Otskey’s Observations: Episode VIIPosted by Brian Otskey on January 8th, 2014
Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.
Baylor Fails To Live Up To The Hype
When I saw the national polls come out this week I was stunned to see Baylor ranked No. 7. Yes, the Bears were 12-1 heading into last night’s Big 12 opener at Iowa State, but I was surprised more pollsters were not able to see through their smoke and mirrors. I rated Baylor No. 19 in the latest RTC Top 25 and thought it was generous given its resume. Of the team’s 12 wins, just three have been quality: Two came in Dallas against Colorado and Kentucky (certainly very fine wins) and one in Maui against Dayton. In other words, Baylor had yet to beat a great team away from home and last night’s game was actually its first true road contest of the season. Scott Drew’s team didn’t exactly validate its lofty ranking after being torched in the second half at Hilton Coliseum last night. BU’s interior defense, normally a strength, was horrendous against the Cyclones, particularly in transition. It almost seems as if Baylor was unprepared for Iowa State’s up-tempo style of basketball. Baylor is not a bad team by any stretch but there just isn’t enough consistency from game to game to warrant such a high ranking. The Bears do a lot of things well and a handful of things poorly. That keeps their ceiling low, despite a ton of talent on the roster.
Iowa State is For Real, But Just How Good are the Cyclones?
Speaking of Iowa State, how about the job Fred Hoiberg has done in Ames? In only his fourth year he has made his alma mater relevant in leading it to a top 10 ranking this week. The Cyclones are legitimate and DeAndre Kane is a big reason why. The Marshall transfer is making the most of his one year in Ames as one of the country’s best all-around players. After a season-high 30 points against Baylor last night, Kane seems to be getting even better. Hoiberg really can’t ask for much more from a senior who can run the team, rebound and score efficiently. Iowa State is obviously terrific at home but I would like to see this team perform on the road against better competition before I fully buy in. Don’t get me wrong, the Cyclones are a sure fire top 20 team in my view. However, their toughest road test to date was against a 9-7 BYU team in Provo. With five of their next nine games on the road, the Cyclones will be challenged in a big way against the likes of Kansas and Oklahoma State, as well as upstarts Texas and Oklahoma. While I believe Iowa State is very good, we will know a heck of a lot more about it when the calendar flips to February.
Michigan State Survives Ohio State
As if you needed a reminder, the Michigan State versus Ohio State game last night showed us just how special the sport of college basketball is. The Buckeyes turned what looked to be a Spartans’ blowout win into a test of survival for Tom Izzo and Michigan State. Using a feverish 20-3 push over the final seven minutes of regulation, Ohio State tied the game and nearly won it. While Aaron Craft will deservedly get the majority of the headlines, you have to give the whole team credit. It says a lot about a group to get down by 17 points against an elite team that is one of the favorites for the national title and come all the way back so quickly to tie them up in their own building. While Ohio State does have some issues offensively, nobody can deny this club’s heart and determination. The tone is set by Craft and Thad Matta and everybody has bought in.
In the overtime session, I thought it was questionable how often freshman Marc Loving was involved in the offense. While you can’t blame the kid for trying to help his team out, Craft (as the senior floor general) and Matta have to make an adjustment and get the ball in the hands of the veteran players in that situation. The onus also falls on Lenzelle Smith Jr. and LaQuinton Ross, both of whom were non-factors all game and combined to shoot 4-of-18 from the floor. Even on off nights, these players must step up and be more aggressive. Ohio State is not going to go deep in March if Smith and Ross remain inconsistent, despite the best efforts of Craft. In the overtime session, jus two of the 10 Buckeyes’ points were scored by one of their top four scorers on the season (a layup by Craft). Despite a great comeback to force the extra period, that is simply unacceptable. As for the Spartans, the shaky ending to this game does not change my view that they are the team to beat for the national championship come April.
Transfer Rules Need Clarity
I was pleased to read John Infante’s blog post about the NCAA considering altering the transfer rules that would affect men’s basketball. Transferring, for whatever reason, has become an epidemic in college basketball. In this age of instant gratification, many players who don’t see the playing time they expect as freshmen or sophomores don’t have the patience to tough it out and wait for their turn in the rotation. In recent years, the NCAA has been handing out “hardship waivers” like they’re Halloween candy. While undoubtedly some of these claims are legitimate, there are too many players and coaches trying to take advantage of the system. It appears the NCAA is moving in the direction of requiring the vast majority of transfers to sit out of competition for one year before suiting up for their new school. I think this is the best course of action. First, it allows the student-athlete to get situated at his new school and get acclimated to the campus life. Second, the player is not restricted from practicing, so it gives him a year to get up to speed on the new team’s style of play while becoming familiar with new teammates.
This is beneficial for both the player and the institution from both an academic and athletic perspective. While some coaches need instant help on their teams, they have nobody but themselves to blame for whatever situation they may find themselves in. After all, they recruit and are responsible for managing the roster. But the most important reason why transfers should sit out is the tampering and de facto free agency that occurs without a mandatory sit-out period. Coaches from other schools are incentivized to constantly interfere with players currently enrolled at another institution, which can hurt both the player and his current team. Just imagine if a standout player at a mid- to low-major school had high-major coaches breathing down his neck all winter long, trying to recruit him to their schools for the next basketball season. That would be an incredible disservice to the player and his current team. Some people will say that players should have no restrictions and transfer without penalty just as coaches change jobs regularly, but there is a huge difference in the two situations. Players are amateur student-athletes while coaches are paid professionals who sign contracts and are employed at-will. I’m glad the NCAA is seriously looking at ending most hardship waivers and requiring nearly all players to sit out one season upon transferring. Mark Emmert and his organization would be wise to not open the can of worms of a world without transfer penalties.