College Basketball is Alive and Well Out West

Posted by Bennet Hayes on January 7th, 2014

We have heard plenty about the perceived “East Coast bias” with respect to media coverage of American sport, but when it comes to recent college basketball history, let’s face facts: The Western half of the United States hasn’t done a whole lot for us. No team situated west of Kansas has reached the Final Four since UCLA did it in 2008, and Arizona and Oregon are the only Western programs to even reach a Sweet Sixteen in the last two seasons (both did so last March). The Pac-12, undoubtedly the West’s signature conference, has suffered through a historically depressed string of seasons, with the nadir coming in 2012, when the national polls were “Pac-free” from February on and the league quite nearly went without an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. But the Pac-12 – and much of the rest of the West – is back. Arizona’s steady, month-long reign atop the polls may be the most glaring example of the western resurgence, but a pair of Sunday victories — authored by San Diego State and Colorado – serves notice that the Wildcats may not be the only elite team along the left coast.

San Diego State Seized One Of The Signature Victories Of The Season, And Steve Fisher's Tenure, Sunday At Allen Fieldhouse

San Diego State Seized One Of The Signature Victories Of The Season, And Steve Fisher’s Tenure, Sunday at Allen Fieldhouse

The loudest clamor for respect undoubtedly came from Lawrence, where Steve Fisher’s Aztecs shocked Kansas (and just about everybody else across the country) in ending the Jayhawks’ 68-game home winning streak over non-conference opponents. The final result alone inspires awe, but even more impressive was how San Diego State achieved that end. The Aztecs were unfazed by the bright lights and raucous energy of Allen Fieldhouse; they led for every second of the final 32 minutes of the game. The trademarks of the program that Steve Fisher has built – toughness and physicality on both ends of the floor – were on full display, as the Aztecs snatched 51 rebounds (12 more than the Jayhawks) and harassed Kansas into a 17-of-57 effort from the field.

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Previewing a Sneaky Good Saturday of Basketball on Tap

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 21st, 2013

This Saturday’s schedule may not shimmer like last week’s did – the face-off between Oklahoma State and Colorado stands as the only game featuring two ranked teams – but dig a little bit and you may like what you find. Or better yet, let us do the digging: Here are four storylines to keep an eye on during this sneaky-good Saturday of college hoops.

Phog Allen Fieldhouse Has Hosted Quite A Few Visitors Over The Years, But Never The Georgetown Hoyas. That Will Change On Saturday.

Phog Allen Fieldhouse Has Hosted Quite A Few Visitors Over The Years, But Never The Georgetown Hoyas. That Will Change On Saturday.

Two Storied Programs Meet In Rare Clash

Kansas and Georgetown may have both inhabited the upper reaches of college basketball’s hierarchy for quite some time now, but that doesn’t mean the two programs know each other especially well. Saturday’s meeting at Phog Allen Fieldhouse (12 PM EST, ESPN) will be just the third time the two schools have faced off, although the latest Hoya-Jayhawk matchup was quite recent, coming just two seasons ago at the Maui Invitational. Needless to say, the cast of characters (on both sides) has seen a massive overhaul since that game. While this one is worth watching for the pure novelty of the Hoyas’ maiden voyage to Allen Fieldhouse, there’s more at stake here than just a new twist on history. Kansas seeks to maintain the momentum gained in last weekend’s win over New Mexico, while the Hoyas, firmly off the national radar for the past month, find themselves with a nice opportunity to quell some doubts after a shaky first month. Rock Chalk meets Hoya Saxa – quite a way to kick off the weekend.

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With Okafor and Jones Visiting Kansas, Allen Fieldhouse Sells Itself

Posted by Taylor Erickson on October 19th, 2013

Bill Self has been making strides on the recruiting front the past few seasons in college basketball when it comes to convincing top-shelf talent to make a pit stop in Lawrence for a brief eight months before bolting for the NBA, and it doesn’t appear he’s too interested in slowing down.  In front of an estimated attendance of 10,000 fans early Saturday morning, Kansas held an intrasquad scrimmage and open practice to provide fans with a glimpse of what they can expect when the season tips off in a few short weeks.  This comes two weeks after Kansas hosted its annual “Late Night in the Phog” on October 4, which featured a variety of skits and dancing, followed by a short scrimmage. Four days after visiting Kansas for Late Night, shooting guard Kelly Oubre of Findlay (NV) Prep committed to play for Self’s squad in 2014-15.  The hype and excitement surrounding this season’s Late Night event created such a buzz that as many as 7,000 fans were turned away as Allen Fieldhouse had reached capacity.  KU Athletics released a news brief following the event, apologizing for fan conduct problems when the doors opened, leaving some who had spent hours in line left out of the action. Little did Bill Self know that this would prove to be a blessing in disguise.

Photo Credit:  KUSports.com

Photo Credit: KUSports.com

Absent from Late Night were Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones, two top recruits in the nation who have long been rumored to be a “package deal” for the school lucky enough to host the duo next season. Instead, these two had identified this weekend as their official visit to Kansas, which provided the school an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone by hosting the open scrimmage Saturday morning.  From a PR standpoint, this was a great chance to make up for the crowd management catastrophe from two weeks ago and give those who weren’t able to make it inside a chance to see Kansas in action. But make no mistake about it, this was about Okafor and Jones. Self can provide these two all the information they need as to how they will be used in his system, and can give them the opportunity to explore facilities inside and out, but at Kansas, the best recruiting tool might be Allen Fieldhouse itself. While it is still too early to know exactly how Okafor and Jones felt about their visit, it appears those fans in attendance did all they could to make the two feel comfortable, giving them a standing ovation as they entered the building Saturday morning. Okafor in particular appeared to enjoy himself, sharing fan tweets welcoming him to Kansas throughout the day on the social media network.

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Bill Self’s Coaching Plus Elite Talent is a Scary Proposition

Posted by BHayes on October 9th, 2013

Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveleris a national columnist.

Tweets that end with a hashtag of “#RockChalk” are not hard to find in the Twitterverse, but one in particular had to bring a smile to the face of Bill Self and Kansas fans everywhere on Tuesday. Kelly Oubre, one of the top prospects in the prep class of 2014, announced his commitment to Self and KU yesterday morning via social media.

The Findlay Prep (NV) wing, who now looms as the natural replacement on the wing for presumptive one-and-done Jayhawk freshman Andrew Wiggins, is another huge get for several reasons. Oubre (#10 in RSCI’s summer rankings for the class of 2014) is a significant coup for Self, a coach whose recruiting efforts – at least in terms of the star power at the top of the rankings – haven’t always matched up with the prodigious success his teams have enjoyed on the court. This isn’t to say the Jayhawks have been winning multiple Big 12 titles and making Final Fours with two-star recruits from western Kansas, but with the Wiggins/Wayne Selden/Joel Embiid class now on campus and this commitment from Oubre for next season also in the books, Self and Kansas should be taken more seriously than ever as major players in the recruitment of the nation’s top prospects.

Kelly Oubre, A Consensus Top-15 Prospect In The Class Of 2014, Is The Latest Highly Regarded Prep Star To Commit To Bill Self And Kansas

Kelly Oubre, A Consensus Top-15 Prospect In The Class Of 2014, Is The Latest Highly Regarded Prep Star To Commit To Bill Self And Kansas

According to RSCI Hoops, prior to this year’s incoming class, Kansas had landed just two consensus top-20 recruits (Xavier Henry and Josh Selby) since 2007. Of course, that number may as well have been one, as class of 2010 guard Selby never realized the potential he flashed during his high school days, averaging only 7.9 PPG in one disappointing season in Lawrence. For an interesting frame of reference, intrastate rival Kansas State — a program with nowhere near the hardwood history as KU — has recruited just as many top-20 players in that span. For (mostly) better or worse, Self simply hasn’t chosen to draw from that group of elite talents as often as the other national programs — granted, part of the reason for that may be some light reluctance on the side of the blue-chippers — but he has seemed pretty comfortable building winning teams without so many prep superstars dotting his roster.

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2013-14 RTC Class Schedule: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by BHayes on September 16th, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler. Periodically throughout the preseason, RTC will take an in-depth look at the schedules of some of the more prominent teams in college basketball.

We have seen rapid and successful overhauls in Lawrence before, but perhaps never on this scale. Kansas is short five starters from a year ago, and in their wake arrives a decorated freshman class headed by a once-in-a-generation talent. Commitments from top-50 recruits Joel Embiid, Wayne Selden, and Conner Francamp had Jayhawk fans believing a quick rebuild was possible, but it was the May signing of Andrew Wiggins, the top player in the high school class of 2013, that has turned hope into belief. Another Big 12 championship and a return to the Sweet 16 would no longer constitute a brilliant coaching job by Bill Self, a man who has crafted many of them. Wiggins’ presence on campus has not only turned those achievements into mere expectations, but also transports hope to Lawrence that the ultimate prize – a National Title – is again a realistic possibility.

Could Perry Ellis Emerge As The Most Important Jayhawk Not Named Andrew Wiggins This Season?

Could Perry Ellis Emerge As The Most Valuable Jayhawk Not Named Andrew Wiggins This Season?

  • Team Outlook: Wiggins’ talent and projected impact has been well-documented, but even if he becomes the star he is expected to be, the Jayhawks will still need to develop the supporting cast around him. Perry Ellis (5.8 PPG, 3.9 RPG) is the one returnee that will almost definitely be a key part of that equation, but Nadiir Tharpe (5.5 PPG, 3.1 APG) and Jamari Traylor (2.1 PPG, 2.1 RPG) should also see minutes. We have seen Jayhawk role players emerge into key contributors after an offseason before, but no matter what happens with that trio, Bill Self will surely be relying on newcomers not named Wiggins to carry the load. Prime among them are freshmen Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid, who are expected to take over starting duties at shooting guard and center, respectively. Like Wiggins, both are projected as top-ten picks in next year’s NBA draft, so it’s a distinct possibility that this could be their lone rodeo in Lawrence. That being said, both need to add significant polish to their games, and despite the top-ten ranking recruiting gurus bestowed upon him, Embiid even drags the “project” title with him to Kansas. Freshmen guards Conner Frankamp and Brannen Greene are also consensus Top-100 recruits, and both will have the opportunity to compete with Tharpe and Selden for minutes in the Kansas backcourt. Rounding out the frontcourt rotation is Memphis transfer Tarik Black (8.1 PPG, 4.8 RPG) and redshirt freshman Landen Lucas. Black’s addition was another significant coup for Self this offseason, as he provides the Jayhawks with a player who has actually been through it all before at the college level. Black, like nearly every Jayhawk outside of Wiggins, could end up as a thirty-minute a game starter, a marginalized bit player, or nearly anything in between. There is tons of talent in Lawrence and a superstar to headline the show, but much of the onus for the destination of this Jayhawk campaign rests on Bill Self and how he fits all the pieces together – something Jayhawk fans should feel pretty good about. Read the rest of this entry »
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Night Line: Jayhawks Escape Octagon of Doom Victorious — Is Perfect Big 12 Season Possible?

Posted by BHayes on January 22nd, 2013

nightline2

Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

At some point during the nine-year Bill Self era, we stopped being surprised by another year of Kansas dominance. Offseason after offseason of KU stars leaving Lawrence for the NBA seem to never be remembered by the time the next January rolls around, and this first month of 2013 has been no exception. Thomas Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor posted brilliant individual campaigns a year ago, as both earned All-America honors in leading Kansas all the way to the national championship game. Neither has taken the floor at Allen Fieldhouse in almost a full year, but looky, looky – Kansas is 17-1 and a perfect 5-0 in Big-12 play. A ninth consecutive Big 12 regular season title is beginning to look like a mere formality, as the Jayhawks dispatched rival Kansas State tonight in Manhattan en route to their 16th straight victory. Self has accomplished almost everything there is to accomplish in his near-decade at KU, but this group of Jayhawks still has a chance to do something that none of the previous nine could do – run the table for a perfect Big 12 season.

Travis Releford Locked Down Rodney McGruder In What Was Another Stifling Jayhawk Defensive Effort

Travis Releford Locked Down Rodney McGruder In What Was Another Stifling Jayhawk Defensive Effort

Robinson and Taylor may be gone, but these Jayhawks have their own pair of potential All-Americans. We all became well-acquainted with Jeff Withey and his menacing defense a year ago, but meet freshman Ben McLemore, who, in the estimation of many, has been both the best newcomer in the country and the top player in the conference. Less is more for the silky-smooth wing, as he has needed just 11 field goal attempts to score his 16 points per game. He has played well within the Kansas system to this point, but do not doubt that McLemore will be ready to shoulder more of a load if and when the situation demands it.

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Big 12 Alley-Oops and Airballs: Week Ten

Posted by cwilliams on January 20th, 2012

Big 12 Alley-Oops and Airballs is a weekly article examining what’s hot and what’s not in Big 12 basketball.

A lot can change in ten weeks of basketball. Pundits who wrote off Missouri after the loss of forward Laurence Bowers are eating their crow. Texas A&M has gone from Big 12 championship contender to a conference bottom dweller, playing with the offensive ability of my 1998 YMCA team. And at the same time, many things haven’t changed. Kansas is still unstoppable at Allen Fieldhouse, Frank Martin is still fiery, and J’Covan Brown continues to score almost all of his team’s points. Hard to believe, but Selection Sunday is only seven weeks away.

Will the Tigers be Celebrating in Waco This Weekend? (Photo by Chris Lee / clee@post-dispatch.com)

Alley-Oops

  • A Fear of Phog’s: Monday night’s marquee matchup of Baylor at Kansas proved that no matter how the Jayhawks roster is shaped up, they will always be the favorite when playing in front of the raucous crowd of Allen Fieldhouse. The previously undefeated Baylor Bears were the latest team to learn this, as they fell 92-74 in front of a revved-up group of Jayhawk faithful. Kansas has not lost since the Davidson debacle in Kansas City, and looks to continue its eight-game winning streak this weekend in Austin.
  • Top 7 Heaven: Yes, I’m biased, but I truly believe the Big 12 is getting overlooked in the “best conference” discussion. The Big 12 has the most schools in the Top 10. In fact, they have three schools in the Top 7, with Missouri, Baylor and Kansas. All three teams have players on the Wooden Award finalists list (Marcus Denmon of Missouri, Perry Jones of Baylor, and Thomas Robinson from Kansas), and all appear to have the necessary utensils for a deep tournament run come March.
  • National Love: On Monday, A&M and Missouri squared off on ESPN in the late afternoon. Later that night, Kansas hosted Baylor in a highly anticipated matchup, one that had college basketball pundits examining it all weekend. Every source of media you go to, you’ll see the college basketball experts writing about Kansas, Missouri and Baylor. This weekend is another highly anticipated ESPN matchup, when #5 Missouri visits #3 Baylor. Heck, even A&M is getting love on ESPN, being mentioned as the 2011-12’s biggest disappointment. Too soon?

Airballs

  • Oklahoma State: While some folks are still saying it is not time to write off the Oklahoma State Cowboys, I’m going to go ahead and do so, especially after Saturday’s embarrassing 106-65 loss to Baylor. I don’t see the Cowboys finishing .500 in conference play.
  • Texas’ Postseason Streak: The Texas Longhorns, who haven’t been left out of the field of 64 65 68 since the 1997-98 season, are in jeopardy of not dancing. While I’m ready to give up on the Pokes from Stillwater, I think Texas still has an opportunity and the ability to continue their dance marathon. However, they will need to learn to not rely on J’Covan Brown so heavily, and if Myck Kabongo and the other burnt orange youngsters are going to mature their game this season, now is the time to do so.
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Atmospheres and Cheers: Examining the Big 12’s Top Five Student Sections

Posted by cwilliams on January 18th, 2012

Rabid student sections, steep and seemingly endless rows of seats, and deafening noise. These things are synonymous with a college basketball crowd that is so intense that it can literally change the outcome of the game. We’ve seen the Cameron Crazies, Pitt’s Oakland Zoo, and the Izzone. But, in my mind, I feel the arena atmospheres of the Big 12 schools are heavily underrated. Today, I’ll rank the five toughest Big 12 venues to visit, in descending order.

Kansas's Student Section, Only 9 Hours Before Tip-Off.

5. Iowa State: Hilton Magic, baby. While Hilton Coliseum’s crowd has not been as electric as it was in the past, Fred Hoiberg and Co. are slowly bringing back the magic. The students sit right on top of the court and create an atmosphere that is unique and worth seeing for any college basketball fan. In recent seasons, the students have once again begun to pack the arena.

4. Texas A&M: Known for the fondness of Aggie traditions and priding themselves on school spirit, the Aggie students support their teams until the end. They also have the fastest rushing of the court I’ve ever seen.

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Set Your TiVo: 01.04.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 4th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Huge games in the Big East and Big 12 highlight tonight’s action, along with Duke’s final non-conference test. Here’s your schedule for tonight:

#8 Duke at Temple – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (***)

Will Dunphy Have His Owls Ready To Upset K's Devils? (Getty)

  • The Blue Devils have shockingly stayed out of the spotlight for the past few weeks, quietly handling their business in the non-conference. Perhaps the shellacking that Mike Krzyzewski’s team took in Ohio State in November was the wake-up call that this team needed, as Duke has won five straight in impressive fashion since that game. Coach K’s team is ranked 4th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive rankings, boasting the nation’s third-best true shooting percentage (60.6%) and eighth-best points per possession statistic (1.16 PPP), amongst many other impressive offensive numbers. As Austin Rivers continues to improve his decision-making and efficiency offensively, Duke gets harder to defend. The freshman is now up to a team-leading 15.4 points per game while shooting 46% from the field and 41% from three. If Rivers can penetrate the Owls’ defense to create good looks for the other Duke guards and himself, Duke will be in good shape.
  • Temple is an elite perimeter defensive team, where the Owls hold opponents to shoot 25.6% from three-point range, the fourth-best percentage in the country. Against a Duke team that loves to shoot the three, guarding the perimeter will again be priority number one in this game. In addition, Temple is strong with the ball and their 1.28 assist-to-turnover ratio is a top-30 national number, far better than Duke’s 1.02 ratio. By limiting their opponent’s long-range makes and winning the turnover battle, Temple will seek to gain an advantage at home. Their trio of guards Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez, and Khalif Wyatt, all at 13.3 PPG or better, will look to neutralize Duke’s own trio in the scoring department. However, their best big man Michael Eric remains out with a knee injury, which could spell trouble against Duke’s 6’10” Plumlee brothers.
  • Duke is a seven-point favorite in this game and will be well-prepared in their final non-conference game. But the Blue Devils haven’t played a road game since their blowout loss at OSU, and Temple has the guards to match Duke. With Eric missing down low, Temple is without a key defensive cog, but they’ve been playing without him for over a month. Expect a hard fought game in Philly.

#17 Marquette at #9 Georgetown- 7:00 PM EST on ESPNU (****)

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Big 12 Team Previews: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by cwilliams on November 13th, 2011

Predicted finish: 1st

2010-11 Record: 35-3 (14-2, Big 12)

Head Coach: Bill Self, 9th season

Key Losses: Marcus Morris (17.2 PPG), Markieff Morris (13.7 PPG), Tyrel Reed (9.7 PPG), Josh Selby (7.9 PPG), Brady Morningstar (7.1 PPG), Mario Little (5.1 PPG)

The 2011-12 Jayhawks face a daunting rebuilding task, after losing six players from last season’s 35-win team. If there is one coach who has proven he knows how to reload instead of rebuild, it’s Bill Self. The appeal of NBA riches hit the 2010-11 Jayhawk team hard with the early departure of the Morris twins and Josh Selby. That won’t stop Self and his squad from competing for a Big 12 championship, though, a title they’ve earned the past seven seasons. Kansas will not roll over, especially at home — Allen Fieldhouse has had 164 consecutive sellouts and has one of the most intimidating student sections in the game. Like always, the Jayhawks will thrive at home. Where we will see who they really are is on the road. Despite not being considered as talented a team as compared to those in recent years, Kansas will still have the bulls-eye pinned to their backs. All season long.

It Says Here That Self's Team Will Find a Way...

The Stars: All eyes will be on Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson this season. Taylor is the lone returning 2010-11 starter. He averaged 9.3 PPG last season with 4.6 APG. He will have to carry this team with his leadership this season, both on the court and off. Robinson was Kansas’s sixth man last season, contributing 7.6 PPG and 6.4 RPG. Robinson is more known for his personal tragedies off the court last season. We watched as the young man experienced the death of his maternal grandparents and his mother all in the course of a month (read the tragic yet inspiring tale here). He  provided us with one of the more awe-inspiring sports comebacks, as he played the rest of the season as an integral part of his team despite the darkness resting on his shoulders. I expect Robinson to have an All-America caliber season.

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A Closer Look at the Texas/Kansas Rivalry

Posted by dnspewak on October 13th, 2011

There’s just something about Kansas that spurs all kinds of rivalries. Although it has dominated the Border War with Missouri lately and has traditionally beaten up on Kansas State (until Michael Beasley came along), the Jayhawks have found a new bitter rival to tangle with: the Texas Longhorns.  KU’s geographic rivalries will never be replaced, of course. But for now, the most bitter, cold-blooded rivalry in the league is between Bill Self and Rick Barnes‘ programs.

Rick Barnes Always Finds Himself in a Battle With Kansas

And there’s a simple reason for that. It’s all about the competition on the court. Kansas has won seven Big 12 regular season titles in a row, but the Jayhawks have shared two of those crowns with Texas. To illustrate the rivalry a little further, consider the following statistic: since Barnes arrived at Texas in 1998, the two teams have finished 1-2 in the Big 12 seven times. For you math whizzes, that’s more than 50 percent of the time. It began with Barnes vs. Roy Williams, and the fun has continued under Self. Even though this rivalry dates back to the beginning stages of the Big 12, it has seemed to particularly gain steam during the past five years or so. The two teams have produced some of the more dramatic contests in league history. Take a look:

Feb. 26, 2006

  • Texas 80, Kansas 55: Texas embarrasses Kansas in Austin to move into first-place in late February, eventually setting the foundation for a shared regular season title.

March 3, 2007

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ESPN’s Toughest Arenas Survey: Analyzing Coaches’ Responses

Posted by rtmsf on September 7th, 2011

ESPN.com had an interesting series of stories that went up today regarding various folks’ favorite college basketball arenas to visit and the toughest ones to play in.  As always when you read blurbs of primary source information, it’s enlightening to see the reasoning behind their choices.  For example, we never knew that NC State’s old home was such an ACC snake pit, but ESPN commentators Jay Bilas and Hubert Davis both independently cited Reynolds Coliseum as the toughest arena they ever played in. Davis even claimed that he never scored “on the opposite basket away from our bench in the first half” due to the flustered situation he found himself in all four years he visited Raleigh.

A number of media types also weighed in with their favorite places to experience a game, and several of the old faithfuls represent well here — Duke’s Cameron Indoor Stadium (3 votes), Kansas’ Allen Fieldhouse (2 votes) and the world’s most famous arena, Madison Square Garden (2 votes) — along with a few other tried-and-trues including Oklahoma State’s Gallagher-Iba Arena, Stanford’s Maples Pavilion, Penn’s Palestra, and UCLA’s Pauley Pavilion (1 vote each).  But it was the list provided by Dana O’Neil (excellent usage of “sepia,” by the way) from her interviews of several head coaches back in July on the recruiting trail that really caught our eye. First, here’s her list:

Fifteen prominent coaches chose nine different arenas between them.  Three of those are already retired to the dustbin of history, and three others are clearly a personal house of horrors to specific coaches.  Not many people in this business will choose a place like Murray State Arena over somewhere like the Kohl Center or Breslin Arena, but Big Ten coach Bruce Weber did.  The remaining joints are again places we’re all familiar with as incredibly difficult to walk out with a win, but we quickly noticed that there was something peculiar about the responses among O’Neil’s interviewees.  Take a closer look — of the 15 coaches, only one of them gave an answer that includes a site where his team must regularly play games.

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