Is UMass Finally Ready To Bust Out?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 14th, 2013

Trendy sleepers only stay trendy for so long. After receiving preseason love as an Atlantic 10 darkhorse before each of the last two seasons, the UMass Minutemen watched that buzz quiet a bit this time around. That’s not to say UMass was expected to struggle this season – they were picked a respectable fourth in the A-10 Preseason poll – but the familiar makeup of this group of Minutemen left many wondering how they could possibly carve out a different, happier ending from that of years past. Well, fast forward a week into the season and take a nice whiff of the optimism emanating from Western Massachusetts. Opening week victories over BC and LSU don’t make UMass anyone’s team of the week, but they do show this team’s capability (thus far, at least) to do something their predecessors could not – handle their business in the non-conference. March fates are rarely decided in the second week of November, but take notice, even if it is a year or two past schedule: That sleeper may finally be waking up in Amherst.

Chaz Williams Has One Final Chance To Lead UMass Back To The NCAA Tournament For The First Time Since 1998; Does A Strong Opening Week Mean Williams And Company Are Ready To Make It Happen?

Chaz Williams Has One Final Chance To Lead UMass Back To The NCAA Tournament; Does A Strong Opening Week Mean Williams And Company Are Ready To Make It Happen?

A couple of 9-7 records in Atlantic 10 play (UMass’ finish in both 2012 and 2013) are rarely part of the recipe for an at-large bid to the Dance, but in each of the last two seasons, the more damning portion of the Minuteman resume was not their so-so in-conference performance. Two years ago they posted just one top-130 victory before January (a home win over Davidson), while striking out on opportunities against top-50 foes Florida State and Miami (FL). Last season’s non-conference effort was marginally better, but wins over Harvard, Providence and Ohio should not be the pre-conference highlights for a team with serious NCAA Tournament aspirations – especially one from a non-BCS conference. Making matters worse, the chances were again there for Derek Kellogg’s club, but losses to NC State, Tennessee, and Miami (FL) all came by double figures. Once again, those touting the Minutemen were quickly made to look too ambitious.

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Let’s Talk Early Returns on Officiating and the New Foul Rules

Posted by Brad Jenkins (@bradjenk) on November 13th, 2013

Ken Pomeroy has an interesting post on his website concerning the early effect of the enforcement of new rules regarding contact by the defender. He acknowledges that the sample size is very small, but he basically compared all the Division I games last weekend with a similar number of games to start last season. Scoring is up by about 4.5 points per team while tempo has only increased by about one possession per team. Therefore almost all of the scoring increase is because of an increase in fouls called, which has resulted in nearly nine more free throw attempts per game. With the number of possessions and field goal attempts remaining steady, the tradeoff has come in fewer turnovers, specifically those caused by steals. Overall, it appears that officials are calling fouls for defensive contact that last year resulted in steals.

Karl Hess and Other Officials are Working with Players on New Rules

Karl Hess and Other Officials are Working with Players on New Rules (Photo: flickr.com)

Many coaches have expressed concerns with the new rules, mostly regarding consistent enforcement. That is a reasonable worry since college basketball has no organized governance structure over officials during the regular season, with assignments made by individual conferences. There is, however, a national element with respect to the NCAA Tournament. Those officiating assignments are made by NCAA director of men’s basketball officiating, John Adams, who sounds like a supporter of the new rules. On Monday’s ESPN College Basketball Podcast, Tom Izzo and Bill Self both expressed concerns with how officials will call fouls. There was even a suggestion that the NCAA might want to make an example of the new officiating style by calling the Champions Classic games closely and putting all the stars on the bench with foul trouble. Last night’s games totaled 46 and 53 fouls, respectively, a high number (the season average thus far is 42) but not completely off kilter. And really only Michigan State’s Adreian Payne spent much of crunch time in foul trouble (Duke’s Jabari Parker fouled out late, but Kansas had already surged ahead at that point). John Calipari had a different take, basically echoing what Jay Bilas has been saying: “If you don’t want fouls to be called on you, then just don’t foul.” Sounds simple enough.

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Champions Classic: Keeping Some Perspective With Tonight’s Games

Posted by nvr1983 on November 12th, 2013

We hate to have to do this because we really love college basketball and we embrace the fact that so many people are excited about this season due to the influx of elite freshmen talent. But we feel like we have to tell you that the Champions Classic is not going to be what everybody wants you to believe. By now you have probably read dozens of columns hyping this event as the best early-season match-up in college basketball history — which at some level it is — and hundreds or thousands (depending on how much time you have on your hands) of message board discussions talking about the implications of these two games. Unfortunately, in the grand scheme of things these two games might be a whole lot of fun but they’re mostly meaningless.

Hype

The Hype Machine is in Full Throttle This Week

Now this is not to say that the games and the participants playing in them won’t be interesting. According to some reports nearly 80 NBA personnel are expected to be in attendance to watch Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker along with at least a half dozen other potential NBA lottery picks in action. And of course there are the four blue-blooded programs with their Hall of Fame coaches (don’t worry, Tom Izzo, Bill Self, and John Calipari will all be joining Mike Krzyzewski in Springfield someday). On top of that nearly every major college basketball media outlet will be represented as well as quite a few NBA media members. Obviously, they can’t all be wrong. Right?

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Preseason All-America Teams Are All Fine and Well Except For Being Right

Posted by Bennet Hayes on November 7th, 2013

seasonpreview-11 There is no more optimistic time on the college basketball calendar than the final days leading up to the season. Players feel confident in their readiness for the five-month grind ahead, coaches are left to dream only of best-case scenarios (and often, better), and fans and media are fully entitled to the prognostications of their choosing. It is an undeniably exciting week for a number of reasons, but one item that always adds to the enthusiasm of the days leading up to the year is the unveiling of the Preseason All-America teams. Recognizing the individuals most likely to influence the season ahead not only makes for great banter as we begin the year, but also energizes the players and programs included on the lists. But for all the attention paid to these preseason All-American lists, how much do they really matter come January, let alone March? If the precedent of the past 10 years means anything, we should be compiling these teams with the firm knowledge that they are very much subject to change.

Marcus Smart's Unanimous Selection To The AP's Preseason All-American Team Should Make Him A Safe Bet To Also Be An All-American Come April, Right? Not So Fast -- 34 Preseason All-Americans From The Last Decade Could Tell Smart It Doesn't Always Play Out That Way

Marcus Smart’s Unanimous Selection To The AP’s Preseason All-American Team Should Make Him A Safe Bet To Also Be An All-American Come March, Right?

Most major media outlets generate a preseason All-American team (including us here at Rush the Court), but the Associated Press selections are typically considered to hold the most prestige. In the last 10 seasons, exactly one in three (17 of 51) AP preseason All-American First Teamers found themselves on the postseason team five months later. If we include only the last seven seasons, that percentage drops to just 25 percent, and twice in that span have the AP postseason squads gone without even one of their preseason members. Furthermore, half of the preseason teams in those two chaotic years (2006-07 and 2009-10) failed to make an appearance on either the second or third teams at the end of the two seasons. So yes, there is a simple lesson here: Inclusion on the preseason All-America team does little to ensure a spot on the more informed March iteration of the squad. Why is the preseason/postseason double such a difficult feat? Could the preseason honor actually make the ultimate recognition harder to receive? Read the rest of this entry »

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The NCAA is Changing — With or Without a Division IV

Posted by Chris Johnson (@chrisdjohnsonn) on November 4th, 2013

Division I college athletics are entering a period of change. Anyone who pays attention knows this to be true. And those who don’t, well, surprise! Acknowledging the prospect of change is one thing; knowing exactly how the NCAA will change is entirely another. As recently as this summer, conference commissioners hinted at the possibility of the formation of a new NCAA subdivision. It was to be called Division IV, reports suggested, and it would be created with the express purpose of allowing wealthier schools with more resources to operate under a different set of rules. The idea that all of Division I – whose institutions range from penny-pinching programs like Grambling State to, um, Texas —  should be forced to abide by the same rules always seemed silly. Conference commissioners were simply airing the obvious truth that’s been kept below the surface over years of clunky, uneven, inefficient NCAA governance.

Momentum behind the Division IV concept seems to have subsided. The possibility the NCAA will change remains high. (AP)

The big boys wanted their own sandbox to play in, somewhere the little guys couldn’t impede the passage of important measures such as cost-of-attendance stipends or unlimited training table meals. They wanted to be able to make decisions about rules and regulations without having to worry about smaller schools with comparatively microscopic budgets – including one so far removed from the major conference realm it asks its students to fork up extra money to help allay the “financial emergency” within its athletic department – getting in the way. All of this made sense. A new subdivision of college athletics was coming, and we were all going to need to learn how to live with it. Read the rest of this entry »

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Halloween Tricks and Treats For Hoops Fans Everywhere

Posted by rtmsf on October 31st, 2013

As an army of ghosts, goblins, witches and werewolves prepares to descend upon neighborhoods from coast to coast, we thought it might be worthwhile to hand out a few tricks and treats of our own before the autumnal extravaganza begins in earnest this evening. We’ve got a basket full of goodies to give away, but not everybody in our neighborhood is deserving of the full-size candy bars and gummy worms we have in our cache. Some of the trick-or-treaters in College Basketball Nation are frankly more deserving of healthy sweets (yay, fruits!) and some brand-new toothbrushes. Let’s take a look:

jackoball

TRICK: Our first trick goes to Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson, who will receive a Costco-sized package of Dove from us this Halloween. With a mouth as profane as his, Henderson could stand to abide any good grandmother’s advice and wash his mouth out with a plentiful helping of soap. His act is one part entertaining and three parts tiresome, so let’s knock on wood to hope that he figures out a way this season to let his highly-impressive (and efficient) game do his talking.

TREAT: It’s still October, so we’re going to hand out treats in the form of a bag of candy corn (it’s striped, after all) to our intrepid game officials. The new rules instituted this offseason by the NCAA to eliminate hand-checking on the perimeter and bumping of cutters is designed to improve player movement and make the game more free-flowing. The NBA went through a similar transformation during the last five years, and the preponderance of open-floor offenses in the league has made the professional game a much better product as a result. Now, the zebras just need to implement it. Like we said, it’s still October.

TRICK: Some trick-or-treaters simply can’t get past others’ success, and they’re smaller for it. There’s no narrative more annoying in college basketball these days than the “[John] Calipari cheats” meme. The Kentucky head coach hasn’t always been an uber-recruiter (he had one legitimate NBA player in eight years at UMass), but he has always been a winner (at least in the college game). Yet many people in and around the sport simply won’t let go of the idea that he is some kind of masterful Dr. Evil on the recruiting trail, offering “one millllll-ion dollars” to the best prep talent the US has to offer. For these people, we’re giving out black licorice vines in the hopes that the candy stains their teeth as much as bitterness has stained their souls.

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Josh Smith’s Clearance a Game-Changer On and Off the Court

Posted by Bennet Hayes on October 26th, 2013

When news broke Wednesday of Josh Smith’s accepted waiver and immediate eligibility for Georgetown, the bulk of the media reaction constituted pure shock. After all, without any known medical issues or hardship concerns facilitating the transfer, there was no indication that Smith would recoup two full seasons of eligibility after playing in six games as a junior at UCLA. The decision marks the latest puzzling chapter in the transfer waiver saga that unfolded over the offseason, and has left nearly everyone (outside the NCAA offices – or maybe not?) as confused as ever about the process – including CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish. The folks at Georgetown may or may not be surprised by the news as well, but they are surely excited to have their big man ready for the season opener. As for the rest of us, the state of confusion we currently find ourselves in is understandable, but perhaps it’s time to give the NCAA the benefit of the doubt. They may have finally figured out that more leniency with the transfer policy benefits both the kids and the sport. Increased transparency from the governing body will be necessary at some point, but for now, I’ll take Smith’s immediate eligibility as a sign of changing times.

Thanks To A Generous NCAA Ruling, Josh Smith Will Be On The Court When Georgetown Kicks Off Their Season In Seoul, South Korea On Nov. 8 (Harry How/Getty Images)

Thanks To A Generous NCAA Ruling, Josh Smith Will Be On The Court When Georgetown Kicks Off Their Season In Seoul, South Korea On Nov. 8 (Harry How/Getty Images)

When the NCAA overturned its own decision to deny Kerwin Okoro’s waiver request a month ago, we had to know then that the organization was finally beginning to hear the vitriol of fans and media surrounding the transfer issue. The Smith ruling may be a more subtle version of that phenomenon. Jay Bilas tweeted that the Smith ruling was “not objectionable,” but that what is objectionable is that “the NCAA rejects so many others, with no coherent policy.” Agreed, and while we have no coherent policy in place, the Smith decision certainly feels like the waving of the white flag. If the NCAA is going to set such a clear precedent with a case like Smith’s – after all the discussion on the waiver issue this offseason – we have to assume enough self-awareness on the part of the NCAA to presume that they are going to be taking a far softer approach to the issue. We can hope for a definitive public stance on the issue before next offseason, but the blatant nature of this case should mean we are headed for fewer denied waiver requests, and eventually, perhaps none.

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Which Side Of The 1966 Texas Western-Kentucky Rematch Will The Media Focus On?

Posted by nvr1983 on October 24th, 2013

In the past few years, there has been a movement to use games to commemorate significant historic events. One example of this occurred last season when Michigan State athletic director Mark Hollis arranged a game between Mississippi State and Loyola (IL) to honor the 1963 NCAA regional semifinal where the Bulldogs traveled beyond state lines in violation of a court order that forbade them from playing a team with African-Americans. While many such games remain in the memory of sports fans, few actually become landmark events that even a casual sports fan can identify. The 1966 National Championship game between Texas Western (now the University of Texas at El-Paso) and Kentucky is one such classic game. So when current UTEP coach Tim Floyd announced yesterday that the two schools hope to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the original Brown vs. Board of Education game with a rematch, we were intrigued. The details are still in question, but it is believed that the game will take place in Maryland (the original game was played at Cole Field House in College Park) on Martin Luther King Day, in 2016.

Will The Focus Be On Texas Western Or The Rupp Narrative? (Credit: El Paso Times)

Will The Focus Be On Texas Western Or The Rupp Narrative? (Credit: El Paso Times)

For anyone unfamiliar with the story of this game (and didn’t see the 2006 movie chronicling the event, Glory Road), Texas Western, a relative upstart led by fiery young coach Don Haskins, started five African-American players in its lineup. Its opponent in the national championship game, Kentucky, was led by legendary four-time national champion head coach Adolph Rupp, who started five Caucasian players. Texas Western won the game, 72-65, and in so doing set in motion a slow but steady revolution involving race relations in the sport. Some 31 years later, the integration of the game had come so far that Kentucky hired an African-American, Tubby Smith, as its new head coach, and never thought twice about it. Smith, who won his own national title at Kentucky in 1998, is now in the same Kentucky Athletics Hall of Fame as Rupp.

The reasons for why this game ultimately took on such significance are complex and numerous, but as anybody who has sat through a high school American history class is aware, the mid-1960s were the height of the activism and tensions of the civil rights era throughout much of the country. This was particularly so in relation to the integration of schools, for which athletics often served as public theater. Over time (and fairly or unfairly), two giants in college athletics — Kentucky’s Rupp and Alabama football head coach Bear Bryant — came to symbolize a tacit but legitimate resistance to athletic integration. Some of the criticism lobbed at both highly successful southern coaches was certainly earned, but to a large degree, it now serves as an easy literary crutch for journalists to discuss the era.

Still, should this event occur in three years, the 50th anniversary rematch between these two schools should serve as an interesting history lesson for those not familiar with the story behind it. We just hope that the lesson that they will take from what would no doubt be a nationally-televised blockbuster game will be a  positive one of inclusiveness and integration, one derived from the spirit of the Texas Western squad and the pioneers who paved the way for them rather than another negative historical narrative built around the misgivings of Rupp.

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Don’t Forget About Me, America… Signed, Jabari Parker

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 21st, 2013

There are a few names that stand out among the loaded crop of freshman talent entering college basketball this season. Kansas signee Andrew Wiggins is the one you’ve heard most about. Kentucky’s Julius Randle is another headliner. And Aaron Gordon, who made waves this summer while winning MVP with Team USA at the Under-19 FIBA World Championships, has so many YouTube dunk reels that any college basketball fan with even a marginal interest in the art of the slam (and there are a lot) must have seen him on tape by now at least three times. There’s one other name that hasn’t received anywhere close to as much publicity as his looming impact on the upcoming college basketball season – and the ACC and national championship pictures – merits: Jabari Parker. It’s a strange thing, really, that Parker is being overlooked in conversations about this year’s top freshmen. Don’t get me wrong, college hoops diehards and recruitniks have known about Parker for years. Most casual sports fans should remember him, too. He was only on the front cover of, like, the most popular sports magazine in the United States – his 6’8″ frame draped in a yellow Simeon high school uniform, plastered in front of a murky Chicago skyline, the words “The best high school basketball player since LeBron James is… ” printed beside him. (Perhaps Wiggins’ recent appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated distracted attention from Parker’s placement in the same magazine?)

Don't Forget About Me, America. (credit: RNO)

Parker Introduced Himself at Duke Friday Night (credit: RNO)

That edition came out less than two years ago (May 2012, to be exact). People should remember. Instead, most of the hype about this year’s insane freshman class has revolved around Wiggins, Gordon and Randle – with a late push from Kentucky wing James Young, a player Wildcats coach John Calipari believes has a chance to be the No. 1 pick in next summer’s draft, according to ESPN college hoops writer Jason King. None of those players is expected to flop in their first respective (and probably last) seasons of college hoops. These aren’t ordinary top-ranked recruits; they are recruits ranked near the top of one of the greatest recruiting classes of all-time. The guys being talked about most frequently should be great – tremendous talents with bright professional futures. To use standard recruiting terminology, none of them, most experts assure, will be “busts.” Not Wiggins, not Randle, not Gordon.

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If a Coach Says Something Interesting at a Media Day, Does It Make a Sound?

Posted by Bennet Hayes on October 18th, 2013

There is nothing quite like media day season, is there? Well, okay there is, but amidst all the generic answers and meaningless chatter are tiny, real pieces of actually interesting information – I swear. In case you haven’t spent the week sifting through sound bites and press releases, here are a few of the more noteworthy revelations from recent media days in the AAC, ACC, and Pac-12.

No Speed Limit At USC -- If You Want To Play Slow, Andy Enfield Thinks You Should Head Across Town

No Speed Limit At USC — If You Want To Play Slow, Andy Enfield Thinks You Should Head Across Town

Let’s start out west. While some may have been disappointed by the lack of intra-LA fireworks at Pac-12 media day, we’re going to count the continued discussion of the UCLA-USC “rivalry” as a step in the right direction. Earlier in the week, Andy Enfield was quoted as saying “we [USC] play uptempo basketball here – if you want to play slow, go to UCLA.” He took a predictable shot at softening the blow of those words on Thursday, but let’s focus instead on his tacit admission that the quote is real. Sarcastic or not, those words exited his mouth. Steve Alford played nice and refused to bite in response to the comment, but you better believe that the architect of those grinding, tough New Mexico teams would love nothing more than a snail-paced 65-35 beat-down of his cross-town foes come January 5. The tempo clash will be a constant subplot to the rivalry as long as these two coaches are at the helm, and despite the niceties of yesterday’s media day, don’t expect Enfield’s declaration to disappear from memory anytime soon.

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SEC Tournament’s Semi-Permanent Move to Nashville Good For Some Schools

Posted by rtmsf on October 15th, 2013

According to reports from sources within the SEC, the league will announce today that it plans on making Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena the semi-permanent home of the SEC men’s basketball tournament. Why is it semi-permanent? Because the conference has already awarded several upcoming years to Atlanta (2014, 2020), Saint Louis (2017) and Tampa (2018), to go along with previously-established plans for Nashville to host in 2015, 2016 and 2019. What today’s announcement changes is that the Music City will also host the league’s marquee basketball event for a six-year run from 2021-26, meaning that nine of the next 13 SEC Tournaments will take place on the banks of the Cumberland River. Semi-permanent, indeed.

Ole Miss Won Its 2013 Title In Front of a Sparse Crowd

Ole Miss Won Its 2013 Title In Front of a Sparse Crowd

SEC commissioner Mike Slive mentioned last spring that the conference was exploring the notion of holding the SEC Tournament at a “primary” location in much the same way that Atlanta hosts the annual SEC Championship in football, and Hoover, Alabama, hosts baseball’s version of the SEC Tournament. Athletic directors and league officials at the time pointed to the sustained success of those events as the driver toward consolidation of the event in a single, primary venue, but the league’s dirty little basketball secret remained unspoken among public officials. Unlike SEC football, whose cultural hegemony vacuums up year-round fan and media attention in the deep South from College Station eastward all the way to Columbia, SEC basketball outside of a few select schools remains mostly an afterthought. Nashville as the primary SEC Tourney site makes sense not only because the city really embraces the event and provides a superb downtown “fun zone” that allows fans a great weekend experience, but also because it’s a relatively easy driving trip for the few schools’ fans that will show up because they at least marginally care about basketball (we’re talking about Kentucky, Missouri, Vanderbilt, and sometimes Tennessee and Arkansas here).

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Is Rick Barnes a Dead Man Walking at Texas?

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 10th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

By the start of next college football season, two of the sport’s most high-profile jobs will have new coaches. One of them (USC) already fired its former coach, Lane Kiffin, and has presumably begun searching for a replacement. The other (Texas) has yet to dump longtime coach Mack Brown, but unless the Longhorns can engineer a miraculous midseason turnaround and win the Big 12 – and even that may not be enough to save Brown’s job – it’s all but guaranteed he too will be gone by the end of the season. That seems even more likely after former Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds, a longtime supporter of Brown, resigned last week. Both of these job searches will be fascinating to observe; it’s been a long time since two true titans of the sport have undergone head coaching changes. We’re more concerned about the college hoops side of things here, but that doesn’t mean we need to stop talking about coaching turnover. USC hired a new head coach, Dunk City orchestrator Andy Enfield, in April, and Texas enters the season with Rick Barnes’ coaching hot seat simmering. That was the general consensus following Texas’ 16-18 finish (and NCAA Tournament miss) last season, but the possibility seems even greater after comments published in Sports Illustrated reporter Pete Thamel’s recent article on the Texas athletic department shined a critical light on Barnes and Longhorns basketball. One damning assessment came from an unnamed high-ranking Texas official: “I can’t imagine [Barnes] turning it around.”

Will Rick Barnes last beyond this season? (Getty Images)

Will Rick Barnes last beyond this season? (Getty Images)

There were other harsh statements regarding Barnes included in Thamel’s piece (along with a number of unquoted characterizations from Thamel himself), and taken together, they seemed to paint a picture of a program in desperate need of a coaching change. Over 15 seasons at the school, Barnes has led the Longhorns to three Big 12 regular season championships, made four Sweet Sixteens, two Elite Eights and one Final Four. He has brought in elite high school players like Kevin Durant, Avery Bradley, Tristan Thompson, Cory Joseph and Damion James. His teams almost always – even last season, when it ranked sixth in effective field goal percentage defense – play some of the toughest defense in the country. As C.J. Moore of Basketball Prospectus points out, Texas has finished in the top 10 of Ken Pomeroy’s defensive efficiency rankings in 10 of the last 11 seasons. If that’s all true, why have the Longhorns struggled so much lately?

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