Game of the Weekend: Sunday, 4:00 p.m. No. 9 Syracuse at No. 20 San Diego State (Fox Sports)
Syracuse flies out to sunny Southern California to take on the Aztecs in a game that was postponed from Friday evening due to a rainout. Seriously. With wet weather settling in over San Diego and the Battle of the Midway set to be played on the USS Midway, one of three aircraft carrier games this weekend, organizers were forced to move the game to Sunday afternoon. But regardless of when the game is played, the ‘where’ is going to be an issue for SDSU. Playing against a zone — especially one as long as Syracuse’s — this early in the season is never an easy task, and that’s before you factor in the complications that come with playing outdoors. There will be a breeze and there won’t be a typical shooting back drop, which means that perimeter jumpshots may not be falling. That would hurt the Aztecs quite a bit.
The other advantage that Syracuse is going to have will be on the interior. SDSU has a ton of good guards, headlined by reigning MWC Player of the Year Jamaal Franklin and the underrated Chase Tapley. But until James Johnson gets eligible in December, they are going to be small up front. Could the bigger Orange take advantage of their size? One guy to keep an eye on for the Cuse will be Michael Carter-Williams. He’s a 6-foot-6 playmaker in the back court that was stuck on the bench as a freshman. He’s expected to have a big year.
Five more games to watch:
- Friday, 7:00 p.m.: No. 4 Ohio State vs. Marquette (NBC Sports Network): Another game that will be played on an aircraft carrier, this one taking place in Charleston, SC. And while it is difficult to make season-long assumptions based on the first game of the season, especially when it is played outdoors, this will be a good chance to get a gauge on both of these teams. Given what OSU has lost the last two season, particularly with Jared Sullinger entering last year’s NBA Draft, the Buckeyes have a lot of questions marks, the most notable being the absence of a secondary scorer alongside Deshaun Thomas. Marquette may be playing without the suspended Todd Mayo, but this is still a Golden Eagle team that is flying a bit under the radar. Buzz Williams always produces tough, disciplined teams that thrive in an underdog role. This group has more talent than they are being given credit for.
- Friday, 8:30 p.m.: No. 3 Kentucky vs. Maryland in Brooklyn (ESPN): There is so much to talk about in this game. The new-look Kentucky roster, the addition of Dez Wells, the recruiting battle over the Harrison twins, the battle between Alex Len and Kentucky’s twin towers. But the most important point to make? Maryland, who is now a top four team in the ACC, will have a great shot to earn a win that will continue to earn dividends as the season progresses and Kentucky improves.
- Friday, 8:05 p.m.: North Texas @ No. 16 Creighton (No TV): These may be the two best mid-major teams in the country. Creighton is a juggernaut on the offensive end of the floor that returns plenty of experience, while the Mean Green of UNT has quite a bit of young, inexperienced talent on their roster. This could end up being one of the five or ten most interesting non-conference games of the season. But it’s biggest selling point? First Team All-American Doug McDermott squaring off with future lottery pick Tony Mitchell. Yes. Please.
- Friday, 9:00 p.m.: No. 10 Florida vs. Georgetown (NBC Sports Network): The more time passes, the more it looks like Georgetown will be able to pull off the upset against the Gators. For starters, two rotation players — Casey Prather (concussion) and starting PG Scottie Wilbekin (suspension) — are out for Florida. Kenny Boynton will be sliding over to the point. That could get interesting. But Florida also is a team that relies quite a bit on perimeter shooting, which is never easy outdoors. Throw in the fact that this Georgetown team has the kind of versatility, with guys like Otto Porter and Greg Whittington, to be a very good defensive team, and I like the Hoyas to pull the upset.
- Friday, 5:00 p.m.: Lehigh at No. 19 Baylor (FOX Sports Southwest): There is one reason and one reason only that I’m so excited about this game: CJ McCollum vs. Pierre Jackson. McCollum is an all-american that finally made a name for himself after three sensational years at Lehigh by leading the Mountain Hawks to a win over No. 2 seed Duke in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. Jackson is a guy that’s had his fair share of critics in his time in Waco, but I think he’s going to have a huge year. He’s as tough-minded and athletic as any point guard in the country, and this will be his team this season. Lehigh will have a shot at pulling this upset if Gabe Knutson can hold his own against Isaiah Austin and Ricardo Gathers up front.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.
Even before Rhode Island’s NCAA tournament came to an end Saturday in the Round of 32 against Duke, speculation was running wild about the future of Rams coach Dan Hurley.
Stay or go. If it’s go, where to?
There was no clarity, but maybe some progress Monday.
Both Connecticut and Pittsburgh, the prime candidates to pry Hurley away from Rhode Island, spoke with the coach, but no decision had yet been reached, according to multiple reports.
Hurley was set to meet with Rams athletic director Thorr Bjorn on Tuesday, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman. Heart Connecticut Media’s Jeff Jacobs reported that UConn was “closing in on an agreement” with Hurley but that Pitt was continuing its pursuit.
Hurley has led the Rams to the NCAA tournament the last two years and signed a seven-year contract with Rhode Island worth approximately $1 million per year last off-season. UConn was paying Kevin Ollie, who led the team to the 2014 NCAA title before being fired after this season, an average of $3 million per season while Kevin Stallings reportedly was due a buyout of nearly $10 million when he was fired by Pitt this season.
What Hurley will have to weigh beyond the financial circumstances will be his ability to win at either UConn or Pitt, should he decide to move on from Rhode Island.
Ollie – well, really Shabazz Napier and Ryan Boatright – showed you can win a national title out of the AAC at UConn. The league adding Wichita State only strengthens that point. Pitt, meanwhile, may be a tougher job now than it was when Jamie Dixon had it rolling since their move from the Big East to the ACC.
Eamonn Brennan of The Athletic joined Rob Dauster for an epic, two-hour podcast on the first weekend of the tournament. It was so good that we had to split the podcast into two parts. On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the South and West Regions, from Sister Jean to UMBC to Nevada’s comebacks to Kentucky’s chances at a Final Four.
On this show, the two go through everything that happened in the East and Midwest Regions, from Villanova and Duke steamrolling to Michigan State collapsing to Syracuse and Clemson and Texas Tech and Purdue. It’s all in there.
One of my favorite parts of the NCAA tournament is seeing who comes out of nowhere to turn into a viral celebrity during this month of madness.
By my estimation, we had eight true candidates for the award of March Madness Viral Celebrity of the Year. Here they are:
8. ROB GRAY’S LITTLE BROTHER
He was more fired up for Houston’s success in the tournament than any Houston fan in the history of basketball in the city of Houston.
7. JORDAN PEELE
Jordan Poole is spelled a lot like Jordan Peele, which inevitably led to people tweeting at Peele instead of Poole. Peele’s thank you tweet was a highlight of the first weekend.
6. TY JEROME DOESN’T HAVE TIME FOR YOUR DUMB QUESTIONS
Having to answer questions from a bunch of reporters after suffering the most humiliating moment of your life is not an easy thing to do. Having to answer ridiculous and stupid questions could be intolerable, which is why I loved Ty Jerome’s response to a stupid question he was asked:
5. ROBERT WILLIAMS TEAMMATE
I loved seeing Robert Williams’ teammate do a panotmine windmill in the background while Williams was throwing down a windmill in real time on Providence:
4. MARIAH MUSSELMAN
Nevada head coach Eric Musselman has led his team to the Sweet 16, cussed on live television and gone shirtless to celebrate with his team, but the star of the Musselman family is his daughter Mariah:
3. MATT HAARMS’ HAIR
He really does have great hair:
This dude lived the dream of every twitter user out there. When your shot is there, you have to take it.
1. SISTER JEAN
Nevada head coach Eric Musselman went shirtless to celebrate his team’s come-from-behind win over No. 2 seed Cincinnati on Sunday.
I guess this is better than dropping F-bombs live on national TV. Maybe that’s why they had Steve Lappas talking over him …
The worst-kept secret in college basketball no longer appears to be a secret: Penny Hardaway is going to be the next coaching at the University of Memphis.
ESPN is reporting that a deal has been agreed upon. The Memphis Commercial-Appeal is reporting that Penny was waiting for his season to end with East High School before he made anything official. NBC Sports can confirm that an announcement is expected to be made early this week, likely as soon as Tuesday, to introduce the former Memphis and NBA star as Tubby Smith’s replacement.
The truth, however, is that we all knew this was what would be happening the second that Memphis formally fired Tubby Smith. Hell, we knew it a month before that decision was made final. This was always how it was going to play out.
What’s interesting to me is now the discussion of whether or not Penny will be able to handle being a Division I head coach, because it’s been hit or miss with basketball programs hiring legends of their past. Chris Mullin and St. John’s hasn’t exactly gone to plan but Fred Hoiberg was quite successful at Iowa State. Kevin Ollie won a title with UConn then fell off a cliff. Patrick Ewing’s start wasn’t great, but he was better than expected.
Where does Penny fall on this scale?
Well, let me just drop this section of a column from Geoff Calkins in here:
Hardaway isn’t a guy who woke up one morning and decided he’d like to be a Division I head coach. He’s not a former player who got bored with retirement and decided he’d like to do something other than play golf.
Hardaway started coaching at middle school. Middle school! Because an old friend needed some help.
Then he built one of the best AAU programs in the country. Then he spent years coaching a high school team.
Does that sound like someone who doesn’t want to roll up his sleeves and do the work? Does that sound like someone who is just in it for the glory and the glitz?
The truth is, if it weren’t for Hardaway’s iconic stature, he might be characterized as a grinder, as a guy who worked his way up from the lowest levels of basketball on the strength of his relationship with the kids.
I think that this is going to work out for both Penny and Memphis, especially if Penny hires a staff that can help him with the intricacies of running a college basketball program.