Wednesday was the calm before the storm. Only one ticket was punched last night, and only 12 total games were played. That all changes today, as all the major conferences begin their conference tournaments this afternoon and tonight. College Basketball Talk has Championship Week on lockdown. @RobDauster and @RaphielleJ are holding it down from their “home offices”, (See: couches), and @TroyMachir (Me) and @DanielJMartin_ will be in New York City covering the A-10 and Big East tournaments respectively. @CBTonNBC will have all the bases covered.
Let’s hit the links.
Top Stories: Late Night Snacks: Bucknell was the lone team to punch a ticket to the Big Dance on Wednesday and only a handful of other games were on the docket. Get caught up on all of last night’s action with Late Night Snacks.
Shane Larkin: “I definitely see myself coming back”: All-ACC guard Shane Larkin helped carry Miami to their best season in school history. While he has strong NBA aspirations, and will likely be in the league some day, he knows that at this point his best option is to return to school next year.
Observations & Insight:
– Grambling State lost last night in the first round of the SWAC tournament, moving their final 2012-2013 record to a perfectly imperfect 0-28. (The Dagger)
– A lot of people are underestimating just how close La Salle is to locking up an at-large bid. A strong showing at the A-10 tournament this weekend could do the trick. The problem for the Explorers is that the deck is stacked against them. (Philahoops.com)
– Georgia’s Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was named as the SEC Player of the Year, and according to coaches within the conference, it was an easy choice. (Eye on College Basketball)
– West Virginia’s first season in the Big 12 ended in horrific fashion, losing on a buzzer-beater to lowly Texas Tech. (Fox Sports)
– An excellent cheat sheet providing everything you need to know about the ACC tournament and its competitors. (Wilmington Star-News)
– What does Iowa need to do to win the Big Ten tournament? Umm, well for starters, they need to play A+ basketball against the best competition in the country. After that, they still have to win games against the best competition in the country. (Rush the Court)
– If, and that’s a big if, Steve Lavin can keep his roster in tact, St. John’s is poised for a bright future. (New York Daily News)
– This continues to be really, really weird: Denver officials don’t like their mascot and think it’s polarizing, but won’t explain why they don’t like it or why it’s polarizing. (Mile High Mids)
– Ranking the conferences based on their names. I’m actually kinda shocked that I never thought of this. Pretty good stuff here. (USA Today)
– VCU reserve center D.J. Haley is leaving the Rams program in order to pursue academic interests. (VCU Rams Nation)
– Colorado State will be without their starting point guard Dorian Green for their MWC semifinal game against UNLV. Green played 127 consecutive games prior to Wednesday’s game against Fresno State, in which he sat out with an ankle injury. (The Dagger)
Picture of the Day:
Jim Boeheim picking his nose. Priceless.
Video(s) of the Day:
A tour of the New York City barber shop owned by the father of Louisville’s Russ Smith. (Courier Journal)
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Ohio Valley Conference Preview: A trio of teams lead the way
Beginning in September and running up through November 10th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2017-2018 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Ohio Valley Conference.
Two-time OVC player of the year Evan Bradds has graduated, but Belmont remains one of the favorites to claim another conference title.
The first task for the Bruins will be figuring out how to replace or replicate Bradds’ bucket-getting that powered the offense to a 23-win season. Amanze Egekeze and Dylan Winder would both seem to be the natural heirs after posting effective field goal percentages over 60 last year. Like Bradds, both are terrors on the inside, shooting better than 65 percent on 2-pointers, but also have a dimension that Bradds didn’t – 3-point shooting, with Egekeze converting 38.7 percent and Winder 40.2 percent from distance. Without the high-usage Bradds on the roster, both will likely see huge increases in roles, with guard Austin Luke setting them up.
Murray State suffered its first losing season in over 30 years when they went 16-17 last year in Matt McMahon’s second season since succeeding Steve Prohm, but the Racers appear to be on track for an immediate bounce back. Some of the struggle last year can be attributable to plain old bad luck as Murray State went 0-4 in the regular season in overtime games and went 1-8 in games decided by five points or less. The Racers, though, will have to clean things up on the defensive end if they want to challenge for a league title. They were below-average in just about every single facet of the game on that end, and adding five freshmen into the mix may make real strides there difficult. Murray State does have, though, Jonathan Stark, who averaged nearly 22 points per game last season, and he’s a game-changer. They also added junior college standout Anthony Smith, which makes them a threat to capture the conference.
Jacksonville State didn’t look much like a spoiler heading into March last year when they finished with a 9-7 OVC record, but the Gamecocks reeled off three wins, including over league champ Belmont, in the conference tournament to snag an NCAA tournament bid. Second-team all-OVC guard Malcolm Drumwright returns for his senior season and to give coach Ray Harper another dangerous team. Seven-footer Norbertas Giga is also back after putting 30 on Louisville in the NCAA tournament. It will be critical for the Gamecocks to defend the 3-point line better this season. Between Giga and junior Christian Cunningham, Jacksonville State has solid rim protection, but allowed opponents to shoot nearly 38 percent from distance. Some of that is sure to just be variable, but bringing that number down will be a huge determinant of success.
Beyond that, the OVC is tough to project this season, as a number of last season’s contenders lost some key pieces. One group to keep an eye on: Eastern Kentucky. With Asante Gist and Nick Mayo returning, Dan McHale has one of the best 1-2 punches in the league.
PRESEASON OVC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Jonathan Stark, Murray State
The 6-foot guard returns after averaging 21.9 points in his first season with the Racers after transferring from Tulane. He got up nearly eight 3-point attempts per game, converting at a 42.5 percent clip. He’s the rare high-volume shooter that also plays efficiently.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON OVC TEAM
Malcolm Drumwright, Jacksonville State: All-conference guard will lead the charge for the Gamecocks to get back to the NCAA tournament.
Nick Mayo, Eastern Kentucky: A 39 percent 3-point shooter, Mayo scored 18.5 points per game last year.
Denzel Mahoney, Southeast Missouri: Mahoney was a breakout star last year as a freshman, putting up nearly 15 points per game and shooting 37.7 percent from 3.
Terrell Miller, Murray State: A double-double threat every night, Miller averaged 16 points and 8 rebounds per game.
Who are the favorites to win a national title? Who can legitimately be called a contender? Who has the pieces to make a run to the Final Four? We’ll break that all down for you over the next three weeks in our Contender Series.
They’re Kansas, and Kansas does not lose Big 12 races.
I don’t expect that that will change this year, and there are four reasons why:
Phog Allen Fieldhouse: Kansas does not lose there. It just doesn’t happen, which means that you can pencil in nine Big 12 wins for them off the bat. Then, consider that …
… the rest of the Big 12 is down: Outside of West Virginia, is there anyone in the league that should scare Kansas? Baylor could be a top 25 team, but losing Jonathan Motley will keep them out of the Big 12 title discussion. Texas should be relevant again, but even with the addition of Mo Bamba and the return of Andrew Jones, I think they’re more ‘top 25 good’ than ‘challenge Kansas’ good. Oklahoma is still rebuilding. Texas Tech and TCU look like they could be NCAA tournament teams, but not much more. Iowa State lost what feels like everyone. Oklahoma State and Kansas State are … whatever.
And Bill Self is still Bill Self: There’s a reason that he is already a Hall of Famer despite being just 54 years old. He’s one of the best in this business, and if the 13 straight regular season titles didn’t convince you yet, I’m not sure that anything will. At this point there is no reason to assume anything other than Self trotting out a team that is going to be in and around the top ten, in the mix for a No. 1 seed and, as such, a Final Four and title contender. It’s just what Kansas does.
Most importantly, Kansas is still super-talented: It starts with Devonte’ Graham, who I think has a real shot at being an all-american this season. He’ll be playing his more natural point guard position, and he may actually be a better pure point guard than National Player of the Year Frank Mason was last season. Malik Newman, a former top ten recruit that redshirted last season, will be joining Graham in the back court. Svi Mykhailiuk is back, as is LaGerald Vick, while another transfer — Sam Cunliffe — will be eligible come December. Throw in Udoka Azubuike and Billy Preston up front, and the Jayhawks have a nice blend of talent, youth and experience.
All that said, I don’t think this will be the best Kansas team we’ve seen in recent years.
Everything about this Kansas team just feels kind of … weird.
Let’s start with the transfers. They have five of them on the roster this year. Three will be redshirting this season. One, Sam Cunliffe, won’t be eligible until December after transferring out of Arizona State just one semester into his Sun Devil career. Another, Malik Newman, will be eligible to play this season after redshirting last year, teaming up in the back court with Devonte’ Graham, who is in a weird position in his own right.
Graham was a point guard in high school. He was a point guard when he signed with Appalachian State and he was a point guard when he was forced to go to prep school for a year because the Mountaineers wouldn’t let him out of his Letter Of Intent. He was also a point guard when he arrived at Kansas, and he proceeded to spend the next three years playing off the ball as point guard Frank Mason went from being the other guy in a recruiting class that included Andrew Wiggins and Joel Embiid to the National Player of the Year as a senior.
For the first time in his college career, Graham will be taking over the primary point guard duties in a back court that includes a player in Newman that wants the ball in his hands and likes to shoot as much as anyone in college hoops.
How that back court pairing gels will likely end up being the most influential part of the Jayhawk season.
But there’s more.
Let’s talk small-ball for a second.
Bill Self, for years, was a coach that wanted to do nothing more than he wanted to play two bigs. Sometimes, those bigs were the Perry Ellis-type, face-up fours whose ability to score in the mid-range was elite. Sometimes, like when he made it to the national title game in 2012, he had Thomas Robinson lining up next to Jeff Withey.
However it played out, the constant was two big men … until last season, when Josh Jackson showed up and suddenly Self had the ideal small-ball lineup: Two point guards, two tough and athletic wings that could make threes and a big body in the post that can block shots and get rebounds. With Jackson now gone, Kansas and Self now have something of a problem on their hands. As it stands, there are just nine eligible scholarship players on the Jayhawks roster. Only three of them can be considered big men — Udoka Azubuike, Billy Preston and Mitch Lightfoot.
In an ideal world, one where Self has a back court that includes a pair of ball-handlers that will be in his starting lineup and a shortage of big bodies, the Jayhawks would once again play small-ball.
Jackson was the glue that held that lineup together. He was the prototype college four. He was tough as nails defensively, he could rebound like a power forward and he defended the rim when needed. He was also a matchup nightmare on the offensive end, a natural wing and skilled playmaker with three-point range and the ability to grab a rebound and immediately spark transition.
Kansas does not have that guy anymore. LaGerald Vick is an excellent spot-up three-point shooter and the kind of athlete that will be a plus-wing defender, but he’s all of 6-foot-4 and he’s nowhere near the playmaker that Jackson was. Cunliffe, when he finally gets eligible, is a little bit bigger than Vick but not all that different of a player. Svi Mykhailiuk is a skilled player on the offensive end of the floor that has, shall we say, question marks defensively.
In theory, the answer to this problem would be for the Jayhawks to play Azubuike, a former five-star recruit, and Preston, a five-star prospect in the Class of 2017, together. Frankly, they actually fit fairly well together. The problem is that this would mean that the only front court depth that Self would have is Lightfoot, who looked out of his element in the 102 minutes he played as a freshman.
There isn’t an easy answer to this issue.
It’s one of the pitfalls of taking three sit-out transfers the same year.
Which is why this Kansas team has such a weird feel to it.
Overall, Kansas is going to be fine.
Outside of West Virginia, the rest of the Big 12 is not all that intimidating. The Jayhawks should win their 14th straight Big 12 title.
But there is valid reason to be concerned about what this team is going to be able to accomplish against the best teams in the country. Last year, they were the team that created the mismatches, that forced teams to play their way or take the loss.
I just don’t see how that happens this season. I’m not sure Kansas going small would force the best teams to match them because I don’t think it’s all that worrisome having a college four guard the likes of Vick, Cunliffe or Svi. I also don’t think their two-big lineup will be all that effective unless Preston has a bigger impact — i.e. all-Big 12ish — than I expect and Lightfoot proves to be a better bench presence than I realized.
The combination of Bill Self, the amount of talent on the roster and Phog Allen Fieldhouse will keep the Jayhawks in and around the top five throughout the year.
But I think they will be more matchup-dependent in the NCAA tournament than you would think a potential No. 1 seed would be.
Iowa’s McCaffery: ‘I’ve turned programs in’ for cheating
There aren’t a lot of unwritten rules in basketball. One of them, though, is that if a coach breaks a real rule, other coaches don’t speak up. Coaches would seemingly rather lose out on a recruit or transfer rather than turning in one of their own for suspected malfeasance.
Not for Fran McCaffery, though.
The Iowa coach was asked Monday about the FBI investigation into corruption into college hoops, and freely volunteered that he has previously turned other programs in for violations – and that he’ll do it again, if need be.
“I’ve turned programs in and I’ll continue to do that when I know that there’s something going on,” McCaffery said at the program’s media day, according to the Des Moines Register. “But a lot of times you don’t know what’s going on. So can you police yourselves? Only if you know something’s going on. But even then it’s hard for the NCAA to do something.”
Turning in another program for violations is really one of the biggest taboos in the coaching profession. That’s why you get coaches look silly in blocking schools for transfers when tampering is suspected, rather than a coach just reporting tampering.
McCaffery’s tactic, while probably frowned upon by many of his colleagues, is probably the best weapon the NCAA has in combating cheating. If coaches make it clear they won’t tolerate cheating – or that if it occurs, it won’t go unremarked upon – that will go along way in changing a culture and system that the FBI is going to potentially uncover with its wide-ranging investigation that already has resulted in 10 people’s arrest and a Hall of Fame coach’s firing.
“Any time the game is cleaned up,” McCaffery said, “it’s better for all of us.”
Report: Louisville offered $1.5 million settlement to Pitino
It’s little surprise to see Pitino reject such an offer with so many more millions on the table should he (almost certainly) begin legal proceedings trying to recoup the cash that Louisville says it doesn’t owe him by firing for cause.
“I vehemently reject (the school’s) right to do so ‘for cause,’” Pitino said in an affidavit sent to the school. “I have given no ’cause’ for termination of my contract.”
The firing came on the heels of the latest controversy to hit Louisville under Pitino’s watch. First came the escort scandal that rocked the program, but now the school is part of the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball. Ten people were arrested as part of the probe, including an adidas executive who is alleged to have orchestrated getting $100,000 to the family of a recruit in order to facilitate his commitment to the Cardinals program.
Pitino may be out at Louisville, but with more than $40 million at stake, the school surely hasn’t seen the last of him.
Louisville’s Athletic Association has officially fired head coach Rick Pitino nearly three weeks after an FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball linked the Hall of Fame head coach and his program to a $100,000 payment from Adidas to a recruit that enrolled at Louisville.
The association, made up of trustees, faculty, student and administrators, oversees Louisville athletics. They voted unanimously to fire Pitino.
Pitino has $44 million in salary remaining on his contract, which extends through the 2026 season. He was with Louisville for 16 seasons.
Pitino had been ‘effectively fired‘ by the university on September 27th, the day after the scandal first broke.
Earlier this summer, Louisville had received their sanctions from the NCAA in a different scandal that enveloped Pitino’s program. In October of 2015, a book was published by an escort named Katina Powell who alleged that a member of Pitino’s staff had paid for strippers and prostitutes for recruits and members of the Louisville team, some of whom were underage. The NCAA’s sanctions, which included vacating the 2012 Final Four and 2013 National Title in addition to Louisville’s self-imposed 2016 postseason ban, were handed down in June, two weeks after a Louisville coach had allegedly helped facilitate a $100,000 payment from Adidas to Brian Bowen’s family and six weeks before another coach would allegedly attempt to do the same for a 2019 prospect.