Tag:Matt Norlander
Posted on: February 15, 2012 6:51 am

Wakeup Call: CAA chase is getting really good

George Mason won a thriller Tuesday night. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Matt Norlander

The infographic proposal that you probably already saw on Facebook. // Bob Ryan retiring from the Boston Globe later this year. I've long admired his writing. // I'm flying today and saving this for the plane ride, but I already know it's going to be worth linking. Tom Lake on Wes Leonard, the high school kid who died a year ago after hitting the game-winning shot ...

★ One heck of a win by George Mason over VCU last night. The CAA, as you'll see linked below, is getting quite good.

★ This research by Duke Hoop Blog is among the best, most thorough number-crunching pieces I've seen this season. You owe them your click here.

★ Solid, easily digestible breakout-player evaluation and explanation from future podcast guest Dan Hanner.

★ The CAA race has become very exciting and up for grabs with good teams. I once thought this was a one-bid league but am now pretty certain it'll squeeze two into the field.
★ Bad news for UConn and Jim Calhoun when George Blaney says the coach is still in even more pain as before.

★ More UConn links. Calling out your fans almost never works and is almost never a good thing for a player to do.

★ This one-month-until-the-tournament column from Jason King turned me on almost as much as my lover last night.

★ You know how I linked that Lake post above on good faith? The same can be said for Gasaway's Tuesday Truths. See the patterns emerge.

★ Interesting reminder that the state of Illinois has been abysmal for the past five years when it comes to the NCAA tournament. Some cheating accusations in the article, too.

Forde Minutes should be a four-month-long column, Pat.

★ I'm frequently fascinated and intrigued when really strong writers drive by our sport and give commentary or tell stories. Here's Charlie Pierce on Murray State.

★ A different kind of take on Murray State. A take on how we, the media, see Murray State. How we write and respond to them without regard to probability and go off assumption.

★ What a sad, sad, sad storming of the floor by TCU after its win over UNLV last night.
★ The best college basketball player in Philadelphia will not be going to the NCAA tournament this season.

► The Basketball Jones guys do continually entertaining and excellent work. This latest sketch is terrific and impossible not to laugh at.

♬ The day after Valentine's Day -- we'll go something scorned and angry. Foxy Shazam is a punky, narrow, new-age version of Queen. This front man's vocals are pretty ridiculous. Yes, he sounds like a woman, but those are unstoppable pipes.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 14, 2012 4:30 pm
Edited on: February 14, 2012 9:55 pm

The Religion and Community of The Palestra

You only get one chance to experience The Palestra for the first time. And you only get one chance to write and react about your first time at college basketball’s holiest of churches. So I wanted — had — to document it.

By Matt Norlander

I knew that had to be it. That oversized war memorial gym-looking, all-brick building set back behind the construction site. I quickened my gait up the only walkway available outside the abandoned-for-the-night patch of renovation in front of the historic building. I narrowed my eyes and made sure. I could barely make out the letters at the top; dusk challenged my scope. But that was it, all right, in such an unassuming, ordinary appearance. That made my hunch feel more rewarding — I guessed right. The rectangle cement sign engraved with the building’s name told me.



The anticipation for the trip was tingly and excruciating, like waiting for the package you know is coming in the mail that day. Under battleship-gray skies, I took the train from Stamford, Conn., and snaked approximately 140 miles down to Philadelphia. The Amtrak car slid through and under the thick slabs of New York City, then cruised by the repetition of architecture in northern New Jersey until the tracks were slipping behind the simple, Monopoly-looking houses along nearing border of Pennsylvania.

I got out at 30th Street Station, took a left and briskly made my way through Drexel’s campus, which serves as the buffer in walking from the Station to The Palestra. I too had a backpack on, and amid the end-of-day student shuffle, felt like an undergrad again as I made my way toward New Deck restaurant on Sansom Street. After inhaling the crab dip there, I quickly made my way toward the general direction of the reason I was in Philadelphia to begin with.


Walking into The Palestra was a blast of déjà vu. I’d never been, but there was familiarity in the moment I approached the 85-year-old monument to our sport. I couldn’t have picked a better time to enter into the arena. One small thing I love about going to game is the walk from the concourse, through the tunnel entrance and into the cavernous space where the action happens. No matter the venue, when transitioning from bowel to bowl, your eyes seek upward, the head coinciding as it tilts back in obligation or awe. This felt like both. It was aided by a soundcheck, the perfect one. As I walked through section 202’s tunnel and entrance, the Star-Spangled Banner was booming from the body of the 13-year-old girl who had the privilege of performing that night.

The room was bigger than I’d expected. Gray tint arches, 10 of them, support the structure across the top, below the baby-blue ceiling. There are no beams that block anyone’s view. Fifty — 51 if you count the Ivy League flag that hangs above at center — banners are draped, all of them related to Penn’s accomplishments. Temporarily, the Ivy and Big 5 banners/representation are not dangling from the wires. Although The Palestra is the Big 5’s home, the place belongs to Penn. The sliced P logo is at center court and all Penn home games are hosted here.

The single-floor concourse that surrounds the shell of the gymnasium is a Philadelphia basketball sports hall of fame. Dedications to Temple, La Salle, St. Joseph’s and Villanova are treated with equal esteem and respect as Penn. There is only one level to circumnavigate, and the white brick is covered every few feet by some sort of plaque, mounting, window encasement or dedication to teams, coaches, media and games past.

Structurally, there isn’t much to The Palestra; its simplicity is what makes it so embraceable. I was able to dip behind the bleachers and investigate every corner of the place in less than an hour prior to tip-off. The only rooms I didn’t walk into where the locker rooms, which I saw well after the game had finished. The officials’ locker room is tucked near a utility closet and is unguarded. The laundry room is four steps from the visitors’ locker room. The media room, which can’t be more than 100 square feet, is behind/underneath the bleachers on the “main side” of the gym. All storage rooms — rooms of any kind — are at court level. It’s a basic build. Simplistic and charming and economical.

Old-style radiators, at least 40 of them that have faded white paint cracking off, are aligned along the top of the seating rows. Not that you’d need them. The place bakes up pretty well once more than 6,000 bodies getting to clapping and yelling, which was the case for the Harvard game on this Friday night.

The building feels comforting in its haunt. It’s also fairly poorly lit, which is of course intentional. The lights that dip from vertical steel rods, and are spaced fairly far apart, give most of their energy to the floor, signaling to everyone in attendance: that’s all you need to concern yourself with. Not that you’d ever want to do this during a basketball game, but if you tried to read a book in the upper rafters behind either basket, it’d be impossible without a portable light of your own.

Still, there’s a clash of contemporary vs. fastened, old-style beliefs in The Palestra now. Players still sit on plastic bleachers, the way most of them not so long ago during AAU games. (Those things just kill your back after 30 minutes.) It still feels like you could be watching a game in 1964, except for one bright addition. There’s a new HD video board that’s been installed on the east side of the structure. I get the idea most think it’s completely unnecessary, like Wrigley Field or Fenway Park adding a monster screen. Just pay attention to what’s happening on the floor, lest you miss it, well, that’s your problem.


As the game gets underway, the first thing I notice is the constrained, swirling echoes of chants from the student section on the floor. In the elevated press box, the sound from down there is canned and tinny. In the second half, when Miles Cartwright hits a 3 for Penn to tie the game at 30 and complete a 7-0 Quakers run, the 7,000 (I’ll deduct the 462 other souls accounted for as Harvard fans, team members and media in attendance) people cheering hits me in the face and slams me in the ears. It’s the combustion I’d hope for all night long. I’d love for it to get louder, but Penn’s shooters won’t oblige me or the crowd.

Late in the second half, I couldn’t resist anymore. I’d been eyeing it all night, and I had to make the move. Row 1, Seat 13 on the opposite side of the benches and scorer’s table had been vacant since I arrived. During a timeout I scooted down there, asked the gentleman next to the seat if I could sit for a few, and he had no issue at all. He wanted to talk, I wanted to watch. I sat for about 12 minutes, essentially taking in the game as a spectator. You’re right there, a leg stretch from being a nuisance. It’s one of the best seats in the city. That photo is from Row 1, Seat 13.

Harvard went on to win, 56-50, continuing on its path toward the team’s first NCAA tournament berth in 66 years. The W in this building means as much to this team as any other non-tournament win it will get this year. Perhaps even as much.


After the game, fans filed out into the streets of Philadelphia, onto South 32nd or Walnut Street, driving or walking or training or cabbing their way home, to campus or a local bar. Thirty minutes of interviews went by, and then I moved from the upper press box down to court level to write my game story. I couldn’t concentrate. The buzz was still humming in my brain as much now as it was when I walked in four hours earlier. There were a dozen kids on the floor, just shooting on the hoop. About 100 bodies still occupied the arena and no one was in an obvious rush to leave. It was a scene many who attended high school basketball games would recognize.

I learned that’s the essence to The Palestra experience. You come, you watch, you stay afterward and get a few shots in. Anyone can. Fran Dunphy emphasized this sort of culture and community when he got to Penn in the late ’80s, and his vision has remained a principle of the Penn program and The Palestra ever since.

The Palestra is the world’s gymnasium. Doesn’t matter who you are — anyone can get some shots in on either one of the hoops. I wanted mine. But I wanted to wait. At 10:09, a bald black janitor strolled past me, a white towel tucked into his khakis, gray bucket in hand, filled with cleaning supplies. Three of Penn’s players shot on one hoop, and on the other, four children, a teenager and a grown man continued to toss jumpers.  He’s used to this.

“Nobody wants to go home,” he said to me.

No, we don’t. The bodies linger afterward for as long as they’d like. Eventually the crowd thinned out. A loose ball skipped my way and I didn’t wait any longer. While guys like Dick Jerardi from the Philly Daily News were squeezing in work on deadline, I snapped a few dribbles and took my first shot from about 22 feet out.


I almost called it quits immediately. I could be 100 percent from the floor for my life at The Palestra. Fortunately, I’m not a perfect man. The dopamine rush had begun. Ball players know there’s not much better way of personal introspect and therapy than by shooting alone. I was getting my chance in a unique, cherished setting.

At first, though, it was a few of us shooting hoop. The grown man I mentioned above, his name is Charles Lanier. We immediately shared two things in common: an insatiable love of college basketball and our first trip to The Palestra. Lanier is in his ‘50s but on the court his energy, like mine, resembles an 11-year-old's. He attended the ’78 and ’82 Final Fours. He’s from North Carolina, and this is his vacation. His loving wife understood and made the trip with him after all those years of waiting. Lanier had a mean sweat going. He was squeezing as many shots into a 20-minute window as he could.

We exchanged stories. He’s the one who took that picture of me. Soon enough, he was off, as was almost everyone else. I had another 15 minutes of practice in me. I took off my sweater to see oval stains of sweat sopping parts of the arms of my dress shirt and felt more moisture in the middle of my back. It was more than a half hour of nonstop shooting. The silly fadeaway jumpers, mandatory half-court heaves, tempting 3-point shots and seriously paced free throws — a hoops fan’s dream. Eventually, second-year Penn coach Jerome Allen came onto the floor to take a few pictures with his son and his friends. I asked if he needed the final ball to be put away.

“Young man, you can shoot yourself to sleep,” he said.

I nearly did. I know I could have. I’d love to know what it’s like to sleep in that church. Eventually, I dribbled the ball into Penn’s quaint locker room and placed it back on the rack. I had a train to catch. I began to pack up my computer. I looked up and listened and had my first chance to stop and experience the place without a crowd around. Six janitors slowly milled about, the clinking and rattling of cans and ricocheting bouncing off the walls. Two hours after the game had finished, it was only me and them now. They were scattered. Two sat, slouched over in Section 116. Another hauled one of those big black garbage bags over his shoulder. I wasn’t outlasting them, nor should I.

I slowly showed myself out.

Posted on: February 14, 2012 11:45 am
Edited on: February 14, 2012 12:01 pm

Tuesday polls: Five conferences to select

By Matt Norlander

Take 12 seconds to make your picks on five upcoming games  and be sure to see the results on CBS Sports Network programming this week. All picks will air on Wednesday night's edition of "Courtside with Seth Davis" at 6 p.m. ET.

Want more of us? Or more interaction with hoops fans? We suggest you like the Eye On College Basketball Facebook page. And if that's not enough, CBSSports.com has your roundball fix tended to thanks to our daily newsletter.

Posted on: February 14, 2012 10:26 am
Edited on: February 14, 2012 10:27 am

College basketball Valentine's Sweethearts

By Matt Norlander

They're indoctrinated into your association with Valentine's Day from grade school on, when that boy or girl you desperately have a confusing, infuriating crush on gives you a box of chewables to go with that flimsy Spider-Man (or whatever the hell's hip these days on the cartoon circuit) let's-be-friends card. Necco's Sweethearts are a sugar lover's dream and a dentist's nightmare. They're also one type of candy that seems truly polarizing. I've got one brother who hates them more than cauliflower and another who could finish a bag in a sitting and still have room for Russel Stover.

Given that it's a day of love and spreading a positive message, I took it upon myself to create some Sweethearts for the college hoops community. There are message of love and warning and mocker to be doled out. Here's who's on my mind and in my heart today.

 Kentucky fans

 Michigan State fans

 For Bob Huggins

 For Frank Martin

 Kansas fans

 For Murray State

 For the Pac-12

 Josh Smith


 Roy Williams

 For Rick Pitino

 Big Ten

 Brad Stevens


 For Anthony Davis



 For the Selection Committee


 Mine for Nate Wolters

 Goodman's to Robbie Hummel


 Borzello's to himself

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 14, 2012 8:57 am
Edited on: February 14, 2012 9:00 am

Wakeup Call: Hoops is always our valentine

Pat Summit is still coaching with all her fire. (Getty Images)
By Matt Norlander

One shark eats another. // On this Valentine's Day, check out the pros/cons list Charles Darwin once made over getting married. If any of us were caught deliberating like this, our chances at marriage with a particular female would be over. The natural order. // If you love your mother, you must read this. So: you must read that. // Simplistic movie car posters are pretty stylish and perfect for any dorm room or bachelor pad ...

★ In case you missed it, Conference USA and the Mountain West will fold into each other.

What should we name the new conference?

★ The 7-year-old messageboard star/superfan for K-State who got recognized last night.

★ This team comparison tool we unveiled yesterday will eat up your morning. Get to comparing and aligning. It's a blast. 

★ Pat Summit and her Vols did serious damage last night.

★ Frank Haith went on Jim Rome's radio show yesterday and talked a bit about Nevin Shapiro.

★ We're approaching the time where Jack Cooley starts to get some more ink in places outside of Chicago and South Bend.

★ Play-by-play audio and complete video of Milan High's epic 1954 win over Muncie is now online. This is what inspired Hoosiers. Really cool three-and-a-half-minute video. Hoops nerd euphoria right there.

★ The hook to this great story by Eric Adelson is a white kid playing at a black college. The real story is much deeper than that.

★ And here's a great piece by former CBSSports.com blogger and good friend Eric Angevine, who hits his forte in stuff like this.

★ Due to school rules, Santa Clara was forced to sit Kevin Foster, the leading scorer, for the remainder of the year.

★ I may expand and do more on this later today, because I'm very intrigued. No league has had more 30-point scoring games than the Summit, and three leagues have yet to have a player crack 30 in conference play. One of them is BCS.

★ Lot of folks really starting to love Wichita State. That love is justified. This team has second weekend potential, no doubt.

★ The email I got to link to this was so nice, I couldn't refuse: 25 of the funniest college traditions.

► This kid is the Missouri State fan of the year. Inspirational video below.

♬ One of the best love songs ever written. The Moody Blues' haunting and soothing strings laid under the bed of a pining melody and power, simply stated chorus. Just what you want to be, you will be in the end.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 13, 2012 11:16 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2012 11:45 pm

Night Court: Jeff Withey: CBB's most improved

Adorable. (Mocksession.com)

By Matt Norlander

Here’s everything you need to know about Monday night’s miserably slim pickings worth games. Being the good/smart fiancé that I am, I chose Night Courty tonight so tomorrow I’m totally, absolutely, undeniably free. Veteran move. Borzello will be tracking Tuesday's games, so there you go.

Game of the Night: Anyone not in high school right now remembers when Kansas State had a bad basketball program. The Kansas-Kansas State rivalry had approximately no national appeal. Thank God for Bob Huggins and Frank Martin getting the program back to relevance, because the games have been pretty great for the past half-decade. The two went at it again in Manhattan, Kan., tonight, and for the 22nd time in the last 24 meetings there, Kansas emerged victorious, 59-53.

It's certainly a big brother over little brother ordeal with these two programs, but at least K-State puts up a good fight. I always want to see how K-State brings it, even if it's normally the same result. What concerns me with the Wildcats now is, I'm not sure this team has the makeup to make a tourney run. It falls tonight, and now it gets Baylor and Missouri on the road. It's a 6-9 Big 12 team by next Tuesday night most likely, and so then it'll have to win out, finish 9-9 and get at least a Big 12 tourney win to have hope. Tall task.

Win to brag talk about: You think Syracuse wants to brag? It was its first win over Louisville in eight tries. The first home loss to Syracuse since it joined the Big East in 2005. Boy was it ugly, though. Just brutal basketball. Lots of bad shots. Scoop Jardine was 0 for 8. Gorgui Dieng was 2 for 9. Chris Smith was 3 for 11. Dion Waiters was 3 for 10. Kyle Kuric was 1 for 8.

This game felt like it was played on a court with pot holes and in the rain and with half-pumped tether ball. No flow and neither team deserved to win, but someone had to. Winning ugly adds another character trait to Syracuse, though it’s one few teams every really want to embrace. Win’s a win, though, and this cements — barring a three-game losing streak at some point — Syracuse as a one seed in the East regional next month.

Player who deserves improper benefits: It’s Jeff Withey. Eighteen points, 11 boards, NINE BLOCKS. First guy with that kind of stat line in three years. This junior is transforming into prototypical Reliable and Forceful White Kansas Center. I didn't see it coming. He's genuinely awesome and fun and unpredictable to watch. His play makes me believe Kansas can make a Final Four run and not have it be a fluky thing. Love Withey. Gotta get Withey on the phone. Gotta get Withey to tell me how to live my life. Incredible turnaround. He's the most improved player in hoops this season.

Player who does not deserve improper benefits: Royce White is the player with pro potential for Iowa State. He’s a matchup problem for a lot of teams, but Baylor isn’t one of them. The Bears won at home tonight, remaining undefeated against teams who don’t have “MIZZOU” or “KANSAS” sewed onto their jersey. White had seven turnovers and hurt the team in some needed spots. He did manage 14 points of 7-of-12 shooting. It wasn’t awful, but we’re dealing with a light slate here.

A quick note on Baylor. I heard ESPN.com’s Andy Katz mention he thinks this team will do better once it’s out of the Big 12 and playing in the NCAA tournament. Maybe. But who says it can’t continue to pick on all the other teams? I’d be very intrigued to see what happens to a five-loss Baylor team that only fell to Kansas and Missouri. Where would they get seeded? The argument for the 3 is legitimate.

Another player who does not deserve improper benefits: K-State's Angel Rodriguez was a killer, also getting way too Bill Gates with the ball. Seven turnovers, 0-of-8 from the field, zero points.

Numbers don’t lie

  • 48. Belmont defeated Stetson 107-93 Monday night. It was the 48th time this season a game between two D-I teams had one squad score more than 100.
  • 6. Louisville fans want a reason to be positive tonight? Under Pitino in the Big East, Louisville doesn’t always pull off six-game winning streaks in the Big East. They did this year, and in the prior two times, Louisville made the Elite Eight (2009, 2008).


  • Due to school rules, Kevin Foster of Santa Clara has been suspended for the remainder of the season.
  • Hats off to Stetson's Aaron Pegg, who went out and had himself a night, scoring 31 in the Belmont game.
  • Mississippi Valley State's now 13-0 in the abysmal SWAC. Delta Devils have a good chance of returning to the dance.
  • I'm going sunflowers over roses tomorrow. I suggest you do the same. Roses are more stale than last Wednesday's bread.

Posted on: February 13, 2012 12:42 pm
Edited on: February 13, 2012 12:46 pm

Damaged MSU chair sells for thousands at auction

The Spartans' seat got the John Hancock of Fran McCaffery and sold for big bucks. (via Matt Weitzel)
By Matt Norlander

The best way to get good PR out of a bad situation, if possible, is to alter course and turn bad to better by infusing a charitable donation into the mishap.

After Fran McCaffery got needlessly angry a month ago by awkwardly and violently throwing a chair in the team huddle, the coach and the program did good. They sold the abused seat at an auction Sunday night in Tiffin, Iowa. It went for $2,100, according to Iowa basketball and baseball sports information director Matt Weitzel.

The chair was up for grabs at the Iowa Steak Fry, a fundraising event for the Iowa baseball team that's taken place the past three years. Other items up for auction included a framed/autographed Jay Cutler jersey, a Chicago Cubs "dream package" to attend Wrigley Field (photo ops and meetings with players on the field included), an autographed Ron Santo poster, signed Iowa football memorabilia and more.

But was the chair you see there truly the one that felt the ire of McCaffery? Ah-ha. That is the catch; the answer is unknown. The brainchild behind this particular auction item was not anyone with the basketball program. Iowa's baseball coach, Jack Dahm, thought the chair could be a huge seller at the Steak Fry. He was right.

Dahm reached out to Michigan State baseball coach Jake Boss, Jr. last week and inquired about the chair.

"We're not 100 percent sure it's the same chair," Weitzel said.

Regardless, Boss got over to the Breslin Center and made sure a chair was taken. Iowa paid for the shipping and it was in Tiffin by Saturday. What do you think, has that chair seem some rough days? Of course it has. It's likely been sat on by Draymond Green dozens of times.

Cool of Iowa to do this and it's nice to see McCaffery still embraces his antics, even if they can be over the top in the moment.
Posted on: February 13, 2012 10:30 am
Edited on: February 13, 2012 10:33 am

Podcast: CBS Sports Net's Wally Szczerbiak joins

Tom Izzo is doing it again. Think about it, if MSU gets a one seed, shouldn't he get Coach of the Year? (US PRESSWIRE)

By Matt Norlander

OK, for a day, for one podcast, no writers. I had to get someone who's actually played the game to come on and give a different perspective. That man is CBS Sports Network analyst Wally Sczcerbiak. (My boss, and Miami University alumnus, Eric Kay, is so thrilled right now. This podcast's for you, man.) 

Wally's new to Twitter and would appreciate your follow, so go ahead and give him a click. Enjoy the pod. It's a breeze.
On the docket:
  • From the beginning: If he had a good knee, how many points would Wally average in college today?
  • 3:35: Which current hoops player does Wally think most resembles his game?
  • 4:30: It's been 13 years since Wally played college hoops. I ask him to compare the eras and say which one is better.
  • 6:15: Kentucky as the clear-cut top team, it's a talking point that's picking up steam. But Syracuse is 1A, and a strong 1A.
  • 9:34: Tom Izzo and coaching and the common threads between the best basketball coaches. I also ask him to pick his coach of the year, given only the optino of Izzo and Frank Haith. Is that a hedge I hear from Wally?
  • 16:25: The results that stood out the most to Wally from over the weekend. There is mid-major love to be handed out.
  • 18:52: Since Wally's been a part of so many teams and played basketball for so long, I took the opportunity on this podcast to get his perspective on things that most writers flatly can't interpret the same way. At this point, I ask him what February feels like and how teams stay on message without looking ahead ot March.
  • 23:36: Think you might be a little surprised with Wally's take on conference tournaments.
  • 26:45: We wrap up things with a couple teams Wally and I are high and low on. He doesn't hold back with his Baylor and Perry Jones III critiques, which is refreshing to hear.

Again, I thank you for taking the time to listen to the podcast--whenever you can. I ask that you, if you like what we're doing here, encourage like-minded hoopheads to subscribe in Tunes as well. Guests like Wally, Jay Bilas, Seth Davis, they're the guys who make me sound better and make the podcast worthwhile. The other guys? Gary Parrish and Jeff Goodman, they really make it entertaining, and of course you can count on our trio show each Wednesday. The RSS feed is another way to keep the podcasts coming to you ASAP. We've got a Zune download link as well.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com