Four college hoops programs on the wane


Few things in college hoops are more painful than the slow decline into mediocrity. Even worse is being unable to bust out of it.

Carolyn Kaster/AP

If Connecticut and Oklahoma aren’t careful, they’ll join George Washington and Southern Illinois in that territory. Call ’em the four programs on the wane.

First, the two stragglers.

George Washington won 77 games and reached three straight NCAA tournaments over a three-year span. Karl Hobbs’ team has been unable to recapture that form, finishing in the bottom half of the A-10 each of the last three years, mostly because of a middling defense and improved conference competition. (GW’s best years came when the league trailed the MAC, WAC and West Coast in overall strength. That’s not the case today.)

It’s not getting better anytime soon. Hobbs’ 2010-11 roster returns four starters from a 16-15 squad, but nothing to match the A-10’s top teams in terms of talent. If Dayton and Rhode Island can’t break into the Top 4, GW isn’t doing so anytime soon.

Southern Illinois has gone through a similar decline. The Salukis won at least 22 games between 2004 and 2007, capping the four-year run with a 29-7 record and a spot in the Sweet 16. Three seasons later, they finished ninth in the Missouri Valley.

Again, blame the defense. Chris Lowery’s defenses once were among the nation’s stingiest. Even an 18-15 record in 2007-08 belied the ‘D’ that forced turnovers and kept opponents off the boards. They’re now merely average. The overall record could improve because of three juco transfers, but until Lowry recruits better, the Salukis will keep dragging the bottom half of the MVC.

Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel made his name through his high-profile recruits like Blake Griffin, Willie Warren and Keith Gallon. Unfortunately for Capel, Griffin was the only game-changer of the bunch and when he left, the Sooners stunk it up. Warren, Gallon and Tommy Mason-Griffin all went pro.

Now Capel’s left with decent, not great talent. And that’s an issue when you’re a good recruiter and a so-so coach. The Sooners’ defense plummeted last season, as Oklahoma failed to challenge shots, force turnovers or block shots. Most of that lies with Capel’s failure to either motivate his guys or teach them.

Part of the problem is that Capel, 35, is still learning how to coach. His team’s performance last season was a reflection of his abilities. But there aren’t any fabulous talents headed to Norman soon. That means Capel either becomes a much better coach quickly, or the Sooners are going to be stuck in the bottom of what’s about to be a much tougher Big 12.

Then there’s UConn.

UConn’s coming off an 18-16 season and is unlikely to improve on that after losing three starters and a key talent (Ater Majok). It’s not the Huskies are going to start dragging the bottom of the Big East. It’s that they don’t have any room for error.

Consider these factors:

  • Jim Calhoun’s age
  • NCAA sanctions
  • The brutal Big East

Calhoun’s 68 and has had a bevy of health problems through the years. It’s a testament to his reputation and the Huskies’ program that four-star recruits still head to Storrs. How long it continues with his age and the NCAA penalties (more looming?) remains to be seen.

The Big East is no place for teams trying to tread water, either. Other programs – St. John’s, Seton Hall, Providence – have been stuck in the league’s bottom half for years, while consistent teams like Marquette and Notre Dame can’t seem to break through.

If the Huskies aren’t winning, they’re losing ground. Such is life in the Big East.

Mike Miller’s also on Twitter @BeyndArcMMiller, usually talkin’ hoops. Click here for more.

Jalen Coleman-Lands cleared to practice

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 10: Jarrod Uthoff #20 of the Iowa Hawkeyes defends against Jalen Coleman-Lands #5 of the Illinois Fighting Illini in the second round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 10, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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When Illinois takes on Southeast Missouri State in the opener of the 2016-17 season, the Fighting Illini should have it’s starting backcourt out on the floor.

According to Jon Rothstein, Jalen Coleman-Lands has been cleared for all basketball activities. The sophomore two-guard has been recovering from a broken bone in his right hand.

The 6-foot-3 guard averaged 10.3 points per game, while shooting 42 percent from three, as a freshman. He, along with Malcolm Hill and Michael Thorne Jr., is one of three returning players who averaged double figures last season.

Coleman-Lands will team up with Tracy Abrams, a point guard who was granted a sixth year of eligibility after missing the past two seasons due to injuries.

This could prove to be a make-or-break year for John Groce, who enters his fifth season at the helm. He guided the Illini to an NCAA Tournament in his first season, but hasn’t been back since.

The key for the Illini is health. Abrams gives them experience and leadership, but it won’t be a surprise if there’s some rust in his game after spending the past two seasons on the sideline. Having a healthy Coleman-Lands will help stabilize the backcourt, while Hill, an all-conference caliber forward, and Thorne anchor the frontcourt.

NBC Sports projected Illinois to finish eighth in the Big Ten this season.

Curtis Jones jumps over Tom Crean

Tom Crean
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Indiana held its annual Hoosier Hysteria on Saturday night.

One of the highlights from the team’s dunk contest was when freshman guard Curtis Jones jumped over Indiana head coach Tom Crean.

This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a newcomer us his coach as a dunk contest prop. Last week, Rawle Alkins cleared Arizona head coach Sean Miller en route to a reverse jam.

Like Alkins, Jones was a sought-after scorer. The 6-foot-4 two-guard was rated No. 69 overall in the Class of 2016 by Rivals. He picked Indiana over offers from Cal, Cincinnati, Georgetown and more than a dozen other high-major programs.

WATCH: Edmond Sumner take off from the foul line

CINCINNATI, OH - FEBRUARY 03:  Edmond Sumner #4 of the Xavier Musketeers dunks the ball during the game against the St. John's Red Storm at Cintas Center on February 3, 2016 in Cincinnati, Ohio.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Edmond Sumner is a big reason why Xavier is likely going to be a preseason top-10 team.

On Saturday night, during Musketeer Madness, Sumner won the team’s dunk contest when he took off from the foul line.

Sumner defeated freshmen Tyrique Jones and Quentin Goodin. J.P. Macura, the reigning Big East Sixth Man of the Year, took home the honors last year.

The 6-foot-6 redshirt sophomore is coming off a debut season in which he averaged 11.0 points, 3.4 rebounds and 3.6 assists per game.

WATCH: Duke goes crazy for Chase Jeter’s bottle flip

PROVIDENCE, RI - MARCH 17:  Chase Jeter #2 of the Duke Blue Devils looks on in the second half against the North Carolina-Wilmington Seahawks during the first round of the 2016 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at Dunkin' Donuts Center on March 17, 2016 in Providence, Rhode Island.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

The bottle flip has become an international sensation in recent months.

It’s as simple as it sounds: flipping a water bottle in the air, attempting to have it land upright.

Duke sophomore forward Chase Jeter, in front of 9,300-plus fans, successfully pulled off the bottle flip on Saturday night at Duke’s Craziness.

Jeter, the 6-foot-10, played in a reserve role as a freshman, averaging 1.9 points and 1.9 rebounds per game last season. He will be part of a loaded frontline that includes heralded freshmen Harry Giles and Marques Bolden, as well as redshirt senior Amile Jefferson, who returns to the lineup following a foot injury.

Auburn to honor Charles Barkley with a statue

HOUSTON, TEXAS - APRIL 04:  Former NBA player and commentator Charles Barkley looks on prior to the 2016 NCAA Men's Final Four National Championship game between the Villanova Wildcats and the North Carolina Tar Heels at NRG Stadium on April 4, 2016 in Houston, Texas.  (Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images)
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The greatest player in Auburn program history will honored with a statue outside of the team’s home arena.

The university announced that Charles Barkley, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Famer, will be the fourth athlete to be given a statue, joining Heisman Trophy winners Bo Jackson, Pat Sullivan and Cam Newton.

“It just means a great deal to me,” Barkley said in a statement. “Being a kid from Alabama, going to Auburn. I think everybody knows what Auburn means to me. It’s going to be pretty cool.”

Barkley, currently working as an analyst for TNT, was the SEC Player of the Year in 1984, as well as a second team All-American. He averaged 14.1 points and 9.6 rebounds per game in 84 appearances for the Tigers.

His number 34 is retired at Auburn.