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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Unfairly Judged, Dez Wells Continues Quest To Reclaim His Good Name

Posted by BHayes on August 21st, 2013

Bennet Hayes is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @HoopsTraveler.

With the Ed O’Bannon lawsuit pending and the “should college athletes be paid?” debate becoming increasingly commonplace at the water cooler, the American public is acutely aware of the supposed slights facing college athletes (particularly those playing football and basketball). The absence of stipend or salary for players, who are obviously the main contributors to this multi-billion dollar industry, will always be seen by most as the least fair element of the whole college athlete gig. Without forgetting all the benefits to being a college athlete – scholarships and exposure prime among them, let’s also make sure we remember how challenging sudden fame would be for any young adult.

Dez Wells Is Happy At Maryland, But His Controversial Expulsion From Xavier A Year Ago Continues To Linger

Dez Wells Is Happy At Maryland, But His Controversial Expulsion From Xavier A Year Ago Continues To Linger

Dez Wells knows better than most. Wells, now a junior at Maryland, was the victim of his own campus celebrity at Xavier a year ago. Even putting aside the fact that it was likely his status as a basketball player that induced an allegation of sexual assault (by all accounts and actions, the claim has been dismissed as a fabrication), Wells’ public figure prompted the Xavier administration to take a hard stance on the issue (for PR reasons), with Wells’ right to a presumption of innocence being thoroughly ignored throughout the process. Tuesday, almost exactly a year to the day he was expelled from XU, Wells filed a lawsuit against his former school, as first reported by Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports. A year ago, it didn’t take long for many to come to the conclusion that Wells got a raw deal, but the escalation of the matter still left his name in national headlines next to the words “sexual assault”.

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Morning Five: 07.18.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 18th, 2013

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  1. On Wednesday ESPN finished its two-day unveiling of brackets for the 11 holiday season events that it more or less controls through its television rights, and the possibilities, as usual, are endless. For a comprehensive listing of those events along with the top storylines as they stand right now in the middle of July, here’s the thread. Be sure to remember that Jeff Goodman picked Boise State over Oregon State in the Diamond Head Classic so that you can mock him on Twitter in late December… but seriously, does anyone else find it more than a little odd that these brackets are released during the time of year when you couldn’t find more people who care less? Why not make this a part of the Midnight Madness/ESPN festivities in October — you know, when fans are actually paying attention to college basketball again. For what it’s worth, Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger and Andy Glockner at SI.com have pretty good rundowns of the events if ESPN.com’s marketing campaign isn’t to your liking. From our perspective, here’s what you need to know: North Carolina vs. Louisville (Hall of Fame Tip-off) and Arizona vs. Duke (Preseason NIT). Done.
  2. While we’re on the subject of ESPN, the post-MLB All-Star Game hole in the calendar provides us with our annual opportunity to over-dramatize the strange mixture of sports and celebrity at the ESPYs. College basketball was once again well-represented, with two major awards among the few nominees. Louisville’s Rick Pitino received the ESPY for top coach/manager of the year, while everybody’s favorite underdog, Florida Gulf Coast, won the ESPY for the best upset of the year (over Georgetown). The full list is here, but the only other college basketball nominee was Trey Burke for best male college athlete (won by Johnny Manziel). Still, we’re more than willing to take a smidgen of credit for the Arthur Ashe Courage Award, given this year to former Sportscenter anchor and Dickie V/Midnight Madness sidekick, Robin Roberts.
  3. We mentioned Seth Davis’ piece on Michigan’s Mitch McGary in yesterday’s M5, and clearly university brass must have also read about his head coach John Beilein‘s prescience in keeping the burly freshman on the bench as a secret postseason weapon last year. Why do we say this? Because on Wednesday Michigan rewarded the 60-year old coach with a three-year extension that will bump his salary up to $2.45 million per year, ninth-highest in the nation. The sometimes-irascible but always competent Beilein has come a long way in his itinerant career, but with another top 10 squad pending in Ann Arbor and a growing NBA pipeline to entice recruits, we’re thinking that he not only deserves the raise, but is well worth it.
  4. The Pac-12 under Larry Scott’s leadership in the last few seasons has certainly been innovative in its approach to its branding and reach, and yesterday’s CBSSports.com report that the league recently sent a letter to the NCAA challenging the admission of Division II Grand Valley (AZ) State to play D-I basketball is certainly interesting. On one hand, why does the Pac-12 care about a low-budget for-profit school with some 40,000 to 45,000 online students? On the other, the business model and corresponding accountability for a school answering to public shareholders on financial matters is in fact a much different situation than that posed by a typical college or university (which are all non-profit entities in Division I). It’ll be interesting to see how the NCAA responds to this, and whether other leagues and/or universities get involved. Grand Valley has already begun transition to Division I, entering the WAC as a basketball school and becoming eligible for the NCAA Tournament in 2017-18.
  5. Some transfer/eligibility news from yesterday to finish off today’s M5. Former Kentucky problem child Ryan Harrow has received a transfer waiver from the NCAA to play at Georgia State next season. This move will allow him to remain near his ailing father, who suffered a stroke last year while Harrow was at Kentucky, averaging 10 PPG and shooting 29.6 percent from beyond the arc. By the same token, Minnesota’s Malik Smith, a senior guard who averaged 14/3 APG last season at FIU under Richard Pitino, also received a waiver to play immediately at his new school. The NCAA approved his waiver to follow his coach in part because FIU is not eligible for the 2014 NCAA Tournament (APR violations). This will be Smith’s fourth school in four seasons.
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Aaric Murray is Slippery Ground For Interested Coaches

Posted by Chris Johnson on July 16th, 2013

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

The details surrounding the departure of former West Virginia forward Aaric Murray were encapsulated in two words by Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins: “mutual agreement.” Seems simple enough, only it’s really not – not when you look back at the marijuana charge Murray was assessed with while sitting out the 2011-12 season following his transfer from La Salle, or the disciplinary issues Murray ran into that forced him to miss a game in December 2012. There is a clear history of crossing the line with college hoops’ now-most high profile free agent forward, and while the offenses themselves don’t condemn Murray’s future in college (or even professional) basketball, the more important question is, will any team be willing to take a chance on him?

Coaches must proceed cautiously before bringing Hairston in (AP).

Coaches must proceed cautiously before bringing Hairston in (AP).

This question wouldn’t be as pressing as it is, were Murray not already graduated from and finished with his coursework at WVU, checkpoints that will allow Murray to play for another school this fall per the NCAA’s graduate transfer exemption (provided Murray enrolls in a graduate program not offered at WVU). West Virginia was brutal to watch last season. This was surprising for a couple of reasons: 1) Bob Huggins almost never coaches bad teams; 2012-13 was a glaring exception. 2) And this is more comedic than surprising, but as the Mountaineers toiled away in the lower half of the Big 12 last season, I kept coming back to the comments Huggins made after learning his team had been picked to finish sixth in the Big 12’s preseason coaches poll. “If we’re the sixth-best team in that league then it’s a hell of a league,” the head coach said in October. Part of the reason that placement baffled Huggins, and came off as a slightly pessimistic evaluation for most other observers, was because Murray promised to give WVU some of the hard-nosed Hugginsian grit his teams so routinely infuse into their collective DNA – the stuff that typically makes his teams so physically demanding and brutal to match up with. At La Salle, Murray was a force on both ends: His 106.1 offensive rating on 26.2 percent usage, 11.0 offensive rebounding percentage, 19.0 defensive rebounding percentage and 7.6 block rate in 2011 underscore that basic description.

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Morning Five: 06.26.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 26th, 2013

morning5

  1. A Bronx cheer rose up throughout the land on Tuesday as the NCAA approved changes with two of the most confounding rules in college basketball. Perhaps the one that caused the most consternation among pundits and fans on social media last year was the “elbow above the shoulders” rule. Originally intended to cut down on dirty play, the rule mandated that a flagrant foul had to be called in any such instance; this predictably led to numerous situations where not-dirty but standard basketball plays were ruled flagrant fouls simply because a defender stuck his nose too close to the body of his man. The new rule, revealed Tuesday, will allow officials considerably more discretion in making the call, giving them an opportunity to review the video monitor to determine both the blow’s severity and inadvertence, presumably resulting in a much more equitable interpretation of the rule. The rules committee also changed the block/charge rule yet again, now mandating that a defensive player must already be in good position before the offensive player starts his upward motion with the ball. Like the Euro step and jump stop before them, expect an entirely new offensive move to become predicated on starting the ball on its upward trajectory as soon as possible in an effort to catch the defender off balance and earn that elusive whistle.
  2. Will he or won’t he? On Monday Kentucky’s Kyle Wiltjer and John Calipari both announced in separate UK media posts that the rising junior forward is planning to transfer for the remainder of his collegiate career. It seemed as if he was already out the door, but somewhat peculiarly, neither explicitly said that he was leaving. On Tuesday, his head coach said that he does in fact plan to leave Lexington, but he’d be welcomed back if he ultimately decided to change his mind. ESPN.com is now reporting that the top suitors for the sharp-shooting stretch four are Gonzaga, Portland, Texas, Stanford, Oregon and Oregon State — the heavily-Pacific Northwestern flavor derives, of course, from proximity to Wiltjer’s hometown of Portland, Oregon. With an abundance of high-level talent coming into Lexington next season — not to mention two significant frontcourt returnees in Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein — it makes a lot of sense for Wiltjer to consider a transfer for more playing time. Still, 6’10” players who shoot a legitimate 39 percent from distance are tough to find, so even with all that superstar talent Calipari has at his disposal next season, it wouldn’t hurt to offer Wiltjer a redshirt season to get stronger in 2013-14 and a much bigger role on the following year’s squad.
  3. This news was hinted at in last week’s announcement about Kansas‘ expansion of its third-tier media rights, and yesterday the second part of the deal was unveiled. Depending on whom you ask among Jayhawks faithful in the comments of this Lawrence Journal-World article, this is either a “as bad as I expected” or a complete “travesty.” Although KU officials are lauding its deal to provide 70 live events on ESPN3 as only the second of its kind between a Big 12 school and ESPN (the Longhorn Network being the other), the reality is that only six men’s basketball games will be shown as part of the agreement, and many fans of a nationally-relevant program like Kansas do not belong to a cable network that offers ESPN3 as part of its package. For a decent metric of the temperature of the fan base, take a look at that comment thread (189 and going strong at the time of this writing) — this isn’t a group that suffers fools lightly.
  4. Despite the mood of Jayhawks fans about this newfangled streaming deal with ESPN3, SI.com‘s Andy Staples makes some excellent points in his feature analysis suggesting that such deals may in fact be the tip of the next iceberg that changes how college sports is packaged and sold. Admittedly, we’re still a number of years away from an Internet-dominant model becoming completely mainstream, but as Netflix, Google and Apple continue to redefine how we consume media, and as the non-sports fan public pushed back against astronomical bundled rights fees for cable sports (see: Time Warner’s lawsuit about the Lakers/Dodgers), it’s worth consideration. And as we remarked frequently when the ‘number of local eyeballs’ metric worked to justify nonsensical conclusions such as Rutgers joining the Big Ten, it will eventually come to pass that the a la carte penetration of a market (i.e., the number of people who actually care and watch the games) will matter far more than the overall size of it. Then much of this latest round of conference realignment will look somewhat silly; that is, to everyone who didn’t line their much deeper pockets in the color of green.
  5. How’s that for a prelude? While on the subject of the conference realignment, the new Big East is set to open its doors for business five days from now. Except that there are no doors to actually open. Nor is there an address, a commissioner or even a fancy new logo. As Dana O’Neil writes, the new league is getting directed by its nine university priests and one president, and nobody can seemingly come to an easy decision on anything. Or any decision. Paralysis by analysis, she terms it, and quite unsurprisingly, the athletic departments at Providence, Georgetown, Butler, Creighton and the rest are wondering what exactly they’ve all signed on to here. Hopefully once a commissioner is named — Val Ackerman has been suggested, via Andy Katz and other media reports — but until then, this new basketball-centric league is floating rudderless with a captain. Our email address, in case they need it: rushthecourt@yahoo.com.
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Morning Five: 06.19.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 19th, 2013

morning5

  1. You may just be wiping the epic Game 6 of the Spurs-Heat out of your blurry eyes this morning, but it turns out that all the stars and incredible plays by the professionals making plays in The Finals doesn’t represent the only wow-factor surrounding the basketball world this week. As CBSSports.com‘s Gary Parrish reported yesterday, Canadian wunderkind Andrew Wiggins showed up in Lawrence, Kansas, for the his year-in-residence earlier this week, and already the reviews of the superstar recruit’s work ethic and talent are off the charts. Good news for Jayhawks fans: According to this KUSports.com report, the school also announced on Tuesday that its new contract with Time Warner to broadcast its third-tier television rights will ensure that Kansas fans around the country (and general college basketball fans wanting to see Wiggins) have more access than ever before (you have to read through the comments to understand it, but it’s there).
  2. Georgetown basketball hasn’t had the best 2013 thus far, given the embarrassing defeat to Florida Gulf Coast in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament, the subsequent loss of superstar Otto Porter to the NBA, and Tuesday’s devastating news that rising star Greg Whittington — who was academically ineligible for the spring semester, missing the FCGU debacle — has torn the ACL in his left knee and could be out for all of next season. In 13 games last season, the lithe Whittington averaged 12/7 along the front line as he and Porter shored up John Thompson III’s lockdown defense. Even without the return of Porter, good things were predicted for next year’s Hoyas with Whittington joining returnees Markel Starks, D’Vauntes Smith-Rivera, and Nate Lubick as a talented and experienced core to compete in the new Big East. Without Whittington available, Georgetown appears to be a bit light on offensive ability unless someone unforeseen steps up.
  3. A couple of years ago, we wrote this piece about an “all-world junior” at UNC-Asheville who happened to be the high-rising son of Grammy-winning rock legend Bruce Hornsby. Keith Hornsby enjoyed a pedestrian but solid freshman campaign before exploding to become a second team all-Big South selection as a sophomore, where he averaged 15/4/3 APG while shooting 38 percent from deep and a ridiculous 92.5 percent (second nationally) from the foul line. With the resignation of his head coach Eddie Biedenbach after the season, Hornsby decided it was time to move on. He announced on Tuesday that he will transfer to LSU, choosing the Tigers over NC State and St. Mary’s. Although he must sit out the required transfer year, this is potentially a very nice transfer pickup for Tigers’ head coach Johnny Jones, who is accumulating a good amount of talent down in Baton Rouge.
  4. Stories like these are part of the reason we love college basketball. Meet Elfrid Payton, one of the 12 players to make the U-19 USA Basketball team. The rising junior at Louisiana-Lafayette had absurd all-around numbers last season — 16/6/6 APG/2 SPG as an all-Sun Belt second team selection — but it was his play in the Team USA tryouts that has been turning people’s heads. As Mike DeCourcy reports, Payton’s exceptional athletic ability on the defensive end allows him to guard three positions along the perimeter, and his offensive talents have ensured that he will find playing time on a group that includes Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Duke’s Rasheed Sulaimon, and Washington’s Nigel Williams-Goss in the backcourt. We’re definitely excited to see this kid’s progression after this summer’s experience.
  5. Not everybody in this business was busy watching the the NBA last night, as Michigan head coach John Beilein made some time to visit Detroit’s Comerica Park to throw out the ceremonial first pitch prior to the start of the Tigers-Orioles game. Wearing his college number (#35), he said that former Detroit great Al Kaline gave him a sage piece of advice to avoid embarrassing himself: “Throw it high.” His toss found the catcher’s mitt without issue, and he used the opportunity to share some of the thoughts he had on the Wolverines’ scintillating run to the national title game in April. His key takeaway: Enjoy it more. Wisdom, Beilein-style.
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Morning Five: 06.13.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 13th, 2013

morning5

  1. Another day, another mob with pitchforks standing outside the gates. ESPN.com‘s Darren Rovell reported yesterday that a group of former NCAA athletes has filed a $5 million suit in federal court against a company that sells photographs of college athletes without their express permission. Although the claim does not list the NCAA nor some 90 schools alleged to sell images to the defendant company, it wouldn’t be much of a leap to eventually go after them as well down the line. Under current NCAA rules, the schools have the right to promote their own games using player images, but the legal question will center around whether they also have the right to sell or transfer those images. This lawsuit is of course unrelated to the Ed O’Bannon likeness case also working its way through the system in federal court, but the underlying issue — that players are not compensated for their work and corresponding brand — is very similar.
  2. While on the subject of the mission of the NCAA and its member institutions, the Chronicle of Higher Education published a piece yesterday from a professor at Ohio State University named Steven Conn. Conn, an American history scholar, took his soon-to-be-former boss, OSU president Gordon Gee, to task not so much for his forced retirement based on a series of verbal gaffes; rather, for helping to create and propagate the “athletic-industrial beast that defines higher education now.” The point he’s ultimately making is that college presidents nowadays have to spend so much time dealing with their athletic programs because of the money and prestige associated with them, that they’ve completely lost sight of what the true mission of an institution of higher learning is supposed to represent. Interesting read.
  3. With all the pressure on programs to succeed in the revenue sports, it probably shouldn’t surprise anyone that the average D-I men’s basketball coach has been at his current job for a total of 38 months — just over three years. This information and plenty of other coaching longevity tidbits comes courtesy of D1scourse, Patrick Stevens’ site examining college sports in the mid-Atlantic area. Although it was news to us that only one coach has survived at one school since the ’70s (Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, 1976), and only seven since the ’80s, the real takeaway from his analysis is that over 55 percent of true seniors who signed a letter of intent in November 2009 have experienced a coaching change in their careers. And yet we continue to penalize them for transferring, why, again?
  4. While on that topic, a really odd situation has developed involving DePaul forward Donnovan Kirk, a player who spent the first two years of his career at Miami (FL) before transferring to Chicago for the last two seasons. Given Miami’s success under Jim Larranaga especially relative to the train wreck at DePaul, Kirk has now decided to use his graduate transfer exception to head back to Miami for his final season. That’s right: a double-transfer where he is ending up at the same school where he originally started. He only averaged 6/4 last season for the Blue Demons, but he’s a great leaper and was among the Big East leaders in blocked shots per game (1.6 BPG). He’ll move right into a lineup in Coral Gables that is extremely lacking in experienced size, so this appears to be a win/win for both parties.
  5. The fortunes next season for another major basketball school in Florida — not FGCU, sorry — are still somewhat up in the air at this early summer point of the offseason. There are always a number of players finishing up coursework and dealing with standardized test scores to become eligible for next season, but in the case of Florida’s Chris Walker, there are serious concerns about his eventual eligibility. Not only does he still need to pass the ACT, which he has now taken three times, but he has to finish three core course requirements over the summer before he can enroll at the university in Gainesville. With most players these days getting themselves on campus for the early summer term to start prepping for next season, it doesn’t appear that will be an option for Walker very soon, if ever.
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Morning Five: 06.10.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 10th, 2013

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  1. The biggest news impacting college basketball over the weekend came from Tobacco Road, as the Raleigh News & Observer‘s Dan Kane has continued to push forward in his dogged pursuit of the truth involving to the North Carolina athletic department’s relationship with a decade-plus history of fraudulent courses involving many of its student-athletes. We plan on having more commentary available later today, but as Kane continues to show with his persistence, there doesn’t appear to be any question that the academic support people charged with assisting student-athletes in their coursework were entirely too cozy with the administrators — Julius Nyang’oro and Deborah Crowder — who were ultimately proven responsible for the no-show courses and other academically fraudulent activities. These recently released emails exhibit that Nyang’oro received perks and benefits that were ethically improper (i.e., sideline passes to UNC football games) given that athletes may have been steered to the bogus classes under his watch. This latest reveal gets Kane one step closer to a direct connection with the athletic department, as the academic support staff who appear to have been nudging athletes to these courses and providing Nyang’oro with perks are under the employ and direction of the athletic department. Are we to take at face value that these staff members were acting on their own in a rogue manner; or was there a wink-and-a-nudge agreement in existence here, from the top down? Credit to Kane to continue rattling the cage in Chapel Hill — apparently there are a number of possibly instructive emails that were not released because of student privacy and/or personnel concerns. We’ve said it before, but the University of North Carolina really needs to take more responsibility over this entire situation. 
  2. UNC, of course, has a ridiculously successful basketball program to protect, and keeping that brand viable and competitive is one of the cornerstones of the new ACC as it moves into a basketball environment that Mike Krzyzewski has already called the “best ever.” ESPN’s senior VP of college sports programming, Burke Magnus, did an interview with Al.com last last week, where he described college hoops programming as very important to ESPN’s continued success in the sports broadcasting marketplace, but also focused specifically on the new-and-improved Atlantic Coast Conference as the key to higher (even approaching college football) television ratings going forward. SI.com‘s Andy Glockner took the time to evaluate his statements — could ACC basketball become SEC football, in other words? — finding that Magnus’ hoped-for ratings may be a bit ambitious, but ESPN’s move of the ACC to Big Monday and the congregation of so many nationally-relevant programs in the same league will without question have a positive impact on viewer interest.
  3. Later today the sportscaster who probably had more influence than any other in making college basketball a name-brand, marquee American sport, will be inducted into the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association Hall of Fame. Dick Vitale, long before he was Dookie V. or some kind of embellished caricature of himself, was must-see viewing along with the teams of the 1980s and 1990s — if you listen to some of those broadcasts now on ESPN Classic, a keen observer will note that Vitale’s analysis was often spot on, making his more muted schtick considerably more appealing as an exciting conversational tool. At some point around the turn of the last decade when Vitale lost interest in providing thoughtful analysis and instead became synonymous with cheerleading for certain blue-blooded programs (ahem), many of the younger generation of fans turned on him and have rightfully viewed him as an anachronistic dinosaur ever since. Still, his influence on the sport as a whole is far beyond what any other national college hoops broadcaster has ever reached, and Vitale deserves all the accolades he is now receiving, in this, the twilight, of his long and illustrious career.
  4. There was some transfer news over the weekend, as former Indiana guard Maurice Creek announced that he will spend his graduate transfer year at George Washington, and Illinois forward Myke Henry announced that he will spend his final two seasons at DePaul. Both players are transferring back home, as Henry is a Chicago native and Creek grew up in the suburbs just outside Washington, DC. The new Colonial, Creek, represents a very intriguing situation — a one-time rising star whose career was sidetracked by multiple injuries, he could provide an immediate lift on the perimeter to a young team desperately in need of some senior leadership and scoring punch. Henry will have to sit out next season, but he will join a talented recruiting class in 2014-15 with a year of action under its belt that can probably use the versatility on the wing that Henry can provide.
  5. There was some very sad news over the weekend, as colorful longtime Miami (OH) head coach Charlie Coles passed away at the age of 71. As the Athens Messenger writes in a column about his life, Coles was “one of a kind,” the kind of old school coach who “always had a minute; always had a story.” He retired from basketball in 2012 after enduring years of health issues, but his teams at Miami were generally known as very tough outs — he took the Red Hawks to three NCAA Tournaments including a Sweet Sixteen in 1999, a couple of NITs and CBIs, and was regularly competitive in the even-steven environment of the MAC. Twitter reaction around the college hoops universe about Coles‘ passing was proper and respectful, but this video of his press conference after a close-but-no-cigar loss at Kentucky in the 2009-10 season is perhaps more revealing (and fun). You can leave his family a note on his Legacy page here; he certainly will be missed.
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Morning Five: 06.06.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 6th, 2013

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  1. College basketball’s worst kept secret became official late Wednesday night, as Missouri’s Michael Dixon, apparently the Teflon Don of sexual assault allegations in Columbia, announced via Twitter that he was transferring to Memphis. As we discussed in yesterday’s piece addressing the rumors of his transfer, Dixon brings a very interesting combination of talent and experience to a Tigers team desperately in need of some heady play to supplement the occasional wildness of returnees Joe Jackson and Chris Crawford. The question of whether Dixon will ever suit up with those two rising seniors, though, will be for the NCAA to decide, as he plans to request a waiver after already sitting out last season at Missouri. His argument will hinge on the Dez Wells exception, a unique and slightly different scenario where Wells was expelled from Xavier over a sexual assault allegation that even local prosecutors found completely unsubstantiated. Of course, Wells was ultimately allowed to play last season at Maryland, where he blossomed into one of the ACC’s most dangerous wings, and whether Dixon will receive the same treatment from the sport’s governing body may involve determinations on guilt or innocence that it is simply unprepared or unwilling to make. If he is allowed to suit up as a Tiger of the Memphis variety next season, though, Josh Pastner’s team suddenly becomes a lot more interesting on the national stage. 
  2. Speaking of that stage, one of the biggest and best national events in the early weeks of the season is the Jimmy V Classic. Next season’s pair of match-ups have now been finalized, and Memphis in fact will be one of those teams featured. The Tigers will take on a top 10 outfit in Florida in the nightcap, while fellow AAC member Cincinnati will battle new ACC institution Pittsburgh in the undercard. Did you get all that? It’s AAC vs. ACC, and AAC vs. SEC. If Dixon is cleared to play next season, the backcourt battles between he and Crawford versus Kasey Hill and Scottie Wilbekin will be fun to watch.
  3. Remember Julie Roe Lach, the former VP of NCAA enforcement who was fired in February related to a series of missteps that occurred under her watch, but most notably the ethical misconduct stemming from the Nevin Shapiro case at Miami (FL)? She resurfaced on Wednesday with an op-ed piece published at Yahoo! Sports giving her take on how the NCAA should operate its enforcement initiatives. It reads lawyerly, but if you can get past the tone and dryness of it, she makes several good points. From her perspective, the NCAA needed to accomplish three primary things with respect to its enforcement process: 1) make penalties against schools harsh enough to deter the risk/reward mindset; 2) shorten the length of its investigations; 3) in revenue sports, instill a valid fear in personnel of getting caught. As she writes in the article, the organization was moving steadfastly in that direction when the Shapiro case and subsequent media firestorm it entailed derailed the focus of the organization. Unfortunately for her, the piece has something of an air of desperation about it — even though Lach’s points are well-sourced and make sense, she won’t be taken seriously by either the media or the NCAA at this point. It’s worth a read, but what the organization now needs is the next general — a Lach without a reputation — who will carry the flag forward without the taint of scandal enveloping his every word.
  4. One of the NCAA initiatives of the past several years that we’ve gotten fully behind is the Academic Progress Rate (APR). Notwithstanding the fact that schools can game the numbers with bogus classes and coursework to increase their APR scores — baby steps — it still provides some degree of academic accountability where there was little before. And it has some teeth, as Connecticut found out the very hard way last season. So kudos to 2013 national champion Louisville, which was one of only 35 men’s basketball teams to score in the top tier of schools (scoring 978 or above) in the most recent APR cycle (covering academic years 2009-12). The entire top 10 percent list that the NCAA highlights as part of its “Public Recognition Awards” is located here. The biggest surprise on the list this year? It has to be Memphis, although Alabama men’s basketball and football clearly show that the army of tutors and student-athlete assistants in Tuscaloosa are very good at their jobs.
  5. We didn’t mention Indiana in the previous blurb, but we easily could have, as Tom Crean has taken a program that was scoring in the 800s to one that is at the very top of Division I men’s basketball on the APR nowadays (Will the Hoosiers print up commemorative t-shirts? Too easy.). But one IU player is not only receiving academic accolades, he’s also still getting lauded for his work on the court last year. The Tulsa Sports Charities organization has named Hoosiers wing Victor Oladipo as its 2013 recipient of the Eddie Sutton Tustenegee Award, an honor “presented annually to a college basketball player who best exhibits the traits of tenacity and unselfishness that Sutton advocated during a coaching career that landed him in the College Basketball Hall of Fame.” In a year when the race was fairly wide open among a group of about five players, we like to see the love spread around a bit. Good for Oladipo, probably the best player on both ends of the floor last season.
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Morning Five: 05.29.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 29th, 2013

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  1. If you threw a dart at a map of the United States and it landed somewhere in the hills of Eastern Kentucky or Southwestern Virginia, then drew a circle around that location with a radius of roughly 500 miles in distance, you’d pretty much have nailed down the ‘fertile crescent’ of college basketball. With powerful and tradition-rich programs like North Carolina, Duke, NC State, Kentucky, Louisville, Indiana, Cincinnati, and Ohio State, along with other well-supported programs like Tennessee, Xavier, Dayton and Wake Forest all within that circle, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that nine of ESPN‘s top 10 rated television markets for college basketball fall within its boundaries. The top 10: Louisville, Greensboro, Raleigh/Durham, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Columbus, Charlotte, Knoxville and Nashville. KC, with Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State, Creighton and Wichita State all somewhat nearby is the only outlier among this group.
  2. You know it’s gotten out of hand if politicians are getting involved, and that appears to now be the case at Rutgers in the latest scandal enveloping the school’s athletic department. Or not getting involved. Or getting involved to say that they’re not getting involved. Whatever. New Jersey governor Chris Christie told listeners on his “Ask the Governor” radio show Tuesday night that he has no plans to intervene in the hiring of new athletic director Julie Hermann. While it’s no doubt true that Christie has much bigger fish to fry than micromanaging every hiring decision at the state university, it’s worth asking whether any senior athletic department staff is paying attention at all (certainly Christie’s political opponents are doing so). The Mike Rice situation followed by the flub with Eddie Jordan’s resume and now this debacle is highly suggestive of an environment where leadership can’t see what they don’t want to see. It’s incumbent on university president Bob Barchi to get this problem fixed, and soon.
  3. The SEC Tournament may seek to reproduce the success that its football and baseball championships have had at permanent sites — Atlanta and Hoover, Alabama, respectively — by moving to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for good following the 2014 event in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Commissioner Mike Slive was careful to avoid saying the word “permanent,” opting instead to call Music City the “primary” site, but the point is that SEC puppet-masters feel that the relatively central geographic location and easy access for large traveling basketball fan bases such as Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and home team Vanderbilt would merit this (as yet unofficial) decision. Can’t say we disagree. The best conference tournaments are generally in a city that really embraces the event every year, and Nashville seems to enjoy its status as a big-time basketball stronghold during the few times it has gotten to hold the event there.
  4. It’s not often we dig into Division II basketball on this site, but it’s also not common for there to be a formal indictment by a grand jury against a player for murder either. San Francisco State wing Decensae White — formerly of Texas Tech and Santa Clara in 2006-09 — was indicted in Georgia on Tuesday for his alleged role in gunning down a rapper named Lil Phat (nee‘ Melvin Vernell III) as he sat outside a hospital where his girlfriend underwent labor in Atlanta. White gained some degree of national notoriety for hitting a half-court game winner against Cal Poly back in February of this season, as the clip was featured on ESPN’s Sportscenter. White and four other men are due for presentment on these charges later this week.
  5. There was one notable bit of transfer news from Tuesday, as Oregon State’s Ahmad Starks has announced that he will spend the last year of his career at Illinois. He will apply for a family illness waiver to play immediately, as his grandmother is reported to be sick in Chicago. This is a good pickup for John Groce’s squad, as the Illini could use some experienced talent — Starks averaged 10.4 PPG and hit 62 threes last season for the Beavers — to pair in the backcourt with returnees Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand as part of a three-guard set. It may not be a group as talented as last year’s Paul/Richardson/Abrams trio, but it should work well within Groce’s trey-happy system.
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The RTC Offseason Podcast: Andrew Wiggins Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 23rd, 2013

It’s been a bit over six weeks since the Louisville Cardinals cut down the nets in Atlanta, but we here at RTC never fully transition into hibernation for the summer. We’re always thinking and reflecting on college hoops in one way or another, so we figured why not throw out a few more RTC Podcasts while we’re at it. In this, the first of several offseason editions, host Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) walks us through a few of the hotter topics that have arisen since Rick Pitino got tatted up. We’ll be back with another edition probably sometime in mid-June. Until then, the full lineup of topics for this time is below.

  • 0:00-8:51 – Kansas Wins the Wiggins Sweepstakes
  • 8:51-13:01 – Big Returnees in the Big 12
  • 13:01-15:52 – Doug McDermott Headlines Other Returning Stars
  • 15:52-17:43 – Returning Stars from the National Championship Game
  • 17:43-20:44 – Adreian Payne vs. James Michael McAdoo
  • 20:44-23:52 – Transfers That Could Affect the 2013-14 Season
  • 23:52-34:53 – Transfer Culture
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