Pac-12 Reactions: LA Schools Get Consolation Wins

Posted by Connor Pelton on November 21st, 2012

Three thoughts on the Pac-12’s 3-1 Tuesday, where we’ll focus on USC and UCLA’s tight consolation wins in their respective tournaments on opposite sides of the country.

  • KO ball prevails in Lahaina. With athletic, talented players that didn’t suit up for SC last season like J.T. Terrell, Jio Fontan, and Eric Wise, Kevin O’Neill will eventually turn to a more aggressive tempo from the deliberate style he’s been known for. But early in the year, classic KO ball did the trick for the Trojans in their 59-53 overtime win against Texas. O’Neill’s guys plodded along in the second half, with both teams going to overtime after scoring just 21 points each in the final 20 minutes. Obviously, this one wasn’t for lovers of offense (maybe those of you should check out this box score); each team hit just two three-pointers a piece in the 45 minutes of action.

There’s Been Many Cringe-Worthy Moments For Howland Early On In 2012-13 (credit: Jamie Squires)

  • The Bruins are still working things out, and that’s alright. Often times, teams with as much talent as UCLA has, especially new talent, will struggle early on to play together and find lineups and rotations that fit well together. Take freshman guard Jordan Adams, for instance. Adams had one of the best first 11 days of anyone in the conference, newcomer or vet, but shot an ice-cold one-for-six from the field once Shabazz Muhammad entered the starting lineup this afternoon. So, for the hoops fans up and down the west coast that may be concerned with this four-point victory over a team that has already lost home games to the likes of Youngstown State and Southern Miss, know that the important thing here is the W. UCLA now has 11 days to shore up their lazy defensive play and find rotations that maximize its potential before its showdown with San Diego State in Anaheim. If Ben Howland can’t figure it out by then, worry away. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 M5: 11.02.12 Edition

Posted by KDanna on November 2nd, 2012

  1. Yesterday was Pac-12 Men’s Basketball Media Day in San Francisco, and the big news out of the event was the release of the preseason media poll, which has Arizona slotted in the top spot, edging out UCLA by one point even though the Bruins received one more first place vote. California and Washington were the other two schools receiving first place votes, with the Golden Bears garnering three and the Huskies two. It’s hard to argue with the choices for the two top spots and bottom three (Washington State, Arizona State and Utah) in the conference, but places three through nine can certainly be debated. It appears as though Colorado and USC are being underestimated by the media; especially Tad Boyle’s team. The Buffaloes were grossly underestimated last year, picked to finish tied for 10th with Washington State in the preseason. Of course, that prediction was wrong. Sure, the Buffs lost Carlon Brown and a couple of other seniors, but Tad Boyle has dealt with bigger losses before and been just fine. As far as USC is concerned, perhaps some media members got too transfixed on the Trojans’ 6-26 record without taking into account all the injuries last year’s team had combined with all the impact transfers that will be suiting up for Kevin O’Neill this year. On paper, USC at least looks better than both of the Oregon schools.
  2. Nothing too revealing usually comes out of these conference media days, but there were a couple of interesting nuggets. As predicted, Craig Robinson’s relationship with Barack Obama and the upcoming election was a hot-button topic, and the Oregon State head coach had some fun with the media by saying it’s classified information where he will be on Election Night before revealing that he will be in Chicago… but not before a his team practices earlier in the day. He also gave praise to 6’7’’ freshman Jarmal Reid, who he says is a great defender and could play early and often this year. Another interesting playing tidbit came from USC head coach Kevin O’Neill, who said that walk-on Chass Bryan will get minutes as the backup point guard to Jio Fontan. Bryan stands at 5’9’’ and is on a Presidential Scholarship to USC, unrelated to his status on the basketball team. It looks as though the line of diminutive playmakers at USC will continue in some fashion beyond Fontan’s senior year. Bryan’s role has taken on a greater importance over the last couple of months after it was announced that Maurice Jones would transfer from the school. O’Neill still had nothing but kind words for Jones at Pac-12 Media Day, going a little out of his way to compliment him on what he did for the Trojans the past two years and saying he loved him as a person. This writer is still very curious as to what led to his suspension and subsequent departure, though.
  3. George Dohrmann recently caught up with former Arizona State Sun Devil Demetrius Walker for a Q&A for his blog. Now a part of the New Mexico Lobos, it looks as though Walker has found a niche in Albuquerque and is starting to live up to some of the highly unrealistic expectations placed upon him in middle school and high school. As Eamonn Brennan points out, it’s interesting to hear Walker talk more in terms of “we” than “me” as he attempts to turn the page on an AAU culture that built him up to larger-than-life proportions and nearly destroyed him. The knock on Walker at Arizona State was that he was just an athlete and had very limited basketball skills — namely a poor jump shot. Here’s to wishing the star of Dohrmann’s Play Their Hearts Out greater success in 2012-13, as his Lobos try to take down San Diego State and UNLV for a Mountain West Conference championship.
  4. More exhibition news to pass along as two Pac-12 teams kick off their exhibition slates this weekend. Tonight, Utah takes the floor against Simon Fraser University, the first non-US institution to be a full-fledged member of the NCAA. Not surprisingly, coach Larry Krystkowiak’s team was picked to finish last in the conference, but there are plenty of new faces on this team to give the Runnin’ Utes an intrigue factor heading into the start of the season. However, it doesn’t help that one of those transfers — Aaron Dotson -- is scheduled to be out until late November or early December with a stress fracture in his foot. At the very least, the Utes should do considerably better than the 3-9 record they posted in the 2011-12 non-conference slate. The Utes play two non-Division-I teams and do not face a team from another power conference at all this season. Their RPI will certainly take a hit, but I don’t think Krystkowiak is really concerned about that this year. The other Pac-12 exhibition game takes place on Sunday, when Stanford hosts UNC Pembroke. Certainly the Cardinal will have faced much stiffer competition on Thursday night when they played Saint Mary’s in a secret scrimmage, but this game will give Cardinal fans a first look at their team taking on outside competition. Both games are being streamed live on the Pac-12 website, so feel free (and the streams are free) to have a look for yourself online.
  5. Connor here, hijacking this final bit as Drew and I continue our season-long football prognostication contest. It was another gloomy Saturday for me last weekend, as Drew extended his lead to three games. The Jeykll and Hyde Golden Bears neglected to come through for the second straight week, and Oregon State’s upset at the hands of Washington made it a perfect day for Drew. I’ve still got five weeks to come back, however, so I’m taking it conservatively and only differing on one pick here in week 10. Things get going tonight in Berkeley, where California needs a win to keep its flickering bowl hopes alive. Even if they get past the Huskies, the Bears finish the year with a pair of top 15 opponents, making it unlikely their season will continue past November 17. Saturday gets off to a bit of a slow start with Stanford visiting Boulder and Washington State heading into the hornets nest that is Rice Eccles Stadium, but things really get going in the late afternoon. That’s when our game of the week kicks off in Los Angeles, as Oregon tries to keep its perfect season alive with its toughest task yet. We get treated to a tasty pair of nightcaps following that one, as the Wildcats visit UCLA and Sun Devils take on Oregon State. Enjoy your weekend; it’ll be the last before your tasked with balancing hoops and pigskin until December.
    Game Connor’s Pick Drew’s Pick
    Washington at California California California
    Stanford at Colorado Stanford Stanford
    Washington State at Utah Washington State Washington State
    Oregon at USC Oregon 42-38 Oregon 52-25
    Arizona at UCLA Arizona UCLA
    Arizona State at Oregon State Oregon State Oregon
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Pac-12 Team Previews: USC Trojans

Posted by AMurawa on October 24th, 2012

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will be rolling out these featured breakdowns of each of the 12 league schools. Today’s release is the USC Trojans.

Strengths: Fresh blood. You know the old legend about Keith Richards getting a complete change of blood in order to beat a heroin addiction prior to the Rolling Stones 1973 European tour? Well, if you’ll indulge a tortured analogy for a second: If Keith Richards is the USC basketball team, and his heroin addiction is SC’s 1-17 finish in a historically bad Pac-12, that blood transfusion is USC’s almost completely remade roster. With transfers, freshmen and players returning from seasons lost to injury, head coach Kevin O’Neill will likely only run a player or two out there who was around and active at the end of 2011-12. Instead Jio Fontan, J.T. Terrell, Eric Wise, DeWayne Dedmon, Aaron Fuller, Ari Stewart, Renaldo Woolridge and others will give the Trojans a chance to start anew, and with certainly a larger collection of offensive talent than has ever been assembled in the O’Neill era in Los Angeles. To reference the apocryphal story even further, it should be noted that even if Richards did undergo such a transfusion, it wasn’t his last run-in with addiction. But, nevertheless, that ’73 Stones tour was an undeniable success. And this Trojan team is capable of going from one with no expectations a year ago to one who could get some serious satisfaction this season, so long as that relapse can be withheld until after the tour.

Jio Fontan, USC

Jumpin’ Jio Fontan Is Back For The New Look Trojans, Who Hope A Complete Change Of Blood Will Reverse Their Fortunes

Weaknesses: While the Trojans have been strong defensively in each of O’Neill’s three years as head coach, they’ve been a plodding mess on offense, ranking no better than #93 in the nation in offensive efficiency (as always, per KenPom.com) before dipping to a putrid #326 last year. While he’s got tons of new pieces that could fit perfectly into his team’s jigsaw puzzle, KO’s got to prove that he can get it done with plenty of guys on this squad who have a history of bombing their way to unacceptably low field goal percentages (Fontan’s never even approached a 50% eFG rate, while Terrell, Stewart, Wise and Woolridge all had similar struggles at their previous stops). A newer concern for O’Neill is that, with the departure of last year’s point guard Maurice Jones, there is no margin for error at the point guard position for Fontan. If, god forbid, his surgically repaired knee causes him to miss any time again, the Trojans could be playing with fire.

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CBS Sports Top 50 Point Guards: Who in the Pac-12 Was Snubbed?

Posted by KDanna on October 24th, 2012

Earlier in the week, CBS Sports released a list of its top 50 point guards in the nation. Three Pac-12 players made the list with UCLA’s Kyle Anderson checking in at No. 6, Arizona’s Mark Lyons at No. 11, and Stanford’s Chasson Randle at No. 29. While this writer can’t claim to have watched all of the other 47 guys enough to discredit their merits, a case can be made for a few other Pac-12 guys, in particular Cal’s Justin Cobbs and Washington’s Abdul Gaddy, as addenda to this list.

Abdul Gaddy (# 10) has come a long way from his freshman year.

Statistics aren’t the only indicator of how good a player is, nor are they the most reliable factor to make such determinations, but arguably the most important one to look at with respect to point guards is assist-to-turnover ratio. Neither Cobbs nor Gaddy were the sole ball-handlers for the Golden Bears or Huskies last year, but they were the top two in the conference (Cobbs first, Gaddy second) in that statistic and 25th and 26th nationally, well within that top-50 range. And, not that this is the best way of going about things, but for one comparison, Jake Odum (No. 49 on the list) finished last year at 179th in assist-to-turnover ratio with a lower assist average than either Cobbs or Gaddy and a scoring average that split the two (though Odum had more steals than the two combined).

Cobbs might not be the most explosive player you’ll ever see, but he is a guy who provides a collected presence, good court vision and the ability to spread out defenses with his three-point and mid-range shooting ability. As his assist-to-turnover ratio would tell you, he rarely made bad decisions with the basketball and thrived in his transfer from Minnesota to Mike Montgomery’s system. He’s not as flashy as former Pac-12 colleague Momo Jones (who checks in at No. 47); he just gets the job done. Read the rest of this entry »

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Pac-12 M5: 10.17.12 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on October 17th, 2012

  1. For those who want to take a look at the NIT Champion Stanford basketball team, the Cardinal will be holding their own version of Midnight Madness this Friday. Titled “Friday Frenzy”, the night will feature a Cardinal-White scrimmage, an open women’s practice, and a dunk contest. The scrimmage will certainly be worth the price of free admission as the 2012-13 Cardinal looks to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. They have a potential all-conference backcourt in the duo of Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright, and expect the post play to be much improved as Johnny Dawkins welcomes in Rosco Allen and Grant Verhoeven. The event should get Cardinal fans revved up for a big weekend of sports, as the football team will be playing in the Big Game a mere 18 hours later. Stanford will open up the exhibition season on November 4 against UNC Pembroke.
  2. After finishing 2011-12 with an awful 6-26 record, USC is a trendy pick for “team to surprise” this year in the Pac-12. Excitement took a bit of a hit last month when it was learned that junior guard Maurice Jones would have to sit out the year due to academics, but the return of Jio Fontan from injury will help out the backcourt. The revamped roster will feature five transfers, all of whom can contribute immediately. J.T. Terrell (Peninsula College) and Ari Stewart (Wake Forest), both of whom played together in Winston-Salem before ending up in Los Angeles, are expected to make the biggest impact. Throw in a pair of incoming freshmen in Strahinja Gavrilovic and Brendyn Taylor, junior center Dewayne Dedmon, and senior forward Aaron Fullerand Kevin O’Neill has a pretty nice 10-man rotation to play around with. And while finding valuable minutes for everyone might be tough early on, it will be a welcome challenge for a team that struggled with depth issues all of last season.
  3. Be sure to check all of your Twitter feeds this morning (or whatever you use to follow the decisions of 18-year-old kids), as the Contra Costa Times reported yesterday that Marcus Lee would be announcing his college choice at some point throughout the day. One of the top forwards in the nation, the Deer Valley High School (CA) prospect has narrowed his choices down to California and Kentucky. Lee was supposed to take a visit to Berkeley this weekend and take in the Big Game experience, but he has apparently come to a decision after taking in “Big Blue Madness” last Friday in Lexington.
  4. The guys over at Bruins Nation have put together an extensive look at both the best and worst case scenarios for the 2012-13 UCLA Bruins. On the best case side of things, “DCBruins” has Ben Howland’s bunch going 10-2 in non-conference action with losses to Georgetown and Missouri. The Bruins then go on to win the Pac-12 with a 15-3 record before making the Final Four. The worst case scenario doesn’t go over any specific games or records, but instead focuses on what the Bruin rotation will look like if Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson aren’t cleared to play.
  5. Speaking of Muhammad and Anderson’s eligibility, the Los Angeles Times covered that exact topic this morning. Bill Plaschke‘s column discusses how the team’s media day was monitored by the school’s vice-chancellor for legal affairs, and that the silence being put forth by the program is putting itself under a dark cloud. But as Plaschke states at the end, most everyone “would rather have UCLA chase those big stars and endure the NCAA microscope than settle for the mediocre acquisitions who never are noticed.” And even if recruiting classes like the one Howland brought in this season may label him as a “cheater,” he had no choice. It’s safe to say Howland’s job is on incredibly thin ice, and without guys like Jordan Adams, Tony Parker, Muhammad, and Anderson, Howland very well might not have survived the duration of the 2012-13 campaign. So even if the program is under a cloud now, it’ll be worth it in the long run that Howland brought these big names in.
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Pac-12′s Five Most Important Non-Conference Games

Posted by KDanna on October 10th, 2012

The best thing about October isn’t watching football or the MLB playoffs; no, it’s all about analyzing college basketball non-conference schedules. Where are the potential RPI boosts? Trap games? Guarantee ones? So many possibilities for those ’12 or ’13 tilts!

But way out west, promise has quickly turned into embarrassment in November and December for the Pac-12 in recent years. Last season, the Pac went 9-38 against teams that finished the regular season in the RPI Top-100 and 3-28 against those finishing 50th or above, according to realtimerpi.com. Numbers like those are why Washington didn’t get an at-large bid even as the conference’s regular-season champion. So, it goes without saying that the first two months of the season are HUGE for a conference like the Pac-12 to regain respect around the college basketball world. With that in mind, we’re ready to begin circling some dates to keep an eye on in the conference calendar. Here are my choices for the five most important non-conference games for the Pac in 2012-13, in order of appearance:

Maui Invitational

USC Will Represent The Pac-12 At The Maui Invitational This Year (Alex Prosperi, EA Sports Maui Invitational)

1. USC vs. Illinois (November 19) - Talk about the ultimate RPI-boost game. Illinois is the Trojans’ first-round opponent of the Maui Invitational, which means a certain D-II team will be lurking in the consolation bracket. If the Trojans beat the Illini, they get to play Texas, another high-quality RPI opponent. If the Trojans lose… that’s right, Chaminade is up next (assuming Texas doesn’t Oklahoma 2010-11 it). In case you were wondering, the Silverswords are not a high-quality RPI opponent. Neither the Trojans nor the Illini are coming off storybook seasons (USC went 1-17 in an extremely down Pac-12, while Illinois absolutely imploded, finishing the season 2-12 after a 15-3 start), but a little early-season karma can do a body of work good. And, we’ll get a chance to see just how much difference USC’s new faces (like Ari Stewart, J.T. Terrell and Eric Wise) and newly healthy returnees (with senior point guard Jio Fontan exhibit A) can make.

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Pac-12 Weekly Five: 09.07.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on September 7th, 2012

  1. The big news around the Pac-12 this week continues to be the eligibility status of UCLA’s highly-touted freshman class. Depending on who you believe, some combination of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker are being investigated by the NCAA for potential amateurism problems. UCLA claims that Parker has been cleared, while the other two are still a work in progress, while CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman insists that Parker is still a subject of an NCAA inquiry. We’ve known about the issues with Muhammad for some time, but the Anderson issue – related to his connections with Thad Foucher, a sports agent – is a new one. But all of this, coupled with CBS’ anonymous cheap shots at UCLA and Ben Howland, have already cast a pall over the Bruins’ season. With the most talent assembled in Westwood since the days of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, it was expected that UCLA was ready for a bounce-back year, but now it remains to be seen when, and if, this group of freshmen will ever play a game together. This situation continues to evolve, so keep an eye on this.
  2. Across town, it wasn’t a great week for the Bruins’ rivals either, as USC’s athletic department took another hit with further allegations of players receiving impermissible benefits. RTC’s Chris Johnson took a look at the problems around both Los Angeles-area campuses, but that was not the only blow to the Trojans, as would-be-junior point guard Maurice Jones was declared academically ineligible for the 2012-13 season last weekend. Jones led last year’s injury-riddle team in minutes played (approaching 40 minutes per night), shots attempted and possessions used last year, but seemed primed to take a step back into a supporting role this year with the return of senior point guard Jio Fontan from last year’s ACL injury. Instead, head coach Kevin O’Neill will again go to battle minus the services of one of the guys he had been counting on. Jones will stick around in school and hopefully get his grades up in order to resume his USC career in the 2013-14 season, with two years of eligibility remaining then.
  3. Just about two weeks ago, Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek was left in a lurch when two assistants – Scott Pera and Lamont Smith – departed for similar jobs at other institutions (Penn and Washington, respectively). At such a late date, and with such an important season ahead of the Sun Devils, that could have been a crushing blow to ASU’s chances this season. However, Sendek bounced back strong, coming up with a pair of excellent hires to fill the vacancies, as it was announced on Wednesday that Eric Musselman and Larry Greer would be welcomed aboard. As Matt Norlander writes, this was a serious score for Sendek. With his back against the wall, Sendek was able to land two experienced coaches with fine resumes. Musselman has twice been an NBA head coach, was an NBA D-League Coach of the Year, and has been an NBA assistant coach under such luminaries as Hall of Famer Chuck Daly, current Celtic head coach Doc Rivers (then with Orlando), and current Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger (then with Atlanta). Greer was a long-time college assistant (with Wright State and Boston U.) before joining the Houston Rockets as a scout last year. It remains to be seen how these guys will do on the recruiting trail, and they’ve certainly got some catching up to do as the start of practice looms little more than a month away, but given the time constraints, Sendek hit this one out of the park.
  4. Speaking of hitting one out of the park, California scored big this week as well when what had long been rumored came to pass: Jabari Bird, the 20th rated recruit (according to ESPN) in the 2013 class committed to Mike Montgomery and staff. Better yet, Bird has announced his plan to help out the Cal coaching staff by trying to convince fellow ’13 recruits Aaron Gordon (ESPN’s #6 recruit) and Marcus Lee (ESPN’s #27) to join him in Berkeley next season. Washington remains the favorite to land Gordon’s services, and Cal is but one of several options for Lee, but if Bird can help Cal land those two guys, the Golden Bears will be rather formidable next season. As it is, Bird, a 6’6” shooting guard with great athleticism, three-point range and a ton of upside, is a good start to an important class for the Bears.
  5. Lastly, it’s that time of year again where Connor and I get to exchange our weekly football picks. Last week, Connor picked up where he left off last season: namely, roughing me up a bit. I completely whiffed on picking Washington State to upset BYU, then missed it by this much when I went out on a limb to pick Toledo ruining RichRod’s opener in the desert. So, as it is Connor’s got a two-game lead on me just one week into the season. But have no fear, I’ll begin my comeback this week. I hope. In a good week of games around the conference, our game of the week this week is Nebraska visiting the Rose Bowl to face UCLA (if only because I’ll be in attendance), while other intriguing match-ups like Arizona/Oklahoma State, Wisconsin/Oregon State and LSU/Washington will be sure to keep us entertained as well. Picks below, with our game of the week prediction in bold:
Game Connor’s Pick Drew’s Pick
Utah at Utah State Utah State Utah
Eastern Washington at Washington State Washington State Washington State
Sacramento State at Colorado Colorado Colorado
Southern Utah at California California California
USC at Syracuse USC USC
Wisconsin at Oregon State Wisconsin Wisconsin
Fresno State at Oregon Oregon Oregon
Washington at LSU LSU LSU
Nebraska at UCLA UCLA 23-14 Nebraska 27-20
Duke at Stanford Stanford Stanford
Illinois at Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State
Oklahoma State at Arizona Oklahoma State Oklahoma State
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ACL Well: Analyzing Six Huge Returnees From ACL Injuries

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 29th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

The fickle nature of college hoops owes itself to a number of different factors. Every year there are a handful of teams that underperform or overperform versus expectations for various reasons, from team chemistry to coaching philosophy to collective work ethic. Perhaps the most uncontrollable element of a team’s performance is injury, the sudden and often catastrophic medical ailments that – in the blink of one single cut to the hoop, defensive rotation or hard sprint down the court – dramatically alter teams’ seasons and programs’ trajectories. Last season we saw several injuries to key players, some more impactful than others, fundamentally shift the competitive balance in various leagues. For those players, the situational outlook was bleak: not playing competitively with the team you’ve spent all summer practicing with just plain stinks. But for the most part, their departures faded into the periphery as the season wore on, players began furiously rehabbing their various injuries, teams adapted and college hoops rolled along with minimal fuss.

If Mbakwe can return to form, the Gophers could be poised for an NCAA Tournament berth (Photo credit: Tom Olmscheid/AP Photo)

There was a strikingly large proportion of one particular injury last season, or at least it seemed that way for several of the sport’s most influential medical breakdowns. It’s known as the anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) tear, and it’s one of the most common and oft-repeated of all athletic detriments. A complete recovery normally requires major surgery, between six and nine months worth of substantial rehabilitation and a cautious return to athletic activity. I’ve identified six instrumental players who experienced this very process after tearing their ACLs last season and all of them are expected to return – rehabbed and ready to go – for a redeeming 2012-13 campaign. Each player is rejoining their teams (or in some cases, new teams) under slightly different circumstances from which he left, with situational and rotational specifics dictating the terms of their returns. I’ve tried to dig into some of the circumstantial elements playing into these players’ comeback seasons and how you should expect them to fare this season. Here are the results of my research, a full-fledged breakdown of college hoops’ big-name torn ACL-returnees. Enjoy… and try your best to avoid a similar fate.

Trevor Mbakwe (sixth-year senior, Minnesota)

This isn’t unfamiliar territory for Mbakwe. Way back when he still played for Marquette – the same year (2007-08) Mario Chalmers’ legendary three-point shot KO’d a high-powered Derrick Rose-led Memphis team in the national finals – Mbakwe missed the majority of the season with a knee injury. He recovered, packed his bags and moved on to Miami Dade Community College, where he averaged a modest 16.3 PPG/13.2 RPG double-double while earning Southern Conference Player of the Year Honors. When he eventually made his way to Minnesota, after sitting out the 2009-10 season while awaiting trial for a felony assault charge, Mbakwe unleashed the ferocious rebounding and inside scoring touch he demonstrated in the JuCo ranks on Big Ten forwards. Much to the chagrin of Tubby Smith’s middling program, Mbawke had only played one full season and six full games last year before going down with an ACL tear.

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Morning Five: 08.03.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 3rd, 2012

  1. Thursday was a day of personnel movement around the college basketball landscape, but it was an endorsement of a proposal by NCAA leadership that made the most news. If approved as expected by NCAA presidents in October, a new measure for much more punitive penalties against NCAA rules violators would include “postseason bans of up to four years, fines that could stretch into the millions and suspensions for head coaches.” If these sanctions sound familiar, they should — Penn State’s unprecedented probation meted out by the NCAA just over a week ago included several components of these changes. Perhaps the biggest and most important change is in the shifting of culpability from individuals within the program to the “captain of the ship” — the head coach. Under the new guidelines, head coaches would be presumed vicariously liable for illegal actions performed by members of their staff — the burden would then fall on the head coach himself to prove that he was completely unaware of those transgressions (and was not negligent in doing so) to avoid responsibility. We haven’t had time to give this a lot of thought just yet, but in the era of ensuring plausible deniability among top dogs everywhere, this is a sea change in the way the NCAA views its expectations of conduct.
  2. Kelsey Barlow was last seen getting booted off of Purdue’s basketball team in late February after his second disruptive incident in a year, when he and teammate DJ Byrd became involved in some kind of confrontation at a West Lafayette bar. A tremendous perimeter defender with ideal size for the position at 6’5″, Barlow left his team high and dry for the second straight year during March Madness — in 2011, he was suspended for “conduct detrimental to the team,” and while VCU thoroughly ripped Purdue in that year’s Round of 32, he surely could have helped the Boilers in their tight game with Kansas at the same spot last year. Illinois-Chicago announced on Thursday that Barlow will resurface in the Loop, sitting out next season as a transfer to become eligible to play as a senior in 2013-14. Barlow started 22 games for Purdue last season, averaging 8/4/2 APG in a key glue guy role while also helping to lock down opposing guards in Matt Painter’s sticky defense. This is a talented pickup for a program that was absolutely terrible last year — 3-15 in the Horizon League, 8-22 overall — let’s hope that Barlow uses his second chance wisely.
  3. USC basketball received excellent news on Wednesday when doctors cleared its star point guard Jio Fontan to begin full contact practices again. It was a little over a year ago when the Trojan playmaker tore his ACL during an exhibition trip to Brazil, effectively torpedoing USC’s season before it even got started. A 19-win NCAA Tournament team from 2010-11 drooped to a disastrous six-win group without Fontan’s floor leadership as injuries mounted and hope was lost. Next season, though, Kevin O’Neill has a much higher ceiling for his squad — with Fontan back to join the intriguing prospect of seven-footer DeWayne Dedmon and a host of talented D-I transfers, the Trojans may be poised to leap back toward the top tier of the Pac-12 in a hurry. For comprehensive coverage of USC basketball, check out our Pac-12 microsite’s USC Week from back in early July.
  4. Going from the national championship game to an interim tag in the SWAC is a precipitous decline for a single decade of work, but that’s exactly where former Indiana (2002 national finalist) and UAB head coach Mike Davis finds himself this Friday morning after accepting the interim head coaching job at Texas Southern. According to local reports, the school “plans [...] on keeping” Davis on board permanently as soon as it figures out how to handle the abrupt resignation of its previous head coach, Tony Harvey. Davis, along with Matt Doherty (UNC) and Billy Gillispie (Kentucky) represents one of the holy trinity of hires at elite programs in the last decade who were way, way in over their heads at that level. The race to the bottom knows no bounds.
  5. There’s no shortage of bizarre arrest stories in sports, and this one won’t move the broader society needle. But the weird “clerical error” involving Kentucky assistant Rod Strickland that resulted in his arrest during a routine traffic stop on Thursday is borderline absurd. First of all, he was reportedly stopped for “failure to signal” at a turn near the UK campus in Lexington. In most situations, this is otherwise known as a pretext to profile someone — seriously, who gets stopped for a turn signal violation? But it appears that in stopping him, a whole new can of worms was opened in that it turns out that Strickland’s license is currently suspended in Tennessee (which, through reciprocity with Kentucky, showed up in the national criminal database). That suspension stemmed from another arrest in October 2007 when he was pulled over while intoxicated and at the time was driving on a suspended license from Maryland! He also has a DUI conviction from Kentucky in 2010 which temporarily suspended his license there (it was reinstated in 2011). Good grief, man. It sounds like Strickland has a problem — whether with poor decision-making or something more sinister. Regardless, he just needs to leave the car at home.
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USC Week: Q&A With Pachoops’ Adam Butler

Posted by AMurawa on July 7th, 2012

As we go to wind down our coverage of the USC basketball program, we head back to Adam Butler of Pachoops for the second straight week for his perspective on the Trojan basketball program. Like me, Adam is pretty optimistic about the Trojans’ chances of a major bounce-back this season, although if anything he’s even hotter on SC than I am. Here’s our brief conversation on the immediate future for this new-look club.

RTC: My god, the Trojans were bad last year. But was there anything that happened that could bode well for the future for this team?

AB: The season ended. That was the best possible thing that could’ve happened to that team. That and time to pass as injuries healed and redshirts expired allowing this roster to almost completely re-emerge as one of the most intriguing teams in the conference. I mean, six win teams really have only one place to go.

Dewayne Dedmon

Seven-footer Dewayne Dedmon Could Be A Game Changer For The Trojans

RTC: Four different players suffered season-ending injuries last season. Three of them – Jio Fontan, Aaron Fuller and Dewayne Dedmon – return this year. Of those three, who is most important to USC’s success this season?

AB: I’m a big Jio Fontan fan, particularly on a Kevin O’Neill team. Fontan is a dynamic ball handler and all of that ball control offense that KO runs lends itself to needing a solid point. Look at what Maurice Jones was asked to do last season. Fontan is going to do that but at a higher level. I’m tempted to call him a darkhorse POY candidate and won’t be surprised to at least see him on the conference First Team. But of course any time you can run out a seven-foot athlete, it’s hard not to pay some attention to him. Dewayne Dedmon is probably the game changer for this team – as quality bigs tend to be. The combination of sound PG play and an improved Dedmon is going to make a trip to LA not a lot of fun.

RTC: Along with the players the Trojans get back from injury, they welcome four Division I transfers: J.T. Terrell and Ari Stewart from Wake Forest, Eric Wise from UC Irvine and Renaldo Woolridge from Tennessee. How good is that group of transfers and which of those four will play the biggest role for USC?

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USC Week: What To Expect

Posted by AMurawa on July 6th, 2012

We’re most of the way through our week-long look at the Trojans and have at least enough information to make some educated guesses about what the 2012-13 season has in store. With three players back from season-ending injuries and a whole host of new faces, we can expect to see a vastly different team compared to the walking wounded who wrapped up last season, but who exactly will lead this team and what will the final results be? Here are our guesses.

USC’s Leading ScorerJio Fontan. In Fontan’s three years of play, he’s proven that he is capable of not only creating his own looks, but of also getting good looks for his teammates.  In his one half-season with the Trojans, he played second fiddle to USC’s all-conference big man Nikola Vucevic, but he may be called on to once again be the primary offensive option for his team. He does have plenty of other guys capable of scoring around him (J.T. Terrell, Eric Wise, Maurice Jones, Ari Stewart, Byron Wesley, Aaron Fuller), so we can expect fairly balanced scoring on this Trojan team, but when push comes to shove, we expect Fontan to have the ball in his hands with an eye toward lighting up the scoreboard.

Jio Fontan, USC

After A Season Lost To A Torn ACL, Jio Fontan Will Be Crucial To USC’s 2012-13 Campaign

USC’s MVPAaron Fuller. The Trojans may well live and die with Fontan’s game, but Fuller will not only likely be the team’s most efficient offensive player again, but despite being an undersized four, he is perhaps their best front-line defender and an excellent rebounder. Assuming he returns from his shoulder injury no worse for the wear, Fuller could be the team’s most effective player.

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USC Week: One-On-One With Kevin O’Neill

Posted by AMurawa on July 5th, 2012

Kevin O’Neill took over the USC program in the wake of Tim Floyd’s abrupt resignation in June 2009.The instability within the program caused USC to lose much of its 2009 recruiting class, but O’Neill helped that team – playing without the hope of a postseason berth due to fallout from the Floyd era – keep it’s head above water, finishing with a 16-14 record. The following season, the Trojans were able to sneak into the NCAA Tournament, claiming a spot in the initial First Four, but last season the team was torn apart by injuries and recorded a program-worst 6-26 record. This year reinforcements arrive and folks around the USC program think they could be due for a big bounce-back season. As part of our week-long look at the Trojan basketball program, we had a chance last week to talk to O’Neill as he looks forward to 2012-13.

Kevin O'Neill, USC

In Three Seasons At USC, Kevin O’Neill Has Established A Tough Defensive Personality For His Trojan Team

Andrew Murawa: Obviously last year was one of those Murphy’s Law kind of years. Despite all of the bad luck and losses, are you able to find any silver lining in an otherwise bad year?

Kevin O’Neill: You know, once Jio (Fontan) got hurt in Brazil it all sort of fell apart. You kind of have to go back a couple of years. When we took over the program, there were no freshmen or sophomores – we lost two classes completely and we were able to piece it together with six guys per year for the first two years. And we knew we had to avoid injury for the third year. And then everyone got hurt. And once everybody got hurt, we didn’t have enough talent or enough players or enough depth. We had played without depth for two years and had been fortunate to avoid injuries, but it just caught up with up with us last year. But, it will make us appreciate this year a whole lot more.

AM: You did get some guys plenty of experience last year. Maurice Jones, for one, was forced into a pretty extreme role last year, playing a ton of minutes, having the ball in his hands a lot and probably taking more shots than he ever expected to take in his college career. With all the firepower you are getting back this year, is he looking forward to getting back to more of a normal role?

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