Monday, May 23, 2011

Ed DeChellis To Navy: Not As Crazy As You'd Think

I wouldn't say that the news of Ed DeChellis leaving Penn State for Navy today "shocked the basketball world" because, let's be honest, most casual college basketball fans don't even know who he is. But to many basketball insiders this move is shocking. A coach leaving a Big Ten team that he just took to the NCAA Tournament for a Patriot League team... and not even a good Patriot League team. Navy struggles with recruiting for the same reasons that Army and Air Force do. Navy hasn't been to the NCAA Tournament since 1998 and they haven't earned better than a 15 seed since 1987. If we take out those magical years when they had David Robinson on campus, the program hasn't won an NCAA Tournament game since 1959.

But honestly, I understand the DeChellis move for a few reasons:

First of all, Penn State may have made the NCAA Tournament this past season, but that was clearly a once-in-a-career moment for DeChellis at Penn State. He will never have another player like Talor Battle. Battle wasn't well known outside of the Big Ten, he was rarely on Sportscenter, and he's unlikely to get drafted by an NBA team next month. But not only was he one of the five most explosive scorers in the country this past season, but he was an unbelievable leadership presence on that team. Ed DeChellis may have been the Head Coach, but Battle was the Unofficial Associate Head Coach.

If any of you got a chance to watch the Big Ten Network's The Journey this past year (and if you can you must - it's the best college basketball show on television), the best part of the Big Ten Tournament episode was watching behind the scenes of Penn State's run through that tournament to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament. I could see Battle's presence in the huddle and on the bench while watching the games, but the way everybody responded to him in the locker room before and after games was unbelievable. Those players gave every ounce of their bodies to get Talor Battle to an NCAA Tournament.

Not only will Battle be gone next year, but they also lose Jeff Brooks, Andrew Jones and David Jackson - four of their five starters in all. And their top prospect for the future was probably Taran Buie, and he was booted off the team. Not only did I pick Penn State to finish last in the Big Ten next season, but I don't think there's a coach that can save them from that fate at this point. And even if DeChellis somehow survived and was still the head coach a year from now, he'd be on a really hot seat, and likely would not have survived the next season. By leaving now DeChellis gets to leave on his own terms, and gets to move to a beautiful school in a nice neighborhood for a salary that actually isn't much of a downgrade ($450k per year, vs $650k per year at Penn State). If and when he was fired from Penn State, he honestly would have struggled to do as well as the Navy job for his next gig. So he took it while he could.

So now Ed DeChellis gets a chance to rebuild Navy. Bucknell is going to dominate the Patriot League next year anyway, so DeChellis will have time and it will be interesting to see how he does. Everything I've seen about DeChellis says to me that he's a good human being. Everybody who knows him likes him, and he's never been at all accused of coaching dirty, so I wish him well. But it would be dishonest to say that I've ever viewed him as a great coach. I'll be pleasantly surprised if he can take Navy to the NCAA Tournament at some point.

As for Penn State, it honestly makes a ton of sense to get a new head coach right now (although for recruiting reasons, they'd obviously have preferred to have started this process six weeks ago), simply because of their roster situation. The only player they've got left who has done anything in a Big Ten game so far is Tim Frazier, the one returning starter, who has two years of eligibility remaining. And assuming nothing changes with the new coaching staff, the team has a big time transfer in Juwan Staten showing up for the 2012-13 season with three years of eligibility remaining.

Frazier can be the star of the team this coming season, but they're going to be terrible overall no matter what. Now is the time for a new coach to show up and build a new team around Juwan Staten. Just look at what Mike Rice has done in barely over a year at Rutgers. Get recruiting classes like that and Penn State can be relevant again the Big Ten by the 2013-14 season. Right now there are no serious indications of who Penn State is looking at for a new coach. But with the right coach they've got the infrastructure in place to build a basketball program. It's not that hard for a "football school" to get its gigantic fan base to become loyal to a winning basketball program. Penn State just needs to the right coach to rebuild the program the right way. Needless to say, I'll be back to talk about Penn State again as soon as they hire a new coach.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Brandon Wood To MSU, Wally Judge To Rutgers, Erik Copes To George Mason

Brandon Wood leaves Valparaiso for Michigan State: This is one of those under-the-radar moves that could have huge implications for next season. Wood was an explosive player for Valparaiso this past season, taking 30.2% of shots while on the floor with a 53.1 eFG%, and led the team with 2.1 steals per 40 minutes played. And because he graduated and will be heading to Michigan State as a graduate student, he will not have to sit out and will be able to play immediately. Don't expect Wood to be First Team All-Big Ten, but he'll play big minutes for a Michigan State team starved for backcourt depth. As I talked about in my 2011-12 Big Ten preview, MSU's core will be a very good frontcourt. But in the backcourt, the only returner who played big minutes in 2010-11 is Keith Appling, and their second best backcourt returner (Russell Byrd) redshirt the 2010-11 season and hasn't played a minute yet for MSU. Tom Izzo's 2011 recruiting class has three backcourt players (Dwaun Anderson, Brandan Kearney and Travis Trice) but none is a superstar. And unless the recruiting services are really under-selling one or more of those players, I'd expect Wood to play more than any of them.

Ohio State is clearly by far the best Big Ten team heading into the 2011-12 season (I think they'll be the #2 overall team in the nation, behind only North Carolina). I had picked Wisconsin to finish second and Michigan to finish third, though just about everybody else I read had those teams flipped. With Darius Morris defecting to the NBA Draft I think that firms up Wisconsin's spot as the #2 team in the Big Ten. But after that? I could see Purdue or Michigan State sliding up to that #3 spot ahead of the Wolverines. If the Spartans do finish third, Brandon Wood will likely be a big reason why.

Wally Judge to Rutgers: Wally Judge only played 17 games for Kansas State this past season before transferring, but his last game wasn't played until January 29th, which means he's ineligible to play this coming season. But he will have two full years of eligibility remaining, so he will be expected to play in the 2012-13 and 2013-14 seasons. An extra year of seasoning will do him some good, too, because he struck me as a very raw player at Kansas State. He has tremendous size and athleticism, but he still needs to learn how to play basketball efficiently. Of course, a lot of players have that problem at Kansas State, where Frank Martin's intense screaming tends to overshadow the fact (in my opinion) that he doesn't do a lot of actual coaching.

Wally Judge will join a Rutgers program that Mike Rice is really starting to stock with talent. Power forward Kadeem Jack is a big time recruit in Rice's 2011 recruiting class, as is point guard Myles Mack. With several other relatively big time recruits (at least by recent Rutgers standards) showing up in 2011 and 2012, and now with Wally Judge, there's no question that the talent level at Rutgers is getting a major upgrade. But talent alone won't win in the Big East. It remains to be seen how good of an in-game coach Mike Rice is, and whether he can develop the talent he has. I had picked Rutgers to finish tenth in the Big East in 2011-12, and obviously Wally Judge won't impact that since he won't play in a game. But there's no question that Mike Rice is off to a good start in his first full year as Rutgers head coach.

George Mason Gains Erik Copes, Potentially Loses Luke Hancock: I already talked about Erik Copes here when talking about George Washington. Copes, rated by as the #5 center in the 2011 recruiting class, originally signed with George Washington, where his uncle was associate head coach. After Karl Hobbs, the GW head coach, was removed, Copes moved on to George Mason and his uncle came with. These sorts of package deals tend to give me bad vibes, though they're not always in bad faith. Either way, George Mason's weakness this past season was in the frontcourt, and Copes will certainly be expected to help out a lot. Last month I picked George Mason to win the Colonial and to earn a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament in 2011-12. I don't think that new coach Paul Hewitt is as good as Jim Larranaga, and the team is particularly concerned about Luke Hancock leaving. Hancock hasn't officially left yet, but he has been granted permission to talk to other schools about a transfer. If the team can somehow keep Hancock and every other player that Larranaga kept in place while also adding Copes then they remain my pick to win the CAA. If Hancock leaves then the door opens for Drexel, VCU and even Old Dominion to make a run at the CAA title, even with Copes coming on board.

New Head Coaches: Mike Lonergan, Billy Kennedy and Bryce Drew

Catching up on three new head coach hires:

Billy Kennedy to Texas A&M: The Aggies will try to bounce back from the loss of Mark Turgeon to Maryland by hiring Billy Kennedy from Murray State. It's not an outstanding hire, but it's a solid hire. Kennedy has done well as a head coach at two mid-major schools. He took Southeastern Louisiana to two straight Southland regular season titles and an NCAA Tournament appearance. He then won the Ohio Valley regular season title the past two years with Murray State, including a trip to the Second Round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. And I expect the team to compete again next year, although I picked Austin Peay as the narrow favorite to take the Ohio Valley next season. Kennedy has spend most of his coaching career in the southeastern part of the country and even spent a year as an assistant at Texas A&M a couple of decades ago. It will take a while to see how he does with recruiting, but he's walking into a great situation. As I talked about here and here, Texas A&M is primed for a really good 2011-12 season. Texas has been absolutely decimated by NBA defections and Kansas will not be as good as they were this past season either. Right now the Big 12 is wide open and I could see either Baylor or Texas A&M jumping ahead and stealing a Big 12 title. But it will be hard. Kennedy won't be able to spend a couple of years getting his feet wet in the Big 12 - there will be huge expectations from Day One. It will be interesting to see how this plays out.

Mike Lonergan to George Washington: Mike Lonergan is something of an unknown. He's had success at Vermont, but only over the past couple of years has he been well known outside of that state. Unless you're a fan of the America East you probably haven't ever seen much of him or his teams. But he has had success at Vermont and his name was linked with some big jobs, and he's definitely a quality hire for George Washington. The fact is that George Washington has fallen off the map the past few years. Karl Hobbs was a hot coaching name four years ago after he took the school to its third straight NCAA Tournament appearance. But over the past four years his teams have gone a combined 25-39 in Atlantic Ten play, with a single CBI appearance to show for it. It turns out that Pops Mensah-Bonsu had a lot more to do with that three year run than Karl Hobbs did. I had picked George Washington to finish fifth in the Atlantic Ten next season, but that pick had a lot to do with the signing of Erik Copes, who is the nephew of Roland Houston, who had been the associate head coach at GW under Karl Hobbs. With Hobbs out, Houston jumped to George Mason and Copes went with him. The loss of Copes makes George Washington much more of an NCAA Tournament long shot, but I still think they'll finish in the top half of the conference, and in the long run it might be wise to stay free of those sketchy recruiting "packages".

As for Vermont, I picked them to be even better than this past year's team that finished with an RPI of 95th, and they were my favorite to win the America East. At this point I'm not changing my mind on that. We'll just have to see how this plays out, and if Vermont is able to hire a good replacement head coach, and if they can keep the entire team in tact.

Bryce Drew replaces his father at Valparaiso: This will go down as the least surprising head coaching change in the nation this year. Homer Drew had given the Valpo job to Scott Drew, who used that to jump to the Baylor job. Homer took back over with Bryce as his associate head coach, and I'd remarked just four months ago that Bryce was clearly being prepped to take over the Valpo job. It remains to be seen what type of head coach Bryce Drew is, and whether he can be the success his father was. I had picked Valpo to finish fifth in the Horizon League for next season, and I don't see much of a reason to change that projection yet. No matter the coach, I don't see how Valpo has the horses to hang with Butler or Cleveland State atop the conference in 2011-12.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Staying In The Draft: Klay Thompson, Cory Joseph, Tristan Thompson, Troy Gillenwater

This is the second of two posts talking about players that made the decision at the deadline to stay in the NBA Draft and to end their collegiate careers. The first post is here.

Klay Thompson of Washington State: This was expected. Thompson could have gone into the 2010 NBA Draft and possibly gone in the first round. This time around he's considered a near lock for the first round, and could be a lottery pick. Thompson was Washington State's singular star the past three seasons, and his absence will obviously be felt, but I still expect Wazzu to be a good team next year. They were an unlucky team this past season, and were better than their won-loss record would suggest, and they return everybody other than Thompson and add a couple of good recruits as well. Even assuming that Thompson would go pro I still picked Washington State to finish third in the Pac-12, with a 9 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph of Texas: With Jordan Hamilton already declaring for the NBA Draft, Texas now loses three players early to the NBA Draft. Along with four graduations they lose seven players from their nine man rotation, including their best shooter (Joseph), their best scorer (Hamilton), their best perimeter defender (Dogus Balbay) and their best interior defender (Thompson). They do return J'Covan Brown and Alexis Wangmene, and get back Clint Chapman (who missed the 2010-11 season with a redshirt), and they have a big time recruiting class coming in. Thinking that 2011 recruit Myck Kabongo could be a better-shooting version of Dogus Balbay at the point, and assuming that Thompson and Joseph would be back I picked Texas to win the Big 12 and to earn a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Obviously that will not come to pass now.

Texas is really going to drop off without Thompson and Joseph. At this point I think Kansas is the new favorite to win the Big 12, and I'll also drop Texas below Texas A&M as long as the Aggies don't really mess up in hiring their new coach. I might even drop Texas behind Baylor and into fourth place. I see them in the 5-7 seed range in the NCAA Tournament. There simply might not be another team as devastated by the NBA Draft this year as Texas is.

Troy Gillenwater of New Mexico State: If you follow the WAC you know that this is a huge decision by Gillenwater. Utah State has dominated the conference the past couple of years, but they were a senior-laden team in 2010-11 and will be decimated by graduations. New Mexico State was a team that would have been bubble quality if all of their players had been healthy. Assuming Gillenwater was coming back, and with Wendell McKines coming back from injury, I picked New Mexico State to win the WAC in 2011-12 and to earn a 13 seed in the NCAA Tournament. I still think that the winner of the WAC is only going to earn a 13 or 14 seed next season, but Utah State might be the favorite again. Right now the conference looks like a close three way race between Utah State, New Mexico State and Nevada. Fresno State is a sleeper.

Staying In The Draft: DeAndre Liggins, Jeremy Green, Carleton Scott

The final NBA Draft Early Entry decisions were made Sunday night, and this will be the first of two posts going through players that decided to officially end their collegiate careers:

DeAndre Liggins of Kentucky: This is a puzzling decision. He was, in my opinion, only the sixth best player on his own team this past season. Maybe he figured that with Terrence Jones coming back and another big time John Calipari recruiting class coming in that he could end up buried on the bench as a senior, and just wanted to cash in when he could. I actually already talked about what I thought the effect of Liggins leaving would be in this post, and my conclusion was that it really doesn't matter. I thought Terrence Jones would go pro and Liggins would stay, and with that assumption I picked Kentucky to win the SEC and to earn a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Exchanging Liggins for Jones makes them even better, and makes me even more confident in that pick. I think North Carolina will be the clear #1 next season, and Ohio State will be the clear #2, but Kentucky could be #3 (Syracuse is the only other team I can see as the #3 overall team).

Jeremy Green of Stanford: If you're not a fan of a Pac-10/Pac-12 team, your response to this news is probably: "Who the heck is Jeremy Green?" But honestly, that's just because Stanford has been so bad the past couple of years. Green is an explosive scorer that can create his own offense (16.7 points per game in 2010-11) and stroke it from deep (42.9% behind the arc on 205 attempts), and he's got NBA size and athleticism. He might not get drafted, but he'll play in the NBA. But this decision hurts a Stanford team that was poised to make a leap this coming season with absolutely every key player back and a nice recruiting class coming in. I picked them to finish sixth in the Pac-12, and to be right on the bubble. With Jeremy Green leaving I think their NCAA Tournament chances get a lot longer. I see them as more of a borderline NIT team right now.

Carleton Scott of Notre Dame: This was a surprising decision, as I haven't seen a single Mock Draft with him getting taken. And I agree with the prognosticators, because he's a quality college player, but he doesn't have NBA size or athleticism. If he does make an NBA team someday I don't see him ever being more than a tenth or eleventh man. With Tim Abromaitis, Scott Martin and Jack Cooley coming back, Notre Dame should still have decent frontcourt depth, even without Scott. Their big question has and will continue to be the backcourt, where Ben Hansbrough is simply irreplaceable. Eric Atkins is the only known quantity returning in the backcourt. Other backcourt returners are Alex Dragicevich and Jerian Grant, and 2011 recruit Pat Connaughton could play shooting guard as well. I don't think Notre Dame will be better than a bubble team next season.

Mark Turgeon Leaves A&M For Maryland

You have to give Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson credit. After Gary Williams retired he wasted no time going after big time, big money coaches, and he nabbed one: Texas A&M's Mark Turgeon. And while Mark Turgeon might not be at the level of Gary Williams, he is a really good coach and he's only 46 years old (so he can build for the long term - something that the 66 year old Gary Williams clearly wasn't prepared to do).

Turgeon first became a national name in the middle of the last decade at Wichita State, when he took them to the Sweet 16 of the 2006 NCAA Tournament, and actually had the team ranked as high as 8th in the AP poll early in the 2006-07 season after thrilling road victories at #6 LSU, #14 Syracuse and George Mason (remember, both LSU and George Mason were coming off Final Four appearances). That team eventually faded, but he jumped at the end of the season to take the Texas A&M job that had been vacated by Billy Gillispie. Turgeon took that team to four straight NCAA Tournaments, and has them primed for a good 2011-12 season (I picked them to finish third in the Big 12, and to earn a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament).

ESPN's Eammon Brennon makes a point that's worth talking about, which is that Mark Turgeon likes playing at a snail's pace while Gary Williams liked to run, and this can be an issue. I talked about pace when disagreeing with Wake Forest's hiring of Jeff Bzdelik a year ago. But my point wasn't that fans don't like teams that play at a slow pace. Slow pace is simply something that grates on fans when their team is losing. Notre Dame's Mike Brey, Wisconsin's Bo Ryan, Pittsburgh's Jamie Dixon and Utah State's Stew Morrill all coach teams that play at a very slow pace every single year, and all four of those coaches are beloved by the fans of their program because every single year they win. If Mark Turgeon wins, Maryland fans won't care what pace he plays at. And I think he will win. Maryland is a rebuilding job (I picked them to finish 9th in the ACC), but I think Mark Turgeon can have the team back in the NCAA Tournament by the 2012-13 season.

What about Texas A&M? Well, the good news is that Turgeon waited until the day after the final NBA Early Entry deadline to announce the move, and both David Loubeau and Khris Middleton will be back for next season. I can't be the only one who is wondering if one or both of them would have gone into the Draft if they knew that Turgeon would leave. But with them back, as I said, I picked them last month to finish third in the Big 12. If A&M can get a high quality coach then, with all of the NBA defections Texas has had and the fact that Kansas won't be as good as they were this past season, it's not inconceivable that the Aggies could win the Big 12. But right now nobody has any idea who they're going to hire. The first popular name to come out was Marquette's Buzz Williams, but he'd be a very expensive hire because of the contract he already has, and I wouldn't be too high on that hire anyway. Buzz is a very good recruiter, but I haven't been impressed with his ability to develop players or coach in-game, so he wouldn't be the type of coach that would get the most out of the team already in place for the 2011-12 season.

I will revisit Texas A&M as soon as they hire their new coach.

Sunday, May 08, 2011

Transfers Out: Demetri Goodson, Jamal Coombs-McDaniel, Ryan Harrow, Chris Jones

I've been combining all of these Draft/transfer/recruiting stories into aggregate posts, and this one will be about players transferring out:

Demetri Goodson is leaving Gonzaga. In some sense, Demetri Goodson was a big disappointment at Gonzaga. He came in as a freshman as a spark plug off the bench: 11.3 points per 40 minutes played, a 54.0 FG% and 55.2 eFG%. I was a big fan. But with expanded minutes as a sophomore he hit only 47% from the field (a 48.2 eFG%), and this past season as a junior he scored only 9.2 points per 40 minutes played on 40.9% from the field, with a 43.1 eFG%. But while he's become less efficient, I think he may just have been one of those players who is better in small portions. We see guys like this all the time in the NBA, who are great off the bench but struggle when asked to start. Goodson's high-energy style probably just wasn't suited to playing 25-30 minutes per game.

The loss of Goodson won't affect Gonzaga dramatically. David Stockton and Marquise Carter, both freshmen, played really well late in the 2010-11 season and will be a perfectly capable backcourt. Stockton is a steady ball handler, and Carter is an explosive scorer. Throw in two blue chip backcourt 2011 recruits (Gary Bell and Kevin Pangos) and several other returners from their bench and the Zags will still have a very strong backcourt. The bigger concern for Gonzaga, honestly, is Kelly Olynyk. While Olynyk underperformed in his sophomore season he's still a 6'11" force in the paint who forms, along with Robert Sacre and Sam Dower, a formidable frontcourt. Rumors of Olynyk possibly leaving should be more concerning to Gonzaga fans. For now, Gonzaga remains the WCC favorite and a 3 or 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. They will drop off a couple of seed lines if Olynyk leaves.

Jamal Coombs-McDaniel is leaving UConn. He says it's about playing time, though his adventures with the law are actually probably the real reason. Coombs-McDaniel was a regular (5.6 points in 15.6 minutes per game) but not a star, and his minutes can easily go to other wings like Roscoe Smith and Niels Giffey. But losing him does hurt the team's depth. With him gone, the team now returns six players that earned meaningful minutes last season (Shabazz Napier, Jeremy Lamb, Roscoe Smith, Niels Giffey, Tyler Olander and Alex Oriakhi), along with Enosch Wolf (who barely played as a true freshman in 2010-11) and Michael Bradley (who redshirted in 2010-11 and has four years of eligibility remaining). Throwing in 2011 recruit Ryan Boatright and, as far as I can tell, UConn has only nine players under scholarship. They're still in the mix for at least one more 2011 recruit, although it's worth noting that UConn might not be allowed their full share of scholarships next year anyway because of NCAA restrictions.

I already thought that UConn was overrated for next season. The biggest mistake that prognosticators make is that they look at players gained and lost and then add those to a team's final record or NCAA Tournament performance, when their record or NCAA Tournament performance is not really the best indicator of how good a team was. UConn was a borderline Top Ten team this past season, and simply had a magical NCAA Tournament run. And that's great for them - the big trophy is all that matters after all. But when we're projecting next year we have to begin with the real starting point, and that's why I picked them to finish fourth in the Big East, and with a 4 seed in the NCAA Tournament. If they don't add another recruit I could see myself dropping them as far down as a 6 seed.

Ryan Harrow is leaving NC State. Teams with coaching transitions always have a risk of this happening. And this is an unfortunate loss for them. As a freshman he was probably the best and most efficient point guard on the team, and with the graduation of Javier Gonzalez, they don't have a true point guard left (Lorenzo Brown will likely start at the point, though he's naturally a shooting guard). And despite the coaching transition, this is an NC State team capable of making the NCAA Tournament, particularly since CJ Leslie is returning for another season. I picked NC State to finish sixth in the ACC, and to be one of the first teams out of the Field of 68. The loss of Harrow puts a lot of pressure on Leslie to really take a leap and become a star if NC State is going to get back to the Big Dance.

Chris Jones has been let free of his letter of intent to play at Tennessee. Technically that's not a "transfer", but I wanted to throw this news into the bottom of this post. Bruce Pearl was a great recruiter and was beloved by his kids, and despite the fact that the Vols got a solid hire in Cuonzo Martin, it was natural that he wouldn't be able to keep the entire team is place. They were probably going to lose Tobias Harris to the NBA Draft no matter what, but I don't think there's any way that they wouldn't have had Scotty Hopson go pro if Pearl was still the head coach. Jones isn't the first recruit to get out of his letter of intent either (Kevin Ware was the other). And while Tennessee still has three 2011 recruits signed, Jones was the jewel of the class, particularly since he was expected to take over the point immediately with the graduation of Melvin Goins. I had picked Tennessee to finish fifth in the SEC East, but with the current news I think I'll push Georgia ahead of them as well. The Vols won't be the worst team in the SEC (the SEC West will have a few teams that will be worse), but just getting back to the NCAA Tournament in the 2011-12 season would be a tremendous feat for Cuonzo Martin.

In NBA Draft: Shelvin Mack, Brandon Knight, Alec Burks

Tonight is the final deadline for players that have declared for the NBA Draft to back out and return to college. Three of the players who have stated that they definitely will be staying in are Shelvin Mack, Brandon Knight and Alec Burks:

Shelvin Mack of Butler was considered a borderline NBA Draft call, and it's not a surprise that with this year's weak Draft class he decided to take the plunge. He's considered a borderline first round pick. He was going to be Butler's top returning player, so obviously his loss hurts. The graduation of Shawn Vanzant means that Butler loses two of their three backcourt players (Ronald Nored still has a year of eligibility left). Chase Stigall also returns, though, and the reality is that the team really played with three shooting guards all season long. Neither Mack, Vanzant or Nored is a real point guard, and a lot of the success or failure in 2011-12 was going to come down to the immediate play of 2011 recruit Jackson Aldridge anyway, who will likely start at the point. If he can immediately come in and be productive then Butler will still be a scary team to play in the 2012 NCAA Tournament. I don't see any really plausible Horizon League contenders, and so Butler remains the favorite there. They'll drop from the 7 seed I've got them at now - probably to the 9 or 10 seed range.

Brandon Knight of Kentucky will be gone to the Draft, although Terrence Jones has announced he'll be back for another season. The team is still waiting to hear on DeAndre Liggins. When putting together my 2011-12 SEC preview last month I thought Knight and Jones would both be gone, and I assumed Liggins would return. It is surprising Jones is back, and I still don't understand why Liggins thinks he should declare for the Draft rather than taking another year to develop. But even if Liggins does go, the return of Jones more than makes up for that and I'm even more confident in picking Kentucky as the favorite to win the SEC and to earn a 1 seed in the Tournament.

That said, if Kentucky could have kept either of Jones or Knight, I don't think there's any question they'd have kept Knight. Knight isn't the all-around player that John Wall is, nor will he be the same level of NBA star, but Knight was a better pure point guard and did a great job running Kentucky's offense (Wall was a better defender and better scorer than Knight was in his year at Kentucky). With him gone, the point guard role falls to 2011 recruit Marcus Teague. Teague is a big time blue chip recruit, but there's never a guarantee with true freshmen.

Alec Burks of Colorado actually declared for the NBA a couple of weeks ago, but I didn't feel it deserved its own post at the time. The decision is no surprise because he's a likely lottery pick after absolutely blowing up this past season. Assuming Burks was gone I picked Colorado last month to finish in tenth place in the Pac-12, and I still think that's about right. I think they'll be a competitive team and wouldn't be shocked if they finish in the middle of the pack in their new conference, but I don't think they'll be quite as good without their superstar Alec Burks.

Friday, May 06, 2011

Gary Williams, Old School Legend, Retires

The big, surprising news yesterday was Gary Williams stepping down from Maryland. I was surprised when I heard the news, because there had been no hints at all that this might happen. But in retrospect, I understand him wanting to leave on his own terms. With Jordan Williams going pro this is going to be a very young, rebuilding team next year, and it was going to be at least a couple more years before Maryland was back to the top of the conference again.

Williams is already 66 years old, and there really is very little history of coaches older than 66 having success (see here for more about that). If his 2010 and 2011 recruiting classes didn't pan out (and let's be honest, that 2010 class was developing very slowly - only Terrell Stoglin had a lot of success over the length of the 2010-11 season), Williams was heading toward one of those situations we've seen with coaches like Bobby Bowden and Joe Paterno in football - an old coach on the downside of the career, unable to win like they used to, being pushed out the door by reluctant alumni trying not to having a public relations disaster.

Gary Williams is one of the last of a dying breed, the old school coaches who play by the spirit of the rules and put their kids first. Williams did rescue the program from the Len Bias tragedy and the ACC cellar to make 11 straight NCAA Tournament, including a National Championship, but you could see why his style of coaching is dying out. Baltimore and Washington DC are teeming with basketball talent, and for the past few years Terps fans have seen most of those top players leave. From the state of Maryland alone, over the past five years of recruiting (2006-through-2010), some of the key players to leave the state include Josh Selby, Michael Beasley, Kevin Durant, Ty Lawson, Malcolm Delaney, Austin Freeman, Mouphtaou Yarou, DeJuan Summers, Talib Zanna, Henry Simmons, Donte Green and Isaiah Armwood.

There are obviously a variety of reasons why some kids left and some stayed, and no coach is going to keep every top recruit in state. But Williams famously shunned the AAU circuit, refusing to kiss up to AAU coaches looking for favors, and that has cost him a number of recruits, many of whom are talked about in a great Washington Post piece from a couple of years ago. There's no question that another coach can potentially bring in better recruits.

I think there's a happy medium, and I'm not sure that it's ideal for a coach to completely shun the AAU circuit. Nobody would ever accuse a coach like Coach K, Tom Izzo or Jim Boeheim of cheating or not caring about their kids, and neither is going to play the shady technically-kinda-not-against-the-rules games that coaches like John Calipari and Jim Calhoun play, but they still engage the AAU coaches to some extent. I don't believe coaches should sell out and go too far in the other direction, hiring a win-at-all-costs coach like Calipari, but they need to find a happy middle.

Mike Brey and Sean Miller are the two top level coaches that have been linked to the Maryland job. If the Terps can't land one of those two then they'll probably go for a successful mid-major coach that knows the area. Like I said, this is a program that had a deep 2010 class. In addition to Terrell Stoglin, they also have blue chippers like Mychal Parker, Pe'Shon Howard and Haukur Palsson. The 2011 class is led by Nick Faust and Sterling Gibbs. If the incoming coach can hang onto all of this talent and develop it, and can put together a big time 2012 recruiting class, this is a team that could be back in the NCAA Tournament as early as 2013. I'm obviously down on their 2011-12 chances regardless of coach (I picked them to finish ninth in the ACC).

I'll have a follow-up post after Maryland hires a new head coach. By then we also might have a better sense of whether the program will be losing some of its young talent to transfer.

Wednesday, May 04, 2011

Darius Morris and Terrence Jennings Both Staying In Draft

Michigan's Darius Morris is officially gone to the NBA Draft, as is Louisville's Terrence Jennings. Both are definitely surprise entrants.

In retrospect, it makes sense for us to get a few surprising players into the Draft this year. With the Draft class already thought to be weaker than usual, and with several high profile players deciding to stay for another season (Jared Sullinger, Harrison Barnes, etc), agents will have an easy job convincing players that they'll go higher in the Draft this season than next season even if they improve over the next 12 months.

The loss of Morris is devastating for a Michigan team that is being picked by many people to finish second in the Big Ten, although I had picked them to finish third behind Wisconsin (I agree with absolutely everybody else that Ohio State will be the heavy, heavy favorite to win the conference). Michigan has a lot of shooters, but they're undersized and lack athleticism, and Morris was the key playmaker on the team. Tim Hardaway, Jr. was the only other player who could create his own shot, and he wasn't half the player Morris was, and often spent long stretches on the bench since he was superfluous when Morris was on the floor and playing well. You can read posts I wrote back in November and December (here and here, for example) basically begging Morris and Hardaway to take over the Michigan offense, and Michigan really turned things around in Big Ten play with Morris's improved play and confidence. There will now be a ton of pressure on Hardaway to play the role of Darius Morris next season. He'll have to be more consistent, and Michigan will also need another player who can handle the ball when Hardaway takes a rest on the bench. I still think Michigan will be a Tournament team, but they'll drop quite a bit from the 5 seed I had them at.

Terrence Jennings wasn't as important to Louisville as Morris was to Michigan, but he was the team's best interior defender, and was capable of scoring on offense if you didn't keep away from the basket and away from rebounds. The pressure to replace Jennings will be on Gorgui Deng, who played well as a freshman, and basically was a raw version of Jennings - he's very athletic and similarly built physically. He can be the defensive force that Jennings was, but he needs to tighten up his offensive game. I had projected Louisville to finish second in the Big East, and with a 2 seed in the NCAA Tournament, but that will drop now. I have almost two months before my next BP68 comes out, so I have time to think more about this, but I will most likely drop them to the range of a 4 or 5 seed.

Monday, May 02, 2011

Paul Hewitt, Perennial Underachiever,To George Mason

The big college basketball story over the weekend was the fact that Paul Hewitt was hired to be the new head coach at George Mason. You can see some of my initial thoughts on the George Mason job from last week, when Jim Larranaga took the Miami job. I'm surprised by the Hewitt hiring. It was expected that the school was going to go for an outsider, rather than a current or former assistant of Larranaga, but the conventional wisdom was that they were going to promote some quality coach from a smaller mid-major. The leader was thought to be Mike Lonergan, from Vermont.

In my opinion, this isn't a good hire. Hewitt is not a guy who is going to try to build a program - he's going to bring in some big time recruits that can get him some wins so he can get back to a major conference. But this is already a team that is loaded for next season. Hewitt will bring in big time recruits, but big time recruits don't mean wins. And if there's a good example of that it's, well, Paul Hewitt.

Here is a list of some of the players that have been on Hewitt's Georgia Tech teams over the past six seasons:

Thaddeus Young
Javaris Crittendon
Gani Lawal
Derrick Favors
Kammeon Holsey
Iman Shumpert
Lewis Clinch
Zach Peacock
Ra'Sean Dickey
Jeremis Smith
Anthony Morrow
Alade Aminu
Mfon Udofia

Those players combined for five McDonald's All-American appearances, and three went in the first round of the NBA Draft. Yet during those years his teams went a combined 33-63 in the ACC, never finishing above-.500 in conference play, or above a tie for sixth place. They made the NCAA Tournament twice, winning only one game - a fluky upset in the 2010 Tournament over Oklahoma State. He did have that amazing run in the 2004 NCAA Tournament with Chris Bosh and Jarrett Jack, but there's only so long a coach can live off of one improbable NCAA Tournament run.

And before somebody argues that Larranaga is living off his one improbable Tournament run, all I have to say is that the past two seasons Larranaga has built a really good team. His boys were better than VCU this past season, and were primed to be a Top 25 team next year.

There's no guarantee that a guy like Mike Lonergan can recruit or coach as well at the CAA level as he had at Vermont, but if I was leading George Mason's athletic department I'd have rather gone that route that taking another major conference retread.