Mark Few had just got home, took a moment to reflect and let out some good-natured venting on how crazy he must have been to put together this type of schedule.
"Am I out of my element to say: Has anyone [scheduled] [Texas] A&M, Illinois, Arizona, Duke, Creighton, Washington, Tennessee, now North Carolina?" Few told CBS Sports. "Nobody's done that this season, have they? It kind of piles up on you emotionally a bit."
Few was talking less than 24 hours removed from his team's first loss of the season, a 76-73 defeat at the hands of Tennessee. Gonzaga happens to be the common denominator in what are probably the two best games so far this season: its win over Duke in the Maui Invitational championship and the Tennessee thriller.
"You make these schedules and then you end up formulating, especially dates and stuff, in the offseason," Few said. "Now you're like, what are we doing?"
All told, the risk has been worth it. Even if Gonzaga can't steal a win at North Carolina this Saturday in what could be the top game of the weekend, the Bulldogs have amassed a very good witness list through the first six weeks of the season. With Sunday's game against Tennessee, in Phoenix, and Saturday's tilt at UNC, Few said it was the first time he's played consecutive games against top-10 opponents away from home. Factor in the Duke game, and it's also the first time Gonzaga's played three top-10 nonconference opponents away from home.
Few also wanted to clear up something. After the Tennessee loss, he took aim at NCAA president Mark Emmert while also bringing up the point that there are a lot of programs that have not been fingered by the FBI or caught up in cheating. In doing so, Few made direct reference to Villanova's winning ways while unintentionally making it seem like he was leaving out UNC.
"There's two teams today who were competing who do it right. I know that to be true," Few told Yahoo Sports. "And there's a lot of teams who do it right -- the national champions two out of the last three years."
What's ironic is Few admires Roy Williams as much if not more than any other coach in the game, and has used some of Roy's coaching tactics dating back to when he got the job at Gonzaga.
"People have drawn inferences that I was throwing Roy under the bus and it couldn't be further from the truth," Few told CBS Sports. "I was just trying to say, 'Well, no one's on a bigger roll than Villanova right now and they do it right.' I totally respect, probably nobody higher in how they do their deal, than Roy. Everyone makes a big deal out of recruiting, this and that, and Carolina's a 3-pointer at the buzzer away from winning [back-to-back] national championships. The way they do their stuff, it's classy and high-character and their system works."
As for the Emmert critiques, Few's been vocal behind the scenes about this for a while now. He has a deep passion and real investment in college basketball and its longevity and integrity in the decades to come. Few reiterated to me that he expects Emmert, given his position and constant vocal concern for college basketball, to not sit and wait and let the process play out to the point where coaching staffs/schools that have cheated earn gains in postseason play, only to maybe get docked to varying punishments long after the fact.
"I guess I'm not going to be silent," Few said. "I'm not down with that plan. And people can say it's because I've got a good team and it impacts me, and that's true, but it's not fair. It's not fair to the guys who are doing it right."
In essence, what good is it for Emmert and his NCAA if all it does is sit back and allow schools caught up in the mess to succeed and earn NCAA Tournament money and accrue other publicity while the coaches who do it right are left to bemoan it behind the scenes?
"It's not going to do us any good if [cheating schools] beat us, and [the NCAA] takes away their banner four years from now," Few said. "Do something, man. Do it right now. Don't hide behind, 'Well, it takes time.' Not if it means something to you. You should be the czar. ... That's what I'd do if I was the sheriff. And I'd say, 'If you have a problem with this, fine, but if I find anything in your program? Five years. Five years with no postseason, and the coach is done for five years."
As for the here and now with Gonzaga, the fact its 9-1 without Killian Tillie is remarkable. Few said there would be no chance at that if asked two months ago.
"There were many, many instances last year where we walked off the floor at the end of the game and Killian was our best player," Few said.
The Zags big man has yet to play a game this season because of a stress fracture in his foot. Both he and key grad transfer Geno Crandall (wrist) are still unavailable. Few said both should be back within a game or two of each other, likely shortly after Jan. 1. He said Tillie is getting an updated MRI later this week, but that it wasn't in the plans to play him in December. (Tillie had two screws inserted into his foot to hurry up the healing process.)
Yet Gonzaga's received tremendous production out of Rui Hachimura, Brandon Clarke, Josh Perkins, Zach Norvell Jr. and Corey Kispert.
"Those iron five are really, really good players," Few said. "The beauty is they all bring something different and they're not too into themselves to share in the others' strengths. I don't think anyone's feeling sorry for us. ... OK, Killian's out, let's just win the next one. Part of me is 100 percent in on how much better Duke can improve and some of these other teams can improve, but so can we."
Big East keeps MSG; multiple schools have reached out re: expansion
On Sunday, the Big East and Madison Square Garden jointly announced a coup for the 39-year-old conference: MSG would continue to host the Big East tournament through 2028, putting an extension on a previous deal and effectively keeping the league as the primary March tenant of The World's Most Famous Arena.
Under the previous arrangement, according to a source, an opt-out was in play for 2022. Now the opt-outs are no longer part of the contract.
"It's essentially an air-tight agreement," Big East commissioner Val Ackerman told CBS Sports.
Ackerman said the league was not in discussion about expansion right now, but when pressed, did admit that more than three schools have approached the Big East about potentially joining the conference.
"We do talk about it internally," Ackerman said. "I think every conference commissioner worth their salt has to be thinking about it in terms of long-term, where your league is and [evaluating] the future. But at this point, our schools are very satisfied with the current 10 programs and 10-school setup."
If expansion came to be in the Big East, Ackerman said going to 11 would be most ideal and "very workable" because it could allow the double round-robin intra-league scheduling to remain in place. Going to 12 or more schools would eliminate that, and given that Creighton AD Bruce Rasmussen is coming off a year in which he was the selection committee chair, his input on the value of round-robin scheduling -- when it comes to NCAA Tournament evaluation -- carries a lot of weight.
The Big East is also in wait-and-see mode as to how 20 league games -- and the new NET rankings -- affect other big conferences when it comes to seeding and selection. As it stands now, most Big East teams are already guaranteed 20 high-major games because there's 18 conferences tilts, the Gavitt Games with the Big Ten in November and the Big East-Big 12 series, which started this season.
What schools make for ideal candidates? The rumor mill has consistently put out a litany of programs, many of them currently in the A-10, such as Saint Louis, Dayton, Richmond, VCU, Rhode Island, Davidson and Saint Joseph's. A source previously told me that Gonzaga even informally debated the idea. And of course, there's UConn, which has a fanbase aching to get back into the Big East. But it's football program and all the money attached to that currently stands as a logistical hurdle, if not 100-foot wall.
Ackerman said any school up for consideration would have to check a lot of boxes before entering into real discussion.
"Geography would be important," she said. "Commitment to basketball would probably be the No. 1 thing, the notion that they would be additive as it relates to our basketball prospects. Are they going to help secure our chances every year of getting into the NCAA Tournament? Possible No. 2: Would they help us with our tournament? Would they bring fans to Madison Square Garden?"
The Catholic-school angle is also not insignificant. Butler, which is private and of similar makeup to the other nine, is the only non-Catholic institution in the Big East. There's also a high level of camaraderie and morale among the membership now, something that Ackerman noted wasn't there right before the old Big East fissured, when the league was bigger.
Circling back to the MSG contract, Ackerman got a deal done that is obviously massive for the Big East. The schedule will remain the same (Ackerman said keeping the Big East tournament at the same point on the calendar was "critically important" to league coaches), meaning the tournament will continue to be played in the days before Selection Sunday. MSG has hosted the Big East tournament dating back to 1983, making it the longest running postseason conference tournament in college basketball continuously held at one venue.
Ackerman's longstanding working relationship with Joel Fisher, who effectively runs Madison Square Garden, played a significant part. Ackerman told CBS Sports that she and Fisher began talks on renegotiating the Big East/MSG deal last spring, less than two months removed from the Big Ten's experiment to play its league tournament at MSG the week before the Big East's regularly scheduled slot.
"It wasn't lost on us that other conferences were interested in having a presence, so at least from that standpoint, that was motivation for us to move as soon as we had the opportunity," Ackerman told CBS Sports.
An official proposal was put forth to the Big East in early November. Things moved quickly from there. The vote was unanimous within the league to move forward, which is notable given the league now has schools in Nebraska, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Ohio. Ackerman said those schools and coaches "from the beginning understood the value of putting our tournament in Madison Square Garden."
"From both sides, ours and the Garden, this had a lot to do with history and tradition and loyalty," Ackerman said. "For us, there really was no second choice. This is an enormous part of who we are as a conference."
There was never officially an ultimatum or deadline put on the Big East, but with the Big Ten and ACC clearly poking around, getting this done as quickly as possible was essentially priority No. 1 for the conference over the previous six months. If you're curious on some of the financials, the Garden charges the Big East a licensing fee for use of the building and all staffing. The Big East keeps the tournament ticket revenue, while the Garden keeps the food and beverage revenue. The deal helps fund Big East championships across 22 sports in the conference.
Fox broadcasting also pays the Big East a rights fee annually. That network is in its sixth year of a 12-year deal and Ackerman said discussions about the league's arrangement with that network have not been had yet.
"Technically, this Garden deal now runs past the Fox deal by three years," she said. "So that, I think, is a positive in terms of our positioning."
Kentucky's 3-point issues could doom the Wildcats
In the past nine seasons, Kentucky has ranked 123rd in 3-point percentage on average. It ranked 124th or worse in six of those seasons. The only time UK was truly a threat from deep was 2010-11, when it finished ninth after making 39.7 percent of its treys.
Heading into this season, many thought UK would be markedly improved from deep vs. last year's team that was inconsistent and without a lot of long-range options. Instead, Kentucky's actually worse to this point. The 2017-18 Wildcats finished at 35.7 percent from 3; this season's group is clipping at 34.0 -- and will not face another mid-major team in the regular season.
Collectively, Tyler Herro, Jemarl Baker, Keldon Johnson, Quade Green (now apparently on his way out of Lexington) and Immanuel Quickley were expected to give the Cats expanded offensive framework. But it hasn't gone that way, not at all. Kentucky gets only 19.8 percent of its points off 3s, which is among the lowest rates in college basketball.
Opportunities on offense are still there, though. Utah, North Carolina and Louisville are the Wildcats' next three opponents. None of them rank near the top 100 in 3-point defense. If a breakthrough, or an uptick, is going to happen we'll probably have our answer by Dec. 29 (the game at Louisville).
Three-point defense has been a problem too -- in fact a much bigger one than Kentucky's 3-point shooting. Sure, the shots Seton Hall senior Myles Powell was hitting on Saturday in the Pirates' upset bid over UK were wild. But they sort of poetically highlighted a lingering issue on that side of the floor for Calipari's club.
MYLES POWELL FROM THE PARKING LOT.— CBS Sports CBB (@CBSSportsCBB) December 8, 2018
The Pirates are looking to upset No. 9 Kentucky. pic.twitter.com/VOdte96TMI
Myles Powell for the win? #CitiHoopsClassic pic.twitter.com/7NHXrtUwrH— kgholler (@kgholler_) December 8, 2018
Through nine games, many of them against teams that are unlikely to make the NCAA Tournament, Kentucky has allowed opponents to make 40 percent of their 3s. It is by far the worst 3-point defense of Calipari's tenure at UK. Whereas Kentucky has ranked 123rd on average overall the past nine seasons in 3-point offense, its held decently at No. 45 on defense in that span. Not only that, it's never been worse than 97th -- and was ranked No. 4 in 3-point defense last season.
Now it's 334th! That's the worst among all power-conference teams. The closest team from a major league to UK in 3-point defense deficiency is 3-5 California, which ranks 319th. Yikes.
If Kentucky is going to compete for the SEC title, this needs fixing in a hurry. Otherwise, UK will likely make the NCAA Tournament but will not be in the mix for a high seed. In this era, you can't be that inept on both ends of the 3-point line and maintain success.
Texas A&M and Boston College feud, cancel series
Weather issues pushed Boston College into a corner over the weekend, ultimately leading to the team not being able to get to Texas A&M in time for a 5 p.m tip on Saturday. The game was canceled, which vexed and frustrated A&M -- and prompted the school to respond by scrapping its trip next season to Boston College.
Texas A&M's Saturday afternoon statement on the matter was fairly short. Obviously the program was ticked.
Boston College put out a release, which read in part: "Due to mechanical and logistical issues with its charter aircraft and unsafe flying conditions due to weather throughout the southern United States on Friday, Dec. 7, the Boston College men's basketball team was unable to travel to Texas for its game on Saturday evening at Texas A&M. Boston College had asked Texas A&M for contingency plan to move the game from 5 p.m. CT to 9 p.m. CT on Saturday night and were open to all playing options on Sunday, Dec. 9. Texas A&M declined both of those offers."
So, BC first encountered issues with its charter flight. Then the storm sweeping across much of Texas presented another problem. According to a source, the pilot in charge of flying Boston College to College Station said, "I don't have a death wish."
"Debate over," the source said. "This isn't man vs. zone, fouling when up three, or was it a block or a charge. It's life or death. And If there's any question, we will not put our people in harm's way."
Additionally, the source said that A&M was previously in contact with Boston College over the potential to move the game not because of weather but because of the funeral of George H.W. Bush. BC made contingency plans in the event the funeral did interfere with the original tip time. That wound up not being the case, but the point is there were discussions about having to move the schedule to begin with.
And now A&M and BC, who had only met once before, in 2010, figure to not schedule each other in the foreseeable future. This figures to hurt BC more than A&M, as it removes what could have been a notable road win to add to its résumé if it had been able to pull such an upset.
College basketball's undefeated territories
We're now down to nine undefeated teams remaining. Who's going to be the last one standing? Ken Pomeroy's numbers indicate Nevada's got the best shot, followed by Michigan and Virginia. I originally had Virginia, but injury news (see below, in Buzzer-beaters) has me mulling over Michigan now. I still think Nevada gets picked off on the road at Utah on Dec. 29. Anyway, check out this great map, courtesy of Joey Loose, who's been updating this image on Twitter and Reddit almost daily. The map is re-published here with his permission. It's the county closest to every undefeated team left in college basketball. Nevada and Kansas seemingly blanket almost half the continental United States. When you factor in Alaska, Nevada by far has the most territory coverage.
It's always fun to embrace and engage with you. I'll be taking answering a few questions from readers each week. Have a question, curiosity or complaint? Do @ me. Lob your question my way on Twitter.
Who is the best late-clock management coach in college basketball?— James Szuba (@JamesSzuba) December 11, 2018
Interesting question. Also one that's hard to quantify. What are you valuing here? Basketball clock management is not like what happens in football, where the behavior is feverishly followed and criticized. In college hoops, it's about timeouts used (or not) depending on scenario; if a coach opts for two-for-one opportunities to maximize possessions at the end of a half; how out-of-bounds plays are deployed; and substitutions. So it's really more about late-clock strategy as opposed to clock management. Some names that pop to mind are: Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self, Mike Brey, Randy Bennett, Sean Miller and Bob McKillop.
Are there any coaches who’s seat is getting dangerously warm before the New Year? #CourtReport— Sylvester Valderrama (@SLYBOY_22) December 11, 2018
No way. Not at this point. Maybe we get some results in the next 10 days that give real reason for speculation, but from what I can tell, there is no coach whose job is in jeopardy to the point of being fired in December.
Can a three loss Buffalo team make the NCAAs as an at large this year?( Split with Marq/Syracuse, one loss in MAC and loss in MAC tournament)— KevinPyt (@kevinpyt) December 11, 2018
Love this kind of specificity in a question, Kevin. If Buffalo entered Selection Sunday with only three losses, there would be no debate. It would be in the field -- and probably closer to an 8 seed than a 12. Let's say UB lost in the semis of the MAC tournament. That would mean Nate Oats' team would be 30-3 heading into Selection Sunday with a road win over Marquette or Syracuse in your scenario, plus a road win at WVU and 10-plus road wins overall, with close to 15 wins away from home. An 8 seed should be the floor in that scenario.
Can the wcc be a two bid league?— Brady Waterman (@brady_waterman) December 11, 2018
Absolutely. In fact, it's likely. The WCC currently has six teams in the top 100 of the NET rankings and five teams in the KenPom top 100. Gonzaga is a given, but then you've got San Francisco, BYU, Saint Mary's, San Diego and Loyola Marymount with a combined record of 39-12. The real question you should be asking is if the WCC can be a three-bid league. It's not such a tall task. So long as four of the five aforementioned teams don't lose any games they shouldn't prior to league play, the WCC is going to be set up for a nice 2019.
- Literally starting with buzzer-beaters here, as Eastern Kentucky's Nick Mayo, who's been one of the best players in the OVC for three seasons, has two winners at the horn for his team this season. If he can get a third before March, it'd be great to have the Colonels in the NCAA Tournament for the good karma alone.
The King of Clutch! 👑 @1nmay0 has now hit two buzzer beaters in a span of seven days! 👀— EKUHoops (@EKUHoops) December 9, 2018
cc: @espn @SportsCenter @si_ncaabb @marchmadness @franfraschilla @TheAthleticCBB @br_CBB #TheMaineAttraction #GoBigE pic.twitter.com/UpOgJiAi5i
- For as much heat as Emmert takes on a monthly if not weekly basis, the powers-that-be are pleased with how he's running the place. The NCAA has approved a contract extension for Emmert through as long as 2024. If Emmert works through the final year of that deal, he'll have served for 14 years, making him the second-longest serving president in the institution's history; Walter Byers ran the NCAA for 36 years (1951-88). Emmert makes north of $2 million annually.
- Tough blow Providence, as the school announced Tuesday that freshman guard A.J. Reeves (14.2 ppg, tops among frosh in the Big East) suffered a foot injury and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks. The Friars are 7-3 and will not have Reeves for road games against Texas and Georgetown, plus home tilts against Villanova and Creighton in the coming month.
- More injury news of note: Virginia starting point guard Kihei Clark is out indefinitely after requiring surgery on a broken bone in his left wrist. Clark's presence has been huge for undefeated UVA to this point. Standout defender and early adapter to Tony Bennett's offense. UVA will need him in order to beat out Duke, UNC and others for the top of the ACC.
- Ridiculous score of the season: South Dakota State beat sprint-minded Savannah State on Tuesday night, 139-72. SDSU had 90 points in the first half, which is absurd and bordering on a record. The Jackrabbits' 139 were the most in a game involving two Division I teams since Butler scored 144 in 2015 on The Citadel.
- Potential upset bid this weekend that's way under the radar: Indiana State over TCU. The 6-2 Sycamores are shooting an unreal 48.8 percent from 3, which is tops in the sport. Plus, the backcourt duo of Jordan Barnes and Tyreke Key are averaging 41.4 points, making them one of the most potent 1-2 guard combos in college hoops. The last time a Missouri Valley Conference school had two players average 40 or more was in 1993-94 (Randy Blocker and Cam Johnson, Northern Iowa).
- Have to give a shout to BYU's Yoeli Childs, who of course was on our preseason list of the top 101 players in college basketball. Childs, who is averaging 23.6 points and 11.4 rebounds, has scored 31 points thrice in a row. BYU is 7-4 and probably has to win three of its final four noncon games (Portland State, UNLV, San Diego State, Mississippi State) in order to set up decently for at-large consideration.
- Lagerald Vick has dropped off a cliff the past two games. After being held out of the starting lineup against Wofford on Dec. 4 because of a tardiness issue, Kansas' senior shooting guard has combined for five points on 11 shots in 53 minutes over the past two games. And after starting the season at 59.6 percent from 3, Vick is 1-of-5 in the past two games from deep.
College basketball needs as many home-and-homes between Major 7 conference teams as possible. That's why Tuesday's news that Cincinnati and Tennessee have agreed to a 2019-2020 series was so nice to see. Cincy will host next season, Tennessee gets it in its place two years from today: Dec. 12, 2020.
Jim O'Connell will be remembered for a long time in college basketball circles as one of the sport's pre-eminent writers. The longtime AP scribe died at 64 in July. On Sunday, St. John's -- O'Connell's alma mater -- honored the man with a humble patch bearing his nickname: "Oc." The tribute was done in coordination with St. John's first game at Madison Square Garden this season; Oc very well could have the claim of covering more college basketball games at MSG than anyone in history.
O'Connell, a Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, was also honored in the MSG press room: a plaque bearing his name was mounted for permanent keeping. Previously, the Big East also announced it would perpetually name the press room during its annual tournament after O'Connell going forward -- an appropriate move for a New York City media OG and one of the most important hacks in college basketball history.