The APR: Another cog in the college sports arms race

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Today, the NCAA released their Academic Progress Rating reports and there wasn’t much that stood out. The high-major programs passed. As did most of the mid-major programs.

Let’s rephrase that: The programs with resources passed.

This isn’t going to be an indictment of the schools that have the means to help their student-athletes, more power to them that they can. But if you need any evidence as to why the APR, and it’s standards, are unfair as a whole, take a look at the six college basketball programs that received postseason bans.

Of them, four are in the Southwestern Athletic Conference, widely viewed as the weakest Division I conference in the sport and one that doesn’t have near the academic support major programs can offer their athletes. A fifth team, New Orleans, spent most of 2005-2011 recovering from Hurricane Katrina — dropping all athletic scholarships by going to Division III just to help keep the school itself afloat at one point. The final school Florida International, dealt with one of the biggest internal disasters in college basketball in 2012, the firing of Isaiah Thomas, who seemingly ran the program like an NBA team (meaning class wasn’t really a requirement) and then left it, causing a number of defections, which kills a program’s APR.

You think any of those athletic directors will ever see the bonuses that AD’s of major program see, for athletes doing what they’re supposed to do in class?

The scoring of the APR for an athletic program is simple. A player can earn up to two points per semester, four points for the year. One point goes to being in good academic standing at the end of each semester, another for returning to the same school each semester. The second point can be waived if the player has good reason to leave school (i.e. a transfer or going pro) and leaves in good academic standing, meaning they have a 2.6 grade point average or higher at the time of departure. To get the APR of a program, the total number of points from a given time frame are added up and divided by the total number of the potential points.

The APR is unfair because it puts every athletic program in its respective division on the same playing field. In terms of Division I, that’s shouldn’t be the case. You think you can compare New Orleans’ academic-athletic support apples-to-apples with Ohio State’s?

Though the NCAA did rightfully screw all programs equally in one way: transfers. Take the case of Vince Martin. Martin, Marietta, Ga. native, came to Arkansas-Pine Bluff as a freshman for the 2009-10 season. He lasted one semester, transferring home to Young Harris University, which at the time was transitioning from a junior college program to Division II. Through no fault of UAPB or Martin’s, now the Golden Lions take an APR hit. On any level, a program shouldn’t be punished for an 18-to-22 year-old player making an adult decision to be closer to home.

Next season, the balance of power shifts even more towards the big boys. The two-year rolling APR average bumps up to 940 and the four-year to 930. That means those on the low end will have to do even more with less academically to keep up. Though there will be a grace period given to teams flirting with that eligibility line a chance to catch up, it’ll be hard for any program that has had trouble in the past, to stay above that line consistently.

The NCAA is penalizing teams for not keeping up with the Joneses. In the arms race (players, facilities, coaches and merchandise) that is college sports, the organization is basically saying that academics is no different. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but also doesn’t help all schools involved. The only difference is, that unlike the other aspects of this business, the academic end-game actually benefits the athletes, who get a degree.

The APR needs to be altered. Not the the NCAA really cares to change it. But as long as the Division I schools at the bottom financially are expected to keep up with the ones at the top, this cycle won’t end.

David Harten is a sportswriter who spent several seasons covering the SWAC and other mid-major college basketball conferences. Follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Duke’s Marvin Bagley III to miss third straight game with knee issue

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Duke announced on Saturday afternoon that star freshman Marvin Bagley III will miss his third straight game with what they have dubbed a mild knee sprain.

Bagley suffered the injury in the first half at North Carolina, and while he played the rest of that game, he sat out wins over Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech.

Both of those games came in Cameron Indoor Stadium. On Sunday, they’ll be playing on the road against a shorthanded No. 11 Clemson program.

In Bagley’s absence, Marques Bolden, Javin DeLaurier and Alex O’Connell have played more minutes while Grayson Allen has seemingly rediscovered his confidence. He’s averaging 24 points and six assists in the last two games.

Auburn’s leading shot-blocker suffers devastating ankle injury

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Things went from bad to worse for No. 10 Auburn in a hurry.

The Tigers currently trail South Carolina 46-25 at the half in Columbia. The deficit is not impossible to overcome — right, Michigan State? — but it will be very hard to do without their leading shot-blocker and best frontcourt defender.

With a minute left in the first half, Anfernee McLemore suffered a devastating left ankle injury that will almost assuredly end his season. Think Gordon Hayward. Video of the injury can be seen below. Be warned: It’s graphic, and McLemore can clearly be heard screaming in pain:

McLemore is one of just three players in Auburn’s rotation over 6-foot-7. He’s also Auburn’s leading shot-blockers at 2.7 per game and second-leading rebounder despite averaging fewer than 20 minutes. Without him available, Chuma Okeke and Horace Spencer are going to be asked to carry the entire load up front for a team whose biggest question mark was already their complete lack of size and depth up front.

This is a brutal blow for a team that has gone from an SEC afterthought to a projected No. 1 seed.

McLemore was taken off the floor on a stretcher.

No. 2 Michigan State matches largest comeback in a decade with 27-point rally over Northwestern

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Michigan State overcame a 27-point deficit on Saturday afternoon to beat Northwestern, 65-60, for a memorable Big Ten road win. It’s the biggest comeback win in Big Ten history while also matching the largest college basketball comeback of the last decade.

Trailing by 22 points at halftime and by 18 points with 14 minutes left, the comeback for the Spartans was slow and methodical at first, as Michigan State’s defense slowly suffocated the Wildcat offense.

And when the jumpers started falling with a Josh Langford (eight points) three with a little over 13 minutes left, the Spartans made their big push.

Sophomore point guard Cassius Winston was a major catalyst in the comeback for Michigan State as he buried multiple top-of-the-key threes and pull-up jumpers to help give the Spartans a new-found confidence. Winston finished with 17 points, nine rebounds and seven assists as he came through in a major way in the second half. With star Miles Bridges (eight points) battling foul trouble in the second half, Winston and other Michigan State role players stepped up in a big way. Big man Nick Ward grinded to 15 points and a lot of key stops on the defensive end. Matt McQuaid knocked down some big shots while taking a charge and playing well on both ends. Jaren Jackson had the go-ahead three-point play to finally give the Spartans their first lead.

This was a team comeback in which Michigan State (26-3, 14-2) used the sum of its parts to slowly dismantle Northwestern. It was one of the more impressive comebacks in recent memory. Doing commentary for Fox, Steve Lavin said this was one of the biggest one-half swings in his 30 years of being around Division I basketball. The win probability chart for this game is definitely unique.

While beating Northwestern isn’t some sort of monumental achievement this season, Michigan State didn’t have a huge comeback win this season. The biggest deficit that the Spartans had overcome to win this season was only 13 points. Now we know that Michigan State is capable of making a comeback from a very large deficit as they showed they’re capable of coming through with the offensive firepower. And Bridges, the team’s leading scorer, only had two field goals.

This is the Michigan State we’ve wanted to consistently see this season. Michigan State getting stops is nothing new. The Spartans held Northwestern scoreless for over 11 minutes at one point in the second half as the Wildcats were brutal shooting the ball in the first half. But if Michigan State’s offense gets rolling like that because of balanced inside/outside contributions from role players? That’s the Spartans everyone keeps hoping will show up in March.

No. 23 Oklahoma loses fifth-straight, Trae Young at risk of missing NCAA tournament?

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Trae Young has hit the freshman wall, and there are few signs that he is ready to break through to the other side.

Let’s start with the good news, I guess: In today’s 77-66 home loss to a Texas team that entered the day tied for eighth in the Big 12 standings, Young finally snapped his streak of 20 missed three-pointers. After starting off Saturday 0-for-4 after missing all nine of his threes at Texas Texas and his last seven threes at Iowa State, Young hit three of his last six triples.

He also made all nine of his free throws, extending that streak to nearly 30 consecutive makes, while scoring 26 points and committing fewer than four turnovers in a game for the first time since December 8th.

Those are all good things!

The problem, however, is that they came in Oklahoma’s fifth straight loss, their sixth loss in the last seven games and their eighth loss in their last ten games. The Sooners have been dreadful for more than a month, and it’s not going to get any easier; they play at Kansas on Monday.

The question “why?” is pretty simple, too. Young is struggling and the rest of the pieces on the roster just have not been good enough to be able to pick up the slack. Brady Manek is a spot-up shooter that has struggling shooting the ball. Kameron McGusty went from being a player that looked like a potential all-Big 12 guy last season to Just A Guy this season. Christian James hasn’t been bad, and Jamuni McNeace and Khadeem Lattin hold their own in the paint, but by and large Young’s supporting cast has not been providing enough support while Young has been in this slump.

The question of whether or not Oklahoma can turn this around is not quite so simple unless you know the reason for Young’s struggles. Has he simply found himself in a place where the grind of a full season of college basketball and two months of Big 12 play — a league where every team has a good-to-great player at the point — has worn him down physically and mentally, or has the blueprint for how to beat the Sooners become too prevalent?

Or is it all of the above?

If Young is gassed, that’s an issue that, in theory, can be solved.

If the Sooners, are a flawed roster that cannot function or win games when opponents sell out to stop their superstar freshman, that isn’t as easy to deal with. Rest can solve the former. You’re not solving the latter, you’re not bring more talent into the program, while Young is still on campus.

At 16-10 overall and 6-8 in the Big 12, Oklahoma still looks like a pretty safe bet to reach the NCAA tournament. For starters, they were listed as a No. 4 seed just six days ago when the Selection Committee unveiled their first iteration of the top 16 seeds. They also have six Quadrant 1 wins and no bad losses to their name. Their won-loss record is a casualty of the Big 12 meat-grinder.

But that doesn’t mean they are safe. If they finish up the Big 12 season going 1-3 — which is feasible given how they’ve played the last month and their remaining opponents: at Kansas, Kansas State, at Baylor, Oklahoma State — then they’ll be 7-11 in the league. No one in more than 25 years has reached the NCAA tournament with a league record four games under .500.

The Sooners aren’t doomed yet.

But it is time for them to figure their issues out.

PHOTOS: Miami, Syracuse wear shirts honoring Florida shooting victims

Photo via Mike Waters, Syracuse.com
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Syracuse is playing in Miami on Saturday, the first game that the Hurricanes have played at home since the shooting at Parkland, Florida’s, Stoneman Douglas High School.

Both teams wore warmup shirts honoring the victims of the shooting prior to the game:

Parkland and Coral Gables are about 50 miles apart, but both towns are suburbs with the same Miami-Fort Lauderdale metro area.