Coppin State v Indiana

Maurice Creek exemplifies everything that’s right about the grad transfer rule

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — Spurred on by the Summer of Johnny Football and the ongoing lawsuit filed by Ed O’Bannon, the tide is seemingly beginning to turn against the NCAA as they remain a bastion of the fallacy of amateurism. A constant barrage of heavy media criticism will do that, and we’ve reached a point where the idea of student-athlete rights and proper compensation seems like a legitimate possibility.

But one area where many remain torn is on the idea of transfers. Now, I’m firmly against restricting the movements of unpaid amateurs and I believe that the idea of the transfer market becoming “college basketball free agency” is overblown, but I figured that we could all agree that graduate transfer rule is one that is worth keeping around. You know, because it allows a student-athlete to play immediately if he transfers to pursue a graduate degree with eligibility remaining.

Turns out that’s the wrong assumption to make.

“I positively believe a fifth-year guy should not be able to play right away,” Wisconsin head coach Bo Ryan said over the summer. “All they’re doing is looking at curriculum, finding a program that a school doesn’t have. Are they really trying to get a master’s degree? … There’s a market out there for this. You take guys through summer school and give them every academic advantage and then they graduate and then they can just go to another school.”

And yes, there are players that take full advantage of this rule, graduating in three or four years and following that up by working towards their graduate degree at a place where they may be able to play a higher level of basketball. The gall of those student-athletes.

But it also works the other way, and eliminating the rule would eliminate opportunities for kids like Maurice Creek.

You should recognize that name. Creek was a star as a freshman at Indiana, averaging almost 17 points, and putting 31 on Kentucky, during the 2009-2010 season. But Creek’s career as a Hoosier was derailed by injury. There was the gruesome broken kneecap he suffered midway through his freshman year. There was the stress fracture he had in his other kneecap as a sophomore. That, too, required surgery. Then there was the Achilles’ tendon that he ruptured as a junior. All told, Creek’s four seasons at Indiana saw him rehab his way through three major surgeries.

“Sitting down’s pretty tough, because you want to be out there every day,” Creek told after practice at George Washington last week. “Sometimes I think back to all the injuries and I’m like, ‘man, what did I get myself into? Do I want to keep doing this to myself?'”

Creek worked through all of the injuries, motivated by the words of encouragement from guys like Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford. “Just keep working hard,” they would say. “Your time will come.”

But it never did at Indiana. As a fourth-year junior with two surgically-repaired, Creek was no longer needed. Indiana had recruited over him. He had received a scholarship for four years. He had earned his degree. And now it was time for him to move on, and thanks to the graduate transfer rule, Creek would be able to transfer anywhere in the country to use his final season of eligibility.

Creek, who is from just outside D.C. in Oxon Hill, Md., found a landing spot at GW, and the fit couldn’t be more perfect. The Colonials are a young, but promising team. Redshirt senior Isaiah Armwood is back, and he’ll be joined up front by sophomores Kevin Larsen, a physical presence in the paint, and Patricio Garino, a long, athletic wing from Argentina. Toss in a back court that includes Joe McDonald and Kethan Savage, and the only thing GW was missing heading into the season was a veteran back court presence that would be able to knock down threes.

That sums up Creek’s game pretty perfectly.

“I really like how aggressive and athletic we are,” Creek, who wants to be a coach and will be pursuing his graduate degree in Human Leadership and Development, said. “My shooting abilities with that, that’s championship caliber.”

The fit was just that much more snug given the proximity of Creek’s family and friends to GW’s Foggy Bottom locale.

“Going to Indiana, my parents couldn’t catch many of the games,” he said, although their presence will add a different kind of pressure than he was used to back in Bloomington. “Being back home all my friends and family want to go to my games now, and it’s like [now I] have, I don’t want to say more pressure, but you want to be more successful because you’re back at home where really nobody is worrying about [the potential] we have.”

It’s a feel-good story and a great opportunity for Creek, one that was only made possibly by the graduate transfer rule.

But it belies the bigger point here.

“If the rule wasn’t in place, I still probably would have moved on,” Creek said.

That’s because Indiana didn’t have any scholarships left to give. It’s the same thing that happened to fan favorite and sharp-shooter Matt Roth last summer. Creek may have had eligibility left, but since he was leaving after four years with a degree in hand, Tom Crean could say that he fulfilled his commitment to Creek. He could part ways guilt-free, and while I actually don’t think that Crean did anything wrong in doing so, eliminating the graduate transfer rule would eliminate any possibility of Creek being able to finish his career, earn his graduate degree and, if he can stay healthy, have a chance to prove to professional scouts what he’s still capable of doing.

“They’ve given me a great opportunity,” Creek said, “and I can’t thank them enough.”

No. 1 Kentucky survives without Tyler Ulis in lineup

Tyler Ulis
AP Photo/Chuck Burton
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Less than a week after giving No. 2 Maryland all they could handle, Illinois State went into Lexington and gave No. 1 Kentucky fits.

The Redbirds never really threatened UK in the second half, but they went into the break tied and were within single digits down the stretch, eventually losing 75-63.

Kentucky was flustered. They turned the ball over 15 times compared to just eight assists, they shot 2-for-12 from three and just 29-for-46 (63 percent) from the charity stripe. They simply did not handle Illinois State’s pressure all that well.

And there was a reason for that.

Tyler Ulis didn’t play.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate just what a player brings to a team until that player is not in the lineup, and that was precisely the case with Ulis on Monday night. It was crystal clear what he provides Kentucky. Beyond leadership and the ability to break a press without throwing the ball to the other team, he’s a calming presence. He doesn’t get rattled when a defender is harassing him and he doesn’t get overwhelmed by a situation like a mid-major threatening the No. 1 team in the country in their own gym.

He’s everything you look for in a pure point guard, and for as good as Jamal Murray and Isaiah Briscoe have looked at times this season, it should be crystal clear who the most important player on this Kentucky team is.

LSU loses to Charleston, eliminates at-large bid margin for error

Ben Simmons
AP Photo/Kathy Willens
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Ben Simmons scored 15 points and grabbed 18 rebounds, the second time in his six-game career that the LSU freshman has collected that many caroms, but that wasn’t enough for the Tigers to avoid dropping a game on the road to the College of Charleston, 70-58. It was the third straight loss for Simmons’ crew, as they fell to Marquette and N.C. State at the Legends Classic last week.

But here’s the thing: LSU didn’t just lose.

The game really wasn’t close.

LSU was down by as many as 23 points. It was 39-17 at the half, and that was after Charleston had a shot at the buzzer called off upon review. They made a bit of a run in the second half but never got closer than seven. When LSU would cut into the lead, the Cougars would respond with a run of their own, killing LSU’s spirit while keeping them at arm’s length.

[RELATED: Ben Simmons’ one college year a waste?]

Now, there are quite a few things here to discuss. For starters, LSU’s effort was, at best, apathetic, and, at worst, regular old pathetic. The team has a serious lack of leadership that was plainly evident on Monday night; would Fred VanVleet let his team fold against a program picked to finish at the bottom of the SoCon? Would Tyler Ulis? For that matter, would Tom Izzo or Mike Krzyzewski or John Calipari?

Perhaps more importantly, does any of that change when Keith Hornsby and Craig Victor get back?

Simmons did show off his potential — 18 boards, four assists, he even made his first three of the year — but he also showed precisely why there are scouts that are trying to curtail the LeBron James comparisons. Simmons was 4-for-15 from the floor with seven turnovers against a mediocre mid-major team. There are so many things that Simmons does well, but scoring efficiently — particularly in half court setting — and shooting the ball consistently are not on that list.

But here’s the biggest issue: LSU may have put themselves in a situation where they aren’t a tournament team. As of today, they’re 3-3 on the season with losses to a pair of teams that, at best, seem destined to be in the bubble conversation on Selection Sunday in addition to this loss to Charleston. The rest of their non-conference schedule is ugly. The only game worth noting is at home against No. 6 Oklahoma at the end of January.

The NCAA factors in non-conference schedule strength when determining at-large teams. You need to at least try, and LSU didn’t try; they have one of the worst non-conference schedules in the country.

The great thing about being in the SEC — as opposed to, say, the Missouri Valley — is that the Tigers will have plenty of chances to earn marquee wins. Six, by my court: Kentucky twice, Texas A&M twice, Vanderbilt on the road and Oklahoma at home. They probably need to win at least two or three of those games to have a real chance, and that’s assuming they can avoid anymore horrid losses in the process.

The season isn’t over six games in, not by any stretch of the imagination.

But LSU has done a hell of a job eliminating their margin for error.