Gonzaga’s last second win over Washington State on Wednesday night goes down as one of the best games of the young season so far, and while Ken Bone and the Cougars aren’t big on the concept of the moral victory against a bitter rival, there are some good things they can take away from that game. First and foremost, their stars stepped up in a big way. Brock Motum and DaVonte Lacy combined for five threes in a four-and-a-half minute stretch to bring the Cougs back from an 11-point deficit to tie the game and set up the final scramble. And if WSU has any plans to turn around a slow start to the year, it will need to be on the backs of those two. The other big thing is that, while this team will be without a traditional point guard the whole year, Bone seems to have cobbled together a workable solution. Mike Ladd seems to do most of the play-making in the halfcourt set, but guys like Royce Woolridge, Dexter Kernich-Drew and Lacy have all pitched in and assembled a good point-guard-by-committee group that is doing an excellent job limiting turnovers and getting WSU into their sets. It was bumpy at the start of the year, but the Gonzaga loss proved to me, at least, that the situation is workable.
Meanwhile, Utah, another team expected to finish near the bottom of the conference, was able to come up with its best performance of the year in blowing out Boise State. On a night when the Utes honored former head coach Rick Majerus prior to the game, Utah center Jason Washburn said “we felt like Coach Majerus was with us all night; he was right on the bench with us, smiling down.” Washburn went 6-of-6 from the field to pace an incredibly hot shooting night for the Utes, in which they shot a ridiculous 78.8% eFG. Block U calls the win the best by the program in the last four years, and, although I could nitpick, it is being taken as a sign by the Ute faithful that Larry Krystkowiak has got this ship headed in the right direction.
We’ve talked a lot about Mark Lyons over the last few days, and Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting Newshas his own take on his transition to the point, which includes the unconvincing argument of “hey, they’re beating a lot of bad teams by a lot of points!” But, DeCourcy does make the point that Lyons is never really the sole ballhandler on the floor for Arizona and that Sean Miller is quite pleased with Lyons’ production. I would maybe go even one step further and say that, while Lyons is the closest thing to a point guard on the team, very rarely is he tasked with being the initiator of the halfcourt offense, a role that just as often falls to either Solomon Hill or Nick Johnson. Lyons may spend a bit more time with the ball in his hands this year than he did last year playing with Tu Holloway at Xavier, but really, Miller hasn’t exactly tried to rebuild Lyons from the ground up.
Even with UCLA’s struggles out of the gate, Shabazz Muhammad still thinks his team is going to make an impact in the Pac-12 this season, even if it has been relegated to sleeper status by their early losses. He told the Petros and Money show on Fox Radio on Wednesday how he feels about the rest of the season. But, the big takeaway from Muhammad’s comments (other than the overwhelming use of the word “really”) may be that Ben Howland has “become a players’ coach.” Muhammad ties that comment to the change that encourages the team to get out in transition more, and it is true that UCLA’s averaging about three more possessions per game this year than last, but certainly Howland is still trying to figure out the sweet spots on both ends of the floor for this team.
Another team that has earned the title “sleeper team” in the Pac-12 is Oregon, off to a 7-1 start behind the production of an all-freshman backcourt of Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson. While senior leader E.J. Singler is quick to praise his younger players, Dana Altman, ever the coach, sees the need for better consistency and better shot selection out of the backcourt duo. Still, he sees them as key cogs in the long-term plans for the Ducks. And, an already deep and talented team expects to get even deeper and more talented, when freshman Arik Armstead is expected to join the team in January. Armstead, a defensive tackle for the Ducks football team, won’t join the team until after Oregon’s appearance in the Fiesta Bowl (January 3 against Kansas State) and it’ll take some time for him to get into basketball shape and learn the ins and outs of the teams’ sets, but he’s been spending a bit of time working with team managers. Just how much of an impact he’ll have is unknown, especially with a now deep Ducks big man rotation, but you can never have too much talent, can you?
Tonight’s Lede. A Reminder Of College Basketball’s Lesser-Touted Rivalries.When you think college basketball rivalries, you think Duke-Carolina or Kentucky-Louisville. You think about infectiously enthusiastic student sections and fight songs and longstanding grievances. Wednesday night ran the gamut on college hoops rivalries, from the bloodletting knockout that took place on Florida State’s home floor, to the grossly underrated but cancelled BYU-Utah State clash in Provo, to Colorado’s nascent feud between the Buffaloes and Rams. Three different games, all of different styles and talent levels, each with its own unique outcome. Nothing comes close to the Commonwealth’s rivalry or the famed Tobacco Road clash, but Wednesday night provided a diverse selection of some of the nation’s lesser-known tussles. These games often get swept under the rug in the face of more storied fixtures between blueblood programs. I get that. Rivalries mean different things to different segments of the college basketball-watching public. Let this be a plea for greater and more careful analysis of the lesser known hatefests. Disillusioned by Wednesday night’s events though you may be, give these rivalry games a few minutes of your TV allotment. You won’t be disappointed.
Your Watercooler Moment. Florida’s Good and All, But What Happened To The Seminoles?
The Seminoles are reeling after this latest blitzing in Tallahassee (Photo credit: Getty Images).
The key to unlocking Florida State’s typically suffocating defense is not difficult to discover. No one’s getting worked up about preparing for the Seminoles’ relentless pressure, or their ability to turn you over, or disrupt your offensive flow. That’s a safe conclusion to make following the Seminoles’ most embarrassing result yet in a long line of disappointing outcomes to open the season. Rival Florida handed Florida State its fourth home loss, and did so with a punctuating 25-point margin of defeat, just three days after losing at home to Mercer and eight days after Minnesota’s win at the Tucker Center. I could go on about how incredibly dominant Florida looked, how well the Gators defended, how the ability to sustain tonight’s complete effort over any extended context precludes but the slightest challenge from a Kentucky, Missouri or whoever else wants to emerge from the muck of mediocrity in the SEC to challenge the Gators for a league crown. I’m more concerned with Florida State, because the Seminoles are no longer the most perplexing team in the country. They’ve long retired that label. I’m starting to wonder whether Leonard Hamilton’s team simply isn’t what it was billed to be. Not only are the Seminoles not defending – after ranking first nationally in defensive efficiency in 2010 and 2011, the Seminoles have dropped to 80th in that category – they’re not scoring efficiently enough (their 107.1 offensive rating ranks 54th in the country) to offset their aberrant ball-stopping tendencies. The Seminoles need to figure things out sooner rather than later. They’ve squandered every prime non-conference opportunity, which means they’ll need to run through ACC play with minimal hiccups in order to secure an NCAA Tournament berth and continue their recent curve of success under Hamilton.
Video of the night. Many were quick to praise the Gators after their evisceration of the Seminoles in Tallahassee. Florida has every right to be excited — not only about Wednesday night’s comprehensive beatdown but also their place in the national landscape.
Tonight, prior to its game against Boise State, Utahwill pause to commemorate the life of former head coach Rick Majerus, who died on Saturday night of heart failure. The university will observe a moment of silence, then they’ll show a video in the Huntsman Center celebrating Majerus’ time in Utah and the team will wear black patches on their uniforms for the remainder of the season. Later in the year, they’ll raise a replica of the white sweater that Majerus wore during his time there. The athletic department had tried to work out a time to have a ceremony for Majerus last season, while he was still a head coach at Saint Louis, but the two parties could never find a suitable time. Lastly, while there have been a lot of great remembrances of the coaching legend in recent days, it goes without saying that Utah fans, where Majerus enjoyed his greatest success, had a good perspective on the man, and Block U in particular laid down another in a long line of touching tributes.
And speaking of the game against Boise State, that contest kicks off a big week forUtah, as they’ll also travel to face BYU on Saturday. Both games mark significant upgrades in terms of competition for the Utes, and they represent the clear high water mark of the non-conference schedule. Ken Pomeroy gives Utah a 17% chance of knocking off the Broncos and an 8% chance of winning in Provo, but more important to the program may not be the focus on earning any Ws this week, but playing up to their potential and showing improvement from last week’s split of a two-game road-trip to Texas to face SMU (a seven-point loss) and Texas State (a five-point win).
On Monday, we handed out our Pac-12 Player of the Week award to C.J. Wilcox of Washington, but the official POTW award went toArizona State’s Carrick Felix, who averaged 21 points, nine boards, nearly five assists and a couple of blocks in a pair of wins for the Sun Devils. He was the first ASU player to earn the honor since Ty Abbott won it in March 2011. After a bumpy first couple of seasons in Tempe marked by great athleticism but poor shooting, Felix has dialed in his long-range jumper in a big way this season, hitting nearly two threes a game at a 44.4% clip. As Doug Haller reports, head coach Herb Sendek attributes Felix’s improvement to perseverance and “habits of excellence” as well as understanding his strengths and being comfortable with who he is on the basketball court. Throw in the fact that Felix, a senior now, is surrounded by the most talent he’s seen in his time at ASU and there’s a good chance this run at the start of the year is not just a fluke, but the new normal.
Washington has been without the services of Scott Suggs since before Thanksgiving, and they’ve been without Shawn Kemp Jr. for the entire year. But, both are nearing their returns, and if they can get through practices on Thursday and Friday without any adverse affects (a big if), they will be ready to play on Saturday against Nevada. Kemp tore a patellar tendon in his right knee back in October, and even if he is available for Saturday’s game, it will likely be for limited minutes. Suggs, who has been struggling with plantar fasciitis, is a better bet to play on Saturday, but head coach Lorenzo Romar warns that Suggs’ injury is one that could linger throughout the season.
Finally, Scott Gleeson of the USA Today asked the question yesterday, is the Mountain West better than the Pac-12? Gleeson came up with the right answer, which is, “of course!” And he could have gone a step further with, “and it has been for at least three years now.” But despite three MW teams in the Top 25 compared to just one for the Pac-12 and a current 4-2 advantage on the season, we’ll get a clearer answer to the question this week as we’ll see five different match-ups between the two conferences. We already mentioned the Utah/Boise State game tonight, but there are a pair of other contests between the conferences tonight, as Colorado State visits Colorado and USC visits New Mexico. Then, over the weekend, we’ll see a couple more games, with Nevada traveling to Washington on Saturday and UNLV visiting California. And, there will be at least three other match-ups (and potentially a San Diego State/Arizona Christmas present in the championship game of the Diamond Head Classic) between the conferences prior to the start of 2013, giving a large enough sample to declare a winner in the unofficial Pac-12/Mountain West Challenge. My guess on the final tally? The Pac-12 finishes strong and pulls out a 9-6 record in the long run, with Colorado getting back on track tonight against Colorado State and California scoring a key win over UNLV on Sunday.
Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent who writes the column College Basketball By the Tweets, a look at the world of college hoops through the prism of everyone’s favorite social media platform. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.
When you’re a member of the loudest and polarizing fan base in college basketball, you have no choice but to accept ridicule from trolls high and low when things start to go sour. Kentucky, the defending national champion, is off to a bad start. Everybody knows this, and everybody wants everybody else to know this, too. To Twitter we go. Following Saturday’s loss to Baylor, the first L the Wildcats took in Rupp Arena in 55 games, our favorite social media platform has been a hub of negative sentiments pointed directly at Big Blue Nation (#BBN). The activity has become so pervasive and toxic that Wildcat players are one by one shutting the doors on their account until further notice.
My thought: This will either destroy or galvanize this young group of kids.
Louisville Leaves The Big East
Just 80 miles west of Lexington, the mood is bittersweet. On one hand, the Cardinals are without the services of their frontcourt anchor Gorgui Dieng for 4-6 weeks with a broken wrist. On the other, the school is the latest to ditch the Big East for the ACC, an addition to a short list of moves based more on basketball than football, and one that could serve as the tipping point in terms of a movement towards four (and not six) super-conferences.
An “A-C-C” chant has apparently broken out at the Louisville women’s basketball game vs. EKU tonight.
In the aftermath of the outpouring of support for Rick Majerus it seems appropriate that Utah announced that it will hang a replica Majerus sweater from its rafters. The decision to do so comes as part of a larger celebration to remember Majerus with the first part being at Wednesday’s game where the school will have a moment of silence followed by a video honoring Majerus. In addition to the ceremony the team will wear black patches on their uniforms for the rest of the season and the team will raise Majerus’ sweater to the rafters at a date later in the season.
We have hit December–the second month of the college basketball season–so some of the regular columns that you are used to seeing here such as Seth Davis’ weekly Hoops Thoughts column will start appearing on a more regular basis. In the first column of the season, Davis takes an overview of the past week highlighting the best and worst of the week to go along with a brief interview with Jim Boeheim and a mailbag full of questions/comments from a nation full of angry fans of disrespected teams (mostly for good reason).
It wouldn’t really be a weekend without a college basketball player getting in trouble and this weekend’s contribution comes from Massachusetts’ Cady Lalanne who was arrested on Saturday night at the school’s student union on charges of disorderly conduct and followed it up with assault and battery on the arresting police officer with a resisting arrest charge thrown in for good measure (see the entry from 2121 near the bottom of the page). Lalanne, who starts at center and averages 4.8 points, 5.3 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game, did not practice with the team yesterday and will not come with the team to their game tonight at Northeastern. We aren’t sure how long Lalanne will be out, but with that assault and battery on an officer charge we are guessing he will be out for a while.
At the beginning of the season we linked to a column highlighting the injuries/suspensions at nearly every program in the country. While the injury report put together by Rob Dauster isn’t as comprehensive it does provide a nice in-depth look at the most important injuries across the nation. You are probably aware of most of the major injuries on the list, but there are several key players who are still playing through their injuries and it does provide some useful updates on potential return dates for some players.
When we first saw Charles Pierce had written a column on the rebirth of Indiana basketball we thought we were going to get a phenomenal piece. We will be honest and admit that in our opinion it falls short of that, but it does offer some very good anecdotes (about Majerus, Tom Crean, Bob Knight, and Al McGuire) that is still worth a read even if it is not as well-connected as we would have expected from a writer of Pierce’s caliber and pedigree.
Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.
Five Things I Loved This Week
I LOVED… the challenge that John Calipari has on his hands. He proved that he could win a title last year, but the question in coming years is whether his one-year-and-out philosophy can continue to bring home the hardware that UK fans believe should be the norm. Several bad losses in a row, however, are showing that this group is not at the talent level of last year’s champs. In many ways, this should be a great test – if UK is not the most talented team in the country, does Calipari have the coaching chops to keep them in the conversation? Stay tuned.
I LOVED… thinking about upcoming Louisville battles with Duke, North Carolina and Syracuse after the Cardinals were selected to replace Maryland in the ACC. While I’ve had about enough of this whole conference realignment fad in the last couple years, the addition of these two Big East powerhouses to such a basketball-crazy conference is definitely reason to smile (and the folks over at ESPN just might feel the same way).
I LOVED… Larry Brown. There are only a few coaches out there who can walk into an under-the-radar (nice-speak for “not relevant”) program like SMU and declare that they’re going to be “pretty good pretty quickly.” Fortunately LB has the resume and personality to do just that. Do I think they will be? No way. But just hearing his enthusiasm made me smile and think – now wouldn’t that be something….
Larry Brown Is Off to a Good Start at SMU
I LOVED…Rasheed Sulaimon’s assertiveness as a freshman. This kid is going to be good, but more importantly he’s exactly the type of wing playmaker that the Blue Devils have been missing all the way back to Kyrie Irving’s injury, if we’re being honest. Sure, he probably takes a few more heat checks than Coach K might like, but he puts constant pressure on the D with his quickness and aggressiveness, has a promising stroke from deep, and should allow Duke’s other guards (read: Seth Curry) to spot up and reap the benefits of inevitable double teams from penetration. Duke is very good this early in the season, and if they’re still around in April, Sulaimon will be a big reason. Read the rest of this entry »
We usually don’t like to blame the actions of college students on a coach or the administration, but when you have the issues that Hofstra has had recently you start wanting to ask questions. On Friday, four players on the team (sophomore Shaquille Stokes and freshmen Jimmy Hall, Dallas Anglin, and Kentrell Washington) pleaded not guilty to their involvement in a series of six burglaries between October 4 and November 5. While this could be seen as an isolated series of incidents, these events come after the team already had two players miss the first two games of the season due to violation of unspecified team rules. We aren’t saying that it is head coach Mo Cassara’s or Hofstra’s fault that these serious accusations are flying around, but somebody within the institution needs to step up and get things under control there.
Years ago we used to wonder if a player would be headed to college or would bypass it completely to enter the NBA Draft. With the NBA’s one-year rule in place we don’t have that discussion any more, but in the case of elite class of 2013 recruit Jabari Parker we are awaiting a similar major decision — whether he would go to college next season or begin his two-year Mormon mission. On a local ESPN radio show Parker announced on Friday that he would be going to college before going on his Mormon mission. While this may seem like a no-brainer to most people there have been plenty of prominent Mormon athletes (including basketball players) who took time off during college to complete their mission. We are not sure if Parker will delay some part of his basketball career to do so himself, but we certainly would not rule it out.
We came across an article that appeared in The New York Times last week discussing whether a college diploma was as important as people claim it is. We found the argument intriguing and think that it relates a little to the issues regarding basketball players attending school to pursue their professional dreams. Obviously there are some significant differences here, primarily that graduation rates are focused more on the athletes who are not going to have professional sports careers where they make enough money to last their family for several lifetimes. For us the more important connection here is for individuals who are talented enough to pursue lucrative careers without the safety net of having a college degree. There are some important differences (namely the fact that athletes aren’t saddled with significant college tuition debt), but it is an interesting discussion whether you consider it from a traditional student’s perspective or from that of a student-athlete.
Federal officials may have dropped the Bernie Fine case, but local authorities do not appear to be convinced of his innocence as Onondaga County DA believes that some of his accusers are “highly credible.” This flies in the face of actions made by federal prosecutors a few weeks ago in closing the case investigating Fine, citing insufficient evidence to bring charges against the longtime Orange assistant coach. What does this all mean? Not much, as the statute of limitations on the DA bringing charges against Fine has already passed, but maybe in some strange way these statements serve to validate the accusers who came forward and encourage those who are silent in similar situations to realize that sharing their story can be worthwhile.
This Weekend’s Lede. Rick Majerus’ Passing Looms Over Action-Packed Weekend. This space is typically reserved for a general overview of the weekend’s on-court action. Common practice won’t suffice this weekend, not after college basketball witnessed the passing of a true coaching legend. Rick Majerus was one of the brightest basketball minds of his generation. Anyone with even the faintest knowledge of recent college hoops history will mourn the loss of not only a sideline legend and master strategist. They will forever long to appreciate the inexplicable character traits, the brusque disposition, the measured charisma, the almost juvenile passion for the game – they’ll seek to understand all of it. In truth, no one will every truly encapsulate Majerus’ legacy, though many brilliant reactions were penned following Saturday night’s news. (Here’s my brief take). The best we can do is pay homage and seek to remember the many ways in which he impacted the sport we love. So as we move to recapping the weekend, take a moment to appreciate the legacy of one of college basketball’s most unique individuals. Know that Majerus, if healthy and able, was not ready to slide away from the sport’s center stage. Majerus was a grand attraction unto himself; his lasting work, cut short by heart problems, will forever be remembered as unfinished business. RIP.
Your Watercooler Moment. An Unforgettable Majerus Moment.
The personal side of Rick Majerus was always a divisive subject. Stories of his abusive and demeaning behavior towards players tarnished his legacy. His grizzled disposition wasn’t for anyone; many players transferred away from his programs. More often, you hear coaches and players talk about how much Majerus loved the game, how many players he helped and how his sideline eccentricities were all part of the Majerus coaching experience – the sometimes inexplicable measures he took to get the most out of his players. Whether you briefly remember this highly emotional press conference following the Billikens’ Round of 32 loss to Michigan State in last year’s NCAA Tournament, or if you’re just seeing it for the first time, let it serve as a poignant snapshot of the emotional grip Majerus forged with his players. He was about so much more than Xs and Os, and Saint Louis senior Brian Conklin hammers that point home with this passionate postgame speech. Conklin teared up not just because his team lost, but because it was his last chance to play for Majerus. Keep some tissues nearby.
Also Worth Chatting About. The End of Kentucky’s Home Win Streak.
It’s unrealistic to expect another run of national dominance from this Kentucky team (Photo credit: US Presswire).
The idea that John Calipari could reboot his team for another dominant national championship season always felt like a bit of a stretch. The similarities between this year’s UK team and last year’s transcendent group aren’t all that difficult to make out. The 2012-13 Wildcats are, crazy as it seems, normal freshmen. Last year’s Anthony Davis-led cast were legendary talents that, when assembled, somehow projected greater collective value than the sum of their individual blue-chip credentials suggested. Of course this season’s one-and-doners fly near the top of every recruiting ranking and NBA Draft board projection, just like last year’s team. But this group is not impervious to the typical rigors of college hoops first-year players. They can’t block out brutal road environments – as Notre Dame proved Thursday night. They aren’t talented enough to create offense on the fly. They aren’t selfless enough to accept defined scoring roles this early in the season. And they most certainly are not good enough to overcome a 29.6 percent shooting night, not even at unassailable Rupp Arena. Baylor went into Lexington and stunned the blue and white diehards, a feat unachieved thus far during the Calipari era. That’s a monster-sized win, no doubt. But this was just as much about Kentucky’s shooting woes as it was Baylor’s disciplined defense. This is a bad mark for Kentucky, but it’s not time to sound the alarms in Big Blue Nation just yet. Maybe this won’t be another dream season, but the Wildcats will round into form. It’s just going to take longer this time around – after all, they’re just freshmen.
The stylistic permissiveness of college basketball is one of its best qualities. Unlike the professional game, talent does not always trump tactical wisdom. Athleticism and depth advantages are often negated by disciplined defense and judicious offense. Contrary to what last year’s Kentucky might lead you to believe, you don’t always need the very best players to win. What you need is simple: a comprehensive knowledge of offensive and defensive principles; a brazen disregard for the formalities of coaching etiquette, and an undying thirst to live, breathe and absorb every last bit of college basketball information into your memory. Just ask Rick Majerus.
Few coaches impacted the college game like Majerus did (Photo credit: Getty Images).
When I heard that Majerus, 64, had passed away after a long and well-documented struggle with heart problems – problems that caused him to take a leave absence from St. Louis prior to this season and announce his resignation from the Billiken program weeks after the word – I grieved the loss of not only one of the most entertaining sideline bosses of my sports-watching childhood, but of the greatest technical wizard I have ever seen coach a college basketball game.
Joe Dzuback is the RTC correspondent for the Atlantic-10. You can also find his musings online at Villanova by the Numbers or on Twitter @vtbnblog.
Ed. Note – This week’s check-in does not include Tuesday night’s action.
Rick Majerus Retires – To those who saw the 25-year veteran head coach at the Atlantic-10 (or NCAA) tournaments last spring knew he was struggling. The only surprise last August, made public after an extended stay and evaluation at a California facility were disappointing, was that the coach, anticipating a recovery, had applied for a medical leave of absence. Saint Louis Athletic Director Chris May dropped the other shoe on Friday – Rick Majerus will not return to the Chaifetz Arena sidelines. The coach is retiring for the second, and presumably final, time. Though the course Majerus charted for a Saint Louis resurgence on the hardcourt seemed at times to be a maddeningly uneven two-step, and though he was entering the final year of his contract, it was a chronic heart condition, one that forced a complex seven bypass procedure in the late 1980s and the insertion of a stint during the 2011 offseason, that forced the 64 year old into retirement. Interim Coach Jim Crews, who took over in August, will coach the Billikens through the end of the season.
Saint Louis will be without head coach Rick Majerus this season – this time probably for good (AP)
The Very Early (Invitational Tournament) Returns Are In – Dayton, Duquesne, Fordham, Massachusetts, Saint Joseph’s and Saint Louis kicked off the 2012-13 season with (very) early season invitational tournament appearances. Read the rest of this entry »