Thursday, September 29, 2011
The good news for Michigan State is that even without Roe they should still be deep in the frontcourt. Their most important big is Draymond Green, and he's got another year of eligibility. Derrick Nix, Garrick Sherman and Adreian Payne are back as well. Alex Gauna (who redshirted last season) will join the team, and their top recruit is swing forward Branden Dawson.
But the bad news begins with that same frontcourt, which is offensively poor. Of all of the players listed in that last paragraph, only Delvon Roe and Draymond Green had Pomeroy offensive efficiencies of over 100 last season.
Last year's offense ran through the backcourt, and it's going to be that way again. Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers are gone, but Keith Appling is going to be a very good player, and the addition of Brandon Wood was possibly the most underrated move of the offseason nationwide. Russell Byrd, Brandon Kearney and Travis Trice are three newcomers (Byrd was in the 2010 recruiting class but redshirted) to look out for as well.
Michigan State drastically underperformed last season, but they're still talented. The big question mark, particularly with Roe gone, will be post production. As good as Brandon Wood is, he's no Kalin Lucas. Can Derrick Nix, Adreian Payne or Garrick Sherman fill Delvon Roe's role? If I had to bet on one of them I'd bet on Derrick Nix, but there are no sure things here.
After Brandon Wood joined the team I said that I could see Michigan State seriously challenging for third place in the Big Ten. Ohio State should be the best team in the Big Ten, by far, with Wisconsin in a clear second. Michigan's getting a lot of hype preseason, but I'm not on the bandwagon yet. Purdue is going to contend, and Michigan State still can as well.
Can the Spartans still finish third in the Big Ten? Yes. But could they end up back on the Tournament bubble for the second straight year? Definitely.
Monday, September 26, 2011
Ohio State got some bad news today, though it's less somber: 2011 recruit LaQuinton Ross has failed to qualify academically and will be unable to play for at least the fall semester, though indications are that he does still hope to play in the spring semester. Rivals.com lists him as the 43rd best player in the 2011 class. It's hard to feel too bad for an Ohio State team that returns a stacked team and that had added the #10 ranked recruiting class by Rivals.com (Scout ranked them 8th, and ESPN has them 6th), but this does put more pressure on Deshaun Thomas. Thomas and Ross were expected to compete for the small forward spot, and now the position will all be on Thomas
DeShaun Thomas was a relatively minor player on last year's Ohio State team, but he was very effective when used. He shot 54.2% on two-pointers and was able to step outside, where he hit 32.8% on 64 attempts. He led the team in offensive rebounding percentage (15.0%) and was a solid defender.
Losing LaQuinton Ross hurts the team's depth, but they're still going to be deeper than last year's team, which only went seven players deep. Buckeyes fans will hope to have Ross back for the spring semester and the Big Ten regular season, but even without him I still rate them as the #2 team in the nation behind North Carolina. I expected Ross to just be a bench contributor anyway, and I think those two teams are a clear step above the rest of the field.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
It would be way too soon right now to start analyzing the basketball implications, and where those programs are going to be at when they start in the ACC, but I just want to say that I think we've still got a lot of re-alignment to go.
Clearly we're likely to have more teams added to some of the big established conferences. The Pac-12 is likely going to go to 16, the SEC is likely to go to 14, and the Big Ten could go to 14 as well. The Big East and Big 12 are going to look for new teams to replace their losses as well.
But while people act like the inevitable conclusion are a bunch of 16-team super-conferences, I don't think that's the case. The fact is that 16 team conferences have been really unmanageable in the past, and I'm not convinced they'll work in the future. The first conference to try 16 teams was the WAC, and that lasted less than four years before half the conference bailed to form the Mountain West.
The Big East has had more success with 16 teams, but they've been too bloated as well. Despite the incredible over-hyping by the media each season, there is still a situation where several teams are stuck in the basement every year with no real hope of ever getting out. Obviously there are a whole bunch of teams itching to get out. Pitt and Syracuse are just the first two, I think. There are rumors that West Virginia will go to the SEC, and I'm sure that Clemson and Georgia Tech would happily go to the SEC if the SEC would have them (the SEC won't, since they've already got South Carolina and Georgia in the fold).
The teams that should be nervous right now are the basketball-only Big East schools, as well as the teams that have football but don't play in the FBS - that list includes St. John's, Marquette, Georgetown, Villanova, DePaul, Seton Hall and Providence. The conference re-alignment is being driven by football, and that's why a great basketball program won't save a school. Even Kansas is in trouble with the Big 12 collapse because their crappy football program is making them undesirable for the Pac-12, SEC or Big Ten, despite how good their basketball program is. One of the interesting scenarios I've seen batted around is the idea of the Big East basketball schools combining with a couple of Big 12 schools (such as Kansas) and some other schools with great basketball but horrible football (Memphis, Butler, etc). That would be very interesting, but it's obviously very speculative.
Like I said, it's all speculation now. I think we're years away from this settling down. The big conferences will expand, and then I will expect at least some of them to break up from the sheer size. All we can do from here is watch and see what happens. It's impossible to predict.
Friday, September 16, 2011
But now comes the news that the team will be without three of their recruits through at least the fall semester - Amir Garrett, Norvel Pelle and JaKarr Simpson. Of the three the biggest loss is probably Simpson, not just because he's the highest rated of the three but also because he's a big, and the frontcourt was already going to be a weakness for St. John's. The two returners from last year are both guards, and so without Simpson the only players over 6'6" will be newcomers Maurice Harkless (who's listed at a scrawny 6'8", 180 pounds) and God's Gift Achiuwa (a more stout 6'9", 240 pounds).
With the loss of the three players, St. John's will be down to eight players, with one being the former walk-on who got his scholarship more because it was available than because he'd contributed anything (a total of two minutes played in his entire career).
Steve Lavin will have to play differently than he did last season, when he had an extremely deep and experienced rotation. He had ten players who were almost entirely interchangeable other than Dwight Hardy (as such, Hardy was the only one that averaged over 30 minutes per game), and they were by far the most experienced team from a BCS conference (according to the Pomeroy Effective Experience, where they were 3rd in the nation - 2nd highest from a major conference was Notre Dame in 15th).
That depth and experience allowed Lavin to play an up-tempo, aggressive style with heavy substitutions to keep his guys fresh. They led the entire Big East in defensive turnover percentage. With young players and with only eight of them active, that style of play just isn't going to work. And even if some or all of the three players become eligible for the spring semester, the team is still going to be short on experience, and it's particularly hard to expect much from true freshmen being thrown right into Big East play without getting to work the nerves out against lesser competition in the fall.
I already thought this was going to be a pure rebuilding year for St. John's without much chance for postseason success. I picked them to finish 13th in the Big East, and only have them with a decent shot to get onto the bubble. Now the odds are even longer.
But like I said in my Big East preview, St. John's fans have to realize that this is a rebuilding year. If they can somehow get to 8-10 in Big East play and a spot in the NIT then that would be a huge success, in my opinion. St. John's fans need to set their expectations accordingly.
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
This was actually the strongest argument that Mr. Bilas made the whole night, though it's flawed. College athletics are for the athletes. The coaches provide a large part of that. Imagine a college where kids were paid money to show up to school each day but teachers were told to volunteer - how would that work out? Adults are providing the value (the value of getting to spend four years with Coach K's special attention is worth quite a lot of money, as Jay Bilas should know) and need to be paid.
The market recognizes this fact. College coaches routinely leave for head coach or assistant jobs in the NBA, D-League or Europe to get more money. But while NCAA players are all free to head to Europe and to make 6-figures, almost none of them do. There are only a couple examples each year of players leaving college early to go to Europe, and I can only think of one example in the past few years (Brandon Jennings) where a player skipped his one year of college to spend a year in Europe.
Here was how I tweeted that (you've got to read from bottom-to-top to see it in chronological order):
Here was the response from Mr. Bilas:
Here Mr. Bilas is retreating from his initial argument a little bit, and restating it effectively as "We don't know what the value of the players is, but why not let the market decide!" The problem is, such a world cannot exist. If schools/boosters can pay the top players whatever they want, the amount they'll pay will have nothing to do with the marginal revenue generated by the players. They'll pay to win. The boosters who already spend millions of dollars to pay for coaches or new locker rooms will happily spend those millions to sign the top recruits. They're not going to temper their spending because they're worried that they're going to be paying players more than the value of the tickets they're going to sell:
Mr. Bilas responds by arguing that players have no choice, which is bizarre since some players clearly do have a choice - ask Brandon Jennings. He then re-iterated that schools won't be willing to lose money to sign players - something which seems awfully naive to me:
After this we started both tweeting at the same time, so the only way for me to coherently post the discussion is to just post it in two large images. Click on them to expand them (be sure to zoom in on the image if it's too small in your browser). Again you'll have to read from bottom-to-top
Essentially, Mr. Bilas is making the argument he makes all the time, which is that other students are allowed to earn money for the work they do. But he's actually arguing two different things simultaneously, as I pointed out. It's one thing to say that kids earn a flat $8/hr stipend when they're working in a lab or at the library, just as one could argue that athletes should get a flat $8/hr for practice/game time. This is actually an argument I think you could make, although I'd still argue against you for a number of reasons. But this isn't what Jay is actually arguing.
What Mr. Bilas is actually arguing is that the schools and boosters should be able to write cash checks to convince kids to go to their school over another school. And this simply isn't allowed in any aspect of college life, as I pointed out. The band director can't have a booster give a $100,000 check to a star trumpet player to choose their school over another.
And as I've pointed out multiple times on this blog, Mr. Bilas is incorrect in saying that the Olympics have already made this model work. It's the difference between individual sports and team sports. No team sport in the world - even the MLB, NBA and NFL - allows outside interests such as sponsors to entice athletes. The NBA wouldn't allow Nike to offer Lebron James $50 Million per year to come to the Portland Trailblazers. It would destroy the league, which has enough trouble making sure teams don't cheat with their finances as is.
The final argument I make is a simple one that Mr. Bilas repeatedly ignored. I pointed out that the colleges with big athletic departments are all non-profit organizations. He first denied that, and then admitted I was right, but without acknowledging the implications. This isn't a situation like a professional team where less compensation for players means more cash in the pockets of billionaires. Nobody is sympathetic to the plight of NBA or NFL owners making less money than they could be. But universities don't have shareholders or billionaires raking in the profits.
At universities the profits from basketball and football are re-invested in the school. A lot is used to pay for the non-revenue sports. A lot also gets used for academics. Often times boosters that write big checks to the athletic department allow a percentage of that money to be used for academics (T. Boone Pickens did this with his gigantic check to Oklahoma State, for example). So if you start writing million dollar checks to football and basketball stars, that means that money has to come from non-revenue sports and academics. Should we cancel crew, track, swimming and field hockey so that football and basketball sports can make extra cash?
The point lost by people like Jay Bilas is not understanding that a public university is not supposed to be run like a for-profit business. Universities aren't supposed to eliminate the liberal arts department because none of those professors drive revenue. They aren't supposed to get rid of the debate team, chess team and political organizations because they don't drive revenue. And they're not supposed to get rid of fencing, swimming and softball because they're not driving revenue. Universities are supposed to provide education and opportunities for students. Whatever revenue comes into the school is used by the school for students. All of the money is used to make things better for students at the school as a whole.
Any kid that wants to cash in rather than be a part of the school can. European basketball teams will happily pay them. But star basketball players at big time programs already have around-the-clock care from top notch coaches, trainers, tutors, medical staff and (often times) chefs. They get to be on tv, they get to play before huge adoring crowds, and they get to be kings of campus. Is it really that important that we sacrifice academics and non-revenue sports so that those kids can make a little cash on the side? I just don't understand the obsession.
At the end of the night Jay Bilas actually deleted all of his tweets. It was really bizarre. I tweeted him about it and got no response. Hootsuite saves all of them, which is why I was able to grab the screenshots today, but if you were to search twitter yourself the only evidence you'd have that I wasn't talking to myself are a couple of tweets by Bylawblog (@bylawblog) in response to our conversation. I don't know if Mr. Bilas was told to delete them by somebody at ESPN, or if he felt that some of his language was inappropriate. Either way, I'm certainly not afraid of leaving my posts up so people can judge them on their merits.
This is a conversation that should happen. ESPN and a lot of other sports media organizations are only giving one side of the story, and the criticisms that I and others have brought up needs to be addressed.
Monday, September 12, 2011
But a story is getting a lot of play today that continues to make the same mistakes. It can be found here:
A national college athletes' advocacy group and a sports management professor calculate in the report that if college sports shared their revenues the way pro sports do, the average Football Bowl Subdivision player would be worth $121,000 per year, while the average basketball player at that level would be worth $265,000. [..]
Huma and Staurowsky argue that the players should receive a portion of new revenues, like TV contracts, to be put in an "educational lockbox." Players could tap those funds to help cover educational costs if they exhaust their athletic eligibility before they graduate -- or receive the money with no strings attached upon graduating. They also propose that athletes be free to seek commercial deals, such as endorsements, with some of the money from that going to the lockbox, and the rest available for the athlete's immediate use.
They also say that schools should pay for costs beyond the tuition, student fees and room and board covered by athletic scholarships. The report calculates the shortfall for the full cost of attending college -- when things such as clothing and emergency trips home are added in -- at $952 to $6,127, depending on the college. That leaves students on full athletic scholarships living below the poverty line at around 85 percent of the schools, the report claims, by comparing the value of the scholarship's room and board to the federal poverty guideline for a single individual.
There are a whole host of flaws here that this article doesn't acknowledge because they'd prefer to drive this controversy.
First, they're measuring the "value" of the players by taking the profits of teams and dividing the money by the number of players. But this is, of course, preposterous. The value a player brings isn't the total revenue they generate but the marginal revenue they generate. To argue that Duke players generate all of the profits the basketball team makes is to argue that if the Top 100 high school players every year went straight to the pros and Duke made up their team with second tier players that the arena would be empty. Whether Duke is good or bad next year, and no matter who plays for them, they're going to sell the exact same number of tickets. The marginal value of the players is almost nil.
Similarly if the Duke players all left the school and formed a barnstorming team, and they played a game against former North Carolina players, is there any chance that 20,000 people would pay top dollar to show up for it? Of course not.
The second error that this analysis makes is discounting the value of what players receive. A player gets much, much more than just a scholarship. They get large amounts of time being coached by legends. They get special attention from a huge group of assistants, trainers, weight lifting coaches, doctors, chefs, tutors, et cetera. They get to play in a huge arena in front of screaming fans. They get to be kings of campus. They get to give tv and newspaper interviews. They get the chance to be legends.
Imagine you were starring for Duke or North Carolina or Kansas or some other big program like that. Imagine that you were offered $50,000 cash each year to go play for UNC-Asheville or UMKC instead (in addition to a full-ride scholarship). Would you take it? I doubt you would, and I doubt more than a handful of players would. The value of playing for those schools is tremendous.
And finally, the article also argues for the "Jay Bilas Model" of allowing players to seek out endorsements, ignoring the fact that this would destroy the sport - you simply can't do that when you have teams competing against each other. Boosters would take their millions of dollars and promise recruits "endorsements" in exchange for them coming to the school. The smaller schools would be wiped out, non-revenue sports would be wiped out, and fans would stop caring about a sport in which the biggest teams can get shady rich people to buy up all the best players.
I'm waiting for one person arguing for paying players to answer any of those three problems. As long as their argument continues to consist of "The bowl games make millions of dollars and the players don't get any of it!" I'm going to continue to not take them seriously.
Monday, September 05, 2011
The bad apples are continuing to get pushed out the door, and the latest is JT Terrell, who is gone from the program after a DWI charge. Terrell was the second-leading scorer as a freshman in 2010-11, if something of a ball hog. He took 29.3% of his team's shots while on the floor, which was fifth highest in the ACC behind Nolan Smith, Harrison Barnes, Iman Shumpert and Joe Trapani. All four of those players were much more efficient with their shots than Terrell, who had only a 45.6 eFG%. But players like that tend to gain efficiency and maturity over their four years, and there's no question that Terrell would have eventually been a very good player if he could have behaved himself.
But it's all about the future now for Wake Forest. They're just about a lock for last place in the ACC this coming season, and everything has to be about developing what's left of their 2010 recruiting class, and what looks to be a decent 2011 class. The program has to take baby steps, and just has to get some sense of forward momentum, or Bzdelik will soon find himself on the hot seat. Wake Forest fans don't have the irrational expectations that NC State fans have, but it's still a basketball school that won't tolerate too much more time in the ACC basement.
And so the big news out of Providence today is that they have added Ricardo Ledo, a 6'6" wing. Ledo is rated the 8th best recruit in the nation at any position by Rivals.com, which actually puts him ahead of Kris Dunn on that list. ESPN rates him 22nd, while Scout.com has him the 6th best shooting guard in the class.
Ledo was actually originally a Providence recruit, since they're his hometown team. Leo re-opened his commitment fter Keno Davis was removed from the head coaching position, but he's back in the fold, and is now suggesting he might try to come in a semester early so he can play for the team in January. It's unlikely that the team will be in play for an at-large bid this coming season, so I'm not sure it's going to do a whole lot for the program to get him a semester early, but it can't hurt.
There's no question that Providence fans are buzzing right now. By the opinion of some, Providence is currently sitting on the #3 recruiting class for 2012. They won't end up that high as some of the bigger programs begin to close the deal on more of their recruits, but that's still a great start for Ed Cooley, with even more top players out there that the school is in play for. It's a tremendous start for the Providence native at his new job.
Friday, September 02, 2011
And let's remember that it's not like Wake Forest has at least been getting wins out of these bad characters. Last year's team was historically bad. They were arguably the worst team from any BCS conference last season, and were the worst ACC team we've seen in well over a decade.
I was down on the Jeff Bzdelik hire, though it's hard to give him too much blame for what's happened to Wake Forest basketball the past 18 months. I do think that the team's 2010 recruiting class had a pretty solid freshman season, and the 2011 class looks to be solid as well. And Bzdelik has already landed a couple of nice 2012 players (point guard Codi Miller-McIntyre is currently considered the jewel of that class) and is in play for more. By my math I think they've still got three scholarships open for that class, though Bzdelik will probably want to pocket some of those for 2013 to spread out his classes.
If there's a silver lining for Wake Forest, I think it's that they might be hitting rock bottom. I'm reminded of a post I wrote about Indiana nearly three years ago, when I declared that the Hoosiers had hit rock bottom. Kelvin Sampson had been fired, the team was facing all sorts of embarrassing stories about the program under Sampson, and the team was utterly bereft of talent.
And Indiana had hit rock bottom when I wrote that post. As bad as that team was that year, the program and the fans rallied around Tom Crean. That year they went 1-17 in Big Ten play, and the one win came at home against Iowa, the second worst Big Ten team that year. But I still remember clearly how the Indiana fans rocked Assembly Hall that night like they were playing for a Big Ten title. Crean began bringing in quality recruiting classes after that, and the team was actually a little bit feisty in 2009-10. This past season the team was even better, though injury problems derailed them. With a big time 2011 recruiting class, led by Cody Zeller, I think Indiana might actually get themselves onto the bubble.
I tell that story as a guide for Wake Forest. With the football program there falling apart, it's a reminder that Wake is a basketball school. The fans have to rally around the team and take pride in the little victories with their young players. I do think they've hit rock bottom, and that for the sake of their fans it's only forward from here.