I’ve interviewed plenty of coaches. Some at the top of the profession, some in the middle, and some who seem mired in the doldrums. Typically, a coach in a difficult situation will try to strike a balanced tone when discussing the upcoming season: walking the line between rah-rah jingoism and monotone defeatism. Nobody wants to set expectations too high or too low.
Almost nobody, that is. Tony Barbee, the John Calipari disciple who took over at Auburn two years ago, has endured more than his fair share of hardship at the BCS level, but he’s still spittin’ fire about his team’s chances in the stacked SEC next season.
“This will be the most talented team I’ve had since I’ve been here,” Barbee told the Birmingham News last week during an interview in the men’s basketball offices. “Other people might be saying, ‘Well, we lost this guy, we lost that guy.’ Well, the players we brought in are better than the players that left. That’s why our program is moving in the right direction.”
Barbee’s passing mention of ‘lost this guy, lost that guy’ is code for a series of departures that rocked the program this offseason. The butcher’s bill currently stands at eight players gone: three in benign fasion as graduates, three more suspended and another two transferred out of the program. It’s not exactly the recipe for a healthy program.
Barbee says his team is becoming longer and more athletic in the bargain, with four freshmen and two transfers coming in. That may be true, but eventually, some form of team chemistry must emerge, or this team — just 9-23 in league play since Barbee’s arrival — will continue to go nowhere.
Eric Angevine is the editor of Storming the Floor. He tweets @stfhoops.
Kelan Martin scored 20 points and Andrew Chrabascz added 12 points, four boards and five assists as No. 16 Butler bounced back from a tough loss at Indiana State to beat No. 22 Cincinnati, 75-65.
The Bulldogs had been undefeated on the season prior to the loss to the Sycamores, but their ranking was built on the fact that they had beaten Arizona, who was No. 8 at the time, as well as a trio of high-major programs that look destined for the NIT.
Cincinnati probably isn’t destined for the NIT. Their top 25 ranking is justified, which is what makes this win valuable. Quality non-conference wins matter, and this is just one of a handful of good wins for what has proven to be one of the most top-heavy conferences in the country. Villanova, Creighton, Xavier and Butler all look capable of reaching the Sweet 16 this season.
The opposite is true for Cincinnati, who look like the flag-bearer in a conference that isn’t really all that good. They’re the best team in the AAC this season, but that’s a conference that has consistently disappointed this year. SMU, Temple and UConn have all struggled more than we expected them to. Tulsa and Memphis are in rebuilding mode. Houston was supposed to be good this season but they’ve yet to live up to the preseason hype.
Think about it like this: The only team in the AAC without multiple losses on the season is now UCF. That’s … not ideal, and it’s going to be interesting to see just how many bids the league is able to generate.
Think about it. Temple has beaten West Virginia and Florida State while losing to New Hampshire and UMass. SMU’s best win is either Pitt or TCU, both of whom are borderline tournament teams. UConn beat Syracuse but has some atrocious losses on their resume. Houston beat Rhode Island but lost to Arkansas and LSU. Memphis beat Iowa, but Iowa’s not all that good. UCF’s best win is … Mississippi State?
Cincinnati’s lone quality win is at Iowa State, who is about to drop out of the top 25.
Daishon Smith is 6-foot-1.
Kristian Doolittle is 6-foot-7.
The lil guy won this battle:
Here’s another angle of the dunk, which sent Wichita State’s bench into hysterics:
It looks like Grayson Allen’s toe is healthy. I’d say his explosivness is back:
Class of 2017 point guard Trevon Duval put down a huge poster dunk on a 6’8″ defender on Saturday as the five-star prospect showed why many consider him the top lead guard in high school basketball.
The 6-foot-2 Duval is considered the No. 3 overall prospect in the Class of 2017 by Rivals.
What a difference a year makes.
Last season at this time, Wisconsin dropped a home game to a Marquette team that was headed to the NIT.
The Badgers put six players in double-figures as they went into Milwaukee and knocked off Marquette, 93-84.
Bronson Koenig continued his hot shooting, finishing with 18 points and six assists while shooting 4-for-6 from beyond the arc. Vitto Brown chipped in with 15 points, Khalil Iverson had 16 and Ethan Happ chipped in with 11 despite battling foul trouble all afternoon.
But the really story here – hell, the story of Wisconsin’s season to date – has been the change in the way that Nigel Hayes plays.
Hayes was terrific again on Saturday. He had 17 points, nine boards, four assists and three steals. He shot 6-for-10 from the floor and attempted just a pair of threes, making one of them. He had the ball in his hands when Wisconsin was trying to kill off the game, and, more importantly, head coach Greg Gard has seem to start to take advantage of just how good Hayes can be as a facilitator.
There are a couple of points that need to be made here:
- When Hayes plays like this, he deserves to be in the all-american discussion. He’s averaging 18.0 points, 7.3 boards and 6.7 assists in the three games Wisconsin has played against high-major competition since the change, and the Badgers have won five straight games while playing easily their best basketball of the season.
- And it’s not just because of the numbers he puts up. When Hayes operates as Wisconsin’s de-facto point guard, it makes everyone else on the roster better. For starters, it allows Koenig to play off the ball, where he seems to be more effective. He’s at his best when he’s hunting shots and trying to create off the bounce, but his aggressiveness can be detrimental when he’s the only one touching the ball. It also means offense runs through Happ more often since Koenig isn’t dominating possession, and it lets guys like Brown space the floor because they’re actually able to get rhythm threes.
As of today, Wisconsin is the favorite to win the Big Ten, even if Indiana is far more likely to end up being a No. 1 seed in March.