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College basketball insider: NYC is Coach K's kind of town

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'American Coyotes' Series

Traveling by Jeep, boat and foot, Tribune-Review investigative reporter Carl Prine and photojournalist Justin Merriman covered nearly 2,000 miles over two months along the border with Mexico to report on coyotes — the human traffickers who bring illegal immigrants into the United States. Most are Americans working for money and/or drugs. This series reports how their operations have a major impact on life for residents and the environment along the border — and beyond.

Monday, Dec. 23, 2013, 10:00 p.m.

Duke defeated UCLA last week in a regular-season game at Madison Square Garden. Last month, Duke lost to Arizona in the Preseason NIT championship game, also played at Madison Square Garden. Who knows? The Blue Devils could be fortunate enough to play in New York City three times this year.

Duke will have to reach the NCAA Tournament (a near lock) and be assigned to the East Regional (not a lock) for that scenario to occur. The East Regional semifinals and final are scheduled for March 28 and 30 at MSG.

Maybe that's what Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski had in mind when he scheduled the Blue Devils to play in the Preseason NIT and face UCLA in the CARQUEST Auto Parts Classic a month later where the East Regional semifinals and final will be held.

During the preseason, Krzyzewski scheduled a five-day fall break trip for his players to New York and West Point, where Krzyzewski attended college.

For years, there has been speculation of a East Coast bias favoring Duke regarding the NCAA Tournament. The Blue Devils were regulars at the Meadowlands when it hosted the East Regional.

Duke has no assurance of playing in MSG — or the East Regional, for that matter. In fact, this year would be the Blue Devils' first appearance in the East Regional since 2009, when it was played in Boston. That year, Duke lost to Villanova in the regional final.Beware of Belmont

Saturday's 93-80 loss at Kentucky in no way diminishes Belmont's season.

Sure, coach Rick Byrd's team fell to 8-5 after the setback in Lexington, Ky., but the Bruins led by as many as 11 points on the road, held the lead at halftime, and shot 47 percent.

Kentucky, despite featuring a host of All-Americans on its roster, needed to shoot 26 for 36 from the foul line to rally for the win.

Add the fact that Belmont upset North Carolina, 83-80, in November. Then consider that the Bruins of the Ohio Valley Conference have made six trips to the NCAA Tournament in eight years.

Don't be surprised to see Belmont in this year's tournament, and don't be shocked if the Bruins knock off a higher seed when they get there.

No do-over for Hairston

Before P.J. Hairston made some ill-advised off-court decisions that ended his career at North Carolina, he made another decision that also altered his career path.

Hairston seriously contemplated entering the 2013 NBA Draft before concluding that pro scouts needed to see more of his game. Not assured of being a first-round selection, Hairston opted to remain in school for his junior season.

However, North Carolina coach Roy Williams suspended Hairston in July for driving rental cars provided by third parties. One of those third parties was a felon Hairston knew as a party promoter. Their association was uncovered after Hairston was involved in several traffic incidents.

Hairston, who didn't play this season, hoped Williams would reinstate him. Instead, Williams kicked Hairston off the team for good.

Winning big at the top

Parity might be alive and well in college basketball, but members in five power conferences have played exceedingly well this season.

Among the 63 teams representing the ACC, Big 10, Big 12, Pac-12 and SEC, 60 have winning records entering this week's games. In three of the five leagues, every team has a winning record.

That leaves three teams with losing records: Boston College (4-8) in the ACC, and Alabama (5-6) and South Carolina (3-5) in the SEC.

Holy Toledo

In 2010, Toledo coach Tod Kowakzyk had only seven scholarship players and finished his first campaign with a 4-28 record.

Three years later, Toledo (11-0) is among a handful of undefeated teams in college basketball.

The high-scoring Rockets are No. 7 nationally in scoring, averaging 86.4 points. Junior point guard Julius Brown (7.4) ranks fifth in assists.

With its most impressive victory coming against Boston College, Toledo probably won't receive too many top 25 votes. And with a road game Dec. 30 at Kansas, the Rockets probably won't be undefeated much longer.

But considering where the Rockets have been — and where they appear to be headed — Kowakzyk and Co. make for one of the best feel-good stories of the season.

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