Category archive: Rhode Island Rams
Both players transferred to Rhode Island this offseason, but neither Minnis (who came from Texas Tech) nor Reischel (Rice) says he left his previous school because of issues with his coach or a decline in the program.
John Rieger/US PresswireDeShon Minnis, a 6-3 guard, averaged 3.1 points and 2.3 rebounds in close to 16 minutes per game as a freshman for Texas Tech last season.
Given the recent Billy Gillispie saga -- and allegations about his coaching tactics -- the knee-jerk reaction would be to assume that Minnis fled Texas Tech because of his former coach. But Minnis said that wasn't the case.
Minnis said he liked playing for Gillispie -- who resigned last week after spending most of September undergoing treatment and observation at a hospital in Lubbock, Texas, and at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota -- last season. "We practiced hard, but he was good for us," Minnis said. "He wanted us to be grown men."
Minnis appeared in 26 games as a freshman last season with the Red Raiders, averaging 16.2 minutes and 3.1 points a game.
"I just wanted to come closer to home," said Minnis, who is from Philadelphia. "My grandma had a stroke toward the end of last season. She wasn't doing good at the time. I heard the Hurley brothers got the job here and thought [transferring to URI] would be the best idea."
Minnis -- who was one of six players to defect from the Texas Tech program since last season, when the Red Raiders won just one game during Big 12 play -- reiterated that he didn't leave because of Gillispie. "It was just [because of] family problems," he said. "There was nothing wrong. It was good. He encourages you to play hard. In order to win, you have to play hard. He prepares us to be grown men at a young age of 18 or 19."
He said he hadn't talked to his former coach since Gillispie was hospitalized but did send him a card.
Thomas Campbell/US PresswireJarelle Reischel, a 6-6 forward, averaged 5.7 points and 2.7 rebounds in 14 minutes per game for Rice last season.
"Rice was a great academic school, and I had a great basketball experience," said Reischel, who played for Point Pleasant Beach (N.J.) High. "Houston, Texas, is far, and I was getting home once a year, if that."
Reischel, a 6-foot-6 forward, played in 35 games for Rice last season, averaging 13.9 minutes, 5.7 points and 2.7 rebounds a game. He is one of six players to leave Rice since the end of last season but says he harbors no bitterness toward his former coach or program. "I don't know what's going on there, but I just wanted to be closer to home," Reischel said of the rash of transfers. "When there are so many transfers, it looks like something is going on. But everyone has their own personal reasons for leaving."
Rhode Island and new head coach Danny Hurley are the beneficiaries of the Minnis and Reischel decisions. Both players must sit out the 2012-13 season because of transfer rules, then will have three years of eligibility remaining.
But to blame their exoduses on their previous coaches wouldn't be correct. Of course, departures are often the result of coaches and program directions. And when there are multiple moves from the same program in an offseason, it's hard to ignore the trend. But at least in these two instances, they shouldn't be lumped together as leaving for the same reason.
The atmosphere of the Carrier Classic, with its overwhelming sense of patriotism and the sheer uniqueness of playing a game on the deck of the USS Carl Vinson, along with the historical significance of that vessel, will be hard to top.
The view was magnificent. The Naval presence in all its glory and uniformity was as impressive as one would imagine. And the appreciation from the sailors for the break from the daily routine was genuine.
If you missed that game or any of the matchups on opening weekend, you're in for a treat because you won't be able to turn on the ESPN family of networks from 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday until about 1 a.m. ET on Wednesday without seeing college basketball on the screen.
Here are some questions to ponder as the fourth annual Tip-Off Marathon begins with Washington State at Gonzaga and ends with an NIT Season Tip-Off game the following night from Stanford.
1. Will Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski become the NCAA's all-time winningest coach? The Blue Devils play Michigan State in the first game at the Champions Classic (ESPN, 7 p.m. ET) from Madison Square Garden. Duke struggled against Belmont in its opener and then blasted Presbyterian on Saturday. Neither result should come as a surprise. The Blue Devils are usually the home team in New York, but it will be interesting to see how many Spartans fans are able to make the trip, especially if some of them just went to San Diego. Still, Michigan State has a real shot to upstage Coach K. Despite their loss to North Carolina, the Spartans were the aggressor, outrebounding the Tar Heels convincingly 42-31. The Blue Devils have as much size as North Carolina, so the challenge will be similar. But MSU must shoot better from 3-point range than it did against UNC (2-of-20). Another key to the game is seeing which team converts timely perimeter shots. If Duke wins, we'll have the unique setting of Krzyzewski winning No. 903 and passing his former coach Bob Knight, who will sit courtside calling the game for ESPN.
2. How will the Thomas Robinson-Anthony Davis matchup unfold? This could turn out to be one of the more anticipated frontcourt showdowns during the nonconference schedule, as this individual battle highlights the second game of the Champions Classic between Kentucky and Kansas (ESPN, 9:30 ET). Robinson began the season as the go-to guy for Kansas, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds against Towson. Meanwhile, Davis, UK's highly touted freshman, blitzed Marist with 23 points and 10 boards in the Wildcats' 50-point rout. Kentucky has more options than KU and can lean on Doron Lamb or Terrence Jones to get it plenty of points. But the tussle between Robinson and Davis will be good theater throughout the night.
3. How will Ohio State's Aaron Craft and William Buford handle Florida's perimeter? We're not conceding the Jared Sullinger-Patric Young matchup (well, we will for these purposes), but this game may come down to the guards. Florida's set of Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario, Brad Beal and Erving Walker is off to a sensational start. Rosario scored 19 points off the bench, while Boynton scored 19 and Beal 14 (Walker added 10) in a rout of Jackson State. Craft and Buford will be tested defensively more so than they were a year ago, when Ohio State won easily at UF during this same event. The Buckeyes, who host the Gators at 8 p.m. ET (ESPN2), are the No. 3 team in the nation because of Sullinger. But this will be the first time OSU may feel the loss of defensive specialist David Lighty.
4. Can Belmont emerge from the brutal opening weekend with a split? The Bruins nearly nipped Duke in a comeback that fell one possession short. The next challenge is a visit to in-state Memphis at noon ET on ESPN. Belmont won't have any awe factor in playing the Tigers. The Bruins should come into this game oozing with confidence after their showing versus the Blue Devils. Memphis is still a young team and a work in progress. The Tigers have more talent, but the question is whether they will show patience against a Belmont team that will want to run and run and run. This could be one of the most entertaining games of the day.
5. How will Baylor handle its one and likely only test during Perry Jones III's suspension? Jones must sit for three more games after accepting an extra benefit. The Bears beat Texas Southern on Friday and Jackson State on Sunday. The two games that follow Baylor's home matchup with San Diego State (ESPN, 2 p.m. ET) are South Carolina State and Texas-Arlington. This is not the same Aztecs team from last season after the roster was gutted by graduating seniors and an early-entry NBA departure. Still, they are athletic enough to cause problems. The Bears have options with Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller and Anthony Jones, but this game should at least push Baylor a tad more than the first two did during Jones' suspension.
James Snook/US PresswireGonzaga's Marquise Carter hopes to find his shooting stroke against Washington State.
6. How will Gonzaga's guards respond after a poor first outing? The Bulldogs showed in a tight win over Eastern Washington that they can rely heavily on Robert Sacre (22 points and 10 boards). But the perimeter shooters went 3-of-13 on 3s, and Marquise Carter was 2-of-11 and Mike Hart, Gary Bell, Kevin Pangos and David Stockton were a combined 6-of-15 from the field. Washington State is a team in transition, and the Zags should win this game. But Gonzaga has plenty of tougher challenges ahead, and so its guard play will need to improve. Still, this will be a good chance to see Sacre and Elias Harris on display against the Cougars, tipping off the Marathon at 11:59 p.m. ET on Monday night (ESPN).
7. As for the two women's games on the Marathon schedule How will Tennessee perform after coach Pat Summitt's health diagnosis? If you saw Robin Roberts' piece on "Good Morning America," you know it is clear that the Lady Vols are determined to win a national title for Summitt. The Tennessee coach also seems as driven as ever in her quest to keep coaching while she battles early-onset dementia. This should be an emotional game, as they all may turn out to be, for the No. 3 Lady Vols as they host No. 7 Miami (ESPN2, 6 p.m. ET). And how will Texas A&M handle its status as the reigning champs? The Aggies aren't expected to repeat as national champs, but they have established themselves as an elite program. The primer to the Tennessee game won't involve as much theater, but may be as competitive a game when No. 9 Louisville goes to College Station to play the No. 6 Aggies (ESPNU, 4 p.m. ET).
8. What should we expect from Texas' Myck Kabongo? Kabongo is an impressive young man who handles himself with poise and class. Now he has to translate that onto the court against a talented Rhode Island squad that lost at George Mason by two points in its season opener Friday. The Longhorns will lean heavily on Kabongo to start the season. How he handles this first assignment will be a strong indicator on what to expect, as URI will push Texas from the outset (ESPN, 4 p.m. ET).
9. How will Drexel handle the hype as the CAA's favorite? The Dragons play at Rider (ESPN, 6 a.m. ET) when most people might be waking up to watch the Marathon. Drexel is the early pick to win the Colonial Athletic Association, a conference that's receiving some buzz after placing its second team (VCU) in the Final Four since 2006. Drexel will be minus the injured Chris Fouch, but Samme Givens and Frantz Massenat should be enough to beat Rider. But the Dragons could do themselves a service by looking impressive, too.
10. How productive can the Saint Mary's frontcourt be this season? Randy Bennett anticipates that this frontcourt will be more productive than the one led by Omar Samhan, who led the Gaels to the Sweet 16 two seasons ago. That means Rob Jones will be getting help from Kyle Rowley, Brad Waldow, Mitchell Young and Beau Levesque. Jones dominated Fresno Pacific with 25 points and 12 boards, but Northern Iowa -- coming off an impressive road route of ODU -- will be a much more formidable foe for the Gaels (ESPN, 2 a.m. ET).
11. What should we expect from LeBryan Nash? Well, if you believe the hype, Oklahoma State has an all-Big 12 player who can elevate it to the NCAA tournament. The Cowboys will likely have plenty of chances to feature Nash against Arkansas-Pine Bluff in the NIT Season Tip-Off (ESPN3, 8 p.m. ET).
Richard Mackson/US PresswireIf Syracuse beats Manhattan on Monday, Kris Joseph and the Orange will face either Albany or Brown in the NIT Season Tip-Off.
12. How polished will Syracuse look? If they defeat Manhattan on Monday, the Orange will face either Albany or Brown on Tuesday (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The early indication is that this veteran team will be ready to compete for the Final Four. Of course, Syracuse isn't being challenged as much as some other teams, but the Orange smacked Fordham in the opener as Dion Waiters complemented Kris Joseph quite well.
13. A surprisingly close game? I'm going with Austin Peay at Cal (ESPN2, 10 p.m. ET). The Governors should be one of the favorites in the Ohio Valley Conference. Will Triggs and TyShwan Edmondson could play at any level. California is one of the Pac-12 favorites, but the Golden Bears will be tested in this CBE Classic matchup. Guards Allen Crabbe and Jorge Gutierrez will be tested versus Austin Peay.
14. What are the chances of a surprise to end the Marathon? I think Stanford will have a tough time with either SMU or Colorado State at home in the NIT Season Tip-Off. The Mustangs or the Rams are fully capable of being a pest and upsetting the Cardinal (ESPNU, 11 p.m. ET). Stanford first has to get past Fresno State, of course, to be in this matchup. To do that, Aaron Bright, Chasson Randle and Josh Owens will have to really take control.
15. How will Miami score inside? The Hurricanes are sans Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble due to injuries. The given has been that the Canes have the guard play with Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott. But Rutgers will try and make Miami (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET) beat the Scarlet Knights on the inside. This could turn out to be one of the closer games in the Marathon.
16. What should we expect from Villanova? This is somewhat of a blank slate. The Coreys -- Mr. Fisher and Mr. Stokes -- are gone. Maalik Wayns will be the dominant presence, but there are plenty of other options as Mouphtaou Yarou, JayVaughn Pinkston, Dominic Cheek and James Bell could all star against La Salle (ESPN3, 7 p.m. ET). The Wildcats are an unknown in the Big East, and this game will at least give us a taste of what we may see.
17. Is Kevin Jones ready to be a star? For two seasons, West Virginia's Bob Huggins has been waiting for Jones to emerge. He scored 20 points and grabbed eight rebounds in a season-opening seven-point win over Oral Roberts. Kent State will hardly be a walk for the Mountaineers (ESPN, 10 a.m. ET). Darryl Bryant can offset Jones' production, but the offense will likely flow through Jones as he adapts to being the front man for the Mountaineers.
Douglas C. Pizac/US PresswireGib Arnold's Warriors look to make a good first impression against Cal State-Northridge.
18. How ready is Hawaii to make a run at Utah State? Gib Arnold has gone through a complete roster makeover and coached the Warriors to an impressive 19-13 record in his first season in Honolulu. Utah State beat BYU to open the season while one of the WAC favorites, Nevada, was flat at home in losing to Missouri State. Hawaii has a real shot to make a move in its final season in the WAC before heading to the Big West. Establishing an identity in a new conference is always key and ensuring that Cal State-Northridge (ESPN, 4 a.m. ET) is well aware of what it is in for when it visits the Stan Sheriff Center would do wonders for a first impression.
19. What will Morehead State and College of Charleston look like after losing their stars? This game could be one of the more competitive because of who both teams lost, rather than who they gained. Morehead State no longer has Kenneth Faried, while Charleston is without Andrew Goudelock. The Eagles made the NCAA tournament last season, defeating Louisville and then falling to Richmond. The Cougars reached the NIT quarterfinals before losing to eventual champ Wichita State. Regardless of how these teams look (ESPN, 8 a.m. ET) on Tuesday, you can expect them both to be factors in their respective conferences by February.
20. What are the chances Virginia Tech doesn't end up in New York for the NIT semifinals? We'll find out Tuesday night. The Hokies will likely play George Mason, assuming the Patriots beat Florida International and Virginia Tech knocks off Monmouth on Monday. Mason beat Rhode Island by two in overtime in its opener, and while it is a more depleted roster than expected when Paul Hewitt took the job, this is still a formidable squad. Virginia Tech used balanced scoring to beat East Tennessee State by 11 in its opener, but hitting 5-of-18 on 3s was an indicator that the perimeter shooting may not be the Hokies' strong suit.
Other notable names to watch: Does Tu Holloway have a monster game for Xavier against IPFW (7 p.m. ET)? Will Cincinnati's Yancy Gates dominate against Jacksonville State (7 p.m. ET)? How will Harvard fare as the hunted team on the road, even against a rebuilding Holy Cross squad (7 p.m. ET)? How will Dayton's Archie Miller fare in his road debut as head coach at Miami-Ohio (7 p.m. ET)? Will Mike Scott be a double-double performer for Virginia against Winthrop (7 p.m. ET)? Will LSU avoid plunging into irrelevance by winning at Coastal Carolina (7 p.m. ET)? Will Butler avoid a shaky 0-2 start by winning at home against Chattanooga (7 p.m. ET)? Will Saint Louis prove to be the team projected as an A-10 contender and win games it should -- even on the road at Southern Illinois (8 p.m. ET)? Will Missouri State continue to win on the road and take down Arkansas State (8 p.m. ET)? How impressive will Royce White be for Iowa State against Drake (9 p.m. ET)? How will Wyoming play for new coach Larry Shyatt against Northern Colorado (9 p.m.)? Will Arizona State start its climb toward respectability by winning a game at home versus Pepperdine (8:30 p.m. ET)? Will Utah State follow up its BYU win by beating rival Weber State (9 p.m.) on the road?
Andy Katz is a senior writer for ESPN.com.
PITTSBURGH -- Rhode Island could have pulled off a season-long, shelf-life win over Pitt in the opener on Monday night, especially since the Rams play one more nonconference game against a team projected to go to the NCAA tournament.
Slaying the No. 4 Panthers would have been a significant upset, so too would a win at Florida on Jan. 3. The Rams don't have many opportunities to make a name for themselves prior to the Atlantic 10 season.
That's why the inability to hold a lead at Pitt, and eventually a 83-75 loss at the Petersen Events Center, where one nonconference team has ever won (Bucknell, Jan. 2, 2005), is still frustrating for the Rams.
"We're always right there,'' senior forward Delroy James said. "One day we have to get that punch and knock a team out. It's always at a pivotal point in the game. We've got to keep working hard. We can't put our heads down. We're trying to make the NCAA tournament.''
The Rams once again have a shot to disrupt the projected order in the A-10 conference race and finally break through with an NCAA tournament berth under journeyman and consummate rebuilder Jim Baron. Baron took over a nearly-gutted program in 2001 and has coached Rhode Island into relevancy with five NIT appearances, a second-place finish in the A-10 in 2009, a fifth-place standing last season and an NIT semifinal overtime loss to North Carolina. Baron took St. Francis (Pa.) to its only NCAA tournament appearance in 1991 and led his alma mater St. Bonaventure to the NCAAs in 2000, its first in 22 years.
Getting the Rams to the NCAAs this season would be another milestone for Baron. He has been close for many years but can't get the necessary wins in February or March, including last season when the A-10 had three bids (Xavier, Temple and Richmond).
"We control our destiny, and we've got to keep getting better, rebound the basketball better, not commit silly fouls and do a better job of trying to get to the foul line,'' Baron said.
Playing Pitt in the first game of the season will only matter for power-rating purposes, if the Rams win games they're supposed to win.
"I'll tell you after the second and third game,'' Baron said when asked to whether the Rams benefited from playing Pitt. "There could be pluses and minutes when you have a young team. There has to be carry over.''
The Rams host Brown; have three games in Toledo against the host Rockets, College of Charleston and Illinois-Chicago; and visit Northeastern and Quinnipiac in December. None of these games will be walks, especially at the NEC-favored Bobcats. They need to win home games against Drexel, Davidson, UNH and Lafayette, too. A split at Providence and at home versus Boston College would certainly help, as well.
The NCAA berth is the barometer for most schools, and Baron is well aware of the thirst for a bid. With suspensions to Kwamain Mitchell and Willie Reed at one-time contender Saint Louis (Mitchell may return second semester, but Reed is transferring to Kansas State) and three key players out for Xavier -- Brad Redford (ACL), Justin Martin (ineligible) and Jamel McLean (fractured eye socket) -- there is hope the Rams could contend with Temple, Richmond and Dayton for a top-three finish (although Xavier can hardly be counted out for the title with its A-10 history).
"This was our first game, that's a top-five team and it's still early in the season, so we'll get better and better,'' James said. "A game like this will only help us in the long run. [Not making the NCAAs] eats at me, Marquis Jones, Akeem Richmond. The NCAA tournament has been right there. We want to be successful like Temple, Xavier and Dayton, the teams picked ahead of us. We want to be team that people think of like that.''
The Rams certainly have the talent, even if they are depleted at this juncture. They should get junior forward Orion Outerbridge after the first 11 games (ineligible because of academics). He will give URI another possible scoring forward.
The hope is Levan Shengelia isn't gone for the season, although it certainly didn't look positive after he reinjured his right knee (partially torn ACL) in a minute of first-half play. Shengelia, who Baron calls his team's Rambo because of his toughness, was grimacing in pain while clutching his knee. He needed a wheelchair to get to the locker room at halftime and returned for the second half on crutches. He'll be evaluated when the team returns to campus on Tuesday. The other unknown is 7-foot-3 Blake Vedder, who is paper thin but is highly-skilled and has loads of potential even though he only got into the game for a minute.
Those are the uncertainties, but the givens are enough to warrant hope for the Rams. James and Richmond are ballers, who aren't shy to gun up shots. The two combined to go 11 of 29 for 36 points against Pitt. Will Martell and Nikola Malesevic made key shots against the Panthers, and point guard Daniel West could be a hidden gem after he had 10 assists, 6 turnovers and 3 steals.
The Rams did commit 16 turnovers and played porous defense down the middle, as Pitt's Brad Wanamaker, Ashton Gibbs and Gilbert Brown got deep into the lane. That has to stop if they are to be taken seriously.
"We've got to put more pressure on the ball,'' Richmond said. "We were so inconsistent on defense.''
Rhode Island is clearly making a move upward, and that's evident with the addition of former Boston College assistant and one-time Rams player Preston Murphy to the staff. Murphy was instrumental in adding West, who like Murphy is from Saginaw, Mich., and played high school ball in Saginaw before a year at Pensacola State College (Fla.) last season, and the recruitment of small forward T.J. Buchanan (Kalamazoo Central, Mich.) for 2011-12 and 2012-13 shooting guard Dominique Bull (The Tilton School, N.H.).
Rhode Island athletic director Thorr Bjorn extended Baron's contract through the 2013-14 season. The Rams can't wait that long to get to the NCAAs. If the upward trend in recruiting, last season's NIT semifinal finish and the way in which URI gutted it out and pushed Pitt on Monday night continues, the long NCAA-bid drought (which dates to Jim Harrick's last year in 1999) finally could end.
The Cornhuskers have to mix and match their roster to be highly competitive. That means sprinkling in high school seniors, transfers and foreign players. That also means taking chances, even if the news on the eligibility of a foreign player isn't always known.
The Huskers tried that approach with Germany's Christian Standhardinger. The questions arose about his amateur status and how he would be classified by the NCAA. According to Nebraska coach Doc Sadler, the school was told that Standhardinger's grades (based on the grading scale from Germany) meant that he was not a qualifier when Nebraska went to an NCAA seminar in the spring on the subject of foreign admission.
However, Sadler said the information was a year old and Standhardinger was actually eligible. But that news didn't get to Nebraska until after it had committed to giving one-time UAB signee Adrien Coleman a scholarship in July. Coleman signed to play at UAB in November 2008 but failed to be admitted to the university, releasing him to sign a financial aid agreement with another school. Coleman's addition meant the Huskers were at the NCAA limit of 13 scholarships.
"We were trying to get Christian to a prep school to get the three courses he needed when we got the information last week that he was eligible,'' Sadler said.
Once it was clear that a mistake was made, the Huskers were at 14 scholarship players. Nebraska and the NCAA came to a unique agreement which allows NU to move up to 14 for this season -- with a condition. The Huskers could have only 13 players available on scholarship. They would have to redshirt a player.
Well, Sadler wasn't planning on redshirting anyone -- that is until sophomore center Christopher Niemann tore his ACL and was ruled out for the season. So, in a cruel twist, Sadler lost one German for the season but gained another. But there was also a catch with the 6-8 Standhardinger. He has to sit 50 percent of the team's games this season because he played on what was termed a German professional team.
The Huskers have had their issues before with eligibility, losing Roburt Sallie to Memphis after he was denied admission on a Big 12 rule. Sallie took a class at Nebraska, but then wasn't eligible so he left for junior college. But under an obscure Big 12 rule, a player who takes one class at a Big 12 school cannot reattend if he's deemed a nonqualifier and leaves. Sallie played last season at Memphis, averaging 5.8 points in 36 games, including scoring 35 in an NCAA tournament first-round win over Cal State-Northridge.
Finally, now that the eligibility issue is done, Sadler said he has a Big 12-level squad.
"This is the first time that I felt like athletically and sizewise, we can compete in this league,'' said Sadler, who had the 7-foot Aleks Maric his first two seasons but not much else in terms of size around him. "We've got size on the perimeter and inside now.''
But the Huskers are young at the wrong time in the league. They have 11 freshmen or sophomores on the roster for a season in which the Big 12 boasts two potential No. 1 seeds in Kansas and Texas and a host of possible NCAA teams led by Kansas State, Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Texas A&M and possibly Missouri.
But lost among Nebraska's problems and relative anonymity nationally are the numbers Sadler's teams have produced in his first three seasons. It's hard to dismiss that he has had three straight winning seasons and improved in league play each time, going 17-14 (6-10) in Year 1, 20-13 (7-9) in Year 2 and 18-13 (8-8), capped off by a second straight NIT berth, in Year 3. Two late-game losses to Texas A&M and Oklahoma State last season really hurt NU's chances for the Big Dance.
This season the Huskers are rebuilding with talent that Sadler is convinced can win in the Big 12. Games against Oregon State and USC and a tournament in Las Vegas with BYU, Tulsa and Nevada should reveal how much this squad needs to mature before conference play.
"I think with this group, down the road, in the next two or three years, we can compete [for a top spot in the Big 12],'' Sadler said. "We can compete now, and even though we've been a seventh- or eighth-place team in the Big 12, that's not our goal. Being an NIT team is not our goal.''
• Rhode Island was ready to replace Florida International if the Golden Panthers had withdrawn from the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament. The Gazelle Group, which organizes college basketball's season-opening event, had URI ready to replace FIU and was going to send the Rams to North Carolina for a Nov. 9 date and then have them host the three games set for FIU against North Carolina Central, James Madison and Murray State.
URI coach Jim Baron said the issue is moot now that FIU has agreed to play at UNC, but the Rams are likely going to be given an opportunity for a Gazelle-sponsored event in 2010 or 2011 for offering themselves as a replacement. Meanwhile, the Rams already have a unique nonconference game against Oklahoma State in a Jan. 2 event at the Mohegan Sun in Uncasville, Conn. The game is a return for URI playing the Cowboys last season in Oklahoma City.
Baron recently returned from Turkey, where he was getting his son, Jimmy, situated for a pro career, before going to Worcester Academy (Mass.) to get his other son, Billy, set for his post-grad year. Jim Baron was noncommittal as to whether Billy Baron, who is being recruited by some Big East schools, will play for him like Jim did so well.
"I want to let him breathe for a bit,'' the elder Baron said. "Jimmy won 63 games here. It was tremendous. We had two postseasons, two coach of the years, it was a tremendous run. It was a fabulous experience and one that we will treasure the rest of our lives."
• FIU athletic director Pete Garcia and coach Isiah Thomas cited the American Cancer Society and the benefit of the program playing in the event as the reason they abided by the contract. Garcia said there was a miscommunication with the Gazelle Group about playing Ohio State as opposed to North Carolina. "What's gone on has actually given more exposure to the American Cancer Society,'' Garcia said. "What's great is that Isiah ended his college career against North Carolina and now he'll start his college coaching career against North Carolina."
• Mississippi State coach Rick Stansbury said Renardo Sidney, who is awaiting clearance from the NCAA Eligibility Center on his amateur status, has been able to practice in individual workouts. Stansbury said Sidney needs to get in shape and "toughen up." But the skill set is in place. John Riek is also working on his conditioning, getting his slender frame up to 245-250 pounds, according to Stansbury. Riek, a one-time NBA draft entrant and Cincinnati recruit, has been a tease but unable to deliver for two years. He should be ready to play once he sits out the first nine games of the season, per an NCAA decision. "He's got size and a work ethic that you can't teach,'' Stansbury said.
• Mississippi State, which always seems to be searching for games late into the summer, finalized its schedule with an opener against Wright State. That's not an easy opener, considering the Raiders should be the second pick behind Butler in the Horizon League. The Bulldogs will play eight of their 14 nonleague games away from Starkville, playing at Western Kentucky, at Houston, at San Diego, against DePaul in Tampa in the SEC-Big East Invitational, against UCLA in the Wooden Classic in Anaheim, against Louisiana Tech in Jackson, Miss., and against Richmond and likely Missouri in a tournament in South Padre Island, Texas. The Bulldogs will make two trips to California within a span of three weeks to play San Diego and UCLA.
• The Pitt staff doesn't appear to be too moved by the ineligibility of Gilbert Brown for the fall semester. Brown has been limited by injuries the past three seasons and averaged just 5.4 points and shot 28.2 percent on 3s.
• Every case of discipline is unique, but it's not hard to see why there is some grumbling within the Big East that Joe Mazzulla was reinstated by coach Bob Huggins for the season after he was suspended in the offseason for a violation of team rules, while Brown will miss the fall for academics and Reggie Redding at Villanova will miss the first semester of games for possession of marijuana.
Mazzulla was out for most of last season with a shoulder injury, but then was suspended in the offseason for an altercation at a Morgantown bar, which was his second arrest in nine months. He pleaded no contest to disorderly conduct and was sentenced to community service.
Fellow Mountaineers point guard Darryl Bryant is still awaiting his fate for the fall semester. On Wednesday, it was announced he would not face any jail time in two court cases involving traffic accidents this summer, but a university spokesman said Bryant is still indefinitely suspended from all basketball-related activities.