Villanova is #1 in the AP Poll for the first time in school history. At no point in the successful tenure of Jay Wright or even back to the Rollie Massimino era have the Wildcats reached this kind of regular season heights. But Nova Nation shouldn’t be celebrating just yet. Since its magical run to the national championship in 1985, Villanova has spent time among the top 10 of the AP Poll in nine different seasons but only advanced as far as the Elite Eight twice in that span. In this year of nationwide parity, every fan base worries that it will be their team that will be an early upset victim in March, but that’s a feeling already well-engrained among Villanova faithful.
Josh Hart And Villanova Have It Rolling In Philadelphia (Photo: Getty)
Even as the Wildcats have steadily climbed the rankings this season, fans had reasons to be wary. This is, after all, a team with an eight-man rotation that prominently features two freshmen and a sophomore. It is also a team that scores more than a third of its points from beyond the three-point arc, but ranks among the 100 worst three-point shooting teams in the country by percentage (32.9%). Cold shooting nights – the fear of any jump-shooting squad — have proven to be Villanova’s kryptonite, as it has shot a paltry 22-of-80 (27.5%) from long range in their three losses this season. When the cornerstone of its frontcourt, Daniel Ochefu, missed several games with a concussion, it seemed like Jay Wright’s team might have yet another issue to contend with.
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 email@example.com.
Jonathan Isaac committed to Florida State last July, but the 6’10” small forward became a trending topic in the recruiting world last Friday. Interestingly, it wasn’t because of how the five-star senior (No. 10 – 2016) played in a game, nor was it because a ridiculous mix tape had been released. Instead, a Sports Illustrated report focused on the idea that Isaac was considering a bypass of his one-year pit stop in Tallahassee by making the direct leap from prep school to the NBA.
Isaac began high school in 2011, originally putting him in the Class of 2015 with such players as LSU’s Ben Simmons, Duke’s Brandon Ingram, Marquette’s Henry Ellenson. The talented wing played his first two years at Barron Collier in Naples (FL) prior to an additional two years at the International School of Broward (FL). He is currently spending this season, his fifth year of high school basketball, at IMG Academy.
NBA rules require U.S. players to be both a year removed from graduation from high school and at least 19 years old in the draft year to enter its draft. Since Isaac will turn 19 next October, he would meet that requirement. But there is some room for interpretation on the other requirement, specifically whether the NBA requires a player to be one year removed from actual graduation (which for Isaac, would set the clock ticking this spring) or one year removed from his original classes’ graduation (which for Isaac, was last spring). The NBA, for what it’s worth, weighed in with its position that Isaac is not eligible for this year’s draft.
While Isaac could have tested the waters of interpretation by taking a chance to follow a former IMG player (Satnam Singh) to the pros, Isaac instead seemed to put the debate to rest when he tweeted the following earlier this week:
Regardless of how this settles, Florida State has recruited a very good player. Isaac played on the famed E1T1 AAU squad, a team that has produced players such as D’Angelo Russell, Grayson Allen, and the aforementioned Simmons in recent years. Isaac averaged 13.9 points and 6.2 rebounds in the Nike EYBL, tantalizing observers with his skill set combined with great length. In the fall, Isaac participated in the USA Basketball Developmental Camp and was one of the most impressive prospects among a plethora of five-star recruits. He ran the floor with grace while showing off a tight jump shot.
Isaac will join two four-star recruits in shooting guard Trent Forrest (No. 92) and point guard C.J. Walker to form the No. 11 recruiting class in 2016. While current freshmen shooting guard Malik Beasley and small forward Dwayne Bacon might test their own NBA Draft status with the new rules allowing greater flexibility, a nucleus of Isaac along with that pair would make Florida State one of the most talented teams in next year’s ACC.
For now, Isaac will finish off his year at IMG Academy before beginning his All-Star travels. NBA scouts scoping his talents for the 2017 draft will get their first glimpse of Isaac in April at the Nike Hoop Summit practices.
It’s only fitting that in a college basketball season immersed with parity, there is little consensus anywhere in the RTC 25 as we head into the home stretch of the regular season. Look to the top of the poll and you’ll find three different teams receiving first-place votes; elsewhere in the Top 25, opinions range widely on perennial powers North Carolina (voted anywhere from #2 to #9), Arizona (some didn’t rank the Wildcats, others put them as high as #11), and Kentucky (votes ranged from #14 to out of the poll). There’s even a split opinion on perhaps the bluest blood of all, as Duke finds itself right on the boundary of ranked and unranked. The Blue Devils’ Monday night victory over #14Louisville will help edge them towards the better side of that cutoff, but note that these rankings were put together before all Monday action. Besides the boost for Duke, this also means that #1 Oklahoma won’t get bonus points for surviving #23 Texas late Monday. The Sooners kept pace for a night, but Saturday’s visit from #9 Kansas is one of a number of matchups this week that has the potential to shake up the polls once again. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.
The big news over the weekend (ok, technically it came out on Friday afternoon) was Louisville‘s decision to self-impose a postseason ban for this season as the result of its prostitution scandal. While they aren’t the first school to self-impose a ban during the middle of the season (a team from their own conference–Syracuse–did it last year) the decision to do it for a team that has the potential to make a run in the NCAA Tournament is a little unusual particularly since the NCAA would never have come to a decision before the season ended. There are several obvious issues: what the school knows that made it make the decision now, how unfair it is to the players (particularly the graduate transfers), and whether the NCAA will take this into consideration if and when they announce any sanctions. For his part, Rick Pitino put the blame on the NCAA (instead of pointing the finger at himself) and suggested that the programs should be fined $10 million and the coach should be fined 50 percent of his salary. While we can appreciate that in theory, we would love to see Pitino step up and give back 50 percent of his salary to some charitable cause.
The other big news of the weekend was Iowa State‘s decision to suspend senior forward Jameel McKay indefinitely as the result of something that happened at a practice on Thursday afternoon. McKay, the Big 12 Defensive Player of the Year last season, has averaged 12 points, 9 rebounds and 1.7 blocks per game this season. As with any “indefinite suspension” the main question is how long that suspension will be. According to a tweet from McKay, it might end up being just one game. While the school has not addressed the duration given how vocal McKay has been about the length of the suspension without a correction from the school we tend to believe him.
While Bruce Pearl has done a good job winning over the media during his time at Auburn, the on-court results have been less impressive. The latest setback comes in the form of Kareem Canty, the team’s leading scorer at 18.3 points per game, being suspended indefinitely. The school did not specify the reason for the suspension, but Pearl said Canty’s “effort and attitude have been extremely inconsistent, which led to actions and behavior that are unacceptable.” Pearl has already suggested the possibility of Canty coming back on the team later this season so we don’t think this suspension will last that long.
Players of the caliber of McKay and Canty can get away with certain things, but when you have minimal contributions and repeatedly get in trouble sometimes you run out of forgiveness as Daquan Cook found out when he was dismissed fromUNLV for unspecified reasons. Cook, who has either been injured or suspended recently, was let go by interim coach Todd Simon and had been suspended for the first two months of the season after getting arrested over the summer on DUI charges. Cook is expected to graduate this spring and could theoretically try to go to another program, but we doubt anybody significant would take him given all the baggage he has.
Pete Thamel’s report that FSU commit Jon Isaaccould try to enter the 2016 NBA Draft has not gathered a lot of attention yet, but it is certainly something worth watching. Isaac, a top-10 recruit who is just 18, but will be eligible because he entered high school in 2011 even though he has not graduated high school yet (just needs to be one year removed from his class graduating), is going to utilize the new rule that gives players the option of entering the NBA Draft, but then withdrawing their name at a later date than previously allowed. It will be interesting to see if more players utilize this although Isaac is an unusual case because of his age and year entering high school.
It might be Super Bowl week to everyone else, but to those of us around here it’s the beginning of the home stretch of the college basketball season. In this week’s RTC Podcast, hosted by Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114), the guys talk extensively about a few teams with their share of both supporters and detractors — Indiana, Louisville, and Texas A&M — as well as take a deep dive into last weekend’s Big 12/SEC Challenge and how the ACC is stacking up this season. The full rundown is below, and make sure to subscribe to the pod on iTunes so that you’ll have it as soon as it releases each week.
What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.
SEC/Big 12 Challenge
The midseason SEC/Big 12 Challenge took place last weekend, giving teams from both conferences a chance to prove themselves in a high-profile event. The highlight of the weekend was surely Oklahoma’s surge to beat LSU in overtime, as senior Buddy Hield poured in 32 points and pushed still closer to legendary 50-50-90 Club (50% 3FG, 50% FG, 90% FT). While Hield’s late flourish stole the show, it may have been Texas A&M that proved the most. Behind 20 points from guard Danuel House, the Aggies, lacking a signature win, cemented themselves as one of the best teams in the nation with a 10-point win over Iowa State. Overall, the Big 12 took the bragging rights with a 7-3 victory, and the event was a resounding success.
I'm loving the midseason Big 12/SEC Challenge. I propose they do the same thing in football — on the third Saturday in November.
As we enter February and March looms large, the identities of teams begin to crystallize both on the floor and in our minds. Sure, things can always change, but with over 20 games for most teams already in the books, it’s safe to say we know who these teams are. But those assumptions aren’t always right. Due to scheduling oddities, injuries or just plain poor judgment, the conventional wisdom on certain teams isn’t necessarily correct. So here is a rundown of several teams that are likely to be exposed as either underrated or overrated as we enter the stretch run of the regular season.
Kris Dunn’s rise has been meteoric, but has his team followed? (USA TODAY Sports)
Providence (18-5), ranked #11 — The AP Poll will tell you that the Friars are #11 in the country. Joe Lunardi will tell you they’re a #4 seed. But we’re here to tell you they aren’t that great (ed. note: this was written before last night’s loss at DePaul). For a team led by the great Kris Dunn, Providence is a shockingly bad offensive team, with an offensive efficiency that ranks just 118th nationally. Moreover, of its six Big East wins, five have been by four points or fewer or came in overtime. That probably means that Dunn is clutch and the Friars know how to win close games, but it also means that they’re keeping games closer than a borderline top 10 team should. This is reflected in the Friars’ low KenPom ranking of #47 (it was #39 prior to the DePaul game). Besides, as talented as this team is, Ed Cooley has never lacked for talent. What he has lacked is success. Don’t be surprised if that trend continues down the stretch.
Pittsburgh (17-4), unranked — Three weeks ago, the Panthers were 14-1, ranked #20 in the national polls and had the nation’s fourth most efficient offense. Six games later, that offense has fallen to 19th in efficiency and the Panthers are simultaneously falling off the map. Aside from an 18-point loss at Louisville, Pitt has yet to play any of the ACC elites, and should count itself extremely lucky to be 6-3 including close wins against Georgia Tech and Florida State. However, the good teams are coming. The Panthers will play Virginia, North Carolina, Miami, Duke and Louisville in February. Their current best win is one of games at home to Syracuse or at Notre Dame, but more wins are going to be hard to find down the stretch. The Panthers could see themselves on the bubble very soon.
The Big 12 backed up its best league in college basketball label on Saturday with a 7-3 victory over the SEC to clinch a third straight Big 12/SEC Challenge victory. While there were a number of close games, all of the Big 12 home teams held serve and, of the three road losses, one was in overtime and the other was a back-and-forth affair until the final few minutes. The interesting takeaway from the event is its timing during the last weekend in January — stuck in the midst of conference play, it represents more than an early season measuring stick but it’s not quite the postseason either. Here’s a look at some of the fallout for several of the participating teams.
Kentucky and Kansas Played a Classic in Lawrence Saturday Night (USA Today Images)
Kansas and Kentucky’s Seeding Implications. First of all, let’s do this on campus every second and third year. It was a refreshing break for this overtime matchup to take place outside of the sanitized Champions Classic in mid-November and it completely delivered. Everyone already knows the Wayne Selden (33 points on 12-of-20 shooting) and Tyler Ulis (26 points, eight assists, but two key turnovers down the stretch) angles, so let’s look at this from a bracketing perspective. Kansas will stay in the #1 seed hunt (its resume is shockingly identical to that of Iowa) but with Oklahoma currently profiling as the top overall seed, the Jayhawks will likely need to beat out the Sooners for one or both of the Big 12 titles. Kentucky remains somewhere between its dominant #1 seed and middling bubble team years, but they’ve been trending more in the direction of the former than the latter over the last couple of weeks. John Calipari won’t care about that after leading for most of the second half of Saturday night’s game, but his team couldn’t hold on down the stretch of regulation nor withstand foul trouble in the extra session.
College basketball is one of those sports where no development should really surprise anyone. Things can change on a dime and unexpected occurrences are the norm. For example, the way in which the conference season has played out for #25 Duke has been a shock to the system. Mike Krzyzewski’s squad dropped to 4-4 in ACC play last Monday when it was toppled by #16 Miami (FL) on the road. A road loss to the Hurricanes is nothing to worry about on its own, but grouped with losses to Clemson, Notre Dame and Syracuse, it is part of a more troubling trend. Things have a chance of improving this week, as Duke figures to be the favorite in a trip to Georgia Tech on Tuesday and at home with NC State on Saturday. On the contrary, a loss in either of those games would put Duke dangerously close to the bubble. This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump.
Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week throughout the season 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.
It’s par for the course when four-star center and future McDonald’s All-American Udoka Azubuike throws down a rim-rattling dunk. While his game can be loud, his recruitment was certainly quiet. On Thursday evening, the 6’10”, 270-pound center chose Kansas over UNC and Florida State on ESPNU. In a recruitment that was kept extremely close to the vest, neither college coaches nor recruiting experts knew where the Florida standout was headed. With the commitment, Azubuike becomes the second Jayhawk commit in the class of 2016 in addition to three-star forward Mitch Lightfoot and provides immediate depth in the front-court. Given his size, Azubuike is a load to handle down low and is a beast on the low blocks. He’s capable of ripping the rim down with two-hand dunks but is limited offensively outside of the paint. While playing for the top Nike AAU team this past season in the Georgia Stars, Udoka averaged 13.1 points and 7.6 rebounds per game.
2. Big Time Match-Up In Southern California
A lot has been written this year about the Ball brothers and Chino Hills, the current No. 1 team in the country. On Saturday they will face a tough test against Bishop Montgomery (CA) who is currently the No. 2 ranked team in the state. The Chino Hills machine is a run-and-gun, offensive juggernaut that is led by Lonzo Ball, the No. 14 ranked player in the country and future UCLA Bruin. Along with Lonzo, his younger brother Li’Angelo is also headed to UCLA. Much different than his brother in body frame and playing style, Li’Angelo isn’t afraid to let it fly from deep and can also punish defenders down low with his tight end body. Bishop Montgomery is led by junior four-star guard Ethan Thompson, who is the brother of Oregon State guard Stephen Thompson Jr. Also, 6’4” sophomore shooting guard David Singleton is receiving a bevy or PAC-12 interest so far in his young career. While the gym will be packed for this match-up, fans will also be treated to a nice appetizer before with two highly touted sophomore. 6’8” Shareef O’Neal (yes, Shaq’s son) and 6’5” Jules Bernard suit up for Windward (CA) and will give fans a glimpse of the future in the state.
What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.
This past Saturday’s game in Lincoln was Nebraska’s #AveryStrong game to raise both money and awareness for victims of pediatric cancer. Avery’s father is Chris Harriman, a former Nebraska assistant who is now at New Mexico. Avery, seven years old, has already suffered through and beaten Leukemia three times. It’s pretty cool to see Nebraska continue its tradition of honoring Avery, even though his father is no longer in Husker red.