Saturday, May 29, 2010

Calipari Under Investigation... Again

I'm mildly surprised that Kentucky is under investigation for the recruitment of Eric Bledsoe. Normally Calipari makes it a few years and gets his team to the Final Four before he flees for another team while his previous team has that Final Four wiped off the books.

In all seriousness, it does seem pretty clear that illegal behavior did happen at least with regards to Bledsoe's senior year of high school. The New York Times is reporting that when Bledsoe moved to a new town for his senior year that they rented a home from a woman who claims that Bledsoe's new high school coach paid her, and a college coach independently says that he was told by Bledsoe's high school coach that he needed to be paid to allow recruitment of Bledsoe because he had to recoup the apartment costs that he paid for. It's very unlikely that two independent sources would come up with that same story. And the only defense that coach has is to play the race card ("I’m a poor black man. And when one black man tries to help another black man, there’s always something wrong."), which is always the last refuge of a scoundrel.

There are also questions about Bledsoe's grades, where he seems to shockingly have turned from the C/D student he was his first three years of high school into an A/B student his senior season, although again that's an accusation that suggests bad behavior by his high school, and not necessarily by Kentucky.

The question is: how will this investigation affect Kentucky. Worst case scenario for them would be evidence that somebody connected to Kentucky did indeed pay Bledsoe's high school coach to get him, although it's unlikely that evidence like that will come up. A more likely scenario would be that the investigation will conclude that Bledsoe wasn't eligible to play college ball, meaning a high risk that Kentucky's 2009-10 season will be wiped off the books. It's not as big of a deal as the Final Fours that Calipari had wiped off at his previous two college head coaching gigs, but it would be incredibly embarrassing to have seasons wiped off the books at all three schools he coached at.

There's no question that Calipari is in a hurry to get another NBA head coaching job, and while he might not get the Lebron gig (if I were Lebron, I'd hopefully be smart enough to recognize that I'd be more likely to maximize my potential with a coach like Mike D'Antoni or Jeff van Gundy than John Calipari), he will certainly feel incentivized now that another investigation is breathing down his throat.

But if Kentucky does have another season wiped off the books I think it's time for the NCAA to step in and boot Calipari out of the college game. I talked this issue to death a year ago (see here and here), so I don't want to be too repetitive, but it's clear that the Calipari apologists just don't understand high level college athletics. Yes, it's never been proved that Calipari has been directly involved in any illegal activity, but Calipari is too careful for that (see this excellent article by Adrian Wojnarowski for great insight into how paranoid Calipari was back when he was head coaching the New Jersey Nets). He knows that other people are willing to do the dirty work.

And even in the unlikely event that Calipari has never been at all involved in any illegal activity, there's simply no way he doesn't know he's getting involved with slimy players. When a coach recruits a kid to a high level Division I school they know everything about those kids and work with them for years. He knew about the insane grade improvement by Bledsoe, and he knew about the bizarre path to Derrick Rose's passing SAT grade. Several other players back at Memphis had similarly shady academic histories. And it's not just classroom shadiness - remember that Tyreke Evans was a driver in a drive-by shooting when he was in high school, and a whole bunch of Calipari's players (including John Wall) got themselves in trouble with the law before heading to college.

So even the best case scenario is that Calipari is putting his hands over his eyes and plugs in his ears and is screaming "Maybe bad behavior is happening, maybe it's not, I just don't care and don't want to know!" And that's just not good enough. A college coach needs to be a mentor and needs to care about his kids, and he needs to set the right example, and pleading ignorance isn't good enough after this many problems off the court.

I called for Calipari to receive personal punishment after the Derrick Rose scandal, and if Calipari's school gets hit again then I think he needs to be kicked out of the game for at least a short period of time. The harshest punishment I can remember for a college coach was the eight year "show cause" punishment that the NCAA handed down to California's Todd Bozeman for paying a player and for accusations of sexual harassment, a ruling that effectively kept him out of the NCAA for eight years, and he actually stayed out for ten years before re-emerging with Morgan State a few years ago. I'd take even a one year suspension of Calipari. It will just push him to the NBA, which is fine by me. I'd rather see him fail again to win in the NBA than having to see him failing a whole new team of 15 young players in the NCAA.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

UNC Gets Knox, Wear Twins Head To UCLA

North Carolina entered this week already with three very good frontcourt players for next season: Tyler Zeller, John Henson and Harrison Barnes. But that was it, and you can't go into a season with only three big men, particularly since Harrison Barnes is more of a swing forward than a big man, and because of Tyler Zeller's history of injury problems. I spoke just a few weeks ago about the need for North Carolina to add another big man or two with the loss of the Wear twins.

North Carolina now has a fourth quality big man, landing Justin Knox, who will be able to play immediately after graduating from Alabama, where he averaged about 5.0 points and 3.8 rebounds per game over 83 career games. He's no superstar, but at 6'9" and 240 pounds he's a big body who will be plenty qualified to eat minutes. And because he played three years for Alabama he is only a one year commitment, and his scholarship will be freed up for the 2011 recruiting class. Short of landing a superstar, this was the best case scenario for the Tar Heels: an experienced player who could eat minutes and who could play right away without tying up a scholarship for more than one season.

To be sure, Roy Williams is still looking to add another player. One player whose name keeps getting mentioned is Kadeem Jack, who also is considering going to prep school for a year before joining a school's 2011 class. But now that Williams has a fourth big man he will not be as desperate to land another player, and might just bank his leftover scholarships (I'm not certain if he's got one or two available) for the 2011 class, where the Tar Heels are already in play for several blue chippers.


Speaking of the Wear twins, they have made a decision and will head to UCLA. It's a move that makes sense, because the kids grew up and went to high school in the Los Angeles metropolitan area, and because it gives them an opportunity to play for one of the nation's premier programs where they'll immediately have a chance to play big minutes. While both were rotation players for North Carolina this past season (both got approximately ten minutes per game), they were probably never going to be more than that because of the revolving door of McDonald's All-Americans there. UCLA is in desperate need of filling out their roster, and I'd expect the Wear twins to play big minutes.

This is also just one more sign that UCLA is a program that is reloading after an everything-that-could-go-wrong-did-go-wrong season. They have a big time 2010 recruiting class (led by a high school teammate of the Wear twins, ironically: Tyler Lamb), and can now effectively add the Wear twins to their 2011 class. Because the Wear twins can't play in 2010-11, I do still think that the Bruins are a bubble team for the 2011 NCAA Tournament, but there's no question that they now have positive momentum after nearly a year of consecutive bad news.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Providence and Memphis both lose key players

The big news at Providence is that Keno Davis has kicked leading scorer Jamine Peterson off the team. Peterson, an athletic player who is a very big rebounder that can score both inside and outside, will be a key loss. He and Sharaud Curry were by far the two best players on Providence this past season, and with Curry's graduation and Peterson now gone there's no question that Providence will have a lot to replace.

That said, this underscores the fact that Keno Davis is entering an important season for both him and his program. He got the job after one year at Drake where there were questions about how much of the success had to do with him, and how much had to do with the situation he was handed by his father. In Year One at Providence he went 10-8 in the Big East, but that was a fluke on a lot of levels. They benefited from extraordinary luck with the unbalanced Big East schedule, and they also just won a disproportionate number of close games. In addition, they were a very experienced team, and everybody knew that they were going to lose a lot heading into 2009-10, Davis's second season. This past season was a tougher one for Providence, going 4-14 in the Big East, but the computers actually viewed them as approximately as good as the 10-8 team from 2008-09. In addition they were much younger. They had five freshmen in their regular rotation in 2009-10, the best being Vincent Council, who was second on the team in assists and fourth in points per game.

Their 2010 recruiting class isn't as good as the 2009 class, but it's still good. And the third season at a program is a key season to show that your recruits are starting to pay off, to prove that you have the program going in the right direction. The loss of Peterson puts a lot of pressure on Bilal Dixon, as well as Kadeem Batts, who is now a redshirt freshman after sitting out the 2009-10 season and who is considered to be a really good big man prospect. I'm still not totally sold on Keno Davis, so I'll be watching this coming season intently to see how Providence appears to be heading as a program.


Meanwhile, over at Memphis comes the news that Roburt Sallie will go elsewhere for his final year of eligibility after graduating this summer. Sallie has never turned into a star at Memphis, other than that one ridiculous game he had against Cal State Northridge in the 2009 NCAA Tournament, but he was an established starter who had a lot of experience. Memphis is bringing in a recruiting class that is arguably the best in the country, and they're going to be very talented, but they're going to be insanely young and inexperienced. The only returners from their rotation are Wesley Witherspoon, Will Coleman, Angel Garcia and D.J. Stephens, with Witherspoon the only one that has a lot of experience and put up a lot of production this past season.

This will be a key season for Memphis, because the 2010 recruiting class had a lot to do with John Calipari, who recruited a lot of those kids and who also had the type of success at Memphis that attracts blue chip players. This 2010-11 season is going to be a difficult one for Josh Pastner, who is very young and inexperienced as a coach. He's going to have a very talented team, but extremely young, raw and full of huge egos. John Calipari makes it seem easy to deal with all of these star freshmen, but it's actually really difficult. Dealing with just one is hard - dealing with a whole bunch of them is going to be brutal. If the season goes badly then it's going to affect Memphis recruiting long term. They still have a chance of getting sucked up by the Big East if the conference loses a few teams to a Big Ten expansion, but if they're stuck in Conference USA then Pastner is going to have a lot of work to do to keep convincing star high school players to come to Memphis. Losing Roburt Sallie will just make that more difficult.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Nebraska Will Have A New Arena

Nebraska voters have approved a new 16,000 seat basketball arena that will be scheduled to open for the 2013-14 season. Athletic Director Tom Osborne has already pointed out that there will no longer be excuses for the program not winning, a program that has zero NCAA Tournament victories (they are 0-6 overall, with their last appearance coming in 1998), and hasn't even won a share of a conference title since 1950 when they finished in a three-way tie for the Big Seven regular season title.

A few random thoughts about that last conference title: I had forgotten that the Big Eight (what the Big 12 was called before 1997) had previously been the Big Seven, and before that was the Big Six. They kept counting, which is more than we can say for the Big Ten (currently with 11 teams) or the Atlantic Ten (currently with 14). Also, I'm not even sure how proud a team should be of a three-way conference title in a seven team conference (all three teams tied with an 8-4 record that season). For the last 60 seasons to have been less successful than that is a testament to how poor Nebraska basketball has been.

It's interesting that this is all happening as there are so many rumors about a major re-alignment, with Nebraska one of the teams named as a potential addition to the Big Ten. This could help bolster Nebraska's case, with the promise of more basketball success to go with a great football history. At the very least this decreases the possibility of Nebraska getting left out in the cold if other conferences start picking apart the Big 12.

In the short term it's unlikely this arena will have much of an impact on Nebraska basketball. But it could mean a lot long term.

2010 ACC/Big Ten Challenge Set

The match-ups for the next ACC/Big Ten Challege are set, and will take place between November 29th and December 1st. It's nice to think that we're only about six months away from those games (in fact, we're only about five months from Midnight Madness, so the season isn't as far away as you might think). The full schedule is here.

It's always hard to project individual games because of the randomness inherent, but after finally winning their first ever Challenge I believe that the Big Ten is in a good position to win another. The ACC will be strong again next season, but the Big Ten should be outstanding. There are four Big Ten teams that are going to get at least a little bit of Top Ten hype heading into the season (Purdue, Illinois, Ohio State and Michigan State). I don't think Ohio State really deserves Top Ten hype, but they'll be Top 25 for sure. And Wisconsin deserves some Top 25 buzz after shoring up their backcourt by grabbing Ben Brust last week (everybody knows they'll have an outstanding frontcourt) to complete a very good recruiting class. Throw in Minnesota and Northwestern teams that both have NCAA Tournament talent, along with an Indiana team that should be much improved, and the Big Ten should be very deep.

Obviously some teams are still trying to complete their rosters, so I'll have more thoughts as we get closer to November, but here are my initial thoughts on who should be favored in each game:

ACC team favored (5):
North Carolina at Illinois - This is the best game other than the MSU/Duke game. Great match-up between two teams thinking about deep NCAA Tournament runs.
Michigan at Clemson - I'm not too high on either team, but Clemson should be better and they'll have homecourt advantage.
Iowa at Wake Forest - Possibly the worst game, with both teams rebuilding. It's worth watching only to study how both new head coaches are doing. Wake should be the better team, however.
Michigan State at Duke - Definitely the premier game. It's possible that these teams will be ranked #1/#2 in the country when this game tips. I'm giving the edge for homecourt.
Indiana at Boston College - This game is close to a toss-up. If any more Boston College players transfer out than I might make an improved Indiana team the favorite.

Big Ten team favored (6):
Virginia at Minnesota - Minnesota is a bubble team, Virginia is in complete rebuilding mode.
Ohio State at Florida State - Should be a close game, but Florida State's offense is really going to struggle.
Georgia Tech at Northwestern - Northwestern will have their best ever chance at an NCAA Tournament, and they'll sense this as a huge game for their resume.
Purdue at Virginia Tech - Virginia Tech is getting some Top 25 buzz, but I don't think they're quite that good. Purdue is a Final Four contender.
NC State at Wisconsin - NC State should be improved after getting a very strong recruiting class, but I think they'll only be a bubble team with so little returning. Wisconsin will be better, and they're always so much better at home than away from home.
Maryland at Penn State - This might surprise some people, but Penn State was a lot better than their record suggested last season. They'll be further improved with Battle back along with newcomer Taran Buie, and Maryland will have a big drop-off from last season.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Greg McDermott Kicks P'allen Stinnett Off Creighton

Greg McDermott has not waited long before putting his stamp on Creighton by kicking P'Allen Stinnett off the team. In some sense, this is a surprising move: Stinnett has been a star at Creighton ever since he put up 12.6 points per game as a freshman. At the same time, he has plateaued as a player, and his bad attitude has begun to wear thin at the school. None of the Creighton fans seem too upset to see him go, with the story of the day being a crude facebook posting he made after finding out he was off the team (I'm not going to link to it, but you can do a facebook search for his profile, which is public).

I can understand McDermott wanting to make sure he has the right personalities on his team going forward, and it will probably benefit the team in the long run. But for the time being Creighton is now down a key scorer and ball handler, and they were a team that was going to head into the season with an excellent shot at the NCAA Tournament. I had projected them to finish in second place in the MVC in 2010-11. They'll probably run the offense through Kenny Lawson, another rising-senior, who had passed Stinnett as the best player on the team anyway. Antoine Young is an interesting young player who will have to become the new primary ball handler in the backcourt. If Young can expand his game, if Lawson continues to improve and dominate the paint, and if the removal of Stinnett improves the team attitude and morale, then there's no reason Creighton can't still make the NCAA Tournament in 2011.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Bost + White Stay In Draft: SEC West Will Be Awful

The final NBA Draft decisions were made this weekend, and two final surprising entrants were Dee Bost of Mississippi State and Terrico White of Ole Miss. I talked a bit about the SEC West just a little more than a week ago (see here), and now that we know that Bost and White are gone, we can say for certain that the SEC West is going to be really bad next season.

Back in April it looked like Ole Miss was going to be the class of the SEC West. They were a borderline Top 25 team. But Terrico White is now leaving for the Draft after Eniel Polynice graduated and chose to go pro rather than use his last year of eligibility, and Murphy Holloway transferred out. Those three represent three starters that Ole Miss fans expected to return for another season who will leave. For now I'm dropping Ole Miss out of the Field of 68 (it does appear 68 is what we'll have) altogether.

I had thought that Mississippi State would jump ahead of their intra-state rival if Terrico White went pro, but the loss of Dee Bost might change that. The loss of Jarvis Varnado was already going to put heavy pressure on an offense that really wasn't all that good last season, and Bost was the primary offensive creator. He led the team with 5.2 assists per game, and their top returner will now be Phil Turner and his 1.4 per game. They have no returning scholarship point guards. Like Ole Miss, I'd put Mississippi State on the bubble but on the outside of the Tournament looking in for the time being. They're going to need Renardo Sidney, who should be eligible to play before the SEC regular season begins, to live up to the hype after not playing a competitive game in nearly two years.

And after the two Mississippi schools? The rest of the SEC West is in serious rebuilding mode. Arkansas, LSU and Alabama are probably another year away seriously competing for an NCAA Tournament bid. And Auburn, despite a very strong recruiting class, is probably at least two years away. The SEC West is likely going to have zero NCAA Tournament teams again, and the SEC as a whole is likely to be worse than it was last season.

Kentucky, Tennessee and Florida all look to be safe for the NCAA Tournament, and Vanderbilt is right on the bubble. South Carolina and Georgia could both be pesky, but I don't see either of them being a more serious Tournament contender than Ole Miss or Mississippi State. There's a real possibility of the SEC getting only three Tournament teams.

In fact, I think the SEC will be the worst of the BCS conferences next season. The Pac-10 will be much improved, with Washington, UCLA, USC, Arizona and Oregon all very likely to be improved. Washington State and Arizona State could be better as well.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Fredette To Return For His Senior Year

I haven't been posting after every single NBA Draft decision, mostly because a lot of them were expected. If the decision is identical to what I projected in my 2010-11 conference previews in April then I'm probably not going to talk about it. But one that I am going to talk about is Jimmer Fredette, who will return to BYU for his senior season.

Fredette is obviously a very good scorer, and he'll be the best player on BYU next season. But more importantly, BYU was really going to be starving for offense if Fredette left. Jonathan Tavernari graduated, Tyler Haws left for a mission, and Michael Loyd, Jr. is a transfer. If Fredette left I don't even know who their top scoring option would have become. Jackson Emery?

Even with the loss of Loyd, BYU probably remains the favorite to take the Mountain West since New Mexico will lose Darrington Hobson to the Draft. UNLV and San Diego State have a good shot as well, as those four teams are very hard to separate right now. I expect all four to be back in the NCAA Tournament next season.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Wear Twins Leaving UNC

David and Travis Wear surprised a lot of people today by announcing that they're going to transfer out of North Carolina. While I don't think anybody saw this coming, it's a move that kind of makes sense if you think about it. They were both highly recruited out of high school, but they're not superstars. They'll get big minutes at North Carolina, but it's hard to see them ever starting. Even as players like Deon Thompson and Ed Davis leave, North Carolina is always going to be bringing in players like Harrison Barnes (projected by many to be the #1 overall recruit in the 2010 class), meaning that neither of the Wear brothers is ever going to break through that rotation without a bunch of injuries. With those two going as a pair you have to figure that they'll get plenty of offers from elite BCS conference schools where they'll have a real shot of making the starting lineup together at some point.

But while neither of the Wear twins was likely to play more than about 15 minutes per game this coming season, their departure leaves North Carolina suddenly scrambling for depth. Between John Henson, Tyler Zeller and Harrison Barnes the Tar Heels have three outstanding big men that all have All-American type talent. But after that? The only other player returning from last season over 6'4" is Will Graves, who is a 6'6" swing man, and who is incredibly inconsistent and constantly playing out of control. I'm not high on Graves at all, and if he's playing big minutes then it's going to be a problem for the Tar Heels. Incoming freshman Reggie Bullock is listed at 6'6", but he is 185 pounds and played shooting guard in high school, so I wouldn't expect him to see him play anything other than the 2 or the 3 next season. They can ride their three stars, particularly with how insanely deep they are at the guard position, but what if they have injuries? Zeller has had a major injury in each of his two seasons at North Carolina, so it's not a stretch to see him getting injured again. Even with a three guard lineup they will still have zero big man depth. North Carolina is now one injury away from a major, major problem.

There's no question that Roy Williams is going to try to find somebody to fill that void. There are still some quality high school recruits and Juco transfers left out there, although not at the elite blue chip level that North Carolina usually gets. I wouldn't expect him to spend both scholarships on random players just to fill bodies. More likely he'll get one player for emergency depth, and then bank the other scholarship for the 2011 class. But I'll be very surprised if he doesn't get at least one more player. You can't risk trying to win the ACC with Will Graves playing big minutes at power forward. That would be a recipe for disaster.

Gordon Hayward, Armon Bassett Staying In Draft

Reports now have both Butler's Gordon Hayward and Ohio's Armon Bassett staying in the NBA Draft for good. Both are similar Draft prospects: both are not likely to be very productive in the NBA next season if they even play in the NBA next season, but it makes some sense for both of them to leave now. Bassett was accused of assaulting somebody at a bar over the weekend and was suspended indefinitely by the university, meaning there's a chance he might not have even be allowed to play for the team next season. It makes sense not to risk that possibility. In Hayward's case, it makes sense that his stock might not ever get any higher after that run to the NCAA Championship game.

That said, Hayward should consider not just where he gets drafted, but how good of an NBA player he'll be, and in my opinion he's just not ready for the NBA. He's got NBA height, but he's got to add weight, and he's got to improve his shooting. Despite the impression that a lot of casual college basketball fans got during the NCAA Tournament, Hayward actually isn't a very good outside shooter. For the season he hit only 29.4% behind the arc. In the NBA, if you can't hit outside shots then you've either got to be lightning quick and able to beat your man off the dribble repeatedly, or you've got to be able to play the post. Hayward's obviously not that quick, and he's not big enough to play in the post. He needs another year or two to be ready. If he's lucky he'll get drafted and then stashed in either the D-League or in a high European league for a couple of seasons so he can get bigger and so he can work on his shot. It won't be good for him to get stuck on an NBA bench right away, because he's not going to play.

Armon Bassett likely won't be drafted at all, but I don't think another year in college is going to change that much. He is who he is. He might eventually become a decent NBA bench player, but most likely his future will be in Europe. With the risk of not being able to play at all next season, he might as well get to go through the NBA Draft process and get paid, wherever he ends up.

The loss of Hayward will have national implications, as Butler is projected by many to be a Final Four contender for next season. I had projected them as the final two seed in my preseason 2010-11 BP65. Losing their best player and only legitimate national star is going to have many implications. There's now going to be a ton of pressure on Matt Howard to stop his foul troubles which have severely limited his minutes his entire career, because if he's out then Butler is going to get very small very quickly. Avery Jukes graduates, meaning that Howard is the only returner over 6'3" that earned more than six minutes per game last season. 6'11" Andrew Smith will likely get a big increase in playing time next season, and he did show some good potential in the Butler games that I watched, and they'll also look to Garrett Butcher and Khyle Marshall to eat up a lot of minutes. Butler's top Horizon League rivals will still be a ways back. Cleveland State and Wright State are the top contenders, and both could potentially end up in the RPI Top 100. Detroit is the best of the rest, with UW-Milwaukee something of a sleeper. But I don't think any of those teams will seriously challenge Butler, even without Hayward. But their seed will dramatically drop. They're probably looking at something like a 5-9 seed in the NCAA Tournament now.

As for Ohio, I had picked them as the favorites to win the MAC in 2010-11, but that's likely going to change now as Bassett was the offensive spark that led the team to the 2010 NCAA Tournament after transferring in from Indiana. D.J. Cooper was electric as a freshman, and if Ohio does manage to repeat as MAC champion then it's going to be because he took a leap and became one of the stars of the MAC. The conference is going to be wide open next season now, with Akron and Miami of Ohio looking to be among the favorites. Kent State is a sleeper after losing five of their top seven players from the team that won the MAC regular season title in 2010, but with a very good and very deep recruiting class coming in to replace them. Right now I'm leaning toward Akron as the new favorite, but I'll have to put more thought into it. The MAC will certainly be one of the most wide open conferences in the nation in 2010-11.

Wednesday, May 05, 2010

Glimmers Of Hope At Auburn

Tony Barbee knew that he was inheriting a reclamation project when he took the job at Auburn in April. Auburn is a team that not only not been to the NCAA Tournament since 2003, but they have only even finished better than 7-9 in the SEC once since then. This past season they went 6-10 in a bad SEC West, and they graduate four starters, as well as their top bench player. When you return only two players that earned more than 11 minutes per game from a team that had an RPI of 153rd in the nation, you know you've got work to do.

Barbee does have a couple of young pieces he can work with: Frankie Sullivan, the one returning starter, is a quality guard both offensively and defensively (he led the team in steals last season). Andre Malone and Earnest Ross are both long, athletic two guards who are raw, but as true freshmen this past season they still have time to develop offensive skills.

But the real story is the recruiting class, which has really come together. Shawn Kemp, Jr. was with Alabama's 2009 class, but had to delay college for a year because of academics (I talked about it at the time here) and is now in Auburn's 2010 class. He's one of five freshmen coming in, along with a Juco player, all six of whom are listed as 6'6" or taller. They already had a good athletic paint presence in the Juco transfer, Adrian Forbes, but he is now overshadowed by the new jewel of Auburn's class: Luke Cothran, who is reportedly going to sign. Cothran is considered by some recruiting services as one of the 50 best recruits in the 2010 class, meaning that with all of the other signings Auburn suddenly has their best recruiting class since probably the '05 class that was led by McDonald's All-American Korvotney Barber, the class that as seniors led Auburn to their only postseason appearance (the NIT quarterfinals) since 2003.

The 2010-11 season will still be a long one for Auburn fans. If they are anything other than the worst team in the SEC, the conference that is about 50-50 right now to be the worst of the BCS conferences, that will be a positive outcome. But they now have a young core that they can go forward with and feel good about. If they can put together a few more quality recruits in their 2011 and 2012 classes then there's no reason they can't be an NCAA contender by 2013.

Samardo Samuels In Draft For Good

Samardo Samuels has surprised a lot of people with the news that he's hiring an agent and leaving for the NBA Draft. Samuels came into Louisville a very highly touted recruit, and after a disappointing start he really came on in the second half of the 2009-10 season. His performances were a big reason why Louisville snuck into the NCAA Tournament. That said, he still has some developing to do, and he's projected at best a late second round Draft pick. Most people don't think he'll be drafted at all. If I were an NBA team I'd take a shot on him late in the second round and I'd stash him in the D-League, but nowadays most teams prefer to use those late picks on European players that they can leave with their European teams for a couple of years until they're ready, because teams love having prospects they don't have to pay for.

That all said, the real question for this blog is what this will do to Louisville, and it's going to be devastating. They lose their starting backcourt of Edgar Sosa and Jerry Smith, meaning that they'll be very thin at the guard position. In my 2010-11 Big East preview I said that while I didn't think they'd contend for the Big East title, I thought they'd make the NCAA Tournament because they'd be so good in the frontcourt. The loss of Samuels changes all of that. There will be a lot of pressure on the freshman class just to get them back to the Tournament. In my opinion, they're a bubble team right now.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Ole Miss Loses Yet Another Starter

Andy Kennedy is good at coaching his players, but he's also clearly struggling to keep kids from leaving his program. And just a couple of weeks after finding out that Eniel Polynice would pass on his final season of eligibility, news came yesterday that Murphy Holloway will transfer out. This marks the fourth starter in less than two years who has left the program for reasons other than graduation or the NBA. Malcolm White left via transfer, David Huertas left to play pro ball in Puerto Rico, Polynice left to either play pro ball somewhere other than the NBA or just to move onto a non-basketball job (since he has graduated from school), and now Holloway is going to transfer (no word yet on where he's thinking of going). And Terrico White is still looking at leaving for the NBA (he's projected as a borderline first round pick, meaning that with so many other players leaving he might see no incentive to return for his junior year).

Even if Terrico White does return, this still is devastating to Ole Miss for 2010-11. Even though White is considered to have more NBA potential, Holloway was probably the best player on Ole Miss in 2009-10. White scored a little bit more, but Holloway was more efficient, and he also was the team's primary rebounder. There is suddenly huge pressure on DeAundre Cranston and Reginald Buckner to develop quickly as big men to fill a lot of the rebounding void.

While all of these losses could cost Ole Miss a spot in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, they still might be the favorite to win the awful SEC West (see my original 2010-11 SEC preview here), particularly if NBA Draft decisions go their way. Arkansas is already losing Courtney Forston and will be very unlikely to challenge seriously for the SEC West, but Mississippi State is still waiting on decisions from Dee Bost and Ravern Johnson. Renardo Sidney says he'll be back (he'll have to sit out approximately the first nine games, but he'll be back well in time for the SEC regular season), so if Bost and Johnson do opt out of the Draft, and if Terrico White stays in the Draft, then Mississippi State probably will jump Ole Miss as the SEC West favorite. I don't think any other team has much of a chance other than the two Mississippi schools. LSU and Alabama are both rebuilding and are probably a year away from seriously competing, although they could be pesky. Auburn is going to be awful.

In all, the SEC has been devasted by defections across the board, and looks to actually be weaker next season. In fact, there's a chance the Pac-10 might pass them, making the SEC the worst BCS conference. We know Tennessee will be elite again, and while Kentucky will take a step back they're still going to have about five future NBA players on the roster. Florida should be improved and safely into the NCAA Tournament as well. But after that, what? Vanderbilt is a bubble team, and after that I don't think any other team looks to be Tourney bound at the moment. Ole Miss is the only other team with a good chance, if they can get White back. But with so many other players leaving the team, with a high likelihood of at least being a high second round draft pick, and with the potential of a 2011 NBA lockout looming, I'd probably advice Terrico White to leave now.