The first automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament were handed out over the weekend. The first school to earn an automatic bid was Belmont, which upset Murray State on Saturday night to receive the Ohio Valley automatic bid. Yesterday, they were joined by North Florida (Atlantic Sun), Coastal Carolina (Big South), and Northern Iowa (Missouri Valley). There will be three other automatic bids handed out later today with the Colonial, Mid-American, and Southern Conference all awarding their titles. If you are looking for a handy although not real-time infographic showing who is remaining in the field check out our Circle of March feature, which is updated daily.
On Friday, NCAA handed down its sanctions against Syracuse after looking into the school for eight years (full 98-page report here). The headline of the sanctions is that Jim Boeheim will have to sit out for half of next year’s ACC regular season (nine games) and have 108 wins vacated from his record (moving him from 2nd to 6th on the all-time Division I men’s wins list for the time being), but the other sanctions and the stain it will leave on the program and those around it will probably have a more significant long-term effect. The scholarship reductions and limitations on the number of assistants who can go on recruiting trips could significantly impact the program for years to come. On an individual level, this will also make it more difficult for Mike Hopkins (the long-time coach-in-waiting) to succeed Boeheim and will also make it more difficult for him to get hired. The level of penalties (and the decision by the NCAA to only prosecute violations starting a few weeks after Syracuse won its only national title–very convenient…) should also make other schools–like one in particular in North Carolina–nervous.
Speaking of NCAA violations, based on a report from Yahoo! Sports, Cliff Alexander is being investigated by the NCAA because his mother received a loan from a company that typically makes loans to professional athletes and agents. While it is not unusual for college athletes (or their families) to receive these type of loans it is usually after the athlete has finished competing in college as such a loan would be a NCAA violation. According to the report, both the NCAA and Kansas are trying to move the investigation along, but that Alexander’s legal counsel might be slowing it down. Given what we have read about the situation we doubt that we will see Alexander in a Kansas uniform again (at least until they need him for a promotional photo).
The coaching carousel is starting to heat up. As of Sunday night, the two newest positions to open up are at Holy Cross where Milan Brown was fired and Penn where Jerome Allen will step down (a nice way of saying he was fired). We doubt that either is big enough to attract a big name candidate both positions should attract attention from mid-major coaches although there is a possibility that someone who is out of coaching might use one of the positions as a stepping stone to get back in. During his five seasons at Holy Cross, Brown went 69-83 with only two winning seasons (15-14 in 2011-12 and 20-14 in 2013-14). Allen, a former star at Penn who was a 2nd round pick in the 1995 NBA Draft, is 66-103 in six seasons heading into his final game on Tuesday.
Senior nights are special in a lot of ways, but Georgetown’s senior night on Saturday stands out for the return of Tyler Adams, who has been sidelined since his freshman year due to an arrhythmia. While Senior Nights are typically reserved for individuals who remained on the team, John Thompson III, who has kept Adams on scholarship despite not playing for the team, decided to start Adams and ran the first play for Adams, which he dunked. Even though there were a lot of highlights from the weekend this moment will stick with us for the class that Thompson and Seton Hall showed giving Adams one last moment as a player as he enters the next phase of his life.
As you may have heard, there was a small fracas at the end of the Xavier-Cincinnati game on Saturday. The two schools suspended four players each for their actions with the suspensions ranging from six games (for Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj) to one game along with unspecified community service obligations. While there are a handful of fans and media members who are saying that the schools did a good job handling the punishments, it seems like a vast majority have been quite critical of the relatively light suspensions especially after what they believed they were hearing from Mick Cronin in his post-game press conference (a topic we wrote about yesterday). Although it has been discussed ad nauseum within the college basketball world, don’t be surprised if this is one of the major stories on sports radio and all the talking head TV shows even if does get buried under Tebow-mania.
It took him long enough, but Ben Howland finally decided to kick Reeves Nelson off the UCLA basketball team on Friday. It does not appear that there was another specific incident that led Howland to finally get rid of Nelson, but instead it appears that it was more the result of a series of discussions that Nelson had with Howland and how Howland felt Nelson was responding to his punishment. We are not sure if this decision will finally spark a lifeless Bruin team as they struggled on Saturday to beat a mediocre Penn team at home. We aren’t sure where Nelson will end up next or if he will ever live up to his potential (our guess: no), but it might be instructive to see how he responded to his dismissal.
On Saturday, Georgetown announced that highly touted freshman center Tyler Adamswould be out indefinitely while undergoing tests to work up a potential cardiac abnormality. While we don’t know what Adams is being worked up for, the most likely reasons are for hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy or an arrhythmia. We probably don’t need to tell you that cardiac conditions can be serious, but if you missed our prior post on the increased incidence of sudden cardiac death in Division I men’s basketball players it is worth a read. It goes without saying that basketball should be a distant secondary concern for Adams at the time and we hope that whatever triggered this work-up was an isolated event and not a significant medical problem not so much for his basketball career as for the rest of his life.
While Kansas picked up a big victory at home on Saturday against a Jared Sullinger-less Ohio State team, they also suffered a blow when it was announced that Tyshawn Taylor had torn his meniscus in his right knee earlier in the week and would be undergoing surgery. According to reports, the surgery, which is a fairly simple procedure, went well and Taylor is expected to be out for three weeks. Until he returns a relatively young Jayhawk team will have to learn to adjust to life without their talented, but mercurial leader, who himself has had trouble with turnovers this season. This majority of the point guard duties will probably be handed over to Elijah Johnson or one of the younger players on the team like Naadir Tharpe. Fortunately for the Jayhawks, they don’t really have another tough opponent until January 16 (five weeks from now) when they play Baylor.
We are always surprised when a coach resigns in the middle of the season and even moreso when it is an established coach so when Northern Arizona‘s Mike Adrasabruptly announced that he was stepping down on Friday we were shocked. Adras, who compiled a 193-170 record in 13 seasons at the school, led the team to its second NCAA Tournament appearance ever in 2000, but had not been back to the NCAA Tournament since then and his team started this season 2-7. Adras had very little to say in the school’s official release other than the usual generic stuff about being proud of what he accomplished and leaving to pursue other undisclosed opportunities. Interestingly, Adras never actually told his players about his decision to leave and as of this writing apparently has not talked to the team about it, which makes it seem like he may have actually had a little push from the administration to help him with his decision to resign. For the time being, 70 year-old Dave Brown will act as the interim head coach while the school begins its search for a permanent replacement.
Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.
Reader’s Take I
The Realignment Circus Continues: The latest blow to the Big East came just recently as West Virginia was accepted into the Big 12. That leaves the Big East with 13 basketball schools remaining and a handful of others (football schools) desperately trying to flee the sinking ship. Commissioner John Marinatto has said he is committed to holding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to the 27-month notice provision in the conference’s bylaws but one has to wonder if a financial settlement will be worked out in order to expedite the transition and move the conference into rebuilding mode. It’s going to be quite awkward if these three schools remain in the league until 2014. All of the current Big East members should eventually find a stable home in one form or another, but the days of Big East basketball as we know it will soon come to an end. Enjoy the 2011-12 season because it just might be the last year of this remarkable 16-team behemoth.
How Many Bids This Year?: After sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, can the Big East reach that mark again? That seems unlikely but you never know how things will truly play out. I’d say there are ten contenders for NCAA bids and to make 11 you would need all of those teams plus one of the three New York City-area schools to have a wildly successful year and snatch a bid. The Big East is quite possibly the best conference in the land yet again but 11 NCAA teams is far-fetched. Eight or nine bids this season would seem to be much more realistic.
Can Connecticut Repeat?: The technical answer is yes but it will be extremely tough to do. There’s a reason only two teams have gone back-to-back in the last 20 years. College basketball is as deep as ever in terms of talent and quality teams, plus there’s someone missing from last year’s Connecticut team. Kemba Walker is now in the NBA and, despite Jim Calhoun’s impressive recruiting haul, there is a major leadership void to be filled. This team is stocked with talent but Walker was a one-of-a-kind leader who took complete control in Maui and parlayed that into a way of life for the rest of the season. Jeremy Lamb figures to take control but remember how young this group is. They’ll get better as the season progresses and may even win the Big East but when the chips are down in the NCAA Tournament, they won’t be able to call on Kemba and that’s why I feel they will not repeat.
Calhoun Won't Have His Mr. Everything Around This Season
Cautious Optimism at Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia: These traditional powers lose a lot of talent and figure to be lodged in the middle of the conference. All three programs return key cogs but the departures of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla leave more questions than answers. These teams all need someone to step up and become a deep shooting threat while maintaining a low post presence. Guards win in college basketball but you also have to be able to rebound and score inside occasionally. Hollis Thompson, Mouphtaou Yarou and Deniz Kilicli must become better all-around post men if their respective teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament. At 6’7”, 205 lbs., Thompson isn’t one to bang with the big guys but he’s going to have to score in the paint at times. Each team has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s up to the returning players to make the ultimate difference.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our Big East update comes from frequent RTC contributor Brian Otskey, co-author of Get to the Point.
Connecticut Revels In National Championship Glory: Connecticut’s storybook year continued on into the offseason as the Huskies were invited to the White House for an event with President Obama on May 16. The team presented the president with a #1 UConn jersey and posed for photographs after being lauded for their remarkable accomplishment. Connecticut made one of the most improbable runs ever en route to the third national championship in school history, all coming since 1999, going 23-0 outside of Big East regular season play. Nobody could have predicted the way last season unfolded and the NCAA Tournament as a whole was a microcosm of that. Connecticut’s national title made up for a lackluster performance by many of the record 11 Big East teams participating in the tournament. Only one other Big East team (Marquette) managed to make it to the second weekend’s Sweet 16. Life without Kemba Walker has begun in Storrs and while the Huskies will be among the 2011-12 Big East favorites, it’ll be very interesting to see who steps up and how the team performs without its warrior. Jeremy Lamb appears to be ready to take over but the way Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi handle their larger roles will be the difference between a team contending for a Big East title and one that finishes fourth or fifth.
Kemba & Co. Celebrated in Style (H-C/B.Hansen)
The Ed Cooley Era Begins In Friartown: After Keno Davis stumbled to an 18-36 Big East record over three seasons in Providence, the Friars desperately needed someone to revive their moribund program. Providence has made only two NCAA Tournaments since its 1997 appearance and the last one was eight seasons ago in 2003-04. Enter Ed Cooley, a Providence-born 41-year-old with the fire in his belly needed to succeed in arguably the toughest job in the Big East Conference. Cooley will instill a system of discipline and fundamentals with a special attention to defense, three attributes of successful programs that were sorely lacking under Davis. Cooley’s Fairfield team ranked #22 in the nation in defensive efficiency last season and he improved the Stags’ record each and every year he was there. Providence, a small Catholic school with hardly any recruiting base along with limited facilities and resources, is an incredibly difficult job even before you have to go up against bigger schools like Syracuse, Louisville and Pittsburgh along with tradition-rich programs such as Georgetown, Villanova and Marquette. Cooley must spend his first season laying the foundation for longer term success. He won’t turn this program around overnight but more discipline on and off the court and hard work on the recruiting trail can turn Providence into a solid Big East competitor. We can’t think of many people better suited than Cooley to get the job done at Providence. While it will be a long and difficult process, brighter days are ahead for the Providence program with Ed Cooley at the helm.
Signs Of Life In The New York Area: New coach Steve Lavin and St. John’s brought the buzz back to the Big Apple last winter as the Red Storm earned its first NCAA bid in nine seasons. “Lavinwood” has moved east, but St. John’s now enters a year full of mixed feelings. Cautious optimism as well as uncertainty rules the day with nine new faces, part of the nation’s second-ranked recruiting class, making their way to Queens in 2011-12. Malik Stith is the only returnee of note after Dwayne Polee, II, decided to transfer closer to home at San Diego State. St. John’s may be the most unpredictable team in the Big East entering this season. The potential exists for a terrific year if Lavin can mold all this raw talent into a cohesive unit capable of playing with any team in the conference. However, issues with young players, commonly involving playing time and egos, are also very possible and it takes only one incident to destroy the locker room and wreck the season. The Johnnies have enough talent to make the NCAA Tournament again, but Lavin will have to totally adjust his approach to make that happen. With hardly any experience on the roster, he can’t simply roll the ball out and hope for the best. This season will be the biggest test of Lavin’s coaching career on the court, but he faced an even more difficult challenge last year, coaching the entire season with prostate cancer while keeping it a secret until this spring. Turning St. John’s around with that constantly in the back of his mind is an a commendable achievement and we obviously wish Coach Lavin the best of luck fighting this awful disease.
Across the Hudson River in New Jersey, Mike Rice and Rutgers appear to be building a program to be reckoned with down the road. The Scarlet Knights have been a dormant program for 20 years, never once enjoying a winning season in any of its 16 years as a Big East member. That may be about to change, although it appears unlikely that Rutgers will crack the .500 mark in league play this season. The fiery Rice reeled in a top 25 recruiting class and now must build on a season of close calls and what-ifs. Rutgers was competitive last year, but could only manage five Big East victories. It’ll take time for the new players to adjust to the collegiate level but bigger and better things should be expected from Rutgers in the years to come. Rutgers, a large state school, has the capability of becoming a pretty good program. All it needs is a commitment from the administration, facility upgrades and great recruiting. Rice is taking care of the latter, now it’s time for the Rutgers brass to provide him with the resources needed to build a top flight program. Rutgers needs major facility upgrades (a RAC renovation has been talked about for over a year), but fundraising has been a major problem. With New Jersey Governor Chris Christie trying to get the state’s financial house in order, there is going to be a lot of resistance to an ambitious project such as this one at the state’s flagship university.
Just when you figured that the Recruiting Rumor Mill would start to slow down one teenager start makes news by changing his mind about having previously changed his mind while another does so by deciding to go to college early.
The biggest news of the week was of course Myck Kabongo deciding that he did want to go to Texas after all. We are going to wait until he signs on the dotted line before we go ahead and write it down in ink. Fool us once. . .
Rutgers commit Kadeem Jack, who has already graduated from high school, but opted to take a prep year, has decided that he wants to go to Rutgers sooner rather than later and will reportedly enroll there in January. He tried talking the coaches into letting him play this year, but they talked him out of it and he will play for Scarlet Knights in the fall of 2011 as previously anticipated.
Tyler Adams, who made news by backing out of his commitment to Duke, has committed to Georgetown, which shouldn’t be that surprising since Adams attended Georgetown’s Midnight Madness even when he was still committed to Duke.
Tyler Adams: The Player Who Turned Down Coach K
Speaking of Duke they landed a commitment from Quinn Cook, one of the top point guards in this year’s class. Normally this would be bigger next except Duke already has a commitment from Austin Rivers, the top guard in the class. And they also have Kyrie Irving, Andre Dawkins, and Seth Curry, all of whom will have eligibility left after this season although Irving could be gone after this year.