tommy-amaker

A look at some unsuspecting undefeateds

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At the time of this writing, there remain 14 undefeated teams in college basketball. It is by no means an anomaly compared to previous seasons, but what might stick out are a few of the teams currently enjoying an unblemished record this holiday season.

Kentucky, Syracuse and Ohio State? You sort of expected them to run the table at least into the second week of December.

But a team that lost 61 percent of its scoring from a year ago, is averaging 83 points a game with a new head coach, or puts academics before hoops? That, my college basketball friend, is worth a look.

There’s plenty of season left, but here’s an audit of just how legit six teams that surprisingly remain undefeated are, now that they have our undivided attention.

Not listed is Hartford, or a handful of other America East teams, a conference with the dubious distinction of accounting for nearly half of the country’s eight winless clubs.

Kansas State aside – whose five wins are just not enough to qualify – if your team is undefeated and not discussed, well, then it’s because I had a hunch they’d be perfect. Consider it a compliment (I saw it coming, Murray State fans! I really did, and you are in good shape for a 30+ win season), by simply enjoying your squad’s current start.

Illinois

  • They had us at…Saturday’s 82-75 win over Gonzaga, in which sophomore Meyers Leonard outplayed the Bulldogs’ Elias Harris, a now former NBA prospect.
  • When they’ll lose: After averting a small crisis against St. Bonaventure, the Fighting Illini have two can’t-miss non conference games remaining before embarking into conference play. Both the 12/17 match-up against UNLV and annual game with Missouri are loseable, but also excellent opportunities to build that resume for the NCAA Tournament Committee. Remain undefeated before Christmas and Bruce Weber will be the head coach of a top 12 team entering the new year.
  • Then what? On paper this team has much less talent than a season ago,  but gone is the inconsistent play of Demetri McCamey and blue chip prospect turned criminal Jereme Richmond. If Leonard continues to lead the way, and Brandon Paul attacks the basket instead of relying on an average jumpshot, this could be your second best Big Ten squad. Consider yourself warned, Michigan.

Missouri

  • They had us at…a November 22nd 92-53 drubbing of Cal, one of those wins that evokes “oooohhh, so that’s how it’s gonna be” reactions.
  • When they’ll lose:  The aforementioned Braggin’ Rights game against Illinois will be of extra importance to both teams if they arrive in St. Louis undefeated.  Get a win, and Frank Haith shouldn’t have much to worry about until a game against Texas in mid-January, other than proof-reading his National Coach of the Year submission, of course.
  • Then what? The Big 12 is wide open, and if the Tigers are either undefeated or have a lone loss when they tip off league play against Oklahoma on January 3rd, they should be the favorites to win the conference. As a shameless self-promotion, I really like how they play.

Marquette

  • They had us at… Tuesday’s nail-biter against Washington, but a line to jump on the bandwagon really began Saturday after the Golden Eagles defeated in-state rival Wisconsin.
  • When they’ll lose: Their December 29th match-up against Vanderbilt could set either team in opposite directions, but I’m not entirely positive Marquette is a shoe-in to stay undefeated until then. Cross-town rival Milwaukee currently sits at 8-1, eying the chance to knock off the Golden Eagles just a few days before Christmas. You know those guys aren’t intimidated, and Marquette should not take them lightly.
  • Then what? Coming into the season I predicted the Golden Eagles to challenge Louisville for third place in the Big East. That’s looking accurate to date, as Buzz Williams’ club could earn a three-seed for the NCAA Tournament.

Xavier

  • They had us atThis.
  • When they’ll lose: The Musketeers are in the midst of one of the most treacherous strings of non-conference games in recent memory; like the 2009-2010 Presbyterian Blue Hose treacherous, only difference is that Chris Mack isn’t doing it for the money. They’ve already downed Vanderbilt in Nashville, broken the rules of win-probability against Purdue, and got revenge in Hinkle over Butler.  But Cincinnati, Oral Roberts, Long Beach State (in the Diamond Head Classic), and Gonzaga remain. Something’s gotta give, right? We shouldn’t fault this team if they can’t remain unbeaten to start the new year.
  • Then what? Oh hum, another Atlantic 10 regular season title is theirs to lose. Thankfully, a reprieve from the monotony comes in the form of Memphis on February 4th, a team with a style of play and personnel Xavier teams traditionally have trouble with.

Indiana

  • They had us at…the moment people started talking about the importance of this weekend’s game against Kentucky.
  • When they’ll lose: Saturday against the Wildcats, actually. Enjoy the build-up, everyone, because UK will take care of business in Bloomington.
  • Then what?: It’s time for IU to start getting real about earning an NCAA Tournament berth. Six players average nine or more points a game for the Hoosiers, and they’re one of the most efficient offensive teams this season. Kentucky aside, Tom Crean did not schedule a difficult non-conference slate. Personally, I have reservations about celebrating this program’s return to relevance, but true signs of improvement are staring us in the face.

Harvard

  • They had us at…a weekend in Paradise, when they won the Battle 4 Atlantis by downing Utah, Florida State and UCF.
  • When they’ll lose: The Crimson are 6.5 point underdogs tonight against UConn, and rightfully so. If they can pull off the improbable and beat the Huskies,  Jim Calhoun will throw a nice fit we can all enjoy, and an incredible story for the 2011-2012 college basketball season will be in the works.
  • Then what? I can’t go into much detail for fear of jinxing Tommy Amaker’s club, but all I’m saying is tonight’s game could be the one we look back on in a few months and pinpoint as the moment when a lot of fantastic things were set into motion.

Nick Fasulo is the manager of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him @billyedelinSBN.

Cyclones add big man for 2017

LOUISVILLE, KY - MARCH 15:  Head coach Steve Prohm of the Murray State Racers shouts from the sidelines against the Colorado State Rams  during the second round of the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at KFC YUM! Center on March 15, 2012 in Louisville, Kentucky.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Iowa State secured its first commitment Wednesday of what will be a pivotal class of forwards in 2017.

KeyShawn Faezell of Mississippi committed to Steve Prohm and the Cyclones, he announced Wednesday.

“After praying to God to lead me in the right path and talking with my dad,” Faezell wrote, “I’ve decided to further my education and basketball career under coach Prohm at Iowa State University.”

Faezell, a 6-foot-9 consensus top-150 forward in the 2017 class, joins wing Terrence Lewis as the first two members of a class that figures to number at least six for ISU. The addition of Faezell is key because ISU will be losing three members of its frontcourt it will likely be leaning on heavily in 2015-16 in Deonte Burton, Merrill Holden and Darrell Bowie. A 2016 big man, Cameron Lard, has also yet to enroll in classes this fall due to academic issues, making Faezell’s commitment even more important should Lard be unable to get clearance.

“They need some people to come in and compete,” Feazell told the Ames Tribune. “I think I fit in the program.”

Prohm’s teams dating back to his Murray State days have always been guard-oriented and guard-heavy, but beginning to stack the roster with quality big men will be key as he looks to continue the Cyclones’ success in the Big 12, which includes a school-record five-straight NCAA tournament appearances.

BYU adds commit for 2019

Dave Rose
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BYU added a commitment from a high school senior this week, but the Cougars won’t be seeing him on campus until 2019.

Kolby Lee, a 6-foot-9 forward from Idaho, pledged to BYU on Monday evening, but won’t suit up until after serving a two-year mission for the Church of Latter Day Saints, according to the Deseret News.

“I had a great feeling about BYU, and I prayed about it,” Lee told the paper. “I just feel like it’s the right fit for me. It just seems right. It feels right.”

Lee chose BYU over offers from  Utah State, Boise State and UC Davis. He was rated a four-star prospect by ESPN and three by Scout.

His decision to forego immediately joining BYU certainly isn’t a new wrinkle for the Cougars, who routinely see their players either delay their initial eligibility or pause it mid-career while serving on missions.

Self pays freshman Jackson a major compliment

Josh Jackson, from Napa, Calif.,, dunks over Nancy Mulkey, from Cypress, Texas, as he competes in the slam dunk contest during the McDonald's All-American Jam Fest, Monday, March 28, 2016, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Matt Marton)
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Freshman phenom production under Bill Self has been something of a contentious topic. Many fault the coach, who has won one national title and 12-straight Big 12 championships, for not developing one-and-done talent to their fullest potential during their single-season stays in Lawrence. Cliff Alexander and Cheick Diallo are Exhibit 1-A and 1-B for this argument in recent years.

Whatever outside criticism there is (Andrew Wiggins did go No. 1 overall just 2 years ago, after all), Self isn’t shying away from hyping the latest freshman with big expectations to come to KU. When asked who the greatest athlete of all-time is at the school’s annual Tradition Night last week, Self had a simple, if tongue-and-cheek, response.

“I’ll say Josh Jackson,” Self said of the the 6-foot-8 shooting guard ranked No. 1 in his class, according to Lawrence Journal-World.

With others answering with the likes of Michael Jordan and Muhammed Ali, it’s pretty fair to say Self was playing to the crowd with the answer, but it’s still telling that he was willing to deliver such a sound bite, even if it was before a welcoming audience. Self didn’t try to seriously depress expectations for Wiggins, a player Jackson is often compared to, and it looks like he won’t for Jackson as well.

Jackson, though, won’t have the burden Wiggins had as there’s one of the country’s best backcourts in Frank Mason II and Devonte Graham to help shoulder the workload for the Jayhawks.

 

ACC non-commital on HB2 stance

John Swofford
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With North Carolina unwilling to rescind their controversial so-called bathroom bill, the NBA has withdrawn its All-Star Game from the state this year and numerous high-profile music acts have canceled performances as a result.

The ACC is declining to join them with a hard-line, or really any, position.

“We don’t want to damage our league with any premature decisions,” commissioner John Swofford said on The David Glenn Show. “We’ll just see how it plays out.”

The ACC, of course, has quite the presence in the state with North Carolina, N.C. State, Duke and Wake Forest all in the Tar Heel State. Swofford’s comments are sure to draw the interest of the LGBT community, which has roundly been critical of the bill, which requires people to use the bathroom which corresponds to the gender on their birth certificate, and has recently been active in college athletics, opposing the Big 12’s potential inclusion of BYU in its expansion plans over concerns of the Church of Latter Day Saints school’s honor code.

North Carolina’s bill has also drawn the eye of the NCAA, which is requiring potential championship sights to provide information on local anti-discrimination laws.

One of the loudest voices in the ACC, Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, has come out against the law.

“It’s an embarrassing bill,” Coach K said last month.

The Champions Classic renewed through 2019

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 27: Bill Self head coach of the Kansas Jayhawks claps for his team as they celebrate winning the Big 12 Conference Championship after they defeated Texas Tech Red Raiders 67-58 at Allen Fieldhouse on February 27, 2016 in Lawrence, Kansas. With the win, Kansas clinched its 12th straight conference championship. (Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images)
Ed Zurga/Getty Images
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The Champions Classic is back, baby!!!

On Wednesday, the four schools that participate in the event — Kentucky, Duke, Kansas and Michigan State — announced that they have signed deals to extend the life of the doubleheader for another three years.

This is terrific news. The Champions Classic is always the best early-season event of the season, an annual double-header that always ends up putting together two of the best non-conference games in packed NBA arenas. This year, it features Duke, the consensus preseason No. 1 team in the country, squaring off with Kansas, who is a consensus top three team with the No. 1 freshman in the class, Josh Jackson, on their roster, in one game.

The other game? Kentucky, the third consensus top three team nationally, going up against Tom Izzo and Michigan State, who will be, at worst, a top 15 team in the preseason polls.

So yeah, we’re going to get a pair of sensational basketball games in Madison Square Garden on Nov. 15th. MSG also just so happens to be the best arena to watch a great neutral site basketball game.

It’s going to be awesome.

There’s only one possible way to make it better: turn it into a two-day event, with the winners squaring off for the Champions Classic title the following night.

Make it happen.

Anyway, here’s the schedule:

Nov. 14, 2017 (United Center, Chicago)
Kansas vs. Kentucky
Duke vs. Michigan State

Nov. 13, 2018 (Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indianapolis)
Michigan State vs. Kansas
Duke vs. Kentucky

Nov. 12, 2019 (Madison Square Garden, New York)
Kansas vs. Duke
Michigan State vs. Kentucky