Mark your calendars for revised date in SEC-Big 12 Challenge

For too long, the SEC-Big 12 Challenge was mostly an afterthought the first week of December since those schools are usually alive in college football and most of volleyball with their beginning of NCAA Tournament play on select campuses.  Plus, that tournament usually follows the Monday/Tuesday/Wednesday after the long Thanksgiving holiday weekend with the higher profile Big Ten-ACC Challenge.

Going forward, each Challenge will have its’ own special time period.

On Thursday, the Big 12 and SEC agreed to move the date and make the off weekend from NFL playoff football before the hype machine kicks into high gear leading up to the Super Bowl as their big Hoops-A-Palooza type of day.

Beginning next season, the SEC-Big 12 Challenge will take place on Saturday, January 30, 2016 and again air on the ESPN family of networks (ESPN, ESPN2, ESPNEWS, SEC Network, and ESPN3 online).

The move to this date should finally get those schools some much needed attention and help provide a steadier replacement to what was the Sears BracketBusters series that pitted smaller conferences against each other in separate time zones.  This non-conference slate hopefully will have some really tantalizing games, but I will to profile that later on in the summer.

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Under The Microscope: Indiana, Purdue, and Valparaiso

We have entered that crucial point in the college basketball season as schools jockey for positioning in the hopes of not just getting a good seed, but just to have their name mentioned by Greg Gumbel of CBS Sports on Selection Sunday.

The fact is–that day is a little over six weeks away.

Periodically during this time, I plan to focus on a few schools (no more than four per blog) and put them under my proverbial ‘microscope’ to examine  a decent chunk in what the Selection Committee terms as their overall “body of work”.

In the final analysis, you will see my general ranking in terms of what percentage chance they could reach the field of 68.

The first grouping that I have chosen to put the spotlight is in the basketball crazy heartland in the Hoosier State known as Indiana.

The first school won five national championships in the 20th century, but has fallen on hard times since 2000 when legendary coach and three time champion coach in Bobby Knight did that infamous choking incident during a practice against Neil Reed:

Indiana Hoosiers, Big Ten Conference

15-6 overall, 5-3 Big Ten play (5th place)

Good wins:  November 20 vs. SMU, January 10 vs. Ohio State, January 22 vs. Maryland

Bad losses:  December 9, neutral court vs. Louisville, January 28 at Purdue

RPI Breakdown:  40 overall, but a meager 101 in non-conference play.

All six of their losses have come to teams that were listed in the Top 100 of the RPI at the time those games were played.  The only under .500 record has the Hoosiers pegged at 1-2 against teams seeded 26-50, but over .500 in every other statistical category.

Games that could help or hurt their Tournament resume:

Tuesday, Feb. 3 at Wisconsin 7 p.m. Eastern on ESPN

Sunday, Feb. 8 vs. Michigan, 1 p.m. Eastern on CBS

Wed. Feb. 11 at Maryland, 9 p.m. Eastern on ESPN

Chance that they could reach the Big Dance:  55%

They would have to win those three games to have a realistic chance.  Otherwise, they would have to win the Big Ten post-season tournament come the middle of March to secure one of the final automatic qualifying berths.

Purdue Boilermakers, Big Ten Conference

13-8 overall, 5-3 in conference play (7th place)

Good wins:  December 2 vs. North Carolina State and January 28 vs. Indiana.

Bad losses:  December 6 vs. North Florida, December 20 on neutral court vs. Notre Dame, and December 22 vs. Gardner-Webb.

RPI Breakdown:  88 overall, 178 in non-conference play.

Purdue has lost to 2 schools ranked in the RPI’s Top 25, but are a stellar 2-1 in the 26-50 range and 5-2 with schools ranked between 51 to 100.  All of those victories came at Keady Court/Mackey Arena.

Key game to watch:

February 19 at Indiana, otherwise mostly middle of the road games to determine seeding for Big Ten Tournament.  Definitely a make-or-break year for former player turned coach Matt Painter.  Winning the post-season berth would be nice, but reaching the final game come March 15 would be a nice perk as Mackey Arena continues its’ multi-year refurbishing project.

Chance to reach the Big Dance:   50%.  The Boilers would really have to hope some of the schools in either the ACC, SEC, or Big East fall apart in the final six weeks to maybe have a slight chance on reaching Dayton and the First Four grouping of games starting on St. Patrick’s Day.

Valparaiso Crusaders, Horizon League

19-4 overall, 6-2 in conference play (2nd place)

Quality wins:  November 29 on neutral court vs. Murray State.

Bad losses:  November 16 at Missouri and January 2 at Oakland (Michigan).

RPI Breakdown:  Most of their wins have come from schools whose RPI was 101 and worse, the lowest of the bunch being 328 of the Maine Black Bears early on in the season.

Key game to watch:  The rematch with Wisconsin-Green Bay on Friday, February 13 will be hopefully something famous alma mater and new resident food critic Ginger Zee of GMA/Worst Cooks In America fame might gravitate towards.  Five nights before that at the ARC will be the other chance to get revenge against Oakland of Michigan as Bryce Drew’s squad tries to gain firm hold on the number one seed with UWGB going into the Horizon League Tournament which starts during the first full week of March.

Chance on reaching the Big Dance:  70%.  I think overall with Valpo being the highest scoring team and the way they play defense in crucial situations should be enough to get them the automatic bid from the Horizon League.  If not, the resume would be decent to get them possible NIT or CIT consideration.

More updates to come involving schools on the fringe of tournament play when time permits.  Enjoy your weekend.

With Duke releasing Rasheed Sulaimon, are the Blue Devils glory days reaching the end?

He looked like a Top 50 star coming out of school.
But as more and more blue-chip talent arrived on the campus of Duke University in the names of Jabari Parker and Jahlil Okafor meant a deeper seat on the bench.

Thursday afternoon, Coach K released a statement saying that guard Rasheed Sulaimon was released from the team but not from the school:

“Rasheed has been unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program,” coach Mike Krzyzewski mentioned in a statement. “After Rasheed repeatedly struggled to meet the necessary obligations, it became apparent that it was time to dismiss him from the program.”

After only scoring 3 points in 12 minutes at South Bend on Wednesday night, he and his teammates watch Jerian Grant go off for the Fighting Irish in a 77-73 upset.  It was not a pretty game, but it was about as exciting as Duke’s comeback in New York on Sunday for Coach K’s 1,000th career win.

But while they are facing a huge battle Saturday evening at undefeated Virginia, their 4-3 ACC record is very suspect at the moment–according to this blog reporter.  Even their top 3 seed streak is in serious jeopardy

His NBA draft status is very murky, but at times especially in those memorable 2014 duels with Tyler Ennis and Syracuse–he did rise to the occasion.

Plenty of schools looking for getting back into the tournament field

My next blog will be the debut of the appropriately titled headline of, “Under the Microscope.”  Using data from popular websites like kenpom.com and cbssports.com, I will take into account each trending school’s RPI, strength of schedule, records against good teams and whether they had any bad losses to teams they should have beat or reward them for games they lost either by one or two points in overtime to give them a slightly better shake.

I hope to post that blog later tonight.  See you then!

High profile games postponed due to major New England blizzard

Updated Tuesday, January 27 at 12:50 a.m. Eastern Time

As expected, many schools throughout upper New England have shut their doors due to their state governments declaring States of Emergency.

The list is expected to grow–but when I first posted this blog at 5:50 p.m. Eastern time on Monday, these are the games that have been pushed back:

DePaul at Providence in the Big East, scheduled to play in Providence on Tuesday night. That game has tentatively been moved to Thursday afternoon, with a 2 p.m. Eastern tip on Fox Sports 1.  Wednesday is booked because the Dunkin’ Donuts Center welcomes rock legends Fleetwood Mac for a concert.

One school that did not fly interestingly enough was Seton Hall.  CBSSports.com reported that the school’s traveling party refused to fly and instead took a bus several hours through some icy covered roads from Indianapolis to Milwaukee so they could play at Marquette on Wednesday night.

Michigan State at Rutgers in the Big Ten–scheduled for Tuesday night, will be made up on Thursday at 6 p.m. Eastern on BTN.

One game still on at the time I revised this blog is in the ACC:

Louisville at Boston College, scheduled for Wednesday night.  Problem is, Boston is supposed to get upwards of 2 to 3 feet of snow, and that does not include the blowing and drifting that will take place along the shorelines of the Atlantic Ocean.  If BC cancels classes, I am 99.9 percent certain they might have to push back the game for emergency resources to help clear the streets in and around campus.

Other games to keep a brief eye on include:

Tuesday–St. Joseph’s at LaSalle, 7 p.m. Eastern.  Philadelphia could be getting 9 to 12 inches by the time this Nor’Easter storm passes through.

Wednesday–Albany at Vermont

New Hampshire at Maine

Northeastern at Drexel

Rhode Island at Fordham

I will be back again sometime on Tuesday afternoon with any other updates as I look for them on CBSSports.com and other key sports websites.

For those reading this blog in New England, take cover and please do your best to stay safe–and I surely hope your power stays on long enough to enjoy other college basketball action.

Major blizzard to overspread most of the Eastern Seaboard on Monday night

Do not be surprised if any college basketball or hockey games get pushed back on Monday night due to some areas along the Atlantic Seaboard possibly getting over 2 feet of snow (over one foot is expected in New York City, but lesser amounts the further west of New York State you go).

Please look in this space sometime on Monday when any school or conference decides to cancel any games.  Thanks for your understanding and concern during this upcoming dire situation affecting millions of Americans.

Coach K’s 1,000th win did not come without a major struggle

“I’m so glad it’s over.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m the lucky guy.”

Coach K, in postgame remarks after Duke came from behind to beat St. John’s to become the first ever NCAA Division One men’s head coach to reach the monumental total of 1,000 coaching wins.

What a scene it was Sunday afternoon inside Madison Square Garden.

With Fox carrying this game to a nationally televised audience, it appeared that St. John’s was about to get its’ first major win since the first round of the 1985 NCAA Tournament at the then-named Rosemont Horizon (nee Allstate Arena in the affluent north Chicago suburb of Rosemont, Illinois).

“To do it here, to win the 1000th, you’ve gotta be a lucky guy,” Krzyzewski said. “I love Cameron, but this is a magical place.”  26 of Duke’s major wins have come inside ‘The World’s Most Famous Arena’.

With plenty of former Duke and Army players in attendance, this game took on an NCAA Tournament type of feel.  Both sides of the crowd were about 50/50 in terms of cheering support–half for the Blue Devils, half for the Johnnies.

The Red Storm led for 11:20 of the second half.  But Duke showed plenty of resolve, thanks in large part to a 15-1 run that gave the Blue Devils a 66-62 lead with 4:07 remaining.  At that juncture, St. John’s big man Chris Obekpa picked up his fourth foul which changed completely the final outcome.

Tyus Jones a few minutes later hit another three right in front of the Duke bench with 75 seconds to play.  Albeit the final score was 77-68, this game felt a lot closer than that.  Jones, one of the best freshmen in the nation replacing 2014 stellar freshman Jabari Parker, finished the game with 22 points, 4 rebounds, and 6 assists.  Fellow freshman teammate (and frontrunner for Player of the Year), Jahlil Okafor, compiled a double-double of 17 points and 10 rebounds.

Next up for Duke, a grudge match in the always iffy winter weather community known as South Bend, Indiana and the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame before a trip to undefeated Virginia takes place next Saturday night (this after nearly being upset on the road at in-state rival Virginia Tech by reeling off a 14-3 run late in that game to win 50-47 on Sunday).

And for those wondering who could join Coach K, only time will tell if and when Jim Boeheim of Syracuse will join that stellar 1,000 Win Club.  Currently, the Orange’s winningest coach has 962 so he would have to stick around in upstate New York for at least all of next season.  More than likely, he would probably have to stick it out after the Christmas holiday in December 2016 to join Coach K.

Mike Krzyzewkski and his journey to 1,000 wins–nothing short of spectacular

Journalists and bloggers have been dissecting and analyzing for over 30 years the true impact of why Coach K has been the gold standard for men’s college basketball.

For several years, it was the late, esteemed UCLA mastermind in John Wooden and his “Pyramid of Success” that emulated young men into great leaders in whatever life pursuits are thrown their way.

With being raised in Chicago and molding a few dozen young men after learning from “The General” Bobby Knight while at West Point, Duke took a chance on Coach K in the early 1980’s while Dean Smith and Jim Valvano commanded a majority of the headlines.

I first noticed Coach K’s ability to mold young men into great basketball players during the 1986 Final Four at the old Reunion Arena in Dallas.  Although they did not win the title that season, losing by a few points to Denny Crum’s Louisville Cardinals–fans began to take notice.

Once players from the likes of Christian Laettner, Grant Hill, Tony Hill, Bobby Hurley, and Abel Abdelnaby were recruited, things began to really blossom.  Other players continued on the pipeline like Jay Williams, Elton Brand, and Shane Battier that would later add to the legend.

The proof–

Ten Final Four appearances (including five straight years from 1988 through 1992), four national championships (including back-to-back crowns in 1991 and 1992) and multiple Sweet 16 berths all spell a few simple words…

Remarkable.

Amazing.

Astounding.

Legendary.

See the amazing feat possibly on Sunday afternoon 2 p.m. Eastern time on FOX, ironically enough in the same venue of Madison Square Garden where Coach K broke Bobby Knight’s record for most career wins in the sport at 903 against Michigan State (when The General was the third-string commentator on that evening working for ESPN) during the November 2011 Preseason NIT tournament.

If St. John’s upsets Duke, the Blue Devils will try again at two very difficult venues to play–Wednesday night at undefeated Virginia and a week from Saturday, January 31 at Purcell Pavilion inside the Joyce Center where Notre Dame hopes to write yet another glorious chapter in their storied hoops history to go alongside Digger Phelps in helping snap UCLA’s record 88 game winning streak in January 1974.

Whether you love or hate Duke, please take a moment to acknowledge this truly historic moment.  Moments like these do not come too often.  And with the sudden changes and the inflexibility of schools and job security, you won’t be seeing too many coaches in the future staying at the same school for 15, 20, or even 30 years going forward.

No question about it, Coach K definitely belongs on the Mount Rushmore of men’s college basketball–if there hasn’t been a likeness of him chiseled in granite and bronze already, there should be after win number 1,000 goes into the NCAA record books.