Monday, October 31, 2011

Kaleb Tarczewski caps a wild recruiting day by committing to Arizona

Monday was a wild day on the recruiting front, but easily the biggest news involved Kaleb Tarczewski.

The talented seven-footer and the No. 8 player in the country according to our latest Consensus Recruiting Rankings chose Arizona over Kansas, filling out what is now the nation's No. 1 recruiting class for 2012, which also includes Brandon Ashley (6th), Grant Jerrett (29th) and Gabe York (32nd).

We've already talked at length about how Arizona is building themselves up to be a potential national title contender. That post came before Arizona got the commitment from Tarczewski, which should tell you something about how good this can be in the next couple of years.

There is more to this commitment than just Sean Miller continuing to clean up on the recruiting trail, however. Has any marquee head coach had less success on the recruiting trail than Bill Self the past two or three years? Xavier Henry and Josh Selby were both busts when you consider the amount of effort that went into recruiting them and the production they provided in their one season on campus. Since 2008, four players -- Quintrell Thomas, Tyrone Appleton, Royce Wooldridge and CJ Henry -- have transferred out of the program. That transfer list doesn't include the three players -- Ben McLemore, Jamari Traylor and Braedon Anderson -- that failed to qualify in this year's recruiting class.

And now Self has been beaten out for Tarczewski, a guy he focused on recruiting instead of local product Willie Cauley. (Cauley, ironically enough, also made his collegiate decision today, picking Kentucky over Kansas State.) Its not all bad for Kansas, however. They did earn a commitment from Perry Ellis, a top 50 recruit and Kansas native.

Cauley and Tarczewski were just the tip of the iceberg in what proved to be a busy day for the Pac-12.

Rosco Allen, a 6'9" swingman out of Bishop Gorman high school in Las Vegas ranked 68th in our Consensus Recruiting Rankings, committed to Stanford over UNLV. Allen joins Christian Sanders and Grant Verhoeven in Johnny Dawkins' class of 2012. With the amount of young talent currently on the Stanford roster, the future is bright in Palo Alto.

Also out on the west coast, Dominic Artis (56th), a 5'11" point guard out of Southern California, committed to Oregon. Artis was previously committed to UCLA, but he reneged when the Bruins landed Kyle Anderson. According to Neal Nieves of Coast 2 Coast Recruiting, it went down like this: Artis was unhappy when UCLA accepted a commitment from Anderson, who is considered a point guard despite being 6'8". On the last day that in-home recruiting visits were allowed, Oregon visited with Artis, who promptly decommitted from the Bruins. Since UCLA wasn't allowed to have another in-home visit, Oregon continued working Artis until they had the commitment.

I think its safe to say the Pac-12 won't be the laughing stock of college hoops in the very near future.

And just imagine what happens if (when? ...) Shabazz Muhammad commits to UCLA.

As always, highlights of Tarczewski:



And Artis:

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2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: No. 5 Syracuse Orange

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

Last Season: 27-8, 12-6 (t-3rd Big East), lost to Marquette in the second round of the NCAA Tournament

Head Coach: Jim Boeheim

Key Losses: Rick Jackson

Newcomers: Rakeem Christmas, Michael Carter-Williams, Trevor Cooney

Projected Lineup:

- G: Scoop Jardine, Sr.
- G: Brandon Triche, Jr.
- F: Kris Joseph, Sr.
- F: CJ Fair, So.
- C: Fab Melo, So.
- Bench: Rakeem Christmas, Fr., Dion Waiters, So. Michael Carter-Williams, Fr.; James Southerland, Jr.; Baye Moussa-Keita, So.; Trevor Cooney, Fr.

Outlook: Last season was a bit disappointing for Syracuse fans. They started the season out 18-0, climbing to as high as third in the national polls. But they followed that up with a four games losing streak and six losses in eight games. The Orange were able to rebound by closing out the regular season on a five game winning streak, but they were never quite able to find the rhythm that made them so successful early in the season. Scoop Jardine was at times an all-american and at times deserving to be benched. Fab Melo was no where to be found. Kris Joseph never quite became the superstar that everyone expected. And despite all of those issues, Syracuse still managed to finished tied for third in a very strong Big East and make it to the second round of the NCAA Tournament.

The only player that the Orange lost off that team was Rick Jackson. And while Jackson was one of the best players in the conference last season, with the amount of talent that Syracuse brings back there should be no surprise that folks in Upstate New York consider this the Orange's best team since Carmelo Anthony was a collegian. This team lacks the star power that group had, but what it lacks in name-recognition it makes up for with depth and balance.

Syracuse will have one of the most experienced back courts in the country this season. Scoop Jardine is one of the more polarizing players in the Big East. He's clearly a talented scorer and playmaker; he averaged 12.5 ppg and a league-high 5.9 apg last season. The knock on Jardine is his decision-making and his consistency. He shot the ball just 41.5% from the floor and turned it over nearly three times per game. Some games he was sensational -- he went for 20 points and eight dimes at Villanova and 13 points and 13 assists against Marquuette. Some games he was atrocious -- like the two points and three assists he had on 1-8 shooting at home against Villanova or the 2-11 performance, including a number of atrocious decisions late in the game, he had in a loss to UConn. If Jardine can eliminate the questions about which player shows up in a given games -- keeping his off-nights less, well, off -- he becomes much more valuable as a leader.

Joining Triche on the perimeter will be the same two players as last season. Kris Joseph is an uber-athletic small forward with the potential for being a lottery pick. He was hyped as the replacement to Wes Johnson last season, and while he didn't quite live up to those expectations, he's still a mighty-good Big East swingman. Its says something about you as a player when 14.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg, and 1.5 spg is considered a bit of a disappointing year. Triche needs to be a steadying influence in the back court. He's more of a natural point guard than he is an off-guard, but with Jardine joining him, he doesn't need to be the primary playmaker for this group. He needs to avoid turning the ball over, facilitate the sets Boeheim wants to run offensively and knock down open threes when he has them. There's no reason he can't succeed in that role.

There is more than enough depth on the Syracuse perimeter. Dion Waiters was expected to transfer during the offseason, but the sophomore is back in the fold and should be an important piece of Boeheim's bench. Waiters is a big-time scorer and should be a weapon as instant offense. Freshmen Michael Carter-Williams is another talented scorer coming off the bench. He became more of a playmaker throughout his high school career. Trevor Cooney will also see minutes as a sharp-shooter off the bench.

The front court is where the issues lie for the Orange. Most importantly, who is going to fill the role vacated by Rick Jackson? His value as a defender and a rebounder in the middle of that zone cannot be overstated. There are three players that will get the opportunity to proof their worth up front. The first will, in all likelihood, end up being Fab Melo. Melo has had all kinds of issues since the native Brazilian enrolled at Syracuse. He was out of shape and in Boeheim's doghouse much of last season, getting the start a number of games only to never see the court again when he was pulled. Then there was the incident over the summer where he was arrested for assaulting his girlfriend, which may not have been the first time that happened. If Melo does put it all together, he's a legitimate seven-footer that is a potential lottery pick. As of now, that's still a big 'if'.

If Melo can't figure it out this year, freshman Rakeem Christmas and sophomore Baye Moussa-Keita will likely reap the playing time benefits. Moussa-Keita didn't play much last season, but when he did he had a fairly significant impact on the glass and blocking shots. His length and athleticism is ideal for the 2-3 zone Boeheim likes to play. Christmas may be an even better shot blocker than Moussa-Keita. He's another lauded freshman that is long and athletic. The issue with those two is that there won't be much offense, or size -- combined, they may not weight 400 lb --provided from the center spot when they are on the floor.

The x-factor for this lineup will be CJ Fair. Fair was the least touted of the Syracuse freshmen last season, but he had the biggest impact. He came on strong late in the season, and the athletic combo-forward will push for the starting power forward spot this year. He can do a lot of different things on the floor and should have a major impact this season. James Southerland, who had a couple of big games in the middle of the year, is a perfect fit for Boeheim's system given his size, length and ability to shoot the ball.

Syracuse has all the pieces this season. They are as talented as any team in the Big East. It will be interesting to see just how all the pieces come together -- who starts in the front court, where does the Orange three point shooting come from, will Jardine be a leader, etc. -- but there is no reason that this team can't compete for the Big East title and a trip to the Final Four.
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Missouri helps raise $100,000 for Joplin

Missouri beat Missouri Southern 114-68 on Sunday night, but the final score wasn't what mattered.

The $100,000 did.

That's what the game, dubbed the One State, One Spirit Classic, raised for Joplin, MO, the town where Missouri Southern is located. Its also the town that was absolutely devastated by an F5 tornado on May 22nd, a storm that killed 116 people and completely wiped sections of Joplin off the map. Missouri Southern is not a bad basketball team -- they are ranked in the top five in Division II and have a couple of players that looked like they could get minutes for the Tigers -- but this game wasn't played for the competition, as Dana O'Neil explains:

Each person in the sellout crowd represented a donation, as did the T-shirts sold at the concessions and the commemorative chairs auctioned during the game. More than money, though, Missouri brought a welcome distraction for a community that is still clearing debris and rebuilding five months later. When Haith dreamed up this game, he did it with the attention of redirecting attention back to Joplin once the news trucks left and the next big story came along.
And that's precisely what this game did, even briefly. The news cycle keeps on spinning, so while all the attention was on Joplin when the storm struck, eventually the stories get repetitive and news breaks elsewhere. People move on and forget, and that's something that Frank Haith didn't to let happen.

He gets the credit for this game, by the way. It was his idea to play this game and his effort to get it cleared by the NCAA.

So with that in mind, we will link you to two must-read stories on the disaster -- Dana O'Neil's and Luke Dittrich's.

In terms of actual basketball, Phil Pressey and Mike Dixon both played well in the back court, but Missouri's Achilles' heel was abundantly clear. Without Laurence Bowers, they are small. Kim English played a lot of four last night, and while he held his own, only time will tell if the same will be true in the meat of the Big 12 schedule. The potential is there for this team to be successful, but its going to depend on how well they are able to make up for that lack of size inside.
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2011-2012 Season Preview: Breakout Players

One of my favorite things to do during the preseason is try and identify the guys that will have breakout years in the upcoming season.

Unlike Luke Winn, I'm not using any mathematical formulas to make these determinations. Instead, its a combination of young players that have looked promising early in their careers, talented role players that are in a position to take on a much larger role in the offense or simply kids that I have a hunch on. This list is not scientific, but we do believe it to be all-encompassing.

Here's the catch -- too many of these lists have been done already. Everyone has written that Thomas Robinson, Jeremy Lamb and Terrence Ross have a chance to be all-americans this season. We all know that Terrell Stoglin and DeShaun Thomas are expected to have monster sophomore years. So we went a little deeper.

Without further ado, here is our list of 20 players -- and 10 extras -- that we expect to have a big 2011-2012 season:

To browse through the rest of our Season Previews, click here.

Keith Appling, So., Michigan State: Appling came into East Lansing with some significant hype. That's generally what happens when you're a McDonald's all-american and you join a program like the Spartans. And while his minutes and shots were limited thanks to the presence of Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers, Appling did show off an impressive jump shot, knocking down 41.1% of his threes, which is a good sign given the reputation he had as a slasher and a driver in high school. Appling will the primary ball-handler for Michigan State, but the offense will run through playmaking power forward Draymond Green. That will allow Appling to be aggressive as a scorer, a role I expect him to thrive in this year.

Tarik Black, So., Memphis: On a team that boasts already Joe Jackson and Will Barton, would you believe me if I told you that Tarik Black was the sophomore on the Memphis Tigers? What if I told you that he was the most likely to win the Conference USA Player of the Year award, would you believe that? Black spent much of last season out of shape and in foul trouble. He's still on the road to recovery from a knee injury he suffered during his junior year of high school. But despite those problems, Black still came on very strong late in the season, finishing the year with averages of 9.2 ppg, 5.3 rpg and 1.6 bpg. After spending the summer working out with Frank Matrisciano, Black, who is one of the most aggressive offensive rebounders in the country and an excellent shot blocker, is in the best shape of his life. That's a scary thing to hear for Conference USA opponents.

Rob Brandenberg, So., and Juvonte Reddic, So., VCU: There are a ton of minutes available for the Rams this season Shaka Smart's club lost four of their top five scorers from the Final Four team. Bradford Burgess does return to anchor this roster, but he's going to need help, and both Brandenberg and Reddic seem primed for big years. Brandenberg, a 6'2" sophomore and an athletic slasher, had a some big performances in the middle of the season -- including a couple of 20 points outbursts -- before an injury in February slowed his progress. Reddic didn't see a ton of minutes, but he was a well-regarded recruit and he has the kind of talent that should allow him to fill in for the production lost with Jamie Skeen's graduation.

Allen Crabbe, So., Cal: Allen Crabbe may have already broken out. After struggling for the first 13 games of last season, the 6'6" sophomore wing flourished when Gary Franklin decided to leave the team and transfer to Baylor. Crabbe, who averaged just 8.4 ppg with Franklin in the lineup, scored 16.9 ppg the rest of the way. That number would be even higher if it wasn't for an injury he suffered at Washington in February. I wouldn't be surprised if he led the Pac-12 in scoring this season.

Jared Cunningham, Jr., Oregon State: There aren't many players in the country that can claim to be remotely as athletic as Jared Cunningham. The 6'4" wing is a physical specimen when it comes to playing the perimeter at this level. He's got an outstanding vertical, he's got an impressive wingspan and he's very quick, both laterally and with his first step. That's a major reason why he's one of the best defenders in the country; he averaged 2.8 spg last season. But what's most intriguing about Cunningham is he's no where near a finished product. While he led the Beavers in scoring last season at 14.2 ppg, he did it mostly as a spot-up shooter, attacking the offensive glass and scoring points in transition. What happens when the 20 year old becomes adept at beating his man off the dribble and scoring in the mid-range?

Seth Curry, Jr., Duke: The key for Duke this season may end up being how well Seth Curry plays. Duke is going to be talented but unproven at every position on the floor next year. Austin Rivers will likely go through the ups and downs that freshmen have. The only thing the Plumlees have done consistently in their careers has been being inconsistent. Ryan Kelly has some hype, but he still needs to prove it in the ACC. Alex Murphy and Michael Gbinije are freshmen. Curry will have to be the anchor for this team, a leader that can create shots in crunch-time and understands how to distribute the ball. Curry needs to embrace the role of being a point guard.

CJ Fair, So., Syracuse: A member of the same recruiting class as Dion Waiters and Fab Melo, CJ Fair actually turned out to be the most productive and promising freshmen Jim Boeheim recruited. After a relatively ho-hum start to the season, Fair was thrust into the national spotlight when he scored 16 points and grabbed nine rebounds against Pitt in mid-January. Fair averaged 7.9 ppg over the final 17 games, putting up a couple of impressive performances. A lefty, the 6'8" combo-forward is a terrific athlete that understands how to make plays with his athleticism -- offensive rebounds, steals, blocks. As his skills develop, Fair will only become a more dangerous player.

Erick Green, Jr., Virginia Tech: I actually think that Virginia Tech is going to just as good as, if not better, than they were the past few seasons with Malcolm Delaney running the show. Green is the reason for that. He didn't start to see significant minutes until Dorenzo Hudson had his season cut short with a broken foot, but he was very good when he finally got into the lineup. Green averaged 11.7 ppg and 2.7 apg while posting a 2.3:1 assist-to-turnover ratio. He did that despite Delaney dominating possession of the ball. Expect a big season out of Green as Tech's point guard this year.

Tim Hardaway Jr, So., Michigan: Tim Hardaway Jr. is in a similar position to both Jeremy Lamb and Allen Crabbe. After spending the first part of his freshman season as a role player for the Wolverines, Hardaway really came on strong down the stretch. He gave John Beilein a second go-to scoring option alongside Darius Morris, and his play late in the year was a huge reason Michigan was able to win eight of their last 11 games and sneak into the NCAA Tournament. With Morris making the jump to the NBA, even more responsibility will fall onto Hardaway's shoulders. He should be ready to handle it.

Sean Kilpatrick, So., and Yancy Gates, Sr., Cincinnati: Part of the reason I think that Cincinnati is going to be a sneaky-good team in the Big East this season is that I am expecting big years out of both Gates and Kilpatrick, albeit for different reasons. Gates has always been one of the most talented players in the conference, but conditioning and effort were an issue. A mid-season suspension was the wake-up call he needed, however, and Gates averaged 15.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg and 1.3 bpg over the final 10 games. Kilpatrick, on the other hand, was a high-efficiency, high-volume shooter last season. He averaged 9.7 ppg but only averaged around 20 mpg. It will be interesting to see what he is able to do in a more focal role this year.

Khyle Marshall, So., Butler: Marshall had a promising freshman campaign with the Bulldogs, putting together a pair of impressive performances during the Bulldog's run to the national title game. Marshall is not your typical Butler player. He's a terrific athlete, the kind of guy that normally gets scooped up to ride the bench of a high-major program. Marshall is an excellent rebounder (especially on the offensive end of the floor) and defender, and playing alongside Andrew Smith, that's about all he is going to be asked to do. Expect a significant bump from the 5.8 ppg and 3.8 rpg he averaged last season.

Rodney McGruder, Jr., Kansas State: McGruder was a bystander like the rest of us, a witness to the late-season performances from Jacob Pullen as he carried the Wildcats to the NCAA Tournament last season. That said, McGruder did have some of his best games late in the season, particularly when it came to scoring the ball. There isn't much that McGruder doesn't do well at this level. He can shoot (40.8% from three), he can rebound (6.0 rpg) and he can score (11.4 rpg). He's a high-efficiency player that has already begun to embrace the role of being the leader for this team.

Brandon Paul, Jr., and DJ Richardson, Jr., Illinois: Illinois lost five of their top eight players from last season, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. Demetri McCamey and Jereme Richmond were head cases and distractions, their loss ending up being addition by subtraction. With all those players leaving, it opens up quite a few minutes and shots for Paul and Richardson, both juniors. Richardson is a better shooter than Paul, but Paul is a more dangerous all-around player, especially on the offensive end of the floor. Expect them to become the first and second options offensively this year.

Andre Roberson, So., Colorado: Roberson wax an unheralded recruit coming out of high school, but at 6'7" with long arms and terrific athleticism, Roberson quickly proved his value to Big 12 opponents. Playing just 22.3 mpg, Roberson averaged 7.8 rpg, finishing in the top 25 of both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage. He was also a terror on the defensive end, where he was among the Big 12 leaders in steals and blocks. Right now, Roberson's strength lies in the things he can do without the ball -- rebound, defend, cut to the basket -- but with Colorado losing so much talent from last season, there will be plenty of opportunities for him to score this season. Here's to hoping Roberson put in the work this summer on his offensive arsenal.

Maalik Wayns, Jr., and Mouphtaou Yarou, Jr., Villanova: The obvious pick here is Jeremy Lamb of UConn. The trendy pick is Sean Kilpatrick of Cincinnati. So in order to buck that trend, I'll go with Villanova's two elder statesmen. The Wildcats have almost no hype heading into this season. Having flamed out in the postseason the past two years and losing four key pieces from that team, you wouldn't be wrong to ignore Villanova heading into the year. But I like the makeup of this team. I think they have similar pieces at the two, three and four to the group that made the Final Four run in 2009, but I also think that with the opportunity to take over the role of the star, both Wayns and Yarou will shine. Both players are impressive talents that were forced to play third and fourth fiddle to the two Coreys last season. If Wayns has gotten his jumper more consistent and Yarou has become a better low-post scorer, I think those two will carry a Villanova team that will rely more heavily on the defensive end of the floor than we are used to.

Kendall Williams, So., New Mexico: Williams can flat out play. As a third or fourth option for the Lobos as a freshman, Williams -- who won the freshman of the year award in the MWC -- finished with averages of 11.5 ppg and 4.0 apg despite playing alongside Dairese Gary. Gary graduated in the offseason, which means that Williams, along with Drew Gordon, will become the center of the New Mexico attack. To get an idea of what kind of production can be expected, Williams scored 18 points in both of the Lobo's NIT games after Gary suffered a season-ending knee injury.

Ten more players to keep an eye on:

Mike Breusewitz, Jr., Wisconsin
Jordan Clarkson, So., Tulsa
Tyreek Duren, So., La Salle
Langston Galloway, So., St. Joseph's
Stephen Holt, So., St. Mary's
Cedrick Lindsay, So., Richmond
Dundrecous Nelson, So., Ole Miss
Jake Odum, So., Indiana State
Devon Saddler, So., Delaware
Peyton Siva, Jr., Louisville

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Monday Morning Dump

- What is going to be the best non-BCS conference in 2011-2012?

- A good-read on how the new NCAA rule changes effect the America East Conference

- Two Winthrop players were arrested last week, but according to them, they "were just trying to help"

- Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson have been suspended by Kansas head basketball coach Bill Self for the first two exhibition games

- More news on the Michael Beasley lawsuit. Yup, I totally agree

- Mike Miller provides a solid list of breakout candidates that the casual fan might not know about

- Jeff Eisenberg provides a list of five Pac-12 freshman who could provide an instant impact

- Villanova is concerned about the school's security in the unknown future of the Big East

- There are seven thing VCU fans want to see from their CAA brethren

- Will the departure of Derrick Williams hurt the production of Kyle Fogg? After Arizona's exhibition loss to Seattle-Pacific, is certainly looks that way

- With the graduation of scoring-machine Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall Pirates will have to rely on Herb Pope to do a bulk of the producing. Speaking of Seton Hall, freshman Kevin Anderson has been declared ineligible to compete by the NCAA

- Utah-transfer Jace Tavita has decided to redshirt this season at Hawaii instead of waiting til January to become eligible

- JuCo-transfer Guy Landry has been declared ineligible for his first eight games at Gonzaga

- Butler is gearing up for yet another Final Four run

- A team preview of the Oral Roberts Golden Eagles, the preseason favorites to win the Summit League

- Seth Curry, Ryan Kelly and M. Plumlee were named co-captains for the 2011-2012 Duke Blue Devils

- Duke beat Bellarmine by 25-points in an exhibition game

- Montana had their maroon-and-silver scrimmage this weekend

- Pitt defeated some school called "LaRoche" 101-33 in an exhibition game

- A recap of Weber State's purple-and-white scrimmage

- UNC won their exhibition opener again Pembroke

- But the real story of exhibition week was the event that took place in Joplin, MO

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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Tyshawn Taylor, Elijah Johnson suspended

This post can also be found at Beyond the Arc.

Late on Sunday night, Bill Self announced that his starting back court of Tyshawn Taylor and Elijah Johnson will be suspended for both of the team's exhibition games.

"Tyshawn and Elijah have both been terrific since school began in August," Self said in a statement. "They've not only performed well, they have been very responsible and disciplined the first few months of the school year. But during the offseason they violated a rule that I told them, because of some past experiences, their punishment was going to be severe and I was going to hold them out of the two exhibition games. They have been aware of this for several months and also are disappointed but have had very positive attitudes about it."

Its easy to write this off as a non-issue.

The rules violation happened in the summer and Taylor and Johnson have been well-behaved since then. They are also only going to miss exhibitions. If the suspension is for games that don't count, is it really a suspension at all?

Its also not that simple. Kansas is an inexperienced team this season. They lost a lot of players that played a lot of minutes over the past two or three years. A lot of players -- Taylor and Johnson included -- are going to be adapting to playing new roles this season. That's the benefit of the exhibitions. It affords an opportunity to practice your offensive and defensive sets against an opponent that isn't simply wearing their practice jersey on the opposite color. That's a valuable experience for anyone, let alone a team with so many new pieces that will be facing off with Kentucky just a week after the second of the two exhibitions.

There's a bigger issue here as well. Taylor, and to a lesser extent Johnson, are supposed to be the veteran leaders for Kansas this year. Both were suspended from the team last season, however, and Taylor also played a large role in inciting the brawl with the Jayhawk football team.

And now they have been suspended during an important time for a rebuilding Kansas team. Is that the kind of maturity you want your veteran leaders and starting back court to show? Can Bill Self truly rely upon these two players when both of them have been suspended multiple times from the team?

Kansas is not a deep team this season. With Thomas Robinson's knee injury, one sprained ankle in Monday's practice means they will be starting a walk-on in their exhibition on Tuesday. Taylor and Johnson are critical to Kansas having a shot at winning the Big 12 title.

If you're a Kansas fan, is that something that makes you comfortable?
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Friday, October 28, 2011

2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: No. 6 Duke Blue Devils

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

Last Season: 32-5, 13-3 (2nd ACC), lost to Arizona in the Sweet 16

Head Coach: Mike Krzyzewski

Key Losses: Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, Kyrie Irving

Newcomers: Austin Rivers, Michael Gbinije, Quinn Cook, Marshall Plumlee, Alex Murphy,

Projected Lineup:

- G: Seth Curry, Jr.
- G: Austin Rivers, Fr.
- F: Alex Murphy, Fr.
- F: Ryan Kelly, Jr.
- C: Miles Plumlee, Sr.
- Bench: Marshall Plumlee, Fr.; Mason Plumlee, Jr.; Ty Thornton, So.; Quinn Cook, Fr.; Michael Gbinije, Fr.; Andre Dawkins, Jr.; Josh Hairston, So.

Outlook: The Blue Devils had a wild ride in 2010-2011. With essentially everyone returning from their 2010 National Title team, Duke was the consensus favorite to repeat as champs in 2011. Early in the season, that prediction appeared accurate, as Kyrie Irving was having a Player of the Year kind of season. Irving went down with a toe injury in December that eventually kept him off the court until March. In the meantime, Nolan Smith turned into a legitimate Player of the Year candidate. All of this happened while Kyle Singler continued to have his standard, ho-hum, first-team all-ACC caliber season.

But despite all that talent, the Blue Devils had a crippling flaw -- they never got the production for the interior that they needed. Combine that lack of balance with the disarray that Duke was thrown into when Irving returned from his injury, and Duke bowed out of the NCAA Tournament after their worst defensive performance of the season against Arizona.

This season, the Blue Devils are almost devoid of hype. That's what happens when you play in the same conference as the team everyone is projecting to be the best in the country (UNC this year). And while the rest of the country is talking about UNC and Kentucky, UConn and Ohio State, the Blue Devils have quietly reloaded.

It will start with the back court for Duke. Austin Rivers is going to be the guy that gets all of the attention, and that isn't necessarily wrong. A superstar freshman that will remind folks of a young Jay Williams, Rivers is the total package when it comes to being a scorer. He can shoot from anywhere on the court, he can get to the basket and finish above the rim, and he can score in the mid-range. He tends to be a bit streaky, but when he gets it going, Rivers can put on some absolutely incredible scoring displays. If there is a knock on Rivers, its that he may be too cocky. He carries himself with an arrogance that will instantly make him hated by every rival fan. Sometimes that cockiness can lead to Rivers being, for lack of a better term, a ballhog. Shot selection and limiting turnovers will be a key for him this season.

While Rivers gets all the press, Seth Curry may actually end up being the more valuable back court player. Steph's little brother will get the chance to start this season at the point, and there are some that are predicting a huge year out of the fourth-year junior. I'm not as sold as them. What we do know about Curry is that he is a lights-out shooter that is dangerous when he gets in a rhythm. We also know he is a capable creator than doesn't turn the ball over. But is he truly a point guard? Is he prepared to run a team? He may be, but we will have to wait and see.

Duke's back court will have quite a bit of depth as well. Sharp shooting Andre Dawkins will see time on the wing, as will talented freshman Michael Gbinije, a fundamentally sound, 6'7" small forward. Another talented freshman, Quinn Cook, and a gritty sophomore, Ty Thornton, will back-up Curry at the point. The x-factor of this perimeter attack may end up being Alex Murphy. Murphy was a top ten recruit in the Class of 2012, but he decided to enroll at Duke a year early. He's a versatile forward with range and surprising athleticism, a guy that Duke fans are already comparing to Kyle Singler.

The Blue Devil's front court will be much more of a question mark, however, but its not due to a lack of size or a lack of potential. Enter the Plumlees. With Marshall entering the fray this fall, there are now three Plumlees on the Duke roster, and they will play the majority of the minutes at the center position for Coach K this season. Mason is probably the best out of the group, as he led the Blue Devils in rebounding and blocks last season. He needs to become more of an offensive threat, however. Miles has been inconsistent throughout his career, but early reports have said that he's impressed as much as anyone. Marshall is probably the tallest and the most athletic of the trio, but he'll need some muscle and weight before he's really effective in the ACC.

The x-factor will be Ryan Kelly. Kelly is a stretch four, a 6'11" forward with three-point range. He has a lot of expectations coming into the season, as he has apparently bulked up during the summer. Kelly was terrific during Duke's trip through Asia and the Middle East, as being stronger has allowed him to become a more physical and aggressive presence in the paint. He'll never be Quincy Acy, but if he can provide a strong rebounding and shot-blocking presence -- he averaged 1.4 bpg last year -- it will make Duke that much tougher inside.

There is, unquestionably, loads of talent on this Duke roster. But so much of that talent will be connected with an 'if' heading into the season. 'If' Seth Curry becomes a point guard; 'if' the Plumlees can live up to their potential; 'if' Austin Rivers is as good as advertised; 'if' Ryan Kelly truly did get better. There is no question that Duke is the second best team in the ACC. They can be much more than that on a national scale if everything breaks right. One this we do know -- it will be a fun ride to follow.
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2011-2012 Preseason Mid-Major Top 25

Today, we are rolling out our Mid-Major Top 25, and there are a number of very teams populating this list.

And while we hope that this list will spark a discussion, it may not be the discussion we planned on. Labeling a program as a mid-major or a high-major is a bit of a hot button issue. You may get shot in you call Memphis, Gonzaga or Xavier a mid-major. But the Muskies actually spend less on basketball than TCU and Rice. Memphis and Gonzaga both find themselves behind Auburn.

So, in the end, I made the final decision. No Memphis, Xavier or Gonzaga here. Temple is out as well. The Mountain West schools and recent Mountain West defectors (ahem, BYU) don't make the cut, either. We do include every other Atlantic 10 and Conference USA team, however, as well as St. Mary's, Butler and every member of the WAC.

To browse through the rest of our Season Previews, click here.

1. Belmont Bruins: So there you are. Belmont. The best mid-major team in the country. And while I am sure that there are plenty of folks in Boston or Moraga or Omaha that will disagree, but I'm not even sure how close this is. The Bruins won 30 games last season, steamrolling through the Atlantic Sun competition -- their only loss was their "road trip" to visit heated rival Lipscomb. And of the 11 players that were in the Bruin rotation last season, nine of them return, including four starters. Their best back court player is back in junior Ian Clark, as is their dominating interior duo of Mick Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders. Belmont gets a chance early on in the season to test themselves against Duke and Memphis, and don't expect either game to be a blowout.

2. Harvard Crimson: I'm very high on Harvard this season. This is a team that finished tied with Princeton atop the Ivy League standings, coming with a Douglas Davis floater of making the NCAA Tournament. This year, they return everyone, including Ivy League Player of the Year Keith Wright and a finally healthy Kyle Casey. Throw in a talented freshmen class that features a trio of players that cracked top 100 lists, and there is a reason the Crimson cracked the BIAH Preseason Top 25.

3. St. Mary's Gaels: St. Mary's is going to be an interesting team to keep an eye on next season. They do lose Mickey McConnell, which will be a factor, but the Gaels also return everyone else, including Matthew Dellavedova, who can handle the point. With a couple of talented sophomore joining him on the perimeter in Stephen Holt and Jorden Page, size in the middle and a junkyard dog at the four in Rob Jones, a legitimate case can be made that St. Mary's is actually the best team in the West Coast Conference.

4. Creighton Bluejays: You already know that the Bluejays have an all-american on their roster in forward Doug McDermott. But he is far from alone on that roster. Antoine Young is a playmaker at the point that is one of the best on-ball defenders in the country while Gregory Echinique is a Venezuelan big man that averaged double figures in the Big East with Rutgers. Throw in role players like Gonzaga transfer Grant Gibbs, Josh Jones and Jahenns Manigat -- along with a talented recruiting class -- and the Bluejay will be ranked on and off throughout the season.

5. Nevada Wolfpack: This may actually be the first pick that is a surprise in these rankings, and not just because I actually classified Nevada as a mid-major. The Wolfpack finished last season with just 13 wins, but they got much better as the season progressed, finishing 8-8 in WAC play. They also bring back all six players that started games last season, including talented sophomore Deonte Burton and transfers Malik Story (Indiana) and Olek Czyz (Duke). There are a number of pieces on the roster, the key is whether or not those pieces actually come together.

6. Butler Bulldogs: It may take a while for Butler to prove me right on this. While Andrew Smith, Ronald Nored and Chase Stigall are returning starters, none of them are potential stars. Chrishawn Hopkins and Khyle Marshall are, but they are also sophomores. It may take a while for everything to come together, but the same thing happened last season. And when all the pieces finally did get put into place, the Bulldogs made their second straight run to the national title game. Advice: don't bet against Brad Stevens.

7. Marshall Thundering Herd: Marshall may have the best back court that you've ever actually heard of. Senior Damier Pitts is a talented point guard that can score and create. Sophomore DeAndre Kane has the potential to be a player of the year in Conference USA by the time his career is over. Throw in some size up front, talent coming off the bench and a couple of talented newcomers -- Justin Coleman was a Louisville signee and Robert Goff was supposed to go to Oklahoma when Oklahoma was good -- and this is a team that may end up surprising a lot of people.

8. Long Beach State 49ers: LBSU isn't deep. They essentially had a seven-man rotation last year, and graduated three of those players. But they do return their top four scorers, all of whom are seniors that have played together for four years. Casper Ware is one of the best point guards in the country you've never seen play and TJ Robinson is a double-double machine in the paint. Last year, they won their conference by four games. Expect something similar this year.

9. Wichita State Shockers: Wichita State is your typical Valley contender. They defend, they have an experienced roster and they are very well-coached. Coming off of an NIT title, the Shockers return a talented perimeter attack in Joe Ragland, David Kyles and Toure' Murry as well as seven-footer Garrett Stutz inside. Don't give the MVC title to Creighton just yet.

10. Drexel Dragons: Drexel is exactly what you should come to expect from a team coached by Bruiser Flint. They are physical and disciplined defensively and they absolutely dominate the glass despite being undersized -- their power forward, Samme Givens, averaged a double-double despite standing all of 6'5" If Chris Fouch can get healthy and provide a scoring punch, the Dragons are the team to beat in the CAA.

11. George Mason Patriots: George Mason is going to look different this season after losing their head coach and their two best playmaker. But Ryan Pearson is the truth at the four, and the rest of this roster has been through their fair share of battles.

12. Weber State Wildcats: Weber State was surprisingly competitive last season despite only having Damian Lillard for nine games before he broke his foot. With Lillard back and rejoining a group that returns the majority of their important pieces, expect the Wildcats to make plenty of noise this year.

13. St. Louis Billikens: The Billikens return everyone from last season and add Kwamaine Mitchell, who will likely end up being a first-team all-Atlantic 10 play, back into the mix after he sat out last season.

14. Tulsa Golden Hurricane: Losing Justin Hurtt will hurt, but both Scottie Haralson and Jordan Clarkson should be able to increase their scoring while the return of Donte Medder gives Doug Wojcik the point guard he was missing last season.

15. Oral Roberts Golden Eagles: ORU brings back essentially their entire team -- including star forward Dominique Morrison, from a team that finished second in the Summit League last season.

16. Kent State Golden Flashes: Kent State brings back six of the seven players from a team that went 12-4 in the MAC last year, headlined by potential Player of the Year Justin Greene.

17. Fairfield Stags: Ed Cooley may have left for Providence, but he turned over plenty of talent to Sydney Johnson. Derek Needham is one of the best point guards in the mid-major ranks, while BC transfer Rakim Sanders should have a big year.

18. Iona Gaels: The Gaels have one of the best 1-2-3 punches at the mid-major level with Arizona transfer Momo Jones, star forward Mike Glover and the underrated Scott Machado all returning.

19. Bucknell Bison: Bucknell was the consensus pick to win the Patriot League this season, headined by the return of reigning Patriot PoY Mike Muscala.

20. VCU Rams: VCU lost a ton of talent from last year's team, but with Brad Burgess back to lead a group of youngsters with Final Four experience, counting Shaka Smart's club out would be a silly thing to do.

21. Indiana State Sycamores: ISU loses a couple of key back court pieces, but with Dwayne Lathan healthy and sophomore Jake Odum back to run the show, Larry Bird's alma mater is back to relevancy.

22. New Mexico State Aggies: Troy Gillenwater is gone, but Wendell McKines finally appears to be healthy after missing last season.

23. UNC-Asheville Bulldogs: The Masked Dunker is gone, but JP Primm and Matt Dickey will give the Bulldogs a very good back court.

24. Chattanooga Mocassons: The Mocs bring back their top four scorers, including Georgetown transfer Omar Wattad, and six of the nine players from last season's rotation.

25. UAB Blazers: Mike Davis will be without last year's C-USA Player of the Year Aaron Johnson, but Cameron Moore does return and he should be talented enough to keep UAB competitive in the league.

Austin Peay
Central Florida
Florida Atlantic
Morgan State
Tennessee Tech
Utah State
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Friday Morning Dump

- The NCAA has finally decide to make some changes. Some of the changes will open up contact between coaches and recruits. Other changes will help the players financially, and some rules may keep UConn out of the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Could this all lead towards a giant NCAA reformation?

- Sad, sad news out of College Station, Texas A&M coach Billy Kennedy has been diagnosed with early stages of Parkinson's Disease

- A fantastic Q&A session with Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA Vice President of Enforcement

- You want to know how to make it to a Final-Four? Be really good in a certain number of specific statistical categories

- In case you missed it, Michael Beasley has been outted for receiving improper benefits. But as Gary Parrish explains, it's not just a Beasley-problem, it's a system-problem. This predicament raises a lot of questions, none of which have easy answers. Glen Logan chimes in on dirty recruiting

- Dana O'Neil examines whether or not one of the members of the group of elite young guards can lead their team to a National Championship. Speaking of point guards, Jay Williams tells us who he thinks are amongst the 12-best point guards in the country (Insiders Only)

- Part-2 of Eric Angevine's look at the All-Name Teams (For our 2011-2012 All-Name Teams, just go here)

- Mark Turgeon's job just got a whole lot more difficult. Star guard Pe'Shon Howard will be out three months due to a broken foot. It looks like sophomore Terrell Stoglin will have to carry the load

- Eamonn Brennan opens up this week's edition of The Hoops Mailbag

-Kansas' Thomas Robinson tweaked his knee in practice and will have to sit out a couple of days

- Really "ScoopMaster"? Do you really think any of us would be surprised if Butler made another deep tournament run?

- Arizona lost an exhibition game to Seattle Pacific. That can't be good, can it?

- Carmelo Anthony can't remember who the other starters for Syracuse were on the National Championship-winning team (and they say marijuana doesn't affect the memory.....)

- VCU and UNC-Wilmington, two CAA schools, are amongst the youngest teams in the country

- Ohio State was chosen by Big ten media and coaches as the favorites to win the conference

- Another year, another article about Stew Morrill and Utah State being the cream-of-the-crop in the WAC

- DePaul freshman Marcari Brooks has decided to transfer after being declared ineligible

- It's a shame we won't be able to see any of these games (Not on a stream, not on a live-blog or nothing)

- According to the SEC website, Missouri is en route

- This is the year Northwestern will finally make it to the NCAA tournament? Right?

- An excellent-read on the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Minnesota Golden Gophers

- Jeff Goodman has some preseason thoughts about Cincinnati

- Bill Self and "Ladies Night". Not exactly four words I ever though I'd hear in the same sentence

- Wait, are you implying that people often forget that Eloy Vargas still plays for Kentucky? (With the word "plays" being used very loosely)

- The George Mason team has spent a lot of time during the preseason doing running. A lot of running

- If I didn't buy South Bend being in the "East", Do you really think you could make me believe South Bend is "on the Atlantic Coast"?

- American head coach Jeff Jones got a contract extension through the 2015-2016 season

- unfortunately for Seton Hall, Neither Aaron Cosby nor Haralds Karlis is Jeremy Hazell. But both freshman guards will do their best to point the Pirates in the right direction

- Andy Bottoms provides his preview of the SEC (Sweet Baby-Jesus! Anthony Davis is really ugly)

- Has Florida hit a rough-patch on the recruiting trails?

- it's like you can't even mention the word "Kentucky" without Big Blue Nation members thinking it's an insult (But I do admit that Kevin Stallings looks a lot like Kevin from "The Office")

- National Hoops Report examines the potential sleepers in the SEC

- Harrison Barnes didn't get his drivers license til this summer. Wow.

- Part-3 of Rush The Court's breakdown of the 68 must-watch non-conference games of 2011-2012

- UW-Milwaukee has got themselves some new unis

- Maybe Georgetown's trip to China was about goodwill after all.....

- Buzz Williams is an endless viral video

- Mark Titus is retiring Club Trillion, but only because he's going to work full-time for Grantland (#Sellout)

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Arizona upset by Seattle Pacific in an exhibition

We are still a solid week and a half away from the tip of our first official college hoops game, but we already have our first upset of the year.

Playing an exhibition game against Seattle Pacific, an Division II school, the Wildcats found themselves down 37-29 at the half. After making a run to take the lead late on a Nick Johnson three late in the second half, the Falcons responded with a run of their own, hanging on for a 69-68 win when a desperation three from Johnson came up short.

"I wish I could say I'm going to throw a lot of things in the locker room and our guys just didn't try," Sean Miller told the Arizona Daily Star. "We're just not very good right now. We aren't. We're just not a very good team. … We're at such the beginning of even being able to play the game that tonight I wished we could have practiced five or seven or eight more times tonight. I'm sure we would have had a better chance to be successful but we didn't."

So what happened?

For starters, Arizona couldn't get any kind of production on the glass from their big men. Kryrl Natyazkho, Sidiki Johnson and Angelo Chol, the Wildcat's three centers, combined for just two rebounds. Johnson fouled out in 14 minutes. Granted, there were a couple of good players on the Seattle Pacific roster -- Andy Poling transferred in from Gonzaga and Modou Niang from Utah State -- but those two players are a far cry from the kind of strength that, say, UCLA has on their front line.

The Falcons also ran a Princeton-style offense and shredded the Wildcats defense with back door cuts, smart passes and offensive execution. Arizona has a lot of new faces on their roster, and defensive sets and rotations take just as long to learn as plays on offense.

The bottom-line, however is that a loss like this really doesn't matter. Remember when Syracuse lost to Le Moyne back in 2009? Yeah, they came out of no where and won the Big East that year. I don't think the loss hurt them all that much. Arizona is a young team. They are freshmen playing key roles at important spots on the floor -- center and point guard. They are transitioning from a team that lost the two players that dominated offensive possession, including all-american Derrick Williams, and are doing so with an important player in Kevin Parrom unavailable.

This loss was the result of new players being brought in, experienced players in taking on new roles and a team underestimating an opponent because the game was an exhibition. If anything, this loss embarrassed Arizona and exposed their flaws. I'd be willing to bet that the box out drills Miller runs in practice today are going to be pretty intense.

They'll learn. Arizona will get better. This team will still compete for the Pac-12 title.

Let's go about our Fridays as usual, mmk?
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Thursday, October 27, 2011

NCAA changes: Could UConn be ineligible for the 2013 Tournament?

The NCAA made some pretty significant changes to their rulebook today. Since we al love bullet points:

  1. Conferences are allowed to vote to add $2,000 worth of full cost-of-attendance money to their scholarship offers.
  2. Schools are now allowed to offer multi-year scholarships. Previously, they were offered on a one-year, renewable basis.
  3. The APR cutline has been increased from an average score of 900 over four years to 930. Schools that fail to qualify will be ineligible for the NCAA Tournament.
  4. The minimum GPA for incoming freshmen will now be 2.3, while it will increase to 2.5 for JuCo transfers.
  5. There are a slew of new recruiting rules, including the deregulation of text messaging and a change in the summer recruiting schedule, reducing the July live period to 12 days and bringing back a live period in April
  6. Coaches will be allowed to work with their players during the summer, although the precise details of how that will work have yet to be determined.
  7. Financial aid will now be available to former athletes who decide to return to school to finish their degree once their eligibility has been used up.
Overall, these changes are a step in the right direction for the NCAA, who entire release can be found here.

I'm not going to go into too much detail here -- especially on the recruiting front, as we touched on these changes last week -- but there are some details that need to be highlighted.

First and foremost, UConn. The Huskies are the reigning national champions. There is a very real chance that they will be able to repeat this year. But the way the current rules are written, UConn will be ineligible to compete in the 2013 NCAA Tournament. Per the AP, UConn's APR score in 2009-2010 was 826. The school is projecting that score to be 975 for 2010-2011. That gives them a two-year average of 900.5 and a four-year average of 888.5. To qualify for the 2013 NCAA Tournament, the Huskies would need a two-year score of 930 or a four-year score of 900.

That fate is not set in stone just yet. The Hartford Courant's Don Amore, the Husky beat writer, speculated on Monday that there will be some form of an improvement waiver, where schools that don't qualify for the new standards can prove they are getting better and redeem their eligibility. As Mark Emmert said, "We need to act with some dispatch." (UPDATE: Amore filed another report this evening. The NCAA is looking into changing how they determine the relevant APR score and whether it would be best to determine eligibility based on APR scores from 2010-2011 and 2011-2012 for the 2013 Tournament. He also said there will be an appeals process.)

The other change worth noting here is the approval of multi-year scholarship offers. While its effect will likely be seen more in football, where over-recruiting has become an epidemic, this should even up the field a bit when it comes to recruiting. It won't make much difference for the guys that are on the all-american level, as every school in the country will be offering them four-year scholarships. But it will make a difference for some of the players that are talented enough to be recruited by, but not necessarily play, the best programs in the country.

The way the system currently works is that a coach can run-off a player after a year or two if that player has underperformed expectations. Since his scholarship is renewable annually, the coach can simply tell the kid his scholarship won't be renewed and he will have to transfer. But a lesser program will be able to offer that player a four-year scholarship, ensuring that he won't be in danger of dealing with a forced transfer.

An example? Its early May, and a three-star center has his options down to Washington and St. Mary's. Washington may have a scholarship available and a need for depth in the front court, if for nothing more than to have a body available for practice. The player can accept the scholarship from the Huskies and hope he doesn't get recruited over, or he can choose to go to St. Mary's, where he knows he will be playing for a team that will be in and around the top 25 and will be guaranteed a full-ride for four years.

The big schools won't necessarily be hurt, but it will only be helpful for the mid-majors looking to bring in high-major talent.

I just look forward to hearing about how recruit sign a four-year deal.

Because its all just a business transaction, right?
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2011-2012 Top 50 Countdown: No. 7 Memphis Tigers

Over the coming weeks, we will be counting down our Top 50 teams in the country. Teams 26-50 will be posted in groups of five, while we will count backwards from No. 25 to the No. 1 team in the country. You can find a complete schedule of our 2011-2012 Season Preview coverage here. To browse through the rest of the Top 50, click here.

Last Season: 25-10, 10-6 (4th Conference USA), lost in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to Arizona

Head Coach: Josh Pastner

Key Losses: Will Coleman, Angel Garcia

Newcomers: Adonis Thomas, Stan Simpson

Projected Lineup:

- G: Joe Jackson, So.
- G: Charles Carmouche, Sr.
- G: Will Barton, So.
- F: Wesley Witherspoon, Sr.
- C: Tarik Black, So.
- Bench: Adonis Thomas, Fr.; Stan Simpson, Jr.; Chris Crawford, So.; Antonio Barton, So.; DJ Stephens, Jr.; Ferrakhon Hall, Jr.

Outlook: The Tigers were one of the most enigmatic teams in the country last season. Boasting a roster that was made up of primarily freshmen, the Tigers suffered through the ups-and-downs that come with that much youth. They struggled against inferior competition throughout the non-conference portion of their schedule and lost games they had no business losing during league play. Some of that was the result of a lack of leadership from their upperclassmen. Some of it was due to midseason defections. Some of that disappointment was due to expectations that far outweighed what should be expected of a group of kids playing their first season of college basketball. And, spreading the blame to everyone in the program, some of it was the result of having a greenhorn running the program in the form of second-year head coach Josh Pastner.

It all came together for the Tigers in the conference tournament, however, and Memphis earned themselves a trip to the NCAA Tournament when Joe Jackson knocked off UTEP in a de facto road game by hitting two free throws late in the C-USA title game. It was the culmination of a long and trying season for Jackson, who came into school with the most pressure of the entire freshmen class. He was the most heralded recruit in a long time to make the decision to play at home, in front of his hoops-crazed city. People were expecting greatness from the second he stepped on the court, and it took Jackson a while to adapt to that pressure. He struggled to get consistent minutes during the middle of the year, he struggled to shoot the ball throughout the year and he end the season with more turnovers than assists. But Jackson really came on strong during the Conference USA Tournament. While he's an ultra-quick lead guard that can put up big scoring numbers, Jackson is going to be asked to be a facilitator as much as anything this year. I'm expect a big season out of him.

Joining Jackson in the back court is Will Barton. Barton is an intriguing player for Memphis. He has all the physical tools to be a star -- he's a 6'6" two-guard with long arms, quickness and explosiveness, a decent-looking jump shot and the ability to do a lot of different things on a basketball court. Barton's issue, however, stems from his decision-making. Will he ever learn the difference between a good shot and a bad shot? Will he stop settling for tough pull-up jumpers? Has he learned to protect the ball? Barton is a terrific rebounder for his position, his a playmaker on the defensive end of the floor and he's a talented slasher that can hit an open three. If he plays within himself and stop trying to be the next Kobe Bryant, and Barton will be one of the best wings in the country.

The rest of the perimeter attack will be rounded out by a very solid group of guards in senior Charles Carmouche and sophomores Chris Crawford and Antonio Barton. Carmouche will likely get the start -- he started 28 games last year -- but both Crawford and Barton will see significant minutes off the bench. Barton is the biggest surprise of the group. He came in with the reputation of being not much more than his brother's brother, but he proved to be the best scoring option at the off-guard spot. He's a lights-out three point shooter and made a number of big shots throughout the year. Carmouche hit a couple big shots of his own last season, and while he's not as dangerous as Barton beyond the arc, he's still a very good shooter and the best fit within a system. Crawford is the best defender and playmaker of the three, he's also a bit of a gunner (147 threes, 29.9% clip) and a turnover machine (he led the team in assists, but turned the ball over more than twice a game).

The front court is where this team gets interesting. We'll start with Tarik Black, a 6'8" sophomore that didn't come in with much hype as a freshman. But by the end of the season, he was in the starting lineup and was easily the most consistent front court presence Pastner had at his disposal. He plays hard, he goes after the glass as well as anyone in the conference and he blocks shots and defends with a toughness around the rim. Black needs to work on his feel for the game -- passing out of the post, staying out of foul trouble, a soft touch, his hands -- but the consensus around the Memphis program is that Black, not Jackson or Barton, is going to be the guy that breaks out this season. There is legitimate speculation from people that would know these things that Black will be the Player of the Year in the conference this season.

Adonis Thomas and Wesley Witherspoon will both be spending quite a bit of time alongside Black on the Memphis front line. Both are incredibly versatile players that should, in theory, be able to be on the court at the same time, giving Pastner the option of playing Thomas at the three and Will Barton at the two. That's a big lineup. Thomas is a 6'6" combo-forward that some believe is the best prospect in the Class of 2011. He's big and physical enough to overpower a smaller defender, but he's got three point range and the quickness and ball-handling to blow past a bigger defender on the perimeter. That should compliment Witherspoon's game well. Witherspoon struggled to deal with expectations last season. There was talk that he could end up being a lottery pick with a big year. But after knee issues wiped out the early part of the season, Witherspoon struggled with his maturity and failed to embrace the role of leader. He was suspended, lost his spot in the starting lineup, and fizzled out by the end of the season. As a senior this year, it appears he is buying into the program, that he wants to be nothing more than a cog in the Memphis machine. And given his skill-set and all-around ability, he will be quite effective.

There is plenty of depth in the front court as well. Stan Simpson was originally an Illinois-commit. He's on campus and will provide size off the bench. Seton Hall transfer Ferrakhon Hall will be eligible in December and will provide some length, athleticism and shot-blocking ability. Drew Barnham and DJ Stephens give Paster athleticism and versatility off the bench as well.

All the pieces are there for Memphis this season. They have as much talent, top-to-bottom, as any team outside of UNC, Kentucky, UConn and Ohio State. The question for the Tigers is figuring out a way to get all the pieces to fit together. Will Jackson handle the pressure of playing in his hometown? Will Thomas? Can Will Barton and Witherspoon find a way to be players within a system, instead of players that need a system to revolve around them? Is Black as good as advertised?

Perhaps the most important question -- is Pastner prepared for this task? Anything short of a Conference USA title and a trip past the NCAA Tournament's first weekend will be a major disappointment for this group.
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The B.I.A.H "Namesmith Award" Watch List

Yup, you read that correctly.

B.I.A.H is proud to announce the releasal of our watch-list for the "Namesmith Award for Etymological Awesomeness". This award is given to the player whose performance best helps bring awareness to his awesome name.

Now you're probably wondering "Well what's the difference between the 'All-Name Teams' and the 'Namesmith' Award"?

Production. Any scrub walk-on can have a marvelous name, but only a few special players have that x-factor: the ability to have a fantastically-bizarre name and the ability to perform at a high level on the court.

Some of the guys on this list were All-Name-Team snubs, but their basketball talent and ability raises their overall profile. Trust me, the only reason any of you know about California's Bak Bak is because of the All-Name Team.

As the season progresses, we will whittle the list down so by season's end we have just ten remaining finalists, and it will be up to you, the viewers to determine the winner of the inaugural B.I.A.H "Namesmith Award".

So, after the jump we present to you our preseason watch-list of the 50 finalists for the 2011-2012 B.I.A.H "Namesmith Award".

God's Gift Achiuwa - St. John's
Raven Barber - Mt. St. Mary's
Duece Bello - Baylor
Melsahn Besabe - Iowa
Alwayne Bigby - Northeastern
Kidani Brutus - Manhattan
Jenirro Bush - Jackson State
DeAndre Cane - Marshall
Isaiah Canaan - Murray State
Finnis Craddock - Central Michigan
Markeith Cummings - Kennesaw State
Delino Dear - Toledo
TyShwan Edmonson - Austin Peay
Fuquan Edwin - Seton Hall
Festus Ezeli - Vanderbilt
Indiana Faithfull - Wofford
Novar Gadson - Rider
Scooter Gillette - Niagara
Delwan Graham - Jacksonville
Draymond Green - Michigan State
Mick Hedgepeth - Belmont
Dario Hunt - Nevada
Scoop Jardine - Syracuse
Jordair Jett - St. Louis
Vander Joaquim - Hawaii
Arsalan Kazemi - Rice
Cady Lalane - UMass
Hernst LaRoche - New Mexico State
Nurideen Lindsey - St. John's
Genesis Maciel - Hartford
Cleveland Melvin - DePaul
Four McGlynn - Vermont
Hugh Mingo - Louisiana-Monroe
Ferg Myrick - New Hampshire
Shabazz Napier - UConn
Dundrecous Nelson - Ole Miss
Orion Outterbridge - Rhode Island
Peter Pappageorge - Long Beach State
Brockeith Payne - Utah State
Jawanza Poland - South Florida
RayVonte Rice, Drake
Dartaye Ruffin - Drexel
Durrand Scott - Miami (FL)
Chace Stanback - UNLV
Dyricus Symmes-Edwards, Bradley
Chehales Tapscott, Portland State
Savalance Townsend - Arkansas-Pine Bluff
Casper Ware - Long Beach State
Storm Warren - LSU
Trey Zeigler - Central Michigan

(Like any good "Watch List", three will be a few mistakes. Let us know if you think we snubbed any superstars)

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Thursday Morning Dump

- Must-Read-Scandal-alert: Michael Beasley is claiming he received improper benefits in order to save himself from paying thousand to an agent

- Mike DeCourcy is right, the time is now for the Big East to scoop up Memphis

- UNC and MSU will rock camouflage uniforms for their Carrier Classic showdown

- Your second must-read-of-the-day comes from ESPN recruiting guru Dave Telep who provides a look inside the world of dirty recruiting (If you're not a ESPN Insider, you can go to The Big Lead, who did some of the heavy lifting for us)

- Burnt Orange Nation provides an excellent read on the change in Texas' pace-of-play using tempo-free statistics and other stuff I can't understand because I struggled with rudimentary algebra

- John Calipari hasn't seen a player in the country that's better than Terrence Jones, and the forward's hard work during the off-season is going to make him even better

- You want to talk about a rebuilding process, have a look at what's going on at Georgia Tech

- Murphy Holloway has been cleared by the SEC to play for Ole Miss this season. You remember Holloway right? He transferred out of Ole Miss in order to be closer to his daughter. But Ole Miss tried to prevent him from transferring to South Carolina. Well After sitting out a year at South Carolina, Holloway is back at Ole Miss.

- A breakdown of the star-studded freshman in the DC-Metro area

- The LIU/St. Francis rivalry is about to hit the big times. the second leg of the conference head-to-head games will take place at Madison Square Garden. A fantastic preview on the St. Francis Terriers from a local Brooklyn paper

- According to Jeff Goodman, Nebraska coach Doc Sadler will lead his best Nebraska team ever into their inaugural Big-Ten season

- The top two player on UC-Santa Barbara might have had drastically-different summers, but they were both focused on achieving similar goals

- A solid-read about guys who are going to serve as "replacements" for former-stars

- A preview of the ACC written from Tobacco Road

- A quick breakdown of the top five freshman in the SEC

- I was kinda hoping for more content from ESPN on their preview of the MEAC

- George Mason got some new threads (even though they look eerily similar to last years unis)

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Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Talent isn't the issue with Terrence Jones

Terrence Jones scored 52 points in Kentucky's Blue and White scrimmage on Wednesday night.

He did it going up against Anthony Davis, the No. 1 recruit in the class of 2011 and a guy that could end up being not only the SEC Player of the Year and an all-american, but the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft as well.

Let's forget, for a second, that this was nothing more than a glorified pick-up game. Let's ignore the fact that Jones was going up against a physically over-matched Davis in a game that featured little-to-no defense; Jones' team scored 126 points. Jones still managed to put up 52 points on 24-31 shooting from the floor to go along with 16 boards and six assists. Regardless of the level of competition or the defensive intensity you are going up against, those are incredible numbers; numbers that make his coach look smart for saying he's the best player in the country.

But you shouldn't be surprised to see Jones put up those kind of numbers, not after some of the games he had last season. Remember the 27 points and 17 boards he had against Notre Dame? Or the 16 points, 17 boards and four blocks he had against Washington? Or the 24 and 10 he put on Georgia's front line? Or the 35 points he hung on Auburn?

Talent wasn't the issue for Jones as a freshman, and it certainly won't be the issue as a sophomore, not after he apparently spent the summer doing nothing but lifting weights and running sprints.

The issue with Jones was his attitude. We all remember the hullaballoo that was created when John Calipari was caught on camera calling Terrence Jones selfish in a very non-Disney movie way. That happened because, frankly, Jones was playing selfishly. And he didn't respond well to the challenges from Calipari, either. He moped and he pouted and he lolligagged his way through the last month of the season, a shell of the player he was during the first couple of months of the season.

In case you have forgotten, Jones was one of, if not the favorite to win the National Player of the Year award in mid-December last season. But he wasn't even one of Kentucky's first two options offensively during their run to the Final Four.

If Jones cannot find a way to give consistent effort all-year long and doesn't buy into the system that Calipari is running, than he will never live up to his talent level at Kentucky.
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Michael Beasley tangled in a court battle with former AAU coach and agent

Anyone that follows college basketball even moderately closely can tell you the key words that you will find in every story that breaks about the recruitment of an elite level high schooler -- agents, runners, AAU coaches, limitless "funding", shoe companies.

We saw it with OJ Mayo and Ronald Guillory. We saw it with Josh Nochimson and Nate Miles. It may be a different sport, but we saw it with Josh Luchs as well.

In theory, we all know how it works. People funded by an agency form relationships with the coaches of top AAU programs and their best players, using a limitless supply of cash and gifts to entice and impress the players, the ultimate goal being the commission the agency makes off of those six-year contracts and million dollar endorsement.

But in practice, very few outside observers have a chance to gain a window into the specifics of the process. And that is what makes this story from the Washington Post so interesting. Michael Beasley is currently locked in a legal battle with his former agent Joel Bell and his old AAU coach Curtis Malone. Bell filed a lawsuit against Beasley claiming that the basketball star illegally fired him prior to signing an endorsement deal with Adidas. Beasley countersued Bell and filed a third-party claim against Malone claiming, among other things, that "Bell bankrolled Malone’s nationally recognized DC Assault summer basketball program and that in return Malone felt obliged to steer Beasley ... to Bell for professional representation."

The money blockquote:

Beasley alleges in the suit that Malone "conspired with Bell to drive Beasley to him as a client" and that Bell "improperly subsidized Malone's DC Assault program, and paid money to Malone 'on the side' or 'under the table,' in exchange for" Malone advising players such as Beasley to sign with Bell.

One of Beasley's first requests of Bell, the suit says, was for the agent to quickly secure Beasley a multimillion dollar endorsement contract. Beasley says in the suit that he wanted a contract with Nike, the long-standing leader in the multibillion dollar shoe and sports apparel industry the past 30 years.

But Beasley's suit claims that Bell "failed to pursue negotiations with Nike based on pecuniary interests that would result from Adidas to [Bell] and Malone."
Beasley's suit also alleges a string of illegal benefits provided to him by Bell and Malone. Beasley's mother, Fatima Smith, received $2,500 for legal bills after she was arrested for driving with a suspended license. When Beasley enrolled at Kansas State, his mother moved with him and not only had her moving expenses paid for, she had her rent taken care of. She also had her car payments paid for. There's more, and I strongly encourage you to read the article from Steve Yanda and Eric Prisbell.

But frankly, none of this should surprise you. And, for our intents and purposes as college hoops fans, its virtually irrelevant. Kansas State probably won't be getting into trouble for this. If they do, then we'll see that 2007-2008 season go out the window. Whoop-dee-do. Dalonte Hill -- another former AAU coach with the DC Assault that was quoted in the Washington Post's piece -- may end up in some trouble at Maryland, but its unclear just how much. The report may end up affecting the pipeline he had coming out of DC more than anything.

What we get here is a peak behind the scenes, a open-door look into exactly what the typical relationship is between these elite players and the agents/runners/AAU coaches/shoe companies they are associated with. And, as you might expect, the reason we get that view is a fight over money. Bell invested his money with Malone and believed it was his time to profit off of the (business) relationship he had cultivated with Beasley. The player had other ideas. Bell filed a lawsuit because he was pissed he didn't get paid. Beasley fired back because he doesn't want to pay.

And here we are. Throw in Dave Telep's piece from Tuesday titled the Guide to Dirty Recruiting, and we may never get a clearer picture of just how the finances and the politics of grassroots basketball works.
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