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.
Last year’s Armed Forces Classic between Connecticut and Michigan State on an air base in Germany may not have brought the same razzle-dazzle that the original aircraft carrier game in 2011 did, but it was easily the most compelling opening night game last season for any number of reasons. The weird midnight local time tip, the aircraft hangar setting, the wild military crowd in attendance, Kevin Ollie’s first game as a head coach, the start of UConn’s “lost season,” a Jim Calhoun appearance, and yeah, even a pretty good game. Next year’s event seeks to do us one better, as Andy Katz reportedon Tuesday that the 2013 version will be held at US Army base Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, resulting in the first college basketball game to be played in Asia since Ralph Sampson’s Virginia group was about to lose to Chaminade. The participants will be Georgetown and Oregon, with both teams expected to be good next season and hoping to get an early non-conference quality win. Georgetown certainly hopes this trip goes a little better than the last time it visited Asia, while Oregon’s representation continues the Pac-12’s ongoing push to marketing its products on to the other side of the Pacific Rim. We can’t wait.
Speaking of Pac-12 schools in the Beaver State, Oregon’s rival could be coming apart at the seams. Already on the hot seat for a middling 77-88 (31-59 P12) record in five years in Corvallis, Craig Robinson was hoping to have his most talented and experienced team returning intact next season. With the news released on Tuesday that starting frontcourt mates Devon Collier (13/6) and Eric Moreland (9/10) were suspended indefinitely for undisclosed team violations, there is valid reason for concern that the Beavers are facing a meltdown 2013-14 campaign. The good news is that the pair will be allowed to continue their strength and conditioning training as well as summer workouts, so perhaps these suspensions are merely of the ‘send a message’ variety. There’s one thing we can bank on, though. If Robinson doesn’t have Collier and Moreland at his disposal next season, he’d best polish off that financial services resume for a pending move back east.
How about some better news? The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fameannounced its Class of 2013 earlier this week, and the names include some of the all-time greats in our sport. The headliners are 1968 NPOY Elvin Hayes (Houston) and 1975 NPOY Marques Johnson (UCLA), along with six-time NCOY Gene Keady (Purdue) and Villanova national championship head coach Rollie Massimino. Wichita State superstar Xavier “X-Man” McDaniel was also selected, in addition to Tom McMillen (Maryland), Bob Hopkins (Grambling), and a unique team inclusion: the entire 1963 Loyola (Chicago) national champions. That team was notable in that it started four black players on its title team, some three years before the more-ballyhooed Texas Western squad won its Brown vs. Board of Education game against all-white Kentucky. Former Washington State and USC head coach and Nike representative George Raveling was also chosen to the Hall for his work with the shoe company (a “contributor,” they call it). The ceremony will occur as part of the CBE Classic in Kansas City on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. A deserving group.
Among the latte-sipping class, you’ve pretty much arrived if you’re mentioned in The Economist. The high-brow publication from the United Kingdom has long been considered one of the most cogent analytical voices on international economic matters in the world, and particularly so among US policy-makers and business leaders. Rarely do sports, especially college sports, find space on the magazine’s pages, but last week the rest of the world was introduced to Ed O’Bannon and his lawsuit against the NCAA. Many people reading this kind of material are likely clueless about the history and importance of the NCAA, but the tone of the piece again shows how, as a matter of public perception, the organization has already lost the coasts. People all across America still love college sports — the eastern and western edges of the continent included — but the growing consensus among the educated and wealthy concentrated in those areas is that the NCAA is exploiting 18-22 year olds for its unjust enrichment. The O’Bannon case has a long way to go still, but don’t think that the judge and principals involved didn’t notice The Economist’s wandering eye.
Every once in a while Deadspin comes up with some sort of analysis that doesn’t involve genitalia jokes or athletes (and their wives, sorry, WAGs) doing dumb things on Twitter. Last week Patrick Burns wrote up a comprehensive analysis of watching an entire year (2012) of the 11 PM ESPN Sportscenter to see which sports, teams and personalities received the most coverage. There were no surprises at the top of the list, of course, with the NFL (23.3% of all available minutes) and NBA (19.2%) in dominant positions, followed by MLB (16.8%) and college football (7.7%). But perhaps surprisingly given how pigskin drives all the money-making decisions at the school and conference level, Sportscenter spent nearly as much time talking about college hoops (6.8%) as it did on the gridiron. The most talked-about team, as you can imagine that year, was Kentucky (0.9% of all minutes). True, Sportscenter is but a single proxy for the importance of American sports culture, but it’s an important one nonetheless.
In what turned out to be a rough Tuesday in terms of college basketball-related news, a federal grand jury in Alabama unsealed an indictment that alleges former Auburn guard Varez Ward of attempting to throw a game against Arkansas in the 2011-12 season. Ward, a junior at the time, is accused of two counts of sports bribery (or more commonly known as point-shaving) where he allegedly conspired with gamblers and tried to solicit other players to throw the game. (fullindictment here) Ward only played 19 seconds in that contest against the Hawgs, suffering a thigh bruise very early that kept him on the bench for the rest of the game in an eventual three-point loss. Last year the FBI said that it was also looking into a February 2012 game against Alabama where Ward scored three points and committed six turnovers, but that game was not referred to in yesterday’s indictment. According to this report from last year, Ward was suspended by Auburn assistant coaches in late February after another player blew the whistle on him; another teammate originally under suspicion was later cleared. Ward never suited up for Auburn again, but he may very well be wearing the orange (jumpsuit) full-time if these charges stick. He faces five years in prison on each count. We’re not going to get preachy on this issue, but we will refer back to one of the first articles we ever wrote on this here website: This sort of thing happens a lot more than anyone cares to admit.
Meanwhile, more discouraging news from the great state of Alabama came out on Tuesday as Crimson Tide forward Devonta Pollard was charged by local authorities with conspiracy to commit kidnapping related to an April 30 abduction of a six-year old girl named Jashayla Hopson. The details are somewhat murky at this point, but it appears that Pollard may have been assisting his mother, Jessie Mae Pollard, in antagonizing the youngster’s mother who was caught up in a land dispute with her. But this is no trumped-up charge where someone was held against their will for a minute or two — if the allegations are true, Hopson was picked up at her elementary school and held for a full day before being dropped off on the side of a road unharmed. Pollard, his mother, and four others have been charged so far in this crime, with at least one other still pending. What a crazy world we live in.
Ohio State president Gordon Gee has had himself quite a week, as reports of his insensitive comments made in December about Catholics, SEC schools, and Louisville have been making the rounds. The “pompous ass,” according to Cardinals’ head coach Rick Pitino, announced Tuesday that he is taking his volatile opinions into the sunset, choosing to retire from his post effective July 1. Gee says that he made his decision last week during a vacation, feeling that he needed time to “re-energize and re-focus.” Whether he was encouraged to retire or came to the decision on his own volition, the 69-year old president certainly has a fund-raising and bottom line resume that is unmatched within the industry, so if he chooses to continue his work elsewhere, we doubt he’ll have much trouble finding a place to land. He may not want to send any resumes out to Notre Dame, Louisville or any of those SEC schools, though.
How about some better news? One of the problems with the John R. Wooden Classic played every December in Anaheim was that the stature of the lineup often didn’t seem to fit the stature of the name headlining the event. Naturally, UCLA was almost always involved, but usually the three other teams invited were a mixture of solid mid-majors (i.e., St. Mary’s, San Diego State) and some other mid-level programs (i.e., USC, Washington, Texas A&M). It was also just for one day, and it often fell during a period in the college basketball calendar in early to mid-December when viewers were getting much better match-ups during the same period (think: UNC-Kentucky or Kansas-Ohio State). The decision announced Tuesday to rebrand the event as the John Wooden Legacy and merge it with the Anaheim Classic during Thanksgiving weekend is a good one. Although the 2013 field is not great, featuring Marquette, Creighton, San Diego State and Miami (FL) as its marquee names, the four-year cycle of exempted events and ESPN’s coverage will no doubt encourage bigger-name programs to take the trip to SoCal in future years. We’d expect this to become one of the better such events during Feast Week starting in 2014 and beyond.
Finally today, Andy Glockner at SI.comdigs deeply through the KenPom statistical buffet and gives us what he calls “the extremists” — those returning players who are the best of the best in each of a number of key statistical categories. If you can name the top returnee in the nation in shot percentage at 40 percent, more power to you (answer: Wofford’s Karl Cochran), but certainly a couple of these names are on the short list for breakout seasons next year: Oregon State’s Eric Moreland (tops in defensive rebounding percentage at 28 percent); St. John’s Chris Obepka (tops in block percentage at 16 percent); and, VCU’s Briante Weber (tops in steal percentage at 7 percent). There’s more to the article than this, of course, so check it out on a lazy summer Wednesday.
If you threw a dart at a map of the United States and it landed somewhere in the hills of Eastern Kentucky or Southwestern Virginia, then drew a circle around that location with a radius of roughly 500 miles in distance, you’d pretty much have nailed down the ‘fertile crescent’ of college basketball. With powerful and tradition-rich programs like North Carolina, Duke, NC State, Kentucky, Louisville, Indiana, Cincinnati, and Ohio State, along with other well-supported programs like Tennessee, Xavier, Dayton and Wake Forest all within that circle, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that nine of ESPN‘s top 10 rated television markets for college basketball fall within its boundaries. The top 10: Louisville, Greensboro, Raleigh/Durham, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Columbus, Charlotte, Knoxville and Nashville. KC, with Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State, Creighton and Wichita State all somewhat nearby is the only outlier among this group.
You know it’s gotten out of hand if politicians are getting involved, and that appears to now be the case at Rutgers in the latest scandal enveloping the school’s athletic department. Or not getting involved. Or getting involved to say that they’re not getting involved. Whatever. New Jersey governor Chris Christie told listeners on his “Ask the Governor” radio show Tuesday night that he has no plans to intervene in the hiring of new athletic director Julie Hermann. While it’s no doubt true that Christie has much bigger fish to fry than micromanaging every hiring decision at the state university, it’s worth asking whether any senior athletic department staff is paying attention at all (certainly Christie’s political opponents are doing so). The Mike Rice situation followed by the flub with Eddie Jordan’s resume and now this debacle is highly suggestive of an environment where leadership can’t see what they don’t want to see. It’s incumbent on university president Bob Barchi to get this problem fixed, and soon.
The SEC Tournament may seek to reproduce the success that its football and baseball championships have had at permanent sites — Atlanta and Hoover, Alabama, respectively — by moving to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for good following the 2014 event in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Commissioner Mike Slive was careful to avoid saying the word “permanent,” opting instead to call Music City the “primary” site, but the point is that SEC puppet-masters feel that the relatively central geographic location and easy access for large traveling basketball fan bases such as Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and home team Vanderbilt would merit this (as yet unofficial) decision. Can’t say we disagree. The best conference tournaments are generally in a city that really embraces the event every year, and Nashville seems to enjoy its status as a big-time basketball stronghold during the few times it has gotten to hold the event there.
It’s not often we dig into Division II basketball on this site, but it’s also not common for there to be a formal indictment by a grand jury against a player for murder either. San Francisco State wing Decensae White — formerly of Texas Tech and Santa Clara in 2006-09 — was indicted in Georgia on Tuesday for his alleged role in gunning down a rapper named Lil Phat (nee‘ Melvin Vernell III) as he sat outside a hospital where his girlfriend underwent labor in Atlanta. White gained some degree of national notoriety for hitting a half-court game winner against Cal Poly back in February of this season, as the clip was featured on ESPN’s Sportscenter. White and four other men are due for presentment on these charges later this week.
There was one notable bit of transfer news from Tuesday, as Oregon State’s Ahmad Starkshas announced that he will spend the last year of his career at Illinois. He will apply for a family illness waiver to play immediately, as his grandmother is reported to be sick in Chicago. This is a good pickup for John Groce’s squad, as the Illini could use some experienced talent — Starks averaged 10.4 PPG and hit 62 threes last season for the Beavers — to pair in the backcourt with returnees Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand as part of a three-guard set. It may not be a group as talented as last year’s Paul/Richardson/Abrams trio, but it should work well within Groce’s trey-happy system.
Sports Illustrated released its first “Bubble Watch” of the season earlier this week, and seven Pac-12 teams appear on the initial list. As expected, Arizona was the only one to be named a “lock” on the list, and the remaining teams (Colorado, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State, California, and Washington) are listed as squarely on the bubble. The only big surprise is Washington, and while the Huskies got a nice win at California on Wednesday, this is still a team with losses to Albany, Colorado State, and Nevada, all in Seattle.
Also announced earlier this week was the news that Oregon State was added to the 2013 Diamond Head Classic field. This will be Oregon State’s third straight appearance in a made-for-ESPN tournament, following the Legends Classic in 2011 and 2K Sports Classic in 2012. The Pac-12 is no stranger to the tournament, as Arizona just made its mark on the tourney’s brief history three weeks ago. The Wildcats beat East Tennessee State and Miami (FL) in the quarters and semis before pulling out a one-point, comeback victory against San Diego State in the championship game. USC, Washington State, and Utah have been the other three Pac-12 schools to compete in the Diamond Head Classic, so add the Beavers to the growing list.
The Pac-12 had its own rush the court moment last night, courtesy of Oregon staving off a furious Arizona comeback in the final minutes of a Ducks’ four-point victory. What had been hyped all week as the game of the week inside the conference ended up making a pretty good case for itself. The Wildcats opened the contest with an 11-0 run, only to see their lead become a one-point deficit just over three minutes later. For the remainder of the next 30 minutes, the game was all Oregon. Zona would make a mini-run once in a while, but up until their 14-5 run to close the game beginning at the 4:15 mark, this one appeared to be a runaway Ducks’ victory. All was not to be, however, as Nick Johnson turned the ball over before even attempting a game-tying three with 15 seconds left.
Forty-five miles up the road, things were not nearly as cheery for Oregon State on Thursday night. Before its matchup with Arizona State, head coach Craig Robinsonsuspended both Eric Moreland and Victor Robbins indefinitely. Interestingly enough, Moreland likely would have been out for the game anyway with a strained back, but there was a possibility he wouldn’t be officially suspended for the game, so word of it didn’t drop until just before tip-off. The Beavers fell to Arizona State by 10 points, 72-62.