Category archive: Utah State Aggies

Nine days after collapsing during a workout, Wichita State's D.J. Bowles had surgery to install an internal defibrillator Thursday at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.

WSU coach Gregg Marshall told USA Today that the incoming freshman experienced a "cardiac arrest event" 30 minutes into the workout and "scared the heck out of all of us."

They know the feeling in Logan, Utah.

On Dec. 4, 2012, in preparation for a rivalry game against BYU, Utah State forward Danny Berger found himself moments from death. He went into full cardiac arrest. The heroism of Utah State trainer Mike Williams revived him with the aid of an automated external defibrillator.

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Danny Berger
Tommy LaPorte/Icon SMIAfter a near-death experience last year, Danny Berger is ready to start a new season with Utah State.

Less than a year later, Berger is back on the court. He has an implanted defibrillator, put in while he was at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, within a week of collapsing. Berger is cleared to play for the Aggies without any restrictions. He is the product of modern medicine and cheating death, and he is embracing the second chance.

"Basketball is an enormous part of my life," Berger said. "I'm sure it is to a lot of people too. I want to be that guy that is an example to a lot of people. I want to give them hope."

Berger, a 6-foot-6 wing, is expected to be a full contributor for the Aggies in their first season in the Mountain West. He is in competition for a starting position.

Utah State coach Stew Morrill witnessed Berger's collapse during practice. So too did his teammates. Same goes for Bowles' teammates at WSU. And like Williams at Utah State, Wichita State trainer Todd Fagan is being hailed as a hero for his "quick and professional response," according to a statement from Shockers' athletic director Eric Sexton.

The perspective gained over the past year isn't lost on Morrill. The Aggies, a perennial power in the WAC, had a rare down season a year ago. Berger had transferred from a community college and was expected to contribute. Injuries took out Sean Harris, Preston Medlin and Kyisean Reed along with Berger. That's four scorers gone from an Aggies team that still mustered 21 wins and 11 in the WAC.

"I gathered the team together in summer workouts and told them that they've got to take care of themselves because last year killed me," Morrill said. "Danny then spoke up and said, 'Me too.' It was a great line. He has a great sense of humor. But seriously, he is an unbelievable kid."

Berger took his new life and wanted to do something more. He found out the AED used by Utah State was put in by a fund from Hoops for Heart Health, created by former Providence and current Oklahoma City Thunder wing Ryan Gomes.

Earlier this summer, Berger went to Connecticut to meet with Gomes and play in the foundation's golf tournament.

"He donated the AED that saved my life," Berger said. "I wanted to understand the education of these and how to get more of them out there. A lot of them need to be updated and need maintenance. We need to get people to understand how to use them too."

Gomes said his foundation initially put them in recreational centers, but eventually some universities came on board.

Twelve schools got AEDs -- and Utah State was one of them.

"To know Danny was saved by one of them means a lot," Gomes said, "but the credit goes to staff and trainer [Williams] to know what to do."

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Ryan Gomes
Noah Graham/NBAE via Getty ImagesRyan Gomes' foundation Hoops for Heart Health emphasizes the need for AEDs.

Gomes, who said the death of Stanley Myers in his home state of Connecticut got him interested in this project, spoke with Berger via Skype last winter when Gomes was playing in Germany.

"These aren't just for the well-trained athletes on campus but for everyone," Gomes said of the AEDs, which cost about $1,500 per unit. "You can see how when it saves one person's life, it changes the approach to them all over campus."

Berger said he and his father raised money to get one donated in his hometown of Medford, Ore.

"So when I hear about this happening to other people, I want to get the word out even more," Berger said.

"Danny has had a great summer," Morrill said. "He has worked hard in the weight room to get muscle definition. He nearly lost his life. He didn't think he'd play basketball again. He'll be a junior for us since he got his redshirt year back. He's ready to go."

Morrill said he will use Berger at both forward positions. He's more of a stretch 4 than a power player. Spencer Butterfield plays a big guard/wing for the Aggies, who will likely be somewhere in the middle of the pack in the MWC this season, behind favorites New Mexico and Boise State.

"When I met with Danny this summer, he said he'd be fine coming off the bench," Morrill said. "I said, 'Don't give that up already.' We've had lots of conversations, and nobody feels like he would be playing with restrictions. He wouldn't be out here if he had any. Knowing that he has that chest monitor in there is a big relief to me. I'm sure for him as well. I'm sure everything crosses his mind out there. The mental thing will be what he has to deal with the most.

"But it's business as usual here for us. Our trainer [Williams] is always right there. He saved Danny's life. But he gives us all confidence that he's there. If I felt there were any restrictions on him, then it would be tough, but there aren't."

Berger was cleared in the spring once he was healed from the surgery. He has been lifting weights, playing in open gym and gaining his strength.

"I'd like to think I've gotten stronger," Berger said. "I've started conditioning, and I'm running my guts out. I hope I'm even better than I was before."

He said there were periods of apprehension on the court at first, but they are gone. He said he needs to work on his shooting and ensure he's taking care of the ball to keep his assist-to-turnover ratio down. Rebounding, especially with his slight build if he plays the 4, will be critical too.

Wichita State isn't discussing Bowles' prognosis. The word from the Shockers is coaches, players and staff are still shaken up over what they witnessed.

Once they're ready, Berger can answer questions and show them recovery can safely occur.

Berger made it to the other side and not only lived to talk about it but is back playing the same game on the exact court on which he collapsed.

He can't wait for the season opener against USC on Nov. 8 in Logan.

"I've probably daydreamed about that moment at least once a day," Berger said. "It makes me think about how much I'm thankful to God for what he's done for me and the miracles he has performed in the past year. It could have gone the other way. I may not have been playing basketball right now, but I am. It's such a blessing and a special feeling to get out there and start playing again."

There was no bright light or vision.

Instead, all Danny Berger saw was black, a darkness for a split second and then nothing.

He was down on the Utah State practice court, heading into cardiac arrest.

"People ask me if I had a crazy experience, some sort of near-death story to tell,'' Berger said, a week after being brought back to life by the heroic work of athletic trainer Mike Williams. "I didn't have any of that. It all went black, and my body just shut down.

Moments earlier he was in a defensive drill. He had felt light-headed.

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Danny Berger
Tommy LaPorte/Icon SMIDanny Berger says he isn't taking basketball as seriously after his near-death experience.

He hadn't slept well lately. He was more tired than usual. He would later learn that his potassium level was low. But none of it was a signal to him that his heart was on the verge of stopping. He had never had any heart problems in 22 years.

He once had a concussion, and he's sprained his ankle before. But he was not a candidate for sudden heart failure.

"I felt completely normal in practice,'' said Berger. "We were just preparing for the game [against rival BYU the next night, Dec. 5, which would be postponed because of Berger's condition until Feb. 19 in Provo]. We were running through some plays, I got light-headed, and then I went down. I don't remember anything until I woke up in the hospital.''

Berger was told his heart was speeding. The abnormal beats led to a cardiac arrest. Williams was on the scene and applied CPR first before calling for the automated external defibrillator (AED) to shock Berger's heart back.

In what Berger can only describe as a miracle, he's been at practice and around the team for the past few days and is ready to resume his schoolwork a week after being minutes from death.

He is indebted to Williams.

"We were good friends before this and I respected him, but I don't think words can describe how grateful I am,'' said Berger. "I told him, 'I can't ever repay you.' And he said, 'You just did. You're here. That's all you have to do.' He is a lifelong family friend now.''

He is incredibly thankful for the technology of AEDs and their accessibility, something that the late Hank Gathers didn't have when he collapsed on a Loyola Marymount court in 1990. And Berger will do anything in his power to promote AEDs.

"To think what would have happened if he had the same resources I did,'' said Berger. "I think about what if this happened to me when I was walking home or in the car or by myself with no one else around. This had to happen at the perfect time in the perfect place, and people had to be aware to do their job, and everyone did it perfectly. They did what they're supposed to do. I have had time to think about it and continue to wake up every day and be grateful that I'm here, that everything worked out and I can't believe it. It's just a miracle.''

Berger will go through some tests to see why it occurred. But there is no guarantee he will get an answer. Doctors inserted a permanent defibrillator in his chest as a safety measure, something he hopes will never go off, not because it didn't work but in the hope it never has to be used.

He can't raise his left arm up above his heart for three weeks due to that surgery. But he's out of the hospital and resuming schoolwork. He's watching the Aggies practice and play games. And he's doing it a week after this life-changing and lifesaving event. Amazing.

Berger was a starter for the Aggies for 25 of 31 games as a sophomore last season after returning from a two-year Mormon mission where the Medford, Ore., native served in Detroit. Berger was averaging 7.6 points in 22 minutes in the first five games this season for Stew Morrill, who, he said, has been tremendously supportive of him, as have his teammates. But playing basketball isn't going to be his profession. Berger wants to return to the game. But he won't push it and clearly won't be allowed back on the court until it is deemed safe by all parties.

"Basketball gives me a lot of happiness and joy, but I would play with a different perspective if I played and won't take it as serious,'' said Berger. "There's more to life than basketball. This made me think that we're here for a lot of reasons, and I've got to figure out spiritually what they are. I want to accomplish those reasons, and I think there's many of them, not just one or two.''

"I'm turning 23 on May 12. On Dec. 4, I'll celebrate my second birthday (after his near-death experience). I'm going to do everything I can to spread the word about AEDs. No one is happier than I am,'' said Berger.

Berger is now in a club that no one wants to be in, but he made it. It's for those who survive cardiac arrest through the help of CPR and an AED and heroic first responders.

"It's a humble club, and people who are in it are really thankful to be in it for the outcome to be the way it was,'' said Berger. "It's a good ending.''

If you want to know a real hero in athletics, his name is Mike Williams.

He's Utah State's athletic trainer, and he saved the life of Aggies player Danny Berger on Tuesday.

If you want to know someone who has his priorities straight, his name is Scott Barnes. He's the Utah State athletic director who didn't even flinch about Wednesday night's game at BYU. He decided not to play it.

If you want to know two coaches who have tremendous respect for each other and who were in complete sync on what to do with that game, their names are Stew Morrill (Utah State) and Dave Rose (BYU).

And if you'd like to know a school that understands what is most important in a crisis that didn't directly affect it, it's BYU.

Berger collapsed during practice. He remains at the Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah, where as of Wednesday night, he was "awake, alert and able to communicate with medical personnel and family," according to a Utah State release.

"It was the hardest practice situation in my 27 years as a head coach,'' Morrill said. "Our trainer is a hero. He saved Danny's life. This has been tough on our players.''

Too often we hear about a heroic play in sports, but the term shouldn't be used unless it's heroism in its truest form. A dramatic play, even playing with an injury, isn't heroic. Saving lives on the battlefield, dealing with the aftermath of a terrorist attack in the seconds after an explosion, running into a burning building or putting your life at risk for someone else is heroism. So, too, is what first responders do every day in dealing with life-saving situations on the road, in hospitals and anywhere else.

In sports, an athletic trainer has to do his job to perfection in a time of crisis. That's heroic. It happened at Tennessee in 2009, when Emmanuel Negedu collapsed and athletic trainer Chad Newman saved his life.

Last month, Wisconsin athletic trainer Henry Perez-Guerra saved Mike Bruesewitz from a potentially devastating, career-ending injury when he knew exactly how to handle the laceration that was almost centimeters from causing nerve damage.

"Thank God for our trainer and the job he did in following protocol,'' Barnes said. "He not only applied CPR but he knew to use the defibrillator within the first few minutes, and that was key. That was a critical move.''

Barnes said the AED (automated external defibrillator) was put in roughly five years ago and has become commonplace in most, if not all, athletic facilities on college campuses.

Can you imagine if the Aggies had to go to Provo to play a game? That's what I don't understand in these tragic situations when the common response is to go ahead as scheduled, in part because the player would want it to occur to find some sort of normalcy. But sometimes it's just too soon to think of something so benign.

A game, regardless of whether it's a rivalry or in state, would have been inappropriate 24 hours after one of the players involved was in a hospital and fighting for his life. There are moments that are too dramatic to simply compartmentalize, shove aside and move on to the next event. There needs to be time to decompress and gather thoughts.

"In a circumstance like this, athletic competition takes a backseat,'' Barnes said. "We didn't know Danny's condition. How could we appropriately play a basketball game while a student-athlete is in critical condition?''

The answer is you can't. I disagreed when the Kansas City Chiefs hosted an NFL game on Sunday, 24 hours after one of its players committed a murder-suicide, with the latter occurring at the team's facility.

The game is still a game.

"We'll get it figured out,'' Rose said on finding a new date to play the game. He knows all too well about a medical crisis after he had a miraculous recovery from a pancreatic tumor that fortuitously went to his spleen, which could be removed, and not his liver. "When Danny's situation is resolved, we will figure it out.''

Barnes said everyone is cautiously optimistic that Berger will pull through. The reason for his collapse and his long-term prognosis are still unknown.

What we do know is Williams is a hero, and Utah State and BYU made the correct call in dealing with the crisis.

"We have a moral obligation to understand the circumstances and respect the situation,'' Barnes said. "The last thing on our minds was to play a basketball game. Even if it were a home game, it wouldn't have mattered. Yes, we needed the cooperation of the other school, but it's student-athletes playing the game, and one of ours was fighting for survival. We had to be there for him, and everything else was secondary.''

When it came to bylaws about departing teams, the Horizon, Colonial and America East didn't buckle.

There are consequences that come along with a departure. Being ineligible for the conference tournament is one of them for these leagues. Butler (Horizon) and Virginia Commonwealth (CAA) accepted that and got to the Atlantic 10 as fast as possible.

What school wouldn't do the same if the opportunity existed? Scheduling, television exposure and tourney access are the most important reasons -- outside of the financial benefits -- for being in a conference.

Take away the ability to play for an automatic NCAA tournament berth and the season can seem like a waste. Postseason bans, such as the one USC had recently and the one Connecticut will endure this season, take the air out of the season -- even if the schools and coaches do all they can to create a new goal of winning a regular-season title.

Even though both would likely be contenders for at-large berths, Butler and VCU took no chances.

Boston University, on the other hand, probably would leave for the Patriot League tomorrow if it could. The Terriers weren't pleased with the decision by the America East to uphold its bylaws, but they are stuck. The current team will have to deal with it.

Old Dominion and Georgia State were hoping the CAA would lift its ban, but it did not. Georgia State went as far as to explore trying to get into the Sun Belt sooner, but that didn't happen.

The Horizon, CAA and America East are actually not the norm historically.

After losing members in the past decade, the Big East, Atlantic 10, Big West, C-USA, Mountain West and WAC have not even broached the subject, much like the Big 12 didn't when it lost members to the Pac-12, Big Ten and SEC. The Big East didn't block West Virginia from playing in the conference tournament a year ago after it announced its hasty departure to the Big 12. Perhaps the smaller conferences are worried that the league will have only one bid and don't want it to go to the school with one foot out the door.

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Fisher
Christopher Hanewinckel/US PresswireSteve Fisher and the Aztecs will get a chance to compete in their final MWC tourney.

But when I asked some of the coaches playing in their final season in a conference, the question was met with near astonishment.

Pitt coach Jamie Dixon wanted to know if I was joking. San Diego State's Steve Fisher said he hadn't even heard of these conferences not allowing schools to participate. Utah State's Stew Morrill said he didn't think the WAC would do such a thing since previous schools that left weren't treated in that manner. Memphis coach Josh Pastner said he would be incredibly disappointed if that occurred. (C-USA took away the conference tournament from the city of Memphis but didn't remove the Tigers' ability to play for the title.)

But what would happen if these conferences turned on the departing teams in 2013? It's too late to change the bylaws and isn't going to happen, but it's still fun to play the "what if" game.

What effect would it have had on the Big East to take Pittsburgh and Syracuse out of the tournament?
A serious blow. The league may be squabbling with the two schools -- and will do so in court with Pitt -- but it needs these two in the conference tournament as long as possible. Syracuse is a natural draw at Madison Square Garden. Taking the Orange out of the Big East would have been a major mistake. The Orange and Panthers still don't have a definitive arrival date in the ACC, but it's likely to be in the summer of 2013.

What would it have done to Syracuse and Pitt for a potential at-large berth?
Likely no issue at all. Both have teams that look like virtual locks for an at-large bid.

What would happen to the Atlantic 10 if Temple and Charlotte weren't allowed in the tournament?
Let's be honest: Charlotte won't be missed on its way back to Conference USA. But Temple's departure will be a hit, as the Owls have consistently been a major part of the A-10 tournament. Not having a Temple presence, prior to the Owls' exit to the Big East, would have hurt the tourney's debut in Brooklyn. Bringing in Butler and VCU will offset the loss, but Temple still is very much associated with the A-10 brand.

What if the Big West banned Pacific?
That would be just cruel. The Big West has had teams leave before, and it might happen again. Plus, this is coach Bob Thomason's final season after a quarter-century at his alma mater, and he said he has a team that could challenge for the Big West title. He has been a loyal member, and Pacific is leaving for the all-private WCC. No harm in letting the Tigers finish up, and it won't hurt the Big West one bit.

What if Conference USA blocked Memphis, SMU, UCF and Houston?
Then C-USA would have a tournament that lacked any sort of buzz. Marshall is a legitimate title challenger to Memphis, and UTEP should be in contention. If the Tigers had been blocked from being in the tournament, after it was taken from the city, C-USA's relevance during Championship Week would have been diminished even more. It's still hard to say how many Memphis fans will travel to Tulsa, Okla., but the Tigers do have a significant following. This was a smart move by the league to not play bitter politics with the departing members.

What would the Mountain West tournament be like without San Diego State and Boise State?
A bit less exciting. The Aztecs have been one of the consistent winners in the MWC with UNLV and New Mexico. Take SDSU, off to the Big West, out of the event in Las Vegas, and the tournament would lose luster. No offense to Boise, but no one would likely notice if the Broncos weren't invited. But SDSU matters a great deal. The Aztecs will be a top-25 team alongside UNLV. Taking them out of the conference tournament would have been a storyline the MWC doesn't need in March.

What would a WAC tournament look like without Utah State and San Jose State?
Not worth it. USU has been the benchmark program in the WAC since Morrill arrived. New Mexico State can't anchor the conference on its own. NMSU needs a rival, and Utah State has been that nemesis. San Jose State wouldn't be missed, but the Aggies' absence would have been a glaring omission in Las Vegas. Rebuilding Utah State will likely need the tournament to get a bid this season, but the WAC was in no position to be punitive. So the Aggies will have one final chance to represent the WAC before it joins SJSU and former WAC members Fresno State and Nevada in the Mountain West.

Stew Morrill was a bit reluctant to talk to the fans at the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum Wednesday night.

Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes said he prodded Morrill to do so. And why not? Morrill is beloved in Logan, Utah, for good reason.

He wins. He wins. He wins.

And despite the most overhauled roster since his inaugural season 13 years ago, the Aggies are still the media's pick to win the WAC.

"It won't be official until they're dethroned,'' New Mexico State coach Marvin Menzies said. "They're the champs until someone takes it from them. They've proven historically that they are the dominant team in the conference. Stew has built up a system and a program that has proven to be successful.''

Nevada has five starters returning. New Mexico State is a contender, too. The coaches selected Nevada first, NMSU second and USU third.

"I tease Stew; he doesn't think he'll win a game this year,'' Barnes said. "But the expectations are his fault since he's set such a high level. We're not the frontrunners by any stretch, but there is great respect. And I've seen an additional spark in his eye. He's really excited about the players here. It's a different kind of excitement. He's not sure what will happen this year.''

Stew MorrillBrian Losness/US PresswireStew Morrill has won 324 games in 13 seasons as Utah State's coach.

Morrill's run at Utah State is one of the best-kept secrets in college basketball. The Aggies, tucked away in Logan, have always been the third-class citizen in the state to Utah and BYU. But they've been a model of consistency lately.

The NCAA tournament success hasn't occurred like Utah's run to the title game in 1998 and multiple Sweet 16s with different coaches. BYU's Sweet 16 run last season can't be matched, either. Utah State has one NCAA tournament win under Morrill, and that came in 2001, when the Aggies beat Ohio State.

But Morrill has coached the Aggies to 324 wins in 13 seasons, and his teams have gone to 12 straight postseasons, eight NCAAs -- including the past three -- and four NITs. The last time Utah State had made three straight NCAA appearances was from 1962-64.

"The 12 straight postseasons are in jeopardy,'' Morrill said. "To go to 12 straight at the mid-major level is hard to do. I would say it's in jeopardy, and I hope that motivates the team when they read that.''

Morrill did well in his Colorado State tenure, but couldn't make the NCAA tournament out of the WAC. When he moved over to Utah State, he said it was deemed as a lateral or even backward move since USU was in the Big West at the time. The Aggies moved to the WAC shortly after he arrived. A Nevada run -- led by Trent Johnson and Mark Fox -- ensued before Morrill took over the lead in the conference.

"Nevada won five straight titles but then lost so many to the NBA,'' said Fox, now the head coach at Georgia. "Utah State's system of play has no leaks at either end. And there isn't a better disciplined team in America.''

The changing landscape in the WAC, which will see Nevada and Fresno State depart for the Mountain West Conference and Hawaii to the Big West next season, puts the onus on the Aggies to stay for the future of the conference. But they're always a potential target of the MWC if that league wants to get back into the state after losing BYU to independence in football and the WCC in all other sports and Utah to the Pac-12.

"Just like the WAC looked to Nevada several years back for national credibility, Utah State has become the flag bearer for the league,'' WAC commissioner Karl Benson said. "The continuity of the coach is the key. Stew Morrill has built a system and brings in players who may not be blue-chip players but creates a blue-chip team. I compare the job that he has done with what the Boise State football coaches have done from Dan Hawkins to Chris Petersen.''

One of the hidden secrets to Utah State's success is the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum. The Aggies are a remarkable 193-13 at home and 100-8 in league play under Morrill. Of course, outside of Utah and BYU, Utah State can't get any significant power teams to come to the Spectrum. The Aggies finally broke through and played a road game at a power-six last season, when they went to Georgetown. But the Hoyas wouldn't return the game.

Here's why: "It's the toughest place to play,'' said Saint Louis coach Rick Majerus, who coached Utah against Utah State every season of his tenure there and played at the Spectrum every other year. "I've been to Duke. I've been to the Pit. I've been to Indiana, Minnesota, Purdue, Arizona and around the country. I know the dynamic may change since it's Utah-Utah State.

"It's not mean-spirited, it's not like you're going to get hit with a hot dog or anything. I went to Oakland Raider games. Utah State has an Oakland Raider mentality without the knives and guns.''

Majerus didn't stop there.

"It's the only show in town,'' he said. "The fans sit right behind you. The arena is really tough. It's difficult to get to. You have to fly into Salt Lake City and drive in the winter on this treacherous drive that's like a driveway to death. You're going up to altitude, and I don't care what Tark says about playing indoors, the altitude still bothers you.''

That's a reference to former Fresno State coach Jerry Tarkanian, who told his players that playing at Colorado State and Wyoming won't be a problem because the altitude is outside, not in.

"It's a great home environment, the best in the conference,'' Menzies said. "They've got a great thing going there.''

Morrill said he knew when he took the job that the home court was the selling point, an advantage that Colorado State didn't have in Fort Collins.

"Our seniors went 68-1 here in five years,'' Morrill said.

The Aggies leaned on two seniors during a scrimmage Wednesday night. Forward Brady Jardine and point guard Brockeith Pane combined for 12 points, while redshirt freshman Ben Clifford was the top scorer (eight points) and rebounder (six).

Utah State doesn't appear to have talent that compares to Nevada's Deonte Burton and Dario Hunt or NMSU's Wendell McKines.

But while Burton was picked as the league's preseason player of the year by the coaches, Pane was the choice of the media.

There is still talent left here. But is this is the year when Utah State finally gets beat and knocked off its perch atop the conference?

"We've got our hands full,'' Barnes said. "We're not the frontrunners. But as long as he's here, there's a race.''

Editor's Note: Andy Katz's revised top 25 was published on Friday with Purdue at No. 2. With Saturday's news of Robbie Hummel's devastating retorn ACL, Katz has issued an updated version:

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

With the official start of practice Friday night, it feels like a good time to revisit my preseason top 25, which hasn't been touched since the final underclassman decisions were made in mid-May.

Not much has changed near the top. Duke is still No. 1, and will be in the majority of long-standing polls in the mainstream media and fledgling ones across the blogosphere.

But these Blue Devils aren't the 2009 Tar Heels. Duke is unquestionably the national favorite, but it's hardly an intimidating force. The schedule will favor the Devils in every game they play, but if they were to get beat by Kansas State or Gonzaga in Kansas City or by Michigan State at Cameron, or by Butler in New Jersey, no one would stop and consider it a tectonic shift in the season.

As for the rest of the poll, the pair of Big Ten teams at No. 2 (Purdue) and No. 3 (Michigan State) has not moved. But eligibility issues and suspensions over the past five months have forced some changes elsewhere in my top 25. Summer success, injuries and a re-evaluation of some teams has also caused some alterations.

So here is my new poll in advance of the season:

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. Purdue: The Boilermakers haven't had a single hiccup during the offseason. They have been quiet, which is just fine for a team that could be Duke's toughest challenge. Robbie Hummel continues to be on schedule to play this season after suffering an ACL tear in February. JaJuan Johnson and E'Twaun Moore join Hummel and offer Purdue the treat of three seniors who are all-Big Ten players. This team is a prime candidate for a spot in Houston.

3. 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.

4. 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.

5. 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.

6. 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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

12. 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.

13. 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.

14. 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.

15. 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.

16. 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.

17. 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.

18. 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.

19. 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.

20. 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.

21. 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.

22. 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.

23. 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.

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

Hawaii has talked to the Big West about adding all its sports -- save football -- to the California-based conference, but it will only happen if the Warriors decide to go independent in football.

That's according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. The move to the Big West would make sense for men's and women's basketball and certainly for softball, baseball and volleyball, where the addition of Hawaii would give the Big West the needed six members for an automatic berth.

The Big West tournament is moving to the Honda Center, the home of the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, in 2011. Hawaii's women's sports programs were in the Big West from 1984-96. So there is history.

But is it doable, and is it necessary, and why is this going on in the first place?

Going independent in football isn't a foreign concept for Hawaii. Former coach June Jones floated the idea in 2004. But the economy was better then and teams were playing only 11 games, so playing a 12th game when a team goes to Hawaii had some benefits.

Now, with teams already playing 12 games, going for a 13th game may not be as much of a selling point. Hawaii football may have to play eight road games in a given year, and the Warriors would hardly like to do that nor would it make sense economically for the program.

Hawaii wouldn't be considering this if Fresno State and Nevada didn't leave the WAC for the MWC (effective in 2012) last week. According to sources, those moves, despite what MWC commissioner Craig Thompson is saying, may not have occurred had BYU not entertained being a football independent. And that might not have been broached had Utah not been plucked to go to the Pac-10. And that only happened because Texas turned down the Pac-10, and because of that decision, so did at least four other Big 12 schools.

One of the sticking points for BYU is that the Cougars are still dealing with limitations on their own HD Network, BYUtv. Homes games not selected by the MTN or CBS College Sports aren't allowed to be on BYUtv. That means two marquee home nonconference basketball games -- against Fresno State (and former BYU coach Steve Cleveland) on Nov. 12 and former WAC rival UTEP Dec. 23 -- won't be on television. Games against Hawaii (Dec. 4) and Arizona (Dec. 11) are only on BYUtv because the games are in the Utah Jazz arena in Salt Lake City and are not considered true home games. And BYUtv is putting on two games at the Marriott Center against Chicago State and Mississippi Valley State Nov. 20 and 23 because those games are part of the South Padre Island tournament. The HD BYUtv truck will travel to Glens Falls, N.Y., to televise the Vermont-BYU game Dec. 8 in a home game for senior guard Jimmer Fredette.

So, as BYU waits to see if it can resolve the issue with BYUtv and waits to decide if it wants to be a member of the MWC in 2011 before a Sept. 1 deadline (or still go to the WAC or WCC in all sports except football), there are still moves to be made.

The shuffling between the MWC and the WAC may not move the BCS meter one bit for an automatic berth for the MWC. What it has done is possibly crushed the WAC in football, basketball and other sports.

And that's why Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes, like Hawaii athletic director Jim Donovan, is pausing on the severity of the next move.

Barnes put out a statement last week explaining that Utah State was the first of three schools which received an inquiry of interest from the MWC but declined because it signed a binding $5 million buyout that it wouldn't split from the WAC within five years.

WAC commissioner Karl Benson said once Fresno State and Nevada broke the agreement, the rest of the six schools were no longer bound to the agreement.

Barnes said Monday that Utah State has to look at all options but that the MWC has not issued a new inquiry of interest.

Utah State hasn't reached out to the WCC or the Big West. The WCC has made it clear it is not going to take public colleges or universities because its membership is made up only of church-based private schools. The Big West, according to a source with direct knowledge, has heard only from Hawaii and not the other remaining five WAC schools (Utah State, New Mexico State, Idaho, San Jose State or Louisiana Tech).

"We can't panic,'' Barnes said. "We can't make a hasty decision. We have to make the right decision because what we do could affect the WAC for the next 10 years.''

Barnes said if the WAC was to bring in other schools, like UT-San Antonio or Texas State or North Texas, it would revisit another binding agreement. Clearly, those schools need to know what they might be joining. Barnes is a new member of the NCAA tournament men's basketball selection committee. He knows he can't put Utah State in any situation where the men's basketball program doesn't have a chance to earn an automatic bid to the NCAAs.

A six-team WAC won't lose its AQ for two years after it drops below seven teams (at the minimum 2012 and '13) but must add a seventh team three years after (for 2014).

Regardless of what Hawaii, Utah State and other schools decide, the question that is asked by observers within the NCAA membership is what was it for? Adding Nebraska makes sense if the Big Ten wanted to be at 12 and the Cornhuskers are still within the footprint of the league. But the rest of the moves are lateral and don't really mean much more than possibly getting rid of a conference that has had a long history in the NCAA.

"What's important here is to make a rationale decision,'' Barnes said. "Our mission is to educate the student-athlete and win championships.''

If that's the mission, then why even move conferences in the first place?

• Keep an eye on what happens with two schools/programs and their powerful athletic directors. Texas-San Antonio athletic director Lynn Hickey, a member of the men's basketball selection committee, has a new Division I football program and the Alamodome to sell. That's in addition to a Texas market that could be tantalizing for the WAC. Meanwhile, Charlotte athletic director Judy Rose has a football program that is going to Division I in an area where football is popular. The 49ers might be a possible realignment team if there is movement within C-USA to go back to its former home.

• In a few weeks, the selection committee will discuss when and where the "First Four" games will be played. The committee has to decide how it will spread out the four games -- two games between the last four at-large schools for a seed line like an 11 or 12 and two games between the last four AQs for two of the 16 seed lines. The games will likely be in Dayton, but the question is will all four games be on Tuesday or two on Tuesday and two on Wednesday (evening or afternoon)? And will the games be split up with one AQ and at-large game on each day or the AQs one day and the at-large teams another? The NCAA is going through a new television mockup with four different networks to serve (CBS, TBS, TNT and Trutv) and all the games on simultaneously.

Utah State's Scott Barnes was the first remaining WAC athletic director to talk about loyalty and honoring a commitment.

What he could have added as well in his letter to USU fans is that his basketball program has stood quite well on its own for some time.

Lost amid the moves of Fresno State and Nevada to leave the WAC for the Mountain West in 2012 is how they will affect the Utah State men's basketball program.

The Aggies are gunning for their fourth straight regular-season WAC title and have been in the NCAA tournament three times since joining the WAC in 2005 (and two of three were as an at-large). The Aggies also made four NCAA tournament appearances out of the Big West under coach Stew Morrill.

For a school that lacks a national profile, that's certainly worth touting.

"We got shafted,'' said Morrill, reacting to the moves by Fresno State and Nevada to leave the WAC after agreeing to $5 million buyouts four days earlier. "But we'll be fine. We've been in a lot of different leagues and we've survived. We've survived in the Big West. We were fine. In the WAC, we've been fine. We'll stay in the WAC and it will change, but we'll be fine.''

The good news for Utah State and the rest of the WAC is that the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament isn't going away. The NCAA offered a clarification that if the WAC were to stay at six members in 2012-13, it would still have the AQ for the two seasons after the membership dropped below seven. But in the third season it would need to add a seventh school that has been a Division I member. You can be assured that will occur.

"That's huge to keep the AQ,'' Morrill said.

Adding BYU in men's basketball -- and the door isn't closed completely yet -- would have been a huge coup for Utah State. Utah will lose its home-and-home games with BYU after this season when the Utes go to the Pac-12 (the programs will still play once). If USU had secured a home-and-home in the same league with BYU it would have allowed it to differentiate itself against Utah within the state. Utah State has longed to be on equal footing with the Cougars and Utes.

"We've played [BYU] for 100 years or so and we'll play them either way if they're in our league or not,'' Morrill said. "If not, then we'll still play them in our nonconference. The game will always exist for sure.''

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Stew Morrill
AP Photo/Douglas C. PizacComing off a 27-win season, Stew Morrill and his Aggies will once again be the WAC favorites.

Amid the upheaval this week, Morrill gathered his staff and told them to make sure they are selling the Utah State program, maybe not the league, but the program for sure.

"We've been to 11 straight postseasons, seven NCAA tournaments and averaged 25 wins,'' Morrill said. "We've been in two different leagues and last year had an RPI of 30. Whatever our situation will be, in recruiting I tell our guys that we will have a strong basketball program. We average 10,000 fans, we're 176-13 at home since I've been here at Utah State. Sometimes you sell the league you're in and sometimes you have to sell your program.''

Utah State returns the core of its 27-win team from last season, led by Tai Wesley, Nate Bendall and Pooh Williams.

"These kids have won three straight and now they're all seniors,'' Morrill said. "And they're going to make a heckuva run to win four straight WAC regular-season titles. It will be an unbelievable feather in their cap. It's frustrating that football rules the world and we saw that on a much larger scale with Kansas. So much is based on football and that's why you have to have a strong program. The tendency is to panic, but I'm not into that in this stage in my life. We've been through different leagues before.''

Morrill though isn't budging much on his scheduling, especially when the Aggies received an NCAA at-large berth last season despite a schedule that didn't include much quality competition outside the region. Beating BYU was the best nonconference win for the Aggies and knocking off Wichita State later in the season didn't hurt.

"We must have done something right to get two at-large bids in the last five years,'' Morrill said. "I want to schedule smart. Everyone knows we have four starters back.''

Morrill said he was finally ready to do two-for-one agreements with power-six schools and tried to set one up with St. John's but said it was shot down. He's still looking for one game and is open to a similar deal.

The Aggies play two of their toughest nonconference games -- at BYU (Nov. 17) and Utah (Nov. 24) -- within a week. Going to Denver and Southern Utah won't be a walk since the games are on the road, but the Aggies should be the pick in both. Hosting Big West favorite Long Beach State and a tournament with Troy, Idaho State and Western Michigan are the other highlights for Morrill. On the surface, it's fair to question the schedule without a single power-six game on the slate. And it will be skewered come March if the Aggies don't have a daunting record.

But the Aggies have found ways to earn their bids and continue to be a success, in spite of the constant shift in conferences and alignment. Expect that to continue.

Siena is in the midst of a three-game road swing and is currently without its best player, Edwin Ubiles, who is out with a shoulder injury.

If the Saints, who are cruising in the MAAC with a 10-0 record, can survive this stretch -- let alone another five-game string against upstart Iona and Fairfield at home and Niagara, Canisius and Rider on the road -- still unbeaten in the league, then the BracketBusters opponent on either Feb. 19 or 20 will be even more important to the Saints' NCAA at-large hopes.

It's essentially Butler or bust.

If the Saints can win this week (at St. Peter's Thursday and at Marist on Saturday), there's a very good chance the Saints will be Butler's opponent in the highest-profile BracketBusters game. Matchups will be made this weekend so teams have a few weeks to deal with travel and scouting.

The concept has done wonders for some and been irrelevant for others, but one thing is certain: Teams that have an outside shot at an NCAA tourney at-large or are looking for a seed boost once they qualify as an automatic can't go wrong with another quality nonconference game in late February.

Some teams won't get that chance. The West Coast Conference isn't participating in the event and there are some omissions from other conferences like the Summit (only Oral Roberts and not Oakland), the America East (no Maine), the Big Sky (served up only Montana State and not Northern Colorado or Weber State).

There are 98 teams involved in 49 games during BracketBusters. The 11 games that will air on the ESPN family of networks are determined first and then the conference commissioners will pair up the remaining 76 teams.

Home and road teams are already set for the event, so it's a bit difficult to maneuver who can go where. But the most important aspect of matching teams should be done based on who has a shot to be in the field. Not all of the 22 set teams are in that group. Actually, maybe only six could have an outside shot at an at-large.

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Fran McCaffery
AP Photo/Mike CarlsonFran McCaffery is hoping BracketBusters provides a way to boost his team's NCAA at-large chances.

Siena is one of them.

"It's going to mean something and I would say if we could have a phenomenal league record and beat Butler and then not lose until the finals of the [MAAC] then we'd have a shot," said Siena coach Fran McCaffery. "We'll be right there in that discussion, but we don't want to get ahead of ourselves and assume the next five or six games."

McCaffery would actually be in favor of holding off on announcing the BracketBusters matchups until a few more weeks. But nevertheless, he still wants that Butler game. From a storyline perspective, it makes sense. Those are two of the better-known programs in the field and each has had some NCAA tournament success (Siena has won its last two first-round games).

"We're hoping we can put ourselves in position to get an at-large bid," McCaffery said. The problem for the Saints will be the six games prior to a possible showdown with Butler at Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis.

Ubiles didn't play against Manhattan on Jan. 18, played 33 minutes in a win over Loyola (Md.) on Jan. 21, but then missed the road game at Manhattan on Sunday. Meanwhile, guard Kyle Downey, who scored 16 points in Ubiles' absence in the first Manhattan game, broke his foot and is now out, possibly for the season.

"We're short-handed for this tough stretch, but I know we have to keep winning," said McCaffery.

Siena did beat Northeastern early in the season for what might turn out to be a solid win. It was a game McCaffery said was scheduled because "nobody wanted to play us and nobody wanted to play them and we're two hours away." But losses to Temple, St. John's, Georgia Tech and Northern Iowa were the supposed "up" games that the Saints failed to win.

Meanwhile, Butler has been rolling in the Horizon at 9-0 with a 16-4 record overall. That mark includes a win at Northwestern and home victories against Ohio State (without Evan Turner) and Xavier. Playing Clemson on a neutral court and UAB on the road (both losses) will help the power rating.

A year ago, Butler coach Brad Stevens said beating Davidson on the road was a key win for helping the Bulldogs get an at-large bid after losing to eventual champ Cleveland State in the conference tournament.

"We were coming off two losses that week before the Davidson game," Stevens said. "And you don't want to be on a losing streak at that time of the year. Doubt starts to creep in. That was a good win that got us going in the right direction."

Stevens knows the Bulldogs will get a quality BracketBusters opponent as the premier home team. There was a time when the staff was anticipating Wichita State as a possible opponent, but two losses last week for the Shockers have led to a belief that it could be Siena. Louisiana Tech, which tops the WAC, is also a possibility, but the name value of a Siena-Butler matchup may have more cachet.

The Bulldogs are handling their business in the Horizon as they become the top draw in every opposing building. That won't change as the Bulldogs go to Green Bay on Friday (ESPNU, 9 ET) and then to Milwaukee, two places the Bulldogs lost last season.

With Matt Howard staying out of foul trouble in the league after being in it throughout the nonconference, the Bulldogs are getting more of a complete effort. Gordon Hayward has been a Horizon MVP and barring a complete collapse, the Bulldogs are in good shape as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned.

Joining Butler as a BracketBusters home squad is Northern Iowa (8-1, 17-2), which leads the Missouri Valley. But Siena has already played Northern Iowa (the Panthers won 82-65) and that's why it makes more sense to send Siena to Butler and Louisiana Tech to Northern Iowa. The latter matchup may not seem headline-worthy to the mainstream fan, but these are the leaders in the WAC and MVC and both teams are talented enough to win a first-round NCAA tournament game.

If you were to pit Siena-Butler and Louisiana Tech-Northern Iowa, you'd likely have four teams that are going to be in the field of 65 matching up a few weeks before Selection Sunday.

The other hot teams are in the Colonial, but they obviously can't go up against each other. Northeastern, Old Dominion, George Mason and William & Mary all could be in play for the CAA's automatic bid with the Tribe the most likely at-large candidate because of nonconference wins over Wake Forest and Maryland on the road and Richmond at home.

That's why the question of who will play at GMU and Northeastern and where ODU and William & Mary will play during BracketBusters will be a fluid process this week.

I'd like to see the following: Wichita State at Northeastern as two of the top teams in the MVC and CAA; William & Mary hitting the road to play the best team in the Ohio Valley (Murray State); ODU traveling to Green Bay, pitting one of the top teams in the CAA against the second-best in the Horizon; and Charleston, which took out North Carolina, makes sense at George Mason in a matchup of two of the best from the Southern and CAA.

"We need a good game," said Northeastern coach Bill Coen, whose Huskies have won 11 games in a row, the third-longest streak in the country. "We've used all our mulligans and probably need to stay perfect the rest of the way to get an at-large berth. But in the spirit of the BracketBusters, we'd like to play our way into the conversation."

Northeastern failed to win games in the nonconference against potential NCAA teams Siena, Rhode Island and Saint Mary's before a humbling loss to Western Michigan in Honolulu on Dec. 23 -- its last loss -- set the team straight.

"It was good for us to be on the road because we had to take a hard look at ourselves," Coen said. "It was like a foreign tour. We were together all the time and had to go eat together breakfast, lunch and dinner and figure it out."

What happened was Northeastern got back to defending and Chaisson Allen started to play the point like Coen expected, teaming up with potential CAA Player of the Year Matt Janning.

Now Coen says the Huskies are cheering for a BracketBusters game "that will help us the most."

They're not alone.