College Basketball Nation: Gonzaga Bulldogs

What we're reading while we get pumped for a trip to the Verizon Center tonight. Submit links via Twitter.
  • Yesterday, we discussed the ongoing travails of referee Karl Hess, who was accused by a Mit Shah, an Atlanta-area CEO and former member of the Wake Forest board of trustees, of using a racial remark in a sideline exchange during Sunday's Louisville-Wake Forest game. Today, the ACC fired Hess, the result of an "accumulation of events," a source told ESPN. Soon thereafter, Hess withdrew himself from his American Athletic Conference assignments, and is considering doing so in the Big 12, Big East, and SEC. The Big East says it is conducting its own independent investigation into Hess's work. Hess told ESPN that Friday was "a sad day and is devastating. But I'm responsible. I wasn't trying to deliberately hurt anyone. That's not my character. I goof around a lot, and there was no intent to hurt anyone." We have conflicting feelings here. Hess does seem remorseful, and the suddden sport-wide dogpile does feel a little unseemly. On the other hand, joke or not, Hess's remark was ridiculous and inexcusable and, yes, racist. (Shah is of Indian descent, not Egyptian, as Hess quipped. He was born in New Jersey and raised in Winston-Salem. None of those places are remotely close to Egypt.) So, yes, the punishment should be severe. If this was Hess's first run-in with the ACC league office, perhaps he would deserved a quiet reprimand, a brief suspension, and instructions to apologize. But it wasn't, and so here we are.
  • The time of the Three Wolf T-Shirt has long since passed. (Was it really five years ago already?) But that doesn't mean Georgetown's version -- featuring three howling likenesses of Jack the Bulldog -- isn't awesome. Let's be clear: That shirt is very, very awesome.
  • If you're looking for reasons to feel good about Kansas' ability to close out tight games late -- like, for example, Wednesday's "Bloodsport" match of a win Baylor -- having an inbound target who has yet to miss a free throw this season is a pretty good place to start.
  • Gonzaga has just begun its expected roll through the West Coast Conference, and the difficulties they face in earning a potential No. 1 seed -- even with one nonconference loss at Arizona -- are already becoming clear. Then again, given what happened in 2012-13, maybe it's better to eschew the top-seed bullseye.
  • Cleveland, Ohio, native Carlton Bragg is a five-star prospect in the class of 2015 with the college hoops world at his feet. Bragg's final five schools were Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, UCLA, and Arizona, with the Jayhawks, Wildcats, and Fighting Illini in the top three. On Thursday, the 6-foot-10 Villa Angela-St. Joseph product walked to a podium at his high school and dramatically announced his choice: Kentucky. Er, wait. Kansas! Yes, Bragg accidentally said Kentucky even as he was putting on a Kansas hat, in spite of his intentions to join Bill Self's program. Poor kid. Nerves are a fickle mistress.

Enjoy the weekend, everyone.

Afternoon Links: Drink lots of water

November, 17, 2014
What we’re reading while we wish the new Dragon Age could have come out in July. Submit links via Twitter.
  • As a veteran of several 24-hour tip-off marathon chats -- the archives of which are still available, if you're interested in watching one man's descent into Colonel Kurtz-level madness -- let us offer one piece of advice: Drink lots of water. Oh, sure, you think caffeine is your friend. And for a while, it is. But if you don't stay properly hydrated, there comes a point when your brain will rebel against you, and by the time you realize it you'll be waking up on the couch with the laptop on your stomach wondering how it got to be 10 a.m. so quickly. Heed my warning as you peruse the full schedule for ESPN's seventh annual College Hoops Tip-Off Marathon.
  • With that out of the way, the best game in the early marathon docket begins at 11 p.m. ET on ESPN2, when Gonzaga hosts SMU. The Mustangs are without Markus Kennedy, the centerpiece big man recently ruled academically ineligible, not to mention top-five recruit Emmanuel Mudiay, who chose Chinese money over potential NCAA issues this summer. But it's still a sound defensive team and a decent test for a high-octane Bulldogs squad. The Slipper Still Fits has your preview needs covered.
  • Harvard entered this season with the momentum, if not the consensus ranking, of a top 25 program. If you know anything about the history of Harvard basketball, that statement might still seem ridiculous. But it was true: The Crimson returned a dynamic core of players from a team that toppled Cincinnati in the NCAA tournament last March (and seriously troubled Michigan State in the round of 32), and Tommy Amaker has established his team's Ivy League hegemony three years running. Even so, the Ivy is a one-bid league, and the Crimson needed to do a bit of work in their nonconference schedule to make sure a random loss or two in regular-season play didn't rob them of a tournament bid down the line. Instead, on Sunday, they lost to Holy Cross. Two days in to the 2014-15 season, the Crimson's margin for error has drastically thinned.
  • "Let’s say Kentucky is facing Ole Miss, and Calipari puts one of the Harrisons on Jarvis Summers to start the game. Summers rattles off seven quick points, but when the line change comes, Dominique Hawkins shuts Summers down. Then Hawkins comes out and Summers abuses Harrison again. Is Calipari going to stick with his platoons at that point? Is he really going to remove a player who’s making a positive impact just because the schedule says so? And what about when a Kentucky player has a hot hand? What about foul trouble? What about crunch time? What happens when Cal’s schedule says to leave in Alex Poythress for an important possession, but Poythress’ schedule says he’s due for one of those games in which he just goes through the motions?" In his lengthy SEC preview, Grantland's Mark Titus wonders how long John Calipari can stick with his proposed platoons. On Sunday, the Wildcats got a first-half bruising from Buffalo before eventually pulling away.
  • And, last but not least, your Canadian women's 60-foot buzzer-beater of the day.

Top stats to know for Sunday's games

March, 22, 2014
Sunday's NCAA Tournament slate features eight compelling Round of 32 games, and we've got you covered with a look at the key matchups in each contest.

Stanford is the third-most efficient team in the country on pick-and-roll, ball handler plays, averaging more than a point per play on those plays.

Kansas ranks 221st in points per play allowed while defending pick-and-roll, ball handler plays.

That could be a big factor with Joel Embiid not there to protect the rim on pick-and-roll plays.

Kentucky ranks second in offensive rebound percentage (42.1%) and scores 9.4 points per game on offensive rebound putbacks, fifth-most in the country.

Wichita State ranks fifth in the country in defensive rebound percentage (74.2%) and only allows 4.3 points per game on offensive rebound putbacks, 17th-fewest in the country.

Iowa State relies heavily on 3-point shooting. The Cyclones rank in the top 25 in 3-point attempts and 3-pointers made per game.

North Carolina is holding teams to 30 percent 3-point shooting in its last 14 games. The Tar Heels have held 13 of their last 14 opponents below 40 percent on 3-point shooting. They're only allowing 5.4 3-pointers per game in their last 14 games.

Mercer's opponents are attempting 23.1 3-pointers per game in its last 10 games. Mercer is 9-0 when its opponents attempt at least 24 3-pointers (12-1 when they attempt at least 23), including a win over Duke (37 attempts).

Tennessee hasn't had more than 24 3-point attempts all season. They average 17.1 3-point attempts per game.

UCLA ranks in the bottom 20 of the country in turnover percentage. The Bruins only turn it over on 14.9 percent of their possessions.

Stephen F. Austin forces 16.2 turnovers per game, eighth-most in the country. However, SFA is only forcing 11.6 turnovers per game in its last five games.

Creighton is 23-1 this season when shooting at least 35 percent on 3-pointers (4-6 when shooting less than 35 percent). Creighton is 15-1 when making at least 11 3-pointers (12-6 when making 10 or fewer).

Baylor's opponents are shooting 38.5 percent on 3-pointers in its last 10 games. Baylor has allowed higher than 40 percent 3-point shooting in five of its last 10 games and at least eight 3-pointers in six of its last 10 games.

Memphis ranks second in the country in transition offense with 21.2 points per game. The Tigers rank 21st in transition field goal percentage (59.3%).

Virginia excels in transition defense. The Cavaliers allow seven transition points per game, second-fewest in the country. Virginia also ranks in the top 25 in field goal percentage defense in transition.

Pace will be a factor, as well. Virginia has the third-slowest pace (60.7 possessions per game), while Memphis ranks 34th in pace (71.2 possessions per game).

Gonzaga is very efficient on offense, ranking in the top 10 in field goal percentage and 3-point percentage.

Arizona ranks third in defensive efficiency, allowing 89.5 points per 100 possessions. The Wildcats are 15-0 this season when allowing fewer than 90 points per 100 possessions.

Gonzaga hasn't faced a single team all season that ranks in the top 30 in offensive efficiency.

3-point shot: BYU dealing with big injury

March, 13, 2014

Andy Katz discusses the injury to BYU's Kyle Collinsworth, the long layoff for Gonzaga and Wichita State and the possibility that Dayton could play at home in the First Four.

Weekend Homework: Zags' shaky finish

February, 28, 2014
Has any Gonzaga team in the past decade ever been more relieved to win a late-season game against a .500 team? Whatever was going through the Bulldogs' heads after Thursday night -- good win, let's go have a sandwich, what kind of sandwiches are available (everyone else spends most of their time thinking about sandwiches, right?) -- at some point, a collective sigh of relief must have been part of the calculus.

Gonzaga's 70-53 win at Pacific will do nothing to improve its NCAA tournament seed. It did little to ensure yet another West Coast Conference title. At least a share of that title was already sewn up. But the win at Pacific was massive in its own way because it ceased the possibility of a four-game season-ending road slide that threatened to turn one of the nation's marquee mid-major brands into just one more bubble team scrapping for its life.

[+] EnlargeMark Few
Brian Spurlock/USA TODAY SportsMark Few and Gonzaga missed the chance to get a marquee victory in Maui early in the season.
For most of its post-Cinderella existence, Gonzaga has scheduled so well in the nonconference -- and performed so well in general -- that the Zags didn't have to stress about late-season bubble concerns. But this season is a little different. This season, Gonzaga's nonconference schedule was merely so-so, and the chances it did have it squandered. In Maui, it lost a first-round game to Dayton, which robbed it of shots at Baylor and Cal in the winner's bracket. It ended up playing Chaminade and Arkansas instead. On Dec. 21, it lost to K-State in Kansas City. In early February, it had a win in hand before a late Tigers comeback in Memphis.

Because of all this, the Zags' NCAA tournament résumé wasn't a slam dunk before they embarked on their season-ending road trip. Per the RPI, the Zags' best win is still their Jan. 25 home victory over BYU. After that it's Arkansas and a road win at West Virginia, probably, and that was 12 days before the Mountaineers lost at home to Purdue. Throw in an unusual loss at Portland on Jan. 9, and you've got the makings of a just-OK NCAA tournament résumé.

The Zags' last four league games seemed designed to challenge a team with the potential for bubble issues, almost as though the league office turned up the difficulty level. All four were on the road, beginning at BYU on Feb. 20, followed by trips to San Diego, Pacific and, finally, on Saturday, Saint Mary's. Even knowing how consistently dominant Gonzaga has been these past, oh, 15 years, it was hard to look at that closing stretch and not worry just slightly that a loss would turn into three or four. After the Zags lost at BYU (forgivable) and San Diego (RPI: 149), it was fair to reach for the panic button.

As is, Gonzaga is somewhere in the No. 9 or No. 10 seed range. That's safe enough, relative to most of the dreary bubble, but not as safe as you think: A No. 10-seed may well go to one of the final byes in the field. Saint Mary's has lost to San Francisco, George Mason, San Diego, South Carolina, Hawaii and Santa Clara this season. If the Gaels knock off their rival Saturday, should Gonzaga be worried?

In some respects, the fact that the Zags are where they are is a testament to the job that coach Mark Few has done. The Bulldogs faced huge turnover this past summer: All-American Kelly Olynyk, senior forward Elias Harris, glue-guy prototype Mike Hart. Thanks to a broken hand, Gonzaga was without guard Gary Bell for almost all of January. That the Bulldogs avoided losing all but one game (to Portland) says a lot about their adaptability.

But at the end of the day -- or more accurately the season -- all of a sudden the safe and sound, bubble-immune Gonzaga we've come to know is at legitimate risk of falling down among the Minnesotas and Tennessees of the world. A loss at Pacific would have put them there already. Saturday's game means more than a rivalry.

Weekend Homework: Zags' thin margin

December, 27, 2013
There are lots of ways to play offense in the game of basketball, countless characteristics on which to hang one's proverbial hat. Few are as pure and pleasurable as Gonzaga's.

The Bulldogs play fast, decisive, intelligent offensive basketball. Their possessions are short, and usually effective. Their sets place a primacy on spacing, on the exploration of angles. Their personnel -- led by guards Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, two of the most efficient offensive players in the country -- averages 42.2 percent from 3 and 54.8 percent from 2-point territory. The Zags don't dominate on the offensive glass, and they're not at all reliant on fouls to create points.

What results is a just-as-effective alternative to the kind of ruthlessly physical basketball that the NCAA has so famously attempted to discourage this season: fluid movement, sharp passing, lights-out shooting, few stoppages. When Mark Few's team is in possession of the ball, it is -- and this is not an exaggeration -- beautiful.

That's the good news. You already know what comes next.

On Saturday, Gonzaga, for all its rhythmic offensive beauty, will begin West Coast Conference play with exactly zero impressive wins. (Depending on your thoughts about Arkansas, anyway. I'll stick with "exactly zero" for now.)

It will also begin with two rather rough losses. The first, an 84-79 loss to Dayton in Maui, cost the Zags a chance to play Baylor and/or Syracuse; what looked like an emergent Dayton team at the time since has lost to Illinois State and USC. The latter, last Saturday's 72-62 loss to Kansas State in Wichita, Kan., came to a struggling Wildcats bunch with a season-opening home loss to Northern Colorado and a neutral-court defeat to Charlotte on its docket.

What those losses say about those teams, and what price those results respectively will exact in March, is a matter of muddy educated guessing. But they do say something unequivocal about Gonzaga: The Zags don't guard all that well. Dayton scored 1.18 points per possession in its win, Kansas State 1.20. The Flyers were (are) a good offensive group, but even after K-State's outburst the Wildcats still are just the nation's 198th most efficient offense.

That fact is probably best explained by the same things that make Gonzaga's offense so thrilling. Few has plenty of guards and, in forward Sam Dower, an old-school step-out big man. But he has just one true interior defender, center Przemek Karnowski. Karnowski is an excellent defensive rebounder and a good shot-blocker, but he is the only player even attempting the latter, and he's averaging five fouls every 40 minutes. Combine that personnel imbalance with the Zags' inability to force turnovers, long defensive possessions, and second-chance woes (Gonzaga opponents have scored 1.26 points per possession on offensive rebounds to date, per Synergy), and you end up with a very average defense. (And, it should be noted, one that suited Kansas State's style just fine.)

Such are the causes behind Gonzaga's current predicament: Opening conference play Saturday against Santa Clara (8 p.m. ET, ESPNU) with one of its softer nonconference résumés in recent seasons. The WCC isn't what it was back in the Zags' post-Cinderella, budding-hegemon days. But it is still riddled with potential bad losses around every corner, with only Saint Mary's and BYU to even slightly bolster the résumé. A few slips here and there, and it's possible -- not probable, but possible -- that the 2013 No. 1 seed could miss the tournament entirely for the first time since 1998. The Zags are worth watching, for all kinds of reasons.

Video: Dayton upsets No. 11 Gonzaga

November, 26, 2013

Daytona advanced to the semifinals of the Maui Invitational with an 84-79 win over No. 11 Gonzaga.

Coach Morrison content with career

September, 23, 2013
Nearly a decade ago, former national player of the year Adam Morrison was the guy who graced the cover of every preview magazine in America.

Gonzaga was on the national radar before his arrival, but his long hair, visible passion and scoring ability gave the Bulldogs a more prominent position in college basketball’s hierarchy.

[+] EnlargeAdam Morrison
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezAdam Morrison, who starred at Gonzaga, is returning to the school as a student assistant.
Morrison was the man.

And throughout the 2005-06 season, he was the antagonist to Duke’s J.J. Reddick, another great college player.

The final image of Morrison’s college career features the devastated wing on the floor after a come-from-behind loss to UCLA in that season’s Sweet 16.

He was the third overall pick in that summer’s draft. The 6-foot-8 forward averaged 11.8 points per game as a rookie with the Charlotte Bobcats, but things went downhill from there. Injuries didn’t help.

Morrison exited the league and played overseas after a stint with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2009-10, but he never found his way back.

Now, Morrison is a student assistant on Mark Few’s staff. His father was a coach, so it’s a natural transition.

What’s surprising, however, is his attitude about his pro career. He’s been ridiculed for years as a draft bust. But he doesn’t subscribe to that view.

During an interview with the Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., Morrison said he’s happy with his accomplishments and excited to tutor young players in his new role:

Morrison, 29, is basically a scholarship student-athlete again, back in class with his education paid for by the university but with different duties on the court.

“A lot of people when they first heard said, ‘Why?’ ” Morrison said. “I said, ‘Why wouldn’t you want to further your education and I get a chance to coach here. I’m the lucky one. I’m getting experience in a great program. I get to come back to the university I played for. I get to stay at home. And if everything goes right, then doors open up for me.”

He's at peace with the end of his playing career:

“There was a time in the past it was really upsetting,” he said. “It was a combination of things. I didn’t play well my first year and then I had a knee injury. Then there was a new coach and I got traded to a very good team. So that part is frustrating, but at the same time I had so many life experiences, made so many friends and did so many things that other people have never had had the opportunity to do. I had a good career leading up to that and I’m settled with it.”

It was time to move on.

“I made that decision the day I got cut by Portland,” he said. “As good as I played in summer league and then I couldn’t even get a half-guarantee [contract] or a make-good [contract]. I went to Europe and played well. Then I came back and had a good summer league and if I can’t make it, then I’m not going to be one of those guys that beats my head against the wall. Sometimes you have to look at yourself in the mirror.”

It’s an honest view.

It’s easy to criticize Morrison for what he didn’t achieve during his time at Gonzaga and in the NBA. He obviously didn’t live up to the hype attached to a top-three draft pick.

But he’s not moping about the things that didn’t work out. He’s moving on.

He was aided by his realistic view of his position in the NBA. He said that he simply wasn’t good enough to latch onto another squad.

He didn’t bash coaches or teammates or owners or the media or the world.

That’s rare. And refreshing.

Nonconference analysis: Best of the rest

September, 11, 2013
This week, has been breaking down the nonconference schedules of each team in nine of the nation's top leagues. Now let's take a look at the slates of a dozen of the top teams outside of those conferences.


Toughest: Iowa State (Nov. 20), CBE Hall of Fame Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Kansas City, Mo.)
Next toughest: at Stanford (Nov. 11), vs. UMass (Dec. 7 in Springfield, Mass.), at Oregon (Dec. 21)
The rest: Weber State (Nov. 8), Mount St. Mary's (Nov. 15), vs. Utah State (Nov. 30 in Salt Lake City), North Texas (Dec. 3), Prairie View A&M (Dec. 11), Utah (Dec. 14)

Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- With Tyler Haws back, BYU could steal the WCC crown from Gonzaga. The Cougars certainly will be prepared for the task. A home game against the Cyclones will be an early test for the program. The pot of gold in the Hall of Fame Classic could be a matchup against Final Four participant Wichita State (if BYU gets past Texas). Games against UMass and Oregon in December could be the kind of matchups that pull Dave Rose's team off the bubble on Selection Sunday, if they're successful.


Toughest: at North Carolina State (Nov. 26)
Next toughest: at Nebraska (Nov. 8), Iona (Dec. 1)
The rest: Hartford (Nov. 12), at Furman (Nov. 15), Eckerd (Nov. 18), Ave Maria (Nov. 23), at FIU (Dec. 7), Samford (Dec. 14), at South Florida (Dec. 17), at Mississippi State (Dec. 19), Las Vegas Classic (Dec. 22-23)

Toughness scale (1-10): 3 -- Florida Gulf Coast's athleticism and acrobatics enhanced the NCAA tournament experience for everyone, as "Dunk City" became a national slogan. Well, FGCU's nonconference slate belies its playmaking ability. The Eagles' toughest matchups should be road games against a Nebraska team that finished at the bottom of the Big Ten last season and an NC State squad that lost most of its impact players. The trip to Vegas yields games against Florida A&M and either Radford or Sacred Heart. And it gets worse. You'll have to Google "Eckerd" and "Ave Maria." The dunks can't make up for this disappointing schedule.


Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27), at West Virginia (Dec. 10), at Memphis (Feb. 8)
Next toughest: vs. Kansas State (Dec. 21 in Wichita, Kan.)
The rest: Bryant (Nov. 9), Colorado State (Nov. 11), Oakland (Nov. 17), Washington State (Nov. 21), Coppin State (Dec. 1), New Mexico State (Dec. 7), vs. South Alabama (Dec. 14 in Seattle)

Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- The Zags must recover from the loss of talented frontcourt duo Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk. But they're still talented enough to maintain their reign in the WCC. There will be little doubt if they succeed in the Maui Invitational. Matchups against Baylor and Syracuse could follow Gonzaga's opening round game against Dayton. A loaded Memphis squad could be a problem for the Bulldogs in February. Kansas State is less interesting because Angel Rodriguez and others transferred this offseason. The potential at the Maui Invite boosts this slate, however, especially because there's a strong chance we'll see those matchups.


Toughest: at Colorado (Nov. 24), at UConn (Jan. 8)
Next toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 28-30), Boston College (Jan. 1)
The rest: vs. Holy Cross (Nov. 10 in Boston), MIT (Nov. 12), Howard (Nov. 15), Bryant (Nov. 20), at Northeastern (Dec. 4), at Boston University (Dec. 7), Vermont (Dec. 21), at Fordham (Dec. 28), at Rice (Jan. 4), at Florida Atlantic (Jan. 21)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- Tommy Amaker has one of the best rosters in Harvard history. He has the key players from last season's NCAA tourney squad. Plus, Brandyn Curry and Kyle Casey are returning from last season's suspensions. We'll know more about the program's ceiling after it travels to Boulder to face Tad Boyle's talented Colorado squad. Harvard will encounter one of America's best backcourts when it goes to UConn in January. Not much beyond that. The Great Alaska Shootout features one of the weakest holiday tournament fields in the country. Nothing else in this lineup that would really interest the selection committee.


Toughest: at Notre Dame (Nov. 17), at Saint Louis (Dec. 18)
Next toughest: Great Alaska Shootout (Nov. 27-30)
The rest: Ball State (Nov. 9), at Belmont (Nov. 14), Truman State (Nov. 22), at Eastern Illinois (Dec. 7), at Missouri-Kansas City (Dec. 14), IUPUI (Dec. 21), Belmont (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- The Sycamores are Wichita State's biggest challenger in the Missouri Valley Conference now that Creighton has moved on to the new Big East. Jake Odum and three other starters return. They'll have to get comfortable off campus. Road matchups against Notre Dame and Saint Louis will be their toughest nonconference games. The Sycamores play five true road games before MVC play begins, and that does not include the Great Alaska Shootout. The latter features a subpar field, but Indiana State could get Harvard in the title game at least. The program might regret two nonconference meetings with Belmont once Selection Sunday arrives.


Toughest: at Kansas (Nov. 19)
Next toughest: at Florida Gulf Coast (Dec. 1), at Dayton (Dec. 19)
The rest: at Cleveland State (Nov. 9), Wofford (Nov. 16), George Mason (Nov. 23), St. Bonaventure (Dec. 14), at Nevada (Dec. 22), at Northern Iowa (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Tim Cluess' program has reached the NCAA tournament in back-to-back seasons. And despite losing Momo Jones, the Gaels could return. Most of their starters from last season are back. Their nonconference slate, however, features few opportunities to boost their at-large resume. They'll play Andrew Wiggins and Kansas in Lawrence in November. George Mason, Florida Gulf Coast and Northern Iowa are all matchups they could lose. But even if they win all three, they'll probably need more quality wins to get some help on Selection Sunday.


Toughest: at Arizona (Nov. 11), Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-24), Creighton (Dec. 3)
Next toughest: at Kansas State (Nov. 17), at Washington (Nov. 30), at NC State (Dec. 7), at Missouri (Jan. 4)
The rest: Hawaii-Pacific (Nov. 9), Loyola Marymount (Nov. 14), USC (Dec. 19), Montana State-Billings (Dec. 21), at Nevada (Dec. 28)

Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Dan Monson's program dismissed standouts Kaela King and Tony Freeland in the offseason. But the 49ers still can win the Big West, especially with former UCLA guard Tyler Lamb becoming eligible after the first semester. They'll need everyone to step up to deal with this strenuous nonconference schedule. The program will face national title contender Arizona on the road in early November. The 49ers open the Puerto Rico Tip-Off with a matchup against Michigan, another national title contender. The tourney also includes VCU and Georgetown. Big East title favorite Creighton travels to the West Coast for a matchup in early December. The slate ends with a matchup against Missouri in Columbia. Now that is a nonconference schedule.


Toughest: vs. Oklahoma State (Dec. 14 in Oklahoma City)
Next toughest: at Saint Mary's (Nov. 8), at Oklahoma (Dec. 30)
The rest: Centenary (Nov. 13), Central Arkansas (Nov. 20), Gulf Coast Showcase in Naples, Fla. (Nov. 25-27), at Jackson State (Dec. 1), UL-Lafayette (Dec. 4), Southern (Dec. 7), Northwestern State (Dec. 11), McNeese State (Dec. 17), at UL-Monroe (Dec. 22), Longwood (Jan. 4)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- Last season, Louisiana Tech won 27 games and cracked the AP's top 25 poll. The Bulldogs didn't reach the tournament, but they're still a potential favorite to win Conference USA in their inaugural season in the league. But they'll probably enter conference play with an inflated record. Their mid-December game against national title contender Oklahoma State is the only one that stands out. Road games against Saint Mary's and Oklahoma could be factors if Louisiana Tech is on the bubble at the end of the season. The Bulldogs' lack of quality nonconference wins hurt them last season. They at least have a shot at a few decent ones this season.


Toughest: at Ole Miss (Dec. 22)
Next toughest: at Texas (Nov. 8), at Oklahoma (Dec. 2)
The rest: Reinhardt (Nov. 13), Seton Hall (Nov. 16), at Evansville (Nov. 18), Johnson & Wales (North Carolina) (Nov. 20), Yale (Nov. 23), at Ohio (Nov. 26), at Valparaiso (Nov. 29), Denver (Dec. 7), Alcorn St. (Dec. 16), St. Andrews (Dec. 27)

Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- Mercer brings back four starters from a team that won the Atlantic Sun's regular-season crown in 2012-13. That's the good news. But it's usually a bad sign when you have to Google some of the names featured on a team's nonconference slate. Yes, Johnson & Wales is a real school. Yes, Mercer is playing a bunch of high majors, too. But they're only high majors in name as 2013-14 approaches. Ole Miss should be its toughest game and the Bears have had success against the SEC in recent years. Texas has lost everyone, and Oklahoma has to replenish, too. Those three teams are not expected to contend for the title in their respective conferences. And then, there's Johnson & Wales.


Toughest: at Boise State (Dec. 14), Diamond Head Classic (Dec. 22-25)
Next toughest: Louisiana Tech (Nov. 8)
The rest: Akron (Nov. 12), North Dakota State (Nov. 14), Drake (Nov. 16), Alcorn State (Nov. 24), Murray State (Nov. 30), Eastern Washington (Dec. 8), American University (Dec. 19)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- This is actually better than some recent Saint Mary's nonconference lineups. But it's still so-so, even for a Gaels program that must reboot after losing star Matthew Dellavedova. A road game against Mountain West title contender Boise State is probably Saint Mary's toughest game. The Gaels could see the Broncos again if they beat South Carolina in the opening round of the Diamond Head Classic. Iowa State might be waiting in the championship game. Louisiana Tech could win the Conference USA crown in its first season, so that November matchup should be meaningful. But the Gaels have just one true road game.


Toughest: at Florida (Nov. 18), at Arizona (Dec. 19)
Next toughest: at Marquette (Nov. 8), at Baylor (Dec. 22)
The rest:, at Middle Tennessee State (Nov. 10), Tulane (Nov. 13), at North Florida (Nov. 16), Arkansas-Little Rock (Nov. 22), Blue Mountain College (Nov. 25), at Denver (Dec. 3), at Louisiana Tech (Dec. 7), Dillard (Dec. 14), Champion Baptist College (Dec. 30)

Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- The squad that nearly upset No. 1 seed Gonzaga in the NCAA tournament last season is ready to play the role of David again. Southern, a team that returns star Malcolm Miller, could ruin a few nonconference seasons for some of the country's best teams. The Jaguars kick off the year at Marquette. They'll face Florida in Gainesville a few weeks later. Then, they have back-to-back road matchups against Arizona and Baylor in December. That November game against Blue Mountain College is actually an anomaly on this challenging nonconference schedule. You taking notes, SEC?


Toughest: at Saint Louis (Dec. 1), vs. Tennessee (Dec. 14 at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita, Kan.)
Next toughest: CBE Hall of Fame Classic (Nov. 25-26), at Alabama (Dec. 17)
The rest: Emporia State (Nov. 9), Western Kentucky (Nov. 12), at Tulsa (Nov. 20), Oral Roberts (Dec. 7), North Carolina Central (Dec. 22), Davidson (Dec. 29)

Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The Shockers have elevated expectations after last season's Final Four run. With so much talent returning, a trip to Arlington in April seems feasible. Wichita State will get an early test against reigning Atlantic 10 champ Saint Louis, and then it will host SEC sleeper Tennessee a few weeks later. The Vols beat the Shockers in Knoxville last season. They could face BYU if they beat DePaul in the first round of the Hall of Fame Classic. Games against Bama and Davidson shouldn't be overlooked, either. But this slate lacks the power players you'd like to see a Final Four team encounter prior to conference play.
Emmanuel Mudiay
Courtesy of Andrew ShurtleffSMU is keeping top local talent such as Emmanuel Mudiay at home.
1. SMU grabbed headlines in college basketball in late August. Stop and digest that for a moment. The commitment of Arlington (Texas) Prime Prep Academy point guard Emmanuel Mudiay to SMU was a significant development for the program and the fledgling American Athletic Conference. But it's not unique. This is exactly how a program becomes relevant when it has been dormant for so long. Programs that don't have a national following have to get local recruits when applicable. The Mustangs have now done this twice, landing Dallas' Keith Frazier for this season. Not all programs have a fertile recruiting area (such as Pitt). But those that do have to show they can take care of their own first before suddenly being reasonable for players outside the footprint. Schools such as Arizona and UConn didn't have the in-state talents to build a program (although Arizona changed its future by getting in-state prospect Sean Elliott early in Lute Olson's tenure). But schools where there is talent (Florida and Miami and countless other examples) had to land local talent at some point. SMU coach Larry Brown said last week the Mustangs were going to be a good, very good. The onus now will be on making sure the news of a commitment doesn't fade. The Mustangs have to win to bring a following to Moody Coliseum. Texas has historically been a poorly attended college basketball state. That won't change by local players staying home, but rather by winning games against higher-level competition.

2. The American has a high-level television deal with ESPN and now CBS. But the long-term success of this league has to come from the depth of talent. Louisville is gone after this season (as is Rutgers). Tulane, East Carolina and Tulsa enter in 2014-15. None of those programs would move the ratings meter or change the depth of NCAA bids at this juncture. That's why programs perceived to be below UConn, Memphis, Cincinnati and Temple must step up and be in play for bids. If SMU can be a fifth team in this group, that will be critical to the long-term solvency of the league. The league is never going to be conference of record in Florida (home to South Florida and Central Florida) or Louisiana (Tulane) or Oklahoma (Tulsa). The Big 12 is always going to dominate the state of Texas. But the American desperately needs SMU and Houston to be competing in the upper half so that in those two major cities where the Big 12 doesn't have a home team (TCU is in Fort Worth), the league has a chance to make a dent in the sporting coverage from mid-January to March (post-college football and after the NFL in February).

3. Lost amid the Mudiay commitment this week was the one Gonzaga landed in getting 2014 point guard Josh Perkins. Guard U, as the Zags have been called, got their future floor leader. He is being billed as one of the most physically gifted guards the Zags have recruited in Mark Few's tenure. And yet what the Perkins and Mudiay commitments show is that the discussion of marginalizing schools outside the power five is such foolish talk. Players want to go where they have a chance to be successful, play for established coaches, get on national television, be in the NCAA tournament, get to the NBA and at times play close to home. That can mean going to a host of Division I schools that are not in one of the power-five conferences. The Zags continue to be a program of record in the West and are as tough to beat for players they want as any other school west of the Mississippi.
So ESPN’s College GameDay slate for 2013-14 is a beast.

There’s nostalgia, a chance at history, a few classic rivalries and a couple of meetings that could determine the hierarchy in top conferences.

The schedule, released by ESPN on Wednesday morning, is a tantalizing one for college basketball fans.

This is a stacked card without any filler, beginning with the Jan. 18 kickoff featuring La Salle vs. Temple at the Palestra. It should be a strong opening for GameDay, which will position its high-tech gadgets and cameras throughout a building that was constructed in the 1920s for the Big 5 rivalries in Philly. Perfect blend of the past and present. And that’s what preserves this game’s traditions.

Also, Digger Phelps, who is now healthy after a battle with bladder cancer, will be back with Rece Davis, Jay Bilas and Jalen Rose to enjoy this travel schedule:

2014 College GameDay Schedule

Jan. 18: Morning Show – Temple vs. La Salle (The Palestra); Evening - Louisville at UConn

Jan. 25: Michigan at Michigan State

Feb. 1: Duke at Syracuse

Feb. 8: Gonzaga at Memphis

Feb. 15: Florida at Kentucky

Feb. 22: Two options: Arizona at Colorado OR UCLA at Stanford

March 1: Kansas at Oklahoma State

March 8: North Carolina at Duke

Well, where should we begin? Here are a few thoughts on the GameDay schedule …

-- I think the most interesting game on the slate is the one that could shatter an NCAA record. Syracuse-Duke on Feb. 1 in the Carrier Dome should be a great welcome party for the Orange in its inaugural year in the ACC. And if the prognosticators are correct, it could break a record for on-campus attendance – assuming officials finalize plans to move the court to the center of the dome for the matchup. Officials: Please make this happen. Thanks.

Syracuse’s matchup against Georgetown in February, the final Big East meeting between the two teams, established the current NCAA on-campus attendance record (35,012).

But this goes beyond history. Both squads could be ranked in the top 10 entering the 2013-14 season. Multiple NBA prospects will be on the floor, including C.J. Fair, Jerami Grant, Rasheed Sulaimon and Jabari Parker. And Coach K vs. Boeheim doesn’t hurt the matchup’s appeal.

-- There’s been a lot of offseason trash talk between Michigan and Michigan State fans. On Jan. 25, the two national title contenders will begin to settle things when they compete at the Breslin Center in East Lansing. The Wolverines reached last season’s national title game. Michigan State will return the bulk of its team from last season. On paper, they’re even, in my opinion. Can’t wait to see this war.

-- And defending national champ Louisville will get a slot in a game at Connecticut on Jan. 18, the second matchup of GameDay’s opening slate. It will also be Louisville’s first and last appearance as a member of the new American Athletic Conference, which will soon become its former league as it moves to the ACC in 2014.

-- Andrew Wiggins, are you ready for GameDay? The crew will be in Stillwater, Okla., March 1 for Kansas at Oklahoma State. If these two teams live up to the hype, this game could play a pivotal role in the Big 12 title race. Same for Florida at Kentucky on Feb. 1 in the SEC. Yes, the Wildcats have the best recruiting class in history. But the Gators could snatch the crown, especially if Chris Walker is eligible.

-- Gonzaga will attempt to boost its 2-5 record against Memphis when the teams meet on Feb. 8. This has turned into a fun series over the past decade and the basketball-rabid fans of Memphis will have the FedExForum roaring for GameDay.

-- Ah yes, and the slate ends with one of the greatest rivalries in sports, North Carolina at Duke on March 8.

College GameDay just dropped the mic.

Feel free to get excited.

Count 'Em Down: Tumbling Teams

July, 25, 2013
The following teams could tumble in 2013-14. Just so we’re clear: That potential “tumble” is based on last season’s position for every team listed. It doesn’t mean these squads will finish at the bottom of the standings, but I think they’ll fall in comparison to their respective peaks from last season.

Top 10 teams that will tumble in 2013-14:

10. Gonzaga: For the first time in school history, the Zags recorded a No. 1 ranking and a top seed in the Big Dance. Their early tournament exit ended their season on a sour note, but the program reached new heights in 2012-13. Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk comprised one of the toughest frontcourts in America. Harris (14.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG) was a rugged forward who had finesse and power. Olynyk (17.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG) was the best combo forward in America. He had an underrated post game too. The duo created matchup problems for every team they faced last season. And now both players are gone. Kevin Pangos and multiple members of a respectable backcourt are back, but that Olynyk-Harris combo was special. There’s still enough talent in Spokane to win the WCC and reach the NCAA tournament, but the Zags won’t be the national title contenders they appeared to be through the 2012-13 campaign.

9. Cincinnati: Coach Mick Cronin had one of the nation’s top backcourts last season. Now, two members of a trio that anchored his 22-win NCAA tournament team -- JaQuon Parker and Cashmere Wright -- are gone. Sean Kilpatrick, the team’s leading scorer, returns. But a Cincinnati squad that struggled with consistent scoring benefited from Parker’s and Wright’s ability to stretch the floor. Both shot better than 36 percent from behind the 3-point line. Kilpatrick could be a one-man show in 2013-14, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The toughest void for the Bearcats (14th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy) could be the defensive deficit created by the departure of Cheikh Mbodj (2.6 BPG). There are holes everywhere for this Bearcats squad.

8. Detroit: Ray McCallum Jr. turned down offers from powerhouse programs to play for his father, Ray McCallum Sr. With McCallum at point guard, Detroit reached the NCAA tournament in 2012 after the Titans won the Horizon League tournament. But he’s gone now. And he’s not the only key player that Detroit will miss. The Titans have lost their top four scorers from last season. Somehow, Detroit must find respectable offensive contributors who can make up for the loss of McCallum (18.7 PPG), Nick Minnerath (14.6 PPG), Jason Calliste (14.4 PPG) and Doug Anderson (12.1 PPG). McCallum could face his toughest season as a head coach in 2013-14.

7. San Diego State: It’s fair to say that San Diego State underachieved last season. The Aztecs finished in a tie for fourth in the stacked Mountain West Conference. Then they were stopped in the third round of the Big Dance by Florida Gulf Coast. Not a shameful showing, but their potential suggested that they had a higher ceiling. Well, that ceiling is lower now with the loss of four of the team’s top six scorers from last season. Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley were two of the Aztecs’ top defenders too. Franklin wasn’t the game’s most efficient player (3.4 TPG, 28 percent from the 3-point line), but he was the guy with the ball in his hands when the Aztecs needed a big play. Whom will they turn to next year? Steve Fisher seems to have more questions than answers right now.

6. Butler: Rotnei Clarke (16.9 PPG) and Andrew Smith (11.3 PPG) have moved on. That’s a challenge for the program because they formed a potent inside-outside combo. But Roosevelt Jones, Khyle Marshall and Kellen Dunham remain. So Butler can find buckets in 2013-14. The Bulldogs are on this list, however, because Brad Stevens will not be on the sideline next season. Brandon Miller has a strong pedigree. I don’t doubt his coaching acumen. But Stevens is making millions in the NBA because he has the rare ability to extract every ounce of talent from his players. At Butler, they were devoted to him and his system. That combination of buy-in and strategy led to amazing highs in recent years. Even though Miller is in the Butler family, this is still a transition. And it’s a transition without the mastermind who made Butler a household name. The Bulldogs may fall before they establish their footing under Miller.

5. Georgetown: First, Otto Porter turned pro. Then Greg Whittington tore an ACL, jeopardizing his status for next season. Yes, three starters from last season's squad return, and former UCLA standout Josh Smith will join the team at midseason. And that helps. Markel Starks' presence is a major boost for the program too. But who will create offensive opportunities for a team that registered just 64.6 PPG (247th nationally) with a lottery pick running the show? That number doesn’t tell the full story of Georgetown basketball in 2012-13. The Hoyas were fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. But Porter’s versatility eased the defensive responsibilities of his teammates. With a healthy Whittington, however, the latter will be a minimal concern for John Thompson III’s program. But there’s no guarantee that Whittington will be ready in time to help Georgetown in 2013-14. And that’s a problem.

4. Indiana: Yogi Ferrell is back. That’s the good news for Tom Crean. The bad news? Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo are in the NBA. Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls are gone too. Although Indiana entered last season as a preseason pick by many to win the national title, similar hype will not follow the Hoosiers into the 2013-14 season. They have three top-100 kids, including five-star recruit Noah Vonleh, in their incoming class. And multiple players who contributed in spurts last season will earn more minutes. So there’s enough talent in Bloomington to register another NCAA tournament bid. But the Hoosiers were the No. 1 team in America in multiple stretches last season. I can’t imagine the young program rivaling that effort next season.

3. Temple: Remember when Khalif Wyatt dropped 31 points in Temple’s win over NC State in the NCAA tournament? Remember when he did it again versus Indiana two days later? Wyatt’s offensive explosiveness helped Temple beat teams that were more talented than the Owls last season. He scored 33 points in his team’s win over Syracuse in December. He recorded 30 points when the Owls defeated VCU in early March. Now, Wyatt and sidekick Scootie Randall have left the stage. That’s a combined average of 31.8 PPG, 2.7 SPG and 6.1 APG.

2. Minnesota: Can a team that went 8-10 in the Big Ten tumble? Yep, especially if that team is implementing a new system with a limited talent pool. Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins could be all-Big Ten performers next season, but the void created when Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams exhausted their eligibility will be a challenge for new coach Richard Pitino. Plus, Joe Coleman transferred from a team that reached the Big Dance and beat UCLA in the second round. Pitino’s fast-paced, pressure system could work in the Big Ten, but he needs the right pieces to make that happen. He just doesn’t appear to have them yet.

1. Miami: Last season, Miami had it all. The hoopla that followed the surging Hurricanes included courtside appearances by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. It was a great ride for the program. But a new reality will soon take hold as Miami coach Jim Larranaga attempts to replace Shane Larkin, Julian Gamble, Kenny Kadji, Reggie Johnson, Trey McKinney Jones and Durand Scott. Those veterans were responsible for one of the ACC’s and the nation’s top defensive attacks (28th in adjusted defensive efficiency per His rebuilding effort will commence in a league that will add Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame next season. Hard times ahead for the Hurricanes.
1. Not all redshirt transfers are created equally at Gonzaga. And that's why it would be unfair to expect Kyle Wiltjer to come back as thick and strong as Kelly Olynyk -- an All-American and the No. 13 pick in the NBA draft -- after Wiljter redshirts next season. "The similarities are the size and skill package and feel for the game," said Gonzaga coach Mark Few. "Both came to the conclusion part way through their careers that they needed to make a change in what they were doing.'' Wiltjer transferred from Kentucky after his sophomore season and will sit as a third-year player. Olynyk played two seasons at Gonzaga and then sat out one before playing again as a fourth-year junior. "But they're going to be different. Now it's our job to provide the means and guidance. Hopefully for both parties, Kyle will reap the rewards of making this change and putting in the hard work and hopefully Gonzaga will too,'' Few said. Wiltjer has the advantage of playing with Zag Kevin Pangos on the World University Games Canadian team in Kazan, Russia. So the teammates won't be all foreign. But it's clear Wiltjer needs to get stronger and improve his back-to-the-basket game just like Olynyk needed to do when he sat two years ago. The Zags had two players sitting out last season -- Providence's Gerard Coleman and Louisville's Angel Nunez. Coleman will be eligible to play in the fall while Nunez has to wait until December. But the expectations for the redshirt year to turn a player into an all-American weren't there with these two like it was with Olynyk and will be with Wiltjer. "It all comes down to the guy being properly motivated,'' said Few. "How willing is the guy to really, really make this all about him to get better for a year?'' That's what Gonzaga will find out about Wiltjer next season.

2. Georgia Tech coach Brian Gregory said he is confident Tennessee transfer Trae Golden can get eligible immediately. Gregory said as important as when he will play, is what he brings to the program next season. "He adds value to our team because he brings experience,'' said Gregory, whose Yellow Jackets need to start climbing upward in the 15-team ACC. "Currently he's the only perimeter player who has more than one year of playing experience and proven scoring ability. In this league, you need high quality guards and multiple ball handlers who can handle pressure, score and create. Trae's versatility should help address that need.''

3. USA Basketball is capitalizing on the fantasy camp marketplace this week by hosting a three-day $7,500 adult basketball camp with all-star coaches. The camp coincides with USA basketball's minicamp in Las Vegas and the coaches participating are a who's who from college basketball. According to the USA Basketball website, Syracuse's Jim Boeheim, Kentucky's John Calipari, Florida's Billy Donovan, Gonzaga's Mark Few, Villanova's Jay Wright, Miami's Jim Larranaga, Washington's Lorenzo Romar and Grand Canyon's Dan Majerle are the coaches with former college and NBA coach and current ESPN analyst P.J. Carlesimo serving as camp director. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has a highly successful adult fantasy basketball camp and other coaches are getting into the mix as well. There is a market out there for this and USA basketball has found its spot to potentially get a piece as well. The camp does cut into a few days of the last recruiting period, but with the camp in Las Vegas the college coaches can simply stay in the city and evaluate at the various high school tournaments.

Bracket reveal: Maui Invitational

July, 17, 2013
Editor's note: Over two days, we're releasing the brackets/matchups for 11 of the top early-season events. A thread of previews and info for all 11 tourneys can be found here.

Tournament bracket for the EA Sports Maui Invitational

When and where: Nov. 25-27 at the Lahaina Civic Center in Maui, Hawaii

Initial thoughts: The 2012 EA Sports Maui Invitational will be tough to top.

Chaminade’s stunning annihilation of Texas ... Rotnei Clarke’s buzzer-beater to lift Butler past Marquette ... North Carolina’s uncharacteristic display of mediocrity ... Illinois players hoisting the championship trophy after winning three games by an average of 23.3 points. Each game brought a new storyline.

This year’s event could provide similar drama. Although there is only one preseason top-10 team (Syracuse) in the bracket, the 2013 field is far from weak. Gonzaga spent time as the nation’s No. 1 team last season, Cal and Minnesota made the NCAA tournament, and Baylor won the NIT championship.

Each of those teams (with Baylor being the possible exception) should take a small step back this season, but all of them will still be solid and contend for NCAA tournament berths. In other words, there’s not a dud in this bunch, which leads me to believe that almost every game in this year’s event will be entertaining and competitive.

[+] EnlargeAndre Hollins
Kevin Jairaj/US PresswireMinnesota will be counting on Andre Hollins to provide a scoring punch again this season.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: Minnesota vs. Syracuse. Event organizers couldn’t ask for anything better than a first-round game pitting two of the biggest names in coaching: Pitino and Boeheim. Ha-ha. Gotcha. This isn’t Hall of Famer Rick Pitino we’re talking about. Instead it’ll be his son, Richard, coaching for Minnesota against Jim Boeheim’s Orange. Richard is in his first season with the Gophers after being plucked from Florida International to replace Tubby Smith. Minnesota lost two of its best players (forwards Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams) to graduation, but guards Austin Hollins and Andre Hollins return in the backcourt and may be able to make this game competitive, especially since Syracuse is replacing a few key parts as well.

Potential matchup I’d like to see: Baylor vs. Gonzaga. Baylor shouldn’t have any problems beating Chaminade in the opening round and advancing to the semifinals against either Gonzaga or Dayton. The Flyers are always pesky, but I still think Gonzaga wins that game. Baylor and Gonzaga have faced off in two of the past three seasons, with Gonzaga winning both times by single digits. But I’d pick the Bears in this one. The Zags lost their top two post players (Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris), and Baylor’s strength is in the paint with Cory Jefferson, Isaiah Austin, Ricardo Gathers, Taurean Prince and Royce O’Neale. Gonzaga boasts one of the country’s top point guards in Kevin Pangos while Baylor is searching for a replacement at that position following the graduation of Big 12 scoring leader Pierre Jackson. Still, Baylor’s overall depth in the backcourt is strong with experienced players such as Brady Heslip and Gary Franklin there to guide newcomers like Ishmail Wainright, Kenny Chery and Allerik Freeman.

Five players to watch

Justin Cobbs, Cal: Transfers are hit and miss, but things couldn’t have worked out any better when Cobbs left Minnesota for Cal a few years ago. The athletic guard averaged 15.1 points and 4.8 assists a game as a junior last season. He’ll be asked to do even more following the departure of leading scorer Allen Crabbe to the NBA.

Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Returning standouts C.J. Fair and Jerami Grant are more recognizable names, but no player in the Maui Invitational will be under as much scrutiny as Ennis, the freshman point guard who has been tabbed to replace NBA lottery pick Michael Carter-Williams. How Syracuse fares in the ACC and, ultimately, the postseason will depend heavily on how Ennis performs in his first season of college basketball.

Andre Hollins, Minnesota: Hollins led the Gophers in scoring last season with 14.6 points per game. His 41-point effort in a victory over Memphis in the Battle 4 Atlantis was one of the top performances in college basketball all season. He should combine with Austin Hollins (no relation) to give Minnesota one of the more formidable backcourts in the Maui field. The biggest issue for the Gophers will be finding scoring down low.

Cory Jefferson, Baylor: The Bears power forward is fresh off a breakthrough season in which he averaged 13.3 points and eight rebounds a game. Jefferson was particularly effective in the postseason, when he averaged 21.2 points over a five-game stretch to lead Baylor to the NIT championship. The freakishly athletic Jefferson will combine with the 7-foot Austin and a bruiser in Gathers to give Baylor one of the nation’s top frontcourts.

Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga: A point guard, Pangos ranked third on the Zags in scoring last season with 11.9 points per game and averaged a team-high 3.3 assists. He shot just 42 percent from the field, a number that will need to increase this season. The loss of leading scorers Olynyk and Harris (who combined to average 32.4 PPG) means that Pangos will likely be asked to score at a higher rate.

Title game prediction: Syracuse over Baylor

Baylor has the size, depth, talent and experience to hang with Syracuse, and winning the championship of such an elite tournament would be a huge momentum boost for a squad loaded with potential. Syracuse, though, is an incredibly difficult team to prepare for on short notice because of its unorthodox style. Even though they lost Carter-Williams, James Southerland and Brandon Triche, the Orange aren’t short on experience, depth or talent either. Fair averaged a team-high 14.5 points and seven rebounds a game for a team that reached the Final Four last spring. Grant showed flashes of brilliance when his minutes increased during Southerland’s suspension, and DaJuan Coleman, Rakeem Christmas and Baye Keita are poised for breakthrough seasons. They’ve proved they can excel at the highest level. Look for Syracuse to win an entertaining championship game.

Who others are picking:

Eamonn Brennan: Baylor over Syracuse
Jeff Goodman: Gonzaga over Syracuse
Andy Katz: Syracuse over Gonzaga
Myron Medcalf: Syracuse over Baylor
Dana O'Neil: Syracuse over Baylor
In 1985, Philadelphia Inquirer photographer Tom Gralish won a Pulitzer Prize for his photo essay on the Philadelphia homeless. Gralish's work, composed in black and white, was stark and haunting, but for different reasons than you might expect. Not once in the piece were his subjects treated as victims. Instead, the panhandlers were funny, boisterous, defiant and philosophical. They found romance in rootlessness; they felt purity in survival. As Gralish would later say: "They saw themselves as the last free men."

It strikes me, as we head into the home stretch of our Realignment Reality week, that college basketball fans could relate. (Stay with me.)

We fans like to think of sports as essentially pure, free from the messy and confusing nature of day-to-day life, a world apart from the distressing politics and economics that dominate our lives from birth until death. They are not. They are as beholden to money as anything else. If the past three years of conference realignment have taught us anything, it is this: When the fight card pits nostalgia versus cash, cash always wins in a knockout.

Once you can wrap your head around this fact, it's a lot easier to shrug at the casual manner in which realignment has gutted some of the most enjoyable, most heated, most psychologically-invested rivalries of the past 50 years. Money always wins.

Beyond spending as much time as possible watching the actual basketball itself -- my favorite remedy for just about everything, with the possible exception of "The Big Lebowski" -- the best we can do, I'd wager, is to try to look on the bright side. There are always new rivalries to be formed.

In that spirit, let's see if we can scout out a few worth watching in the years to come:

Duke vs. Syracuse

This one is awesome enough on its face: Duke and Syracuse are both really good at basketball. Now that they're in the same league, they're guaranteed to play at least once a season, and any combination of familiarity and excellence is a guarantee to produce healthy, thrilling distaste.

There's much more to it than that. Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is the winningest coach in the history of college hoops. Syracuse's Jim Boeheim ranks No. 2. The men are friends, frequent USA Basketball colleagues, cheap dinner companions, and fellow enthusiasts of acerbic wit. But they are also obsessive competitors, and you can bet that for however long both of them have the chance to coach against each other in the coming years -- Boeheim is 68, Coach K 66 -- there will be a little something extra on the line.

The men might be similar, but the schools are vastly different. Syracuse is a private research institution that nonetheless feels like a state school,* and plays its hoops in a cavernous football arena; Duke is an elite private institution with the world's best boutique gym. Syracuse feels (from afar, at least) tightly woven into the culture of the community around it; Duke's looming Gothic facades might as well be Hogwarts. About 40 percent of Syracuse's 2010 class hailed from New York state; roughly 90 percent of Duke students come from somewhere that isn't North Carolina. These are the kinds of sociocultural and perceptual differences that breed hatred beyond basketball. They are fuel for the rivalry flame.

There is also the matter of regional rivalry. That seems weird to say, given that one school is 45 minutes from the Canadian border and the other is 350 miles south of the Mason-Dixon Line. But there is a reason Duke is sure to schedule at least one nonconference game in the New York/New Jersey area every season: There are a lot of Blue Devils alumni in the Northeast. In the past five years, Syracuse has made a concerted effort to market itself as "New York's college team."

If it were just as simple as "two really good programs suddenly in the same conference," then we could just as easily look forward to the North Carolina-Syracuse rivalry. But a great rivalry has to be about much more than that. Duke-Syracuse has all the makings.

Memphis vs. Cincinnati

Another benefit to conference realignment: rivalries reborn! The Millennials among us might not remember it too well (OK, guilty as charged), but in 1991-92 Memphis and Cincinnati joined UAB, DePaul, Marquette and Saint Louis as charter members of the Great Midwest Conference. (That's just a a fantastic name, by the way. I've been giving the new American Athletic Conference a tough time lately, but the more I think about it, the more I've come to believe that pretty much any conference nomenclature sounds completely silly if you think about it for longer than five seconds.) The six-member GMC was short-lived; it merged with the Metro Conference in 1995, which both Memphis and Cincinnati had left in the first place, to form Conference USA. Ah, realignment. Never change.

Anyway, it was in the early '90s, in the GMC, when Memphis and Cincinnati managed to pack in some truly rivalry-worthy stuff. In 1991-92 the Tigers, led by Anfernee Hardaway and David Vaughn, met the Bearcats in the inaugural GMC tournament and again during their thrilling Elite Eight run, losing to a sublime Nick Van Exel both times. Hardaway and Van Exel met again in 1993, when Memphis upset the No. 4-ranked Bearcats 68-66 to notch the program's 1,000th win. The fact that there is no video of this game on the Internet is a shocking crime against humanity. In 1995, Memphis clinched the final GMC regular-season title over the Bearcats (thanks to 33 points from Michael Williams) on the road, and the rivalry continued on into Conference USA.

If you think either of those basketball-obsessed cities forgot about any of that, you'd be wrong. That bodes well for the future, by the way: Memphis and Cincinnati are large metropolitan areas that, despite having professional sports franchises, nonetheless eat, breathe and sleep college hoops.

Memphis vs. Louisville

OK, so this doesn't really count: The return of the Memphis-Louisville rivalry -- exponentially more heated than Memphis-Cincinnati -- will last just one year in the American before Louisville sets off for the ACC. But I had to mention it anyway, because before we all wept for Kansas-Missouri and Syracuse-Georgetown, the Cardinals' departure from C-USA last decade put a hold on a blood feud dating back to 1967. Fortunately, these two teams put each other on their nonconference schedules the last couple of seasons, and it's likely we'll see that again going forward. But still, it will be fun to add a little intraconference hatred to the mix.

UCF vs. South Florida

Neither of these programs are likely to excite basketball fans individually. Historically, neither has been very good, or even all that concerned with trying to be good, at this funky roundball thing. Maybe that's just a fact of life. But the new American Conference configuration should keep them both in the same digs for a while to come. Here's hoping that the rise of collegiate basketball in Florida in the past decade, the inherent regional familiarity and state-school ties, and the massive student bodies (nearly 110,000 enrollees between them) make for an increased focus on the basketball side of things -- and, as a result, increased success.

Butler vs. Xavier

This one isn't totally new -- the Bulldogs did enjoy a one-year stopover in the Atlantic 10 before both teams jumped to the new Big East this summer -- but it has the potential to be awfully good. For one, there is a bit of shared coaching history: Ohio State coach Thad Matta left Butler in 2000 to move to Xavier, and his eventual successors (new Boston Celtics coach Brad Stevens, Arizona coach Sean Miller) moved on to become immensely successful in their own right. They really are natural enemies. Alongside Gonzaga and Memphis, Butler and Xavier are the marquee non-Power Six programs of the past decade, and they're poised just a couple of hours apart on I-74. Now both affiliated with something that looks like a power conference if you squint hard enough, they will no doubt be prospecting in many of the same talent-rich areas of Indiana. This could be a thing.

Pittsburgh vs. Virginia

Pittsburgh and West Virginia don't exactly get along. Never have. Why not extend that to West Virginia's eastern cousin? Sure, the geographic intensity might not be as immediate -- Morgantown sits just south of the Pennsylvania border, while Charlottesville is a five-hour drive -- but with Pittsburgh such a consistent hoops force, and UVa on the rise under Tony Bennett, who's to say what the relationship might become? At the very least, the slow-paced Cavaliers look best poised to prevent Pitt from totally grinding an otherwise finesse-first ACC on the glass in seasons to come.

Oakland vs. Detroit

Oakland's move from the Summit League to the Horizon is a step up in general, but it also lays the groundwork for a sneaky-fun city-suburbs dispute in the greater Detroit area.

Pacific vs. Saint Mary's and/or Gonzaga

Think it's going to be tough for Butler to move to the Big East without Brad Stevens? Imagine being Pacific, which just waved farewell to the greatest coach in its history (and one of the sport's most annually underrated), 25-year veteran Bob Thomason, on the eve of a move from the Big West to the West Coast Conference. The good news? If Pacific can rise a notch or two to the level of its best WCC competition, it will be not only a perfect fit for the WCC, but also an excellent candidate to form rivalries with Saint Mary's to its west and Gonzaga to its north.

It might be a stretch, but that's the case with a few of the entries on this list. But hey, if conference realignment can toss rivalries aside so easily, who's to say new ones can't grow just as rapidly in their wake? Let's hope so, anyway.

[*Correction: An earlier version of this post described Syracuse as a state school, not a private institution. My mistake. -- EB]