2009-10 Conference Primers: #20 – Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on October 17th, 2009

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Matt Poindexter is a regular RTC contributor.

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

  1. Western Kentucky (17-1)
  2. Troy (14-4)
  3. Middle Tennessee (11-7)
  4. Florida Atlantic (6-12)
  5. South Alabama (5-13)
  6. Florida International (2-16)

West

  1. North Texas (15-3)
  2. Denver (12-6)
  3. Arkansas-Little Rock (11-7)
  4. Louisiana-Lafayette (9-9)
  5. Louisiana-Monroe (8-10)
  6. Arkansas State (5-13)
  7. New Orleans (2-16)

All-Conference Team:

  • A.J. Slaughter (G) – Western Kentucky
  • Nate Rohnert (G) – Denver
  • Desmond Yates (F) – Middle Tennessee
  • Rudy Turner (F) – Louisiana-Monroe
  • Jeremy Evans (C) – Western Kentucky

6th Man: Brandon Hazzard (G) – Troy

Impact Newcomer: Isiah Thomas. Usually, this is where we pick out the best incoming freshman or transfer in the conference. But for the first time in a very long time, people are paying attention to a Sun Belt team in a month that is not March. One can’t be sure if Isiah’s hiring at FIU will be a huge boon for the conference in terms of exposure, or if his actions will make him a white elephant, but his impact will be unparalleled either way. As far as on the court, New Orleans guard Billy Humphrey, a transfer who averaged 12.2 PPG for Georgia before being dismissed from the team following a DUI, is the most proven and highest rated player to make a Sun Belt debut in 2009-10.

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What You Need to Know:

  • If you’re going to pick out guy to win Player of the Year, it has to be WKU’s A.J. Slaughter. He probably would have won the honors in 08-09, but his teammate Orlando Mendez-Valdez overshadowed him. Now that Mendez-Valdez has graduated, expect Slaughter to outshine everyone else in the Sun Belt.
  • For the past two years, Western Kentucky has been the team to beat in the Sun Belt. In 2008 and 2009, they won the conference tournament and went on to NCAA tournament upsets, beating a #5 seed each year in Drake and Illinois. If not for poor free throw shooting, the Hilltoppers very well could have claimed a victory over Gonzaga in last year’s tournament to go to the Sweet 16.
  • Isiah Thomas isn’t the only one who has moved out of a powerful program and into a Sun Belt coaching position.  John Brady, coach at LSU during their 2006 Final Four run, is now at Arkansas State and Mike Jarvis helmed the St. John’s program prior to his current job at Florida Atlantic. North Texas’ Johnny Jones was the last coach (for one season) at Memphis before some guy named Calipari took over.

Predicted Champion. Western Kentucky (NCAA Seed:  #11). Since North Texas made a run and won the conference tournament in 2007, it has been WKU all the way in the Sun Belt. Even though conference Player of the Year Mendez-Valdez is no longer with the Hilltoppers, the return of guard A.J. Slaughter should mean that the conference championship trophy stays in Bowling Green for another year. Couple that with the increased inside presence of WKU center Jeremy Evans and the fact that they return 4 starters from last year, and there’s no reason to bet against the Hilltoppers.

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Isiah Thomas to FIU?

Posted by rtmsf on April 13th, 2009

If this were April 1st, we’d definitely be wondering about the veracity of this story, but both Jeff Goodman at Fox Sports and Andy Katz at ESPN are reporting that Mr. Congeniality, Isiah Thomas, may be close to accepting the head coaching job at Florida International University (apparently the school is located in Miami, which suddenly reveals a modicum of why to this story).  The former head coach, Sergio Rouco, was reassigned after a 55-94 record over five seasons. 

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You may remember Mr. Thomas (not to be confused with the mercurial rising star Isaiah Thomas from the Washington Huskies) from his days as a player at Indiana (national champs in ’81), or as a Detroit Piston (world champs in ’89 and ’90), or as a relatively successful Indiana Pacers coach, or his most recent disastrous stint as team president and coach for the New York Knicks.  If Thomas actually takes this coaching position, he’ll join other Sun Belt retreads John Brady (LSU to Arkansas St.) and Mike Jarvis (St. John’s to Florida Atlantic) as coaches with the uncanny ability to turn water to vomit in the blink of an eye.  Somewhere Stephen A. Smith, Bill Simmons and Will Leitch all began independently yet simultaneously typing in unison. 

The problem with Thomas in New York was his utter incompetence in the ability to successfully put a team together (well, that and the sexual assault thing).  He seemed to believe that having fifteen me-first guards on the roster was a healthy concoction, and the thought of him getting to craft and coach his own team of players in the combustible environment of Miami should break all kinds of blogosphere records throughout his tenure there. 

On its face, this job makes absolutely no sense unless Thomas is now importing packages through South Florida from Bolivia and he wants to keep a close eye on his product.  He has absolutely no college coaching experience whatsoever, and the truth is that he still could have gotten a bigger ‘name’ job had he heretofore shown any interest.  Additionally, why wouldn’t he wait for another NBA opening?  He may be damaged goods in many fans’ eyes, but that’s never stopped stupidity in the form an NBA GM before.  At least Thomas would still be in his comfort zone, though.  We can already envision Thomas trying to sell an unsuspecting mother of some 16-year old prodigy on the virtues of FIU Basketball, with his snakeskin shoes and 100-watt smile beaming across the room. 

Come to think of it, maybe this will make for a good fit after all. 

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Sun Belt Wrapup & Tourney Preview

Posted by rtmsf on March 4th, 2009

Rick Henderson of The Owl’s Nest is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference.

sbc-standings-030409

Final Results Are In

A couple things were expected.  And a lot was not.  WKU sitting out the first round is no shocker.  UALR atop the West was expected as well.  But MTSU was expected to do a lot better.  Additionally,  who would have “thunk” that head coaches Mike Jarvis and John Brady would finish at the bottom of their respective divisions and as 12th and 13th seeds?  Wow.  Lastly, how does Troy, a team that actually was picked to finish in the basement, obtain a first round bye and sit all alone in second in the East?  Weird wild stuff!  And, of course, why we all love the sport of basketball.  Anything can happen on any given night.  And especially over the course of a season.  Troy has a decent shot at making it to the finals given they can get past UALR.  But WKU will prove a tall order.  The Trojans lost both regular season games to the Toppers.

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The Mark Gottfried Effect: The SEC Is Wising Up On Its Coaches

Posted by rtmsf on January 27th, 2009

There’s news coming out of Tuscaloosa tonight that doesn’t involve Nick Saban (although Utah’s demolition of the Tide a month ago may have led to this unrelated breaking news).  No, the crimsontided stepchild of Alabama’s athletics program is the one driving the needle tonight – Mark Gottfried’s Philip Pearson’s basketball program.  Er, formerly Mark Gottfried’s basketball program.

Flickr.com

Photo Credit: Flickr.com

Today Alabama announced that Mark Gottfried, arguably the second most successful coach in Bama history (behind the irascible Wimp Sanderson), resigned amidst criticism over the state of his program in light of Ronald Steele’s decision to leave the school last week.  (although if you believe in msg board chatter,  using the word “resignation” is irresponsible; Gary Parrish concurs…)  From the AP report:

Gottfried, who played at Alabama, said he quit during a meeting with athletic director Mal Moore.  “It has been a wonderful decade for me and my family, and I love the University of Alabama, but I feel that it is in the best interests of everyone involved,” Gottfried said in a statement released by the university.  Gottfried’s teams have missed the NCAA tournament the last two years, and the coach was criticized over the recent departure of point guard Ronald Steele, a preseason first-team AP All-American pick two years ago, who later was hit by injuries. The school blamed Steele’s departure on a recent injury, but Steele said there was more to his decision than that.

There’s absolutely more to it than this.  A generation ago, a coach in the SEC with the success of Mark Gottfried could have stayed for thirty years and eventually had a practice facility named after him (Dale Brown comes to mind).  No longer.  Today in the era of million-dollar salaries and what-have-you-done-for-me-lately performance evaluations, even in the football-centric SEC (minus Vandy, Kentucky and Arkansas), “good enough” is no longer good enough.  Just last year, LSU canned John Brady, an Xs & Os charlatan who two years prior had parlayed a couple of great recruits into a very unlikely Final Four run.  They replaced him with a well-respected rising star in coaching, Trent Johnson (at $1.2M per, reportedly, of course).  At South Carolina, Dave Odom was invited to retire after he had taken the Gamecocks to two NIT titles and an NCAA Tournament in the last five years.  Darrin Horn already has matched the win total (14) of Odom’s last season with virtually the same roster.   Over in Athens at Georgia, Dennis Felton is currently walking the Bataan death march with his 310th most efficient offense and is expected to be replaced at the end of this season even after his unprecedented run in the SEC Tournament last year.

This Used to be Good Enough at Bama

This Used to be Good Enough at Bama

A sea change in philosophy is moving through the SEC in basketball.  Mark Gottfried is a competent head coach.  He recruits fairly well, his players generally stay out of trouble and graduate, and he occasionally had a good enough team to make a little noise in March, but nobody would ever have confused him for Hank Iba.  That used to be good enough for a football school like Alabama.  Or LSU.  Or South Carolina.  But times are changing, and those schools have seen how all-inclusive athletic prowess can build a national “brand” such as at Florida, Ohio St. and Texas that benefits the entire athletic program (and school at-large).  Basketball is a key component of that equation, and therefore it doesn’t surprise us in the least that Gottfried is now gone (before he got a chance to make a late-season run and “save” his job).

Memo to VCU’s Anthony Grant, you might want to answer any calls that come from The 205 this spring.

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Checking in on the… Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on November 21st, 2008

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Rick Henderson of The Owl’s Nest is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt Conference.

No Sweep for Trio

The talented trio of newcomer Head Coaches John Brady, Mike Jarvis, and Ken McDonald fared differently in first contests with thier programs.  Mike Jarvis (Florida Atlantic) gained his first victory as the Owls defeated Monmouth to open the season, while John Brady (Arkansas State) and Ken McDonald (Western Kentucky) dropped contests to  Houston and Ole Miss, respectively.

UNO Happy to be Back “Home”

New Orleans will take the court this season in a quite impressive Lake Front Arena now that rennovations are complete from the heavy damage that was caused by Hurricane Katrina.  “This is something that has us up to date with the rest of the top college basketball programs,” said Head Coach Joe Pasternack.

Middle Tennessee Pegged by SI.com

Sports Illustrated has the Blue Raiders ranked amongst the Top 10 mid-major powers in a recent article, where they enjoy the company of Gonzaga, Creighton, and Davidson.  “Five returning starters have chances to make early statements with games against Vanderbilt and Tennessee,” said Bill Trocchi of The Mid Major Report.

Carlos Monroe, Steven Moore out Indefinitely

Mike Jarvis’ roster experienced a set back recently when Florida Atlantic announced that All-SBC and potential player of the year power foward Carlos Monroe would not be eligible to begin regular season play.  The ruling stems from a spring semester academic issue.  University administration is working diligently to restore his eligibility.

University of Arkansas-Little Rock sharpshooter Steven Moore has been suspended indefinitely due to conduct detrimental to the team.  This is a blow for the Trojans given the fact that Smith drained 42 three pointers; an impressive 43.3%, and third best in the Sun Belt last season.

Busy Early Signing Period for The Belt

November 12th marked the first day of the early signing period, and SBC programs wasted no time landing some talented newcomers.  Middle Tennessee inked five, Florida Atlantic three, and Western Kentucky, who is believed to have the top class, signed three as well.  “The recent success of Sun Belt teams in the postseason is certainly helping the Conference as a whole in recruiting”, said said Jerry Myer, national recruiting analyst for Rivals.com.

Recent Results

Sun Belt Conference teams are doing fairly well (11-10, .524%) so far against non-conference competition. Teams have taken on the likes of mid-major and major powers including Pepperdine, N.C. State, Arizona, Oklahoma State, Houston, Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

Preaseason All-SBC North Texas point guard Josh White had an impressive 23 points in an 100-88 loss at Oklahoma State on Monday, while Florida Atlantic guard Paul Graham scored a game high 23 in the Owls’ loss to Arizona.

Upcoming Games of Note

Middle Tennessee will host the Tennessee Volunteers, currently ranked 14th nationally, this Friday, November 21st, in Murfreesboro.  The game is scheduled to air live on College Sports Southeast (CSS) beginning at 7:00 CST.

Florida Atlantic, just off two games in the desert against Arizona and Santa Clara, will take on Davidson and Stephen Curry on Monday, November 24th.

The Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky will take on a very talented Louisville squad Sunday, November 30th at 2:00PM EST in Louisville.

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2008-09 Season Primers: #18 – Sun Belt

Posted by rtmsf on October 24th, 2008

 

Rick Henderson of The Owl’s Nest is the RTC correspondent for the Sun Belt conference.

Predicted Order of Finish:

East

  1. Middle Tennessee  (19-11, 13-5)
  2. Western Kentucky  (18-11, 12-6)
  3. South Alabama  (18-11, 11-7)
  4. Florida Atlantic  (17-14, 10-8)
  5. Florida International  (15 -16, 8-10)
  6. Troy  (12-20, 5-13)

West

  1. Arkansas-Little Rock  (17-9, 12-6)
  2. North Texas  (16-13, 10-8)
  3. Louisiana-Lafayette  (15-14, 10-8)
  4. Arkansas State  (14-15, 8-10)
  5. Denver  (12-17, 7-11)
  6. Louisiana-Monroe  (15-14, 7-11)
  7. New Orleans  (11-19, 4-14)

WYN2K.  The Belt took a step forward last season with the NCAA Tourney appearance of South Alabama, and the deep run of Western Kentucky into the Sweet 16, jumping from 17 to 14 in the RPI rankings.  Accordingly, recruiting is on the way up all around.  However, this year the final league standings should look different as both teams lose key contributors from last year’s roster (we’ll get to that later).  You can expect a couple games difference in parity within the final standings at season’s end.  Here are our preseason SBC All First Teamers and Player of the Year picks:

  • Desmond Yates – MTSU
  • Carlos Monroe – FAU  (Player of the Year)
  • Josh White – NT
  • Russell Hicks – FIU
  • Brandon Davis – USA

Trio of new Head Coaches a big plus for the League.  The SBC welcomes the return of Mike Jarvis to the coaching ranks as the new Head Coach for the Fighting Owls of Florida Atlantic.  Jarvis boasts a conference best resume with 350 career wins and a myriad of post season tournament appearances – 9 NCAA and 5 NIT.  He is confident the Owls are a stock on the rise, having all but promised that they will make a return trip to The Big Dance in the very near future.  Jarvis is known for the development of NBA Hall of Fame player Patrick Ewing, and also coached a talented Ron Artest while at St John’s University. He has added a pair of nationally recognized prep guards to the already solid nucleus he inherits at FAU. PF Carlos Monroe (15.5 ppg, 9.8 rpg) will get some much needed double team help from this duo.  A little further north and west, John Brady joins The Sun Belt assuming the reins of the recently rebranded Arkansas State Redwolves program.  Brady enjoyed very successful tutelages with Samford (89 wins), and LSU (192 wins), where he led the Tigers all the way to The Final Four in 2006.  A heralded recruiter, Brady has coached an impressive 25 All TAAC (now The Atlantic Sun) and Southeastern Conference selections.  He hit the JUCO recruiting trail hard in the off-season, with four transfer signees heading to Jonesboro for the upcoming season.  Rounding out the trio of newcomers, Ken McDonald returns to Bowling Green to take over for the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky.  McDonald previously served as an Assistant Coach at WKU and most recently as the top assistant under Rick Barnes at the University of Texas.  He is a talented recruiter and was instrumental in the Longhorns signing of NBA draftees Kevin Durant and D.J. Augustin.  McDonald will have his hands full though, as this year’s team will be without the services of Courtney Lee, who was drafted by the Orlando Magic in the first round of the NBA draft (22nd).
 
Predicted Champion
Arkansas-Little Rock (#13 Seed NCAA).  Bold pick?  Absolutely.  Realistic?  Definitely. Destiny?  Perhaps.  Here’s why:  The Trojans have finished atop the West Division in three of the last five years, but have never won the crown.  Unlike all other West Division teams (and even the East minus MTSU), all five starters return for UALR.  Couple this with a weaker East Division, and a potential homecourt advantage for the SBC Tournament and you have the makings of a championship.  Rest assured that someone will knock out one of the higher eastern seeds given its parity this season – paving the way for UALR.  The Sun Belt has gained much needed size all around this year, but UALR will display the truest balanced attack.  They will feature the league’s lone true big man down low in Ole Miss transfer Mike Smith 6-7, 295Lbs (52.9 FG%).  And that will be a big advantage (pun intended) along the way.  Joining him will be SG Steven Moore who should emerge even more this season after shooting a staggering 42-97 (43.3%) from downtown last season.  The clincher:  come March they can both click their heels like Dorothy, and say “there’s no place like home.”  Despite the fact that the SBC front office claims the tournament site is neutral this season, the championship will be played in Hot Springs, AR, which is 52 miles from UALR.  This virtually ensures them home court advantage during the SBC Tournament.
 
Others Considered.  They will be formidable opponents on a number of nights this season, but Western Kentucky has flat out lost too much: a whopping 60.3% of total offense, 59.2% of total assists, 50.3%  of total steals, and 39.6% of total rebounds.  A lot of this can be attributed to the departure of both SG Courtney Lee (20.4 ppg), and PG Tyrone Brazelton (14.4 ppg).  The same goes for South Alabama who must find backcourt answers for the losses of 1st Team All SBC guard Demetric Bennett (19.7 ppg), and 2nd Team All SBC guard Daon Merritt (11.5 ppg, 5.5 apg).  North Texas could be in the race for the West Division with the return of PG Josh White (13.9 ppg), but like the others considered, they face key losses with only two starters returning.  MTSU should be atop the East Division as season’s end, and does have talented returnees in both Desmond Yates (16.0 ppg) and Demetrius Green (12.5 ppg), but it’s a long drive to Hot Springs come tournament time. 
 
Games to Watch.  Traditional powers South Alabama and Western Kentucky will face off in a nationally televised contest that is sure to be entertaining.  The Deuce will also air the SBC Championship live:

  • South Alabama @ Western Kentucky (02.07.09) 1:00PM ESPN2
  • Sun Belt Conference Championship Game (03.10.09) 9:00PM ESPN2

RPI Booster Games.  Quite a few non-conference games could help elevate the SBC in the RPI standings this season.  SEC opponents are strewn throughout league schedules, as well as a few quality west coast opponents.  Winning these contests would certainly offer nudges here and there.  And some are winnable.  But upsetting the bad boys below would do some serious damage.  Are they winnable?  Probably not.  Cliché alert: That is why they play the game. Well, that and some guarantee money.  Without any further ado, please cue: “Facing the Giants.” 

  • Florida Atlantic @ Arizona (11.17.08) 10:00PM
  • Tennessee @ Middle Tennessee (11.21.08) 7:00PM
  • Western Kentucky @ Louisville (11.30.08) 2:00PM

Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids.  Last year was a pleasant surprise, with both WKU and USA making the tourney.  If the West Division represents the SBC in The Big Dance, there is a long shot that an East Division top finisher could get in.  But it is highly unlikely and would take some serious non-conference results to convince the committee.

65 Team Era.  During the era, the Sun Belt is 13-34 (.277), but with WKU’s two additional wins last year, the Hilltoppers are responsible for seven of those wins and both of the conferences trips to the Sweet 16.  In fact, WKU is the only Sun Belt team to win an NCAA game in the past sixteen seasons (Louisiana-Lafayette won a game in 1992).  Seven times during this era has the Sun Belt gotten more than one team into the Dance, including last year’s duo of S. Alabama and W. Kentucky.  Speaking of which, who can forget what was arguably the (second) most exciting moment of the 2008 Tournament?


 
Final thought.  The SBC is one to two years away from making the climb back to where it was prior to adding football as a sponsored collegiate sport.  Serious recruiting classes have come in during the off-season.  It will be fun to watch some of the young talent begin to develop and blossom on the hardwood this upcoming season.

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2008 One-and-Dones – Was It Worth It?

Posted by rtmsf on July 1st, 2008

Happy Fiscal New Year, everyone! 

Along with the turn of the fiscal calendar, July 1 also represents the turn of the academic calendar.  This is particularly appropriate for hoopheads, as the NBA’s season has ended and the draft madness that dominated bandwidth for the last two months after the Mario Miracle has died down to a whimper (well, there’s always 2009, right?).  All there really is to look forward to until October is the Ego Known as Kobe Bryant’s attempt to restore American hegemony in the international (read: Olympics) hoops realm.  That comes in August. 

So now is as good a time as any to take a look back at the 2007-08 season and once again review how the NBA’s one-and-done rule worked out for the schools that enabled it.  You might recall that we took a look at this last year and concluded: Ohio St., UNC, Texas… good.  Georgia Tech, Washington… not so good.  We also mentioned that several schools – Stanford, Tennessee, Arizona and Kansas included – were hanging onto players who could have been one-and-dones, but weren’t.  With the exception of the often comatose Arizona team, the other three as a result had fantastic squads last year. 

To start it off, let’s refresh ourselves with who the Rivals Top 20 recruits were coming into 2007-08.  As you can see below, we added a few columns that outline the player’s freshman numbers (pts/rebs/assts or blocks) and his team’s record as well as whether he went into the draft or is returning next season. 

So was it worth it?  Our takes:

Kansas St.  – Well Worth It.    K-State rode the best.freshman.ever Michael Beasley and sorta-but-not-really one-and-done Bill Walker (he was a medical redshirt in 06-07) as far as it could, which included a third-place finish in the competitive Big 12, a second-round NCAA tournament appearance and the first home win in twenty-four years over its rival and eventual national champion Kansas Jayhawks.  In other words, K-State’s best season in a generation.  The important aspect of Beasley and Walker’s one-and-dones for KSU head coach Frank Martin is to capitalize on future recruiting from the good will and national notoriety mustered by these players while on campus.  If he does not do so, and it’s soon back to the bottom of the Big 12 barrel for K-State, then the potential positive impacts of these stars passing through Manhattan, KS, were missed. 

Memphis – Well Worth It.  This too is a no-brainer.  #1 overall pick Derrick Rose converted a competitive yet incomplete team that would consistently flame out prior to the Final Four against other elite teams into a team that probably should have won the national title.  Rose led Memphis to a 38-2 record and had the Tigers in the argument for the most dominant season in the post-Wooden era before its epic free-throw meltdown in the championship game.  Even only as a runner-up, a Memphis fan would be hard pressed to find much else wrong with the 07-08 season, and as such, the one-year stopover by Derrick Rose was well worth it. 

Memphis Would Take A Rose Every Year (AP photo/Seth Wenig)

UCLA – Worth It.  This was a tough one, because UCLA came into the 07-08 season already having been to the last two Final Fours.  Anything short of that measure was going to be a disappointment (although Bruin fans might argue anything less than a national title is a disappointment).  We’ll argue, however, that Kevin Love brought a toughness and star-quality to Westwood that had been lacking on Ben Howland’s previous teams.  Not to mention that UCLA last season at 35-4 was simply a better team than the ones led by backcourt players (Afflalo and Farmar).  More than anything, Love’s presence solidifed UCLA again as a marquee destination for top-notch recruits, as Howland has penned five of the Rivals Top 50 in the Class of 2008. 

Arizona – Worth It.  It’s quite possible that Jerryd Bayless last season saved Arizona from breaking its NCAA Tournament streak of 24 consecutive appearances.  Arizona certainly didn’t have a great year amidst all the Lute Olson divorce and feud with Kevin O’Neill turmoils, but with a final record of 19-15, you have to figure that Bayless’ fantastic freshman year was worth a few wins that put the Cats back into the field of 65.  But that’s about all it was worth.  It certainly didn’t make Arizona into a contender of any kind, and it’s doubtful whether there will be any residual effects from Bayless’ time in Tucson.   

Indiana – Worth It.  Eric Gordon‘s arrival in Bloomington was worth it if for no other reason than it gave Hoosier fans something to be excited about for approximately three months (Nov-Jan).  Now that the wheels have come completely tumbling off of the Indiana program, we have to wonder just how long their fans will covet and remember the halcyon days when IU was 16-1 and ranked #7 in the AP Poll.  Of course, E-Giddy was partially responsible for Indiana’s subsequent collapse (18.2 ppg on 37.2% FG/25.3% 3FG shooting in the last 13 games (8-5)), but we put most of that on the ultimate dismissal of Kelvin Sanctions whereupon the entire team simply quit playing.  So in our view, this one-and-done represents the last great season that Indiana will have for a while.  Too bad it couldn’t have worked out better for everyone involved. 

Gordon Left More than a Bloody Tooth in His Wake (photo credit:  Bloomington Herald-Times)

USC – Not Worth It.    For a while during the season, it appeared as if the OJ Mayo one-and-done situation might just work out for Tim Floyd and the Trojan Nation.  Similar to K-State, USC hadn’t seen this much hoops attention in years – with Mayo as the headliner, USC played numerous national television games, beat UCLA at Pauley, and ended up tied for third in the rugged Pac-10.  Of course, the wheels came off when USC failed to show up to its hyped battle against K-State in the first round of the NCAAs and the propriety of Mayo’s eligibility was called into question by ESPN soon thereafter.  Throw in Davon Jefferson (a one-and-done from the Class of 2006 who went to prep school for a year before enrolling at USC) and his foolish decision to enter this year’s draft (undrafted) and we’re not sure just how successful USC can claim 2007-08 was.  After all, the 2006-07 edition of the Trojans, led by Nick Young and Gabe Pruitt, also finished third in the Pac-10 but had a better overall record (23-11) and played into the second weekend of March Madness (giving Carolina all it wanted in the process).  Finally, with another uber-recruit, Demar DeRozan, coming to USC next year, Floyd needs to be hyper-vigilant about those nefarious agents and runners in light of the Mayo debacle because more eyes will be watching.   

NC State – Not Worth It.  Hey, remember all the preseason talk about how NC State was the third best team in the ACC, and a definite NCAA Tournament team?  Yeah, we don’t either.  Actually, we do, and few of the pundits will own up to the fact that it was a terrible prediction.  For the record, NC State ended up 15-16, but the Wolfpack were 4-12 in the ACC (worse than the previous year’s 5-11 campaign that inspired such foolishness) and lost their last nine games.  So what did JJ Hickson’s presence in Raleigh bring to the team?  Other than team chemistry problems, of course?  It doesn’t appear that he brought much else than an ability to get himself drafted.  NC State will likely be significantly better without him next season. 

What Chemistry Problems? 

LSU – Not Worth It.  While we’re in the business of ripping bad teams with one-and-done players, we shouldn’t overlook the LSU Tigers.  LSU seems to have one of these guys about every other year anyway, so it probably doesn’t matter much in terms of long-term effects, but a 13-18 record with a loss at Tulane calls into question the value of Anthony Randolph’s tenure on campus in Baton Rouge.  Certainly the mail-it-in coaching style of Mr. Misty Champagne didn’t help things out much, but even with John Wooden coaching that team, we’re not sure how much Randolph could have lifted the Bayou Bengals.

Others.  These teams all had one-and-dones of questionable efficacy.  Put another way, these teams probably wouldn’t have been much better nor worse had these players gone elsewhere.  Exhibit A is Texas A&M‘s DeAndre Jordan.  TAMU was a tourney team anyway, led by Joseph Jones and Josh Carter, and it’s doubtful that Jordan’s four double-figure points games and two double-figure rebounds games in the Big 12 had much of an effect on A&M’s successful season.  Not Worth It.  Syracuse fans may disagree with us here, but despite Donte Greene‘s exceptional first-year numbers, we find it hard to believe that the Orange would have been any less average than they already were last year (21-14, 9-10 Big East).  After all, Jim Boeheim could take five schoolgirls and make them competitive – he just wouldn’t win the title with them (unless Carmela Anthony was on the team).  The question is whether Syracuse fans are pleased with a third-round NIT appearance, and we all know the answer to that – a resounding no.  For a school with multiple F4s and a recent championship banner, missing the NCAAs completely is a failing season, no matter the reasonable expectation.  Not Worth It.  Finally, we look at Ohio St., who took Kosta Koufos to replace last year’s one-and-donest, Greg Oden.  The answer here once again comes down to the question of expectation vs. reality of the situation.  Without Oden, Mike Conley and Daequan Cook, it wasn’t realistic for Thad Matta to make another run at the F4; but the bar has been raised so high at Ohio St. under Matta that a 24-13 season leading to an NIT championship must necessarily be viewed as less-than-stellar.  Winning the Capital One Bowl doesn’t match the Rose Bowl, does it, Buckeye fans?  We’ll call this one a Push.   

Final Thoughts.  With so many freshmen leaving this year from the top 20 Rivals list, we’d guess only Florida with Nick Calathes and Chandler Parsons returning may be a team to really watch closely next year.  Otherwise, keep an eye on UCLA, Wake Forest and UConn, each of which has multiple top twenty players coming onto campus next year. 

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ATB: John Brady’s Bunch (of losers)

Posted by rtmsf on December 6th, 2007

ATB v.4

12.06.07

Don’t Call it a Comeback.  #24 Villanova 68, LSU 67 “Any team that loses, doesn’t deserve to win.”  That profundity, uttered by LSU coach John Brady tonight after his team’s one-point loss to Villanova, clearly shows Brady’s eloquence, but it belies his indefatigable drive for success, his world-renowned coaching acumen, and his propensity for buxom blonde strippers named Misty Champagne.  Remember the Miracle in Baton Rouge (ca. 1994) when Kentucky came back from 31 down in the second half to beat Dale Brown’s boys – well tonight it was the Main Line Revival, as Villanova erased a 21-pt LSU lead with 8:51 remaining to win the game.  The Tigers were outscored 35-13 the rest of the way, culminating in a putback layup by Dante Cunningham (16/12) with six seconds left to give the Cats their first (and only) lead of the night.  Amazing comeback for Villanova, but an even more remarkable collapse for LSU, who ended up allowing Villanova more points in the final 9 minutes than in the previous 31.  We continue to be impressed with the coaching inabilities of ole John Brady down in Baton Rouge, but hey, at least Les Miles is sticking around, right?    

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Other Ranked Teams.

  • #11 Butler 53, Detroit 46.  Matt Howard with 20/11 in an ugly (but typical) Butler win.

Other Notable Scores.

  • South Carolina 68, Providence 67.  Well, at least the SEC/Big East Invitational had two good games tonight – surprised the hell outta us.  Oh, and the tally was 3-1 Big East (thanks John Brady!)  
  • Maryland 89, Morgan St. 65.  Maryland punches Todd Bozeman’s crew in the mouth.

On Tap Today(all times EST).  Nothing worthwhile.  Go out and have some fun.  There are some good games on Saturday.  

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ATB: The Debut of E-Giddy

Posted by rtmsf on November 13th, 2007

ATB v.4

11.12.07

Story of the Night. For the life of me I cannot remember, what made us think that we were wise and we’d never compromise, for the life of me I cannot believe, we’d ever die for these sins, we were merely freshmen… (h/t Verve Pipe ca. 1997) Ok, we’re already sick of talking about this year’s freshman class, but GOOD GOD are these youngsters talented or what? The idea that college hoops was somehow “better off” when kids were going preps-to-pros looks a little ridiculous now, doesn’t it? We’re not necessarily fans of one-and-done either, but we have a sneaky feeling that during the next CBA between the NBA Players Assn. and the owners, the rule will change to two years post-HS as to when a player can declare for the draft. We can’t wait to get these guys in college for more than a year.

Things We Saw. So given the SOTN, we’ll start with a game we didn’t actually see, #11 Indiana v. Chattanooga (see below vid). Out of all the frosh, the player we’ve been most excited to see has been E-Giddy – no disrespect to Derrick Rose, Kevin Love, Michael Beasley or anyone else, but Eric Gordon has been the guy who seems most likely to make our jaws drop. We still haven’t actually seen him, of course, but look at this debut line – 33/6/4 on 9-15 shooting (7-11 from three). Plus, some of those threes on the highlights were about 6 feet behind the line – kid has mad range. What’s more is that Kelvin Sanctions’ team needed it, because the Hoosiers were down 4 at the half to a game Chattanooga team. DJ White added 17/4/2 blks in the winning effort, and yeah, IU showed some areas for improvement (rebounding), but make no mistake about it, this is probably the best inside/outside tandem in the country and a huge reason why we have Indiana going to the F4 next April (Indiana 99, Chattanooga 79). Moving to games we actually viewed, #14 Duke was impressive tonight – better than we’ve given them credit for. The thing about the Devils (esp. at home) is that they’re absolutely going to terrorize people defensively with their m2m defense and their traps. Traps lead to turnovers, turnovers lead to dunks and threes, dunks and threes lead to an avalanche of points and a rocking CIS, and before New Mexico St. anyone knows it, you’re already down twenty and your players are completely befuddled and rattled. That’s how Duke plays, and therefore, the only way to beat the Devils at home is to treasure possession of the ball and avoid those demoralizing runs. NMSU had 26 turnovers and allowed Duke to hit 13 threes tonight – how do you think that’s going to end for them? We do still wonder about Duke’s lack of interior size, though (Duke 86, New Mexico St. 61). Tonight’s #11 Oregon-W. Michigan game exhibits why we’re so high on the Ducks this year. Four of their five starters (Taylor, Porter, Hairston and Leunen) can lead the scoring column on any given night. Tonight it was Hairston’s turn, as he went for 29 on 9-11 shooting (3-3 from three). Not many teams have that kind of skilled and experienced offensive balance that they can throw at you every night. Now… defense might be their achilles heel. The Ducks did give up 58 pts in the second half tonight, and it’s hard for us to believe a team that gives up that many pts to anyone is a legitimate contender, but maybe Ernie Kent can shore that up as the season progresses (Oregon 97, Western Michigan 88).

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Other games we caught briefly. LSU once again brings out some lineup of five jumping jacks ranging in height from 6’4 to 6’10, and not one of them has the first clue how to play basketball (thanks John Brady!). Another rook who is getting no hype but is in the Stromile Swift/Tyrus Thomas mold is Anthony Randolph. He very nearly put up a trip-dub in his first game as a Tiger (19/13/6 blks) (LSU 72, SE Louisiana 62). We tried to watch some of #13 Texas’ debut w/o Kevin Durant, but the pace put us to sleep. We heard that DJ Augustin led the way with 19/2/4 assts (Texas 58, UT-San Antonio 37). We also watched a little bit of Ohio St.’s first game since the Findlay disaster, and it appeared that the Buckeyes were getting Matta’s message. Even though four players scored in double figures led by David Lighty (17/8/4), we really wonder if OSU has any depth to speak of this year (Ohio St. 91, Wisc-GB 68). #2 UCLA was the nightcap, and even though Kevin Love had good numbers (21/9), there was one second-half series of shot/block/putback/block/putback where K-Love just didn’t look very explosive around the rim. Thick, yes. Strong, yes. Skilled, yes. But explosive? We were hoping he’d power through and dunk on someone like that when he held position to the rim. Didn’t happen (UCLA 83, Youngstown St. 52).

Interesting Scores. Boston College 68, Florida Atlantic 62. BC might be in for a really rough year. Syracuse 97, Siena 89. What is UP with those horrid Cuse unis (see below vid)? Oh, and rook Jonny Flynn (28/5/9 assts) looks like he’ll be a fun one for Boeheim. Maryland 70, Hampton 64. This one didn’t surprise us that it was close – we’re not sure what to expect from the Terps this year, but we know that Hampton is a good team.

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Upset Alert. Another D2 team over a D1 team, albeit a low major (Cal St. San Bernardino 71, Weber St. 59).

On Tap Today (all times EST). 53 games, but not very many interesting ones. The best ones are either not televised (Toledo-Vandy) or on the freakin’ U (TAMU-ORU).

  • Michigan St. (NL) v. Chicago St. (ESPNU) 7pm – ho-hum.
  • Toledo v. Vanderbilt (-5) 7pm - this is a really interesting game for both teams’ at-large profiles.
  • Syracuse (NL) v. St. Joseph’s (ESPN) 7pm - upset alert – Cuse goes down at home.
  • Mercer (NL) v. Alabama 7:30pm – Mercer has a chance for another big win at home this time.
  • Miami (OH) (NL) v. Xavier 8pm – should be a good southern Ohio battle.
  • Gonzaga (-28) v. Idaho (FCSP) 8pm - we want to see if Daye can keep it up.
  • Ohio St. (NL) v. Columbia (ESPN) 9pm – an Ivy school not named Penn or Princeton on ESPN?
  • Texas A&M (-15.5) v. Oral Roberts (ESPNU) 9pm – upset alert – TAMU could lose this game.
  • UC Irvine (NL) v. Nevada 10:30pm – Nevada needs to regroup and win this game.
  • UCLA (NL) v. Cal St. San Bernardino (ESPN2) 10:30pm – there won’t be many other D2 teams on ESPN2 this year.
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SEC Diversity Redux

Posted by rtmsf on April 27th, 2007

Apparently Gary Parrish hit a sore spot with many SEC fans based on the reaction he received to his article on CBS Sportsline earlier this week. As we stated in our response to his article, not all of the criticism he received is without merit.

Parrish wrote a follow-up article today, which in our opinion, states the essential point that he should have made in the first incarnation. Namely, although it is unfortunate and a bit peculiar that three black coaches left SEC schools (whether willingly or unwillingly) in the past two years, it is not due to racism per se that these coaches are no longer with their schools. In other words, it is not their blackness alone that got these coaches in trouble, for these and other SEC schools have had successful black coaches in the past; it is their blackness in combination with a prevailing perception of not meeting the high expectations of the fans as head coach. As he put it simply, “minority coaches operate on a shorter leash.”

John Brady OR Stan Heath ??

There is merit to this argument, and we wish Parrish had made it more clearly in the first article. There are valid concerns as to why a coaching clown like John Brady at LSU can continue with legitimate employment after ten years of mostly disappointing seasons. Or how a squirrelly little man such as Dave Odom can continue cashing SC’s checks after one NCAA appearance in six years (unless your goal as an SEC program is to win NIT championships, as he’s very accomplished at that). We have absolutely no doubt that black coaches at these schools would have been gone long before these gents. As we noted in our initial response, we’re still not past the point where “diversity” in the SEC amounts to much more than blondes and redheads. However, it must be stated that a very successful black coach at any SEC school – in football or basketball – would be warmly embraced by its fans despite the racial component.

Dave Odom OR Tubby Smith ??

As a final point, let’s also throw out another possible confounding factor in the cases of Tubby Smith and Stan Heath. We’ll leave Rod Barnes out of this discussion, because even Parrish concedes that his record at Ole Miss was lacking. Could part of the reason that Smith and Heath felt so much heat in comparison to coaches like Brady, Gottfried and Odom has something to do with how basketball is treated at those particular schools, rather than attributing all of it to race? Everyone knows that the expectations at UK are through the roof every season. Arkansas, while at heart a football school, could also fairly be described as a basketball school as well. Their fans have supported the hardwood Hawgs dating back to Eddie Sutton’s days there in the 1970s, and they’ve been to multiple Final Fours and won a championship in 1994.

Contrast that with LSU, Alabama and South Carolina, where football is absolutely and undoubtedly king. Basketball is by most fans still considered a stepbrother to the gridiron – sure, the fans want to see the program do “well,” but well is defined in the context of making the NCAAs fairly often, and maybe winning a game or two the years you get there. Those kinds of expectations get football coaches like Dennis Franchione , Gerry DiNardo and Mike Shula fired quickly (and they’re all white!). The level of expectations for basketball at these schools are far from what you see at UK, Arkansas, and as of now, Florida in the SEC. Perhaps this issue trumps all else when it comes to dealing with fan expectations at these particular schools.

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