Morning Five: 06.19.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 19th, 2014

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  1. Most college sports fans probably aren’t following the day-by-day action in the Ed O’Bannon vs. the NCAA case taking place in Oakland, California, this month, and why would they? First of all, there’s no nifty “doink doink” Law & Order plot mover to let us know we are moving on to a more important part of the proceedings, and secondly, many people probably don’t believe that the outcome will amount to much change in their annual sports viewing habits anyway. Fair points, both, but if you’re interested in summarily catching up through the better part of two weeks of proceedings and following along in the future, SI.com‘s Stewart Mandel and Andy Staples have you covered with their daily updates. The big fish scheduled on the line this week, of course, is NCAA president Mark Emmert, who will be called to testify today and possibly beyond (if necessary). Emmert has been a staunch public supporter of the NCAA’s amateurism model throughout his four-year tenure, and you have to wonder if he will fall victim to fits of hubris while on the stand defending what is widely becoming disparaged as an indefensible system. His testimony could be a key tipping point in the ultimate outcome of this case, so keep an eye on it.
  2. The underlying force driving the O’Bannon case, of course, is money. It’s always money, and specifically, who is getting their grubby little hands on it. To most Americans just getting by, the division of tens of millions of dollars between the NCAA, schools and the television networks doesn’t much move the needle — in their view, it’s just a case of rich people enriching other rich people. But even their fur gets a little raised when a clearly successful business model that can produce a third of a billion dollars (“B”) in a single year doesn’t give a taste of the steady stream of money to those whose backs on which all those dollars were made — the athletes. And yet, the Pac-12, as Dennis Dodd reported this week, produced $334 million in 2012-13 — the most of any conference in college sports history — disseminating around $18.5 million back to each school as a result. Once you start to add ticket sales, bowl games, NCAA Tournament shares and other revenue producers to each school’s athletic pie, you start to see some very large numbers generated at the bottom of the spreadsheet. Good luck with your arguments for amateurism, NCAA.
  3. Kansas basketball got some really interesting news earlier this week when it was announced that Bill Self’s team will represent Team USA in next summer’s 2015 World University Games in Gwangju, South Korea. Typically, the WUG teams have consisted of some of the top rising stars in college basketball, but the all-star model with limited practice time for players to get to know each other has resulted in only one gold and two bronze medals in the last seven events (Team USA won six straight golds from 1989-99, for some perspective). The Jayhawks have another loaded team coming into next year’s college basketball season, but a number of those players such as Cliff Alexander and Wayne Selden, are unlikely to still be in uniform for international competition a year from now. Still, perhaps the knowledge of Self’s system and the resultant familiarity among the remaining players will allow Team USA to improve on its ninth-place finish in 2013. We can only hope.
  4. It wouldn’t be summer without some transfer news, and there were a couple of name-brand players who found new destinations this week. First, LSU guard Anthony Hickey, a solid if not spectacular player whose senior-year scholarship was not “renewed” by head coach Johnny Jones in Baton Rouge, has resurfaced at Oklahoma State and was deemed eligible to play for the Cowboys immediately. This is a major boon for an upcoming year where head coach Travis Ford is in dire need of a reliable point guard after the losses of both Marcus Smart and Stevie Clark from his team. It may not save Ford’s job in Stillwater, but it gives him a fighting chance. In other news, Maryland guard Nick Faust has decided to finish his career across the country at Long Beach State. Unlike Hickey, who took advantage of the NCAA’s “run-off” rule to become eligible for next season, Faust will have to sit out 2014-15 before playing his senior year with The Beach. We wish both the best of luck in their new environments.
  5. You probably heard about the too-soon passing of the late great baseball Hall of Famer Tony Gwynn earlier this week, and while every American sports fan recognizes the ridiculous batting prowess of the man who hit safely 3,141 times with a .338 average over two decades in the majors, they may not realize that Gwynn was a college hoops star before he ever became one of the friendliest and most beloved faces of Major League Baseball. As SI.com‘s Brian Hamilton explains in this piece, Gwynn to this day remains one of the best point guards to have ever played at San Diego State, a two-time all-WAC selection on the hardwood that featured the best single-season assist average in program history (8.2 APG in the 1979-80 season). We never saw him play hoops, but we have to imagine that he brought the same passion and respect for our game as he did to the baseball diamond. RIP, Tony Gwynn.
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The Rise of Aaron White and the Iowa Hawkeyes

Posted by Brendan Brody on October 28th, 2013

College basketball junkies like myself stretch for almost anything hoops-related to keep us going in the offseason. The summer months can be especially cruel. So when we find out about things like the World University Games, we pay attention. We check the rosters when the tryouts are over and usually there are some surprises. Iowa’s Aaron White was one of these surprises. Outside of those that follow the B1G on a regular basis, not many casual fans know about White. But with Iowa getting its share of (justifiable) hype given how the Hawkeyes finished last season, and what they have coming back, White has a chance to become a household name with the program rejoining national relevance. He doesn’t have to be a superstar, but if he can make incremental improvements along with a couple of the other returnees, Iowa will no doubt challenge for a top quarter finish in the league, and with it, a high seed in the NCAAs.

Aaron White looks to lead Iowa back a regular spot in the top 25 (Brian Ray, AP)

Aaron White looks to lead Iowa back a regular spot in the Top 25 (Brian Ray, AP)

White had a nice sophomore year, but nothing to make someone think he was necessarily ready to stand alongside other World University Games players like Doug McDermott, Luke Hancock, and conference names like Yogi Ferrell and Adreian Payne. He led Iowa in rebounding at 6.2 boards per game, and was the second leading scorer with an average of 12.8 PPG. These are nice numbers, but not anything to get too excited about. Where he really shined last year, though, was in getting to the free throw line. He shot an astronomical 258 free throws last season, good for 6.8 attempts per game, and over 40 minutes per contest, he drew an average of 6.5 fouls per game.

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Team USA Finishes Fifth at World University Games: Notes On Player Performances

Posted by rtmsf on August 22nd, 2011

Team USA came out of the World University Games in Shenzhen, China, with its pride intact after sporting a 7-1 overall record, but because of an untimely loss over the weekend in the quarterfinal round versus Lithuania, they will leave Asia without a medal.  The twelve-man roster comprised of some of the best returning players in the college game finished fifth in the tournament despite sporting a 28.2 PPG scoring margin over its eight opponents.  The Americans did not earn a chance to play the top two finishers — Serbia (gold) and Canada (silver) — although the team that knocked them out of contention, Lithuania, ultimately took home the bronze.  We’ve already established the weak predictive power of the WUG experience (e.g., 2009-10 NPOY Evan Turner hardly played in the 2009 WUG), but we still thought it would be worth a quick look to see which players rose to the top and which did not during the last two weeks of action.

Trevor Mbakwe Was USA's Best Interior Player

Some of our thoughts on player performances:

The All-American Backcourt Was Solid, If Not Spectacular.  Simply glancing at the roster going into the World University Games, the two names that immediately jumped out as the best players were in the backcourt — Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs and Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins.  Both players will be on the short list next season as NPOY types who should also land on several of the major All-American teams.  In China, they both played the most minutes and shot the ball considerably more than the rest of their teammates.  Jenkins alone attempted 57 threes, more shots than anyone but Gibbs (73) on the entire team.  They both made enough shots to keep defenses honest (Gibbs: 46.6%; Jenkins: 42.4%), and were automatic (90%+) from the line, but on a team sorely lacking in the point guard department, neither player truly stepped up and separated himself in that manner (only 28 assists between them, one for every combined 12 minutes they were on the floor).  In the loss against Lithuania, the two guards combined to shoot 4-13 from behind the arc and dished out only one assist (versus 5 TOs).  Clearly this team could have used a better floor leader.

Trevor Mbakwe Was a Monster.  If we had to pick one player who came out of the WUG experience with the most hype for the upcoming season, it has to be Minnesota forward Trevor Mbakwe.  In just under 20 minutes per contest, Mbakwe averaged a near-dub-dub of 11.4 PPG and 9.4 RPG (or, 23/19 per 40 minutes!).  What’s more impressive is that international players simply could not handle his quick feet balanced by a bulky frame, bullying his way to the foul line 61 times, or 7.6 times per game.  He only was able to convert 57.4% of those attempts, but his 60.9% field goal percentage on the interior more than made up for it.  Mbakwe averaged a double-double in the Big Ten last year, but his maturity and continued improvement may have him on target for a DeJuan Blair type of senior season in 2011-12.

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Morning Five: 08.22.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 22nd, 2011

  1. The best Team USA can now finish at the World University Games in Shenzhen, China, is fifth place after a close weekend loss to Lithuania, 76-74, in the tournament quarterfinals.  We mentioned a couple of weeks ago that the Americans would have to produce from outside, given their lack of relative size on the interior, and through the round-robin, that’s exactly what they did (41.7% from the three-point line coming into the quarterfinals).  In the loss against Lithuania, though, Team USA combined to shoot an icy 5-30 from three (0-14 in the second half), and missed all five of its shots down the stretch of a tight game to ensure the loss.  The team recovered to handily beat Romania, 94-73, on Sunday, and will play Germany today for the right to claim fifth place this year in the WUG.  Without question, finishing fifth or sixth represents another disappointing finish for the Americans.  After winning six tournaments in a row from 1989-99, the squad has only won gold once more since then (2005).
  2. On Friday afternoon, Connecticut announced that its embattled athletic director, Jeff Hathaway, also the current chair of the 2011-12 NCAA D-I Men’s Basketball Committee, has retired.  As part of his separation agreement, he received a rather lucrative buyout of his contract that will pay him as much as $700,000 next year.  An early report suggested that Hathaway was presented with an all-or-nothing deal in that he would have been fired had he not accepted the terms of this buyout, but both he and UConn have since denied this claim.  Despite the unprecedented success of Husky sports since 2003 on his watch, particularly the men’s and women’s basketball programs but also including the football program, Hathaway has been under fire as a result of his management style, poor fundraising, and a chilly relationship with head coach Jim Calhoun.  UConn has named Paul Pendergast as the interim AD but is expected to perform a national search to find his successor in Storrs.  How this will impact his chairmanship is anyone’s guess, but the NCAA released a statement over the weekend that they would work with Hathaway to “determine the best approach regarding the balance of his term,” whatever that means.  For much more detailed coverage of this situation, we suggest you read this article by Jeff Jacobs in the Hartford Courant — he pretty much gets to the bottom of everything.
  3. By now, everyone has seen the wild and violent scene that unfolded in Beijing last week involving the Georgetown basketball team while on its overseas tour of China.  Hoya head coach John Thompson, III, said over the weekend that he met with the Chinese team’s coach and a few of its players on Friday to smooth things over, and that he felt that the melee did not have any particular political undertones.  A few commentators last week argued differently, as in this Fox News piece suggesting that the Bayi Rockets’ aggression represents a newfound China, one that is aggressively flexing its geopolitical clout by disavowing its previous “fighting without fighting” mantra.  Others were less political in their analysis, suggesting that the brawl was a result of game-long chippiness and nothing more, but the very best take coming out of all of this was from Sean Pendergast at the Houston Press, who hilariously wrote that the mythology of Hoya Paranoia abruptly ended during the brawl last week: “If this game took place in 1985, there would have been 15 bloody, mangled Chinese basketball players scattered unconscious on the floor with Patrick Ewing, Reggie Williams, David Wingate and Michael Graham all standing over them with their hands raised amidst a shower of jettisoned half full beers and sodas and debris.”  Priceless.
  4. Saint Mary’s rewarded its longtime head coach Randy Bennett with a 10-year deal to keep him in Moraga challenging for WCC championships with BYU and Gonzaga for years to come.  Prior to Bennett’s arrival in 2001, the school had won only 10 games in the previous two seasons and had only reached the NCAA Tournament three times in its history.  Bennett has rebuilt the program to the point where the Gaels have reached three more NCAAs during his tenure, including a run to the Sweet Sixteen in 2010, and have averaged 26.3 wins over the last four seasons.  A native of the west coast, his name regularly comes up when Pac-12 schools have job openings but so far the tiny Catholic school in the East Bay hills has been able to hang onto him.  This deal (and presumably a hefty buyout) will make it even more difficult when major conference schools come poaching (and they will).
  5. It’s been over a year since the Wizard of Westwood passed away, but for at least one man, John Wooden’s longtime caretaker Tony Spiro, the hollow feeling inside has not yet subsided.  Spiro looked after Wooden in a progressively greater capacity for nearly half of the 61-year old’s life, and it’s inarguable when you read this piece by the LA Times‘ TJ Simers that the man some 40 years Wooden’s junior eventually grew to became his best friend.  It’s a fascinating read, and one that reminds us all just how important it is to have people who care about you around in your later years — the heartbreak and loneliness of aging and dying alone is something that even one of the greatest coaches in all of sports may have suffered had it not been for the charity and good heart of Spiro.
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Morning Five: 08.18.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on August 18th, 2011

  1. USC point guard and best returning player, Jio Fontan, flew back to Los Angeles on Wednesday due to an injury he suffered on Tuesday night during an exhibition game in Sao Paolo against a professional team, Mogi Das Cruzes.  According to reports, he landed awkwardly on his knee on a drive to the hoop and was removed from the game immediately thereafter.  X-rays taken in Brazil were negative, but the injury was deemed serious enough that Fontan was sent back to the US rather than try to get an MRI in Rio de Janeiro, the Trojans’ next stop on their international tour.  Needless to say, this seems very bad, and if Fontan did in fact do something  tragic like tear his ACL, Kevin O’Neill’s program will once again be facing an uphill battle toward respectability in both the Pac-12 and nationally next season.
  2. The Miami (FL)/Nevin Shapiro aftermath began in earnest yesterday, with opinions flying from all over the blogosphere as to what will happen next, what should happen next, and what can be done to fix it (if anything).  If you read nothing else on this topic and couldn’t care less whether the U ever suits up in the green and orange again, read this Dan Wetzel piece from Yahoo Sports Wednesday.  He poignantly and eloquently calls out this situation for what it is — nothing more than another slap-in-the-face example of student-athletes following the apparent lead (read: greed and avarice) of the administrators at their schools and at the NCAA.  He asks why should we expect anyone to act differently when the “people running college athletics are desperate for money – for themselves and their salaries and their facilities, for their private planes and their comped cars and their golf-course memberships. They want to avoid paying players and taxes as if they run a little league, then get paid and pampered like they run the NFL. Everyone is chasing the cash.”  Answer: they shouldn’t, we shouldn’t, and the whole damn system is rotten to the core.  Compelling stuff.
  3. As we noted yesterday, basketball is a relatively minor part of this scandal, but it probably doesn’t feel that way to Missouri administrators, fans and new head coach Frank Haith right now.  As Luke Winn writes, ‘character and integrity’ were the two attributes that Mizzou AD Mike Alden relied upon when he made the decision last spring to hire Haith, but if the allegations against him have any legs whatsoever, it will be difficult to to justify keeping him on board in Columbia.   Mike DeCourcy writes that Haith is harmed by the NCAA’s gag order policy on pending investigations, and it’s a good point.  The narrative involving Shapiro buying off DeQuan Jones on Haith’s behalf is already being told, written, and memorialized, and Haith has veritably no recourse to defend his position in the interim.  Whether Haith will survive the next month or longer at Missouri is anyone’s guess, but our best speculation suggests that if UM brass catches any whiff of impropriety related to this situation, he’ll be gone immediately.  (By the way, DeQuan Jones’ career total points at Miami:  372, or $26.88 per point, allegedly.)
  4. Things continue to improve down in the great state of Florida.  Didn’t we already refer to the Miami Hurricanes fiasco in the two spaces above?  Right, we did.  But it was a different Orange State school a few hours north that on Wednesday received an official notice of inquiry from the NCAA related to potential violations in both the basketball and football programs.  Central Florida is now feeling the heat over its association with booster Ken Caldwell, a Chicago native who has allegedly been involved in steering several basketball recruits and one football recruit to the school.  With all the shenanigans going on down there, maybe the NCAA should consider setting up a special Florida Task Force just to deal with its rampant NCAA lawlessness (and remember, Isiah is still at FIU).
  5. Some international hoops updates.  First, Team USA has rolled through its four games so far in the World University Games in Shenzhen, China, this week.  So far, the Yanks have defeated Mexico by 41 points, Hungary by 49 points, South Korea by 44 points, and most recently, Finland by 60.  The team has clinched the top seed in its group, and will play one more game against Israel before moving into the quarterfinal round on Saturday.  Five players are averaging double figures, led by Ashton Gibbs’ (Pittsburgh) 13.5 PPG, John Jenkins’ (Vanderbilt) 13.0 PPG, and JaMychal Green’s (Alabama) 12.3 PPG.  The team is shooting a very nice 51% from the field and 42% from three while holding its opponents to an icy 36% overall and 22% from outside the arc.  Impressive.  One other quick international note is that Rice junior Arsalam Kazemi will not be able to play for his native Iran in the upcoming FIBA Asia Championships in September because he’d have to miss two much coursework.
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World University Games Featuring Many Returning Stars Tips Off Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on August 11th, 2011

The second major international basketball event of the summer involving collegians is set to tip off on Saturday, and Team USA appears that it will take a heavily perimeter-oriented team into the World University Games in Shenzhen, China.  Of the twelve-man roster of mostly rising juniors and seniors, the Yanks appear to be at a serious size disadvantage with only Greg Mangano (Yale) standing at 6’10″ and the beefy but 6’8″-ish forwards Tim Abromaitis (Notre Dame), Trevor Mbakwe (Minnesota), JaMychal Green (Alabama) and Draymond Green (Michigan State) likely to be giving up several inches against many of their opponents.

As discussed when the tryout roster was released in June, the WUG hasn’t been kind to Team USA over the last decade of competition.  Only the 2005 team featuring Duke’s Shelden Williams brought home the gold medal, and even a 2009 team that had the pending NPOY Evan Turner on its squad could only merit a bronze.  Apologies to Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh) and Abromaitis, but it’s unlikely there’s a 2011-12 NPOY hiding on this roster, which means that Matt Painter‘s team will need to take advantage of his cadre of three-point bombers that he has at his disposal.  Gibbs, Abromaitis, Marcus Denmon (Missouri), John Jenkins (Vanderbilt), Darius Miller (Kentucky), and Orlando Johnson (UC Santa Barbara) all made better than 40% from distance last season.

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Morning Five: 06.07.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on June 7th, 2011

  1. Amir Garrett has a wonderful decision to make. What would you do if you possessed the sort of basketball skills that allowed you to make recruiters’ top 100 lists and eventually play for a school like St. John’s…but basketball wasn’t even your best sport? Garrett also has a fastball that registers in the mid-to-high 90 MPH range despite playing at a prep school that doesn’t have a baseball team. And he’s a lefty. Which way’s he leaning? SI.com’s venerable (even though he’s young) Luke Winn has all the info you need.
  2. Speaking of tough decisions…Cole Finnegan is a 16-year old Golden, Colorado youngster who plays on his high school’s golf and basketball teams. On Friday he was playing in a tournament at a local course and hit a hole-in-one, which won him a new Subaru Legend, a car that carries a $23,000 price tag. Sounds like a dream for any American kid of driving age, eh? So why is the car still at the dealership? It seems Cole has dreams of a basketball scholarship, and if he takes the car, he might give up his amateur standing and be ruled ineligible by the NCAA. The Colorado High School Activities Association (analagous to the NCAA, as you likely surmised) says he can play high school sports because it considers his ace an act more representative of luck rather than skill. The Finnegans now await word from the NCAA.
  3. The World University Games will be held in Shenzhen, China in late August and Pittsburgh’s Ashton Gibbs has been invited to try out for the USA squad. This is not just notable because any team would do well to equip itself thusly, but it means Gibbs could find a mate for his first gold medal. He won that one two years ago on the USA U19 team that went 9-0 at the FIBA World Championships in New Zealand. Supposed to be a fun town, Shenzhen…right by Hong Kong…wonder who we have to call for credentials?
  4. Before we read Mike DeCourcy’s article about new Penn State head coach Patrick Chambers, we had no idea about what made the former Boston U. man decide to get into coaching full-time. Seriously? Someone ramming shards of glass into his neck? That would certainly make us take stock of our lives. Remember, Chambers took BU to a CBI and an NCAA appearance in his only two seasons there, so who knows? If he wins sooner than expected, he’ll put himself on the list of “next big thing” candidates which has maybe two members right now, and he’ll make AD Tim Curley look like a freakin’ genius.
  5. We’re certain Purdue fans everywhere saw this on Monday, but we’re going to post a copy of it here anyway. We are always glad to hear anything positive that happens in Robbie Hummel’s world. To the superstitious out there: if something bad happens – it just can’t, right? – we’re taking no calls…

 

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Morning Five: 01.21.10 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on January 21st, 2011

  1. Syracuse and Villanova are making a habit of this, as the two schools will team up for another blockbuster game on Saturday in the Carrier Dome where more than 34,000 fans will be expected in attendance.  Last year’s game between the two drew 34,616 total fans and SU has put in more seating this year in an effort to break the record for an on-campus game again.  As for the actual game itself, Syracuse’s star forward Kris Joseph practiced on Thursday and is showing signs that he will be ready to play on Saturday.
  2. Speaking of Jay Wright’s team, former everywhere coach Larry Brown made a visit to Villanova’s practice on Thursday to get his “basketball fix” and enjoyed the experience.  The 70-year old former NCAA (Kansas) and NBA (Detroit) champion said that he hopes to coach again, and with his track record he’ll probably get some looks.  We’d like to see him take up residence at some mid-major somewhere in much the same way that Bobby Cremins (Charleston) and Steve Fisher (San Diego State) have done.
  3. USA Basketball selected its coaching staff for next summer’s World University Games (21 years old and under), and the group has a distinctly Indiana feel.  Not necessarily Hoosiers, though, more like Boiler Up…  The Head coach will be Purdue’s Matt Painter, while his assistants will be former Boilermaker and current Missouri State head coach Cuonzo Martin with Butler’s Brad Stevens thrown in for good measure.  For what it’s worth, the 2009 team coached by Wisconsin’s Bo Ryan finished in third place with a starting lineup of Nic Wise, Trevor Booker, Corey Fisher, James Anderson and Craig Brackins.
  4. Wednesday night a horrid out-of-bounds call by the officials gave Purdue the basketball back against Penn State, ultimately leading to a game-winning jumper by JaJuan Johnson with three seconds left.  As a proximate cause of that incident, the NCAA’s Officials Coordinator on Thursday said that he would consider allowing officials to go to the replay within the last minute on iffy situations such as those.  Generally, we’re anti-replay in non-game-ending cases but possession is incredibly important for obvious reasons exhibited in that game.  It literally changed the outcome of that game.  We think it’s certainly worth a look as an experimental rule next season.
  5. Xavier will honor former Musketeer All-American and NBA star Brian Grant on Saturday at halftime of its game against Temple by retiring his number 33.  Grant was an absolute beast at XU, leading the Muskies in rebounding all four seasons he was there (yes, lottery picks actually stuck around that long back then) before becoming an integral piece on some excellent teams in the NBA at Portland and Miami.  He recently revealed that he has early-onset Parkinson’s Disease (the same disease that Michael J. Fox has) and has used his fame and wealth to bring attention to the illness through his Brian Grant Foundation.  Good work, Xavier.
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