Trick or Treat: The Big East Schedule Edition

Posted by Todd Keryc on October 31st, 2013

In a little more than a week, the 2013-14 college basketball season will begin. Before it does, let’s take a closer look at the Big East schedule using today’s holiday to break it down.

TRICK: Non-Conference Play Will Mean More to Big East Teams This Season: You may have heard by now that a few prominent teams left the Big East this offseason. Of the top 10 teams from last year, six of them have left for other conferences. That includes two Final Four teams and five NCAA Tournament teams, with UConn’s APR issues being the reason for their exclusion, not their performance on the court. The departure of these perennial powerhouses means Big East teams will be missing important opportunities this year to register key wins against highly-ranked opponents. This puts added pressure on them to schedule serious non-conference games and to make those outings count, rather than relying on league play later on. Georgetown took note and did something smart, scheduling Michigan State for a neutral site game on February 1 in New York. They also have big non-conference games early against Oregon in South Korea and on the road at Kansas.

Thompson Got the Memo on Non-Conference Scheduling This Year

Thompson Got the Memo on Non-Conference Scheduling This Year

TREAT: A Chance to See A Couple of Old School Big East Rivalries: While most Big East fans were heartbroken when some of the league’s biggest names walked away, there is still the chance to see a couple of old match-ups unfold in non-conference play. Next week, Boston College visits Providence in their annual New England meeting, a rivalry that continued even when BC left for the ACC in 2005. On December 8, fans of New Jersey basketball will see their two premiere programs meet again as Seton Hall heads to Rutgers. The two biggest match-ups for Big East fans both involve old friend Syracuse. The Orange returns to its downstate home, Madison Square Garden, to take on longtime rival St. John’s on December 15. Then, on December 28, Syracuse is at home and will take on familiar foe Villanova.

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Pac-12 Team Preview: California Golden Bears

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) on October 31st, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings.

California Golden Bears

Strengths. I’m not going to sit here and tell you it is a good thing that shooting guard Allen Crabbe is gone after averaging 18.4 PPG last season. However, Crabbe’s departure opens the door for freshman two guard Jabari Bird, a five-star recruit out of Salesian High School (CA). If things go according to plan, Bird will be on the Pac-12’s All-Freshmen team next March. Providing strength, explosiveness, a high basketball IQ, and the ability to float to open areas on the court and hit from anywhere after doing so, Cal has another legitimate scoring threat to play along senior Justin Cobbs in the backcourt. Cobbs became more of a score-first point guard last season, and for the most part, it worked out just fine. If he nears the same type of production, this duo will be a lethal one.

Bird Needs To Live Up To The Lofty Expectations Put Upon Him If The Golden Bears Want To Go Dancing In 2012-13 (credit: Dennis Lee)

Bird Needs To Live Up To The Lofty Expectations Put Upon Him If The Golden Bears Want To Go Dancing In 2012-13 (credit: Dennis Lee)

Weaknesses. The Golden Bears have potential up front, but it is a very thin group. And this is where they go from an NCAA Tournament lock to the bubble. Richard Solomon and David Kravish are solid players but won’t do anything that jumps off the page, and after that it gets scary. Mike Montgomery will have to go small for the majority of games and desperately needs 7’0″ freshman Kameron Rooks to be ready immediately when the two starters need a break.

Non-Conference Tests. California will face five tough opponents in its non-conference schedule, four of which come within a one-week span. It’ll open Feast Week in Lahaina against Arkansas in the first round of the Maui Invitational, then face either Syracuse or Minnesota a day later. Gonzaga highlights the four options for its final game on the Islands before Cal returns home to face UC Irvine, a team projected by most to take the Big West. The final non-conference test will be played December 22 at Creighton.

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Rating the Pac-12 Coaching Hot Seats

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 31st, 2013

As a whole, it is pretty easy to see that the Pac-12 is on an upswing, with talent abounding and more than half of the conference teams optimistic about their chances this season. But in four spots around the conference, there are coaches in dire need of success in order to keep their jobs. Last year at this time, there were six coaches whose seats we deemed at least warm. Of those six, two are now gone, while the other four remain seated on toasty chairs. We’ll take a look at those four coaches and tell you just how worried they should be about their jobs this season, then go through the other eight schools briefly and tell you the state of the head coaching position there.

Johnny Dawkins, Stanford – Scalding. Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir made it quite clear last season that, while Dawkins would be returning for his sixth season on The Farm, there would be heavy expectations – namely, make the NCAA Tournament or else, something that Stanford has failed to do since the year before Dawkins arrived. The good news for Dawkins is that he’s got a fine team. The bad news is that this fine team is made up of mostly the same players who limped home to a 19-15 record last season.

Dawkins' Challenge Is Clear: NCAA Tournament or Bust (AP)

Dawkins’ Challenge Is Clear: NCAA Tournament or Bust. (AP)

Ken Bone, Washington State – Scorching. Last spring, Bone had to wait almost three weeks after his season ended to finally get confirmation from athletic director Bill Moos that he would be returning to coach the Cougars in 2013-14. In four seasons on the Palouse, Bone has compiled a tepid 70-65 overall record, winning just 26 of WSU’s 72 conference games over that span. In fact, the only reason Bone may still be around for this year is that Moos’ predecessor gave Bone a seven-year contract that would have required a $2.55 million buyout. With all-conference type Brock Motum gone, Bone will need to get significant improvement out of a guard-dominated lineup in order to stick around past this season.

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Knee Injury To ISU’s Ejim Thins Cyclone Frontcourt For Non-Conference Play

Posted by Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) on October 31st, 2013

One of the biggest keys for Iowa State this season is whether its defense will be good enough to make the Cyclones’ high-powered offense stand up. As someone who led the Big 12 in double-doubles last season, forward Melvin Ejim was going to be a big part of that objective. The preseason all-Big 12 selection led the conference in rebounding last season, but the Cyclones’ prospects of hitting the ground running were dealt a big blow when the team announced Thursday that the senior will miss four to six weeks after hyper-extending his left knee and suffering a bone bruise in practice Wednesday.

Iowa State will be without Melvin Ejim for at least one month following a knee injury. (AP)

Iowa State will be without Melvin Ejim for at least one month following a knee injury. (AP)

The injury will likely keep Ejim out of ISU’s most important non-conference battle, which comes against national runner-up Michigan at Hilton Coliseum on November 17. Barring something unforeseen, he’ll also be sidelined for the Cyclones’ tilt against BYU in Provo three days later. The recovery window pegs his probable return as either December 7 against Northern Iowa or December 13 for another intrastate game against Big Ten sleeper Iowa, though obviously that’s subject to change based on the recovery. In the meantime, look for Fred Hoiberg to try to patch his frontcourt together with one of his patented small lineups. Forward Georges Niang could slide up to the five spot, moving probable starter and JuCo transfer Dustin Hogue to the power forward slot. If Hoiberg finds that he needs a bigger body down low, junior Percy Gibson could see a bump in playing time, though he’ll be an offensive liability if he doesn’t improve from his mediocre sophomore campaign. The trickle-down effect could also push junior Naz Long into meaningful playing time.

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Where 2013-14 Happens: Reason #13 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 31st, 2013

seasonpreview-1

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2013-14 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. For the next three weeks, you’ll get two hits of excitement each weekday. We’ve captured what we believe were the most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. To see the entire released series so far, click here.

#13 – Where Going Batsh– Crazy Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-12, and 2012-13 preseasons.

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Big 12 Team Preview: TCU Horned Frogs

Posted by Kory Carpenter on October 31st, 2013

Where We Left Off: TCU’s first season in the Big 12 changed no one’s mind that the reason the Horned Frogs were the newest members of the Big 12 started with football and ended with the fact the school sits in the middle of the Dallas Metroplex. They never made much noise in the Mountain West, making a few NIT appearances in the 90s while still looking for their first NCAA Tournament victory since 1987. Most people predicted a steep learning curve after joining the Big 12, and most people would be correct. There was one bright spot last season, however, as the Horned Frogs stunned the college basketball world when they knocked off Kansas 62-55 at home on February 6. It was one of two conference victories for the Horned Frogs last season, and they finished a game behind Texas Tech for last place.

Trent Johnson Continues His Rebuilding Effort at TCU This Season (AP).

Trent Johnson Continues His Rebuilding Effort at TCU This Season. (AP)

Positives: Four-star recruit and freshman Karviar Shepherd was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA in early July, which appeared to end all hopes for a successful season for the Horned Frogs. Surprisingly, though, Shepherd won his appeal a few weeks later and was cleared to play this season. The 6’10”, 225-pound center had an impressive offer sheet coming out of high school that included Kansas, Marquette, Oklahoma State, Texas and UCLA. The Dallas native’s decision to stay home and play in Fort Worth gave instant credibility to head coach Trent Johnson‘s program, and could potentially lead to more highly sought-after Dallas recruits down the line. Joining Shepherd will be last year’s leading scorer Kyan Anderson, who averaged 12 points per game and was on the Bob Cousy Award watch list last season, recognized as one of the best point guards in the country. The duo should lead the Horned Frogs to a few more wins in the Big 12 this season.
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ACC Team Preview: Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets

Posted by Chris Kehoe on October 31st, 2013

Head coach Brian Gregory has a young team on the upswing in this year’s ACC. However, this Georgia Tech team is still too inexperienced and without enough depth to move far from the lower third of the league. The program has had its fair share of star power over the last few years, with Derrick Favors, Iman Shumpert  and Gani Lawal making the jump to the NBA. Unfortunately Tech has not quite been up to its usual standards as of late, a far cry from the 2003-04 powerhouse squad that romped its way to the national title game. Last season the Yellow Jackets were one game above .500 overall and went a relatively dismal 6-12 in conference play. They lost two starters at the guard position to graduation, but will likely be poised to be better this season thanks to the development of their duo of star freshmen and inclusion of seasoned transfer Trae Golden. Losing senior stalwart Mfon Udofia will not be easy, but he never quite played up to his high school scouting reports as a top-35 recruit and a top-10 point guard. Golden, a transfer from Tennessee, should be more than capable filling in for Udofia at the position.

Georgia Tech Preview

Georgia Tech began last season in ACC play with an 0-5 start, struggling in shooting the basketball both from two-point range and the line, finishing last in the ACC in both. This year’s team will revolve around how effectively their four best players perform. Sophomores Robert Carter, Jr. and Marcus Georges-Hunt will likely be the focal points, with Golden feeding them the ball early and often. Georges-Hunt is a slashing wing who is adept at finishing at the rim and not turning the ball over. The team’s leading scorer as a freshman, expect big strides from him this season. Carter Jr., on the other hand, is an interior bruiser with a soft touch who averaged close to a double-double and will only continue to grow in his second season. Matched inside with senior center Daniel Miller, Gregory will have one of the ACC’s more versatile and tough interior combinations. In terms of newcomers, none of the freshmen are expected to start this season, but highlighted arrivals  include 6’8” forward Quinton Stephens and New Hampton prep school product Travis Jorgenson. Off the bench expect athletic scorer Jason Morris to provide a needed punch in the second unit with his slashing and high-flying escapades. Backup point guard Solomon Poole should continue his career reserve duties, this time backing up Golden instead of Udofia.

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Big Ten Non-Conference Schedule Analysis: Part I

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 31st, 2013

Highlighted by the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge, the B1G non-conference slate is filled with intriguing match-ups that will the test each team in unique ways. Starting with Nebraska taking on “Dunk City” on opening night, and stretching deep into December, the teams from the conference will all face games ranging from a glorified scrimmage to an absolute test that will determine RPI and seeding in March, and influence the general perception of each team and the league as a whole. What follows is the first of a two-part breakdown showing what each team is up against before the league schedule tips off on New Year’s Eve. There’s no need to hypothesize when it comes to tournaments that involve different teams and who they might play; rather, let’s just look at games that are definitely going to be played.

The Michigan-Duke game will be one of the highlights on the Big 10 non-conference slate.

These Two Won’t Be Playing, But It Should Still Be A Good Match-Up

Illinois

  • Biggest Test: @ Oregon (12/14). With the news of Joseph Young receiving a waiver to play this season, this will be a difficult test for the Illini on the perimeter. The combination of Young, Dominic Artis, and Damyeon Dotson will cause nightmares for a lot of teams. Luckily, Illinois is deep here as they could go to their bench with freshmen Jaylon Tate, Kendrick Nunn, and wing Malcolm Hill to try and wear the Ducks’ perimeter players down.
  • Other Challenges: @ UNLV (11/26), Georgia Tech (12/3), Missouri (12/21). Highlighted by the annual border battle with Missouri, all of these games are winnable, and going 3-0 here would go a long way toward improving the cache the Illini would have with the selection committee in March. I’m not sold on UNLV or Missouri based on what they lost, and Georgia Tech will be better with Tennessee transfer Trae Golden running the point, but if Illinois can get to these teams with their superior depth, they’ll be able to win all of these.
  • Mid-Major Scare: Valparaiso (11/13). Valparaiso made the NCAA Tournament last year and has a future coaching superstar in Bryce Drew. If Illinois takes them lightly, they will get beaten even though the game is in Champaign.

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Examining ACC Teams in Early Season Tournaments: Part III

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on October 31st, 2013

As part of our preseason coverage on the ACC microsite, we will be looking at ACC teams competing in early season tournaments in a three-part series . Today we present Part III, which includes a look at the NIT Season Tip-Off, the Battle 4 Atlantis, the Barclays Center Classic, the Corpus Christi Challenge and the Wooden Legacy. Here are links to the earlier two parts in the series – Part I and Part II.

In this final look at ACC teams in early season tournaments let’s examine just how important these events may be to the conference this year. The topic of “Greatest Conference Ever” has been a popular discussion point for the rebuilt ACC. There are many popular measures used to compare conferences, including National Championships, Final Four appearances, conference RPI, and non-conference winning percentage. But most folks judge conference strength by the number of NCAA Tourney bids that are earned. So is there a correlation between a conference’s performance in early season tournaments and the number of NCAA bids they get?

Duke Celebrates the 2012 Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament Championship  (Photo Credit: cbssports.com)

Duke Celebrates the 2012 Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament Championship (Photo Credit: cbssports.com)

Looking at the last three seasons provides an answer. Over that time, the two heavyweight conferences have been the old Big East and the Big Ten. From 2011 to 2013, the Big East received 28 NCAA bids out of a possible 47 (60%), and the Big Ten is right behind with 20 out of 35 (57%). The ACC has lagged way behind those two conferences with only 13 bids out of 36 (36%). Over those same three seasons, seven different Big Ten schools have combined to win nine early season tournament titles. The Big East has also claimed nine titles with eight different schools. Ironically, only new ACC member Syracuse won more than one of those. Meanwhile the ACC only claims five such titles, and even worse for overall conference strength, Duke has won three of those. By comparison, the Big Ten won five tournament titles last year alone. Furthermore, the record-setting 11 bid Big East in 2010-11 won six early season tournaments, which clearly established it as the dominant conference of that season well before conference play even started. If the ACC wants to get to that level again soon, they need to start by winning four or five of these events for a change.

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Can the Michigan Offense Be Efficient Despite a Low Free Throw Rate?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti (@dee_b1g) on October 31st, 2013

During the 2012-13 Big Ten season, Michigan ranked second in offensive efficiency – scoring 1.12 points per possession. This statistic is even more impressive if you consider the Wolverines’ low free-throw rate as a team: according to Ken Pomeroy, only 29.2 percent of their field goal attempts resulted in a free throw, ranking 11th in the Big Ten in this category. Despite that poor free throw rate, they were efficient on offense because they shot lights out (54.1% eFG) and took care of the ball (14.1% turnover rate). The low free throw rate is not new under John Beilein, as his Wolverines have ranked almost last in this category (averages of 28.0%, 28.4%, and 29.2% since 2011). With the loss of Trey Burke, the Wolverines will have some key issues to address:

How Will Michigan’s Offense Perform Under New Direction?

  • Beilein needs a guard who can penetrate and kick out to the wings. The low free throw rate does not mean that the Michigan guards were standing around the perimeter firing up shots from beyond the arc. Rather, Trey Burke’s ability to beat his defender off the pick-and-roll to penetrate and kick out passes to the wings resulted in effective team long-range shooting (37.2% 3FG). Burke was able to get to the basket consistently, but also found shooters on the wing or used his floater to score. Going back to the 2011 season, Darius Morris, another crafty Michigan point guard, was fully capable of getting to the basket as well. But it appears that Beilein’s offense is ideally geared around drawing the wing defender to open easy looks in the corner, not just attack the basket to draw fouls on every possession. This strategy works well with talented and physical point guards such as Burke or Morris. Do the Wolverines have a guard who can draw defenders off the dribble this season? The answer is that there are only two guards capable of filling that role: Derrick Walton and Nik Stauskas. Walton certainly has the quickness to penetrate, but he may not be in full control just yet, which could result in a high turnover rate. Burke’s time in Ann Arbor was special because he created looks by taking care of the ball. Assuming that Walton makes standard freshman mistakes during the first couple of months, Beilein may turn to Stauskas to attack the basket and look for Glenn Robinson III on the wing. We know Stauskas has the handle to get into the paint, but his passing abilities haven’t truly been tested yet. Until Walton or Stauskas can prove that they can handle the ball effectively in traffic, the Wolverines’ offense will need to find other way to improve their free throw rate. Read the rest of this entry »
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The Big 12, Halloween Style

Posted by Taylor Erickson on October 31st, 2013

Ah, yes, the Halloween holiday is finally upon us. A time of the year when we all seem to be submerged in any type of pumpkin thing we can get our hands on. When most of the country is knee-deep in football season, except at schools like Kansas and Iowa State which have already thrown in the towel and turned the page to basketball. It’s the one time each year adults are allowed to rekindle the flame from childhood and dress themselves in literally anything you can imagine. In the spirit of this festive holiday, let’s take a look around the Big 12, Halloween style.

Trick:  Don’t fall for it, not even for a second. On Wednesday, The Sporting News released a slideshow of college basketball players in costumes they sported as kids many years ago. Scrolling through, you come across a young Brady Heslip, dressed as what would appear to be a lizard of some sort, and yes, he’s even rocking that great head of hair. While a juvenile Heslip appears awfully innocent, make no mistake about it, the grown-up version has a deadly stroke from behind the arc that consistently pains Big 12 foes.

Brady Heslip appears innocent, but will make you pay from behind the arc.

A young, innocent Brady Heslip, now deadly behind the arc. (Sporting News/Heslip family photo)

Treat:  Look at any national college basketball preview, and you’re bound to repeatedly see the names Andrew Wiggins and Marcus Smart. Those of us in the Big 12 will be treated (pun intended) to at least two match-ups between these college superstars, once on January 18 at Allen Fieldhouse, and again on March 1 at Gallagher-Iba Arena. There’s been no shortage of words between the two this preseason, along with head coaches Bill Self and Travis Ford, further magnifying what should be two absolute epic meetings between these schools in Big 12 play. Kansas fans were haunted during the latter half of the 2012-13 season by images of Smart back-flipping his way across James Naismith Court after the Cowboys pulled off the upset in Lawrence.  Here’s to hoping this year will provide plenty of new fireworks.

Trick:  If you’re familiar with the Big 12, chances are that you decided last season that West Virginia’s Mountaineer mascot stakes claim to the “best beard in the Big 12″ award. Make no mistake about it, his facial hair is Duck Dynasty-worthy, but a member of Kansas’ cheer squad is throwing a challenge flag in the direction of Morgantown. Don’t know what I’m referring to? Without further ado, we present you with KU’s yell leader, Cedric, or as he’s quickly become known among the KU fanbase, Thor (pictured below), who made his debut during the Jayhawks’ exhibition game on Tuesday night. We could go into further explanation, but the picture really speaks for itself.

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ACC Team Preview: Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Posted by Matt Patton on October 31st, 2013

Some members of the Wake Forest faithful put together money to fly a banner proclaiming “Fire Ron Wellman around BB&T Field at the beginning of October. Alas, at the last minute the air-advertisement company backed out, leaving the disgruntled fan sentiment grounded in a metaphor that seems perfect to describe Demon Deacon athletics as a whole. The hunt for Wellman’s job originally started because of his vocal support for head basketball coach Jeff Bzdelik. Bzdelik’s tenure in Winston-Salem has been abysmal (like, 1-24 on the road in conference play abysmal), but Wellman still supports him.

Wake Forest Preview 2013

Luckily, Bzdelik oozes charisma and makes great PR moves. Well maybe not. He did announce that Wake Forest won’t have a team captain this year despite having a four-year senior who has been one of the best players on the team since his freshman year. More than most jobs in the ACC, Wake Forest requires a coach that’s either willing to take a lot of risks or has that one in a million charm (put the two together, and you get the late Skip Prosser). Otherwise it’s too easy to get overshadowed by North Carolina, Duke and NC State just down the road. Bzdelik possesses none of these traits. Now it should be clear why a large portion of the fan base wants Bzdelik and Wellman gone.

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