Category archive: Clemson Tigers

If anyone was wondering whether 15 schools could agree and get along in the new ACC, all they had to do was check the reaction to the new primary partners released Wednesday.

There was an unusual consensus. Every school was pleased.

The ACC had to adjust its scheduling format with the addition of Notre Dame, which could join anywhere from 2013 to 2015. The conference, committed to an 18-game schedule, had to lock in to two annual home-and-home series.

For a few schools, such as Virginia, there was nothing to ponder. The Cavaliers have two natural rivals in Virginia Tech and Maryland. Done.

"It makes sense geographically," UVa coach Tony Bennett said. "They've been our natural rivalries for years."

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Steve Donahue
AP Photo/Michael DwyerCoach Steve Donahue believes BC's fans will be pumped to host old conference rivals Syracuse and Notre Dame each season.

Boston College landed two tough opponents, but the Eagles couldn't have been happier to get two schools that will help fill the usually staid Conte Forum. BC will play Notre Dame and Syracuse twice every season.

"It's great for our alumni and fans," Boston College coach Steve Donahue said. "I'm sure excited about it."

Understandbly, no school got both Duke and North Carolina. That would be too cruel, and it would be too hard to pull off with two other schools in the state in Wake Forest and NC State. The ACC had to balance the four schools, and it did.

Duke gets UNC and Wake Forest. NC State got UNC and Wake. Wake Forest got Duke and NC State. And of course that means Carolina got Duke and NC State, which based on the current trajectory of the four schools, is the toughest slate among the schools in North Carolina.

"I loved it," NC State coach Mark Gottfried said. "They got it right."

Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman, who is the 2014 chair of the men's basketball selection committee and understands the importance of getting quality teams on the schedule, said "playing two in-state rivals is the best scenario for us."

ACC associate commissioner Karl Hicks, who oversees basketball and scheduling in particular, said the majority of the matchups simply made sense.

The most intriguing issue was what to do with Notre Dame's second rivalry after Boston College. The Irish and Georgia Tech were paired up by process of elimination. Hicks said the schools have a rivalry in football, but not in basketball.

"Notre Dame has a lot of alumni in urban areas," Hicks said. "Maryland was a better fit with the partners they had [Pitt and Virginia]. Washington, D.C., would have been a good place [for Notre Dame], but Maryland's partners fit. Georgia Tech was the next one that made the most sense."

ND coach Mike Brey said it worked for him since he wanted to create new rivalries and, "I love Atlanta."

Tech coach Brian Gregory knew the Yellow Jackets would get Clemson as one rival and was overjoyed that the Irish were the other.

"I think it's great for us," Gregory said. "These are two great academic schools with great traditions. I think it will turn into a great rivalry."

Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said Pitt and Virginia are strong defensive teams which should provide four gritty games for the Terps every season. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon had no issue with Maryland and Syracuse as his school's natural rivals, saying that he expected as much based on geography.

The rest of the 14 games on the schedule will include two more home-and-home opponents (which will rotate every year) and five home and five road games that make up the other 10.

The other set partners are:

Clemson: Florida State and Georgia Tech
Florida State: Clemson and Miami
Miami: Florida State and Virginia Tech
Syracuse: Boston College and Pitt
Virginia Tech: Miami and Virginia

Hicks said the Miami-Virginia Tech series marries two former Big East rivals. Syracuse's two partners are also former Big East foes. Clemson and Florida State got natural regional rivals.

"I'm not bent out of shape one way or another," said Florida State's Leonard Hamilton, who added he wasn't against going to 20 league games. "I like the challenge night in and night out of 18 hard-nosed games."

What the two-team partner lists and the reaction proves is that a 16th team in men's basketball doesn't seem necessary. ACC commissioner John Swofford said the ACC isn't going to go to 16, and frankly, there's really no need.

The ACC's decision to add Pitt and Syracuse will undoubtedly strengthen men's basketball more than its last round of expansion (Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami).

But it will create more controversy given how a potential 14-team league might be divided.

The Panthers and Orange may come in 2012 if they can buy their way out of the Big East's exit demands of 27 months and a $5 million departure fee. The Big East has publicly stated that it wants the two schools in for the duration and for BCS purposes it may need them to ensure that the league still has the necessary amount of teams. The ACC is in no rush to add Pitt and Syracuse, but those two schools would rather not go through more than one lame-duck season.

Nevertheless, there is already discussion about how the two will be incorporated into the ACC. Formal talks on the matter won't occur until the annual meetings later in the academic year. But if the league goes to divisions, or at the very least goes to a divisional-style scheduling format, there still might be at least one team in a difficult spot: Wake Forest.

Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg looks at the divisional setup along regional lines -- and it makes some sense. ACC associate commissioner Karl Hicks agrees, and he acknowledged that's the way it might turn out.

If that were to happen, the North would have to be Virginia Tech, Virginia, Maryland, Pitt, Syracuse, Boston College and one more team.

The South would be Georgia Tech, Clemson, Florida State and Miami, and then there are the three schools in the Research Triangle (Duke, UNC and NC State) that would likely demand to be in the same division together.

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James Johnson Danny Green
AP Photo/Chuck BurtonThroughout the years, Wake has savored its home games against powerhouses like North Carolina.

That leaves the Demon Deacons as the odd team out. Would Wake have to be put in the North, separated from its three in-state rivals?

The current 12-team divisional alignment in football isn't set up in a North-South split. Wake Forest is in the Atlantic and at least has NC State on its side with Maryland, Clemson, Florida State and Boston College. But the Demon Deacons' two in-state rivals that it would rather play more -- UNC and Duke -- are in the Coastal with Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Miami.

Wake will make it clear that it doesn't want to be shipped away from the three other North Carolina schools if the league goes to two seven-team divisions. The Demon Deacons want in some form two games against the three in-state schools if there are divisions or if it's one 14-team league.

"If you do it North-South, then one North Carolina team has to be in the North,'' Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman said. "We want to play North Carolina more than we do. It's been four years since we played them at home in football, so we are interested in a concept where we play the North Carolina schools. That's a point of emphasis for us. As soon as we announce our schedule, our fans are disappointed that we don't play every North Carolina school in football or [twice in] basketball. Those rivalries were established before the league was in 1953.''

Wellman said when the ACC gets together next month, the topic of how to align a 14-team league will likely be discussed. Wake Forest is nearly two hours away from the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area, but Deacons fans clearly want to feel attached to the state's other ACC teams.

The other option for the conference would be to keep Wake Forest in the South and ship Miami to the North with the rationale that the Hurricanes would have to fly to every ACC school anyway due to its location (technically, the Hurricanes could drive to Tallahassee for FSU, but even that is a lengthy drive on a school night).

If the ACC were to go to 16 (which is the preferred number by Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina's Roy Williams, among others) and the additions were two more Big East schools (say, UConn and Rutgers), then geography naturally would put both in the North. That would be the easiest solution for the ACC, allowing Wake Forest to compete in the South.

Of course, there will be some other issues here, too. Maryland will demand that it still has its rivalry games with Duke and North Carolina. The Terps would still get to be paired with the two Virginia schools, but losing a Duke home game would seriously dampen the spirits in College Park.

In the end, Hicks said the league doesn't have to go to divisions.

"Ultimately, it will come down to a vote of the ADs and they'll decide what they'll want to do,'' Hicks said. "It will be hard to take those North Carolina schools and separate them. Rivalries and geography will be in play. The good news is that we have time to work through it. We do have permanent partners in our scheduling now. It's the same issue we have now in scheduling, but we added two more teams.''

• If Big 12 commissioner Dan Beebe is officially out of a job, then the NCAA tournament selection committee will have two of its 10 members not working while serving on the committee. The other is Jeff Hathaway, who was forced to retire at Connecticut as athletic director.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson, a former committee member, said that the personnel on the committee has always been overrated and that the committee will be fine since the system itself is all that really matters.

Hathaway's term as chair of the committee started on Sept. 1 (replacing the outgoing chair, Ohio State AD Gene Smith) and NCAA men's basketball tournament spokesperson David Worlock said there has been no change in his position. The same may be true of Beebe if he's officially out. The committee won't meet again until November, and the heart of their work doesn't really begin until January and February, anyway. Hathaway and Beebe certainly would have more time to focus on the national landscape.

The only issue that will be in play for the selection committee: Would Hathaway have to leave the room when UConn is discussed and would the same apply to Beebe when Big 12 teams are talked about, since neither would be employed by either entity?

The consensus from former committee members is that bringing in two more new members to go along with the two regularly scheduled new members to the committee wouldn't be prudent. No one wants to see a committee that has four of its 10 members doing the selections and seeding for the first time. So if Hathaway and Beebe both stay, then the only hiccup will be their role when the teams that they formerly served are being discussed.

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- Clemson coach Brad Brownell welcomed the NCAA selection committee's decision to tweak the First Four format, which implores CBS/Turner to ensure the future winners of the games in Dayton don't get slotted into the first TV game time on Thursday, the first day of the tournament.

This past season, Clemson beat UAB 70-52 in one of the four inaugural First Four games. Less than 40 hours later, Clemson lost to West Virginia, 84-76, in a game that tipped off at noon in Tampa, Fla.

"If we could have played a night session game it would have been much better,'' said Brownell, reflecting on the First Four experience. "We got in at 5 a.m. after leaving Dayton. We played two games in the tournament before many teams had played one. It made it very hard.''

Brownell had no issues with the First Four format or the games being played in Dayton, which is going to be its home for the foreseeable future.

"But we needed more time to catch up on our sleep and get prepared,'' he said. "We needed a full day to get ourselves ready. We wore down a bit. I'm not taking anything away from West Virginia. They were a good team. But we got a little tired. It would have been nice to have a bit more rest. We were up by 7 a.m. after getting in at 5 a.m. the day before. There needs to be more equity for the teams participating. The night session would have been fine.''

The experience was cheapened a bit for Clemson, too, playing in the noon game when the arena is rarely full on the first Thursday of the tournament.

The committee made a point of telling its television partners at a meeting this spring that the winners must play in later sessions. One other caveat for the First Four this year is the good chance that the winners won't have to travel as far, with Pittsburgh, Louisville, Columbus, Greensboro and Nashville among the eight second- and third-round sites.

"The First Four is done well and I'm fine with the high-majors playing some of the early games,'' Brownell said. "I'd rather not be in it, but if you win a game in the tournament like we did last year you feel like you have good momentum going into the next round. Our team was playing well. We just felt like we ran out of gas.''

• Meanwhile, the selection committee may have an intriguing decision to make if Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway gets run out of his position, as first reported by the New London (Conn.) Day this weekend. New UConn president Susan Herbst is reviewing Hathaway's job performance. If a buyout happens, then Hathaway would be in a precarious position. He's on the doorstep of becoming the new chair of the prestigious and high-profile men's basketball selection committee in September, but what if he's unemployed? Hathaway is in the final year of a five-year term on the committee with the 2012 NCAA tournament his to chair.

If Hathaway were to assume some sort of position within the university other than athletic director to ride out his contract, then he could still maintain his position on the committee. Having him on the committee would be the preferred outcome for the Big East Conference, according to sources.

If Hathaway had been hired for the Maryland athletic director's job last year, he would have had to relinquish his position since Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman is already on the committee out of the ACC. But Hathaway, a Maryland alumnus, stayed with UConn, and the Terrapins hired former Army athletic director Kevin Anderson. It would have been unprecedented for two members of the same conference to be represented on the committee, even though the split among the 10 members of the committee wouldn't change since it has to be six football bowl subdivision members and four football championship subdivision/Division I members.

But if Hathaway doesn't have a job, what would the committee do? That's unclear at this point. NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen, who runs the NCAA tournament and is the liaison between the committee and the membership/television partners, said it's too hypothetical a scenario to respond to with a solution.

The breakdown for the 2012 tournament committee is: Hathaway, Wellman, Scott Barnes (Utah State AD), Dan Beebe (Big 12 commissioner), Steve Orsini (SMU AD), new member Joe Alleva (LSU AD), Mike Bobinski (Xavier AD), Lynn Hickey (UTSA AD), Doug Fullerton (Big Sky commissioner) and new member Jamie Zaninovich (WCC commissioner).

If the Big East had to replace Hathaway, the most likely representative would be Doug Woolard, the South Florida athletic director who has a strong basketball background and would likely jump at the chance to be on the committee. Two football-centric ADs, Tom Jurich of Louisville and Steve Pederson of Pitt, likely wouldn't want to participate in such a time-consuming committee, and Big East commissioner John Marinatto is overwhelmed with figuring out a 17-team conference in 2013, possible expansion with another football member and a Big East television contract upcoming in two years. Non-football ADs would likely not come from the Big East due to the 6-4 balance.

And although Dan Gavitt -- the associate commissioner in the Big East who has basketball in his blood from his father Dave and who's been the lead on a number of basketball issues for the conference -- would be an outstanding choice, the committee doesn't dip below the level of AD or conference commissioner.

As far as the chair position is concerned, sources say the committee would have no issue bumping up Bobinski's term as 2013 chair to replace Hathaway if needed.

Who goes back to Wyoming if there is no tie to the state, the region or the school?

When has Wyoming ever been a destination job, rather than a step along a career path toward something grander, more mainstream or at the very least metropolitan?

Who does that? Who would go back?

Laramie, Wyo., is blustery. It can be downright frigid. The road from Fort Collins, Colo., can close down. Snow drifts can make it hard to distinguish road from shoulder.

"There are very few people who would do this that didn't have ties to this part of the country, people like myself," Wyoming athletic director Tom Burman said. "The weather is rough, and that's being polite."

But the university is still a drawing card. The fan base is still passionate about the Cowboys. Arena-Auditorium, the advantageous altitude and the rich basketball history are still worth promoting. Wyoming did win a national title, even if it was in 1943.

Not everyone understands that.

Larry Shyatt did, and does.

And that's why he's back, returning to the school where he earned Mountain West Coach of the Year while leading UW to the NIT in 1997-98.

"No coach in football or basketball has ever returned [to be head coach] at Wyoming," Shyatt said. "People always escape. I like the outdoors. I like small college towns -- Laramie; Clemson, S.C.; Gainesville, Fla. My wife, Pam, enjoys cool weather. She doesn't enjoy deep heat and humidity. I know everyone thinks coming back is odd."

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AP Photo/Jeff RobersonLarry Shyatt was a key component in Florida's back-to-back national titles in 2006 and '07.

The top assistant to Billy Donovan at Florida (where he helped the Gators to a pair of national titles) since 2004, Shyatt made the decision to leave his cushy job in the Sunshine State because of two reasons: Burman and a feeling that he cut out on Wyoming too soon.

In his first tenure with the team, Shyatt lasted one season. Burman's old boss, former AD Lee Moon, gave Shyatt his first head-coaching experience after 22 years as an assistant at Utah, Cleveland State, New Mexico, Providence and Clemson. And when Clemson called to offer Shyatt a head-coaching job and his top assistant and best friend in coaching, Scott Duncan, a spot on the bench, they both bolted for the ACC.

Shyatt lasted five seasons with the Tigers before being fired. Duncan cut out a few years earlier to go to Oregon as an assistant.

"I didn't like the way I left the first time," Shyatt said. "It was the right thing for my children. They wanted to go to Clemson. I wouldn't have changed it. But I can't say I felt good about it."

Nevertheless, Burman said the year Shyatt was head coach the Cowboys played with great passion and toughness that the fan base embraced, along with Shyatt's natural PR skills.

"He had an engaging personality that we needed then and we need it now," Burman said.

The fifth-year AD made the move to get rid of previous coach Heath Schroyer on Feb. 8, after four mostly mediocre seasons. In each of the last two years, Wyoming has finished 3-13 in the MWC and 10-21 overall.

"It was jointly made," Burman said. "He asked me, 'Am I going to get fired at the end of the year.' I said, 'Yes, unless there is a dramatic turnaround. We have to have a reason to sell to our fans.' He said, 'Then if that's the case, I want out.' I would probably have done it differently. I don't believe we gained anything to have seven weeks of games with an interim coach. [Assistant coach] Fred [Langley] did a good job of managing the program, but in hindsight I don't think I would have done it the same way."

Sophomores Desmar Jackson and Amath M'Baye left the team during the coaching change, and Burman said he wouldn't be surprised if the interim situation contributed to the team's two top scorers being wooed to leave.

As for the hiring, Burman wanted Shyatt from the beginning but wasn't sure he would or could get him. Shyatt wasn't going to talk to Wyoming until Florida lost in the postseason. The Gators reached the Elite Eight.

While Shyatt coached, Wyoming didn't want to wait and be held hostage.

"President [Tom] Buchanan wanted a comprehensive search and, at the end of the day, wanted something to compare to Larry," Burman said.

So the school hired Dan Parker's search firm. There were a number of inquiries made to see if head coaches who had no tie to Wyoming would want the job. None bit. The Cowboys made a serious push to lure Old Dominion's Blaine Taylor back to the region (he coached at Montana), but Taylor decided to stay put after the Cowboys flew East to talk to him.

Then, after Florida lost to Butler in the regional final, Burman and Buchanan met with Shyatt in Atlanta, where Parker's firm is based.

"I needed Larry to sell me and my boss," Burman said. "I needed to hear it from him, that he could sell me on what happened 13 years ago. It was important for President Buchanan to hear it from Larry."

He apparently liked what he heard, because Wyoming made a significant commitment, going from paying Schroyer $375,000 annually to just under $650,000 for Shyatt. The school also made sure the assistants were well-compensated.

Shyatt made sure Duncan was returning with him, too.

Not only did Shyatt leave a great situation at Florida to go to Wyoming, but Duncan put aside a secure deal at UCLA as Ben Howland's assistant to return to Laramie.

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Scott Duncan
AP Photo/Danny MoloshokAs part of the move, Larry Shyatt was able to lure his pal, Scott Duncan (pictured), away from UCLA.

"Shyatt is my best friend," said the 55-year-old Duncan of Shyatt, who is five years his senior. "Not too many times in life can you share a last journey with your best friend. This could be a last challenge that we do together. Tom Burman is the other reason. He was our best friend when we were here. We thought in a coaching profession that hasn't been a lot of fun at times, this was a chance to have some fun. It was a no-brainer."

Duncan got the title of associate head coach and a multiyear deal. He's never been a head coach. There's always the chance he could succeed Shyatt long term.

A religious runner, Duncan has been at Oregon and UCLA most recently and now must adapt again to the weather in Wyoming.

"In honor of me, they built an indoor practice facility where Shyatt and I will run until May," Duncan said in jest.

Shyatt also got Wes Long to move from UCLA and assigned him as the director of player development and the strength and conditioning coach. Shyatt's son, Jeremy, who got his degree from Clemson in 2003, came over from North Florida and will serve as an assistant. So too will Allen Edwards, who was an assistant at Western Kentucky and played in three Final Fours at Kentucky in the '90s.

All of that sounds great, but before the return is romanticized too much, realize that Wyoming is in a serious down cycle.

As previously mentioned, the Cowboys have lost 42 games over the last two seasons, including a 6-26 record in the Mountain West. The top two scorers are gone. In the last 23 seasons, there's been exactly one NCAA tournament appearance (2002). Before that, Wyoming enjoyed plenty of success in the '80s (remember Fennis Dembo?) and since then there's been plenty of talent come through, such as Reginald Slater, Mo Alexander, Theo Ratliff, Ugo Udezue and Josh Davis. But not consistently. Not year after year.

And now, the league Shyatt returns to won't have historically dominant teams BYU and Utah anymore, as they will depart for the WCC and Pac-12, respectively. More changes are afoot with Boise State joining this season and Fresno State and Nevada in 2012, with TCU departing for the Big East.

"The geography hasn't changed about the job, but the rivalries have changed, and we're entering unfamiliar territory," Shyatt said.

San Diego State, New Mexico and UNLV are the new powers, with Colorado State on the rise.

Duncan said BYU and Utah leaving gives more hope to the rest of the league.

"I think it's realistic to compete for postseason play and compete in the upper half of the league and then every once in a while hang a banner," Burman said. "I'm not sure how often at this stage. We've got a ways to go and we recognize that. But with BYU and Utah leaving, it will be more balanced. Obviously, New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV have done a great job. We have a better chance but we have a long way to go, no doubt about it."

Shyatt said he told the returning players he won't watch a single tape of their previous games. He said he's going to change the culture -- the catch phrase for every new coach. With a senior class that could be as crowded as seven this coming season, a major shift will occur with the program in terms of personnel. It will have to, if the Cowboys are to make a successful transition.

In the end, Wyoming ultimately got the one coach who will have passion for the job, a desire to fix what ails the program and a mission to leave more of a legacy than a one-year stopover can produce.

"They've been down, they were a last-place team and they've lost that love affair," Shyatt said of the fans and the program. "Everyone here was honest and open about where they're at now. I want to bring back that passion and fire and competitiveness. I wasn't going to just take another college job. It had to be for the right reasons. I loved working for Billy and [Florida AD] Jeremy Foley. But it was too easy. I had very little impact there. I can have a big impact here."

A memo to the Big Ten and the Big East from this point forward: Do not pick a Bo Ryan or Jamie Dixon-coached team ninth again.

Resist the temptation. Forget about what has occurred on the roster. Finishing in the lower level of a conference for these two coaches from two different generations is not an option.

Heading into the middle of January, Wisconsin's Ryan and Pitt's Dixon are on a short list -- at least on mine -- with BYU's Dave Rose, Kentucky's John Calipari, Texas' Rick Barnes and Syracuse's Jim Boeheim for national coach of the year.

Jamie DixonJohn Rieger/US PresswireJamie Dixon has found success despite obstacles.

What Ryan and Dixon have done so far shouldn't surprise anyone.

Ryan has the Badgers in the thick of the Big Ten race heading into Saturday's game at Ohio State. The Badgers already have a nonconference home win over Duke and handed Purdue its first loss of the season at the Kohl Center. They just won at Northwestern after losing Jon Leuer (wrist) for a few weeks. They already beat Ohio State when Evan Turner was still out and the only Big Ten loss heading into Saturday was at Michigan State.

Meanwhile, Pitt started slowly this season in large part because of the massive turnover with the departures of Levance Fields, Sam Young and DeJuan Blair. Gilbert Brown was academically ineligible for the first semester, and the only returning starter, Jermaine Dixon, was recovering from a broken foot. So, naturally, the Panthers were offensively challenged when they lost to Indiana at the Jimmy V Classic in New York in early December.

But what you can't teach is the toughness that both teams play with throughout the season. Pitt showed no issues in going to Syracuse, Cincinnati and Connecticut to win three straight road games for a 4-0 Big East start heading into a game against Louisville on Saturday.

The Badgers aren't the most talented team in the Big Ten. Pitt doesn't have that honor in the Big East. Yet, by mid-January, they are both virtual locks for the NCAA tournament, barring a collapse, and serious threats to win their respective conferences.

Coincidentally, both coaches were the head coaches last summer for USA Basketball's junior national teams. Ryan coached the World University Games team that won bronze in Serbia. Dixon coached the gold medal-winning U.S. team at the under-19 world championships in New Zealand -- the first time the U.S. won gold in the event since 1991.

Their successes in coaching this summer shouldn't be tossed aside as a coincidence. Players coached by them are also having significant seasons. Ryan coached Clemson's Trevor Booker, Mississippi State's Jarvis Varnado, West Virginia's Da'Sean Butler and Purdue's Robbie Hummel on the older squad, while Dixon coached Pitt point guard Ashton Gibbs, Butler's Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, Ole Miss' Terrico White and Kansas' Tyshawn Taylor. I'm not handing the successful seasons of these players to the coaching staffs. But I'm simply adding that Ryan and Dixon have been on a good run of late.

Both coaches have shown poise, patience and the ability to tinker with their respective teams to accommodate injuries or attrition. Dixon had to find ways for his team to score without Brown and Jermaine Dixon, and it showed at times in close, agonizing wins over New Hampshire and Duquesne. But the Panthers still won the games as Dixon's controlled intensity rubbed off on his crew.

Ryan went to a three-guard lineup against Northwestern without Leuer and the Badgers won.

"We don't make a big deal out of it,'' Ryan said of Leuer's injury. "I jokingly said we should put a tissue on each chair for Jon.''

What is so true with these two is they make sure there is a team concept that players will plug into throughout the season. I've talked to both throughout the offseason and into the season and never once got a sense of any trepidation about having to make changes or where the offense would come from. They both expected their teams to defend and rebound in due course.

But what's impressive to this point is how much they have bankable wins that won't be dismissed. Dixon didn't complain about a Big East schedule that opened with DePaul at home before the three straight road games. It could have been disastrous for the Panthers. Instead, Pitt was able to navigate rather seamlessly through the three wins. In a season, when there are so many teams lumped together, the Panthers have separated themselves.

Meanwhile, Wisconsin has two wins at home against top-10 teams.

"There's no doubt [that] if we didn't have that buildup, those chips that we do, we might be in a different situation,'' Ryan said. "Two of the eight years [of Ryan's tenure as head coach of the Badgers], we weren't sure going into the final week if we were going to get in -- in 2006 and 2009. Let's face it, last year, we had to go to Penn State and win; if we didn't, Penn State was going. This year, we're in January but we're playing without a piece of our puzzle.''

But the wins have shelf life, and the Badgers can rest knowing that as long as they stay above water -- which the Northwestern win clearly showed -- then they will be in the NCAA field.

Pitt can forget about the Indiana loss. The loss to No. 1 Texas without Jermaine Dixon and Brown has great committee credibility and the three road wins at those three schools in the Big East may not be matched by anyone else in the league.

Pitt can be assured it's not only in the tournament, but a much higher seed come March than was projected when the Panthers were picked ninth in the Big East. The same is true of Wisconsin, which was slotted in the same spot in Big Ten polling in the preseason.

• The NCAA's new proposed legislation about essentially canceling out package deals in recruiting will be an interesting watch. But the legislation does allow for a coach to be hired for a coaching position, even if he has ties to a player within two years of that person matriculating. What this will do is cut out the made-up positions such as "special assistant to the head coach."

The NCAA board of directors should have no issue with one of the assistant coaching positions being filled by a coach, even if he has ties to a player. That's a legitimate hire, even if he is bringing a player. But if the coach is just put on staff in a created position without many responsibilities, it's transparent. Other parts of the university don't always get to create positions on a whim, so trimming the fat on team staffs -- in some cases -- makes sense.

• Good move by the NCAA not to cut down the number of regular-season games from 29 to 28. I think we need a moratorium on changing the schedule for now. Let's see how it works out at this current juncture.

• I couldn't agree more with U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan, who spoke at the NCAA convention in Atlanta this week on the NCAA and NBA getting together to adopt a rule that once a player goes to a four-year college, he has to stay for three years -- similar to baseball and football. But I would like to see it go back to allowing players to go straight from high school to the NBA, as well. If a player really has no interest in being in college, then he shouldn't be in school. College isn't for everyone.

• The atmosphere at Littlejohn Coliseum for the Clemson-North Carolina game might have been one of the best I've seen. But what separates places like Kansas and Kentucky is how consistent the environments are for lower-level teams as well as the high-profile opponents. It is human nature for there to be a drop in attendance when the name on the opposing jersey isn't as recognizable, but Clemson did deliver with a rocking atmosphere in Wednesday's win over North Carolina.

• I'm not sure I've seen Roy Williams be as hard on himself as he was after the loss to Clemson. He's really struggling to find smooth sailing for this team. Last season must seem like a lifetime ago.

• I know BYU is ranked at No. 17, but the Cougars, along with Missouri and Northern Iowa, still don't get the national pub they deserve. Maybe that's the media's fault as well, but I will be shocked if these three teams aren't in the NCAA tournament.

• Villanova's Jay Wright said Scottie Reynolds relishes the big-shot moments. Seriously, put the ball in Reynolds' hands this season and something good will happen in the final possession. The same for Kentucky's John Wall.

Wright, who has coached his share of quick guards, said he couldn't get over just how fleet Wall and Eric Bledsoe were in the Wildcats' win over Florida on Tuesday night. I was there, and you can't appreciate just how fast those two are unless you are watching them in person. They get from end to end as fast as any guards I've seen.

UCLA's Howland recruits through appendicitis

September, 23, 2009
Ben Howland's right side had been bothering him for about a week. But it wasn't pressing enough to keep him from traveling during a recruiting period.

So, the UCLA men's basketball coach plugged on and flew to Portland and Detroit before coming back on Sept. 13, when he realized the ache was now a pain that wasn't going away.

Howland met with a doctor on the morning of Sept. 14, had a CT scan, and then headed to Las Vegas to Bishop Gorman High School. Still not sure about what was going on with his side, he went back home and waited for word on his results. He visited another recruit on Sept. 15 in Los Angeles. The Bruins were scheduled for their first team workout on Sept. 16. Howland was running around and didn't pick up his phone until noon.

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Ben Howland
Howard Smith/US PresswireUCLA coach Ben Howland's recruiting schedule was interrupted by appendicitis.

"The message was that there was something with my CT scan, the appendix was infected," said Howland late Tuesday night as he and assistant Scott Garson drove back from a recruiting visit in San Diego. Howland said he had to go to Seattle for another recruiting assignment on Sept. 17.

Not quite.

"The message was I had to call the surgeon right now," Howland said. "I found out at 12:15 p.m. and I was in surgery by 4 p.m."

Howland had laparoscopic surgery on Sept. 16 to remove the appendix.

"It didn't break, it didn't burst and that's great news," Howland said. "I'm just taking it slow. I'm a little bit tired still."

Howland will attempt to take things slowly, but he was slated to work out the Bruins on Wednesday and then leave for a six-day recruiting trip on Friday to Seattle, Portland and Detroit.

What Howland will find when he convenes the Bruins is a team that is extremely thin on the perimeter. The Bruins have essentially three guards to rotate in with sophomores Malcolm Lee and Jerime Anderson and senior Michael Roll. Howland said freshman wing Mike Moser will have to play, as well. Freshman forward Reeves Nelson will need to play small forward, too.

The shortage of perimeter players is a result of the loss of Jrue Holiday, whom the staff wasn't prepared to see leave after one season in Westwood.

"College basketball teams are playing four guards and a big anyway a lot," Howland said. Howland cited former Bruin Luc Richard Mbah a Moute as an example of a big guard who had to board in college and as a result got to the NBA.

Freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt has been bothered by a back injury, and it's still unclear how much he'll be able to help the Bruins this season. Meanwhile, sophomore forward Drew Gordon isn't showing any effects of a knee injury that kept him out of the USA Basketball under-19 trials for all but one practice in Colorado Springs in June. Howland expects Gordon to gobble up a lot of minutes with James Keefe, J'mison Morgan and Nikola Dragovic, the only returning starter. Dragovic is nursing a thumb injury and will be kept in check in some of the early workouts.

The Bruins aren't projected to win the Pac-10, a first in five years. Cal and Washington are projected to win the league. But the Bruins are expected to be talented enough to make the NCAAs.

• Clemson's Oliver Purnell and Notre Dame's Mike Brey wanted to make sure legislators remembered cancer victims in their ongoing debate about health care reform. What neither Purnell nor Brey -- or for that matter fellow coaches Ed DeChellis of Penn State, Tubby Smith of Minnesota and John Thompson III of Georgetown, who were also on the Hill on Tuesday -- needs is to make his appearances political. All of the coaches have fans who are on both sides of the debate, but the one thing that is hard to dispute is the victims in this issue need help.

"Everybody says they're for health care reform but they disagree on how to do it,'' said Purnell. "We were there to say to get something done; get it done now. Waiting for cancer patients is not an option."

Purnell met with the South Carolina delegation, including outspoken members of Congress Sen. Jim DeMint, R-S.C., and Rep. Joe Wilson, R-S.C. Purnell was with a prostate cancer patient and another cancer victim "whose insurance was so high that she couldn't afford it and it was bankrupting her. She couldn't get insurance. We were there to tell their story."

"The easy thing is to put it off, but if you look through the lens of a cancer patient, putting it off is not an option,'' Purnell said.

Purnell said DeMint and Wilson said they were willing to talk about it and come up with something.

"They said there is agreement to a certain level, but the tough part is to bridge the level of disagreement and come up with something acceptable,'' Purnell said. "The problem is that everyone wants health care reform but they can't get an agreement. They need to get a bill that they can agree on, that would pass and that then the president would sign it.''

Brey said there were 700 volunteers working with the American Cancer Society, lobbying members of the House and Senate. He said after the coaches did a news conference, they then split up to work with various state delegations. He said they met with Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius as well as Minnesota Democratic Sens. Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar and Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., at a rally that was co-sponsored by the American Cancer Society's Cancer Action Network.

"We were there in the midst of the reform debate and the craziness,'' Brey said. "We just wanted to make sure they didn't lose sight of the cancer patients and to show the progress research has made. We're not in the middle of the debate but we want to keep pushing for a cure to the disease.''

Brey said you could feel the intensity of the debate on health care while walking through the Capitol.

"It was hovering, it was right there,'' Brey said. "This is an interesting time.''

• Quick: Name the top six Big East all-time winningest coaches by victories in conference games.

The first five are easy: Syracuse's Jim Boeheim (356), Connecticut's Jim Calhoun (282), former coaches John Thompson of Georgetown (231), Lou Carnesecca of St. John's (139) and Rollie Massimino of Villanova (123).

I would have never guessed who is No. 6 on this list. Would you?

Well, it's former Villanova coach Steve Lappas (97), who coached the Wildcats for nine seasons, but hasn't coached in the league for eight seasons. But Lappas' hold on No. 6 is fading. Notre Dame's Mike Brey is next at 92. Former Seton Hall coach P.J. Carlesimo is at No. 8 with 90 wins, but he'll be eclipsed this season by Rick Pitino, who has 88 wins at Providence and Louisville, Villanova's Jay Wright (85) and Pitt's Jamie Dixon, who has 81 wins in just six seasons. Georgetown's John Thompson III has 61 wins, good for 17th on the list.

The rest of the current Big East coaches' win totals are: St. John's Norm Roberts (27), West Virginia's Bob Huggins (25), DePaul's Jerry Wainwright (21), Seton Hall's Bobby Gonzalez (19), Cincinnati's Mick Cronin (18), Marquette's Buzz Williams (13), Providence's Keno Davis (11), Rutgers' Fred Hill (8) and South Florida's Stan Heath (7).

College basketball practice officially starts in a little less than a month, but all across the country, coaches are quietly working with their teams on campus within the two-hour-a-week limit for each player.

Wide-eyed freshmen are among those players. This year's class of newcomers isn't loaded with as many one-and-done players as the one two seasons ago. It's more likely to produce only a handful of players who could and should bolt if they're ready.

Kentucky's John Wall certainly heads this list and is the current favorite to be the top pick in 2010 NBA draft if he lives up to the hype. While the Wildcats have a potential SEC player of the year in junior forward Patrick Patterson, the strength of this squad will be with its newcomers, led by Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton and Darnell Dodson.

If you were to pick five freshmen and examine what they must do over the next six to eight weeks to ensure success, you could stop with Kentucky. But there will be plenty of time to dissect the Wildcats this season.

So let's take a look at five other freshmen whose play is crucial to their teams' success this season. When judging potential impact on their respective teams, you could pick out countless others, such as Washington's Abdul Gaddy or Oregon State's Roberto Nelson or Texas' Avery Bradley, just to name a few.

But for now, here are five fresh faces who will be fascinating to track:

Noel Johnson, 6-6 wing, Clemson

Johnson signed to play at USC, but the allegations against Tim Floyd in the spring that he had paid $1,000 to O.J. Mayo's handler scared away Johnson from the commitment. When Floyd resigned, it was an opportunity for the Georgia native to look elsewhere and remain in the South. And the Tigers were desperate for another player on the perimeter after suddenly losing Terrence Oglesby in the spring to a European professional contract.

Noel JohnsonJason Watson for ESPN.comAfter opting out of USC, Johnson chose the Clemson Tigers over the LSU Tigers.

"He's already showing he can have an impact," Clemson coach Oliver Purnell said. "The biggest thing for us is to have our freshmen fit our pressing style. Can they mentally do what we need on the defensive end of the floor? He's got the body, but will he put the energy in there defensively as much as he will on the offensive end for us?"

Purnell doesn't doubt Johnson's ability to answer that challenge. But when it comes to defense, high school to college is quite a leap.

The Tigers will be driven by Trevor Booker's power game in the post, but plenty of pieces in the freshman class will have to produce -- the highly touted Milton Jennings, for one. But how Johnson handles his role of providing a scoring pop next to returning players Andre Young, Demontez Stitt and Tanner Smith may determine whether this is an NCAA or NIT team. The Tigers lost not only Oglesby, but also 3-point threat K.C. Rivers.

"The 3-point shot won't be as much of a weapon for us," Purnell said. "There will be more of an emphasis on the speed and running game and high-percentage baskets. We'll get Booker more touches."

That's all fine and well. But they'll also need Johnson to produce from day one if they're going to find a way to emerge from a muddled middle pack in the ACC.

D.J. Richardson, 6-3 SG, Illinois

The Illini leaned heavily on Chester Frazier on the perimeter a season ago. Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock were also staples on the perimeter in helping the Illini get back to the NCAA tournament after a one-year hiatus.

But had sophomore forward Mike Davis and junior center Mike Tisdale not emerged as scoring threats, it wouldn't have mattered what happened on the perimeter. Illinois needed those two to produce, and they did. There's no reason why they won't again, with Davis back from a broken foot that kept him out of the USA basketball trials this spring. Tisdale tried out for the World University Games but didn't make the team. He did gain oodles of confidence, however.

Still, if the Illini are going to get out of the middle of the Big Ten, the onus isn't as much on Tisdale and Davis as it is on a freshman like Richardson. His toughness has already caught Illini coach Bruce Weber's eye in the pre-preseason.

"He's as good a defender as I've ever watched," Weber said -- quite a compliment, since Dee Brown did wonders for the Illini in the middle of this decade. "He can guard."

Weber said he was fearful of losing Frazier because he did a slew of "little things" that were hard to replace. But he said Richardson will become the stopper, the player who will push the basketball and become the energy player the Illini need to get the orange-clad faithful pumped up at Assembly Hall. This isn't to diminish the potential impact of fellow freshman Brandon Paul, who could be a better scorer. Richardson is expected to be the grinder that Weber covets and may have more of an overall impact.

Paul has proven at times to be one of the best players on the court during individual workouts, but the defensive end might not be his forte. He can take over games offensively but doesn't match Richardson's toughness and consistency.

Lance Stephenson, 6-6 SG, Cincinnati

The Bearcats were one of the surprise teams in the Big East last season. In Deonta Vaughn, they had a scorer who didn't get the necessary pub in a star-quality league -- not to mention a big man on the rise in Yancy Gates.

Cincy was playing the season without projected starting point guard Cashmere Wright, who tore his ACL in the preseason. Wright is back to lead the backcourt. Had the Bearcats stopped right there with Wright's return, they still would be on the edge of the NCAA tournament, likely with enough pop to sneak into the field.

But Cincinnati coach Mick Cronin and assistant Tony Stubblefield were quietly recruiting Stephenson while the New York prep legend was getting through the NCAA's amateur checklist and awaiting the outcome of an assault case from his senior year at Brooklyn's Lincoln High. Stephenson avoided any jail time with a plea deal and is on target to be an impact player with the Bearcats.

He got to Cincinnati in early July, allowing him to get six weeks of training in with the team and begin adjusting to the physicality of college basketball. His conditioning and weight lifting might make him look as though he's ready for graduation rather than matriculation.

"His adjustment was smooth because he's such a good athlete," Cronin said. "He goes so hard with everything he does. He'll bypass the normal physical adjustment. He's such a big, strong guard."

Stevenson simply needs to pick up Cronin's defensive demands and ensure that he meshes with the team. So far, that hasn't been a problem. What the Bearcats were lacking was a player who could take someone off the dribble on the perimeter and get to the hole. Stevenson can deliver in that aspect.

"He can help us in creating offense and take pressure of Deonta and Cashmere," Cronin said. "He'll make us harder to defend."

If he does, the Bearcats can make that steady climb into the top 6 in the Big East and earn an NCAA bid.

Dante Taylor, 6-9 PF, Pittsburgh

Panthers coach Jamie Dixon knew DeJuan Blair was likely headed to the NBA after his sophomore season.

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Dante Taylor
Chris Williams/Icon SMITaylor is the first McDonald's All-American to pick Pitt since 1987.

Sure, there could have been a meltdown, an injury, something that would have kept him in Pittsburgh. But Dixon went hard after Taylor, and Taylor committed, knowing full well he could come in and make an impact. The difference between Blair and the new guy is this: No one expected Blair to be a star and off to the NBA in two seasons. Taylor? He comes in as a McDonald's All-American with a lot of hype.

"Nobody was writing about DeJuan as an impact freshman," Dixon said.

The Panthers will likely pump up Taylor in the preseason, and they should, but Dixon isn't going to put too much pressure on him. He arrived at the USA Basketball trials in Colorado Springs last June for the team that Dixon ultimately coached to the gold medal at the Under-19 World Championships in New Zealand. Playing a few days there was a good experience, but Taylor wasn't ready to make the squad and was not in the best shape possible.

"He was a little heavy then at 250, but he's lost about 15 pounds," Dixon said.

The Panthers did receive some bad news this week when their one returning starter, senior guard Jermaine Dixon, broke his right foot again; he will be out for the next eight weeks. Pitt was already down a wing after Gilbert Brown was deemed academically ineligible by the school for the first semester. Still, the experience Ashton Gibbs had on the gold-medal team this summer and the return of scorer Brad Wanamaker still make the Panthers a threat on the perimeter. But if they're going to make it back to the NCAA tournament for a ninth straight year, Taylor will have to produce in the post.

"He needs to rebound," Dixon said of his prized recruit.

If Taylor rebounds, he'll score. This is a good year to come into the Big East as a freshman big man. The league suffered a big-man vacuum in the offseason as forwards Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien of Connecticut, Dante Cunningham of Villanova, Blair and Sam Young of Pitt, and Earl Clark and Terrence Williams of Louisville all left for the pros. There are still plenty to deal with, such as Gates, Georgetown's Greg Monroe, Notre Dame's Luke Harangody, Marquette's Lazar Hayward, St. John's Anthony Mason Jr., and Syracuse's Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson. But Taylor has the body to compete with all of them.

"He's got good hands, he runs well, his post-moves are developing, and he's a great kid," Dixon said.

If he can handle the hype and board -- score on plenty of putbacks -- he'll be even more celebrated by March.

Derrick Favors, 6-10 PF/C, Georgia Tech

If you're looking for a lock on this list to leave after one season, it's not Stephenson. It's Favors. That is, if he lives up to his billing of being one of the top 3 players in this class.

Favors spent the summer around the program, and his conditioning and weight lifting is already a major plus. He has gone up from 234 to 246 pounds and should be a beast next to Gani Lawal, who declared for the NBA draft but returned to school once it was clear he wasn't a top-20 lock.

Georgia Tech coach Paul Hewitt, who has had success handling elite players who might be on campus for only one season, said Favors has a tremendous work ethic and is picking things up quickly.

The Yellow Jackets will look to pound the ball inside to Lawal and Favors throughout the season. While Hewitt said the inside game wasn't a concern last season with Lawal and Alade Aminu, adding Favors makes them even more daunting.

Tech won only two ACC games in 2009 but was consistently one of the toughest outs throughout the conference season and had the talent to be at the very least a .500 team. The Jackets are the sleeper pick to contend near the top of the league, be a regular in the Top 25 and get back to the NCAA tournament after missing out the last two seasons.

The leadership in the backcourt with the return of Iman Shumpert and Moe Miller means Lawal and Favors should get the ball at the right times within the offense.

Injuries to D'Andre Bell (who is back) and Miller left the Yellow Jackets leaning on the perimeter last season. That added to the team's inability to close out games. With a full backcourt and two studs inside, Tech should be much more of an offensive team this season.

Having a star attraction in Favors means the attention will be on him, which should open up more opportunities for everyone else. So far he has done everything Hewitt has wanted. If everyone stays healthy and Favors produces the double figures he's capable of, there's no reason why this team shouldn't be in the NCAA tournament.