Category archive: California Golden Bears

Cal athletic director Sandy Barbour wasn't at Sunday night's game against USC.

She was traveling back to the Bay Area, but upon landing, was quickly apprised of what occurred during the Bears' game against the Trojans.

Cal coach Mike Montgomery had shoved star player Allen Crabbe in an attempt to get him to focus. The two-hand push to the chest was uncharacteristic of the intense, but usually more reserved Montgomery.

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Mike Montgomery
Bob Stanton/USA TODAY SportsCal coach Mike Montgomery has apologized after shoving star player Allen Crabbe during Sunday's game vs. USC.

Whether Crabbe was fine with the incident is irrelevant. Coaches cannot put their hands on a player in that manner -- ever.

Montgomery has apologized and clearly is embarrassed. Barbour said she has made it clear to him that this is "not acceptable behavior." Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott took it one step further by issuing a public reprimand Monday afternoon. It was the right thing to do. Conferences will reprimand coaches for comments about officials. Surely, they should at least come out with a strong statement for an incident involving physical contact.

Barbour easily could have suspended Montgomery for one game. The punishment would have been justifiable, just like it was in the Morehead State case in November, when coach Sean Woods shoved Devon Atkinson during a loss at Kentucky. If you want to dissect the difference in the two cases, it can be argued that Woods took it one step further by continuing to berate and embarrass Atkinson in a public forum by following him to his seat on the bench.

Barbour said later Monday that she considers the case closed, and added Montgomery apologized to the team and Crabbe and made public statements to the community. But she said any further incident like this "would be dealt with differently."

"Mike and I had a good discussion about it," said Barbour, who added she gave Montgomery an extension last year, giving him three years remaining on his contract. "We know what he was trying to do and his intentions were the best, but he knows he went too far. It was an emotional game. Basketball is an emotional game, and there was a lot on the line. Coaches want to win and student-athletes want to win and emotions went too high.''

But what would have happened if Montgomery had done this when he coached the Golden State Warriors? How would the team, the NBA office and the players' association react to an incident like this?

I spoke with a former NBA executive Monday who said it would depend on the player. The league might not fine him, but the team probably would. And if the player was not well-liked by his teammates, it might not have as much of a reaction. But it also could cause him to lose his locker room.

College coaches are the rulers in the NCAA. But the NBA is a players' league. There are only a handful of recent coaches who were bigger than their teams at times (Phil Jackson, Jerry Sloan, Gregg Popovich, and to some extent, Doc Rivers). Montgomery likely would have lost his team if this had occurred while coaching the Warriors. He didn't have the equity built up in the NBA, like he does in college basketball.

Morehead State's Woods doesn't come close to Montgomery in terms of collegiate longevity and stature.

Montgomery built Stanford into a national power, taking the Cardinal to the Final Four and a No. 1 ranking. He recruited and produced multiple NBA players. The program hasn't been the same since he left for the Warriors.

He made the transition back to college, returning to the Bay Area and to Stanford's archrival in Berkeley. Cal has been competitive and near the top of the Pac-12 under Montgomery, making the NCAA tournament last season. After a disappointing start to this season, it is making a late push for another tournament berth.

A lot of the credit goes to Crabbe, who was our national player of the week for his 31 points in a road win at Arizona and 16 in a win over UCLA. The Bears can pull off a sweep of Oregon on Thursday to put themselves into the chase for the Pac-12 regular-season title, which would be quite a comeback for Montgomery's crew.

The shove shouldn't define Montgomery. He has been too good for Bay Area basketball to let it cloud his accomplishments. He could have apologized quicker after the game rather than refer to the tactic working in the Bears' comeback. But Barbour assured that he was sincere in his apology issued late Sunday night and in a meeting with her.

He is likely embarrassed by the public censure from the Pac-12 office. Now, everyone involved can move past this incident by continuing to play at a high level while Montgomery coaches with the same intensity he has had for decades.

He has learned his lesson, a valuable one at this late stage in his career.

UCLA's recent mediocrity hasn't been celebrated or seen by the rest of the Pac-12 as an opportunity.

Instead, the conference desperately needs the Bruins to come back -- and fast. Having Arizona dip, even just for one season, didn't help either.

So when the coaches gathered this week for the annual spring meetings in Phoenix, the mood was upbeat. The Pac-12 -- that ultimate big-boy punching bag in college basketball lately -- has two of the nation's top three recruiting classes. And they're from the league's two most prestigious programs.

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Lorenzo Romar
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireYou know it's a down year when your regular-season champ doesn't make the NCAA tournament.

"I think any buzz for our league is good for everybody,'' Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said. "As competitors, we would like the buzz to be about us, but as long as it's somebody in our conference and especially a brand name like UCLA, that can only be good for the rest of us.''

The Pac-12 had only two teams make the NCAA tournament in 2012, and one of those (Cal) was in the First Four in Dayton and lost. Regular-season champ Washington didn't get a bid, an embarrassing situation for the conference, which became the first big six league to not have its regular-season winner receive a bid.

Utah arrived in the conference and was abysmal in its first season, finishing 3-15 in the Pac-12 and 6-25 overall. Arizona State fell apart and finished 10-21. USC was decimated by injuries and was the worst of all, finishing a stunning 1-17 in league play and 6-26 overall.

The saving face of the Pac-12 was actually new member Colorado. The Buffaloes won the conference tournament, beat UNLV in the NCAA tourney and hung around with Baylor before losing in the Round of 32.

But perception of the league being down wasn't a reach. It was reality. The numbers and results didn't lie. The Pac-12 was an almost hard-to-fathom 1-25 against the RPI top 40 in nonconference play.

So with Arizona loaded up with four ESPNU 100 recruits in the Class of 2012 and UCLA having secured Kyle Anderson in the fall, the Bruins kept up the momentum in the spring by grabbing another top-five recruit (Shabazz Muhammad) and a four-star big man (Tony Parker).

That's not just good for those two schools, it's welcomed by the rest of the league.

Don't think Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott didn't take notice of the Bruins' big April.

"It's extremely important,'' Scott said. "The public and media follow big brands, and it doesn't get any bigger than UCLA basketball in our conference.

"Having them have a strong recruiting class [and] a new Pauley Pavilion to move into is great news for our conference. We've got new TV deals. The timing couldn't be better.''

The conference's coaches have long complained about the television package and a general lack of national exposure. A few years ago, first-place Cal was at USC in a critical game and it wasn't even televised.

Well, the Pac-12 finally has a new TV package that will allow every conference game to be televised on one of three networks: ESPN, Fox or the new Pac-12 Network. The league will shift from a straight Thursday-Saturday/Sunday schedule to one that has more flexibility.

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Jesse Perry
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe Pac-12 tourney has had some thrillers over the years, but few in L.A. bothered to notice.

In addition, the conference tournament now has a chance to have a sellout with the league choosing Las Vegas as the neutral destination. The Pac-12 had struggled mightily to draw consistent crowds to the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That shouldn't be the case at a destination venue like the MGM Grand, where the Pac-12 will become the fourth conference to play its conference tournament in Vegas, joining the Mountain West (Thomas & Mack Center), WCC and WAC (both at the Orleans Arena).

What will this conference look like by next March, though?

A year ago, the league was gutted by early entrants to the NBA draft at USC, UCLA, Washington, Washington State, Arizona and Stanford.

"Our league wasn't going to be good in the nonconference in November or December because of who left,'' Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "And then UCLA lost Reeves Nelson [dismissed early in the season] and so we weren't in a position to do well.''

Now they must be.

"We need some top-10 teams,'' said Cal coach Mike Montgomery, who has consistently been a Pac-12 title contender at Stanford and Cal. "We didn't have any, and it hurt us. Based on the recruiting, Arizona and UCLA should be in the mix.

"You need good teams going in. It will help us all if we're competing against better teams. Our RPI goes up. One through nine we were pretty good last year.''

The early onus will be on UCLA. The Bruins have to show well at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y., with Georgetown and ESPN.com preseason No. 1 Indiana in the four-team field.

"We've had some bad losses out there,'' Montgomery said of the Pac-12's shoddy nonconference record lately. "Typically, everyone looks at UCLA and makes a judgment. It may not be fair or right and they haven't been the best team, but when they [are down], it hurts everybody. It's incumbent on everybody to win the games [you're supposed to win] in the pre-conference.''

Montgomery didn't excuse his own team. The Bears beat no one of significance outside league play last season and were annihilated by Missouri and UNLV.

"We didn't perform well, and that hurt our league,'' Montgomery said. "The impressions start early. We shouldn't lose games we shouldn't lose, because then when the league plays each other, we're screwed. We can't do anything to improve the reputation. That's on all of us to have a better November and December heading into the conference.''

USC coach Kevin O'Neill isn't doubting the Pac-12's ability to bounce back this season with several NCAA tournament teams.

"And we plan on being one of them,'' O'Neill said of the Trojans, led by Jio Fontan, who missed last season with a knee injury. "UCLA and Arizona had top recruiting classes, and that helps everybody improve. I think it's great. We'll see how they react to stressful situations.

"All our teams look good on paper, and we should be one of the top leagues in the country. We lost more pros in this league than the five other power leagues together the last few years. We're producing great players and most are doing well. But all of that is going to change. It's going to be a great year for our league.''

The atmosphere of the Carrier Classic, with its overwhelming sense of patriotism and the sheer uniqueness of playing a game on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson, along with the historical significance of that vessel, will be hard to top.

The view was magnificent. The Naval presence in all its glory and uniformity was as impressive as one would imagine. And the appreciation from the sailors for the break from the daily routine was genuine.

If you missed that game or any of the matchups on opening weekend, you're in for a treat because you won't be able to turn on the ESPN family of networks from 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday until about 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday without seeing college basketball on the screen.

Here are some questions to ponder as the fourth annual Tip-Off Marathon begins with Washington State at Gonzaga and ends with an NIT Season Tip-Off game the following night from Stanford.

Mike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight AP Photo/Charles KrupaMike Krzyzewski and Bob Knight are tied atop the all-time wins list, but Krzyzewski could set the new mark against Michigan State at the Champions Classic.

1. Will Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski become the NCAA's all-time winningest coach? The Blue Devils play Michigan State in the first game at the Champions Classic (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) from Madison Square Garden. Duke struggled against Belmont in its opener and then blasted Presbyterian on Saturday. Neither result should come as a surprise. The Blue Devils are usually the home team in New York, but it will be interesting to see how many Spartans fans are able to make the trip, especially if some of them just went to San Diego. Still, Michigan State has a real shot to upstage Coach K. Despite their loss to North Carolina, the Spartans were the aggressor, outrebounding the Tar Heels convincingly 42-31. The Blue Devils have as much size as North Carolina, so the challenge will be similar. But MSU must shoot better from 3-point range than it did against UNC (2-of-20). Another key to the game is seeing which team converts timely perimeter shots. If Duke wins, we'll have the unique setting of Krzyzewski winning No. 903 and passing his former coach Bob Knight, who will sit courtside calling the game for ESPN.

2. How will the Thomas Robinson-Anthony Davis matchup unfold? This could turn out to be one of the more anticipated frontcourt showdowns during the nonconference schedule, as this individual battle highlights the second game of the Champions Classic between Kentucky and Kansas (ESPN, 9:30 ET). Robinson began the season as the go-to guy for Kansas, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds against Towson. Meanwhile, Davis, UK's highly touted freshman, blitzed Marist with 23 points and 10 boards in the Wildcats' 50-point rout. Kentucky has more options than KU and can lean on Doron Lamb or Terrence Jones to get it plenty of points. But the tussle between Robinson and Davis will be good theater throughout the night.

3. How will Ohio State's Aaron Craft and William Buford handle Florida's perimeter? We're not conceding the Jared Sullinger-Patric Young matchup (well, we will for these purposes), but this game may come down to the guards. Florida's set of Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Brad Beal and Erving Walker is off to a sensational start. Rosario scored 19 points off the bench, while Boynton scored 19 and Beal 14 (Walker added 10) in a rout of Jackson State. Craft and Buford will be tested defensively more so than they were a year ago, when Ohio State won easily at UF during this same event. The Buckeyes, who host the Gators at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2), are the No. 3 team in the nation because of Sullinger. But this will be the first time OSU may feel the loss of defensive specialist David Lighty.

4. Can Belmont emerge from the brutal opening weekend with a split? The Bruins nearly nipped Duke in a comeback that fell one possession short. The next challenge is a visit to in-state Memphis at noon ET on ESPN. Belmont won't have any awe factor in playing the Tigers. The Bruins should come into this game oozing with confidence after their showing versus the Blue Devils. Memphis is still a young team and a work in progress. The Tigers have more talent, but the question is whether they will show patience against a Belmont team that will want to run and run and run. This could be one of the most entertaining games of the day.

5. How will Baylor handle its one and likely only test during Perry Jones III's suspension? Jones must sit for three more games after accepting an extra benefit. The Bears beat Texas Southern on Friday and Jackson State on Sunday. The two games that follow Baylor's home matchup with San Diego State (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET) are South Carolina State and Texas-Arlington. This is not the same Aztecs team from last season after the roster was gutted by graduating seniors and an early-entry NBA departure. Still, they are athletic enough to cause problems. The Bears have options with Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller and Anthony Jones, but this game should at least push Baylor a tad more than the first two did during Jones' suspension.

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Marquise Carter
James Snook/US PresswireGonzaga's Marquise Carter hopes to find his shooting stroke against Washington State.

6. How will Gonzaga's guards respond after a poor first outing? The Bulldogs showed in a tight win over Eastern Washington that they can rely heavily on Robert Sacre (22 points and 10 boards). But the perimeter shooters went 3-of-13 on 3s, and Marquise Carter was 2-of-11 and Mike Hart, Gary Bell, Kevin Pangos and David Stockton were a combined 6-of-15 from the field. Washington State is a team in transition, and the Zags should win this game. But Gonzaga has plenty of tougher challenges ahead, and so its guard play will need to improve. Still, this will be a good chance to see Sacre and Elias Harris on display against the Cougars, tipping off the Marathon at 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday night (ESPN).

7. As for the two women's games on the Marathon schedule …
How will Tennessee perform after coach Pat Summitt's health diagnosis? If you saw Robin Roberts' piece on "Good Morning America," you know it is clear that the Lady Vols are determined to win a national title for Summitt. The Tennessee coach also seems as driven as ever in her quest to keep coaching while she battles early-onset dementia. This should be an emotional game, as they all may turn out to be, for the No. 3 Lady Vols as they host No. 7 Miami (ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET). And how will Texas A&M handle its status as the reigning champs? The Aggies aren't expected to repeat as national champs, but they have established themselves as an elite program. The primer to the Tennessee game won't involve as much theater, but may be as competitive a game when No. 9 Louisville goes to College Station to play the No. 6 Aggies (ESPNU, 4 p.m. ET).

8. What should we expect from Texas' Myck Kabongo? Kabongo is an impressive young man who handles himself with poise and class. Now he has to translate that onto the court against a talented Rhode Island squad that lost at George Mason by two points in its season opener Friday. The Longhorns will lean heavily on Kabongo to start the season. How he handles this first assignment will be a strong indicator on what to expect, as URI will push Texas from the outset (ESPN, 4 p.m. ET).

9. How will Drexel handle the hype as the CAA's favorite? The Dragons play at Rider (ESPN, 6 a.m. ET) when most people might be waking up to watch the Marathon. Drexel is the early pick to win the Colonial Athletic Association, a conference that's receiving some buzz after placing its second team (VCU) in the Final Four since 2006. Drexel will be minus the injured Chris Fouch, but Samme Givens and Frantz Massenat should be enough to beat Rider. But the Dragons could do themselves a service by looking impressive, too.

10. How productive can the Saint Mary's frontcourt be this season? Randy Bennett anticipates that this frontcourt will be more productive than the one led by Omar Samhan, who led the Gaels to the Sweet 16 two seasons ago. That means Rob Jones will be getting help from Kyle Rowley, Brad Waldow, Mitchell Young and Beau Levesque. Jones dominated Fresno Pacific with 25 points and 12 boards, but Northern Iowa -- coming off an impressive road route of ODU -- will be a much more formidable foe for the Gaels (ESPN, 2 a.m. ET).

11. What should we expect from LeBryan Nash? Well, if you believe the hype, Oklahoma State has an all-Big 12 player who can elevate it to the NCAA tournament. The Cowboys will likely have plenty of chances to feature Nash against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the NIT Season Tip-Off (ESPN3, 8 p.m. ET).

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Kris Joseph
Richard Mackson/US PresswireIf Syracuse beats Manhattan on Monday, Kris Joseph and the Orange will face either Albany or Brown in the NIT Season Tip-Off.

12. How polished will Syracuse look? If they defeat Manhattan on Monday, the Orange will face either Albany or Brown on Tuesday (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The early indication is that this veteran team will be ready to compete for the Final Four. Of course, Syracuse isn't being challenged as much as some other teams, but the Orange smacked Fordham in the opener as Dion Waiters complemented Kris Joseph quite well.

13. A surprisingly close game? I'm going with Austin Peay at Cal (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET). The Governors should be one of the favorites in the Ohio Valley Conference. Will Triggs and TyShwan Edmondson could play at any level. California is one of the Pac-12 favorites, but the Golden Bears will be tested in this CBE Classic matchup. Guards Allen Crabbe and Jorge Gutierrez will be tested versus Austin Peay.

14. What are the chances of a surprise to end the Marathon? I think Stanford will have a tough time with either SMU or Colorado State at home in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Mustangs or the Rams are fully capable of being a pest and upsetting the Cardinal (ESPNU, 11 p.m. ET). Stanford first has to get past Fresno State, of course, to be in this matchup. To do that, Aaron Bright, Chasson Randle and Josh Owens will have to really take control.

15. How will Miami score inside? The Hurricanes are sans Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble due to injuries. The given has been that the Canes have the guard play with Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott. But Rutgers will try and make Miami (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) beat the Scarlet Knights on the inside. This could turn out to be one of the closer games in the Marathon.

16. What should we expect from Villanova? This is somewhat of a blank slate. The Coreys -- Mr. Fisher and Mr. Stokes -- are gone. Maalik Wayns will be the dominant presence, but there are plenty of other options as Mouphtaou Yarou, JayVaughn Pinkston, Dominic Cheek and James Bell could all star against La Salle (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET). The Wildcats are an unknown in the Big East, and this game will at least give us a taste of what we may see.

17. Is Kevin Jones ready to be a star? For two seasons, West Virginia's Bob Huggins has been waiting for Jones to emerge. He scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a season-opening seven-point win over Oral Roberts. Kent State will hardly be a walk for the Mountaineers (ESPN, 10 a.m. ET). Darryl Bryant can offset Jones' production, but the offense will likely flow through Jones as he adapts to being the front man for the Mountaineers.

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Gib Arnold
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireGib Arnold's Warriors look to make a good first impression against Cal State-Northridge.

18. How ready is Hawaii to make a run at Utah State? Gib Arnold has gone through a complete roster makeover and coached the Warriors to an impressive 19-13 record in his first season in Honolulu. Utah State beat BYU to open the season while one of the WAC favorites, Nevada, was flat at home in losing to Missouri State. Hawaii has a real shot to make a move in its final season in the WAC before heading to the Big West. Establishing an identity in a new conference is always key and ensuring that Cal State-Northridge (ESPN, 4 a.m. ET) is well aware of what it is in for when it visits the Stan Sheriff Center would do wonders for a first impression.

19. What will Morehead State and College of Charleston look like after losing their stars? This game could be one of the more competitive because of who both teams lost, rather than who they gained. Morehead State no longer has Kenneth Faried, while Charleston is without Andrew Goudelock. The Eagles made the NCAA tournament last season, defeating Louisville and then falling to Richmond. The Cougars reached the NIT quarterfinals before losing to eventual champ Wichita State. Regardless of how these teams look (ESPN, 8 a.m. ET) on Tuesday, you can expect them both to be factors in their respective conferences by February.

20. What are the chances Virginia Tech doesn't end up in New York for the NIT semifinals? We'll find out Tuesday night. The Hokies will likely play George Mason, assuming the Patriots beat Florida International and Virginia Tech knocks off Monmouth on Monday. Mason beat Rhode Island by two in overtime in its opener, and while it is a more depleted roster than expected when Paul Hewitt took the job, this is still a formidable squad. Virginia Tech used balanced scoring to beat East Tennessee State by 11 in its opener, but hitting 5-of-18 on 3s was an indicator that the perimeter shooting may not be the Hokies' strong suit.

Other notable names to watch: Does Tu Holloway have a monster game for Xavier against IPFW (7 p.m. ET)? Will Cincinnati's Yancy Gates dominate against Jacksonville State (7 p.m. ET)? How will Harvard fare as the hunted team on the road, even against a rebuilding Holy Cross squad (7 p.m. ET)? How will Dayton's Archie Miller fare in his road debut as head coach at Miami-Ohio (7 p.m. ET)? Will Mike Scott be a double-double performer for Virginia against Winthrop (7 p.m. ET)? Will LSU avoid plunging into irrelevance by winning at Coastal Carolina (7 p.m. ET)? Will Butler avoid a shaky 0-2 start by winning at home against Chattanooga (7 p.m. ET)? Will Saint Louis prove to be the team projected as an A-10 contender and win games it should -- even on the road at Southern Illinois (8 p.m. ET)? Will Missouri State continue to win on the road and take down Arkansas State (8 p.m. ET)? How impressive will Royce White be for Iowa State against Drake (9 p.m. ET)? How will Wyoming play for new coach Larry Shyatt against Northern Colorado (9 p.m.)? Will Arizona State start its climb toward respectability by winning a game at home versus Pepperdine (8:30 p.m. ET)? Will Utah State follow up its BYU win by beating rival Weber State (9 p.m.) on the road?

Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.

The new 12-team Pac-10 will likely follow the lead of the new 12-team Big Ten. In other words, starting in the 2011-12 school year, it looks like the conference will split into two divisions for football but remain one, 12-team entity in basketball that plays 18 conference games.

The Big Ten already formally announced its two football divisions and will make its official decision about basketball at its annual meetings this spring, with the consensus being there will be 18 league games with every team playing each other at least once, rivalries protected and the other crossover games done on a random basis for competitive balance.

The Pac-10 athletic directors meet next week (Oct. 6-7) and are likely to follow a similar path, with the final say going to the presidents and chancellors who will meet on Oct. 21.

There are still a number of options for the football divisions, from a simple split between North (Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, Oregon, Utah, Colorado) and South (Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Arizona State, Arizona) and variations off that, as well as a zipper option with each rivalry split to form the two divisions (Washington and Washington State on different sides with Utah and Colorado being the two new rivals). Of course, in football, much like the Big Ten did with Ohio State-Michigan, if a rivalry was split in divisions, that game would be one of the mandatory crossover games every season.

More than likely, the men's basketball schedule will have 11 games against every other team, the 12th game would be against the natural rival and then the other six games would be chosen at random, leaving four schools that a team would play only once a season.

The hitch in the Pac-10's scheduling is that every school wants at least one road trip to L.A. and the Bay Area for recruiting and alumni purposes. League officials have to be cognizant of that sentiment.

Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said it was his preference to make sure the Beavers, or for that matter every school, gets to L.A. and the Bay Area each season.

"And we have to play Oregon every year twice, I don't think we should skip that one," Robinson said.

The Pac-10 is the last power-six conference to still play a true round robin schedule in men's basketball. But when the Pac-10 gives up that title, the Big 12 will assume the role of being the only power-six conference that anoints a true champion. The Big 12 will be a 10-team league in 2011-12 with the departure of Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-10). The conference has already made it known it will play a true, 18-game round-robin schedule when it's a 10-team league.

Twelve teams might be the perfect number for football with two six-team divisions and a championship game. But going from 10 to 12 in men's basketball takes away the equitable scheduling and the true champion and creates a competitively imbalanced schedule. That's what the Big East, Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Big 12 have dealt with lately. The Pac-10 has not.

"I would select the model that gives the opportunity for us to play each other home-and-home as many times as possible in the shortest window of years," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. "You want every team to touch each other in the shortest time possible. That's the fairest way to do it."

UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said there have been a number of different models discussed, such as playing 16, 18 or even 20 or 22 league games.

"But the overall sentiment is to stay at 18," Guerrero said. "You want a scheduling model where you play your natural rival and do some home-and-homes. We might go to Oregon but they don't come and return. We might play host to Oregon State but not go to Corvallis. Nothing is definitive."

Guerrero said a number of athletic directors are on record as saying they covet being in the Los Angeles market and "we're looking at ways to make that happen."

Guerrero said the consensus among the athletic directors was to go with one division, 18 games and avoid any no-plays in basketball.

"Those are the parameters to build a model around," Guerrero said. "We could have gone with a 22-game model and still kept the double round robin, but that limits nonconference flexibility. I think 18 is the most appropriate."

Guerrero just came off leading the men's basketball selection committee, which created the "First Four" format under the newly expanded 68-team tournament. In that format, Guerrero and the other nine members of the committee reached a compromise where two of the games will involve the last four 16th-seeded teams and two of the games will include the last four at-large teams.

Guerrero has been a peacemaker/mediator with these types of NCAA issues and his experience should serve him well at the Pac-10 meetings next week.

USC coach Kevin O'Neill assembled his players early Sunday morning to deliver the news that the Trojans' eight-game win streak and their newfound status as a Pac-10 title contender won't matter for an NCAA tournament berth.

The school had decided to self-impose penalties related to former player O.J. Mayo and his relationship with agent/runner/booster Rodney Guillory. But vacated wins from two seasons ago and a scholarship being taken away weren't tangible to this crew. Having their season end March 7 was all the players heard.

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O.J. Mayo
Lisa Blumenfeld/Getty ImagesO.J. Mayo's involvement with Rodney Guillory led to USC's self-imposed sanctions, including a postseason ban.

"My heart sank for a second," said senior point guard Mike Gerrity, a two-time Division I transfer from Pepperdine to Charlotte to USC. "I was frustrated. That's what you play college basketball for -- to play in March."

The Trojans haven't lost since Gerrity became eligible. Since beating Sacramento State and Idaho State before he was cleared to play Dec. 18, they've won six games with him as their lead guard. They beat Tennessee by 22 points, won the Diamond Head Classic with wins over Western Michigan, Saint Mary's and UNLV, then earned a Pac-10 season-opening home sweep of Arizona and Arizona State. The Trojans are on a roll heading into a three-game road swing to Stanford, Cal and UCLA in the next 12 days.

"It was pretty silent," Gerrity said of Sunday's team meeting. "There wasn't any yelling. Basically everybody was caught off guard. Everybody just left after that. There wasn't much talking."

O'Neill said the staff hadn't been given a choice, and the conversations about taking away the postseason had been going on for some time at the upper level of the administration. But he said he respected the decision. USC had been working with the Pac-10, which has its own investigative arm, and the NCAA.

"For our players, it's terrible; I feel terrible for them," O'Neill said. "I'm a 52-year-old professional. These guys did nothing. The people in question are not here."

The three players hurt most by the decision are the seniors: Dwight Lewis, Gerrity and Marcus Johnson. Lewis is the only one who was recruited initially by the school. Gerrity has bounced around, and when he transferred to USC, he initially wasn't on scholarship. The plan under former coach Tim Floyd was to have Gerrity as a backup with stud newcomers such as Lamont Jones coming on board this past fall. But Floyd resigned in the spring amid allegations that he paid Guillory $1,000.

Once Floyd resigned, high-profile recruits such as Jones (who's now at Arizona) bailed, and suddenly Gerrity would be the point guard when he was eligible in December. For months, O'Neill knew Gerrity was the difference between the Trojans being toast in the Pac-10 and a real contender.

Johnson had started his career at Connecticut before transferring to USC. He declared for the NBA draft this past spring, but returned to the Trojans once he knew he wouldn't be selected. There were questions regarding his senior-season eligibility even though he played only in an exhibition game in his final season at UConn, but he ultimately was granted another season. Johnson also was playing hurt much of last season with a shoulder injury, so he is taking six years to play four seasons.

USC lost to Loyola Marymount in November without Gerrity, ineligible forward Leonard Washington and injured former North Carolina forward Alex Stepheson. Stepheson returned for consecutive losses to Nebraska at home and at Texas and Georgia Tech. But Gerrity wasn't cleared to compete until just before the Dec. 19 game against Tennessee. Washington made his debut against Saint Mary's on Dec. 23.

"Life throws you a lot of curves," O'Neill said. "All three seniors were major contributors for the first time in their careers. None of that will change for the next 16 games. Our guys were shocked, disappointed, dismayed and stunned, but there was no anger."

For our players, it's terrible; I feel terrible for them. I'm a 52-year-old professional. These guys did nothing. The people in question are not here.

--USC coach Kevin O'Neill

What O'Neill did in that meeting was prey on the Trojans' competitive fire. He made it clear that USC has never won the Pac-10 title outright. Pac-10 assistant commissioner Dave Hirsch said Sunday night that the Pac-10's regular-season champ is considered the conference champion. The tournament champ is just the automatic qualifier to the NCAA tournament.

"We still have a chance to be a part of something special," Gerrity said. "When I heard that, there was a little motivation. We're still frustrated, but we can still do something that USC has never done before. We've got something to play for. No matter what, we've got our pride, and the teammates and coaches have it. We still can win a championship."

Gerrity said he was watching when the Trojans won the Pac-10 tournament title last season, beat Boston College in the first round of the NCAA tournament and flirted with a second-round upset of Michigan State before falling. He wondered about his chance the following season.

"Even though we were picked down toward the bottom [of the conference], I honestly thought we had a chance to do it," Gerrity said of winning the Pac-10 tournament.

The Pac-10 had a brutal nonconference performance except for USC the past two weeks. The Trojans arguably had the best nonconference résumé among Pac-10 schools and owned the only two wins over ranked teams at the time of the game. (Washington beat Texas A&M, but not when the Aggies were ranked.)

"I said we could compete for the league title, and I still believe we can compete for the league title," O'Neill said. "I know we've got some really good guys with high character and high integrity.

"We've never won the title outright. I'm not saying we're going to win it. But we're trying to play as best as we can."

Gerrity said the difference in the Trojans since the full complement of players were cleared is that they are a confident group that has figured out how to play together.

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Mike Gerrity
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireMike Gerrity is eligible for his senior season after a transferring whirlwind but now is unable to play in the postseason.

"I thought they were one of the top three teams in the Pac-10," said Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett, whose Gaels lost to the Trojans 60-49 in the semifinals of the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on Dec. 23. "I don't think they have enough shooting, though, and that might make them struggle to score on the road. But they definitely defend it well.

"Gerrity is a special player. He's so smart. He's old-school. He knows his teammates and knows what they can do. I'm really impressed with what he's done."

Bennett said he was stunned that the Trojans won't be able to play in the postseason after viewing them as an NCAA tournament team following his team's game.

"It's unfortunate, but it's one of those things that's not in your control," Gerrity said. "As players, you show up and you work hard, but in a situation like this, you don't have control. I'm not happy about it, but you've got to move forward."

NCAA member schools usually self-impose a postseason ban to ease the potential harsh penalties forthcoming from the committee once the enforcement staff has issued a report on infractions. But handing down a postseason ban once the season already has started is rare.

It occurred twice in 2003 when Fresno State, fresh off winning the WAC regular-season title, was told before the conference tournament on March 3 that it wasn't eligible for the postseason because of violations related to academic fraud. That same week, Georgia was given the same news by its administration. The Bulldogs had just finished the regular season at 19-8, but violations related to academic fraud, unethical conduct and improper benefits led to the postseason ban.

James Holland was an assistant with Georgia at the time of the ban and was named the interim coach for a brief spell in the offseason once Jim Harrick was pushed out.

"We were getting ready to go to New Orleans for the SEC tournament when we got the news," Holland said. "We thought we were an Elite Eight-, Final Four-type of team. We thought we had a chance to make a nice run."

Holland said telling the players that they weren't able to go to the SEC tournament or NCAA tournament was crushing.

"Those kids had worked so hard," Holland said. "It was very, very tough to tell those kids. I thought of Southern Cal and Coach O'Neill having to do the same thing. We didn't have to keep our players motivated because the season was over, but they've got the rest of the season."

O'Neill is adamant that his reaction would have been the same had the news come during the Trojans' losing skid last month. Gerrity said that even then, the Trojans knew that they would have a much better team once they were all healthy and eligible. But, of course, he said the news of no postseason stings more after an eight-game winning streak, including a 2-0 start in the Pac-10 for the first time since 2002.

Hirsch said the league office will discuss the conference tournament Monday, but the decision essentially has been made. There will be only one instead of two opening-round games at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on March 10. Teams that finish No. 8 and No. 9 will play each other. The No. 7 team will be slotted to play the No. 2 team. Every seed will move up a line depending on where USC finishes in the standings. If USC wins the title, No. 2 would become No. 1 and so on. If USC finishes fifth, whoever is sixth will slide up to fifth.

How the NCAA tournament selection committee handles the Pac-10 will be another matter.

Former selection committee chair Tom O'Connor, the athletic director at George Mason, said all the Pac-10 teams will be treated as at-large teams as usual. He said the committee doesn't single out regular-season champions but instead looks at each team separately. So if USC wins the league, and let's say Cal or Washington finishes second and third and UCLA gets the automatic qualifier by winning the conference tournament, then Cal and Washington will be judged on their own merits against the rest of the at-large pool.

As for what happens to wins and losses against USC, Greg Shaheen, the vice president of the NCAA who is in charge of the NCAA tournament, said in an e-mail that an institution's eligibility "for postseason play [self-imposed or not] doesn't impact whether it's games appear in the current season's assessment of other teams which compete against them."

David Worlock, the NCAA tournament's media relations director and liaison to the selection committee, said that although USC will no longer be considered for the tournament, the results against the Trojans will appear on each school's team sheet. If the Trojans maintain a high RPI, any team that owns a victory over USC would benefit because the selection committee would consider it a quality win.

None of that is much solace to a senior like Gerrity, but he and the Trojans have vowed to move on.

"We've seen what we can do," Gerrity said. "We've realized how good we are. I guess right now, we see the potential of our team, the possibility of where we could take this thing. The timing is definitely hard because things are going so well."

Injuries play role in Pac-10's rocky start

December, 30, 2009
12/30/09
2:30
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The Pac-10 hadn't beaten a ranked team through November or well into December.

Its record against the rest of the power six conferences was abysmal.

There was just cause to anticipate the league was heading for its worst season in a quarter century, possibly only one or two bids to the NCAA tournament.

The latter isn't still out of the question, but it's now more unlikely with the recent developments as the league begins its conference season Thursday -- the only of the power six leagues that plays a true round-robin schedule.

Cal, the preseason favorite, didn't have one of its best players in Theo Robertson for losses in New York against Syracuse and Ohio State, and at New Mexico.

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Mike Gerrity
Matt A. Brown/Icon SMIMike Gerrity is one of three players USC was without at one point so far this season.

USC didn't have post player Alex Stepheson for a loss against Loyola Marymount and didn't have point Mike Gerrity or forward Leonard Washington for losses to LMU, Nebraska, at Texas and at Georgia Tech.

No one is saying the Bears would have swept the three mentioned losses or that the Trojans would have erased their four losses if they had those players on the court. But with UCLA, which has had injuries and a defection, down this season at 5-7, the perception of the league goes south with the Bruins. That's the same perception that happened to the ACC when North Carolina had a subpar season in the middle of the previous decade.

"Anybody that knows basketball doesn't think UCLA will be an easy out,'' Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. "Their personnel is too good, the coaching too outstanding and to think you can go into Pauley like we have to Thursday and get an easy win?''

Coaches in the league are doing what they should, which is, naturally, to pump up the league as the conference season starts. But there is reason to believe the conference will perform better over the next two months.

"I said this early: 'People were quick to judge the Pac-10,''' Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. "There were several teams that weren't at their full compliment of players.''

Romar cited USC, which is now one of the older teams in the league with upperclassmen Gerrity, Stepheson, Marcus Johnson and Dwight Lewis. He mentioned Cal and even tossed in Oregon, which lost at Portland and to Montana without center Michael Dunigan, fell to Saint Mary's without starting guard Tajuan Porter and is still without senior forward Joevan Catron since Nov. 21.

Are they excuses? Sure. But there are reasons for the frailty of the league when it was going through a transition of losing a glut of players to exhausted eligibility and the NBA draft.

"I feel like we can compete with anybody in the country with all our guys,'' said USC coach Kevin O'Neill, whose Trojans have the conference's only two wins over ranked teams in Tennessee and UNLV. Washington beat Texas A&M at home after the Aggies had dropped out of the Top 25.

"I think our league is a four-bid league for sure,'' O'Neill said. "It's not what we've had the last two years; it's not a six-bid league. But it should be a four-bid league.''

USC may be in the strongest position with the nonconference wins over the Vols and Rebels. The NCAA tournament selection committee will judge the Trojans a bit differently since they didn't have Gerrity, Stepheson and Washington for all or some of the previous losses.

The key for the Trojans will be to keep winning and finish in the top three. Giving a bid to a team that might finish lower in the conference standings than another that doesn't receive a bid is possible if the overall résumé is better. That could be the case with USC.

"There's nothing worse than playing without a true point guard,'' O'Neill said. "The projected favorites should be the projected favorites but there's not a huge separation from the top to the bottom. Everybody is pretty good.''

Romar said the Huskies are close to being a "really good team," especially if they can be better defensively and continue to share the ball. Senior forward Quincy Pondexter is having an all-Pac-10 season so far.

The Huskies didn't win the two big games on the schedule away from Seattle, losing to Georgetown in Anaheim, Calif., and at Texas Tech. But if Washington were to finish first or second, the Huskies will likely be in position for a bid. Cal will likely be judged differently, as long as it finishes in the top two, for playing without Robertson.

USC has the best profile among the rest of the teams. Washington doesn't have the signature win (sorry, but LSU won't be a great get unless the Tigers can go on a run in the SEC West), and Arizona State is lacking one as well. ASU beat LSU in New York, but couldn't win any of its marquee games (save for a win against San Diego State) in losing to Duke in New York, Baylor at home and at BYU. Wazzu missed out on beating Gonzaga and Kansas State in its name games earlier this season. But sleeping on the Cougars, with the league's most proficient scorer in Klay Thompson, and the Sun Devils, which has been much more efficient offensively than expected, would be a mistake.

Even Oregon State is tough to figure once again. The Beavers were the surprise team a year ago with seven Pac-10 wins after rocky nonconference play. The same thing occurred this season. The Beavers couldn't beat Sacramento State or Illinois-Chicago but did win at George Washington and against Fresno State.

Roberto Nelson, a freshman guard from Santa Barbara, has been OSU's best player in practice, according to the staff. But Nelson is only a partial qualifier now and won't be eligible unless he passes the standardized test. And even then, coach Craig Robinson said, he has to decide if it's worth playing Nelson this season or waiting until next season for a full schedule.

The season opens Thursday and Saturday with the Oregon schools in Washington, the Arizona schools in Los Angeles and Stanford at Cal.

"This conference is really, really young, and there were growing pains,'' ASU point guard Derek Glasser said. "Everyone is starting to play better of late. I'm not saying we're going to get six in [the NCAA tournament], but three or four. We'll see how it plays out. But I think we'll be definitely a three- or four-bid-worthy conference.''

The way that occurs could be Cal and Washington finishing first and second, USC third and a fourth team winning the conference tournament. That is all highly plausible.

NEW YORK -- The Cal we saw Thursday night was not the Cal we picked to win the Pac-10. No way.

No Theo Robertson or Harper Kamp means no chance for California to win the Pac-10, at least until those players are back from a stress reaction (Robertson) and a knee injury (Kamp).

"Those two guys, along with [then-senior] Jordan Wilkes were key guys for us last season," Cal coach Mike Montgomery said. "All of a sudden we're picked with all the hype."

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Theo Robertson
Douglas Jones/US PresswireSyracuse was already a tough enough opponent for Cal. And being without Theo Robertson certainly didn't help.

The Golden Bears were the best 3-point-shooting team in the nation last season and did return Robertson, along with senior guards Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher. Robertson was averaging 18 points in the first two games, but suddenly couldn't practice when the team got to New York because of his bum right foot. Kamp stayed back in Berkeley because he's not ready to consistently practice after offseason knee surgery.

"They're the glue," Montgomery said. "They're the best thinkers and the people that really know what's going on now."

Cal could never catch Syracuse on Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, losing 95-73 in the semifinals of the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.

Randle said he assumed Robertson was going to play.

"Then I saw he wasn't going to suit up and saw him in a boot," Randle said. "We had to have a different mindset for the game."

Montgomery said the Bears will know about Robertson's situation when they return to Berkeley on Saturday after Friday's third-place game against Ohio State. He said Robertson was "really, really sore and there was no way we were going to risk it at this stage in the season." Montgomery said Robertson wore a boot to keep his foot from flexing and to isolate where the pain was on his foot.

As for Kamp, Montgomery noted that he'd been practicing well but can't string together a few in row without discomfort.

"He wants to get to the point where he can practice hard and play the next day," Montgomery said. "He doesn't want to play, sit out and then play again."

Against the Orange, Randle had to take on much more of the scoring load with 25 points on 17 shots. Christopher struggled against Syracuse's zone by going 6-of-20 from the field and 0-of-7 from the 3-point line. The Bears were forced to play some big men that haven't had as much time like 7-foot-4 Max Zhang and 6-9 freshman Bak Bak.

"We need Theo, we need Harper, but until we get them back we have to pick up the slack," Randle said. "Missing Theo or missing Harper, we still have to win."

Senior Jamal Boykin got more involved without Robertson and Kamp with 14 points on 12 shots. Foul issues (four) limited the effectiveness of starter Markhuri Sanders-Frison.

The good news for the Bears is that the rest of the Pac-10 is in a state of flux, too. Washington, the other preseason favorite, hasn't been challenged yet. But UCLA fell flat to Cal State-Fullerton, Oregon State dropped two of three at a tournament at Texas Tech, and it's hard to say how good Oregon or Arizona are just yet. The likelihood of Arizona State having staying power is probably unrealistic with such a young team.

"I don't know if Syracuse is a great gauge to say if we're any good," Montgomery said. "They're big and we're not. I knew the zone would be a problem, and they had a lot of run-outs on us."

• Ohio State junior guard Evan Turner started the season with a triple-double against Alcorn State with 17 points, 10 assists and 11 rebounds. He got his second triple-double of the season Thursday night against North Carolina -- although this one wasn't nearly as nice: 23 points, 11 rebounds and 10 turnovers.

"It was a rough night, obviously," Turner said after the 77-73 loss to the Tar Heels. "I just have to come out [Friday]. The game is over and I just have to make sure it never happens again. Sometimes I might have thought about the situation too much, whether I should shoot or pass, so I traveled here and there."

• The tournaments on the ESPN family of networks get plenty of pub. But there is one tourney not on ESPN's air that is flying too far under the radar. The Paradise Jam begins Friday in the Virgin Islands and could provide a stellar final four of its own this weekend.

If the seeds hold, the semifinals in this event could feature four teams that are destined for the NCAA tournament.

Tennessee, which needs to beat East Carolina in the first game, would match up against Northern Iowa in one semifinal, assuming the Missouri Valley Conference preseason favorite beats DePaul.

The Volunteers are coming off an otherworldly 124-49 win over UNC Asheville in which Scotty Hopson came out of his shell and scored 25 points.

The Panthers beat a solid Denver squad 71-65 in their opener with a balanced effort, led by Kwadzo Ahelegbe's 18 points and 13 from Adam Koch.

On the other side, assuming Purdue gets past South Dakota State (which upset Wyoming on the road last week), the Boilermakers could face Boston College. The Eagles have to fly past a Saint Joseph's team that opened up with wins over Drexel and Holy Cross. But BC gets suspended starters Rakim Sanders and Corey Raji back for the opener against the Hawks. Boston College found a new scorer in their absence, as senior Tyler Roche has gone for 30 and 19 in the two games. The Eagles already knew they had a stable set of guards in Reggie Jackson and Biko Paris.

Purdue will enter this tournament minus point guard Lewis Jackson, who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. Coach Matt Painter said he expects Kelsey Barlow to get more minutes in the rotation, even though Barlow doesn't play the same position. The Boilermakers will still lean on Keaton Grant at the point and have veteran leadership up front with Robbie Hummel, JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore with D.J. Byrd (13 ppg) and Chris Kramer (11 ppg) more than holding their own.

So don't sleep on this weekend's Paradise Jam. A final four in St. Thomas of Tennessee-Northern Iowa and Purdue-BC would probably be one of the better semifinals of any of these early-season events.