College Basketball Nation: UCLA

Video: Vitale on Wooden's leadership

June, 5, 2010
6/05/10
12:37
AM ET

Dick Vitale shares his memories of coach John Wooden.

Video: Phelps on Wooden

June, 4, 2010
6/04/10
11:58
PM ET

ESPN college basketball analyst Digger Phelps talks about his long-time friend John Wooden.

Video: Katz recalls Wooden's career

June, 4, 2010
6/04/10
11:48
PM ET

ESPN's Andy Katz on the coaching career of John Wooden.

UCLA mourns John Wooden

June, 4, 2010
6/04/10
11:45
PM ET
John Wooden
John Wooden won 620 games over his 27-year career.
UCLA chancellor Gene Block addressed a letter to the school community Friday night regarding the loss of legendary coach John Wooden at age 99.

"With the passing of John Wooden, we have lost a true giant and a gentleman, an individual who was perhaps more closely identified with UCLA than any other person in our university’s history," Block wrote. "Coach Wooden was an unparalleled motivator and an inspiration to people throughout the world. Those of us who were fortunate enough to meet him will forever be touched by his unfailing wisdom and generous spirit."

Read the rest of the letter, and below you'll find other statements from the UCLA community.

Nan and Jim Wooden on their father:

"We want to thank everyone for their love and support for our father. We will miss him more than words can express.

"He has been, and always will be, the guiding light for our family. The love, guidance and support he has given us will never be forgotten.

"Our peace of mind at this time is knowing that he has gone to be with our mother, whom he has continued to love and cherish.

"We wish to express our gratitude for your support and appreciate your respecting our privacy."

UCLA coach Ben Howland:

"The loss of John Wooden saddens the UCLA community and beyond. Coach Wooden, in life and in death, is and always will be the UCLA men's basketball head coach. His basketball successes and championships were an element of his magnificent, far-reaching life.

"Coach Wooden's timeless teachings, philosophies and 'Pyramid of Success' not only influenced the lives of his players but the lives of millions of people around the world. Friendship, loyalty, team spirit and competitive greatness are not just building blocks in his 'Pyramid of Success' -- it's how Coach Wooden led his own life and taught others to live. Always the teacher and mentor, throughout his life, Coach Wooden was so giving of himself and his time to everyone.

"Coach Wooden was a wonderful person and great friend who is truly a national treasure. His legacy and legend will continue to live on in each of us striving to be the "best that we are capable of becoming" as athletes, coaches, teachers, parents and human beings."

UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero:

"There will never be another John Wooden While this is a huge loss for the Bruin family, Coach Wooden's influence reaches far beyond Westwood. Coach was a tremendously significant figure. This loss will be felt by individuals from all parts of society. He was not only the greatest coach in the history of any sport but he was an exceptional individual that transcended the sporting world. His enduring legacy as a role model is one we should all strive to emulate.

"I can still recall my first interactions with Coach Wooden when I was a member of the UCLA baseball team and he was in the midst of his incredible run of championships. While attending those basketball games was certainly a highlight for me, what stands out even more was Coach making the effort to come to our baseball games to cheer for us, and what a special feeling that was for our team. Since then, I have had the unique opportunity to develop a close personal relationship with Coach Wooden over the years. That's something I will treasure for the rest of my life."

Legendary coach John Wooden dies

June, 4, 2010
6/04/10
11:07
PM ET
John Wooden, the legendary UCLA basketball coach that led the Bruins to 10 national championships, died Friday. He was 99. EspnLosAngeles.com has this obituary on the revered, Hall of Fame coach:
With his signature rolled-up game program in hand, Wooden led the Bruins to 10 NCAA championships, including an unmatched streak of seven in a row from 1967 to 1973.

Over 27 years, he won 620 games, including 88 straight during one historic stretch, and coached many of the game's greatest players such as Bill Walton and Lew Alcindor -- later known as Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

As a coach, he was groundbreaking trendsetter who demanded his players be in great condition so they could play an up-tempo style not well-known on the West Coast at the time.

But the Wizard's legacy extended well beyond that.

Previewing the Pac-10 tournament

March, 10, 2010
3/10/10
10:30
PM ET
The Pac-10 tournament this year features nine unranked teams, and for those not named Cal, it’s either win or go home.

A sense of desperation will be felt during every game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles because for many, their postseasons depend entirely on winning the title.

After failing to impress in November and December, and then beating each other during conference play, the Pac-10 is looking like a two-bid conference. With that amount of parity, there is plenty of hope for a surprise team to emerge and punch its NCAA tournament ticket.

“There’s definitely a number of teams that can,” Arizona coach Sean Miller said.

And that’s exciting, right?

Storylines

The Pac-10 couldn’t really be a one-bid conference, could it? Crazier things have happened, but if Arizona State and Washington lose their quarterfinal games, and regular-season champ Cal takes the title, there you have it. Can a power-six conference, that has struggled to replace players lost to the NBA, get two or three teams in the NCAA tournament?

Arizona, short of winning the tournament, will have its streak of 25 years of making the NCAA tournament snapped. Senior guard Nic Wise has proven his ability to make game-ending shots, and Miller’s talented freshmen could very well come of age during this event. Even if No. 4-seeded Arizona falters during its quarterfinal against No. 5 UCLA, the future is bright.

Cal might have captured its first regular-season title in 50 years, but the Bears can improve their seeding with another title, and quiet doubters who say they merely took advantage of a weak conference. The experienced seniors in the lineup will have something to say about that.

Players to watch

Jerome Randle, G, Cal, Sr. -- Randle, listed at 5-foot-10, was named the conference’s player of the year and is the heart and soul of the Bears. The point guard can hit the deep three, drive the lane and feed the ball to his teammates.

Quincy Pondexter, F, Washington, Sr. -- Second in scoring and third in rebounding in the Pac-10, Pondexter can do a little bit of everything. He’ll be looking to extend the Huskies’ season for as long as he can before heading to the NBA draft.

Derrick Williams, F, Arizona, Fr. -- A native of the Los Angeles area, Williams takes home with him the conference’s freshman of the year award and is the face of the team’s future. A big tournament would generate plenty of preseason hype.

Team to watch

Washington -- The Huskies haven’t exactly met their preseason expectations as defending conference champions, but now it’s the end of the season and they find themselves on a four-game winning streak and with 21 wins. Their last three wins have come on the road after struggling mightily away from Seattle in the early going. An impressive tournament could garner the No. 3-seeded team an at-large bid.

Game I’m looking forward to

A potential Arizona State-Washington semifinal could make all the difference in deciding which of the two teams would merit an at-large berth if they ended up not winning the tournament title. They split in the regular season, with 22-win ASU finishing a game ahead in the standings to take the No. 2 seed.

Ed O'Bannon, NCAA revolutionary

February, 10, 2010
2/10/10
2:04
PM ET
So, Monday, this happened:

A district court judge in San Francisco on Monday denied the N.C.A.A.’s motion for dismissal in a class-action lawsuit headed by the former U.C.L.A. basketball star Ed O’Bannon. The ruling leaves the N.C.A.A.’s licensing contracts open to discovery. O’Bannon’s lawyers filed the antitrust suit in July, claiming that former athletes should be compensated for the use of their images and likenesses in television advertisements, video games and on apparel. They said Monday’s ruling was an important first step.

Ed O'Bannon had an active offseason. First, there was the profile in the Washington Post about O'Bannon's post playing days. (He's a family man and car salesman in Las Vegas and, after struggling with his NBA failure, appears to be quite happy with his lot.) Then there was this: A lawsuit organized by shoe maven Sonny Vaccaro and headed by O'Bannon, who is the lead plaintiff in the case that just might force the NCAA to start paying royalties to its former players. Now that the above has happened -- the NCAA's motion for dismissal was denied -- that reality is closer than ever.

O'Bannon is suing over royalties used in college basketball video games -- which, ironically, EA Sports recently stopped making, probably because that game was always terrible -- but the suit is far more important than that. At stake is the NCAA's model, which grants the business rights to a player's likeness in perpetuity, which can in turn be used for revenue-generating things like State Farm ads, CBS tournament spots, magazine spreads and, yes, video games. It's not a minor suit over a few dollars O'Bannon would like to recoup. It's an organized, class-action effort, and it's about the $4 billion the NCAA makes off its athletes, and those athletes wanting a piece of the pie.

Even if O'Bannon's lawyers don't win the trial, this is a big day -- it opens the NCAA's books to the discovery process, meaning O'Bannon's lawyers get to dig through the NCAA's infamously cloistered financial records. O'Bannon's lawyers are certainly pleased:

"The key to this order is that it opens the door to the discovery process, and we soon can begin collecting evidence from the NCAA [and its member schools and conferences], taking depositions, and uncovering everything that it wanted to hide and keep from the public’s and athletes' view," said Jon King, partner at Hausfeld LLP, one of the firms handling the class-action suit.

"This is a truly historic day – to our knowledge, no one has ever gotten behind the scenes to examine how student-athletes' current and future rights in their images are divided up and sold," King said. "As Supreme Court Justice Brandeis once stated, ‘Sunshine is the best disinfectant,’ and we’re about to let the sunshine in."

That's a more than a bit overwrought, but you get the idea. For the first time, outsiders are going to get to see what the NCAA does with the money it generates on its athletes. We know what it doesn't do: pay the people who generate that money. (Well, unless these people are coaches, many of whom have been made millionaires in the current system while their players' income tops out at free classes, bland campus food and a 13-by-13 dorm room.) Whether you see this as a good thing will have a lot to do with your predisposed notions towards whether college athletes should be paid, but it's pretty hard to disagree with the notion that there's something horribly unfair about $4 billion -- yes, $4 billion -- being made off the performance of those who see none of that money in return.

At the very least, former athletes like O'Bannon -- who are no longer in college and no longer at prone to the corruptive risk of a modest paycheck -- deserve a cut. Is that so much to ask?
  • The glory days of the Purdue-Indiana rivalry have long since passed, or are at least temporarily on hold. Both schools have had overlapping rebuilding eras in the past decade or so; when Mike Davis and Kelvin Sampson's teams were nationally competitive, Purdue was rebuilding, and now that Purdue is a contender again, IU is still digging out of its post-Sampson crater. But that doesn't diminish what the rivalry means to people in Indiana. In Indiana, you're either a Boilermaker or a Hoosier, and there's no room -- whether in the workplace, or at school, or on the troll-heavy comment threads of the state's major metropolitan newspaper -- for crossover. The best preview of the rivalry you'll read today comes by way of Purdue fan blog Hammer And Rails, which does a brief tongue-in-cheek history of the rivalry before closing with this totally reasonable thought: "This is still a rivalry though. I try not to view it with silly jokes (except for the above section), but with educated respect. We have won the battles in terms of the overall series, but they have won the war on the national scale. Until we win a title or two ourselves, it will be that way." It would be easy for Purdue fans to take this opportunity to stomp all over the struggling Hoosiers, a fan base that likes to remind Purdue loyalists of its five NCAA titles as frequently as possible. Instead, there's respect. Each fan base knows the history and the stakes. That's the mark of a true rivalry. Despite the product on the court in Bloomington tonight, it will still be worth your time.
  • When Evan Turner plays Penn State at home, at least one thing should happen: an eye-popping line. The Villian delivered: 27 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, and three steals. Did your eyes pop? Because mine did. This line caused me to ask my Twitter followers for a good reason why Evan Turner shouldn't be player of the year, and the only good reasonable response I got was "He was playing Penn State." Fair point. But Turner has been doing this all season -- except during his back-injury absence, of course -- and with John Wall's recent struggles and the way Ohio State relies on Turner so heavily, doesn't Turner deserve more love? Turns out he's getting it: AnnArbor.com's staff polled its player of the year voters for an updated result, and Turner now trails John Wall by just seven first-place votes (25-18). There's still plenty of time to sort this all out, and John Wall will have plenty to say about it in the meantime, but it's hard to argue the fact that Turner is the most complete and valuable player of any in college basketball. If you can argue it, please do. But like I said: It's hard.
  • West Virginia fans debate the behavior of those who threw junk onto the court, including a coin that hit a Pitt assistant coach, during last night's win over Pittsburgh. The consensus? Kick these idiots out. Though there is one dissenter: "I’m an advocate of throwing eggs, oranges or other produce, in addition to metal trashcans. Whatever was thrown didn’t come from the student section. Not sure there is any way to reverse course and become reputed as model fans now. Might as well embrace the dark side and make the Coliseum a house of horrors where ANYTHING goes." Ha. Metal trash cans. Funny stuff. Wait ... he's -- he's joking, right? You guys? Tell me he's joking.
  • I did my best to summarize Dominique Jones' dominance in this morning's M.A.; now let John Gasaway discuss just how good the versatile, attacking guard really is. (One half-baked thought I just had about Jones: He sort of plays the way I assumed highly recruited Cincinnati forward Lance Stephenson would play -- physical, face-up, I'm-going-to-the-hole-now-try-to-stop-me sort of stuff. Stephenson has that potential, but Jones is already there.)
  • Andy Katz is out in California, and reminds us that, believe it or not, UCLA is still somehow in the hunt.
  • For the sake of mentioning it, Kalin Lucas' ankle is indeed merely sprained. He is listed as day-to-day.
  • In other Big Ten-State of Michigan axis news, the current rumor is that Manny Harris might stay in Ann Arbor for another season. This strikes me as a particularly good decision, given how bad Harris and the Wolverines have been this year.
  • The talk of a potential NCAA tournament expansion to 96 teams is still just that -- talk. But for the sake of fun, and as a handy way of putting into practice just who could hypothetically benefit from such an expansion, Rush The Court maps this year's 96-team NCAA tourney. The results are ... well, you'll see.
  • Can anyone go unbeaten in league play? Who? Why or why not? Mike DeCourcy shows his work.
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  • Storming The Floor came up with a fantastic idea yesterday. Since SEC commissioner (Who else hears Heath Ledger's Joker snarling "coMISSioner" in their head every time they read that word? Anyone? Just me?) Mike Slive seems hell-bent on punishing South Carolina for a perfectly legitimate, joyous court storm, and seems intent on collecting $25,000 from the Gamecocks in doing so, how about this? How about we send that $25,000 to Haiti? How about we make it count? The country is still in shambles after a devastating earthquake, but it sounds like aid and relief efforts are helping to stem the tide somewhat, and every little bit helps. Plus, South Carolina students were more than willing to hand over the money to the athletics program to offset their joy, and really, does the SEC need another $25,000 in its coffers? Storming The Floor's Eric is asking you to tweet "send SC's fine to #Haiti' to @SEC_Hoops, and tell 'em @STFHoops sent ya." Sounds like a plan to me.
  • Speaking of court storming, Chris Dobbertean claims last night's Providence-UConn game was the moment court storming officially jumped the shark. I hate to say this, but we're way past that point. The shark was leapfrogged long ago. (Can you leapfrog a shark? Someone should totally try.) When you've got Indiana racing onto the court after a home win over Minnesota and UCLA fans trying to break onto their home floor after a buzzer-beater win over Washington, storming the court no longer means what it used to. I'm over it. Fans are over it. Let's call the whole "getting mad every time a school has a dumb court-storm" thing off. The subsequent complaining is almost as bad as the act itself.
  • A familiar lad named Andy Katz zeroes in on Mike Davis, who is leading the UAB Blazers to their best season under his tenure and a possible at-large bid even if they don't end up winning the C-USA tourney.
  • Former DePaul star Tyrone Corbin, now an assistant with the Utah Jazz, says he's interested in the DePaul job. Chris Lowery and Craig Robinson still seem like much better choices, but life is full of wonderful options, am I right?
  • The Basketball Prospectus boys go back and forth on the subject of Kentucky guard Eric Bledsoe's future: Will he go pro this year? Should he? If Bledsoe keeps climbing into the lottery, it's hard to argue he shouldn't, but a John Wall-less year in the driver's seat of John Calipari's Porsche sounds like a surefire way to boost your draft stock.
  • On why Evan Turner's insanely quick recovery from a broken back -- it's hard to keep in mind that Turner literally broke his freaking back earlier this season -- has saved the Ohio State Buckeyes from surefire mediocrity. It wasn't too damaging to Turner's draft stock, either. Meanwhile, here's a non-Eamonn argument for why Turner deserves player of the year honors.
  • Ahead of tonight's interesting Wisconsin-Purdue matchup, Rush The Court checks in on the Big Ten and finds Michigan State in the driver's seat. What else is new?
  • Speaking of Michigan State, Kalin Lucas is hearing the finest plaudits a Michigan State point guard can hear. What? No, they're not comparing him to Magic Johnson. I suppose I should have thought of that. No, Mateen Cleaves! They're comparing him to Mateen Cleaves. I guess Magic Johnson would have been better, but you get the point.
  • Calipari and Texas coach Rick Barnes discussed the perils of gaining the No. 1 seed only to lose it shortly thereafter. I can't imagine this conversation lasted all that long. "It's bummer, right bro?" "Yep. Totally, bro. Total bummer." ... "Uh, so what else is up? Wife and kids good?"
  • Joel Branstrom, the high school coach who hit the half-court shot with a blindfold on -- he was being pranked by his students, who'd promised him Final Four tickets if he made it; they were going to pretend the shot went in and were foiled when it, you know, actually went in -- will end up getting those Final Four tickets after all. Let that be a lesson to you kids: Overpromise and underdeliver, and as long as you have a fun viral video clip, you can achieve anything.
  • Which is a bigger rivalry: Syracuse-Georgetown or Connecticut-Syracuse?
Huh? That's the likely immediate reaction you'll have when you see Kyle Whelliston's screenshot from last night's College of Charleston-Wofford game, wherein Charleston students are mobbing each other on the court after a home win over a 13-8 Southern Conference rival. What on Earth is going on here?

Matt Norlander thinks he has an answer:

This could be sarcasm at its finest; a tongue-in-cheek shot at the big-six schools, if you will. Could Charleston's sharp, witty young minds be poking fun and pointing at the Indianas and UCLAs, which recently had their student sections spill out onto the maple after defeating Minnesota and Washington, respectively.

Rushing the floor/storming the court/no one can agree on what to call the damn action/ has reached its nadir in 2010. It took a grand statement to put everyone on notice. College of Charleston has done it. A transcendent court-storm, and that's the best kind.

I love this explanation, and if it is even remotely true -- Charleston students, get at me! -- then I have gained a level of respect for the College of Charleston (nay, the city of Charleston; nay, the state of South Carolina!) that I never thought I'd have. If the collective sense of irony is this high on campus in Charleston, I want to move there immediately.

If not, then this is inexplicable, and I'm just going to choose to believe Matt's theory. Otherwise I'm just ... confused.
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The Morning After is our semi-daily recap post. Try not to make it awkward.

Seton Hall 80, Louisville 77: Wednesday was a night of streaks. Memphis lost its conference win streak; DePaul broke its conference losing streak; Pitt ceded its Big East home game streak, and so on. Louisville might as well have played on Wednesday night, as the Cardinals lost for the third time in a row for the first time since 2005-06. If that seems confusing, it's not just the awkward phrase. That's how good Louisville has been in the Big East for the past three years, and in 2009-10, for whatever reason, the Cardinals are managing to post efficient statistics and numbers and still look utterly mediocre in the win column. That's what's most confusing: Why isn't this Louisville team better? Or, more precisely, why isn't this Louisville team, which appears on paper to be one of the best four or five teams in the Big East, so apparently unable to turn that efficient profile into wins?

No. 20 Butler 48, Loyola (IL) 47: Perhaps the most important thing for Butler is they survived, and won, a game in which they made .08 points per trip, posted a 38.4 FG percentage, went to the free throw line on a mere 17 percent of their possessions, and were out-rebounded on the offensive end almost 2-to-1. Still, though, that is an ugly performance. Even against mediocre Horizon League teams like Loyola, Butler won't be able to play this badly and expect to make it through the conference slate unbeaten, which is pretty much what they have to do to secure an at-large bid and not worry about the pressures of the conference tournament come March. If you wanted to over-analyze the game, you could say that surviving and winning on the road on such a bad night was a good thing, that it proved Butler's mettle, or something. Or you could just call it what it is: a bad game that Butler can't afford to replicate all that often.

Indiana 67, Penn State 61: Indiana fans have had a weird relationship with this year's IU team. Most went into the season with some cautious optimism, only to have that optimism simultaneously piqued and dashed week in and week out. Tom Crean's team is capable of beating Pitt in Madison Square Garden, only to lose Loyola (MD) at home a week later. This is the kind of up-and-down, tweener season Crean is having right now: His team can play inspired, coherent basketball and challenge and even topple superior teams ... and then a night later can toss in horrid, ugly performances that have some of the more strident IU fans already questioning the length of Crean's contract. (Kentucky fans get a bad rap for being too hard on coaches, but IU fans deserve a shout-out: That some are already nibbling at the edges of his popularity is kind of shocking. What did you expect? Things were screwed up before, and Crean is trying to make them less screwed up, and you're going to blame him when the process takes longer than you hoped? Note that you could, were you so inclined, substitute Barack Obama's name in for Tom Crean's ... but let's not go down that road.)

Anyway, the point is that Thursday night was one of IU's Dr. Jekyll nights. Penn State is a bad team, but Big Ten road wins were an absolute impossibility last season. Crean has his team at .500 after 18 games. Given the circumstances he inherited, that's worthy of some measure of respect.

No. 10 Gonzaga 91, Pepperdine 84: Today's AP wrap makes note of the history of Pepperdine-Gonzaga, when both teams used to contend for the WCC every year, when both teams used to make it to the NCAA tournament, when both teams were mid-major darlings (even if Gonzaga hogged most of the press). Those days are basically over: Gonzaga has emerged the victor, becoming a national power a ubiquitous national profile and Nike shorts in every sports good store in the country. Pepperdine has receded in WCC mediocrity. But last night, the two teams had one of their trademark duels, the kind that harkened back to the glory days of the late 1990s, and Gonzaga needed a career-high 32 points from Matt Bouldin and a 20-and-13 from freshman Elias Harris to get past the Waves at home. One more note on Harris: Most reading this blog will already know this, but Elias Harris should be in contention for every freshman award there is. It's not that he'll win all of them -- John Wall, John Wall, John Wall -- but Harris' performance deserves national attention. He's special.

Everywhere else: Florida notched a big SEC road win over Arkansas, 71-66 ... Utah State cruised in Fresno ... Siena stayed unbeaten in the MAAC with a six-point win over Loyola (MD) ... Isiah Thomas' FIU team dropped to 6-16 overall with a 15-point loss to Arkansas State at home ... Cal utterly destroyed Oregon in Berkeley ... Oregon State scored 35 points in a 60-possession game and promptly lost to Stanford; more on this later ... Washington State beat a lifeless USC team in L.A. ... and UCLA caused its fans to rush the court with a home win over Washington. More on this later, too. In the meantime be sure to check out Diamond's live coverage of the game from Pauley Pavilion.
Saddle Up is a quick preview of the basketball your TV wants you to watch tonight. Here's Thursday night's rundown.

Louisville at Seton Hall, 7 p.m. ET, ESPN: If I told you Louisville was almost exactly as efficient a basketball team as Syracuse, would you believe me? Probably not: Syracuse has one loss and is a favorite to make the Final Four; Louisville already has two losses in the Big East and is still apparently rebuilding from last year's Earl Clark-Terrence Williams dual exodus. But it's true! Louisville has been a pretty darn efficient team so far in the Big East, tying Syracuse with a plus-.11 efficiency margin, good for fourth in the conference. Louisville plays very good offense (largely thanks to its No.5-ranked offensive rebounding percentage) and serviceable defense. Louisville's problem is fouls: The Cards give up way too many trips to the line to opposing teams, a stat that makes Pitino's style of play -- pressing, pushing, forcing teams to play fast and scattered -- much more difficult to pull off. Seton Hall, meanwhile, needs a to start a flurry of Big East wins if it wants to sniff the NCAA tournament; the Hall's weak non-conference schedule make a Big East run imperative. At 1-3 so far, it's not looking good.

Florida at Arkansas, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: Speaking of teams that need to start rattling off conference wins: Florida. This is a team that doesn't shoot particularly well, and combines that problem with its stunning inability to get to the free throw line. Florida is No. 302 in the country in free throw rate. This is very bad; either the Gators need to figure out a way to shoot better, or they need to figure out a way to get to the line. One or the other could cause a veritable renaissance in Gainesville. Neither will see the Gators left out of the NCAA tournament for the third straight year.

No. 20 Butler at Loyola (IL), 8 p.m. ET, ESPN360: Butler has an interesting conundrum on its hands. Because the Bulldogs fared somewhat poorly in their non-conference slate -- the same non-conference slate that could have pushed them into high-seed territory come March, had things gone as planned -- Butler finds itself needing to win almost every league game to avoid needing to win the Horizon League tournament to guarantee its NCAA bid. Fortunately, the Horizon League isn't chock full of talented teams, at least not as talented as Butler. Unfortunately, that doesn't matter. What'd we learn Wednesday night? (And, you know, in every college basketball tournament ever?) Upsets happen. The Bulldogs could slip and still make the tournament as an at-large bid, but it won't be a guarantee. This means that every league game Butler plays -- even against opponents like Loyola, which is 3-4 in Horizon League play -- is important and nervy. Sounds like fun, right?

Everywhere else: There's a big slate of Pac-10 games this Thursday, including Washington-UCLA, where our man Diamond Leung will be on the scene. If you desperately want to watch a desperately unwatchable conference, there's also Oregon State-Stanford, Oregon-Cal, and Washington State-USC ... Gonzaga will take on Pepperdine at home, which used to be a much better game, but should still provide some exciting moments ... Indiana and Penn State will do battle in the three-team race (the third team is Iowa, natch) not to be the worst team in the Big Ten which, given the other two teams in each's equation, would be very bad indeed ... Siena will look to stay perfect in the MAAC ... and last but not least, Utah State will travel to Fresno to help settle in a match up of 3-2 WAC teams. Also, Jersey Shore is on. You know you're going to watch. Don't lie to me.
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  • Education secretary Arne Duncan, whose first name always looks weird to me when I type it -- not that I type "Arne Duncan" all that often, but still -- is hitting college basketball where it hurts: Graduation rates. This might be worthy of a longer discussion later, but Duncan's idea is to tie graduation rates to NCAA tournament admission; if you're not graduating players, you can't play in the postseason: "You had four teams that didn't graduate any African-American players. Zero. If that was my son, I don't know if I would want him playing there," Duncan said. "And why did we allow them to play in this tournament, make all this money, be on national TV, and they're not graduating any kids?" Oooh, I know! (Furiously raises hand.) Because no one actually thinks college basketball is an academic enterprise? That only the most naive college basketball viewers argue that college basketball is great because they're watching student-athletes? That, for better or worse (definitely worse), no one really cares? Is that why?
  • I have no idea who to believe in this mess, because no one -- neither Mike Garrett nor Tim Floyd -- seems particularly trustworthy.
  • Speaking of USC, women's coach Michael Cooper (yes, the Showtime Lakers Michael Cooper) issued an apology for opening a news conference with, "My opening statement is [expletive] UCLA." Hilarious! Also kind of mean, and definitely the sort of thing you have to apologize for if you plan on being a head coach at any program for very long. But still, Michael Cooper, well done. Big round of applause. You, sir, are 90 percent onions.
  • Saturday's Cornell-Columbia game at Columbia's Levien Gymnasium is sold out. Yes, a sold out Ivy League basketball game at CUNY. What? It's not like there's anything better to do in New York.
  • UCLA still believes it can improve. This is where a smart aleck like me says that at 7-10, there's no way UCLA can get worse, and so promising improvement is a little like me promising that I'll get better at blogging today: When you're this bad, there's nowhere to go but up.
  • Royce White returns! After retiring from basketball, the Minnesota forward has returned to Tubby Smith's squad at long last. White's legal issues still need to be resolved -- White plead guilty to disorderly conduct and theft for his role in a mall altercation last year, and he's still a focus of an investigation involving a stolen laptop -- but if Smith allows him, White could return to the floor soon.
  • New Orleans quit the Sun Belt, which brings the school one step closer to settling in at the Division III level. When asked for comment, one New Orleans fan screamed "Uh, OK? GO SAINNNNNTSSSSSAHHH!"
  • I like college basketball. I like ridiculous haircuts. You can find me wherever the 'twain shall meet.
  • Casual Hoya breaks down and aggregates Georgetown's huge win over Pitt last night.
  • From the ESPN file, check out Dana O'Neil's excellent look at the surprising Binghamton Bearcats, who suffered one of the worst offseasons of all-time and are somehow not only not winless, but downright competitive. Keep in mind this is a team that had to have open tryouts on campus to fill the 2009-10 squad. It's shocking, really. And speaking of Dana, IU blog Inside The Hall sat her down for a Q & A on her gig, the Hoosiers, and her current All-American picks.
  • A Sea Of Blue takes a look at Kentucky's average margin of victory in 2009-10 and compares it to years' past. Despite the occasional Wildcat letdown and Kentucky's willingness to allow inferior teams to stick around -- think Georgia at Rupp Arena, for example -- the Cats' average margin of victory compares well with the more successful of former coach Rick Pitino's teams.
  • Finally, one quick note on this nonsense: Saying regular-season games don't matter is like saying any given week of the NFL doesn't matter. By itself, no. It's just one-sixteenth, or in college basketball's case, one-thirty-second of a season. The marginal value is low. But the games matter in the aggregate. Which team wins the NCAA title has as much to do with seeding and chance as talent, and every game on the way to the tournament has tiny little reverberations and consequences for March's massive payoff. You know, just like any other sport. Decrying college basketball's regular season as nothing but entertaining TV filler seems more than a little off-base.
The Morning After is our semi-daily morning recap post. Try not to make it awkward.

[+] EnlargeMichigan State Basketball
AP Photo/Al GoldisMichigan State outlasted Wisconsin in a "defensive struggle."
Michigan State 54, Wisconsin 47: Now this is a Big Ten basketball game. After their uptempo, runaway win over Northwestern Saturday, it was reasonable to assume the Spartans would want to push the pace against the slow, plodding, methodically effective Wisconsin Badgers. That did not happen: These teams shared 59 possessions (the national average is about 70), and they weren't particularly effective with even those limited opportunities. The AP report is characterizing this game as a "defensive struggle" -- Bo Ryan said much the same -- and that's partially true. Each team prevented the other from getting anywhere near their current averages for points or efficiency. But neither team shot well, and that has plenty to do with it, too.

The good news for the Spartans is that they took care of business at home against what appears to be the second most likely challenger for their Big Ten throne. Everywhere else (with the possible exception of an Evan Turner-fielding Ohio State team) looks a little bit worse than expected; Purdue, Michigan State, and Wisconsin are your three Big Ten teams worth their national salt.

Kansas 71, Cornell 66: Three cheers for Cornell, huh? This is a team that went into Allen Fieldhouse, one of the most historic and intimidating basketball arenas in the world, and not only hung with Kansas but very nearly beat them. Cornell took a one-point lead into the final minute, and you know the rest: Sherron Collins took over the game, scoring nine straight points at the end and singlehandedly refusing to cede the lead back to Big Red. What does the win mean? Well, Kansas got its first legitimate test. It had a poor shooting night and still survived. Bill Self will be pleased. But more than anything it means that Sherron Collins is still the de facto leader and go-to guy of the Kansas Jayhawks, no matter how good Xavier Henry has been. Henry might be the more talented scorer, but when the game and season are on the line, Collins will have the ball in his hands. As it should be, eh?

Connecticut 71, Seton Hall 63: Seton Hall could have used this one, but what should you expect? Connecticut isn't vintage Connecticut, but they're still a good, athletic team, and they're still going to win the games they should win at home. So maybe hoping for a Hall win would have been too optimistic. The point is that Bobby Gonzalez's team, after starting 9-1, has now lost four straight. Granted, three of those losses were understandable (to West Virginia in OT, to Syracuse, and to UConn) but one was an indictment of the Pirates altogether (the 102-94 OT loss to Virginia Tech without Malcolm Delaney on Saturday). Seton Hall entered Big East play with a legitimate shot at reaching the NCAA tournament. Those hopes are fading fast.

Tennessee 88, Charlotte 71: On Dec. 5, Charlotte played an injury-bit Louisville team and beat them by 22 points. Last night's game had the potential for similarity: Tennessee is reeling after the suspension of four players, one of whom was star forward Tyler Smith, for gun-related arrests. If any team looks ready to fold in the season, it's Tennessee. But that didn't happen. Rather, the exact opposite did: Tennessee put a whoopin' (as they say in Tennessee) on Charlotte from the opening tip. Wayne Chism led the way with 18 points as all five Tennessee starters scored in double digits. Hey, maybe Bruce Pearl was right. The Vols do still have weapons.

Everywhere else: Syracuse got a minor challenge from Memphis before pulling away late ... One of two things is happening here: Either Marquette is surprisingly good again, or Georgetown has another disappointing team. Or maybe both. Either way, the Golden Eagles upset the No. 12 Hoyas in Milwaukee last night ... No. 23 BYU survived its first conference test of the season, winning by four over UNLV ... Indiana received the blunt end of an Evan Turner welcoming party at Value City Arena ... Craig Robinson's Oregon State rebuilding project suffered its worst loss to date, dropping a lifeless 99-48 game to, get this, Seattle ... and the Pac-10 suffered yet another indictment, this one directed at the team most people still have national hopes for, Cal; a bad UCLA team beat the Golden Bears 76-75 in Berkeley Wednesday night, and I think it's official: The Pac-10 is beyond redemption. Let's just ignore it from now on, OK? (I'm kidding! I love all conferences equally, even when they're really bad.)

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