We expected last night’s match-up between Oklahoma and Villanova to be one of the more entertaining non-conference games this season. Instead, Oklahoma’s 78-55 victory appears to have sent the two teams headed in opposite directions at least in terms of how they are being perceived. Coming into the season we thought that everybody had Oklahoma on their short list of potential Final Four teams given their combination of talent and experience while Villanova was probably slightly below them. Last night’s blowout will do nothing to open up seats on the Sooner bandwagon, but it has made many question Villanova’s ceiling particularly with their reliance on three-point shooting (and more importantly their inability to hit three-pointers consistently given how many of them they shoot). Having said that we wouldn’t be so quick to bail on the Wildcats particularly given with their best player being a freshman (Jalen Brunson) playing in his first big college game against more experienced opposition.
By now all of you are familiar with Jay Bilas and his penchant for trying to pick fights with the NCAA. Still his tweet yesterday that his “sources” had told him that the NCAA was discussing enacting new policies to limit bench celebrations was a little bit much even by his standards. David Worlock quickly squelched those rumors by saying that the NCAA had merely responded to questions regarding rules interpretations of bench celebrations and that those celebrations were not interfering with the games. We are sure that Bilas will try to argue that he was not incorrect (technically the NCAA may have had discussions about it based on the questions), but the overall nature of his tweet and many others like it seem to have devolved into nothing more than trolling the NCAA, which is approaching Bayless/Trump levels at this point. We can’t really fault Bilas for this because he has parlayed this into a very profitable venture that has made him into a media personality despite his livelihood essentially being profiting off the work of the same individuals he says continue to be exploited. The NCAA has plenty of issues that should be fixed so it doesn’t need trolls making up stories like this for their own personal gain.
It appears that Chipotle’s E. coli problems may have hit Boston as eight Boston College basketball players appear to be the latest victims of the burrito chain’s ongoing food poisoning issues. According to reports out of Chestnut Hill, the eight players are among 30 Boston College students complaining of symptoms consistent with food poisoning. While many national media outlets will be quick to claim that there is an established link and that the symptoms are directly related to eating at Chipotle, the actual investigation by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health will takes days (more likely weeks). In the mean time, the basketball team will have to figure out if it will be ready for its game tomorrow at Providence. We cannot remember the last time a game was cancelled because of team illness, but this seems like a distinct possibility right now.
We don’t talk about high school basketball much here with the exception of a few top recruits, but when a high school hires former Rutgers coach Mike Rice to coach its basketball team we take notice. Rice, who was fired in 2013 after multiple video surfaced of him throwing balls at his players and berating them with slurs, will serve as the interim head coach at The Patrick School in Elizabeth, New Jersey for the month of December while the regular head coach deals with his duties as the principal before presumably returning to coach the team afterwards. We aren’t sure what is so special about this month that it requires the principal’s attention more than other months as it seems more like a nice excuse to give Rice a trial run as its head coach without as much scrutiny as they would see if he was named the head coach without having an interim tag attached. While we feel that Rice deserves another shot, we expect that the practices will be the most closely supervised high school basketball practices in the nation.
We are a little late in posting Luke Winn’s Power Rankings, which explains Villanova being ranked over Oklahoma, but as usual it is filled with interesting stats so it’s still well worth linking to despite our tardiness. It’s still early in the season so we are not sure which stats Luke will adopt as his pet projects this year, but our favorite one so far this year is his Transition/Press Matrix that graphs the relationship between how much a team presses and how much of its offense it generates in transition. Technically we think the x- and y-axis should probably be flipped, but it doesn’t really matter in this case as the analysis still holds. If he continues to track this, which seems like more work than the Turnometer, we will be interested to see if these relationships change in conference play where schools will presumably play better competition than what they faced in non-conference play.
UConn is poised to give Houston and Chicken Knowles a run for their money in the player nickname arms race, after Will “Turtle” Jackson gave coach Kevin Ollie a verbal commitment on Monday. The 6’4” Georgia point guard, ranked by Rivals.com as the #39 recruit in the class of 2015, reportedly picked the Huskies over Louisville, Memphis, Florida and Kansas, among others. Jackson credited UConn fans’ enthusiastic support of both the men’s and women’s teams as an influence in his decision, as well as Ollie’s style of play. His high school coach is also, by all indications, amazing, judging from his recollections of a pivotal fourth-quarter comeback: “I called a timeout and I just said, ‘Turtle, you take over this game. You do whatever you want to do.’ And do you know, that sucker scored 22 points in the last four minutes and 50 seconds? He didn’t miss a shot.” With four-star shooting guard Prince Ali already in the fold for 2015, UConn is the early favorite for the league’s best-named backcourt.
In case you weren’t convinced of the top-heavy nature of the AAC in its inaugural year, RTC writer CD Bradley points out that the top half of the league is 25-2 against the bottom half. (It’s now 26-2, following Memphis’ pummeling of Rutgers last night). Five teams are very much in play for NCAA Tournament bids; the other five are nowhere near the bubble. The only real question at this point is whether SMU (17-3, 6-3 AAC) can avoid a fatal misstep over the course of its final nine games. The Mustangs are positioned well after handily defeating a very good Memphis team in Moody Coliseum last weekend, but have failed to record a quality road win this season. Their loss earlier in the week to USF demonstrated that back-to-back road trips to Rutgers and Temple aren’t guaranteed wins, and losing to either could derail their auspicious NCAA projections.
Rutgers has received letters from attorneys representing three additional players in connection with the Mike Rice scandal, The Star-Ledger reports. The documents, submitted on behalf of current Scarlet Knight Jerome Seagears and former players Dane Miller and Robert Lumpkins, were apparently filed in April, May and June 2013, but were only made public this week following a disclosure request. None of the three have filed suit as of now. Former teammate Derrick Randall also named the university in a lawsuit last December, which is now pending in federal court.
Rick Pitino will have to interrupt the implementation of his new, guard-heavy starting lineup after 6’5” wing Wayne Blackshearsuffered a concussion in practice. Briefing the media ahead of his team’s game against Houston tonight, Pitino said that although Blackshear wouldn’t be making the trip to Texas, he doesn’t expect the junior to be out for terribly long. “I think Wayne’s going to be fine, I don’t think this is a serious concussion,” Pitino said, adding that “we don’t want him to travel because that takes a lot out of you.” After that, the Cardinals, and Blackshear in particular, can look forward to a restorative eight-day hiatus before another road game at Temple. In the meantime, Pitino set about the task of motivating Stephan Van Treese to take advantage of his expanded playing time: “It’s his time to evolve. We need some monster games from him where he grabs 12 or 13 rebounds […] He’s a veteran basketball player who needs to step up, and he’s capable of doing that.”
For SMU’s Markus Kennedy, Saturday began with a career game against a ranked Memphis team, and only got better from there. His mother, Barbara Kennedy, was scheduled to depart for Kuwait on Monday morning on her third deployment as a U.S. Air Force sergeant, and Markus said they weren’t expecting to see each other beforehand. “That was kind of rough on me,” he admitted, oblivious to the fact that his school had secured a waiver from the NCAA to buy the sophomore a plane ticket back home to Philadelphia. Markus’ mom was just as clueless, and his aunt got in on the surprise, organizing a game in which Barbara had to identify family members while wearing a blindfold. The result was pretty awesome:
If you thought that the legal issues around the Mike Rice case were ending soon, yesterday’s announcement that three more players are planning on filing additional lawsuits would argue otherwise. Rice, who is already facing a lawsuit from Derrick Randall, is now potential facing lawsuits from Dane Miller, Robert Lumpkins, and Jerome Seagears. While the four potential lawsuits might seem like a lot there is still the potential for many more players, assistants, and other staff members to join in so there might be a lot more to this nightmare for Rice.
Louisville’s defense of its national title has been much tougher than expected due to a variety of issues that we have discussed in this space multiple times. Now they will have to play without Wayne Blackshear, who will be out for at least tonight’s game against Houston due to a concussion. The timing of the injury is particularly unfortunate for Blackshear as he was just reinserted into the starting lineup. Although the one game absence might not seem like a big deal we have not seen a timetable for Blackshear’s return and as we all know the recovery from a concussion can be variable. With all of the injuries and attrition that the Cardinals have had this year we would normally question how well-equipped they are to make a run in the NCAA Tournament, but we have seen Rick Pitino pull off enough miracles in March to know better than to doubt him.
One of the things that we have often wondered about some of the best sixth men is why their coaches do not just start them. Ken Pomeroy took it one step further and looked at which sixth men play the most and which starters play the least. Although we can understand some of the rationale for why certain players start or come off the bench we are having a hard time explaining some of these splits unless the coach is trying to give a senior player the benefit of starting, but we cannot see how that would not end up being more embarrassing if that starter ends up on the bench most of the game.
We held off on linking to John Gasaway’s Tuesday Truths until this point in the season because we felt that it was simply too early in the season to link to the earlier version, but now that we are done with football season it seems like a good time to take a look. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this analysis it looks at how team’s do on offense and defense in a per-possession basis in conference play. One of the more interesting findings from this week’s edition is just how well Virginia is performing compared to the rest of the ACC. We still are not sold on the Cavaliers, but numbers like this suggest that they might be better than we have been giving them credit for being.
We mentioned Harvard earlier this week in reference to the loss of Kenyatta Smith for the season, but for the most part they have stayed out of the national spotlight this season due to their mediocre schedule and the fact that they did not win any big non-conference games. Still they should be a tough out in March and hence a big national story when the NCAA Tournament rolls around. With that in min Charles Pierce took a look at the Crimson and while there is not anything particularly groundbreaking in it there are few people who write about anything as well as Pierce so it is worth a read.
We have yet to write about what will undoubtedly be the biggest story that South Florida is involved in all season, but now seems like as good a time as any. If you are a college basketball fan or just watch a lot of SportsCenter, you probably already know what happened. On Tuesday night South Florida beat Florida Gulf Coast in overtime when officials ruled that the Eagles’ Chase Fieler had possessed the ball before his last-second shot dropped, despite the fact that replays clearly showed Fieler releasing his shot before the red backboard light went on. The NCAA rule book states that once a player “possesses” the ball with 0.3 seconds or fewer remaining on the clock, the play is over, which is different from the NBA’s rule of 0.2 seconds. Fieler pretty much proved that this rule needs to be changed downward, but don’t blame the referees, they were doing their jobs correctly. Instead blame the NCAA rules committee, which, as CBSSports.com points out, won’t be able to change this rule until at least the 2015-16 season. That said, why does the NCAA even have this rule on the books — couldn’t the referees just rely on instant replay to see if he got the shot off in time? We are AAC bloggers, so we have an interest in seeing the teams in the conference win more than they lose, but even we can admit that the Eagles got jobbed on this one. The Bulls are now 8-2 and keep winning, but they didn’t inspire much confidence last night in a three-point victory over 2-9 Florida A&M.
SMUwon’t officially begin moving into the newly renovatedMoody Coliseum until the team returns home to play Connecticut in early January, but this is nice timing for a Mustangs squad that will be looking to generate excitement for the start of conference play. The uneven play of conference members has only served to bolster opinion of SMU’s dark horse status, but they first need to prove they can beat a team that’s better than Texas A&M. The Mustangs plunked down $47 million for this new arena and it is a big reason why the program appears to be on the upswing and looking to move up in the world. With no major college basketball teams in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, one gets the sense that this is a fan base ready to swell if the the Mustangs win, so now it is on the team and go out and earn that local admiration.
Former Rutgers head coach Kevin Bannon probably thought he was flying off the radar until the Mike Rice scandal broke and all of sudden his name was back in the news as a point of reference. He is now back in the news again, although this time under much friendlier circumstances. This story is a few days old, but The Star-Ledger went down memory lane to a time when men were men and coaches held strip free-throwing shooting contests. For the most part, the now infamous Bannon seems to have mellowed out and is even the Executive Director of the Mercer County Parks Commission. He admits he was “pretty intense” as a coach, which is probably an understatement given the circumstances, but he and his family seem to be at peace with their lives now. This story doesn’t really have a point, I just felt like pointing out that strip free-throw shooting contests have got to be one of the weirdest ways anyone has been fired, because I had nearly forgotten about the strange story altogether.
Although he will remain trapped behind Chris Jones at the point guard position this season, it is only a good thing for Louisville that freshman point guard Terry Rozier is starting to get his sea legs. The 6’1″ Rozier was a beast on the boards against an inferior Missouri State team, corralling eight rebounds and acting as a key contributor in the Cardinals’ win. It would be nice if Rozier was eight inches taller and played power forward, because Louisville is already plenty deep in the backcourt this year. But regardless of where he plays, Rozier’s athleticism will be a major asset for Rick Pitino this year and into the future.
People equate Joe Lunardi‘s name with bracketology, but people outside of the Northeast rarely know that he is also something of a college basketball staple in Philadelphia, where he does radio commentary for Saint Joseph’s. He dropped some quick truth bombs recently when he was asked about Temple, telling Philly.com that the Owls “weakened its best sport, basketball, to a degree, to once again feed a football beast that has been largely unloved for 30 years.” I won’t pretend I understand the ins and outs of what is going on at Temple and its athletic department, but I know enough and trust Lunardi enough to be ticked off by what he is saying. Why does Temple care so much about football? They will never be better than mediocre; they play in a terrible conference; and theywill never be worth all the money the school has sunk into it. Lunardi even points out that the Owls have a golden opportunity to return to basketball glory in a conference with arguably less talent (especially next year), but a much higher profile. Let’s be smart about this and focus on that instead here, guys.
The praise continues to roll in this week for USF forward Chris Perry, whom CBSSports.com named their National Freshman of the Week after he logged consecutive double-doubles in wins at George Mason and versus Alabama. Perry, who is now averaging 9.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game on the season, is the first AAC freshman to claim the title, and joins an exclusive group alongside former honorees Jabari Parker of Duke and Tyler Ennis of Syracuse. Given that he seems to have earned a starting role for the foreseeable future, Jeff Borzello points out that the 6’8” Florida native appears “set to emerge as one of the better freshmen in the American Athletic Conference.”
Memphis fans received some good news when MRI results indicated that starting guard Chris Crawford suffered a medial ankle sprain – rather than anything more serious – against Northwestern State last Saturday. The senior has yet to miss a game in more than three seasons at Memphis, but coach Josh Pastner said Crawford’s status remains day-to-day and it’s possible he could sit out Friday’s contest against Arkansas-Little Rock. The bigger issue is whether he will be fully recovered by the time the Tigers face off against Florida in Madison Square Garden next Tuesday, now that the Gators’ backcourt is returning to full strength. Crawford is averaging 9.7 points per game and is among the top 15 players in the AAC in terms of steal percentage this year.
Speaking of Florida, Sports Illustrated writer Kelli Anderson asserts that Shabazz Napier’s performance against the Gators last week was enough to thrust the UConn senior into the thick of the Wooden Award conversation. In addition to averaging 15.3 points, 7.0 rebounds, 5.9 assists, and 2.1 steals per game, last week the senior point guard became just the fourth player in UConn history to both score 1,000 points and dish 500 assists. Responding to the inevitable Kemba Walker comparisons, Napier credited Walker’s leadership as having a major influence on his own development: “That was the biggest problem I had coming in… I understood only what I needed to do on the court, not necessarily what my teammates needed to do. I didn’t know how to talk to my teammates.” The AAC claimed two of the 10 spots in SI.com’s Wooden Watch this week, with Napier at #5 andLouisville’s Russ Smith listed at #7.
The AAC enters exam week ranked ninth in conference RPI, following a lackluster assortment of non-conference schedules that resulted in few quality wins for the league’s members. RTC’s C.D. Bradley notes that “only once since 2000 has a conference ranked as low as ninth in the RPI sent even four teams to the tournament,” which belies Memphis coach Josh Pastner’s former prediction that the AAC would earn six bids in its inaugural season. Interestingly, Louisville and Cincinnati were among the teams that came out of the four-bid Conference USA in question in 2005, and conference RPI didn’t prevent the Cardinals from making it to the Final Four that year. Bradley identifies Louisville at Kentucky, Cincinnati versus Pittsburgh, and Memphis versus Florida as the most significant of the remaining opportunities for the league to redeem itself.
Shortly after revelations that former player Derrick Randall is suing Rutgers for mistreatment at the hands of coach Mike Rice, The Star-Ledger reports that three other former players have filed notice of possible lawsuits against the university. A Rutgers spokesperson refused to identify the players involved, but said the university’s lawyers had asked the complainants “to clarify their filings,” believing they did not meet certain legal conditions. According to the spokesperson, Randall remains the only player to sue the school at this point.
With a #9 ranking in this week’s Associated Press poll, UConn is back in the top 10 for the first time in two years. It’s hard to believe, but the last time the Huskies were this highly ranked was midway through the 2011-12 season, on the heels of Jim Calhoun’s third and final national championship. The good times didn’t end there for Kevin Ollie’s team yesterday, as Shabazz Napier won his second consecutive AAC Player of the Week honor. Despite scoring in single digits in limited minutes against Maine, Napier’s superhuman performance last Monday against Florida was enough to put him over the top again. Oh, and did I mention that the Huskies are the only remaining undefeated team in the AAC? Not a bad way to start the week. Napier and company will continue building their case as the league’s team to beat if they can take care of business this week against Stanford and at Washington.
College Basketball Talk lists Memphis sophomore Shaq Goodwin among the 20 most improved players in college basketball this season, noting that “on a team with a stable of perimeter weapons, Goodwin’s emergence [as] a presence on the block is key.” In addition to averaging 13.1 points and 6.1 rebounds per game, the athletic big man has improved his field goal percentage from 46.6 percent to 65.4 percent, and among AAC players is second only to UConn’s Niels Giffey in that statistic. On a more intangible level, he’s contributed a degree of toughness and decisiveness to the Tigers that he often didn’t deliver as a freshman.
Just when it may have appeared as though Rutgers had washed its hands of the Mike Rice abuse scandal, reports surfaced yesterday that former player Derrick Randallhas filed a lawsuit against the university in connection with his misconduct. The complaint, filed in federal court last Friday, names Rice and a number of present and former university officials as defendants, including president Robert Barchi, former athletic director Tim Pernetti, and former assistant coach James Martelli. Randall, who received a waiver to play immediately at Pittsburgh this season, is seeking damages for assault and emotional distress, among other things, and his complaint cites “violent screaming, cursing and other humiliation tactics, including the use of homophobic slurs and other shockingly derogatory and discriminatory name calling.” He was one of four players to transfer after Rice’s firing, and is – at this point – the only one to file suit against his former coach. Fallout from the scandal and its aftermath has reportedly cost Rutgers an estimated $4 million already — it’s hard to say how much bigger that figure might get.
As good as USF forward Chris Perry has looked starting alongside fellow freshman John Egbunu in the Bulls’ last two games, coach Stan Heath stands by his decision to not start Perry in five of his first six games. “I guess early on, I still feel like we did the right thing just bringing him along where he can get his feet wet first, and I think it’s paid dividends for us,” said Heath. “It’s made him a little hungrier in practice.” The extra motivation seems to have indeed paid off, as Perry averaged 14 points and 12.5 boards per game in close wins over George Mason and Alabama last week, earning him AAC Rookie of the Week honors. The 6’8” freshman acknowledged that his team is finally “learning to play together,” which is a scary thought for other AAC frontcourts given that Perry and 6’10” center Egbunu are each imposing enough on their own.
Houstonended a two-game losing streak with a decisive 89-58 win over Alcorn State last night, after the Cougars reportedly got “tired of losing.” Star junior forward TaShawn Thomas said his team had become especially frustrated by its tendency to blow leads, a problem that never presented itself as the Cougars more than doubled the halftime margin in the second half against a dismal Alcorn team. It’s hard to say how much we can draw from this game given the poor competition, but it was still encouraging to see highly-touted sophomore Chicken Knowles heat up the way he did. In only 20 minutes of action, Knowles scored a career-high 19 points on 6-of-8 shooting, after scoring only two total points in previous losses to San Jose State and Texas A&M.
With almost a month in the books for the college basketball season we have heard plenty of pundits and even a few coaches weigh in on the new rules. The one person we had not heard from, but were interested to hear from about the new rules was John Adams, the NCAA’s supervisor of officials. Dana O’Neil caught up with Adams, who in our experience has been forthright, and asked him about how he felt about how the rules were being implemented. It may not surprise you to hear that he felt the rules were being enforced properly (at least in the game tape he reviewed with O’Neil), but it will be interesting to see how he reacts to more controversial calls that are made when the entire nation is watching in March.
It took longer than we expected, but yesterday a former Rutgers player–Derrick Randall–announced that he is suing the school and Mike Rice in relation to the abuse Rice unleashed on his players. Randall, who transferred to Pittsburgh, is seeking punitive damages in a lawsuit filed in federal court. According to reports, Randall is also claiming that Rice’s actions were a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act as Randall is claiming that he falls under this category to an undisclosed learning disability. Given the public relations disaster that the school has endured we would expect them to settle out of court rather than let all the messy details of Rice’s time become public.
We are getting very close to the start of conference play (yes, we know that there have been a few conference games already), but it might be too early to jump to conclusions. As Dan Henner points out some coaches have a tendency to see their teams improve either on offense or defense (part 1 and part 2). Obviously some of these trends have to do more with the players on a team (freshmen vs upperclassmen), but it probably has more to do with a coach’s system and how well he implements adjustments. So if your favorite team is struggling right now there may be some hope for the future.
Over the weekend we caught a few games that should probably be significant local rivalries. Unfortunately, many of these games are hurt by poor attendance. Of these games this weekend, we were mainly focused on the Maryland-George Washington game, which turned out to be a highly entertaining finish, but was sparsely attended. As Jerry Carino points out, this was also the case in the Seton Hall-Rutgers game and he has a very good explanation for why that is–timing. If schools want to create significant local rivalries they would be best served to try to get the games to happen at a time when fans would be put in a position when they would realistically consider coming.
Gary Parrish’s Poll Attacks can be biting at times, but are almost always supported by a pretty strong argument. This week’s Poll Attack focuses on Scott Wolf, an AP voter who ranked Colorado and Kentucky ahead of Baylor despite Baylor owning neutral court wins over both of them. This is amusing by itself, but the more interesting aspect is something that Parrish mentions in the column and discussed more in-depth on the CBS Podcast yesterday: people seem to think it is popular to criticize Scott Drew’s coaching. We will admit to occasionally doing it (for his non-existent in-game adjustments), but it serves to point out the fact that popular narratives are interesting confounders when looking at where a team is ranked.
We are used to successful players transferring, but the timing of Dewayne Russell‘s announcement that he was transferring from Northern Arizona just before the start of the season seems very strange to us. Last season, as a freshman, Russell averaged 14.4 points, 3.2 assists, and 1.5 steals per game so we would expect that he will be transferring to a power conference school. Russell’s departure is obviously a big blow to Northern Arizona with its season starting on Saturday, but given the timing we have a feeling that there is more to this story than just Russell having a change of heart.
The start of the season is on Friday, but we are going to go ahead and assume that Providence coach Ed Cooley just wishes this week would end. After potentially losing Kris Dunn to another shoulder injury early in the week, Cooley suspended freshmen Brandon Austin and Rodney Bullock indefinitely for “not upholding their responsibilities as student-athletes.” The loss of Austin will be particularly significant as he was a top-50 recruit coming out of high school last year and had the potential to help ease the load on Bryce Cotton while Dunn recovers. We have not heard a good explanation of why the two have been suspended, but for Providence’s sake we hope it isn’t for very long as they have a fairly challenging schedule early in the season.
Most of the eyes of casual fans watching college basketball this season will be fixed on Andrew Wiggins, but many of the more hardcore fans will be directing their attention to Lexington and the impressive collection of talent that Kentucky has put together yet again. Most people will point to John Calipari as the architect, but as Tim Keown notes Orlando Antigua should certainly be recognized for his contribution. Antigua’s influence and his fascinating story stretch well beyond whatever the Wildcats manage to do this season. With the way that Antigua’s teams have performed and how successfully he has recruited we would not be surprised to see Antigua putting together his own college team in the near-future.
After almost seven months of silence, Mike Rice finally decided to give an interview to Jonathan Mahler of The New York Times as part of a piece that serves to explain some of the reason for why Rice is the way he is, what he has learned from his public shaming, and what he still need to learn. We will give Rice credit for being willing to discuss his troubled past with a reporter particularly one who wouldn’t produce a PR fluff piece for him that many individuals who are publicly shamed want. Our guess is that Rice will eventually get back into coaching, but his best bet is as an assistant coach with his best-case scenario probably being a NBA assistant unless some small school is willing to take a chance on him (and he is willing to go to a non-power conference school).
In August, the NCAA found a case–that of former Marine Steven Rhodes–in which their ruling was so ridiculous that the public sentiment against them was so strong that they actually reversed an awful ruling. The case of Nathan Harries might not generate the same level of controversy that Rhodes’ did, but it might come close. Harris, who spent two years after high school working on a Mormon mission, received a scholarship from Colgate, but will have to sit out this season after he admitted to the NCAA that he played in three church league games. The ridiculousness of the ruling will most likely lead to enough criticism that the NCAA will take a longer look at the ruling (instead of just rubber-stamping the denial) and we suspect that Harries should be eligible in the very near-future.
It is a bit surprising to see a list of college basketball’s Top 30 freshman and not see any of the players from Memphis‘ fabulous recruiting class make the list. In fact, only three players from the AAC made the list at all; Louisville’s Terry Rozier (#24), SMU’s Keith Frazier (#26) and Cincinnati’s Jermaine Lawrence (#27) are the conference’s only representatives. Judging the country’s best 30 freshmen before the season starts is clearly an exercise done for entertainment and debate purposes, so I will humor them and argue that it’s hard to believe that Austin Nichols, Kuran Iverson, or Nick King couldn’t make this list, especially given their importance to the Tigers’ frontcourt this season. Josh Pastner lost a lot of production out of his frontcourt and the trio of freshmen are going to be his best bets to replace some or all of that production. Rozier may be more talented and college-ready, but he will have to scratch and claw for minutes in a loaded backcourt. Nichols and Iverson are good candidates to begin the season in the starting lineup and they will have ample opportunities to prove themselves on the court, which is why I believe one or both of those players belong on any list of top freshmen.
At this point, we shouldn’t be surprised when Louisville coach Rick Pitino shows up on a television program that has nothing to do with basketball and says something that makes headlines anyway. But it was still a bit baffling to watch Pitino call the government “totally dysfunctional” while chopping it up about politics with a couple of hosts from CNBC. It’s not that Pitino shouldn’t be allowed to talk about politics in a televised forum as he is a smart guy with plenty of smart things to say about the government. It was just a bit amusing to watch the CNBC hosts do their best to tie basketball into the political questions they were asking and it was even more amusing to watch Pitino effortlessly weave his experience as a basketball coach with what he thinks should be done in Washington, D.C. There is nothing wrong with trying to garner a little publicity by going outside of the usual channels, it was just odd to watch a man who is gearing up to repeat as National Champions explain to CNBC hosts why term limits for congressmen are important.
If you were looking for reasons why the offseason scandal at Rutgers is going to affect the program less than some might think, look no further than juniors Myles Mack and Kadeem Jack. Without trying to compare the actual scandals, one of the primary reasons that Penn State football was able to rebound so quickly was because the majority of the players banded together and decided to stay with the Nittany Lions. A similar situation has unfolded in Piscataway as players were granted a free release after the school fired coach Mike Rice for verbal and physical abuse and some players understandably left for greener pastures. But players like Mack, Jack, Jerome Seagears, and Wally Judgeall stuck around to, “finish what I started”, as Jack put it. Not only does the return of these four players mean that new coach Eddie Jordan won’t need to start entirely from scratch, it actually means he has a pretty good nucleus of talent to work with as the team enters a new conference. The Scarlet Knights are still probably not an NCAA Tournament team, which makes the decision of those four players to stay all the more noble. In a sport where leadership is important both on and off the court, Jordan now has a number of mature young men to point to as examples of what leadership looks like.
Everyone already knows about the dynamite backcourt trio of Shabazz Napier, Ryan Boatright, and Omar Calhoun. They also probably know about multi-talented forward DeAndre Daniels and the expectations on his shoulders. But if the Huskies are going to return to the NCAA Tournament this season, it will be because some of the team’s newcomers stepped up and made impactful contributions. Kevin Ollie‘s first real recruiting class didn’t garner any national attention or win any accolades, but Amida Brimah, Kentan Facey (assuming he is eligible), and Terrence Samuel will all be expected to play a role on the team this season and their development and early success will be crucial to determining exactly how good this UConn team can be. Brimah and Facey will probably get the most chances to make an early impression because of the team’s stark lack of depth in the frontcourt, but the newcomer most ready to contribute however is George Washington transfer Lasan Kromah. The athletic 6’6″ wing was a double-digit scorer in his career in D.C. and he has all the tools to be a shutdown defender who can guard multiple positions. Ollie has a tough task ahead of him as he tries to find playing time for all of his talented backcourt and wing players without sacrificing too much size, but the added depth and talent are part of the reason why so many expect the Huskies to be back in the NCAA Tournament this season.
Count me among those who aren’t fans of college basketball’s new emphasis on hand-checking. It’s not surprising as every sport is continuously making small tweaks to the rule book that benefit offense in part to make the sport more watchable and exciting, but increased foul calls don’t make college basketball more exciting, they make it more boring. Even the Big 12’s coordinator of officials admitted that players will no longer be able to “guard full-court, man-to-man, in-your-face like we’ve allowed”. Maybe a few years down the road as players get used to the rule and how officials call it, the game will be more exciting and explosive, but I would expect this type of rule to take some time to get adjusted to, which means we will be seeing a lot more ticky-tack fouls called and we will be seeing teams shoot a lot more free throws. Colorado State coach Larry Eustachy astutely pointed out that fans aren’t paying to watch their favorite players foul out of a game and he even brought up Louisville, citing their intense pressure defense as something that will longer be as effective with this new rule. Hooray for the dawn of this new era of offensive basketball…I guess.
In today’s episode of “As The Chane Turns”, suspended Louisville forward Chane Behanan is now bumping into reporters at random Starbucks’ and telling them he is “positive” he will earn his roster spot back. This is rapidly becoming the least interesting college basketball story of the month and hopefully is on its last legs. Behanan is suspended for reasons that nobody will ask about because nobody will answer the question on the record. This isn’t very uncommon in collegiate sports and while the length of the suspension will likely be determined by Behanan’s ability to stay out of trouble for two measly months, odds are, he is back on the team in time for the Cardinals’ conference schedule. Everybody got that covered? Good. Behanan has spoken, now I think we can all let order his chai latte in peace.
One player from the AAC made Gary Parrish’s list of 10 players with big shoes to fill and the player should be obvious to people who watched college basketball last season. Luke Hancock, Russ Smith, and Chane Behanan all had their moments on the way to the National Championship last season, but senior point guard Peyton Siva was the heart and soul of that team, not to mention the team’s best on-ball defender and offensive catalyst. The Cardinals have two really talented options to replace Siva in Chris Jones and Terry Rozier (not to mention Kevin Ware). But Jones seemed to be the more developed point guard and he will get first crack at the starting job. It will be near impossible to impact the game in as many ways as Siva did last season, but Jones is a cocksure competitor with plenty of offensive upside and defensive toughness, so don’t expect too much of a drop-off.
Since we are on the topic of lists, the Bob Cousy Award watch list was released yesterday morning and four of the 45 players listed play for teams in the AAC. No one should be surprised to see Shabazz Napier on the list and no one should be surprised if he ends up a finalist for the actual award when that list is released. Chris Jones from Louisville also made the list without having played even a minute of college basketball which is a tribute to his ability and the wonderful situation he finds himself in entering the season. It wouldn’t be surprising if he ends up being in contention for the actual award when all is said and done. The foursome is rounded out by Memphis guards Joe Jackson and Michael Dixon. It is hardly a stretch to consider both of them lead guards, but if we were to guess at lineup configurations once the season started, we would expect that Dixon and Jackson would spend a lot of time on the floor together with Dixon playing off the ball in those situations. That isn’t to say that Dixon doesn’t deserve a spot on the watch list, it would just be surprising to see both of these players continue to be considered for the award once their roles become more established.
Occasionally you have to break a team down to build them back up again. Or in Rutgers coach Eddie Jordan‘s case, you have to build the team back up because they spent the last three dodging flying basketballs being thrown by their head coach. Yes, there have been issues with Jordan’s supposed graduation, but early indications say that Rutgers has hired the exact right coach to bring the team back from whatever you want to call the offseason. Jordan is an experienced head coach with credentials to be a really good college coach, and most importantly, he isn’t the yeller and screamer that former coach Mike Rice was. Some might read what some of the players had to say during the team’s Media Day and wonder whether they are being a bit overly dramatic, but most should be sympathetic to the fact that these kids faced intense media scrutiny and a constant stream of uncomfortable questions that little to do with basketball all because the university put someone like Rice in charge of its basketball program. It should be hard not to root for Rutgers this season.
The NCAA was picked on plenty today after handing down its not-so strict punishment on the Miami Hurricanes football and basketball programs, but let us add to the fire and briefly touch on the fact that UConn forward Kentan Faceystill doesn’t know if he will be eligible to play this season. Facey is hardly the only college basketball player with this problem right now, but why the NCAA feels the need to drag its feet until the last minute is a total mystery. Apparently, the organization is considering whether Facey should count under its delayed enrollment rule and sit out multiple years plus a redshirt season, or whether they will allow him to play immediately but with only three years of eligibility. All of this because Facey graduated from high school in Jamaica before moving to New York where he graduated from high school again. We aren’t even saying the NCAA is wrong in questioning Facey’s eligibility, we are just saying that the program and the player deserve an answer in a timely fashion, and there is no reason why they aren’t getting one.