Category archive: Texas Longhorns
Javan Felix needs to make the USA U-19 team next month. Rick Barnes needs him not only to earn a spot, but to play and perform with confidence.
Texas' season may depend on it.
Felix will have the ball in his hands next season as the Longhorns attempt to rid themselves of the sour taste of a 16-18 (7-11 Big 12) season. Gone are Myck Kabongo to the NBA draft and guards Julien Lewis and Sheldon McClellan to transferring (Jaylen Bond also bolted).
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesJavan Felix is one Longhorn who accepted the challenge of turning Texas around.
"I want to do anything I can to make that team,'' said Felix of the U-19 tryouts June 14-19 in Colorado Springs before he'll head to the Czech Republic for the FIBA World Championships in late June. "I want to have a good presence on the defensive and offensive end. I know they may look at my size and how short I am, but I can make up for that. I want to run the team. I really want to take advantage of this opportunity.''
The 6-foot Felix will have plenty of competition that will make the selections tough for junior national team chair Jim Boeheim and U-19 coaches Billy Donovan (Florida), Shaka Smart (VCU) and Tony Bennett (Virginia).
Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacano, Florida's Michael Frazier, Oregon's Damyean Dotson, UConn's Rodney Purvis, Pitt's James Robinson, Oklahoma State's Marcus Smart, Duke's Rasheed Sulaimon and Washington-bound Nigel Williams-Goss are all listed as guards on the 24-man roster trying out for the team. You can lock in Smart, and I'd be surprised if Arcidiacano, Robinson, Sulaimon and Dotson aren't on the roster too.
Smart has been told by the coaching staff that he will be playing point as he attempts to transition to the NBA after likely one more season at Oklahoma State. The playmaking minutes will be limited. Felix needs to get a few.
Felix averaged 27.2 minutes, 6.8 points, 2.6 rebounds, 4.1 assists and 2.5 turnovers last season. The Longhorns will be young next season, but Felix is adamant they will be more cohesive. They weren't last season.
"We have to become a team,'' said Felix. "Last year we weren't a real team. Everyone wasn't fully bought into what we wanted to do, and everyone wasn't giving their all. It's a whole new vibe now.''
Felix said he was surprised Lewis and McClellan both transferred, but none of the freshmen left.
"It says a lot,'' said Felix. "We all know last season was a disappointment. We have to be better. Most of the people who have played at Texas under coach Barnes have been winners. Last year we didn't have a winning record, and that's a slap in the face to the people who came before us. We have to fix that and redeem ourselves.''
Felix doesn't blame the players for leaving, but he said if they didn't want to be at Texas, then it's good they're gone.
"Obviously they didn't want to be here,'' said Felix. "They weren't fully here. They had one foot in the door and one foot out. They weren't locked in, and because of that we suffered. Now we're all locked in and have the same goal and same mindset.''
Kansas has a stellar recruiting class and the top player incoming in Andrew Wiggins, in addition to the few veterans it has back at guard. Oklahoma State has Smart. Baylor got its two best bigs back. Sleeping on Iowa State and Oklahoma would be a mistake. Texas will struggle to crack the top five of a 10-team league. Beating out teams like Kansas State, West Virginia and TCU is a must.
"We've got to cut down on turnovers and be more vocal,'' said Felix. "I have to defend better than I did.''
Barnes has no issues with the players who left. There is a buzz in Austin around the basketball program this spring that is better than recent years. Whether that translates into a more productive season will depend on the summer these players have in the next few months, especially Felix.
"He has definitely challenged me,'' Felix said of Barnes. "I've taken the challenge, and I'm working very hard.''
But if that's the casualty of coaches getting more access to players, then no one will complain.
By the time practice officially begins for Division I men's teams Friday night, the majority already will be well ahead of schedule. If they took a foreign trip in the summer, then the progression is even further.
Because of a new NCAA rule, coaches could be with their teams during the summer if they were enrolled in classes. Team workouts for two hours a week could occur beginning Sept. 15.
"We already have a pretty good feel of what we need to do,'' Texas coach Rick Barnes said Wednesday afternoon, prior to the V Foundation dinner. "It doesn't dawn on me that Friday is the start of practice because I feel like we've been practicing. The rule changes have changed all of that.''
They've also changed the anxiety levels of many coaches.
"We could play a game in three days if we had to,'' Barnes said. "How good we'd be, I don't know. But there's no question that we got more in and more of a base in.''
NC State coach Mark Gottfried agreed. The Wolfpack went to Spain in August, so NC State is comfortably moving forward with the season. Getting the eligibility of freshman Rodney Purvis settled prior to the start of practice is also a relief.
"If we had to play a game pretty soon, we could and we'd be OK,'' said Gottfried. "I still think you learn a lot about your team when the lights come on and it's a game atmosphere. We still have a long way to go and learn about how our team plays in games and the rotation. You don't know how your team will handle when the lights go on.''
Still, Barnes said he learned this summer that the freshmen were more advanced and that changed recruiting in the fall.
"We actually changed what we were looking for,'' Barnes said. "We only have 11 recruited athletes, so we were never going to be able to simulate a whole game and we won't until we have our two scrimmages [of which one is the now-annual scrimmage against Gonzaga in Colorado]. But I think we have an idea.
"There's no question that you know your team so much better. You can start to think about what-ifs and now start on situational play. I think we all have a pretty good idea at the start of practice about where we're at with our teams.''
The practice time has been invaluable for Connecticut coach Kevin Ollie, who took over for this season from retiring Hall of Fame coach Jim Calhoun.
"I feel like I'm ahead,'' Ollie said. "It's an hour and an hour goes quick, so there is only so much you can put in. But you can put in your philosophy and defensive principles. I do feel like we're ahead of the game. I imagine every team in America feels the same way. Now we get to practice and we'll see how the players handle the longer grind, how they hold up and how they recover.''
This is the first year that coaches have had summer and fall access. Whether there is a burnout factor in February is to be determined. But what's not up for dispute is how ready teams are to play in mid-October -- less than a month before the regular season tips off on Nov. 9.
The Big 12 men's basketball coaches wrapped up their meetings Tuesday in Phoenix with its new members -- West Virginia and TCU -- replacing the departed Missouri and Texas A&M.
Chris Chambers/Getty ImagesThe Big 12 welcomes WVU, which has made five straight NCAA tourney trips under Bob Huggins.
And the consensus was that the league is actually as strong as it's ever been.
"I never questioned the stability," Texas coach Rick Barnes said. "The anchors were always the ones that wanted to keep it together -- Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas. I know our AD [DeLoss Dodds] never wavered on keeping the league together. We're very comfortable with where it is right now."
The Big 12 made an easy switch in adding West Virginia and TCU. The league will continue as a 10-team conference for the foreseeable future with a new television agreement that will ensure even more status quo.
Kansas is coming off an appearance in the national title game. Baylor made an Elite Eight trip for the second time in three years. And four others made the NCAA tournament, meaning 60 percent of the league went dancing. The odds are high that the Big 12 can duplicate that percentage going forward.
And keeping the conference at 10 teams also ensures that the round-robin schedule will continue. The Big 12 is now the only conference among the power six that plays a true round-robin.
"It's the best basketball league in the country," Barnes said. "Divisional play wasn't fair. [With the round-robin] you play everybody twice and the rivalries continue, so we can build our league."
Even though his team won the conference yet again last season, Kansas coach Bill Self said the 18-game, round-robin schedule was "tiring."
"I thought it was long. My opinion is that the perfect number of league games is 16," he said. "But it was still great and it was better from a fan perspective to play everybody twice. But it's a long season."
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg called the league slate a "grind" but added that crowning a true champion was a "great format, and it really prepared you for the postseason."
New Kansas State coach Bruce Weber didn't have a true round-robin with Illinois in the Big Ten. But he did when he was at Southern Illinois in the Missouri Valley.
"As far as getting in the NCAA tournament, it helps your RPI and gets you more quality games," Weber said.
Trent Johnson, who came over from LSU to TCU, said he enjoyed the Pac-10's round-robin schedule while head coach at Stanford and that it "was the right way to determine a true champion."
West Virginia coach Bob Huggins agreed.
"It just makes it hard if you don't play everybody twice," Huggins said. "It's more fair to play everybody home-and-home. I think we went to Syracuse 12 years in a row. Well, maybe it was three, maybe four."
Weber, Johnson and Huggins all said they were impressed by the growing sense of stability in the Big 12.
As for going to Morgantown, a place that is 870 miles away from its nearest Big 12 neighbor (Iowa State)? Well, this is an era in which every team travels by charter, so by and large the coaches contacted by ESPN.com didn't seem all that concerned. Hoiberg said the trip to WVU will be looked at like the road trip to Colorado in the Big 12 before the Buffaloes left.
As for the Mountaineers' schedule, Huggins said he wouldn't be against playing several road games -- a Texas road trip for example -- in early January, when school isn't in session.
The Big 12 said that's unlikely, however.
"It's not my call," Huggins said. "I'll do what they want."
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.
And if the decision were up to the men's basketball coaches (although it never is), they would rather see the balanced schedule continue, regardless of what Missouri decides to do with its conference affiliation.
The Big 12 has 10 remaining schools this season after losing Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12). So the conference finally was able to scrap the unbalanced schedule that was based on a north-south football split that saw Texas and Kansas playing only once every season. The need to have those two teams play twice was so real that Texas coach Rick Barnes said he looked into playing a nonconference game against the Jayhawks at one point.
Texas A&M is off to the SEC in 2012, but the Big 12 has already replaced the Aggies with TCU for next season. If Missouri were to leave at some point for the SEC, it would leave the Big 12 with nine schools. That's where Kansas coach Bill Self would stop, if it were up to him.
Ron Chenoy/US PresswireBill Self has certainly had plenty of opinions on the realignment occurring in college sports.
"I want nine, that's what I want, to choose to stay at nine," Self said. "That way we would have 16 league games and a round-robin instead of 18. If we don't do nine, then I'd rather do 12 for 16 games."
Multiple Big 12 sources said Mizzou is leaning toward a departure to the SEC, but there is still a chance that the Missouri board of curators could decide to stay in the Big 12 with the new revenue sharing and grant of rights for Tier I and Tier II television games.
If the Tigers leave, then the Big 12 has to decide if it wants to go to 10 (Self's wish of nine is highly unlikely) or bump up to 12. The choices for either are centered on West Virginia, Louisville and Cincinnati from the Big East and BYU, which is an independent in football and in the WCC for everything else.
"I'd like to stay at 10 for a bit and see what happens with it," Barnes said. "I'd love to see us at 10. I love the round robin. When I was in the ACC and Big East, we were at nine teams. As long as we keep Kansas, we're going to have a good league."
Barnes said that as Self walked by to give him a ribbing. But Barnes did say playing 16 games allows the Big 12 schools to play a "great non-league schedule."
Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford wants to see the Big 12 pull an ACC and be proactive, going after elite basketball schools the way the ACC did with Pitt and Syracuse.
"I have so many mixed emotions here, but I'd love for Louisville, West Virginia and Cincinnati to come in for basketball and make us a 12-team league," Ford said. "But if we went 12 and went divisions, I wouldn't be a fan of that. I do like 10. I like that the schedule is fair. And I think it will be exciting for fans to see all the teams come through the gym. We'll have a true champion. A guy like me from Kentucky, I'd love to see Louisville. Boy, what a great basketball league you'd have. But we're in a good position now."
Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger is coming off a true round-robin schedule in the Mountain West while at UNLV. He doesn't want to see a change.
"It's a true champion," Kruger said. "It's good for the fans too. It's the best way to determine a championship."
Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg agreed with that assessment. So, too, did Baylor's Scott Drew, Kansas State's Frank Martin and Texas Tech's Billy Gillispie.
The Pac-10 used to have a true champion, the ultimate grind of home-and-home with every school. But then the additions of Utah and Colorado meant there would be unbalanced scheduling. A true champ isn't a foreign concept and happens in various conferences in Division I. The Missouri Valley comes to mind.
Less is more for the men's basketball coaches. They'd like to see the league preserve something that they've coveted for some time -- a true home-and-home with every school.
This season -- Texas A&M's last -- will give the Big 12 the feeling of truly being a conference. If Missouri is in the league next season, then the Big 12 can experience two seasons of this so-called scheduling bliss.
Beyond that is still a great unknown. The basketball coaches don't have a vote. They have a voice and they have expressed it. But clearly, like almost everything else, this will be a football-driven decision.
That seems to be a common theme of late.
Walker doesn't have second thoughts about declaring for the NBA draft. He was gone as soon as the Huskies won the national title, and his decision was probably made far earlier.
As college basketball practices begin Friday evening and the lockout continues, it is worth pondering the players who might be questioning their moves last spring and what their old college teams would look like right now if they'd made the decision to stay in school.
It was no secret that the lockout was a likely occurrence. The possibility was hardly a secret. Yet plenty of questionable moves were made by players who decided to stay in the draft. Some were selected later than they were projected; others weren't selected at all.
AP Photos/Henny Ray AbramsUndrafted Scotty Hopson certainly could've helped the rebuilding efforts at Tennessee.
Scotty Hopson, Tennessee: Hopson had no business leaving for the NBA, even if Bruce Pearl had not been fired. Hopson was never a consistent shooter and didn't continue to progress on an upward trajectory. He wasn't selected in the NBA draft like his teammate Tobias Harris, who landed in the first round. Had Hopson realized he wasn't going to get picked -- something that he had to have heard many times -- then he would have been a key bridge for new coach Cuonzo Martin. Martin could have used Hopson's experience and shooting to keep the Volunteers relevant in a transition year. Hopson would have been a volume shooter and improved his chances of being selected in 2012. Instead, Hopson and the Vols both lost. Tennessee is in rebuilding mode and will have a hard time staying afloat in the SEC.
Jereme Richmond, Illinois: Richmond clearly had issues, as evidenced by his arrest on assault and weapons charges in August. So it might have been best for all parties that he split. But maybe, just maybe, had he decided to return to Illinois he wouldn't have found himself over the summer as an undrafted, lost young man. This may be a reach, but it would be interesting to see what could have occurred in his life had he decided to stick out his commitment to Illinois. If he had bought into the program for a second year, he would have helped offset some significant senior losses for the Illini. In the end, Illinois wins by not having his baggage on the squad. Richmond lost by declaring, not being selected and now seemingly untouchable due to his arrest. Illinois is a team that has the potential to be a sleeper in the Big Ten with Brandon Paul and Meyers Leonard. But there are plenty of question marks to lock in the Illini as an NCAA tournament team.
Carleton Scott, Notre Dame: Scott surprised the Irish by staying in the NBA draft. He had a chance to play one more season with Tim Abromaitis and help Notre Dame offset the loss of valued senior leader Ben Hansbrough. Scott was never going to be a star for the Irish. He wasn't going to be a lock for the NBA, either. His best bet was to play professional basketball somewhere internationally. Notre Dame was going to take a step back with Hansbrough's departure anyway, but the Irish could have used another anchor inside to keep their head above water in a rugged middle of the conference. Now the Irish is depleted in the post. Scott could have definitely helped there.
Cory Joseph, Texas: Joseph did find his way into the first round, barely. So it's hard to completely fault him here, despite failing to leave his mark in Austin. The Longhorns have one of the top guards in the country in freshman Myck Kabongo. Joseph could have complemented Kabongo and allowed the Horns to have a stellar backcourt. Texas will still have talent, but will be lacking experience. The Longhorns were going to lose Tristan Thompson and Jordan Hamilton early to the draft. But it wasn't a given that Joseph was going to leave, too. The triple hit might be too much for UT to overcome with so many teams competing for the Big 12 title.
Shelvin Mack, Butler: Would Mack have gone to three straight national championship games? The odds would have been exceedingly low. Losing Matt Howard was a crushing blow to the Bulldogs. I didn't blame Mack for leaving last April because of the sting of losing two straight national championship games. Mack had come back without teammate Gordon Hayward and now he was expected to do it again without Howard? Still, the lockout is on, and Mack isn't in Washington playing for the Wizards. Put Mack on the Bulldogs next to Ronald Nored and newcomer Roosevelt Jones with Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall inside, and the Bulldogs are once again an intriguing threat to go deep. If the lockout lasts well into the winter, Mack may watch Butler games and find himself at Hinkle Fieldhouse longing for his final season of eligibility. It would be a shame if the lockout lasts for months and Mack sits idle. He had one more run in him.
Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins, Georgia: The Bulldogs made the NCAA tournament last season. If Leslie and Thompkins had come back alongside returnee Gerald Robinson, UGA would have made the NCAAs again. The SEC is stronger this season with possible NCAA teams Kentucky, Florida, Vandy, Alabama and Mississippi State. Georgia would have comfortably made it six. Instead, the Bulldogs are rebuilding or at least seriously retooling under Mark Fox.
Kim Klement/US PresswireUCLA will still contend in the Pac-12, but Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee might've been the difference in taking the next step in March.
Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee, UCLA: The Bruins have a loaded frontcourt with Reeves Nelson, Josh Smith and North Carolina transfers David and Travis Wear. But the Bruins are lacking proven, productive experience on the perimeter. That could be the difference between an NCAA berth and a team that could have made a run toward New Orleans. Honeycutt and Lee didn't get drafted in the first round, going in the second instead. And now they can't play in the NBA for the foreseeable future. UCLA will still be a Pac-12 title contender and NCAA team. But the possibilities had those two returned to Westwood have to gnawing at coach Ben Howland.
Josh Selby, Kansas: Selby wasn't eligible and then he was hurt and never played a full season for the Jayhawks. He didn't get into the first round, either. And it's too bad. Selby should have shown more maturity, or at least someone associated with him maybe could have advised him better. He needed to play a full season to prove that he could do it. If he had, then the Jayhawks would be much more likely to make a Big 12 title run and Final Four quest. The Jayhawks were still selected to win the Big 12 on Thursday. But that might be more out of fear of selecting Baylor or Texas A&M and getting burned by KU once again.
DeAndre Liggins, Kentucky: Liggins did well enough to warrant a second-round selection, and the Wildcats aren't hurting, either. They are a consensus top-four selection in the preseason. But Kentucky still lacks overall experience. Sure, Terrence Jones and Darius Miller are back, but toss in Liggins and suddenly the Cats don't have to rely so much on the freshmen. Liggins would have fit in even better with his length, and the style UK will play this season with the long set of newcomers that John Calipari brought in this season. Liggins may long to be in Rupp Arena if the lockout drags and the Wildcats are pushing for a return trip to the Final Four.
Jordan Williams, Maryland: Williams was selected high in the second round and fulfilled his dream of being an NBA draft pick. His return may not have changed Gary Williams' decision to retire. But had the talented sophomore stayed he would have been beloved by new coach Mark Turgeon, who thirsts for a big halfcourt playes like Williams. He would have been one of the premier bigs in the country and relished his role as the anchor on a Maryland team that would have fed him even more in the post. Maryland probably wasn't an NCAA team even if Williams had returned, but he would have been featured even more as a junior. Now he sits idle and the Terps under Turgeon are in complete rebuild mode.
Darius Morris, Michigan: Morris missed a potential tying bucket against Duke in the NCAA tournament. If he had returned to join Tim Hardaway Jr., there is a chance the seeds would have been reversed if the two teams played again this season. Morris could have been a difference for Michigan. Instead, the Wolverines lack experience next to Hardaway and he loses a quality sidekick who can be just as disruptive as he can be offensively. Morris was picked by the Lakers in the second round, but he's not playing for them now. Michigan may get another crack at Duke if the two teams win first-round games in the Maui Invitational. Meet in Maui with Morris and the Wolverines probably would have been the pick. Instead, Michigan is once again the underdog, seeking respect as a consistent national player.
Five months later, he edged out Connecticut's Kemba Walker for Big East Player of the Year.
Using that as a backdrop, let's remember that the list of 50 Wooden nominees is flawed, much like any of the award lists. The Wooden Award does not allow its voters to nominate any freshmen or transfers (either four-year or junior college) on their ballots.
And with college basketball as loaded with talent as any year since 2007-08, narrowing it down to 50 is not easy. So below I've attempted to come up with the names that didn't make it, either as "just missed the cut" omissions or just because they're freshmen or transfers. These guys aren't on the list (which can be found here), but might show up when it's updated during the season.
This group is by no means definitive, either. There's no telling who else might emerge nationally as the games get under way.
Let's take a look
The omissions (in alphabetical order):
Julian Boyd, Long Island: The Blackbirds are the favorite again in the Northeast Conference and the main reason is because Boyd is back and ready to dominate the stat sheet.
D.J. Cooper, Ohio: The diminutive point guard does a little bit of everything; he averaged 15.8 ppg, 7.5 apg and 5.0 rpg for the Bobcats last season.
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesSeth Curry hasn't done enough to warrant a mention on a preseason watch list, but he might end up being a Wooden addition.
Jared Cunningham, Oregon State: Cunningham has some of the best hops in the sport and a chance to be a Pac-12 star, allowing the Beavers to finally move up in the standings this season.
Seth Curry, Duke: Curry was a standout shooter for the Blue Devils on their trip to China and could be one of the top scorers on the team.
Brandon Davies, BYU: Davies was recently reinstated to the Cougars, and the offense is expected to flow through him inside and out as BYU mounts a campaign to win the WCC in its first year in the league.
Matthew Dellavedova, Saint Mary's: SMC coach Randy Bennett envisions this as one of the best teams he's ever had, but a lot of that will have to do with whether Dellavedova can shoot like Mickey McConnell did last season.
Greg Echenique, Creighton: Echenique was a rebounding force for Venezuela this summer and should do even more for the Bluejays with a full season to work with.
Kyle Fogg, Arizona: Fogg is next in line to assume a leadership position for the Wildcats, who are in a position to compete for Pac-12 titles for years to come.
Kevin Foster, Santa Clara: As a sophomore, Foster sort of came out of nowhere to average 20.2 ppg and become one of the nation's top 3-point shooters.
Chris Gaston, Fordham: The Rams aren't any good, but the nation's leading returning rebounder (11.3 rpg) at least deserves a shout-out in this space.
Yancy Gates, Cincinnati: UC coach Mick Cronin said he'd be surprised if Gates wasn't one of the 10 names on the Big East preseason first team.
Rob Jones, Saint Mary's: Jones could be a double-double regular for the Gaels, and for Saint Mary's to win the WCC, Jones will have to be a star.
Doron Lamb, Kentucky: John Calipari says Lamb will be the Wildcats' best player. Just Coach Cal mind games, or the truth?
Meyers Leonard, Illinois: Leonard didn't contribute a whole lot as a freshman, but he was a hidden gem on the U.S. U-19 team in Latvia this summer. The Illini are expecting big things out of him.
C.J. McCollum, Lehigh: McCollum is the nation's leading returning scorer (21.8 ppg) and is in the top five in steals (2.5 spg). Oh, and he did that as a freshman. What more do you need to know?
Cameron Moore, UAB: The Blazers have been consistently good under Mike Davis and have had unheralded C-USA stars. Moore is the latest.
Toure' Murry, Wichita State: If the Shockers win the Missouri Valley over Creighton, a lot of the credit will end up going to the veteran Murry.
Rafael Suanes/US PresswireRyan Pearson looks to lead Mason to another run to the NCAAs.
Brandon Paul, Illinois: Illini coach Bruce Weber was a bit surprised Paul didn't crack the top 50 on the Wooden list, given his overall importance to this team.
Ryan Pearson, George Mason: The Patriots are a trendy pick for the Top 25 and a lot of that has to do with the versatility of Pearson.
Damier Pitts, Marshall: The Thundering Herd are a real sleeper to gain an NCAA tourney berth out of Conference USA in large part because of Pitts.
Herb Pope, Seton Hall: Pope has come back from multiple life-threatening situations and has a real shot as a senior to put it all together and finally shine.
Terrence Ross, Washington: The Huskies can't be dismissed as a major player for the Pac-12 title, and if they win it, Ross will be a significant reason why.
Robert Sacre, Gonzaga: Sacre has matured into a solid post player, and that progress shows no signs of stopping as the Zags once again compete for the West Coast title.
Mike Scott, Virginia: If the sleeper Cavs mount a run to the NCAA tournament, the oft-injured Scott will be the reason why.
Renardo Sidney, Mississippi State: If Sidney is in shape and plays up to his potential, he has SEC Player of the Year potential and could be the difference between the Bulldogs making the NCAAs or NIT.
Chace Stanback, UNLV: Stanback's suspension to start the season is only one game, so that won't diminish his ability to lead the Rebels in their hunt for a Mountain West title.
Raymond Taylor, Florida Atlantic: FAU quietly won the Sun Belt East Division last season and Mike Jarvis' diminutive point guard was the catalyst behind the regular-season championship.
Hollis Thompson, Georgetown: If the Hoyas are to make the NCAA tournament again and be a pest in the upper half of the Big East, then Thompson needs a breakout season.
Kyle Weems, Missouri State: Doug McDermott is the one everyone is talking about in the Valley, but let's not forget that Weems is the reigning MVC Player of the Year. Too bad for the Bears he's their only returning starter.
Kendall Williams, New Mexico: The sophomore guard was the leading scorer in four postseason NIT games for the Lobos and should only get better with the addition of Australian Hugh Greenwood.
Dewayne Dedmon, USC: Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill firmly believes this JC transfer is an NBA talent who could dominate the post and average a double-double for SC.
Arnett Moultrie, Mississippi State: The former UTEP big man is ready to have a bust-out season for a team that has serious bounce-back potential after a disappointing 2010-11 campaign.
Mike Rosario, Florida: The former Rutgers scoring guard finally has plenty of support around him and will put up numbers for a winner.
Rakim Sanders, Fairfield: The Boston College transfer should flourish after dropping down a level, and he should get coach Sydney Johnson another trip to the NCAA tourney. Johnson is beginning his first year at Fairfield after leading Princeton to the 2011 tourney.
Royce White, Iowa State: White is finally ready to be a star on the college scene after multiple transgressions at Minnesota.
Brandon Wood, Michigan State: The Spartans picked up a rare senior transfer (taking advantage of the graduate transfer rule) from Valparaiso who could be one of the best shooters in the Big Ten.
Tony Woods, Oregon: The embattled Woods arrived from Wake Forest after legal issues and has a chance to really shine as a double-double player for the first time in his career.
Bradley Beal, Florida: Beal has a chance to be a productive player in a frontcourt that has a vacuum after multiple seniors departed.
Gary Bell Jr., Gonzaga: Coach Mark Few has been anticipating Bell's arrival for over a year now. He's expected to step in and deliver right away.
Wayne Blackshear, Louisville: The Cardinals fancy themselves a Big East title contender, and that's partly because they consider Blackshear a star in the making.
Jabari Brown, Oregon: Brown was the star of the Ducks' trip to Italy with his scoring prowess, and expect that to continue in the Pac-12.
Jahii Carson, Arizona State: There is some question right now as to Carson's eligibility, but if he's good to go, the Sun Devils might become relevant in the Pac-12 again.
Brendan NolanThere seems to be little doubt that freshman Anthony Davis will have a major impact for UK.
Erik Copes, George Mason: Copes was bound for George Washington before Karl Hobbs was fired; now he'll be a headline performer for the Patriots and first-year coach Paul Hewitt.
Anthony Davis, Kentucky: Davis has a chance to be the SEC Player of the Year and the No. 1 pick in the NBA draft, so expect him to be on the midseason list when freshmen are allowed.
Andre Drummond, Connecticut: He will be an immediate star and help lift the Huskies into the national title chase again. He's more than likely a future top-five pick in the NBA.
Myck Kabongo, Texas: Coach Rick Barnes has had quite a bit of success with big-time freshmen guards, and Kabongo is next in line.
Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Kentucky: Gilchrist will be another star on what will be a headline team throughout the season.
Johnny O'Bryant, LSU: Coach Trent Johnson needs the Tigers to start trending upward again, and he has a shot with the arrival of the big man from Mississippi.
LeBryan Nash, Oklahoma State: OSU is a bit of a mystery team in the Big 12, but the All-American from Dallas could push the Cowboys into contention.
Austin Rivers, Duke: Rivers will have the ball in his hands quite a bit and appears to be the next Duke star in a lengthy list of recognizable names.
Josiah Turner, Arizona: The Wildcats will win the Pac-12 regular-season title if Turner is as good as advertised.
Cody Zeller, Indiana: If coach Tom Crean is going to turn the Hoosiers into a relevant team this season, it will be because of Zeller and his impact in the Big Ten.
• Villanova is trying to use its rising football program as a way to get in somewhere in the ACC or a Big 12/Big East hybrid. The school is hoping the Philadelphia market and the ability to get its football to FBS status (unlike, say, Georgetown) is attractive. And by the way, Nova is not pleased about the way Pitt helped block the Wildcats from being accepted into the Big East for football.
• If what's left of the Big East became a basketball-driven league, it would still be a very attractive conference. Imagine if the league were Villanova, St. John's, Georgetown, Marquette, DePaul, Seton Hall, Providence and possibly Notre Dame, then add Xavier, Butler, Saint Louis, Dayton, Creighton and maybe Saint Joseph's.
• The remaining non-FBS teams in the Big East have to commit to unity for a setup like this to work. The problem with this idea is that it still wouldn't command major media dollars. Non-football conferences don't make the major money. Check out my colleage Dana O'Neil's take on it here.
• The Big East is saying the right things by holding Pitt and Syracuse to the 27-month departure bylaw. But it's in the best interest of the remaining Big East schools to let the schools go so that they can figure out what the conference will look like in two or three years. Multiple lame-duck seasons serve no purpose.
• Pitt is having some selective memory these days about refusing to play Boston College after the Eagles broke off to the ACC eight years ago. The Big East office was not a fan of anyone playing the Eagles in anything and made that clear to Pittsburgh. The Panthers were supposed to play BC in the Jimmy V Classic but were replaced with Indiana.
• The Barclays Arena in Brooklyn will provide the New York City area with multiple opportunities to host conference tournaments. The ACC, Big East and A-10 should all have choices for tournaments in the coming years.
• Adding Missouri to the Southeastern Conference makes the most sense for what the league wants from a 14th member. The SEC wants the perception to be that it is adding a new market (St. Louis/Kansas City) and a school that has some respect academically. Texas A&M obviously delivers a major market (Houston) and respect. But there aren't really two other natural schools out there for the SEC to bump up to 16.
• Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott will have to do some serious convincing when he talks to his presidents -- especially the Bay Area ones -- about adding Oklahoma State and Texas Tech with Texas and Oklahoma. I would love to hear that conversation.
• I like that Mountain West commissioner Craig Thompson is being proactive, but the proposed MWC-Conference USA confederation to have a football championship that would decide a BCS bid is odd. Would it really produce an automatic qualifier to the BCS? Would there be some sort of basketball agreement?
• Texas would still rather stay in the Big 12 and have all of its program compete in the region. But it all depends on Oklahoma at this point.
• Can you imagine if the ACC added Notre Dame and Connecticut to get to 16? The Irish are always solid under Mike Brey and UConn is a three-time national champ. The top of the ACC would be scary good. But moving up from the bottom would be extremely difficult for some programs. The jobs at Wake Forest and Boston College would get even tougher.
• It really is amazing to think about how much super-conference talk is going on recently and yet Butler played in the last two national championship games and VCU was in the Final Four last season. March reminds us that there are hundreds of others schools competing in Division I and plenty of high-level players and coaches. It's not all about the big boys!
• The NCAA still hasn't decided on the fate of ousted Connecticut athletic director Jeff Hathaway. He's the men's basketball tourney committee chair yet is currently jobless. But a number of former committee members and current Big East officials want Hathaway to be on the committee for this final season as long as the NCAA can figure out a way around him not having a job. Hathaway would be able to focus solely on the task of running the committee, which meets again later in the fall.
• Michigan State coach Tom Izzo is as excited about this season as he has been in years. The Spartans are finally relatively healthy and it's clear some of the issues in the locker room are gone. Meanwhile, North Carolina coach Roy Williams, whose team will face off with Izzo in the Carrier Classic on Nov. 11, said he has been told the pickup games in Chapel Hill involving a number of locked-out NBA players have really helped his crew develop.
• UCLA's Class of 2012 commitments from the East and South, Kyle Anderson (New Jersey) and Jordan Adams (Georgia), continue to show the Bruins are a national program. Every former UCLA coach has consistently said the Bruins can't simply recruit California. UCLA has to be a national player to be a national contender. The recruiting by the Bruins and rival Arizona -- the top two teams in the latest ESPN rankings -- is a credit to Ben Howland and Sean Miller, who cut their teeth recruiting in the cut-throat East Coast. But it also shows that the down cycle of the Pac-12 elite was merely a blip on the radar.
What a shame.
When Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-12) bolted, the league was left with 10 schools that are all on the upward trend. There are no bad teams. None. All of the schools are now fully committed to making men's basketball a premier sport. Finally, the Big 12 was going to have a true round-robin schedule in the sport. The Big 12 was going to be the newest and only major conference to play a balanced schedule.
And this season promises to deliver on one of the country's most competitive conference races.
But the Aggies will soon be gone for the SEC, if they can get over their legal woes, and the rest of the league is in serious doubt. If Oklahoma hadn't started the latest round of Big 12 exploration, nine remaining Big 12 schools would be together and all would be relatively well. But the Sooners are indeed exploring and that means four could bolt to the Pac-12, with Oklahoma leading Texas and those two schools dragging Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, too.
It's a tough pill to swallow for the men's basketball coaches at the remaining schools.
"Look at those nine teams in all major sports -- football, men's and women's basketball, baseball, I don't understand," Kansas State coach Frank Martin said. "What other league has what we do top to bottom?"
Added Kansas coach Bill Self: "I think every school but Iowa State [and Texas Tech] has been to the Elite Eight since 2004. No other league could probably say that."
Here are the facts the Big 12 likes to tout:
• The nine schools have combined for a total of 201 NCAA tournament appearances.
• Of the 115 NCAA victories in the history of the Big 12 (since 1996-97), a total of 109 wins (94.8 percent) have come from the nine teams that would make up the league if the Big 12 remained together.
• The Big 12 has earned 80 NCAA bids in its history (since 1996-97), all but nine (88.8 percent) have come from those nine schools.
• The Big 12 has 24 NCAA bids in the past four years and 42 since 2004. Only six of those bids came from one of the three other teams (Texas A&M).
• A total of 24 of the 26 consensus All-Americans in Big 12 history have come from the remaining nine schools.
So let's pause for a moment and actually consider what could be lost from a basketball standpoint if the remaining nine don't stay together
Denny Medley/US PresswireTexas and Kansas have developed a nice rivalry over the past decade. Could that soon be gone?
Kansas: This one is easy. KU is one of the five best programs in the country. Phog Allen is easily one of the top three venues in the sport. The Jayhawks consistently rank in the top 10. Bill Self won a national championship in 2008.
Texas: Rick Barnes has one of the best jobs in the country. Texas can pluck the best talent in the state or go elsewhere as it did with Kevin Durant and its host of Canadian imports (Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph, Myck Kabongo et al). The Longhorns are consistent winners, usually play a national schedule and are regulars in the NCAA tournament.
Kansas State: The Wildcats were dormant not long ago, but Frank Martin (with an opening assist from Bob Huggins) has helped resurrect the program and ensured that Kansas State is a regular in the NCAA tournament. The Wildcats were in the Elite Eight two seasons ago. The passion for the Wildcats isn't equal to Kansas, but it's not too far behind anymore.
Baylor: The Bears were a disappointment a season ago but were in the Elite Eight in 2010. Baylor has hauled in some elite talent over the last few years, and it's clear that Scott Drew can get it done on the recruiting trail. The Bears already have the fifth-ranked class in the country lined up for 2012 and have a potential lottery pick (Perry Jones) suiting up for another year in Waco.
Iowa State: The Cyclones have hit a rough patch of late, but go back a few years and ask what opponents thought of going into Hilton Coliseum. They will tell you that it was one of the toughest environments in the league. Fred Hoiberg is going with a combination of transfers and new recruits. Let's see if that works. But you can't deny the talent he is bringing into Ames. If it works, Iowa State suddenly is relevant again.
Missouri: The Tigers have consistently had a winner in the region and been an Elite Eight team, despite coaching changes. If Frank Haith stays on despite the Miami allegations, he has an opportunity to continue the winning ways in Columbia. Athletic director Mike Alden is backing Haith, and that's a good sign for now. The Tigers have tremendous fan base, too.
Oklahoma State: The Cowboys haven't been a Big 12 title team, but Travis Ford has had them as a regular pest in the league. Oklahoma State has as passionate a following as any of these schools, and Gallagher-Iba is a gem of an arena. Ford's recruiting has picked up, and the Cowboys are clearly on the rise.
Oklahoma: The Sooners are in a rebuilding mode after the gut of early entries, attrition and an NCAA investigation sent OU down to the bottom of the league. But this is a proud program that has had a history of national talent and success. Lon Kruger is an undervalued coach who has won wherever he has coached in college. There is apathy in the hoops fan base, but this program will trend upward under Kruger.
Texas Tech: The Red Raiders haven't done much on the court lately, but they hired the right coach in Billy Gillispie. He has won in the state of Texas at UTEP and Texas A&M. He will win in Lubbock. The fan base needs to be prodded, but Gillispie will produce a product that will be a consistently decent team.
So that's what could've been.
"It would no question be an extremely strong basketball league," Ford said. "One of the positives of staying together, it keeps us all together in the region. Our rivalries would be strong. That will help with the excitement with the fans. I think it's a premier basketball league and this is the first year we're playing everybody twice. Even if it went to nine teams, it will be a battle every single night."
These schools have and will continue to produce strong, NBA-level talent. It would be too bad if they can't keep it all together.
"The Big 12 has had the most NBA lottery picks, first-round picks, total picks in the last four years and almost all of them have come from the nine schools left," Baylor coach Scott Drew said, clearly conscience of the league's talking points. "Since 2002, nine schools have had 17 Elite Eight teams and that's the most of any conference in the country. The second highest is the Big East with 14."
As you can tell, the Big 12 coaches are ready with ammunition. They don't have to be. Just look at the preseason top 25 when it comes out next month. More than likely, four of those remaining nine will be ranked -- Baylor, Missouri, Kansas and Texas (along with Texas A&M).
That speaks for itself.
That's why the Bulldogs hired their most famous alumnus, Jerry Tarkanian, in 1995.
That's why the football team has consistently been willing to play whomever, whenever for television purposes.
That's why Fresno was crushed when the Mountain West Conference split from the 16-team WAC in 1998 and didn't include the Bulldogs -- and subsequently showed no interest in the decade-plus that followed.
So one can imagine the school's elation when Utah's abrupt departure and the threat of BYU's (which ultimately proved real) led to another round of expansion for the MWC that this time included FSU, which will come on board alongside Nevada in fall 2012. Boise State joins the league this season.
So, now that Fresno State got what it wanted for its football program, a seemingly safe place for the foreseeable future, what does it mean for basketball?
Well, the timing couldn't be better for new coach Rodney Terry, a former assistant at Texas who took a gamble and left the comfort zone of one of the richest programs in the country in terms of facility, funds and recruiting.
Icon SMILongtime assistant Rodney Terry is a first-time college head coach.
And he couldn't be more pumped for the challenge.
"The timing is great,'' 43-year-old Terry said. "This is a great time to enter the Mountain West. It's a great time to take our program to the next level and attract a high level of talent.''
The MWC still has three programs that are going to be the bedrock of this league for the immediate future in UNLV, New Mexico and San Diego State. The departure of BYU and Utah (no one is losing any sleep over TCU's exit), even though the Utes have been struggling of late, will open up plenty of opportunities for the rookies in this league to make their mark in 2012-13.
Fresno State has a history of modest success. from Boyd Grant to Ron Adams to Gary Colson and Tark bringing in a host of high-level transfers that transformed the image of the school but didn't translate into NCAA tournament berths.
Former BYU and Fresno City College coach Steve Cleveland came in when the program was gutted and had to deal with NCAA sanctions. Cleveland had a few NBA-level talents in Paul George and Greg Smith, but his Bulldogs never won a WAC title or advanced to the NCAA tourney. In fact, the program hasn't made the Big Dance since reaching the second round in 2001.
Enter Terry, who comes from a Texas program under Rick Barnes that has placed assistants at a traditional mid-major program (Ken McDonald to Western Kentucky) and at a power-six school (Frank Haith to Miami, and now Missouri).
"I worked with him for four years, and I knew he was always looking for the right opportunity,'' McDonald said of Terry. "He had a lot of other opportunities before this one. I saw him on the summer circuit, and he was energized about this job. I know it's out west, but Rodney can excel in any recruiting situation.''
Added Haith, who freed up a spot on the UT bench for Terry by departing for Miami: "Texas is a national school, and Rodney is very comfortable in any recruiting situation. It won't be a huge adjustment for him. Rodney has been on different levels."
He was a high school basketball coach in Texas before working at Baylor, UNC Wilmington and briefly at Richmond before the Longhorns poached him from Jerry Wainwright's staff in 2002.
Terry helped Wainwright win at a nearly 60 percent clip in seven years. He was also on the Horns staff that reached a Final Four, two Elite Eights and four Sweet 16s, and he coached and recruited a number of lottery picks during his tenure in Austin.
But he'll have to get used to a different level. If Texas is first class, then Fresno State is currently in coach.
"You do have to take a step back and recognize there are different expectations,'' McDonald said. "We all want to do big things, but we have to understand it's a process and sometimes it takes time. You have to get used to the different resources, and sometimes you're eager to do some things that may take more time.''
Terry has the benefit of following the coach who followed the legend. Cleveland had to come in and work amid the rubble and could never really get it going, ending his tenure with four consecutive losing seasons. Still, the program is in decent shape for Terry. There is a foundation there.
The city of Fresno treats its teams like its own professional franchise, much like fans in other mid-sized cities, such as Albuquerque, N.M.; Lexington, Ky.; and Knoxville, Tenn.
Fresno State's fortunes are at the center of the community with not as much to distract from the daily grind.
"This is a college town, and I know there's a lot of attention toward that,'' Terry said. "I can't emphasize enough the passion and the support here that they have for us to be successful. Pat Hill has done it in football. And we're going to a higher stage in the Mountain West in terms of exposure.
"Everything is in place to take this program to a conference championship and try to advance in the NCAA tournament. Those are the goals that I will strive for year in and year out. We can attract the best players in California and throughout the country.''
To do that, though, Terry has to have the right staff. Whether he does will have to be determined in the future, but he's off to a good start. In addition to nabbing assistant coach Michael Schwartz off Haith's staff and Byron Jones, a one-time assistant at Wilmington, Terry also went out and made the savvy hire of his former boss Wainwright.
The veteran coach made multiple trips to the NCAA tournament at Wilmington and Richmond before heading to the Big East for an ultimately doomed tenure at DePaul. Still, despite his dismissal from the Blue Demons, Wainwright is one of the most respected people in the game by his peers.
"Rick [Barnes] told me you're only as good as the people you surround yourself with,'' Terry said. "You have to have a big-time staff around you.''
In 2010, Wainwright was fired at DePaul in the middle of Big East play. The firing came shortly after he suffered a broken leg when Villanova's Corey Fisher accidently ran into him and hit his leg while going out of bounds.
As it turns out, the broken leg turned out to be a potential life-saver.
His stomach was bothering him, and he discovered that the collision had also torn a muscle in his lower abdomen, giving him a hernia. When he went for blood work, he was told that his PSA numbers were up and that he had early stages of prostate cancer.
"None of this would have been known had I not gotten hurt,'' said Wainwright, who had radiation instead of surgery. More than a year later, he said he feels great. His six-month PSA checkup went well.
"I'm in my mid-60s. I wouldn't have come back into coaching for just anybody,'' Wainwright said. "[But] Rodney deserves this chance. He'll do a great job. He's an enthusiastic guy. My job is to make sure he has fun at this. It's a tough business. He's the reason I came back. He's so excited about this place.''
Fresno State is down in numbers with just eight scholarship players listed for this season. The talent clearly will need to go up a notch when the Bulldogs join the MWC in 2012. Because there's never a whole lot of patience in Fresno. The Bulldogs and their fans in the San Joaquin Valley want to win, and sooner than later. That's the nature of a place where the school's athletic programs are woven into the fabric of the community.
"The expectations are there,'' Terry said. "No matter who you are, no matter who you are replacing. They expect a competitive team and to compete for championships.''
So does Terry. He waited for his chance. He was selective. And now he has to take advantage of the opportunity.
The Bulldogs aren't likely to win right away, but they will need to eventually.
The fans of Fresno will settle for nothing less.