Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here.
Coming into the season Georgia State was already going to be the favorite in the Sun Belt and they became an even bigger favorite last week when the NCAA granted Kevin Ware a transfer waiver enabling him to play for Georgia State next season. Ware, who transferred from Louisville and is best known for his gruesome compound fracture in their 2013 Elite Eight game against Duke, will have two years of eligibility remaining. Even Ware never regains the explosiveness that made him a key piece of that Louisville title team he could be an important piece in a Georgia State team that already had one of the better backcourts in the country with both R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow returning.
If you remember the uproar created by Taylor Branch’s opus in The Atlantic nearly three years ago (here’s our Cliff Notes summary and our interview with Branch), one of his major points of contention was that schools only offer student-athletes one-year renewable scholarships. So in the event that the student-athlete is injured, doesn’t perform up to expectations, or the program decides to move in a different direction, the student-athlete is out of luck. Southern California may have taken one of the first steps to ending that practice by deciding to offer four-year scholarships in its “revenue sports”. Those sports will include football and men’s and women’s basketball. We are not sure what the actual effect of this will be (basically what percentage of student-athletes have their scholarships pulled on a year-to-year basis), but it is great PR for the school.
The NCAA released its attendance figures for the 2013-14 season last week. Outside of the big numbers like over 25 million tickets being sold to watch Division I basketball there were some interesting figures. On the macro side of it, attendance was down slightly from previous years–overall attendance decreased slightly (by 104 per game or 356,532 total) and NCAA Tournament attendance decreased too (more than 61,000)–although both can be attributed to a degree by the venues that the games were played in particularly in the case of the NCAA where the regional games were for the most part not played in gigantic domes. If you want a more detailed, but still big picture overview, check out Jeff Eisenberg’s post highlighting eight other key figures from the report.
With the Ed O’Bannon case playing out in court, it was interesting to see Kentucky sign a 15-year, $210 million multimedia marketing rights deal with JMI Sports. Although the deal does not include TV rights, it does include just about everything else for the school and puts it in-line with Alabama as the richest such contract in NCAA history for a school not giving up TV rights. With schools signing these kinds of deals and looking at other potential revenue streams (such as entertaining the idea of selling alcohol at games) it will be increasingly difficult for schools (particularly bigger ones) to argue against providing athletes with a share of the revenue.
With the NBA Draft just two days away there have been a few big updates over the past week both of which you have probably heard by now. The biggest news was Joel Embiid requiring surgery on his broken foot, which will likely make him miss the first part of the season and drop out of the top 3 in the Draft. The other news was that Isaiah Austin withdrew from the NBA Draft and will end his basketball career after being diagnosed with Marfan’s syndrome through what has been described as pre-Draft testing. We are not sure what triggered the work-up (reports say an EKG abnormality, but testing for Marfan’s based on that seems a bit extreme) or what about Austin’s presentation led them to tell him to stop playing–an aortic root problem is the only thing that we can think of–but at least Austin will not go away empty-handed as he had a $1 million insurance policy.
Austin came to Waco in 2012 as a highly-touted recruit and put forth a solid freshman campaign. While Baylor as a team fell flat and missed the NCAA Tournament despite fielding a talented group, Austin was hardly the problem. He averaged 13.0 points and 8.3 rebounds per game, and while he did most of his damage down low, he also stretched defenses by hitting 33 percent of his three-point attempts.
Kentucky freshman Julius Randle confirmed what many expected yesterday as he announced that he would be entering the NBA Draft. Most considered Randle an almost certain one-and-done even before he committed to Kentucky so this is hardly a surprise despite how long it took him to declare. Randle did nothing this season to make us question his decision to leave after one season although we still have questions about whether he can be dominant at the next level since he will not be able to overpower NBA players to anywhere close to the same degree that he did in college. Regardless of that he will probably be a top-five pick in June.
Clemson junior forward K.J. McDaniels also announced that he will be entering the NBA Draft. While not quite the prospect that Randle is, McDaniels is still projected to be a mid-first round pick so it makes sense particularly with the steady progression in his game as his scoring has increased from 3.9 to 10.9 to 17.1 points per game. McDaniels stock has also risen throughout the year as he led the Tigers in points, rebounds, blocks, and steals last season while picking up ACC Defensive Player of the Year honors. His athleticism and steady progression should make him an interesting pick-up for some team in the latter half of the first round.
If Duke’s incoming freshman class was not impressive enough they added another significant piece when Sean Obi announced that he would be transferring from Rice to Duke. As a freshman at Rice last season, Obi averaged 11.4 points and 9.3 rebounds, but decided to transfer after Ben Braun was fired. Obi also considered Michigan and Vanderbilt. Although Obi will sit out next season (yes, we know it’s a shocking concept) that might would out for the best for Duke and Obi as Jahlil Okafor is expected to log the majority of the minutes and touches inside for the Blue Devils next season, but is expected to be a one-and-done so Obi will be available just in time for Duke when Okafor leaves.
Isaiah Austin might be one of the poster boys for why players should leave early when they can be a first round pick. Yesterday, Austin declared that he would be forgoing his final year of eligibility to enter the NBA Draft. At this point, Austin is probably a late second round pick if he is even selected at all. Austin averaged 11.2 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, which are both respectable numbers, but are down from his freshman year averages of 13.0 and 8.3 respectively. Before his drop in production and his weaknesses being exposed he was a possible first round pick after his freshman year. He probably would have been out of the NBA in a few years, but at least he would have had a few years of NBA money.
We have no idea why Georgia State has become such a popular transfer destination, but they picked up another (relatively) big name yesterday when Jeremy Hollowell announced that he would be transferring there. Hollowell follows Ryan Harrow and Kevin Ware as well-known transfers to the school in the past year meaning that Ron Hunter will have landed transfers from Kentucky, Louisville, and Indiana. Hollowell only averaged 5.7 points and 3.5 rebounds per game as a sophomore at Indiana, but was a top-50 recruit coming in so he certainly has the potential to be much more. Hollowell will sit out a season per the transfer rules, but will have two more years of eligibility left starting with the 2015-16 season.
Ever since Baylor blew the doors off of Creighton on Sunday, the public tide has started to turn in Scott Drew’s favor. He hasn’t shaken all of the criticisms — that he’s underachieved with top-flight talent in previous seasons and that he’s toed a fine line with his recruiting strategies (as if other programs don’t) — but with every postseason win he continued to chalk up, the noise has definitely quieted. On Wednesday night alone, CBSSports.com‘s Dennis Dodd and Yahoo!‘s Jeff Eisenberg posted columns detailing why the doubters have it all wrong about Drew. While Dodd and Eisenberg aren’t the first to defend the Baylor head coach, their points remain that regardless of what you think about his tactics, the results he’s produced deserve acclaim among some of the best coaching jobs in the country — no matter what happens tonight against Wisconsin.
You don’t have to like Scott Drew, but it’s past time to evaluate his tenure at Baylor with fairness. (AP)
The Bears are one win away from a chance to play in the Final Four for the third time in five seasons, so if they beat the Badgers this evening, they’ll have cracked the Elite Eight with three very different teams. While one of the prevalent knocks on Drew is that last season’s group — which had a similar look and feel to this year’s team in terms of roster construction — failed to make the NCAA Tournament, it’s also true that three of his best players this season were guys who were passed over by bigger programs. In other words, if you’re going to penalize Drew for missing out on a Dance card with Isaiah Austin, Cory Jefferson and a senior Pierre Jackson, that’s fine; but if you’re going to do that, it’s only fair to also credit him for getting the most out of Kenny Chery and Royce O’Neale and parlaying that player development into postseason success. Going back even further, he’s offset the lukewarm contributions of hyped recruits Perry Jones and Quincy Miller by getting great value from low-level prospects like Jackson, Quincy Acy and Ekpe Udoh, all three of whom are now playing professionally.
Even if Drew loses tonight, he’ll still find himself among rarefied air in the coaching community. Only six other programs have made the Sweet Sixteen three times in the last five years: Arizona, Florida, Kentucky, Louisville, Michigan State and Wisconsin. Not Kansas, not Duke, not Syracuse, not Connecticut. Not bad for a guy who arrived in Waco 11 years ago with the unenviable task of rebuilding a D-I program from essentially scratch. No matter what the narrative says you should think about him, stop thinking it. The guy can coach.
The Big 12 has had a rough go of things in this season’s NCAA Tournament, but the conference is very much alive with two teams still playing. To briefly recap how we got here, Kansas returned to campus earlier than expected, Oklahoma State failed to carry its improved play into the Tournament, and Oklahoma fell victim to a #12 seed darling in North Dakota State. It’s safe to say that those teams underperformed relative to expectations both at the beginning of the season and after Selection Sunday, but the damage doesn’t end there. Kansas State was also bounced by Kentucky in the second round and Texas fell to Michigan in the round of 32 after needing a buzzer-beating putback to get past a mediocre Arizona State squad. While some attrition is to be expected whenever a large percentage of a conference makes the field, it was reasonable to believe that more than two teams from the Big 12 would emerge from the frenzied opening weekend. Still, what we’re left with are two proud programs in Baylor and Iowa State that have been playing well for about six weeks now. As the Cyclones and Bears get ready for their next tests against UConn and Wisconsin, respectively, here are the three key match-ups worth your attention.
After a performance for the ages in the Round of 32, DeAndre Kane will need to be at his best yet again against UConn. (USA Today)
DeAndre Kane vs. Shabazz Napier - The country’s two best do-everything guards lock horns in Madison Square Garden Friday night with a spot in the Elite Eight on the line — what could be better? After stepping up in a huge way with 24 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists against North Carolina Sunday, Kane will likely need another large performance to offset the loss of Georges Niang if the Cyclones are to make their first Elite Eight since 2000. On the other side, Napier was fantastic against Villanova, shaking off foul trouble and a tweaked leg on his way to 25 points on 9-of-13 shooting. The MSG crowd will certainly be pro-UConn, and Napier will have a chip on his shoulder after the Cyclones ended the Huskies’ NCAA Tournament defense a couple of years ago. While Kane and Napier may not be matched up against each other when they step onto the court, it stands to reason that whichever team gets the best performance from its stud guard will play for a chance to cut down the nets in New York. Read the rest of this entry »
Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on March 25th, 2014
Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) is the NCAA Tournament’s West Region correspondent, which begins Thursday night at Honda Center in Anaheim with Baylor vs. Wisconsin followed by San Diego State vs. Arizona. The South Regional Reset published earlier today and the East and Midwest Resets will release tomorrow. Make sure to also follow@RTCWestRegion for news and analysis from Anaheim throughout the week.
New Favorite:Arizona, #1, 32-4. Meet the new boss, same as the old boss. The Wildcats looked a little shaky in what turned into just a nine-point win in their round of 64 game against Weber State, but they really did little this weekend to change the popular notion that the Wildcats are not only the strong favorite in this region, but a legitimate contender for the national championship.
Arizona Did Little In The First Weekend To Make Us Second Guess Their Status As National Championship Contenders. (Christian Petersen, Getty Images)
Horse of Darkness: Wisconsin, #2, 28-7. The Badgers took a 12-point deficit into the half against Oregon in the round of 32, getting lit up to the tune of somewhere in the neighborhood of 1.48 points per possession by a great offensive team for 20 minutes. But coming out of the locker room, they made a commitment to getting the ball inside on offense and getting back and challenging jump shooters on the defensive end. The adjustment turned into less than a point per possession in the second half for the Ducks, while the high-scoring Badgers were the one that turned in 1.5 points per possession. The Badgers have proven their ability to score in bunches this season, but if they can play defense like they did in the second half against Oregon, they’re going to be a real tough out.
Biggest Surprise (1st Weekend): Creighton Getting Demolished. The simple fact that Baylor advanced over Creighton isn’t all that shocking. But the manner in which it happened was stunning. Creighton shoots five-of-24 from three against the Baylor zone? A sketchy Baylor defense hold the nation’s best offensive team below a point per possession? Doug McDermott’s college career ends with just a 15-point performance? Stunning.
Completely Expected (1st Weekend):Mostly Chalk. Three of the top four seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, and the one upset based on seed-line probably isn’t that much of an upset at all, as Baylor crushed Creighton to earn its 12th win in the last 14 games.
Baylor’s rollercoaster season has been on the upswing for awhile, and that upward trajectory has continued in Kansas City. The Bears got off to a hot start (15-3) in their opener against TCU, and followed that up with a similarly hot start in the quarterfinal against Oklahoma (13-3). The difference? TCU was winless in conference play, while the Sooners came into the game ranked #17 and boasting one of the most efficient offenses in the country. Baylor came ready to play in both games, and is now headed to the semi-finals brimming with momentum. The Bears shredded the Oklahoma defense to the tune of a 54.8 percent shooting performance in the first half, and while that dipped in the second half, they did just enough to shoot 50 percent on the game.
Kenny Chery facilitated an efficient Baylor offense as the Bears outshot Oklahoma (baylorbears.com).
What is the ceiling for this Baylor team? If the way they’ve played in Kansas City is any indicator, it’s pretty high. Steady point guard is usually a big part of a tournament run, and Kenny Chery looked the part against the Sooners. He didn’t shoot the ball well (3-of-11), but played virtually the entire game (38 minutes) and was the key factor in the Bears’ hyper efficient offense. His seven assists helped the Bears put four players other than himself in double figures. Despite three turnovers, Chery did a good job against Oklahoma’s press and created easy basket that way too. Cory Jefferson was another reason the offense kept whirring by effectively passing out of double teams numerous times.
In the moments following his team’s win over Iowa State on Tuesday night, Baylor head coach Scott Drew was asked if that performance against the Cyclones put his team into the NCAA Tournament, to which Drew responded, “Absolutely. No question.” Baring a dreadful performance in the Bears’ last game on Saturday at Kansas State and an disappointing early exit in the Big 12 Tournament, it seems like Drew’s statement is spot on. That in itself is crazy to think about; a team that looked all but dead in the water at 2-8 in conference play with little emotional desire to turn things around has done exactly that, winning six of its last seven and positioning the squad for a bid on Selection Sunday. It’s also worth mentioning that for all the criticism Scott Drew took while his team floundered to start conference play, he too is responsible in large part for its February resurgence and should receive due credit. For the Cyclones, it was another road loss in a league that offers very few chances to get a win away from home, but make no mistake about it, Fred Hoiberg’s squad will not be an easy out in postseason play. Here’s three observations from last night’s contest.
Cory Jefferson and Baylor Appear to be Back in the NCAA Tournament’s Good Graces
Aside from Kansas, Baylor has perhaps the best combination of frontcourt size and skill on both ends of the floor, and this was certainly the case on Tuesday night. The length of Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin inside held the Big 12’s leading scorer, Melvin Ejim, to just six points, far from his average of 18.3 points per game in league play. Ejim’s teammate Georges Niang also had a difficult night, contributing only four points in the contest, also well below his league average. The duo of Jefferson and Austin combined to score 20 points themselves, but most importantly, controlled the paint. What was most interesting about this game was the fact that Baylor allowed Iowa State to shoot 41 percent from beyond the arc — connecting on 12 three-pointers — but that wasn’t enough to keep pace for the Cyclones with two of their stars failing to show up. It’s almost as if Drew’s game plan was to make Iowa State beat the Bears from the outside, and it seems to have been effective as the Cyclones converted better from distance than they did inside the arc (39 percent). Read the rest of this entry »
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?
Take a trip back in time to January 3, 2014. Baylor had just demolished lowly Savannah State at home in its final tune-up before conference play. Scott Drew’s team was 12-1, ranked 9th in the nation with neutral site, non-conference victories over a Spencer Dinwiddie-led Colorado team and a Kentucky squad that was ranked 3rd at the time. Baylor looked like one of the Big 12’s elite, possibly capable of threatening Kansas’ nine-year reign atop the league. On that same evening in early January, Oklahoma State was preparing for its first conference game of the season — a road contest at an up-and-down Kansas State group looking for a win to ignite its start in league play. The Cowboys, much like their fellow Big 12 competitors from Waco, had raced out to a 12-1 record to begin the season, and found themselves ranked 6th in the nation after non-conference victories over Memphis and the same Colorado team. Marcus Smart was averaging over 17 points per game, and perhaps even more so than Baylor, Travis Ford’s team looked like it had a legitimate shot to take down the then-shaky Jayhawks.
With a thin Oklahoma State front line, Baylor big men Corey Jefferson and Isaiah Austin proved too much inside. (Waco Tribune-Herald)
At that time, a mid-February Big Monday battle in Waco between these two teams looked like must-see television. Boy, how quickly things can change. Instead of a match-up that could have (should have?) had serious league title implications, this game instead featured the eighth and ninth teams in the Big 12 standings, fighting for their NCAA Tournament lives. The winner of last night’s game would move to three games back of .500 in conference play; the loser would stare at a 4-9 record and the notion of having to win every game left just to break even. What took place for the better part of 30 minutes on Monday night looked exactly like a contest between two bottom-dwellers, regardless of the names on the fronts of the jerseys. And if that wasn’t enough, a comedy of head-scratching coaching decisions down the stretch left most observers wondering what the heck they just witnessed. Nevertheless, a 70-64 overtime win for Baylor proved to be a tremendous feat for a team clinging to hopes of an at-large bid. Here are three thoughts on the showdown that was in Waco Monday night.
With two weeks of Big 12 play already in the rearview mirror, there’s been a good bit of chaos. Oklahoma State already has two losses; Iowa State and Baylor are in the league’s lower half; West Virginia is a mess (again); and Kansas State hasn’t regressed as far as many thought they would (at least not yet). It seems like the only steadying Big 12 force has been Kansas, leading the pack once again. The Jayhawks are the only undefeated team in conference play, and as it tends to be the case with the Jayhawks in the Bill Self era, they’re getting better with each passing game. With a win at home tonight, Kansas can tighten its grip on the rest of the league, while Baylor is in desperate need of a victory to keep its prospects of a top-three finish alive.
Look for the inside play of Isaiah Austin to determine Baylor’s fate tonight in Lawrence.
That will be a tall order for Scott Drew’s team, which has never won in Allen Fieldhouse under his watch. He’s tried virtually everything, even going so far as to usher his team into the tunnel before a game so as not to be fazed by Kansas’ notoriously intense pregame introductions. But it hasn’t worked. If Baylor is to buck the trend tonight, it will need to succeed in the following four key areas:
Tighten the zone. Baylor is giving up 1.10 points per possession in league play, good for eighth in the Big 12. That mark is way too low for any team, much less one with Baylor’s size and athleticism. To Drew’s credit, the Bears’ defense was effective against Oklahoma’s offense on Saturday, but it will need to be even better tonight in the unfriendly confines of Allen Fieldhouse. The Jayhawks have been uncharacteristically turnover-prone in their last two games, so tonight would be a good opportunity for the Bears to apply more pressure than they previously have. Even if they can’t force turnovers, though… Read the rest of this entry »