Pac-12 Weekly Five: 09.07.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on September 7th, 2012

  1. The big news around the Pac-12 this week continues to be the eligibility status of UCLA’s highly-touted freshman class. Depending on who you believe, some combination of Shabazz Muhammad, Kyle Anderson and Tony Parker are being investigated by the NCAA for potential amateurism problems. UCLA claims that Parker has been cleared, while the other two are still a work in progress, while CBS Sports’ Jeff Goodman insists that Parker is still a subject of an NCAA inquiry. We’ve known about the issues with Muhammad for some time, but the Anderson issue – related to his connections with Thad Foucher, a sports agent – is a new one. But all of this, coupled with CBS’ anonymous cheap shots at UCLA and Ben Howland, have already cast a pall over the Bruins’ season. With the most talent assembled in Westwood since the days of Kevin Love and Russell Westbrook, it was expected that UCLA was ready for a bounce-back year, but now it remains to be seen when, and if, this group of freshmen will ever play a game together. This situation continues to evolve, so keep an eye on this.
  2. Across town, it wasn’t a great week for the Bruins’ rivals either, as USC’s athletic department took another hit with further allegations of players receiving impermissible benefits. RTC’s Chris Johnson took a look at the problems around both Los Angeles-area campuses, but that was not the only blow to the Trojans, as would-be-junior point guard Maurice Jones was declared academically ineligible for the 2012-13 season last weekend. Jones led last year’s injury-riddle team in minutes played (approaching 40 minutes per night), shots attempted and possessions used last year, but seemed primed to take a step back into a supporting role this year with the return of senior point guard Jio Fontan from last year’s ACL injury. Instead, head coach Kevin O’Neill will again go to battle minus the services of one of the guys he had been counting on. Jones will stick around in school and hopefully get his grades up in order to resume his USC career in the 2013-14 season, with two years of eligibility remaining then.
  3. Just about two weeks ago, Arizona State head coach Herb Sendek was left in a lurch when two assistants – Scott Pera and Lamont Smith – departed for similar jobs at other institutions (Penn and Washington, respectively). At such a late date, and with such an important season ahead of the Sun Devils, that could have been a crushing blow to ASU’s chances this season. However, Sendek bounced back strong, coming up with a pair of excellent hires to fill the vacancies, as it was announced on Wednesday that Eric Musselman and Larry Greer would be welcomed aboard. As Matt Norlander writes, this was a serious score for Sendek. With his back against the wall, Sendek was able to land two experienced coaches with fine resumes. Musselman has twice been an NBA head coach, was an NBA D-League Coach of the Year, and has been an NBA assistant coach under such luminaries as Hall of Famer Chuck Daly, current Celtic head coach Doc Rivers (then with Orlando), and current Oklahoma head coach Lon Kruger (then with Atlanta). Greer was a long-time college assistant (with Wright State and Boston U.) before joining the Houston Rockets as a scout last year. It remains to be seen how these guys will do on the recruiting trail, and they’ve certainly got some catching up to do as the start of practice looms little more than a month away, but given the time constraints, Sendek hit this one out of the park.
  4. Speaking of hitting one out of the park, California scored big this week as well when what had long been rumored came to pass: Jabari Bird, the 20th rated recruit (according to ESPN) in the 2013 class committed to Mike Montgomery and staff. Better yet, Bird has announced his plan to help out the Cal coaching staff by trying to convince fellow ’13 recruits Aaron Gordon (ESPN’s #6 recruit) and Marcus Lee (ESPN’s #27) to join him in Berkeley next season. Washington remains the favorite to land Gordon’s services, and Cal is but one of several options for Lee, but if Bird can help Cal land those two guys, the Golden Bears will be rather formidable next season. As it is, Bird, a 6’6” shooting guard with great athleticism, three-point range and a ton of upside, is a good start to an important class for the Bears.
  5. Lastly, it’s that time of year again where Connor and I get to exchange our weekly football picks. Last week, Connor picked up where he left off last season: namely, roughing me up a bit. I completely whiffed on picking Washington State to upset BYU, then missed it by this much when I went out on a limb to pick Toledo ruining RichRod’s opener in the desert. So, as it is Connor’s got a two-game lead on me just one week into the season. But have no fear, I’ll begin my comeback this week. I hope. In a good week of games around the conference, our game of the week this week is Nebraska visiting the Rose Bowl to face UCLA (if only because I’ll be in attendance), while other intriguing match-ups like Arizona/Oklahoma State, Wisconsin/Oregon State and LSU/Washington will be sure to keep us entertained as well. Picks below, with our game of the week prediction in bold:
Game Connor’s Pick Drew’s Pick
Utah at Utah State Utah State Utah
Eastern Washington at Washington State Washington State Washington State
Sacramento State at Colorado Colorado Colorado
Southern Utah at California California California
USC at Syracuse USC USC
Wisconsin at Oregon State Wisconsin Wisconsin
Fresno State at Oregon Oregon Oregon
Washington at LSU LSU LSU
Nebraska at UCLA UCLA 23-14 Nebraska 27-20
Duke at Stanford Stanford Stanford
Illinois at Arizona State Arizona State Arizona State
Oklahoma State at Arizona Oklahoma State Oklahoma State
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Herb Sendek Loses Two Top Assistants: Symptomatic of His Hot Seat at Arizona State?

Posted by Chris Johnson on August 24th, 2012

Christopher Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

As Arizona State muddled down the stretch to its second straight NCAA Tournament-free season, there were small signs that maybe (just maybe) the Sun Devils, in a reversal of the program’s stark two-year downward spiral, were trending upward. Sophomore center Jordan Bachynski saw his scoring and rebounding totals jump over the latter portion of conference play and the Sun Devils notched consecutive wins for the first time all season, including at home over in-state rival Arizona to knock the Wildcats off the at-large bubble cutline . The positive momentum dissipated quickly when three key contributors – sophomore guard Chanse Creekmur, power forward Kyle Cain, and leading scorer Trent Lockett – left the program for various reasons. Despite the personnel departures, there was reason to believe ASU could build upon Bachynski’s semi-improvement, work in six incoming players, unleash highly-touted prospect Jahii Carson at the point, and make some noise in an arguably top-heavy Pac-12. For coach Herb Sendek, who over the past two seasons has posted a lowly 22-40 record, anything less than an NIT appearance in 2012-13 is probably a firable outcome. Turning the Sun Devils around and saving his job after a quasi-exodus of scoring output and rotation minutes is an onerous proposition in and of itself. Sendek learned Thursday afternoon he will undergo his saving grace season without two familiar faces. Just a day after losing assistant Scott Pera to a similar position at Penn, Lamont Smith packed his bags and left to join Lorenzo Romar’s staff at Washington.

After losing two top assistants, the pressure has ratcheted up on Sendek’s hold on the head coaching job (Photo credit: Gus Ruelas/AP Photo).

Doug Haller of The Arizona Republic spoke with Sendek after Smith made his announcement.

Honestly, the timing isn’t ideal, but I think it creates a great opportunity for us. [...] It provides us with an opportunity to bring in two very talented members for our staff, so at the end of the day, I suspect it will be a win-win for everybody involved.

Putting a positive spin on these departures is a completely understandable approach: Sendek needs to show newly-promoted athletic director Steve Patterson he’s not going to simply buckle under the pressure of two poor seasons and a depleted coaching staff. The defections are tough to swallow, but Sendek clearly isn’t giving off any hints of displeasure or other negative reactions. Optimism aside, Sendek now finds himself in an extremely unfavorable position. On the eve of what is arguably a tenure-defining season, Sendek must produce respectable results out of a new-look roster with little in the way of sideline help to congeal the disparate parts. With two transfers, a pair of freshman and a now-eligible Carson expected to play significant minutes, Sendek has to find ways to work in the influx of new players and create a functional system around veteran mainstays like Bachynski and seniors Carrick Felix and Chris Colvin, all while providing signs of appreciable progression in an improved league.

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Morning Five: 08.24.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 24th, 2012

  1. You know you’re doing something right in a lawsuit if the defendant’s attorneys start attacking the plaintiff’s ringleader long before the discovery phase ends. According to this report from The Birmingham News, the NCAA and its licensees maneuvered hard against marketing guru Sonny Vaccaro in an attempt to discredit him prior to a ruling by a federal court in California about whether the so-called Ed O’Bannon likeness case will become a class action suit. It’s no secret that Vaccaro has encouraged ex-players who feel wronged by the perpetual and ongoing usage of their faces and likenesses to join the suit, but the NCAA questioned whether his financial motives were too inextricably tied to the players to render him prejudicial. The NCAA had requested voluminous records of his communications for years, but ultimately, the two sides agreed that Vaccaro would turn over “custodial records from Vaccaro’s three organizations, communications with the plaintiffs, camp/tournament documents using players’ likeness, and payment records to or from players.” The court plans on making a decision on the class action later this fall, and without question that ruling could have a monumental impact on the future financial solvency of the NCAA.
  2. Thursday was an assistant coach kind of weekday as a number of high-profile schools announced comings and goings among their coaching support staff. Kentucky, a school whose media relations department must work a ridiculous amount of overtime, announced that former Wildcat center Marquis Estill will join the team as an undergraduate student assistant while he finishes his degree. Estill left school early in 2003, after receiving all-SEC honors after his junior season. Meanwhile, across the continent in Seattle, Washington announced that it was adding former Arizona State assistant Lamont Smith to its staff as a top recruiter mere days after adding another new assistant, former D-II head coach Brad Jackson (Western Washington). The key word in the previous sentence is former, as Arizona State lost not only Smith but also Scott Pera, who is leaving the desert to coach closer to his home at Pennsylvania. As Herb Sendek said about the twin departures this week, “the timing isn’t ideal.” More on ASU in a post later today.
  3. Much has been made recently about the Big East’s 60-day window to negotiate a new television deal with ESPN that begins on September 1, but it isn’t the only conference looking forward to making waves with a brand new broadcasting deal. Big 12 commissioner Bob Bowlsby told media on Wednesday that the league expects to sign a 13-year deal with FOX and ABC/ESPN worth $2.6 billion and will provide “unprecedented” exposure in a much more “widely distributed” manner. Or, in other words, what everyone else says about these deals. From a financial perspective, if this deal turns out to be true, a distribution of over a quarter-bill to each of the 10 member institutions doesn’t sound very bad after all. As Bowlsby suggests, perhaps 10 schools is the right number after all — leagues have been pushing each other out of the way to expand, but maybe they should start thinking about strategic contraction instead?
  4. One school not reaping the tens of millions of dollars that the schools located nearby it are is Creighton, but that isn’t stopping the hot mid-major basketball school from investing in its future while things are going well on the court. Plans were announced earlier this week that the school will build the Fighting McDermotts a brand spanking new 35,000 square-foot practice facility to match what some of its MVC peers have already done. Perhaps more importantly, the school seeks to match what a certain Big Ten school an hour to the southwest is doing — even though Creighton is clearly the more successful basketball program than Nebraska, the spectre of all those BTN dollars at NU certainly keeps the Joneses over in Omaha looking over at their neighbor’s lawn. With possibly two more years of Doug McDermott as a Bluejay, this practice facility could be the recruiting carrot that Creighton needs to bridge its current and pending success with a strong recruiting future.
  5. Last summer the story of Lamont “Momo” Jones‘ transfer from Arizona back home to Iona was a hot topic. The question of how it would ultimately impact both schools was a common refrain, and as it turned out, it was his new school that played in March Madness (losing to BYU in the First Four), while his old school was shipped to the NIT (losing to Bucknell). Jones enjoyed his best season statistically in 2011-12, going for 16/3/3 APG while shooting a career-high 46% from the field. More importantly to the rising senior, though, he spent what he characterizes as the best of year of his life near his family — especially his ailing grandmother in the Bronx — and even became a first-time father of a boy, Jace’, in May. With all the negative stories surrounding college basketball these days, this piece by Dan Greene is one that will send you into the weekend with a smile on your face.
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