Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish on Mondays throughout the season.In this weekly 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….that Xavier went down in flames against mighty Oral Roberts thanks to the multiple suspensions from the Cincinnati brawl – including Tu Holloway. Not that I ever want to wish ill upon others, but it seems so much more helpful when players really get to see the consequences of their actions. Perhaps an embarrassing loss like this will make the Musketeers think twice before entering any other on-court confrontations.
I LOVED….Billy Donovan signing on for five more years. I had so much respect for Donovan when he passed up the lucrative offer with the Orlando Magic to stay on with the Gators and continue building a legacy that will be one of the finer tenures in college basketball by the time it ends. I don’t think anyone questions whether the Donovans, Williams, Calhouns or Krzyzewskis of the world could coach at the NBA level, but it’s so nice to keep them in the college game.
Donovan in Gainesville For Another Several Years is a Good Thing
I LOVED….Butler’s under-the-radar win against Purdue. Look, this isn’t a great Butler team. They’re 5-6, and they’re not reaching the NCAA Final again (I promise…). But it’s these normal, ho-hum wins against quality big-conference teams that continue to legitimize Brad Stevens’ squad as much as the crazy Cinderella wins in March. That’s how you keep stealing recruits from the big boys in the long run.
I LOVED….some alley-oop aerial acrobatics. For my money, there’s almost nothing more impressive than a player turning an alley into some sort of innovative slam. To intentionally twist your body while in the air and adjusting for a ball that is moving toward the hoop takes a combination of coordination and athleticism that most of us will never experience. This week we got a disgusting reverse alley from Oregon State’s Jared Cunningham (arguably the nation’s best leaper), and a 360 version from Terrence Ross of Washington (at the 6:13 mark).
Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC contributor. In this piece he’ll spend each week reviewing the five things he loved and hated about the previous week of college basketball. This week, Jesse gives props to the Hopson coiffure and reveals his man crush on Jay Wright — then alienates the entire city of Pittsburgh. We’re sorry…ya Yinzers.
The Five Things I Loved This Week
I LOVED…..listening to a Pac-10 nail-biter – that’s right, listening – on a radio this week since the game wasn’t televised. Everything in today’s media market is so visual and video-based, and you can get almost any game on the tube with the right cable package. But there was something very appealing about trying to picture exactly what was happening on the court with 2.5 seconds left using just a single voice and the crowd noise during the Washington vs Stanford game. I’d argue it even upped the drama.
I LOVED…..how I found myself wondering just how in the world Villanova coach Jay Wright always has short, athletic guards every year who can do it all. Every. Freaking. Year. Corey Fisher, Scottie Reynolds, Randy Foye, Allan Ray, and so on. While I always have to pick against ‘Nova in the tourney because I think they’ll run into someone too big, you have to appreciate the fearless perimeter play that Wright gets from his small guys.
Fisher Is Yet Another Product of the Jay Wright Short Athletic Guard Factory
I LOVED…..Scotty Hopson’s Scottie Pippen haircut. So classic. When you have by far the best name ever for a basketball player, it’s important that you back it up with the best basketball haircut of all time – the unbeatable fade. Props to you Scotty, you’re doing Pippen and Will Smith proud with the ‘do.
So the Big East came back down to earth this past week. It was bound to happen. The conference wasn’t going to boast seven undefeated teams all season long. While Syracuse, Louisville, and NotreDame won marquee matchups, Georgetown, Pitt, Marquette, Providence, and NotreDame (again) got knocked off this past week, and Villanova and WestVirginia struggled against inferior opponents.
Player of the Week: Marshon Brooks, Providence: I’m willing to bet that there are a lot of people around the country that haven’t heard the name Marshon Brooks before because, you know, he plays for Providence. But it’s about time you start noticing this young man. In the past two weeks, there may not be a player in the country in more of a groove that Brooks. Since a 3-12 performance in a win over Wyoming on November 24, Brooks has been on fire, averaging 28.9 PPG and 8.2 RPG, collecting 11 steals and ten blocks, and shooting 55%/83%/46% over a six-game stretch. In the last week alone, Brooks averaged 31.3 PPG and 8.3 RPG as the Friars went 2-1, their lone loss a two-point decision on the road against Boston College.
Team of the Week: Syracuse Orange – The Orange’s win over Michigan State last Tuesday has been written about and discussed at length already, but it deserves mention once again. Granted, the Spartans are playing some poor basketball right now, but Syracuse still dominated them in the paint and completely flummoxed them with their zone. The Orange are just as good defensively as they were last season and may have an even better front line than last year’s team, headlined by the emergence of Rick Jackson as a double-double machine. They are still waiting on Kris Joseph to become a consistent scoring threat, and Scoop Jardine still has a tendency to make bad decisions, but the biggest issue standing between Syracuse and greatness appears to be their lack of perimeter shooting. Regardless, no team in the Big East is playing better basketball that the Orange right now.
Power Rankings (last week’s rankings in parentheses)
1. Syracuse (10-0) (5)
Last Week: 12/7 vs. Michigan State 72-58, 12/11 vs. Colgate 100-43
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Iona, 12/20 vs. Morgan State
2. Pitt (10-1) (1)
Last Week: 12/8 vs. Delaware State 70-42, 12/11 vs. Tennessee 76-83
Next Week: 12/18 vs. UM Eastern Shore
The Panthers took a pretty solid whooping at the hands of Tennessee last Saturday. Ashton Gibbs was completely taken out of the game by MelvinGoins, Pitt had no answer to Scotty Hopson defensively, and the Panthers were ineffective in finishing their second chance opportunities. To make matters worse, the game was in Pittsburgh. The tendency is to overreact to a beatdown like this, but I caution fans against doing that. I was able to watch the entirety of that game, and trust me, it had much more to do with how well Tennessee played than what Pitt was unable to do.
3. Georgetown (9-1) (2)
Last Week: 12/9 @ Temple 65-68, 12/12 vs. Appalachian State 89-60
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Loyola MD
Like Pitt’s loss to Tennessee, I caution Hoya fans against getting too worried about Georgetown’s first loss of the season. For starters, it came on the road against a Temple team that is top-25 material, played as well as they have all season on the defensive end, and got a career performance out of Ramone Moore, who went for 30. Georgetown still has a terrific backcourt and still has one of the most impressive non-conference resumes in the country. With the schedule they are playing, they were bound to be tripped up. If anything, that game proved that even Georgetown is susceptible to being taken out of their game by Temple’s defense.
4. Connecticut (8-0) (3)
Last Week: 12/8 vs. FDU 78-54
Next Week: 12/20 vs. Coppin State
The Huskies have slowly dropped in the Power Rankings, as they were second two weeks ago. This may look even more ridiculous considering that UConn has risen to #4 in both of the polls. My defense? Well, it’s the same thing that has been written every time someone has written anything about UConn this season — do they have enough outside of Kemba Walker? Roscoe Smith and Jeremy Lamb have been better the last two games, while Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi have come back to earth a little bit. The addition of 7’1 German import Enosch Wolf may help shore up UConn’s woes on the defensive glass, but I’m still not sold on this team.
5. Villanova (8-1) (4)
Last Week: 12/8 @ Penn 65-53, 12/12 @ La Salle 84-81
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Delaware
It’s a good thing that Corey Stokes decided to show up this week, as he was the Wildcats’ best player in both games this week, scoring 34 of Nova’s 65 against Penn before dropping 16 against La Salle. Corey Fisher seems like he is struggling with the pressure of replacing Scottie Reynolds. The skills are still there, as he’s still finding assists and getting to the foul line. His shots just aren’t dropping. He’s too good for that not to change.
7. Notre Dame 9-1 (6)
Last Week: 12/8 vs. Kentucky 58-72, 12/11 vs. Gonzaga 83-79
Next Week: 12/19 vs. Stony Brook
Notre Dame’s past week has me confused. Ben Hansbrough carried the Irish to a 38-27 lead late in the first half against Kentucky, but he had just two of his 21 points the rest of the way and the Irish looked completely lost on the offensive end of the floor, going for 13 minutes of game time without a field goal. They did, however, look solid on the defensive end until Terrence Jones took over in the final five minutes. Against Gonzaga, the Irish led by double digits for much of the second half, but allowed the Zags to score 14 points in the final minute and cut a ten-point lead to just two.
7. Louisville (8-1) (7)
Last Week: 12/8 vs. San Francisco 61-35, 12/11 vs. UNLV 77-69, 12/14 vs. Drexel 46-52
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Gardner-Webb
While finals generally signal a slowdown in college basketball, there was plenty going on in Louisville. All in the span of a week, the Cardinals received a verbal commitment from Rodney Purvis, the nation’s #1 point guard in the class of 2012, scored a big win over UNLV, and lost to Drexel amongst reports that Rick Pitino will coach the Puerto Rican national team. As for the Cardinals as they stand right now, nothing has changed about my opinion of Louisville since they beat Butler to open the season. When this team gets it going — when they are knocking down threes and forcing turnovers defensively — they can play with just about anyone in the country. When they don’t hit shots, as shown against Drexel, they will struggle. The biggest issue for Louisville right now? Their three-point shooters just aren’t all that good. As a team, they shoot 32.1% from deep (219th in the country) but 42.8% of their field goals are three balls (17th most in the country). Their top three in terms of attempts — Mike Marra (27.3%), Preston Knowles (34.7%), Peyton Siva (25%) — don’t shoot it well. Their best three point shooter, Kyle Kuric (42.1%), only takes a little over two per game. Think about this stat — in beating San Francisco, Louisville took more threes (36) than USF had points (35). They missed the same number of threes (26) as points they won by (26). I don’t know what that means, but it is kind of insane. (Note: The shooting stats were taken from KenPom before the Cardinals’ December 14 game against Drexel.)
8. Cincinnati (9-0) (8)
Last Week: 12/11 vs. Utah Valley 92-72, 12/14 vs. Georgia Southern 99-54
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Oklahoma
Will the Bearcats play somebody already? They are 9-0 on the season, but they haven’t beaten anyone in the top 100 according to KenPom, and their only wins against teams rated better than 199th are against Dayton and Wright State. I’m reserving judgment on this team until they get a real test, and that may not be for another month.
9. Marquette 7-3 (9)
Last Week: 12/7 vs. Texas A&M-CC 86-50, 12/11 vs. Wisconsin 64-69
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Centenary
Typical Marquette. Their three losses are by a combined 13 points. The same thing happened last season. The Golden Eagles played every good opponent tough, and once they figured out how to win and execute down the stretch, they started knocking off those tough opponents. I’m not worried about this team just yet.
10. West Virginia 7-2 (6)
Last Week: 12/7 vs. Robert Morris 82-49, 12/12 @ Duquesne 64-61
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Cleveland State
Did something happen between Bob Huggins and Casey Mitchell? It appears so, because the Mountaineers’ leading scorer managed just 35 minutes combined the past two games. He played only one second in the second half against Duquesne.
11. Providence 10-2 (12)
Last Week: 12/8 @ Boston College 86-88, 12/11 vs. Alabama 82-70
Next Week: None
It’s too early to say that PC is a potential NCAA Tournament team, not with their lack of quality wins. But with Marshon Brooks playing the way he has and Vincent Council and Bilal Dixon looking like they can be impact players in the Big East, this team has to be considered a sleeper to make a run in league play. The Friars open conference play at Syracuse and then with home dates against St. John’s and Pitt. I’ll reserve judgment on them until after those three games.
12. Seton Hall 5-4 (13)
Last Week: 12/11 @ UMass 78-51
Next Week: 12/19 vs. NJIT
Have the Pirates finally figured out how to play without Jeremy Hazell? The last two games, they have won by a combined 52 points and scored an average of 91.0 PPG. This team is playing defense this season. If the offense comes around, they’ll be climbing these power rankings. Seton Hall has talent.
13. Rutgers 7-2 (15)
Last Week: 12/8 vs. Marist 64-48, 12/11 vs. Auburn 63-54, 12/14 v. FDU 79-65
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Monmouth
The Scarlet Knights aren’t terrible this season, or at least is appears that way early on. They have a win over Miami FL and knocked off Auburn in a game that wasn’t nearly as close that the 63-54 final would indicate.
14. St. John’s 5-3 (11)
Last Week: 12/7 vs. St. Bonaventure 66-67, 12/11 @ Fordham 81-84
Next Week: 12/20 vs. Davidson
15. South Florida 5-5 (14)
Last Week: 12/12 @ Kent State 51-56
Next Week: 12/15 vs. Auburn, 12/18 vs. James Madison
16. DePaul 4-6 (16)
Last Week: 12/8 @ Indiana State 51-73, 12/11 vs. Ball State 77-79 OT, 12/14 vs. Milwaukee 61-47
Next Week: 12/18 vs. Loyola IL
The bottom of the Big East was awful this past week. St. John’s completely destroyed any kind of hope for this season by losing at home to St. Bonaventure and dropping a game on the road against Fordham (who won two games last season) after holding a 21-point lead. South Florida followed up a loss to Florida Atlantic where they scored 42 points with a loss to Kent State where they scored 51 points. DePaul was drubbed by Indiana State by 22 points (and had just 18 points at the under 16 timeout of the second half) and lost to Ball State. Yuck.
A Look Ahead
Aside from Drexel’s major upset to give Louisville its first loss at home, there are no interesting games played by Big East teams this week. None. The only game that comes close is when West Virginia hosts undefeated Cleveland State, and that is in very large part due to the finish those two had last year. Good luck on your finals, and enjoy your Christmas break, fellas.
Typically, the announcement of preseason All-Americans is something that we pass over, but when today’s list was announced it caught our eye. It appears that the Associated Press has decided to get with the 21st century and named Harrison Barnes as a 1st team preseason All-American making him the first freshman to receive the honor since the AP began bestowing the honor before the 1986-87 season. Although Barnes was technically the last man on the team with 17 out of 67 possible votes, by far the fewest of any member of the 1st team, it is remarkable that he achieved recognition that players such as Carmelo Anthony, Greg Oden, Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Derrick Rose, and John Wall never did. Still, Barnes, who like every other freshman, was left off the preseason Wooden Award list will have his work cut out for him trying to match the production of some of the most prolific freshman (many of whom made the final All-American team), but based on what we have heard out of Chapel Hill he might have a chance.
Barnes: The 1st AP Preseason All-American Ever
Here is the rest of the first team with the number of votes out of 67 possible votes that they received from the AP voters:
Kyle Singler, Duke (65)
Jacob Pullen, Kansas State (53)
Jimmer Fredette, BYU (49)
JaJuan Johnson, Purdue (46)
Harrison Barnes, UNC (17)
Singler, the top vote-getter, is the lone returning AP preseason 1st team All-American although he was only honorable mention when the end-of-season picks were made last year. It is worth noting that none of the members (John Wall, Evan Turner, DeMarcus Cousins, Wesley Johnson, and Scottie Reynolds) from of last year’s All-American team returned to school and none of them were on the preseason All-American team from a year ago so keep that in mind although we have a feeling we will be seeing a few of this year’s preseason All-Americans on multiple All-American lists at the end of the season.
NCAA Sanctions: From a basketball perspective, the biggest story in the Big East this summer was up at UConn. The Huskies received a notice of allegations from the NCAA in May, informing them of eight major violations in the recruitment of Nate Miles. UConn will find out its final punishment from the NCAA in October, but the violations have already cost them two assistants — Beau Archibald and Brad Sellers, the son of former Husky star Rod Sellers. Jim Calhoun avoided the heavy artillery — getting grazed with a citation for “failure to monitor” the program, which is ironically what the best coaches need to do to succeed.
Coaches: The NCAA infractions weren’t the only reason Calhoun was in the news. Ailing health as he nears 70, impending NCAA sanctions, a team that is going to need some rebuilding, and the fact his contract was up made many believe Calhoun would hang ’em up this summer. Wrong. He signed a five-year deal instead. Calhoun had far from the worst summer for coaches in the Big East. Rick Pitino let the world — and every single opposing student section — know about his 15-second tryst on a restaurant table with one Karen Sypher. Bob Huggins fell, a result of being in Vegas the medicine he took on an empty stomach making him light-headed, and broke seven ribs. Fred Hill was run out of Rutgers, in part because he lost it on the Pittsburgh baseball team’s coaching staff. Through all of that, perhaps the worst summer was had by Bobby Gonzalez, who lost his job at Seton Hall, had the entire episode come out in the New York Times, sued his former employer, was unable to receive credentials at the NBA Draft, and then find himself arrested for attempting to steal a $1,400 man-purse satchel. The three new coaches to the conference: Oliver Purnell left Clemson for DePaul; Mike Rice left Robert Morris to fill in for Hill at Rutgers; and Kevin Willard left Iona and took Gonzo’s spot at Seton Hall.
LOIs: Three Big East teams made headlines for issues with recruits signing LOIs. DePaul initially refused to release Walter Pitchford, Jr., from his LOI. He signed with Jerry Wainwright, who was at DePaul before Purnell was tabbed. After appealing both the school and the NCAA, DePaul finally released Pitchford. The same thing is currently happening to Joseph Young at Providence, who as of this writing has not yet been granted a release by the Friars. At Marquette, DJ Newbill was dropped from his LOI when Buzz Williams had the opportunity to bring in former top 100 recruit Jamil Wilson, a transfer from Oregon. All in all, Big East members did not shine bright this summer.
Back to Providence: Man oh man, did they have a rough summer. Two freshmen kicked out of school for beating up a student. Their star, Greedy Peterson, thrown off the team. Another player arrested. Did Keno Davis have this much trouble in mind when he took the job two years ago?
Seton Hall Didn’t Fare Much Better: Aside from their coach being kicked to the curb, the Pirates had their best big man spend nearly a month in the hospital because he collapsed after finishing a workouts and saw Robert “Sticks” Mitchell get arrested for (get this) robbing eight people at gunpoint just two days after being kicked off the team.
Villanova stumbled towards the finish line last season. This year, Jay Wright’s troops are Rob Dauster’s favorites to take the Big East in 2010-11.
Villanova: While the Wildcats lose All-American Scottie Reynolds, Jay Wright‘s club (as always) will be more than fine in the backcourt. Corey Fisher, fresh off an alleged 105-point performance in a Bronx summer league, and Maalik Wayns will be as dynamic as any backcourt in the country and should be able to thrive in Scottie’s absence. Corey Stokes is still going to be a lights out shooter. Dominic Cheek and James Bell will be dangerous on the wings. Up front, the five-man rotation of Antonio Pena, Mouph Yarou, Isaiah Armwood, Maurice Sutton, and JayVaughn Pinkston gives Villanova a very deep, very talented roster for the upcoming season. The Wildcats should compete for the Big East title and, depending on how well some players develop (Armwood, Cheek, Wayns, Yarou) and how good a couple of freshmen are (Bell, Pinkston), Nova could very well make a run at the Final Four.
Pittsburgh: The Panthers were the surprise of the Big East last season, and with the majority of their roster coming back this season, its tough to envision Pitt falling off. Pitt has almost reached the level of a Wisconsin — no matter who is on their roster, this is a team that is disciplined and well-coached to the point that they are always going to be competitive. As always, expect a gritty, defensive-minded team from the Panthers. An already-solid back court of Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, and Travon Woodall will be bolstered by the addition of freshmen Isaiah Epps, JJ Moore and Cameron Wright, as well as Lamar Patterson finally getting healthy. Gilbert Brown, who missed the first half of last season due to academic issues, will be back at the small forward spot. Brown had an inconsistent season in 2010, but showed flashes of some serious potential. Gary McGhee and Nasir Robinson will bolster the front line, but the real x-factor on this team is going to be sophomore Dante Taylor. Taylor was one of the most highly-touted recruits last year, but it took him awhile to adjust to the Big East. If Taylor can live up to his promise, Pitt is a potential Final Four team. If not, this is still a club that will be competing for a league title.
Syracuse: It is easy to look at the Orange and think that, with the players they lost (Wes Johnson, Andy Rautins, Arinze Onuaku), they will be down next season. Well, they might not win a Big East title, but they certainly will be in the mix atop the conference standings. Brandon Triche and Scoop Jardine will anchor the backcourt, with freshman Dion Waiters providing an offensive spark as an off-guard. Kris Joseph should blossom into a dangerous weapon as a slasher on the wing, and if he can add some strength and a jumper this summer, could very well be in the running as a first-team all-Big East selection. Rick Jackson will be paired with Fab Melo, who Jim Boeheim has been raving about (he raved about Johnson last summer, and look how that turned out), in the frontcourt. With guys like CJ Fair, Mookie Jones, James Southerland and DaShonte Riley providing minutes off the bench, there is no doubt Syracuse will be a good team. How good — borderline top-25 or a potential Big East champ — remains to be seen. Read the rest of this entry »
Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist at Rush the Court.
Now that the Draft is complete, time to look back at Thursday night’s winners and losers, from coaches to NBA teams to players to conferences and everything in between:
Paul George saw his stock skyrocket all the way to #10 and the Pacers, Al Bello/Getty Images
Big 12 – One of the premier college basketball conferences has gained quite a surge of momentum in the last few weeks. Big 12 commish Dan Beebe convinced Texas it was in their best interests to keep the league in tact even after the defections of Colorado and Nebraska, two of the more downtrodden BCS-conference hoops programs in the country. After chopping off those two anchors, a ten-team, 18-game round robin format has been agreed to starting in 2012. The Big 12 momentum only continued at the draft on Thursday where an astonishing seven of the top 24 selections reside from the conference (and Kentucky isn’t even a member). Baylor’s Ekpe Udoh, Kansas’ Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry, Texas’ Avery Bradley and Damion James, Oklahoma State’s James Anderson and Iowa State’s Craig Brackins, not to mention Cyclone transfer Wes Johnson, were all nabbed in the first 24 picks. The Big 12 barely trailed the ACC in terms of overall conference strength last season and the results of the first round only confirmed those numbers.
John Calipari – As Fox Sports Jeff Goodman astutely pointed out, expect plenty of John Calipari mug shots in near future drafts unless he bolts for a dream NBA job. Five of his Kentucky Wildcats from one recruiting class were taken in the first round on Thursday, from John Wall at #1 overall to Daniel Orton at #29. Next year could see two more Kentucky players announced early in the draft in center Enes Kanter and point guard Brandon Knight with forward Terrence Jones another potential first rounder. In 2011-12 when Marquis Teague, Michael Gilchrist and another top ten recruit TBD join Big Blue Nation, it’ll be the same Calipari hugging his revolving door of players on a June night in NYC. Don’t think this is just Calipari doing this for his departing players or that recruits are not noticing. He’s fully aware of what his face constantly showing up on ESPN’ s cameras means: furthering his reputation of sending talented players to the riches of the NBA. And quickly.
Paul George – It’s been a quick ascension for George, a workout wonder who saw his draft stock shoot up in the last few weeks until he landed to Indiana at #10. It’s doubtful even George saw this coming after being lightly recruited out of Palmdale, Calif, and settling on Fresno State for his college choice. George saw both his FG% and 3pt% plummet from his freshman to sophomore seasons and he only upped his PPG by 2.5 and RPG by 1.0 along with very low assist totals. He also played for a 15-18 WAC team against far more inferior competition than, say, Kansas’ Xavier Henry, who went one pick later to Memphis. Henry averaged 13.5 PPG, shot 46% from two and 42% from three on a team filled with players who needed touches.
Greivis Vasquez’ reaction – I don’t think anyone who watched Greivis Vasquez play four years at Maryland was surprised when they saw the emotional Venezuelan surrounded by family and friends in the crowd at Radio City Music Hall waiting for his name to be chosen. Vasquez has been projected as an early-to-mid second round pick- a scorer, leader and improved floor general that simply lacks the lateral quickness to defend NBA guards. Yet rumblings surfaced that Memphis loved Vasquez at #28. Sure enough, when he was pegged at that exact spot, the only outward, raw emotion we saw Thursday night emerged as Vasquez pumped his fist, hugged his family and practically sprinted to shake David Stern’s hand on the draft stage. Congratulations to Greivis.
Did you catch that NBA Draft last night? We’ll have much more up about the 2010 version in a post later today, but for now we’ll just say that even though we know that college stars cannot always translate to the professional level, it still bothers us to see tremendous collegians like Scottie Reynolds, Omar Samhan, Jon Scheyer and many others left on the outside looking in. Best of luck in wherever your careers take you, fellas; we really enjoyed watching you play.
This is intriguing. The NCAA is proposing to make a rule that high school players cannot be offered scholarships until the summer between their junior and senior years. It’s not a bad thought. Coaches could still get wink/nod/secret handshake agreements with players well before that time, but at least from a public standpoint, it would take away some of the insanity with the recruitment of players who are barely old enough to drive (or younger if you’re Billy Gillispie).
ESPY nominees relating to college hoops: 1) Best game – Duke vs. Butler (odds: 35%); 2) Best Breakthrough Athlete – John Wall, Kentucky (odds: 40%); 3) Best Championship Performance – Anthony Johnson, Montana (odds: 5%); 4) Best Upset: Northern Iowa over Kansas (odds: 75%); 5) Best Coach/Manager: Coach K (odds: 15%); 6) Best Male College Athlete: Evan Turner (odds: 25%) & John Wall (odds: 40%). Get over there and vote.
Zach Hayes is a regular RTC writer and resident bracketologist. You can follow his sports-related thoughts at Twitter.
Too often during the month-long period between the Final Four and the early entry deadline of the NBA Draft, the media, hoops blogs and talking heads only focus on the underclassmen that have put their name in the hat. Was it the correct decision? Should he come back to school instead? Did that player sign with an agent? These questions should be forwarded and debated, but it seems a distinguished group of players are left out of the national dialogue during this time: college seniors.
While most drafted seniors are plucked closer to the end of the second round than the lottery (there’s a reason they stayed in school four years, let’s face it) it doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be celebrated and acknowledged. There’s an extensive list of four-year college players that have made a memorable impact for the Association. Thus, this article will be devoted entirely to those that battled on the college hardwood for four years, examining their impact on the collegiate game during their long stay and determining how they can have a lasting influence at the next level.
Damion James (Texas)– I wouldn’t rule out another senior sneaking into the first round, but it’s looking likely that James is the lone four-year player to be picked in the top-30. A unanimous selection to the All-Big 12 first team, James averaged a double-double during Texas’ disappointing campaign and passed Nick Collison’s conference record for rebounding. NBA scouts will drool over James’ ferocity in the glass and his superb athleticism. He also features an unblockable mid-range jumper that’s improved in accuracy over his development from a dependable role player to a superstar in one of college basketball’s most premier conferences. While James may not have a defined position at the moment, he will likely build a lengthy NBA career just based on his drive, athleticism, explosiveness, innate rebounding ability and mid-range jumper. James suited up in burnt orange with everyone from D.J. Augustin to Avery Bradley and his name should be lifted to the rafters at the Frank Erwin Center.
Quincy Pondexter (Washington)– Displaying awe-inspiring glimpses of potential throughout his first three seasons in Seattle, Pondexter finally molded into the player that every Washington fan so desperately wanted during his senior campaign. Bumping his scoring average over seven points per contest, Pondexter led his Huskies out of the Pac-10 abyss and into the Sweet 16. Pondexter’s consistency- a constant battle that eventually turned into a strength- was never more evident than during Washington’s Pac-10 Tournament final win over California and first and second round triumphs over Marquette and New Mexico. Pondexter poured in a steady 18 points in each contest and shot a clip under 50%, even notching a key offensive rebound and extending his season two days more with a short bank shot that sent the Huskies to the second round. There’s little doubt in my mind Pondexter will continue to harness that natural talent at the next level. His extensive wingspan, ability to score in transition and comfort with defending multiple positions provide just a glance into Pondexter’s value.
This one is for our readers, who are with the exception of a few notable gadflies, the most knowledgeable and erudite group of college hoops fans around. Rather than just giving our opinions on some of the big controversies and issues of the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament, we want to throw it at you guys. What do you think? Each of the below polls will allow comments, so let’s build some discussion through there.
Q1: Does Last Weekend’s Performance Show That the Big East Was Overrated?
Our answer on this one is a resounding yes. Eight teams down to two, and four of them among the top twelve seed positions? The Big East was historically good last year but they failed pretty miserably on the big stage this year.
Q2: What Was the Biggest Surprise of the Weekend?
A lot of good choices here, but we have to go with Cornell’s margin of victory. It doesn’t shock us that the Big Red are in the Sweet Sixteen, but the way in which they completely solved two of the better defensive teams in the country in Temple and Wisconsin is astounding.
How’s Your Bracket? Of the sixteen top seeds in this year’s NCAA Tournament, eight are now gone — one #1 seed, one #2 seed and three each of the #3s and #4s. The last time that half of the top sixteen didn’t make the Sweets? 2005 (8). Before that? 2000 (9). So maybe this is a cyclical thing of around twice a decade, but we’ll take it. It makes for a wild attention-getting opening weekend, and builds a buzz about the Dance that had been lacking in the last couple of years during the early rounds. In addition to that, we have a #9 (Northern Iowa), #10 (St. Mary’s), #11 (Washington) and #12 (Cornell) crashing the rarefied air of the regionals, the most teams from the lower half of the bracket to make it since 1999 when five double-digit seeds made it to the second weekend. To the players on those four teams, they don’t care about any of that — the unlikelihood of its occurrence is lost on their youth; all they know is that they’re still playing and they believe they can continue to advance in this tournament. And why shouldn’t they? None of the four teams above fit the definition of an overmatched Cinderella that just happened to catch a favorite looking ahead or on a very off night. No, these four teams have combined to win 113 games this year, and each has shown the ability to win convincingly over quality competition. Cornell’s 13-point victory over Temple was one thing; but an 18-point pasting over Bo Ryan’s Wisconsin while scoring 87 points is quite another. St. Mary’s knocking out a strong Richmond team was impressive; but holding Big Shot Scottie Reynolds to 2-11 from the field is a different story. Same thing for Washington dominating a 30-win New Mexico team, and well, we’re still in astonishment over the UNI victory over Kansas on Saturday afternoon (more on this below). It was a bracket-busting kind of weekend, and it provided more thrills and memorable moments than the last few NCAA Tournaments combined. It’s the reason we all love this sport, and it provides additional evidence (although none is needed) that the Tourney is already in its sweet spot in terms of the right number of teams allowed to participate. If #9 seed Northern Iowa had to play an additional game to get to #8 UNLV before a chance to take on #1 Kansas on Saturday, would they have had the legs to get past the overall top seed? Would any of the above teams still be dancing?
Un-Farokhing-Believable. We were among the biggest supporters of top overall seed Kansas as a dominant team that had a great shot at steamrolling to this year’s title, but Ali Farokhmanesh and Northern Iowa had other ideas. It wasn’t enough that the Iowan with the Persian name that no major college wanted drilled a 25-foot game winner during Thursday’s first round game versus UNLV; no, he one-upped that shot with another three (“a dagger,” according to Bill Self) on a 1-on-2 fast break opportunity where the ‘smart’ play appeared to be pulling things out and running clock. His platinum-balls three from the right wing was all net, giving UNI a four-point lead with around thirty seconds to go. After KU’s Tyrel Reed charged on the ensuing possession, the upset was in the books, and it will go down as one of the greatest in NCAA Tournament history. No matter what the revisionist historians will try to argue, Kansas was the prohibitive favorite to win the NCAA Tournament this season, and in the 64/65-team era, there has never been a bigger Second Round upset. Bigger than Stanford and Kentucky in 2004, Stanford again in 2000, and yes, even Kansas’ loss to UTEP in 1993. The difference between those teams and this one is that 2009-10 Kansas was considerably better than all of those other #1 seeds. If you disagree that they weren’t the prohibitive favorite, send us a screen shot of where you had the Jayhawks losing. 42% of America in the ESPN Tournament Challenge had the ‘Hawks winning it all, and nearly 75% had them in the Final Four. We would agree that it was the biggest overall upset since George Mason over #1 UConn back in 2006, but at least by that point in time we had a decent idea of what the Patriots were made of (with wins over UNC and Michigan State already). Here, we had no idea that Ali and his Magic Panthers had in store.
Now it’s a party. The first round is done. The next 48 hours of games will define which big-time teams can handle the pressure cooker that is the Big Dance, and it will identify the Cinderellas we’ll be talking about for years. If you’re a double-digit seed, winning one game is nice, but you don’t receive your wicked stepsisters, pumpkin coach, and glass slipper until you at least reach the Sweet 16. Oh, you’re a big-conference bigwig? Then the next round is still probably less than what was expected of you. People don’t remember Second Rounders. They remember teams that make the Sweet 16 and beyond. The first round was fun. But it’s over. Here are the teams vying for the Sweet 16 on Saturday:
#2 Villanova vs #10 St. Mary’s
#5 Butler vs #13 Murray State
#6 Tennessee vs #14 Ohio
#1 Kansas vs #9 Northern Iowa
#3 Baylor vs #11 Old Dominion
#3 New Mexico vs #11 Washington
#2 Kansas State vs #7 Brigham Young
#1 Kentucky vs #9 Wake Forest
We’ll be here all day, watching the games with you. We hope you’ll join us, and we definitely look forward to seeing you in the comments section as we all climb in to ride this rollercoaster for the third time. See you right here about fifteen minutes before the first tip!
12:55: Here we go! For the Sweet 16, gentlemen…let’s play! Some interesting matchups throughout the day. Looking especially forward to Baylor vs ODU and KSU vs BYU. To me those look like the more intriguing games.
1:05: St. Mary’s off to a quick start! The inside battle between Omar Samhan and Mouphtaou Yarou and/or Maurice Sutton is gonna be fun to watch. God, Samhan looks bigger every time I see him.
1:15: I guess Jay Wright’s “minor teaching point” is over. Samhan could not have asked for a better start to this game. Eight points on 4-6 shooting. SMU does not look intimidated early. I fact, Villanova still looks like they’re getting over whatever hangover they were nursing that caused them to almost get beaten by Bob Morris.
1:26: Samhan just rooked with that second foul. I agree with Raftery. That should have been a no-call.
Over the next two days in a series of separate posts, RTC will break down all 16 of the second round games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses. Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds. Here are the Saturday games.
1:05 pm – #2 Villanova vs. #10 St. Mary’s (Providence pod)
A great opening game of the day for the group of teams that produced the best opening day of the NCAA Tournament ever. A lot of experts are going to be calling for an upset here and based on the way these two teams are playing we can’t say that we blame them. The Wildcats came into the NCAA Tournament having lost five of seven games and nearly lost to Robert Morris (down by 7 with less than 4 minutes left before some controversial calls went ‘Nova’s way). On the other side, the Gaels stormed through the West Coast Conference Tournament and knocked off Richmond, a team that a lot of people had as a potential sleeper, in the first round. The key to this game will be how Reggie Redding handles Omar Samhan. After watching Samhan rip apart the Spiders, Jay Wright has to be concerned about his interior players going against one of the best low-post players in the country. On the other side, Saint Mary’s has to figure out how to deal with Scottie Reynolds and the rest of the Wildcat backcourt. They are certainly better equipped to match-up with Villanova’s perimeter players with Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova than the Wildcats are to handle Samhan. Saint Mary’s perimeter players pack enough offensive punch to make keep up with Villanova’s guards, but Mouphtaou Yarou and Redding shouldn’t challenge Samhan too much defensively. The one wildcard here is Reynolds. Will he “learn” from Wright’s “teaching moment” and become the Scottie Reynolds we knew for most of the past two seasons or will be the 2-15 from the field Reynolds?
The Skinny: Samhan overwhelms the Wildcats on the inside and advance into the Sweet 16 as this year’s Cinderella.
3:20 pm – #5 Butler vs. #13 Murray State (San Jose pod)
The second game of the second round will feature the top mid-major program in the east versus an upstart who would love to get there themselves. In their first round game, if you haven’t heard, the Racers’ Danero Thomas hit a shot at the buzzer to knock Vanderbilt out of the Tournament, but what you may not know about that game is that Murray State pretty much controlled it throughout. It was very late when Vandy regained the lead and set the stage for Thomas’ game winner. The point: Murray is better than your typical #13 seed Cinderella. Butler, on the other hand, had a weak first half and a superb second half to put away UTEP. It was two of the staples of Butler’s attack — relentless halfcourt defense and the three-ball — that allowed the Bulldogs to quickly take the lead and never look back against the Miners. As for this game, Murray State does many of the same things that Butler does, it’s just that Brad Stevens’ team does those things better. It will certainly be interesting to see how Butler responds to being the Big (Bull)Dog in an NCAA Tournament game, as they’re usually the upstart taking on some higher-seeded Kansas or Florida type of team.
The Skinny: We’d love to take Murray State here, but Butler isn’t going to let a johnny-come-lately out-Butler them en route to the Sweet Sixteen, so we expect Butler to hang on and win by 6-8 points.