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Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Since Duke's coronation, plenty of news

By Eamonn Brennan
ESPN.com

Remember April 5? It doesn't seem so long ago.

Duke
There's been plenty of offseason activity since Duke cut down the nets in Indy.

Let's go back: Duke had just capped off a brilliant national championship run by surviving Butler's defense, a heavy thrust of Indianapolis-area momentum and Gordon Hayward's "Oh my God that's going in OH MAN OH MAN" rim-out in the final seconds of an utterly thrilling title game. Two of that game's stars -- Hayward and Duke forward Kyle Singler -- faced looming NBA draft decisions. The NCAA seemed destined to expand the tournament to 96 teams. Oregon was desperately trying to find its newest coach. Jon Scheyer was pranking his friends.

We've come a long way in 50 days.

Thanks to the NBA's new early draft deadline -- more on that in a bit -- the NCAA offseason's intrigue is now more front-loaded than ever. Major draft decisions, coaching carousel rotations and recruiting intrigue are now all packed into one tiny spring window, leaving us with less to discuss in the dog days of college hoops' brutal offseason. But we'll worry about that later. For now, let's recap the major storylines of the offseason's first 50 days. Here's an updated rundown of hoops news and newsmakers since Duke cut down the Lucas Oil Stadium nets on April 5. Buckle up:

The NCAA tournament didn't expand? The NCAA tournament didn't expand! OK, so the NCAA tournament did expand. But compared to the alternative, the NCAA men's basketball committee's April 22 recommendation -- later ratified by the NCAA board of directors -- to expand the tournament from 65 to 68 teams hardly feels like expansion at all. Consider where we were on April 1. NCAA senior vice president of basketball and business strategies Greg Shaheen was front and center in Lucas Oil Stadium, meandering for thousands of words on why the 96-team format wasn't such a bad thing, why it wouldn't affect student-athletes' classroom time (it would), and why expansion wasn't going to destroy the tournament but was just another inevitable step in the great competition's oft-expanded history. It did not go well. The half-baked reasoning, not to mention Shaheen's filibuster on the subject, managed to rankle even the most apathetic of onlookers. It appeared the NCAA was concerned with one thing only: The naked pursuit of another TV contract, one that required 96 teams to be financially maximal.

Not so much, actually. In one of the more refreshing and surprising sports decisions in recent memory, the NCAA abandoned that plan (for now, anyway), expanding the tournament to 68 teams and still landing that all-important new TV deal. This one splits the NCAA tournament across two networks -- CBS and Turner Sports, mainly -- and will provide the NCAA with a way to show every single NCAA tournament game live, a luxury previously enjoyed only by those willing to buy an added DirecTV package. The contract is worth hundreds of millions more per year than the NCAA's old deal. This is the best news of all: The NCAA got its famed TV deal without having to expand to 96 teams. It could happen in the future, sure. NCAA officials won't rule anything out. But removing that financial incentive gives the NCAA much less reason to push for larger expansion in the future.

That's the story of how the tournament, perhaps the most perfect competition in all of organized athletics, managed to narrowly avoid a disastrous turn into the realm of the unwieldy. And what a happy ending it was. The end. (For now.)

The new NBA draft decision deadline is killing you. It's killing us. Last year, the ACC's coaches had a powwow. At this powwow -- I like to picture Roy Williams, Mike Krzyzewski and Sidney Lowe sitting on bean bags with their legs crossed -- those coaches decided that they didn't much like the way the NBA draft made their lives more difficult. Because players had until June 15 to test the NBA waters, coaches couldn't move forward on signing recruits in the spring period; they had to wait to find out if the NBA-bound player was, in fact, bound for the NBA. They also thought too many underclassmen were testing the waters just for fun, and we can't have that.

So they came up with a new rule, one the NCAA ratified in short order: Move the early-entry draft deadline to May 8. This managed to eliminate scholarship confusion for coaches. Bully for them? Because it's been a disaster for players. The window between the end of the season and the deadline is shorter than ever, which means players have far less time to test the waters, gauge the fluctuations in their draft stocks and make informed decisions about their futures. The deadline was supposed to keep players with little intention of staying in the draft from going in the first place, but there were more early-entry candidates in 2010 than ever before.

There's an even greater tragedy here: The early entry draft deadline also effectively quarantined all the interesting news -- will he stay or will he go, etc. -- to April and early May. As an intrepid blogger charged with finding interesting things to write about college basketball year-round, I'd just like to say: Thanks for that, NCAA. Really. That was awesome of you. (Jerks.)

Who's No. 1? Singler stays, Hayward goes, Purdue's back, and Michigan State returns pretty much everybody. Immediately following the Final Four, three teams looked capable of snatching the No. 1 overall ranking for 2010-11: Duke, Michigan State and Butler.

Duke needed Singler to stay. Butler needed Hayward to come back. Purdue faced the potential departure of stars JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore. (Michigan State looked pretty darn good no matter what happened.)

As it turns out, Singler did stay at Duke, where he, Nolan Smith and a score of good recruits will likely see the Blue Devils begin the 2010-11 season as the No. 1 team in the country. Michigan State lost only Raymar Morgan to graduation and will return with a healthy and stacked core this fall. Johnson and Moore decided to come back to Purdue and play alongside Robbie Hummel for one more season. And Hayward found the allure of the NBA lottery too much to pass up, forgoing a chance at avenging the Bulldogs' last-second loss to Duke. That leaves Duke, MSU and Purdue as your early 2010-11 top three.

John Calipari
John Calipari and his Kentucky squad have been a center of attention this offseason.

Kentucky, Kentucky, Kentucky. It's been impossible to pay attention to college basketball this offseason without paying attention to Kentucky and its coach, John Calipari. This has been both a good and bad thing for UK fans.

First, the good: Calipari put the finishing touches on his 2010 class, perhaps the best in the country and one replete with McDonald's All-Americans and ESPNU top-100 players. The latest signing was Terrence Jones, a Portland, Ore., native who publicly committed to Washington -- ball cap and everything -- before rescinding his commitment and signing at Kentucky two weeks later. Oh, and the 2011 recruiting thing is going pretty well, too: Calipari has received verbal commitments from the No. 1 player in the class, Michael Gilchrist, as well as one-time Louisville lock Marquis Teague, an especially devastating blow to Rick Pitino's progress at Kentucky's rival school.

But all this success brings attention, of course, and the attention to Calipari in the offseason has surrounded rumors that he's interested in moving to the NBA to coach LeBron James as a package deal wherever King James lands in his free-agent quest this offseason. Calipari has denied the rumors and tweeted that he's going to be coaching at UK next season. Still, the rumors -- and Calipari's purported demands -- persist.

Hey, Oregon found a coach! (No, it's not Tom Izzo.) Oregon left no stone unturned in its search for Ernie Kent's replacement. After all, this coach would inherit a program that just built a gleaming new arena on the back of Nike CEO Phil Knight's contributions to the school. UO needed a great coach, one befitting its financial commitment to excellence. Unfortunately, the allure of Nike money wasn't quite what Oregon assumed.

Butler coach Brad Stevens stayed away. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo did too. (Which, like, duh, Oregon. Get serious.) A host of big names were floated; none of them bit. The search stretched on, turning from weeks into months. In the end, Creighton coach Dana Altman was pulled away from his comfortable Nebraska home to take on the challenge of rebuilding the Ducks into a serious Pac-10 contender. The hire was a good one. Altman is a steady hand, a program-builder who doesn't jump to jobs lightly -- the sort of person Oregon should have been looking for all along. And he can bake you a pastry. Win-win.

Recruits made their big decisions. By early April, most of the nation's top high school recruits had committed to or signed with their respective schools. But we were still waiting on a handful of impact players to make up their minds. Among them: point guard Brandon Knight, who chose Kentucky; point guard Josh Selby, who chose Kansas; Jones, who did the aforementioned Washington-no-wait-Kentucky thing; forward C.J. Leslie, who gave NC State its first impact recruiting class under Sidney Lowe; point guard Cory Joseph, who landed at Texas; and Doron Lamb, who ended up at -- guess where -- Kentucky.

Remember the names. When the 2010-11 season gets kicking again, they'll be the ones with the storylines to watch. Until then, it's 50 more days -- and another 50 after that -- of offseason. I know, it sounds bad. But stay tuned. Anything can, and usually does, happen.

Eamonn Brennan covers college basketball for ESPN.com. You can see his work every Monday through Friday in the College Basketball Nation blog.