Well, the 2009 NBA Draft has come and gone, and hundreds of players are waking up to the soul-crushing wreckage that inevitably follows. For thirty players last night, hummingbirds are carrying $100 bills around the hotel room, there’s a case of empty Cristal at the foot of the bed, and the debilitating headache you’re sporting today is a badge of honor – Welcome to the Show. For another thirty players, there’s a melancholy tease of ‘what could have been’ as you realize your dream is only marginally within reach – no guarantees from here on… you’re just a day-to-day wage-slave like the rest of us. For the remainder who were waiting on that siren’s call from D. Stern last night, replace the Cristal with Boone’s and the tease with ‘what went wrong… I thought I was pretty good,’ and you have what we like to call Team Narcissism.
Team Narcissism is filled with players who thought they were something they weren’t: draftable. Or if they were draftable, they thought they were first-rounders when they were really second-rounders. These are players who left college early based on the tenuous premise that they were ready for the NBA, and that the NBA would welcome them into its arms… but… it didn’t quite work out that way. Now they’re left with the option of scratching and clawing their way onto a team for a minimum salary, or heading overseas to try to catch on somewhere else. Some of these players had absolutely no business declaring early, while others were victims of unfortunate timing and stock slippage. Still, Scotty Thurman says hello.
Dar Tucker, Depaul(undrafted) – the 6’5 Blue Demon thought because he could score 18 ppg on a terrible FG% (39%) that this made him a draft pick?
Shawn Taggart, Memphis (undrafted) – Taggart should be a gearing up for a senior season as a featured player in Josh Pastner’s new offense. He never had a chance at getting drafted this year.
Brandon Costner, NC State(undrafted) – never had a chance, so why not stay in school for one more season and get your degree (see: Taggart)?(correction: stay in school and improve your game?)
Paul Harris, Syracuse (undrafted) – the first of two Syracuse clowns who were egregiously fooling themselves into believing they had a shot to get selected last night.
Eric Devendorf, Syracuse(undrafted) – it’s true, he probably had nowhere else to go, but given what we know about Devo, he also probably saw himself as a lottery pick.
Daniel Hackett, USC (undrafted) – can’t blame the kid for jumping off a sinking ship, but he probably could have returned and dominated on that team next year (plus get his degree).
Patty Mills, St. Mary’s (#55) – this was a free-fall last night. Mills was a borderline first-rounder but his stock fell significantly in the last month, and he probably should have listened to the right people and returned to SMC for an injury-free junior all-american campaign.
Jodie Meeks, Kentucky (#41) – no surprise here, as Meeks was expected to go in the second round. Still think it was a poor decision, though.
Chase Budinger, Arizona (#44) – another free-fall player, as Budinger was a lottery pick not all that long ago. Don’t really blame him much for leaving early, though, as his fall was swift and recent.
DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh (#37) – good decision for an undersized Big Baby clone to leave early? Probably depends on whether he makes the team or not, right? Definitely a gamble.
Memphis players continue to jump ship, with Shawn Taggart now deciding to forgo his senior season (not a great move, but he’s already 24 and who knows what penalties Memphis may face next season).
Tennessee’s Tyler Smith is still thinking about returning, but he’s also considering going to Europe to start his professional career. While on the subject of collegians moving to Europe, Luke Winn explores the issue a little further in the context of Nick Calathes’ decision to play in Greece.
Wake Forest’s Jeff Teague injured his knee in a workout last week, but is expected to remain in the first round and therefore will most likely stay in the draft.
Some other news bouncing around the early summer months…
Memphis made its defense to the NCAA on Saturday, and we pretty much agree with most of what Gary Parrish writes here. Details are scarce as to what was actually said at the hearing, but Kentucky’s John Calipari did phone in from China, and Memphis official stated on the record that they feel that they’d made their case to the NCAA. Not sure what else they could say in that spot though. Memphis should hear something from the NCAA in 6-8 weeks.
We really don’t have a good feeling about the long-term prospects of Josh Pastner at Memphis. Nothing against the kid, but Calipari is just too tough of a situation there to follow. He’s showing his recruiting chops already, but can he coach?
A Tennessee congressman named Steve Cohen is petitioning the NBA to change its “one-and-done” rule. Interesingly, his district includes Memphis, who is of course dealing with the Derrick Rose fiasco. Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt took offense at some of Cohen’s comments about his former player, Thaddeus Young, and is now demanding an apology.
Former Razorback Patrick Beverleythrew Arkansas under the bus in an interview with DraftExpress when he said, “Someone from Arkansas was doing papers, was doing me and some of my teammates’ papers…”
Wow, this place clears out as soon as the season ends, doesn’t it? Let’s talk more early entries…
Tweeting Away. Hasheem Thabeetstill hasn’t made up his mind about returning for his senior year, but is there really any question? The certain lottery pick is just trying to play people with his coy references to coming back to UConn on his Twitter account.
Well, that’s one way to do it. Ole Miss’ second-leading returning scorer, David Huertas, packed up his stuff and is headed back to PR to play professionally there.
Someone’s staying! UNC’s Ed Davis will return to try to lead the Heels to B2B titles. Gary Parrish believes they have a legitimate shot at it (as do we, gulp…). Also, WVU’s Devin Ebanks is officially sticking around.
Would the word flood be an appropriate representation?
Early Entry Fatigue. LSU’s Tasmin Mitchell will test the waters, but he won’t sign with an agent. Ditto for Memphis’ Shawn Taggart. And Miami (FL)’s Dwayne Collinshas the same idea. UCLA’s Jrue Holiday is a bit of a surprise given how he struggled at the end of the season, but he too will take a dip.
Curry Watch. One player who has yet to throw his hat in the ring is Davidson’s Stephen Curry. Will he be back to make a run at Pete Maravich’s all-time scoring record next season?
Nice raise. Alabama’s new coach Anthony Grant will earn $1.8M annually through the term of his seven-year contract.
Nobody? It’s really hard for us to believe that nobody currently in D1 wanted this guy after he did a pretty good job keeping the Arizona program together this season.
Xavier Coaching Search. Word is that assistant coach Chris Mack is the most likely candidate to take over for the departed Sean Miller.
Memphis passed its last regular season road test and now only has a few games to go to return to the “promised land” that they’ve never really left.
While the Tigers’ dominance over the rest of CUSA is nearly unparalleled in the history of modern college basketball, it doesn’t mean that every other team is chopped liver. Basically anything can happen in a tournament setting and the Tigers have endured a few close calls this year.
So here are the teams as they are seeded and some pertinent info:
#1: Memphis Tigers
Coach: John Calipari
Record: 28-3 overall (16-0 in CUSA)
Players to Watch: G Tyreke Evans, F Robert Dozier, F Shawn Taggart, G Antonio Anderson
Season Highlights: In a year that many thought would be fraught with ‘rebuilding’ and the like, the Tigers continue to look dominant. The arrival of the latest one-year wonder: Tyreke Evans, has allowed the blue and gray not miss a beat from last year’s final four squad. But the veteran leadership of guys like Antonio Anderson, Doneal Mack, Shawn Taggart and Robert Dozier has been a huge factor too. They suffered early-season setbacks against Xavier and Syracuse, but they’re currently riding 20+ game winning streak. There have been a few close calls and at the end of the day they’re still undefeated against the rest of the conference.
They Will Win If: They simply show up and play their game. I don’t want to imply that the Tigers will simply cream whomever they play, because they could well lose. But they’re playing an extremely favorable draw on their home court. This is a recipe for success and it also doesn’t hurt that they’ve won over 50 games in a row against CUSA teams.
First Game: vs. the winner of #8 Tulane/#9 East Carolina; Thursday at 8:30 pm.
Game of the Night.Michigan 55, UCLA 52. Remember our stat from last week about Ben Howland’s UCLA teams going 1-2 on the eastern seaboard in his five seasons there? After tonight’s semifinal matchup with Michigan, make that 1-3. It’s true that his teams don’t seem to play well back east, but there’s more to it than that. One of the few coherent things that Vitale said during tonight’s game was that we all had rated UCLA based on Ben Howland and his ridiculous freshman class rather than the current experience and skills of players he is actually putting on the court. There’s some validity to that, and it showed tonight. UCLA will end up being a good team, but they have serious offensive flaws in their frontcourt (6-17 tonight). Even though they defended and rebounded well (holding Michigan to 43% from the field), in close games they have to depend on their playmakers Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday to produce points because their frontcourt players simply aren’t reliable in that role (yet). And what about John Beilein’s Michigan team? The backdoor cut by Deshawn Sims (18/5) that led to the dunk effectively ending the game was classic Beilein. Manny Harris also contributed 15/5/4 assts, but the key takeaway here is that Michigan is 3-0 and is showing signs of putting together a good season regardless of what happens tomorrow night vs. Duke (who will likely kill Michigan). The victory tonight over UCLA was the program’s biggest in twelve seasons (#1 Duke in 1997). It is absolutely incomprehensible to us that a program with the prestige and resources of the University of Michigan hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998. With John Beilein’s system already beginning to bear fruit in Y2 of his rebuild, it won’t be long before we see the Wolverines playing in the March again. (Yes, we realize that former coach Tommy Amaker played deep into March several times… in the NIT.) For more detail on the partisan side of things, check the UM Hoops and Bruins Nation writeups.
Tale of Two Halves.
Duke 83, S. Illinois 58. The other half of the CvC semifinals was a decent game for twenty minutes until Duke’s Gerald Henderson woke up and delivered his best performance of the year (see below) in the form of several timely threes and nasty dunks, and the rest of his teammates stopped throwing the ball to SIU (17 first half TOs). A few things struck us in this game: first, Duke had 17 turnovers in the first half and still went into halftime with a 6-pt lead. How? SIU head coach Chris Lowery had the answer – The Blue Devils spent the final nine minutes of the half parading to the free-throw line, where they had just as many tries (19) as field-goal attempts. “That killed us,” Lowery said. “We felt we had a good game plan going in, we just didn’t expect to be in that kind of foul trouble.” – stop us if you’ve heard this before. Duke shot 47 FTs to SIU’s 19. Maybe this is explained by SIU’s tendency to foul, right? Nah. In their first two games this season, they’ve allowed 49 total free throws. In two games. Next, Duke’s defense continues to be as good as ever. The Devils held SIU to 35% from the field, and only two Salukis made it into double figures. Third, Duke’s presumptive center, Brian Zoubek, will never be confused with Bill Walton, but he doesn’t have to be. What he needs to be, though, is merely serviceable. Tonight he was – 10/6 in 19 minutes was one of the best games of his Duke career. Duke will play the upstart Michigan Wolverines tomorrow night for the CvC Championship. Final comment on this game: Bob Knight’s first shot at commentator was a good effort. His coaching insights are invaluable to students of the game (esp. when he says something like “Duke has only gotten 1 of their last 5 possible points.”), but his demeanor is a little more boring than his role as studio analyst. Perhaps he’ll get a little more animated as he grows into this position.
Seton Hall 63, USC 61. This also doubles as the Upset of the Night, but we wanted to use both of these screen grabs showing the tale of two halves. Rough night for the Pac-10, losing to two unranked teams, but USC under Tim Floyd has made a habit of these early losses. to unranked teams Seton Hall worked its way back from a late first-half 15-pt deficit when USC seemed to fall asleep (see below). Daniel Hackett missed a three at the buzzer which went along with his otherwise miserable shooting game (0-7), while Taj Gibson had 19/18 in a losing effort. The Hall was led by John Garcia’s 11/18, and at 3-0 might be an early surprise out of the Big East.
Memphis 83, UT-Chattanooga 71. Memphis opened the Puerto Rico Tipoff with a late first-half surge to put UTC away. UM shot 52%, led by Doneal Mack’s 19 and Shawn Taggart’s 16/11, but they once again really struggled from long range (Mack hit 5-9, but the rest of the team was 1-14 from three). UTC was led by Stephen McDowell’s 27 pts.
Xavier 75, Missouri 71. The Muskies came back from a seven-pt deficit with seven minutes to go in the game behind Terrell Holloway’s perfect game (10-10) from the line. DeMarre Carroll led Mizzou with 17 pts. Xavier severely outrebounded Missouri in this game 39-24.
Virginia Tech 74, Fairfield 57. AD Vassallo had 24/4 in his home ‘state’ and Jeff Allen 18/8 as the Hokies rolled over Fairfield by shooting 56% for the game.
Ridiculous Score of the Year.Texas Tech 167, East Central 116. Apparently Pat Knight decided to beef up his schedule this year with a high school team – what, Riverdale or Poly was already booked? But seriously, a 77-pt first half followed by a NINETY-point second half? The Red Raiders shot 59% while putting an absurd TEN players into double figures tonight. We definitely feel bad for TT freshman guard Tyree Graham, who was the only player of fourteen who did not score for the Red Raiders tonight (0-5 in 18 mins).
Other Games of Mild Interest.
Florida 64, S. Utah 50. It took 39:37 for Florida to hit a three to keep its streak of consecutive games with a three-pointer (546) alive. The Gators went 1-16 from three, but 22-34 otherwise and managed to stay just enough ahead of S. Utah to avoid an upset possibility.
Illinois 69, Vanderbilt 63. Another home loss for an SEC team. Illinois shook off a poor shooting night by hitting its threes (10-19) and FTs (11-11) and capitalized on a late 7-0 run to beat Vandy in Memorial Gymnasium, no small task. Good night for the Big Ten.
Ohio St. 70, Delaware St. 42. We only show this score because we couldn’t believe that the OSU court was doubling as a volleyball court (see below). We know OSU can afford to not do this, so what gives? It looks terrible. Oh, and BJ Mullens had 7/3 in his debut.
On Tap Friday (all times EST):
Xavier v. Virginia Tech (ESPNU) – 1:30pm (Puerto Rico Tipoff)
Miami (FL) (-7) v. Southern Miss – 3pm (Paradise Jam)
S. Illinois v. UCLA (ESPN2) – 5pm (CvC)
USC v. UT-Chattanooga (ESPNU) – 5pm (Puerto Rico Tipoff)
San Diego (-6) v. Valparaiso – 5:30pm (Paradise Jam)
Ole Miss (-2) v. Utah – 6:30pm
Duke v. Michigan (ESPN2) – 7pm (CvC)
Syracuse v. Oakland – 7pm
Memphis v. Seton Hall (ESPNU) – 7pm (Puerto Rico Tipoff)
WYN2K. The story of Conference USA basketball the last few seasons has been the absolute dominance of Memphis. This year should be no different as the Tigers return a great combination of veteran talent and blue chip freshmen. To put it in perspective, they have not lost a Conference USA game since an 80-74 loss at UAB on February 2nd, 2006. Despite the recent Tiger dominance, the arrival of quality coaches like Tom Penders (Houston), Mike Davis (UAB), Larry Eustachy (Southern Miss) and Ben Braun (Rice) has helped raise the level of play. There is enough talent in the conference to get two NCAA tournament teams and a few other teams in the other postseason tournaments. There will be close calls, but in the end none of the other teams will score that elusive upset over Memphis.
Predicted Champion.Memphis (#2 seed NCAA). It’s really too easy to predict this one. I realize that the three most valuable players from last season: G Derrick Rose, G Chris Douglas-Roberts and C Joey Dorsey are all gone, but there are some talented players ready to step in. The star of Memphis coach John Calipari’s latest collection of blue-chip prospects is G Tyreke Evans from American Christian in suburban Philadelphia. Evans was one of the most highly-sought out prep point guards in the nation and is the heir apparent to Rose at the position. The other incoming player that should see a lot of action is F Wesley Witherspoon, a small forward from Lilburn, Georgia. Among the returners, F Robert Dozier is without a doubt the best athlete in the low post and is the leading returning scorer (9.2 ppg), rebounder (6.8 rpg) and shot-blocker (1.7 bpg). Depth abounds at the guard position where Willie Kemp, Antonio Anderson, Shawn Taggart and Doneal Mack all have proven they can step up in key situations. The only area where the Tigers lack a proven commodity is at the center position, where Joey Dorsey starred the past couple of seasons. But there is the enough talent on this roster to dominate the Conference USA field and make another deep run in the NCAA tournament. Here’s a bone for UM fans (last year’s highlight mix)…
Others Considered. Do not sleep on UAB(NCAA #9) this season. If there is any team in this conference with a legitimate shot at making the NCAA tournament outside of Memphis, it’s these guys. They were missing point guard Paul Delaney III for practically all of last season and still ended up finishing second behind Memphis in conference play. The Blazers also return the best shooter in Conference USA, Robert Vaden, and a solid scoring threat at small forward in Lawrence Kinnard. I could definitely see these guys getting in the dance as #9 or #10 seed if they avoid the costly slip-ups. Don’t call these guys one year wonders either because Blazer coach Mike Davis’ 2009 recruiting class is one of the best in the country. There is an outside shot that Tulsa (NIT) could make the NCAA Tournament with their very experienced squad. The Golden Hurricanes have Jerome Jordan, a 7-footer who has the NBA scouts drooling and is poised for a breakout year after a dominant finish last season. It doesn’t hurt Jordan that he has an all-conference point guard in Tony Uzoh getting him the ball. There is an interesting collection of incoming talent on this Houston (NIT) squad, including former St. John’s F Qa’rraan Calhoun and G Desmond Wade, a point guard from New Jersey who led his high school team to two state titles. But the Cougars lost way too much talent to seriously consider making the NCAA tournament. I have similar feelings about UTEP who returns one of the best athletes in this league – Stafon Jackson – and in the low post they bring in talented Memphis transfer Kareem Cooper. The Miners return most all of their key players from last season, but I’m just still not sold that they can put it all together under Coach Tony Barbee and make the NCAA Tournament. If nothing else, the Miners will be extremely tough on their home floor, the Don Haskins Center. Former national Coach of the Year Larry Eustachy has the most experienced team in the league at Southern Miss. Guards Jeremy Wise and Courtney Beasley are all-conference level guards who give the Eagles and Eustachy a shot at being a top-echelon C-USA team.
Important Games. Every time Memphis plays a top-half Conference USA team it could be an interesting contest, since a lot of teams seem to ‘play up’ for the Tigers. But I doubt anyone will beat the Tigers at FedEx Forum this season, so the road games will be the most interesting challenges. Specifically, trips to El Paso and Birmingham loom large on the Tigers’ schedule. There are also a couple of contests that will determine who is behind Memphis in the conference pecking order.
UAB @ Houston (01.10.09)
UAB @ Tulsa (01.28.09)
Memphis @ UTEP (02.21.09)
Memphis @ UAB (02.26.09)
Conference USA Championship Game (03.14.09)
RPI Boosters. If this league wants to move past its status as a ‘one-bid’ league then they’ll need to pull of at least a few decently high-profile upsets in the non-conference season. There are opportunities for every team in the league to get a marquee win at some point. Memphis will not be included in this particular list because they will be favored in most, if not all of their games this season. Not all of these are booster games against big conference foes, there are also some interesting match-ups against other mid-major teams.
Tulsa @ Oklahoma State (11.20.08)
UNLV @ UTEP (11.24.08)
VCU @ East Carolina (11.25.08)
Miami (FL) vs. Southern Miss (11.21.08) @ Paradise Jam (VI)
Rice @ Texas (11.27.08)
Western Kentucky @ Tulane (12.06.08)
SMU @ Texas A&M (12.17.08)
UAB @ Louisville (12.29.08)
Houston @ Mississippi State (01.03.09)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. As compared to the past few seasons, this is a much deeper and generally more talented group of Conference USA teams. Even the middle of the pack teams like Marshall, UCF and Tulane could put some scares into the top teams. But this conference is still fundamentally Memphis and the proverbial eleven dwarves at the end of the day. The other teams are gradually getting stronger and this could become one of the better “mid-major” conferences in the next few seasons.
I know I’ve made the point ad nauseum, but Memphis has absolutely dominated the Conference USA competition in the past three seasons. The Tigers’ combined record in C-USA play in those three seasons: 45-1. If that’s not domination, frankly I do not know what is.
Since basketball powers Marquette, Cincinnati, Louisville, and DePaul left for the Big East in 2005 there’s only been one season where the C-USA has had multiple NCAA tournament teams. In the 2005-06 season, both Memphis (#1 seed) and UAB (#9 seed) qualified for the tournament. No C-USA team besides Memphis has made it to the Big Dance since.
Incoming UCF freshman big man Jakub Kusmieruk may be the biggest guy in all of college basketball since the 7’7” Kenny George of UNC-Asheville had to retire due to injury. Listed at an astonishing 7’4” and 295 pounds, this native of Poland is worth keeping an eye on. He probably won’t see too many minutes in his first season, but all indications are that the kid has a good work ethic and can become a force in the low post for the Golden Knights.
65 Team Era. It’s amazing how far CUSA has fallen since the great exodus of 2005. Consider that in 2004, the league earned SIX bids to the NCAA Tournament, racking up four first-round wins. Now it’s very fortunate to get a team other than Memphis into the Big Dance (only happening once – UAB in 2006). Thus, the historical stats (48-42, .533) don’t hold much meaning because the league has changed so much from its current iteration.
Final Thought. The quality of basketball in Conference USA has taken a dive since the “basketball” teams all left for the Big East and Atlantic 10. But it would be foolish to presume that no team outside of Memphis is worth talking about. In fact this conference’s best days of basketball are ahead of them. UAB is bringing in a top-rated recruiting class and has a couple of serious NBA prospects on their roster currently. UTEP has Stafon Jackson and he could be the best athlete in all of Conference USA. While they aren’t tournament contenders right now, Marshall brought in an impressive recruiting class that includes Florida’s Mr. Basketball, Shaquille Johnson. Outside of Memphis few C-USA teams have players leave early for the draft, but Jeremy Wise is a great combo guard and could be the best player in Southern Miss history. There are multiple strong OOC games for C-USA teams to prove themselves in. Basically the onus is on the teams outside of Memphis to make a name for themselves and continue to elevate the national opinion when it comes to Conference USA basketball.