Big East M5: 11.13.12 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on November 13th, 2012

  1. The last few weeks have unveiled a number of interesting facts about Louisville coach Rick Pitino‘s career. A few weeks ago, we learned that he was originally planning to take the vacant job at Michigan instead of the one at Louisville before being called out by his wife for being “afraid” of working in the same state as his former school, Kentucky. Now we know that 2010-11′s Louisville squad that lost to Morehead State in the NCAA Tournament was almost his last. According to Fox Sports, Pitino heavily considered retirement following that upset.  However, once again, it was his wife Joanne who was one of the major catalysts in his decision:  “My wife told me I would miss it too much. And then all of a sudden three of my closest friends in life go back to work (after retiring). They all went back to work and I called them and said, ‘Why?’ They sad they couldn’t get any better at golf, they were bored as hell and their life wasn’t as meaningful… I learned a valuable lesson from those guys – I would miss it.”  Going out after an upset loss in the tournament would have been quite unbefitting of a coach of Pitino’s stature, and the whole notion probably seems pretty funny now, with another Final Four in his back pocket and a preseason top five team at his disposal this year.
  2. The “Battle on the Midway” between Syracuse and San Diego State was a lot of things, but ‘good’ basketball probably wasn’t one of them. The wind had a definite adverse effect on shooting from outside – the teams combined for 2-22 from beyond the arc – causing both squads to pack the defenses in, which turned the game into a series of scrums around the basket.  Post-Standard writer Bud Poliquin argues that the importance of the event itself supercedes the challenges of playing outdoors. It seems like Jim Boeheim agrees: “I’d play in this event again…I think it’s something that every program should experience.” While it wasn’t the prettiest thing to watch on TV, and Aztec fans could make the case that the elements had a more negative effect on them than the incredibly tall, physical Orange team, it is one game and this isn’t college football.  San Diego State will have plenty of room to prove itself going forward, but may never have a chance to play in a setting like the USS Midway again.
  3. In the early season, Georgetown‘s lack of experience has reared its ugly head, especially after star forward Otto Porter went out with an eye injury against Duquesne. Porter is the leading returning scorer and rebounder for the Hoyas, and one of the most important cogs in John Thompson III’s Princeton offense.  Without Porter, much of the onus falls on freshman guard D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, who led the team with 19 points against Duquesne.
  4. Yesterday, the NCAA announced the sites for 2014 and 2015′s NCAA Tournaments, and a number of Big East and future-Big East towns made the cut. The most notable arena selected is Madison Square Garden, which will host the 2014 East Regional.  The Garden has a major place in NCAA Tournament history, having hosted 71 tournament games in its history but none since 1961.  Memphis will also host a 2014 regional, and both Milwaukee and Orlando will host second and third round games.  In 2015 Syracuse and Houston will host regional games, and both Pittsburgh and Louisville were selected as pods for the second and third rounds.
  5. Rutgers’ season didn’t start quite as well as Mike Rice and his team would have hoped, to say the least. After dropping the season opener to St. Peter’s, the Scarlet Knights are looking to move forward and not dwell on one upset loss as the season progresses. Junior Wally Judge summed up the feelings in the Rutgers locker room well: “We took a punch, and it hurt… We have to respond the right way. Now it’s over, and we have to go win the remaining games on our schedule.” Rutgers has a very manageable schedule ahead of them before Big East play, and need to capitalize if they hold out any hopes to make a run at a Tournament berth. Rice emphasized trying to find toughness within his team, and the desperation of this search showed in his substitution patterns during the game, as Rice moved quickly between 11 players on the roster. Rutgers bounced back nicely last night with an 88-62 win over Sacred Heart.
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Morning Five: 10.10.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 10th, 2012

  1. There was a scary moment Tuesday morning in Washington, DC, at a session of The Knight Commission on Intercollegiate Athletics when former Maryland star and current ESPN college basketball analyst Len Elmore collapsed in his chair during a Q&A session. Luckily, the 6o-year old Harvard Law graduate and resident hoops intellectual was back up on his feet after paramedics arrived and he shortly walked under his own power to his hotel room thereafter. According to the Washington Post, Elmore told SMU president Gerald Turner that this incident was related to a “longstanding health issue” of his and has happened before. We’re glad to hear that Elmore appears to be doing alright, but we sure hope that his ailment is manageable and doesn’t cause him additional and dangerous related problems.
  2. One thing we failed to mention from Monday’s fire hose of preseason information released by CBSSports.com was their article outlining the group’s selections for conference champions, Final Four teams/champions, and major postseason awards. Some of the more interesting choices were Gonzaga making the Final Four on two ballots (Goodman and Norlander), Arizona doing likewise (Goodman and Gottlieb), along with UNLV (Norlander and Borzello) and Michigan State (Parrish). None of the five writers chose the same national champion — Louisville, Arizona, Kentucky, Missouri, and Indiana — and they were equally disparate when it came to picking Freshman of the Year and Coach of the Year. When it comes to NPOY, though, the group was nearly uananimous — Cody Zeller showed up on four ballots, with Doug McDermott picking up the lone contrarian vote. One thing is for sure: The field is completely wide open this year and any number of schools will start practice on Friday with reasonable dreams of cutting down the nets next spring in Atlanta.
  3. Yesterday the WAC announced two new additions to its basketball-only league — and make sure you’re sitting down when you read that these titans of the sport are joining the once-venerable old conference — Utah Valley and Cal State Bakersfield. After all the recent defections, these two schools will join a ragtag group that now only includes Denver, Seattle, Idaho and New Mexico State. For the next two years, the league will keep its automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament under an exemption that allows it to do so without the requisite minimum of seven schools. For a conference that at one time or another boasted such notable basketball schools as Arizona, BYU, UNLV, San Diego State, Tulsa and Utah, this is a little bit like looking at a former supermodel in her 70s — it ain’t pretty anymore.
  4. The Battle of the Midway has been saved from liquidation, much to the relief of both Syracuse and San Diego State, the two schools set to face off on the retired ship come Veteran’s Day. But if you want to grab a ticket, make sure to bring your American Express platinum card — ducats for this outdoor game will start at $150 a pop and increase up to as much as $500 the closer you get to the court. Novelty plus scarcity is a certain way to increase demand for a product, but we’re not convinced that pricing a game like this in the rarefied neighborhood of courtside seats to an NBA game is the right way to handle it. Honestly, we’d have preferred that some deep-pocketed sponsor pick up the tab and let military personnel make up the entire audience, but nobody asked us.
  5. It’s not very often that we’ll mention a SWAC school in this space, but it’s also unusual that a school is hit by the NCAA with the dreaded “lack of institutional control” penalty. Texas Southern received just that news on Tuesday, as the NCAA in a statement said that the school was “responsible for booster involvement in recruiting, academic improprieties, ineligible student-athlete participation and exceeding scholarship limits” over the course of a number of years. As a result, the basketball program, now led by former Indiana and UAB head coach Mike Davis, will be banned from the postseason next season and lose two scholarships for the immediate future. The most surprising punishment is that the school must vacate all of its wins in every sport from 2006-10, one of the most egregious penalties we’ve ever seen the NCAA mete out to a school. Davis was certainly informed that he would be walking into a difficult situation at TSU, but we’re guessing that he’ll spend quite a few days clicking his heels together and hoping that he magically re-appears in Bloomington again.
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Morning Five: Columbus Day Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 8th, 2012

  1. Does anyone even celebrate Columbus Day, and how would you do so if you had a notion — pull out some vials of smallpox and spread it around? At any rate, Happy Columbus Day, everyone. If nothing else, the holiday means we’re on the verge of the start of official practices around the country, and that nip in the air we felt over the weekend was a very welcome sensation. One player almost exactly one year away from competing in his first college practice is Chicago’s Jabari Parker, and the multifaceted big man on Friday announced the five schools who are most likely to earn his services next year. The quintet includes BYU, Duke, Florida, Michigan State, and Stanford, with the Blue Devils and Spartans widely considered the two favorites. BYU and Stanford are outliers with Parker’s faith and interest in academics driving those decisions, but a wild card school here we should keep an eye on is Billy Donovan’s Florida Gators. Donovan has already received commitments from two top 10 players in this class and the pressure that he’s feeling from Calipari’s hauls in Lexington has clearly pushed him to double down on his persuasive sales pitch.
  2. News leaked late last week that the Battle of the Midway, a showdown of preseason Top 25 teams Syracuse and San Diego State on the USS Midway in San Diego harbor, was in danger of cancellation because of a lack of financial support. While we are still on the fence about the need for multiple aircraft carrier games per season (others are planned for Charleston, SC, and Jacksonville, FL), this game projects as the best matchup of the trio so we were hoping it would find a way to continue. With the financial assistance of Fox Sports San Diego agreeing to cover any shortfall, the showcase event will go on as scheduled on the evening of Veteran’s Day (also known as Opening Night). Syracuse definitely will have some holes to fill but Jim Boeheim has considerable talent returning; still, Steve Fisher’s Aztecs no doubt will have this one circled on their calendar as a major seed-line enhancer in front of a home crowd in a very cool environment.
  3. Kansas State put a ribbon on its brand-new $18 million basketball practice facility on Friday, as the arms race in college sports continues to search for bigger and bolder solutions to problems that were arguably never there. According to this article from the Topeka Capital-Journal, K-State had in fact been the only school among Big 12 members without such a facility in place, and new head coach Bruce Weber will surely use its state of the art characteristics to his advantage on the recruiting trail in coming years. Much like Louisville within the state of Kentucky, the Wildcat program runs at a natural disadvantage through its close proximity to the basketball behemoth just a few miles down the road — but, at the same time, a rising tide lifts all boats, and the KU sphere of influence can serve to help Kansas State’s on-court aspirations, even if it is unlikely to ever reach the standard of excellence achieved in Lawrence.
  4. A common refrain around Pac-12 circles is that if three-bill center Josh Smith ever gets serious about his weight and effort on the court, UCLA becomes a much different team. Much has been written over the last two seasons about Smith’s problems with motivation and over-eating, but this weekend article by the LA Times suggests that the gifted big man, while not yet anywhere near where he needs to be, may have at least turned a corner. His body fat is now at 17% (down from 25%) and he is talking the talk about following a better diet protocol and giving maximum effort on the floor. Hey, it’s a start, and for Bruins fans salivating at the possibility of an energized Smith to go along with their super freshmen and other returnees (one of those players, Tyler Lamb, will have arthroscopic surgery and be out 4-6 weeks), the realization is that a player with his gifts giving only 50% is still a valuable asset to a team gunning for a national championship.
  5. We’ll finish off this M5 with a report from Jeff Goodman on a most curious career path for a former college basketball journeyman named Eric Wallace, a player who bounced around between three different schools in his five-year career. The 6’6″, 230-lb. forward enjoyed his best season at Seattle University last year, averaging 9.4 PPG and 7.9 RPG through a combination of grit and athleticism, but it is his next career choice that makes this story interesting. DraftExpress‘ Jonathan Givony recommended Wallace to an Australian Rules Football combine in Los Angeles based on his athletic gifts, and he did so well there that he was subsequently invited to the AFL Combine in Melbourne, Australia. Despite no previous experience with the game whatsoever, he earned the “Best International Performer” award there, and he hopes to use his newfound ‘talent’ to get an invitation to a team’s rookie list allowing him to stay in Australia and learn the game in a more focused manner. So many players end up chasing the NBA dream when they have no realistic shot, it’s great to see someone like Wallace perhaps finding an entirely new way to use his gifts without fear of too much disappointment.
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Morning Five: 08.13.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 13th, 2012

  1. The buzz throughout the sport over the weekend was directly attributable to the Friday release of the latest in CBSSports.com‘s Critical Coaches series, this time squarely taking aim at the perception of the coaches responsible for the most wrongdoing within the game. In other words, who is perceived as the biggest cheater(s) in college basketball? The results at the top — Kentucky’s John Calipari (36%) and Baylor’s Scott Drew (34%) — are completely unsurprising in that fan perception in this regard probably isn’t markedly different than those of the coaches, but in reality you probably could have simply switched out the question with “Who is the best recruiter in the game today?” and gotten the same result. Proxies notwithstanding, the guys at CBS asked the question they did for a reason, and they’ve spent the intervening three days getting blasted by media and fans alike. A sampling: Mike DeCourcy lays into the coaches for answering the question in the first place (“disgraceful… tacky…”); Kentucky Sports Radio summarizes it succinctly as such, “Haters Gonna Hate”; BaylorFans.com commenter JXL sarcastically notes “if a school was bad and then becomes good, they are by definition cheating“; UCLA’s Bruins Nation calls the poll “ridiculous and insulting” for it’s choice of Ben Howland as the third-worst offender (12%). We could go on with this, but we’ll stop right there. The perception is the perception because once narratives are constructed in the public consciousness, they’re awfully difficult to change; while on the flip side, fans will defend their guy regardless of what comes out against them. Assuming they’re winning, of course — they have to keep winning.
  2. In much more uplifting news over the weekend, Team USA’s men’s basketball team won its second straight gold medal on Sunday by defeating a pesky Spanish team by the final score of 107-100. This team, led by the gleaming supernovas of LeBron James, Kobe Bryant , Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant, wasn’t as dominant as their Dream Team forebears two decades ago, but they were equally instrumental in rebuilding the American basketball brand after the colossal disappointment at the Athens Games in 2004. The other name that deserves as much credit as anyone in restoring USA basketball to the top over the last seven years since he came on board is someone who did not even receive a medal: head coach Mike Krzyzewski. Coach K announced prior to the game against Spain that the gold medal match would be his last game as Team USA’s coach, and that proclamation perhaps inspired the 65-year old to jump for joy as the Americans wrapped up the championship in the waning moments yesterday. It’s back to Durham full-time for the Duke head coach as he tries to finish off a superlative career with a fifth national title, but as usual, he performed his job impeccably during his tenure as the man in charge. Thank you for helping to restore American pride in basketball, Coach K.
  3. It’s hard to believe now, but when Krzyzewski took the Team USA job in 2005, more than a few commentators who cover the sport thought that K might be making a mistake with respect to his Blue Devils. The theory then was that his involvement with USA Basketball (particularly during the summers) would take him away from the recruiting trail and allow other programs to make inroads on Duke while he was focused elsewhere. That seems somewhat silly after Duke cut the nets down in 2010 for K’s fourth national title and the top recruits keep rolling in, but is it possible that Krzyzewski could get enjoy even more of a halo effect from the ubiquitous images of him high-fiving and embracing the very best basketball players in the world? Mike Kline at DukeReport.com thinks so, and it’s hard to disagree. Elite recruits care about two things — 1) getting to the NBA, and 2) coolness. Coach K has always had a tremendous amount of the former, but with the association with the winning ways he instituted with Team USA, he also has plenty of the latter.
  4. It’s now only 60 days until Midnight Madness, which means coaches are already carefully examining their schedules to find any possible advantage heading into the 2012-13 season. Like Krzyzewski, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim has been busy as an assistant coach for Team USA too, but he already has some ideas about how to prepare his Orange squad for its season opening game — the Battle of the Midway — against San Diego State. The Veterans Day tip-off for both teams will take place on the USS Midway in San Diego Bay (similar to last year’s Carrier Classic on the USS Carl Vinson), and Boeheim is determined to prepare for the possibility of wind and other elements by having his team practice and run some drills outdoors. We’re guessing that whatever weather conditions the Orange players face in October in upstate New York will more than prepare them for anything balmy San Diego has to offer.
  5. We’ll have more on this later today, but over the weekend brand new Villanova assistant coach Doug Martin was forced to resign based upon certain “inaccuracies” on his resume. The primary point of contention is that Martin had claimed that he played college basketball from 1991-95 under legendary coach Dick Bennett at Wisconsin-Green Bay. Dana O’Neil’s cursory fact-checking on the matter quickly revealed that neither UWGB nor Bennett had any record or recollection of Martin at the school, and in fact, he may have actually played limited minutes at a Wisconsin NAIA school called Viterbo instead. It begs the question, though. Surely Martin’s hiring at Villanova was not contingent on having played for Bennett at Green Bay, so why not correct the resume before submitting it — that’s a fairly impressive job to obtain only to lose it over something that seems so inconsequential.
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