A random late September day was an odd time for the tried-and-true “baseball model” argument to once again rear its ugly head, but Big Ten commissioner Jim Delaneydid his part in making a discussion of one-and-done headline-worthy on Wednesday. His stated premise is one that we’ve heard hundreds of times before: that the NBA (and interestingly, he also mentions the NFL, which is usually immune from this argument) and colleges should work together to allow elite basketball and football players to enter the “pro ranks” — whether through the minor leagues, IMG training, or whatever else — immediately out of high school. As he puts it, “if an athlete wants to professionalize themselves, professionalize themselves.” Forgetting the dripping irony implicit in comments from someone who has done more to “professionalize” his conference than any other administrator, he relies on the value of collegiate “brands that have been built over 100 years” to suggest that college athletics will be just fine without the star power of Nerlens Noel, Anthony Bennett, Johnny Manziel, Robert Griffin III, and the rest. Here’s the thing: they won’t be. While it’s true that Michigan fans will continue to watch Michigan football in the same way that Kentucky fans will watch Kentucky basketball regardless of the talent wearing those uniforms, the rest of the country will not. Casual fans of both sports want to see stars, the “next big thing,” and as we already know from the awful preps-to-pros era of college basketball (roughly 1997-2005), the game suffered as a result of the loss of its best players before they ever made it to campus.
Now, this isn’t to say at all that league rules forcing basketball players to spend a “gap year” between high school and the pros in college, overseas, or in the D-League is fair to them either — the above argument relates more to what’s best for the sport of college basketball rather than the elite players themselves. As such, Dana O’Neilgives the flip side of the debate, which is to ask what true positive effect does that single year between the ages of 18 and 19 have on NBA Draftable players like Andrew Wiggins, Julius Randle and Jabari Parker? She figures that Kentucky’s Nerlens Noel lost approximately $2 million as a result of his knee injury last season, but she doesn’t address the money that #1 pick Anthony Bennett made for himself because of his one successful year at UNLV (the same dichotomy might be shown in a comparison between the stock drop of UCLA’s Shabazz Muhammad versus the rise of Kansas’ Ben McLemore). Still, her point about the NBA protecting itself from draft mistakes is a salient one — teams hope to avoid the next Kwame Brown by evaluating men playing against other men — but her underlying question as to “the point” of the one year in college seems forced. The point is that the one-and-done rule is actually better for nearly all parties involved except for the tiny percentage of highly-evaluated high schoolers whose stock ends up dropping during that one season — it’s better for the NBA, its teams, college basketball, its teams, and even some of the players themselves (the ones, like Anthony Bennett and Kyrie Irving, whom it helps). Two years would be even better.
We mentioned yesterday that SI.com‘s Andy Glockner is unveiling his top 20 current college basketball programs this week, using a methodology that includes historical and contemporary success, sustainability, budget, facilities, league affiliation, fan base, and recruiting pipeline. The biggest surprise in our view in the #16-20 grouping was the inclusion of Illinois at #19, but his latest group has a couple more interesting placements. At #15 was Memphis, which no doubt has a great fan base and facilities, but my goodness, it’s tough to swallow a program that has underachieved relative to its talent in each of its head coach’s four seasons on campus. The other peculiar placement is certainly UCLA at #12, behind a football-first school of Florida at #11 and back-to-back Sweet Sixteens Indiana (somewhere in the top 10). With a brand new Pauley Pavilion, this is probably based on some hesitation about Steve Alford as the new head man in Westwood, but if he can prove to have even an average recruiting touch in Southern California, it would be hard to buy this program falling outside the top 10. We’re looking forward to his rankings on Thursday — how will he handle North Carolina and Syracuse — do they fall into the second five behind Duke, Kentucky, Kansas, Louisville and Michigan State?
Arkansas‘ Bud Walton Arena suffered a good bit of water damage due to torrential rains in the area last Friday, and as a result the men’s and women’s basketball teams have been forced to hold preseason practice sessions at the school’s PE/Rec building. While flooding of a school’s home arena isn’t a typical occurrence, the outsourcing of the team’s workouts to the intramural courts highlights the school’s need for a permanent basketball practice facility. Arkansas remains the only of the 14 SEC programs without one, and the Razorbacks’ 15-year long dalliance with mediocrity is partially to blame, especially from a recruiting standpoint. The damage to the arena isn’t expected to be long-term, certainly good news for the Fayette-nam Rim Rockers and all the other intramural stalwarts tired of ceding their best courts to the SEC’s most middling program.
One of the best health stories of the past few years in our sport has been that of BYU’s Dave Rose. He was one of the very small percentage of survivors of pancreatic cancer, having a large tumor removed from the organ back in 2009. He recently spent another few days in the hospital after a six-month scan revealed a few more cancerous spots on his pancreas, and the Salt Lake Tribunefilled us in on how he is feeling heading into a new season. Rose has proven to be someone with an eminently positive attitude, and it shines through in the piece. Still, a relapse from his remission with such an aggressive disease is cause for concern. We will certainly send equally positive thoughts his way, and hope for the best as his team heads into what should be a quite promising season on the hardwood.
Yesterday we mentioned that SI.com‘s Andy Glockner was brewing up a firestorm with his series of articles ranking the top 20 current programs in college basketball. Such an endeavor has two verifiable truths: first, everyone loves lists; second, everyone loves to rip lists. With that in mind (and he’s well aware of those truths), his honorable mentions came out Monday, followed by his rankings of programs from #16 to #20 on Tuesday. In order, let’s welcome Gonzaga, Illinois, Michigan, Georgetown and Texas to the top 20. Of this group, we’re having the most trouble with the Illinois pick at #19. The Illini had a renaissance season under the tutelage of new head coach John Groce last year, but spent most of the previous five years struggling to regain its national relevance of the early-to-mid 2000s. We realize of course that Glockner is using historical and other qualitative metrics to make these determinations, but we probably would have had Pittsburgh, Marquette, Xavier and several others ahead of the Illini. Still, that’s nitpicky. What will really make or break this list will be how Glockner handles the top five (and the fans of the four runners-up will let him know it!). We’re excited to see the next group released later today.
As more and more people marry themselves to the idea that college football and basketball players are being exploited by their schools and the NCAA, we’ll continue to see analyses like one from Business Insider published on Tuesday. Their methodology for determining the fair market value of players at the top 25 revenue-producing football schools is quite simple, probably overly simple — just multiply football revenue by 47 percent (per the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with its players), then divide by the number of scholarships (85). What BI found mimics the numbers we’ve seen elsewhere — at the richest athletic schools such as Texas, Alabama and Michigan, college football players are worth roughly a half-million dollars each annually in value. The same analysis is also easy enough to do for college basketball players. Louisville‘s hoops revenue of $42.4 million in 2012 is divided in half given the NBA’s rough 50/50 split with the players, leaving $21.2 million to be split 13 ways. The result: a Cardinals’ basketball player is worth $1.63 million to the university (if you buy into this methodology). This is the mistake that many of these gridiron-centric analyses don’t realize — while it’s definitely true that football provides more aggregate revenue to the schools, the players in college basketball are individually much more valuable. If you want to make the point most strongly, which is the better headline? Texas football players are worth a half-million each; or Louisville basketball players are worth three times that much?
While on the subject of football powers, the NCAA announced yesterday that Penn State would regain some of the football scholarships it lost as a result of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. In announcing the removal of those sanctions, the NCAA recognized that the school had made great efforts to change its culture of abuse but NCAA president Mark Emmert made it clear that other schools shouldn’t expect a reduction in their own penalties. That’s too bad, writes The Dagger‘s Jeff Eisenberg, who outlines four major recent (and fixable) misfires by the NCAA, two of which were focused on men’s basketball. The most well-known example, of course, was the NCAA’s “strict liability” punishment on Memphis for playing Derrick Rose in the 2007-08 season, even though the NCAA Clearinghouse had deemed him eligible to play before that season. The other is far less recognizable, involving the NCAA’s decision to rule that Old Dominion’s Donte Hill was ineligible for his senior season because he played eight minutes in a closed-door preseason scrimmage against Clemson back in 2010. We’re quite sure that we could probably come up with a dozen more of these if we spent the time on it, but Eisenberg’s list is a good place to start. It wouldn’t hurt the NCAA to consider more reductions (or commutation) of sentences based on additional facts, precedents and behaviors.
What’s a Final Four appearance worth to an MVC school like Wichita State? We’ll have to wait for the Business Insider analysis on that one, but it’s at least worth around $600,000 to its head coach, Gregg Marshall. The university announced his new salary on Tuesday, with a base of $1.6 million that kicks in this November and another raise to $1.75 million that begins next April. The long-underrated head coach will move into the top 25 or so highest-paid college basketball coaches as a result of this raise, which is a substantial financial commitment for a school living outside the Power Six or Seven hoops leagues. But Final Four appearances at schools like Wichita State tend to result in ironclad job security.
Believe it or not, but with the new practice rules in effect this season, schools will actually begin suiting up for real, live, full-on practices this Friday. As in 48 hours from now. One of the players who will definitely be there to play post-practice games of HORSE with his teammates is Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson. As reported by Gary Parrish at CBSSports.com, Andy Kennedy expects the all-SEC shooting guard to be on the floor Friday. The controversial shooting guard reportedly failed multiple drug tests and spent much of the offseason “suspended” from the team, whatever that means, but let’s be honest with ourselves here. There aren’t all that many name-brand players who pass through Oxford, Mississippi — especially in roundball — so there was not much of a question as to whether Henderson would suit up this year.
Wednesday was a day of moves — some planned, others not — as we slowly but assuredly inch our way to the start of season practice at the end of the month. The biggest news, of course, was that former Missouri guard Michael Dixonhad been cleared by the NCAA to play at Memphis this upcoming season. Dixon was dismissed from Missouri last fall after a pair of unrelated sexual assault allegations (no charges were ever filed against him), leaving the former Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year something of a free agent last season. Perhaps using the Dez Wells/Xavier incident as a related precedent, the NCAA decided to allow Dixon to play without sitting out the mandated transfer year, a good call considering that would have represented a 32-month layoff for the senior. His addition to a Memphis backcourt of Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson makes Josh Pastner’s group one of the most talented in America — the key question is whether there will be enough basketballs to go around. In Dixon’s final year in Columbia, he accounted for nearly a quarter of the available shots while he was on the floor, while the returning Memphis trio also likes to chuck in the 19-22 percent range. Still, there’s plenty of reason for Memphis players and fans to be excited now, as Johnson tweeted a picture of the “4Kings” soon after the news was released yesterday — Dixon is a player who can mean the difference between a Sweet Sixteen and a Final Four.
Another player on the move is former Louisville, FIU and Minnesota (albeit ever so briefly) forward, Rakeem Buckles. According to ESPN.com‘s Jeff Goodman, Buckles was back on campus at FIU last week and plans on spending his final year of eligibility playing for the school where he sat out last season. He had originally intended to transfer for a second time to Richard Pitino’s club after FIU was put in APR jail (hey, Isiah), but the NCAA rejected his waiver request leaving him with few other viable options. Buckles has been a case study in hard luck over his career, suffering two ACL injuries at Louisville that never allowed him to find much momentum there, followed by a transfer to a school where he now has no shot at sniffing the NCAA Tournament. At a minimum, we hope that he has an injury-free 2013-14 season with the dangling carrot of a possible pro career awaiting him somewhere overseas.
So about those transfers… Luke Winn from Sports Illustrated has been quiet lately, but now that we can see the finish line of the offseason, expect a lot of great new stuff from him. On Tuesday he published his second annual look at the phenomenon of up-transferring, the growing tendency of good players at small programs to transfer to bigger programs to finish out their careers (especially in the case of those using the graduate transfer exception). What he finds is that the trend that appears to have taken off during the last offseason has continued on its upward trajectory. A total of 30 up-transfers are at bigger programs heading into this season (with three others awaiting NCAA decisions), a slight increase over last year, with notable new talent at national contenders such as Florida, Duke, Kansas, Arizona and several others. Oregon by itself is hoping to have as many as three up-transfers in its lineup, one year after former transfers Arsalan Kazemi (Rice) and Tony Woods (Wake Forest) led the Ducks to the Sweet Sixteen. Winn digs into some of the theories and reasoning behind why this trend continues to grow, and as always, you’ll enjoy the thoughtful analysis that he puts forth.
Rivals.comreleased its post-summer Top 150 of prep basketball prospects yesterday, and there were few surprises as Chicago’s Jahlil Okafor remained firmly planted at the top of the list. Emmanuel Mudiay, the most heralded recruit that Larry Brown has wooed since Danny and Ed Manning came to Lawrence, Kansas, has moved into the #2 overall position. The rest of the top 10 at this point only bears one other committed player, North Carolina’s Justin Jackson at the #10 slot, but as we know that will begin to change in earnest as we head into the official visit period and look forward to the November signing day. Speaking of package deals — the Mannings were of the most epic variety — Adam Zagoria from Zagsblog.combreaks down the likelihood that any of the rumored deals in this year’s senior class will actually attend school together next season. The most likely scenario remains the longest-running one, which is that Okafor and Minneapolis’ Tyus Jones will end up in the same place next year — most likely at Duke. While getting two top five players in the same class has become de riguer at Kentucky under John Calipari, it’s still nearly unprecedented elsewhere. So if Coach K pulls off this coupling of elite hoops talent at the ripe age of 66, it will prove perhaps once again that as long as Krzyzewski is still involved in this game, Duke isn’t going anywhere.
Winn’s partner at SI.com, Andy Glockner, was also active this week. The resident master at crowd-sourcing his Twitter followers to develop interesting column ideas, he sought to answer the question of which of the major conferences was most likely to produce the 2013-14 national champion? Given that this isn’t the BCS and there’s a wider variety of talent diffused throughout more leagues in college basketball, Glockner writes that there was “absolutely zero consensus” to the answers (we’d have to imagine that “SEC” would carry three-quarters or more of the vote in college football). Breaking down the component parts of each conference viewed through the “title or bust” analysis, he ultimately settles on the Big Ten, SEC and ACC as the three leagues with the strongest possibilities. We’d have to agree — each of those conferences has at least two teams with national championship talent, and although coaching, seeding, injuries and a lot of luck has to do with who ends on on the crown in April, you’d want to hedge your bets as much as possible with teams carrying the most future pros.
Labor Day is in the rear-view mirror now, so prepare yourselves for two solid months of preview material from the college basketball writing industry. Frankly, in the need to fill space with relevant content, we all probably overdo it a tad, but with the start of practice mere weeks away and preview magazines already hitting the newsstands, it’s hard to not get excited. SI.com‘s Andy Glockner has put together his third annual “non-conference primer” for us, which, if you’re not familiar, breaks down the slates at a number of the top programs in America. He slots 13 schools into four separate categories ranging from “This is how you do it” (Kansas) to “Not good enough, given context” (Louisville, Ohio State, Oklahoma State and UCLA), and there’s not much room for disagreement. Even more agreeable is that simply reading about some of these games is more than enough reason to start daydreaming.
One of the schools that falls into Glockner’s “Certainly acceptable” category is Michigan, which boasts non-conference games with Duke, Stanford, Arizona, Iowa State and possibly a rematch with VCU in the Puerto Rico Shootout. The rise of John Beilein’s Wolverines over the last few years has been well-documented as a trademark success story where great coaching, recruiting and player development all intertwined, and now Michigan fans everywhere can get the inside scoop on the progression with former walk-on Josh Bartelstein’s new eBook, “We On.” Bartelstein originally started blogging behind-the-scenes for MGoLive.com with his “Bartelstein Blog” while Michigan was sitting at 1-6 in the Big Ten during his sophomore year. The Wolverines went on to make the NCAA Tournament that season, following it up the next two years with a Big Ten championship and a trip to last year’s national title game. With a courtside seat for all the fun, Bartelstein’s documentation of the rise of Michigan basketball will sell for $7.99 and is sure to inspire some copycats along the way. Does Andrew Wiggins blog?
One basketball player who wouldn’t have trouble finding a willing readership if he ever decided to blog is LeBron James. The two-time NBA champion never attended a single day of college, but when you’re as marketable as he is, you don’t have to. The Ohio State University has already claimed James as its own (remember, James’ talents are originally from Akron), wearing his line of basketball shoes and gear since 2007. Never one to miss a great recruiting opportunity, Thad Matta has decided to dress up the Buckeyes’ locker room with a nameplate and locker filled with James’ OSU product line. This is simply brilliant — we’re guessing that most 16- and 17-year olds don’t realize that James was a prep-to-pros kid a decade ago — so, in the worst case, recruits are impressed by the school’s association with the World’s Best Player; in the best case, they might believe he actually played in Columbus. That sound you just heard was John Calipari getting out his hammer to nail a photo montage of Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett on the wall of the locker room at Rupp Arena. Hey, friends of the program…
One of the nastiest rumors of the summer involved Louisville hardwood hero Kevin Ware, he of the gruesomely snapped leg against Duke in the NCAA Tournament’s Elite Eight. We won’t lower ourselves to discuss the content of the Kentuckiana rumor-mongering other than to say that his head coach, Rick Pitino, summarily dismissed any accusation that Ware had been suspended from the team. Pitino also said that Ware was recovering nicely but he is still a month to six weeks from getting back onto the basketball court, and even then, he’s likely to have some issues trusting his body for a while. With all the depth that Louisville will have in this year’s backcourt, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to foresee a redshirt year for the junior should he take a bit longer to come around after what was such a devastating injury. And who would blame him (other than the conspiracy theorists, of course)?
We’ll end with a sad note today as Butler’s friendly canine mascot, Blue II, passed away over the Labor Day weekend. The English bulldog became synonymous with Butler basketball as the school spent the better part of his nine-year lifespan rising from the role of plucky mid-major to that of a national program. His final blog post located here, entitled “I Leave You With ‘Thanks,'” is pretty much the tear-jerker that you’d imagine it would be, inasmuch as you can suspend reality to give the slobbery mascot his own voice. That suspension of belief wasn’t very hard for this writer, nor would it likely be hard for many millions of other dog owners who too consider man’s best friend an indispensable part of the family. A snarky commenter on Twitter yesterday suggested that, given the short life span of dogs, it’s best to consider them merely as pets and remain “detached” so as to not suffer after they’re gone. To that we say, that’s no way to live, sir, no way to live at all. Rather, we should strive to attach with all your heart’s desire — these furry little creatures will never let you down. RIP, Blue II.
With the news coming out at mid-week that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has agreed to coach the men’s basketball national team for three more years, the inevitable corollary question was how much longer is he planning to remain on the sidelines in Durham. Armed with his “lifetime” contract at Duke, he can presumably stay for as long as he wants, but the 66-year old legend said on Thursday that he won’t retire before the Olympics run is over in Summer 2016. That means he’s got a minimum of three more full seasons at Duke left, and the truth is that he probably will stick around even longer than that. His reasoning is that in order to stay sharp with the demands of the Team USA job, he needs to be coaching full-time the rest of the year. It’s a fair point. There’s also these little things called 1,000 wins (he’s 43 away) and five national titles (which would put him alone in second place all-time), which are without question drivers for the uber-accomplished coach who embraces competition (as a side note, he thinks the new and improved ACC will be the “best ever.”)
While on the subject of K and his ongoing role with Team USA, SI.com‘s Andy Glockner must have been working with the FBI to mine the RTC email boxes yesterday, as the very subject of “Duke: Better or Worse Off?” came up and was bandied about throughout the day. Glockner lays out a solid analysis that pretty much comes to the same conclusion that we had internally: Duke’s overall performance has dropped a notch in the period since Krzyzewski took over as the head coach of Team USA, but it’s specious at best to argue that the downtick has been a result of his focus on that team. Rather, our stance mirrors Glockner’s somewhat in that the corresponding one-and-done era (which began in 2006 as well) hasn’t helped Duke quite as much as it has some other schools, and to put it frankly, Duke’s recruiting (like everyone else’s) has taken a hit over the last five years in large part because of the Calipari Effect. While it’s certainly true that Duke’s 2010 national championship takes a lot of the sting out of a number of other earlier-than-anticipated exits from the NCAA Tournament, the fact of that matter from our view is that K by and large isn’t getting quite the quality of depth of talent as he was recruiting 15 years ago. A single Final Four in the last nine seasons is the longest such drought of his career, but it’s not because of USA Basketball — it’s because there have been too many Jon Scheyers and not enough Kyrie Irvings.
The NBA Draft has been on everyone’s minds lately, with the lottery going off in favor of Cleveland earlier this week and a number of talented collegians vying for the #1 overall pick on June 27. Yesterday CBSSports.comproduced an interesting historical perspective of how each team in the Western Conference has drafted over the last 15 years. For example, the San Antonio Spurs have tended to go with foreign players (48% of selections), while the Los Angeles Lakers have used more than a quarter of its selections (28%) on mid-major picks. The analysis comes replete with colorful pie charts, which shows that the guys over there have finally figured out how to use Tableau. For your Memorial Day weekend pleasure, they’ll be releasing the Eastern Conference rundowns later today. Check it out.
Hopefully we’re at a point of stasis with respect to major conference realignment, but the mids are still actively crawling up the ladder at every available opportunity. Yesterday Elon University, a rising star in the academic world, announced that its athletic programs will leave the Southern Conference to join the CAA beginning next summer. The Phoenix have only been Division I participants since 1997, and this is already the school’s third conference affiliation — it was originally with the Big South followed by the SoCon and now the CAA — at this rate, Elon will be joining the ACC sometime around 2025. The men’s basketball program has enjoyed only two winning seasons since joining the big leagues, but one of those was last year when Mike Matheny’s squad went 13-5 in conference play and 21-12 overall. With a heavy emphasis on placement of alumni in the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern corridor, this is a very good move for the profile of the school.
The last time we saw Eric Devendorf, he was standing on a press row table at Madison Square Garden after hitting a “game-winning” buzzer-beater in the Big East Tournamant Game That Would Never End, also known as the six-overtime Big East quarterfinals thriller between the Orange and UConn Huskies. Of course, that’s not completely true, as Devo played in five more games that season; but the indelible image of the Orange’s 14th-leading all-time scorer was that moment. He was brash, loud-mouthed, cocky, but wildly entertaining — sorta like the SU version of Marshall Henderson. Well, if you’ve missed him after he headed overseas to play professionally after that season, you’re in luck — Devendorf is back in the Syracuse area doing a Friday night radio show with popular local ESPN affiliate host Mike Bristol. We can’t say that we’re going to be taking time out of our schedules to find him on the dial tonight, but maybe you will. Have a safe Memorial Day weekend, everyone.
As CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Goodman reported yesterday, the NCAA Rules Committee is meeting in Indianapolis this week and as of now it appears unlikely that the governing body will recommend a change to the 35-second shot clock. Given that scoring has reached its lowest point in over a half-century of college hoops, many have been clamoring for the pace of the game to increase through a shortened clock. What those rabble-rousers of course fail to realize is that because of advanced scouting and technology, defensive strategies are vastly more robust than they were even 10, or certainly 20 or more years ago. The game is also significantly younger than it was when the shot clock was first introduced, which creates a likely devil’s potion of unintended consequences whereby a shortened clock will simply lead to more rushed (read: ugly) possessions that will not at all improve the overall level of play across the game. Good on the NCAA to recognize this and keep the wolves at bay. Some of the other anticipated rules changes are to mimic the NBA’s achievement in using the monitors at the end of games to get possession, time and score calls correct, while also placing a much-needed emphasis on the removal of hand-checking and bumping on cuts through the lane. Hopefully these measures will help to make the game a bit more free-flowing, because the NBA’s product right now in that regard is fantastic and the collegians could stand to learn from it.
The match-ups for the 15th annual ACC/Big Ten Challengewere released yesterday and everyone is giving their takes on which games stand out as the best. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of next year’s event, of course, is that the three new ACC schools — Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame — will be a part of the action next December 3-4. The Orange will take on Indiana in a rematch game from this year’s Sweet Sixteen; the Panthers will host rising program Penn State in a Keystone State battle; and, Notre Dame will travel to Iowa to face another Big Ten team hoping for big things next season. As for longtime ACC teams Wake Forest, Clemson and Virginia Tech? Welcome to your new reality — there are three newer and prettier girls moving to town. For what it’s worth, the Big Ten has won three of the last four events, with last year ending up as a 6-6 tie.
The national runner-up, Michigan, will travel to Cameron Indoor Stadium in the marquee game of the first night of the Challenge, which brings back great memories of the days when Chris Webber, Jalen Rose and the Fab Five would knock antlers with Bobby Hurley, Grant Hill and the rest down in Durham two decades ago. While on the subject of Michigan’s most famous player, Webber’s 10-year ban from association with UM as part of his punishment for taking hundreds of thousands of dollars while in school there, is now over. Technically, this means that if Michigan someday wants to honor him with a jersey retirement ceremony or some other shrine in Crisler Arena, they will be allowed to do so. Whether Webber ultimately wants something like that is open for debate — he’s reportedly remained very cool in his relationship with the university (and some argue that he’s right to be angry) — but it says here that Webber is a sensitive guy who was very hurt by many of the things said about him within the Michigan community, but as evidenced by his attendance at the National Championship game last month, he’ll never stop loving the school that made him famous. He’ll be honored there within the next five years.
By now everyone knows and has an opinion on the mercurial rise of wunderkind head coach Andy Enfield from Florida Gulf Coast to USC. Now that he’s been on the job for a few weeks in Troy, the New York Times caught up with him to see how he’s handling the transition from the low-density glare of Fort Myers, Florida, to the red-hot limelight of Hollywood. No stranger to hard work, Enfield has been putting in 16-hour days getting organized in everything from recruiting strategies to travel plans, all from the relatively comfortable haven of his nearby Raddisson hotel room. As the article notes, the Fighting Enfields are already focusing very hard on dominating the Los Angeles talent scene, a sentiment that is going to be very interesting with Steve Alford just a few miles away in his new digs mapping out the very same plan. USC may not ever become a basketball school, but there’s really no excuse for it to be awful, either. Enfield might just be the guy to make USC basketball relevant again.
SI.com‘s Andy Glockner has been beating this drum for a while now, but we’re not sure he’s ever done so outside the conversation-friendly auspices of Twitter. The idea? A college basketball Champions League arrangement, first espoused by Bylaw Blog‘s John Infante, which would essentially use the non-conference friendly months of November and December to create non-stop excitement by crafting big game after big game between talented teams before heading into the heart of conference season and, ultimately, March Madness. We’re not smart enough with respect to the nuances of the Champions League format to determine whether this sort of thing might be feasible, but if the ultimate goal is to improve the game as a whole through more compelling match-ups when most sports fans are generally only worried about football, then we’re all for it. Glockner does an excellent job explaining how the pairings would work as well as rebutting some of the arguments that are sure to arise — it’s well worth a read and some consideration.
Tonight’s Lede.Styles Clashed, Tempo Prevails.The realization that Kentucky has not yet blossomed into the transcendent juggernaut it was last season creates an interesting situation atop the SEC title race, where the likes of Florida and Missouri are very well in line to seize the opportunity should the Wildcats falter in any significant way. Of the three likely contenders, the Gators can now lay claim to the most impressive non-conference win – which, if you throw in the forever expunged naval ship game with Georgetown, should be Florida’s potential second impressive non-conference win. In any case, this Wednesday night headliner gave us a nice glimpse of Billy Donovan’s charges against a Tournament-caliber foe, and a decent jumping off point from the blue-blood bonanza that took place last night in Atlanta. Plus, for you x’s and o’s savants, whenever a giddy-up offensive thoroughbred like Florida tangles with the ploddiest of plodders, Wisconsin, the clash of styles is awfully fun to observe. This game didn’t disappoint. Let’s dive into the Gators’ triumph, plus some of the other action on a rather blasé night of college hoops…
Your Watercooler Moment. ErikMurphy Eases Florida’s Frontcourt Concerns.
As frontcourt scoring options go, Murphy gives Florida an excellent complement to Young (Photo credit: AP Photo).
The logical stopping point on any even-keeled analysis of Florida’s offensive potential this season rests on two key developments: Kenny Boynton’s unrestrained three-point trigger and Patric Young’s development slowly, surely, eventually, into a viable scorer and rebounder on the low block. With nine three-point attempts through two games, Boynton’s already off to the running. Young has been efficient – 8-for-14 shooting and a combined 20 rebounds so far – but his progress feels like a backstory in light of senior forward Erik Murphy’s spotlight 10-for-10, 24-point, eight-rebound night against the Badgers. The star turn of one-and-done guard Bradley Beal during last season’s Elite Eight run, not to mention the Billy Donovan/Rick Pitino interplay, among other nuggets, conspired to de-emphasize Murphy’s importance to Florida’s offensive chemistry. Did you know the 6’8’’ senior forward hit double figures 19 times last season? You’ll certainty take notice after the hyper-efficient shooting display he threw down tonight. If Young can’t make the improvements everyone’s been expecting since he arrived on campus, if he can’t elevate his footwork, post awareness and interior scoring touch to match the physical tools befitting a lottery pick, Murphy’s interior scoring responsibilities could skyrocket. The question going forward is whether last night’s sterling effort was a blip or a sign of things to come. His teammates sure appreciated it (see video below)…
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
When McDermott Doesn’t Score…Any early-season national player of the year projections invariably include one name: Doug McDermott. For all his success last season, and Creighton’s likely Top 25 status this season, McDermott may never be recognized as the nation’s best player. What we do know is that McDermott is crucial to the Bluejays’ chances of reigning over the mid-major landscape, and last night’s home win over UAB offered a perfect example of his outsized role. Foul trouble kept McDermott on the bench for much of the first half, and he ultimately finished with just five points, the first time he’s failed to record double figures in his last 37 games. In case anyone was interested in a defensive antidote for Creighton’s high-powered offense, the Blazers found your solution: keep McDermott off the court. Simple enough. Read the rest of this entry »
UCLA is lately starting to challenge Kentucky in terms of its news-making prowess as it seems like we’re discussing some new twist with Ben Howland’s team virtually every day in this space. The latest news out of Westwood is that still-ineligible superstar freshman Shabazz Muhammadinjured his right shoulder in practice on Wednesday and underwent an MRI last evening to determine if there is any damage to the joint. He’ll be re-evaluated as a matter of course today, but at least so far, sources around the Bruins have been mum on the possible extent of his injury. This comes on the heels of an injury to David Wear’s ankle that has kept the big man out of practice for the last several days, not to mention the continuing dark cloud hovering over the program as a result of the ongoing NCAA investigations of Muhammad (the best wing in college basketball, according to CBSSports.com) and Kyle Anderson. Is there a turning point coming soon or are this year’s Bruins simply doomed from the start?
One school that has found clarity on the eligibility of one of its key players is Murray State. School administrators have made the difficult but correct decision to suspend guard Zay Jacksonfor the entire 2012-13 season as a result of his dastardly actions last month in using his car as a human battering ram in a Wal-Mart parking lot. We wrote in this very space last week that athletic director Allen Ward had no reasonable choice other than to bring the hammer down on Jackson, and it appears that in light of the shocking video showing Jackson’s rage, he certainly acceded to public pressure. Ward stated that Jackson could earn his way back on to the team next season, but it would take a showing of steps “above and beyond… [those] of an exemplary citizen” to prove to Ward, head coach Steve Prohm, and his teammates that he deserves a second chance. We’ll say this — the legal system will have its pound of flesh (Jackson will be sentenced next week for wanton endangerment) and now the school will have its penance as well. If Jackson wants to atone for his sins, he’ll have what should be a one-time opportunity to make things good in the next 50 weeks until the start of the 2013-14 season.
Don’t you hate when you read a piece that you wish you had already written? That’s exactly how we felt yesterday when we became aware of a fantastic article from The Atlantic‘s Stephen A. Miller that discusses an eminently reasonable solution to much of the perceived and actual inconsistencies in the NCAA‘s application of its rules. Outsource it. Miller argues that the NCAA carries so many inherent risks with its existing enforcement structure — conflicts of interest, inadequate funding, arbitrary and capricious rulings, a perception of playing favorites — that paying an outside entity to build a fair, transparent and consistent body of case law would result in growth in the one thing that the NCAA has trouble selling to the public right now: a strong perception of integrity. Miller’s piece is well worth the time for a read, but in the protect-your-own environment that we live in today, this has about as much chance of happening as Mark Emmert sprouting wings and delivering papers to Shabazz Muhammad’s dorm room.
A really interesting bit of news was released as part of a SiriusXM show Wednesday hosted by Mike Krzyzewski (“Basketball and Beyond“) with Louisville head coach Rick Pitino giving some insight as to how he ended up back in the Bluegrass State after an unsuccessful stint with the Boston Celtics. According to Pitino, it was his wife, Joanne, who talked him out of his commitment to become the new Michigan head coach by — are you ready for this? — challenging him for being “afraid to go back to the state of Kentucky to coach at Louisville, his old school’s arch-rival.” Now, we don’t claim to listen to or read every single comment that the loquacious Pitino has made over the last 10 years, but we’re pretty sure about one thing — the Louisville coach has gone on record dozens of times stating that he expected those same Kentucky fans to embrace him after his return to collegiate coaching. If this is in fact true — and, of course, we know it is not — what would he possibly have been afraid of? As a side note, props to Coach K for his investigative reporting in getting such a jewel of honesty out of Pitino — maybe he has a career on 60 Minutes ahead of him, as even in his 70s, he’d certainly mesh with the median age of its reporters.
Let’s close today with a list, as those are always fun for some debate no matter how ridiculous they turn out to be. Luckily, SI.com‘s Andy Glockner does his homework year-round, so his opinions are on the positive side of the cut line. He ranks all the Division I conferences from #1 to #33 with brief descriptions explaining why, for example, the Pac-12 ended up at #8 (ouch!) or the Big East shows at #2 in its last season as we typically think of it. Keeping in mind that people generally rate conferences based on the quality of their better teams — nobody really cares if your conference’s worst two teams would beat another league’s worst two teams — Glockner chooses the Big Ten as the top conference for the second year in a row. As we discussed on our Big Ten Preview Podblast yesterday, the top five teams in this league are legitimately good-to-great basketball teams. The four or five below that group are all good enough to threaten to make the NCAAs, although not all of them will do so; and so you’re left with just a couple of bottom-feeders whose fans are already thinking of next year. That’s an excellent and talented basketball league.
From the time-on-his-hands department, we move to the curious tweeting of former North Carolina, Florida Atlantic and SMU head coach, Matt Doherty. The former Tar Heel — both as a player (1980-84) and coach (2000-03) — took to the Tweether on Tuesday to defend one of his former players, Julius Peppers. Of course everyone reading this by now knows the context under which Peppers has become a hot topic in the college basketball community, but most folks have lost track of Doherty, a disastrous hire seemingly everywhere he’s been. No worries, though, as the erstwhile coach makes clear in this tweet, he is currently getting “paid for not working!” Funny, that’s what UNC fans were screaming at the top of their lungs around a decade ago. Still, the entire series of semi-abrasive and tweets makes you wonder if Doherty plans on ever working in this business again.
Is it every too early to start breaking down the juiciest match-ups in the non-conference schedule for the upcoming season? No argument here, as CNNSI.com’s Andy Glockner in mid-August has already put together his list of the 25 best pre-conference games (nearly all of these are in November and December). As it should be, the list is very top-heavy, with annual favorites Kentucky, Indiana, Louisville and North Carolina representing seven of the 10 spots in the top five games. It’s hard to quibble with lists like these because so much of it comes down to a matter of taste, but for our money, the best game on the agenda is the Champions Classic match-up between Kentucky and Duke. Sure, Louisville and UK are the bitterest of rivals and the storylines between Calipari and Pitino are too many to count. But we just played that game a few months ago in New Orleans, and we have it at least one other time per season. Instead, give us the Wildcats and Blue Devils, a pair of teams that somehow and shockingly have not played each other in ELEVEN WHOLE YEARS (Duke won in the 2001 Jason Williams overtime classic at the Jimmy V — check the Youtube clips here). How is this possible? How can Kentucky and Duke not see each other at least once every few seasons? All in all, though, if Glockner’s list doesn’t get your juices pumping, we can’t help you.
One of Glockner’s juiciest 25 games is the annual Crosstown Shootout game between Cincinnati and Xavier, and regardless of the players on the floor, he’s 100% correct in that this game is always worth a viewing. Xavier, the big winner in last year’s brawl game, lost quite a bit of its production to graduation but was expected to bring back fourth-leading scorer (9.8 PPG) and TSN A-10 Freshman of the Year, Dez Wells. No longer. The school expelled Wells yesterday for a serious violation of Xavier’s student code of conduct.” XU would not provide additional details about the violations, but it’s safe to assume that his transgression fell on the side of worse than pushing a UC player causing an embarrassing fracas. The question we now have is: Who doesn’t need a scoring and rebounding big guard who will have three years of eligibility remaining after a one-year transfer layoffs. We’re betting that the over/under on calls to Wells by this morning is somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 schools.
With a new commissioner and a new lead negotiator in tow, the Big East is battening down all the hatches before its television negotiation window opens up in a bit over a week from now. The latest news that shows the league is putting its absolute best foot forward for its TV masters of the universe is that the conference is very close to securing a 10-year extension to its existing deal that will keep the Big East Tournament at the Mecca, Madison Square Garden, through 2026. This is very important to the future of the league for a number of reasons, but perhaps the weightiest is that it will serve to keep the encroaching ACC (with new members Pittsburgh and Syracuse) out of Manhattan for a good while. Furthermore, even though nearly everyone agrees that football drives the financial bus of the power conferences, the Big East’s Mike Aresco and the ACC’s John Swofford seem to recognize the value in their specific basketball products. The Big East Tournament on Seventh Avenue between 31st and 33d Streets is a big part of that value, so it’s great to see that Aresco and his team clearly understand that.
Finally, we have no idea what to make of this news, but it’s bizarre and worth mentioning as we close things out nonetheless. Kellogg’s announced that it will release a series of Pop Tarts the company calls “printed fun” with five different flavors coinciding with the following schools: Arkansas, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, and North Carolina. As this responding article at Hoopsworld shows, Twitter may have had more fun with this meme than Doherty enjoyed all by lonesome on Tuesday. Somewhere in Lubbock, Texas, Billy Gillispie reportedly kicked over a case of delicious Pop Tart goodness with the release of this news. Alas.
It’s probably not often that we’ll choose a valuable M5 blurb to write about a player who only averaged a half-point and 1.8 rebounds per contest last season. But UCLA’s Anthony Stover — dismissed from the team Monday for academic problems — is a statistical anomaly of sorts — the 6’10” rising junior only saw eight minutes a game in Ben Howland’s system, but he still managed to block shots at a higher rate in limited time (18.2%) than Kansas’ Jeff Withey (15.3%) and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis (13.8%). Of course, for every block Stover registered last season (38), he also recorded a foul (37), so there’s clearly a learning curve he must still conquer. Still, for a mid-major willing to work with the young man in the classroom, the potential (at least on the defensive end) is there.
Quiet among all the other newsworthy things the NCAA has done lately, the governing body has implemented a number of new player eligibility standards that will be phased in by 2016. So why is this important now? As Dana O’Neil explains in this wide-ranging piece, high school freshmen for the Class of 2016 will report to their freshman years at high school in the next few weeks. The new requirements increase the number of core curriculum courses to 16 (10 of which must be completed in the player’s first three years of high school, and seven of those must be in math, science, or English classes), raise the minimum GPA from 2.0 to 2.3, and generally scare the bejeezus out of college coaches everywhere. According to the NCAA, 43 percent of players who entered college basketball in 2009-10 would not have been eligible to play as freshmen under these new standards. Well, that solves the fake coursework problem — now, on to the AAU problem.
More on this later today, but the Legends Classic released its faux-bracket yesterday, and we could be in for quite an early season treat in the new Barclays Arena during Feast Week if things work out. This event is one of those preseason “tournaments” where the semifinal teams are prospectively placed regardless of what happens in the earlier rounds, but if both Indiana and UCLA beat their semifinal opponents (Georgia and Georgetown, respectively), we could be treated with an epic neutral site showdown between two of the nation’s top five teams. Both IU and UCLA boast talent aplenty, and if you believe CBSSports.com’s recent report that IU star Cody Zeller and UCLA star Shabazz Muhammad are the two most coveted players in college basketball by other coaches, then this potential match-up represents the best that November will likely have to offer.
Next season cannot get here soon enough, but SI.com’s Andy Glockner is helping us fill the summer time off with his second annual Twitter-style State of the College Hoops Union piece where he breaks down 53 of the nation’s best teams in 140 characters or less. There’s some good stuff there, so we’d encourage you to stick with the article after reading Arizona’s blurb and his first of more than a dozen awful hoops-related puns. Out like a Lyons in March? Yeah, we meant awful as in good. Somewhere in a lair under a golf course, Jim Nantz is stealing many of Glockner’s better quips.