Thursday, August 19, 2010

Nevada, Fresno State Moving To Mountain West

More conferences are shifting with Nevada and Fresno State saying that they will leave the WAC for the Mountain West. They are joining Boise State, the other WAC team to already defect to the Mountain West over the past few months. They will replace Utah and BYU, with Utah leaving for the Pac-10 and BYU most likely heading to a situation where they will be a football independent and will play their other sports in the WAC.

All of this movement from the WAC to the Mountain West has to be bringing vivid flashbacks for those that remember the history of those two conferences. The WAC formed in 1962 and rapidly grew to the point that by the mid-1990s it was a super-conference with 16 teams. It had teams that traversed the country, from Hawaii to TCU. But the happy times were short. While travel costs were a concern, the real issue that blew up the conference was quality control, with too many poor teams that were stuck at the basement each year and contributed nothing.

The turbulence led to eight schools defecting and forming the Mountain West Conference. TCU left for Conference USA, and a few years later joined up with the others in the Mountain West. Rice, SMU and TCU also left for Conference USA.

So with the Mountain West continuing to eat up WAC teams, is it risking a return of the old WAC? I don't think so. The conference will likely have ten teams, and there won't be any teams that really don't deserve to be there. Wyoming is probably the most questionable team right now, although I've written recently about a possible bright future for Wyoming basketball. And I would expect this to be very good news for a Nevada team that has been good in both basketball and football for some time now, and certainly has a very nice core of a basketball team that is ready to win this year and into the future. Fresno State has historically been decent but has fallen on hard times, and only time will tell if the move to the Mountain West will spur them to future success.

For the WAC this is devastating, as they've really lost the rest of their traditional sporting powers. Utah State is the closest to a traditional sports power left in the conference, and after that I suppose I'd take New Mexico State. The other teams: Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Idaho and Hawaii. Yikes. They probably have to try to steal some Conference USA teams back just for survival. The remaining WAC teams will be desperate to try to keep the conference respectable, because none of them really have much of an alternative if the conference blows up. Utah State might be able to get themselves into the Mountain West, but the other teams would be staring at a conference like the Big West.

It's hard to keep track of all of these conference moves. I don't know why these conferences feel like more is better. Members of the WAC conference should know better than any that a bigger conference isn't always a better conference.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Miami (Fl) Gets Another Year Of Adrian Thomas

Miami got some good news today with Adrian Thomas receiving a sixth year of eligibility, after two seasons (2006-07 and 2007-08) were nearly entirely wiped out by injury. Thomas isn't well known outside of the ACC, and he only started four games last season, but he earned 22 minutes per game off the bench, collecting 7.3 points and 2.7 rebounds per game. At 6'7", 229 pounds he is part of a front line that is big and athletic but a bit raw, and so his experience means a lot. He'll also mean a lot for the entire team, since it was going to have zero seniors on it before Thomas was granted his extra season.

Miami is a team that is underestimated because they finished last in the ACC with a 4-12 record last season. But the ACC was much better than even most experts realized, and Miami was a young team that was pesky and just struggled to win close games. At the end of the season they were ranked the 50th best team in the nation by Sagarin, and 46th by Pomeroy. James Dews, Dwayne Collins and Cyrus McGowan were the graduations from the regular rotation, but it was an 11 man regular rotation that didn't have any clear stars, so those losses won't be too tough to replace.

Durand Scott scored 10.3 points per game as a freshman and should be the scoring focal point as a sophomore in 2010-11. He'll start in the backcourt with Malcolm Grant, who led the team in assists as a sophomore in 2009-10. Rion Brown, the most talented and most polished 2010 recruit for Miami, will provide depth in the backcourt, as will Trey McKinney-Jones, a transfer from UMKC. Garrius Adams can play shooting guard, although at 6'6" he can also play forward.

As I said, the frontcourt has a lot of athleticism and potential, but it's still young and raw: DeQuan Jones, Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble all played in the regular rotation last season and will be back. Donovan Kirk, a 2009 recruit, didn't play much as a freshman but should play more as a sophomore. The 2010 recruiting class has two talented big men (Erik Swoope and Raphael Akpejiori), although both are raw and won't likely play much as freshmen.

In my original 2010-11 ACC preview I described Miami as a young and talented team that would be on the bubble in 2011, and that should be even better in 2012. My most recent BP68, done nearly two months ago, had Miami sneaking into the field as a 12 seed. One more year of Adrian Thomas will really help the development of that front line, and will help a team built for the future do more winning now. They learned in 2009-10 that raw teams tend to lose close games, and losing close games is a good way to knock yourself off the bubble. But the chances are much better now that Miami will win enough close games to get back to the Dance for the first time since 2008.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Memphis Loses Will Barton... Probably

Josh Pastner appears to have lost the crown jewel of his first ever recruiting class at Memphis, as Will Barton (arguably the top shooting guard recruit in the nation) was ruled academically ineligible by the NCAA. He has the right to appeal, but every indication is that an appeal would be futile and he will have to sit out the year. He presumably will go straight into the 2011 NBA Draft and will never suit up for Memphis.

Under normal circumstances this wouldn't be a total disaster for Memphis, because they still have a very strong recruiting class. They still have three true blue chipper remaining (point guard Joe Jackson, swing forward Jelan Kendrick and 6'8" forward Tarik Black), as well as a few other quality kids who might have bright futures.

But that said, Memphis returns almost nothing from last year's team. From their seven man regular rotation they lost three to graduation, one to the NBA, and another to what effectively was a transfer. The only key returners are Will Coleman and Wesley Witherspoon. Angel Garcia is another decent returner. All three of those players are 6'9" or taller, and will presumably make up the Memphis frontline, along with Tarik Black. With Will Barton gone, Josh Pastner might choose to go tall and start Jelan Kendrick in the back court with Joe Jackson. But that will mean a very, very thin bench.

This will be a key season for Memphis. Pastner put together a big 2010 recruiting class, but it all came together before he'd even coached a game. He's involved with a lot of big names from the 2011 class, but none of those have committed yet. He will get a pass for missing the 2010 NCAA Tournament, but the team has to get back in 2011. If it becomes clear that they will no longer be elite with John Calipari gone, the top recruits will go away. Memphis also will hope to impress the major conferences enough to get included if the conferences jumble teams again. So the 2010-11 season will be about more than just the 2011 NCAA Tournament for Memphis. It will have big implications, and the Will Barton loss is just going to make things more difficult.