This weekend might have marked the start of the NFL season for some, but it was also a big one for college basketball recruiting. Florida State was the big winner picking up a pair of top-50 recruits in Dwayne Bacon and Malik Beasley. Both announcements, which were made separately, came on Friday night and gives the Seminoles one of the top classes in the country early in the recruiting season. Louisville also added to its already strong class with the addition of five-star guard Antonio Blakeney. That announcement probably puts the Cardinals in the #1 or 2 spot in the recruiting standing this year with Arizona being the other top choice. We would have considered Oregon State‘s ability to add two top-tier recruits–Trey Tinkle and Stephen Thompson Jr.–last week to be particularly noteworthy except the recruits were the sons of the team’s coaches. Still the addition of those two plus Derrick Bruce is a potential game-changer for the program that has been mired in mediocrity (at best) for quite a while. Texas A&M also picked up a big piece on Sunday night when D.J. Hogg, a five-star small foward, committed to play for the Aggies. While they have not struggled for quite as long as the Beavers, the Aggies haven’t really been relevant since the 2010-11 season.
We have seen a lot of strange movement with top recruits over the years, but Thon Maker‘s international movements appear to be unique. Maker, who is widely considered the top recruit in the class of 2016, came to the United States from Australia (via Sudan) and now is being moved to Canada along with his younger brother Matur, also a top prospect. Maker could conceivably end up reclassifying to the class of 2015, but with all of this movement we don’t know how realistic that is. The decision to move was made by Maker’s guardian, who will also serve as an assistant coach at his new school. We can only hope that this is being made in Maker’s best interest even if we disagree with the general idea behind all of this movement.
After nearly a month Charleston finally found a replacement for Doug Wojcik as it announced its decision to hire Earl Grant. Wojcik was fired in the wake of allegations of abuse against his players, an issue that has become increasingly common. The process to replace Wojcik took longer than expected and likely drove off many of the potential hires that the school looked at. Grant has spent the past four seasons as an assistant at Clemson and at the age of 37 could serve as a potential long-term coach the school needs (or it could be just a stepping stone for him). We normally don’t like to bring race into the discussion of hiring/firing, but as Gary Parrish points out in his background on the situation at Charleston it likely played a role.
We would expect Miami to be a better team with the addition of several key transfers, but they might have lost a big piece last week when Davon Reed underwent surgery after tearing the meniscus in his left knee during an offseason workout that could keep him out for four to six months. As a freshman last season, Reed started 10 games while averaging 6.6 points, 1.7 rebounds and 1.2 assists in a little over 20 minutes per game and scored 11.5 points per game in two ACC Tournament games while coming off the bench. The school has not officially announced whether Reed would redshirt so there is a chance we could see him around the second half of conference play.
We are not sure if the decision by certain Georgia Tech coaches to make impermissible calls just three days after their NCAA hearing was brazen or idiotic, but it helped to get the school two more years of probation. The school’s current probation now extends to June 13, 2017 after its coaches, who were already on probation, made hundreds of impermissible calls and texts. We have gotten to the point where we are not really sure what to make of all of these probation announcements. On one hand, the school was already on probation so you would figure that if they mess up again they should get more than a slap on the wrist. On the other hand, these violations are completely unrelated to the other violations and might not even be violations any more.
As we continue to revisit our ‘ACC Mega-Preview’, here is the third part of our recap with the bottom five projected teams profiled below. Keep in mind that the teams are ranked here based on the RTC preseason ACC rankings.The analysis of each determines whether each team was ranked too high or low at the start of the season.
FSU’s defense has given Leonard Hamilton reason to smile again
Signature wins: #10 VCU, #22 UMass
Signature losses: #14 Michigan, #15 Florida
Reasons for optimism: Florida State has tangled with a very difficult schedule thus far and responded well above its preseason perception. Thanks to their talented trio of Ian Miller, Aaron Thomas and Okaro White, Florida State has outdone expectations through a return to their days of defensive dominance under defensive whiz and head coach Leonard Hamilton. The emergence of massive center Boris Bojanovsky as a formidable interior presence has helped anchor the frontline, and by playing hard-nosed basketball against a very competitive early slate of opponents before conference play begins, FSU has set itself up well to overachieve and claw its way into the crowded ACC picture.
Reasons for pessimism: It will be tough for Florida State to keep up its scorching shooting percentages through conference play, and the rhythm it has built may break down over the wear and tear of consistently equivalent and superior teams in the ACC. While the Seminoles rank highly in field goal percentage, they don’t have a long-range threat on the roster who can consistently knock down threes when they are zoned. If one of their big three gets into foul trouble, which has happened to White already this season (he is averaging 3.2 personal fouls per contest), they will struggle to replace a player of his offensive importance.
Forecast: Florida State has a bright season ahead, likely beating some solid opponents and losing a few very close games to stronger foes. Without star recruit Xavier Rathan-Mayes and missing out on the Andrew Wiggins sweepstake, most folks thought Hamilton’s team would struggle to keep its head above water this season. It has proved many people wrong with its tenacious defensive principles intact and a solid well-rounded scoring attack. Florida State has firmly leapfrogged several teams projected in front of it and can be expected to challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid by continuing on this trajectory.
12). Miami Hurricanes (8-5)
Signature wins: Arizona State
Signature losses: George Washington
Reasons for optimism: Not much was expected of this Miami team after losing almost all of its squad from an historic 2012-13 season. Losing the likes of ACC POY Shane Larkin, Kenny Kadji, Reggie Johnson, and Durand Scott would weigh on any team, but Jim Larranaga’s group has looked more formidable than expected. Behind the strong play of Rion Brown, Garrius Adams and Donnavan Kirk, Miami won’t set the world on fire this season but has a good team that could upset some more talented squads in conference play. They are certainly athletic, physical, and well-coached and will not back down from any challenge. Read the rest of this entry »
Daniel Evans (@bracketexpert) is RTC’s resident bracketologist. According to Bracket Matrix, he ranks as one of the top bracketologists among those who have produced brackets for more than three years, including two seasons with perfect bracket projections. He updates the field daily on his site, Bracketology Expert, and will be producing a weekly bracket update here at RTC on Thursdays.
Right now, guessing the NCAA Tournament field with less than a week of game results would be like finding a needle in a haystack. Well, maybe more like finding a needle in the ocean. No matter the analogy you use, it’s pretty impossible. So for this week at least, let’s look at the few teams that have already helped their NCAA Tournament hopes and those who have already fallen behind the eight ball.
No. 1 Seed Race
Kansas’ Win Over Duke Tuesday is Likely to Look Great in #1 Seed Discussions in March
Michigan State and Kansas: Obviously wins over the nation’s No. 1 and No. 5 ranked teams help the cause of getting a No. 1 seed, but I think it’s also important that both teams won their games a neutral floor. Doesn’t it seem like Kansas always gets these kinds of wins?
Florida, Kentucky and the SEC: Obviously losses hurt your case to be a No. 1 seed on Selection Sunday but I think there is a little more to it than that with these two teams. Florida has not been at full strength and a loss in Madison, Wisconsin, is nothing to lose sleep about, but the Gators didn’t look great in losing. While Kentucky looked young and super-talented (as expected) in its loss to Michigan State, the ‘Cats and Gators are both hurt by the SEC’s early struggles as a league. Alabama has already lost to Oklahoma. LSU lost to Massachusetts. Tennessee fell to Xavier. South Carolina came up short against Baylor. What is the SEC’s best win so far?Is it Mississippi’s win over Troy? Ouch!
Tournament Chances Already in Trouble
Miami (FL): I think we all saw a bad season coming for the Hurricanes, but this is ridiculous. A loss to St. Francis and then a one-point overtime victory over Georgia Southern doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Next they play head coach Mike Davis and Texas Southern, who could run through the SWAC undefeated.
Boston College: Not to hate on the ACC here, but the Eagles had a legitimate shot to make a run for an at-large berth, but losses to Providence and Massachusetts — who looks like a NCAA Tournament team as of today — have already derailed some of those early hopes. Next up is Toledo. The Eagles better win that one.
West Virginia: Considering Virginia Tech started its season by losing to USC Upstate, it was a shock to learn that West Virginia had blown a big lead and fallen to the Hokies. It’s not that I expected West Virginia to be good, but I did at least expect them to be competitive in the Big 12 this season.
It’s opening week and we’ve already gotten a taste of what’s to come through the first weekend of college basketball. As we head into the start of the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon tonight, culminating in tomorrow night’s top-five double-header at the Champions Classic, it’s time to take a look at how oddsmakers view the upcoming season. As we mentioned last week upon the release of the RTC Preseason Top 25, there appears to be a consensus top five (Kentucky, Michigan State, Louisville, Duke and Kansas), followed by a second-tier group of six more teams (Arizona, Florida, Ohio State, Syracuse, Oklahoma State and Michigan). Although the order might be a little different, that is also more or less how Las Vegas is viewing the 2013-14 national championship race. Keeping in mind that unlike those of us who can make any ridiculous prediction we can think of without an appreciable fear of repercussion, oddsmakers stake their livelihoods on this practice. Therefore, they generally have a good idea of what they’re doing.
Let’s first take a look at the odds below (NCAA basketball lines taken from a prominent international sportsbook, where the listed odds are not much different from those in Vegas), then we’ll analyze some takeaways after the jump below. (ed. note: for those unfamiliar with futures odds, +380 represents the amount of money a potential gambler would receive back if he placed a $100 wager on that team and it won. He would, in other words, win back 3.8 times his original wager.)
This Weekend’s Lede. It started somewhat unceremoniously with a nondescript game between Air Force and Army in something called the All-Military Classic in Lexington, Virginia. But after seven long months of quiet, the early afternoon tip between two of the military academies in a tiny gym on the campus of VMI represented the reappearance of the sport we call college basketball. For years we’ve clamored for an Opening Night with the appropriate pomp and fanfare that the game deserves upon its November arrival, and with the excitement around social media and the number of good games available on the various networks, we’re getting there. Some 225 other games involving D-I teams came throughout the weekend, and even though there were no aircraft carrier games scattered about the land, there was still plenty to get juiced about.
Your Watercooler Moment. The Triumphant Return of Joshua Smith.
Joshua Smith Showed Off His Dominant Post Game in the Armed Forces Classic
Approximately one year ago, the last time any of us saw Joshua Smith, we were subjected to this embarrassing crime against basketball. After a transfer year when he traveled cross-country to Georgetown and received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately, it was hard to say what to expect this time around. We’ve always known that the 6’10”, 300+ pound center has soft hands, quick feet that belie his size and great touch around the basket, but his weight, and correspondingly, his stamina, have remained problematic. He simply couldn’t stay on the floor at UCLA, averaging only 19.3 minutes per game in a little over two seasons. But on Friday, for at least one night, Smith appeared to be a different player. Although Georgetown lost the Armed Forces Classic game to Oregon, the burly center logged 27 fruitful minutes, shot 10-of-13 from the field, and looked downright unstoppable inside on his way to 25 points. The Hoyas wouldn’t have been within 15 points of the Ducks were it not for Smith’s production, and it begs the question: Has the change of scenery allowed Smith to turn the corner in his development? If so, and what we saw this weekend is any indication, Georgetown has found itself with one of the most talented big men in the nation.
Sights & Sounds. Plenty of great stuff from Friday night, so check out the separate post we put together on Saturday to store it all. The top dunks, buzzer-beaters and some other notable videos and images are all over there, but we saved the best buzzer-beater of the weekend for here. Dayton was down two points as IPFW looked to inbound the ball to ice the big road upset. Then, this happened…
Brutal. And in case you’re too lazy to click through, here’s the best dunk of the weekend for good measure. Michael Qualls!
Top Storyline. Four Freshman Phenoms. We’ve been talking about them all offseason, and the debuts of some of the nation’s top rookies was everything we had hoped it would be. On Friday night, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins were all playing at the same time, and none disappointed. In a dominant win over Davidson, Parker went for 22/6 on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor that included a silky-smooth 3-of-3 from deep. Randle did Parker one better with a 23/15 performance against UNC-Asheville that included an impressive 11-of-13 from the foul line. He followed that up with another 22/14/3 assts against Northern Kentucky on Sunday, becoming the first freshman to go for consecutive double-doubles in his first two collegiate games since Michael Beasley pulled the trick six years ago. Wiggins didn’t have a dominant performance in Kansas’ win over Louisiana-Monroe, tallying 16/3/3 stls in 34 minutes of action. The trio will all be on display tomorrow night at the Champions Classic, and so far, so good. We also shouldn’t forget Arizona’s star freshman, Aaron Gordon, who put up a 13/10/4 blks double-double himself in the Wildcats’ win over Cal Poly.
Four More Weekend Storylines.
These Games Are Foul. Well, some of them are, at least. There was an awful lot of preseason discussion given to the new hand-checking rules and how coaches, players and officials would have to adjust on the fly. Results have been mixed. One team that many pundits thought would be most impacted, Louisville, only had 14 total fouls in a 62-possession game against Charleston. On the other hand, a Seton Hall-Niagara game on Saturday resulted in a dreadful 73 fouls in an 81-possession game. In fact, there were more free throw attempts (102) than field goal attempts (101) in that game, which two hours and 28 minutes to complete. A total of 24 teams were called for 30 or more fouls over the weekend, while 18 were called for fewer than 15. The national average last season was 17.7 fouls per team per game (or 35.4 fouls per game), so this is definitely a trend worth watching.
ACC Darling Boston College Struggling. BC was a chic pick to make some noise in the ACC this season, and certainly there’s a lot of time left for the Eagles to get things going. But two losses over the weekend revealed that the same issues that Steve Donahue’s team had last season haven’t been solved. They still can’t guard anybody. In losses against Providence and Massachusetts, Boston College gave up 1.04 and 1.20 points per possession, respectively, and an average of 84 points per game. Furthermore, Bryce Cotton (28 points) and Cady Lalanne (27 points) lit their defense up, getting the shots they wanted whenever they wanted. Last season the Eagles finished 192nd in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency; if they don’t figure out a way to limit easy looks from the opposition, they’ll be staring another .500 season in the face not matter how good their offense becomes.
Mr. Robinson May Need a New Neighborhood. It was no secret that Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson came into this season on the hot seat. After yet another embarrassing home loss to a low-major team Sunday night, he may want to go ahead and start picking out his moving company. MEAC teams were 1-89 in the last two seasons against power conference schools (the one victory was Norfolk State over Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament), and they were 0-5 so far this season. That is, until Coppin State went into Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum and used its athleticism and timely three-point shooting to lead for much of the game before walking out with a Pac-12 scalp. Robinson has had a history of these types of awful home losses, and adding another one to his resume surely doesn’t help things for him in Corvallis.
Other Weekend Upsets. Virginia Tech and Miami (FL) suffered tough home losses over the weekend (to USC Upstate and St. Francis (NY), respectively), but both of those programs were expected to be rebuilding this season. The biggest upset of the weekend instead had to have been Kansas State’s shocking home loss to Northern Colorado on Friday night. The jokes about Bruce Weber losing with some of his own players started in earnest immediately after the game, but it was two holdovers from last season’s Big 12 co-champions in Shane Southwell and Will Spradling who were largely responsible for this one. The duo combined to shoot a miserable 4-of-22 from the field and 2-of-12 from behind the arc.
Your Weekend All-Americans.
Julius Randle, Kentucky (NPOY). Consecutive double-doubles to start a collegiate career for the first time since Michael Beasley did it in 2007-08 makes this an easy choice. Through three days of action, he’s the NPOY.
Jabari Parker, Duke. Parker didn’t board like Randle but he scored more efficiently, missing only two shots in his debut.
Joshua Smith, Georgetown. As mentioned above, Smith’s 25/4 on 10-of-13 shooting was his best game in nearly two years.
TJ Warren, NC State. Warren went off for 27/8/3 assts as the Wolfpack beat Appalachian State to start a season of very low expectations.
We looked at the best of the AAC non-conference schedules in Part I, after explaining a bit of what makes for a good non-conference schedule. This season, there’s quite a bit more bad than good, which could drag down the collective RPIs of AAC members and ultimately lead to lower NCAA Tournament seeds come March.
Larry Brown’s SMU Mustangs, a popular sleeper pick, have a lot riding on a trip to Virginia.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats return the favor of a visit last season from MW favorite New Mexico with a road trip of their own to The Pit. They also will play former Big East rival and mid-level ACC squad Pitt at Madison Square Garden. Then… well, there’s the rivalry game with Xavier, which seems poised to finish in the bottom half of a newly constituted (read: relatively weaker) Big East; N.C. State, clearly headed toward the bottom of the ACC, and Conference USA also-ran MTSU. That trio might end up in the RPI top 100; it’s highly unlikely any other team on the schedule will come close.
Louisville: If the defending champs can escape Rupp Arena with a win, all will be forgiven by both their fans and the committee, as a road win against Kentucky is perhaps the highest quality victory available in college basketball this year. Southern Miss, which finished with an RPI of #30 last season, is favored to win Conference USA. They face a potential Basketball Hall of Fame Tip-Off final against North Carolina at the Mohegan Sun. They need the Tar Heels to be there, because the rest of their foes are middling teams in weak leagues, with Charleston the most likely to crack the top 100, and several – we’re looking at you, Hofstra and UMKC – seeming likely to end up north of #300.
Yesterday, the NCAA released its long-awaited report on its investigation into the alleged violations committed at Miami. While those involving the football program were the primary focus of the national media, in many ways the ones involving the basketball program were more interesting and we don’t just say that because we are a basketball site. The men’s basketball program was hit with a reduction in three scholarships (total) over the next three years, but otherwise escaped harm. If you want to hear our take on reducing scholarships, check out Mike DeCourcy’s column on why the idea is idiotic. In addition, the NCAA also issued assistant coach Jorge Fernandez a two-year show-cause, which basically amounts to a four-year ban since he has been untouchable while in limbo. Of course, the biggest news for us is that Frank Haith was only given a five-game suspension for his role in this. Normally we would use quotation marks to modify the only, but in this case he got very lucky. Gary Parrish did an excellent job describing how ridiculously light Haith’s punishment is in comparison to the three-year show-cause penalty that Bruce Pearl got for lying about hosting a cookout (it is a little more complex than that, but not to the degree that the NCAA made it out to be) and, as Andy Glockner pointed out repeatedly yesterday on Twitter, Todd Bozeman got an eight-year show-cause for doing essentially the same thing Haith did (to the point where we wonder if Glockner’s new job is being Bozeman’s PR guy). At this point, we think all the parties involved will be glad to just put the entire thing behind them.
Haith was not the only coach making the wrong kind of headlines yesterday as Maryland assistant Dalonte Hill announced that he will be taking a “leave of absence” after being arrested over the weekend for what is at least his third DUI in the past five years. Hill, who is best known for essentially being an assistant who is essentially a package deal to bring in recruits, has been receiving a seemingly exorbitant $300,000-a-year salary at Maryland, but that is actually a significant drop from the $423,000-a-year he was making at Kansas State for helping bring Michael Beasley to Manhattan. Both Mark Turgeon and Maryland athletic director Kevin Anderson expressed their support for Hill and we would expect that he will be back on the sidelines (or recruiting trail) in the near-future. One more interesting twist on this is that Hill’s pipeline has largely come from the famed D.C. Assault AAU program that came into the national spotlight this August when its founder Curtis Malone was indicted on federal drug charges so we are not sure how that dynamic will affect Hill’s ability to recruit down the road.
Villanova fans got an explanation for the mysterious photo that junior forward JayVaughn Pinkston temporarily posted on Instagram of himself on crutches back in August. It turns out that Pinkston had developed a MRSA infection of his right leg that required incision and drainage and eventually what has been described as “emergency surgery” as well as what is likely a prolonged course of antibiotics. By now, you have probably become familiar with MRSA infections due to the news media hyping it up over the past few years or perhaps the recent spate of infections on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. If you are not, essentially it an increasingly common bacteria that does not respond to older antibiotics that were previously used to treat the organism, but can generally be treated fairly easily with antibiotics (even oral forms). With competent medical care, superficial MRSA abscesses like what Pinkston appears to have had respond well to treatment and as expected (although maybe not as Pinkston and his family, coaches, and teammates feared) it appears that he will be ready to play when the season starts.
Yesterday, we mentioned how West Virginia was waiting on the NCAA to rule on the eligibility of freshman forward Elijah Macon. Well, it appears that Macon might have other issues affecting his eligibility to play after he was arrested for disorderly conduct during a court hearing involving his sister. According to reports, Macon became upset during the hearing and after leaving the hearing hit something loudly enough for it to be heard in the courtroom. He was asked to leave the building which he did, but continued yelling and was then arrested. We have no idea what triggered Macon’s reaction, but we doubt that Bob Huggins will take too kindly to it.
It is really early to start w thinking about Player of the Year awards, but yesterday The Bob Cousy Award committee released its preseason watch list. All of the big names that you would expect–Aaron Craft, Jahii Carson, and Marcus Smart–are on there as well as a handful of the more heralded incoming freshmen–Andrew Harrison, Kasey Hill, and Tyler Ennis. Interestingly, two schools–Harvard and Memphis–have a pair of point guards on the watch list, which seems unusual, but we don’t make a habit of memorizing these lists. We don’t see any particularly glaring omissions although we are sure fans of some schools will be able to muster up sufficient outrage over some perceived slight.
It will have a bigger effect on the college football landscape than the college basketball landscape, but we will be interested to see what kind of punishment (if any) the NCAA hands down to Miami later today. It has been over two years since Yahoo! released what was considered a bombshell report at the time detailing how convicted Ponzi scheme artist Nevin Shapiro reportedly provided Miami athletes (more football than basketball) with impermissible benefits. The most notable reported violation from the basketball side of things was $10,000 that he reportedly provided to steer DeQuan Jones to the school (Jones had to sit 10 games as a result) while the football program has self-imposed numerous penalties including bowl bans the past two seasons. Over the past two years the story has largely been eclipsed by bigger college program controversies (most notably Penn State) and numerous missteps by the NCAA’s investigators. Given the self-imposed penalties and the NCAA’s poor handling of the investigation we would be surprised if the NCAA hands down any more substantial penalties.
Dunk City was already going to have a tough time living up to the exceedingly high expectations as the result of last season’s Sweet 16 run even considering they are doing so with a new head coach. Now that task will be even tougher as they will start the season without Eric McKnight, their starting center from last season, after he was suspended for the first six games of this season for violating an undisclosed team/school policy. McKnight averaged 6.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game last season while splitting time, but was expected to have a bigger role this year. This length of the suspension is particularly unfortunate for McKnight as in addition to missing the opener against Nebraska he will also miss a game at North Carolina State, which would have served as a homecoming game for him.
We are always amazed when we hear about big-time recruits still waiting on word regarding their eligibility with the season approaching. Obviously there are times when there need to be investigations into amateur status (see the Shabazz Muhammad fiasco last season), but most cases revolve around academic eligibility. The latest example of this is happening at West Virginia where they are awaiting word on the NCAA’s decision on the eligibility of Elijah Macon. Macon, a 6’8″ forward who was a top-100 recruit, spent last year at a prep school, but still might only be a partial qualifier. If he is deemed to be a partial qualifier, he would not be able to practice until next semester and would not be able to play until the 2014-15 season. It should be noted that Macon is still dealing with a wrist injury and would not be able to play now anyways so the NCAA’ s ruling might not even affect the Mountaineers plans for this season.
It is not often that we get to see tweaks being made to a computer rating system so we are interested to see how the latest changes in Ken Pomeroy’s ranking algorithm will affect some of the more questionable rankings we have seen in his system. According to Pomeroy, the changes will essentially give greater weight to big upsets and less weight to expected blowouts. The few examples that he offers in his post (big jumps for mid-majors that eventually made deep NCAA Tournament runs and a drop for his beloved Wisconsin team) might provide some clue. If you are interested in seeing how this affected his analysis on a larger scale (and have a lot of free time on your hands), his entire database has been updated to reflect his new formula.
Speaking of having a lot of time on your hands, Syracuse.com put together a game-by-game database of every Syracuse game since 1900. We are assuming this was the task of some poor intern who had the unenviable task of cataloging 2,709 Syracuse basketball games. This is not the first massive database that we have seen, but it might be the first that is so easily searchable. The one catch with the database is that it lacks box scores, which is understandable for many of the early games, but should not be that hard to do for games in the past 40 years (perhaps the next group of interns can take care of that). Still it is worth checking out if you have some time to kill today.
The biggest news in the college hoops universe on Tuesday without a doubt sent a shudder through the spines of the rest of the country’s basketball powerhouses. Class of 2014 wing Kelly Oubretweeted that he will be attending Kansas next season, which taken by itself may not be a remarkable piece of information. But the fact that the top-10 recruit chose KU after visiting Lawrence for Late Night in the Phog last weekend, and the additional fact that he cancelled his official visit to Kentucky next week for Big Blue Madness, and the third fact that Kansas head coach Bill Self has signed four top-20 prospects in the last 12 months… well, let’s just say that Self has never had trouble winning with good talent. What will he be able to do with great talent? Oubre is a great early pickup for the Jayhawks and his commitment may just be the tip of the iceberg in Lawrence — top-five prospects Jahlil Okafor and Tyus Jones are visiting soon and KU is reported as one of the purported “package deal’s” four finalists (along with Duke, Baylor and Kentucky). We’ll have more on the topic of Oubre and Bill Self’s hot hand in recruiting later today.
That’s for next year, what about this season? The two highest-quality basketball leagues that are not members of the “power seven” conferences released their preseason polls and all-conference teams on Tuesday. The new-look Atlantic 10features a 13-team field with high expectations for Shaka Smart’s VCU program, chosen as the #1 team (with 19 first-place votes) in its first year in the league. Jim Crews’ Saint Louis squad was the only other team to earn #1 votes (five), but we’re certain that this league will not be a cake walk for either team — the A-10 always produces one of the nuttiest regular season slates in college basketball. The conference’s five-member preseason first team features two VCU players, guard Treveon Graham and forward Juvonte Reddic. La Salle, sitting quietly in third place in the preseason poll, placed three players on the league’s three preseason teams, more than any other squad. Keep an eye on the Explorers this year.
Across the country, the Mountain Westreleased its preseason poll as well, and even with the loss of former head coach Steve Alford, New Mexico appears to be the team to beat (grabbing all but one #1 vote). The remaining #1 vote went to UNLV, tied for second with Boise State, with head coach Dave Rice looking to replace a whole lot of talent that didn’t quite mesh well together. The MW was sensible enough to pick only a single preseason team of six players, with New Mexico placing preseason POY Kendall Williams as well as center Alex Kirk on the squad. Boise had a couple selections as well, wing Anthony Drmic and guard Derrick Marks. UNLV’s Khem Birch and Nevada’s Deonte Burton filled out the group. The quiet team in this year’s Mountain West is San Diego State, picked fourth — Steve Fisher’s team has not finished below that spot in the regular season standings in nearly a decade (2004-05), so even though the Aztecs also lost a great deal of talent, we’d expect that they too will be heard from.
We’re not going to be one of those schadenfreude types who takes great pleasure in the misfortune of others, but we heard more than a few snickers in the background earlier this week when news was released that Murray State’s Zay Jacksonhad torn both the ACL and LCL in his right knee during a recent practice and will miss the entire season. If the name sounds familiar to you, it should; Jackson made international headlines for all the wrong reasons a little over a year ago when he was videotaped running his car into another person after a verbal altercation in a Walmart parking lot. He served a total of 60 days in jail on assault and wanton endangerment charges, and at least from reports surrounding the Murray program this year, he had grown up and put the incident behind him. His father had also passed away recently, so we certainly wish him well going forward and hope that he uses his rehabilitation time wisely.
We’ve written previously about the NFL’s recent trend in looking at some of college basketball’s better athletes to fill some out its roster spots, especially at the tight end position, and the world is starting to take notice. New Orleans’ tight end Jimmy Graham, an explosive but otherwise average forward on the Miami (FL) basketball teams of the late 2000s, just won the NFC Offensive Player of the Month award, the first ever given to a tight end in its nearly 3o-year history. His September of work resulted in 26 receptions and six touchdowns to help the Saints off to a quick 4-0 start, and as this article describes, guys like he, Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron are completely changing the concept of the position in NFL circles. We’ve known all along that college basketball’s best athletes are some of the most versatile and skilled in the world — it’s interesting that both homegrown and other sports around the globe are starting to take notice.
Coming into the season we already knew that Syracuse was going to be loaded up front so the announcement that the NCAA had cleared incoming freshman Tyler Robinson to play should only serve to add to their depth this year. Robinson, who took courses this summer up until late July in hopes of boosting his high school transcript, had been waiting on the NCAA’s decision for more than two weeks to gain his eligibility. Although Syracuse began classes last week the ruling appears to have been made expeditiously enough that it should not be a significant issue going forward. With a roster that features some of the best forwards in the country Robinson should see limited minutes especially early in the season, but he could have an impact later in the season particularly on the defensive end given his length.
When Miami hired Jim Larranaga to be its head coach in 2011 many local writers questioned the hiring given Larranaga’s age (61 at the time) and the fact that the school did not appear to seriously consider Frank Martin, who already had strong ties to the area. We still cannot really address the Martin situation although there are still some issues with his time in Miami while he was the coach at Miami Senior High, but it at least appears that age (or at least how long Larranaga plans to coach) will no longer be an issue after Larranaga signed an extension with the school that runs through the 2021-22 season. Larranaga’s extension comes after a year that was the most successful in the school’s history and although the team will be rebuilding this year it appears that they should be in good shape for the 2014-15 season as they will have several big-time transfers available at that time.
If you were worried about the Big East basketball getting left off your television with college football being the driving force in TV contracts you can take some solace in the fact that CBS has reached an agreement with Fox allowing CBS Sports and CBS Sports Network to broadcast games from 2013-14 through the 2018-19 season. The agreement will give the CBS networks twenty games this coming season and frankly only a handful of the games are intriguing, but it should at least feature some of the conference’s top teams, which will provide the conference with the exposure it will be missing without being on an ESPN platform. It will be interesting to see how Fox and CBS split up the Big East’s games going forward in particular with how the two networks are able to grow and potentially challenge ESPN’s dominance.
Speaking of the Big East it appears their plans for expansion do not appear to have slowed down at least according to Xavier athletic director Greg Christopher who suggested that the conference will be targeting Saint Louis, Dayton, Richmond, and VCU for its next wave of expansion. According to Christopher the conference is looking to expand from 10 to 12 teams sometime in the next five years. It is not particuarly shocking that the Big East is looking to expand (we assume all conferences are always trying to expand), but it is unusual for an athletic director within the conference to publicly state that and in particular while naming the schools. Obviously, all four of the schools would be excellent additions from a basketball perspective, but it is unclear how the current members will view them from a non-basketball perspective.
Former Kentucky star and agriculture commissioner Richie Farmer will reportedly plead guilty to misusing state resources while serving as the state’s agriculture commissioner and could face approximately two years in prison. Farmer has reportedly entered into agreements with prosecutors and is just waiting for approval from the courts and ethics committee before it can be finalized. Given Farmer’s popularity within the state some are still shocked that he could commit so many violations–according to prosecutors the charges include five counts on federal indictment and a state record 42 counts from the ethics committee–but based on our experience sometimes that degree of popularity can embolden people to take risks that they otherwise would not. Farmer is still waiting on a date to formally enter his plea, but it is expected to come on September 12 or 13.