Night Line: Another Year, Another Underrated Georgetown Team

Posted by EJacoby on November 21st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

It didn’t earn the victory in Tuesday night’s Progressive Legends Classic final against #1 Indiana, but Georgetown proved once again that it’s a painfully underrated team this season. The unranked Hoyas took the nation’s top-ranked team to overtime in Brooklyn’s Barclays Center after hanging around all night in an entertaining back-and-forth game that didn’t make John Thompson III’s team seem like the underdog. Riding the clutch performance of do-it-all sophomore star Otto Porter and the hot hand of junior Markel Starks, Georgetown competed with the Hoosiers and nearly converted back-to-back upset victories after defeating #7 UCLA on Monday. In the end it was Indiana with the 82-72 win in a solid performance that saw every Hoosier starter score in double figures, but it took an extra session to put away JTIII’s team. This season’s Hoyas flew under the preseason radar yet again, but they’ll be ranked in the top-25 come next week after an impressive showing in the Legends Classic.

Otto Porter has his Georgetown Hoyas back in the fold as a serious contender (M. Sullivan/Reuters)

Last season, the Hoyas were picked to finish tenth in the Big East’s preseason coaches’ poll before riding a consistent fringe top-10 overall ranking and finishing as an NCAA Tournament #3 overall seed. They at least earned a bit more respect from fellow conference coaches by being selected fifth in the 2012-13 Big East preseason poll, but G’Town once again looks like it has the talent, strategy, and toughness to compete with nearly anyone in the nation after taking top-ranked Indiana to the brink on Tuesday. It’s as if we had all forgotten about last season already, when the Hoyas lost leading scorers Austin Freeman and Chris Wright but didn’t miss a beat as fresh stars emerged with newfound roles. Despite three top dogs Jason Clark, Henry Sims, and Hollis Thompson all now gone this year, these 2012-13 Hoyas have again found former reserves to fill bigger roles and continue the consistent success of the Georgetown zone-heavy defense, Princeton-style offense, and overall winning program.

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North Carolina and Long Beach State: Respect the Scheduling

Posted by AMurawa on November 17th, 2012

Drew Murawa is an RTC correspondent and a Pac-12 microsite writer. He filed this report from tonight’s North Carolina-Long Beach State game.

Right out of the box, we need to thank these two coaches for getting this type of game scheduled. It wasn’t necessarily a marquee game that every college basketball junkie around the country had been looking forward to, but this was a game that saw one of the sports’ bluebloods go on the road and play at a mid-major school. This is not something that happens every day. It’s really not even something that happens every decade, excepting North Carolina. Can you imagine Jim Boeheim scheduling this game for Syracuse? Coach K and Duke? Those schools barely even leave their own friendly confines in November and December, and when they do it is for made-for-television neutral site games. No, this was a true road game for the Tar Heels. And even though there were a lot of Carolina Blue shirts scattered throughout the arena, there was little doubt that most of the largest crowd in the history of the Walter Pyramid on the campus of Long Beach State was there in the hopes of watching North Carolina lose.

North Carolina at Long Beach State

With North Carolina In Town, Long Beach State Set a New Attendance Record In The Pyramid

So how did this game get scheduled? Well, primarily it was scheduled because the Tar Heels are on their way across the Pacific for a trip to the Maui Invitational and have made a habit of stopping off for a road game on the way. In 2008 they played at LBSU’s Big West rival UC Santa Barbara, and in 2004 they traveled to Santa Clara on the way to Maui – and lost with a freshman point guard, Quentin Thomas, at the helm. So, unlike some of the other bluebloods, UNC is not afraid to take the occasional road trip. Last year they helped UNC Asheville open their new arena; two years ago they traveled to Evansville. Head coach Roy Williams thinks it is good for his team and plenty of fun as well. “Anytime you go get a win on the road, it’s a good thing,” he said. “The crowd was great, it was a wonderful college basketball atmosphere. I don’t mind the kids yelling at me and yelling for their team.” Sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo agreed. “I think it was just a perfect fit for us right now, coming out here and playing in this atmosphere is just what we need, especially going into Maui and being a young team.” In the end, regardless of who you root for or what you think of the Tar Heels, you’ve got to respect the fact that these guys are more than willing to go on the road and give smaller fan bases a thrill on occasion.

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Night Line: Even in an Off Night, Freshman Arcidiacono Impresses During Villanova Victory

Posted by EJacoby on November 16th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

In what can only be characterized as a chaotic game, Villanova used overtime on Thursday night to defeat Purdue, 89-81, in the second semifinal of the 2kSports Classic in Madison Square Garden. The two teams combined to commit 55 fouls and both shot under 40% from the field in a game that was equal parts sloppy and entertaining due to the back-and-forth play between two young teams. One consistent throughout the night, however, was the playmaking ability displayed by the Wildcats’ freshman starting point guard Ryan Arcidiacono. The 6’3″ guard played the worst game of his early Villanova career yet still scored 18 points with six assists and led all players with 39 minutes played. Missed shots and over-aggressive turnovers plagued him for much of the night, yet he easily made up for his mistakes with complete control of the ‘Nova offense and clutch free throws down the stretch. Like all young players, Arcidiacono will suffer some growing pains but it looks like Jay Wright has found a keeper and a future Big East star in his new point guard.

Freshman guard Ryan Arcidiacono has complete command of the Villanova offense (U.S. Presswire)

The rookie guard shot just 3-14 from the field on Thursday while committing seven turnovers, several of which led to easy scores for Purdue in transition. But Arcidiacono’s mistakes were a function of his aggressive mentality, relentlessly seeking to attack weak spots in the defense and create scoring opportunities for himself or his teammates. There’s simply a buzz when the rookie has the ball in his hands, like something good is going to happen for his Wildcats. ‘Arch,’ as coach Wright calls him, has tremendous dribbling skills and one-on-one ability with the ball while constantly keeping his head up to find open teammates when the defense sends help to contain his drives. He has deep range on his shot that keeps defenders honest and good size at 6’3″ to finish in traffic near the rim. His shots weren’t falling on Thursday – he didn’t convert a single field goal in the second half after shooting 3-4 in the first – but he still put pressure on the Boilermakers throughout the night with his command of the offense. And, most importantly on this night, Arch is a fantastic free-throw shooter who rarely misses at the line. He shot 9-10 from the stripe and it was the freshman’s two clutch freebies with 44 seconds to play in regulation that tied the game at 75-75 and sent this one into overtime, where ‘Nova took control in the extra session.

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Night Line: Is Florida a Better Offensive Team This Season?

Posted by EJacoby on November 15th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

The #12 Florida Gators have high expectations this season, as usual, with a loaded starting lineup that features two returning SEC stars and a bevy of other talented scorers. But Billy Donovan’s team lost much of its backcourt production from last season in Erving Walker and Bradley Beal, the second- and third-leading scorers on last year’s team who also accounted for over 40% of the squad’s total assists. Those 2011-12 Gators ranked sixth in the nation in overall offensive efficiency and came just a few plays away from reaching a Final Four. Yet does this season’s version of Florida have an even higher ceiling? Conventional wisdom would say no given the loss of its two perimeter leaders, but a strong recruiting class joins a healthier team this year, most notably a much improved senior forward Erik Murphy. Wednesday night’s 74-56 victory over defensive stalwart Wisconsin, featuring a perfect shooting night from Murphy, provided a glimpse of UF’s offensive upside that few teams in the country can match.

Erik Murphy led Florida with a perfect shooting night on Wednesday (AP Photo)

The Gators attempted and made the most three-point shots in all of Division I last season (9.6 makes per game), a crucial element to the team’s conversion of 1.15 points per possession, good for fifth in the country. While Walker and Beal’s 132 three-point makes are gone, don’t be so sure that Florida will fall off in the long-range shooting department. Preseason all-SEC senior guard Kenny Boynton and the aforementioned Murphy return 169 makes of their own, sparkplug sixth man Mike Rosario hit over one trey per game last year as well, and a loaded recruiting class of shooters joins the fold. Braxton Ogbueze headlines the freshman class as a heady point guard, while fellow newcomers Michael Frazier II, Devon Walker, and Dillon Graham all specialize as three-point bombers. Graham models his game after J.J. Redick, Walker has unlimited range from outside, and UF assistant coach Mike McCall noted this preseason of Frazier, “Every time [the ball] leaves his hand, you think it’s going in.” The Gators are already scoring at a more consistent rate this year with a 1.18 points per possession ratio. While only two games is an extremely small sample size, Wednesday’s game came against Bo Ryan’s Badgers; a masterful defensive team that finished seventh in total defensive efficiency last season.

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Night Line: Spartans Find Their Offense, Rebound With Huge Win Over Kansas

Posted by EJacoby on November 13th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

With the departure of first team All-American and do-it-all superstar Draymond Green from this year’s Michigan State roster, the Spartans figured to take a new offensive approach this season away from the high post, Draymond-centric attack they featured last year. What they didn’t expect was a surprising season-opening loss to depleted Connecticut last Friday in which they shot just 37.5% from the field. Tuesday night presented another massive challenge in defending national runner-up Kansas, and Tom Izzo’s team found a way to change the narrative by converting 52.1% of their field goals and defeating the Jayhawks, 67-64, in the Champions Classic in Atlanta. In the process, Michigan State found a new go-to offensive player in Gary Harris and a clutch late-game playmaker with Keith Appling. Replacing the versatile Green isn’t an easy task, but this year’s Spartans team learned a lot about its potential to do so with the impressive offensive performance on Tuesday night.

Michigan State leaned on Keith Appling, left, down the stretch in Tuesday’s win over Kansas (AP Photo/D. Martin)

The Spartans couldn’t have looked any different in their first two tilts of a five-day stretch to open this season. A trip to Germany to play in an aircraft hangar might have something to do with that. A Hall of Fame head coach with an understanding of how to make quick adjustments might, too. Izzo understood that his team struggled to score in the 66-62 loss to Connecticut to open the season, and it needed better production from the players expected to carry this team offensively. The freshman Harris played tentatively with a “deer in the headlights” look in the season opener, according to Izzo, en route to a 4-for-13 shooting night for 11 points. Harris was much more assertive from the get-go on Tuesday, looking to score early and often with smooth moves to the hoop and a soft touch from the perimeter, and he finished with 18 points on 7-for-12 shooting. Harris was aggressive and productive in attacking Kansas’ guards, so much so that the Jayhawks switched their top defensive player, Travis Releford, to guard Harris in the second half. Nonetheless the frosh still found ways to score without forcing the issue.

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Alex Len’s Coming Out Party Nearly Spoils Kentucky’s Title Defense Debut

Posted by EJacoby on November 9th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. He filed this report from the Kentucky-Maryland game tonight in Brooklyn. You can find him @EJacobyRTC on Twitter. 

We assumed it was nearly impossible for Kentucky to repeat the kind of immediate, dominant success it had last season with a brand new crop of young players this year. For the first half of their season-opening game against Maryland on Friday night, though, the Wildcats came out on fire and efficient on both ends en route to opening a 15-point lead just minutes into the second half in the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. But it didn’t take long for the inconsistency, poor decision-making, and defensive mistakes that are typical of freshmen players to crop up for John Calipari’s team, which opened the door for Maryland to make a run in front of a very pro-Terrapin crowd. Led by emerging sophomore center Alex Len, the Terps went on a 15-0 second half run and eventually took the lead before seesawing to a tough, 72-69 loss. Len was the catalyst on both ends for Maryland’s near-upset, as the sophomore seven-footer finished with 23 points, 12 rebounds, and four blocks — all game-highs. He shot 10-18 from the field and committed zero turnovers. Despite failing to capitalize with a monster non-conference victory, Maryland and its fans must feel confident about this season’s outlook on the heels of Len’s dominant opening performance.

Alex Len nearly led his Maryland team to a big-time upset win over Kentucky on Friday night (Maryland 247 Sports photo)

The big sophomore showed flashes of greatness last season for Maryland, but he did not put together any dominant performances that could propel Mark Turgeon’s team to big wins. The center from the Ukraine recorded six total games in double-figure scoring last year, and none after February 4. He averaged 4.1 points per game in his final 10 games and amassed just one double-double all season. Tonight was a completely different story, as Len looked much more polished in the paint with offensive moves, finishes at the rim, rebounding prowess, and strong defensive positioning. Len turned national consensus #1 recruit Nerlens Noel of Kentucky into an afterthought, dominating the freshman in the paint as well as beating him down the floor in transition on multiple occasions. Noel had just four points on 2-6 shooting to match his nine rebounds and three blocks. If not for the unlikely late-game heroics of former Kentucky walk-on Jarrod Polson, who scored 10 points tonight after recording a total of seven previous points in his career, the Terps could have left Barclays Center with a defining victory.

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The Darrell Williams Assault Case: A Feel-Good Story Gone Wrong

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 19th, 2012

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

The latest development in the Darrell Williams sexual assault case snuck under the national college hoops news radar Thursday afternoon, with word breaking that Williams filed a notice to appeal his recent sentence and conviction. In a long legal battle with numerous twists, turns and hot-button issues, including accusations of racial bias and prejudiced legislative procedures, Williams’ most recent defensive measure is only the tip of the iceberg. The story goes back to December 2010, when Williams, a member of the Oklahoma State men’s basketball team, was accused of fondling and making unsolicited sexual advances on two women at a house party. He was later convicted on two counts of rape and remained in jail until receiving a suspended sentence last week. The incident reportedly took place in the basement, but Williams claimed he has no recollection of any interactions in the specified room. He went on to question the merits of the allegations, and raised the possibility that he had been misidentified among several others at the party wearing OSU athletic apparel. The lack of physical evidence and the very real possibility of a false accusation invited skepticism and doubt over the validity of the women’s allegations. But the real rub surrounded the process by which Williams was identified. Immediately following the party, the women wrote an anonymous letter to various media outlets providing a brief description of the assault, but failed to specify an attacker. According to testimony, the women – one of whom already knew Williams from seeing him play – pointed Williams out three days after the alleged crime when Stillwater police showed them a photo of the entire OSU basketball team.

After receiving a suspended sentence, Williams remains in courtroom limbo as he prepares to file an appeal (Photo credit: US Presswire).

That pretty much wrapped things up. Williams was locked up on questionable testimony, with little in the way of actual hard evidence, and a tenuous if vague account of what actually happened. That was all the prosecution needed. The possibility remains that Williams will win his appeal and clear his name, but clinging to hopes that a typically rigid legal system will provide vindication is a foreboding proposition. Williams has maintained his innocence throughout the process, but barring a successful ruling on his requisition, he will have to register as a sex offender. A coalition of fans and media members have rallied around Williams’ cause, springing a Facebook group and donning “Free Darrell 25” (a reference to his number at OSU) t-shirts at Friday’s hearing. This would not be the first time the legal process committed an egregious misstep. False accusations — whether through error or vendetta — happen all the time, and there are plenty more that are never brought to light. It is difficult to say whether miscalculated courtroom procedure is at work here, or if Williams was simply caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. When you pack 80 people into a house party, with many large athletes crammed into the same suffocated space, parsing the truth from the specious – particularly if alcohol is involved, which is a reasonable assumption at collegiate social gatherings like this – is never easy.

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Dissecting the Coaches’ Preseason Top 25: Three Underrateds, Three Reaches, and One Major Snub

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 18th, 2012

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

College basketball is nearly here. You can feel it now, the palpable hype (both good and bad) growing around the various players, coaches and teams who over the next five months will provide a steady dose of tantalizing hoops action. Each season brings a host of unpredictable variables and elements, which makes divining conference and national championship contenders in October a notoriously futile endeavor. Preseason polls are nonetheless afforded at least some measure of credibility and national attention. And I have to admit, a wave of excitement came over me when I pored over the preseason USA Today Coaches Poll. These rankings hold little to no bearing for the events of the upcoming season, and they’re almost entirely based on perception. The upshot is that we’re talking about college basketball – and not NCAA violations or transfer culture or conference realignment – real, actual basketball topics. Everyone will have their own say on these rankings, and many will protest their favorite team’s slot in the Top 25, but remember this: Competition and team rankings have a way of sorting themselves out over the course of a season. So if your team deserves a spot in these rankings, it will prove as much. Despite the ultimate meaninglessness of this list, I highlighted some interesting items worth discussing. To frame my thoughts, I’ve come up with three “underrateds,” three “reaches,” and one puzzling snub. Again, this is all speculative, so put these rankings (and my resulting analysis) in perspective without fretting over your team’s placement all too much.

The Rebels will need time to integrate a stable of young players, but they should be a dangerous group in March (Photo credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images).

Underrated

UNLV (#19)

There’s no questioning UNLV’s talent. On that front, the Rebels are undeniably loaded. Pittsburgh transfer Khem Birch joins NBA prospect Mike Moser and highly-touted freshman Anthony Bennett to form arguably the nation’s best frontcourt. Experienced guards Justin Hawkins and Anthony Marshall provide leadership and control on both ends of the floor. Incoming combo guard Katin Reinhardt, the No. 8 ranked player at his position according to ESPN, could play a key bench role right away. Within the confines of Dave Rice’s throwback high-speed UNLV system, a conference championship and top-four NCAA Tournament seed are realistic goals. That said, there are a bunch of moving parts to account for, and it’s never smart to assume freshmen – no matter how highly touted – can make seamless transitions into the college game. These are legitimate concerns. But when you have this much talent, and you combine it with Rice’s up-tempo system, the end result is predictably excellent. UNLV’s ceiling is limitless; the question is whether it can congeal so much young talent into a cohesive unit. If it can, the Rebels will surpass this ranking by season’s end.

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Larry Brown’s History With the NCAA Draws an Interesting Parallel With John Calipari

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 17th, 2012

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

The missing element to SMU’s surprising hire of Larry Brown is the Hall of Fame coach’s less-than-healthy history of run-ins with the NCAA. The last time Brown walked off the college hardwood, he left Kansas in deep NCAA waters. The Jayhawks were suspended from the 1989 NCAA Tournament for infractions during Brown’s tenure. Eight years earlier, he brought damaging penalties to another blueblood program, this time leaving UCLA to relinquish its 1980 Final Four appearance after learning Brown had used ineligible players. Though he spent one-year at Davidson (1972) without stepping into NCAA troubles, Brown’s college track record gives cause for pause. In two extended stays at high-profile locales, he’s left behind a punitive footprint – whether by his own volition or otherwise. And that’s before the seedy undercurrents – before agents, runners, nefarious third-parties and shoe companies solidified their place in elite prospects’ inner circles – that define today’s recruiting landscape fully seeped their way into high school and grassroots hoops. That’s not to say third-parties didn’t exist 20 or even 30 years ago; they did, but not nearly to the extent they do in today’s recruiting culture. Brown can steer clear of NCAA punishment, even in today’s hazardous environment, but it will require a nuanced overview of NCAA guidelines and procedures for a man whose only interaction with the organization (albeit more than two decades ago) ended twice with harsh discipline.

The positive intrigue surrounding Brown’s hire is underwriting his questionable past in the college ranks (Photo credit: LM Otero/AP).

For most coaches, a checkered past like Brown’s would elicit no small measure of skepticism and suspicion. Hiring a coach with an extended inability to follow NCAA protocol demands scrutiny, no matter the credentials of the incoming head man. But Brown has avoided any and all sorts of public backlash or cynicism. He is embarking on his new job with a litany of past NCAA baggage, carrying a free pass from an increasingly dubious national punditry and a wave of positive sentiment highlighting his every move.

Now consider by way of a counterpoint the onrush of mistrust and doubt surrounding John Calipari and his inheritance of the Kentucky job. Calipari, to many the poster boy for all things evil in college hoops –- the one-and-done rule, the way he pilfers the nation’s top high school players, his players-before-the-program approach that drew irksome reviews from the UK faithful — has never been personally charged with a major recruiting violation. He annually persuades the best high school players in the country to join his program, annually competes on the sport’s highest stage, and regularly repeats the process with a new batch of five-star imports. His system is so refined, so proven, so successful, that fans and coaches can’t help but question his practices. Because when you install and master a winning model, when rival programs suffer the misfortune of knowing their efforts simply can’t match up, criticizing and bashing Calipari’s system is the only ammunition available. When you can’t beat him, falsely accuse him – or so the saying goes…

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Zay Jackson Video Places Enormous Pressure on Murray State to Boot Him From the Program

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 16th, 2012

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

When Murray State guard Zay Jackson was sentenced to 30 days of jail time after pleading guilty to two charges of wanton endangerment, there was no immediate indication Jackson had seen his final days in a Racers uniform. In fact, MSU athletic director Allen Ward confirmed Friday that Jackson would remain “part of the team this year” after serving his punishment, saying that the senior guard had learned from his mistake, recalibrated his off-court demeanor, and would be welcomed back on campus with open arms. On Monday, after WPSD Local 6 News went public with surveillance footage of Jackson’s parking lot incident, that forgiving posture reached its breaking point. A word of caution: The course of events – the most jarring of which involves Jackson using his white Monte Carlo as a vehicular wrecking ball – are extremely disturbing, and should be viewed with discretion. Details of the confrontation emerged in the wake of Jackson’s initial arraignment, more than a month before Monday’s video release. Alia Clement, one of the victims of Jackson’s wheelside rage, called it “the scariest day I’ve had in my entire life.” According to Clement, the perilous chain of action began when she called out Jackson for pushing a shopping cart into a nearby vehicle. Tensions escalated when Jackson threatened her husband, Jason, who tried to photograph Jackson’s license plate to report his malfeasance. The heated back-and-forth escalated quickly and culminated with Jackson flooring his vehicle right through the Clements.

The video of Jackson’s incident will evoke calls for Jackson’s immediate expulsion from the team (Photo credit: Andy Lyons/Getty Images).

Nothing has changed with respect to Jackson’s legal status or his length of punishment. He is still slated to finish out a month-long sentence, at which point he will be free to return to campus and, presumably, re-join the men’s basketball team. That was the impression Ward gave after Friday’s sentencing. Several days later, it’s reasonable to think his posture has changed. What once could be shielded by a veil of misinformed public perception (it wasn’t until Monday that everyone found out what really happened) has been spun into a national saga of repulsion and disbelief. Now that the lurid details of Jackson’s heinous act have gone viral, the classification – playing Grand Theft Auto in Walmart parking lots is “wanton endangerment?” Really? – and severity of punishment have been thrown into sharp public scrutiny. From a law enforcement standpoint, unless some other credible details related to Jackson’s actions emerge, his punishment cannot be altered ex post facto on the basis of video evidence. Jackson has been charged and sentenced. Case closed. But Murray State is well within its rights to ramp up Jackson’s punishment on its side of the equation. At this point, it’s almost mandatory.

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Trevor Mbakwe’s DWI Again Raises Major Character Issues: Can He Survive the Season?

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 15th, 2012

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

Expectations run high at Minnesota under sixth-year head coach Tubby Smith. For the first time in Smith’s tenure, the Gophers have a team capable of competing at the upper reaches of Big Ten competition. Point guard Julian Welch returns to pilot a balanced offensive attack. Austin Hollins provides an energetic presence on both ends of the floor. Unrelated Andre Hollins, fresh off a breakout performance in the Big Ten Tournament, is ready for bigger and better things in 2012-13. Future NBA forward Rodney Williams offers an explosive brand of athleticism mostly unseen throughout the Big Ten. This is a very good team. Believe it. But if there’s one development that demonstrably thrusted Minnesota onto the national radar this offseason, one personnel boost that gives the Gophers just enough to get over the hump, it’s Trevor Mbakwe, whom the NCAA announced over the summer has earned a sixth year of eligibility and will play out his final season in Minneapolis this winter. For Gophers fans, what matters is how the senior forward will perform this season, and how his return will help their chances of reaching the NCAA Tournament. But Mbawke’s history is long and complex, a quarrelsome tale of transfer and injury and violations.

After another criminal misstep, Mbawke skated the outer boundaries of Smith’s disciplinary tolerance (Photo credit: Chris Chambers/Getty Images).

I raise this issue because it relates to Mbakwe’s status for the upcoming season. More importantly, his troubled past is a huge reason why, after pleading guilty in September to a DWI committed in July, Mbakwe almost saw a promising sixth season – and an even more promising one for the Gopher program more broadly – end before it began. Smith very nearly booted Mbakwe from the team after learning of his summer transgression, which was just the latest in a repeated history of brushes with the law. Following his 2009 transfer to Minnesota from Miami Dade (FL) Community College, his second such switch after leaving Marquette in 2008, Mbakwe sat out the 2009-10 season due to legal complications surrounding an assault case while simultaneously fending off an allegation that he violated a restraining order by contacting an ex-girlfriend on Facebook. Court officials settled on a no-contest plea in the assault case, but Mbakwe pled guilty to the harassment charge and was sentenced to one year of probation in February. The DWI settlement violated that probation, which means Mbakwe faces another hearing in Miami on Wednesday. Whatever the outcome of his next legal stopping point, Mbakwe’s actions have tested the limits of Smith’s tolerance for his behaviors.

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NCAA’s Position on Instagram Marks a Regression in Liberalization of Digital Recruiting Practices

Posted by Chris Johnson on October 12th, 2012

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

The age of smartphone-based communication is upon us. There’s no denying it. From pre-pubescent pre-teens to middle-aged parents to retired folks, the instant communication trend has slowly seeped its way into every technological aspect of our lives. For the purposes of college basketball recruiting, this created something of a problem. The NCAA’s previous restrictions on messaging and calling frequency forced coaches to monitor their phone habits with painstaking consistency. On principle, the limitations made absolute sense – messaging fees could get out of hand pretty easily, not every player can afford smart phones, and the risk of players being overwhelmed by a deluge of calls and texts from overeager coaches was very real – but enforcement was tricky and often ineffective. A handful of coaches were slapped with secondary violations for exceeding contact limits, the most notable being Kelvin Sampson, whose profligate recruiting tactics (part of which hinged on his negligence of restricted cellphone use) touched off a precipitous decline for Indiana. The Hoosiers have very much recovered, but it may have been avoided, or at least mitigated, had the NCAA’s bylaws adjusted to the blossoming digital communications market at the time. For better or worse, the restraints on smartphone-tethered communications were officially lifted this past summer, meaning coaches could call or text recruits who have completed their sophomore year in high school.

The NCAA’s blackballing of Instagram is a decided step back after embracing technological growth this summer (Photo credit: businessinsider.com)

Not only did the rule change help coaches by unlocking a new world of streamlined contact – not to mention the stronger recruiting ties forged by more frequent communication – it allowed the NCAA to stop wasting time policing nonsensical secondary infractions and start focusing on violations that actually, you know, matter. The NCAA had finally embraced the modern age. It was a progressive move, all things considered. As is the case with most outwardly positive NCAA rule changes, there’s a caveat. Only this one isn’t prohibitive as much as it is petty. Instagram – the in-vogue photo-sharing application that turns virtually any smartphone owner into a proficient photography aesthete – has officially been outlawed from college coaches’ growing list of technological recruiting mechanisms. The NCAA outlined its position in a Q&A-style educational column earlier this week, and you might be surprised to learn the motives behind this puzzling regulation. The issue stems not from the actual sending of photographs to prospective recruits — the NCAA sent out a clarifying message Thursday detailing the nuances of its prohibitive policy — but from coaches altering or enhancing photos for a “recruiting purpose.”

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