Free Vitale: Like everyone else in the college basketball universe, our very best wishes for a speedy recovery to our good friend and the game's good friend, Dick Vitale. No one in the game's history has shown greater passion and love for the game and those who play it than Vitale, and he is and has been a truly beautiful person. We are all thinking of you, Dick, and we cannot wait for your return. You're the best.
Better without Durant? Get the net!: Texas was very good last season and could have easily advanced to the Sweet 16 to meet North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. Remember that Texas, which started four freshmen and a sophomore last season, went 25-10 overall and 12-4 in the Big 12 and lost to Kansas in overtime in the Big 12 title game. The Horns were really good, despite their youth and inexperience.
This season, the Longhorns are benefiting greatly from the fact that last season's freshmen -- D.J. Augustin, Justin Mason and Damion James -- are now more experienced and mature sophomores. Plus, junior Connor Atchley is one of the most improved players in the country.
But, if you think that the Longhorns wouldn't be better with Durant in the lineup, you need professional help. If you want to suggest that this season's version of the Longhorns may be able to beat last season's version of the baby Horns, okay.
Can't-miss kids: Memphis senior Joey Dorsey missed a couple of shots against Cincinnati, and it pointed up his obscenely high field-goal percentage. Dorsey's two misses puts him at 23-for-28 from the field for a startling 82.1 percent, which would be good for pregame warm-ups. Texas A&M freshman DeAndre Jordan has hit 46 of 58 shots for an equally startling 79.3 percent from the floor. Clearly, these two guys should get more shots, right? Well, while Jordan and Dorsey are important members of winning teams, neither is a competent shooter from beyond the paint. Dorsey is 8-for-24 from the free-throw line (33.3 percent), and Jordan is 12-for-43 (27.9 percent) from the charity stripe.
Really Big 12: Has any conference started better with lower expectations than the Big 12? Thus far, Kansas and Texas have been top-five good, while Texas A&M, Kansas State, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Baylor have posted good wins. There are a couple of layups in the league this season, but overall, this is a quality league and it stacks up favorably with any league in the nation.
Winning still matters: So we are clear on the NCAA Tournament selection process, I have a great deal of respect for the process and those that make the decisions. By and large, they get it right. Like anything, reasonable minds can differ from time to time on a team or teams, but most of the time, the committee gets it right.
But, here is my only beef: Let's stop using the current criteria and just have the committee vote for the 34 best at-large teams. Do you really need more than that? It is subjective criteria, anyway, and there are so many messages sent by those subjective decisions. With this criteria taking such a center stage, there is always some silly argument when the only objective standard in basketball is winning.
We are spending way too much time beating the NCAA selection criteria drum, and we need to focus more on which teams are winning and, more importantly, playing winning basketball. There is no team that "doesn't play anyone" all season long, and there is no team that does not play enough true road games to be able to fairly evaluate how good it is. There is too much emphasis on playing road games in the nonconference, and there is not enough emphasis placed on how many quality games a team has won and how many quality performances a team has put forth. It is hard to beat a good team anywhere. If a team demonstrates that it is among the 34 best at-large teams, scheduling doesn't mean as much as we are making of it. And, if you cannot figure things out by watching and evaluating teams and you need to count road games against top-50 teams, you need to find another line of work. It's not that hard, and at the end of the day, we're arguing about five or six teams at the end of the line.
Raising Arizona: Kevin O'Neill has done a great job of stabilizing and raising the level of Arizona basketball over the past few weeks, and Arizona did a really smart thing by naming O'Neill as Lute Olson's permanent replacement (effective whenever Olson decides to retire). This situation and the manner in which it has been handled points up just how difficult and complicated succession can be when it involves a great program and a legendary coach.
Whether it is Olson, Bob Knight, Dean Smith, Jim Boeheim, Eddie Sutton or any other legend that is closer to the end than the beginning, it is natural for recruits and their advisors to wonder about the stability and future of the program. Recruiting is the lifeblood of any program, and it was important for Arizona to establish stability and send a positive message to recruits and fans about the certainty of leadership going forward, especially when there is so much uncertainty.
I hope people take this in the spirit it is intended, because I have been a longtime admirer of Lute Olson and consider him to be a treasure and one of the game's greatest coaches and gentlemen. I hope this is not the case, but if Lute Olson wishes in his heart to retire, he should do so without looking back and without regret. No amount of success in a return engagement will make me look upon him with any more admiration. Lute Olson has earned his reputation and his place among the game's greats, and nothing can diminish his standing in the game. Should he truly have the burning desire to come back, he should do so without reservation. But, if he is ready to hang it up, he should do so and feel great about the decision. To come back next year out of some sense of obligation, especially if he does not have the passion for it that he has always had, would not be good for Olson or for the program.
O'Neill is a terrific and experienced coach, but if he has to manage Olson's return when he does not truly have the desire to come back full blast, it would not be fair to O'Neill or the players. How do the players manage having another voice of authority stepping forward, while this season's voice of authority takes a step back? It can work, but it can be a problem, too. I wonder how many truly realize the delicate position that O'Neill is in right now, and he has taken a very delicate situation and handled it with great dignity and class.
At the end of the day, the decision of whether to return next year is Olson's and Olson's alone, but there is more than just Olson's feelings riding on this. The future of the Arizona program and the smoothness of the succession is, as well. I expect Olson to return for a final season of coaching, but I wish one of the greatest to ever walk a sideline nothing but the best as he makes such an intensely personal decision. He owes us nothing, and he should do only what he truly wants to do.
Hansbrough: No player takes more of a beating on the floor than Tyler Hansbrough. I have watched a lot of North Carolina this season, both in person and on tape, and as much as Hansbrough gets fouled and goes to the free-throw line, one can make a good argument that he does not get enough calls. Hansbrough is in the middle of so many plays that I am not sure that every foul he absorbs can realistically be called. While, like most really good and experienced players, Hansbrough creates some contact himself, the kid gets hammered more often than he dishes it out himself. It is just the way he plays.
Sometimes, it seems that Hansbrough's skill level and athletic ability get overwhelmed by our repeated accolades and tributes to his toughness and competitiveness, as if the kid has limited skill but unlimited will. I can understand how Psycho T and his supporters may want to hear more about his skills, but as good as his skills are, his competitive spirit and robust nature are what set him apart. It is a bit like J.J. Redick and his people tiring of getting called a great shooter when he was more than that. The dominant trait that set Redick apart was his dead-eye shooting, and that is what marveled us all.
When I played, guys that were praised as hard workers always wanted it acknowledged that they were talented. And, guys that were praised for their talent always wanted it known that they worked hard.
Senior moments: We are still talking about the freshmen like they were the ones that invented the dunk or mapped out the human genome on a napkin, but we may still be missing some pretty good upperclassmen out there. Some of the top seniors are:
• Tennessee's Chris Lofton
• Michigan State's Drew Neitzel
• Western Kentucky's Courtney Lee
• Houston's Rob McKiver
• Indiana's D.J. White
• Vanderbilt's Shan Foster
• UNC Greensboro's Kyle Hines
• South Florida's Kentrell Gransberry
• Rider's Jason Thompson
• Niagara's Charron Fisher
• Dayton's Brian Roberts
• Texas Tech's Martin Zeno
• Xavier's Drew Lavender
• Southern Illinois' Randal Falker
• Virginia's Sean Singletary
That's just naming a few. All of these guys will play professionally (and some of those that play overseas will have longer and more lucrative careers) and most of them will play in the NBA. And, they know how to play.