Morning Five: 07.09.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 9th, 2014

morning5

  1. Here’s hoping everyone out there is enjoying the summer and had a safe and happy Independence Day holiday weekend. Legitimate college basketball news remains somewhat incorporeal at this time of year (unless you enjoy silly contrivances over which coach is the “best” at his job), but over the last week-plus there have been a few stories that have made their way into the chattering class. The one that probably holds the most interest from a train wreck meets a dumpster fire convergence is the ongoing saga of former North Carolina guard Rashad McCants. At this point, UNC fans no doubt wish that the key cog of the 2005 national championship team would just go away, as his personal media circus in the aftermath of admissions that he was kept eligible from 2002-05 through a series of bogus classes and other academic shenanigans continues to get weirder. On a SiriusXM radio show earlier this week, McCants made reference to both UNC and the NCAA having a deal worth a total of $310 million “in the works” for him, $10 million from the school to repay him for his exploitation and “lack of education received,” and $300 million from the organization to help him “facilitate sports education programs across the country.” Nobody seems to have a clue as to what he is talking about, as UNC claims that it has yet to speak or hear from McCants since a June 6 letter asking him to do so, and the NCAA probably lost his request somewhere down in the mail room.
  2. On a more serious note, however, UNC fans have been quick to character assassinate McCants, who very well may be in some strange way attempting to shake down the school for what he perceives to have been a lack of ongoing support. At the same time, whistleblowers and other informants rarely come without motive or personality flaws, so the question needs to remain focused on whether McCants (and possibly other members of the basketball program) were recipients of the benefits of sham African-American Studies classes at UNC rather than whether he alone is a reliable source. His unofficial transcript — which shows that all of the As and Bs he earned in Chapel Hill were within the beleaguered department — are enough to call into question the integrity of those courses. And that is presumably what the NCAA is doing with the news last week that it has decided to reopen its previously-closed case into academic misconduct at North Carolina. Also keep in mind here that, in light of the undressing over the concept of “student-athletes” that the NCAA suffered last month at the Ed O’Bannon trial, the organization needs a public “win” that supports the notion that it takes academics seriously. Coming down hard on one of the true blue-bloods of one of its primary revenue sports to set an example wouldn’t be outside the realm of possibility in this climate. We’ll all have to wait to see how it shakes out.
  3. To that very point, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation at 2:30 PM later today is expected to tackle the topic of Promoting the Well-Being and Academic Success of College Athletes.” Chaired by Sen. Jay Rockefeller IV (D-W. Va) and supported by Sens. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) and Cory Booker (D-N.J.), the committee will explore the NCAA’s stated mission to integrate college sports and academics, and whether the commercial enterprise unfairly exploits athletes. Sound familiar? The NCAA is taking hits on all sides, with interested parties from the political to the business to the legal to the educational sectors all clamoring to understand the justifications for a lucrative business model that doesn’t share the wealth with its labor source. If the NCAA is lucky, Mark Emmert won’t be asked to testify if for no other reason than to avoid another jaw-dropping Freudian slip
  4. The reason that everyone is getting so chummy with the NCAA’s operations, of course, is that there’s a ton of money involved. The crazy realignment of a few summers ago has calmed down (for now), but as Boise State‘s recent financial settlement with the AAC illustrates, organizations tend to lose their damn minds when there’s a windfall to be grabbed (even if said windfall never actually materialized because it wasn’t thought through). That’s right, Boise State has agreed to pay a total of $2.3 million to the AAC (formerly the Big East) as a penalty for joining and then leaving a league that none of its teams ever actually played for. The Big West, another league that never suited up a single Broncos team, has already received $1.8 million in exit fees, meaning that the final tally in penalties for never actually leaving the Mountain West is $4.1 million. Congratulations to everyone involved, and let there be a lesson learned somewhere within this.
  5. This has been a fun M5, so let’s end it by continuing the theme of poor behavior with some coaching news. College of Charleston head coach Doug Wojcik hit the news late last week with the release of a 50-page report (on a late afternoon heading into a holiday weekend, no less) summarizing a pattern of verbally abusive behavior levied toward his players. Among the details released were that Wojcik had used a homophobic slur on one of his players and generally made a habit of degrading and humiliating them during practice sessions. CofC’s athletic director, Joe Hull, initially wanted to fire Wojcik for his transgressions, but he was overruled by school president George Benson, who instead decided to give Wojcik a one-month suspension without pay (meaning he will miss July’s key recruiting window) and instituting a zero-tolerance policy for any future abuse. Personalities are difficult to change overnight, especially in such stressful positions, so it’ll be interesting to watch how well Wojcik does under these new constraints.
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It’s a Shame We Didn’t Get the Old Big East For Another Season

Posted by Jameson Fleming on December 11th, 2013

Football and the television money it earns have changed the landscape of college athletics. As the major conferences continue to rise, some of their counterparts have tumbled into the shadows. Big East basketball in its current state teeters on the brink of surviving with great success or squeaking along in mediocrity. The new Big East is good almost across the board. From Villanova to Providence and everyone in between, eight of the teams through one month of this season are in a position to at least be on the NCAA Tournament bubble. Despite how much some things change in college athletics, you can still count on DePaul and Seton Hall being terrible. What the league lacks is a signature elite team this season. Villanova is the closest to earning that distinction as the Wildcats remain undefeated. A Wildcats’ win at Syracuse in two weeks would give the league that much-needed premier team it lacks. All that said, it’s a fun exercise to look at what this conference could have been in 2013-14 had conference realignment only existed in the sweet dreams of of athletic directors. Here’s what the league lost:

These Two ACC Teams Would Have Helped Lead a Strong Big East This Season

These Two ACC Teams Would Have Helped Lead a Strong Big East This Season

ACC

  • Syracuse: 9-0, #7 KenPom, #2/#3 in the polls, wins vs. Indiana, Baylor.
  • Pittsburgh: 9-0, #4 KenPom, unranked in both polls, wins vs. Penn State, Stanford.
  • Notre Dame: 7-2, #50 KenPom, unranked in both polls, no quality wins.

AAC

  • Louisville: 8-1, #1 KenPom, #6/#4 in the polls, win vs. Southern Miss.
  • Connecticut: 9-0, #22 KenPom, #9/#12 in the polls, wins vs. Indiana, Florida, Maryland.
  • Cincinnati: 7-1, #31 KenPom, unranked in both polls, win vs. North Carolina State.
  • South Florida: 6-2, #120 KenPom, unranked in both polls, win vs. Alabama.
  • Rutgers: 4-6, #198 KenPom, unranked in both polls, no quality wins.

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Morning Five: 11.14.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on November 14th, 2013

morning5

  1. The residual from Tuesday’s Champions Classic buzzed throughout the sports world on Wednesday, with considerable discussion devoted to rank-ordering the superstar freshmen who were on display (Parker, Randle, Wiggins was a popular order), discussing the strengths and weaknesses of the four teams, and projecting the areas in which each will get better. But perhaps the biggest storyline that came out of the game was related to the interview that Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski gave afterward. In response to a media member’s question about the not-exactly-secretive practice by NBA teams to tank games in order to position themselves for high draft picks next summer, Coach K waxed poetically in his response about the virtues of good old-fashioned competition: “As an American, I wouldn’t like to think that an American team would want to lose or create situations where you would want to lose. […] Maybe I’m naive and I’m going to go read a fairy tale after this.” Full clip here. Speaking of competition, ESPN cleaned up with its broadcast of the double-header, recording the second-highest rated regular season non-conference game in history for #1 Kentucky vs. #2 Michigan State, and the nightcap game wasn’t terribly far behind.
  2. Sports Illustrated hit the newsstands on Wednesday with spectacular timing, choosing to release its 2013-14 College Basketball Preview issue in the wake of all the good Champions Classic vibe and avoiding the AP and USA Today/Coaches polls’ mistake of choosing Kentucky for its top spot. Utilizing a neat four-region cover format, the experts at SI instead went with Louisville as its preseason #1 team, although there aren’t any real surprises among the rest of their list (Harvard at #20, maybe?). For their full top 20 rankings and excerpts of some of the articles printed in the preview, check out this SI.com One and One post here; for complete scouting reports on each of the ranked teams, check out their online post here. But if you really want the full experience, get analog and enjoy the magazine the way it was intended — in hard-copy, ink-and-paper, magazine format.
  3. Speaking of the Cards, the AP announced on Wednesday that the school had negotiated the exit fee from its one-year foray with the AAC as it looks to head to the ACC next July. The final number turned out to be $11 million, which is roughly the revenue that Louisville creates in the price of a handful of hot dogs and beers at the Yum! Center during a basketball game. OK, not really, but the most profitable basketball program in the nation — estimated to bring in an annual surplus of $23-$28 million per year — shouldn’t have any problem whatsoever in finding enough couch change to write the check. With a move to its new conference starting next season and all the additional television revenue that will come with being a part of the dominant east coast sports league, expect those coffers to continue to rise.
  4. When Louisville joins the ACC in 2014, the next basketball season will culminate in a blockbuster ACC Tournament in Greensboro, North Carolina, for the 25th time. But with the push to save itself and add teams from above the Mason-Dixon Line, the league is looking to make its hallmark event a bit more inclusive and cosmopolitan than the longtime location of league HQ. A part-time move to New York City is an inevitability, but before the nation’s oldest conference tournament heads to the Big Apple, the league has decided to take baby steps with a trip to Washington, DC, in 2016. The ACC has accepted this dance with the District once before at the Verizon/MCI Center in 2005, an event that was notable for its relatively light attendance over the course of the weekend. The DC area had also hosted several ACC Tournaments prior to that at the old Capital Center in Landover, Maryland, but in all of these events, the Terps and maybe Duke were the only real attractions. Syracuse, Notre Dame and to a certain degree Pittsburgh, on the other hand, all have huge alumni bases in the East Coast megalopolis between Washington and New York, now just an easy train ride between city centers. And Louisville fans travel well. Contrasted with nearly a decade prior, expect the 2016 ACC Tournament even without local team Maryland involved to be a fantastic success.
  5. Finally today, if you read nothing else, read this story from SI‘s Seth Davis about Duke guard Andre Dawkins‘ struggles with clinical depression. By all accounts, depression is a medical condition that people who don’t suffer from it have a lot of trouble understanding. Why not just pick yourself up? Why not just find something that makes you happy? The truth is that picking yourself up and finding something meaningful is extremely difficult for those with the disease. The complicated brain chemistry involved with the condition doesn’t just go away because they want it to, and as Davis elucidates so nicely with the story on Dawkins, the only way it can be solved is through therapy and (sometimes) medical intervention through antidepressants. The happy ending here is that Dawkins is back on the Blue Devils for his senior season and he really wants to play basketball again, something that he had almost no desire to do two years ago. That’s a win right there, and Davis should be commended for bringing this encouraging story to the forefront. Even if you hate Duke, you’ll have to root for Dawkins after reading this one.
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Coach K Is Not Interested In Playing Maryland Anymore, But He Should Be

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 17th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

Sometimes conference realignment is unforgiving. When the motivation is to get paper now, or position oneself better in a changing FBS football landscape, or cash in on a lucrative television deal, switching leagues is the obvious move to make – no matter how much long-standing tradition or geographical or cultural common sense gets bulldozed in the process. This is the brutal calculus schools were forced to assess in the latest round of realignment moves, and the result – for college hoops, at least – wasn’t always a happy ending. When Missouri left the Big 12 for the SEC, it ended one of college sports’ best rivalries (with Kansas). Texas A&M’s move to the same conference ended a great annual football game (with Texas), and an underrated and desultorily good hoops match-up. Syracuse’s leap to the ACC closed the curtain on its decades-old Big East feud with Georgetown. Fortunately, it appears the Hoyas and Orange are on the cusp of locking in a home-and-home series to continue one of the sport’s great games outside of its traditional Big East-tethered form. The two schools came together, understood their games were just too bitterly competitive, and too fun, to simply give up just because football and TV money forced them to part ways. Syracuse and Georgetown will benefit, because it adds another quality opponent to one another’s non-conference schedules, and college hoops as a whole will benefit, because the Hoyas and Orange typically play some of the most entertaining, hotly-contested, dramatic games in any given year. Perhaps other schools can take Syracuse and Georgetown’s lead, work through whatever logistical hurdles exist and spark up their rivalry hate in this post-realignment world. Keeping these sorts of rivalry games churning across newly configured leagues is important for the long-term health of the sport.

Kicking aside the Duke-Maryland rivalry is a huge disappointment (AP Photo).

Kicking aside the Duke-Maryland rivalry is a huge disappointment (AP Photo).

Or you can be like Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, who apparently wants nothing to do with future Big Ten member Maryland, who will only play the Blue Devils once in the regular season this year before leaving for its new league. Kryzewski spoke out against Maryland’s motivations for leaving the ACC when the news broke last fall. He expressed many of the same concerns most college sports purists do when lamenting the products of realignment: an attack on tradition, prioritizing monetary gain over cultural and geographical fit, the destruction of rivalries. None of that is particularly novel, but coming from Kryzewski, it felt like one of the stronger harangues we have heard against the recent whirlwind of shifting league allegiances. Maryland was completely frank about its move to the Big Ten – its athletic department, struggling to stay afloat financially, saw an avenue to steady its economic future through a broadcast rights windfall, and predictably jumped at the opportunity. It was the smart financial move for Maryland, and probably the best hope for curing its still-unenviable financial state, but that doesn’t mean the rest of the ACC welcomed the switch with rousing acclaim. Duke, a team Maryland has waged some truly memorable conference games against in recent years, won’t even think about scheduling the Terrapins as an annual non-conference fixture.

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The Big Ten Can’t Cure Maryland’s Financial Woes Right Away

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 15th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

There were two reactions when Maryland announced its move to the Big Ten last fall. First, indignant Big Ten fans cried foul and lamented the erosion of its historic Midwestern football tradition and groused about how the Terrapins could never, ever, ever be a good fit in their conference. They aren’t one of usThe other reaction, this one from a smaller strain of the national sports populace, was a grudging acceptance of why Maryland was making its move in the first place. In fact, university President Wallace Loh came right out and said it at the official press conference. Maryland was leaving the ACC for the Big Ten for one reason: money. Conversely, the Big Ten was adding Maryland for one reason: to expand its conference television network into a mostly untapped East Coast television market. In today’s college sports world, when monetary interest and potential broadcast rights bounties mesh so harmoniously, no force – not geographic interest, or cultural fit, or the total renouncement of traditional hoops rivalries – is going to stand in the way. Maryland to the Big Ten was, in the eyes of both parties, a perfect fit. No move in the recent realignment frenzy made more financial sense. There was no mystery.

It will take time, even with a lucrative Big Ten TV deal, for Maryland to improve its financial situation (Getty).

The move looked even more prudent after details emanated about Maryland’s massive athletic department budget shortfall. The Terrapins cut seven varsity sports in June 2012 due to rising costs, and moving to the Big Ten – where teams reportedly earned an average of $24.6 million payouts in Big Ten network revenue and NCAA Tournament earnings last year – seemed like a convenient vehicle to streamline Maryland back to financial stability. The premise was that the Terrapins were on their way to a more comfortable economic life in their new conference. The Big Ten was their financial panacea. Turns out, Maryland’s new conference could be inheriting a more dire financial proposition than most believed possible when the school announced its conference switch last fall. The university commission released a report earlier this week uncovering the breadth of the Terrapins’ current financial peril, and the optics are even more harrowing than last year’s money-driven conference hop implied. According to the report, the athletic department operated at a $21 million budget deficit in the past year, which is attributed to “past financial decisions” and the ACC’s denying Maryland roughly $15 million in conference revenue as part of an effort to collect the $52 million exit fee conference members had voted into place. The report also projects Maryland’s athletic department will continue to operate in the red until at least the 2017-18 academic year, more than three years into its Big Ten membership.

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Rejoice: The NCAA Tournament As We Know It Is Unlikely to Change

Posted by Chris Johnson on July 30th, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Nothing means more to college basketball fans than the NCAA Tournament. It is hallowed territory. The one three-week period of the year where college basketball dominates the national sports conversation. The best postseason of any sport in any country on any planet in any universe. Even pretentious NBA fans who typically spurn the college game for 11 months of the year – besides the sliver of college action they forcibly consume on YouTube clips leading up to the draft – usually tune in when March rolls along. As far as sports competitions go, there’s nothing better. So when talks of a new NCAA division surfaced across various football media days over the past couple of weeks, and the Tournament’s existing structure was thrown into the transformative discourse (right along with stipends and recruiting rules and bowl games and, ugh, yuck), it was fair to ask the question: Is the NCAA Tournament going to change? The short answer: probably not. I know, I know — I’m  just as relieved as you are.

We shouldn't see any changes to the Tournament's basic format or structure (US Presswire).

We shouldn’t see any changes to the Tournament’s basic format or structure (US Presswire).

There’s also little chance for significant change to the NCAA tournament. The one thing the NCAA does well is run championships, and unwinding the $10.8 billion CBS-Turner deal would be thorny. The most likely change will be in the NCAA governance structure, and while that isn’t particularly sexy, it’s still significant.

Those words come from Sports Illustrated reporter Pete Thamel’s column last week, and while one informed column doesn’t close the door on Tournament revision completely, at the very least it allows us to move through this period of NCAA tumult with the confidence that our sacred postseason ball is mostly immune to the doomsday transformation that crept into our minds when initial reports surfaced. The existential fears of bracket change will never subside – and not just because of the oncoming changes within the NCAA’s divisional structure. The fears of a 96-team field, particularly with the possibility of athletes earning a cut of the NCAA’s television revenues through the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit, will linger. But at least in the short term, the NCAA Tournament doesn’t appear to be changing. This is good news.

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Morning Five: 07.10.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 10th, 2013

morning5

  1. Summer is the season for college basketball players to improve themselves. Whether that means lonely nights in the gym getting up thousands of shots, long hours in the weight room fantasizing about drawing contact and-1, or organized games against real teams from other countries, the point is the same. Get better. The FIBA U-19 World Championships featured a number of players either entering or returning to our game next season, and Mike DeCourcy breaks down the top eight performers from the Prague, Czech Republic, event where Team USA won gold. The article is in the dreaded slideshow format, but we’ll offer an olive branch in that DeCourcy actually writes a good several-paragraph narrative about each player — in other words, the click-throughs are worthwhile. And that Aaron Gordon kid headed to Arizona? He’s going to cause quite a stir next season, even though he’s one of the few impact freshman who won’t be residing in Lawrence, Lexington or Durham. 
  2. So who’s got next? We’ll find out very soon, as the first of three separate key four-day recruiting windows for college coaches opens this afternoon at 5 PM ET. For a nice primer on the where, the who, and the when, as well as the key storylines and coaches feeling the most pressure to perform, CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Borzello hooks it up with a comprehensive analysis. The biggest thing we’re interested in over the next few weeks are any tells that the Class of 2014’s top two prospects — Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones — end up as a package deal somewhere. It’s extremely rare that the top two players in a single class view themselves as an inseparable and dynamic duo, but that very well could be the case with these two. He also touches on the difficulties that new Butler head coach Brandon Miller faces, as well as UCLA’s Steve Alford and Minnesota’s Richard Pitino. Fair points, all. (Side note from the get-off-my-lawn crowd: Can we lose the recruitnik notion of the shortened usage of the word “commit” to refer to “commitment?” Commit is a verb. Seriously, there’s no gray area here.)
  3. One of DeCourcy’s summer stars at the U-19 was Louisville’s Montrezl Harrell, and the defending national champions have managed to stay in the news in a variety of ways lately. The best news we’ve perhaps heard all summer is that Kevin Ware and His Broken Leg are rehabilitating at a phenomenal pace, so much so that head coach Rick Pitino believes that his rising junior will be ready to play basketball again in October. It turns out that the doctors who said the clean break of his femur was actually somehow a “good” thing compared to the alternatives were exactly on point. Pitino’s comments were made at a press conference announcing that Louisville’s 2013 Final Four floor will be auctioned off in pieces to raise money for pediatric cancer research and care. Kentucky did a similar thing last year — proving, once again, that these two programs will stop at nothing to one-up the other, even in causes of virtue — raising over $200,000 in the process.
  4. The old adage is to follow the money, and in the case of North Carolina’s PJ Hairston and his association with Haydn Thomas and his propensity for spending tens of thousands of dollars on rental cars (seriously, who does that?), the flow of cash keeps getting more interesting. USA Today Sports reported on Tuesday that four of Thomas’ (or his roommate Catinia Farrington’s) rental vehicles had received a total of nine unpaid parking tickets on the UNC campus between the dates of February 22 and May 28 of this year. And yet, Haydn in previous media reports said that he has no association with the school and doesn’t even like the Tar Heels. Roy Williams, for his part, is waiting until all “the facts are in,” and so is everyone else. But isn’t there really only one question that matters here — what is Hairston’s true relationship with Haydn and why is he driving around committing crimes in Haydn’s vehicles?
  5. Conference realignment has been largely viewed as a pox upon their houses by most of us in the college basketball community over the last several years, as traditional basketball leagues have been folded, spindled and mutilated into something resembling nothing like their former selves. But as ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil writes, “what if we were all wrong?” Her point is that the basketball armageddon that we all foresaw may not have actually come to fruition. The ACC, always and forever at its heart a basketball league, has improved its stock substantially with the addition of basketball schools Pittsburgh and Syracuse, not to mention a strong Notre Dame program (with Louisville to come). The new Big East is all about roundball, with Creighton, Butler and Xavier joining a strong group of the Catholic Seven headlined by stalwarts Georgetown, Marquette and Villanova. Even the national darling Mountain West added Utah State, a strong and well-supported program that will challenge the likes of San Diego State, New Mexico and the rest for wildest fan base. While we’re not completely sold that all these moves are for the greater benefit of the sport, what choice do we have? Let’s lace ‘em up and see what happens.
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Morning Five: 07.03.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 3rd, 2013

morning5

  1. It’s conference realignment absolution week around the land, with the ACC, Big East and AAC all welcoming new members in their own imitable ways. The ACC did so with considerable hoopla, unveiling Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame as new members at the NASDAQ headquarters in lower Manhattan on Monday. Everyone is toeing the party line at this point, of course, (“best basketball conference of all-time,” etc.) but the sticking point is going to eventually hit some of the old-timers in this league when the ACC Tournament is no longer always held/incarcerated in the friendly confines of the Tar Heel State. The new Big East just hired a commissioner last week, and was last seen traipsing through midtown Manhattan trying to find some office space. Regardless, Butler, Xavier and Creighton are now on board with the Catholic Seven, and at least one mammal is ready for the transition. In the meantime, here’s the top five storylines facing the basketball-centric league as it sets out on its own path. The AAC is a little further along, even if the conference has not yet changed the sign on the door in Providence or has a crystal clear notion of its ultimate direction in both the BCS and college basketball. Dan Wolken writes that the league’s advantage is that it is finally able to move forward with a “clean slate,” even if it is mocked at “Conference USA 2.0″ for a while. This is the world we now live in; we may as well get used to it. 
  2. One of the new Big East schools, Creighton, received some great news on Tuesday when guard Grant Gibbs was given a sixth season of eligibility by the NCAA (his reaction to the news in this video is priceless). Gibbs applied for the sixth season based on the fact that he missed his true freshman season with an injury and his transfer season for a different injury. Next season will give him a full fourth year of action, and with teammate Doug McDermott’s return in lieu of heading to the NBA Draft, the Bluejays again look like a serious contender on the conference and national levels next season. And as for where the scholarship for next year will come from? Doug’s dad, of course. Head coach Greg McDermott will pony up the $38,000 tuition plus expenses for his future millionaire son next season, surely a small price to pay for a team with a reasonable shot at crashing the Final Four party in Arlington next April.
  3. One of the former Big East and new ACC schools (confused yet?), Syracuse, put one more piece of the Bernie Fine saga to bed yesterday with the news that the former Orange assistant was dropping his defamation suit against ESPN. You recall that Fine was investigated but never charged by federal authorities in response to allegations that he molested two former ball boys some time ago. He was fired regardless, and later brought suit against ESPN for airing the allegations that included a secret tape made of his wife, Laurie Fine, discussing the allegations with an accuser a decade ago. His wife still has a defamation suit pending over the release of that tape. ESPN says that no settlement was reached, so the elephant in the room question is why would Fine — who has maintained his innocence throughout — drop the case? The only reasonable explanation is that it simply wasn’t winnable on the merits, and in fact, could expose him to further embarrassment and/or damage to his reputation, right?
  4. This is an odd story, but let’s not make a federal case of it. The FAA is apparently investigating the practice of leasing the state of Michigan’s four passenger jets to Michigan State’s head football and basketball coaches for the purpose of recruiting visits. Of course, that means Spartan head coach Tom Izzo and his 55 recruiting trips in the last five years are also under scrutiny. The current reports are unclear on what the organization is looking for, specifically, but “it is known that the billing documents and receipts for many of these trips are being sought-out by investigators to determine whether the use of the planes violated any laws or incurs any cost to the common taxpayer.” MSU, like many major players in the college athletics world, pays for such costs from a self-sufficient fund separate from taxpayer dollars, so we’re not really sure what the objective is here. But it’s worth following at this point.
  5. This came out last week, but as we’re heading into the heart of the summer recruiting circuit, it’s worth mentioning here now. The Rivals150 recruiting rankings for the Class of 2014 have been updated, and Chicago center Jahlil Okafor remains at the top of the list. He and Rivals’ #2 prospect, Minneapolis’ Tyus Jones, are allegedly looking to become a package deal, which would make one of the group of  Arizona, Baylor, Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, Michigan State or Ohio State very, very happy. It appears to be a very strong year for the Midwest, with six of the top 11 players in the nation playing in the Big Ten footprint. For the complete list, check it out here.
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Morning Five: 06.26.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 26th, 2013

morning5

  1. A Bronx cheer rose up throughout the land on Tuesday as the NCAA approved changes with two of the most confounding rules in college basketball. Perhaps the one that caused the most consternation among pundits and fans on social media last year was the “elbow above the shoulders” rule. Originally intended to cut down on dirty play, the rule mandated that a flagrant foul had to be called in any such instance; this predictably led to numerous situations where not-dirty but standard basketball plays were ruled flagrant fouls simply because a defender stuck his nose too close to the body of his man. The new rule, revealed Tuesday, will allow officials considerably more discretion in making the call, giving them an opportunity to review the video monitor to determine both the blow’s severity and inadvertence, presumably resulting in a much more equitable interpretation of the rule. The rules committee also changed the block/charge rule yet again, now mandating that a defensive player must already be in good position before the offensive player starts his upward motion with the ball. Like the Euro step and jump stop before them, expect an entirely new offensive move to become predicated on starting the ball on its upward trajectory as soon as possible in an effort to catch the defender off balance and earn that elusive whistle.
  2. Will he or won’t he? On Monday Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer and John Calipari both announced in separate UK media posts that the rising junior forward is planning to transfer for the remainder of his collegiate career. It seemed as if he was already out the door, but somewhat peculiarly, neither explicitly said that he was leaving. On Tuesday, his head coach said that he does in fact plan to leave Lexington, but he’d be welcomed back if he ultimately decided to change his mind. ESPN.com is now reporting that the top suitors for the sharp-shooting stretch four are Gonzaga, Portland, Texas, Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State — the heavily-Pacific Northwestern flavor derives, of course, from proximity to Wiltjer’s hometown of Portland, Oregon. With an abundance of high-level talent coming into Lexington next season — not to mention two significant frontcourt returnees in Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein — it makes a lot of sense for Wiltjer to consider a transfer for more playing time. Still, 6’10” players who shoot a legitimate 39 percent from distance are tough to find, so even with all that superstar talent Calipari has at his disposal next season, it wouldn’t hurt to offer Wiltjer a redshirt season to get stronger in 2013-14 and a much bigger role on the following year’s squad.
  3. This news was hinted at in last week’s announcement about Kansas‘ expansion of its third-tier media rights, and yesterday the second part of the deal was unveiled. Depending on whom you ask among Jayhawks faithful in the comments of this Lawrence Journal-World article, this is either a “as bad as I expected” or a complete “travesty.” Although KU officials are lauding its deal to provide 70 live events on ESPN3 as only the second of its kind between a Big 12 school and ESPN (the Longhorn Network being the other), the reality is that only six men’s basketball games will be shown as part of the agreement, and many fans of a nationally-relevant program like Kansas do not belong to a cable network that offers ESPN3 as part of its package. For a decent metric of the temperature of the fan base, take a look at that comment thread (189 and going strong at the time of this writing) — this isn’t a group that suffers fools lightly.
  4. Despite the mood of Jayhawks fans about this newfangled streaming deal with ESPN3, SI.com‘s Andy Staples makes some excellent points in his feature analysis suggesting that such deals may in fact be the tip of the next iceberg that changes how college sports is packaged and sold. Admittedly, we’re still a number of years away from an Internet-dominant model becoming completely mainstream, but as Netflix, Google and Apple continue to redefine how we consume media, and as the non-sports fan public pushed back against astronomical bundled rights fees for cable sports (see: Time Warner’s lawsuit about the Lakers/Dodgers), it’s worth consideration. And as we remarked frequently when the ‘number of local eyeballs’ metric worked to justify nonsensical conclusions such as Rutgers joining the Big Ten, it will eventually come to pass that the a la carte penetration of a market (i.e., the number of people who actually care and watch the games) will matter far more than the overall size of it. Then much of this latest round of conference realignment will look somewhat silly; that is, to everyone who didn’t line their much deeper pockets in the color of green.
  5. How’s that for a prelude? While on the subject of the conference realignment, the new Big East is set to open its doors for business five days from now. Except that there are no doors to actually open. Nor is there an address, a commissioner or even a fancy new logo. As Dana O’Neil writes, the new league is getting directed by its nine university priests and one president, and nobody can seemingly come to an easy decision on anything. Or any decision. Paralysis by analysis, she terms it, and quite unsurprisingly, the athletic departments at Providence, Georgetown, Butler, Creighton and the rest are wondering what exactly they’ve all signed on to here. Hopefully once a commissioner is named — Val Ackerman has been suggested, via Andy Katz and other media reports — but until then, this new basketball-centric league is floating rudderless with a captain. Our email address, in case they need it: rushthecourt@yahoo.com.
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Morning Five: 05.24.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 24th, 2013

morning5

  1. With the news coming out at mid-week that Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski has agreed to coach the men’s basketball national team for three more years, the inevitable corollary question was how much longer is he planning to remain on the sidelines in Durham. Armed with his “lifetime” contract at Duke, he can presumably stay for as long as he wants, but the 66-year old legend said on Thursday that he won’t retire before the Olympics run is over in Summer 2016. That means he’s got a minimum of three more full seasons at Duke left, and the truth is that he probably will stick around even longer than that. His reasoning is that in order to stay sharp with the demands of the Team USA job, he needs to be coaching full-time the rest of the year. It’s a fair point. There’s also these little things called 1,000 wins (he’s 43 away) and five national titles (which would put him alone in second place all-time), which are without question drivers for the uber-accomplished coach who embraces competition (as a side note, he thinks the new and improved ACC will be the “best ever.”) 
  2. While on the subject of K and his ongoing role with Team USA, SI.com‘s Andy Glockner must have been working with the FBI to mine the RTC email boxes yesterday, as the very subject of “Duke: Better or Worse Off?” came up and was bandied about throughout the day. Glockner lays out a solid analysis that pretty much comes to the same conclusion that we had internally: Duke’s overall performance has dropped a notch in the period since Krzyzewski took over as the head coach of Team USA, but it’s specious at best to argue that the downtick has been a result of his focus on that team. Rather, our stance mirrors Glockner’s somewhat in that the corresponding one-and-done era (which began in 2006 as well) hasn’t helped Duke quite as much as it has some other schools, and to put it frankly, Duke’s recruiting (like everyone else’s) has taken a hit over the last five years in large part because of the Calipari Effect. While it’s certainly true that Duke’s 2010 national championship takes a lot of the sting out of a number of other earlier-than-anticipated exits from the NCAA Tournament, the fact of that matter from our view is that K by and large isn’t getting quite the quality of depth of talent as he was recruiting 15 years ago. A single Final Four in the last nine seasons is the longest such drought of his career, but it’s not because of USA Basketball — it’s because there have been too many Jon Scheyers and not enough Kyrie Irvings.
  3. The NBA Draft has been on everyone’s minds lately, with the lottery going off in favor of Cleveland earlier this week and a number of talented collegians vying for the #1 overall pick on June 27. Yesterday CBSSports.com produced an interesting historical perspective of how each team in the Western Conference has drafted over the last 15 years. For example, the San Antonio Spurs have tended to go with foreign players (48% of selections), while the Los Angeles Lakers have used more than a quarter of its selections (28%) on mid-major picks. The analysis comes replete with colorful pie charts, which shows that the guys over there have finally figured out how to use Tableau. For your Memorial Day weekend pleasure, they’ll be releasing the Eastern Conference rundowns later today. Check it out.
  4. Hopefully we’re at a point of stasis with respect to major conference realignment, but the mids are still actively crawling up the ladder at every available opportunity. Yesterday Elon University, a rising star in the academic world, announced that its athletic programs will leave the Southern Conference to join the CAA beginning next summer. The Phoenix have only been Division I participants since 1997, and this is already the school’s third conference affiliation — it was originally with the Big South followed by the SoCon and now the CAA — at this rate, Elon will be joining the ACC sometime around 2025. The men’s basketball program has enjoyed only two winning seasons since joining the big leagues, but one of those was last year when Mike Matheny’s squad went 13-5 in conference play and 21-12 overall. With a heavy emphasis on placement of alumni in the mid-Atlantic and Northeastern corridor, this is a very good move for the profile of the school.
  5. The last time we saw Eric Devendorf, he was standing on a press row table at Madison Square Garden after hitting  a “game-winning” buzzer-beater in the Big East Tournamant Game That Would Never End, also known as the six-overtime Big East quarterfinals thriller between the Orange and UConn Huskies. Of course, that’s not completely true, as Devo played in five more games that season; but the indelible image of the Orange’s 14th-leading all-time scorer was that moment. He was brash, loud-mouthed, cocky, but wildly entertaining — sorta like the SU version of Marshall Henderson. Well, if you’ve missed him after he headed overseas to play professionally after that season, you’re in luck — Devendorf is back in the Syracuse area doing a Friday night radio show with popular local ESPN affiliate host Mike Bristol. We can’t say that we’re going to be taking time out of our schedules to find him on the dial tonight, but maybe you will. Have a safe Memorial Day weekend, everyone.
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Morning Five: 05.16.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 16th, 2013

morning5

  1. It’s now been nearly two days since the Andrew Wiggins Sweepstakes was won by Bill Self and Kansas. Reactions have run the gamut and we ran down a number of the better ones in yesterday’s M5. One we missed was this fantastic piece by Sam Mellinger at the Kansas City Star, who writes that everyone in the media and greater college basketball community needs to be very careful with the hyperbole when discussing Wiggins next season as the “Best High School Prospect Since Lebron.” Mellinger breaks down each of the best prep players in the last 10 years since Lebron, and the truth is that most of them can’t even sniff an NBA All-Star Game at this point. Some guys continue to progress, while others level off, and it’s a lesson worth remembering. Then he finishes things off with a fantastic anecdote about the humility of prep Lebron. Well worth a read.
  2. Once the ACC raided the Big East to lock up prized programs Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame, it appeared inevitable that the league would eventually move its showcase event — the ACC Tournament — to Gotham in short order. Those premonitions seem to be coming true, as ESPN.com reported on Wednesday that the league is “thoroughly investigating” a move to the World’s Most Famous Arena at some point in the next several years. The ACC Tournament is scheduled to be in Greensboro in 2014 and 2015, but the options are open afterward, while the new Big East has contractually obligated MSG to hold its postseason tournament there until 2026. The crux of the matter is that the Big East will need to meet certain benchmarks to keep its deal with The Garden alive, and given just how shaky the league has become in the interim, many ACC insiders believe that the “legal ramifications” to move its own event will get worked out as a matter of course. Brooklyn’s Barclays Center is also an option too, of course, but make no mistake, the ACC Tournament will eventually reside at least part-time in NYC.
  3. While on the subject of the Atlantic Coast Conference, the league is holding its spring meetings in Amelia Island, Florida, this week and SI.com‘s Andy Staples caught up with commissioner John Swofford to get the inside scoop on how he pulled off “the most chaotic reorganization in the history of major college sports.” It’s somewhat wonky and process-oriented, but it gives a true insider’s perspective on the importance of the Maryland defection and how the perceived likelihood that the Big Ten would seek to continue moving south (Virginia, North Carolina, Georgia Tech) had Swofford failed to get his schools to agree to the media grant of rights deal in April. Although conference realignment has been disastrous to college basketball in some ways, we’re hoping like everyone else who loves the sport that this particular initiative holds steady and removes the incentive for continued raids for a good long while.
  4. Yesterday was a busy day on the transfer wire, as quite a few prominent names announced that they are on the move. The most surprising name was perhaps Penn State’s Jermaine Marshall, who was projected to be a key cog in the Nittany Lions’ resurgence next season but has instead decided to leave school to pursue professional options. The least surprising decision was that Arizona State’s Evan Gordon announced that he is headed to Indiana, where as a graduate transfer he will be eligible to play immediately for Tom Crean. A few other notables: Minnesota’s Joe Coleman is leaving the Gophers; Tulane’s Josh Davis will land at San Diego State; and, Florida’s Braxton Ogbueze will resurface at Charlotte. Davis will be eligible to play immediately at SDSU under the graduate transfer exception.
  5. Perhaps seeing a bit too much of Rick Pitino in the media lately, Kentucky head coach John Calipari held his own press conference yesterday to discuss the state of his program. And since we’ve already addressed the subject of hyperbole above, why not let Coach Cal bring us full circle: “We’re chasing perfection. We’re chasing greatness. We’re chasing things that have never been done before in the history of this game.” The perfection he refers to of course is the elusive-since-1976 undefeated season by a Division I men’s basketball team. Since Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers ran the table 37 years ago, no team has won the national title with fewer than two losses (including Calipari’s 38-2 championship squad in 2011-12). Look, we’re never going to say never because as soon as you do something like that, a Florida Gulf Coast goes to the Sweet Sixteen. But there have been an awful lot of great teams pass through the years without a sniff of a perfect season, and the concept that a team led by a bunch of freshmen — even freshmen as good as UK’s group will be — can bring the noise every single night for up to 40 games next year is nothing more than fantasy. Still, the players don’t know that, so it’s another great marketing/strategic ploy from the master salesman living in Lexington. For what it’s worth, the Wildcats sit as a 4:1 (20%) or 5:1 (17%) favorite in Vegas to win next year’s title.
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Morning Five: 05.08.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 8th, 2013

morning5

  1. The biggest news of the day on Tuesday, and a subject on which we’ll have more later this afternoon, is that the NCAA Tournament’s marquee event, the Final Four, is headed to cable giant TBS beginning in 2014. CBS and Turner Sports have jointly held the broadcast rights to March Madness for three years now, and it was well-known that TBS would have the right to begin airing the Final Four next season, but the choice of Turner Sports to exercise that option shows just how valuable the company thinks the property has become. As to specifics, the two entities will split things next season, with each getting two games of the Elite Eight, Turner taking the Final Four, and CBS the national championship game. The same situation will apply in 2015, but in 2016 Turner will take the entire final weekend before rotating it back to CBS the next year and alternating each season after that (the Elite Eights will remain split). At first blush, this seismic broadcasting shift may appear to be a downgrade from network television, but as Mike DeCourcy writes, cable television is nearly as ubiquitous as the networks nowadays, and the additional revenue brought in from the partnership with Turner allowed the NCAA Tournament to avoid the nuclear option of a horrifying expansion to 96 teams.
  2. So the Final Four might be moving to a new broadcast format next year, what about some prominent players hoping to get there? A couple of rising seniors were on the move yesterday, with UNLV’s Mike Moser settling on a destination for his final collegiate season — Oregon — and Tennessee’s Trae Golden seemingly on the outs with his coaching staff as he has decided to leave Knoxville. Moser had been rumored to be considering Washington and Gonzaga, but the Portland product ultimately was swayed by the success that Dana Altman has shown with several of his transfers (most notably Arsalan Kazemi last season). Moser was a preseason All-American at UNLV last year who struggled with injuries and his role in a lineup that featured freshman wunderkind Anthony Bennett as well as a number of other talented players. The Moser transfer makes sense under the graduate exception, but Golden is a lot tougher to figure. After a successful junior season where he had made it publicly known he was pleased with the direction of the program (and why not, he was the only point guard on the team), he has decided to leave Knoxville; and if you read the tea leaves among some of his UT buddies, it may not have completely been his decision. He too will try to employ the graduate transfer option next season, but it’s at this point unknown where he is headed.
  3. From players on the move to programs, two more schools are jumping conferences in the timeless yet endless pursuit of greater glory somewhere up the food chain. Davidson‘s Stephen Curry may own the NBA Playoffs at this point, but he never owned the A-10! At least that’s the logic behind the tiny school’s jump from the SoCon (where it has been a member for the better part of 80 years) to the Atlantic 10 beginning in July 2014. The school has arguably had a move like this on its agenda for a while, because it turned down an invitation to the CAA last year, presumably expecting a bigger and better offer to come soon enough. One of the residual effects of all the football-driven conference realignment nonsense is that there has been a bit of an unanticipated pooling of talented mid-major basketball programs as a result. Along the same lines, Oakland University (remember, it’s in Michigan, not California) announced that it would be joining the Horizon League starting this summer. Even though Butler is now gone from the HL, Oakland brings a solid program to the fold led by Greg Kampe that has been to the NCAA Tournament in two of the last four seasons (2010, 2011).
  4. We missed this one yesterday, but it’s a fascinating piece published by David Steele that looks at the story behind one of this year’s 46 early entries into the NBA Draft — a guy by the name of Joshua Simmons. It’s not newsworthy in the sense that seemingly every year there are a few guys who forgo their eligibility who have no business doing so (and a few others who do so as a publicity stunt), but Simmons’ situation is really one of no other viable basketball options. It’s not that anyone he’s played for thinks he’s a bad apple or couldn’t potentially claw his way onto a professional roster someday, it’s that he simply ended up on a difficult path that led from a Division II school to a junior college to, well… nowhere. That’s why he’s on the early entries list, and that’s why he’s simply hoping for an invitation to the pre-draft camps and ultimately, the summer league. It’s certainly not a well-worn path to the NBA, but it’s the only one he has.
  5. By now we’re all sick of hearing about Andrew Wiggins, right? The precocious Canadian wing who has been compared to everyone from Michael Jordan to Kobe Bryant is the top player in the Class of 2013, and every major school on his list still thinks it has a great shot at landing him. His quartet of suitors are Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Florida State, but according to this article from the Louisville Courier-Journal, the wait should be ending soon. He expects to make his decision within the next “week or so,” which means that the message boards, blogs, and the commentariat at all four schools will be working overtime in the interim. In the meantime, he plans on moving back to Toronto, going to prom with his grade school friends, and generally trying to live the rest of his spring out as a normal teenager graduating high school would — in other words, an impossible feat for someone as closely watched as Wiggins.
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