Basketball: Last minute notes for USC-VCU

DAYTON, Ohio -- A few things to pass along before tonight's 6 p.m. PT tip-off at University of Dayton Arena:

O'Neill, a distraction?

The altercation between USC coach Kevin O'Neill and a University of Arizona booster at the team hotel last week in Los Angeles has made waves all the way over to the Rust Belt, with O'Neill continuing to face questions from the media about the controversial subject and even the Virginia Commonwealth players being asked about it in the day leading up to the game.

"I read about it," Rams point guard Joey Rodriguez said of O'Neill's suspension. "But I saw they came out the next day and played pretty well against Arizona. So I don't think it's really going to affect them. They're a talented group. I'm sure they're going to rally around their coach and it's going to be a tough game."

From the looks of things, VCU coach Shaka Smart is doing his best to keep his players' minds away from the O'Neill issue -- and understandably so.

"I have no idea what happened, nor do I really care," Smart said Tuesday. "I know that coach O'Neill's going to coach the game [tonight.] I have the utmost respect for him and his coaching staff and their program, so I'm looking forward to playing against them.

"But, again, any time you're talking about drama or things surrounding the game, I really don't dwell on it."

Travel issues, resolved

We wrote Tuesday about the NCAA rule that would require the Trojans to pay for their own travel to Chicago assuming they won Wednesday night's game.

Well, the NCAA relented. According to USC spokesperson David Tuttle, if they beat VCU the Trojans will take an NCAA-purchased charter flight from Dayton to Chicago after the game, despite the fact that the distance between the two cities is about 300 miles and the usual minimum for NCAA-arranged travel is 350.

Essentially, the NCAA has a charter plane arranged for after tonight's game. Whoever wins -- the Trojans or the Rams -- will take the plane immediately after tonight's game, probably around 1 a.m., and head straight to Chicago.

Their arrival time in Chicago would only be about half an hour after departure because of the time zone difference, so USC would be able to get to its hotel in Chicago at a fairly reasonable hour if they do pull out the victory.

The original plan as of yesterday was to fly the players out on USC's dime and have staff members drive or bus to the Windy City, so it's a nice treat for the Trojans' support staff to be able to fly.

Return to Dayton

Rodriguez, a four-year starter at VCU, told the media Tuesday that Rams coach Shaka Smart told the team University of Dayton Arena is his favorite college arena in the country.

Smart, at 33 one of the 10 youngest head coaches in the NCAA, was an assistant at Dayton last decade under now-DePaul coach Oliver Purnell but hadn't been to the Western Ohio locale in the eight years since he departed the school, he said.

"A lot of special memories," Smart said when asked about what he remembered of Dayton. "It's an unbelievably special place."