the bump up to No. 2 this week, even if it sort of backed its way in.

3. Virginia Commonwealth. I still believe in the VCU Rams. I still think they're one of the best teams in this league, with some of its most athletic and versatile players and one of its best defenses. Having said that … through seven A-10 contests, including two recent losses to Richmond and La Salle (and a major home survival against a confident Rhode Island team Wednesday night), the Rams actually have played the 10th-best per-possession defense (1.02 PPP) in the conference to date. Yes, you read that right. Tenth. The good news is that they're still forcing a ton of turnovers. The other good news is that most of that scoring is because of opponents hitting a league-high 40 percent from 3 against the Rams, which is bound to come down eventually. With Fordham, Charlotte, and UMass on deck, I'd guess that'll happen sooner rather than later.

4. Saint Louis. I'm not about to go and do something like crazy like put the Billikens at the top of the A-10 power rankings after one convincing home win, because I'm not about to forget that two-week-old home loss to Rhode Island that quickly. Saint Louis isn't as bad as that loss insinuated, nor is it as good as a double-digit victory over Butler might say. The Billikens are, however, closer to the latter. They still hassle opposing ball handlers, and they chase down the highest percentage of available defensive rebounds in the A-10. If they get their offense working, they're not to be slept on.

5. Temple. Is there another team that encapsulates this maddening A-10 better than Temple? In the aforementioned Tuesday Truths, John called this league the "post-Xavier A-10," but I'd argue it is just as much the post-Temple A-10. For the past five years, with minimal exception, you knew what you were going to get from Fran Dunphy's team -- and what you usually got was a league title contender. This season, the Owls are playing wildly disparate basketball, beating Syracuse and pushing Kansas to the limit just a few weeks before losing to St. Bonaventure at home. They are, like the A-10 itself, impossible to predict. Anyway, the Owls couldn't quite keep up with Butler at Hinkle on Saturday, but they did get a nice return win over Richmond on Wednesday night. So there's that.

6. TIE

Note: Until otherwise notified, consider each of the following teams essentially tied. If you complain to me on Twitter about where any of them is ranked, I will know you are a blind homer, because you don't know either. Heed this warning!

Xavier. The Musketeers are 5-2 in league play, their only losses coming on the road at Charlotte and Saint Joe's, and so we at least know one thing about Chris Mack's team: It is going to be really tough to beat at home.

Massachusetts. I'm not kidding: These teams really aren't going to be ranked in any discernible order, because it's practically impossible, at least at this point. And I remain pretty unconvinced of UMass. But the Minutemen did beat one of the hottest teams in the A-10 -- and in the country, really -- on its own floor this week (La Salle), and they got past Richmond (also hot) 70-65 in Amherst on Sunday.

George Washington. On Saturday, for the first time in my college hoops writing career, I got a bunch of tweets from George Washington fans. "Looks like you have to change your A-10 power rankings nyah nyah" was the general sentiment. I have to admit: I wasn't paying much attention to the Colonials at the time. But, lo and behold, Mike Lonergan's team wasn't just winning its third consecutive game; it was absolutely pulverizing the previously defensively impressive Charlotte 49ers 82-54. There isn't much to say other than: nice win, and I'll be more of a believer when and if you can knock of La Salle at home tomorrow.

Saint Joseph's. The preseason conference favorite continues to struggle for one simple reason: defense. The Hawks are playing the fourth-best offense in the league to date, but they've allowed 1.06 points per trip -- 13th in the conference. Were Phil Martelli's offense clicking at a Michigan-esque rate, allowing well over a point per possession would be just fine. But Saint Joe's offense is only slightly better than average, and so this is the result.

Richmond. Whatever happens to the Spiders the rest of the season -- and they've been taking losses and wins in clusters for a month now -- they'll always have that overtime win over city rival VCU. That's not nothing.

Dayton. It's tough to get a read on Dayton. The Flyers lost their first three A-10 games to Butler, VCU and La Salle, then followed up with two obvious blowout home wins over Fordham and Duquesne. Archie Miller's team had a chance to topple rival Xavier on the road Wednesday, but couldn't come up with the plays away from home, and so Dayton is a predictable 2-4, and it feels as though the Flyers belong right in the middle of this group.

Charlotte. Is it time to abandon the Charlotte bandwagon? Yeah, probably. Look, blowout road losses happen, and I'm totally willing to look past that 82-54 loss at George Washington. But I can't look past how putrid this offense is. To wit: The 49ers are playing the third-best per-possession defense in the league thus far. They are allowing 0.97 points per trip. They are scoring -- get this -- 0.923 points per trip. They're playing really good defense! That offense is just so bad it doesn't matter.

St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies are a little like Charlotte, but the opposite: St. Bonaventure can score at an OK rate, but it doesn't really defend, which is why (plus good competition, of course) it put up six consecutive losses from Dec. 22 to Jan. 16. Still, the Bonnies did beat Temple and Saint Joe's on back-to-back occasions, and played Saint Louis relatively tight in a home loss last week, so they're not hopeless.

Note: Tie over. Carry on.

14. Rhode Island. Rhode Island is not good -- let's not get carried away -- but the Rams are not bad, and nowhere near as abysmal as they were last season. Consider their past four games: On Jan. 19, they won at Saint Louis. On Jan. 23, they lost to George Washington 66-65. On Jan. 30, they lost at VCU 70-64. There was a three-point road loss at Fordham sandwiched in there, but nobody's perfect, and the point is not that Rhode Island is even a top-100 team -- merely that it is playing teams both good and bad close, both at home and on the road. Considering where this program left off last season, it's pretty impressive stuff.

15. Fordham. Nice home win over Rhode Island last week, but with VCU, Saint Louis, La Salle, Xavier and Butler coming up, it might be the last one for a while.

16. Duquesne. The Dukes have lost their past eight games. It's nice, in a league this wild, to know I have at least one slot to count on.

Podcast: Temple's Fran Dunphy, more

December, 7, 2012
12/07/12
1:27
PM ET
Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg talk to Temple head coach Fran Dunphy about playing Duke and moving to the Big East. Plus, the guys preview some key games this weekend.
1. Temple coach Fran Dunphy said Thursday that Boston University transfer Jake O'Brien will be a significant contributor for the Owls after he went through an injury-riddled career with the Terriers. O’Brien exited BU once the Terriers opted to move to the Patriot League and thus weren’t allowed to participate in the America East tournament. O’Brien is on his third coach in four seasons in college. Dunphy also said West Virginia transfer Dalton Pepper has been impressive so far in workouts and will play a key role. “We’re deep,’’ said Dunphy. “As deep as we’ve been since we’ve been here.’’

2. Butler coach Brad Stevens said he hasn’t let freshman star guard Kellen Dunham off the hook for nearly breaking his streak of getting to the first day of practice without a major injury. Dunham sprained his ankle last week when he was at an open gym for students and a 10th was needed for a five-on-five game. Dunham gladly joined in the run and then promptly sprained his ankle. But Stevens said Dunham will be good to go, despite the minor scare. Stevens said Dunham thought nothing of getting in a game with the rest of the student body since he simply loves being on the floor.

3. Central Florida’s Keith Clanton decided to stay home and finish his career with the Knights in front of his family in Orlando despite the lure of transferring for his final season since the Knights are banned for NCAA violations. Clanton was rewarded for his loyalty by being tabbed as the preseason C-USA player of the year. The Knights were a reach to make the NCAA so Clanton made a wise choice. Finish his career and college where he started and still potentially accomplish personal goals of being a POY and an NBA draft pick.

Podcast: Andy Katz at A-10 media day

October, 4, 2012
10/04/12
7:15
PM ET
Andy Katz spends time with head coaches Shaka Smart, Chris Mack, Fran Dunphy, Phil Martelli and Brad Stevens at A-10 media day.


The Big East couldn't afford to lose Boise State and San Diego State in football for 2013, so it didn't hesitate to help out their men's basketball programs with marquee nonconference opponents.

When the two schools agreed to become football-only members, there was a promise made about four guaranteed nonconference games in hoops in the first four years as members.

It was never publicly announced, but two of those games will come against new all-sport members Memphis and Temple, the last two programs added to the Big East. The schools for the two other home-and-home series are to be determined with the help of the league office.

The biggest winner in this deal is Boise State, but SDSU, Memphis and Temple may not be as pleased with the forced partnership.

The Broncos are playing their last season in the Mountain West and are expected (like the Aztecs) to join the Big West in all non-football sports, although that won't be known until that league's presidents vote at the end of the month.

To get two home-and-home series over a two-year period against Memphis and Temple is a coup for Boise, which struggles to get nonconference games regardless of league affiliation.

"I don't care who you are, it's really tough to get home games," BSU coach Leon Rice said. "Memphis is a perennial top 25 program and in the last eight years Fran [Dunphy] has Temple rolling. You can't get those type of teams into Taco Bell Arena. That's terrific."

For some.

Click here for more from Andy Katz.
As you likely already know, on Sunday night Temple guard Khalif Wyatt was arrested on charges of engaging in prostitution and resisting arrest in Atlantic City, N.J., after he was caught soliciting prostitution from a female undercover police officer. Wyatt was one of seven men and 16 women arrested in a two-day prostitution sting in Atlantic City, where he was celebrating his 21st birthday.

On Monday night, Wyatt released a statement expressing his embarrassment and remorse, promising to cooperate with authorities throughout the remainder of his ordeal:

"I apologize to my family, teammates, coaches and Temple University for the embarrassment that I have caused. I was in Atlantic City this past weekend celebrating my 21st birthday with friends and exercised very poor judgment by allowing myself and my friends to be put in a compromising situation. I intend to cooperate with the authorities during their investigation and the legal process."
[+] EnlargeKhalif Wyatt
AP Photo/Chris SzagolaTemple's Khalif Wyatt has given coach Fran Dunphy some problems with discipline in the past.
From a personal standpoint, there are few more humiliating ways to be arrested. Don't get me wrong: Soliciting prostitution is really dumb. (Duh.) And when you're a very good basketball player for Temple University, your legal discomfiture is always going to be public. Even so, I can't help but feel for Wyatt a little bit here. It was his 21st birthday. Does it excuse the decision-making? Of course not. But on the patented Brennan Bad Behavior Reaction Scale -- which runs from "ha, whoops!" to "morally horrified" -- I'd say it falls far closer to the former than the latter.

Of course, it doesn't really matter what I think. For Wyatt's basketball sake, it matters what Temple thinks. Coach Fran Dunphy & Co. aren't commenting publicly yet -- "We have just become aware of the charges and are still gathering information at this point," Temple senior associate athletic director for communications Larry Dougherty said in a statement Monday night -- and much of their impression will no doubt be colored by what happens when Wyatt appears in front of a judge Friday in Atlantic City municipal court.

Even if Wyatt's eventual legal punishment is minimal (the likely outcome, given the "disorderly persons" statutes governing petty offenses in New Jersey), Dunphy will have a difficult decision to make. This is the first time Wyatt has encountered actual legal trouble, but it's not the first time he's run afoul of his own coach. In the 2011-12 season, Wyatt was benched three separate times for showing up late to film study, a study hall and a team meeting, respectively. Despite those issues, Wyatt was fourth in the A-10 in points per game with 17.1, and he earned second-team All-Atlantic-10 distinctions in the process.

Which is why Dunphy's eventual decision may not be as straightforward as a simple early-season suspension. That has often been the de facto punishment for coaches seeking to discipline legally wayward players in recent years. (See: "Willis, Tre'Von" and "Lucious, Korie") It may be the most appropriate here. But will Dunphy be eager to show he isn't taking Wyatt's mistake lightly?

Combined this latest incident with Wyatt's history -- a relatively benign history, but a history nonetheless -- of minor in-house violations, and perhaps Dunphy will seek to come down harder on the player expected to be his star in 2012-13. Or will Wyatt's presence in the lineup prove too valuable to make the subject of a statement on responsibility and propriety? How much will the optics matter? Where will the line be drawn?

Whatever happens from here -- and again, there is still a legal process to go through -- we do know this: Wyatt's ill-advised birthday celebration has put his head coach, teammates and program in a very difficult spot.

Previewing Nashville: Evening games

March, 16, 2012
3/16/12
12:30
AM ET
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Now we turn our attention to Friday's evening session in Music City:

No. 4 Michigan (24-9) vs. No. 13 Ohio (27-7), 7:20 p.m. ET

What to watch: Anybody who’s watched John Beilein’s teams play offense at Michigan, and West Virginia before that, knows how frustrating it can be defending his system in the half-court. The Wolverines are going to shoot 3-pointers and layups and not a lot else. They’re also relentless with their high picks and backdoor cuts to the basket and don’t turn it over much -- only 10.9 turnovers per game. But in Ohio University, Michigan gets a team that doesn’t mind grinding it out on defense. The Bobcats like to trap and really challenge teams with their on-the-ball pressure. They’re forcing 17.7 turnovers per game and defend the 3-point shot as well as anybody in the country. Opponents are shooting just 29.6 percent from 3-point range against the Bobcats, who are 60-19 under John Groce when they hold opponents under 70 points.

Who to watch: Michigan point guard Trey Burke was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year by the media. He leads the Wolverines in scoring (14.8 points) and assists (4.6). He broke Michigan’s 27-year-old freshman record for assists in a season and has 151 entering the Ohio game; Gary Grant had the old record, dishing out 140 assists during the 1984-85 season. Burke had been pretty good at taking care of the ball until the 77-55 loss to Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament semifinals, when he turned it over eight times. He also shot just 1-of-11 from the field in that game, so you know he’s been bouncing off the walls to get back onto the court.

Why to watch: Losing to Ohio State in anything is a nightmare for Michigan. So it goes without saying that the 22-point loss to the Buckeyes in the Big Ten tournament still stings. The only thing that could make it worse would be losing to Ohio University in the NCAA tournament. The good news for Michigan fans is that the Wolverines are 8-0 in games following losses this season. But Ohio comes into this game having won eight of its past nine games. “We’re playing with confidence right now. We’re playing together as a team," Ohio junior guard D.J. Cooper said. "We’re playing pretty good defense. That’s what we’ve been relying on all year. We’re going to stick together and stay together through the tournament."

What they’re saying: “This is Ohio versus Michigan, and it’s about two teams competing and that want the same thing, and that’s to survive and advance. Every guy on our team needs to be focused on their role to help Ohio do well.” --Ohio University coach John Groce

“I think everybody is in that same boat. All 68 teams are trying to get to that point where it just becomes magical for them, and it’s so much fun if they’re successful in that dream.” --Michigan coach John Beilein

Around the rim: Michigan is 11-0 this season when sophomore guard Tim Hardaway Jr. shoots 50 percent from the field or better. ... Ohio junior guard Cooper is one of two Division I players over the past 12 years to have averaged 15 points, 5 rebounds, 7 assists and 2 steals over an entire season. ... Cooper, who’s left-handed, recorded the first triple-double in Ohio history earlier this season in a victory at Portland when he scored 14 points, pulled down 10 rebounds and handed out 10 assists. ... Cooper isn’t a great shooter. In fact, he’s shooting just 34.8 percent from the field this season. ... The Wolverines are 18-0 this season when leading at the half.

No. 5 Temple (24-7) vs. No. 12 South Florida (21-13), 9:50 p.m. ET

What to watch: Temple has won 13 of its past 15 games and sports a spiffy 24-7 record. The Owls are no stranger to the NCAA tournament, either: This is their fifth consecutive appearance. What they’d like to change is how long they hang around in the postseason. They haven’t won more than one game in the NCAA tournament since 2001, when they advanced to the Elite Eight under then-coach John Chaney. It’s Fran Dunphy’s show now, and the Owls have a veteran team built to make a deep run. They boast one of the more potent backcourts in college basketball and start three seniors and two juniors. All five starters average at least 9.1 points per game.

Who to watch: Temple senior guard Ramone Moore ranks second in the Atlantic 10 in scoring at 17.7 points per game. He’s one of three players on Temple’s team to have made 50 or more 3-pointers this season. Not only that, but Khalif Wyatt, Juan Fernandez and Moore shoot better than 38 percent from 3-point range. The 6-foot-4 Moore has scored in double figures in all but two games this season.

Why to watch: Forget jet lag. South Florida’s players insist they were ready to play after knocking off California in the first round late Wednesday night in Dayton, Ohio. The Bulls caught an early flight to Nashville on Thursday and said the short turnaround won’t be a problem. It was only a year ago that VCU came out of the first round and made it all the way to the Final Four. Plus, South Florida coach Stan Heath said, it’s not all bad to have already played a game. “We got our feet wet a little bit and got out there and maybe worked out the kinks and the nervousness and all those different things," Heath said. "The other team is a little more well-rested, may have a little more energy, but may not have the same rhythm that we may have from the previous game.”

What they’re saying: “We have to come out aggressive. They do a great job defensively. I mean, they held California to 13 points yesterday in the first half, which is great. But we’ve got to come out and play our basketball, got to make the extra pass, hit the open shots … and they don’t let you speed them up. They do a great job of getting their shots and slowing the game down.” --Temple guard Ramone Moore

“I said in Dayton that playing defense has kind of been our foundation. It really becomes a problem for a lot of teams. A lot of teams pride themselves on scoring 80 points or in the 70s, and they feel like if they can get to 80 points or in the 70s that they have a good chance of winning. For us, we feel like if we can keep them below the 60s that we have a good chance of winning.” --South Florida forward Ron Anderson Jr.

Around the rim: South Florida set the Big East Conference scoring defense record this season by allowing just 56.8 points per game. The Bulls have held 31 of their 34 opponents under 70 points. ... Anderson transferred to South Florida from Kansas State following the 2009 season. His other finalist when trying to decide where to continue his college basketball career was Temple. ... Heath said his players were wired following the 65-54 victory over Cal on Wednesday night. “I know the guys didn’t sleep much last night. They were watching 'SportsCenter' at 2 o’clock in the morning. They were watching each other’s dunks and getting excited. I was trying to put them to bed,” Heath joked. ... Dunphy said he heard someone say that going against South Florida’s defense was “like going to get a root canal.” ... Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin, who faced South Florida in Big East play, said what makes the Bulls so good defensively is how well they rotate, and when they do, the guy rotating over is anywhere from 6-7 to 6-11. ... Temple will be joining the Big East in football next season and then in all sports in 2013-14.
Click here to read our afternoon recap. Now back to the lecture at hand, which comes in three parts:

The Rivalry

No. 2 Syracuse 71, Connecticut 69: One of the many things to love about this Syracuse team -- besides its great zone defense and incredible depth and talent and length and pretty much everything besides defensive rebounding -- is how well it handles close games. Since the Jan. 21 loss at Notre Dame, Syracuse has taken respective best shots from Cincinnati, West Virginia, Georgetown, Louisville, South Florida and now at UConn, and each time the Orange have either pulled away late or made the key stop down the stretch to preserve the narrow win. It's a real skill, and it isn't entirely intangible; when you have a defense this good, you tend to get a lot of stops, and there's no reason why that wouldn't be true in the final minutes of any given game, too. But however you quantify it, the Orange win close games. Such traits tend to come in handy in March.

As for Connecticut? While the Huskies didn't get the win, they appear to be rounding into form, or at least starting to figure a few things out. UConn had its fair share of issues with Syracuse's zone, and there were plenty of bad shots to be had, but the Huskies were much more balanced (four players finished in double figures, while Ryan Boatright and Shabazz Napier combined for 13 assists) and competent on both ends of the floor in the second half. Unless it suddenly begins shooting the ball from outside at a much higher clip, this team probably has a ceiling. But there are plenty of realistic improvements to be made. Even better, many of them appear to be in progress. Let's not bury this team just yet.

The Upsets

Purdue 75, No. 13 Michigan 61: When Purdue guard Ryne Smith was asked what he thought about guard Kelsey Barlow's dismissal from the team last week, he was direct, even curt: "Addition by subtraction," Smith said. Apparently he was right. Whatever the reason, Purdue played its best game of the season Saturday at the most important time, containing Michigan's outside shooters and slowly stretching a second-half lead thanks to the heady play of point guard Lewis Jackson, forward Robbie Hummel and, most importantly, guard Terone Johnson, who scored a career-high 22 points and made a handful of key plays down the stretch, including two big and-1 finishes around the rim. Purdue is an unconventional team with no true post presence; the Boilermakers rely on Hummel's outside-in versatility and an extended, guard-oriented style. This makes them a great matchup for Michigan, and, in their own way, a dangerous team.

In any case, Purdue can now feel entirely safe about its at-large NCAA tournament chances. Beating Michigan at home -- the Wolverines' first home loss of the season -- is most definitely a signature victory. And it couldn't have come at a better time.

TCU 83, No. 21 New Mexico 64: Let's hear it for TCU! A round of applause is most definitely in order. At this time in 2011, the Horned Frogs were in the midst of a season-ending 13-game losing streak, en route to an 11-22 finish. This season is an entirely different story: TCU is playing its best basketball down the stretch, having won four of its past five (and eight in a row at home) and toppling ranked UNLV and New Mexico and a good Colorado State squad in the process. The key: great 3-point shooting. The Horned Frogs lead the league in long-range makes in conference play, and they're undefeated at home as a result. What a difference a year makes.

In the meantime ... um, what happened to New Mexico? Last Saturday, we watched in near-awe as the Lobos thoroughly dominated UNLV, which came just a few days after a 10-point win at San Diego State. Steve Alford's team, once a relatively unheralded efficiency darling with few good wins to show for it, looked set to run away with the Mountain West and make a deep run into March. Since then, the Lobos are 0-2 and are now in a three-way tie. A loss at Colorado State makes some sense; we know the Rams are tough, particularly at home. And this is not to take away from TCU, which (as you just read above) is giving everyone more than they bargained for in February, particularly in their own building. But a 19-point blowout loss? Isn't this the team that just rolled UNLV in the Pit and moved to 8-2 in the league? It's kind of weird, right?

Georgia 76, No. 11 Florida 62: This is an upset, of course, but I'm not sure we should be all that surprised. Frankly, I'm not sure if a Florida loss should ever truly catch us off guard. Don't get me wrong: The Gators are good. But they're a specific kind of good. When their steady diet of 3s are falling, they can shoot opponents off the floor before said opponents even have a chance to catch their breath. But if the shots aren't going down, Florida has no Plan B. Patric Young is the only true post presence, and his offensive game is still a work in progress (and he's still underutilized as a scoring threat to boot). The Gators' defense -- which ranks fifth in opponents' points per possession in SEC play, No. 10 in opponents' 3-point field goal percentage and No. 10 in block rate -- still isn't good enough to hold opponents in check when the shots clanging off the iron and the opponents start turning long rebounds into secondary breaks and easy buckets. Florida might yet get there on the defensive end, but it isn't yet. If this UF team has a lower ceiling than it should, well, that's why.

The Bubble Specials

Alabama 67, Mississippi State 50: It was instinctively easy to write off the Crimson Tide when coach Anthony Grant suspended Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green; it was easy to predict a late collapse, even a fall off the bubble, for a team whose two leading scorers would be missing such important games down the stretch. Instead, the Crimson Tide keep, well, rolling. They've now won three in a row and prevented any hint of a collapse. Mississippi State, on the other hand, appears to be doing exactly that: The Bulldogs are collapsing. This is the Bulldogs' fifth consecutive defeat, a stretch that has included some good basketball (in the near-miss vs. Kentucky this week) but also some baffling losses (the loss at Auburn especially). It's no stretch to say Mississippi State -- which for much of the season looked like a tourney near-lock -- could wind up missing the tournament after all. The Bulldogs are, after all, 6-8 and tied with rival Ole Miss in the SEC standings. Ouch.

[+] EnlargeJohn Shurna
Rob Christy/US PresswireJohn Shurna's free throws pushed Northwestern past Penn State -- and kept an NCAA bid in sight.
Northwestern 67, Penn State 66: Breathe a big ol' sigh of relief, Northwestern fans: In the chase for their first NCAA tournament appearance in school history, the Wildcats remain very much alive. Senior forward John Shurna made the game-winning free throws with just 2.6 seconds remaining, giving Bill Carmody his first win in State College since 2002. Big challenges still lie ahead: Ohio State comes to town on Wednesday, followed by next weekend's season-ender at Iowa, a team that just knocked off Indiana and Wisconsin in Carver-Hawkeye Arena. But for now, some minor rejoicing is in order. Northwestern's tourney hopes are still very real.

Rutgers 77, Seton Hall 72 (OT): Let's not take Seton Hall off the bubble just yet, eh? The Pirates got a great win over Georgetown this week, one that could have firmed up a previously shaky at-large profile. All Seton Hall needed to do the rest of the way was avoid bad losses. Well, losing to a young, 13-16 Rutgers team at home is just that. Next weekend, the Hall travels to DePaul. If the Pirates lose there, all the good vibes from the emphatic Georgetown victory will have almost entirely faded from the picture.

VCU 89, George Mason 77: First things first: Thanks to Drexel's one-point win at Old Dominion on Saturday afternoon, VCU's win over George Mason won't give them a share of the CAA title this season. Bummer, sure, but the Rams would surely settle for a spot in the NCAA tournament, something to which they're at least a little closer after this victory today. As a league, the Colonial's top teams (Drexel, VCU and GMU) didn't get quality nonconference wins (VCU's best came against South Florida, for example), so any at-large consideration will have to come from separation at the top and perhaps a pair of deep runs for both Drexel and VCU in the CAA tournament. A win here was a must, and Shaka Smart's team got it, behind Bradford Burgess' career-high 31 points.

Dayton 76, UMass 43: A home loss to UMass can't be called "bad," but for a team like Dayton -- which is desperately scrapping for a spot in the NCAA tournament -- it could have been disastrous. Instead, the opposite happened: UD won, and won big, looking very much like one of the A-10's best teams and a squad worthy of a tourney bid in the process. We'll see how the Flyers finish up, but if they're one of the last four in, they might just be one of the play-in game candidates, which are held in -- you guessed it -- Dayton!

Saint Joseph's 82, No. 22 Temple 72: Speaking of somewhat fringe Atlantic 10 tournament hopefuls, the A-10 can't offer a bubble team a better shot at a marquee win than Temple on its own floor late in the season, but the Hawks still had to overcome Fran Dunphy's typically peerless bunch, which had won its previous 11 games and 13 in the 15-game stretch beginning with its Jan. 4 victory over Duke. Phil Martelli's team is now 9-6 in the league and 19-11 overall, and it added the one thing it desperately needed to its profile: A legitimate top-25 RPI win. Temple is most definitely that.

Penn 55, Harvard 54: Just when you think it's time to plan a long-awaited Harvard hoops coronation, Penn's Zack Rosen comes along, scores 20 points, makes a huge jumper down the stretch and ices two game-winning free throws in the final 30 seconds. And all of a sudden the Ivy League race is legitimately up for grabs with both of these teams having two losses. (Another one-game playoff for the Crimson? Oh boy.) As an at-large entity, Harvard is still in decent shape, but its profile isn't so strong that it can afford to lose at either Columbia or Cornell in its final two games, lose out on the Ivy auto-bid, and still feel safe about being picked to join the group of 37 at-large teams. Big days ahead for Tommy Amaker's team.

Washington 59, Washington State 55: For the first 10 or so minutes of the first half, it looked like Wazzu was going to hand its in-state opponent the type of loss that would severely damage Washington's at-large chances. But the Huskies fought back and, as the AP report notes, won the game's most important battle -- at the charity stripe: "Ultimately, the game came down to free throws. WSU (14-14, 6-10) went 11 of 12 to keep the game tied at 28-all despite shooting 27 percent in the first half. In the second half, the Cougars shot 6 of 20 from the free throw line, while the Huskies, who only went 2 of 5 in the first half, finished 17 of 24." The win keeps Washington on the right side of the bubble for now, but UW's marginal profile might not be able to survive a loss at either USC or UCLA going away.

Xavier 65, Richmond 57: Kenny Frease's season highs in both points (19) and rebounds (14) helped carry Xavier to an ugly but ultimately victorious Saturday. A loss here would have kicked Xavier off the bubble for good and almost certainly, barring an upset in the A-10 tournament, ended Chris Mack's 100 percent NCAA tournament hit rate in his XU tenure. Instead, the Musketeers live to fight another day.

No. 21 San Diego State 74, Colorado State 66: The Rams pass at least two NCAA tournament bubble tests: The RPI/SOS numbers are great, and they sure do look like a tournament team. But will that be enough? A win in Viejas Arena would have provided a tidy bookend to this week's huge victory over New Mexico, but the loss isn't a huge deal. Colorado State, which is undefeated at home in Mountain West play, hosts UNLV in Fort Collins in just three days' time. Win that one and the Rams are probably set.

What we learned from Saturday night

February, 12, 2012
2/12/12
12:48
AM ET
Saturday afternoon transitioned into Saturday night as smoothly as Kentucky transitions from an Anthony Davis block to the fast break. In the process, we saw Michigan State defend like crazy at Ohio State, Creighton take a beatdown by Wichita State and the aforementioned Wildcats again assert their dominance, this time at Vanderbilt. That and more in the evening edition of What We Learned.

[Editor's note: For recaps of all the afternoon games, click here.]

No. 12 Michigan State 58, No. 3 Ohio State 48: As far back as August, Tom Izzo -- in typical Izzonian fashion -- proclaimed far and wide how much he loved his team. Not necessarily because he knew the Spartans would be good or because he knew they would keep getting better (although he often seemed to assume as much), but because this Michigan State team, perhaps more than any other in recent years, does the two things Izzo seems to value most: It rebounds. It defends.

The Spartans began Saturday allowing the fourth-fewest points per possession in the country (adjusted, per Ken Pomeroy). They also ranked in the top 10 in both relevant rebounding categories, chasing down 39.9 percent of their misses on offense and yielding second chances on just 26.1 percent of opponents' possessions. Throw in the focused vocal leadership of forward Draymond Green, the back-from-the-dead reclamation of Derrick Nix, one of the toughest point guards in the country in Keith Appling and a batch of dedicated supporting pieces, and, well, no wonder Izzo loves this team. Compared to last season's incoherent, apathetic bunch, he must occasionally feel like he's coaching an entirely different game.

For as consistently as Michigan State has demonstrated those qualities throughout this season, never have they been more clear than Saturday night. Izzo's team held the third-ranked Buckeyes -- in Columbus, mind you -- to a mere .75 points per trip. How? How do you stop a team with so many weapons, with one of the best forwards in the country anchoring it all, in a building where it has won 39 in a row? The Spartans know how: You scrap. You claw. You fight. You make everything difficult for that team's best player. You frustrate him at every turn.

Jared Sullinger was, of course, the focal point of MSU's defensive strategy, and it worked. Sullinger still scored 17 points and grabbed 16 boards, but he needed a 5-of-15 performance to get there, and he committed 10 turnovers in the process. (The 17-16-10 is the first turnover-laden triple-double of the college basketball season, per ESPN Stats & Info. Former Buck Evan Turner had two of them in his final season. The Evan Turner Special lives!) Sullinger was noticeably frustrated throughout the game, arguing for fouls (sometimes rightly, oftentimes wrongly) and forcing shots into the teeth of State's interior defense, anchored brilliantly by forward Adreian Payne (who was also 6-of-6 from the field).

The performance reminded me of Ohio State's loss to Kentucky in last season's Sweet 16, when UK forward Josh Harrellson harassed and harangued Sullinger into a performance far below his usual standards. Harrellson was one of the few players in the country with the size and strength to hold his ground against Sully's girth. Nearly a year later, Payne and Nix demonstrated the same abilities. It's a testament to Sullinger's ability that he still grabbed 16 rebounds, eight of them offensive, but every putback was challenged, every touch contested, every dribble met with reaching slaps.

Sullinger didn't get much help from his teammates. William Buford and Deshaun Thomas combined to shoot 4-of-24 (!!), Aaron Craft was 3-of-7, and all told, the Buckeyes shot 2-of-15 from beyond the arc and 26 percent overall -- its third-worst shooting performance of the past 15 years. Yikes.

The Spartans weren't great on offense (.91 points per trip). Ohio State's defense is its best quality, and the Buckeyes were again good on that end of the floor. But Michigan State didn't have to light it up to get this victory. When you defend this well, when you execute your defensive game plan this perfectly, when you thoroughly dominate one of the nation's elite teams in its own building, you don't have to put up points in bunches to get the job done. No team in the country this season has posted 40 minutes of defense this strong against a team this good.

So, yeah, Tom Izzo loves this team. Can you blame him?

No. 1 Kentucky 69, Vanderbilt 63: You have to hand it to the Commodores: They didn't go away.

That's the biggest positive Kevin Stallings' team can draw from this loss. From the opening tip, UK's brilliant defense was again, well, brilliant. As late as the 4:42 mark in the first half, Vanderbilt had scored just 13 points. The Commodores finished the first half with a whopping 23 as Kentucky led by 13. Terrence Jones was engaged. Anthony Davis was dominant. As it has so often in the past three weeks, John Calipari's team appeared ready to roll to another very impressive SEC victory. Ho and hum.

Then, only a few moments into the second half, things just sort of ... opened up. The Dores not only started finding open shots, they started making them. Brad Tinsley, Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins came alive on the perimeter, while Festus Ezeli started finishing things down low. Soon -- almost before you knew it -- what "GameDay" host Rece Davis called Kentucky's "aura of invincibility" fell away. By the 8:26 mark in the second half, the Commodores led 55-51, the culmination of a 32-17 run.

They would score just eight more points the rest of the game. No one could have known it at the time, but Tinsley's jumper at the 4:09 mark would be Vanderbilt's last bucket of the day. Just as soon as VU had opened the game with solid man offense, crisp passing and accurate shooting, Kentucky shut it down. Davis recorded four blocks in the final seven minutes of the game; he finished with seven total. One of the major themes of the broadcast was Calipari's stated desire to see his team challenged, to see how it would respond. The Wildcats were. Vanderbilt kept swinging. Kentucky took Vandy's best punch. It absorbed a combo or two. And then, as all great fighters do, it emerged stronger and stronger as the game wore on. If Calipari wanted to see how his team would react to a challenge, he had to be thrilled with the result.

Kentucky played a solid, experienced team. It played said solid, experienced team in said team's unique building, with its weird sight lines and elevated court and baseline benches. It did so in front of a crowd that had spent all day goosed by "GameDay," hyped for the glorious chance at knocking off No. 1, something this school has done six times over the years. It didn't matter. Kentucky went 3-of-14 from 3. And it still emerged unscathed.

If Christian Watford's last-second shot doesn't fall in Assembly Hall on Dec. 10 -- back when Kentucky was still figuring things out -- the Cats are undefeated and we're talking less about this sudden surge of brilliance than whether UK could make it to the NCAA tournament with an unbeaten record. This team is one shot -- one 10-second defensive breakdown -- away from legendary comparisons.

Oh, well. As it is, Calipari's team is rounding into one of the most complete -- if not the most complete -- of his career. Davis is a transcendent force anchoring a team with zero defensive holes. Michael Kidd-Gilchrist is one of the best two-way players in the country. Jones can dominate when he wants. Doron Lamb is a lights-out shooter. Darius Miller is an underrated offensive presence and an all-around glue guy extraordinaire.

There's a reason this team is awash in that so-called aura of invincibility. The Wildcats aren't actually invincible, of course. But right now, they're the closest thing going.

Wichita State 89, No. 15 Creighton 68: When you've got a national player of the year candidate ripping through each and every opposing defense he sees with a rare blend of volume and efficiency, it's easy to disguise your team's warts. After Wichita State's end-to-end dismantling of the Bluejays on Saturday, those warts are now fully exposed.

The score line tells the story here, but it's nothing new: Creighton is, at best, a fairly mediocre defensive team. The Bluejays entered this Valley showdown ranked No. 119 in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency, per Pomeroy. They force turnovers on just 16.3 percent of their defensive possessions, which ranks them No. 336 out of 345 Division I teams. This so-so defense has been hidden well all season because Creighton outscores everybody. Doug McDermott and company have the nation's highest effective field goal percentage and its sixth-most efficient offense overall. But in the past three games -- losses to Northern Iowa, Evansville and now Wichita State -- the Bluejays' offense has suddenly cooled off. Creighton's effective field goal percentage figures in its past three games are 46.5, 44.2 and 44.7 percent.

And therein lies Saturday's problem: Wichita State is not a one-way team. Rather, Gregg Marshall's squad combines excellent defense (KenPom rank: No. 26) with efficient offense (KenPom: No. 11), tops in MVC play in both metrics. Despite their hugely impressive per-possession stats, the Shockers have flown below the radar recently thanks in large part to that triple-overtime loss at Drake in late January. But in basically every other Valley affair, even the 68-61 loss at home to Creighton in this series' first game, the Shockers have been comprehensively good.

Does that mean Wichita is 21 points better than Creighton, home, away or neutral? No. Is its offense as good as the 1.4 points per trip it poured in Saturday night? Probably not. But this lopsided result in front of a huge crowd in Omaha does reveal some notable truths about both teams. For Creighton, it laid bare just how important the Jays' offense is to their chances of making a run in the NCAA tournament; it's no coincidence this three-game losing streak came in three mediocre shooting performances. Greg McDermott's team can't afford to miss shots, because it can't get the stops it needs to keep things close.

For Wichita State, well, if you didn't know, now you know: The Shockers are good. Not "dangerous." Not "plucky." Just flat-out good.

Temple 85, Xavier 72: If you're still waiting for a team to round into its full form on Feb. 11, there's a good chance you'll still be waiting on March 11. That appears to be the case with Xavier. The Musketeers haven't been bad in Atlantic 10 play -- they ranked fourth in A-10 efficiency margin as of this week -- but they haven't been particularly good, let alone their usual brand of good, the one that led them to a 15-1 league record last season. Instead, these Musketeers are just sort of, well, mediocre.

Which is to take nothing away from Temple, which blitzed Chris Mack's team early and never looked back. Guard Ramone Moore went off, scoring 30 points on 9-of-16 from the field, while Khalif Wyatt put up 18 points, four assists and three steals, and Micheal Eric contributed 11 points and 16 rebounds. The Owls' backcourt is the undisputed strength of the team, and Fran Dunphy's squad continues to look more and more like the A-10's clear favorite each time that backcourt makes life so difficult for opponents on both ends of the floor. Temple is alone atop the league at 8-2.

The contrast between these two teams is glaring. One is whole, complete, playing its best basketball at the right time. The other is scattershot, struggling, not bad but far worse than it has any right to be, given its talent. The temptation to connect X's continued struggles to the Dec. 10 brawl is worth resisting here. Does it play a part? Maybe. Has guard Mark Lyons (who didn't start) been unpredictable and frustrating since? Oh yeah. But at this point, it's also possible Xavier just wasn't all that good in the first place. Whatever the reasons, the Musketeers -- perennial NCAA tournament fixtures -- are running out of time to figure it out.

A few more observations from the night of hoops:
  • Harvard's preordained run to its first NCAA tournament in decades -- the Crimson are clearly the best team in the Ivy League and were the heaviest of favorites to win it outright -- got just a little shakier Saturday night. Tommy Amaker's team fell to the old-world perennial Ivy favorite, Princeton, 70-62. It's a sign of Harvard's changed status that Princeton students -- who are fans of a program that is the historical Ivy elite, and which just beat one of the league's longtime losers -- rushed the court after their team's 23rd consecutive home victory over the Crimson. Despite the loss, Harvard's chances of winning the league are still very good. Its schedule -- which features Yale, Princeton and Penn at home before a season-ending two-game road swing at Columbia and Cornell -- is a major advantage. Plus, the No. 21 Crimson still own a one-game lead in the standings. But they will be eager to avoid any further slip-ups. If they end up in another one-game tiebreak (the Ivy League awards its NCAA tournament bid to the regular-season winner), anything can happen. Amaker's bunch, which lost its trip to the tourney to Princeton on a tiebreak buzzer-beater last season, knows all too well what can happen when you leave the preordained to chance.
  • We let this one slip by in the afternoon frenzy, but Mississippi State's loss to Georgia probably deserves a mention. The Bulldogs were undone by freshman Kentavious Caldwell-Pope's big-time step-back 3 in overtime (not to mention his other 17 points and eight rebounds), and hey, yeah, sometimes you take a tough OT loss. But Mississippi State's inconsistency is a bad sign for a team with major tournament aspirations. Not a good performance at all.
  • Southern Miss held on for a 78-74 home victory over UCF, yet another gritty, close win in a Golden Eagles season full of them. Don't look now, but Southern Miss is 21-4 on the season with a top-15 RPI. Wednesday night's loss at UAB is certainly a black mark -- especially considering the Blazers lost by 34 to Memphis on Saturday night -- but other than that, this team has a shockingly strong at-large case. Larry Eustachy is reborn!
  • Phil Martelli's team picked up another A-10 home win, as Saint Joseph's took down upstart UMass 73-62 and damaged the Minutemen's outside chances of an at-large bid. Massachusetts could have gone to 8-3 with a win. Instead, it moves backward, into the thick of the league's muddled middle, alongside the Hawks and many others.
  • If there is any justice in the world, tiny Wabash College will find its way to the "SportsCenter" top plays in the coming days. Why? Because of Aaron Zinnerman's shot, one of the more insane and unlikely you'll ever see. The YouTube clip is here. Enjoy. (Important correction! This post incorrectly cited Wabash as the alma mater of Butler coach Brad Stevens. Rather, as numerous alums have informed me, Stevens actually went to rival DePauw. I always mistake the two, but nonetheless regret the error. My bad, everyone.)


PHILADELPHIA -- Temple took the subway to its basketball game on Wednesday night, hopping a ride on the Broad Street Line from North Philly to South, home of the Wells Fargo Center.

The ride was more symbolic than playful to head coach Fran Dunphy, a throwback homage to the university’s roots as a commuter school built for people who spent their days on campus and their nights holding down part-time jobs to pay their tuition.

Dunphy didn’t take the next step, comparing Temple to its blue-blooded opponent, Duke. But as he spoke with genuine reverence about his good friend Mike Krzyzewski and appreciation for a program that he considers the gold standard in college basketball, it was hard not to make the simplistic leap for him.

Temple is the lunch-pail team once personified by its wily old coach, John Chaney, and now embodied in its no-nonsense new boss. The campus is plopped on the edges of a tough Philly neighborhood and the program long has had to succeed with scrappers.

Duke is Krzyzewski, the wildly respected head coach who rarely looks ruffled, a campus with old, storied buildings and a program that long has had its pick of the basketball litter.

But if college basketball is nothing else, it is the great class equalizer. Privilege has its place ... it’s just not on the basketball court.

Temple upset the third-ranked Blue Devils on Wednesday, calling on its deepest reserves of grit and toughness to outmuscle and outhustle Duke, 78-73.

[+] EnlargeTemple's Khaliff Wyatt
Howard Smith/US PRESSWIREKhaliff Wyatt contributed 22 points and five steals as Temple celebrated a win over No. 3 Duke.
“We just had to play tough and we did,’’ said leading scorer Khalif Wyatt, who finished with 22 points and 5 steals for the Owls.

The loss puts the skids on Duke’s modest five-game win streak, a streak in which the Devils appeared to have found their defensive rhythm after a debacle against Ohio State on Nov. 29.

Krzyzewski wasn’t quite sure what to make of this game. He didn’t want to undersell what Temple did to his team, but also had to acknowledge that the team on the court wasn’t the one he’d seen in recent weeks.

“Come on, if I saw it coming I would have faked an illness instead of getting ill during the game,’’ Krzyzewski joked. “Whenever that happens, to me, the other team has the most to do with it. But we obviously didn’t play very well.’’

Meantime, the win gives Temple a signature victory to hang its at-large hat on. Now 10-3, the Owls had a good win against Wichita State and another versus struggling rival Villanova, but headed into a muddled and muddied Atlantic 10 season -- across town, Xavier continued its slide by losing to La Salle -- Temple needed something to distinguish itself.

This does that, plus it gives a team that sorely needed it a huge confidence injection. TU has been playing much of the season without two starters. Guard Scootie Randall hasn’t played at all and is likely to take a redshirt; big man Micheal Eric has appeared in only four games, though he’s expected back soon.

So it’s been a hodgepodge lineup for Dunphy. He’s had to ask players to play out of position, but has offered them little in the way of condolences.

“We’ve talked about how tough we have to be,’’ said Dunphy, whose team was coming off three straight close wins against the likes of Rice, Buffalo and Delaware. “We’re not feeling sorry for ourselves. I know guys are playing against guys four inches bigger than them, but you know what? That’s the way it is.’’

And the way it was against Duke was simple to explain: Temple’s mix-and-match team played harder. Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson poured in a season-high 17 points, Anthony Lee chipped in 11 plus three blocks and the three guys asked to do it all -- Wyatt, Ramone Moore and Juan Fernandez -- did the rest.

The three guards controlled the tempo and the pace, using their advantage off the dribble to score at the rim or keep Duke off balanced on the perimeter.

Temple built a 55-45 lead midway through the second half when Wyatt drained a 3, but minutes later, the Blue Devils sliced that advantage to just three points, 60-57. The Owls had no answer for Miles and Mason Plumlee, who scored nine in that pivotal stretch and finished with 17 and 16 respectively.

“The Plumlee brothers were a handful,’’ Dunphy said. “They were terrific inside and they were just a little bit too much for us to handle on a 40-minute game basis.’’

But on the next possession, Miles missed a jump shot, allowing the Owls to push. Moore set up for a 3-pointer on the wing, but just before he could launch it, Wyatt called out to him. The off-balance Moore somehow found Wyatt in the corner and Wyatt’s swished 3 sealed the deal for the Owls.

“I was open,’’ Wyatt said of his willingness to interrupt Moore midshot.

It was vintage Wyatt, a player who may personify this Temple team as much as Chaney did back in the day.

“He’s got huge ...’’ Dunphy said, pausing to find the proper, family-friendly word, “courage.’’

He’s also got a nonblinking green light from his coach, and that unwavering faith allows Wyatt the freedom to shoot fearlessly.

“A lot of coaches don’t let you play that way,’’ Wyatt said. “But he’s real generous and that lets you have that mindset to keep playing. As long as you're tough on defense, he lets you do what you want. Well, not exactly, but you know what I mean.’’

Temple fans stormed the court after the game, enjoying their fourth win against a top-10 team in as many seasons.

That’s what happens, Dunphy explained, when you’re Duke. You exist in such rarefied air that other schools celebrate wildly when they beat you.

And then they grab their lunch pails, hop the subway and go back to work.

“Coach came into the locker room after the game and said, ‘Good win, but I’m worrying about Dayton now.' That’s the way it is,’’ Wyatt said.

URI giveaway honors mustachioed coach

October, 20, 2011
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It wasn't a particularly good offseason for the college basketball mustache, as at least two coaches ditched their longtime facial hair in favor of the clean-shaven look.

But then there is Rhode Island, which today announced that it is immortalizing the mustache of coach Jim Baron by giving away the Jim Baron Bobble 'Stache to season-ticket holders and students who show up for the Dec. 23 game against Providence.

Take a look at Baron in real life and the mustache in bobblehead form to see if the resemblance is there.

The celebration of Baron's style comes as fellow A-10 coach Fran Dunphy shaved off his own mustache during a news conference earlier this month to make good on a promise he made to former player Dionte Christmas for graduating from Temple.

"The bigger story of me shaving this mustache is that this young man graduated from Temple University and I'm really proud of that," Dunphy said.

For Old Dominion coach Blaine Taylor, his 'stache went away in June, leaving him nearly unrecognizable to our Andy Katz.

"He was standing to the side of our TV set, and I wasn't the only one who had no idea who he was until you could read ODU on his golf shirt," Katz wrote.

So kudos to Rhode Island for honoring the Baron mustache, one of the last of a dying breed, since the slick salesmen in the industry no longer prefer the look.

Yes, there are still awesome mustaches out there. Idaho coach Don Verlin and ironically named William & Mary coach Tony Shaver are right there with Baron.

We have Rhode Island to thank for standing tall with them.

Philly coaches unite for movie premiere

October, 14, 2011
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From the only-in-Philadelphia file ...

On Friday night at the Kimmel Center, The Mighty Macs, a movie about the famed Immaculata women’s basketball team and their legendary coach Cathy Rush, premieres. Along with it being about a Philly team, it’s produced and directed by a Philly guy -- Tim Chambers, brother of Penn State basketball coach, Pat.

It’s a tricky night for a basketball movie premiere, what with this being the first night of college basketball season and all.

Yet when the lights dim, Drexel’s Bruiser Flint, Saint Joseph’s Phil Martelli, Temple’s Fran Dunphy and Villanova’s Jay Wright will be in the audience. The four coaches all reconfigured and finagled their first practices so they could make the 8:30 p.m. opening.

And anyone who knows a thing or two about the hyper-competitive, overanxious gene pool that makes up college coaches knows just how big of a gesture that is.

“That says all you need to know about the coaches in this town,’’ said Martelli, whose wife, Judy, played at Immaculata. “I was going to be there regardless because of my wife, but for these guys to do that, that’s special.’’

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