Posted by Greg Mitchell on April 4th, 2014
- Arizona had no answer for Frank Kaminsky despite an athletic frontcourt and defensive wunderkind Aaron Gordon. Kentucky must now deal with the Badgers’ seven-footer without Willie Cauley-Stein in the lineup. Not only is Cauley-Stein the Wildcats’ best interior defender, his feet are quick enough to stay with Kaminsky when he fades out to the perimeter. “Oooh. … tough match-up for us,” John Calipari said on Thursday. “Really skilled. … He’s going to be a handful. Wish we had Willie.” Of all the great individual match-ups this weekend, how Kentucky handles the versatile Wisconsin center without Cauley-Stein available might be the most intriguing.
- Some of that responsibility with fall on Marcus Lee, Kentucky’s “forgotten All-American” who came out of nowhere to contribute in a big way against Michigan. As skilled and as big as Dakari Johnson is, it is Lee who has the quickness to better deal with Kaminsky. One scout told SI.com that he is the “X-factor” in Saturday night’s game against Wisconsin. Lee has a decent block rate (5.2%) in very limited time this year, and given his athletic reputation, it’s not likely that the 10 points, eight rebounds and two blocks he posted against the Wolverines were a fluke. If Lee ends up playing a big role in one or more Kentucky wins this weekend it’ll be an incredible story for a guy who logged all of 39 minutes in SEC play. It would also be a great launching pad to a starting spot on next season’s team.
- If Kaminsky vs. the Kentucky frontcourt isn’t this weekend’s top match-up, then Scottie Wilbekin vs. Shabazz Napier must be. Napier dropped 20 points on Florida before the then-on-the-mend Wilbekin got injured in the first meeting between the teams. Prior to the SEC Player of the Year trying to lock down the NCAA Tournament’s hottest player, the Gainesville Sun’s Kevin Brockway took a look back at Wilbekin’s “unlikely road” to the Final Four. It’s almost unbelievable to think that just under a year ago Billy Donovan asked Wilbekin to transfer. “He needed to build his credibility back with the rest of our team,” Donovan said. Kasey Hill has shown that Florida would have still been dangerous had things turned out differently, but there’s no chance the Gators would be entering the final weekend as the favorites to win it all without their rock solid senior point guard.
- The players slotted in picks #43 to #45 in DraftExpress’ latest mock draft have something in common: They’re all SEC juniors who are leaving early. Missouri’s Jordan Clarkson and Jabari Brown, and LSU’s Johnny O’Bryant are all expected to go pretty deep into the second round, which makes you wonder if staying another year would have been beneficial for each player. To be fair, telling someone to pass up the chance at bundles of money is foolish, and there very well could be family issues at play for any one of these players. But leaving early when you are not guaranteed to become a first round pick is a big risk, especially for players who stand to improve and enter a supposedly weaker 2015 draft. O’Bryant showed significant growth in the range of his jump shot this year and could keep that up if he stayed another season. Brown similarly looked more comfortable attacking the basket, and Clarkson would make himself infinitely more valuable as a big, athletic point guard with more refinement at the position. As of now, we’ll just have to wait until June and hope it works out for each player.
- Talk about a busy day. Missouri junior forward Zach Price, who sat out after transferring from Louisville last year, managed to get arrested not once but twice on Thursday. Right now it doesn’t appear that any of Price’s charges are felonies, so if he is convicted it won’t result in an automatic removal from the team. Still, Frank Haith may need to take extreme measures to get his team in line. The Tigers’ offseason has been about as disastrous as the end to their season. Price is now the third Tiger to be suspended after Shane Rector and Wes Clark were caught with marijuana before Missouri’s NIT opener. This isn’t the type of movement Haith needed in what will be a crucial 2014-15 season for him in Columbia.
Posted by nvr1983 on April 4th, 2014
- After being rejected by Harvard coach Tommy Amaker and deciding against Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins (possibly the most sought-after assistant in the country), Boston College announced that they were hiring Ohio coach Jim Christian to replace Steve Donahue. Christian was 49-22 at Ohio after taking over for Jim Groce, who left for Illinois. The move is an interesting one is that despite his relative success in stops at Kent State, TCU, and Ohio, Christian has only made two NCAA Tournament appearances in twelve seasons and never got past the first round.
- Few players have seen their NBA Draft stock drop as much as James Michael McAdoo during his three years at North Carolina. Coming in as a top-10 recruit, he was still a lottery pick, but decided to come back to school. Despite boosting his production significantly between his freshman and sophomore year, McAdoo returned to school yet again. Now after his junior year, McAdoo has finally decided to enter the NBA Draft. At this point, he is a mid- to late-second round pick. Financially it would have been better for McAdoo to enter after his freshman year and get at least one NBA contract, but in the end he probably would have ended up with the same fate: playing overseas.
- T.J. Warren‘s NBA prospects are significantly brighter than McAdoo’s, but he has not decided on whether he will enter the Draft or not. According to Warren’s father, T.J. will probably make his announcement on Tuesday. Warren won ACC Player of the Year honors while leading the conference in scoring (24.9) and shooting (52.5%) and ranking in the top in steals and rebounds. Warren is a borderline lottery pick so at this point we would be surprised to see him return for another season in Raleigh, but stranger things have happened.
- St. John’s has had a tough off-season so far. They already had JaKarr Sampson declare for the NBA Draft and now Chris Obekpa has decided to transfer. The 6’9″ sophomore might not be the college player that Sampson is, but he is a better NBA prospect because of his ability to block shots as he averaged 4 blocks per game as a freshman despite playing just 26 minutes per game. He saw his minutes and blocks drop this season, but still had a similar blocked shot percentage (15.7%) putting him among the best in the country. He is believed to be looking at Oregon and Baylor as potential transfer destinations.
- It takes a special kind of stupid to get arrested twice in one day, but that is what (former) Missouri player Zach Price did yesterday. Price was arrested early yesterday morning after assaulting his roommate and his roommate’s girlfriend. Price was released a short time later and managed to get arrested yesterday afternoon although the details of that arrest remain unclear. Missouri had already suspended Price following his first arrest so we would not be surprised to see them dismiss him from the program in the near future.
Posted by Jonathan Batuello on April 3rd, 2014
- Frank Kaminsky wasn’t always a star at Wisconsin, so it’s easy to forget that he rarely saw heavy minutes behind a loaded Badgers’ frontcourt in his first two seasons. This year the junior burst on to the scene when he set the school’s single game record with 43 points against North Dakota. His progression into a star didn’t surprise his athletic family that knew it was just a matter of time before he got there. He has now certainly reached their expectations, as he won the West Region’s Most Outstanding Player award last weekend. Kaminsky’s on-court success lies in his ability to play both inside and outside the paint, causing nightmares for opposing teams and representing a big key to Wisconsin’s potential of winning a national championship this weekend.
- One of the Big Ten teams facing the most turnover this offseason is Michigan State. Sparty is for sure losing two starting seniors in Adreian Payne and Keith Appling, and is likely to also lose Gary Harris to the NBA. Add in the potential of Branden Dawson also going league and the Spartans could be looking at four new starters next season. This makes starting lineup projections interesting, with Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine, Kenny Kaminski, Matt Costello and probably Javon Bess or a three-guard lineup if Dawson leaves. Michigan State will be a very interesting team next season, having lost a great amount of talent and on paper appearing to be a middle of the pack conference team. Then again, while all the injuries hurt Tom Izzo’s team this season, it gave these reserves minutes that they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten.
- Another team facing plenty of questions right now is the other major school sharing the state. Michigan has three potential guys who could bolt to the NBA this spring, which creates quite a distinguishable best and worst case scenario for next season for the Wolverines. If Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary all return, John Beilein’s team won’t just be a favorite to win the Big Ten, but also a national title favorite. If all three leave school, Michigan will still be solid and likely to battle for a top four spot in the conference standings, but its national contender status would certainly be very different barring huge jumps from the remaining players.
- The Big Ten had three players in the McDonald’s All-American Game last night. With this in mind the Big Ten Network‘s Shawn Merriman evaluated the top former Big Ten players who participated in the game. Players were rated solely based on their collegiate careers and the winner is none too surprising. Not only is Michigan State’s Magic Johnson the best former Big Ten McDonald’s All-American to play in the game, but he could easily be argued as the best Big Ten player of all-time. Others on the list include plenty of big names like Purdue’s Glenn Robinson and Indiana’s Isiah Thomas and then some college stars like Michigan State’s Mateen Cleaves and Illinois’ Dee Brown. Will any of this year’s three participants have careers similar to what these guys accomplished? Probably not, but you never know until they show up on campus.
- Northwestern may have not gotten to play in the postseason again this year, but senior Drew Crawford still has another game to go. Crawford will play for the West in the Reese’s Division I College All-Star Game in Dallas this week. He is one of two Big Ten players invited to the game along with Indiana‘s Will Sheehey, who will play for the East. It is a solid career-ending honor for two seniors who were major contributors for their teams this season. Neither may have made the NCAA or NIT this season, but getting one more game will be good for them to showcase their skills.
Posted by nvr1983 on April 3rd, 2014
- Fans in the AAC can start working on their cell phone and texting jokes as Houston hired Kelvin Sampson to be its next coach. Sampson was successful at both Oklahoma and Indiana before a variety of issues that have been documented in great detail before derailed him leading to a five-year show-cause penalty in 2008. Sampson has spent the last six years floating between jobs in the NBA and was serving as an assistant for the Houston Rockets so he might not even have to move for his new job although he might be moving into a bigger house with the upgrade in his salary. Much like the Bruce Pearl hire this has to be considered a huge get for the program, but we have to wonder how long he will stay there..
- After what has to be considered a successful first season for Steve Alford things are looking pretty good at UCLA. However, accusations by a spurned sports agent that he provided former Bruin Tyler Honeycutt with impermissible benefits could halt that progress. The school had previously investigated the matter and said that the NCAA ruled the case closed, but with the new documentation they will have to investigate the matter further. This is the second such incident involving UCLA in the past two years (Shabazz Muhammad being the more well-known case), but we wouldn’t consider it an issue with the school. Our bigger question is why do these issues typically arise with mid-level players and not the real stars?
- With many of the bigger jobs being filled or in the process of being filled the attention on the coaching carousel shifts to the mid-tier schools. One example of this is North Carolina Central coach LeVelle Morton, who is reportedly interviewing at Florida Atlantic and Marshall. Morton has led the Eagles to better records in each of his five seasons culminating in a NCAA Tournament appearance this season. His move might not move the needle nationally, but it could lead him to an even bigger job in the future.
- Chane Behanan cannot seem to avoid getting in trouble. The former Louisville forward, who was kicked off the team for marijuana use, has already enrolled at Colorado State, but took a trip back to Louisville this week. At 1 AM on Wednesday morning he was cited, but not arrested for marijuana possession after a police officer smelled marijuana in a car in which Behanan was a passenger. Behanan reportedly admitted to having a marijuana cigarette. Although he was not arrested he will have a court date later this month. Avoiding the whole social discussion regarding the legalization of marijuana one has to question Behanan’s maturity at this point for getting arrested for something after he has already been through so much.
- Next season could be a rough one for Missouri after Jabari Brown announced that he would enter the NBA Draft. Brown joins fellow junior Jordan Clarkson in potentially leaving Missouri early although both could withdraw their names from the Draft by April 15 depending on what they hear. Brown was a first-team All-SEC player this season and led the conference in scoring at 19.9 points per game. Like Clarkson, Brown is also projected to be a second-round pick so it would seem to make sense for him to return, but it would not be the first time that we have seen a player leave early for that type of fate.
Posted by nvr1983 on April 2nd, 2014
- The biggest name on the coaching carousel (or at least the longest) is off the market as Marquette hired longtime Duke assistant Steve Wojciechowski to be its next head coach. It is pointless to go in-depth about Wojciehowski because he was possibly the most well-known college basketball assistant coach in the country, but he will have a tough task in front of him in replacing Buzz Williams at Marquette. We hesitate to put too much stock into the Krzyzewski coaching tree just because of Chris Collins’ (relative) success in his first season at Northwestern, but it would appear that Wojciehowski would have a good chance of being successful at Marquette given his experience.
- With the Marquette vacancy filled, the most prominent remaining opening is at Wake Forest. Yesterday, the school met with Tulsa coach Danny Manning to discuss the opening. Even without Manning’s background in the state of North Carolina, this would be a tremendous hire for Wake Forest and the position is certainly a step-up for Manning assuming that he is confident that he can make the team a winner in the ACC, which would be much harder to do than build a consistent winner at Tulsa. Given the difficulty of winning at Wake Forest and Manning’s name recognition, the smart move would probably be to parlay Wake Forest’s interest into a better contract at Tulsa and then try to move on to a much bigger job when Tulsa makes a NCAA Tournament run.
- We usually don’t discuss women’s college basketball on this site (particularly at this time of the year), but we are intrigued by the decision of Louisiana Tech to hire Tyler Summitt as its next women’s basketball coach. Tyler, is of course the son of the legendary Pat Summitt (the all-time NCAA Division I wins leader), so the fact that he followed in his mother’s footsteps should not be that shocking. What is surprising is that Tyler is only 23 years-old and Louisiana Tech has one of the more storied traditions in women’s college basketball so it is hardly the typical starting job although the team has fallen on tough times recently. Tyler will be replacing Teresa Weatherspoon, another women’s college basketball legend, at Louisiana Tech.
- Along with the coaching carousel the next few weeks will be full of NBA Draft decisions. Yesterday, Johnny O’Bryant announced that he would be entering the NBA Draft. O’Bryant, who averaged 15.4 points and 7.7 rebounds per game this season, is predicted to be a mid-second round pick. Two other significant players–Gary Harris and Spencer Dinwiddie (and his glorious mustache)–are reportedly still deciding although rumors indicate that they are leaning towards entering the NBA Draft. For Harris the decision would appear to make sense as he is expected to be a borderline lottery pick. Dinwiddie is a more questionable case as he is coming off a season-ending knee injury and is most likely a second-round pick.
- Matt Carlino, who stepped in for Kyle Collinsowrth in the NCAA Tournament, is transferring from BYU with one more year of eligibility left. Carlino averaged 13.7 points, 4.3 assists, and 3.4 rebounds per game this season and will be eligible play immediately as he is scheduled to graduate from BYU this summer so he would appear to be an almost ideal transfer target. This will be Carlino’s second transfer as he left midway through his freshman year at UCLA.
Posted by Will Tucker on April 1st, 2014
- Mike DeCourcy of Sporting News writes that Russ Smith cemented his legacy as “a competitor and gentleman” with the gracious post-game remarks he delivered after Louisville’s disappointing 74-69 loss to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen. The senior guard’s wide-ranging comments, a transcript of which WDRB (Louisville) columnist Eric Crawford posted on Twitter, expressed gratitude to everyone from his teammates, coaches, managers, trainers, to UK’s program and current team, whom he described as “a great group of guys” and praised individually by name. He also credited Rick Pitino for shaping him into a man and apologized to Louisville fans, saying, “I wish I could have given them the win. I’m so sorry.” DeCourcy declares that Smith “leaves the game better than he found it because of how he performed and how he carried himself.”
- With Connecticut playing for its first Final Four of the post-Jim Calhoun era, Tim Layden writes for Sports Illustrated that Kevin Ollie’s Huskies have clawed their way back from the “brink of irrelevance.” After “disappear[ing] into a grave partly of its own making and partly from the odd and capricious forces of modern college athletic,” writes Layden, “the Huskies are back because senior Shabazz Napier is a truly transcendent college guard, a tough and spectral offensive player descended directly from his former teammate, Kemba Walker.” Yahoo Sports’ Dan Wetzel credits Napier’s coach with his team’s display of scrappy physicality and mental stamina against a much bigger Michigan State team on Sunday, describing the Kevin Ollie coaching experience as “an endless, relentless confidence-building exercise via motivational vignettes that couldn’t have found a more perfect home than a program that was under siege.”
- A day after Louisville’s NCAA Tournament elimination, it was widely reported that junior guard Kevin Ware would transfer. Ware told ESPN that he’d like to be closer to his family home in Atlanta, and observers have pegged Auburn as a likely destination after the Tigers hired Bruce Pearl, who originally signed Ware at Tennessee. Still, the timing seems bizarre: Ware had tweeted last week that he was “never leaving this place,” and his stepfather told The Courier-Journal that while he had been aware of Kevin’s plan to leave, “We just didn’t know he was going to tell someone today, the day after the team was eliminated.” While Ware was sidelined early in the season with injury, his experience and awareness of Rick Pitino’s defenses figured to give Ware the edge for a job in the Cardinals’ core rotation, if not their starting lineup.
- In other AAC transfer news, Temple redshirt junior Anthony Lee has committed to play at Ohio State next season. Lee, a two-year starter for Fran Dunphy who averaged 13.6 points and 8.6 rebounds per game this season, is set to graduate this spring, and wanted an opportunity to play in front of his relatives in the Midwest before the end of his college career. He will spend his last year of eligibility as a Buckeye while enrolled in a graduate program. As expected, USF freshman Josh Heath has also elected to transfer after his father’s firing earlier in the month.
- With or without Lee, Temple is already eager to rebound after failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2007. “It’s motivation, that you were on the team that kind of let everybody down, didn’t live up to the expectations everybody’s used to seeing,” said junior guard Will Cummings, who described the grueling 9-22 campaign as the season of “almost.” Coach Fran Dunphy agreed with that assessment, adding, “We were almost there. We didn’t have a lot of margin for error. It’s that kind of thing where a season can change on a game, a game can change on a play.” Daily News writer Mike Kern offers the example of Villanova’s swift turnaround as a blueprint for the Owls’ rebuilding effort, pointing out that over a span of three years, Jay Wright’s teams went from a program-record 19 losses to a program-record 28 regular-season wins.
Posted by nvr1983 on April 1st, 2014
- South Florida appears to have its next coach and hopefully he has completed the coursework that he says he has. Yesterday, the school announced that Orlando Antigua would be its next head coach. Antigua is expected to continue to serve as an assistant at Kentucky through their Final Four run. The deal, which is reportedly five years, adds Antigua to a growing Calipari coaching tree that already includes Josh Pastner, Derek Kellogg, and Bruiser Flint. Antigua is best known for spearheading Kentucky’s recent ridiculous recruiting run. He will not be recruiting anything close to the same caliber of player in Tampa, but getting better players into the program will be the first step in making it respectable.
- Antigua is just getting his head coaching career started while across the country Mike Montgomery appears to have decided to end his. Yesterday, Montgomery announced that he would be stepping down as the coach at California and retiring. Montgomery coached at three schools–California, Stanford, and Montana–for 32 seasons and in the NBA for the Golden State Warriors for two seasons. Outside of his time in the NBA during which his teams went 34-48 in each of his two seasons, Montgomery was very successful at all three schools he coached at going 677-317, but will be best remembered for making Stanford into one of the top programs in the country before he left the Farm to head to the NBA.
- Staying in the Pac-12, Washington State announced that it hired former Oregon coach Ernie Kent to be its next head coach. After having a degree of success under Tony Bennett (not exactly shocking anymore) the Cougars went through a rough patch with Ken Bone, who was fired after five seasons. With his 13 seasons at Oregon, which included two Elite 8 appearances, Kent would appear to be ideally suited to compete in the Pac-12. Having said that perhaps the biggest key for Kent was his relationship with athletic director Bill Moos, who had hired Kent to his first head coaching position at St. Mary’s.
- Former Arizona star Jason Gardner (last seen having this done to him by Jason Williams–seriously, no foul was called on that) was named as the new coach at IUPUI yesterday. Gardner is best known for his time at Arizona, but he subsequently played overseas before serving as an assistant at Loyola then Memphis. Outside of his professional experience and name recognition, Gardner also was a Mr. Basketball in Indiana in 1999, which could serve him well as he tries to recruit within the state although he will have an uphill battle trying to get recruits over much more well-known in-state schools.
- We had two players announce that they were entering the NBA Draft yesterday. One had been expected for over a year while the other one was a bit of a surprise. The first (and obvious) one was Andrew Wiggins, who announced that he would be leaving Kansas after his freshman season. Wiggins’ draft stock may have dropped from what it was before the season (an unquestioned #1 overall pick), but he is still a top-five pick at worst. The announcement out of Missouri was a little more surprising as Jordan Clarkson has elected to enter the NBA Draft after his junior season. While Clarkson’s numbers this season may have been close to what Wiggins put up, he is closer to a late first round pick at best so this might end up backfiring on him if he were to slip into the second round.
Posted by nvr1983 on March 31st, 2014
- The Final Four field is set and now all we have to do is wait five days for the national semifinals. The first semifinal will feature Florida against Connecticut, which is a rematch of the game in Storrs on December 2 that the Huskies won on a last-second Shabazz Napier jumper. This time Florida will be completely healthy and it will be at a neutral site, but it will be interesting to see if the Gators can beat the last team to beat them this season. The other semifinal features Wisconsin and Kentucky. Despite the fact that Wisconsin is a #2 seed and Kentucky is a #8 seed the Wildcats opened as two-points favorites in this one.
- Four teams were sent home earlier than they would have liked over the weekend and three of the fan bases acted in an appropriate manner. Arizona was the exceptions where students rioted leading to stand-offs with police and subsequently arrests. Fortunately no injuries were reported, but it was a bad way for the Wildcats to go out particularly when the coaches and players conducted themselves so well after a frustrating loss. While we understand the idiot of protests and riots in terms of political and civil issues, we don’t understand doing it in front of people (Arizona staff and Tucscon natives) who presumably agree with you.
- Now that the season is over for all, but four teams we are starting to transition into the part of the college basketball season where NBA Draft decisions are being made. Two of the biggest ones will come from Aaron Gordon and Andrew Wiggins both of whom are almost certainly expected to turn pro. They are expected to officially announce as early as today. On the other hand, Juwan Staten tweeted out on Saturday night that he would be returning for his senior year at West Virginia. Unlike the other two Staten is most likely a borderline draft pick so it makes sense for him to return. The other two are probably top-five picks so it makes sense for them to go after the guaranteed contract.
- Some players are headed to the NBA while others are just leaving school. The biggest news was out of Louisville where news broke that Kevin Ware was transferring. It was just a year ago that Ware became a symbol of the Cardinals on their march to the championship following his compound fracture in the Elite 8. Neither Ware nor his family have given any indication of where he will be transferring, but some sources suggest that he could be headed to Auburn to play for Bruce Pearl since Ware committed to play for Pearl at Tennessee before the barbecue/cookout fiasco. The other major transfer announcement was Tyler Lewis who will be leaving North Carolina State. Whereas Ware had issues coming back from injury, Lewis had no such issue and was starting making his transfer even more confusing. Like Ware, Lewis has not listed any potential destinations.
- Finally, we get to the coaches who are part of the ever-revolving coaching carousel. The biggest news of the weekend was based on the lack of movement as Tommy Amaker turned down Boston College to stay at Harvard and Dave Rice turned down South Florida to stay at UNLV with Rice possibly getting two more years added onto his contract. In terms of potential news, Mike Montgomery is expected to announce later today whether he will remain the coach at California or retire.
Posted by Ross Schulz on March 28th, 2014
- When the next AAC Morning 5 is published, only four teams will remain to vie for a national championship. Will an AAC school be one of them? Both AAC squads still remaining, Louisville and Connecticut, will hit the floor in their respective regional semifinals tonight. While Louisville will face a familiar foe in Kentucky, Connecticut will experience some familiarity of its own by playing in Madison Square Garden. It will be a nostalgic night for the Connecticut faithful, especially for former coach Jim Calhoun. Calhoun built Connecticut into a basketball power after taking over the program in 1986 and had great success in the Garden.
- Last year on the way to a national championship, Louisville guard Russ Smith could lean on the play of big man Gorgui Dieng and backcourt mate Peyton Siva. Those two have since moved on to the NBA, but that doesn’t mean Smith isn’t getting help from them. Smith said he talks almost daily with the two, mainly asking for advice about leadership. “It’s been really tough not to have them on the court with me,” he said. “They helped me so much last year.” Siva took Smith under his wing from the moment he stepped on campus. Siva’s advice to Smith: Don’t stress what other people are saying and just play your game. Dieng said Smith needed to stand up if something was going bad and now he understands and does so.
- Louisville assistant coach Kevin Keatts will be the next head coach at UNC-Willmington, unless of course, he didn’t actually graduate from college. It marks the fourth assistant-to-head coach move in four years from Louisville. He is known as one of the best recruiters in the game and played a large role in signing Montrezl Harrell, Luke Hancock, Chris Jones and Terry Rozier, all players that will be a major part of the Cardinals’ Sweet 16 game tonight with Kentucky. Keatts was also instrumental in the landing of the Louisville 2014 recruiting class headlined by guard Quentin Snider.
- Sean Vinsel of cardsandcatsstats.com welcomes the Sweet Sixteen match-up between Kentucky and Louisville. The Indiana grad’s website breaks down both teams statistically using measures not usually seen in the college game such as NBA’s plus/minus system. Louisville’s most productive line-up according to Vinsel is Chris Jones, Russ Smith, Wayne Blackshear, Montrezl Harrell and Stephan Van Treese. Kentucky’s is the Harrison twins, James Young, Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein. The X-factors, he said, will be Luke Hancock and Cauley-Stein.
- Larry Brown said SMU owes everything to its fans. The Mustangs faithful made NIT home games feel like regular season finales with a conference championship on the line. SMU won 12 out of 13 games at Moody Coliseum this season, including the third round NIT victory over California, securing a spot at Madison Square Garden. “I think it plays a big part,” Senior Shawn Williams said of the crowd. “Those five-or-six-point runs turn into 10-or-12-point runs with the crowd.” The Mustangs were hoping for an NCAA Tournament berth, but a chance to play three more games at home wasn’t a bad consolation prize.
Posted by Jonathan Batuello on March 27th, 2014
- Wisconsin is certainly used to the Sweet Sixteen and plenty of success under Bo Ryan. Part of the reason for that is how Ryan instills the “method of deception” into his players from the moment they arrive on campus. For a team that is often talked about as athletically outmatched, the idea of Ryan preaching the use of ball fakes and shot fakes during every practice makes sense. This could be important in creating opportunities against Baylor’s zone tonight. The Badgers may also use these fakes to get Isaiah Austin into the air and create foul trouble for the athletic big man. If Wisconsin can remove Austin from the center of that zone, their chances of finding open shots everywhere on the floor improves substantially.
- Nik Stauskas certainly was one of the biggest surprises this season in the Big Ten. After he was named first team All-America by the National Association of Basketball Coaches this week, you can add that he is one of the nation’s biggest surprises as well. Stauskas was certainly a good player as a freshman last season but expecting him to be one of the five best players in America this year was on nobody’s radar. With this award, he has put himself in elite company at Michigan, becoming just the 13th Wolverine to be named to at least one All-America team in program history. Now the question is whether he, like last year’s Michigan All-American Trey Burke, can lead his team to a Final Four?
- Michigan State has played plenty of big games in almost all the major venues across the country. Tom Izzo has taken the Spartans around the world and even played a game on an aircraft carrier. For all of this talent and history of success, the one place that Izzo’s Spartans have struggled is exactly where they are headed this weekend: Madison Square Garden. When Michigan State takes on Virginia in New York City Friday night, it does so with a 2-10 all-time record there (2-6 under Izzo). Sparty hasn’t won at MSG since 2006 and already lost there once this year to Georgetown. While it is obviously foolish to think the arena itself is causing losses, it is an interesting trend to think about. Izzo says he isn’t superstitious but if the losses keep piling up at MSG maybe he will avoid the arena the best he can in the future.
- With three Big Ten teams left in the NCAA Tournament it is easy to forget that Minnesota is still playing basketball as well. The Golden Gophers are headed to New York next Tuesday night where they will take on Florida State in the NIT semifinals, thanks in large part to a massive game from Austin Hollins. For a team playing in the NIT rather than the NCAAs, they are still plenty focused on the games ahead and getting to 25 wins this season. While there is no guaranteed correlation between NIT success and the next season, Richard Pitino’s Gophers are playing well and could easily take home some postseason hardware by the end of the season.
- It is easy to forget that Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan has never reached the final weekend in college basketball despite everything he has accomplished while at Wisconsin. Having never reached the Final Four gives him the dubious honor of being named the Athlon Sports Top Coach Without a Final Four Appearance. He wasn’t the lone representative from the conference, either. Iowa’s Fran McCaffery came in 11th, Purdue’s Matt Painter at 14th and even Nebraska’s Tim Miles cracked the top 20 at #17. This is certainly not a list any coach wants to reside on and Ryan has a great opportunity to leave it in his wake this weekend.
Posted by Ross Schulz on March 27th, 2014
- Connecticut should feel right at home in Madison Square Garden tomorrow night. Having played in the Big East for three decades, the Husky program has all kinds of history in the building. Under Jim Calhoun, Connecticut cut down the nets in the Garden a total of seven times after winning the Big East Championship. Calhoun’s squad also won an NIT title in the building in 1988. Perhaps most improbably, MSG was the start of its incredible NCAA Championship run in 2011. Throw in the 2009 six-overtime game, and you get the point. But even more recently than that, UConn secured two victories at the Garden in November versus Boston College and Indiana. With all of this history and recent familiarity, the advantage for UConn will extend well beyond having the most fans in the stands tomorrow night.
- While the Huskies may have the fan advantage at the East Regional at Madison Square Garden, attendees will have to pay a pretty penny to see the first NCAA tournament game in the Garden in 53 years. Nosebleed section tickets were going for around $435, while front row seats reached a total of between $3,000-$5,000. One site offered eight club sideline tickets in Section 6 for $12,500. That’s per ticket, not total. The average price for a ticket for tomorrow night’s double-header, according to Tiqiq.com, is $1,753. A ticket to Suite 11 on www.greatseats.com had an asking price of $61,600. “The Final Four is less expensive right now,” Jay Mullarkey, vice president at TicketNetwork, said. “This is really big.”
- Last year at this time Louisville’s Kevin Ware was preparing for what turned out to be one of his best games in the Sweet Sixteen in Indianapolis. We all know the story of the devastating injury that came next for him in the regional final two days later. One year removed from that emotionally draining day, the Cardinals are returning to Indianapolis for the Sweet Sixteen but Ware is nowhere to be found. According to his mother, Ware has trouble watching his teammates play as he sits out the rest of the season with a medical redshirt. But since the coaching staff and Ware himself have made few comments on the matter, it’s led to speculation that there’s more to the story and some fans question whether he, like his best pal Chane Behanan, has worn a Louisville uniform for the last time.
- Louisville may be the team better equipped to win a national title, but Tim Sullivan said Kentucky’s size will make a victory on Friday night a tall task for the Cardinals. In the first meeting, Kentucky hauled in eight more rebounds, scored 11 more second chance points, and drew 25 fouls on the Cardinals. And if anything, the Cardinals have gotten smaller since that game with the departure of Chane Behanan occurring after that game. Of the 16 teams remaining, UK ranks first in rebounding percentage and drawing fouls. The Wildcats left an impression on Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall. “These guys are like a total eclipse when you go in there,” he said. If it’s worth anything, at least Louisville won’t be surprised by anything they see.
- The key for a Louisville victory rests with Montrezl Harrell, who would be playing for Virginia Tech (or not playing, as it were) if it weren’t for the firing of former coach Seth Greenburg. His development in the wake of Chane Behanan’s departure has morphed the Cardinals from a nice team with limited potential into the second betting favorite to win the national championship. Harrell (along with many of the Louisville players) struggled in the team’s first two NCAA tournament games, but Louisville fans hope he will reawaken in a big way to hold serve against the massive Kentucky front line.
Posted by Greg Mitchell on March 26th, 2014
- Billy Donovan has a great chance to win his third national title at Florida. If that were to happen, the pull of the NBA (which temporarily swooped him up for a few days in 2007) would seem even stronger. But that nightmare scenario for Gators fans became less likely on Tuesday as Donovan signed a contract extension that runs through 2018-19 at $3.5 million a year. This is big news for Florida, but it’s also important for the SEC as a whole as it struggles to boost its overall basketball profile. As long as Donovan is at Florida and John Calipari is at Kentucky there’s a good bet the conference will have two strong contenders that demand national attention every season. That’s not a bad base from which to build.
- The storm that had been brewing around Cuonzo Martin might have reached a fever pitch had Tennessee lost its First Four game to Iowa. Auburn had just snatched up Bruce Pearl, and the thousands of people that signed an online petition to return Pearl to his perch in Knoxville would’ve had quite a bit of ammunition. Getting to the Sweet Sixteen, however, can cure a lot of ills. A few hundred fans greeted the Vols as they flew in from Raleigh at 2:30 in the morning, and the Tennessee allotment for an ultra-tough ticket in Indianapolis sold out quickly. It turns out that winning at this time of year gets people’s attention in a positive way. An interesting subplot to the Vols’s upcoming game against Michigan is Martin coaching against Glenn Robinson III, since he played with Robinson’s father, the Big Dog, at Purdue.
- Not surprisingly, Gary Parrish has the Kentucky-Louisville game as one of the games he can’t wait to watch in the Sweet Sixteen. The magnitude of this game doesn’t top the one two years ago in the Final Four, but it comes close since it’ll be played less than 200 miles from each school’s campus. And of course there is the ever-present intrigue of two highly-quotable coaches, and Rick Pitino’s history at Kentucky. The current state of this rivalry has so many sideshows and subplots that we as a college basketball audience need to be thankful for getting two NCAA Tournament games between the two powerhouse schools in the last three years.
- Arkansas’ season finally came to an end late Sunday night with a 75-64 loss at Cal. It was the Razorbacks’ first game in the state of California since 1973, which seems like an especially long time. Fittingly the season ended with a road loss, but there were plenty of positives in Arkansas’ 2013-14 campaign. The late collapse that washed away a likely NCAA bid can’t be sugarcoated, but this was the Razorbacks first 20-win season since 2007-08 and Mike Anderson picked up a postseason win in the NIT. Rashad Madden and Bobby Portis (if he returns) will form a solid duo next year, with Portis a legitimate contender for preseason SEC Player of the Year. Anderson’s recruiting class isn’t as highly-ranked as it was this year (two three-stars, a two-star and an unranked player on Rivals.com), but Anderson had great success with less-heralded recruits at Missouri.
- LSU was also shown the door in the NIT on Sunday, courtesy of a blistering shooting performance from SMU (57.9% FG, 9-of-14 from three). It was good to see Andre Stringer (15 points) and Shavon Coleman (eight points, seven rebounds, four steals) go out with nice games. Like Arkansas, we’ll look at the bright side of things for the Tigers. Johnny Jones got himself a postseason win and finished with an RPI almost 20 spots higher than last year. The Tigers may also have some of the best long-term prospects in the SEC outside of Kentucky and Florida. Jones has proven he can bring in talent (Jordan Mickey, Jarell Martin, incoming five-star freshman Ben Simmons), and that’s the fastest way to ascend in the standings. If Mickey, Martin and Johnny O’Bryant stick around (a big if), LSU has to be in the discussion as a favorite to win the league next year.