Monday, March 31, 2014

Billy Donovan, Kevin Ollie Talk About Upcoming Final Four Matchup

Each of the Final Four head coaches were on conference calls this afternoon. We'll stick with what Kevin Ollie and Billy Donovan had to say:


(on Scottie Wilbekin vs. Shabazz Napier matchup)

"Napier is a great player. I, obviously, have an enormous amount of respect for him. Being a Big East guy, I've always followed Big East teams -- I know they were in the American this year -- but he's a gifted offensive player, a gifted leader as well. Scottie is a great defensive player, Shabazz is a great offensive player. I've always believed great offense beats great defense. So, it's not necessarily a situation where Scottie is playing Napier by himself."

(on Dec. 2 meeting at Gampel, which UConn won on Napier's last-second shot)

"It was a great game, a great environment. I think it was a game that helped our team going forward. Napier made some great plays ... there was a lot of ebbs and flows -- they took the lead, we took the lead back .. it went back and forth in a lot of ways. I thought (DeAndre) Daniels made a tremendous play, keeping the loose basketball alive. Napier got a great look at the free throw line and knocked it down for their team."

Keep in mind, Donovan labeled Napier's shot "luck" after the game that night. He meant that Napier was lucky to get the second shot, after Daniels had tipped back the rebound of his first, off-balance shot.

(on why the loss to UConn helped Florida)

"It was really our second road game. We had played Wisconsin early. When you play against a good team, you've got to battle, fight, go back and forth, it helps you understand just how hard you have to battle, fight and persevere. It was a great venue, a great crowd. Any time you play a game like that, you have the chance to learn and grow. Obviously, it was a tough loss for us, losing at the buzzer. We knew where we needed to get better and improve. We gave up some offensive rebounds down the stretch."

(on Kevin Ollie)

"I've always respected Kevin. Obviously, he was a terrific player, a first-class guy. He's done an unbelievable job. One of the things I respect more than anything else is he was a guy that plays at UConn, was an assistant coach there, he's taking over for a Hall of Fame coach. No question, Kevin is comfortable with who he is, what he stands for, how he wants his team to play. I'm sure there are differences between he and Jim (Calhoun). He put a stamp on the team, what's the best way for his team to play. He's done a magnificent job coaching them all year long."


(on how he was prepared to be a head coach despite no prior experience)

“I’ve always been a coach on the floor. Being around Larry Brown ... and what helped me, I played with 11 different teams, so I’ve seen different offenses, defenses, different ways a coach can communicate with his players."

"I used to keep scouting reports. Teammates would be like, what are you doing? I had to watch tape and film, scout my opponents. I was getting in there 10 minutes, five minutes, so I had to know exactly what I was doing so I could make those five minutes meaningful.”

“I tried to be an extension of the coach, so he didn’t even have to call a play, I knew exactly what he wanted at the end of the game.”

(on the AAC's postseason success)

“I’m glad our American flag is being raised. We lost six games in our conference, and we’re going to the Final Four. That just shows how great our conference is.”

(on the lack of African-American coaches at high-level programs right now)

“It’s definitely a concern. We don’t want to look at ourselves as African-American coaches. Hopefully, our coaching ability doesn’t have to do with the color of our skin … I just admire John Thompson, Nolan Richardson, they paved the way for me, that I can have a job and do it successfully.”

(on the exchange between him and Calhoun after Sunday's win)

“He just said, ‘I’m very proud of you. Just keep doing what you’re doing, keep battling.’ I was trying to hold back tears, because I always want to look tough in front of coach. But I just wanted to say thank you for believing in me. There were a lot of doubters, but Coach always believed in me.”

Here's that exchange:

(on Ryan Boatright)

“He’s meant a lot. Ryan is growing up. I’m very passionate about my point guards ... Ryan’s allowing us to coach him now. He’s opening up and trusting us more. That’s always difficult sometimes, the trust issue. Does coach have my back, maybe I should pass this shot up for Amida (Brimah) to have a better shot? The big thing for me, in the Iowa State game, they cut lead down to four, Ryan took two dribbles left handed, kicked it to Niels (Giffey) in the corner for a 3 that really stemmed that tide. That shows his maturity as a point guard … what he’s done in practice, being more vocal, being a leader, really helping our team, helping Niels and DeAndre getting better shots."

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Sunday, March 30, 2014

UConn Returns to Dallas -- All Part of Kevin Ollie's Plan

When Kevin Ollie took UConn on a tour of AT&T Stadium (home of the Cowboys) back on Jan. 3, it wasn't just because Ollie's a big Cowboys fan. He wanted his team to get a feeling of what it might be like to return three months later for the Final Four, which is also being hosted by Jerry Jones's leviathan of a stadium.

And now, the Huskies are returning. Amazing, really. Can't say I saw this three months ago. Or three weeks ago, even.

We'll have plenty more later, but for now, here's some video from UConn's postgame celebration you might enjoy:

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Live Blog for Today's UConn-Michigan State Elite Eight Game

Saturday, March 29, 2014

UConn's Postgame Tradition, A Tweet from LeBron James, Kevin Ollie Explains His Samuel Slap

The last time UConn faced Michigan State, a special tradition built on team unity developed. The entire team, at Kevin Ollie's urging, crowded behind Ollie during his postgame ESPN interview with Andy Katz. The Huskies have continued doing it ever since, and that's the the focus of my story for Sunday's Register in advance of their Elite Eight bout with the Spartans on Sunday at 2:20 p.m.

Meantime, here's some video of UConn players talking about that special win over Michigan State on Nov. 9, 2012, and the tradition that started afterwards:

*** A few more odds and ends:

LeBron James sent out this tweet supporting his former Cleveland Cavalier teammate, Kevin Ollie, on Saturday:

*** Ollie was asked about the playful slap to the face he gave Terrence Samuel during his postgame interview on Friday night.

"We were just goofing around," Ollie said. "It wasn't (a) big deal. So we were just goofing around and they play a game, and they were putting bunny ears behind me. It just wasn't (anything)."

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Tom Izzo on UConn, Kevin Ollie and his friendship with Jim Calhoun

Tom Izzo talks UConn, Kevin Ollie, his friendship with Jim Calhoun and a bunch of other stuff at today's press conference:

COACH TOM IZZO:  Well, first of all, I'm so excited to be here.  I thought we beat a very, very good Virginia team.  Very well coached team.  And now it just turns right around.  It seems like all the games I had against Calhoun over the years, who is a good friend, and now his protégé has taken over and has done as good or is on his way to the same kind of stardom that Jim had at UCONN. 
I think that we go from two different teams, a team that was so physical and big, huge guards, to a team that has maybe the quickest guard tandem in the country in Shabazz and Boatright. 
So it's going to be a good challenge, but I'm proud of these guys, too.  They have been through a lot this year and have weathered the storm and hopefully we're into playing our best basketball down the stretch.

Q.  Kevin Ollie had to be the guy that followed the guy, and that you were the kind of the guy that followed the guy.  How hard is that?  How do you make that work for yourself as a coach?
COACH TOM IZZO:  Well, I'm sure just like Jud, Jim I'm sure has done a good thing.  He was there to support Kevin in his first game over in Germany.  I've known Jim for a long time, and he wanted Kevin to have the job.  He told me that the summer before.  I just think it's how the former guy handles it.  We're going to have pressure on us to try to live up to certain things, but how the guy before us handles it.  And in Jud's case, he's been so supportive.  I got a call from him this morning, he's still coaching my team 19 years later.  And I accept that and I actually enjoy that. 
I'm sure, as I told Kevin when we played him over in Germany, and Jim was sitting there, I think he was doing the radio that day, I said, "Hey, and find a way to embrace it, because he's got a lot of knowledge and can really help you."  And just like Jud did for me.  He wasn't there day to day, but he was yelling at me still when we won, but when we lost, he was there for me.  I think that's what's really critical. 
So maybe not as much how we handle it, how they handle it.  I've been very fortunate, my guy's been dynamite. 

Q.  Tom, all the talk about UCONN is about their guards.  I was really impressed with their big guys last nights, especially defensively.  Can you comment how we have to respond to that?
COACH TOM IZZO:  Their big guys or our big guys? 

Q.  Their big guys. 
COACH TOM IZZO:  Well, what we have been is really balanced.  Last couple games Adreian and B.J. have been so good, but for half the year when Keith was out it was Gary and Zel that was carrying us when these guys were out.  So it's just finding that mixture now. 
Their big guys are good.  If you look at it, they get more scoring out of their guards than their perimeter guys, and we have gotten more scoring lately out of ours.  But I think for the most part Gary and AP have been our leading scorers throughout the year, so we have maybe a little more balance. 
But their big guys impressed me, too.  Then when you take a kid like Daniels, who has an incredible, incredible night, doing it inside and outside, we got our work cut out for us.  That's why we're in the Elite 8, a lot of good teams around the country. 

Q.  Tom, do you expect this to feel like a road game tomorrow?  And do you think that will matter at all?
COACH TOM IZZO:  I hope so, because I think it will be.  But we have actually played better on the road than we have at home.  We lost four home games this year, which is unAmerican and illegal.  We played actually pretty well on the road.  I thought last night Virginia brought a lot of people.  They're closer.  We had a good group following us too, but UCONN, it's as you say out East, it's just a little 20‑minute train ride, which who knows what that means, an hour, two hours.  You guys do it different.  We're on mileage where we're from.  You guys do it a little different out here, but put it this way:  They're a lot closer, a lot easier to get to. 
And I wish the Virginia fans would have done like I heard the Louisville fans did, and that's, they tell me that Kentucky fans were trying to buy tickets from the Louisville fans, and Louisville fans wouldn't give up the tickets.  They would rather lose the money than give them the advantage to going in the arena.  I don't know if Virginia feels the same way. 
But I'm sure it's going to be a road game for us.  These guys, that's the advantage of having some experience and I think some toughness.  I think you got to do that when you go on the road. 

Q.  After the game in Germany, you were one of the first, if not the first, coach to kind of call for Kevin to get a long‑term contract.  He had the one‑year contract.  I just wonder what you saw from him technically in that game, what you saw in him prior to that whatever experience you had, that kind of moved you to do that. 
COACH TOM IZZO:  Well, No. 1, like I said, I developed a closer relationship with Jim Calhoun as the years went on, and we played in different games.  We played in that Final Four and I just respected the toughness he had with his program.  I talked to him, I was on one recruiting trip, I think we were in Indianapolis when I first met Kevin, and it was through Jim, and I would say one of the reasons I did that is, A, they beat us, but B, I liked the way he handled himself and the way his team played.  And maybe C, Jim Calhoun told me what an incredible coach he was going to be and what a great guy he is.  I talked to some of my NBA players and that have played with him or played against him and the same words always came up:  "Hard working", "classy", "good guy".  I think he's been every bit of that.  And he's going to have a phenomenal career here and keep that tradition that Jim built so well at UCONN, he's going to keep it going. 
What he's going to find out is, it's so much easier, too, to keep it going from a standpoint of all those great players they have had, he's part of those guys.  He played there and he's been part of them, and he knows them and he's never really left there. 
So I think that he's going to enjoy as much as anything.  There's been, I've been at Michigan State now this is the 31st year, from a graduate assistant on up.  I think that's helped me with the‑‑ that's why the Magics fly in, you're part of both groups, the past, the present and hopefully the future. 

Q.  When you're going up against a team like Connecticut, where Napier is the guy that everybody knows, do you do anything differently getting the team ready, like, to make sure they don't overlook the other guys, a guy like Boatright or do you have to focus on that?
COACH TOM IZZO:  I think Daniels took care of some of that last night, averaging 11 points a game and getting 27.  But they played against Boatright and Napier, most of our guys have.  So they know how good they are.  And them being pretty solid on TV all the time, you get a chance to see them more than maybe some teams. 
The kind of year they have had, I mean it's been phenomenal.  They can score in a lot of different ways.  And Shabazz is unbelievable on some of the degree‑of‑difficulty shots he can make.  Can make them through contact, he can make them from the three, he can make them through penetration. 
I think our guys know that you don't get to an Elite8 if you're a one‑dimensional team.  But just to help us out, Daniels had one of those games last night that says, hey, don't forget the other guys.  I think it's a great point you bring up.  We're going to hit all players because we got to stop everybody, but there's definitely going to be some emphasis on not stopping him, but making him earn everything he gets, and trying to keep him where maybe his numbers might even be the same but he takes more shots to get there or wear him down a little bit by making sure he can't have free rein.  He seems to be able to go where he wants when he wants against a lot of good teams in this league that he's played in.  So that's going to be the challenge for us. 

Q.  You played UCONN to start last season in Germany, it was a while ago, obviously, do you have a lot of memories of that?  Obviously it was Kevin's first game as head coach.  Do you recall it being significant for them, that game in particular?
COACH TOM IZZO:  Well, I think what I was most impressed with him and most disappointed with myself is his team came out and played within credible passion.  Now we started a couple freshmen that game and Gary was one of them, and he had the proverbial deer‑in‑the‑headlights look.  I remember he forgot the first three plays we were going to run.  So they had a little more experience at that time. 
But his team has changed, too, couple of those guys like Olander and Calhoun were playing a lot more than they are now.  But the two guards, they're still staples.  So I guess what did I get out of that game?  Kevin's teams are going to play hard and will play disciplined.  I don't think we have given them enough credit how they are defensively.  This is a pretty good defensive team in UCONN, and it's just those guards are so dynamic that we kind of overlook that sometimes. 

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Kevin Ollie Addresses the Media on Saturday at the Garden

Here's some transcripts from Kevin Ollie's presser today at Madison Square Garden, in advance of UConn's Elite Eight bout with Michigan State on Sunday at 2:20 p.m.

Q.  When you were a college senior your final game was in the Elite8.  What are your memories of that game, and now that you're back to this game as a head coach, does this hold any significance for you personally?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE:  No.  The last Elite8 I remember is 2011 when we won, and went to the National Championship.  So that's the one I'm worried about now. 
The last one ‑‑ in 1995 it was my last game in an UCONN jersey.  So it ended not the way I wanted to, but I still remember the fond moments I had with my university and with my teammates, that I still have as friends to this day.  But the last Elite8 I remember is winning, and going on and playing in Houston. 

Q.  Kevin, the Germany game the beginning of last season, how significant was that for you?  Not only as your first collegiate win as a head coach but going into the season with no post‑season and all that stuff.  With as that a particularly poignant and significant win for you guys?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE:  First win for me as a head coach, the players, it was just a great, like Shabazz said, it was just great to honor our soldiers, honor our Air Forcemen and just to be in that venue, to play in front of that crowd and give back and have them smile a little bit.  I wasn't worried about myself and the first win; just to see that crowd and just see how much they appreciated us. 
And just having in mind student‑athletes being around on the base with those guys.  And they were sharing stories about their service and what they have been through.  And they are almost the same age as our student‑athletes, and it clearly puts life into perspective.  I think that was a good time for us to bond as a team, when you're away from other things and you got your immediate family here with you, your brothers.  It really gave us the opportunity to bond and forged a memory that we'll always have, and nobody can ever take that away from us. 

Q.  As you replaced Jim, Tom had to replace Jud.  He talked about in Germany he talked to you about that.  Do you remember what he said to you and how much you appreciated it at that time?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE:  I just appreciate Coach Izzo from what he's done, the culture he's built at Michigan State and how he kept it going after Jud.  The thing that sticks out to me is he just said "Be yourself."  I can't be Coach Calhoun.  I can't build his program from '86 when he arrived, I can't do that.  But I can be Kevin Ollie.  I can take some great life lessons I learned from Coach and build on them and just try to create my own, forge away my own program and going forward.  And that's all I'm trying to do. 
We're going to build it on love.  We're going to build it on toughness and togetherness.  And one thing I learned from Coach is it's all about family.  Your brothers, they all have each other's back, no matter if it's down times or no matter if it's up times we're going to have each other's back and that's how these guys are playing right now, and that's what we want to continue, no matter what's going on. 

Q.  Shabazz, you said you felt like you owed something, because of your sophomore year or because of that NCAA Tournament game? 
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  My sophomore year.  That's the reason why I didn't transfer.  I felt like I owed something.  That's why I came back my junior year. 
The reason why I came back my senior year is because I promised my mother I was going to get a degree. 

Q.  What do you think changed for you?  Was there anything specific that happened? 
SHABAZZ NAPIER:  My sophomore season, we had one of the best teams in the country.  I'm not sure.  I think we were ranked, we started off No. 4 in the country.  And we had great talent, Andre Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith, Alex Oriakhi.  And I didn't know how to be a leader out there at that point.  I was doing things that I wasn't definitely happy about.  I isolated myself a lot when things were down.  I didn't learn how to be a leader, even though I had one of the greatest leaders in front of me my freshman year.  It was quite‑‑ I was quite flustered most of the time. 
But I felt like I didn't play to my capabilities my capabilities that year, and I wanted to show my teammates, show the fans, show the coaches that I'm going to come back strong and I'm going to come back better. 

Q.  For actually for Niels, this is the best UCONN team from three‑point range since the 2004 team that won it all.  A lot of you guys can shoot so well from three, but Niels your role really boosted in a big way this season.  Were you expecting that sort of responsibility coming into this year or did it develop?  And what do you attribute that to in the past few months? 
NIELS GIFFEY:  I kind of expected it for myself and I think the way we play this year is creating so many matchup problems for other teams with me and DeAndre playing the three and the four, just being able to stretch out the defense.  And then our guards are just one of the best in the country at penetrating and finding other people.  I think we have a lot of different weapons that we can use and utilize, just to stretch out the defense and put them in a position where they have to choose who to cover, and from there on definitely it helps us as shooters out there. 

Q.  You've had kind of a unique first two years as a head coach.  I'm wondering what surprised you?  Has anything?  Obviously your relationship with Jim, I'm sure he's prepared you on a lot of things.  You've seen a lot.  You've been an assistant.  But what, has anything been unexpected?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE:  I didn't expect Jim to retire when he did because he was in there, we were recruiting very hard and one day he said, "All right, it's time for me to retire.  I want to spend a little time with my grandchildren and go play a little golf in January."  And I was surprised with that, because his energy was good, his health was good. 
But at the end of the day I just wanted to be who I am.  I knew I had a great passion for this university, and it's a lot of things that are involved in it.  But I have a great coaching staff.  That coaching staff when I took over had probably about 40 years of head‑coaching experience.  We had Coach Blaney, I had Coach Miller, Coach Hobbs.  Then I had two wonderful young assistants that know what it is to be national champions.  They were our first national champions in 1999, and that's Ricky Moore and Kevin Freeman.  So it made my job easier. 
I had Coach Calhoun there.  I had Geno Auriemma there.  I had the great Dee Rowe there.  All these guys I can go and use them as a sounding board, and it was just a great situation for me, but at the end of the day you take suggestions, but you got to make the decisions.  And as a coach, I wanted to make the right decisions.  I wanted to stay hungry, but I always wanted to stay humble.  And it's not about me, it's about the university and me treating everybody the same, and going out there for one thing, and that common goal is us.  And that's what we believe in and that's what I'm all about.  It's not one player.  It's about a team effort.  And that's what I try to establish, and that's what I continue to try to establish in my young men. 

Q.  It's kind of gone viral here, your interview last night on national television, at the end you gave Terrence Samuel a smack there as it was breaking up.  What all happened there?  Did he make a gesture that needed a teaching moment or were you just goofing around?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE:  No, we were just goofing around.  It wasn't no big deal.  So we were just goofing around and they play a game, and they were putting bunny ears behind me.  It just wasn't nothing. 

Q.  Going back to Kevin Durant, he recently said that the Oklahoma City culture, you were the player most responsible for shaping that culture, even though you weren't there fore a long time.  What do you think you taught Kevin Durant, and how might that translate to a college basketball?
COACH KEVIN OLLIE:  I sure didn't teach him how to score 30 points a game.  So I don't take no credit for that. 
Kevin and Russell, you don't have to teach those guys too much.  I appreciate the comment, but them guys are just, they're just are workers.  That organization is a great organization.  I thank them for taking a chance on a 38‑year‑old point guard and bringing me in just for that one year.  They taught me more than I believe I taught them,   just a player for his magnitude to be so humble. 
In that interview, I know a lot of people caught on to what he said about me, but I caught on to what he said about the end, that I want to be known as a servant.  And that's what I believe.  A player of his magnitude to say "I want to be a servant" is pretty big time.  And the humility that he shows, I want all our players to have that humility, and I think that's why he's such a great player.  And he's going to be a great player for a long time. 
And he just wants to win.  That's what I've seen in him.  A tireless worker, always trying to give, always trying to evolve as a basketball player.  And if I can just bring a little something to the table, that's good, but he gave me probably more than I gave him.  I appreciate our friendship.  We're still friends to this day.  We talk on occasions.  We're always praying for each other.  And I just love him.  I love the things that he's doing.  It's not only the basketball player, but it's how he carries himself.  When he gets I know interviewed, it's not about himself, it's about a team.  And that's a special individual when you got that type of talent. 

UConn Advances to Elite Eight, Will Face Michigan State

It'll be UConn-Michigan State in Sunday's Elite Eight battle at Madison Square Garden at 2:20 pm, for the right to move on to the Final Four. Remember, Kevin Ollie's head coaching career began with a win over the Spartans in Germany in November, 2012,

Here's the game story from the Huskies' win over Iowa State Friday night.

Much more tomorrow.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Check Out Our Live Blog of UConn-Iowa State Sweet 16 Game Tonight

Shabazz Napier has Already 'Shabazz-ed' a Georges Niang Team Once Before

A few off-the-beaten-path notes heading into Friday's UConn-Iowa State Sweet 16 game at Madison Square Garden:

As we documented in a story back in December, Shabazz Napier was already Shabazz-ing other opponents long before he enrolled at UConn. He was hitting clutch shots and having big games at Lawrence Academy and at Charlestown High prior to his Husky career.

In fact, in a game against Tilton School as a senior, Napier went for 36 points in an 88-85 overtime win on the road. One of Tilton's star players? Georges Niang.

Yes, we know Niang won't be playing for Iowa State tonight, but just found that interesting.

*** Kemba Walker had a lot of interesting things to say about this year's UConn team in this New York Post story the other day. One thing I'm not sure I'd heard before was the following:

Walker recalled how Jim Calhoun raged at Napier at halftime of the NCAA championship against Butler.

“We weren’t playing so great, and Coach Calhoun kind of got into Shabazz a little bit, and the way he came out in that second half and responded, it was a cool thing to watch. Coach Calhoun, during that time, he hadn’t really got into anyone the way he got into Shabazz that day, and it was kind of cool to see how Shabazz reacted. He didn’t get down, he got better. He sparked us in that second half, and that was why we were able to go on and win that championship game.”

I didn't get a chance to ask Shabazz about that yesterday, as he was too busy answering the same questions, over and over, from national and New York media about staying with the UConn program, playing at the Garden, etc., etc. But I did ask Tyler Olander if he recalled the halftime outburst by Calhoun at Shabazz, and here's what he had to say:

"I remember him laying into a couple of guys. I don't remember him specifically singling out anyone, but he said a couple of guys really need to step it up if we're going to win this game. I think Shabazz and Jeremy (Lamb) knew he was talking to them, they've got to step it up, take a little pressure off Kemba so he'd be able to create and they can get involved in the flow of the game."

"(Calhoun) was in there, throwing markers and all that stuff. We were like, 'Hey,' I thought we were doing decent, we're winning the game, doing alright. That's just Coach Calhoun. That wasn't enough. We had to dominate, we could do better."

*** Wouldn't it be amazing if, somehow, Omar Calhoun were to make some sort of big contribution for UConn on Friday, right here in his hometown of New York? Especially after this most disappointing sophomore season? Calhoun tells me his future is at UConn. We shall see.

*** No doubt, there will be no shortage of New York City bars where Husky fans can congregate for Friday's game. There's even a UConn pre-game pep rally from 5:30-7 p.m. at the Affinia Manhattan Ballroom on 371 7th Ave. (31st and 7th, just a block from the Garden).

There'll even be a Husky Hangout/Game Watch on Saturday at The Thirsty Fan on 254 W. 31st St., across from the Garden, for those who want to watch the UConn women's game against BYU.

And, against all odds, there's apparently an Iowa State bar in NYC, too:

Who knew?

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Omar Calhoun: "Coach Ollie Knows What Kind of Player I Am"

In case you haven't heard, UConn is back in a New York groove for Friday's Sweet Sixteen bout with Iowa State. Huskies might just have a bit of a home court advantage.

It's not just the sights and sounds of New York that make it special to those who grew up in the Big Apple. It's the smells, too.

“When we got here on the bus, all the people from New York were like, ‘Man, it smells different here,'" Brooklyn native Omar Calhoun said on Thursday ."It’s definitely good to be home."

Calhoun is one of four Husky players on the UConn roster with New York roots, along with fellow Brooklynites Terrence Samuel and walk-on Tor Watts, as well as Kentan Facey, who grew up in Jamaica but moved to Long Island about four years ago.

“As a kid growing up in New York, playing basketball, you always dream of playing in Madison Square Garden," Calhoun said. "There’s nothing better than this.”

Of course, Calhoun has had better times on the basketball floor than this season. The sophomore guard hasn't scored a point since Feb. 6, and played exactly one minute in the Huskies' first two NCAA tournament games against St. Joe's and Villanova last week (one minute vs. the Hawks, DNP vs. the Wildcats). The few times he has touched the ball in recent weeks, it seems something always goes wrong.

Calhoun, who averaged 11.1 points per game as a freshman, attributes his woes to off-season surgery on both hips and the inability to work out over the summer at all.

“It’s been tough for me, coming off off-season surgery, not having time to work on my game," he said. "But I’m trying to stay team-oriented, helping guys, because I’ve still got knowledge for the game, even though I’m not all the way back where I need to be. I’m just trying to do what I can to help the team out.”

There has been plenty of speculation that Calhoun may want to transfer after this season. But that doesn't appear to be in his plans right now. Asked if he believes his future is at UConn, Calhoun said: “Yeah, yeah, definitely. Coach Ollie’s a great guy, he definitely knows what kind of player I am. He’s going to keep working with me. Off-season, I’m definitely going to put a lot of work in and build in to be the kind of player I’m supposed to be.”

But it's not the off-season yet. Just imagine what a great story it would be if Omar Calhoun, the New York kid, broke out of his season-long slump and made some sort of big contribution for the Huskies Friday night at the Garden.

“That’s definitely what I’m looking to do," he said. "Playing at home, if I get the opportunity to make big plays to help this team win … everyone knows I can do that, so that’s definitely what my mind’s still focused on.”

*** Here's UConn at its open practice on Thursday at the Garden. The practice was open to the public, though not much of a crowd showed. Probably had something to do with the fact that it was at noon on a Thursday:

*** Facey's freshman season has been marked by inconsistent playing time, as well. There have been highlights (10 points against USF, seven points and seven boards vs. Cincinnati), but for the most part, the PT hasn't been there. He's played exactly one minute in UConn's last four games (in garbage of time of the Round of 32 win over 'Nova).

He's not complaining.

“Being in the Sweet Sixteen kind of covers up for a lot," he said. "Not playing a lot, you know you’re on a good team so you‘ve got a good chance to learn from guys who are seniors or experienced vets. I don’t mind not playing, because I get to learn from them each day.”

He's happy to see fellow frosh Terrence Samuel getting some productive run lately.

“Terrence needs to go out there and take charge of this team. ‘Bazz being a senior, he needs to learn as much as he can from him right now.”

*** With the recent NLRB ruling stating that Northwestern football players (and, by extension, college athletes at private institutions) can unionize, Shabazz Napier was asked whether he feels like an "employee" at UConn.

“I don’t see myself as so much as an employee," Napier said. "But when you see your jersey getting sold, it may not have your last name on it, but to some (degree), you want something in return. Sometimes it feels that way. But I don’t think student-athletes should get hundreds of thousands of dollars. But there are hungry nights, when I go to bed starving. Something can change, something should change. But if it doesn’t, at the end of the day, we’ve been doing it this way so long …”

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Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Assessing Kevin Ollie's First Two Years at UConn's Helm

Let's take a moment to appreciate the terrific job Kevin Ollie has done as UConn's head coach since taking over for Jim Calhoun prior to last season.

“You could just see the confidence his team has played with,” said Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg, a longtime friend of Ollie’s who’ll match wits with him in Friday night’s Sweet 16 battle at Madison Square Garden. “Even last year, when they couldn’t play in the postseason, just to see what he was starting … It’s hard to do. People don’t really realize how difficult it is to replace a legend like Jim Calhoun.”

St. Joseph’s coach Phil Martelli echoed those sentiments last week.

“You’re replacing a guy that’s hung all those banners, who’s in the Hall of Fame,” Martelli noted. “Sometimes, guys from the NBA don’t always get college basketball. But Kevin Ollie … he gets it.”

Ollie’s not the first coach to have immediate success after taking over for a legend. Mike Davis replaced Bob Knight at Indiana in 2000 and, the following season, had the Hoosiers in the national championship game. Four years after that, however, he resigned. Bill Guthridge took over for Dean Smith in 1997 and led the Tar Heels to the Final Four that season and again two years later before retiring.

Here's guessing Ollie has a bit more staying power than Davis and Guthridge.

I spoke with Davis, who's now in his second season as head coach at Texas Southern, by phone on Tuesday night. From afar, he's been very impressed by what Ollie's done.

“I think he’s done a terrific job,” said Davis, "especially coming into a situation where they couldn’t go to the postseason the first year, and having really good players stay and play for him. That speaks volumes for him and his team.”

Davis’s situation was a little different than Ollie’s. Knight was fired just before the start of the 2000 season as a result of numerous issues, including choking a player at practice. Calhoun, of course, simply retired.
“It’s always tough (replacing a legend),” Davis continued. “You’re never going to replace him. Normally, it’s the guy after you that’s able to coach the team (better).”

Davis added that he didn’t really feel pressure at first, everything happened so quickly. But once he realized the demands at IU – anything short of a Sweet 16 was considered a massive failure – the pressure really got to him. He resigned after six years on the job. After six more seasons at Alabama-Birmingham, Davis is now in his second season as head man at Texas Southern, whom he just led to an NCAA tourney appearance.

He's never met Ollie, but keeps an eye on the job he's doing.

“As a player, he was a guy that always made the team because of his work ethic,” Davis noted. “As a coach, you see the passion and love for the players and university that he has.”

Here's our story for tomorrow's Register looking at all the positives (and a few negatives) from Ollie's first two seasons tv the helm.

*** Here's one small item that didn't make the story: per Ollie’s contract, he receives one month's annual base salary ($33,333) for reaching the NCAA tourney, one month for reaching the regional semifinals, one month for reaching the Final Four and two months for winning the national title. Thus far, he's earned $66,666, with the chance to earn $99,999 more.

Ollie also gets a $10,000 payment for an annual APR score of 930 or better in a single year. UConn is expected to get a perfect APR of 1,000 for the 2012-13 season.

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Monday, March 24, 2014

Tickets for UConn's Sweet 16 Game are Expensive -- And Going Fast

While Iowa State will be down one of its best players (Georges Niang) on Friday night, UConn may be joined by a very powerful sixth man.

According to Connor Gregoir from SeatGeek, fans from Connecticut (and the whole tri-state area) are snatching up tickets to this weekend's East Regional semifinals and finals in big numbers. And those tickets are expensive. VERY expensive:

Tickets to the East Regional at Madison Square Garden are the most expensive regional tickets we've ever recorded since we began monitoring the secondary market in 2009. The average ticket price for a full strip (including a ticket to both the Sweet 16/regional semifinal doubleheader on Friday and the Elite Eight/regional final on Sunday) is $570, topping the average cost of a full strip to the West Regional in Anaheim ($464) -- this year's second-most expensive regional -- by $106. 

Prior to this year's games at MSG, the most expensive regional we had recorded was the 2011 East Regional, which was also held in the NY/NJ area. A full strip to those games (Ohio State-Kentucky and UNC-Marquette in the semis followed by Kentucky-UNC in the final) at the Prudential Center in Newark went for an average of $480.

Based on early returns, it looks like the Huskies will benefit from a heavily UConn-friendly crowd this weekend. Since UConn defeated Villanova on Saturday, more than 40% of traffic to SeatGeek's event pages for the East Regional has come from Connecticut. New York and New Jersey have accounted for another 30% of ticket shoppers, with the remainder split up among several states.

Friday's doubleheader is the most expensive single-admission college basketball event MSG has ever hosted. Tickets for UVa-Michigan State and UConn-Iowa State are going for $355 each on average, coming in ahead of last year's Big East conference tournament semifinal doubleheader ($266 average ticket price), which featured the final Big East meeting between Syracuse and Georgetown as well as Notre Dame-Louisville.

To put Friday's games in a wider MSG context, ticket prices are on par with those for the Knicks-Heat game on the eve of this year's Super Bowl ($373 average ticket price) and the Rangers' Eastern Conference Semifinal games against the Bruins last season ($381 average ticket price).

The last time UConn advanced to the regional semifinals and final in 2011, a full strip for the games at the Honda Center in Anaheim went for an average of $436, but those high prices were driven mostly by the presence of local schools Arizona and San Diego State. Tickets for the semifinal session that year cost an average of $265, and seats for the UConn-Arizona regional final went for $234 apiece.

As it stands now, there are just under 3,000 full strips for the East Regional available on the resale market, and the cheapest strip is a $440 seat in Section 318. Sweet 16 tickets on Friday night start at $316, and tickets for the regional final on Sunday can be had starting at $172 apiece. All of the latest information on prices and availability can be found on SeatGeek's March Madness page:

Of course, UConn and Shabazz were kind of destined all along to get back to the Garden, no?

*** Meanwhile, I'm not a gambler, but Jimmy Shapiro of Bovada loves to send over his site's odds on things. UConn is a 33-to-1 bet to win it all (lower than only Stanford and Dayton, same as San Diego State), while Iowa State is 16-to-1. The Huskies have the worst odd (9-to-2) of coming out of the East Region, and Shabazz Napier is a 40-to-1 bet to win Most Outstanding Player of the whole NCAA tournament:

2014 NCAA Men's Basketball Championship - Odds to Win

Florida #1 7/2
Michigan State #4 9/2
Louisville #4 5/1
Arizona #1 6/1
Virginia #1 10/1
Michigan #2 16/1
Wisconsin #2 16/1
Iowa State #3 18/1
UCLA #4 18/1
Kentucky #8 20/1
Baylor #6 20/1
Tennessee #11 28/1
San Diego State #4 33/1
Connecticut #7 33/1
Stanford #10 50/1
Dayton #11 100/1

2014 East Region - Odds to Win

Michigan State #4 3/2
Virginia #1 2/1
Iowa State #3 4/1
Connecticut #7 9/2

2014 NCAA Tournament MOP - Odds to Win
Scottie Wilbekin (Florida) 7/1
Russ Smith (Louisville) 9/1
Gary Harris (MSU) 10/1
Adreian Payne (MSU) 10/1
Nick Johnson (Arizona) 12/1
Casey Prather (Florida) 15/1
Patric Young (Florida) 15/1
Luke Hancock (Louisville) 18/1
Aaron Gordon (Arizona) 20/1
Montrezl Harrell (Louisville) 20/1
Nik Stauskas (Michigan) 22/1
Malcolm Brogdon (Virginia) 25/1
Joe Harris (Virginia) 25/1
T.J. McConnell (Arizona) 25/1
Jordan Adams (UCLA) 25/1
Ben Brust (Wisconsin) 33/1
Melvin Ejim (Iowa State) 33/1
DeAndre Kane (Iowa State) 33/1
Kyle Anderson (UCLA) 33/1
Julius Randle (UK) 33/1
Traevon Jackson (Wisconsin) 40/1
Frank Kaminsky (Wisconsin) 40/1
Sam Dekker (Wisconsin) 40/1
Glenn Robinson III (Michigan) 40/1
Shabazz Napier (UCONN) 40/1
Aaron Harrison (UK) 40/1
Andrew Harrison (UK) 40/1
James Young (UK) 40/1
Jordan McRae (Tennessee) 40/1
Xavier Thames (San Diego State) 50/1
Cory Jefferson (Baylor) 50/1
Brady Heslip (Baylor) 50/1
Isaiah Austin (Baylor) 50/1
Jarnell Stokes (Tennessee) 50/1
Chasson Randle (Stanford) 66/1
Dwight Powell (Stanford) 100/1
Dyshawn Pierre (Dayton) 200/1
Jordan Sibert (Dayton) 200/1

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Sunday, March 23, 2014

A Look at Iowa State, UConn's Opponent in Sweet 16

Here's some info on Iowa State, which edged North Carolina on Sunday night to earn the right to play UConn in a Sweet 16 game on Friday night at Madison Square Garden:

Iowa State is led by Melvin Ejim, a 6-foot-6 senior forward who averaged 18.1 points per game, and DeAndre Kane, a senior guard who netted 16.9. The team suffered a huge loss in its Round-of-64 win over NC Central when 6-7, 240-pound sophomore Georges Niang broke a bone in his foot and was lost for the rest of the tourney. Niang averaged 16.7 points per game this season, and the Cyclones often ran their offense through him.

Ejim beat out Kansas’s Andrew Wiggins for Big 12 player of the year. He had 48 points and 16 rebounds in a win over TCU earlier this season. Anyone who can go for 48 and 16 in a game, no matter the opponent, is someone to be reckoned with.

History lesson (this will be brief): UConn and Iowa State have met just once in their respective histories, and it was recent. The Cyclones handed the Huskies a 77-64 loss in each teams’ NCAA tournament opening game on March 15, 2012. It proved to be Jim Calhoun’s final game as UConn’s head coach, as he retired six months later and handed over the reins to Kevin Ollie.

The Cyclones, led by soon-to-be NBA first-round draft pick Royce White, jumped out to as much as a 22-point first-half lead (keyed by a 16-0 run) and withstood UConn’s comeback bid to earn the win. The underachieving Huskies had two soon-to-be NBA draft lottery picks (Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond) as well as future second-round pick Alex Oriakhi on the team. But Drummond and Oriakhi each finished with two points and three rebounds. Drummond fouled out; Oriakhi would soon transfer to Missouri.
Shabazz Napier led the Huskies with 22 points in that one.

It's also worth noting that the game was played in Louisville's KFC Yum! Center, which has become a true House of Horrors for the Huskies in its brief history. UConn will be much happier playing before what's sure to be a rowdy, partisan crowd Friday night at the Garden.

Old pals: Kevin Ollie and ISU coach Fred Hoiberg are longtime friends, dating back to a recruiting trip to two took to the University of Arizona more than 20 years ago. They were also teammates with the Chicago Bulls for about half a season. And when Hoiberg was assistant general manager of the Minnesota Timberwolves, he brought in Ollie to come in and play backup point guard.

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Wasn't it Inevitable UConn Would Get Back to Madison Square Garden?

It's late. Real late. I'm tired. Real tired.

Here's my column on how there seemed a certain inevitability that UConn would end up back at Madison Square Garden this postseason.

Here's some video of Terrence Samuel, talking about his big game and how he stepped up while Shabazz Napier was in foul trouble:

That's it for now. Good night. See you in NYC.

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Do Check Out Our Live Blog of UConn vs. Villanova Tonight

Jim Calhoun to Boston College? Nothing to See Here

Suffering from a bit of Jim Calhoun-to-BC fatigue? Me too. But we can firmly concur with the prevailing notion that there is absolutely nothing to these rumors.

So says a source close to Calhoun, who added that there is "no story there," and that Calhoun, while finally feeling healthy and spry again, has had "zero conversations" with anyone at BC isn't actively looking for another job. If the perfect job opened up, the Hall of Fame coach would likely think about it. But that's not where Calhoun is at right now.

It seems Calhoun needed that first year of retirement to sort of decide how to approach his non-coaching career. Now that he's feeling healthy again, there's no doubt he's eyeing ways to get back into the mix. He had an opportunity to do a radio show, but decided against it. He's openly wondered whether he could/should coach again and certainly is leaving the door ajar, but nothing is on the near horizon.

Meanwhile, oh yeah, UConn has a game to play tonight against Villanova. Should be fun. Remember this: Shabazz Napier truly became Mr. Clutch two years ago against the Wildcats (though he had already established the clutch gene long before in high school).

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Friday, March 21, 2014

Rumor Has it Jim Calhoun Interested in Boston College Job

Another week, another Jim Calhoun-may-be-returning-to-coach story. This time it's Boston College, which would be particularly juicy. But this one just isn't going to happen.

Calhoun left the door open to returning to coaching some day at the AAC tourney last week. Barely.

Speaking to him on the phone this afternoon, Calhoun reiterated that "nothing's changed" from his stance last week that he'll "never say never," but has had no conversations with other schools.

“Because it’s my hometown, I can understand why there would be speculation from whoever these 'sources' are," he said. "But nothing’s changed from what I told you guys last week.”

Certainly, BC wouldn't seem to be the right fit, on both sides, for various reasons. And according to Yahoo Sports, BC apparently has no interest in Calhoun, anyway.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

UConn Survives, Advances over St. Joe's

St. Joseph's may have played better in regulation, but UConn got it to overtime and hit 15 of 16 free throws in the extra session to survive and advance with a "second-round" NCAA tourney win on Thursday.

Shabazz Napier had a game-high 24 points and a crucial seven straight UConn points in OT to keep his career alive. DeAndre Daniels had 18 points and Ryan Boatright was probably the Huskies' best player, with 17 points, four 3-pointers and one of the better assists we've seen all season for an Amida Brimah dunk.

But Brimah made the play of the game: A 3-point play with 39 seconds left in regulation to tie the game.

*** Best postgame exchange came during Kevin Ollie's presser. A reporter asked him how it felt to be the "first coach at UConn to win a tournament game since Dom Perno in '79."

Ollie's looked befuddled and responded: "Coach Calhoun won three national championships, so I think he won a couple of games in the tournament."

Reporter: "You're the first one other than Jim."

Ollie: "That sounds better. You were scaring me at first. Don't let Coach Calhoun hear that, either. It'll be hard."

(Incidentally, it was actually the first non-Calhoun-coached UConn tourney win since Dee Rowe over Hofstra on March 13, 1976. George Blaney's tourney wins count towards Calhoun's record).

*** In a touching story, Shabazz Napier put a heartfelt video message on YouTube last week for Wallingford's Connor Reed, a Sheehan High senior who was recently stricken by a rare, auto-immune disease.

Shabazz's message helps inspire Reed as he rehabs.

"I watch that video every day," he said.

Meanwhile, Reed's story of overcoming a debilitating disease (he's almost walking again) has inspired many -- including Napier himself.

Here's the video:

And here's the story.

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Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Ryan Boatright, Shabazz Napier on Taking Charge; Phil Nolan on Taking Charges

Some notes, quotes and video from today at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, where UConn will face St. Joesph's in a "second-round" NCAA tournament game on Thursday at 6:55 p.m. (TBS).

DeAndre Daniels has been a lot more assertive lately. That could bode very well for the Huskies moving forward.

Ryan Boatright:

"We're confident. We know how good we can be. We know that we've got veteran leaders, on and off the floor. We've been practicing well, and we're just getting mentally and physically prepared to go to war. We know they're not going to go down easy. But we're prepared to take the challenge."

(lessons from 2012 tourney)

"Just refuse to let it happen again, man. Losing in the first round, then not being able to play last year, it sticks with you. We're going into this tournament hungry, as a collective group. We're looking forward to getting out there."

(more on '12)

"We were probably the most talented team in the country. The chemistry just wasn't there."

(were guys thinking more about the NBA at the end of that season?)

"Maybe. I was a young guy. I was best friends with (Jeremy) Lamb and (Andre) Drummond. They thought about it, but they really wanted to win the national championship. It just wasn't there, man. I think everybody was just worried about individual goals."

*** Talked to Phil Nolan a little bit on the art of taking a charge:

"I wouldn't say I worked hard on it. It just kind of comes naturally, because I know at the beginning of the year, coach was talking about how no one on the team takes charges and stuff. I was getting in foul trouble. Instead of jumping and trying to block everything, I was just going to stand in the way of somebody and let them run into me."

"Earlier, they were definitely calling them way more. But now, in the last couple of games, they were calling blocking fouls. I will continue to do it, though."

*** Shabazz Napier on that 2012 team:

"It was a team trying to find our way. I wouldn't say it was broken. I wasn't as capable a leader as I thought I would be, and that was one of the biggest reasons why. I don't blame anything on anybody besides myself. That team was talented as any other team you had in America. With me not being a great leader, with Coach Calhoun being out so many weeks, it was too tough for me to handle. But at the end of the day, I'm thankful for that. I learned from it a lot."

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UConn Clarifies its APR Situation

UConn issued a clarification to an AP story that ran Tuesday and insinuated that the men's basketball program's APR could keep it out of next year's NCAA tourney.

Here's the UConn release:

The University of Connecticut would like to provide clarification to an Associate Press story from Monday, March 17, 2014. The story is about the annual Academic Performance Rate press release concerning the teams in the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournament written by the University of Central Florida's Institute for Diversity and Ethics in Sport.

The sixth paragraph of the story reads: “Teams in this year's field that would be subject to NCAA-imposed sanctions that could keep them from postseason play are: Cal Poly (925), Coastal Carolina (921), North Carolina Central (903), Oklahoma State (928), Providence (915), Texas Southern (900), Connecticut (897) and Oregon (918).”

Here is some clarification to this paragraph concerning UConn to demonstrate that the men’s basketball team will not be in danger of missing future NCAA tournaments due to APR scores.

An institution needed a four-year (2008-12) APR score of 900 or higher OR a two-year (2010-12) score of 930 or better to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. UConn is eligible for the 2014 NCAA Tournament because it has a two-year (2010-12) score of that exceeds that 930 minimum needed for tournament participation. UConn had single-year scores 978 in 2010-11 and a 947 in 2011-12.
For participation in the 2015 NCAA Tournament, the APR standard will simply be a 930 over four-years or a two-year score of 940. UConn is expected to have a four-year (2009-13) APR score of 936, including a perfect 1000 for 2012-13, and be eligible for the 2015 tournament. In addition, UConn will also meet the two-year score. Those score will be announced to the public in late spring 2014.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Geno Auriemma Praises Kevin Ollie and Close Friend Phil Martelli

Some nice words from Geno Auriemma on Kevin Ollie at today's Middlesex Chamber of Commerce breakfast, by way of Register colleague Jim Fuller, who covers the women's team.

"They missed out on that last year and for Kevin and those seniors to hang in the way that they did, to stay and do what they did this year and the way they did it ... Nobody knew what it was going to be like when Coach Calhoun stepped down but anybody who sat there and said 'don't worry about it, Kevin is going to win 20, 22, 23, 24 games every year and have the kind of program he has built already and the way these kids conduct themselves. He should be coach of the year in any league he was in these last two years. I know you are all rooting for him as much as I am and I can't wait until they play Thursday night when they play St. Joe's who is coached by one of my best friends."

Indeed, Auriemma is very tight with St. Joe's longtime head coach Phil Martelli. Here's what he had to say about that:

"I know how excited he is for this group of guys, this team. He's had an incredibly difficult year and it's got nothing to do with basketball so I don't think I have ever seen Phil that emotional after winning a game. I hope they play great but that is as far as I will go with that."

*** And here are my AP All-America teams and national player of the year, coach of the year picks, as well as my final AP Top 25 ballot of the season:

PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Doug McDermott, Creighton
COACH OF THE YEAR: Gregg Marshall, Wichita State


Doug McDermott, Creighton
Shabazz Napier, Connecticut
Russ Smith, Louisville
Sean Kilpatrick, Cincinnati
Jabari Parker, Duke


Bryce Cotton, Providence
Montrezl Harrell, Louisville
Melvin Ejim, Iowa State
Andrew Wiggins, Kansas
Nik Stauskas, Michigan


Gary Harris, Michigan State
Casey Prather, Florida
Kyle Anderson, UCLA
Cleanthony Early, Wichita State
Nick Johnson, Arizona

And here's my final (and most irrelevant) AP Top 25 ballot of the season.

1.       Florida
2.       Wichita State
3.       Louisville
4.       Virginia
5.       Arizona
6.       San Diego State
7.       Duke
8.       Iowa State
9.       Michigan State
10.   Kansas
11.   Michigan
12.   Wisconsin
13.   Cincinnati
14.   Villanova
15.   Creighton
16.   New Mexico
17.   Gonzaga
18.   UConn
19.   Syracuse
20.   North Carolina
21.   Virginia Commonwealth
22.   Ohio State
23.   Kentucky
24.   Harvard
25.   Providence

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Sunday, March 16, 2014

UConn's in That Empire State of Mind; My AP All-America, Final Top 25 Picks

As you likely know by now, UConn is the No. 7 seed in the East Region and will face St. Joseph's on Thursday at 6:55 p.m. at First Niagara Bank Arena in Buffalo. Win and the Huskies will likely face another Philly team, ol' Big East pal Villanova, on Saturday.

And, if UConn wins its first two games, it advances to the East Regionals at Madison Square Garden.

Pretty good draw for the Huskies. For one, they don't have to leave the state of New York on their bid for an improbable run to the Final Four. And certainly, UConn can beat any of the teams it could face this week. Of course, there's little doubt that the Huskies could lose to either St. Joe's or No. 2-seeded Villanova, as well.

It's going to be that kind of tournament.

We'll have plenty more in the coming days. Here's tonight's story on UConn players tuning into the CBS Selection Show this year, as opposed to not watching a year ago.

And here's some video of Kevin Ollie and DeAndre Daniels talking about their tourney invites:

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Looks Like UConn's in Line for a No. 5 Seed

The thing about conference tournaments is that, no matter how disappointed or elated a team is with its performance, it all gets quickly forgotten on Selection Sunday. And that, of course, is today.

So, after two real good wins over Memphis and Cincinnati, followed by yet another loss to Louisville in the championship game, UConn now turns its attention on its return (after a one-year, NCAA-imposed hiatus) to the NCAA tournament.

ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has the Huskies as the No. 5 seed in the South Region, playing Stephen F. Austin in its opener in Spokane, Wash. Jerry Palm of has the Huskies as the No. 5 seed in the West Region and facing either Tennessee or BYU in their opening game in Orlando, Fla.

At this point, of course, it's all speculation. We'll find out for sure sometime a little after 6 p.m. on Sunday.

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Saturday, March 15, 2014

Live Blog for Tonight's UConn-Louisville AAC Championship Game

Can Kevin Ollie K.O. Rick Pitino Tonight?

Kevin Ollie has done an excellent job in his first two years as UConn's head coach. That's almost indisputable. He won 20 games last year, when the Huskies had no postseason hopes, and he's at 26-7 entering tonight's AAC tournament championship game with Louisville.

He's 0-3 against Rick Pitino. There's no shame in that, of course: Pitino is a Hall of Famer, and Louisville won the national title last season and certainly looks like a good bet to repeat this year.

Still, would it be somewhat of a coaching breakthrough for Ollie to beat Pitino tonight? I think so. Jim Calhoun doesn't necessarily agree.

“No, in all honesty," said Calhoun, who's had a long history of matching wits with Pitino over the years. "My last four out of five trips against (Bob) Knight, I beat Knight. First time I ever faced him was very significant, because I’d known him, a couple of years older than me. He had been a hero. It was amazing for me … Bob Knight. But after a while …”

(It should be noted that Calhoun faced Knight three times in his career, beating him twice. But Calhoun has never been great with math).

After UConn's win over Cincinnati on Friday night, Ollie was asked if he really wanted to beat Pitino because Pitino once cut him from the Celtics some 15 years ago, after Ollie had played for Pitino in the NBA summer league
. Pitino instead chose UK product Wayne Turner.

"I really don't care about the Celtics," Ollie said. "Rick -- actually, I grew so much with Rick that summer, so I became a better point guard with him. He came to the decision where he had to let me go, but when you have a setback like that, it just gets you ready for another opportunity. It's nothing against Rick, I love Rick to death. He's a Hall of Fame coach, he's a great coach, a good friend of mine. I could learn a lot from Rick Pitino."

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