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Connecticut is searching for something, and running out of time

by - Published February 29, 2012 in Columns
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PROVIDENCE, R.I. – Connecticut looks like a team that is searching for some things. The Huskies are missing something – leadership, toughness, perhaps something else – and that was even more clear after Tuesday night’s 72-70 loss at Providence, where they led by as many as 14 in the second half before allowing the Friars to win the game simply by wanting it more.

The Huskies don’t have head coach Jim Calhoun right now as he recovers from back surgery, and they didn’t have him for three games earlier this season. But one wonders how much of a difference he might make with this team. He has been with the team enough that a temporary absence shouldn’t have a major effect. With the Huskies now being guaranteed to finish with a losing record in Big East play, a team that much was expected of is in an unthinkable position.

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Harvard’s path to the elusive NCAA Tournament bid just got tougher

by - Published February 26, 2012 in Columns, Full Court Sprints
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Harvard is the nation’s oldest and most prestigious institution of higher learning. Many of the brightest young people grow up dreaming of attending the school, unless you’re like me and dreamed of going to MIT (or Cal Tech) because of engineering. The university has produced a number of high achievers in just about every field imaginable.

On the hardwood, it’s been a different story. Harvard has had seasons of 20 or more wins, and they’ve been to the CollegeInsider.com Tournament and NIT the past two seasons. But they have yet to get to the holy grail of college basketball, the NCAA Tournament. That has eluded them, including last year when they went to a one-game playoff against Princeton and lost on a buzzer-beating jumper in New Haven. And after Saturday night, they might be on a path to such a game once more, as Penn came to Lavietes Pavilion and stunned Harvard 55-54 on Senior Night.

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Round 233: UNC vs. Duke tips off with more than pride at stake

by - Published February 8, 2012 in Full Court Sprints
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The first of two regular-season meetings between two of the most hate-filled rivals in American sports goes down tonight when Duke makes the short trip to the Dean Dome to visit North Carolina.

As is usually the case in recent years, this game has significant importance in the standings, with both teams jockeying with Florida State for the top spot in the ACC. North Carolina enters the game at 7-1 in conference action, while Duke slipped to 6-2 after losing to Miami. Duke can ill-afford another loss, especially because the Seminoles and Tar Heels will not meet again this regular season.

Besides the usual hostility generated by one of the most intense rivalries in the game, the 233rd match up between these teams — UNC leads the all-time series 131-101 — is critical for both teams. Duke is facing more than its fair share of critics after a lackluster performance against the Hurricanes. Meanwhile, North Carolina needs to prove it can beat an elite team, sometime the Heels haven’t done in a few months.

For the Blue Devils, coach Mike Krzyzewski will be looking for renewed passion from his team after calling them out for lacking the energy to compete with the Hurricanes in the overtime loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Expect his team to rally around his battle cry, especially on the road surrounded by the Enemy in Powder Blue. To win, Duke will need to play smart defense, something the Blue Devils haven’t done consistently this season.

On the other hand, North Carolina seems to be on the rise, especially after a gutsy win in College Park last weekend in which Maryland tried to beat up the Tar Heels. Unlike the game in Tallahassee in which Florida State annihilated UNC, the Tar Heels responded after getting hit in the mouth and clamped down in the second half to erase a nine-point deficit to win by nine. However, the Tar Heels haven’t beaten a team guaranteed to be in the NCAA Tournament since they knocked off Wisconsin in Chapel Hill Nov. 30. North Carolina needs a win at home against the team’s arch rival to validate the argument that this team should be in the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

That adds a lot of pressure to both teams, and that might favor North Carolina. The Tar Heels have a roster full of players who have been through this rivalry at least three times after last season. Duke has struggled with leadership on the court, and the Blue Devils must get someone to step up or else things could ugly for Duke pretty quickly.

Let the battle begin.

We take you coast to coast with news from around the college basketball nation.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino got his wish with Memphis, as the Tigers will be joining the Big East starting in 2013-14, according an ESPN.com news services report. Pitino had lobbied for the Conference USA’s Tigers to join the Big East to help replace the power that will be departing with West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh in coming years.

Florida coach Billy Donovan tried to preach that Kentucky faced all the pressure entering the Gators/Wildcats clash Tuesday night, with the home team trying to extend a 15-game winning streak and 48-game undefeated streak at Rupp Arena, according to the Associated Press. That psyche-out didn’t seem to work as the Wildcats clobbered Florida 78-58.

If Connecticut can rally around the toughness of coach Jim Calhoun, the Huskies won’t be out of the picture despite a bleak couple of weeks, including a horrid loss Monday night at Louisville. Calhoun told ESPN’s Andy Katz that he doesn’t plan to let spinal stenosis to force him into retirement, and the coach could return to the sidelines sometime this season if the pain in his legs and back subsides.

There’s also health concerns for another coach: College of Charleston’s Bobby Cremins. The 64-year-old Cougar coach took a leave of absence Jan. 27, and he told people that he’s just taking a break to recuperate from a lack of energy, according to a CBS Sports.com wire report.

Alabama’s tournament chances could be in some jeopardy after the team indefinitely suspended junior Tony Mitchell for misconduct, writes TideNation’s Alex Scarborough. The junior forward averages 13.1 ppg and 7.0 rpg in more than 30 minutes per game for the Crimson Tide.

Three coaching legends lose on the same day

by - Published January 22, 2012 in Full Court Sprints
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It’s not every day that three of the greatest coaches ever lose a game on the same day. Yet that’s what happened on another Saturday full of noteworthy games, as Syracuse suffered its first loss on the season, Duke lost at home to put an end to a long home winning streak and Connecticut lost as well.

And it all happened, ironically, on the day that a football coaching legend appeared close to losing his life. On Saturday night, there were conflicting reports about former Penn State coach Joe Paterno, but we did not learn for sure that he had passed until about 10:30 this morning. We send our condolences to Joe’s family and friends at this time.

The last time Jim Boeheim, Jim Calhoun and Mike Krzyzewski lost a game on the same day was January 18, 2003. The three coaches have combined for over 2,600 wins, so they have won a little more than they have lost, and one might even be surprised that this wasn’t the first day all three lost.

It started in the middle of the afternoon, with two of the games. Connecticut took on Tennessee in Knoxville, a return of a game played last year. The Volunteers got a double-double from freshman Jarnell Stokes and fended off a late Husky rally for a 60-57 win. Turning the ball over one time in the second half certainly helped, especially as taking care of the ball had been a problem for Tennessee of late. Connecticut shot just 36.4 percent from the field.

Around that same time, Florida State looked like they had a shot to end Duke’s 45-game home winning streak, as they were right there with the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. They had leads late in the game as well. And finally, with the game tied at 73 in the final seconds, the Seminoles got the ball up the floor to Michael Snaer in front of his own bench, where he hit a three-pointer just as time expired to give Florida State their second big win in as many Saturdays, a 76-73 decision over Duke.

Not only had Duke not lost at home since North Carolina knocked them off in February 2009, but they also had a longer (64 games) home winning streak against unranked opponents. They had a chance to tie their own ACC record of 46 straight home wins, set between January 13, 1997 and February 9, 2000.

Florida State is now looking more and more like the team some thought they would be this season. In the preseason, a good number of prognosticators thought they might be the third-best team behind Duke and North Carolina. Virginia had emerged as that team, and probably still is, but now the Seminoles look like another formidable team in an ACC that is not looking much better than last year. They are in a three-way tie atop the ACC at 4-1, along with the two teams they have knocked off the past two Saturdays.

By the time the evening came around, one already had a sense that Syracuse could suffer its first loss of the season. The team announced earlier in the day that sophomore center Fab Melo would not make the trip to Notre Dame and Cincinnati and that junior forward Mookie Jones had left the school for personal reasons. The Orange are so deep, it would not have been a shocker if they came away with two wins, but if they dropped one it would not have been a surprise. Sure enough, a Notre Dame team that knocked off Louisville a couple of weeks ago beat Syracuse 67-58 in South Bend.

Notre Dame led throughout the game and beat a No. 1 team for the eighth time, which ties for the fourth-highest total. They did it led by junior big man Jack Cooley, who went for 17 points and 10 rebounds as the Fighting Irish out-rebounded Syracuse 38-25. While Melo’s absence hurt there, it wasn’t a big factor in the Orange’s offensive struggles on the night.

 

We take you coast to coast with news from around the college basketball nation

With Syracuse losing, that left just one team undefeated: Murray State. The Racers were 82-65 winners at SIU-Edwardsville to improve to 20-0 on the season.

Missouri got perhaps its most impressive win yesterday, going on the road to beat Baylor. That’s two in a row now for Baylor, and it seems that at the moment, Baylor is close, but not there when it comes to the top of the Big 12.

Georgetown got all they could handle from Rutgers, and needed to score the game’s last seven points to eke out a 52-50 win in the nation’s capital.

Louisville continued Pittsburgh’s misery as they went into the Peterson Events Center and left with a 73-62 win over the Panthers, who are now 0-7 in the Big East and have lost eight straight.

UNLV convincingly won a key matchup with New Mexico, the second straight loss for the Lobos as they took on the two favorites in the conference this past week.

Mississippi State won an overtime thriller at Vanderbilt in a key matchup among teams chasing Kentucky in the SEC.

Todd Bozeman returned to the bench at Morgan State, but his team’s struggles continued as they lost for the fifth time in seven games by dropping a 62-61 decision against visiting North Carolina A&T.

Late Saturday night, Long Beach State picked up a key road win at UC Santa Barbara. That makes the 49ers 7-0 in conference play, a full two games ahead of three teams in the loss column.

New year, higher stakes with conference play intensifying

by - Published December 29, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

With the new year arriving in a few days, we’re about to bite into the meat of conference schedules.

Already, about half of Division I conferences have played at least one conference game. The Summit League’s South Dakota State sits at 3-0, giving the Jackrabbits the most conference wins of any team in the country. There’s a random fact for you.

In many ways, it feels like the season starts anew when conference play begins in earnest when the calendar turns to a new year. Yes, there are plenty of fantastic nonconference games throughout the season, and some of the best rivalries involve teams from different conferences, such as this weekend’s bout featuring Louisville and Kentucky. However, no matter how intense those rivalries might be, the stakes just aren’t as high when the winner doesn’t gain ground in the win-loss column of its conference standings.

I like to view the nonconference schedule as a time for growth. Teams get two months to adjust to new arrivals — on the roster or coaching staff — while playing only a few games conference games. That gives the coaching staff a chance to settle on an effective rotation and integrate any late additions because of transfer rules or early season suspensions.

In addition to growth as a team, the nonconference slate gives teams a chance to build their résumé for the NCAA Tournament. For the vast majority of D-1 programs, the only route to an NCAA Tournament is the automatic bid awarded with a conference tournament championship. However, for a bunch of teams, November and December help set expectations for conference play. Just look at Indiana, which entered the season unranked. The Hoosiers beat up some overwhelmed competition, which wouldn’t do Indiana any good in the eyes of the selection committee members come March. Then the Hoosiers went out and beat Kentucky. That’s a massive win that will help solidify Indiana’s NCAA Tournament status, even if the Hoosiers scuffle a bit in Big Ten play, finishing with only a .500 Big Ten record.

On the other hand, teams like Vanderbilt enter conference play knowing they have some work to do. The Commodores started the season as a top 10 team, but they have dropped games to Cleveland State, Xavier, Louisville and Indiana State. A couple of those losses are surprising while a couple are missed opportunities. Right now, the Commodores’ best wins are against Oregon, Oregon State and North Carolina State. None of those teams is a lock for the NCAA Tournament. So Vanderbilt must make hay in the SEC, especially against Florida, Kentucky, Alabama and Mississippi State. The Commodores get those teams six times, and Vanderbilt probably needs to win at least three — preferably one on the road — to feel secure about an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament.

And that just spices up already-compelling conference slugfests.

We go coast to coast with news from around the college basketball nation.

We’ll have at least two undefeated teams heading into 2012, as Baylor and Syracuse don’t play again in 2011 after winning last night. And that’s more than previously unbeaten Indiana and Louisville can say after dropping their first game of the season last night. Missouri plays Old Dominion Friday, and fellow unbeaten Murray State will also be in action Friday, against Eastern Illinois.

Connecticut might not be undefeated, but the Huskies are 1-0 without Jim Calhoun on the sidelines this season, CBS Sports.com reports. The Huskies beat South Florida last night, the first game of Calhoun’s three-game suspension, which is his punishment from a recruiting scandal in which he was cited for creating an atmosphere of compliance in Storrs.

Rhode Island is 1-11 this season, and that’s with senior guard Jamal Wilson in the lineup for 11 of those games. Life won’t be any easier for coach Jim Baron after he suspended the team’s leading scorer for breaking team rules, according to an Associated Press report. Wilson is averaging 17.5 ppg for the struggling Rams.

One of the complaints about conference expansion/realignment/destruction is the loss of rivalries that get the fans going. The Big Ten and Pac-12 are looking to avoid those situations via a strategic partnership that will allow the conferences to schedule multiple games between its members to encourage compelling match ups, which could include rivalry games, according to an ESPN.com report.

Maryland had to wait 10 games to get Ukrainian big man Alex Len on the court, writes Eamonn Brennan for ESPN.com’s “College Basketball Nation” blog. However, he could become a critical player quickly, as evidenced by his 14 points on 6-of-9 shooting in his first game Wednesday against Albany.

In case you missed the big news of yesterday, Louisville coach Rick Pitino announced that he intends to call it a career when his contract expires in 2017, according to the Associated Press. At 59, Pitino is already looking ahead to the end of his coaching run, which includes trips to the Final Four with three different teams (Providence, Kentucky and Louisville).

Back in Action, With Championship-Level Appreciation

by - Published April 11, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

Editor’s Note: We’ve trimmed down the Full Court Sprints because Hoopville’s new design has made some elements redundant. In particular, our new design highlights some of Hoopville’s great coverage in the middle column. In addition, we’ve got recent tweets from Phil Kasiecki and Michael Protos in the right column. There’s no games on tap anytime soon — sadly — so the upcoming games and recent results are irrelevant until November. We do have plenty of news to round up and some quick commentary on recent trends and news.

BASELINE TO BASELINE

Go coast to coast with a round up of the nation’s top stories.

If it’s April, three of the top stories in basketball relate to which coaches are changing jobs, which players are going pro, and which players are transferring. Fox Sports’ Jeff Goodman has a list for the latter category. In case you’ve missed some of the player movement of the past few weeks, Goodman lists all the players who have announced that they will play elsewhere.

At ESPN.com, you can track all the coaching movement in Division I in a chart that lists schools, former coach and new coach. As of today, 13 teams are still in the hunt for a new coach.

And if you want to find out whether your team’s best underclassmen will be playing in the NBA or NCAA next season, check out CBS Sports.com’s set of charts.

The most recent team to fill its open coaching position is UNLV, according to the Associated Press. BYU associate coach Dave Rice is moving on from the Mormons’ home base of Utah to Sin City. Rice’s now former boss, BYU coach Dave Rose, said Rice is an excellent teacher and has a history of success, which he’ll be taking to the desert and a Rebels team that has emerged as a perennial Mountain West contender.

St. John’s coach Steve Lavin will begin treatment for prostate cancer after announcing that he was diagnosed with the disease in fall 2010, according to SI.com’s “Fan Nation” blog.

BYU is extending coach Dave Rose’s contract, a rare reward for excellence at the university, according to Fan Nation. Just don’t ask about the financial details.

We already have some drama heading into next season’s North Carolina State vs. Maryland rivalry in the ACC. Granted, in recent years, there’s not much of a rivalry to speak of between those teams. However, Wolfpack Athletic Director Debbie Yow, former boss of Maryland coach Gary Williams, accused Williams of trying to sabotage her search for a new coach. She eventually hired former Alabama coach Mark Gottfried to replace Sidney Lowe, drawing the ire of State fans who wanted Shaka Smart or another hot name. There’s plenty of bad blood between Yow and Williams, according to the “Lost Lettermen” blog.

UCLA finally knows where the Bruins will be playing home games next season while Pauley Pavilion gets a facelift. Eamonn Brennan, of ESPN.com’s “College Basketball Nation” blog, reports that the Los Angeles Sports Arena will host 14 Bruins home games, with the team playing four others at the Honda Center in Anaheim.

Fresh off his third national championship, Connecticut’s Jim Calhoun said he will take some to decide whether he wants to retire, according to a CBS Sports.com wire report. But don’t think that means he’s taking any time off from the recruiting trail.

HOME COURT ADVANTAGE

I watched every second of Connecticut’s championship game victory against Butler. And that might officially make me a basketball geek — as if there were any doubt about that.

I’ll be the first to admit that the Huskies’ 53-41 win wasn’t the prettiest game I’ve ever watched. But there’s been far too much talk about how terrible the game was, and some commentators have even hinted that the NCAA Tournament has a flawed format in which the best team doesn’t win the title.

To that, I say: horse manure.

The NCAA Tournament has one of the most difficult post-season formats of any sport at any level because a champion must win six — at least — games in a row against opponents that play a variety of styles. A championship run is a testament of a coach’s ability to strategize a game plan and adjust it during the heat of the action. It’s a testament of great players performing at a consistently high level for three weeks.

Even the most talented teams in the country will likely face at least one opponent that plays a style that makes the favorite somewhat uncomfortable. For underdogs, the ability to get a team outside its comfort zone, force mistakes and capitalize on opportunities forms the recipe for an upset. VCU took that recipe and repeated it from the First Four to the Final Four.

The Rams got past USC, Georgetown, Purdue, Florida State and Kansas with a pressure defense that preyed on inconsistent backcourt play. On offense, VCU rode hot three-point shooting to cover up for a size disadvantage in the post. If the Rams met the Jayhawks in an NBA-style seven-game series, there’s no way I could see VCU winning the series. I’d pick VCU to win one, maybe two games in seven against Kansas. But the more talented team — as NBA analysts Kenny Smith and Charles Barkley frequently pointed out during their stint as NCAA Tournament analysts — would likely advance, barring injuries or a major internal meltdown.

And that’s what makes the NCAA Tournament wonderful. To be champion, you must come to play every game for three weeks. Anything short of your best effort could send you home. And even your effort might not be enough if you’re running the wrong game plan.

So don’t tell me Butler’s 18 percent shooting in the championship ruined the tournament or somehow devalues Connecticut’s achievement. In the game I watched, I saw an outstanding defensive effort in which the Huskies limited the Bulldogs to a tiny number of clean looks at the hoop. However, Butler also failed to make in-game adjustments. The team took 51.6 percent of its shots from three-point range, making only 9-of-33 attempts. After Chase Stigall hit a three to open the second half and give Butler a six-point lead, the team didn’t make another shot from the field for seven minutes and only one shot in 13 minutes. During that stretch, the Bulldogs missed 11 three-pointers.

Brad Stevens realized his teams was overmatched in the post, but the Bulldogs just weren’t getting it done from the perimeter. The team’s stubborn insistence on jacking up bombs — and bricks — led to the dismal shooting percentage and put Connecticut on track to the championship.

More simply put, the Huskies executed their game plan more efficiently and effectively than Butler could, and the Bulldogs couldn’t adjust to do anything about that. In a championship game performance, that’s all you can ask from the winning team, regardless of the score.

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Young UNLV team grows in Brooklyn

November 23, 2014 by

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Teams often grow from early season tournaments, and that appears to be what UNLV did in Brooklyn. The young Runnin’ Rebels need the experience.

Simply put, Syracuse needs to improve offensively

November 22, 2014 by

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Jim Boeheim didn’t have many things to say about his team’s offense, but that said it all. It’s at that end of the floor that Syracuse’s fate this season will be determined.

Growing pains are here for talented Brown team

November 20, 2014 by

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Brown has good talent and should be a factor in the Ivy League, but with three sophomores starting on the perimeter, growing pains are in the foreseeable future

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2014 Prep School Tour

Missed a recap of an open gym workout? We have them all right here for you.

Sept. 9: Putnam Science Academy
Sept 10: Commonwealth Academy
Sept. 11: St. Andrew's
Sept. 12: Northfield Mount Hermon
Sept. 16: Brewster Academy and Phillips Exeter
Sept. 17: Brooks School
Sept. 21: Holderness School
Sept. 23: St. Thomas More and Marianapolis Prep
Sept. 24: South Kent School and Kent School
Sept. 25: Williston Northampton
Sept. 28: Wilbraham and Monson Academy and Suffield Academy
Sept. 30: New Hampton
Oct. 5: Worcester Academy
Oct. 7: Brimmer and May
Oct. 8: Cushing Academy
Oct. 9: Tilton
Oct. 12: Tabor Academy and Rivers School
Oct. 14: The Master's School
Oct. 16: Vermont Academy

You can also find them all right here.

Phil Kasiecki on Twitter

Recruiting Coverage

New England Prep Schools 2014-15: looking back and looking ahead

November 3, 2014 by

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With a series of prep school open gym visits in the book and the season not far away, here’s a look back at open gyms and a look forward to the season in the New England prep school ranks.

Marianapolis Prep will battle in Class AA

October 20, 2014 by

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Marianapolis Prep is far from loaded with talent, but they have enough perimeter talent to be dangerous. As is usually the case, they will battle and be a tough out in Class AA.

New Vermont Academy coach has put together a contender

October 17, 2014 by

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Vermont Academy has a new coach for the second year in a row, but they shouldn’t skip a beat. They have enough talent to win a lot of games and make a deep run in NEPSAC Class AA.

The Master’s School has good students and talent

October 15, 2014 by

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The Master’s School has a number of good students, and they will continue to head to college later. This time around, they also have some talent on the hardwood and should win a few more games.

Rivers will try to build on a breakthrough season

October 13, 2014 by

riversschool

The Rivers School had a breakthrough season last year, winning the Independent School League. They will try to build on that with a team that loses a lot but also returns a lot from last season’s team.