Posted on: March 7, 2012 4:12 pm
Edited on: March 7, 2012 5:23 pm

WVU blows lead, is officially out of the Big East

Huggins' team led most of the way, but after Kevin Jones didn't get shots near the end, UConn stole it. (US Presswire)

By Matt Norlander

NEW YORK — West Virginia’s Big East membership ends with a whimper and an ill-attempted fall-away shot by Paul Williamson.



Meanwhile, UConn Big East tournament storyline gets another injection and dollop of hype thanks to the Mountaineers’ inability to close out a 63-54 lead with 3:40 to go during Wednesday afternoon’s conference quarterfinal at Madison Square Garden. The Mountaineers, a .500 team in the Big East this season that hasn’t beaten a surefire NCAA tournament club since Jan. 21 (Cincinnati), made things more complicated upon their swift exit out of the league.

So, why was Williamson in the game, and why was he even shooting the ball with seconds ticking away in overtime? The rarely used man was inserted after the best beard in college basketball and the man attached to it, Deniz Kilicli, fouled out with 4:20 to go in regulation. Huggins opted to use a few different lineups once Kilicli was unavailable. Trailing 71-67, the entertaining, gruff coach had seen enough of his young team and its unreliable guards give the game away. So up went Williamson’s shot on a play Huggins refrained from expounding upon afterward. The ball met the side of the backboard, and it was in that moment that many inside the Garden looked at each other and asked, “Who is that?”

With the shot failing, it signaled West Virginia’s biggest problem and the only reason that it lost this game. Where was Kevin Jones? He’s the guy Bob Huggins is ticked off about not winning the league’s Player of the Year award (Jones came in second to Marquette’s Jae Crowder). Because Jones was hounded by future NBA lottery pick Andre Drummond — a bright moment for the UConn freshman in a game that saw him miss a field goal as if he was putting from 30 feet out — the young Mountaineers got tunnel vision and backed their way into overtime against No. 9 UConn.

Once in overtime, West Virginia didn’t make a field goal. Oh-for-11. The team couldn’t find Jones and Jones couldn’t get open. He didn’t attempt a shot in the final 7:15 of regulation.

“I feel a little bit of disbelief, disappointment,” Jones said. “We didn’t make the correct decisions at the end. I think it was a little bit that they had Andre Drummond on me. Some of my teammates weren’t able to find me. UConn made the correct plays at the end of the game.”

Was this an emotional ending for Huggins? Uh, no, at least not outwardly. When one reporter addressed him and the players in the postgame press conference, Huggins was either lost in the riveting stat sheet or just flat out ignoring the question. He lifted his head up when the room was silent after the question was completed, as if he’d been called on in class and got caught daydreaming.

Jones answer the question. Eventually, Huggins did talk when another was asked.

“It’s been a good run,” he said of West Virginia’s 17-year stay in the Big East. “We’ve enjoyed it — most of it, anyway. There’s nothing like coming to the Garden to play in the tournament.”

That was all Huggins had to say about it. And as for Williamson’s involvement, I asked him how the play broke down. He responded, “He made a hard shot.”

Made? What? I don’t even know. Maybe he misheard. What's evident now and has been the case for most of this season and the majority of his career: Huggins is ticked. He should be, because this team’s been inconsistent and a frustrating one for him to coach this season. If not for Jones, WVU isn’t even in the NIT.

“He (Jones) was playing with a bunch of freshman that don’t have any idea what the hell they’re doing,” Huggins said. “And they don’t mean to, but to do what this guy’s done … with seven freshmen and a junior college transfer who didn’t play … we couldn’t ask him [and senior Truck Bryant] to do any more. You hope that your freshmen get better and start to understand a little bit better. You can’t give them the ball at the end and knowing full well it’s hard to guard him at the foul line.”

As for the mandatory are-they-in question, I think WVU is headed to the First Four, or just barely dodge it with an 11 seed. They've got enough inventory to clear the 10-or-so teams fighting to squeeze in. Here is Huggins’ defense of WVU's resume:

 “We’ve played more games against top 100 than anybody in the country. We’ve played more games against top 50 teams. We’ve done more things than they’ve asked us to do, except win a couple of games,” Huggins said.

It's that last part that always catches up with teams.

Posted on: March 6, 2012 3:29 pm
Edited on: March 6, 2012 3:48 pm

After win, Calhoun shows a side we've rarely seen

Calhoun was in high spirits and reflective of himself and this team following Tuesday's win. (AP)

By Matt Norlander

NEW YORK — He had a slight hitch in his gait, but he lifted himself up onto the platform, plunked himself down at the podium and let out a five-minute ramble session that was vintage Jim Calhoun -- in the good way. The 69-year-old UConn coach is feeling better, improving by the hour it seems. Calhoun looked happy to be back at the Big East tournament, where his team has now won six straight games, but just has thrilled to win a game and get comfortable in his coaching skin again.

“I feel like I couldn’t pull the trick, like I was exhausted, because you saw me on the sideline [today],” Calhoun said, joking that he couldn't avoid the postgame presser, as he did during UConn's Senior Day Saturday after the team won against Pitt.

There were some stock questions to Ryan Boatright and Jeremy Lamb about last year’s incredible championship Big East run, which also began against DePaul, but today’s UConn win was about Calhoun getting back into his swing slowly but eagerly. Unlike the win against Pittsburgh, Calhoun had the energy and was ready to engage, to pontificate, to the media about his team, his life, this season. He even stopped in the bowels of Madison Square Garden after the big press conference to give a television interview before his SID whisked him away back to the seclusion and cool-down of the locker room.

Eight days after surgery to repair nerve damage in his back, Calhoun has clearly had time to reflect on the part of the season that affected him the most — the eight games he did not coach in (the Huskies were 3-5 in that stretch). He joked about not needing a cane anymore, and what a good thing that is, lest he smack a ref or two with it. He also went big-picture.

"It's an emotional time, it’s been a different kind of season, but through it all, somewhat by separation, I realized how much I cared about these kids. … It’s my job, but also my love, and that’s why I came back to my basketball team.”

The 81-67 win over No. 16 DePaul doesn’t mean much, but Calhoun’s outlook and health does. Tuesday’s victory was No. 34 for Calhoun in the Big East tournament, putting him second all-time on that list, passing Georgetown’s John Thompson.  Calhoun spoke to the media while former Husky Caron Butler huddled with the team in the locker room on the other side of the building.

“I think if you feel you can do anything, just being a fresh voice coming back, then I owed it to them if I could get back,” Calhoun said. “And I did. And obviously the last two games have been very fulfilling.”

Three teams -- Vandy, Nova  and UConn -- played 21 games top against RPI 100 teams this season. It's why UConn could computer-number its way into the field, should it fall to West Virginia Wednesday. But all those challenges, the No. 1 schedule strength in the country, Calhoun said he now sees why UConn’s underperformed and had a letdown of a season to date.

“We didn’t have time to build up our confidence, as I look back,” he said.

If only for a day, week or month, this Calhoun is as thankful for the job he has -- and the time remaining with it. Granted I've not been to 1/50th of the press conferences as the beat writers for the Huskiies, but this side of Calhoun seemed rare to me. To be safe, I asked a few of those writers if they'd ever seen Calhoun like this before:

“I have great respect, generally speaking, the way you (the media) treated me and my family" he said. “Almost to a man and woman, you showed me and my family a great deal of respect through this, and I really appreciate that.”

The writers said they couldn't remember a time where Calhoun ever collectively thanked the media like that. Not after the skin-cancer treatments, not after the prostate surgery. He'd never been so grateful for everything following a game like this.

UConn’s not in the field yet. I don’t think beating DePaul squarely gets the Huskies in with such a token win. In basketball terms, today had no upside and all downside. But in coaching terms, Calhoun’s presence and improved energy means a lot to his team, the program, UConn’s fans. But now it's clear to see his post coach still means the most to him -- as much now as ever.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 29, 2012 12:34 pm

Pod: UCLA reaction, OSU doubt, UConn bashing

The photo that will define Reeves Nelson's college career.  (AP)

By Matt Norlander

In immediate wake of Sports Illustrated's piece on Ben Howland, Reeves Nelson and the culture of no accountability at UCLA, the podcast addresses why it's, really, not surprising. Nelson is no longer on the team, UCLA has a big recruiting class coming in -- and you could likely find these sorts of problems at most places not winning consistently right now. Why it's bad: Ben Howland's reputation takes a hit and it's unclear whether he ever separates himself from the past few years of bad chemistry and bad basketball. Aside from UCLA, Jeff Goodman and Gary Parrish and I touch on ...
  • From the beginning: UCLA.
  • 11:46: Aren't a lot of these problems mirrored at Mississippi State the past two seasons?
  • 15:40: Jerry Palm, as of this podcast's posting, has UConn in the field as an 11 seed. Why? Because the profile still stacks up favorably to other fringe squad. But the Huskies aren't a tournament team and cannot be trusted.
  • 19:36: Getting Draymond Green into the POY debate. Also, Goodman thinks it's "sad" one of these guys won't win it. What I forgot to bring up on the podcast: There are six POY awards, which is dumb, and so it's likely T-Rob/AD/Day-Day may split in some regard.
  • 24:26: Ohio State now has problems and Parrish thinks reaching the Elite Eight is highly questionable.
  • 28:28: Indiana away from home in the NCAAs -- will we see a different team?
  • 29:59: The lower seeds we're expecting a lot out of come bracket time.
  • 32:43: And out of nowhere, I'm raked over the coals for my final version of the Non-BCS Power Pyramid.

Again, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast -- whenever you can. I ask that you, if you like what we're doing here, encourage like-minded hoopheads to subscribe in Tunes as well. Guests like Jay Bilas, Seth Davis, they're the guys who make me sound better and make the podcast worthwhile. The other guys? Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman, they really make it entertaining, and of course you can count on our trio show each Wednesday. The RSS feed is another way to keep the podcasts coming to you ASAP. We've got a Zune download link as well.

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Posted on: February 27, 2012 10:36 am

Podcast: Jerry Palm hates all your teams equally

Cincinnati: not as safe as its fans want to believe.  (AP)

By Matt Norlander

CBSSports.com bracketlogist Jerry Palm isn't afraid to tell you how he really feels. Or, rather, how he thinks the tournament selection committee does, and will, when it picks the field of 68. Palm owns and operates CollegeRPI.com and he's Monday's guest on the podcast because he's got the at-large crop pinned down as well as anyone.

This was a very fun podcast. I'd never spoken to Jerry before, but it felt as though we'd done about 20 pods together. I think you'll enjoy it, and the episode is not really all that much about bringing up teams and deciding whether they're in or out. I toss a few bones that way, but 80 percent of the pod is filled with other material that's more interesting.

If you'd like to follow Jerry and watch him callously and hilariously continually break fans' hearts or just plain tick them off, get to Twitter.

Audio menu:
  • From the beginning: Being that Jerry's a first-time guest, as I'm wont to do, I let him tell us how he became to be Jerry Palm: RPI Expert and Superior Bracket Prognosticator.
  • 7:00: The biggest distinction in what Palm does is, he is putting his mind into the Selection Committee's way of thinking. These picks and seedings are not his opinion -- except when it comes to Cincinnati, who he very much hates.
  • 8:23: Since Jerry has kept his hands dirty with the RPI for more than 20 years, I had to get his opinion on the formula itself.
  • 11:20: He's been to three mock selection meetings in Indy. Jerry knows the process. We swap stories on what we like and don't about the NCAA's media hamster wheel.
  • 19:15: Who are the most interesting/intriguing/haziest-to-p
    roject teams right now? This is where you can see if Jerry picks on your team.
  • 28:05: Which fans are the worst? Which fans can't stop harassing Jerry on Twitter? One fanbase shocked me; the other very much didn't.
  • 32:47: Quick hits to wrap things up. The two vs. three seed gap; Murray State similar to 2006 George Washington? Jerry explains why that's not the case; the most undervalued team; and, finally, Northwestern.

Again, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast -- whenever you can. I ask that you, if you like what we're doing here, encourage like-minded hoopheads to subscribe in Tunes as well. Guests like Jay Bilas, Seth Davis, they're the guys who make me sound better and make the podcast worthwhile. The other guys? Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman, they really make it entertaining, and of course you can count on our trio show each Wednesday. The RSS feed is another way to keep the podcasts coming to you ASAP. We've got a Zune download link as well.

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Posted on: February 26, 2012 12:36 am
Edited on: February 26, 2012 12:47 am

UConn, you now need at least three wins in a row

The Huskies need to win three in a row for the first time in 2012 to have a good chance at an at-large. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Matt Norlander

STORRS, Conn. — Well, the objective seems pretty clear now. The defending champions, who haven’t won three games in a row in 2012 will certainly have to do that to get an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. If that doesn't seem too grim, consider UConn has only gone home winners in back-to-back games once since we turned to January.

At Providence and then home vs. Pittsburgh closes out the regular season for the nation's most underachieving team. Then it's a first-round game in the Big East tournament against a fellow conference doormat. Realistically, that won't be enough. Another win, a fourth in a row, will likely be required for some semblance of comfort. Getting to three wins in MSG would definitely get UConn into the tournament. That's the big-picture goal now.

Three straight wins. Somehow. Can this team do it? Evidence is lacking.

A 17-11 (7-9) Huskies team filled with NBA talent once again fell short in a big moment. To be frank, it’s completely baffling that this team will end its season without an above-.500 Big East record. The Huskies erased a 17-point second-half deficit but still couldn’t usurp Syracuse, losing 71-69 Saturday night, beaten by the Orange for the first time in program history at Gampel Pavilion. Syracuse (29-1, 16-1) clinched the Big East regular season title. SU’s Kris Joseph had a game-high 21. 

Afterward in the Orange locker room, the bulky, heavy regular-season trophy was passed around and posed with. Triumph. A huge win and plenty of private gloating from the team after it officially achieved something that wasn't expected. The Orange are rolling and a lock for a No. 1 seed.

Syracuse won its ninth straight because the game's ending was marred by a foul call that never was; UConn’s Roscoe Smith was aggressively covered by C.J. Fair as he went up for a bunny. The whistle didn’t come until zeroes were left on the clock, and that signaled the end of the game, not a late foul call. It was a break that didn’t go UConn’s way, and so it was not afforded overtime and a chance to vault ahead of many teams in the at-large field.

"He definitely got fouled," Huskies forward Jeremy Lamb said. "He (Fair) purposely grabbed his arm but didn't get the call."

"I think I made a good play," Fair said with a smile in the locker room afterward.

Don’t fall behind by 17 and that isn’t an issue, though. Connecticut can't get out of its own way, once again. Remember, it was bailed out by an incredible, too-soon 3-point shot by Napier that won the game for them against Villanova Monday. It trailed big early in that game, too. The Huskies had a chance to get one of the best wins any team in college basketball could own.

“The middle was open, I made a strong move and I got fouled, but I think the officials did a good job,” Smith said. “You really can’t call a foul in that type of situation, so yeah, you’ve gotta live with it. ... They (the officials) probably really didn't want to have the game decided on it. I got fouled and everybody seen it. If you didn't see it, it'll be on tonight.”

Lamenting a foul call that you didn't get is probably not the best way to go for a Huskies team that's talked a bit too much this year, anyway. But to be fair, the players were asked questions and they were honest. I can't fault them much for that. Still, let's step back here and examine. This team has no business booking travel plans to be in the first round, again, of the Big East Tournament. Now it’s finding itself in need of a 2011 New York City repeat. They need a run like the one they had last year. That run isn’t coming. UConn's squandered too much, and now we’re looking at a possibility that for only the seventh time in tournament history the defending champion won’t be making an appearance the following season.

“The message continues to be: full possessions, full games,” associated head coach George Blaney said. “For some reason we continue to not be able to do that. It’s not a question of confidence it’s a question of full possessions.”

If you're curious about the team's attitude, it appears to be positive. Quite positive in fact, and that's significant. Napier and Alex Oriakhi have voiced frustrations throughout the season, but no one was glum or looking to vent Saturday night. Losing a game that was so close to a win is probably reason to punch a locker or rip a pillow in half, but the team seems together and optimistic.

"We can definitely build off this," Lamb said. Smith echoed those sentiments and you're likely going to see a UConn team that won't lack of effort, even if execution continues to be a hurdle.

The elephant-sized acknowledgement of Jim Calhoun's absence should soon no longer be a distraction or side story. Calhoun has been out in recent weeks due to back pain. He’ll have surgery on his back Monday, and the hope is that he can come back March 3 for the team’s regular-season finale, a home game against Pittsburgh.

Calhoun’s return might be a jolt, but it won’t be enough. The team’s got to start winning now without him (it hasn't beaten an above-.500 Big East team since he's been away), then hope it can experience some déjà vu at Madison Square Garden. It doesn’t have to win five games in five days again, but if it doesn’t at least flirt with that story line, uncertainty will loom until Selection Sunday.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 22, 2012 1:55 pm

Calhoun set for back surgery; will miss next 2

By Jeff Goodman

UConn coach Jim Calhoun won't return this weekend for Saturday's home game against No. 2 Syracuse. 

Calhoun, 69, will have surgery Monday for his back injury, spinal stenosis, which has caused him to take his most recent medical leave of absence. 

Calhoun, according to the school, will be in the hospital for a night or two and will definitely miss Saturday's game and also next Tuesday's at Providence. 

His status will then be evaluated on a day-to-day basis. 

“I’m glad we have finally determined the best course of treatment to deal with the problem,” Calhoun said in a statement. “I’m looking forward to having the procedure done, hopefully recovering as quickly as possible, and putting it all in the past.”  

UConn's final regular-season contest is March 3 at home. The Big East tournament starts on March 6. 

Posted on: February 22, 2012 12:22 pm

Pod: Flat tires, court storms, Calhoun's future

Whenever Calhoun does leave, what is next for UConn basketball? (Getty Images)

By Matt Norlander

I have to admit, sometimes, I'd love to make these podcasts just storytelling with Goodman and Parrish and leaving most of the basketball talk out of it. When Nickelback bashing, goalpost hanging, drunk tire-changing and late-night driving is part of the court-holding, why get into the hoops?

Well, we do. All of that described above is on today's pod, plus an assortment of basketball team topics.

In order:
  • From the beginning: It's the worst possible way to start a podcast. Goodman's a Nickelback fan. Let the excuses rain down from the heavens.
  • 2:25: On Kentucky and expectation and why it's logical to believe this team is as good as we want them to be. Final Four seems inevitable. National champs? .
  • 8:06: Kentucky needs a loss? What?
  • 11:00: UConn and Jim Calhoun. Will he coach this Saturday? What's the future of this program whenever Jimbo leaves? And if this team beats Syracuse Saturday, it sort of feels like the 8/9 game is in its future.
  • 17:36: New Mexico's a fine example of seed and expectation and team talent. What have the Lobos proven and what seed do they deserve? Parrish takes up the case that seeds four through eight stand to be fairly similar, no matter who lands on what line this season.
  • 20:55: Storming the court. We bring it up here, but Goodman actually cops to hanging from the goal post after Arizona beat Washington. Just picture that.
  • 24:36: The college basketball player who is shorter than Parrish. Goodman's now obsessed with this.
  • 26:44: And it's time for Parrish to steal the show again by sharing a story of something stupid he did. In this case, it was changing a tire with a drunk Mississippian college kid at 2 in the morning. Oh happy day!

Again, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast -- whenever you can. I ask that you, if you like what we're doing here, encourage like-minded hoopheads to subscribe in Tunes as well. Guests like Jay Bilas, Seth Davis, they're the guys who make me sound better and make the podcast worthwhile. The other guys? Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman, they really make it entertaining, and of course you can count on our trio show each Wednesday. The RSS feed is another way to keep the podcasts coming to you ASAP. We've got a Zune download link as well.

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Posted on: February 18, 2012 2:19 pm
Edited on: February 18, 2012 2:55 pm

Ready to throw in the towel with UConn Huskies

Connecticut missed out on a chance to get a marquee win today against Marquette. (US Presswire)

By Jeff Goodman

OK, I'm finally ready to give up on the UConn Huskies. It took me longer than most after watching the program rise from the dead a year ago and reel off 11 consecutive games to win the Big East tourney and national title. 

The Huskies' proverbial backs were against the wall on Saturday afternoon. Their 69-year-old coach, Jim Calhoun, remained on a medical leave of absence with a serious back injury.  

If there was ever a time to come out with a sense of urgency, this was it. Yet UConn came out flat, looked disinterested in the first half -- and it cost the Huskies yet again. 

This is a team that was picked in everyone's Preseason Top 10 -- even without Kemba Walker. The Huskies won it all and returned Jeremy Lamb, Alex Oriakhi, Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith and Tyler Olander from last year's improbable national championship team. 

Then Calboun added one of the nation's top recruiting classes in Andre Drummond, DeAndre Daniels and Ryan Boatright. 

All the talk revolves around the lack of leadership -- and much of it is valid. Lamb and Drummond are too quiet, Oriakhi didn't play enough to be a viable candidate  and Napier just isn't ready to assume that role. But there are plenty of far less talented teams without great leaders who enjoy more success than this year's UConn team, one that has now fallen to 16-10 overall and 6-8 in Big East play. 

This team doesn't play smart. This team doesn't play together. They don't play with heart or intensity. 

They were outrebounded by a Marquette team that was without its top two post plays on Saturday on their own court. 

Now, with just four games remaining in the regular-season, the Huskies will have to reel off three of four to finish at .500 in conference play. The slate starts at Villanova, home against Syracuse, at Providence and concludes with a home contest against Pittsburgh. 

They all appear, on paper, to be winnable games. They also appear, on paper, to be losable ones for this group. 

I'd be more shocked if they went 4-0 than 0-4. 

No one knows when -- or even if -- Calhoun will return. I'm not sure it matters with this group. Lamb and Drummond -- two likely lottery picks -- look as though they are out for a walk in the park at times rather than playing Big East basketball. Boatright may be talented, but he appears more interested in getting his own numbers than winning ballgames. Oriakhi's confidence is like a see-saw after Calhoun tossed him in the doghouse early this year. Smith and Daniels have no understanding of their roles and we're nearing the end of the season. 

There's no shame in losing to a Marquette team that is in second place and within striking distance of Syracuse in the Big East standings -- even in Hartford. 

But what was shameful was the effort this UConn team displayed for much of the contest, the lack of fight and intensity. 

The Huskies miss Kemba and Calhoun, but more than anyone thing they miss a sense of toughness, intensity and pride. 

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