Before the season started, Wisconsin was given the benefit of the doubt despite all of its personnel loses from the team a year ago. Things have not started out great for the Badgers, however, and they may have hit a new low on Sunday when they lost at Oklahoma by 17 after shooting a pedestrian 23.5 percent from the floor for the game. This has brought on some speculation as to whether Bo Ryan can get this year’s team rolling despite early struggles. If not, his string of top four finishes in Big Ten play, and a bid in the NCAA Tournament might be in jeopardy.
Denzel Valentine has gotten the majority of the Michigan State publicity as the Spartans have rolled to a 7-0 start. But it can’t be ignored that Tom Izzo has one of the deepest rosters in the country. In their win in the Wooden Legacy Championship game Sunday night over Providence, the bench made a number of contributions to the win. Eron Harris was especially important, as the junior transfer from West Virginia made a number of key plays down the stretch. The potential for this team to get even better can be seen by the fact that Harris hasn’t been consistently good on offense yet. If he can get into a groove, this team could do some serious damage later on in the season.
Having four seniors in your lineup makes the combination of playing a game at 9:00 AM local time and putting back-to-back losses in the rearview mirror a bit easier. Just ask Iowa, as the Hawkeyes shook off a disappointing start to the Advocare Invitational by beating Wichita State. The win was Fran McCaffery’s 100th career victory at the school. Iowa has more work to do in non-conference play, especially with a win over a depleted Wichita State team not looking particularly strong right now. Credit McCaffery and the senior leaders for being ready to play and gaining something from the event.
Indiana is off to a staggering start this year in the turnover department. With some blown opportunities to pick up key non-conference wins in Maui, the Hoosiers need a quality win against Duke desperately. Tom Crean saw a silver lining in diagnosing what went wrong in islands, in that the problems with the offensive miscues came from “trying to make plays that weren’t there for others.” It did seem like the Hoosiers were trying too hard to play fast in their 1-2 trip to Hawaii. They were almost trying to make too many passes at times. This is an elite offense when they don’t turn the ball over, so it will be interesting to see what they can do on Wednesday night against the Blue Devils.
Michigan State celebrated jumping to No. 3 in the newest AP poll by thrashing Eastern Michigan on Monday night. The common motifs of offensive balance and sharing the ball were once again on display, as the Spartans put five players in double figures and assisted on 26 of their 31 made field goals. One of the five was transfer Eron Harris, who had been struggling so far this season. The junior made both of his three-point attempts, and his improved offensive play should bode well as Sparty heads to Anaheim this week to play in the Wooden Legacy.
You may have thought that things couldn’t get much worse for Illinois this season. After a 1-3 start that included losses at home to North Florida and Chattanooga, the Illini needed a Jalen Coleman-Landsbuzzer-beater to beat lowly Chicago State on Monday night. Illinois was down by a score of 58-45 at one point, and needed two costly turnovers from Chicago State in the last minute to get the win. With much of the Illinois athletic department in a state of flux after scandals in the football and women’s basketball programs, the men’s team getting off to such a slow start hasn’t done anything to help in Champaign.
The other B1G school from the Land of Lincoln has gotten off to a better start than its counterpart, but Northwestern lost its first game of the season on Monday night in the CBE Classic in Kansas City. At one point the Wildcats led formerly top-rated North Carolina by two points in the second half before ultimately losing, 80-69. Northwestern shot the ball well but it ended up losing the battle inside the paint. This game was probably the best non-conference chance for Chris Collins’ unit to dial up a resume-enhancer, so if the Wildcats want to break their infamous NCAA Tournament drought, they will have quite a bit of work to do during conference play.
The Big Ten at large hasn’t gotten off to the best of starts this season as league teams have lost too many games to teams that have no business beating them. Indiana was one of the exceptions to that trend in getting off to a nice 3-0 start, but that ended on Monday in the Maui Invitational when the Hoosiers lost to Wake Forest in the first round. Some familiar concerns were raised in the loss, as Indiana allowed Wake to score a whopping 52 points in the paint. Turnovers and a lack of execution late in the game were also key issues in the loss, raising some of the same questions in Bloomington that have been around for a couple of years now.
Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on November 17th, 2015
Tonight the fifth annual Champions Classic will tip off at the United Center in Chicago where Michigan State will face Kansas in the late game. The Spartans and Jayhawks — both ranked in the top 15 — bring the usual lofty season expectations each program is accustomed to. Bill Self and Tom Izzo have built the type of rosters that seem to be the recipe for success in today’s college game: a healthy mix of experienced upperclassmen along with some talented freshmen. In order to prepare you for tonight’s game and get you familiar with some of the new faces, here are four things you need to know before you tune in to watch.
Deyonta Davis faces his first major challenge in the paint against Kansas. (Rey De Rio/Getty Images)
Deyonta Down Low. Michigan State lost a lot of its muscle in the post when Branden Dawson graduated but Izzo seems to have found a more-than-suitable replacement in four-star freshman Deyonta Davis. The Muskegon, Michigan, native didn’t let his youth and inexperience make him reticent in his inaugural outing on Friday, as evidenced by his stat line of 13 points on 14 shots (team-high), 11 rebounds, and five blocks against Florida Atlantic. But his head coachmight have to calm his budding star down a bit tonight because Davis won’t be able to physically bully the Jayhawks in the paint like he did against the Owls. Read the rest of this entry »
Kansas hasn’t had much luck in the Champions Classic. Since the event began in 2011, the Jayhawks have won just once in four tries — a 94-83 victory against Duke at the United Center in 2013. This year, Bill Self‘s squad returns to Chicago looking for redemption after last season’s embarrassing 72-40 defeat to Kentucky. Kansas isn’t looking to fall so hard again. “We have no plans of having anything like that happen again,” junior Landen Lucas recently said. “That was not something that is OK with us. For the people that were here last year, that is not acceptable, no matter how early in the season it is.”
The last time Kansas won in the Champions Classic, Andrew Wiggins and Jabari Parker were on the floor. (Getty Images)
To avoid another loss, the Jayhawks will look to take advantage of a depleted Michigan State frontcourt. For the second straight game, the Spartans will be without 6’9″ forward Gavin Schilling, who will miss the contest with turf toe. Schilling is one of only three players that size on Tom Izzo‘s roster so Kansas should have plenty of opportunities to challenge the Spartans inside with senior forward Perry Ellis. Although Ellis made only 47 percent of his two-point field goals last season, his ability to draw fouls (5.1 per 40 minutes a year ago) makes him a dangerous matchup against an already thin frontline. Kansas, meanwhile, has one of the deepest groups of big men in the country. Ellis is flanked by a talented corps of bigs that includes Carlton Bragg, Jamari Traylor, Landen Lucas and Hunter Mickelson. The burden will be on Michigan State’s Matt Costello and Deyonta Davis to defend the Jayhawks’ plethora of post options without fouling them. Limited minutes for either could expose that thin Spartans’ front line. Read the rest of this entry »
It was supposed to happen with the group led by Adreian Payne, Gary Harris, and Keith Appling two seasons ago — that was the team that was supposed to end Tom Izzo‘s four-year Final Four ‘drought.’ Instead, that Michigan State squad lost to Connecticut in the Elite Eight and it was his follow-up group — led by leftovers like Denzel Valentine and Travis Trice — that recovered from a shocking early home loss to Texas Southern to play in the season’s final weekend. Most of that team returns this season, and some high-impact newcomers are also on board. Shouldn’t Izzo’s Spartans be ranked higher to start the season? Isn’t another March run a distinct possibility?
Denzel Valentine will look to lead Michigan State to bigger and better things in his senior season (Getty).
Sparty begins the season ranked #13 in both major polls. It returns eight of its top 10 scorers from last season and adds West Virginia transfer Eron Harris (17.2 PPG in 2013-14) to the mix. The freshman class includes McDonald’s All-American Devonta Davis along with a couple more knockdown shooters in Kyle Ahrens and Matt McQuaid. Perimeter shooting definitely appears to be a major positive for this team. Multiple shooters could hit close to 40 percent from deep, as Valentine, Bryn Forbes and Harris have all reached that benchmark in recent seasons. Sharing the ball is another positive aspect of what should be an elite offense. Michigan State logged the seventh best team assist rate in the nation last year, assisting on 63.7 percent of its field goals. Valentine in particular has shown an ability to find the open man as a point forward, ranking eighth in the Big Ten in assist rate (26.9 percent) last year and cutting down his turnover rate by two percent despite much higher usage. Lourawls “Tum Tum” Nairn also notched an assist rate above 20 percent, and that number should increase if he gets added minutes with the departure of Trice. This could be an elite Spartans’ offense once the season gets rolling. Read the rest of this entry »
It has been quite a while since we did our regular Morning 5s for a variety of reason (work, life, etc), but we’re back now and will be doing these more regularly. We won’t be posting these daily until the start of the season at earliest, but we will probably be posting once or twice weekly depending on how much news is out there. We won’t be going over all the news that happened since the last time we did one of these because that would be a 10,000-word post and that is only if we kept it brief.
Lost in the hysteria around the Women’s World Cup title was the fact that the US also won another significant world title on Sunday: the FIBA Under-19 championship. While their win over Croatia wasn’t the prettiest thing you will ever see, it was nice to see some of our top prospects play together against high-level competition. There are a ton of places we could point you recap the action and highlight the guys you should be keeping an eye on, but we will just direct you to a pair of excellent columns from Luke Winn and Jon Givony. Winn’s column is a sweeping overview of Team USA with particular attention to Jalen Brunson (going to Villanova) and Harry Giles (a rising high school senior who is the projected #1 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft). Givony is still putting together his review posts, but his look at the top five point guards is informative and helps you look outside of Team USA, which is important because many of these international players will end up playing college basketball. We expect that Givony will review the other positions in the coming days so watch out for those.
Having a top-tier player decide to transfer is not shocking in the current era, but when that player announces his intent on July 7–like Austin Nichols did yesterday–it certainly catches your attention. The rising junior forward, who averaged 13.3 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last year, informed Josh Pastner of his decision last week, but did not publicly reveal his decision until yesterday afternoon when he announced his intendt to transfer from Memphis. Pastner, who says he was caught off-guard by the decision, has stated he will not release Nichols for his transfer. While most people will be quick to criticize Pastner and his staff for not granting Nichols a release, the timing of this announcement is at just about the worst possible time for Memphis since every high-level recruit and transfer for the upcoming season has already committed to play elsewhere. In the end, we suspect that Nichols will get his release, but that may depend on what we find out about why Nichols decided to transfer in early July. As for Pastner, Nichols will be the seventh player to transfer from the program since last year. Given how underwhelming the program has been during his time there, we are not sure how much longer he will last in Memphis.
Coming into this season, Eron Harris was expected to play a big part in Michigan State‘s attempt to make another run to the Final Four, but that may be in jeopardy as the junior transfer was arrested early on July 1 for driving while intoxicated leading Tom Izzo to suspend him indefinitely. Harris, who averaged 17.2 points per game as a sophomore at West Virginia in the 2013-14 season, sat out last season as one of the few transfers in the country who did not qualify for a transfer waiver. Harris will be arraigned on July 17 and faxes a maximum of 93 days in jail and a $500 fine. Given what we have seen in these case we doubt that Harris will spend any time in jail. At most he might get a suspended sentence or do some community service and then it will be up to Izzo to decide how much time Harris will have to miss.
We will admit that we don’t pay that much attention to high school prospects until they are seniors and even then it is mostly around the time that high school All-American teams are announced that we start to recognize names. So when we saw posts on Twitter about how Florida State had landed a 5-star recruit, we initially assumed it was for football because even with their surprising incoming freshmen class the Seminoles have never been considered a threat for top basketball recruits. That was not the case with 6’9″ forward Jonathan Isaac, who climbed up the rankings rapidly in 2015, as the rising senior announced that he was committing to FSU. The decision took some by surprise particularly since Isaac had previously stated he was considering 12 schools including Kentucky and LSU (we know it seems weird to mention them, but with their incoming class they deserve it). In the end, it appears that FSU’s early pursuit of Issac–they had been recruiting him for two years even when he was less highly touted–paid off. Of course, there is still quite a bit of time before Isaac would start playing in Tallahassee so we wouldn’t write this one in pen just yet.
The NCAA released its annual attendance report earlier this week and while the figures aren’t exactly shocking they are worth looking at for some interesting trends. You can read plenty of articles or tweets about how you can play with the numbers in the NCAA report, but attendance was basically steady (up or down a little bit depending on how you calculate it). Syracuse repeated as the leaders in home attendance narrowly edging Kentucky for the second year in a row in that category after Kentucky had finished first 17 of the previous 18 years. While that is particularly impressive for Syracuse with a mediocre team that self-imposed a NCAA Tournament ban, it is worth noting that the Carrier Dome has the capacity for more than 10,000 more fans than Rupp Arena can seat and if they built 10,000 more seats in Rupp they would have been filled for Kentucky this past season. Although Kentucky was not able to overcome its seating disadvantage in that category, Big Blue Nation came through giving the Wildcats a decisive edge in overall attendance (home and away). It is worth noting that Duke would have been much closer to Kentucky in that category (Wisconsin came in second) if they did not have their own home seating disadvantage with almost 13,000 fewer seats for home games. Duke will just have to comfort itself with taking home the national title.
One of the major criticisms of conference realignment was that it would effectively kill many of the major rivalries that help drive college basketball. One of the best to supposedly disappear was the Syracuse–Georgetown rivalry. It turns out that did not last too long as the two schools reached an agreement to resume the rivalry in the 2015-16 season. The two sides agreed to a home-and-home deal with the first game at Georgetown and the two teams playing at Syracuse the following season. We hope this starts a trend where schools revive rivalries that ended with conference realignment.
The Bruce Pearl experiment is already reaping benefits for Auburn even if Pearl is still technically under his show-cause penalty. Pearl already picked up Kareem Canty in the most confusing transfer this season and earlier this week he got a commitment from Niagara transfer Antoine Mason. Mason, the son of former NBA star Anthony Mason, averaged 25.6 points per game as a junior, which was second in the nation to only Doug McDermott. Mason might only have one year of eligibility left, but he is a huge pick-up for the Tigers as he will be able to play immediately thanks to a graduate student waiver.
Michigan State lost some big pieces this offseason with the departures of Keith Appling, Adreian Payne, and Gary Harris, but they picked up a big transfer in Eron Harris. The West Virginia transfer averaged 17.2 points per game as a sophomore and will sit out this season, but has two more years of eligibility remaining. Harris reportedly chose Michigan State over Michigan and Purdue. Although the Spartans will take a step back next year with all of their departures we would not expect them to stay down for long with Tom Izzo and with Harris coming in a year they should have a major talent infusion.
You might not have heard of Igor Ibaka before, but you can probably guess from his last name that he is the younger brother of Oklahoma City star Serge (ok, maybe the younger brother part might be kind of hard to figure out. Ibaka, who has played at Northeastern Oklahoma A&M, has committed to play at Oklahoma State after averaging 13.7 points and 9.6 rebounds as a freshman at the junior college. He might seem like a very promising prospect given his pedigree, but we would caution you that he will be 22 in July, which is why he cannot play for a junior college team. According to reports, Ibaka plans on spending the next year finishing up his associates degree then transferring to Oklahoma State in time to play the 2015-16 season.
Jim Larranaga probably will never coach a Miami team as good as the one that the 2012-13 team, but he is putting together a pretty solid group of recruits. His latest addition is Oklahoma State transfer Kamari Murphy who will be transferring to Miami with two years of eligibility remaining. Murphy averaged 6.1 points, 6.3 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game last year as a sophomore. Murphy will be one of the rare breed of transfers these days in that he will sit out the upcoming season and be eligible to play in the 2015-16 season. We are not sure what how Larranaga has done it, but he appears to have some kind of Big 12 transfer pipeline as Murphy will be joining Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez and Texas transfer Sheldon McClellan on the Hurricane roster.
We knew that the moment Eron Harris received his release from West Virginia he would be a hot commodity so it should be no surprise that most of the significant programs have already contacted him the same day that he received his release. According to reports, Butler, Indiana, Purdue, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan, Michigan State, New Mexico, Notre Dame, Ohio State, and UCLA contacted him within two hours of Harris receiving his release. Harris, who averaged 17.2 points while shooting 42 percent from three-point range as a sophomore, is from Indiana and according to his father being closer to home could be a major driving factor in his selection, but compatibility with a coach would be a bigger factor.
Jamal Jones might not be the same caliber of player as Harris, but his departure from Texas A&M is a big blow for their program. Jones led the Aggies in scoring last season with 13.4 points per game while adding 3.9 rebounds per game. He has not indicated which destinations he is considering, but this is not the first time that he has left a school as he played one year at Mississippi (ok, maybe the word play is overstating it since he only played 25 minutes all year) before moving on to Lee College for a year before moving to College Station. Jones’ production might make him an appealing transfer for some coaches, but we suspect that his tendency to move so frequently will make many coaches weary of pursuing him.
Nick Faust‘s announcement that he was longer committed to Oregon State after Craig Robinson should hardly be a surprise. What is surprising is that he committed to a school with such an unstable coach and that the school waited this long to fire Robinson with how much a late firing could affect recruiting. While Faust says he is “open to everyone” his most likely destinations would appear to be Richmond, Cleveland State, Siena, UCLA, George Mason, and George Washington, which were the other schools that he considered before committing to Oregon State. Out of those the only one that we would be surprised by him going to is UCLA because we can’t envision a scenario where a player of Faust’s caliber would decide to play at Oregon State instead of UCLA particularly with how poorly the Beavers played under Robinson. Faust also has not closed the door on going to Oregon State in the end depending on who Robinson’s replacement is.
They are not necessarily big-name positions, but two of the few remaining Division I coaching vacancies filled over the past two days. Coppin State took more than a month to find its new head coach before settling on Michael Grant. Although Grant is coming from Division II Stillman College he does have coaching experience at the Division I level going 26-31 in two seasons at Southern between 2003 and 2005. If going from Division II to Division I seems like a big jump that is nothing compared to what Bob Walsh is trying to do at Maine, which hired him from Division III Rhode Island College. Unlike Grant, Walsh has no coaching experience at the Division I level outside of serving as an assistant at Providence.
If you ever wondered why some assistants at top programs did not jump at any head coaching opportunity, we would direct you to the recently released information about the new contracts that Kentucky‘s assistant coaches received. One of the assistants, Kenny Payne, signed a two-year extension worth $500,000 annually. That figure puts him ahead of almost 1/4 of head coaches who led their team’s to NCAA Tournament bids last year. Coming in just behind Payne are assistants John Robic and Barry Rohrssen, who will be paid $375,000 per year. Those figures my pale in comparison to John Calipari’s annual salary of $5.5 million, but all of them should be quite comfortable and should keep them loyal to Kentucky unless a pretty big program comes after them.
Through the first 16 games conference play, Baylor amazingly played themselves out of and back into contention for a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Now it appears their at-large candidacy is all but sewn up by beating Iowa State 74-61 on Senior Night in Waco. Fittingly, Baylor seniors Brady Heslip (18 points, 5-for-8 from three) and Cory Jefferson (21 points, seven boards and two blocks) led the way and helped the Bears improve to 8-9 in the Big 12. How’s this for patterns: Baylor has made every even-numbered tournament year since 2008. Why mess with happy?
On the heels of Senior Night, the Waco Tribune dove in to the story of fifth-year senior Cory Jefferson. It might sound hard to believe but Jefferson was a freshman on the 2010 Elite Eight team with guys like LaceDarius Dunn (!!) and Tweety Carter (!!!). You can tell Jefferson is a patient guy: he was willing to redshirt his sophomore season, stay on the team despite playing ten minutes per game in 2011-12 and then decided to put the NBA on hold to complete his college career in 2013. Now with a likely tournament bid and potential NBA career nearing, Jefferson is reaping the benefits of making the decision to stay in Waco.
BREAKING: Bill Self is happy about something for once. The Kansas coach is looking forward to tonight’s Senior Night festivities when his Jayhawks take on Texas Tech in Lawrence. KU plans to honor Tarik Black, Justin Wesley and Niko Roberts and here Self is quite vivid about his feelings for these players. For whatever reason, folks have negatively chimed in about the team not properly “celebrating” the program’s tenth straight Big 12 title last week. At least on this night, something worth celebrating will be celebrated. Congrats to the Jayhawk seniors.
Quietly, Oklahoma is after some valuable real estate on the final week of the regular season. The Sooners sit in second at 10-6 in the Big 12, tied with Texas but OU owns the tiebreak over UT by virtue of their season sweep. They will host West Virginia tonight and wrap-up the schedule against winless TCU on Saturday. It’s amazing to think that the coaches picked Oklahoma to tie for fifth in the preseason poll with Kansas State but are now on the verge of finishing right behind Kansas. It would mark the first time that had happened since Blake Griffin’s sophomore season in 2009. It’s looking more and more like Lon Kruger emerging as the favorite for conference COY.
It’s now or never time for West Virginia. What WVU need to show the NCAA Selection Committee in the next ten days is that a) they can win games consistently, b) win games against quality opponents and c) win games against quality opponents away from home. They’ll get a chance to do all three starting in Norman tonight, Kansas at home Saturday and during next week’s Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City. But all of that starts with the type of effort the team gets from leading scorer Eron Harris. Harris is a statistical oddity for a team’s top scorer: the Mountaineers are a surprising 3-7 when Harris scores 20 or more and just 2-4 in Big 12 games. Simply put WVU will need all hands to squeeze in an eighth Big 12 squad into the Big Dance.
Posted by Kenny Ocker (@kennyocker) on February 28th, 2014
Who Won the Week? is a regular column that outlines and discusses three winners and losers from the previous week of hoops. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), a Spokane-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.
We’ve got more to get to here than usual, so we’ve got a special extended-yet-abbreviated edition of WWTW on tap today.
Russ Smith won Louisville’s game over Cincinnati on Saturday with a late jumper. (AP)
Your defending national champions – remember them? – are rolling at just the right time in the season. They went into Cincinnati and handed the Bearcats their first home loss of the season Saturday, 58-57, with a Russ Smith dagger – remember him? – then followed that up by blowing out woebegone Temple 88-66 on Thursday.
Sophomore Cardinals forward Montrezl Harrell thrived this past week, as he has since the dismissal of Chane Behanan, scoring 21 points in both games. Going forward, the Cardinals have games left at Memphis and SMU, followed by a home game against Connecticut. Though they’re tied with Cincinnati at the top of the American and on a seven-game winning streak, we’ll know much more about Louisville by the time the conference tournament rolls around.
(Related winners: Smith; Harrell. Related losers: Cincinnati, which squandered its chance at an outright AAC championship by losing at home; Temple, which had its first 20-loss season in school history thanks to Louisville.)
LOSER: Saint Louis
The Billikens, which had been one of America’s last four teams undefeated in conference, took one of the most befuddling losses of the whole season, falling 71-64 on Thursday to a Duquesne team that had won four Atlantic 10 games in Jim Ferry’s two seasons in Pittsburgh. What had been one of the nation’s top 10 shooting defenses gave up an effective field goal rate of 50.7 percent, including 14-0f-18 shooting and 7-of-9 three-pointers by Dukes guards Micah Mason and Jerry Jones. And against one of the nation’s 10 worst defenses vs. three-point shooting, Saint Louis only made 4-of-23 shots from beyond the arc. The Billikens have a top-five defense nationally according to KenPom.com, but their offense ranks 169th in efficiency. Then again, defense wins championships, right?