Category archive: Virginia Tech Hokies
This wasn't a game in the SEC, where he used to play for Florida. This wasn't Duke or North Carolina, the two schools he was hoping to go against when he made the decision to leave the Gators and transfer to Virginia Tech.
This was Mars Hill, in an exhibition. And he was playing for High Point University.
And you know what? He couldn't be happier to be on the court competing.
Chaney scored 16 points, grabbed six boards and blocked two shots in Saturday's game. He has a chance, alongside JC forward John Brown, to put High Point in contention for the Big South championship.
"It felt great to be out there for 40 minutes," Chaney said. "The first half was so nerve-wracking. But the second half I was straight. I don't know what to say about it. It was so stressful, having to be patient and not knowing when I would play again. I had this opportunity to play Saturday and I'm so grateful."
Earlier Monday afternoon, Jeff Goodman of CBSSports.com detailed at length Chaney's struggles over the past two years to get to this point.
Chaney is playing with an implanted wireless defibrillator and on Saturday wore a vest to protect his chest. Former Virginia Tech coach Seth Greenberg, now an ESPN analyst, said he used to battle with Chaney to get him to wear the protective vest. But it was a moot point anyway. Chaney was never cleared to play by the school's medical staff after he collapsed on April 24, 2010, during an individual workout.
Greenberg couldn't be happier for Chaney, whom he spoke with Monday and congratulated on making it back on the court. The Greenberg family and Chaney became close once he arrived in Blacksburg and the families still stay in touch.
Greenberg said his wife, Karen, found Dr. Francis Marchlinski at Penn through a mutual friend. Marchlinski ultimately was the one who cleared Chaney to play again.
But Chaney needed to find a place to play. High Point coach Scott Cherry said he was informed of Chaney's situation when they had a scholarship open up. Greenberg had been fired and was replaced by former assistant James Johnson, a friend and former fellow assistant at George Mason with Cherry. Cherry said he did his due diligence checking on Chaney with doctors, family and, of course, the university.
"We felt like the risk was something we could take on," he said. "I don't want to say it was easy, but it was smoother than we thought. Our administration and medical staff on campus didn't see anything that stood out. They read all the medical reports. Our cardiologist in town was familiar with Dr. Marchlinski. He respected his work and believed very much in his report that he was cleared to play and should be fine.''
AP Photo/Phil SandlinAllan Chaney hasn't played a regular-season college hoops game since 2009.
Of course, there was the NCAA to get through, too.
Chaney played one season at Florida. He was now 22 years old. He had to get a waiver to play immediately and get a sixth year of eligibility back.
Cherry said the waiver had to be submitted since Chaney had graduated from school and was a 4-4-4 transfer, going to his third four-year school. Cherry said the waiver for him to play this season came back positive immediately. Getting the second waiver to get him a sixth year of eligibility took a personal note from Chaney detailing his medical hardship.
"The first one came through in two to three days," recalled Cherry, "but the second one had to take longer since Allan had to write his personal statement."
"I just explained what had happened and what I had been going through the last two years," Chaney said. "I talked about all the back-and-forth with doctors and explained my one year at Florida and presented my medical records and the steps it took me to get back to this point. I was fortunate to get back these years. It's a blessing."
The second waiver came through two weeks ago, giving Chaney two seasons of eligibility remaining.
"I applaud the NCAA for granting this kid the second year," Cherry said. "He deserves it. We're really excited."
There are conditions and precautions being taken.
Cherry said Chaney has to wear the protective vest. He said that a defibrillator is at practice and workouts and all the staff, including the coaches, have been trained on how to use it. He said the defibrillator, which is there as a secondary emergency device in addition to his implant, goes with the team and Chaney wherever he travels -- in a restaurant, on the bus, in the locker room and in the hotel.
"It has to be hands-on, no matter what," Cherry said. "That's the only additional thing to do with him. We won't also give him any punishment runs. But he's a great kid so there is no need to worry."
Cherry said Chaney's conditioning still isn't up to speed yet, which is to be expected.
"He's like a true freshman or a JC kid," he said. "When he gets a little more active he can get more fatigued. He tends to stand around and watch. But to have a 6-9 player that skilled who can shoot 3s and has length and can rebound at our level -- we're blessed to have a guy of his caliber."
Cherry said he will work the offense through Chaney and Brown, beginning with Friday's opener against a fellow North Carolina alumnus in Wes Miller of UNC Greensboro.
"Nobody can do the things like Allan and John, so we'll rely on their balanced scoring," Cherry said.
"I've never had frontcourt scoring like this," Cherry said. "We were picked third in our division but nobody has seen Allan. He's an unknown right now. John Brown sat out last year. He couldn't practice. I brought in six other guys, and two will start. It's a new team with talent. We've got a chance. I feel like this is the best team I've had since I've been here. We've got good guys at every position. We've got a team that has a chance to fight for a championship this year."
Chaney doesn't want to think about the two years he has remaining in college, per the NCAA.
Instead, he's dealing with each day as a gift.
"I can't look too far ahead," Chaney said. "It's one game, one day at a time. I'm just trying to get better every day."
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."
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.
Incoming freshman Montrezl Harrell got out of his national letter of intent and landed at Louisville.
And Dorian Finney-Smith, one of the top freshman forwards in the ACC last season, visited Memphis and is also seriously considering transferring to Florida, Louisville or Iowa State.
Kyle LaFerriere/US PresswireJames Johnson understands the challenges he faces as Virginia Tech's new coach.
New coach James Johnson would have liked to make his own headlines with the arrival of significant newcomers.
But there isn't much to discover at this late date.
"I'm trying to find something,'' said Johnson, who has been on the job for six weeks. "I'm not going to rush anything. I need to find the right fit for the team and the right fit for Virginia Tech. We've got room to take another guy or two, and we are still looking.''
The Hokies are down to nine scholarship players, eight who are eligible for next season since Adam Smith will sit out after leaving UNC Wilmington after his freshman season.
The Hokies do return starters Erick Green, one of the top guards in the ACC, a healthy Cadarian Raines and Jarell Eddie. C.J. Barksdale and newcomer Marshall Wood will also have an impact. But the team will lack depth and won't be projected to finish high in the ACC.
"We can't afford any injuries,'' Johnson said.
This wasn't the plan Johnson or Seth Greenberg envisioned. The latter was convinced the Hokies would be a player in the ACC next season. But he was abruptly fired by athletic director Jim Weaver after a late offseason review of recent mediocre seasons. Greenberg was so blindsided by the firing that the topic of the news conference was unknown to him until an hour before it began on April 23. He compiled a 170-123 record in nine seasons, but reached the NCAA tournament just once during that stretch. The Hokies finished 15-16 this past season, including 4-12 in the ACC.
Johnson wasn't planning on taking the job. He left a few weeks earlier to go to Clemson and spent a weekend recruiting for Tigers coach Brad Brownell. A week after Greenberg was fired, Johnson was hired at Virginia Tech.
Johnson never moved from Blacksburg, since he wasn't at Clemson long enough to even pay a deposit on a rental property.
He is now looking to upgrade his home near the Virginia Tech campus, so he has a larger space to entertain players and recruits.
His head is spinning. He didn't seek this job. He was nestled into his new gig at Clemson when he said he received a phone call from Virginia Tech to see if he was interested in replacing his former boss Greenberg.
"I had some other opportunities during my five years [at Virginia Tech],'' Johnson said. "But never as close as this one.''
"I was at Clemson getting my feet on the ground and getting started as to how they do things there,'' said Johnson. "Then I got a phone call. It was odd, leaving and then having the opportunity to come back. I worked for [Greenberg], and we had a great relationship and success during five years. But it was an opportunity to be a head coach in the ACC. I couldn't turn that down.''
Johnson said he believes he was chosen because of his familiarity with the program, the players and the timing.
But losing Harrell and Finney-Smith on the heels of seniors Dorenzo Hudson and Victor Davila finishing their eligibility and JT Thompson's transfer to Charlotte means Johnson will be in a tough spot in his inaugural ACC season.
North Carolina and Duke are the benchmarks for the league, but NC State is ready to join them next season to compete for the title. Florida State has now established itself as a consistent NCAA team. And Maryland is poised to make a turn upward. Virginia is on the climb, too. In a year, Pitt and Syracuse should be in the league and crowd the top half even more.
That's why this July evaluation period is critical for Johnson to stay afloat in 2013-14. He can't afford to fall behind, nor hand out scholarships in June to players who can't help him long term.
"It's going to be a challenge,'' Johnson said. "There are some of the best coaches in the country in the ACC. But we have a special place with great academics. We just have to get the kids on campus for them to see what we have. Virginia Tech is perceived as a football school with not much to do in the area, but once you get here the perception isn't the reality. It will continue to be a challenge, but we can sell Virginia Tech and our brand.''
I've seen 20 teams in a number of venues on both coasts.
So after a thankful day to be with my family -- and a big thanks to all my tremendous colleagues who grind every day on our editorial operation on ESPN.com and on both sides of the camera on ESPN -- here's a look at what I've picked up on after two weeks on the road. And remember, this only includes games I've seen in person.
AP Photo/Mark J. TerrillIt doesn't get much more scenic than what we witnessed at the Carrier Classic.
Best venue: It was natural to be skeptical about whether or not the Carrier Classic could be pulled off. But it far exceeded my expectations. The Navy did what it does best -- tremendous organization. The enormity of the USS Carl Vinson was awe-inspiring. The men and women who serve on the ship, as well as the ship's leadership, couldn't have been more welcoming. They were so grateful to have a chance to show what they do on a daily basis. The two teams -- North Carolina and Michigan State -- were model guests and displayed tremendous appreciation. The pageantry of the event, from the patriotic opening to the scenic view of downtown San Diego, will be hard to ever duplicate due to the uniqueness of 11-11-11 and the inaugural nature of the game. And the outdoor game may have seemed like a gimmick, but it was well-played in spurts for being the season opener for both teams.
Best team: North Carolina. The Tar Heels have lived up to the hype as the No. 1 team in the country. They have flaws, especially their perimeter depth. But the overall length of the frontcourt, the ability to get out on the break and the potential to hit scoring spurts and run out on teams is impressive. The Heels have three players -- Harrison Barnes, Tyler Zeller and Kendall Marshall -- who will compete for the ACC POY and two others -- John Henson and James Michael McAdoo -- who will be tough to defend.
Signature moment: When Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski won game No. 903 against Michigan State, passed his mentor Bob Knight and became the all-time winningest men's coach in NCAA history. The impromptu embrace by Coach K and Knight was met by a swarm of photographers and a rare teary eye from Coach K. The moment was genuine, real and showed the true emotion of such an arduous task of grinding out wins in this sport for three-plus decades.
Most impressive half: Kentucky's complete domination of Penn State in the first half at the Mohegan Sun Arena. The Wildcats made it look like it was a guarantee game with an opponent from a weak Division II conference. To Penn State's credit, the Nittany Lions did respond the next day and beat South Florida. But Kentucky showed on this day that it had more offensive versatility with the emergence of Doron Lamb and Kyle Wiltjer.
Most dominating performance: Jared Cunningham, Oregon State. Cunningham went off for 37 points in an overtime win over Texas in the Legends Classic. Cunningham was a highlight reel a year ago but has settled down, working on his game and finding ways to score in a variety of ways. Hofstra coach Mo Cassara said he was the best guard they've gone against in quite some time after Cunningham lit up the Pride for 35 in Corvallis prior to the Texas game. Cunningham is a legit Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate.
Best sub: Syracuse's Dion Waiters. Waiters jump-started the Orange with 11 points off the bench in the comeback win over Virginia Tech in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinal. Waiters is a game-changer when he's on the floor. He gives Syracuse a different look because of his ability to get into the lane quicker than Scoop Jardine. He's not as refined as Jardine and can be hit or miss, but when he's on he gives the Orange a different look.
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTexas A&M's Billy Kennedy was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease before the start of the season.
Most courageous: Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy and St. John's coach Steve Lavin. Kennedy is trying to come back from a series of health setbacks, most notably being diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. He went through incredible fatigue over a five-week stretch that weakened him and it doesn't help that he has bone spurs in his shoulder. The first-year A&M coach is beat up, but is making a comeback one step at a time. He's an inspiration and a model of perseverance.
Lavin, meanwhile, is returning from prostate cancer surgery that was more extensive than most. He had a seven-hour procedure to take out his prostate and also scrape other lymph nodes to ensure that the cancer was all gone. He said he is cancer-free, but is still working his way back from the exhausting surgery. Lavin has to manage his energy and that's why he was able to coach in the Garden for two days in a row but then needed to take a day off from the rigors of coaching earlier this week.
Biggest surprise: Stanford's blowout win over Oklahoma State. The Cowboys were obviously a bit distracted on Wednesday. Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford, who has been crushed by the horrific plane crash that cost the lives of women's coaches Kurt Budke and Miranda Serna, said there were no excuses. And there is this: Stanford was that good. Josh Owens scored 21 points and is, like Cunningham, a Pac-12 POY candidate. I'm not sure Stanford can continue this early-season success, but the Cardinal certainly have the look of an upper-division Pac-12 team.
Two to single out: Over the past three weeks, I took notice of two players who continue to exhibit maturity and professionalism in the way they handle themselves with the media and the respect they have for those older than them. Texas freshman Myck Kabongo has a tremendous presence about him. So too does Michigan State senior Draymond Green. You sense that both of these young men will be stars in whatever they choose to do going forward.
Player only scratching the surface: Kentucky's Anthony Davis will be a star by season's end with his ability to control the paint. He is such an immense talent with his length and game-changing shot-blocking. His offense will only continue to diversify.
Most important wins: Vanderbilt beating NC State and Oregon State in the closing moments. The Commodores found ways to win the Legends Classic with key defensive stops and timely shooting at the IZOD Center. The Wolfpack and Beavers are vastly improved from a year ago, but the Dores had to win these games to shed the sour taste of getting beat up by Cleveland State at home. Vandy will get big man Festus Ezeli back in a few weeks. So these wins were critical for this team's confidence.
Two teams to watch: Oregon State still has to win the games it should over the next month -- all against teams outside the power-six conferences and perhaps none against teams bound for the NCAA tournament. But the talent is in place with this team to make some noise in the Pac-12. The emergence of Ahmad Starks as a push-it point guard, the length of Eric Moreland and Devon Collier, the soft hands of Joe Burton inside and the scoring of Cunningham make this team a good watch.
NC State had talent when Mark Gottfried arrived and it has only gotten better. C.J. Leslie is a potential big-time scorer. Scott Wood can make shots. C.J. Williams and Alex Johnson are solid role players. DeShawn Painter is a rugged face-up and inside post player and the potential exists for Thomas de Thaey and Jordan Vandenberg to cause problems when they body people up in the lane. The ACC is weak beyond the top three, opening up a spot for the Wolfpack.
The great enigma: Mississippi State. After dropping a home game to Akron, the Bulldogs won the 2K Sports Classic benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer with wins over Texas A&M and Arizona. Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney provide one of the tougher matchups of any big man combo. Dee Bost is a veteran point guard who knows how to run a team. But the two players who may hold the key to this team are Deville Smith and Rodney Hood, a pair of freshman guards who can change the game with their speed and shooting when inserted.
Incomplete read: Drexel. The Dragons were without two of their top three guards in Chris Fouch and Tavon Allen. Yet Drexel pulled away from Rider in impressive fashion during the Tip-Off Marathon. The CAA favorite has a tough inside, undersized player in Samme Givens and a grinding guard who can get points in Frantz Massenat. But then the Dragons fell flat in the Virgin Islands and lost to Norfolk State and scored 35 points against Virginia. Let's see how Drexel does once it's healthy before giving a full review.
Best coaching jobs: Kansas' Bill Self and Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg. Neither team won when I saw them but they were going up against top-five squads in Kentucky and Syracuse. Self and Greenberg are maximizing the talent on their teams. They do have studs in Thomas Robinson (Kansas) and Dorenzo Hudson (Virginia Tech), but they get their teams to play as hard as they coach. Kansas' play in Maui deserves high praise and the Jayhawks will once again be in contention to win the Big 12. The Hokies will find a way to be on the bubble again. Neither team is as stocked as it has been in the past, but these two coaches will get these teams to reach their potential.
Best teams: Nothing I saw changed my opinion that North Carolina, Kentucky, Duke and Syracuse are all legitimate Final Four contenders. I have yet to see Ohio State, but put the Buckeyes in that group, as well.
Best game I missed: Well, that one is easy. The Kansas-Duke championship game at the Maui Invitational will go down as one of the best 40 minutes of the regular season. What a show that was.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
Quick thoughts for the final week of the regular season:
• If Kansas State continues on its current pace and finishes in third place in the Big 12, why shouldn't Frank Martin be coach of the year in the league? Martin has dealt with multiple suspensions and defections and has the Wildcats positioned to be a threat to win the Big 12 conference tournament and go into the NCAAs on quite a high.
Even though it took until late in the season, Martin got Jacob Pullen to become the leader he needed him to be for the Wildcats. Martin is pushing the right buttons with this squad at the right time and, ultimately, isn't that how a coach should be judged? How a team finishes, not just how it starts, should be part of the criteria.
• Brigham Young's Jimmer Fredette is the leader for national player of the year. Why isn't Dave Rose getting similar attention for national coach of the year? Rose has the Cougars in position to nab a No. 1 seed or at the very least a No. 2. The Cougars have become a solid interior defensive team as evidenced by how they handled San Diego State on Saturday and they've been calm, cool and collected in hostile road games throughout Mountain West play. Rose has BYU on the verge of a historic season. He's also coached and developed Fredette into a star.
• I'd love to hear from the selection committee if wins over Duke by Florida State and Virginia Tech were the deciding factors in admitting them into the Dance. St. John's didn't need just its win over Duke to earn a bid. But will the Duke win be all the Seminoles and Hokies have to show on their résumés? The numbers may add up for selection but how much of that bid would be based on beating Duke?
• We had an interesting debate on our Experts show Tuesday about comparing middling high majors with conference champs from lower-tier leagues with a gaudy record. Belmont would be an interesting team to watch if the Bruins (19-1 in the Atlantic Sun, 27-4 overall) were to lose in the conference championship. They likely wouldn't get a bid but could be a first-round upset team if they make the tournament.
• The Colonial may be the most competitive conference tournament outside of the power six. The top four seeds -- George Mason, Old Dominion, VCU and Hofstra -- are all capable of winning the event in Richmond, Va. Drexel, the No. 5 seed, has shown that it can beat anybody in the league as well as lose to just about anybody. The winner of this tournament will be battle-tested for a first-round NCAA tournament matchup. A George Mason-ODU final would be an NCAA-caliber type affair.
• We chose our most disappointing teams on the Experts show Tuesday. Michigan State is an easy answer. But I believed Northwestern would make the Dance this season. That's the second time I've predicted Northwestern would make the field (last season being the first). The Wildcats didn't make it then, they won't make now -- they had a number of chances to win quality games and whiffed.
• WCC commissioner Jamie Zaninovich is on quite a roll of late. He lured BYU into the WCC after a deal with the WAC fell apart and he's getting the Cougars after what could be a historic season in Provo. This week he was named to a five-year term on the NCAA tournament selection committee, beginning in the fall. Zaninovich joins LSU athletic director Joe Alleva as the new members on the committee.
• Purdue's JaJuan Johnson has to be a first-team All-American. And if Purdue ends up tied with Ohio State for the Big Ten title then why shouldn't he be Big Ten Player of the Year over Ohio State's Jared Sullinger?
• A month ago Connecticut's Jim Calhoun and Kemba Walker looked like the coach and player of the year in the Big East. Now, I don't think Calhoun will win the award with St. John's Steve Lavin, Louisville's Rick Pitino, Notre Dame's Mike Brey and Pitt's Jamie Dixon ahead of him. Meanwhile, St. John's Dwight Hardy and Notre Dame's Ben Hansbrough may have the inside track on Big East Player of the Year.
• Long Beach State coach Dan Monson was relieved when he left Minnesota in 2006. He was able to secure the best job in the Big West and now has a league title. Minnesota continues to be a tough place to coach, as Tubby Smith has learned.
• Conference USA is highly competitive from top to bottom. But that doesn't mean it should get more than one bid. If forced to choose the stronger conference between the CAA and C-USA, I'd go with the CAA -- it will have more bids and a better chance to advance in the tournament.
• If there is one team that should be in a better position now it's Washington State. The Cougars crushed Washington in Seattle and secured the season sweep of the Huskies. But Wazzu shouldn't be 8-8 in the Pac-10. The Cougars had a chance to beat Kansas State at home in December and lost, beat Gonzaga and Baylor, and then lost to Butler in the Diamond Head Classic final. But Wazzu couldn't beat Arizona at home, lost at Oregon, and had befuddling losses to Stanford at home and at Arizona State. Wazzu has been the most erratic team in the Pac-10 and yet could end up winning the Pac-10 tournament.
Virginia Tech was a disappointment earlier this season.
It had a chance to beat UNLV on a neutral floor at Anaheim, Calif., in the 76 Classic championship game, but was blown out late in the second half.
The Hokies then had a shot to beat Purdue at home in the ACC-Big Ten Challenge, but they lost in overtime, 58-55. And then the bottom fell out in a poor performance at home in the ACC opener against Virginia, 57-54, on Dec. 5.
Virginia Tech shouldn't be ripped for losing at Kansas State on Nov. 16, and it should be applauded for beating Oklahoma State two days before the loss to UNLV.
But by mid-December there was legitimate reason to question if the Hokies would live up to their potential as a second-place challenger in the ACC behind Duke.
Richard Mackson/US PresswireSeth Greenberg's Hokies have a chance to impress the NCAA selection committee in the next four weeks.
But if you're familiar with Seth Greenberg, you know he loves a challenge. It begins with a road game at North Carolina on Thursday night (ESPN, 9 ET).
Greenberg deserve credit for getting the Hokies back on track.
Virginia Tech has won six straight games since the Virginia loss, and starting guard Dorenzo Hudson played in only one of the games -- against Mississippi State in the Bahamas -- before he was shut down for the season with a foot injury. Hudson sat out the first win of the streak against Penn State and then scored 17 points in the 88-57 win over the Bulldogs before the pain became too much to handle.
The Hokies are leaning heavily on the remaining starting five of Malcolm Delaney, Jeff Allen, Terrell Bell, Erick Green and Victor Davila. They all played at least 32 minutes and took all but six shots in the 71-59 win over the Seminoles on Saturday. That's going to be the way Va. Tech survives in the ACC, assuming it does.
"I played 40 minutes of zone against Florida State, that's not like me,'' Greenberg said. "Erick Green has emerged as a player who we can count on, making shots and getting Malcolm the ball. Our turnovers are down. Jeff Allen is playing at a high level. But we have to keep everyone out of foul trouble.''
The Hokies will know if they're a viable candidate in the next four weeks. After the Carolina game, they play four of their next six ACC games on the road -- at Maryland, at Georgia Tech, at NC State and at Boston College. All are winnable. But all could be losses, too. Virginia Tech hardly has any room for error.
"We've got to run and get easy baskets,'' Greenberg said. "We've got to shorten the game a bit. We've got a group of guys and a good cause to rally around. But it's a long season, and we'll have to watch fatigue. But I like the chemistry that we have.''
And in what can't be described as a shocker, Greenberg added, "I like to create causes. That's the way I've always coached. We've always had that underdog mentality, and we feed off that. I've probably been more upbeat in practice than I've ever been. We're not going to give in. We're going to grind and try to win these games.''
In the fight for second, Virginia Tech is in line behind North Carolina (1-0 with a road win at Virginia) and surprising Boston College (3-0). NC State (1-1) fell behind the Eagles after the loss at Conte Forum Tuesday night. Meanwhile, Maryland is off to an 0-2 start, while Florida State (1-1) is struggling offensively and has a must-have game against Duke on Wednesday night. Miami began with two road games (0-2), and Greenberg's sleeper is Clemson under new coach Brad Brownell, which opened with a win over Miami in its ACC opener.
The problem for these ACC teams vying for second through fifth is the lack of quality wins for the selection committee. The Tar Heels have the best shot at being ranked soon. But until North Carolina is ranked, ACC teams will not play any ranked teams -- save Duke -- the rest of the season. The only nonconference game remaining against a ranked team for any ACC team not named Duke is Maryland's visit to Villanova this weekend.
"North Carolina is a top-25 team; there's no doubt in my mind,'' Greenberg said. "Tyler Zeller runs the floor better than Tyler Hansbrough. Dexter Strickland might be the most improved player in the country. They're shooting the ball well.
"It was easy to write us off,'' Greenberg said. "But we're not overreacting to a win or a loss.''
The Hokies have missed the NCAAs the past three seasons, and Virginia Tech may not deserve a bid again this year. But if it finishes strong, it could earn a bid the hard way with all the injuries.
"Malcolm is always there, and he's in the back of everyone's mind that he's a threat every time down the court,'' Greenberg said. "That's a great thing to have.''
We'll see if that will be good enough soon.
The Big Ten is seven or eight deep in potential NCAA tournament teams. The ACC has Duke and a host of teams that are hard to discern from No. 2 on down.
So of course the Big Ten will capture the ACC/Big Ten Challenge, right?
Not quite. Virginia revealed the unpredictability of this event on Day 1. The Cavaliers were expected to be battling at the bottom of the ACC and Minnesota, even with senior point guard Al Nolen out of the game due to injury, was expected to walk over the Cavs after winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off last week.
AP Photo/Tom OlmscheidJoe Harris' 24 points led Virginia to a surprising win over Minnesota on Monday night.
Instead, Virginia won 87-79 in Minneapolis, which might help the ACC win the event because it has advantageous matchups with top-ranked Duke hosting Michigan State, Clemson hosting Michigan, Virginia Tech hosting Purdue, Maryland visiting a weak Penn State team and toss-up ACC home games that include Iowa-Wake Forest and Indiana-Boston College, plus a potential upset if Florida State can beat Ohio State in Tallahassee.
For the sake of argument, that would mean home Big Ten victories by Northwestern (vs. Georgia Tech), Illinois (vs. North Carolina) and Wisconsin (vs. NC State) wouldn't even be enough to offset an ACC victory.
But regardless of what occurs, the ACC/Big Ten Challenge has provided an opportunity for a number of teams -- the opportunity to right a loss in an early-season tournament and/or pick up a much-needed quality win.
"We're all trying to figure ourself out now,'' Illinois coach Bruce Weber said. "Whether you're coming off a big win or a loss. Now you've got Big Ten, high-level games with a lot of attention. It's a good test for your team to figure out if you're for real or not. Your season can go in a lot of different ways. It's a good test to see how your team will respond, whether it's off a loss or a win.''
Florida State lost at home Sunday to Florida. The Seminoles could erase that with a win over second-ranked Ohio State, which has already won at Florida. Wisconsin is hosting NC State after losing to Notre Dame on Sunday in the final of the Old Spice Classic. The Badgers had already lost at UNLV. NC State dropped the title game of the Charleston Classic to Georgetown. Both teams could use a quality nonconference win.
Northwestern is undefeated and hoping to go to the NCAA tournament for the first time. But if the host Wildcats are to be taken seriously, shouldn't they beat Georgia Tech, which lost at Kennesaw State? Maryland failed to win a 2K Sports Classic game in New York against Pitt and Illinois. So if the Terps are a real threat to finish second in the ACC, shouldn't they win at struggling Penn State?
Purdue is fresh off a loss to Richmond in the final of the Chicago Invitational, and Virginia Tech lost Sunday night to UNLV in the final of the 76 Classic. The Hokies had already lost at Kansas State on Nov. 16. The combination of ensuring enough prep time and cost containment led Virginia Tech to chip in with Tulsa for a charter flight on the way to and from Anaheim. Hokies coach Seth Greenberg said the plane dropped Tulsa off early Monday morning. The Hokies arrived in Blacksburg at 8 a.m. after playing the night before against UNLV. The importance of the Purdue game pushed Greenberg to secure the flight.
Virginia Tech opened the season at home against Campbell, then went to Kansas State and UNC Greensboro (at Greensboro Coliseum, site of the ACC tournament) before visiting Anaheim for three games. The Hokies play Purdue at home, host Virginia to open the ACC schedule, host Penn State and then play Mississippi State at the Atlantis resort on Paradise Island in the Bahamas. This will be the first game heralded newcomer and Bulldogs center Renardo Sidney is eligible.
"This is a big stretch for us,'' Greenberg said. "The pre-Thanksgiving tournaments might make more sense when you're in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. But we wouldn't get a Purdue to come to Blacksburg if it weren't for the Challenge. That's part of the culture. It's part of the business. Anytime you're playing an opponent like this, it's an opportunity. It sounds crazy now in November, but you're building your profile and your résumé.
"These games don't hurt you, but they can sure help you.''
He's right. So far, Virginia Tech has played three games against possible NCAA teams and lost two (Kansas State and UNLV) and the one it won (Oklahoma State) is a bubble team at best at this point. That's why a game against Purdue takes on even more significance, regardless of what event it is folded into. The Hokies won't get much bang out of a win over Penn State at home, leaving a neutral-site tilt against Mississippi State as their last significant nonconference game.
Virginia Tech knows all too well that it can't rely solely on the ACC getting its profile up to earn a potential at-large berth.
Duke and Michigan State, the opponents in the headline game in this event, will be fine either way. Both schools will be in the field, possibly as No. 1 seeds, and they'll play enough quality teams to place too much emphasis on this one game.
That's not the case for the other games.
North Carolina (lost two games in Puerto Rico) can turn its season around with a win at Illinois and a game against Kentucky at home Saturday.
Illinois beat Maryland and follows the Carolina game with a matchup in Seattle against Gonzaga on Saturday. Playing Missouri in St. Louis in a few weeks will create another opportunity for a quality win before the loaded Big Ten schedule.
"This is like a Big Ten week for us,'' Weber said. "We had a little test in New York. Now we have another test this week. These are really good games for us. We're at home. You hope you can win. But there are no guarantees.''
Just ask Minnesota, which appeared to be the one lock for the Big Ten when it hosted Virginia. The Cavs didn't see it that way.
No guarantees indeed.
1. Duke: No reason to move the Blue Devils. Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith had tremendous summers working out with the USA Basketball select team. The buzz around newcomer Kyrie Irving is just as high. The karma is all good in Durham with Mike Krzyzewski winning a gold medal at the FIBA World Championship in Turkey and the Blue Devils getting a commitment from one of the best players in the 2011 class in Austin Rivers.
2. Michigan State: The Spartans did dump Chris Allen, an indication that the differences between Allen and Tom Izzo were too wide to overcome. But Izzo is feeling quite good about the continued recovery of Kalin Lucas from an Achilles injury. Lucas will be treated carefully in practice over the next month as the Spartans see how much he can push himself. But Izzo is confident Delvon Roe is as healthy as he's been at MSU and fully expects Durrell Summers to be a star and Draymond Green to be a vocal leader.
3. Pittsburgh: The Panthers don't have the star power of the aforementioned top three. But this Panthers team is like an old-school Big East team that has experienced players who have been together and found roles. The summer trip to Ireland provided more positive bonding time for Jamie Dixon's crew as it takes on the role of Big East favorite. There were no flaws this summer, making it more palatable to move the Panthers up a few spots.
4. Kansas State: The Wildcats continue to have a positive vibe from their near brush with a Final Four berth. Kansas State returns Jacob Pullen and an expectation that returnees like Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels will continue to blossom. Clearly the rest of the Big 12 believes in the Wildcats, as well, since they were picked to win the league for the first time.
5. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have one of the top freshmen in the country in big man Jared Sullinger. Sure, they lost Evan Turner, but the rest of the wings return and the buzz on the Buckeyes remains that this team was more than Turner a year ago. If players like William Buford, David Lighty and Jon Diebler can handle the responsibility, the Bucks should be a national contender.
6. Kansas: Moving the Jayhawks up to No. 7 is clearly predicated on Josh Selby being eligible for the majority of the season. KU is waiting for Selby to get his academic clearance from the Eligibility Center. He can practice while this is pending, but Kansas needs him out on the court during the real stuff. There is still plenty of talent in Lawrence -- led by Marcus Morris, who coach Bill Self is convinced will be a star -- but Selby is the key for the Jayhawks to be top-10 good.
7. Villanova: The Wildcats didn't rely on Scottie Reynolds in his last few games as much and they survived. Reynolds' eligibility expired and Corey Fisher is the next one to pick up the mantel. Jay Wright had another solid offseason, coaching the USA Basketball select team. There is an expectation now that Wright's teams won't dip. Like Pitt, Villanova is considered a regular near the top of the league on a yearly basis.
8. Gonzaga: The Zags had quite a summer with Elias Harris, Kelly Olynyk and Robert Sacre all playing for their respective national teams. Gonzaga put together arguably the toughest nonconference schedule in the country, too. If Demetri Goodson and Steven Gray can elevate their game as lead guards after the departure of Matt Bouldin, the Zags will be deserving of a top-10 ranking.
9. Florida: The Gators return all five starters from last season's No. 10 seed in the NCAA tournament. But the addition of Patric Young is surely going to bolster this squad. Young won gold for the USA junior national team this summer and proved to be an invaluable member of that squad. His tenacity, hustle plays and overall team focus means he could be a difference-maker for Florida this season.
10. Syracuse: The Orange move up six spots from the May poll in large part because coach Jim Boeheim is almost never wrong about evaluating and projecting his team's talent. Most of the time he hits on the major contributors and Boeheim said Kris Joseph is ready to be a star. He also expects big man Fab Melo to have a monster season, notably on the defensive end where he can block shots and grab rebounds. While it's hard to see yet where and how much C.J. Fair and Dion Waiters will play, they have already impressed, meaning the freshman class will make this team even deeper.
11. Kentucky: If Enes Kanter's eligibility was a certainty, the Wildcats would move up into the top 10. His amateurism eligibility decision is still to be determined. But what can be stated is Kentucky showed on a trip to Canada that the returning players are up for the challenge of a new role. Darius Miller and DeAndre Liggins should flourish as John Calipari plays more of his dribble-drive-motion offense. Newcomers like point guard Brandon Knight, Doron Lamb, Terrence Jones and Stacey Poole are all ready to make major contributions.
12. Missouri: The Tigers move up a notch, even without newcomer Tony Mitchell, whose eligibility is in question and in a best-case scenario wouldn't be available until the Big 12 schedule starts. But Mike Anderson can't play the role of being underappreciated anymore. Missouri returns Kim English, a healthy Justin Safford, Marcus Denmon and adds a recruiting class that needs to get more love. Anderson is pushing the significance of point guard Phil Pressey and power forward Ricardo Ratliffe. If both are as impactful as projected, Mizzou may be a league title contender.
13. Illinois: My colleague Doug Gottlieb tabbed the Illini to win the Big Ten. I'm not going that far with Purdue, Michigan State and Ohio State to contend with. But Illinois has no excuse if this is not an NCAA season at the very least. Bruce Weber can't say enough about how much incoming freshman Jereme Richmond will mean to this team. Add him to an already talented roster that includes Mike Davis, Mike Tisdale, D.J. Richardson and returning lead guard Demetri McCamey and the Illini have their best chance since 2005 to challenge for a conference title.
14. North Carolina: Losing the Wear twins and senior Will Graves, the team's top 3-point threat, meant the Tar Heels had to drop a few slots. The talent is in place up front with the return of John Henson and Tyler Zeller and the addition of the top freshman in the country in Harrison Barnes. But the guard play is still a work in progress and an unknown with erratic Larry Drew II and the still-inexperienced Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald being joined by newcomers Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall.
15. Memphis: The Tigers did get Will Barton eligible after there were questions earlier in the summer once he missed the team's trip to the Bahamas. But all is good now. The Tigers certainly have the talent to be projected higher, but remember they didn't make the NCAAs last season and are leaning heavily on newcomers like Barton, Joe Jackson and Tarik Black. If the Tigers are to be worthy of the top 10, then returnees like Wesley Witherspoon and Will Coleman will have to continue their improvement.
16. Baylor: This is by far the biggest drop in my poll from May to October. The Bears were probably too high in that original poll. Losing Ekpe Udoh and Tweety Carter was significant and maybe I was putting too much emphasis on newcomer Perry Jones. But the reason for this drop is LaceDarius Dunn. He is currently suspended from game competition, but was just reinstated to the team to practice and attend class after allegations that he broke his girlfriend's jaw. But the uncertainty of Dunn's availability casts major doubt on whether the Bears can be a serious contender in the Big 12.
17. Washington: Like Jay Wright, there was positive karma with Lorenzo Romar sharing the coaching duties in Las Vegas for the USA Basketball select team. And the guard play is extremely solid with the return of Isaiah Thomas, Venoy Overton and Abdul Gaddy, wings Justin Holiday and newcomers led by Terrence Ross. Losing Quincy Pondexter shouldn't be underplayed, though. We'll know early enough about the Huskies when they go to the Maui Invitational with a possible semifinal matchup against Kentucky.
18. Butler: Shelvin Mack had a sensational summer and the buzz continues to build that he's one of the top guards in the country. Mack played on the USA select team and the more confident he becomes, the better chance Butler has of being back in the mix for a deep March run again. Sure, losing Gordon Hayward early to the NBA is hard to take for this group, but if Ronald Nored is healthy enough to be as much of a scorer as he was a defender and Matt Howard adds even more productivity and stays out of foul trouble, the Bulldogs won't disappoint.
19. Georgetown: The Hoyas return one of the best backcourts in the Big East with Austin Freeman, Chris Wright and Jason Clark. If Julian Vaughn, Hollis Thompson and newcomers Nate Lubick and Moses Abraham can help offset the loss of Greg Monroe, Georgetown will be in the chase in the Big East. The Hoyas put themselves in position early with another tough slate of nonconference games (going to Old Dominion, Temple and Memphis, to Kansas City to play Missouri, and adding a home game against always-tough Utah State) to gauge where this team will be in January.
20. Tennessee: I probably had the Vols slightly too high in May and the NCAA investigation swirling around the program doesn't help, let alone the self-imposed sanctions against the entire coaching staff that have left a cloud over the season. It shouldn't affect the on-court performance of the players, but it will certainly be a distraction for the coaches as they have to deal with questions throughout the fall. Tennessee still has one of the top newcomers in guard Tobias Harris, and if Scotty Hopson can make shots in bunches, the Vols should still finish in the top three in the loaded SEC East.
21. San Diego State: The Aztecs have quietly gone through the summer with their roster intact, led by one of the more underrated forwards in the country in Kawhi Leonard. Malcolm Thomas is another stud for coach Steve Fisher. If the point guard situation gets settled, the Aztecs should be a top-25 squad. San Diego State challenged itself with five straight games away from home to open the season, including going to Gonzaga before heading off to three games in Oxford, Ohio, as part of the CBE Classic. If the Aztecs survive that stretch, they'll be in a solid position to enter the MWC season as the favorite, fending off BYU, New Mexico and UNLV.
22. Minnesota: The Gophers got two players back that would have certainly helped in March. Lead guard Al Nolen, who became academically ineligible in February last season, is good to go, as is forward Trevor Mbakwe, who sat out last season pending an assault case. Mbakwe is back in the good graces at the school, which stood by him during the case. The Gophers went to Canada in August and returned an even more determined lot. Don't sleep on this squad, especially in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic. Nolen, Mbakwe, Devoe Joseph, Blake Hoffarber, Ralph Sampson III and Rodney Williams are all capable of leading the Gophers to a tournament win and into the top 25.
23. Purdue: On Friday, I ranked Purdue No. 2 and wrote that "the Boilermakers haven't had a single hiccup during the offseason." Less than 24 hours later, Robbie Hummel retore his right ACL during the team's first full practice. The loss can't be overstated. The Boilers still have a pair of All-Big Ten players in JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore and are still very much an NCAA tournament team, but it's hard to foresee this being a Final Four contender without Hummel.
24. Temple: The Owls got pushed down a peg by my newfound belief in Minnesota. Temple is still my pick to win the A-10 with the return of Lavoy Allen and guard Juan Fernandez. The Owls once again have a monster schedule that should tell us plenty by January, with an opener against Seton Hall, quality games in the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, playing Maryland in D.C., hosting Georgetown and going to Villanova. The Owls go to Duke, too, but that's not until late February. Oh, and of course, this team has one of the top coaches in the game in Fran Dunphy.
25. Georgia: I was bullish on the Bulldogs in May and I haven't dropped off in October with the return of Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie, two of the top talents in the SEC. Georgia also adds Tennessee State transfer Gerald Robinson, who should open up some scoring on the perimeter. UGA will certainly be pushed in an SEC East that could produce up to five NCAA tourney teams, but the Bulldogs have some summer buzz and momentum heading into that Old Spice Classic tournament in Orlando, especially with an opener against Notre Dame.
Who got pushed out of the poll?
Virginia Tech: The Hokies were No. 22 in my May poll, but they lost one of their key rotation players in J.T. Thompson to a knee injury. Of course, the return of Malcolm Delaney means they will be in the hunt for a top-two finish in the ACC and an NCAA berth. But the Hokies weren't an NCAA team last season and losing a key player pushed them down a few spots for now.
A dozen more to watch (in alphabetical order): BYU, Florida State, New Mexico, Texas, UNLV, Utah State, Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Wichita State, Wisconsin, Xavier