College Basketball Nation: Jamie Dixon


Does “clutch” exist?

Most advanced statisticians say no. Time and again, when the data is compiled and collated, the numbers tell us that in “clutch” situations, most players perform roughly as well as at any other point in the game. Sometimes, the players we know are clutch — Kobe Bryant is the most notable example — are even worse than normal. Science tells us no, clutch isn’t a thing. But then how do you explain Tyler Ennis?

Here’s another question: Was Syracuse supposed to beat Pittsburgh on Wednesday night?

The Orange trailed the entire game — they were never behind by more than a bucket or two, sure, but they were never in command, either. They were outrebounded by huge ratios on both ends of the floor. The offense was frequently stagnant.

In the closing moments, they traded toe-to-toe go-ahead free throws, but they were on the wrong side of that exchange with four seconds and zero timeouts and the ball out of bounds on their own baseline. The only shot they could get was a 35-foot heave from their freshman point guard as the buzzer expired. You’re not supposed to win that game, are you?

[+] EnlargeTyler Ennis
Justin Berl/Icon SMISyracuse freshman point guard Tyler Ennis is proving to be practically unstoppable with the game on the line.
Maybe you are, maybe you’re not, but you don’t get to be 24-0 without the wind at your back. Sometimes, the coin flips your direction a few times in a row. Sometimes “supposed to” has nothing to do with it.

Sometimes, clutch does exist.

Yes, folks, Syracuse is 24-0, still rolling, still discovering new and more nail-biting ways to win games, still unbeaten two full weeks into February. The latest escape, a 58-56 win at Pittsburgh, came courtesy of Ennis — who else? — who recused the Orange from a hard-fought first loss of the season with a stunning 35-foot 3-pointer at the buzzer.

How does this keep happening? Ennis didn’t just make the game-winner, after all; he cooly knocked down two free throws a possession earlier to put the Orange ahead for the first time. It was only after Pitt forward Talib Zanna repaid the favor on the other end that some truly silly last-second heroics were required.

But that’s what Ennis has done all season. According to ESPN Stats and Info — and these are crazy numbers, so it’s probably best to be seated — in one-possession games in the final five minutes of regulation and overtime games this season, Ennis is 8-of-9 from the field and 14-of-14 from the free throw line with six assists and zero turnovers. On “game-tying or go-ahead plays,” he is 4-of-4 from the field and 8-of-8 from the line. Against Duke, he made the free throws that would have sealed the game in regulation, before Rasheed Sulaimon’s buzzer-beating 3. In overtime of that game, he went 4-of-4 from the stripe.

Most NBA veterans don’t have this gift of self-assured cool. Ennis is a freshman in college.

That said, chalking it all up to Ennis’ brilliance would do the rest of the Orange a disservice, just as claiming Syracuse didn’t deserve to win Wednesday would belie the strength of their performance, and their opponent’s.

Pitt won the interior battle against one of the longest, toughest teams in the country. It grabbed 47 percent of its own misses and 76 percent of Syracuse’s, and it blocked 25 percent of available shots on its own end. Syracuse was held to just three second-chance points. Save their two meetings with Pitt, the Orange have scored at least eight in every other game this season.

On offense, the Panthers poked and prodded the Syracuse zone with relative efficiency, using Lamar Patterson’s brilliant feel (and years of Big East experience) to break down the middle of the zone. The final Pitt free throws happened exactly that way — Patterson got the ball into the middle of the lane and dropped off a little pass to Zanna, who drew the foul. It was hardly the first time that strategy worked Wednesday night. Zanna finished with 16 points and 14 rebounds, Patterson with 14 points, four rebounds and four assists.

[+] EnlargeTyler Ennis
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsEnnis had made only one field goal in the second half before his buzzer-beater.
But Syracuse, despite trailing for so much of the game, was better in nearly every other area. The Orange shot the ball better, at least when it wasn’t being blocked, including 6-of-14 from 3-point range. (Trevor Cooney was 3-of-8, and his biggest of the night tied the game at 45 with 6:54 to play.) They got to the free-throw line more often. They turned the ball over on just 15 percent of their possessions, while forcing Pittsburgh to cough it up 21 percent of the time — swarming, stifling stuff that kept the game within reach throughout the second half. Patterson got his 14 points, sure, but he needed 16 shots to do it.

All of which made it possible for Ennis to do his thing at the end. Which he promptly did.

It’s hard to overstate how disappointing the loss is for Pittsburgh. On the one hand, there’s no shame in losing to Syracuse. On the other hand, after playing the Orange close on the road early in the year, after home losses (the latter a similar heartbreaker) to Duke and Virginia two weeks ago, and after near-upsets to Miami and Virginia Tech on the road in the past seven days, Dixon’s struggling team had a victory over the top team in the country right in its grasp.

One might conclude that paragraph by saying Pitt let the game “slip away.” That Pitt should have won, that Syracuse should have lost. That this was the night Ennis’s unmistakable clutchness would fall in line with scientific understanding. That Wednesday night the Orange were finally supposed to lose.

Instead, Ennis kept making everything, from free throws to last-second 35-foot floaters, with the clock ticking down and the game on the line. And Boeheim’s team kept winning.

How better to describe the 24-0 Syracuse Orange? “Supposed to” does not apply.

Jamie Dixon, star of stage and screen

September, 30, 2013
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Is it the college basketball preseason yet?

Why I am even asking this question? Because in 2013, for the first time ever, the NCAA's date before which teams cannot participate in full practice was moved two weeks up the calendar -- technically, it began Friday. Some teams celebrated their Midnight Madness events this weekend, but many more have chosen to wait. And so the big, all-encompassing Midnight Madness explosion we grew so fond of in the past has been replaced by a slow, excruciating trickle. If the rule change didn't make so much obvious sense, I would probably be a little sad.

The upside, of course, is that the new Midnight Madness landscape doesn't preclude America's college basketball coaches from participating in a tradition unlike any other: dressing up as a ridiculous cultural reference in the hopes of making college kids laugh.

On Saturday morning, at Pittsburgh's "Morning Madness" -- scheduled to precede the Pitt football tailgate -- coach Jamie Dixon kicked off the fun. And by "kicked off the fun," I mean he donned the garb of a person named "Uncle Si," from a reality television show about a colorful group of people who made tons of money selling duck calls. Yes, Dixon a character from "Duck Dynasty." He even did the accent and everything.

All told, according to Pittsburgh, more than 4,000 people showed up for the event, which, as you can see above, also included quirky introductions, slam dunks, trivia, and more slam dunks. All in all, it appears to have been a massive success. And Pitt has an ace up its sleeve when it comes to costumed coaches: Dixon "appeared and performed in a variety of commercials" as a kid in Southern California, and "is a card-carrying member of the Screen Actors Guild," according to a school release. "Uncle Si" appears to have been a method performance. Impressive stuff.

All of which is to say: Your move, Izzo.

Jamie Dixon breaks down Final Four teams

April, 1, 2013
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Pitt coach Jamie Dixon knows this Final Four exceptionally well.

He played all four teams. He beat only one -- Syracuse in Pittsburgh -- and lost to all four.

Still, he had to scout, dissect and digest all that each team had to offer.

Click here to read Dixon's predictions.

Podcast: Dakich, Dixon and Ollie

March, 11, 2013
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Andy Katz and Seth Greenberg break down the Big Ten with Dan Dakich and the Big East with Jamie Dixon. Plus, Kevin Ollie talks about coaching UConn without a postseason.
Four teams -- DePaul, Rutgers, Seton Hall and South Florida -- have guaranteed themselves Tuesday games in the Big East tournament. Nothing else is quite settled, though Georgetown is making a good case to think about closing the books. One case that has been closed -- Otto Porter Jr. is the league player of the year. There is no other candidate. He had 33 in the Hoyas’ win at Syracuse, 22 and the game winner at Connecticut and is, quite literally, in a league of his own.

1. Georgetown. While the rest of the top 25 spent the week losing on the road, the Hoyas kept winning. Georgetown did not close the Carrier Dome, but it walked out for the last time against its Big East rival with a victory and then followed it up with an impressive double-OT victory at Connecticut. Heading into the home stretch, the Hoyas have won 10 in a row and are the team to beat.

2. Louisville. No one is talking much about the Cardinals these days. That might change after this weekend, when Louisville heads to the Carrier Dome to face Syracuse. The Cards have won seven of their past eight -- the lone loss to Notre Dame in five overtimes -- but also have feasted on teams they should frankly beat. The stakes are higher from here out, with the Orange followed by a desperate Cincinnati team and the Irish once more.

3. Marquette. Buzz Williams is tired of hearing that his team works hard. Fine. It plays really hard, too. It is neither an insult to the Golden Eagles' talent nor a slap to their methods to say they are a blue-collar team. It's a fact. Williams doesn’t often get the stud recruits, but he builds top players, and that is what’s happening with this team. Marquette has won three of four and remains very much in play for the Big East regular-season title.

4. Syracuse. If Jim Boeheim is lashing out at the media (again) you can bet the Orange are having some troubles. Whether it’s a masterful distraction tactic or mere frustration, it’s also telling when Boeheim goes on a postgame rant. He did it again this week after Syracuse lost to Marquette on the heels of its loss to Georgetown in front of 35,012 Orange fans. Syracuse can still win this thing but the road isn’t easy -- with DePaul sandwiched between a home game against Louisville and a road game at Georgetown.

5. Notre Dame. The Irish’s defense continues to work its mastery, limiting Cincinnati to just 41 points after holding Pittsburgh to 42. Notre Dame’s methods may not be aesthetically pleasing, but they're working, as the Irish have won four of their past five and seven of their past nine heading into what should be an interesting game at Marquette.

6. Pittsburgh. Don’t count the Panthers out just yet. After backsliding against Marquette and Notre Dame, Pitt regrouped nicely to beat St. John’s and South Florida this week. The Panthers got their defense back in order in both games and Jamie Dixon eased the offensive reins just enough to allow the Panthers to breathe.

7. Villanova. The Wildcats simply need to decide what tournament they’d like to play in for the postseason and stick to it. Villanova put itself on the right side of the bubble with a gutsy win against Marquette and then found itself teetering a game later, after losing to feckless Seton Hall. The Wildcats have two games left to prove their worth before the Big East tournament and both have some oomph -- at Pittsburgh and home against Georgetown.

8. Connecticut. As the Huskies’ season heads toward its conclusion -- with no Big East tournament in sight -- they continue to impress with their effort. UConn lost in double overtime to Georgetown but will finish above .500 in the league. Considering how limited the lineup is, that’s a big plus for the Huskies.

9. St. John’s. The roller-coaster Red Storm appear destined to finish on the same up-and-down swing they've been on all year. St. John’s is a good team, but not quite yet an upper-echelon team. That said, this young lineup could pull off an upset of sorts in the Big East tournament.

10. Providence. The league’s best turnaround goes to the Friars and Ed Cooley, who have won five of their past six and could, with games against St. John’s, Seton Hall and Connecticut, finish above .500 in the league. That’s a huge step for a rebuilding team.

11. Cincinnati. And there’s the opposite of Providence, the Cincinnati Bearcats. They don’t look like an NCAA tournament team and they aren’t playing like one either, having lost five of their past six. This is a tailspin without rhyme or reason and one that may not end anytime soon, with Connecticut and Louisville on the schedule next.

12. Seton Hall. Give the Pirates their due. Mired in a nine-game losing streak, with a roster decimated by injuries and nothing much to fight for, Seton Hall still managed to play with gumption and oust Villanova. Fuquan Edwin especially ought to be lauded; he has carried the Pirates on his back all season.

13. DePaul. The Blue Demons aren’t really 13th in the league. They are essentially tied for last but, since we have to rank even the bottom, at least give credit to DePaul for trying. The Blue Demons put up a decent first-half fight against Louisville and actually led UConn at the break.

14. Rutgers. The good news for the Scarlet Knights -- the season is almost over. The bad news -- they still have to play Georgetown, Marquette and rival Seton Hall, all without leading scorer Eli Carter. That’s almost cruel.

15. South Florida. Last week the Bulls were 329th in scoring offense; this week they're 332nd and sadly for USF, this game is predicated on scoring more points than your opponent (just a tip). The good news -- the Bulls play DePaul next so someone actually has to win.

3-point shot: Kentucky's seeding slides

February, 15, 2013
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1. Kentucky's NCAA tournament fate is probably closely related to what happened to Purdue in 2010, when the Boilermakers were headed toward a No. 1 seed before Robbie Hummel tore his anterior cruciate ligament in a late-February game at Minnesota. The Boilermakers ended up dropping to a No. 4 seed. Kentucky isn't that high, but the seeding, more than an actual selection, is probably going to take the biggest hit following Nerlens Noel's season-ending knee injury. Selection committee chair Mike Bobinski said earlier in the week that there was still plenty of time to evaluate the Wildcats. He also said you can't eliminate what Kentucky has done, either, since the committee looks at the body of work. The Wildcats still have a victory at Ole Miss that isn't going to go away. They can make this all moot with a strong finish in their remaining seven regular-season games, including visits from Missouri and Florida. This has been John Calipari's most challenging season at Kentucky and now it will test him even more.

2. Connecticut's Kevin Ollie should be the Big East coach of the year. But the national honor is likely going to Miami's Jim Larranaga, barring a late-season collapse. The Hurricanes started unranked and are headed for a No. 1 seed-type season -- the hoops version of what Notre Dame did in college football in going from unranked to the national title game. Wisconsin's Bo Ryan would have to be in the conversation as well, as should Indiana's Tom Crean. The freshman-of-the-year chase has to be one of the most competitive, featuring Kansas' Ben McLemore, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, UNLV's Anthony Bennett and Arizona State's Jahii Carson, among others.

3. Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon made a great point Thursday about low scoring in college basketball. Dixon said that teams attempting more 3-pointers has led to more zone defenses and using up more of the shot clock. Of course, he added that teams are defending better and more fouls aren't being called. There are a lot of theories out there about low scoring, but perhaps the most important might be the lack of some fundamental shooting.

3-point shot: Coaches should be on watch

December, 14, 2012
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1. Coaches are under more scrutiny from the NCAA, conferences and their administration than at any other time in the sport's history. The NCAA is pushing to suspend and penalize coaches if there are violations by them or their staff and conferences haven't hesitated to suspend coaches, too. Now, Rutgers has taken it one step further with the three-game suspension and $50,000 fine on coach Mike Rice for inappropriate conduct and language (i.e. his treatment of players in practice). Rice has apologized. But the timing couldn't be worse. Rice has made improvements with the Scarlet Knights, but he needed to dial it back in his climb back to relevance. And with Rutgers heading to the Big Ten in 2014, the school can't afford any embarrassments. Rice needs to be on his best behavior and win as the school transitions into the Big Ten. But the message has been sent by Rutgers AD Tim Pernetti that he isn't messing around with poor behavior. And other coaches should be on watch because of it, too.

2. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said on the ESPNU College Basketball Podcast Thursday that the Irish had talked to the other seven Catholic schools about forming a national Catholic conference. If the ACC option didn't occur then the Irish would have bolted with the rest. That shows how much this has been discussed and was a distinct possibility. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon also said on the same podcast that he was told the reason Marquette and DePaul were added 10 years ago was to ensure the five Catholic schools had seven members to retain an NCAA bid if they decided to leave. He said the eventual split of football and non-football was always inevitable, and may have actually happened later than predicted.

3. The Minnesota staff has been high on their team for three years running. But this is the first time the Gophers truly believe there is staying power with this crew, and for a few key reasons: The returning players have completely bought into the team concept; the bench is as deep as it has been under Tubby Smith; Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe are a pair of tough, interior players who can be counted on to play their role and Andre Hollins is having an all-star season. But the Gophers will know immediately in the Big Ten if they are pretenders or contenders. Minnesota has a brutal start to the league. It hosts Michigan State and Northwestern before road games at Illinois and Indiana, with a home game against Michigan wedged in before games at Northwestern and Wisconsin -- all from Dec. 31 to Jan. 26.

3-point shot: More errors in judgment

November, 29, 2012
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1. Clemson's Milton Jennings had better be apologizing to his Tigers teammates for quite some time after his arrest early Wednesday for possession of one ounce or less of marijuana, according to the Anderson (S.C.) Independent Mail. Why? The Tigers played well for a rebuilding club at the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Fla., and should have protected their home court and beaten Purdue in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge on Wednesday. Instead, the Tigers lost to the Boilermakers by 12. Jennings was averaging a team-high 10.8 points a game. Jennings' lack of leadership had a direct effect on this loss. Meanwhile, Ernie Zeigler, the former Central Michigan coach and father of Pitt forward Trey Zeigler, said his son has apologized to team staff and in person to athletic director Steve Pederson for a DUI over the weekend. Zeigler has been indefinitely suspended by Pitt coach Jamie Dixon. "Trey is a very good kid who made a bad mistake,'' said his father. "He showed very poor judgment. He will be disciplined by the judicial system, currently by coach Dixon and, more importantly, by his parents. We are extremely confident Trey will learn, grow and ultimately respond in the appropriate fashion to the adversity he brought upon himself.''

2. Tulane coach Ed Conroy is confident that the Green Wave can live up to the challenge of playing their games at the New Orleans Arena (capacity 18,500) when they join the Big East rather than playing at the Devlin Fieldhouse (formerly Fogelman), which holds 3,600. Conroy said the setup will be similar to St. John's, which plays its marquee games at Madison Square Garden and other random games on its campus in Queens, N.Y. Conroy said Tulane will play non-conference games at Devlin and Big East games at the home of the NBA's Hornets. Conroy said playing the Big East games at the Hornets' site was part of the deal of admission to the conference. Of course, this further complicates scheduling for the Big East, most notably assistant commissioner Tom Odjakjian. He lost school-controlled arenas at Louisville, Rutgers and Notre Dame in 2014 and '15 and added one in Tulane that nevertheless will be at the mercy of the NBA schedule. Odjakjian also got one campus-controlled arena and one where he'll have to wrestle pro dates away from the NBA with Temple and Memphis, respectively.

3. The frustrations at Texas are bubbling over. Texas gave the NCAA information on Myck Kabongo's paid workout last May (former teammate and current Cleveland Cavalier Tristan Thompson has already been quoted saying he paid for the plane ticket but Kabongo's brother paid him back). The school submitted its paperwork "a while ago,'' according to a source, but no word from the NCAA on any penalty. Texas has already held Kabongo out of six games and the Longhorns are 4-2 in his absence.

3-point shot: Committee adds Peter Roby

September, 20, 2012
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1. The 10-person men’s basketball selection committee improved its basketball IQ with the addition of Northeastern athletic director Peter Roby. Roby replaced Bernard Muir, who left his post as Delaware athletic director for the same position at Stanford. That meant the committee had to replace Muir with someone from a FCS conference. Even before the Colonial Athletic Association nominated Roby he was on the committee’s radar. Muir had just started his term and had only attended one meeting in the summer so Roby takes over his entire five-year term. Xavier AD Mike Bobinski, who is the chair, said the committee was excited to have Roby. And they should. Roby played and coached at Dartmouth and was an assistant at Army and Stanford before being head coach at Harvard. “He knows the game, and understands the administrative side,’’ said Northeastern coach Bill Coen. “I think he will be great.’’

2. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon is adapting on the fly to the Panthers’ arrival into the ACC in 2013. The commitment from Word of God point guard Josh Newkirk in Raleigh, N.C., is the first example of the Panthers’ potential reach into the ACC region. Pitt should have no problems competing with the rest of the ACC in recruiting. The change of conference shouldn’t matter. Pitt now has even more to sell with the security of a new destination. There’s no reason why the Panthers should dip in the ACC. The Panthers aren’t even in the league yet and they already have made inroads in the ACC.

3. Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg has a tough decision to make in the wake of suspended player Bubu Palo being charged with sexual abuse. Hoiberg can’t wait on Palo’s case. He has to move on and look now more for a point guard during the fall recruiting period. The junior Palo can’t be counted on to return during this case. Palo pleaded not guilty to the charge Wednesday. Hoiberg has had tremendous success getting transfers and mixing them with high school recruits. So, there shouldn’t be any concern that he could fill Palo’s spot. But Hoiberg has to prepare that Palo may not return.
1. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon said upperclassmen Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna have proven to be leaders early in the first few weeks of workouts. The freshmen -- Steven Adams, James Robinson and Chris Jones -- have stood out as being physically and mentally mature to contribute at the beginning of the season. Pitt has had a history of developing its players and not getting the maximum from the freshmen. But this program will need, and now it looks like it will get, immediate production from the freshmen class. This is a must that will likely lead to quite a turnaround from a 22-17 CBI champ (5-13 Big East) season.

2. Our ESPN.com recruiting analyst Dave Telep made a terrific point in his Chris Jones to Louisville column Monday that the last Tennessee recruiting class under Bruce Pearl has ended up at Louisville. Jones, who played for former Pearl assistant Steve Forbes at NW Florida JC, joins Kevin Ware from the 2011 Vols' class. But the Vols shouldn't fret. Cuonzo Martin is doing a tremendous job of increasing the talent and perception of Tennessee basketball. Martin secured another commitment Monday for 2013 in landing 6-5 shooting guard Robert Hubbs. The Vols will be just fine going forward in the SEC under Martin.

3. While Kevin Ollie has to defend his hire -- even in the short term -- it made me wonder why is there no issue that Mike Hopkins is already the coach-in-waiting at Syracuse for whenever Jim Boeheim retires? Why doesn't Syracuse have to do a national search whenever Boeheim retires? The answer is the Orange don't. Last time I checked Jamie Dixon was an assistant at Pitt and Tom Izzo was an assistant at Michigan State before being bumped up to head coach. Izzo is a future Hall of Fame coach. Dixon is having a stellar career. Oh, Brad Stevens was an assistant too at Butler. I could go on (Frank Martin took over for Bob Huggins at Kansas State and was originally ripped for getting the gig and now look at him). Ollie doesn't have as much experience as the assistants mentioned. But he deserves a real chance -- not seven months -- just like the previous coaches and Hopkins will get when it's his time at Syracuse.

3-point shot: Filling Jim Calhoun's shoes

September, 17, 2012
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1. Villanova’s Jay Wright, Notre Dame’s Mike Brey and Pitt’s Jamie Dixon all said this past week that UConn coach Jim Calhoun was a mentor to them when they got into the Big East. They mentioned how Calhoun essentially indoctrinated them into the league and Wright added that he was essential in helping Wright prepare for the Final Four in 2009. Calhoun has now retired. The senior statesman in the Big East, Jim Boeheim of Syracuse, is off to the ACC in 2013. Now, veterans Dixon and Brey will be off to the ACC, as well, in 2013 and either ’14 or ’15 for Brey if not next season (if the Irish can buy their way out earlier). So who will be the leader in the league? The onus will now be on Wright and Georgetown’s John Thompson III to take the leadership role in the Big East meetings and be the new voices of the conference. Wright and JT3 have to be a dominant presence and speak up to help steer the direction of a conference that is looking for new roles going forward.

2. I agree with new Big East commissioner Mike Aresco that the league’s demise is not an issue. Losing Notre Dame is a brand hit. The whole key to holding the league together is keeping Louisville and Connecticut. So far the Big 12 and ACC haven’t shown any new interest in either party. Keep those two programs to go along with Georgetown, Villanova, Marquette, Cincinnati, St. John’s and newcomers Memphis and Temple and the Big East should be able to secure a solid financial hoops package that likely will be televised by multiple partners from ESPN, NBC and CBS. I’ve never thought the Big East would go exclusive to one network. There is too much inventory for one network in hoops with 17 teams. Aresco is from the television world and it makes sense to maximize the viewership by distributing to multiple properties.

3. The Atlantic 10 doesn’t seem too concerned that it will get poached by the Big East, according to multiple league sources. It shouldn’t be at this juncture. I can’t see in the current climate the Big East adding a non-football-playing member to its roster of teams during a television negotiating period. As great a coup as it would be to land Xavier, the Big East doesn’t need the Musketeers when it has UC in the marketplace. And the above mentioned schools are enough to satisfy a TV deal. If any more alignment were to occur, the Big East can always grow with more football-playing schools like Boise State and San Diego State (BYU and Air Force are always options to explore).
1. Central Florida, which went in front of the committee on infractions in April, still doesn’t know when it will hear from the NCAA. The assumption from multiple sources is that the ruling will come down soon, likely at the outset of the fall semester. UCF self-imposed sanctions that include three years of probation, the vacancy of all men's basketball victories for 2009, '10 and '11, reducing its scholarships by one each of the next two years in basketball, and the reduction of recruiting days by both basketball and football coaches for violations that related to runners for agents and gifts for recruits. UCF coach Donnie Jones also got a three-game suspension. Meanwhile, UCF officials expect Marcus Jordan to return to school in the fall after he was arrested on July 2 for causing a disturbance in an Omaha, Neb., hotel. Jordan is one of four starters back. The best of the bunch is Keith Clanton, a C-USA POY candidate. The Knights will get an infusion in the backcourt from transfers C.J. Reed (MEAC player of the year at Bethune-Cookman) and Calvin Newell, who averaged 13 points at Oklahoma in the fall before leaving.

2. New Charlotte Bobcats head coach Mike Dunlap is coaching the team’s summer league squad in Las Vegas. Head coaches don’t normally do that in the NBA. But no one at St. John’s would be surprised to see him on the sidelines in July. That’s exactly who he was for the Red Storm. He was a coach. He never has tried to be anything else. Dunlap maximized his abilities for the Red Storm and he’ll do the same for Charlotte. His success may not pan out in terms of wins, but he’ll certainly be involved in every possession. He is unassuming and doesn’t want to delegate his own responsibilities. He takes ownership from day one.

3. Pitt’s departure from the Big East to the ACC will hurt just as much as Syracuse, but not in terms of lost rivalries. The Panthers have been a consistent winner under Jamie Dixon, last season's hiccup aside. The Panthers have been one of the toughest outs in the Big East and a national player nearly every year. But the Panthers didn’t have the same rivalries that Syracuse participated in during its time in the league. The Orange had at least three in Georgetown, Connecticut and St. John’s. Pitt’s most heated rival was West Virginia and that was already gone when the Mountaineers jettisoned themselves to the Big 12. The best rivalry for the Panthers had become UConn since the programs were two of the winningest in the past decade. There was a genuine respect between Dixon and Jim Calhoun and each game was usually played at a high, physical level. Losing Pitt-UConn won’t be as celebrated but it will be missed by both schools and certainly the Big East.
Perhaps Pittsburgh's long national nightmare -- and by nightmare, I mean a "one-year break from an otherwise consistently successful program" -- is over.

Indeed, the Panthers got good news this past weekend, when the NCAA announced that it was going to allow guard Trey Zeigler, who played the first two years of his career under his father Ernie Zeigler at Central Michigan, to play immediately at Pittsburgh next season.

This is slightly surprising news, given that Zeigler's transfer was not the result of a family illness or graduate exemption, but rather the result of his father's firing in March. Which is not the same as saying Zeigler shouldn't be allowed to play immediately. Let's be real: Zeigler's odds of attending Central Michigan (and turning down Michigan State, Michigan, UCLA and Arizona State) as a top-35 recruit in the class of 2010 were almost nil; he didn't commit to the school so much as to his father, and few would dispute that. All in all, it seems like a pretty fair decision. It's just unique, is all.

But whatever the reasoning behind it, the news is entirely welcome news for Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon, who will now reload his backcourt immediately after a disappointing 2012 season and the loss of senior guard and longtime scoring leader Ashton Gibbs. Dixon can slot Zeigler, a 6-foot-5 shooting guard, in the backcourt alongside point guard Tray Woodall, who missed much of 2012 due to injury but consistently improved his play as he became full strength later in the season. Meanwhile, freshman point guard James Robinson -- the No. 4-ranked player at the position in the class of 2012 -- should provide a solid third option at point guard.

Pitt's backcourt will need to take on the lion's share of scoring production at the very least, because the frontcourt may still be a year or two away. Much of that will depend on New Zealand-born freshman center Steven Adams, the No. 4-ranked center, and No. 6-ranked overall player, in the incoming class. Adams will be charged with replacing Nasir Robinson, who himself was replacing a senior-laden 2011 group, alongside forwards Dante Taylor (whose 16.3 offensive rebounding rate in 2011 portends big things in bigger minutes) and Talib Zanna (who likewise posted a 14.2 rebounding rate in 2011, and whose name always reminds me of this character from "Mass Effect").

If Adams and a new-look Pitt frontcourt can excel immediately, then Pittsburgh's goal of returning to the NCAA tournament should be little more than a boring expectation. If all goes well, the ceiling should be much higher; this team could compete with Louisville and Syracuse at the top of the Big East. And it will be fascinating to see Zeigler -- a talented player asked to do everything for a team that ranked No. 270 in KenPom at the end of 2012 -- competing in a big-time conference with talented players around him. That alone could improve his play considerably.

At the very least, Dixon has his backcourt back in fighting shape. It took a slightly unusual NCAA decision to make it happen, but the end result is the first truly great news Pitt fans have heard in a year.
1. The National Association of Basketball Coaches' board of directors is meeting in Indianapolis on Thursday, with the issue of transfers and how to handle the requests as a primary agenda item. The board has some notable names, including Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan, who was involved in a high-profile case in which the player was initially restricted from transferring to a number of schools; Michigan State’s Tom Izzo; Pitt’s Jamie Dixon; Syracuse’s Jim Boeheim; Notre Dame’s Mike Brey; and NC State’s Mark Gottfried, among others. The NABC doesn’t have legislative power but does serve as a lobbying group to the membership -- and can also influence other coaches on how to handle a transfer situation.

2. The men's NCAA tournament basketball selection committee will also meet Thursday in Indianapolis. The primary agenda item, according to incoming chair Mike Bobinski of Xavier, is to determine the 2013 East Regional site. The finalists are expected to be Syracuse and Brooklyn (Newark, N.J., is still technically in, but it would be a surprise since the regional was there in 2011). Bobinski said it is unusual for the site still to be unknown less than a year before the event. The dismissal of former NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen apparently contributed to the site selection delay; Shaheen’s replacement, Mark Lewis, will be at the meeting. The original plan was for the tourney’s 75th anniversary to have a presence at Madison Square Garden. But the NCAA couldn’t make a commitment before the Garden had to turn in its Knicks and Rangers schedules to the NBA and NHL, respectively. The 2013 Final Four is in Atlanta. The other regional sites are set in Los Angeles (Staples Center), Dallas-Fort Worth (Cowboys Stadium) and Indianapolis (Lucas Oil Stadium)

3. New Illinois coach John Groce has added two transfers in Rayvonte Rice from Drake and Sam McLaurin from Coastal Carolina. The Illini are also busy finalizing their last major non-conference game. Illinois will play Auburn on Dec. 29 at the United Center in Chicago to fill the final significant game on the schedule.

3-point shot: Tournament transparency

January, 31, 2012
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1. NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen tweeted out a number of links Monday to the NCAA site where the exact team sheets are online for the selection and seeding process. The selection committee’s transparency process up until the actual computer votes for selection has been a long time coming, but is welcomed. Now everyone can easily see what the committee looks at in evaluating the raw numbers.

2. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon never panicked as the Panthers went to 0-7 in the Big East. He said not having Travon Woodall healthy was a big deal. And it clearly was for Ashton Gibbs and the rest of the team. The Panthers have won three straight (the latest at West Virginia on Monday) and have a winnable Big East schedule that could put the Panthers on the bubble in March. Unlike teams in the Pac-12 and leagues outside the power six -- Pitt has opportunities for quality wins. Also, Pitt will be judged on when Woodall was healthy and when he was not.

3. Missouri coach Frank Haith has to be a finalist for national coach of the year. On Monday Haith coached one of his best games against his mentor and former boss, Texas coach Rick Barnes. Going zone on the final possession was a tremendous move. Haith may not win the award (KU’s Bill Self could win it within the Big 12), but he has done a marvelous job coaching the Tigers without its top post player from the preseason. There have been no hiccups in taking over this team.

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