The non-conference portion of the schedule is now over for the entire group of Pac-12 teams and, aside from UCLA running roughshod over every team it faced, it was a relatively uneventful non-conference season. Some teams scored important wins and other teams showed their weaknesses, but none of the 12 at-large resumes really stand out at this point in the season. To prove it to ourselves, let’s run through where each team stands heading into the 18-game Pac-12 schedule.
Arizona – B+
It’s Unclear Where Arizona is Headed But a B+ Non-Conference Grade is Acceptable(USA Today Images)
Quality wins: Texas A&M, Michigan State
Bad losses: None
Synopsis: The Wildcats would have received an A- except that their best win over Michigan State doesn’t look as good as it would have in most years. That said, the Wildcats posted an impressive 11-2 non-conference record and have done so without the services of arguably their best player (Allonzo Trier) and inarguably their best point guard (Parker Jackson-Cartwright). It would have been nice to steal a win against Gonzaga or Butler, but Arizona has to this point helped its NCAA Tournament chances more than it has hurt them.
Arizona State – C-
Quality wins: None
Bad losses: New Mexico State, Northern Iowa
Synopsis: Bobby Hurley hasn’t been subtle about his desire for more national exposure for his program but the strategy somewhat backfired this year as the head coach has opened more eyes with his press conferences than with his team’s play. The Sun Devils are shorthanded and weren’t expected to contend for an NCAA Tournament bid this season, but the way in which they have been blown out by quality opponents is at least mildly embarrassing. Arizona State’s non-conference performance deserves the low side of the gentleman’s C.
As RTC heads into its 10th season — Season X, if you will — covering college basketball, it’s time to begin releasing our annual compendium of YouTube clips that we like to call Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball. These 30 snippets from last season’s action are 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 Friday, November 11.You can find all of this year’s released posts here.
Sometimes, less is more. Sometimes, there is nothing to be said. After a weekend like the one that just transpired, this is probably one of those times. You saw the games. Or at least you saw the results. I didn’t even see much of it because life gets in the way, and because, let’s be honest, who would mark their calendars to make a point to catch a late Sunday night Arizona vs. Oregon State game? Or Wisconsin against Rutgers at the same time that Peyton Manning is perhaps playing his last football game… ever? I hate to be repetitive, but man, crazy stuff happens in college basketball. And the craziest part is that that crazy stuff often happens at crazy times when you least expect it.
Upsets, Upsets, and More Upsets!
It Was That Kind of a January Sunday in College Basketball (USA Today Images)
The strangest aspect of Saturday and Sunday was that all of this happened on a weekend without many marquee match-ups. Sure, we had two headliner games in the ACC, but many of the results that ended up leading SportsCenter weren’t the focus of the weekend previews. Wisconsin was matching up against arguably the worst team in the Big Ten; Arizona was playing a bottom-four team in the Pac-12; and Duke was playing a middle-of-the-pack ACC squad. All three left with losses, and it didn’t stop there. Kentucky, everybody’s #1 team in America, was pushed to the brink by a Texas A&M outfit that nobody thinks all that much of; and Oklahoma, which might have succumbed to the RTC Podcast jinx (if such a thing exists), looked bad in a home loss to Kansas State. Huh? Overall, six of the USA Today top 10 went down last week – five over the weekend – and two others came very close to dropping their first games of the season. For some – Louisville (at UNC), Texas (at Oklahoma State) maybe even Duke (at NC State) – the losses were reasonable enough for conference play. But for others – we’re looking at you, Wisconsin and Arizona – the upsets were completely confounding. A little less than two weeks ago, Rutgers lost to Northwestern at home, scoring only 47 points; not long after that, Wisconsin beat that same Northwestern team in Evanston by 23. How do you explain that? Some will try by point to the absence of Frank Kaminsky. But you just don’t… you just can’t.
The ACC Bloodbath Has Commenced
It began last Monday night when Notre Dame went to Chapel Hill and knocked off North Carolina and it spilled over into the weekend. There are five ACC teams among the top 20 of the polls, and there really could be five in the top 15, maybe even top 10, but of that group, four already have a conference loss. How do the five stack up? After Virginia’s impressive win at Notre Dame, the Cavaliers have established themselves atop the pack for now (for analysis from South Bend, check out Walker Carey’s postgame takeaways). Duke is probably still a close second despite giving NC State students another insane court rush. But realistically, any of the trio of Louisville, North Carolina and Notre Dame could be third. It seems harsh to punish the Cardinals for a one-point road loss, but Rick Pitino’s team only has one top-40 win at this point (over a puzzling Ohio State team). Then there are the Tar Heels, which just knocked off Louisville but are exhaustingly erratic. Notre Dame of course won at UNC but struggled with Georgia Tech and only has one other quality win on the entire season (Michigan State). For now, I’ll rank this group as such: 3. Louisville, 4. Notre Dame, 5. North Carolina. But I’d be willing to bet they’re in a different order this time next week.
Taking over a program and instilling a new system can be difficult enough on its own. First-year Oregon State head coach Wayne Tinkle must first figure out who on his decimated roster can score. Oregon State’s top five scorers from last season are now gone — including Pac-12 scoring champion Roberto Nelson. So, attempting to pinpoint a key player is a bit difficult when the returning leader in the clubhouse, Langston Morris-Walker, averaged a whopping four points per game.
Wayne Tinkle Takes Over In Corvallis and Expects Early Help From The Glove’s Son (Stephanie Yao Long, The Oregonian)
To add to the woes, there weren’t enough bodies to field a 5-on-5 scrimmage when practice opened in Corvallis at the start of October. Tinkle had just nine of his 11 players available, with one-time practice player Justin Stangel awarded a scholarship during the offseason. There are still questions as to whether freshman guard Chai Baker (who collapsed during a summer workout) and redshirt freshman guard Alex Roth (shoulder) will be able to suit up at all this year.
A blind man could throw darts more accurately than zeroing in on one key body for this team. The smart pick is usually the most experienced returnee, but all players here will have the same learning curve in Tinkle’s system. The next best option: Pick the splashy name. Enter junior college transfer Gary Payton II, the son of the NBA legend and the school’s all-time leader in points, assists and steals. While those shoes are much too big to fill by himself, there is no pressure when the team will likely be a preseason pick to finish last in the conference.
Practices were allowed to formally begin on Friday of last week, and at least one powerhouse program kept the spirit of Midnight Madness alive by revealing its 2014-15 ball club to the fans at the earliest possible date (alas, the 7:30 start time remained intact). North Carolina held its annual “Late Night With Roy” event on October 3, replete with sophomore center Kennedy Meeks lip-synching the Whitney Houston classic, “I Will Always Love You” to his adoring throngs in Chapel Hill. For highlights of a bouncing ball variety, Inside Carolinahas it covered with several of the best plays from the scrimmage. With another week-plus to go until most schools hold Midnight Madness, Kansas is planning on getting its fans riled up with “Late Night in the Phog” this Friday night. According to Adam Zagoria at Zagsblog, a large number of elite recruits are expected in attendance at Allen Field House, many of whom will spend the following Friday night in Lexington at Big Blue Madness. Tis the season for madness, which, after a long offseason, is certainly nice, but part of us still wishes we could drop the ball at midnight all across the country and enjoy a universal festival of college hoops to which everybody adheres.
ESPN of course will be hosting its annual whirlwind tour of Madnesses around the nation next Friday night, and after announcing some of its College Gameday moves last week (including the much-needed flexible scheduling), it revealed on Tuesday that former Oregon State head coach and First Brother-in-Law Craig Robinson would be joining the team of analysts at ESPNU (both at games and in the studio). Per the terms of his termination agreement with Oregon State, Robinson is still owed over $4 million by the university, but his employment with ESPN reduces his annual take on that amount by the difference. Although Robinson surely will take some unnecessary criticism for his association with the lame duck president currently residing in Washington, it sure must be nice to be a losing head coach fired from a power conference school.
Let’s talk about transfers for a bit. Memphis received great news earlier this week when the NCAA granted a waiver to Vanderbilt transfer Kedren Johnson, whowas a nice player in 2012-13 (14/4/4 APG) but was forced to sit out last year by the school due to an undisclosed lapse in judgment. When it became clear that he would not return to the Commodores, he enrolled in Memphis and hoped for the best. His addition to Josh Pastner’s lineup will provide a great deal of stability in the Tigers’ backcourt, as the core of Joe Jackson, Michael Dixon, Geron Johnson and Chris Crawford have all moved on. Johnson brings two years of SEC-caliber experience to the table and can use his elite distribution abilities to integrate several new players into the rotation.
While on the subject of transfers, Alabama has manage to create a hot mess out of a graduate transfer exception involving one of its women’s basketball players named Daisha Simmons. There’s a lot that’s been argued on this topic over the last couple of days, but the long and short of it is that Alabama blocked Simmons’ original request to transfer to Seton Hall (where she hoped to enter an MBA program in sports management) because the school claims that she did not provide the requested documentation of her brother’s kidney issues (he, along with her family, lives in New Jersey). Only after a firestorm fueled by social media basketball luminaries such as Jay Bilas and Dick Vitale ensued, as well as Simmons’ threat to file a Title IX lawsuit over the matter, has Alabama now backed down from its original stance. The takeaway for us here — again — is that way too much power rests in the hands of the schools on the subject of transfers. Coaches can come and go as they please, but players — grown adults, mind you — are imposed by a somewhat arbitrary set of rules designed to protect the coaches and universities. Simmons’ fate will now rest with the NCAA to make the final determination on whether she will be eligible to play immediately at Seton Hall.
Sound familiar? The NCAA has certainly built a reputation for doing things to enrich its schools at the expense of the so-called “student-athletes,” and in light of the O’Bannon decision from earlier this summer, another group of former football and basketball players are taking the natural next step in this litigation. Ten former athletes — football players from Vanderbilt, Tennessee, UT-Chattanooga and Washington, as well as basketball players from Tennessee State and Maryland-Eastern Shore — have brought a class-action suit against ESPN, the four major broadcast television networks, and eight major conferences along with their licensing partners for the illegal use of their likenesses. The lawsuit was brought in Tennessee, but we should expect more popping up around the country sooner than later. In other words, they’re following the money.
From one end of the coaching spectrum to the other, as Oregon State announced on Monday its hiring of Montana’s Wayne Tinkleas its new head basketball coach. Tinkle heads to Corvallis with a solid resume, having led the Grizzlies to three NCAA Tournament appearances in his eight seasons and never finishing below .500 while there. He will inherit a program that has proven to be one of the absolute toughest at which to win in Division I basketball. The Beavers last made the NCAA Tournament in 1990 (!!!), and have not achieved a .500 Pac-10/12 record in over two decades (1993). Further compounding the difficulty that Tinkle will face is that all five of last season’s starters from an 8-10 squad have moved on. Perhaps Tinkle is the guy to finally lead Oregon State out of the basketball wilderness, but it will be no easy task.
One of the starters who left Oregon State this offseason was shooting guard Hallice Cooke, a rising sophomore who logged the second-most percentage of available minutes for the Beavers last season and nailed a team-high 45.6 percent of his threes. Cooke announced on Monday via Twitter that he will transfer to play for The Mayor at Iowa State for the rest of his collegiate career. Fred Hoiberg’s 12th transfer in his fourth season in Ames exhibits again just how well the popular coach has used the free agency transfer market to fill the holes on his roster (UNLV transfer Bryce Dejean-Jones will hold down Iowa State’s shooting guard spot during the intervening year). Although Cooke will not become eligible to play for the Cyclones until the 2015-16 season, his three-point prowess figures to eventually fit very well into Hoiberg’s spread-the-floor offense.
Kevin Ollie wasn’t the only head coach to receive an extension this week, as Xavier’s Chris Mack — a coach who was reportedly considered as a top candidate for several other jobs this spring — signed an extension that will keep him at the school through the 2019-20 season. In Mack’s five years at the school, he’s compiled an impressive 111-57 overall record that includes four NCAA Tournament appearances and two trips to the Sweet Sixteen (2010 and 2012). Although Xavier has had a multitude of excellent coaches over the years from Pete Gillen to Skip Prosser to Thad Matta — it was in no small part due to Mack’s recent success that Xavier was invited to become a member of the new basketball-centric Big East. It will certainly be tough for Xavier to keep a talent like Mack on campus all the way through the term of his new contract, but the commitment is worthwhile for a coach who has proven he has the chops to win at a high level.
Even on a busy Monday of college basketball-related news, the most interesting nugget of the lot may have come from a decision by the State Employees of North Carolina public workers union to allow student-athletes at the state’s 17 public universities to join its collective bargaining organization. Players at schools like North Carolina, NC State, Charlotte and others would be affected, but the bigger picture question is whether this move represents another arrow directed at the disintegrating notion of athletes as amateurs. This of course comes on the heels of the NLRB’s recent decision to classify a group of Northwestern football players as employees with the right to organize its own union, and although any holding in that case would only apply to private schools like NU and others, the sea change is coming whether the NCAA likes it or not.
Wow. It’s today already. Seems like the season just started and all of a sudden the conference tournament is ready to tip off. We’ll have complete coverage of the Pac-12 Tournament from courtside at the MGM Garden Arena beginning today, but in the meantime, let’s make a quick swing around some of the teams that tip off tournament play today. For Oregon State, it has been a disappointing season, what with a tenth-place finish in the conference. But, the Beavers aren’t done fighting yet and they’re putting on a pretty good show of thinking that they’ve got a chance to make some noise this week. Head coach Craig Robinson goes so far as to say that they’re just “a few turnovers and a few foul shots away from being third in the conference.” There’s more to it than that, but the fact is, of their 10 conference losses, six of them have been by two possessions or less. And with a boatload of talent on the roster, there’s certainly a case to be made for the Beavers as the sleeper team this week.
For Oregon State to live up to those lofty possibilities, they’ll have to begin the Pac-12 Tournament by knocking off in-state rival Oregon in what will be the first time these two programs have met up in the now 17 years of history of this conference’s post-season tournament. In fact, while the Ducks and the Beavers hold the record for the most-played series in NCAA men’s basketball history, this will be the first time these two have ever met in any postseason event.
Utah is another team in need of a big showing the Pac-12 Tournament in order to sniff the type of postseason tournament they’re aiming for. While there remains an outside chance that the Utes could finagle an invite by simply advancing to the Pac-12 Championship game, most in the know see them as a team that needs to earn an automatic bid in order to go dancing. And, if they’re going to do that, according to Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune, they’re going to need to lean on their stars – Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge – to carry them. The two leading scorers and rebounders and the team’s unquestioned leaders, they’ve both been strong in their two-game split with first-round opponent Washington thus far. Loveridge has averaged 13 points and 10 boards on 60% shooting, while Wright averaged 23 points, 7.5 boards, three assists and a 67.3 eFG% in their two games against the Huskies.
Our regular season pick’em over here at the Pac-12 microsite is complete, and Connor took home the title with a record of 40-8. Drew finished second at 35-13, with Adam in third at a 33-15 clip. Now comes the fun stuff. Each of us have submitted brackets for the Pac-12 Tournament, and the winner will take our microsite’s automatic bid into the Rush the Court NCAA Tournament Pick’Em. Just kidding, there’s no such thing. But there should be. Each correct first round pick will receive one point, each correct quarterfinal pick will receive two, and so on and so forth. To reference the bracket, click here.
First Round – Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford
Quarterfinals – Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona State
Semifinals – Arizona, Oregon
Championship – Arizona
First Round – Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford
Quarterfinals – Arizona, California, UCLA, Arizona State
Semifinals: Arizona, Arizona State
First Round – Utah, Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford
Quarterfinals: Arizona, Colorado, UCLA, Stanford
Semifinals: Arizona, UCLA
5. Some quick analysis on the above picks: everybody has a difference championship game, but all three of our prognosticators have Arizona as one of the contestants in that game. Connor and Adam are picking the chalk in the opening round today, while Drew is going out on a limb with Oregon State extending the reign of Coach Rob. In the three quarterfinal games not featuring Arizona, Colorado, UCLA and Arizona State are the three favorites according to our panel.
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.
Adam Butler of Pachoops.com (@pachoopsab) joins us as a guest columnist for the second straight year. He took in the Pac-12 Media Day on Thursday.
Pac-12 Coaches Got Their Media Day On Yesterday (credit: P12)
Despite being picked to finish last, Ken Bone did not seem too concerned. He was, however, concerned about his team’s inability to close games last year and he wore a portion of that blame; letting us all know that his team’s lack of composure down the stretch lay partially on his shoulders. Though some of it could be tossed up to luck, for which we consult KenPom. The Cougars were the 345 luckiest team in the country last year. For context, that means there were only two other teams that were less lucky. And to contextualize quantified luck, it’s to say that their actual success (or lack thereof) was below their predicted success and therefore: unlucky. They lost the close ones and the thought is that this trend would normalize and the Cougars wouldn’t, say, finish last. With that and mind, and the return of DaVonte Lacy and Royce Woolridge, Bone thinks he might have something a little better than the cellar cooking.
Craig Robinson jumped right in to things by telling us about how much more frontcourt depth he’s going to have. He did mention the other guy on stage with him, Roberto Nelson (18/3/2), then dove right into the return of Angust Brandt and Daniel Gomis, a player who’s been on campus for three years with nary a game played. CRob was re-introducing us to more than 13 additional feet of frontcourt to be added to Eric Moreland (more later), Devon Collier, and Olaf Schaftenaar. Big Beavers. So on to Moreland. According to Robinson, he’s irreplaceable; which makes it really difficult when he’s suspended for the season’s first 14 games. So how do you replace the irreplaceable? Well you put a positive twist on it, elevate the roles of a few peripheral guys and say, “What I think is going to happen is we’re going to have more tools in our toolkit to use once Eric does come back.” I liked that and I also liked that, when asked about impact newcomers to the Pac-12, Robinson didn’t bother (much) on Aaron Gordon or Jabari Bird. He told us about his new guys: Cheikh N’diaye, Malcolm Duvivier, and Hallice Cooke. Good for you, coach.
His first year in Utah was “survival.” He’d brought in something like 12-if-not-more newcomers and he just needed to survive. That year the Utes were in the conversation for worst High Major team of all time. Like I said, Larry Krystkowiak called it survival. And then there was last year and now we find ourselves here. Drake might call it starting from the bottom but I won’t soon put the Utes at the top (which is what I assume Drake implies through his lyrics and that he’s not a middling Pac-12 team). “I think that playing hard is a talent,” Larry K said. And it was that level of talent he’s had to rely on. But now he’s starting to see an influx. His culture hasn’t changed but there may be “a few more stars behind their name.” Insinuating that K thinks he just might have a slightly more talented squad and some higher expectations for where his team could go. And if nothing else, he claims to have a deep squad. Something he’ll use to exploit their distinct altitude advantage. That high up he wants to run people out of the gym with their depth and altitude aptitude. And if nothing else, he can rely on all-freshman performer Jordan Loveridge for survival. A young man K has asked to be a leader, “[Coach Krystkowiak] challenged me to lead more verbally.” We know the Utes are high up, but are they up for the challenge?
The drumbeat of pay-for-play continues echoing through the chambers of college athletics. The latest and greatest: Jay Bilas tweeted out an article last night called “Money Madness: Why and How NCAA Athletes Should Be Paid” from Duke Political Review, a piece that probably wouldn’t have otherwise been seen by anyone beyond a small group of policy wonks. Zach Gorwitz argues that the free market should allow for college football and basketball programs to pay its players a reasonable salary beyond the cost of a full scholarship — he suggests $10,000 to $60,000 for football players, as an example — limited by an NCAA-wide salary cap and organized through negotiations with a players’ union. It’s an interesting idea, for sure, if for no other reason than it provides specific ideas beyond the “they should be paid without consideration of cost” crowd. Expect more. This is only just beginning. Meet Jeff Kessler.
Wake Forest is one of the forgotten schools in the new-look ACC. Aside from a single Orange Bowl trip in 2008, the Deacs are not a regular football power like Clemson or Florida State; nor are they a basketball power like Duke or North Carolina (or Syracuse; or Pittsburgh; etc.). Since a brief but halcyon stretch in early 2009 when Wake hit #1 in both major basketball polls, it’s been mostly downhill on both the hardwood and gridiron ever since. The football team hasn’t had a winning season in five years and the hoops program has reached a level of moribundity under fourth-year head coach Jeff Bzdelik that it hasn’t seen in nearly three decades. As such, Wake alumni and fans are none too happy with their athletic director, Ron Wellman. After sowing their oats with an anti-Bzdelik billboard/publicity stunt at last year’s ACC Tournament, they are now planning to attack this coming weekend with a an aerial banner assault circling over the school’s football stadium during a game with NC State. The details, should you choose to consider them, are posted on a public Google Doc that was sent to us by a concerned Twitter follower. Best of luck with your endeavor, Wake fans. You are a forlorn lot.
As we mentioned on the national site, Oregon State’s Craig Robinson announced suspensions on Tuesday for two of his most prominent returnees, Eric Moreland and Devon Collier. For unspecified internal reasons, Moreland will sit out half of the team’s regular season games (14), while Collier will only miss one. The two forwards represent the bulk of the Beavers’ returning frontcourt this season (with both players averaging more than 25.0 MPG), and thus their benchings is quite the gamble for a head coach who might be on the hottest seat in all of major D-I college basketball. Moreland in particular is an elite rebounding presence, ranking fifth in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage last season (27.5%) and more than holding his own on the offensive window (10.5%). Luckily for Robinson, he expects to have both back at full strength in time for the bulk of the Pac-12 season in early January, and the non-conference schedule other than a trip to Maryland and a mediocre field at the Diamond Head Classic does not appear terribly daunting.
One of the players that Robinson had hoped to have returning this season was former guard Ahmad Starks, a 5’9″ whirlwind of a player who took care of the ball, made free throws, and knocked down long-range shots for the Beavers. The Chicago native headed back east in May to play at a school closer to his ailing grandmother, hoping that the NCAA’s transfer exception would allow him to play immediately at his new, closer destination. He ultimately decided to play for John Groce at Illinois but, according to ESPN’s Andy Katz, the NCAA on Tuesday denied his waiver, citing the distance in mileage from Champaign to Chicago (roughly 135 miles) as too far to justify the exemption. It’s been somewhat rare for the NCAA to deny these waiver requests, so this is a peculiar turn of events given that Starks is realistically only a couple-hour drive away from his grandmother. Katz cited a “100-mile” standard that perhaps signals that the NCAA is going to use for future adjudications of these decisions, which although an arbitrary distance, would still create some much-needed clarity to the rule. Let’s see if they stick to it in future iterations of this decision. Tough break for Illinois too, seeking to replace much of its backcourt this season after the losses of Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson.
Although we still find preseason material to be a bit too early for prime time on this early October date, that hasn’t stopped the college hoops writing cabal from putting in some work. We’ll mention some of the more interesting items as we get closer to the traditional time for Midnight Madness in a couple of weeks, but here are a couple of things you should see now. First, The Dagger‘s Jeff Eisenberg released his preseason Top 25 yesterday, with his top five, in order: Kentucky, Louisville, Duke, Michigan State, and Kansas. For each team he lists both their best-case and worst-case scenarios, and by our count, he lists those five teams as the group with enough upside to win the national title. Over at Sporting News, Mike DeCourcy lists seven key players who have something to prove this season. As always, the dreaded slideshow format is mitigated by strong writing and analysis by the longtime hoops scribe. Give both a look.