Who Won the Week? is a regular column that will outline and discuss three winners and losers from the previous week. The author of this column is Kenny Ocker (@KennyOcker), an Oregon-based sportswriter best known for his willingness to drive (or bike!) anywhere to watch a basketball game.
WINNER: Kevin Ollie
Kevin Ollie Has Gotten Off to a Nice Start at UConn (credit: CT Post)
The debutante coach of the UConn Huskies still has a huge task in front of himself this season in trying to motivate a team ineligible for the postseason because of terrible academic performance. But he couldn’t have started his tenure off better. Beating a talented Michigan State team on Ramstein Air Force Base in Germany was one of the first night’s biggest surprises, and then coming back home to blow out Vermont in what could have been a letdown game was an accomplishment in itself. Ollie and the Huskies should cruise through the next two weeks before a December 4 match-up with North Carolina State in the Jimmy V Classic.
(Related winners: The UConn program, Jim Calhoun. Related losers: Michigan State.)
LOSER: The ACC
The Atlantic Coast Conference could have a big problem — depth. The league’s lower half has taken four losses from mid-major schools in the first week (two more than any other BCS conference): Virginia falling to George Mason and Delaware, Florida State losing to South Alabama, and Miami losing by 12 to Florida Gulf Coast. The separation between Duke/North Carolina/N.C. State and the rest of the conference could be vast this year, and that may hurt a lot of middle-of-the-road ACC teams come Selection Sunday.
(Related winners: The Colonial Athletic Association as a whole, South Alabama, bubble teams from other conferences. Related losers: The teams that lost to mid-majors, the other teams in the middle of the ACC.)
Great news for the Ducks, as the NCAA has granted transfer Arsalan Kazemi a waiver and he will be available to play for Oregon right away. It’s a good thing, because Oregon has a huge home date with Vanderbilt later tonight. Many figured this was coming since Omar Oraby, a fellow Rice transfer, was not required to sit out a year given similar circumstances. An interesting point of contention with the Oraby and Kazemi transfers is that USC and Oregon alleged that the two faced racial discrimination at Rice, primarily by Rice AD Rick Greenspan. Rice head coach Ben Braun and Greenspan vehemently denied these allegations in a statement from the school, which is posted in full in the CBS Sports article (the first link). Without getting too much into Rice’s situation, the school said it did not sign off on waivers that would allow Oraby and Kazemi to play right away. Whatever is going on there can’t bode well for Braun, the former Cal coach who has seen six players leave his school via the transfer route since the end of last year. In any case, this is a huge positive for the Ducks, as they get a Kazemi who averaged a double-double last year in a conference (C-USA) that was comparable to the level of Pac-12 play. He will add a lot to a front line that already includes Tony Woods and Waverly Austin.
Not so great news for the Washington Huskies, as Lorenzo Romar says he is unsure if Scott Suggs will play this weekend after he suffered a concussion in Tuesday’s loss to Albany. Suggs, whose status is day-to-day, is obviously a big asset to this team, but it would be great for the Huskies to have him available this weekend because the team travels to the Mohegan Sun in Connecticut for the Tip-Off Hall of Fame Classic. A win against Seton Hall would mean (most likely) a date with No. 4 Ohio State. A loss and it’s a game against lowly Rhode Island, a team that is 0-2 on the season and isn’t expected to do much of anything in a loaded Atlantic 10. And, after losing to the Great Danes, Washington needs all the RPI love it can get. If Suggs is on the floor, the Huskies have one more shooter to space the offense and provide another option for Abdul Gaddy on a penetrate and pitch. If he can’t go, Andrew Andrews will get the starting nod, per Romar.
Not much of a surprise here, but Colorado coach Tad Boyle has received a one-year extension on his contract that now lasts through the 2016-17 season. The folks in Boulder absolutely love Boyle, just ask our very own Parker Baruh. He has turned around a program that was consistently in the bottom tier of the Big 12 and led them to two straight 24-win seasons, the last one in the year after losing a lottery pick in Alec Burks. If Boyle can lead the Buffs to another 24 wins in 2012-13, he would have to be a leading candidate for Pac-12 Coach of the Year, considering he lost Carlon Brown and two other key seniors from last year in Nate Tomlinson and Austin Dufault. Just hours later, Boyle earned his 50th win as the Buffs’ head coach when Colorado beat Dayton in the first round of the Charleston Classic. Good timing for that extension.
Speaking of the Charleston Classic, it’s one of a few non-conference tournaments that houses Pac-12 constituents. While Colorado knocked off Dayton after being behind for most of the game, the same can’t be said for Oregon State, which lost a close one to Alabama in the first game of the 2K Sports Classic in Madison Square Garden. The other tournament going on, as mentioned earlier, is the Tip-Off Hall of Fame Classic, which features Washington. Again, these tournaments are largely where conferences make or break its reputation for the season, as most of the other non-conference games come against guarantee-game opponents with a few challenges sprinkled in here and there. For the Pac-12 to have an acceptable weekend, each team needs to win at least one game: Colorado has done the bare minimum, but could really help out the Pac by beating Murray State or St. John’s in the third place game if a victory doesn’t come against Baylor. Oregon State needs to knock off Purdue to even itself up in Madison Square Garden, and that won’t be an easy task. Washington, again, really needs a win against Seton Hall, because a loss to Ohio State would probably look better than a win against Rhode Island. The non-conference tournaments are huge for the Pac-12 this year, especially considering what happened last year, with failures like Washington State going 0-3 against a weak field in the 76 Classic and UCLA going 0-2 against D-I teams in the Maui Invitational.
Connor here, stepping in to finish off the M5 with our weekly Pick’em contest. Unfortunately, with Utah’s uninspiring loss last week in Seattle, I still trail Drew by four games with only 14 left to play. But it ain’t over til it’s over, and I’m pulling out everything I’ve got this week to make up some ground. I’m talking a Washington State upset in the desert. I’m taking a Cal team playing in what will likely be their head coach’s final game at the university. These may be long shots, but I’ve got no choice at this point. Our picks below, with, as always, our game of the week in bold.
We have seen a lot of inopportune suspensions leading up to the start of the season, but Florida may take the prize with the worst timing as they suspended their starting point guard, Scottie Wilbekin, indefinitely just one day before their first game. Neither the school nor Wilbekin has offered any additional insight into the reason for the suspension but from the words of Billy Donovan it sounds like a relatively minor offense. Fortunately for the Gators, they have quite a bit of perimeter depth. Unfortunately for the Gators, much of that perimeter depth is not particularly skilled at passing the ball.
As bad as that timing is for the Gators Saint Joseph’s might have had them beat after the announced yesterday that they were suspending their leading scorer Carl Jones (17 points per game last season) for three games for violating the school’s community standards. Jones already served one game of that suspension sitting out last night’s exhibition game and will miss the team’s first two games in the Coaches vs. Cancer Classic against Yale and Notre Dame. We would put this above the Wilbekin suspension as Jones is clearly a more important player for the Atlantic 10 favorites than Wilbekin is for the Gators, but at least this suspension is finite whereas we are not sure when Wilbekin will return. Jones’ suspension could end up costing the Hawks more in the long run in terms of seeding if they lose to Notre Dame due to his absence as that could be a very nice resume builder although they will get other chances to make up for that later in the season.
With all of the injury issues that USC has had to deal with recently it must be nice for them to get some good news about a player’s status and they got that yesterday when the NCAA granted Rice transfer Omar Oraby a hardship waiver allowing him to play immediately for the Trojans. The junior, who averaged 6 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 1.6 blocks per game despite playing just 11.6 minutes per game. Oraby is expected to start for the Trojans when they open their season tonight against Coppin State. Oraby adds to what promises to be a huge Trojan frontline that has three 7-footers and might be the biggest in the nation (at least of the top of our head). We are not sure if that will make the Trojans a good team, but we doubt they will go 6-26 again.
He may get a lot of criticism from opposing fans, but even his most ardent critics will have to applaud John Calipari for his work in helping raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims. Calipari along with his Kentucky players raised the money by answering phones during two telethons that raised $200,000 for the victims and now Calipari will be bringing a check for nearly $1 million to give to the Red Cross in conjunction with the Wildcats game in Brooklyn tonight. We are sure that there are plenty of other coaches out there who are doing similar work even if not quite to the same level in terms of dollar amount, but it is nice to note some of their work when we see it.
If you are into advanced statistics, we have a page for you–John Pudner’s Value Add–to bookmark and check back in throughout the year. What the site promises to do is provide something similar to what baseball’s WAR (wins above replacement) does in interpreting a player’s contribution to his team. [Note: If you are looking for a better explanation including the formula, check out this entry.] Even though the season hasn’t started the rankings look like a reasonable estimation of what we would expect although there are at least two names in the top ten that you might not expect and that is not even including the two freshmen in there (we have no idea how the model adjusted for their high school competition), but it is worth checking to see if it performs as you would expect and/or we see some tweaks to try to create a better model.
A Conference in Considerable Flux – Before Memphis, Houston, UCF, and SMU defect to the Big East – which officially makes a geographic mockery of the Big East’s name – C-USA will have one final season together as a full-fledged “upper-level” Division I conference. With only six NCAA Tournament teams and zero NCAA tournament victories in the past three seasons, however, can C-USA muster together a respectable showing for the 2012-13 campaign that doesn’t rival most mid-major conferences? Memphis is the only virtual lock to go dancing, yet several other programs (see Marshall, UTEP, and Tulane) are on the rise and could conceivably end up on the right side of the tournament bubble come March. Still, it may be overly optimistic to think C-USA will break the two-team NCAA bid barrier that has eluded the conference since 2005.
A Run Towards Perfection – In his fourth season as Memphis’ head coach, Josh Pastner has an opportunity to do something his predecessor, John Calipari, did with apparent ease for three straight seasons prior – have his Tigers run the table in C-USA. With the conference slightly weaker heading into this season (according to Ken Pomeroy), Memphis has a real opportunity to put up a perfect 16-0 regular season mark against their conference foes. It will still prove to be difficult, especially when facing UCF and Marshall twice as part of their unbalanced schedule, yet Memphis returns four starters and is sitting on a potential NBA lottery pick in Adonis Thomas if the 6’7” small forward can stay healthy for much of the season.
Josh Pastner leads a talented home-grown roster in Memphis’ final season in C-USA.
Welcoming Back a Legend – Anytime you can hire a head coach with a resume such as the 71-year old Larry Brown, I guess you have to do it, given SMU’s desperation to hire a big name. After all, you’re talking about a guy with an NCAA championship and an NBA championship on his resume. The problem is – aside from his age and inability to coach through the initial contract at his last three destinations – Brown has been away from the college game for nearly 25 years, when he won the 1988 NCAA championship coaching Danny Manning (who, interestingly, is a new C-USA coach himself) and the Kansas Jayhawks. How much can the Mustangs reasonably expect from Brown under these conditions? The cupboard is bare with the graduation of leading scorer and most efficient player, Robert Nyakundi, and the removal of four players including starting point guard Jeremiah Samarrippas, so you have to wonder if Brown will have the patience to stick around long enough to fully rebuild a SMU program that hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1993. One benefit from Brown’s hiring is that he has assembled an impressive coaching staff, which includes the Mustangs possible head-coach-in-waiting in Tim Jankovich.
New Coaching Blood – Including Brown, there are four C-USA programs that hired new coaches this offseason, which makes up a whopping one third of the entire league. The most notable new hires are Brown and the aforementioned Danny Manning, who left his assistant post at Kansas in an attempt to push Tulsa out of complacency. Donnie Tyndall (Southern Miss) and Jerod Haase (UAB) complete the list of coaches. It will be an uphill battle in season one; research has shown head coaches typically struggle in their first season at their newest destination. Perhaps these men can buck the trend and adapt quickly, although the more likely scenario has some of the league taking advantage and pushing ahead of these rebuilding programs for the time being. Well, maybe except for Rice (more on that later)…
Andy Katz reported on Friday that the Saint Mary’s men’s basketball program is currently under investigation by the NCAA for potential recruiting violations of an as-yet unknown variety. Few additional details were forthcoming over the weekend, but what little smoke that there appears to exist is surrounding former assistant coach David Patrick (currently an assistant at LSU), an Australian who was instrumental in recruiting former star guard Patty Mills to the campus. The tiny school that is coached by Randy Bennett has become one of the pre-eminent mid-major programs in America in large part due to its Australian talent pipeline — defending WCC POY and Olympian Matthew Dellavedova is only the latest and greatest Gael product of Oz — it makes you wonder if the attraction to Moraga, California, involved incentives beyond a beautiful campus surrounded by verdant hills. We’ll have more on this topic later this morning.
Now that the Billy Gillispie era has officially ended at Texas Tech, the university is left picking up the pieces of its reputation and trying to figure out what to do next. It’s not like there’s a lot of tradition or much fan support for the basketball program anyway, but the danger of making a poor decision now is that it could realistically embed the program at the bottom of the Big 12 for the next half-decade. Nevertheless, the school hopes to name an interim head coach for the upcoming season within the next two weeks, and assistant head coach Chris Walker by virtue of his association with Gillispie’s antics may not be the choice for the permanent job. Andy Katz suggested three viable candidates last week — Rob Evans, Doc Sadler, and Reggie Theus — all of whom have significant and successful head coaching experience along with ties to the region that would help the program transition to a new, and hopefully, better era.
Oregon received great news over the weekend as Dana Altman’s program reportedly has received a transfer commitment from former Rice star Arsalan Kazemi, a double-double machine who will apply for a hardship waiver to play immediately. Kazemi is notable as the first Iranian to play Division I NCAA basketball, but the “Beast of the Middle East” is certainly more than a demographic footnote — the 6’7″, 220-pounder consistently pounds the glass as one of the best defensive rebounders in America, and his free throw rate is annually one of the best in the nation. We’re not sure the basis for Kazemi’s waiver request to play this season, but if approved, an all-senior front line of Tony Woods, EJ Singler, and Kazemi would be one of the best in the Pac-12, if not the nation.
It’s not very often that you’ll read a piece from a national columnist encouraging his readers to rise up as one and not let an issue drop out of the collective consciousness. And yet, that’s exactly what CBSSports.com‘s Gregg Doyel does when he outlines what he calls the “hypocrisy of the NCAA” in predicting that absolutely nothing will happen to Duke as a result of the Lance Thomas jewelry loan situation. Doyel is a flashpoint writer — pretty much every major fan base thinks he has a specific beef with them, when in reality being critical is his style — but he has the status to make something his crusade if he chooses to do so. We’re guessing that many of the enemies he’s made over the years would turn on a dime and become his biggest fans if he actually was capable of nailing the Blue Devil program on this one.
We’re willing to root for Northwestern to finally make the NCAA Tournament as much as the next guy, but the storyline gets a little tiresome when every piece of news surrounding the program is viewed through that particular prism. Still, the weekend news that junior guard JerShon Cobbhas been suspended for the entire 2012-13 season because of a violation of team policy has to be disconcerting to Wildcat fans. Cobb has been a part-time starter who offers solid offensive production (career 7.3 PPG) in around 20 minutes per contest; his removal from the lineup changes the complexion of a team already anticipating the replacement of the offense of its former star, John Shurna. In a loaded Big Ten conference where a .500 record is a reasonable goal, Bill Carmody will need to find additional offense from unexpected places if his team is to have any shot at getting the NCAA albatross off its back.
Is former Duke forward Lance Thomas destined to become the next Corey Maggette, or worse? For those of you not familiar with the one-and-done freak of an athlete who came off the bench for the 1998-99 national runner-up Blue Devils, Maggette admitted under oath in 2000 as part of a federal grand jury proceeding that he took cash payments in high school from an agent named Myron Piggie, (theoretically) putting his amateur eligibility at considerable risk. The NCAA chose to not vacate Duke’s 37 wins from that season nor did it ask the program to remove its banner — ever since then, Duke haters have pointed to this decision as Exhibit A of the NCAA’s selective enforcement process. Well. Get ready for part two. With the news Tuesday that Thomas had come to a settlement agreement with the New York City jeweler who floated him a $67,800 loan nearly three years ago, the NCAA will need a Deep Throat (or at least a James Carter, IV) if it has any inclination of properly investigating this case. The strong likelihood is that nobody — not Thomas, not the jeweler, not anyone who had a red hand in this transaction — will say anything to to governing body… which begs the question: Will the NCAA make a prima facie case against Thomas to rule him retroactively ineligible (see: Rose, Derrick); or, will they suffer the howling of the masses for what will appear to be Duke getting away with special treatment a second time around (see: Maggette, Corey). Gonna be interesting.
Senior forward Julius Randle is the top player in the Class of 2013, depending on whom you consult with, and he’s gotten a lot of attention this week for taking an official visit to Kentucky (where he was photographed with Drake) and giving a review of each of his in-home visits with Eric Bossi at Rivals.com. The tea leaves with respect to Randle are all over the place at this point, as he still plans on doing another round of in-home visits with a number of other schools and plans on waiting until spring to make his final decision. Clearly this kid likes the attention. Still, with John Calipari, Mike Krzyzewski, Bill Self, and Roy Williams all vying for Randle’s services, this is already one of the most power-packed recruitments we’ve seen in some time. And it promises to only get better.
While on the subject of recruiting elite players, SI.com‘s Luke Winn reported yesterday that surprise Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi plans on requesting a waiver from the NCAA so that he has an opportunity to play right away in the 2012-13 season. He didn’t give Winn additional detail on the basis of that waiver request, but it is notable that Oregon is the only school on his current list that hasn’t started classes for the fall term yet (September 24). He plans on making a final decision by the end of this week, and not coincidentally, Dana Altman’s program in addition to everybody’s possible destination, Kentucky, appear to be his “early leaders.”
The Ed O’Bannon class action lawsuit against the NCAA for the use of his and other student-athletes’ likenesses continues to churn on in a federal courtroom in San Francisco, and a series of recently unsealed emails and depositions from the organization clearly reveals that school administrators and NCAA senior management have had serious and frank discussions about the legality of their strategies. One of the more interesting memoranda showed that a senior policy advisor at the NCAA suggested to incoming president Mark Emmert in 2010 that the organization ditch the term “student-athlete,” which if you recall from last fall’s The Atlantic piece from Taylor Branch, was an invention by former NCAA head honcho Walter Byers in the 1950s to explain away the notion that scholarships, room, and board were payment in kind. The article from ESPN.com cited above is worth the read, as there are a number of interesting quotes and anecdotes buried within it relating to how the NCAA does business.
We didn’t have space for this one yesterday but it’s something we wanted to make sure we got up on the M5 this week anyway. Marquette is back in action with what’s becoming an annual tradition around those parts — a karaoke-inspired mash-up of clips from various Golden Eagles singing (or whatever you want to call it) pop tunes that will be used as timeout fodder during next season’s MU home games. If you can bear listening to the whole thing, you’re one step ahead of us…
The NCAA eligibility train rolls on, and NC State’s Mark Gottfried was Monday’s recipient of the excellent news that superstar freshman Rodney Purvisis eligible to suit up in a Wolfpack uniform next season. The issue in Purvis’ case revolved around the legitimacy of his high school — Upper Room Christian Academy, in Raleigh, whose first-ever class to graduate included Purvis — but during an 80-minute deliberation on Monday, an NCAA core course subcommittee saw enough evidence that the big guard is adequately prepared for the rigors of a college education and made the right decision to let him play. We’ll have more on this later today, but the early buzz is that this makes NC State the favorite to win the ACC for the first time in… how long?
Speaking of getting a college education, UNC chancellor Holden Thorpannounced on Monday that this academic year would be his last at the university in that position. Even though the academic scandal that has rocked the university in recent months most likely started prior to his tenure as chancellor of the school in 2008, the most recent black eye involving fundraising director Matt Kupec and Tyler Hansbrough’s mother, Tami, taking personal trips on the university dime, happened on his watch. One member of the Board of Governors said that Thorp, as “captain of the ship” at UNC, had become “the face of damage control” and lauded him for sacrificing himself for the good of the school. It doesn’t take an insider to see the writing on the wall that more changes are likely to come in Chapel Hill as additional details about the academic scandal are revealed by the upcoming Martin Report, due to release next month.
Everybody is well aware of the near-mutiny that occurred in Lubbock earlier this month at Texas Tech (side note: Billy Gillispie has been ordered by his doctors to avoid stress for the next 30 days), but what is going on on the other side of the state at Rice? Ben Braun’s team lost four transfers over the summer and followed that up by losing two more players in just the past week — notably, Omar Oraby (USC), and most importantly, Owls starArsalan Kazemi. The 6’7″ senior who averaged 12/10 last season en route to all-CUSA honors, was roommates with Oraby and no doubt must have missed their nightly games on the PlayStation. Jeff Goodman reported Monday that Kazemi is looking at six schools including Texas, Oregon, Cincinnati, Florida, Ohio State and Kentucky. He will have to sit out the mandated transfer year per NCAA rules, but the talented Iranian would provide a very nice one-year punch to any of those schools in 2013-14.
Louisville may have found its replacement for preseason All-American Peyton Siva in 2013-14 and perhaps beyond, as 5’11” waterbug Chris Jones committed to the Cardinals out of the junior college ranks on Monday. The rising sophomore, originally from Memphis, averaged 18/5/4 APG in leading his Northwest Florida State team to a 26-1 record and an appearance in the NJCAA Division I championship game last year. According to Jones, Rick Pitino does not want the reins of his offense in a freshman point guard’s hands, so if things work out properly he’ll have upperclassman leadership at that position for the next three seasons.
Speaking of Pitino and in light of Jim Calhoun’s recent retirement, CBSSports.com‘s Matt Norlander took a look at the 11 current college basketball coaches with at least one national title and handicapped each one’s probable date of retirement. Be sure to take a look at his entire list, but he’s got more than half of those guys — six, to be exact — retiring within the next four years. The exercise here is one that depends on so many different and volatile factors (health, family, motivation, recruiting, etc.), but it says here that Pitino won’t hang up the whistle until he gets that elusive and self-validating second championship, while Krzyzewski is only likely to do so after he wins his fifth. Time will tell.
Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.
A Look Back
For months now we’ve heard talk of a merger, in some form or another, between the Mountain West and Conference USA. Monday, we got a clearer picture of what that will look like, as it was reported that the remaining members from those two conferences will join together in a newly named conference, beginning as early as the 2013-14 season. So, here we are in the middle of yet another great Mountain West basketball season, and we’re faced with the eventuality of the MW going away.
We’ve known (but tried to forget, at least temporarily) that Boise State’s stopover in the conference was a short-term thing, as they would be headed to the Big East, but the fact that San Diego State would be sending its football team with them (because, you know, San Diego just screams East!) and sending its other sports to the Big West was a low blow. TCU already had plans to head to the Big East (Texas, frontier of the wild, wild East!), but reneged on that and chose a more suitable landing spot in the Big 12. But, with Nevada and Fresno State set to move to the conference next season, it looked like the MW was well on its way to guaranteeing survival in pretty solid shape. Now, however, we’re looking at a future where teams like UNLV and New Mexico are going to be shoehorned into a new conference with teams like Rice and Marshall (not to be confused with Dave Rice and Anthony Marshall).
In short, it has been an extremely fun ride in the MW, specifically over the last five years or so, but that wild ride is coming to an end. Maybe the next ride will be even more fun and exciting than this one has been, but it is hard to imagine a mid-major basketball conference that can survive the subtraction of such great rivalries as SDSU/UNLV, Utah/BYU, and UNLV/BYU and not skip a beat.
Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming Appear Headed To A Still-To-Be-Named New Conference
But, let’s put all that behind us for the next month or so. Right now we’ve got high quality basketball to salve those wounds. First and foremost, this past weekend marked the start of the second half of the MW schedule, and we were treated to another excellent battle between the two teams at the top of the conference. You can read more about UNLV’s win over SDSU below.
Elsewhere, New Mexico won its fifth straight in an absolute slugfest (and some would say abomination) with Wyoming, while Colorado State’s NCAA Tournament chances took a huge hit in a loss at TCU and their RPI continues its downward spiral; two weeks ago they had an RPI of #18, last week it dropped to #24 and today it sits at #30. Couple that with a rather unimpressive schedule that features only an upset of SDSU as any kind of quality win and I’m considerably less bullish on their NCAA chances today that I was two weeks ago.
Lastly, Boise State won its first conference game of the year, knocking off an Air Force team that had quite a shakeup, as head coach Jeff Reynolds was fired last Wednesday and replaced by assistant coach Dave Pilipovich. We’ll have more on this below, but this marks the second time in as many seasons that a MW coach was let go in the middle of the season, a trend is not particularly appealing.
Team of the Week
UNLV – In a short week like this, when each team only played one conference game, it is easy to just pick the team that beat the best team as Team of the Week. And that honor goes to the Rebels, who knocked off San Diego State and created a three-way tie at the top of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »
UCF Hits Speed Bump With Transfers: Usually at this point in the season it’s all about lacing up the sneakers and getting to business. However, the challenges striking the Central Florida men’s basketball program persist. Transfer guard Jeffrey Jordan, Michael’s oldest son, left the Knights over the weekend citing “personal reasons” and Central Florida Future announced Thursday that senior forward DwightMcCombs will be following suit after he was handed a season-ending suspension on Wednesday. The losses may not seem like that big of a deal with Jordan sitting on the bench and McCombs only averaging 2.4 points and 2.5 rebounds a night; however, the decisions of both players to leave the school only adds additional trouble to a program that has been marred with the departure of its athletic director this season.
Memphis Continues Success Against Southern Miss: The Golden Eagles took the nation’s seventh-longest winning streak into FedEx Forum on Wednesday night (11 games), but exited with their third loss of the season and their 18th consecutive loss to the Memphis Tigers. On the other sideline, the Tigers enjoyed their 135th home victory since the 2004-2005 season. Memphis is the winningest home team in the nation at 135-16 since that year. The Tigers were able to hold to a close victory behind a pair of ChrisCrawford free throws with 31.7 seconds remaining.
Dennis Tinnon Has A Career Night: Marshall barely escaped with a victory last night, defeating UAB 60-58 and setting up a marquee conference matchup with UCF on Saturday night. Junior forward Dennis Tinnon led the Thundering Herd, grabbing a career-high 19 rebounds. Another unheralded junior, forward RobertGoff, sealed the victory for Marshall with a gigantic three-point play with under a minute to play. DeAndre Kane also enjoyed a successful evening, scoring 21 points and recording 10 rebounds. UAB senior Cameron Moore put the Blazers up late, but failed to convert on what would have been a game-tying basket in the final seconds.
Kazemi Keeps Rolling: Rice’s Arsalan Kazemi continued his case for conference player of the year last night in a 68-52 rout against Southern Methodist. The junior forward recorded his 40th career double-double, the 13th of the season, which ranks him as the nation’s best. The Iran native finished with 21 points and 14 rebounds. Freshman Ahmad Ibrahim made a solid first career start for the Owls, recording 14 points.
Head Coach Donnie Jones (left) Hit A Bump In The Road When Dwight McCombs And Jeffrey Jordan Decided To Leave The Knights.
Memphis (11-5, 2-0): They may not have the conference’s best overall record, but the Tigers are the deepest team in conference and they have the most offensive firepower. Wednesday’s win over Southern Miss proved that the Tigers can win defensive bouts too. Memphis has won six of its last seven after falling from the national rankings. Will Barton continues to put forth a First-Team All-Conference effort, averaging 18.4 points and 8.9 rebounds per night.
Southern Miss (15-3, 2-1): The Golden Eagles were unquestionably the best team in conference until last night, which should be a great learning lesson for a relatively young team. Southern Miss can rebound the ball almost better than anyone in conference, averaging 38.1 boards a night as a team, which is third only to UCF and Marshall in C-USA. Senior guard Darnell Dodson has elevated his play.
UCF (13-3, 3-0): With guard A.J. Rompza back in the lineup, the Knights have been unbeatable, winning both at home (carrying a 16-game home win streak) and on the road. Forward Keith Clanton and guard Marcus Jordan continue to be the conference’s best duo for coach Donnie Jones in what has been an up-and-down season for the Knights.
Marshall (12-4, 3-0): If Marshall—the same team that has wins over Cincinnati and Iona—is the fourth best team in conference, then C-USA could be presenting a reasonable case for four teams come March. The Thundering Herd have revived from a two-game losing streak by winning their first three conference games. DeAndre Kane and DamierPitts have found a force in the low post in junior forward Dennis Tinnon. Marshall is fourth in the country in rebounds with over 42 a night.
Rice (10-7, 1-1): Arsalan Kazemi continues to be the story here. The junior forward is averaging 14.4 points and 11.9 rebounds per game, leading the nation in double-doubles with 13 this season. Fellow junior Tamir Jackson has been a pivotal player, running the team’s offense and averaging 12.9 points per game. The Owls don’t seem to be in the upper echelon of the conference, but with Kazemi they will contend throughout the season.
Tulane (12-4, 0-2): After a 9-0 start, the Green Wave has stumbled; however, there isn’t a team in the conference that has played a tougher schedule in recent weeks. Since their December 22 loss to top-ranked Syracuse, the Green Wave has played two of the conference’s best teams in UCF and Southern Miss.
Houston (9-7, 1-2): The Cougars have followed a five-game win streak with back-to-back conference loses at UTEP and UCF. With the losses, Houston has fallen to the middle of the conference rankings, but have a huge opportunity this weekend when they play host to the Memphis Tigers. If the Cougars can continue shooting the way they have this past month, then they can contend with anybody. Currently, Houston ranks 25th in the country in shooting percentage, knocking down 48.3% of their shots from the field.
SMU (9-7, 1-1): Senior forward Robert Nyakundi continues to lead the Mustangs, averaging 15.5 points and 5.7 rebounds per game. The Arlington native hasn’t had to do it alone, though, with the addition of Texas transfer Shawn Williams. The sophomore swingman has been an immediate contributor in Dallas since joining the team on the court eight games ago. Williams isn’t the only transfer making a difference. Junior guard London Giles, a Nevada transfer, has been a crucial performer at SMU all season, averaging 11.5 points per game.
Tulsa (8-9, 1-2): Another team on the outside looking in, the Golden Hurricane have struggled consistently this season in close games, losing three times in overtime and four times by three points or less. Jordan Clarkson will end up on an All-Conference team, but he hasn’t much help thus far.
UTEP (8-9, 1-2): Tim Floyd’s squad enjoyed a bit of a revival before the holidays, but has floundered since, failing to win consecutive games since December 22. The Miners enjoyed a nice home victory over Houston, but haven’t been able to win a true road game all season. Although they haven’t found a replacement for Randy Culpepper, the Miners are extremely deep with a bench of 11 players.
East Carolina (9-6, 0-2): The backcourt has been stout this season for the Pirates. Junior Miguel Paul has emerged as one of the best point guards in the conference, scoring 16.2 points and dishing out 5.7 assists per night. Senior forward DariusMorrow has also been a force for ECU, averaging 13.6 points and 6.1 rebounds a game. In addition, the big man is shooting 54 percent from the field for a streaky Pirate club that won five straight heading into conference play, but have gone 0-2 early on.
UAB (5-10, 0-2): The Blazers have continued a porous non-conference run with a rough conference start, dropping contests at home to Memphis and Marshall. UAB’s offense is still the worst in conference, averaging less than 60 points per game. Even worse, preseason conference player of the year Cameron Moore has been spectacular, but hasn’t been able to abate the Blazers’ woes. With their next four games scheduled against Southern Miss, Rice, UCF and Marshall, the losing skid could very well continue.
UCF at Marshall, January 14 at 7 p.m. ET: While the Southern Miss-Memphis showdown lived up to the hype, C-USA fans will be watching this one with a close eye as first place in the conference is on the line. It will be extremely interesting to watch the backcourt duo of A.J. Rompza and Marcus Jordan duel against DeAndre Kane and Damier Pitts. Marshall boasts a three-game winning streak; however, it is UCF that is undoubtedly the hottest team in the conference. The Knights have won nine of their last 10.
Rice at Tulane, January 14 at 8 p.m. ET: Two of the conference’s best individual talents will square off on Saturday when Arsalan Kazemi leads the Owls into New Orleans against Kendall Timmons and the Green Wave. Tulane is coming off a full week’s rest and is arguably the most rested team in conference, which should play into their favor against a Rice team that has played five games since the holiday break.
Memphis at Houston, January 14 at 9 p.m. ET: The Tigers are riding an emotional high into Saturday’s contest at the Hofheinz Pavillion, which gives the Cougars the perfect opportunity to pull the upset. Houston is probably the best team in conference to matchup against Memphis’ high-powered offense. Currently, the Cougars are 39th in the nation in points per game with 76.6 a night. Houston has developed a quartet of double-digit scorers in addition to three other players that average more than six points a night. The Cougars are surprisingly deep and shouldn’t be overlooked.
SMU at UTEP, January 14 at 9 p.m. ET: Neither of these clubs is able to rebound well, lacking frontcourt talent and depth. The Mustangs rank 326th in the nation in rebounding with an average of 30.4 boards a game, while the Miners are even worse at 335th with 29.6 rebounds a night. However, UTEP has been able to improve its field goal percentage in recent weeks, shooting 47.4% from the field. Last time they played in the Don Haskins Center, the Miners shot 61.2% in a 70-50 thumping over Houston on January 7.
Marshall at West Virginia, January 18 at 7:30 p.m. ET (ESPN3): This game serves as the conclusion for Marshall’s non-conference schedule and provides head coach Tom Herrion’s club with another opportunity to showcase their talent on national TV. Of course, this is an in-state rivalry so the emotions will be as high as any game this season. So far, Marshall is 1-1 against Big East competition. Another win against the nation’s deepest conference, in addition to their victory over Iona, could serve them come March if they fall short in the conference tournament.
Memphis at UCF, January 18 at 8 p.m.: It’s not too early to look towards next week’s conference schedule with Memphis traveling to take on Central Florida in a matchup that could be for first place in the conference. Another marquee game to look ahead at is Marshall at Southern Miss, which won’t be played until January 21 and will be aired on national television. These are the four top teams in conference and for the second straight week in a row, there will be a pair of pivotal conference matchups that feature all four.
Spotlight On…Keith Clanton and Marcus Jordan
UCF has greatly benefited from the addition of A.J. Rompza and from the development of sophomore guard Isaiah Sykes. However, it has been the tandem of Clanton and Jordan that has fueled the Knights this season with consistent performance. Clanton is arguably the best post player in the conference, averaging 15.4 points and 9.6 rebounds a game. His latest performance against Houston, a 18 point and 13 rebound outing that included 5 assists, 2 blocks and 2 steals, showed that he will be able to dominate teams with inferior big men, which the conference is chock full of. To further understand Clanton’s importance, one only needs to evaluate the Knights as a team. They are ranked 200th or lower in every major statistical category other than rebounding, where they rank 38th in the country with an average of 38.9 boards a night. In addition to Clanton, Marcus Jordan has been playing top-notch ball for head coach Donnie Jones. In addition to be the team’s leading scorer, Jordan has been the epitome of consistency, scoring in double-digits in all fourteen games he has played in so far this season. In a season filled with tons of upheaval for the UCF athletic department, the Knights basketball program has weathered the storm, winning nine of its last ten. They couldn’t have done it without the stellar play of both Clanton and Jordan.
With the Big 12 introducing an 18-game schedule for the first time in history, conference play begins a week earlier than usual in 2012. In recent years, the week after New Year’s meant tune-up games with low-major opponents, but this season, Big 12 teams won’t have much time to recover from the holidays. Kansas and Kansas State in particular must be in tip-top shape, as the two state rivals will face each other on Wednesday (January 4).
GAME OF THE WEEK
#23 Kansas State (11-1) at #14 Kansas (10-3), Wednesday 7 PM CT
Thomas Robinson Was Unstoppable This Weekend
Kansas State responded from the graduation of Jacob Pullen by ripping through its non-conference schedule, which included wins over Virginia Tech and Alabama, in addition to a Diamond Head Classic championship. The early success has helped Frank Martin‘s team crack the Top 25, but the Wildcats will now face three top-15 teams during the next eight days. It all begins with Kansas at Allen Fieldhouse on Wednesday, marking the first meeting of the season between the two underrated rivals. Kansas State may be overachieving, but the Jayhawks are still finding their way after losing games to Kentucky, Duke and Davidson during the first two months of the season. Bill Self doesn’t have a vintage KU team this season, as it lacks depth and still has not executed all that well offensively. That doesn’t mean these Jayhawks can’t ball, though. They can, especially when Thomas Robinson plays like an animal (30 points and 21 rebounds against North Dakota on Saturday) and Tyshawn Taylor takes care of the basketball. Taylor has heard a lot of criticism for his turnovers, but he may be turning his season around in that department. He led KU to a rout at USC by dishing out nine assists and limiting himself to just two turnovers and he’s averaged just two turnovers per game during the last three contests.
Of course, in those games, Kansas did not face the sort of defense it will see out of Kansas State. Martin’s teams are always defined by their intensity on the defensive end, and this 2011-12 team is no different. The Wildcats are deep, athletic and physical, and forwards Thomas Gipson, Jordan Henriquez and Jamar Samuels can test Robinson on the boards a little better than North Dakota did. Bill Self’s teams will always defend, and despite his relative lack of depth, he has more skilled and proven scorers than KSU with Robinson, Taylor and the emerging Elijah Johnson. But if Rodney McGrudercan play like a star and provide some heroics, his team may hang around at the Phog. The junior guard, who leads his team at 12.5 points per game, scored 28 against Long Beach State during Christmas week to win the Diamond Head Classic.