In Hoops We Trust: Blue-Blooded Season

Posted by Joshua Lars Weill on December 15th, 2016

One of the biggest changes in college hoops over the last 10 years has been the rise of several consistently strong mid-major programs to the status of legitimate national title contenders. George Mason first crashed the Final Four party in 2006 with a gutsy, emotional Elite Eight win over #1 seed Connecticut. That paved the way for the rise of Butler (2010, 2011), VCU (2011), and Wichita State (2013), each of which were led by dynamic young coaches building winning programs. Throw in the likes of Gonzaga, San Diego State and Xavier, and the growing parity brought with it added competitiveness and a widening of the NCAA hoops pie. But this year is all about the blue-bloods. Kentucky, Duke, Indiana, Kansas, North Carolina and UCLA are all in the AP top 10 for the first time since 1994. While some of those schools have maintained relevance over the intervening seasons, the simultaneous rise of the Hoosiers and Bruins augurs a shift back to the traditional power programs.

College Basketball Benefits When the Elite Programs Are Elite (USA Today Images)

College Basketball Benefits When the Elite Programs Are Elite (USA Today Images)

The “why” for this trend could very well be recruiting. Kentucky’s John Calipari was the first coach to truly embrace the one-and-done model of recruiting. The theory is basically that if you can gather the most talented players in the country — regardless whether all of them will be headed to the NBA after just one season — you should. Yes, there are challenges with youth, inexperience and with program continuity, but he proved with the 2012 National Championship and four Final Fours in five years that if you recruit the best players, challenge them in practice, and preach selflessness and defense, you can win. Mike Krzyzewski noticed and Duke jumped on board. Roy Williams also has a slew of McDonald’s All-Americans, and Bill Self has never shied away from recruiting one-year talents regardless of whether he plays them. UCLA this season joined the party with a pair of freshman All-Americans in Lonzo Ball and TJ Leaf. So far, Steve Alford‘s accumulation of talent has helped transform a formerly teetering program into the current #2 team in the country.

Conventional wisdom once held that experience trumps talent in the NCAA Tournament. This was the rationale for the VCUs, Butlers and Wichita States of the game. But as major programs blend experienced returnees with those talented NBA prospects, they often overwhelm their less athletic, overachieving rivals. So, does this early trend hold? That remains to be seen. Perhaps those talented freshmen will revert to traditional norms or hit the rookie wall as the long season works its way into spring. Or perhaps injuries will take a toll. Or maybe some of those power programs in smaller conferences will again crash the party. It wouldn’t be a shock. But so far this season, it’s been a feast for the rich. How fat they get we shall know in good time.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Markelle Fultz is Terrific: Will Washington Waste Him?

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 17th, 2016

Last Sunday night in Seattle provided a huge helping of catharsis for the Lorenzo Romar detractors out there. Romar certainly didn’t help his case by bravely taking to Twitter after the game — a 98-90 loss to Yale — to thank the fans. Not so grateful Washington fans responded by asking why the longtime Huskies head coach still has a job. It is hard to blame those fans for their frustration after watching their team shoot almost 60 percent from the field against an Ivy League opponent and still lose by giving up nearly 100 points to a team without its best player. Perhaps the most disheartening part of the result is that it appears the college basketball world will struggle to fully appreciate a potential No. 1 overall pick because his team won’t play many meaningful basketball games. Markelle Fultz was everything people said he would be (and more) in his debut, scoring 30 points on just 17 shots while adding seven rebounds and six assists to boot.

Markelle Fultz has been everything pundits expected, but will it be enough? (Seattle Times)

Markelle Fultz has been everything pundits expected, but will it be enough? (Seattle Times)

Fultz was hardly perfect — he missed four free throws and contributed greatly to the team’s overall defensive malaise — but he dominated the Bulldogs on the offensive end in a smooth and effortless manner. At times it barely looked like he was trying — the freshman would just glide up the court, beat his defender off the dribble and make a shot. East Coast fans with insomnia could do worse than tuning in to watch Fultz work his offensive magic a couple times per week. The problem is that, much like Ben Simmons at LSU last season, Fultz appears condemned to basketball purgatory, sentenced to a season of video game numbers with plenty of losing. That is an unfortunate outcome for everyone who loves college basketball, because the sport as a whole benefits when the best players play meaningful games. Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Where 2014-15 Happens: Reason #26 We Love College Basketball

Posted by rtmsf on October 20th, 2014

Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2014-15 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on November 14. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. For all of this year’s released posts, click here

#26 – Where A Class Act Happens.

We also encourage you to re-visit the entire archive of this feature from the 2008-092009-10, 2010-112011-122012-13 and 2013-14 preseasons.

Share this story

The RTC Interview Series: One on One with NBADraftBlog’s Ed Isaacson

Posted by Walker Carey on June 25th, 2014

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the NBA Draft taking place Thursday night, we thought it would be a good idea to get some input from an expert. RTC Correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the please of speaking with NBA Draft Analyst Ed Isaacson, the founder of NBADraftBlog.com. You can follow Isaacson on Twitter via @nbadraftblog.

Rush the Court: Joel Embiid’s back (and now foot) injuries are the hot topics leading up to Thursday’s NBA Draft. How badly do you see this impacting Embiid’s stock and how would you approach these legitimate concerns if you were a team picking early in the draft?

Ed Isaacson: I do not think Embiid’s drop is going to be as drastic as Jared Sullinger’s (Note: Sullinger was medically flagged due to back issues) was in 2012 when he went from being a top six guy to being the 21st pick. My basic thought is that there is no way Embiid makes it beyond the Lakers at seven – if he happens to still be around then. If you are a general manager who is already on board with taking the risk with Embiid – he had a back problem in high school and had it again at Kansas – is the stress fracture in the foot suddenly going to be the thing that dissuades you from picking him? Once there is more information regarding the surgery and the timetable for his recovery, I think that will alleviate some concerns. I still believe Joel Embiid will be a top four pick.

Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins Will be the Talk of Thursday Night (Denny Medley, USA Today Sports)

Joel Embiid and Teammate Andrew Wiggins Will be the Talk of Thursday Night (Denny Medley, USA Today Sports)

RTC: Andrew Wiggins entered college with a ridiculous amount of hype. He was a very good player at Kansas, but it would be tough to say that he was a superstar. Do you believe his year in Lawrence negatively impacted his pro prospects and where do you see him ending up Thursday evening?

Isaacson: He is still the number one prospect to me. Even when Embiid was healthy, I had more value in Andrew Wiggins. One year in college is extremely tough to gauge a player and the Kansas system is much more different than at other schools. The main concern with Wiggins is the question if he is too passive on the court. The exact same thing was brought up last year in regards to Ben McLemore. I am not concerned. He is still a 19-year-old kid and I think he is going to be an All-Star. I have had him at number one throughout the process and I really think he is the best fit for Cleveland.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Rodney Hood

Posted by Bennet Hayes on June 17th, 2014

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Rodney Hood

School: Duke

Height/Weight: 6’9”/210 lbs.

NBA Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward

Projected Draft Range: Mid First Round

On The Journey From Duke To The NBA, Rodney Hood's Sweet Stroke Should Travel Well

On The Journey From Duke To The NBA, Rodney Hood’s Sweet Stroke Should Travel Well

Overview: It was Hood, not Jabari Parker, who was the Duke newcomer with the highest offensive rating last season (119.8 to Parker’s 111.7), and the Mississippi State transfer also doubled as the Blue Devils’ best perimeter defender to boot. The latter point may not be stating much on a team that finished 116th in defensive efficiency nationally, but Hood projects as a solid two-way player at the next level – something that may not necessarily be the case for his more-acclaimed former teammate. No, we aren’t starting a push for Hood to hear his name called before Parker’s on draft day, but the sophomore’s production to buzz ratio (the PTB?) clearly and quietly outdistanced that of Duke’s All-American. All year long, Hood showered in buckets from everywhere on the floor, shooting 49 percent from two-point range, 42 percent from three-point range, and 80 percent at the free throw stripe. He was also a capable ball-handler and passer for Coach K’s team (more assists than turnovers), and used his plus athleticism well enough on defense to earn Duke’s “Best Defensive Player Award” at the team banquet. His shooting touch may have eluded him at the most untimely of moments last season — he went just 2-of-10 from the field against Mercer in the Blue Devils’ shocking second round NCAA Tournament ouster — but Hood made quite the impression in his one and only season in Durham. He will almost surely be overshadowed by Parker one final time on draft night, but green room attendants should make room for two Dukies, because the 2014 lottery could very likely house both Hood and Parker.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Adreian Payne

Posted by Bennet Hayes on June 12th, 2014

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Adreian Payne

School: Michigan State

Height/Weight: 6’10”/240 lbs.

NBA Position: Power Forward

Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round

On And Off The Floor, Adreian Payne Grew Into A Man During His Time In East Lansing -- Is He Now Ready To Help An NBA Team?

On And Off The Floor, Adreian Payne Grew Into A Man During His Time In East Lansing — Is He Now Ready To Help An NBA Team?

Overview: Four-year college players have found it harder and harder to sneak into the NBA Draft’s first round in recent years, but if you need an example of a player who properly utilized every minute of their four years of eligibility, look no further than Adreian Payne. When he arrived at Michigan State, Payne was a raw athlete on the floor and an at-risk student off of it (his ADHD playing a large role in the latter). Now, four years later, Payne doubles as a polished NBA prospect and a college graduate. A freshman who averaged nine minutes per game and shot 49 percent from the free throw line morphed into a senior who shot 42 percent from three-point range (and 79 percent from the charity stripe), as Payne led the Spartans to within a game of the 2014 Final Four. He posted an offensive rating of 113.5 as a senior (a far cry from the 89.5 rating of his freshman campaign), and put his athleticism to use on the defensive glass in grabbing 22.9 percent of opponent’s misses, the 78th best individual rate in the nation. What Payne lacks in fluidity he makes up for with a violent version of athleticism, often rattling rims with aggressive finishes. Sticking to the theme, Payne’s perimeter jump shot also isn’t the smoothest you’ll find, but on the back of that stroke (as slow as it may be), Payne developed into one of college basketball’s most lethal inside-outside threats as an upperclassman. It’s that rare combination of outside shooting touch and raw strength and athleticism — in a 6’10” man with a hulking frame, no less — that has made Payne one of the most desirable quantities in this draft, even at his relatively advanced age of 23. Will one of college basketball’s most notable success stories make an NBA franchise as happy as he made Spartan nation?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Shabazz Napier

Posted by Bennet Hayes on June 11th, 2014

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: Shabazz Napier

School: Connecticut

Height/Weight: 5’11”/175 lbs.

NBA Position: Point Guard

Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round

Shabazz Napier Dominated The NCAA Tournament. Will His Proficiency Continue At The Next Level?

Shabazz Napier Dominated The NCAA Tournament. Will His Proficiency Continue At The Next Level?

Overview: Shabazz Napier’s inspired NCAA Tournament performance not only netted UConn its third National Championship in 11 seasons, but it also supplied his draft stock with an explosive surge. The Boston native was likely a mid-to-late second round pick if you asked scouts about him before the NCAA Tournament, but after averaging 21.2 PPG, 5.5 RPG, and 4.5 APG on college basketball’s biggest stage, Napier is now a safe bet to be drafted in the first round. The college senior turned first rounder is a rare breed in today’s day and age, but the UConn faithful can tell you that the enigmatic Napier has always been one to shirk convention. The “confident” swagger that propelled Napier to stardom this March wasn’t always perceived as such; as an underclassman, he was seen as brash and erratic, a petulant youngster who struggled when shots didn’t drop or passes missed teammates. He outran that reputation under Kevin Ollie, but that doesn’t mean NBA teams won’t fear a regression to his less mature days. If he avoids such a step back and maintains his spectacular 2013-14 form, one NBA team will have added a gifted floor general to their roster. When it comes to competitiveness and confidence, few players have more of it – in this draft or any other – than Mr. Napier.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC NBA Draft Profiles: T.J. Warren

Posted by Bennet Hayes on June 6th, 2014

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: T.J. Warren

School: North Carolina State

Height/Weight: 6’8”/220 lbs.

NBA Position: Small Forward

Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round

T.J. Warren's ACC POY Season Should Have Him First-Round Bound

T.J. Warren’s ACC POY Season Should Have Him First-Round Bound (USA Today Images)

Overview: For the better part of the 2013-14 season, NC State’s inconsistent results seemed to leave them at a safe distance from the hustle and bustle of the Tournament bubble – a measure of mediocrity that also kept T.J. Warren, the Pack’s bucket-producing star, under a relative veil of anonymity. But a series of March surprises – many of which Warren himself had little part in bringing about — would raise the sophomore’s national profile significantly. First came the surprise ACC POY award (over Jabari Parker), then NC State went out and posted an ACC Tournament upset of nose-diving Syracuse (in which Warren scored 28 of the Pack’s 66 points), a victory that set the stage for the biggest surprise of Selection Sunday: NC State’s inclusion in the 2014 Tournament. Warren’s stellar under-the-radar season suddenly became popular fodder for talking heads in advance of the quartet of First Four games in Dayton, and NC State and their star went out and validated the growing buzz in a first-round victory over local favorite Xavier. It appeared Warren and the Pack’s Tournament stay might extend another round when they held an 11-point lead within the final three minutes against #5 seed Saint Louis, but a late collapse from the free throw line brought a close to an NCAA Tournament appearance that few could ever see coming. Short as their stay may have been, the brief turn that the Pack took in the March spotlight exposed the talented Warren for what he likely was: The best scorer in college basketball not named Doug McDermott. He averaged 24.6 PPG on the season, went for 40+ points in back-t0-back outings against Pitt and BC in early March, and contributed at least 20 points in 31 of his 35 outings. No razzle-dazzle here (another reason for the lack of publicity), but Warren brought offensive production almost every time he stepped on the floor in 2013-14.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Morning Five: 06.06.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 6th, 2014

morning5

  1. Paging Rex Chapman… Two months ago, in the tweet that rocked Big Blue Nation to the core, the former Kentucky star and media presence (he had just finished doing color commentary for the Wildcats on the Final Four Teamcast) unloaded what he termed a #donedeal on Wildcats’ fans. Head coach John Calipari was supposedly going to take the open Los Angeles Lakers job, “win or lose,” as he put it, in the national championship game against Connecticut. Well, either the Lakers job moved to Lexington or Rex hit the sauce a little too hard in the pregame that night, because Calipari on Thursday signed a seven-year extension worth $52.5 million that will ensure Kentucky stays atop the heap for many years to come. After four Final Four appearances and a National Championship in just five years at the helm, and given the size and passion of the Kentucky fan base, the scary thought is that Calipari is still probably quite a bit underpaid relative to the value of the program. Not that he cares about that — he’s quite happy with where he is, in fact, and that’s a good thing for college basketball.
  2. Calipari doesn’t miss out on many recruiting targets, but nobody can bat 1.000 either, and one of the best players of the past several cycles that the Kentucky coach whiffed on was SMU freshman Emmanuel Mudiay. In this SI.com piece on Mudiay, Luke Winn explains that Larry Brown’s appeal for Mudiay to stay close to his family — including older brother Jean-Micheal Mudiay, a rising senior on the Mustangs — was one of the major factors in his decision to commit to SMU. With Mudiay in the fold to lead a team that returns most of its talent from a 27-10 team that was one of the first left out of the NCAA Tournament, SMU is poised to make a major leap in national status next season. 
  3. We mentioned in the M5 earlier this week that a $40 million settlement between EA Sports and a class action of former and current NCAA athletes had been finalized, and now the lawyers and all the highly-paid administrators who handle such things are figuring out who will get what. It probably would have shocked nobody in America if the NCAA (still in a battle with the Ed O’Bannon class action, remember) had gone into full pettiness mode and decided that the minuscule payouts to its current athletes would constitute an impermissible benefit. Full credit to the NCAA for not going there, however, as the organization announced on Wednesday that payouts (which could range from as low as a couple hundred bucks to a couple grand) in no way represent “pay” and therefore will not be in violation of any NCAA amateurism rules.
  4. And now, about that Ed O’Bannon lawsuit. As you have no doubt heard for months, even years now, the case is set to begin on Monday morning in Northern California. Still, how many people can accurately state what the whole thing is about — is it amateurism? Video games? The very core of the NCAA itself? The truth is that there are elements of all of these things, but as with most complex forms of litigation, there are plenty of nuances and considerations beyond the sound bites. SI.com‘s Andy Staples separates truth from myth in a Thursday piece that gives a nice overview (along with a video explanation) of what is really on the line in this landmark case.
  5. With the NBA Finals starting last night, the NBA Draft is just a few weeks away (you hopefully noticed that we’ve been rolling out Bennet Hayes’ draft profiles). But while the players in this year’s draft are no longer eligible to play college basketball, the top prospects in the 2015 draft class will lead our sport next season. SI.com‘s Brian Hamilton breaks down his list of the top 15 prospects who are likely to be high selections in next year’s version, and a few of the names may surprise you. Have a great D-Day anniversary weekend, everyone.
Share this story

RTC NBA Draft Profiles: P.J. Hairston

Posted by Bennet Hayes on June 5th, 2014

nbadraftprofiles

The NBA Draft is scheduled for Thursday, June 26, in Brooklyn. As we have done for the last several years, RTC will provide comprehensive breakdowns of 20 collegians likely to hear their names called by Adam Silver at some point in the draft’s first round. We’ll start with prospects currently slated for the back half of the opening round, but as June progresses we will slowly work our way up and through the presumptive lottery selections. RTC National Columnist Bennet Hayes is tackling this series; you can find him on Twitter @HoopsTraveler.

Player Name: P.J. Hairston

School: North Carolina

Height/Weight: 6’5”/220 lbs.

NBA Position: Shooting Guard/Small Forward

Projected Draft Range: Late First Round

It's Been Over A Year Since P.J. Hairston Has Donned The Carolina Blue. Can He Use His D-League Experience To Boost His Draft Stock?

It’s Been Over A Year Since P.J. Hairston Donned The Carolina Blue. Can He Use His D-League Experience To Boost His Draft Stock?

Overview: Thirteen months ago, everything was looking up for PJ Hairston. He had announced his return to a North Carolina team that was poised to build off a strong second half of the ACC season, a surge catalyzed largely by Hairston’s insertion into the Tar Heels’ starting lineup. He was to be the leader and primary scoring option for a preseason top-10 team, a tough, physical wing who could score the ball in a variety of ways. Last season looked to be a big year for both Hairston and the Heels… and then the summer happened. Camp and popsicles on the summer vacation was not for Hairston, as a series of violations — speeding tickets, marijuana possession, impermissible benefits received – would wind up costing the senior his final year of college eligibility. Hairston’s loss was a major blow for a UNC team that would struggle to find perimeter scoring options all season, but the suspension may not have injured Hairston’s basketball future as significantly. Sure, PJ was probably disappointed to not be a part of this Carolina season, but Hairston quickly moved on to the professional ranks after being ruled ineligible, latching on with the Texas Legends of the D-League in short order. Once in the Lone Star State, Hairston displayed the scoring touch that had made him one of the ACC’s most lethal offensive players, averaging 21.8 PPG (in just 32 MPG) in 26 contests with the Legends. Game to game consistency is still a major concern with the mercurial ex-Heel, but the diversity of Hairston’s D-league scoring (55% 2FG, 2.8 3FG per game, 87% FT) solidified his status as a likely first-round pick in this June’s draft. Hairston’s road to the NBA will have been far more circuitous than it appeared to be a year ago, but PJ is still right on time in arriving at his destination.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story