Once again, the injustice that is the NLI comes to light

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If you haven’t yet been convinced that signing a National Letter of Intent is the wrong course of action for a high school recruit, Tennessee AD Mike Hamilton provides you with yet another piece of evidence of the NLI program’s worthlessness.

As you no doubt know, Bruce Pearl has been fired as Tennessee’s basketball coach. The two players that he signed in the Class of 2011 — Chris Jones and Kevin Ware, both top 100 guards — have requested to receive a release from their Letters of Intent.

And to both, the answer Hamilton gave was essentially the same — wait it out, and see what you think of the new coach we hire.

In all honesty, there is nothing wrong with this approach. In fact, if it was my kid in this situation, I would probably give him the same advice.

I’m not a fool. I know that at this level of basketball, you sign with the coach, not the school. You sign because you like their offensive style of play, not their english department. You pick a coach based on how he develops players at your position, not whether the school can get you a position on Wall Street or with a prestigious law firm.

But it is late March already. Both Jones and Ware signed with Tennessee back in November. The late signing period is in mid-to-late May. While the players may have signed on with Pearl, there had to be something else — something about the University of Tennessee or the town of Knoxville or their future teammates — that Jones and Ware enjoyed. If there was nothing to like about a school beyond the basketball coach, is that really going to be the place that a 17 year old high school senior decides he wants to spend the next 1-4 years of his life?

So, yes, I would tell my son or daughter that they should give Tennessee’s new head coach a chance.

But I would also tell them that they need to start thinking about a back up plan.

And therein lies the problem.

If Jones and Ware are not released from their NLI, they cannot explore other options. They cannot begin to build a contingency plan should Hamilton opt to hire a coach that either Jones or Ware does not like. As of today, there are less than two months left for these two kids to make a decision about college, and that time frame is only going to get shorter.

To make matters more complicated, coaching searches are not easy. Coaching searches where a school’s expectations for their next coach vastly overestimates the position’s can be downright impossible, to the point that it is almost painful to follow. Look at Oregon last season. They tried to woo everyone from Brad Stevens to Tom Izzo, Jamie Dixon to Mark Turgeon.

And based on the list of targets floated by Tennessee, they may face the same problems finding a new head coach. There is nothing wrong with swinging for the fences as long as you understand that strikeouts come with the territory.

Oregon struck out so often that it took them 37 days to find a new head coach.

37 days from now is April 30th, which means that if the Tennessee coaching search is anything like the Oregon coaching search, Jones and Ware will have less than three weeks to decide whether or not they like the new coach that Hamilton hires. If the answer is no, that means the two high school seniors will have a couple of weeks to find a new school that a) they want to attend, b) has scholarships available, and c) is a good fit for their personality, skill set, and position.

I don’t want to see that. I don’t want to see a kid forced into a situation in college he’s not comfortable with. And I would hope that Tennessee fans would agree with me.

I don’t think it will come to that. Maybe I’m too trusting in the goodwill of humanity, but I think that both Jones and Ware will, if they still desire, be released from their NLI. Because that’s the way it generally works with a coaching change. The folks that are left will try to convince you to stay, but if their best sales pitch still falls on deaf ears, they let you go.

The problem?

All the power lies in the school’s hands.

The University of Tennessee should not be able to wield this much control over the future of two recruits. If Mike Hamilton wanted too, he could refuse to release Jones and Ware from the NLI’s, which would force them to sit out a season and lose a year’s worth of eligibility if they didn’t attend Tennessee. That is precisely what happened to Joseph Young, who signed with Providence but decided that he wanted to go to Houston, this year.

And while the school can prevent a recruit from attending somewhere else without punishment, they can also cut the player loose without punishment. Look at the plight of DJ Newbill from last season. He signed an NLI with Marquette, but once Jamil Wilson made it clear that he wanted to transfer out of Oregon and to Marquette, the former top 100 recruit needed a scholarship. And it was Newbill that was on the chopping block. He landed on his feet at Southern Mississippi, but Newbill is a Philly kid. I doubt playing in Conference USA is the same as playing in the Big East.

NLI’s hold no benefit to the players, but precious few players realize this.

They are contractually binding agreements that put the power in the school’s hands.

And you don’t have to sign them.

Ask Brandon Knight. He signed a financial aid agreement, which forced Kentucky to commit to him while still allowing Knight to be able to leave should unforeseen circumstances arise.

Maybe one day this blog will have enough influence to convince every high school hooper to follow Knight’s lead.

Karnowski leads No. 4 Gonzaga past Santa Clara 88-57

Gonzaga forward Zach Collins (32) drives past Santa Clara center Tony Lewis (35) during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Santa Clara, Calif. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Coming off a big win in a showdown with rival Saint Mary’s, No. 4 Gonzaga could have been in for a bit of a letdown.

Seeing another frenzied crowd hoping for an upset was more than enough to keep the Bulldogs on their game.

Przemek Karnowski scored 19 points on just seven shots from the field and Gonzaga remained the only undefeated team in Division I with an 88-57 victory over Santa Clara on Thursday night.

“I’ve been here for five years and basically wherever you go it’s the biggest game of the season, in the conference at least,” Karnowski said. “We have to be prepared for that. Their crowd was really into it. We came out focused and I liked our intensity.”

Karnowski made six shots against the undersized Broncos and added seven more points from the free throw line to help the Bulldogs (18-0, 6-0 West Coast Conference) extend the best start in school history with another lopsided win.

Zach Collins had 16 points and Nigel Williams-Goss added 11 points and 10 rebounds in Gonzaga’s 11th straight double-digit win.

“Every game they come out ready to go,” coach Mark Few said. “They come out with energy, effort, and attention to detail has been really good. They’re a mature group.”

Jared Brownridge scored 23 points to lead the Broncos (10-10, 4-3) but got little help from his teammates as Santa Clara dropped its 13th straight to Gonzaga and 37th in the past 39 meetings.

“We just were stagnant on the offensive end – it had everything to do with us,” Brownridge said. “They’re a great team, there’s no argument about it. Tonight’s game had to do with us.”

Gonzaga scored 13 straight points midway through the first half to open a 20-point lead and never looked back as Santa Clara struggled to get open shots and couldn’t keep the Bulldogs out of the paint.

Brownridge keyed a 15-5 run early in the second half that cut a 21-point lead to 11 but the Bulldogs quickly built the lead back to 20 and coasted to the win.

BIG PICTURE

Gonzaga: After easily passing their first true test in conference play with a 23-point win over then-No. 21 Saint Mary’s on Saturday, the Bulldogs avoided a letdown by building the big early lead. There don’t figure to be many tough tests the rest of the regular season outside of a return trip to Saint Mary’s next month so the main task for Gonzaga will be to maintain their intensity before for the tournaments in March.

Santa Clara: The Broncos came into the game having won four of five but it was a different level of competition this game. They missed 14 of their first 18 shots – with six air balls – and never had a chance at the upset. They struggled to get any consistent offense outside of Brownridge and were overmatched inside in coach Herb Sendek’s first game against the class of the WCC.

DEFENDING BROWNRIDGE

Brownridge moved into seventh place on the WCC all-time scoring list with 2,079 points, jumping ahead of Loyola Marymount’s Forrest McKenzie. He made six 3-pointers but Few was happy with the overall defensive effort.

“Brownridge is an unbelievable player and he’s unbelievably gifted coming off those pin-downs and finding his shots,” Few said. “I thought we did a nice job, mixed up the coverages and made it hard, not just on him, but everyone else.”

LIVING AT THE LINE

Santa Clara committed six fouls in the first 4:13 of the second half and Gonzaga lived at the free throw line from there. The Bulldogs shot 18 for 23 from the line in the second half as they repeatedly fed Karnowski and Collins inside.

“They were in the double bonus early in the second half so we tried to take advantage of that and tried to go inside and pin fouls on them,” Karnowski said.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

A lopsided win over an overmatched opponent should do little to change the ranking for the Bulldogs in the AP poll .

UP NEXT

Gonzaga: Hosts Portland on Saturday.

Santa Clara: Hosts Loyola Marymount on Saturday.

More AP college basketball: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and https://twitter.com/AP-Top25

No. 3 UCLA routs Arizona State 102-80 behind 3-point barrage

UCLA guard Bryce Alford (20) goes to the basket between Arizona State's Ramon Vila (33) and Kodi Justice during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Los Angeles, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017. UCLA won 102-80. (AP Photo/Michael Owen Baker)
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LOS ANGELES (AP) Like any shooter in a slump, Isaac Hamilton just kept putting the ball up, figuring it would eventually go in.

Did it ever.

The senior guard scored 33 points – three off his career best – and hit a career-high nine 3-pointers to help No. 3 UCLA rout Arizona State 102-80 on Thursday night.

The Bruins improved to 11-0 at home.

The performance left Hamilton speechless. He cut his tongue in the game and needed stitches afterward, leaving him unavailable to talk to media.

“He’s back,” guard Lonzo Ball said. “I like playing with him like that.”

The Bruins (19-1, 6-1 Pac-12) made 16 3-pointers and shot 60 percent from the field.

Last year if Hamilton wasn’t hitting, the Bruins found it hard to recover on their way to a losing season.

Now, the team is loaded with offensive threats who can pick up the slack for him.

“He gained a lot of confidence in that and he got it rolling,” UCLA coach Steve Alford said. “The guys did a good job of finding him. That’s what makes us hard to guard. We can make shots a variety of different ways.”

The Bruins led by 25 points in the first half and were up by 16 early in the second before the Sun Devils (9-10, 2-4) got within single digits in the matchup of the league’s top two scoring and 3-point shooting teams.

“We started slow but fought back,” said Torian Graham, who led Arizona State with 26 points. “We overcame adversity and I think we showed we can play with anybody. After we cut it to seven, we didn’t get stops and they got a lot of open looks. They’re very good in transition and that was the difference.”

TJ Leaf added 19 points and nine rebounds, and Ball had 10 points and 12 assists for the Bruins.

“It’s always good to see Isaac shoot well,” said Aaron Holiday, who added 13 points. “That’s a big part of his game and I’m glad he finally got it going.”

Tra Holder tied his career-high with 22 points for Arizona State, which has lost seven straight road games to UCLA. The Sun Devils hit 11 3-pointers, including six by Graham.

Graham scored 10 of Arizona State’s first 22 points in the second half to close to 68-61.

The Bruins’ offense kicked in and they ran off 14 straight points to go up 82-61. Holiday scored eight points, including two 3-pointers, in the spurt.

“It was cool to come back on them, but I didn’t get the result I wanted,” Holder said. “We gave up too many easy baskets. They are a fast team and they score before you know it. The game should not have ended like it did. We cut it to seven, but then they went to a zone and we got all discombobulated.”

The Sun Devils dropped their third straight and fourth in five games.

BIG PICTURE

Arizona St.: The Sun Devils play at Southern California before returning home to face the Washington schools. After that, they have a road game against No. 11 Oregon and will face the Bruins once more in February.

UCLA: The Bruins again built a big lead only to see it dwindle to single digits, a habit that has dogged them at times this season. “We got to start picking things up and stop having those 10 minutes where we don’t do too much,” Ball said.

TIDBITS

Arizona St.: Holder joined the 1,000-point club with 1,005 in his first three years.

UCLA: The Bruins had 30 assists for the first time since Feb. 23, 1995, when they had 32 in a win over California. … They have six players averaging double-figure scoring. … UCLA’s 19-1 start is its best since going 21-1 to begin the 1991-92 season.

UP NEXT

Arizona St.: Visits Southern California on Sunday to end a stretch of playing five of its first seven Pac-12 games on the road.

UCLA: Hosts No. 14 Arizona on Saturday in game featuring the Bruins’ No. 1 offense in the Pac-12 against the Wildcats’ No. 1 defense.

More AP college basketball coverage: http://www.collegebasketball.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

Donovan Mitchell leads No. 12 Louisville past Clemson

LOUISVILLE, KY - JANUARY 11:  Donovan Mitchell #45 of the Louisville Cardinals shoots the ball during the game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at KFC YUM! Center on January 11, 2017 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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No. 12 Louisville played their first game without Quentin Snider of Thursday night and it looked like they should play every game without Quentin Snider.

The Cardinals shook off an early nine-point deficit with a 29-10 run to close the first, eventually pounding Clemson into submission in a 92-60 win in the Yum! Center.

Donovan Mitchell led the way for the Cardinals, scoring all 18 of his points in the first half. Deng Adel added 18 points of is own while VJ King, who started in place of the injured Snider, finished with 14, the most he’s scored in ACC play. Perhaps more importantly, that trio finished 7-for-15 from beyond the arc in the win.

Perimeter scoring and perimeter shooting has been an issue for the Cardinals all season long. King is the only one of Louisville’s top five perimeter options that shoots better than 38 percent from the floor, and without Snider available, he’s the only one that shoots better than 34 percent from three. Snider is also the team’s sole point guard, and there were real concern about how this team was going to perform without him.

On Thursday, they did just fine.

Saturday will be a different story.

The Cardinals will square off with No. 10 Florida State, who just forced 18 turnovers against Notre Dame on Tuesday. The Irish are seventh-nationally in protecting the ball, meaning that we are going to get a much better feel for whether or not those point guard issues are real.

No. 11 Oregon blows by Cal, but Dillon Brooks leaves with “lower left leg injury”

Oregon Ducks forward Dillon Brooks (24), collides in the first half against California in an NCAA college basketball game Thursday, Jan. 20, 2016, in Eugene, Ore. Brooks later left the game with an injury on a different play. (AP Photo/Thomas Boyd)
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Oregon defeated Cal on Thursday. The score was 86-63. That hardly matters, though, considering what else occurred in Eugene.

Ducks star Dillon Brooks left the game with a “lower left leg injury,” which is particularly ominous considering it was a surgically repaired left foot that sidelined Brooks all summer and kept him from joining Oregon on the floor until mid-November.

As of Thursday evening, there was no specific clarification, leaving only questions not only about Brooks’ health but what Oregon will have to potentially do without him.

The Ducks can win without Brooks. They went 8-1 before Brooks ever logged 30 minutes in a game and blasted Washington State in Pullman when Brooks got ejected after just seven minutes. They didn’t need him to dismantle the Bears, shooting 58 percent from the floor for the game and 54.2 percent without him in the second half. Jordan Bell made 11 of 12 shots for a career-best 26 points, and three other Ducks scored in double figures.

It wouldn’t be ideal, but Oregon could tread water to a high seed with him missing a chunk of time as they’ve shown at different times throughout this season. The Ducks only have one matchup left with both UCLA and Arizona, coming back-to-back in the first week of February.

But if it’s a serious injury, it necessitates a recalibration of expectation for Oregon.

Brooks scored 23 and had the game-winner as the Ducks handled No. 3 UCLA its lone loss this season and had 28 points when they blew out then-No. 22 USC to end December. Brooks is too talented, too versatile and too important for a prolonged absence to be meaningfully weathered. The NCAA tournament just too often demands too much from teams to be without a player of Brooks’ caliber.

For Oregon to reach the heights that many predicted for it since last spring, Brooks has to be on the floor.

The wait for the diagnosis and prognosis, not just for Brooks but for Oregon’s season, is on.

After win at Iowa, what’s to be made of No. 25 Maryland?

Maryland guard Anthony Cowan is fouled by Iowa forward Ryan Kriener, right, during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game, Thursday, Jan. 19, 2017, in Iowa City, Iowa. Maryland won 84-76. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
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Maryland, after an 84-76 win at Iowa, now stands at 5-1 in the Big Ten. The Terps are the only team in the league with five conference wins and are tied with Wisconsin in the loss column atop the Big Ten.

Is it time to start taking them seriously as Big Ten title contenders?

It just might be, less so for who Maryland is proving to be but, in part, for how the schedule lays out for the Terps.

The resume right now isn’t overly impressive, other than sheer volume of wins at 16. There’s the loss at home to Nebraska for one thing, but they haven’t been overly convincing in a win since their opener against Illinois.

Many of their issues were on display against the Hawkeyes, a team that has lodged a number of good wins but still shows loads of inconsistency with a roster heavily dependent upon freshmen. Maryland led by 15 in the first half and held a double-digit lead well into the second half. Then, as carelessness set in, it was gone with just over 6 minutes to play and the Terps trailed with as little as 3 minutes left.

Turnovers were nearly the Terps’ undoing. They committed 21 of them that led to 30 points for the Hawkeyes, who are hardly known for turning opponents over. Maryland, though, has consistently failed to take care of the ball with a turnover rate hovering around 20 percent.

What saved them against Iowa was, what (or who) else, than Melo Trimble. One of the game’s most clutch players, Trimble hit back-to-back 3s after Maryland fell behind to turn a three-point disadvantage into a three-point lead that the Terps wouldn’t hand back to a feisty Iowa squad. Trimble finished with 20 points, five rebounds and five assists.

So, 21 turnovers and a blown lead salvaged only by Trimble’s heroics doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in a team with as many question marks as Maryland, even if it came on the road.

The Terps, though, do keep winning and while close games do invite luck and chance into the equation, Trimble’s presence and Maryland’s track record suggests it may be able to survive the variance.

Then you’ve got to look at that schedule. They’ve got Rutgers at home before a tricky Minnesota-Ohio State road trip. Then of the Big Ten teams currently with two losses or less, Maryland gets Purdue and Michigan State at home and has just one game apiece against Wisconsin and Northwestern, though both are away from College Park.

So while it may be hard to fully buy in to Maryland given its so-so offense and unremarkable defense, the Terps have made it nearly to the end of January with just two losses and have a manageable road ahead.

That’s something that has to be taken into account, just like Maryland in the Big Ten.