UConn’s Calhoun taking a break

Jim Calhoun, who missed a perfect opportunity to retire after winning another national championship last season, probably won’t be coming to Louisville for UofL-UConn basketball game Monday.

The 69-year-old coach is taking an indefinite leave of absence for spinal woes, according to the Boston Herald:

“The bottom line is I’m going to need some work done,” Calhoun said. “In January the shooting pains were getting worse and after one plane ride I couldn’t even get up. I tried to hide it. I’m taking medicine right now for the pain and they are waiting for things to quiet down and I’ll meet with the doctor next week.”

Following his NCAA-mandated suspension in January, Calhoun said he felt the need to serve the suspension, and he passed up on the chance to retire on top, following his third NCAA title. Calhoun has two years remaining on his contract after this season.

UConn (14-7) had lost four consecutive games going into Saturday’s game against Seton Hall.

Big East summit at the Mecca

MSG, Mecca of world basketball

Once again Madison Square Garden, the Mecca of college basketball, was where to be Wednesday. Card Game was there to observe some of the goings-on.

Outside, a dusty, cluttered mess of construction barriers and rusty scaffolding, the usual throngs of New Yorkers.  Inside, the hectic scene of hustling, bustling legendary and rising coaches, crazily coordinating SID’s, and stoic AD’s for the 2010 version of the Big East’s Media Day for men’s basketball.

Shoulder to shoulder with coaching giants Rick Pitino, Jim Calhoun, Jim Boeheim, and Bobby Huggins. Eye to eye with up and comers Jay Wright and Jamie Dixon. Giving the nod to Kevin Willard and Mick Cronin in the early stages of their careers.

To quote Obiwan Kinobi of Star Wars, “You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.”  But since John Calipari doesn’t coach in the Big East, we have to reword to make it appropriate for today. “You will never find a busier hive of mentors and expertise.”

Though the hustle and bustle of coaches, players, sports personalities, cameramen, reporters, and SID’s made the scene very busy, everyone was at ease with each other, making for a great event.  There were a couple of anomalies, however.

The Godfather in a light brown suit with a pink shirt?  Huggy Bear in black pinstripes with a double-breasted vest?  What is this, Bizarro World?  Gene Keady?  What the heck is he doing here?  Steve Lavin?  This isn’t a halftime broadcast.

A lot of things have transpired since the end of last season:  Willard, a Pitino protege, taking over at Seton Hall. Lavin leaving the broadcast booth for the St. John’s sideline, and Keady back in the game as Lavin’s assistant. Calhoun and UConn coming under fire.

Finally, Card Game was treated lavishly by the good folks at Volvo and Cake Group New York, using the Big East as a chance to market their new sporty sedan, the naughty S60, boasting 300 turbocharged horsepower in a car comparable in size to an Accord or Camry.  Hotel room in the heart of the city, just across the street from The Garden, and a few scant blocks from Times Square and the Empire State Building.  Thanks guys.

Check back for additional insights from BE Media Day.

Louisville Deals Setback To U-Calhoun

Any time less than five points separate two Big East teams with four minutes to go, anything can happen, positive or negative, anything but passive.

Fans lose all sense of control, forced to accept whatever fate chooses to throw in their collective lap that day. The frantic finishes are so wild, so unpredictable and so commonplace no one is shocked or surprised by any outcome.

Edgar Sosa, with all his ups and downs, indicating the game will be in his hands. At 29 seconds, it is obvious: He will make the move, and he does with 11 seconds to go.

UConn playing its best basketball of the season since the return of Jim Calhoun, looking good winning its last three games, ready to exact revenge, senior night, pumped, having its way, drumming Louisville 39-26 late in the first half.

But wait. One knows what happens more often than not in Louisville games. The team with the lead eases up a bit, the team behind turns on the defensive pressure. A couple of unexpected three-pointers from a surprising source, a turnover or two, and a bank shot at the halftime buzzer and Rick Pitino’s team trails by only five points.

Game on again, despite having thrown in the proverbial tower at the big screen just a few minutes earlier, having perceived no chance, no prayer of surviving the UConn onslaught.

Fast forward to midway in the second half, Louisville leading by six points at some point, knowing all the while the game will be decided at the horn.

Edgar Sosa, with all his ups and downs, indicating the game will be in his hands. At 29 seconds, it is obvious: He will make the move, and he does with 11 seconds to go. Running the gauntlet with all the swiping hands beneath the basket. Throwing up a shot between all the bodies and outstretched hands. Swish.

Too early, eight seconds left. Kemba Walker, with 28 points from all kinds of shots, with the ball, making the mad dash. Hello, Kemba, I’m Samardo Samuels, get that thing out of here. Hey ball, I’m Preston Knowles, boom, get out of here.

Louisville wins 78-76. Back in the NCAA tournament chase for a couple of days.

The one thing certain is the Louisville-Marquette game Tuesday will be decided on a buzzer beater.

Box Score

Lights Out: UConn 68, Louisville 51

If no one wipes that smile off Hareem Thabeet’s face, UConn will be foisting another NCAA banner in Hartford.

What’s bothersome is that Thabeet never works up a sweat. Just stands beneath the basket, blocking a few shots, making a few tip-ins, intimidating a few smaller inexperienced players. He is definitely a good free throw shooter, thanks to all the opportunities.

When one is 7-foot-3, one doesn’t have to be a good basketball player. Just don’t do anything stupid, which he doesn’t do, probably because the Tanzanian native is still fairly new to the game, not learning bad habits, but absorbing the coaching.

If Thabeet ever does become a good player, UConn could challenge a few of Johnny Wooden’s old UCLA teams.

— UConn coach Jim Calhoun says Rick Pitino made a mistake by pressuring his guards. Calhoun is dead wrong: pressure defense is Louisville’s game, the reason the Cards won nine consecutive games and are ranked among the top 10. Take away the pressure defense and Louisville is an average team.

One noticeable difference in Pitino’s approach was that Preston Knowles and Andre McGee were rarely on the floor at the same time. If there was a mistake, it may have been in not using the defensive combination that greatly exceeded expectations during the win streak. Put the microwave guards in at the same time, the pressure is multiplied by 10.

— Terrence Williams feeling it, obviously on his way to a special game before collecting two early fouls. His teammates, however, were apparently still thawing out from the weather emergency, their shooting still in the deep freeze.

— Is anyone else pleasantly surprised every time Earl Clark hits anything but a layup or dunk? He’s a physical specimen for sure, but two years of not taking full advantage of all the learning opportunities catches up with him at the most inopportune times. Those early morning solo sessions in the practice center need to become more intense. Two of 16 field goal attempts. Not good.

Another Epic Challenge

Still another game against a top 10 team, another game against a No. 1 team.

University of Louisville fans are still thawing out from the great ice storm of 2009, and the economic and emotional challenges accompanying all of the emergency situations. Many fans making it through some dire times, buoyed only by assistance from friends and strangers, and the heroics of their basketball team. Little, if any, time, however, to savor what has  been accomplished, too many challenges await.

The observer recalls a conversation over the water cooler with a UConn fan a dozen years ago, marveling that Connecticut was considered a national contender in anything sports-related. Those folks should stick to being a financial center, you know, taking care of the banks and the housing industry, ensuring that the economy is on a firm footing. Well, apparently they have become distracted by basketball, allowing the economy to go south.

Nevertheless, UConn arrives as a perennial power, the top team in the country.  Conference standings are more important to Louisville and Connecticut than the national implications of this game. But the rankings are important, don’t let anyone kid you.

The structural integrity of Freedom Hall will be put to the test in another game of epic proportions.