Dear Santa: Conference Season is Beginning, Please Bring Help

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 25th, 2014

The man in the red suit is a busy guy right about now, but more than a few college basketball teams should be hoping Santa has time to swing by campus before his work is done. No milk and cookies were left fireside in Lexington, KY, or Durham, NC (reinforcements not needed), and some programs need seek only a stocking stuffer or two (hey there, Virginia and Wisconsin). But most teams have wish lists that stretch far longer. Conference play is here, and the blissful ignorance of the non-conference season? Long gone. In its place arrive true days of reckoning – grinding tests against peers that won’t allow deficiencies to go unpunished any longer. With conference season looming, we take a look at a handful of college basketball teams in desperate need of a gift this Christmas.

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Which College Basketball Teams Will Receive A Visit From Santa This Year? (Photo Credit: AP)

Iowa: Last Season’s Shooting Touch

Shoddy defense destroyed the Hawkeye’s promising start a season ago, but things have changed this winter. The defense has been much improved (22nd nationally in defensive efficiency), but a sputtering offense has left Iowa just 9-4 heading into conference play. All eight of the Hawkeye returnees have seen their three-point percentage drop this year (team: 259th nationally in three-point percentage), while only Gabriel Olaseni has improved upon his 2013-14 two-point field goal percentage (team: 232nd nationally in two-point percentage). The widespread nature of the shooting epidemic would seem to indicate some sort of systemic explanation. No Roy Devyn Marble? A lack of comfort with a quicker tempo? A coaching staff that has lost its players? Any or all of these questions could be a dig at the root cause, but even if they are, expecting some reversion to the more efficient levels of 2013-14 is entirely fair. The defense has been there; can Santa bring back the Hawkeyes’ shooting strokes?

Arkansas: Road Victories

For most of Mike Anderson’s tenure at Arkansas, the New Year (and conference play) has brought two things in bunches: home wins, and road losses. The Razorbacks are well positioned to earn their first Tournament appearance under Anderson after a 9-2 start, even if old habits die hard. The Hogs are undefeated on the home hardwood (8-0) and less perfect on the road: Both of the Hogs’ losses (Iowa State and Clemson) have come in enemy arenas. A November win at SMU should not be overlooked, but Arkansas needs to prove they can win games away from Bud Walton Arena in 2015. A depleted SEC should play the role of enabler.

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Morning Five: 09.26.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 26th, 2013


  1. 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 Delaney did 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.
  2. 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’Neil gives 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.
  3. We mentioned yesterday that‘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?
  4. 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.
  5. 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 Tribune filled 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.
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