NEW ORLEANS - The University of Connecticut is the defending national champion, but coach Jim Calhoun’s team is not at this Final Four, having lost in the second round to Iowa State.
And the Huskies may not even be part of next year’s NCAA Tournament if the new, tougher academic graduation rates are implemented.
On Thursday, in his annual state of the NCAA address, president Mark Emmert talked about the goal of having schools graduate at least 50 percent of their athletes.
UConn officials think they could reach that level using the latest figures, but they must appeal for an exemption, which will probably not be granted
“The reality is that we are saying to everyone right now, all of our teams, you have to be on track to produce a 50 percent graduation rate if you’re going to be a participant in this championship or any other championship,’’ said Emmert. “That is not a huge demand to make, that half of your students will be on track to graduate. The fact is that the vast majority, nearly all of our teams, are very, very close to that standard or are already reaching it right now.
“For programs that aren’t, we want to make sure they’re there. For men and women who aren’t ready to be serious students, we want to make sure they’re ready. We need to work with schools and get them in place because a lot of young men and women aren’t getting the educational experience they need before they come to our colleges. We need to work with the community colleges to make sure that they, too, are getting young men and women ready and able to compete in the classroom.
“So we’re going to be rolling out with an anticipated implementation date of 2015 or ’16. We’re going to be working very aggressively from this point on with all of the high schools, all of the coaches in high school, all the communication means we have to work with parents and families so that students know that if they’re not prepared academically, they are not going to be eligible to play NCAA sports. If they are not eligible under the new standards but under the old standards, they can come to campus, receive financial aid, but they will not be allowed to play in competitions.’’
UConn should know its fate within two weeks, and questions on whether Calhoun would return under those conditions linger. Center Alex Oriakhi announced his intention to transfer because he might not be able to participate in the NCAA Tournament in his senior season.
Just how good is Kentucky, with another roster loaded with future NBA lottery picks? “This team could not beat one NBA team, not one,’’ said coach John Calipari, when asked about the Wildcats’ chances against the worst teams in the NBA. “The worst one in the league, we could not beat. There are good players on every team in this tournament and every other team has good players. The players are why they are here. We all have good players. The whole point of this is getting a group of players to play together.’’ . . . You want consistency? Try Kansas. The Jayhawks come to the Final Four with a 31-6 record, a streak of 23 years with 23 or more victories, and an average of 33 wins over the last five years . . . Ohio State and Kansas on Saturday will stage a rematch of a Dec. 10 game in which the Jayhawks prevailed, 78-67, at home. Buckeyes All-America forward Jared Sullinger did not play because of a sore back.
Words of wisdom?
Louisville won its first 12 games, which prompted freshman forward Chane Behanan to declare the Cardinals the best team in the country. Louisville then lost four of five games, including a 90-59 stunner to Providence. “I don’t regret saying it,’’ Behanan said on Thursday. “At the time, we were on a roll and undefeated. Coach [Rick] Pitino brought it up to me one time and we dropped it right there. Thanks for reminding me. Now I’m going to tell him that I don’t regret saying it right after this.’’Mark Blaudschun can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.