It’s finally here. After having to write about academic scandals and other peripheral stories as we tried to fill up this space with whatever news we could find for the past 7+ months we finally have real college basketball games to talk about again. While today’s slate may lack the blockbusters we will have in Indianapolis we have next Tuesday, but we might enjoy today even more. If that isn’t the case, you should find more than enough to keep you entertained until we get into the big-time match-ups.
You won’t be seeing two of the bigger names in college basketball due to recently announced suspensions. Southern Methodist senior forward Markus Kennedy, 12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game last season, has been ruled academically ineligible and will have to sit out the first semester meaning that he will not be available until after classes finish on December 17. While the school could try to work around the decision and play him that night against Illinois-Chicago we suspect that he would be out until December 20 when they play Michigan. Connecticut will have to wait one more game before transfer guard Rodney Purvis will be able to play for them as the NCAA ruled that he will have to miss one game because he participated in more than one summer league game. Purvis is the third significant player who will have to miss at least one regular season game to start the season because of this rule (Duje Dukan and Michael Cobbins being the others).
You can file this under “New season, same story.” As we mentioned earlier this week we have just entered the early signing period. Most of the major prospects haven’t committed yet, but two of the bigger ones did yesterday and much like in previous years the hot names–Isaiah Briscoe and SkalLabisserie—committed to Kentucky. The two five-star prospects are both borderline top 10 recruits overall in their class and give the Wildcats stars at two of the hardest positions to fill in any recruiting class (Briscoe at point guard and Labisserie at center). This doesn’t necessarily mean that John Calipari is going to clean up on the recruiting trail again, but it looks like things are going to stay the same.
Speaking of Labisserie, on Wednesday his AAU coach told CBS Sports that Labisserie’s handler guardian had approached him looking for ways to profit off of Labisserie. Now we take anything an AAU coach says with a grain of salt because as a group they don’t have the most sterling reputations. This isn’t to say that he is lying and even if he isn’t lying simply asking about how to profit (from an intellectual perspective) wouldn’t break any rules that we are aware of. Still you can be sure that the Kentucky haters will be latching onto this storyline (and Labisserie’s interesting senior year situation) up until the day that the NCAA makes a decision about his eligibility.
Tennessee coach Donnie Tyndall is expected to meet with the NCAA on Tuesday to discuss its investigation into his time at Southern Mississippi. As we have previously mentioned in this space the NCAA is looking into possible financial aid packages that were offered to players before they actually were allowed to receive scholarships. According to Jeff Goodman, the players in question are Matt Bingaya and Shadell Millinghaus. For its part, Tennessee claims that it very thoroughly vetted Tyndall before hiring him and for their sake we can only hope it was thorough enough. Its unclear what kind of timeline the NCAA is planning on working with, but we imagine that all parties involved would want a resolution as soon as possible.
Too often we lead off this space with bad news so it is a pleasure to write about Austin Hatch again and this time for a positive story. You may remember Hatch, a talented high school player who was involved in two plane crashes separated by eight years that took the lives of his entire immediate family. Hatch, who had been a Michigan commit before the incident, ended up staying on his Michigan commitment and after extensive rehab made it onto the court for an exhibition game for the Wolverines hitting a free throw for the first point of his college career. We are not sure how much Hatch will play for the Wolverines during his time in Ann Arbor, but just the fact that he was able to make it back to the court is inspiring in itself.
Nebraska got some good news recently as senior forward Leslee Smith is ahead of schedule in his recovery from tearing his left ACL and is expected to be ready to return by mid-January. Smith averaged 5.4 points and 4.8 rebounds last season and his return would add a lot to a Cornhusker team that could be competitive at the top of what should be a very good Big 12 Conference this season. The news for New Mexico was not as promising as junior college transfer Jordan Goodman is now expected to be out longer than originally anticipated as he recovers from several nagging injuries and is not expected to be back until December. Although the Lobos have plenty of quality in the backcourt, Goodman could be essential in the frontcourt in what should be a transition season for the Lobos.
Today is the first day of the early signing period for high school basketball recruits. While it doesn’t generate the hoopla of the regular period–particularly for football–it is still fairly significant as many top prospects sign binding letters of commitments to institutions. The two biggest names who are expected to commit later this week are Skal Labissiere (#4 overall–looking at Baylor, Georgetown, Kentucky, Memphis, North Carolina, and Tennessee) and Isaiah Briscoe (#9 overall–looking at Connecticut, Kentucky and St. John’s). You may remember Labissiere as the heavily touted recruit who recently announced that he was going to “attend” a prep school that did not exist yet for his senior year. It is unclear if either will sign, for their sakes, we hope they don’t since it binds the recruit to the school, which means that the recruit cannot back out even if everything about the school changes.Personally, we would like to see these letters of intent disappear and simply allow a player to verbally commit, which would allow that player more flexibility if (and when) a coach moves.
Last week, we linked an article from Ken Pomeroy that showed that the AP Preseason Poll did have some predictive value. This week, he has a slightly more broad-based analysis of various predictive models. While the overall analysis is not that complete it does show that the four prediction models that are most often referenced are fairly accurate. In terms of determining which is the most accurate that will be difficult as it will probably require several years of data and we would assume that most of these systems update their algorithms every year so a long-term analysis might not be as useful.
By now, you have probably read a column or seen a Twitter debate about whether this Kentucky team could beat a NBA team. This year the annual ridiculous debate was started by Chris Briggs, the coach of Georgetown College (that’s College not University and not the College of Arts and Sciences at Georgetown University), after Kentucky beat his NAIA team 121-52. After the game, Briggs said Kentucky “could have beaten some NBA teams tonight” and later added that “if they play like they did tonight, they’re an NBA playoff team.” Every year we hear this debate and we reflexively dismiss it as ridiculous although we could envision a scenario where the Philadelphia 76ers could be trying to score on their own basket. However, now that we have a NAIA coach talking after a game where his good, but not great NAIA team got blown out we might have to reassess things.
Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul, dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Where will Okafor and Jones be playing together next year?
The much anticipated weekend has arrived for Coach K and Duke. The top-ranked center and point guard in the class of 2014 are taking their official visits to Durham, North Carolina, today. Package deals in college basketball are often talked about but rarely come to fruition, especially one involving such star power. Jahlil Okafor, a 6’11” center out of Chicago, is the top ranked player in the country, and his buddy Tyus Jones, a 6’1” point guard out of Apple Valley, Minnesota, is the fourth-ranked player in the country. Both seniors have indicated that they will attend college together and have whittled their list of potential suitors down to three. Last week Kansas played host to the duo, but this week Duke gets to take its crack at selling the duo on moving east. With Okafor’s size and strength he is almost unguardable in the low post and would provide Duke with its best low post presence since the Carlos Boozer days. Jones would provide Duke with its best point guard since Jason Williams and he has long been discussed as the overall best point guard in high school basketball dating back to his sophomore year. Along with these two players, five-star small forward Justise Winslow (#9 overall, #3 SF) from the class of 2014 will also make the trip. His recruitment was discussed last week. All in all, it’s a huge weekend in Durham.
2. Cliff Alexander Makes His Last Official Visit
Cliff Alexander, a five-star power forward from Chicago, is staying in-state this weekend and making the two-hour drive south down to Champaign for his last official visit to Illinois. Alexander is a 6’8” manchild who is currently the No. 5 prospect in the class of 2014 and eerily reminiscent of L.A. Clipper DeAndre Jordan. Over the past few weeks Alexander and his family have taken in the sights and sounds of Midnight Madness at Memphis and Kansas. A decision is expected in November with Illinois, DePaul, Arizona, Kansas, Memphis, and Michigan State all receiving interest. Expect John Groce and the Illinois coaching staff to pull out all the stops this weekend for Alexander. While the Illini already have a strong recruiting class in 2014 with four-star power forward LeRon Black (#46 overall, #9 PF) and four-star point guard Quentin Snider (#31 overall, #7 PG) committed, Alexander would be the crown jewel. He can run the floor, block shots and dunks everything around the basket. His offensive skills outside the paint are rapidly improving and he put himself in the conversation for the number one player in the country. Not only would Groce get a player with future NBA talent, he would also lay claim to Illinois becoming a major player for all that Chicago talent.