Kevin Ollie

UConn braces for more difficult non-conference scheduling

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Now that conference realignment is finally a reality, fans from all over the country are slowly learning new league opponents and the other subtle nuisances of being in a new league if their team made some sort of conference switch.

One of the more intriguing cases to watch in the newest conference realignment will be Connecticut moving from the Big East to the American. Since UConn has won national titles, produced numerous NBA Draft lottery picks and built themselves into a perennial power, not much should change, but now that the backing of the Big East and its tremendous conference scheduling opportunities are no longer in-place, the Huskies will have to seek out a tougher non-conference schedule according to an Associated Press story.

Men’s coach Kevin Ollie said his program understands there would be a drop-off in the quality of league opponents, and looked toward improving its RPI by putting together a very tough non-conference schedule for the upcoming season that includes Washington, Maryland, Florida, Stanford and possibly Indiana.
Will UConn and new coach Kevin Ollie remain a powerhouse program in the American? History says that given their track record that it’s likely they’ll be fine, but little wrinkles like this make for questions as we go towards college basketball’s new conferences. Non-conference games against a group such as Washington, Maryland, Florida and Stanford will certainly help as well.

UConn lost games with Syracuse, Georgetown, Pittsburgh and other Big East — and former Big East —  powers, but they’ll still have Memphis, Temple and Cincinnati in the American to compete with and the conference will likely have another upstart or two that eventually challenges that initial lead pack of American basketball powers.

The biggest difference might come in television revenue and as Connecticut athletic director Warde Manual mentions in the story, the program will need to raise money in other ways to make up for the difference, but that’s of little concern to the quality of the actual teams playing this season.

If Kevin Ollie can keep the product on the floor competitive, it’s tough to imagine Connecticut basketball falling from the nation’s elite, regardless of current conference affiliation but it will be fun to see their non-conference schedule in the coming years.

Scott also writes for NY2LA Sports and can be followed on Twitter @phillipshoops

Stanford loses key veteran guard to stress fracture

Marcus Allen
AP Photo
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Stanford guard Marcus Allen will be out indefinitely after suffering a stress fracture in his right foot, the school announced on Monday evening.

“We want to make sure Marcus is fully healthy before returning to the court,” Stanford coach Johnny Dawkins said in a statement. “Marcus played at a high level during our summer exhibition competition in Italy, where he was one of our leading scorers. We will certainly miss him as we continue to prepare for the season, but we are fortunate that this happened now and he will be back before he knows it.”

The loss of Allen is a potentially brutal blow in an already-thin back court. The 6-foot-3 Allen started 23 games as a sophomore last season, averaging 6.4 points and 3.5 boards. But he averaged 11.4 points and 5.4 boards as the Cardinal made a run to the NIT championship and looked poised to be able to replace the departed Chasson Randle’s production this year.

What’s worse is that without Allen, Stanford does not return a single player in their back court that averaged more than 11.5 minutes. Sophomore Robert Cartwright looks poised to step into the starting point guard role, but neither Dorian Pickens nor Christian Sanders looked like they were ready for that kind of role in the Pac-12 last season. Dawkins does return Malcolm Allen, Marcus’ twin brother, who sat out last season with a broken wrist.

The good news is that Stanford’s front court is strong enough to carry the Cardinal until Marcus is healthy. Rosco Allen, Reid Travis and Michael Humphrey will be able to hold their own against any front line in the Pac-12, while Grant Verhoeven and freshman Josh Sharma will provide adequate depth.

Utah lands top-75 center Jayce Johnson

Larry Krystkowiak
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Utah picked up its center of the future on Monday as four-star center Jayce Johnson pledged to the Runnin’ Utes, a source confirmed to The 7-foot Johnson recently cut his list to Cal, Colorado and Utah with the possibility of reclassifying to the Class of 2015.

Regarded as the No. 67 overall prospect in the Class of 2016, Johnson will look to attend Utah in December as a walk-on who will redshirt. While Johnson likely won’t play this season, he does give head coach Larry Krystkowiak another big man to use in practice to go against sophomore center Jakob Poeltl. A solid long-term prospect, Johnson has a good frame to add weight and he’s also skilled finishing with both hands. Utah now has its replacement for Poeltl if he opts to leave for the NBA after the season and he gets an extra semester to work with the program.

Johnson is coming off of his official visit to Utah this weekend as he joins junior college guard Jojo Zamora in the Class of 2016.