Tuesday, August 31, 2010

BYU to leave the MWC, head to the WCC in basketball

It's official.

Gonzaga will need to make room. They are no longer alone at the head of the WCC table.

After two weeks of speculation, BYU finally pulled the trigger, as they will officially become a football independent, sending the rest of their sports teams to the West Coast Conference in the 2011-2012 school year.

The question now becomes what happens to the MWC and the WAC. The MWC has lost Utah and BYU, meaning they lost their stranglehold on the Salt Lake City markets, but they will add Boise State, Nevada, and Fresno State. It seems likely that the conference will survive as the WAC reinvented, although the pipe dream of an automatic qualifier into the BCS is dead.

For the WAC, the situation is much more dire. Will they be able to keep the remaining six teams -- Utah State, Louisiana Tech, San Jose State, Hawaii, Idaho, New Mexico State -- as members? Will the MWC poach Utah State? Can they bring in a couple of schools from Conference USA? BYU's decision could be the spark that sets off a chain reaction that will drastically alter the landscape of college basketball's second tier conferences.

As far as basketball is concerned, the 'Zags are well into their second decade of basketball dominance in the WCC. And while the addition of BYU will likely change that, this should still be a major boost to the WCC and, in turn, the Gonzaga program. From our post earlier today:

For starters, BYU is always going to play Utah State, who is a perennial NCAA Tournament threat (two at-large bids and four tournament overall in the last six seasons), so by joining a different conference, they aren't going to be losing a quality resume game. And by joining the WCC, BYU would make the league a perennial two-bid conference, with the potential -- with St. Mary's and the recent successes of teams like Portland, San Diego, and even upstart Loyola Marymount -- for even more.

BYU is much bigger -- 33,000 students, while no one in the WCC has even 10,000 -- and could complicate things with the religious aspect -- BYU is a mormon school, while seven of the eight WCC schools are Catholic while Pepperdine is affiliated with the Church of Christs -- but the WCC is still the Cougars best option.

And don't forget about the league's ESPN deal, which allows Gonzaga to get quite a bit more national exposure than BYU gets in the MWC even if it is coming around midnight on the east coast.
This is huge for the WCC.

Even with St. Mary's emergence and the potential shown by Loyola Marymount and Portland in the last couple of seasons, the WCC has essentially been a one team league. Adding BYU gives them two teams that will almost assuredly be in the NCAA Tournament on a yearly basis. And if St. Mary's can continue their ascendance to becoming an elite mid-major program, the WCC will have a 1-2-3 atop their league that will rival that of the A-10, Conference USA, the MWC, and the MVC, other leagues that are generally considered the first step down from the Big Six.

This should help the conference as a whole, as well. Not only are they adding the Salt Lake City market -- the WCC now can claim residence in Salt Lake City, Spokane (and by default Seattle), Portland, LA, and the Bay Area -- they are doing it at a time when their ESPN deal needs renegotiating. More exposure and better competition makes the conference better. In turn, does that mean that the league's lesser programs can start recruiting at a higher level? Can Santa Clara now get into the conversation when it comes to some of the best players in California?

Think about it. What would the difference be between C-USA and the Sun Belt if Memphis, and to a lesser degree UAB and UTEP, weren't in the league? What would the A-10 be if Xavier, Temple, Dayton, and St. Joe's left? Would the remnants be all that much better than the CAA?

The WCC just became a top ten conference nationally. How's it feel?

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NCAA Tournament heroes Korie Lucious and Joe Mazzulla both get arrested

The end of August in college towns only means one thing -- the students are back. And if you harken back on your days as a collegian, I think you'll remember some pretty legendary nights during those first days back at school.

No one has home work yet and many finally feel the freedom that comes with being released from a summer in your parents house. You head to a party, the booze is flowing, you're with all your friends, you see that cute blonde you had such a crush on. Basketball players aren't immune to it just because everyone knows who they are.

But they aren't immune from suffering the consequences when they aren't responsible after they put a few away, either.

Take Korie Lucious, for example. At 2:20 am, on Monday morning, Lucious was arrested for drinking and driving. He blew a 0.09. The legal limit in Michigan is 0.08, which means that Lucious' crime in and of itself is not horrific. He wasn't driving blacked out; he simply had one beer too many. It seems as if he was at least attempting to be responsible. I'm not justifying what he did, but, well, I guess I am downplaying it a little. There's a difference between slapping someone in the face and hitting them over the head with a baseball bat, just like there's a difference between blowing a .20 and a .09 when you are pulled over for a DUI.

Korie Lucious hit the game-winner against Maryland in the 2nd round.
(photo credit: NY Post)

The bigger issue is that Lucious doesn't turn 21 until November 5th, which completely changes the context of the charges. Not only was he driving over the legal limit, but he was driving over the legal limit as a 20 year old. That's a much different story.

Lucious was given a ticket for Operating While Intoxicated. Tom Izzo released a one sentence statement, simply saying "We're aware a ticket was issued, and we're still gathering information." According to the Detroit Free Press, "Lucious posted bond of $200 and has 10 days to be arraigned in East Lansing’s 54-B District Court."

And then there is Joe Mazzulla and Dalton Pepper from West Virginia. Both Mazzulla and Pepper were issued citations for urinating in public in downtown Morgantown on Saturday.

For Pepper, this doesn't seem like that big of a deal. He will likely face a fine, a (stern) warning from Bob Huggins not to mess up again, and will almost assuredly get himself into shape with the sprints he is going to be forced to complete.

It will be a little different for Mazzulla. This is the third time the feisty point guard has had a run in with the law since he has been a Mountaineer, and all three times have seemingly involved drinking. Two years ago, Mazzulla was arrested when he and Cam Thoroughman got into a scuffle with some off duty cops at a Pittsburgh Pirates game. Last April, Mazzulla was arrested for allegedly assaulting a woman in a Morgantown bar. He was suspended for much of the summer before finally being reinstated to the team in early September.

Joe Mazzulla had 17 points against in Kentucky in the Elite 8 to send WVU to the Final Four.
(photo credit: AP)

Public urination is one of the pettier offenses someone can commit. Every single male that has ever set foot in a bar has peed between cars, or down an alley, or on a tree, or in a bush, or somewhere else that is wildly inappropriate during a night out. It happens. And if you happen to get caught, you have to suck it up, pay the fine, and pay more attention to where the cops are when you decide to whip it out.

But for someone with Mazzulla's prior arrests, the punishment will likely be more severe. Huggy Bear certainly can't be pleased that the kid that is supposed to be his team's senior leader now has as many alcohol-related offenses as he does years of eligibility used.

Huggins released a statement saying that he is aware of the incident and that it will be handled internally.

Mazzulla, Pepper, and Lucious are college kids. They made the same mistakes that so many college kids around the country do every single weekend of the school year. Do they deserve to be punished? Absolutely.

But let's keep it all in perspective.

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How do timeouts effect end-of-game possessions?

Last week, the guys over at Harvard Sports Analysis Collective -- a must-bookmark if yo haven't already -- put together an interesting study that looked at fouling when a team is up three late in the game. We had our disagreements with that study, but the HSAC has come out with two more that, in our not-so-humble opinions are spot-on and quite worthy of a read.

Both studies took a look at the use of timeouts during end-of-game situations -- the first strictly looked at the likelihood of being fouled on a final possession if a timeout was called, and the second looked at how scoring was affected by a timeout when the game in tied on the final possession -- and both studies overwhelmingly say that it is in the best interest of the team with possession not to call a timeout.

Teams were much more likely to draw a foul if they did not call a timeout before that possession. Teams drew fouls on 13 percent of end-of-game possessions when they did not call a timeout. Teams that called a timeout only drew fouls on 8 percent of their possessions. This difference was strongly statistically significant (p=0.001). (Edit: as a commenter points out, I should mention that I did not include plays were the deficit was 3 points so as to avoid being biased by intentional fouls). via
In my 2009-2010 dataset, 452 teams fit the above criteria. 235 of those teams called timeout, 217 did not. Of the teams that called timeout, only 35.7 percent scored on the subsequent possession. Teams that did not call timeout scored 53.0 percent of the time. A simple two sample t-test with unequal variances shows that this difference is strongly statistically significant (p=0.0002). ... Teams that called timeout scored an average of 0.773 points per possession whereas teams that did not call timeout scored an average of 1.06 PPP. Another hypothesis test showed that this difference, too, was statistically significant (p=0.022). via
Now, I happen to agree wholeheartedly with these results.

Things are chaotic in the final seconds of a close basketball game, especially games with something significant on the line -- a place in the conference standings, advancing in a tournament, or even simply earning a good, non-conference win -- and a loud and rowdy crowd in attendance. By pushing the ball up the floor, the goal is to catch the defense off-balance. Maybe you get the ball in the hands of a scorer who has a chance to attack a defender that is back-pedaling. Maybe a guard gets caught in a mismatch with a post player. Maybe the defense fails to locate their man, leaving a shooter with an open look.

The textbook example came in the second round of last year's tournament when Michigan State beat Maryland. Take a look at how this play develops:

After Greivis Vasquez scores to put Maryland ahead, Draymond Green brings the ball up the floor, and Adrian Bowie leaves his man (Korie Lucious) to try and hound Green on his way up the court. This creates a situation where no one matches up with Lucious. Green hits him on the wing where Lucious had a very good look at a three, but instead throws a pump fake at Landon Milbourne who is running at him, takes one dribble to his left, and gets even better look at a rhythm jumper from the top of the key.

Game over.

On a final possession situation like that, including situations where there is more time left on the clock than 6.5 seconds, it is difficult to design a play that is going to get a good look for your team. In general, even if a time out is called, a coach is going to have to rely on his team to make a basketball play. He is going to need someone to step up, beat his man, and draw a foul; or knock down a jump shot; or draw a defender and find the open player. Whatever the case may be, a final play like the one above is more about the talent of the players involved and the preparation the coach gave them throughout the season than it is about specific coaching on that specific possession.

By not calling the timeout, Tom Izzo put the pressure on the Maryland defense. They were flustered and their defense broke down. It allowed Lucious to get a good look at a three.

If you are a coach, you are in need of a basket to win/tie a game on a final possession, and you need to rely on your kids to make one play to get that bucket, wouldn't you rather them go against a defense that isn't set than a defense that is?

Regardless, these two studies are certainly worth the click. We will be bringing you more as they post more.

Continue reading...

Both the MWC and the WCC would be good landing spots for BYU

The current realignment stalemate revolves around BYU and their decision on whether or not to go independent in football.

If they do go independent, then in all likelihood they are going to have to leave the MWC in all other sports. With a Wednesday deadline to make a decision (that could very well come this afternoon), all the talk this week is about where BYU and what is their best option.

I'm not going to pretend to know much about the economics of college football, so in this forum we are strictly talking about what the best outcome is for college hoops and Dave Roses's program. And as we know all too well, that probably plays a (very) minor role in the decision making process.

Jeff Eisenberg says that the best option for BYU basketball is to stay in the Mountain West Conference, and I tend to strongly with that sentiment. Let's face it -- the MWC is a better league than the Pac-10 this season, and it was last season as well. With programs like New Mexico (who has signed Steve Alford to a ten year deal), San Diego State, and UNLV being joined by Fresno State and Nevada -- two programs with their own storied, and in some cases notorious, basketball programs -- it is quite possible that the MWC will continue to battle with the Pac-10 for West Coast supremacy. Don't forget about Boise State, who made the NCAA Tournament in 2008.

If BYU does stick around, then don't be surprised if the MWC also adds Utah State, bringing another very good basketball program -- and even more of the Salt Lake City market -- into play. That, my friends, would be an absolutely loaded basketball conference; one that would be difficult to label as a mid-major if they routinely put three and four and five teams -- which is a real possibility -- into the Big Dance.

But if the Cougars do decide to go independent, Andy Katz says that joining the WCC is a better move than becoming a member of the dead conference walking WAC. He makes some compelling argument. For starters, BYU is always going to play Utah State, who is a perennial NCAA Tournament threat (two at-large bids and four tournament overall in the last six seasons), so by joining a different conference, they aren't going to be losing a quality resume game. And by joining the WCC, BYU would make the league a perennial two-bid conference, with the potential -- with St. Mary's and the recent successes of teams like Portland, San Diego, and even upstart Loyola Marymount -- for even more.

BYU is much bigger -- 33,000 students, while no one in the WCC has even 10,000 -- and could complicate things with the religious aspect -- BYU is a mormon school, while seven of the eight WCC schools are Catholic while Pepperdine is affiliated with the Church of Christs -- but the WCC is still the Cougars best option.

And don't forget about the league's ESPN deal, which allows Gonzaga to get quite a bit more national exposure than BYU gets in the MWC even if it is coming around midnight on the east coast. Hey, I'm watching.

BYU is going to be alright now matter what decision they happen to make.

The real question is what happens to everyone else. Do teams like UT-San Antonio fill in the holes in the WAC? Do we get some amalgam of the non-BCS schools forming a super-conference across the country? Will Fresno State and Nevada be able to afford the $5 million they may be forced to pay the WAC?

Whenever BYU makes their decision, the trickle down will be fun to watch unfold. Stay tuned.

Continue reading...

Quincy Miller could commit to Louisville this weekend

UPDATE: Apparently Chane Behanan, a Kentucky native and No. 36 in our consensus rankings, will also be on the visit next weekend.

To say the least, Rick Pitino has had a pretty rough offseason.

From losing underclassmen to the NBA Draft to losing not one, not two, but four highly regarded recruits to losing just about all of his dignity, Pitino has gotten himself into a situation where his Louisville program, just 18 months removed from being the 2009 NCAA Tournament's top overall seed, is getting dangerously close to rebuilding mode. And I'm sure that watching his in-state rival unabashedly dominate the world of recruiting cannot help matters.

Most believe that in order Pitino to rebuild his program, he needs to rebuild his image. In other words, he needs to remove the tarnish from his name. He needs people to conjure up memories of his 1996 national title and the Final Fours he has been to with three different programs (he's the only coach to do so). He needs to make people to forget about his 15 seconds of shame.

It is incredibly unlikely that he can make that happen.

But one way to get people off the subject is to make headlines somewhere else. Like in recruiting.

Could that happen as soon as this weekend?

Quincy Miller is one of the best players in the class of 2011. He is the consensus No. 3 recruit in our rankings, and is placed now lower than 5th by any of the major outlets. According to Evan Daniels, a recruiting analyst for Scout.com, Miller is no longer involved with Kentucky. He is taking an official visit to Louisville this weekend, and Daniels said on Matt Jones' radio show yesterday that there is a chance Miller could commit to the Cardinals then.

It gets better.

Miller and Deuce Bello are essentially attached at the hip. Most believe that the two are destined to end up playing college ball together. Bello is joining Miller at Louisville this weekend, and if Miller pops for the Cardinals, there is a real possibility that Bello, who is 45th overall in our rankings, would do the same.

And remember, Pitino already has a commitment from Wayne Blackshear, the No. 16 recruit in our rankings.

If you figure that Justin Coleman spends a year at Louisville getting eligible, and the Cardinals can also get Peyton Siva, Terrence Jennings, and Jared Swopshire back for 2011-2012, Louisville is going to once again be back at the top of the Big East rankings.

And getting back to the top of the Big East, proving that he can still coach a winner, is the best way for Pitino to move on from this summer.

But first, he needs to get that commitment.

Time to roll out the red carpet, Louisville.

Here's a mixtape of Miller for those that like that sort of thing:

Continue reading...

Tuesday Morning Dump

- Great news coming out of Miami today. Da'Sean Butler, the former West Virginia small forward that shredded his knee in the Final Four, has signed an NBA contract. Not only is he going to get a chance to make a name for himself as a pro, he will be doing it on the Heat. I'm not a West Virginia fan by any stretch of the imagination, but Butler is certainly someone that I will always be rooting for. Just a terrific kid.

- Eamonn Brennan, talking about the Big East tournament's double bye, hits in on the head right here:

In any case, would it make more sense for the Big East to get rid of the double-bye? Yes. Would it make the tournament bracket less unwieldy? Absolutely. Should the Big East listen to its coaches and do so? By all means. But that doesn't mean top teams are going to be any better when the change is made. It's something to keep an eye on, at least.
- The player profiles are starting to roll in. Expect to see hundreds of these linked here over the next month of so. Mike DeCourcy writes on Missouri's Kim English and Louisville's Preston Knowles, while Gary Parrish puts together an excellent column on the underrated E'Twuan Moore.

- Fantastic news on Mikhail Torrance. The former Alabama guard nearly died of a heart attack last week, but has awoken from his coma and is now walking.

- Despite many, many rumors to the contrary, DeAndre Daniels will remain in the class of 2011 and spend one season at IMG Academy in Florida.

- Not a good sign for UConn fans. When Angelo Chol was asked why he was no longer interested in UConn, he said "they lost all there scholorships."

Michael Gbinje, a Duke commit, and James McAdoo, a UNC commit, had a little trash talk session. I'm going to have to give the W to McAdoo:

This is pretty damn funny.

Continue reading...

Monday, August 30, 2010

The Only Conference Preview You Need To Read: The Pac-10

Summer officially ends on September 22nd, but for me, the end of summer always coincided with the end of August. Or when I had to go to school. (That first day was always the worst, wasn't it?) Anyway, school is right around the corner, which means that college basketball season is around the corner, down the street, through two lights, and on the left. Since we've all had a fight with our GPS at one time or another, we at BIAH will take this week to roll out our way-too-early, all-encompassing conference previews.

To browse through the other conferences, click here.

Pre-season Awards

Player of the Year: Klay Thompson, Washington State

Thompson started the 2009-2010 on a torrid streak, averaging 25.6 ppg over his first 13 games. A volume shooter in just about every definition of the word, Thompson's game is based around his excellent shooting range (ask San Diego). The rest of his game has developed -- he's a better shooter off the dribble, he showed improvement getting to the rim and getting to the line -- but as good as Thompson was during the first few months of the season, he struggled quite a bit in Pac-10 play. As the focal point of every defensive scheme, Thompson struggled to get to the foul line at the same rate and started forcing tougher and tougher shots. As he gets stronger and continues to develop his offensive repertoire, there is reason to believe that Thompson will be able to handle the defensive focus this season. And as Reggie Moore and DeAngelo Casto continue to improve around him, don't be surprised if he gets easier opportunities.

And a close second goes to: Isaiah Thomas, Washington

Thomas is a dynamo. At just 5'9", the lefty is a terror to keep out of the paint. More of a natural scorer than a natural point, Thomas is strong enough to bully his way to the rim against bigger opponents and athletic enough to finish when he gets there. He's a streaky shooter, but when he is on he's as dangerous a scorer as you will find on the West Coast. Thomas, and the Huskies, were considered major disappointments last February, as Washington was struggling to remain above .500 in a very weak Pac-10. But Thomas played great basketball down the stretch, improving his shot selection, limiting his turnovers, and becoming more of a leader than just a scorer. Washington fans hope that carries over into this season.

Breakout Star: Malcolm Lee, UCLA

There are a few guys I liked in this spot -- Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Nikola Vucevic, and Reggie Moore, to be specific -- but I think Lee is hands down the most talented of that group. It also means that his first two seasons have been quite a disappointment. Lee is talented, there is no question about that. He's 6'5", he is athletic with an awesome first step, and he is quick-learner -- he spent much of last season playing the role of point guard as Jerime Anderson continued to struggle. There are some things Lee certainly needs to work on -- his jumper has been lacking, as well as his shot selection (when you shoot 25% from three, you shouldn't be taking a third of your shots from beyond the arc), and he could use some strength on his frame -- but this kid was predicted as a first rounder before last season. If the Bruins can find some stability at the point and Lee can slide into his more natural spot off the ball, he could make a big leap this season.

All-Conference First Team

  • POY - Klay Thompson, Washington State, Jr.
  • G - Isaiah Thomas, Washington, Jr.
  • G - Malcolm Lee, UCLA, Jr.
  • G - Reggie Moore, Washington State, So.
  • F - Nikola Vucevic, USC, Jr.
  • F - Derrick Williams, Arizona, So.
All-Conference Second Team
  • G - Jeremy Green, Stanford, Jr.
  • G - Ty Abbott, Arizona State, Sr.
  • G - Allen Crabbe, Cal, Fr.
  • F - Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Washington, Sr.
  • F - DeAngelo Casto, Washington State, Sr.
Freshman of the Year: Allen Crabbe, Cal

The past two seasons, Cal has been one of the most fun programs in the country to watch simply because of the outstanding talent they had in their back court -- Patrick Christopher, Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson. But with those three graduating, the Golden Bears are going to have to rely on freshmen to pick up the slack. The best of the bunch in Crabbe, a 6'6" shooter that was named the Gatorade Player of the Year in California last season. Known primarily as a jump-shooter, the rest of his game really started to develop during his senior season. And with the underrated Gary Franklin running the show, Crabbe should be plenty of good looks this year.

All-Freshman Team
  • G - Gary Franklin, Cal
  • G - Kaela King, Arizona State
  • G - Terrence Ross, Washington
  • G - Roberto Nelson, Oregon State
  • F - Josh Smith, UCLA
What Happened?:
  • Expansion: This will be the final season of the Pac-10. While the conference didn't quite get the 16 teams they wanted by swallowing up the majority of the Big XII, the league did manage to add Utah and Colorado to their mix.

  • Oregonian Drama: The Ducks pretty thoroughly embarrassed themselves as they chased the like of Brad Stevens and Tom Izzo and Mike Anderson and, well, pretty much any coach that you can name. Eventually, they landed Dana Altman from Creighton, which, all in all, is a pretty good hire.

    That wasn't it. Terrence Jones originally committed to the Washington Huskies in a press-conference with high school teammate Terrence Ross. But he eventually went back on that commitment and is now at Kentucky. He wasn't the only player to waffle on Washington. Enes Kanter did as well, and he ended up at Kentucky too. Oh, and 2011 recruit Tony Wroten seems to be down Kentucky and Washington, amongst others. Anyone else think the potential matchup between Kentucky and Washington in Maui will be fun?

  • You gotta feel for this kid: Stanford's Andy Brown. He missed his senior year in high school, he redshirted last season, and he is going to miss this season. All because he tore his left acl three times.

  • Arizona State has an eventful offseason: Rihard Kuksiks nearly left school. Kyle Cain originally signed with Rhode Island, but after he was let out of his LOI by URI, he ended up in Tempe. Carrick Felix, a JuCo transfer, originally committed to Duke, but then went back on that and he, too, is at Arizona State. Then there is Demetrius Walker (remember him?) who is now headed to New Mexico.

  • More UCLA turnover: Transfers galore into and out of Westwood. J'Mison Morgan is headed to Baylor, Mike Moser is off to UNLV, and Drew Gordon bounced to New Mexico. But Ben Howland also brings in some transfers. David and Travis Wear, the twins from UNC, will both be eligible next season, and Lazeric Jones in a JuCo player brought in to help shore up the Bruin's back court problems. And Ben Howland brought in Matt Carlino a year before he graduated high school.
What's next?:
  • Expansion: Utah will be joining the league next season, and Colorado will be coming on in 2012. The question is now how will the conference be divided up. It seems reasonable to assume that the league is going to go to two divisions -- they want that football title game and all. But every school wants to be in the same division as USC and UCLA. Its quite the recruiting advantage to be able to play in Southern California every season.

  • Unpredictability: There is so much youth (there are 17 seniors in the conference. 17!!!!), so much turnover, and so much mediocrity in the Pac-10 this season that predicting this league after Washington at the top is nothing more than a crap shoot. While there may not be a ton of NCAA Tournament teams and lottery picks coming out of this Pac-10, what we can count on is entertaining basketball games and a wild conference championship race. The Pac-10 is going to be fun to follow this year.

  • Roberto Nelson: Nelson was Craig Robinson's star recruit in the class of 2009, but he was never able to get academically eligible. Well, Nelson will be allowed to play this season. Can he help turn around the Beaver program? Nelson was also featured prominently in George Dohrmann's book Play Their Hearts Out.

  • Who is that team in green?: I wouldn't blame you if you didn't recognize the Oregon basketball team next season. New head coach. Four transfers. And a new court. Need I mention the Michael Dunigan mess?

Power Rankings
  1. Washington: The Huskies lose Quincy Pondexter, who was the only first rounder to come from the Pac-10 last season. But even with that loss, U-Dub is essentially the only program in the conference that could be considered to be doing well. After a Sweet 16 trip last season, Lorenzo Romar returns everyone of consequence save Pondexter. The diminutive Isaiah Thomas will be back for his junior campaign to lead the Huskies back court. Thomas is a big-time scorer and playmaker and will be complimented very well by Venoy Overton, who is probably the best defender in the conference. Also expect big things from Abdul Gaddy, the second-rated point guard in the class of 2009 (behind John Wall) that struggled at times as a 17 year old freshman. Also joining them in the back court will be freshman Terrence Ross, a 6'5" shooting guard that should be able to contribute immediately, and 6'6" wing Justin Holiday (Jrue's older brother), a lanky and athletic small forward. Up front, this team certainly has the talent, the question is whether that group ever reaches that level. Matthew Bryan-Amaning is a 6'9" power forward with length and athleticism that will be counted on to replace some of Pondexter's scoring and boards. Behind him, Darnell Gant and Desmond Simmons will be asked to play more predominant roles, while JuCo transfer Aziz N'Diaye will a shot-blocking presence, and very well could end up in the starting lineup. The front court depth took a hit when Tyreese Breshers retired due to injuries. Washington right now is the hands-down favorite to win the Pac-10. If they don't, they have only themselves to blame.

  2. Arizona: In a wide open Pac-10, the Wildcats certainly have the talent necessary to make a run at the league title even with the loss of Nic Wise. The problem is that the majority of that talent is going to be freshmen and sophomores. Derrick Williams should be one of the best sophomores in the country, and will be even more productive as his post game develops. Senior Jamelle Horne isn't the brightest, but he does have some talent and his ability to spread the floor will help create space for Williams inside. Solomon Hill, Kryrl Natyazhko, and Kevin Parrom are all sophomores, and their development this season will go a long way towards determining how good Arizona will be this season. Perhaps the most pressure, however, is going to fall on Lamont "MoMo" Jones. Arizona is known as Point Guard U for good reason, and MoMo is the one that will be taking the reins this season. MoMo showed some promise as a scorer last season, but he will be counted on to be a leader and a distributor this year. Joining him in the back court will be junior Kyle Fogg, who has proven to be a solid scorer and shooter, along with junior Brandon Lavender and freshmen Daniel Bejarano and Jordin Mayes. The Pac-10 is difficult to predict, Arizona even more so with their youth. This team could put it all together and make a run to the league title, or they could suffer from inexperience and finish below .500 in the league. Neither would surprise me, but the former seems much more likely than the latter.

  3. UCLA: Last season, UCLA finished below .500 overall and in Pac-10 play. And while they lost Michael Roll, Nikola Dragovic, and James Keefe as well as Mike Moser, J'Mison Morgan, and Drew Gordon to transfer, there is reason to believe that UCLA can have more success this season. For starters, there is Malcolm Lee. Lee has yet to live up to the hype he had coming into the program, but if he can iron out some of the inconsistencies he had last season, there's hope that he can eventually fulfill that potential as a junior. Jerime Anderson is back at the point, although he has never lived up to his hype, either. Lazeric Jones, a JuCo transfer, was brought in to compete with Anderson for minutes and, potentially, a starting spot. Joining them in the back court will be freshmen Tyler Lamb and Matt Carlino. The biggest issue will be up front, as most of the Bruin big men have left the program or will be sitting this season out. Sophomore Reeves Nelson looks primed for a big bump this season. The tough, physical Nelson plays power forward like a football player and once he adds some post moves to his repertoire, he could be a dangerous player in the conference. Joining him up front is Tyler Honeycutt, who is more of a perimeter player than a front court player, and Josh Smith, a 6'10" behemoth. At one point, he reportedly weighed over 300 pounds, but the latest on Smith is that he is much better shape. Depth, inexperience, and a lack of size will likely be issues, but there is talent on this roster. Who develops -- and how much they develop -- will determine how good this team ends up being.

  4. Washington State: The Cougars lost six players to transfer, but only one -- Xavier Thames -- played any kind of significant minutes. The Cougars also lost starter Nikola Koprivica to graduation, but beyond that they return four of their top five scorers. Klay Thompson is the best returning player in the conference, a scorer that has developed a solid offensive arsenal based around his dangerous jumper. He can score points in a hurry. Reggie Moore had a very productive freshman campaign at the point, and DeAngelo Casto is one of the better big men in the Pac-10. Those three combined form arguably the best 1-2-3 punch in the league. The problem is there is not much depth on this team. They really only went seven deep a season ago, and with two of those seven gone, Bone did not bring in much of anything in the recruiting trail. Marcus Capers and Brock Motum will both see time, likely as starters. If Bone can develop a bench for this group, they have a shot at making an NCAA Tournament run.

  5. California: The Golden Bears are essentially in complete rebuilding mode. Their top four scorers -- essentially their only four scorers -- from last season all graduated, and sixth man Omondi Amoke was booted from the program. The leading returning scorer is Jorge Gutierrez, a scrappy, 6'4" off-guard known more for his defense than anything. That said, Gutierrez was a solid play maker and shooter the last two seasons playing a supporting role, meaning he may be able to elevate his game. He likely will need to, as the rest of the Cal back court looks to be freshmen. Allen Crabbe is a shooter and the reigning Gatorade California player of the year and Gary Franklin seems poised to take over the point guard role, while fellow freshmen Emerson Murray and Alex Rossi, along with sophomore Brandon Smith, will contribute minutes. The front court will be more experienced. Markhuri Sanders-Frisson returns, as does Harper Kamp, who get redshirted last season with an injury. Sophomore Bak Bak will provide depth for the Bears up front, and don't be surprised is freshman Richard Soloman sees minutes with 7'3" Max Zhang leaving to play professionally in China. Mike Montgomery knows what he is going to get out of his front court -- size, toughness, experience, leadership. The question mark is the back court. How good Gutierrez, Crabbe, and Franklin are will likely determine how good Cal ends up being.

  6. Arizona State: The Sun Devils lost quite a bit this season. Derek Glasser, Eric Boateng, and Jerren Shipp all graduated. Victor Rudd, Demetrius Walker, and Tyler Rohde all transferred. That said, Herb Sendek still has some talent on his roster. He caught a break whenRihard Kuksiks decided not to turn pro in his native Latvia. Ty Abbott is a senior and has developed into a more-than-capable scorer on the wing. Jamelle McMillan, the son of Nate McMillan, should be fine stepping into the point guard void left by Glasser. Trent Lockett showed flashes of being a big time player as a freshman. That's a solid returning back court, and we haven't even gotten to the talent that Herb Sendek brings in this year. Keala King is the most highly rated recruit, a 6'5" guard with a nice, all-around offensive arsenal that should see minutes immediately even if Kuksiks is back. Brandon Dunson and Corey Hawkins should also compete for minutes in the back court. The bigger issue will be up front. Ruslan Pateev is a 6'11" sophomore that didn't get many minutes as a freshman. 7'2" Jordan Bachynski also joins the fray. The more interesting prospects, however, are Kyle Cain and Carrick Felix. Both are relatively small, but Felix is a dynamic athlete that originally committed to Duke and Cain, a bit bigger, will provide some toughness and strength inside. If Sendek somehow develops his front court, the Sun Devils have a shot at a tournament berth.

  7. USC: The Trojans likely wish that this season was the one they would face the postseason ban, not last season. But as we all know, USC AD Mike Garrett tried to save Trojan football by throwing Trojan hoops under the bus, which is a shame because USC was poised to surprise quite a few people. That doesn't mean there aren't some pieces on this roster. Alex Stephenson and Nikola Vucevic both return, giving the Trojans one of the better front lines in the Pac-10. And while the Trojans do lose Mike Gerrity, they bring in Fordham transfer Jio Fontan, who will become eligible in December. Beyond that, however, the question marks begin. How will Donte Smith, Marcus Simmons, and Evan Smith handle expanded roles this year? Will USC's recruiting class -- headlined by four-star shooting guard Bryce Jones -- be able to contribute immediately? Because if the Trojans want to have a chance at being relevant this season, they will need more than just Stephenson, Vucevic, and Fontan.

  8. Oregon State: Once again, Craig Robinson is going to have a rough go of it in Corvallis. Gone is the talented Roeland Schaftenaar and both of the Tarver brothers, meaning that the Beaver's Princeton-style offense will be based around the talents of senior guard Calvin Haynes. Joining Haynes in the back court will, in all-likelihood, be redshirt freshman Roberto Nelson, Robinson's prized recruit in the class of 2009 that couldn't get eligible, senior Lathan Wallace, and sophomore Jared Cunningham. Also don't be surprised if Chicago native Ahmad Sparks, a 5'8" freshman point guard, sees time as well. Up front, Joe Burton, Omari Johnson, and Daniel Deane all return, but the real star in the front court could very well end up being Devon Collier. A product of Bob Hurley and the famed St. Anthony's program, Collier was a pretty heavily recruited prospect. Freshmen Eric Moreland and Chris Brown should also compete for time. the Beavers will once again have a tough, competitive team, but they lack the talent to be a real threat in this league.

  9. Stanford: The Cardinal finished second to last in the Pac-10 last season, and they will head into this season without their star Landry Fields, who is now a New York Knick. They do return Jeremy Green, the only other player on the roster to average double figures. Green is a 6'4" guard known mostly for his ability as a spot-up shooter. Joining Green in the back court will be Jarrett Mann, a 6'3" junior that led the team in assists as well as turnovers. Jack Trotter and Andrew Zimmermann both return up front, but beyond that, Stanford's rotation will essentially be made up of freshmen -- there are eight on the roster total, not including the injury-riddled Andy Brown. Dwight Powell is a five-star, 6'10" center, and Anthony Brown is a top 100 two guard that should contribute immediately. Johnny Dawkins is showing promise on the recruiting trail, but he still has a while to go until this Stanford team will be competitive.

  10. Oregon: Good luck recognizing the Ducks next season. Ernie Kent is gone, replaced by Dana Altman. Mac Court will soon be gone. Leading scorer TaJuan Porter is gone to graduation. Jamil Wilson, Matthew Humphrey, Drew Wiley and Josh Crittle all decided to transfer, and Malcolm Armstead very nearly did as well. Michael Dunigan left the program amidst a potential scandel to sign with a professional team in Israel. Oregon is in trouble this year. Armstead is their leading returning scorer and creator, but he is really the only threat they have. Joevan Catron returns after receiving a medical redshirt, while LeKendric Longmire, Jeremy Jacob, Teondre Williams, EJ Singler, and Garrett Sim round out the returning rotation. A run to the top half of the league would be an impressive feat for Altman.

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Monday Morning Dump

- Perhaps the most interesting story from the weekend involves LeBron James' old high school, St. Vincent-St. Mary's. You see, they had this kid Jakarr Sampson who is a top 50 player nationally that was being recruited by a number of big-time programs. One of those programs was Xavier, but the Musketeers stopped recruiting Sampson a few months ago. But when Sampson recently make the decision to go to Brewster Academy to prep a year, SVSM head coach Dru Joyce II flipped out on the Xavier staff, saying the Muskies couldn't recruit his players and that "they had made an enemy." The ironic part? The decision to transfer came from Sampson's own mother.

- Here: read this and this for all you need to know about BYU, the MWC, and the WAC. Apparently, Nevada and Fresno's decision to leave the WAC was a complete surprise, and BYU is still likely to leave by Wednesday's deadline.

- Fantastic stuff here from Fanhouse's Ray Holloman on the Big East Tournament and the double-bye.

- Big news coming out of Kentucky as Eloy Vargas, the former Florida forward, has been granted eligibility by the NCAA. While Vargas is far from a DeMarcus Cousins or Enes Kanter, he is 6'11" and a former top 50 recruit. That definitely helps a team that, right now, has just Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson in their front court. Now Coach Cal just needs to get Kanter's former team to send over some records.

- What do you make of John Beilein's slow start at Michigan? He's known as a program turner-arounder (yes, I made that word up, could you tell?) but in three years, his highest win total is 21. Tommy Amaker won more than that in three of his last four seasons.

- Marcus Jordan is being investigated by the Las Vegas Gaming Control board as a result of his tweets last weekend.

- Both the Arizona and the Arizona State basketball programs seem to be on the rise. The Wildcats have Sean Miller and a lot of young talent while Herb Sendek has been doing a fine job on the recruiting trail himself. Its helped to reignite the rivalry, apparently.

- Preston Knowles had been in Pitino's doghouse after assaulting his girlfriend's father. It seems he has worked his way out and is trying to turn his life around.

- Ed Davender gets eight years in a ticket scam at Kentucky.

Here's some interesting video from a 1955 game between Wichita State and Seattle:

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Sunday, August 29, 2010

Kyle Wiltjer commits to Kentucky

Just two shorts weeks ago, Anthony Davis -- the consensus No. 6 recruit in the country -- committed to John Calipari and the Kentucky Wildcats. This set off a flurry of discussion and speculation regarding where UK's 2011 recruiting class, which at the time included Davis, No. 2 Mike Gilchrist, and No. 3 Marquis Teague.

At the time, we said that it was premature to compare the 2011 Kentucky class because we did not believe the class to be complete yet.

It only took 12 days for this theory to prove itself true.

Last night was the BOOST Mobile Elite 24 high school all-star game, and during the game, 6'9" power forward Kyle Wiltjer from Oregon committed to Kentucky. Perhaps the most amazing part of the decision made by Wiltjer, who is the 22nd rated prospect in our rankings, is that he committed to the Wildcats despite having not even visited Kentucky.

Kentucky now has four of the top 22 recruits in the country.
(photo credit: Louisville Courier-Journal)

That is pretty impressive.

Right now, Kentucky is using 11 of their 13 scholarships. Josh Harrellson is a senior, and Jarrod Polson is a walk-on that was given a scholarship for this season, which means that Coach Cal can feasibly give all four 2011 freshmen scholarships. Many believe that Enes Kanter, and possibly Brandon Knight and/or Terrence Jones, will be one-and-done prospects. If that's the case, then its quite possible that Calipari will be able to bring in an even stronger class.

Will Quincy Miller and Deuce Bello decide to head to Lexington? What about DeAndre Daniels, who recently withdrew from his commitment to Texas? (Daniels is headed to prep school, but there are still rumors floating around that he could end up at Kentucky this season.) Tony Wroten? Chane Behanan?

I think its safe to assume Kentucky will be the preseason No. 1 in 2011-2012.

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Saturday, August 28, 2010

Taylor King and CJ Henry NAIA bound

Taylor King and CJ Henry have been in college basketball headlines for the better part of this decade.

I think it is safe to say that this is the last time the majority of the country hears either name.

The 6'6" King originally committed to UCLA as an eighth-grader. Two years later, he backed out on that commitment, eventually signing with Duke. He had a semi-successful freshman season in Durham, proving to be an offensive sparkplug, averaging 5.5 ppg in under 10 minutes. King would leave Duke after one season, landing at Villanova. After sitting out one year per NCAA transfer rules, King had a big impact early for the Wildcats, averaging 12.4 ppg and 6.8 rpg during Nova's 9-0 start. But as Big East season got under way, King saw his minutes decrease before eventually finding himself in Jay Wright's doghouse, getting suspended for the regular season finale against West Virginia as a "teaching moment."

Taylor King couldn't last at Duke or Villanova.
(photo credit: AP)

Shortly after the season ended, King announced that he was voluntarily leaving the basketball team to focus on his degree. That lasted for about two months, when King opted to transfer to USC, where he would sit out a year and finish up his collegiate career in 2011-2012. (King would have only played three seasons, but per NCAA rules, an athlete only has five years to use up his collegiate eligibility. King's career started in 2007-2008.)

Well, that plan lasted for about two weeks until King realized that he would have to pay his way at USC for a year. While we can debate the academic merits of Duke and Villanova versus USC, one thing we can't debate is that $50,000 -- what tuition would have cost King for one year at USC -- is a heck of a lot of money.

So King will finish up his collegiate career with two seasons at Concordia, an NAIA school in California. For those keeping score at home, King went from UCLA to Duke to Villanova to USC to Concordia. That's quite a fall for someone that played in the McDonald's all-american game.

CJ Henry, if you can believe it, may have led a more convoluted path. Henry was a star at Putnam City high as a 6'3" point guard, and while he was not as highly regarded as his younger brother Xavier, CJ was still good enough to sign with Kansas in 2005. But the elder Henry just so happened to be a better baseball player than basketball player, and when the Yankees picked him 17th in the 2005 MLB Draft as a shortstop, a $1.6 million signing bonus was just too much to pass up.

But as his baseball career stalled -- he was hitting .234 in single-A -- Henry began thinking about a basketball career, which was made all the easier by the fact that the Yankees were contractually obligated to pay for his college education. So CJ went to Memphis to play for John Calipari, who coached his father Carl as an assistant at Kansas, in 2008-2009.

CJ Henry wasn't destined to be the next Yankees shortstop.
(photo credit: Blueclaws Blog)

Memphis also happened to be where most analysts believed Xavier was also headed, but when John Calipari left for Kentucky, Xavier and CJ both headed to Kansas. While Xavier became a lottery pick, CJ couldn't get off the bench, playing in just 13 games. With Josh Selby coming in this season and the Jayhawks returning quite a bit of back court talent, playing time once again was going to be limited for CJ.

So he transferred. But instead of going to a D-I school, Henry opted for Southern Nazarene University, another NAIA school. This means that Henry went from Kansas to the Yankees to Memphis back to Kansas and then to Southern Nazarene.

Once again, that's a long way to go for someone who was once picked 17th overall in a draft that has over 50 rounds.

I'm not writing this post to make fun of these two.

Seeing a kid's dreams disintegrate is not a pleasant experience. Some would call it heart-breaking. Others a disappointment.

I call it a wake-up call.

Henry and King were two of the best high school athletes in the country in their respective classes. King was a good enough basketball player to be one of 24 kids selected to the McDonald's all-american team. He showed enough potential as a pre-teen to earn a scholarship offer from UCLA before he even entered high school. CJ Henry was good enough to sign with Kansas even though he spent his springs and summers -- his AAU seasons -- working towards being the next Derek Jeter, not the next Gary Payton.

But being a highly-regarded high school athlete doesn't mean you've "made it"; it means that based on athletic ability, skill level, pedigree, etc., many believe that with hard work you are the most likely to one day "make it."

Nothing in life is guaranteed, and never is that statement more accurate than when discussing prospects in athletics. Ask Steven Strasburg.

Maybe Taylor King can finish strong at Concordia and find himself a contract in Europe. A 6'6" lefty that can rebound a bit, defend a bit, and knock down 25 footers is a guy that will create some interest. But grinding out a living in overseas basketball is a far cry from the glamour and the glory of the NBA's bright lights.

CJ Henry is in a tougher situation. He's already 24. A return to baseball is unrealistic. If he finishes his four years of college, he'll be 27, which is smack in the middle of his athletic prime. Not many 27 year old product of the NAIA are going to be getting NBA contracts.

Perhaps the best case scenario for both is to focus on becoming more of a student than an athlete. Both are getting their education paid for. Get good grades, get a degree, and perhaps when their athletic careers come to a close -- whenever that may be -- they can be successful working stiffs like the rest of us. There's nothing wrong with working a 9-5, trying to avoid a hangover for your Saturday morning men's league game before getting good and hammered at your Saturday afternoon softball game.

The biggest issue here is that the plight of guys like Taylor King and CJ Henry never gets told. How often do you hear a big-time prospect in any sport say "I need to keep my grades up in case basketball/football/baseball/hockey doesn't work out"? Every so often you'll hear a story about guys like Ed O'Bannon or Ndudi Edi or Lenny Cooke or any of the countless stars that never made it. Generally, these stories are of the "Where are they now?" variety.

At the same time, you see someone like Lance Stephenson -- who barely found his way into college and most recently threw his girlfriend down a flight of stairs -- or Daniel Orton -- a kid that averaged 3.4 ppg and 3.3 rpg in one year of college basketball where he stopped going to class after one semester -- making millions in the NBA.

The busts outweigh the guys that get rich tenfold.

Which stories do you think the next CJ Henry and the next Taylor King are paying attention too?

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Jordan Hamilton has the talent, but he needs the shot selection

Talent is a prerequisite for anyone with a desire to play basketball at the D-I level.

What, exactly, do I mean by talent?

Height. Wingspan. Athleticism, and more than just an impressive vertical leap. Ball-handling. An offensive repertoire. Defensive ability. A jump-shot. With range. How much of each a player has can vary with position, and within a position (i.e. you can be super-athletic without a jump shot or relatively unathletic with 30 foot range, but you can’t be both unathletic and without a jumper) but at the end of the day there is an undefined level of "overall talent" a player needs in order to be able to compete as a high-major D-I basketball player.

But talent alone won't make you a star.

Take a look at Jordan Hamilton.

Jordan Hamilton has the potential to be a star this year.
(photo credit: SBNation)

Hamilton is a rising sophomore at Texas with as much god-given ability as just about anyone at his position. A 6'7" wing, Hamilton is a natural scorer. He's athletic enough to get to the rim and finish, he has the range to be a three-point threat, and he has the body control to be effective in the mid-range.

If you were to build a mold for a wing scorer, it would be Hamilton. That's why every recruiting service considered him one of the top ten prospects in the country.

But talent alone didn’t make Hamilton a star for the Longhorns. Sure, he had some great games -- his second half domination of a good Oklahoma State team was one of the most memorable performances of the season -- but he also shot just 41% from the field and saw less than 20 minutes of action in 15 games. He played just two minutes in a Texas loss to Baylor just two days before the Oklahoma State game.

There was one reason, and one reason alone, for Hamilton's inconsistent minutes: shot selection.

And, as Hamilton told Mike DeCourcy of the Sporting News, he learned his lesson.

"All shots aren't good shots; I learned that last year," Hamilton told DeCourcy. "When I have good teammates who can play, I don't have to shoot the ball every time. High school is much different than in college. Maybe shots that I could get away with in high school, I definitely can’t get away with in college level. A couple of bad shots can build up a lead for another team."

One of the most difficult transitions for a scorer and volume shooter moving from high school to college is the idea of a great shot. Hamilton was better than just about anyone he faced in high school. He could get any shot he wanted at any time, and with his ability there was no reason for Hamilton not to take the shot.

But in the Big XII the defense is different. Not only are the individual defenders bigger and stronger, but the team defense is that much better. Where he was able to get a decent look at the basket at will in high school, Hamilton’s jumpers were now contested and off-balance. The help side defense that was a step late in high school now is getting to the charge spot. What came easy to Hamilton in high school wasn’t as easy anymore.

As his numbers (and quotes) suggest, Hamilton learned that the hard way.

Odds are pretty good that Rick Barnes is saying "What was that shot!"
(photo credit: Austin Statesman)

With Damion James, Dexter Pittman, and Avery Bradley all off to the professional level, Hamilton – along with freshmen Cory Joseph and Tristan Thompson, as well as sophomore J’Covan Brown – is going to shoulder much more of the offensive load this season. As such, Rick Barnes is going to be faced with a dilemma. You want Hamilton taking smarter shots and taking them within the flow of the offense. But as Hamilton’s performances against OK State and Missouri indicate, this is a player capable of putting up a lot of points in a short period of time. You don’t want to take away from the aggressiveness that makes him such a scoring threat.

You want him to play within the system. You want him to play with, and off of, his teammates. But you also want him to understand that, when he gets it going, there is nothing wrong with taking a game over.

To his credit, Hamilton seemingly now understands this.

If he can translate that understanding into his performance on the court, there is no reason Hamilton can’t develop into an all-american and a first round draft pick.

And it may be sooner than you think.

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Louisville loses Roburt Sallie and Justin Coleman; UConn and Villanova also take a hit

Louisville got some bad news on Friday.

The Cardinals announced that neither Roburt Sallie or Justin Coleman will be joining the team this season. Sallie, a 6'5", 25 year old sharpshooter that spent the last two seasons at Memphis, was trying to take advantage of a rule that allowed students to enroll in graduate school at a different university without having to sit out a year. But "due to the timing requirements of meeting the matriculation deadline for graduate school."

As far as Coleman is concerned, the 6'5" wing, who spent last season at Huntington Prep, was unable to qualify academically.

With Edgar Sosa, Jerry Smith, and Reginald Delk both graduating, there is a big hole on the Cardinals perimeter. Peyton Siva should slide comfortably into the starting point guard role, and Preston Knowles, who has been fully reinstated to the team after some offseason off-the-court trouble, will likely start at the off-guard. That means that sophomore Mike Marra and junior Kyle Kuric (he of the unforgettable 22 point performance against Syracuse) will see quite a bit more time.

The question now is how much does this loss hurt the Cardinals. Sallie was expected to start, Coleman likely would have been the first perimeter player off the bench. But Kuric and Marra both showed the potential to be above average Big East players. Also expect Jared Swopshire to now spend more time playing the three.

Louisville was a borderline NCAA Tournament team with Sallie and Coleman, and while their loss puts a damper on the depth Pitino will have in his back court, it probably doesn't kill their tournament chances.

Louisville isn't the only Big East team that took a hit.

It looks like UConn will now be playing without Ater Majok. Majok was a big time recruit, but it took him a long time to get cleared by the NCAA, finally getting cleared midway through last season. He declared for the 2009 NBA Draft, after sitting out that entire season, but withdrew and was finally declared eligible in December.

Majok, who would be a 23 year old sophomore, had little to no impact on the Huskies. It was obvious the potential was there, but it would take 6'10" Sudanese native a while to grow into that potential.

According to the Hartford Courant, it is likely that Majok will be headed back to Australia, where he played his high school ball, to begin his professional career.

Its tough to hate on this decision. If he does decide to become a professional, he will be doing it to support his family.

And then there is Villanova's James Bell. Bell, a four-star freshman, has stress fractures in both of his tibias. It is unknown how long he will be out.

With the loaded perimeter that Jay Wright has this season, it was unlikely that Bell would have started. But, when he returns, Bell will provide depth and compete for minutes with the likes of Dominic Cheek, Corey Stokes, and Corey Fisher.

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Friday, August 27, 2010

The Only Conference Preview You Need To Read: The SEC

Summer officially ends on September 22nd, but for me, the end of summer always coincided with the end of August. Or when I had to go to school. (That first day was always the worst, wasn't it?) Anyway, school is right around the corner, which means that college basketball season is around the corner, down the street, through two lights, and on the left. Since we've all had a fight with our GPS at one time or another, we at BIAH will take this week to roll out our way-too-early, all-encompassing conference previews.

To browse through the other conferences, click here.

Pre-season Awards

Player of the Year: Trey Thompkins, Georgia

There are three reasons I think Thompkins wins this award. First and foremost, the kid can flat out play, and may very well turn into one of the best big men in the country this year. He has range on his jumper, he can score in the post, he rebounds the ball well. There is not much he cannot do on a basketball court. The second reason is that the SEC is not overloaded with talented big guys. Enes Kanter and Patric Young are freshmen. Who knows what Renardo Sidney is going to be this year, especially on the defensive end. Can Storm Warren guard Thompkins? Brian Williams? JaMychal Green? The third reason is that Georgia does not have much else on their team. Travis Leslie can score, but he gets hustle points more than buckets off of plays that are run for him. Combine Thompkins ability with the fact that he will get a lot of touches against inferior competition, and the chance is there for Trey to become a nationally recognized name by season's end.

And a close second goes to: Chris Warren, Ole Miss

Warren has always been a fantastic scorer for the Rebels. In each of his three seasons with Ole Miss, he has averaged at least 15 ppg, and finished up his junior campaign as a 17 ppg scorer despite coming off of a serious knee injury the year before. Last year, Andy Kennedy had guys like Terrico White and Murphy Holloway, but this year Warren is going to be options A, B, and C. Don't be surprised if he ends up averaging 20 ppg. And while this Ole Miss team loses four of the five starters from last year's club and adds five freshmen, there is potential here. In other words, the Rebels aren't going to finish at the bottom the league.

Breakout Star: John Jenkins, Vanderbilt

Last season, Jenkins proved to be one of the best shooters not just in the conference, but in the country, hitting 48.3% of his long balls. As a freshman on a good Vanderbilt team last year, he also had to defer to Jermaine Beal and AJ Ogilvy. With those two off their pursuing professional careers, Jenkins is going to be the Commodore's No. 1 offensive option. Jeff Taylor, as good as he is, is not a player that you can build an offense around at this point in his career. If Jenkins can develop more of an all-around offensive game beyond his catch-and-shoot ability -- and I think he can, he was a top 15 national recruit and showed a decent offensive repertoire off of close-out situations (pump-fakes, pull-ups, etc.) -- I wouldn't be surprised if he became a potential first-team all-conference performer.

All-Conference First Team:

  • POY - Trey Thompkins, Georgia, Jr.
  • G - Chris Warren, Ole Miss, Sr.
  • G - Brandon Knight, Kentucky, Fr.
  • G - Scotty Hopson, Tennessee, Jr.
  • F - Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt, Jr.
  • F - JaMychal Green, Alabama, Jr./Enes Kanter, Kentucky, Fr.
All-Conference Second Team:
  • G - Travis Leslie, Georgia, Jr.
  • G - John Jenkins, Vanderbilt, So.
  • F - Chandler Parsons, Florida, Sr.
  • F - Marshon Powell, Arkansas, So.
  • F - Tobias Harris, Tennessee, Fr.

Freshman of the Year: Brandon Knight, Kentucky

As much as I want to put Enes Kanter here (and, to tell you the truth, I think -- should he get eligible -- he competes for SEC player of the year), there are just too many question marks regarding his eligibility to assume he will play the whole season, or even enough of the season to warrant such an award. And, let's be honest, it is not like Knight can't play. He is a truly gifted scorer, someone that can go for 30 points when his team needs it. He is more of a combo-scoring guard than a true point, the kind of player that will take a high volume of jump shots. And, given the make up of this Kentucky roster -- youth, lacking interior size and depth -- that may not necessarily be a bad thing to begin the year. If he can develop a bit more of a creator's mentality, there is no reason Knight can't be the next in line of the great Calipari point guards.

All-Freshman Team:
  • G - Trever Releford, Alabama
  • G - Doron Lamb, Kentucky
  • F - Tobias Harris, Tennessee
  • F - Terrence Jones, Kentucky
  • C - Enes Kanter, Kentucky/Patric Young, Florida

What Happened?:
  • Controversy Deluxe: Is it just me, or did it seem like everything that happened this off-season involved a team from Lexington? It started with Terrence Jones, the second recruit that John Calipari was able to pry away from Lorenzo Romar, and his soap opera. If you remember, Jones committed to Washington, then spoke to Calipari on the phone just hours after his commitment. He then waited until the signing deadline to back out on his pledge to Washington and instead head to Kentucky.

    The other player that backed out on Washington was Enes Kanter, a 6'11" monster from Turkey that put 34 points and 14 boards on a USA team that included Terrence Jones. Well, Kanter -- who some believe will be the best big man in the country this season -- may never see a minute in Kentucky blue as he is dealing with amateurism issues from his time in Turkey. Kentucky fans, is it too soon to bring up Pete Thamel's articles?

    That was far from the end of the scandal the Kentucky program faced this year. How about the accusations of academic impropriety against Eric Bledsoe back in May? Or what about the Chicago Sun-Times' assertions that Anthony Davis, a top five player in the class of 2011, had his commitment for sale, and that Kentucky was the highest bidder? And who can forget the back lash that Coach Cal received for his comments on draft night? Never a dull moment...

  • Bruce Pearl, Tennessee, and the invention of lying: First, Bruce Pearl cheated. Then he lied. Then news broke he did it before. Then we found out Tennessee lied too. Yeesh.

  • But wait, there's more: Kentucky wasn't the only team that dealt with their share of controversy this summer. Justin Knox, who graduated from Alabama in just three years, was not allowed to transfer to UAB. It worked out for Knox in the end, as he is headed to North Carolina instead.

    Knox isn't the only player that had to deal with the ridiculous transfer policies in college basketball. Ole Miss' Murphy Holloway decided he wanted to transfer out of Ole Miss in order to be closer to his children, but the Rebels would not grant him a release to attend South Carolina or Clemson. He ended up at South Carolina, but will have to sit out a season and pay his own tuition.

  • More Ole Miss problems: Remember the issues that Andy Kennedy had back in Cincinnati last year? Well, he solved them, settling out of court when the cab driver he allegedly punched apologized to him.

    Then there was Eniel Polynice. Polynice graduated from Ole Miss (he redshirted a year when he blew out his knee), declaring for the NBA Draft. When he found out that he wasn't picked, and learned that Andy Kennedy wasn't too disappointed that he declared, Polynice opted to transfer, ending up at Seton Hall.

  • Mississippi State's trials and tribulations: Dee Bost initially declared for the NBA Draft, and then didn't remove his name before the May 8th deadline. It was until June that he decided he wanted to return to school, which, obviously, was too late. The NCAA is reviewing his decision, although its unlikely Bost will be cleared to return. Then there was Kodi Augustus, who made an appearance on the Real World.

  • I'm glad I'm not Tony Barbee: The first year coach at Auburn lost four of his five starters. The only returner, Frankie Sullivan, is out with a possible season-ending knee injury. So is Ty Armstrong, a potential starter. And his two best recruits -- Luke Cothron, who was top 50, and Shawn Kemp, Jr. -- failed to qualify academically. Yeah, Auburn is screwed. And Tony Barbee may be as well. He's not under contract yet.

  • Or Trent Johnson: LSU lost their best player, Bo Spencer, who was kicked off the team last spring for academic issues. He has since transferred to Nebraska.

    Bo Spencer wasn't only player with academic issues. South Carolina's Austin Steed was asked to leave the program, and Georgia Cady Lalanne did not qualify.

What's Next?:
  • Mississippi State's newest big man: Last season's biggest controversy centered aroud Renardo Sidney, a talented big man that most believed had been the recipient of illegal benefits while in high school. Sidney received his punishment, which essentially ended up being a three semester suspension. Sidney will be allowed to play in the tenth game of the season, and if he can live up to his hype, he could be the piece that Mississippi State needs to make the NCAA Tournament.

  • The SEC West ...: is absolutely awful. There is a legitimate argument to be made that not one western division team is better than the worst eastern division team. I don't necessarily agree with that sentiment, but I don't think that there will be any SEC West teams in the tournament this year.

  • A New SEC Tournament?: Well, its not happening this season, but with the SEC West's struggles, the idea has been floated to seed to SEC Tournament 1-12. Currently, the format equates the first place finisher in the eastern and western divisions, the second place finisher, etc.

  • Scottie Wilbekin starting a trend?: Wilbekin skipped his last year of high school to enroll at Florida early. Trendsetter? Vandy's James Siakam did the same thing.

Power Rankings
  1. Florida: The Gators have a chance to be very, very good this year. They basically bring back the same club from last season. Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton are both talented back court players, although they can use a healthy dose of shot selection. The 5'8" Walker is more of a playmaker, and while Boynton is more the natural scorer, he needs to find more consistency with that jumper; 29% from three won't cut it this year. There isn't a ton of depth in the back court here -- freshman Scottie Wilbekin enrolled early, but he wasn't a terribly highly regarded recruit, Casey Prather is more of a small forward than a guard -- as Ray Shipman and Nimrod Tishman are both gone. Up front, Chandler Parsons -- who may very well have grown another inch -- is back. Parsons is as underrated as anyone in this league. At 6'10", he can shoot, he can create off the dribble, he rebounds the ball, and he has a knack for hitting game-winners. Vernon Macklin and Erik Murphy both return, and although Dan Werner and Alex Tyus are both gone, the Gators bring in plenty along the front line. Will Yeguete and Cody Larson both should be able to contribute, but the x-factor could very well be Patric Young. Young is a big, strong, athletic post player that can rebound and block shots, exactly what Florida was missing last year. There is talent here, and depending on how guys like Parsons and Boynton develop and how good Young ends up being, Florida could very well end up winning the SEC.

  2. Kentucky: John Calipari simply reloaded with this team. Once again heavy on freshmen, this club will be hard-pressed to have as much success as last year's team, however. For starters, they may not even have Enes Kanter, the 6'10" Turkish center that went for 34 and 14 against the best high schoolers in the country, for part or all of the season due to amateurism issues. Whenever Kanter gets eligible, he will be joining Terrence Jones up front. Jones is a versatile 6'10" forward in the mold of a Lamar Odom. The biggest problem for them is that the only other big man on the roster is Josh Harrellson. The back court will be less of an issue. Brandon Knight is this year's star point guard, and while he's a different kind of player than John Wall, he should be a more-than-adequate replacement. Doron Lamb, Stacey Poole -- two more talented freshmen back court players -- and Jon Hood will see time alongside Knight. DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller will split time at small forward. Both are going to be counted on for big years, but Liggins in particular has received quite a bit of praise for his improvement this summer. This freshman class isn't as good as last year's, and there isn't a Patrick Patterson holdover on this team, but there is enough to contend for the SEC title, and possibly make a run at the Final Four in they do, in fact, get Kanter back.

  3. Tennessee: The Vols lost quite a bit of talent to graduation. Tyler Smith, Wayne Chism, Bobby Maze, and JP Prince have all moved on. But there are plenty of reasons to believe that Tennessee can compete for an SEC title. The first is Scotty Hopson, an athletic, 6'7" wing that was a top ten recruit in 2008. Hopson has loads of potential, and with the amount of talent leaving Knoxville, Hopson will be counted on to step up. Another reason is Tobias Harris, a skilled combo-forward that should fit in very well with Bruce Pearl's system. Harris has the skill to play either forward spot at either end of the floor at a high level, and Pearl loves versatile players like that. Beyond those two, there is still a high level of talent on this roster. Cam Tatum, Renaldo Wooldridge, and Skylar McBee will be joined on the perimeter by top 50 swing man Jordan McRae. John Fields, Kenny Hall, and Brian Williams will help Harris man the paint. The biggest question mark is at the point, where the inconsistent Melvin Goins will be joined by Trae Golden. As we have become accustomed to with Pearl, his roster is deep and athletic. Depending on how good Hopson and Harris end up being, Tennessee could very well win the conference, although I think a second- or third-place finish in the East is much more likely.

  4. Vanderbilt: Losing Jermaine Beal and AJ Ogilvy, its difficult to imagine that the Commodores can make a push to the top of a very good SEC East. That said, there are still some very good basketball players on this roster. I don't think I'm alone in thinking that John Jenkins could turn into one of the best scorers in the SEC by the time his career is over. Forward Jeffery Taylor is an athletic specimen and a potential first round draft pick. Brad Tinsley, Andre Walker, and Lance Goulbourne are all capable, versatile role players. Fetsus Ezeli, Steve Tchiengang, and a couple of freshmen will provide the muscle inside. For my money, there will be two x-factors on this club. The first is at the point, where Beal was the man for the last few years. Who replaces him? His importance for Vandy shouldn't be understated. Then there is Rod Odom, a talented 6'8" forward. How good is Odom? If he becomes a capable offensive option to put alongside Taylor and Jenkins, the Commodores may very well end up being a tournament team.

  5. Georgia: Its too bad the Bulldogs play in the loaded SEC East, because this squad legitimately could make a run at the SEC West crown. Big man Trey Thompkins will be, at worst, one of the best front court players in the SEC, and very likely a first round pick come June. A big man with post moves and range is going to be tough to defend at any level. Travis Leslie is as athletic as they come, and its reasonable to expect an improvement on the 15 points and 7 boards he averaged last season. If he develops a jump shot, he too could be a first-rounder. Dustin Ware is a capable point guard, and Jeremy Price, along with freshmen Marcus Thornton and Donte Williams, will be solid players in the front court. Somewhere, a jump shooter is going to have to develop to keep the floor spread and replace Ricky McPhee if Mark Fox wants to take this team to the NCAA Tournament.

  6. Mississippi State: The Bulldogs have a real chance at being a tournament team this year, as the 2010-2011 roster listed on their is talented. The problem? There are major question marks regarding three valuable pieces. Point guard Dee Bost will not be eligible until the start of SEC play (although its an easy argument that Rick Stansbury caught a huge break with Bost even being allowed to play this season). Renardo Sidney has already sat out an entire season, and still has nine games to sit out this season, which is not a good thing for someone that has struggled with weight problems in the past. John Riek was, at one time, considered the best recruit in the country, but after numerous knee surgeries he is a shell of his former self. Having said all that, Bost is one of the most talented point guards in the SEC, and if he can improve decision-making he is an all-conference caliber player. Word out of Starkville is that Sidney has, in fact, dedicated himself to getting in shape, and if so he will be a serious weapon for the Bulldogs. There some help as well. Ravern Johnson is a lanky, 6'7" wing with a deadly jump shot. Kodi Augustus is a live-bodied power forward that can be a weapon when his head is in the game. Rick Stansbury is going to have to develop a bench, which is easier said than done, but playing nine games without Sidney and the entirety of the non-conference schedule without Bost will force some of Stansbury's inexperienced guys to play a larger role. And when you consider the massive road trip this team takes in December -- Virginia Tech in the Bahamas on the 18th, the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu the 22nd-25th, and St. Mary's in Vegas the 29th -- this team should be tested come SEC play. The NCAA Tournament is a very real possibility.

  7. Alabama: Anthony Grant took over the Alabama program before the 2009-2010 season, and this fall he will be bringing in his first recruiting class. Its a solid one, headlined by four-star recruits Trever Releford, a point guard, and 6'8" forward Justin Carter. While the Crimson Tide will lose the very talented Mikhail Torrance, they do bring back some players. Junior power forward JaMychal Green was a big-time recruit two years ago. He's had ups-and-downs throughout his first two years, but averaging 14 and 7 in the SEC is pretty impressive. The rest of the Tide's front line will be inexperienced, as Carter, Carl Engstrom (a 7'1" Swedish freshman), and senior Carl Hines round out the rotation. In the back court, the point guard position is going to be young, but there is experience on the wings. Releford could very well end up being the starter, with sophomore Ben Eblen and JuCo transfer Kendall Durant competing for minutes. On the perimeter, the Tide has some talent. For starters, there is Senario Hillman, a super-athletic but enigmatic senior that has driven Tide fans crazy as he has never quite lived up to his hype. Tony Mitchell had a solid freshman campaign, and if he can iron out some of the inconsistencies, he has a shot to be an all-SEC talent one day. Andrew Steele is a big-bodied defender, and Charvez Davis and Charles Hankerson, Jr., will also see some minutes. This isn't necessarily an NCAA Tournament team, even in the weak SEC West, but Grant's club will win some games.

  8. Ole Miss: The Rebels only return seven players from last year's team. They lose two-thirds of their starting back court, as Terrico White left for the NBA and Eniel Polynice left due to issues with the coaching staff. Murphy Holloway, the Rebels best front court player, transferred to South Carolina to be closer to his family and DeAundre Cranston graduated, meaning that only one starter is back for Andy Kennedy. The good news is that the one returner just so happens to be Chris Warren. Warren is small, but he is one of the best pound-for-pound scorers in the country and has been for two and a half seasons (he blew out his knee as a sophomore). Beyond that, however, Ole Miss is full of question marks. Zach Graham and Trevor Gaskins are both solid performers on the perimeter that could very well see a bump in production with the availability of back court minutes this season. The same could be said for Terrence Henry and Reginald Buckner in the front court. With the addition of a fairly solid five man recruiting class, it seems that positional battles for playing time will be fairly intense for Ole Miss this season. The scary part here? Despite all this uncertainty, Ole Miss is one of the two favorites to win the SEC West.

  9. South Carolina: The Gamecocks are going to be in some trouble this year. They lost four of their top five from last season, including the diminutive Devan Downey, and play in the wrong division of the SEC. Despite that turnover, I still like what the Gamecocks bring back. Sophomore guards Ramon Galloway, who is out for another couple of weeks with a foot injury, and Lakeem Jackson both showed flashes of promise as freshman, and with the increased number of minutes and shots they will get this season, both should be primed for big seasons. Sam Muldrow is a solid rebounder and very good shot blocker. Steve Spinella and Johndre Jefferson will both need to develop into capable role players, and with a six man recruiting class, Darrin Horn is going to devote a lot minutes to freshman, but there are some pieces here. A trip to the NCAA Tournament may be a bit of a stretch, but I think this team will, at the least, throw a couple of scares into the big boys in the SEC East.

  10. Arkansas: The Razorbacks lose quite a bit of talent from last year's crew. Courtney Fortson, Michael Washington, and Stefan Walsh are all gone. But with them goes their troubles -- Fortson and Walsh always seemed to be suspended. There are two reasons for Arkansas fans to have hope this season -- Rotnei Clarke and Marshon Powell. Clarke may just be the best shooter in the country. He's a kid that has to be face-guarded at all times, as he has range out to about 28 feet and needs just a split-second to get his shot off. Then there is sophomore Marshon Powell, a 6'7" forward that put up some impressive games as a freshman. He was a bit inconsistent, but that is expected of a freshman counted on as heavily as Powell was. Beyond that, there are a lot of question marks. Pelphrey brings in three freshmen, headlined by top 100 recruit Rickey Scott, but no one is really a program changer. There are five more rotational guys returning as well, but not a ton of size and certainly not much offensive punch. Enjoy watching Powell play. Appreciate Clarke's picture perfect jumper. But don't expect too many wins.

  11. Auburn: Tony Barbee takes over an Auburn program that doesn't have much going for it. Five of the Tigers top six graduate from a team that went 15-17 last season. The only guy that returns is Frankie Sullivan, a double-digit scorer that dropped 27 on Florida in the SEC Tournament that also underwent off-season knee surgery. His timetable for return is unknown. Ty Armstrong, another returnee and possible starter, also has a season-ending knee injury. Andre Malone and Earnest Ross, two sophomore guards that combined to average 5.5 ppg and 3.3 rpg, are the only players that were in the rotation last season that will be ready to go this year. Barbee did have some talent coming in -- Luke Cothron is a top 50 recruit, and Shawn Kemp, Jr. (yes, that Shawn Kemp), is borderline top 100 -- but neither of them were able to qualify academically. Adrian Forbes, Josh Langford, and Allen Payne are freshmen that will actually join the fray. The Tigers are going to have a rough go of it this season.

  12. LSU: Trent Johnson is going to have another long season in Baton Rouge. Tasmin Mitchell graduates, and Bo Spencer is kicked off the team. The Tigers do return Storm Warren, a junior power forward that has the potential to put up big numbers. But what else returns? Garrett Green? Dennis Harris? Aaron Dotson? Eddie Ludwig? They bring in four three-star recruits and one four-star (Matt Derenbecker) but no program changers. That 2006 Final Four run seems like a long time ago.

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