College Basketball Nation: Luke Harangody

Luke Harangody is not the first. He won't be the last. But if you find the occasionally wide gulf between college performance and NBA draft stock as fascinating as I do, then you probably want to pay attention to the NBA draft fate of the man somewhat obnoxiously called The Gody. That's not even a nickname, really. It's just a portion of his last name with "The" in front of it. Weak.

[+] EnlargeLuke Harangody
Jim O'Connor/US PresswireDespite his production in college, Luke Harangody is not expected to go early in the NBA draft.
Anyway, everyone knows Harangody's deal. The forward was an exorbitantly productive player at Notre Dame, becoming the school's first three-time All-Big East selection and becoming the first player in the history of the Big East to lead the conference in both scoring and rebounding in two consecutive seasons. If you never saw him play and only ever looked at his numbers, you'd assume Harangody was a no-brainer first-round draft pick. His collegiate production was just that good.

Of course, the NBA draft doesn't work that way. NBA scouts do watch players play. When they saw Harangody play, they saw a burly, undersized forward who relied on an unorthodox jump shot and a coterie of herky-jerky low-post moves to create his offense. They saw a guy who rebounded like a maniac, but who also siphoned a huge portion of his team's possessions, not always efficiently. They also saw a guy whose team inarguably played better without him in 2009-10, and whose return came just in time for the once-resurgent Irish to lifelessly fall to Old Dominion in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

Oh, but that production! That range! Is there really no place for performance like that in the NBA?

As it stands, Chad Ford currently has Harangody ranked No. 53 overall in his pre-draft rankings. The highest anyone has rumored Harangody going is to the Minnesota Timberwolves at No. 37; most mock drafts have Harangody in the Nos. 50-57 range. For his part, Harangody is hanging tight in Shererville, Ind., where he seems downright relieved to have the process -- the workouts and flights and all the rest of it -- behind him.

Tonight will be interesting to watch, but just as interesting will be the rest of Harangody's career. It could go anywhere. He could be the new DaJuan Blair -- much-maligned despite his production, drafted in the second round, immediately productive in the NBA. Or he could fail completely. Whatever happens, the cause of college production over NBA potential -- in so far as it's a "cause" in the first place -- will have yet another interesting test case on its hands. Not the first. Not the last. But interesting all the same.
NEW ORLEANS -- Kentucky coach John Calipari won’t be counting made jump shots this week in the Big Easy.

For that matter, he won’t be counting jump shots at all. He’ll gladly tell you that the Wildcats’ ability (or inability) to knock down perimeter jumpers won’t dictate how far this team goes in the NCAA tournament.

Say this for the Wildcats: They’ve made it this far, a No. 1 seed in the East Regional sporting a 32-2 record, and their 3-point shooting has been dreadful at times.

“If we’re not hitting our 3s, we’ll find other ways to score,” Kentucky freshman point guard John Wall said. “That’s what we do. That’s what we’ve done all season. We’ll score off our defense, go inside to our big guys, make tough 2s.

“We just look at the 3s as a bonus.”

A very scary bonus if you’re the other team lining up against the Wildcats and they happen to be hitting that day.

As Calipari said earlier this season, “If we’re making shots, we bury people.”

But the Wildcats have also had to grind out more than a few this season, and at some point in this tournament, grinding becomes a way of life.

Really, it becomes a necessity when you shoot 16 percent from 3-point range as Kentucky did during one stretch in February. And then in the SEC tournament, the Wildcats shot just 25.4 percent from behind the arc.

Will it catch up to them? We’re going to find out.

Here’s a preview of the first-round East Regional games in New Orleans on Thursday:

Game 1: (6) Notre Dame vs. (11) Old Dominion, 12:25 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Irish (23-11) have won six of their last seven games, including three victories over nationally ranked teams. Their only loss in that stretch was a two-point decision to West Virginia in the Big East tournament semifinals. The Irish needed a big finish to ensure their sixth trip to the NCAA tournament in 10 seasons under coach Mike Brey. They had lost seven of 10 games from the middle of January to the middle of February prior to their hot close. The Monarchs (26-8) won the Colonial Athletic Association tournament championship to earn an automatic berth. They’ve won eight of their last nine games entering the tournament. Their best win was a 61-57 triumph over Georgetown in December.

Who to watch: Notre Dame senior forward Luke Harangody is back and looking healthy after missing five games in late February and early March with a bruised right knee. Now coming off the bench, he said Wednesday it’s the healthiest he’s felt, which is good news for the Irish. He’s averaging 22.4 points and 9.2 rebounds. The Irish tweaked their offense late in the season and are now playing more of a slow-down game.

What to watch: The Monarchs are an excellent rebounding team and rank fifth nationally in rebounding margin at plus-8.8. Junior forward Frank Hassell leads the way with 6.6 rebounds per game. He’s one of five players on the team averaging at least 4.2 rebounds per game. Old Dominion is 22-4 when it outrebounds its opponent.

They said it: “You know, you just can’t make that change [on offense[ unless you have guys that are really good with the ball. We’ve led the nation in assists to turnovers the whole season. If you’re going to make more passes every possession and throughout 40 minutes, you’ve got to have guys that can do that and big guys that can do that.” -- Notre Dame coach Mike Brey

Game 2: (3) Baylor vs. (14) Sam Houston State, 2:45 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Bears (25-7) have won eight of their last 10 games, tying with Kansas State for a second-place finish in the Big 12 Conference. The No. 3 seed is their highest in program history. Baylor is the only NCAA Division I team this season with no loss of more than seven points. Its seven losses have come by an average margin of 5.6 points. The Bearkats (22-7) won the Southland Conference tournament championship to receive an automatic berth. They enter the NCAA tournament having won 17 of their last 19 games. They played Kentucky to a 102-92 loss back in November in Rupp Arena and drilled Auburn 107-89 on the road in December.

Who to watch: Baylor 6-foot-10 junior forward Ekpe Udoh has been the perfect complement to all of those guards in the Bears’ lineup after transferring over from Michigan. The Big 12 Conference’s Newcomer of the Year, Udoh set a Big 12 single-season record with 124 blocked shots and is also averaging 9.8 rebounds per game.

What to watch: The Bearkats love to run, love to force the tempo and aren’t shy about shooting the 3-pointer. They’re also an extremely unselfish team and lead all NCAA Division I teams with an average of 20.9 assists per game.

They said it: “We didn’t come up here to just win one game. We’ve come up here to win games, and that’s what we’ve worked to do all season long. So we’re going to continue to do that.” -- Baylor senior guard Tweety Carter

Game 3: (16) East Tennessee State vs. (1) Kentucky, 7:15 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Wildcats (32-2) swept both the SEC regular-season and tournament championships. Their only losses were to South Carolina and Tennessee. They won their 26th SEC tournament title in overtime last week, a 75-74 victory over Mississippi State in Nashville. The Buccaneers (20-14) are back in the NCAA tournament for a ninth time and have been the essence of perseverance. They overcame the tragic death of sophomore Seth Coy in a car accident in July and then lost their top player, senior guard Mike Smith, to a season-ending knee injury prior to the season. Still, they played their best basketball down the stretch, winning their last six games, including the Atlantic Sun Conference tournament championship.

Who to watch: The Wildcats have three sensational freshmen, all of whom will probably be playing in the NBA next season, but the guy who makes them go is Wall. Nobody in college basketball gets up the court as quickly as he does, and he’s also one of the best finishers in the country when he gets into the lane. Wall has struggled with turnovers at times and isn’t a great shooter, but go back and count how many clutch plays he’s made for the Wildcats this season.

What to watch: Calipari will try to join Rick Pitino as the only two coaches to take three different schools to the Final Four. Pitino took Providence, Kentucky and Louisville. Calipari has taken Massachusetts and Memphis. If Calipari does reach the Final Four with Kentucky, he would be the first coach to get to the Final Four in his first year at that school since 1998 (Bill Guthridge at North Carolina and Tubby Smith at Kentucky).

They said it: “I think all brackets are hard. Some may be harder than others. This guy may say this bracket’s hard. This guy may say that bracket is really easy. There is no easy road to Indianapolis. Don’t let anybody tell you there is an easy road. There is none. They’re all hard.” -- Kentucky coach John Calipari

Game 4: (8) Texas vs. (9) Wake Forest, 9:35 p.m. ET

How they got here: The Longhorns (24-9) limp into the NCAA tournament. They’ve lost nine of their last 16 games, a fade that’s even more stunning when you consider they started the season 17-0 and were ranked No. 1 in the country for two weeks in January. It’s not like the Longhorns have been going up against all powerhouses, either. Nine of their last 16 opponents finished with losing records. The Demon Deacons (19-10) have been a carbon copy of the Longhorns in a lot of ways. They’ve lost five of their last six games and were routed 83-62 by Miami their last time out in the ACC tournament. The Deacons do own six wins against RPI top 50 teams, but just about all of those came in the first half of the season.

Who to watch: Texas senior forward Damion James thought about turning pro last season, but decided to come back. He’s averaged a double-double for the Longhorns (17.7 points and 10.3 rebounds) and tried to be more of a leader, but he hasn’t had a lot of help around him as Texas faded down the stretch. He admitted after a stinging 19-point loss to Baylor in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals that the team had lost its focus and its passion. We’ll see if the Longhorns can get it back.

What to watch: The Longhorns and Deacons are both athletic, although neither team shoots it particularly well. Both will look to run and get out in transition. Teams forced Wake Forest to slow it down during its slide to end the regular season, but the Deacons shouldn’t have to worry about that Thursday. The team that works the boards the best and gets the most second-chance points is probably going to win this game.

They said it: “We’re going out there with attitude. But people forget we were the best team in the country. We’re still the same team. We just have to go out there with that swagger and that demeanor and go out there and go at it.” -- Texas senior forward Damion James
NEW YORK -- Da'Sean Butler didn't have to be a last-minute hero this time, but the senior still rescued his team.

Butler scored 24 points, each one as critical as the 3-point buzzer he banked to beat Cincinnati, 53-51, on Thursday night, as the Mountaineers staved off a furious rally from the Irish.

West Virginia will have a chance to win its first conference tournament crown of any kind since 1984 when it faces Georgetown on Saturday night. WVU has never played for the Big East title.

In a game where points were at a premium, Butler was the one person in a West Virginia uniform who couldn't be contained. Kevin Jones was the only other Mountaineer in double figures. He had 10.

West Virginia did exactly what it needed to do to beat the Irish. Recognizing opportunities would be fleeting, the Mountaineers took only good shots in the halfcourt. They never got frustrated or rushed, shooting 48 percent from the floor. And they absolutely dominated Notre Dame on the boards, 34-19, allowing the Irish only four offensive rebounds for the game.

Despite the loss, the Irish leave New York with a newfound offense and newfound identity. Mike Brey's willingness to scrap his fast-paced style led the Irish out of the doldrums and into the NCAA Tournament. They'll go with a healthy Luke Harangody, who struggled to get 1o points against the Mountaineers, and a confidence that slowing the game down works.

Half: West Virginia 23, Notre Dame 20

March, 12, 2010
3/12/10
10:33
PM ET
NEW YORK -- Notre Dame has somehow figured out a way to win games by going counter-intuitive to the entire concept of the game of basketball: they win by not scoring points.

Seriously.

It's bizarre and backward and it works.

The Irish's lack of offense has allowed them to stay close to West Virginia in a game that frankly feels a lot less close than the score would indicate. The Mountaineers are content playing the slow-down game and are shooting 47 percent. Da'Sean Butler is picking right up from his heroics last night against Cincinnati. He has a dominating 11 points for the Mountaineers.

The Irish, meantime, who need to score on the majority of their possessions if they want to shorten the game, have only connected on 34 percent. West Virginia is forcing the Irish to the arc and Notre Dame isn't connecting, hitting only four 3-pointers on 15 chances.

More critical WVU has 17 rebounds to Notre Dame's 11. Each board represents another chance for the Mountaineers or one less opportunity for the Irish to score.

If the Irish are going to win this game, they absolutely have to shoot better -- and more -- they need to get Luke Harangody involved. He's taken just one shot and has only three points. Yes, Notre Dame won without him before. But they need him now.
NEW YORK -- After the frenetic pace of the first two games in the Big East quarterfinal earlier today, watching slow-down Notre Dame against contentedly gritty Pitt is like watching a game in slow motion. Doesn't mean it's a bad game, just different.

A few quick thoughts at the break:

  • Pitt was the first team to experience the newfound Irish and suffered a 15-point loss in the process. Ready for what's coming this time, Pitt is handling it a lot better. The Irish are shooting the ball very well -- 62 percent -- but the Panthers don't mind playing in the halfcourt and aren't bothered by playing a lot of defense. The Panthers, however, do like to get out on the break when they can and would gain an advantage if they could do that in the second half.
  • Luke Harangody doesn't look at all bothered by games on back-to-back nights. The senior once again has given the Irish an off-the-bench spark with seven points.
  • The difference right now is at the arc. Notre Dame is a much better shooting team and it's showing. The Irish are 5-of-10 from the arc compared to 2-0f-7 for the Panthers.
NEW YORK -- Bubble talk is almost over here at the Big East tournament. Of the remaining eight teams playing today, only one -- Cincinnati -- isn’t guaranteed to see its name on the board come Selection Sunday. And the Bearcats, frankly, have a lot more work to do before they can enjoy the view from the Barcaloungers.

So what’s left to play for? Nothing but being the top dog in the top conference in the country. And if you don’t think that matters, you haven’t been paying attention. Winning the Big East is akin to earning the medal of honor. It means you’ve done something darn difficult and borderline courageous.

Here’s a quick look at today’s slate:

Georgetown vs. Syracuse

The good news: This game will finish on the same day it started. A year ago today, the Orange tipped off against Connecticut on Thursday. The final buzzer sounded on a Friday morning after the marathon six-overtime game finally ran out of gas.

For the Hoyas: Georgetown dug itself a 23-point hole when it played Syracuse in the regular season. It absolutely cannot do that again. The Orange is too good defensively to come back against.

For the Orange: The regular-season loss ought to have an asterisk -- played in an emotionally fervent Freedom Hall. Syracuse remains the team to beat in this conference, but will need its big man combo of Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuaku to contain Greg Monroe today.

Marquette vs. Villanova

The good news: For Villanova, Taylor King is back in the lineup. Suspended by Jay Wright for "personal issues" he has been reinstated and gives the Cats another scoring threat.

For the Golden Eagles: Maurice Acker and Lazar Hayward are key. Acker needs to get by the deep and talented Villanova backcourt and get the ball to Hayward, who ought to have an edge on the Wildcats’ slim frontcourt.

For the Wildcats: Once 20-1, Villanova enters the Big East tournament on a 2-5 skid. Its biggest issue has been finding another reliable scorer to go alongside Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher.

Notre Dame vs. Pittsburgh

The good news: Luke Harangody looks not just healthy; he looks like the one time league Player of the Year. He provided a huge spark for the Irish off the bench against Seton Hall and posted a double-double.

For the Irish: Notre Dame’s game change to a slower, ball-controlling tempo has worked well. The Irish have won five games in a row and are the hottest team in the Big East right now.

For the Panthers: Pitt has a chance to right one of last season’s wrongs. The Panthers were stunned and crushed in this round a year ago, the No. 2 seed going down at the hands of rival West Virginia. To do it, Pitt will have to use its scrappy and disruptive defense to take the Irish out of their new slow-down mode.

Cincinnati vs. West Virginia

The good news: The Bearcats are still alive. Winless in the tournament since joining four years ago, Cincinnati now has two W's in the books. Plus, every night the Bearcats are here adds another breath of life to their slim NCAA tournament hopes.

For the Bearcats: Mick Cronin minced no words after his team beat Louisville on Wednesday night: “If we get beat on the boards, we lose.’’ Cincinnati need to bring the same gusto and fervor to its rebounding effort tonight as it did against the Cardinals. The Bearcats aren’t likely to match the numbers. West Virginia is a much better rebounding team than Louisville, but they need the same dedication and effort in order to prevent the athletic and long Mountaineers from dominating.

For the Mountaineers: West Virginia looked like the team with Final Four talent by year’s end. The Mountaineers won five of their last six in dominant fashion, riding the coattails and talent of Da'Sean Butler.
NEW YORK -- Notre Dame coach Mike Brey was sitting around at a team dinner, talking to his assistant coaches about what coaches always talk about – basketball.

Anthony Solomon, who played on the Virginia team that nearly stunned Phi Slamma Jamma Houston in the Final Four, started talking about the Cavaliers famed run from lousy regular season to the brink of a national championship in 1984.

[+] EnlargeLuke Harangody
Tony Spinelli/ESPN.comNotre Dame's Luke Harangody scored 20 points and had 10 rebounds in his most extensive action since missing five games with a knee injury.
Brey, listening with half an ear, suddenly piped up.

“I said, ‘Anthony, what was the score of that game?’’ Brey said.

The answer -- 49-47 -- spurned a seismic shift in the Notre Dame basketball landscape that has taken the Irish from Big East afterthought to Big East beast.

“I went to sleep that night and just thought, ‘We’ve got to do something different,’’ Brey said of his Solomon-inspired epiphany. “We’ve had burn – where we run the clock in the final four minutes – in our playbook forever. So I just told the guys, ‘We’re going to extend burn to 40 minutes.’’

The burn has scorched opponents. Since Brey put the brakes on the usually run and gun, up and down Irish, Notre Dame has ripped off five wins in a row and gone from not being in the NCAA Tournament conversation to playing for a seed. The Irish defeated Seton Hall 68-56 Wednesday night.

Brey’s courageous change -- (Yes, courageous. Asking a veteran team to change its style with a few weeks left in a season, going against every gene in a coaching DNA takes guts.)-- was borne out of desperation more than invention. With Luke Harangody on the bench with an injured knee and the Irish with a pedestrian 17-10 record, Brey knew he had to do something drastic.

“Someone once asked Bill Walsh if he dreamed up with the West Coast offense playing with salt shakers and he said, ‘I put in the West Coast offense because I wanted to survive,’’ Brey said. “Well it was basically the same for us.’’

That it has worked so well is a credit to the Irish players.

“I thought he was crazy,’’ Tory Jackson said of Brey’s plan.

But Jackson laughed when he said it. The players saw the need to make a meaningful change in style and rather than balk, they went all in. Blessed with a good collection of scorers who can finish a play, the Irish have willingly made their offense more deliberate, ticking off passes in a halfcourt set rather than blazing at full throttle.

The more methodical offense has simultaneously cured Notre Dame’s longstanding Achilles heel: its defense.

Basketball isn’t complicated. You can’t score if you don’t have the ball. By holding the ball, the Irish are limiting their opponents’ possessions. During this five-game streak, the Irish have allowed an average of 56.4 points.

In its Big East opening round game, Notre Dame got the best evidence that its new plan is working. A month ago, Seton Hall scored 49 points in the first half against the Irish.

On Wednesday night, the Pirates mustered 56 ... for the game.

“A couple of weeks ago, we were dead in the water,’’ Harangody said. “Now look at us. We’re one of the best stories in college basketball.’’

Perhaps a story with yet another chapter to write. Harangody had three restorative practices before the Seton Hall game, rebuilding his confidence while restoring his conditioning. His first half 15-point, 9-rebound effort ignited the Pirates and broke open a tight game.

After playing 24 minutes, he said his body felt good and he was more than ready for Notre Dame’s quarterfinal match with Pittsburgh.

“Going into this game and especially the Marquette game, my confidence wasn’t at the level it is now,’’ Harangody said. “Right now I feel like I started to get back the swagger I had before the injury.’’

Notre Dame 68, Seton Hall 56

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
9:03
PM ET
NEW YORK – Pop.

The extremely diaphanous bubble holding Seton Hall’s NCAA tournament hopes officially burst here in the Big East tournament. The Pirates absolutely had to beat Notre Dame to have an outside chance of getting a ticket.

Instead the high-scoring Pirates – the same ones who dropped 109 against Providence a night earlier – could barely get over 50 against the Irish, and all but sealed their NIT fate.

But instead of pummeling the losers here, it’s time to salute the winners. Notre Dame moved into the quarterfinals and squarely and finitely into the NCAA tournament field with their fifth consecutive win. A team that less than a month ago looked way out of the NCAA tournament instead played its way in with its best player on the bench with an injury.

The Irish’s stunning Luke Harangody-less rally may be the most surprising event in a very surprising Big East season.

There is no one hotter in the league right now and no one playing with more confidence.

How did this one go down? A few ideas:

  • The Irish might have played gamely without Harangody, but they play better with him. Notre Dame looked tentative and tight early in the game. Enter Harangody. The senior ignited the Irish in the first half, scoring 15 points and adding nine rebounds before the break. He finished with 20 points and 10 boards and looked about as healthy as a body can look. He spun around flat-footed Seton Hall post players, hit the sky for rebounds and hustled down the court.
  • While Harangody provided an off-the-bench spark, the Pirates’ reserves didn’t have a pulse. Jamel Jackson’s late, banked-in 3-pointer represented the Pirates’ bench scoring in its entirely. Eugene Harvey, Jeremy Hazell and Herb Pope did all the hevy lifting, scoring 39 of the Pirates’ paltry 56 points.
  • The Irish will play Pittsburgh in the quarterfinals. Ordinarily I’d say that’s a tough matchup for Notre Dame. The Panthers play scrappy, in your face defense, something the high-flying Irish aren’t terribly comfortable with. Except ND started its improbable run with a 68-53 pummeling of the Panthers, so who’s to say that the team riding some sort of early St. Patty’s Day Luck of the Irish can’t duplicate the miracle?
NEW YORK -- The most bubble-icious of today's Big East slate is not exactly going as I expected. Notre Dame and Seton Hall ordinarily aren't shy about scoring -- the Irish average 77 points per game and the Pirates 80 -- and they aren't typically terribly interested in playing defense. Instead we're on pace for a game in the 50s. Headscratcher there.

There's a lot more on the line for Seton Hall than the Irish. The Irish are in the NCAA tournament right now, albeit tentatively, while the Pirates are still trying to earn a spot. A loss here would end their hopes.

Before we tip off for the second half, here's a few thoughts about the first 20 minutes:

  • Luke Harangody is fine. And if he's not, I'd like to be injured like him some day. The senior came off the bench once again and automatically dominated the game. He's one rebound shy of a double double, with 15 points and nine rebounds and is running the floor smoothly and easily. All that talk about how the Irish were fine without him was nice but the fact is they're a whole lot better with him.
  • The Pirates came out looking loose and relaxed but after Notre Dame went on a run, the Hall lost its freewheeling attitude. They need to get it back. Seton Hall is at its best when it gets up and down the court.
  • Seton Hall is never good on the boards - they are in a 0.3 deficit in rebounding margin for the season - and the 20-15 edge for Notre Dame is definitely hurting them. The Irish have kept a number of possessions alive with second-chance opportunities.
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Saturday's winners and losers

March, 7, 2010
3/07/10
1:57
AM ET
Winners from Saturday

Notre Dame: The Irish gave the selection committee another reason to put them in the dance with yet another road win, this time with Luke Harangody and at Marquette -- a team in the tournament field. The Irish are earning their way into the field.

Duke: The Blue Devils likely earned the fourth No. 1 seed with a hammering of North Carolina on Saturday night. Duke also clinched a share of the ACC regular-season title. The Blue Devils passed the eye test of a team that could get to Indy.

Saint Louis: The Billikens won at Dayton, completing a season sweep of the Flyers and finishing in fourth place in the Atlantic 10. Rick Majerus has done an outstanding job with a club that is void of upperclassmen. The Billikens could be a sleeper to win the A-10 in Atlantic City next week.

Baylor: If you’re looking for a sleeper in the Big 12 tournament, it could be Baylor. The Bears ran away from Texas and looked like a team ready to get busy in the postseason.

Kansas: The Jayhawks may have locked up the No. 1 overall seed after winning at Missouri on Saturday. Kansas got inspired play from its key contributors and once again heads into the conference tournament on a high.

Louisville: The Cardinals had to win two of there games this week and did. Louisville beat Connecticut, then lost at Marquette before beating Syracuse on Saturday. That gave the Cardinals a sweep of Syracuse and a likely bid to the Dance in the final game at Freedom Hall.

Tennessee: The Vols did something Lane Kiffin couldn’t do, taking a 17-0 lead on the road in the SEC. Tennessee lit up Mississippi State and had the look of a team that could be a major factor in an SEC tournament that they'll play in their home state just a few hours away in Nashville.

Virginia Tech: The Hokies didn’t have their second-leading scorer in Dorenzo Hudson, survived a nasty moving screen by Gani Lawal on Malcolm Delaney and gutted out a win over Georgia Tech in Atlanta. The Hokies dismissed any doubt about their candidacy with a win.

Washington: The Huskies kept alive their chances of an at-large berth by winning at Oregon State. That win doesn’t get them in the dance, but a loss would have been crushing.

Arizona State: The Sun Devils are in Joe Lunardi’s bracket and they had to beat UCLA to stay in the field. They did, sweeping the L.A. schools this week. But here’s the deal: ASU and Washington are heading for a showdown in the semifinals of the Pac-10 tourney. Loser is out, winner has a pulse.

Memphis: The Tigers had a great week, winning at UAB and crushing Tulsa at home. The Tigers get the sweep of the Blazers. If you’re looking for a second C-USA team to go along with league champ UTEP, it could be the Tigers. They may get a third shot at UAB in the semifinals.

Maryland: The Terps won at Virginia. Yes, UVA was playing without Sylven Landesberg, who has been suspended for the season due to academics, but the Terps still won a road game. That means Maryland gets a share of the ACC title. That’s an outstanding accomplishment for this squad.

Pitt: The Panthers lost to Indiana early in the year without Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown. Pitt could have lost to Providence at home, but when it mattered most the Panthers have come up huge. They beat Rutgers as expected Saturday but that meant Pitt got the No. 2 seed after beating West Virginia and Villanova at home in February. Jamie Dixon has done a phenomenal job with the Panthers. There is no reason Pitt should be No. 2 in the Big East with what it lost.

Losers from Saturday

Rhode Island: Had a shot to convince the selection committee that it was worthy, but lost at UMass a week after losing at St. Bonaventure. The Rams didn’t beat the top three teams in the A-10 (Xavier, Temple or Richmond). URI must win the conference tournament.

Mississippi State: The Bulldogs started a must-win game down 17-0. Mississippi State has blown two chances to win a key home game – to Kentucky and now Tennessee. The Bulldogs didn’t do anything Saturday to convince the selection committee.

Georgia Tech: The Yellow Jackets may still get into the field. But they gave the selection committee a reason to pause after losing at home to Virginia Tech, sans Dorenzo Hudson, who was hurt. The Yellow Jackets finished seventh in the ACC and had only one conference road win.

Connecticut: The Huskies had an awful week, losing at Notre Dame and then losing at South Florida on Saturday. The Huskies now probably have to get to the Big East semifinals to crawl back into the conversation.

Dayton: The Flyers were teetering on the bubble before the Billikens bulldozed the Flyers late and stole a win. Dayton now probably has to win the A-10 tournament to get a bid.

Villanova: The ‘Cats may have played themselves out of a No. 2 seed by losing at home to West Virginia. Villanova also fell to the No. 4 seed in the Big East tournament. ‘Nova can still make a magnificent run, but it made the journey more difficult.

Kansas State: The Wildcats lost their third home game in the Big 12 by falling to lower-level Iowa State (also lost to Kansas and Oklahoma State). The Wildcats blew a No. 2 seed with the home loss Saturday.

LaSalle: The Explorers were supposed to be a sleeper in the A-10. They won’t even make the tournament in Atlantic City. The Explorers will join winless Fordham in sitting out the conference tourney.

Oklahoma: The disaster season came to a conclusion with a sad effort against Texas A&M. The atmosphere was awful and the Sooners sunk.

North Carolina: The Tar Heels were handed the second-worst loss under Roy Williams. The Tar Heels were embarrassed by Duke and limp into the ACC tournament. It was just awful.

UAB: The Blazers had a huge week with games against UTEP and Memphis. They lost them both and pushed themselves onto the wrong side of the bubble.

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane got hammered by Memphis and limp into hosting the conference tournament next week. Tulsa was the preseason favorite to win Conference USA.

A few nuggets:
  • Georgetown coach John Thompson III said late Saturday night that Austin Freeman felt fine after the game, his first since being diagnosed with diabetes. Freeman scored 24 points in the win over Cincinnati. Freeman missed the West Virginia game last Monday. Thompson told me that the Hoyas will continue to monitor Freeman’s blood-sugar level and don’t anticipate any problems going forward this season.
  • Notre Dame got Luke Harangody back for the win at Marquette. Harangody played 11 minutes off the bench. Irish coach Mike Brey told me late Saturday night that Harangody will continue to come off the bench this season. He said ‘Gody told him to use him however he wants to ensure the team wins. Brey said the Irish have become mentally tougher in the past few weeks. The Irish were 4-2 without Harangody, beating Pitt and Connecticut at home and winning at Georgetown.
  • KVAL-TV reported that Oregon coach Ernie Kent has been fired and that he was told on Feb. 22 by Oregon athletic director Mike Bellotti. No one will be surprised if this does occur, but Kent told me in a text late Saturday night that this is the same story he has heard the past four years. Meanwhile, Bellottti sent this statement out late Saturday night after Oregon’s win over Washington State: "Ernie and I have talked, and we will continue to talk through the Pac-10 Tournament."
Admit it. You've been thinking it. It's OK, I won't tell anyone. Plus, I've found myself thinking the same thing from time to time. We're all in this together.

[+] EnlargeLuke Harangody
Jeff Hanisch/US PresswireLuke Harangody scored five points in 11 minutes in his return.
That oh-so-scandalous thought: "Wait, is Notre Dame actually better without Luke Harangody?"

The evidence is compelling. Since Harangody suffered the bone bruise that's kept him out of action since Feb. 11, the Irish have gone on a bubble-reviving run in the Big East (though not before losing to St. John's and at Louisville in overtime, not that the latter is anything to be ashamed of). Notre Dame has taken consecutive wins over Pittsburgh, at Georgetown and UConn. For the first four months of the season, with Harangody in the lineup, Notre Dame was a sub-bubble team. In the three weeks since his injury, Notre Dame has played themselves back into the tournament.

Let's put the notion to rest, at least temporarily; today, Harangody returned, and though his contributions were limited (11 minutes, five points, two rebounds), Notre Dame managed to beat a good Marquette team in Milwaukee with Harangody in the mix. So, no: The Ewing Theory doesn't quite apply here.

What is interesting is how Harangody's return will affect Notre Dame's suddenly well-rounded attack. In his absence, Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis have taken their games to a new level. On the whole, the Irish seem more fluid, more dynamic, able to score from more spots on the floor. Obviously Harangody is a very good player, but it's hard to deny the Irish haven't been somewhat freed by his injury. There's no compulsion to run a certain number of possessions through one player, albeit one very, very good offensive player.

So when Harangody returns in full will the Irish incorporate him into their newfound balance, making them even more dangerous on offense? Or will the Irish revert to their prior, non-Harangody selves? With the Big East tournament just a few days away, Notre Dame doesn't t have much time to figure it out. In the meantime, coach Mike Brey can take today's result as a minor positive. Maybe the Irish aren't better without their best player. Weird, right?
Jack Cooley & Luke HarangodyAP Photo/Icon SMIJack Cooley, left, and Luke Harangody look similar but have helped Notre Dame in different ways.
Why this wasn't on the front page of CNN.com remains a mystery. But it's true, folks: Notre Dame has successfully completed the first human cloning. Our species will never be the same.

Either that, or Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley looks exactly like Luke Harangody. One or the other.

Don't take my word for it. Thanks to the Dagger's keen eye, you can examine the overwhelming side-by-side visual evidence yourself. On the right is Harangody, All-American forward for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish. On the left is someone Notre Dame sports information wants you to believe is named Jack Cooley. But we're not fooled, are we?

A few weeks ago, Harangody suffered a bone bruise that seems likely to keep him out for the rest of the season. (Though less likely now that Notre Dame has played itself back into tournament consideration.) Into Harangody's 6-foot-8, 246-pound absence has stepped the 6-foot-9, 244-pound frame of Cooley, who has added a dash of rebounding and a few extra fouls to the Irish's suddenly resurgent lineup.

Perhaps the only evidence against cloning is Cooley's allergy to scoring. The forward has taken two or fewer shots in each game he's played since his minutes increased, and his high total for points (four) came Saturday against Georgetown. No spawn of Harangody would do such a thing. Then again, cloning is an imperfect science. We have much to learn of its ways. Sure, Cooley might be a totally normal human being with his own specific genetic code to boot. But let's not rule anything out.

Whatever the secret, Notre Dame fans are probably OK with it. After three straight bubble-worthy wins, the Irish will take whatever bonuses they can get -- affronts to nature or no.

Without Harangody, Irish pick up key wins

February, 27, 2010
2/27/10
11:45
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Purdue has a chance to show the NCAA tournament selection committee what kind of team it is without Robbie Hummel in its final three games.

Notre Dame has already proven that it can win without Luke Harangody. Is the selection committee paying attention? It should be.

Harangody, the Irish's top scorer and the 2008 Big East Player of the Year, suffered a hyperextension/bone bruise of his right knee in a loss at Seton Hall on Feb. 11. The Irish fell flat by one at home against St. John’s three days later.

But then something happened at Louisville. The Irish were right there to beat the Cardinals before falling by two in double overtime on Feb. 17. They followed that by beating Pitt handily at home and stunning Georgetown by 14 in Washington D.C. on Saturday. If you toss in a two-point win over West Virginia (with Harangody on Jan. 9) then the Irish may have a tournament-worthy body of work within the Big East -- with him and without him.

"How many teams have three wins against top 12 teams?" Notre Dame coach Mike Brey said by phone after returning to South Bend, Ind., Saturday night. "We've obviously proven we can play without him. We pass the eye-ball test."

Brey said he and his staff talked about how similar Notre Dame's situation is with Purdue.

"We've had to prove it now for three weeks and won two amazing games," Brey said.

The Irish (19-10, 8-8) don't have resume-building wins in nonconference play. And Brey knows that not all Big East records are created equal. But if the Irish can at least split their final two games (against Connecticut and at Marquette) to finish 9-9 in league play, then they may be hard to turn down, especially with the amount of quality wins they would likely have without Harangody.

"If we're 9-9 we would thoroughly be in the picture, and then go to New York City and see what we can do," Brey said. "It's a great example of what could happen in one week in the Big East and how your fortunes can change."

Brey said that he's extremely hesitant to put Harangody back on the court. There is still discomfort in his knee and Brey said the fear is it could lead to a situation where he might require microfracture surgery.

"It's less than 50-50 that he would play Wednesday [against Connecticut] on senior night,’’ Brey said. "And if he can't play Wednesday then he won't play Saturday. We're not going to mess with this. He's done so much for us already. The reality is that we have played our butts off without him and we're prepared to do it again if that's the case."

The Irish have locked down defensively without Harangody. Brey won't come out say as much, but he did admit that the team's defense has improved. He also said that the Irish have slowed down offensively.

"I wanted us to limit the possessions in the game," Brey said of playing without Harangody. "I wanted us to be overly patient. I didn't want us to have to guard as many possessions. The longer offensive possessions, the better we can shoot."

Brey said the Irish are also playing with experienced players on the perimeter like Tory Jackson, Jonathan Peoples and Ben Hansbrough. Notre Dame has also benefitted from the shooting of Tim Abromaitis, whom Brey is calling one of the best fresh faces in the Big East, as well as getting contributions from Carleton Scott, Tyrone Nash and Jack Cooley.

"We're a little bit better defensively and offensively, we're more efficient," Brey said. "I can't say this is completely out of left field, but I'm a little bit surprised. I'm not shocked. I still thought we had good personnel.

"We were hoping that we could make our own luck and that's what we've done," Brey said. "We're thrilled to be in the discussion without Luke Harangody. We've put ourselves back in position."

Saddle Up: Life on the bubble

February, 24, 2010
2/24/10
3:40
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Saddle Up is our daily preview of the hoops your TV wants you to watch. Here's Wednesday night's rundown.

Don't let anyone tell you the college basketball regular season doesn't matter. It does. Wednesday night doesn't boast a single match up between top 25 teams, but it does have at least four games featuring bubble (or barely bubble) teams with a chance to immediately boost their at-large chances. A quick gander:

No. 3 Purdue at Minnesota, 7:30 p.m. ET, Big Ten Network: Don't look now, but Minnesota has a chance to make the NCAA tournament. I know, I know -- it's a distant chance. But it's a chance. After a 16-point win over Wisconsin on Feb. 18 and a subsequent blowout at Indiana, Tubby Smith's team is at 16-10 and 7-7 in the Big Ten with four games to play. A win tonight would be the Gophers' third in a row, and would give them a much-needed quality win for the résumé. Then, with a win over the No. 3 team in the country in their pocket, the Gophers would have three winnable games -- at Illinois, at Michigan, and at Iowa -- to play. Win out, and that gets Minnesota to 20 wins, an 11-7 conference mark, and serious at-large consideration. Easy, right?

OK, not so much: Purdue is playing its best basketball of the season right now, and the Boilermakers are in the thick of a Big Ten title race with Ohio State and Michigan State. There will be no letdowns. If Minnesota wants to sneak into the tournament, it will be earned.

South Florida at Villanova, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN360: South Florida, much like Minnesota, is nowhere to be found in Joe Lunardi's latest bracket. At 16-10, the Bulls share much the same burden as the Gophers, which is not how the animal kingdom works at all, but that's OK, because we're actually talking about college basketball. Anyway, stay focused: South Florida very much needs a win at Villanova -- not an impossible feat, given Nova's prodigious fouling habit and overall defensive vulnerability -- to stay in the bubble picture. At the very least, fire up your laptop to watch Dominique Jones take on the porous Wildcats. Bubble talk or no, that ought to be a treat.

San Diego State at BYU, 9 p.m. ET, CBS College Sports: San Diego State has had two prior chances to prove itself worthy of an at-large bid. The first was Jan. 23's 71-69 loss to BYU at home. The second was an 88-86 loss at New Mexico. Swap either one of those incredibly close and no doubt disappointing results, and SDSU isn't sitting there wallowing among the first four out. So here you go, Aztecs. Last chance. You get BYU and Jimmer Fredette in Provo with a tournament at-large on the line. You've proven you can play with the best teams in your league. Now you must, thanks to the selection committee's totally unfair and not cool at all focus on "wins," win.

No. 21 Pittsburgh at Notre Dame, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN2: You already know the story here: Right now, Notre Dame shares two things with the aforementioned South Florida Bulls: a 6-8 Big East record and a fringe chance of making the NCAA tournament. How to remedy that? The Bulls have the better of the opportunities tonight, but Notre Dame has the more winnable. The only problem? Luke Harangody is expected to sit out again for the Irish, a knee injury that's come at the worst possible time for the perennially bubble-bound team.

Everywhere else: Both of these teams are already in the tournament, so they get shoved all the way down here to the flotsam, but tonight's best game is no doubt Oklahoma State at Texas, where Texas will experience life without Dogus Balbay for the first time ... There's also Texas A&M at Baylor, a match up of two very capable and tourney-ready Big 12 teams ... Dayton didn't fit up top, but it too needs a bubble win over Temple to make a late case for tournament inclusion ... UTEP will try to continue its conference dominance at Southern Miss ... Virginia Tech can't afford to lose to Boston College ... Florida State at North Carolina will be on your television whether you like it or not ... Xavier will go to St. Louis in tonight's other big A-10 match up ... And Clemson will play at Maryland as the Terps try to keep edging toward that elusive bracketology respect.

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