Quality high school recruiting remains the lifeblood of top Division I programs, but sometimes a transfer can be the quickest path for adding needed talent. As last season showed with players like Royce White (Iowa State), Arnett Moultrie (Mississippi State), Mike Moser (UNLV), Carlon Brown (Colorado) and Brady Heslip (Baylor), providing a kid with a fresh opportunity can reap significant dividends.
One game can mean so much, good or bad, at this point in the season. A number of teams took significant steps toward or away from the Field of 68 this week. Ahead of Tuesday's next full update, here's an interim look at the biggest bubble results from this week (teams in alphabetical order):
LAS VEGAS -- When the relentless running finally stopped and New Mexico's Lobos had started their limp home after eating 26 fast break points without a response, UNLV standouts Mike Moser and Anthony Marshall presided confidently over the postmortem. They knew, as did anyone who watched UNLV's 80-63 throttling of one of the Mountain West's other contenders, that New Mexico simply could not hold up for 40 minutes against these Rebels. Not at this pace, not in this place.
A lot of people who are not college basketball fans -- or even sports fans in general -- have been talking about Syracuse basketball the last three weeks. This, of course, is for all the wrong reasons. But there is a parallel story in play that has been obscured by the Bernie Fine scandal -- namely, that this is the best team that Syracuse has had since Carmelo Anthony and Gerry McNamara led the Orange to the NCAA championship in 2003. Imagine, if you will, what it will be like if the Orange return to the Final Four. That won't just be a sports story, it will be a news story. Fine's specter will hover everywhere in New Orleans that weekend.
Is this a weak draft? NBA scouts and GMs are fond of saying so. Their uncertainty about nearly everyone other than Duke's Kyrie Irving is why so many picks from No. 2 on down have been floated on the trade market. But for NBA dreamers whose time has yet to come -- college freshmen who've just arrived on campus to begin summer school, or high school seniors- and juniors-to-be who are heading into the AAU summer -- this draft offers a powerful message.
LAS VEGAS -- The desert heat changes everything here, so it's hard to tell whether Kawhi Leonard dripping sweat five minutes into his morning workout is truly a sign that he's grinding harder than the others.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Connecticut guard Donnell Beverly saw his roommate bouncing around this past Sunday and wondered if fatigue would find Kemba Walker. After all, Walker had just carried the Huskies to seven postseason wins in 11 days. Did he ever get tired? "Man," Walker said as the pair watched the Texas-Arizona game, "I wish I was on the court right now."
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- In the world of television, a strong Thursday-night lineup is critical. Young, affluent viewers tend to tune in en masse on Thursday, and restaurateurs and purveyors of beer, corn chips and movies covet one final crack at that key demographic group as it makes weekend plans. So kudos to the advertisers who bought time on CBS and TBS on Thursday night, because the NCAA tournament will deliver the kind of star-studded lineup Thursday TV hasn't seen since Cliff Huxtable, Sam Malone and Jerry Seinfeld shared the same night on NBC in 1991.
If this week is anything like last week, then we are one lucky group of Hoopheads. The first three rounds were chock-full of great performances, exciting finishes and all kinds of crazy plays. Last week I predicted we'd see the kind of surprising results we've come to expect from this season. This week, however, I peered into my crystal ball and envisioned a return to form. Here's how it will all play out.
Since Duke was the latest team to lose its No. 1 ranking, it's only fitting that we begin this week's mailbag with a pair of e-mails from Blue Devil Nation, one searching for hope, the other expressing concern.
Ohio State isn't deep enough to win it all. The Buckeyes have been in the top five for months. They have a player of the year candidate who will be no worse than an NBA lottery pick if he leaves school after this year. They have a fifth-year senior who has played in 10 NCAA tournament games, two other seniors and a junior, and a sixth-man freshman point guard who's 18 going on 30.
SAN DIEGO -- On the Monday before San Diego State's nationally televised, 80-67 home loss to BYU, Aztecs coach Steve Fisher e-mailed a letter to his student section, "The Show," urging them to be respectful of the visiting Cougars, writing, "We cannot cross the line into topics that are out of bounds and distasteful, particularly making fun of one's religion." If there was any notion that Fisher's plea would be heeded, any hope for decorum in Viejas Arena for the long-awaited visit of The Jimmer, the biggest star and leading scorer in college basketball ... well, that went out the window shortly after 9:25 a.m. on Saturday, when the doors opened and The Show poured in after camping outside for as many as three days.
With Selection Sunday now just 2 1/2 weeks away, it's a good time to clarify some of the more interesting bracket and bubble questions that could arise between now and March 13. My answers are educated by my attendance at the media mock selection meeting in Indianapolis last week, additional conversations with NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen, who oversees the tournament, and past conversations with members of NCAA selection committees.
You can hear the thumping getting louder each day, like the sound of a ball pounding on the floor as the dribbler gets closer. Two teams from a non-power conference on a collision course to a big game with enormous implications -- in the conference, in the polls, and most importantly, in the NCAA tournament bracket.
The exact moment cannot be pinpointed, although it was somewhere between when BYU's Jimmer Fredette scored 39 against UNLV, 47 against Utah, pulled up for a 30-foot three against TCU, and dropped 42 on Colorado State, that he became a national cult figure who no longer needed a last name. Just "Jimmer," or "The Jimmer." My colleague Seth Davis is a proponent of the latter, having tweeted during that Colorado State game, "The Jimmer has 21 pts and it is not even halftime. Halftime is the only thing that can guard The Jimmer."
Of all the major season-ending awards, coach of the year is the hardest to define. Most people seem to believe the coach of the year should be based on a one-year evaluation period where the main criterion is exceeding preseason expectations. But to me, there should be a lot more to it than making a bunch of poll voters look dumb. If that's the most important measurement, half the coaches in Division I should get a trophy.
I'm not sure if it's the end of the holidays or the constant pummeling from winter storms, but when I opened my mailbag this week, I inhaled a strong whiff of gloom. Is there no end to this darkness? Where is the proverbial light at the end of this long and ominous tunnel? Didn't John Lennon promise us that it's getting better all the time?
The identical Wanamaker twins were born 71 minutes apart -- Brian following Brad on July 25, 1989 -- and their early basketball education consisted of tagging along with their father, Brad Sr., to streetball courts in their native Philadelphia. "There ain't a playground in Philly that we didn't go to and play, and my sons will tell you that," he said. As college seniors his twins are tough, versatile guards with nearly identical stat lines: Brian averages 15.8 points, 4.8 assists and 5.4 rebounds; Brad averages 15.4 points, 5.2 assists and 5.0 rebounds.
You just can't help but appreciate Connecticut's record-setting season. The Huskies have continued their historical run toward perfection the same way they went through the regular season and Big East Tournament. They've dominated. Connecticut, which holds the longest winning streak in Division I women's basketball at 74, won each of its first two NCAA tournament games by more than 50 points.
Erik Castro has a Wilson A2000 catcher's mitt, black with tan webbing, made of steerhide so supple it can absorb a 102-mph fastball and barely make a sound. Castro is a catcher for San Diego State, and on the night of March 13, as the Aztecs hosted UNLV, he dropped into his crouch and extended his A2000 into the light fog at Tony Gwynn Stadium. San Diego State junior righthander Stephen Strasburg, he of the 102-mph heater, aimed for the leather. As horsehide met steerhide, a string on the glove snapped. The webbing came unhinged. Castro, oblivious to the tattered piece of equipment dangling from his left hand, threw the ball back to Strasburg. The Aztecs ace fired again, and by the grace of God, the pitch was fouled away. "If not," Castro says, "I think I would have died." Chances are, his chest protector would have saved him, but his point is well-taken: Stephen Strasburg has killer stuff.
Underrated: Eleven-seed Mississippi State. Georgia coach Andy Landers considers the Bulldogs the most dangerous team in the SEC, and for good reason. Bolstered by the addition of three jaycee transfers from the Congo, including 6-5 Chanel Mokango, who averages 10.6 points and 3.0 blocks a game, the Bulldogs won eight games in the SEC (just one fewer than No. 5 seed Tennessee), including two over six-seed LSU and one over four-seed Vanderbilt.