VCU Seeks to Make Claim as Virginia’s Best Program Saturday

Posted by Lathan Wells on December 21st, 2013

The VCU Rams entered the 2013-14 season with the school’s highest preseason rankings in school history (#14 in the Associated Press poll, #15 in the USA Today/Coaches poll) and arguably coach Shaka Smart’s best team since he took over the program in 2009. The Rams have hit some early stumbling blocks with losses to Florida State, Georgetown and Northern Iowa, putting them outside of the rankings altogether at this point. The team is adjusting to new foul rules that often hamper it’s ability to run its vaunted Havoc defense, and they have not been consistently effective from long range. But this weekend’s upcoming Governor’s Holiday Hoops Classic in Richmond gives VCU an opportunity to firmly stake its claim to a title they arguably have yet to formally hold — the best basketball school in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

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A win over VT would continue Shaka Smart’s team’s ascension in the state hoops pantheon (credit: USA Today)

Since Smart took over, the Rams have been the main school in the headlines when it comes to Virginia college basketball. The magical run to the Final Four in 2011, considered one of the greatest Cinderella runs of all-time in the NCAA Tournament, pushed them to the forefront of the basketball scene. But staying power is the only way to hold the title of the state’s best hoops school, and it’s that consistent success Smart and the Rams have enjoyed in the years following that makes it clear they are Virginia’s foremost basketball program. NCAA bids were achieved again in 2011-12 and 2012-13, where each year VCU had the misfortune of meeting one of the best teams in the country and getting knocked out in the third round (a rising Indiana displaced them in 2011-12; eventual national runner-up Michigan did so last year). To then come into this year with the enormous expectations that were placed upon it shows that the VCU program is now a major player on the national scene.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on December 19th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Dealing With Expectations

Forgive me if six weeks and 10 games (more or less) into this season I am a little dizzy from all the twists and turns. Most understood Massachusetts would be good, especially with Chaz Williams’ decision to take his last season of eligibility in Amherst, but undefeated? VCU would be nicked in the non-conference schedule — that much was a given — but three losses that include a 14-point loss to Florida State on a neutral court and a loss to Northern Iowa? That is a surprise.

What's new? UMass standout Chaz Williams is having another great season. (AP)

What’s new? UMass standout Chaz Williams is having another great season. (AP)

First Team

  • Chaz Williams (Massachusetts) — It may be hard to believe, but the unanimous pick has actually exceeded expectations. Williams has led the Minutemen to a 10-0 undefeated start and a #22 ranking in AP’s Top 25. UMass is the only conference representative.
  • Dwayne Evans (Saint Louis) — The Billikens’ slashing forward’s sluggish offensive numbers mirror the larger problems facing St. Louis this season. Evans can score inside as his 51 percent two-point completion rate attests, but absent a consistent long-range scorer, opposing teams find it very easy to stop the Bills — pack the lane and wait for Evans (or guard Jordair Jett) to drive. The stingy defense lives on, Saint Louis is ranked #3 defensively by Ken Pomeroy, but a team-wide three-point drought (Jake Barnett excepted) leaves Jim Crews’ squad with a one-dimensional offense.
  • Tyreek Duren (La Salle) — Hobbled by a troublesome plantar fasciitis condition that dates back to last May, the point guard has to adjust his energy to manage the Explorers’ offense rather than create it through his typical to-the-basket drives. There are many reasons the Explorers are struggling this season and with a better start Dureen’s inability to move laterally and plant for a jumper would be a footnote.
  • Treveon Graham (Virginia Commonwealth) — Graham continues the domination that established him as a first teamer last season. He leads the Rams in scoring (196 points, 16.3 PPG) and combines prolific scoring with efficient scoring, earning a 117.9 offensive rating from Ken Pomeroy. Questions on how to get VCU back on track should not start with Graham. He is on pace to accumulate last season’s numbers, and has improved his defensive rebounding to boot.
  • Juvonte Reddic (Virginia Commonwealth) — VCU’s second leading scorer (140 points, 11.7 points per game, 110.1) and leading rebounder (30-56-86) has stepped back slightly in offensive efficiency, but has improved in block and steal rates and in getting to the line. If his contributions hold steady through the season, Reddic should be in the thick of an All-Conference conversation come March.

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Checking In On… the Atlantic 10

Posted by Joe Dzuback on December 12th, 2013

Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.

Taking Stock – Atlantic 10 versus Division I

The conference roars along with a 69 percent winning percentage versus the rest of Division I, but is this year’s showing strong enough for the conference to maintain the three to four NCAA bid Selection Sunday pace the conference has grown accustomed to in the last decade? Maybe …

If a conference bubble team (Dayton?) finds itself in a side-by-side comparison with another team from another “basketball-first” conference (counting the Missouri Valley, Mountain West, Conference USA and the West Coast conferences here), the prospects are good, as the A-10 has won 80 percent of its games against those teams. Whether consulting the RPI or Ken Pomeroy, the Atlantic 10 sits atop that cluster of conferences.

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(Note: A10 teams have no scheduled games with four conferences, those conferences are not listed here)

The A-10 ranks #7 in the RPI, ahead of the SEC, while Pomeroy ranks the league #8, well separated from the next best conference — the WCC. Power conferences, however, continue to bedevil all but the A-10’s four best representatives. Logging a 12-23 (34.3%) record to date is not good news. With under one-third of their games versus the power conferences (counting eight conferences here – the American, ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, the Pac-12 and the SEC in this group… this season) remaining to play, finishing with a .500 record is theoretically possible but highly unlikely. Closing that gap may be a realistic goal as teams have four games remaining against the ACC (6-6 so far) and five versus the SEC (1-1 so far), two conferences where they have held their own. Virginia Commonwealth in particular can boost its postseason prospects with wins over Virginia Tech and Boston College, two ACC opponents the Hokies will face during Christmas Week.

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UMass in Great NCAA Tourney Position With Its Early Resume

Posted by Nicholas Patrick on December 12th, 2013

Derek Kellogg’s UMass team was picked to finish fourth in the new-look Atlantic 10 this season, which would seem to position the Minutemen squarely on the bubble in pursuit of their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1998. In recent years, UMass has missed nearly every key opportunity to strengthen its non-conference resume (losing to Boston College, Seton Hall, Florida State, North Carolina State, Tennessee, and Miami twice), but this squad has garnered national attention by passing every tough test. Through eight games, UMass remains perfect, collecting wins over four power-conference teams (Boston College, LSU, Nebraska, and Clemson), along with high-mids New Mexico and BYU, and earning a championship in the Charleston Classic. What’s more impressive — aside from overcoming a nine-point second-half deficit to defeat Boston College, UMass has been in complete control of each of its other games. The Minutemen find themselves ranked in both major polls (#22 AP; #20 Coaches), and are currently ranked #1 in the RPI.

Senior guard Chaz Williams is living up to his preseason all-conference accolades (umassathletics.com)

Senior guard Chaz Williams is living up to his preseason all-conference accolades (umassathletics.com).

Senior guard Chaz Williams, a preseason first team all-A-10 selection, has led the attack – averaging 17.5 points per game, thanks in part to shooting 44 percent beyond the arc. When he’s not scoring, he’s helping others do so, as Williams ranks 20th nationally in assist rate. He finished the BYU game with a ridiculous 15:1 assist/turnover ratio, and all of it has led to a balanced and potent offense, as three other Minutemen are also averaging 12 points or more per game: Cady Lalanne (15.0 PPG, to go along with 10.4 rebounds per game), Sampson Carter (13.8 PPG), and Raphiael Putney (12.6 PPG). To boot, each of these contributors is 6’8″ or taller, constantly testing opponents’ interior defense.

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Dayton Again Flying to Unexpected Early Heights

Posted by Nicholas Patrick on December 4th, 2013

Expectations were relatively low for Dayton entering the season, as Archie Miller’s Flyers were picked to finish seventh in an Atlantic 10 Conference that had lost some of its top contenders (Butler, Temple and Xavier, not to mention Charlotte). They had lost point guard Kevin Dillard and were counting on contributions from a number of unproven players, none of whom earned preseason A-10 honors of any kind. But after hitting a buzzer-beater to survive a season-opening scare against IPFW, Dayton has hit its stride, winning convincingly at Georgia Tech (at the expense of former coach Brian Gregory) before an impressive showing at the Maui Invitational, during which they sandwiched a heartbreaking loss to Baylor between victories against Gonzaga and California.

Dayton Enjoyed Its Feast Week Trip to (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

Dayton Enjoyed Its Feast Week Trip to Maui (AP Photo/Eugene Tanner)

The Flyers are executing on both ends of the court. According to KenPom, Dayton ranks 20th nationally in offensive adjusted efficiency and 20th in three-point field goal percentage. They rank 23rd in defensive turnover percentage and 13th in defensive steal percentage. Newly-arriving guard Jordan Sibert (a transfer from Ohio State) has led the offense, senior forward Devin Oliver has supplemented his penchant for rebounding and hustle with newfound scoring ability, and offensive threats Dyshawn Pierre and Vee Sanford are sure to heat up any time. But Dayton’s biggest weapon has been its depth, as the Flyers have received key contributions from 11 different players. Of course, depth is always helpful when playing three games in three days (beware conference tournament opponents), but it can be especially beneficial to a team who runs a relentless uptempo offense, and to any team in a season where fouls are assessed at a markedly increased rate.

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George Mason Readies Itself For Upgrade in Competition This Season

Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 18th, 2013

Alex Moscoso is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the George Mason vs. Northern Iowa game on Saturday.

On Saturday afternoon, Northern Iowa came to Fairfax, Virginia, to play George Mason for the second consecutive year. Both teams are etched into the minds of college basketball fans because of some recent unforgettable moments in March. The Panthers have remained relatively intact since their stellar moment in 2010. Same coach, same league, and moderate success in the Missouri Valley. The Patriots, however, have experienced a sort of program face-lift since their Final Four run. They lost long-time head coach, Jim Larranaga, to the ACC’s Miami (FL) in 2011, and hired Paul Hewitt, the former George Tech coach whose career there produced mixed results, as his replacement.  They also upgraded their conference affiliation by moving from the Colonial to the Atlantic 10, starting this season. While Hewitt was in Atlanta, he relied on talented underclassmen, like Thaddeus Young and Iman Shumpert, to drive his program.  But this season at George Mason, he’ll need to rely on his slate of returning upperclassmen to transition into the A-10 and make a run at the school’s first NCAA Tournament under his watch.

George Mason's Sherrod Wright Lives For Big Moments.

George Mason’s Sherrod Wright Lives For Big Moments.

Hewitt has led the Patriots to 20 wins in each of his first two seasons, and they return nearly everyone of significance including redshirt senior Sherrod Wright, who averaged 16.6 PPG last year. Despite that success, Hewitt has not yet managed to earn enough quality or timely wins to make the NCAA Tournament. Now that George Mason will be in a higher-profile league, the tougher competition will give his team more opportunities for signature wins on its resume. So far this season, the Patriots have eked out a win against American and beaten Lamar handily. The visit by the Panthers represented their first test against competition comparable to what they’ll be facing in the A-10 most nights out.

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VCU’s Versatility On Full Display Early in the Season

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 17th, 2013

Lathan Wells is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after last night’s game between VCU and Winthrop in Richmond. 

The VCU Rams have risen to prominence on the national scene over the last several years due largely to their suffocating, full-court defense and long-range shooting. This has proven to be a style that’s been immensely difficult for teams to prepare for, and most opponents don’t possess the stamina or depth to hang with the Rams for an entire game. But in the infant stages of the 2013-14 season, and following a solid 92-71 win over Winthrop Saturday night, VCU has also proven that it has the ability to win games in different fashions. It’s that versatility that makes this team particularly dangerous.

Legitimate options off the bench like JeQuan Lewis make VCU even more potent (credit: collegebasketball.org)

Legitimate options off the bench like JeQuan Lewis make VCU even more potent (credit: collegebasketball.org)

After the Rams capped off a rugged, grinding win in Charlottesville over in-state rival Virginia on Tuesday, it became apparent that taking the tempo away from this team would no longer guarantee success. The Rams fought off a night where they were whistled for 27 personal fouls and had several key players in early foul trouble with its consistent half-court defense. While they weren’t able to press the Cavaliers full-court due to the slow-it-down style Virginia prefers, Shaka Smart’s team’s perseverance on the road against an ACC foe in prime time showed that it has the makeup of a team that can handle in-game adversity. Avoiding the letdown that sometimes plagues teams playing as many youngsters as VCU was an important barometer early in the year, and the Rams were able to get back to pressing full-court and shooting well from downtown in pulling away against Winthrop.

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Richmond’s Complementary Backcourt Key to Successful Season

Posted by Lathan Wells on November 12th, 2013

Lathan Wells is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after the Richmond vs. Belmont game on Monday night in Richmond.

The University of Richmond’s Robins Center recently underwent a $17 million renovation designed to reinvigorate a fan base and continue to make the Spiders one of the most difficult schools to play in their building in any league. After defeating Belmont on Monday night, 69-61, Richmond has now won 39 of its last 46 home games against non-conference foes. It was the second straight close, gritty home win for head coach Chris Mooney’s team, the kind of win largely made possible by the dependable guard play that will need to be a hallmark for this Spiders this year.

Anthony has been clutch for Richmond thus far (credit:Richmondspiders.com)

Anthony has been clutch for Richmond thus far (credit:Richmondspiders.com)

Though both are upperclassmen guards, senior point guard Cedrick Lindsay and sixth man Kendall Anthony have very different games that perfectly complement each other. Lindsay is excellent at getting to the basket, using his quick first step and strength around the basket to make plays happen around the rim.  He is also the unquestioned leader of this team, helping to keep the youngish Richmond team even-keeled in times of pressure. Anthony, a diminutive junior at only 5’8”, provides instant energy off the bench and helps to make for a more frenetic pace that can unnerve opponents. While Anthony’s height may be a detriment when attacking the hoop, he more than makes up for it by slashing and kicking out to waiting Spider shooters on the wing. Anthony is also adept at finding creases in opponents’ zone defenses to launch his long-range shot (not a beautiful stroke, but an effective one that keeps defenses honest). When both are on the floor together, which is often, their styles help to push the pace when opportunities present themselves (spearheaded by the speed of Anthony) and also slow things down and run the half-court offense, a specialty of Lindsay’s. Together, they make the Spiders a well-rounded team not willing to be pigeon-holed into a methodical, easy-to-prepare-for Princeton offense.

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20 Questions: Who Are the Winners and Losers of Conference Realignment This Season?

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on October 29th, 2013

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While it appears that the realignment carousel in Division I collegiate athletics has come to a halt — at least for now — plenty of college basketball programs will be getting used to new surroundings this season. In all, over 50 schools were affected in the 2013-14 round of realignment, an upheaval that has radically changed the athletic landscape over the past three years. As power conference schools chased the football dollar, the domino effect reverberated throughout the NCAA. Many schools in lower and mid-level leagues changed their associations as the news from president’s and athletic director’s offices cascaded down throughout almost all of the conferences. Realignment has been widely panned by college basketball fans and pundits alike who lament the extinction of great, historic rivalries such as Kansas-Missouri and Syracuse-Georgetown. While that is absolutely true, realignment is not all bad. New, interesting rivalries will now be created such as Duke-Syracuse, Memphis-Louisville (an old rivalry resurrected for at least one year) and Xavier-Butler (a continuation from last year’s Atlantic 10). Undoubtedly, many more new rivalries will emerge over the long term.

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Realignment Felt Like This at Times, But It Seems to Have Finally Settled Down

Let’s take a look at the winners and losers of this year’s round of conference realignment.

Winners

The ACC: When word first leaked that Syracuse and Pittsburgh were discussing an exit from the Big East, some people may have thought it was a joke. Alas, it was real and it happened very quickly. ACC commissioner John Swofford successfully raided the Big East yet again, pulling off a 48-hour coup that effectively drove the final nail into the coffin of what we all knew as the Big East. Now the ACC has effectively become the old Big East, a 15-team behemoth that is absolutely loaded at the top. Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame join legendary programs Duke and North Carolina, along with a collection of schools that have been historically solid. This year’s ACC will be great, but in the long run the battles at the top of this league will be second to none with the powerhouses sure to be involved. What we saw in the Big East over the last decade should become commonplace in the new-look ACC. It will get even better next season when Louisville replaces ACC founding member Maryland, which will depart for the Big Ten.

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Big East M5: 10.21.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on October 21st, 2013

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  1. New York Times writer Zach Schonbrun experienced a sense of relief among the various schools at last week’s Big East Media Day in Manhattan. After many seasons played under the shroud of conference realignment, culminating with the awkwardness of last season’s farewell tour for Syracuse, Pittsburgh, and Notre Dame, the Big East is now a settled, basketball-driven league focused on private schools in metropolitan markets. While the conference’s new members — Butler, Creighton, and Xavier — are all located in the Midwest, they fit into the league quite well culturally. St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin actually thinks the new schools fit in better than some of the public universities that have moved on to the American Athletic Conference, and the schools who left for the ACC for largely football-based reasons: “It’s not like a ‘Sesame Street’ deal — which one doesn’t belong… You’ve got a tree, a bush, some seaweed and then a truck. It just didn’t fit. I think now we have a league that’s more similar.”
  2. Georgetown lost an excellent player to the NBA Draft in standout forward Otto Porter, but guard Markel Starks thinks that the Hoyas are more than just one player and that his team will look to prove that this season: “We play as a unit… We play as a group. Obviously, we just lost a great player. Even still, with or without him, we play as a unit. … I think we can still be a very dangerous team.” Starks, now a senior, will probably bear much of the weight of Porter’s absence in the scoring column, after averaging 12.8 points per game last season. He will be joined in the backcourt by D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who proved capable of exploding for big point totals last season. Smith-Rivera scored at least 14 points in three of his last four regular season games last season, and dropped 33 in 34 minutes against DePaul on February 20.
  3. One of the major changes fans will notice in the conference this year is a lack of legendary coaches on the sidelines, although the Big East will not be hurting for talent in that spot. Gone are Hall of Famers like Jim Boeheim and Rick Pitino, but rising stars like Marquette’s Buzz Williams and Georgetown’s John Thompson III are poised to lead the conference into this new era. Thompson agrees that the coaching talent in the league is very high: “If you look around the room, the quality of coaching is outstanding. Yes, we lost some Hall of Fame coaches, but I don’t think too many teams want to go up against the guys in this room. Every game is going to be a battle. That was true last year; that’s going to be true this year.” Williams also believes in the overall quality of the league, and thinks it stands up with the best conferences in college basketball: “Every coach is going to say they play in the best league, but if you objectively study the numbers, I think what this league has done the last five years speaks for itself. I think this year that will hold firm, too.”
  4. Even without the likes of Syracuse, Louisville, and UConn, many are excited about the prospects of the Big East, especially those at the league’s three new schools: Butler, Creighton, and Xavier. Between the television contract with Fox Sports 1 and the ability to play at Madison Square Garden, the Big East provides a great increase in exposure for the former Horizon League, Missouri Valley Conference, and Atlantic 10 teams. Rumble in the Garden‘s Chris Ronca caught up with Xavier’s Chris Mack and Creighton’s Greg McDermott, who were both very excited about these new possibilities. Mack says his players are excited about playing at MSG:  “Playing for your conference championship in the Mecca is an amazing opportunity for Xavier fans and players.” McDermott talked about the league’s TV contract and it’s impact on the Creighton program: “[Creighton's] fans have longed for this for awhile.” McDermott went on to say that “with Fox [Sports] 1, it’s very exciting for the program… there’ll be a lot of new ideas with how [Creighton's] product is shown nationally.”
  5. Sports Illustrated‘s [and RTC's] Chris Johnson’s “Stock Watch” series sets its gaze on the Big East, and he’s quite bullish on Villanova, while throwing a bit of shade on Butler. Johnson cites Villanova’s surge in the middle of last season, where the Wildcats knocked off top five Louisville and Syracuse outfits in a a five-day stretch, as evidence that Jay Wright’s club is very dangerous. He likes the combination of Ryan Arcidiacono, JayVaughn Pinkston, and Daniel Ochefu, and believes that if the team continues to get to the free throw line and play stingy defense, it can push for the top of the league standings. As for Butler, Johnson believes that the loss of Brad Stevens in conjunction with an increase in the difficulty of conference play will hurt the Bulldogs, as will the departures of Rotnei Clark and Andrew Smith as well as the injury to Roosevelt Jones.
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New Memberships in the A-10 and Mountain West: Can These Leagues Sustain Success?

Posted by BHayes on October 10th, 2013

Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) is an RTC national columnist.

The tumult of conference realignment has hit few conferences harder than it has the Mountain West and Atlantic 10, but as we prepare to set sail on the 2013-14 season, both leagues again loom as the best college basketball has to offer outside the now “power seven” conferences. We touched on each league a little bit in yesterday’s Morning Five, but storylines abound in two leagues that have generated plenty of national buzz in recent years. Both are expected to maintain holds in the upper echelon of the mid-major hierarchy, but offseason membership changes have left things less certain than usual, especially in the A-10. The constant churn of programs jumping from conference to conference has left leagues in varying states of disarray, and 2013-14 finds both the Mountain West and Atlantic 10 at a crossroads. The challenges are different in each situation, but with the relatively uncertain future of today’s college basketball’s climate, another strong season in comparison with the high-majors would go a long ways towards stabilizing each of these traditionally strong conferences.

Kendall Williams And New Mexico Are Just One Of Many Teams With High Hopes In The Mountain West

Kendall Williams And New Mexico Are Just One Of Many Teams With High Hopes In The Mountain West

This season’s iteration of the Mountain West is bigger, but is it better? The preseason poll released Tuesday offered confirmation of the general consensus surrounding newcomers Utah State and San Jose State: Stew Morrill and the Aggies should be a factor in the top half of the conference, while the Spartans, despite their eye-catching new floor, are likely to be MW doormats. But even if Utah State matches or exceeds expectations in their conference debut, the conference as a whole will struggle to replicate the success of 2012-13 – those good old days when the MW was number one in conference RPI (no typo). The trio at the top of this year’s preseason poll all have a chance at replicating, or even improving upon, their successful campaigns of a year ago.

The return of preseason MW POY Kendall Williams and first teamer Alex Kirk has left New Mexico as the conference’s presumptive favorite: the Lobos earned all but one of 24 first place votes. A talented but overhauled UNLV squad scooped up that final first place vote, while Boise State’s return of nearly every key contributor earned the Broncos enough acclaim to tie for second with the Rebels in the poll. The Morning Five highlighted another talented San Diego State roster that sits behind those three teams in the eyes of the media, and let’s face it — it’s probably time we start giving Steve Fisher the benefit of the doubt – the Aztecs are an annual factor out west. But behind the Aztecs and Aggies (Utah State was picked to finish fifth) lies much of the intrigue in this year’s MW. A season ago, the four non-Tournament teams (Air Force, Wyoming, Fresno State and Nevada) were all extremely competitive, especially on their home floors. Their strength was a big reason for that heady conference RPI. This year’s bottom half again appears feisty, with a couple of teams – Nevada (#9) and Fresno State (#8) appearing especially undervalued in the preseason evaluations. Nobody – inside our outside the league — is expecting the MW to finish atop the conference RPI again this season. But another solid campaign, on the heels of that banner season of a year ago, would be awfully sound validation of a league unprepared to leave the national consciousness anytime soon.

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Morning Five: 10.10.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 10th, 2013

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  1. Wednesday was a bit of a weird college basketball news day, mostly filled with quotes, non-controversies, and Andrew Wiggins. Ever heard of him? Let’s start with Jesus Shuttlesworth combined with Butch McRae (bonus points for that reference), otherwise known as Kansas’ young superstar, Wiggins. His fantastic Sports Illustrated cover started making the rounds on social media Tuesday night and Luke Winn’s profile story (print or digital subscription only) released yesterday. The comparison he makes is with another couple of former Jayhawk stars who came to the Great Plains to make their basketball marks, Wilt Chamberlain in 1955 and Danny Manning in 1984. Wiggins is the third star in this line of succession, but as Winn writes in his supplemental Wilt, Danny, Andrew: 22 Thoughts column (available online), “It is not a pronouncement that Wiggins will have a Wilt-like impact.” It is, however, an informative and compelling read, but his 22 Thoughts piece might be more fun. Over the series of blurbs, Winn manages to reference Neal Cassady, shows a ridiculous looking drawing of a giant “Wilt” hand dunking a basketball, and reveals some Wiggins-related tweets from starstruck KU students that will have you cracking up at the absurdity of it all. Check out both stories, even if you are so cheap that you have to read the paper copy in the checkout line at the grocery store.
  2. As we all know, Kansas also picked up Kelly Oubre from the class of 2014 earlier this week. The commitment was notable in that it represented the third straight time that uber-recruiter John Calipari had been beaten out for an elite recruit (Wiggins, Emmanuel Mudiay, Oubre). While three times isn’t necessarily a trend, it is a bit odd considering Calipari’s prodigious record of recruiting success. Well, at least one explanation for the commitment was revealed on Wednesday, as Oubre’s father, Kelly Sr., told the Lawrence Journal-World that Self “doesn’t kick you out if you’re not ready.” Although he didn’t name who he was referencing with his barb, it was interpreted by the rest of the world as a shot at Calipari’s one-and-done program (he later told KSR’s Matt Jones that he meant nothing of the sort). Kentucky fans rightfully took umbrage at the allusion, pointing out that a number of talented freshman have in fact become sophomores at Kentucky (Terrence Jones, Alex Poythress, Doron Lamb, to name a few), but the damage was already done. Kentucky vs. Kansas again, anyone — this is getting pretty good.
  3. Or Kentucky vs. Michigan State? Wait, we already have that one on the schedule, coming on November 12, just over a month from now. The background on this is somewhat convoluted, but the gist of it is that a student at Michigan State’s September Madness reported that head coach Tom Izzo said that the Spartans were going to “kick Kentucky’s a–.” John Calipari of course caught wind of it, and did what he does even better than recruiting and coaching — he spun it to his favor. In two separate public venues over the last week, Calipari has made reference to the MSU comment and spun it back to his own players “not knowing” when they will play the other elite teams on their schedule. Leave it to some other enterprising reporter to poll the Wildcat players as to when they will play the defending national champions (answer: December 28), but suffice it to say that the marketing pitch is already in full blast this season. Like we said, non-controversies.
  4. Players don’t know when they play, and coaches don’t know who they play. Does anybody pay attention anymore? We’re only half-kidding. Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger published an interesting piece on Wednesday that revealed George Mason head coach Paul Hewitt and Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli didn’t even realize they were playing in the same conference (the Atlantic 10, if you’ve lost track) this season as recently as July. Even this week, Martelli mentioned that, as he waited for his train to Brooklyn, he wondered where his peer and longtime A-10 competitor Fran Dunphy at Temple was. Then he realized that Temple is now in the Big East, along with Xavier and one-year wonder Butler. Honestly, it’s going to take a while to get used to these changes for everyone. We really can’t blame them for this gaffe (but that doesn’t excuse the fictional Kentucky players that don’t realize who they’re playing).
  5. Some injury news to finish off a strange M5 on this Thursday (we warned you). Texas point guard Javan Felix underwent hip surgery last week and is currently on the mend with an indefinite timetable for his return. With all the pressure on the Longhorn basketball program given athletic director DeLoss Dodds’ recent disparaging comments, this is not good news for Rick Barnes. Felix is the most experienced returning guard on the team, and if he can’t go at 100 percent this season, Barnes is going to need to do the best coaching job of his entire career just to keep this team above water. Down at Florida, Will Yuguete and Eli Carter are still not ready to practice due to their injuries, but more importantly, Billy Donovan has reinstated senior guard Scottie Wilbekin to the team. Wilbekin has had found repeated trouble in his time at Florida, but he has satisfied his head coach in recent months to earn his spot again. The Gators are a tough team to figure this season — they bring in some excellent transfer and freshman talent, but the returnees more or less look like a collection of role players. We know they’ll be good, but can they become great?
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