College Basketball Nation: Larry Shyatt

In the first sentence of "In Cold Blood," Truman Capote wrote that Holcomb, Kan., the scene of that book's vicious crime, "... stands on the high wheat plains of western Kansas, a lonesome area that other Kansans call 'out there.'" That description could just as easily apply to most Americans' (even those from the Midwest, like yours truly) perceptions of Wyoming generally: flat, desolate, remote, imposing.

It could certainly apply to Laramie, Wyo., an old lawless frontier outpost nestled in the absolute out there-iest of out theres, the Wyoming plains. Fun fact: Until 1868, three brothers who owned a saloon called "Bucket of Blood" ran the show, forcing settlers to sign their property rights over at gunpoint, which would make surely make Al Swearengen proud. Laramie has, with extreme exception, mostly shaken off that restless past, evolving into a quiet, quaint town of around 30,000, home to the University of Wyoming and more than a few outdoorsy retirees.

The point is, at least from afar, Laramie is not the kind of place you'd expect to be a source of distraction or destruction in young people, college athletes in particular. When sportswriters talk about athletes falling victim to the dreaded "nightlife," downtown Laramie is probably not what they mean.

But that was exactly the case in January, when key senior guard Luke Martinez was charged with aggravated battery and assault stemming from a bar fight at the Buckhorn Bar in downtown Laramie. Martinez admitted he kicked a man in the head while that man was on the ground, but maintained he was acting in self-defense. The senior was suspended by Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt, and the Cowboys' surprisingly promising 13-0 start turned into a 5-12 collapse (and an NCAA tournament miss) during a challenging Mountain West campaign.

This season, in the hopes of avoiding the risks that apparently result when downtown Laramie nightlife meets with Wyoming's star athletes, two of the Cowboys have decided to do things differently. Roommates Derek Cooke Jr. and Charles Hankerson Jr. figured they would keep the fun in-house, and so they turned their apartment into something much more than an apartment. The Casper Star-Tribune brought the story:
After a 2012 season clouded by an off-the-court incident that derailed a sizzling start, Wyoming teammates and roommates Derek Cooke Jr. and Charles Hankerson Jr. decided that perhaps downtown Laramie was not the best place to spend weekend nights.

They wanted to be able to blow off steam with their teammates without risking the trouble that usually comes with bars, drinks and high-profile athletes. And so, like Bruce Wayne becoming Batman, they transformed their apartment into something greater — a symbol. “624” was born.


As the author of the story, Mike Vorel, learned, calling "624" just another upperclassman's off-campus apartment earns no small amount of pushback from the "club's" operators. Instead, it serves as a (only slightly tongue-in-cheek) symbol of the Cowboys' desire to not only avoid late-night, alcohol-infused trouble but also foster team camaraderie, particularly among "regulars," i.e. freshmen. Vorel writes that "nothing remarkable" happens at "624" -- video games and music and general goofiness, mostly. The lights are always off by midnight.

It's a great idea, but it's also sort of a no-brainer. For example: Back when Dez Bryant was essentially grounded by Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, Grantland's Jalen Rose had a funny take on the matter, describing how professional athletes could arrange to have just as much fun at their own places without having to brave any of the madness that attends youth, money, and fame. When I heard Rose talk about this, a lightbulb popped over my head. You're rich and famous! (Or, in college basketball players' case, you're a college basketball player!) Folks of all stripes, male and female, would absolutely love to hang out with you at your house, where you can control the music and the guest list and the planned activities. No one wants to be a hermit, obviously, but when faced with the choice of public harassment or who-knows-what-else, why wouldn't you, the star athlete, bring the party on your terms? Clubs are overrated anyway.

And as Martinez found out in January, you don't have to be the star receiver on the Dallas Cowboys to fall prey to exposure and rowdiness. These things can happen in Laramie just as easily as anywhere else, and even if the establishment of "624" has zero effect on anything that happens on the floor for Wyoming this season (which seems unlikely), at the very least it gives the Wyoming kids a haven. Plus, it sounds like a pretty chill spot. If Hankerson and Cooke have a Nintendo 64 and Super Smash Bros., I honestly don't know why they'd ever need to leave. (Man, do I miss college.)

Conference Power Rankings: MWC

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The Mountain West Conference is poised to send an unprecedented percentage of teams to the NCAA tournament. If Boise State can beat San Diego State and avoid a flop in the conference tournament next week in Las Vegas, it's hard to see the Broncos missing the cut. That would give the MWC five out of nine teams in the field, one of the best showings ever by a conference.

On to the final rankings before the selection committee has its say:

1. New Mexico. The Lobos have been the most consistent team from beginning to end. Steve Alford is a legitimate candidate for national coach of the year. UNM got pushed by Nevada in Wednesday's first half, only to find a second gear when it mattered most. The Lobos finish up on the road against pesky Air Force. This won't affect the Lobos' seeding in Vegas, but a loss to the Falcons would ruin any outside shot at a No. 1 seed in the NCAAs.

2. UNLV. I'm comfortable putting the Runnin' Rebels back near the top of the MWC, where they were projected in the preseason. UNLV seems to have finally found its rotation and might be peaking at the right time. The Rebels should beat Fresno State at home -- where they'll have the rare treat of remaining for two straight weeks, since UNLV hosts the conference tournament. But that doesn't always translate into a tournament title. UNLV is hardly a lock to cut down the nets.

3. San Diego State. The Aztecs should end up in the third spot. I'm not sold on San Diego State being able to win at Boise State on Saturday, but the Aztecs still have one of the best players in the league in Jamaal Franklin. I still consider San Diego State a tournament title contender and a tough out in the NCAAs. I'm putting a bit more faith in this team by keeping the Aztecs in the top three, where I projected them in the preseason.

4. Colorado State. The Rams have the experience, but have come up short in a few key games of late. CSU needs some momentum going into the NCAAs. The Rams should beat Nevada to close the season and be a tough out in Las Vegas. This team won't get rattled at all. If Colton Iverson can dominate his position, or at the very least hold his own, Colorado State has a chance.

5. Boise State. Last Saturday, Derrick Marks lit up Colorado State with 38 points. The Broncos then nearly beat UNLV on the road. Now they are on the verge of a program-changing win. If Boise State were to beat San Diego State Saturday afternoon, it should be in the NCAA field. If that happens, Leon Rice would have the Broncos way ahead of schedule.

6. Air Force. The Falcons are playing for a possible NIT berth when they host New Mexico on Saturday. Michael Lyons is also looking to secure his spot on the all-conference first team. Air Force should be proud of its efforts. This team overachieved and was in contention throughout the conference race.

7. Wyoming. Injuries and off-court issues have crushed the Cowboys' momentum. Wyoming, which finished its conference season Wednesday, has slid back into the pack, but can still play spoiler in the MWC tournament. Larry Shyatt had this team as one of the last four unbeatens in the country -- but the margin of error was always thin.

8. Fresno State. Rodney Terry has the Bulldogs heading in the right direction. Fresno State has been relevant this season in the conference race. I'll be surprised if this team isn't moving up in the standings in the next two seasons. The key will be for Terry to ensure Save Mart Center is a tough stop for every opponent.

9. Nevada. The Wolf Pack looked as though they were going to get a signature victory against New Mexico but lost 75-62. The problem this season for Nevada has been sustained effort, finding the 40 minutes to finish off games. This has to be addressed.
Wyoming guard Luke Martinez, one of the key pieces in the Cowboys' sudden surge into NCAA tournament contention, has missed a few games in January with an undisclosed injury to his right ring finger. This week, Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt announced Martinez had been suspended indefinitely for the same reasons he injured that finger: He got into a bar fight.

Were that the entire story, we might expect Martinez back when he healed, or after a brief suspension and a lot of wind sprints, whichever came first. Unfortunately, that is not the entire story. According to the Casper Star-Tribune, which obtained a police affidavit of probable cause, Martinez admitted to causing "serious bodily injury to the man he kicked in the face during a Dec. 30 fight outside of the Buckhorn Bar in downtown Laramie." On Sunday, police arrested Martinez on a charge of aggravated battery and assault. From Ben Frederickson's report:
The affidavit cites multiple witnesses, including a male victim, who claim Martinez kicked the victim in the face after Wyoming sophomore forward Derek Cooke Jr. knocked the victim out with a punch. Police state that Martinez also "did verbally admit that he caused serious bodily injury to the victim knowingly or recklessly under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to human life."
A witness told police that Cooke hit the victim with his fist and then Martinez kicked the victim in the head "like it was a football." A second witness, also according to the affidavit, said Martinez, who broke his hand in the altercation and hasn't played since, took "a running start" and kicked the unconscious victim in the head. The victim, the witness said, was "laying down in the street."
The victim's brother told officials the victim suffered "multiple fractures of the lower mandible" as a result of the fight and had to have his jaw wired shut.

As always, because someone is charged with something does not mean they are guilty, even if we tend to sometimes forget that when talking about athletes and misbehavior. If the details in the affidavit of probable cause are true, then it is hard to imagine how Wyoming could allow Martinez back onto the team this season.

I hate to say that, because it sounds judgmental. But a bar fight is one thing. Protecting your teammates is one thing. Popping someone in the nose for violating general human standards of decency is one thing (one thing our society should probably allow for more of, so as to prevent habitual line-steppers from stepping over said lines).

But violently kicking an unconscious man while he lays prone on the floor, to the point where he has to have his jaw wired shut? That's a level or two above good old fashioned hell-raising. That's just dangerous. Even if Shyatt -- who is having something like a dream season in his second year with the Pokes, and has allowed star forward Leonard Washington a couple of second chances of his own -- wants Martinez back, the optics may be too ugly to allow it.

3-point shot: Big East-MSG pairing solid

December, 5, 2012
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1. Connecticut provided a quality crowd Tuesday night at the Jimmy V Classic, giving Madison Square Garden more hope that in the future the Huskies will still be a viable option in the Big East tournament. Big East membership shifts could cause MSG to review any existing deal, but don’t expect a change. The marriage of MSG with the Big East is still strong and with teams like UConn, St. John’s, Villanova, Georgetown and even Marquette and Cincinnati still in the league there is enough of a fan base in the area to draw. Look, no one at MSG is thrilled with losing Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Louisville, but there is more disappointment than dismay over the change in membership in 2014 and beyond. I didn’t get the sense in talking to a number of sources at the Garden on Tuesday that the Big East is in jeopardy of losing MSG as a home. The ACC can kindle interest in the area, but the league will never commit to coming to the Garden more than once every few years and MSG is interested only in a regular conference-tournament tenant in March.

2. Beating Colorado was no fluke for Wyoming. Not when the Cowboys go on the road and come back from 19 points in the second half to beat Illinois State 81-67. Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt would be a coach-of-the-month candidate if there were such an honor. The Pokes were hardly supposed to be a contender this season but have quietly turned into quite a story. Larry Nance Jr. scored 19 points against the Redbirds. The Cowboys were already getting quality play out of Leonard Washington, but if there is even more balance then the once-offensively challenged Pokes are a real threat to be nasty going forward. Wyoming is 9-0 and it’s legitimate.

3. Georgetown coach John Thompson III isn’t sure how the Hoyas will replace the SEC/Big East Challenge on their schedule next season, because he still isn’t certain how many games the Big East will play in 2013-14. He said there was once talk of the league playing 20 games, but it's unclear where that stands at this juncture. The Hoyas are set to play in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic and are in a home-and-home series with Kansas. But Thompson said he has to wait and see how he’ll handle the schedule and whether he’ll opt for neutral-site games or try to secure one more home-and-home series. But, he added, having more conference games will make Big East teams be even more selective with the nonconference scheduling.

3-point shot: Missouri-Dixon fallout

November, 30, 2012
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1. There are a few issues with the Michael Dixon Jr. situation at Missouri. I'm not sure why Missouri allowed Dixon to announce he was transferring from the program instead of dismissing him first. The reporting on the story from Kansas City, St. Louis and Columbia paints a much different picture, indicating that the senior guard was accused of two sexual assaults during his time at the school. Dixon, whom the Tigers suspended to start this season, will likely have trouble finding a new home to finish his college career. Based on the news Thursday, I find it hard to believe that another school would take a chance on him. The Tigers did the right thing by suspending him, but could have taken another step and let him go before the stories broke Thursday. Missouri will be fine on the court without him. This is a deep team that will add scoring guard Jabari Brown, an Oregon transfer, in a few weeks to pair up with Phil Pressey. The Tigers are still a legit threat to finish in the top three in the SEC. Having Dixon gone will ultimately be better for all parties involved.

2. Former Texas Tech coach Billy Gillispie left quite an advantageous schedule, one that doesn't have the Red Raiders leaving Lubbock until Jan. 5. Interim coach Chris Walker has taken advantage of the opportunity. The Red Raiders, who are 4-0 and 3-0 against (low-level) Division I competition, are second in the country in scoring at 88.8 points per game. Texas Tech will get a real barometer on its progress Saturday when it hosts No. 9 Arizona. Texas Tech also gets Alabama on Dec. 19 and Arizona State on Dec. 22. That first road game is at TCU in the Big 12 opener. "We just have to play harder and more together,'' said Walker. "We've got to limit (Arizona's) transition and offensive rebounds. That will give us a chance.''

3. We may find out if Wyoming is a pretender or a contender Saturday when the 7-0 Cowboys host No. 19 Colorado. Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt is notorious for light nonconference scheduling, but now the Cowboys will be truly tested. The depth of the Mountain West is legit (see Boise State's victory Wednesday at Creighton). Assistant coach Scott Duncan said that, with a great crowd at the Arena-Auditorium, if Wyoming can continue to play tough defense, limit the 3s and make some of its own, the Pokes can pull off the upset.

3-point shot: Vols' Italian experience

August, 24, 2012
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1. What did Tennessee coach Cuonzo Martin learn about the Vols on the recent trip to Italy? "Jarnell Stokes and Yemi Makanjuola are more explosive; Trae Golden did a good job running the team and he really exerted energy on the defensive end; Jeronne Maymon is healthy." Martin, whose squad should be in the top four in the SEC with Kentucky, Florida and Missouri, also said the Vols got great experience playing together in tough atmospheres, got plenty of reps for the newcomers and the extra practice time on fundamentals was a must. The team bonding was invaluable for a squad and staff that is entering its second season together. Meanwhile, the Vols lost freshman guard Derek Reese for the next six months due to right shoulder surgery. But the Vols actually have depth and Martin said it won’t hurt UT at this time. The Vols finished 10-6 in the SEC, 19-15 overall and lost to Middle Tennessee State in the NIT second round.

2. Wyoming head coach and former Florida assistant coach Larry Shyatt has been organizing a coaching clinic for fellow colleagues the past 29 years, with this year's event the ninth straight in Gainesville. The clinic has been a major hit for coaches in their professional growth. NBA and college coaches get together to discuss their own specialties. The roster of coaches that were attendance this week from college basketball reached all levels with Shyatt, Florida’s Billy Donovan, Purdue’s Matt Painter, Pitt’s Jamie Dixon, San Diego’s Bill Grier, UTEP’s Tim Floyd, UNC-Wilmington’s Buzz Peterson, Wofford’s Mike Young, UCF’s Donnie Jones, Bucknell’s Dave Paulsen and Weber State’s Randy Rahe highlighting the list of head college coaches. Shyatt, Dixon and Grier said they were enriched by the clinic and it aided in their professional development.

3. The 16-team NIT Season Tip-Off still isn’t finalized despite a number of schools starting the fall semester. The NIT is still waiting for one more team to fill a pod. That means the four hosts -- Kansas State, Virginia, Pitt and Michigan -- still don’t know how the bracket would be set if they all advanced to New York for the Thanksgiving week tournament. The NIT won’t tell the four schools the exact pairings since the final team may force a possible change in the other pods. The NIT is the only remaining pre-conference tournament that leads to a neutral site without predetermining the semifinalists.
You may remember Leonard Washington from his time at USC. More specifically: You may remember Washington* from the time he hit then-Oklahoma sophomore Blake Griffin in the crown jewels back in 2008. That was a funny episode, particularly because Washington tried to deny what happened after the fact. Then-USC coach Tim Floyd's money quote on the subject: "He's a freshman. He doesn't know that we film everything." Apparently not.

[+] EnlargeLeonard Washington
AP Photo/Matt CilleyThe productive play of Leonard Washington had Wyoming thinking about an NCAA tourney berth in 2012.
In any case, Washington had come a long way since 2008. He transferred to Wyoming, and in 2012 he starred in his first season under new coach Larry Shyatt, leading the team in scoring (12.9 points) and rebounding (6.9 rebounds) while posting sterling shooting percentages and the 11th-best defensive rebounding rate (27.4 percent, per KenPom) in the country. Wyoming went 21-12 in 2012, its best season in ages; for a while there, the Cowboys even flirted with the NCAA tournament bubble. Washington was a major reason why.

Unfortunately, Washington's individual progress may be coming undone. In early April, Shyatt suspended Washington indefinitely for an unspecified violation of team rules. Then, two weeks after that suspension, Washington was arrested and charged with battery and criminal entry during which, according to the citation, he admitted entering a house "without permission from the occupants and striking an individual with a closed fist during a fight." He pleaded guilty to both counts Tuesday, receiving fines and suspended jail time as well as up to a year of unsupervised probation.

The mundanities of the arrest are less important (for our purposes, anyway) than what they could do to Washington's career. The forward was already on indefinite suspension when he was arrested; that's no way to get back in your coach's good graces. Making all this worse for Shyatt is how much he needs Washington in 2012-13. The Cowboys are trying to build momentum under their new coach, but losing your best and most productive player -- in addition to the three senior starters that graduated this spring -- makes an already difficult task monumentally so.

It is no exaggeration to say that Shyatt's handling of Washington -- whether he suspends him for the summer, or dismisses him from the team, or sits him down for a stretch in the winter -- could determine the outcome of the fledgling program's season. It's a fine balance to walk, and Washington can only hope his coach is the forgiving type. Shyatt gave Washington his second chance. Does he deserve a third?

*I, for one, will never be able to hear "Leonard Washington" without thinking of the "Chappelle's Show" character. Like all good Dave Chappelle characters, it will stay with me forever.
Here are a few things we learned from the biggest games Saturday afternoon. Check back later for analysis of tonight's games.

No. 3 Ohio State 58, No. 20 Wisconsin 52: Ohio State is hardly a breakneck team, but its adjusted tempo this season is 68.9 possessions per 40 minutes, far above those of many of its Big Ten brethren. The Buckeyes like to get out on the break a little. Thad Matta has a ton of talent, shooting, athleticism, scoring, you name it, and the Bucks aren't shy about letting it shine in the open floor.

In other words, this is exactly how Wisconsin wanted this game to go. It wanted it to be slow -- as slow as possible, in fact -- and it was. These two teams traded 57 possessions Saturday afternoon. If you had told Bo Ryan this game would be this slow, he'd have given his team an excellent chance of knocking off what might just be the best team in the nation. This is the luxury of having Jordan Taylor commanding your team: If you want the game to be deathly slow, with supreme economy of movement and as few possessions as possible, you can't do better than the Badgers' point guard.

The only problem? Ohio State has Jared Sullinger. Wisconsin does not. "The Artist Currently Known As Sully" just so happens to be very comfortable playing half-court offense, and as good as UW was on defense -- as much as it shaded and doubled and harried and harassed -- Sullinger was simply too much. He played all 40 minutes Saturday. He scored 16 points on 6-of-8 shooting from the field in the first half alone. He finished with 24 points, 10 rebounds (5 offensive), 3 steals, just 1 turnover and an 8-of-10 shooting mark at the charity stripe. He was too much. Jared Berggren did his best, and the Badgers kept their shape well defensively -- there's a reason OSU scored just 1.02 points per trip -- but they never found an answer for the big man on the block.

They also learned the lesson anyone who has played this Ohio State team (or last season's version, for that matter) already knows: The Buckeyes defend, too. Per Ken Pomeroy's metrics, the Bucks are the stingiest per-possession defense in the country. The second stingiest? Wisconsin. But while the Badgers allow .81 points per trip, OSU allows an absurd .77, the rare team that forces turnovers but doesn't give away fouls and one that also cleans up the defensive glass. UW has had its troubles scoring from time to time this season, but the Buckeyes are a whole 'nother animal.

Play fast, play slow, play at your court, play in Columbus. Play however you like. If you don't have someone who can guard Jared Sullinger -- never mind a group of players to check the insanely talented group around him -- and/or an offense that can find a way to score against this kind of defense, it doesn't really matter. Ohio State is going to beat you.

Wyoming 68, No. 13 UNLV 66: For much of the season, during a remarkably quick turnaround, San Diego State coach Steve Fisher has been the consensus favorite for national coach of the year. Deservedly so. But any mention of the words "coach of the year" should also, after today, be followed closely by the words "Larry Shyatt."

Shyatt's story is remarkable. Wyoming gave him his first head-coaching gig in 1997, but after a successful season, he left to take over at Clemson, where he stayed until 2003. Shyatt spent the past several years on Florida coach Billy Donovan's bench, until this offseason, when he returned to Laramie to start over and repay a debt he felt he owed for his quick departure 15 years ago.

And what a return it has been. In 2010-11, the Cowboys finished 10-21 overall and ranked No. 215 in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings. After a two-point stunner over UNLV -- during which they led for nearly all 40 minutes and turned it over just eight times -- the Cowboys now are 18-5 and ranked among Pomeroy's top 60 teams in the country. This is primarily thanks to their defense, which Shyatt has transformed entirely. Last season, the Cowboys were hands down the worst defensive team in the Mountain West. This season, the defense is among the MWC's best, and on Saturday, it held UNLV to 3-of-14 shooting from beyond the arc.

The question now -- after the school's first victory over a ranked team in 12 years -- is whether Shyatt's miracle story can end with an NCAA tournament berth. The jury is still very much out, and Wyoming probably will have to grab another big win or two to be bubble-relevant going forward. But NCAA tournament or no, this team has made a drastic year-over-year turnaround. It has gone from a no-name afterthought to a program on the rise. And Shyatt's prodigal return is the reason.

Notre Dame 76, No. 15 Marquette 59: It's not fair to say the Fighting Irish looked totally irredeemable in their 8-5 nonconference start, but they certainly didn't look good. Notre Dame was dominated by Missouri, handled by Georgia, no match for Gonzaga, beaten by Maryland and overwhelmed by Indiana. Any time the Fighting Irish played a good (even decent) team, they looked exactly like what all thought they were: rebuilding, in transition, mediocre, meh.

Now? After Saturday's strong home win, which was keyed by a massive second-half run, it's impossible to discount the Irish. The Syracuse upset of two Saturdays ago was more than a random upset or a product of ND's mystically inexplicable propensity to upset elite teams in South Bend. No, Mike Brey's team is much more than that. Guard Eric Atkins is among the nation's most improved players, but he might be eclipsed in that category by forward Jack "Don't Call Me Mini-Harangody" Cooley, who, after years of geeks like me writing, "Hey, that guy looks exactly like Luke Harangody," is rapidly making his own name. (And Patrick Connaughton, whose Irish-name swagger deserves serious respect, was tremendous, too: 23 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists and 2 big blocks on huge defensive stops. Dude can play.)

Most impressive in this game was Notre Dame's late push, even if "push" feels like an understatement. With eight minutes remaining in the second half, the Irish led 54-48. The final score speaks for itself. Marquette is a good team, and the Irish simply ran away. The only conclusion: Notre Dame is pretty darn good, too.

No. 11 Florida 73, Vanderbilt 65: It was the opinion of this writer that Florida and Vanderbilt felt like identical SEC twins: guard-oriented perimeter offenses led by sharpshooters (Vandy's John Jenkins, Florida's Kenny Boynton), versatile play from outside-in small forwards (Vandy's Jeffery Taylor, Florida's Bradley Beal) and one true post presence apiece (Vandy's Festus Ezeli, Florida's Patric Young). So it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that this game's box score featured such near-identical numbers for both teams. Each team recorded 12 assists; each team snagged nine steals. Both teams turned the ball over at about the same rate. The teams' effective field goal percentages were similar. Vanderbilt shot 18 free throws. Florida shot 17.

You get the idea. So what was the difference? Simply put, 3-point shooting. The Gators made 11 of 24 shots from beyond the arc. VU shot just 8-of-25 from long range. There were other differences, too: Florida outrebounded Vandy on the offensive glass, grabbing 36.8 percent of its available misses to just 28.6 percent for the Commodores. But the real difference was shooting. Florida made three more of its 3s, and it shot 16-of-17 from the charity stripe.

All told, it wasn't Vanderbilt's best offensive day, but there are promising signs. For one, it didn't score the ball particularly well and still hung with a good team on the road. For another, there are signs Vandy's defense, which has played so well (surprisingly so) in the SEC campaign, is for real. It held the nation's best offense to 1.09 points per trip at home; compared to UF's usual output, that's not too shabby.

In the end, this is just what Florida does. It makes shots. It made a few more of them in this one. Not a bunch more. Just a few. But in a game this close, with such a doppelganger of an opponent, a few extra makes were all the Gators needed.

No. 24 Florida State 58, No. 18 Virginia 55: The scoreline says it all. If you don't like slow, plodding, offensively challenged basketball, this was not the ACC matchup for you. But it also was the rare game in which both teams can come away feeling pretty good. Virginia's task in Tallahassee was to take on one of the nation's best defenses and hottest teams, one that recently had found a scorching offense to go along with its typically staunch defense.

Florida State no doubt hoped to keep the good offensive vibes rolling, but more important in the end was holding serve on its home floor. After an incredible streak that included a 33-point win over UNC and a win at Duke, the last thing the Seminoles needed was a lackluster home loss to pull their record (and, maybe, their spirits) back to earth.

FSU didn't keep the offense rolling. Virginia's defense was nearly up to the task. The Cavaliers forced Leonard Hamilton's team into a turnover on 31 percent of its possessions. Unfortunately, UVa coughed it up even more frequently than did FSU. That's the thing about this Florida State team, which is now 7-1 in ACC play: When the Noles are shooting the ball well and scoring it with ease, they're just about unstoppable. But even when they're not, that defense will always be there, providing a baseline when the going gets tough. That has to be comforting, doesn't it?

No. 6 North Carolina 83, Maryland 74: How good are the Tar Heels? Sometimes it's hard to tell. They often look dominant, every bit the national title contender we assume they'll be in March. Just as often, though, they struggle, particularly on the road and frequently against teams they should rather easily handle. Maryland is one such team.

On Saturday, facing the Terrapins in front of a rowdy crowd, the Tar Heels struggled. There's no other way to put it. Maryland brought it, sure, but UNC often seemed to be on its heels, no pun intended. UM center Alex Len was excellent, and Terrell Stoglin showed why he probably should be an all-ACC inclusion by the end of the season. By the 17-minute mark in the second half, Maryland had opened a nine-point lead. Suddenly, as analyst Len Elmore said, the Heels found themselves in a dogfight.

Here's another reason Carolina is so often so hard to appraise: This team seems to have the fabled ability to "hit the switch," i.e., to suddenly focus its efforts, let talent take over and go win the game even when not playing well. And that's what happened Saturday. UNC seemingly flipped its switch, started locking down on defense, started getting easy buckets on offense, started making 3s -- you know, basically, all the things this team should do -- outscoring Maryland 46-34 in the second half en route to a victory. It wasn't pretty, and we often tend to expect more from purportedly great teams, but it's impossible to dismiss this team's talent and its ability to transform that talent at a moment's notice.

No. 2 Syracuse 95, St. John's 70: And so all was well in the land of the Orange. When sophomore center Fab Melo was lost to a lingering first-semester academic issue, Syracuse lost its first game of the season without him, and even in the two wins that followed -- at Cincinnati and in questionable fashion over West Virginia -- the Orange didn't look anything like their typically dominant selves. With so much depth and talent, it was hard to pin all this on Melo's absence ... but it was hard to compare Syracuse's offensive output with and without Melo (not to mention its block percentages, where Melo really excels) and not think the newly trim and focused big man didn't have a much bigger effect on this team's 20-0 start than many originally thought.

And then you watch Saturday's game, Melo's first since his return. You see the big man score a career-high 14 points on a tidy 5-of-6 from the field. You see the Orange roll St. John's to the tune of 1.34 points per possession on a day when they didn't shoot the 3 particularly well (just often). You see them tie a season high with 24 second-chance points and 52 in the paint.

Given all that, you can't help but think Melo is absolutely crucial to this team's national title chances. And then our fine friends at ESPN Stats & Information send along the following statistics, and you see the facts in all their glory: With Melo, Cuse is 21-0, and averages 38.9 points per game in the paint (28.7 without him), 14 second-chance points per game (6.3 without) and 1.18 points per possession (1.00 without), and has an offensive rebound percentage of 39.5 (25.5 without).

So, yeah, I suppose you could say he's pretty important. Impressive performance for Melo, impressive win for Syracuse.

Memphis 72, Xavier 68: "That Used To Be Us." It's the title of Thomas Friedman's questionably considered new book. It also feels appropriately descriptive of the Xavier Musketeers, who spent the first two months of the season earning difficult wins thanks to late rallies but were the victims of such a rally Saturday afternoon at the FedExForum.

Xavier opened a 10-point lead in the second half, but Memphis fought back. The Musketeers opened another one with seven minutes remaining, finding themselves up double digits (62-51) as the Tigers' ugly offense appeared headed toward a losing effort. And then something funky happened. Memphis used a 12-1 run to rally all the way back and tie the game at 63-all with 2:12 remaining. And then something even funkier happened. Memphis closed out the game with a score of made free throws. The Tigers shot 24-of-28 from the line, including 9-of-11 in the final two minutes. Joe Jackson alone was 12-of-12. All told, Memphis went on a 17-1 tear, and the game went from 62-51 to 68-63 before the Tigers closed it out.

It was a nice -- and much-needed -- win for Memphis, sure, but more than anything, it spoke to the seemingly downward trajectory of the Musketeers. This team hasn't been the same since the Dec. 10 brawl, of course, but at this point, the cause-and-effect is beginning to look tenuous. Now more than ever, it looks like X really wasn't all that good in the first place. Losing on the road is hardly a crime. Losing like this? It's something closer.

Some more observations from this afternoon's games:
  • Is Arizona on the rise? It's hard to ignore the three-day stretch the Wildcats had, getting not one but two wins on their Bay Area road trip. First, the Wildcats held on for a win over apparent league favorite Cal on Thursday, and then they looked even more impressive in their 56-43 victory at Stanford on Saturday afternoon, holding the Cardinal to just 16-of-63 (!) from the field and 3-of-12 from 3 in their own building. Zona might or might not get on the bubble by the end of the season, but these sort of performances might just carry the Cats to the top of the league's standings before all is said and done. At the very least, Sean Miller's team is worth keeping an eye on.
  • Butler's offense is not worth keeping an eye on -- and it continues to cost the Bulldogs games. It's been the case all season, really, and it was the case again today. The Dogs lost to a team that made just two of its 10 3-point field goal attempts and shot just 20-of-47, because Butler's offense was even worse: 18-of-51 from the field, 4-of-19 from 3, just one made field goal from any bench player, a tough 0-of-7 night from Ronald Nored. The Bulldogs can't score. Nothing new here. But give some measure of credit to Detroit for a tough win on the road. Hinkle Fieldhouse was sold out, and the Titans got the job done in Indy for the first time since 1999.
  • Baylor loves to play close games. It's either that or the Bears can't help themselves. Whatever the reason, the good news is Baylor seems more capable than most of winning those close games, particularly on the road. It did so twice this week. The first came in a three-point win at Texas A&M on Wednesday. The second came Saturday afternoon, when Oklahoma State rallied from a nine-point deficit to take a 57-56 lead on Keiton Page's 3 with 1:42 remaining. Baylor ended up finishing the game in the final moments, which is nothing new. The Bears have played eight games decided by five points or fewer this season. With the exception of the 89-88 loss to Missouri, they've won every single one. That might not be by design, and it probably doesn't help Bears fans' blood pressure levels, but it's the kind of trait that might come in handy in March.
  • Seton Hall is officially off the wagon. A loss at UConn is understandable, even forgivable, but the Pirates were absolutely smacked, 69-46, by a team that had lost six of its previous eight games, to say nothing of Jim Calhoun's sudden and indefinite medical absence. That's Seton Hall's sixth consecutive loss. Unfortunately, the Pirates' happy redemption story is rapidly shrinking under the rigors of Big East play. Shame.
  • Before Saturday, South Florida's Big East record was 6-3. Considering the Bulls entered conference play with a 7-6 record and their best conference win was at Villanova, it was fair to say that surprising league start had more to do with South Florida's schedule than its skill. After today's blowout loss at Georgetown -- USF's worst conference loss since joining the Big East and its worst loss period since 2004 -- I think we can officially cement that perception.
As good as the afternoon was, with exciting upsets and huge road wins over top-five teams, the evening may have matched it in the vital FOPM statistical category. (FOPM stands for freak outs per minute. It's a tempo-adjusted metric, naturally.) Let's lead with what may be the result of the day -- Syracuse's very first loss of the season, at Notre Dame.

Notre Dame 67, No. 1 Syracuse 58

What we learned: Nobody's perfect. OK, yeah, Murray State is still perfect, but you get the drift: Everyone loses eventually. Sooner or later, the Orange were going to have a particularly bad shooting night. Sooner or later, they were going to struggle on the road. Sooner or later, they were going to do these things against a coach and a team that had designed the perfect gameplan to take advantage of this opportunity. As it happens, that coach was Mike Brey. That team was Notre Dame.

Of course, the Fighting Irish don't have a tenth of the talent available to Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim. What do the Irish have? The Burn. That's what Brey calls his team's intentionally slow, clock-killing offense, and while it isn't always the preferred strategy in South Bend, it is something the Irish keep in their back pocket when they find themselves facing a bigger, stronger, faster, more skilled, pretty-much-all-around-better opponent.

Indeed, as ESPN's Doris Burke noted late in the game, the Irish played a sort of semi-burn Saturday night. They lulled the Cuse into seven fewer possessions (61) than its average adjusted tempo (68) on the season (including a handful of late heaves when the game was out of reach), but ND was also opportunistic: When it broke SU's press, it didn't always pull out and set up the halfcourt offense. It was a clinic in opportunistic decision-making. (At one point, it ended in a contested fast-break dunk by Jack Cooley. Jack Cooley? Jack Cooley!)

Syracuse, being Syracuse, still managed to force a mess of turnovers. At several points in the second half, as Notre Dame forward Scott Martin struggled time after time to inbound the ball on his own baseline, it appeared the Irish were just a few possessions away from a late collapse. But the Orange's poor shooting (they posted a 40.0 effective field goal percentage) and ND's solid free throw shooting sealed this game in the closing moments.

Burke called it a "masterful" gameplan from Brey and, as usual, she was dead on: Notre Dame knew exactly what it needed to do to take a walk through any door Syracuse left ajar. When the time came, it executed.

Going forward, this loss may knock Syracuse out of the top spot in the rankings, but it shouldn't change the perception of this team much. First of all, the absence of leading rebounder and shot-blocker Fab Melo (due to an unresolved academic issue from the fall semester) was a blow to this team's inherent interior advantage. Second, Syracuse didn't shoot the ball well. Frankly, it didn't play well. Overreact if you like, but it's the opinion of this writer that, well, hey, these games happen.

For Syracuse, it was bound to go this way eventually. When it did, the Irish were ready.

No. 15 Mississippi State 78, Vanderbilt 77 (OT)

What we learned: The Commodores will struggle with capable frontcourts. They struggle late in close games. They struggle on the defensive end. They are, in other words, the same Vanderbilt Commodores we've come to know and love in each of the past three seasons. Their recent improvements created the notion that this team had turned some vague corner, that it was finally ready to assume the top-10, Final Four-worthy preseason expectations foisted upon them.

Instead, on Saturday, we saw the team that led us to doubt that status in the first place. Vandy yielded a 12-point second-half lead, allowed Mississippi State to score 1.14 points per possession and got vastly outrebounded on both ends of the floor. In the end, even with very good chances to win the game -- particularly the final shot in regulation, which ended up being an uncontested four-foot shot for Festus Ezeli (which he missed) -- Vanderbilt just couldn't make the key defensive plays.

In the meantime, Mississippi State deserves credit for a major road win. Forward Arnett Moultrie was brilliant (21 points, 14 rebounds, three steals, one block) and guard Dee Bost was just as good (24 points, five rebounds, four assists and a handful of key second-half shots). Even Renardo Sidney, who struggled for much of the game and suffered an injury in overtime, got in on the act, hitting a monster 3 with 1:22 remaining in the second half.

Three days ago, the Bulldogs went to rival Ole Miss and lost and looked vulnerable -- even downright overrated -- throughout. Their ability to rebound from that loss with a win on the road against a streaking Vanderbilt team, one that had won its past eight games -- including on the road at Alabama -- is to be commended. Surprising stuff, to say the least.

No. 12 UNLV 80, New Mexico 63

What we learned: UNLV is still the Mountain West favorite. Yes, yes, San Diego State certainly has a claim to that distinction, too, especially since its first two conference results -- a two-point home win over the Rebels and an incredibly impressive road win at New Mexico -- were among the most impressive back-to-back performances we've seen from any team in any league this season. New Mexico is no slouch, either. Before Wednesday's loss to SDSU, the Lobos had won 13 in a row. There are three very good teams in the MWC, folks. That much we know.

Then again, I'd say we knew that already. The main takeaway from Saturday night's best late-night matchup -- and this is a good old-fashioned eye-test thing to say, but I'm doing it anyway -- is that UNLV just looks like the best team in this league. The Rebels have few, if any, holes in their attack. They have talented players at every position. Their guards push the pace; their forwards run to the rim; their wings hit 3s with ease. Anthony Marshall, Chace Stanback, Mike Moser, Oscar Bellfield and even reserves like Carlos Lopez and Justin Hawkins -- these players are perfectly suited to Dave Rice's new emphasis on uptempo basketball, and when you watch them play, it shows.

The Mountain West race is going to be fascinating, and we'll hear more from the Lobos -- and, of course, the league-leading Aztecs -- before the season is out. Sure, I'd take UNLV as the favorite. But whatever happens, if two of these three teams are playing, it promises to be very entertaining.

A few more observations from the Saturday evening that was:
    [+] EnlargeJamie Dixon
    AP Photo/Keith SrakocicPitt lost its ninth game Saturday, matching the highest season loss total of Jamie Dixon's tenure.

  • Bad times got worse for Pittsburgh on Saturday night, as the Panthers fell to No. 21 Louisville at home, 73-62. In case you're counting, that's Pitt's eighth straight loss and seventh in a row in Big East play ... for the first time in Pitt hoops history. Ouch. Even worse? According to ESPN Stats and Information, this is the first time Pitt has lost four straight home games since 1999-2000. The loss is also Pitt's ninth this season. Jamie Dixon-coached Pittsburgh teams have never recorded more than nine losses in a regular season. There are myriad issues afflicting the Panthers right now, chief among them defense, but it's hard to see any major improvements coming any time soon. If this wasn't a lost season already, it is now.
  • Neither VCU nor Old Dominion are likely to end up with a chance at an at-large bid come March, but their meeting tonight was still full of implications for the CAA title race. Before Saturday, ODU was 6-1 in conference and VCU 5-2, both right there hanging around with George Mason and Drexel in the Colonial standings. In other words, Virginia Commonwealth got a rather massive 61-48 win, handling the lackluster Monarchs rather easily at home. Shaka Smart's team is still rebuilding after last year's miracle NCAA tournament run, but they're not nearly as far down as most would have expected. Keep your eye on the Rams.
  • The C-USA race is going to be interesting. Marshall appeared to have the best odds to challenge Memphis' purported superiority, with Southern Miss a notch or two below -- a dark horse at best. After Saturday -- when Southern Miss topped Marshall and tied the Thundering Herd at 4-1 in league play -- it seems clear things aren't quite that simple. There are no remaining unbeaten teams in the league, with UCF at 5-1 and Memphis, Marshall and USM all now residing in second place at 4-1.
  • I don't know if we'll call the Pac-12 race "interesting." "Mystifying" feels more appropriate. Either way, consider what went down in the conference Saturday: Cal fell at Washington State (not an unforgiveable loss, given how well Wazzu has played at home, but still) just as the Bears appeared set, thanks to a blowout Stanford loss at Washington, to create some separation between themselves and the rest of the league. Meanwhile UCLA -- which keeps struggling, week after week, to sort things out -- fell on the road at Oregon, which is now 6-2 and tied atop the league standings. Elsewhere, lowly Utah not only didn't lose, but actually blew out Arizona State in Salt Lake City; and Colorado held on for a one-point home win over Arizona. Those Pac-12 power rankings are going to be a bear to write. I can't wait.
  • Two results from the West that shouldn't be dismissed. Long Beach State, a team that played perhaps the most grueling nonconference schedule in the country, continues to see the dividends from that gauntlet. On the road Saturday night, LBSU went into the Thunderdome and absolutely obliterated chief rival UC Santa Barbara, 71-48, the talented squad that's beaten the 49ers in the Big West final in each of the past two seasons. And in Laramie, Wyoming beat rival Colorado State -- which had won eight straight -- 70-51 to improve to 16-3. Yes, 16-3. What a job by first-year coach Larry Shyatt. And what a performance by USC transfer Leonard Washington, who set career highs in points (32) and rebounds (14).
  • As for the momentum Nebraska created with that dramatic victory over Indiana on Wednesday? Ohio State did not seem to care. Buckeyes 79, Huskers 45. So much for that.

Leonard Washington now a game-changer

December, 13, 2011
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Leonard Washington has always played hard-nosed basketball, but in Wyoming, he has softened his stance on at least one issue.

While with USC, the 6-foot-7 forward not-so-famously declared to the Los Angeles Times at one point that he would "never talk to the media again. I'll pay fines in the NBA if I have to."

It made some sense because at many times during his career as a Trojan, there weren't positive things to discuss. There was the low blow he gave Blake Griffin. There was an academic suspension. There was coach Kevin O'Neill ultimately dismissing him from the team.

At Wyoming, Washington after redshirting last season has not only talked to the media, but also spoken volumes with his play as he leads a defense that has only allowed 49.9 points per game. The junior went through enough coaching changes to have played and practiced under five head coaches, and for Larry Shyatt, he has collected the most rebounds and blocked shots out of all the Cowboys.

Washington's transformation has Shyatt rightfully excited about the future of the program, according to the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
"I see a guy that's helping change our culture because he's on edge and he’s got a toughness and competiveness about him," he said.
But Washington’s teammates do see the football side of him.

"He's an aggressive player and an emotional player, but I think that’s what makes him such a good player," senior center Adam Waddell said. He can tap into that football mentality and you can definitely see it.

"He's not afraid of contact at all. He gets in there and uses his body, and that sets Leonard apart."

Credit Shyatt for getting the Cowboys off to a 9-1 start, which is tops in the Mountain West. The schedule they've played hasn't been especially challenging, but wins are wins for this program. Consider that after Shyatt's arrival, the team's top two scorers made the decision to transfer.

But the remaining players have bought into what Shyatt is preaching. Guard Luke Martinez is leading the team in scoring averaging 13 points after missing all of last season with a broken elbow. The injury-plagued center Waddell is averaging 10.8 points. Point guard JayDee Luster is playing like a senior and has only committed nine turnovers against a team-best 43 assists.

And then there is Washington, who embodies how Wyoming can change and all of a sudden become a contender in the Mountain West.

Katz's five observations from the week

December, 12, 2011
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Before we begin a new week of games, here are five thoughts from the past seven days:

1. Kentucky should be able to grow from its loss to Indiana on Saturday. It might not seem that way to upset UK fans, but the Wildcats needed to see how to handle a tough environment and late-game situations. They couldn’t convert at the free-throw line to ice the game and then didn’t do what coach John Calipari and his staff instructed in the final possession -- foul a Hoosier, any Hoosier. (Kentucky still had a foul to give and using it would have forced Indiana to take a shot against a set defense.) If the Cats watch those final two possessions and learn what to do in the future, this team will be fine. There's still title-winning talent on Big Blue.

2. Seton Hall’s Herb Pope continues to have an amazing recovery from collapsing last year in a life-or-death scare. As of right now, he's the comeback player of the year with his play. He led the Pirates with 26 points and 14 boards in a 14-point win over Wake Forest this weekend and is averaging 21.9 points and 11.3 rebounds for the surprising 8-1 Pirates.

3. Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus picked up his 500th win on Saturday. Majerus has gone through quite a bit in his career with multiple health concerns. He was a doting son to his ailing mother, who passed away earlier this year. So Majerus deserves all the credit that comes his way after notching No. 500. And it is even sweeter that he’s coaching a potential NCAA team with the Billikens now 9-1.

4. Northern Iowa is back to being relevant just two years after that stunning defeat of Kansas in the NCAA tournament. The Panthers have lost just once and that was a late-night game at Saint Mary's after an arduous travel schedule to begin the season. UNI has won eight in a row since, including an easy sweep of Iowa and Iowa State and a blowout of previously 8-1 Milwaukee on Saturday. Ben Jacobson's group looks like a strong contender with Creighton, Wichita State and Indiana State for the Missouri Valley Conference title.

5. First-year coach Larry Shyatt is making Wyoming play defense and as a result has the Cowboys surging in the Mountain West in his second stint as head coach in Laramie. Wyoming has played a relatively soft slate so far, but the Pokes are 9-1 with a solid 11-point road win over rival Colorado during the weekend. There’s no reason to think Wyoming can’t put itself into postseason contention with this strong start.

3-point shot: Gators seeking offense

December, 7, 2011
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1. Florida coach Billy Donovan said junior forward Erik Murphy will play Wednesday against Arizona after missing the Syracuse game with a bone bruise that was originally thought to be a meniscus tear. The Gators desperately need another forward to produce, especially one that can stretch the floor with his shooting. Forward Patric Young is simply not an offensive-minded player. Florida desperately missed another offensive threat against Syracuse last Friday night. Murphy is shooting 57.1 percent on 3s and averaging 10 points a game. He hasn’t played in the previous three games. While Florida gets healthy, Arizona loses a player to a suspension as coach Sean Miller will enter the game without Josiah Turner.

2. Former Donovan assistant Larry Shyatt is back for his second stint at Wyoming as head coach. And he’s once again made sure the Cowboys are defensive pests. Wyoming, which is off to a surprising 8-1 start even though the schedule is soft, is quick to promote some impressive stats: third in the nation in scoring defense (49.4 points per game), fourth in 3-point percentage defense (22.2 percent) and 12th in field-goal percentage defense (35.4 percent). Wyoming is 16th in scoring margin (18.9 ppg) and senior point guard JayDee Luster is No. 1 in the nation in assist-to-turnover ratio (7.4).

3. The Hall of Fame made the smart move of going from Springfield, Mass., to Connecticut's Mohegan Sun for its non-conference tournament. The casino can be more of a destination for fans and the arena is a significant upgrade from when the tip-off event was held at the MassMutual Center. The event had a huge lift with Kentucky as its marquee school last month. But the Hall of Fame is now getting a field worth circling going forward. The four main teams in 2012 will be Ohio State, Washington, Seton Hall and Rhode Island. The 2013 field is even better, with North Carolina, Louisville, Richmond and Fairfield as the four marquee schools.

Denver Nuggets coach college coaches

September, 22, 2011
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With the NBA lockout in place, Denver Nuggets coach George Karl and his staff recently found time to open up their doors and playbooks and hold a coaching clinic for the region's college coaches.

According to nuggets.com, about 20 coaches were in attendance representing schools including Colorado, Colorado State, Denver, Northern Colorado -- with Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt making the drive from Laramie.
Karl, one of just seven coaches in NBA history to win 1,000 regular-season games, has always been an advocate of giving back to the game. It is a tenet of "The Carolina Way" taught by Hall of Fame North Carolina coach Dean Smith.

"Probably twice a year, Coach always said go back and thank someone who helped you," said Karl, who played for Smith from 1969-73. "Make sure you touch someone through the game of basketball. That message sticks with you."

For two days, Karl and the Nuggets generously shared knowledge, watched film and talked about offense and pick-and-roll strategies with their college counterparts at the Pepsi Center workshop.

The outreach program was about building relationships and giving back to the basketball community. The college coaches soaked up information they can now take back to their own players.

"The NBA's different, but in of respects, it's the same," Denver coach Joe Scott said. "Basketball's basketball. We got together and talked about offense and the Nuggets' offense and the Nuggets' ideas and principles offensively...There's a lot of things that they do that we already do, and it's just a matter of, 'How do you implement some of those things into what we do.'

"It was actually a little bit of validation for us to go down there and say, "Hey, these are some of the same things we've been talking about doing."
On April 26, ESPN's Andy Katz touched base with recently hired Wyoming coach Larry Shyatt. Shyatt had just taken the job in frigid Laramie, Wyo., after seven years as Billy Donovan's top assistant at Florida, one of the most high-profile programs in the country. Needless to say, the move provoked curiosity. As Andy wrote, who moves from Gainesville to Laramie? And why?

For Shyatt, the response was simple: He liked the program. He didn't mind the weather. More than anything, he felt he owed it to Wyoming, where he earned his first head-coaching gig in 1997-98 but bolted for Clemson after just one season.
"I didn't like the way I left the first time," Shyatt told Katz at the time. "It was the right thing for my children. They wanted to go to Clemson. I wouldn't have changed it. But I can't say I felt good about it."

If a recent interview in the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle is any indication (hat tip: Eric Angevine), those aren't the only reasons Shyatt made his prodigal return. He also seems disillusioned with the state of big-time modern coaching and recruiting. Shyatt even goes so far as to decry the "sellouts" at that level of coaching, saying that "most of the people I admired most in my career I don't really admire anymore." To wit:
"Coaches are under a great deal of pressure to make a couple of key decisions. One, do I go after the most amount of talent that the eyes tell me and maybe look the other way in terms of either academics or value system? Or do I try to get a better combination?

As much as I want to win and as much as I distaste losing, I can assure you I'm not going to look the other way. That's not a direction I'm comfortable with. Early in my career I was confronted with some of those decisions. It's a lot easier now for me."

Gagliardi: Why is that easier for you now?

"I would say it's mostly been me. It's mostly been my distaste for the BCS-level basketball world.

Most of the people I admired most in my career I don't really admire anymore. (F)or the analysts or the writers or the public or our wives, sometimes, they have a warm, fuzzy feeling for some people that if they knew what I knew, they wouldn't have such a warm, fuzzy feeling. It's disappointing. I'm one of the few basketball dinosaurs. I love the profession. It hurts me to see at that level the sellouts in that regard."

Shyatt doesn't name names, though he does provide a list of coaches he continues to admire, and his former colleagues at Florida (Donovan, former assistant and current Alabama coach Anthony Grant) are among them.

In other words, there's no big discovery to be made here, no coaching catfight to uncover and gossip about. More than anything, Shyatt seems enamored with "the profession" but dog-tired of the ethical gray areas that can so easily come with it. He seems sick of the preening, designer-suit clad coaching archetype. He wants to coach, and he wants to win, but he doesn't want to do the things college hoops coaches so often do -- whether legal or not -- to make those things happen.

Instead, he packed his bags and headed back to Wyoming. That move was, as we now know, made not only to repay the Cowboys for giving him his first big shot. It was also an escape from the college hoops rat race. It's hard not to admire Shyatt for that.

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