Sunday, September 27, 2009

Binghamton Cleans House

As I said a few days ago, we would have to wait to see whether the arrest of Emanuel Mayben would be just the first Binghamton player to lose his spot on the team. Looks like we didn't have to wait long, as Binghamton completely cleaned house on Friday. Five players were released, including most of the starting lineup. D.J. Rivera, the best player from last year's team, was one of those released. In other words, you can now officially forget about Binghamton having any chance at repeating as conference champion.

This whole situation leaves two questions. The first is, where does Binghamton go from here? Will Kevin Broadus continue to go after trouble-makers, or will he try to rebuild his team with kids with greater character? And will he even be able to win when he's not just taking the players that other teams don't want around. The second question is, was this experiment worth it? Deadspin has a decent rundown on some of the legal troubles that Binghamton has been in since they've become "UNLV East", as Deadspin puts it.

I think that the answer to the second question will depend on the answer to the first question. If Broadus can parlay that Tournament appearance into program legitimacy and popularity, and is able to continue to recruit well and contend for America East titles every year, then I think most Binghamton fans will view this experience as worth it. But if Binghamton returns to the cellar of the America East, with only one tarnished title to their name... well, even hardcore basketball fans at the school might have second thoughts about the Kevin Broadus era.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Emanuel Mayben In Trouble

Binghamton's star point guard Emanuel Mayben has been charged with possessing and selling cocaine. Mayben led the team in assists and three-point shooting last season, and was second in scoring, and was expected to be a key cog in this year's attempt at a repeat America East title for the Bearcats. It's not clear at this point whether Mayben will definitely be gone from the team, but I'll keep tabs on it, and I'd be surprised if he's not off the team unless the police have completely messed up here.

Certainly this story will feed into the criticism that Binghamton has gotten with the way that they've developed their basketball program, effectively becoming the poor man's Memphis: bringing in the kids with poor academics, bad character and legal troubles that other schools don't want. People at the school, for the most part, are responding the way that is typical of situations like this: those that don't particularly care about basketball are upset that the school's reputation is being tarnished, while those who do care about basketball are in general saying that the benefit from the basketball success will bring enough positive money, enrollment and attention to outweigh any negative benefits of having some bad apples on the team. It remains to be seen how those opinions will change now that Binghamton has their first real legal problem with one of those kids. If more players from the team go down with troubles then we can only expect the criticism of the team to take off.

From a pure basketball perspective, this builds onto what I said back in April, which is that while Binghamton is probably the most talented team in the America East, I believe that Binghamton will falter under the high expectations and will finish behind Vermont. Certainly one way that teams falter under high expectations is that they get themselves in trouble, although it's certainly not the only way, or the way that I was necessarily expecting for Binghamton. But either way, this clearly doesn't change my opinion that Binghamton is not the favorite to win the America East this season. Of course, they'll get their chance soon to prove that I might be wrong when they get their shot at a weakened Pitt team on November 17th.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

24 Hour Hoops Marathon On ESPN

ESPN has gone with a one-day college hoops marathon before, but absolutely nothing like the insanity that will occur on November 17th. Andy Katz has the skinny on the event here. From midnight to midnight, at all times, there will be a college basketball game going on. That means not only will there be after-midnight starts, but there will be a 6 AM game, an 8 AM game, a 10 AM game... for 24 hours straight you will have a live college basketball game on ESPN and/or ESPN2 at all times.

To be fair, they're not all good games. There's the Northern Colorado-Hawaii game at 4 AM eastern time, and I think that even the parents of the players will be DVRing that one to watch later at their own convenience. But most of the others are exciting, for one reason or another. Nobody needs to be talked into Memphis-Kansas or Gonzaga-Michigan State, but I'll explain some of the games that will have less hype but will still have me excited:

Binghamton vs Pitt, 5:30 PM on ESPN2: This is probably the most intriguing game for me. I've talked a bit about Pitt's recent troubles: Gilbert Brown will be suspended for the game (as well as the entire fall semester), and Jermaine Dixon will likely still be out with a broken foot. Pitt was going to be a bubble team even with both players healthy all season, and now they are really in a precarious situation. Meanwhile, Binghamton is trying to prove that last season was not a fluke, and they will contend not just for another America East championship, but a potential NCAA Tournament win. A win in a game like this could be the difference between a 13 and a 14 seed, or a 12 and a 13, which can mean so much. Binghamton will come into this game believing that they can win, and Pitt will come into this game trying desperately not to mess up their at-large chances. Both teams will be very motivated.

Arkansas-Little Rock vs Tulsa, 2 PM on ESPN: This game won't get any attention from the mainstream media, but it will say a lot about Conference USA and the Sun Belt. For C-USA, it does appear likely that there will be a one-on-one duel between Tulsa and Memphis for the title. Obviously a loss to UALR would not look good for the resume, but more importantly I want to just see how good this team looks, and if they can realistically knock off Memphis. As for the Sun Belt Conference, all of the press that FIU has gotten doesn't change the fact that UALR is probably the top challenger for Western Kentucky. If UALR impresses in this game then they have to be taken seriously as a potential Sun Belt champion.

Northeastern vs Siena, 12 PM on ESPN: This one doesn't need a whole lot of explanation, even if it will be a bit off of the national radar. Siena is intent on proving that they'll be better than they were last year, and I've argued that they'll be both right and wrong: I think they'll be better than they were last season, but they were also so overrated last season that they can be better and still not be seen as better. As for Northeastern, they're a program on the rise that could potentially challenge for the title in a weakened Colonial. It's unlikely that they'll be in the mix for an at-large bid at the end of the season, but it will certainly be something that Northeastern fans will think about if they can knock off Siena in this one.

San Diego State vs Saint Mary's, 2 AM on ESPN: Both of these teams got enough national attention last season that this game doesn't need a whole lot of explanation either. Saint Mary's is attempting to prove that there will be life after Patty Mills, and that their steady stream of Australian recruits will continue to allow them to challenge Gonzaga in the WCC. And San Diego State is clearly thinking that they can make a run at a Tournament bid, and will have more of an argument if they can open with a win here. This game will be in McKeon Pavilion, where Saint Mary's is nearly impossible to beat, which would make a win here even more impressive for San Diego State.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Jermaine Dixon Breaks His Foot

Just a few weeks ago, Pittsburgh had to suspend Gilbert Brown for the fall semester because of academic problems. Now they find out that shooting guard Jermaine Dixon has broken his foot and will be out a minimum of 8 weeks. Dixon, the one returning starter from last season, was expected to start alongside Ashton Gibbs in the backcourt this coming season. Brad Wannamaker will be a capable starter for the time being, but Pitt's backcourt bench will be very thin until Dixon comes back. Their first guard off the bench is expected to actually be Travon Woodall, with his 17 career collegiate points.

The worry is also that this is the second time that Dixon has broken that foot in less than a year, which suggests that this might potentially be a problem that he'll have to deal with all season. Although even if he's only out 9-10 weeks, it could mean problems for a team that seems destined to be a bubble team and cannot afford a bad out-of-conference resume.

Pitt spends November playing a bunch of potentially dangerous mid-majors, any of whom can do damage to what will be a very, very young and inexperienced Panthers squad. Their first test will be on November 17th at the CBE Classic, against a dangerous Binghamton team. They then play Eastern Kentucky, Wichita State and then either Texas or Iowa. You have to figure that Texas is going to blow away the field at that tournament, and a loss to them will not look bad on Pitt's resume, but they've got to be sure that Texas is their only loss. Their next test will be December 2nd against a Duquesne team that is always giving Pitt troubles.

The time it takes Dixon to recover, and whether he's able to stay healthy, will both be very important factors in Pitt's chances at returning to the NCAA Tournament in 2010.

Good News, Bad News For Memphis

The good news for Memphis is that 2010-11 is looking better with the commitment of point guard Joe Jackson, arguably one of the ten best recruits in the 2010 class. That news, however, was immediately tempered by the news that forward Angel Garcia is out for the entire 2009-10 season with an ACL injury.

Memphis will have a very talented starting lineup in 2009-10 regardless of the status of Garcia, featuring Elliot Williams, Willie Kemp, Pierre Henderson-Niles, Doneal Mack and Roburt Sallie, potentially. That said, by my count they're down to eight scholarship players. Memphis is now dreadfully thin, and another injury will really put them in a bind. One thing in their favor is that they will get so many atrocious opponents in Conference USA that they'll be able to keep their stars fairly rested for their big opponents, but no amount of strategic substitutions will change the fact that they're a team that is very dependent on athleticism, and they will struggle with such a thin lineup.

This is a key season for Memphis recruiting. We all know that Josh Pastner can recruit, but right now he's recruiting top players based on what the school achieved under John Calipari. He needs to prove that he can manage games, and that he can continue the winning tradition. If he can't prove that he can win, then no amount of recruiting prowess will keep those Top 5 recruiting classes coming.

Even with this injury, Memphis remains the favorite to win the C-USA title, but they are not a heavy favorite. Tulsa is a very good team, and I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them force Memphis to sweat out Selection Sunday.

Wisconsin Boots Two Freshmen

In a surprise to nobody familiar with their situation, freshmen guards Diamond Taylor and Jeremy Glover had their Wisconsin careers end before they started. Both players had been suspended indefinitely after being arrested for burglary, among other crimes, a couple of weeks ago. While certainly disappointing, this won't have a big effect on the 2009-10 season for Wisconsin. Glover was actually a walk-on, and was likely going to redshirt. Taylor might have redshirted as well, and even if he played he'd have been something like the third guard off the bench.

This will be felt by Wisconsin in 2010-11, however, when their starting backcourt of Trevon Hughes and Jason Bohannon will graduate. That will make the backcourt very thin indeed, and makes the Vander Blue situation even more important. If you recall, Blue (one of the best players to come out of Madison in a long time) decommitted a couple of months back over his academics and the way that they were being discussed and disparaged on internet message boards. Still, Wisconsin is a serious contender for his services, and he's still uncommitted for 2010. If Wisconsin can't re-close the deal with Blue, then they will really have to scramble for some more guards.

The loss of Glover and Taylor won't have a serious effect on this coming season, but the only way Wisconsin is a Tournament team in 2011 will be if they can grab a highly rated guard or two for their 2010 class. Even Vander Blue might not be enough.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Less Than Five Weeks To Midnight Madness

I should have noted last night that it was five weeks to Midnight Madness. Madness begins Friday night, October 16th. The next BP65 will come out within a week after that. It's not clear to me when the first exhibition game for any Division I team will be, but I know of at least one game on October 24th, and there could be an even earlier game.

The first regular season games will be the Coaches v Cancer preseason tournament, which begins November 9th.

The season is almost here!

Monday, September 07, 2009

It's Good To Know A Top Recruit

Louisville gets a mention in an Andy Katz blog post from Friday, although not for that Pitino sex scandal that has been grabbing the headlines. Katz is actually writing about the hiring of Indianapolis Pike High assistant coach Shabaka Lands to be Pitino's 11th assistant coach. Now I'm sure that just about nobody has ever heard of Lands, and nobody would ordinarily care about Louisville's 11th assistant coach, except that Lands got the job specifically because his former school (Pike High) is the location of one of 2011's Top 10 national recruits, Marquis Teague. And if you don't think the fact that Lands coached Teague, and Teague is Pitino's top target for 2011 are related facts, I've got a bridge to sell you.

This highlights an NCAA coaching trick that has been going on for years - in fact, decades. Teams hire relatives and coaches of the players that they want to sign, in hopes of luring those players. Now, that is bad enough behavior - giving jobs to people who aren't qualified as an attempt to push the recruiting envelope as far as possible. But sometimes it actually gets worse, with coaches/parents and players becoming package deals, where kids will flat out tell coaches that they'll only come to the school if their father can get a job, or if their coach can be on the staff. John Calipari is probably most famous for this trick, such as hiring DaJuan Wagner's father in exchange for Wagner's letter of intent. Calipari has even has done it with players who insist on coming as packages, such as star 2009 recruit Xavier Henry, who insisted on being a package deal with C.J. Henry, his brother. C.J. is a mediocre recruit who wouldn't have gotten a whiff of attention from big time programs, but he has now followed Xavier to Kansas, where Bill Self was willing to give up a spot on his roster to a non-productive player in order to get arguably the best player in the '09 class.

Katz matter-of-factly talks about this practice, even resigning himself to the fact that "Coaches who have ties to players joining staffs has happened for decades. It's not going away at any juncture." If it isn't going away, it's only because the NCAA chooses to do nothing about it. If the NCAA wants to pass a rule then they can, and I have a simple rule that would fix almost all of this in one fell swoop:

1) Whenever any coach is added to the staff of a college basketball team in any position other than head coach, that team may not sign any player that the coach has had on his high school or AAU team within the past 3 seasons.

2) A school may not hire to any position (basketball-related or not) a direct relative of a basketball recruit while that player is eligible to play at the school, nor shall they sign any player within two years of hiring a direct relative at the school.

If the NCAA passed those two rules then they would end almost all of this bad behavior immediately.