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.
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).
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.
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.
Hawaii has talked to the Big West about adding all its sports -- save football -- to the California-based conference, but it will only happen if the Warriors decide to go independent in football.
That's according to a source with direct knowledge of the situation. The move to the Big West would make sense for men's and women's basketball and certainly for softball, baseball and volleyball, where the addition of Hawaii would give the Big West the needed six members for an automatic berth.
The Big West tournament is moving to the Honda Center, the home of the NHL's Anaheim Ducks, in 2011. Hawaii's women's sports programs were in the Big West from 1984-96. So there is history.
But is it doable, and is it necessary, and why is this going on in the first place?
Going independent in football isn't a foreign concept for Hawaii. Former coach June Jones floated the idea in 2004. But the economy was better then and teams were playing only 11 games, so playing a 12th game when a team goes to Hawaii had some benefits.
Now, with teams already playing 12 games, going for a 13th game may not be as much of a selling point. Hawaii football may have to play eight road games in a given year, and the Warriors would hardly like to do that nor would it make sense economically for the program.
Hawaii wouldn't be considering this if Fresno State and Nevada didn't leave the WAC for the MWC (effective in 2012) last week. According to sources, those moves, despite what MWC commissioner Craig Thompson is saying, may not have occurred had BYU not entertained being a football independent. And that might not have been broached had Utah not been plucked to go to the Pac-10. And that only happened because Texas turned down the Pac-10, and because of that decision, so did at least four other Big 12 schools.
One of the sticking points for BYU is that the Cougars are still dealing with limitations on their own HD Network, BYUtv. Homes games not selected by the MTN or CBS College Sports aren't allowed to be on BYUtv. That means two marquee home nonconference basketball games -- against Fresno State (and former BYU coach Steve Cleveland) on Nov. 12 and former WAC rival UTEP Dec. 23 -- won't be on television. Games against Hawaii (Dec. 4) and Arizona (Dec. 11) are only on BYUtv because the games are in the Utah Jazz arena in Salt Lake City and are not considered true home games. And BYUtv is putting on two games at the Marriott Center against Chicago State and Mississippi Valley State Nov. 20 and 23 because those games are part of the South Padre Island tournament. The HD BYUtv truck will travel to Glens Falls, N.Y., to televise the Vermont-BYU game Dec. 8 in a home game for senior guard Jimmer Fredette.
So, as BYU waits to see if it can resolve the issue with BYUtv and waits to decide if it wants to be a member of the MWC in 2011 before a Sept. 1 deadline (or still go to the WAC or WCC in all sports except football), there are still moves to be made.
The shuffling between the MWC and the WAC may not move the BCS meter one bit for an automatic berth for the MWC. What it has done is possibly crushed the WAC in football, basketball and other sports.
And that's why Utah State athletic director Scott Barnes, like Hawaii athletic director Jim Donovan, is pausing on the severity of the next move.
Barnes put out a statement last week explaining that Utah State was the first of three schools which received an inquiry of interest from the MWC but declined because it signed a binding $5 million buyout that it wouldn't split from the WAC within five years.
WAC commissioner Karl Benson said once Fresno State and Nevada broke the agreement, the rest of the six schools were no longer bound to the agreement.
Barnes said Monday that Utah State has to look at all options but that the MWC has not issued a new inquiry of interest.
Utah State hasn't reached out to the WCC or the Big West. The WCC has made it clear it is not going to take public colleges or universities because its membership is made up only of church-based private schools. The Big West, according to a source with direct knowledge, has heard only from Hawaii and not the other remaining five WAC schools (Utah State, New Mexico State, Idaho, San Jose State or Louisiana Tech).
"We can't panic,'' Barnes said. "We can't make a hasty decision. We have to make the right decision because what we do could affect the WAC for the next 10 years.''
Barnes said if the WAC was to bring in other schools, like UT-San Antonio or Texas State or North Texas, it would revisit another binding agreement. Clearly, those schools need to know what they might be joining. Barnes is a new member of the NCAA tournament men's basketball selection committee. He knows he can't put Utah State in any situation where the men's basketball program doesn't have a chance to earn an automatic bid to the NCAAs.
A six-team WAC won't lose its AQ for two years after it drops below seven teams (at the minimum 2012 and '13) but must add a seventh team three years after (for 2014).
Regardless of what Hawaii, Utah State and other schools decide, the question that is asked by observers within the NCAA membership is what was it for? Adding Nebraska makes sense if the Big Ten wanted to be at 12 and the Cornhuskers are still within the footprint of the league. But the rest of the moves are lateral and don't really mean much more than possibly getting rid of a conference that has had a long history in the NCAA.
"What's important here is to make a rationale decision,'' Barnes said. "Our mission is to educate the student-athlete and win championships.''
If that's the mission, then why even move conferences in the first place?
• Keep an eye on what happens with two schools/programs and their powerful athletic directors. Texas-San Antonio athletic director Lynn Hickey, a member of the men's basketball selection committee, has a new Division I football program and the Alamodome to sell. That's in addition to a Texas market that could be tantalizing for the WAC. Meanwhile, Charlotte athletic director Judy Rose has a football program that is going to Division I in an area where football is popular. The 49ers might be a possible realignment team if there is movement within C-USA to go back to its former home.
• In a few weeks, the selection committee will discuss when and where the "First Four" games will be played. The committee has to decide how it will spread out the four games -- two games between the last four at-large schools for a seed line like an 11 or 12 and two games between the last four AQs for two of the 16 seed lines. The games will likely be in Dayton, but the question is will all four games be on Tuesday or two on Tuesday and two on Wednesday (evening or afternoon)? And will the games be split up with one AQ and at-large game on each day or the AQs one day and the at-large teams another? The NCAA is going through a new television mockup with four different networks to serve (CBS, TBS, TNT and Trutv) and all the games on simultaneously.
The coaching carousel is in full tilt for the spring, and there were plenty of rumors to chase this weekend. Many of them proved to be untrue. Here are some of the things I culled from various sources over the weekend:
St. John's: Rick Pitino told ESPN.com on Sunday that he intends to finish his career at Louisville. Florida coach Billy Donovan told ESPN.com he's not involved at St. John's and he's "happy where I'm at." Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley also confirmed to ESPN.com that he hasn't been contacted by St. John's, calling the bluff on any Donovan-to-St. John's story.
So where does that leave the Red Storm after the heavy hitters? Well, there is plenty out to choose from. If the Red Storm want Virginia Tech's Seth Greenberg or Georgia Tech's Paul Hewitt, they'll have to get them in a clandestine way without any kind of formal search. Can it be done? Possibly. But the money has to be large, with assurances that there is a real commitment in place. I concur with Dick Vitale. If it ends up being another solid coach who doesn't have national name recognition, even someone with strong New York ties, why get rid of Norm Roberts?
Seton Hall: Siena's Fran McCaffery and Richmond's Chris Mooney appear to be strong candidates. That doesn't mean they're the only candidates, but the Pirates are said to be looking for a fresh face with a clean track record after the Bobby Gonzalez debacle. If the Pirates push, they can probably land McCaffery, while Mooney might be harder to pry away from an elite A-10 job. But both may have to think twice, given the talent returning to their respective teams next season.
Oregon: Mike Bellotti's decision to step down as athletic director makes it even more clear that former AD and influential Oregon booster Pat Kilkenny will make the hire with the nod from Nike's Phil Knight, who has invested in Oregon as much as any high-profile alumnus at any other school. Don't be surprised to see the next Oregon coach coming from the family of coaches who work with Nike. The next Oregon coach has be someone who can sell the program to the boosters and aid in filling the arena and the boxes. Gonzaga's Mark Few gets first crack, and then it could down the line with elite Nike-sponsored coaches such as Minnesota's Tubby Smith and recent Nike addition Jamie Dixon of Pitt. The level of interest for any on these coaches is unknown.
Iowa: The Hawkeyes formed a search committee on campus. This isn't a search for a new professor. The basketball coach must be a fantastic recruiter and energize a sleeping fan base at this moment. But they also need a proven coach. That's why the Hawkeyes could do no wrong with Utah State's Stew Morrill or Dayton's Brian Gregory. According to sources, both would listen if called. Morrill has been one of the most underrated coaches in the country for over a decade. Gregory has Dayton as an A-10 contender. Gregory was once in the Big Ten as an assistant under Tom Izzo.
Central Florida: Three interesting names keep floating up here: Minnesota Timberwolves assistant Reggie Theus, former Alabama coach and current ESPN analyst Mark Gottfried, and Appalachian State coach Buzz Peterson. UCF needs to make a splash of a hire. Theus would certainly fit that description.
Boise State: Here's who is not going to Boise: LSU's Trent Johnson. I spoke with him Sunday, and he reassured me that any chatter of him going back to Boise was ridiculous. He said he has one of the top recruiting classes coming to Baton Rouge. Now, former Montana coach Larry Krystkowiak is a viable candidate and is seriously in the mix. But so too should be Portland's Eric Reveno. Weber State's Randy Rahe and Gonzaga assistant Leon Rice are on the radar. Boise State should be a coveted job since there could be a day in the near future when Boise State joins the MWC.
• If Penn hasn't hired interim coach Jerome Allen yet, there could be some movement with Lafayette's Fran O'Hanlon. I'd still be surprised if Allen didn't get the job.
• IPFW's Dane Fife is expected to be in play at Toledo. But the more Ohio State wins, the likelier it becomes that you could see someone like Jeff Boals. Don't be surprised when the MAC looks to the Big Ten for hires.
• Hawaii hired former USC assistant Gib Arnold because of his strong local ties. His father, Frank, was the former coach there. Expect Arnold to keep up a mix of international players with mainland JC players and high school seniors to get the Warriors back to relevance.
• As for Charlotte, Buzz Peterson worked for the Charlotte Bobcats, so going to Charlotte from Appalachian State would make perfect sense. I've had a number of coaches say the Charlotte job is one of the best in the A-10.
• Houston coach Tom Penders resigned Sunday, according to multiple reports. While Texas assistant Rodney Terry should be in the mix, is there anyone who doesn't think former Kentucky and Texas A&M coach Billy Gillispie gets the job?
• Fordham should just hire alumnus Mike Rice of Robert Morris. He's a sound, intense coach. Would they get a bigger name? Probably not.
The hot names: Ben Jacobson, Northern Iowa; Steve Donahue, Cornell; Tony Barbee, UTEP.
Barbee should be in play at DePaul and Auburn if he chooses to leave what could be another CUSA champ at UTEP next season.
Jacobson should be patient and make sure he doesn't do something that doesn't make sense (such as going to a bottom-dweller).
Donahue needs to leave Cornell if he wants to climb. The Big Red may never be at this point again. But Donahue is comfortable, so if the right move isn't out there, he should be patient.
A few random thoughts from the first weekend:
• The Mountain West Conference did a sensational job of getting four teams in the NCAA tournament. All four teams represented well in either the first or second round. But not getting a team in the Sweet 16 still limits the MWC from being treated with true credibility as a proven elite league. The MWC must break through with a Sweet 16 team soon.
• Decisions abound for the NBA draft among players who were ousted in the first weekend. Remember, under a new NCAA rule, players have until May 8 to withdraw from the NBA draft. That means there will be roughly a week to make a decision on staying in the draft (the NBA deadline to withdraw is still 10 days before the draft). There won't be much time for workouts.
So from the teams that have lost, who has to make decisions about leaving for the NBA or at least testing the draft for a week?
Georgetown: Greg Monroe
Gonzaga: Elias Harris.
Florida State: Solomon Alabi.
UTEP: Derrick Caracter.
BYU: Jimmer Fredette
• For the record, Butler athletic director Barry Collier said he wasn't fired at Nebraska and left more than $1 million on his contract to return to his alma mater.
There were challenges that were unique to the Rainbow Warriors. It was hard to get freshmen to come over from the mainland, because a lot of them weren't ready to be so far from home or mature enough to be independent. Former coach Riley Wallace had assistant Jackson Wheeler on the mainland mining the junior colleges. The Rainbows also found a niche internationally.
And the noise at Neal Blaisdell Arena and later the Stan Sheriff Center was a decided advantage for Hawaii.
Hawaii made the NCAAs behind guard Trevor Ruffin in 1994. Wallace again took Hawaii to NCAA appearances in 2001 and '02.
Going to Hawaii for the Rainbow Classic was a big deal in the early '90s when Kansas, North Carolina and other schools at that level made trips to Honolulu for the tournament.
But many factors have gone against Hawaii in the past decade, limiting the Rainbows' ability to be relevant beyond the islands. The explosion of early-season tournaments made competition for Hawaii too much for its tournament. The pool of JC players drained as standards changed, taking away that option as more players went to prep schools. The WAC's implosion and subsequent arrival of the Mountain West was yet another hit.
And the arms race in financial backing didn't help either. Wallace had the Rainbows at 10-6 in conference play in 2006 and then a solid 8-8 in his final season in 2007. Longtime assistant Bob Nash, who was on the first Hawaii NCAA team in 1972, was going to get a shot at being the head coach. Herman Frazier, the AD at the time, had no choice but to hire Nash. Nash is a good man. He is well-liked by everyone I know in the business. He worked with Pitt coach Jamie Dixon under Wallace, and there is a rooting interest for Nash among many of his coaching brethren. But he probably never had a chance.
Hawaii continued a slide that went from 11-19 in Year 1 to 13-17 in Year 2 to an embarrassing 10-20 record in Year 3 and a failure to qualify for the eight-team WAC tournament in Reno this week.
The program has never been lower. Like many of these programs out West, the school is essentially the pro team in the area. That's the way fans in New Mexico treat the Lobos. The same is true of UNLV in Las Vegas and certainly in places like Arizona in Tucson.
"I told [Hawaii] two years before I retired that it was it for me, yet they waited too long to hire Bob and we lost some kids," said Wallace, who now lives in Las Vegas. The hiring process for Nash did drag out into the spring. Wallace claims that he would have landed Gary Wilkinson, who went to Utah State and had a successful career in leading the Aggies to the NCAAs. "I never lost a player at Hawaii that we wanted that someone like Utah State wanted. It was little things like that."
Wallace said scheduling was always an issue but it was more of a difficult road stop because of how well Hawaii played. Remember a few years ago, Michigan State made the mistake of going to Hawaii on the way to the Maui Invitational and got hammered by 22 in 2006 in the season opener.
Now the Rainbows have trouble scheduling because the win won't mean as much. Sure, a new tournament -- the Diamond Head Classic -- started this season and included Hawaii. This season's field was solid, with USC beating UNLV in the final and also included Saint Mary's. But the Rainbows were one of the weaker teams. Old WAC partners New Mexico, BYU and UNLV (as part of the tournament) came out to play a game in home-and-home situations, and that must continue. But Hawaii lost all three of them.
"We had [eight] straight winning seasons, and overall we went to three NCAAs and six NITs," Wallace said of his career that started at Hawaii in 1988. "But it went down pretty fast. There aren't many excuses. The bottom line is you've got to win."
The Hawaii program was proud. It should be again. But the Rainbows have to make the right hire.
Oregon's Ernie Kent should be available, can recruit and plays an up-tempo style that would work well on the islands. The fans love to see teams run. They will support this program if there is a good watch on the floor. Kent -- who has coached in the Middle East, at Saint Mary's and at his alma mater Oregon -- would be a good fit. So too would Northern Colorado's Tad Boyle, whom Wallace watched beat the Rainbows earlier this season. Saint Mary's assistant Kyle Smith, a good friend of Dixon's, certainly could be in the mix if the Rainbows want to go with an assistant, since Smith has Australian connections, too. A niche works for the Rainbows, and might be one of the only ways to get the program relevant again.
"You've got to get someone that can recruit, that really coaches the game," Wallace said. "You've got to have two really good recruiters who stay on the road. It will be tough. They have time to get on it. I'm telling you, when you win there they will pack the house. Bob loves the program. He loves Hawaii. He was given his shot."
It didn't work. No one can debate it. But this program deserves to return to being a player. The university needs it. The state's hoops fans crave it. There is plenty to do in Hawaii other than staying inside and watching games. Having a winning team -- one that competes at a higher level and is relevant nationally, one that can come close to the Top 25 -- will give the fans a connection to the mainland. This is a critical hire for Hawaii, one of the most important hires the university will make in the next decade.
• Expect Virginia's Sylven Landesberg to be playing somewhere else next season. Multiple sources said Landesberg has already investigated declaring for the NBA draft. The possible 2011 lockout has some players running to declare this spring. But more importantly, Landesberg is academically ineligible by Virginia standards and needs to get that in order before he even attempts to come back to the team. There has been a division among all parties in Charlottesville, and it looks less likely that he will be back at UVa playing for Tony Bennett and more probable that he will seek a professional contract.
• Kent, as mentioned above, is likely out. When that happens, know this: Nike/Oregon will go after a former national championship coach. That means they will hit up Minnesota's Tubby Smith, possibly to no avail. The Gophers are making life quite nice for Smith, and he can keep the Gophers relevant for years. John Canzano of the Oregonian wrote Tuesday about the possibility of former Trail Blazers coach P.J. Carlesimo. I have heard that as well, and he would bring some cachet. Regardless, since the Mark Few (Gonzaga) courtship isn't going to happen, the Ducks will attempt to go big-time with this hire and exhaust all Nike possibilities as well.