Enough madness to go around

October, 19, 2009
Some quick hitters after nearly five hours of our coverage of Midnight Madness on Friday night on ESPNU:

• The Kentucky event was unprecedented. I'm not sure I've ever seen an entrance like John Calipari's at Kentucky. It was part Bono at a U2 concert and part President Barack Obama at the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver. The hype over the Wildcats and their coach is something we've never seen before in college basketball. Calipari can handle the attention and is embracing it, but he also has said to me many times that his team will be young and inexperienced. So, we'll see how the populace handles some expected growing pains this season. I still think the Wildcats can make the Final Four, but there will definitely be losses in a rugged SEC East.

• I saw it Thursday at Cameron Indoor Stadium and then again during Duke's Midnight Madness event: Hall of Fame and Olympic coach Mike Krzyzewski is in as good a space as I've seen him in 20 years of covering the game.

• Cameron Indoor Stadium will have a different look this season with the graduate students taking hold of the end zones and the big boosters moving to more cushioned seats on the side. Duke has learned that the grad students are its most loyal student base and wanted to take care of them. Keep in mind these folks will also ultimately be the most influential as they move on to critical careers. Also, the fire marshal will be pleased with mandatory aisles that were being created with a coat of gray paint. In the past, if you were on the side bleachers, you had no shot to go to the bathroom during the game once you were sandwiched into the long rows of seats.

• Michigan State's Tom Izzo has figured everything out. He enjoys life, is intense with his job, but doesn't take himself too seriously. Last year, he wore a '70s outfit to celebrate the 30-year anniversary of the 1979 national title. This year, he came out in an Indy car because the Final Four is in Indianapolis. The Breslin Center had to close its doors at one point, as fans overcrowded the joint. The Michigan State fan base doesn't get enough credit for its annual passion for this program.

• The FedExForum had to shut its doors for Memphis' event, a first for the school and a celebration of first-year coach Josh Pastner. Pastner said he was overwhelmed with the interest. He has the hardest job of any first-year head coach this season, replacing Calipari. But the manner in which Calipari departed, by taking a number of the players, and with the vacated Final Four (pending Memphis' appeal) may give Pastner a longer leash in the short term.

Pastner is recruiting with the top programs in the country. If he can stay in the top three in Conference USA with some combination of upstarts Tulsa, UTEP and Houston, he should be even more celebrated on the court. Pastner said he had no issue easing into a more observational role during the double session of practice Saturday. He had been one of the grunt assistant coaches at Arizona and Memphis running stations. Now he was in charge, moving between both ends of the floor as his assistants handled the drills.

• North Carolina's John Henson is so slender but he continues to rise above the rest of his teammates. If Larry Drew II can pitch ahead the basketball as Roy Williams says, this team will be exceptionally difficult to defend on the break. If Drew can just get the ball near the basket, Henson, Ed Davis, Deon Thompson and Tyler Zeller -- the four big men who will likely get the most time -- can certainly snatch it and finish.

• Connecticut's event was festive Friday before tragedy struck early Sunday morning on campus with the fatal stabbing of football player Jasper Howard at a university-sponsored dance. The men's basketball team, like everyone else on campus, was stunned with the news. Many of the players, according to assistant coach Patrick Sellers, knew Howard. Sadness has covered the campus.

• UConn freshman forward Ater Majok suffered a stress fracture in his left tibia and is out of practice for a few weeks. Majok isn't eligible to compete until mid-December.

• Oregon State coach Craig Robinson has been waiting for freshman guard Roberto Nelson to be cleared to practice, but it didn't happen by the time practice started Friday. Getting paperwork has been a slow process, and while there doesn't seem to be a concern that Nelson won't be eligible, the process is certainly time consuming as documents get sent to the NCAA Eligibility Center.

• Georgetown coach John Thompson III is certainly changing the mood of the Hoyas. JT3 has lightened things considerably. He was a self-proclaimed huge Michael Jackson fan and didn't hesitate to don a white glove in honor of the King of Pop during the Hoyas' event Friday night.

• North Dakota State's Saul Phillips may never leave Fargo. The city and the school just give him too much material. He said the Bison were going to bring out during its madness event the famed wood chipper from the movie "Fargo" but they couldn't get anyone to go into it.

• Two teams I would have loved to watch their scrimmages but didn't get much of a glimpse of were Washington and Kansas. Both could play deep into March.

• Clemson's Oliver Purnell repelled down from the rafters at the Tigers' event. Purnell has settled in quite nicely at Clemson, producing a consistent winner. He is at ease in his surroundings at Clemson and continues to be a solid citizen in leading that program. Like Izzo, he has learned to not take himself too seriously.

• Give Roy Williams credit: It doesn't matter what occurred the previous spring because he'll dance with his Tar Heel players. Williams' ability to let loose allows him to connect with today's players.

Andy Katz | email

ESPN Senior Writer


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