Top 10 college hoops stories of '10
NCAA tournament expansion was the year's biggest story in college basketball
Duke surged back to the top, but not before having to hold off mid-major Butler
UConn women have back-to-back perfect seasons, and they're working on a third
College basketball seasons may not fit squarely into one calendar year, but that doesn't mean 2010 didn't feature more than its fair share of compelling storylines. Here are the top 10:
1. NCAA tournament: 68 teams, 14 years of big money and one new media outlet. How close were we to a 96-team version of the event that NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen hashed out (hypothetically) during Final Four week? We'll never know, but the new 68-team version that arose when the NCAA voided its old TV deal with three years remaining ushers in a bigger era of madness. Turner Sports, which is in partnership with SI.com and runs the site's business operations, will now split TV broadcast honors with CBS, and the tournament, starting with the new First Four play-in games, will be seen on four networks in addition to online. Meanwhile, the NCAA, which generates almost its entire operating budget from the men's NCAA broadcast rights, has locked in a fresh long-term revenue stream of almost $11 billion.
2. John Wooden's death. The Wizard of Westwood died in June at age 99, leaving behind an almost inarguable legacy as the college game's greatest coach. Wooden won 620 games in 27 seasons and claimed 10 national titles in a 12-season span at UCLA, including a now-unfathomable seven in a row from 1967 to '73. Beyond his coaching, he is known as one of the game's greatest gentlemen and was an elite player himself, earning national player of the year honors at Purdue in 1932. Wooden was the first person to be inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame as a player and coach.
3. The tables turn on Tobacco Road. In retrospect, it's hard to say which was more surprising: Duke's run to the title or North Carolina's collapse into the NIT. Since 2005, the Tar Heels had won two national championships and made a third Final Four while Duke hadn't gone past the Sweet 16. Entering last season, Carolina had won six of the last seven in the series, including four straight at Cameron. Roy Williams also was clearly winning the recruiting war. A year later, Duke is the defending champ and undisputed No. 1 team in the nation, won both meetings last season (including a 32-point romp at Cameron) and has the (now injured) superstar freshman (Kyrie Irving). Entering 2010, many thought Mike Krzyzewski was spreading himself too thin by also overseeing the U.S. national team. Now with another ring and a FIBA World Championship in his pocket, he's spreading word that he, and Duke, are very much back.
4. The Butler very nearly did it. The Bulldogs and youthful coach Brad Stevens nearly pulled off a real-life Hoosiers, using a couple of rising stars and a team-oriented defensive approach to turn a No. 5 seed into a spot in the national title game just six miles from their Indianapolis campus. There they went toe-to-toe with Duke for 40 enthralling minutes, falling just short of becoming the first mid-major national champ in the sport's modern era. First, star forward Gordon Hayward barely was long on a baseline fadeaway that would have given Butler a late lead. Then, on his half-court buzzer-beater, Hayward came within three inches of banking in the greatest shot in NCAA history.
5. UConn women make history. By any measure, the 2009-10 Huskies were one of the most dominant teams in modern sports history. They went 39-0 for a second straight season and never were remotely threatened with a loss, even after being held to just 12 points by Stanford in the first half of the national title game. Their average margin of victory was almost 35 points a game. They've continued to pile up wins early in the 2010-11 season: Tuesday's 93-62 rout of Florida State gave the Huskies their 89th consecutive victory, breaking the Division I record of 88 set by Wooden's UCLA men from 1971-74. Similar to those Bruins, UConn has established itself as the nation's preeminent program, both on the court and in the recruiting world.
6. Conference realignment changes the basketball landscape. Football (and money) was the driving force, but basketball could end up benefiting from the moves that already have occurred (and will continue for the foreseeable future). When the Big 12 sheds Colorado and Nebraska, the remaining 10-team conference, head-to-toe, will be the best in the nation and will be decided fairly by a delicious double round-robin. A step below that, BYU's move to the West Coast Conference creates some tantalizing annual matchups with Gonzaga and Saint Mary's. Nationwide, these moves will affect scheduling, NCAA bids, recruiting and, possibly, conference existence. And who knows what will happen if the Pac-16 or some other superconference becomes a reality or if the Big East finally fractures into football and non-football factions.
7. Young men behaving badly. It was a rough year for player malfeasance, with some cases involving star players and well-known programs. Tennessee suspended and/or dismissed four players over a weapons and drug possession arrest. Wake Forest's Tony Woods was booted from the school after an incident that left the mother of his 1-year-old son with a fractured spine. UNLV's Tre'Von Willis sat for the season's first two games after pleading no contest to a misdemeanor charge stemming from an alleged assault case involving his girlfriend. Baylor's LaceDarius Dunn missed three games and still faces legal issues after being accused of breaking his girlfriend's jaw, even though she doesn't want to press charges and disputes the police account of the incident. These and other cases made it a bit harder to enjoy the game we love.
8. The real world after failing the road rules challenge. The NCAA's enforcement office was kept busy, in particular sorting through high-profile recruiting violations cases involving Jim Calhoun and Bruce Pearl. Calhoun and UConn await a final NCAA decision after being accused of a "failure to monitor" in the case of former recruit Nate Miles and student manager-turned-agent Josh Nochimson. Pearl is in even hotter water after he admitted to breaking rules and then lying to the NCAA during an investigation. SEC commissioner Mike Slive, apparently dissatisfied with Tennessee's initial response (even after the school significantly docked Pearl's salary), suspended Pearl for the first eight league games before the NCAA has even reached a determination, one that ultimately could cost Pearl his job.
9. Kentucky's "fresh" approach under John Calipari. The Wildcats' first season under Calipari ended with a disappointing Elite Eight loss to West Virginia, but there is no doubt that Kentucky is back in a big way. Elite national recruiting is the lifeblood of every blueblood program and Kentucky is widely considered to have landed the nation's top recruiting classes in 2009, '10 and '11. Can you ride a one-and-done concept to a national title? Calipari has come close, but unless the NCAA rules in favor of Enes Kanter's appeal, this year's version probably won't threaten for one. With three more top-10 recruits coming next season, though, heaven help Division I if there's an NBA lockout that keeps Terrence Jones and Co. in Lexington for another season.
10. The improved view from the outside. After a six-year trend downward, a batch of quality teams from outside the six BCS football leagues (enhanced by some conference tournament upsets) yielded eight at-large berths in the NCAA tournament. There were some stellar moments, including Ali Farokhmanesh's killer three-pointer for Northern Iowa to subdue top-seeded Kansas, and Xavier's being involved in the game of the tournament against Kansas State. In total, five non-BCS teams made the Sweet 16, including Ivy rep Cornell, which became the league's first team to make the second weekend of the NCAAs since Penn's Final Four squad in 1979. Meanwhile, the Pac-10 tied a 64-team-era record by getting just two NCAA bids.