Monday, June 29, 2009

Elliot Williams To Memphis

Elliot Williams didn't spend too long without a school. It was only about a week ago that he left Duke, and now he's off to Memphis. It's a bit too early to say anything about this since we don't know if he'll be allowed to play next season. He's asking for a waiver from the NCAA so that he won't have to redshirt a year, but there's no obvious reason why he'll get one. If he can play next season then Memphis suddenly becomes a potential Top 25 team. If he can't play then they again fall back in the region of a 9-12 Tournament seed.

The question now becomes whether the recent recruiting coups of Josh Pastner are real, or a fluke. What I mean is this: Latavious Williams fell into their lap because of his academic problems and the fact that no other team really wanted him. Elliot Williams grew up in the Memphis suburbs and is just coming home because his mother is ill. Will Memphis be able to grab big time recruits through the normal recruiting process? That remains to be seen.

But at the very least, there is a lot of evidence that there will be life after Calipari at Memphis. They've definitely had a great turn around over the past few weeks.

Friday, June 26, 2009

Post-Draft BP65

As promised earlier today, here is the post-NBA Draft BP65. I will, of course, continue to updates stories, recruits and transfers throughout the rest of the summer, but this will be the last full BP65 update until the week of Midnight Madness (mid-October). There are still some recruits that are unsigned who can make a difference for next season, and there will likely be another transfer or two (like we just had a few days ago). But overall, I wouldn't expect things to change too much between now and October:

1. KANSAS (BIG 12)

2. West Virginia
2. Texas

3. Tennessee
3. Minnesota
3. Clemson
3. Ohio State

4. Maryland
4. Michigan State
4. California
4. Louisville

5. Georgia Tech
5. Oklahoma

6. Mississippi State
6. Vanderbilt
6. Wake Forest

7. UConn
7. Texas A&M
7. Wisconsin
7. Michigan

8. Missouri
8. Florida
8. Cincinnati
8. BYU (MWC)

9. Georgetown
9. Duke
9. Arizona State

10. Baylor
10. Virginia

11. Oklahoma State
11. UNLV

12. Boston College
12. Pittsburgh
12. Creighton

13. Illinois




Other teams considered, but that missed the cut:
NC State, Virginia Tech, Duquesne, Xavier, Notre Dame, Seton Hall, Syracuse, Northwestern, Penn State, Kansas State, UTEP, Tulsa, Wright State, Niagara, Bradley, Utah, Arizona, Oregon, Oregon State, Alabama, Auburn, LSU, South Carolina, Portland, Saint Mary's, Nevada, New Mexico State

Other teams I'm keeping my eye on:
Florida State, Miami (Fl), La Salle, St. Joseph's, Saint Louis, Marquette, Providence, Rutgers, St. John's, Indiana, Nebraska, George Mason, Old Dominion, UAB, UCF, Valparaiso, Rider, Akron, Ohio, Illinois State, Southern Illinois, Wichita State, New Mexico, TCU, Wyoming, USC, Arkansas, Mississippi, Davidson, North Texas, Troy, Santa Clara, Boise State, Fresno State

Coming Soon: The New BP65

With the NBA Draft completed, the newest BP65 is on the way soon. I'm still working a few things out, but I expect it to be up online at some point later today.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Elliot Williams Leaves Duke

This is a disaster for Duke. There were a lot of different reasons for why Duke went on a run late in last season, but to me nothing meant more than the move of Elliot Williams into the starting lineup. He gave Duke another player who could create, and who had great athleticism. After not playing more than 15 minutes in an ACC game all season, Williams played 30+ minutes in each of their last six ACC games. He averaged 11 points in those games, and the team went 5-1 with that one loss being an exciting 8 point loss in UNC's home finale.

With Gerald Henderson gone, Williams was going to be the only truly athletic wing player. Duke is now left with a very thin team, featuring a mediocre back court of Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith, with no recruits incoming. Martynas Pocius is gone, and Seth Curry has to sit out next year as a transfer. As far as I can tell, the only guard left is fifth year senior Jordan Davidson, a walk-on. There's no way that Davidson will play significant minutes, and with no good recruits left out there, it seems as if Kyle Singler is going to have to play some shooting guard. That's the only way this will work.

If Singler has to play as a shooting guard, then that just puts even more pressure on Duke's big men to finally take a step forward. Brian Zoubek is going to have to get quicker so that he can play more time. Lance Thomas is going to have to get better, and Mason Plumlee is going to have to take the leap in his second season. I don't think Duke has a lot of faith in Olek Czyz ever becoming very good, which means that any other production will have to come from their recruiting class: Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. Both players are 6'10" or so, and I'd give Mason Plumlee a better shot at being a quality player as a freshman.

Certainly we now have to revise our expectations for the 2009-10 ACC season. There won't be a team of the quality of the 2008-09 Tar Heels in the ACC next season, but I still don't see any way that Duke makes a serious run at the conference title now. I think we're down to a three team race, between North Carolina, Maryland and Clemson. I think I'd even move Georgia Tech ahead of Duke into fourth place in the ACC. It's going to be a long year in Durham.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Clemson Grabs Noel Johnson

As I mentioned briefly in this post earlier today, Clemson has capitalized off of the USC implosion by grabbing the top Trojan recruit still on the market: Noel Johnson. This is a nice recovery by Oliver Purnell after he was surprised by the abrupt departure of Terrence Oglesby to Europe.

Now, Johnson isn't a "replacement" for Oglesby any more than a baseball team can replace a pitcher by trading for an outfielder. Johnson has more natural skill than Oglesby, and is the better NBA prospect (Oglesby will almost definitely spend his entire pro career in Europe), but he is more of a conventional swing forward. Oglesby brought a unique skill to Clemson in that he was an old school shooter, with a range that seemed to extend to mid court. The way he spread the floor really opened things up for everybody else, and his absence is going to mean many more double teams for star big man Trevor Booker. That all said, Johnson is a better all-around player and talent than Oglesby, and he will certainly be a big part of their plans for next season. And hopes are high at Clemson, where they will be a contender in a wide open ACC.

I've talked about the ACC quite a bit: my 2009-10 preview from two months ago is here, and my most recent analysis of the conference was just five days ago and is here. At this point, it's hard to choose between North Carolina, Duke, Maryland and Clemson, and all four have an excellent shot to win. North Carolina probably has the most overall talent, but they're going to be very young and inexperienced, and they're likely going to have the post-Championship hangover. Duke is the next most talented team, but they're also fairly young, and still will likely have the same lack of size they've had the last few years (I know that Duke fans insist that they've finally got somebody in Mason Plumlee, but I'll believe it when I see it). Clemson and Maryland are both experienced squads compared to Duke and UNC. Maryland has the best single player in Grievis Vasquez, but Clemson has more all around depth with the signing of Noel Johnson. I'd also throw in Georgia Tech as a dark horse because of all of the great young talent, but right now I would put my money on Duke, UNC, Maryland and Clemson to be the four top teams in the ACC, in some order.

Kevin O'Neill Takes Over USC

It's been a busy summer at USC, and basically all of the news has been bad, but I think they made as good of a hire as they could have by grabbing ex-Arizona coach Kevin O'Neill. It's been well known that USC has tried to grab big name coaches (like Jamie Dixon), and all have turned them down. The fact is that USC's basketball program is in horrible shape (I'll get to that in more detail in a moment), and things might get worse before they get better, and USC just doesn't have a big enough name to grab an elite coach when they're down (unlike Kentucky).

I think Kevin O'Neill is a better coach than he's been given credit for. Remember that Lute Olsen had originally picked him as the "coach in waiting" at Arizona, so he once had a very bright future. His tenure at Arizona was bumpy, but it wasn't all his fault. Olsen famously made things more difficult in his year off by talking to players behind O'Neill's back, and apparently actually separating the locker room between those loyal to O'Neill and those loyal to Olsen. Basically, he wasn't given a fair chance. I think O'Neill will be one coach who will find USC a fairly pleasant situation. He'll be given a long leash, with absolutely zero expectations this coming season. Nobody will be looking over his back, and he'll have the ability to build a program essentially from scratch. Will he ever build USC back to a Pac-10 contending team? Impossible to say right now. But we'll find out.

Now, let's talk a bit about where USC's team stands. The impetus for the collapse of the program began when it was first reported that Tim Floyd paid money to a handler of OJ Mayo. It then surprised nobody that every USC player that initially declared for the NBA Draft decided to stay in the Draft (DeMar DeRozen, Daniel Hackett and Taj Gibson). Superduper recruit Renardo Sidney left. Star recruit Noel Johnson asked out of his commitment, and has just signed with Clemson (more on that in a post later today). Tim Floyd saw the writing on the wall and quit. The two other key recruits from the '09 class (Lamont Jones and Derrick Williams) have also asked out. The only recruit left is Evan Smith, rated the 156th best small forward in the nation according to ESPN.

There is still the potential of players transferring out, but for the time being nobody from last year's team has announced anything. So for the team being, USC still does have one legitimate Pac-10 starter in Dwight Lewis. Lewis will be expected to score 18-21 points per game if USC is going to even make a run at the NIT. They also have a couple of decent role players remaining, including Marcus Simmons and Leonard Washington. They also have a quality transfer in Alex Stephenson, from North Carolina. Those are all forwards, however. One thing you can't control when a ton of players leave at once is whether you have a good distribution around the floor. It would have been difficult enough replacing Daniel Hackett, who was one of the five best point guards in the nation last year. But USC will have almost no back court next season. They return two guards that played more than garbage minutes: Dwight Lewis and Donte Smith. Lewis, of course, will be very good. But Smith is not that impressive of a point guard, with 1.3 turnovers per assist in limited time last season. And beyond those two: who?

Kevin O'Neill's first task will have to be finding a couple of guards, either Juco recruits or something. After that, it's about building up the 2010 and 2011 recruiting classes. This coming season is going to be a loss, with almost no chance for postseason play. O'Neill will simply need to hope that the NCAA doesn't come down on the program and allows him to rebuild for the future.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Austin Daye, Chinemelu Elonu In

Gonzaga and Texas A&M both got bad news today, as Austin Daye will stay in the Draft, as will Chinemelu Elonu. I have to say that I was fairly surprised by both of these. Daye was very highly touted out of High School, but he really has never fulfilled his potential. He's been a quality player, but it constantly feels like he should be a lot better than he is. I don't see why he's suddenly going to take the leap after he hits the NBA. And as for Elonu, he's clearly a project. Why spend a year in the D-League if you can play another year in the NCAA building your stock?

Gonzaga was going to be favored in the WCC with or without Daye, but this will certainly drop them from the 8 seed I had them placed a month ago.

As for Texas A&M, I'm not sure yet how this will affect them. Elonu wasn't a huge scorer, and so with both Donald Sloan and Bryan Davis both dropping out of the Draft the Aggies will still have two of their three double-digit scorers back (graduating senior Josh Carter was the third). Elonu's presence was felt most on the boards (he led the team with 7.3 per game) and defending the paint (he led the team with 1.6 blocks per game). Davis will likely be the team's leading rebounder and shot-blocker next season (he was second to Elonu in both categories this past season), and will have to make the leap to becoming one of the real best post players in the Big 12 if Texas A&M is going to live up to their potential. I had projected the Aggies to finish third in the Big 12, with a five seed in the Tournament. That will drop with Elonu gone, but not too much.

Greivis Vasquez, Luke Harangody Out

Good news for both Maryland and Notre Dame: Greivis Vasquez is out of the Draft, and so is Luke Harangody.

Starting with Harangody, this seems like an acknowledgment that he'll never be an NBA player. If he thought he could make it in the NBA, he'd have gone this season. His stock won't be any higher next year, and the 2010 Draft will be better and deeper. And Notre Dame is likely going to stink next season, losing Kyle McAlarney, Zach Hillesland, Ryan Ayers and Luke Zeller. That said, Harangody changes things a lot, and might potentially get Notre Dame back to the bubble. Tory Jackson will be one of the better players in the Big East, and I liked Tyrone Nash in brief flashes last season.

The Big East will be different in 2009-10 than it was in 2008-09. Last year the Big East had six or seven truly elite teams, but after that there was a huge gap to the rest of the conferene. The bottom half of the conference was really weak. In 2009-10 I expect the top of the conference to be much weaker, with the possibility of only one team in the Top Ten (Villanova seems like a clear Top Ten team, but I don't see any other Big East teams that seem good enough to be Top Ten). But the middle and bottom of the conference should be stronger: teams like Cincinnati, St. John's, Seton Hall and Rutgers should all be better. Notre Dame will most likely be somewhere in the 8th-12th range in the Big East, even with Harangody. I still think they're fairly long shots for the Tournament, but at least Harangody gives them a shot.

As for Maryland, I think Vasquez made the right decision. He's a very good college player, but I don't think he'll ever make it to the NBA. He might as well try to lead Maryland to a little NCAA Tournament run and then head off to Europe. And I do think Maryland has a shot to be pretty good next year. The ACC will be really wide open at the top of the conference. In my 2009-10 previews I put Maryland third in the conference, but I could honestly see North Carolina, Duke, Maryland, Clemson, or even Georgia Tech, make a run at the ACC Championship. North Carolina and Duke will be the most talented, but Maryland probably has the most experience. Like Tennessee in the SEC, you can't discount the ability of experience to beat out better talent.

Jodie Meeks Stays In Draft

I spoke two days ago about how Tennessee had gotten a bunch of a good news in a row, and that trend continues today as Jodie Meeks reportedly will stay in the NBA Draft. This is a bit of a surprise, but I don't understand why some people are so perplexed. The fact is that this is a pretty weak NBA Draft, so even with a good season next year I'm not sure Meeks gets drafted any higher. And there's always the risk of an injury, or that he plays badly. Sure, the chance of a National Title is a great allure, but Meeks also has to think about his future. It's not like he has $100 Million in his future - he's got to make his money when he can.

This puts a lot of pressure now on Patrick Patterson. I spoke about a month ago about how he was more important to bring back than Meeks, as far as Kentucky fans should be concerned. Meeks is the more electric scorer, but Patterson is a glue-guy, and he will be necessary to try to hold together a team that will have a lot of young players with really big egos. But will he be enough? There won't be a lot of experience in their starting lineup next year other than him, including the likelihood that they'll start three freshmen.

I don't think there's any question that Kentucky will have the most talent in the SEC, and they're arguably the most talented team in the country (although I'd give Kansas the edge). But talent alone isn't always enough, and it's a mistake to hand the conference over to them. Tennessee, Mississippi State, Florida (and maybe even LSU) will give them a battle. Even Vanderbilt should be a very good team. The SEC stunk last year, but they'll be a whole lot better in 2010. Don't be too surprised to see the conference get six Tournament teams.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

NBA Draft Deadline; Can Tennessee Win The SEC?

We're reaching the final hours of NBA Draft decisions. Underclassmen have until 5pm on Monday afternoon to get out of the Draft or they forfeit their collegiate eligibility. There haven't been a whole lot of surprising players into the Draft that I haven't talked about yet. Patty Mills is in, which isn't a big shock, neither is Shawn Taggart jumping the scandal-laden Memphis ship. Jrue Holiday is expected to sign as well. Andy Katz has the rundown on those players that still have to make a decision.

One player I'm surprised not to see in the Draft is Tennessee's Tyler Smith. Smith is one of the two players I had projected to go into the Draft who has already announced they will drop out (LSU's Tasmin Mitchell being the other). This is great news for a Tennessee team that is also going to benefit from the departure of Nick Calathes from Florida. Even assuming that Smith went pro, I still had Tennessee second in the SEC East, and on pace for a 3 seed in the Tournament. With Smith back, they should unquestionably be the chief competition for Kentucky in the SEC.

I would expect LSU to seriously challenge Mississippi State for the SEC West title now they've got Mitchell back, but they won't be as good as they were last season. Mississippi State, of course, has a great recruiting class coming in, but I need to see them prove that they can win consistently against more experienced opponents before I take them seriously for the SEC Title. And Florida is probably out of the SEC title race with Calathes gone, even though Alex Tyus should help keep them competitive.

So that leaves things down to Kentucky and Tennessee. As amazing as it would sound to say this five years ago, Tennessee is the steady, experienced team that has the recent history of winning. Kentucky is the upstart full of extremely talented young kids who haven't really won a whole lot, or even played on the collegiate level. Kentucky will be the favorite preseason, and I am going to have them as my projected SEC Champion and a 1 seed when the new BP65 comes out in a couple of weeks. But don't be confused into thinking that Kentucky is a lock by any means. You never know with so many young kids under so much pressure, with the University's huge expectations bearing down on them, and with a head coach under fire for his recruiting practices. It's a combustible situation, and it might explode. And if something crazy happens, expect Tennessee to be there to steal the SEC Title.

Monday, June 01, 2009

NCAA To Add Invisible Line Under Basket

The NBA made a good decision a few years back when they added a semi-circle underneath the basket wherein no defensive player could draw a charging foul. It made sense, because it's irritating to watch help defenders slide underneath the basket and force contact on any attempt at the basket. It hurts the game in two ways, by discouraging players from attacking the basket, and by drastically increasing the number of fouls called (both offensive and defensive) as refs are forced to blow the whistle on nearly every drive.

The NCAA is expected to rule this week that they will add an arc themselves... only they won't actually be drawing anything on the ground. The referees are expected to make a judgment call. Now how can it possibly be better to not draw the arc? It's not. it's just another example of the college and professional leagues having huge egos and refusing to look like they're copying each other.

It's why the NFL and NCAA football go out of their way to have different rules for inbound/out-of-bounds, coaches challenges, overtime and many other things. And it's why the NBA and NCAA basketball continue to have so many differences, including jump balls and timeouts. Even when one league has a rule that clearly is superior (such as NCAA football's overtime rule), the other league can't be seen to copy. Egos always win out over common sense.

Hopefully the NCAA will get some common sense and agree to add the circle. It's already difficult enough for refs to call the modern game with its speed and athleticism. Let's not make things any more difficult.