Get to Know Cuonzo Martin: Cal’s New Head Coach

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 16th, 2014

With the sudden announcement on Tuesday that California had hired Cuonzo Martin – last seen taking Tennessee to the Sweet Sixteen – as their new head coach, the Pac-12 coaching carousel appears to be done for the year, barring a major surprise. After names like Chris Mooney, Chris Mack, Russell Turner, Eric Musselman and, last season’s associate head coach under Mike Montgomery, Travis DeCuire, were brought up and discarded, landing a talented young coach like Martin is a strong hire for Cal and its athletic director, Sandy Barbour. And Martin isn’t headed to Berkeley alone, as before he was even officially announced as the new guy, 7’1” recruit Kingsley Okoroh released the news that he would be changing his commitment from Tennessee to California. There’s a lot to get to, so let’s jump right in.

Cuonzo Martin's Name Came Out Of Nowhere As California's Choice For Head Coach (msn.foxsports.com).

Cuonzo Martin’s Name Came Out Of Nowhere As California’s Choice For Head Coach (msn.foxsports.com).

First, Martin hadn’t really even been on the radar for the Cal job until Tuesday morning, as the hot name had been primarily Mooney. But he was anxious to get away from Tennessee, where he was never embraced despite good success there: In three seasons, he logged three postseason appearances including one NCAA Tournament appearance (in which his team advanced to the Sweet Sixteen), and one year where the Volunteers were the first team left out of the Big Dance, all while taking over a program that Bruce Pearl had left in something of a mess. Still, Volunteers fans started an online petition (with 36,000+ signees) before the season was over to fire him and bring back Pearl, so his ducking out the door despite recently pledging his commitment to the program is no big surprise. In fact, the players who battled for Martin this season came out to publicly support his decision to move on. For Martin, really, this is a no-brainer. With the Vols losing seniors Jordan McRae, Jeronne Maymon and Antonio Barton, and with Jarnell Stokes heading to the NBA a year early, Martin gets out of town, signs a new, secure contract and gets a minimum of three or four years to prove that he is worthy of an extension at Cal.

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On Wisconsin, Bo Ryan and the Future…

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on April 16th, 2014

At the start of the season, we, along with most everyone else, slated Wisconsin to finish in its usual place among the top four of the Big Ten standings, but also noted that the team would once again be limited in what it could accomplish in the NCAA Tournament. Examining the preseason roster, we thought the Badgers would be be better on the perimeter with the return of the Josh Gasser; we knew Sam Dekker was a pro talent, the likes of which doesn’t usually wear a Wisconsin uniform; but we also wondered whether Frank Kaminsky was capable of stepping up and playing at the level that Jarred Berggren had provided. Without mincing words, we were wrong. Six months and a Final Four appearance later, we now know that these Badgers were the most talented squad Bo Ryan has coached in Madison, and although they came up just short of a shot at the title, next season looks even brighter. Almost the entire roster is coming back and Wisconsin will be projected as an elite team by almost every prognosticator based on this year’s run. A run to the Final Four wasn’t supposed to happen with this group, so how’d they do it?

Bo Ryan has finally reached college basketball's mountain top.

Bo Ryan has finally reached college basketball’s mountain top. (AP)

Wisconsin’s 30-8 season was built on the talents of individual players who outperformed expectations and this particular squad’s great offensive chemistry in Ryan’s system. The junior Kaminsky emerged as a terrific college player and a legitimate future contender for National Player of the Year. After averaging only 4.2 PPG and 1.8 RPG in 2012-13 behind Berggren, Kaminsky led the Badgers in scoring (13.9 PPG) and rebounding (6.3 RPG) and was the second-most efficient player in the conference (127.5 Offensive Rating). Additionally, Nigel Hayes went from an unheralded high school recruit to a spot on the All-Big Ten freshmen team behind his 7.7 PPG and 2.8 RPG. The emergence of a viable scoring frontcourt — combined with a versatile wing like Dekker and a deep shooting back court in Traevon Jackson, Brust, and Gasser — created the most potent offense Ryan has ever put on the floor. By the end of the season, the Badgers carried an adjusted offensive efficiency of 1.21 points per possession (fourth in the country).

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Big Ten Season Grades: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on April 16th, 2014

With the end of the season comes a chance to look back at what happened and look ahead to next year. Here we have broken the conference into three corresponding tiers based on this year’s finish and will give each a final grade and look at a key question for 2014-15. Today we’ll examine four teams that are hoping they don’t replicate this year’s bottom four finish: Indiana, Northwestern, Penn State and Purdue.

Indiana

Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Yogi Ferrell had a great 2013-14 campaign and will need to replicate that for Indiana to be successful next year. (Darron Cummings, AP)

Grade: D. The Hoosiers lost so much with the departures of two lottery picks that maybe we all expected too much. Still, with Noah Vonleh (another likely lottery pick), Yogi Ferrell, Will Sheehey and “The Movement,” quite a bit more was expected from this group. Failure to make the NCAA Tournament (or even the bubble) and falling to the bottom tier of the Big Ten represents a very bad year for the Hoosiers. The program’s one bright spot was the emergence of Ferrell as not only the team’s best player but also one of the best in the conference.

Key 2014-15 Question: Who plays inside? Indiana will have plenty of guards on its roster next season. It brings back Ferrell and Stanford Robinson and its recruiting class includes McDonalds All-America shooting guard James Blackmon Jr. and shooting guard in Robert Johnson. With Vonleh and Jeremy Hollowell now gone, though, this team will lack an inside presence. Hanner Mosquera-Perea hasn’t really panned out and Troy Williams is a wing who doesn’t dominate inside the paint. Tom Crean is still recruiting in the hopes of filling this hole with a late commitment, but as of now, the Hoosiers could be looking at a four-guard lineup next year.

Northwestern

Grade: B. A “B” may seem high for a team at the bottom of league but this group of Wildcats was expected to do absolutely nothing in the Big Ten this season. Recall that at one point the question was if they could win a single Big Ten game. Chris Collins did plenty to change that notion quickly, as he made the team’s identity about defense and pushed it to win six games in conference play (and at one point had pundits wondering if it could make its way onto the NCAA bubble). It was a big and unexpected turnaround that has the Wildcats looking to break the NCAA drought sooner than later.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Utah

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 15th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Utah.

What Went Right

For the first time since Larry Krystkowiak took over a shell of a program from Jim Boylen, Utah basketball fans had a team that they knew could be competitive night in and night out. Of the Utes’ 12 losses this season, seven were by a single possession. The talent level is clearly back to the point where the Utes can be competitive in the Pac-12, defense has become a priority, and the future appears bright.

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak's Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

In His Third Season In Salt Lake City, Larry Krystkowiak’s Squad Began To Turn The Corner (Kristin Murphy, Deseret News)

What Went Wrong

So, those seven losses by a single possession? Well, that’s not good, is it? Time and time again, the Utes had chances to win close games down the stretch, and time and time again they wound up with losses in those games. Their record in games decided by a single possession was 0-7. They lost all three of their overtime games. And only six times all season did they win games decided by fewer than 10 points. In other words, unless the Utes were blowing out their opponent, odds were good that they were losing. Chalk some of that up to bad luck, another portion to a young team still learning to win games, and more to some coaching breakdowns. But the good news is that if next year’s Utes can find some ways to win those close games, they should be looking at a very good record.

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Kevin Ollie at Home in a League of Journeymen

Posted by Will Tucker (@blrdswag) on April 15th, 2014

Kevin Ollie has come a long way since September 2012, when he was reluctantly handed the reins to a UConn program coming off a 14-loss season, a depleted roster, and an impending postseason ban. Facing high-stakes circumstances, athletic director Warde Manuel’s confidence in Jim Calhoun’s hand-picked successor was so tentative that he handed Ollie the title of interim head coach and gave him a seven-month contract worth about $385,000. Just a year-and-a-half later, he’s bested Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and John Calipari, taken a scarred program to heights many doubted it could ever again reach without Calhoun, set himself up as the hottest young coaching prospect since Brad Stevens, and made Drake sad. He’s making appearances at the New York Stock Exchange and getting blogged about at Forbes and Vanity Fair. A few short years after concluding his itinerant pro career, the 41-year-old Ollie might even be well-positioned to return the NBA as a coach, if he so desires. And that once-skeptical AD is prepared to do everything within his budget to convince Ollie otherwise.

The Huskies' fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm (Robert Deutsch / USA TODAY)

The Huskies’ fourth title came in their first postseason with Ollie at the helm. (Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY)

As Jeff Eisenberg recently pointed out, UConn’s unlikely, scrappy resurgence reflects Ollie’s own journeyman ethos. Thrust into such inauspicious circumstances, some coaches would have resigned themselves to fate, thrown their hands in the air and begun assigning blame, starting with the athletic department that seemed more interested in wrangling autonomy from Calhoun than sustaining the program he built. But Ollie really was – and here I’ll apologize for belaboring the narrative – the perfect man to overcome the odds. A trusted insider whose own sweat equity had helped build the program, he quickly got his players to buy in. Over two turbulent seasons, they responded with the dogged persistence of an undrafted point guard who carved a 13-year NBA career out of annual contracts. So whatever opportunities the offseason holds for Ollie, it’s in the best interest of college basketball fans that he sticks around. His presence at the top of the profession is a breath of fresh air in a guild whose upper echelon is overwhelmingly white, exceptionally well-paid, and sometimes out of touch. It’s even better for AAC Commissioner Mike Aresco, whose conference desperately needs an elite coach in its ranks after Louisville’s Rick Pitino departs this off-season.

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Bryce Dejean-Jones Becomes Fred Hoiberg’s Next Reclamation Project

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 14th, 2014

It’s been a pretty good weekend for Iowa State head coach Fred Hoiberg. On Friday, Iowa State announced that it would give him a $600,000 annual raise on his current contract which runs through 2023, and on Sunday afternoon, former UNLV guard Bryce Dejean-Jones announced that he will join the Cyclones. Dejean-Jones is set to graduate from UNLV this summer, which would make him immediately eligible to suit up for Iowa State. Like DeAndre Kane before him, Dejean-Jones arrives in Ames with a history of incidents involving his attitude getting the best of him, so Hoiberg will have another opportunity to mold an embattled player into a key contributor.

Will Bryce Dejean-Jones find the same kind of success DeAndre Kane found at Iowa State?

Will Bryce Dejean-Jones find the same kind of success DeAndre Kane found at Iowa State?

Dejean-Jones led the Runnin’ Rebels in scoring last season (13.6 PPG), but his year ended on a sour note. He was suspended for the final game of UNLV’s regular season against Wyoming for a violation of team rules, and reportedly yelled at teammates following the team’s season-ending loss against San Diego State in the Mountain West Conference Tournament on March 14. We don’t know specifically what that outburst involved, but whatever it contained was enough for UNLV head coach Dave Rice to decide that a parting of ways was the best course of action for both parties.

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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Washington State

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 14th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Washington State.

What Went Wrong

Lots. The Cougars finished the season 140th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and they were far better on the defensive end of the court than they were on the offensive end. If you just look through the Washington State KenPom page and sort through all the stats, the only place where you see any type of green (which means good) is in its defensive rebounding numbers. Everywhere else it is red. Shooting the ball; keeping the other team from shooting ball well; turning it over; getting to the foul line; not fouling defensively; shooting the three; shooting the two; shooting the one; blocking shots; creating steals. In none of these areas (and more) were the Cougars even an average basketball team. Thus, it should be no surprise that they lost 17 of their final 21 games and Ken Bone is now the former head coach at Washington State.

It Was A Rough Season For Ken Bone And The Cougars, And The Washington State Program Will Now Move On Without Him (AP)

It Was A Rough Season For Ken Bone And The Cougars, And The Washington State Program Will Now Move On Without Him (AP)

What Went Right

Not much. Above we mentioned that the one area where Washington State was very good was defensive rebounding, in large part due to the efforts of senior center D.J. Shelton (third in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage). So there was that. Beyond that, the only other bright spot is something we’ll get to in our next bullet point.

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2013-14 ACC Season Review – Part III

Posted by Brad Jenkins on April 11th, 2014

Now that the 2013-14 season is all over, let’s take a look back at how each ACC team performed. We will do so in three parts, dividing the league into groups of five teams based on ACC Tournament seeding. For each school, we’ll compare its actual season results with preseason expectations, and point out the surprises in each case — both the pleasant and unpleasant. Finally, we will take a quick peak at the short- and long-term prospects for each program. In Part III today, we’ll look at the top five finishers in the conference. The top four teams were expected to be the class of the league, and they were, even though the final order was somewhat surprising. The big disappointment came in the postseason, when only ACC champion Virginia made it to the NCAA Tournament’s second weekend.

1) Virginia (30-7, 16-2 ACC) - NCAA (L: Regional Semi-Finals)

Virginia claimed the ACC crown. (credit: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

Tony Bennett led Virginia to its second ever ACC Championship. (credit: Robert Willett / Raleigh News & Observer)

Led by ACC Coach of the Year Tony Bennett, the Cavaliers had one of the best seasons in school history. They won the ACC regular season race for the first time since 1981, captured their second ACC Tournament title (the other was in 1976), and tied the 1982 team for the highest finish (#3) in the season’s final AP poll. The team was not overly impressive early, as they entered conference play with a 9-4 record and coming off a 35 point pounding at the hands of Tennessee. But at that point, Virginia regrouped and only lost three more times – on the last possession at Duke; in overtime at Maryland; and finally in the Sweet Sixteen to Michigan State in one of the most hard-fought games of the entire Tournament.

  • They were who we thought they were. We knew that defense would be the calling card for this Virginia team and it was in a big way. The Cavaliers only allowed 91 points per 100 possessions in ACC play, which was a remarkable eight points better than anyone else.
  • We didn’t see this coming. The main questions for this team at the beginning of the year concerned the backcourt. Could they find an effective point guard among the young candidates on the roster? And how would Malcolm Brogdon play after missing the previous season due to injury? Freshman point guard London Perrantes played well above expectations, running the team with the savvy of a veteran and making the ACC’s all-Freshman Team. Brogdon was incredibly consistent and his all-around play resulted in a spot on the all-ACC first team, as voted on by the league’s coaches.
  • What the future holds. Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell will be missed for their leadership and production. ACC Sixth Man of the Year Justin Anderson and effective reserve Anthony Gill should move right into the starting lineup, though, so the keys for next season are to build depth and hope to duplicate the great chemistry and unselfish play of this year’s squad. The program looks to be in great shape for the near future, as Bennett has proven that his style can work at the highest level.

2) Syracuse (28-6, 14-4 ACC) - NCAA (L: 3rd Round)

This year was a tale of two seasons for the Orange. Syracuse started the season 25-0 and were ranked #1 in the country for three weeks, winning so many games on the last possession that even Jim Boeheim admitted they were lucky. Their luck ran out in game #26 when lowly Boston College came to the Carrier Dome and knocked off the Orange in one of the shockers of the year. Including that loss, Syracuse would close the year by only winning three of its last nine games. Injuries exposed the team’s lack of depth, and the Orange went into a prolonged shooting slump, probably due to wearing down.

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Looking Back at Kentucky’s Remarkable Run

Posted by David Changas on April 11th, 2014

On March 1, Kentucky‘s season hit its lowest point when the Wildcats lost to SEC bottom-feeder South Carolina, 72-67. Talk of a 40-0 season was a distant memory, and an early exit from the NCAA Tournament seemed likely. After that loss, Kentucky went on to lose twice to SEC champion Florida, but it was during the second of those losses – a one-point SEC Tournament Championship Game thriller that the Wildcats had a chance to win – that gave coach John Calipari’s team confidence that all was not lost. Kentucky received a #8 seed from the selection committee, and the path ahead of it would consist of games with the region’s top seed and the first team to enter the NCAA Tournament with an undefeated record in 23 years, Wichita State, as well as a possible rematch with arch-nemesis Louisville. The regional final projected as a game against the team that lost to Louisville in last year’s national championship game, Michigan, or SEC rival Tennessee. The Wildcats were able to beat Kansas State with relative ease in the opening round, and then proceed to win thrillers against the Shockers, Cardinals, and Wolverines to advance to their third Final Four in Calipari’s five years at the helm of the program.

Kentucky Will Play For The Program's Ninth National Title On Monday Night

Kentucky Celebrated Its Way to the National Title Game

At the outset of the season, Kentucky was the nation’s consensus No. 1 team, and there was some serious talk in the Bluegrass State that the Wildcats could reach 40-0. That dream was dashed with an early-season loss to Michigan State at the Champions Classic, and then Kentucky followed that with pre-conference defeats to Baylor and North Carolina. If those losses didn’t cause significant concern, the Wildcats’ play in the lowly SEC did. They were swept by the Gators and by Arkansas, and narrowly avoided a sweep by LSU. By the time the SEC Tournament arrived, many wondered whether it was too late for the club to figure things out and salvage their season. After dominant wins over LSU and Georgia, the Wildcats appeared headed for another blowout loss in the title game to Florida. They trailed the Gators by 16 early in the second half, but eventually cut the lead to one point with the ball before James Young slipped and lost control, costing the Wildcats a chance to win. While Kentucky wasn’t able to complete the comeback, that game was the impetus for the turnaround. Willie Cauley-Stein called the performance “a big confidence-booster” afterward, and said that the Wildcats were a “new team” coming out of Atlanta. While winning the daunting Midwest region appeared to be a near-impossible task for a team that entered the NCAA Tournament with 10 losses, the 78-76 second-round win over Wichita State in what many considered the best game of the Big Dance served notice that the Kentucky team many had expected had finally arrived.

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Breaking Down the Top 10 SEC Likely Returnees

Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 10th, 2014

No player on the lengthy 2013-14 all-SEC first team will be back next season (barring a couple of unlikely reversals), leaving the conference leaderboards completely up for grabs. The top returnees feature a heavy number of sophomores, and could be shaken up depending on some of the announcements out of Lexington over the next few days. Here are the top 10 SEC players to watch for in 2014-15.

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson's 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

Bobby Portis will anchor Mike Anderson’s 2014-15 Arkansas squad (wholehogsports.com).

  1. Bobby Portis, Arkansas. Portis’ offensive efficiency stood out most during his freshman year, but he also was in the SEC’s top 10 in rebounds and blocks per game. He also has experience as a marked man as he became the Razorbacks’ primary option as the season wore on. Portis should flourish in his sophomore campaign, especially if Mike Anderson relents and plays him more than 30 minutes per game.
  2. Jordan Mickey, LSU. Mickey had a better statistical season than Portis, but he did so with Johnny O’Bryant commanding the bulk of attention. O’Bryant is now gone, and Mickey will become the Tigers’ top option in the low post. If his jumper continues to improve (39.3% on two-point jump shots) he’ll be a load on offense. Mickey also had the sixth most blocks in the country as a freshman.
  3. Andrew Harrison, Kentucky. Harrison and his brother are expected to return to Lexington, but it wouldn’t surprise anyone if they both left school either. If they do stick around, they’ll look to turn solid play in the NCAA Tournament into breakout sophomore seasons. Andrew gets the nod here merely because his position is more important, but he’ll need to improve on the 1.4 assist-to-turnover ratio he posted as a freshman. He could become a Tyreke Evans-type lead guard who looks to score first and creates offensive rebounding opportunities for his frontcourt with penetration and shots at the rim. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Arizona State

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 10th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Up first, Arizona State.

What Went Right

Jermaine Marshall and Shaquielle McKissic were largely excellent in their only seasons in Tempe (McKissic will be petitioning the NCAA for an additional season of eligibility). Jordan Bachynski capped his stellar Sun Devils career with his best season and an all-time conference record for career blocked shots. And Herb Sendek and the Sun Devils earned their first NCAA Tournament appearance since James Harden was on campus.

Arizona State

Arizona State Went Dancing, But It Ended With a Heartbreaking Putback by Texas

What Went Wrong

Still, despite that major accomplishment, you’ve got to feel that this team left money on the table at the end of the year. First, just the way they lost their NCAA Tournament game, falling to Texas on a buzzer-beater when the Longhorns’ last two buckets came on offensive rebounds after airballs – ouch! And Jahii Carson, the team’s best player and arguably a more talented player than what he showed, struggled through a rough season, with questions about his game confirmed and others about his leadership raised anew. Sendek did a solid job with this team, a squad that had some obvious holes in it. But still, this feels like a team that had an NCAA Tournament win (or two) in them but failed to get the job done.

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Your Way-Too-Early Big Ten 2014-15 Power Rankings

Posted by Brendan Brody on April 10th, 2014

The Big Ten was once again a juggernaut during the 2013-14 campaign, as the league was arguably the best conference in America, or at worst second behind the Big 12. There were six teams invited to the NCAA Tournament, three of which made the Elite Eight, and the league was also the home of the NIT Champion. One thing that cannot be disputed is that the bottom half of the league’s teams were much better. This meant that some games that were considered big upsets early became much less surprising as the season went on. With this year in the books, the league is set to add newcomers Maryland and Rutgers to the mix for 2014-15. With 14 teams and a plethora of players slated to return, it’s time to construct some kind of pecking order as we head into the long offseason.

Look for Nigel Hayes to take on a much bigger role for Wisconsin next season. (AP)

Look for Nigel Hayes to take on a much bigger role for Wisconsin next season. (AP)

  1. Wisconsin: The Badgers are only projected to lose starting guard Ben Brust right now. Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky could both leave school, but neither is anything close to a certain first round pick. If they return, the Badgers would have four upperclassmen starters in the lineup, plus sophomores Bronson Koenig and Nigel Hayes ready to take on bigger roles. This team could be scary.
  2. Michigan: While the Wisconsin situation looks much more settled, Michigan is an absolute wild card at this point. The Wolverines could very well lose any combination of Nik Stauskas, Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III. Stauskas is the only player who is thought to be a certain first-rounder, however, and a team that brings back Robinson, McGary, Caris LeVert, and Derrick Walton Jr. could easily build off of their Elite Eight appearance and battle Wisconsin for the league title.
  3. Ohio State: The Buckeyes have the best recruiting class in the Big Ten coming in, with D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, and Jae’Sean Tate on the majority of the top 100 lists. Combine this infusion of young talent with a solid group of upperclassmen and graduate transfer Anthony Lee coming in from Temple, and Ohio State should be better next year than it was in 2013-14. Read the rest of this entry »
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