Monday, August 26, 2013

Throwing A Bit Of Cold Water On SMU

It's been a couple of days since SMU landed Emmanuel Mudiay, arguably the top point guard recruit in the 2014 high school class, but the internet buzz is still increasing. SMU has now turned the corner and should be a regular contender for elite recruits. They might even be a Top 25 team next season.

Eh. Let's chill out a bit.

First, let me be clear that I'm actually rather high on SMU for this coming season. Larry Brown signed a few quality transfers who will be ready to go for 2013-14. I picked them to go 6th in the AAC and have them just a bit off the Tournament bubble. But in my opinion, SMU is not likely to make the NCAA Tournament while Larry Brown is still in charge.

We've seen this before with "program changing recruits". Providence was supposed to turn around last season with Ricky Ledo and Kris Dunn. In the end, Ledo never played and Dunn was relatively ineffective as a freshman. Florida International's Isiah Thomas got a lot of hype when they landed Dominique Ferguson, one of the ten best recruits in the country, but he never played either. You can't pin your hopes for a program on one recruit.

The comparison that many have made is to the Baylor team that has risen from the ashes under Scott Drew. And that certainly was a remarkable rise out of scandal and disaster. But Baylor is a big school in a BCS conference. In 2003, during Dave Bliss's last season, as Baylor was mired in a 5-11 Big 12 season, the Bears averaged an attendance of 6,768. For comparison, SMU averaged 2,013 per game in Larry Brown's first season. That was an improvement from 1,970 per game the year before, but still below schools like Southeast Missouri State (2,326 per game) and Utah Valley State (2,952 per game). Heck, SMU's whole arena only holds 8,998.

I do think SMU will eventually get back to the NCAA Tournament, but I don't think Larry Brown will lead them there. He's not the type to stick around long enough to really build a program, while Tim Jankovich (the head coach-in-waiting) is. I'm dubious that the program will ever be a perennial Top 25 team for all of the reasons listed in the previous paragraph and the fact that the AAC will not really be a "major conference" after this coming season. But they will be better in 2013-14 than they were in 2012-13, and they should be even better in 2014-15. They'll eventually make a Tournament, but not solely because of one recruit landed this past weekend.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Quick Thoughts On The Roosevelt Jones Injury

I'm overdue to start blogging again. We're still six weeks from Midnight Madness, but we just experienced perhaps the most consequential injury of the offseason thus far - Roosevelt Jones is gone for the season with a wrist injury.

Roosevelt Jones may not be the best player on Butler, but he's easily the most important. At 6'4" and about 230 pounds he doesn't look like a point guard at first glance, but he played that role for Butler last season. He was the team's primary playmaker, and was one of two proven backcourt returners. Alex Barlow is the other proven returning backcourt player, though he is more of a prospect than anything. He had a breakout game against Bucknell in the NCAA Tournament (11 points, 5 rebounds, 4 steals), but isn't anywhere near the proven quantity of Roosevelt Jones.

Who else does Butler have in their backcourt now, besides Barlow? Jackson Aldridge, a prized 2011 point guard recruit who has done absolutely nothing in two seasons, is the team's #2 returning backcourt player. They also return Devontae Morgan, a lightly recruited shooting guard who played 3.1 minutes as a true freshman in 2012-13. Incoming backcourt recruits? A pair of three-star shooting guards in Rene Castro and Elijah Brown.

Butler will still have a fearsome front court duo of Khyle Marshall and Kameron Woods. It's possible that Butler can ask the 6'6" Kellen Dunham (who's going to be really, really good) to play shooting guard as part of a big starting lineup of Barlow, Dunham, Woods, Marshall and Erik Fromm. That would still be a very strong starting lineup. But it would be a lineup that lacks any real offensive playmaker, and it would be a lineup that would have to play a ton of minutes because of a lack of any real bench.

In the preseason I listed Butler as the 4th best team in the Big East, and my most recent bracket projection has them as a 7 seed, but those expectations have to be drastically reduced.

At this point, even if Butler stays healthy all season they're at best a bubble team (and with no depth, they're now really in trouble if any more injuries pop up). Right now I think you've got to rate them either 6th or 7th in the Big East (depending on whether you believe Providence will finally get their act together and live up to the hype), dropping them behind Creighton and St. John's.

It's a tough blow to a program still reeling from the loss of Brad Stevens. Butler has done a tremendous job moving from the Horizon League to the Atlantic Ten to the Big East in consecutive seasons, but their string of luck seems to be running out.