Friday, October 28, 2011

Billy Kennedy Takes Leave Of Absence; Pe'Shon Howard And Festus Ezeli Get Hurt

You've probably heard that new Texas A&M Coach Billy Kennedy has been diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease and is taking a leave of absence. I don't have much to add, because it would be callous to talk about the basketball implications at the moment. I'm sure we all wish Kennedy and his family the best, and it's terrible that he might never be a head coach again. The team should be in solid hands with Glynn Cyprien, a long time assistant under a number of good coaches. It will be interesting to see how the team responds mentally. Their first real test will be November 17th against Mississippi State in Madison Square Garden as part of Coaches vs Cancer.


Maryland's Pe'Shon Howard will be out for up to three months with a broken foot. I'm not sure what to make of Howard, honestly. If you recall, he opened up last season with a bang when as a true freshman he absolutely took over a game against College of Charleston in a Coaches vs Cancer game. But after that? He really didn't do much the rest of the season. He finished with 5.4 points per game with a 50.4 eFG%. By the end of the year it was Terrell Stoglin who was the hope of the future as Maryland enters the post-Jordan Williams era.

Maybe Pe'Shon Howard needed to figure out something mentally and is going to be one of the top players in the ACC this season. But if he is, he isn't going to have the non-conference slate to work the kinks out. Maryland will begin ACC play before Howard comes back. I already thought this was going to be a re-building season for Maryland, and this certainly doesn't help.


Vanderbilt's Festus Ezeli is out six-to-eight weeks with a sprained knee. This is a situation that could have real long term implications. Remember that this is probably the most hyped that any Vanderbilt team has ever been preseason. They have been picked by some to be the SEC favorite and to be a true Final Four contender. I've got them third in the SEC, and a borderline 3/4 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Vandy has a tough non-conference schedule, and Ezeli will miss almost all of it. He will definitely miss the games at the Legends Classic against NC State and against either Texas or Oregon State. He'll also miss home games against Xavier and Indiana State, as well as road games at Louisville and Davidson. Depending on how long he's out, he could also miss a true road game at Marquette on December 29th.

The reason Vanderbilt is getting so much hype is because they have a tremendous starting five. And while Ezeli is not the best all-around player (that would be Jeffery Taylor or John Jenkins), he's the team's interior defensive presence. That will be a huge problem against Texas, and potentially against Xavier and Louisville. He's such an intimidating presence in the paint.

We know Lance Goulbourne can handle the paint (he's arguably a better rebounder than Ezeli is, though he's nowhere near the shot blocker). But who else will step up? I'm definitely curious to find out.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Arizona Loses Exhibition. That Means Nothing.

Arizona lost a game a few minutes ago to Seattle-Pacific, a Division II team. It's going to get a lot of press, because these types of losses always do. But they mean nothing.

Yes, Tennessee losing to Indianapolis last year was a sign of bad things to come, but Syracuse lost to Le Moyne two years ago and proceeded to earn a 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. And two years before that it was Michigan State losing to Grand Valley State before going 12-6 in the Big Ten and making the Sweet 16.

Exhibitions are called exhibitions because they don't count, and coaches are focused on things other than the score of the game. They want to get their young players on the court, they want to try different personnel combinations, different offensive/defensive sets. These games are coached and played differently, and simply do not matter.

I picked Arizona to win the Pac-12, although they're not heavy favorites by any stretch of the imagination. In fact, as I said just five days ago, I think there are seven different teams heading into the season believing they can win the conference.

But you know what is not impacting my opinion on who is going to win the Pac-12? The result of any exhibition games. So Arizona fans: relax. Don't get worried until they start losing games that count.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Momo Jones Will Play, Jahii Carson Waits, Tony Wroten Hopeful

MoMo Jones, the former Arizona guard, has gotten a "hardship waiver" to allow him to play right away at Iona. This is huge news in the MAAC, where Fairfield and Iona fought it out atop the conference last year. I thought Iona was the best team, and the computers agreed with me, but Fairfield pulled it out in the end, and both teams ended up getting shocked by a mediocre St. Peter's team in the MAAC tournament. In my 2011-12 MAAC preview I said that I thought Fairfield would be even better, and picked them to win the conference. But that all changes now. Iona is not about the future right now - they're about now. Their two best players in years are both seniors (Scott Machado, who was second in the nation in assists per game last season, and Michael Glover, who led the MAAC in scoring and is a beast on the boards). MoMo Jones wasn't a great Pac-10 player, but he started for Arizona last season, and it's going to be quite a drop in competition level in the MAAC. In my opinion, Iona is now the favorite to win the MAAC, and they'll be a dangerous NCAA Tournament draw, most likely with an 11 or 12 seed.


This was going to be a rebuilding year for Arizona State no matter what. They went 4-14 in the Pac-12 and finished 121st in the Pomeroy ratings last season, and lost two starters including their best player (Rihards Kuksiks - who then was the best player this past summer on a feisty Latvian National Team that had a series of heartbreaking losses at Eurobasket 2011). The future for this team was going to be Jahii Carson, a true bluechip point guard recruit, and by far the top recruit in Herb Sendek's 2011 class. The problem is, Carson hasn't yet been cleared to play. The most enjoyable part of this season for Arizona State fans was going to be watching Carson develop, and seeing the team build for the future. That's all on hold right now at Arizona State.


Good news, bad news for Washington. The bad news is that star point guard recruit Tony Wroten just had knee surgery. The good news? He hopes not to miss any time. He actually hopes to be back in time to play in their exhibition game on November 4th against Seattle Pacific. I picked Washington to finish fourth in the Pac-12, but the reality is that the top of the Pac-12 is all really close. I personally think that Arizona is a step ahead of everybody else, though others disagree with me. And after Arizona? The conference is wide open. I think seven different teams (Arizona, California, Oregon, Stanford, UCLA, Washington and Washington State) are entering the season believing that they have a chance to win the Pac-12. Tony Wroten is getting a ton of positive press, not just for his basketball ability but also for his character and leadership. Washington can't afford to have him miss any time. Their first real tough test will be November 20th at Saint Louis.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Post-Midnight Madness BP68

Midnight Madness is in the past and the college basketball season is here. All of the top teams have had at least one team practice, and the first exhibitions will begin in just a little bit more than a week. Here is the upcoming schedule after that:

Monday, November 7th: First regular season games (Coaches vs Cancer Classic)
Friday, November 11th: First regular season games allowed for teams not in Coaches vs Cancer
Sunday, November 13th: Next bracket projection (the "W-17 BP68")

Even before games begin on November 7th there will be a lot of posting here as I help you get ready for the new season. I'll update you on any news of note. I'll also have previews of the first week's games. Even the first week of the season will have games that matter for Tournament resumes (even on that opening night of November 7th we'll have a pair of games with two quality teams: Arizona vs Valparaiso and St. John's vs William & Mary). And even some games where top teams play cupcakes will have something to watch for, be it new freshmen, new transfers, players who will be seeing new roles or playing times, etc. I'll fill you in on what you need to know.

But for now, I owe you a new bracket projection. As always, this is my projection of where the final bracket will end up on Selection Sunday:


2. Duke
2. Louisville
2. TEXAS (BIG 12)

3. Florida
3. Pittsburgh
3. UConn

4. Vanderbilt
4. Kansas
4. Wisconsin

5. Alabama
5. Purdue
5. Texas A&M

6. West Virginia
6. Marquette
6. Baylor

7. New Mexico
7. Xavier

8. Michigan State
8. Florida State
8. Michigan

9. Georgetown
9. Virginia Tech
9. Illinois

10. BYU
10. Oklahoma State
10. Cincinnati
10. San Diego State

11. Notre Dame
11. Washington State
11. California

12. South Carolina
12. Villanova
12. Washington
12. Miami (Fl)
12. Saint Louis

13. Missouri
13. Indiana




Teams seriously considered that just missed the cut:
NC State, Virginia, Duquesne, Rutgers, Iowa, Northwestern, Kansas State, Drexel, VCU, Tulsa, UAB, Northern Iowa, Wichita State, Stanford, Saint Mary's, Nevada, New Mexico State

Other teams with a decent shot to get onto the bubble:
Clemson, Maryland, George Washington, Seton Hall, St. John's, Minnesota, Nebraska, Old Dominion, Central Florida, Marshall, Cleveland State, Detroit, Indiana State, Colorado State, Colorado, Oregon, Utah, Arkansas, Georgia, Mississippi State, Tennessee

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Boston College, Georgia Tech, Dayton, South Florida, Iowa State, Oklahoma, James Madison, UTEP, Valparaiso, UW-Milwaukee, Princeton, Iona, Drake, Arizona State, USC, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi, Charleston, San Francisco, Fresno State

Saturday, October 08, 2011

What's Coming Up Soon

Check your watch: we're less than a week from Midnight Madness, which tips off on Friday night. Teams will begin exhibition games not too long after (it's impossible to get a full schedule of every team's exhibition slate, but some schools will start as early as around October 20th). Remember, these games are about observing individual players - to look at the new freshmen and transfers, the players back from injury, or just how returning players have improved. Whatever you do, do not judge teams by the scores of their exhibition games or I'll have to write another post like this.

Regular season games will begin on Monday, November 7th with the opening rounds of the Coaches vs Cancer Classic. Remember that Coaches vs Cancer has special approval to begin the season early - the regular season begins for everybody else on Friday, November 11th.

Around a week from now I'll have my next BP68, accounting for injuries, transfers and other news since my last bracket projection nearly three months ago. As we get closer to the start of the regular season I'll start previewing the first week of games. I'll talk about which games to watch, either as a first chance to see some new player, or as a game that actually can build or harm a Tournament resume (every game counts in November, even in November).

And take note, the "W-17 BP68" is scheduled for November 13th. That marks 17 weeks until Selection Sunday. Doesn't seem too long, does it? Excited to get started? Me too. Here we go.