SEC M5: 11.07.13 Edition

Posted by Justin Bridgman on November 7th, 2013

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  1. After securing a commitment from power forward Trey Lyles, Kentucky now has the number one ranked 2014 recruiting class – seemingly an annual tradition at this point. With six of 247Sports top 10 players still undecided, that ranking is by no means locked in, but regardless, the Wildcats will reload again. Even if Kentucky does not land the biggest names like Jahlil Okafor or Cliff Alexander (and the rumors are that it won’t), this is still an amazing recruiting class. Kentucky fans should take a look at the players they are adding next season as a net positive. Tyler Ulis and Devin Booker are two players that are likely to stick around for two or three years rather than leave for the NBA after one season. Those are the type of players who help sustain championship-level teams as the elite prospects roll through on their one-year stopovers. The 2012 National Championship team needed senior Darius Miller as well as sophomores Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. The one-and-done players are awfully nice, but having some 4-star recruits stick around an extra year or two also benefits the team in the long run.
  2. Speaking of Kentucky and highly touted recruits, Ken Pomeroy examined how many first round picks this Kentucky is likely to have next June. He looked back in the Draft Express archives and examined where players were picked and then compared it to their projected draft position before the season. The conclusion was that Kentucky is most likely to have either four or five first round picks this season. Something to keep in mind is that what we think of players now is often not what we think of them at the end of the season. Last January nobody would have thought Alex Poythress would be back for his sophomore season, and Nerlens Noel was the runaway choice to be picked first overall. Things can change drastically over the course of a season. Perhaps Andrew Harrison wants to stay in school with his brother who is not ready for the NBA yet. James Young could decide he wants to wait a year and get picked higher. No matter what happens, projections suggesting up to seven Kentucky players could go in the first round should be taken with a grain of salt. Too much can change between now and June to know anything for certain.
  3. When Missouri coach Frank Haith sits for his five-game NCAA suspension related to the Miami/Nevin Shapiro scandal, Tim Fuller will take over the Tigers’ head coaching duties. Fuller came to the Tigers with Haith and has been the associate head coach the last two years. This move is a bit of a surprise, considering assistant coach Dave Leitao has some experience as a head coach at the D-I level. Still, Fuller has been rumored to be a prime head coaching candidate the last couple of summers, and he deserves a chance to prove himself too. Missouri has a fairly easy opening five games (Southeastern Louisiana, Southern Illinois, Hawaii, Gardner-Webb, IUPUI), but not having the head coach in place creates a leadership void. Haith feels as though Fuller is up to the task, and it is a good bet that when Haith returns on Thanksgiving to face Northwestern, the Tigers will already be 5-0. The two things to watch for with Fuller: managing the rotation of players, especially with a young and unpolished frontcourt; and how he coaches at the end of games. Haith struggles himself at the end of close games, perhaps Fuller can prove himself capable in avoiding that same issue.
  4. Buried within the Tim Fuller news was the announcement that two Missouri big men might not play the season opener on Friday night. Forward Tony Criswell has been suspended for the first game of the season, while fellow big man Keanau Post hasn’t practiced all week with a bad ankle. Criswell is the only returning interior player for the Tigers this season, so they need him to play as much as possible. While Haith said he expected Criswell to be back for the team’s second game, that is not a given. When a team has as much roster turnover as Missouri does, they need as much time to play together as possible. Post was a solid scorer at the JuCo level and Missouri desperately needs someone who can score inside this season. Until these two inside players are able to return to the lineup, look for Mizzou to use its four-guard lineup quite often to spread the floor and overcome the size disadvantage.
  5. Billy Donovan isn’t sure what to expect in the early part of this season because he’s missing so much of his team. Donovan questions the team’s top 10 ranking to start the season, pointing out that the team pollsters voted on is not the team he currently has available. With three key players suspended, one sick with mononucleosis, and five-star point guard Chris Walker struggling with test scores, the Gators are missing a starting lineup that could beat Auburn by 15. Donovan is right, his team is going to hit some really rough patches early. Their non-conference schedule is tough, and they could suffer a few losses that probably would not have occurred if the team was at full strength. Playing Wisconsin on Tuesday will be especially challenging without all their athletes around to negate the Badgers more deliberate pace. Hopefully by the time Florida plays UConn on December 2, the team will be more intact. Like Devon Walker says in the article, eventually they will get most of their players back and have time to come together. Perhaps a slow start removes an opportunity for a two-seed in the NCAA Tournament, but a fully healthy Florida roster in March has no ceiling.
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Can Tennessee Emerge as a National Player This Season?

Posted by Chris Johnson on November 6th, 2013

The top two finishers in the SEC this season are easy to project: Kentucky and Florida. The Wildcats, who welcome in arguably the greatest recruiting class of all-time – one built on the backs of six McDonald’s All-Americans and three players ranked No. 1 at their respective positions – are the odds-on favorite to win the league, while Florida, with its potent mix of veterans, freshmen and transfers, should pose a fierce challenge for first place. The SEC is more top-heavy than every other major conference (other than, maybe, the Big 12); no objective observer truly believes anyone other than Kentucky or Florida will win the regular season championship. But is there a third team that can at least make some noise on the national scene? A squad that can give Florida and Kentucky fits in conference play, if not knock them off once or twice over the course of the season?

With Stokes and Maymon anchoring the Vols’ frontcourt, Tennessee will be a tough out in SEC play (AP Photo).

Let’s name some candidates. LSU brings back first team all-SEC forward Johnny O’Bryant III, junior guard Anthony Hickey and adds six players, including five-star forward Jarrell Martin, from a top-10 recruiting class. Frank Haith has Missouri positioned for another upper-tier league finish thanks to a host of transfers, the best of them Tulsa import Jordan Clarkson, who averaged 15.6 points per game for the Golden Hurricane two years ago. Arkansas and Alabama will win their share of games. But none of those teams are as promising as Tennessee, a team that has yet to qualify for the NCAA Tournament since a flurry of recruiting violations resulted in Bruce Pearl’s firing in 2011. Left to pick up the pieces was Cuonzo Martin, the former Missouri State coach who, while fielding competitive, talented, dangerous teams in his two years at UT – the Vols have finished at least .500 in SEC play, and won at least 19 games overall, in consecutive seasons – has not elevated Tennessee to the lofty national stature it enjoyed under Pearl (lest we forget: It was only five years ago that the Volunteers briefly inhabited the No. 1 spot in the polls). Tennessee should make the NCAA Tournament this season. Jeronne Maymon and Jarnell Stokes comprise one of the best frontcourts in the country, wings Jordan McRae and true freshman Robert Hubbs III offer more perimeter firepower than most teams could ever hope to wield, and Memphis transfer Antonio Barton should fill in capably at point guard for Trae Golden, who transferred to Georgia Tech. That’s a talented starting five, and while Tennessee may lack depth, there’s no reason it shouldn’t crack the SEC’s top three this season.

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The RTC Interview Series: SEC Preview with Dave Baker, Barry Booker and Chris Dortch

Posted by WCarey on November 4th, 2013

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the offseason. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview of the SEC, we recently had the pleasure of speaking with three SEC experts in television analysts Dave Baker and Barry Booker, as well as Blue Ribbon College Basketball Yearbook editor, Chris Dortch. (Ed. note – we spoke to each individual separately, but for the sake of expediency, combining their answers into a round table format made the most sense.)

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Booker, Baker and Dortch Shared Their SEC Thoughts With Us This Preseason

Rush the Court: How good is Kentucky and what makes it that good? Do you expect the Wildcats to win both the SEC and the national titles?

Dave Baker: A lot of folks think that Cal can be a little blustery at times. I think he’s actually pretty frank in his assessments. Last year, he thought they were gonna be better than they were. He thought they were gonna be a good team; he didn’t they they could be a great team. But he’s really got that swagger back this year. And this team is an incredibly talented team. People can debate whether, coming into their college careers, this is the best recruiting class of all-time, but I can tell you, just in the couple of practices I’ve seen, there has been a marked difference in terms of talent level, attitude and the way these guys are working together. There are some natural leaders that have come in this class. Based on what I’ve seen, his confidence is well-placed. With what their expectations are, they certainly believe they should be in the mix at the end of the year.

Barry Booker: Kentucky has everything it takes to be extremely good. It has elite talent all over the court. I think Kentucky is the surefire favorite in the SEC and I believe it has to be considered one of the top contenders to win the national title. This 2013 recruiting class is just one of the best we have seen – by all reports. It seems like every year, Kentucky gets some of the best recruits. In a year like this, where Kentucky has an outstanding class and it has players like Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein returning, it would be hard to see the Wildcats not being a top-notch team. It is amazing what John Calipari is doing in bringing in that top flight talent to replace top flight talent every year.

Chris Dortch: This historically great recruiting class gives coach John Calipari his most talented team ever, with at least seven future NBA first-round draft picks. Kentucky is definitely favored in the SEC and will be a title threat come March, but there are a handful of teams with more experience that are capable of executing a game plan and sending the Cats home short of the championship game.

RTC: Florida lost its three leading scorers from last season’s Elite Eight team. Are this season’s Gators a legitimate challenger to Kentucky in the SEC?

Baker: I think Billy and Florida will have another really good team. He’s got a situation down there where he just finds people to replace the players who have moved on. They are just incredibly consistent year-in and year-out. I know that they would have liked to have made some deeper runs in the NCAA Tournaments since their championships, but other than that, they’re just really consistent.

Booker: Absolutely. The Gators have gone to the Elite Eight three straight seasons and they are at that level again this season. I am not sure if you can call them number two – maybe Kentucky is 1A and Florida is 1B. If Kentucky does stumble and does not get things figured out, Florida can come in and take over at the top of the league. Freshman Kasey Hill is a dynamic point guard. Even with the departures from last year, Florida is still very strong on the perimeter with Scottie Wilbekin and Michael Frazier. The Gators also return Patric Young inside – who is the best interior player in the league. This is a very solid team. It just has to stay healthy this season. The injury to Will Yeguete really hurt the team last season. It was never able to get back to the same level that it was at before the Yeguete injury.

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The RTC Podblast: SEC Preseason Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 31st, 2013

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We’re just a little over a week from the start of games across this fair nation, and that means it’s time to preview each of the major seven basketball conferences on the RTC Podcast. This week we’ll unveil previews for the Big East (Tuesday), Big Ten (Wednesday), SEC (Thursday) and Pac-12 (Friday), with the AAC, ACC and Big 12 to come next week. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) is our talented and engaging host, leading the group through a series of topics and questions related to the upcoming season. For this podblast, we invited RTC SEC microsite correspondent Brian Joyce (@bjoyce_hoops) to the program, as he helped us consider whether this year’s league will be another version of Kentucky & Everyone Else.

Make sure to add the RTC Podcast to your iTunes lineup so that you’ll automatically upload it on your listening device after we record. And don’t forget to check out our 2013-14 Preseason Podcast, the National Edition, and feel free to contact us through Twitter or email — we’re listening.

The rundown is below if you’d like to skip around.

  • 0:00-10:04 – Is This Kentucky Team More Like 2012 or 2013?
  • 10:04-14:44 – Florida as a Contender
  • 14:44-21:00 – Anyone Else in the SEC Going to be Good?
  • 21:00-23:16 – Randy Rejects Tennessee as a Potential Favorite Team
  • 23:16-24:48 – MARSHALL HENDERSON!
  • 24:48-29:24 – Other SEC Stars
  • 29:24-30:33 – Underrated SEC Players
  • 30:33-33:41 – Impact of Frank Haith’s Suspension on Mizzou and the Rest of the SEC
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Who’s Got Next? Ben Simmons Joins a Beefy LSU Class, Tennessee Lands a Shooter, and More…

Posted by Sean Moran on October 21st, 2013

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Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitments of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

LSU Stays Hot

Less than one week after adding powerful big man Elbert Robinson from the class of 2014, LSU’s Johnny Jones struck  gold in the 2015 class with the commitment of 6’9” Australian Ben Simmons. In a surprise decision, the five-star forward went with the Tigers over schools such as Duke, Kansas, and Kentucky. Simmons is currently rated as the No. 8 player overall and No. 2 power forward in his class, despite limited time in the United States. Simmons made his first appearance in the United States in early June 2012 in California. In a three-day showcase camp, Simmons took the camp by storm, showing off the skills he honed in Melbourne. In January 2013, Simmons came over to the U.S. for good and enrolled at Montverde Academy (FL), which also happened to be the top high school team in the country. Simmons joined forces with current Florida freshman guard Kasey Hill and Kentucky center Dakari Johnson on the team.

Ben Simmons is the Best LSU Commitment in Years

Ben Simmons is the Best LSU Commitment in Years

The Tigers have been on a roll with their recent big men commitments, but Simmons will provide the team with an added dimension of versatility. In the 2013 class, Jones signed a five-star power forward in Jarrell Martin (No. 14 overall, 2013) and four-star power forward Jordan Mickey (No. 37 overall, 2013), adding to class of 2014 four-star center, Robinson (No. 59 overall, 2014). Martin possesses the most skill of the bunch and has range out to the three-point line, but he is most effective down low. Mickey’s calling cards are his rebounding and defensive abilities while Robinson is a load to handle in the post. Martin and Mickey average 230 pounds while Robinson weighs a massive 320 pounds.

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Morning Five: 10.17.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 17th, 2013

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  1. As we mentioned yesterday, Wednesday was the day that four major basketball conferences, all of their own independent accord, decided, “hey, let’s dominate the news cycle for our basketball product by competing for attention with three other competitors, even though we could have easily chosen any of a number of other days during the month of October! Brilliant!” Sometimes the ruling parties of this sport really make you wonder. Alas, the ACC, AAC, Big East and SEC all held their media events yesterday, providing us with a steady stream of quotes, notes, predictions and controversy throughout the day. You’ll get better coverage of the details of each of those leagues at each of our microsites (excepting the SEC, which relaunches next week), but for now, here are some of the things we learned. ACC: Jim Boeheim says the only thing Syracuse fans will miss is the Big East Tournament; AAC: Commissioner Mike Aresco says no-way, no-how to paying players. Big East: Are the biggest celebrities in this league Bill Raftery and Gus Johnson?  SEC: Kentucky’s best player is James Young? The SEC will continue with its two-day event in Birmingham today, and the Pac-12 will hold its one-day media event in San Francisco as well. The Big 12 and Big Ten will follow with theirs over the next couple of weeks.
  2. The best quote of the day, however, didn’t come from one of the roughly 50 coaches assembled yesterday at the various conference media days. It came from USC’s Andy Enfield, who exhorted his team during a recent practice by telling the Trojans, “We play up-tempo basketball here. If you want to play slow, go to UCLA.” Perhaps not since the days of Shaq and Kobe trashing each other through Jerry Buss has the City of Angels heard such a fine display of braggadoccio. Given that it’s coming from a brash young coach who quite literally was making a CPA’s salary somewhere on the gulf coast of Florida one year ago, even better. The two schools have never liked one another, but sometimes the crosstown rivalry got lost in the football vs. basketball focus of each. It would be nice to see the rivalry heat up with two cocky new coaches in town ready to trade barbs back and forth for the better part of the next decade. The Pac-12 microsite has a fantastic piece coming later today on this topic, and we highly encourage you to check it out in a few hours. Meanwhile, do you think the west coast media will bring up this quote to Steve Alford and his counterparts later today?
  3. Jumping back to the media days, all four leagues released their preseason choices to win the conference races and the standard other superlatives we typically expect this time of year. In the ACC, Duke was picked first with Syracuse’s CJ Fair chosen as the top player; over in the AAC, it was Louisville and Russ Smith. In the new-but-not-improved Big East, Marquette was the choice, with Creighton’s Doug McDermott as the player of the year. In the SEC, Kentucky and Julius Randle were the selections. From our perspective given what we know about these sorts of things, the media will be lucky if even half of these choices come in by March — there’s just too much variability and unpredictability at the conference level to make sterling predictions like these. The closest might be McDermott in the Big East, so long as he’s healthy all season, and Louisville to win the AAC. Beyond that? It’s hard to say anything is a lock.
  4. There was a period in the mid-1990s when Georgetown basketball, so feared and despised by so many in the 1980s, became the coolest thing around, in a retro sort of way. Sporting some of the best college basketball uniforms ever produced and an electrifying backcourt led by the unguardable Allen Iverson and his sidekick, Victor Page, the Hoyas became everything they hadn’t been during the previous era: fun, fast and perimeter-oriented. Bubba Chuck, of course, went on to an MVP award and great riches in the NBA, but Page, the Big East Tournament MVP in 1996 and Big East scoring champion in 1997, was never able to get there. As a result, Page has spent much of the last two decades in and out of correctional institutions for a series of petty and serious crimes, the most recent of which, a brutally violent assault against a Maryland woman, was described by Nathan Fenno in the Washington Times as the product of “one wasted opportunity after another.” Page has been charged with 33 crimes in the last 42 months (guilty of six, including the assault, for which he was sentences to 10 years in prison), but the clear lesson here is that young players with all the talent in the world still need to have realistic backup plans. Education, work, whatever. Because if there’s nothing else to live for, that allows the darkness to creep in.
  5. After that one, let’s finish today off with a good story. In an era of coaches working themselves to the bone with all the different CEO aspects of running a Division I college basketball program, the New York Times‘ Zach Schnobrun writes about the youngest D-I coach in the country, Wagner’s 29-year old Bashir Mason. Mason, it turns out, is finishing up a Master’s in elementary education at the school and the second-year head coach must complete 220 hours of classroom instruction to earn the degree. As a result, he spends five mornings and one afternoon a week at a local elementary school, working through reading comprehension and other practical exercises with kids who are too young to recognize that their teacher is a bit of a local celebrity. It’s a story about persistence and follow-through, and it’s one that Mason deserves to have heard. Here’s hoping that his team listens to him as intently as his six-year old students do — they’ll assuredly learn a thing or two about discipline and hard work.
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Morning Five: 10.16.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 16th, 2013

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  1. Maybe we should just start calling this post the Wiggins Five, given how often Andrew Wiggins is finding his way into it without having played a single minute of college basketball. But yesterday’s news regarding the precocious Kansas freshman was more than just standard hyperbole and filler, as Bleacher Report‘s Jared Zwerling (yes, this is a first for this site; we’re just as astonished as you are) reported that the shoe giant adidas is already estimating a deal of $140-$180 million over 10 years to sign Wiggins to pitch its brand next spring (and that Nike is set to match it). By way of a comparison, Nike signed LeBron James to a then-ridiculous $93 million deal a decade ago, and that was without the benefit of ubiquitous social media tracking his every dunk, quip and Hummer purchase. Nor did James have a year of nationally-televised college basketball games to help build his overall branding — can you imagine how high the number could get if Wiggins dominates the season and leads Kansas to a national title next April — is a quarter-bill out of the question?
  2. A different class of 2013 prep star may not be looking at a nine-figure endorsement deal like Wiggins in several months, but he’s poised to make more money than the Kansas freshman (and every other freshman) for the duration of the 2013-14 season. Aquille Carr, a top 100 recruit at the point guard position, is reportedly taking David Stern’s “sage” and controversial advice about getting a better education in the NBA Development League than at one of America’s colleges by entering his name into next month’s NBADL Draft. The 5’7″ prospect from Baltimore originally committed to Seton Hall but decided to go pro before ever making it to campus, briefly entertaining the idea of playing in China before settling on his decision to come back home and settle into a year of long bus rides between Frisco, Texas and Sioux Falls, South Dakota. While we don’t know Carr’s specific issues with respect to skipping out on a subsidized education at Seton Hall, his dream of getting picked up in next year’s NBA Draft as a waterbug distributor is probably a significant long shot. For the next six months, though, he should take solace in all the pocket change that his pay scale of $13,000 to $25,500 (2013 numbers) will give him over the chumps playing for free in college.
  3. For some strange reason, four of the seven power basketball conferences have decided to have their annual media day on the same day, that is, today. The ACC (Charlotte), AAC (Memphis), Big East (New York) and SEC (Birmingham) will all introduce their coaches, players and teams at overblown events Wednesday, with the SEC taking an extraordinary two days (Wednesday and Thursday) to sell the world on its mediocre basketball product. The Pac-12 will have its annual event in San Francisco on Thursday, while the Big 12 and Big Ten had enough sense to space theirs out into later weeks. As ESPN.com‘s Dana O’Neil writes, this week’s events in Charlotte, Memphis and NYC should make for some world-class awkwardness as coaches try to size each other up and figure out who is staying and leaving. #awkwardconferencemeetups, anyone?
  4. Officiating is always going to be a point of contention among coaches, fans and media in large part because there are so many different leagues and organizations supporting the 838 Division I referees calling games across America. Inconsistency (along with its cousin, general incompetence) is the most common complaint, as people have trouble understanding how a touch foul in the ACC can be called while a mugging in the Big Ten is ignored. The NCAA has made some strides in trying to normalize the rules and criteria for calling fouls, for example, but it often seems as if the referees spend the non-conference season making calls the new way only to revert back to the old way by conference play. This year is no different. Preseason points of emphasis on hand-checking and the incomprehensible block/charge rule are the talk of coaches around the country, but as ESPN.com‘s Jeff Goodman writes, there remains a great deal of apprehension over the effect of the changes. One thing we suppose that most people can agree upon, though, is that it surely can’t get much worse?
  5. Let’s end things with some fun today. NBCSportsCollege Basketball Talk released its list of the top 20 dunkers in the game yesterday, and although you can nitpick around the edges of  any ranking like this, you’ll have a whole lot more enjoyment by just sitting back and watching the clips. It really must be the Year of the Freshman, as CBT selects two rookies among its top three (it’s not difficult figuring out who they might be). Our one quibble might be that they left out a transfer student who became infamous for perhaps the greatest missed airballed dunk layup of all-time last season — Georgetown’s Joshua Smith. But no worries — the 6’10” jumping jack of a center will be tearing down rims at a DC-area arena near you soon.
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Morning Five: 09.05.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 5th, 2013

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  1. Wednesday was a day of moves — some planned, others not — as we slowly but assuredly inch our way to the start of season practice at the end of the month. The biggest news, of course, was that former Missouri guard Michael Dixon had been cleared by the NCAA to play at Memphis this upcoming season. Dixon was dismissed from Missouri last fall after a pair of unrelated sexual assault allegations (no charges were ever filed against him), leaving the former Big 12 Sixth Man of the Year something of a free agent last season. Perhaps using the Dez Wells/Xavier incident as a related precedent, the NCAA decided to allow Dixon to play without sitting out the mandated transfer year, a good call considering that would have represented a 32-month layoff for the senior. His addition to a Memphis backcourt of Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford and Geron Johnson makes Josh Pastner’s group one of the most talented in America — the key question is whether there will be enough basketballs to go around. In Dixon’s final year in Columbia, he accounted for nearly a quarter of the available shots while he was on the floor, while the returning Memphis trio also likes to chuck in the 19-22 percent range. Still, there’s plenty of reason for Memphis players and fans to be excited now, as Johnson tweeted a picture of the “4Kings” soon after the news was released yesterday — Dixon is a player who can mean the difference between a Sweet Sixteen and a Final Four.
  2. Another player on the move is former Louisville, FIU and Minnesota (albeit ever so briefly) forward, Rakeem Buckles. According to ESPN.com‘s Jeff Goodman, Buckles was back on campus at FIU last week and plans on spending his final year of eligibility playing for the school where he sat out last season. He had originally intended to transfer for a second time to Richard Pitino’s club after FIU was put in APR jail (hey, Isiah), but the NCAA rejected his waiver request leaving him with few other viable options. Buckles has been a case study in hard luck over his career, suffering two ACL injuries at Louisville that never allowed him to find much momentum there, followed by a transfer to a school where he now has no shot at sniffing the NCAA Tournament. At a minimum, we hope that he has an injury-free 2013-14 season with the dangling carrot of a possible pro career awaiting him somewhere overseas.
  3. So about those transfers… Luke Winn from Sports Illustrated has been quiet lately, but now that we can see the finish line of the offseason, expect a lot of great new stuff from him. On Tuesday he published his second annual look at the phenomenon of up-transferring, the growing tendency of good players at small programs to transfer to bigger programs to finish out their careers (especially in the case of those using the graduate transfer exception). What he finds is that the trend that appears to have taken off during the last offseason has continued on its upward trajectory. A total of 30 up-transfers are at bigger programs heading into this season (with three others awaiting NCAA decisions), a slight increase over last year, with notable new talent at national contenders such as Florida, Duke, Kansas, Arizona and several others. Oregon by itself is hoping to have as many as three up-transfers in its lineup, one year after former transfers Arsalan Kazemi (Rice) and Tony Woods (Wake Forest) led the Ducks to the Sweet Sixteen. Winn digs into some of the theories and reasoning behind why this trend continues to grow, and as always, you’ll enjoy the thoughtful analysis that he puts forth.
  4. Rivals.com released its post-summer Top 150 of prep basketball prospects yesterday, and there were few surprises as Chicago’s Jahlil Okafor remained firmly planted at the top of the list. Emmanuel Mudiay, the most heralded recruit that Larry Brown has wooed since Danny and Ed Manning came to Lawrence, Kansas, has moved into the #2 overall position. The rest of the top 10 at this point only bears one other committed player, North Carolina’s Justin Jackson at the #10 slot, but as we know that will begin to change in earnest as we head into the official visit period and look forward to the November signing day. Speaking of package deals — the Mannings were of the most epic variety — Adam Zagoria from Zagsblog.com breaks down the likelihood that any of the rumored deals in this year’s senior class will actually attend school together next season. The most likely scenario remains the longest-running one, which is that Okafor and Minneapolis’ Tyus Jones will end up in the same place next year — most likely at Duke. While getting two top five players in the same class has become de riguer at Kentucky under John Calipari, it’s still nearly unprecedented elsewhere. So if Coach K pulls off this coupling of elite hoops talent at the ripe age of 66, it will prove perhaps once again that as long as Krzyzewski is still involved in this game, Duke isn’t going anywhere.
  5. Winn’s partner at SI.com, Andy Glockner, was also active this week. The resident master at crowd-sourcing his Twitter followers to develop interesting column ideas, he sought to answer the question of which of the major conferences was most likely to produce the 2013-14 national champion? Given that this isn’t the BCS and there’s a wider variety of talent diffused throughout more leagues in college basketball, Glockner writes that there was “absolutely zero consensus” to the answers (we’d have to imagine that “SEC” would carry three-quarters or more of the vote in college football). Breaking down the component parts of each conference viewed through the “title or bust” analysis, he ultimately settles on the Big Ten, SEC and ACC as the three leagues with the strongest possibilities. We’d have to agree — each of those conferences has at least two teams with national championship talent, and although coaching, seeding, injuries and a lot of luck has to do with who ends on on the crown in April, you’d want to hedge your bets as much as possible with teams carrying the most future pros.
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Morning Five: 08.22.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 22nd, 2013

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  1. When you have the facts, pound the facts. When you have the law, pound the law. When you have neither, pound the table. The NCAA would do well to remember this old legal axiom as it enters a dangerous stage of its lawsuit over image and likeness rights collectively known as the Ed O’Bannon case. On Monday of this week, the organization requested a 15-month continuance of the opening date of the trial — currently scheduled for June 9, 2014 — in a shamelessly transparent attempt to solidify its position by distancing itself from one of its most embarrassing gaffes in the past few years. Jay Bilas, anyone? EA sports and Collegiate Licensing Co., co-defendants in the case along with the NCAA, interestingly enough only requested a five-month continuance for the start of the trial. The federal judge overseeing this lawsuit, Claudia Wilken, had requested that the defendants come to a mutual agreement on trial date by Monday, but their inability to come to simple terms on that question may only serve to anger her as she weighs a number of important motions on class certification and other items that will seriously impact the case.
  2. And the hits just keep on coming. Mere days after a social media-fueled firestorm over the NCAA’s initial decision (subsequently reversed) to deny former US Marine Steven Rhodes from walking on to play football this year for Middle Tennessee, another controversy has enveloped the organization over an eligibility question that strains the limits of common sense. As The Star-Ledger‘s Tom Liucci writes, Iowa State transfer Kerwin Okoro was recently denied a waiver to play for Rutgers in 2013-14 because his medical hardships — Okoro’s father and brother each passed away last winter — are not current. The rule on receiving a medical hardship waiver states that the player must show “medical documentation of a debilitating injury or illness to a student-athlete’s immediate family member that is debilitating and requires ongoing medical care,” technically precluding Okoro from the benefit. But how about some big picture common sense here? While it’s true that Okoro will not be required to care for his now-deceased relatives, there are other compelling reasons involving his family’s overall healing process that should also be considered in such a decision.
  3. We’ve long known that Division I college basketball players are some of the best all-around athletes in the world, what with the core components of elite “athleticism” — speed, agility, strength, flexibility, stamina — all very well-represented in our sport. Several athletes who perhaps weren’t skilled enough for professional basketball found their way into other athletic sports — we’re thinking about NFL tight ends such as Tony Gonzalez or Antonio Gates here — but, as The Dagger‘s Jeff Eisenberg writes, a lesser-known version of football played in Australia is looking at college basketball as a nice pipeline to find its next generation of ruckmen. A what, you say? Well, a ruckman is someone in Australian Rules Football who is tasked with securing possession for his team after dead balls and scores through a modified jump ball situation. Who better than to fit that need for our friends Down Under than undersized big men with explosive hops and a knack for getting their hands on the ball. As the world becomes flatter in economics and sport, we imagine that we’ll start to hear more stories like these as the rest of the planet discovers just how athletic our basketball players — even those outside the NBA — actually are.
  4. One of the most discouraging stories of last offseason has resurfaced in a big way with the news on Wednesday that former Xavier-turned-Maryland guard Dez Wells, he of the rape allegations so absurd that the local prosecutor publicly stated they were “fundamentally unfair,” has decided to sue his old school for damage to his reputation and a good old-fashioned apology. In an environment where seemingly every semi-public figure claims that he will sue to protect his good name after getting blatantly caught telling bold-faced lies, it’s encouraging to see a situation where the justice system will be used to mete out some actual justice. Xavier expelled Wells from its school last summer, citing a decision made by its Conduct Board (and upheld on appeal) that predated the related criminal grand jury investigation; as a result, Wells has since suffered mightily from the school’s rush to judgment. That he’s bringing this case while he’s still playing NCAA basketball is rich with storyline possibilities — could he somehow face his legal adversary in a postseason match-up for the ages between the Terps and Musketeers? We can only hope…
  5. A lot of schedules have been releasing over the past couple of weeks, and the most notable in the last 24 hours were from a couple of conferences. First, the SEC released its conference-only schedule, featuring a bunch of mediocre teams that nobody pays attention to until February a solid balance of Tuesday/Wednesday/Thursday night games with the standard Saturday smorgasbord but lacking the Kentucky-Tennessee battle in Knoxville that has produced so many great contests over the years. A special thank you goes out to Texas A&M and Missouri for that omission. On the other side of the continent, the WCC also released its conference schedule, which means that the only two games of true importance in this league — Gonzaga vs. Saint Mary’s, Acts I and II — should already be inked into your calendar (January 2 and March 1). Many more of these releases to come in the next few weeks.
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Morning Five: 07.17.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 17th, 2013

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  1. We’re more than officially in the dog days of summer but only the truly committed scribes work all summer covering the sport we love. Seth Davis is one national commentator who came out of his slumber this week to report from Las Vegas with a Hoops Thoughts column on Michigan’s Mitch McGary. The rising sophomore took the college basketball world by storm last March, going from a role player to a key cog for John Beilein’s national runners-up, but as McGary explained to Davis: “So far I’ve only cracked the glass. Next year I’m trying to break through it.” The piece delves into some of McGary’s lesser-known history, specifically his struggles with academics as a result of ADHD, his workout and diet regimen that he enabled midway through last season to give himself a shot at more mobility (and playing time), and his non-decision to enter his name into the NBA Draft because he simply enjoys college life. Great read, especially in mid-July.
  2. Another likely star returning to school for 2013-14 is Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, fresh off a FIBA world championship in the U-19 division. USA Basketball announced its National Team Mini-Roster on Tuesday, and the rising sophomore Cowboy was the only collegian of 29 players selected. The group of mostly young, rising NBA stars will meet in Las Vegas to compete next week, although no roster spots on Team USA are officially up for grabs. This is simply an opportunity for the players to prove themselves against their peers for future international events. Smart of course is unlikely to make the men’s national team roster for the Worlds in 2014 or the Olympics in 2016, but playing against the likes of Ty Lawson, Mike Conley, George Hill, Kyrie Irving, Kemba Walker and John Wall at his point guard position cannot hurt his overall development. Watch out, Big 12.
  3. Louisville‘s visit to meet President Barack Obama will occur next week, on July 23 at the White House. The school waited a bit longer than normal to schedule the event, so that players Montrezl Harrell and Luke Hancock could attend the event after stints in summer international tournaments. While in The District, the team will also make time to tour the Capitol Building with senator and minority leader, Mitch McConnell (R-KY). When McConnell isn’t busy tormenting his Democratic opposition in the back rooms of DC, he spends quite a bit of time in Louisville taking in the Cardinals’ biggest games. Although as far as celebrity fans go, we’ll stick with Ashley Judd 70 miles down the road. Sorry, Mitch.
  4. Tuesday was the start of SEC Football Media Days, and why do we care? Well, in large part because South Carolina head coach and immodest rabble-rouser Steve Spurrier again went on record stating that the entire SEC — according to him, all 28 football and basketball coaches — is in favor of payments to their revenue-producing players. The stipend he mentioned yesterday amounts to approximately $3,600 per player per year and a little over a quarter-million dollars in annual costs — a relative pittance in a business that regularly deals with annual budgets in the eight- and nine-figure range. And why wouldn’t they want to pay players? It would give them yet another carrot in the recruiting wars against some of the smaller schools and conferences, while correspondingly eliminating much of the regulatory nonsense with monitoring and enforcing illegal benefits that amount to a night out for dinner and a movie.
  5. While on the subject of football crossing over with basketball, Colorado quarterback Shane Dillon announced on Tuesday that he is giving up the gridiron effective immediately so that he can pursue his passion on the hardwood at another school. A 6’5″ wing in high school where he averaged a robust 25/12 for Christian High School in southern California, Dillon suffered a shoulder injury and was looking at starting next season third on the depth chart for the Buffaloes. He asked Tad Boyle if he had room for him on his team, but all the scholarships were filled and Dillon isn’t willing to walk on. He’ll look to make his transfer decision in the next few weeks, with a school in the WCC and Big West perhaps his most likely destination.
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More TV Money for the Nation’s Most Powerful Conference: Surprise, Surprise…

Posted by Chris Johnson on May 3rd, 2013

Chris Johnson is an RTC Columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn

Because once-meaningful concepts like academic and cultural similarity, geographical proximity and longstanding tradition no longer control how or why college athletic conferences exist, and because television, you know, does – Thursday’s news out of SEC headquarters is a very big deal, both for  league directly involved, the SEC, along with every other college sports conference. The South Eastern Conference announced a 20-year agreement with ESPN Thursday to air a 24/7 all-encompassing sports network beginning in 2014, with programming that includes 45 football games and more than 100 men’s basketball games annually, plus “selected events” from non-revenue sports and other important offseason dates such as football pro-days and national signing day.

An expansive new TV contract will grow the SEC's already monumental annual financial take (AP Photo).

An expansive new TV contract will grow the SEC’s already monumental annual financial take (AP Photo).

This is a very big deal. It is not mars-landing breaking news. Here’s why: the SEC exists in an entirely different plane of football competitiveness and import, stuffed to the hilt with NFL-bound talent and a fervent pigskin culture not seen in any other league across the country, but they were a step or two behind on this conference-specific television fad. The Big Ten and Pac-12 networks already have their own networks, which promise (alongside nonstop league-centric coverage) exorbitant annual sums, serve to expand the otherwise lesser profile of lower-tier programs and clearly represent the way of the future in a bountiful college sports television frontier.

The more subscribers there are in different regions of the country, the more fans that are eager to watch Washington State play Utah on a Thursday night, for example, the more money falls into league coffers and the more other schools – we’re looking at you, AAC – want a piece of the pie. These were the logistical league-hopping dynamics behind much of the recent conference realignment wave (go watch Maryland’s astonishingly candid introductory Big Ten press conference), and they will continue to drive the ship in league membership decisions, even if the ACC’s recent grant of rights deal appears to have ensured at least temporary realignment calm among the major conferences.

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With Kentucky Loss, SEC Fan Apathy For Basketball Exposed Again

Posted by David Changas on March 16th, 2013

David Changas is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report while covering the SEC Tournament in Nashville this weekend.

You’ve heard the saying, “If you build it, they will come.” When it comes to Kentucky fans and the SEC Tournament, it goes more like this: “Wherever you hold it, they will come.” Everyone knows that the Wildcats have struggled all season with almost an entirely new team, and chances are, they will miss out on the NCAA Tournament. But if you happened to be in downtown Nashville Friday evening, you would think John Calipari’s team was a prime contender for the national championship. For Friday’s blowout loss to Vanderbilt, whose campus is two miles from Bridgestone Arena, the SEC Tournament drew its largest crowd of the weekend, and of the 18,000+ in attendance, at least 15,000 were part of the “Blue Mist,” the affectionate name given to Wildcat fans who take over whatever city the annual extravaganza is being held in. The Commodores would have felt more at home if the game had been in Rupp Arena, not that it was evident from their play.

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Kentucky’s surprising ouster from this tournament was not only bad for the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, which was looking forward to a St. Patrick’s Day weekend with thousands of Wildcat fans in town, but it once again brought to light an embarrassing issue for the SEC.  Bridgestone Arena had plenty of empty seats for Saturday’s semifinals, and Sunday’s championship likely will be no different.  Mike Slive has made more money for this league since he took over as commissioner in 2002 than you can count. He’s overseen expansion into Texas and Missouri, massive television contracts, and rumor has it that he’s on the verge of announcing the formation of the SEC Network, expected to launch in August 2014.  But make no mistake: That money has been made because of football. It is the cash cow of college sports in every league, but there’s no question that the pigskin is more important to the SEC than any other. And there’s no clearer of example of that than the conference’s dominance of the BCS, which it was won seven consecutive times.

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