Wednesday, April 29, 2009
Now, there are a couple of ways to look at this. I know that a lot of people on the internet are taking the fact that USC backed away from Sidney's off-court troubles as proof that Sidney is a total personal disaster. USC, after all, is a school that has had tons of problem kids - both on their basketball and football team. I mean, they could deal with the Mayo situation, but Sidney is too much? This seems to be the common consensus I'm seeing around the internet. But I'd argue that there's another possibility.
I would argue that USC is really worried because of the scrutiny they're under right now by the NCAA. There are investigations going on. I don't think they want to touch any kid who might remotely be a problem right now. And maybe it will do Sidney a lot of good to be closer to home and around his family. He would have been much more likely to get in trouble across the country in Los Angeles. Besides, OJ Mayo turned out okay, didn't he? He might not have been the superduperstar people thought he was going to be (I know he's had a lot of success, but he was supposedly the best high school player since Lebron James), but he didn't get arrested or suspended or anything else.
Assuming Sidney comes to Mississippi State and is able to stay out of trouble, there are going to be very, very high hopes for the Bulldogs next season. Andy Katz is suggesting that if Jarvis Varnado returns they can be a Top 15 team next season. That's overstating things a bit, but they should be very good. A few weeks ago I rated them, assuming Varnado stays out of the Draft, as the favorites in the SEC West. I gave them a 10 seed in the Tournament. If Varnado returns and Sidney does indeed come to town then I see them in the range of a 7-8 seed. They will be a borderline Top 25 team, but I think the Top 15 is a bit of a push. If Sidney comes and Varnado stays in the Draft then I still think they will be favored to make the Tournament. As I said in my SEC preview, even if Varndo is gone (and, implicitely, there is no Renardo Sidney) I still view Mississippi State as a Bubble team. They have a lot of talent returning and should be better no matter what.
But I'm going to give Renardo Sidney a chance to succeed. If he's the next OJ Mayo, well... Mississippi State will take that.
If Calathes returns then Florida can potentially make a run at the SEC title (although Tennessee and maybe even Mississippi State also think that they can seriously challenge Kentucky). Without Calathes they won't finish higher than 3rd in the SEC East. But at least the return of Alex Tyus should ease the stress of Florida fans watching so many players transfer out and jump into the Draft, and should assure them of a trip back to the Tournament for the first time since their last National Title.
That all said, Grant was the best coach that Alabama was going to get, and he does strike me as a no-nonsense head coach who can recruit, which are two good characteristics for a head coach to have. He managed to hang onto Alabama's solid recruiting class, and this week he added another piece: Ben Eblen. Eblen had been the best recruit that Grant had pulled into VCU's '09 class, and Eblen now follows Grant down to Alabama.
Alabama loses two key players in Alonzo Gee and Brandon Hollinger, but they will be a deep team next season. They do return a solid back court of Senario Hillman and Mikhail Torrence, as well JaMychal Green and Justin Knox inside. Hillman, Torrence and Green are all three solid SEC starters. Knox only played about 20 minutes per game last season, but he is developing into a solid power forward, and should start next season. Yamene Coleman and Anthony Brock are among four key bench players who return. And with the signing of Eblen the recruiting class balloons to five quality recruits. Obviously one or two of them will redshirt, but Tony Mitchell and Shawn Kemp, Jr are the two highest rated recruits and the two most likely to play key minutes next season.
Gee and Hollinger won't be easy to replace, but I still think Alabama will be improved next season. Of course, they've got a ways to go as both Sagarin and Pomeroy rated them the 95th best team in the nation. I have them currently rated 4th in the SEC West, and one of the teams I considered for the BP65 but left out. Grant is off to a solid start, but I don't think I'm going to move their projection too much at this point. They struggled offensively last season, and they lost their leading scorer, but to me the biggest issue will be rebounding. Alabama's biggest problem last season was atrocious defensive rebounding (Pomeroy rated them the 282nd best defensive rebounding team in the nation). Considering that their two highest rated recruits are both forwards (Kemp and Mitchell), a huge key will likely be how developed they are by the fall. Big men sometimes need a year or two to get to the point that they can play large minutes (such as the case of Justin Knox). I think that the Tide are going to have to get a lot of production out of either or both of their two key recruits if they're going to make the Tournament in Anthony Grant's first season.
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
With the April 26th deadline for entering the NBA Draft passed, we now know for certain who is in the process and who is not. The complete list is at Wikipedia here. Of those who are in the Draft and have signed with an agent, none of them are big surprises. I already assumed that all of those guys were gone when putting together my previews. So that information affects nothing. Of those who chose to eschew the Draft process altogether, the one surprise for me was Al-Farouq Aminu. I already talked about his situation here, where I mentioned that Wake Forest will jump higher in the next BP65 because of his return.
But now let's go through the question marks: the players that are in the Draft for now, but might choose to return to school before the deadline of June 15th. As my regular readers know, I love to break teams and players into groups, and I'm going to break these players into four groups. First, I will split them in half by whether my current projections assume that the player will stay in the Draft or not. And then I will split those in half again by how likely I think they are to stay in the Draft. Here we go:
Players that my 2009-10 projections assumed would go pro:
I'd be shocked if they don't stay in the Draft:
Eric Devendorf, Syracuse
Tyreke Evans, Memphis (Note: Wikipedia claims he already has an agent)
Jrue Holiday, UCLA
Tyler Smith, Tennessee
I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them return to school:
Paul Harris, Syracuse
Patrick Mills, Saint Mary's
Tasmin Mitchell, LSU
Jeff Teague, Wake Forest
Players that my 2009-10 projections assumed would stay in school:
I wouldn't be too surprised to see them stay in the Draft:
Derrick Brown, Xavier
Nick Calathes, Florida
Austin Daye, Gonzaga
Devan Downey, South Carolina
Osiris Eldridge, Illinois State
Taj Gibson, USC
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame
Damion James, Texas
Gani Lawal, Georgia Tech
Ater Majok, UConn
Jodie Meeks, Kentucky
Patrick Patterson, Kentucky
Scottie Reynolds, Villanova
Shawn Taggart, Memphis
Jarvis Varnado, Mississippi State
Greivis Vasquez, Maryland
Michael Washington, Arkansas
Nick Wise, Arizona
I'd be shocked if they stay in the Draft:
Dominique Archie, South Carolina
Dwayne Collins, Miami (Fl)
Brandon Costner, NC State
Bryan Davis, Texas A&M
Chinemelu Elonu, Texas A&M
Roderick Flemings, Hawaii
Mac Koshwal, DePaul
Donald Sloan, Texas A&M
Jonathan Tavernari, BYU
Jeremy Wise, Southern Miss
I'll review this list again once we pass the June 15th deadline and know for certain who will be back to college ball next season.
Monday, April 27, 2009
It's easy to ignore Baylor's chances in 2009-10: They went 5-11 in a Big 12 Conference that didn't get a lot of national respect. They lose three starters to graduation, including their best player (Curtis Jerrells). But remember, there's a difference between a team's resume and a team's ability. Some teams end up being a whole lot better than their record indicates, as Baylor proved with their great runs in the Big 12 tournament and the NIT. Georgia Tech, Oregon and Virginia Tech are a couple of schools that come to mind when talking about teams that were better than their records in 2008-09, but two teams were just really, really much better than their record: Georgetown and Baylor. A big mistake a lot of analysts will make when rating teams in the preseason will be to judge Baylor as a 5-11 Big 12 team that loses three starters. I'd rather view them as the 27th best team in the country (according to the most reliable computer ratings on the internet) that loses three starters but also brings in a stellar recruiting class.
Let's go through Baylor's projected lineup:
Kevin Rogers, Tweety Carter, LaceDarius Dunn, Quincy Acy and Josh Lomers all started 10 or more games last season, and all will be back. LaceDarius Dunn is the best scorer of the bunch, and should lead the team in points next season. He will start at shooting guard. Tweety Carter will likely start at the point. Kevin Rogers is a load inside, and he was the best post player that Baylor had last season, so he will definitely start at the 4 or 5 spot. Quincy Acy is a decent small forward who will get 20-25 minutes per game next season, even if he doesn't start. Lomers is a 7-footer who is still growing into his body and struggled to stay on the floor and out of foul trouble last season.
As for the incomers, first we have Ekpe Udoh, a transfer from Michigan (a stellar post defender who collected 6 points and 5 rebounds per game in 2007-08 for the Wolverines). Nolan Dennis became Baylor's best recruit when they snapped him up from Memphis, and he's a 6'5" two guard. Mark McLaughlin is a quality point guard recruit, although I wouldn't expect him to play too much as a Freshman. A.J. Walton is actually a higher rated point guard recruit. The best big man recruit is probably Givon Crump, although he's a bit undersized at 6'7", 205 pounds. He'll have to put some weight on. One last player to keep an eye on is Anthony Jones, the best recruit from Baylor's '08 class. He only played 9 minutes per game as a Freshman, mostly because he was just too skinny and didn't play well enough back in the fall. Expect him to play a much larger role as a Sophomore.
I actually think that Nolan Dennis will start and Baylor will go with a three guard lineup. I think Quincy Acy will be the fifth starter. Josh Lomers will get extended playing time, but I don't think he'll be ready to go 30 minutes per game. Crump, Jones and Udoh should all get extended time off the bench as well. Don't be surprised to see either Walton or McLaughlin redshirt, but either of them would be productive in 8-15 minutes per game if they get the chance.
A few weeks ago I rated Baylor eighth in a Big 12 Conference that should get six or seven Tournament teams. I had them as one of the teams that was seriously considered for an at-large bid to the Dance but was left out. But that was before the two new recruits. McLaughlin should turn out to be a quality signing, even though I wouldn't expect too much next season. But Nolan Dennis is a great signing who will pay off immediately. And I have a lot of faith in Scott Drew, who is one of the best young coaches in the nation. At this point, I plan on moving Baylor into the bracket when the next BP65 comes out in about a month. The future is bright for Baylor.
Sunday, April 26, 2009
So what did I do to cause this ire? Reports are still trickling in, but I think I've got a handle on what's going on. I had a post about Darnell Dodson signing with Kentucky and Shawn Taggart entering the NBA Draft process, and I mentioned that other Memphis players are considering transferring, either to Kentucky or other places. This isn't controversial, of course. A google search for "Wesley Witherspoon" AND transfer returns 2400 pages. I have made it clear that these are all just rumors floating around the internet, so my rating of Memphis in the BP65 still assumes that all of the non-Seniors are returning (other than Tyreke Evans, of course).
Now, I'm a bit sympathetic towards Memphis fans. They are in a pretty unprecedented situation. First, they were left out of the Big East. Then John Calipari abandoned them, and his recruiting class evaporated into thin air. If they disappear from the elite basketball world now, they will never return. I discussed this briefly in my 2009-10 Conference USA preview, but I didn't want to dwell on it too long. It's hard to imagine being a fan of a program going through a situation like this.
The lesson of all of this, of course, is that it's easy to see why a lot of bloggers do their best Skip Bayless impressions. I got more visits today just linking in from the Memphis websites than from all other websites combined over the last six days combined. And it was a fairly sympathetic post, where I tried to be pretty positive, and not come to any conclusions that couldn't be back up with fact. If I'd actually attempted to goad Memphis fans, they would have been in even more of a fury, and even more visitors would have showed up.
It's stuff like this that makes me understand why some bloggers are tempted to flame all the time. But I don't really have that temptation. It's not like I make enough money on this website for it to be worth the stress. So to my regular readers: have no fear. I won't be tempted to change my style.
I think most casual college basketball fans didn't realize how good Seton Hall was this past season. They finished 7-11 in the Big East, meaning that they were one win short of a plausible at-large scenario entering the Big East tournament. Sagarin rated them 76th overall, and Pomeroy had them 73rd with a Luck rating of 241st overall. As I said in my Big East preview, they were closer to being a Bubble team last season than most people realized.
They lose one player to graduation (Paul Gause), and he started as a guard, but he was probably the least important of their five starters this past season. Eugene Harvey and Jeremy Hazell made a great back court duo last season, and they'll both be back. They also have Jordan Theodore, a highly touted recruit who scored 6 points per game in 22 minutes per game as a true Freshman. Keon Lawrence transfers in from Missouri (he scored 11 points per game for Mizzou in 2007-08), as does Jeff Robinson from Memphis (3 points per game in 9 minutes per game on the Memphis team that made the NCAA Championship Game in 2007-08). In other words, their back court will be excellent and very deep.
On the inside, John Garcia and Robert Mitchell were decent starters last season, and both will be back. They get a great addition in Herb Pope, transferring in from New Mexico State (11 points per game and 7 rebounds per game for the Aggies in 2007-08). Mike Davis and Brandon Walters were the two big men in the regular rotation that came off the bench, and they'll both be back. As will 6'11" Melvyn Oliver, who redshirted this past season and still has four years of eligibility left. And now we can throw in Farrakohn Hall, who is a bit small to be a post player (6'7", 210 pounds), but he will fill a big need. Seton Hall clearly has big men, and they clearly have guards, and all they needed was a swing man. That's what Hall is.
So what will next year's roster be? Hazell and Harvey will be locks to start. I think Herb Pope will start as well, and my guess is that John Garcia will start as well. I think Keon Lawrence will actually be the fifth starter, and they'll go with a three-guard lineup again. Robert Mitchell is actually a better player than John Garcia, but he's only 6'6". If you're going to go with a three guard lineup, you've got to have two bigs to counter, especially in the Big East. But don't be surprised to see a lineup with two guards, Farrakohn Hall, Robert Mitchell and Herb Pope getting a lot of time together.
If I'm right about the starting lineup, that means Hall, Theodore, Mitchell, Robinson, Oliver, Davis and Walters will all be coming off the bench. That's a quality 11 man rotation that will play well in a Big East that won't be as good as it was last season.
Even before the Farrakohn Hall signing, I had Seton Hall as one of my first five or six teams out of the BP65. I'm not sure if I'm going to move them into the next BP65 quite yet, but I'm certainly keeping my eye on them. I have them eighth in the Big East right now, but they could potentially finish as high as fifth. Bobby Gonzalez is building a good program at Seton Hall. Keep an eye on them.
As a former Division I college athlete who played professionally in three different countries, I am vehemently opposed to Jeremy Tyler dropping out of high school and taking his game overseas to sign a professional contract with a European team. His actions, and the support he gets from his father and from "strategic advisor" Sonny Vaccaro, leave me with more questions than answers.
When did our society become completely and totally focused on the paper chase and not on the substance of the human being chasing the paper?
I have heard the argument, "he can go and get paid," too many times, as if that is the trump in the argument. Whatever happened to working to achieve greatness, not having it handed to you on a silver platter before you are ready? We have seen Michelle Wie take the road of becoming a trailblazer, joining the professional ranks in women's golf shortly before her 16th birthday. Yet the criticism levelled against her is that she has never even won on the women's tour, thus making her foray into playing against professional men's players even more questionable.
The first paragraph actually isn't an awful start. Anybody who takes advice from Sonny Vaccaro needs their head checked. Nobody has made more money off of screwing up the lives of impressionable young basketball players than Vaccaro. But it's all downhill from there. "When did our society become completely and totally focused on the paper chase"?? First of all, I hate that pretentiousness. People who say that money doesn't matter are always people who already have a ton of it. Maybe Tyler's family really needs the money. And is Tyler not supposed to care about the big money that is coming in the NBA? Is he not supposed to want a piece of the hundreds of thousands of dollars that he'll probably make in two years in Europe? Besides, it's hypocritical to bash a kid for taking money at age 17 if you don't bash a kid like Tyreke Evans for taking money after one year of college.
As for his next point about kids needing to work harder before they should be allowed to cash in? Kids shouldn't be allowed to get money handed to them on a silver platter? Sounds like Gottlieb is just bitter that Tyler has the skills to earn big money, while Gottlieb himself did not. If you want to make the argument that it's unfair that basketball players earn $100 Million while elementary school teachers earn $40,000... ESPN.com is really not the website for you.
Jeremy Tyler is good, but by no means the greatest high school player we have ever seen. Instead of learning to win and improving in high school, Tyler is going to chase the almighty dollar before he has even proven he can lead a winning team at the high school level (his team was 15-11 this past season). "Well, he is going to get paid" is not really a sound argument.
If it is acceptable for Tyler to leave high school after his junior year to play professionally, when does it not become OK to leave? Tyler is setting a dangerous precedent by making this move. What about a sophomore or a freshman making a similar decision? Why even have high school at all?
This is an invalid argument as well. Arguing that Tyler shouldn't go because high school kids better than him are not making the same decision doesn't mean anything. Maybe they should be going as well! Some people make the argument that basketball should be like European soccer, with all of the best kids going into professional youth programs at young ages, and Gottlieb's argument isn't refuting that.
The question isn't "can kids go pro before finishing college?" because we've already answered that question in the affirmative. The question is to look at each individual kid, and whether going pro is in their own best interest.
One must also consider that now any high school player who is decent might believe this is his way out. A way out of a practice that's held too early in the morning. A way out of running his high school coach's offense. A way out algebra class. A way out of detention. By enabling Tyler, you sow the seeds of discontent throughout high school basketball.
Is Gottlieb really naive enough to think that this doesn't happen already? If you're a kid and you don't like your high school program, you're going to another program. Does he really think that Oak Hill Academy just gets all those good kids by accident?
The old Soviet Union had "athlete-only" schools. Are we proposing that is the best way to develop our athletes and keep them from leaving the country?
This is a red herring. First of all, the problem with the Soviet Union is that kids were forced to go into these schools. The fact that Tyler is making a decision in his own best interest rather than staying in government schools is the opposite of the Soviet Union. We already have sports-only high schools. We have diploma mills. Again, is Gottlieb really pretending to be that naive? Finally, throwing "Soviet Union" in there is just a version of Godwin's Law. It's tossing out an inflammatory image in order to try to win an argument that you can't win on the base of your own logic and facts.
Where is the value on getting an education? A mind is a terrible thing to waste, but Tyler's handlers are not concerned with his brain, only his brawn. Tyler is not even going to finish his junior year academically, let alone begin his senior year. That means he's forfeiting all the experiences that come with high school -- no prom, no cap and gown, no SAT, no college, just hoops from here on out. Have we really gotten to this point?
This paragraph has to be a joke. Again, is there really a difference between what Tyler is doing and kids who leave college after their freshman year? Has Gottlieb seen some of the kids coming out of the diploma mills? Many of them can barely speak english. The fact that they're getting to put on a cap and gown doesn't mean that they're educated.
Basketball has afforded me so many wonderful opportunities outside of the gym, I cannot fathom shunning all of them to simply make money as soon as possible. Are we asking that much of a kid to have him trudge through one more year of high school, one year of college at Louisville before heading off to the NBA? The truth is that all of that time allows Tyler more opportunities for failure, so this is the easy way out to avoid that possibility.
Once again, is Gottlieb really pretending that if he could have been a lottery pick out of high school that he wouldn't have gone straight to the NBA?
Maybe the most important thing in Tyler's case is the fact that I am not really sure what his true value is to a professional team at 17 years old. As we have seen with Brandon Jennings, even the very best 18-year-old in high school basketball does not always garner major minutes at a high level in the pro leagues in Europe. Jennings was the very best high school player in the country and a year older than Tyler, yet he has not played at all in a couple of games and is averaging just five points per game in the Italian League.
Gottlieb is just showing his ignorance about European basketball here. Jennings chose to go to a really high level team. Virtus Roma has five Euroleague Championships, only two other teams in all of Europe have had more (Real Madrid and CSKA Moscow). They have been to the Euroleague Round of 16 in each of the past three seasons. Jennings simply chose to play 20 minutes per game at a really high level rather than starring for a lesser team. He wanted to play against high level competition, and it paid off. He's almost a certain Top Ten pick in the Draft in a couple of months. Tyler can find plenty of European teams where he can star. He'll have to find the right balance between being the star and playing against better competition.
While Jennings is contracted to make somewhere near $300,000, like most bad contracts, his will not be duplicated on another player (Tyler) since he has not worked out. A team might sign Tyler only in order to let him develop for three or four years, and you would expect a contract like that to include a Ricky Rubio-type buyout ($6 million). In other words, Tyler might actually take longer to get paid in the NBA by going this route.
First of all, does Gottlieb really think that somebody will get paid less than $300,000 over two years yet have a buyout clause of $6 Million? And does he think that some evil team is going to stick in a buyout clause without telling him? Obviously Tyler will sign a contract that allows him to leave after two years to go to the NBA, the same way that Jennings had a contract that allowed him to leave after one season if he wanted. If a team won't give him that contract he'll go somewhere else. It's not that difficult.
It should also be noted that most published figures of overseas salaries are heavily inflated. As Jennings alluded to, based on his experience in Italy, players often do not get paid on time or receive all of what is owed them in their contract when their stint with a team does not go well. If Tyler flames out in Europe, what does he have to come home to?
Gottlieb is making this up. What is in your contract is what is in your contract. Kids on European teams don't get the resort hotels, the fancy chartered planes and the huge daily stipends, but Tyler will get paid whatever his contract states. If a team wants the right to cut him if he plays badly, then that will be in the contract. This is Europe, it's not Somalia... they have laws.
I am willing to believe that Jeremy Tyler could mature and progress as a player while getting paid. He is an immense talent, but one who is reputed to have some issues with discipline, something that will simply not be tolerated by any coach from any player, let alone a young player.
In other words, this might be in Tyler's best interest after all. Good to see Gottlieb conceding the debate. As for the tail end of the paragraph, good to know that Rick Pitino tolerates discipline issues at Louisville (where Tyler had an oral commitment to play).
Will Tyler benefit from making basketball his life at such a young age? He'll be practicing twice a day, while learning a new language and getting used to a new culture. It could be a tremendous experience for him personally, but far too often players go overseas without taking advantage of the experience of living in a new country. They spend their time hanging out in their apartments, watching movies and living on the Internet instead of submerging in a new culture and putting the experience to good use. Thus, they may live in a country they barely know and spend their time simply chasing the "cheddar."
Yes, because we all know that star high school and collegiate players spend their days at museums and operas. None of the players at Louisville spend their days on the internet rather than learning about a new culture. In all seriousness, if anything this is good for a player who has some behavior problems. Tyler is a lot less likely to get sucked into the college party style in Europe. He'll immediately be a professional who is expected to behave like a professional. He'll have fewer distractions than he would have had at Louisville.
Again, Gottlieb might have been forced to write that article because ESPN needed somebody to take that viewpoint, but his arguments are preposterous. The fact is that you can't argue that kids shouldn't be able to go make money before graduating college, and you can't argue that kids need to focus more on their education, because that's not happening around the country as it is. We already have diploma mills and kids going one-and-done in college.
So the question isn't whether anybody should be able to go pro early. The question is whether Tyler himself is making the right decision. Plenty of kids have made stupid decision to go pro too early and messed up their basketball careers, but that was because they made a dumb evaluation of their own potential future. It worked out plenty well for Kobe Bryant, Dwight Howard and Kevin Garnett.
And in the end, that's what this is about. I'm tired of reading pretentious arguments about how Tyler is doing something bad for the world, and that he's ruining college basketball forever. This is simply a personal decision about Tyler's future. This is the right decision for some people, and the wrong decision for others. Only somebody who really knows Tyler personally can make any sort of a judgment on this. That's why I'm not passing judgment. I hope Tyler has made the best decision for his future, and I wish him the best of luck.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
But getting back to Memphis, the roster is going to be even more depleted than I thought it would be a few weeks ago. Shawn Taggert has entered the NBA Draft process for now. He has not signed with an agent, but even if he comes back for another season it most likely will not be with Memphis. It also appears that Roburt Sallie and Wesley Witherspoon are going to head to Kentucky, although that's not certain. It's extremely unlikely that either player will return to Memphis for another season, though. So who does that leave Memphis with?
Well, it does seem that Doneal Mack and Willie Kemp are going to stay, simply because they're going to be Seniors and it's not worth sitting out a season as a transfer just so you can play one more year somewhere else. Pierre Henderson-Niles will also likely stay, although he probably wouldn't have been good enough to earn playing time at Kentucky anyway. The reports are that Juco recruit Will Coleman is staying as well. But Coleman is the only player left from that recruiting class. The only other players from this past year's Memphis roster who might possibly be back are Freshmen: Angel Garcia, Matt Simpkins and Preston Laird. There are rumors about Garcia leaving, but Simpkins seems to be staying for now. As far as I can tell, Laird is a walk-on, but I've never seen him play and don't know anything about him.
So that leaves Memphis with five likely scholarship players: Kemp, Mack, Henderson-Niles, Coleman and Simpkins. Garcia is a possibility. Other than that, how do they even fill the rest of the roster? At this point, it's unclear. Maybe they'll find some lesser Juco kids. There are a couple of lesser High School prospects who haven't signed anywhere, and so Memphis might look into those kids also. But reasonably, this is going to be a very, very thin team next year.
In other words, don't be too surprised to see a school like Tulsa win the Conference USA and for Memphis to be NIT bound - or worse.
Friday, April 24, 2009
In all seriousness, I don't recall normally seeing a contract so spelled out. Every single tiny clause has been made public, including the number of free tickets he's allowed per game and his 'total meal allowance'. Looking through it, though, it's pretty clear that the Thomas signing was all about what we thought it was - a small program trying to make a splash. Most of the Thomas's money is going to come from endorsements, ticket sales and concession sales. And have no doubt: FIU will have an attendance spike next season.
I've already given my thoughts on the Thomas signing here, so I won't rehash those issues. I'm just passing along the story.
Certainly, going to Europe is difficult. There have been mixed reports on how much Jennings really enjoyed this past season (see here and here for examples), although the general consensus seems to be that he is happy with the decision but that it took a strong family and friend support structure to help him. He averaged nearly 8 points per game in nearly 20 minutes per game for Virtus Roma, an Italian team that regularly makes the late rounds in the Euroleague. It's also a team that has a lot of history with American players, which surely helped. Previous players for Virtus include Danny Ferry, Brian Shaw, Tyus Edny, Allan Ray, Rick Mahorn and Anthony Parker. George Gervin and Michael Cooper also played there at the tail end of their careers. Since the perception is that Tyler, while a top recruit, is not quite the talent that Jennings is, he might not end up on a team that has had so much success and that has so much American history. Or he could end up on the bench for the same team. It's tough enough playing in Europe without getting buried on the bench.
One argument being made (at least by those who know a little something about soccer) is that this is like how the top world soccer players develop. They all go off to academies at young ages, and often sign professional contracts at very young ages. Wayne Rooney signed with Everton at age 10, and joined their Premier League side at age 16. Manchester United's Academy has an Under-9 team. But as somebody who actually follows soccer at this level, I'm going to tell you that this is a different case. Europeans are more and more moving towards the European Union view of the world, with Europe being something like a single country. If you live in one country, it's not a big deal to move to the country next door. And kids aren't travelling across countries when they're 9 years old anyway. You see very few kids going international to play for youth teams before the age of 15. And even then, they are going to be on teams with many European players, and they won't feel like the odd man out. Going across the ocean is completely different. It is very, very rare to see American soccer players heading to European academies. There are plenty of American soccer players good enough: there are a number of Americans starting in the Premier League, but all of them started in American academies and schools. It's not the being in an academy that is the hard part, it's being the odd man out.
So can this work for Tyler? It certainly is possible. It's going to come down to his family and support structure. He's going to have a lot of tough times, but if he can mentally handle them then certainly the Euroleague is a lot more of a development process than High School ball. Also, if he can show that he can handle the Euroleague then it will ease the worries of NBA teams who often wonder if 19 year old kids can handle the pressure and money that comes with being in the league. It's not my place to pass judgment on this kid's priorities. If he can succeed then it will work out for him. If he can't then he'd better find a way to go back and get that degree. Only time will tell how he handles this.
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
As for Reynolds, I'd actually be pretty surprised if he stays in the NBA Draft. His draft stock isn't very high, and for good reason. He's a very good college player, and he's solid in every aspect of his game, but he's relatively small and unathletic for an NBA guard, and isn't a great shooter. He hasn't really improved much since he was a Freshman, so there's no reason to believe he'll suddenly get much better in the NBA. Right now most mock drafts don't even have him getting picked. And you have to throw in the fact that Villanova returns almost everybody and has the potential for another Final Four run next season (I have them projected as the Big East Champ and #2 overall behind Kansas). Those projections, of course, assume that Reynolds does stick around. If he goes pro then Nova will drop, probably into the 4-5 seed range.
One other news item for this post is Georgia's release of 6'11" Daniel Miller from his letter of intent, and his immediate signing one day later by Georgia Tech. Some might argue that this isn't a big story since Miller isn't exactly John Wall or Xavier Henry. He is a 3-star recruit (Scout.com has him as the 28th best center in the nation) who only attracted serious attention from one other BCS school (Minnesota). But here's why this is a big story: I am not alone in thinking that Mark Fox was a questionable hire for Georgia. The guy did a good job at Nevada, but it's not like he has gotten a ton of attention from major conference schools - he's good, but not that good. And the problem is that this guy has no history with the southeastern part of this country. Is he really going to be able to settle into Georgia? Will he be able to recruit? And here you have Georgia's top 2009 recruit, the best center in the state not named Derrick Favors, and he jumps ship. And not only does he jump ship, but he jumps to Georgia's intrastate rival, where he clearly is fine sitting on the bench this season behind Favors rather than getting more playing time at Georgia. This is about as bad of a start to Fox's tenure at Georgia as he could have had.
2009-10 was going to be a long season for Georgia anyway. They probably won't be any better than they were this past season, and they were already a pretty far distance away from anybody else in the SEC East. With the SEC East improved next season, I expect that gap to grow even further. I'm pretty sure that the SEC preseason media poll will agree with me and put Georgia last in the SEC East. But the question will be Fox's recruiting. If he can prove me wrong and pull in some big pieces for the 2010-11 season then maybe things will start to look up for the Bulldogs. One name to keep an eye on is Ralston Turner (Rivals: 36th overall), who is reportedly seriously considering Georgia. Landing Turner could help lower the talent gap between Georgia and the rest of the SEC East.
We'll have to wait and see whether Fox can turn the ship around. But the case of Daniel Miller is certainly a bad omen to begin his tenure at Georgia.
Of course, with top recruits these days you can't just recruit the kid, you've got to recruit their whole family. Some kids bring assistant coaches with them, others have family members suddenly get athletic trainer positions at their new school. For Xavier Henry, it's his brother who gets a spot on the basketball team also. C.J. Henry was already at Memphis, sitting out this past season with an injury. He will now head to Kansas with Xavier. But forget C.J., because he'll be lucky if he sees the floor outside of garbage time next season. The key here is Xavier Henry, and how much better he makes a team that was going to be the #1 team in the preseason polls even before Henry decided to show up.
The question is, how big of a roll with Henry play next year? The starting lineup of Cole Aldrich at center, the Morris brothers at power forward, and Sherron Collins, Brady Morningstar and Tyshawn Taylor at guard will all be back. Obviously Aldrich and one of the Morris brothers will start every game down low, and Collins will be the starting point guard. But it's not obvious that Henry will start over either Taylor or Morningstar. If I had to guess I'd say that Henry will start over Morningstar. I can't fathom that Henry would have picked Kansas unless Bill Self had assured him of a spot in the starting lineup. That means that Morningstar will come off the bench, along with whichever Morris brother doesn't start (most likely Markieff), Tyrel Reed, Mario Little, Elijah Johnson and Thomas Robinson. That's an absurd 11 man rotation. You've got to wonder whether Johnson or Robinson will redshirt because of a lack of playing time... although generally recruits of that caliber won't redshirt because they figure they're unlikely to stay a full four years anyway.
So is this Kansas team going to be as dominant of a #1 rated team as North Carolina was this past year? I'm actually going to say that they're not, for two reasons. For one, they just haven't won a lot of important games. I know that sounds like a silly thing to say about a team that is just one year removed from a National Title, but almost all of that team is gone. Only Sherron Collins played even ten minutes a game on that team. Much of the North Carolina team had played together for four years, and most of the rest had played together for three, and they had all had extensive Tournament and Final Four experience. The other reason I give North Carolina the edge is that they had a true game changer in Ty Lawson. Kansas won't have anybody that good next year. But the bigger reason is experience.
Still, Kansas should be the unanimous #1 team to begin next season. We'll see how they handle it.
Sunday, April 19, 2009
But with all that said, I think it's a great hire for FIU, and I agree with most of this article from Fox Sports. The fact is that they play at such a low level that even Thomas won't really get too badly out-coached. And if there's one thing Thomas can do it's evaluate talent. Even with the New York Knicks his draft picks were pretty successful. And when you throw in a school in a a fun part of Miami, with great weather and what is an Athletic Department clearly ready to invest some money in building a basketball program, that's got to help. And then throw in the Isiah Thomas name... he's got to get some pretty good recruits, right? Remember, the Sun Belt is a quality conference. This isn't like he's going to the MEAC or the Northeast Conference. You can get good kids to come to the Sun Belt.
Also, I think that college basketball might help with the key cause (in my opinion) of Thomas's coaching failures, which is his incessant need to be everybody's friend. He was so afraid of hurting anybody's feelings that he was utterly incapable of being a disciplinarian in any way. He wouldn't bench players that needed to be benched because he was afraid that they'd like him less. Look around the NBA, because you won't see a single successful head coach who doesn't do a good job of keeping a professional distance from their players. If Thomas is ever going to be able to grow up and act like a real head coach (unless he plans on coaching High School or AAU ball) then it will come with a bunch of 18 year old kids in the Sun Belt Conference.
And besides, what did FIU have to lose? It's not like they had any chance of competing near the top of the Sun Belt before 2012 without Thomas. This isn't a school that has had a ton of success. I wouldn't recommend a BCS conference team take a chance with Thomas, but it's a good move for a school like FIU.
One other brief bit of news I wanted to talk about is Alex Tyus, who is transferring out of Florida. I really don't know what's going on in Florida right now, but they're having a ton of trouble keeping kids around. Several kids have now transferred out recently, and there is decent possibility of Nick Calathes going pro a bit earlier than most people would have expected (he's projected to go around 30th-40th overall in the Draft). Whatever the reasons, it's clear that Florida now has major problems next season. If both Tyus and Calathes go then it's hard to see Florida making the Tournament at all. I have them as a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament right now, but that was assuming that Tyus and Calathes both came back. The loss of Tyus immediately drops them to something like an 8-10 seed, and if Calathes goes pro then they'll likely drop out of the Tournament altogether. Florida is going to be very thin and very young next season. If they can stop the exodus of players then they'll be very good in 2010-11, when all of their young talent will have an extra year of seasoning. They'll also have yet another top recruiting class coming in (they've already locked up Rivals.com's 59th rated 2010 recruit, Patric Young - a 6'8" power forward). But things are suddenly looking pretty bleak for the 2009-10 season.
Willie Warren is coming back for his Sophomore season. This isn't a big surprise, as he's been hinting about it for a while. Despite the fact that he'd almost certainly be a Lottery pick, there was just a real sense that Warren had unfinished business. He played so well during the time that Blake Griffin was out, and yet he seemed afraid to be aggressive when Griffin was there. He should be the Alpha Dog of next year's Oklahoma team, and he will almost definitely lead them back to a respectable NCAA seed. I have them projected as 4th in the Big 12, with a 6 seed in the Tournament, and that was based on the assumption that Warren would return. Since this news doesn't change anything, their seed won't move.
Luke Harangody has declared for the NBA Draft, although he has not hired an agent and may return to college. In other years you'd be surprised to see a guy like Harangody go pro, since he's clearly from the Tyler Hansbrough School of players that are great in college but without much pro potential. There's probably a better-than-not shot that Harangody gets drafted, because some team will take a chance on a player who is a good character guy with the potential to be a decent role player some day, but he'd be a late second round pick. But it makes sense for Harangody to go pro now, despite the bleak potential for success. Notre Dame just isn't going to be very good next season, and nobody wants to be on a team losing every night. And how much higher can Harangody's stock really go? He is what he is, and he's not going to suddenly get quicker and more athletic. Notre Dame probably wasn't going to make the Tournament anyway (I have them 11th in the Big East), but the loss of Harangody would clinch it.
Jonny Flynn is officially in the NBA Draft, not that this is a surprise. His stock isn't going to get much higher than it is now. He's currently projected as a Lottery pick, probably in the 10-15 range. I'm personally down on Flynn's NBA chances, at least until he matures a bit. He has a tendency to really play out of control. As a rookie going against savvy NBA veterans he's going to be a turnover machine. But he's going to get drafted high, and maybe develop someday. I saw a number of preseason Top 25s around the internet putting Syracuse in the Top Ten, and even one that had them in the Top 3, and it never made sense to me. Flynn was always a lock to go pro, and Devendorf is expected to go as well. Paul Harris might come back, although he's currently going through the Draft process. If Harris comes back then Syracuse has a good shot at getting back to the Tournament, but it's a mistake to view them as anything other than a Bubble team right now.
And the news on John Wall is... nothing, so far. Nobody has any idea where the top point guard in the 2009 recruiting class is going to go. But reading this article on him from CNNSI gives me the impression that he's the most professionally handled high school player since OJ Mayo. The kid really does a good job of saying what he needs to say to promote himself. First, he continues to talk about potentially going into the NBA Draft this season, even though that has been debunked. He is clearly not allowed to enter the NBA Draft, and he knows that, but he knows to play up that angle to help build buzz and garner attention. Wall also knows how to give the fake answers that pro athletes eventually learn to give (such as the classic example of players saying how they signed with Team A because they love the city and/or want to win and/or want to be close to their family... and not because Team A just offered the most money). I'll just quote CNNSI directly:
"I already promised my mom and my dad, before he died" -- he passed away from cancer when Wall was 9 -- "that I was going to college, so I'm not even thinking about the NBA this year," he told SI.com.
So let me get this straight: Since he invented this fake issue of him potentially going into the Draft despite the fact that he isn't allowed to by rule, and despite the fact that he obviously would go pro if he could since he'd be a Top Five pick, he needs a reason for why he won't go pro. So his reasoning is going to be an attempted tear-jerker about how he promised his father on his death bed that he'd go to college... and somehow spending one year playing college basketball and going to Underwater Basket Weaving and Music Appreciation classes is what his father wanted? Unless he's an absolute and complete bust next season (highly unlikely, if you've seen clips of how ridiculously athletic he is) he will go pro, there really isn't any doubt about that (DraftExpress has him going #1 overall in the 2010 Draft). So obviously he's already learned how to give the right answers in interviews, even if they're as patently absurd as watching CC Sabathia a week ago explaining how he loved New York, and that it was his wanting to win that was the reason he came to the Yankees, and not the fact that they offered $60 Million more than any other team.
Either way, the John Wall saga will probably play out a bit longer. Whichever team he goes to will immediately jump up the BP65.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
I also want to talk about the 2010 and 2011 classes, which will develop a bit over the summer. I figure I should start talking more about upcoming recruiting classes since the decisions of the big recruits really do have such a big impact on future BP65s.
So stick around this summer and keep on reading, because I'll still be here. I'd appreciate your feedback as we go along to see whether you think I have anything interesting to say on these recruiting issues, or whether I provide information that is new to you. I don't want to just regurgitate what people are already reading on ESPN.com. I think that I generally provide a different viewpoint on issues than you read in other places, and hopefully I can keep that up with recruiting. So let me know what you think.
It was a great season, and I'm already looking forward to the 2009-10 college basketball season. I hope you are, too.
Monday, April 13, 2009
1. KANSAS (BIG 12)
1. VILLANOVA (BIG EAST)
1. PURDUE (BIG TEN)
1. NORTH CAROLINA (ACC)
2. KENTUCKY (SEC)
2. West Virginia
2. WASHINGTON (PAC 10)
3. Ohio State
4. Michigan State
5. BUTLER (HORIZON)
5. Texas A&M
6. DAYTON (ATLANTIC 10)
6. Georgia Tech
7. BYU (MWC)
8. GONZAGA (WCC)
9. SIENA (MAAC)
9. UTAH STATE (WAC)
9. Arizona State
10. Mississippi State
10. NORTHERN IOWA (MVC)
11. Oklahoma State
11. Wake Forest
12. MEMPHIS (CONFERENCE USA)
12. WESTERN KENTUCKY (SUN BELT)
13. VCU (COLONIAL)
13. KENT STATE (MAC)
13. CORNELL (IVY)
14. HOLY CROSS (PATRIOT)
14. VERMONT (AMERICA EAST)
14. VMI (BIG SOUTH)
14. IUPUI (SUMMIT)
15. WEBER STATE (BIG SKY)
15. LONG BEACH STATE (BIG WEST)
15. WOFFORD (SOUTHERN)
15. SAM HOUSTON STATE (SOUTHLAND)
16. MURRAY STATE (OVC)
16. MERCER (ATLANTIC SUN)
16. MORGAN STATE (MEAC)
16. MT SAINT MARY'S (NORTHEAST)
16. JACKSON STATE (SWAC)
Other teams considered, but that missed the cut:
Boston College, NC State, Virginia Tech, Duquesne, Seton Hall, Syracuse, Northwestern, Penn State, Baylor, Kansas State, UTEP, Tulsa, Wright State, Niagara, Bradley, Utah, Oregon, Oregon State, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, South Carolina, Portland, Saint Mary's, Nevada, New Mexico State
Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Florida State, Miami (Fl), La Salle, St. Joseph's, Saint Louis, Marquette, Notre Dame, Providence, Rutgers, St. John's, Indiana, Nebraska, George Mason, Old Dominion, UAB, UCF, Valparaiso, Rider, Akron, Ohio, Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Wichita State, New Mexico, TCU, Wyoming, Arizona, Arkansas, Mississippi, Davidson, North Texas, Troy, Santa Clara, Boise State, Fresno State
I'm not sure what to make of this past season for the ACC. For most of the year they seemed like the best conference in the nation. All of the computer ratings bore that out. And yet other than North Carolina they all stunk it up in the Tournament. I think the correct answer is to not buy too much into a one-and-done playoff. Several teams ended up with tough draws, and sometimes Team A just beats Team B. I still think that the ACC was the best conference from top to bottom, even if they were just barely better than the Big Ten, Big 12 and Big East, in some order.
One question I never had was how good North Carolina was. I picked them as the #1 team back late April, and stuck with them all season long. I never understood why other people got off the bandwagon other than that they just weren't watching the games. The Tar Heels were just the best team, by far. Watching them slip in the polls just further made a mockery of Top 25 polls, which still masquerade as a ranking of the 25 best teams. As I've long explained (here and here), the Top 25 polls are anything but a ranking of the 25 best teams. Either way, the Tar Heels do lose a ton from this year's team. Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green and Bobby Frasor graduate. Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington are currently looking at the draft, and their status is unclear. But the rumors are that Lawson would be a mid-to-late first rounder, while Ellington would go in the second round, so while I think Lawson will go pro there is probably a better chance than not that Ellington comes back. Of course, Marcus Ginyard will get his Senior year back, and Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller and Larry Drew II will all be back as well. That's a Top 25 quality starting lineup already, even without Ellington. On top of that they bring in what is probably the top recruiting class in the nation. They will have at least five blue chippers, led by John Henson (Rivals: 6, Scout: 1 PF) and Dexter Strickland (Rivals: 17, Scout: 4 SG). They will certainly be back in contention for an ACC title, and could potentially even make a Final Four run if Wayne Ellington comes back.
It was something of a disappointing season for a Duke program that hasn't been a Championship contender in what seems like a really long time. They don't lose all too much to graduation, only Greg Paulus and David McClure. Gerald Henderson is expected to go pro, but Kyle Singler says he's coming back. Henderson will be a tough loss after the way he put this team on his back late in last season, but the back court will still be good even without Paulus and McClure. Jon Scheyer will be back as will Elliot Williams, who really improved as the season went along. The bigger question will be the inside, where Lance Thomas was the only consistent player this past season. Brian Zoubek will get time off the bench, but he probably won't start. We'll see if either Miles Plumlee or Olek Czyz become important pieces after a year of seasoning (I think Plumlee has the better shot). Both of Duke's blue chip recruits are big men, so obviously Coach K is hoping to fix that one hole in his team. I wouldn't be surprised to see both Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee get playing time as Freshmen. If Gerald Henderson comes back then this immediately becomes a serious Final Four contender. But since he's probably going pro, they probably won't have the overall talent.
Wake Forest was a tremendously talented team that was just too young and immature to put together a Tournament run this season. Without any Seniors graduating, they would be in perfect position to make a Final Four run if nobody went pro. But that's not going to happen. James Johnson is already gone, and it looks like Jeff Teague and Al-Farouq Aminu are going to go as well. L.D. Williams, Chas McFarland and Ishmael Smith will all be back, but I don't think that's going to scare too many ACC opponents. The recruiting class is decent, but not great. Unless Aminu and Teague make an about face and come back to college, I don't see any way this program doesn't take a pretty big step backwards next season.
Clemson once again got off to a great start and completely fell apart down the stretch. I don't know what it is about that program that they can't hold things together in late February and March. K.C. Rivers is the only starter to graduate, and Trevor Booker says that he's coming back for his Senior year, so Clemson should be in good shape. Demontez Stitt is developing into a very good creator, and Raymond Sykes does a good job pairing up with Booker down low. And it feels like Terrence Oglesby has been around forever, yet somehow he'll only be a Junior next season. Their recruiting class is highlighted by Milton Jennings (Rivals: 12, Scout: 8 PF).
Florida State and Boston College both were basically one man teams, and both of them will lose that one man. Florida State really was the Toney Douglas show all season long, and while they will continue to be a great defensive and rebounding squad they are going to have a lot of trouble scoring without him. Uche Echefu also graduates. Their star recruit is Michael Snaer (Rivals: 11, Scout: 5 SG). Boston College only loses Tyrece Rice, and while he wasn't quite as important to BC as Toney Douglas was to FSU, he'll still be impossible to replace. They have some quality role players in Rakim Sanders, Joe Trapani and Corey Raji, but I'm not sure who the star will be. Without a big time recruiting class coming in, I don't see how Boston College plays as well next season.
The ACC is going to be very deep this season (similar to the Big Ten this past season) without a lot of Top Ten teams but with every team thinking that they have a shot at the NCAA Tournament. Here's how I see the whole conference playing out:
1. North Carolina - I just can't drop them, they're going to be too talented. They're not going to be the best team in the country, and they might be too inexperienced to make a serious Final Four run, but I just can't pull them from the top spot right now.
2. Clemson - We'll see if they can finally get over the hump and play well in the latter stages of the season.
3. Maryland - This is assuming that Greivis Vasquez stays for another season, which means that they'll only lose one player from this team. They don't get the super-duper stars that North Carolina gets, but they'll be deep enough and experienced enough to challenge for an ACC title.
4. Duke - They should have their best set of inside players in a few years, and their guard play should still be pretty good. Expect Elliot Williams to take on an even larger role next season.
5. Georgia Tech - They lose Lewis Clinch and Alade Aminu, but I love their young core. And they were a lot better than their record this past season, when they really were snake bitten. Throw in Super-Frosh Derrick Favors and I like their chances to get back to the Tournament.
6. Virginia - I have to say that I don't understand why Dave Leitao didn't want to stick around for one more year with so many key pieces returning. Sylven Landesberg is really going to be a star, and they return basically of their other key parts. Throw in a quality recruiting class and Virginia should be vastly improved. They also have an excellent new coach in Tony Bennett, even though it remains to be seen if his deliberate style of coaching will work in the up-tempo ACC
7. Wake Forest - They could move up if more of their key players come back. But it looks like the NBA is really going to kill their chances for next season.
8. Boston College - Tyrese Rice will be very tough to replace.
9. Virginia Tech - They had a lot of tough losses this past season and were better than their record, but A.D. Vassallo will be gone, as well as Cheick Diakite. The recruiting class is very deep, but I don't see any super stars who will be able to take this team back to the Tournament right away.
10. North Carolina State - Could be a bit of a rebuilding year with Ben McCauley and Courtney Fells graduating, and a quality recruiting class coming in.
11. Florida State - They are really going to struggle to score points. Even if their defense is spectacular again, it still probably won't be enough to make them serious Tournament contenders.
12. Miami (Fl) - Jack McClinton and Lance Hurdle graduate. Even if Dwayne Collins comes back (he's currently testing the NBA waters) this will still be a rebuilding year for Miami.
The Big East is so gigantic that it's difficult to put everything in one post. There were just so many stories this past season that I don't even know where to begin. One issue has to be, of course, the media hype. There is no question that this conference was far overhyped. In overall quality from top to bottom, the Big East was not the best cconference in the nation - I'm unaware of any computer ratings that put them first. The best ratings are Sagarin's, and he has them fourth, although the top five conference (the BCS conferences minus the SEC) are all extremely close. So why was the hype so strong that Sportscenter anchors would off-handedly and matter-of-factly mention how the Big East was the best conference in the land and one of the best ever on a near-daily basis? Some have argued that this has to do with the location of ESPN's campus at Bristol, since it's not questionable that ESPN sets the tone for all of the other sports opinion around the country. But I've never bought that argument. It doesn't explain why they spend the college football season overhyping the SEC, USC and the Texas/Oklahoma and Michigan/Ohio State rivalries. And you can be sure that the focus of their hype won't change as Sportscenter moves to California. I think it has to do with the quality of the top of the conference. ESPN responds to casual fans, and casual fans only care about the top teams. Casual fans can't judge conferences on the middle and bottom of the pack because they don't know who those teams are. I would bet that the vast majority of Americans that self identify as college basketball fans could not correctly identify DePaul as a Big East team, so how would they be able to account for how much DePaul stunk while comparing the Big East to the Big 12 or Pac 10? A friend of mine who is a big ACC fan was apoplectic when I tried to argue that the Big East wasn't the best conference in the land back in January, yet when I pointed out how I'd take Northwestern and Penn State over South Florida and Rutgers, he asked me "when did South Florida join the Big East?" The problem with this is that ESPN shouldn't be just repeating what the uneducated fans want to hear. The best analysts on ESPN teach us all something. The world of sports analysis has improved a lot, and we do have some really great voices (I love the job that Bob Knight has done for ESPN, for example), but the particular issue of conference quality is unfortunately one of the areas that needs to be improved.
Of course, the issue with which conference is the best in the nation was only one of many stories in the Big East this season. And the one team that was in the thick of the most interesting news had to be UConn. Jim Calhoun started things off with that argument he got into with a fake "reporter." I sympathized with Calhoun in that he was right that he runs a profit for the school, and the reporter was out of line, but it really is below a coach to stoop to the level when you're yelling at some loser. There are also the issues of the possible recruiting violations, and the possibility that Calhoun will retire. He says he's coming back for another season, although I do believe that this was UConn's last great chance for a title under him. I feel like Calhoun's coaching abilities have slipped over the last few years, as he really is getting quite old. Back in the preseason I spoke about the Coaching Speed Limit and how Calhoun is really getting to the age that all great coaches start to lose it. This year's team was great, but it was great because they had a great mixture of players. Jeff Adrien has been a wonderful leader for a full three years now, and Hasheem Thabeet has been a great personality as well. Adrien graduates, and A.J. Price and Craig Austrie do as well. Thabeet hasn't officially ended his collegiate career, but he is expected to go. That guts the entire core of the team. Jerome Dyson will be back and healthy, and Kemba Walker, Gavin Edwards and Stanley Robinson will also probably start next season. The fifth starting position will probably go to one of the Freshmen, because UConn really was fairly thin, and doesn't seem to have a lot of stocked up talent. Their Freshman class is rated Top 20, highlighted by Alex Oriakhi (Rivals: 21, Scout: 4 C). Don't expect UConn to completely fall off the edge of the planet like they did after the 2005-06 season, but they certainly won't be nearly as good next season as they were this past season.
Louisville was the team that won the Big East's regular season title, but that was a little bit of a fluke. They got lucky with the unbalanced schedule, and also had the advantage of sneaking up on teams after their slow start. Rick Pitino has a history of slow starts and fast finishes, but people still get fooled every season when his teams lose a bad game or two early on. They will struggle to replace Terrence Williams, who really emerged as one of the top players in the Big East. Andre McGee is the other graduation, although Earl Clark will also be gone, an early entrant into the NBA draft. Samardo Samuels might also look into the draft process, but I expect that he'll stick around for another season. Jerry Smith, Preston Knowles and Terrence Jennings will all get increased playing time next season. The one player that you probably haven't heard of who should get more time next season is George Goode. Look for a lot of playing time for a quality recruiting class led by two members of the Rivals.com Top 50, Rakeem Buckles and Peyton Siva.
Pittsburgh had a great season, but had yet another Tournament disappointment. If Jamie Dixon sticks around long enough he'll eventually take this program to the Final Four, but right now they're still waiting. And they'll be waiting at least one more season because a lot of key pieces are going to be gone. Levance Fields, Sam Young and Tyrell Biggs all graduate, and DeJuan Blair is going pro early. That leaves only Jermaine Dixon from the starting lineup, although they do have some decent bench players who will be back including Brad Wannamaker, Ashton Gibbs and Gilbert Brown. The star of the recruiting class is Dante Taylor (Rivals: 24, Scout: 5 PF).
Two other successful teams that will lose a lot of top talent are Villanova and Syracuse. Villanova will lose their most important player: Dante Cunningham. Shane Clark and Dwayne Anderson also will be gone. But that outstanding back court of Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes will be back, as will Reggie Redding and Antonio Pena. They will get some more offense with Taylor King, who transfers in from Duke. They also have a recruiting class rated among the five best in the country by both Scout.com and Rivals.com led by a trio of five-star recruits: Dominic Cheek, Maalik Wayns and Mouphtaou Yarou. Replacing the leadership of Cunningham will be very difficult, but if they can then you can't count out Villanova from a run at the Big East title. As for Syracuse, Kristof Ongenaet is the only graduate from the regular rotation, but they will most likely lose a trio of stars early to the NBA Draft: Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris. The recruiting class is decent, but only DaShonte Riley (Rivals: 121, Scout: 9 C) is likely to get a lot of playing time as a Freshman. They're more likely to get production out of transfer Wesley Johnson (from Iowa State). If everybody chooses to eschew the NBA Draft then Syracuse immediately becomes a serious Final Four contender, but with everybody gone they will most likely be a Bubble team.
You had to feel sympathy for a Marquette team that was having such a great season until Dominic James suffered that foot injury. This had the feel of one last great run for this program that will have a lot of trouble replacing Tom Crean. James graduates, as do Wes Matthews, Jerel McNeal and Dwight Burke. Lazar Hayward is a very good player and showed some sparks of leadership qualities when James was gone, but it's going to be very tough for him to achieve much without anything around him. The only other returner that I like at all is Maurice Acker. They do have a talented recruiting class coming in, but it's going to be a long season for Buzz Williams. We'll see if he can rebuild this program, because they are a long shot Tournament team for 2010.
Two other teams that lose a lot to graduation are Notre Dame and Providence. Notre Dame loses Kyle McAlarney, Zach Hillesland, Ryan Ayers and Luke Zeller. They'll still have Luke Harangody (most likely) and Tory Jackson, and Tyrone Nash did show some brief flashes of something special this past season. The only other regular that returns is Jonathan Peoples. At least those returners do represent all of the different positions on the floor, so Notre Dame should at least have quality starters in all aspects of the game. But their depth is going to have to come from the recruiting class, and the class is deep but there isn't a ton of superlative quality. If Notre Dame didn't make the Tournament with this team, it's hard to see them making the Tournament next season. Providence also loses a lot to graduation, including a total of eight players (four starters, and five of the players in their eight man rotation). Sharaud Curry is a great player, but he's going to feel like Lazar Hayward in that he's going to have to carry a team practically all by himself. The recruiting class is massive, with at least seven freshmen coming in, but none are real blue chippers, and none will likely star in season number one. Keno Davis had a great first season at Providence, but year two is going to be a lot tougher.
The last two teams I want to discuss are Georgetown and West Virginia. Georgetown had a really disappointing end to the season. The fact is that they were a pretty good team that just found interesting and new ways to lose games. To give you a few facts: they had a Sagarin ELO_CHESS of 59th and a PREDICTOR of 25th, and Pomeroy gave them an overall rating of 27th with a consistency rating of 340th, and a luck rating of 339th. In other words, they were far better than their record. They don't lose too much to graduation, with only Jessie Sapp leaving from the regular rotaiton. DaJuan Summers is going pro, but the rumors right now are that Greg Monroe will stick around for one more season. I said all year that Monroe was the best player on the team, and it seemed as if the older players just wanted to do everything themselves. Monroe didn't have the ball nearly enough, and he certainly didn't take enough shots. If he improves and gets more of the ball next season then Georgetown could be better even without Summers and Sapp. Expect Hollis Thompson (Rivals: 52, Scout: 7 SF) to get playing time. West Virginia loses star Alex Ruoff to graduation, but it's likely that everybody else will get back (Devin Ebanks might test the draft waters, but he's more likely than not coming back). Da'Sean Butler should be one of the best players in the Big East next season, and they have a deep recruiting class that should fill some more holes. I don't think there's any question that even without Ruoff they should be back in the Tournament next season.
Here's how I see the entire conference playing out:
1. Villanova - I'm not sure if Villanova is going to be better next year than they were this year, because the presence and leadership of Dante Cunningham was so important, but they don't have to be much better. The top of the Big East won't be nearly as good as it was last season.
2. West Virginia - This might be pushing them too high, but I don't have any doubt that this will be a Top 25 team next season. Bob Huggins has the talent he needs to make a run at a conference title. We'll see if he can coach it.
3. Louisville - They lose a lot, but I can't drop them too much. The top of the Big East will be weaker next season, and a marginal Top 25 team like Louisville should compete for one of the top spots.
4. Cincinnati - I like what Mick Cronin is building at Cincy, and I feel like 2009-10 is the year that they finally break through and make the Tournament. They bring back basically everybody, and also bring in Ibrahimi Thomas, who was kicked off of Oklahoma State's team last season. Yancy Gates really has the potential to be one of the best players of the Big East, and I think he leads this team to their first Tournament as a member of the Big East.
5. UConn - They will be young and inexperienced, but they will have a lot of talent.
6. Georgetown - They should be motivated after the disappointing way that last season ended. This assumes that Greg Monroe comes back.
7. Pittsburgh - They will be a Bubble team at best after all that they lose to graduation.
8. Seton Hall - Bobby Gonzalez gets almost everybody back from last year's team. They lack the blue chip recruits that the top Big East teams have, but they were closer to being a Bubble team last season than most people realized.
9. Syracuse - So much depends on the trio of stars looking at the draft. But the odds are that all three go pro, which means that they'll need a great performance out of Jim Boeheim just to get back to the Tournament.
10. St. John's - They bring absolutely everybody back, and even get another year out of Senior Anthony Mason, Jr, who redshirted. Norm Roberts is a good guy and he deserves the long leash that St. John's has given him, but he's got to make a run at a Tournament sooner rather than later, or they're going to go find another coach.
11. Notre Dame - They will have two or three very good players, but will be very, very thin. Things will get even worse if Harangody does decide to go pro.
12. Rutgers - They should be improved, especially if Mike Rosario lives up to the hype.
13. Marquette - It's going to be a long year for Buzz Williams.
14. Providence - Keno Davis will finally get to prove whether he can build a program, because there isn't a lot left at Providence right now.
15. South Florida - Stan Heath continues to struggle to recruit top high school players to South Florida.
16. DePaul - This was a young team last season, but they still do lose a bit. There is a possibility of two players actually going pro early off of this team, which is remarkable when you think about how bad the team was, but most likely both of them (Dar Tucker and Mac Koshwal) will return. Still, just winning a game or two more than last year might be all they'll be able to achieve with this squad. Like South Florida, they just haven't had a lot of success recruiting high school kids to last place Big East teams. The conference is just too big.
I spent a lot of time wondering this season why there is so much hate for the Big Ten nationally. It wasn't just that just about every analyst everywhere killed the conference and acted as if it was a step below the other major conferences (even though it ended up second in the RPI and the top rated conference in Sagarin), but it was as if they didn't even watch Big Ten games. One example I talked about was watching analysts butcher the preview between Florida State and Wisconsin in the Tournament, where they all analyzed it as a match-up between Florida State's offense and Wisconsin's defense, and wondered at halftime how Wisconsin's poor offense could come back from a large deficit. In reality, Wisconsin's offense was much better than their defense, and their offense was actually one of the most efficient in the nation. They struggled this year because their defense was the worst it has been in years, and their rebounding was also weaker than usual. To butcher the analysis that badly means that you just haven't watched these teams play, or you have no idea how to analyze a basketball team. I understand why some casual fans would rather see 90-88 scores than slow-paced, fundamental basketball. But I can't fathom how supposed "experts" could fall into the same trap.
Any discussion of the conference has to start, of course, with Michigan State. They were just so deep and solid in every aspect of the game. Goran Suton is going to be a really tough loss with everything he brought to the table in terms of leadership and toughness, and Travis Walton was another great leader as a Senior. Marquise Gray and Idong Ibok also leave, meaning that Michigan State will be thin in terms of experienced big men. But have no fear, Spartans fans, as Tom Izzo has two highly rated big men coming in next season, Derrick Nix and Garrick Sherman (rated the 8th and 19th best centers in the nation by Scout.com). Kalin Lucas should be the preseason Big Ten Player of the Year, and Korie Lucious really started to show signs of something special late in his Freshman year as well. Durrell Summers and Chris Allen will get a lot of time in the back court as well. Raymar Morgan and Draymond Green will start in the front court. Most likely they'll start three guards, but things could change if somebody steps up to fill the spot of a third big man. You have to imagine that Michigan State will take a small step backwards next year, but they'll contend for another Big Ten title.
The other elite team in the Big Ten last season was Purdue. They really struggled at times with preseason Big Ten Player of the Year Robbie Hummel struggling with a back injury. I would think that he should be able to get that fixed for next season, but having him healthy and at his best is so important for this team. The reason they played so well without him was because JaJuan Johnson took the leap and became a truly dominant inside player. He is just so great on the offensive boards. Purdue doesn't lose any starters to graduation, although they do lose two role players (Nemanja Calasan and Marcus Green). Their top recruits are D. J. Byrd (Rivals: 97, Scout: 30 SF) and Jeff Robinson (Scout: 33 PF). Expect Byrd to get more playing time as a Freshman, though as a shooting guard, despite being listed as a small forward in high school.
Illinois had a surprisingly good season, tying Purdue for second place in the Big Ten regular season standings. It was really tough for them to have the season effectively end on an injury to Chester Frazier. Frazier really was the key for this team, and he'll be a tough loss next season. Trent Meacham and Calvin Brock also graduate. The key to their success next season will be Demetri McCamey and Alex Legion. We will see how Legion develops in his first full season, but McCamey really has to make the leap after having a stellar Freshman season but seemingly plateauing in his Sophomore season. One interesting change is recruiting, where Bruce Weber has constantly had the label of a guy who is an excellent in-game coach who can't recruit. Not this year, as he brings in a class rated in the Top 15 by both Scout.com and Rivals.com. The team really struggled without Frazier this past season, but they should have enough added weapons to return to the Tournament next year without him.
The aforementioned Wisconsin team loses two starters to graduation: Marcus Landry and Joe Krabbenhoft. Krabbenhoft is a really tough loss because he was one of the great "glue" guys in the nation who just did all of the little things. Landry will also be a tough loss since he was pretty much their only inside offense. Jon Leuer could fill some of that gap if he can get a little bit bigger and develop more of an inside presence. Keaton Nankivil is a very good shooter for a big man, but he hasn't shown much of an inside game yet. It's possible that redshirt Freshman Jared Berggren or recruit Mike Bruesewitz could fill that gap as well. If Wisconsin can find that inside presence and improve their inside rebounding and defense then they'll be a very dangerous team again, because their back court will be great. Trevon Huges, Jason Bohannon, Jordan Taylor and Robert Wilson are all back.
Ohio State got a lot of good news when Evan Turner said that he'd return for next season. B.J. Mullens is going pro, but he's a much easier loss to swallow. I understand that Mullens is a raw physical talent with a lot of potential, but he still has a lot of developing to do to even be an elite college player. Evan Turner is already one of the best players in the Big Ten, and he can carry this team on his back. Everybody else will return, including William Buford and P.J. Hill in the back court, swing men David Lighty and Jon Diebler, and big man Dallas Lauderdale. They don't have any big recruits coming in, but Ohio State should still be better just because of the fact that all of their key cogs are back.
Penn State and Northwestern were both very pleasant surprises this past season. Penn State was led by the superb play of Talor Battle, and he'll be back. But Jamelle Cornley's inside presence was so important, and he'll be a very tough loss. Stanley Pringle was the other Senior starter. Andrew Jones is going to have to be even better on the inside to try to replace Cornley, and Jeff Brooks will get more time as well. They don't have any recruits coming in who are expected to be immediate impact players, so Penn State might take a little bit of a step backwards, but they are certainly moving in the right direction as a program. Northwestern, on the other hand, only loses Craig Moore to graduation. Kevin Coble will have one last shot to take Northwestern to their first ever Tournament appearance. A key will probably be Kyle Rowley, and if he can stay on the court long enough to provide a larger presence.
Michigan and Minnesota should both be improved, with every key player returning for both teams. Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims both insist that they're staying for another year, and they should also get a lot of production from a solid recruiting class. Minnesota might really be dangerous as they bring in another Top 15 recruiting class to go along with a team that actually spent much of last season in the Top 25 before faltering late. Tubby Smith has been bringing in a lot of great talent, and now they're starting to become experienced as well.
One final team to discuss briefly is Indiana. I have to say that I absolutely loved the great way that the Indiana fans supported their team. They knew that Tom Crean is going to bring this team back soon, and they were willing to be positive with a bunch of kids who clearly were not capable of competing in the Big Ten. I watched the one game that they won in conference, over Iowa. When they hit their big shots late in the game you would have thought that they just clinched the conference title the way the crowd was going nuts. With a Top 15 recruiting class coming in, the question is actually whether some of the starters from this past year's team will still get a lot of playing time next season. Two players from the starting lineup who should start again next season are Devan Dumes and Tom Pritchad. Matt Roth also has potential as a three-point specialist. But expect the freshman class to be a big part of this team next season. It will probably be another couple of years before they can compete at the top of the Big Ten, but nobody has any questions about whether they'll be far better next season.
Here's how I see the conference playing out next season:
1. Purdue - I think this team will develop a lot after all of the struggles they have this past season. They are no longer the surprise Freshmen and Sophomores that took the conference by surprise in 2007-08. They're now savvy veterans, and they should be the solid favorites as long as Robbie Hummel is healthy.
2. Minnesota - You knew that Tubby Smith was going to develop a Big Ten title contending team sooner rather than later. It looks like Year Three will be the year that he finally competes for one.
3. Ohio State - Evan Turner came back to win a Big Ten title with Ohio State. He'll have a shot.
4. Michigan State - I can't drop this team any further. They will have the best starting back court in the conference.
5. Wisconsin - The key will be improving their defense and rebounding. The back court will be outstanding.
6. Michigan - The only reason I have them this low is because the Big Ten should be even better next season than it was this season. I'd be shocked if Michigan doesn't make the Tournament.
7. Illinois - Depending on how well they can replace Chester Frazier, they should be back to the Tournament.
8. Northwestern - This might be Northwestern's best ever chance at making the NCAA Tournament.
9. Penn State - They should take a small step backwards, but anything is possible when Talor Battle is at his best.
10. Indiana - They will be far better, but I still think they're going to miss another Tournament before making it back in 2011.
11. Iowa - The one program in the Big Ten that is struggling right now. Cyrus Tate will be gone, and Jeff Peterson is transferring out. Todd Lickliter might already be on the hot seat with how frustrated Iowa fans are at seeing themselves left behind as everybody else in this conference improves.