College Basketball Nation: Notre Dame Fighting Irish
Here’s the story I remember: My high school friend John, a Notre Dame freshman, had extra tickets for that game versus Kentucky, so my roommate Jason and I made the trek to South Bend, Ind., to watch the Irish take on Gerald Fitch, Chuck Hayes and Kelenna Azubuike. I distinctly remember the halftime celebration, the dimming of the lights, the rapture in the audience as the final two minutes of that fabled upset played on the Joyce Center scoreboard, the thunderous applause for the players arranged side by side at midcourt. And I swear that a Wildcats fan near us made fun of all the hubbub -- something about the Irish getting more mileage out of one game than any program before or since. I remember laughing.
Here’s the problem: John doesn’t. Remember, that is. The best he could do to verify, he said in an email, was “50-50.” And Jason? Jason wasn’t even on the trip. That was a different trip, he explained. Facebook was no help either; I didn’t create my profile until the fall of 2004. This game I’m so sure I attended was one of the last moments of my life that wasn’t recorded for posterity on the Internet. But I remember it! It happened! Right?
That was just 10 years ago, three full decades after the legend of the Digger Phelps-engineered upset of No. 1 UCLA was born. Imagine what tricks memory can pull in 40 years, what details can be lost in translation, how much harder it gets with each passing annum to identify with the way things once were.
And yet “Notre Dame 71, UCLA 70” has stood firm against the sands of time. It is crystallized in the sport’s collective memory, and not just because one team scored 12 unanswered points in the final two minutes or because the Irish had eerily bookended the 88-game winning streak that preceded it. Notre Dame 71, UCLA 70 will live forever precisely because it, more than any other game, connects us to an era in college basketball so utterly alien from our own.
No fact demonstrates this better than one that is often lost in casual remembrances: Notre Dame was ranked No. 2 in the country. In the matter of a decade, the thought of a No. 2-ranked team beating No. 1 on its home floor would sound like nothing more than an exciting, high-quality game of hoops, a sportwide shift that more or less exists intact to this day. In 1974, against John Wooden’s UCLA, it was something like history.
These facts are well-known and oft-repeated, but they never lose their power. And the 1974 Bruins were the most powerful of them all. From Jan. 23, 1971, when ND’s Austin Carr scored 46 points in an 89-81 win, until almost three years later to the day, UCLA won 88 straight college basketball contests. The Bruins' average margin was 23.5 points. Bill Walton, the indomitable force as those teams’ literal and figurative center, had not lost a game since his prep career at Helix High in San Diego. “By various accounts,” The New York Times recalled in 2010, “his personal winning streak had reached 139 or 143 games, the victories rolling up like miles on an odometer.” Wooden, with the help of local businessman and devoted booster "Papa" Sam Gilbert, concentrated more talent in Westwood than any program before or since. When Wooden combined that talent with the freedom and trust of his philosophy, an aura of enlightened invincibility was born.
Such was that aura that Notre Dame -- again, the No. 2 team in the country, playing on its own floor -- required intense psychological motivation to believe it could down the Bruins trailing by nine points with less than three minutes left. Before the game, Phelps forced his self-conscious kids to rehearse cutting down the nets. The final timeout speech Phelps delivered to his charges -- which the documentary “88 and 1” will detail Sunday night on ESPN2 -- practically force-fed the Irish’s belief.
Phelps also had two unlikely advantages.
Walton arrived in South Bend, Ind., injured. Twelve days earlier, the center broke two bones in his back when, as he later told the San Diego Union-Tribune, he was undercut on a rebound. He played brilliantly against Notre Dame, making 12 of his first 13 shots while wearing a restrictive back brace. But the film betrays Walton’s pain. When Irish center John Shumate stole UCLA’s high inbounds pass -- just seconds after scoring on Walton in the post -- Walton winced at the jump, hesitating for a brief second, glancing at the ground, while Shumate cut the lead to seven.
The other advantage? Wooden’s philosophy was so celebrated that it was already widely available in book form, where Phelps read that Wooden typically refused to call timeouts late in games. The serene Bruins legend preferred to let his players self-actualize their way through hiccups. He was adamant in his philosophy that coaching was for practice, that if players weren’t prepared for anything by game time, he had failed. So when Phelps’ team suddenly pressed and the turnovers piled up, UCLA never took a timeout to adjust. A miraculous 12-point comeback ensued.
To this day, UCLA players dispute that version of the facts. They insist that they, not their coach, lost the game. (Guard Pete Trgovich told the Times in 2010 that “Anybody who knows basketball can’t put [Phelps and Wooden] in the same breath. It had nothing to do with Coach’s decision not to call a timeout.”) Forty years later, there is still bad blood, still some jockeying for control of the narrative, still some attempt to write the history of one of the most incredible upsets in college basketball history.
Still, 40 years later, the result itself remains unchanged, fully formed, an artifact of a bygone era. It is no longer possible for one program to be so dominant that a loss to No. 2 at home would immediately go down in history.
But it was possible then, and it is that context that makes Notre Dame 71, UCLA 70 so special. It is a basketball memory too strong to fade.
We’ve officially judged and juried every nonconference schedule.
Kudos to the teams that had the nerve to schedule bravely. Your just rewards could come in March, when the selection committee recognizes the merits of playing tough opponents, even if there’s a risk of a loss.
And shame on those who scheduled meekly. Enjoy the NIT.
Now, it’s time to play Armchair Scheduler -- or King/Queen of the Basketball Universe, whichever title floats your boat -- and offer up 15 nonconference games that won’t be played this year, but we wish would be:
Kansas vs. Missouri: Let’s just file this under an annual request. One of the greatest rivalries in college basketball ought to be played this year, next year and every year. We don’t care who left what conference. We don’t care who’s angry. This is like two divorcing parents sparring over the china with the kids stuck in the middle. Here the two schools’ fan bases and fans of the game in general are the kids. So hire a good mediator, work this out and play ball.
Georgetown vs. Syracuse: See Kansas-Missouri argument above. The two teams here at least have agreed that continuing the rivalry at some point is a good idea and it appears a multiyear contract is imminent, but there’s nothing yet on the schedule. Let’s fix that. Soon.
Kentucky vs. Indiana: Ibid. Or is it op. cit.? Whatever, reference the Kansas-Missouri, Georgetown-Syracuse arguments cited above. Two states separated by a river. Great rivalry. Lousy excuses. Figure it out.
North Carolina vs. Raleigh News & Observer: The Tar Heels’ crimes, misdeeds and lack of punishment have been well documented in the news media, but nowhere as thoroughly and as well as at the local newspaper. The staff at the N&O has been relentless and thorough in its coverage. We suggest a game of H-O-R-S-E (with the African-American studies department excused from judging) at the Newseum to settle this once and for all.
Harvard vs. Duke: Smart school versus smart school. Mentor versus mentee. Easy storylines for reporters. What’s not to like about this matchup? Not to mention it would feature two top-25 teams and give the Crimson a chance to show how good they really are.
Kansas vs. Kentucky: Yes, we will get to enjoy Kansas (Andrew Wiggins) versus Duke (Jabari Parker) in Chicago, but we’re selfish. We’d like to see Wiggins go up against Kentucky, one of the schools he spurned. Not to mention it might be fun witnessing what could essentially be a freshman All-American game, with Wiggins, the Harrison twins, James Young, Julius Randle and Joel Embiid together on one floor.
Florida Gulf Coast vs. Georgetown: Let’s see if the slipper still fits when last season’s Cinderella goes rematch against its Madness victims, the Hoyas. Georgetown doesn’t have Otto Porter anymore and Greg Whittington is hurt, but hey, Dunk City lost its drum major when Andy Enfield headed to USC. Seems about even.
Michigan vs. Notre Dame: No one would dare call Mike Brey a chicken, would they? The two schools called the football rivalry quits this year amid acrimony and an endgame Wolverine chicken dance, but maybe the basketball schools can extend the olive branch and play for the first time since 2006.
Michigan State vs. Duke: Tom Izzo may not want to see the Blue Devils very often -- he’s 1-7 against Duke in his tenure -- but this game never disappoints. The two schools have met nine times and only twice, in 2003 and in 1958, has it been a blowout. The two have gone head-to-head over top recruits, including Jabari Parker, and come into the season as top-10 locks.
Memphis vs. Arizona: Josh Pastner revisits his coaching roots in a game that will answer the biggest question facing the Wildcats -- how good is point guard T.J. McConnell? If the Duquesne transfer can handle the Tigers’ onslaught of Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon, he can handle everything.
Louisville vs. Oklahoma State: You like good guard play? Imagine this one. Russ Smith, Chris Jones, Terry Rozier (and maybe Kevin Ware) against Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and incoming freshman Stevie Clark. The coaches would be miserable -- with Rick Pitino going up against his own beloved point guard, Travis Ford -- but the rest of us would enjoy it tremendously.
Oregon vs. Creighton: This game stacks up on merit, not just on the storyline of Dana Altman facing his old squad. With Doug McDermott back in the fold, the Bluejays are legit. Their schedule is less so, a sort of meandering plunder of nonconference nothingness. Adding the Ducks, a team Altman has reconstructed, and his impressive backcourt would be helpful. And OK, old coach/old school is fun.
New Mexico vs. Florida: The Gators already have a pretty impressive nonconference slate, but hey, what’s one more? This one would be a nice tussle between pretty skilled, albeit different, big men in Alex Kirk and Patric Young. Kirk enjoyed a breakout season last year, but facing Young would be a real test of the 7-footer’s abilities.
Toughest: 2K Sports Classic (Nov. 21-22), at Purdue (Dec. 4), vs. VCU (Dec. 28 in Brooklyn), at Harvard (Jan. 1)
Next-toughest: at Providence (Nov. 8), vs. UMass (Nov. 10 at TD Garden, Boston)
The rest: Toledo (Nov. 14), Florida Atlantic (Nov. 17), Sacred Heart (Nov. 26), at USC (Dec. 8), vs. Philadelphia (Dec. 15), at Auburn (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 — The differences between Boston College's 2012-13 schedule and its slate in 2013-14 mirror the differences in the two squads' expectations. Last season's Eagles were young and still very much rebuilding; this year's group, led by Ryan Anderson and Olivier Hanlan, has serious sleeper potential. We'll get to see just how much in late November, when Steve Donahue's team takes on UConn and then either Indiana or Washington in Madison Square Garden, followed by a trip to Purdue, a New Year's date at Harvard, and what should be a fascinating nonconference sojourn to New York City to play VCU.
Toughest: Charleston Classic (Nov. 21-24), at Arkansas (Dec. 7)
Next-toughest: South Carolina (Nov. 17)
The rest: Stetson (Nov. 8), Delaware State (Nov. 13), Coastal Carolina (Nov. 29), South Carolina State (Dec. 3), Furman (Dec. 14), at Auburn (Dec. 19), VMI (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 2 — I'm not sure whether it's possible to hand out a zero in these nonconference rankings. I'm pretty sure it's never been done. And I haven't seen every schedule in the country yet, I admit. But still: Clemson's schedule is … not great. It is possessed of exactly one interesting event -- the Charleston Classic, aka "a bunch of so-so teams and New Mexico" -- and, save a trip to Arkansas (if that), nothing else. (This isn't actual criticism, by the way. Clemson looks as if it's in the process of a big rebuild, and you wouldn't expect it to schedule hard in advance of this loaded ACC. But still. Ick.)
Toughest: vs. Kansas (Nov. 12 in Chicago), NIT Season Tip-Off (Nov. 27-29), Michigan (Dec. 3), vs. UCLA (Dec. 19 in New York City)
Next-toughest: Davidson (Nov. 8)
The rest: Florida Atlantic (Nov. 15), UNC Asheville (Nov. 18), East Carolina/Norfolk State (Nov. 19), Vermont (Nov. 24), Gardner-Webb (Dec. 16), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 28), Elon (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 — The Blue Devils rarely overdo it with their schedules, but just as rarely make it to ACC season without at least a handful of solid results on their docket. So it is again in 2013-14, if slightly tougher than the norm. That's true for a few reasons: Duke drew high-powered Michigan in its ACC/Big Ten matchup; Duke plays Kansas, which landed uber-recruit Andrew Wiggins this summer, in the Champions Classic in November; the Blue Devils look likely to get Arizona in the NIT Season Tip-Off; and UCLA could be formidable if the leftover talent from Ben Howland's tenure jells under Steve Alford. But all of these games are safely within the Blue Devils' sphere of influence. Somehow, Coach K managed to get two of the West Coast's marquee programs without going any farther west than Chicago. Same as it ever was.
Toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-24), at Florida (Nov. 29)
Next-toughest: at Minnesota (Dec. 3)
The rest: Jacksonville (Nov. 8), at UCF (Nov. 13), UT-Martin (Nov. 17), Jacksonville State (Dec. 8), Charlotte (Dec. 17), vs. Massachusetts (Dec. 21 in Sunrise, Fla.), Charleston Southern (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 — Florida State's season would have looked much different if two freshmen -- Wiggins, who looked hard at his parents' alma mater before choosing to go to Kansas instead; and Xavier Rathan-Mayes, a top-50 recruit who did not get through the NCAA clearinghouse this spring -- had joined up. Without them, star forward Okaro White has a daunting challenge ahead of him all season, beginning with a really good field in Puerto Rico (with first-round opponent VCU, plus Michigan, Georgetown, Kansas State in the mix), followed by road trips to Florida and Minnesota in close succession.
Toughest: Barclays Center Classic (Nov. 29-30), Illinois (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: at Georgia (Nov. 15), Dayton (Nov. 20) The rest: Presbyterian (Nov. 8), Delaware State (Nov. 11), North Carolina A&T (Nov. 24), Mississippi Valley State (Nov. 26), East Tennessee State (Dec. 7), Kennesaw State (Dec. 16), at Vanderbilt (Dec. 21), at Charlotte (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 — The Yellow Jackets don't have a ton here, but what they do have is solid enough, given where the program is sitting (probably best described as "getting better, if slowly") under third-year coach Brian Gregory. The Barclays Center Classic is a better-than-you-think event, with Ole Miss (and Marshall Henderson, which should be fun) followed by Penn State or St. John's, both of which should be improved over 2012-13. Illinois is the other notable nonconference game, a rematch of last season's 75-62 loss in Champaign, Ill.
Toughest: UConn (Nov. 8 in Brooklyn), at Ohio State (Dec. 4)
Next-toughest: Oregon State (Nov. 17), Paradise Jam (Nov. 22-25)
The rest: Abilene Christian (Nov. 13), Morgan State (Nov. 29), at George Washington (Dec. 8), Florida Atlantic (Dec. 14), Boston University (Dec. 21), Tulsa (Dec. 29), North Carolina Central (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 — The Terrapins won't get much in the way of RPI boost out of their early-season tournament; La Salle, Providence and maybe Northern Iowa appear to be the only reasonable challengers in the Virgin Islands. But the Terps do have a good opening night date with UConn in Brooklyn, similar to last year's near miss against Kentucky, and the Big Ten-ACC Challenge sends them to Ohio State, which is guaranteed to be a win on the RPI sheet no matter what happens on the floor.
Toughest: Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec. 1)
Next-toughest: La Salle (Dec. 22)
The rest: St. Francis (Nov. 8), Georgia Southern (Nov. 11), Texas Southern (Nov. 14), at Charleston (Nov. 18), UCF (Nov. 21), Nebraska (Dec. 4), at Savannah State (Dec. 19), Loyola-Md. (Dec. 30)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 — After a thoroughly euphoric 2012-13 season marked by an ACC regular-season and tournament title, a No. 2 tournament seed, and a first-round draft pick (point guard Shane Larkin), the Hurricanes are due for a serious hangover in 2013-14. Fortunately, their nonconference schedule shouldn't be too punishing. Other than the Wooden Legacy -- a quality field featuring Creighton, Marquette, San Diego State and Arizona State -- La Salle is the one real opponent of note, and the Explorers have to come to Coral Gables.
Toughest: Hall of Fame Tipoff (Nov. 23-24), at Michigan State (Dec. 4), Kentucky (Dec. 14)
Next-toughest: Texas (Dec. 18)
The rest: Oakland (Nov. 8), Holy Cross (Nov. 15), Belmont (Nov. 17), at UAB (Dec. 1), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 7), Davidson (Dec. 21), Northern Kentucky (Dec. 27), UNC Wilmington (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 9 — The usual North Carolina scheduling partners are all here. There's that trip to Michigan State (this time thanks to the ACC/Big Ten Challenge), the home-and-home with Texas, the huge mid-December date with Kentucky -- it's all there. This year, UNC even adds to that with the Hall of Fame Tipoff tournament, which, if expectations hold, will put the Tar Heels up against defending national champion Louisville in Uncasville, Conn. (after an opening game against Richmond). That means the Heels are likely to face the preseason No. 1, No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the country before the middle of December. Not too shabby.
Toughest: at Cincinnati (Nov. 12), at Tennessee (Dec. 18)
Next-toughest: Missouri (Dec. 28)
The rest: Appalachian State (Nov. 8), Campbell (Nov. 16), North Carolina Central (Nov. 20), Florida Gulf Coast (Nov. 26), Eastern Kentucky (Nov. 30), Northwestern (Dec. 4), Long Beach State (Dec. 7), Detroit (Dec. 14), East Carolina (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- NC State's young but promising batch of talent might surprise some people this season, particularly if the Wolfpack are ready for those key road dates at Cincinnati and Tennessee. It's hard to know what to expect from Missouri this season, but that could end up being a quality chance for a nonconference win in Raleigh. A two-loss nonconference run -- or better -- would have folks jumping aboard the T.J. Warren bandwagon just in time for ACC play.
Toughest: at Iowa (Dec. 3), vs. Ohio State (Dec. 21 in New York)
Next-toughest: vs. Indiana (Dec. 14 in Indianapolis, Ind.)
The rest: Miami (Ohio) (Nov. 8), Stetson (Nov. 10), Indiana State (Nov. 17), Santa Clara (Nov. 22), Army (Nov. 24), Cornell (Dec. 1), Delaware (Dec. 7), Bryant (Dec. 9), North Dakota State (Dec. 11), Canisius (Dec. 29)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- Notre Dame's official welcome to the ACC doesn't come in January but rather in the first week of December, when the Irish travel to Iowa for their first ACC/Big Ten Challenge matchup. At any point in the past few years, that would have been a perfectly manageable game, but the ascending Hawkeyes are one of the best defensive teams in their league, and Carver-Hawkeye is close to full, rollicking buy-in once more. The Crossroads Classic draw against Indiana is interesting, if not as intimidating as last season, and the Gotham Classic will match Mike Brey's team with the stifling Ohio State defense in Madison Square Garden just before Christmas break.
Toughest: vs. Cincinnati (Dec. 17 in New York)
The rest: Savannah State (Nov. 8), Fresno State (Nov. 12), Howard (Nov. 17), Lehigh (Nov. 20), Legends Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Brooklyn), Duquesne (Nov. 30), Penn State (Dec. 3), Loyola Marymount (Dec. 6), Youngstown State (Dec. 14), Cal Poly (Dec. 21), Albany (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 1. In recent seasons, few coaches have proved as good at gaming the Rating Percentage Index as Jamie Dixon. This is not a criticism; the NCAA's current system is made to be gamed, and, by this point, coaches who don't at least try to use the faulty system to their advantage are leaving potential seed-line improvements on the table. So I'm guessing that, by the end of the season, Pitt's RPI will be in solid shape. (And maybe the new-look ACC will take care of that on its own.) But that aside, this is a straight-up awful basketball schedule. Just … ugh. Cincinnati in Madison Square Garden is the only "marquee" game on the list, and that's a generous application of the term. The Legends Classic features an opening game against Texas Tech and a second-round matchup against either Stanford or Houston. None of those teams is truly awful -- same goes for Penn State on Dec. 3 -- but they're hardly inspiring opponents, either.
Toughest: Maui Invitational (Nov. 25-27), Indiana (Dec. 3)
Next-toughest: Villanova (Dec. 28), at St. John's (Dec. 15)
The rest: Cornell (Nov. 8), Fordham (Nov. 12), Colgate (Nov. 16, St. Francis-N.Y. (Nov. 18), Binghamton (Dec. 7), High Point (Dec. 20), Eastern Michigan (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 6 -- This score is awarded mostly for the Maui Invitational, which boasts a typically deep, if not vintage, field (Gonzaga, Baylor, Minnesota, Cal, Dayton, Arkansas, Chaminade). But it's worth noting that Indiana game at the Carrier Dome, which will be more of a test for the young Hoosiers, sure, but is nonetheless a big rematch of Syracuse's dominant Sweet 16 win in March. There are also two fixtures against former Big East foes Villanova and St. John's. The former is an improving, defensive group that took down the Orange in Philly last season; the latter is a road game against a talented but disjointed Red Storm.
Toughest: VCU (Nov. 12), Wisconsin (Dec. 4), at Tennessee (Dec. 30)
Next-toughest: Northern Iowa (Dec. 21)
The rest: James Madison (Nov. 8), vs. Davidson (Nov. 16 in Charlotte), Navy (Nov. 19), Liberty (Nov. 23), Hampton (Nov. 26), Corpus Christi Challenge (Nov. 29-30), at Green Bay (Dec. 7), Norfolk State (Dec. 23)
Toughness scale (1-10): 7 -- VCU and Virginia don't have much of a historical basketball rivalry because why would they? But now that Shaka Smart's program has become the state's most notable, it makes sense for Tony Bennett to schedule the Rams, whose pressure defense will be a huge stylistic test for the slow-and-steady Cavaliers in Charlottesville. Wisconsin, which lost to Virginia in Madison last season, won't be that but will be a tough home date in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, and a road trip at Tennessee rounds out the slate. UVa missed the tournament last season mostly thanks to (a) a bad noncon schedule and (b) a bunch of really bad noncon losses. This slate should help nullify both concerns.
Toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer (Nov. 22-23), vs. VCU (Dec. 21 at Richmond Coliseum)
Next-toughest: West Virginia (Nov. 12)
The rest: USC Upstate (Nov. 9), Western Carolina (Nov. 15), VMI (Nov. 18), Furman (Nov. 26), Radford (Nov. 29), Winthrop (Dec. 3), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 28), Maryland-Eastern Shore (Dec. 31)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- The Coaches vs. Cancer event at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn features a first-round game against Michigan State and a matchup against either Oklahoma or Seton Hall, and the home date against VCU at the Richmond Coliseum is really more like a road game. And honestly, that's probably good enough for the Hokies right now. Virginia Tech was a bit of a mess in James Johnson's first season, and that was with guard Erick Green, who submitted one of the best, most efficient all-around offensive seasons of the past half decade or so. Without him, it's going to get ugly.
Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30), at Xavier (Dec. 28)
Next-toughest: Richmond (Dec. 7)
The rest: Colgate (Nov. 8), VMI (Nov. 12), Presbyterian (Nov. 15), Jacksonville (Nov. 18), The Citadel (Nov. 21), Tulane (Dec. 4), St. Bonaventure (Dec. 17), UNC Greensboro (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 — Even if Xavier still isn't back to Top 25-level hoops by late December, the Cintas Center is a brutal place to play. But the main feature of this nonconference schedule is Wake's trip to the Bahamas for the Battle 4 Atlantis, where it will play Wiggins and Kansas in the first round (which, good luck with that), followed by USC or Villanova, with Iowa, Tennessee, UTEP and Xavier lurking on the other side of the bracket. This is a crucial year for maligned coach Jeff Bzdelik and his boss, athletic director Ron Wellman. The Deacs absolutely have to show some signs of progress early on.
All 12 Big Ten teams and 12 of the 15 ACC schools will participate in the 2013 Challenge, including the three newest ACC members (Notre Dame, Pittsburgh and Syracuse). Clemson, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest will not play in this year's event.
The ACC and Big Ten split last year’s Challenge with six wins each. In the event of a tie, the Commissioner’s Cup remains with the conference that won the previous year, which was the Big Ten in 2011. The ACC holds a 10-3-1 Challenge record, winning the first 10 events (1999-2008) before the Big Ten won the next three (2009-2011).
For an analysis of this year's matchups, check out Eamonn Brennan's take from back in May. As for the times and networks, here they are ...
Tuesday, Dec. 3 (all times ET)
7:15 - Indiana at Syracuse (ESPN)
7:15 - Illinois at Georgia Tech (ESPN2)
7:30 - Penn State at Pittsburgh (ESPNU)
9:15 - Michigan at Duke (ESPN)
9:15 - Notre Dame at Iowa (ESPN2)
9:30 - Florida State at Minnesota (ESPNU)
Wednesday, Dec. 4 (all times ET)
7:00 - Maryland at Ohio State (ESPN or ESPN2)
7:00 - Wisconsin at Virginia (ESPN or ESPN2)
7:30 - Northwestern at NC State (ESPNU)
9:00 - North Carolina at Michigan State (ESPN)
9:00 - Boston College at Purdue (ESPN2)
9:30 - Miami at Nebraska (ESPNU)
A few notes on this year's matchups:
- Seven of the 12 games will mark first-time Challenge matchups: Michigan-Duke, Maryland-Ohio State, Miami-Nebraska and Boston College-Purdue, plus the debut of the three new ACC members Syracuse (vs. Indiana), Notre Dame (at Iowa) and Pitt (vs. Penn State).
- In addition to first-time Challenge games, several of the teams are infrequent opponents: Nebraska holds a 3-1 record against Miami; Purdue won both previous meetings against BC; Ohio State and Maryland last played in 1985 with OSU three out of the five all-time games; and Notre Dame will play Iowa for the first time since 1990 and holds a 8-5 series record.
- Old Pennsylvania rivals Pitt and Penn State will meet for the first time since 2005. The Panthers have won the past five contests.
- Illinois/Georgia Tech and Wisconsin/Virginia will follow their first-time Challenge meetings in 2012 with a rematch in the 2013 event. The Illini and Cavaliers won last year's matchups.
- Best Three Out of Five: North Carolina/Michigan State and Minnesota/Florida State will meet in the Challenge for the fifth time. Both series are 2-2.
- Rubber Match: Northwestern and NC State will square off in the Challenge for the third time. Northwestern won in 2009 and NC State in 2002.
- Syracuse and Indiana have met five previous times in non-Challenge games, with the Orange winning the past four, including last season’s Sweet 16 matchup.
The IU-UK series, a hated border rivalry waged for much of the past century on both campuses and neutral courts, was dying. Indiana wanted to play on campus; Kentucky wanted to play on neutral floors. In his blog post, Calipari indirectly explained why: "When we schedule, I want to create experiences," he wrote. "Not just games."
Coach Cal went on to describe the various steps his Wildcats would take to do just that: This season's men's/women's Cowboys Stadium doubleheader vs. Baylor; negotiations for a traveling annual series against Duke; a preference for the higher-profile North Carolina series over the obvious border rivalry. Convincing and well-argued though it was, plenty of folks bristled at the strategy. For fans, at least, when the choice is between awesome, organic home environments and sterilized NFL-owned football stadiums, well, is there really a choice at all? Can we at least nod at the former before subsuming it into the latter? Like it or not, Calipari, per the usual, seemed to be on the vanguard of a new, ever more brand-obsessed reality. "Events" were paramount, and if another program -- even a program like Indiana -- didn't want to get on board, well, too bad. Kentucky, like Duke, could schedule who it wanted, when it wanted.
All of which is a preamble to this: On Monday, Purdue's athletics website announced that the Crossroads Classic -- an annual nonconference meeting of Indiana, Butler, Purdue and Notre Dame in Indianapolis -- would continue (at least) through 2016:
The highly successful Crossroads Classic will continue through 2016, the athletics directors at the four participating schools announced today. One of college basketball's premier non-conference events will continue to be played at Bankers Life Fieldhouse in Indianapolis. The additional dates and matchups are Dec. 19, 2015 (Purdue vs. Butler and Notre Dame vs. Indiana) and Dec. 17, 2016 (Purdue vs. Notre Dame and Butler vs. Indiana). Purdue will serve as the host school in 2015, with Indiana doing so in 2016.
Usually, a reporter's first reaction to a press release that leads with "The highly successful ..." is an unmitigated eye roll. In this case, that would be incorrect.
By any measure, the Crossroads Classic -- announced in 2010 by the athletic directors of the four participating schools, and first renewed in May 2012 -- has indeed been highly successful. Almost 19,000 fans comprising all four schools have packed Bankers Life Fieldhouse in each of the first two events. Administrators and program staffers have publicly and privately raved about the ease of behind-the-scenes negotiations and logistics. Unlike most nonconference events, no third party organization is in charge of hosting the event; the four schools teamed up to handle the logistics -- and rake their respectively tidy paydays -- themselves. (Coincidentally, tournament coordination by these four natural rivals was eased by casual circumstance: Purdue athletic director Morgan Burke and Indiana AD Fred Glass both grew up in the same Northwest Indianapolis neighborhood, and both attended Brebeuf Jesuit prep school, and Glass and Notre Dame AD Jack Swarbrick once worked together as attorneys at Indy law firm Baker & Daniels.) Oh, and the basketball was good, too -- particularly in the 2012 edition, when Butler walk-on Alex Barlow sank then-No. 1 Indiana in overtime.
More than anything, though, the Crossroads Classic is a promising way forward. Make no mistake about it: It is a capital-E Event. But unlike many such events, it has genuine roots beyond your cable box (the old Hoosier Classic ran from 1948 to 1951 and 1957 to 1960) and is waged in a genuine basketball arena, not a cavernous football edifice. It draws on what defines the state's relationship with basketball -- communal obsession, the sporting event as a public gathering, hoops memories as cultural shorthand -- and updates it with a modern sheen. When Indiana fans show up on the Jumbotron, everyone else boos. It is the perfect blend of the modern form with the generational investment that makes college basketball so great in the first place.
There's nothing wrong with events in and of themselves, obviously. (I bet that Kentucky-Baylor game is going to be really fun.) But if events are where the sport's elite are indeed going, let's hope the Crossroads Classic truly is a replicable model for the future -- something that provides brand equity, sure, but also something with stakes beyond "gee, that stadium sure is big!"
Losing rivalries and classic home gyms in November and December isn't preferable, but if the brave new "Classic" future is inevitable, perhaps our best hope is that it winds up more Crossroads than Carrier.
Take Butler. Last summer, when the Bulldogs left the Horizon League to join the limited-offer-one-time-only 16-team Atlantic-10, the immediate reaction -- that it would have to evolve to keep up with its purportedly bigger, more athletic, more monied leaguemates -- was born of a notion that Butler's success was of a piece with its longtime conference home. Instead, in what would be Brad Stevens' final season at the helm, with zero lead time to allow for said evolution, the Bulldogs went 11-5 in league play, 27-9 overall and finished ranked No. 45 in the Pomeroy efficiency ratings. In Stevens' five previous seasons, from 2008 to 2012, Butler finished, in order, ranked No. 32, No. 45, No. 12, No. 41 and No. 110. Throw out the outliers and 2013 was a perfectly normal Butler year. The conference changed. The results did not.
This is why tempo-free analytics -- particularly those that bake competition strength into their formula -- make us better observers of the game. There are always outside factors to consider, sure, and if Butler had been moving to the Big Ten, the story would have been different. But in general, when a league and a team come together to form a mutually beneficial union, it's because the calculus is going to be simple. If Butler was good enough to finish in the top 50 in adjusted efficiency while in the Horizon League, it was good enough to do the same in the A-10. And so it did.
In other words, Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame shouldn't spend too much time stressing this season's long-awaited move from the old Big East to the new ACC. Indeed, they should spend even less time worrying than Butler -- or any of its conference-climbing brethren -- ever did.
That might be the most important point: The Orange, Panthers and Irish didn't leap to the ACC because it was a better basketball league. All three are well-established, successful programs to varying degrees, and all three leapt for drastically different reasons than your average mid-major social climber.
Indeed, it can be argued that all three do more for the ACC than the ACC does for them. Whether the league will be the best in college hoops history, as Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski is so fond of saying, is up for endless debate. One thing's for sure: When all three arrive this fall, the ACC is not merely going to get better. It's also going to get more consistent.
Notre Dame is easily the least impressive of the new ACC additions entering the league in 2013-14. Before Notre Dame fans stop studying their color-coded football depth charts long enough to register anger at the previous sentence, they should know it says more about their fellow travelers than it does about the Irish.
Indeed, before Mike Brey arrived in 2000, the Irish spent the 1990s under Digger Phelps successor John MacLeod, who averaged a whopping 13.3 wins a season from 1991 to 1999. The fact that MacLeod averaged 13.3 wins a season and lasted for eight seasons tells you everything you need to know about where basketball ranked among the sporting priorities in South Bend, Ind. (I'd place it roughly between Interhall Football and Saturday morning consumption gymnastics.)
Brey has changed that. Since 2003, the Irish have ranked no lower than No. 48, and no higher than No. 15, in Pomeroy's adjusted efficiency rankings. They posted just two sub-.500 conference records in that span, have gone to nine NCAA tournaments in Brey's tenure and have never advanced past the Sweet 16. They've been a top-50 efficiency defense just twice. They've ranked lower than No. 22 offensively the same number of seasons. The highs are never too high, the lows never too low. Notre Dame basketball stays in its lane.
Expect the same in 2013-14. The Irish will have to compensate for the loss of the country's best rebounder, Jack Cooley, but returns essentially everyone else (notably senior backcourt Jerian Grant and Eric Atkins, intriguing rising sophomore Cameron Biedscheid, and sophomore shooter Pat Connaughton) from a 2012-13 team that did what Notre Dame does: 25 wins, an 11-7 Big East record, top-20 offense, mediocre defense, culminating in an early tournament exit at the hands of Iowa State.
Brey is desperate to get the Irish deeper into the tournament, and understandably so, but the baseline he has set is admirable in and of itself. For better or worse, Notre Dame is a model of reliability. Relative to the topsy-turvy recent editions of the ACC, the program is a rock -- and a near-lock for a top-half finish next spring.
When you look closely, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame share a swath of similarities.
Both programs languished in the 1990s before a rejuvenation in the aughts. Neither program recruits surefire NBA prospects on a yearly basis, preferring to develop overlooked preps into cohesive four-year veterans. The Irish are always at their best on the offensive end; with rare exceptions, so is Pitt. The Irish always play so slowly they earn an undeserved reputation for defense from the tempo-free-averse; Pitt always plays so slowly people assume it's a great defensive team whether it deserves it or not. (And sometimes the Panthers do.) The Irish habitually stall out early in the NCAA tournament; Pitt has advanced past the Sweet 16 only once since 2004.
There is one main difference, however. Under Mike Brey, Notre Dame has been consistently Notre Dame. Under Jamie Dixon, Pittsburgh has been consistently great.
That greatness hasn't always translated to single-elimination March success, but there's no denying what Dixon has built since he took over for Ben Howland in the spring of 2003. The Panthers have averaged 26.2 wins per season during his tenure, notched two Big East regular-season trophies and one conference tournament title and missed the NCAA tournament only once (in 2012, when they ranked No. 151 in adjusted defensive efficiency, only the second time Dixon's team finished outside the top 40 defensively). In those nine tournament appearances, the Panthers' average seed is No. 4.
Plus, it's not as though Dixon's teams don't deserve their hard-nosed reputation. They are almost always very good, and occasionally excellent, defensively. But they're really at their best -- and, yes, most consistent -- on the offensive glass. In 10 seasons, the Panthers have grabbed 40.2 percent of their available misses. They've ranked in the top five nationally in offensive rebounding rate in four of the past five seasons. It's not hard to figure out why Dixon's teams have earned a reputation for defense: They're slow and they don't shoot the ball well. Chalk it up to defensive intensity, right? Sometimes, maybe, but more often than not Pittsburgh excels on the offensive end because it outworks opponents for second chances on every possession.
This is going to be the case in the ACC from the opening tip in January. In 2012-13, only three ACC squads (Maryland, UNC and NC State) were among the nation's 100 best on the offensive boards, and only four (Virginia, Maryland, Georgia Tech and Miami) ranked higher than 120th in preventing opponents from grabbing second chances. The Panthers lost senior guard Tray Woodall to graduation and freshman center Steven Adams to the NBA draft, but return their typical panoply of high-motor frontcourt players and add No. 15-ranked freshman power forward Mike Young to the mix.
Whether Pittsburgh will be talented enough on both ends of the floor to win a conference title is an open question, but it will absolutely be the best rebounding team in the ACC. That should be more than sufficient to push for a top-five finish -- and maybe more.
Syracuse's greatest gift to the ACC might well be its putative and cabbie-trumpeted status as "New York's College Team." But let's be real: The addition on the court is just as big a get. The Orange are the fifth-winningest basketball program of all time. In 36 years under coach Jim Boeheim -- the second-winningest coach in college hoops history -- Syracuse has been staggeringly consistent: 34 20-win seasons, 29 NCAA tournament bids, 10 Big East titles and on down the line.
There's no reason to expect less in 2013-14. The Orange lost a significant talent load (Michael Carter-Williams, James Southerland, Brandon Triche) from their Final Four run in March, but, as is tradition, they will have plenty of talent to take their place. Boeheim has three top-100 players -- guard Tyler Ennis and forwards Tyler Roberson and B.J. Johnson -- arriving this fall. Ennis, the No. 5-ranked point in the 2013 class, is a lock to get big minutes, if not start. (Meanwhile, don't forget former Indiana signee Ron Patterson, a talented Indianapolis shooting guard who returned to prep school after failing to keep his grades up at IU last summer.) Returning senior C.J. Fair turned down the NBA draft in favor of another collegiate season of doing just about everything well. Sophomores Jerami Grant, Trevor Cooney and DaJuan Coleman -- the latter missed much of 2012-13 following knee surgery, and may be the brightest talent here -- will have big roles to play. Baye Keita is a horrifyingly long rim protector who blocked 8.2 percent of available shots last season. Rising sophomore Rakeem Christmas is even better (11.0 block rate).
That's what has made Syracuse so consistently good for nigh on 40 years: Even when the Orange are just OK offensively, Boeheim's strategic clarity, and his ability to recruit the right mix of players to play within it, have made Cuse a reliable defensive juggernaut.
Boeheim has been at this since 1976, three years before Dave Gavitt founded the original Big East. He has won 920 games since. The Orange may have a new conference logo patched onto those iconic uniforms, and Boeheim will have to search Yelp for a new Denny's for his pregame meals. But other than that, why would we expect anything to change?
2. Washington State coach Ken Bone said Idaho coach Ron Verlin agreed to move a game against the Cougars on Dec. 7 so Wazzu could participate in the Jud Heathcote event -- an event celebrating Heathcote's legacy at the four schools where he has either coached or -- in the case of Gonzaga -- has a passion for. Washington State will play Montana in the undercard while Gonzaga will host Michigan State at Spokane Arena on Dec. 7. Heathcote lives in Spokane where he coached high school basketball at West Valley High. He’s a regular at Gonzaga games. He also coached at Montana and Washington State before winning a national title with Magic Johnson at Michigan State in 1979. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo served under Heathcote before replacing him. Gonzaga coach Mark Few has become extremely close with Heathcote, as well.
3. Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly, Alex Len, Nerlens Noel and Anthony Bennett all will be unable to participate in next week’s NBA draft combine in Chicago on Thursday and Friday (live coverage on ESPNU 10 a.m. to 2 p.m./ 2-3 p.m. ESPN2 each day). That means there will be ample opportunity for even more players to shine in what has become a wide-open draft. At each of the five listed positions, there is at least one player who could really benefit from the lower numbers. Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, who is being discussed as a first-round lock, has a real shot to move up among the point guards. This will be a critical few days for those watching Kentucky’s Archie Goodwin among the shooting guards. The same is true of Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas with the small forwards, BYU’s Brandon Davies with the power forwards and Kansas’ Jeff Withey with the centers.
Except a funny thing has happened while everyone has been mourning the past and wondering about the future: A young'un from the Big East, a whippersnapper if you will, is taking its share of the last rays of the spotlight.
Louisville, born into the Big East in 2005 and set to expire in 2014, beat Notre Dame 69-57 on Friday night to advance to the Big East tournament final. The Cardinals, the relative newbies, will take on Big East original Syracuse in what, thanks to the twisted world of conference realignment, will be an ACC game in two years.
That makes four appearances in the final game in New York in the past five years for the Cardinals, a run that is rare for anyone in this brutal league and unprecedented among the current nouveau riche of the team roster.
It’s interesting that it’s Pitino who is orchestrating this new-kid-on-the-block run.
He is seen now as a pillar of the league, but back when, he was just a kid coach trying to prove his worth. This is where he did it, cutting his teeth at Providence. He was a young interloper -- so young that plenty of the coaches he was going up against tried to recruit him. They were the Mount Rushmore of the profession, he the unproven rookie.
Pitino held his own in meetings -- memorably going toe-to-toe with Rollie Massimino in one that still ranks in the story files -- and held his own on the court, too, taking the Friars to the Final Four in 1987.
So in a lot of ways, his team’s run here is a lot like his own. The Cardinals came into the Big East with plenty of name cachet thanks to the history carved by Denny Crum, but they were Southerners crashing the Yankee party, unknown entities who had to prove they could hang in a conference that prided itself on physical play.
And now here they are, playing in their eighth tournament, already trying to win their third title.
By any measure of history, those are pretty good numbers.
Asked what it’s like to "own the tournament," Peyton Siva smiled.
“I hope we own it tomorrow,’’ the Louisville guard said. “Coach really pushes us to bring our game up to a higher level. Throughout the year, we’re still trying to figure out our defenses and our offenses. We work so hard and condition so much that these three days are just like three days of practice. We’re used to it."
For Louisville on Saturday, this game will be about more than just sweet nostalgia. The Cardinals are in position to secure a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament -- with Duke’s loss to Maryland, they might already have locked one up -- but this entire week has been about memory lane and sentiment.
It’s no different for the Cards.
Louisville will be in The Conference To Be Named Later for one more season before jumping ship to the ACC. Its attachment to the Big East isn’t quite as deep as that of the others who are leaving, but the Cardinals nonetheless can leave an indelible mark on the league.
“This is the last Big East tournament game to be played," Pitino said. “Whoever wins, they’re going to be the answer to a trivia question for a long, long time."
NEW YORK -- A quick look at the Louisville Cardinals' 69-57 victory over the Notre Dame Fighting Irish to advance to the Big East tournament finals.
What it means: Louisville is one victory away from winning the Big East tournament for the second year in a row. Notre Dame was eliminated in the semifinals for the fourth consecutive year.
The No. 4-ranked Cardinals (28-5) have now won nine straight games since losing to the Fighting Irish in that five-overtime classic back on Feb. 9. If Louisville wins Saturday, it almost certainly will be a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.
Notre Dame (25-9), ranked No. 24, heads home disappointed, but helped its cause by upsetting No. 12 Marquette in the quarterfinals Thursday. The Fighting Irish were projected to receive a No. 6 seed in the Big Dance in the latest edition of ESPN.com's Bracketology.
This was also Notre Dame's final game as a member of the Big East. The Fighting Irish will play in the ACC next season. Louisville will join them the following season.
The turning point: Peyton Siva nailed a 3-pointer on the very first possession of the game, Louisville went ahead by as many as seven, and led almost the entire first half. Notre Dame briefly tied the game at 22, on a Garrick Sherman bucket with 6:03 remaining. But the Cardinals outscored the Fighting Irish 10-3 the rest of the way. Luke Hancock drilled a trey from the corner before the buzzer, giving Louisville a 32-25 halftime lead.
Notre Dame drew within three points on three separate occasions early in the second half. And trailing 45-41 with 6:58 remaining, Eric Atkins missed the front end of a 1-and-1, with a chance to cut the lead to two. The Fighting Irish drew no closer. The dagger was another Hancock 3-pointer with 4:09 left, pushing the lead to double digits for the first time, 55-44. Louisville put the game away from there.
Star watch: Russ Smith, who had 28 points in Louisville's quarterfinal win over Villanova, scored 20 more on Friday to lead the Cardinals. Siva added 12, and he also had 6 assists and 7 steals. Gorgui Dieng had 8 points, 12 rebound and 4 blocked shots.
Jack Cooley and Jerian Grant scored 14 points apiece for Notre Dame.
Number crunch: Notre Dame committed 16 turnovers -- nine fewer than Villanova committed against Louisville on Thursday. But the Fighting Irish shot just 36.5 percent from the field (19-for-52), while Louisville shot 45.5 percent (25-for-55). It's the sixth consecutive contest the Cardinals have held their opponent under 40 percent. Louisville, arguably the best defensive team in the country, is on top of its game.
What's next: The Cardinals, the No. 2 seed in this tournament, will play No. 5 seed Syracuse in the title game. Tip-off is at 8:30 p.m. on Saturday.
The Fighting Irish head back to South Bend and start preparing for the Big Dance.
2. Rutgers has a lame-duck season in the soon-to-be-named conference, and that's actually OK with the Scarlet Knights administration and coach Mike Rice. There is no rush to race to the Big Ten when there is still so much to do. Rice, who has two seasons left on his contract, probably didn't need to be in the Big Ten next season. He has 90 percent of his team returning and, in the to-be-named conference, has a chance to be a factor and show improvement. Rutgers hasn't been party to the decision-making of the schools that will remain -- including decisions on what the league will be called and where its conference tournament will be next season. Rutgers is recruiting for the Big Ten, not this league, so it doesn't matter. Rice expects the conference to play a true round-robin schedule of 18 league games with a 10-team league in 2013-14.
3. Employees of the splitting Big East still don't know if they're working for the old or new league. Since the break just occurred, there haven't been requests by the new league to bring any of the staffers along. For now, the staffers remain committed to the old Big East and have work to do on putting the 2014 conference tournament out for bidding. The key will be which facility has the dates available, since arenas are typically booked for specific dates a year out. The favorites remain an existing facility that has hosted similar events, such as those in Memphis (Conference USA) and Hartford, Conn. (Big East's women tournament).
NEW YORK -- A quick look at sixth-seeded Notre Dame's 69-61 victory over No. 11-seed Rutgers on Wednesday night in the Big East tournament at Madison Square Garden.
What it means: No. 24 Notre Dame is moving on to the quarterfinals in its final Big East tournament before heading to the ACC next season. Rutgers, soon to be a member of the Big Ten, makes an early exit as usual.
Notre Dame (24-8) is already a lock for the NCAA tournament. Rutgers (15-16) has now missed the NCAA tournament for 22 seasons in a row.
The turning point: Notre Dame jumped in front early and dominated the first 20 minutes, going ahead 31-15 on a Tom Knight layup with 2:48 remaining in the first half. Rutgers' Myles Mack scored a bucket with one second left to pull the Scarlet Knights within 33-19 at intermission. Rutgers shot just 8-for-27 in the first half (29.6 percent), 1-for-8 from 3-point range.
The second half began differently, with the Scarlet Knights scoring nine consecutive points to get within 33-28. But then back-to-back 3-pointers by Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton expanded the lead back to double digits, 39-28. Rutgers again closed to within 41-36, but Connaughton answered with another 3-ball. A few minutes later, Rutgers closed to within 49-43 and Connaughton drained another triple -- see a pattern here? The Scarlet Knights kept coming, but the Fighting Irish had an answer every time.
Star watch: Connaughton finished with a game-high 21 points for Notre Dame, shooting 7-for-10 from the field and 6-for-8 from beyond the arc. Knight had 18 points and nine rebounds. Star forward Jack Cooley scored just two points, shooting 1-for-6 from the floor.
For Rutgers, senior forward Austin Johnson scored a career-high 18 points -- with 15 coming after halftime. Mack also scored 18 points. Forward Wally Judge, who scored a season-high 20 in the Scarlet Knights' win over DePaul on Tuesday, had just two points on Wednesday.
Number crunch: Notre Dame shot 10-for-17 from beyond the arc (58.8 percent), while Rutgers was just 4-for-15 (26.7 percent). Notre Dame shot 15-for-19 from the foul line (78.9 percent), while Rutgers was just 5-for-11 (45.5 percent).
What's next: Notre Dame will play No. 3 seed Marquette on Thursday at approximately 9:30 p.m.
Rutgers heads home to Piscataway, N.J., and looks forward to next season.
2. One of the best decisions the NCAA/NIT made was ensuring the regular-season champs had a postseason home. A number of teams that won their leagues in the regular season weren't able to win the conference tournament: Northeastern (CAA), Robert Morris (NEC), Mercer (Atlantic Sun), Charleston Southern (Big South), Niagara (MAAC) and Middle Tennessee State (Sun Belt). Middle Tennessee State is the only school that has a chance to make the NCAA tournament out of this group as an at-large. But the NIT has to guarantee bids to all of them. The regular-season title should have meaning and guarantee a postseason berth.
3. Montana coach Wayne Tinkle had quite a championship week -- in his family. His Grizzlies won the Big Sky for the second-straight season. His son, Tres, won the Montana AA high school title and was the most valuable player. His daughter, Joslyn, a senior at Stanford won the Pac-12 title and his youngest daughter, Elle, a freshman at the Gonzaga, won the WCC title. "How blessed are we?'' Tinkle said. But he said the real MVP of the family is his wife, Lisa, a member of the Montana Hall of Fame for "all the miles she logged.'' The Grizzlies will attempt to get back to the NCAA tournament but will likely have a challenge from nemesis Weber State. Montana hosts the Big Sky tournament in Missoula and gets a bye to the semifinals, while Weber State, the No. 2 seed, has to play two games to get to the finals since there are only seven teams in the field.