Who doesn’t love lists, especially preseason lists? SBNation put out a list of the top 100 players in college basketball this week and, without crunching the numbers, it seems the SEC is pretty well-represented. Karl-Anthony Towns led the way at #7, and he is joined by five other Kentucky stars. Outside of Big Blue Nation, legitimate pro-prospects Chris Walker (Florida – #20), Jordan Mickey (LSU – #27) and Bobby Portis (Arkansas – #75) also made an appearance. I give credit to SBNation for including the largely under-the-radar but certainly deserving Jarvis Summers (Ole MIss – #79) and Sindarius Thornwell (South Carolina – #82). The only “snub” I can think of might be LSU’s Jarell Martin, but he did get included in “50 more who just missed.”
CBSSports.com‘sJon Rothstein included two SEC players among his list of 20 under-the-radar freshmen. He writes that Georgia forward Yante Maten could end up as one of the better freshmen in the conference, and if this turns out to be true, the Bulldogs have a great chance to go dancing in March. Mark Fox returns a number of core pieces from last year’s surprising team, but there is a void in the frontcourt after Donte Williams graduated and Brandon Morris was booted from the team over the summer. Maten shouldn’t be pressed into a scoring role too early, though, with Charles Mann, Kenny Gaines and Nemanja Djurisic all still in the fold. Georgia, however, needs to replace Morris and Williams’ combined 8.5 rebounds per game, and Maten should be able to help in that area immediately.
Mike Anderson has made rebounding a priority heading into his fourth and most pivotal season as the Arkansas coach. “Rebounding is the ending of the defense,” sophomore forward Bobby Portis told SI.com. “You can play defense for 33 seconds or 34 seconds and they can shoot, and they get the rebound back and there’s no point in playing defense.” Better rebounding would be a big way to reverse the struggles the Razorbacks have had away from Bud Walton Arena under Anderson. Incredibly, Arkansas still managed to go 8-1 when outrebounded at home last season, but this record flipped to just 3-8 when the Razorbacks were outclassed on the glass away from Fayetteville. Giving more playing time to Jacorey Williams (14.4 total rebounding percentage/9.2 minutes per game) and Moses Kingsley (13.1 total rebounding percentage/11.5 minutes per game) could be part of the answer this season.
Kim Anderson faced an opponent for the first time as Missouri’s head coach on Wednesday, as the Tigers beat Division II William Jewell College, 72-31. One interesting tidbit from the game was that Anderson used all three of his point guards – Wes Clark, Keith Shamburger and Tramaine Isabell – in the same lineup. “We practice it a lot, playing with two other point guards,” Clark told the Kansas City Star. “It makes it easier for me because the team has to spread out and play more, like, against the shooters, so it makes it easier for me to drive.” This type of tinkering and innovation will be especially important for Anderson as he replaces virtually all of Missouri’s scoring from last season.
One of Mississippi State’s biggest problems in the Rick Ray era has been his team’s inability to hit the three. The Bulldogs were 321st in the country in team three-point percentage last season (30.7 percent) which was a slight tick up from 337th the year before (28.4 percent). Ray told the Associated Press that outside shooting will again likely be a struggle, so at least he is being honest. Junior Fred Thomas might be the best bet to help the Bulldogs turn around their long-range shooting fortunes. He seems to at least have the confidence and willingness to shoot the three (144 attempts, 31.9 percent), unlike fellow junior guard Craig Sword, who understandably only put up 44 three-point attempts (27.3 percent) last year despite a high usage rate. Thomas, or newcomers Maurice Dunlap and Travis Daniels, adding a three-point element would go a long way toward some improvement in Starkville.
With all of the talk about scholarship reform and of power conferences moving towards creating a separate division the news that the Pac-12 has passed a measure that would lead to significant reforms in scholarships is certainly noteworthy. Beginning with next season, all athletes receiving scholarships will be guaranteed four-year scholarship, be able to return to complete their degree if they do not graduate in four years, increased medical support, removing many of the restrictions on intra-conference transfers, and increased representation in conference governance. The conference also stated that it intends to provide cost of attendance stipends, which are expected to range between $2,000 and $5,000 per athlete. While we will need to see this in action to fully embrace it as reality, it appears to be a significant step towards scholarship reform and might lead other major conferences to follow suit.
We are less than three weeks away from the college basketball season starting, but Central Connecticut State might have suffered a big blow with the news that Kyle Vinales had been suspended indefinitely following his arrest on Friday for disorderly conduct and third-degree assault. According to reports, Vinales is accused of hitting his girlfriend in the head as he was exiting her car slightly before midnight. Vinales was the team’s leading scorer last season at 17.3 points per game, which was actually a career low. While we normally brush off these indefinite suspensions the fact that Vinales is not due in court until December 5 could indicate that he could be sitting for at least the first three weeks of the season.
At this point we are not sure how much further we can go with this recruiting announcement culture. On Monday night, Skal Labisserie, a five-star recruit in the class of 2015, announced that he would be attending Reach Your Dream Prep, a school that does not even exist yet, for his senior year. Labisserie’s story is a little more complex than committing to a non-existent school this late in the academic year. He will actually be attending Memphis’ Lausanne Collegiate School, but he was declared ineligible by the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association. Now Labisserie and his legal guardian are trying to circumvent the system. While this might work to get him to play high school basketball we are not sure that it will fly with the NCAA.
One of the things we have been looking forward to this season is how John Calipari would implement his idea of creating “platoons” for his deep Kentucky roster. On Monday, Calipari revealed his first draft of the platoons prior to the team’s annual Blue-White scrimmage with one group consisting of he Harrison twins, Willie Cauley-Stein, Trey Lyles, Karl-Anthony Towns, and Derek Willis and the other made up of Tyler Ulis, Devin Booker, Alex Poythress, Marcus Lee, Dakari Johnson, and Dominique Hawkins. At this stage it appears that the former is well ahead of the latter as that group won the scrimmage 94-66. Although these groups intuitively make sense as the starting and second lines we would expect them to be dynamic as Calipari tinkers with them to make them more effective.
Every year the NCAA’s report on the graduation rates of student-athletes are picked apart by many analysts eager to criticize the organization. This year is no different especially with several schools dealing with very public academic scandals. The headline numbers in the NCAA’s latest release show that student-athlete graduation rates have increased from 82% graduating in six years to 84% doing so (full searchable database here). The men’s college basketball numbers are less impressive with just 74% graduating, which is actually up by one percent from last year and a record for the sport. As critics point out these numbers just scratch the surface as some of these athletes who graduate are just kept eligible so they can produce for the university and sometimes are able to graduate without getting an education. Now an argument can be made that the diploma itself has some value as a signal mechanism that goes beyond just an education.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions atThe Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at email@example.com.
Five-star power forward Ivan Rabb has narrowed his five remaining college suitors. The versatile 6’10″ big man from the Bay Area announced last Friday that California, UCLA, Arizona, Kansas and Kentucky were the quintet of schools that would receive official visits. Two East Coast schools in Georgetown and North Carolina, both of which received unofficial visits last spring, were cut from consideration.
Who Is Ivan Rabb?
Ivan Rabb is a power forward with a 7’1.5” wing span that has been on the national radar from the time he began his high school career at Bishop O’ Dowd High School in Oakland, California. He spent his junior season as the No. 1 rated prospect in the Class of 2015 and now sits at the No. 5 spot overall. Rabb has won gold medals while playing with the USA U-16 and U-17 teams the past two summers and in the spring he led his prep team to the California state championship game where it lost to perennial California powerhouse Mater Dei and current Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson. With Johnson now in Tucson, Rabb’s top priority is bringing a state title back to Oakland.
Three weeks until games start for real and it’s time to dig into the upcoming college basketball season. The RTC Podcast is back in earnest, with Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosting, and the guys spend nearly an hour discussing the key storylines on teams, players and the game as a whole for the upcoming year. There’s also a brief introductory interlude on the shenanigans that went on in Chapel Hill for the better part of a generation, but the majority of this podcast puts that aside and looks forward. The complete rundown is below, so feel free to bounce around as needed to get the spots you’re most interested in, and make sure to listen toward the end to win a free RTC t-shirt if you can get the right answer to the question we posed. Over the coming weeks we’ll be releasing conference preview podblasts for each of the seven major leagues as well as the Other 26, so keep an ear out for those as well.
South Carolina was picked to finish 12th in the SEC by the media earlier this week, but coach Frank Martin is encouraged about the progress his team is making as he enters his third year. He is especially pleased with the leadership he is seeing from his backcourt duo of sophomore Sindarius Thornwell and senior Tyrone Johnson. If the Gamecocks are going to make a climb out of the bottom of the league, they will need the pair to take another step forward.
The SEC put three teams into the Sweet Sixteen last season, but there is no dispute that the league has lacked significant depth, and has struggled to find teams other than Kentucky and Florida that can consistently compete for an NCAA Tournament bid. As FoxSports.com‘s Zach Dillard points out, one way to remedy the perception the league has is by playing better collective out-of-conference schedules. Too often, teams that finish near the top of the league standings do not have enough of a resume to be considered for a bid. For instance, Georgia finished third in the league last season, but was an afterthought with the selection committee because of a handful of bad losses in November and December. The more the league’s teams do to take on tougher competition, the better positioned they will be come Selection Sunday.
As he embarks upon his first season at Tennessee, Donnie Tyndall credits getting his first shot at a high-major school to another former SEC coach: LSU’s John Brady. Brady coached the Tigers to a Final Four in 2006, but was not exactly a favorite of coaches or fans in the league before he was fired two years later. Tyndall says the current Arkansas State coach taught him “how to build a program,” and he hopes to put those lessons into practice as he rebuilds the Volunteers.
Everyone knew that having Bruce Pearl back in the SEC would be fun, and he continues to do whatever it takes to promote his Auburn program. Earlier this week, he invaded a marketing class to promote his “Pearl Jam” event next Friday. So while Pearl is at a new school and in a different shade of orange, he hasn’t changed, and though his team likely will struggle to compete this season, he will do all he can to raise the profile of the Auburn program, while at the same time bringing much-needed notoriety to the SEC.
As preseason practice continues, Kentucky coach John Calipari is looking for more fight from his most ballyhooed freshman, Karl-Anthony Towns. Towns, a 7′ center, was selected by the media as a second-team all-SEC player before setting foot on the court, will have to live up to the hype if the Wildcats are going to win the national championship. Towns has plenty of opportunity to get better in practice each day, as he goes up against Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, and Marcus Lee. As usual with Kentucky, there will be ups and downs, but with the experience and depth this team has, Calipari can wait for his star freshman to come along.
Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here.
The SEC rolled out the red carpet for the media on Wednesday as part of #SECTipoff15 in Charlotte, North Carolina. The league’s basketball campaign may have kicked off in the heart of ACC country, but geographic proximity to the nation’s top college basketball conference did not detract from placing SEC basketball at the center of attention here. Rush the Court was there, well, when we weren’t searching for more of those delicious chicken biscuits from the breakfast spread. Here are the three key takeaways from a fun and interesting day of talking college basketball and hitting the buffet line.
The SEC Network studios and the Ballantyne Hotel in Charlotte played host for SEC media days.
1)Platoon system – The word of the day was platoon. Of course, Kentucky coach John Calipari set the tone by talking about how and why he would implement two separate five-man squads to achieve better team chemistry among the 10 or 11 players he plans on putting on the court this season. On advice from other coaches, Calipari admitted that “most of them think I’m crazy,” but he further explained that he is considering the switch to allow players to become comfortable playing with the same group.
Everyone knows that John Calipari’s biggest problem this season with Kentucky will be making sure his bevy of high school All-Americans gets adequate playing time. Calipari usually does not have this concern, as he often relies upon short benches, but because of the return of so many players that he assumed would be headed to the NBA, he no longer has that “luxury.” As SportingNews.com’s Mike DeCourcy points out, there are specific challenges Calipari must deal with for the Wildcats to reach their ultimate goal of a national championship. And while it is unlikely any coach in the country will feel sorry for Calipari’s accidental embarrassment of riches, DeCourcy’s raises good points about how difficult it may be to keep everyone happy, and to keep everything in balance.
Billy Kennedy’s remarkable recruiting run continued on Tuesday, when the Texas A&M coach picked up a commitment from top-30 forward Elijah Thomas, becoming the fourth top 100 player to commit to the Aggies over the offseason. Kennedy’s tenure in College Station has been mostly nondescript, but this haul changes the game for the Aggies. Thomas joins post Tyler Davis, forward D.J. Hogg and point guard Admon Gilder to form what 247sports.com rates as its second-best class in the country thus far. This season could be a rough ride for Texas A&M, but the future looks very bright.
Like Kennedy’s tenure at Texas A&M, Mark Fox’s run at Georgia has been anything but overwhelming. However, after the Bulldogs finished tied for second in the SEC last season, big things are expected this year. In fact, many observers believe that Georgia should be disappointed in anything short of an NCAA Tournament run. Fox is entering his sixth season in Athens, but he has been to the Big Dance at Georgia only once. With a veteran club returning and the success last year brought, it is realistic to think the Bulldogs could get to the Tournament for the second time under his tenure. Getting off to a good start will be key, as last year saw several bad early season losses that crippled the team’s chance to compete for a bid. This year, for Georgia to play meaningful basketball in March, it will need to avoid such a slow start, and the Bulldogs should be able to do so with the experience it has returning.
The SEC Networkannounced its schedule for the upcoming season, and there is no question that the league — which for years suffered from very poor TV contracts that left many games not televised — will gain plenty of exposure from the new outlet. In total, 118 games will be shown, starting with Kentucky’s exhibition against Pikeville on November 2. While top-tier games will continue to be released on bigger outlets, the fact that the network is part of most cable packages nationally can only help increase the league’s visibility. The network also announced its commentators, which will include many of the old SEC standbys like Barry Booker and Joe Dean, Jr., but two new names include former Kentucky standout Tony Delk and Tennessee’s Dane Bradshaw.
When Auburn hired Bruce Pearl, a program with no identity and very little success over the past decade-plus instantly became one that people would talk about. Pearl’s team likely will struggle this season (although no one predicted the success he had during his first year at Tennessee in 2005 either), but the buzz he has brought to The Plains is palpable. Season ticket sales have more than doubled and the players have started to feel as popular as the school’s football team. Not since the days of Charles Barkley and Chuck Person, and, to a lesser extent, the late ’90s run of the Chris Porter team, has anyone spent much time talking about Auburn basketball. The administration knew that hiring someone like Pearl, whose promotional skills are as good as his coaching chops, would bring an identity to the program that had long been missing. Thus far, everything has gone according to plan.
The NCAA’s next big fight appears to be drawing near after Chris Christie signed a sports gambling bill essentially legalizing it in New Jersey. That move would enable New Jersey to start offering sports gambling. One location, Monmouth Park, is reportedly looking to start offering it this coming weekend. It should not come as a surprise that the NCAA and various professional leagues filed a lawsuit yesterday attempting to block such a move and will reportedly file for immediate injunctive relief today. At issue is the 22-year-old Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act that barred sports gambling outside of a few select areas in the country. According to some state officials that decision should be up to the individual states and not the federal government (yes, the issue of “states’ rights” does come up outside of the Deep South). Our guess is that the injunction will be granted and this will be dragged out into a long and fairly messy affair.
We have heard about so many investigation in college sports that we had almost forgot about the one involving Syracuse. Unfortunately for them, the NCAA has not and has invited school officials to attend a hearing later this month regarding the findings. While neither Jim Boeheim nor other school officials would speak to the case directly it appears to revolve around Fab Melo’s academic record and presumably others from around that same time period as well as an alleged sexual assault case in 2007. Given the way the NCAA operates (slapping schools on the wrist if at all and crushing student-athletes) we wouldn’t be surprised to see the school leave the investigation unscathed.
On Thursday, ESPN released its Coaches Poll on Thursday and it should not come as much of a surprise that Kentuckycame in at #1 followed by Arizona, Duke, Wisconsin, and Kansas. While the order of top five should not be surprising, Kentucky’s margin might be grabbing 24 of 32 first-place votes. As Mike DeCourcy notes despite all of Kentucky’s depth they do have some issues they will need to deal with including four particularly problematic ones. Some of the issues are clearly bigger than others ones, but we are sure Kentucky fans are aware the team will have to deal with these issues once the season starts and hopefully expectations are reasonable in Lexington. Well at least as reasonable as they can be there.
Injuries at this time of year are always a concern, but Maryland might consider itself lucky that Evan Smotrycz will only be out for 4-6 weeks after fracturing the fifth metatarsal on his left foot. Smotrycz, who averaged 11 points and 6 rebounds per game last season, is expected to have surgery later this week. Based on his estimated return to action he could miss as little as two games, but could potentially miss games against Arizona State, Iowa State, and Virginia if his recovery time is prolonged. Loyola might not be as fortunate as Milton Doyle, who lead the team in basically everything last year–scoring at 14.9 per game, assists at 3.6 per game, steals (38) and blocked shots (23) as a freshman–is out indefinitely with a torn labrum. Doyle, a Kansas transfer, will undergo five to six weeks of rehabilitation at which point he will be evaluated for the possibility of season-ending (7-9 month recovery) shoulder surgery. Southern Methodist doesn’t have an injury issue, but they do have an eligibility one with Markus Kennedy, who according to reports might not be academically eligible at the start of the season. The loss of Kennedy (12.4 points and 7.1 rebounds per game) would be another massive blow to the Mustangs, who are already dealing with greatly diminished expectations following the departure of Emmanuel Mudiay to China. Losing Kennedy would likely eliminate any hopes of the Mustangs making the NCAA Tournament this season.
We have heard about players getting homesick after leaving high school, but apparently transfers can get homesick too very quickly (or at least it seems that way). Just a few months after transferring from Loyola Marymount to Marquette, Gabe Levin has decided to head back west as he is transferring to Long Beach State. Levin, who averaged 11.1 points, 7.2 rebounds, and 1.2 blocks per game as freshman last season was going to sit out this season as one of the rare transfers who did not have a waiver. Now with his transfer to Long Beach State we are assuming he will not have to sit out any additional time, but it does raise questions as to his reasons for leaving Marquette so quickly (saw the writing on the wall with the incoming recruiting haul?).
EXTRA: Make sure to check out rushthecourtTV on Youtube for video M5s as well as plenty of other coverage throughout the season.
Each week, we’ll profile some of the week’s biggest upcoming games by taking a look back at some relevant history that relates to the match-ups. This is Back And Forth.
For our first entry, we will take a look at what’s right in front of us. The week of various Midnight Madness events are popping up in arenas across the country, with some naturally creating more of a buzz than others. Places like Lexington, Lawrence, East Lansing and Gainesville will pack fans and students into their respective arenas, domes and fieldhouses, lighting fireworks, putting on costumes and introducing this year’s roster with aplomb – at some point, they’ll also do some basketball stuff.
So what are some of the more memorable Midnight Madness moments for great teams in recent history? Glad you asked. Let’s review three recent champions to determine if there were any clues as to what was to come six months later:
Kentucky, Big Blue Madness – 2011-12
A few months removed from a run to John Calipari’s first Final Four as head coach of the Wildcats, a lot was expected from a semi-veteran team of Terrence Jones, Darius Miller and Doron Lamb pairing with the next loaded recruiting class coming to town, featuring future lottery picks Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Amid all the introductions, lights and pageantry, the Wildcats staged their customary Blue vs. White scrimmage.
National Title Moment: During the scrimmage, Big Blue Nation got to see the full talents of Davis on display. The 6’11” forward was a physical freak, swatting shots and throwing down dunks, taking off from outside the paint on the baseline. The future NPOY put it all on display from day one as a Wildcat.
UConn, First Night – 2010-11
No one was expecting what they saw out of UConn in 2010-11. It all started at “First Night,” UConn’s annual nightly open practice. Around 7,000 fans showed up for the player introductions and skills challenge. That was the night Kemba Walker started it all in motion. The rest is history.
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back… We are only 30 days from the start of college basketball games, 24 hours from ESPN’s mega-Midnight Madness coverage, and a handful of minutes from Shane’s next dose of Xanax. The RTC Podcast has returned for Season Three: The Immutables, and we’re kicking things off this glorious mid-October week with a warm-up edition — a little bite-sized something that reviews some of the top storylines and themes coming out of a really quiet offseason. Note that this isn’t really a preview episode — that, among many others, will release in the coming weeks — but this podcast, hosted by Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114), is meant to ease us into the season with plenty more to come. The full rundown is below, and remember, you can subscribe to every episode on iTunes with a simple click of a button.
0:00 – 2:20 – An In Person Podcast/Summer Blur
2:21 – 7:20 – A Few Headlines From a Quiet Offseason
The gym is open and the ball is bouncing. College basketball is here. Well, almost. The clang of the ball bouncing off the rim will soon turn into the sweet sound of the nothing but net shot that comes with practice, practice and more practice. The offseason was eventful in the SEC, and now that the dust has settled, here are a few conference predictions, observations, and questions for each team as they begin their 2014-15 journey.
John Calipari is in a good mood with so many prep All-Americans on his roster (AP).
Kentucky: Kentucky dominated the headlines this offseason, and for good reason. After a national title game run last April, expectations could not be higher for this group. The Wildcats played well in six games in the Bahamas during an August trip, earning high praise from observers despite a loss in their final game. The exhibition tour gave John Calipari‘s group of new highly-touted freshmen an opportunity to log significant minutes, a valuable advantage for this time of the year. The big story in Lexington is the possibility that Calipari will rely on a platoon system to provide sufficient minutes for the abundance of talent on his roster. Whether it works is something to watch for this season, but with returnees Alex Poythress, Dakari Johnson, Willie Cauley-Stein, Andrew Harrison and Aaron Harrison joining another impressive recruiting class, it is hard to imagine this group failing to dominate the SEC.
Florida: The Gators looked like a team that could have won it all last season on its way to a Final Four, a 36-3 overall record, and a perfect 21-0 in SEC play. The key pieces in that run are now gone, but coach Billy Donovan reloads yet again in Gainesville. Sophomore Chris Walker figures to play a more significant role, as do Kasey Hill and Dorian Finney-Smith. Florida has always thrived with the team-first approach, but it will rely heavily on the sharp shooting of junior Michael Frazier to carry the scoring load. The Gators will again find themselves in the upper echelon of the conference standings.