Andy Enfield is Winning News Cycles at USC, But Will He Win Games?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 17th, 2013

You don’t have to know the 5 from the 405 from the 110 to know that USC and UCLA don’t much get along. They’re two institutions of higher learning located about 14 miles (which equates to what, an hour or so?) apart in a city that can often take or leave college athletics. Proponents of one university will talk up all the positives about their preference while detailing all the negatives about the other, but without a doubt, from athletics to the arts to academics, each school measures itself against the other. Hell, even neuroscience labs are fair game for the rivalry. There’s the Coliseum and Pauley Pavilion. John Wooden and John McKay. John Wayne and Jackie Robinson. Arthur Ashe and Jerry Buss. Not to mention all those Heisman trophies and all those basketball national championship banners.

Andy Enfield's Mid-Practice Comment Landed Squarely, Painting USC As The Exciting Los Angeles-Area College Basketball Program (Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports)

Andy Enfield’s Mid-Practice Comment Landed Squarely, Painting USC As The Exciting Los Angeles-Area College Basketball Program (Kirby Lee, USA Today Sports)

But therein lies the rub. Just like UCLA has regularly been considered the little brother on the football side of the equation, USC basketball has always taken a backseat to the hoops program uptown. And when you’re a new head coach for the Trojans basketball program, your goal is to catch up with and eventually surpass the Bruins. All of which is preamble to say that while things certainly haven’t been especially friendly between the two programs since Andy Enfield was hired at USC and Steve Alford was hired at UCLA back  in the spring, the arms race between these two just ramped up a little more yesterday when Jeff Faraudo quoted Enfield thusly: “We play up-tempo basketball here. If you want to play slow, go to UCLA.” Shots fired.

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Fans and Players Alike Reflect on the Final Big East Episode of Hoyas-Orange

Posted by Nick Fasulo on March 15th, 2013

Nick Fasulo is an RTC correspondent. He has been at the Big East Tournament this week taking in all of the action. You can find him on Twitter @nickfasuloSBN.

Following their narrow second round victory over Pittsburgh Thursday afternoon, Jim Boeheim was asked if it was fitting that Syracuse was going to have to go through Georgetown in their last go-around of the Big East Tournament. “I don’t know,” Boeheim said. “That’s for you guys to figure out.” The expected curt response was almost like a challenge to the entire press room: You all know the answer, but who will spin that yarn the most eloquently?

syracuse fans

Syracuse Fans Ready For Their Last Big East Tournament

Since 1979, at the league’s inception of seven teams, Syracuse and Georgetown have faced each other 90 times, including 14 in the Big East Tournament. Friday night, in the most fitting location, the final face-off for the foreseeable future went down. Syracuse won 58-55 in overtime, a classic match-up that may not carry much meaning in a week, but will mean everything for eternity. But that merely touches on the story, as you could draw a parallel that the Orange ostensibly accomplished what really needed to be accomplished on their trip to New York City: Beat someone you hate, then go proverbially take down the 1980 Finnish National Hockey team.

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Morning Five: 01.31.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 31st, 2013

morning5

  1. Basketball took a back seat at Ohio yesterday after an armed robbery (reportedly over $5) at 9:30 AM at an apartment complex near the campus led the school to suspend classes and cancel last night’s game against Eastern Michigan. Interestingly, the school remained open for another 2.5 hours with the suspect loose before the administration chose to close the campus. In the aftermath of the announcement there appears to have been quite a bit of confusion regarding the school’s intent, but fortunately it appears that nobody was harmed and no further incidents took place although the suspect was still at-large as of this writing. The school has announced that the game will be made up on February 20, which works well for both teams as they both have their preceding game on February 16 and next game on February 27.
  2. Much of the early part of this week in the blogosphere was spent discussing Marshall Henderson‘s various, shall we say, peculiarities, both on and off the court. After a rough shooting outing against Kentucky on Tuesday night, much of that talk has died down, but on Wednesday USA Today‘s Nicole Auerbach published an insightful piece about the life and history of the controversial Henderson that included a revelation that the junior college transfer once violated his probation in Texas for failing a drug test because he had cocaine (along with marijuana and alcohol) in his system. Both Henderson’s father and his head coach, Andy Kennedy, believe that the guard has moved past his personal demons at this point in his life, but with his on-court demeanor sure to set Twitter ablaze again soon, we’ll have to wait and see if the pressure and infamy carries over to the Oxford after-parties.
  3. The Wednesday news didn’t improve for Ole Miss fans, as the Rebels also learned that sophomore forward Aaron Jones will miss the rest of the season after injuring his ACL in Tuesday night’s game against Kentucky. The bouncy Jones was only averaging 4/4 in about 17 minutes per game this season, but his loss will be a shock to an Ole Miss lineup short on quality size. As if that weren’t enough, senior guard Nick Williams will be out an indefinite amount of time with a foot injury suffered in the same game. The timing on all of this misfortune is not the greatest, either — the Rebels on Saturday will visit a team, Florida, that is winning SEC contests so far by an average of 28.7 PPG. Good luck with that.
  4. The Big East will draw the curtains on what can only be described as a college basketball goliath in less than two months, but unlike some of the other bitterness that has infused divorcing programs in other leagues, Syracuse and St. John’s specifically are looking for an amicable split. It makes sense. Syracuse has been NYC’s flagship college basketball program for a long time now despite its location several hundred miles upstate, and without question the Orange wants to keep its presence in the New York market strong after joining the ACC. St. John’s certainly wants to keep a marquee opponent on its home schedule as Steve Lavin tries to rebuild that proud program as well. The contract begins next year at MSG with a return trip to the Carrier Dome in 2014-15, but for now the series is only scheduled for those two games. We’d expect that it will be extended indefinitely at a certain point.
  5. In this week’s edition of Luke Winn‘s Power Rankings he spends a lot of time focusing on teams in transition (literally, not figuratively). With the nerdtastic tool of Synergy Sports Technology at his disposal, Winn can find statistically enlightening nuances to explain the game in ways that both tease and titillate. In this week’s edition, he examines some of the best players in the country at shooting jumpers off the dribble (hint: two of them play each other Saturday night in a semi-important game), discusses the best transition guys in the game, and a mention of Kelly Olynyk’s “awesome hair.” Memo to Winn, though: It’s not Olynyk’s hair itself that creates the awesomeness — it’s the ropey-looking headband (color coordinated!) that he adds to the ensemble that truly elevates his look from simply Tim Lincecum cool to Andre Agassi spectacular (in his hirsute prime).
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Georgia Tech Takes Control of Peach State Rivalry

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2012

Bennet Hayes (@hoopstraveler) is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Tuesday night’s Georgia-Georgia Tech game in Atlanta.

When the college basketball season tipped off a month ago, Georgia and Georgia Tech found themselves facing similar expectations. Neither program appeared to be sporting a team capable of making the 2013 NCAA Tournament, but there was hope that both might be improved enough to escape the SEC and ACC cellars, respectively. While the 2-5 Dawgs had slogged their way through the season’s first month (with only wins over Jacksonville and East Tennessee State to brag about), early returns had been slightly more promising for the 5-2 Yellow Jackets, and Tuesday night’s rivalry game in Atlanta only served to further differentiate the Peach State’s two pre-eminent basketball programs.

Georgia Tech Appears to be Headed in the Right Direction (AP)

Mark Fox will surely write off Tuesday’s 62-54 loss as simply another missed opportunity for his team, but boy, this one seemed to resonate on levels far beyond tonight’s 40 minutes of hoops. Maybe that added significance stems from Brian Gregory running his record to 2-0 against Fox and Georgia in his short tenure in Atlanta. Or perhaps it’s due to the fact that, for the first time in 19 years, Tech has won back-to-back games against UGA. Or maybe, just maybe, this one matters more because Gregory seems to have the best Georgia high school basketball talent headed again to Georgia Tech — and far, far away from Athens. All those elements seemed to linger in the backdrop of this one, and the frenzied energy of the sellout crowd of 8,600 at the shiny, new (the three-game old kind of new) McCamish Pavilion drove home the largest message loud and clear — Gregory and Tech are seizing firm control of college basketball in Georgia.

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Morning Five: 05.10.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on May 10th, 2012

  1. The biggest news to release on Wednesday was that the ACC has renegotiated its television rights deal with ESPN in light of the fact that it has added two additional members. The twin poaching of Pittsburgh and Syracuse from the Big East last year will result in a 32.9% increased annual payout for each school — from an average of $12.9M to $17.1M — proving that the new reality of cable channels willing to pay exorbitant amounts for college sports isn’t drying up anytime soon. The total amount ESPN paid for the rights to ACC football and basketball through 2026-27 is $3.6 billion, ensuring that Dookie V. will remain in his catbird seat at Cameron Indoor Stadium for the rest of his life.
  2. Realignment has allowed the ACC and the Big 12 (reportedly) to re-negotiate their television deals in their favor this week, so it’s unsurprising that further positioning is already under way. Chip Brown at Orangebloods.com floated a scenario yesterday that suggests the ACC’s Florida State could find a better deal over in the Big 12 ($19M per year), a conference that might also allow the Seminoles to develop its own Longhorn-style network (worth another estimated $5M per year). Very little would surprise us at this point, and the dollars talk — for the better part of two decades, FSU has seemed a strange fit in the basketball-centric ACC, so a jump to the Big 12 with no invitation to the SEC forthcoming seems just as reasonable as anything else. Maybe they could go west as a package deal: According to Andy Katz’s report from the new Big East commissioner’s conference call on Wednesday, Louisville has informed the other schools in its league that they’re gone at the first decent offer (presumably from the Big 12 or ACC). We’re sure there will be no shortage of this chatter for the next, oh, four months.
  3. Open and notorious solicitation of a school wanting to join a new conference isn’t confined only to the power leagues, of course. Oakland University (located in metro Detroit, not northern California) is hoping for consideration to replace Butler in the Horizon League when the Fighting Brad Stevenses move on to the Atlantic 10 after next season. A decade ago local rival Detroit, not wanting to share geographic space within the same league, managed to keep Oakland out — whether they’ll be able to turn down a program out of the Summit League that has made the NCAA Tournament three times in the last eight years remains to be seen. But it appears to be a natural fit if Detroit can find a way to play nice.
  4. With the coaching carousel winding down (only three jobs open currently), Jeff Goodman rates some of the notable coaching hires of this offseason. Although he doesn’t give actual grades to the decisions thus far, it’s interesting that he writes that the Larry Brown hire at SMU is the one where he’s “Not sold… yet.” In reading through this list, though, perhaps the most striking thing in a year where there have been 43 coaching openings so far, is that brand-name jobs have quite simply not been available. Which was the best opening — Virginia Tech? Kansas State? It has definitely not been a good year for aspiring young coaches to trade up — at least, not yet.
  5. It wasn’t a 1500-word missive to make his case for ‘nontraditional’ scheduling for a ‘nontraditional’ yet tradition-rich program, but Indiana’s Tom Crean on Wednesday gave his side of the story in the Great Scheduling Debate involving Kentucky and IU’s terminated home-and-home series. Crean basically argues that Indiana is already playing several neutral site games with the Crossroads Classic in Indianapolis and whichever exempt tournament that it is invited to in a given season (e.g., next year’s Legends Classic), so it doesn’t make sense for the Hoosiers to play yet another neutral site game with Kentucky. He also reminds everyone that it was the Wildcats, not the Hoosiers (both under different head coaches at the time, who moved the game back on campus in the mid-2000s after a 15-year run at neutral venues. As we argued on Tuesday, though, the notion that teams should play as many as a quarter of its pre-NCAA schedule in neutral venues seems a bit ridiculous to us, but we’re mostly bitter about the loss of one of the best regional rivalries in college basketball, so don’t mind us.
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Morning Five: 05.04.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 4th, 2012

  1. In just the last three days, the Atlantic 10 has added Butler, the Mountain West has eviscerated the WAC with its additions of San Jose State and Utah State, and now Conference USA has finished it off as a major conference by grabbing Louisiana Tech to go along with the A-10’s Charlotte and the Sun Belt’s North Texas and FIU. There will be a quiz on all of these moves in mid-August. What does this mean from a college basketball perspective? Probably not much. Neither Charlotte nor Louisiana Tech have been relevant in a long time, and although North Texas made the NCAA Tournament in 2007 and 2010, winning in the Sun Belt is less challenging than it will be dealing with UTEP, Tulsa, Southern Miss, and UAB in a revamped Conference USA.
  2. A little under two years ago we touched on an ESPN story about a high school basketball player named Jerry Joseph who may have actually been a 22-year old named Guerdwich Montimere. It was a bizarre story at the time, and it got only weirder as ultimately Joseph/Montimere was convicted and sent to prison for sexual assault on an underage high school student and tampering with government records. In a recent column for ESPN’s Outside the Lines, Wright Thompson attempted to connect all the dots of the saga in a meaningful way, putting a story behind the story of a wayward young man who no doubt got lost in the hype and fame of being the big man on campus. Great read.
  3. Illinois fans caught a glimpse into the mind of one of their incoming transfers when Sam McLaurin, a senior at Coastal Carolina who will take advantage of the one-year graduate school exception, announced (via Twitter, of course) “F— it im going to Illinois #illinination” on Thursday afternoon. McLaurin, a 6’10” power forward who averaged 10/8 last season, will provide some additional frontcourt depth in the wake of Meyers Leonard’s departure to the NBA. He later apologized for his choice of words (“Hey everyone sorry about my language last night. I was just extremely excited to be apart of #illinination”), but we doubt anyone from Waukegan to Carbondale will care much so long as he can bring his numbers every night next season.
  4. In one of the stupider bits of news to come out of our game this offseason (and there are plenty of candidates), Kentucky and Indiana have apparently decided to not renew its annual rivalry that dates back a half-century. The crux of the issue appears to be that UK wanted to move the series back to a rotating neutral site arrangement (likely splitting time between Indianapolis and Louisville, as it did from 1991-2005), while IU insisted on keeping the home-and-home series that had been in effect for the last seven years (and, of course, prior to 1991). If you read the tea leaves, and Kentucky AD Mitch Barnhart suggests as much, it was John Calipari not “thrilled about going back to Bloomington” that appears to be driving this ridiculous decision. Look — we understand that a national championship coach typically gets what he wants when he wants it, but as Andy Glockner argues very well in this piece, that doesn’t mean that he’s right for wanting it. College basketball loses when rivalries like these end, and this is especially true now that IU under Tom Crean appears to finally be coming back around. Fix it.
  5. What’s this, a MAY version of Luke Winn‘s Power Rankings? That’s right, now that the NBA Draft deadline has passed and we have a better sense of where the top recruits are headed next season, Winn put together a list of 16 teams that mimics the RTC Top 25 (released Tuesday) at the very top, but has some significant differences with respect to where we ranked schools such as Syracuse, Michigan State, and Arizona. As always, you’ll learn quite a few things that you didn’t already know about people, places and things surrounding the game, so make sure to check it out before you head into the weekend.
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Deconstructing the Louisville-Kentucky Rivalry to the Rest of America

Posted by rtmsf on March 27th, 2012

So we hear that there’s an interesting rivalry game going down in New Orleans on Saturday. It’s a good thing that nobody has decided to write about it or talk about it yet; that means this piece will be first on the scene.

Game of the Century in the Commonwealth (h/t Card Chronicle)

All kidding aside, Dream Game II will without question be the most-watched event in the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s history. While the Kentucky Derby may get more worldwide attention, the truth is that most Kentuckians don’t know any more about the Sport of Kings than they do about navigating the New York City subway system — the first Saturday in May is mostly viewed as a neat aside for the state to put on its happy face and throw a grandiose party. But as far as college basketball, this is a sophisticated crowd whose knowledge and passion cuts through all the cultural, class and racial fissures that exist in any modern society. And this rivalry between Louisville and Kentucky exhibits that perhaps better than any other such local tussle in the sport — let’s look at the reasons why.

  • The Good Folks of Kentucky Are Bats#!t Crazy About College Basketball. We very much mean this in a complimentary way. Take a normal August, for example.  While the rest of the nation is caught up in pennant races, backyard barbecues, and the imminent start of college football and the NFL, Wildcat and Cardinal fans are calling into local talk shows and signing on to message boards to discuss the latest word from summer pick-up games and recruiting rumors. When Rick Pitino went through his 15 seconds of fame several summers ago, the coverage of Karen Sypher and the entire debacle saturated both Lexington and Louisville news media for weeks. It’s no secret that college hoops is a 365-day per year commitment in the Commonwealth, and such near-obsession with the sport magnifies the importance of the standing of the two major programs on a regular basis.
  • UK Fans Are Not Over Pitino’s Return to the State. And they never will be. What you have to realize is that from 1989-97, Rick Pitino as the young, brash and highly successful coach of the Wildcats was as big as big gets in the Bluegrass. Not only did he resurrect the Kentucky program from the very public shame of a devastating probation, but he captured hearts and minds from Paducah to Pikeville with his intoxicating and fun style of basketball featuring three-point shooting, full-court pressure defense and a deep, active bench. When he left for the Boston Celtics in 1997 after three Final Four appearances and a national title in 1996, most UK fans were sad but thankful for how he had rebuilt their proud program. That all changed four years later after Denny Crum’s retirement when he returned to take over the head job at Louisville. Suddenly those same fans who had adored the charismatic coach in Lexington looked at his return as nothing other than a traitorous Judas Iscariot. The thinking went: “Out of all the good D-I coaching jobs in America, he had to choose Louisville?” Can you blame them?
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Big 12 Morning Five: 11.07.11 Edition

Posted by cwilliams on November 7th, 2011

  1. The wheels of conference realignment continue to move, as the SEC and Missouri made their partnership official. Missouri joins the SEC after what seems like endless speculation, especially in recent weeks after news broke of the West Virginia move. If there is one fan base that deserves to have their conference realignment issues resolved, it’s Missouri’s. They were one of the first teams to be involved in the conference realignment discussion in 2010, and the speculation and anxiety that came along with it has lasted up until this weekend. So, congratulations to Missouri fans — whether they are happy with this move or not, they can at least take solace in the fact their conference realignment saga is over… for five years or so, at least.
  2. And now, some conference realignment link. The Charleston Daily Mail has an article discussing the challenges that awaits WVU in the world of Big 12 hoops. These hurdles became even more daunting with the Mountaineers’ exhibition loss to D-II Northern Kentucky on Friday night. The article goes on to discuss that much of West Virginia’s hoop success has come from its recruiting in New York City. Big East hoops provides the Mountaineers with many opportunities to show off to New York City-area prospects, with games at Rutgers, Seton Hall, Saint John’s, and Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. How that will be impacted with a move to the Big 12 is anyone’s guess.
  3. MySanAntonio.com has a story up talking about how Big 12 football might have diminished in stature with Nebraska and Colorado’s recent departures, less is more when it comes to Big 12 hoops. The article goes on to list their projected stars of the Big 12 season, and which teams are “rising” – Baylor and Texas Tech — and which teams are “falling” — Texas and Kansas State — in their estimation.
  4. Jason King of ESPN.com discusses how much of a shame it is that the Kansas-Missouri rivalry appears to be coming to an end after 104 years and 265 games on the hardwood. This is an example of one of the dirtier sides of conference realignment in that nobody gets exactly what they want. While Missouri obviously found more reasons to join the SEC than to stay in the Big 12, I bet the Tiger athletic department also wishes they could have kept this rivalry on the schedule. King goes on to discuss how after numerous years of covering all the big college basketball rivalries, including Duke-UNC, Kentucky-Louisville, and Michigan-Michigan State, he has never seen more hatred between two schools than KU and UM.
  5. Yet another article touting the Big 12 as a “winner” during the conference realignment saga is out. While this might not be breaking news, I included it because it is shocking that I’ve read numerous pundits picking the Big 12 as one of the conference realignment “winners,” when, up until October, all we heard was how much of an embarrassment the Big 12 was, and they were the laughingstock of all of college athletics for once again nearly disintegrating. Funny how fast opinions can change.
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Morning Five: Memorial Day Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 30th, 2011

Happy Memorial Day to everyone around the country, whether you’re honoring our fallen soldiers and/or the family members who are no longer with us. It’s a day worthy of reflection and memory, and we hope that your day will be spent in equal parts pouring out an ounce of liquor and cooking up some tasty barbecue.  After all, life is here to be lived, even while we’re remembering those who are gone.

  1. As if five full days of the hoops extravaganza known affectionately as the Big East Tournament wasn’t already enough, Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said late last week that he wants to see the tournament expand to 17 teams (or further upon additional expansion) when TCU formally enters the league in 2012-13.  His justifications — that teams (such as UConn last year) can win five games, and that every player in the conference deserves a chance to play in the Garden at the league’s marquee event — sound reasonable enough to us.  Although the idea of a #16 vs. #17 play-in game between DePaul and TCU on Monday night seems about as enticing as talking derivative markets over at the Harvard Club.  The setup Boeheim suggests, though, would be more workable if the league ultimately expands to 20 teams and could have a “First Four” of its own then.
  2. Speaking of Big East expansion, maybe someday soon the University of Memphis will get a long-desired invitation to the league, but in the meantime we’ll have to settle for a home-and-home series between the Tigers and longtime rival and nemesis Louisville scheduled to begin next season at the KFC Yum! Center.  The two schools who battled for decades in the old Metro Conference and later in Conference USA (when it was still relevant) have not played in six years since Louisville left CUSA (the infamous Darius Washington game) but, needless to say, the two are still not friendly.  This will be a great series, and we hope that even if Memphis doesn’t join the Big East in the coming few years, that the two will continue this series indefinitely.
  3. Say what you want about Dick Vitale as an announcer past his prime or a shameless homer for certain east coast schools where he’s friendly with the head coaches… but never question the man’s commitment to improving the lives of the people around him through his relentless advocacy to fight cancer in his role as a spokesman for the Jimmy V Foundation.  As Andy Staples writes in this piece on Friday, Vitale has leveraged his name within the sporting community to raise over $100M at his gala in just the last six years, a ridiculous number in philanthropic contributions when you think about it.  Someday, when this very site or its replacement is writing the obit for one Richard Vitale, the first sentence shouldn’t mention the word ESPN, or Duke, or even basketball — it should focus on the consuming passion that he has given into the fight against cancer and how his tireless efforts in the “fourth quarter” of his life helped make the world a better place.
  4. The LA Times published a piece over the weekend examining the odd situation of three southern California kids all returning back home to play for UCLA after spending at least one season all the way across the country at UNC.  Larry Drew II, Travis Wear and David Wear each returned to LA after finding Chapel Hill not to their liking for one reason or another, and are looking to regain some of the form that made each of them elite recruits coming out of high school.  Considering that very few players leave Roy Williams’ teams to transfer elsewhere (only seven in over 20 years of head coaching), it’s a weird coincidence that four of those players came from the sunny skies and endless avenues of Los Angeles (Alex Stepheson was the other).  Good news for Tar Heel fans: none of the players on the 2011-12 UNC roster is from SoCal.
  5. It continues to amaze us that South Park is still on the air, but it is, and it continue to push the envelope with its politically incorrect jabs at just about everything anyone considers holy and sacred.  It’s been a long time since anyone considered the NCAA sacrosanct, but SP’s recent episode, “Crack Baby Athletic Association” skewers the governing organization in a parody that likens modern student-athletes to slaves in a for-profit scheme run by a select few.  South Park creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s alma mater, the University of Colorado, comes off as particularly complicit in this show as the school the boys visit in an attempt to ply their exploitative trade.  We could go on, but don’t take our word for it — the entire unedited episode is here.
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The First Shot in Saturday’s UK-UL Game…

Posted by rtmsf on December 30th, 2009

We all know that Kentucky-Louisville rivalry went up a notch or twelve when the state’s flagship university hired Rick Pitino’s BFF John Calipari to take over the reins in Lexington, right?   As we head into the Bluegrass State’s annual civil war with fans on both sides getting a little testy, we’re presented with one enterprising contractor/UK fan who looked to fire the first shot by leaving his mark on the Cards’ under-construction new downtown arena.  From the Louisville Courier-Journal:

WHAS-11’s Sky11 got a picture of something that may have never been noticed if not for a keen eye.  As you can see, someone inserted the UK logo into the freshly poured concrete at the new UofL arena site.

Yeah, this is going to be good.  The media crush alone signifies the importance of this game.  See ya Saturday afternoon in Lexington.

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07.06.09 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on July 6th, 2009

Hope everyone had a brilliant ID4…

  • Class of 2009. Evan Daniels of Scout.com wrote an interesting piece on how wishy-washy the high school class of 2009 was before finally settling on a school. Six of the top ten players – John Wall, Xavier Henry, Lance Stephenson, Renardo Sidney, DeMarcus Cousins, Derrick Favors – had what Daniels terms an ‘interesting’ recruitment. Interesting in the sense that the propect took forever to decide on a destination, had eligibility concerns, switched up commitments, or all of the above. From our view, this is a predictable byproduct of the NBA’s 1-and-done rule, which is now impacting its fourth class of high school seniors. All of these above players are viewing one year in college as just another somewhat annoying hoop to jump through – an unavoidable pit stop on their way to riches in the League. When seen through that prism, there’s little emotional investment in the process of choosing a college (in fact, choosing a coach is infinitely more important) and the concomitant worries about staying eligible for that one season become mitigated by all the shady characters and hangers-on offering nickels now for promises later. There’s no easy fix for this problem and as we showed last week, 1-and-dones generally help programs more than they hurt, but the NBA requiring two years after high school could help players take more ownership over this process simply because they’d be forced to care more.
  • 2009-10 Scheduling.  The Big East announced its completely unbalanced schedule last week, and Andy Katz believes that Villanova and UConn have the toughest two slates, with each having all three ‘home-and-homes’ with other contenders (at least, on paper).  What’s interesting in going down this list is just how far off the talent level has fallen in this conference since last season – it’s phenomenal, really.  Moving on…  the Jimmy V Classic is going for slow and methodical this year, with its recent announcement that Butler v. Georgetown and Pitt v. Indiana will be the schools represented.  Pitt should easily desecrate IU, but we’d look for Butler-Gtown to be a very good game.  And if you browse to the bottom of this blog post by Katz, you’ll see a good analysis of the various preseason tournaments as they currently stand.  We’d have to agree that the Maui Invitational seems very weak compared to its norm, but the 76 Classic for the second year in a row is strong. 
  • Top Rivalries.  Pat Forde took an old-fashioned beating for his article last week outlining what he thinks are the ten hottest hoops rivalries heading into next season.  To recap, Kentucky-Louisville was #1, Michigan St.-Purdue was #2 (???), Kentucky-Tennessee was #3, and UNC-Duke was #4.  Something seems amiss here.  We think we understand his premise that these are the projected top rivalries for the upcoming season, but maybe what he should have said was ‘games.’  For a rivalry to exist, there needs to be historical gravitas behind it – countless incidents, slights, fights, etc., that give each school a bitter taste in its mouth for the other.  Do Michigan St. fans have such negative feelings about Purdue?  Villanova and Pitt?  Instead, Forde seems to rely considerably on coaching rivalries in making this list – Calipari vs. Pitino; Calipari vs. Pearl; Ford vs. Capel; Montgomery vs. his old school.  This is an interesting way to categorize school rivalries, but he probably should have been a little clearer about that; otherwise, it’s difficult to swallow some of his inclusions without question.  Syracuse-UConn? Maryland-Duke?  And many more…  
  • Some Quick Hits.  Duke: playing zone next season?  Jay Wright: loving life at VillanovaClass of 2009 (again): mapping the top 25Dave Rose: a harrowing month of JuneClass of 2010: time for the July scouting period.  AAU Ball: shocking lack of fundamentals (um, thanks for the investigative journalism, WSJ). July Recruiting Period: Gary Parrish’s FAQ.
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State Of The Big Blue Nation: Mood Indigo

Posted by jstevrtc on March 2nd, 2009

(OR, Why Rick Pitino Is Like School On Thanksgiving)

John Stevens is a featured writer for Rush The Court.

Kentucky basketball fans are wondering if they might have built their new state-of-the-art basketball practice facility on a Native American burial ground.

(credit:  Kentucky.com)
(photo credit: Kentucky.com)

As if the Wednesday night emasculation at South Carolina and yesterday’s home-court disappointment against LSU weren’t enough, two pieces of news are currently at the forefront of the collective mind of the Big Blue Nation, as Kentucky fans are known.  First, it looks like Louisville Cardinals head coach Rick Pitino has decided to take a giant crap on any good will he had left in the non-Louisville part of Kentucky by profiting off of one of the worst moments in Wildcat basketball history.  We’ll get to that in a moment.  Second, in addition to the growing possibility of watching this year’s NCAA tournament from their dorm rooms, this weekend the team and their supporters have had to deal with this now well-publicized incident in which sophomore forward A.J. Stewart, sick of watching from the pine as his team loses more games than they should, told everybody where they could go a few days ago and actually quit the Wildcat squad for about 24 hours after the aforementioned South Carolina loss.  He’s obviously been reinstated by his team, since he played in the home loss to LSU yesterday.

Reinstatement or not, Kentucky fans have to be wondering — what on EARTH have we done to deserve all of this?

“This” all started two years ago, specifically when Tubby Smith decided he’d had enough of (whether warranted or not) the second-guessing in Lexington and hit the road for Minnesota, which might have well been any place, as long as NCAA Tournament bids and occasional Sweet Sixteen appearances are acceptable goals there.  If you recall, it was at this time that the one coach in the country that just about every Kentucky supporter considered their Heir Apparent, Florida’s Billy Donovan, flirted very seriously with the Kentucky job before actually accepting the same position with the Orlando Magic…only to back out on THAT commitment 48 hours later to stay at Florida.  At that moment, Kentucky fans had to know — something was up.

Enter Billy Gillispie, not exactly the program’s first choice but a good selection for them since he had earned the reputation as the New Resurrector after his stints at UTEP and Texas A&M.  He made friends early by ensuring that the Tubby Smith-recruited Patrick Patterson would still attend UK, but then dropped games to the likes of Gardner-Webb and San Diego (both at home), causing much head-scratching.  Despite a tough season with injuries and personnel-juggling, Gillispie’s first UK team battled back, made the tournament (and it looked bleak for a while), and Gillispie won co-Coach of the Year honors in the SEC.  About twelve seconds after their first-round loss, Kentucky fans were looking forward to the next season, knowing it would be better once everyone was healthy and some new bad-ass recruits came into the fold.  The Billy Donovan snub was virtually forgotten.

One of those players returning to health in that off-season was versatile point guard Derrick Jasper.  Having gotten over all the physical and mental hurdles that come with microfracture surgery of the (left) knee, the 2008-09 edition of the Wildcats was his to lead.  Jasper was poised to be the floor general of one of the storied programs of college basketball.  It was to be “his” team.  But instead, in a move that nobody saw coming, after a mere two years of living in Lexington — citing “homesickness” — Jasper bailed on his chance to lead the program, choosing relative obscurity over an amazing opportunity.  He transferred to UNLV and left Kentucky high and dry with point guard problems that Gillispie hasn’t been able to solve with junior Michael Porter and freshman DeAndre Liggins.  How big was this loss?  Considering that the point guard handles the ball 60% of the time for any given team, is it a coincidence that Kentucky is 338th out of 341 Division I teams in turnovers per game?  Probably not.

Only 1 of these three remains at UK.  (daylife.com)
Only 1 of these three remains at UK. (photo credit: daylife.com)

Then came the home loss to VMI earlier this year, an inexcusable loss given the Gardner-Webb debacle from the year before and the alarming talent disparity between the two teams.  With that loss still stinging, a few games later (in a game Kentucky still won), Liggins refused to re-enter a close game against Kansas State in a protest about playing time.  For a day or so it looked like Liggins’ status with the team was tenuous at best, but (just like what’s happened with the current A.J. Stewart situation) the players voted to reinstate him.  This had to remind Kentucky followers of the Alex Legion strangeness from the previous season; Legion was a prize recruit with a nice outside shot, and who they were going to count on for some serious point production…but he didn’t even make it to Christmas in his first year at UK, leaving because he (and his mom) felt he wasn’t getting enough PT.  And now — this weekend’s situation with Stewart.

Kentucky fans are left wondering what has happened to the culture in their program.  Their obvious Heir Apparent in Billy Donovan declined to return even though he had been groomed for the job since the Pitino years; with inexcusable losses to comparatively talent-bereft teams (and not too many surprising wins) Billy Gillispie is starting to look like a good example of the Peter Principle; some important players have jumped ship, seemingly preferring oblivion over recognition and opportunity, and others choose unproductive ways to protest lack of playing time; and despite having two lottery picks on the team and some hard-working young role players, the Wildcats find themselves sliding down the bubble’s surface this season and are giving the tournament selection committee every reason to leave them off the bracket two weeks from now with these stretch losses.  This is a program that didn’t exactly weep when Tubby Smith left town; I’m not even saying they’re wrong about that, since after Smith’s 1998 title run with the Wildcats, he never returned to the Final Four in his next nine seasons — would UNC, Kansas, Duke, or UCLA fans put up with such a streak these days? — but keep in mind that, for unknown reasons, Billy Gillispie hasn’t even signed his contract at UK even though he’s basically got two seasons under his belt, now.  Many folks in Lexington wonder if he should even bother, with UK’s performance this year, even if the team slips into the tournament somehow.  And to make matters worse, if Kentucky fans have to watch this tournament without their Wildcats for the first time in 17 years, this is the time of year that a certain shot by a certain former Duke player gets played over and over again…

Oh, but if only that were the end of it for the Big Blue Nation.

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