March is finally here. For those of you who have been slacking now is a very good time to cram in as much basketball before Selection Sunday. If the next two weeks seem overwhelming, we have an easy-to-use spreadsheet that lays everything out for you. Even if your team is in a conference that is not playing their conference tournament this week, it is worth keeping an eye on the games particularly later in the week because some of those could make a big difference in the bubble if a team that was expected to get an automatic bid is knocked off and then becomes a bubble team.
The big news from this weekend came from Kansas where Cliff Alexander is being held out of games while the school and the NCAA work through questions regarding Alexander’s eligibility. While Alexander’s performance this year has been underwhelming–particularly in comparison to what some other similarly highly-touted freshman have done in recent years–his absence would be a big loss for Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament and beyond. Simply put, legitimate 7-footers big men with athleticism are extremely rare and despite Alexander’s current limitations he does have the ability to carry his team for brief stretches. Much like Rick Pitino last week, we are hesitant to question Bill Self, but the loss of Alexander would limit Kansas’ ceiling albeit to a much-lesser extent than what Chris Jones’ absence will do for Louisville.
At this point North Carolina should just send the NCAA a drawing of a giant middle finger. The latest news from Dan Kane, who might be the least popular person in Chapel Hill, is that a senior associate athletic director helped a football player gain admission to a graduate school despite having a low GPA, no entrance exam score, and being several months past the application deadline. To make matters worse, the issue was brought up to the school’s provost, but instead of denying the admission he simply referred the official to the dean of the graduate school who admitted him in time after which he played in all but one of the team’s games, but regularly skipped classes while receiving Fs. While this appears to be the most egregious abuse of UNC’s graduate schools and the NCAA’s graduate school transfer waiver exception in this part of UNC’s ever-growing academic scandal, it was not the only case as it appears to have happened almost yearly with Justin Knox being another example, who may have been able to get into the graduate school anyways, but was past the application deadline and got in anyways. This probably won’t affect the NCAA’s decision given how many other things went on at the school, but it just makes the school look even worse and might be an issue that an accrediting body takes seriously.
On Saturday, Billy Donovanwon his 500th game with a win at home against Tennessee making him the second youngest to reach the figure (only Bobby Knight did it faster), but this might end up being his most disappointing season during his time in Gainesville. Coming into the season Florida was expected to be a top-10 team and potential Final Four threat. Now they will need to win the SEC Tournament to even make it to the NCAA Tournament and unfortunately for the Gators we suspect that a team from Lexington will be showing up for the SEC Tournament making that possibility seem like nothing more than a dream. The Gators did get one other piece of good news on Saturday with the return of Dorian Finney-Smith from a three-game suspension. Finney-Smith, who came into the game as the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.9 per game and leading rebounder at 5.8 per game, had 20 points and 10 rebounds and makes the Gators a threat to make a SEC Tournament run given all their talent, but in the end it probably will not matter.
Dwayne Polee II‘s comeback suffered a setback when the senior forward was noted to have “abnormal” readings on his implanted cardiac monitor necessitating an adjustment in one of his cardiac medications. Polee, who collapsed during a game on December 22, returned to action last weekend, but with this setback we are not sure how much longer he will be out. It isn’t our place to tell Polee to play or not (that decision is up to Polee, his doctors, and his family), but whenever we hear about cases like this we always think of Hank Gathers, who died on March 4, 1990 (Wednesday will be the 25th anniversary). Dick Jerardi wrote an excellent piece on Gathers and his legacy for Philly.com, which only serves to reinforce our concern in situations like this.
We are hesitant to write off a Rick Pitino-coached team, but the announcement by Louisville yesterday that Chris Jones had been dismissed from the team should take away any (slim) hope they had of making a title run. The timing of the announcement–a day after Jones returned from an indefinite suspension that lasted one game to lead the team in a comeback win over Miami with 17 points, five rebounds, two steals and two assists–raises a lot of questions about what happened in less than 24 hours that could have led to his dismissal. For the Cardinals, a team already lacking scoring depth the dismissal of Jones (13.7 points, 4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game) is a crippling blow that probably limits their potential to a second weekend team although if they make it to Indianapolis it would not be the first time that Rick Pitino has surprised us.
It was an interesting weekend for coaching outbursts. The more notable event happened at North Carolina where Roy Williamscriticized fans on Saturday for their lack of understanding of his decision to run Four Corners as a tribute to Dean Smith and their overall apathetic nature. On some level, we can agree with Williams as UNC crowd’s are notoriously quiet (“Wine and Cheese”), but it is always dangerous to criticize the paying customers. Tim Miles took a slightly different approach as he banned the Nebraska players from entering the locker room or lounge and prevented them from speaking to the media after their 28-point loss at home to Iowa on Sunday. With the way that the team has performed this year (going from a NCAA Tournament team to one that won’t even get into any of the postseason tournaments) we can understand his frustration, but antagonizing your entire team probably isn’t the best approach.
After having to sit out 61 days following an incident where he collapsed on the court, Dwayne Polee IIreturned to the court for San Diego State on Saturday night. Although Polee only scored 3 points in 13 minutes his return after being worked up extensively and diagnosed with an arrhythmia was a special moment for Polee and the crowd. Polee, the 2013-14 Mountain West Conference Sixth Man of the Year, was averaging 8.4 points per game so if he can return to close to full strength he could be a huge addition for the Aztecs in March. Although we will always probably nervous about hearing players in this situation return to the court it seems like the physicians in San Diego did a pretty thorough work-up of Polee.
There were a couple of other notable announcements involving players over the weekend outside of Chris Jones. Aaron Cosby, who is still indefinitely suspended, announced that he will be transferring after the season and utilizing the graduate transfer waiver. Cosby, who played two years at Seton Hall before transferring to Illinois, was averaging 7.8 points per game, but doing it on absolutely atrocious shooting (29.3% from the field). Although graduate transfers are usually coveted since they can play right away and have experience we are not sure how interested programs will be in a highly inefficient player who is transferring while suspended. At Tennessee, freshman forward Jabari McGhee will redshirt this season as he continues to rehab from surgery on his right foot. McGhee, who was averaging 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds, injured the foot on December 17 and underwent surgery two days later. Instead of risking further injury, McGhee is planning on taking a medical redshirt and given the Volunteers recent tailspin it would make sense not to bring him back this year anyways.
Perhaps Syracuse can try to get NCAA investigators off their case by pretending this entire season didn’t happen including Saturday’s fiasco where they retired Roosevelt Bouie‘s jersey, but presented him with a plaque that included a jersey with his name misspelled as it read “Bowie” instead of Bouie. The school did manage to spell his name right on the jersey hanging from the rafters, but it is still another embarrassing incident for the school although one that is not as likely to carry repercussions as significant as what the NCAA might hand down for their other errors. In the end, this will probably just result in Bouie getting a replacement jersey and plenty of individuals (mostly from Georgetown) having a good laugh.
After a few bumps to begin the season, it appears that the Larry Brown experiment at Southern Methodist appears to be getting back on track. The latest addition to the Mustangs is Duke transfer Semi Ojeleye who committed to SMU over the weekend. Although Ojeleye only put up modest numbers–3 points and 2.3 rebounds per game–in limited playing time this season, he was a highly touted prospect coming out of high school and might flourish in an environment where he is not sitting behind multiple McDonald’s All-Americans. The 6’8″ sophomore will be eligible to play in December 2015 since he will have to sit out a year. When he does return, he could be part of a dynamic frontline that will probably have Markus Kennedy, Jordan Tolbert, and Ben Moore back next season.
If you were expecting to see Dwayne Polee II back in a San Diego State uniform any time soon, you might want to reconsider that after Steve Fisher revealed that Polee had a similar event last season during a practice. Given this new information, we certainly understand why the school is not offering a time table for Polee’s return as he will now have to go a much more extensive medical work-up. Polee, a senior forward who is averaging 8.4 points per game, will likely be out for quite a bit more time and given the data in recent years about sudden cardiac death in Division 1 men’s basketball players we cannot fault them for being extremely cautious.
It has been a rough few weeks for UCLA basketball. After the embarrassment of going down 24-0 and only scoring seven points in the first half against Kentucky, they lost to Alabama yesterday after only scoring 17 points in the first half and that is better than it seems because they only had scored five points with 5:15 left in the first half. Things will not be getting any easier for the Bruins who lost Wanaah Bail for the season after he was declared academically ineligible. On the surface, Bail’s paltry output of 1.5 points and 2.6 rebounds in 9 minutes per game might not seem like much (and it isn’t), but on a team with as little depth as UCLA has it only exacerbates that weakness even more.
We tend to stay away from the AAU scene for a variety of reasons, but have heard plenty of horror stories involving the people who bankroll some teams. So when we heard about a a banker in Houston who financed a prominent AAU team, we we intrigued. Unlike the typical AAU stories we read, the key piece in this story–Steve Trauber–does not appear to have any intention of using the players for his own financial gain (and it appears that he is already doing quite well financially anyways). In fact, one of the players on the team last year was Trauber’s son, J.T., who is currently a walk-on Rice. We doubt that we will see many similar stories of rich individuals backing youth basketball teams, but it is nice to see it happen.
For years we have heard arguments about which city produces the best basketball talent. We usually hear cities like New York, Chicago, Houston, and Atlanta thrown around, but it might be time that we expand our horizons. As Scott Cacciola of The New York Times notes Toronto is quickly becoming a basketball hotbed. Although they do not have the tradition of major cities in the US, the talent produced by Toronto (at least the very top tier) in recent years rivals that of any major US city. While we are not quite ready to get on board with the idea that Canada will be a legitimate threat to the US in the 2016 or 2020 Olympics, the spread of basketball outside of the US and its impact on the game and college basketball recruiting is certainly something to keep an eye on.
San Diego State senior forward Dwayne Polee II, averaging 8.4 points per game, was discharged from San Diego hospital less than 24 hours after collapsing on the court during a game against UC Riverside. Polee was cleared to resume normal activities, but has not been cleared to play basketball yet. Polee presumably underwent the typical tests that a person who has a syncopal event undergoes (EKG, telemetry, etc) and might even have to wear an event monitor, but we are not sure how much more testing the medical staff at San Diego State will require before allowing him to play basketball again. Given the number of tragedies we have seen in college basketball in recent years, we cannot fault them for being conservative.
The past few months have been rough for Michigan both on the football field and basketball court, but they did have at least one positive thing happen on Monday night when Austin Hatchscored his first point as a college basketball player. Hatch, who survived two plane crashes that killed his entire immediate family, had scored a point in an exhibition game earlier this year, but this was his first official point. Hatch’s free throw elicited a standing ovation and capped off a much-needed 72-56 win for a struggling Michigan team against Coppin State. Hopefully this is the first of many points and appearances for Hatch.
Wake Forest picked up a minor victory as Mitchell Wilbekin had his suspension reduced to three games by the NCAA. Wilbekin’s suspension had been six games, but the decrease means that he will be able to play against Duke and Louisville, which frankly probably won’t affect the outcome of either game. Although the school had previously said they disagreed with both the infraction and the length of the previous suspension they did say that they were pleased that the NCAA was “willing to listen to our reasons for supporting a lesser penalty”. With the reduced suspension, Wilbekin will just have to miss one more game (Richmond) before returning on December 31 against Princeton.
The case involving Oklahoma strength and conditioning coach Jozsef Szendrei probably won’t get much attention in the post-Nevin Shapiro/Penn State world, but the alleged violations seem pretty blatant. According to a report, Szendrei was caught distributing cash provided by a booster to the players while they were at the Battle 4 Atlantis. Szendrei was apparently caught before he could distribute the cash ($100 per player) to every player and the school compliance officer “got everything back” so it appears that neither the school nor the media consider it to be a serious issue. However, in much the same way that Shapiro paying for a player’s meal (or other minor expenses) could be construed as a failure at an administrative level so should this type of issue where a booster was able to do something like this. Szendrei claims this was a one-time thing and it appears that the school is sticking with the story that everything was fixed, but for a school with Oklahoma’s recent history of NCAA violations (under both Kelvin Sampson and Jeff Capel) you have to wonder if they might need to be a little more strict with who they let near their players.
With the huge Kentucky-Louisville game looming on Saturday, Dana O’Neill took a look at strength of some of the biggest rivalries in college basketball. While we share her concern about losing some of the sport’s best rivalries we often think that too many people overlook the new rivalries that have been created with conference realignment. It seems like after all the complaining about significant rivalries being lost to conference realignment many of those games have managed to be rescheduled even if only temporarily for now.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West Conference.
For weeks and weeks the constant talk around the conference was of confusion; who is the best team, where is the separation? Now, all of a sudden we look up with still a full two weeks remaining in conference play and, barring a collapse, New Mexico is going to take home at least a piece of the conference title (and a #1 seed in the conference tournament) and is a strong favorite to earn the regular season title outright. Along the way, Steve Alford has probably sealed up the MW Coach of the Year award, while teams like Colorado State, UNLV and San Diego State look locked into NCAA Tournament bids. In other words, what was once a confusing mess (and I mean that word in a good way) of a conference is now pretty much crystal clear. Yeah, we still have to settle who exactly gets what seeds, both in Las Vegas and in the NCAA Tournament bracket, but New Mexico has clearly separated itself from the pack.
Team of the Week
New Mexico – While it is not yet sealed, the Lobos went a long way towards earning themselves a Mountain West regular season title this week when they went into Fort Collins, interrupted Colorado State’s 27-game home winning streak and came away with an impressive road win. We’ve spent a lot of time this year talking about what the Lobos can’t do and where their weaknesses may lie, but this far along this much is apparent: These Lobos are tough and they know how to win ballgames.
Kendall Williams’ Career Day Carried New Mexico To A Big Road Win
Player of the Week
Kendall Williams, Junior, New Mexico – For the second consecutive week, there is no serious debate about the winner here as Williams went for 46 points, knocking down 10 increasingly improbable three-pointers while doing a little bit of everything for the Lobos in one of the greatest individual performances anywhere in the nation this season. For a guy who hadn’t scored more than 20 since December 22, it was also one of the most unlikely performances, but it is a glimpse into the type of ceiling this ridiculously talented junior has.
Newcomer of the Week
Colton Iverson, Senior, Colorado State – While the Rams came up on the short end of the stick in both of their games this week, it wasn’t due to lack of production from their senior transfer. Iverson was his typical efficient self, averaging 20 points, 12.5 boards and 34.5 minutes per game of action this week.
Despite Colton Iverson’s Big Week, His Rams Went 0-2 (Craig F. Walker/The Denver Post)
Game of the Week
UNLV 61, Colorado State 59 – Both Colorado State games this week were wildly entertaining. But while the outcome of the New Mexico game was hardly in doubt in the final minute, this battle in Vegas went down to the wire. After getting outscored by 11 in the first half, the Rams came out of the halftime locker room on fire, scoring 19 of the first 27 points in the second half to get back to even with still more than 13 minutes to play. When Dorian Green knocked down a pair of free throws with just under two minutes in the game, the Rams were up two and looked to be in good position to earn a big road win. But the Rams would never score again, while allowing a Bryce Dejean-Jones offensive rebound and putback to tie the game. And then an Anthony Marshall jumper with a waning shot and game clock sealed the deal and sent the home crowd home happy.