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.”
Late last night news broke that Arizona point guard Lamont “Momo” Jones had decided to transfer and was likely headed back to the New York City area. Although Jones has not issued a statement about his transfer, Arizona coach Sean Miller has confirmed the reports that was indeed transferring. There has been plenty of speculation about why he was transferring, but much of it has centered around either his desire to go home to be near a sick family relative (reportedly his grandmother) or the logjam in a Arizona backcourt that will be loaded even without Jones, who averaged 9.7 PPG and 2.4 APG as a sophomore. We will have more on this story throughout the day as it develops.
Later today Valparaiso is expected to name Bryce Drew as the successor to his father Homer Drew as the next coach of the program that he helped make famous. This is not the first time that Homer has stepped aside to let his son take over the program. In 2002, Homer stepped aside to let Scott Drew take over as coach at VU, but he stayed there just one year before leaving to take over at Baylor following the Dave Bliss era. Homer stepped back into his previous position where he has remained despite failing to make the NCAA Tournament for the past seven seasons. Bryce has served as an assistant at the school since 2005, but is best known for his miraculous shot against Mississippi in the 1st round of the 1998 NCAA Tournament and leading them to the school to its only Sweet 16 appearance.
Last summer UNLV had to deal with domestic violence charges against its top returning scorer (Tre’Von Willis) and it appears that this summer it will have to deal with DUI charges against its top returning scorer (Chace Stanback). Stanback was arrested early on Friday near the Thomas & Mack Center on suspicion of driving under the influence. He is out of custody and is expected to appear in court on August 11. It will be interesting to see how new coach Dave Rice deals with the arrest both before and after the court appearance. Rice comes from a strict program at BYU (remember Brandon Davies), but he was also on the Jerry Tarkanian teams of the early 90s that had a more laissez-faire approach to punishment.
One of the bigger stories in the college basketball world yesterday was Dana O’Neill’s story about former Villanova guard Will Sheridanpublicly announcing that he was a homosexual. While we understand that this will be a big story and undoubtedly generate a lot of page views for ESPN, we are looking forward to the day when this isn’t even a story. The column itself is pretty interesting and takes an in-depth look at Sheridan’s life after Villanova, but the most interesting thing to us is that his teammates knew about it and didn’t seem to care. In our mind, that seems to be the biggest obstacle for a player “coming out” while they are still active. The fear of being ostracized seems to be within the realm of possibility and we have to applaud the Villanova players who were aware of it for how they handled “the news” and never let it get out or seem to bother them as we have seen with the recent Kobe Bryant controversy that there are still many ingrained attitudes about homosexuality that may be difficult to break in the world of sports.
President Obama welcomed the national champion UConn Huskies to the White House. Unlike some recent championship ceremonies this one was without controversy although Kemba Walker apparently had a tough time getting there as he missed one flight and had another flight delayed before eventually finding his way to Washington, DC. The ceremony itself was fairly mundane except for a few jokes that Obama made about how UConn reminded him of his busted bracket (he picked Kansas to win) and his difficulty with the name of Adolph Rupp.
RTC is at the Final Four in Houston, our sixth as a fan but our first as a member of the working media. What that means, exactly, we’re still trying to figure out, but we think it has something to do with wearing a rectangular piece of plastic with our mug on it and nodding approvingly at the people in the NCAA blazers walking around the innards of Reliant Stadium. Or maybe it means dropping dime on one of the coaches at the dais for one thing or another — we’re not sure. Anyway, over the next four days of collegiate basketball activity here in H-town, we’ll be providing a daily diary in much the same way we’ve done with our correspondents throughout this year’s Tournament — equal parts observation and analysis, with a hint of the absurd.
Friday, April 1 – Houston, Texas
Houston sucks. I’ve never been to a place that angers me more than this city. Ok, maybe Vegas after a specific trip to the Luxor Hotel & Spa a few years back, but nowhere else I’ve been in this country enjoys such a harmonious mixture of horrendous traffic, non-walkability, preponderance of bad chain restaurants, paucity of natural beauty, unbearable heat, and a culture-less culture than this place. I’ve been to most major US cities before, and there’s a reason I’d yet to make it to this one — now I know why (as I prep for my credential to be rendered invalid around 4 pm CDT tomorrow). Credential or not, you’ve got three more days, Houston — my poison pen is raring. Other than that, it’s great.
There Are a Lot of Roads That End Here, Not Just This One.
On to Final Four Friday, as it’s called in the local parlance. Not to go all Negative Nancy on you all in this diary, but the four practices this afternoon couldn’t have been more sleep-inducing. I was lucky enough to bring the RTC Babe along for the ride this weekend, and she put it rather succinctly when asked about her impressions of the four-hour snorefest — “It was boring, but I did get to see Jimmer,” her voice lilting at the end. That she did, and as she’s somehow managed to convince herself in the last three weeks that BYU’s Jimmer Fredette possesses a hotness that most mere mortals cannot reach, we say bravo. After all, The Jimmer is in fact the guy we all want to be anyway, and it could be worse — she could have mentioned somebody like, ugh, Chandler Parsons.
Jimmer, Clearly Awkward But Playing Along...
Back to the practices, though, and although it was cool to be in the building and to look around, enjoy the decorations and speak with some colleagues, the practices were by and large worthless. A few light drills, a lot of jump shooting, coaches and players taking it all in — these were the activities of the day. No Big Country tearing the backboard down or Kevin Love hitting 100-footers or a horrific injury to a notable player today — just a lot of quiet. Even the Kentucky fans were largely muted, a completely unexpected occurrence given that it’s been 13 long years since the BBN last saw a F4 Friday practice.
Love him or hate him, you have to admit that he was never boring, and the kid could fill it. On Sunday, Maryland honored former star (and current Memphis Grizzly) Greivis Vasquez by raising his number up to the Comcast Center rafters. And of course you know he loved getting another jab in on North Carolina, as seen in the report from the Baltimore Sun’s Tracking the Terps blog; when asked about how he thought Maryland would do in their last five regular season games, Vasquez predicted five wins, adding, “I think we can beat UNC at UNC anytime.”
According to the Kansas City Star, Kansas State’s Jacob Pullen is a veritable bracket expert, often scouring the web for the latest bracket predictions and news. While making sure to note that he really just hopes his Wildcats get into The Dance, he projects KSU as a six-seed in this year’s NCAA Tournament. We don’t know if Jacob is familiar with the work of RTC bracketologist-in-residence Zach Hayes, but we’ll make sure Pullen has Zach’s e-mail address in the event that he wants to lobby for his Wildcats or offer Zach a few choice words, heh heh. We’ll see where ZH has Kansas State (if anywhere) in his next bracket projection later today. In last week’s edition, KSU was one of the last four out, but it was released before the Wildcats’ win over Kansas on Monday night.
You probably remember how full Cornell’s bandwagon got last year as the Big Red rolled to a 29-5 record, a 12-seed in the NCAA Tournament (way, way too low), and a Sweet 16 appearance. That was their third straight bid to the Tournament, a trifecta of appearances that came after a 20-year drought. Harvard is not impressed. The Crimson (20-4, 9-1) are a half game up on Princeton in the Ivy League standings with four games to play — remember, there’s no post-season tournament for the Ancient Eight, so the auto-bid goes to the regular season champ — and all that’s at stake for Tommy Amaker’s team is the program’s first NCAA bid…in 65 years. The last game on their schedule? Princeton. March 5th.
You think Jerry Tarkanian, at age 80, has tempered his ire toward the NCAA with the passage of time? Right. You figure that $2.5 million dollar settlement check he received from them in 1998 diluted his anger? Think again. On Friday at the Palms in Vegas, HBO premiered a documentary about Tark’s UNLV days, and it’s obvious from his post-screening comments that this is one grudge he’ll never put down. He gets in some priceless digs (the strip club comment is hilarious) in this Tim Dahlberg/AP article we caught in the New York Times.
Remember that play from Tuesday’s Michigan State vs Ohio State game where Aaron Craft ran down that errant Spartan pass that went into the backcourt, gathered it before it went out of bounds, then took it up strong for the and-one? A few seconds after it happened, we tweeted that that single effort told you a lot of what you needed to know about the impressive Ohio State freshman. Well, we were wrong. This article from the Akron Beacon Journal tells you even more. His sections in that “Party In the USA” viral video brought to mind the voice of the great Ralph Wiggum (full disclosure: HLN’s Rafer Weigel said that before we did), but Craft’s evidently got skills in about fourteen other sports…and that’s not counting what sounds like some serious expertise on the dance floor [h/t: Coach Jeff Boals].
In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament, Joe Dzuback at the Atlantic 10 Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend. In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournaments, they will each post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for tonight’s pair of championship games and the A10 semis.
Mountain West Finals: San Diego State 55, UNLV 45
The only logical place to begin here is with Kawhi Leonard, who was dominant tonight. The line speaks for itself: 21 rebounds (a career high), including seven on the offensive end. 16 points. Holding Tre’Von Willis to 4/12 shooting from the floor (and at least two of those field goals came when SDSU inexplicably switched to zone at the start of the 2nd half). And throw in a couple assists and a couple steals for good measure. He definitely presents matchup problems for every team in the MWC, and he will present problems for teams across the country. Throw a smaller, quicker guy on him and Leonard will dominate in the paint; put a big man on him and he can step outside and use his face-up game. In the postgame press conference, UNLV head coach Lon Kruger was asked about the possibility of having to deal with Leonard for three more years, and the look that crossed his face (a combination of a knowing smile and a grimace) was priceless before he went on to spend a couple minutes singing Leonard’s praises. While New Mexico’s Darington Hobson and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette rightly are regarded as the best players in the conference, it is Leonard who is the most talented player in the conference.
Willis tweaked his ankle late in the game on Friday night, and while he played without incident tonight, he was likely not as explosive as he was earlier in the tournament. How much of that had to do with the ankle and how much was the Leonard factor is up for debate, but Coach Kruger of course brushed off any notion that Willis was hampered by the ankle.
The vaunted UNLV homecourt advantage turned out to be much less of an issue tonight than it was either last night or even on Thursday night in the quarterfinal. Maybe it was the earlier start, or maybe it was the Aztec fans’ inability to provoke the UNLV fans into a cheering confrontation as Utah and BYU fans did, but while the Rebel fans sure got loud when Larry Johnson and Jerry Tarkanian were shown on the scoreboard, they were never really a huge factor in the game.
Last night in this space I talked up UNLV junior center Brice Massamba quite a bit. Tonight? Um, who? Massamba’s totals: 18 minutes, five fouls, two rebounds, two turnovers.
Now, time for me to admit a couple areas where I was dead wrong. This doesn’t happen often (not me being wrong, I’m wrong a lot, I just rarely admit it – ask my wife), so soak it up.
First, sometime in the middle of the MWC season I wrote that San Diego State junior point guard D.J. Gay was holding his team back and that head coach Steve Fisher should make the move to freshman Chase Tapley at the point. Well, Gay proved me wrong and Fisher right more or less from that point on. While Gay still doesn’t shoot a great percentage from the floor, he has really cut down on the turnovers over the back half of the schedule, and more important than anything the numbers show, he is the leader on this team. Guys like Leonard and Billy White and Malcolm Thomas and even senior Kelvin Davis are all major cogs for this Aztec team, but it is Gay who makes this team go. Look at his numbers over the tournament, and they’re nothing special (in fact, they’re downright awful): less than 8ppg, six of 26 from the field, 10 assists, five turnovers. And yet, they probably don’t get out of the quarterfinals without him (when he hit two clutch free throws at the end to provide the final margin), they certainly don’t get through New Mexico without him and his seven assists and zero turnovers, and tonight it was Gay’s big three in the face of Oscar Bellfield under six minutes that extended the Aztec lead above one possession for the first time since very early in the second half. Throw in the fact that the guy played 119 of a possible 120 minutes in this tournament (and the minute that he was out the Aztecs looked lost) and its clear Gay brings more to this team than his numbers would indicate. And, just to extend my praise of the guy, he is also a well-spoken, funny kid.
The other place I was wrong is about Fisher. For several years now, I have been critical of some of Fisher’s in-game coaching and even his ability to bring along talent. While I thought his decision to open the second half in a zone for a couple of possessions was a similarly goofy decision, there’s really no questioning what he has done with this team. The vast improvement this team has made since opening night when they were absolutely drilled by St. Mary’s is clear and he has really gotten a talented team to buy into team over individual fully. Now, I’ll admit some of this may be because Fisher was just so charming and effusive in his press conferences that he won me over (tonight’s great Fisher quote, on winning the recruiting battle of Leonard over some Pac-10 schools: “we don’t need to get down on kneepads to recruit against the Pac-10.”), but the fact that he has taken a SDSU program with little history and put them in the postseason in seven of his 11 seasons, including now three NCAA visits, says all that needs to be said about Fisher’s ability to coach. The fact that he is just so likable is only a bonus.
I chose Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Leonard and Gay as my five for the all-tourney team, with Leonard as my MVP, although I felt awfully bad about not writing down White, Chase Stanback or Dairese Gary. The official tournament team was Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Stanback, White and Leonard (no fair they got to pick an extra one – I wanted my all-tourney team to have eight guys), with Leonard the MVP.
Fordham transfer player Jio Fontan has resurfaced all the way across the country at USC, and he will be eligible to play next season at the semester break. This is a good pickup for Kevin O’Neill, as Fontan averaged 15/5 assts in a season-plus at Fordham and will be able to move into the PG slot vacated by Mike Gerrity. Speaking of USC, the self-imposed sanctions on the basketball program may not become official until February, when the school will appear in front of the NCAA Infractions Committee. Does this mean that, if the Committee imposes much harsher penalties than proposed that this year’s Trojans could actually still play in the postseason?
Jerry Tarkanian never wasted an opportunity to take a shot at the NCAA, and his guns were blazing at a speech he gave in Arkansas Monday where he called the NCAA the “crookedest organization in this country.”
Mike DeCourcy suggests that the problems at DePaul go well beyond Jerry Wainwright and indicts the administration itself. His point about firing Wainwright in the middle of the season after an 0-18 Big East slate is a great insight.
More aftermath from the Tennessee upset over #1 Kansas on Sunday, including Parrish’s take on Skylar McBee and how he’s living his dream at Tennessee. As for Kansas, maybe they should have taken more half-court shots during the game. They seem to be pretty good at making them.