Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On C.J. McCollum, Transfers, Cincinnati and More…Posted by Brian Otskey on January 8th, 2013
Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he will be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey
- It was such a shame to see Lehigh’s C.J. McCollum leave Saturday’s loss at VCU with a broken left foot after what appeared to be a rather innocuous drive down the lane late in the first half. McCollum, who led the nation in scoring before Saturday’s game, is expected to miss eight to 10 weeks. Given that time frame, McCollum could be back as soon as early March, hopefully in time for the Patriot League Tournament, which begins March 6, and any subsequent postseason tournament Lehigh qualifies for. The 6’3” senior guard out of Ohio had been in the midst of his best season yet for the Mountain Hawks, shooting over 50% from three point range and averaging 25.7 PPG before the injury. McCollum had already posted four 30+ point games and was ready to lead his team into a conference battle with the other Patriot League contender, Bucknell. Without him in the lineup, Brett Reed will have to look to his three other double digit scorers (Gabe Knutson, Mackey McKnight, and Holden Greiner) for even more production in an effort to get Lehigh to its third NCAA Tournament in four seasons.
- The new transfer proposal that could be approved by the NCAA this summer and implemented in time for the start of the 2014-15 season could turn college basketball into an absolute mess. The proposal says that any student-athlete who keeps a 2.6 GPA (essentially a B-minus grade) or higher would be eligible to transfer without the current one-year waiting period to another school. In my opinion, this would open up a can of worms nobody wants to see. Transfers have already gotten out of control and there is no need to further that trend. Not only would you have players moving from school to school like free agents in professional sports, you would also see coaches at mid-majors and even mediocre high majors losing their top players left and right because coaches at more successful programs can offer them playing time on a quality team. Imagine there is a rising junior on a team near the bottom of a power conference. A coach at a stronger program sees this player as an important piece to his puzzle, gets him to transfer and play immediately. Essentially, that player is a free agent and the rich get richer while the majority of programs struggle to move up in their conference because most of the good players they work on developing head to teams that are in a better position to begin with. It hurts the coaches, fans, and players of the lower level school while adding nothing to the game overall. It is a bad proposal that could ruin the sport as we know it. If it were up to me, I would eliminate hardship waivers and no penalty transfers for graduate players while requiring every player who transfers for any reason to sit out one year. That is the only way to ensure competitive balance.
- You can make a strong argument that there is no team in America playing better basketball right now than Michigan. The Wolverines are 15-0 and are beating their opponents by an average of 22.5 PPG. While Michigan doesn’t have the wins that Duke has, I can see an argument for this team at #1 over the Blue Devils. Michigan has the top offense in the country with the ideal mix of top talent and complementary players excelling in their coach’s system. John Beilein’s team is making well over 50% of its shots thanks to Trey Burke’s outstanding point guard play, Nik Stauskas’ incredible shooting, and the athleticism of Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson III. Burke is a top contender for National Player of the Year honors and Stauskas is among the contenders for freshman of the year honors thanks to his ridiculous shooting ability. Michigan isn’t all about its guards and wings though. Freshman Mitch McGary and junior Jordan Morgan do a great job in the paint leading Michigan to the nation’s top two-point field goal percentage. McGary and Morgan are the perfect complements because they keep defenses honest. By having McGary and Morgan inside, along with Burke’s ability to penetrate, Michigan draws defenders away from the perimeter allowing for plenty of wide open looks for their sharpshooters. It’s very difficult to contain this team and the best way to beat them is simply to outscore them. If Michigan wants to maintain this level of success, it must improve defensively where they aren’t bad, but they aren’t elite either. Tightening up the defense will ensure Michigan is a national title contender if it isn’t already one.
- Writing about Michigan got me thinking about just how strong and deep the Big Ten really is. This is a conference with eight of its 12 members in the KenPom top 50 rankings, something I am not sure I have ever seen before. The only truly bad teams are Nebraska and Penn State, and even they can be tough outs at home. Six Big Ten teams are ranked in the RTC Top 25 and two others (Wisconsin and Iowa) are legitimate NCAA Tournament contenders. People saw what the Hawkeyes can do in a close loss to Indiana on New Year’s Eve and you can bet they will knock off multiple top teams at Carver Hawkeye Arena this winter. The Big Ten is without a doubt the best conference in the nation and it’s not even close. The Big East has 14 of its 15 members in the KenPom top 100, but only two teams in that league are truly national title contenders. You can make an argument that at least three and possibly four Big Ten members can contend for all the marbles in Atlanta. Expect this league to put two-thirds of its membership in the NCAA Tournament two months from now.
- After starting the season 12-0 and earning a spot in the top 10 (deserved or not), Cincinnati has lost three of its last four games (all at home). What has gone wrong? Well for one Cincinnati has faced much better competition than it faced in November and early December. A last minute escape against a crumbling Alabama team should have been a red flag for most. The Bearcats can certainly play defense, but the questions about their offense continue to persist and rightfully so. Cincinnati is in the middle of the Big East pack when it comes to offensive efficiency and has scored an average of only 64.1 PPG against the top 100 teams on its schedule. Mick Cronin just doesn’t have any scoring depth after his top three players. Titus Rubles, a junior college transfer, is the fourth leading scorer on this team at just 6.9 PPG and Shaquille Thomas hasn’t turned out as well as Bearcat fans had hoped. I would be surprised if Cincinnati doesn’t go at least .500 in the Big East because it can certainly defend, but the ceiling for this team is rather low. With five of their next seven games on the road, the Bearcats need to right the ship quickly before the home stretch.
- I had felt all along that Cincinnati was overrated, never ranking them higher than 19th in any of our RTC polls to date. Which leads me to my next two topics, the teams I feel are overrated or underrated at this point in the season. We will start with three teams I think are getting too much credit so far. Arizona is 14-0 and completely deserving of a top five ranking (#6 at RTC) on the surface with a home win over Florida and neutral court wins over San Diego State and Miami. Upon further inspection, you realize how close Arizona is to being 11-3 or even 10-4 if you count the close call with Utah this past Saturday. The Wildcats had no business winning the game against Florida and it if wasn’t for the incompetence of the officials in the Colorado game, they would have lost that one too. The San Diego State game was a toss-up that could have gone either way. Given that I think San Diego State is ranked appropriately at #14 (RTC poll) and the game was on a neutral floor, I would say that Arizona is only slightly better than the Aztecs. That puts them in the #10-13 range, which seems very appropriate. The Wildcats are a very good basketball team, but they are not one of college basketball’s elite teams. Minnesota has earned an AP #8 ranking after winning 14 of its first 15 games. The Golden Gophers boast home wins over Michigan State and a solid North Dakota State squad, a road win at Florida State, as well as neutral court victories over Memphis and Stanford. Those are all solid wins, but nothing jumps off the page at you. Minnesota’s one loss was a blowout to Duke in Atlantis. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in losing to Duke but the Gophers weren’t competitive. KenPom loves Minnesota, but I’m not so sure. The Golden Gophers need to hold serve at home and win a few games against quality competition on the road before I completely buy in. Missouri checks in at #10 in this week’s AP poll. The Tigers are 11-2, but have only played six teams in the top 100 while feasting on seven games against teams near the bottom of Division I. Missouri wasn’t competitive against Louisville in Atlantis (just like Minnesota with Duke), but does have quality neutral court wins over VCU and Illinois. The Tigers will get more bad teams in SEC play, but I would like to see them do more against top competition before I reward them with a gaudy ranking. Missouri is definitely a top 25 team but a spot in the 15-20 range seems more appropriate.
- Which teams are underrated? I can’t see any teams that qualify for that designation that are currently ranked in the AP top 25 except for Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish have one loss to St. Joe’s back in November, a time when the Hawks were a borderline top 25 club. Notre Dame demolished Kentucky at home and picked up a quality road win at Cincinnati last night. The Irish offense is a juggernaut with great ball movement and an exceptional ability to limit turnovers. Notre Dame looks like the #3 team in the Big East to me. Speaking of Kentucky, I think the Wildcats are severely underrated. Sure, they have four losses and only one win of note (a squeaker over Maryland), but John Calipari’s team continues to get better. The way they fought in the second half against Louisville really impressed me and it appears they’re getting better by the day. This is not a vintage Kentucky team but it is one good enough for a top 25 ranking. I would be very surprised if the Wildcats don’t win at least 13 SEC games and contend for the league title. My third underrated team is one with two losses to top five clubs and a third that seemingly came out of nowhere. Temple is 10-3 and put a serious scare into Kansas on Sunday night at Allen Fieldhouse. The Owls have beaten Syracuse at its second home (MSG) and knocked off Villanova at the Pavilion. The loss to Canisius is puzzling, but Fran Dunphy has a team that rises to the occasion. Temple is a borderline top 25 team in my estimation and once again will be a force in the Atlantic 10.
- Even with Temple playing fairly well, the fact remains that not a single Philadelphia basketball team is currently ranked in the top 50. In fact, the six Division I metro Philadelphia teams are just 45-34 overall. Temple is the best of the bunch since St. Joe’s has faltered after a promising start. La Salle will be competitive in the A-10 but has an ugly loss to Central Connecticut on its resume. Villanova is among the bottom teams in the Big East while Drexel and Penn have been nothing short of awful. Drexel in particular has been the most disappointing. The Dragons have already lost nine games after losing a total of just seven all of last season. Samme Givens is no longer around and Chris Fouch is injured and out for the year, but there is no excuse for this team to be 5-9 with losses to the likes of Rider, Tennessee State, and Towson. Bruiser Flint’s team still has time to recover in a weak Colonial however. Penn brings up the rear at 2-11 overall, but it’s safe to say we expected more out of the best teams in the Big 5/City 6 this season. At this point, it would be a success if two of the six Philly teams make the NCAA Tournament.
- The middle of the ACC looks promising as conference play begins. Miami, Virginia, and Maryland have all found success in non-conference play and there is a major opening for one of these teams to snag a top two or three finish in the league with North Carolina being down and NC State not being what some projected it to be. Since losing its opening game to Kentucky, Maryland has been quietly rolling along at 13-1, but its best win in that stretch has been a seven-point home win over Stony Brook. Dez Wells and Alex Len have been phenomenal for Mark Turgeon and the Terrapins have a very deep and talented rotation. Maryland must take care of business at home against the bottom ACC teams and pick up a few quality wins along the way. Games against UNC, NC State, Virginia, and Miami will prove decisive. Miami boasts a quality home win over Michigan State, but its resume is rather light. Still, the Hurricanes have taken care of business for the most part. However, the loss of Reggie Johnson for most of ACC play will really hurt this team. Miami still has a nice group of players, but Johnson is a difference maker. Miami will remain competitive but it’s hard to see it challenging for a top three conference finish without its big man. Of all the middle of the pack ACC teams, I think a lot of people are really sleeping on Virginia. Tony Bennett is one of the better Xs and Os coaches in the game and has his team rolling, winners of 10 of its last 11 games since two early season losses. The one loss in between was to a bad Old Dominion team, but that was likely an aberration. Virginia did a great job slowing the game down Sunday night against North Carolina, a weapon they can use on just about any team because of how much easier it is to slow a game down. Virginia also has Joe Harris, a big guard who can shoot the ball well, one of the better players people don’t know about. With a very strong defense and better than average shooting for a Bennett team, I think Virginia is a real sleeper to finish in the top three of the ACC.
- A report late Saturday night on ESPN.com said that the “Catholic 7” Big East schools are potentially in line for a very nice payday from whatever television partner signs on with their new league. If it’s true that these schools are going to get in the neighborhood of $5 million each, one has to ask why they didn’t do this sooner, although the timing works out well because of FOX’s intention to launch a new network therefore stimulating the bidding war. These schools get only about half of that in the current setup with the Big East. Now they could get double the money without the instability of college football breathing down their collective necks. One interesting note in ESPN’s article was that the teams expected to join the league (hello Xavier, Butler, and Creighton) may not receive the same payout. Even so, their payouts in the new league would likely be far greater than what they currently receive in the A-10 and MVC. It’s ironic that the basketball-only schools in the Big East may turn out to be winners in the realignment era and schools like Cincinnati and Connecticut will be left to fend for themselves in what is essentially Conference USA II. This is a win-win for all of the Catholic 7 schools, but especially for four in particular: DePaul, Providence, Seton Hall, and St. John’s. These four schools haven’t enjoyed the success of their three brothers (Georgetown, Marquette, and Villanova) over the last decade, but will be along for the ride with a nice pay day in a new and stable league, one free from the grasp of college football’s overriding influence.