It’s now been about 10 days since the beginning of practices around the nation and you have to figure that coaches have started to get a sense as to what kind of team they’ll be able to put on the floor this season. But running against yourself only gets you so far by way of learning about your squad, so the NCAA allows coaches to set up so-called “secret scrimmages” between Division I schools so long as nobody other than the competitors are invited and nobody ever talks about them. CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Goodman has mined his sources to put together a list of non-games for the next week and there are a few of which we’d like to see some surreptitious 47%-style tape released afterward — a Xavier-West Virginia battle on Saturday; a Georgetown-North Carolina tilt as well as a Creighton-Iowa contest on Sunday; and, a Stanford-St. Mary’s game late next week. How about we just tip off the season this weekend instead — these are good games!
One of the few teams in America who would probably be better off from a competitive perspective playing five-on-five in its own gym rather than schlepping around to find its match is Louisville. Seth Davis reports from his time spent observing the Cardinals, and after describing in detail why he thinks that Rick Pitino truly is having the most fun coaching that he’s had in years (perhaps decades), he believes that Louisville brings back enough heart, defensive scrap and offensive firepower to make a return trip to the Final Four in 2012-13. While it’s true that outside shooting is probably going to remain a problem area and the Cards are prone to injuries, we really can’t disagree with him. With a healthy Wayne Blackshear and the continued improvement of Chane Behanan, we feel that Pitino’s offense will be quite a bit more fluid than the train wreck they often put on the floor last season.
If you had to pick one college basketball team that was the most influential — not necessarily the best, mind you — in the history of the game, who would it be? The 1966 Texas Western team that shocked all-white Kentucky and blew off the doors of the stereotype that black players were undisciplined and couldn’t play championship basketball? Perhaps the undefeated 1976 Indiana Hoosiers, the last team to run the table with an undefeated season and become the archetype for “perfect basketball” forever more? These teams and many others are considered in Alexander Wolff’s latest SI piece examining this very question. His choice: the 1964 UCLA Bruins, John Wooden’s first national championship team, a group that shocked the college basketball world in how it redefined how the very game was played (did you know that this unbeaten team wasn’t even ranked in the AP Top 20 to begin the season?). It’s an interesting read, and one frankly we find more compelling than the tired debates over which teams were “better,” an impossibly futile question to answer.
If you’re a college basketball junkie who loves mid-major hoops, you may want to considering finding the NBC Sports Network on your cable or satellite package this season. The network will show more than 50 games this season, but the majority of those will involve teams from four non-power leagues — the Atlantic 10, the Mountain West, the CAA, and the Ivy League. It is also the only place to find realistic television coverage of the Battle 4 Atlantis Tournament in the Bahamas (apparently something called AXS.tv will cover two quarterfinal games), which for our money is by far the best of the various preseason tournaments this year — VCU, Duke, Memphis, Louisville, Northern Iowa, Missouri, Stanford and Minnesota will all be there this year. The network will also show both semifinals and the championship game of the CAA Tournament next March.
Finally, we’ll end with injury news. If you still have some college eligibility left and possess some semblance of a passing game and floor leadership at the point guard position, give Seton Hall head coach Kevin Willard a phone call. His only legitimate point guard, sophomore Aaron Cosby, has sprained the PCL in his right knee and will be out of action for the next four to six weeks. Although the news could certainly be worse, entering the first month of the season and facing games against the likes of Washington, LSU and Wake Forest prior to the semester break isn’t exactly a recipe for winning without someone to run the offense.
Over the next couple of week’s we’ll be checking in with each of the high mid-major leagues as to their mid-summer offseason status. Up next: the Ivy League.
Michael James is the RTC correspondent for the Ivy League. You can also find his musings on Twitter at @mrjames2006 and @ivybball.
When the final horn sounded, Harvard had finally claimed the Ivy League’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament, sending it back to the Big Dance for the first time since 1946. There would be no rushing of the court, no cutting of the nets. In fact, the Crimson team was nowhere to be found. In a situation that can only happen under Ivy League rules, Harvard grabbed its automatic bid by watching one league rival (Princeton) knock off another (Penn). If the result had gone the other way, there would have been a one-game, winner-take-all playoff between the Crimson and Quakers at Quinnipiac University on Conference Championship Saturday. It was the second straight year that the title chase had come down to the final game, as Princeton won at Penn the season prior to earn a playoff against Harvard, from which it emerged victorious, grabbing the Ivy bid.
Harvard Finally Broke Through to the NCAAs Last Season (AP)
With the way the 2012-13 campaign is shaping up, there’s plenty of reason to believe that the Ivy League might just go 3-for-3.
Three Key Storylines
Roster Flux – With nearly half of the 2011-12 All-Ivy spots going to graduating seniors, the league had hoped to weather the storm with the return of several key players that missed most or all of last season with injuries. Brown will see 6’8″ forward Tucker Halpern return to the lineup, while Cornell gets back 6’6″ forward Errick Peck. Penn will finally get to see the much heralded forward Greg Louis, who missed his entire freshman season with hip surgery. That’s the good news. The bad news, though, is pretty bad. Columbia had hoped that 2010-11 All-Ivy First Team guard Noruwa Agho would take a second crack at a senior season, but he has opted not to return. The surprises weren’t limited to injury-related situations either. Brown’s roster release came with a huge surprise, as center Andrew McCarthy was dropped from the roster prior to what would have been his senior season.
Conference Tourney Debate – The Ivy League remains the only Division I basketball conference to hand its NCAA berth to its regular season champion, rather than deciding the bid via a postseason tournament. For a while this offseason, that distinction looked to be in serious jeopardy. The eight Ivy coaches unanimously supported a proposal that would have brought the league an eight-team tournament in exchange for each school dropping one non-conference game from its schedule every season. The eight athletic directors wasted no time in shooting down the proposal before it could even take the final step to the Ivy presidents. For the Ivy ADs, the trade of a game for a tournament missed the point, as they cited the philosophical belief in the superiority of the true round-robin in deciding a champion as the reason for rejecting what had been the most serious attempt at instituting a conference tournament in quite some time.
What Goes Around, Comes Around – When Penn lost Fran Dunphy to Temple in 2006, its exhaustive search for a new head man led it to another institution within its own league, as the Quakers poached then-Brown coach Glen Miller. This offseason, that move came full circle – sort of. Miller is long gone from Philly, fired just a month into the 2009-10 season, but Mike Martin, a Brown alumnus and one of the assistants Miller brought along with him from his previous stint in Providence, remained on with the Quakers even after his former boss’ departure. So, when Brown jettisoned Jesse Agel following an 8-23 campaign, the Bears made Martin a high priority target. It took Brown until the beginning of June to decide on its choice, but the result was bringing Martin back to his alma mater and handing him the keys to a program that has been on a steady decline since Craig Robinson took the squad to the CBI Tournament in 2008.
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.
What made Syracuse look so beatable in the past three games? Perhaps the answer is as simple as we thought, and Orange big man Fab Melo is just that important to the team’s success. He returned on Saturday and the Orange completely ran St. John’s off the floor in a performance worthy of a number one team. Meanwhile, Indiana and UNLV each split their two-game schedules full of tough road matchups. Murray State continues to cruise along undefeated and is getting closer to its big matchup with St. Mary’s. Let’s see how each team got it done this week:
Michael Carter-Williams Had the Memorable Highlight from Syracuse's Dominant Win Last Week (AP Photo)
Trending UP Because… – They put together perhaps their best performance of the season on Saturday by scoring nearly 100 points on the road at St. John’s in their only game of the week. Center Fab Melo returned from suspension for the game and had a solid individual performance (14 points, two blocks, 5-6 shooting), but it’s the collective play of the team’s defense and transition offense that is more telling of his impact. The Orange (23-1, 10-1 Big East) held its opponent to 38% shooting on two-point attempts, whereas they were allowing an average of 44.4% in three games without him. Melo was on the receiving end of several lobs in transition as the team consistently found easy offense in the 95-70 win. The Cuse look to have their swagger back and will try to keep up this strong form with two home games this week.
This Week’s Key Cog – Michael Carter-Williams. This week was a reminder of how truly deep this team is. Carter-Williams is a McDonald’s All-American freshman averaging just 12 minutes per game this season, and he looked like the best player on the floor during his 17 minutes against St. Johns’s. The frosh had 13 points on 5-6 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, and just one turnover in limited playing time.
Talking Point – Melo talked about his return to the team after a three-game suspension: “I had fun. It felt good to be back on the court with my teammates. I felt a little rusty and I wanted to do everything at once but Coach told me to slow down and I did.”
Coaching Legend – Jim Boeheim continues his ascent up the coaching wins list. Saturday’s victory was the coach’s 879th career victory, tying him with Dean Smith for third all-time. The only men ahead of him are Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski, with Knight’s 902 victories a very passable number next year.
Stats Central – Although Kentucky owns a near unanimous top ranking, the Orange have the far more impressive overall resume. If the season ended today (which, of course, it doesn’t), then Cuse would be the top overall seed of the NCAA Tournament, boasting the #1 RPI ranking and 12 victories over RPI Top 100 teams. Kentucky has seven Top 100 wins, by comparison.
What’s Next? – Syracuse has two tough opponents this week, but both games are at home. First comes rival Georgetown on Wednesday (7:00 PM ET, ESPN), followed by struggling Connecticut on Saturday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). The Hoyas look like the second best team in the Big East right now, and the Huskies could be playing for their postseason lives come this weekend. It’s never easy against these talented conference rivals.
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
Trending EVEN Because… – They did lose last week to a team in the mid-70’s of the RPI, but it was a two-point loss in Laramie against tough conference foe Wyoming. The Rebels had several chances to tie or win the game on their final possession of the game, and we can’t knock the team very much for this tight road game. They also easily disposed of Colorado State earlier in the week at home. UNLV (21-4, 5-2 MW) remains in good shape in the Mountain West and has a huge matchup coming up on Saturday.