Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on November 26th, 2013
We’re a little more than two weeks into the season and the best win among all 11 Mountain West conference teams is: what? New Mexico in a double-overtime miracle over a UAB team that was under .500 last season? Utah State over UC Santa Barbara without its best player? Colorado State over Weber State? Meanwhile, among the dregs of the conference, you’ve got losses to luminaries like Pacific (twice no less), Cal State Bakersfield, Morehead State, Santa Clara, Milwaukee, Northern Illinois, James Madison, VMI and Jackson State. Not exactly painting a pretty picture, am I? While the Lobos will have plenty of chances over the next three weeks to score some pretty nice non-conference victories, the other best hopes in this conference have pretty slim pickings on their non-conference slates. Outside of this weekend in Orange County at the Wooden Legacy, San Diego State will have to win at Kansas in order to garner a really solid non-conference win; good luck with that. Boise State has a road trip to Rupp Arena in a couple weeks to face Kentucky’s freshmen, otherwise its only “up” game non-conference game prior to the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas is a home game against Saint Mary’s. And Utah State’s only non-conference game of consequence is against BYU on Saturday. In other words, you can not only completely forget about any possibility of five bids to the NCAA Tournament come March, three may be significantly stretching the matter.
Team of the Week
Anthony Drmic And Boise State Are Off To An Impressive Offensive Start, But Haven’t Played Anybody.
Boise State – It is slim pickings out there, so we’ll go with the Broncos for their home win over Seattle and road win over New Orleans. Told you it was grim out there.
Player of the Week
Alex Kirk, Jr, New Mexico – Another week, another New Mexico big man. This time it is Kirk for his three double-doubles in the Charleston Classic. For the week, the native New Mexican averaged 21.3 points, 12 rebounds and 4.3 blocks per game, and even threw in five three-pointers for good measure. Read the rest of this entry »
A rough offseason just got a lot worse for Fresno State. The Bulldogs who already lost Kevin Olekaibe to transfer and dismissed Robert Upshaw now appear to have lost former Kansas commit Braeden Anderson for a significant amount of time after Anderson and walk-on Kyle Jackson were involved in what has been been described as a “serious car accident” that left one person dead. Information on Anderson is limited at this time, but according to reports he has a neck injury, but has movement in all of his extremities while Jackson escaped relatively unharmed. Obviously, basketball is a distant second to Anderson’s help at this time so we wish him and the other survivors involved in the accident a speedy recovery.
It was not too long ago (or a very long time depending on your point of view) that the public and the sports media nearly lost its mind with Nevin Shapiro’s allegations about NCAA violations at Miami. So the lack of media attention given to the report that Sports Illustrated was set publish details of widespread NCAA violations committed at Oklahoma State is somewhat interesting. On one hand the allegations all conveniently fall outside the NCAA’s statute of limitations so the NCAA cannot do anything about it (we think, but we thought the same think with Penn State). Still the reported violations are so widespread and the reaction to the Yahoo! Miami report was so over-the-top that the lack of media reaction here has been somewhat jarring. It may speak to way we have been desensitized to scandals after what happened at Penn State or perhaps the indignation will come once the actual report is released.
Yesterday, the Naismith Hall of Fame held its annual induction ceremony and while nearly all of the inductees had significant college basketball careers the three that are most pertinent to us were the coaches–Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian, and Guy Lewis. Pitino needs no introduction especially since he is still coaching and just won a national title earlier this year, but we have to say the moment must have been particularly sweet for Tarkanian and Lewis, both of whom many felt should have been inducted years ago. We went over the cases for both several months ago when the decisions regarding induction were still being debated by the Selection Committee. In any event, we would like to congratulate all of the inductees.
Over the past few weeks we have seen the NCAA make several announcements regarding player eligibility that have raised eyebrows. Perhaps none have done so more than the ones regarding transfers with hardship waivers as many observers have been quick to point out the lack of consistency between some of the decisions that have been made. As expected several writers wrote about this topic, but if you want check out a few of the more nuanced takes we would suggest the following three takes: Andy Glockner, Dana O’Neil, and John Infante. All three writers offer slightly different takes, but they are all more thoughtful than what we have typically seen.
The past six months have been interesting ones for Kevin Ware. He went from being a key cog in the NCAA title favorites to being one of the enduring memories of this year’s NCAA Tournament after he suffered a compound fracture during Louisville’s Elite Eight game against Duke. After that there were a series of rumors claiming that Ware had been suspended from the team (subsequently refuted). Now it appears that Ware’s return to the court will be delayed at least until early 2014 according to Rick Pitino. Given the depth the Cardinals have they should be able to withstand Ware’s absence early in the season although they will certainly need him when March rolls around.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
Another week down the drain and we’re now officially four weeks away from the start of the Mountain West Tournament (well, three weeks and six days by the time this gets published). And, as time passes, some things are becoming more clear and some things are just as confusing as they were weeks ago. For instance: quick, who’s the best team in the conference?
New Mexico’s got a claim on first place as of now, but they’re coming off a season-series-evening loss to UNLV and they’ve already put up a horrendous 34-point offensive (in more than one way) output against San Diego State. The Rebels, for their part, have looked really good in their home win against New Mexico and their road win at San Diego State, but this is a team that just this week lost at Fresno State, the worst team in the conference. The Aztecs? Their backcourt is beat up and their still facing road trips to Colorado State, UNLV, New Mexico and Boise State. Oh, and they’re entering that stretch already a game back of the Lobos and a half-game behind Colorado State. And as for the Rams, despite the fact that they made the AP Top 25 for the first time in just under 60 years, they’ve still got plenty to prove themselves, with a history of struggling away from home, especially against quality opponents. But, for now, I’m going to go out on a limb and put CSU at the top of the pack, based on a whim. But hey, give me credit at least for not taking the easy way out and declaring this a four-way tie for first atop my power rankings.
Who’s The Best Team In The Mountain West? I Dunno, But Colorado State’s As Good Of A Guess As Any (Dawn Madura/AP Photo)
So, that’s the clear as mud part. What parts of this conference are starting to round into understandable shape? Well, that pipe dream back a few weeks ago about six teams making the NCAA Tournament? Yeah, well, that’s not gonna happen. Wyoming and head coach Larry Shyatt have done great things over the past two seasons in Laramie, but they’re getting eaten alive in conference play (2-7 so far) and it would take a complete 180 for them to have a prayer of NCAA consideration come March. Meanwhile, Air Force, which had been so hot the last time we talked, just got done dropping a couple of road games, most damningly to Nevada on Saturday. They needed a lot of stuff to break their way, and while they’re certainly not completely dead yet, I’ve got to see them make some serious noise, especially on the road, in order to think they belong even on the periphery of the conversation. And that leaves Boise State as the potential fifth Mountain West team. There isn’t a lot of room for error for the Broncos, but I, for one, have a hard time believing they won’t be among the field of 68 when the brackets get announced.
Elsewhere, you can start engraving Anthony Bennett’s name on the Freshman of the Year trophy, if you want to get a head start. And the list of serious Player of the Year candidates are limited as well; right now Jamaal Franklin has to be the odds on favorite to defend his title, with Bennett maybe his strongest competitor. As for Coach of the Year, that one is still wide open and will likely be determined in part by how the race at the top of the conference shakes out.
Team of the Week
San Diego State – The Aztecs didn’t leave Viejas Arena this week, but they also didn’t lose, something that only one other Mountain West team (Colorado State, who played just one game) can say. The Aztecs dodged a bullet against Boise State, but then came out and put away Fresno State with a dominating second-half performance. While still not back to full-strength (Xavier Thames, for one, remains limited, although Chase Tapley nears 100%), the Aztecs find themselves just a game back of first place with a chance this week to take a couple huge steps towards a conference title. Of course, those huge steps include going on the road to Colorado State and UNLV, but let’s put it this way: if SDSU wins these games, they’re in very good shape.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
When tonight’s games wrap up, we’ll officially be halfway through the conference season. The Super Bowl is over, all eyes are on college hoops, there will be just eight games remaining on all the team’s schedules and we’re all starting to think about the madness that awaits in Vegas in early March. For the longest time this season in the Mountain West, we’ve figured there were a pool of six teams in contention for NCAA Tournament bids. And, as we get ready to round the turn, it looks like we’ve still got six teams in the mix; the surprise, however, may be which six teams those are. After we take care of our weekly honors immediately below, we’ll take a look at where each team stands as we near the halfway mark in terms of their NCAA Tournament viability.
Team of the Week
Air Force – It was “only” a pair of home wins, but they were an impressive, and an important, pair. With wins over Fresno State and San Diego State, the Falcons put themselves within striking distance of the conference lead, all with a shot at that first place New Mexico team next up on the schedule. The former win was more a matter of just taking care of business, while the latter was truly impressive. Despite the fact that the Aztecs were hampered by injuries, Air Force withstood the full brunt of Jamaal Franklin attempting, and largely succeeding in his attempt, to take over the game. After giving up a 12-point second half lead, the Falcons had the wherewithal to answer every Aztec run and in the final seconds, they dodged a couple looks at game-tying threes, earning the Academy their very own RTC, even if it was small and relatively orderly. After weeks and weeks of having everybody overlook them, it is now time to give this team its due: with Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico all coming to Clune Arena in the back half of conference play, the Falcons have a chance (even if it is still a slim one) to win this thing.
Michael Lyons and Air Force Have Reeled Off Five Straight And Are Within A Game Of The Conference Lead (Rhona Wise, AP Photo)
Player of the Week
Hugh Greenwood, Sophomore, New Mexico – Before we get to Greenwood, a quick mention of Colorado State’s Pierce Hornung, who made this week’s decision a tough one. Hornung averaged 17.5 points and 12 rebounds per game this week, double-doubling each night and even knocked down all three three-pointers he attempted against Boise State on Wednesday, bring him up to eight-for-15 on the season from deep. But, as versatile as Hornung was this week, versatility is Hugh Greenwood’s middle name (yup, Hugh Versatility Greenwood – it’s an Aussie thing, I think). The Lobo sophomore made ten of the 13 shots he attempted from the field this week, including five-of-six from deep, averaged 14 points per game, 8.5 rebounds and five assists. Oh, and during the Lobos’ trip to Laramie on Wednesday, Greenwood saved the day by knocking down the go-ahead jumper with eight seconds left and sealing the game with a pair of free throws later. After winning multiple Player of the Week awards from us last year, this is Greenwood’s first nod this year.
As Fresno State gets ready to head into its first season in the Mountain West, the Bulldogs are a team in search of an identity. Under second-year head coach Rodney Terry, FSU has scored some recruiting coups of late, most notably center Robert Upshaw, rated the #55 recruit in the nation last year by ESPN, but also including transfer point guard Allen Huddleston and partial qualifier Braeden Anderson. But now 12 games into the season and following a 13-point loss at UCLA on Saturday night, none of those guys have made a significant impact, for various reasons, and the only thing really clear about this Fresno State team is that they’re going to make things difficult for their opponents with defense and effort.
Fresno State Head Coach Rodney Terry Is Still In The Process Of Working Things Out (Carl Edmonson, US Presswire)
Upshaw was the big news in the offseason as the local product made good in choosing the Bulldogs over Georgetown and other suitors. His season got off to a delayed start, though, as a leg injury pushed his debut back to late November. Since then, there have been ups and downs for the talented seven-footer. He notched 10 points, seven boards and six blocks against Washington State in 28 minutes, but each of those numbers is a season high as he has struggled with consistency of production and effort. After starting the game against UCLA, he was pulled by Terry one minute later for a discussion on the bench. “It was a matter of how you need to start the ballgame and how you need to be engaged in what we’re trying to get done,” said his head coach of the reason for the move. “He’s got to be ready to start from the outset. So we sat him down and he got a chance to see everything and he was much better the next time around.” In fact, when he got back in the game, the very first time down the court, they threw the ball into Upshaw in the post, he backed down a Wear twin and scored over him with a nice jump hook. Still, his effort and effectiveness varied the rest of the way as his next jump hook was an airball, he struggled to keep smaller guys off the glass, and he showed an inability to process double teams on the offensive end. “As a young player, he has to continue to mature,” said Terry. “Much like the young guys here at UCLA, who are learning how to play hard on the defensive end, he’s got to be able to bring it every time. It’s not going to be easy. It’s not high school anymore. It’s Division I basketball and you better be ready to compete.”
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
Mountain West Round-Up
It was a big week for the conference, with the Big Three (New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV) each further establishing their credentials, Colorado State pushing for recognition in the national polls, and Boise State and Wyoming each knocking off nationally-ranked teams and displaying the depth of the conference. Through three weeks and change of the season, the conference as a whole has a record of 53-11 (best record for a conference in the nation) and has firmly established itself as not only clearly the best conference outside of the traditional power conferences (and I mean clearly – it ain’t even close), but also likely the best conference in the west – again – surpassing the Pac-12 for at least the third consecutive season. It is early and there is a ton of basketball still to be played, but projecting way into the future, the MW looks like a lock to get four teams into the NCAA Tournament and, if the Cowboys and Broncos continue their push, could find a way to sneak a fifth and, if absolutely everything happens to fall perfectly, a sixth into the conversation. But, again, we’re getting far ahead of ourselves and will more reasonably reprise this conversation sometime around the end of January.
The other big story around the conference, and one that I skipped over last week out of fatigue with the whole story line, is the effect of continued conference realignment on the future of the conference. The expectation has been that beginning next season, San Diego State and Boise State will leave in order to play football in the Big East and the rest of its sports in the Big West (yeah, I’ll go ahead and call the whole thing stupid, regardless of the economics behind it). But, with the long, slow and painful dissolution of the Big East as a nationally-relevant football conference now in the terminal stages, there remains a possibility that SDSU and BSU will reconsider and remain in the Mountain West in all sports. Both schools deny any change of heart, and the fact that the MW television contract still won’t net these schools as much money as what the Big East can promise puts the odds in favor of their departure, but the athletic departments at both schools have to weigh the possibility of more defections from their new conference and the possibility of a football league that is similar in strength to the league they would be leaving. Are games against Memphis, Temple and SMU, for instance, really all that preferable to games against Colorado State, Nevada and Fresno State? The final answer remains to be seen, but at least the potential of keeping the league together remains.
Team of the Week
Boise State – There are several potential winners here this week, but the finalists came down to the Broncos and Wyoming. Rather than cop out and name co-winners, I made the hard choice and opted to give Boise the nod on the strength of a pair of road wins, including a win over a Top 25 Creighton team that could end up being the deciding game in the Mountain West/Missouri Valley Challenge (the MW currently leads 4-3 with a pair of relatively even games remaining). The win in Omaha was highlighted by our MW Player of the Week (who you’ll see below), but was really a complete team effort, with the Broncos dominating the Bluejays on the glass, running up a 70.8% eFG and generally playing with poise while limiting good looks for Player of the Year candidate Doug McDermott. And, the fact that BSU avoided an obvious letdown situation and came back four nights later to knock off Seattle on the road is more proof that this team has grown up in a hurry.
Derrick Marks Carried His Broncos To A Win Over Creighton With 28 Second Half Points (Gregory Shamus/Getty)
Player of the Week
Derrick Marks, Sophomore, Boise State – Marks was the key cog in the Broncos’ upset of Creighton Wednesday night, repeatedly exposing a Bluejay defense with plenty of doubters. Marks repeatedly beat his defender off the bounce, got into the lane and scored in a variety of ways, at one point in the middle of the second half, scoring 18 straight points for his team as they pulled away from the home team. All told he scored 28 points in the second half and carried his team home with a total of 35 on the night. Marks followed up that game with a 14-point six-steal effort against Seattle and wound up shooting at 76.9 eFG% for the week.
Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the Mountain West.
Drew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference. You can also find his musings on Twitter @amurawa.
Three Summer Storylines
Tectonic Movement Continues. For the second straight year, the landscape of the MW shifts. Last year it was BYU and Utah heading off to greener pastures with Boise State landing in their place. This year TCU is on its way out the door with Fresno State and Nevada on their way in. And next year Boise State and San Diego State will depart with San Jose State and Utah State coming in. All in all, this will still be a good basketball conference even after all these moving parts settle, but the loss of a rapidly improving Aztec program will be tough for MW fans to take. TCU and Boise State certainly aren’t major losses on the basketball side, but the strength of their football programs could have provided stability for the conference and the potential for improved programs on the hardwood. Between the four newcomers, each of Fresno State, Nevada and Utah State have had good runs over the course of a handful of years, but they’ll all need to prove their ability to compete with more established programs like UNLV and New Mexico, while SJSU figures to step directly into the basement of the conference.
The Mtn. Crumbles. On May 31, The Mtn., the Mountain West’s television network, went dark, ceasing all operations after six years. Now, say what you will about the network, a channel that eschewed HD programming, struggled with distribution and had issues with their on-air talent, but the shuttering of its doors leaves some questions for MW hoops fans. In the era of The Mtn., if you wanted to follow MW hoops, it was easy to do so. Now, it remains to be seen exactly how much exposure teams from this conference will get during the year. Sure, the MW still has deals in place to get games shown on NBC Sports Network and CBS Sports Network, but what about that Air Force/Boise State game on some random February Wednesday? Should you want to watch that game and you’re not in Idaho or Colorado, odds are pretty good you’re going to be out of luck.
Continued Success? For all the uncertainty about the membership of the conference, the last three years have been something of the golden age of Mountain West basketball. In the past three seasons, the MW has received 11 NCAA Tournament berths. Two years ago there were dual Sweet Sixteen appearances by BYU and SDSU. We’ve had Jimmer and Kawhi grab national headlines, while other guys like Dairese Gary and Darington Hobson, Billy White and Drew Gordon, D.J. Gay and Hank Thorns, Andy Ogide and Malcolm Thomas have kept us all entertained. But, even with all of those players now gone, there is still plenty to be excited about in the conference. San Diego State and UNLV lead the way again, with both expected to start the season in the preseason Top 25. New Mexico and Colorado State, who joined the Aztecs and Rebels in the Big Dance last year, both should be in the hunt for another tourney bid, while Nevada could be a sleeper in its first season in the conference. And, as always, we could be in for another surprise or two.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are at the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lead Story: Top-20 Power Forward Tony Parker To Announce His Decision Monday
Class of 2012 Power Forward Tony Parker Will Commit Monday.
Second-Best Undecided Senior Will Decide Between Five. Class of 2012 power forward Tony Parker has had one of the most secretive recruitments in the Class of 2012. The 6’9″, 273-pound big man has kept all of the recruiting analysts guessing since the beginning and many popular guesses have come and gone ranging from Ohio State and Duke to more recently UCLA and his hometown team, Georgia. But Monday at around 3:30 or 4 PM, according to the Atlanta-Journal Constitution, Parker will finally announce his college intentions. His final five consists of Duke, Georgia, Kansas, Ohio State, and UCLA. I doubt he will go to Kansas or Georgia so that leaves Duke, Ohio State, and UCLA. It seems to me that the two schools with the best shot at him are Ohio State and UCLA and if I had to bet on where he goes I would pick UCLA, but honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if he choose any of the five schools except for Kansas. So, in order, I think the schools that have the best shot with him are UCLA, Ohio State, Duke, Georgia, and then Kansas. If he does indeed choose UCLA, that would give them arguably the best recruiting class in the country between their class of Parker, point guard Kyle Anderson, and small forwards Shabazz Muhammad and Jordan Adams.
This is of course the last year for Texas A&M to leave its mark on the Big 12, and it could be Missouri’s as well. Both teams enter the 2011-12 season with serious conference title hopes, but each comes with some question marks. Missouri lost Laurence Bowers to an ACL injury, which really puts a strain on their interior depth. They didn’t rebound terribly well in the first place, ranking 317th nationally in defensive rebounding, and the loss of the 6’8” Bowers, who was their best returning player on the glass, won’t help. A&M meanwhile still has Khris Middleton, but do they have anyone to get him the ball? Dash Harris had a turnover rate of almost 30% last year and an assist rate of only 21%
Speaking of those two, the Big 12 has four new coaches this year, with Texas Tech and Oklahoma joining A&M and Missouri as teams with new head men. The Big 12 hasn’t had this many new coaches since 2007 when six of the twelve schools had first-year men on the job. I took a look at how coaches in the Big 12 have done in their first year on the job and compared it with the historical performances of the programs who have new coaches at the helm this season, and it looks like all four could be in for rough times initially.
Kansas has won at least a share of the last seven Big 12 titles, but in order or the Jayhawks to make it eight, Bill Self will have to do his best coaching job yet. He lost both the Morris twins and Josh Selby to the NBA, as well as the underrated Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar to graduation. What’s more, incoming freshmen Ben McLemore, Jamari Traylor and Braeden Anderson were all deemed ineligible. Kansas still has some talent to work with, especially Thomas Robinson, who had a tremendous summer.
Even Bill Self Has Admitted That This Season Will Be A Challenge For The Perennial Blueblood
Predicted Order of Finish
Texas A&M (12-6)
Oklahoma State (10-8)
Iowa State (7-11)
Kansas State (5-13)
Texas Tech (3-15)
All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are at the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we’re missing or different things you’d like to see, please let us know at email@example.com.
Lead Story: Trio of Class of 2011 Prospects Experiencing Eligibility Issues
This Is Probably How Bill Self Reacted When His Two Top Freshmen Were Ruled Ineligible.
Kansas Duo Out For 2011-12 Season, Louisville’s Blackshear In Danger. Kansas freshmen small forward Ben McLemore and power forward Jamari Traylor were ruled ineligible by the NCAA, head coach Bill Self announced Friday. The pair of forwards were declared partial qualifiers meaning they can’t take part in any team activities until the beginning of the second semester and can’t participate in any games in the upcoming basketball season. This comes as a shocker since the Jayhawks’ coaching staff thought the duo would indubitably qualify although this isn’t the first time Kansas has had trouble with freshman qualifying. Just last month, the NCAA deemed freshman power forward Braeden Anderson a partial qualifier who can’t accept a scholarship for the 2011-12 school year. Louisville freshman shooting guard Wayne Blackshear is also undergoing eligibility issues. Although Cardinal head coach Rick Pitino remains optimistic regarding Blackshear’s chances of being cleared, this isn’t the first time a Louisville freshman faced eligibility issues either. Last month, shooting guard Kevin Ware (yes, that Kevin Ware) was ruled ineligible for the year although he could play games in the spring semester if his SAT scores increase (which he’ll be re-taking next week).
What They’re Saying [About Midnight Madness]
We’ve had a lot of coverage here at RTC on Midnight Madness from the best events to the best dunks and the best stories via Twitter, but now we get to take a look at what the best prospects in the country had to say about the celebrations to kick off the college basketball year.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Each week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are in the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we’re missing, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
With another passing week, there is plenty of recruiting news including standout performances at AAU events, commitments and de-commitments, and the latest news on where high-profile prospects are likely to go to college. However, the biggest revelation by far in this past week was a recruiting scandal at a mid-major D1 school that has yet to win an NCAA Tournament game but somehow managed to land two elite prospects. Read on to see how a young man from Chicago, a head coach at a mid-major basketball program and a high-profile former felon created the biggest recruiting scandal in the past few years.
What We Learned
Kevin Ware's recruitment exposed ties between UCF head coach Donnie Jones and convicted felon Kenneth Caldwell.
Kevin Ware’s Recruitment and Central Florida’s Recruiting Scandal. After class of 2011 shooting guard Kevin Ware committed to the Knights two weeks ago, he backed out of the agreement Thursday when he learned of Kenneth Caldwell’s background, a Chicago man with a substantial criminal record and apparent ties to a prominent sports agency. Ware claims that Caldwell repeatedly called him to encourage him to attend Central Florida, traveled to meet with his family and even set up conversations between Ware, himself and head coach Donnie Jones and Jones’ staff – contact which is prohibited by the NCAA. Caldwell formally denied recruiting players for UCF and claimed he was simply impressed by UCF… a school that has never won an NCAA Tournament game.
When Ware and his family were asked about what coaches said their relationship with Caldwell was, they said the coaches claimed they had no direct affiliation with him but that they had known him for a year. This left the Ware family wondering exactly who Caldwell was and how he tied in with UCF. On his LinkedIn page, Caldwell claimed to be a recruiter of potential NBA players for ASM Sports, which the company later confirmed. What was even more frightening about Caldwell’s background were his two felony convictions in 1991 and again in 1998. He also owes the IRS close to $250,000. After looking at his history and claims, Caldwell could fairly be labeled as a “runner,” someone who acts as a middle man to deliver players to universities and agents.
How current UCF commit Michael Chandler Ties In. Caldwell’s ties to the UCF program started a few years ago when a high school student whom he refers to as his “son” committed to the Knights. Then, two more players whom Caldwell likes to call his “nephews” also chose UCF for their collegiate careers, including one of the best class of 2011 centers in the country, Michael Chandler. Before becoming a Knight, Chandler had previously committed to Louisville and Xavier before he shocked many people by settling on Central Florida. Chandler’s high school coach said he’d never even heard of Central Florida before Chandler committed there. However, Chandler’s uncle said the prospect chose UCF on its merits. In Pat Forde’s column this week analyzing the odd recruitment, he said a source with knowledge of the situation claimed that Caldwell bragged about having inside information of where Chandler would be attending college well before he made his decision public.
Before the start of the season, pollsters bought into Kansas State as the sexy pick to take the Big 12 in 2011 on the heels of an Elite Eight appearance in 2010. The Big 12 was not overly impressive in non-conference play, as the Wildcats fell hard to Duke in a de facto home game in Kansas City, and Missouri did the same against Georgetown in one of the more thrilling matchups of the early season.
As league play began, the preseason #3 Wildcats disappointed, starting 2-5, and the usual stalwarts of the Big 12, Kansas and Texas, rose to the top.After topping the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in January, the Longhorns looked to be in the driver’s seat, especially after Kansas was blindsided at Bramlage Coliseum to give Texas a two-game lead. However, Rick Barnes‘ team suffered another late-season collapse, going 2-3 to finish the regular season while the Jayhawks dusted off the competition to pull ahead to take their seventh straight conference crown.
Elsewhere in the conference, the Wildcats bounced back to end the season in third place. The middle of the conference wasn’t settled until the latter stages of the season with Missouri falling lat and Texas A&M, Colorado and Nebraska treading water. Baylor underachieved, given the talented personnel in Waco, and Oklahoma State never really looked in sync. Oklahoma, Texas Tech and Iowa State all had awful seasons to finish at the bottom of the standings.
In the conference tournament final, Kansas played its best basketball of the season, topping Texas to gain some revenge entering the Big Dance. Colorado was snubbed on Selection Sunday despite beating Kansas State three times, but the Big 12 still managed to get five teams into the NCAA Tournament. However, only the Jayhawks made it out of opening weekend alive, and they fell short of expectations as they lost to Shaka Smart and the Rams’ reign of BCS destruction.
KU's front line of Thomas Robinson (left) and the Morris twins evolved into a strength, and the Jayhawks struggled most when they weren't utilized on offense. (AP/Jamie Squire)
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