Sunday, August 28, 2011

What Are Miami's Frontcourt Options?

Lost in the scandal around the Miami athletic department is that the Miami basketball team does have to get ready for a season, and as if they didn't have enough problems they're now dealing with major frontcourt injury woes. The big news this past week was that Julian Gamble tore his ACL and is likely done for the season. They're already going to be without Reggie Johnson until around the start of ACC play after his own knee surgery. And remember that Johnson is a player who has struggled with his weight (Miami lists him at 305 pounds, but they're being generous), and you have to wonder if several months off his feet are going to even worsen his physical condition.

With Gamble and Johnson out, the only other frontcourt returner that played regular minutes last season is DeQuan Jones, but he was of course very central to the Nevin Shapiro scandal. If Jones is suspended then who does that leave? Kenny Kadji, a transfer from Florida, should be decent (4.4 points and 2.7 rebounds per game as a true freshman in 2008-09). Raphael Akpejiori and Erik Swoope were both 2010 recruits that will have to step up and play big minutes, simply because there are no other options.

Miami's backcourt is actually in pretty good shape for the time being, with Durand Scott, Malcolm Grant, Garrius Adams and Rion Brown all back. Grant was third team All-ACC last season, and could potentially be first team next season.

Because of that backcourt, I actually projected Miami to finish fifth in the ACC and to sneak into the NCAA Tournament with an 11 seed. But despite a quality backcourt they've got to have something in the frontcourt, and it's hard to see Miami finding any last minute 2011 recruits to fill in the roster with the shadow over the entire university. The ability of Reggie Johnson to come back healthy and in shape by the time the ACC season begins will be crucial for the Hurricanes to find a way to overcome adversity and to go Dancing.

Brandon Davies Returns To BYU

"Brandon Davies? Wasn't he that guy who was suspended for sleeping with his girlfriend? He's back?"

That's what you're going to hear from a bunch of casual fans this season because, yes, BYU very quietly re-instated Brandon Davies this week. This was expected, honestly, as I said in my WCC preview back in April (remember: BYU has moved to the WCC). With Brandon Davies back that confirms that BYU's frontcourt should actually be even better than they were last season. Davies returns along with Noah Hartsock, Stephen Rogers and Chris Collinswoth. The return of Collinsworth from injury is particularly important because his younger brother, Kyle, has gone off on his mormon mission and is not expected back until the 2013-14 season. They also add 2011 recruit Nate Austin. They have another good big man recruit in Isaac Nielson, though he's going to go on a mission before joining the team, and will not begin his BYU career until the 2013-14 season.

But while the frontcourt is coming into form for BYU, the backcourt is a gigantic question mark after the graduations of Jimmer Fredette and Jackson Emery. Charles Abouo is more of a small forward, but he's a quality returner who can play shooting guard (he's only 6'5", 215 pounds). But the two best guards after Abuou haven't played a minute yet for BYU. Anson Winder was a quality recruit from Dave Rose's 2010 recruiting class who redshirt the 2010-11 season. Matt Carlino is a transfer from UCLA. The top recruit in Rose's 2011 recruiting class is DeMarcus Harrison.

Because Charles Abouo can play shooting guard, the bigger backcourt concern for Dave Rose is point guard. Matt Carlino is probably the leader in the clubhouse to start at the point. The backup? I think it's actually Nick Martineau, who played 5.8 minutes per game in 2007-08 and 4.8 minutes per game in 2010-11, with a two year mission in between.

Since I already expected Brandon Davies back, this news doesn't affect my projection of BYU. I have them finishing second in the WCC behind Gonzaga, and earning a 10 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

UConn Gets Andre Drummond, Title Repeat Hype

About 11 weeks ago I talked about how UConn had added DeAndre Daniels to their frontcourt. At the time I talked about how UConn's biggest weakness was the backcourt, where they have three excellent players but nobody else, meaning that depth is a real issue. I noted that UConn was out of scholarships (they're only allowed 10 scholarships this year, instead of the normal 13, because of Jim Calhoun's bad behavior), but added that "Jim Calhoun has never been a coach to hesitate to cut one of his own guys loose, and one of those bigs will find their scholarships pulled if Calhoun can find a little bit more depth".

With that stated, UConn has landed a really big time recruit: Andre Drummond. Drummond is 6'10" or 6'11" and is arguably the best center in the 2011 class. He was actually a 2012 recruit, but appears to be able to qualify for 2011. If the NBA still allowed high school grads in the draft, Drummond would probably have been in the Draft rather than going to college. And naturally, it looks like Calhoun is going to be pulling a scholarship from Michael Bradley.

I've talked about this before, but the NCAA needs to step in and fix this. Not only is there a competitive disadvantage for coaches that have morals and refuse to cut kids that they recruited, but it's also simply unfair that kids are locked into letters of intent and can't leave a school without a punishment (a transfer year), but coaches can cut kids loose whenever they want. A simple rule I'd put in would be that if you have a kid sign a letter of intent, he counts against your scholarship total (13 in basketball) for four years, or until he graduates or gets signed by an NBA team, a D-League team, or a top level European team. If he transfers you lose the scholarship, no matter why he leaves (this is to prevent coaches from pressuring kids to "decide" that they want to transfer conveniently whenever the school needs a scholarship opened up, which is disturbingly common in college basketball and football). Without that rule in place, Jim Calhoun's scholarship reduction isn't even a real punishment. He can keep recruiting as many players as he wants, and he just is limited to keeping the 10 best players he can get, regardless of who was already on the roster.

As for the basketball impact, this is a tremendous signing. Back in April when I was previewing the Big East, UConn had a lot of big bodies, but not a lot of frontcourt athleticism. Alex Oriakhi was the only real athletic big coming back. Adding DeAndre Daniels and Andre Drummond, however, gives the Huskies two absolutely dynamic athletes. Combined with an explosive backcourt of Jeremy Lamb (who is going to be a contender for Big East Player of the Year), Shabazz Napier (the poor man's Kemba Walker) and Ryan Boatright (a blue chip 2011 recruit who can handle the point) and UConn is going to have a tremendous starting lineup. The concern, as I already said, is backcourt depth.

I've been saying since April that UConn is overrated coming into the season, and I still believe that to be true. After they signed DeAndre Daniels the media consensus was that they were a Top Ten team, and I instead argued that they were the fourth best team in the Big East and were looking at a 4-5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. After signing Drummond, the media consensus is that they're one of the four best teams in the country, and are a true national title contender. I disagree that they're in that class. To me, North Carolina, Ohio State, Syracuse and Kentucky are a step ahead of the rest of the country, and UConn isn't yet in that class.

Certainly UConn is now a Big East title contender. I'm pushing UConn past Pitt, and now have the Huskies as one of the three elite Big East title contenders, along with Syracuse and Louisville. And while I'm not putting UConn as a 1 seed yet, I do think they're a borderline Top Ten team. I have six or seven weeks until I need to publish another BP68, so I have time to think about it. But right now I'm likely to give UConn a 2 or 3 seed.

The Andre Drummond signing is tremendous for UConn's basketball prospects, even though it's sad for ethics that I haven't seen a single UConn fan complaining about what they're doing to Michael Bradley. But until the NCAA fixes the rules, it's hard to expect coaches to put morality ahead of winning.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Providence Lands Top PG Recruit Kris Dunn

Providence fans are ecstatic today after new coach Ed Cooley landed Kris Dunn, arguably the best point guard in the 2012 recruiting class. Scout has him 1st, ESPN has him 2nd, and Rivals has him 4th. Recruiting is an inexact science, of course. These are the same services that had Josh Selby ahead of Kyrie Irving, Scott Martin ahead of Evan Turner, Craig Brackins over Blake Griffin, Jeronne Maymon ahead of Kawhi Leonard, Romero Osby over Klay Thompson, Kenny Kadji ahead of Tyler Zeller, Ray Shipman ahead of Marcus Morris and Alex Legion ahead of DeJuan Blair.

But while landing Dunn might not end up meaning much on the floor, he opens up a tremendous opportunity for Ed Cooley. The reality is that Providence needs a reason - a spark - to get blue chip recruits to commit to them over their top Big East rivals. I'm sure that some Providence alums get offended by that idea, and they'll probably bring up that Final Four trip under head coach Rick Pitino in 1987. But the reality is that for most 17 and 18 year old kids, that might as well have happened in the Cenozoic Era.

Keno Davis was actually moving the Providence program in the right direction, particularly with a very deep 2010 recruiting class. But he was fired after only three years at Providence because things were going slowly, and more importantly because he wasn't bringing in blue chip recruits.

If there's one thing that coaches look to achieve in their first year it's a splashy recruiting class. If you can't get blue chippers in your first class, how can you convince a future star to join your squad? But bring in a stud-filled first class and suddenly you'll get yourself on the radar of dozens of top recruits. A perfect example of this is at St. John's under Steve Lavin. While Lavin got a ton of hype for the success he had on the floor, the reality is that the team didn't really perform any better than one would have expected if Norm Roberts was still at the helm. Lavin's true accomplishment was his recruiting class - a high quality and very deep class that confirmed St. John's as a place for top recruits for the first time in almost 20 years.

The signing of Dunn won't launch Providence into the top half of the Big East by itself. But it presents a tremendous opportunity for Cooley to use Dunn as a magnet to draw in other top recruits. A single recruiting class has the power to wake up a slumbering program overnight.

SDSU Lands LSU's Garrett Green, Penn State Lands DJ Newbill from Southern Miss

Two big transfer stories:

Garrett Green leaves LSU for San Diego State - The 6'11" Garrett Green won't do much offensively, but he was the best rebounder on LSU last season and will provide size for a San Diego State team starving for some. There isn't a single player left on the roster who played significant minutes last season over the height of 6'5". The only big who played at all outside garbage time is Tim Shelton, a 6'7" player who isn't particularly good at anything. Green will be a big improvement over him. 6'8" DeShawn Stephens is a Juco transfer who will be expected to play alongside Green. It's still a fairly weak frontcourt, particularly compared to a team like UNLV that brings back Chase Stanback and Quintrell Thomas, but they're in a better position than they were before they signed Green. I still think I have SDSU rated appropriately where I have them, as the third place finisher in the Mountain West, and as a 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Green's departure will have an effect on an LSU team already reeling from the loss of Aaron Dotson to Utah (Dotson, unlike Green, will have to sit out the 2011-12 season because of the transfer). Neither Green or Dotson were good offensive players, but I'm not sure LSU had any good offensive players. The team was an atrocious 291st in Pomeroy Offensive Efficiency, their second consecutive year outside the Top 200. Green's loss puts a lot of pressure on Johnny O'Bryant, a McDonald's All-American and the gem of Trent Johnson's 2011 recruiting class. O'Bryant is a 6'10", 245 pound monster (tied with Marshall Plumlee as the biggest player at the 2011 McDonald's game) and he'll have to replace Green in the paint. If LSU has a strength it's in the frontcourt with Storm Warren and Malcolm White, but neither has the size or rebounding ability of Green. I'm guessing that LSU will want to start all three of Warren, White and O'Bryant, if the youngster is ready to go right away.

The transfers hurt, though honestly I still think LSU is going to be a little better than they were last season.... not that it's saying much. You can see my full 2011-12 SEC preview here. I still see LSU battling with Georgia, Mississippi and Auburn for the bottom of the conference.

Penn State grabs DJ Newbill from Southern Miss - This is a big time get for new Penn State coach Patrick Chambers. Newbill will have to sit out this coming season, but Penn State's going to be awful this season anyway. Newbill now has a year to learn the new system and for Penn State's coaching staff to build around him. Talor Battle, Andrew Jones, Jeff Brooks and David Jackson are all gone, as is Taran Buie. And star transfer Juwan Staten decided that he didn't want to come anymore after Ed DeChellis left. Newbill is an all-around quality offensive player who will probably be the best basketball player on campus as soon as he shows up, even though he won't be eligible to play for a year.

This transfer is brutal for Southern Miss. With superstar Gary Flowers graduating the expectation was that the team was going to build for the future around Newbill, who was only a true freshman this past season. I thought the team would take a little step back from the loss of Flowers but was high on their future. Southern Miss fans aren't happy about it, but it's worth noting that Newbill never really wanted to be there anyway, and only ended up there because Marquette coach Buzz Williams took his scholarship away when a better player suddenly became available. Newbill was always a guy who was going to transfer back to a major college program if he got a chance. It's unfortunate for Southern Miss, but it's reality.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Jio Fontan Done For Season, Isaiah Armwood Transfers

In the last 24 hours we've had major news involving both Villanova and USC:

Jio Fontan tears his ACL - It was announced earlier this week that Fontan had hurt himself in a game in Brazil and was going to have an MRI, and it certainly sounded ominous, so it's not a shocker that it's been announced as a torn ACL. He'll be done for the season. Because USC didn't have a tremendous success last season, most casual fans (particularly those that aren't Pac-10 fans) didn't realize just how dramatic of an effect Fontan, the team's point guard, had. He had to sit out the first semester after transferring from Fordham, and when he wasn't playing the team lost to Rider, Bradley, TCU and Nebraska. Their season looked to be over. But with Fontan the team beat Washington, Arizona, Tennessee and UCLA, went 10-8 in Pac-12 play, and snuck their way into the NCAA Tournament.

But the fact was, this year's USC team was going to struggle even with Fontan. I had picked them to finish 9th in the Pac-12 (see my full 2011-12 Pac-12 preview) because the team lost their other four starters. Three starters graduated, and star Nicola Vucevic left early for the NBA. This is going to be a rebuilding year around the young talent Kevin O'Neill is bringing in. Maurice Jones and Garrett Jackson played well as true freshman last season. The 2011 class has no blue chippers, but point guard Alexis Moore and swing man Byron Wesley are the best incoming players.

In some sense, the Fontan injury might have some silver lining for the program in the long term. The team was probably not making the NCAA Tournament with him, and now he can use his final year of eligibility in 2012-13 instead, when the team around him will be better.

Isaiah Armwood to transfer - This is unmitigated bad news for Villanova. With Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes gone, Villanova's strength this coming season was going to be in the paint, centered around their junior duo of Isaiah Armwood and Mouphtaou Yarou. Both players are very athletic and long, and would have been an elite rebounding/blocking duo. Maurice Sutton is another quality big returning, but he's not nearly the athlete or player that Armwood is.

The player who the pressure falls on most is clearly JayVaughn Pinkston, a 6'7" McDonald's All-American from 2010 who was suspended for the entire 2010-11 season after all sorts of trouble. He's back with the team, and with the 2011 recruiting class revolving around rebuilding the backcourt (point guard Tyrone Johnson and shooting guard Achraf Yacoubou are the two top recruits), Pinkston will probably be the player expected to replace Armwood.

I had thought that Villanova was going to be very narrowly in the NCAA Tournament this coming season. I picked them to finish 9th in the Big East, and currently have them as an 11 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Losing Armwood makes them a big question mark. If Pinkston gets his act together and plays to his potential the team could actually be better, since Pinkston has more raw talent than Armwood. But if he struggles, or gets himself in trouble again, it's very easy to see Villanova slipping back to the NIT. I'll be watching Pinkston closely early in the season to try to get a read on this team.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Does Georgetown's Chinese Brawl Mean Anything For Their Season?

Yesterday's all-out brawl between the Georgetown Hoyas and the players for the Chinese Bayi Rockets is a pretty shocking story. Many teams go on these types of foreign trips every year, and I can't recall the last time any of them had any sort of problem at all. Georgetown wasn't even the only team playing in China at the time, as Duke is there as well.

Because this happened in China (which might as well be Mars as far as the American sports press corps is concerned) we haven't been inundated with too much sanctimonious moralizing, although you might want to avoid The Sports Reporters this weekend if either Mike Lupica or Mitch Albom are on the panel.

In general, as my regular readers know, I'm not the moralizing type. It's impossible to know exactly what's going on in any situation we're not directly a part of, and in this particular case all we have to go on is a blurry video that begins right as the incident begins. It appears as if the Georgetown players had been dealing with a very aggressive and dirty Chinese team, and refs that were continually punishing Hoyas players with unnecessary technical fouls. For all we know, every Georgetown player was just defending themselves.

Younger college basketball fans probably don't remember this, particularly since ESPN tried to convince us last year that college basketball was a pretentious game full of lilly-white prep school rule-followers until the Fab Five showed up, but Georgetown used to be the "bad boys" school. A large number of college basketball fans, particularly white fans, hated those old Georgetown teams that they viewed as dirty, uneducated and disrespectful of the game.

But those old feelings about Georgetown have long since passed. And John Thompson III has made Georgetown a class program since showing up, installing a selfless pseudo-Princeton offense. The team only succeeds when the players put their selfish needs aside and work together, often letting the defense dictate who will get the shooting opportunities.

And that's why, in the long run, this brawl could end up being good for Georgetown. The program is full of young players, having lost last year's trio of Chris Wright, Austin Freeman and Julian Vaughn (you can see my full preview of this team in my 2011-12 Big East preview). Chris Wright was a tremendous leader for the younger players, and without him the younger players need something to help them buy into the system. And it's hard to think of a better team bonding experience than fighting together, alone on the other side of the planet, against a bullying opponent and ref.

I doubt any tangible punishments or suspensions will come out of that fight. And if it really does turn into a powerful bonding experience, Georgetown players could end up pointing back to this fight as a big positive influence on their season.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

What the Miami Scandal Means For Amateur Athletics

The movement to pay college basketball and football players has been on the rise over the past few months, and I've already talked about it to a great extent here. It was inevitable that we'd hear all about this with the Miami scandal.

Those who think we should end amateur college athletics are gloating about how this scandal proves their case. Jay Bilas can barely contain his glee. Jason Whitlock posted this:


I've never quite understood why corruption and scandal make a good argument that we should add more money, more agents and more disparate, unaccountable interests into a sport. And let's not pretend that these kids didn't know what they were doing. Whitlock's tweet would make sense if some Miami kids got "hoodwinked" when they received poor investment advice from Nevin Shapiro. Some of these kids took envelopes with thousands of dollars, participated in sex parties, and did all sorts of stuff that went far beyond being "tricked". The kids knew what they were doing.

I don't blame the kids for claiming that they didn't know they were breaking rules. Most Americans don't know what it's like to be a college athlete, and so they don't know how compliance departments work. Coaches use the "I had no idea!" defense as well. Remember when Rick Neuheisel claimed that he had no idea that betting thousands of dollars on the NCAA Tournament was against NCAA rules because he was just betting with friends?

The fact is that compliance offices pound all student-athletes at any Division I school with rules that after a while seem laughable. I remember receiving multiple e-mails telling me that as a student-athlete I couldn't even enter a bracket in an NCAA Tournament pool where the loser had to do the winner's laundry (that was the example they gave, I'm not kidding). I was so scared straight that when my dad proposed doing the same pool with my brother that we'd done the previous few years (winner picks a place for dinner, loser pays for everybody) I said I couldn't do it until I graduated. The odds of anybody finding out that I'd bet a dinner on the NCAA Tournament with my family were 0%, nor would anybody have cared if they had found out, but I was scared straight.

Not all students are that way, of course. But let's not pretend these kids didn't know exactly what they were doing.


Somebody needs to spell out for me just how eliminating amateurism would have prevented this scandal. Does anybody think that if we pay kids an extra $1000 a year to cover living costs that they'll turn down exclusive parties on yachts with strippers? They'll turn down $50,000 cash? Or the $200k+ that Cam Newton apparently took at Auburn?

And if we legalize "The Olympic Model" (the Jay Bilas plan), Mr. Shapiro actually could have done all of his damage legally. He could have had his parties with players and paid them tens of thousands of dollars to endorse some product he invested in. Or he could have had them "invest" in his Ponzi Scheme and gave them dramatic returns. All of that would have been fine under the NCAA rules that Bilas wants.

As I talked about in the piece I linked to earlier, the biggest mistake that those arguing for "the olympic model" are making is that they don't realize that college athletics are team sports. A sponsorship system can work if you've got a sport of individuals, and where there's no incentive for any company to be dishonest. But if you care about teams, there's every incentive for rich boosters to promise recruits huge endorsement deals in return for their signatures. Imagine if the US Olympic Team could buy up all of the best athletes in the world by promising them seven-figure deals from Home Depot and Gatorade? Would you still enjoy the Olympics?


One great article that was written after my original piece that I wanted to link to is this piece from Joe Posnanski. He starts off by talking about what I had, which is that the value of the scholarship is far more than just the cost of education. Getting all of the exclusive help from the coaches and tutors, getting the great training facilities and the opportunity to be such a huge national star is a tremendous value. But then he talks about something I hadn't even discussed, which I'll just quote directly:

Ask yourself this: What would happen if tomorrow every single player on the Auburn football team quit and re-formed as a professional team called the Birmingham Bandits. Who would go to their games? Anyone? How much would those talented young men get paid?
Ask yourself this: What would happen if all the ACC basketball schools dropped their players and replaced them with Division II talent? Would North Carolina-Duke suddenly play in empty arenas?
Ask yourself this: Say the first, second and third All-America Teams in college football tomorrow went into the NFL. They just left. How many fewer fans would the college games draw? How many fewer people would watch Texas and Tennessee and Iowa?
Ask yourself this: Why do we care about college football? We know that the skill level in college football is vastly inferior to the skill level of NFL teams. Heck, many Heisman Trophy winners are not even NFL prospects. Yet, by the millions, we watch. We cheer. We buy. We rejoice. We gripe. We wear. We eat. We live it. Many of us even argue that we PREFER the quality and style of college to pro, we LIKE watching those games more. But is it the quality and style we prefer, or is it passion, youth, exuberance and that we feel closer to the game?
No, college athletics is not ABOUT the players. College athletics is FOR the players, but that’s a different thing, and that’s a distinction that we don’t often make. College football only works on this grand scale, I believe, because it’s about the colleges. The alumni connect to it. The people in the town connect to it. The people in the state connect to it. People are proud of their connection to the University of South Carolina and Clemson, they are inspired by Alabama and Auburn, Penn State and Notre Dame and Stanford, they identify themselves through Missouri and Wisconsin and Florida and Texas A&M. The players matter because they chose those schools, they play for those schools, they win for those schools and they lose for those schools, too. Everyone, of course, wants them to be the best players available, and some are willing to cheat the current system to get those players. But soon the players move on, and the love affair continues, just as strong, just as vital. The CONNECTION is what drives college football.
Otherwise, without that connection, it’s just football that isn’t nearly as well-played as the NFL.

Posnanski is absolutely right. There's a reason why it's almost impossible to find a minor league baseball game ever on television but the College World Series is on ESPN, despite a much lower quality of play than even A-level minor league ball. There's a reason why the women's NCAA basketball finals draws approximately seven times the viewership of the WNBA finals.

The reason why figure skaters shouldn't make $100 Million for winning the Olympics is the same reason why the best basketball players on Kansas or North Carolina shouldn't be making $10 Million. The individual isn't why people watch. Fans tune in because they care about the country or the school.

Someday somebody will present a coherent argument for paying college players. But pointing to the Miami scandal and saying "See!" isn't it.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Devastating Scandal For Miami, Frank Haith

Yahoo Sports, which continues to have a better investigation staff than the NCAA enforcement office, has put together a devastating collection of wrongdoing at the University of Miami, including a series of allegations specifically involving Frank Haith and the basketball program. The NCAA and the University of Miami are all withholding comment at this point, but it's hard to believe that the NCAA won't really come down hard on the school and Frank Haith.

The people directly involved in this scandal are obviously going to be in a lot of trouble, but this scandal is also devastating for two innocent parties:

Jim Larranaga - I was lukewarm on his move to Miami initially, and now it looks like the move could be a disaster. None of the wrongdoing is his fault (he's only been on the job for a few months after all), but the basketball program is likely going to be in for major violations. Recruiting is going to be on hold for the time being as well. Larranaga turns 62 before the 2011-12 season tips off, so he doesn't exactly have a ton of time to wait for the program to turn around. George Mason has the players in place to have a really good season (even after downgrading at head coach to Paul Hewitt I still project them to earn a 7 seed in the NCAA Tournament). It would be better for everybody (other than Paul Hewitt) if Larranaga could undo his coaching change and get back the George Mason job.

Missouri basketball - Mike Anderson had this program a perennial contender in the Big 12 and a constant threat to go deep in the NCAA Tournament, but it's been a sharp downhill trend for the past four months. Anderson left the school to head home to Arkansas, and then the school got played by a raise-seeking Matt Painter and had to settle for Frank Haith. Now Haith could be in line for a really serious punishment from the NCAA, and Missouri might have to go get a new coach again at an absolutely horrible time. Not only would a coaching change in the next few months kill their 2012 and 2013 recruiting classes, but the program is already in a ton of flux with so many key players (Lawrence Bowers, Kim English, Marcus Denmon, Matt Pressey, etc) in their final season of eligibility.

Frank Haith has already added a few transfers (Keion Bell, Earnest Ross and George Goode), but only Ross has more than one year of eligibility left. The team needs fresh blood, and this Frank Haith situation could kill them. It's a shame that Missouri basketball is going to be so badly damaged by a situation at Miami that they had absolutely nothing to do with.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Oregon Lands Tony Woods, Butler Gets Rotnei Clarke

Oregon lands Tony Woods - Woods was originally a Skip Prosser recruit at Wake Forest, and though he never lived up to the hype he was a quality role player (4.6 points and 3.2 rebounds in 13.3 minutes per game on 60.8% shooting as a sophomore in 2009-10). At the very least he provides size and athleticism for an Oregon team lacking that. The Ducks are young and fairly talented in the backcourt and on the wings. E.J. Singler, a swing forward, is one of the most explosive scorers in the Pac-12, and Garrett Sim is a steady point guard. Point guard Johnathan Loyd was the jewel of Dana Altman's 2010 recruiting class, and shooting guard Jabari Brown is the jewel of his 2011 class. Jeremy Jacob is another quality swing player who will return from a knee surgery that cost him half of last season. But in the frontcourt, the only player over 6'6" who played at least 15 minutes last season was 6'8" Tyrone Nared, who is merely a defensive presence. Woods will really lock down the paint on both sides of the floor.

But it's not all sunshine and lollipops for Oregon. The reason Tony Woods was available was because he was booted out of Wake Forest for beating up his girlfriend. Certainly fans of other Pac-12 teams are already joking about how long it will take him to get arrested again. And Oregon is a school already in an awkward situation with all of the possible misbehavior by the football team, with the NCAA breathing down their neck. Woods will immediately be the most physically talented big on Oregon, but even the best case scenario is that he becomes an average Pac-12 starter. Oregon is going to be better than they were last season, but they still have a long way to go. In my 2011-12 Pac-12 preview I picked Oregon to finish 7th, saying that they could make the NCAA Tournament as early as 2013. Adding Tony Woods gets them closer to the bubble, but I still think they're quite the long shot to get back to the NCAA Tournament any earlier than 2013, when Woods will be in his final year of eligibility. So in the grand scheme of things, I think the Woods signing doesn't provide too much upside long term for the Oregon program.

Butler gets Rotnei Clarke - This is a move that won't affect this coming season, as Clarke will have to redshirt and will play his final year of eligibility for Butler in 2012-13. Clarke was released from Arkansas by Mike Anderson after he replaced John Pelphrey. But even though this is only a one-year band aid to help the team recover from the graduation of Ronald Nored (who is heading into his own senior year), Clarke is a truly outstanding player. He's not well known outside the SEC because he played on mediocre Arkansas teams, but he's an offensive star. This past season he had a 57.8 eFG% (sixth best in the SEC), including a 43.8 3P% while committing only 1.5 turnovers and 1.2 fouls per 40 minutes.

Rotnei Clarke is a player who really won't matter again for eight more months, but he will be an unambiguously huge addition to Butler's next squad. A great get for Brad Stevens.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Trouble At UCLA, Syracuse

I've been out of town a bit lately, but I came home to two troubling stories out of UCLA, as well as one from Syracuse:

Jerime Anderson suspended - Jerime Anderson has had a series of off-court issues. You can google them if you want. Ben Howland is getting credit for being "pro-active" by suspending him as opposed to how Jim Boeheim is dealing with Fab Melo (more on him in a moment), but so far Anderson has only been suspended for the season opener against Loyola-Marymount on November 11th. Regardless of what troubles UCLA has this offseason, they'll have no problem beating Loyola-Marymount. Their first test will be at the Maui Invitational, beginning November 21st.

Lazeric Jones and Jerime Anderson split time at point guard last season. Anderson is the better scorer, but Jones is the better pure point guard and passer. And because of that, Jones got more of the time this past season. But Anderson might be needed to play extra minutes in 2011-12 because...

Josh Smith appears to be overweight and out of shape - Only those inside the UCLA program really know what condition Josh Smith is in, but this story is disconcerting. Smith has continually had trouble keeping his weight down, and this is the time of year that we typically hear "[so-and-so] is working hard and getting himself in shape" stories, and anything out of that norm warrants attention.

I had projected an improvement in UCLA's play this coming season, picking them to finish second in the new Pac-12, and to earn a 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament. The big reason for that belief was a strengthened front line. Tyler Honeycutt left for the NBA Draft, but I expected Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith to be excellent again, and the team adds the Wear twins, formerly from North Carolina. Brendan Stovall also played well in limited minutes last season.

If Jerime Anderson is suspended for any serious length of time, UCLA will get quite a bit thin in the backcourt. Lazeric Jones and Tyler Lamb are the best starting backcourt in the Pac-12 (that's my opinion... Arizona fans might disagree), but their only other realistic option for major minutes in the backcourt other than Jerime Anderson is 2011 recruit Norman Powell.

The Anderson and Smith stories are simply ones that we'll have to keep tabs on. If Josh Smith gets himself in shape, and Jerime Anderson behaves and is back on the court for Maui, all will be well in Los Angeles.

Fab Melo has off-court problems of his own - Things certainly do not look good for the personal character of Fab Melo. Melo is a key for the future of Syracuse basketball. After getting a ton of hype heading into the 2010-11 season, he got off to a slow start to the season, but came on strong late and I was projecting big things from him. I expected him to be the defensive centerpiece of an Orange team I picked to win the Big East. Of course, even if the allegations about what Melo did are all true, it doesn't necessarily mean much. We learned last year with the LaceDarius Dunn mess that big time basketball programs will often whitewash the misdeeds of their star players. So like the Jerime Anderson case, we just have to wait to see what happens, and if any key games are missed.