Category archive: USC Trojans

A few quick hitters for this midweek:

• USC interim coach Bob Cantu met with AD Pat Haden last week and is getting, at the very least, the respect of being treated as a legitimate head-coaching candidate. The Trojans are 7-4 since he took over for the fired Kevin O'Neill. USC finishes the regular season at Washington and Washington State this weekend. And with more offensive fluidity, the Trojans are a potential spoiler in the Pac-12 tournament next week in Las Vegas.

The odds that Cantu will get the job are not good. He is just plowing ahead with this team and isn't politicking for the job. Haden interviewed UTEP head coach Tim Floyd -- Cantu's former boss -- as well as Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins. I'll be shocked if other top candidates don't emerge in what should be one of the best jobs in the Pac-12.

If Cantu can't get the USC job and doesn't stay on with the Trojans, he deserves a shot at another California school, if there is an opening.

• Miami coach Jim Larranaga felt very good about his team's effort last Saturday in a loss at Duke. And he certainly won't complain about the Hurricanes' 7-2 road record in the ACC.

"We played eight really good games and one poor game at Wake Forest,'' Larranaga said. "Our effort at Duke was good enough to win. But Ryan Kelly, well, there was no way we could have planned for that. We knew he was going to play, but we thought he would get 12-14 points, and we could survive that. But 36 points on 14 shots?''

Miami finishes with Georgia Tech on Wednesday and Clemson at home on Saturday, which will likely allow the Canes to win the ACC regular season outright.

"We scored 76 points and we missed two 3s that could have tied it [against Duke],'' Larranaga said. "I was not satisfied with our defense and some of that is my own responsibility.''

Reggie Johnson didn't score in the game, and Larranaga said that he may have been overhyped.

"He can play a lot better than he did,'' said Larranaga. "He didn't have a good game, and Ryan Kelly did.''

Larranaga thinks Shane Larkin should be named the ACC player of the year (and I agree) once Miami wins the ACC regular-season title.

"You should vote for the player from the team that wins the outright championship,'' said Larranaga. "We should have the player of the year for the first time in school history. We beat the No. 1 team for the first time in school history and set attendance records. But all the things we've done are a prelim to the NCAA tournament because all everybody remembers is March Madness.''

Miami should also have all-conference players in Kenny Kadji and Durand Scott.

• I've never understood why teams do senior day/night festivities after the game. Indiana had to wait until it was midnight Tuesday after losing to Ohio State to honor its seniors. Why not take care of it before the game when the house is full and the attention is on the game/players and not on getting home to beat the traffic and weather?

• St. John's Steve Lavin and Notre Dame's Mike Brey both confirmed Wednesday there will be no further suspension for Cameron Biedscheid and Sir'Dominic Pointer beyond the one-game that they must sit per NCAA rules for being ejected for fighting. Losing Pointer is more of a hit for the Red Storm, which host Marquette on Saturday. The Irish play at Louisville in a game that would be a reach for them to win even with Biedscheid.

• Boise State's four-point loss at UNLV should be a precursor to what the Broncos can do next week in Las Vegas on the same floor. Playing late in the season at the site of the conference tournament should help them in the MWC tournament.

• John Thompson III (Georgetown), Buzz Williams (Marquette) and Kevin Ollie (Connecticut) are all Big East coach-of-the-year candidates, but Providence's Ed Cooley is making a late push. The Friars play at UConn on Saturday and are looking for win No. 10 in the Big East.

• Memphis is once again undefeated in C-USA after a two-point win at UTEP on Tuesday. It was yet another road win for the Tigers, whose 15-0 league record should be applauded, not scorned, due to the perceived lower-level of competition.

• Ole Miss still has life in the NCAA tournament chase after beating Alabama by four at home Tuesday. Now the onus is on the Rebels to win at LSU on Saturday and give the committee pause when it meets next week in Indianapolis.

• Ohio State's Thad Matta has had to do one of his best coaching jobs. The Buckeyes' win at Indiana should go down as one of the most impressive in conference play this season. Everything pointed to Indiana cruising to the Big Ten regular-season title by closing out the home schedule in the final week. The Hoosiers are still the top seed and cut down the nets late Tuesday night. But Ohio State was in control in the second half and cannot be dismissed at the Big Ten tournament in Chicago next week.

The first real domino in the 2013 coaching carousel fell Monday when USC abruptly fired Kevin O'Neill.

Texas Tech is being led by an interim coach in Chris Walker, but the Red Raiders job doesn't come close to commanding the interest the USC position does.

USC athletic director Pat Haden has two months until the end of the season, which gives him a head start on other ADs looking to make coaching changes, to find the right coach at one of Division I's hidden gems.

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Kevin O'Neill
Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY SportsKevin O'Neill wasn't able to make USC a contender in the Pac-12.

After canvassing a few coaches with a good sense of the job late Monday night, there were a number of reasons that USC is looked at as a job that will draw plenty of interest.

1. Location: The warmth of California, the fertile recruiting ground and the "It" factor of coaching in Los Angeles all make it worth serious interest.

2. Brand name: USC has a national name. Of course, it is for football, but the Trojans brand carries weight nationally. For months, USC can be found in the headlines, with its football program seemingly always in the news.

3. Football covers for hoops: A basketball coach doesn't have to feel the pressure of being in charge of the school's most important sport. This is similar to Oklahoma, Texas, Notre Dame and countless other jobs at football-dominated schools.

4. Facilities: USC used to have one of the worst playing situations on the West Coast in the antiquated L.A. Sports Arena. But the Trojans have one of the top on-campus facilities in the Galen Center. The practice facility is in the same building, which makes everything nice and convenient.

5. The Pac-12: The league lacks a dominant, intimidating team. Arizona should be the standard going forward, with UCLA and Oregon likely to have staying power for the foreseeable future. There is room to move up in the Pac-12.

So what should USC do through back-room channels to gauge interest?

The first natural call is to make a run at Pitt's Jamie Dixon, who is from Southern California. But it's hard to see Dixon leaving Pitt, where he has raised his family and has a great relationship with the administration. His family is from Southern California and his wife from Hawaii, but his close friend is Ben Howland at rival UCLA. I would be surprised if Dixon left for USC with the Panthers making a move to the ACC next season.

USC might make a run at Gonzaga's Mark Few, but once again Few has a better situation at Gonzaga. He has had many opportunities to leave and has decided to stay. I don't see it. There's no reason USC shouldn't try to see whether there is interest from VCU's Shaka Smart, even though he turned down Illinois to stay with the Rams.

Steve Lavin was at UCLA. He's at St. John's now. Would Lavin play at USC? Of course, but would he leave the Red Storm with the project not done yet? Not sure USC makes the play or whether he would bolt yet.

I don't see USC hiring an assistant. But what could play well is if Haden goes for a coach who wants to leave before he gets fired and wouldn't mind a change of venue and a fresh four-to-five-year contract. This is the Herb Sendek and/or Oliver Purnell-type play.

That's why names to file away for later could include Washington's Lorenzo Romar, Texas' Rick Barnes and Villanova's Jay Wright. I know there will be detractors dismissing all of these candidates. But you can guarantee this job will draw plenty of interest, at the very least to play their current school against USC and work for a raise.

Haden could look to an NBA coach, of course, as well.

USC is an intriguing position. The options are endless for a position that is sure to be coveted and/or played over the next two months in public and in private.

The fragile state of USC basketball was on full display this past weekend.

On Saturday, Jio Fontan was taking a charge in the middle of a cluttered, tough play and took a shot to the face.

A cut opened up and he needed 10 or 11 stitches and now will take it easy for a few days, according to USC coach Kevin O'Neill.

The Trojans can't afford to have Fontan miss any time after losing him for the entire season a year ago when he suffered a torn ACL during the team's preseason trip to Brazil. After enduring several more injuries and just plain bad basketball, USC finished 1-17 in the Pac-12, 6-26 overall.

"No matter what the cause it was difficult," O'Neill said. "It was hard for everybody, hard for the fans, the players, the coaches and the staff. We had two great recruiting classes and then we had injuries and we were devastated."

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Greg Bartram/US PresswireKevin O'Neill wants his players to embrace a physical mentality.

Fontan's minor injury aside, O'Neill said all the makings are there for a major Trojans turnaround, from the basement to league contention. To accomplish that, O'Neill wants this team to be gritty, nasty, physical and downright difficult to play.

And that's the way they will practice in the preseason, regardless of any setbacks.

"If anything, we'll be more physical, hitting harder," O'Neill said. "That's what we need to do, how we need to play."

"We have talked [all preseason] about a hit-first mentality. That's how we're going to play. That's the way we played two years ago when we had players. We've got to rebound, play defense and be the aggressor offensively and in everything we do."

USC has a legitimate shot to be markedly improved if Fontan is once again a scoring guard, if highly touted big man Dewayne Dedmon is healthy and effective (as he has been in practice so far), and if the Trojans get two of five players to stand out among a cluster competing for starting positions: J.T. Terrell, Byron Wesley, Chass Bryan, Ari Stewart and Renaldo Woolridge. Terrell, Stewart and Woolridge are all transfers (the first two from Wake Forest and the latter from Tennessee) hoping to end their college careers on a high note in L.A.

The other potential X-factor for the Trojans is whether Rice transfer Omar Oraby, a 7-foot-2 center, gets a waiver to play immediately. Like former Rice player Arsalan Kazemi at Oregon, Oraby is pleading a hardship case to play immediately instead of sitting out.

O'Neill said he feels comfortable starting any of the aforementioned five players competing for the starting shooting guard and small forward spots. But if he gets Oraby, he'll feel even better because he's "really good, a legit 7-2. We've filed it with the NCAA and now we're waiting on the NCAA to rule on it."

The Trojans play a rugged slate of games, hosting San Diego State, Long Beach State and Minnesota, competing in the Maui Invitational, making an odd two-game road swing to Nebraska and New Mexico and also traveling East for a dangerous road game at Georgia three days before Christmas.

What will SC look like by the time conference play rolls around? Remember, the Trojans also have to deal with the loss of leading scorer Maurice Jones, who had academic issues and elected to transfer. And the Pac-12 will almost certainly be improved this season.

"There's a lot of good teams in the Pac-12," O'Neill said, "and we'll have five or six in the NCAA and three or four in the NIT."

Will the Trojans be one of them?

USC can't get to the start of the season fast enough.

If nothing else occurs between now and its Nov. 9 opener against Coppin State, then head coach Kevin O'Neill is convinced he has a team that could upset the Pac-12 order.

But that is a big if, especially considering the events of the past week.

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Maurice Jones, Kevin O;Neill
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireGuard Maurice Jones won't return to USC, Trojans coach Kevin O'Neill (right) confirmed Wednesday.

The latest hurdle for the Trojans occurred late Saturday night when USC announced that starting guard and leading returning scorer Maurice Jones was declared academically ineligible and would miss the 2012-13 season. O'Neill said Sunday that Jones would stay at USC and return for his final two seasons of eligibility.

"It hurts our guard depth a bit," O'Neill said. "We still have J.T. Terrell, Jio Fontan; Chass Bryan, a walk-on freshman guard; Ari Stewart and Byron Wesley. We have quite a bit of depth at those spots but we're not as good without Mo. But we still have a chance to be a good team."

Jones averaged 13 points and 3.5 assists last season.

"My concern is for Mo to use this year to get better as a player and to have two great years when he comes back," O'Neill said. "There's no question that we have a plan for him to be successful and graduate and we want to make sure that happens."

The news of Jones' absence this season came just hours after the Los Angeles Times reported that former basketball player Davon Jefferson (along with former football player Joe McKnight) allegedly received extra benefits in the form of financial payments, a car and an airline ticket from former L.A. County assessor's office employee Scott Schenter.

Jefferson played one season for the Trojans under former coach Tim Floyd in 2007-08 and was not selected in the NBA draft.

"That was four years ago and passed the statute of limitations in basketball," O'Neill said about any further sanctions levied against the program, which has already been dealt a postseason ban in 2010 due to extra benefits for former Jefferson teammate and current NBA guard O.J. Mayo. "I haven't given it [the Jefferson story] another thought. This is just the fallout from investigations over a period of time. That's the way it is."

USC already vacated the 21 wins the Trojans recorded during the 2007-08 season when Mayo played, which is the same year Jefferson played.

Floyd, who currently coaches at UTEP, wasn't available for comment.

The upcoming season needs to be productive and successful for the Trojans, who hope to be free of the drama, injuries and off-court issues that have dogged the program.

A poor record last season can be attributed to the preseason loss of Fontan, who tore his ACL on an August 2011 trip to Brazil. A knee injury on Jan. 26 cut short highly touted 7-foot JC transfer Dewayne Dedmon's season.

Both are back and healthy.

"They look great, really good," O'Neill said. "Jio isn't 100 percent but he doesn't have to be for another month. Dedmon has the hype because of his potential. But he didn't have the experience. Everyone said I said he would be a first-round [NBA draft] pick. He will be. But I never said it would be last year. The guy will be. He played half the year of a JC, three or four high school games or whatever it was. He knows what it's all about now. He'll have a great year."

As for Fontan, O'Neill said he, like Dedmon, is back on track.

"He's doing everything, just not 100 percent," O'Neill said of Fontan. "He could play 35 minutes a game if we were playing tomorrow. He'll be very effective. He just got cleared three weeks ago."

Meanwhile, two players on the team have had to deal with personal tragedy. Tennessee transfer Renaldo Woolridge's father, former NBA veteran Orlando Woolridge, passed away at 52 years old on June 1. And the father of player Evan Smith, Hollywood executive Gavin Smith, remains missing. The 57-year-old Smith was reported missing on May 2.

"[Renaldo] is hanging in there, he's got a lot of personality and is a good player," O'Neill said. "Evan is going to be with us but not playing for medical reasons. He'll help out in the weight room. No one has any clue what happened. It's sad. We've had two tragedies in the last few months.

"We're always going to be faced with challenges," O'Neill said. "Teams deal with them all over the country. We've had a whole year of them. We're used to dealing with them. We'll be fine."

O'Neill needs this team to be better than good this season. The Trojans should see a dramatic improvement from last year's season, in which they won one Pac-12 game. Losing Jones is another obstacle; the Trojans and O'Neill can't afford another one.

The main reason for optimism is the improved health of Fontan and Dedmon and the addition of transfers Terrell and Stewart, who played together at Wake Forest. A lesser known bright spot is the transformation of 6-foot-6 power forward Eric Wise, who transferred to USC from UC Irvine. Wise is listed at 240 pounds by USC, but O'Neill said he's actually at 230, down from 280.

"He has changed his body," O'Neill said. "He's a really skilled kid and he's going to be really good. If we stay healthy, with the depth, size, talent and experience, we'll be good."

USC athletic director Pat Haden has stood by O'Neill. He didn't hire him, but he has been supportive as the Trojans have weathered sanctions, injuries and now academic attrition. The onus is now on the current personnel to, at the very least, be an upper-division Pac-12 team in O'Neill's fourth season.

UCLA's recent mediocrity hasn't been celebrated or seen by the rest of the Pac-12 as an opportunity.

Instead, the conference desperately needs the Bruins to come back -- and fast. Having Arizona dip, even just for one season, didn't help either.

So when the coaches gathered this week for the annual spring meetings in Phoenix, the mood was upbeat. The Pac-12 -- that ultimate big-boy punching bag in college basketball lately -- has two of the nation's top three recruiting classes. And they're from the league's two most prestigious programs.

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Lorenzo Romar
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireYou know it's a down year when your regular-season champ doesn't make the NCAA tournament.

"I think any buzz for our league is good for everybody,'' Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said. "As competitors, we would like the buzz to be about us, but as long as it's somebody in our conference and especially a brand name like UCLA, that can only be good for the rest of us.''

The Pac-12 had only two teams make the NCAA tournament in 2012, and one of those (Cal) was in the First Four in Dayton and lost. Regular-season champ Washington didn't get a bid, an embarrassing situation for the conference, which became the first big six league to not have its regular-season winner receive a bid.

Utah arrived in the conference and was abysmal in its first season, finishing 3-15 in the Pac-12 and 6-25 overall. Arizona State fell apart and finished 10-21. USC was decimated by injuries and was the worst of all, finishing a stunning 1-17 in league play and 6-26 overall.

The saving face of the Pac-12 was actually new member Colorado. The Buffaloes won the conference tournament, beat UNLV in the NCAA tourney and hung around with Baylor before losing in the Round of 32.

But perception of the league being down wasn't a reach. It was reality. The numbers and results didn't lie. The Pac-12 was an almost hard-to-fathom 1-25 against the RPI top 40 in nonconference play.

So with Arizona loaded up with four ESPNU 100 recruits in the Class of 2012 and UCLA having secured Kyle Anderson in the fall, the Bruins kept up the momentum in the spring by grabbing another top-five recruit (Shabazz Muhammad) and a four-star big man (Tony Parker).

That's not just good for those two schools, it's welcomed by the rest of the league.

Don't think Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott didn't take notice of the Bruins' big April.

"It's extremely important,'' Scott said. "The public and media follow big brands, and it doesn't get any bigger than UCLA basketball in our conference.

"Having them have a strong recruiting class [and] a new Pauley Pavilion to move into is great news for our conference. We've got new TV deals. The timing couldn't be better.''

The conference's coaches have long complained about the television package and a general lack of national exposure. A few years ago, first-place Cal was at USC in a critical game and it wasn't even televised.

Well, the Pac-12 finally has a new TV package that will allow every conference game to be televised on one of three networks: ESPN, Fox or the new Pac-12 Network. The league will shift from a straight Thursday-Saturday/Sunday schedule to one that has more flexibility.

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Jesse Perry
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe Pac-12 tourney has had some thrillers over the years, but few in L.A. bothered to notice.

In addition, the conference tournament now has a chance to have a sellout with the league choosing Las Vegas as the neutral destination. The Pac-12 had struggled mightily to draw consistent crowds to the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That shouldn't be the case at a destination venue like the MGM Grand, where the Pac-12 will become the fourth conference to play its conference tournament in Vegas, joining the Mountain West (Thomas & Mack Center), WCC and WAC (both at the Orleans Arena).

What will this conference look like by next March, though?

A year ago, the league was gutted by early entrants to the NBA draft at USC, UCLA, Washington, Washington State, Arizona and Stanford.

"Our league wasn't going to be good in the nonconference in November or December because of who left,'' Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "And then UCLA lost Reeves Nelson [dismissed early in the season] and so we weren't in a position to do well.''

Now they must be.

"We need some top-10 teams,'' said Cal coach Mike Montgomery, who has consistently been a Pac-12 title contender at Stanford and Cal. "We didn't have any, and it hurt us. Based on the recruiting, Arizona and UCLA should be in the mix.

"You need good teams going in. It will help us all if we're competing against better teams. Our RPI goes up. One through nine we were pretty good last year.''

The early onus will be on UCLA. The Bruins have to show well at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y., with Georgetown and preseason No. 1 Indiana in the four-team field.

"We've had some bad losses out there,'' Montgomery said of the Pac-12's shoddy nonconference record lately. "Typically, everyone looks at UCLA and makes a judgment. It may not be fair or right and they haven't been the best team, but when they [are down], it hurts everybody. It's incumbent on everybody to win the games [you're supposed to win] in the pre-conference.''

Montgomery didn't excuse his own team. The Bears beat no one of significance outside league play last season and were annihilated by Missouri and UNLV.

"We didn't perform well, and that hurt our league,'' Montgomery said. "The impressions start early. We shouldn't lose games we shouldn't lose, because then when the league plays each other, we're screwed. We can't do anything to improve the reputation. That's on all of us to have a better November and December heading into the conference.''

USC coach Kevin O'Neill isn't doubting the Pac-12's ability to bounce back this season with several NCAA tournament teams.

"And we plan on being one of them,'' O'Neill said of the Trojans, led by Jio Fontan, who missed last season with a knee injury. "UCLA and Arizona had top recruiting classes, and that helps everybody improve. I think it's great. We'll see how they react to stressful situations.

"All our teams look good on paper, and we should be one of the top leagues in the country. We lost more pros in this league than the five other power leagues together the last few years. We're producing great players and most are doing well. But all of that is going to change. It's going to be a great year for our league.''

USC is having one of its worst conference performances in one of the weakest Pac-12 seasons ever.

The Trojans have won one game in the league -- and that came in their last outing on Jan. 28 against the only other team (Utah) that is having almost as dreadful a season as USC.

The Trojans' next win may not come until the last game of the regular season at home against Washington State, the same team they face Thursday night in Pullman, Wash. Then again, it may not come again until the fall of 2012.

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Kevin O'Neill
irby Lee/US PresswireThe losses have added up for Kevin O'Neill and USC this season.

How did it get this bad? Well, the answer is simple, and coach Kevin O'Neill is rather calm about it: The talent just isn't there.

The Trojans were in the NCAA tournament last season, playing in the First Four against VCU. Now, they'll likely be out of the conference tournament before others even arrive.

The Trojans went to Brazil in August. Four of the five starters from that trip aren't healthy now.

Jio Fontan tore his ACL. Curtis Washington tore his labrum, while Evan Smith had a similar injury. Aaron Fuller is out with a shoulder injury. Dewayne Dedmon fractured his hand in the preseason and then tore his MCL last week and is now done for the season.

Fuller played in 18 games and averaged 10.6 points a game. Dedmon was the primary post player and was averaging 7.6 points and 5.5 rebounds. Smith managed to play in only four games. Fontan never played this season.

That leaves one double-figure scorer for the road trip to Washington this weekend -- guard Maurice Jones (14.5 points per game and 3.4 assists per game).

Athletic director Pat Haden, who didn't hire O'Neill, told the L.A. Times' Bill Plaschke that "this is not what we want USC basketball to be, but we think KO is doing all the right things to get this program turned around. Kevin has inherited a bad hand, and we're going to give him time.''

Haden's public support is apparently what O'Neill said he's getting out of the spotlight, too. "[The administration] has been great,'' O'Neill said. "Couldn't have been better. They've been awesome. The first year we didn't have a ton of players. The second year we got Jio eligible late and got into the tournament. If we had Jio we'd be right there. To lose four of the top five starters is difficult.''

O'Neill was a surprise choice to lead the Trojans out of the O.J. Mayo-Tim Floyd era. He apparently has some time to rebuild, but it will be interesting to see how long he'll last. If there was ever a time to jump up in this conference, it is now.

Arizona, Cal and Washington are the three programs that have the most stability. Oregon State, Oregon and Stanford are clearly on the rise. But there are chances for others to jump up quickly. "You can survive injuries if you have four recruiting classes in place,'' O'Neill said. "We thought in Brazil we were going to have a good team and then everything began to unravel. The whole season unraveled in multiple season-ending injuries.''

O'Neill said he simply doesn't have the answers because there are none. He doesn't have the talent to play at a high level for the final five weeks of the season. "They've worked really hard, and we've lost a lot of close games or one-possession games,'' O'Neill said. "There's been no answers. We've got to move forward.''

O'Neill said he felt like he was kicked in the groin in his first season on the job when the Trojans were told during the midseason that they couldn't compete in the postseason. "The whole first year was under the shadow of that,'' O'Neill said. "I've coached in a lot of uphill rebuilding situations. There are a lot of challenges. But the combination of two blank recruiting classes and four season-ending surgeries is too much to overcome in any situation.

"We're down to Mo Jones, the only starter left from that Brazil trip,'' O'Neill said. "We're starting three guys who didn't even play in the last two games in Brazil.''

O'Neill said he can add his perspective on the Pac-12/NCAA bid race, and thinks Washington and Cal are legit. "Those are the two best teams,'' O'Neill said. "Oregon State is a team that might be able to win the conference tournament if they defend. They have a great player in Jared Cunningham and to me he's a pro. We lost a lot of pros in this league.''

The Trojans are 6-16 overall and 1-8 in the Pac-12. The last win prior to the lone Pac-12 victory was over TCU on Dec. 19. They were 19-15 last season, including 10-8 in the Pac-10, and lost to VCU in the First Four. In his first season, in which the team had a postseason ban, O'Neill was 16-14 overall, 8-10 in the league.

"I'm doing OK,'' O'Neill said. "But it's been one tough year.''

At this time last year, Ben Hansbrough's name didn't appear on the Wooden Award preseason watch list.

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.

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Duke's Seth Curry
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.

TyShwan Edmondson, Austin Peay: The Governors should be the favorite in the Ohio Valley with a legit scorer like Edmondson, who has a strong man, Will Triggs, to take pressure off him.

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.

Malcolm Grant, Miami (Fla.): The Hurricanes have to play most of the season without big man Reggie Johnson, so Grant will have more opportunities to shine.

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.

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Ryan Pearson
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.

Andrew Smith, Butler: The Bulldogs will have fewer stars this season, but Smith has a chance to outshine Khyle Marshall and newcomer Roosevelt Jones with his scoring prowess in the post.

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.

The transfers

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.

The freshmen

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.

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Anthony Davis
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.

USC coach Kevin O'Neill will cut short some of the final days of recruiting in July in preparation for the Trojans' August trip to Brazil.

And he can't wait, mainly because he gets a chance to coach 7-foot, 255-pound, Antelope Valley College transfer Dewayne Dedmon in an organized game.

O'Neill, who hasn't shied away from hyperbole about his players, the schedule or the team's potential in his two seasons with the Trojans, isn't mincing words with Dedmon's potential.

"He has a chance to be special,'' O'Neill said. "He has three years left. He won't make it three years. He may not make it past one.''

Dedmon transferred from Antelope Valley in the middle of last season. He purposely didn't play his second season at the junior college to preserve a full season of eligibility. His averages were modest at the California JC with 6.6 points and 7.8 rebounds. But he did deal with a bizarre injury -- a broken bone in his forehead and injured nasal cavity suffered during a January game in 2010 -- that forced him to miss seven games.

Dedmon spent last semester working against USC big men Alex Stepheson and Nikola Vucevic, who was selected by the Sixers at No. 16 in the first round of last month's draft, and O'Neill said Dedmon held his own against both in practice.

Why is O'Neill convinced Dedmon can be special in the Pac-12?

"Because he's 7-foot, 250 and he runs like a deer,'' O'Neill said. "There's no question he's a first-round pick, no question. He's got a great motor. He's worked with a bunch of pros. He worked with my former player with the Pacers -- Danny Granger -- and he said he's a first-round pick. He's extremely athletic. He'll score on tip dunks. He'll run the floor. He's a great shooter and he's extremely athletic.

"He'll average a double-double in his first year, and after that, who knows,'' O'Neill said.

The Trojans, though, will have their offense go through Jio Fontan and Maurice Jones, two experienced guards returning for USC. Iowa-transfer forward Aaron Fuller is expected to make an impact if he can make shots, especially in the lane. O'Neill is banking on freshmen guards Byron Wesley and Alexis Moore being surprises, too.

The Trojans picked up two other transfers -- UC-Irvine's Eric Wise and Wake Forest's Ari Stewart -- but both of them will have to sit next season.

Wise and Stewart can't go on the trip to Brazil, though. The Trojans will practice July 28-Aug. 11 for 10 days and then travel to Sao Paolo and Rio de Janeiro Aug. 12-21. The last time the Trojans took a foreign trip, they went across the border to Mexico over Labor Day weekend prior to O.J. Mayo's freshman season under Tim Floyd.

O'Neill, who this past season coached the Trojans to a 19-15 overall record (10-8 Pac-10) and a First Four first-round loss to VCU in Dayton, is confident that Dedmon can help change the course of this team in a wide-open Pac-12. The Trojans are essentially through the worst of the NCAA sanctions after missing the 2010 postseason. But the NCAA still keeps a watchful eye on USC as O'Neill confirmed that NCAA staffers were at the elite and team camps earlier in the summer to watch how everything is conducted. The NCAA does cherry-pick certain schools to oversee, and selecting USC makes sense based on past history.

If USC is going to make a play for a tournament bid in 2012, though, then it will come down to how much Dedmon lives up to the O'Neill hype.

Cal, Arizona and Washington will be tabbed as the three favorites with UCLA in the top four. But USC and Oregon should be in that next tier. Oregon State is probably in the next group with Arizona State and Stanford, and then Washington State. Placing new teams Colorado and Utah in the mix is still a little dicey. Both will likely be projected in the bottom group for this season.

O'Neill isn't afraid to showcase his team, though, in the nonconference. He did it a year ago in scheduling and there's no question it helped the Trojans get an at-large berth by playing Texas and at Tennessee, two games it won, as well as at Kansas, a game which it lost by a deuce. The Texas series was a part of the Pac-10-Big-12 agreement. The Kansas series was folded into it and the return game is this season.

USC will host Kansas, along with a solid top-four Mountain West program in New Mexico. Rebuilding Georgia comes to the Galen Center, too, as well as a return game with TCU. Still, that's four home games against the Big 12, SEC and MWC.

USC will play at UNLV and then meet either North Carolina or South Carolina in a tournament in Las Vegas. Clearly, beating Vegas on the road will be a chore, but playing the Tar Heels would certainly boost the RPI.

The true road games aren't easy, either. USC goes to Minnesota, which should climb back to a more respectable position in the Big Ten after a disappointing season. USC also goes to reshuffling San Diego State and then to UC-Riverside, a game the Trojans should/must win to avoid a horrible loss. The win gives you a road pop; a loss makes it questionable.

The schedule provides plenty of tests for Dedmon, as he'll have to go against Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III at Minnesota, and possibly Tyler Zeller and John Henson of UNC, and have to keep Kansas' Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey off the backboard. That's before dealing with Joshua Smith and Travis and David Wear of UCLA.

"Our schedule will be the best in our league by far,'' O'Neill said, although Washington does have quite a back-to-back pair of games in New York by playing Marquette in the Jimmy V Classic and then Duke later in the week at Madison Square Garden in December. "This trip [to Brazil] is perfect for him to get ready.''

USC knows how to hype a Heisman. Let's see if hyping Dedmon works as he attempts to go from relative obscurity to a national notoriety in less than a season. He is in the right city and has a coach who isn't shy about expressing his opinions to have a chance to make his debut in college basketball noticeable.

USC coach Kevin O'Neill didn't like the "disappointing" tag that many gave his Trojans. He thought it was premature.

And maybe it was. (Or maybe, just maybe, there were indeed several disappointing losses.)

Either way, it is still early in the maturation process for this team. But beating Texas 73-56 Sunday night is certainly a major step forward for the Trojans.

Getting Fordham transfer guard Jio Fontan eligible for the Dec. 18 game at Kansas (the same game heralded freshman guard Josh Selby becomes available for KU) will certainly help.

Playing at Tennessee three days later doesn't, not when the Trojans are trying to mask four losses already to likely nontournament teams (Rider by 20, Bradley by one, at Nebraska by one after blowing a 20-point lead, and at TCU by 12).

O'Neill said he put the Trojans through a rigorous practice slate in the days between the TCU loss and Texas game.

"We had a come-to-Jesus meeting," O'Neill said. "We gave in defensively at TCU. That's not happening anymore. The young guys know that now."

USC is leaning heavily on freshman guards Maurice Jones and Bryce Jones. It has a solid scoring forward in Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson is now playing without something protecting a broken hand.

"It just takes time with so many freshmen," O'Neill said.

O'Neill has been pumping up Fontan's arrival for months. He said he's the most talented player on the Trojans. "He'll make a huge difference for our team," O'Neill said. "It took us awhile to find an identity with these young guys but we found it [Sunday night]. If we play defense, we can win."

The problem for USC is that unless it beats Kansas and/or Tennessee on the road, the losses to teams like Rider and Bradley will haunt this team if it has visions of being an at-large. The Texas win helps, but the rest of the Pac-10 is once again void of quality nonconference wins to raise USC's overall power rating come March.

Washington and Arizona are so far the only teams in the Pac-10 that have played consistently well enough to look like NCAA teams if each can continue to perform at a similar level. Who else (if anyone) emerges behind them is still anyone's guess.

• Montana started the season 0-2 with road losses at Nevada and Utah. Three weeks later, the Grizzlies suffered their third loss of the season by dropping a four-point game at home to Portland.

Montana isn't going to be an at-large candidate. But the Grizzlies had visions of challenging for the Big Sky title again and returning to the NCAAs. That could happen without a signature win, but this group of Grizz needed something positive to occur to give them hope.

That came Sunday night in a stunning nine-point win at UCLA.

A year ago, the Grizz did beat Oregon and nearly beat Washington but were erratic in conference play. Montana coach Wayne Tinkle is banking on the Bruins win as a catalyst to find consistency with an inexperienced team.

"I don't want this season to be remembered for the year we beat UCLA," Tinkle said. "We can't have a letdown just because it doesn't say UCLA across their chest. There's no reason we can't take the same approach we had against UCLA against Great Falls [Thursday] or in Pocatello [against Idaho State]. We expect big things from ourselves."

Tinkle said he expected the Bruins to jump on the Grizzlies after they were coming off a near miss at Kansas. Instead, Montana was able to deliver the first punch and with the Bruins struggling to score, the Grizz continued to be the aggressor.

"I think we took their spirit away," Tinkle said. "We let one slip away against Portland. It was a valuable lesson. For us to turn around and win at UCLA speaks volumes about this team's toughness."

Montana's Will Cherry scored 18 to lead the Grizz.

"His confidence is growing and he is fitting into that leadership role," Tinkle said. "He's tough and can defend and sees the floor well. He's taking the pressure off everyone else scoringwise. I like our pieces."

• Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim said on a conference call Monday that if the Big East were to add an 18th member in all sports (the likely candidate for that is Central Florida) instead of just adding Villanova in football and not changing the hoop membership, then the league should look at divisional alignment. Boeheim said the addition of TCU, raising the number of hoops teams from 16 to 17, doesn't make that much of a difference. And he said there hasn't been any talk of splitting the league into football and non-football-playing members.

But the addition of a possible 18th should make the league reconsider alignment.

"We have to look at two nine-team divisions," Boeheim said. "We've done it [divisions] before. We could have a true division winner and have a tournament. It's not the end of the world. The hard thing will be to determine who wants to be in certain divisions. But there will have to be hard decisions. Someone has to decide and live with it. You make hard choices to preserve football. If we go to 18 we'll have to talk about it and figure out what the alternative is. But it's still better than the alternative [of doing nothing in light of expansion in football for others]."

• Miami had its best nonconference home week under coach Frank Haith with wins over Ole Miss and West Virginia. The Hurricanes had lost an early game at Memphis, where they were down to the final few possessions with a chance to win. The other loss was at Rutgers, a defeat that Haith said was his fault. He said he never should have scheduled the Rutgers game within two days after a home game. He said travel issues were in play and his team didn't respond, saying it had no legs for the game.

"We played dead and heavy-legged," Haith said. "I didn't give ourselves a chance. We beat two really good teams this week."

Haith said that he is convinced that second place in the ACC is wide-open and that the Canes have just as good a shot as anyone else.

"We're just as competitive as Carolina and we play them once at our place," said Haith, who said Florida State, Maryland, Virginia Tech and NC State are all in the mix. "Our guard play [Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant] was excellent. And the guy no one is talking about is [sophomore wing] Garrius Adams. We're not perfect, but no team is dominant in our league except Duke right now."

• Few lower-profile programs can survive losing two key players the way Drexel has so far this season. The Dragons are without a pair of heavy contributors from last season -- Jamie Harris and Kevin Phillip -- who are facing multiple charges following their connection with an armed robbery over the summer. Neither is expected to return to the program and both players are out of school. Yet the Dragons trudged on, went on a summer tour of Turkey and now stand at 5-1 overall, with wins over rivals Penn and Saint Joseph's and a league-opening victory at Northeastern.

"Having freshmen go on that trip has a lot to do with where we are," Drexel coach Bruiser Flint said. "We don't have depth, but I always thought we had players."

Chris Fouch, who was a top freshman in the CAA last season, is averaging 21.7 points a game.

"Our margin of error is very small but we've got good enough players to win games," Flint said.

Drexel still has road games at Syracuse and Louisville. Flint isn't banking on an at-large berth to the NCAAs. But what has been proved early on in the CAA is that there will be candidates, given the strong starts by Old Dominion and VCU. The problem is that the league is so competitive that its best teams will beat each other up, as evidenced by Delaware beating ODU over the weekend.

"Our conference is winning games against other leagues like the A-10 and ACC," Flint said. "We're physically good enough to play with Louisville and Syracuse. We won't be overwhelmed. Last year when we played Kentucky we looked like little kids. That won't be the situation this year."

The new 12-team Pac-10 will likely follow the lead of the new 12-team Big Ten. In other words, starting in the 2011-12 school year, it looks like the conference will split into two divisions for football but remain one, 12-team entity in basketball that plays 18 conference games.

The Big Ten already formally announced its two football divisions and will make its official decision about basketball at its annual meetings this spring, with the consensus being there will be 18 league games with every team playing each other at least once, rivalries protected and the other crossover games done on a random basis for competitive balance.

The Pac-10 athletic directors meet next week (Oct. 6-7) and are likely to follow a similar path, with the final say going to the presidents and chancellors who will meet on Oct. 21.

There are still a number of options for the football divisions, from a simple split between North (Washington, Washington State, Oregon State, Oregon, Utah, Colorado) and South (Cal, Stanford, UCLA, USC, Arizona State, Arizona) and variations off that, as well as a zipper option with each rivalry split to form the two divisions (Washington and Washington State on different sides with Utah and Colorado being the two new rivals). Of course, in football, much like the Big Ten did with Ohio State-Michigan, if a rivalry was split in divisions, that game would be one of the mandatory crossover games every season.

More than likely, the men's basketball schedule will have 11 games against every other team, the 12th game would be against the natural rival and then the other six games would be chosen at random, leaving four schools that a team would play only once a season.

The hitch in the Pac-10's scheduling is that every school wants at least one road trip to L.A. and the Bay Area for recruiting and alumni purposes. League officials have to be cognizant of that sentiment.

Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said it was his preference to make sure the Beavers, or for that matter every school, gets to L.A. and the Bay Area each season.

"And we have to play Oregon every year twice, I don't think we should skip that one," Robinson said.

The Pac-10 is the last power-six conference to still play a true round robin schedule in men's basketball. But when the Pac-10 gives up that title, the Big 12 will assume the role of being the only power-six conference that anoints a true champion. The Big 12 will be a 10-team league in 2011-12 with the departure of Nebraska (Big Ten) and Colorado (Pac-10). The conference has already made it known it will play a true, 18-game round-robin schedule when it's a 10-team league.

Twelve teams might be the perfect number for football with two six-team divisions and a championship game. But going from 10 to 12 in men's basketball takes away the equitable scheduling and the true champion and creates a competitively imbalanced schedule. That's what the Big East, Big Ten, SEC, ACC and Big 12 have dealt with lately. The Pac-10 has not.

"I would select the model that gives the opportunity for us to play each other home-and-home as many times as possible in the shortest window of years," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. "You want every team to touch each other in the shortest time possible. That's the fairest way to do it."

UCLA athletic director Dan Guerrero said there have been a number of different models discussed, such as playing 16, 18 or even 20 or 22 league games.

"But the overall sentiment is to stay at 18," Guerrero said. "You want a scheduling model where you play your natural rival and do some home-and-homes. We might go to Oregon but they don't come and return. We might play host to Oregon State but not go to Corvallis. Nothing is definitive."

Guerrero said a number of athletic directors are on record as saying they covet being in the Los Angeles market and "we're looking at ways to make that happen."

Guerrero said the consensus among the athletic directors was to go with one division, 18 games and avoid any no-plays in basketball.

"Those are the parameters to build a model around," Guerrero said. "We could have gone with a 22-game model and still kept the double round robin, but that limits nonconference flexibility. I think 18 is the most appropriate."

Guerrero just came off leading the men's basketball selection committee, which created the "First Four" format under the newly expanded 68-team tournament. In that format, Guerrero and the other nine members of the committee reached a compromise where two of the games will involve the last four 16th-seeded teams and two of the games will include the last four at-large teams.

Guerrero has been a peacemaker/mediator with these types of NCAA issues and his experience should serve him well at the Pac-10 meetings next week.