Thursday, August 28, 2014

How's College Football Playoff Selection Going To Work?


"Alright, here's how it's going to work..."
 Tonight is opening night for the college football season. Yeah, Georgia State played an FCS team yesterday, but whatever. Tonight's the night that real games start. And this is the first season with the college football "playoff", which will feature a Selection Committee, just like basketball.

A lot of college football writers out there are trying to guess at how the playoff committee will work, and how they will select teams. All in all there seems to be a lot of confusion. And certainly it will be impossible to predict how it will work before it happens. But as there's probably nobody who spends as much time as I do each year studying and understanding how college basketball's Selection Committee operates (here's what I wrote about the 2014 Selection Committee performance), I think I can shed light on a few things.

Let's start at the top, with the biggest issue:

Question: Will the committee take the four best teams?
Short Answer: No, but they'll swear that they did.

Longer Answer:
There are areas where experts in advanced analytics (e.g. sabermetrics) will disagree, but there are other areas that are not particularly controversial. Football teams punt too much, baseball teams bunt too much, and basketball teams really should foul intentionally when the game is tied, the shot clock is off, and the other team has a chance to hold for the final shot.

Another area where there is agreement is that a list of the best teams and the best resumes will not be the same. This is due to the fact that the results of close games are pretty much random chance. Over a large enough sample size, all football or basketball teams will win approximately 50% of their overtime games, so if a team has won four straight overtime games then they've been lucky more than they've been good, and their resume (or list of accomplishments) is above and beyond their actual team quality.

This position generally gets strawmanned by casual sports fans and major sportswriters as not believing that "clutch" play exists or denying that leadership matters or that great players can come up great in great moments. In reality, nobody denies that clutch play exists or that leadership matters or that big players often play at their best in the biggest moments. But the reality is that the total impact of all of those things is just too small to be seen in a sample size as tiny as a single football or basketball season. You can have the most clutch superstar on the planet and still lose four straight games on the final possession. Even in baseball, where the sample size (162 games) is much larger and a one run difference is so much more significant than a one point win in basketball or football, it's basically impossible to see an impact of clutch play on results of games. In 2012, the Baltimore Orioles set a major league record by going 29-9 in 1-run games, and with nearly the identical team the next season they went 20-31. The sample size of 162 games was just too small to draw any meaningful conclusions.

So, with that in mind, we can ask whether the playoff spots should go to the best teams or the teams that have accomplished the most. And I think the answer is that it should be the latter. In the end, even if a game that comes down to the final play is a random coin flip, we want that coin flip to matter. We want to care who wins. That's what makes sports exciting.

And that's what the basketball Selection Committee has always done. They reward the best resumes, rather than the best teams. And that's what we should expect the football version of the committee to do as well.

But here's the catch: The people on the committee do not understand anything I just said.

Confused? Read this twitter conversation I had with David Worlock back in March (start from the top of the page to get the whole discussion). Worlock is the NCAA's Director of Media Coordination. He handles the Mock Selection Committee with the media every year, and is basically as knowledgeable about what goes on in that room as anybody. Yet when I asked him about the topic of best teams or best resumes he responded to me as if I'd asked him which teams had been abducted by aliens:

Now what I said was not at all controversial to anybody who follows the Vegas lines or computer ratings. Utah would have been favored against UMass on a neutral court, as would Tennessee over Iowa State. Yet Worlock could not comprehend this concept. A concept that is absolutely standard in Las Vegas casinos was so foreign to him that it seemed literal insanity. UMass had a better resume than Utah, so therefore they were "better". That is how most of the media and most sports fans view the world as well.

So, when the college football Selection Committee members are interviewed on television, they will tell us (as the basketball committee head does) that they picked the best teams. They will swear up and down that they did. And some angry fans on the internet will point out that their team is rated higher in the Vegas computers than a different team that got into the playoffs. And everybody will scream right past each other because nobody will be speaking the same language.

The four best teams will not be the four best teams selected. Just accept it, and move on. It's for the best.

"No, seriously, UMass is better than Utah. I have no idea what you're talking about."

Question: What official criteria will be used to select the best teams?
Short Answer: Nobody has a goddamn clue

Longer Answer: Now that we've established that the Selection Committee is going to pick the best resumes rather than the best teams, the obvious follow up question is how do you pick the best resumes? And unfortunately, though rather unsurprisingly, nobody can give a straight answer. See this article by Kevin Trahan on some of the mixed messages from the committee itself.

In short, they want to take into account won-loss records, strength of schedule, conference records, conference title game results, head-to-head results, record vs common opponents.... unaware, of course, that all of these things would create different lists of the four top teams. And of course, choosing any of these metrics would divert from choosing the four best teams, which they also say they're going to do. And that doesn't even get into specifics like which strength of schedule metric you want to use, since there are many different choices. And there are plenty of other arbitrary metrics ("Top 25 wins", for example) that will be in play as well. And we haven't even started with conference politics (e.g. Will we allow two SEC teams in? Could we reject the entire SEC one season? Can we deny the Big Ten two straight seasons?). In short, nobody has a goddamn clue.

In the end, while the system is going to be a mish-mash, I expect that there will be pretty high agreement, and that agreement will be very close to the polls. When the human brain is bombarded with too much information, it simplifies that information and searches for the evidence it needs to come to the conclusions it wants.

In the end, if four teams are clear above the rest in the Top 25 polls, expect those four teams to be selected. If spots #4 and #5 are really close in the Top 25 polls, then we could certainly see the Selection Committee disagree with the pollsters. But while there might be some early season disagreements between the pollsters and the committee members, I'd be stunned if the Selection Committee goes far outside the box.

As we've seen over and over again in sports, and also outside the world of sports, big institutions are sensitive to the demands of their consumers. Sports fans come to expect things to be done a certain way, and there will be tremendous pressure on the playoff committee to bend to that will. To use the college basketball analogy, if Tennessee had been seeded higher than Iowa State (even though Tennessee was the higher rated team in basically all of the computers ratings) there would have been literal riots. Literally, cars would have been set on fire in Ames, Iowa. Nobody wants to go against the grain that much.


Question: Will we be able to predict the four teams selected prior to the official announcement? If so, how?
Short Answer: Basically. Look at the polls.

Longer Answer: Once we understand that the Selection Committee is going to be looking at the same mish-mash of information as the pollsters, we understand that the selection process will mirror very closely the polling process.

How does the polling process work? Well, it's an archaic set of arbitrary rules, where teams cannot drop if they win but will always drop if they lose, meaning that a team that loses in overtime on the road at the #1 team in the land is treated worse in the polls than a team that wins in overtime over a 1-10 Sun Belt team, even though the former performance was far superior to the latter. That's just how things go.

Over the larger sample size, a lot of these quirks get washed out, which is why the basketball Selection Committee generally ends up doing a pretty good job by March. In college football, with the shorter season, this will be more difficult.

Expect won-loss records and conference alignment to matter most. If any SEC team goes 13-0, they will be #1 and they will get in. If any teams goes 13-0 from any of the five major conferences they'll get in. Any 11-1 SEC team will get in over any 11-1 team from the Big Ten or ACC. We all know the rules. Strength of schedule should be a very minor factor, although you can be absolutely sure that we'll hear about it constantly in television broadcasts and from mainstream analysts.

One of the biggest problems with the conference obsession is that the mainstream media and casual fans both suck at judging conferences. The SEC's perception as the dominant conference is based on the league being the best from top to bottom over the decade of the 2000s. It wasn't the best every season, but more often than not it was. But the reality is that the era of SEC dominance is over. The Pac-12 has been the best conference in football the last two seasons, and that's a pretty universal and clear perception in every computer rating that I'm aware of. But it will take at least two or three more seasons of Pac-12 dominance before anybody will even be willing to seriously suggest on television that the SEC isn't the strongest league. It just takes a really, really long time for narratives like that to change.

So over the short run, the perception of the conferences will not change. Even if Ohio State ends up with a tougher SOS than South Carolina, there's no way 11-1 OSU will get into the playoffs over 11-1 South Carolina.

Is it possible that the polls will have 11-1 Oklahoma ranked 4th and 11-1 Stanford ranked 5th but the Selection Committee will determine that due to a tougher schedule they're going to take Stanford over Oklahoma? Sure. That's definitely possible. But don't expect any significant deviations from the polls. And so because of that, we'll all be able to predict with fairly high accuracy ahead of time which teams will be selected.


Question: What makes you think you can see the future? Maybe you're wrong about all of this!
Short Answer: True.

Longer Answer: Look, any time you try to predict the future, you can be wrong, so I'm not going to Gregg Doyel myself by declaring as unfit for adult society anybody who disagrees with me. Maybe the Selection Committee will flip the world on its head by, for example, actually selecting the four best teams even if one of them goes 9-3.

But realistically, that's just awfully difficult to see happening. History says that sports leagues give the fans what they want. From instant replay in baseball to goal line technology in soccer to Donald Sterling's suspension and ousting from the Clippers... leagues may drag their feet, and they may come kicking and screaming, but in the end the fans are going to get what they want.

And when a league is trying to institute a new system for determining its champion, the last thing it needs is for the majority of its fan base to not buy in. So they're not going to rock the boat too much.

So don't expect to be shocked by the Selection Committee. Expect to waste a lot of time in September arguing about what will happen if we have six teams that go undefeated. Expect to waste a lot of time in October arguing whether a 12-0 team from the Mountain West should get in over an 11-1 team from the Big Ten. Expect to waste a lot of time in November arguing whether an 11-1 team should automatically get in over an 11-1 team that they beat head-to-head. And expect to waste a lot of time in December arguing whether an 11-2 team that just lost its conference title game should get in over a 10-2 team that finished on a winning streak.

But in the end, we all know how this is going to play out.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Morning News: Aaron Brown, Vanderbilt Transfers, Briante Weber, And More

Aaron Brown is a nice pick-up for Boston College

This week marks the start of the college football season, which is always one of the signs that college basketball is right around the corner. In fact, there was an FCS football game on Saturday, though everybody else kicks off later this week. So with kids all back on campus now, we are finishing up with the last of the player transfers that will impact the coming season.

Let's get to some of those stories from the last week or so:

Aaron Brown Has Transferred From Southern Miss To Boston College Aaron Brown will be eligible to play next season, and he'd been considering quite a few different schools before choosing Boston College on Friday. Brown is a good pickup for BC as he was the most complete scorer for Southern Miss last season, leading the team in three-point shooting (38.7%) and finishing second in free throw attempts (145).

Once Oliver Hanlan decided that the Steve Donahue firing was sufficient to cause his return, we knew Boston College wouldn't be too bad next season. Hanlan could be first team All-ACC preseason. Throw in Aaron Brown and Boston College will now have two good scoring options. But with Ryan Anderson and Joe Rahon stil transferring out of a Boston College team that was perhaps the most disappointing in the nation this past season and the Eagles should still expect to spend Jim Christian's first season near the bottom of the ACC.

Southern Miss is heading into a rebuilding season under new head coach Doc Sadler. With the loss of Aaron Brown they have now lost all five starters from last season's NIT team. It's not unreasonable to think that if everything goes right next season that they could contend near the top of a Conference USA that does not have a dominant team, but most likely they're going to finish in the middle of the pack.

Dai-Jon Parker And Kedren Johnson Leaving Vanderbilt It's been a rough offseason for Vanderbilt, to say the least. Eric McClellan was kicked off the team, and Parker and Johnson might have gotten something of the same treatment. Kevin Stallings wasn't clear about the reasons for the transfer, but it was some sort of "non-academic university policy" that was violated. Parker, in particular, is a blow. He was second on the team in minutes this past season, averaging 8.3 points and 3.2 assists per game.

Next season will be a rebuilding season for the Commodores for sure. They have six incoming freshmen, though none is a blue chipper (point guard Riley LaChance is probably the highest rated by the scouting services). Those young players will be thrown into the fire a bit earlier than Stallings probably wanted.

Kedren Johnson has already announced his transfer to Memphis, where he will appeal for a waiver to play right away. As far as I know, Parker has not yet announced where he's going.

Briante Weber Will Be Suspended For VCU's Opener Briante Weber will miss VCU's season opener after stealing an iPhone. And while this wouldn't matter if VCU was opening up against a cupcake, they're actually opening up against Tennessee on a neutral court. You should still expect VCU to be favored, as Tennessee has undergone quite a bit of change after a coaching transition, but if they do get upset on opening day, you can be sure that they'll wish they'd had their best player on the court.

Colorado State Adds Antwan Scott Antwan Scott isn't well known to casual fans, but he averaged 15.7 points per game last season for Grambling State, which was third best in the entire SWAC. Even though it turns out that Chane Behanan will not end up playing for Colorado Sate, Larry Eustachy still has four quality transfers coming in to play this coming season (Dantiel Daniels, Stanton Kidd and John Gillon are the other three). Expect the Rams to sneak up on people this season. I already had them as an at-large team in my last bracket projection, and the addition of Scott should slide them up another line or two.

Oregon Adds Dillon Brooks, Who Reclassified It's been a rough offseason for Oregon, with a sexual assault leading the exit of Dominic Artis, Damyeon Dotson and Brandon Austin. In all, six of their top nine minute earners from last season will not play for the team next season. But the effort to refill up the roster is underway, as four-star recruit Dillon Brooks not only committed to Oregon but reclassified to 2014, meaning he'll be eligible to play this fall. With the Ducks likely to end up in the vicinity of the bubble, Brooks might be the key addition that puts them over the top and back into the NCAA Tournament.

By the way, it's worth noting that blue chip 2014 recruit JaQuan Lyle has still not been completely academically cleared for this coming season. Oregon seems confident that the issues will eventually be cleared up, but there will be some panic in Eugene if we get close to the season opener with Lyle still in limbo.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Morning News: Catching Up On O'Bannon, Doug Wojcik, Emmanuel Mudiay, Kenny Kaminski And More

If anyone wants to donate paper towels to UCLA, they're interested.
It's that time for another Morning News post. There are kids are on campus!... Some of them, at least. We're reaching the end of the summer, and getting closer to more regular blogging. As I've been doing all offseason, I'll be catching up on news from over the past few weeks.

Autonomy/O'Bannon Before getting to the actual college basketball news, I want to touch briefly on the autonomy vote and the O'Bannon ruling. I've talked on these issues before, so I only want to address the impact of those two things on college basketball itself. And I think the answer is: Not much. Even if the O'Bannon ruling withstands appeal, the media has vastly overreacted to what really shouldn't produce any significant change.

The primary change that is coming was inevitable once the autonomy vote came, which is some kind of stipend or "cost of attendance" payment to athletes - something along the line of $2000-$3000/semester. Big schools have wanted this for a long time and the autonomy vote will finally allow them to get it. On the record, they want the stipend to help kids struggling to make ends meet, but off the record they simply believe it will provide a recruiting advantage. The O'Bannon ruling simply says that the NCAA can't ban those small stipends if conferences and schools want them. The O'Bannon judge, despite ruling against the NCAA across the board, still does not allow athletes "salaries", a direct piece of merchandise or video games, or to be endorsed. All that it allows are these relatively small stipends.

Will the stipends help the big schools in recruiting? I guess. But I doubt it will mean much. The bigger/wealthier  schools already spend so much money on their athletes to attract recruits, from personal chefs to charter jets to beautiful training facilities, that I doubt an extra few thousand dollars will make a difference. Also, this situation already exists for many athletes. Most college sports fans don't realize this, but scholarship athletes who live off campus already receive stipend checks to pay for room and board. If these checks are more than sufficient to pay for room and board (as is generally the case) the players get to pocket the extra money.

I remain supremely skeptical that any significant changes to college sports will ever happen. The world Jay Bilas and his allies want, where college sports are blown up and replaced by minor league football and basketball and players can be paid millions of dollars, just seems so incredibly implausible on so many levels. And the NCAA holds a trump card in that it can run to Congress and ask for anti-trust protection. In the end, I think we're getting what the O'Bannon judge suggested: $2,000-$3000/semester stipends to help supplement what is already covered by scholarships. It will mean a little bit of pain for kids in non-revenue sports (a few schools will have to cut some non-revenue men's and/or women's teams to pay for these stipends), and it might impact recruiting a little, but fundamentally college sports will remain basically the same.

College of Charleston Fires Doug Wojick This was one of the more slow-moving firings in recent memory. He's been on the way out for weeks, after allegations of verbal abuse. Presumably the last few weeks have simply been about lawyers negotiating the terms of the firing, to prevent a lawsuit down the road, but the net effect on the basketball program itself is pretty rough. College of Charleston has basically missed out on summer recruiting, hurting them for this coming season as well as the next couple of seasons.

College of Charleston did fine in their first season in the Colonial, finishing 6-10 in conference play. But there was no real reason to expect them to be significantly better next season, so certainly don't expect to hear much of them anytime soon. The next we'll hear from this program will be when a new coach comes in.

Emmanuel Mudiay Going To China This move presumably happened because Mudiay failed to qualify academically at SMU. The history of American basketball players in China is not great, so it remains to be seen how much of that supposed $1.2 Million he ever actually receives and what this does to his NBA prospects, but certainly this is a huge blow for SMU basketball next season. The Mustangs were strong enough last season to make the NCAA Tournament and were only left out as punishment for their crap strength of schedule, but with Mudiay in the fold Larry Brown's team was going to be a consensus Top 25 team preseason.

That all said, you can still make a case for SMU being a Top 25 team. There is other talent, including Nic Moore and Markus Kennedy, and they still add Texas Tech transfer Jordan Tolbert. UConn is also likely to be a borderline Top 25 team, so expect either UConn or SMU to be the preseason favorite in the AAC.

Kenny Kaminski Dismissed From Michigan State Kaminski will transfer to another school, but has not made that decision yet. In the short term, this is yet another blow for a Michigan State team that is heading into next season really short on depth - particularly in terms of players that can score. Adreian Payne, Gary Harris and Keith Appling are gone, as well as Alex Gauna and Russell Byrd. Kaminski provided front court depth, and also was an outside sharpshooter.

With Matt Costello the only proven front court returner, Tom Izzo will be forced to play a lot of small lineups built around Travis Trice, Denzel Valentine and Lourawls Nairn. My most recent bracket projection had Michigan State as an 11 seed, and they might end up dropping out of my next bracket. They certainly have the look and feel of a bubble team.

Vanderbilt's Eric McClellan Heading To Gonzaga This is some old news that I didn't get around to before, but it's important enough that it really should be mentioned. Vanderbilt's last season went into the tank once they lost McClellan, an explosive and dynamic backcourt playmaker. They were likely going to be near the bottom of the SEC next season even with McClellan, and so without him they'll likely be pretty poor.

This has been a fantastic summer for Gonzaga. They had a bunch of quality big men, including the newly added Kyle Wiltjer, and their questions were in the backcourt. Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell are very good, but there was nobody else returning who was at all proven. With the additions of Byron Wesley and now Eric McClellan, along with star 2014 recruit Josh Perkins, the Zags suddenly have a wealth of explosive backcourt options. The Zags have to be in contention for the Top Ten in the preseason polls.

Ohio State Will Likely Be Without Trevor Thompson The Virginia Tech transfer had applied for a hardship waiver, but it has been declined, and he will likely have to sit out the season. The big man will still be a good pickup for the Buckeyes, but it'll have to wait for another year.

Marquette's Todd Mayo Leaves To Go Pro Marquette's roster went into flux after the coaching transition, and things still haven't quite settled down. Todd Mayo didn't start a game last season for Marquette, but he was fifth on the team in minutes, earning 24 minutes per game off the bench and finishing as the team's third leading scorer. He would have been the top scoring returner. The thing with a coaching transition like this is that Marquette is going to end up with a small and young roster next season - it's inevitable. But if Wojo can't put together a good 2015 recruiting class and his team shows improvement throughout the season, it'll be a successful first year.

Josh Fortune Transferring From Providence To Colorado Fortune, one of the most important players at Providence this past season, is not a superstar, but he'll provide backcourt scoring depth and will have a good chance to start when he's eligible in the 2015-16 season. This is one of those moves that we'll be able to evaluate better a year from now.

Devon Walker Out For The Season Florida should still be a very good team next season, and very much in contention for the SEC title. But as talented as they are, it's tough to win when you have a total turning over of talent. Florida lost four starters from last season's team, and Walker's torn ACL costs them a proven bench piece. Rutgers transfer Eli Carter will be expected to step in and eat many of those minutes, though Carter himself is coming off a serious injury (a broken leg that forced him to sit out all of last season), so he's far from a sure thing himself. In other words, expect Kentucky to be the consensus preseason SEC favorite.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Post-Draft BP68

This is my first bracket projection since April and it will be my last until Midnight Madness. The goal here is to take into account everything that has happened since April, including coaching changes, transfers, NBA defections, suspensions, signings, etc.

There are a few changes since the last bracket. The biggest is Kentucky moving to #1 overall. I've talked before about how I'm still not a total believer in this Kentucky team because Calipari is going to have to pull some kind of magic act to keep all of his players happy. But at this point, the safe pick is putting them #1 overall. I can say with pretty high confidence that they'll be #1 in the preseason media polls.

As for the teams making up the Field of 68, there have been two changes. Elfrid Payton's defection to the NBA has flipped the Sun Belt favorite from Louisiana Lafayette to Georgia State. Meanwhile, Colorado State (the first team out of my last bracket) moved into the field while UNLV dropped out after the losses of Khem Birch and Deville Smith.

There are other teams that moved up and down in terms of seed, but one change that didn't get made is Kansas/Texas for the Big 12 favorite. I've talked about this already on the blog, but while the media is likely going to pick Texas as the Big 12 preseason favorite, I'm sticking with Kansas. As much of a strong prospect as Myles Turner is, Texas is already well-stocked in good big men who need to play in the paint. They need another perimeter player, or they need significantly improved shooting from Isaiah Taylor, to finally stop Bill Self's reign of terror atop the Big 12.

For now, here's how I see things ending up on Selection Sunday 2015:

1. KENTUCKY (SEC)
1. WISCONSIN (BIG TEN)
1. DUKE (ACC)
1. ARIZONA (PAC-12)

2. KANSAS (BIG 12)
2. North Carolina
2. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
2. Texas

3. Florida
3. Virginia
3. VCU (ATLANTIC TEN)
3. SAN DIEGO STATE (MOUNTAIN WEST)

4. Oklahoma
4. GONZAGA (WCC)
4. SMU (AAC)
4. Louisville

5. Utah
5. Michigan
5. Ohio State
5. Iowa

6. WICHITA STATE (MISSOURI VALLEY)
6. West Virginia
6. Iowa State
6. Dayton

7. UConn
7. Pittsburgh
7. Illinois
7. Colorado

8. Stanford
8. Xavier
8. UCLA
8. Nebraska

9. Georgetown
9. Cincinnati
9. Syracuse
9. Maryland

10. Miami-Florida
10. Northern Iowa
10. BYU
10. Oklahoma State

11. Richmond
11. Michigan State
11. HARVARD (IVY)
11. Arkansas

12. Tennessee
12. Colorado State
12. Butler
12. Oregon
12. TOLEDO (MAC)
12. UC SANTA BARBARA (BIG WEST)

13. CLEVELAND STATE (HORIZON)
13. UTEP (CONFERENCE USA)
13. SIENA (MAAC)
13. DREXEL (COLONIAL)

14. MURRAY STATE (OVC)
14. DENVER (SUMMIT)
14. FLORIDA GULF COAST (ATLANTIC SUN)
14. NEW MEXICO STATE (WAC)

15. STEPHEN F. AUSTIN (SOUTHLAND)
15. AMERICAN UNIVERSITY (PATRIOT)
15. EASTERN WASHINGTON (BIG SKY)
15. GEORGIA STATE (SUN BELT)

16. NORTH CAROLINA CENTRAL (MEAC)
16. STONY BROOK (AMERICA EAST)
16. HIGH POINT (BIG SOUTH)
16. WOFFORD (SOCON)
16. ST. FRANCIS-BROOKLYN (NEC)
16. ALABAMA STATE (SWAC)

Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
Memphis, Tulsa, Clemson, Notre Dame, Wake Forest, Rhode Island, Creighton, Providence, Minnesota, Purdue, Baylor, Kansas State, Illinois State, UNLV, California, Georgia, Saint Mary's

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Houston, Temple, Florida State, NC State, Virginia Tech, George Washington, UMass, Marquette, St. John's, Seton Hall, Indiana, Northwestern, UC-Irvine, Northeastern, Louisiana Tech, Green Bay, Iona, Western Michigan, Missouri State, Fresno State, New Mexico, Arizona State, Washington, Alabama, Auburn, Mississippi, Missouri, South Carolina, Texas A&M, San Francisco

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Boston College, Georgia Tech, Duquesne, Penn State, Texas Tech, Delaware, Charlotte, Old Dominion, Columbia, Princeton, Yale, Northern Illinois, Evansville, Southern Illinois, Boise State, Wyoming, Oregon State, USC, Washington State, LSU, Vanderbilt, Portland, San Diego

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Previewing The 2014 NBA Draft

It's that brutal time of the year.

The NBA Draft? Nah, that's kind of fun. I mean the run-up to the NBA Draft.

As with all things, there's a sensible middle ground. When I criticize Chad Ford-type draft analysts for being too impressed by how high guys can jump or how good they look in workouts against chairs, the typical pushback I get (on twitter at least) is that potential and athleticism matter and you can't just pick the best college players. And my response to that is: Yeah. No kidding. Nobody anywhere thinks Doug McDermott should get drafted before Andrew Wiggins just because he was better in 2013-14.

But at the same time, college performance matters, too. Throw out straight-out-of-high-school guys and European guys, and ask yourself how many guys you can think of who were non-elite college players yet who went onto become elite NBA players. You can have all the athleticism in the world, but if you can't translate it into quality play in college, why are you going to magically translate it into performance in the NBA? Particularly if you're buried on the end of the bench?

Every year there are one or two lottery guys who just tickle the fancy of draft analysts. They jump through the roof, they dominate every drill, and they look fantastic in an open gym... and everything that gets written about them in the run-up to the draft confuses the hell out of everybody who just watched them play actual basketball games in the NCAA. Last year that guy was Alex Len. And this year, we have a tie for the winner of the draft analyst love affair award between Joel Embiid and Zach LaVine. You think "love affair" is too strong of a phrase? Well...
Let's just say, Joel, that if you get some flowers with an anonymous card, we've got a leading candidate.

Anyway, I do these draft previews every year. Here is last season's, and from there you can find links to previous ones. As usual, I'm only going to talk about college players, as I have nothing educated to say about the European picks. So let's do this:


Green Room Guys:

Underrated:

TJ Warren - The full list of Green Room invites appears to be here. Warren turns 21 years old between the draft and the start of the regular season, which is a concern, but he did improve significantly between his freshman and sophomore seasons, so he doesn't appear to be close to peaking yet. If you didn't watch a lot of ACC basketball, you might not have seen Warren much prior to the NCAA Tournament. But be assured that what you saw of him in March was what he did all season long. The 37.3% of his team's shots he took while on the floor were third most in the nation, and he managed to do it efficiently (a 54.8 eFG%) and while physically dominating his opponents.

Warren is far from a sure thing. He's not a prolific rebounder, so he might have a bit of a "tweener" body. But he's a guy who, if he was on a more prominent team and fit better into media narratives, could easily be talked about as a Top 5 pick. He has superstar upside. Anywhere outside the top ten he'll be a good value. And right now, many are projecting him out of the lottery altogether.

Marcus Smart - It's funny that Smart ended up here since he was one of the most overrated players in the nation as a freshman. But narratives can be powerful, and the perception that he hasn't progressed blew up with all of his flopping and the shoving incident. But let's debunk these in reverse order. The shoving incident was dumb, but he's a very young guy and he had a momentary lapse in judgment - there's nothing else that we know about him that makes him seem like a troublemaker or thug. Can't give up on a kid over one small incident like that. As for the flopping... did you see Lebron and Dwyane Wade in the playoffs this past season? Elite NBA players flop. And as for the idea that he didn't progress? Well, between his freshman and sophomore seasons, Smart shouldered a significantly larger fraction of OSU's offense while shooting better, scoring more efficiently, assisting on more baskets and dropping his turnovers. But other than that...

Outside of Jabari Parker and Andrew Wiggins, Smart is the surest commodity in the draft. You can plug him into just about any NBA starting lineup right now. If he goes anywhere lower than third overall (which he surely will) he'll be a good value.

Aaron Gordon - Because he's not a big scorer, Gordon is unlikely to ever be an NBA superstar. He gets compared to Blake Griffin, but I think that's just because he physically looks like Blake Griffin. He even wears the same facial expressions as Griffin. But their games are very different. Griffin was a much bigger college scorer. But Gordon is a fantastic defender, and he clearly has NBA size and athleticism. But even if Gordon probably will never be 1st team All-NBA, I'd bet on him starting in the NBA for the next dozen years. And that will make him a good value late in the top ten, which is where he's projected to go.

Overrated:

Joel Embiid - The thing with Embiid is that it looks like he might plummet in the draft now that a stress fracture was announced last week, which is a bit bizarre. His back injury this past season should be seen as a much more significant red flag than a freak foot injury. Maybe it's all a case of recent-ism.

Anyway, I've talked about this plenty, so I'm going to repeat myself here, but the Joel Embiid Phenomenon this past season was a narrative blown out of control. Andrew Wiggins was hyped up as the greatest prospect since Lebron James, meaning that there was no way that there wouldn't be media narrative blowback anytime he had a down game (everybody has down games, but nobody has each one dissected more than Wiggins). And part of the blowback was the over-hyping of his teammate. Embiid was a pretty good player, but via Ken Pomeroy, here were his top freshman statistical comps: Tony Mitchell, Eric Moreland and Joel Bolomboy.

An additional concern is that Embiid played smaller than his height as a freshman. He repeatedly struggled against teams like Texas, Baylor and Florida that had NBA-sized big men, while he piled up his best performances against undersized teams like Iowa State and Oklahoma State. There's a big difference between looking good in the paint against 6'7" guys and against 6'11" guys, and in the NBA you're not going to see much of the former.

I feel like the Joel Embiid Crazy is summed up by this tweet, which isn't coming from Skip Bayless or Chris Broussard, but from ESPN Stats & Info:
If you really believe the worst case scenario for Embiid is Yao Ming, who made 8 All-Star games, 5 All-NBA teams and averaged 19 points per game over his NBA career, he's a no-brainer #1 overall pick. But that's not the real worst case. The real worst case is Sam Bowie. The fact is that Embiid ticks every "draft bust" box. He's 7-feet tall, he's super raw, he struggled most against NBA size, he's media hyped and he has a significant injury history. Ask yourself: How many raw 7-footers with injury history have ever gone top ten in the NBA Draft and paid off? I can't think of one. But I can think of a lot of busts.

Zach LaVine - The thing with Joel Embiid is that as much as I think he's going to be a bust, at least he was one of the two or three best players on one of the best teams in the nation. Zach LaVine was something like the sixth or seventh best player on UCLA. Meh. If you draft him, be aware that he's almost guaranteed to play in the D-League as a rookie. He's just so incredibly far from being a quality NBA player.

Ask yourself why all the draft analysts who harp on one or two down games that Andrew Wiggins had never mention that LaVine averaged 4.2 points, 2.3 rebounds and 0.8 assists per game over six Pac-12 and NCAA tourney games, or that he had at least as many fouls committed as points scored in four of their final seven games. Yet every mock I've seen lately has him going before TJ Warren, who as a sophomore absolutely carried NC State to an NCAA tourney win? Please. Take the Warren, leave the LaVine.

Rodney Hood - Hood was a very overrated college player, too. He scores a lot, and he's a good shooter, but he's a 6'8" guy who doesn't rebound and is a poor defender. It's ironic that Jabari Parker gets hammered all the time for being a zero-defense guy, yet Parker is a defensive monster compared to Hood. It's pretty tough to play in the NBA if you're 6'8" and don't rebound or play defense. To overcome that, you need to be an explosive scorer, but Hood is more of a jump shooter. Only 18.9% of the shots he took from the field at Duke were at the rim. Late in the lottery, you can do a lot better.


Late 1st/Early 2nd Round Guys:

Underrated:

PJ Hairston - I'm going to put a little bit of an asterisk here because I haven't seen Hairston play a game in more than a year. It's possible that his training went off the rails during his year of ineligibility. But Hairston was an incredibly efficient scorer for North Carolina as a sophomore, showing dramatic improvement in all aspects of his game. He has a nice outside shot and he can also beat his man off the dribble and finish at the hoop or draw fouls. There are enough question marks that you'd want to lay off him in the first 15 picks, but he'll be a really nice value late in the first round.

Kyle Anderson - Anderson is a hard player to figure out because he doesn't fit into any mold. He's a 6'9" player who looks so slow when you watch him run, yet he put up the stats of an elite point guard. When you watch him play, he seems to glide as he moves in apparent slow motion past his man to the basket... yet he always beats his man to the basket. He needs to fall into the right situation, but if he gets a coach who knows what to do with him and how to fix his flaws, he has the raw potential to be an NBA star someday.

Mitch McGary - This is a risky pick, of course. Back injuries for big guys are something that can ruin a career. But of course, Joel Embiid had one, too, and you're going to have to use a really high pick to get him. Later in the first round, if you have a chance to get a guy who has NBA All-Star potential, you absolutely have to take him. Remember, McGary was going to likely be a top 5 draft pick a year ago. He's physical, he's a strong rebounder, and he's an effective finisher around the rim. He might end up a bust, but late in the first round that's a risk you've got to be willing to take.

Khem Birch - This is another "upside" pick, which if you haven't noticed the trend, is what I think NBA teams should be picking late in the first round and into the second round. At his size, Khem Birch needs to develop a mid-range jump shoot to be anything more than a defensive specialist, but he's a big time defender with NBA size and length, and he's a strong rebounder as well. Think of him as a poor man's Serge Ibaka, and remember how Ibaka quickly turned into an elite player once he developed a mid-range jump shot.

Overrated:

Jordan Clarkson - If you're a poor outside shooter who hasn't improved your shooting in three seasons, you need to be elite at something else to become an NBA point guard. But what is Jordan Clarkson elite at? He's not even much of a passing point guard either. He'd make a better shooting guard than point guard if he could shoot, but he can't. Seems bizarre to use a first round pick on him when a guy like Shabazz Napier could easily still be on the board.

Jerami Grant - Most mocks have Grant very narrowly behind his college teammate Tyler Ennis. Huh? Ennis has a significantly higher ceiling and has proven to be an elite college point guard. Grant's reputation seemed to grow because of the mistaken media narrative that Syracuse fell apart when he missed a couple of weeks. Jerami Grant is a solid player, but he wasn't an elite college player and he doesn't have an elite skill. He's a 6'8" guy who doesn't shoot well, yet who will likely never be physical enough to play in the paint in the NBA. Ennis deserves to be a borderline Top 20 pick. His teammate does not.

Patric Young - It's weird to think of a four year player at an elite program as a "workout guy", but that's what Patric Young is. He looks fantastic - he's the most physically imposing player in college basketball jogging out of the tunnel. But he's just never been elite, and he never improved much over his four seasons, meaning that there's little hope for a dramatic improvement from him in the NBA. Most mock drafts seem to have Young going in the early second round, and that's just an uninspired pick in that location, in my opinion.

Everybody Else:

Underrated:
 
Jordan Bachynski - Once you get past the lottery, you're probably not getting an NBA starter with your draft pick. So you want to go with upside guys, or else you want a guy who has a clear NBA skill. And Bachynski is the latter. He's never going to be much of a scorer, but he might have been the best shot blocker in the nation this past season, and at a legit 7'2" he's likely going to be able to continue that in the NBA. Bachynski is a guy who probably will play 10-15 minutes per game in the NBA, and late in the second round that's excellent value.

Bryce Cotton - Cotton doesn't have the profile for a guy you want to draft. He doesn't have superstar upside and he doesn't have an obvious NBA skill (he's very good at everything, but not elite at anything). The fact that he was a four year player at Providence (and honestly it felt like he played for six years) means that you'd generally lay off of a guy like him. But first of all, Cotton was very young for his year. He's 21 years old, and younger than Mitch McGary. Second, Cotton is such an incredible basketball player. He never sat on the bench, and gave maximum effort at all times, absolutely carrying a Providence team that had very little of anything else. If anybody in his situation can find a way to adapt and become a useful NBA rotation piece, I'd bet on Cotton. He's worth a flyer in the latter half of the second round.

Overrated:

Johnny O'Bryant - Is O'Bryant supposed to be an upside guy? He didn't improve much over three seasons at LSU. He's only 6'8.5" in shoes, yet he has no outside game and isn't much of a paint scorer. And he's not a great rebounder or defender either. He's a big, strong guy, but that means a lot more for 6'8" guys in college than it does in the NBA. I just don't see what anybody sees in Johnny O'Bryant as a prospect.

James Michael McAdoo - There was a running joke I had going the past two seasons, which was to watch out for the announcer of every North Carolina game to say that this was a "disappointing" or "sub par" performance from McAdoo. There were maybe one or two games in his entire career that you didn't hear it. In a sensible world, these repeated disappointments would cause the media to lower their estimation of how good McAdoo was. But they didn't. McAdoo was not a particularly good college play and he has no specifically elite skill either. You look at him wearing a uniform and he physically looks like he should be a superstar, but he's not.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Morning News: Catching Up On A Month Of News

"Wassup, guys?"

It's been close to a month since I had a Morning News post, so it's time to catch up on some of the bigger news stories in college basketball that I haven't covered yet. As a side note, be aware that I'll have an NBA Draft preview post up later this week. I'll also post another complete bracket projection sometime during the week following the draft. So stay tuned for those two posts.

Jerian Grant Officially Returning To Notre Dame There had been talk about this for a few months, but it's now official that Jerian Grant will be back. This is really big news for them, of course. The Irish were never one of the 25 best teams in the country this past season (though they were ranked in the official polls briefly in November), but their season went into a total tailspin after they lost Grant, and they ended up just 6-12 in the ACC. Getting Grant back doesn't mean the Irish will be elite again next season (the loss of Garrick Sherman will be huge), but it should at least get them back to the Tournament bubble.

Byron Wesley To Gonzaga USC basketball was obviously a dumpster fire this past season, but the one bright spot was Byron Wesley, who was legitimately one of the better players in the Pac-12. He now takes his talents to Gonzaga, where he'll have one year of eligibility left which he will use right away. This fills a bit need for a Gonzaga team that is going to have a lot of size and length but needed perimeter ball handling after the loss of David Stockton. I already had Gonzaga as a 4 seed in my projected bracket, and I'm not going to move them higher than a 3 seed now, but this strengthens their position as a clear Top 25 team and a dark horse Final Four contender.

Oklahoma Adds Houston's TaShawn Thomas This transfer may or may not matter for next season since, as far as I'm aware, Thomas is still awaiting word from the NCAA whether he'll be immediately eligible or not. But if he can play, he'll provide Oklahoma with an explosive front court scorer, as well as a very strong paint defensive presence. And while most see next season's Big 12 as a battle between Texas and Kansas (the media will likely choose Texas while I'm choosing Kansas), TaShawn Thomas would have the ability to put the Sooners right into that discussion. They'll likely be Top 25 to start next season even if Thomas is ineligible.

Bruce Pearl Adds KC Ross-Miller And Antoine Mason Mason was the nation's leading scorer at Niagara last season. Ross-Miller, a point guard, was one of the best players on New Mexico State last season. And Auburn had already added Kareem Canty from Marshall. We knew Bruce Pearl would upgrade the talent level at Auburn, and he certainly has. Should Auburn fans start printing NCAA Tournament tickets? Well, no. But they'll have a supremely more entertaining team, and they should if nothing else be competitive in SEC play after five consecutive seasons of winning fewer than 40% of their SEC games, and no NCAA Tournament appearances in more than a decade.

Lots Of Maryland News It feels as if Maryland has had total roster turnover. They've had something like eight players transfer out and five transfer in (that might be a slight exaggeration, but only slight). I've already covered plenty of Maryland news already this offseason (see here for links to all of that). What are the newest Maryland updates? Well, they have added Richard Pack from North Carolina A&T and Robert Carter from Georgia Tech, while losing Charles Mitchell to Georgia Tech. And Nick Faust, who was already announced as a transfer, is officially going to Long Beach State.

Faust will have to sit out next season, so while that's a big pickup for Long Beach State, it will have no bearing on next season. Robert Carter also will have to sit out next season. The change for Maryland here is losing Mitchell while getting Pack eligible for next season. Mitchell was the team's best rebounder this past season, so that's a significant blow for the Terps heading into the Big Ten. Pack was a monster scorer at North Carolina A&T, though a big part of his game was getting to the free throw line, and that's the sort of ability that often doesn't translate from the lowest tiers of college basketball to the highest tiers. I've basically thrown up my hands at figuring at Maryland, though. The roster is just too different. If I have to guess? I'll say they're a likely Tourney team, but unlikely to be Top 25. But nobody really knows.

The Charles Mitchell pickup, by the way, is really nice for a Georgia Tech team that had to get totally rebuilt this offseason. They lost four of the top six players from a team that was pretty poor to begin with. But Brian Gregory has aggressively gone after transfers, and Mitchell will join Demarco Cox, Nick Jacobs and Josh Heath. It's not a Tournament team yet, in my opinion, but they should at least be competitive in the ACC next season.

USC Adds Elijah Stewart Stewart, a shooting guard, joins point guard Jordan McLaughlin as cornerstones of a very strong 2014 recruiting class for USC. This has led to another round of fawning articles about Andy Enfield (like the one I linked to), but as regular readers know, I continue to be skeptical about him. The reality is that Stewart and McLaughlin are good recruits, but they're not Andrew Wiggins or Jabari Parker. And this USC team lost the only good player from an awful team that went 2-16 in Pac-12 play. Enfield also adds Katin Reinhardt, who started at UNLV as a freshman in 2012-13, but again... what roster are they adding these guys to? Enfield still needs to add a whole lot more talent. At some point, he has to win games or the media will start to forget about him.

Creighton Adds Ricky Kreklow From California With basically everybody graduating, Creighton was in need of a massive influx of talent to stay in the top tier of the Big East. The problem is that while Kreklow will play right away, he'll have only one year of eligibility left and the other two prominent Creighton transfers (Cole Huff from Nevada and Maurice Watson from Boston University) will likely have to sit out next season. So I don't think this move is going to win Creighton any Big East titles. But it gives the Bluejays just a little bit of hope of sneaking back into the NCAA Tournament.

LSU Transfer Anthony Hickey Will Be Eligible For Oklahoma State We already knew Hickey would be heading to Oklahoma State, but now he knows that he'll be eligible to play immediately. The point guard will provide a significant boost to a Cowboys team that will likely be in the vicinity of the Tournament bubble after significant offseason losses. With Stevie Clarke gone for good (and with Marcus Smart off to the NBA), point guard was a particular need.

Eron Harris To Michigan State This is an important transfer, but not for next season, when Harris will have to sit out. Harris, a sharpshooting combo guard, was the second best player on West Virginia this past season. He'll be a weapon immediately after becoming eligible in the Big Ten.

Deville Smith Leaves UNLV Deville Smith is no superstar, but he was UNLV's starting point guard this past season. And that makes it official that the Runnin' Rebs will lose their entire starting lineup, despite only one leaving via graduation. Dave Rice does have a really nice recruiting class coming in next season that features three blue chippers, highlighted by Rashad Vaughn, who might have been the top shooting guard recruit in the nation. But without much of anything returning from last season, UNLV will be a bubble team at best.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Morning News: Oregon Situation, LSU Loses Three, Ryan Anderson Transfer, Kareem Canty, And More

Welp.
Once again I'm piling up a week's worth of news into one Morning News post. Hey, it's the offseason...

Dominic Artis, Damyeon Dotson And Brandon Austin All Officially Done At Oregon This seemed inevitable, and now it's official. I talked about this story last week. Really, the only question left is figuring out what happened here. Oregon is claiming that while they knew about the sexual assault prior to the Pac-12 tournament, they were told by police not to move to suspend the players (huh?). The other confusing part of Oregon's story is their claim that they didn't know about Brandon Austin's previous sexual assault at Providence (nobody bothered to ask him why he'd been kicked off the team prior to offering him a scholarship?). The whole thing is a mess.

LSU To Lose Anthony Hickey, Two Others Three players are leaving LSU via transfer, including starting point guard Anthony Hickey. With a roster already due not to return much of its starting rotation, this might be the death blow to whatever at-large hopes they had. Johnny Jones is only heading into his third season, so it would be silly to give up on him already, but there isn't a lot of positive momentum with the LSU program.

Arizona Lands Boston College's Ryan Anderson Ryan Anderson was Boston College's best big man this past season, and the 6'9" transfer has decided that he's heading to Arizona. He'll have to sit out next season, but he likely wouldn't have gotten much playing time behind Rondae-Hollis Jefferson, Brandon Ashley and Kaleb Tarczewski anyway. He only has one year of eligibility left, but expect him to be a key piece for Arizona in 2015-16.

South Florida Lands Kareem Canty Marshall's primary playmaker and best player from this past season is the first big signing for new South Florida coach Orlando Antigua. He'll likely have to sit out next season, but he'll have three years of eligibility left, and will be a cornerstone to build around.

Brian Williams Transfers To Louisiana-Lafayette After losing Elfrid Payton to the NBA Draft, Louisiana-Lafayette was desperately in need of another perimeter player to stay the favorite in the Sun Belt. Brian Williams isn't the level of offensive playmaker that Payton was and he only has one year of eligibility left, but he has a level of athleticism not often seen in the Sun Belt, and he'll be a key piece next season. Still, right now I'm leaning toward moving Georgia State into the spot of preseason favorite, particularly if Louisville transfer Kevin Ware is eligible to play right away.

Seth Allen To Virginia Tech Buzz Williams has his first non-Marquette transfer at Virginia Tech, and it's Seth Allen, from Maryland. He won't be eligible next season, but Virginia Tech isn't going anywhere next season anyway. Buzz's top priority is putting together talent to try to compete for a postseason appearance in 2015-16, and Allen could be the starting point guard on that team.

Jamal Jones Leaves Texas A&M The Aggies were due to return nearly their entire roster from last season, with a chance to make a run at an at-large bid. But the offseason is off to a bad start, as leading-scorer Jamal Jones will transfer out. I'm not sure this is a huge problem, though, as Jones was more of a volume-scorer than a particularly efficient basketball player. But the Aggies need to find some scoring this summer to go Dancing next season.

Ronnie Johnson Transfers To Houston We knew Kelvin Sampson would upgrade the talent level at Houston. After signing Juco transfer Torian Graham  he now adds Ronnie Johnson, who had been Purdue's starting point guard. Johnson will have to sit out next season, and Sampson is going to need a lot more than him to get the Cougars competitive again, but there's definitely some positive momentum for the program.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Morning News: Oregon Suspensions, Craig Robinson Fired, Myles Turner, And Much More

Craig Robinson celebrating his semifinal win in the 2009 CBI. Oregon State's CBI title that season was the highlight of Robinson's tenure in Corvallis.
It's been almost a week since my last Morning News post, so let's catch up on the news of the last few days:

Oregon Loses Dominic Artis, Perhaps More This story just broke late last night, so I might have to come back to it another Morning News post later this summer. But it looks very bad for Oregon in multiple ways. Artis has been accused of rape, along with Damyeon Dotson and Brandon Austin. All three have been suspended indefinitely, and Artis has already announced his transfer. If the story is true and can be proven in court, all three will be looking at jail time... although we all know how this tends to go with star athletes, unfortunately. But even if the three avoid jail time, I doubt we'll see any of these three guys suit up for Oregon next season.

The fact that this was reported to police even before the Pac-12 tournament tips off means that Dana Altman is going to have to answer some hard questions about why these players were not suspended during the season. Stay tuned.

Oregon State Fires Craig Robinson Robinson was fired yesterday, which is the only part that makes it a bit odd. Many people, including myself, thought Robinson would be fired after six seasons of zero positive program momentum and with a likely terrible team next season. But instead, the school gave him a vote of confidence... and then fired him a month later when it's much harder to find a new coach. Perhaps it took them this long to find a booster willing to pay his buyout.

There's an argument to be made that Robinson did a good job... namely that it's incredibly hard to win at Oregon State. In fact, his winning percentage (.469) was the best by any Oregon State coach since Ralph Miller, who was also the last Oregon State coach to have consistent success of any kind. Oregon State's last NCAA Tournament trip was in 1990, the year after Miller retired. That team was led by Gary Payton, who was a senior. Grasp how long ago that was. But still, there was no sense that Robinson was going to get this team to the NCAA Tournament at any time in the foreseeable future. So the next coach could easily be worse than Robinson... but maybe they swing and hit a home run hire. We'll have to see who they get.

Nick Faust Transferring To Oregon State Or... maybe he isn't. This news broke a few days ago, which means that we now have to see if Faust is going to stick it out with the new coach. Faust would be one of the best players on Oregon State (his one season of eligibility will come in 2015-16) if he does stay.

Texas Lands Myles Turner Turner was the last significant 2014 recruit who had yet to sign, so the big 7-footer is a coup for Rick Barnes. That said, this is the type of move that isn't going to pay off as much next season as the media is making it out. There's always this misperception that if a team has a quality X and adds player with a quality Y that the new team will be (X+Y) good. It doesn't work that way.

Texas was a team that already had a physically dominant front line. They led the Big 12 in offensive rebounding percentage but were dead last in 3P% and second to last in eFG%. Turner's minutes will just eat into the minutes of Cameron Ridley, Connor Lammert and Prince Ibeh, none of whom can play outside the paint. And even Johnathan Holmes can't really play with two other bigs, even though he can hit jump shots from the perimeter. Texas still is in need of significantly improved backcourt play to win a Big 12 title. Isaiah Taylor is a great prospect, but they need more than just him.

Southern Miss Hires Doc Sadler With Donnie Tyndall taking the Tennessee job, this seems like a reasonable hire for Southern Miss. It's easy to see Sadler as a failure at Nebraska considering what Tim Miles has accomplished, but I don't think that's quite fair. Miles is one of the best coaches in college basketball and he also benefited in a big way from the move to the Big Ten, a new arena, and a significant increase in the basketball budget. Sadler should be a solid hire for Southern Miss.

Big Ten/Big East Announce Series Of Games The Big Ten and Big East have announced an annual series of eight games each year. So not every team will play every season, but the more quality games the better. It's always good to have a sport, unlike college football, that rewards tough schedules. It means more entertainment during non-conference play.

Naadir Tharpe Transferring Tharpe was the starting Kansas point guard this past season, but there was a reasonable chance that he was going to be replaced next season, which might be the primary motivation for this transfer. Frank Mason could take over the point next season, and I wouldn't be surprised to see Kansas go without a true point guard in a guy like Conner Frankamp. Despite this loss, I still think Kansas has to be the preseason Big 12 favorite. I wouldn't be surprised if the media goes with Texas, but see my comments above on Myles Turner for why I believe Texas will be overrated.

Desmond Simmons To Saint Mary's The Gaels needed an influx of talent to challenge Gonzaga and BYU atop the WCC, and Simmons joins Aaron Bright as a key pair of transfers. Simmons isn't much of a scorer, but he's an awfully athletic 6'7" and he should give St. Mary's a lot of rebounding if nothing else. The WCC is going to be very strong next season, and I had St. Mary's only 5th in my 2014-15 previews, but these two signings will potentially get them right back onto the Tournament bubble.

Maryland Loses Seth Allen The Terps are now up to four transfers this offseason, and this is the most worrying of the bunch. Mark Turgeon had oversigned, and three players had to transfer originally, but there was no reason for Allen to go. Also, Allen was the team's starting point guard as a sophomore and has a bright future at the position. With Roddy Peters one of the other transfers, the Terps don't return a single scholarship point guard from this past season. Maryland was looking like a Top 25 team, but they're treading closer and closer to looking like a bubble team.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Morning News: Jordan Adams And Chane Behanan Go Pro, Missouri Hires Kim Anderson, And More

How many college basketball fans know who this guy is?
With the NBA Draft declaration deadline passed, it's time for a discussion of the final player decisions, as well as some other college basketball news from the last few days:

Jordan Adams Goes Pro Adams had announced a week ago that he was staying at UCLA, but... yeah. UCLA now loses Adams in addition to Kyle Anderson and Zach LaVine to the Draft. Steve Alford has three blue chippers coming in and gets Isaac Hamilton back, but that's going to be a very young team without much experience returning. I previous had UCLA projected as a 6 seed, but they're going to have to drop several lines now.

Missouri Hires Kim Anderson Taking the pulse of the average fan, this seems to be a pretty underwhelming hire. Kansas fans, in particular, are making a lot of fun of it. Kim Anderson is basically a total unknown. That said, you never know here... Bo Ryan is an example of an in-state non-Division I head coach who made the step up to the big leagues and had a ton of success (although Ryan did coach two seasons at Wisconsin-Milwaukee between his DIII job and Wisconsin).

Considering the fact that it's not exactly like Missouri's previous coach was John Wooden, we might as well give this new guy a chance. The key test will be to see if he can add any players over the summer. Without an infusion of talent, it's hard to see an NCAA Tournament trip in season #1.

Chane Behanan Goes Pro This was basically leaked a couple of weeks ago, but Behanan finally made it official on Monday. He was due to join Colorado State after transferring from Louisville. The thing is, he has continued to have off-the-court problems, and was very likely going to face a hefty suspension. As a guy who is at best 50/50 to be drafted (and I'd argue his odds are actually worse than that), this is probably more a case of a guy just going pro because he doesn't think he's going to be eligible to play college ball this coming season. He'll likely be on his way to the D-League or Europe.

But this is still a blow for a Colorado State team that I think is likely to be right on the bubble. Behanan would have given them a real rebounding threat.

Jon Horford Transfers To Florida This was rumored as soon as he announced he was leaving Michigan. With Mitch McGary going pro, Horford would have been in line to start at Michigan, but it seems as if there were some personal reasons where he either didn't get along with his teammates or John Beilein.

With Horford eligible to play right away, do not sleep on Florida to win the SEC title. Yes, Kentucky is likely going to start the season the #1 team in the country, but... we've seen this movie before. And I already had Florida as a 3 seed prior to adding Horford (who will be eligible to play right away). So if Kentucky stumbles a little bit, Florida will be right there waiting for them.

Nimrod Hilliard To NC Central This isn't any news that is going to impact the bubble, but this is a big pickup for NC Central. With Lamar banned from postseason play next season over APR issues, all of their players can transfer without sitting for a season, and Hilliard was their best player - a point guard who also could score efficiently. In my 2014-15 MEAC preview I said that NC Central was my narrow favorite because I figured they'd find a point guard. They've now got that point guard, and are the fairly clear MEAC favorite.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Morning News: Kentucky Super Team?, Mitch McGary, Northwestern Vote, And Much More

A tearful goodbye to Khem Kong
I was going to wait until Monday to do another Morning News post, but way too much stuff happened yesterday for me not to compile the news of the last few days:

Kentucky To Return Harrison Twins, Dakari Johnson And Alex Poythress We already knew Willie Cauley-Stein was coming back as well. And this creates a fascinating situation for a number of reasons. Right now, Kentucky returns six players from last season's rotation as well as Marcus Lee, a former Top 20 recruit who sat most of the year as a true freshman but had a couple of big games in the NCAA Tournament. They have four more blue chippers coming in, giving Calipari an astounding nine McDonald's All-Americans and 11 guys expecting regular minutes.

The immediate concern is that roster crunch. How does Calipari keep one or more of those players from leaving? And if he gets them all to stay, how does he get them all to buy in and to stay happy? He can probably talk Tyler Ulis or Devin Booker to sit on the end of the bench like Marcus Lee this past season, but Karl Towns and Trey Lyles almost certainly won't (both are expected to be "one-and-done" guys). Assuming Lee won't sit on the end of the bench two years in a row, that gives them six front court guys who will need extended minutes. That's going to be a heck of a problem for Calipari to figure out. But if he can, and if he can avoid any transfers, he now has the deepest, most talented NCAA basketball team perhaps ever assembled, and they'll be the unanimous #1 to start next season. Ready for dumb "40-and-0" hype to start all over again?

One side note that a couple of people who follow me on twitter brought up is an interesting one: the impact on future Kentucky recruiting. Announcers always talk about how good teams would be "if nobody left pro early" under the false assumption that all of the same recruits would have shown up. It doesn't work that way. Recruits come with playing time expectations in mind, and Calipari spends a lot of time reassuring recruits that certain players will go pro to open up playing time. Surely at least one of the recruits who signed up this year is now upset at all of these returning players, and that's the kind of thing that can ripple down to future recruits who might not believe Calipari when he says that certain players are going to leave. Although history says that Calipari will still find a way to bring in four or five blue chippers every single season.

Mitch McGary Going Pro On a busy day of news, this story managed to somehow have the most #HOTSPROTSTAKES. Those aside, this is a very important basketball problem for Michigan,  which now returns exactly zero regulars from their front court. The Jon Horford transfer out is now magnified in a significant way.

If McGary came back, Michigan would have been the clear top contender to Wisconsin in the Big Ten. Now, Wisconsin will likely enter next season the unanimous media pick to win the conference. One could go several ways in picking the second best team in the conference, but my pick will be an Ohio State team that I think is going to be significantly underrated. Michigan will have a lot to prove with an extremely young front court.

Union Appears To Lose Northwestern Vote We won't get the official numbers for several years (if ever), but it appears that as expected the Northwestern union vote lost heavily. This isn't a big surprise, as there was no evidence that this union effort ever really had significant support from Northwestern players. The school is being sued by the Steelworkers Union - Kain Colter was always just a spokesman to give the union a more appealing public relations face.

It seemed pretty clear that the union was a bad path for the players. Reforms like guaranteed scholarships and a stipend for players to fill in scholarship gaps are ideas I'd likely support, and there is a lot of support at the NCAA for both ideas as well, but those reforms can happen outside a union. Unionizing the players haphazardly at some schools but not others would be a legal mess which would benefit only lawyers and tax accountants. Any reform needs to apply to all athletes at all schools.

Don't expect this to go away. Lawyers are swarming the NCAA and there will be all sorts of new lawsuits, and don't be surprised if another school tries its hand at a unionization vote. Basically, there is too much money involved in the NCAA for a lot of other powerful interests to not want a cut.

The problem, as I see it, is that 98% of the people getting a benefit from NCAA sports are not a factor in these discussions. Nobody hears from the Division II baseball player or the woman's volleyball player, or any of the other 150,000+ kids getting scholarships from the money that the NCAA generates. Nobody knows their names, so nobody is advocating on their behalf.

Spencer Dinwiddie To The NBA This was always considered likely. As I wrote in my Pac-12 preview, though, Colorado should still expect to be significantly better next season. Remember, Dinwiddie missed almost all of last season's Pac-12 season as well. And while Colorado wasn't nearly as good as their final record (arguably the second worst at-large team in the entire NCAA Tournament), they return everybody from their end-of-season rotation. They should get back to the tourney, and I currently have them as a 7 seed.

Tennessee Hires Donnie Tyndall Donnie Tyndall was at Southern Miss the last two seasons, and previously was at Morehead State. To me, this is a fairly uninspiring hire for Tennessee. There were a whole lot of media reports that Tennessee was in on Louisiana Tech's Michael White first, but White didn't like the contract offer and turned them down. White is certainly the hotter "up and coming" coach.

Tyndall had success at Morehead State after Kenneth Faried showed up, and used that success to get the Southern Miss job, where he spent two seasons using a lot of Larry Eustachy's players, unable to get them back to the NCAA Tournament. So Tyndall's only NCAA experience in eight seasons came when he had a 1st round NBA Draft pick in the Ohio Valley Conference. Maybe he'll be a good coach, but Tennessee could have done better if they were willing to open up their wallet more.

DeAndre Daniels Is Going Pro This wasn't a certainty, but most insiders expected Daniels to leave. I assumed he would leave when I put together my 2014-15 AAC preview a few weeks ago. This Huskies team still has a lot of talent, but the question without Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels will be finding a second scoring option aside from Ryan Boatright. If they can do that, they should get back to the NCAA Tournament, though SMU will remain the fairly clear AAC favorite.

Khem Birch Going Pro It's sad that this is the last we'll see of Khem Kong. Also, with Roscoe Smith gone as well, UNLV will now be down their one elite interior defensive presence and (by far) their two best rebounders. 6'10" Christian Smith played well in very limited minutes as a freshman, and if he improves a lot then UNLV will still have one quality option down low, but this UNLV roster is going to be much younger and with much more turnover than they thought they were going to have a couple months ago. Dave Rice has a really nice recruiting class coming in, but UNLV will now drop from the 10 seed I had them at in my preseason bracket projection.

Matt Carlino Transfers To Marquette With everything else going on yesterday, this news basically got lost in the shuffle. But it's a big pickup for a Marquette team desperate for some early positive momentum under their new head coach. So far, the only news had been recruits decommitting. Carlino isn't enough to get Marquette back to the Tournament bubble, but it's a good sign for the direction of the program. As I've said a few times before, if Marquette can improve throughout the season as a basketball team and Wojo can put together a strong 2015 recruiting class, that will be a successful season for Marquette in and of itself.

Jeremy Hollowell To Georgia State Ron Hunter has turned Georgia State into a transfer hotbed. And right on the heels of landing Louisville's Kevin Ware, he now has former Indiana player Jeremy Hollowell. Keep in mind that Hollowell won't be eligible next season, so he'll be unable to take part in Ryan Harrow's final season with the program, but Kevin Ware is appealing for a waiver to play right away, so we'll have to keep an eye on that.

Jerian Grant Back To Notre Dame Jerian Grant, if you recall, was suspended with an academic issue right around Christmas and missed the entire ACC season. Garrick Sherman was Notre Dame's most important all around player this past season, but Grant was probably their best offensive weapon, and his return is essential for the Irish to get back to the NCAA Tournament. In my most recent bracket projection I assumed Grant would be back and still had Notre Dame missing the Field of 68, but they're in the first group out. They were one of the first teams out of the field, and could easily work their way back into my projected bracket before next season even tips off.

Sim Bhullar Going Pro This news has been something of a stop-and-start variety, as there were rumors of him going pro nearly a month ago that were quashed. But now it's official. And while you can't blame the guy for wanting to go pro, it would have been fun to see him play with his 7'3" brother, who is joining New Mexico State next season. That team was already the tallest in the nation, and might have been the tallest ever next season. New Mexico State will remain the WAC favorite, but the gap between them and the rest of the league will shrink, and their odds of winning a game in next year's NCAA Tournament are obviously significantly lower as well.

Monday, April 21, 2014

Morning News: Frank Haith To Tulsa, Jabari Parker To The NBA, And Much More

Wassup, Tulsa.

Frank Haith To Tulsa This was a stunner when the news first broke... but in retrospect, I think the stunner is that Tulsa would want Haith and would give him the type of contract (7 years at $1.85 Million per year) that even most SEC coaches don't have. Haith had a lot of success in his first year at Missouri coaching Mike Anderson's players, but the team had been in decline ever since and was due to be even weaker next season with the loss Jabari Brown and Jordan Clarkson. Haith was going to be at risk of being fired after next season, honestly. You'd think Tulsa would want a young up-and-comer rather than a retread who has shown no signs of brilliance so far. They have a roster built to make a good run at an at-large bid next season, but will it just be a repeat of Missouri?

Missouri fans are mostly excited by this news. After all, Haith did this once before when he left Miami for Missouri just before his seat got too warm, and Miami fell backwards into Jim Larranaga. Honestly, I doubt Missouri gets a coach of the quality of Larranaga here, and I don't understand why the media trolls teams like Missouri by floating coaches like Gregg Marshall and Shaka Smart that obviously aren't coming, but there's no reason Missouri shouldn't think they can get a coaching upgrade here.

Jabari Parker To The NBA Well, I guess we all got fooled a bit. A month ago it was a no-brainer that Parker, like Andrew Wiggins and Julius Randle, would be a one-and-done player. But he seemed to convince all of us over the last couple of weeks that he was actually really considering coming back for another season. Parker might not be the best NBA prospect, but he's the most NBA ready player now. And I'll talk about this when I do my NBA Draft preview, but Parker is just a wildly underrated player, particularly by the Duke fans that ragged on him all year while he utterly carried that team on both ends of the floor (yes, he was the team's best defensive player, too).

If Parker came back, Duke would have been a clear preseason #1. Even without him, they're still probably the narrow ACC favorite, though I wouldn't be surprised to see North Carolina end up earning the preseason favorite nod from the media. Both teams should be in the mix for 1 seeds next season.

USC's Byron Wesley Will Transfer A bleak year is looking even bleaker for USC as their far-and-away best player is going to leave via transfer. Andy Enfield's miracle Sweet 16 run with Florida Gulf Coast earned him a total honeymoon with the fans and the media in his first season at USC. But another season going something like 3-15 in conference play, which is what it looks like we're heading toward, will start putting the pressure on him.

St. John's Gets Chris Obekpa Back St. John's, coming off a rough season, looked to be getting fairly decimated by NBA and transfer defections. Chris Obekpa ended up being buried on the bench late in the season despite being one of the best shot blockers in the nation. But after announcing his transfer, he's decided to come back. This alone doesn't get St. John's back to being a likely bubble team next season, but it at least buoys the ship for a little while and changes the momentum of the program.

AJ Hammons Chooses Not To Go Pro Yet This is a good move all around. Purdue needed Hammons back to have any realistic shot of earning an at-large bid next season, while the reality was that Hammons isn't ready for the NBA yet. Even if he got drafted, he'd be a second rounder sent immediately down to the D-League. He's just not NBA ready yet. He's got the talent to get there with another year or two of seasoning at Purdue, though.

Boston College Gets Back Oliver Hanlan One of the reasons why Steve Donahue was pushed out the door at Boston College was because Oliver Hanlan and several others players were threatening to  leave. Ryan Anderson will still transfer, but Hanlan is the gem of the bunch. He's a fantastic playmaker and scorer who will likely end up in the NBA eventually. Boston College's defense needs to be significantly improved to get back to the NCAA Tournament, but Hanlan's return means that BC's offense should again be fairly good.

Ahmed Hill Decommits From Marquette Of the four player class that Buzz Williams originally signed at Marquette, only one (Sandy Cohen) is currently saying that he'll stay. Ahmed Hill was the highest rated of Marquette's recruits, and he's now off to Virginia Tech, along with Satchel Pierce, another Marquette recruit. For a Marquette team that was going to struggle to make the NCAA Tournament even if Buzz Williams had stayed, this portends a rough season. But the task for Steve Wojciechowski will be to have a first season that shows positive momentum. If he puts together a nice 2015 recruiting class and plays solid basketball in year one then it will be seen as a success, even if they don't go Dancing.

Butler Loses Elijah Brown And Three Others Four players have decided to transfer out of Butler in the last few months, with Brown being the most important. That said, I don't think there's reason for panic at Butler. All four players were freshmen or sophomores, and it's not uncommon for young players to want to leave after a coaching transition - seniors are more likely to prefer to just stick it out at the place they've spent years at. Also, besides Brown, the other three were not significant contributors this past season.

And Brandon Miller has two quality transfers coming back, in Indiana's Austin Etherington and NC State's Tyler Lewis. And while Lewis won't be eligible next season, he's a significantly better player than any of these transfers out. Throw in Roosevelt Jones coming back after missing this past season with injury and Butler still looks to have a bright future.

Arizona State Gets Another Year of Shaquielle McKissic The NCAA has given McKissic another year of eligibility, which was considered likely but was not a given. This is good news for an Arizona State roster that otherwise wasn't going to return much. They had a mediocre offense even with Jahii Carson, who is off to the NBA, running things. McKissic is a quietly efficient scorer, though, with a 53.1 eFG% and a high free throw rate. But Herb Sendek still has work left to do to make this a plausible at-large team.