Pac-12 M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 21st, 2014

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  1. There are a handful of things concerning Pac-12 basketball that are beyond debate. One is that Arizona is the heavy favorite to win the conference regular season title this year, and another is that their fans are the most passionate in the conference. Both of those things were very much on display on Saturday as Wildcats fans got a first look at their team at the annual Red-Blue game. More than 10,000 people turned out to the McKale Center to watch Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon’s names get unveiled in the Ring of Honor inside the arena, Stanley Johnson take home the pre-scrimmage dunk contest, followed by a pair of 12-minute halves. Some takeaways from those who were on hand: (1) Kaleb Tarczewski may be the Wildcats’ most improved player, and yet he had his hands full with freshman center Dusan Ristic, who scored 14 points in the scrimmage; (2) Stanley Johnson may have taken a step up in competition, but he is still a physical freak on the basketball court even when compared with more talented players; and (3) while there are plenty of veterans at Sean Miller’s disposal, two other freshmen – Craig Victor and 5’10” point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwrightappear headed for significant roles on this squad.
  2. Lorenzo Romar’s recruiting roll for Washington’s 2015 class continued on Monday as 6’10” junior college center Malik Dime chose the Huskies over other suitors such as Arkansas, Iowa State and Rutgers, while 6’9” high school senior Devin Duruisseau found Washington more appealing than San Jose State. Dime is a super-athletic big man who can come in an immediately provide minutes as a rebounder and defender next year, while Duruisseau is more of a project. For the class, that means Romar has six commitments for 2015, including a pair of top 100 recruits in Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, putting the Huskies in the top 10 class rankings for next season, according to ESPN. Of course, that leaves Washington with 15 committed scholarships for the 2015-16 season, meaning there will be some shuffling of the roster between now and then. But, all things considered, that’s a pretty good problem to have.
  3. Sports Illustrated had a powerful feature last week, detailing the plight of homeless young athletes in high school and college. The Pac-12’s own Shaquielle McKissic of Arizona State is no stranger to such problems, having spent his share of time without a home, among other terrible hardships. Now a senior with the Sun Devils, McKissic is telling his story in a documentary that will be released on Halloween, the four-year anniversary of the death of one of his best friends. House of Sparky has the low-down on the documentary, as well as a clip from the film, which was produced by McKissic’s brother David.
  4. Another gripping story about a Pac-12 player focuses on Colorado sophomore Dustin Thomas. Thomas struggled to make an impact as a freshman with the Buffaloes, but his story is a telling one. Above and beyond his parents’ divorce and his father’s time in prison, the death of his 13-year-old sister Shonda to a rare disease (microscopic polyangiitis) when Thomas was 11 is heartbreaking. But, while the story is tragic, Thomas’ strength and positivity in the face of such a calamity is a terrific example of humanity persevering in the face of disaster.
  5. We’ll finish up today’s five with happier news, as CBS Sports recently released its Pac-12 preview. Non-notable predictions include Arizona as the pick to win the conference (if anyone sees a Pac-12 preview that doesn’t have the Wildcats #1, that would be news), Stanley Johnson to take home the Freshman of the Year award, and Oregon State to bring up the rear. More notable picks include Utah‘s Delon Wright as the Player of the Year (the choice for the league’s top player is far more debatable than the choice of its top team), Colorado as the team with the best chance to challenge Arizona, and Matt Norlander for some reason picking Oregon State to finish 10th in the conference. But perhaps of bigger concern for fans around the conference is the idea that, outside of Arizona, nobody else should be considered a lock to make the NCAA Tournament and the idea from one anonymous coach that this conference seems more like a four-bid conference than the seven-bid conference it was last year.
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Big 12 M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 21st, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Kansas State‘s frontcourt depth will suffer a minor hit after it was announced that Jack Karapetyan has withdrawn from school and will look to transfer. The California native played in just six games before losing his season to a foot injury last year. Fortunately for him, the injury came early enough in the season that he qualified for a medical hardship waiver, which means he will have all of his eligibility at his new school. The Wildcats don’t figure to miss him, though, as they have plenty of bodies up front.
  2. If there’s one team in need of a fresh start this season, it’s Oklahoma State. Though the Cowboys rallied to make the NCAA Tournament, they finished far below expectations and are ready for a clean slate. The team is looking to Le’Bryan Nash to fill the leadership void left by the departures of Marcus Smart and Markel Brown. Nash came to Stillwater three years ago and developed a reputation for hunting shots as he struggled to accept a complimentary role. Now that he is Oklahoma State’s returning scorer, however, he will need to step up and build on a very solid junior year.
  3. A chance to play for a coach who is so well-regarded that he is approached by NBA teams on an annual basis, a rabid fan base that packs its home court every night, and the opportunity to be tested in arguably the country’s toughest conference. What’s not to like about Iowa State basketball? That’s a question we have for 6’10” Indian Hills Community College prospect Malik Dime, who verbally committed to Washington over the Cyclones on Monday. If you are going to turn down The Mayor, you better have a good reason, and according to the linked article, a couple of Washington connections were the difference.
  4. Current Southern Methodist coach and former Kansas head coach Larry Brown recalled some fond memories of coaching in Allen Fieldhouse in advance of the building’s 60th anniversary, which will be celebrated with a gala next week. Brown was only in Lawrence for five seasons, but he left a lasting legacy as the conductor of the 1988 national championship team following a prolonged stretch of mediocrity in the twilight of his predecessor’s (Ted Owens) career.
  5. As if it were even possible, West Virginia projects to lean more heavily on Juwan Staten than it did last year. Only 20 players in the country played a higher percentage of available minutes than Staten in 2014 so it’s tough imagine a bigger workload coming his way in 2015. If you ask us, the key to the Mountaineers’ season isn’t Staten’s performance, since he is more or less a known quantity, but rather the improvement of West Virginia’s abysmal defense.
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Big Ten M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Jonathan Batuello on October 21st, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Preseason lists for this award and watch lists for that honor are being released in earnest. When it comes to a very specific list, plenty of Big Ten players are honored on the All-Indiana College Basketball Team, consisting of players from the Hoosier State who compete at the collegiate level. The first team includes Indiana’s Yogi Ferrell and Michigan State’s Branden Dawson, and perhaps a debatable player to some in Purdue’s AJ Hammons. The second team includes Michigan’s Zak Irvin, while three Honorable Mentions in Indiana’s James Blackmon, Jr. and Purdue’s Basil Smotherman and Raphael Davis. The team exhibits all the Indiana talent that is scattered across Big Ten rosters beyond just those playing for the in-state Hoosiers and Boilermakers.
  2. Minnesota is a team with some intrigue surrounding it entering this season. The Golden Gophers return four starters from its NIT Championship squad and it has raised some hopes and created high expectations for this year’s team. Some of these projections make sense and seem legitimate, such as Andre Hollins making an All-Big Ten team; but others, like Elliot Eliason leading the conference in rebounds and blocks, are a little more unrealistic. The biggest question to answer for Minnesota fans is whether the Gophers can make the NCAA Tournament and push forward to the second weekend of action. To accomplish such a feat, the team will need Hollins to really improve with the losses of Malik Smith and Austin Hollins. He has the skill set and talent to do so, but it will take a very strong campaign for Minnesota to rise to become a player at the top of the Big Ten and nationally.
  3. With the loss of Noah Vonleh to the NBA, it is no secret that Indiana has some major question marks on its interior this year. One player hoping to provide an answer, however, is Devin Davis. He is one of the few interior players the Hoosiers have returning with experience. The best thing going for Davis may just be that he isn’t a dominant offensive force but he is a strong rebounder. With this year’s team likely looking to rely on its perimeter play to propel the offense, a solid defender underneath who can also attack the boards fits very well. While Davis will likely sit behind Hanner Mosquera-Perea in Tom Crean’s rotation, his style could be beneficial and result in a significant number of minutes throughout the season.
  4. There are high hopes in Wisconsin this season, so to get ready for the year, why not start debating the past? What would you rate as the Badgers’ top play of the past 10 years? While this list goes with Bo Ryan making his first Final Four, personally the Ben Brust half-courter against Michigan would top my list. The real question for Wisconsin fans is whether this list will include more big plays from the upcoming season, and at what stakes? Certainly there could be a few leading to Big Ten and national accolades.
  5. Ever wondered what was in Lebron James’ locker? How about what is in his locker at Ohio State? Yes, Lebron James has a locker inside Ohio State’s locker room, right next to Amir Williams. He doesn’t use it, given that he’s a 29-year old professional and all, but the Buckeyes display Nike gear with his name on it to help appeal to recruits when they come to visit Columbus. Not a bad ploy to use despite King James never playing at Ohio State, or college anywhere, for that matter.
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Morning Five: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 21st, 2014

morning5

  1. The NCAA’s next big fight appears to be drawing near after Chris Christie signed a sports gambling bill essentially legalizing it in New Jersey. That move would enable New Jersey to start offering sports gambling. One location, Monmouth Park, is reportedly looking to start offering it this coming weekend.  It should not come as a surprise that the NCAA and various professional leagues filed a lawsuit yesterday attempting to block such a move and will reportedly file for immediate injunctive relief today. At issue is the 22-year-old Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that barred sports gambling outside of a few select areas in the country. According to some state officials that decision should be up to the individual states and not the federal government (yes, the issue of “states’ rights” does come up outside of the Deep South). Our guess is that the injunction will be granted and this will be dragged out into a long and fairly messy affair.
  2. We have heard about so many investigation in college sports that we had almost forgot about the one involving Syracuse. Unfortunately for them, the NCAA has not and has invited school officials to attend a hearing later this month regarding the findings. While neither Jim Boeheim nor other school officials would speak to the case directly it appears to revolve around Fab Melo’s academic record and presumably others from around that same time period as well as an alleged sexual assault case in 2007. Given the way the NCAA operates (slapping schools on the wrist if at all and crushing student-athletes) we wouldn’t be surprised to see the school leave the investigation unscathed.
  3. On Thursday, ESPN released its Coaches Poll on Thursday and it should not come as much of a surprise that Kentucky came in at #1 followed by Arizona, Duke, Wisconsin, and Kansas. While the order of top five should not be surprising, Kentucky’s margin might be grabbing 24 of 32 first-place votes. As Mike DeCourcy notes despite all of Kentucky’s depth they do have some issues they will need to deal with including four particularly problematic ones. Some of the issues are clearly bigger than others ones, but we are sure Kentucky fans are aware the team will have to deal with these issues once the season starts and hopefully expectations are reasonable in Lexington. Well at least as reasonable as they can be there.
  4. Injuries at this time of year are always a concern, but Maryland might consider itself lucky that Evan Smotrycz will only be out for 4-6 weeks after fracturing the fifth metatarsal on his left foot. Smotrycz, who averaged 11 points and 6 rebounds per game last season, is expected to have surgery later this week.  Based on his estimated return to action he could miss as little as two games, but could potentially miss games against Arizona State, Iowa State, and Virginia if his recovery time is prolonged. Loyola might not be as fortunate as Milton Doyle, who lead the team in basically everything last year–scoring at 14.9 per game, assists at 3.6 per game, steals (38) and blocked shots (23) as a freshman–is out indefinitely with a torn labrum. Doyle, a Kansas transfer, will undergo five to six weeks of rehabilitation at which point he will be evaluated for the possibility of season-ending (7-9 month recovery) shoulder surgery. Southern Methodist doesn’t have an injury issue, but they do have an eligibility one with Markus Kennedy, who according to reports might not be academically eligible at the start of the season. The loss of Kennedy (12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game) would be another massive blow to the Mustangs, who are already dealing with greatly diminished expectations following the departure of Emmanuel Mudiay to China. Losing Kennedy would likely eliminate any hopes of the Mustangs making the NCAA Tournament this season.
  5. We have heard about players getting homesick after leaving high school, but apparently transfers can get homesick too very quickly (or at least it seems that way). Just a few months after transferring from Loyola Marymount to Marquette, Gabe Levin has decided to head back west as he is transferring to Long Beach State. Levin, who averaged 11.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game as freshman last season was going to sit out this season as one of the rare transfers who did not have a waiver. Now with his transfer to Long Beach State we are assuming he will not have to sit out any additional time, but it does raise questions as to his reasons for leaving Marquette so quickly (saw the writing on the wall with the incoming recruiting haul?).

EXTRA: Make sure to check out rushthecourtTV on Youtube for video M5s as well as plenty of other coverage throughout the season. 

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Big 12 M5: 10.20.14 Edition

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 20th, 2014

morning5_big12

  1. Iowa State lost a lot of production with the departures of DeAndre Kane and Melvin Ejim from last season’s Sweet Sixteen squad, but the team is hoping that a big loss of a different variety helps the Cyclones topple Kansas atop the Big 12 this year — the disappearance of 30 pounds from senior Georges Niang‘s frame. Weight fluctuations are always a big discussion point around this time of year, but with many players on this year’s squad stepping into new roles, Iowa State expects to lean heavily on its experienced match-up nightmare. At the very least, Niang’s weight loss (from 240 pounds to 210) should help his agility to average more than the 4.5 rebounds per game he tallied a year ago.
  2. The career turnaround Rick Barnes engineered for himself was one of last season’s biggest stories, not just in the Big 12 but nationally. Now, firmly off the hot seat and with blue-chip big man Myles Turner also in tow, Barnes returns to an atmosphere where his team will shoulder expectations beyond simply making the Big Dance. The Longhorns have a deep, talented roster that will have as good a chance of knocking Kansas off its perch as any challenger has during the Jayhawks’ reign, so it will be interesting to see how Texas builds on last season’s surprise run to the Round of 32.
  3. Speaking of Kansas, Bill Self hasn’t forgotten how porous his team was on the defensive end last year, and he’s adjusting his practices to be more rigorous defensively. The Jayhawks could definitely use a shot in the arm on that end of the floor, after finishing 31st in the country in defensive efficiency on the heels of an eight-year stretch of no worse than 11th in that category.
  4. At last week’s Big 12 Media Day festivities, Curtis Shaw, who oversees the league’s officiating, opened up about the lightning rod that is the block/charge call. Shaw admitted in an interview that poor calls in block/charge scenarios happen more often than good ones, which was reflective of most fans’ perception last winter. It’s unrealistic to expect officials to get every call right, but the hope is that increased accuracy this season will deter defensive players from trying to draw charge calls by sliding into the path of an airborne offensive player.
  5. It wasn’t all that long ago that only the nation’s biggest programs participated in Midnight Madness. Now everyone is in on the act, and as a result, we’ve seen some well-intentioned yet regrettable moments from coaches as their grand entrances have become cheesier and more contrived. Last week, Texas Tech head coach Tubby Smith became the latest victim of the Midnight Madness spotlight, as he fell from a motorcycle (don’t worry, it was moving at a low speed) while leading the Red Raiders onto the United Supermarkets Arena floor. The last few times Texas Tech has made the college hoops news cycle, it hasn’t exactly been flattering (we all remember the Jeff Orr debacle), so here’s hoping that Smith can get the Red Raiders pointed in the right direction after a tough first year at the helm.
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Big Ten M5: 10.20.14 Edition

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 20th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. Maryland received some bad news over the weekend when it found out that starting forward Evan Smotrycz will be out of action from four to six weeks with a broken foot. Smotrycz averaged 11.0 PPG and 6.0 RPG last season after transferring from Michigan. He was expected to be a starter for Mark Turgeon’s team again this season, but now he will probably miss key non-conference games against Arizona State and Virginia if he misses the full six weeks. This puts Jon Graham and possibly freshman Michal Cekovsky in line to pick up some of his minutes, at least in the short term.
  2. Not many Big Ten teams had flashy Midnight Madness spectacles like the Kentuckys and UConns of the world, but a couple of schools held public intra-squad scrimmages over the weekend. Purdue was one such team that did so, and the Boilermakers put forth an intriguing lineup with giants AJ Hammons and freshman Isaac Haas on the floor together at the same time. While this unit would definitely lack in quickness if used during the regular season, it could potentially work in small stretches of game action. The major takeaway from this occurrence, however, is that should Hammons get into foul trouble during the season — a fair assumption, given that he had 12 games of four fouls or more last year — it looks as though Matt Painter won’t hesitate to spell him with the 7’2″ Haas.
  3. Nebraska is in the midst of a highly successful football season right now, as the Huskers currently sit at 6-1 with running back Ameer Abdullah sneaking up the list of Heisman favorites. Despite all of that, Cornhuskers basketball is generating a good deal of its own hype heading into the season. Preseason first team All-Big Ten forward Terran Petteway was quoted at media day as saying “now everybody is going to be coming for us.” The Huskers surpassed expectations and then some last year, so it will be interesting to see what happens when they go from being the hunter to the hunted in 2014-15.
  4. Branden Dawson has to have a great senior season if Michigan State hopes to exceed expectations after losing three talented starters, and playing summer ball against former All-American Draymond Green has helped prepare him to take on a greater burden during this year’s campaign. Head coach Tom Izzo stated that if Dawson can bring consistent energy to the lineup, then he’ll have a big year as a leader. One would think that an all-conference season from Dawson will answer many of the questions people have about Michigan State in a transition year.
  5. Another B1G senior who is under the microscope this season is Ohio State swingman Sam Thompson. Thompson has primarily been known for his highlight reel dunks and incredible athleticism during his previous three seasons in Columbus, but the Buckeyes need offense with their top three scorers no longer on the roster. Thompson’s shooting percentages dropped across the board from his sophomore to his junior season, and as a senior he needs to provide more than just athleticism on a team that ranked 128th in offensive efficiency last year. Fellow seniors Shannon Scott, Amir Williams and Trey McDonald all will have different roles on the team from last season, and whether Thompson in particular can blossom into a more complete player may determine if the Buckeyes are capable of making another deep NCAA Tournament run for Thad Matta.
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SEC M5: 10.20.14 Edition

Posted by Greg Mitchell on October 20th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. The ability to recruit was (and still is) a big question mark surrounding first year Missouri head coach Kim Anderson. To address this expected deficiency, Anderson added Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford to his staff, and that decision has already paid immediate dividends in landing four-star wing Montaque (“Teki”) Gill-Caesar from – you guessed it – Huntington Prep. Fulford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the time Gill-Caesar spent playing with Andrew Wiggins at Huntington was invaluable. “Teki would never back down from Andrew. Now, there were points in practice where Teki would get the better of Andrew until Andrew decided, ‘OK, enough’s enough.’” The Tigers will need that kind of confidence from Gill-Caesar as they replace Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross, three players that accounted for virtually all of the team’s scoring last season.
  2. Luke Winn and Dan Hanner continue their intricate, raw number modeling at SI.com, this time predicting which transfers will have the biggest impact at their new schools. Texas A&M’s Jalen Jones (SMU) lands the second spot on the list as the model predicts he will score 13.9 points per game for the Aggies. This infusion of scoring talent is vital for Billy Kennedy since his team was at times difficult to watch offensively last season. The addition of Jones and a healthy Davonte Fitzgerald should give Texas A&M the offensive boost that it needs. Florida’s Alex Murphy (#70) and Jon Horford (#90) check in pretty far down the list, but each will be heavily relied upon in the frontcourt while Chris Walker serves his three-game suspension, and they could shoot up this list if Walker’s off-court problems persist into the season.
  3. LSU junior guard Joseph Gray checked in at #12 on the SI.com list, and his journey to Baton Rouge has been tumultuous and at times heart-breaking. The Louisiana native, whose mother passed away while he was in high school, was spurned as a prep recruit by former Tigers coach Trent Johnson and ended up Texas Tech. He left the Red Raiders after one productive season (9.3 PPG, 3.2 APG) for Odessa Community College, where he averaged 34.7 PPG in his single season of JuCo action. New LSU head coach Johnny Jones gave Gray the chance to return home and he has a massive opportunity in front of him. He should be in position to earn a lion’s share of the minutes at point guard with Andre Stringer (graduation) and Anthony Hickey (transfer to Oklahoma State) now out of the picture. And despite all the movement in his young career, Gray has two years of eligibility to establish himself as a star at LSU.
  4. Unfortunately for Alabama, one of its transfers won’t see the court at all this season. Christophe Varidel, a graduate transfer from Chaminade, will miss the season because of a pre-existing knee injury, thus ending his collegiate career. Varidel was a part of Florida Gulf Coast’s Sweet Sixteen team in 2012-13, but transferred to the Islands when Andy Enfield left for USC after that season. First and foremost, it’s a sad situation for Varidel, as he will miss out on his only chance to play basketball in a power conference. It’s also an early blow for Anthony Grant since Varidel, a career 38.5 percent three-point shooter, would have played a part in trying to replace the scoring production that left with Trevor Releford.
  5. Frank Martin is angry — this time about criticism leveled at the lack of fan support for basketball at South Carolina. “It’s hard to tell me people don’t care, and yet you’re in the top 40 in the country in total attendance, you’re fifth in the SEC, and there’s an opinion that people don’t care,” Martin told the Charleston Post and Courier. The article points out that South Carolina was actually 41st in attendance with an average of 10,074 fans per game last season, but Martin’s argument is still well-taken. It’s rather impressive that a team without much success in recent history can post that kind of attendance figure, because winning leads to crowds no matter the sport and no matter the level. If Martin can turn the Gamecocks around, Colonial Life Arena and its 18,000-seat capacity will become a daunting challenge. For his part, Martin is about determined as a person can be to reach that point. “I’m not going to stop until the good Lord either takes me, or we put 18 [thousand] in that building when we play,” he said. Touche.
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Back and Forth: Midnight Madness Edition

Posted by David Harten on October 17th, 2014

Each week, we’ll profile some of the week’s biggest upcoming games by taking a look back at some relevant history that relates to the match-ups. This is Back And Forth.

For our first entry, we will take a look at what’s right in front of us. The week of various Midnight Madness events are popping up in arenas across the country, with some naturally creating more of a buzz than others. Places like Lexington, Lawrence, East Lansing and Gainesville will pack fans and students into their respective arenas, domes and fieldhouses, lighting fireworks, putting on costumes and introducing this year’s roster with aplomb – at some point, they’ll also do some basketball stuff.

So what are some of the more memorable Midnight Madness moments for great teams in recent history? Glad you asked. Let’s review three recent champions to determine if there were any clues as to what was to come six months later:

Kentucky, Big Blue Madness – 2011-12

A few months removed from a run to John Calipari’s first Final Four as head coach of the Wildcats, a lot was expected from a semi-veteran team of Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb pairing with the next loaded recruiting class coming to town, featuring future lottery picks Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Amid all the introductions, lights and pageantry, the Wildcats staged their customary Blue vs. White scrimmage.

National Title Moment: During the scrimmage, Big Blue Nation got to see the full talents of Davis on display. The 6’11” forward was a physical freak, swatting shots and throwing down dunks, taking off from outside the paint on the baseline. The future NPOY put it all on display from day one as a Wildcat.

UConn, First Night – 2010-11

No one was expecting what they saw out of UConn in 2010-11. It all started at “First Night,” UConn’s annual nightly open practice. Around 7,000 fans showed up for the player introductions and skills challenge. That was the night Kemba Walker started it all in motion. The rest is history.

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Big Ten M5: 10.17.14 Edition

Posted by Alex Moscoso on October 17th, 2014

morning5_bigten

  1. As Tom Izzo enters his 20th season as head coach at Michigan State, he’ll have to deal with the losses of three major contributors from last season — Keith Appling, Gary Harris, and Adreian Payne. With only an average recruiting class entering East Lansing, he’ll have to rely on players from last year’s roster to improve. Specifically, the Spartans will look to senior Branden Dawson to keep them competitive in the B1G and possibly challenge for a conference championship. On Thursday at the Big Ten Media Day in Chicago, Izzo said that he’s trying to get Dawson to mold his game like another former Spartan standout, Draymond Green. With the significant loss in production from last year, it would certainly help if Dawson played like Green — who averaged a double-double his final year — this season.
  2. As mentioned, yesterday was Big Ten Media Day, and these events usually produce some notable quotes from the assembled coaches. One comment that caught my attention was Michigan head coach John Beilein’s response to a question about the presumed gap between Wisconsin and the other teams in the conference, stating that “the rest of the league is not far behind on a national stage.” It seems like Beilein is confident that, by the end of the season, several other Big Ten teams will join the national conversation, and maybe Wisconsin won’t run away with the conference championship after all. It’s not an outlandish statement by any stretch, because with coaches like Beilein, Izzo, and Thad Matta in the league, it is always difficult for any team — no matter how talented or experienced — to run away with the conference title.
  3. Of all the familiar faces that left the Big Ten this offseason, the most recognizable of those was probably that of the Buckeyes’ Aaron Craft. The highly decorated four-year player’s strength were intangibles like leadership and tenacity that could not be measured in a stat line. Shannon Scott, a 6’1″ senior guard who averaged 26.9 MPG last season, will attempt to replace Craft at the point guard slot this season. Scott’s numbers weren’t too far removed from Craft’s contributions in 2013-14, so his ability to produce is not really in question. But taking a leadership role could be an issue for Craft’s replacement, as Thad Matta stated on Thursday, “he’s always played a supportive role from teams he’s been on in high school to AAU to here.” The Buckeyes have a nice group of talent once again this season, but if Scott can’t effectively take an on-court leadership role, the Buckeyes will struggle to regain national power status.
  4. One familiar face that did return was Purdue big man and conference-leading shot-blocker, A.J. Hammons. While Hammons improved his block and defensive rebounding percentages from his freshman to sophomore seasons, he did not improve nearly as much offensively. Therefore it must be reassuring to Matt Painter to hear Hammons say that he realizes he has to be more of a leader on offense or Purdue won’t go very far this year. If the Boilermakers have any shot of making a run at the NCAA Tournament — and possibly saving Painter’s job — it will require Hammons to be the focal point of the team on both ends of the court.
  5. Finally, Illinois fans received sad news on Wednesday when they learned former assistant coach and Peoria High School legend, Wayne McClain, had passed away. On Thursday we learned even more about what seemed like the coach’s sudden death. McClain had been diagnosed with lung cancer in 2013, but only he and his doctors knew about it — not even his wife nor his son Sergio, who played at Illinois from 1997-2001. The younger McClain only found out about his illness by looking through his late father’s smart phone and reading a journal he had written. Wayne McClain was apparently telling his family that he was going to regular doctor visits when he was actually receiving chemotherapy. When his options for treatment ran out, he still kept his illness a secret. It’s hard to imagine most people doing the same, but from reading interviews with his former players and colleagues, McClain seemed to be dedicated to selflessly helping others and not making things about himself. The basketball world seemed to lose a good one this week. Rest in peace, coach.
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SEC M5: 10.17.14 Edition

Posted by David Changas on October 17th, 2014

SEC_morning5

  1. Florida has had a rough week thus far, as the Gators were forced to suspend sophomore forward Chris Walker on Wednesday for an undisclosed violation of team rules. The three-game suspension will force Walker to miss the Gators’ exhibition game against Barry University as well as the regular season’s first two games against William & Mary and cross-state rival Miami. It has been speculated that Walker, who missed a good portion of last season with academic issues, may have violated the school’s drug policy. The Gators also found out they will be without four-star freshman guard Brandone Francis because of his academic shortcomings. Francis is ineligible to practice with the team this fall, but could return to the court in the spring if his performance in school improves.
  2. Despite having two teams in the top 10, it’s no surprise that the SEC is not particularly well-represented in the first preseason USA Today coaches poll. Kentucky tops the list, receiving 24 of the available 32 first-place votes.  Florida checks in at No. 7, and the only other SEC team to even receive votes was Arkansas. Given the league’s lack of national success over the past several years – Kentucky and Florida aside – and so many questions that must be answered by so many teams in the league, the Wildcats and Gators might be the only two schools from the conference who consistently spend time in the poll throughout this season.
  3. It is no secret that Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison often didn’t see eye to eye with coach John Calipari last year, and that his freshman campaign was mostly disappointing. While he redeemed himself in helping the Wildcats make their surprising run to the national championship game, his success there did not erase the shortcomings of the rest of the season. By contrast, CBSSports.com’s Gary Parrish thinks Harrison can be a great redemption story this season. While he did not live up to the hype that came with being one of the nation’s most heralded freshman, he has put that disappointment behind him. His first season in Lexington failed to match those of other great point guards who have played under Calipari — players like Derrick Rose, Tyreke Evans, John Wall, and Brandon Knight — but that doesn’t mean he can’t turn things around this year. By all accounts, Harrison is in better shape than when he arrived in Lexington last August, and has worked hard during the offseason to be ready to raise the overall level of his game. If Kentucky is going to live up to those lofty preseason expectations, he will need to do just that.
  4. The announcement earlier this week that SEC Commissioner Mike Slive will retire in July 2015 received a lot of attention nationally, mostly because of the remarkable job Slive has done in bringing the conference to a level of college football dominance not seen in some time. He is also credited with putting together the fledgling SEC Network, which virtually every cable and satellite provider in the country offers as part of its basic packages. And while there is no questioning the financial success that the league has enjoyed under Slive’s leadership, his relative inability to lead the conference to commensurate success in basketball is certainly worth discussing. Kentucky has been again dominant since Calipari’s arrival in 2009, and Florida has been a perennial top-10 power for over a decade under Billy Donovan’s leadership, but the overall profile of the league has not improved since Slive took the job in 2002. In fact, it could be reasonably argued that it has diminished, and that the league is perceived, now more than ever, of being concerned only with football success. While it obviously would be overly simplistic to put all of that at Slive’s feet, it is fair to direct some criticism his way, especially in light of the great accolades he receives for the conference’s success on the gridiron.
  5. There were plenty of surprises that came with Tennessee‘s unexpected run to the Sweet Sixteen last year, but none was bigger than the emergence of forward Josh Richardson. The defensive stalwart averaged just under 10.0 PPG during the regular season, but his average soared to 19.3 PPG in the team’s four NCAA Tournament games. Now, with most of his running mates from last year’s team as well as his coach having moved on, new coach Donnie Tyndall is leaning heavily on Richardson to lead his young group of Volunteers. It appears the senior forward has taken Tyndall’s admonitions to heart, and while it is unrealistic to expect Tennessee to duplicate its March success this season, if the Volunteers are going to have any real success, they will need Richardson to lead the way on both ends of the floor.
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ACC M5: Midnight Madness Edition

Posted by @bradjenk on October 17th, 2014

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  1. TarHeelBlog: Once upon a time, the first Friday after the official start date of practice (October 15) was when almost every college basketball squad held their version of “Midnight Madness.” But now that the NCAA rules allow for limited practices to be conducted several weeks earlier, many schools have moved their season opening gala-style events to accommodate that change. North Carolina was one of the schools that decided to get their event out of the way early this year. “Late Night With Roy” was held in the Smith Center on Friday, October 3, and according to Brian Barbour, the heralded Tar Heels freshman class may be as good as advertised, especially wing scorer supreme, Justin Jackson. Another star of the scrimmage was sophomore big man Kennedy Meeks. Not only did he look to be in better shape on the court after significant weight loss over the summer, Meeks stole the show with a Whitney Houston lip-synching performance during the pre-scrimmage part of the evening.
  2. NBCSports: Clemson was another ACC school that decided to have its night of madness early. Last Friday, the Tigers held their annual “Rock The John” at Littlejohn Coliseum. As this post suggests, it could be that Brad Brownell has found a surprising new long-range shooting threat, and he certainly could use one. Last year the Tigers finished last in the ACC in three-point shooting at 29.4 percent in conference games. I won’t spoil the surprise of who that might be, but their new marksman is not currently on the team roster but could be asked to walk on.
  3. LocalSyr.com: A couple of ACC teams will be conducting “Madness” during the traditional Friday slot tonight. Syracuse is one of those schools, holding its “Orange Madness” this evening in the Carrier Dome. The listed schedule of events includes a legends scrimmage featuring numerous Orange alumni, including Pearl Washington. Syracuse coaches hope freshman point guard Kaleb Joseph is able to start his career as productively as “The Pearl” did back in the 80s and as well as Tyler Ennis did for the Orange last year.
  4. GoPack.com: N.C. State is one of six NCAA schools that will have its big event shown in its entirety on ESPN3 tonight. “Throwback With The Pack” will be held at historic Reynolds Coliseum, which will be undergoing a major renovation in 2015. While no longer the home of Wolfpack basketball other than an occasional early season non-conference game, Reynolds is one of the game’s classic old arenas with a rich tradition forged by some of the legends of Tobacco Road. Some of those legends will be returning for tonight’s event, including stars David Thompson and Tommy Burleson, a pair of whom led N.C. State to its first NCAA Championship in 1974.
  5. PittsburghPanthers.com: Pittsburgh deserves credit for putting on the event it will on Sunday. Jamie Dixon’s squad will be hosting the “Maggie Dixon Heart Health Fair/Fan Fest/Blue-Gold Scrimmage” at the Petersen Event Center, an event that combines health awareness and fan activities along with the basketball part of the day. The Health Fair is in honor of Dixon’s younger sister who tragically died at the age of 28 in 2006. Hats off to Pittsburgh for having an event that goes well beyond the notion of just exciting students, fans and recruits.
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Pac-12 M5: 10.16.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 16th, 2014

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  1. The most intriguing thing about preseason preview time in college basketball is finding out about all the new faces you’re about to get to know and trying to make sense of how they’re going to fit in with their new teams. We more or less know what to expect of guys like Chasson Randle and Kaleb Tarczewski and Askia Booker, but in this first Morning Five of the new season, we’ll take a quick five-stop tour around the conference to meet some of the new guys. First stop: Eugene, where Dana Altman welcomes in six new faces (four freshmen and two junior college transfers), but five-star guard JaQuan Lyle is not among them. Lyle’s struggled with academic eligibility questions all summer, questions that were apparently answered when he did not enroll at Oregon for the fall semester. Similarly, freshman forward Ray Kasongo was denied admission to Oregon and is now at Southern Idaho. Still, after a tumultuous offseason, the Ducks are happy to be back on the court and look forward to contributions from all of their newcomers. Freshmen Casey Benson and Ahmaad Rorie will share duties at point guard, while freshmen Jordan Bell and Dillon Brooks should expect time there as well. Likewise, JuCo transfer Dwayne Benjamin appears to be in for a big role, while the other JuCo transfer, Michael Chandler, is dealing with knee problems early that have prevented him from getting in much work.
  2. Like the Ducks, Arizona State is also going to be dealing with a number of fresh faces, as seven newcomers have chances to earn playing time for head coach Herb Sendek. And, as Connor Pelton of The House of Sparky writes, despite new faces in the backcourt, Sendek appears primed to stick with the more up-tempo offense we saw during the last two seasons. Point guard Tra Holder and off-guard Kodi Justice are a pair of freshmen who have a good chance to jump right into the meat of the Sun Devils’ backcourt rotation, with JuCo transfer Gerry Blakes in the mix as well. And given that Sendek says that this team is the fastest and most athletic team he’s coached in his time in Tempe, that up-tempo style could fit them well.
  3. As USC heads into its second season under head coach Andy Enfield, even the most die-hard USC basketball fan probably wouldn’t recognize any of the players on this year’s squad if they walked by on campus. But while the talent level on this squad is still in need of an upgrade, this team is slowly but surely starting to fit Enfield’s vision. Last year, Enfield inherited some players whose style did not fit his, but with freshman point guard Jordan McLaughlin – whose services Enfield beat out cross-town suitors UCLA for – leading the way, this year’s Trojans should at the very least play the type of pace that the second-year head coach is looking for.
  4. While there are plenty of familiar faces on the Arizona squad, freshman point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright is a new one with a lot to prove. You see, not only is Jackson-Cartwright a 5’10” player in a sport dominated by giants and a point guard in a program known for the consistent excellence of their point guards, but he is a young man looking to bounce back from a rough senior season in high school. You see, in the middle of the season, he left his high school because of an academic misconduct investigation and spent the remainder of the year finishing up his prep education at a different school without the benefit of basketball to fall back on. In the process, Jackson-Cartwright may have proven his maturity for the way he handled the situation.
  5. Rounding out our Morning Five by landing back in Central Oregon again, new head coach Wayne Tinkle may not have a ton of true newcomers on his first Oregon State team, but they will largely be new faces even to the most dedicated Pac-12 basketball fan. The most experienced player on his roster – Langston Morris-Walker – averaged just 18 minutes per game last season. Nobody on this roster can rightfully dodge the “unproven” tag, so they’re all embracing it and hoping to use this year — and the opportunities for playing time that come with an unproven roster — to do some proving. Check back later today for RTC’s Oregon State team preview.
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