Zach Lofton‘s time at Minnesota was very short-lived. The Illinois State transfer, who would have had to sit out this season as a transfer after averaging 11.3 points and 3 rebounds per game last season, was kicked off the team yesterday. The reasons for Lofton’s dismissal are unclear, but he is still on scholarship at the school and can remain at the school to pursue his undergraduate degree so we are assuming it was something that wasn’t too serious as in it was not due to an arrest. We are not sure what Lofton’s plans are, but we are assuming that he won’t be staying at Minnesota.
Yesterday, Florida announced that John Egbunu, a transfer from South Florida, will have to sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules. Egbunu, who averaged 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a freshman last season, was a top-60 prospect coming out of high school. We are not sure what basis the Florida staff was hoping to use in order to get Egbunu a waiver, but they should be able to survive without him this season as they already have a deep frontcourt.
Connecticut junior guard Omar Calhoun is expected to miss at least a week after spraining the MCL in his right knee. Calhoun injured the knee during a Sunday practice, but a subsequent MRI revealed that there was no significant structural damage. Calhoun has reportedly recovered completely from the bilateral hip impingement surgery that limited his production as a sophomore. The Huskies appear to be set for their starting backcourt with Ryan Boatright and Rodney Purvis, but Calhoun could be a key reserve for the team.
St. John’s announced yesterday that junior college transfer Keith Thomas would not be academically eligible for this season. Thomas, who was an honorable mention NJCAA All-American while averaging 15.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game last season, is the third player from Westchester Community College to either be ruled academically ineligible as the school’s academic credentials are being questioned (where have we heard this before?). The loss of Thomas is a big hit for the Red Storm as they lack many legitimate big men outside of Chris Obekpa.
We aren’t exactly sure how much to read into Jeff Goodman’s report that several college basketball referees had accessed unauthorized information on a refereeing site. While some of that information like game schedules and how much certain referees were paid probably did not affect the way games were called, other information like comments that coaches made about certain officials certainly could have impacted the outcome of games. If this might seem a little far-fetched, it was just a year and a half ago that where the Pac-12 had a controversy because there were reports that the head of officiating attempted to get other officials to target Arizona coach Sean Miller. We doubt that this will lead to a similar revelation, but it should be the primary concern in a situation like this.
Once North Carolina released the findings of the independent investigation into the widespread academic fraud at its institution the next obvious step was to hear from Roy Williams, who spoke about the issue at a press conference on Friday. Williams stated he “thought we were doing the right thing” at the time and noted his reported initial concerns about the high number of players from his 2005 title team that were so many African and Afro-American Studies majors. We aren’t sure whether we believe that Roy (or any other coach involved in this type of scandal) actually cared to know about what was going on or just preferred not to worry about the details of how the sausage was made in his program. The next step in this process is what the NCAA will do with the school. Dennis Dodd has already come out in favor of the death penalty, but acknowledges that it won’t happen. Given the widespread nature of the scandal we understand the sentiment, but find it unlikely that the NCAA would touch one of its sacred (cash) cows. Not to be outdone by their new ACC rivals, Syracuse already has its day(s) in (NCAA) court set for October 30 and 31. These allegations go back 10 years and involve both the men’s basketball and football programs with the biggest charges revolving around extra benefits and academic issues with the basketball team. We can’t wait for the weekly ACC conference calls.
We knew that we would have to deal with teams losing players to the professional ranks at some point this season we just figured that it would be after the season actually started. Charlotte junior shooting guard Shawn Lester is leaving the program to pursue a professional basketball career. Carter, who was second on the team in scoring last year at 11.9 points per game, is reportedly looking for an agent with a plan on signing overseas. Even with the loss, the 49ers will still have four returning starters and ad Florida transfer Braxton Ogbueze as well as freshmen Keyshawn Woods and Torin Dorn Jr. Although Lester’s reasons for leaving are unclear (reportedly under the pretense of supporting his family financially), he is the fifth player to leave the program early since the end of the 2012-13 season.
We are just a few weeks away from the start of college basketball season so we can only imagine the panic in Madison when it was reported that Sam Dekkersprained his left ankle at a Friday practice. Dekker, who averaged 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season and is a potential All-American, sprained his ankle during a 4-on-4 drill and is only expected to miss one to two weeks as he recovers. Fortunately Wisconsin has a relatively easy start to the season before they play Green Bay on November 19 at which point we would expect Dekker would be back at full strength based on the information that Wisconsin is providing.
It won’t make up for the loss of Emmanuel Mudiay or (possibly) Markus Kennedy, but Southern Methodist got a boost when the NCAA ruled that Virginia Tech transfer Ben Emelogu had been granted a transfer waiver and would be eligible to play this season. Emelogu, who is from Dallas, averaged 10.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists as a freshman last season. Emelogu could also provide some stability to the team, which has been in flux the past few month as he actually was a team captain last season despite being only a freshman. If they can get Kennedy back, the Mustangs have the potential to be a dangerous team even if the person who was going to save them is on the other side of the planet.
With all the crying about the rivalries lost with conference realignment a number of schools have figured out ways to keep those rivalries intact at least temporarily. The latest two school to do so are Connecticut and Georgetown, which will renew their rivalry for at least two years beginning with the 2015-16 season. The first game will be played on January 23, 2016 at the XL Center with the return date at the Verizon Center on January 21, 2017. While the rivalry might lack the history of others (remember Connecticut was nothing before Jim Calhoun got there), the Hoyas only lead the series 35-29 with the two schools each having a record seven Big East Tournament titles (something the Hoyas should be able to reclaim now that Connecticut is in the AAC). We are sure that we will be seeing plenty of clips of Allen Iverson and Ray Allen going at it in the lead up to these games.
Each week, we’ll profile some of the week’s biggest upcoming games by taking a look back at some relevant history that relates to the match-ups. This is Back And Forth.
For our first entry, we will take a look at what’s right in front of us. The week of various Midnight Madness events are popping up in arenas across the country, with some naturally creating more of a buzz than others. Places like Lexington, Lawrence, East Lansing and Gainesville will pack fans and students into their respective arenas, domes and fieldhouses, lighting fireworks, putting on costumes and introducing this year’s roster with aplomb – at some point, they’ll also do some basketball stuff.
So what are some of the more memorable Midnight Madness moments for great teams in recent history? Glad you asked. Let’s review three recent champions to determine if there were any clues as to what was to come six months later:
Kentucky, Big Blue Madness – 2011-12
A few months removed from a run to John Calipari’s first Final Four as head coach of the Wildcats, a lot was expected from a semi-veteran team of Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb pairing with the next loaded recruiting class coming to town, featuring future lottery picks Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Amid all the introductions, lights and pageantry, the Wildcats staged their customary Blue vs. White scrimmage.
National Title Moment: During the scrimmage, Big Blue Nation got to see the full talents of Davis on display. The 6’11” forward was a physical freak, swatting shots and throwing down dunks, taking off from outside the paint on the baseline. The future NPOY put it all on display from day one as a Wildcat.
UConn, First Night – 2010-11
No one was expecting what they saw out of UConn in 2010-11. It all started at “First Night,” UConn’s annual nightly open practice. Around 7,000 fans showed up for the player introductions and skills challenge. That was the night Kemba Walker started it all in motion. The rest is history.
Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here.
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back… We are only 30 days from the start of college basketball games, 24 hours from ESPN’s mega-Midnight Madness coverage, and a handful of minutes from Shane’s next dose of Xanax. The RTC Podcast has returned for Season Three: The Immutables, and we’re kicking things off this glorious mid-October week with a warm-up edition — a little bite-sized something that reviews some of the top storylines and themes coming out of a really quiet offseason. Note that this isn’t really a preview episode — that, among many others, will release in the coming weeks — but this podcast, hosted by Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114), is meant to ease us into the season with plenty more to come. The full rundown is below, and remember, you can subscribe to every episode on iTunes with a simple click of a button.
0:00 – 2:20 – An In Person Podcast/Summer Blur
2:21 – 7:20 – A Few Headlines From a Quiet Offseason
Although we are less than a month removed from Connecticut’s win over Kentucky for the 2014 National Championship, it certainly is not too soon to gander ahead to the 2014-15 season. With Sunday’s deadline for underclassmen to declare for the June NBA Draft now past, we now have a much better idea of who the top teams should be once the ball is tipped again in November. Three weeks ago we released our Way Too Early Top 25; today we’re back with a much better version that accounts for (most of) next season’s returning rosters.
There is some consensus at the top, with three teams garnering 15 of the 18 top three votes from our pollsters. #1 Kentucky owns the top spot after John Calipari’s squad experienced far fewer NBA defections than was previously thought. While stars Julius Randle and James Young both decided to take their games to the next level, underclassmen Aaron Harrison, Andrew Harrison, Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress all decided to return to Lexington. Coupling these returnees with another star-studded recruiting class (ranked second by most analysts), it is easy to see why expectations will once again be off the charts for next season’s Wildcats. As expected, #2 Arizona lost talented guard Nick Johnson and forward Aaron Gordon to the NBA Draft, but certainly not all is lost in Tucson. Guards T.J. McConnell and Gabe York along with interior behemoths Brandon Ashley, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Kaleb Tarczewski return to form an incredibly strong nucleus for the Wildcats. #3 Wisconsin looks like it will once again be a Final Four contender, as Bo Ryan’s squad returns seven of its eight rotation players from the 2013-14 campaign. The Badgers figure to be paced by what should be one of the strongest duos in the country in versatile wing Sam Dekker and skilled big man Frank Kaminsky. Wisconsin will also have a great deal of winning experience in the backcourt, as Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser both return to Madison. The usual Quick n’ Dirty analysis, with some other thoughts on this poll, follows after the jump….
Yesterday was a big day for Kentucky as both Alex Poythress and Dakari Johnson announced that they will be returning to Lexington for at least one more season. Poythress has seen his stock drop during his two years at Kentucky to the point that he would have been a second round pick had he declared, but Johnson had the potential to be a late first round pick so it is somewhat surprising to see him stay. Kentucky still may have issues in the backcourt if the Harrison twins decide to turn pro, but they will have the nation’s deepest, tallest, and most talented frontcourt next season with Poythress, Johnson, Marucs Lee, Trey Lyles, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Karl-Anthony Towns.
The news around Louisville transfer Chane Behanan is a little less clear. Behanan, who left Louisville after repeated issues with marijuana use, had announced his intent to transfer to Colorado State several months ago, but now reports are surfacing that he may have signed with an agent with plans to enter the NBA Draft. If he were to enter the NBA Draft, Behanan would be a late second round pick at best and most likely would go undrafted particularly with his off-court issues. Colorado State has not really commented on it other than to say that they “will support him in whatever decision he makes” while Behanan offered a vague denial.
Two other big names–Jerian Grant and Jordan Mickey–announced that they will be returning to school next year. Neither player would have been a first round pick (at least not a guaranteed one) coming out this year so it makes sense for them to come back to school. Grant’s season was derailed when he was ruled academically ineligible. Grant had been averaging 19 points and 6.2 assists per game before his suspension so it is possible he would have left South Bend if he had a full season to showcase his game. Mickey posted solid numbers as a freshman averaging 12.7 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 3.1 blocks per game. While Mickey certainly has potential he was projected as a late second round pick at best so his decision to come back also makes a lot of sense and could help make LSU a second-tier team in the SEC next season.
People can complain all they want about Duke being on national television all the time and there is a degree of truth to those complaints, but Duke is certainly getting its share of prominent non-conference showdowns. In addition to their annual Champions Classic game (against Michigan State this year), a ACC/Big Ten Challenge road game, and the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic , Duke is close to scheduling a game against defending national champion Connecticut. The Huskies will be without Shabazz Napier, but could have Ryan Boatright and DeAndre Daniels back and will be adding Rodney Purvis. Duke will look completely different with the departure of Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood combined with the appearance of their top-rated incoming freshman class.
At this point we are not sure how Craig Robinson still has his job (oh right, the brother-in-law) as Oregon State continues to disappoint. As if losing all five starters from a team that went 16-16 last season was not bad enough, he also will be losing Hallice Cooke, who was supposed to be the team’s top returning player at 8.2 points and 2.6 assists per game last season, after Cooke announced that he was transferring saying “Smh I gotta know what that NCAA tourney feels like ASAP”. We never really bought into the idea that players would want to play for Robinson just because his brother-in-law is the President, but his performance has been fallen short of even our tempered expectations. Now Robinson heads into next season with his top returning player being Langston Morris-Walker, who averaged 4 points per game last season. We are usually hesitant to put anybody on the hot seat, but time seems to be running short for Robinson.
Tennessee did not take very long to move on from Michael White after he decided to stay at Louisiana Tech. Just a few hours after that news came out Tennessee reached an agreement with Southern Miss coach Donnie Tyndall to make him the next coach of the Volunteers. Tyndall is only six years older than White (43 vs 37) and has more experience in Tennessee and the SEC than White does so he is not a bad fallback option for the Volunteers. A formal announcement is expected by the school later today.
Tennessee school in the state with a new coach as Tennessee State named Dana Ford to be its next coach. Ford has never served as a head coach, but was an assistant at Tennessee State for two years under John Cooper before Cooper left to take over at Miami (OH) and Ford went to serve as an assistant at Wichita State then Illinois State (his alma mater). Ford takes over for Travis Williams, who led the Tigers to a 5-25 record last season so at least Ford does not have a high bar to reach to match last season’s performance.
Elfrid Payton might not be a household name even to college basketball fans, but you will be hearing his name a lot in the coming months as the junior out of Louisiana-Lafayette announced that he will be entering the NBA Draft. Payton averaged 19.2 points, 6 rebounds, and 5.9 assists per game last season while leading his team to a NCAA Tournament appearance, but perhaps more importantly for his draft stock he also started every game for the Under-19 team that won the gold medal at the World Championships. Payton is projected to be a late first round or early second round pick.
As crazy as it sounds out all of the early-entry decisions that we have been linking to in the Morning Five there are still several key decisions that we are waiting for. Jeff Eisenberg points out there are five schools that are particularly anxious as they await decisions. It goes without saying that Kentucky will be one of those schools almost every year, but Michigan, Connecticut, Colorado, and UNLV are also waiting on big decisions that will shape next season. So if you are following any of the way-too-early top 25s you should probably wait until after this deadline before taking any of them too seriously.
One of our bigger frustrations in college basketball is with administrators who try to limit local non-conference rivalries for political reasons. So we were very happy to see that Virginia and George Washington have agreed to a home-and-home series the next two years. Although this is not the biggest potential regional matchup it is still a fairly appealing one and Virginia only leads the series 25-23 with the last game being played in the 2004 NIT. Hopefully we will see more schools follow their lead and create some more interesting regional rivalries.
As we continue to sift through the memories of the 2013-14 college basketball season, we take a look back at some of the best games of the season. In order, here are the five best games from 2013-14. We covered the five best stories of the season last week, if you’re interested.
November 12: Kansas 94, Duke 83 – Two of the most anticipated freshmen in recent college hoops history matched up in the Champions Classic nightcap, and neither Wiggins (22 points, eight rebounds) nor Parker (27 points, nine rebounds ) disappointed. Kansas broke open a close game behind a late push from Wiggins and Perry Ellis (24 points, nine rebounds), in the process earning one of the season’s first true statement victories. The young Jayhawks would go on to win 25 games and the Big 12 regular season title, but their finest (and most entertaining) win may have come in their second outing of the year.
Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)
March 29: Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 (OT) – The low-possession game that everyone expected came to fruition, but both the Badgers (1.05 PPP) and Wildcats (1.03 PPP) managed solid offensive efforts in this Elite Eight battle. Neither team was able to build more than a three-point lead during the final 17 minutes of play (including overtime) in a tangibly tense seesaw battle, but it was the offensive clinic put on by the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky (28 points, 11 rebounds) that proved to be the ultimate difference. After a controversial replay review in the final seconds that gave the ball back to Arizona, Nick Johnson was unable to get up a winning shot attempt in time, and Wisconsin was headed to the Final Four for the first time under Bo Ryan. Read the rest of this entry »
After nearly six months of basketball, from practice to the podium, the 75th and final RTC Podcast of the 2013-14 season is here. It’s been quite a run, filled with analysis, wild predictions, #cheerfortheears, more analysis, numerous fantastic guests, a bunch of informative correspondents, and even a few t-shirts thrown in. While we exhausted ourselves in some respects by plowing through at least a couple pods per week, we feel like it was well worth the time and energy, and we certainly appreciate all of the listeners that tuned in along the way. For the offseason, we expect to check in at least once every few weeks, depending on when there are enough things to talk about, but we’ll definitely be back when the NBA Draft deadline has passed. In this week’s podcast, we break down the National Championship game, consider UConn’s future and talk about some of our memories from the preceding season. The full rundown is below. Give it a listen.
Coming off a postseason ban, UConn wasn’t exactly a hot pick to make noise this season. And even once the Huskies entered the NCAA Tournament as a #7 seed, it still seemed unlikely that they would go anywhere past the Sweet Sixteen, much less to the National Championship game. However, coach Kevin Ollieknew they had a shot the whole time. “Someone called us Cinderella,” Ollie said. “No. We’re UConn. This is what we do. We’re born for this. We’re bred to cut down nets.”
There’s no doubt Shabazz Napier was one of the premier players in college basketball this season, but what impact will he make at the next level? His lack of size and wealth of production will make him a very intriguing NBA Draft prospect.
Shabazz Napier had to learn how to be a leader, and once he did, he took his team, against all odds, all the way. For Napier, much of his leadership came from enduring the various hits that UConn took since he arrived in Storrs in 2010. “When you go through a lot it teaches you how to be a man,” Napier said. “Sometimes you go through the ups and sometimes you go through the downs. You’ve just got to learn from it.”
Much of what Kevin Ollie has learned has come from his mother, Dorothy. However, though watching his mother fight breast cancer, Ollie has gained even more from her. “She’s [Dorothy Ollie] a strong woman, he learned his resiliency from here,” [Kevin's wife] Stephanie Ollie said. “She and his father both raised a good husband for me. … She’s a very positive woman.”
Kentucky was surprisingly positive after losing Monday night’s National Championship game, calling this past season “surreal.” For the Wildcats, their resiliency is what made this season so special. “We just turned a lot of people’s heads,” [freshman] James Young said after Monday night’s defeat. “People that didn’t believe in us at first, they believe in us, now.”
Kentucky will always lose numerous players to the NBA Draft, but it will still usually be back among college basketball’s best every season. However, if coach John Calipari makes the jump to the NBA, the Wildcats could be in trouble.
Coach Calipari’s freshmen were able to come together for a big run, but soon, like in every season he’s had as Kentucky’s head coach, there will be the “inevitable breakup.” Knowing that much of the team won’t be in Lexington next year, many of the players are just trying to focus on the present. Freshman Aaron Harrison noted that he just wants to “enjoy the rest of the school year.”
Many believe that Kentucky will lose much of its rotation to the NBA Draft, but imagine what it could do next year if Calipari could get some of his guys to stay. Most of them aren’t thinking about the NBA right now, but sophomore Willie Cauley-Stein, a projected mid- to late-first round pick, is. He’s remains unsure about his decision, but stated, “I feel this emptiness in me like I’ve still got something to prove and I’ve still got so much stuff to work on in my game.”
If preseason Top 25s are an exercise in futility, polls the day after the national championship game are an exercise in imagination. We readily admit that we don’t know exactly what rosters are going to look like next season with early entry announcements, transfers (both in and out), late signees, and the inevitable summer run-ins with trouble still pending. So we will try to project, using the partial information that we have, which are the 25 teams most likely to win a national title next season. After the NBA Draft deadline has passed, we’ll do a more educated Top 25, but until then, this is what we came up with. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this way-too-early poll is after the jump.