Wednesday, September 05, 2012

Welcome Back To A New Season

Hey folks. It's time to dust off the cobwebs, crank the gears, and get this blog moving toward a new season. It's been a blogging hiatus (though I have been doing some very intermittent tweeting). This Friday will mark only five weeks (yes, five weeks) until Midnight Madness. Next season really just is around the corner.

We're long past the time of year that teams can add players for the coming season, so the only news right now involves injuries, transfers out and off-the-court stuff. Here are a few recent stories that I think matter:

Rick Majerus taking the year off - Health problems have, yet again, set back the career of Rick Majerus. He will be sitting out the entire season. And this is a St. Louis team that was wildly underrated last season (despite the 9 seed and the trip to the Round of 32) and that I had projected as a 4 seed for this coming season. I have two thoughts about this.

First, it's a shame that Majerus can't take part in this season after all the work he put in to put this team together. He took over a program that completely failed to fit his style, and he had a couple of tough years putting together a squad in his image (Jordair Jett, for example, is one of the most prototypical Majerus players ever).

Second, I actually think the real concern to St. Louis basketball is more longterm. This coming year's team is very experienced and has grown up under Majerus. The assistant coaches will all keep the same system in place and everything should more or less be fine. But it's going to be pretty hard for St. Louis to continue to recruit at this level with these health concerns. How can a high school kid really believe that Majerus will be there for the next four years? It's not like Majerus was bringing in McDonald's All-Americans, but he wasn't bringing in garbage either. Recruiting will be hurt.

Dunn & Ledo both concerns for Providence: Oh, the best laid plans of mice and men... Ed Cooley got off to a remarkable start at Providence, landing two blue chip recruits: Kris Dunn and Ricardo Ledo. The team didn't actually improve on the court in Cooley's first year (the 15-16 overall record, 4-14 Big East record and 1st round Big East tournament loss were all exact replicas of the final Keno Davis season), but there were big hopes for the 2012-13 season, particularly with one final season of Vincent Council (a plausible contender for First Team All-Big East). But it's not to be.

Ledo is a "partial qualifier", which means he can attend classes and practices at Providence this coming season, but he cannot play in games. If he gets acceptable grades then he will be eligible to play in games as a redshirt freshman in 2013-14. Dunn had shoulder surgery in the offseason and has a very hazy timetable as far as I can tell. He will miss the start of the season, and could actually end up missing the entire year.

In situations like this, at programs that have little recent history of success (particularly with the Big East losing its luster with key program defections), you really start to worry about program momentum. If things really go badly this sesason then recruiting could dry up, and the clock on Ed Cooley's tenure at Providence could start to tick.

UCLA's 2012 recruiting class has all sorts of problems: I could have linked to any number of stories here. Ben Howland put together a big, big time 2012 recruiting class. It looked as though the dirty laundry had aired and UCLA was starting to turn a corner again with these four stud true freshmen. But now there are a variety of eligibility concerns, from academic to more serious. There are rumors of inappropriate recruiting and NCAA violations. At this point it's difficult to straighten out, and with UCLA being on a quarters system this is something that might not be resolved for several weeks (while most universities have opened the fall semester already, classes don't start at UCLA until September 27th).

I'm not going to try to figure out this UCLA situation now, and it's just something to monitor, but I think we'll all be shocked if all four of these recruits are suited up and playing in the first game of the season.

Dez Wells gone from Xavier, on his way to Maryland: This is huge news for both programs. Dez Wells was the best returner for Xavier and their star for the future. And recall that I was already projecting a down season for Xavier, dropping them out of the NCAA Tournament and onto the bubble. It will definitely surprise me now if they can go Dancing.

And as for Maryland, expectations for the 2013-14 season are going to start to rise to a fever pitch. I still think they'll only be a bubble team this coming season, but with a young core and some really nice recruits coming in, the Terrapins were already in line to be improved a year from now. Add in Dez Wells, a budding star, and it's not inconceivable that Maryland could be a preseason ACC contender. That's not something of too much concern nationally now, but keep an eye on Mark Turgeon's program for the future.

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