College basketball finally got underway, but once again the big news was off the court. Fortunately, this time it was good news (at least for the first part of the Morning Five) as the NCAA cleared TaShawn Thomasto play immediately. Thomas, a transfer from Houston who averaged 15.4 points and 8.1 rebounds per game last season, had been waiting for the NCAA’s decision for six month. His presence makes Oklahoma a legitimate Final Four threat and a threat to end (at least temporarily) Bill Self’s dominance of the Big 12. Thomas’ performance yesterday (four points, three rebounds, and four turnovers) won’t exactly make anybody in Lawrence nervous, but we would give him a pass since he just found out that he was eligible less than 24 hours earlier.
Not all the off court news was positive as Pittsburgh announced that junior Durand Johnsonwill not play this season due to a suspension for as yet undisclosed reasons. Johnson, who averaged 8.8 points and 3 rebounds per game last season, was expected to play an increased role this season due to losses from graduation/injury. We are not sure what Johnson did to merit the suspension, but we assume it was something recent as beat writers said they had heard nothing of a potential suspension and Johnson was actually featured on the team’s opening game ticket. The situation at Akron is not much better where they suspended All-MAC senior forward Demetrius Treadwell indefinitely for a violation of the school’s code of conduct. Treadwell averaged 15.2 points and 8.6 rebounds per game last season so obviously this is a huge loss and puts the team in limbo until the matter is adjudicated.
Florida has its first test of the season later today as Miami comes up to Gainesville, but they have already had some significant developments as Dorian Finney-Smith will be playing with a hairline fracture in his left, non-shooting hand and Dillon Graham announced that he will be transferring at the end of the semester. The significance of Finney-Smith’s injury is unclear as we will need to see how he adapts to the injury. In the long-term, Graham’s decision to transfer (Billy Donovan said his “heart wasn’t into it”) likely won’t matter, but the Gators have a depleted roster early in the season and will only have seven scholarship players available for tonight’s game and that includes an injured Finney-Smith. Once the Gators get back Chris Walker and Alex Murphy from suspension/transfer waiting period, they should be fine, but it could be dicey for the first few games.
Drake suspended seniors Gary Ricks Jr and Karl Madison for three games each for accepting impermissible benefits during the 2012-13 season. What these benefits were remains unknown and since it is Drake basketball (and the Charles Robinsons said of the world probably have no interest in digging into it) will probably remain so. Madison is a role player who averaged just 2.2 points in 16 minutes per game, but Ricks is the team’s top returning scorer at 12.3 points per game while adding 3.8 rebounds per game. The Bulldogs already lost the first of these three games (against Bowling Green) with two more games coming up against DePaul and Western Michigan then they should have the duo back for a home game against IUPUI on November 25.
It might seem early to start thinking about the 2015 Final Four, but the NCAA is already looking well beyond that as they announced the sites for the 2017-2021 Final Fours on Friday. None of the group–Phoenix (2017), San Antonio (2018), Minneapolis (2019), Atlanta (2020), and Indianapolis (2021)– is particularly surprising, but the omission of New Orleans (a favorite of many fans and writers–probably more the latter) and North Texas (aka Dallas-Jerry World, an area too spread out to make it practical) were notable. Otherwise the big take-home was the NCAA’s continued refusal to put the Final Four in the Pacific Time Zone. The last time they did so was 1995 (Seattle) and it has not been west of the Central Time Zone since then.
With college basketball tipping off around the country tonight, let’s take a look what to watch for involving SEC teams this weekend.
Who are they playing? There’s no better way for the league to boost its dwindling reputation than by winning non-conference games against quality opponents. It’s only one weekend, but it doesn’t look like the SEC has much opportunity to start changing minds right out of the gate. Overall the league has, to put it lightly, an uninspiring slate of games on tap. There’s nothing wrong with that — you don’t necessarily want to schedule opening games with the Kansases and Dukes of the world right off the bat. This just means that the onus is on the league to not drop an embarrassing game this weekend, especially for teams with NCAA aspirations like Arkansas and LSU. Tennessee and Georgia have tricky games as well, but other than those (vs. VCU and Georgia Tech, respectively), you would expect the league to get to Monday unscathed. One note: Kentucky and Missouri are doubling up and face considerably tougher competition on Sunday, at least according to KenPom. The Wildcats shouldn’t have a problem, of course, but Valparaiso might be a sneaky upset pick against Kim Anderson’s young team. The full list of games involving SEC teams is below.
Georgia Tech (road)
William & Mary
It’s all about platoons. Of course this piece contains a few words on the platoon system, and how could it not? There are so many questions about the system John Calipari plans to run this season: how will the minutes work out on a team of future pros? Will Coach Cal stick to it throughout an entire game? A month? An entire season? Will everyone stay happy? Kentucky has a quick turnaround with a game tonight against Grand Canyon and another on Sunday against Buffalo, which should allow the platoon system to pay immediate dividends. The most interesting question will be what happens when future games get tight and the Wildcats need to close out better opponents. Unfortunately, we’ll probably need to wait until Tuesday against Kansas for a better answer to that question. Read the rest of this entry »
The SEC, in its infinite wisdom, released a nine-person preseason coaches All-SEC first team and an eight-person second team on Thursday. Imagine the platoon possibilities. The only point of contention I can see here, though — besides the size of the list — is Karl-Anthony Towns landing on the second team. Towns may be the most talented player in the entire country, and it’s confusing to me he didn’t land on the first team considering how Julius Randle was received before last season began. That said, it’s nice to see some less-heralded SEC players like Jarvis Summers and Charles Mann get their recognition as well.
Sports on Earth’s Alexander Goot calls John Calipari the “last honest NCAA coach,” writing a good piece on the way he’s built the Kentucky program along with his ever-present tension with the NCAA. Goot writes, “college basketball has become big business, and John Calipari is the ultimate tycoon. But at least he’s living in reality, and not the absurd amateurist fantasy that the NCAA so desperately clings to.” It’s true that Coach Cal seems to be as transparent as anybody in his position can be in college basketball, and we’d be well-served with more national appreciation for that approach. At the end of the day, every fan base that despises him would gladly watch his players in their school’s colors even if just for a year.
The SI.com’s expert picks article is loaded with SEC thoughts, primarily about Kentucky. Luke Winn and Seth Davis select Kentucky as their national champion, and Davis even goes on record saying, gasp, that the Wildcats could go undefeated. Big Blue Nation is loaded, but haven’t we learned our lesson on that over the last two years? We heard the same chatter before last season, and the Nerlens Noel-led team in 2012-13 wasn’t lacking for hype either. It’s silly, sensationalist talk that creates unrealistic noise around the team. The Wildcats will not go undefeated, but they have as good a chance as any team to cut down the nets at the end of the year.
Not all the SEC thoughts were positive in the SI.com preview piece. Davis, Pete Thamel and Brian Hamilton all chose Florida as the team on which they are not “buying the hype.” Each feels that the Gators are overrated at #7 due to their inexperience outside of Michael Frazier, and how unproven Chris Walker is. Billy Donovan has essentially been saying the same things, if anyone is listening, and it’s likely that the Gators will struggle against a non-conference lineup that features Kansas, Miami (FL), Florida State and Connecticut. But this team has more pure talent than last year’s undefeated SEC squad, and could have a higher upside in March.
The injury problems that plagued Auburn’s Matthew Atewe throughout last season and into the offseason will unfortunately keep the sophomore forward off the floor for an indefinite amount of time. It’s a tough loss for a team with an already-thin frontcourt, but should mean that freshman Jack Purchase and junior Jordon Granger will see more minutes, a good thing in the long run. Auburn’s competitive window truly opens next season when Pearl’s star-studded recruiting class arrives in town. Giving players experience who will (in all likelihood) be a part of that team can’t be a bad thing.
Playing in the SEC means facing off against some of the most talented freshmen in the country, week in and week out. While Kentucky rightfully gets most of the credit for bringing in a cache of five-star prospects every season, the rest of the conference has produced plenty of gems of their own. Last season, players like Vanderbilt’s Damian Jones, South Carolina’s Sindarius Thornwell and LSU’s Jordan Mickey all broke on to the scene and made themselves potential first round NBA Draft picks. So who will be next?
Today, we’ll break down the first-year players who are primed to have the biggest impact for their teams in 2014-15. We’ll start with the side of the conference formerly known as the SEC East.
Georgia: Yante Maten. Maten, a 6’8″, 240-lb power forward, impressed in Georgia’s closer-than-expected exhibition win over Georgia Southwestern last week. He posted a 12/10/4 pts/reb/ast line and added a pair of blocks while playing the most minutes of anyone on the roster. He’s strong in the paint and has shown capable of passing from the low blocks when called upon, but he’s not the kind of shooter that will stretch the floor or pull defenders away from the basket. If Nemanja Djurisic stays at power forward all season (rather than sliding over to the three), he seems destined for a primary role off the bench this winter. Even in that capacity, he’ll have plenty of time to prep himself for a potential starting role in 2015-16.
Yante Maten Was Impressive in Georgia’s Exhibition Game Last Week
Florida: Devin Robinson. Robinson had a disappointing unofficial start to his Gators tenure in the team’s exhibition win over Barry last week. The five-star freshman made just two of his 10 shots and picked up four fouls in 17 minutes of action. Even so, big things are expected from the small forward from Virginia. Robinson has the speed and athleticism to guard three positions and the shooting range to create match-up nightmares for opposing wings. He’ll have to prove that the Barry performance was just a case of the nerves catching up to him, but he’ll have several opportunities to find playing time on a team that must replace four seniors from last year’s squad.
Yesterday the microsite rolled out the first half of our AAC non-conference schedule rankings, listing teams from #11 to #6 based on the competitiveness of their schedules. Today’s rankings of the top five are a bit more interesting, primarily because a lot of these games are projected to have NCAA Tournament implications and are therefore deserving of a closer look. Here are the top five non-conference schedules in the conference, starting from the easiest to the hardest:
#5 Cincinnati: We have frequently used this space to blast Cincinnati for its soft non-conference schedule and it seems like Mick Cronin is finally listening. Last season’s slate featured four games against teams ranked #300 or lower, whereas this season only Eastern Illinois comes into the season lower than that mark, and the rest of the Bearcats’ schedule should give the team ample opportunities to pile up resume-enhancing wins. The Emerald Coast Classic could result in a match-up with Creighton or Mississippi, and the team also welcomes San Diego State and VCU to Fifth Third Arena before the end of 2014. And even though the game will be played in February this season, don’t forget about the Crosstown Classic against Xavier either. If the Bearcats can win a couple of those games and follow that up with double-digit victories in the conference, it will be tough to keep Cincinnati out of the NCAA Tournament.
Josh Pastner’s team will have an early chance to answer how good they can be. (USA TODAY Sports)
#4 Memphis: No team in the conference plays a more difficult season opener than the Tigers, which are headed to South Dakota for a prime-time showdown with Wichita State. That’s a great opportunity, but aside from the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational in which Memphis will play Baylor and perhaps Illinois, the non-conference schedule looks comparable to last season’s 151st-best slate in the country. The only other game worth paying attention to is the December 13 return game home date with Oklahoma State. If Memphis is on the bubble in February, it will be worth remembering that the Tigers opted to play Prairie View A&M and Western Illinois as part of their non-conference schedule this season.
The preview train rolls on at CBSSports.com, and this time Matt Norlander gives his list of the top 20 transfers for the upcoming season, with Auburn’s Antoine Mason, Florida’s Jon Horford and Tennessee’s Dominic Woodson all making the cut. This is an interesting group because each player finds himself in a different position on his team. Mason will be heavily-relied on to score and help Bruce Pearl set a competitive tone for the Tigers in year one. Conversely, Billy Donovan isn’t looking for superstar numbers from Horford, but he’ll need him to be a complementary piece up front. Woodson, as Norlander points out, is a wildcard for Donnie Tyndall because it’s not hard to envision him either as a load on the block or a player glued to the bench for large chunks of time (more on him below). No matter the situation, each of these transfers should have an impact in the SEC this season.
College Basketball Talkreleased its preseason All-America teams and only two SEC players popped up among the three teams and group of honorable mentions: Kentucky’s Karl-Anthony Towns (third team) and Aaron Harrison (honorable mention). I don’t think this particular lack of an SEC presence deserves an outcry, though. The article points out that Towns is extremely talented but may not get the minutes to rack up All-American numbers. That numbers crunch may also hurt the individual statistics of someone like Dakari Johnson, who at most any other school would probably be getting more preseason hype. The closest non-Wildcats to this list are probably Arkansas’ Bobby Portis and LSU’ Jordan Mickey, but even with my SEC bent I can’t make an argument for their inclusion.
The first Bob Cousy Award watch list, on the other hand, had plenty of SEC flavor. The annual award given to the best point guard in the country included Kentucky’s Andrew Harrison and Tyler Ulis, Texas A&M’s Alex Caruso, Florida’s Kasey Hill and Ole Miss’ Jarvis Summers on its initial list. Duke also had two entrants on the 50-man list, and I’d be interested to know if two teams have ever had multiple lead guards on the list before. All the choices make sense, though, and I can’t come up with any omissions. Caruso is a deserving selection since he led the SEC in assist rate last season (36.7 percent), even if he should get more time off-the-ball now with the addition of freshman Alex Robinson. Billy Kennedy needs to put a better offense on the floor and that means having his best players out there regardless of position.
If SEC commissioner Mike Slive has a doghouse for basketball coaches compiling soft non-conference schedules, there is no way Anthony Grant is in it. For the second year in a row, Alabama has one of the more challenging pre-SEC slates. Last season the Tide’s games against Oklahoma, Wichita State, Duke and UCLA fueled the 11th best strength of schedule nationally, according to KenPom. This season the Tide gets return games against Wichita State and UCLA, as well as Xavier, Iowa State and either Maryland or Arizona State. The challenge of course will be winning one of those marquee games, which would be a big stepping stone in what needs to be a bounce-back year for Grant.
You always have to pump the brakes before delving too far into exhibition games, but as Will Shelton at Rocky Top Talk writes, it’s hard to not pay attention at Tennessee given all the new faces vying for playing time. The Vols beat NAIA opponent Pikeville, 80-62, in their exhibition opener, and there were stats galore. One interesting tidbit is that Tyndall started the immediately-eligible Woodson (mentioned above) at center, suggesting his level of conditioning may not be as big an impediment as some thought. Another notable statistic is that Armani Moore, who is coming into his junior year with a 3.1 PPG career scoring average, led the Vols in scoring with 17 points.
Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.
With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the SEC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an SEC expert in Blue Ribbon College Yearbook editor Chris Dortch (@cdortch).
Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? The Wildcats begin the season as the overwhelming favorite to win the SEC title. Do you expect them to win both the conference title and the national title?
Chris Dortch: It would not surprise me at all if Kentucky wins both the SEC title and the national title. I think the team is so good that you can rank both its first five and its second five in the Top 25. The team has nine McDonald’s All-Americans and more talent than I can remember any team in the SEC possibly ever having. Having said that, the Wildcats do have a weakness or two. They have to prove that, other than Aaron Harrison, they have someone who can make outside shots. If they cannot do that, teams are going to try to pack it in the lane and negate their size and dribble-drive. I have said this a few times on some radio shows: If Kentucky shoots 35 percent or better from the three-point line for the season, I think the Wildcats will be undefeated going into the Final Four.
It’s Gators and Wildcats at the Top of the SEC, Again
RTC: Florida’s personnel losses are notable with Scottie Wilbekin, Patric Young, Casey Prather and Will Yeguete all moving on from Gainesville. However, Billy Donovan’s squad seems primed to have another impressive season. What is it about this year’s Gators that will make them a force to be reckoned with in the conference?
Dortch: I think Florida has some experienced personnel and some young guys who I believe are ready to step. Someone like Kasey Hill, who understudied Wilbekin last season, seems poised to take over the point guard position. I think Michael Frazier is one of the best shooters in the country and he is ready to take the next step in his development. Dorian Finney-Smith, who was eligible last season after transferring from Virginia Tech, is so versatile that he was used at the point a few times. He is going to be a guy who is going to be asked to do a lot more than he was last year. There are also a couple transfers who will help. Jon Horford comes over as a fifth-year eligible from Michigan and Alex Murphy comes over from Duke. I think those two will help fortify the team’s front line.
RTC: Arkansas is still waiting on its breakthrough campaign in the Mike Anderson era. With a talented team featuring star big man Bobby Portis, will this finally be the season that the Razorbacks find a way back to the NCAA Tournament?
SI.com released its SEC preview last week, and it’s worth a read to get ready for the upcoming season (in addition, of course, to all the content on this microsite). The only thing that’s ripe to nitpick is the prediction that Georgia will finish seventh in the conference with an 8-10 league record. It could be that I’m too high on the Bulldogs, but Mark Fox returns the core of a team that went 12-6 and finished tied for third in the SEC last season. Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines are two guards with upside who should be one of the more difficult-to-stop scoring duos in the conference. The Dawgs’ frontcourt may be thin, but Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic are still quality players, so seeing Georgia fall that far back just doesn’t seem likely.
Scrimmage highlights should always be taken with a grain of salt, but it’s hard not to like what Karl-Anthony Towns showed at Big Blue Madness and during a recent scrimmage. His footwork and mobility for a guy that size are impressive, and his versatility could be a great asset for John Calipariand his cramped roster. Towns looks like he’ll be a threat away from the basket in addition to on the low blocks, whether facing up and driving to the rim or knocking down the occasional long jumper. That should allow him to play well with Kentucky‘s rim-centric players like Dakari Johnson and Willie Cauley-Stein without stifling the offense.
Marshall Henderson is gone from Oxford and no longer available for our college basketball viewing pleasure, but shocking as it may be, there will be basketball at Ole Miss this season, and as the Associated Press’ David Brandt points out, this may be Andy Kennedy’s deepest team yet. The Rebels return five of their top six players in minutes per game, and they could have the deepest SEC frontcourt in the league outside of Kentucky and LSU. Aaron Jones is a solid senior big man who can clean up the defensive glass, and sophomore Sebastian Saiz (20 points against LSU on January 15) and junior Anthony Perez (21 points against Kentucky on February 22) showed flashes with big offensive nights against strong frontcourts in 2013-14. This is a far cry from the beginning of last season, when Kennedy was trying to replace his two primary big men in Reginald Buckner and Murphy Holloway.
Florida freshman guard Chris Chiozza is learning that playing for Billy Donovan is no walk in the park. “Got to run, every play, sprint,” Chiozza told GatorCountry.com. “If you stop sprinting, he’s going to make you run on the side, probably.” Donovan will need his freshmen ready to go this season because he no longer has the luxury of a senior-laden lineup. Junior Devin Walker (knee injury) and freshman Brandone Francis (academically ineligible) are out for the year, leaving Chiozza as the Gators fourth option at guard behind Kasey Hill, Michael Frazier and Eli Carter. It’s likely Chiozza and freshman forward Devin Robinson will be called upon to contribute right away, making every sprint worth it.
CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander has Kentucky’s backcourt ranked as the fourth-best in the country, and it’s hard to find a beef with putting Duke, Arizona and North Carolina above the Wildcats. The development of Andrew and Aaron Harrison will be one of the more compelling SEC storylines this season, after their up-and-down freshmen years were capped off with solid performances (and big shots from Aaron) leading up to appearance in the national championship game. What makes the backcourt even more interesting, as Norlander points out, is the presence of 5’9’’ “passing wizard” Tyler Ulis. He’ll be an absolute change of the pace from the big-bodied Harrisons, and it’ll be fun to see him create looks for the all Kentucky big men.
Zach Lofton‘s time at Minnesota was very short-lived. The Illinois State transfer, who would have had to sit out this season as a transfer after averaging 11.3 points and 3 rebounds per game last season, was kicked off the team yesterday. The reasons for Lofton’s dismissal are unclear, but he is still on scholarship at the school and can remain at the school to pursue his undergraduate degree so we are assuming it was something that wasn’t too serious as in it was not due to an arrest. We are not sure what Lofton’s plans are, but we are assuming that he won’t be staying at Minnesota.
Yesterday, Florida announced that John Egbunu, a transfer from South Florida, will have to sit out this season per NCAA transfer rules. Egbunu, who averaged 7.4 points and 6.2 rebounds per game as a freshman last season, was a top-60 prospect coming out of high school. We are not sure what basis the Florida staff was hoping to use in order to get Egbunu a waiver, but they should be able to survive without him this season as they already have a deep frontcourt.
Connecticut junior guard Omar Calhoun is expected to miss at least a week after spraining the MCL in his right knee. Calhoun injured the knee during a Sunday practice, but a subsequent MRI revealed that there was no significant structural damage. Calhoun has reportedly recovered completely from the bilateral hip impingement surgery that limited his production as a sophomore. The Huskies appear to be set for their starting backcourt with Ryan Boatright and Rodney Purvis, but Calhoun could be a key reserve for the team.
St. John’s announced yesterday that junior college transfer Keith Thomas would not be academically eligible for this season. Thomas, who was an honorable mention NJCAA All-American while averaging 15.3 points and 15.7 rebounds per game last season, is the third player from Westchester Community College to either be ruled academically ineligible as the school’s academic credentials are being questioned (where have we heard this before?). The loss of Thomas is a big hit for the Red Storm as they lack many legitimate big men outside of Chris Obekpa.
We aren’t exactly sure how much to read into Jeff Goodman’s report that several college basketball referees had accessed unauthorized information on a refereeing site. While some of that information like game schedules and how much certain referees were paid probably did not affect the way games were called, other information like comments that coaches made about certain officials certainly could have impacted the outcome of games. If this might seem a little far-fetched, it was just a year and a half ago that where the Pac-12 had a controversy because there were reports that the head of officiating attempted to get other officials to target Arizona coach Sean Miller. We doubt that this will lead to a similar revelation, but it should be the primary concern in a situation like this.
Three weeks until games start for real and it’s time to dig into the upcoming college basketball season. The RTC Podcast is back in earnest, with Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosting, and the guys spend nearly an hour discussing the key storylines on teams, players and the game as a whole for the upcoming year. There’s also a brief introductory interlude on the shenanigans that went on in Chapel Hill for the better part of a generation, but the majority of this podcast puts that aside and looks forward. The complete rundown is below, so feel free to bounce around as needed to get the spots you’re most interested in, and make sure to listen toward the end to win a free RTC t-shirt if you can get the right answer to the question we posed. Over the coming weeks we’ll be releasing conference preview podblasts for each of the seven major leagues as well as the Other 26, so keep an ear out for those as well.
The ability to recruit was (and still is) a big question mark surrounding first year Missouri head coach Kim Anderson. To address this expected deficiency, Anderson added Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford to his staff, and that decision has already paid immediate dividends in landing four-star wing Montaque (“Teki”) Gill-Caesar from – you guessed it – Huntington Prep. Fulford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that the time Gill-Caesar spent playing with Andrew Wiggins at Huntington was invaluable. “Teki would never back down from Andrew. Now, there were points in practice where Teki would get the better of Andrew until Andrew decided, ‘OK, enough’s enough.’” The Tigers will need that kind of confidence from Gill-Caesar as they replace Jordan Clarkson, Jabari Brown and Earnest Ross, three players that accounted for virtually all of the team’s scoring last season.
Luke Winn and Dan Hanner continue their intricate, raw number modeling at SI.com, this time predicting which transfers will have the biggest impact at their new schools. Texas A&M’sJalen Jones (SMU) lands the second spot on the list as the model predicts he will score 13.9 points per game for the Aggies. This infusion of scoring talent is vital for Billy Kennedy since his team was at times difficult to watch offensively last season. The addition of Jones and a healthy Davonte Fitzgerald should give Texas A&M the offensive boost that it needs. Florida’s Alex Murphy (#70) and Jon Horford (#90) check in pretty far down the list, but each will be heavily relied upon in the frontcourt while Chris Walker serves his three-game suspension, and they could shoot up this list if Walker’s off-court problems persist into the season.
LSU junior guard Joseph Gray checked in at #12 on the SI.com list, and his journey to Baton Rouge has been tumultuous and at times heart-breaking. The Louisiana native, whose mother passed away while he was in high school, was spurned as a prep recruit by former Tigers coach Trent Johnson and ended up Texas Tech. He left the Red Raiders after one productive season (9.3 PPG, 3.2 APG) for Odessa Community College, where he averaged 34.7 PPG in his single season of JuCo action. New LSU head coach Johnny Jones gave Gray the chance to return home and he has a massive opportunity in front of him. He should be in position to earn a lion’s share of the minutes at point guard with Andre Stringer (graduation) and Anthony Hickey (transfer to Oklahoma State) now out of the picture. And despite all the movement in his young career, Gray has two years of eligibility to establish himself as a star at LSU.
Unfortunately for Alabama, one of its transfers won’t see the court at all this season. Christophe Varidel, a graduate transfer from Chaminade, will miss the season because of a pre-existing knee injury, thus ending his collegiate career. Varidel was a part of Florida Gulf Coast’s Sweet Sixteen team in 2012-13, but transferred to the Islands when Andy Enfield left for USC after that season. First and foremost, it’s a sad situation for Varidel, as he will miss out on his only chance to play basketball in a power conference. It’s also an early blow for Anthony Grant since Varidel, a career 38.5 percent three-point shooter, would have played a part in trying to replace the scoring production that left with Trevor Releford.
Frank Martin is angry — this time about criticism leveled at the lack of fan support for basketball at South Carolina. “It’s hard to tell me people don’t care, and yet you’re in the top 40 in the country in total attendance, you’re fifth in the SEC, and there’s an opinion that people don’t care,” Martin told the Charleston Post and Courier. The article points out that South Carolina was actually 41st in attendance with an average of 10,074 fans per game last season, but Martin’s argument is still well-taken. It’s rather impressive that a team without much success in recent history can post that kind of attendance figure, because winning leads to crowds no matter the sport and no matter the level. If Martin can turn the Gamecocks around, Colonial Life Arena and its 18,000-seat capacity will become a daunting challenge. For his part, Martin is about determined as a person can be to reach that point. “I’m not going to stop until the good Lord either takes me, or we put 18 [thousand] in that building when we play,” he said. Touche.
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.