Posted on: March 9, 2012 12:19 am

Texas on the right side of the bubble?

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – This is what a 68-team bracket has forced us to care about …

Northwestern absolutely choking its way out of a tournament it would have no shot at unless there was a 68-team bracket.

Look, I get all the national love for the Wildcats. It’s a nice story that a school known more its catchy ledes than buzzer beaters is this close to getting in the tournament for the first time. But this is what they didn’t tell us when the bracket expanded a couple of years ago: The bubble was dumbed down.

Had the 64-team field remained, Northwestern’s overtime loss to Minnesota Thursday in the Big Ten tournament would have been an NIT footnote. But the expanded bubble being what it is, we must care – about bad basketball. Even now after destiny’s Debbie Downers in Evanston frittered another one away.

Northwestern isn’t the only one. Washington (1-7 against the top 50) won the Pac-12 regular-season title but is now a question mark after losing to Oregon State. Hold your nose but Arizona may have forced itself into the conversation, if  not the bracket. This was all for good for Texas, which played one of the more compelling games of the day in a Big 12 tournament quarterfinal against Iowa State.

Compelling because Texas continues to be a member of that dreaded bubble for the first time in a long time. They have been tournament regulars under Rick Barnes. Not this season in a tenuous transition season with six freshmen. Things were looking up late Thursday when the young Horns showed some finishing ability – please note, Northwestern – in a 71-65 win over the Cyclones.  

At halftime, with his team trailing, Horns coach Rick Barnes took to the dry erase board to state the obvious.

“I wrote it down ‘NIT or NCAA'. Which one would you put your name under right now?” Barnes said. “Whichever one you want, I assure you you’re going to have to earn it.”

So they did, with their best basketball of the season. After Iowa State opened the second half with a 7-0 run, the Horns responded with a 22-4 run of their own. Suddenly, Texas is hot. It has 20 wins, a benchmark of some sort among bubble teams, right? It was won three out of the last four going into Friday’s semifinal against Missouri.

It has what Northwestern and other bubble boys don’t. Bracket credibility, if only for day. Maybe the best thing you can say about Barnes’ team is that it looks less bad that some of the others. The Longhorns have now won 10 conference games while playing in one of the few high major conferences with a round-robin schedule (18 games).

The baby Horns grew up a little Thursday night. Freshman guard Myck Kapongo played 39 minutes, with no turnovers for the first time in his 32-game career.

“We’re not young no more,” he said.

If the Horns have an advantage in the NCAA basketball committee room this weekend, it is because of pedigree. Only Michigan State, Duke and Kansas have longer NCAA tournament streaks than Barnes does at Texas (13 consecutive years). This is not one of Barnes’ classic teams. The Longhorns struggle to score mightily. Three of those freshman start.

I’m not going to tell you that Texas doesn’t belong in the tournament. Not after what I saw and read on Thursday. What makes Texas any worse than Northwestern or Washington or Colorado State or Seton Hall or Miami or South Florida?

When you get to this level of desperation you count “good” losses. Texas has plenty of them -- six, against top 10 opponents. Eight of its 12 losses have come against the top 25.

At the beginning of the day, Jerry Palm had the Longhorns out. I’m not going to say he’s wrong. I’m going to refer him to a gutty second half comeback, those maturing freshmen and Rick Barnes.

“We fought back,” he said.

Beats the heck out of Northwestern. 

Posted on: March 8, 2012 1:47 pm
Edited on: March 8, 2012 8:48 pm

Baylor's Human Highlighters and Adidas

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- If clothes make the Bear, consider Sprint Center the latest battleground in the apparel war.

That would be the war between Nike and pretty much everyone else. Fifteen months ago, the first BCS title game between the two apparel titans took the field when Auburn played Oregon in the BCS title game. That would be Auburn, an Under Armour school, and Oregon, a well-known Nike school.

The uniform war was on the night before the game when Nike projected laser images of its swoosh logo on the side of Camelback Mountain. So, yeah, this is getting serious.

The latest apparel incendiary was dropped by Baylor on Thursday in the Big 12 tournament. The Bears wore canary yellow Adidas threads head to toe against Kansas State. Socks to T-shirts. The nuclear yellow was part of the same color combination worn by Oregon 15 months ago. One press row wag took one look at Baylor and said his sinuses were cleared.

They were that bright.  

On national cable, Adidas just fired off a shot across Nike’s bow. Why it matters: Recruits have chosen schools for lesser reasons than uniforms. If you think it doesn't matter, check out Kansas' Thomas Robinson, who tweeted that he thought Baylor's unis were "tuff."

Even if Baylor as a team isn't tuff all the time.

If you haven't noticed, high-profile games have become the new fashion runways for apparel manufacturers. Baylor got a two-hour plus commercial Thursday for Adidas -- and Baylor -- in that order. Twitter blew up -- not necessarily about the game but about the uniforms.

One tweeter called Baylor, "The All-Star Crossing Guard Team From Waco."

Another: "Here's every idea they've [Adidas] ever had: 'Let's put three stripes on it.'"

Shot across Nike's bow? "Those are hand-me-downs"

If it matters to Oregon fans, then it matters to Nike. If it matters to Nike, it matters to Adidas. If it matters to Adidas, it means something to Baylor. This game alone may enhance a relationship that just got a lot more intimate. Adidas' deal with Baylor has a year to go.

Expect a long-term extension? 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 25, 2012 10:03 pm
Edited on: February 25, 2012 11:56 pm

The Last Border War in Lawrence is the best

LAWRENCE, Kan. -- Thank you John Brown, Bloody Bill Quantrill, Norm Stewart, Phog Allen -- and God.

If Saturday was the last Missouri-Kansas game, then it will be everlasting. YouTube, cell phone and video all will preserve the images. But there will also be memories. Good, old-fashioned remembrances that will be handed down from generation to generation. Synapses that will fire one on death beds one last time for some of the 16,300 who witnessed a classic -- and a shame.

In the 105th year of the rivalry, Missouri and Kansas played with the urgency that this was their last regular-season conference game against each other -- which was fitting. If this is truly it for the Border War, the hoarse, sweat-drenched fanatics who jammed Allen Fieldhouse will go to their graves knowing these teams never played this hard against each other.

Until Saturday.

"It's a shame that it's going to end," Kansas' Bill Self said, "but it’s definitely going to end. Playing them once a year with nothing on the line doesn't carry the same value as playing twice a year with a championship on the line."

That was the central theme Saturday with Missouri leaving for the SEC after this season. No matter what happens, it's just not going to be the same anymore. Post SEC announcement, the Kansas stance has been: "Missouri is the one leaving the conference, why should we do them any favors by playing them in the future?" Missouri's general retort: "Why are you throwing away all this tradition?"

Nothing is scheduled and may not be for a while -- if ever.

So it terms of a walk-off to the rivalry, it was David Freese in Game 6. It was Kanye dropping rhymes, then dropping the mic and walking offstage. It was a kick in the jewels to tradition.

In the 267th meeting between these two eternal rivals, KU-MU played one that could have lasted from here to eternity. In the end, it was elongated by one overtime and won by one point. Kansas, 87-86. 

Missouri could have been a contendah, stealing the last Big 12 title they would ever play for and keeping it forever. Instead, Kansas clinched at least a share of the conference title for the eighth straight year. For the Tigers, SEC-ond place never felt so bad. 

“That was as good as it gets,” Self said. “Plus, recruits were here so I was hamming it up too.”

Self saluted the crowd in is own walk-off [the court]. They did their part raising the decibel level somewhere between 747 takeoff and Who concert. Jayhawkers couldn’t have stood for Missouri winning its final game in Lawrence. One woman sprinted down an aisle in the final seconds with a sign stating: "Missouri Forfeits A Century-Old Tradition. Kansas Wins."

For now. Yes, the series is over but with an asterisk. We should all root for a rubber match in next month's Big 12 tournament. That would probably be in the championship game. Talk about walk offs.

They're both good enough that a fourth meeting in the NCAA tournament is not out of the question.

"I wouldn’t have a problem playing them again," Kansas’ Tyshawn Taylor. "Sign me up."

But the series is definitely over in Lawrence which already begs the question: How long will all this be remembered? Just recall how the rivalry started, amid the bloodshed of the Civil War.

There was a fan dressed up as John Brown, the revolutionary abolitionist. NCAA national championship trophy in one hand, 2008 Orange Bowl trophy in the other. Noted pro-slave terrorist Quantrill and his raiders -- thankfully not portrayed on Saturday -- burned Lawrence to the ground 160 years ago. Of the four persons listed in the lede of this blog -- both real and basketball Border War participants -- only one is still alive.

And good, old Norm, bless is heart, just turned 77.

So roll over Phog Allen, tell Bill Self the news.

It wasn't just the best game of the college basketball season, it was arguably the best of those 105 years. Missouri was up 19 in the second half. The last time Missouri led at Kansas by 19 was the Paleozic Era, or at least 1999. That was the last the Tigers won here.

Kansas made less than half its free throws in the first half which had to delight the Missouri fan at the top of Section 15. Each time a Jayhawk would go to the line he'd scream "S-E-C." Kansas fans were beside themselves. Amid the silence providing their beloved Jayhawks with the needed concentration, they couldn't respond.

It was the perfect strategy until Kansas made everything, scoring 55 in the second half and overtime.

Kansas' Thomas Robinson ran into foul trouble, then played himself back into the national player of the year conversation with 28 points and 12 rebounds. If T-Rob does nothing else the rest of his career, they will commission paintings of his swat of Phil Pressey’s driving layup as time expired in regulation.

The ball landed somewhere east of here in DeSoto, Kan. OK, that was hyperbole. The painting, though, was actually the real deal. There was an artist in a corner of the old gym going Leroy Neiman on a canvas as the game went on.

"Playing Missouri, unfortunately, does mean something," Self admitted. "It means something to me. I was at Illinois and coached against Missouri when I was there. I hated nothing more than losing to Missouri."

That hate may never be felt on the court again. Kansas will continue to be a national power. Missouri basketball will fit nicely into the SEC. But now it’s over, at least in Lawrence. We'll just have to remember Saturday being the best.

"I read an article … it said pretty much how I feel. It's not the same," Self said. "Missouri has got to market their future. We're their past.

"[But] for it to end like this is pretty cool."

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: January 23, 2012 10:50 am
Edited on: January 23, 2012 11:04 am

Chip Kelly staying at Oregon, but for how long?

Chip Kelly, WTF?

A part of me says any college coach anywhere would want to try the NFL. Another part says why Kelly, why the Bucs and why now? OK, so it's an NFL opening, but it doesn't mean anyone with Chip’s chops will automatically become the next Jim Harbaugh.

And not necessarily with that offense.

Oregon's coach waffled Sunday night/Monday night before staying at Oregon. Waffling would put him on a team of coaches whose roster is overstocked. Nothing wrong with waffling. If the Bucs would have hired you, great Chip. But you’ve essentially been refining, developing, running that same offense for about the past 17 years -- 14 at New Hampshire, three at Oregon. It's a great offense -- for college.

Someone will have to convince me how it resembles a winning offense in the NFL at the moment. While Kelly’s O has revolutionized the way the ball is moved in the Pac-12 and around the country, the contrived word "Tebowesque" comes to mind in regard to the NFL.

In other words, it worked in college. In the pros? TBD. At Oregon, Kelly pretty much had the best and fastest players around (until he played the SEC). In the NFL, the rules kind of bunch everyone toward 8-8. Chip Kelly is not an 8-8 guy. Neither are impatient owners. That's why you see so much turnover. Raheem Morris went from rising young star to fired in three seasons in Tampa. In 2011, he started 4-2, then lost his last 10.

Again, nothing wrong with flirting with the NFL. But it is a brutal, unforgiving life. Would Kelly have gladly morphed overnight from offensive genius to NFL pro-style robot? Doubt it. Every time a Patriots assistant leaves Bill Belichick and falters, I’m reminded of the singular talent of Tom Brady.

The Pats got lucky hitting gold in the sixth round. Would Kelly in the NFL?

Does it matter? Worst case scenario, Oregon’s coach could fall upward -- get fired himself after three seasons in the NFL and rebound with a big-time job in college. That essentially happened to Nick Saban. It may happen to Pete Carroll.

What I do know is that Kelly has a job in perpetuity in Eugene -- or until the NCAA weighs in. He is the king of Oregon, one of the top five college coaches today. A national championship is definitely in his future if he sticks around. But my first thought when the Tampa reports popped up was that Kelly must have some inside information in the Will Lyles investigation. Then I was reminded that Oregon hasn't so much as received its notice of allegations.

Kelly may have been bailing on a bad situation, one that eventually may impact his ability to succeed at his job. But at this moment it doesn’t seem like it. He came back to win ballgames and face the NCAA music. In that order. Oregon officials have maintained since the day of the initial document dump that they are innocent. Or at least not very guilty in the NCAA court of law.

What Oregon does have to worry about is the long-term plans of its coach. Kelly is now on record as looking around. He cannot be blamed. Again, the NFL makes sense for any upwardly mobile coach. There are few places in college he could or would go except the No Fun League. But there are also few places with the corporate support of Nike, which has paid off with three consecutive BCS bowls and a national title shot.

Going forward, Oregon AD Rob Mullens has to consult his List. Every AD worth his mascot lapel pin has one in his back pocket. On it, he has the names of, say, the top five candidates he would call should his coach leave. If Mullens doesn’t have his personal List,  then he isn’t as sharp as I thought.

At the top has be Boise State’s Chris Petersen. Oregon is thought to be one of the few places Boise’s almost hermit-like coach would consider. He has roots in Eugene. He coached receivers there for six years before moving to Boise. The media-averse Petersen would have to deal with more, but not much more.

This is a coach who was reportedly offered substantial millions by UCLA. Petersen’s name comes up for about every major job that opens. He’s good. Oregon could do worse.

Nothing happened Sunday night/Monday morning and a lot happened. Kelly stayed at Oregon. But the emerging question is: For how long?

And does have Mullens have his List?

And would C.P. be interested?    

Posted on: October 20, 2011 7:04 pm
Edited on: October 20, 2011 7:05 pm

Kansas' Self not worried about losing Missouri

Kansas coach Bill Self expanded on his feelings about Missouri possibly leaving the conference for the SEC. Self spoke to reporters Thursday during Big 12 basketball media day.

The coach came closer than ever Thursday to saying, “Who needs ‘em?” if Missouri leaves. He even suggested that Kansas would lose money if it played a non-conference game against its biggest rival.

“If they leave, they leave. Big deal,” Self told reporters. “You know, we don't want 'em to but if they choose to do that, they do it.

“So from our standpoint, I don't think we're going to say, ‘Aw, geez, we've got to hurry up and schedule them. I don't think anybody would feel that way. I know I wouldn't and I don't think any of our fans would.”

“I’m not saying we will [play them]. I'm not saying we won’t. I'm just saying I'm not going to make a decision on that now. I may feel that we need to continue playing them, I may feel that we don't need to continue playing them.

“I know one thing. Texas made a pretty bold statement to A&M [about the continuation of that series]. I don't know if we're in the exact same boat as that, but I really believe that what we do will not be based on what other people want us to do. It will be based on basically what's best for our program.”

I then asked Self if he had to wet his finger and check which way the wind was blowing. In other words, was this a political decision?

Self basically said KU could conceivably lose money if it played Missouri in a non-conference game at the Sprint Center, home of the Big 12 tournament in Kansas City.

“Here's the thing about that,” he said. “You play in the Sprint Center, you play Missouri. Great game. Now let's say you net $600,000 after you pay expenses to play that game. They take $300,000, we take $300,000.

“We make $500,000 playing a home game, so we just lost money. There would be a lot of different ways you could look at it

So getting $1 million total for a Missouri-Kansas game at the Sprint Center would be a “push” monetarily for Kansas?

“Maybe, yeah, yeah, maybe,” Self said.

“I want to make sure that I'm clear. I want Missouri to stay. It's best for our league if they stay. It's best for Kansas. It's best for other teams in our league if they stay.”

What about playing the conference tournament in Missouri with no team in the conference from Missouri?

“See, I think that’s also overrated on which side of the river ... I think it's Kansas City, you know, Kansas City ... I don't see that being a huge deal, where the building is located.”

Missouri's board of curators took no action Thursday during a regularly scheduled meeting on the Missouri-Kansas City campus. The school's next likely move would be to announce a formal withdrawl from the Big 12.  

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 4, 2011 1:11 pm

A lecture for Big Blue Nation re: "The Question"

HOUSTON -- For all of you who weren't actually there, I wasn't baiting John Calipari. I wasn't trying to upset him. I was trying to get an anecdote and/or quote for my story.

It worked. I filed the story, and moved on. Obviously, some of you haven’t.

To make things perfectly clear, there is an interview session with each head coach and selected players on the Friday before the Final Four. Anything is in play, well, basically there's free speech and we're the folks who exercise it every day. Anything is in play, especially for the coaches who have so many obligations that if you have a question to ask, you better do it then. So I did. Near the end of Calipari's on-podium interview session I prefaced a question to him by saying, "I'm being facetious ..."

We made eye contact -- him on the podium, me out in the great media beyond. 

How does it feel to coach in your first Final Four?

Funny. Clever. No harm, no shady ACT score. At that point, I'm pretty sure Cal "got" what I was going for. It wasn't one of those "do you still beat your wife?" questions where you're guilty either way. 

Let's just say that the question was a lot better than the answer.

"I don’t deal with that," Calipari said. "We’ve been here three times. Those players played those games and did what they were supposed to. I’m so proud of what they’ve all accomplished. It’s been fun. It’s been a good experience. This is going to be a good experience."

Fair enough. End of discussion. So I thought. It started with various friends and colleagues coming up to me in the media work room asking, "Was that you who asked the question?" Well, yes. "Great job." 

Again, I wasn't looking for attention. It was probably a question that needed to asked over the weekend in some form. I chose the path of, what I thought, was least resistance. But when word got to cyberspace, it seemed like half of you congratulated me for asking the Kentucky coach "The Question", the other half of you reside in no-maintenance condos in Big Blue Nation.

I understand that your views are clouded by adoration of a man who makes $3 million a year at the state university for coaching basketball. What you don't get is that's the reason that question had to be asked. Calipari is a public figure, maybe the highest paid state employee in the state. If the governor had stains on his record, wouldn't legitimate questions be worth it? 

I also understand that the BBN reaction to "The Question" is the same reason some Bucknuts are tired of the Jim Tressel criticism. Both guys win. That, to me, has always been the thinnest argument. You are who you have beaten. If Cal won half his games or Tressel was on the other end of those Michigan scores, they would suddenly become a lot dumber.

That's why BBN -- and its kin in college athletics -- need us: The objective, the even-handed, the informed. Yes, even the opinionated. The basic duty of the media is to be a watchdog over the rich and powerful. That's why the Fiesta Bowl was taken down. That's why there is a cloud of scandal hanging over college football and basketball. That's why NCAA president Mark Emmert squirmed last week when he was asked is salary on PBS' Frontline. Sooner or later, we'll know it. We deserve to know it. 

You may not care but that's why we do what we do. Sometimes we give you stuff you need to read, as opposed to want you want to read.

I speak for my colleagues when I say the only thing we'll root for tonight is a goody storylines, a quick game and a media shuttle that is prompt. Whether I or anyone else ask Jim Calhoun a tough question matters. We have a narrow window to ask it, public officials are accountable and whether you admit it or not, you want to know.

Someone now please help me down off my soap box. 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 25, 2011 8:50 pm
Edited on: March 26, 2011 11:08 am

West Regional tidbits

ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Consume at your peril ...

--Kemba Walkers' 36 points tied the UConn record for most points in a tournament game. The guys he tied aren't bad. Ray Allen did it in 1995 vs. UCLA and Ben Gordon had 36 against Alabama in 2004. 

--Prior to Jim Calhoun arriving in 1986, UConn was 4-14 in the tournament. It is 43-13 under Calhoun. 

--UConn leads the Big East in players in the NBA, 11.

--UConn has made nine second-half comebacks this season in which it trailed by five or more points. The Huskies trailed San Diego State by four with 9:19 left when Jamaal Franklin was called for a technical. UConn outscored the Aztecs 25-14 the rest of the way. 

--Calhoun is second among Division I coaching "trees." Only Herb Sendek of Arizona State has more former assistants from his staff (eight) out there as head coaches. Calhoun has six.

--That was a career high for Arizona's Derrick Williams Thursday night, 32 points. He is average 23.6 points and 10.6 rebounds in the tournament

--Arizona (0-4) has never beaten Connecticut

--This Arizona team has made more threes (292) than the 1993-94 team that set the previous school record (279) with Damon Stoudamire and Khalid Reeves leading the way. 

--Thursday's win was Arizona's first over a top-10 in three years (Gonzaga, 2008). 
Category: NCAAB
Posted on: March 21, 2011 11:22 am
Edited on: March 21, 2011 3:32 pm

My NCAA tournament thoughts going into regionals

Stay strong, Jay Bilas . It's not the fact that Virginia Commonwealth is in the Sweet 16, people. The fact remains that VCU didn't deserve to be in the bracket in the first place. Colorado could have gone in place of the Rams and also gone to the Sweet 16. Tell me Missouri State wouldn't have had a shot with the right matchup. 

It's a separate argument -- 1) Did VCU deserve to be in the bracket? No. 2) Does winning in the tournament justify that spot in the bracket? No. I can give you the name of five teams that could have gotten hot and won two games.

Big East flop. After the first round, the Big East was guaranteed at least two teams in the Sweet 16. That's all it got. For what is believed to be the first time in the seeding era, the selection committee knowingly made it possible for not one, but two games between conference foes in the second round. 

The committee long ago had to abandon the principle of conference rivals not being able to meet until the regional final. A 16-team Big East made the committee get rid of that principle for obvious reasons. But it was lazy that the committee didn't try to eliminate the possibility of Connecticut-Cincinnati and Marquette-Syracuse in the second round. That looks more like Big Monday than the NCAA tournament.

It wasn't fair to the Big East to have to eat its own so early in the bracket. It showed the committee didn't do its diligence. That being said, the fact that the Mountain West has as many teams in the Sweet 16 as the Big East (two) is embarrassing -- for the Big East.

Most entertaining regional? It isn't the Southwest where Kansas is surrounded by three mutts (Richmond, VCU and Florida State). I'll give you the Southeast with Butler still alive, again, going against the immovable force in Wisconsin. The Southeast also has Jimmer (Fredette) and Billy (Donovan).

But I'll take the West where I dare you to pick the best player in Anaheim. Is it Nolan Smith, Kyrie Irving, Derrick Williams, Kemba Walker or Kawhi Leonard? There are so many storylines at the Honda Center, my head is spinning. 

--San Diego State is expected to take over the Honda Center. The school is less than two hours from Anaheim. "The Show" almost blew the roof off the McKale Center last week. 

--Is it possible to have too many good players? Duke barely survived Michigan while trying to integrate Irving back in the lineup. That's a problem every other team would love to have. Also, if Coach K gets to the Final Four out of this regional, he will tie a certain Bobby Knight for the Division I record in career wins, 902. Go, Mike, go! 

--San Diego State fans were chanting "We want Kemba!" after beating Temple in the second round. Be careful what you wish for, Aztecs. I'll kind of answer my previous question: Walker might be the best player in the regional and maybe the country.

--Arizona's Derrick Williams comes back home to his native L.A. As of this moment, Williams is the most important and charismatic player in the tournament. (That's different than "best".) His block in the first round against Memphis preserved the win. His and-one late against Texas on Sunday was the difference. Think Williams will be a little energized going back home playing for a spot in the Final Four?

Easiest road to the Final Four: You kidding? It has to be Kansas. If it wins, it won't face a single-digit seed until the Final Four. On the one-year anniversary of losing to Northern Iowa in 2010, the Jayhawks destroyed an Illinois team Sunday that brought to mind an obvious question: How did VCU and Illinois get in the bracket?

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or