Saturday, April 26, 2014

Morning News: Kentucky Super Team?, Mitch McGary, Northwestern Vote, And Much More

A tearful goodbye to Khem Kong
I was going to wait until Monday to do another Morning News post, but way too much stuff happened yesterday for me not to compile the news of the last few days:

Kentucky To Return Harrison Twins, Dakari Johnson And Alex Poythress We already knew Willie Cauley-Stein was coming back as well. And this creates a fascinating situation for a number of reasons. Right now, Kentucky returns six players from last season's rotation as well as Marcus Lee, a former Top 20 recruit who sat most of the year as a true freshman but had a couple of big games in the NCAA Tournament. They have four more blue chippers coming in, giving Calipari an astounding nine McDonald's All-Americans and 11 guys expecting regular minutes.

The immediate concern is that roster crunch. How does Calipari keep one or more of those players from leaving? And if he gets them all to stay, how does he get them all to buy in and to stay happy? He can probably talk Tyler Ulis or Devin Booker to sit on the end of the bench like Marcus Lee this past season, but Karl Towns and Trey Lyles almost certainly won't (both are expected to be "one-and-done" guys). Assuming Lee won't sit on the end of the bench two years in a row, that gives them six front court guys who will need extended minutes. That's going to be a heck of a problem for Calipari to figure out. But if he can, and if he can avoid any transfers, he now has the deepest, most talented NCAA basketball team perhaps ever assembled, and they'll be the unanimous #1 to start next season. Ready for dumb "40-and-0" hype to start all over again?

One side note that a couple of people who follow me on twitter brought up is an interesting one: the impact on future Kentucky recruiting. Announcers always talk about how good teams would be "if nobody left pro early" under the false assumption that all of the same recruits would have shown up. It doesn't work that way. Recruits come with playing time expectations in mind, and Calipari spends a lot of time reassuring recruits that certain players will go pro to open up playing time. Surely at least one of the recruits who signed up this year is now upset at all of these returning players, and that's the kind of thing that can ripple down to future recruits who might not believe Calipari when he says that certain players are going to leave. Although history says that Calipari will still find a way to bring in four or five blue chippers every single season.

Mitch McGary Going Pro On a busy day of news, this story managed to somehow have the most #HOTSPROTSTAKES. Those aside, this is a very important basketball problem for Michigan,  which now returns exactly zero regulars from their front court. The Jon Horford transfer out is now magnified in a significant way.

If McGary came back, Michigan would have been the clear top contender to Wisconsin in the Big Ten. Now, Wisconsin will likely enter next season the unanimous media pick to win the conference. One could go several ways in picking the second best team in the conference, but my pick will be an Ohio State team that I think is going to be significantly underrated. Michigan will have a lot to prove with an extremely young front court.

Union Appears To Lose Northwestern Vote We won't get the official numbers for several years (if ever), but it appears that as expected the Northwestern union vote lost heavily. This isn't a big surprise, as there was no evidence that this union effort ever really had significant support from Northwestern players. The school is being sued by the Steelworkers Union - Kain Colter was always just a spokesman to give the union a more appealing public relations face.

It seemed pretty clear that the union was a bad path for the players. Reforms like guaranteed scholarships and a stipend for players to fill in scholarship gaps are ideas I'd likely support, and there is a lot of support at the NCAA for both ideas as well, but those reforms can happen outside a union. Unionizing the players haphazardly at some schools but not others would be a legal mess which would benefit only lawyers and tax accountants. Any reform needs to apply to all athletes at all schools.

Don't expect this to go away. Lawyers are swarming the NCAA and there will be all sorts of new lawsuits, and don't be surprised if another school tries its hand at a unionization vote. Basically, there is too much money involved in the NCAA for a lot of other powerful interests to not want a cut.

The problem, as I see it, is that 98% of the people getting a benefit from NCAA sports are not a factor in these discussions. Nobody hears from the Division II baseball player or the woman's volleyball player, or any of the other 150,000+ kids getting scholarships from the money that the NCAA generates. Nobody knows their names, so nobody is advocating on their behalf.

Spencer Dinwiddie To The NBA This was always considered likely. As I wrote in my Pac-12 preview, though, Colorado should still expect to be significantly better next season. Remember, Dinwiddie missed almost all of last season's Pac-12 season as well. And while Colorado wasn't nearly as good as their final record (arguably the second worst at-large team in the entire NCAA Tournament), they return everybody from their end-of-season rotation. They should get back to the tourney, and I currently have them as a 7 seed.

Tennessee Hires Donnie Tyndall Donnie Tyndall was at Southern Miss the last two seasons, and previously was at Morehead State. To me, this is a fairly uninspiring hire for Tennessee. There were a whole lot of media reports that Tennessee was in on Louisiana Tech's Michael White first, but White didn't like the contract offer and turned them down. White is certainly the hotter "up and coming" coach.

Tyndall had success at Morehead State after Kenneth Faried showed up, and used that success to get the Southern Miss job, where he spent two seasons using a lot of Larry Eustachy's players, unable to get them back to the NCAA Tournament. So Tyndall's only NCAA experience in eight seasons came when he had a 1st round NBA Draft pick in the Ohio Valley Conference. Maybe he'll be a good coach, but Tennessee could have done better if they were willing to open up their wallet more.

DeAndre Daniels Is Going Pro This wasn't a certainty, but most insiders expected Daniels to leave. I assumed he would leave when I put together my 2014-15 AAC preview a few weeks ago. This Huskies team still has a lot of talent, but the question without Shabazz Napier and DeAndre Daniels will be finding a second scoring option aside from Ryan Boatright. If they can do that, they should get back to the NCAA Tournament, though SMU will remain the fairly clear AAC favorite.

Khem Birch Going Pro It's sad that this is the last we'll see of Khem Kong. Also, with Roscoe Smith gone as well, UNLV will now be down their one elite interior defensive presence and (by far) their two best rebounders. 6'10" Christian Smith played well in very limited minutes as a freshman, and if he improves a lot then UNLV will still have one quality option down low, but this UNLV roster is going to be much younger and with much more turnover than they thought they were going to have a couple months ago. Dave Rice has a really nice recruiting class coming in, but UNLV will now drop from the 10 seed I had them at in my preseason bracket projection.

Matt Carlino Transfers To Marquette With everything else going on yesterday, this news basically got lost in the shuffle. But it's a big pickup for a Marquette team desperate for some early positive momentum under their new head coach. So far, the only news had been recruits decommitting. Carlino isn't enough to get Marquette back to the Tournament bubble, but it's a good sign for the direction of the program. As I've said a few times before, if Marquette can improve throughout the season as a basketball team and Wojo can put together a strong 2015 recruiting class, that will be a successful season for Marquette in and of itself.

Jeremy Hollowell To Georgia State Ron Hunter has turned Georgia State into a transfer hotbed. And right on the heels of landing Louisville's Kevin Ware, he now has former Indiana player Jeremy Hollowell. Keep in mind that Hollowell won't be eligible next season, so he'll be unable to take part in Ryan Harrow's final season with the program, but Kevin Ware is appealing for a waiver to play right away, so we'll have to keep an eye on that.

Jerian Grant Back To Notre Dame Jerian Grant, if you recall, was suspended with an academic issue right around Christmas and missed the entire ACC season. Garrick Sherman was Notre Dame's most important all around player this past season, but Grant was probably their best offensive weapon, and his return is essential for the Irish to get back to the NCAA Tournament. In my most recent bracket projection I assumed Grant would be back and still had Notre Dame missing the Field of 68, but they're in the first group out. They were one of the first teams out of the field, and could easily work their way back into my projected bracket before next season even tips off.

Sim Bhullar Going Pro This news has been something of a stop-and-start variety, as there were rumors of him going pro nearly a month ago that were quashed. But now it's official. And while you can't blame the guy for wanting to go pro, it would have been fun to see him play with his 7'3" brother, who is joining New Mexico State next season. That team was already the tallest in the nation, and might have been the tallest ever next season. New Mexico State will remain the WAC favorite, but the gap between them and the rest of the league will shrink, and their odds of winning a game in next year's NCAA Tournament are obviously significantly lower as well.

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