Larry Brown‘s decision to resign last week as head coach at Southern Methodist University should not come as surprise to those who know his history. According to reports Brown was seeking a five-year extension, but the school was only willing to offer a three-year, $10 million expansion leading Brown to resign just at the start of the start of the very important July reporting period. Fortunately for SMU they already have a coach-in-waiting in Tim Jankovich, who left a job as head coach at Illinois State in 2012 to be a coach-in-waiting at SMU and he is expected to receive a contract that is at least five years in length. Normally when someone Brown’s age (75) resigns we would expect that it would be the last we see of him, but Brown has always been different. If this is the last we see of Brown, his legacy will be a very interesting one as he is undoubtedly one of the best basketball coaches ever, but he was also one who could never stay in one place very long and also managed to be the coach at three schools who were hit with significant NCAA sanction.
July might seem like a weird time for Luke Winn to come out with new Power Rankings, but as he notes we are at the point where we can reasonably expect that every significant recruit/player has committed to play somewhere or decided to transfer out of their current program. While this version of the Power Rankings is lighter on GIFs/clips and numbers than in-season versions (totally understandable since there isn’t as much new data to look at as there is in-season), it does serve as a good concise recap of where the top teams stand coming into next season. If you’re looking for those really interesting stats, we would point you to the three-point shooting of Kentucky‘s incoming guards and Purdue‘s efficiency numbers with Caleb Swanigan on- and off-court.
If you happened to miss the coverage of Peach Jam, the big winners from the weekend appear to be Michael Porter Jr and Trae Young and not just because their team took home the title. According to most analysts the pair were two of the most dominant players in the entire tournament and probably did as much to boost their stock as anyone at Peach Jam. While DeAndre Ayton doesn’t seem to be in danger of losing his spot as the top recruit in the class, Porter made a strong case to be in the discussion. Of course, that probably doesn’t matter since everybody already has him penciled in going to Washington since his father was hired as an assistant coach there (ok, that’s probably more Sharpie than pencil). Young’s situation is more interesting as he is considering multiple schools with Kentucky reportedly making him one of their top targets.
Jeremiah Tilmon didn’t participate in Peach Jam as he is still recovering from a dislocated shoulder, but he still managed to make news with his decision to commit to Illinois. Tilmon, a 6’10” center who is top-30 recruit in the class of 2017, is originally from Illinois even though he plays for a school in Indiana now so we guess this counts as an in-state recruit. In any event, he is the highest-rated recruit to commit to Illinois since John Groce took over in 2012. The big question now for Illinois is whether he will stay committed to the school if they struggle this year and particularly if Groce appears to be in danger of losing his job, which he could be if they have another subpar season.
Outside of the obvious differences in coaching philosophies in terms of offensive and defensive sets, substitution patterns are probably the most important part of in-game coaching. Ken Pomeroy’s analysis of which coaches are most/least likely to let a player continue playing during the first half when that player already has two fouls offers an interesting look at that. While we don’t necessarily see a particular patterns (so-called “good” and “bad” coaches fall all over the spectrum) there are some pretty stark differences. The one thing that we would like to see applied to this analysis is the season-to-season variation in a coach’s tendencies, which could reflect a lack of an adequate substitute, and how this is related to percentage of minutes played by starters.
USC has taken a series major hits this off-season with several players leaving school earlier than expected, but Andy Enfield got an excellent consolation prize on Friday when Duke transfer Derryck Thornton Jr. announced that he would transferring to play at USC. Thornton, who was a five-star recruit in the class of 2016 before agreeing to reclassify and come to Duke a year early, was unhappy with his role in Durham despite averaging a respectable 7.1 points and 2.6 assists per game, but saw his playing time diminish as the season progressed leading to accusations that Thornton had been promised that Duke would build its offense around his skill set when he decided to come to Duke a year early. Thornton, who also reportedly was considering Kansas, Washington, and Miami, will be available to play for the Trojans in the 2017-18 season after sitting out his transfer year.
Charles Matthews might not be the same caliber recruit as Thornton was, but his decision to transfer to Michigan after a year at Kentucky is still a big boost for the program. Matthews, a four-star recruit out of high school, averaged just 1.7 points, 1.6 rebounds, and 0.4 assists while playing 10.3 minutes per game as a freshman. In most programs a player could expect to see more playing time as players in the rotation graduate or leave school for various other reasons, but at Kentucky (and in some sense Duke now) that is far from guaranteed and Matthews probably saw the writing on the wall. After sitting out this season, Matthews will have three more years of eligibility left and should find a bigger role on a Michigan roster that will give him more opportunities to find playing time.
When Shaka Smart took over at Texas last year the big question was how he would be able to recruit particularly in the state of Texas. As Seth Davis notes in his look at how Smart recruits, he appears to be off to a very good start. While it would seem like Smart would be able to recruit easily at Texas with a national brand behind him as a young, dynamic, African-American coach, but the reality is that he is recruiting a very different type of player at Texas than he did at VCU, which makes the process much different. If Smart is able to make that transition, there is no reason that he will not be able to make Texas into a national power.
Over the summer you will will hear plenty of people criticizing AAU basketball and the culture surrounding it, but that pales in comparison to the stuff that goes on at some of these prep schools/basketball academies. As Luke Cyphers and Teri Thompson note in their story on Faith Baptist Christian Academy North (GA), some of the individuals running these schools prey on these teenagers who often come to the United States on student visas in the hope of getting an education and potentially a career playing basketball, but are often lied to about what they are coming to and then exploited in hopes of capitalizing on their basketball abilities. We would like to think that this story is an isolated case, but we suspect that this type of stuff happens more often than that.
Bonus: With all the stuff going on this past Sunday, it would have been easy to not realize that it was the 30th anniversary of the death of Len Bias. We won’t get into the impact it had on NBA history (basically imagine that the Warriors had won the title this year and then added a “can’t-miss talent”), but it was a defining moment in basketball history and led to some major changes at Maryland that impacted the basketball program in many ways (we touched on it a bit in our interview almost six years ago with Lefty Driesell). The Washington Post has an excellent piece on the 30th anniversary of his death, but we encourage you to watch the 30 For 30 on Bias as it also touched on the societal impact of his death in relation to drug laws.
The SEC will be a very different league next season, in no small part as a result of losing its two most influential players to the NBA — Kentucky’s Tyler Ulis and LSU’s Ben Simmons. Here are five burning questions looking ahead to next season, as the league will once again try to put #SECBasketballFever to bed.
Can Mike Anderson Survive Another Year?
Can Kentucky start completely from scratch? It’s become played-out sarcasm: the Wildcats lose a lot of talent; how ever will they recover? We should assume that Coach Cal will seamlessly mold a group of elite freshmen into a team deserving national consideration, and next year will be no different. Top-10 recruits Malik Monk, De’Aaron Fox and Bam Adebayolead another stacked class headed to Lexington, but consider this: The Wildcats have not truly had to start from square one in three years. The 2014-15 (Harrison twins, Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson, Alex Poythress) and 2015-16 (Ulis, Poythress) teams each returned major contributors from Final Four runs. The Isaiah Briscoe/Marcus Lee/Derek Willis trio figures to be a solid core but lacks the star power of the previous groups. We know Calipari is up for the challenge, but it has been a few years since he’s had this much inexperience in key roles.
Is Mike Anderson underpressure? The prodigal son has gotten Arkansas to the NCAA Tournament only once since returning to Fayetteville five years ago. Given that Stan Heath earned twice as many bids in his five years before being shown the door, Anderson’s performance thus far has come in well under expectations. This year could be considered a write-off after Bobby Portis and Michael Qualls left school early, but patience is clearly wearing thin in Fayetteville. Anderson without question feels the pressure, as he signed four JuCo players in this year’s class, including well-regarded guards Jaylen Bradford and Daryl Macon. They’ll pair with returnees Dusty Hannahs and Moses Kingsley, both of whom should be in the running for preseason all-SEC honors. Losing Monk to the Calipari Machine was a huge blow no matter the circumstances, but it’s even more damaging for a coach that might be advocating for his job next season. Read the rest of this entry »
Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week throughout the season he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul, dedicated 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.
The 39thMcDonald’s All-American game is set to take place tonight at 9PM ET (ESPN) at the United Center in Chicago. Each year this All-Star game gives the college basketball fan a sneak peak into the up and coming stars of next season. It also usually gives fans a first look at the top NBA draft picks for 2017.
Last year, the top two projected draft picks of 2016 competed in the game. Duke freshman Brandon Ingram scored 15 points after a breakout week in practice, while LSU freshman Ben Simmons scored seven points to go along with 10 rebounds. Five-star recruit Cheick Diallo was named MVP after he recorded an 18 point, 10 rebound double-double. After dealing with an early-season NCAA investigation, Diallo managed to score only 81 points on the whole season at Kansas before declaring for the NBA Draft.
The stars will be out tonight in Chicago. Below is a primer on who and what to watch for during the game:
1. Top Individual Matchup
Small forwards Jayson Tatum and Josh Jackson are arguably the top two players in the country. The 6’8” Tatum will wear #22 for the East while the 6’7” Jackson will suit up as #11 for the West. Tatum is headed to Duke and has a smooth and skilled offensive game. He has the ability to play point forward and loves to emulate Kobe Bryant with a fade-away repertoire. Jackson is still undecided and set to choose from a list that includes Kansas, Arizona, and Michigan State. The Michigan native is an explosive wing with NBA athleticism who will surely be good for a highlight reel dunk or two.
2. Most Unique Player
Keep an eye out for 6’5” point guard Lonzo Ball (#2). Just last week the best passing guard in high school finished a spectacular senior season with a California state championship. His #1 ranked Chino Hills team went 35-0 on the year, breaking 100 points on a near-nightly basis in the process. High hopes and expectations await Ball at UCLA, as the Bruins are coming off a disappointing 15-17 season. Ball has an unorthodox outside shot, but he is still plenty capable of finding the bottom of the net from NBA range. He’s also been known to throw pinpoint three-quarter court passes just as often as does a fundamental bounce pass to a teammate on a look that few other players would see. Ball’s razzle-dazzle game is made for an All-Star event. Read the rest of this entry »
Thomas Bryant Led the Hoosiers to the Sweet Sixteen (USA Today Images)
Thomas Bryant’s second half play was instrumental to the Indiana victory. Throughout the first half, it appeared the moment might have been too large for the Indiana freshman forward. Bryant picked up two early fouls that limited him to a minor role in the opening stanza. Bryant was a completely different player after halftime, however. The first-year workhorse finished the afternoon with 19 points (on 6-of-8 shooting) and grabbed five rebounds. He also displayed his affinity for the big moment by knocking down two clutch free throws with 10.4 seconds to play that gave the Hoosiers a four-point lead. When the final buzzer sounded, Bryant paraded off the floor, exclaiming, “This is why I’m here! This is why I’m here!”. You better believe the Indiana faithful are quite thrilled Bryant has been on their side all season long.
Kentucky’s lack of a third scorer really hurt the Wildcats. Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray have been the guys for Kentucky all season. Ulis, the SEC Player of the Year, and Murray, a dynamic freshman with a penchant for knocking down big shots, are on the short list of players that can take over a game at any time. Perhaps as a result of the praise and accolades heaped on Ulis and Murray, Kentucky’s lack of a third scorer has largely been ignored. Unfortunately for the Wildcats, that absence took center stage this afternoon, as Ulis and Murray scored 43 of Kentucky’s 67 points. The next highest point man was freshman guard Isaiah Briscoe, who had just seven points. Time after time, it appeared the Kentucky offense was resigned to standing around and waiting on either Ulis or Murray to make a play. It is hard to know whether the result would have been different if Kentucky’s supporting cast had played a bigger role, but it seemed like a tall order to ask Ulis and Murray to shoulder such a large percentage of the offensive load.
Yogi Ferrell deserves this in his senior season. There are not many seniors (if any) who have meant more to their teams than Yogi Ferrell has meant to Indiana. It is only fitting that his final hurrah in the NCAA Tournament is marked by a run deep into the bracket. Ferrell was, per usual, masterful in leading the Hoosiers past Kentucky, finishing with 18 points, five rebounds, and four assists. The Indiana floor general also took excellent care of the ball all afternoon, turning it over just once in 37 minutes. The Hoosiers will face a large test in their Sweet 16 team match-up in Philadelphia, but with Ferrell at the controls, the team will have great guidance and on-the-court leadership.
Stony Brook’s ghastly first half offense really set the tone. There are always going to be some games when a team does not the shoot ball particularly well. However, there aren’t many instances where a team shoots the ball as poorly as Stony Brook did in the first half tonight. The Seawolves shot just 18.9 percent (7-37) during the opening 20 minutes. To make matters even worse, they missed all five of their three-point attempts. Stony Brook did grab 12 rebounds during the opening stanza, but that only led to more missed shots. It was an ugly, ugly half of basketball, and the fact that the Seawolves were only down 14 at the half was a minor miracle.
Kentucky’s defense came to play. The Wildcats have received quite a bit of deserved criticism for their inconsistent defense this season. There were no issues on that end tonight against Stony Brook, as the Wildcats applied a great deal of defensive pressure all evening. While Stony Brook does deserve some of the blame for its putrid shooting performance, it’s not like Kentucky made it easy. The Seawolves struggled mightily to find any clean looks; nearly every shot that went up was under some duress. The Wildcats were also quite active in the turnover department, forcing the Seawolves to give it away 14 times. John Calipari’s group is going to need to crank things up against Indiana’s hyper-efficient offense on Saturday, but its sometimes circumspect defense certainly passed its first test tonight.
Skal Labissiere was excellent tonight. The Kentucky freshman big man has had some substantial ups-and-downs this season, but you would not know that if you look at how he played in tonight’s first round victory. Labissiere scored 12 points (6-10 shooting), blocked six shots, and grabbed four rebounds in 23 minutes. The big man’s length frustrated Stony Brook all night and his defensive presence was extremely important to the Kentucky winning effort. Labissiere is certainly a player to keep an eye on as the tournament progresses.
Player of the Game. Jamal Murray, Kentucky. When the Wildcats were looking for an offensive spark in the second half to widen its lead, it was Murray that came through with the winning efforts. The freshman guard finished the night with a team-high 19 points to go along with seven rebounds. His two second half three-pointers were instrumental in taking the air completely out of Stony Brook’s sails.
On Monday and Tuesday we will roll out our region-by-region analysis on the following schedule: Monday (East and West); Tuesday (South and Midwest). Here, Brian Otskey (@botskey) breaks down the East Region from top to bottom. Also, be sure to follow our RTC East Region handle on Twitter for continuous updates the next two weeks (@RTCeastregion).
Favorite: No. 1 North Carolina (28-6, 14-4 ACC). Although this region is loaded from top to bottom, the ACC regular season and tournament champions are the clear favorite. Roy Williams has one of the nation’s most talented teams with seniors Brice Johnson and Marcus Paige leading the way. Contending with Johnson is a nightmare for most teams. A relentless rebounder who averages a double-double, Johnson is one of the nation’s most efficient players. Carolina has weaknesses — namely three-point shooting and three-point defense — but the way it utilizes great athleticism to speed up the game makes the Heels hard to beat.
The ACC regular season and tournament champions are the favorite to take the East Region. (Photo: Todd Melet)
Should They Falter: No. 4 Kentucky (26-8, 13-5 SEC). Yes, we’re going to roll with the Wildcats here. John Calipari’s team has made Final Fours from lower seeded positions — most notably in 2011 and 2014. This is not a vintage Kentucky team by any means, but it is highly talented and Coach Cal has proven that he can push the right buttons in March. College basketball is a guards’ game and Kentucky has that in spades with Tyler Ulis, Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe. The lack of a major threat inside and occasionally spotty defense are definite concerns, but Kentucky has the talent and athletes to get by North Carolina in a potential Sweet Sixteen matchup.
The SEC is sending just three teams to the NCAA field as South Carolina found itself on the outside looking in. Here are some quick impressions of the conference’s NCAA Tournament draw:
Tyler Ulis will try to carry Kentucky on another deep NCAA Tournament run (USA Today).
Seed: #3, West.
Quick First Round Preview: Horizon League champion Green Bay lost all of its games against power conference foes this season (Georgia Tech, Stanford and Wisconsin). It barely has a top 100 KenPom offense (#96) and a #168 rated defense. Senior guard Carrington Love (17.7 PPG) could find Admon Gilder glued to his hip after the freshman’s impressive job marking Jamal Murray in the SEC championship game.
Intriguing Potential Matchup: This one is easy — an intrastate rivalry rematch with Texas in the second round. The Aggies won their first game back in November, but the Longhorns have improved since then even if they are unlikely to have Cameron Ridley.
Final Word: The Aggies could be a popular pick to make the Final Four, especially for those wary of three-point shooting dependent Oklahoma. The potential Second Round game with Texas won’t be a cakewalk but the Aggies are the more balanced team. Stopping Buddy Hield in the Sweet Sixteen would be quite a challenge — something the Aggies’ wings weren’t able to do with the smaller Ulis. The run could end there in what would still be a hugely successful season.
Nashville is a great place for a conference tournament. Even if the basketball happens to be underwhelming, there’s plenty of other forms of entertainment just steps away from Bridgestone Arena. It is the Music City, after all. In the spirit of basketball and honky-tonk, here are some of the SEC’s teams and the country music stars they most resemble.
Blake Shelton And Kentucky Are Both Living Large Again
Kentucky as… Blake Shelton. Before Wisconsin extinguished that dream, life was perfect for the unbeaten Wildcats last year as they tried to notch an unprecedented 40-0 record. Similarly, it wasn’t very long ago that Shelton and Miranda Lambert were living large as country’s pre-eminent power couple. But life happens, and the two stars have since gone their separate ways. Kentucky and Shelton, however, have both found a neon light at the end of the tunnel. Against the odds, Shelton has put together a run of hit singles, is dating Gwen Stefani and even has a Country Music Hall of Fame exhibit opening. The Wildcats, to their credit, claimed a share of this season’s SEC regular season title with a guard-oriented team. Life goes on.
The SEC Tournament returns to Nashville tonight for the second year in row. Unlike the last couple of years, however, there isn’t a team trying to cap off a perfect conference run and there doesn’t figure to be much drama surrounding NCAA at-large bids (but you never know). Before getting into what is at stake for individual teams, here are several completely unscientific predictions on how things will look by Sunday afternoon.
Tournament Final: Kentucky over Vanderbilt
MVP: Jamal Murray, Kentucky
Biggest Surprise: #11 seed Mississippi State makes it to the SEC Tournament semifinals
Tournament Storylines: Was the season-ending win over LSU Skal Labissiere‘s breakout game? Will Ben Simmonsreally be locked out of the NCAA Tournament? Can Florida do enough to force its way back into the field? Can Retin Obasohan or Stefan Moody shoot their teams into the NCAA Tournament?
Skal Labissiere may have finally arrived (courier-journal.com).
Teams Playing For Seeding
It’s safe to assume that Kentucky, Texas A&M, South Carolina and Vanderbilt are all locked into the field of 68 and are playing for seeding. Of those four teams, the Commodores and Gamecocks have the most at stake this week. Bracketologists project both teams into the #8-#9 seed range and an unenviable downstream date with a #1 seed looming. Winning twice in Nashville and getting to Sunday’s SEC championship game should be enough to lift either team off that seed line (and potentially facing a #2 seed in a parity-driven field). This might be more important for a team like the Gamecocks since Vanderbilt will not be at much of a talent disadvantage against any of the projected #1 seeds.
The Wildcats and Aggies appear to be in a similar situation. Both teams look like #4 seeds with potential to jump to the #3 line as a result of cutting the nets down in Nashville. Losing their respective opening games probably wouldn’t do much damage since all four potential opponents (Florida/Arkansas for Texas A&M; Ole Miss/Alabama for Kentucky) have solid enough metrics to avert a disaster. There is the interesting matter of the South Regional in Louisville but it’s hard to see the Selection Committee gifting that to a #3 seed Kentucky team (much to the detriment of the top two seeds) even if the Wildcats were to win the SEC Tournament with three consecutive blowouts. That probably won’t stop Big Blue Nation from flocking to wherever Kentucky ends up, though, even if it’s Spokane.
In some ways, the final Saturday of the SEC regular season played out like many thought it would in October. Kentucky’s Skal Labissiere altered shots left and right; LSU’s Ben Simmons nearly put together a triple-double; and Kentucky, LSU, Vanderbilt and Texas A&M all entered the weekend with a shot at a share of the regular season title. Ultimately it was the Aggies and Wildcats that became this season’s SEC co-champions, and while that result isn’t at all surprising, the path that led both teams there certainly is.
Tyler Davis and the Aggies are charging into the postseason (12thman.com).
The Wildcats’ share of the conference title is a testament to the coaching and player development of John Calipari. Kentucky appeared vulnerable in December losses to thoroughly mediocre UCLA and Ohio State teams, but Calipari coaxed a surprise season from Derek Willis and successfully navigated injuries and inconsistency to win the league. The title is assuredly a little sweeter for an Aggies program that notched its first conference championship since sharing the 1986 Southwest Conference title with TCU and Texas. During that same period, the Wildcats have won a share or more of 10 SEC regular season titles.
There is no shortage of intrigue in the SEC’s final regular season Saturday with the league title up for grabs and several teams fighting for their Tournament lives. Here are the storylines to watch before the attention shifts to Nashville.
There’s still a tiny bit of life left in Ben Simmons and LSU (fivethirtyeight.com).
And then there were four. The schedule couldn’t have worked out any better for the final weekend. The league’s top four teams (now that South Carolina bowed out by losing to Georgia) face each other with the league title still in play. Texas A&M has the cleanest path — beat Vanderbilt at home and become SEC co-champion with a wink and nudge due to the head-to-head win over Kentucky. Even if it were a shared title, it would be significant for the Aggies, as it would be their first league championship since winning the Southwest Conference way back in 1986. Of course, Texas A&M and Kentucky could be sole champions if either were to win and the other lose. And then there’s the dream (or nightmare) four-way co-champion scenario if Vanderbilt and LSU were to both win. By our rough calculations, the Tigers, ironically and somewhat miraculously, would be the top seed in the SEC Tournament with a 3-1 record against the other three teams. This is better then Kentucky (1-3), Vanderbilt (2-2) and Texas A&M (2-2). Title scenarios aside, LSU desperately needs a win if it doesn’t want to pin its NCAA hopes on a three-game winning streak in Nashville. The last time the Tigers pulled this off was in late December against Gardner-Webb, Oral Roberts, and American. They’ll need to replicate much of their last performance against Kentucky, where they rebounded 43.2 percent of their missed shots and turned it over just nine times. The injured Keith Hornsby didn’t play much of a role offensively in that win (nine points) but his tough on-ball defense will be missed against Tyler Ulis and Jamal Murray.