College Basketball Nation: Frank Haith

By the final season of its six-year run, "Sex and the City" was almost self-parody. Whatever spark existed early in its run was mostly gone. The things critics reviled in the two "SatC" movies was already sprouting late in the TV show's run: will-she-or-won't-she romance cliches, pun-stuffed writing, shoe montages. But even then, the show was clever enough to stick with you. In hindsight, one episode feels definitive.

In Season 6, Episode 7 ("The Post-it Always Sticks Twice," which is par for the terrible SatC title course) Carrie, our heroine, receives news of a break-up with boyfriend Berger via a post-it note. It reads: "I can't. I'm sorry. Don't hate me."

In 2003, this was a shocking and comedic state of affairs. To break-up via a few short words, without personal contact? Even the jaded, seen-it-all-New York women of SatC's world were positively scandalized. A decade later, in our Tinderized world, a post-it note almost feels almost quaint.

Missouri athletic director Mike Alden can identify.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch's Dave Matter, former Mizzou coach Frank Haith called Alden on Thursday morning to tell him that Tulsa had offered him a seven-year deal worth roughly $1.85 million per year. Then, on Friday morning, Haith informed Alden he would accept the position. And how? Via text message.

We don't know what the text actually said, but Kansas City Star columnist Sam Mellinger's guess seems about right:



The break-up analogy is an easy one. For the past decade, as technology has made communication easier, the world has also fretted that ease would translate into weightlessness -- that being able to break up with someone via text message would suddenly cause everyone to start doing so.

Anecdotally, anyway, this prophecy hasn't come to pass. Big break-up conversations are still in-person ordeals. People at least make a phone call. A text message is about as weak as it gets. End it via text, and you're liable to end up on Lulu. Be forewarned.

A more direct analogy is your own job: Can you imagine, in a million years, telling your current boss that you had accepted a new position via text message? Unacceptable, right? And yet in Haith's world, this is just how business is done. At least Berger said he was sorry.


Well this suddenly is interesting.

Until this week, the coaching carousel was a pretty mundane kiddie ride. Coaches most everyone expected to be handed pink slips did, in fact, get their walking papers, and no huge seismic shifts came with their replacements.

And then in the span of three days, the universities of Tennessee and Missouri were rejected like jilted bridegrooms by their coaches.

[+] EnlargeFrank Haith
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesFrank Haith's move to Tulsa leaves Missouri needing to stabilize its basketball program.
It's wildly similar and bizarrely dissimilar all at the same time -- two of the better gigs in the less than tradition-rich SEC suddenly open because their coaches left for less fertile pastures.

Cuonzo Martin, unappreciated by both his fan base and administration, left Tennessee for Cal, a good job but certainly not as good as the one in Knoxville. He had done well by most folk’s standards -- a winning record and Sweet 16 berth this year -- but was never able to escape his predecessor's shadow -- figuratively and literally. Bruce Pearl's NCAA tournament success loomed over Martin, who needed three years to return the Vols to the tourney, and his Knoxville address didn’t make things any easier.

He made no bones about his dissatisfaction, eyeing the gig at Marquette before leaving for Berkeley this week.

Frank Haith, meantime, was never viewed as an inspiring hire by Mizzou people. After Mike Anderson left for Arkansas, the general consensus on Haith, who had an OK but not hugely successful run at Miami, could be best summed up by a friend of mine who squeaked, "Frank Haith?" when the hiring was announced.

When the coach subsequently was implicated in the Miami NCAA scandal, it didn’t exactly help. Neither did an NCAA tournament upset as a 2-seed at the hands of 15-seed Norfolk State after a 30-win season two years ago.

The strange thing is, the Missouri administration expressed its faith in Haith amid the NCAA scrutiny, but after a disappointing NIT berth this year, most folks figured the coach was headed to a Show-Me year in the Show-Me State in 2014-15. He merely got ahead of the posse, it seems, by leaving for Tulsa.

Now, neither fan base is exactly crying in their coffee over the departure of either coach, with both groups convinced they can get a coaching upgrade.

Arms race, anyone?

Fair or not (and mostly not), these two hires will be compared to one another -- for initial impact, and more than likely, for long-term success. The schools and the programs are too similar, the timing too close for it to be otherwise.

In SEC hoops, there is Kentucky, there is Florida and there is everyone else jockeying for third.
There aren’t many teams that can lay claim to that bronze-medal position but count Tennessee and Missouri among the group that can. Both could open their wallets if they wanted to, with the backing of fervent and well-funded boosters; each has decent facilities and most of all, a history that is not covered entirely in dust.

The Volunteers went to six consecutive NCAA tournaments under Pearl and returned this year under Martin. The old coach had a 2010 Elite Eight berth to show for his efforts; the new coach, this year’s Sweet 16.

Missouri, meantime, had five consecutive NCAA tourney berths on its resume and a regional final run in 2009.

In other words, there’s plenty to work with for a new coach.

But who will those new coaches be? Already both sides are clamoring for the home run hires -- Shaka Smart or Gregg Marshall (the real winners here, by the way? Smart and Marshall's agents), but the reality is, right now winning the news conference has to be the least of these two school's concerns.

Whatever their individual reasons, Martin and Haith lasted only three short seasons. That’s not long enough, not in a top-heavy league such as the SEC, where gaining ground on the front-runners usually requires wading through quicksand.

Athletic directors Mike Alden at Missouri and Dave Hart at Tennessee each need to hire for stability more than headlines and find coaches that fit.

It's never an easy job, leading a coaching search, especially when everyone is watching.

And no doubt, comparing.

A conversation with Frank Haith

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Missouri is 12-1 entering its SEC opener against Georgia on Wednesday, and Frank Haith’s crew has cracked the national rankings with the help of its talented backcourt. Haith discusses his team’s strong start, SEC play and his previous five-game suspension stemming from NCAA violations.

ESPN: How do feel about your team with SEC play set to begin?

[+] EnlargeFrank Haith
Dak Dillon/USA TODAY SportsMissouri is off to a good start, but coach Frank Haith thinks his team has room to grow.
Haith: I feel good. I think we’ve done what we need to do. We’re probably two points away from being 13-0 (Illinois defeated the Tigers on late free throws in December). I think the team has gotten better. We’re still an improving club. But when you have three guys like [Earnest Ross] and [Jordan Clarkson] and [Jabari Brown] -- all three guys can have a big night -- I like that. I like that luxury. We’ve been as good as we’ve been defensively since we’ve been here with this team. And I think that gives us a chance. I like where we’re at going into SEC play, but I still think we’re going to get better.

ESPN: How surprising is Tulsa transfer Jordan Clarkson’s early success (19.3 ppg)?

Haith: We all knew Jordan was a really good player when he sat out and he was at practice and he would go against [Phil Pressey]. He was learning how to be a point guard. So we anticipated him being a good player. But there’s no question he’s exceeded my expectations of him this early. He’s been so consistent. He’s been able to handle the position. Obviously, when you lose a guy like Phil Pressey, you wonder, as everybody did, how were we going to be able to fill that position because he left early. But Jordan Clarkson has been tremendous.

ESPN: What are this team’s flaws? What keeps you up at night when you think about this team?

Haith: We’ve been a team that when we need to answer the bell, we answer the bell. We’ve made plays when we needed to do that. The area of growth we have to have is when we have success or we have a lead, we cannot take a play or a possession off. We have done that throughout the [season]. We have a lead and all of sudden we think that gives us a right to take a bad shot or take a quick shot or be lazy on defense. And really good teams don’t do that. We’re not quite there yet.

ESPN: How did you handle your suspension at the start of the season?

Haith: It was hard, being away from my team for the first five games. It was difficult to not be around them or my coaching staff. With that time I was able to recruit, but watching games was hard. But I learned a lot. I’m watching our team play. It gave me great insight once I got back with my team, what we needed to do and how we needed to do it. But we got through it. It was also good family time, too. I had time with my daughter and my wife. We did a lot of things together. I was able to take my daughter to school, pick her up and have lunch with her, some of the things you don’t normally do or have a chance to do during the season. It was tough but it was also healthy for me, too. I was glad to get back on the court during our first trip to Vegas.

ESPN: Some of the criticism surrounding your situation was related to the fact that other coaches in similar situations had received different penalties. How did you deal with that criticism?

Haith: I didn’t pay attention to any of that stuff. That wasn’t for me to look into or decipher. Media is gonna say what they say, [they're going to] say what they need to say. All situations are different, I will say, based on what they are. I don’t need to get into anything other than that.

Frank Haith avoided major trouble

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It could have been so much worse.

In summer of 2011, when Yahoo! Sports brought ponzi schemer Nevin Shapiro's unseemly relationship with Miami athletics to the fore, Frank Haith was out in the open. Athletic director Mike Alden had reached on a coach with one tournament appearance and a 47-69 career ACC record, and now, at best, that same coach was subject to an optics nightmare. At worst, Shapiro alleged, Haith arranged for a $10,000 payment to a prospect.

Either way, it wasn't good. Months earlier, Alden had proudly sold skeptical Tigers diehards on Haith's "integrity" and "character." The new coach's contract included language that allowed the Tigers to cut ties with cause, if it came to that. All they needed was a finished NCAA investigation.

Instead, the NCAA's findings, released Tuesday, comprise little more than a glancing blow. The Committee on Infractions suspended Haith for five games, to be served at the start of this season, and he'll have to attend an NCAA rules seminar next summer. Neither will threaten his job at Missouri.

Haith's success since his arrival factors in that calculus: In his first season, he led former coach Mike Anderson's players to a 30-5 record and a Big 12 tournament title. The Tigers made the NCAA tournament again in 2012-13, and Haith's program has quickly become a destination for talented transfers.

But Haith's security has much more to do with the NCAA's strange decision itself.

To continue reading, click here.

Mizzou's mission: Boot camp bonding

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The hardest part wasn't lugging the 50-pound sacks around for a 4.5-mile hike. It wasn't hauling tires or carrying metal poles. It wasn't even working up the courage to shoot M16s out of a bunker.

No, the hardest part of Missouri's overnight boot camp with the Missouri National Guard came in the quiet of the night.

As in the real quiet, when not a gadget was stirring -- not even a cellphone.

"Man, the last time I couldn't use my phone, I don't know. Maybe before I had a phone when I was a kid,'' said Mizzou senior Earnest Ross. "I'm a mama's boy too. I call my mom every night. But our phones weren't working.''

And that was exactly Frank Haith's plan when he schlepped his team on a four-hour bus ride from Columbia, Mo., to just south of Joplin -- to force the Tigers to unplug from technology and plug in to one another.

The Tigers' roster includes four freshmen, two transfers and one former junior college player, a hodgepodge group that Haith believes needs two critical things to succeed: togetherness and leadership.

To read more of Dana O'Neil's story, click here.

3-point shot: Memphis hopeful on Dixon

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1. Memphis is hopeful that in the next two to three weeks it will know if Missouri transfer Michael Dixon is eligible to play for Memphis this season. Dixon was dismissed from Missouri last November before the season started and was not in school in the second semester. He was accused of sexual assault but no charges were filed, the second such instance where no charges were brought against him for a similar offense. Dixon didn't play last season, so he has a strong case to play this season based on the basics of sitting out and playing somewhere new. Technically, Dixon didn't sit out at Memphis for the year in residence, but he didn't play basketball at all last season. The NCAA has been loose with granting waivers and using a number of different scenarios to justify allowing players immediate eligibility. This will be an interesting test case if Dixon isn't allowed to play this season after not playing last season but also not sitting out at his new school. If Dixon is eligible at Memphis, he will enhance one of the deeper and most experienced backcourts in the country. The Tigers would have four high-level senior guards in Dixon, Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford. The only thing those four guards haven't done is advanced deep in the NCAA tournament.

2. Missouri coach Frank Haith was looking for some team-bonding, eye-opening experiences that would propel the Tigers into a new season. So Missouri headed to Camp Crowder, roughly 15 miles south of Joplin, Mo., to be with the Missouri National Guard. The team was split into three groups, led by Jabari Brown, Jordan Clarkson and Earnest Ross. The players and soldiers, in full gear, secured a compound with paint ball ammunition. The team then went on a 4.5-mile endurance hike while carrying 50-pound packs. Throughout the hike, they had to pick up extra gear and move it with them. The post-hike activities included shooting M16s from a foxhole. Haith participated with the players as well. These can be called gimmicks, but they do have a point. Missouri's players got to think of something greater than themselves and engaged with the National Guard, many of whom were Mizzou fans. Seeing Haith participate as well proves a point that he's in this with them and isn't shying away from the physical challenges. Coaches are always looking for motivational tools while also establishing connections with fans. These type of actions with fans who are also in the National Guard can be highly productive.

3. The committee on infractions still hasn't released its Miami report after hearing the largely football case in June. Haith, the former hoops coach at Miami, and two former assistant coaches did have to go in front of the committee as well on basketball matters. But a lawyer who represents coaches in NCAA cases on a regular basis said the NCAA's latest policy is to notify those who are involved in the case no earlier than 24 hours before the release of the report. Another source said that it would only be an hour or so prior to the release. The NCAA is not naive enough to think that the report won't get out once it releases the findings. So holding onto the final piece until the last possible minute makes sense for them. The NCAA is no rush, and while it could still happen later this week, the attorney didn't think it would be finished/released prior to Labor Day.
1. The SEC is constantly looking for consistency as a league in college basketball; football has never been the issue. Kentucky and Florida are regular national players, but the rest of the league has struggled. One thing it needs is a destination for its conference tournament. Commissioner Mike Slive told reporters at the SEC meetings in Destin, Fla., Tuesday that there was a unanimous vote to put the tournament in one location, with reports calling Nashville, Tenn., the likely destination. Perfect. The SEC needs to grow the tournament in one spot. Nashville can support it locally, and it's close to Vanderbilt, Tennessee and, of course, Kentucky, and not far from Arkansas, if the Hogs were to re-emerge as a player. Nashville is also a destination city in the Southeast. The SEC tournament is slated for Nashville in 2015, '16 and '19; the 2014 edition will be at the Georgia Dome in Atlanta. Putting the tournament back in an NBA/NHL-size arena makes more sense, since it should be more intimate. The Big East had and will continue to have Madison Square Garden. The Pac-12 is trying to make Las Vegas its tourney home. The Big 12 has a good thing going with a rotation of Kansas City. Mo., and Dallas, while the Big Ten is doing it right with Chicago and Indianapolis. The ACC had Greensboro as its home, outside of a few years when the event rotated elsewhere, but that league is changing, so spreading out to the Northeast will work given new membership. But the SEC can't take its show on the road as much. Having one home would definitely help the conference tournament grow.

2. Colorado athletic director Mike Bohn handed in his resignation, and while the football program has struggled, Bohn hit a home run on his basketball hire. Bohn took a chance when he hired Tad Boyle, a former Kansas player, from nearby Northern Colorado. Boyle coached the Bears for four years, reaching the CIT in his final year. The big state schools don't usually look to a lesser-known state school to raise a program's profile -- yet Boyle has turned the Buffs into a major player in the West and in the Pac-12. The Buffs have gone to the NIT semifinals, won a Pac-12 tournament and a game in the NCAA tournament, then got back to the NCAAs last season. Basketball is a happening in Boulder now. The buzz is real. So while Bohn might have had his faults and the football program can be put atop the list, he got basketball right and should be given credit for taking a chance on Boyle. Boyle returned the loyalty by staying in Boulder this past spring when he could have pursued other opportunities.

3. Missouri coach Frank Haith took in Baylor transfer Deuce Bello for two years; the guard must sit out a year before playing. The Tigers have found a way to benefit from being in Big 12 territory but playing in the SEC. Missouri can be a home for wayward transfers who don't want to leave the area but can still play in a different conference. It will be interesting to track how often Missouri gets a transfer from the Big 12. Haith has gone with transfers quite a bit since taking over in Columbia two years ago. He'll likely continue on that path, with transfers complementing high school recruits.
LEXINGTON, Ky. -- Larry Eustachy’s life came full circle a year ago when he took Southern Miss back to the NCAA tournament.

After the appearance ended in a loss, he was off to a more nationally relevant job at Colorado State.

Eustachy had no idea what he was getting into in Fort Collins. He knew this CSU team had experience and had made a cameo in the NCAA tournament in 2012.

What he couldn’t have figured was how much this team needed him, and he them.

On Thursday night, the two formed the perfect coach-team union for a clinic on how to stay composed on the big stage. The eighth-seeded Rams were an offensive juggernaut against No. 9-seeded Missouri, shooting nearly 50 percent from the field, exactly 50 percent from 3-point range, and absolutely embarrassing the Tigers on the boards (42-19) in an 84-72 victory that wasn’t as close as the final score indicated.

How much did the Rams’ unique experience of starting five seniors play into this victory?

“I think it’s huge,’’ said Eustachy, who was stoic on the postgame podium but didn’t hide his euphoria by fist-pumping to the strong contingent of CSU fans at Rupp Arena.

[+] EnlargeLarry Eustachy
AP Photo/James CrispLarry Eustachy's Colorado State squad controlled the Tigers from the start.
“It wasn’t like they were just happy to be here,’’ he said. “I think that was the case last year, and I told them it was the case with me at Southern Miss last year.

“We intended on winning this game and I think that’s a big difference. Our mindset was terrific, and you couldn’t do that with freshmen. It took men to get that mindset into them, and they bought into everything I’ve talked about.’’

The Rams were led by Dorian Green, who was the much less heralded lead guard on the court next to Phil Pressey, but was the better player Thursday in the way he managed the game. Pressey had to hold together a mishmash of transfers that never seemed to be in sync, certainly not away from Columbia. Mizzou coach Frank Haith said he was proud of the team’s ability to make the NCAA tournament with only one player who played in the Tigers’ loss to Norfolk State a year ago.

A year ago, Haith took over a team assembled by Mike Anderson and was named national coach of the year.

This year, Eustachy took over a ready-made team that immediately embraced him.

“With Coach and the staff, their specialty is what we lacked the most, so I think it was just a perfect fit for us,’’ Green said. “We got a little bit tougher and our defensive rebounding is where we lacked last year. So I think it was just the perfect fit. We couldn’t ask for anything better.’’

Eustachy called the victory over Missouri historic for the school. The Rams' last NCAA win was in 1989.

“This is why we came here, to put this program on the map and make this an expected thing each year,’’ said Green, who like the rest of the seniors was recruited by current Nebraska coach Tim Miles. “This is what we set out to do when we got on campus, and it’s great to see the hard work pay off.’’

The Tigers (23-11) admitted that the Rams were the more aggressive team. They were. It wasn’t close. They were also the more disciplined squad. In order to knock off No. 1 overall seed Louisville -- and Eustachy’s close friend and former high school-mate, Louisville athletic director Tom Jurich -- the Rams (26-8) will have to handle the pressure, and the basketball, Saturday.

“It’s going to be a great atmosphere, something that we’ll remember forever,’’ Green said. “We have to enjoy it, come out and play hard for 40 minutes and be aggressive from the opening tip. We’ve just got to seize the opportunity and love the atmosphere and compete.’’
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Missouri coach Frank Haith has always been pleased with Phil Pressey's ability to take charge on the court. Lately, though, he’s been imploring his junior point guard to do the same thing in the huddle.

Pressey finally obliged in Tuesday’s 63-60 victory over fifth-ranked Florida.

And it only took one word.

Believe.

Time and time again at Mizzou Arena, Pressey delivered that message to his teammates as they encircled him during dead balls and timeouts. He said it when the Tigers trailed No. 5 Florida by double digits midway through the second half. And he uttered the word again in the game’s waning minutes, after Florida stormed back to take the lead.

Believe.

“That’s what I kept telling them,” Pressey said. “Whether you’re up by 12 or down by 12, you always have to believe you can win.”

[+] EnlargeMissouri's Phil Pressey
Dak Dillon/USA TODAY Sports
Especially when so many others don’t.

More than a few fans and pundits had written off Missouri prior to Tuesday’s victory over the Gators. Ranked as high as No. 7 earlier this season, the Tigers have been nothing short of maddening in SEC play. Blowout home wins over Alabama and Ole Miss were tempered by road losses to bottom-feeders such as LSU and Texas A&M.

Overflowing with athleticism, size and length, Missouri’s players turned heads at airports and during pre-game warm-ups. But they were overrated on the court. That was the Cliff’s Notes version, anyway.

After what happened Tuesday, the storyline has changed.

“They’re very dangerous,” Florida coach Billy Donovan said. “They have answers at every position. I can’t imagine there is a team in the country that is more individually talented.”

All those individual pieces came together as one unit Tuesday, and when it happened the Tigers looked like one of the most impressive teams in the college basketball. At the very least Missouri has officially become the school no one wants to play in March, the squad that could upset a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA tournament without it really feeling like that big of a deal.

That was certainly the vibe Tuesday.

Beating the country’s fifth-ranked team when you’re unranked may be an upset on paper, but it’s obvious that, when Missouri is playing well, there isn’t a huge difference between the Tigers and the rest of the nation’s top squads.

“I’ve said all along that we were going to be a different team in February and March than we were in December and January,” Haith said after the game. “I couldn’t be any more encouraged. We’re playing well, and the exciting thing is that we have a chance to get so much better.”

Indeed, while most of the college basketball’s top teams are close to reaching their ceiling, Missouri may have more room for improvement than any school in the country.

The Tigers are like a jigsaw puzzle. The pieces have always been there for a beautiful picture, it’s just taken a bit longer to fit them together.

And understandably so.

Pressey is the only player on Missouri’s roster who contributed to last year’s 30-5 season. Leading scoring Laurence Bowers was on the shelf with a knee injury, Keion Bell, Earnest Ross and Jabari Brown were sitting out under NCAA transfer rules and Alex Oriakhi was still playing for Connecticut.

Any criticism Haith has received for his team’s shortcomings thus far is foolish. Last season’s national coach of the year has basically been working with an entirely new team -- and Missouri still entered Tuesday’s game with an 18-7 record that included wins over schools such as VCU, Illinois and Ole Miss, all of which have spent time in the Top 25.

[+] EnlargeMissouri's Laurence Bowers
Dak Dillon/USA TODAY SportsLaurence Bowers scored 17 points and had 10 rebounds for a Missouri team that could make some noise in March.
Name one other coach who has done something similar with basically a completely new roster.

The Tigers have encountered other challenges, too. Michael Dixon, who was expected to contend for All-American honors, was forced to leave school during the fall following an off-court incident. Bowers (five games), Bell (four) and Tony Criswell (four) have all missed time because of injuries. And Brown didn’t became eligible until mid-December after transferring from Oregon.

“You take an All-American (candidate) like Michael Dixon off of most teams,” Haith said, “and people would be like, ‘What are we going to do now?’ Then you throw in our injuries and the fact that we’re incorporating all these new guys ... for the most part, we haven’t been whole all season. It’s a unique situation.”

That’s part of the reason for Missouri’s putrid performances away from home. The Tigers have just one true road win. But it’s also been a means of encouragement, the thing Pressey said kept players going during times of adversity.

“I know how good we can be,” Pressey said. “The coaches know how good we can be. We just have to put it all together. We’ve had a couple of guys play good (one game), a couple of guys play good (the next).

“But we really haven’t had a ‘team’ win like this. This is a big win for us. Everyone contributed. Everyone played well.”

The same type of resiliency Missouri has shown throughout the season was on display in the second half against a Florida team that embarrassed the Tigers 83-52 on Jan. 19 in Gainesville.

Let that sink in for a moment. The Tigers defeated a team it lost to by 31 points just one month earlier.

Missouri trailed by as many as 13 points midway through the second half before uncorking a 23-8 scoring run that ended with the Tigers leading 59-57 with less than 2 minutes remaining.

Florida’s Scottie Wilbekin made a 3-pointer that put the Gators back up 60-59 with 1:40 left. But a short jumper by Bowers on Missouri’s next possession gave the Tigers the lead for good.

Facing heavy defensive pressure by Missouri, Florida missed three 3-pointers in the game’s final 57 seconds.

Missouri outrebounded Florida 40-28 and limited the Gators to 40 percent shooting. Pressey finished with 10 assists while Bowers had 17 points and 10 rebounds.

“Pressey is one of my favorite players,” Donovan said. “He makes the game easy for everyone else. Brown is as dangerous as any shooting guard out there, Oriakhi won a national championship at UConn, Bowers can do a little bit of everything, Bell is starting to play well for them ...

“There just aren’t a lot of holes there.”

The only question now is whether Missouri -- now a virtual lock to earn an NCAA tournament bid -- will build off what could be a season-altering win or revert back to its inconsistent ways. Will the Tigers continue to resemble the cohesive group we saw in Columbia on Tuesday, or will they look discombobulated and out of sorts when they face a reeling Kentucky squad Saturday in Lexington?

Haith is confident the former will occur.

“I love where we are right now,” Haith said. "This was a big step for us tonight. We just played a great game against one of the top teams in the country.”

As they left Columbia, the Florida Gators probably felt that way, too.

3-point shot: Keys to Miami's success

February, 14, 2013
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1. If you’re looking for one of the main reasons for Miami’s surge to the top of the ACC, go back to when Shane Larkin arrived and the relationship between new coach Jim Larranaga and school president Donna Shalala. Larranaga said Wednesday that when Larkin got his release from DePaul (he credits Oliver Purnell for helping here), Shalala didn’t hesitate in getting Larkin into school just in time. Larranaga told Shalala that Larkin had come from a terrific family and was exactly who Miami needed to represent the program -- and what the Hurricanes needed on the court. Larkin may turn out to be the team’s MVP.

2. Missouri athletic director Mike Alden said Wednesday that the Tigers been in contact with the NCAA every week since August 2011, seeking information on developments with the Miami case, yet have no idea what will happen, or when. The NCAA refers to Missouri -- which hired coach Frank Haith from Miami in 2011 -- as Institution B; it isn’t in jeopardy of having anything happen to the school or the basketball program. Mizzou could, however, suffer collateral damage in this process if the NCAA tries to do anything to Haith. But Alden said again Wednesday what he has said many times: Haith has done everything the NCAA and school have asked. Mizzou clearly supports Haith.

3. Wednesday's most surprising result came in Indianapolis, where it is clear Butler can’t afford to lose Andrew Smith for any longer than this week. With the big man out due to an abdominal injury, the Bulldogs lost at home to Charlotte, which has quietly put together an 18-6 season. The 49ers' victory shook up the Atlantic 10 race, with Butler dropping back into a four-way tie in the loss column (three) behind two-loss Saint Louis and VCU. The A-10 is now officially the most jumbled of any high-level conference.

Observations from Saturday afternoon

February, 9, 2013
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Kansas coach Bill Self was in the postgame handshake line after his team’s 72-66 loss to Oklahoma when he looked up and saw hundreds of students rushing the Lloyd Noble Center court.

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

“Are you serious?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My initial reaction is, so what?

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

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

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

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

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

North Carolina has allowed an average of 79.6 points per game in its seven losses. In five of those games, the opponent scored more than 80 points. The Tar Heels need to get tougher.
1. Florida State's Michael Snaer has hit four game-winning 3-pointers at the buzzer for the Seminoles in two seasons, including two this season (against Clemson and Maryland). What makes Snaer such a clutch shooter? "I've never seen a player who works as hard in practice as he does in the game,'' said Florida State coach Leonard Hamilton. "He's always in that mental frame of mind and that's why he has so much confidence in himself. He's relaxed in those situations. The ball is supposed to go in.'' The Seminoles have been incredibly erratic this season and Hamilton is attributing a lot of that to youth with seven new players. He said Snaer has had to do too much distributing with Ian Miller out (only plays, doesn't practice). But Hamilton said Snaer is back to his more traditional role. Hamilton isn't ruling out a run by Florida State to the NCAAs, especially with four home games remaining against teams that could make the committee notice, beginning with Duke on Saturday (Miami, NC State and Virginia are also coming to Tallahassee). I said on our ESPN2 halftime Thursday night that Snaer is my top last-possession shooter. My other top four were Butler's Rotnei Clarke, Duke's Seth Curry, Indiana's Jordan Hulls and Michigan's Trey Burke. The twitterverse threw back at me Kansas' Ben McLemore and Saint Mary's Matthew Dellavedova.

2. Oregon got popped at Stanford on Wednesday night in a game minus Dominic Artis (foot). It was the first conference loss of the season for the Ducks. The staff is confident Artis will be back next week at the earliest. But there were clearly issues without Artis, and as one assistant coach said Thursday, Artis had taken pressure off every other guard when he was on the floor. The Ducks will need Johnathan Loyd and Willie Moore. But the Ducks need to be led by their seniors in E.J. Singler, Tony Woods, Carlos Emory and Arsalan Kazemi if they are to hold off Arizona for the Pac-12 title.

3. Missouri coach Frank Haith said the Tigers must play with a sense of urgency after losing at LSU on Wednesday night. Haith said the Tigers have played only two games with the full compliment of players. But he was "very pleased" with the play of his top inside player -- Laurence Bowers -- who returned to the lineup after missing the previous five games (3-2) with an MCL sprain, scoring 10 points and grabbing six boards in 32 minutes.
1. Wednesday was a wild night, but one result may have more significance than any other. And no it wasn't Miami beating Duke by 27 points or La Salle beating Butler at home or Creighton losing to Drake as Wichita State was winning to take first place in the Missouri Valley. Nope, it was Lehigh -- without C.J. McCollum -- going to 4-0 in the Patriot League with a road win at league favorite Bucknell (65-62 as the Bison were 2-of-14 on 3s). The Mountain Hawks have played exceptionally well without McCollum (broken foot). Lehigh coach Brett Reed said late Wednesday night, "Right now our guys are playing with tremendous defensive energy, resiliency and togetherness. I won't say I'm surprised because I think we have talent and togetherness, but I am pleased with the way they have stepped up their defensive focus as a collective unit. When C.J. was healthy, I think, at times, our guys felt they could outscore people, but now that C.J. is out, they are valuing every possession even more."

2. Missouri coach Frank Haith hasn't ruled out Laurence Bowers against Vanderbilt on Saturday. But if he can get away with holding him out one more game to rest his ailing knee that would probably be the best-case scenario. The Tigers are 2-2 without their best big man and have seven more road games, including next Wednesday at LSU. Missouri is also hoping to get back Keion Bell (ankle) for the Vandy game. Bell didn't play in the squeaker against South Carolina on Tuesday. The Tigers were without two starters and haven't had one game this season with the projected starting five (remember Michael Dixon Jr., never made it to the season).

3. Conference USA will play a 16-game schedule next season with 16 teams. That means each team will play one rival twice and play the other 14 schools one time. The set partners will be divided along regional/geographic divisions. The likely pairings could be: Tulane-Louisiana Tech; FAU-FIU; UAB-Southern Miss; Rice-UTEP; North Texas-UTSA; ODU-Marshall; Tulsa-Middle Tennessee State; Charlotte-East Carolina. Of course, you could move a few of these around that might make a bit more sense. Overall, this league is likely going to be 16 teams vying for one bid in 2014. Tulane will move to the Big East in 2014-15 while East Carolina is scheduled to do the same in football only.

3-point shot: Oriakhi's crucial impact

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

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

3. The Big East's departing seven Catholic, non-FBS schools are working on an exit plan, a television deal (sources continue to say Fox has an inside track) and ultimately a commissioner. The current commish who would be a fit is the West Coast Conference's Jamie Zaninovich. He has managed a private-school conference well of late and worked at Princeton, so he is not foreign to the Northeast. He had to deal with expansion in adding BYU and, next season, Pacific. Zaninovich already has contacts in the television industry and credibility within the NCAA tournament selection committee as a member. The committee might need to be lobbied to ensure an automatic berth once the league is formed.
On Monday, CBS Sports' Jeff Goodman reported per a source that the NCAA was preparing to notify Missouri coach Frank Haith of allegations of unethical conduct and other violations as a result of the organization's probe into Miami booster Nevin Shapiro. On Tuesday morning, Florida-based attorney Michael L. Buckner sent the following statement to ESPN and other media outlets on behalf of his client, Haith:
"Until my client, Frank Haith, receives a notice of allegations from the NCAA, the CBSSports.com report is premature. The NCAA’s investigation in the University of Miami enforcement case is ongoing. Thus, if the NCAA had completed its inquiry, then Coach Haith would have received a notice of allegations. However, as of the morning of January 22, 2013, Coach Haith has not received the notice of allegations. Any speculation or information attributed to anonymous sources cannot be relied on until the NCAA makes a final decision on the evidence and issues the notice to the University of Miami and any other persons at-risk in the case.

"It is unfortunate that CBSSports.com’s unnamed source believed violating the NCAA confidentiality rules was worthwhile. The report did not advance anyone’s interests (except the source’s) and is making a mockery of what is supposed to be a fair process. Nevertheless, based on the testimony of my client, the media reports of other persons’ statements and the voluminous records we shared with the NCAA, any allegations asserted by Nevin Shapiro against my client cannot be supported."

It's hard for me to grok what the source's interests are here. It's also easy to forget that when news like this is broken, it is broken with someone's interests in mind: the college hoop fan and news consumer. All of that is typical faux-outraged legal deflection.

The other stuff, however, is actually worthwhile. It is important to remember that until the NCAA actually sends its notice to Haith at Missouri, we don't have an official accounting of the allegations against him. And until Haith responds (before 90 days' time), and until he can go through the NCAA infractions hearing process, it's difficult to know exactly what will happen when the NCAA eventually makes its ruling. We can guess -- it seems more likely the NCAA will throw whatever it can at Haith, particularly if the charge of unethical conduct sticks -- but all of that will come very much down the line. And if/when the NCAA does make a ruling, that will come well before Missouri's decision on what to do with its coach.

The saga began Monday, sure. But it won't be resolved for quite some time.

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