Four more conference tournaments got under way yesterday, resulting in 14 more eliminations (listed below) from the 2015 Circle of March. That leaves us with 306 eligible teams on the CoM, noting that it’s our standard that we do not remove teams until their seasons are over — therefore many Ivy League squads and several other teams that will not qualify for next week’s conference tournaments will remain with us through the weekend. Two more tournaments get started today — the Missouri Valley‘s Arch Madness in St. Louis and the MAAC in Albany — while the Patriot League, Atlantic Sun and OVC pick back up with their second days of tournament action.
The wonderful idea of ESPNU turns 10 years old this week. The reason I mention it as an idea is because it hasn’t exactly been what it was originally designed to be — you know, a network dedicated solely to the world of college sports. Now, while it is mostly revolved around everything college athletic competition related, the programming on it sometimes goes off the beaten trail.
All of that did make to do some pondering, though, which is an incredibly dangerous thing. What if ESPNU was scheduled the way it should be booked for a network designed to cover all things in amateur athletics? Don’t get me wrong either. I get why they do some of the things they do. As much as I dislike Colin Cowherd, he is put on that network to generate ratings, attention and other things that something like Katz Korner unlikely provides. I would argue that — if the network truly dedicated itself in a more proper way — that more broadcasts of college-only related material would work. In my opinion, and it may very will be only mine, is is ESPN’s lack of dedicating ESPNU in the correct areas that makes it the non-blood relative of the ESPN family of networks. ESPN is obviously the patriarch, with ESPN2 the spouse. I suppose it also makes ESPN Classic (I honestly don’t even know if that’s still a thing) a distant cousin. ESPN3 and Watch ESPN are like the cool in-laws — you really like them, but that has as much to do with consuming them whenever you want and never being over saturated with their presence. I could go on, but you get the idea.
Here is how we are going to go about booking ESPNU. I am going to go through a random day’s lineup. After each show I will say if it works, why it works, how it can be tweaked and some other nonsense. Now, with that being said, I should also mention that one of my true dislikes is ESPNU’s constant rerun approach, mostly because of its lack of original programming. There might be instances when I will like a program on the network, but when we book a day’s lineup to my suiting later, it will appear less in the day’s programming. For your information and reference I am using an actual 24-hour window of the channel’s broadcast lineup — as pulled from ESPN’s own TV listing section — for the reference of listings. Let’s start at 9:oo AM ET and take a look at their lineup.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions atThe Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Big Recruiting Weekend in Berkeley Already Paying Dividends
Three-star small forward Davon Dillardcommitted to California Sunday afternoon after watching the Golden Bears take down Oregon State on Senior Night. It was billed as the biggest recruiting weekend in three years in Berkeley and definitely the biggest weekend in Cuonzo Martin’s short tenure. Lacking a recruit in the class of 2015, California played host to its top target in Ivan Rabb, a 6’10” five-star recruit from the Bay Area, five-star power forward Caleb Swanigan, and the three-star Dillard. While Cal didn’t get the coveted commitment from Rabb, Dillard’s commitment keeps the positive momentum moving. In Martin’s first season, a NIT berth most likely awaits for the Golden Bears (17-12 overall; 7-9 in Pac-12 play). They will graduate their third-leading scorer in David Kravish and there is a good possibility that 6’5” junior Tyrone Wallace could leave school early for the NBA Draft. With Dillard locked up, though, the Bears will get a tough-minded and athletic forward who can finish above the rim and is also a threat from outside the arc. With one good commitment now in the fold, Martin can focus on landing a big man to replace Kravish. Rabb has been Martin’s top target from the moment he took the job in Berkeley and he will look to convince the Bishop O’ Dowd star to stay at home and help get his local school get back to the NCAA Tournament. Along with Cal, Rabb is also considering Arizona, UCLA, Kentucky and Kansas. While Rabb is in the mix for the Bears, it might be harder to sign Swanigan, who has visited schools all over the country including Arizona, Kentucky, Duke, Notre Dame and Purdue. In an extremely important weekend for the future of the program, California put together an impressive showing on the court and then locked up an athletic wing with Martin’s first recruit at the school.
Championship Fortnight got under way last night as the Atlantic Sun, Horizon League and Patriot League tipped off their postseason tournaments. Seven more teams were eliminated from contention for the 2015 National Championship, with Army, Jacksonville, Kennesaw State, Loyola (Maryland), Stetson, Wright State and Youngstown State riding off into the basketball sunset. Those three conferences will take a break tonight, but the starts of the America East, Big South, Northeast and Ohio Valley Tournaments will keep us engaged as another group of eliminations are scheduled. As of this morning, there are still 320 schools eligible for the ring. Note that it’s a CoM standard that we do not remove teams from the Circle of March until their seasons are over — therefore many Ivy League squads and several other teams that will not qualify for next week’s conference tournaments will remain with us through the weekend.
In a reminder that no program is immune from scandal, news came out on Monday morning that Rasheed Sulaimon, the only player ever dismissed by Mike Krzyzewski during his time at Duke, had been accused of sexual assault by two female students and that athletic department officials knew of the allegations in March 2014 (10 months before his dismissal). Neither of the women was willing to press charges reportedly for fear of a backlash similar to what Jameis Winston’s accuser experienced. Duke released a statement that essentially saying that federal law prevented it from discussing the case, which is about what we expected them to say while Krzyzewski offered three “no comment”s on a conference call. Duke has also said that the school and athletic department officials have done all that is required of them, which is technically true although they do seem to be using very broad definitions of laws and requirements as a means to not discuss the case. Plenty of people will be quick to attack Duke and Krzyzewski, but they are placed in a difficult situation. Should they have kicked Sulaimon off the team based on allegations from women who did not press charges or should they just let him play? The reported crimes if true are obviously horrific, but it is not much better to brand someone with the label of having sexually assaulted two women if he did not. As we have said before, this case will individually garner quite a bit of attention, but the bigger issue is the culture surrounding sexual assault that leads to women being afraid to press charges.
With its win over West Virginia last night Kansas won the Big 12 regular season title for the 11th consecutive season. The Jayhawks were helped out by Iowa State’s comeback victory (or Oklahoma’s collapse) on Monday that gave them at least a share, but last night’s victory gave them the outright title. The streak, which is approaching the 13 straight Pac-8/-10 titles that John Wooden’s UCLA teams won from 1967 to 1979 (they also picked up a few national titles during that stretch) is probably underappreciated nationally even if basketball writers continue to mention it. While most casual fans remember seasons by what happens in the NCAA Tournament, the consistent excellence that Kansas has shown over the past 11 regular seasons is probably even more remarkable.
With the season winding down many are focusing on Kentucky‘s place in history, but as John Gasaway notes in his Tuesday Truths there are several other teams having historic seasons. The most obvious of these is Virginia, which is in the midst of a historic 2-year run in the ACC, and if not for Duke scoring on 14 of its final 15 possessions in their comeback win (probably the most improbable run of the season) they would also be unbeaten. There are plenty of interesting figures in here including some teams who have put up better seasons statistically than you might suspect. Even if you aren’t someone who is into “numbers” it is an interesting and fairly simple look at how dominant certain teams have been.
The idea of moving back the start of the college basketball season in order to allow it to start without having to compete with the college football is hardly a new one, but we are always surprised to see the visceral backlash it creates. While we love March Madness moving it back by a month (or more) would not necessarily make it worse. The idea of doing it to allow for more studying by student-athletes or to improve attendance by players leaving for the NBA Draft seems to be a much smaller factor especially since many of these players are on year-round academic plans and a relatively percent are actually involved in the NBA Draft process. The biggest issue involved in moving the NCAA Tournament back a month would be that it would no longer benefit from having little competition from other sports as it does in March. Instead it would be going up against The Masters, NBA Playoffs, and to a lesser degree spring training. If you want to use that as a rationale against moving the college basketball season back, we would be willing to hear that argument, but we don’t buy the idea of sticking to the current schedule just because of tradition.
One of the many criticisms of the NCAA is how it preaches about the education of student-athletes and punishes them for poor academic performance, but typically lets schools slide when they try to circumvent the rules for their own gain. To that end the NCAA has put together a group of 20 college administrators to craft a proposal about how the NCAA should respond to such situations. This probably won’t (and shouldn’t) affect cases that are currently being investigated, but it should provide a warning to schools that they cannot manipulate their academic system just to improve their on-field performance. The actual enforcement of such a policy will be tricky because schools have a lot more to fight back against the NCAA than an individual student-athlete will, but this is at least a start.
The bubble is everywhere. You can’t escape it. Pick any site that covers college basketball, and one word inevitably appears when you visit it: “bubble.” Blind résumés are all the rage; Joey Brackets has taken over our TV screens; coaches inevitably plead with the Selection Committee in postgame press conferences. The bubble consumes us all. But as we hit the home stretch of the regular season, it’s important to not lose sight of what’s going on outside of those 15-20 teams that comprise the globule of uncertainty. Sure, it’s nice to make the NCAA Tournament, but just getting there only to get blown out doesn’t compare to winning championships. Winning the NCAA Tournament is the ultimate goal for any Division I program. Reaching a Final Four is a close second. The third and most attainable in the hierarchy of goals, though, is to win a regular season conference championship.
These Guys Know Something About Conference Championships (USA Today Images)
Regular season championships have become criminally devalued. Conference tournaments get all the buzz and corresponding attention because it is through those that teams punch their tickets to the Big Dance. But anybody can get hot and make a three- or four-game run next week. True champions are crowned over the course of a couple of months of games. This year we enter the final week of the regular season already with three outright champions among the power leagues: Kentucky has locked up the SEC; Virginia clinched an outright ACC title on Monday night; and Villanova is your Big East champion. Kansas has already clinched at least a tie in the Big 12, and barring something unforeseen, Wisconsin and Arizona are on track to win their respective conferences too. There are a few others, however, that should garner some of your attention.
AAC. The watered-down AAC has been pretty poor this year but it could end up with as many as four NCAA Tournament teams. Two of that group — Tulsa and SMU — are in contention for an outright conference title. The Golden Hurricane have been the surprise package, sitting atop the standings at 14-2. SMU, the preseason favorite, sits a half-game back at 14-3. Tulsa hosts Cincinnati on Wednesday before the perfect scenario could play out in Dallas on Sunday: Tulsa at SMU. The winner will be the top seed in the AAC Tournament in Hartford, and if Tulsa falls to the Bearcats in the midweek, this weekend’s game will be for an outright title.
Here’s hoping everyone who gave yesterday’s Circle of March crossword game a whirl yesterday found it exhilarating and it got you into the right mood for the next 35 days of Madness. Monday was all fun and games with the CoM, but today we get serious. Of the 333 teams that are eligible to win the 2015 National Championship, it’s time to start removing names from the list. There are 13 conference tournaments that begin action this week (see full online schedule here) — beginning with the Atlantic Sun, Horizon League and Patriot League tonight — and six teams residing in those 13 leagues were not invited to join the proceedings. They have been removed from today’s edition, leaving us with 327 remaining teams.
Note that it’s a CoM standard that we do not remove teams from the Circle of March until their seasons are over — therefore many Ivy League squads and several other teams that will not qualify for next week’s conference tournaments will remain with us through the weekend. But enough about that. It’s Championship Fortnight — let the Madness begin!
The penultimate weekend of the college basketball regular season gave #1 Kentucky, #2 Virginia, #4 Villanova, #5 Arizona, #6 Wisconsin, and #9 Wichita State an opportunity to either a guaranteed a share of a conference title or the outright crown. Kentucky moved its record to 29-0 and earned the SEC regular season title on Saturday with a dominating 17-point home victory over #21 Arkansas. Virginia guaranteed itself at least a share of the ACC title with a Saturday matinee victory over Virginia Tech in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers will attempt to win the title outright for the second straight year, hitting the road this week for games at both Syracuse and #16 Louisville. Villanova rebounded from a seven-point halftime deficit at Xavier to earn its 10th consecutive win and clinch the outright Big East title for the second consecutive year. Arizona earned itself at least a share of the Pac-12 crown with one of the most impressive road victories of the season. The Wildcats went to #10 Utah and scored a thrilling 63-57 triumph on Saturday evening. Wisconsin wrapped up a share of the Big Ten title Sunday — aided tremendously by National Player of the Year candidate Frank Kaminsky’s season-high 31 points — with a home victory over Michigan State. Finally, Wichita State showed Saturday afternoon that it is still the class of the Missouri Valley with a 74-60 home win over #13 Northern Iowa. With just one week to go in the regular season, it will be intriguing to see if Virginia, Arizona, and Wisconsin can become the outright champions of their leagues as well as what will happen in the crazy Big 12 race.
If you’ve been around with us for a while, you already know the premise behind this series; and if you’re not familiar with it, thanks for checking in! What we try to do with this series is to celebrate that March is now here and it’s time for postseason basketball to envelop our bodies and souls for the next five weeks until the sport crowns a new champion. As of today — the first Monday of Championship Fortnight — 333 of the nation’s 351 Division I men’s programs are eligible to win the 2015 National Championship. Those schools can be found somewhere on the below circle. Eighteen other schools are ineligible for the NCAA Tournament because they have low APR scores, are on a self-imposed probation, or are still transitioning into Division I. We have already removed those names and wish each of them the best of luck in making it onto the CoM in future seasons. Because we want every eligible team to get at least one day of run on the Circle, though, we have chosen not to formally remove any of the other already-eliminated schools until Tuesday’s Vol. II edition ahead of the start of conference tournament games. Bubble teams also won’t be removed until they’re officially disregarded by the NCAA Selection Committee in two weeks. It just seems nicer this way.
In previous years you might recall we added a game component to Volume I of the CoM (scroll through the last three Circles of March here). This year’s version is no different and so we’ve once again added a crossword puzzle element to it. See if you can locate the 10 names of coaches and players hidden within the Circle likely to make some noise in March (note: make sure to click on the image for a larger and clearer view). The first 15 people who tweet at us (@rushthecourt) or e-mail us (email@example.com) with the 10 correct hidden words will receive a free RTC t-shirt. For a bonus challenge, there are also four groupings of schools surreptitiously clustered in areas of the CoM that refer to the following: 1) the unbeaten national champions; 2) the schools currently riding a streak of two or more consecutive automatic bids; 3) the national champions with 10 or more losses; 4) the __________ (see if you can figure out the fourth cluster — it relates to NCAA Tournament appearances and Final Fours). Have fun!
Here is the 2015 Circle of March. Welcome to March Madness.
March is finally here. For those of you who have been slacking now is a very good time to cram in as much basketball before Selection Sunday. If the next two weeks seem overwhelming, we have an easy-to-use spreadsheet that lays everything out for you. Even if your team is in a conference that is not playing their conference tournament this week, it is worth keeping an eye on the games particularly later in the week because some of those could make a big difference in the bubble if a team that was expected to get an automatic bid is knocked off and then becomes a bubble team.
The big news from this weekend came from Kansas where Cliff Alexander is being held out of games while the school and the NCAA work through questions regarding Alexander’s eligibility. While Alexander’s performance this year has been underwhelming–particularly in comparison to what some other similarly highly-touted freshman have done in recent years–his absence would be a big loss for Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament and beyond. Simply put, legitimate 7-footers big men with athleticism are extremely rare and despite Alexander’s current limitations he does have the ability to carry his team for brief stretches. Much like Rick Pitino last week, we are hesitant to question Bill Self, but the loss of Alexander would limit Kansas’ ceiling albeit to a much-lesser extent than what Chris Jones’ absence will do for Louisville.
At this point North Carolina should just send the NCAA a drawing of a giant middle finger. The latest news from Dan Kane, who might be the least popular person in Chapel Hill, is that a senior associate athletic director helped a football player gain admission to a graduate school despite having a low GPA, no entrance exam score, and being several months past the application deadline. To make matters worse, the issue was brought up to the school’s provost, but instead of denying the admission he simply referred the official to the dean of the graduate school who admitted him in time after which he played in all but one of the team’s games, but regularly skipped classes while receiving Fs. While this appears to be the most egregious abuse of UNC’s graduate schools and the NCAA’s graduate school transfer waiver exception in this part of UNC’s ever-growing academic scandal, it was not the only case as it appears to have happened almost yearly with Justin Knox being another example, who may have been able to get into the graduate school anyways, but was past the application deadline and got in anyways. This probably won’t affect the NCAA’s decision given how many other things went on at the school, but it just makes the school look even worse and might be an issue that an accrediting body takes seriously.
On Saturday, Billy Donovanwon his 500th game with a win at home against Tennessee making him the second youngest to reach the figure (only Bobby Knight did it faster), but this might end up being his most disappointing season during his time in Gainesville. Coming into the season Florida was expected to be a top-10 team and potential Final Four threat. Now they will need to win the SEC Tournament to even make it to the NCAA Tournament and unfortunately for the Gators we suspect that a team from Lexington will be showing up for the SEC Tournament making that possibility seem like nothing more than a dream. The Gators did get one other piece of good news on Saturday with the return of Dorian Finney-Smith from a three-game suspension. Finney-Smith, who came into the game as the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.9 per game and leading rebounder at 5.8 per game, had 20 points and 10 rebounds and makes the Gators a threat to make a SEC Tournament run given all their talent, but in the end it probably will not matter.
Dwayne Polee II‘s comeback suffered a setback when the senior forward was noted to have “abnormal” readings on his implanted cardiac monitor necessitating an adjustment in one of his cardiac medications. Polee, who collapsed during a game on December 22, returned to action last weekend, but with this setback we are not sure how much longer he will be out. It isn’t our place to tell Polee to play or not (that decision is up to Polee, his doctors, and his family), but whenever we hear about cases like this we always think of Hank Gathers, who died on March 4, 1990 (Wednesday will be the 25th anniversary). Dick Jerardi wrote an excellent piece on Gathers and his legacy for Philly.com, which only serves to reinforce our concern in situations like this.
The Chris Jones story is quickly going from bad to horrific. The former Louisville guard who was suspended indefinitely for one game last week before returning to lead Louisville to a comeback victory over Miami on Saturday has been charged with raping one woman and sodomizing another later that night. These events appear to be unrelated Jones sending a threatening text message to another woman, which appears to be the cause of his indefinite one-game suspension. According to the school, Jones, who has pleaded not guilty, was dismissed from the team after missing a Saturday night curfew and they were unaware of the nature of the charges prior to his dismissal.
Being the son of LeBron James will lead to increased scrutiny particularly on the basketball court, but it appears that LeBron is ok with it up to a certain point, which appears to be college coaches recruiting his 10-year-old son LeBron James Jr. On some level part of this is due to James and other (like the John Lucas Camp) promoting videos of LeBron Jr. on social media. Even in the world of recruiting, reaching out to a 10-year-old is ridiculous especially when his father is among the most famous athletes on the planet and has access to any basketball figure he would like to speak to (ok, maybe not Pat Riley any more).
Nathan Power, the Kansas State student who intentionally ran into Jamari Traylor following Kansas State’s victory over Kansas, has been cited for disorderly conduct. It is unclear what kind of penalty Power, who apologized in the student newspaper, will face. At the very least we would expect that he will be banned from going to Kansas State games for the foreseeable future, but we are not sure if he will face a fine or any kind of disciplinary measures such as probation.
Over the years we have heard quite a bit about how Mark Few would never leave Gonzaga, but we have not seen a profile on Few that is in-depth as the one Jason King wrote. The picture that King paints of Few’s life at Gonzaga makes it seem unlikely that Few will be leaving any time soon. We are certain that some big school could offer Few more money and the possibility of becoming a NBA coach down the road (sorry, but we doubt that anybody is going straight from the sideline of the WCC to leading a NBA team), but it is usually not a good idea to mess with happy especially when Few is well-compensated and gets the chance to compete for a national title every year.
This week’s version of Luke Winn’s Power Rankings are lighter on statistical analysis than usual, but it does offer a nice concise look at the defenses of the top teams in the country. The analysis–particularly the strengths/weaknesses–might serve as a good tool if you are looking at potential NCAA Tournament upsets. Some of the analysis is obvious like Kentucky and Virginia having ridiculously good defenses, but many people might not take the time to think about the weaknesses that those teams have (yes, there are a few weaknesses even for those teams).
Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul, dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
1. Duke Attracts Five-Star Recruits For Rivalry Game
It was a great last Wednesday night in Durham. Not only did Duke notch a thrilling comeback victory against their Tobacco Road neighbors from Chapel Hill, but it also did so in front of a few high-profile recruits from the classes of 2015 and 2016. From this year’s senior class, five-star senior power forward Caleb Swanigan (No. 11) was in Cameron Indoor Stadium on an official visit along with Luke Kennard, a five-star shooting guard who has already committed to the Blue Devils. Last week we touched on some of the schools interested in the 6’8” Swanigan, but since then the Indiana native has taken in Purdue’s victory over Nebraska in addition to the UNC game. The Duke coaching staff is looking to add another big man to the mix to replace the expected loss of freshman superstar Jahlil Okafor. So far Duke has 6’10” Chase Jeter, a five-star power forward, locked up in addition to Rice transfer Sean Obi, who is currently redshirting after averaging 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds per game at Rice. In addition to Swanigan and Kennard, the Blue Devils also hosted Harry Giles, the No. 1 prospect in the junior class, as well as the top two point guards in the junior class in Derryck Thornton (No. 5 – 2016) and Dennis Smith (No. 6 – 2016). Giles and Smith are both local North Carolina products and have offers from both Duke and UNC in hand. Giles noted, “I’ve been to every Duke and UNC game at both places, and this was the craziest and best game,” he said. “I plan on attending the March 7th game at UNC, too.” It could have turned out to be a somber ending for Duke and its prized recruits in attendance, but instead they were treated to another Duke home win and a raucous celebration.
2. Derryck Thornton and Reclassification
While senior Caleb Swanigan was taking his official visit to Duke, junior point guard Derryck Thornton was making an unofficial visit all the way from Nevada. After the game, ESPN’s recruiting staff caught up with the two propsects with the most noticeable quote coming from Thornton. “They want to know if I would consider going to the class of 2015 because Tyus Jones could be leaving,” he said. “I believe I could take that step both academically and on the court. It’s something I definitely have to think about and discuss with my family.” That quote sticks out for a few reasons. While Tyus Jones was a top 10 recruit coming out of high school, his NBA stock wasn’t nearly as high due to concerns about his height and athleticism. Right now, DraftExpress lists him at No. 26 in the draft, but with his recent play Jones could be getting more serious about his draft potential. Duke has not recruited a point guard in the 2015 class yet, and given the aforementioned quote, Coach K is most likely trying to prepare his program for a possible departure. Thornton is one of the top point guards in his class and might be considered the best “pure” point as well. He has strong interest from Kentucky in addition to Louisville, California, and Miami. Will he think about re-classifying? Read the rest of this entry »