Like last year, Chris Walker will be watching the start of Florida‘s season from the sidelines. Unlike last year, Walker is only suspended for three games for an unspecified violation of team rules compared with having to sit out the first semester last season due to academic eligibility issues. Speaking of eligibility issues, four-star shooting guard Brandone Francis will have to miss the entire season as he was not approved for collegiate competition by the NCAA Clearinghouse. The loss of Walker should not be a huge issue as he will sit out an exhibition game and two regular-season games (William & Mary and Miami), but Francis’ absence could hurt them in terms of depth in the long-run even if we was only projected to be a reserve guard. If Francis improves his grades enough to become eligible, he could practice with the team in the spring semester even if he cannot play for them.
Mississippi State‘s chances of being competitive in the SEC this year took a big hit with injuries to Craig Sword and Johnny Zuppardo. Sword, who led the Bulldogs in scoring with 13.7 points per game last year, is scheduled to undergo surgery on his back today due to a herniated disc and is expected to be out for 4-6 weeks. Zuppardo, a junior college transfer, will be out for the season after suffering a torn meniscus and ACL in his left knee. Although Zuppardo will be out for the entire year and is expected to seek a medical redshirt, Sword should be back in time for the start of SEC play, but his level of fitness at that time could be another issue.
It has been quite a while since we feature a piece by Luke Winn in this column, but with the season rapidly approaching (never fast enough), he teamed up with Dan Hanner (another Morning Five favorite) for a project where they try to predict the top players this upcoming season by simulating the season 10,000 times using models that Hanner has created over the years (think of it as a college basketball Monte Carlo simulation. The project is being revealed in pieces, but so far they have given us their projections for leaders in scoring, rebounding, and assists and who they think the top freshmen will be. As Winn mentions in an accompanying video with David Gardner there are some issues with projecting how good freshmen will be since many times they have played against vastly inferior competition in high school, but it does provide some interesting analysis while we wait for the season to start.
We actually have quite a bit of basketball arena news. The biggest news was the announcement by Arizona that former Wildcat guard Steve Kerr and his wife planned to donate $1 million for McKale Center renovations and upgrades to the academic facility. We are sure that Kerr’s five-year, $25 million contract for his first head coaching job certainly made that $1 million figure a little easier. UCLA, the other traditional power in the Pac-12, might need its own wealthy donor in the near-future for the recently remodeled (at a cost of $136 million) Pauley Pavilion because reports indicate that it is still not ready for play almost 2.5 months after it was flooded. The Bruins have been forced to play in the nearby Student Activities Center, but are expected to be back in Pauley in time for their season-opener, an exhibition against Azusa Pacific on October 31. In Chicago, the plans for DePaul‘s controversial Rosemont-based arena appear to be on schedule with the team expecting to play there starting in 2016-17 season. When the plans were first reported they drew a great deal of criticism because of the arenas distance from the school and the fact that the fan base has been largely apathetic.
Mike Slive’s name might not carry as much weight in the college basketball world as it does in the college football world due to the relative strength of the conference in each sport, but his announcement that he will be retiring on July 31, 2015 to deal with a recurrence of prostate cancer could still be significant for the college basketball world. Slive will continue on as a consultant for the conference which is already beginning its search for his replacement. Even though the conference has been underwhelming on the basketball court (outside of Kentucky and Florida), his departure after 13 years at the helm of the SEC raises the possibility that the next commissioner of the SEC could have ambitions to expand it beyond its current reach and set off another chain reaction of conference realignment.
We’re still about a week out from the start of practices, but Utah already has to recalibrate its plans for the year, as 7’3” fifth-year senior David Fosterreinjured the foot that kept him on the sidelines last year and will prepare to undergo another surgery on that foot next week. That surgery will not only keep him out of action this year, it effectively ends his career as a Ute. Foster, who goes down as the school’s all-time leader in blocked shots with 219, was never much of an offensive threat, but his size and shot-blocking ability made him a force on the defensive end. Minus the services of Foster, the Utes still boast plenty of size, but instead of 6’10” senior Jason Washburn starting out at the four opposite Foster, he’ll have to man the post, with 6’9” junior power forward Renan Lenz likely being bumped into the starting lineup. The Utes will still feature plenty of size, however, with 7’0” center Dallin Bachynski being the obvious choice to eat up many of the minutes vacated by Foster.
While it has become common for schools to celebrate the beginning of basketball practice with a Midnight Madness event, Arizona’s got a little tradition of their own. The Red-Blue game, an intrasquad scrimmage and hardwood festival, this year will also commemorate the 25th anniversary of the 1987-88 Final Four team, with luminaries such as Lute Olson, Sean Elliott, Steve Kerr, Jud Buechler, Kenny Lofton, Tom Tolbert, Sean Rooks and Matt Muehlebach all expected back in Tucson for the event. Throw in the fact that it will be Wildcat fans’ first good look at newcomers like Mark Lyons, Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, Brandon Ashley and Gabe York on a team that could put all of the pieces together to make its own Final Four run, and Sunday, October 21 is a date to circle for UA fans.
California head coach Mike Montgomerypicked up his third commitment for the Bears’ 2013 recruiting class Tuesday. Ransom Everglades point guard Sam Singer chose the Bears over Harvard, NC State, Stanford, and USC, among others. Despite the fact that Singer might be behind California’s first two commits (Jordan Matthews and Jabari Bird) in scoring and athleticism, his passing ability and decision-making makes him a good candidate to see early minutes as a freshman. As Rob Dauster points out, the Miami native does have a solid three-point stroke, but with Brandon Smith playing his final season in Berkeley this year, there is no question Singer’s ability at the one spot will be much-needed. Now with three guards in the Class of 2013, Montgomery will likely turn to a big man to fill out the slate.
It’s preview magazine time, which behind playing actual games is one of the best parts in the college basketball year. Percy Allen gives a quick breakdown of Athlon‘s thoughts on the Pac-12 in this post. Of note is their pick of Arizona to take the conference crown, which is all the sudden becoming the trendy pick instead of the all-star UCLA squad that Ben Howland has assembled. The Bruins are projected to finish second, just ahead of the two Bay Area schools to round out the upper third of the league.
So, after five weeks of college football, Connor holds a three-game lead in our prognostication battle. Drew shaved a game off his deficit with a pair of solid picks in Washington and Arizona State, but Oregon State came through in the desert to prevent a huge disaster on Connor’s side. Picking the game of the week proved to be a quandary in week six. Washington-Oregon wins out, being a rivalry between two Top 25 teams, but oddly, every other game will likely be closer than that one. Make sure to tune in to tonight’s battle in Salt Lake City, as it is the only pick that we differ on. Here’s our picks for this week, with our game of the week pick in bold:
In this week’s Burning Question, along with the usual suspects from your friendly neighborhood RTC Pac-12 microsite, we’ve invited Adam Butler of Pachoops to weigh in on this week’s big question about the Arizona program. Without further ado, here it is:
Mark Lyons arrives in Tucson, along with a heralded freshman class. In the absence of other enticing options at the point guard, can Lyons earn a spot among the great names in Point Guard U’s history? Or is he merely a stopgap solution on the way to something else?
We Know Some Of What Mark Lyons Can Do, But Can He Run A National Championship Contender? (Streeter Lecka, Getty Images)
Adam Butler: As stop gaps go he’s certainly a better option than Curtis Painter but let’s dive deeper. The kid’s already been to four NCAA Tournaments and three Sweet Sixteens; he’s won three conference titles (counting his redshirt season) and twice been an All-Conference performer. His resume speaks for itself as he’s coming off a 15/3/3 season. But here’s what you aren’t going to read in his player bio: he’s playing for the coach he initially committed to; he’s finally getting a shot to prove he’s a worthy PG; and it’s his last opportunity to demonstrate that he’s not a disruptive malcontent. So what am I getting at? It’s do or die for Mark Lyons who controls his own destiny into PGU-lore. He and Arizona have somewhat serendipitously found one another in their respective time of point guard need and I have to think both parties will thrive. By some accounts Lyons is going to step onto this roster as the most talented player and – as previously stated – he’s stepping onto a pretty talented one. But what I believe makes Lyons more than a stopgap player is the toughness, swagger, grit, that je ne sais quoi that was so glaringly missing from the Wildcats’ 2011-12 team; an imperative component to any Sean Miller squad. Because of this I think Lyons’ role is bigger. He’s some version of a tone setter, helping to re-cement exactly what Arizona Basketball is. Of course all of my aforementioned high reward doesn’t come without high risk. He very well could be a disruptive malcontent on a formative and youthful team. His immediate emergence as starter and primary ball handler could cause discontent amongst the returners. His ballyhooed toughness may upset a team perceived as soft. So as all things high risk/high reward go, we’ll wait and see. Should be a good watch.
Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.
People are quick to forget that the Ohio State basketball program was in disarray when Thad Matta arrived in Columbus. Considering this, it can be stated that Matta has been nothing short of a miracle worker.
Kentucky freshman forward Terrence Jones has had a theme play out over his solid freshman campaign- he plays very well in big games. This should be good news for John Calipari and the Kentucky faithful, as Friday’s game versus Ohio State qualifies as such.
It is hard not to root for a guy like Buzz Williams. The Marquette coach has had an interesting career that has included stops at small schools like Oklahoma City University, Texas-Arlington, and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
An interesting Q&A with North Carolina freshman point guard Kendall Marshall. Marshall has been nothing short of spectacular since taking over the point guard reigns from since-departed Larry Drew II.
The craziness of March Madness has Butler in position to reach the Final Four again. It will not be easy though, as they will have to get through the Florida Gators.
Butler’s strong defense threw Wisconsin off their game. If the Bulldogs defend that well against Florida, they will probably advance to next weekend in Houston.
Florida guard Kenny Boynton slowed Brigham Young‘s Jimmer Fredette just enough for the Gators to get the victory. Pretty impressive for Boynton, who was recovering from an ankle injury.
After an almost four-year hiatus from winning big-time games, Florida head coach Billy Donovan proved on Thursday night that the Gator program is back to being one of the premier in all of college basketball.
Even though its season is over, Brigham Young head coach Dave Rose made a point to praise the toughness of his Cougar squad. BYU enjoyed a 32-5 dream season that may not be duplicated soon.
Get ready college hoops fanatics. Get ready for the stampede of casual fans that are about to crash the sports bars once the NFL season comes to a close. They’ll have to find something for their sports fix and they’ll turn to college basketball. So be prepared for people asking things like, “Who’s that big guy for Ohio State? He looks pretty good.” Or “San Diego State’s in the top five? Really?!?” Just try to smile and nod at those fools. No need to let them ruin the season’s stretch run.
What We Learned
TWTW Loves Jimmer and Kawhi, But Prefers E'Twaun and the Boilers Traveling to Columbus This Week
Even with SDSU and BYU squaring off on Wednesday, TWTW feels that if there’s only one game you watch this week, make sure it’s Purdue at Ohio State, tonight at 9pm ET. Matt Painter’s squad is one of our favorites and TWTW thinks they’re a good bet to pull off the upset. Purdue rebounded from back-to-back losses at Minnesota and West Virginia to grind out a win over a plucky Penn State squad and then took care of business against reeling Michigan State. It would have been easy for the Boilermakers to fold at the first sign of trouble this season. They have the built-in excuse of Robbie Hummel’s injury, and no one really believed they could sustain their early-season success once they hit the meat of their schedule, but seniors JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore wouldn’t let that two-game losing streak turn into a prolonged swoon. Johnson scored 25 points in the win over PSU, while Moore poured in 26 against the Spartans.
It was a relatively quiet week for recruiting after the crazy week last week in Las Vegas, but we should start to get more news over the next few weeks as recruits start narrowing down their list or even committing to schools.
Austin Rivers got the headlines in Orlando this week, but we hope that everyone paid attention to a solid performance from Trevor Lacey, who had 22 points to Rivers’ 24 points, as they combined to lead their team to victory. The game was supposed to be a showdown between Rivers and Michael Gilchrist that was scrapped when Gilchrist’s mom shut him down for the summer, but there was still plenty of star power as Rivers and Lacey knocked off Ben McLemore and Bradley Beal.
Speaking of Rivers…by now you have probably already read it, but for those of you who haven’t, FanHouse has a pretty lengthy profile on Rivers, his dad’s influence on his game, and the schools he is looking at.
It seems like a weekly thing now, but we have another update for Anthony Davis. The talented power forward has apparently expanded his list to include DePaul. Even though that is his hometown team I’m sure the Illinois faithful are wondering why Bruce Weber can’t elicit any interest from an in-state recruit like Davis.
Maurice Harkless is starting to turn some heads especially after his solid performance at the Fab 48 and after beating out a number of big names for MVP honors at the Desert Duel. Harkless, who had previously committed to UConn, will be releasing his list later this month and if the names of the coaches watching him this summer are any indication the list should be full of big names.
Dayton received a commitment from Percy Gibson, a 6’8 big man from Detroit who the Flyers reportedly had as their #1 big man target. [Ed. Note: Does a school ever pick up a player who wasn’t their #1 target?]
Nick Kerr, son of former NBA sharpshooter Steve Kerr, won’t be following in his father’s footsteps at Arizona, opting to stay in California (where the family resides now) and committing to play at San Diego. Like his father, Nick possesses a sweet jump shot (41% from 3-point range and 85% from the free throw line as a junior) and has not been heavily recruited out of high school.
Although this isn’t what you normally think about when you consider recruiting, Andy Glockner brings us an analysis of incoming transfers who are basically new recruits. Teams are unlikely to get game-changers like a star freshman, but some of these transfers could give their teams just the little bit extra they need to get over the hump whether it is into the NCAA Tournament, into the Sweet 16, or cutting down the nets in San Antonio in April.
Now that we’ve had a little bit of time to digest the news of Lute Olson’s retirement from Arizona after 24 seasons, it’s time to take a look at his legacy. Lute wore his humanity on his sleeve for the past year or so as he’s piloted the usually steady Arizona ship into some rough waters through a minefield of health issues, marital problems, leadership changes and various other snafus. But for the previous 34 years of coaching, Olson has consistently fielded talented teams that were a threat to win it all. Consider the following accomplishments of a first-ballot HOF career:
Olson’s numbers place him in an elite group of one-title coaches, including contemporaries Jim Boeheim, Tubby Smith, Rick Pitino, Roy Williams, Tom Izzo, and Gary Williams. The one thing, however, that separates him from those other names is that each of those coaches entered programs as new coaches where basketball was already an established way of life. In Tucson, Lute Olson IS Arizona basketball.
When Lute Olson stepped off the plane from the icy midwest in 1983, he encountered sunshine, babes and bikinis, but also an Arizona program that was so far off the map in terms of basketball success, you needed a magnifying glass to find it. In the 78 previous years of its existence, the program had managed to make it to three NCAA Tournaments (1951, 1976, 1977) and three NITs (1946, 1950, 1951). The combined NCAA record of those teams was 2-3, with both wins coming in the 1976 tournament (two upsets over Georgetown and UNLV to reach the Elite Eight). The combined NIT record was 0-3, which meant that, upon Lute Olson’s arrival, the Wildcats had enjoyed only a single year (1976) in its basketball history with postseason wins of any kind. To make matters worse, the team that Olson inherited was coming off the absolute worst year in the history of the program (4-24, 1-17 in the Pac-10).
To say that Olson built the Arizona program up from the ashes insults the concept of fire. After one mediocre year in 1983-84 (11-17), Olson found the mojo that he had utilized during previous stints at Long Beach St. (24-2) and Iowa ( 168-90), and set off onto the triumphant career in the desert that we’re talking about today. The key, of course, was recruiting, and Lute mined the west coast hoops hotbeds (especially SoCal) on an annual basis, and it showed on the court. Prior to Lute’s arrival in Tucson, Arizona had produced one first-round draft pick (Larry Demic in 1979). Beginning in 1989 with the transcendental Sean Elliott, Olson put 13 first-rounders and 17 second-rounders into the NBA Draft, including such fantastic pros like Steve Kerr, Damon Stoudamire, Mike Bibby, Jason Terry, Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, and Andre Iguodala. By the time Lute got it really going in the mid-90s, Arizona had become a chic destination school for America’s blue chippers, and he was able to recruit nationally – Jason Gardner (Indianapolis) and Loren Woods (St. Louis via Wake Forest) from the 2001 runner-up team come to mind, but there were many others. Let there be no question – Arizona basketball wouldn’t exist on the national stage were it not for Lute Olson. Here’s his crowning moment.
There’s no doubt that Lute was a tremendous program-builder, teacher and recruiter, but if we had to pick one criticism of his illustrious career, it would be that his teams sometimes appeared to lose focus and/or lack motivation. Maybe it was the laid-back lifestyle of Tucson or simply something about the kids Olson tended to recruit, but in our view, it is somewhat telling that he won his sole national championship in 1997 with a #4 seed. Don’t take that the wrong way – that was a SICK team that just hadn’t come together until very late in the season (and we had the privilege of watch cut down the nets). But they were an underdog in each of their three games against #1 seeds Kentucky, UNC and Kansas, and we always felt that Lute relished and managed the underdog role a little more than he was able to do so as the favorite. Let’s make the case statistically.
As stated above, Lute Olson has gone to five Final Fours. Here are the NCAA Tournament seeds for those years – #5, #1, #2, #4, #2 (avg. = 2.8). Arizona also received five #1 seeds during Olson’s tenure. Here’s the result for those five Tourneys – F4, S16, E8, R32, E8 (avg. = 2.6 games won). When Lute was expected to go to the F4, he went once; when he was not expected to go, he went four other times. This quick examination of the numbers confirms what we wrote last year when we surveyed the top overachieving and underachieving programs of the 64/65-team era of the NCAA Tournament. From 1985-2007, Arizona averaged a #4.1 seed in the NCAAs. The historical model (above) suggests that Arizona should have won 44.1 NCAA contests over this period – the Cats won 39, which means they ‘underachieved’ by nearly five Ws, and therefore puts UA in terms of performance in the bottom third of schools with greater than eight appearances over the era. The most obvious examples of this phenomenon were first-round upsets in 1992 (#3 UA loses to #14 ETSU), 1993 (#2 UA loses to #15 Santa Clara), and 1999 (#4 UA loses to #13 Oklahoma). Even Olson’s most talented and decorated team, the 1998 #1 Wildcats led by Mike Bibby and Jason Terry, had a major letdown in the E8 against #3 Utah, getting run out of the gym by 25 points. What were we saying about focus and motivation?
(Photo Credit: Tucson Citizen)
It’ll be sad to see Lute Olson go. Even last year, when Kevin O’Neill was busily turning Arizona into Tennessee ca. 1998 (ugh), we still thought the Silver Fox would make his way back to the sidelines again. You could always count on Olson teams to have athletes who made the game fun to watch. If his medical problems are serious enough to warrant missing another season, then he probably is making the right decision in riding off into the desert sunset. Best of luck to him and his family.