Updated: 1:12 a.m.
By Doug Gottlieb
Here are some final thoughts at the end of this wild marathon:
• Is it me, or is the whole setup at the Hall of Fame Classic strange? First, the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame is in Kansas City, Mo., not St. Louis. Anyone care to answer why the tournament was in the Lou? Secondly, how many sponsorships can be placed on one basketball floor? Reese's owned the paint, PNY had the coaching box, Bud Light, Spider Tech and O'Reilly Auto Parts all over the floor wow.
• I am not sure what, if anything, Memphis was running on offense, but the Tigers spread you out, use their speed and quickness, and attack you. I also think Memphis is in great shape, whereas KU's point guard cramped up early and often by the second half.
• I was really impressed with the last offensive possession by Georgetown's Greg Monroe. He got outplayed by Lavoy Allen of Temple. Monroe could not even get a clear post-up position against the Temple guards on a switch on the next-to-last possession. But on the final possession, Monroe demanded the ball, pump-faked and drove to his right for the game-winning layup. Chad Ford wrote that Craig Brackins might have hurt his draft stock by coming back, but I would contend Monroe is the guy whose stock has fallen hardest since he destroyed Hasheem Thabeet last December in Storrs, Conn.
• I do not believe all is lost for the Bruins, but UCLA has not evaluated talent well enough in recent years. Granted, top recruit Tyler Honeycutt wasn't available during the double-overtime loss to Cal State Fullerton. But the Bruins shot 5-of-29 from the 3 against the Titans. That's not good. After three straight Final Fours, the drop-off is due to Jrue Holiday's leaving early and the staff's misjudgment of the West Coast talent it has missed on -- the Wear twins, Klay Thompson, Deon Thompson and Larry Drew II among others.
• In case you are wondering where Saint Mary's got another great guard, the answer is not Australia. Mickey McConnell is from Mesa, Ariz., by way of New Mexico. McConnell and ASU guard Ty Abbott were all set to play for the Lobos before UNM fired Ritchie McKay. Credit Randy Bennett and his staff yet again for finding a diamond in the rough. Oh, and how good was McConnell off the ball screen against the Aztecs? Wow. San Diego State has some talented parts, but that team was just crushed by the Gaels, who look like they will challenge Gonzaga and Portland in the WCC.
• Speaking of the Zags, was it me, or were they tougher and more physical than Michigan State for much of the game? Robert Sacre had a field day against the young bigs of Sparty. Kalin Lucas had great body control off the ball screens, and Durrell Summers took his game to another level. Still, I walked away impressed by the new-look Zags.
• Lucca Staiger hit 10 3s as Iowa State pummeled Drake by 20 on Tuesday night. I know it was not a Tip-Off Marathon game, but with Iowa a complete disaster (a home loss to Texas-San Antonio followed by another to a Duquesne team without its best player), it looks like ISU and Northern Iowa are set to clash as undefeated teams Dec. 2 at the Hilton Coliseum. Staiger played with both the A and B teams of the German national team, and Iowa State coach Greg McDermott told me that the junior guard looks lighter on his feet and much sharper due to all the hoops he played this summer.
Updated: 10:29 p.m.
By Dana O'Neil
ST. LOUIS -- Finally the ball went up.
That, perhaps, was the best news for Rick Pitino and John Pelphrey.
Both welcomed the tweet of the whistle to start a new season, hoping basketball would be the elixir to erase a troubling offseason. The balm worked better for Pitino, to the tune of a 96-66 drubbing, but there is surely something reassuring in just coaching the game.
Pitino and Pelphrey are digging out from under the rubble of shame, although for completely different reasons: Pitino's wound is self-inflicted, the result of a ridiculously foolish dalliance in a Louisville restaurant. Pelphrey, too, made a choice, opting to suspend five players just before the season started. But he did it because he is trying to build a culture in Arkansas not just a team. To do that, he knows, sometimes baskets and winning have to take a backseat to principle and discipline.
"I've been very fortunate to have been around great coaches and to have two great parents," Pelphrey said. "Those people believe some of the greatest acts of caring for somebody else is to discipline them. I want all of our fans and our recruits to understand, if you come to Arkansas, you're going to get coached, you're going to get mentored, all that looking after, but you're also going to get people who care enough to tell you when you're doing wrong. That's our job."
Technically, coaching is their job, and in that there is relief. Pitino still has a pending appearance on the witness stand as part of a federal trial against Karen Sypher, the woman accused of extorting him, and visits to opposing gyms where hostile and nasty crowds surely await.
But at least between the lines Pitino can find the cure. The Cardinals are the sort of team the coach loves. They aren't great yet, but the potential is there. It showed up and disappeared in frustrating flashes against the Razorbacks, but it's there. Louisville hit nine of 20 3s over Arkansas' zone in the first half, then went stone cold to start the second, letting the Hogs back in with a 14-0 run. But there was no panic, a big sign for a fairly young team.
If Louisville learns to play defense, it could become the quintessential Pitino team: ugly in December, terrifying come March.
"We're going to be a team of runs," Pitino said. "The passing, the pressing and the shooting are terrific. The defense is going to catch up."
Unfortunately for Pelphrey, the same salve probably won't come anytime soon for him. He is down to eight players, including Brandon Mitchell, a backup QB on loan from the football team, and Stephen Cox, a golfer turned hoopster.
Help comes back in the way of freshman Glenn Bryant in the next game and Marcus Britt after four more. But Courtney Fortson and Stefan Welsh, the two best returning players, are gone indefinitely.
But if Pelphrey knows anything, it's that hard times don't last forever. He started his playing career on a Kentucky team mired in embarrassment, arriving in Lexington on the heels of NCAA probation.
Today, his jersey hangs in the Rupp Arena rafters, where he is one of the "Unforgettables," the players who launched Kentucky back into national prominence.
"We know exactly what we're up against," Pelphrey said. "My whole thing has always been, both as a player and a coach, that who shows up to the ballpark with their uniform on, that's who we're going with. We're not making excuses. We're not worried about what we don't have. This is our opportunity."
Updated: 3:55 p.m.
Rider struck first for the MAAC, beating Mississippi State.
Saint Peter's and Niagara had near misses against Seton Hall and Auburn, respectively. Both won, as expected, earlier Tuesday at home against Monmouth and Drexel.
But if the MAAC is to be the multiple-bid league that the rest of the members anticipate then the top-rated team in Siena had to deliver.
The Saints were down 20-6 early to Northeastern and it looked like they were destined for an early-season flame out like a year ago when they whiffed on three chances in Orlando at the Old Spice Classic. Siena recovered to win an NCAA tournament first-round game for the second consecutive season, but they had to re-earn the trust of the college basketball populous.
"It is important to keep our name out there to show that you deserve what everybody is saying about you," Siena coach Fran McCaffery said after the Saints came back to beat Northeastern, 59-53, Tuesday in Albany, N.Y. "We're getting votes in the 25-26 range for the Top 25. We have to win to prove we belong, but we can't become obsessed with that."
McCaffery said the Saints still need to develop a bench that is inexperienced if they're going to make another March run.
"It's a long season and we have to win games like this," McCaffery said.
The Saints play at Temple, St. John's and Georgia Tech in the next three weeks and go to Northern Iowa on Dec. 12.Having Rider, Saint Peter's and Niagara playing well early is only going to benefit Siena if the power-rating is up. "I know how good the players in this league are," McCaffery said. "I know how difficult it was to go 16-2 [in conference play last season]. We're going to have to rev it up every night in this league. Our conference RPI is going to go way up and it will take the pressure off."
Updated: 3:30 p.m.Memphis coach Josh Pastner is feeling no pressure going into a matchup against top-ranked Kansas on Tuesday night in St. Louis.
Why? Pastner is giddy over the conclusion of what might turn out to be the top recruiting class in the country. Ames, Iowa, forward Harrison Barnes, who chose North Carolina, is the top player but the deepest class might go to the Tigers with seven newcomers all in the top 62 in the ESPNU top 100:
Will Barton (No. 1 SG), Brewster Academy (N.H.)
Joe Jackson (No. 5 PG), White Station HS (Tenn)
Jelan Kendrick (No. 4 SG), Wheeler High (Ga.)
Tarik Black (No. 14 PF), Ridgeway HS (Tenn.)
Chris Crawford (No. 34 SG), Sheffield HS (Tenn.)
Hippolyte Tsafack (No. 41 PF), The Miller School (Va.)
Antonio Barton (No. 62 PG), Notre Dame Prep (Mass.)
"All the credit goes to the assistant coaches," Pastner said hours before Tuesday's tipoff. "The current players and the fans did a great job. They all made them feel comfortable."
While Pastner doesn't have even close to the same team that John Calipari had the past few seasons, the Memphis coach needs the Tigers to play just as hard as past teams to have a chance. Duke transfer Elliot Williams must be large for the Tigers to be in the game.
"We know Kansas is really good and they've got pros at a lot of positions. It's going to be a tough matchup for anyone."
Pastner said he is humbled by the opportunity to coach Memphis and is appreciative of the opportunity. And he knows everyone will be watching him Tuesday night.
"I can only be me," Pastner said. "I learned from the best in Hall of Famers Lute Olson and [possible future HOFer] John Calipari and spent a year with Kevin O'Neill [during an interim season Arizona]. I've taken all this stuff and I'll be Josh Pastner. All of this happened so fast since I got the job that I've just been in survival mode. I've just tried to keep the unit together."
How much he has will be on display against the Jayhawks.
Updated: 3:25 p.m.
How much can you read into Clemson's dominating performances against Presbyterian and Liberty?
What you can tell is that Clemson is willing to test itself with a road game at a Big South school, and there will be more like that to come when the Tigers play at UNC Greensboro before three games in Anaheim, Calif., at the 76 Classic next week.
Awaiting Clemson on the return is Illinois and South Carolina.
Criticizing this Clemson team for a soft slate isn't applicable. Not with the Tigers playing Texas A&M in Anaheim and the possibility of a game against West Virginia in the semifinals.
"I just think it helps us," Tigers coach Oliver Purnell said. "We're going to have to play on the road and go through adversity and in hostile environments. Our freshmen needed to see what it was like and have to settle down a bit ... so that the next time the type of situation won't be a big deal."
Clemson forced Liberty into 28 turnovers, a stable of previous Tigers' teams that Purnell said should continue.
"There's no question that we can be a better pressing team and create more pressure and defend the drive better," Purnell said.
The Tigers also needed to get freshman Noel Johnson into positions of duress to see how he responded. Johnson went 2-of-7 against the Flames.
"He's learning that on certain nights the shots won't go in," Purnell said. "We've got to be tough defensively, whether you make shots or not."
Clemson will learn a lot about how much of an ACC contender it will be over the next two weeks. Taking a road game to a Big South school was the first step.
Updated: 11:55 a.m.
Niagara coach Joe Mihalich is still a bit flustered by the Purple Eagles' letting a true SEC road win slip away at Auburn on Friday night.Beating Drexel early Tuesday morning took away some of the sting, but Friday's missed opportunity will linger. The Purple Eagles will have to find a different way to stand out come March if they're in the mix. They're expected to contend with Siena and Rider (and who knows, maybe Saint Peter's) for the MAAC title. Niagara won't play another game against a power-six school this season. "We're going to have to win a lot of road games," Mihalich said after Niagara's 76-69 victory over Drexel in a game that tipped off at 8 a.m. in upstate New York. "We led the country in road wins last season," Mihalich said. "We can't get teams to come up here and play us. If we take care of business, we could have a good RPI." Niagara plays 16 games away from home, including MAAC games. So far, the Purple Eagles' road record is 0-1. "Last year we finished with an RPI of 49, and we tried to do the same thing," said Mihalich, whose Purple Eagles lost to Siena in the MAAC tournament title game in Albany last season. "Shame on us for not taking care of business against Auburn, because that would have been two wins against SEC teams on the road [after Rider beat Mississippi State] for our league. We have a good league. We don't have to apologize to anyone."
Updated: 9:25 a.m.
Saint Peter's coach John Dunne walked into the locker room at Yanitelli Center at 4:15 a.m. with trepidation.He had no idea if he would find his players there, let alone if they would be awake and not slumped over in their chairs, dozing off. Instead, the Peacocks were dancing to music. "I was like, 'Oh my god, if they're this hyped at 4:30 a.m., what are they going to be like at 7:30 a.m.? They'll be wiped,'" Dunne said. "I was actually concerned about it. But the home game helped and having our crowd there. It just kept our guys energy home. We don't get on ESPN a lot." Saint Peter's thrived in the 6 a.m. start, dominating Monmouth from the outset and blistering the Hawks 58-34 early Tuesday. The Peacocks were coming off a buzzer-beating loss at Seton Hall. "That's two games in a row where we've been pretty locked in defensively and on the glass," Dunne said. "But we're turning the ball over too much." Dunne already had a full day before 9 a.m. He said he was going to stick out watching fellow MAAC schools Niagara (against Drexel) and Siena (against Northeastern at noon) and then head home. But the recent run by the MAAC -- the near miss by St. Pete's, Rider's win over Mississippi State, Niagara's late loss to Auburn -- should prove the depth of the conference. Siena hasn't been tested yet, and the Saints are the favorite. "The Rider win was no fluke," Dunne said. "They're really good. I'm feeling really good about our league right now."
Updated: 6:32 a.m.
• Let's play a November game of "what if?"
What if Saint Mary's knocks off Vanderbilt on Friday night?
What would you think of the Gaels then?
Well, Saint Mary's coach Randy Bennett doesn't necessarily need a win over the Commodores on their way to the Maui Invitational to believe in his squad. Beating New Mexico State by 32 in the season opener and then dominating San Diego State 80-58 early Tuesday morning has served notice that the Gaels aren't going anywhere in the WCC.
Saint Mary's is a potential threat to Gonzaga and Portland, even though the Gaels were overlooked as a WCC title contender after the departures of Patty Mills to the NBA and senior forward Diamon Simpson.
"You never know what's going to happen, and so far we're doing a good job," Bennett said by phone as he was about to get into a postgame hot tub to relax in the wee hours early Tuesday morning.
"I thought the first three games were risky, but they were also great opportunities for us," Bennett said. "New Mexico State is going to be good once it has its full team. They'll compete in the WAC. San Diego State will compete in the Mountain West once they figure out how to play together. Vanderbilt returns 14 players from last year. They're real good, a great test for us. But these wins [so far] will have shelf life for us at the end of the season when they look at our résumé. They'll see we're trying to play some teams."
What's even more unique is that Saint Mary's is getting quality home games in Moraga. The Gaels will also get a shot to win two quality road games when they play at Utah State on Dec. 5 and at Oregon on Dec. 12 in consecutive games.
"I've been impressed with what we've done so far," Bennett said. "We've got pride here. These players think they're good and want to be a part of a good program, not just what Patty and Diamon did."
The key for the Gaels may be point guard Mickey McConnell and big man Omar Samhan. McConnell, who is replacing Mills, made six 3s against the Aztecs. He keyed a 22-4 run. Australian newcomer Matthew Dellavedova is only going to become more important to the Gaels as the season continues, but if McConnell is the leader then this team has a shot.
Bennett said McConnell played well on a summer tour of Australia and gained confidence and respect.
"As long as Patty was here and ahead of him, Mickey wasn't going to feel like he was the starting point guard or that this was his team," Bennett said. "He was playing a smaller role and he was OK with that and never complained. But he knew he had to step up and be a leader. He knew this was his deal."
Samhan is a load inside, and while it seemed like he needed Simpson to flourish, Samhan held his own against the Aztecs' active frontcourt with 12 boards in the first half. Samhan finished with 16 boards and 17 points while McConnell scored 24 and Dellavedova scored 17. The Gaels outrebounded the Aztecs 40-36, too.
"Last year, there were times when Omar was our most important player because he's such a low-post presence," Bennett said. "He's turned into a good defender and can do a lot of things for us."
Samhan is now playing off Ben Allen instead of Simpson. The Gaels' frontcourt might be better overall facing the basket this season.
The diversity in scoring is in place, and if the Gaels can board and defend, they will be a player in the WCC race. And yes, if they can beat the Dores, they can be a possible NCAA at-large team in a season when they weren't supposed to be in the conversation. They were a game or two short last year after Mills broke his hand. How upside-down would it be if the Gaels made it in 2010 and not 2009?
Updated: 4:25 a.m.
Monmouth coach Dave Calloway got up at 2 a.m., roughly four-plus hours after he finally got to sleep."I can honestly say I've gotten home more times in my life at that hour than gotten up at that time," Calloway said as the Monmouth bus was getting closer to St. Peter's Jersey City campus for this morning's 6 a.m. tipoff.
Calloway tried to ensure that his players stayed busy Monday with a morning practice, an appearance at a men's soccer selection show for the NCAA tournament and a women's basketball game."I didn't want them sleeping all day," Calloway said. It must have worked. Calloway said the team was all smiles as they boarded the bus this morning. He said the players ate some bagels and fruit and have been hanging out on the bus, some taking a cat nap and others listening to music. How much sleep did they get? Calloway is guessing no more than four to five hours. "I think this will be a lot more fun than running sprints at 6 a.m.," Calloway said. That seemed to be the prevailing theme at St. Peter's, too. Coach John Dunne pulled into the parking garage at 4 a.m. after getting up at 3:30 a.m. He said he went to bed at 10 p.m. A light continental breakfast of bagels and fruit awaited the players in the locker room. The team practiced at 8:30 a.m. Monday to get them ready for the early tipoff. "I figured that would be early enough," Dunne said. "I didn't want to crush them too much." St. Peter's has embraced the early tip time by offering up free tuition to someone who can make a half-court shot at halftime. Dunne said he anticipates a strong student turnout. St. Pete's lost to Seton Hall in its opener on a buzzer-beater. Monmouth lost to the Pirates by 15. "I feel good about us being extremely competitive this season," Dunne said. "I feel good about our potential and what we can become."
Updated: 4:01 a.m.
• Cal State Fullerton coach Bob Burton said he is indebted to Ben Howland for giving the Titans a game to tip off the hoops marathon.
The Titans wanted to play on ESPN. Howland made it happen.
"I know the only reason we were on ESPN was to play UCLA," Burton said by phone as he was heading back to campus on the team bus after the Titans' double-overtime 68-65 victory early Tuesday morning at Pauley Pavilion.
"I feel bad for Ben," Burton said. "We've been talking about four times a week. I don't think I'll talk to him for a few days."
Burton knew this was the perfect time to play UCLA since the Bruins were hit hard by injuries during practice, and given the inexperience on the roster due to the departure of three key seniors as well as freshman Jrue Holiday to the NBA.
"I didn't know how this would play out," Burton said.
Burton said he knew the Titans couldn't play UCLA man-to-man. So he went zone and the Bruins shot just 5-of-29 on 3s.
"I was hoping they wouldn't make shots and they didn't," Burton said. "I think our zone defense will be pretty good. It's an advantage to play zone because not many teams are ready for it at this point."
Still, Fullerton was picked seventh in the Big West -- a league that may be undervalued if Fullerton is legit.
"There's so much balance in the Big West," Burton said. "We feel we've got a chance to be real competitive. I didn't know where our team was. But I think people will pay attention to us now. This is a great win for us. Maybe we are better than seventh."
A lot of that has to do with the combination of guard Jacques Streeter and big man Bryce Webster, who grabbed 14 boards. Streeter was 2-of-10, but he made a huge 3-pointer. He also drew a critical foul late.
"He's got a chance to be really good," Burton said. "Once he figures out how to play at a fast speed, he's got a chance to be really good. We cleared it out for him on that drive late and he got fouled and knocked down free throws."
Webster was a find for Fullerton. He originally signed with Dan Monson at Minnesota, but once Monson was out, so too was Webster. Burton said Webster was slated to go to Utah State but something fell through there, too.
"He hasn't played in a year, but I was amazed how well he played," Burton said. "He'll be a dominant guy for us on the boards. He made a big difference for us."
Fullerton isn't going to recruit against UCLA, but there is a pride factor in SoCal that now rests with the Titans after knocking off UCLA for the first time in nine tries in the history of the meetings between the two schools.
"It's going to be huge for us on all stages," Burton said. "Ben [Howland] knew this could happen. I'm happy we won, but I feel for him. I hope the publicity we get out of this is great. Kicking off this whole thing and being able to do this is really exciting for us."