Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.
The word entered the college basketball lexicon long enough ago for it to be a household term nowadays, but there is still something very fresh about the “havoc” being created down in Richmond. Shaka Smart coined the term years ago to describe the manic brand of hoops his VCU teams employ, and Thursday night proved the catchy maxim apt once again, as St. Joseph’s couldn’t stand up to the “wide and general destruction” (the definition of havoc, per Merriam-Webster) caused by the Rams.
VCU’s Fan Base Is Only Getting Larger…
If havoc doesn’t do it for you, we can just go with relentless. VCU found a way to come back from four down with 15 seconds to play, tying it with seven ticks left, and then forcing Carl Jones (21 points, five assists) to cough it up on the final St. Joe’s possession. There was no doubt that momentum was on the Rams side entering the extra period, and overtime was a five-minute display of everything Shaka Smart prides himself and his players on. St. Joseph’s had more turnovers than field goals in OT and looked completely out of gas, to the point where Phil Martelli’s bunch simply stood and watched as VCU, up eight with a minute to go, dribbled out the entire shot clock. Standard game theory would have suggested an early foul in an effort to extend the game, but too many hands on knees dictated action here — the Hawks simply couldn’t stand any more of the havoc.
The Good: Charlotte is one of three teams still undefeated in conference play. Neither win was against a conference powerhouse, but both were good signs. Beating La Salle at the Holton suggests they will do well at home, while taking their road game versus Rhode Island was a sign that they should be able to win games there as well.
The Bad. Temple’s loss to Xavier will not preclude the Owls from drawing an NCAA bid, but it makes the conference-wide bid picture, expected in the preseason season to be five, possibly very murky. The preseason NCAA short list included Saint Joseph’s, Xavier, Butler, VCU, Temple and Saint Louis, but poorer than expected non-conference results for Saint Joseph’s and Xavier seem to have pared that list. Xavier’s win over conference rival Temple may boost morale among the Musketeers’ faithful, but it undercuts the prospects for Temple (who has a very poor outing versus Duke on it’s resume), one of the stronger prospects on conference’s shrinking list.
The Ugly: Saint Bonaventure was not expected to perform at the same levels as the Andrew Nicholson-led teams, but the double-figure road loss to rebuilding George Washington lowers the ceiling on the Bonnies’ prospects for this season. That was a game they would have won last year (and the year before). This is a larger-than-expected step back for the program.
CBS Sports named two A-10 players to their mid-season Top 50 Impact players. Butler’s Rotnei Clarke, a senior guard who transferred in from Arkansas and sat last season, was ranked #42 with the comment “Best shooter in the country?” Treveon Graham, Virginia Commonwealth’s sophomore guard, was ranked #45. Recognized as a integral part of VCU’s Havoc defense, Jeff Goodman went on to comment “Makes plays at both ends of the floor.” The list, a collaboration by CBS Sports’ four basketball beat writers — Jeff Goodman, Gary Parrish, Matt Norlander and Jeff Borzello — focused on the 50 players who they felt had the greatest impact on the first two months of the college basketball season.
Rotnei Clarke May Be The A-10 POY If The Season Ended Today, But Will Miss Time With An Injury. (AP)
Conference play opened last week with every team playing twice before the end of the first weekend. While the top – and bottom — of the power rankings remains largely unchanged from the end of December, there is some shuffling within the middle eight.
Butler (14-2, 2-0) – A 2-0 start to conference play has extended the Bulldogs’ winning streak to 11. The run is jeopardized by guard Rotnei Clarke’s neck injury, sustained when the senior was fouled as he completed a layup at the end of a breakout play in Butler’s 79-73 win over Dayton. A day-after MRI showed no spinal fractures (or other damage), but Clarke will be held out of the Bulldogs’ next two games (Richmond on Wednesday and Gonzaga on Saturday), pending a medical review. The Butler team doctor took issue with NBC Sports Network which had a crew covering the Dayton game. The crew overzealously opened a nearby microphone and broadcast the injured player’s conversation with attending medical staff, an act Dr. Thomas Fischer contended that was intrusive and unethical. Dr. Fischer will determine when Clarke can return to play. Richmond, without junior Derrick Williams, will be hard pressed to match the Bulldogs’ front court contingent, but Gonzaga, ranked #8 by the AP, could prove to be a very difficult opponent. Freshman Kellen Dunham, sophomore Alex Barlow and senior ChaseStigall will have to take up Clarke’s scoring contribution for at least the next week. Given Clarke’s contribution is 16.5 per game, that will be a task bigger than the collection can probably handle. Read the rest of this entry »
Another Saturday, Another Scalp: Reeling from an inexplicable 10-point loss to Canisius (72-62) on December 19, Temple bounced back with a stunning 83-79 upset of #3 Syracuse, all the more surprising given that it happened in the confines of Syracuse’s “second home”, Madison Square Garden, on December 22. The Orange, notorious for not leaving the state of New York before the start of conference play, were unable to contain Khalif Wyatt and sophomore center Anthony Lee as both scored career-high points. Wyatt, a slasher who can play either guard spot in addition to the small forward was a perfect 15-of-15 from the line on the way to scoring 33 points. Lee was manhandled by Duke’s Mason Plumlee two Saturdays before, schooled fellow Philadelphian Rakeem Christmas and his teammate James Southerland to grab nine rebounds to go with his career-high 21 points. Butler traveled to Nashville the next Saturday and housed the Commodores of Vanderbilt by 19 points, 68-49. The Bulldogs’ backcourt paced the team with 40 points (Rotnei Clarke – 22, Kellen Dunham – 12, Alex Barlow – six) while Khyle Marshall missed a double-double by a single point (nine points and 11 rebounds).
Versus Other Conferences
With nearly 98% of the non-conference schedule on the books (as of January 1), the Atlantic 10 has compiled an outstanding 64.3% winning percentage (126-70). Bettering their 2011-12 winning percentage of 62.6% (107-64), the conference posted a number of superb wins over power conference teams in the process.
The mark is not without a few blemishes, especially with respect to the seven power conferences where the A-10’s conference-wide record declined over their mark last season. Especially disappointing was the conference mark versus the ACC (3-10, 0.231) and Big East (6-11, 0.353). While they continue to dominate against those non-power conferences with whom they share a similar profile (the CAA, Mountain West, Missouri Valley, West Coast Conference, and Western Athletic Conference), the overall record masks losing records versus the Missouri Valley Conference (3-4, 0.429) and the West Coast Conference (1-3, 0.250).
The teams largely wrap up non-conference play over the mid-winter break, with only a few standings-changing games on the last and this week. Games/records are through January 2.
Butler (9-2, #18 AP) – The defense of 2011-12 is starting to round into form for the Bulldogs. Coach Brad Stevens’ squad has allowed opponents on average 0.93 points per possession in the six (Division I) games since their loss to Illinois on November 21. After five starts, freshman Kellen Dunham returned to his sixth man role and appears to be thriving. If Player of the Year polling commenced today, transfer Rotnei Clarke would garner more than a few votes outside of Indianapolis, but as much as the newcomers (Clarke and Dunham) have sparked the Bulldogs, the contributions of the front court, Roosevelt Jones, Khyle Marshall and Andrew Smith are key. Though not the focal point of the offense, Smith and Marshall are a devastatingly efficient combination, contributing over 1.1 points per possession on offense while hauling in over 12% of the offensive rebounds apiece when they are on the court. Butler will host Penn and New Orleans before opening conference play on the road against Saint Joseph’s (see below) on January 9. Read the rest of this entry »
Before the 2012-13 season kicked off, the Atlantic 10 seemed poised for a banner campaign. The offseason additions of VCU and Butler meant that eight A-10 teams harbored legitimate NCAA Tourney hopes, and even the most level-headed of prognosticators would have admitted that the conference seemed likely to match or improve upon the four NCAA bids it earned last season. All was rosy back then, but unfortunately for A-10 enthusiasts, little has gone to script thus far. The non-conference slate simply has not included the signature victories necessary for that surplus of NCAA Tournament bids to appear in March, and a number of A-10 powers have experienced unexpected struggles. One of the few marquee victories the conference can lay claim to is a St. Joseph’s victory over Notre Dame at MSG, but the Hawks have gone just 3-3 since, and hardly looked the part of the conference favorite (as they were selected by the media before the year) again tonight, as they fell 65-61 at Villanova.
Phil Martelli’s Group Could Have Used a Win Over Villanova
A loss at the Pavilion (in a rivalry game nonetheless) is hardly a reason to call off the season, but early results have indicated that this is an unusually weak Villanova team, as the Cats had already dropped two games to A-10 opponents (La Salle and Temple), and even more damning, been pasted at home (losing by 18) by the Ivy League’s Columbia. A familiar cliché advises you to “throw out the records” in a rivalry game, but for a St. Joseph’s team with significant preseason buzz and real NCAA Tournament hopes, I don’t think you should be shuttling to the trash can — this was a game they should have won.
Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
Many of the power conference teams hit the road for the very first time this weekend, so we should start to get a real sense of where teams stand early in the season. With a little less college football going on this weekend, you should make some time to catch a few games. Let’s get to the breakdowns.
Tennessee at #16 Georgetown – 6:30 PM EST, Friday on ESPN (****)
John Thompson III Has His Hoyas Exceeding Expectations (Getty)
Tennessee heads to Georgetown for its first true road game of the season. Like many of the games this past week in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge and now the Big East/SEC Challenge, we are going to get a true indication of where a lot of teams stand. While the Vols are 4-1, they lost their toughest test against Oklahoma State. They face a Geogetown team that is extremely long. The Hoyas start four players who are at least 6’8”, while the “shortest” player, 6’2” guard Michael Starks, is their leading scorer. Look for the Hoyas to take advantage of their size and shoot a lot within the paint. Georgetown currently shoots 56% from inside the arc while the Vols rank 106th in the country in two-point defense. Also, keep a close eye on free throws. With this game looking like it’s going to take place inside the arc, free throws will be a key to victory. The Hoyas are struggling to get to the line and it caught up with them in their recent overtime loss to Indiana. On the other hand, Tennessee is ranked in the top 25 nationally in free throw rate. The team that gets to the line more and sinks its free throws should be the winner in this contest.
Baylor at #8 Kentucky - 12:30 PM EST, Saturday on CBS (****)
Kentucky and Baylor are two teams in desperate need of a good win. Kentucky is coming off a beating on the road at the hands of Notre Dame. As coach John Calipari discussed in many of his preseason press conferences, the Wildcats are not consistent on offense or defense. As soon as you think they are coming together, they lay an egg and shoot 40% against ND. Baylor is also struggling to find an identity outside of “The Pierre Jackson Show.” While Jackson’s play has been mostly excellent, it does not seem to be working particularly well with recent losses to Colorado and College of Charleston. Kentucky will be tough to beat at home but they need better consistency on both ends of the court. They should be able to shoot the ball against a struggling Baylor defense, particularly from downtown. If the Wildcats can get back in the long-ball groove, they should win at home for the 56th straight time under Calipari.
#18 Oklahoma State at Virginia Tech - 2:00 PM EST, Saturday on ESPN3 (****)
While Oklahoma State lost to Virginia Tech last year in a close contest and will play a true road game for the first time this year, the Cowboys have not been tested so far this season. More importantly, they have responded with drubbings of Tennessee and North Carolina State. For the Hokies, OSU is by far their toughest opponent to date. The Cowboys have been winning with solid defense. Opponents have been held to 36.3% from two and an overall eFG% of 39.8%. Typically, you may take these stats with a grain of salt given the competition, but Travis Ford’s team has played a strong schedule thus far. The match-up you should keep a close eye on is the Cowboy defense versus Virginia Tech guard Erick Green. The 6’3” Green is averaging 24.3 points per game thus far, and Ford will counter with a trio of big guards in 6’7” LeBryan Nash, 6’4” Marcus Smart, and 6’3” Markel Brown. Do not expect Green to hit for two dozen against the Pokes. If he does, Virginia Tech will be in good shape. Finally, watch the Hokies on the offensive glass. They currently rank 314th in the country in offensive rebounding rate against a fairly soft schedule. It’s not going to be easy for coach James Johnson’s squad to hit their shots, so he needs them to grab offensive boards desperately. If they don’t, look for the Cowboys to win in Blacksburg.
Kevin Doyle is an RTC correspondent, you can find him on Twitter @KLDoyle11. He filed this report after Friday night’s game between St. Joseph’s and Notre Dame in New York City.
An emotionally drained Phil Martelli entered the media postgame at the Barclays Center in the wee hours of Saturday morning, and before even addressing the media with his opening statement, he commented: “That was a November game? It sure seemed like a lot more than that to me.” Just minutes later, a deflated Mike Brey shared similar sentiments as he addressed the media: “What an unbelievable November game.” The two veteran coaches who have roamed the sidelines in hundreds of these early season games before couldn’t have been more on point. It was, indeed, quite the November game that saw St. Joseph’s earn a come-from-behind overtime victory over Notre Dame, 79-70. It was a game that felt like it belonged in March, rather than a November tournament in Brooklyn. It would be easy to scrutinize certain aspects of the contest, but sometimes the game is best left as is. No need to tarnish what was an exceptional two and a half hours of college basketball with overblown analysis .
Phil Martelli’s Hawks Got a Great Early Season Win Friday Night (AP)
You could write of Notre Dame’s ineptitude on offense in the final nine minutes of the game that saw the Irish squander an eight-point lead only to lose by nine, or how they settled for shots from the perimeter and seemingly refused to attack the imposing St. Joseph’s frontcourt after finding success there all game long. You could even make note of St. Joe’s inability to extend its defense out to the three-point line on several occasions, allowing Notre Dame to maintain a slim lead for much of the game. But, in just the third game for Notre Dame and second for St. Joseph’s this young season, why pick apart minor details that overshadow the bigger story of the night: a fine college basketball game between two future NCAA Tournament teams. No need to cloud Langston Galloway’s display of toughness as he came out for mere seconds after his tooth was knocked clear from his mouth as a Notre Dame player inadvertently hit him during a loose ball scrum. A play and response like this is something that assuredly would happen in March, and perhaps that’s why Friday evening’s game in Brooklyn didn’t exactly have a November feeling to it. Played in an NBA arena with a late-arriving and quiet crowd for the opening minutes, it took some time for the fans to become a part of the game—just like you might imagine an early-afternoon game on that Thursday in March feels like.
Brendon Mulvihill is the head curator for @SportsGawker and an RTC contributor. You can find him @TheMulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
The second weekend in the college hoops season cools off a bit and settles into some of the preseason tournaments. While the different tourneys play out over the weekend, there are several games you should keep an eye on as we head into Feast Week. Let’s get to the breakdowns.
Game of the Weekend
#22 Notre Dame vs. Saint Joseph’s – 9:30 PM EST, Friday on TruTV HD (****)
Notre Dame needs guard Eric Atkins to pick up his scoring against Saint Joseph’s
After a 2-0 start, Notre Dame faces its toughest challenge of the young season in a Saint Joseph’s team returning 99% of its minutes from last season. Thus far, the Irish is not getting the production they have come to expect from their two starting guards Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant. Only Grant has reached double figures once in the two games they have played. Both players averaged 12 points per game last season and coach Mike Brey needs every bit of those 12 points for his Irish team to meet expectations. Since St. Joe’s will still be without suspended guard Carl Jones, look to see if the Irish guards are able to take advantage. It’s critical that they do, because Notre Dame forward Jack Cooley and center Garrick Sherman will face a tough test against the Hawks front line. It will be interesting to see how Cooley and Sherman respond to the much more athletic forwards than they have seen thus far in 2012.
While Saint Joseph’s blew out Yale in its first game of the season, Phil Martelli needs to be a little concerned with his team’s offensive performance. The Hawks averaged less than a point per possession, shot a 45.9% eFG, and were only 3-14 from three in that game. Obviously, missing leading scorer Jones is a major factor, but they can ill afford to have another poor offensive showing against the Irish. Look to see if guard Chris Wilson can improve on his three points in 36 minutes and provide St. Joe’s with some backcourt scoring. Guard Langston Galloway was able to drop 20 points against Yale, so keep an eye on his ability to maintain that level of scoring against a much tougher opponent.
This should be a close battle between two experienced teams. If St. Joe’s is going to beat Notre Dame, it’ll need to do it on defense. The key will be the ability of St. Joe’s forwards Halil Kanacevic, Ronald Roberts, and C.J. Aiken to neutralize Cooley and Sherman down low and grab defensive boards. If Notre Dame gets its typical scoring production from Atkins and Grant, it should win this game. If not, Martelli and the Hawks will come away with a nice win for the Atlantic 10 against its rival Big East.
More Great Hoops
Florida State vs. BYU – 7:00 PM EST, Friday on TruTV HD (****)
Ever wake up on a random summer Thursday to learn about something planned for five years from now, and spend the rest of the day giddy thinking about it? Yeah, us too. When the Champions Classic was announced two years ago featuring a rotating schedule between Kansas, Duke, Kentucky and Michigan State, we were happy. When the as-yet-unnamed Phil Knight event was announced yesterday featuring a ridiculously cool dual tournament format that includes the likes of Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky, Florida, Connecticut, Michigan State, Gonzaga, Ohio State, Texas, Oregon, Stanford, Butler, Oklahoma, Georgetown, Xavier and Portland facing off over four days, we were ecstatic. Everyone loves some March Madness — this one-of-a-kind event to celebrate the 80th birthday of Nike founder Phil Knight will be as close as it gets to November Madness. Football people have trouble understanding this, but basketball at every level has always been a tournament sport — you win, you advance; you lose, you go home. Our only beef with this idea — why only one year? Make it permanent!
If all the contracts are signed and this Phil Knight event actually comes to pass in 2017, perhaps some of this summer’s younger prep stars will be playing in it. This year’s high school juniors would be college seniors in the 2017-18 season if they played straight through, after all. SI.com’s Frank Burlison released a summer recruiting report for those of us who haven’t kept up with all the news from the summer camps and tournaments, and from his perspective, North Carolina and Florida had the most successful season on the prep circuit. Interestingly, Burlison’s analysis of Jabari Parker, SI’s cover boy as the best prospect since LeBron James, rates him fifth in his own class. His educated opinion is that Class of 2014′s Andrew Wiggins is the best player in high school basketball, regardless of class. Maybe SI will put him on the cover next year with the headline “Best Since Jabari Parker!”
Everyone knows that Boise State‘s blue-fielded football program is poised to join the Big East on the gridiron beginning in 2013 — what was less certain is what would happen to all of the university’s other sports, including men’s basketball. No longer is this in question, as it appears that the Broncos will join the Big West just as fellow Big East/Big West member San Diego State has already done. Confused? Yeah, when you take into account that Boise State’s football (Big East), wrestling (Pac-12), gymastics (WAC), women’s swimming and diving (Mountain West), and men’s basketball and all other sports (Big West) reside in five different leagues from coast to coast, it really hits home just how ridiculous certain results of conference realignment has gotten. The volume of paperwork running through the athletic department alone must be downright Himalayan.
Most college basketball head coaches are notoriously apolitical — at least publicly — being either too busy or too strategically diplomatic to engage in much discussion about the issues facing the country in an exceptionally polarized political environment. In a slightly odd twist from the norm, a number of prominent head coaches including Tom Izzo, Ben Howland, Johnny Dawkins, Tubby Smith, Jamie Dixon, Mike Montgomery, and Phil Martelli recently filed a “friend of the court” brief along with the NABC and Black Coaches and Administrators organizations regarding a Supreme Court case about race-based admissions decisions. The amicus brief (in full here), one of over 50 submitted for this case, argues that public universities should have considerable discretion in how they choose their admitted students, which may include attempts at balancing diversity by considering factors other than test scores and grades. This is a touchy subject for many people, but we’ll leave it at this — schools have always found ways to admit people who fell outside the numbers, long before anyone knew what affirmative action was. There’s no reason to believe that will ever change, simply because it’s not in their best interests to do so.
It appears that all of the external pressure on North Carolina is resulting in some much-needed action. On Thursday, UNC chancellor Holden Thorp announced that former North Carolina governor James G. Martin (for those of you wondering, he’s a Davidson alumnus) will lead an independent review of UNC’s academic issues prior to 2007 in tandem with Virchow, Krause & Company, a national management consulting firm. Thorp said that he expects the team’s findings to be reported within a few weeks in the hopes that the school can put this scandal behind them, but of course that will also ultimately depend on what any new findings actually reveal. It’s good to see that UNC is taking this seriously, though, and has removed the investigation from its internal mechanisms. Roy Williams has an opinion on the matter, for what it’s worth.
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the A-10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @(vbtnBlog)
The Week That Was:
Points per Possession Margins Through February 12
Temple and Saint Louis continue to “walk away” from the rest of the conference, leaving the next four teams in the upper division (Xavier, Massachusetts, La Salle and Saint Bonaventure) clustered on the “plus side” of the points per possession margin. Though nine of the conference’s 14 teams have .500 or better records, only those six (and Saint Joseph’s with a 0.000 margin) have offenses that scored more points per possession that their defenses yielded, suggesting that some of those .500 or better teams suffered one or more blowouts in conference games this season.
Though Fordham and Rhode Island have firm holds on the bottom two spots in the conference standings, their negative points per possession margin is still not large enough to suggest they are uncompetitive with their conference mates. The gap between top-ranked Temple and bottom-ranked Fordham remains at about 1/3 of a point (0.337), well below the half-point gap last season. With nearly 37% of the conference games still to be played this season these margins can shift.
Conference Realignment: Does the Road to the Big East Go Through Irvine, Texas?
The Big East filled out their dance card for the 2013 football season last week and Temple, one of two schools who have vigorously lobbied for a spot in the power conference over the past four seasons, was passed over for the other long-term applicant, the University of Memphis. The conference negotiated a 20 million dollar early exit fee from West Virginia, and promptly invited C-USA member Memphis to join for 2013-14 season.
Passed over for the second time since last October, Memphis is the fourth C-USA school to accept a Big East invitation in 2011-12 and the ninth C-USA member to be invited since 2004-05. CBS Sports writer Brett McMurphy reported that Temple had been contacted by C-USA officials about possible membership. The membership is rumored to be for all sports, and with the proposed C-USA merger with the Mountain West Conference and a planned two round playoff system for the conference championship (that would, I assume, culminate with a BCS bowl bid). Though the Owls have a 55 year relationship with fellow Big 5 and A-10 members La Salle and Saint Joseph’s, the prospects (and money?) may be too good to pass on.
Despite Consistently Producing Quality Teams and Players Such as Ramone Moore, Temple Was Passed Over For A Spot in The Big East (AP)
Massachusetts is expected to join Temple in the MAC – like the Owls for football only – when the Minutemen move up to the Bowl Division in football. Temple signed an agreement to continue play in the MAC just last summer. No details concerning an exit fee were disclosed at the time of the signing.
Temple continues to roll through their conference schedule but has yet to regain a spot in the AP or USA Today Top 25. Saint Louis and Massachusetts continue to nip at the Owls heels, while five others (Xavier, La Salle, Saint Bonaventure, and Duquesne) battle for the conference’s last bye seed. Most bracketology sites put either two or three teams in the field (Temple, Saint Louis plus one other…), so games played between Xavier, La Salle, Saint Bonaventure, Saint Joseph’s, Massachusetts, and Dayton will carry extra-conference implications.
Temple (19-5, 8-2) – Temple continued their run with another 2-0 week, beating George Washington by just enough, then answering the bell against Xavier on Saturday night. Ramone Moore again earned conference recognition, in no small part from his game versus the Musketeers. The strength of schedule (table above) may suggest an easier path than most for Coach Fran Dunphy’s charges, but even with the Xavier hurdle cleared, the Owls still have rematches with city rivals: a road game with Saint Bonaventure and a tilt with Massachusetts. If the Owls keep winning, no one can catch them.Temple takes a mid-winter road trip to one of the least hospitable stops in the conference on Wednesday — Saint Bonaventure in a western New York winter. They return to Philadelphia for a home game with Duquesne on Saturday (2/18). Read the rest of this entry »
After thinking it over on Sunday night Khem Birch announced that he would be transferring to UNLV. Birch chose UNLV over Florida and New Mexico State, his two other reported finalists. In the end, it appears that Birch saw what Mike Moser, one of several transfers on the UNLV roster, was doing in UNLV’s system and felt that he could play a similar role for the Rebels. Birch will join an interesting roster next year that will feature three other transfers and a solid incoming class with one more scholarship spot available. Of course, many Rebels fan will view this decision through the prism of how it will affect their recruitment of Shabazz Muhammad, the #1 overall recruit in this year’s senior class. According to Muhammad’s father, Birch’s announcement “only strengthens UNLV in the eyes of Shabazz.”
While Birch knows that he will be playing college basketball in a year, the future is not so bright for UAB student Todd O’Brien as his appeal for a graduate student transfer exemption was denied by the NCAA. O’Brien’s saga, which technically began last summer, rose to national prominence last month when he wrote a column for Sports Illustrated calling out Saint Joseph’s and Phil Martelli for not granting him a waiver and not providing him with a reason for their denial. As we noted last week, Saint Joseph’s has tried to hide behind the veil of student privacy although reports last week indicate that the school would not divulge its reason(s) even if O’Brien waived that right. Now it appears with little non-legal (the real legal system not the NCAA version), O’Brien appears willing to call Saint Joseph’s bluff and we will see how the school and Martelli respond.
Over the past few years, Todd Bozeman has become known as the one coach who had managed to overcome the now infamous show-cause penalty to become a success Division I basketball head coach. Unfortunately, Bozeman’s path to redemption took a detour over the weekend as Bozeman was involved in an altercation of some sort with senior guard Larry Bastfield. There are conflicting reports on what actually happened–Bozeman says it was “accidental contact” while others say it was a deliberate punch–but for the time being Morgan State has decided to suspend Bozeman indefinitely while they conduct an investigation. From the reports we have read the evidence does not appear to be clear cut especially since both Bozeman and Bastfield now claim that the incident was overblown, but for someone with Bozeman’s history this is the last thing he needs to have around him.
It did not generate nearly the same level of buzz that Birch’s announcement did, but St. John’s picked up a commitment from transfer Jamal Branch, who left Texas A&M after just 11 games this season. Branch, who was a consensus top 100 recruit last season, will be a welcome addition to a Red Storm team that lost much of its heralded freshman class to a variety of eligibility issues and are still waiting on several members of next season’s incoming freshman class to finalize their decisions.
In this week’s Hoops Thoughts column Seth Davis explores the downtrend in fouls called and scoring with some analysis from John Adams, the NCAA’s supervisor of officials. Adams provides some interesting insight and clarifies a few common misconceptions that some fans have about new or controversial rules. Seth also offers a variety of random thoughts on different teams and even touches on his belief that coaches should wear more casual/comfortable clothing on the sideline citing St. John’s big win over then #1 Duke last January when its coaches wore sneakers and open collars, which they also did when they when they lost at home in November to Northeastern by 14.
Almost three months after Taylor Branch’s piece in The Atlanticreignited the debate about amateurism and the NCAA, The New York Times has joined with mix with a relatively short piece (compared to Branch’s enormous essay) by Joe Nocera in the Sunday Magazine issue titled simply enough “Let’s Start Paying College Athletes”. In the piece, Nocera reiterates some of the points that Branch made about the inequities in the system without going into the historical detail that Branch did. However, unlike Branch, Nocera offers a proposal (for football and men’s basketball) to correct these inequities using five “elements”:
A salary cap with a set minimum payment for each player
An additional two-year scholarship after a player’s athletic eligibility is up
Lifetime health insurance
A union to collectively bargain
While we agree with Nocera that college sports would benefit from some fundamental reforms Nocera’s appear rather short-sighted. We were willing to give Branch a pass on the economic aspects of his argument because he is a Civil Rights historian, but Nocera is a business reporter and reportedly consulted with “sports economists, antitrust lawyers and reformers” before coming up with this proposal so the fact that he ignores some basic economic realities is shocking. In addition to blithely estimating how many Division I football and basketball programs would survive with the new requirements, Nocera ignores the thousands of college athletes per year that would be out of scholarships at those schools (guess which socioeconomic class that would disproportionately affect) as well as waving his hands to create a superficial argument that would be politically untenable against Title IX opposition. Perhaps, the most shocking off all is Nocera’s suggestion that all college athletes be provided with lifetime health insurance. You would think a business reporter would realize how unrealistic this would be in the long run (remember the problems the US auto industry had a few years ago with its relatively small population to cover and its much higher revenues?), but apparently that is too far in the future for Nocera to consider.
The Wall Street Journal is one media institution that understands economics even if they do not know the difference between Chrysler and Crisler. In addition to their business reporting and rather opinionated op-ed section, they also do publish interesting features piece such as an interview with former Michigan great Jalen Rose where he talks about his charter school in Detroit, his DUI arrest over the summer, and the controversy around his “Uncle Tom” comments. While Rose received quite a bit of criticism for his DUI arrest (and rightly so), we commend him for trying to be productive and contribute to society when he could very easily be living the easy life in a much more desirable location although we do not fault individuals who choose to do so. It will be interesting to see if Rose’s work is able to create significant results in the academic performance and socioeconomic status for his students in the long run.
There will be at least one more chapter in the ongoing Todd O’Brien story as the former Saint Joseph’s player, who had his initial request for a graduate school transfer denied by either Saint Joesph’s or the NCAA, has resubmitted his request to be granted a waiver to play for UAB this season. In his request, O’Brien cites his 3.0 GPA in the fall semester as evidence that his transfer was academically motivated to counter the supposed reason that Saint Joseph’s has used to block his transfer. From what we have read about the NCAA’s interpretation of the rules in this case, it seems like it is unlikely that it will work unless the NCAA decides to overrule its earlier decision where they said they were strongly influenced by the recommendation from Saint Joseph’s. We tried to speak with Phil Martelli about this topic after their loss at Harvard on Saturday, but were told that nobody at the school could discuss the issue until O’Brien waived his student privacy rights. We are not sure how legitimate the school’s reported claim of silence is, but we would love to see what happens if O’Brien calls their bluff on it.
Joe Jackson has decided not to transfer from Memphis after considering his options over the weekend. Jackson, who is averaging 11.8 points per game this season had only scored two points combined (both on free throws) in his last two games before missing Saturday’s game for “personal reasons”. After meeting with Josh Pastner the sophomore guard was told to take a few days to think about his future before deciding to come back. We are not sure how Pastner will use Jackson in his first game back, which is against Tennessee on Wednesday. The events of this weekend could either be the beginning of the end of Jackson’s time at Memphis or help him refocus his game and become a more consistent player for a Tiger team that needs someone other than Will Barton to play consistently (and Barton isn’t even that consistent).
We have a little bit of ACL news to catch up on from Friday as Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe had surgery to repair his torn right ACL and Dayton forward Josh Bensontore his left ACL. Mbakwe’s surgery appears to have went “very well”, but we doubt that we will hear a legitimate time table for Mbakwe’s return to the court for at least another month or two. According to reports, Mbakwe still has not decided if he will apply for a medical hardship redshirt exception or if he will attempt to jump to the NBA after rehab. There has not been any decision on when Benson, who was having a breakout season with 10.9 points and 5.2 rebounds per game, will have surgery, but he will be out for the season. Assuming his recovery goes as expected, we expect to see Benson back in a Dayton uniform at the start of next season.
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic 10 Conference. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter (@vbtnBlog)
Ed. Note – This post was written prior to Wednesday night’s action.
The Week That Was
No A-10 Teams in the Top 25: The release of the AP and Coaches polls on Mon., December 26 showed no Atlantic 10 conference member for the first time in 12 weeks (going back to January 31, 2011 – week #13). A Xavier three-game losing streak, coming on the heels of the bench clearing brawl in the “Crosstown Shootout” dropped the Musketeers from #15 in the December 19 poll right out of the Top 25. Saint Louis’ own five-game winning streak includes a win over Division II Illinois-Springfield, Alabama State and Arkansas State — not a slate of opponents that will wow the voters.
Early Season Invitational Tournaments – Final Tally: The only good news out of the Diamond Head Classic was that the Musketeers finally broke their three-game losing streak with a win over Southern Illinois in the invitational tournament’s seventh place game. Invitational tournament formats frequently match A-10 teams with power conference opponents on neutral courts, giving the conference their best opportunity for quality wins. Results for the 2011-12 season:
At the end of the first cycle, the conference held a promising 21-13 (0.600) margin with six first and third place finishes, suggesting the team either swept the field or won the first two games (before dropping the final). The brightest lights were Dayton (winner of the Old Spice Classic) and Saint Louis (who beat three power conference schools on their way to the championship in the 76 Classic). Temple may have disappointed slightly, but the Owls, along with Richmond, George Washington and Saint Joseph’s, posted very respectable results in their tournaments.
Free Todd O’Brien? Attention to the resurgence of the Saint Joseph’s program was diverted two days after the Hawks’ best win of the season, a 16-point drubbing of Big 5 rival Villanova, when Sports Illustrated released fifth year senior Todd O’Brien’s side of his attempt to take his post season eligibility at Alabama-Birmingham instead of Saint Joseph’s. Buzz about Phil Martelli’s squad notching 10 wins before the start of conference play (virtually certain given their last two out of conference opponents) was pushed aside with the details of the Todd O’Brien imbroglio. The fifth year senior, a transfer from Bucknell who started 28 games in the 2009-10 season and was a serviceable rotation player last season, completed his undergraduate course work over the summer and enrolled in one of Alabama-Birmingham’s MBA programs and play for Mike Davis in his last season of eligibility. Saint Joseph’s, however, denied O’Brien’s application for a Graduate Student Transfer Exception (a release from his athletic scholarship) with no explanation given. O’Brien went public with his version of events, and so far, Saint Joseph’s, and specifically Martelli, has cited student confidentiality as the reason for not responding.
Fordham (Dereck Whittenburg and Jio Fontan), Providence (Keno Davis and Joseph Young) and Siena (Fran McCaffery and Kojo Mensah) were warning signs that Saint Joseph’s ignored. Though Martelli, as did McCaffrey, Davis and Whittenberg before him, may feel justified in denying O’Brien his release (fans and “program insiders” floated three variations of “Todd O’Brien is a bad boy” in the first 24-48 hours after the story was released), the veteran coach has to understand that the notion of a coach and program were gamed by a scholarship athlete never gets much traction with the public, and the university’s strategy of not talking about it gives O’Brien all of the air time on this issue.
Todd O'Brien (right) and Phil Martelli (left) Have Been Caught In A Verbal Tug-Of-War
The MAAC conference tournament gave us another buzzer-beater last night. Saint Peter’s guard Desi Washington rushed down the court and nailed a trey to eliminate Fairfield 65-62 on Washington’s THIRD game-winning buzzer-beater against the Stags this season.
Clown, thy name is UCSB fan. Although players and coaches alike are expected to behave professionally, fans also have a responsibility to contain themselves. Incidents like last night’s approach by a rabid UCSB fan are dangerous for everyone involved.