After getting drubbed by Houston, is UConn a flawed basketball team?

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It would be easy to look at UConn’s loss to Houston at Hofheinz Pavilion on Tuesday and write it off as the Huskies having a bad night.

It was a late tip on New Year’s Eve way out in Houston in an arena that may not have held enough people to fill my old 600-seat high school gym. For a program that’s used to playing their leagues games in places like the Carrier Dome and against teams like Louisville and Pitt and Georgetown, that’s not exactly and easy game to get fired up for.

Maybe that’s why they dug themselves a 46-25 hole in the first half, and maybe that’s why they erased that deficit once Shabazz Napier woke up and put on a 25-point second half display.

But writing off No. 17 UConn’s eventual 75-71 loss to the Cougars as a simple problem of motivation would make you ignore the fact that the Huskies are a flawed basketball team.

“I told them [at halftime] you have to play with heart,” Ollie told Don Amore of the Hartford Courant. “Our best player [Shabazz Napier] has to set the tone, he has to come out and play, he can’t have two points. DeAndre Daniels has to come and play. Our starters have to play, that’s why I changed the starting lineup. We have to figure out something. That’s my job as a head coach, to figure it out.”

Simply put: their front court is going to be at a disadvantage every night for the rest of the season. Amida Brimah is a very good shot blocker, but he’s not strong enough to deal with good low-post players and his footwork is nowhere near good enough to matchup with a face-up big man like Tashawn Thomas. Phil Nolan and Kentan Facey don’t look like they’re ready to play this level of basketball just yet. Tyler Olander is, well, Tyler Olander. He’ll give you decent minutes, but the senior is what he is.

There are going to be times where UConn plays with a front line of Deandre Daniels and Niels Giffey. Oy.

Then there’s the issue of balance.

Look, there is a reason that Shabazz Napier is still sitting near the top of any Player of the Year ranking that is worth you paying attention to. He’s been terrific this season. He’s won games single-handily, but that is only going to get UConn so far without help from their supporting cast. The problem? Ryan Boatright, Daniels, and Omar Calhoun are about as streaky and unreliable offensively as you can be.

There’s a reason why every possession late in games features Napier trying to find a way to create an open shot. That’s why the ball is always in his hands.

And he’s good enough that he’s going to win UConn some games.

But take a closer look at the games UConn has won. Maryland has been anything but impressive this season. Indiana hasn’t, either. Boston College stinks. That win over Florida is nice, but it came on a fluky buzzer-beater at UConn in a game where Florida was dealing with injuries to both of their point guards.

Was Tuesday really just an example of why you need to be ready to play every single night, or was it a sign that these Huskies have a long, long way to go?

UConn pays a visit to SMU and Larry Brown on Saturday afternoon. I have a feeling we’ll have a better understanding then.

Big 12 preview: Kansas on top once again

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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 Big 12 conference.

There’s plenty to know about this year’s Big 12, but the headline remains the same as it’s been for over a dozen years: Kansas is probably going to win the league.

The Jayhawks have won at least a share of the conference title for 13-straight years. This year, they’re not only a Big 12 favorite, but a national title contender.

They aren’t, though, the only storyline in a conference that consistently fields one of the strongest groups in the country. West Virginia looks like a contender again. Texas is relevant again (probably), as is Baylor (I think) and Oklahoma (maybe). Even the perennial bottom-feeders – TCU and Texas Tech – look like they’ll be in the mix for an NCAA tournament.

That, like Kansas, is no different this season.

Big Ten Preview | ACC Preview | Atlantic 10 Preview | Mountain West Preview

Bill Self (Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW

1. Kansas has the most talent, but the fit is odd: The Jayhawks have a first-team All-American Devonte Graham, a McDonald’s All-American in Billy Preston, a former McDonald’s All-American in Malik Newman and plenty of other talented pieces, but the Jayhawks are thin inside and don’t have an abundance of shooting. The roster construction isn’t perfect – that’s what happens when you’ve got sit-out transfers like the Lawson brothers – but Self usually figures out how to get the most out of his teams. Weird isn’t necessarily bad, but it does present a challenge.

RELATED: Kansas is stuck in a purgatory of small-ball and playing big

The other pressing question is how Graham adjusts to moving back to a more traditional point guard role. Graham and last year’s national player of the year Frank Mason shared duties the previous three years, but Mason more often than not had the ball in his hands. That led to plenty of spot-up 3-point opportunities that may have to go elsewhere this season for the Jayhawks, likely to Lagerald Vick and Svi Mykhailiuk. Graham could also be asked to be involved a lot more pick-and-roll situations, something that he is capable of but that Mason excelled at.

Most believe that Graham is a better pure point guard than Mason, but that doesn’t mean that Graham is necessarily a better player. We took a deep dive on Kansas here.

2. Havoc in Austin, Year 3: The second season of Shaka Smart’s tenure at Texas was an abject failure. The Longhorns went 11-22, lost their final seven regular season games and finished last in the Big 12. The problem was largely offensive, with the Longhorns delivering the least-efficient season a Smart team has ever had. Three-point shooting was in no small way a culprit as Texas couldn’t even crack 30 percent as a team. Not great.

Reinforcements are on the way, though, as Smart signed five top-100 recruits in the 2017, most notably center Mo Bamba and point guard Matt Coleman. Bamba is a potential program-changer as a potential No. 1 draft pick and the type of kid who attended the MIT Sloan Analytics Conference. Bamba is the kind of defensive presence that Havoc needs to anchor around. He’s an elite rim protector at 7-foot-1 with a 7-foot-9 wingspan, and his ability to erase shots at the rim when gambling perimeter defenders get beaten will make it that much easier for those guards to fly around and force turnovers. So the defense should be better, and the combination of a natural point guard in Coleman plus the return of Andrew Jones should mean the Longhorns are more effective offensively.

Bringing in this type of recruiting class to join a solid core (albeit one without Jarrett Allen after he decided to go pro) puts Texas in a spot to excel. It should also be a pretty good indication of what type of teams Smart is going to have and build in Austin as he’s unlikely to have many teams with a ton more talent than the one that will take the floor this winter.

Final Four Sleepers | Louisville | Villanova | West Virginia | USC | Wichita State | Miami

Shaka Smart (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

3. Will TCU see return on investment?: The first four seasons in the Big 12 for TCU were a disaster. The Horned Frogs proved completely overmatched in their new league, winning just eight over those four seasons. After that, it appears the school decided to get serious about hoops. They fired Trent Johnson and hired alum Jamie Dixon, reportedly to a salary of more than $3 million a year. There was also the $72 million arena renovation. TCU is investing seriously in making their basketball program something worthwhile.

This could be the first season it truly pays off.

TCU looked to be tournament-bound last year when they were 17-7 overall and 6-5 in the Big 12 before a seven-game losing streak scuttled their chances. Nearly everyone is back, including all-Big 12 center Vladimir Brodziansky, promising point guard Jaylen Fisher and talented wing Kenrich Williams. TCU was solid if unspectacular on both ends of the floor last year, which means the standard growth you’d expect with a returning roster under a second-year coach (especially one as accomplished as Dixon) means TCU should see its NCAA tournament drought end at 20 years. They very well could find themselves in the upper echelon of the league, no small feat for a program that is yet to finish better than second-to-last in their new conference.

4. Cyclone rebuild: The Iowa State program didn’t fold up shop when superstar alum and program savior Fred Hoiberg left his hometown to take the head job with the Chicago Bulls in 2015. The Cyclones continued to flourish with Steve Prohm at the helm, making the Sweet 16 in his first year and winning a Big 12 tournament championship while making a program-best sixth-straight NCAA tournament last season. Those two successful seasons, though, were built with Hoiberg players like Georges Niang, Abdel Nader and Monte Morris.

This season marks the unofficial start to Prohm’s tenure as the roster has completely turned over with four starters, all of whom were all-Big 12 players, gone and eight newcomers among the ranks. Competing at the top of the league and advancing to a seventh NCAA tournament in a row seems unlikely for ISU, but the young talent – both on the roster and committed in 2018 – is plenty of reason for optimism in Ames. This year’s group will be led by Lindell Wigginton, a top-25 recruit who picked the Cyclones over the likes Oregon and Arizona State. The 6-foot-1 point guard is athletic and skilled, putting him on track to be the fourth point guard in a row that Prohm has had drafted (Morris, Cam Payne and Isaiah Canaan).

Under both Hoiberg and Prohm, ISU has been an elite offensive team, but this team has plenty of question marks on that end, especially in the shooting department. The Cyclones are due to take a step back this season, but if they can show promise, a quick return to prominence could be in the offing.

RELATED: Where is Kentucky going to get their scoring from this season?
Jevon Carter (Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

5. Press on: It’s now Year 4 of Press Virginia in Morgantown, and Bob Huggins has had enough success with the scheme to think that the roster matters less than the system at this point. Thing is, though, that Huggs has a pretty dang good roster this season.
Jevon Carter may be the Big 12 player of the year when all is said and done, and he’s the engine powering the Mountaineers. He’s one of the best defenders in the country and a turnover-generating machine, with a steal rate of over 4 percent. West Virginia’s defense is built to create chaos, and Carter is an agent of chaos.

Esa Ahmad will miss the first half of the season due to academic issues, but Huggins has all the depth he needs to keep rolling out fresh bodies, a critical component of their pressing style. What has evaded West Virginia in recent years has been consistent offense when it can’t just get transition buckets. That’s probably going to be an issue again this year as shooting probably won’t be a strength. If the Mountaineers can find some reliable deep threats, that can change their ceiling dramatically.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

PRESEASON BIG 12 PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Devonte’ Graham, Kansas

Taking the reins for Frank Mason is a big job in Lawrence, but Graham looks to be more than equipped to do it. He’ll be quarterbacking the conference’s best team back at his natural position. A monster year is in order for Graham, who is already a potential first round pick in the 2018 NBA Draft. This season will be the one where he proves himself.

MOREThe Enigma of Miles Bridges | NBC Sports Preseason All-American Team

THE REST OF THE BIG 12 FIRST TEAM

  • Jeffrey Carroll, Oklahoma State: The 6-foot-6 wing has taken himself from three-star recruit to NBA prospect
  • Vladimir Brodziansky, TCU: A force inside, on the boards and on defense, Brodziansky is the league’s best returning big man
  • Jevon Carter, West Virginia: Just a prototypical Bob Huggins player with grit and production.
  • Mo Bamba, Texas: The league’s best freshman will be in a spot to put up big numbers.
Mohamed Bamba and Trae Young, Jon Lopez/Nike

FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW

  • Trae Young, Oklahoma
  • Zach Smith, Texas Tech
  • Svi Mykhailiuk, Kansas
  • Malik Newman, Kansas
  • Manu Lecomte, Baylor

BREAKOUT STAR: Malik Newman, Kansas

A disappointing freshman year at Mississippi State and a year sitting out in Lawrence has many forgetting that Malik Newman was one of the top players in the 2015 class. Kansas is the conference’s most talented team, but there’s a spot for a big role for Newman.

COACH UNDER PRESSURE: Bruce Weber, Kansas State

Bruce Weber got a two-year extension after Kansas State snuck into the NCAA tournament, but the Manhattan faithful are still not sold on Weber’s future there. This may not be a make-or-break year, but it’ll certainly be setting up one if Kansas State struggles.

ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …

Kansas, West Virginia and Texas will all have chances at deep runs.

I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT

The freshman of the year race between Mo Bamba and Trae Young.

FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR

  • Nov. 14, Kansas vs. Kentucky
  • Dec. 5, Texas vs. TCU
  • Nov. 10, Iowa State vs. Missouri
  • Dec. 2, Baylor vs. Wichita State
  • Jan. 27, West Virginia vs. Kentucky

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @FakeBobHuggins

POWER RANKINGS

1. Kansas: Jayhawks have won 13 league titles in a row, and this isn’t the season the streak comes to an end.
2. West Virginia: The style isn’t always pretty, but the results are for Bob Huggins’ crew.
3. Texas: The Longhorns add serious pieces to an already talented core that should make it the best year of Shaka Smart’s short tenure.
4. TCU: Jamie Dixon’s has a dynamic group at his alma mater, which likely means the first NCAA tournament in Fort Worth since 1998.
5. Baylor: Johnathan Motley left a year early for the NBA, but Scott Drew’s cupboard isn’t bare.
6. Texas Tech: Chris Beard nearly got the Red Raiders into the dance in his first season, but the second won’t likely end short of it.
7. Oklahoma: A lot of the Sooners’ season will rest on how quickly freshman phenom Trae Young adjusts to the college game.
8. Kansas State: Without Wesley Iwundu, who will get buckets for the Wildcats?
9. Iowa State: Eight newcomers means the Cyclones will go through plenty of growing pains.
10. Oklahoma State: Jeffrey Carroll is a pro, but how much talent is around him remains to be seen – as does how much the FBI corruption investigation impacts the program.

Top 50 SG Tyler Herro de-commits from Wisconsin

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Last September, Wisconsin landed a pledge from a highly regarded 2018 prospect as shooting guard Tyler Herro announced that he would remain in state and play for Greg Gard. Tuesday evening Herro, considered to be a Top 50 prospect by many of the major recruiting services, announced that he has decided to reopen his recruitment.

“After a lot of conversations with my family and prayer I have decided to reopen my recruitment and explore all of my options,” Herro said in a statement released via Twitter. “The past year since I committed I have grown not only as a basketball player, but as a person. My drive to become the best on all levels has been the fuel that drove this decision.”

With Herro’s change of heart, Wisconsin is now without a verbal commitment in the Class of 2018. The 6-foot-4 Milwaukee native picked Wisconsin over Arizona, Florida, Indiana, DePaul and Marquette, and given his talent Herro’s recruitment should not take long to pick up following his decision to open things back up.

The Badgers added three scholarship freshmen to the program this summer, with two being perimeter players in Brad Davison and Kobe King. Wisconsin currently does not have a senior in its perimeter rotation, which helps from a numbers standpoint when it comes to 2018. But to lose a recruit of Herro’s caliber, and an in-state prospect at that, is a major hit for the Wisconsin program to absorb.

Bob Knight requests to not be included in Assembly Hall sculptures

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On Tuesday it was announced by Indiana University that five sculptures will be placed throughout Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall to pay tribute to the teams that have won national championships. With former head coach Bob Knight, who has not been on good terms with the school since his dismissal in 2000, being the head coach of three of those teams it’s fair to wonder if he would be a part of any of those sculptures.

Unfortunately Knight will not be in the sculptures for the 1976, 1981 or 1987 national championship teams, as it was noted in the release that the former coach requested to not be included. According to the Indianapolis Star, Indiana athletics director Fred Glass said that it is school policy to request permission to depict someone on this kind of project. The school reached out to Knight, who declined the request.

The sculpture honoring the 1976 team was the reason for the school reaching out to Knight, as it honors the team that is the most Division I team to go through an entire season without a loss. That teams was led by the likes of Kent Benson, Scott May and Bobby Wilkerson, and won the first of Knight’s three national titles at Indiana.

After being fired prior to the start of the 2000-01 season, Knight spent a year away from coaching before accepting the head coaching job at Texas Tech. Despite Indiana having honored former players and teams of Knight’s in recent years, the relationship between the former coach and the school he led to three national titles remains strained to this day.

As for the sculptures, fans will be able to see them for the first time at Hoosier Hysteria on October 21.

Rick Pitino files federal lawsuit against adidas

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Former Louisville head coach Rick Pitino’s quest to prove that he had nothing to do with the ongoing FBI investigation into corruption and fraud in college basketball produced another development on Tuesday. As first reported by ESPN’s Jay Bilas, Pitino has filed a federal lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Louisville with adidas being the lone defendant.

Per media reports, Pitino is suing the company for its “outrageous conduct in conspiring to funnel money to the family of a college basketball recruit.”

Adidas’ connection to the ongoing criminal investigation is that two of its employees within the basketball department, Jim Gatto and Merl Code, were among the ten people arrested. While no one directly tied to Louisville has been charged, FBI documents revealed connections between members of the basketball program and the accused parties.

As a result of the investigation Louisville freshman small forward Brian Bowen is being withheld from all basketball activities by the school. Bowen and his family have since hired an attorney in an attempt to get the freshman reinstated.

Among the instances of wrongdoing documented by the FBI was a transaction in which $100,000 was paid in exchange for a recruit committing to attend Louisville. The timeline of the events were close to Bowen’s commitment timeline, with the five-star prospect announcing that he would attend Louisville in early June.

As a result of the investigation Pitino was placed on unpaid by Louisville, with the school’s Board of Regents voting unanimously to fire the head coach with cause on Monday.

Northeast Conference Preview: Who survived after transfers gutted the league?

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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 NEC.

The NEC was absolutely brutalized by outgoing transfers this offseason. Of the 11 non-seniors that were on one of the three all-NEC teams, just four of them return to school. That includes three first-team all-NEC sophomores, but I’m not sure anyone in all of college basketball got hit quite as hard this offseason as Mount St. Mary’s head coach Jamion Christian did.

Coming off of an NEC regular season title and his second trip to the NCAA tournament in the last five years, Christian saw three key pieces opt to leave. Elijah Long, a sophomore guard that was a first-team all-league player and the Mount’s leading scorer a season ago, transferred to Texas. Miles Wilson, the team’s third-leading scorer and one of the best freshmen in the conference last year, transferred to Miami. Mawdo Sallah transferred to Kansas State.

The Mountaineers do return Junior Robinson, a 5-foot-5 dynamo that will be one of the most entertaining players in the mid-major ranks, as well as Greg Alexander, but Christian is going to have his work cut out for him.

With Mount St. Mary’s – and Robert Morris, another perennial power in the league that is dealing with the loss of a star player (Isaiah Still) transferring – the favorite is probably St. Francis (PA). The Red Flash, despite losing Josh Nebo to Texas A&M, return Isiah Blackmon and reigning Freshman of the Year Keith Braxton. They return the most talent of anyone that finished in the top half of the league.

Fairleigh Dickinson is a team to keep an eye on as well, although it will be tough for them to overcome a pair of their own transfers, as Stephen Jiggetts is now at South Florida and Earl Potts left school. But Darian Anderson returns, as does Mike Holloway and Darnell Edge.

Despite losing their top two scorers from last season, LIU Brooklyn should also be back in the mix. Jashaun Agosto returns for his sophomore season after a promising freshman year while Joel Hernandez, who averaged double-figures as a junior, is back after missing last season through injury. Bryant could find their way into the mix as well, although Nisre Zouzoua’s transfer was a massive blow.

MORE: 2017-18 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

 PRESEASON NEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Darian Anderson, Fairleigh Dickinson

Anderson is the leading returning scorer in the NEC this season, and he’ll be playing on a team that will be competing for the league title. With the Knights losing their second- and third-leading scorers from last year, Anderson is going to have more of the offensive load to carry.

THE REST OF THE PRESEASON ALL-NEC TEAM

  • Junior Robinson, Mount St. Mary’s: Robinson is the second-leading returning scorer in the conference, and with the Mount losing so much, the 5-foot-5 point guard will be asked to do a lot.
  • Keith Braxton, St. Francis (PA): Braxton was the best freshman in the conference a year ago.
  • Isiah Blackmon, St. Francis (PA): Blackmon was a third-team all-NEC performer as a sophomore.
  • Joseph Lopez, Sacred Heart: Lopez is back to anchor a front line for the most veteran team in the league.

PREDICTED FINISH

1. St. Francis (PA)
2. Fairleigh Dickinson
3. LIU Brooklyn
4. Robert Morris
5. Mount St. Mary’s
6. Bryant
7. Sacred Heart
8. Wagner
9. Central Connecticut State
10. St. Francis-Brooklyn