Posted on: October 24, 2008 2:13 pm

Pennell to coach Arizona

Russ Pennell will be Arizona's interim coach, the school is expected to announce Friday afternoon.

According to a source, the decision to go with Pennell came after associate head coach Mike Dunlap's request (formal or otherwise) to be Lute Olson's permanent successor was not granted. Pennell, 47, joined the Arizona staff in May. Last season, he was the radio analyst for Arizona State, where he had previously been an assistant under Rob Evans.

Arizona will conduct a national search to find a permanent replacement.

Among the names sure to surface are Gonzaga's Mark Few and Pitt's Jamie Dixon.

Posted on: October 24, 2008 6:42 am
Edited on: October 24, 2008 2:21 pm

Dear Gary (on possible Arizona replacements)

Here's Friday's Dear Gary ...

Dear Gary: How about a list of coaches or your views on who Arizona may consider to replace Lute Olson? ... I think Tennessee's Bruce Pearl would be a good candidate (after he buys a suit).

-- UKFan68

A Kentucky fan trying to get Pearl out of the SEC East, huh?

You sneaky devil you.

Seriously, what Pearl has done at Tennessee in three seasons is remarkable, so you'll get no argument from me about whether he'd be good at Arizona. But as I said minutes after Thursday's news came down, the two obvious top candidates to replace Olson on a permanent basis should be Gonzaga's Mark Few and Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon.

Would either come right now?

No, not at this minute.

Both have Final Four-caliber teams and neither would relocate less than two weeks before Arizona's first exhibition. So what that means is that the Wildcats will likely use an interim this season (it'll be assistant Russ Pennell, according to a source) and then conduct a national search that should start and stop with Few or Dixon.

You want some other possibilities?

VCU's Anthony Grant would be intriguing, as would Washington State's Tony Bennett. And if athletic director Jim Livengood wanted to "keep it in the family" he could tab former Arizona player and assistant Josh Pastner, who is now at Memphis. Obviously, Pastner is only 31 and without head coaching experience. But if you think he's going to be good (and just about everybody does) then why not go for it if you are compelled to move quickly and strongly?

I mean, Billy Donovan was 28 when he got his first head coaching gig.

John Calipari was 29.

Those two have done OK, haven't they?

But again, I'm just throwing out Grant, Bennett and Pastner as back-up plans, because the first two options should be Few and Dixon. Both are experienced and proven winners with west-coast ties (Few has been in the WCC forever and is from Oregon; Dixon is from the Los Angeles-area and assisted Ben Howland at Northern Arizona in the mid-1990s) and still young enough (Few is 45, Dixon 42) to where it's reasonable to think they'll be going strong for at least another 15 years. And, yes, I honestly believe one of them (if not both) would accept an offer after this season under certain circumstances because they will both be facing revamped rosters in 2009-10, making it an ideal time to leave if they were ever going to leave (Gonzaga will lose Jeremy Pargo, Josh Heytvelt, Micah Downs and perhaps Austin Daye after this season; Pitt will lose Sam Young, Levance Fields and perhaps DeJuan Blair).

Now I know what you're thinking, Gonzaga and Pitt fans.

You're thinking that Few and Dixon have already turned down multiple opportunities to leave, that they love their jobs and wouldn't mind retiring from their current positions. I acknowledge all of that to be true. But you must understand Arizona is a different animal, one of the top 10 programs in America, and that it would be difficult for either to pass on this gig if they felt comfortable with the administration and received the money Arizona is capable of dishing out.

As for Few specifically, at what point does he become bored killing folks in the WCC? You’ve got to think he'll want to try something new at some point, and Arizona would be a great situation, about as good a situation as would ever present itself. So those would be the reasons for Few to leave Gonzaga, to face a new challenge and see if he can run one of the nation's power programs.

And trust me, he'd be great at Arizona.

But so would Dixon.

And to the Pitt fans who have already emailed to inform me that if Dixon was in a hurry to get back west he would've taken the California job after last season, I'll just ask whether you ever considered whether it's possible Dixon rejected California because he knew Arizona would be opening soon? It would be crazy to take the Cal job if you thought you could get Arizona a year or two later, wouldn't it? And as I pointed out in Thursday's column, nobody in basketball circles really thought Olson was going to last more than one more year, meaning it's pretty safe to assume Dixon saw this day coming and has long known he'd be an obvious candidate.

Anyway, that's my long answer to a short question.

Arizona should hire an interim coach, get through this season and then pursue Few or Dixon.

Assuming the Wildcats could get one of them, the program would be set for 15 years.

And then these tumultuous times would seem like a distant memory.

Posted on: October 23, 2008 12:40 pm
Edited on: October 23, 2008 1:03 pm

Olson stepping down at Arizona

Lute Olson is stepping down as Arizona's basketball coach, a source has confirmed to CBSSports.com.

The development comes less than a week after the start of official practice and one day after Olson, 74, missed a workout and scheduled speaking engagement at the Rotary Club of Tucson luncheon for what was deemed "health-related" reasons by Arizona officials, including athletic director Jim Livengood. Associate head coach Mike Dunlap is expected to replace Olson on an interim basis.

ESPN's Dick Vitale first reported the news Thursday.

A message left on the cell phone of Livengood by CBSSports.com was not immediately returned.

Looking ahead, it's reasonable for fans of Gonzaga and Pittsburgh to start worrying because Mark Few and Jamie Dixon will almost certainly develop into serious candidates to replace Olson on a permanent basis. Few obviously has strong west-coast ties while Dixon, from the Los Angeles area, is familiar with the state of Arizona given how he assisted Ben Howland at Northern Arizona in the mid-1990s.

Posted on: October 2, 2008 2:50 pm

Arizona's Olson engaged again

Just five months after reaching a divorce settlement, 74-year-old Lute Olson is engaged again.

This time to a 47-year-old woman named Kelly Pugnea.

"She's a fantastic lady,'' Olson told the Tucson Citizen. "Everyone who meets her finds her very, very special.''

No wedding date has been set for the Arizona coach.

But assuming things move forward, this will be the third marriage for Olson.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: September 18, 2008 9:57 am
Edited on: September 18, 2008 11:00 am

Dear Gary (on recruiting classes)

Here's Thursday's Dear Gary ...

Dear Gary: I was wondering if you could give us a list of what teams you think have the best 2009 recruiting class?

-- HP

Honestly, it's too early to tell because half of the top 30 prospects at Rivals.com are still uncommitted, including four of the top five. That means somebody's great class is yet to be made. So a lot will change between now and signing day. But if you're asking which school has assembled the best class as of today, I think the correct answer is -- surprise, surprise -- North Carolina.

The Tar Heels have five top 70 prospects committed, namely No. 6 John Henson, No. 17 Dexter Strickland, No. 55 Leslie McDonald, No.68 David Wear and No. 69 Travis Wear. Meanwhile, Villanova has three top 65 commitments (including No. 14 Mouphtaou Yarou), Arizona has three top 85 commitments (including No. 13 Abdul Gaddy), Georgia Tech has four top 130 commitments (including No. 36 Mfon Udofia) and Indiana has four top 110 commitments (including No. 34 Christian Watford).

That's five great recruiting classes for five great programs.

But again, there's still plenty of time for several schools to enhance their classes drastically considering guys like John Wall, Xavier Henry, Derrick Favors and Kenny Boynton remain on the board.  So don’t expect those five programs to finish with the five best recruiting classes, and let’s plan on taking a look at this again in a month to see how much things have changed.

Posted on: September 16, 2008 2:45 pm

Let's not worry about that investigation, guys

I clicked on GoAzCats.com, curious how it played the good news/bad news of Monday.
Turns out, it just ignored the bad news altogether.
And there's a solid reason for that, I guess.
See, that Jim Storey character who runs the Cactus Classic tournament that Lute Olson was apparently trying to help with funds (against NCAA rules) also happens to be the creator and principal of GoAzCats.com, the fan website that focuses on all things Arizona. Well, not all things. It currently features news on Abdul Gaddy's commitment. And the Wildcats' loss in football to New Mexico. And Mike Stoops' subsequent press conference. But it noticeably ignores the fact that Olson is under investigation for allegedly trying to raise funds for Storey, which suggests editorial freedom isn't much of a priority as GoAzCats.com. 

On the other hand, the site did break the story on Gaddy's commitment.
So maybe it's just an old-fashioned trade-off.
I'll feed you news if you ignore mine.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: September 15, 2008 11:24 pm
Edited on: September 15, 2008 11:26 pm

From bad to good in a matter of hours

How did Lute Olson respond to news that he is being investigated for a possible NCAA violation?

By landing a huge commitment, of course.

Though the timing is probably a coincidence, Arizona's bad day turned good quickly when Scout.com's Evan Daniels reported Monday night that Abdul Gaddy has committed to the Wildcats. Gaddy is considered to be the second best point guard in the Class of 2009, ranked only behind John Wall. He chose the Wildcats over UCLA and immediately made Arizona fans rejoice despite earlier news that the school has reported an apparent violation by Olson.

According to the report, a letter featuring the electronic signature of Olson was sent to boosters asking for a donation to Jim Storey's Arizona Cactus Classic basketball tournament, held last May at Arizona's McKale Center. NCAA rules prohibit institutional representatives or boosters from arranging financial assistance for potential recruits. And though Olson denied any knowledge of the letter, Arizona athletic director Jim Livengood told the Pac-10 office that "others inside and outside of the department stated that they thought that (Olson) had requested that the letter be sent."

In other words, Livengood isn't buying Olson's story. So the investigation will continue. But in the meantime Arizona fans can celebrate because the commitment of a big recruit followed the news of a possible recruiting violation, and the former tends to trump the latter ... or at least make fans not care quite so much.

Posted on: September 3, 2008 4:35 pm
Edited on: September 3, 2008 6:27 pm

It's offcial: Wisconsin is usually underrated

Robbie Allen over at StatSheet.com has updated his site, which is full of -- take a guess -- stats.

The newest college basketball addition deals with where teams are in preseason polls relative to where they finish in an attempt to genuinely learn which are the most-overrated and most-underrated programs in America. It's neat stuff. And I was not surprised to learn that Wisconsin is consistently underrated because that belief is what led me to promise to never again leave the Badgers unranked in a preseason poll as long as Bo Ryan is the coach.

According to StatSheet.com, Wisconsin has been ranked in either the preseason or final AP poll six of the past seven seasons and finished higher in the final AP poll than it was in the first AP poll in five of those six seasons. Just last season, the Badgers started unranked before finishing sixth in the final AP poll.

As for the overrated teams, try Michigan State and Arizona.

The Spartans have finished lower in the final AP poll than they were in the preseason AP poll six of the past seven seasons, and at least 10 spots lower in five of the past seven seasons. Arizona, meantime, has also finished lower in the final AP poll than it was in the preseason AP poll six of the past seven seasons, which might be evidence that, yes, voters give the big-name programs the benefit of the doubt more often than not because it's difficult to find bigger names than Michigan State and Arizona.

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