Life is not fair. At all. Need evidence? After missing most of 2011-12 with an ACL injury, Oklahoma State’s JP Olukemi will now miss the rest of his senior season with another knee injury. This was supposed to be a year of celebration for Olukemi, who earned an NCAA waiver to play his final semester this winter after months of controversy. Instead, his future is now uncertain after this nightmarish scenario. We all remember when Robbie Hummel injured his knee a second time, but Olukemi might not get another chance to lace up the sneakers. That’s tragic for a guy who’s been through hell and back so far already.
Get comfortable, Bob Huggins (as if he weren’t already). West Virginia announced yesterday that it has signed the head coach to an extension through 2022-23, six years past the term of his original deal. This is a no-brainer for the school, no matter how bad Huggins’ team looked against Gonzaga in its season opener. And we’d be willing to bet almost anything Huggins will stick around through the duration of this deal, considering he’s a hometown kid and alumnus of the school. More importantly, he once left behind Michael Beasley and Bill Walker at Kansas State to coach in Morgantown. Need any more proof? Huggins For Life in Morgantown.
If you’re tuning into Oklahoma’s showdown with UTEP in the opening round of the Old Spice Classic this afternoon, listen for a ruckus in the stands. That’s probably freshman Buddy Hield‘s family, which is making the trip to Orlando to celebrate Thanksgiving and watch some hoops. He apparently hasn’t seen a few of his siblings in almost two years, so, in that case, the louder the better! Hield’s not a bad player, either. The Bahamas native and coveted high school prospect went off for 17 points against UT-Arlington last week.
Finding an amicable split between coach and school in college basketball is about as rare as finding two divorced people who still get along. It just doesn’t happen. Usually, when a coach gets fired or leaves on bad terms, there’s a bloodbath. Ask a Kentucky fan how he/she feels about Billy Gillispie, and you’re likely to get a slew of curse words thrown your way. That’s why it’s so refreshing to read about how Iowa State and former coach Greg McDermott found a way to cut ties with each other and then find success with alternate paths. The Cyclones didn’t fire McDermott, but after a fairly unsuccessful tenure in Ames, he bolted for Creighton before things got really ugly. His old school hired a Cyclone legend in Fred Hoiberg and made the NCAA Tournament within two years, and McDermott found a cozy gig with a basketball-crazy program and now coaches his son (who happens to be an All-American) with good talent surrounding him. It could not have worked out better for either party.
Meanwhile, things are not working out well for Richard Hurd, the former Baylor basketball player sentenced to 18 months in prison. Hurd pleaded guilty in September for attempting to extort former Bears’ quarterback and current Washington Redskin Robert Griffin III. He told Griffin he’d release negative information unless the star NFL prospect gave him a million dollars. You’re not really allowed to do that under our legal system, of course, so he’ll spend some hard time in prison somewhere in Texas.
Brian Otskey is a regular contributor for RTC. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey
As someone who doesn’t watch one minute of college football but loves college basketball to no end, conference realignment frustrates me to no end as you might imagine. It’s actually quite depressing and I hate talking/writing about it. However, it’s a relevant story and must be discussed because of the far-reaching impacts it will have on the sport I love. I realize this is all about “stability,” TV markets and football. It bothers me like nothing else but I accept it. I’m in the minority when it comes to this and the minority holds very little influence in our country. The consequences (both intended and unintended) of realignment for basketball are distressing. The Big East conference, the pre-eminent college basketball league for the last 25 to 30 years, is on life support. The conference I grew up watching, with the best conference tournament of them all, is all but gone. Yes, Connecticut and Louisville are still in the league, but make no mistake, they’ll bolt at the first opportunity they get as we saw this week with Rutgers going to the Big Ten. Once everything shakes out, I find it hard to believe any Big East football program will remain in the league. It simply makes no sense to do so at this point and they’re looking out for themselves in doing so. I don’t blame them. I blame the greedy conference leadership concerned about how many eyeballs the Big Ten Network can draw in New York and New Jersey, the schools who set this in motion (Syracuse and Pittsburgh), and the Big East as a whole for turning down a massive TV deal that could have given the conference a great deal of security. Once the football schools leave, the Big East will be down to seven Catholic basketball-only schools: DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova. As an alumnus and fan of one of those seven schools, this pains me greatly. I could live with Pittsburgh, West Virginia and Notre Dame leaving the league. The real punch to the gut was Syracuse, a Big East founding member, saying it could find long-term stability in the ACC. The final, fatal blow will be Connecticut and/or Louisville bolting, likely in short order. The basketball-only schools have no leverage and must wait and see as everything crashes around them. Hopefully they get together, keep the Big East name and pick up a few other schools like Butler, St. Joe’s and Xavier. That wouldn’t be a bad league and it would get back to the roots of the Big East, basketball and basketball only.
The Big East Needs to Find Its Roots in Basketball
How does realignment affect other schools and conferences? For one, the bottom teams in the ACC may stay there for a very long time. With Syracuse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame coming in (and possibly Connecticut/Louisville), how will schools like Wake Forest and Boston College compete? There will be a good five or six programs ahead of them each and every year, plus they have to battle it out with the likes of Clemson, Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech just to make it into the middle of the pack. It’s a vicious cycle that will keep programs like these as the bottom of their respective conference for many years to come. They always said it was tough to climb up the Big East ladder but now the ACC is effectively the Big East (six of the ACC’s 14 future members, not including Maryland, will be former Big East schools). It’s going to be extraordinarily tough for schools like Boston College to compete in the revamped ACC. Only the strong shall survive in conference realignment, it seems. As for the Big Ten, the impact isn’t as significant. Penn State, Nebraska and Northwestern will always be among the worst programs in the league but the climb to respectability isn’t as difficult. Look at Northwestern. The Wildcats have never made the NCAA Tournament despite knocking on the door in the last few seasons, showing how it isn’t impossible to climb the conference ladder. Now though, the addition of a similarly starved program at Rutgers and a strong program at Maryland makes it more difficult for Northwestern to make a move. It’s uncertain what Rutgers is getting itself into. The Scarlet Knights haven’t made the NCAA Tournament in 22 seasons but have shown signs of progress under Mike Rice. You have to think it can go either way for Rutgers. The new recruiting avenues can help but the school is already situated in the middle of the talent-rich New York City area. That said, road trips to Wisconsin and Michigan State aren’t as simple as heading over to St. John’s or up to Providence. I’d lean towards Rutgers struggling in the Big Ten. Read the rest of this entry »
While one prominent Pac-12 incomer awaits the NCAA’s decision on whether he’ll see the floor this year, another one received his eligibility papers on Thursday. Oregon’s Arsalen Kazemi, a Rice transfer and former all-CUSA forward, has been cleared to suit up for the Ducks effective immediately, which means that we’re likely to see him in uniform against Vanderbilt tonight. The addition of Kazemi to a talented Oregon front line consisting of Tony Woods, EJ Singler and Carlos Emery is a major coup for Dana Altman right at the start of the season. In a league already fighting hard to regain national relevance this season, this good news for Oregon puts the Ducks at the head of the list of about six Pac-12 teams in the second tier behind Arizona and UCLA who realistically have designs on an NCAA Tournament bid.
So Kazemi is in, Shabazz Muhammad is still out, and a whole host of other players around the country are sidelined as well for a number of different reasons. Andy Glockner lists the most prominent of the group and you could probably make a decent run at the national title with several different iterations of the talent sitting on benches around the country right now. From Providence’s Kris Dunn (injury) to Missouri’s Michael Dixon (team suspension) to St. Louis’ Kwamain Mitchell (injury) to Texas’ Myck Kabongo (NCAA investigation) to Miami’s Durand Scott (impermissible benefits) and on and on, many teams around the nation cannot be fairly evaluated at this point in the season because they’re playing at significantly less than full strength. Injuries are an unfortunate byproduct of the game, but many of the players on the list are there because of their own mistakes — here’s hoping all of them make it back into lineups sooner than later.
One player who at the time of this writing we’re crossing our fingers for is Oklahoma State’s JP Olukemi, who left the Cowboys’ game against Akron on Thursday afternoon with a left knee injury that his head coach Travis Ford characterized as not “look[ing] good.” Just two weeks ago Olukemi was given an eligibility waiver by the NCAA that allowed him to play a full season (rather than just the fall semester), and now if worst comes to worst, he might be forced to miss part or all of the entire season. Last year he played in only 13 games before suffering an ACL tear on New Year’s Eve against Virginia Tech, which begs the question whether the basketball gods just don’t want Olukemi to suit up in a Cowboys uniform for some reason.
File this one under the strange intersection of pop culture and (college) basketball: Duke freshman Rasheed Sulaimonaccused Lil’ Wayne of cursing at him during Duke’s win over Kentucky at the Champions Classic on Tuesday night. In a tweet from the young guard after the game, Sulaimon said “Still a @LilTunechi fan but was shook when he cursed me out court side lol. Where the duke love at slime.” With an admission that Sulaimon — who shot 3-of-14 from the field — was “shook” by Weezy’s verbal bombs, ACC coaches from Coral Gables to Chestnut Hill no doubt have already started inviting Lil’ Wayne and his friends as honorary guests at some of their more prominent home games against a team in blue.
The Charleston Classic, Puerto Rico Tip-Off and 2kSports Classic all got under way yesterday (the medal rounds, at least), and the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic will tip off tonight in Brooklyn. With so many brackets and games in far-flung places, you probably need a primer on the top contests to watch this weekend in these events. Ryan Fagan of the Sporting News has us covered, picking out five key games over the next few days that are most worth your time and energy to watch. Or, you could do us one better, and just watch them all — junkies of the world, unite. Have a great weekend, everyone.
Tonight’s Lede. Mini-Tournaments Abound! Few events typify the diffuse nature of non-conference competition in college hoops more than mini early-season invitationals. You have stacked fields like the Battle 4 Atlantis, replete with national championship hopefuls and quality mid-majors battling it out in a tropical locale. Then you have events like the South Padre Invitational, where the most anticipated match-up will pit annual bubble denizen Northwestern and Illinois State. Not to take anything away from Jackie Carmichael and the Redbirds, but come on – yuck. Several of this year’s events tipped off Thursday, and while the early-round match-ups may lack for intrigue, their occurrence brings the promise of quality contests in the later rounds. Even if the first-round competition didn’t quite sate your hoops palate, there were some intriguing bouts scattered about the ledger, with conference and national contenders taking the floor in various spots around the country. These little tourneys may not tout Champions Classic-level prestige, but they’re exciting enough to spark the interest of most college hoops fans. What do you say we dig into some of these mini-tourneys’ first-round tilts?
Your Watercooler Moment. Flaws Exposed in Oklahoma State’s Overtime Win Over Akron.
So much of Oklahoma State’s Tournament potential rides on Nash and Smart (Photo credit: AP Photo).
Few teams count two top-10 recruits in their starting lineup. Even fewer combine that youth with effective complementary pieces and offensive firepower at every position. Oklahoma State, with sophomore wing Le’Bryan Nash and freshman guard Marcus Smart, fit the description. Based on Thursday’s near-loss in overtime to Akron in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, it seems the Cowboys have some fine-tuning to do before they can be considered a realistic contender in this season’s deep Big 12. The book is out on Nash: He’s an effective but inefficient scorer (last season, he took 29.3 percent of available shots and used 29.0 percent of possessions yet posted an ugly 89.2 offensive rating, per kenpom.com). The early returns on Smart are just about where you’d expect them to be: The talent is there, but the attention to detail is not. If Nash and Smart, who combined for 34 points and 16 rebounds Thursday, can bring it all together, and junior Markel Brown can provide consistent scoring from the perimeter, this is a dangerous team. Whether that if-statement translates to the affirmative – and whether the young duo can guide the Cowboys into NCAA Tournament territory, which is probably the threshold postseason benchmark to ensure the continuation of coach Travis Ford’s tenure – will largely fall on the shoulders of Nash and Smart.
Tonight’s Quick Hits…
Another Key Loss for Oklahoma State?There were significant concerns about Oklahoma State’s depth heading into this season. With swingman Brian Williams done for the season, and point guard Cezar Guerrero leaving the team for family issues, the Cowboys’ bench was already very thin. Those concerns may reach new levels of immediacy if senior JP Olukemi’s apparent left knee injury, suffered during the Cowboys’ game with Akron Thursday, proves serious. Olukemi spent much of the second half with his knee wrapped in ice. For Oklahoma State, losing him would be a major blow. He’s an explosive scorer and a fantastic perimeter complement to Nash and Smart. On a more personal level, you can’t help feeling for Olukemi, who missed most of last season with a torn ACL and was granted a waiver to play out his final year of eligibility after a long and presumably anxiety-filled waiting game with NCAA folk.
Late-Game Mismanagement Costs Purdue.Transition is the fitting byword for Purdue’s 2012-13 season. Gone are Robbie Hummel and Lewis Jackson, the heart and soul of Purdue’s recent outfits. In comes a new freshman class, which features three-top 100 players. The future is promising for the Boilermakers; Matt Painter will have his team challenging the top levels of Big Ten competition sooner rather than later. This year, the goals are more realistic, more focused on development and transition. Purdue’s inexperience proved costly Thursday night as the Boilermakers saw their seven-point lead evaporate in just over a minute’s time, thus sending their 2K Sports Classic semifinal contest into overtime, at which point Villanova — thanks to a pair of huge threes from James Bell — took over. Chalk this one up to youth — a veteran team with multiple years’ playing experience does not let that one slip away. For Purdue, the silver lining is plain: the young Boilers can take this performance, and use it as a reference point for future growth. The Boilermakers’ short-term outlook is far less promising than the long-term. Last night was a confirmation of the fact.
2K Sports Classic Provides Marquee Drama.In what amounted to arguably Thursday’s best matchup of power conference teams, Alabama needed a late three from Rodney Cooper to advance to Friday night’s championship round. Cooper’s shot was huge – it halted Oregon State’s valiant second half run. More impressive was Alabama’s guard play, namely Trevor Lacey and Trevor Releford. We know the Tide are going to lock you down; that’s what Anthony Grant’s teams do. They defend. The picture is less rosy on offense for Alabama. The development of a potent guard combo like Releford and Lacey could be just what the doctor ordered. And about that defense – Alabama’s suffocating defense produced produced 17 turnovers to Oregon State’s nine. It’s only November, and much Alabama has plenty of work left on the nonconference ledger before they can start thinking about Kentucky and Missouri and Florida, but this has the makings of another defensive-minded Tide team. Their identity is a timeless quality under Grant.
The “Other” Freshman Shines for N.C. State.With all due respect to Rodney Purvis, T.J. Warren wants the spotlight just as much as you do. That’s the impression you got watching Warren, the less-heralded member of Mark Gottfried’s prized 2012 recruiting class, steal the show in N.C. State’s win over Penn State in the first round of the Puerto Rico Tip-off. Warren mixes a savvy low post game with a high basketball IQ and range out to the three-point line, as comfortable to mix it up on the low block as he is spot up from deep (Warren connected on three of four three-point attempts Thursday). For all of Purvis’ lottery talent, Warren’s diverse inside-out game could be the more productive asset. Throw Warren, likely lottery pick C.J. Leslie, and interior enforcer Richard Howell in the same frontcourt, and you’ll be hard-pressed to find teams capable of matching that size and talent.
Kansas Needs A Go-To Scorer; Hello Ben McLemore.Trap games arrive in many different shapes and sizes. For Kansas, coming off a three-point loss to Michigan State in Tuesday night’s Champions Classic, Chattanooga pounced on the Jayhawks’ sluggishness to jump out to an eight-point halftime lead. Then Kansas realized it was playing Chattanooga, shrugged off its shaky start and ripped off a 27-4 run in a 12-minute second-half stretch to silence the Mocs. An update on Ben McLemore: the hype – which amplified throughout last season and over the summer as tales of Mclemore’s athleticism and natural scoring ability surfaced in droves – is legitimate. Bill Self told CBS’s Jeff Goodman this week he had yet to find a player with a “killer instinct”, a Thomas Robinson-type lead option who he can hand the ball to in crucial moments. McLemore’s 24-point, eight-rebound effort could fashion an answer.
Rethinking the Big 12 Hierarchy.All early-season caveats apply here, but it’s hard to argue Baylor hasn’t looked and played like the Big 12’s best team so far this season. The latest tour de force came Thursday night against an improved Boston College team, when Pierre Jackson’s 31 points on 10-15 shooting overwhelmed the Eagles and served and provided more fuel to the notion this could be Baylor’s best team under Scott Drew. It’s not just about Jackson – freshman Isaiah Austin has all the physical tools of Perry Jones III and all the intangibles he never had. To reiterate: It’s way too early to make any bold proclamations about conference races. At this point, we can come together on the concept that Kansas may not, as many posited throughout the preseason, cruise to a ninth straight conference title. Baylor feels like a viable contender.
… and Misses.
Another Tough Loss for Georgia. The source of Georgia’s problems is no huge mystery. It involves sophomore guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, and the lack of proficient scoring talent around him. How else can you explain the McDonald’s All-American throwing up 21 shots and making just five of them in a losing effort, the Bulldogs’ second straight defeat in the Legends Classic after falling to Youngstown State Monday. It only gets harder from here for Georgia, with either UCLA or Georgetown (depending on who wins their first round matchup Monday) waiting in Tuesday’s semifinal at the Barclays Center. Pope is a very talented player whose high-end NBA projection borders on lottery-pick status. He is the driving force of all of Georgia’s offensive sets. Through three games – which, admittedly, is a small sample – Georgia’s 41.2 effective field goal percentage ranks 256th nationally. For that to improve, coach Mark Fox needs to find ways to get other players involved offensively.
The Bulldogs need a secondary scoring option to surface alongside Caldwell-Pope (Photo credit: US Presswire).
Cancun not Kind to DePaul. Not all bad losses are created equal. Often times the better team plays down to its competition and loses by a small margin. Less common is the underdog blowout, when the putatively weaker opponent rises up and dominates its more prominent opponent. Gardner-Webb saw an opportunity in DePaul in the first round of the Cancun Challenge, and took it to the Blue Demons. Talk of progressive changes under Oliver Purnell has been constant. This marks a setback in that progress, even if, in the grand scheme, a menial non-conference loss won’t in any drastic way alter DePaul’s season – especially because they’re unlikely to land in a favorable postseason tournament. The baseline expectations are low for DePaul, but an outcome like this stains the rest of your non-conference season. Big East play has not yet arrived, and already DePaul is turning into everyone’s punching bag.
Drexel’s 0-2 Start Recalls Last Season’s Tournament Miss. The main charge against Drexel’s NCAA Tournament resume last season was its lack of quality non-conference wins. Sure, the Dragons won 25 of their last 27 games (the losses coming to Georgia State and VCU), but their shortcomings out of the CAA loomed large in the selection committee’s eyes. Drexel looks poised to romp through the CAA yet again, especially now that their schedule doesn’t feature a home-and-home with VCU. But after losing their first two games out-of-conference, the Dragons are in the early stages of piecing together a Tournament dossier similar to the one that left them on the wrong side of the bubble cut line last March. Bruiser Flint’s team needs to score some respectable victories before CAA play, or else Drexel will be left feeling much the same way it did at the end of last season.
Dunkdafied. How about Tennessee’s Jarnell Stokes with authority and-one?
Thursday’s All Americans.
Pierre Jackson, Baylor (NPOY) – The lightning-quick point guard knifes through the lane in a flash, drops dimes on a pivot and finishes with pop. His season-high 31 against Boston College is the type of performance that makes people stand up and take notice.
Isaiah Canaan, Murray State – The chances Murray State rolls out another 20+ win streak to start the season are slim. The Racers are undefeated so far, though, and Canaan’s 26 points and six assists in a 20-point win over Auburn are a strong indicator Murray State will be making headlines for a second straight year.
Jordan Adams, UCLA – In the illustrious history of UCLA basketball, no freshman had ever scored 20 or more points in his first three games, until tonight when Adams went for 25/3/4 assts in 22 minutes off the bench.
Jud Dillard, Tennessee Tech – Anytime someone scores 34 points, that’s an impressive feat unto itself. Accounting for 11 of your team’s last 14 points in a two-point win brings that huge night into a game-deciding context.
Ryan Anderson, Boston College – In a losing effort, Anderson stood toe-to-toe with Baylor’s vaunted front line and finished with 25 points on 9-of-16 shooting – this after notching 29 points in the Eagles season-opening win over Florida International. This three at the half was typical of his afternoon.
Tweet of the Night. Following D.J. Byrd’s questionable flagrant foul call in the final minutes of regulation against Villanova, which keyed the Wildcats overtime-forcing comeback, Purdue coach Matt Painter was understandably livid. ESPN Senior Basketball Recruiting Analyst Dave Telep apparently felt Painter’s pain.
Over the next two weeks, we’ll bring you the obligatory team preview here at the Big 12 microsite. Oklahoma State at the #6 position is next on our list.
2011-12 record: 15-18 record, 7-11 in the Big 12
Key contributors lost: Cezar Guerrero, Keiton Page, Fred Gulley
Head coach: Travis Ford, 5th season
Projected finish: 6th
The 2012-13 season is the most important in Travis Ford’s coaching career. (Sue Ogrocki/Associated Press)
Years one and two: back-to-back NCAA appearances with fourth and sixth place finishes in the conference. Years three and four: one NIT birth with seventh and ninth place finishes in Big 12 play. Time is running out for head coach Travis Ford, a coach who enters his fifth season under the most fire with perhaps the best roster he’s ever had. Sure he gets credit for making the Tournament in 2009 and 2010 but the reality is key guys (like James Anderson, Obi Muonelo and Byron Eaton) were holdovers from the previous Sean Sutton era. Once Ford’s players came around, that recliner of his soon became a hot seat.
The question isn’t whether Ford can bring talent to Stillwater but if he can win with that talent. Le’Bryan Nash was a huge get in 2011 and Ford was able to add his second five-star recruit in two years with the signing last year of Marcus Smart. Accomplished head coaches like Billy Donovan and Mark Few were still yukking it up about the freshman’s game and attitude more than a full month after coaching Smart’s team to a gold medal in the FIBA Americas U-18 Championships. The Cowboys also got some good news about J.P. Olukemi: The NCAA has granted him a full year of eligibility instead of the fall semester exclusively. Considering he played in only 13 of 33 games last season, any Olukemi is better than no Olukemi.
We don’t typically spend much time talking about exhibition games in this space, but it was somewhat coincidental that each of the nation’s top three teams were in action last night. Indiana, Louisville, and Kentucky each got some work in against Indiana Wesleyan, Pikeville, and Northwood, respectively, with an average margin of victory of 33.0 points between the three games. The top storylines from each game: #1 Indiana was sluggish at the start but oft-injured Maurice Creek returned with a vengeance (12 points in 15 minutes of action); #2 Louisville hung its 2012 Final Four banner and may have found some instant offense in the form of freshman Montrezl Harrell (19 points, 13 rebounds); #3 Kentucky probably isn’t as “awful” as its head coach lets on, as the Wildcats experimented with 12 different lineups including one with a monster frontcourt of Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Kyle Wiltjer. And, of course, as you’re reading this, we’re only one week and change from the first official games.
The Pac-12 held its Media Day in San Francisco yesterday, and as always, the only important part of these events (excepting verbal spats between egomaniacal coaches, of course) is when the media releases its preseason predictions. This year’s race is basically a dead heat between Arizona and UCLA, with the Wildcats receiving one more overall vote than the Bruins and the Bruins receiving one more first-place vote than the Wildcats. Let’s hope so, because this league is at its best only when these two traditional powerhouses are perched atop the league. The Bay Areas schools — California and Stanford — came in third and fourth, while last year’s regular season champion, Washington, and Pac-12 Tournament champion, Colorado, rounded out the top six. We’d expect the league to bounce back with at least four NCAA Tournament invitations this season.
Oklahoma State received some excellent news Wednesday in what has been an injury-addled preseason when the NCAA used common sense to rule that talented swingman JP Olukemiwill receive a waiver this year to play the entire season for his team. The issue that Olukemi was inadvertently facing was that he had started his NCAA five-years-to-play-four eligibility clock when his prep school’s basketball team shut down in the middle of the year and he continued taking courses at a local community college afterward. Doing the math, Olukemi’s final semester of eligibility would have been this one — meaning that his collegiate career would have ended at the midseason point (December 31, to be precise). The NCAA takes a lot of heat for how it handles its high profile cases, but there are a number of these mid-level cases where the organization generally gets it right. Kudos to them for realizing that the spirit of the rule wasn’t violated here. Plus, Travis Ford really needs him.
Since it’s Friday we’re going to end the week on a positive couple of notes. First, TSN‘s Ryan Fagan profiles the new and often misunderstood South Carolina head coach, Frank Martin. The piece discusses how everyone’s first impression of the coach derives from his fiery demeanor on the court — not to mention the trademarked glare — but once his new players and colleagues quickly realize that Martin is a go-hard perfectionist who demands their best but also has their back, they don’t walk, they run, into his camp. Martin is a very good coach but he’s not a miracle worker, and South Carolina’s goal this season should simply be to become competitive. This program has been in a seemingly endless down cycle since the Eddie Fogler era of the late 1990s, but there is enough fan support and talent base in the area to field a successful program there — it just takes the right kind of hard-headed man to do it. Perhaps someone like Frank Martin.
Next, CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish writes about a 20-year old North Carolina Central freshman basketball player by the name of Rashawn King who had leukemia so off the charts that the first time he was tested the medical staff believed that their machines were broken. After endless tests and treatments eventually got his disease under control and into remission, he became involved in the Make-a-Wish Foundation where he initially asked for an opportunity to meet his hero, LeBron James. Something so self-oriented didn’t feel right to him, though, so he changed his wish to throw a lunch party for his over 2,000 friends and classmates at Raleigh’s Middle Creek HS who had painstakingly supported and encouraged him throughout his fight. Last Tuesday, the Foundation made sure that he got to meet LeBron anyway, arranging for his NCCU head coach to drive him to a Miami-Charlotte exhibition game where he met King James, Pat Riley, Coach K, and a number of other hoops honchos. It’s a great story all-around, and one that’ll bring a bit of a tear to your eye — we need more Rashawn Kings in college basketball and sports in general, that’s for sure.
While they are still missing a big piece of the class that was supposed to make them relevant again, UCLA received some huge news yesterday when the school announced that incoming freshman Kyle Anderson has been cleared by the NCAA to play for the Bruins this season. After an investigation into the relationship between Anderson’s father and an NBA agent, the NCAA must have agreed with the family that the relationship existed before Anderson became a highly touted recruit. Anderson may not be as talented in as many facets of the game as Shabazz Muhammad, who still sits in NCAA limbo, but there aren’t many 6’8″ guards who can distribute the basketball that well, particularly at the college level. The Bruins may still be a piece short of making a NCAA title run, but with Anderson added to the mix they should be a legitimate threat to win the Pac-12 this season.
It won’t get anywhere near the attention that the news that Kyle Anderson got, but Oklahoma State also received some good news from the NCAA when they cleared J.P. Olukemi to play for the Cowboys this season. At issue was Olukemi’s decision five years ago to enroll at a junior college after his prep school’s team stopped playing. According to NCAA rules that technically started his eligibility clock meaning that he could have only played during this fall semester and had to sit out the spring semester. However, the NCAA granted Olukemi (9.4 points and 4.8 rebounds per game last season before having his season cut short by a knee injury) a waiver that will make him eligible to play the entire season. It is a decision that will not have nearly the same impact on a national level that the Anderson one did, but it could help lift the Cowboys to another level in the Big 12 and potentially into the NCAA Tournament.
Let us start by saying that we don’t really put much stock into players getting suspended for exhibition games, but when you have a team that could very easily be in the Sweet Sixteen or beyond and your starting point guard gets suspended for a “violation of team standards,” that is never a good thing. Such is the case for Michigan who suspended preseason AP First Team All-America point guard Trey Burke for its exhibition opener for some nebulous offense. We have no idea what this violation was and frankly we don’t care as long as it was not something criminal, but it raises a question about the leadership capability of the rising sophomore. For the Wolverines and their fans, we hope that Burke sorts out whatever issues he is dealing with before the season starts.
When high-level officials resign abruptly we usually know that something very bad happened, but of course, we typically know what that bad thing was before the resignations. That is not the case at Detroit this week where Keri Gaither, the school’s Athletic Director, and Derek Thomas, an assistant on the men’s basketball team, announced their resignations within a few hours of each other. That might sound suspicious enough, but it was the last day of October. On a Wednesday. Clearly, something significant happened at the school — whether it was personal or a power struggle — but whatever it was could create a significant ripple in a program that was becoming one of the best in the Horizon League. As we said last night on Twitter we have no idea what just happened in Detroit, but we are pretty sure that it is not good.
Whenever someone comes out with some “objective” ranking of programs it always creates a mini-firestorm and generates a ton of page views from the author (we are not above it), but sometimes the methodology is questionable at best and possibly suspicious (we’re trying to be very careful here if you haven’t noticed). The most recent version of these “objective” rankings comes courtesy of Basketball Times, which endeavored to rank the top current men’s college basketball program (it had to win at least 2/3 of their games in the past 10 years to even qualify) using the following criteria: winning percentage, number of former players currently in the NBA, coaches, federal graduation rate, academic reputation (based on US News & World Report ranking), and perceived cleanliness. The first two criteria are certainly reasonable, but the last four are much more questionable. Still we were willing to look past that if the rankings weren’t so… well, we will let you draw your own conclusions on a list that goes like this (in order): Duke, North Carolina, Gonzaga, Davidson, Wisconsin, Butler, Michigan State, Kansas, and BYU/Creighton (tied). The last two national champions, by the way, rank #19 and #30, respectively. We can get behind four of those 10 programs as being among the top programs in men’s college basketball, but there is something peculiar about the other six (to be fair, all solid programs in their own right) and we are pretty sure you can figure out what we are getting at without having to explicitly call out another publication. Ok, only eight days left now…
This was supposed to be a fresh start for OklahomaState. A year after injuries and transfers derailed Travis Ford’s program and ruined Keiton Page’s senior year, the Cowboys’ 2012-13 roster looked healthier, deeper and significantly more dangerous on paper when practice opened more than a week ago. That’s why the latest injury to Brian Williams, who will now miss the rest of the season with a fractured wrist, is so discouraging for the Cowboys. The loss of Williams will not cripple this program, but the last thing Ford needed was to deal with another personnel problem. Consider this: In 2011-12, two of his point guards transferred before conference play, his best athlete (J.P. Olukemi) tore his ACL after 13 games, and Le’Bryan Nash and Philip Jurick also missed a handful of games. Ford played Missouri in the Big 12 Tournament quarterfinals with six scholarship players and a walk-on, and his team’s season predictably ended with an embarrassing 18-point rout.
Brian Williams Won’t Play This Season (Photo Credit: Nate Billings, The Oklahoman)
Brian Williams scored 21 points in that loss, by the way. Nash and freshman Marcus Smart headline this roster, but Williams was a projected starter on the wing. He’s a highlight-reel dunker with terrific athleticism and the kind of guy who could have created serious matchup problems against slower forwards. Instead, he’ll now take a medical redshirt and return as a sophomore in 2013-14, leaving the Cowboys praying even harder that Olukemi can gain eligibility for the second semester. In an odd scenario, he’s technically eligible only for the first semester right now, but OSU has appealed that decision and apparently believes it has a decent shot to win. Between Olukemi’s status, Williams’ injury and the mystery surrounding Jurick (he was arrested this summer on drug charges), it looks like Ford’s roster headaches weren’t exclusive to last season.
Oklahoma State head coach Travis Ford took media day to reveal that starting guard/forward Brian Williams has a wrist injury and is out “indefinitely.” Williams started 20 games for the Cowboys last season, averaging 9.6 points and 3.3 boards per contest. It’s not welcome news to a team that finished last year without Le’Bryan Nash (now ready to go), Phillip Jurick (progressing but not all the way back) and JP Olukemi, who practices but still experiences some swelling. I think they’re a top five Big 12 team overall but with the departure of Cezar Guerrero and the injury bug continuing to bite, this Cowboys team may not get off to the fast start it desires.
Staying with the Cowboys, an interesting subplot has developed with JP Olukemi and his eligibility for the season. As of this moment, Olukemi would be eligible to play for the fall semester ONLY. The story started five years ago when his high school, Stoneridge Preparatory in California, shut down halfway through the school year. According to The Oklahoman, the school’s basketball coaches suggested Olukemi go to a junior college in Indiana but little did he know that his athletic eligibility began and is therefore scheduled to run out at the end of this calendar year. Encouraged by the NCAA awarding Marshall University’s Marcus Tinnon an extra year in a similar situation, OSU is lobbying for the same for Olukemi. I almost feel for Travis Ford. This is his first chance in Stillwater to build a team of his own and it all could come crashing down around him.
The Oklahoma Sooners basketball team voted for its team captains recently and Lon Kruger announced the results of the voting at Big 12 Media Day. The captains are: seniors Andrew Fitzgerald, Romero Osby and junior Amath M’Baye. I’m surprised to hear the Wyoming transfer M’Baye was named a captain but maybe I’ve been understating his importance to the team. Between these three, Steven Pledger and Sam Grooms, I see the Sooners as this year’s edition of Iowa State. Lon Kruger’s proven to be a master of moving programs in the right direction .
Big 12 Media Day gave a chance for Rick Barnes to face questions about Myck Kabongo’s amateur status.Barnes claims he knows nothing about Kabongo’s trip to Cleveland but is cooperating fully with the NCAA investigation into the matter. The potential of losing Kabongo for any part of their season (because their non-conference slate is no cakewalk) would severely hurt their chances for a possible top three finish in the league or a high seed in the NCAAs. With all of the news coming from the Texas and Oklahoma State camps lately, this could be as unpredictable a year as any in the league’s history.
William Hill Race & Sports Books released their odds for teams who could win the 2013 national championship from 1 to 300-1. Some school with Dwight Schrute as their coach and two in-state rivals were pinned as the most likely to win it all in April but no one cares about them ’round here. According to the list, Kansas, Baylor, Texas, Kansas State, West Virginia and Iowa State all hold a 100-1 chance or better of winning a title. Since these aren’t pieces of scientific data (like KenPom), it’s easy to question any type of validity in these. I mean, come on, they have Baylor AND Notre Dame with the same probability of cutting down the nets in Atlanta. Doesn’t that just scream ridiculous?
Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.
Conference Tournament Preview
The big attraction this year for many fans is the chance to see one more Kansas–Missouri battle before the Tigers leave for the SEC. If Kansas reaches the final, they will likely be a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, and there’s still a chance Missouri can nab one if they win the Big 12 Tournament as well. Given the general lack of depth on both teams it might behoove them to lose early and rest up for the NCAA Tournament, but their competitiveness and seed chasing will probably lead to one last matchup.
Let's Go For a Third, Shall We? (AP)
The Big 12 has likely locked up five bids in the tournament, with a sixth possibly going to Texas. The Longhorns will need to beat Iowa State Wednesday night to have a shot, and with how soft the bubble is this year, that will probably be enough.
Elsewhere, Baylor can potentially get a #3 seed if they make a run (though with their new uniforms I am wondering if there is a way we can keep them out of the postseason altogether) and Iowa State can probably get away from the dreaded #8/#9 game if they do so as well. Kansas State‘s seeding could range widely depending on its performance this week, but the Wildcats are soundly in the Dance.
Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.
The Week That Was
Missouri played a relatively soft non-conference schedule, and got dominated in a tough road environment losing by 16 at Kansas State. All year long people, questioned whether the Tigers had the toughness inside to be one of the elite teams in the country. In Manhattan they grabbed only 21% of their available offensive rebounds and allowed the Wildcats an offensive rebounding rate north of 40%. What’s more, 6’3” Marcus Denmon was the team’s leading rebounder in the game.
Lon Kruger’s Oklahoma Sooners sprinted out to a 10-2 record outside of league play, but reality set in a bit for the Sooners as Big 12 play started, losing 87-49 at Missouri and 72-61 at home against Kansas. Oklahoma is getting 18 points per game from Steven Pledger but only have two other players scoring over 8.5 per contest. They are also struggling defensively, allowing just under a point per possession this year against a fairly soft schedule.
The Big 12 has been much better than expected this year as they are ranked second according to the Pomeroy rankings. The Big 12 has five teams in the top 30, which is second only to the Big 10 who has 6. Even the Big East, with 16 teams, has only five. It has been the five teams (Kansas, Missouri, Baylor, Kansas State, and Texas) that I expected to carry the load, but it nonetheless has been impressive what the Big 12 has done this year.
McGruder & The Wildcats Took Down The Tigers After Losing At Allen Fieldhouse. (AP)
Baylor (15-0, 2-0): Baylor almost suffered a potential Big 12 title-killing defeat this weekend, beating Texas Tech by only 13 on Saturday, pulling away late. The Bears turned it over 14 times in a 64 possession game, which is right in line with their season average. If their turnover rate, which ranks 235th nationally, doesn’t improve, I can’t see them competing for the Big 12 title, especially because their quality of competition will increase.
Kansas (12-3, 2-0): The Jayhawks jumped out to a big lead against rival Kansas State and, though it got close in the second half, they managed to win by 18 points, a win that looked even better after what Kansas State did to Missouri. Thomas Robinson continues to be fantastic, with a 15/14 effort against the Wildcats, but the Jayhawks’ best player has been someone most fans haven’t heard much from. More on him later. Read the rest of this entry »
This is of course the last year for Texas A&M to leave its mark on the Big 12, and it could be Missouri’s as well. Both teams enter the 2011-12 season with serious conference title hopes, but each comes with some question marks. Missouri lost Laurence Bowers to an ACL injury, which really puts a strain on their interior depth. They didn’t rebound terribly well in the first place, ranking 317th nationally in defensive rebounding, and the loss of the 6’8” Bowers, who was their best returning player on the glass, won’t help. A&M meanwhile still has Khris Middleton, but do they have anyone to get him the ball? Dash Harris had a turnover rate of almost 30% last year and an assist rate of only 21%
Speaking of those two, the Big 12 has four new coaches this year, with Texas Tech and Oklahoma joining A&M and Missouri as teams with new head men. The Big 12 hasn’t had this many new coaches since 2007 when six of the twelve schools had first-year men on the job. I took a look at how coaches in the Big 12 have done in their first year on the job and compared it with the historical performances of the programs who have new coaches at the helm this season, and it looks like all four could be in for rough times initially.
Kansas has won at least a share of the last seven Big 12 titles, but in order or the Jayhawks to make it eight, Bill Self will have to do his best coaching job yet. He lost both the Morris twins and Josh Selby to the NBA, as well as the underrated Tyrel Reed and Brady Morningstar to graduation. What’s more, incoming freshmen Ben McLemore, Jamari Traylor and Braeden Anderson were all deemed ineligible. Kansas still has some talent to work with, especially Thomas Robinson, who had a tremendous summer.
Even Bill Self Has Admitted That This Season Will Be A Challenge For The Perennial Blueblood
Predicted Order of Finish
Texas A&M (12-6)
Oklahoma State (10-8)
Iowa State (7-11)
Kansas State (5-13)
Texas Tech (3-15)
All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)