Thursday, May 28, 2009

Definitely A Surprise: Terrence Oglesby To Europe

I don't think anybody saw this one coming: Terrence Oglesby is giving up his final two seasons of eligibility to play in Europe. In retrospect, while it's surprising that he's giving up two years of being a leading player in the ACC, it's not a surprise that he's going to play professionally in Europe. According to ESPN, Oglesby's father played in Europe, and he's got dual citizenship with Norway. The dual citizenship aspect is very important, because the top European leagues all have quotas for the number of Americans you can have, and so Americans who can play under a European citizenship, like Oglesby and Nick Calathes, are a great catch.

Unfortunately, a lot of top American coaches still don't have a grasp of what is going on in Europe, and I think that's going to be a big problem in the near future. Maybe I'll talk more about this in a longer post, but you can get a sense of the problem in Oliver Purnell's quotes from the CNNSI article:

Purnell only wishes Oglesby had given him time to weigh in before choosing Europe, apparently a trendy path among some U.S. players like Florida's Nick Calathes and high school senior-to-be from San Diego, Jeremy Tyler.

Purnell has heard many good things about playing in Europe. He's also described "horror stories" of not getting paid, or getting cut suddenly.

Now, obviously Purnell needs to be given a little slack because he's miffed that Oglesby made this decision without asking his advice. But I'm surprised that he still falls for these "horror stories" myths. As I've explained before, it seems like many American basketball coaches and analysts view Europe as some third world despotic environment, where there is no rule of law and anything goes. This is idiotic, to say the least. These kids are going to play ball in Italy, Norway and Greece... not Iran. They will sign a contract, and that contract will state exactly what the payment situation will be. If the team is going to be allowed to cut them without paying the rest of their salary, that must be in the contract. They can't just change the rules of the contract ex post facto.

Now, there certainly are real issues that some American kids might not grasp. For example, travel is not nearly as glamorous, and neither are the arenas. They might not realize that they'll be staying in a lot of crappy hotels, and playing in some really small gyms. But that's a far cry from the vague "horror stories" myth that continues to dominate the landscape of American discussions of European basketball.

Americans are going to have to come to terms with the reality of European basketball before it's too late. It is a real competitor with NCAA basketball, whether we want it to be or not. You can't blame a kid for wanting to take $1 Million in Europe if it's clear that he's never going to make $100 Million in the NBA.

Additionally, it's worth noting that the loss of Oglesby is really going to be tough for a Clemson team that relied so heavily on his outside shooting. It's no secret that Purnell was going to use Oglesby's massive shooting range to help keep defenses from collapsing on Trevor Booker in the post. I don't see anybody on the Clemson roster who can fill Oglesby's shoes, although one player to keep an eye on is rising-sophomore Andre Young, the best returning three-point shooter from last year's team.

I originally picked Clemson to finish 2nd in the ACC and to earn a 2 seed in the Tournament. Obviously that will drop now. I did see a fairly big gap between North Carolina and Clemson and the rest of the ACC, so I wouldn't totally rule out the possibility of Clemson finishing 1st or 2nd in the ACC. But for now I will have to drop them to around a 4-5 seed in the Tournament.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

USC To Release Noel Johnson

Or so it's being reported by ESPN. Noel Johnson is a 6'7" guard out of Georgia who is considered highly skilled and refined, and was expected to play a huge role as a freshman anywhere he went. Supposedly he wants out of USC because of the investigations into OJ Mayo and the other possible misdeeds at USC over the past few years. I don't blame the kid, because there's obviously a decent chance that the school will face some sort of punishment. You don't want to have your college career ruined by ethical scandals that you had nothing to do with.

As for where he'll go, there are a bunch of possible options. The hometown Georgia Tech Yellowjackets have to be considered in the picture, as they were one of the teams that offered him a scholarship originally. So did Louisville, although I'm not sure if they have any scholarships left anymore. Other than that, I'm sure that just about any top program with a '09 scholarship spot left open is going to make a move on him. We'll see over the next few weeks what he narrows his choices down to, and I'll try to keep updated on the situation.

As for USC, this continues to be just an awful, awful offseason. Considering the investigations going on at the school, it's no surprise that Daniel Hackett and DeMar DeRozen have left for the NBA, and that Taj Gibson is likely to stay in the Draft as well. Throw in the graduation of Keith Wilkinson and the transfer out of Donte Smith and USC is due to return only two players that collected even 100 total minutes on the floor last season (Dwight Lewis and Leonard Washington). The loss of Johnson (combined with the loss of Renardo Sidney) means that they only have two highly regarded recruits that are still signed: Derrick Williams is a quick and skilled power forward who will probably be more suited to the small forward position in the Pac-10, where he'll be a little undersized for the paint, and Lamont Jones is a highly skilled and athletic shoot-first point guard, who should put up a lot of points to go with a lot of turnovers. But neither of those recruits are expected to be stars from day one like Johnson was, and it's safe to say that it's going to be a very, very long year for Trojans basketball fans.

I originally projected USC to finish fifth in the Pac-10 in 2010, and to collect a 10 seed in the Tournament. But those projections assumed that they'd have Taj Gibson, Renardo Sidney and Noel Johnson on the team. Sidney is now gone, Johnson is as good as gone, and Gibson looks likely to leave as well. Assuming that the reports on Johnson are true, and that Gibson stays in the Draft, I don't see any likely path to the Tournament for USC. They'll be talented enough that they'll be worth keeping an eye on, but they will certainly be out of the next BP65 (due out in about a month). At this point, a higher priority than saving the 2009-10 season should probably be trying to save the program for future years by beating the investigations and proving that the school did nothing wrong.

Memphis Grabs Latavious Williams

Josh Pastner has his first blue chip recruit, with Latavious Williams committing today to play for Memphis. Not only is Williams a good recruit, but he also increases the chances that Memphis will land Lance Stephenson, a player who Williams has encouraged to come to Memphis, and who I continue to feel is a logical fit at Memphis, despite reports to the contrary.

I think it can be argued that Latavious is a slightly lower risk and slightly lower reward than Stephenson. He is not rated quite as highly as Stephenson, but he is a 6'7" wing forward who has tremendous athleticism and upside. The player I have seen him most commonly compared to is Shawn Marion. And I'm unaware of any major personality issues and legal issues, like those surrounding Stephenson. But that said, it's not even a certainly that Latavious will play next season. He has major academic woes, which is a fact which greatly reduced his number of suitors right off the bat. It's being reported all over the place that he might play the full season, that he might miss the first semester, or that he might not play at all next year. Williams himself says that he is enrolling in summer school programs and believes he has a 75 percent chance of playing next year.

But even if Latavious doesn't play, the signing will mean a lot for Memphis, because it means that there will be at least some life after Calipari. While nobody knows yet whether Pastner will be as good at handling personnel and in-game coaching as Calipari, there appear to be no doubts that he's an outstanding recruiter. And at least for the time being, Memphis should continue to out-recruit the rest of the Conference USA and stay a perennial Tournament team. I'm dubious about whether they will ever be a national power again, but they won't completely disappear from the national stage.

This is a great sign to 2010, 2011 and 2012 recruits that they can still consider Memphis a serious destination where they'll be able to play with top talent and compete at the highest level. And assuming that nobody else transfers out, Memphis should be a near-lock to take Conference USA again and to collect a solid seed in the Tournament in 2010. Even without Lance Stephenson or Shawn Taggart, I see them in the 8-11 seed range (assuming Latavious can play at least the second semester). If Lance signs or Taggart returns, I might move them up closer to a 5-7 seed.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Vander Blue And The Internet

One of the big recruiting stories of the week was the de-committing of star 2010 recruit Vander Blue from the University of Wisconsin. Now, de-commits happen all the time, but this is a big story because of why: the Internet. Blue has had academic troubles, and there have been questions for some time whether he would go to a school like Marquette (Wisconsin's biggest rival, and chief in-state recruiting competitor) simply because he wouldn't be able to handle Wisconsin's academics. The problem is that this talk began to dominate Wisconsin basketball message boards. Blue read what was on the message boards, and it bothered him, and now he's re-opened his commitment.

Now, a lot of ink has been spilled analyzing this situation, but I think the best analysis comes from, believe it or not, Gary Parrish. Yes, that Gary Parrish. First of all, I think people often forget that athletes are real people. Think about when you were a 16 year old kid, and how many stupid things you did. Now imagine if a bunch of pompous, self-righteous 45-year old men were analyzing your mistakes and talking about how much you did wrong, and all in a public forum? How would you feel?

And besides that, I think it's just a more general problem, as Parrish says, with the anonymity on the Internet. Go look at the nasty comments on basically any article on any major news or sports website. Go look at the nasty comments on any team's message boards, or even in the comments on blogs (like the idiot Memphis fans who constantly come on here and call me names that I have to censor every time I dare talk about Memphis). People behave this way because of anonymity, and for two reasons. For one thing, people can say things that they'd be embarrassed to say in public. But I think a lesser known reason is that when you're on the computer you often forget that you're talking to real people. It's easy to get out our demons screaming at our computer screen, and it's easy to forget that a real person is going to be reading that. As Parrish says:

I can't tell you how many wild (and anonymous) words are written about me each month either on message boards or via e-mail; words that question my integrity, background, education, sexuality, hairstyle (that one's open for criticism, I suppose) and anything else you can imagine. Every once in a while, I actually take the time to respond in the most reasonable way I know. And more times than not, I get a response within hours from somebody apologizing and explaining how they wouldn't never been so rude or brash or ignorant if they really believed I would read it.

How many of those flaming "fans" would say those same things if they were actually staring at a real person? Almost none of them. And unfortunately, that's something which isn't going to change anytime soon. As long as people are talking to a computer screen rather than a real person, they are going to continue to behave as if no real person is going to read what they're typing, and they're going to behave in a way they never would in real life. And that's too bad.

Nick Calathes Goes Pro

It's official. What's interesting is that Calathes is officially leaving the NCAA, but he's also dropping out of the NBA Draft. Why? Because he's signing a contract with Panathinaikos, the top team in Greece. They just won the 2008-09 Euroleague Championship three weeks ago, so obviously Calathes is going to a top team. The current roster includes Sarunas Jasikevicius (probably best known for his years with the Indiana Pacers) and Drew Nicholas (made the All-ACC team a few years back with Maryland). I don't blame Calathes for making the move, since the salary he is due to make ($1.1 Million, not including things like a free house and car) is probably more than he was going to make if he stayed in the NBA Draft.

Needless to say, this is a tough loss for Florida. It seems as if they expected Calathes to stay for the same reason that I thought he would, the fact that he wasn't likely to be a first round draft pick. The reason I say this is that the Calathes defection seems to have caught them off guard, and they're supposedly scrambling to get into the Lance Stephenson race.

Now, I had warned that the loss of Calathes and Alex Tyus might drop Florida out of the Tournament altogether, but with Tyus changing his mind and sticking with the Gators, I still expect them to be a Tournament team. In addition to Tyus they'll also return Dan Werner and Chandler Parsons from the starting lineup, as well as Kenny Kadji, Erving Walker and Ray Shipman off the bench, not to mention blue chip recruits Kenny Boynton and Erik Murphy. But I don't see how they have the talent to stay with Kentucky, or even Mississippi State. I think it's pretty clear that Tennessee will be better as well. That seems to put them in a battle with Vanderbilt, Auburn, LSU and South Carolina for the fourth SEC spot in the Tournament (and I do think that the SEC will get four or five Tournament teams in 2010). I'll have to re-evaluate their roster before the next BP65 (due out in about a month), but right now I see Florida as something like an 8-10 seed in March. Obviously that will change if they can grab Stephenson.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Lance Stephenson To Arizona? Don't Count Out Memphis

Adam Zagoria is reporting that Lance Stephenson's choices are now down to Arizona and Maryland. This isn't a huge surprise, as those were two of the key schools I spoke about in my long rundown on the Stephenson situation here.

What I've found interesting is that neither Arizona or Maryland fans seem all too excited about the prospect of this kid. So I don't think either program will go out on a limb to get the kid just to appease the fan base.

I honestly don't see any reason why Maryland would want him after the issues with Under Armour. Gary Williams has always run a very clean program, and has often missed out on top recruits because he doesn't want trouble makers, and he's been there long enough and has enough of a track record that he's not going to take a recruit he doesn't want just to make his school administration happy, especially after the way he fought back on this very issue a few months ago (see here and here).

As for Arizona, I spoke about their issues in the aforementioned Stephenson post. I argued that Stephenson doesn't help that program in the long run, because it's very important that Sean Miller sets a positive tone from day one at Arizona. If he has behavior problems and personality clashes right from the start it could take a couple of years to recover. And there's no big pressure on him to win right now. Miller's huge success at Xavier, along with Arizona's massive loss of players to the NBA Draft, means that nobody is going to call for him to be fired if they miss the Tournament next year. Of course, I can understand why Miller doesn't want to be the coach to break that Tournament streak (I believe it's up to 25 straight years now), and if he believes that Stephenson could be the difference between sneaking into the 2010 Tournament or falling short, and that there isn't a lot of risk of Stephenson poisoning the program going forward, Miller might take that chance.

But despite the reports, I continue to believe that Memphis is a logical location. They are without a doubt the most desperate team for a star recruit to prove that there will be life after Calipari. They are for the first time in their school history in a conference that just stinks from top to bottom, and they no longer have Calipari to grab top recruits. If they can nab Stephenson then that will be a huge sign to 2010, 2011 and 2012 blue chip recruits that they should still be seriously considering Memphis. And with so much experience on the team (unlike Arizona, which will be very young and without a clear team leader), they will be better equipped to handle a Freshman with a huge ego.

Of course, it's possible that this situation can continue to drag on for a long time, so don't expect any resolution in the next few days. But at least it does seem like we have narrowed down the options somewhat.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

John Wall To Kentucky

It's official. This isn't a huge surprise, as I said just last night that Kentucky seemed to be the best option for him. This is a huge signing for two obvious reasons. The first is that it will continue to increase the chances of Jodie Meeks coming back. I talked about this issue a couple of weeks ago, when Patrick Patterson announced that he'd return. Meeks is generally rated as a mid-second round NBA Draft pick. If that's all he can do then it makes sense to want to come back if Kentucky is a serious Final Four contender, which is what they appear to be with the signing of Wall.

The second reason that this is big is that it might make Kentucky a serious Final Four contender even if Meeks doesn't come back. If Jodie Meeks leaves Kentucky still has a starting lineup of John Wall, Michael Porter, Perry Stevenson, Patrick Patterson and DeMarcus Cousins. Their bench will potentially feature Eric Bledsoe, DeAndre Liggins, Jon Hood, Darnell Dodson, Michael Porter, Ramon Harris, Darius Miller and Daniel Orton (there's a possibility that one or more of the Freshmen will redshirt). That's a really talented and really deep lineup. The only question will be if they can jell in time to make that Final Four run in 2010.

It's not as easy as it seems to try to win with a whole bunch of Freshmen and a new team. If John Calipari can meet expectations with this team next season then he'll have earned every cent of his otherwise extravagent salary.

Monday, May 18, 2009

John Wall Update

We are still waiting to find out where John Wall is going, but the list of possible schools seems to have shrunk:

For a while we had heard that Wall had narrowed his list to seven schools: Baylor, Duke, Florida, Kentucky, Miami, Memphis and NC State. Last Tuesday it was reported that the list had shrunk to two schools: Kentucky and Miami, although Sports Illustrated immediately countered with Brian Clifton, Wall's former coach and current adviser, saying that Duke was still a third school in the picture. That said, if you read through the article it seems pretty clear that Duke is the school that Clifton wants him to go to, which is why he's trying to keep it alive in the media. Other sources are reporting that Wall isn't as excited about Duke as his adviser is.

At this point, there really isn't any new information beyond that. Adam Zagoria continues to be on top of the story and claims that Wall is "inching closer" to a decision, possibly later this week, but you never know with Wall.

Logically it does seem like Kentucky would be the best option. Unless he has a total bust of a season he will be a one-and-done player, so he needs to get the most bang out of his buck in that one year. He wants to be somewhere that will get a ton of media attention, will be on national television a lot, that will win, and that will make an NCAA Tournament run. He'll also want a school that will be prepared to hand him the ball handling responsibilities from day one. Kentucky and Duke are the two best schools for that this coming season. And if I were going to be a one-and-done player, I'd view John Calipari as the better coach for putting a Freshman out on display. Coach K is better at developing players into a system over a longer run, and has had very few players who don't stay at least three seasons. So Kentucky seems logical.

The only potential downside for Kentucky is that they already signed Eric Bledsoe, who is rated by as the 6th best point guard in the nation, and by as the 23rd best overall player. Wall is rated the #1 overall player in the country by most recruiting services (including, and he would unquestionably be the starter from day one at point guard for Kentucky. But he might lose a lot of playing time to Bledsoe. It's expected that Bledsoe will not be a one-and-done player, and Calipari will be grooming him to take over as the starting point guard at Kentucky for the 2010-11 season. I don't think this is a major concern, because it's not like Wall is going to play 35 minutes a game anywhere he goes, but it's something to consider.

Only time will tell when Wall makes his decision. But if he does go to Kentucky, and if they can get Jodie Meeks back, then you can make a really good argument that they'll be the #2 team in the nation behind only Kansas. I currently have them rated 5th overall, but while that ranking does assume that Meeks comes back, it does not take into account the Bledsoe signing or a potential Wall signing.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

What's The Deal With Lance Stephenson?

As promised, I want to give my take on the Lance Stephenson situation. I'll discuss here a brief history of his recruitment, some facts and rumors about him that may be the reason for the strange path its taken, and where I think will be the best fit for him.

Here are the facts, for those that aren't following the Stephenson recruitment closely: First of all, you should be aware that he is a very highly touted recruit. has him the top rated small forward in the nation (the other scouting services list him as a shooting guard, which is probably where he'll play in college and the NBA). has him the 11th overall player in the nation, and Scouts, Inc. puts him 12th. So he's a major recruit. As of less than about a month ago, it was expected that Stephenson was choosing between staying at home with St. John's (he's from Brooklyn) and playing for Bill Self at Kansas. Maryland was also in the picture. Kansas ended up holding out because of the Calipari exodus from Memphis, and they were able to snag Xavier Henry. It's not a big deal that they chose Henry over Stephenson, since as good as Stephenson is, Henry is thought by many to be the top high school recruit in the '09 class.

With Kansas going with Henry, Maryland suddenly jumped back in as the chief big time program competition for St. John's since, let's be honest, St. John's hasn't been a big time basketball program in well over a decade. Less than two weeks ago it came out that St. John's was effectively out of the Stephenson sweepstakes, although it was a bit unclear how much Stephenson turned St. John's down, as opposed to how much St. John's just lost interest. It soon became known that Maryland was beginning to look for other options as well. Once again it was unclear how much it was Stephenson turning the school down as it was the school beginning to step back from the situation. Reportedly Maryland was queasy about the fact that Stephenson visited Under Armour during his recruiting visit.

New schools immediately popped onto Stephenson's radar. Just one day after St. John's was reportedly knocked out of the race came news that Arizona was going to make a hard push at Stephenson. Memphis has also jumped into the race. Even Isiah Thomas and FIU are reportedly making a push. Rumors continue to swirl, and yet Stephenson remains unsigned. Every indication is that none of the big time programs want to make a serious effort to get this kid with unquestioned physical skills. And now he has reporters calling him a team cancer and a supermodel with herpes.

So what's the deal? For starters, there are accusations of a sexual assault. But first of all, it should be known that these are allegations that seem to be very much in dispute. And second of all, top schools recruit kids who have run afoul of the law all the time. Tyreke Evans was involved in a drive-by shooting that his cousin was eventually convicted for, and that didn't stop top teams from recruiting him. And it's barely been a week since John Wall was charged with breaking and entering, a fact which has not seriously deterred the teams chasing after him. The fact is that many major college basketball programs don't care how messed up a kid is off the court as long as they can help the basketball team on the court. It's a seedy side of basketball that I don't like, but it's reality and we can't be naive as to believe that many top coaches care about anything other than winning games. So forget that alleged sexual assault as the reason for teams backing off of Stephenson.

One clue comes from Stephenson's being cut from the United States Under-18 squad by Davidson coach Bob McKillop. McKillop said all that needed to be said in this classic gem of a quote: "McKillop insisted yesterday that Stephenson was a "gentleman and respectful at all times, with no attitude" but that his style of play just didn't fit into the national squad's system of ball distribution." In other words, Stephenson is a selfish player who won't pass the ball or make his teammates better. He's also had trouble staying on the court in high school, getting suspended from his team for an "altercation" with a teammate. The folks at DraftExpress are a little bit less subtle with their criticism, with this description of his play with the McDonald's All-American team: "On the court, it was much of the same: bad shots, selfish play, terrible body language, cheap shots to the opposition, plenty of turnovers, predictably followed by him visibly blaming others for his own mistakes."

The fact is that most coaches will overlook bad behavior off of the court. You wouldn't see so many top schools pulling away from a McDonald's All-American because of an alleged sexual assault. But when people start throwing the term "program killer" around, and your on-court demeanor and behavior is considered among the worst in the nation, that's what will cause coaches to shy away. Stephenson is used to being on a team where he's been the star of stars at all times, and where he can do pretty much whatever he wishes. If he goes to a school like Arizona or Maryland he's going to have to meld into a system where he won't be "The Guy", at least at first. There are major questions about whether he can handle that position.

So which schools make sense for Stephenson? I think he's got to be somewhere that he can be the star. But he's also got to go somewhere with a well-established coach and experienced players. I don't understand why Sean Miller is trying to recruit him to Arizona at all. Miller is certainly a coach with a ton of success, but he's trying to build a brand new program at Arizona. He needs to set a tone from the outset, and without experienced older players to lead the way he's got to have high character guys. I could understand recruiting Stephenson if you've got Jordan Hill to keep him in line, but Hill will be gone, and I don't see anybody else on Arizona who Stephenson will respect enough to listen to. And with his history of success and with so much gone from last year's Arizona team, Miller is under no pressure to win big in his first season. And he has already grabbed a big recruit since moving west, so Miller doesn't need to make a splash by signing another elite high school player.

One new coach who I could see wanting Stephenson is Josh Pastner at Memphis. He needs a big splash in order to convince the elite recruits in the 2010 and 2011 classes that Memphis is still a big time program to be at. Also, even though Pastner is a brand new head coach, he's not new at Memphis. And he will have Seniors on his team that have played key roles in a National Championship game. I would think that St. John's would be a team willing to take a chance as well, because they are constantly losing out on the top New York City recruits, and grabbing Stephenson would be a great sign that they're moving back towards the top of the Big East. I get the sense that Norm Roberts has been overly cautious about going out on a limb for a top recruit out of fear of getting burned, but he's going to have to take some chances to raise the profile of his program. As I said, most kids playing high school ball in New York City right now haven't got a clue that St. John's has been a national power for most of the history of NCAA basketball. They only know what they've seen lately, which is an over-matched and under-talented Red Storm squad.

The FIU situation doesn't make any sense to me, because I don't think there's any question that Stephenson wants to get national attention, and wants to be in the NCAA Tournament and on national television. There won't be too many NBA scouts at FIU games next season, whether Stephenson is there or not. But if he can't find a home at any of the elite D-I schools, anything is possible. But I would have to think that Memphis would be willing to take a chance even if the likes of Arizona and Maryland are not. Memphis would represent a chance for Stephenson to play on national television, and to play in the NCAA Tournament (I have them right now as having a slightly-more-than-50% chance to make the Tournament, but Stephenson would make them a near-lock). They have an offensive system that is suited to showing off athleticism and skill for NBA scouts. And you'd imagine that Pastner would be willing to take a gamble on a kid like Stephenson, even in his first season as head coach.

But at this point, I don't know what to believe. The fact that I really wouldn't be too surprised to see arguably the most physically talented high school basketball player in the nation head to Florida International is a sign of just how crazy and wild this off-season has been. Anything is possible.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Later This Week

I apologize for the sparse posting, but I've been busy for the last couple of days. I do plan on hitting a couple of topics later in the week, though, so don't go anywhere. The first thing I want to talk about is the increasingly weird Lance Stephenson situation, and why it seems like teams are more loathe to go after him than they are after John Wall, which seems somewhat counter-intuitive after the trouble that Wall has gotten himself into lately.

There are other recruiting situations to talk about, although no announcements have been made in the past week or so that will have any effect on the BP65 for now. There should also be some more updates on the draft status of players. We've only got about a month to go before final decisions have to be made, and some players have already made theirs.

I hope to have my next post up by Thursday afternoon at the latest.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Patrick Patterson To Return

On the heels of the news that Eric Bledsoe will be the most recent jewel in John Calipari's recruiting class (has a coach ever had the #1 recruiting class in the nation with two different teams in the same season?), Kentucky now gets even more good news with the return of Patrick Patterson. They are still waiting on Jodie Meeks, of course, but I argued all last season that Patterson was Kentucky's most important player. Meeks is the more electric scorer, but Patterson is a glue guy who does all of the little things well and does a great job of leading the team with his effort and attitude. Having him around should speed up the maturity process for Kentucky's Freshmen class. No matter how good a group of Freshmen are, they need older and more experienced players to keep them straight. Besides, the fact that Patterson will be there next season, along with Calipari and his Band Of Bluechips will surely play a role in the decision that Jodie Meeks will make on his own NBA future.

I'll analyze Kentucky in more depth when Meeks gives us an official decision, but Kentucky will be the favorite (in my opinion) to win what will be a much improved SEC next season regardless of whether Meeks comes back or not. Patterson's return locks them a step ahead of their main competition (Tennessee, Florida and Mississippi State) in my opinion. But I think Meeks needs to come back if they're going to be a legitimate Final Four and National Championship contender.

But again, I will go more in-depth on Kentucky when Meeks has settled on his decision. Besides, John Calipari might not be done recruiting. I'm not sure where they are going to find an additional scholarship, but supposedly they are still in the John Wall picture. I'll wait until Kentucky's 2009-10 roster is completely locked in before doing a total roster analysis like this or this.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Malcolm Gladwell, Murray Gell-Mann And Rick Pitino

I bet you've never seen that post title anywhere before. This actually has to do with the Malcolm Gladwell article "Annals of Innovation: How David Beats Goliath" in The New Yorker that is making a run around the blogosphere this week. Gladwell wrote about how underdogs use unconventional strategies to beat superior enemies, and the centerpiece is the example of the coach of a 12-year-old girls' basketball team who knew nothing about basketball and yet used the full court press to get his unathletic kids to beat vastly superior opponents. He then tries to relate this to college basketball by giving the example of Rick Pitino, who supposedly continues to beat superior teams by using the "unorthodox" full court press. As Gladwell describes it (and it just is too good for me not to post in its entirety):

College coaches of Pitino’s calibre typically have had numerous players who have gone on to be bona-fide all-stars at the professional level. In his many years of coaching, Pitino has had one, Antoine Walker. It doesn’t matter. Every year, he racks up more and more victories.

If you're reading this blog then you probably know a little something about college basketball and the sport of basketball in general. And you're probably laughing pretty hard right now. As we all know, while Rick Pitino is an excellent strategist he is also an outstanding recruiter. Gladwell brags about his 1995-96 team that won the National Championship, but fails to point out that it featured nine (yes, nine) future NBA players. Beyond that, the full court press is anything but new to basketball, and if anything was more popular in the past. Chad Orzel gives a number of examples of outstanding teams in the past that used the press. As Orzel points out, the teams that successfully employ the press actually tend to be more athletic teams, and for good reason:

First of all, the press requires a lot of athleticism to work at all. You have to be able to keep up with the man you're defending over a much larger area, and have to be able to do a lot without help defense (despite Gladwell thinking it's a good thing to be defending a larger area, as an unathletic team it is unquestionably advantageous to defend as little of the court as you can get away with). Also, you create more possessions in the game. If you are the inferior team you want fewer possessions. This is why the best examples of unathletic and vastly inferior teams winning games tend to be teams that play at a slow deliberate pace, creating as few possessions as possible (Pete Carril's Princeton teams and Dick Bennett's Wisconsin-Green Bay teams are two that come immediately to mind). Finally, the press works most of all by creating uncertainty and nervousness in your opponent. In other words, where will it work better than against a bunch of 12 year old girls? This is also, of course, why the press works best at the end of games when teams with the lead get tense, and why so many teams turn on the press and use it succcessfully to make late comebacks. Either way, nobody with any knowledge of basketball would recommend "40 Minutes of Hell" for an unathletic underdog at the college or professional level. It would be a recipe for disaster.

Getting back to the point about glorifying somebody using this strategy on 12 year old girls, I absolutely have to quote a hilarious passage from Steve Sailer's takedown of the Gladwell article:

More likely, the 12-year-old girls who found themselves losing 25-0 without ever getting a shot off learned a simpler lesson: I hate basketball. You'd have to be totally gay to like basketball. I'm never going to play any sport again. Hey, I just realized that my dad can't force me to play sports if I'm pregnant!

This reminds me of when my kid was in a baseball league for 9-year-olds at the local park and his genius manager came up with a foolproof strategy for winning: "Don't ever swing! Nine year old pitchers can't get the ball over the plate enough to get you out on called strikes, so you'll almost always get a walk as long as you never swing." So, his team would get seven or eight walks in a row. The little boy who was pitching for the other team would be reduced to tears. He's be replaced by another little boy who would soon be crying because the batters would just not swing.

One time my kid disobeyed orders and hit a hard foul ball. He was pretty excited because it was the only time he got his bat on the ball all year, and he was under the impression that hitting a ball with a stick was more or less the point of playing baseball, but his coach bawled him out for disobeying orders. (He turned out to be a decent hitter in later years.)

My kid's team had the best record that year, but the parents got together and decided not to let that guy coach anymore.

As Kevin Drum puts it:

Gladwell seems oddly insensitive to the criticism that "playing '40 Minutes of Hell' is kind of a dick move in a league of twelve-year-old girls." But, really, it is. The coach who did this isn't a brilliant innovator, he's kind of a dick.

The disaster that is this Gladwell article reminds me of a the great Murray Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect, a theory from the late Michael Crichton:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect works as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on a subject you know well. In Murray's case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward-reversing cause and effect. I call these the "wet streets cause rain" stories. Paper's full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story-and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read with renewed interest as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about far-off Palestine than it was about the story you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

Honestly, I think that this theory applies to Gladwell as much as it applies to newspapers and our other sources of news. Whenever he writes about something that you don't know anything about he seems extremely interesting and seems to come to wonderful and very convincing conclusions. And yet when he writes about something that you know a little something about you get the sense that he doesn't have the slightest clue what he's talking about. You see that he clearly is taking disparate anecdotes and trying to fit them to the conclusion he wants (in this case that unorthodox strategies are the ideal strategies for underdogs... not exactly controversial or particularly enlightening when you boil it down like that). And yet we keep reading Gladwell and think of him as some genius of sociology...

In the end, I think Gladwell is to writing what weight loss pills are to healthy living. As Joseph Epstein puts it:

The first step in the bestseller formula is to tell people something that they want to hear. Gladwell tells his readers that, with a few sensible alterations--a nip here, a tuck there in society's institutions, throw in a bit of persistence and lots of practice--everyone has a shot at success such as that achieved by the Beatles, Bill Gates, J. Robert Oppenheimer, you name him. In prose that never lingers over complication, he explains that life is fairly simple; no great mystery about it. Nothing cannot be explained, nothing not changed, nothing not improved. Knowledge is ever on the march. Life need no longer be unfair. Utopia is at hand, ours, with the aid of social science, to seize.

Gladwell does it again with this basketball piece. Thousands of people read it and suddenly think that if only they could get in charge of one of these basketball teams, gosh darn it, they could beat those big athletic teams with only a little creative full court press! Of course, basketball isn't that simple. Nor is life.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Missouri Lands Two More For '09 Class

Mike Anderson isn't done with his '09 class at Missouri, landing two more bigs: 6'7" swing man Tyler Stone and 6'9" Jonathan Underwood. Both of them fit Anderson's style of recruit in a number of ways. First of all, they're both long and athletic, and can play Anderson's high tempo system. Their height is especially important because Missouri loses so much size to graduation this season (I'll get to that in a moment). Second of all, neither is a true blue chip recruit, and I say that in a positive sense: they'll be around for four years. Missouri brings in quality players that stick around for four years so that they can develop in Anderson's system, which is complicated and requires a patience and maturity that very few players have as Freshmen. A one-and-done player won't have as much success in Anderson's system as they would in other places.

Missouri naysayers argue that they'll fall back into mediocrity next season because they lose so much to graduation. And they certainly do lose a ton: DeMarre Carroll, Leo Lyons and Matt Lawrence all started last season, and all graduate. They were also Missouri's three highest scorers (J.T. Tiller leads the returners, with 8.4 points per game last season).

That said, J.T. Tiller and Zaire Taylor are both very important returners, and both will be Seniors able to bring a lot of experience and leadership to the table. Missouri will also look to a quartet of players who got extended time off the bench as true Freshmen this past season: Kim English, Marcus Denmon, Keith Ramsey and Miguel Paul. What I really like about the way that Anderson has developed this young class of kids is that they are all similar to graduating players, with Anderson clearly picking out each individual player to step in to a specific role. English in a 6'6" swing guard, in the mold of Lawrence. Ramsey is a tall, athletic forward in the mold of Carroll and Lyons. And Denmon and Paul are guards who will back up Tiller and Taylor this coming season and will be ready to move into the starting lineup in 2010-11. Also look to Justin Safford and Laurence Bowers to get time at the forward position this coming season.

This new incoming Freshman class reminds me a lot of last year's class in that you have a bunch of quality recruits that will be there for the future. I wouldn't expect any of them to get a ton of time as Freshmen, and they should spend much of the year developing like last year's quartet. One thing you'll notice from the previous paragraph is that the graduating Seniors are disproportionately big men, while the upcoming Sophomores and Juniors are smaller. That is why Anderson's '09 class is heavy on big men, including the two new signees, Stone and Underwood.

I do think that Missouri will take a little step back this coming season because they will be younger and slightly less talented than last season. But I do expect them back in the Tournament. In my '09-'10 previews I picked Missouri fifth in the Big 12, and gave them an 8 seed in the Tournament. Because these two new recruits are pretty much just going to be stockpiled for the future, they won't affect anything for now. But even though Missouri probably won't be heading back to another Elite Eight in 2010, they do have a very nice core moving forward. I've been a big fan of Mike Anderson since his days at UAB, and Missouri fans are very happy that he's still their head coach.

Monday, May 04, 2009

It's Official: Kevin Parrom To Arizona

According to Wildcat Sports Report, Kevin Parrom has committed to play at Arizona next season. This is a pretty big coup for Arizona, although not a surprising one. Parrom had committed to play for Sean Miller at Xavier, and had asked out when Miller jumped to Arizona. He seriously considered a couple of different schools, but nobody is too surprised to see Parrom follow Miller to Arizona.

As a player, Parrom fits the style of play that Miller used at Xavier, and will presumably bring to Arizona. He's long, lean and athletic. Listed at 6'6", 200 pounds, he has a nice shooting stroke and can handle the ball well for his height. He joins two other Top 100 quality recruits to make a solid first recruiting class for Miller. Known as an excellent recruiter, I would expect Miller to consistently bring in quality classes now that he's able to combine his skills with the Arizona brand name.

The question that Arizona fans now have is whether Parrom will be able to save the team from losing its NCAA Tournament streak. I would argue that Parrom doesn't really fill Arizona's biggest need. Their strength is going to be their back court (especially if Nic Wise comes back for his Senior season), but they also have some decent swing man options in Jamelle Horne and Zane Johnson. And that's not to mention an incoming recruit who is actually rated higher than Parrom is (Solomon Hill). No, Arizona's problem is going to be on the inside, where they relied so heavily on Jordan Hill for the past three seasons. Jeff Withey jumped ship to Kansas after Lute Olsen left. That leaves them 6'11 Alex Jacobson as their only player on the roster taller than 6'6" or heavier than 220 pounds. Jacobson was a marginal recruit (by Pac-10 standards) and only collected seven more points than fouls this past season in 6.9 minutes per game. Not exactly Jordan Hill numbers.

Right now the only big man that I'm aware of in Arizona's immediate future is 6'10" recruit Kyryl Natyazhko, who should play as a Freshman because of the lack of alternatives, but he's more of an outside shooting big than somebody who will bang bodies inside. They're also working on 6'9" in-state recruit Colin Borchert. He wouldn't be an immediate savior, but he'd get significant playing time as a Freshman if he chose Arizona over the other schools competing for him (basically the entire Pac-10). There may be some transfers that they're working on, but I haven't seen that anywhere. Arizona fans reading this article can let me know if I'm missing somebody.

As I said in my 2009-10 Pac-10 preview, I do think that Arizona's future is a whole lot brighter that it was a few months ago. And I do think that they have a great hire in Sean Miller. But I just don't see how they have the talent to overcome a complete lack of a big man in 2009-10. I think the streak ends, but they'll be back in the Tournament in 2011 and competing for a Pac-10 title by 2012 at the latest.

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Isiah Thomas Stays In The News

It seems like Isiah "Thompson" can't stay out of the news, with the newest attack being that he failed to personally phone recruits whose services would no longer be needed. I once again can't believe I find myself defending Isiah, but this story seems like much ado about nothing for a few reasons.

First of all, this story resonates because a lot of people don't understand the process of recruiting at high level basketball programs. New coaches often get rid of recruits that were in the pipeline, but because most casual fans don't know that they already get a bad vibe from this article because they're upset at Isiah for breaking promises the school had made. As for not personally making phone calls... did he have assistants make the calls? Maybe he was told that it was find for assistants to make the calls? And besides, these kids and high school coaches know how this game is played, and to whine about something so silly as who made the actual phone call is really stupid.

Finally, I think a lot of high school coaches are trying to take advantage of this situation. They know that everytime Isiah sneezes it makes national news. If they make an allegation that he's doing something improper they're immediately going to have a national soap box, which they can use to bring attention for their school and their program. I don't think anybody was running to Sports Illustrated if the previous FIU coach did the same thing.

Look, we know how Isiah is going to play the next couple of years. He is going to sign as many Juco players as he can this offseason to try to put together a team that can finish in the top four or five in the Sun Belt and maybe make a run in the conference tournament. He's going to spend a lot of time on the AAU circuit and will put together what will almost certainly be one of the top two recruiting classes in the conference for 2010. It makes sense for him to go with Juco players now for a couple of reasons. For one, he doens't want to wait three years to have decent players, and wants to win as many games in his first season as he can to keep the buzz about his program going. And there just aren't many decent high school recruits for '09 left anyway.

With this long post completed, I'm going to say that I'm going to try to avoid talking about Isiah. The fact is that this blog is about projecting Tournament teams for next season, and FIU almost certainly won't be one. I'm sure I'll mention FIU at some point in the next 10 months, but I won't spend as much time as the national media. Too often the stories will be like this: a ton of national ado and scorn about something that happens at 200 other programs around the country without anybody caring. And I just don't care.

Friday, May 01, 2009

A Few More In The Draft

It turns out that I was a bit premature with this blog post, as a few other players snuck their names into the NBA Draft at the last moment. Many of these kids just didn't get any national media attention because they haven't got a chance at being drafted. The thing is that if you're a Junior and haven't already declared for the Draft in the past then there isn't much to lose. So a bunch of these kids just want to go and see how they compare against some of the other best players in the nation. At the very least they're getting the attention of agents who might want to someday sign them to some European team. None of these players are among those I expected to go pro in my 2009-10 previews, so if any of them do choose to not come back to school then their teams will drop in my projections. Here is the list of kids that I missed before:

Darion Anderson, Northern Illinois
Ryan Anderson, Nebraska
Kareem Cooper, UTEP
Kenneth Cooper, Louisiana Tech
Jonathan Gibson, New Mexico State
Roger Guignard, UT-Arlington
Darnell Lindsay, Tennessee Tech
Dior Lowhorn, San Francisco
D.J. Rivera, Binghamton
Terrence Roderick, UAB
Magnum Rolle, Louisiana Tech
Junior Salters, Wofford

As you can tell, basically all of these kids come from smaller schools, which is why there weren't any press releases on any websites that I visit with these kids talking about entering the Draft process. But at this point I think I've got everybody listed.

For the record, I'm not including early entrants from community colleges or any other school that isn't in Division I. Also, I'm ignoring foreigners declaring early. My point isn't to have an exhaustive list of all players who might get drafted, because this isn't an NBA website. I simply want to see how the NBA Draft affects Division I basketball next season.

If I've somehow still missed an early entrant from Division I on both this blog post and the other blog post, please let me know either by posting a comment or e-mailing me. But hopefully I've finally got everybody listed.

Renardo Sidney Commits

It's official. See my take on it here.