We figured that we were done talking about the North Carolina academic scandal for a while, but then Larry Brown decided to talk about it. The 1963 UNC graduate and Hall of Fame coached said that he has been following the story and is most concerned with how it could stain Dean Smith‘s legacy. While we respect a lot of the work that Smith did both on and off the court, we find the fact that Brown, a man who left his last two college programs with major NCAA penalties (a fact many people conveniently forget), is worried about someone’s legacy is amusing. Given the amount of time that has passed since Smith actually coached, we are assuming that this will end up being something like the Sam Gilbert situation at UCLA, something that rival fans like to bring up at random times to try to bring down John Wooden, but not something that is a prominent part of his biography.
The news that the NCAA was considering releasing early information on potential high seeds like college football is doing for its College Football Playoff has been met with quite a bit of criticism. Many individuals have written pieces claiming everything from the idea that this will diminish Selection Sunday to that it will ruin the sport. While we do not find the idea of releasing a list of the top four or sixteen teams in the field particularly meaningful (it’s more of a money grab than anything with the potential ad revenue out there), we are not sure how this is that different than the almost real-time Bracketology that we see on almost every college basketball site. If you follow the sport and can’t think of the likely #1 or even top 4 seeds in each region without the NCAA telling you who they would probably pick we aren’t sure what to tell you. And if you don’t want to pay attention to them just ignore them.
Jerry Tarkanian remains in an ICU at a Las Vegas hospital after he was admitted with pneumonia. While Tarkanian has reportedly made significant improvements during the hospitalization this is his third hospitalization in the past eighteen months, which is concerning in itself. As anybody who has had a family member in the hospital knows, things can change quickly particularly for someone of Tarkanian’s age (84) and with his other medical problems (coronary artery disease and already with a pacemaker) so we are cautiously optimistic based on the news that we have heard so far.
On Wednesday, Steve Fisher signed a three-year extension at San Diego State. The news that the school would offer Fisher, whose contract was set to end after this season, an extension is not particularly surprising except that there was some speculation that Fisher, who is 70 years old, would retire after this season. Based on his resume alone, there is no question that Fisher deserves the extension and probably a lot more. For his part, Fisher says the extension was more of an administrative issue and he will make a decision about whether he will continue coaching after each season.
While most programs are working on building their 2015 recruiting class, the truly elite programs are looking even further down the road. Arizona certainly falls into that category as they already have one of the best 2015 classes and picked up a commitment on Wednesday from T.J. Leaf, a five-star power forward in the class of 2016. Leaf chose Arizona over Duke, Florida, Michigan, and UCLA. Arizona might not quite be in Kentucky’s class for recruiting (nobody really is), but they are not far behind and with the way they are stocking up on talent–particularly the type that might stay more than one year–they are positioned to be a dominant team for years to come.
A rough offseason just got a lot worse for Fresno State. The Bulldogs who already lost Kevin Olekaibe to transfer and dismissed Robert Upshaw now appear to have lost former Kansas commit Braeden Anderson for a significant amount of time after Anderson and walk-on Kyle Jackson were involved in what has been been described as a “serious car accident” that left one person dead. Information on Anderson is limited at this time, but according to reports he has a neck injury, but has movement in all of his extremities while Jackson escaped relatively unharmed. Obviously, basketball is a distant second to Anderson’s help at this time so we wish him and the other survivors involved in the accident a speedy recovery.
It was not too long ago (or a very long time depending on your point of view) that the public and the sports media nearly lost its mind with Nevin Shapiro’s allegations about NCAA violations at Miami. So the lack of media attention given to the report that Sports Illustrated was set publish details of widespread NCAA violations committed at Oklahoma State is somewhat interesting. On one hand the allegations all conveniently fall outside the NCAA’s statute of limitations so the NCAA cannot do anything about it (we think, but we thought the same think with Penn State). Still the reported violations are so widespread and the reaction to the Yahoo! Miami report was so over-the-top that the lack of media reaction here has been somewhat jarring. It may speak to way we have been desensitized to scandals after what happened at Penn State or perhaps the indignation will come once the actual report is released.
Yesterday, the Naismith Hall of Fame held its annual induction ceremony and while nearly all of the inductees had significant college basketball careers the three that are most pertinent to us were the coaches–Rick Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian, and Guy Lewis. Pitino needs no introduction especially since he is still coaching and just won a national title earlier this year, but we have to say the moment must have been particularly sweet for Tarkanian and Lewis, both of whom many felt should have been inducted years ago. We went over the cases for both several months ago when the decisions regarding induction were still being debated by the Selection Committee. In any event, we would like to congratulate all of the inductees.
Over the past few weeks we have seen the NCAA make several announcements regarding player eligibility that have raised eyebrows. Perhaps none have done so more than the ones regarding transfers with hardship waivers as many observers have been quick to point out the lack of consistency between some of the decisions that have been made. As expected several writers wrote about this topic, but if you want check out a few of the more nuanced takes we would suggest the following three takes: Andy Glockner, Dana O’Neil, and John Infante. All three writers offer slightly different takes, but they are all more thoughtful than what we have typically seen.
The past six months have been interesting ones for Kevin Ware. He went from being a key cog in the NCAA title favorites to being one of the enduring memories of this year’s NCAA Tournament after he suffered a compound fracture during Louisville’s Elite Eight game against Duke. After that there were a series of rumors claiming that Ware had been suspended from the team (subsequently refuted). Now it appears that Ware’s return to the court will be delayed at least until early 2014 according to Rick Pitino. Given the depth the Cardinals have they should be able to withstand Ware’s absence early in the season although they will certainly need him when March rolls around.
Chalk this one up to history repeating itself. When Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford was still a sharpshooting little guard at Kentucky in the early 1990s, his mentor and head coach Rick Pitino sat his superstar forward Jamal Mashburn down before his junior season and told the smooth forward that he had no choice but to declare he was entering the NBA Draft the following summer (remember, these were the days when top players tended to stay in school quite a bit longer than they do now). It was an unusual move at the time, but it helped both Mashburn and the rest of Ford’s team focus on the matter at hand, which was to remove that recurring question from the press conferences and get the Wildcats back to the Final Four in 1993. Ford may have suggested a similar strategy with his current superstar point guard, Marcus Smart, as the consensus high-lottery pick announced on Wednesday that his upcoming sophomore season will be his last in Stillwater. He’s one of only two collegians at the Team USA Mini-Camp this week, and CNNSI.com‘s Andy Glockner caught up with him after practice to get a better understanding of his thinking on that topic and several others.
The AP reported on Wednesday that legendary former UNLV head coach Jerry Tarkanianwas released from a San Diego hospital after 11 days there dealing with clogged arteries and installing a pacemaker. The national title-winning head coach, now 82 years old, has suffered failing health in recent years but will be inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame later this fall. Tark the Shark is without question one of the most colorful and controversial figures in the history of the game, but there’s no denying that his program-building ability as well as his basketball contributions (“amoeba defense,” anyone?) far outweigh his irascible, contrarian nature. We wish Tarkanian all the best with his ongoing health battles, but with all the rumblings in college sports circles about Division 4, the O’Bannon case and the possible end of the NCAA as we know it, how much glee would the longtime rabble-rouser get out of seeing the hypocrisy of the NCAA finally brought to bear in a nuclear payload?
Kansas freshman Brannen Greene is going to spend most of next season looking for a way to get people to remember his name. With classmate Andrew Wiggins soaking up all of the local, national and international attention focused on the 2013-14 Jayhawks, Greene will need to get creative to garner some of that oxygen in the room. He’s off to a decent start, as KUSports.comreported on Wednesday that Greene was cited last Wednesday morning for leaving the scene of an accident after a Chevy Trailblazer he was driving struck a parked Mercury Grand Marquis in a driveway. Notwithstanding the fact that it seems that no major college basketball player drives his own vehicle anymore (Greene was driving a car owned by an unnamed 25-year old Lawrence man), it begs the question as to why the 18-year old fled the scene in the first place. KU says that it will handle his punishment internally, which may or may not invoke the PJ Hairston rule. He will present in a Lawrence court on this charge in mid-August.
Speaking of UNC, Hairston and the myriad academic/athletic issues that continue to become exhumed in the never-ending investigation done by Dan Kane at the Raleigh News & Observer, Mike DeCourcy addresses the matter in this week’s Starting Five column. We’ve been on record throughout this saga that UNC has done its very best to uncover the very least while taking accountability for the bare minimum… despite an increasingly clear and sinister connection between its athletic department and certain academic courses dating back two decades. With every new unveiling of information that makes the university look even worse, the school seems to further bury its head in the sand in hopes that nothing will stick. The mantra “nothing to see here” comes to mind, and DeCourcy comes to the same conclusion, but can we put the cards on the table here once and for all? UNC will do anything to protect the legacy of Dean Smith, period.
Some people seemingly can’t catch a break, and while it’s difficult to make such a statement about someone who has gotten a free education at Stanford, we have to feel like Andy Brown is one of those unfortunate ones — at least on the athletic side of the equation. Johnny Dawkins reported on Wednesday that Brown, who has already suffered three ACL tears in his left knee while on The Farm, tore the ACL in his right knee on Tuesday during a workout, effectively ending his basketball career as a member of the Cardinal. Because of the injuries, he only managed to see action in a total of 54 games over the last three years, with 33 of those coming in his only full season in 2012-13. Brown will finish up his master’s degree in communications this year, which means that even though his athletic career didn’t turn out as well as he (or anyone) would have hoped, he’ll still end up with over a quarter-million dollars worth of academic sheepskin to his name. Not terrible.
Yesterday was not a good day if you like to defend the NCAA as it released its annual financial statement (sort of like a corporation) and it showed that the NCAA had a record $71 million profit in 2012. As you would expect this figure brought out quite a few comments asking how the NCAA could justify not sharing the profits with the student-athletes. We believe that paying student-athletes (and the economics behind it) are far more complex than most writers have made it out to be, but the numbers are pretty impressive. Our favorite part of what has been released from the report is their analysis of their current legal cases: “The NCAA and its legal counsel are defending against lawsuits and claims arising in the normal course of its day-to-day activities. The NCAA does not believe the ultimate resolution of these matters will result in material losses or have a material adverse effect on the consolidated financial position, change in net assets or cash flows of the NCAA.” We have a feeling that we could be recycling this quote if the Ed O’Bannon case goes against them.
It was about a year and a half ago that Taylor Branch published his epic piece on the NCAA and its curious mission in The Atlantic. The latest piece in The Atlantic about the NCAA will not generate the same interest, but it probably might lead to an equal level of disgust from readers as Meghan Walsh examines the (lack of) healthcare coverage provided by schools for its student-athletes. We tend to take many of these anecdotes with a grain of salt since they are only one side of the story since the schools often decline to say anything of any substance on the allegations, but they should make recruits and fans think a little bit more about the schools and programs that they commit to or choose to root for in the future.
One of the many criticisms of the NCAA is that they tend to move at a glacial pace and yesterday’s decision to suspend the previously accepted chances to recruiting communications only reaffirms that. This suspension will not affect basketball because the rules have already been in place for nearly a year (and why would the organization have similar rules for all of its sports?) so we may not see much of a change. The actual decision to at least temporarily hold on the rules change is not that remarkable, but the fact that they can pass a rule (at least temporarily) that such a large percentage of its member institutions oppose is always alarming.
Last month, Jerry Tarkanian was elected to the Basketball Hall of Fame and it appears to have set in motion a chain of events that are bringing increasing notoriety to Tarkanian’s impressive and underappreciated career. The latest such tribute is a statue of Tarkanian that was unveiled as part of UNLV‘s Jerry Tarkanian Project. The school plans on not only placing a bronze statue of Tarkanian (complete with a towel in his mouth) outside the Thomas & Mack Center, but also establishing a scholarship fund in his name. The project is still in the fundraising stages and they are soliciting donations now so it may take a while before it is complete (we have no idea how much it will take or how far away they are), but it should help reestablish a sense of tradition in a program that is just returning to national relevance after nearly two decades in the shadows.
Joining the ranks of the Big Ten and Texas among others, the SEC is set to launch its own 24-hour network. The network, which will be run with ESPN, will debut in August 2014 and is part of a 20-year deal. The key to this deal is clearly SEC football, but it will mean more than 100 extra SEC basketball games broadcast nationally, which could be good or bad depending on which games they show, but it will also provide additional exposure for many of the programs on a national level. We are not sure how much it will do for the football programs as their level of play should be enough to entice any recruit, but it could help basketball programs particularly the lower-tier ones attract talent on a more nation-wide level than they are used to.
Normally the day after the NCs AA Championship Game leaves feeling a little empty inside with the long off-season ahead, but last night’s game (and the first half in particular) was so ridiculously good that we are still buzzing from it. College basketball may not be at the same level it was in the 1980s, but as last night demonstrated it can still be amazing. So while we will miss college basketball for the next six month (we count practice) last night was a nice parting gift.
Last night may have been huge for Louisville‘s fans in terms of cementing themselves among the nation’s elite programs particularly with the Goliath next door, but according to research by Ryan Brewer, an assistant professor of finance at Indiana University-Purdue University Columbus, Cardinal fans have nothing to worry about as their program was already the most valuable in college basketball. We have not had a chance to analyze the methodology for the valuations and we have seen some pretty ridiculous valuation models over the years (see hundreds of Internet IPOs), but the top 10 looks fairly reasonable even if we don’t agree with the order. If we get a chance to analyze the valuation models in more detail we will post more on it at a later date.
The night may have belonged to Louisville, but it was still a special night for 11 other individuals (and Rick Pitino) who were announced as the newest inductees into the Basketball Hall of Fame. The headliners for us were the men’s coaches–Pitino, Jerry Tarkanian, and Guy Lewis–all of whom should have been inducted long ago particularly the latter two. This year’s class may not have the standout name that grabs the headlines like Michael Jordan or the Dream Team have done in recent years, but as usual it should be another memorable class and we cannot say there is anybody in the group with whom we can see anybody making a reasonable argument against induction.
There will be plenty of news about players deciding to enter the NBA Draft over the next few days, but players are already transferring and we have noted several over the past few days. The most recent entries into the transfer pool are Pe’Shon Howard who is leaving Maryland and Anrio Adams who initially left Kansas then tried coming back before apparently being told that he was not needed any more. Howard appears to be leaving for family reasons as his grandmother is apparently quite sick. We don’t know all the details of his family situation, but it appears that his grandparents had a big role in raising him and he wants to be near her for his final season of eligibility. The Adams saga is a little more complex and as the above link alludes to Adams brought a lot of this on himself with his use of social media to announce publicly that he was transferring rather than discussing it with the coaching staff.
The coaching carousel may already started filling many of its open seats, but the position at Florida Gulf Coast is still open after the surprising departure of Andy Enfield to USC, but it looks like they are narrowing down the list of potential candidates. As you would expect the opening has generated more interest than you would expect for a program of FGCU’s caliber. Perhaps the thought of living in Naples (overrated in our opinion) is attractive to many coaches, but the opening has drawn some big names most notably former NBA coach Eric Musselman, who also submitted his name for consideration for the job in 2011 before being beaten out by Enfield. Personally we think the opening is overrated, but perhaps the appeal of the team’s style might lure some recruits that otherwise would never consider the school.
One of the fundamental signs of intelligence is being able to learn from your mistakes so you can imagine our surprise when it came out that USC was interviewing Tim Floyd for its coaching vacancy. For those of you who may have forgotten Floyd resigned in 2009 amid accusations of his players (see Mayo, OJ) receiving improper benefits. It hasn’t been four years since that fiasco, but if you need a refresher you can check out our post from June 2009 on Floyd’s departure. In Floyd’s defense, the NCAA did clear him of any wrongdoing even if many nonpartisan observers remain skeptical. Outside of the obvious strange circumstance of USC interviewing a coach many feel it forced out the door a few years ago we also have to question the timing of the announcement as Floyd’s current team, UTEP, is doing well at 16-12 overall and 9-5 in Conference USA with two more regular season games remaining. It is beyond us why Floyd would admit to an interview with his team still playing meaningful basketball.
Floyd may steal the headlines from that story, but we might be more interested in the second to last sentence of the story, which mentions that long-time Syracuse assistant Mike Hopkins has also interviewed for the job (confirmed to a local radio show). Although Hopkins is widely acknowledged as the eventual successor to Jim Boeheim the actual date that Boeheim leaves the Syracuse does not appear to be that close no matter how many cantankerous post-game press conferences Boeheim has. While we are disappointed that our #DausterForUSC campaign has failed to take off, Hopkins would appear to be an ideal candidate for the job with his experience at Syracuse and southern California roots. As we have said many times USC seems like it is the type of program that is just waiting for the right coach to make it a competitive national program again.
We are a little over a month away from the Basketball Hall of Fame and while this year’s class will not generate the controversy that the baseball class will one potential inductee-Jerry Tarkanian–will raise plenty of issues for voters. We have already discussed the case for and against Tarkanian in this space in the past month and now at least one prominent sportswriter (Dave Kindred) is voicing his support for Tarkanian’s induction into the Basketball Hall of Fame. We are sure that there are some members of the selection committee will hold Tarkanian’s renegade reputation against him, but perhaps the NCAA’s recent public relations struggles will make Tarkanian a more sympathetic figure now.
It turns out that the NCAA Tournament is not just big business for the NCAA and television networks. As Chris Smith of Forbes points out John Calipari could make up to $700,000 in bonuses depending on how Kentucky performs in the NCAA Tournament. In Calipari’s case, he is unlikely to collect on those bonuses as the Wildcats are not expected to make a deep run (or possibly not make the NCAA Tournament at all) and the more significant bonuses come in the later rounds. We do not have access to the contracts of other coaches out there, but we would guess that many of them could see a substantial raise above their base salary with deep runs in the NCAA Tournament (Calipari added 21% last year).
One of the more heavily discussed topics in March is that of the bubble. There are countless forecasters who give predictions on who will make the NCAA Tournament through their secret formulas, but if you are looking for something more transparent (and simple) then the Easy Bubble Solver might be for you. Created by Drew Cannon it simply adds together a team’s RPI and Ken Pomeroy ranking then takes the 37 highest ranked teams as its at-large selections. Its 94 percent success rate over the past six seasons is impressive so even you think it is too simple it is worth taking a look at to see where there may be some disparities between what the analysts expect and what the EBS predicts.
On Friday the Naismith Hall of Fame announced the 12 Finalists for the class of 2013. Almost by definition there are plenty of big names on the list, but three stand out for us as a college basketball site: Guy Lewis, Rick Pitino, and Jerry Tarkanian. Pitino’s induction should almost be a formality with his national championship and being the only coach to lead three different schools (Providence, Kentucky, and Louisville) to the Final Four. We are not sure why Lewis has not gotten in yet with his 592 wins (all at Houston), five Final Four appearances (separated by a generation) as the only thing we can see missing from his resume is a national championship, but it seems like five Final Four appearances would make up for it. As for Tarkanian, we pointed out his omission from the Hall of Fame thus far may be the most notable omission that we can think of. Based on his credentials–729 wins and a national championship–he is more than qualified, but his off-the-court (sometimes in court) issues might make a few voters squeamish. We hope that the voters can look past that and finally put the original Shark (sorry, Mark Titus) in the Hall of Fame.
Many of our younger readers may not be familiar with George Raveling, but those of us who have followed the sport for years are no doubt familiar with his contributions. And on Friday he was recognized for that work as he was awarded the John W. Bunn Lifetime Achievement Award. Named after John W. Bunn, the first chairman of the Basketball Hall of Fame Committee, the award as its name suggests is given to recognize an individuals work in the game of basketball anywhere from the high school to the professional or international level. For those of you who are not familiar with Raveling’s work his website has an excellent biography that is worth checking out including his involvement with Martin Luther King Jr. that led to Raveling owning the original “I Have A Dream” speech.
It seems like we talk about conference realignment and the Catholic 7 too frequently in this section, but John Feinstein’s article detailing the Catholic 7’s expansion plan is one of the better inside looks we have read. Outside of the usual posturing about the relative strength of various conferences Feinstein points out why if the conference decides to stay completely “Catholic” it would mean going from adding Butler to adding Detroit and why Creighton is not even in the discussion at this point. There are also a few interesting notes on the leadership of the budding conference, which may be of interest to those of you into the behind the scenes action that is going on before the conference officially forms.
If you were on Twitter this week you saw a lot of tweets originating from Indianapolis where a group of writers gathered for the annual mock bracket selection. As you can see the from the mock bracket the mock committee had no issues handing the number #1 seeds to ACC and Big Ten. Of course, this may have changed with this weekend’s results from the ACC. One of the most amazing things about the process is the anger it creates in some fan bases that feel that they have been wronged. With one of our co-editors having taken part in this (last year) we can assure you that it is much more complex than in looks. Plenty of people can try to poke holes in the mock bracket for individual teams, but it any move creates a ripple effect and in general it is there for a reason.
This weekend (actually the entire week) was filled with countless articles on Michael Jordan both on the man, his accomplishments, and his impact on the game. Outside of the outstanding inside look at Jordan by Wright Thompson, the one piece that really caught our eye was from Luke Winn, who took a look at Jordan the college player through advanced statistics. One of the things we feel has not been talked about enough is how good of a college player Jordan was. He was obviously an excellent player having won a Player of the Year award, but looking back at the era he was hardly the force that he became in the NBA even early in his career. While Winn’s piece does not exactly answer that question it does provide a better glimpse at the type of player he was in college even if the comparison players may make some critics roll their eyes.
The big news of the weekend happened on Saturday when Lehigh star CJ McCollum left their game against VCU after what appeared to be a fairly innocuous drive. However, when he returned to the court he was on crutches and told a teammate that his foot was broken, which was confirmed the following day as a fracture of his fifth metatarsal in his left foot and is expected to be out for 8-10 weeks. The injury is obviously a crushing blow for Lehigh’s season although it is possible the McCollum could return in time for the Patriot League conference tournament. However, various reports indicate that the plan is to be as conservative as possible, which seems to be the most reasonable choice given the fact that McCollum is still probably a first round choice as long as he comes back healthy.
According to unnamed sources, the “Catholic 7″ are on the verge on striking a lucrative television deal worth more than $500 million over 12 years. The sources, who may have their own agendas in providing this information, are reporting that Fox is looking at putting the new conference on Fox Sports 1, which will replace Speed (already in 81 million households in the US). The deal would pay each of the seven schools about twice as much as they would have made had they elected to stay in the Big East. Interestingly, the seven schools are expecting that any incoming schools would be paid less than half of the television money that the “Catholic 7″ are making because those new schools would still be making significantly more than they are making in their current television contracts. This might sound reasonable in theory, but we would be surprised if the schools agreed to do so for more than a few years.
File this under the category of “the rich get richer”. On Saturday, Dakari Johnsoncommitted to Kentucky adding to their already ridiculous incoming recruiting class. Johnson, who is the consensus #1 center in this year’s class even though he only reclassified to the class of 2013 from the class of 2014 back in November, announced his decision on ESPN2/ESPNU after his team’s convincing victory over a Jabari Parker-led team from Simeon (IL). Johnson is the third player ranked #1 at his position to join the incoming class at Kentucky with twins Andrew and Aaron Harrison being the others with James Young (#2 shooting guard/#6 overall), Marcus Lee (#11 power forward/#30 overall), and Derek Willis (three-star power forward) rounding out the class so far. At this point Kentucky has already secured the #1 overall class for 2013 and everybody’s attention will be turned to where they rank historically. The obvious comparison is the Fab Five class that came into Michigan in the fall of 1991. We are sure that plenty of recruiting analysts will be chiming in with their thoughts in the next few months, but we will hold off on any comparisons (apparently so will John Calipari) except to say that we doubt they will have the cultural legacy, but hope they will exist in the eyes of the NCAA.
After Jim Boeheim passed Bob Knight on the all-time victory list there was quite a bit of talk about where he ranked among the greatest coaches of all-time. One coach who we never hear mentioned in these discussions, but probably merits consideration to at least be mentioned is the legendary Jerry Tarkanian. While many reasons have been cited including the infamous hot tub photo where several of Tarkanian’s players are seen with Richard Perry, a famous gambler who had been convicted twice of sports bribery, it would seem that Tarkanian is unjustly left out of these discussions. As Sam Borden points out in his excellent article on Tarkanian in The New York Times Tarkanian was a pioneer who was well ahead of his time. As Borden points out, one of the sticky subjects around Tarkanian is that he still is not in the Hall of Fame despite his ridiculous coaching credentials as the lingering questions surrounding his methods and the people surrounding his programs have made many uneasy to include him in such select company. In our opinion, Tarkanian belongs in the Hall of Fame with the understanding that those who actually know the game will be aware of the allegations surrounding his career.
If you are unhappy with how your team’s season is going so far, be happy that you are not a fan of Hamline, a Division III school that has suspended its head coach indefinitely, dismissed a player, forfeited its game on Saturday, and is considering additional discipline/suspensions for the 14 remaining players on the team. The origins of this fiasco appear to start after the team’s trip to Spokane, Washington when Eugene Lawrence III was charged with felony second-degree assault after allegedly punching a women in the face. The entire story, which is described in detail including the circumstances around the encounter and Lawrence’s reaction afterwards, is disturbing although we are not sure how the coach and the rest of the team fit in here. Hopefully the situation can be resolved, but we have to applaud the school (or at least someone at some level) for stepping in and apparently taking charge of this mess.
Looking back at Thursday’s games in the Albuquerque regional from a Friday night perspective, my thoughts turn more to Montana, Harvard, South Dakota State, and UNLV than the teams that advanced from those first round games. We will have plenty of time to enjoy Wisconsin, Vanderbilt, Baylor, and Colorado on Saturday afternoon and evening, but for right now, let’s talk about the good things that these four teams, whose seasons ended on Friday, did on Thursday and throughout the year.
After struggling through a non-conference schedule, everything came together for Montana in conference play, where they ripped off 15 wins in 16 games and then swept to the Big Sky’s automatic bid in relatively easy fashion. And on Thursday, for roughly 18 minutes, they gave Wisconsin a battle. They came out hot early, scored 18 points on the first 13 possession against a stingy Badger defense and had the numerous Grizzly fans who made the trip down to support their team dreaming of big things. There were forced turnovers, acrobatic finishes and lots of excitement created early for an undermanned team. However, once the Wisconsin defense locked down, the Grizzlies went cold and headed home early. Still, this is a program that has made three straight postseasons (including two NCAA bids) under head coach Wayne Tinkle and returns 66.3% of its scoring from this year, including talented backcourt combo Will Cherry and Kareem Jamar. And clearly, Tinkle’s got the community buying into the team and is well on the way to making Montana as much a basketball school as it is a football power.
What can you say about this Harvard team? First NCAA Tournament appearance in more than 60 years, a sparkling 26-4 record and at least a piece of the regular season Ivy League title for two years running. Better still, this is a program that shows all the signs of being in it for the long haul. Head coach Tommy Amaker is building for the future here, not just taking advantage of a flash in the pan. And, perhaps best of all, this has been a truly entertaining team to watch. I saw them in person twice this season and came away feeling good about the Crimson on both occasions. Amaker loses big man Keith Wright and hyper-efficient guard Oliver McNally, but they return plenty of experienced players for a team that should be the favorite in the Ivy again next year. Sophomore Laurent Rivard is an absurdly entertaining and confident shot-maker who earned the respect of Vandy’s players and fans by knocking down three after ridiculous three in the face of excellent defense. Junior forward Kyle Casey may be a bit undersized, but he cleans the glass for Amaker and just seems to be around the ball to make plays on a regular basis. Junior point guard Brandyn Curry is one of the best assist men in the nation and a scrappy defensive playmaker, while freshman Wesley Saunders is an athletic ball of energy with loads of upside. Add in the fact that Amaker has made Harvard a legitimate destination for recruits and it appears that the Crimson are on the verge of being an every-year type of team.
South Dakota State may have been the darling of the Albuquerque Thursday. Not only did the scrappy Jackrabbits battle a clearly athletically superior Baylor team tooth and nail for 40 minutes, but their fans, supporting a team from the state of South Dakota in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, were an asset to the entire atmosphere in The Pit. Just as Baylor’s team showed up expecting to advance to the next round on the basis of their talent alone, the Bear fans strolled in from the parking lot at a leisurely rate, not even filling up their section until SDSU had run out to an early 12 point lead. Meanwhile, Jackrabbit fans made their way into the arena as early as the possibly could (the doors weren’t opened for the second session until 30 minutes before tip-off), loaded up their section and then some, and were loud and supportive throughout the game. They had plenty to cheer for as junior guard Nate Wolters led an inspired effort against one of the biggest, most athletic squads in Division I. Even after they booted away that 12-point first-half lead in a flurry of first half turnovers and seemed destined for a blowout, the Jackrabbits, fans and team alike, responded strong in the second half and at least put a good scare into the Bears. While Wolters gets most of the press, guys like sophomore reserve wing Chad White (15 points, five threes in 30 minutes), senior forward Griffan Callahan (seven points, two steals in a full 40 minutes of action), sophomore forward Jordan Dykstra (five points, three boards), junior forward Tony Fiegen (two points, five boards, five assists) and sophomore guard Brayden Carlson (nine points, five assists) deserve at least a mention, with Callahan, Fiegen and Dykstra all deserving extra props for contending with, and generally containing, the imposing Baylor frontline. In the end, it was a 27-8 record on the year for the Jackrabbits, the best in the history of the school. And with everyone but Callahan expected to return next year, South Dakota State could again claim a spot on the national stage.
Lastly, there’s UNLV, the most celebrated of the four losers on Thursday night. While Montana, Harvard and South Dakota State can all come away from their NCAA Tournament experience feeling okay about their seasons, for the Runnin’ Rebels, this is a disappointment, not solely because they were upended by a lower seed. This marks the fourth consecutive NCAA Tournament loss for the proud program and sends seniors Oscar Bellfield, Chace Stanback, and Brice Massamba off to graduation without a tournament win on their resume (fellow senior Kendall Wallace redshirted last season and was a small part of the 2008 team that beat Kent State in the first round). And, for the third consecutive year, this was a Rebel team that played its best basketball of the season in November and December and never improved as much as the other teams around them. And, perhaps most galling of all for a proud fanbase, the UNLV supporters were out-traveled and out-voiced throughout the game by Colorado fans, relative upstarts. Things need to change in Vegas next season. And the good news is, all the parts are there for the change to be made. Head coach Dave Rice will be heading into his second season as a head coach and should be able to build upon his experience this year. Mike Moser and Anthony Marshall, the first and third leading scorers on this team should return (provided Moser doesn’t do anything stupid and declare for the NBA Draft), along with plenty of other strong parts, including Division I transfers Bryce Jones and Khem Birch. Marshall will take over the leadership role for this team once and for all (a role he battled with Bellfield and Stanback over this year), and the team should be better for that. And, there is a buzz about the program that has been largely missing since the days of Jerry Tarkanian. In short, the future is bright in Las Vegas, even if the present is full of regrets over missed opportunities on Thursday.
It’s been a relatively quiet week around the Mountain West as teams took a bit of a break to celebrate the holidays. However, despite just eight games in the past week, we’ve had three fairly significant injuries. Boise State was the team hardest hit, as it lost freshman wing Igor Hadziomerovic to a broken foot and will likely play the rest of the season without him, while fellow freshman Anthony Drmic, the team’s leading scorer, missed the Broncos’ visit to Iowa with a sprained ankle. Meanwhile, Air Force lost is leading scorer, Michael Lyons, early in its visit to Spokane to face Gonzaga to a sprained ankle of his own. He never returned to a game in which the Falcons possibly could have challenged the Bulldogs, and the worst-case scenario for Lyons is not a good one. Since he sustained a high-ankle sprain, he could miss as many as six weeks, but a lot depends on how he reacts. It is possible he could be back as soon as this weekend, but ideally he would be back by January 14 when the Falcons travel to Boise State to open the conference season.
Another prominent MW player missed a game this week for a different reason, however, as New Mexico’s Kendall Williams sat out the Lobos’ Thursday game against UMKC as punishment from head coach Steve Alford for a poor academic fall semester. Williams is not in any way academically ineligible, and certainly the Lobos did just fine without him against middling competition, but give credit to Alford for laying down the law.
Team of the Week
UNLV – The Runnin’ Rebels take this honor down for the second straight week on the strength of its demolition of California on Friday. UNLV used a 31-12 run to close the first half to build a 20-point halftime lead, then led by as many as 27 in the second half before coasting home to a 17-point win. Anthony Marshall led the way in style with 22 points, nine rebounds, and three steals, while Oscar Bellfield handed out 11 assists and the Rebels dominated every facet of the game. UNLV still has to travel to Hawaii and Cal State Bakersfield in their non-conference (along with hosting Central Arkansas), but if everything holds up, they should enter conference play with a 16-2 record, including wins over North Carolina, Illinois and California and a good shot at a solid seed in the NCAA Tournament.
Dorian Green Had A Career Game For CSU Against Northern Colorado, Knocking Down Eight Threes (photo credit: Sam Noblett, The Rocky Mountain Collegian)
Player of the Week
Dorian Green, Jr, Colorado State – Green caught absolute fire Thursday night for the Rams, hitting eight-of-ten three-pointers and 11-of-16 from the field while exploding for a career-high 36 points in a win over Northern Colorado. After an excellent freshman season in Fort Collins, Green took a step back last season, seeing his scoring and shooting numbers take a healthy dip. But in his third season, Green has been rock-solid shooting the ball, hitting 58.7% of his three-point attempts this year. He’s also picked up his rebounding numbers for the third year running, (even adding his first-career double-digit rebounding game against Duke a couple weeks back) while helping out with the ballhandling duties and providing an explosive offensive threat in a Ram backcourt made up of multiple excellent shooters.
David Gao is the RTC correspondent for the Big West Conference. You can also find his musings online at Zotcubed, a UC Irvine blog, or on Twitter @dvdgao.
The Week That Was:
Thomason Sets Big West Win Record: Pacific coach Bob Thomason won his 406th game with the Tigers on December 3, surpassing former Long Beach State and UNLV coach Jerry Tarkanian as the all-time winningest coach in the history of the Big West Conference. Pacific defeated Utah State 65-57 in the landmark win, the Tigers’ third of the year. Thomason is in his 23rd year as Pacific coach, and has perhaps his most difficult task before him this season with a team of newcomers and very little returning experience. So far, the Tigers are 3-3, but their win against the Aggies is their only win against a Division I opponent.
San Diego State Hangs On: Amidst rumors of San Diego State potentially joining the Big West in non-football sports due to its likely move to the Big East in football, the Aztecs went to overtime against Long Beach State and UC Santa Barbara before beating both in a possible foreshadowing of match-ups to come. The 49ers, coming off their upset of #9 Pittsburgh, led by three at halftime and then battled back to force overtime before succumbing to the Aztecs 77-73. A similar storyline unfolded in Santa Barbara, when the Gauchos built up a lead at halftime before losing it and then forcing overtime with a late free throw. San Diego State came through in overtime once again however, defeating UCSB 76-75.
Growing Pains: The Big West is quickly sorting out into a top four and bottom five infrastructure, with the bottom five struggling mightily against some underwhelming opponents. Besides Pacific’s aforementioned one D-I victory, UC Irvine is 1-6 after going 0-3 in the Great Alaska Shootout including a loss to D-II Alaska-Anchorage by 14. UC Riverside is 2-4 with only one D-I win as well, albeit a decent win in the 76 Classic against Washington State. Worse off are Cal State Northridge and UC Davis, who together are a combined 2-13 with zero D-I wins on the year.
Orlando Johnson Is Carrying A Heavy Load For The Gauchos, Playing 70% Of His Team's Available Minutes And Taking 34.9% Of The Shots.
Long Beach State (4-3) – The Big West darlings have yet to follow up on their triumph against Pitt, instead losing to Montana and #6 Louisville. While losing to the Cardinals is understandable, decent but unspectacular teams such as Montana have to be wins for Long Beach State if they want to make this season not merely good, but great. Interior defense has slipped as of recent, and turnovers and free throw percentage need improvement as well. A lot of that comes down to maintaining a high intensity throughout each and every game, regardless of whether it is in Pittsburgh or Missoula.
UC Santa Barbara (4-2) – After a 4-0 start, UCSB has suffered two gut-wrenching losses to two very tough opponents in SDSU and UNLV. The SDSU game slipped away in overtime partly due to a timeout call when the team had none left, while the UNLV game went into a thrilling double overtime before the Rebels, fresh off their triumph over then #1 North Carolina, pulled out a 94-88 win. Any perceived gap between Long Beach State and UCSB has narrowed over the last two weeks, and it will be interesting to see if Orlando Johnson keeps up his torrid play. As a team, the Gauchos are at the top or near the top of every major statistical category. Read the rest of this entry »
UNLV legend Armen Gilliam died on Tuesday night at the age of 47 after suffering an apparent heart attack while playing pickup basketball in a Pittsburgh-area gym. Gilliam’s death occurs just nine days after NC State legend Lorenzo Charlesdied in a motor vehicle accident in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Gilliam had a great college & pro career (Credit: David Petkiewicz/Arizona Republic)
Nicknamed “The Hammer” for his physical play Gilliam led UNLV to a 93-11 record during his 3 seasons there culminating in a 37-2 season in 1987 that ended in the Final Four appearance. Gilliam was named a 2nd team All-American and Big West Player of the Year while scoring 903 points (still a single-season record at UNLV) while averaging 23.2 PPG and 9.3 RPG as a senior. Following his senior year Gilliam was the 2nd overall pick in the 1987 NBA Draft behind David Robinson. In his 13 seasons in the NBA, Gilliam averaged 13.7 PPG and 6.9 RPG while playing for 6 different NBA teams.
Gilliam’s jersey was inducted into the UNLV Athletic Hall of Fame in 1998 and had his jersey retired by the school in 2007. Upon hearing about Gilliam’s death, his former coach Jerry Tarkanian said, “He was one of the greatest Rebels ever and one of the best players we have ever had. In my ratings, I had Larry Johnson No. 1 and Armon No. 2. He was such a great person. Everybody loved him and he loved everybody. He was such a gentle person and such a caring guy. I am all shook up over it. I think the world of him and am just really shocked.”