College Basketball Nation: Tim Floyd

Conference Power Rankings: Pac-12

March, 8, 2013
3/08/13
10:30
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Does anyone want to win the Pac-12? The regular-season championship trophy has been dangling in front of the Oregon Ducks, UCLA Bruins and Cal Golden Bears all week, but no one has stepped up and grabbed it.

Cal was manhandled by Stanford -- at home, no less -- on Tuesday. UCLA suffered one of the biggest upsets of the conference season by falling at last-place Washington State on Wednesday. Oregon had a chance to clinch at least a share of the title by beating Colorado on Thursday. Instead, the Ducks were blown out in Boulder.

Sheessh!

Name another league where the teams at the bottom are outplaying the teams at the top at the end of the season. The Pac-12 tournament can't get here fast enough.

Here is the final edition of the Pac-12 power rankings. With most of the top teams losing their most recent games, these rankings are based on the entire conference season.

1a. Oregon. Despite the tail-kicking the Ducks received at Colorado on Thursday, it's impossible not to be impressed with the job Dana Altman has done with this squad. Oregon -- which starts two freshmen in its backcourt -- can clinch at least a share of the league title by winning at Utah on Saturday. A Ducks victory and a UCLA loss (at Washington the same day) will give Oregon the title outright.

1b. UCLA. The Bruins have come a long way since losing to Cal Poly early in the season and, for that, Ben Howland deserves credit. Howland's detractors, however, received some extra ammunition Wednesday when UCLA lost to last-place Washington State. Performing that poorly in a game with such high stakes -- UCLA would own a share of the league title already if it had won -- is inexcusable.

1c. Cal. The Golden Bears' regular season is complete. Mike Montgomery's team finished league play 12-6 and can only get a share of the title if both UCLA and Oregon lose Saturday. Much like its counterparts, Cal wilted in a high-stakes game Tuesday when it fell to Stanford 83-70 at home. The Cardinal became the first team in 10 games to reach the 70-point plateau against Cal.

1d. Colorado. With six wins in their past eight games, the Buffaloes are the Pac-12's hottest team. Tad Boyle's squad swept its season series with Oregon and is 4-2 against Top-25 teams. Thursday's 76-53 victory came without the services of Andre Roberson, the nation's leading rebounder, who missed the game with a viral illness. Colorado will close the regular season hosting Oregon State on Saturday.

5. Arizona. The preseason pick to win the league, the Wildcats have been the Pac 12's biggest disappointment. Sean Miller's squad is just 1-5 against the top four teams in the conference. Arizona's highly touted freshmen have been slow to develop, and the Wildcats lack a true point guard.

6. Washington. After a month-long lull in which they lost seven of eight games, the Huskies are getting hot at just the right time. Lorenzo Romar's squad has won four of its past five, with the most impressive victory a 65-57 decision over USC on Wednesday. Washington, which gets 17.1 points per game from C.J. Wilcox, has a chance to spoil UCLA's Pac-12 title hopes Saturday.

7. USC. The biggest news surrounding the Trojans this week has revolved around their head-coaching vacancy. UTEP's Tim Floyd and Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins both have spoken with school officials about the position. Meanwhile, interim coach Bob Cantu continues to do a solid job. USC will finish Pac-12 play 10-8 if it can win at Washington State on Saturday. That's something no one envisioned after head coach Kevin O'Neill was fired in January.

8. Stanford. The Cardinal completed the regular season with an 18-13 overall record and a 9-9 mark in Pac-12 play. Unless it wins the conference tournament, Stanford will miss the NCAA tournament for the fifth consecutive year. That has to be disheartening to Cardinal fans, who had high hopes after winning last season's NIT.

9. Arizona State. The Sun Devils' 20 wins are twice as many as they had all of last season, but they've struggled in recent weeks. A painful overtime loss at UCLA was followed by a one-point setback at USC. Arizona State will have had an entire week off when it takes the court for Saturday's regular-season finale at Arizona.

10. Utah. The Utes ended a four-game losing streak by topping Oregon State on Thursday in Salt Lake City. Utah's four Pac-12 wins are one more than last season's total. The Utes will try to spoil Oregon's conference title hopes Saturday. Oregon beat Utah 73-64 on Feb. 9 in Eugene.

11. Washington State. The Cougars, who have been the victim of bad breaks and bad luck all season, finally tasted success Wednesday by defeating UCLA 73-61 in Pullman. Brock Motum had 20 points and 11 rebounds and Royce Woolridge added 19 points. The victory came despite the absence of second- and third-leading scorers DaVonte Lacy and Mike Ladd, both of whom have knee injuries. Coach Ken Bone said Lacy is out for the season.

12. Oregon State. It has been a nightmare of a season for the Beavers, who have now lost five consecutive games. Coach Craig Robinson appears to be safe for another year, but this team has too much talent to only have three victories in a league that, despite its parity, lacks elite teams.
1. The USC coaching search story has to be one of the more bizarre this season. I can't see how the Trojans could hire Tim Floyd back after an NCAA probationary period, regardless if Floyd wasn't named in the violations. He was still the head coach at the time. Also, Floyd did return to UTEP to carry on the legacy of his mentor, the late Don Haskins. USC is a plumb job and Floyd had the Trojans in the upper echelon. But this would be one of the more stunning decisions. Interviewing Mike Hopkins, the coach-in-waiting at Syracuse, makes sense. He's probably the one national assistant (not Pac-12) that could land the gig. If Hopkins leaves for USC or any other job before Jim Boeheim retires it wouldn't be the first time an official or unofficial coach-in-waiting left. There was no deal for Johnny Dawkins to replace Mike Krzyzewski at Duke but he left for Stanford because he wanted to forge his own path. I could see the same thing happening with Duke associate head coaches Chris Collins and Steve Wojciechowski if the right opening occurred. Billy Grier and Leon Rice were both coach-in-waiting to Mark Few at Gonzaga before taking head coaching jobs at San Diego and Boise State, respectively, once it was clear Few wasn't going to leave Spokane.

2. I loved the honesty from UCLA coach Ben Howland and Kansas coach Bill Self on Katz Korner about the possibility of Shabazz Muhammad and Ben McLemore leaving after this season. Muhammad could be playing his final home game on Saturday with McLemore following on Monday. Both players are lottery picks and McLemore is in contention for the top spot. Let's not pretend this isn't going to happen. There will be no need to ask either player about this -- or any other that is clearly leaving -- during the NCAA tournament. Players rarely give a straight answer in the locker room during a post-game loss (see North Carolina's Sean May after the Tar Heels won the title in 2005). There's nothing wrong with playing just one year since that is the current system. Remember this is an NBA rule and not an NCAA one. The NBA and players association are the only people who can change the one-and-done situation.

3. How big is Arizona State's game against Arizona Saturday? The Sun Devils are still in play for an NCAA tournament berth. If Arizona State wins in Tucson and Colorado splits with the Oregon schools (all plausible) then both the Sun Devils and Buffaloes and would be tied with a 10-8 record. ASU would hold the tiebreaker because of its sweep over Colorado. ASU would have a 5-2 record against the top four teams while Colorado could be 4-2, or 3-3, depending on what happens in the Oregon game. The Sun Devils have a bad loss at home to DePaul, something Colorado does not. Of course, the selection committee doesn't compare two teams from the same league, but ASU would have some potential separation. The selection committee also has taken plenty of teams that got swept by a team in the same conference. It happened to ASU when Arizona was once chosen over the Sun Devils despite losing twice to their in-state rivals. But if ASU wins and CU splits then the Sun Devils would enter the Pac-12 tournament as a No. 5 seed and a winnable game against Washington State. Another game with Arizona likely looms in the quarterfinals. If ASU reached the semifinals in the Pac-12 tournament, then what? Either way, it all starts with a win for Arizona State.

Video: Floyd meets about USC coaching job

March, 5, 2013
3/05/13
11:29
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Seth Greenberg discusses UTEP basketball coach Tim Floyd's meeting with USC athletic director Pat Haden about the open head coach position.
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Pac-12

Tourney preview: Diamond Head Classic

December, 22, 2011
12/22/11
8:00
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College hoops doesn't totally shut down over the holiday. In fact, eight lucky teams get to spend Christmas in Hawaii, where they'll compete for top honors at the annual Diamond Head Classic. OK, OK, so this isn't quite the Maui Invitational. The field is nowhere near as strong as what we saw at the Lahaina Civic Center in November, as is usually the case when you compare the two. But for holiday hoops -- including a couple of college games on Christmas Day to distract from you all that NBA and NFL goodness (and, for that matter, your family) -- it definitely gets the job done.

And hey, there are some intriguing storylines here. Kansas State proved itself as an emerging defensive force after a dominant victory over Alabama on Saturday; the Wildcats just might be this tournament's favorite. Xavier is the obvious candidate for those honors, but can the Musketeers overcome the personnel losses they suffered in the Cincinnati brawl to avoid a first-round loss to a very tough Long Beach State team? For that matter, can the Beach -- which beat Pittsburgh at Pitt and has tested Kansas, North Carolina and Louisville on the road -- turn its impressive play into some attention-garnering wins? And what do we make of Clemson?

To get you up to speed, let's take a quick run through the eight teams in the 2011 Diamond Head Classic field, in order of their placement in the bracket. UTEP plays Clemson in the first round, Kansas State plays Southern Illinois, et al. You get the idea. And in case you'd rather not visualize an invisible bracket running across your computer screen, here's the bracket itself (PDF). To the preview:

UTEP

Where they stand: Things kicked off in ugly fashion for the 2011-12 Miners -- their season opener was a home loss to Texas-San Antonio -- and haven't improved much since. The Miners also own a home loss to Stephen F. Austin, they split with New Mexico State, and their only high-major opponent to date, a struggling Oregon team, topped them in Eugene. UTEP was no doubt thrilled when it landed Tim Floyd in the wake of the USC mess, but the big-name coach has a major project ahead of him in his second season in El Paso.

Key player: Senior forward Gabriel McCulley doesn't get as many touches as some of his teammates, but he still leads the Miners in scoring, rebounding and steals, and he gets his points efficiently -- his offensive rating of 116.7 is vastly better than any of UTEP's other main contributors.

Key stat: 22.6. That's the percentage of possessions on which UTEP (4-5) turns the ball over to its opponents, which ranks the Miners No. 237 in the country. Put simply, UTEP doesn't take care of the ball, and that trait is dragging what could otherwise be a decent offense down.

Best-case scenario: UTEP gets the kind of game it prefers in Clemson -- a slow-paced defensive battle -- and manages to hold on long enough to take down the Tigers and play Kansas State tough in the second round.

Worst-case scenario: A first-round loss should give way to a favorable second-round matchup in Southern Illinois, but at that point, thanks to the dearth of quality teams on the wrong side of the bracket, UTEP will have missed its one chance to get a remotely impressive win.

Clemson

Where they stand: It's hard to say. The Tigers are 6-4 this season, thanks in part to three disconcerting losses (to College of Charleston, Coastal Carolina and South Carolina, all at home). But the Tigers lost those games by three, one and three points, respectively, and thus far they've posted very impressive defensive-efficiency stats, the kind that lend confidence for the future. Perhaps this tournament, giving the Tigers the chance to test their mettle against the likes of Kansas State and/or Xavier, will help us form a more reliable picture.

Key player: Guard Andre Young is this team's leader in minutes and points, and he's been good at just about everything this year, posting an offensive rating of 129.8 (one of the top 40 in the country to date) while shooting efficiently, setting up his teammates and keeping turnovers to a minimum. Young's size (he's listed at 5-foot-9, which is almost certainly generous) could hold him back at times, but as far as efficient point guards go, he's a good one.

Key stat: 0.88. That's the number of points the Tigers allow to opponents per possession, which ranks them No. 17 in the country by Ken Pomeroy's metrics. It's a very good defense. But because Clemson has struggled to score, it has gotten bogged down in close games to seemingly inferior opponents at home, and its record has suffered as a result.

Best-case scenario: Clemson handles UTEP and moves on to play Kansas State -- another stout defensive team -- in the second round, where it finally wins one of those close games. Don't count the Tigers out.

Worst-case scenario: A loss to UTEP would certainly qualify. Then you're 6-5, and you've got a bunch of bad marks on your at-large sheet, and all of a sudden a trip to the NCAA tournament from the jumbled middle of the ACC is looking incredibly unlikely.

Kansas State

Where they stand: Quietly and steadily, Kansas State coach Frank Martin has his team off to a 7-1 start in 2011-12. The Wildcats' only loss came in double OT to West Virginia, but they bounced back with a 71-58 victory over Alabama on Saturday. For many, that might be proof enough that Martin's team is back and ready to wreak havoc in the Big 12. But a solid trip to Hawaii certainly couldn't.

Key player: Kansas State doesn't always look fluid on offense; when the Wildcats get their points, it's usually because freshman forward Thomas Gipson already hauled down a miss. Gipson has been something of a revelation early in his career, particularly on the offensive boards, and without his and fellow forward Jamar Samuels' contributions under the rim, K-State really struggles to score.

Key stat: 41.4. That's what Wildcats' opponents are shooting from the field (as measured by effective field-goal percentage) this season. That's the 11th-lowest mark in Division I hoops and a key reason why this defense has been so stout so far this season.

Best-case scenario: A championship. If Xavier isn't the favorite anymore -- and we'll see -- then it has to be Kansas State, which has one of the most talented outfits on the island and can heartily defend (like Clemson) but can also score a little bit, too (unlike Clemson).

Worst-case scenario: It's hard to imagine K-State falling to a truly bad SIU team in the first round, so worst-case is probably a loss in a knock-down, drag-'em-out defensive slugfest with Clemson in Round 2. If the Wildcats fall there, they lose a chance to play and beat the Musketeers in the finale, and that would be a nice little addition to the tournament resume.

Southern Illinois

Where they stand: On shaky ground. Remember when Southern Illinois was a mid-major darling and coach Chris Lowery was the next big thing? Those days are long gone now, and in their place is yet another brutal Salukis squad, one off to a 3-5 start that includes losses to Western Kentucky, Western Michigan, Northeastern and -- believe it or not -- something called Ohio Dominican. SIU's only wins to date: Chicago State, Northern Illinois, SIU-Edwardsville, three of the cupcakiest opponents you'll ever see. Yeah. It's bad.

Key player: Mamadou Seck. For one, he has a fantastic name. Two, he's basically Lowery's only effective player, a guy who contributes points, blocks, steals, assists and rebounding on both ends of the floor.

Key stat: 0.89. That's how many points the Salukis are averaging per possession this season. For reference's sake, it ranks them No. 314 in the country. There are 345 D-I basketball teams. You get the idea.

Best-case scenario: A win or two in the consolation rounds, maybe, or at least some signs of progress in close losses.

Worst-case scenario: Three more losses and the unfortunate continuation of what has already been a painful nonconference slate.

Long Beach State

Where they stand: Long Beach State's record doesn't come anywhere close to doing this team justice. Sure, the Beach is 5-5, but look closer. The 49ers have beaten Pitt in its own building. They lost by four at San Diego State, two at Montana, eight at Kansas and six at North Carolina, and they gave Louisville a decent run in the Yum! Center, too. This is an interesting tournament for Dan Monson's team. It clearly has the ability to hang with top teams on the road, let alone on a neutral floor, and gets to face a crippled Xavier squad in the first round. Could LBSU really pull this thing off?

Key player: The dynamic duo of Casper Ware and Larry Anderson. Ware and Anderson form one of, if not the, best mid-major backcourt duos in the country -- combined, they averaged 32.6 points per game -- and both are at their best when attacking opposing defenses off a miss in the open court. They're both good, and they're both very fun to watch. Don't miss 'em.

Key stat: 71.0. That's the number of possessions the 49ers average per game, which ranks them among the 20 or so fastest teams in the country. LBSU wants to run, run, run and then run some more, and if an opposing defense doesn't have its guard up, look out.

Best-case scenario: A championship! LBSU can play with the big boys, as it has proved in some incredibly hostile and difficult road environments this season. What's more, the 49ers get Xavier in the first round, before guard Mark Lyons finishes his suspension for his role in the Cincy-Xavier brawl two weeks ago. Call it an early Christmas present for Monson and company. If they get past the Muskies, hey, they might just win this thing.

Worst-case scenario: A loss to Xavier, which would at the very least banish them to the consolation bracket and probably end any and all hopes -- slim though they were -- of garnering some at-large consideration from the tournament selection committee in March.

Xavier

Where they stand: Before the brawl, everything was peachy. The Musketeers were undefeated. Tu Holloway was doing his thing. In the post-brawl fallout, after suspensions to Holloway (one game), Lyons (two games) and Dezmine Wells (four games), the Musketeers looked putrid in a 64-42 home loss to Oral Roberts. Holloway is back for the start of the Diamond Head, but Lyons will miss one more game. Wells didn't make the trip. Can Xavier overcome the losses and assume its rightful position as this tournament's clear favorite?

Key player: Holloway. Xavier has had a tendency to underperform for roughly 35 minutes at any given time this season, at which point Holloway has rescued them with late 3s and clutch heroics. Without Lyons as his running mate Thursday, Tu won't be able to wait that long.

Key stat: 40.2. That would be Xavier's opponents' effective field-goal percentage, and if you remember the Kansas State stat, you'll know that it is very low -- the sixth-lowest in the country, to be precise. Xavier gets out on top of you, and it has both the speed and physicality to make sure good looks at the rim are rare.

Best-case scenario: A title. Frankly, Xavier should be the favorite, even with all the post-brawl personnel losses. Even with Wells at home, the Musketeers will be the most talented team on the island.

Worst-case scenario: That said, taking on LBSU's Ware-and-Anderson show without Lyons is a daunting task. It wouldn't be a shock to see Xavier drop this one, at which point it would be in the consolation bracket and facing the loser of the Auburn-Hawaii game. Ouch.

Auburn

Where they stand: Here's to a forgiving schedule. The Tigers are 7-1 to begin the season, but check out this hardy list of opponents: McNeese State, Kennesaw State, Nicholls State, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Seton Hall, South Florida, North Florida, Florida A&M. The loss (81-59) came at Seton Hall. The wins came at home. Michigan State, this is not.

Key player: This team's main strength is blocked shots, and its chief purveyor of the rejection is forward Kenny Gabriel, who records a swat on 12.2 percent of available possessions. (Fellow forward Rob Chubb is no slouch defending the rim, either.)

Key stat: 20.4. That's the percentage of available possessions when this team records a block, the third-highest in the country to date. That's a lot of blocks! Unfortunately, the Tigers haven't shown much offensive know-how just yet, and they're weak in other areas. (And, to be fair, those block rates might be the product of playing that murderer's row of interior talent you see listed above.) Either way, that mark trails only Kentucky and Connecticut this season. That has to be worth something.

Best-case scenario: A win in the first round and an encouraging coming-out party -- win or lose -- in a second-round matchup against a full-strength Xavier team. At the very least, it would help improve that dreadful nonconference strength of schedule. Ick.

Worst-case scenario: A loss to Hawaii in the first round and a blowout to either Xavier or LBSU in the second.

Hawaii

Where they stand: Gib Arnold's team is 5-4 and ranked No. 231 in Pomeroy's rankings. That kind of says it all. The wins have come against Cal-State Northridge, UC Davis, Pacific, Hawaii-Hilo and North Carolina A&T; the losses were a product of matchups with Gonzaga, Eastern Washington, Pepperdine and Pacific. That's exactly what you'd expect. The good news? Hawaii doesn't have to do the traveling, time-change adjusting, touristing and everything else that comes with a trip to Hawaii. The Warriors can just play. Maybe that's good for an upset or two?

Key player: Zane Johnson is this team's leading scorer, but forward Vander Joaquim -- 11.6 points, 9.8 rebounds, 1.4 blocks per game -- is its most productive player, and one the Warriors will need if they plan on playing at the rim with the block-happy Tigers.

Key stat: 24.3 percent. That's Hawaii's turnover rate this season, which puts it near the bottom 50 or so in the country and has, along with subpar shooting, truly stunted this offense to date.

Best-case scenario: Auburn hasn't had to experience road basketball often this season, let alone road basketball in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, so Arnold's team might have an early upset (so to speak) in them here. But with LBSU or Xavier awaiting in the second round, it's hard to picture the Warriors going any further than that.

Worst-case scenario: Finishing without a win, which would mean (almost certainly) losing to Southern Illinois at some point. Losses to Southern Illinois are probably best avoided. To put it kindly.

Will rivalry games be closely monitored?

December, 12, 2011
12/12/11
2:38
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Cincinnati-Xavier was a crosstown rivalry game gone bad, with Bearcats coach Mick Cronin continuing to take aim at the referees for not doing more to stop the hostilities before they escalated into the brawl that has become the talk of college basketball and a national headline.

"If guys run their mouth, there should be technicals," Cronin told Andy Katz. "I was begging guys to call T's. They never did. That was a problem."

Will the ugly images from the incident on Saturday change the way referees do their jobs? Already, at least one coach has game planned around it.

UTEP coach Tim Floyd expected referees to set the tone early for the Miners' rivalry game against New Mexico State on Sunday, so that was apparently one reason he threw a different kind of defense at Aggies leading scorer Wendell McKines.

"Based on what happened in the Cincinnati-Xavier game, it was going to be a closely called game and we wanted to start box and 1 thinking we wouldn't foul as much," Floyd told Las Cruces Sun-News beat writer Jason Groves.

McKines, who had ridiculed UTEP last month on Twitter following a Miners exhibition game loss, had a relatively quiet game as he was held to four points as New Mexico State lost by four.

After what occurred Saturday, any incident of fighting in college basketball will be magnified. Cronin on Monday again mentioned the referees played a role in what took place. It's only natural they respond by staying vigilant -- rivalry game or not -- and helping all sides involved keep their emotions in check.

Youth, injury give UTEP a new look

November, 2, 2011
11/02/11
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UTEP held an intrasquad scrimmage last week in front of fans who probably didn't recognize a majority of the team. That's because of all the players participating, only one on scholarship -- guard Michael Perez, he of the 1.5-points-per-game average -- appeared in a contest for the Miners last season.

Gabriel McCulley, the team's lone senior, is recovering from surgery to repair a stress fracture in his leg. Sophomore John Bohannon was out with a tweaked hamstring. Kevin Perry is a tight end on the football team. Tyler Tafoya is a junior walk-on.

And that's all of the returning players for UTEP, which otherwise has eight freshmen on the roster, along with a junior-college transfer and Cal State Fullerton transfer Jacques Streeter.

"We're going to play different lineups, different rosters," coach Tim Floyd said in a statement. "We're going to try to sub a great deal based on mistakes. We didn't have to do that a lot last year with a veteran group, but these kids need to come out of the game, understand what they did wrong, go back into the game and try to do it better. I don't know if there's going to be a real flow to these games, but we're going to have a chance to look at a lot of players."

Consider all this to be a challenge for Floyd, who won't have much experience at all on his team coming off a 25-win season and NIT appearance with a senior-laden roster. Floyd isn't accustomed to losing — he hasn't led a team to an under-.500 record since he coached the Chicago Bulls. He'll be looking forward to brighter days ahead with this youthful group, he told The Prospector:
"We are trying to think long-term with what we are doing, so this year may be somewhat of a challenge because we are going to be the youngest team in the United States," Floyd said. "We like the core of what we are doing here, with the idea that in the next three, four, five years, we will continue to build and add on top of these young guys."

UNM won't schedule UTEP over NIT spat?

July, 25, 2011
7/25/11
6:14
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It hasn't been easy over the years for New Mexico to put together a schedule since opponents generally don't like going to The Pit, one of the toughest places to play in America.

Now it appears a previously proposed series of games between regional rivals New Mexico and UTEP that would have had the Miners visiting Albuquerque this coming season has fallen apart. As Lobos coach Steve Alford told 770 KKOB, "The UTEP game is something I'm not in favor of."

Why might Alford turn down a quality opponent in UTEP, a team the Lobos have faced 141 times since 1929? Well, there was that verbal incident at The Pit last season over the shootaround times before an NIT game between the two teams.

The two coaching staffs got riled up over UTEP's scheduled warm-up time in the building and had a confrontation that didn't simmer down until after the coaches had taken their shots in the media.

We know Alford and Floyd, two of the more passionate coaches around, can easily get their feathers ruffled. Still, the Albuquerque Journal noted even after all that, UTEP coach Tim Floyd maintained he was open to returning to The Pit, saying, "I think we should play every year until they take the air out of the basketball. We come up here next (season) because it's important to the fans of the programs."

Alford is now apparently in disagreement, and after New Mexico ended up winning the NIT game, it doesn't appear that the two teams will be meeting any time soon despite having a rivalry that was just starting to heat up again.

It's really too bad that the air in the basketball has apparently been replaced by a bunch of hot air.

Greg Foster gets degree 17 years later

May, 17, 2011
5/17/11
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Greg Foster played in the NBA for 13 years, and this season he came back to UTEP as an undergraduate assistant under Tim Floyd. He wanted to start coaching and even got thrown into the fire during a game against East Carolina, taking over after Floyd and assistant Phil Johnson were ejected from the game.

To have a career in coaching, Foster needed his degree, and so he became a 6-foot-11 student again. He finished up his schoolwork and participated in commencement ceremonies on Saturday.

According to the El Paso Times, going back to school after a stint in the mortgage business was no small accomplishment for Foster.
"We're obviously really happy for Greg," said Floyd, who tried to recruit Foster out of high school in Oakland, then brought him to UTEP as a junior after he left UCLA. "It's not an easy thing to do to go back and get a diploma when you've been away from school for 17 years. We know that this is going to advance his career and give him an opportunity to have a great second career in coaching. Through observing Greg's enthusiasm being around young people and his vast knowledge of the game, I have no doubt that he's going to have a successful coaching career."

...

Pausing, laughing again, Foster said, "It really was a great experience -- except for seeing my daughter's friends from high school in the halls and having my niece call, 'Hi, uncle Greg,' across the hallway. But it really was good and I'm excited about coaching. I think I want to try this thing out."

With a degree in multidisciplinary studies in hand, Foster now puts himself in a position to coach and spread his basketball knowledge.

And who knows? There could be an opportunity to become an assistant coach at his alma mater. The Murray Ledger & Times reported that UTEP assistant coach William Small was hired at Murray State by Billy Kennedy before Kennedy accepted another job at Texas A&M.

But it's the degree 17 years later that will open the door for Foster somewhere in the future.
I could be wrong -- maybe this has been around forever and I just haven't noticed it -- but the hottest new coaching phrase of the season seems to be some variation of the following: "I don't play politics."

[+] EnlargeTubby Smith
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireIt's been a difficult season for Minnesota and coach Tubby Smith.
Every time a bubble team gets a big win the coach of that bubble team is asked to assess his team's tourney chances in the wake of the victory. Coaches have always responded to this question with an artful dodge, but the new hotness appears to be an active assertion of the coach's own unwillingness to campaign on behalf of his team. It's a little like politicians who pretend to hate politics: Of course a coach knows exactly where his team stands on the bubble. His job is on the line, after all. But nobody wants to be that guy, because nobody likes that guy.

(Unless, of course, that guy is Tim Floyd, who is basically a huge clown. But that's a story for another time.)

Minnesota's Tubby Smith is among this group, in so far as he isn't playing politics. But Smith isn't dodging the bubble questions, either. Instead, after Minnesota's home loss to Michigan on Saturday, Smith went with honesty. In other words, he thinks his team is done. From the St. Paul Pioneer-Press:
"This is probably a game that probably does it in for us," the Gophers coach said, referring to what he told his players about their NCAA tournament hopes after a disappointing loss in front of a stunned sellout crowd of 14,625 at Williams Arena. [...] He summed his frustration up with, "This is bizarre."

"It was basically the same script of how we played in the last game," Smith said. "We don't get the stops. We don't get the rebounds. We don't have anyone scoring inside."

Of course, Smith's probably right. Without starting point guard Al Nolen, Minnesota has lost seven of its past eight games. The Gophers are now 17-11 overall and 6-10 in the Big Ten. Their RPI is a lackluster No. 60. And the wins that made them a tourney favorite for much of the season -- season-opening wins against North Carolina and West Virginia in Puerto Rico -- seem like they came years ago.

Still, it's unusual to hear a coach even broach the subject of his team's tournament chances. It's downright, well, bizarre to hear a coach tell his team -- and then the media -- that its season is essentially over.

Smith is clearly frustrated, and with good reason; 2010-11 is the second-straight promising Gophers season derailed by injuries and personnel woes, from Nolen to starting guard Devoe Joseph, who surprised Minnesota with a midseason transfer in January. But do his quotes say something larger about his desire to leave Minneapolis this offseason? There are always rumblings around Smith -- he was one of many candidates rumored to be in the picture at Oregon last summer -- and the impending job openings at Georgia Tech and NC State would seem tailor-made for him if he decided to leave.

What's more, no less reliable a source than our own Doug Gottlieb is already hearing the rumor-mill murmurs about Smith's potential departure:
The hottest chatter in coaching news is the speculation that Tubby Smith will be on the move this offseason. Three different head coaches told me the coaching fraternity is abuzz over whether Georgia Tech will buy out Paul Hewitt (reportedly in excess of $5 million dollars) and land Smith.

We have plenty of time to await that news. In the meantime, one thing is clear: Smith isn't happy. The extent of that unhappiness -- whether it's reserved to this year's team, or involves his program and situation at large -- will be one of the more intriguing stories in what should be an otherwise quiet rumor mill this spring.

USC coach: Refs protect Derrick Williams

February, 23, 2011
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Arizona forward Derrick Williams is drawing consideration for national player of the year and even the top pick in the NBA draft. The sophomore is such a dynamic player at 6-foot-8 that he's leading the nation in free-throw attempts.

USC coach Kevin O'Neill, whose team hosts Arizona on Thursday as the Wildcats move closer to capturing a Pac-10 title, told reporters there's another reason that Williams has gotten to the line that often -- the refs.

From the Los Angeles Times:
On Tuesday after practice, USC Coach Kevin O'Neill made such a statement when he called Arizona sophomore forward Derrick Williams, whom his team will face Thursday night, "the most protected dude I've seen since Michael Jordan."

O'Neill was referring to how Williams leads the nation in free-throw attempts per game (9.2), and compared him to Jordan, who in his NBA career received so much star treatment from officials that conspiracy theories ran rampant. (Jordan averaged 8.2 free throws during his 15-year NBA career.)

...

"If the guy walks across the court, it's a foul," O'Neill said.

"So we've got to be careful not to foul, show our hands. He's very good at drawing contact. He spins. He does all that kind of stuff. He's going to get to the foul line. He's the best in the country at it. What we've got to do is to avoid dumb or crazy fouls."

Usually a Michael Jordan comparison would be considered a compliment. But in this case, injecting star treatment into the conversation seems to take away from just how tough a cover Williams really is for any team aside from whatever calls he's getting.

Williams, who signed with USC in high school but chose Arizona after Tim Floyd resigned, apparently heard about the comments and disagreed with them. He responded on Twitter, writing, "I don't get Michael Jordan treatment... Just stop fouling me and we will be good."

So on a night when USC gives out O'Neill bobbleheads before the game, expect Williams to come into the Galen Center plenty motivated.

The Trojans had better hope they have someone to protect the basket.
Here are five things I can't wait to see in Conference USA this season:

1. Memphis' young talent

Two weeks ago, Memphis freshman Will Barton -- the gem of Josh Pastner's top-five recruiting class -- went out on a limb. Doing his best Joe Namath (or at least his best impression of every other player who's attempted to have their own Namath moments over the years), Barton told Memphis fans that the Tigers were going to the Final Four this season. "I'm guaranteeing it," he said. You can quarrel with Barton's prediction, but it's hard to hate that swag, and if Memphis' freshmen don't share it, they should.

In his first full year recruiting, Pastner landed the type of recruiting class the school got used to under former coach John Calipari -- deep, talented, precocious, and based around a likely one-and-done star. That star is Barton, the top-ranked shooting guard in the 2010 class, and the class also includes elite top-100 recruits like Joe Jackson (the No. 6-ranked point guard), Jelan Kendrick (the No. 11-ranked shooting guard) and Tarik Black (the No. 15-ranked power forward). All four players will be immediate contributors on a team that looks talented enough to retake the Conference USA mantle after the program's one-year post-Calipari dip.

2. Josh Pastner's team-building

Recruiting is half the battle and Pastner's young team, like so many of his predecessor's, could probably have a successful year with a fifth-grade coach on the sidelines. But if Memphis wants to do more than dominate C-USA, Pastner is going to have to do what Calipari did (and does) so masterfully: He's going to have to turn his collection of young stars into an actual team. Can he do it? We don't have much coaching reference for Pastner, who, at 33, is a lot like his team: young, insanely talented, and ultimately unproven.

Memphis has a couple of veterans -- forward Wesley Witherspoon especially -- it will need to complement the freshmen. Can Pastner build his individual stars into a cohesive unit? If he does, Barton's prediction might not look quite as ambitious after all.

3. The return of Larry Eustachy

Remember Larry? Sure you do. Eustachy has had a long road back since the rather hilarious photos of him drinking cheap college-level beer with the outstanding young women of Ames cost him his job at Iowa State. Since 2004-05, Eustachy has been patiently attempting to build a winner at Southern Miss. Results have been sporadic, but there are signs that this season could be Eustachy's best since the Natural Lights heard 'round the world. Southern Miss returns its top six scorers from last season's 20-14 team, and its recruiting class includes valuable junior college transfer Carrington Tankson, who should provide an immediate perimeter scoring boost. If there's a void in the C-USA's sub-Memphis second tier, Eustachy and the Golden Eagles might just be the team to fill it.

4. Tim Floyd's prodigal return to UTEP

UTEP made a bold choice in hiring Floyd. The former USC coach resigned when reports of an illicit payment to an O.J. Mayo handler made an already besieged USC athletics program look even worse. Floyd, a former assistant at UTEP, found refuge in El Paso. It's hard to say who needed whom more. Floyd wanted a place to continue coaching after the Mayo mess; the Miners, seeking to maintain the recent momentum of now-Auburn-coach Tony Barbee's successful tenure, wanted a coach who could build a competitive team as quickly as possible. Floyd can do that. Whether his tenure in West Texas will be as dramatic as his stint in South L.A. remains to be seen. In the meantime, guard Randy Culpepper will still be extremely fun to watch, and UTEP, though not nearly as talented after the departures of forwards Arnett Moultrie and Derrick Caracter, will still rank among the conference's better teams.

5. A Tulsa turning point?

This time last year, it appeared Tulsa coach Doug Wojcik was -- or at least appeared to be -- almost there. The Golden Hurricane had just completed its third-straight 20-win season, the inside-out combo of guard Ben Uzoh and center Jerome Jordan looked ready to reign over a down C-USA. And with a totally plausible NCAA tournament appearance in the offing, Wojcik would assume the hot-new-coach mantle previously held at the school by Bill Self, Tubby Smith, Nolan Richardson, Buzz Peterson and others. Things didn't quite go as planned. Instead, Tulsa limped to a 10-6 conference record and a 23-12 overall mark -- decent, to be sure, but hardly the stuff ascendant programs are made of. Now Uzoh and Jordan are gone, and Wojcik will be counting on fifth-year senior Justin Hurtt and a handful of solid newcomers to prevent the program from losing any more of its momentum.

Demetrius Walker book will 'make you sick'

October, 5, 2010
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George Dohrmann's "Play Their Hearts Out" is out in bookstores today, and his examination of the relationship between former hoops phenom Demetrius Walker and AAU coach Joe Keller in the context of a seedy grassroots basketball scene is already commanding attention.

Keller has threatened Dohrmann with a lawsuit after reading the Sports Illustrated excerpt. And Tim Floyd, then the coach at USC, probably won't appreciate the unflattering portrayal of his reaction to Walker opening up the recruiting process after previously committing to the Trojans.

Meanwhile, Los Angeles Times columnist Bill Dwyre in recommending the book for uncovering "a complicated world of disgusting sleaze" that will "make you sick."

One reason why?

The excerpt describes a scene in which Keller allows Walker to nix the coach's trip home to witness the birth of his daughter during a 12-and-under AAU Nationals tournament.

Walker, now a redshirting transfer at New Mexico, told the Albuquerque Journal (subscription required) that in hindsight, he regrets doing such a thing.
"When his daughter was being born, and at the time, he felt like I was his son, he asked me, 'What do I want?' I said, 'Be there for the championship game (of an AAU tournament).'

"At that time, me being a child, I didn't know about the importance of the birth of a child, so I'm going to say 'I want my head coach there.'

"Right this minute, if I could take it back -- knowing what I know as a 20-year-old man -- I would have had him go home and be there for the birth of his daughter."

"Play Their Hearts Out" is about children and their hoops dreams, but no, it will not warm your heart.

High school freshman verbally commits

September, 3, 2010
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James Blackmon Jr. has yet to play a single high school game at Bishop Leurs in Fort Wayne, Ind., but the 6-foot-2 shooting guard has already given a verbal commitment to Indiana.

How good is this kid? ESPN.com's John Stovall has this evaluation: "James Jr. has a solid handle and is a good and willing passer. James is an excellent prospect with great upside."

Blackmon Jr.'s father played for Kentucky. Here's his reaction to the Indianapolis Star:
"It's real exciting. I'm only a freshman," he said while riding home from IU's season-opening football game where he told coach Tom Crean he would play for the Hoosiers. "What really sold it was the coach. He has a lot of confidence in me.

"I'm really excited. My college is already set."

Of course, all this is no guarantee that Blackmon Jr. will end up at Indiana in 2014. Will Crean even be coaching the Hoosiers then? Will Blackmon Jr. decide in the next four years that there's a better fit?

Nobody knows, and anything can happen.

In the summer of 2007, point guard Ryan Boatright committed to USC coach Tim Floyd fresh out of middle school. With Floyd now having resigned, Boatright is now searching for another school heading into his senior year of high school.

In the summer of 2003, a phenom named Taylor King committed to UCLA and ended up becoming a McDonald's All-American and signing with Duke. All these years later, he's headed to his third school to play in the NAIA.

So a verbal commitment at such an early age really isn't necessarily a good predictor of neither loyalty or success.

But congratulations to Blackmon Jr. on his path toward college. And best of luck along the way.

NCAA hits innocent bystander Kevin O'Neill

July, 30, 2010
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Kevin O'Neill just can't seem to avoid running into the NCAA, as he now has the distinction of having been the head coach at the two Pac-10 programs -- USC and Arizona -- currently on probation. The thing is, O'Neill didn't do anything wrong to get those schools in trouble.

While Arizona's violations were committed under Lute Olson's watch, the players deemed ineligible played on the 2007-08 Arizona team that O'Neill led as an interim coach to a 19-15 record and the NCAA tournament. That means the 19 wins Arizona will vacate due to the sanctions announced yesterday will come off of O'Neill's coaching record.

According to the Arizona Daily Star:
O'Neill now officially went 0-14 that season following changes ordered by the NCAA infractions committee that vacated UA's 19 wins and its NCAA tournament loss to West Virginia, according to NCAA statistician Gary Johnson.

O'Neill's 14-year mark now officially drops to 185-207 (.472) from 204-208 (.495).

"I did all that for zero wins?" O'Neill said jokingly. "Wow."

Johnson said, however, that he will place some sort of asterisk next to O'Neill's record indicating that his record reflects vacated games that arose from a penalty he was not involved in.

By "all that," O'Neill can include going through a botched succession plan to take over for Olson at Arizona. For his efforts, he ended up with an asterisk on his record and the opportunity to go to a USC program that self-imposed a postseason ban in the middle of his first season due to NCAA violations involving former player O.J. Mayo.

And no, the loss that O'Neill had as Arizona's head coach playing against USC during the year in question doesn't disappear from his record since the Trojans vacate the win rather than the game being a forfeiture.

And for the salt in the wound? Derrick Williams, Lamont Jones (aka MoMo), and Solomon Hill were supposed to come to USC, but backed off once Tim Floyd resigned. Those players are all now major building blocks at Arizona.

It's a good thing O'Neill has a sense of humor ... OK, so not always when it comes to Arizona.
Last week, Diamond Leung told you about USC's new O.J. Mayo policy. That policy, in essence, is: "Who?" The school plans to whitewash all traces of the Mayo era from its collective consciousness, closing the book on the school's loosey-goosey relationship with its illicit one-and-done star.

According to FanHouse's Ray Holloman, that policy isn't enough. Because in light of USC basketball's behavior, he thinks the hoops program got off light.

At first glance, Holloman's right: USC hoops suffered far less than USC football, which is locked out of postseason play for two years. Meanwhile, though the hoops team forfeited a couple of scholarships, it can participate in this year's NCAA tournament. Given the nature of Tim Floyd's tenure and the Mayo era, which featured the untold financial gifts of Mayo runner Rodney Guillory, the punishment seems decidedly not harsh.

But USC basketball is a unique story. The Trojans sacrificed their hoops program last year in an attempt to save the football team. USC was off to a surprisingly hot start in 2009-10, and could have conceivably made the NCAA tournament had the team not been devastated by its own postseason ban. What the hoops postseason ban did, rather than cause the NCAA to ease up on the Trojans' football cash cow, is convince the NCAA to ease up on the basketball team. USC's athletics program inadvertently saved the hoops team. It didn't mean to, but it did.

Which is why USC basketball, though troubled in the short term, got off comparably light. The Trojans accidentally provided a blueprint for how to save a program -- by inadvertently showing the NCAA it was serious about cleaning up its basketball house. It didn't save the football team, but, in a weird way, it worked.

That's why USC basketball seems as though it got off easy. It did. But considering its own self-sanctions and the example the NCAA is trying to set, it deserved to.

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