Wow. It’s today already. Seems like the season just started and all of a sudden the conference tournament is ready to tip off. We’ll have complete coverage of the Pac-12 Tournament from courtside at the MGM Garden Arena beginning today, but in the meantime, let’s make a quick swing around some of the teams that tip off tournament play today. For Oregon State, it has been a disappointing season, what with a tenth-place finish in the conference. But, the Beavers aren’t done fighting yet and they’re putting on a pretty good show of thinking that they’ve got a chance to make some noise this week. Head coach Craig Robinson goes so far as to say that they’re just “a few turnovers and a few foul shots away from being third in the conference.” There’s more to it than that, but the fact is, of their 10 conference losses, six of them have been by two possessions or less. And with a boatload of talent on the roster, there’s certainly a case to be made for the Beavers as the sleeper team this week.
For Oregon State to live up to those lofty possibilities, they’ll have to begin the Pac-12 Tournament by knocking off in-state rival Oregon in what will be the first time these two programs have met up in the now 17 years of history of this conference’s post-season tournament. In fact, while the Ducks and the Beavers hold the record for the most-played series in NCAA men’s basketball history, this will be the first time these two have ever met in any postseason event.
Utah is another team in need of a big showing the Pac-12 Tournament in order to sniff the type of postseason tournament they’re aiming for. While there remains an outside chance that the Utes could finagle an invite by simply advancing to the Pac-12 Championship game, most in the know see them as a team that needs to earn an automatic bid in order to go dancing. And, if they’re going to do that, according to Tony Jones of The Salt Lake Tribune, they’re going to need to lean on their stars – Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge – to carry them. The two leading scorers and rebounders and the team’s unquestioned leaders, they’ve both been strong in their two-game split with first-round opponent Washington thus far. Loveridge has averaged 13 points and 10 boards on 60% shooting, while Wright averaged 23 points, 7.5 boards, three assists and a 67.3 eFG% in their two games against the Huskies.
Our regular season pick’em over here at the Pac-12 microsite is complete, and Connor took home the title with a record of 40-8. Drew finished second at 35-13, with Adam in third at a 33-15 clip. Now comes the fun stuff. Each of us have submitted brackets for the Pac-12 Tournament, and the winner will take our microsite’s automatic bid into the Rush the Court NCAA Tournament Pick’Em. Just kidding, there’s no such thing. But there should be. Each correct first round pick will receive one point, each correct quarterfinal pick will receive two, and so on and so forth. To reference the bracket, click here.
First Round – Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford
Quarterfinals – Arizona, Colorado, Oregon, Arizona State
Semifinals – Arizona, Oregon
Championship – Arizona
First Round – Utah, Colorado, Oregon, Stanford
Quarterfinals – Arizona, California, UCLA, Arizona State
Semifinals: Arizona, Arizona State
First Round – Utah, Colorado, Oregon State, Stanford
Quarterfinals: Arizona, Colorado, UCLA, Stanford
Semifinals: Arizona, UCLA
5. Some quick analysis on the above picks: everybody has a difference championship game, but all three of our prognosticators have Arizona as one of the contestants in that game. Connor and Adam are picking the chalk in the opening round today, while Drew is going out on a limb with Oregon State extending the reign of Coach Rob. In the three quarterfinal games not featuring Arizona, Colorado, UCLA and Arizona State are the three favorites according to our panel.
This Weekend’s Lede. It started somewhat unceremoniously with a nondescript game between Air Force and Army in something called the All-Military Classic in Lexington, Virginia. But after seven long months of quiet, the early afternoon tip between two of the military academies in a tiny gym on the campus of VMI represented the reappearance of the sport we call college basketball. For years we’ve clamored for an Opening Night with the appropriate pomp and fanfare that the game deserves upon its November arrival, and with the excitement around social media and the number of good games available on the various networks, we’re getting there. Some 225 other games involving D-I teams came throughout the weekend, and even though there were no aircraft carrier games scattered about the land, there was still plenty to get juiced about.
Your Watercooler Moment. The Triumphant Return of Joshua Smith.
Joshua Smith Showed Off His Dominant Post Game in the Armed Forces Classic
Approximately one year ago, the last time any of us saw Joshua Smith, we were subjected to this embarrassing crime against basketball. After a transfer year when he traveled cross-country to Georgetown and received a waiver from the NCAA to play immediately, it was hard to say what to expect this time around. We’ve always known that the 6’10″, 300+ pound center has soft hands, quick feet that belie his size and great touch around the basket, but his weight, and correspondingly, his stamina, have remained problematic. He simply couldn’t stay on the floor at UCLA, averaging only 19.3 minutes per game in a little over two seasons. But on Friday, for at least one night, Smith appeared to be a different player. Although Georgetown lost the Armed Forces Classic game to Oregon, the burly center logged 27 fruitful minutes, shot 10-of-13 from the field, and looked downright unstoppable inside on his way to 25 points. The Hoyas wouldn’t have been within 15 points of the Ducks were it not for Smith’s production, and it begs the question: Has the change of scenery allowed Smith to turn the corner in his development? If so, and what we saw this weekend is any indication, Georgetown has found itself with one of the most talented big men in the nation.
Sights & Sounds. Plenty of great stuff from Friday night, so check out the separate post we put together on Saturday to store it all. The top dunks, buzzer-beaters and some other notable videos and images are all over there, but we saved the best buzzer-beater of the weekend for here. Dayton was down two points as IPFW looked to inbound the ball to ice the big road upset. Then, this happened…
Brutal. And in case you’re too lazy to click through, here’s the best dunk of the weekend for good measure. Michael Qualls!
Top Storyline. Four Freshman Phenoms. We’ve been talking about them all offseason, and the debuts of some of the nation’s top rookies was everything we had hoped it would be. On Friday night, Kentucky’s Julius Randle, Duke’s Jabari Parker and Kansas’ Andrew Wiggins were all playing at the same time, and none disappointed. In a dominant win over Davidson, Parker went for 22/6 on 8-of-10 shooting from the floor that included a silky-smooth 3-of-3 from deep. Randle did Parker one better with a 23/15 performance against UNC-Asheville that included an impressive 11-of-13 from the foul line. He followed that up with another 22/14/3 assts against Northern Kentucky on Sunday, becoming the first freshman to go for consecutive double-doubles in his first two collegiate games since Michael Beasley pulled the trick six years ago. Wiggins didn’t have a dominant performance in Kansas’ win over Louisiana-Monroe, tallying 16/3/3 stls in 34 minutes of action. The trio will all be on display tomorrow night at the Champions Classic, and so far, so good. We also shouldn’t forget Arizona’s star freshman, Aaron Gordon, who put up a 13/10/4 blks double-double himself in the Wildcats’ win over Cal Poly.
Four More Weekend Storylines.
These Games Are Foul. Well, some of them are, at least. There was an awful lot of preseason discussion given to the new hand-checking rules and how coaches, players and officials would have to adjust on the fly. Results have been mixed. One team that many pundits thought would be most impacted, Louisville, only had 14 total fouls in a 62-possession game against Charleston. On the other hand, a Seton Hall-Niagara game on Saturday resulted in a dreadful 73 fouls in an 81-possession game. In fact, there were more free throw attempts (102) than field goal attempts (101) in that game, which two hours and 28 minutes to complete. A total of 24 teams were called for 30 or more fouls over the weekend, while 18 were called for fewer than 15. The national average last season was 17.7 fouls per team per game (or 35.4 fouls per game), so this is definitely a trend worth watching.
ACC Darling Boston College Struggling. BC was a chic pick to make some noise in the ACC this season, and certainly there’s a lot of time left for the Eagles to get things going. But two losses over the weekend revealed that the same issues that Steve Donahue’s team had last season haven’t been solved. They still can’t guard anybody. In losses against Providence and Massachusetts, Boston College gave up 1.04 and 1.20 points per possession, respectively, and an average of 84 points per game. Furthermore, Bryce Cotton (28 points) and Cady Lalanne (27 points) lit their defense up, getting the shots they wanted whenever they wanted. Last season the Eagles finished 192nd in the country in adjusted defensive efficiency; if they don’t figure out a way to limit easy looks from the opposition, they’ll be staring another .500 season in the face not matter how good their offense becomes.
Mr. Robinson May Need a New Neighborhood. It was no secret that Oregon State head coach Craig Robinson came into this season on the hot seat. After yet another embarrassing home loss to a low-major team Sunday night, he may want to go ahead and start picking out his moving company. MEAC teams were 1-89 in the last two seasons against power conference schools (the one victory was Norfolk State over Missouri in the 2012 NCAA Tournament), and they were 0-5 so far this season. That is, until Coppin State went into Oregon State’s Gill Coliseum and used its athleticism and timely three-point shooting to lead for much of the game before walking out with a Pac-12 scalp. Robinson has had a history of these types of awful home losses, and adding another one to his resume surely doesn’t help things for him in Corvallis.
Other Weekend Upsets. Virginia Tech and Miami (FL) suffered tough home losses over the weekend (to USC Upstate and St. Francis (NY), respectively), but both of those programs were expected to be rebuilding this season. The biggest upset of the weekend instead had to have been Kansas State’s shocking home loss to Northern Colorado on Friday night. The jokes about Bruce Weber losing with some of his own players started in earnest immediately after the game, but it was two holdovers from last season’s Big 12 co-champions in Shane Southwell and Will Spradling who were largely responsible for this one. The duo combined to shoot a miserable 4-of-22 from the field and 2-of-12 from behind the arc.
Your Weekend All-Americans.
Julius Randle, Kentucky (NPOY). Consecutive double-doubles to start a collegiate career for the first time since Michael Beasley did it in 2007-08 makes this an easy choice. Through three days of action, he’s the NPOY.
Jabari Parker, Duke. Parker didn’t board like Randle but he scored more efficiently, missing only two shots in his debut.
Joshua Smith, Georgetown. As mentioned above, Smith’s 25/4 on 10-of-13 shooting was his best game in nearly two years.
TJ Warren, NC State. Warren went off for 27/8/3 assts as the Wolfpack beat Appalachian State to start a season of very low expectations.
Adam Butler of Pachoops.com (@pachoopsab) joins us as a guest columnist for the second straight year. He took in the Pac-12 Media Day on Thursday.
Pac-12 Coaches Got Their Media Day On Yesterday (credit: P12)
Despite being picked to finish last, Ken Bone did not seem too concerned. He was, however, concerned about his team’s inability to close games last year and he wore a portion of that blame; letting us all know that his team’s lack of composure down the stretch lay partially on his shoulders. Though some of it could be tossed up to luck, for which we consult KenPom. The Cougars were the 345 luckiest team in the country last year. For context, that means there were only two other teams that were less lucky. And to contextualize quantified luck, it’s to say that their actual success (or lack thereof) was below their predicted success and therefore: unlucky. They lost the close ones and the thought is that this trend would normalize and the Cougars wouldn’t, say, finish last. With that and mind, and the return of DaVonte Lacy and Royce Woolridge, Bone thinks he might have something a little better than the cellar cooking.
Craig Robinson jumped right in to things by telling us about how much more frontcourt depth he’s going to have. He did mention the other guy on stage with him, Roberto Nelson (18/3/2), then dove right into the return of Angust Brandt and Daniel Gomis, a player who’s been on campus for three years with nary a game played. CRob was re-introducing us to more than 13 additional feet of frontcourt to be added to Eric Moreland (more later), Devon Collier, and Olaf Schaftenaar. Big Beavers. So on to Moreland. According to Robinson, he’s irreplaceable; which makes it really difficult when he’s suspended for the season’s first 14 games. So how do you replace the irreplaceable? Well you put a positive twist on it, elevate the roles of a few peripheral guys and say, “What I think is going to happen is we’re going to have more tools in our toolkit to use once Eric does come back.” I liked that and I also liked that, when asked about impact newcomers to the Pac-12, Robinson didn’t bother (much) on Aaron Gordon or Jabari Bird. He told us about his new guys: Cheikh N’diaye, Malcolm Duvivier, and Hallice Cooke. Good for you, coach.
His first year in Utah was “survival.” He’d brought in something like 12-if-not-more newcomers and he just needed to survive. That year the Utes were in the conversation for worst High Major team of all time. Like I said, Larry Krystkowiak called it survival. And then there was last year and now we find ourselves here. Drake might call it starting from the bottom but I won’t soon put the Utes at the top (which is what I assume Drake implies through his lyrics and that he’s not a middling Pac-12 team). “I think that playing hard is a talent,” Larry K said. And it was that level of talent he’s had to rely on. But now he’s starting to see an influx. His culture hasn’t changed but there may be “a few more stars behind their name.” Insinuating that K thinks he just might have a slightly more talented squad and some higher expectations for where his team could go. And if nothing else, he claims to have a deep squad. Something he’ll use to exploit their distinct altitude advantage. That high up he wants to run people out of the gym with their depth and altitude aptitude. And if nothing else, he can rely on all-freshman performer Jordan Loveridge for survival. A young man K has asked to be a leader, “[Coach Krystkowiak] challenged me to lead more verbally.” We know the Utes are high up, but are they up for the challenge?
The drumbeat of pay-for-play continues echoing through the chambers of college athletics. The latest and greatest: Jay Bilas tweeted out an article last night called “Money Madness: Why and How NCAA Athletes Should Be Paid” from Duke Political Review, a piece that probably wouldn’t have otherwise been seen by anyone beyond a small group of policy wonks. Zach Gorwitz argues that the free market should allow for college football and basketball programs to pay its players a reasonable salary beyond the cost of a full scholarship — he suggests $10,000 to $60,000 for football players, as an example — limited by an NCAA-wide salary cap and organized through negotiations with a players’ union. It’s an interesting idea, for sure, if for no other reason than it provides specific ideas beyond the “they should be paid without consideration of cost” crowd. Expect more. This is only just beginning. Meet Jeff Kessler.
Wake Forest is one of the forgotten schools in the new-look ACC. Aside from a single Orange Bowl trip in 2008, the Deacs are not a regular football power like Clemson or Florida State; nor are they a basketball power like Duke or North Carolina (or Syracuse; or Pittsburgh; etc.). Since a brief but halcyon stretch in early 2009 when Wake hit #1 in both major basketball polls, it’s been mostly downhill on both the hardwood and gridiron ever since. The football team hasn’t had a winning season in five years and the hoops program has reached a level of moribundity under fourth-year head coach Jeff Bzdelik that it hasn’t seen in nearly three decades. As such, Wake alumni and fans are none too happy with their athletic director, Ron Wellman. After sowing their oats with an anti-Bzdelik billboard/publicity stunt at last year’s ACC Tournament, they are now planning to attack this coming weekend with a an aerial banner assault circling over the school’s football stadium during a game with NC State. The details, should you choose to consider them, are posted on a public Google Doc that was sent to us by a concerned Twitter follower. Best of luck with your endeavor, Wake fans. You are a forlorn lot.
As we mentioned on the national site, Oregon State’s Craig Robinson announced suspensions on Tuesday for two of his most prominent returnees, Eric Moreland and Devon Collier. For unspecified internal reasons, Moreland will sit out half of the team’s regular season games (14), while Collier will only miss one. The two forwards represent the bulk of the Beavers’ returning frontcourt this season (with both players averaging more than 25.0 MPG), and thus their benchings is quite the gamble for a head coach who might be on the hottest seat in all of major D-I college basketball. Moreland in particular is an elite rebounding presence, ranking fifth in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage last season (27.5%) and more than holding his own on the offensive window (10.5%). Luckily for Robinson, he expects to have both back at full strength in time for the bulk of the Pac-12 season in early January, and the non-conference schedule other than a trip to Maryland and a mediocre field at the Diamond Head Classic does not appear terribly daunting.
One of the players that Robinson had hoped to have returning this season was former guard Ahmad Starks, a 5’9″ whirlwind of a player who took care of the ball, made free throws, and knocked down long-range shots for the Beavers. The Chicago native headed back east in May to play at a school closer to his ailing grandmother, hoping that the NCAA’s transfer exception would allow him to play immediately at his new, closer destination. He ultimately decided to play for John Groce at Illinois but, according to ESPN’s Andy Katz, the NCAA on Tuesday denied his waiver, citing the distance in mileage from Champaign to Chicago (roughly 135 miles) as too far to justify the exemption. It’s been somewhat rare for the NCAA to deny these waiver requests, so this is a peculiar turn of events given that Starks is realistically only a couple-hour drive away from his grandmother. Katz cited a “100-mile” standard that perhaps signals that the NCAA is going to use for future adjudications of these decisions, which although an arbitrary distance, would still create some much-needed clarity to the rule. Let’s see if they stick to it in future iterations of this decision. Tough break for Illinois too, seeking to replace much of its backcourt this season after the losses of Brandon Paul and DJ Richardson.
Although we still find preseason material to be a bit too early for prime time on this early October date, that hasn’t stopped the college hoops writing cabal from putting in some work. We’ll mention some of the more interesting items as we get closer to the traditional time for Midnight Madness in a couple of weeks, but here are a couple of things you should see now. First, The Dagger‘s Jeff Eisenberg released his preseason Top 25 yesterday, with his top five, in order: Kentucky, Louisville, Duke, Michigan State, and Kansas. For each team he lists both their best-case and worst-case scenarios, and by our count, he lists those five teams as the group with enough upside to win the national title. Over at Sporting News, Mike DeCourcy lists seven key players who have something to prove this season. As always, the dreaded slideshow format is mitigated by strong writing and analysis by the longtime hoops scribe. Give both a look.
Last year’s Armed Forces Classic between Connecticut and Michigan State on an air base in Germany may not have brought the same razzle-dazzle that the original aircraft carrier game in 2011 did, but it was easily the most compelling opening night game last season for any number of reasons. The weird midnight local time tip, the aircraft hangar setting, the wild military crowd in attendance, Kevin Ollie’s first game as a head coach, the start of UConn’s “lost season,” a Jim Calhoun appearance, and yeah, even a pretty good game. Next year’s event seeks to do us one better, as Andy Katz reportedon Tuesday that the 2013 version will be held at US Army base Camp Humphreys in Pyeongtaek, South Korea, resulting in the first college basketball game to be played in Asia since Ralph Sampson’s Virginia group was about to lose to Chaminade. The participants will be Georgetown and Oregon, with both teams expected to be good next season and hoping to get an early non-conference quality win. Georgetown certainly hopes this trip goes a little better than the last time it visited Asia, while Oregon’s representation continues the Pac-12′s ongoing push to marketing its products on to the other side of the Pacific Rim. We can’t wait.
Speaking of Pac-12 schools in the Beaver State, Oregon’s rival could be coming apart at the seams. Already on the hot seat for a middling 77-88 (31-59 P12) record in five years in Corvallis, Craig Robinson was hoping to have his most talented and experienced team returning intact next season. With the news released on Tuesday that starting frontcourt mates Devon Collier (13/6) and Eric Moreland (9/10) were suspended indefinitely for undisclosed team violations, there is valid reason for concern that the Beavers are facing a meltdown 2013-14 campaign. The good news is that the pair will be allowed to continue their strength and conditioning training as well as summer workouts, so perhaps these suspensions are merely of the ‘send a message’ variety. There’s one thing we can bank on, though. If Robinson doesn’t have Collier and Moreland at his disposal next season, he’d best polish off that financial services resume for a pending move back east.
How about some better news? The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fameannounced its Class of 2013 earlier this week, and the names include some of the all-time greats in our sport. The headliners are 1968 NPOY Elvin Hayes (Houston) and 1975 NPOY Marques Johnson (UCLA), along with six-time NCOY Gene Keady (Purdue) and Villanova national championship head coach Rollie Massimino. Wichita State superstar Xavier “X-Man” McDaniel was also selected, in addition to Tom McMillen (Maryland), Bob Hopkins (Grambling), and a unique team inclusion: the entire 1963 Loyola (Chicago) national champions. That team was notable in that it started four black players on its title team, some three years before the more-ballyhooed Texas Western squad won its Brown vs. Board of Education game against all-white Kentucky. Former Washington State and USC head coach and Nike representative George Raveling was also chosen to the Hall for his work with the shoe company (a “contributor,” they call it). The ceremony will occur as part of the CBE Classic in Kansas City on the Sunday before Thanksgiving. A deserving group.
Among the latte-sipping class, you’ve pretty much arrived if you’re mentioned in The Economist. The high-brow publication from the United Kingdom has long been considered one of the most cogent analytical voices on international economic matters in the world, and particularly so among US policy-makers and business leaders. Rarely do sports, especially college sports, find space on the magazine’s pages, but last week the rest of the world was introduced to Ed O’Bannon and his lawsuit against the NCAA. Many people reading this kind of material are likely clueless about the history and importance of the NCAA, but the tone of the piece again shows how, as a matter of public perception, the organization has already lost the coasts. People all across America still love college sports — the eastern and western edges of the continent included — but the growing consensus among the educated and wealthy concentrated in those areas is that the NCAA is exploiting 18-22 year olds for its unjust enrichment. The O’Bannon case has a long way to go still, but don’t think that the judge and principals involved didn’t notice The Economist’s wandering eye.
Every once in a while Deadspin comes up with some sort of analysis that doesn’t involve genitalia jokes or athletes (and their wives, sorry, WAGs) doing dumb things on Twitter. Last week Patrick Burns wrote up a comprehensive analysis of watching an entire year (2012) of the 11 PM ESPN Sportscenter to see which sports, teams and personalities received the most coverage. There were no surprises at the top of the list, of course, with the NFL (23.3% of all available minutes) and NBA (19.2%) in dominant positions, followed by MLB (16.8%) and college football (7.7%). But perhaps surprisingly given how pigskin drives all the money-making decisions at the school and conference level, Sportscenter spent nearly as much time talking about college hoops (6.8%) as it did on the gridiron. The most talked-about team, as you can imagine that year, was Kentucky (0.9% of all minutes). True, Sportscenter is but a single proxy for the importance of American sports culture, but it’s an important one nonetheless.
In what turned out to be a rough Tuesday in terms of college basketball-related news, a federal grand jury in Alabama unsealed an indictment that alleges former Auburn guard Varez Ward of attempting to throw a game against Arkansas in the 2011-12 season. Ward, a junior at the time, is accused of two counts of sports bribery (or more commonly known as point-shaving) where he allegedly conspired with gamblers and tried to solicit other players to throw the game. (fullindictment here) Ward only played 19 seconds in that contest against the Hawgs, suffering a thigh bruise very early that kept him on the bench for the rest of the game in an eventual three-point loss. Last year the FBI said that it was also looking into a February 2012 game against Alabama where Ward scored three points and committed six turnovers, but that game was not referred to in yesterday’s indictment. According to this report from last year, Ward was suspended by Auburn assistant coaches in late February after another player blew the whistle on him; another teammate originally under suspicion was later cleared. Ward never suited up for Auburn again, but he may very well be wearing the orange (jumpsuit) full-time if these charges stick. He faces five years in prison on each count. We’re not going to get preachy on this issue, but we will refer back to one of the first articles we ever wrote on this here website: This sort of thing happens a lot more than anyone cares to admit.
Meanwhile, more discouraging news from the great state of Alabama came out on Tuesday as Crimson Tide forward Devonta Pollard was charged by local authorities with conspiracy to commit kidnapping related to an April 30 abduction of a six-year old girl named Jashayla Hopson. The details are somewhat murky at this point, but it appears that Pollard may have been assisting his mother, Jessie Mae Pollard, in antagonizing the youngster’s mother who was caught up in a land dispute with her. But this is no trumped-up charge where someone was held against their will for a minute or two — if the allegations are true, Hopson was picked up at her elementary school and held for a full day before being dropped off on the side of a road unharmed. Pollard, his mother, and four others have been charged so far in this crime, with at least one other still pending. What a crazy world we live in.
Ohio State president Gordon Gee has had himself quite a week, as reports of his insensitive comments made in December about Catholics, SEC schools, and Louisville have been making the rounds. The “pompous ass,” according to Cardinals’ head coach Rick Pitino, announced Tuesday that he is taking his volatile opinions into the sunset, choosing to retire from his post effective July 1. Gee says that he made his decision last week during a vacation, feeling that he needed time to “re-energize and re-focus.” Whether he was encouraged to retire or came to the decision on his own volition, the 69-year old president certainly has a fund-raising and bottom line resume that is unmatched within the industry, so if he chooses to continue his work elsewhere, we doubt he’ll have much trouble finding a place to land. He may not want to send any resumes out to Notre Dame, Louisville or any of those SEC schools, though.
How about some better news? One of the problems with the John R. Wooden Classic played every December in Anaheim was that the stature of the lineup often didn’t seem to fit the stature of the name headlining the event. Naturally, UCLA was almost always involved, but usually the three other teams invited were a mixture of solid mid-majors (i.e., St. Mary’s, San Diego State) and some other mid-level programs (i.e., USC, Washington, Texas A&M). It was also just for one day, and it often fell during a period in the college basketball calendar in early to mid-December when viewers were getting much better match-ups during the same period (think: UNC-Kentucky or Kansas-Ohio State). The decision announced Tuesday to rebrand the event as the John Wooden Legacy and merge it with the Anaheim Classic during Thanksgiving weekend is a good one. Although the 2013 field is not great, featuring Marquette, Creighton, San Diego State and Miami (FL) as its marquee names, the four-year cycle of exempted events and ESPN’s coverage will no doubt encourage bigger-name programs to take the trip to SoCal in future years. We’d expect this to become one of the better such events during Feast Week starting in 2014 and beyond.
Finally today, Andy Glockner at SI.comdigs deeply through the KenPom statistical buffet and gives us what he calls “the extremists” — those returning players who are the best of the best in each of a number of key statistical categories. If you can name the top returnee in the nation in shot percentage at 40 percent, more power to you (answer: Wofford’s Karl Cochran), but certainly a couple of these names are on the short list for breakout seasons next year: Oregon State’s Eric Moreland (tops in defensive rebounding percentage at 28 percent); St. John’s Chris Obepka (tops in block percentage at 16 percent); and, VCU’s Briante Weber (tops in steal percentage at 7 percent). There’s more to the article than this, of course, so check it out on a lazy summer Wednesday.
If you threw a dart at a map of the United States and it landed somewhere in the hills of Eastern Kentucky or Southwestern Virginia, then drew a circle around that location with a radius of roughly 500 miles in distance, you’d pretty much have nailed down the ‘fertile crescent’ of college basketball. With powerful and tradition-rich programs like North Carolina, Duke, NC State, Kentucky, Louisville, Indiana, Cincinnati, and Ohio State, along with other well-supported programs like Tennessee, Xavier, Dayton and Wake Forest all within that circle, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that nine of ESPN‘s top 10 rated television markets for college basketball fall within its boundaries. The top 10: Louisville, Greensboro, Raleigh/Durham, Indianapolis, Kansas City, Cincinnati, Columbus, Charlotte, Knoxville and Nashville. KC, with Kansas, Missouri, Kansas State, Creighton and Wichita State all somewhat nearby is the only outlier among this group.
You know it’s gotten out of hand if politicians are getting involved, and that appears to now be the case at Rutgers in the latest scandal enveloping the school’s athletic department. Or not getting involved. Or getting involved to say that they’re not getting involved. Whatever. New Jersey governor Chris Christie told listeners on his “Ask the Governor” radio show Tuesday night that he has no plans to intervene in the hiring of new athletic director Julie Hermann. While it’s no doubt true that Christie has much bigger fish to fry than micromanaging every hiring decision at the state university, it’s worth asking whether any senior athletic department staff is paying attention at all (certainly Christie’s political opponents are doing so). The Mike Rice situation followed by the flub with Eddie Jordan’s resume and now this debacle is highly suggestive of an environment where leadership can’t see what they don’t want to see. It’s incumbent on university president Bob Barchi to get this problem fixed, and soon.
The SEC Tournament may seek to reproduce the success that its football and baseball championships have had at permanent sites — Atlanta and Hoover, Alabama, respectively — by moving to Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena for good following the 2014 event in Atlanta’s Georgia Dome. Commissioner Mike Slive was careful to avoid saying the word “permanent,” opting instead to call Music City the “primary” site, but the point is that SEC puppet-masters feel that the relatively central geographic location and easy access for large traveling basketball fan bases such as Kentucky, Missouri, Tennessee and home team Vanderbilt would merit this (as yet unofficial) decision. Can’t say we disagree. The best conference tournaments are generally in a city that really embraces the event every year, and Nashville seems to enjoy its status as a big-time basketball stronghold during the few times it has gotten to hold the event there.
It’s not often we dig into Division II basketball on this site, but it’s also not common for there to be a formal indictment by a grand jury against a player for murder either. San Francisco State wing Decensae White – formerly of Texas Tech and Santa Clara in 2006-09 — was indicted in Georgia on Tuesday for his alleged role in gunning down a rapper named Lil Phat (nee‘ Melvin Vernell III) as he sat outside a hospital where his girlfriend underwent labor in Atlanta. White gained some degree of national notoriety for hitting a half-court game winner against Cal Poly back in February of this season, as the clip was featured on ESPN’s Sportscenter. White and four other men are due for presentment on these charges later this week.
There was one notable bit of transfer news from Tuesday, as Oregon State’s Ahmad Starkshas announced that he will spend the last year of his career at Illinois. He will apply for a family illness waiver to play immediately, as his grandmother is reported to be sick in Chicago. This is a good pickup for John Groce’s squad, as the Illini could use some experienced talent — Starks averaged 10.4 PPG and hit 62 threes last season for the Beavers — to pair in the backcourt with returnees Tracy Abrams and Joseph Bertrand as part of a three-guard set. It may not be a group as talented as last year’s Paul/Richardson/Abrams trio, but it should work well within Groce’s trey-happy system.
Sports Illustrated released its first “Bubble Watch” of the season earlier this week, and seven Pac-12 teams appear on the initial list. As expected, Arizona was the only one to be named a “lock” on the list, and the remaining teams (Colorado, UCLA, Oregon, Arizona State, California, and Washington) are listed as squarely on the bubble. The only big surprise is Washington, and while the Huskies got a nice win at California on Wednesday, this is still a team with losses to Albany, Colorado State, and Nevada, all in Seattle.
Also announced earlier this week was the news that Oregon State was added to the 2013 Diamond Head Classic field. This will be Oregon State’s third straight appearance in a made-for-ESPN tournament, following the Legends Classic in 2011 and 2K Sports Classic in 2012. The Pac-12 is no stranger to the tournament, as Arizona just made its mark on the tourney’s brief history three weeks ago. The Wildcats beat East Tennessee State and Miami (FL) in the quarters and semis before pulling out a one-point, comeback victory against San Diego State in the championship game. USC, Washington State, and Utah have been the other three Pac-12 schools to compete in the Diamond Head Classic, so add the Beavers to the growing list.
The Pac-12 had its own rush the court moment last night, courtesy of Oregon staving off a furious Arizona comeback in the final minutes of a Ducks’ four-point victory. What had been hyped all week as the game of the week inside the conference ended up making a pretty good case for itself. The Wildcats opened the contest with an 11-0 run, only to see their lead become a one-point deficit just over three minutes later. For the remainder of the next 30 minutes, the game was all Oregon. Zona would make a mini-run once in a while, but up until their 14-5 run to close the game beginning at the 4:15 mark, this one appeared to be a runaway Ducks’ victory. All was not to be, however, as Nick Johnson turned the ball over before even attempting a game-tying three with 15 seconds left.
Forty-five miles up the road, things were not nearly as cheery for Oregon State on Thursday night. Before its matchup with Arizona State, head coach Craig Robinsonsuspended both Eric Moreland and Victor Robbins indefinitely. Interestingly enough, Moreland likely would have been out for the game anyway with a strained back, but there was a possibility he wouldn’t be officially suspended for the game, so word of it didn’t drop until just before tip-off. The Beavers fell to Arizona State by 10 points, 72-62.
Oregon State Head Coach Craig Robinson sat in front of the pressroom Friday night after with a smile on his face after his team’s home opener. It was his second win of the week, he said. The first was Tuesday night, when his brother-in-law won another term as President. And while Barack Obama’s final Electoral College score of 303-206 (pending Florida’s final count) over Mitt Romney was significantly higher than the 102-83 final score that the Beavers posted on the Niagara University Purple Eagles at Gill Coliseum Friday, Robinson sympathized with the stress his brother was under. “You think about me coaching 30-something games a year, they only have two games, your first election and your second election,” Robinson said. “The pressure is immense.”
It’s Been a Good Week For Both Gentlemen (credit: NYTimes.com)
To be fair, Robinson had a scoreboard to tell him that his Beavers led this one wire-to-wire by as many as 25 points. Beaver forward Eric Moreland scored 14 points on a perfect 7-7 mark from the field and pulled down 13 boards as the Beaver’s dominated the paint on both ends of the floor. “I just let the game come to me,” Moreland said afterwards. “They’re a smaller team, so we wanted to be able to take advantage of that.” OSU pulled 52 total rebounds and scored 48 points in the paint, while limiting Niagara to just 16 points inside. Six Beavers scored in double digits, with Roberto Nelson leading all scorers with 22.
But if the lane was the Beavers’ domain, a “blue state” to continue the political metaphor, the area beyond the three-point spent much of the game as a “red state,” firmly under the control of the Niagara backcourt. The Eagles scored their first 18 points from outside, going 6-7 on three-pointers during that stretch. A Malcolm Lemmons layup off a steal with 10 minutes left in the first half was their first two-pointer of the game. By the end of the first half, the Eagles had shot nine of 16 from beyond the arc. Many of those looks were wide open as Niagara took the ball down low and drew in the defense before kicking out to a shooter like Marvin Jordan, who led the Eagles with 17 total points. “You can’t help off of a guy who’s a terrific shooter,” Robinson said. “That’s something we’re going to learn from and have to get better at.”
On the other end, the Eagles rolled out a matchup zone defense that frustrated the Beaver’s shooters early. “You guys don’t know how hard it is to play your first game of the season against somebody who plays a matchup zone,” Robinson flatly told reporters. “We kind of had to figure that out on the fly.” When they did, the Beavers spaced the floor with their post play and set up their own shooters outside, turning the “red state” their way by draining three-pointers on four consecutive possessions in a two minute stretch midway through the second half to open the lead to 25. They finished the game shooting 13 of 24 from downtown, with Ahmad Starks putting down six of them. After holding that 25-point lead for another five minutes, Robinson was able to go to his deep bench, a fact that Starks saw as a sign of a job well done for him and the other rotation players. “Everybody took care of business and we got to the century mark so [Robinson] was able to get people into the game, get some time and get the college experience.”
Robinson was pleased with his team’s performance as well. “I was really pleased with this game,” he said. “I thought our guys came out ready to play.” And with the election now over and decided, Robinson could enjoy his team’s success. “That makes this night even better.”
And away we go, headfirst into another season heralded by our 2012-13 edition of Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball, our annual compendium of YouTube clips from the previous season 100% guaranteed to make you wish games were starting tonight. We’ve captured here what we believe were the most compelling moments from last season, some of which will bring back the goosebumps and others of which will leave you shaking your head. Enjoy!
Out of the frying pan and into the fire, the NCAA’s compliance and eligibility staff sure doesn’t seem to have much of an opportunity for vacation time right now. Providence super-recruit Ricardo Ledo told GoLocalProv.com on Tuesday that he expects to have a decision in place on his eligibility sometime this week, and if you take the new college enrollee at face value, he says that he’s sticking around PC no matter what decision the NCAA makes. The site makes reference to three likely scenarios involving Ledo’s eligibility, but it doesn’t seem to contemplate what to us is the likeliest scenario: that Ledo is allowed to practice with the Friars this season but must sit out a number of regular season games as a fair punishment (think: Josh Selby). Guess we’ll find out soon enough.
We mentioned yesterday that Texas Tech head coach Billy Gillispie remains in a Lubbock hospital relating to a medical incident he experienced when his blood pressure reportedly spiked to dangerous levels last Friday. Nothing appears to have changed on that count, as Gillispie was still a patient at the facility as of Tuesday night, but with the report released by CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Goodman exposing to the world the many shenanigans that the head coach has allegedly pulled, he may as well not pass go nor collect $200 on the way back to his campus office. You really need to read the article thoroughly to understand the breadth of the problems and the climate that Gillispie has engendered there, but they range from a musical chairs of hirings, firings and player transfers, forcing players to practice for as many as eight hours a day, and making them practice or play while nursing severe injuries. We’re really trying to figure out how this guy could have been so successful at UTEP and Texas A&M if he was using these or similar coaching tactics at the time, but perhaps these recent problems are isolated manifestations of his Kentucky debacle.
The Athlon Sports College Basketball Yearbook won’t be out on news stands for another three weeks, but Rick Bozich of the Louisville Courier-Journalalready has a bead on the top three teams in this year’s publication and they have a rather lower midwestern/upper southern feel. Coming in at the top of the list is Tom Crean’s Indiana Hoosiers; moving southeast 90 miles, we run into Athlon’s #2 team, Louisville; then, moving east another 70 miles you hit their #3 team, Kentucky. It’s a solid trio, as each team will no doubt do some damage this season. Still, we have considerable trouble with the placement of a team in the preseason top five when quite literally more than 90% of its scoring is now playing in the NBA. Apparently the good folks at Athlon do not care to recall that last year’s Wildcats team returned experienced talent in Darius Miller, Terrence Jones, and Doron Lamb to join all those fabulous freshman, two of whom were better than anyone entering college basketball in 2012-13.
We’re honestly not sure why anyone outside of the punditocracy watches the snoozefest known as political conventions these days, but if you happened upon the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte last night you may have caught Michelle Obama’s brother-in-law, Oregon State’s Craig Robinson, make a quick recruiting pitch at the start of his dual speech with Barack Obama’s sister, Maya Soetoro-ng: “Any seven-footers out there, give me a call.” Obviously, the sheen of Robinson’s status as the First Bro-in-Law has worn off by now, but you never know where you might find unexpected leverage — maybe some young political-minded player out there will remember Robinson’s request in a few years and choose to make a visit to Corvallis one of his stops.
This Weekend’s Lede. This was the first full weekend of conference play, and as expected, teams that hadn’t played many legitimate road games prior to the turn of the new year found life away from home in hostile environments to be considerably tougher than lacing another game up at home. It wasn’t the best of college basketball weekends, nor was it the worst, but as we begin to settle ourselves into competition within the family for the next two months, it’s time to separate legitimacy from fraudulence through actual play on the court around the nation. Let’s jump into this weekend’s action.
Your Watercooler Moment. Kentucky Student’s Half-Court Shot Causes Kroger Controversy.
Meet Vincent Swope. No, he actually isn’t an SEC official, he just plays one when he attends Kentucky basketball games at Rupp Arena. The freshman who has turned a referee getup into his game-day trademark in UK’s eRupption Zone was selected to shoot a half-court shot worth $10,000 during Saturday’s game versus South Carolina. As you can see above, his heave from mid-court was true. According to published reports, shortly after the ball found the bottom of the net and Swope ran around the court rightfully celebrating his newfound riches, a representative from Kroger Foods, the contest sponsor, approached him suggesting that he had violated the terms of the contest by stepping over the half-court line. In the pantheon of snaky moves, Kroger’s reported attempt to screw a young student out of his winnings due to a technicality would have reached a new level of shady business dealings. Luckily, Matt Jones at Kentucky Sports Radiobecame aware of the situation and immediately mobilized his legion of Twitter followers to #occupyKroger in an anti-corporate social networking throwdown that would make Ralph Nader and Naomi Klein proud. Within an hour of the game’s finish, Kroger had caved and in fact called Jones himself to beg for his forgiveness, asking him to pass along to Swope that the company would make good on his prize. As of Sunday evening, Swope says that he hasn’t yet received the money, but we’d wager that Kroger has learned its lesson and won’t drag their feet too long on paying him. Great work from KSR/Jones in ensuring the right outcome here.
[ed. note: Kroger reached out to us, taking the stance that the company never suggested to Swope that he would not be paid for his shot. This contradicts Swope's accounting of the sequence of events to Matt Jones, but it appears that Kroger will in fact pay the freshman his winnings, which is all anyone wanted in the first place.]
Then, There Was This. Chris Mack Gives Up His Knee For a Xavier Win. In an exceptionally odd situation, Xavier head coach Chris Mack jumped in the layup line during Friday’s practice and, after dunking the ball once, ended up tearing his patellar tendon in a freakish accident trying to do it again. Andre Walker said afterward that Mack’s injury was “really weird… a freak accident,” and to that sentiment we certainly agree. First of all, props to Mack for trying just about anything to get his team off the schneid (XU had lost five of six before beating Fordham Saturday) and for still being able to dunk a basketball at the age of 42, but he probably should have wowed the players just once and left it at that! What a weird season it’s already been at Xavier.