Ten great things to look forward to this hoops season

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Conference realignment, coaches caught up in a Ponzi Scheme, and stories about conditioning.

Something tells me you’re bored by all that, and ready for one of the most anticipated college basketball seasons in a decade. Whether you’re an ardent fan that’s eagerly awaiting story lines to play out or an NBA fan hoping to be entertained, there’s plenty to look forward to from November to March.

Looking at the national landscape, I’ll weasel my way back over to Beyond the Arc by providing the 10 things I’m most looking forward to for the 2011-2012 college basketball season.

The Game Played on a Boat

SNL Digital Short references aside, college basketball will take center stage on November 11th as North Carolina tips off against Michigan State in the Carrier Classic. It will be the first marquee game this season, and the first time a ship (in ocean water, no less) hosts a sporting event since the last volleyball match your father participated in during his recent Caribbean vacation.

Even better is that basketball aficionado President Barack Obama will be in attendance, and it will be held on the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier that carried Osama bin Laden’s dead body to a burial at sea.

If that’s not enough, the Spartans and Tar Heels will don one-of-a-kind monochrome army fatigue uniforms that will either hurt your eyes or have you begging for this game to be played every season.

December 3, 2011

On this first Saturday of December, the NBA season tips-off!

Errr…sort of.

Unquestionably, the most anticipated inter-conference battle this season is between North Carolina and Kentucky, featuring more than 10 future pros, a half-dozen or so lottery picks and a few players who could become perennial all-stars at the next level. Naturally, this could serve as a preview of a Final Four or National Championship match-up

If you can’t get excited about these types of match-ups, then you’re not a fan.

The Year of Thomas Robinson

He averaged only 8 and 6 in 14 minutes a game last season, but with the Morris Twins moving on the time is now for junior Thomas Robinson to flex his enormous biceps and live up to all the pre-season fanfare he’s receiving.

I’m thinking the guys over at CBS Sports put a lot of stock into Robinson’s pace-adjusted numbers from a year ago when they named Robinson to their preseason first team All-American. Regardless of the lofty expectations, it will at the very least be fun to see the high-energy forward to see plenty of court time in Lawrence.

The Battle for First Place in the ACC

Until new members Syracuse and Pittsburgh join the conference, it will likely be only the usual two suspects competing for conference supremacy. While North Carolina is unquestionably the favorites, Duke is not far behind, and I’m not convinced that the Blue Devils won’t be in contention for the regular season title when the two teams meet at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 3rd.

My guess is that, head-to-head, it comes down to the Heels’ frontcourt vs. the Devils’ backcourt, and which batch of players produces more.

The Battle for Last Place in the ACC

Equally as intriguing for all the wrong reasons is the three horse race between Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest for last place in the ACC. The jockeying will be intense.

So who will prevail: Steve Donahue’s nine freshman you’ve never heard of, Jeff Bzdelik’s club that was 11th in the ACC in both offensive and defensive averages last season, or first year head coach Brian Gregory whose starting point guard had more turnovers than assists last season?

The impending intriguing is palpable.

The Ascent of Andre Drummond

By all accounts and a few Google searches from me, the non-recruitnik, Jim Calhoun’s prized freshman is man-child who immediately puts the Huskies in contention to repeat as national champions. His frame and athleticism will remind you of Greg Oden, and the national media will remind you of how he was able to secure a scholarship through the “goodwill” of a Husky role player.

Despite being a freshman with plenty of talent around him, Drummond’s game and demeanor will be under much scrutiny all season. How he responds will be very intriguing.

The Redemption of Renardo Sidney

OK, like, for real this time. Let’s get this kid some run! The Sidney Soap Opera continues this season with plenty of alternate endings awaiting us. A fringe NCAA Tournament team, Sidney – who spent the summer training in Houston with John Lucas – can make or break the Bulldogs season. He’s slimmed down to look like less of a dough boy and allegedly policed himself to keep that weight in check so he can play a full college basketball season. With a promising freshman class and 6’11” UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie ready to step in and contribute immediately (h/t) @sc101071), there is plenty of opportunity for  Sidney to squash many of the preconceived notions that have dogged him for the past two years and help lead the Bulldogs to a successful season.

Smaht Kids Goin Dancin’

Something special could be happening in Cambridge, Massachusetts. No, not the next big thing, but rather the likelihood that the Harvard Crimson basketball team will reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1946. Ever so close last season, Keith Wright and Oliver McNally are back to right last season’s wrong. Wright is probably the toughest player to guard in the Ivy League and, assuming they are one of the 68-teams admitted to the dance, will most certainly be capable to helping Harvard pull off the upset of some vulnerable four-seed.

Ratings, Share, and Our Favorite Sport

Don’t believe the rumblings, the NBA’s players and owners are not going to resolve their contentious labor negotiations any time soon. If you’re looking for a hoops game on TV this winter, you’re likely going to land on one of the college brand.

With more talent amongst the major conferences than a season before and more familiar faces opting to stay on campus for another season, college basketball is perfectly set up for a magical season that will garner national attention and create discussion on airwaves and 2.0 sports websites before Selection Sunday.

It will be fascinating to track the “No Pro Effect,” and the ratings boost it should give nationally televised college games.

Cal’s Cats Winning a National Championship

Yes, Kentucky Wildcat blog bots and spiders, you can post a link to this article exclaiming that I believe your beloved team will win the 2012 National Championship. Go ahead, point 100,000 unique visitors to Beyond the Arc for me. I’d really appreciate it.

While it may be a shortcut to earning page views, UK will cut down the nets in New Orleans to conclude year three of the John Calipari Experiment. It certainly won’t be a cakewalk, but an elite freshman class combined with a returning future pro and a handful of other nice wing men means the most fanatic fans in college basketball will spend the entire month of April and then some drinking rye whiskey to their team’s first national championship since 1998.

Order will have been restored, but please, Wildcat fans, just be sure to enjoy the ride.

Nick Fasulo is the editor of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.

Top 2018 recruit R.J. Barrett names final five schools

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A top player in 2018 is down to five schools.

R.J. Barrett, a 6-foot-6 guard out of Monteverde Academy in Florida, announced Wednesday he’ll consider Arizona, Duke, Michigan, Oregon and Kentucky as his college destination.

Barrett is among those in the mix for the top spot in his class now with Marvin Bagley III reclassifying to 2017 this week and committing to Duke. He starred in Canada’s run to a gold medal at the FIBA U19 World Championships this summer, dropping 38 points on Team USA in a shocking semifinals win for the Canadians, who went on to defeat Italy in the finals. He averaged 21.6 points, 8.3 rebounds and 4.6 rebounds per game during the event.

The schools to make the cut for certainly are of little surprise. They’re among the biggest brands in basketball and have been among the recruiting elites for years.

Barrett was originally part of the 2019 class, but decided to reclassify earlier this summer.”Really, it’s been a thought of mine for the last year,” Barrett wrote for USA TODAY, “but I wanted to wait and see how the season would go and how school would go and when everything went well it became more and more real so I made the decision to go ahead and do it.

“I’m right on track to graduate in 2018 and academically everything is great.”

 

Big Ten reveals conference schedule with early-December games

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We knew it was coming, but seeing it in black-and-white is still plenty jarring.
The Big Ten is going to play conference games in early December.

The league announced its full conference schedule Wednesday, unveiling 14 first-week-of-December games ahead of nearly a month-long hiatus before Big Ten play picks up again in January.

It’s a move that was forced after the Big Ten decided it needed to expand its east coast presence after its expansion to Rutgers and Maryland, and will be playing its conference tournament on the eastern seaboard for the second-consecutive year, this time at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

The problem with MSG is that the Big East hosts its annual conference tournament there, meaning the B1G will have to play its tournament a week early, March 1-4. That means a week less of January, February and March for the conference to play its 18 league games. Thus the early December start. NBC Sports’ Rob Dauster broke down the situation in even more detail – and bite – last spring here.

Every team in the league will play both a home and a road game during that league’s first week, a soft opening if you will. Whether teams like the change or not will likely come down to circumstance  – what players they have injured or suspended, what players their opponents have injured or suspended and any other host of issues, but it’s hard to believe with all things being equal, Big Ten coaches will like this move. They’re playing extremely meaningful league games less than three weeks into the season with other conferences getting nearly 2 months of preparation before facing their toughest slate of games.

The B1G, though, will have more favorable and interesting games – even if they’re programmed against college football championship games (including their own) – that week than any other conference can boast, which likely means some nice TV ratings. Given why this change is being made, that’s probably the priority anyway.

South Carolina adds Maine grad-transfer Myers

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South Carolina is adding some immediate help in its follow-up season to a Final Four run.

Wesley Myers, a graduate transfer from Maine, is joining the Gamecocks’ program, according to FanRag Sports’ Jon Rothstein.

The 6-foot-2 guard gives Frank Martin’s team an instant infusion of scoring as they look to replace SEC player of the year Sindarius Thornwell and PJ Dozier. Myers 16.9 points per game last year on 43.7 percent shooting, including a 34.3 percent mark from 3-point range.

He’s the second grad-transfer Martin has picked up this offseason, joining Florida Atlantic’s Frank Booker. The pair should help ease the transition from last year’s success to a much less experienced team that returns just a pair of starters.

Myers, though, doesn’t arrive in Columbia without some notable history.

Last year, after transferring to Maine from Niagara, was suspended after an altercation with a teammate, according to reports. He and teammate Marko Pirovic argued over locker room music, and the alleged ensuing altercation left Pirovic with a broken jaw, according to reports. Three other Maine players were suspended after telling a team athletic trainer that Pirovic had injured himself in a fall in the shower. Pirovic declined to press charges.

Virginia head coach Tony Bennett: ‘We believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent’

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Virginia’s Tony Bennett finally spoke out on last weekend’s clash between white supremacists protesting the removal of a statue of Robert E. Lee and counter-protesters that resulted in the deaths of a 32-year old woman named Heather Heyer and two police officers involved in a helicopter crash:

Bennett does not exactly take a hard-line stance — the message is more about healing within the community and how much he loves his current hometown than it is about condemning what happened — but he does say “we believe in diversity and unity to its fullest extent.”

Kyle Guy, a sophomore on the Virginia roster, had this to say on Sunday:

UNC academic case finally reaches NCAA infractions hearing

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — It has taken more than two years for North Carolina to appear before an NCAA infractions committee panel since initially being charged with five top-level violations amid its long-running academic scandal.

The two-day hearing begins Wednesday in Nashville, Tennessee. The panel will ultimately determine whether the school faces penalties that could include fines, probation or vacated wins and championships, making this a major step toward resolution in an oft-delayed case filled with starts, stops and twice-rewritten charges.

“The hearing stage, no matter what size of a case, it’s a big deal to any university,” said Michael L. Buckner, a Florida-based attorney who has worked on infractions cases. “I’ve been a part of what you’d consider small cases, I’ve been a part of one of the largest cases. And trust me: The client feels the same anxiousness and apprehension no matter what size of a case it is.

“But I can definitely imagine with North Carolina, this is definitely a momentous occasion.”

The charges include lack of institutional control in a case tied to irregular courses in the formerly named African and Afro-American Studies (AFAM) department. The case is an offshoot of a 2010 football probe, with the NCAA reopening an investigation in summer 2014, filing charges in May 2015, revising them in April 2016 and then again in December.

The panel, which would typically issue a ruling weeks to months later, is chaired by Southeastern Conference Commissioner Greg Sankey and includes former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

UNC’s representatives were seen arriving for the closed-door hearing at a Nashville hotel Wednesday morning. The contingent included athletic director Bubba Cunningham, men’s basketball coach Roy Williams, football coach Larry Fedora and women’s basketball coach Sylvia Hatchell. Jan Boxill and Deborah Crowder, two former UNC employees charged individually in the case, were also seen with their attorneys.

None of the coaches are charged with a violation. But football and men’s basketball are referenced in a broad-based improper benefits charge tied to athlete access to the irregular courses, while women’s basketball is tied to a charge focused on a former professor and academic counselor providing improper assistance on assignments.

Fedora wasn’t working at UNC during the time in question.

“There’s nothing that I can add to what happened before I ever got here,” Fedora said last week. “But I’m there for support. I think me being there is important — not only for the NCAA but the university — that it shows compliance is important to me and our program.”

The focus is independent study-style courses misidentified as lecture classes that didn’t meet and required a research paper or two for typically high grades. In a 2014 investigation, former U.S. Justice Department official Keorneth Wainstein estimated more than 3,100 students were affected between 1993 and 2011, with athletes making up roughly half the enrollments.

The NCAA has said UNC used those courses to help keep athletes eligible.

UNC has challenged the NCAA’s jurisdiction, saying its accreditation agency — which sanctioned the school with a year of probation — was the proper authority. In a May filing , the school stated it “fundamentally believes that the matters at issue here were of an academic nature” and don’t involve NCAA bylaws.

The NCAA enforcement staff countered in a July filing: “The issues at the heart of this case are clearly the NCAA’s business.”

UNC has argued non-athletes had access to the courses and athletes didn’t receive special treatment. It has also challenged Wainstein’s estimate of athlete enrollments, saying Wainstein counted athletes who were no longer team members and putting the figure at less than 30 percent.

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