Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 20th, 2014
As the season inches closer, we’re going to be rolling out more and more of our usual preseason analyses, but one of the best ways college basketball fans can stay informed throughout the season is by following the right people and sources on Twitter. I’ll presume you’re already following all the contributors here at the Big Ten microsite: myself (@AlexPMoscoso), Deepak (@dee_b1g), Brendan (@berndon4), and Jonathan (@jcbatuello). But aside from the four of us, there are a plethora of beat writers and team-centered blogs that post well-written stories on the everyday going-ons of all the squads within the league. For your convenience, we’ve come up with a list of the Twitter must-follows for Big Ten basketball and organized them by team below. Enjoy!
If You Follow These Big Ten-Related Accounts, You’ll Be Covered Throughout the Season
If you read any preview on North Carolina this season, perimeter shooting is universally cited as the key to the success of the team. We know that, barring injury, All-America candidate Marcus Paige is set to be one of the primary three-point marksman in the nation, but beyond that, this team lacks proven perimeter shooters to support the star junior. The situation in Chapel Hill raises some interesting questions, which we will look at one at a time below.
North Carolina’s Marcus Paige Will Need Some 3-Pt Shooting Help in 2014-15. (Photo: Robert Willett/ Raleigh News & Observer)
1. How important has three-point shooting been at North Carolina under Roy Williams historically? The answer to this question is that it has not been very important. One could reasonably argue that Williams does not hold three-point shooting in very high esteem on either end of the court. Defensively, last year’s Tar Heel squad allowed opponents to attempt 34.1 percent of their field goals from beyond the arc, a mark that ranked fairly high (#222) in the NCAA. But as a matter of fact, that ranking matches the team’s average over the last five years. On the offensive end, Williams’ teams have not made three-point shooting much of a priority either. Only once in the last eight years have the Tar Heels ranked among the top 299 teams in the country in frequency of shots launched from deep. That outlier group, of course, was the 2012-13 team, when Williams by necessity switched to a perimeter-based lineup in early February with good results. That Tar Heels squad still did not finish high nationally in three-point attempts taken (#237), but it profited greatly from improved accuracy (37.2%). It’s safe to say that whenever Williams has a team with capable post scoring ability (every year except 2012-13), three-point shooting will not be a huge part of the offensive game plan. And for those who worry that opposing defenses will pack it in and force more long-range bombs from the Tar Heels, don’t count on it. Williams has stated multiple times that his philosophy is not to take “what the defense gives us,” but rather to be persistent enough to “take the shots we want to take.”
Each week, we’ll profile some of the week’s biggest upcoming games by taking a look back at some relevant history that relates to the match-ups. This is Back And Forth.
For our first entry, we will take a look at what’s right in front of us. The week of various Midnight Madness events are popping up in arenas across the country, with some naturally creating more of a buzz than others. Places like Lexington, Lawrence, East Lansing and Gainesville will pack fans and students into their respective arenas, domes and fieldhouses, lighting fireworks, putting on costumes and introducing this year’s roster with aplomb – at some point, they’ll also do some basketball stuff.
So what are some of the more memorable Midnight Madness moments for great teams in recent history? Glad you asked. Let’s review three recent champions to determine if there were any clues as to what was to come six months later:
Kentucky, Big Blue Madness – 2011-12
A few months removed from a run to John Calipari’s first Final Four as head coach of the Wildcats, a lot was expected from a semi-veteran team of Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb pairing with the next loaded recruiting class coming to town, featuring future lottery picks Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Amid all the introductions, lights and pageantry, the Wildcats staged their customary Blue vs. White scrimmage.
National Title Moment: During the scrimmage, Big Blue Nation got to see the full talents of Davis on display. The 6’11” forward was a physical freak, swatting shots and throwing down dunks, taking off from outside the paint on the baseline. The future NPOY put it all on display from day one as a Wildcat.
UConn, First Night – 2010-11
No one was expecting what they saw out of UConn in 2010-11. It all started at “First Night,” UConn’s annual nightly open practice. Around 7,000 fans showed up for the player introductions and skills challenge. That was the night Kemba Walker started it all in motion. The rest is history.
There’s no argument that Arizona is the most talented team in the conference, and there are probably at least four players with NBA futures on this squad. Freshman forward Stanley Johnson is already projected as a lottery pick in next June’s NBA Draft and could step right in as the leading scorer for a national championship contender this season. In all likelihood, if it isn’t Johnson who leads the Wildcats in scoring, it will be sophomore Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, whom DraftExpress also sees as a first round pick after the season. Beyond those two stud wings, perhaps the biggest strength that Arizona has is in its power and size up front, as junior center Kaleb Tarczewski and power forward Brandon Ashley also seem to have the NBA in their sights sooner rather than later (both are projected as second round picks). And yet, while cases could easily be made for any of those four guys as Arizona’s most important player, the pick here is a senior whose chances to earn an NBA paycheck are considerably less clear.
“Senior Point Guard;” How Sweet That Sound (Lance King, Getty Images)
The fact is that there are few phrases more magical in college basketball than “senior point guard.” It’s even better when you can modify that with other phrases, like “four-year starter” or “experienced veteran” or “rock-solid decision-maker.” On this embarrassment of riches that Sean Miller calls a basketball team, rock-solid decision-maker T.J. McConnell is in his fourth year starting at point at a major Division I college (his first two years of eligibility were spent at Duquesne). On last year’s Elite Eight squad, McConnell played the role of level-headed distributor, finding ways to get the ball to explosive talents like Nick Johnson, Aaron Gordon and some of the returnees mentioned in the first paragraph above. On an elite defensive team, McConnell didn’t always have the onus of checking the other team’s best backcourt player, but he still held his own among more naturally athletic talents.
With the start of the ACC college basketball season rapidly approaching, allow us to put on our psychoanalyst’s hat to determine what’s on the mind of each of its 15 member programs right now. Some are of the optimistic variety, while others are fearful at what they see lying ahead. All of them, though, are hoping to contribute to discussions lauding the ACC as the nation’s preeminent college basketball conference this year. Let’s jump into each program alphabetically.
Boston College:Blind optimism. The reality is that the Eagles, even with an all-ACC caliber star in Olivier Hanlan, are likely one of the three worst teams in the conference. But there’s a new coach around in Jim Christian, and thanks to the usual roster turnover, few remaining pieces to recall the 8-24 debacle of a year ago. Buying in to a new coach and system may not be a problem, but production on the court will continue to be.
Clemson:Loss. That loss is a huge one, in the departure of NBA draft pick K.J. McDaniels, who was their best player on both sides of the ball last year and led the team in four statistical categories. A 10-win improvement from the year before earned Brad Brownell a six-year contract extension, but how will this team score enough to win even if it replicates its defensive success of a year ago?
Jim Christian hopes a clean slate and overhauled roster reverses BC’s fortunes (credit: bostonherald.com)
Duke:Motivation. Not just because of a stellar recruiting class that includes their first dominant center in some time in Jahlil Okafor and the overall potential to be in the mix for a championship. There’s also the internal motivation for Quinn Cook to keep a hold on the starting point guard role in light of the arrival of stud freshman Tyus Jones, and Rasheed Sulaimon’s motivation to show that an early-season slump last year (temporarily earning him a place in Coach K’s doghouse) was an aberration. Oh, and that first round NCAA Tournament loss to Mercer could light a fire of some sort, too.
If you haven’t heard, Kansas City’s a happening place these days. Aside from that ALCS thing in town yesterday, the Big 12 also held its annual men’s basketball media day at the Sprint Center (here’s all that stuff, if it tickles your fancy). It was your run-of-the-mill media day: Reporters asked bland questions, players and coaches gave calculated answers, and no one really learned anything new. The apex of the festivities came, however, when the Big 12’s Twitter account tweeted out a group photo will all 10 of the conference’s head coaches. Here it is below:
Bask in All of its Glory (photo via @Big12Conference)
Instead of breaking down the nonstop action from media day, the following were the “thoughts” that went through each coach’s mind at the time the above photo was taken.*
Baylor’s Scott Drew: “I hate coming here when the Tournament is in an odd-numbered year. (sighs) OK, what should I do here, hands together or apart? Together? Apart? Wait, did I use all my timeouts yet? [camera takes photo] Ah heck, they’re apart.”
Iowa State’s Fred Hoiberg: “Put me in the back, will ya? That’s fine. I’ll end up dreamier than I was before.”
Kansas’ Bill Self: “Really wanted to wear Wiggins’ draft day suit again. Knew I shouldn’t have had that glass of butter with dinner.”
Kansas State’s Bruce Weber: (chuckles to himself) “I can’t believe Ford was in ‘The 6th Man.’ That’s the best movie of all-time! I bet that made a heckuva lot of money in theaters!”
Oklahoma’s Lon Kruger: “I would take another coaching job right now if it meant I didn’t have to take this photo.”
Oklahoma State’s Travis Ford: “This contract I have means that I’m pretty much bulletproof. I could pull down Drew’s pants right now and I’d STILL get that check next week. [mulls it over] Nah, I won’t do that to ‘em. He’s probably worried that he has to call a timeout here or something.”
Texas’ Rick Barnes: “I bet if I left media day, traveled the world and missed the entire year, we’d still have a better record than the football team.”
TCU’s Trent Johnson: “I don’t know why this camera guy told me to move this far up. He could have gotten a much better shot of me if I stood at half-court like I wanted.”
Texas Tech’s Tubby Smith: “I should have been more direct with people calling me Orlando instead of Tubby.”
West Virginia’s Bob Huggins: “I don’t think anyone here gets my E. Gordon Gee Halloween costume.”
The SEC’s basketball profile will continue to flounder until some of the other 12 programs other than Florida and Kentucky develop into consistent winners. The conference needs the depth of several year-in, year-out NCAA bid contenders to complement those two crown jewels. Suddenly, Auburn, which hasn’t had a winning season since 2008-09 and hasn’t been ranked in over 10 years, looks as ready as anyone to make that leap. The reason? Simple. Bruce Pearl’s return to the conference.
Bruce Pearl is back in the SEC, albeit in a different shade of orange.
The former Milwaukee and Tennessee coach has already provided a jolt in fan support and recruiting since being hired last spring. For example, in late August he signed three key recruits in four days to give Auburn one of the current best 2015 recruiting classes in the conference. It’s a virtual certainty that this excitement will eventually lead to on-court improvement, but how soon is it reasonable to expect? If his past performance is any indication, it might be sooner than you think. Below we examine how Pearl fared in each of his first years leading the Panthers and the Vols.
2001-02 Milwaukee Panthers
What happened: Pearl took over when Wisconsin hired a coach named Bo Ryan, who had gone only 30-27 in his two seasons at Milwaukee. At 16-13 overall, the Panthers won only one more game in Pearl’s first season than they had the year before, and there was no postseason. Nevertheless, Milwaukee jumped to third place in the Horizon League (11-5) after finishing fifth (7-7) in Ryan’s last year (in what was then unimaginatively called the “Midwest Collegiate Conference”). Not surprisingly, Pearl revved up the pace of action (72.7 possessions per 40 minutes) over Ryan’s more disciplined approach (65.3), but this didn’t necessarily yield better efficiency since the Panthers scored and allowed roughly the same number of points per possession and didn’t see a big uptick in free throw attempts. The biggest reason for the slight improvement in the conference standings seems to have been better play from a trio of junior guards: Clay Tucker, Ronnie Jones, and Jason Frederick. The diminutive Jones (5’9’’) made the biggest jump, upping his scoring average by seven points per game and dishing out an additional assist per contest.
Posted by Alex Moscoso (@AlexPMoscoso) on October 16th, 2014
Welcome back, Big Ten readers. Just like Wisconsin, most of our B1G microsite team is returning from last year. And speaking of the Badgers, there’s no doubt that they’re the overwhelming favorite to win the conference this season, as over 80 percent of their scoring and minutes played from their Final Four roster returns. That said, getting back to the Final Four is no easy task. Aside from the unpredictable nature of the NCAA Tournament itself, the Badgers will have to compete with several other nationally elite teams like Kentucky, Duke and Arizona. The likelihood that the Badgers return to the Final Four has sparked an internal debate between fellow B1G contributor Deepak Jayanti and myself. I think this Wisconsin team is special, and will indeed make it to Indianapolis next April — so, in my first post of the year, I state my case for that belief.
Sam Dekker and his NBA potential could lead the Badgers to another Final Four. (Mary Langenfeld-USA TODAY Sports)
Here are three reasons why the Badgers will make it two Final Fours in row.
Lots and lots of talent. This season’s Wisconsin roster may be the most talented in the Bo Ryan era. Sam Dekker, a junior wing, is a rarity in Madison as a former top 20 national recruit. He upped his production from his freshman season by chipping in 12.4 PPG and 6.1 RPG last year, but beyond his statistics, Dekker’s potential is evident when he’s working on the perimeter, where he’s big enough to shoot over his defender and athletic enough to beat him off the dribble and finish with a vicious dunk. And if you can believe it, he actually grew two more inches over the summer and managed to impress many observers at the LeBron camp. Add in the likely Preseason Big Ten POY, Frank Kaminsky, and the Badgers easily have the best frontcourt in the conference by a wide margin. Kaminsky was the Badgers’ leading scorer and rebounder at 12.7 PPG and 6.7 RPG last season, and he was the most efficient scorer in the conference to boot. The rest of the starting five – Traveon Jackson, Josh Gasser, and Nigel Hayes – are all high-quality players who have played significant minutes in pressure-filled situations. With all of that experience and two certain future pros in Dekker and Kaminsky, this doesn’t look like your typical Wisconsin team.
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back… We are only 30 days from the start of college basketball games, 24 hours from ESPN’s mega-Midnight Madness coverage, and a handful of minutes from Shane’s next dose of Xanax. The RTC Podcast has returned for Season Three: The Immutables, and we’re kicking things off this glorious mid-October week with a warm-up edition — a little bite-sized something that reviews some of the top storylines and themes coming out of a really quiet offseason. Note that this isn’t really a preview episode — that, among many others, will release in the coming weeks — but this podcast, hosted by Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114), is meant to ease us into the season with plenty more to come. The full rundown is below, and remember, you can subscribe to every episode on iTunes with a simple click of a button.
0:00 – 2:20 – An In Person Podcast/Summer Blur
2:21 – 7:20 – A Few Headlines From a Quiet Offseason
The 2014-15 ACC college basketball season is roughly a month away, which means Midnight Madnesses, secret scrimmages and overseas exhibitions are either on the near horizon or recently concluded. With Louisville’s replacement of Maryland in the league this year, it should be another dynamic season of ACC basketball. To further elicit excitement for the upcoming year, here are a few of the offseason storylines that bear revisiting as we build up to the start of games in the middle of November.
Coach K dismisses idea that coaching Team USA helps with recruiting
Jim Boeheim and Mike Krzyzewski Teamed Up to Win Another Gold Medal This Summer (Photo: Raleigh News & Observer / Getty Images)
Yahoo Sports’ Adrian Wojnarowski wrote a piece last month suggesting Coach K’s Duke teams benefit heavily from his status as the coach of Team USA, comprised of the best professional players in America. Krzyzewski dismissed this idea, pointing to all the great players he recruited before assuming the mantle of America’s team and citing the measured success he’s had in the college ranks since. His friend, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim, came to his defense, pointedly remarking that the main dissenter of Krzyzewski’s side gig was Kentucky’s John Calipari. There’s no need to state how humorous a complaint about recruiting that comes from a guy running an NBA combine at his practices happens to be, but this idea is ludicrous to begin with. Duke is going to be good every year because they have a great coach and a program with great tradition, and if Krzyzewski’s coaching the U.S. Men’s National Team also provides him more face time in high school stars’ living rooms? Well, deservedly so.
We’re about a month away from Big Ten basketball once again being a part of our lives. Things at the B1G microsite have been quiet since then, but that doesn’t mean nothing has happened since last April. So here’s a quick refresher to get everybody back up to speed since we last saw Wisconsin lose a heart-breaker to Kentucky in the Final Four. These 10 offseason storylines are in no particular order, but they will impact what will happen this season.
Frank Kaminsky came back to school for his senior season to lead a veteran Wisconsin team with a chance to go back to the Final Four. (AP Photo/Alex Gallardo)
Frank Kaminsky and Sam Dekker Returned to School: Postseason souting reports had Kaminsky going everywhere from #15 to #45 in the NBA Draft, even after a regular season where he led the Badgers in scoring and contributed NCAA Tournament averages of 16.4 PPG and 5.8 RPG on 55 percent shooting from the field. Dekker probably could have pursued NBA riches as well, but they both came back to Madison, making the Badgers — with two other returning starters in Josh Gasser and Traveon Jackson — an almost unanimous conference favorite.
Gary Harris and a Quartet of Michigan Players Didn’t: Things aren’t quite as rosy in East Lansing or Ann Arbor as far as preseason outlooks go. That’s because to the surprise of almost no one Gary Harris departed for the NBA after his sophomore year. This means that the Spartans will be without three of their four double-figure scorers from last season’s Elite Eight team. Meanwhile, Michigan is rebuilding things from scratch after the early NBA departures of sophomores Nik Stauskas, Glenn Robinson III, and Mitch McGary. None of the trio was ever a sure thing to jump to the pros, but things got especially wonky when it was learned that McGary would be suspended for the entire 2014-15 season due to a positive drug test during the NCAA tournament. Another Michigan gut punch was the transfer of Jon Horford to Florida, leaving the Wolverines with almost no experience on the front line heading into this season.
With basketball season now officially a speck on the horizon, it is time to dig back in and begin the trek that will eventually drop us off at the Final Four in Indianapolis on the first weekend of April. If you, like us, have been away enjoying your summer and you need a refresher on what’s going on in the world of Pac-12 basketball, we’ll get you jump started by trying to sum up every Pac-12 team’s offseason and their big questions for this season in a short paragraph.
Washington State – The Cougars’ big offseason story was etched in stone way back on March 18 when they fired head coach Ken Bone after five increasingly less successful seasons in Pullman. After a tidy two-week search, former Oregon head coach Ernie Kent was named as Bone’s successor. Kent’s got his work cut out for him at the toughest job in the conference, but he’s shown an ability to recruit on the fly, putting together a tidy four-man 2014 class that will at least give the Cougs a chance to surround star senior guard DaVonte Lacy with some decent parts.
Ernie Kent, Now At Washington State, Is One Of Three New Pac-12 Head Coaches (Geoff Crimmins, AP Photo)
California – Likewise, the Golden Bears’ offseason story revolves around a coaching change, what with Mike Montgomery putting an end to his Hall of Fame career following last year’s disappointing season. Athletic director Sandy Barbour wound up with an intriguing hire when he pulled Cuonzo Martin away from Tennessee following his March run from the First Four to the Sweet Sixteen. Martin’s first year in Berkeley will be marked by a short bench, and he’s yet to have any success on the recruiting trail. Furthermore, replacing a fixture like Montgomery is never going to be easy. But Martin immediately gives Cal a completely different feel on the sidelines. Stay tuned.