Scott Woodward could’ve taken the easy way out last season.
As Washington slogged toward a third straight season without an NCAA Tournament appearance, the Huskies’ athletic director could’ve listened to some of the fanbase and axed long-time head coach Lorenzo Romar. Washington has the type of college basketball history where a drought like that isn’t taken lightly.
No one would’ve blamed him. The Huskies had gone 35-31 in the last two seasons under Romar, who is now in his 13th season as head coach in Seattle. Also, in a stacked 2013-14 year for the Pac-12 in which the conference sent six teams to the tournament, UDub failed to be one of them. In fairness, that run includes a Pac-12 regular season championship in 2011-12 — but came in a weak season for the conference (Colorado and California were the Pac-12’s lone bids to the Dance) and ended in an NIT bid.
But in the microwave society of major college athletics, Woodward took a refreshing approach and waited. This season, to this point, Washington is reaping the benefits of letting things play out. This was never more apparent that on Saturday night when the Huskies, ranked no. 16 in the nation, took down no. 15 Oklahoma in Las Vegas, their second win over a ranked team so far this season. Washington is now 10-0.
In the past two seasons combined, Romar’s team combined for a grand total of …..zero victories over ranked opponents.
Late last season, Woodward reinforced his faith in Romar, telling the media he was the “right man for the job.”
Some could — and probably will — argue that the reasons for keeping Romar are partially tied to his 10-year contract that is currently paying him $1.7 million per season. That’s fair. But given the Huskies’ start to the 2014-15 season, it could easily be rebuked.
Looking at the roster the Huskies currently have, it’s a classic peek into what waiting can do for a program. There’s a steady mix of both immediate impact players (Fresno State transfer Robert Upshaw and sophomore dynamo Nigel Williams-Goss) and developmental projects, as well as long-time roster stalwarts, coming to fruition (Shawn Kemp Jr., Andrew Andrews and Mike Anderson). They’ve been able to minimize the impact of any transfers (none of note in the last three seasons) and attrition to the NBA, losing both Terrence Ross and Tony Wroten to the league following the 2011-12 season.
The Huskies are currently 12th-best in the country on the glass, averaging 41.9 rebounds per game, despite having just four players 6-foot-9 or taller on their roster. And even when they don’t get a ton of boards, they’ve been able to adjust to another style of play and win, beating then-no. 13 San Diego State 49-36 while getting outrebounded 42-36.
Add in a win over a UTEP team that pushed Arizona to the brink on Friday night, and it’s been a solid start for Washington, and one of the more surprising starts in college basketball.
Follow David Harten on Twitter at @David_Harten.
We’re taking a look at some of the nations most popular college basketball conferences this season. In this installment, we take a look at the ACC, for seasons change and all that.
-Montrezl Harrell, F, Jr., Louisville
-Jahlil Okafor, F, Fr., Duke
-London Perrantes, Soph., G, Virginia
-Olivier Hanlan, Jr., G, Boston College
Breakdown – Harrell, Okafor and Paige and mortal locks for most first-teams. It’s not even close, really. The last two spots? I really looked at Perrantes and how quickly he grew up as a freshman under Tony Bennett. I think he’ll be key in how well the Cavaliers do after losing Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. Hanlan will be asked to do pretty much everything in Jim Christian’s first season.
Predicting The Finish
Duke – Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones headline an amazing recruiting class. Rasheed Suliamon should be doing Rasheed Suliamon things. It’s Duke. It’s Mike Krzyzewski. It’s another season.
North Carolina – Outside of the afforementioned Meeks and Paige, look for J.P. Tokoto to emerge this year. The real winner here though, is Meeks’ waistline.
Louisville – New team on the block with an All-American candidate in Harrell. But the real focus is on Terry Rozier, who has been viewed as a possible first-rounder in the 2015 NBA Draft if he lives up to his potential.
Virginia – The scary thing is, this Virginia team might be as good as last year’s and the lost Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. Perrantes plays beyond his year and Malcolm Brogdon has the skills to be the ACC’s top scorer.
Syracuse – With Dejuan Coleman coming back, this team will have their best chance at having a solid low-block presence. Rakeem Christmas should have a great senior season, but watch for yet another Joseph on Jim Boeheim’s roster: Kaleb.
Pittsburgh – Durand Johnson could be a darkhorse for ACC Player of the Year and will pace a pretty solid team for Jamie Dixon. Look for Vanderbilt transfer Sheldon Jeter to string together a lot of good performances.
North Carolina State – What do you do when you lose your entire offensive gameplan? No, Mark Gottfried didn’t shred it on accident or anything. T.J. Warren just left for the NBA. Cat Barber and even Desmond Lee could pace this squad.
Sleeper Team – Virginia Tech – Forgive me, but there’s just something about Buzz Williams. The man finds way to make something out of nothing. He’ll get a lot out of Seth Allen and somehow, he’ll find a way to make this a middle-of-the-pack team.
The Rest….because there’s only so much you can saw about sub-par teams
Kennedy Meeks, Soph., F, North Carolina – Not only will Meeks, who averaged 7.6 points and 6.1 rebounds, benefit from Paige being his point guard for another season, but he also lost around 50 pounds, which could greatly help his conditioning on the court. He’s not exactly a ‘sleeper’ with all stats like that and the McDonald’s All-American label, but I think you could see a double-double of 17-12 per out of him if all the hype is true.
Most Likely To….upset Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium this season
Calling it an upset, that eliminates the top teams. That said, I’m going with Wake Forest on March 4. Danny Manning has like magic or something in his coaching acumen. He pulled a few good wins in his time in Tulsa. He may have to rip all the tread off Codi Miller-McIntyre’s figurative tires to get it, but for some reason, I see Wake pulling the shocker at the end of the season. Maybe it’s because it’s 2 a.m. and I decided to finish this up now.
First off, this isn’t a difficult thing, Joe Hull. When you fire a coach — with cause — you have to have an idea of what direction you’re going before you drop the axe.
Players told the administration that former coach Doug Wojcik had harassed them to the point where they felt he went across the line. In two seasons, the former Tulsa coach went 38-29 and hadn’t really generated any momentum with a program (the same problems he ran into in his final seasons with the Golden Hurricane) that experienced a bit of a rebirth under legendary coach Bobbby Cremins.
So, with all the current public information in hand, Hull, the athletic director, fired him.
That was on August 5. Which is, obviously, a horrible time to be forced to fire a college basketball coach. Freshman are arriving on campus to start summer term with the program. The summer recruiting period is over and for the most part, coaches are starting to turn their focus onto the upcoming season. But now, there’s no coach to be able to focus on the College of Charleston’s season.
Three weeks later, not only is there no new head coach on campus, the top two reported coaches for the job have publicly pulled their names from consideration.
Normally, when one coach does it, you can sometimes pin it to the fact that he was told, privately, that he was no longer being considered. But when three do it? Something’s off. And there’s no information out to prove that it’s something that’s on the administration.
So, for now, here’s how Joe Hull, you should handle the next week. Because that’s the time frame it should take to get your new coach into place.
- Take a day and try to get Anthony Johnson back in play. It’s a risk, but you assumed a larger risk when you fired your head coach in August. He’s the best candidate for the job as one of the best players in program history and a man who can actually get folks excited about the program again.
- If that doesn’t work, for the next few days, do everything in your power to be open about the search with the media. It’s the best way to get others to see what you’re dealing with. Transparency is key. Obviously, this has to be done while getting in the next few candidates.
- Then get the best two remaining candidates and bring them in for an interview. They’re former Charlotte coach Bobby Lutz, who had some great days as head man of the 49ers, and Clemson assistant Earl Grant, who has tremendous ties to the state, with coaching stops at The Citadel, Winthrop and, (of course) Clemson.
- Make a damn hire.
Hires for programs like the College of Charleston’s shouldn’t normally be big news. Only when there’s an egregious error in the process, as their have been many. Some that may have been avoidable.
We can’t sit here and say we have all the information, but short of something criminal, I’d have to say that there can’t be much holding up the hire of the best candidate (who accepts the position) for the program. Except those within the College of Charleston camp.
Make the hire and get on with the season. It’s not that hard.
Right? Wrong? Think this is nuts? Email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find me on Twitter at @David_Harten.
Much like our last post, this one came from a thought about Marshall Henderson. He was (depending on who you cheered for) fun to watch in all his jersey-popping, landshark-throwing glory. But for some, it was really just because he had coach Andy Kennedy’s blessing to shoot from wherever, whenever. It’s a lost gift, really. In these the days of ball-control and efficiency stats, every possession matters, which makes a player who has the ability to chuck it from a different area code a treasure to behold. Like Clear Pepsi or a late 1990s Master P CD.
He wasn’t the only one. Ethan Wragge is done at Creighton, a guy who took 242 shots last season, and 234 were threes.
So I went digging. I started with some of the top players in terms of three-point attempts in NCAA Division I basketball. Then I went further, seeing what their teams look like to see if they could continue their pace of jacking threes like the line was being banned tomorrow.
Here’s who I think could make you sit and watch a game just to watch them hoist threes all night.
Michael Frazier II, Jr., Florida (264 of 343 shots were 3’s in 13-14) – Let’s get the obvious one out of the way. Frazier is one of the best — possibly the best — big-name shooter in the country and he had a breakout season as the Gators reached the Final Four last year. The 6-4 guard was 118-for-264 (44.6 percent), averaged 12.4 ppg and hit big shots when they mattered — he shot 48 percent in the NCAA Tournament and SEC Tournament combined. With Kasey Hill and Eli Carter in to assume point guard duties after Scottie Wilbekin exhausted his eligibility, Billy Donovan will have to give him the green light based on the fact that, well, you don’t leave a stallion locked in the barn.
Prediction – Over 130 makes and 290 attempts, keeping him at around his normal 44 percent for the year.
Q.J. Peterson, Soph., VMI (244 of 549 shots were 3’s) – When you’re in the right system, everything will come together. For Peterson, he plays for a Keydets team that, as most know, love to get up-and-down the court. As a freshman, Peterson, a 6-foot guard, had no conscience, shooting 244 threes with 78 makes (31.9 percent). That’s a pretty awful percentage, but it’s what comes with the territory when your coaches make line changes for substitutions and average a Division I-leading 88.3 ppg as a team. Peterson averaged 19 ppg, but he basically got the greatest situation for a shooter short of Marshall Henderson at Ole Miss.
Prediction – 110 makes with over 310 attempts, which will improve Peterson’s percentage to around 35 percent.
Johnny Dee, Sr., San Diego (225 of 425 shots were 3’s) – This season it should be more of the same for Dee, who hit 94-of-225 (41.7 percent) threes last season. Two of the other top three scorers return for the Toreros in Christopher Anderson and Duda Sanadze return, which will keep the offense relatively the same. The 6-footer has been one of the more consistent shooters his whole career, averaging around three three-point makes and 6.5 attempts to this point. The Toreros also have eight freshman or sophomores on the team this year, so he’s going to be asked to maintain leadership on the court.
Prediction – Around 100 makes with 230 attempts, which should keep him around his current averages. Dee can also get to the rim, which is evident with his free throw-percentage hovering around 90 percent for his career and averages of around six trips to the line per game.
Damon Lynn Soph., NJIT (282 of 405 shots were 3’s) – Lynn led the Highlanders with 17.2 ppg and hit 37.9 percent from three-point range, which was actually better than the 37.3 clip he hit at overall. The 5-11 guard was easily NJIT’s hottest scorer (Terrence Smith was second at 12.2 ppg and after that no teammates were in double-figures) and with some improvements from the rest of the roster, Lynn could be have the freedom to score. For Lynn, a unchanged situation puts him in the perfect one.
Prediction – Until NJIT finds a conference, guys like Lynn should get the nod to score at will. I’d expect his ppg to climb, but his three-point percentage to drop. Around 90 makes and 250 attempts.
Did I miss anyone? Got a better idea? Email me at email@example.com or hit me on Twitter @David_Harten.
Everyone remembers the champs. From the first NCAA champions in Oregon in 1939 to last year’s UConn team, hoopheads can tell you who won.
Problem is, some are more remembered than others in history. The 1951 Kentucky squad coined the Fabulous Five. The UCLA teams of the early 1970s were arguably the most dominant of their era. Right after, the 1976 Indiana team still remains the last undefeated champion in Division I college basketball.
In between the ones that are always brought up, there are the champs that don’t come to mind. At least not at first, anyway.
So who are they? TBBC looks into who are the most underrated champions all-time and why.
Record – 35-5
Coach – Jerry Tarkanian
What everyone remembers – That four of their starting five would eventually be drafted into the NBA. The team that was hounded by the NCAA arguably more than any program in college basketball history — with reason — had horses with the centerpiece of forward Larry Johnson (in his first season of Division I ball out of Odessa College), veteran point guard Greg Anthony, reliable forward Stacey Augmon, do-it-all utility man George Ackles and sharpshooter Anderson Hunt, who was the Big West Player of the Year as a sophomore, prior to Johnson’s arrival on campus.
The Runnin’ Rebels (you can’t leave off the ‘runnin”) demolished Duke in the largest margin of victory in NCAA Championship Game history, 103-73. Prompting the memorable “chair lean” from Tark.
What everyone doesn’t remember – This team played rough, but they also scored in bunches . The Runnin’ Rebels eclipsed 100 points in 15 games and scored 90-plus in another eight. And after dropping a 107-105 decision to LSU on Jan. 27, UNLV finished the season winning 22 of their final 23 games, with a 78-70 loss to UC-Santa Barbara on Feb. 25 the only blemish. They dominated opponents, winning by an average of 15 points per game.
Why are they underrated? – They’re a victim of their own doing. Despite the run UNLV had, everyone remembers the 1990-91 UNLV team that ran over everyone on their way to an undefeated regular season and a loss to the same Duke team in the national semifinals a year later. That dominant run — followed by an epic collapse — made that squad more memorable than the team that won it all.
Record – 31-1
Coach – Jim Herrick
What everyone remembers – The return to prominence for one of the more storied college basketball programs in history and brought the program its first NCAA title since the legendary coach John Wooden got his last in 1975.
Oh, and those two words that weren’t in Mizzou’s vocabulary: STOP BALL.
What everyone doesn’t remember – Despite the record, the Bruins had a rough start to conference play….they lost their Pac-10 opener to Oregon 82-72. They were arguably one of the dullest (I mean that with love) champions of the 90s, but one of the best single-game performances came at the hands of Ed O’Bannon with 30 points and 17 rebounds in the national title game, an 89-78 win over Arkansas.
And their schedule wasn’t easy, with seven regular season games against Top 25 teams and five of their six games in the NCAA Tournament as well — which is impressive in the 64-team field.
Why are they underrated? – Most teams that won it all in the 90s had some sort of future-pro star power. This one simply didn’t. Herrick took a cast of talented players, none of which would have much of a career in the NBA, to the title. Tyus Edney’s staggered four seasons in the league were the most of any Bruin from this team.
1973-74 North Carolina State
Record – 30-1
Coach – Norm Sloan
What everyone remembers – The Wolfpack will always be known as the team that interrupted The Dynasty of the John Wooden-coached UCLA teams of the late ’60s and early ’70s. They upset the Bruins 80-77 in their national semifinal contest and took out Marquette in the national title game. David Thompson was the NCAA Tournament’s Most Outstanding Player along with earning his first of two national player of the year awards.
What everyone doesn’t remember– Before their Final Four win over UCLA, for the most part, N.C. State stayed at no. 2 in the nation behind UCLA. The Bruins made sure that they stayed there with an 84-66 beat down of the Wolfpack early in the season.
In fact, N.C. State was thisclose to not even making the NCAA Tournament, needing overtime to beat no.3 Maryland 103-100 in the finals of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. The NCAA tournament only took 25 teams that season, and only began to include at-large teams in 1975.
Why are they underrated? – They get lost, like most teams of the 1960s and early 1970s, in the shuffle of the UCLA juggernaut. Thompson was far-and-away the star, but N.C. State also had 7-4 center Tom Burleson’s 18 points and 11.7 boards per game and 5-7 point guard Monte Towe was one of the best floor generals in the game at a time when assists weren’t seen in the same light as they are now.
Record – 35-4
Coach – Tubby Smith
What everyone remembers – Ask anybody who knows that team, they first thing you’ll normally hear out of their mouths is “it was Rick Pitino’s team.” Pitino left after reaching his second straight NCAA Final in 1997, taking the Boston Celtics head job, and as a result, Smith inherited a gold mine. Aside from that, the team was the third straight Wildcat squad to make it to the Final Four, cementing itself as the team of the 1990s (Getting thrashed by UNLV gives UK the edge here, Duke fans….)
….And so does this:
What everyone doesn’t remember – Despite the “Tubby just had to roll the balls out in practice” schtick, this was a team full of players that just knew their role. The Wildcats took an early-season loss to the team that beat them in the 1997 NCAA Final, Arizona. The roster also featured four first round picks in Jamaal Magloire, Nazr Muhammed, Scott Padgett and Michael Bradley (though Bradley would transfer to Villanova after the 1998-99 season.
The team was as balanced as any in its era, with Jeff Sheppard the team’s leading scorer at 13.7 points per game. In fact, only 4.9 points separated Sheppard and the team’s sixth-leading scorer, Heshimu Evans (8.8 ppg). Four players also averaged at least four rebound per game — the most was Mohammed’s 7.2.
Why are they underrated? – They were at the tail end of a dynasty that the original architect didn’t finish. Everyone remembers the 1996 team as one of the most dominant teams of the era, and that hurts when remembering the best teams of the 90s. But when looking at the numbers, the ’97-’98 team holds their own. The Wildcats won all three of their Southeastern Conference tournament games by double-digits, including a 99-74 drubbing of no. 16 Arkansas in the semifinals and an 86-56 pasting of no. 15 South Carolina in the finals. Impressive considering their strength of schedule was 9th in the nation.
Record – 25-7
What everyone remembers – Al McGuire in his awesome suits were retiring at the end of the Warriors’ (as they were known until 1994) season. Butch Lee hitting spinning lay-up after spinning lay-up. Lee, the Most Outstanding Player of that tournament, headlined that team, which played in one of the more amazing endings to a Final Four game in history against UNC-Charlotte (more on that below).
What everyone doesn’t remember – ….And it’s incredible really. Jerome Whitehead pulls in the three quarter-court pass from Lee with three seconds to go just inside the free throw line, turns, one dribble, and stuffs it home for a 51-49 win over the 49ers and a trip to the title game against North Carolina.
It also wasn’t an easy road for the Warriors, who were in their second Final Four in four years. They played no. 11 Cincinnati in the first round, Kansas State in the second, then no. 9 Wake Forest in the Elite Eight, UNC-Charlotte — no. 17 at the time — in the semifinals, then finished with no. 5 North Carolina in the title game.
Also, a soon-to-be prominent coach named Rick Majerus (R.I.P.) was an assistant on that team.
Why are they underrated? – It’s a team that, like N.C. State, gets lost in the shuffle of the 1970s. They weren’t necessarily spectacular, but they averaged 70 points per game without a three-point line and had two Top 20 NBA Draft picks in Lee and Bo Ellis on the roster. They also didn’t finish all that high in the polls, ranking between no. 6 and no. 15 for most of the year.
It was one of the more impressive stories in college basketball history, with the small, Jesuit school in Milwaukee sending their retiring coach out as the ultimate winner. It’s stuff that sports movies are made out of.
Got a better idea? Did we forget anyone? Hit us on Twitter at @David_Harten or @TBBChronicles or with an email at TBBChronicles@gmail.com.
Much like the Missouri Valley Conference, Conference-USA has one dominant team, and several others looking up hoping and praying they will get an NCAA Tournament berth.
C-USA Preseason Rankings:
1. Memphis. The Tigers have all of the tools to not only easily win the conference, but to also make a deep tournament run for the first time in Josh Pastner’s reign. Memphis lost their best perimeter scorer in Will Barton, but an Adonis Thomas-led frontcourt will be the backbone of this team. The best news for the Tigers this year? They’ve got Shaq! Shaq Goodwin that is, a 6’8″ big man who was rated the 31st best recruit by ESPN. Replacing the scoring of Barton will be Joe Jackson, who averaged 11 a game last season. Chris Crawford will also be a key wing player for the Tigers. An easy schedule will benefit Memphis, at least until postseason play — Memphis plays only one team, Louisville, currently ranked in the top-25 in the nation.
2. Marshall. You’re going to want to learn DeAndre Kane’s name this year. After a stellar sophomore season for the Thundering Herd where he did a little bit of everything, including leading the team with 16.5 ppg., Kane is back for his junior year to lead Marshall. Joining him for Marshall will be Dennis Tinnon, who averaged a double-double last year (10 ppg., 10 rpg.). Marshall struggled in conference last year, going 9-7, this coming after beating Cincinnati in out-of-conference play and having a close game with Syracuse. The Thundering Herd have one of the toughest schedules in the nation this year, playing Kentucky, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Villanova.
3. Central Florida. The Golden Knights return three of their top four leading scorers, led by Keith Clanton who has averaged at least 14 the last two seasons. Isaiah Sykes will join in on the offense with Clanton. I like Sykes to be a big breakout candidate as he averaged 12 points and six rebounds last year, after not doing much at all his freshman year. He will need to pick up the offense with Marcus Jordan deciding not to return to UCF. If Sykes improves on his three-point field goal percentage (29 percent), he could very well be the team’s leading scorer this year. Unfortunately, UCF is barred from postseason play due to recruiting violations, so even an improvement off their 20-win season last year won’t take them dancing.
4. Tulane. No really, Tulane. Plagued by injuries last year, this team finished dead last in the conference, but I have reason to believe they belong in the top-five. Ricky Tarrant is fresh off of a 15 ppg. season last year, and he will be joined by Kendall Timmons, who only played half of the year last season after tearing his Achilles. Timmons is the long-distance threat Tulane needs (48 percent 3P%). With Jordan Callahan and Josh Davis returning, the Green Wave return almost all of their scoring, and will also likely get back Tomas Bruha, one of their big frontcourt weapons. An NCAA Tournament berth may be a stretch, but don’t be shocked if they make the NIT.
5. UTEP. There’s about five teams I could put here, and with expectations so high for the Miners I’m giving them the nod. UTEP returns five of their top seven scorers and four of their top five rebounders. If that wasn’t enough, they got high school All-American Twymond Howard, as well as fellow freshman Chris Washburn. I really like what UTEP is doing, and if all the pieces click, this could easily be a top-three team in the conference. Leading scorers John Bohannon and Julian Washburn both return for UTEP.
Preseason C-USA First Team
Adonis Thomas- Simply put, this man is a beast. At 6’7″ and 242 points, Thomas averaged just 8.8 points per game last season, but that was in his freshman season where he was only getting 24 minutes a game. Look for improvement in every category this year, and for his minutes to get over 30 a game. He needs to become a better rebounder, as he averaged just 3.2 a game last year. But this physical specimen has all of the tools to be a top contributor for the Tigers.
DeAndre Kane- This guy can do it all, probably because he has to. Averaging 16.5 points, 5.4 rebounds and 3.5 assists is good enough to get on this list. He had very similar numbers his freshman year, which makes me believe if he still has room to grow. His field goal, 3-point and free throw percentages were all down from his freshman year, but if those go up he could be a guy that challenges for Player of the Year in the conference.
Keith Clanton- For a while it looked as if Clanton was on his way out, as the NCAA gave UCF heavy recruiting sanctions. Thank God he’s not, because there is no way the Golden Knights would contend for an NCAA Tournament berth without him. The double-double machine averaged 14.5 and 8 last year, and he can also hit from deep (1.2 three’s a game). A guy that can shoot in the post and from outside, as well as being a solid rebounder is a tough guy to guard.
Rick Tarrant- This sophomore guard will be the reason behind Tulane’s surge to the top half of the conference. Averaging 15 points, with 3 assists and 3 rebounds last year, Tarrant had a freshman season as good as anyone last year. He poured in 24 points and seven rebounds when Tulane beat Georgia Tech last year.
Dennis Tinnon- As a junior college transfer for his junior year, Tinnon averaged a double-double for the Thundering Herd. He, along with Kane will be counted on to keep Marshall in the hunt this season. He had 12 double-doubles last season, including an 18 and 11 performance in Marshall’s NIT loss to Middle Tennessee State.
Coach of the Year:
Ed Conroy- Tulane is going to surprise some people, let me tell you. Conroy is now in his third year at Tulane, and we all know the third year is when team’s make that big jump. They may not be the fourth best team in the conference like I’m predicting, but I guarantee they will be in the top half of the conference.
Player of the Year:
Keith Clanton- You know you’re good when you turn down the chance to play for University of Kentucky. Clanton could have jumped ship and went to Lexington this summer, but he decided to stay with UCF despite no chance at postseason play this year. UCF lost several key members of their team last year, so Clanton will be counted on even more this year. He led the team in points and rebounds a year ago.
All of a sudden the Atlantic-10 Conference looks like a power conference. The arrivals of Virginia Commonwealth and Butler will bring a new sense of life into the conference for the 2012-13 season.
1. St. Louis:
A surprise team last year, most of last year’s Billikens will return, except of course head coach Rick Majerus, who is taking the season off for health reasons. Kwamain Mitchell should be one of the top scorers in the league, averaging 12.4 points a game in his junior season. Dwayne Evans, who averaged over seven points and seven rebounds a game last year, helping lead a defense that only gave up 57.6 points per game — eighth in the nation. Jared Drew, a talented freshman out of Indianapolis, will likely man that frontcourt with Evans. Expectations will be high with this St. Louis team, and they have the talent to be a top-15 team in the nation.
After back-to-back trips to the NCAA Championship game, Butler didn’t get an NCAA Tournament nod OR an NIT invite in 2011-12, forcing the Bulldogs to settle for the CBI. Butler should be improved this year, only losing point guard Ronald Nored off of last year’s team. Andrew Smith, who apparently is never going to graduate, is back for his senior year, and will anchor the inside after his 2011-12 year with 10.7 ppg and 5.7 rebounds per game. But the best player on this team could be Rotnei Clarke, an Arkansas transfer who was second-team All-SEC his junior year. He will be eligible this year, so look for him to lead the Bulldogs in scoring. Khyle Marshall and Roosevelt Jones will also be key players for Butler.
And here is the other newcomer, rounding out the top-three in their first year in the A-10. This is a very deep team, with no one star. They lost Bradford Burgess from last year’s team (13.5 ppg., 5.1 rpg.) but they will have his younger brother Jordan Burgess likely stepping up and making big contributions for his freshman season. A backcourt led by Darius Theus and Briante Weber will likely be the strength of this team, as thy helped force 17.9 turnovers a game last season — good for third in the nation. Their leading returning scorer is Juvonte Reddic (10.4 ppg.)
If the Owls do anything for the 2012-13 season, it will be because of Khalif Wyatt, who returns for his senior season after averaging 17 points a game last year. He appears to be a lock for First-Team A-10, as well as a potential All-American candidate. But Temple lost three of their starters from last year’s team that won the A-10, meaning this season they may be closer to the bubble, if not off the bubble. Rahlir Hollis-Jefferson and Anthony Lee will be two players the Owls will count on with the graduations of three of their key players, including Ramone Moore.
Even with losing Tu Hollowy, Kenny Frease and Mark Lyons, it’s hard to keep the Musketeers out of the top-five. The Musketeers will also have to cope with the expulsion of leading returning scorer Dezmine Wells. Helping to ease the graduations of Holloway and Frease will be freshman Semaj Christian and Towson transfer Isaiah Philmore. Xavier has made the NCAA Tournament every year since 2005, and this year will likely be the toughest year they have had to return.
6. St. Josephs
9. St. Bonaventure
10. La Salle
13. George Washington
14. Rhode Island
Khalif Wyatt: One of the best scorers in the conference, this two-guard averaged 17 points a game last year. He scored 22 points and had 5 steals when Temple was able to upset No. 3 Duke this year. The Owls simply need to give Wyatt the ball and let him do the rest. He had 12 games last year with less than 10 shot attempts, and that won’t be acceptable this year.
Rotnei Clarke: The Arkansas transfer could be the go-to-guy in the Butler offense his first year for the Bulldogs. He could already be the best shooter in the conference, averaging over 42 percent from behind the 3-point line and making nearly three 3-pointers a game in his three years at Arkansas. He averaged 15 points a game his last two years as a Razorback, and it would be a surprise to see him not duplicate that in a weaker conference this year.
Kwamain Mitchell: With leading scorer Brian Conklin graduated from St. Louis, Mitchell will need to step up his scoring from last year (12.4 ppg.). He’s the best player on the best team in the conference, so you’d think he belongs on this list. Not only is he a solid scorer, but his 126 assists led the team last year.
Chaz Williams: If UMass contends for an NCAA or NIT berth, it will be because of Williams. Probably the best point guard in the conference last year, Williams averaged 16 points and six assists. The Minutemen haven’t made the Big Dance since 2997, and Williams will need to up those numbers for them to have a chance.
Chris Gaston: He may play for one of the worst teams in the conference in Fordham, but you can’t ignore this double-double machine. Last year he averaged 17 points and 9.9 rebounds, but he may need to get his team some more wins to get on this list at the end of the season.
Coach of the Year: Jim Crews
Crews, who takes over for Rick Majerus this year, is no stranger to head coaching responsibilities. He is the former head coach of Evansville and Air Force, and has NCAA Tournament appearances under his belt. This year he has the task of replacing a coaching icon, who brought St Louis to the top of the conference. They should stay at the top of the A-10 this year, and if they do it should be Crews who takes home the hardware.
Player of the Year: Khalif Wyatt
There isn’t a standout, runaway favorite to win this award, so I’m going with Wyatt. Temple has the makes of a bubble team, and Wyatt will do everything he can to push the Owls to the Big Dance. He may have to take over games at times, but he is certainly capable.
Even though Kentucky ended up winning the National Championship last year, it was Vanderbilt who took home the SEC title. Can UK recover from five players leaving for the NBA Draft, or will another team pull off another major upset in the SEC?
1- Kentucky. Nerlens Noel will lead another star-packed Kentucky recruiting class, that was ranked No. 2 in the nation. Scouts say Noel is every bit the shot blocker Anthony Davis was, though his offensive game still needs some work. Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin will both get big minutes in their freshman years as well. Of John Calipari’s five recruits from the 2011 class, only Kyle Wiltjer elected to stay for a sophomore season. He averaged five points a game and will be the only contributor back from that National Championship team. NC State transfer Ryan Harrow will be Calipari’s most experienced point guard he has had in years. It’s hard not to pick Kentucky to win the conference with the way Calipari is able to rebuild teams quickly.
2- Missouri. With Phil Pressey and Michael Dixon, Missouri will have one of the best starting backcourts in the country. The two combined for nearly 24 points and 10 assists a year ago. The Tigers had trouble with frontcourt depth last season, but 2010 starter Laurence Bowers (10.2 points, 5.7 rebounds per game in 2009-10) is back from a torn ACL, and they will also have UCONN transfer Alex Oriakhi, who has plenty of NCAA Tournament experience. They lost three players who averaged over 13 points a game, but with who they have coming back this is still a strong team.
3- Florida. The Gators are without two of the main backcourt members, including Bradley Beal who was the No. 3 pick in the NBA Draft, but the cupboards are hardly bare. Shooting guard Kenny Boynton, who averaged nearly 16 points a game last year, will be counted on even more this year. Erik Murphy and Patric Young, who both averaged over 10 points and 4.5 rebounds a game last year return as well. This team will have a lot of depth and experience, including that of Mike Rosario and Brandon Ogbueze.
4- Tennessee. If the Volunteers can repeat what they did in their half season with freshman Jarnell Stokes, then this team will for sure be a top-five SEC team and borderline top-25 team in the nation. After Stokes was inserted into the starting lineup last year, Tennessee went 10-3. He provides a big physical presence that the Volunteers will need to rely on. He isn’t their only quality big man, as Jeronne Maymom (12.7 ppg, 8.1 rpg) will be a good counter for Stokes. Trae Golden is one of the SEC’s best point guards as well, leading the team in scoring at 13.6 a game. It’s NCAA Tournament or bust for Tennessee, as they return over 80 percent of the scoring and rebounding.
5- Arkansas. A 3-9 stretch to end last year ended squashed any chance of the Razorbacks making the Big Dance, but this year should be a different story. Arkansas got a huge break when BJ Young decided to not turn pro and stay in college another year. He led the SEC freshmen in scoring a year ago, shooting 50 percent from the field. Marshawn Powell tore knee ligaments after just two games last year — two breakout games, suggesting he is in for a big year this year. Mardracus Wade, Rickey Scott and freshmen JaCorey Williams and DeQuavious Wagner give this team a lot of depth.
9- Ole Miss
11- Texas A&M
12- Mississippi State
14- South Carolina
Jarnell Stokes- In just half of a year last season, Stokes was a monster in the post, and a full summer with the team will pay huge dividends going into his sophomore season. He only averaged 9.6 points a game, but that’s in limited playing time. Look for that to increase upward of 15 a game, as he has a full summer of workouts. He helped Team USA to a gold medal at the U18 FIBA Americas during the offseason, averaging 15 points and 5.6 rebounds a game.
Nerlens Noel- It’s hard not to compare him to Anthony Davis, especially when there have been plenty of people that said his defensive game rivals Davis’. If that’s the case, pencil Noel in for an SEC first-team selection. He may not be totally polished on offense, but in a Calipari offense the offense will definitely be there for him to average at least 10 points a game. He doesn’t have to be Anthony Davis, just Nerlens Noel, and by the looks of it — that kid can play.
BJ Young- As a freshman last season, this guard was fourth in the whole conference in field goal percentage. You just don’t see that in freshmen, especially guards. Fayetville must be excited to get Young back for another season, one that is filled with high expectations for the Arkansas squad. He averaged 15 points a game last season, and with even just a little bit of improvement I’d be shocked if he didn’t leave for the NBA after this season.
Phil Pressey- Though he averaged just 1.3 points a game, Pressey did pretty much everything else last season. He was tops in the Big 12 in assists (6.4) and steals (2.1). His field goal percentage went from 38 percent in his freshman year to 43 percent last year, but he will still need to improve on that. Pressey was the lone Tiger who showed up for their first round NCAA Tournament game with Norfolk State, scoring 20 points with eight assists. Expectations are high with this Missouri team, and a lot of their success will depend on Pressey’s play.
Kenny Boynton- With apologies to Alex Poythress, Patric Young and Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Florida’s Young gets the nod for the fifth spot on this list because of his ability to take over games with his scoring. The SEC’s leading returning scorer, Boynton has averaged at least 14 points a game in all three years at Florida. Last season he had 13 games of at least 20 points. The biggest improvement Boynton made was in his field goal percentage, which jumped from 38 percent to 44 percent.
Most Underrated Team- Alabama
The Crimson Tide had a two-man monster in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell a year ago, but with both of them graduated Alabama will need a new identity. Look no further than Devonta Pollard, who may be the best freshman in the conference aside from UK’s. Pollard has tremendous athleticism and will fit in right away with Alabama. Returning for the Crimson Tide is Trevor Releford, who last year averaged 12 points a game on 48 percent shooting. There are no seniors this year, so if they finish in the middle of the pack this year, look for them to be in the top-5 in 2013-14.
Most Overrated Team- Vanderbilt
With all of the pieces they graduated, it’s hard to imagine the Commodores enjoying much success this year. Jeff Taylor, John Jenkins and Festus Ezeli are all graduated, leaving a big hole on the Vanderbilt squad that won the SEC Tournament last year. Not many are picking the Commodores to do much of anything this year, but fans may look at this time as a top-half SEC team just by habit. But with their top six players graduated, that simply will not be the case.
This one was a toss up for me, but if Tennessee repeats what they did when they had Stokes in the starting lineup last year, then it should be their sophomore big man who takes home this award. Word in Knoxville is that Stokes has looked even more polished. He made his presence known in just his third game last year, pulling down 12 rebounds and scoring 16 points in an upset win over UCONN. I envision Stokes being a double-double machine this year. He is now used to Cuonzo Martin’s system and knows what to expect out of the team, including that of Trae Golden who will feed Stokes the ball early and often.
Coach of the Year- Cuonzo Martin
Not many people expected Tennessee to be good this soon after Bruce Pearl’s exit. But Martin has put the Volunteers in a position to contend for the No. 2 team in the conference behind Kentucky. With several players on his team recruited from Pearl’s team, Martin was able to keep the team focused enough to contend for the NCAA Tournament, and they will be better this year with most of their players returning. The biggest thing Martin has done was grab the aforementioned Stokes as a part of his first recruiting class.
Sleeper Impact Player- Marshawn Powell
Powell began the 2011-12 season as good as anyone, scoring at least 19 points with five rebounds in each of his first two games. His season was short lived, as he tore knee ligaments after in just the first week of the season. He’s back for an Arkansas team that has high expectations. Powell is a guy who averaged 14.9 points and then 10.8 points in his first two years at Arkanas, and the Razorbacks will need him to be a double-digit scorer again in what they think will be a big year for their team.
Photos: SEC Conference/Google Images
Miss us? Well we’re back. This week we’ll be previewing the six major conferences, beginning with the Big Ten.
1- Indiana. Not only will they be the team to beat in the Big Ten, but they will likely begin the season ranked No. 1 in the country. The Hoosiers bring back most of their team, including some talented newcomers, that went 27-9 in a breakout year last season. Cody Zeller, perhaps the favorite to win the Naismith Award, is back to man the middle, with Indiana also returning three more players that averaged at least 10 points per game (Christian Watford, Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo). This is as deep as any team in the nation, as Indiana will have Yogi Ferrell compete for the starting point guard position with Hulls. In what will likely be a 10 or 11-man rotation, the Hoosiers will likely get back Maurice Creek, who has had his share of injuries three years removed from leading Indiana in scoring. This may be Indiana’s best chance at getting back to the Final Four, and anything less would be considered a disappointment.
2- Michigan. I’m a firm believer that the Wolverines have the best backcourt in the country in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr. Those two led Michigan to a 24-10 record a year ago, both scoring over 14 points a game. With Burke opting to come back for his sophomore year, expectations will be high in Ann Arbor. The frontcourt is a different story, as they had several graduate, but Mitch McGary will likely start down low and I think he will be one of the best freshmen in the conference. Burke and Hardaway, Jr. will lead the way, but for the Wolverines to make a run this season they will need guys like McGary and Glenn Robinson III to not play like freshmen.
3-Ohio State. The Buckeyes come into the 2012-13 season with maybe more question marks than anyone. Graduating Jared Sullinger will certainly hurt, but they also lost another solid starter in Willam Buford. But if Deshaun Thomas does what he did in last year’s NCAA Tournament, then there may not be much of a reason to worry. Thomas scored at least 14 points in four of Ohio State’s five tourney games, including 31 in their opening-round win over Loyola. He will get the ball often from Aaron Craft, who may be the best floor-general in the country. For the Buckeyes youngsters, including Shannon Scott and Amir Williams, it will be trial-by-fire because Thad Matta will need them to contribute right away.
4-Michigan State. The Spartans return most of their team, except of course Draymond Green, who was an All-American last year in his senior season. Replacing a player of Green’s caliber is tough, but Tom Izzo will look to Keith Appling to step up his production for his junior year, as he is the leading returning scorer at 11.4 a game. Branden Dawson, Adreian Payne and Derrick Nix all averaged at least seven a game, but Nix is coming off a rocky summer as he was involved in a drug arrest. Michigan State has one of the deepest teams in the country, along with Indiana, and will also look from solid production from freshman Gary Harris. Losing Green won’t be the end of the world for a Wolverine team as deep as any they’ve recently had.
5- Wisconsin. Even without Jordan Taylor, the Badgers will still contend for a top-five spot in the Big Ten thanks to Ryan Evans, a swingman who averaged 11 points and a team-high 6.8 rebounds a year ago. Jared Berggren (10.5 ppg., 4.9 rpg) will also be back, but Sam Dekker is who they’re really excited about in Madison. The talented freshman will likely make an instant impact, as he was rated the No. 17 recruit in the nation by ESPN.
Cody Zeller – The 7-foot big man did a little bit of everything last year, averaging over 15 points and six rebounds, while also getting one steal and one block per game. That was in his freshman year, and we can expect a big improvement for Zeller’s sophomore year. It has been said for five years that Cody is the most talented of the Zeller brothers, and with his older brothers graduated, the spotlight is on Cody to prove he’s not only the best Zeller, but the best player in the nation.
Trevor Mbakwe– Now in his sixth, yup sixth, year at Minnesota, this selection all depends on Mbakwe’s health. After already missing two years due to injury, he only played ten games last year, averaging a near double-double with 14 points and 9.1 rebounds. Last year it was his ACL, but he appears like he will be ready to go by the start of the season. If he’s fully healthy, a spot on the first-team Big Ten seems like a lock.
Aaron Craft– Is there a better point guard in the nation? You could argue Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, but he is also counted on as the Racers’ go-to scorer.Pierre Jackson and Shabazz Napier are two more popular names, but I’m not sure if anyone brings what Craft brings. He’s not known for his scoring (8.8 ppg.) but with 4.6 assists to only 2.2 turnovers a game, Craft does a good job of managing the game. What he’s best known for is his ability to be a shut-down defender, averaging 2.5 steals a game a year ago. Thad Matta may count on more offense this season from Craft, but his defense will still be there.
Trey Burke– Perhaps the most talented freshman guard in the nation last year, Burke decided to come back for his sophomore year. He helped fuel a Michigan turnaround with nearly 15 points and five assists a game, and as a sophomore he will look to lead the Wolverines deep into the NCAA Tournament. He has a ton of weapons around him, and if he matures and improves on his decision maker, Burke could challenge Craft as the best point guard in the conference.
Deshaun Thomas– You can count on Thomas to provide the scoring that is lost for Ohio State after Jarred Sullinger’s departure. He scored 16 points a game a year ago with Sullinger, and for the incredibly athletic forward, it wouldn’t be a surprise if he upped that to the low-20s. Ohio State will need that out of Thomas, as they will be a very inexperienced team besides him and Craft.
Most Undervalued Team
Iowa– With 18 wins a year ago, I wouldn’t be surprised for the Hawkeyes to make a big splash this season. This will be a young team, likely starting two freshman, a sophomore and two juniors, and they lost their leading scorer in Matt Gatens, but the youngsters will carry them. The good thing for those young players is an easy schedule to begin the year. It would be tough for the Hawkeyes to go undefeated in their non-conference slate, but all of their games appear to be winnable. Iowa has a solid backcourt in Josh Oglesby and Roy Marble, and the frontcourt will be led by freshman center Adam Woodbury, a top-40 recruit, along with Aaron White. Iowa usually isn’t a team mentioned with the best of the Big Ten, but this team has all the talent to be in the top half of the conference and grab an NCAA Tournament berth.
Most Overrated Team
Northwestern– I don’t see Northwestern repeating their surprising year from last year when they went 19-14. 20-point per game John Shurma is gone, and starting two-guard JerShon Cobb has been suspended for the season for a violation of team policy. Drew Crawford will carry the scoring load, but I’m not sure if they have much behind him. They have two transfers manning their frontcourt in Jared Swopshire and Nikola Cerina, two guys who never did much impressing at their previous schools. David Sobolewski will be one quality big man for the Wildcats, but I just don’t think they have enough pieces to make a run at the NCAA Tournament. Even last year they didn’t impress me, only beating one ranked team all season. With losing their go-to guy, the 2012-13 season won’t be as pretty for Northwestern.
Sleeper Impact Player
Maurice Creek– The Indiana junior could be a huge x-factor this year for the Hoosiers. Three years ago when IU was the laughingstock of the Big Ten, Creek averaged 16 points a game in his freshman season. He got hurt just before Big Ten play began, and was out the rest of the season. He wasn’t his normal self for his sophomore season, clearly not at 100 percent. He only played half of that year, and none the past season. Creek appears to be healthy now, and no one expects him to average 16 points a game, but he still be a big weapon off the bench for the Hoosiers. If he stays healthy, Creek is a guy who provide 10 points a game in a reserve role. IU is a deep team, and to have a guy like Creek as your 7th or 8th man on the bench, they will be in good shape.
Michigan’s John Beilein, like Indiana’s Tom Crean, helped turnaround a dismal Michigan basketball program. But the thing with the Wolverines, no one quite expected it. They should be one of the top teams in the conference this year because a load of depth. They have stars in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway, Jr., but also quality freshmen that will make this a special team. Michigan won their first Big Ten title since 1986 last season, and though they may not win it this year, they will be right in the thick of the race.
Photos courtesy of Fox59.com and whenlarrymetmagic.com
Since last week it is safe to say that Kansas State, Purdue, Iowa State and Mississippi State are virtual locks to make it into the NCAA Tournament. With just one regular-season game left for most of the power conference teams, who is close to making themselves a lock for the tournament?
Northwestern: They missed their chance, two of them in fact. In the past eight days the Wildcats have dropped two gut-wrenching games to some top Big Ten competition. First came a 67-55 overtime loss to Michigan State last Tuesday, and then tonight they lost a 75-73 heartbreaker to Ohio State. Just one of those losses may have been Northwestern over the top. To make it even worse, both of those games were at home, and the committee won’t give them many excuses for those games. There is still some hope left, however. Their regular-season finale is at Iowa, and that is obviously a must-win. Then they need to win a couple games in the Big Ten tournament, with hopefully one of them being against one of the five ranked Big Ten teams. This is a team everyone wants in the tournament, but at just 7-10 in conference right now, they are about out of chances. Feb. 29 status: Out
Miami: The Hurricanes got lucky. Their starting center Reggie Johnson only had to miss one game after NCAA violations. This puts Miami in a good position. They beat Florida State on Sunday, but a loss to NC State did them no favors. Miami now needs to beat Boston College this weekend, and then not get upset in the ACC Tournament. One upset and they are out. That’s how much Miami is on the bubble right now. Feb. 29 status: In
Connecticut: I definitely can’t figure out the Huskies. At this point I would say their resume doesn’t warrant an at-large bid. After that buzzer-beater win at Villanova, I thought the Huskies had a shot at turning things around. They lost a close one against Syracuse, and came back from that with a loss at Providence. No really, Providence. They have now lost nine out of 12 games, and the committee certainly won’t like that. They play a Pitt team this weekend that is playing better ball than them at the moment. A couple wins in the Big East tournament will be a must, but they don’t have a Kemba Walker to save them this year. Feb. 29 status: Out
Texas: Simply put, the Longhorns are hanging on by a thread. They continue to beat the teams they should beat (Texas Tech and Oklahoma most recently). A win at Kansas this weekend will make them a lock, but that will be a tough one. Assuming they lose that one, they will be 19-9 with a similar situation as Miami — right on the edge. There will be no room for error in the Big 12 tournament. A loss early on and there bubble will be burst. Feb. 29 status: In
South Florida: Their win over Louisville tonight may have put them over the top. Now they need to just not lose early on in the Big East tournament. But even with a first or second round loss, it will be hard for the committee to not give the fifth place team in the Big East an at-large bid. They have played arguably the easiest schedule in conference, but with wins over tourney teams Cinci and Louisville within the past three days, they seem to be in good shape. Feb. 29 Status: In
Colorado and Oregon: These two teams play each other tomorrow in what may be the biggest Pac-12 game of the year. Both teams look to be out at the moment, so whichever team loses will likely not have a shot at the NCAA’s. The winner may just be able to position itself as one of the last teams in to make it. The Pac-12 should get four times in the tournament — California, Arizona and Washington all seem like good bets to make it. No chance this conference gets five teams in, so that’s why the Colorado-Oregon game tomorrow is a must-win on both sides.
Xavier: The Musketeers have not played up to potential all year, going just 9-6 in the Atlantic-10. Non-conference wins against Vanderbilt, Purdue and Cincinatti are all solid, but they are 0-3 against the top two teams in the conference (Temple and Saint Louis). They have swapped between wins and losses there last 8 games, but those non-conference wins still hold. As long as they don’t lose early in the conference tournament they should be in a position to grab one of the last at-larges. Feb. 29 Status: In
St Joseph’s: I’m not sure if both the Hawks and Musketeers can both make it in. St. Joes had a big win vs. Temple over the weekend, but still will need a little help to get in. Their biggest non-conference win of the year game against Creighton. They lost their only game of the year to Xavier, and a 9-7 conference record won’t go well with the committee. If they run into Xavier in the A-10 tournament, that could be a win-and-you’re-in game. Feb. 29 Status: Out