Greetings from Blacksburg, Va. ... we think.
"When I come here, I can't tell the difference," Jim Calhoun quipped. "One's West (Virginia), the other's Virginia, but they're both Virginia."
Yes, Virginia. The Huskies face Virginia Tech in a second-round NIT game tomorrow at 7 p.m.
Calhoun waxed about the current goings-on in that other tournament, which is chock full of upsets and early Big East ousters.
"Does it speak to a 96-team field? Or does it speak to the (idea) of a 32-team field?" Calhoun asked, rhetorically. "The bottom line is, if you put the two tournaments together, you could find a team in this tournament that could possibly get to the Final Four, the way things are breaking. I think it speaks to what everybody keeps talking about in college basketball. This gives us a chance … in what appears to be a wide-open year for college basketball, that maybe No. 79 is very comparable to No. 38 … or even No. 15. No. 1, in Kansas's case."
Calhoun was asked about his fellow conference brethren's struggles.
"Obviously it's disappointing, because I think the league has shown against outside competition all year how good it can be. You probably will never know, but you'll be able to speculate. Georgetown, for example, those four games in a row (at the Big East tournament) can't be good for you. It can't be for (Austin) Freeman, for example, who's on new medication for diabetes."
"My other theory – it sounds like an excuse, I don't think it is, because we're not involved in the NCAA tournament – but, there is a wear-down effect. When Marquette lost … if they had won … how many times can you have somebody make a shot (to win)? The kid (Lazar) Hayward's shot looked like it was going in and I said, 'They're going to win 14 of these games!'"
Jerome Dyson concurred: "It's crazy, to have so many teams already out. Like coach was saying, we really beat each other up during the season and really exert so much just trying to get through the season … it really takes a lot out of us."
Calhoun believes an ideal league has 12 teams -- four top 25-level teams, four others that could make the NCAA tourney, and four weaker sisters "you can feast on."
And so, it's Huskies vs. Hokies tomorrow night at Cassell Coliseum. Winner faces the winner of tomorrow night's Nevada-Rhode Island game, on Wednesday night. Nevada would be in Storrs; URI in Kingston, URI. Winner of that goes to the NIT semifinals at Madison Square Garden, "which would really be something special, I think," Calhoun said.
Honestly, it appears Calhoun is enjoying this opportunity as much -- if not more -- than some of UConn's players. Don't get me wrong, he lives to play in the NCAA tourney. But Calhoun seems to be in a good place right now.
"At the end of it all, when they start to rank and look at teams, all of a sudden you're sitting on the top of a very good 32-team field, you can make a case maybe you're the 20th best team in the country. There's nothing wrong with that in a year in which, at times, certainly was very disappointing. We don't want to end up disappointed. The one thing we want to do is leave everything we have on the floor (tonight)."
***It was 20 years ago today ...
Tate George's game-winning shot, off Scott Burrell's long inbounds pass, to beat Clemson in the Sweet 16 at the Meadowlands.
"That was still one of the great shots in college basketball," Calhoun said. "People say, 'how do you do it?' Well, you run home run one, which means one second … and then you get a professional pitcher, and the 21st draft choice that year, throw him the ball and have him turn and shoot the ball. And make sure the guy at the Meadowlands is an eastern guy, who truly appreciates what the east can do. It's one of the more special moments in NCAA tournament history and, obviously, our history."
***Kemba Walker, not Dyson, will get the honor of guarding ACC scoring leader Malcolm Delaney tonight -- at least to start the game.
"I know he's the leading scorer in the ACC. That's it. I know he can score the ball. That's it. I'll try my best to contain him. I'm up for the challenge."
***Donnell Beverly has practiced with the team the past two games and is cleared to play after missing last week's Northeastern game with a bone bruise in his right knee.
***Music quiz: What Stones album was "Sweet Virginia" on?