As we head into what is certain to be a very happy holiday weekend, the guys wanted to get a Feast Week podcast in the books before things got too crazy. Little did they know that the great state of Nebraska would leave its indelible footprint on this week’s RTC Podcast. Spreading holiday cheer from Lincoln to North Platte! Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts and Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) once again joins, as the group goes through some of their early season tournament takes and looks ahead to the rest of the week. Oh, and this.
Five-oh Makes an Appearance on This Week’s RTC Podcast!
On Wednesday ESPN finished its two-day unveiling of brackets for the 11 holiday season events that it more or less controls through its television rights, and the possibilities, as usual, are endless. For a comprehensive listing of those events along with the top storylines as they stand right now in the middle of July, here’s the thread. Be sure to remember that Jeff Goodman picked Boise State over Oregon State in the Diamond Head Classic so that you can mock him on Twitter in late December… but seriously, does anyone else find it more than a little odd that these brackets are released during the time of year when you couldn’t find more people who care less? Why not make this a part of the Midnight Madness/ESPN festivities in October — you know, when fans are actually paying attention to college basketball again. For what it’s worth, Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger and Andy Glockner at SI.com have pretty good rundowns of the events if ESPN.com’s marketing campaign isn’t to your liking. From our perspective, here’s what you need to know: North Carolina vs. Louisville (Hall of Fame Tip-off) and Arizona vs. Duke (Preseason NIT). Done.
We mentioned Seth Davis’ piece on Michigan’s Mitch McGary in yesterday’s M5, and clearly university brass must have also read about his head coach John Beilein‘s prescience in keeping the burly freshman on the bench as a secret postseason weapon last year. Why do we say this? Because on Wednesday Michigan rewarded the 60-year old coach with a three-year extension that will bump his salary up to $2.45 million per year, ninth-highest in the nation. The sometimes-irascible but always competent Beilein has come a long way in his itinerant career, but with another top 10 squad pending in Ann Arbor and a growing NBA pipeline to entice recruits, we’re thinking that he not only deserves the raise, but is well worth it.
The Pac-12 under Larry Scott’s leadership in the last few seasons has certainly been innovative in its approach to its branding and reach, and yesterday’s CBSSports.com report that the league recently sent a letter to the NCAA challenging the admission of Division II Grand Valley (AZ) State to play D-I basketball is certainly interesting. On one hand, why does the Pac-12 care about a low-budget for-profit school with some 40,000 to 45,000 online students? On the other, the business model and corresponding accountability for a school answering to public shareholders on financial matters is in fact a much different situation than that posed by a typical college or university (which are all non-profit entities in Division I). It’ll be interesting to see how the NCAA responds to this, and whether other leagues and/or universities get involved. Grand Valley has already begun transition to Division I, entering the WAC as a basketball school and becoming eligible for the NCAA Tournament in 2017-18.
Some transfer/eligibility news from yesterday to finish off today’s M5. Former Kentucky problem child Ryan Harrowhas received a transfer waiver from the NCAA to play at Georgia State next season. This move will allow him to remain near his ailing father, who suffered a stroke last year while Harrow was at Kentucky, averaging 10 PPG and shooting 29.6 percent from beyond the arc. By the same token, Minnesota’s Malik Smith, a senior guard who averaged 14/3 APG last season at FIU under Richard Pitino, also received a waiver to play immediately at his new school. The NCAA approved his waiver to follow his coach in part because FIU is not eligible for the 2014 NCAA Tournament (APR violations). This will be Smith’s fourth school in four seasons.
Minnesota has yet to prove that it can be an elite team, but after a strong three-game stretch in the Battle 4 Atlantis over the weekend, the Gophers proved they can be an awfully good one that can contend for the Big Ten title. After losing to Duke in the opening game, Minnesota came back to defeat Memphis and Stanford to close out the tournament. Of course, preseason tournament wins aren’t all that meaningful, but if anything, the Battle of Atlantis showed us one very good thing for the Gophers: They can score from anywhere.
Tubby May Have His Best Team at Minnesota (AP)
This isn’t a guard-dominated team or a forward-dominated team; players at both positions stepped up in each of the games. The guards — particularly point guard Andre Hollins — are good. Hollins scored a career-high 41 points against Memphis and was a pivotal player in the Stanford game. He had been considered a possible breakout player in the preseason, and so far, he has shown that he is certainly worth the hype. The Gophers’ two other stars — forwards Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe — have also been impressive, as has the frontcourt that out-rebounded every opponent at Atlantis. Minnesota’s ability to be successful at all five positions makes the Gophers very difficult to defend, given how many scoring options are on the floor.
Chris Johnson is an RTC National Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.
Your Weekend Lede.Nonleague Tournaments Offer Raw But Exciting Brand of Hoops. The best teams don’t peak in November. They use the non-conference season as a testing lab to kick around various formations and tactical tweaks. They fashion early judgments on rotation splits and playing time allotments. The college basketball season is a process that involves building and maturing over a four-month period, rounding into form around late February, then peaking in time for the postseason. Most squads are far from finished products. So the basketball you see being played in exempted tournaments across the country in recent days isn’t nearly as crisp or fundamentally sound as the fine-tuned brand of tourney hoops. Think of early-season tournaments as more as barometers for improvement: Based off its performance, each team gets a decent sense of the progress of its development, and how much tweaking needs to be done before conference play. Sloppy or not, nonleague play gives us no shortage of storylines. Here are a few that stuck out over this pre Feast-Week weekend.
Your Watercooler Moment.Another Big 12 Contender Throws Its Hat In Ring.
The Cowboys look invigorated by the arrival of Smart, and it showed in Sunday’s big win over NC State (Photo credit: AP)
Talent is the primary governing force of college basketball. It is the lifeblood of any successful team. Sure, you can do without it, but a marginally-talented team will only get you so far. We saw the tremendous implications of talent with last year’s Kentucky team, when three preternaturally-gifted freshmen carried the Wildcats to a national championship. And we saw it Sunday night, when Oklahoma State – led by sophomore forward Le’Bryan Nash and freshman guard Marcus Smart, both top-10 recruits in consecutive years – routed NC State to take first prize in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off. Much was made this preseason about NC State’s talent, and without doubt, the Wolfpack have it in droves. What separated the Cowboys Sunday was their defense. Travis Ford’s team held C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Rodney Purvis and the rest of the Wolfpack to just 35.5 percent shooting. Leslie, a likely future first-round draft pick and a popular choice on preseason All American lists and top-player rankings, finished just 1-for-5 from the field with two points. Poor shooting helped doom the Wolfpack, to be sure, but for a team that entered this game missing several key players due to injuries (Brian Williams, John Paul Olukemi) and/or unsuspected departures (Cesar Guerrero), this counts as a massive victory over an ACC contender that the Cowboys can bank for the rest of the season. I’m not sure Ford could have drawn up a more favorable start to his tenure-defining season. If Nash and Smart continue to connect on this level, and the Cowboys can replicate Sunday’s defensive effort to any effect, the Big 12 title race could be more undecided than once believed.
Holiday tournaments are some of the most anticipated events in college basketball. Teams commit well in advance of the season to play in exotic locales such as Maui, Puerto Rico, and the Bahamas, with purist fans hoping to see the top teams avoid upsets to ensure compelling tournament finals between highly ranked non-conference foes. The spectacle is alluring, but we don’t always seen the best basketball since teams haven’t had much practice time. However, because of new NCAA regulations enacted this year, we may be fortunate enough to see these teams in borderline midseason form.
Several SEC teams will be showcasing their talents in these holiday tournaments over the coming month. Be sure to keep an eye on these teams in particular:
In a Scheduling Quirk, Former Big 12 RivalsKansas & Texas A&M Could Meet in the CBE Classic
Texas A&M – CBE Classic (November 19-20): When Billy Kennedy left Murray State to become the head coach in College Station, the ultimate goal (pipe dream?) was for his Aggies to be able to compete with Kansas, the class of the conference. After three losses to the Jayhawks and a move to the SEC, the target is no longer KU, it’s UK. However, with a little luck, Texas A&M will have another shot at Kansas in the CBE Classic. Earlier in the summer, few would have given the Aggies much of a chance against first round opponent Saint Louis, but the Billikens now look much less daunting. Ray and Elston Turner will be eager to return to the NCAA Tournament in their senior seasons, and a non-conference victory over a quality team could prove invaluable. If the Aggies can sneak by SLU, a matchup with the Jayhawks awaits. The talent disparity is massive, but with Bill Self working several new pieces into the rotation, Billy Kennedy will be keen to take advantage, giving his team a chance at their first victory over the former conference rival since the days of Acie Law.
Another day, another scandal involving the, ahem, good name of college basketball. With all the allegations getting tossed around the sport in recent months, we’re starting to wonder if the best course of action is simply to burn the whole thing down and start completely over. After Tuesday’s disappointing news that even the nation’s top academic institution, Harvard, isn’t immune from student-athletes behaving badly, you’ll forgive us if we’re feeling a little more than down about our game. The skinny: SI.com’s Luke Winn has reported that senior co-captains Kyle Casey and Brandyn Curry — two of the Crimson’s best three players — have been implicated in a cheating scandal along with over a 100 other students for acts in a class about Congress “ranging from inappropriate collaboration to outright plagiarism, on a take-home final exam.” With the fall semester enrollment deadline pending this week, Casey and Curry are expected to withdraw from school for the entire 2012-13 academic year in an effort to preserve their final year of eligibility after their cases have been adjudicated. And with those withdrawals goes much of the hope surrounding the Crimson basketball program next season — the Crimson had more than enough talent and experience to win the Ivy League again and make the NCAA Tournament in back-to-back years. More to come on this later today…
How’s about some better news to focus on with your coffee this Wednesday morning? Mike DeCourcy has us covered with his column discussing six important factors that could shape the upcoming season. Most of his points revolve around the significant loss of elite talent from last season, but keep in mind that going into 2011-12 many people thought that the return of the likes of Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger and Perry Jones would dominate discussion throughout the year. Although each player’s team made it to at least the Elite Eight, such a notion turned out to not be true. The talk last year mostly revolved around Kentucky’s precocious freshmen, Syracuse’s deep and athletic juggernaut, the resurgence of Indiana, and both Bill Self and Frank Haith’s coaching mastery. DeCourcy’s comment that “we’ll find something to enjoy” is absolutely spot on — predicting what that will be is the hard part.
It wouldn’t be a Morning Five this month without some mention of Billy Gillispie, so here’s the latest on the wild saga involving the Texas Tech head coach. On Tuesday two new pieces of information were released. First, an ambulance was called to Gillispie’s house on Monday of this week after a 911 call was made from the residence, but local hospitals had no record of Gillispie getting admitted anywhere. Next, in a text message sent to the AP Tuesday night, Gillispie himself stated that he plans on a treatment plan for high blood pressure “amongst other things” at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. In the meantime as he deals with his health issues, Texas Tech has named associate head coach Chris Walker as the man in charge of the day-to-day operations of the team and told Gillispie in no uncertain terms that he is not to engage with the program in any way until he’s ready to sit down with the administration and discuss his future.
If you’re a fan of the chaos theory of sports — that basically, the best possible scenario is the worst possible scenario — you’re going to love where the Lance Thomas case at Duke appears to be headed. According to the Raleigh News & Observer, not only is the New York City jeweler who extended Thomas nearly $70,000 in credit three years ago not talking to much of anyone, but in order for the NCAA to actually pursue what appears to be an obvious violation, they will have to do so by the end of 2013. So there are twin pressures building on the organization, but unless some degree of on-record information comes out through trial (highly unlikely), the NCAA will have to find a rat or some other documentation willing to assist them in this investigation. Chaos theorists loves this stuff, because it (mostly) leaves everyone outraged and upset.
There are few things in college basketball where you will find consensus among coaches, players, fans and the media, but if you ever want to see unified outrage in action, check in with Twitter in the immediate moments after a player slips and falls awkwardly on one of those sponsored decals that populate floors around the country during the preseason November tournaments. From Maui to Kansas City to Madison Square Garden, these plastic logos that adhere to the hardwood have long been decried by just about everyone as dangerously slippery, needlessly intrusive, and a horrific accident waiting to happen. Fervor against the corporate sponsorships reached a fever pitch last season during the Carrier Classic when Michigan State’s Branden Dawsontwisted his right knee awkwardly on one of the Quicken Loans decals and writhed around in pain for a couple of minutes while everyone in attendance watched in horror.
Luckily Dawson Was OK, But His Near-Miss Clearly Exhibited the Problem
Luckily for everyone involved, most notably Dawson (who ironically tore his ACL in March against Ohio State when he knocked knees with another player), he walked away uninjured from that slip, but his scare along with another one a few days later when Memphis’ Chris Crawford slipped on an EA Sports Maui Invitational logo at FedEx Forum crystallized the need for the NCAA to get involved. On Monday, the governing organization did the right thing and made a clear recommendation to the Playing Rules Oversight Panel (which meets in June) that “the court be ‘of a consistent surface’ so student-athlete safety is not compromised.” If approved, and there’s little doubt that it will be, this means that corporations sponsoring tournaments like the Coaches vs. Cancer, the Preseason NIT, and others, had better look into hiring some contract painters next winter.
The NCAA is nothing if not reactionary, but luckily in this case, the near-injuries of several players last season were enough to inspire the reaction. Now… back to our lair to figure out a way to tie player injuries to the 1-and-done rule, inconsistent block/charge calls, and the lack of a true opening night.
We’re starting to get a little concerned in the focus and alacrity with which the powers-that-be seem to be listening to us. And when we say us, we mean all of us — the traditional media who have been pushed, challenged and inspired by the alt-media, and the alt-media who in turn has raised its professionalism and quality to compete and bolster the establishment. We pushed back in a historic way with NCAA Tournament expansion, and the result was a tolerable, if not ideal, one. We’ve asked for greater scrutiny and accountability from the NCAA in how it polices its programs, and although we’re a long way from finished, the organization has gotten better. And most recently, we’ve begged for a true tipoff event that will fire people up and remind them that college basketball has returned in the midst of a crowded fall sports landscape.
The Champions Classic Will Have a F4 Feel To It
Today’s announcement of the creation of the Champions Classic, a new marquee season tipoff event that will feature, quite literally, four of the best programs in the sport playing each other over the next three seasons at different venues, is a great first step toward accomplishing that goal. ESPN of course will carry the event (probably as the marquee event of the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon), and we’re already salivating at the matchups between some of roundball’s most regal programs. Here’s the schedule — try to contain yourself — we have to get through this season first:
Year 1 – Nov. 15, 2011 (Madison Square Garden, NYC)
Duke vs. Michigan State
Kentucky vs. Kansas
Year 2- Nov. 13, 2012 (Georgia Dome, Atlanta)
Duke vs. Kentucky
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Year 3 – Nov. 12, 2013 (United Center, Chicago)
Kentucky vs. Michigan State
Duke vs. Kansas
Um, wow. It’s taking every ounce of willpower that we have around here to resist the urge to already start breaking down these games. These are Final Four-caliber matchups at truly neutral sites, and there’s no reason to believe that as long as K, Calipari, Izzo and Self are around that any one of these programs will have much of a “down” year. We also love that the venue rotates between different host cities, which again gives it the feel of a major event. There are enough top-drawer programs involved that will sell out no matter where it’s held in a given year. Hopefully after this three-year rotation, the organizers will keep moving it around, careful to avoid any blatant home bias (i.e., holding it in Kansas City or Louisville).
According to the release article, all four representative coaches were immediately on board with this idea, and it makes us wonder if the organizers were four-for-four in their solicitations for this event. There’s one notable name missing, of course, and that’s North Carolina. We wonder if the Heels ever got the call, or whether Duke was #1A and Carolina was #1B in terms of fielding an ACC team in the Classic. Of course it wouldn’t make sense to have both because they wouldn’t play each other and it would mess up the rotation, but presumably the organizers could have considered slotting one or the other into the event in different years. We like it better this way, though. It provides consistency over the three years and we can already start slobbering on our keyboards about future matchups. Furthermore, even though the NCAA needs to clean up the trickling-out problem of the start of the season, the Champions Classic will go a country mile in slapping America across the forehead that college hoops is back, baby, and you should pay attention. Great decision.
That’s Debatable is back for another year of expert opinions, ridiculous assertions and general know-it-all-itude. Remember, kids, there are no stupid answers, just stupid people. We’ll try to do one of these each week during the season. We’re fairly discerning around here, but if you want to be included, send us an email with your take telling us why at firstname.lastname@example.org. And have a beautiful Thanksgiving, everyone.
This Week’s Topic: It’s the time of year to give thanks. What college basketball related thing are you most thankful for this season?
Matt Patton, RTC Contributor
Early season tournaments. This year feels like one of the best years ever: the Maui Invitational (Kentucky, Michigan State, Washington and UConn), Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Vanderbilt, Minnesota and UNC), 2kSports Classic (Pitt, Texas and Illinois), and CBE Classic (San Diego State, Gonzaga, Kansas State, Marquette and Duke) all highlighted at least three at-large NCAA teams with an astounding 13 teams that have appeared in the top 25 counting UConn’s imminent inclusion. That’s really unbelievable when you think about it: we saw 15 probable at-large bids face off against at-large talent, and the conference season is still a month away! Some early season tournaments are jokes (here’s looking at you, Cancun), and it’s annoying that the Puerto Rico Tip-Off takes place in a gym the size of my high school’s (with horrible attendance to boot). But don’t act like it wasn’t awesome to see Duke battle Kansas State on a “neutral” floor two hours from the Little Apple, or Washington and Kentucky take their talents to Maui (and the impressive mobility of Big Blue Nation for migrating across the country). These are the nonconference clashes of titans that normally take place only in our sleep, in March, and now in November.
Zach Hayes, RTC Editor/Contributor
I’m most thankful for the seniors that have stuck around to play college basketball for four years. Given the pressure of today’s one-and-done-or-failure mentality, the seniors that have graced the college hardwood for four seasons truly represent what this sport should be about on and off the court. Whether it’s Kyle Singler’s silky smooth jumper, the end-to-end quickness of Corey Fisher, the rebounding prowess of Kenneth Faried, the scoring artistry of Jimmer Fredette or the leadership qualities of Kalin Lucas, these wily veterans will have dazzled us loyal hoop viewers from their first day at practice as a freshman to the moment they receive their college degree. They didn’t appear and disappear from our lives after four months. They didn’t decide to play overseas and collect that first paycheck as soon as possible. After studying how they’ve improved and tracking their ups and downs after four winters, these players almost seem like family. They take us back to a time when staying through your senior year was applauded rather than stigmatized. Mr. Singler, Fisher, Faried, Fredette, Lucas and all the rest of the seniors that deserve so much more attention than they receive, I thank you.
Brian Otskey, RTC Contributor
I’m most thankful for the NCAA, believe it or not. The much-maligned organization has had a very good year. Most importantly, they resisted the urge to expand to a 96-team tournament which would have been an unmitigated disaster. Just imagine a 5-11 NC State team or 6-12 St. John’s making it into the tournament. That would have likely happened last season under a 96-team format. I realize they are probably not done with expansion but let’s give them some credit for holding off, at least for now. The NCAA has also cracked down on some name brand programs, most notably Kentucky, declaring Enes Kanter ineligible. This was the correct decision as there is just no way a professional athlete should be able to play an amateur sport. Connecticut and Jim Calhoun have also come under fire from the “new” NCAA. Don’t forget Bruce Pearl’s situation, Baylor being the subject of an investigation and Oregon as well. I’m sure there is more out there and hopefully the organization will continue its crackdown in the coming years. The NCAA is still a heavily bureaucratic operation with many problems but 2010 has been a positive step in the right direction for collegiate athletics.
Brian Goodman, RTC Editor/Contributor
I’m thankful for Marquette and Connecticut turning heads with their performances this week. The preseason rankings in the Big East read as Pittsburgh, Villanova, Syracuse, Georgetown and everyone else. Marquette was tabbed eighth; the Huskies tenth. While the top two have handled things on their end, Jim Calhoun and Buzz Williams’ squads are already in the kitchen cooking up some crow. Five time zones away from Storrs, UConn made an early splash in Maui on par with last year’s party crashing from Syracuse in New York City. The Huskies were predicted to finish in the bottom half of the conference, and those who cover the Big East hitched their wagons to Austin Freeman for individual honors over Kemba Walker. The Husky junior’s response is loud and clear, exploding for 90 points over three games at Lahaina. The nation awaits the conclusion of the NCAA’s investigation into misconduct on the part of the Huskies’ staff, but in the meantime, credit Calhoun for keeping his young team sharply focused. Yes, the Golden Eagles left Kansas City with two losses, but they gave #1 Duke far more than #4 Kansas State could manage against the Blue Devils. The next night, they nearly sent Bulldog Nation into panic mode before falling short. Marquette will readily take on any challenge thrown their way and fight harder than many of the nation’s premier teams to make a name for themselves. Despite their lack of a consistent post option, they will never use it as a crutch. The Big East is at its best when these two teams are in the thick of things.
We’d like to start off today’s Morning Five with a trite but true statement about some of the many things that we’re thankful for here within the RTC family. The growth of the site to become one of the leading voices in the college basketball community is (trust us) well beyond what we ever imagined possible here. We’d like to thank you, the faithful readers, who continue to push us with ideas for improvement, challenge us if we print half-baked thoughts or incomplete analyses, and generally keep us on our toes to the point where sleep schedules for the editing team from October to April are pretty much nonexistent. We might complain about it if we didn’t love this stuff so much. We’d also like to throw a special thank-you to our many contributors, who have similarly grown from a few to several to a bunch, and in our efforts to corral the absolute best minds thinking about and discussing this sport on a national level, we feel that we are well on our way to reaching a sort-of hoops nirvana. Finally, a shout-out absolutely must go to our families and friends — the wives, parents, pets, colleagues and buddies who we’ve had to continually bail on so that RTC can live to see another day. The sacrifices these people make to remain close to us are not something that we’ll overstate — after all, it’s not like we’re fighting wars here — but it does have a day-to-day impact on those relationships to the point where mere choices between an extra half-hour behind the computer screen or a walk with a loved one is a quandary fraught with potential pitfalls. We’re thankful for all of these things, and we want to wish everyone out there in College Hoops Nation the very best of Thanksgiving days wherever you are in your lives, and hopefully you too can find the happiness that we all get from making this thing happen. Have a Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!
Iowa State received the bad news on Wednesday that Minnesota transfer Royce White’s appeal to become eligible to play this season was denied by the NCAA. The troubled player never played a game as a freshman for Minnesota in 2009-10 due to a Mall of America incident that left him in trouble with the legal system, so his eligibility request was based on that lag. The NCAA didn’t buy the argument, however, choosing instead to impose the standard one-year transfer redshirt rule with White as it typically does any other transfer player.
Mike DeCourcy answers some reader (?) questions, and the lead query asks which coach among the heavy-lifters (K, Izzo, Calipari, Donovan) would he choose to win a one-game scenario. His answer won’t surprise you (K), but it reminded us of a solid question we received last week in a similar vein. If we had to choose one coach and player to currently build a program with — who would it be? We assumed a four-year window, but our choice was Butler’s Brad Stevens and Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger. Who would you guys start with?
Thanksgiving was once all about that sport with the oblong ball and a 100-yard field of grass. And yeah, we suppose that there are NFL games that actually matter, but the only college football game on today involves a 5-6 Texas team taking on an 8-3 Texas A&M team as the battle for seeding in the national tournament in an exercise of utter meaninglessness. Good luck with that. Or, you could watch the 76 Classic and Old Spice Classic, both of which begin today and even though March Madness is still over three months away, these games today actually have meaning. The meaning might be marginal in scope, but it’s more than zero; and zero is what you get by watching late November games involving Texas schools going nowhere fast in that other sport.