Here we go… headfirst into another season heralded by our 2015-16 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season completely guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight rather than 30 days from now. Over the next month you’ll get one reason per day until we reach the new season on Friday, November 13. We’ve captured what we believe were the 30 most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head in astonishment. You can find all of this year’s released posts here.
After nine interminable months of radio silence, the RTC Podcast makes its triumphant return! In the Offseason Storylines (and Welcome Back) first edition of the 2015-16 season, host Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) leads the guys through a fun-filled hour of mea culpas, scandal salaciousness, notable comings and goings, and burgeoning excitement for the season to come. From Louisville to North Carolina to Shaka to the SEC… we covered it all. There was even a DePaul mention. The full rundown is below, but don’t forget to subscribe on iTunes so it will automatically download to your listening device each week.
Last night, Harry Giles, the top recruit in the class of 2016, announced his five finalists: Duke, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, and Wake Forest. Giles, a 6’10” forward from Winston Salem, has been reported to be interested in playing alongside Jayson Tatum, a top five recruit in the class of 2016 and Giles’ roommate while they played for Team US in the U19 FIBA World Championships. Given that Tatum committed to Duke earlier this month it would seem that the Blue Devils would be favorites for Giles although the hometown pull of Winston Salem and the fact that Chris Paul is the sponsor of his AAU team (and probably in Giles’ ear a lot) could sway him to go to Wake. Giles has not set a date for when he will make his choice, but if you want to learn more about him be sure to check out Luke Winn’s profile on Giles.
Yesterday, the NCAA announced some tweaks to its NCAA Tournament selection process that address the play-in games (yes, that’s what they are) and how the highest seeded teams are placed in the bracket. The play-in game change is a really just a revision in the language that gives the Selection Committee the autonomy to select whichever teams it sees fit to be placed in the play-in games. As you may remember this past March, UCLA’s inclusion in the main field without having to even win a play-in game generated quite a bit of controversy given their unimpressive resume. UCLA avoided the play-in games as they were not technically one of the last four teams in. If that happens again this year, the NCAA can point to this clause as a reason to put a team like that in the play-in games. The other change allows the Selection Committee greater freedom in balancing its top two seed lines. Now instead of focusing on geography when placing these teams they can focus on competitive balance. An example of this was the near-meltdown last year on Twitter when Wisconsin and Kentucky were almost placed in the same (Midwest) region. While they won’t go to the S-curve that Joe Lunardi loves to talk about, they will try to make the top two seed lines more evenly balanced.
As much as we hate what some lawyers do, we have to admit that occasionally be of some use. Such is the case of Austin Nichols, who announced that he was transferring from Memphis at the beginning of the month. While the announcement was not that unusual given the mass exodus out of the program, the timing irritated many within the Memphis program as well as few writers who voiced their displeasure with his timing. So when Memphis announced that they would not be granting Nichols a release to any AAC schools, Tennessee, Virginia, Iowa, and Providence most people assumed it would be a drawn-out battle between the two sides particularly since Virginia is widely considered the favorite to land Nichols–they had been one of his favorites before he went to Memphis and there are reports that billionaire Paul Tudor Jones II may be steering him there. Instead of waiting for Memphis to give in to public pressure, the Nichols’ family hired a high-priced attorney who cited the Sherman Antitrust Act while questioning the legality of the transfer restrictions. If you thought the Ed O’Bannon case was bad for the NCAA, you can imagine what an antitrust case would have looked like. As you can imagine, Memphis quickly “reviewed” the case and removed any transfer restrictions.
If you want to know why conferences (and in some cases schools) are so eager to get their own TV networks, we would refer you to the report that the Big Ten distributed $1 million to each of its schools for the 2014-15 fiscal year from the revenue it generated from the Big Ten Network. While the BTN has been profitable since the 2011-12 fiscal year, the conference had been holding back that money to deal with conference realignment. The $1 million per school may fall short of what some other conferences have been able to generate, but when it makes up approximately 3% of the money a school receives from the one of the most prominent conferences in America it is far from an insignificant amount.
March is finally here. For those of you who have been slacking now is a very good time to cram in as much basketball before Selection Sunday. If the next two weeks seem overwhelming, we have an easy-to-use spreadsheet that lays everything out for you. Even if your team is in a conference that is not playing their conference tournament this week, it is worth keeping an eye on the games particularly later in the week because some of those could make a big difference in the bubble if a team that was expected to get an automatic bid is knocked off and then becomes a bubble team.
The big news from this weekend came from Kansas where Cliff Alexander is being held out of games while the school and the NCAA work through questions regarding Alexander’s eligibility. While Alexander’s performance this year has been underwhelming–particularly in comparison to what some other similarly highly-touted freshman have done in recent years–his absence would be a big loss for Kansas in the Big 12 Tournament and beyond. Simply put, legitimate 7-footers big men with athleticism are extremely rare and despite Alexander’s current limitations he does have the ability to carry his team for brief stretches. Much like Rick Pitino last week, we are hesitant to question Bill Self, but the loss of Alexander would limit Kansas’ ceiling albeit to a much-lesser extent than what Chris Jones’ absence will do for Louisville.
At this point North Carolina should just send the NCAA a drawing of a giant middle finger. The latest news from Dan Kane, who might be the least popular person in Chapel Hill, is that a senior associate athletic director helped a football player gain admission to a graduate school despite having a low GPA, no entrance exam score, and being several months past the application deadline. To make matters worse, the issue was brought up to the school’s provost, but instead of denying the admission he simply referred the official to the dean of the graduate school who admitted him in time after which he played in all but one of the team’s games, but regularly skipped classes while receiving Fs. While this appears to be the most egregious abuse of UNC’s graduate schools and the NCAA’s graduate school transfer waiver exception in this part of UNC’s ever-growing academic scandal, it was not the only case as it appears to have happened almost yearly with Justin Knox being another example, who may have been able to get into the graduate school anyways, but was past the application deadline and got in anyways. This probably won’t affect the NCAA’s decision given how many other things went on at the school, but it just makes the school look even worse and might be an issue that an accrediting body takes seriously.
On Saturday, Billy Donovanwon his 500th game with a win at home against Tennessee making him the second youngest to reach the figure (only Bobby Knight did it faster), but this might end up being his most disappointing season during his time in Gainesville. Coming into the season Florida was expected to be a top-10 team and potential Final Four threat. Now they will need to win the SEC Tournament to even make it to the NCAA Tournament and unfortunately for the Gators we suspect that a team from Lexington will be showing up for the SEC Tournament making that possibility seem like nothing more than a dream. The Gators did get one other piece of good news on Saturday with the return of Dorian Finney-Smith from a three-game suspension. Finney-Smith, who came into the game as the team’s second-leading scorer at 12.9 per game and leading rebounder at 5.8 per game, had 20 points and 10 rebounds and makes the Gators a threat to make a SEC Tournament run given all their talent, but in the end it probably will not matter.
Dwayne Polee II‘s comeback suffered a setback when the senior forward was noted to have “abnormal” readings on his implanted cardiac monitor necessitating an adjustment in one of his cardiac medications. Polee, who collapsed during a game on December 22, returned to action last weekend, but with this setback we are not sure how much longer he will be out. It isn’t our place to tell Polee to play or not (that decision is up to Polee, his doctors, and his family), but whenever we hear about cases like this we always think of Hank Gathers, who died on March 4, 1990 (Wednesday will be the 25th anniversary). Dick Jerardi wrote an excellent piece on Gathers and his legacy for Philly.com, which only serves to reinforce our concern in situations like this.
What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.
Honoring Dean Smith
Among all the ways to honor the late Dean Smith, perhaps nothing was more fitting than what Roy Williams did on North Carolina’s first possession against Georgia Tech on Saturday. With his team wearing ’80s throwback jerseys, Williams had his team set up in Smith’s signature Four Corners offense.
Fittingly, it ended with a layup. Awesome. The Tar Heels eventually routed the Yellow Jackets 89-60, but Williams’ gesture was what drew praise from the social media crowd.
We are hesitant to write off a Rick Pitino-coached team, but the announcement by Louisville yesterday that Chris Jones had been dismissed from the team should take away any (slim) hope they had of making a title run. The timing of the announcement–a day after Jones returned from an indefinite suspension that lasted one game to lead the team in a comeback win over Miami with 17 points, five rebounds, two steals and two assists–raises a lot of questions about what happened in less than 24 hours that could have led to his dismissal. For the Cardinals, a team already lacking scoring depth the dismissal of Jones (13.7 points, 4 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game) is a crippling blow that probably limits their potential to a second weekend team although if they make it to Indianapolis it would not be the first time that Rick Pitino has surprised us.
It was an interesting weekend for coaching outbursts. The more notable event happened at North Carolina where Roy Williamscriticized fans on Saturday for their lack of understanding of his decision to run Four Corners as a tribute to Dean Smith and their overall apathetic nature. On some level, we can agree with Williams as UNC crowd’s are notoriously quiet (“Wine and Cheese”), but it is always dangerous to criticize the paying customers. Tim Miles took a slightly different approach as he banned the Nebraska players from entering the locker room or lounge and prevented them from speaking to the media after their 28-point loss at home to Iowa on Sunday. With the way that the team has performed this year (going from a NCAA Tournament team to one that won’t even get into any of the postseason tournaments) we can understand his frustration, but antagonizing your entire team probably isn’t the best approach.
After having to sit out 61 days following an incident where he collapsed on the court, Dwayne Polee IIreturned to the court for San Diego State on Saturday night. Although Polee only scored 3 points in 13 minutes his return after being worked up extensively and diagnosed with an arrhythmia was a special moment for Polee and the crowd. Polee, the 2013-14 Mountain West Conference Sixth Man of the Year, was averaging 8.4 points per game so if he can return to close to full strength he could be a huge addition for the Aztecs in March. Although we will always probably nervous about hearing players in this situation return to the court it seems like the physicians in San Diego did a pretty thorough work-up of Polee.
There were a couple of other notable announcements involving players over the weekend outside of Chris Jones. Aaron Cosby, who is still indefinitely suspended, announced that he will be transferring after the season and utilizing the graduate transfer waiver. Cosby, who played two years at Seton Hall before transferring to Illinois, was averaging 7.8 points per game, but doing it on absolutely atrocious shooting (29.3% from the field). Although graduate transfers are usually coveted since they can play right away and have experience we are not sure how interested programs will be in a highly inefficient player who is transferring while suspended. At Tennessee, freshman forward Jabari McGhee will redshirt this season as he continues to rehab from surgery on his right foot. McGhee, who was averaging 4.4 points and 3.8 rebounds, injured the foot on December 17 and underwent surgery two days later. Instead of risking further injury, McGhee is planning on taking a medical redshirt and given the Volunteers recent tailspin it would make sense not to bring him back this year anyways.
Perhaps Syracuse can try to get NCAA investigators off their case by pretending this entire season didn’t happen including Saturday’s fiasco where they retired Roosevelt Bouie‘s jersey, but presented him with a plaque that included a jersey with his name misspelled as it read “Bowie” instead of Bouie. The school did manage to spell his name right on the jersey hanging from the rafters, but it is still another embarrassing incident for the school although one that is not as likely to carry repercussions as significant as what the NCAA might hand down for their other errors. In the end, this will probably just result in Bouie getting a replacement jersey and plenty of individuals (mostly from Georgetown) having a good laugh.
Tonight will be yet another meeting between North Carolina and Duke, but one thing will be missing from tonight’s match-up: Dick Vitale, the broadcasting icon who will not be calling the game for the first time in 35 years. While the company line is that this is just ESPN sending various members of the team where they are needed it seems to be a sign of ESPN moving in a different direction and one away from Vitale, its longtime star. Instead, ESPN will have Dan Shulman and Jay Bilas call the game. With Vitale being 75 years old and Bilas becoming an increasingly popular and recognizable figure it would seem that ESPN is trying to move him into the role as its lead analyst and this would seem to be an ideal way to start.
It was not that long ago that people were talking about Seton Hall as a potential NCAA Tournament team. Now they appear to be spiraling completely out of control. On Monday, we mentioned Jaren Sina transferring amid speculation of issues within the locker room. Those were backed up by reports of racial tensions within the locker room (a report that Sina’s father denied). On Monday night, Sterling Gibbs, the team’s leading scorer, was ejected for hitting Ryan Arcidiacono leading to a two-game suspension. For his part, Gibbs apologized to both his team and Arcidiacono for his actions. With all that is going on with this team, we have to wonder how much longer Kevin Willard will remain the coach there.
We are not sure how much to make of Louisville’s decision to suspend Chris Jones for an unspecified violation of team rules prior to their game at Syracuse. Although the suspension is indefinite and not related to a basketball issue, based on the reports we have heard the suspension is only for one game at this point and likely not something that will be an ongoing issue if Jones does not have another misstep. Even if Jones (13.6 points, 3.9 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game) is only out for this game, it will be interesting to see how the Cardinals adapt to playing without one of its four players who they can count on to score reliably.
It is not often that we see a college coach get fined, but then again it is not often that we hear a coach publicly criticize a call as “the worst call I’ve ever seen in my life” as Penn State coach Patrick Chambers did following his team’s loss to Maryland on Saturday. The call (an awful offensive foul on Jordan Dickerson) and more specifically Chambers’ response to it led to a $10,000 fine by the Big Ten for violating the conference’s sportsmanship policy. We agree that Chambers’ reaction might not fit with a typical sportsmanship policy we would think that the conference would have the sense not to fine someone when their officials got something so blatantly wrong.
This might not be news in the same way as most of the other items that we feature in the Morning Five and the story is technically almost a year old, but we still thought that Bob Huggins receiving a $25,000 bonus for beating Kansason Monday and him not being aware of it until a reporter brought it up last year was noteworthy. Huggins is far from the only coach with such a clause–we have even heard of coaches from mid-majors voting teams in their conference into the top 25 in hopes of collecting a bonus for beating a top-25 team–but in this environment where there is increased debate about paying athletes in revenue sports these types of bonuses and Huggins’ apparent obliviousness to a bonus that would amount to the annual salary of many Americans might strike a chord.
As I’m sure you heard on Sunday, legendary former North Carolina head coach Dean Smith died this weekend. His death led to an outpouring of stories, some of which are noted below. I wouldn’t read them all at once and there’s some repetition of tropes, but they paint slightly different perspectives of the same image (mostly through anecdotes, as Smith hated interviews).
Boston Globe: Bob Ryan does a tremendous job looking at Smith’s overall legacy (bookended with big games against Boston College).
Washington Post: John Feinstein (who’s currently working on a book about Smith, Mike Krzyzewski, and Jim Valvano) adds another perspective, looking at some of the people that Smith touched during his life.
In hopes of lessening potential NCAA penalties from an investigation into what happened during the Donnie Tyndall era, Southern Mississippi has decided to self-impose a postseason ban for this season. As you may remember from a few months ago, the allegations around the program reportedly involve how tuition and other expenses were paid for recruits who signed with the school, but were not yet eligible for scholarships. While the school says “this self-imposed penalty was painful” in reality the team is 5-11 this season under new coach Doc Sadler having lost eight straight including their first five in Conference USA so all they are probably missing out is an opening round loss in the Conference USA Tournament at most since only 12 of the 14 teams in the conference even make the conference tournament. Meanwhile, Tyndall is having an impressive season at Tennessee and probably will not get much more than a slap on the wrist from the NCAA.
It turns out that North Carolina might not be alone in its academic misconduct. According to a report from The Chronicle of Higher Education, the NCAA is currently investigating 20 programs for allegations of academic misconduct. The names of the programs–18 of which are Division I schools–were not released, but a few schools are named including UNC (obviously). Our key takeaway from this is not that there are plenty of issues with academics in NCAA programs, but instead the enormity of the task facing the 60 individuals tasked with reviewing these programs and monitoring every other program within the purview of the NCAA. So while the amount of time it has taken the to make a ruling on North Carolina (we’re still waiting…), it becomes much more understandable when you look at everything they have to watch over.
You may have heard that Mike Krzyzewski is approaching his 1000th career win (ESPN has been mentioning it on occasion), which has led to several retrospectives on his career. Most of them have been talking about the sheer enormity of the accomplishment of being that good for that long, but Mike DeCourcy decided to take it a step further declaring Krzyzewski the greatest college basketball coach ever. While Krzyzewski is obviously in the discussion (and you can make a very strong case for him being the best), we are a little more reluctant to be quite as dismissive of what John Wooden did and note that Krzyzewski’s peers had to deal with the same nuances of the time as he did. In the end, it is an interesting debate albeit one that we might tend to take the easy way out of by simply saying that each is the best of his era.
We have heard about the antics of many mascots over the years (Sebastian the Ibis nearly getting arrested for using a fire extinguisher on Osceola’s burning spear and West Virginia’s mascot killing a bear with the school’s musket), but it has been a while since we heard about one getting fired. So when we heard that Oklahoma had fired one of the people who dressed as their mascot for taunting Oklahoma State fans we figured it had to be for something fairly amusing. Instead, it turns out the mascot was blocking the view of the fans and poured popcorn on some of the fans including Heather Ford, the wife of Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford. While it is certainly a fireable offense (the individual had been told multiple times to stop), we would have hoped the mascot could have gone out in a more memorable way.
We aren’t sure how we missed this before, but Zach Helfand has an excellent story on the only hotel we know of that is dedicated to a college basketball figure (at least a current one): the Steve Alford All-American Inn located in Alford’s hometown of New Castle, Indiana. As you might expect it isn’t exactly a luxury hotel, but according to Helfand it seems like a decent hotel, which is about all you can expect for around $60/night. We can’t necessarily make a recommendation for something we have never seen, but this certainly seems like the type of thing that is worth checking out as one of the more unique basketball experiences around particularly if you are in the area even if it is just to stop by as you are passing through.
Seven Sweet Scoops is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you seven notes from the high-stakes world of college basketball recruiting. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul, dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at email@example.com.
It wasn’t that long ago when senior guard Tyler Dorsey was a top 10 player in his class and among the players considered as the top shooting guard in the Class of 2015. In a quick fall from grace last spring, however, Dorsey tumbled, losing his five-star status and subsequently de-committing from Arizona. The Southern California native kept working on his game, though, and now he is putting together a dominant stretch of play at Marantha (CA) High as the No. 40 ranked player in the country. He recently contributed a 36-point, 16-rebound performance after posting consecutive 40-point games, and in one of those contests, representatives from Cal in attendance included head coach Cuonzo Martin and two of his assistants. In Martin’s first year in Berkeley he is not playing second fiddle to anyone in the Pac-12, going after two of the top players in the state in Dorsey and local five-star prospect Ivan Rabb. In addition to Cal, Dorsey took fall visits to Colorado, Oregon, Kansas, and Arizona State.
2. Big Weekend In Chapel Hill
After dropping a home game last weekend to Notre Dame, the Tar Heels have another big game coming up on Saturday against Louisville. UNC upset the heavily-favored Cardinals last year, but this year a loss would drop them to 1-2 in the ACC standings. The stakes are a even higher with the Tar Heels hosting the No. 1 player in the country, small forward Jaylen Brown, on an official visit in addition to a plethora of other talented players. Brown took official visits to Kentucky, Kansas, and UCLA in the fall, and the Georgia native has taken unofficial visits to Georgia and Georgia Tech as well. In addition to Brown, UNC brings four-star small forward Brandon Ingram, five-star juniors Harry Giles and Dennis Smith and sophomore point guard Matt Coleman and Luke Maye (2015 commitment) to campus. The Heels would do well to create a raucous environment in the Dean Dome this weekend.
Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions atThe Intentional Fouldedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Antonio Blakeney Looks to Turn LSU into a Basketball School
LSU is a football power that signs five-star recruits and churns out top 10 recruiting classes on a routine basis, but with last week’s commitment from five-star guard Antonio Blakeney, the Tigers’ basketball program is now joining in on the fun. It’s rare for LSU to nab five-star recruits in roundball, much less two five-star recruits in one class, but LSU now has commitments from the No. 5 ranked shooting guard to go along with forward Ben Simmons, one of the top high school players in the country.
Blakeney, a 6’4” shooting guard, originally committed to Louisville after taking in the school’s first ACC football game but subsequently backed out of the decision. Rumors then ran wild that the Floridian, who played on a Nike-backed AAU team, had de-committed due to Louisville’s contractual shoe affiliation with Adidas. Blakeney went on to visit three different SEC schools — LSU, Kentucky and Missouri — before choosing the Tigers based on his relationships with head coach Johnny Jones and assistant coach David Patrick. In an interview with Scout.com, Blakeney discussed his reasoning behind the decision: “Kind of just the story and the plan he [Jones] has for the program, period. LSU is a football school and he’s trying to change it to a basketball school. Last few years he’s gotten good players like Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey. All those guys were top 80 in the country.”
While Blakeney has clearly developed a bond with the coaching staff in Baton Rouge, he will also gets to play with his AAU teammate and friend, the uber-talented Simmons. The Australian-born senior is a 6’8” small forward who came to the United States during his freshman season and played with Blakeney last summer on the Nike EYBL circuit. Possessing the ball-handling skills of a guard, Simmons is listed as the first or second-best player in his class by every recruiting publication. He committed to the Tigers more than 15 months ago in large part because Patrick is Simmons’ godfather and had played professionally with Ben’s father in Australia.
It’s Exam Week in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so what better time than the present to analyze the basketball aptitude of the 15 member institutions? Below we present three groupings: the teams representing the head of the class; those with the potential to improve on their early season results; and the disappointments. There’s no sliding scale to our grading system, so the teams were evaluated on how they have performed no matter their preseason expectations (sorry, tough professor).
Top of the Class
Duke has earned nothing shy of an A+ thus far, playing like a team that’s clearly a national title contender. The freshmen and veteran holdovers have meshed beautifully, and the Blue Devils’ 8-0 record includes a quality win over Michigan State as well as a very impressive defeat of fellow contender Wisconsin on the road.
Louisville is having no problem representing its new conference in an 8-0 start, save for a head-scratching 45-33 win over Cleveland State. Knocking off Ohio State in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge as well as wins over Minnesota and Indiana leave the Cardinals looking like a contender for the crown too. Montrezl Harrell has been as good as advertised, and the long-awaited emergence of Wayne Blackshear makes this a very dangerous team.
Notre Dame sure missed Jerian Grant down the stretch last season. Now that its leading man is back from suspension, the Irish have started off hot. They’re a one-point loss to Providence from being 10-0 and they can present a quality win by virtue of besting Michigan State. Four double-figure scorers contribute to the 10th highest-scoring offense in the country at 85.1 points per game.
Coach Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish are thrilled to have Jerian Grant back (USAToday Sports)
Could Virginia actually be better than last year’s conference championship-winning team? The Cavaliers have let Justin Anderson loose, and he has been nothing short of a star to pair along with Malcolm Brogdon. They’re still one of the best defensive teams in the country and have shown they can win playing multiple styles, counting road wins over Maryland and VCU already on the resume.
Miami is probably the pleasant surprise of the conference thus far, sporting a 9-1 record and earning a spot few saw coming in the national rankings. We’ll excuse the hiccup against Wisconsin-Green Bay (the same team that nipped Virginia early last year) since the Hurricanes have already beaten Florida and Illinois. Transfers Angel Rodriguez and Sheldon McClellan have allowed the other players who were asked to do too much last season to return to more comfortable supporting roles.