If you’re a regular reader, even in the offseason, you may have noticed that we have decided to cut back the national M5s a bit during the long summer months. The objective is to get a couple of them published each week, but we might go for three if we’re feeling a little frisky. The biggest news of the last several days in the college basketball universe was the weekend announcement that the settlement between video game maker EA Sportsand over 100,000 former and current student-athletes for the unauthorized use of their likenesses was finalized. The settlement calls for $40 million to be divided among a huge number of class action members, but even if the individual payouts will be relatively small (the named plaintiffs would top out in the low five figures, while most would be in the hundreds), the notion that players deserve some sort of recompense for the use of their images is clear. Note that this settlement does not impact the impending lawsuit between Ed O’Bannon and others against the NCAA, set to begin Monday in US District Court in San Francisco, although some of the evidence from this settlement will certainly come to bear in that case as well.
From a coaching comings and goings standpoint, several high-profile names remained in the news over the last several days as NBA teams seek to fill their open positions. Guys like UConn’s Kevin Ollie and Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg appear to the collegiate coaches du jour, but the biggest names are always floating around the periphery of those conversations. Kansas’ Bill Self and Kentucky’s John Calipari said in separate conversations with ESPN.com‘s Andy Katz on Monday that they were both incredibly happy with their current situations and had not been contacted this offseason about any open positions. Cue Mitch Kupchak on line two, coach? In keeping with the theme, Florida’s Billy Donovan last week basically said “never say never,” but as SI.com‘s David Gardner writes, he could probably satisfy his itch to coach the world’s best players by following the Coach K model with the US Men’s Basketball team. There’s certainly something to be said for capstone jobs in all three of their cases, but the competitive drive and instincts that got them there keeps them looking for even better opportunities, hard as they might be to come by.
One current college coach who has had no problem finding a better opportunity just around every turn for the better part of five decades is SMU’s Larry Brown. The 73-year old who has completely rebuilt the Mustangs’ program in Dallas and will be in everyone’s Top 25 next preseason (especially with Xavier transfer Justin Martin en route) is rumored to be in the running for the open Los Angeles Lakers job. A number of other names are also under consideration — including Scott Skiles, Byron Scott, Alvin Gentry, Lionel Hollins and Mike Dunleavy — but Brown is perhaps the most intriguing given that he already has an excellent thing working at SMU in contrast with the train wreck awaiting the next coach in LA. With nine NBA franchises already on his resume as a head coach (but none with the Lakers’ pedigree), the job would no doubt be attractive to him, but would the Lakers really want to hire someone that the franchise could only expect to have on board for a couple more years? Let’s hope the itinerant LB sticks around to see through the job in DFW.
One coach that we can’t imagine will be thinking NBA anytime soon, or ever, is Virginia’s Tony Bennett. While a brilliant basketball mind, his system involving shutdown defense and a glacial tempo likely wouldn’t translate very well to the League. Irrespective of that, UVA rewarded its head coach for a #1 seed, 30-win, ACC championship season, with a seven-year extension to his current deal. The new contract locks him into Charlottesville through the 2018-19 season and increases his annual salary to just shy of a couple million dollars per year. Not bad for a guy who was projected to have trouble recruiting ACC-caliber players. Ahem.
This is a neat story from the Chronicle of Higher Education about a young man named Marvin Clark, a Kansas City kid who will be an incoming freshman at Michigan State this fall. The story chronicles the many ups and downs of his year-long recruitment, where he rode a roller coaster of ups and downs as schools from Oregon to Seton Hall and everywhere in-between expressed interest before backing off and picking back up on him again. Raised in a hard-knock situation with no father figure and a mother battling addiction, Clark’s story represents how recruiting can go for many of the kids not rated in the consensus top 25 of the rankings (Clark fell in and out of the top 150), and how perception and relationships can drive as much of the decision-making process as anything else. It’s a good, quality read, and a reminder to most of us readers that, no matter how bad your day might have gone, it probably was better than many of those that Clark faced growing up.
From one end of the coaching spectrum to the other, as Oregon State announced on Monday its hiring of Montana’s Wayne Tinkleas its new head basketball coach. Tinkle heads to Corvallis with a solid resume, having led the Grizzlies to three NCAA Tournament appearances in his eight seasons and never finishing below .500 while there. He will inherit a program that has proven to be one of the absolute toughest at which to win in Division I basketball. The Beavers last made the NCAA Tournament in 1990 (!!!), and have not achieved a .500 Pac-10/12 record in over two decades (1993). Further compounding the difficulty that Tinkle will face is that all five of last season’s starters from an 8-10 squad have moved on. Perhaps Tinkle is the guy to finally lead Oregon State out of the basketball wilderness, but it will be no easy task.
One of the starters who left Oregon State this offseason was shooting guard Hallice Cooke, a rising sophomore who logged the second-most percentage of available minutes for the Beavers last season and nailed a team-high 45.6 percent of his threes. Cooke announced on Monday via Twitter that he will transfer to play for The Mayor at Iowa State for the rest of his collegiate career. Fred Hoiberg’s 12th transfer in his fourth season in Ames exhibits again just how well the popular coach has used the free agency transfer market to fill the holes on his roster (UNLV transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones will hold down Iowa State’s shooting guard spot during the intervening year). Although Cooke will not become eligible to play for the Cyclones until the 2015-16 season, his three-point prowess figures to eventually fit very well into Hoiberg’s spread-the-floor offense.
Kevin Ollie wasn’t the only head coach to receive an extension this week, as Xavier’s Chris Mack — a coach who was reportedly considered as a top candidate for several other jobs this spring — signed an extension that will keep him at the school through the 2019-20 season. In Mack’s five years at the school, he’s compiled an impressive 111-57 overall record that includes four NCAA Tournament appearances and two trips to the Sweet Sixteen (2010 and 2012). Although Xavier has had a multitude of excellent coaches over the years from Pete Gillen to Skip Prosser to Thad Matta — it was in no small part due to Mack’s recent success that Xavier was invited to become a member of the new basketball-centric Big East. It will certainly be tough for Xavier to keep a talent like Mack on campus all the way through the term of his new contract, but the commitment is worthwhile for a coach who has proven he has the chops to win at a high level.
Even on a busy Monday of college basketball-related news, the most interesting nugget of the lot may have come from a decision by the State Employees of North Carolina public workers union to allow student-athletes at the state’s 17 public universities to join its collective bargaining organization. Players at schools like North Carolina, NC State, Charlotte and others would be affected, but the bigger picture question is whether this move represents another arrow directed at the disintegrating notion of athletes as amateurs. This of course comes on the heels of the NLRB’s recent decision to classify a group of Northwestern football players as employees with the right to organize its own union, and although any holding in that case would only apply to private schools like NU and others, the sea change is coming whether the NCAA likes it or not.
Yesterday we mentioned that SI.com‘s Andy Glockner was brewing up a firestorm with his series of articles ranking the top 20 current programs in college basketball. Such an endeavor has two verifiable truths: first, everyone loves lists; second, everyone loves to rip lists. With that in mind (and he’s well aware of those truths), his honorable mentions came out Monday, followed by his rankings of programs from #16 to #20 on Tuesday. In order, let’s welcome Gonzaga, Illinois, Michigan, Georgetown and Texas to the top 20. Of this group, we’re having the most trouble with the Illinois pick at #19. The Illini had a renaissance season under the tutelage of new head coach John Groce last year, but spent most of the previous five years struggling to regain its national relevance of the early-to-mid 2000s. We realize of course that Glockner is using historical and other qualitative metrics to make these determinations, but we probably would have had Pittsburgh, Marquette, Xavier and several others ahead of the Illini. Still, that’s nitpicky. What will really make or break this list will be how Glockner handles the top five (and the fans of the four runners-up will let him know it!). We’re excited to see the next group released later today.
As more and more people marry themselves to the idea that college football and basketball players are being exploited by their schools and the NCAA, we’ll continue to see analyses like one from Business Insider published on Tuesday. Their methodology for determining the fair market value of players at the top 25 revenue-producing football schools is quite simple, probably overly simple — just multiply football revenue by 47 percent (per the NFL’s collective bargaining agreement with its players), then divide by the number of scholarships (85). What BI found mimics the numbers we’ve seen elsewhere — at the richest athletic schools such as Texas, Alabama and Michigan, college football players are worth roughly a half-million dollars each annually in value. The same analysis is also easy enough to do for college basketball players. Louisville‘s hoops revenue of $42.4 million in 2012 is divided in half given the NBA’s rough 50/50 split with the players, leaving $21.2 million to be split 13 ways. The result: a Cardinals’ basketball player is worth $1.63 million to the university (if you buy into this methodology). This is the mistake that many of these gridiron-centric analyses don’t realize — while it’s definitely true that football provides more aggregate revenue to the schools, the players in college basketball are individually much more valuable. If you want to make the point most strongly, which is the better headline? Texas football players are worth a half-million each; or Louisville basketball players are worth three times that much?
While on the subject of football powers, the NCAA announced yesterday that Penn State would regain some of the football scholarships it lost as a result of the Jerry Sandusky sexual abuse scandal. In announcing the removal of those sanctions, the NCAA recognized that the school had made great efforts to change its culture of abuse but NCAA president Mark Emmert made it clear that other schools shouldn’t expect a reduction in their own penalties. That’s too bad, writes The Dagger‘s Jeff Eisenberg, who outlines four major recent (and fixable) misfires by the NCAA, two of which were focused on men’s basketball. The most well-known example, of course, was the NCAA’s “strict liability” punishment on Memphis for playing Derrick Rose in the 2007-08 season, even though the NCAA Clearinghouse had deemed him eligible to play before that season. The other is far less recognizable, involving the NCAA’s decision to rule that Old Dominion’s Donte Hill was ineligible for his senior season because he played eight minutes in a closed-door preseason scrimmage against Clemson back in 2010. We’re quite sure that we could probably come up with a dozen more of these if we spent the time on it, but Eisenberg’s list is a good place to start. It wouldn’t hurt the NCAA to consider more reductions (or commutation) of sentences based on additional facts, precedents and behaviors.
What’s a Final Four appearance worth to an MVC school like Wichita State? We’ll have to wait for the Business Insider analysis on that one, but it’s at least worth around $600,000 to its head coach, Gregg Marshall. The university announced his new salary on Tuesday, with a base of $1.6 million that kicks in this November and another raise to $1.75 million that begins next April. The long-underrated head coach will move into the top 25 or so highest-paid college basketball coaches as a result of this raise, which is a substantial financial commitment for a school living outside the Power Six or Seven hoops leagues. But Final Four appearances at schools like Wichita State tend to result in ironclad job security.
Believe it or not, but with the new practice rules in effect this season, schools will actually begin suiting up for real, live, full-on practices this Friday. As in 48 hours from now. One of the players who will definitely be there to play post-practice games of HORSE with his teammates is Ole Miss’ Marshall Henderson. As reported by Gary Parrish at CBSSports.com, Andy Kennedy expects the all-SEC shooting guard to be on the floor Friday. The controversial shooting guard reportedly failed multiple drug tests and spent much of the offseason “suspended” from the team, whatever that means, but let’s be honest with ourselves here. There aren’t all that many name-brand players who pass through Oxford, Mississippi — especially in roundball — so there was not much of a question as to whether Henderson would suit up this year.
On Wednesday ESPN finished its two-day unveiling of brackets for the 11 holiday season events that it more or less controls through its television rights, and the possibilities, as usual, are endless. For a comprehensive listing of those events along with the top storylines as they stand right now in the middle of July, here’s the thread. Be sure to remember that Jeff Goodman picked Boise State over Oregon State in the Diamond Head Classic so that you can mock him on Twitter in late December… but seriously, does anyone else find it more than a little odd that these brackets are released during the time of year when you couldn’t find more people who care less? Why not make this a part of the Midnight Madness/ESPN festivities in October — you know, when fans are actually paying attention to college basketball again. For what it’s worth, Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger and Andy Glockner at SI.com have pretty good rundowns of the events if ESPN.com’s marketing campaign isn’t to your liking. From our perspective, here’s what you need to know: North Carolina vs. Louisville (Hall of Fame Tip-off) and Arizona vs. Duke (Preseason NIT). Done.
We mentioned Seth Davis’ piece on Michigan’s Mitch McGary in yesterday’s M5, and clearly university brass must have also read about his head coach John Beilein‘s prescience in keeping the burly freshman on the bench as a secret postseason weapon last year. Why do we say this? Because on Wednesday Michigan rewarded the 60-year old coach with a three-year extension that will bump his salary up to $2.45 million per year, ninth-highest in the nation. The sometimes-irascible but always competent Beilein has come a long way in his itinerant career, but with another top 10 squad pending in Ann Arbor and a growing NBA pipeline to entice recruits, we’re thinking that he not only deserves the raise, but is well worth it.
The Pac-12 under Larry Scott’s leadership in the last few seasons has certainly been innovative in its approach to its branding and reach, and yesterday’s CBSSports.com report that the league recently sent a letter to the NCAA challenging the admission of Division II Grand Valley (AZ) State to play D-I basketball is certainly interesting. On one hand, why does the Pac-12 care about a low-budget for-profit school with some 40,000 to 45,000 online students? On the other, the business model and corresponding accountability for a school answering to public shareholders on financial matters is in fact a much different situation than that posed by a typical college or university (which are all non-profit entities in Division I). It’ll be interesting to see how the NCAA responds to this, and whether other leagues and/or universities get involved. Grand Valley has already begun transition to Division I, entering the WAC as a basketball school and becoming eligible for the NCAA Tournament in 2017-18.
Some transfer/eligibility news from yesterday to finish off today’s M5. Former Kentucky problem child Ryan Harrowhas received a transfer waiver from the NCAA to play at Georgia State next season. This move will allow him to remain near his ailing father, who suffered a stroke last year while Harrow was at Kentucky, averaging 10 PPG and shooting 29.6 percent from beyond the arc. By the same token, Minnesota’s Malik Smith, a senior guard who averaged 14/3 APG last season at FIU under Richard Pitino, also received a waiver to play immediately at his new school. The NCAA approved his waiver to follow his coach in part because FIU is not eligible for the 2014 NCAA Tournament (APR violations). This will be Smith’s fourth school in four seasons.
Brad Stevens, Brad Stevens, Brad Stevens. The talk of the college basketball world has been centered on the Wednesday afternoon announcement that the Butler head coach was leaving his post for the glamour and riches of the NBA’s Boston Celtics. Everyone, of course, has an opinion on this bold and very surprising move, so let’s sum up what folks are saying. First, from the Brad Stevens/Celtics side: Adrian Wojnarowski writes that Stevens represents the “changing face of [NBA] coaches” in its new era of statistical analytics; the Indy Star‘s Bob Kravitz says that he can’t blame Stevens for jumping to the league; Fox Sports‘ Reid Forgrave calls the move a “gutsy” one on the part of Danny Ainge and the Celtics; while SI.com‘s Ben Golliver argues that the Celtics’ decision to pluck a successful college head coach with no NBA experience is a worthwhile risk. As we tweeted when we heard the news on Wednesday, the move makes sense from a logical standpoint, but it just doesn’t feel right. Stevens embodied our perhaps romantic notion of a college lifer, and in the NBA, coaches are hired to be fired. It’s hard to see him not coming back to our game sooner rather than later.
From a coach on the way out of the college game to one sticking around, Florida State’s Leonard Hamiltonreceived an extension through 2016-17 (and a $750,000 raise, to boot) to remain in Tallahassee as the head coach of the Seminoles. The timing is somewhat surprising given that FSU last year suffered its worst season (18-16) in nearly a decade under Hamilton’s tutelage, but his previous four years of NCAA Tournament appearances and an ACC Championship certainly show that Hamilton has his program in overall good shape. His new salary of $2.25 million annually puts him second behind only Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski in terms of salaries among ACC coaches.
We’re 51 weeks away from next season’s NBA Draft, but Mike DeCourcy took time during his Starting Five column this week to break down how he sees the top five picks going for 2014 (let’s just say that one-and-done is prominently featured). He also takes time to rip both FIBA — for its appalling lack of television broadcast options for the U-19 team — and Georgetown recruit LJ Peak, whose “psyche-out” trick using the school hats of suitors South Carolina and the Hoyas left a really bad taste in a lot of people’s mouths (ourselves included).
Let’s finish the holiday week with some really good news on the health front: ESPN’s highlighter aficianado Digger Phelpshas been declared cancer-free related to his bladder cancer diagnosis earlier this year. In just over one 12-month period, Phelps had survived both prostate and now bladder cancer, so it’s been a wild but ultimately successful year for the 72-year old television personality and former head coach. Phelps takes a lot of heat for some of his takes on ESPN’s Gameday show, but he’s always entertaining and we certainly hope that these health problems will remain behind him so that we can all enjoy many more years of green tie/highlighter pairings from January to March each season.
Today is the last day of the 10th month of the year, so that means it’s time to dust off your Mike Krzyzewski wig, grab your Jim Boeheim spectacles, and throw on your Bob Huggins track suit to head out into the sinister world of All Hallows’ Eve for tricks and treats. It also means, quite obviously, that tomorrow — the , not nearly as fun All Saint’s Day — is the first day of November, and that month is when we finally stop messing around and get down to the business of for-real college basketball again. Exhibition games and secret scrimmages are coming fast and furious right now, with Opening Night (live from Germany?) only nine days away now.
Here’s a treat for your Halloween morn. For anyone who considers himself a student of the game-behind-the-game world of advanced metrics, Ken Pomeroy on Tuesday released his preseason rankings of all 347 Division I basketball teams. Much like Dan Hanner’s efficiency-driven rankings that we discussed in this space yesterday, Pomeroy throws some combination of returning talent plus incoming talent into the sausage maker to determine what comes out the other end (he explains his methodology here). He quite clearly states that he recognizes the weaknesses in his system at this point of the year, so he also wrote an article explaining the various outliers — teams that might appear too high (Kentucky, Ohio State, Wisconsin, etc.) or too low (NC State, Maryland, etc.) — in his initial rankings. Perhaps the biggest outlier left unexplained in the piece is Lousville — #8 in Pomeroy but #1 or #2 in most other human polls — it’s clear that his model isn’t ready to entrust the Cardinal offense with such rarefied status just yet (he ranks it #34 nationally in offensive efficiency).
While on the subject of the Cards, how about some news about college basketball’s ultimate coaching trickster, Rick Pitino? The Louisville head coach has hinted at retirement for a number of years before backing off of that sentiment recently, but news Tuesday revealed that Pitino has agreed to a five-year contract extension that will ostensibly keep him on the sidelines of the school through the 2021-22 season. Can you imagine that the wandering-eye coach whom none other than Sports Illustrated once called ‘itinerant’ because of his frequent career moves is not only entering his 11th full season in the River City, but could potentially stay there for another nine years after that? In our mind’s eye, we’ll always associate Pitino as the Boy Wonder who resurrected Kentucky from the depths of probation, but he was only in Lexington for eight seasons before alighting to the riches of the NBA. It says here that Pitino will not rest until he gets another national title so that he can permanently disassociate from his rivals down the road in Lexington — this extension gives him at least 10 more shots at it.
Here’s a treat to fans everywhere tired of the seemingly endless cat-and-mouse game between coaches performing illicit activities and the NCAA’s attempts to catch them. On Tuesday, despite hell or high water, one of Mark Emmert’s key initiatives was unanimously passed by the NCAA Board of Directors — the sweeping changes to the NCAA’s enforcement and punishment structure that will go into effect on August 1, 2013, are designed to hit programs and coaches directly where it hurts — by hurting their prestige and their bank accounts. Details are too numerous to list here, but the essential premise to the changes mimics a captain-of-the-ship liability theory. A head coach will be presumed to know (or should know) what’s going on in his program, and simply sticking his head in the sand and only popping up for practices and media appearances will not be enough to protect his skin or that of his program if illicit activity (boosters, impermissible benefits, academic fraud, etc.) is happening. On paper, this sounds great — but coaches will find the gray areas and the loopholes in short order, so strong enforcement techniques are absolutely essential to this initiative’s long-term success.
Finally, let’s end the month with everyone’s favorite college basketball bogeyman. We mentioned a while back that Duke has implemented iPads into its practice and training protocols by loading up playbooks, scouting report information, video footage, and a number of other relevant items on each player’s device. The school on Tuesday announced that it had taken the next step in its data automation by contracting with a company that will provide each player with his individual PER (player efficiency rating) score immediately after each practice and game. Why does this matter? Well, one of the basic tenets of active learning is to provide immediate and direct feedback in real-time — while coaches can see a lot of things, they’re going to still miss quite a bit as 10 active bodies fly around the court. This mechanism, if it works as anticipated, will allow players to know precisely the areas where they did or did not excel immediately after leaving the court. Over time, the argument goes, their efficiency should improve, which begs the question for Pomeroy and Hanner, is there a bias for schools trying to teach for the so-called test? Good grief, Charlie Brown. Happy Halloween, everyone.
October is finally here! That means the squeaking of sneakers on the college basketball hardwood is right around the corner. You can sense it in the silent roar of anticipation coming from college campuses in Bloomington, Omaha, Lexington, Westwood, Memphis, Tucson, Richmond, Lawrence, Louisville and the rest — take a look at their fan message boards and blogs and feel the palpable collective sense of another season of possibility and wonder. Read the local beat writers and note that even their tried-and-true cynicism with the whole production is relatively muted. Peruse a few schedules and start figuring out where you’re headed this season. With the turning of the calendar into the last quarter of the year , it’s time we stop referring to this season as next season. For those of us who live this sport year-round, next season is now.
Kansas head coach Bill Self is widely recognized as one of the best tacticians and recruiters in the game right now, and with good reason. His Jayhawks have made the Big 12 their own personal punching bag on the way to eight straight conference titles, and the talent that Self regularly brings to Lawrence has kept the longstanding KU-to-NBA pipeline intact. Over the weekend, Kansas rewarded Self for his continuing excellence, extending the coach’s contract four more years (through the 2021-22 season) and increasing his average salary to $3.856 million per year. A number of retention and other performance incentives make the value of the entire contract just north of $53 million over the next decade. It’s phenomenal money, of course, but according to KUSports.com, Self’s new deal is still only the fourth richest in college basketball — behind larger-than-life icons John Calipari, Rick Pitino, and Mike Krzyzewski.
Speaking of Pitino, his Louisville Cardinals will be in everyone’s preseason top five this season, and one of the reasons for that is the amount of quality depth he’ll have at his disposal. That depth took a minor hit on Friday when senior Mike Marrare-injured the same left ACL that had kept him off the court for most of last season. With the increase in Louisville’s overall talent over the course of his career, Marra wasn’t expected to play a major role in the Cardinal lineup this season, but he had contributed in the past (21 MPG in 2010-11, for example) and he was someone who always brought great energy to the floor. He’ll become a graduate assistant under Pitino this season as he prepares to pursue coaching after he leaves school.
Matt Glover is another in a long line of summer transfers who hoped to receive a waiver from the NCAA so that he could play immediately after transferring from Penn State to San Francisco during the offseason. The junior college guard arrived at PSU just in time for last fall’s whirlwind surrounding Joe Paterno and Jerry Sandusky, suffering through a miserable year on campus playing for a different coach (Pat Chambers) than the one who had recruited him (Ed DeChellis). His mother suffered a heart attack in April, but apparently because Glover was already considering a transfer closer to her Los Angeles home at the time, the NCAA denied Glover’s request to play for USF this season. Glover’s family has dealt with a number of health issues over the years, so it’s certainly a shame that the NCAA wasn’t willing to budge on this one.
Finally, Rutgers head coach Mike Rice may have raised the bar considerably in terms of what future coaches will do for their charitable organizations. Forget the tennis shoes, telethons, and all the other fund-raising strategies — Rice is more of a doer than a talker. On Friday morning in the middle of a rainstorm in Jersey City, the 43-year old daredevil rappelled down the side of a 470-foot office building with nothing but a few ropes and cords holding him aloft. His trek downward took nine minutes, a slow time in large part because he stoped at every floor to wave at people on the inside of the building. He did this as part of the American Cancer Society’s “Over the Edge” fundraising effort, and he ended up with a fantastic recruiting yarn that he can regale to players the world over: “Your coach is crazy enough to scale tall buildings for you,” he can now truthfully say.
And so it begins? The NCAA has fairly or unfairly taken a beating in recent months over its handling of just about everything from its use of player likenesses to academic scandals to jewelry purchases to replacement refs (ok, maybe not the last one). For the most part, the federal and state governments have kept their noses out of it, preferring to let the NCAA as a private organization operate under its own auspices. But with billions of dollars flowing through the nation’s top athletic universities via lucrative sports media deals, and a general sentiment held by the public that the NCAA fosters an environment of exploiting its student-athletes, California governor Jerry Brown on Thursday signed a bill called the “Student-Athlete Bill of Rights.” This new law, which by virtue of their size will only impact the four Pac-12 schools located in the Golden State, will require greater protections for the players at those schools in terms of medical coverage, scholarship guarantees, and due process. The law is the first of its kind in the nation, and other states are no doubt watching closely to determine if they want to follow suit. We’ll have more on this interesting and important topic later today.
Luke Winn has been in his Brooklyn-based math lab crunching the numbers in anticipation of the new college basketball season, and as always, his insights answer questions that most people didn’t even know they had. In his latest piece at SI.com, Winn explores the “exploitable gap” in balancing the scheduling of non-conference games for the purpose of maximum RPI juice while not particularly taxing the team in its bottom line (taking losses). He finds two case studies of “Scheduleball” to illustrate his point — Pittsburgh under Jamie Dixon, and Colorado State under Tim Miles — with each showing how the formula of scheduling top 50 and top 100 opponents and avoiding games against teams in the bottom 100 of the RPI is a key recipe for success. There are other ways to manipulate schedules to your RPI advantage, of course, but as Winn clearly argues, as long as the formula continues to use winning percentage as a proxy for schedule strength, there will continue to be flaws in the RPI system.
While we continue on the theme of smart people doing smart things, the US Supreme Court will reconvene for its October term on Capitol Hill next week. One of the most controversial cases that it will consider next month has gotten the notice of many head coaches around the game because the issue involves the holistic approach of using race as a factor in college admissions decisions. While the cynics out there might believe that the self-interested coaches are merely trying to protect their own players in their defense of affirmative action, the truth is that athletes are usually admitted through other loopholes anyway. But their interest in the law (last upheld by SCOTUS in 2003) is to ensure a diverse campus environment that their players will find welcoming beyond the basketball court. This can play a huge role in recruiting, especially when often dealing with athletes largely from minority communities. Oral arguments will occur on October 10 with a decision due next spring.
Alabama head coach Anthony Grant has gradually improved his Crimson Tide program since arriving in Tuscaloosa just over three years ago. His first team struggled, but he followed that up with an NIT runner-up finish in 2010-11 and an NCAA appearance in 2011-12, the school’s first since 2006. His teams get after it defensively and there’s no reason to believe given this recruiting and coaching abilities that the Tide will drop off from the NCAA level anytime soon. His bosses have noticed, as Grant was rewarded this week with a one-year extension through the 2018-19 season and a raise to $1.9 million per year (ahem, still well below Nick Saban’s $5.6 million per year deal). With many of the traditional “SEC West” basketball programs still in transition, Grant has a golden opportunity over the next five years to turn Alabama into the top program in that geographic slice of the conference.
We’ll finish with something from earlier this week on Ken Pomeroy‘s site. According to the stats guru, there were only 17 games last season where a team had less than a one percent chance of winning at any point during the game and came back to do so. The only game most of us were likely to have watched finished at #8 on his list — the early February Duke vs. North Carolina game in Chapel Hill — also known as the Austin Rivers shot game. With UNC up 10 points and 2:38 remaining on the clock, Pomeroy’s win probability states that the Blue Devils at that point only had a 0.62% chance to win the game. For those of us more accustomed to Vegas-style odds to make sense of the world, that converts to a 1-in-162 chance. And yet, “Duke would have just five possessions left and went 3, 3, 2, 2, 3 to finish.” And remember, that game represents only the eighth least likely comeback — get over there to read about the 16 others.
The biggest news from the weekend was without question the bombshell that dropped Friday that former Duke forward Lance Thomasis being sued by a New York City jeweler who caters to professional athletes for an unpaid debt of $67,800 — credit that was extended to Thomas upon a down payment of $30,000 and purchase of several items during December of his senior season. This is the same senior season that led to Duke and Mike Krzyzewski’s fourth national championship won over upstart Butler; the same senior season where Thomas started in most of the Blue Devils’ games and contributed five points and five rebounds in roughly 25 minutes per game. Right now, there are more questions than answers — where did Thomas get such a large sum of money to make the down payment? Why would a jeweler give a college student of marginal skill such exorbitant credit? What happened to the jewelry, and did anyone at Duke see him wearing it? Right now, all we know is that the NCAA and Duke both say that they are aware of the issue, but you’d better believe that a nation full of fans of schools other than Duke will be watching this one very, very closely.
Of the six power conferences, the Big East has without question been the one most expendable because of its relative lack of marquee football programs. In an effort to keep up with the Joneses, it has expanded its gridiron presence to include schools from all four US time zones which hasled to understandable mockery over the word “East” in its moniker. Last week former interim commissioner Joe Bailey stated at a sports business conference that the league was investigating a name change to better fit its new national geographic presence. Within minutes of this news releasing, Twitter had a field day making fun of it, no doubt sending current Big East commissioner Mike Aresco into panic mode. Putting the matter to rest on Saturday, Aresco said that there are no plans to change the name, citing “tremendous brand equity” in the conference’s geographic misnomer. Let’s hope for Aresco’s sake that the equity he refers to is more Apple than Enron.
The third buzzworthy item from the weekend related to a comment made by NCAA executive VP for championships, Mark Lewis, late last week. In a conversation with ESPN.com, Lewis said he pulled out a US map and openly wondered why the population-heavy east and west coasts were effectively shut out of the possibility of hosting a Final Four because there are no domed stadiums located in those areas (every Final Four from 1997 to present has been in a dome). The eight existing viable locations — Atlanta, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and St. Louis — are generally found in the nation’s mid-section, far from the media hype machines located along the seaboards. The primary impact, of course, would be on the ticket market. Domes are set up to hold upward of 70,000 fans, whereas traditional basketball arenas top out in the low 20,000+ range. We’ve been to a number of Final Fours over the years, and in general have to agree with Mike DeCourcy who argues that the buzz and energy of the building filled with that many people surpasses the tradeoff of a more intimate environment. As a compromise position, we’d offer this suggestion — limit the regional rounds to traditional arenas only, allowing the NBA cities located up and down both coasts regular hosting opportunities; but keep the Final Fours in the dome environments, allowing huge fanbases as well as the general public a reasonable chance to experience one of the great spectacles in all of sports.
As we inch closer to the 2012-13 season, UNLV basketball continues to receive positive attention. The Runnin’ Rebels are loaded with talent and expectations are sky high in the desert. With good attention and expectations comes demands, and the Nevada Board of Regents made an effort to keep head coach Dave Rice happy by approving a raise to a base salary of $600,000 and an extension through the 2016-17 season. Rice’s first season featured the emergence of star forward Mike Moser and a 26-9 overall record although it ended prematurely in the Rebs’ first game of the NCAA Tournament. Next year’s team will add star recruit Anthony Bennett and transfer Khem Birch to bolster the front line along with Moser, making UNLV a chic preseason pick to make a run at the 2013 Final Four.
The 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame class was inducted on Friday night, and as always, college basketball was well-represented. The biggest name from our game was Virginia’s three-time NPOY Ralph Sampson — for those of you under 40, read that part in italics again — a player who was so utterly dominant during one of the most talented eras the sport has ever seen that his NBA career (only four All-Star appearances) pales in comparison. Other college stars of note were UCLA’s Jamaal Wilkes (two-time first-team All-American), UCLA’s Don Barksdale (second-team All-American), Reggie Miller (two-time first-team Pac-10), Iowa’s Don Nelson (two-time All-American, although he was selected for his coaching), Bradley’s Chet Walker (two-time All-American), New Mexico’s Mel Daniels (second-team All-American) and referee Hank Nichols. An interesting non-basketball-playing inductee was Nike CEO Phil Knight, whose impact on the sport through his sneakers and corollary marketing efforts have been incalculable.
Last night featured the annual ESPYs in prime time, and although the host of the event, Rob Riggle, struggled through numerous cricket-chirping moments, we still managed to sit through it. College hoops had a number of good candidates as potential winners (as we handicapped last week), but the crowdsourcing style of the event ensured that few were were validated. The Unibrow was up for several awards, including Best Breakthrough Athlete (which went to Jeremy Lin), Best Male College Athlete (Robert Griffin III, which is reasonable even if we disagree), and Best Team (even Big Blue Nation couldn’t overcome the Miami Heat). Perhaps the two awards that bothered us most were Coach K’s snub in Best Record-Breaking Performance (sorry, but a single-season NFL passing record doesn’t trump 900+ wins over a career) and Best Upset (how do the LA Kings outdo Norfolk State, a MEAC team, downing a team in the conversation for a #1 seed? Ridiculous.). The one silver lining for our game was that Christian Watford’s game-winning three to lift Indiana over #1 Kentucky back in December was chosen as Best Play of the Year. Oh well — that’s the nature of the event — fan voting. The women’s game, as an aside, cleaned up with Tennessee head coach Pat Summitt winning the Arthur Ashe Courage Award (well deserved) and Baylor’s Brittney Griner winning both Best Female Athlete and Best Female College Athlete of the Year.
We know that Mike Krzyzewski may not have had a good enough year to win Best Record-Breaking Performance, but he’s more than good enough to lead Team USA into the 2012 Olympics in a matter of a few weeks from now. Interestingly enough, Team USA will scrimmage John Calipari’s Dominican Republic team tonight, but the real test for him and his charges is to come together as a team in the next few weeks so as to bring home another gold medal for USA Basketball. Dan Wolken writes that Coach K has had to take a different tack than he has at Duke in coaching the elite group of players he has on this team, and that, frankly, he’s a much more likable person in this setting than he is in Durham. It makes sense when you listen to Krzyzewski in any interview talk about his “kids” — his Blue Devils — but he also knows that the likes of LeBron James, Kevin Durant, Chris Paul and the rest are grown men who don’t need to be publicly protected or coddled. He’s not been so successful over these many years by not having a keen sense of that very thing — this is yet another example.
It’s been a week of coaching extensions, and Wednesday kept the rally going with the news that Quinnipiac’s Tom Moore recently received a one-year extension to his deal that will keep him under contract until 2016-17. In five seasons in Hamden, his teams have performed admirably well, going 93-65 with three invitations to postseason tournaments. At a NEC school, any postseason appearance is a cause for celebration, so even thought there haven’t been any NCAA bids in that period, a series of NIT/CIT/CBI isn’t too bad. Of course, if or when Jim Calhoun over in Storrs ever retires, the former Connecticut assistant Moore would already have his vehicle GPS set with the directions.
The nation’s top recruit in the Class of 2013 has narrowed his list down to only 10 schools. Jabari Parker used Twitter (what else?) to announce his revised list on Wednesday night, and here are the lucky suitors (he says they’re in no particular order): UK, Stanford, Michigan State, Kansas, Florida, Duke, BYU, Georgetown, DePaul, UNC. The Chicago native certainly has an interesting mix at play here, and perhaps most notably Illinois is no longer on his list. Aside from four of the top six programs of all-time (sorry, Indiana and UCLA), Michigan State, Florida and Georgetown are unsurprising choices. Stanford is clearly the academic choice, BYU is the religious one, and DePaul is throwing a bone to the homeys. If he really is the best high school prospect since LeBron (or Greg Oden), the school that gets him will have a tremendous shot at the Final Four during his only season on campus.
Finally, ESPN announced its 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon lineup on Wednesday, and although the Champions Classic games involving Michigan State-Kansas and Duke-Kentucky are the monsters, there are as always a number of other interesting matchups. WVU visiting Spokane to tip things off, followed by a Davidson trip to The Pit will be fun, but Harvard going to Amherst to take on UMass and a battle of blue-blooded mid-majors in Cincinnati are also well worth skipping out on work. Maybe there’s more coming in the next few months, but in past years there were multiple games broadcast in the evening hour slot, so hopefully ESPN will fill in the blanks a little more just in case one of those Champions Classic games isn’t worth the time.