Just how good is 13-4 VCU this season?

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WASHINGTON, D.C. — VCU is only a year and a half removed from the CAA, but that didn’t change the fact that the Rams were sitting pretty as the Atlantic 10’s top dog entering the season.

They were ranked in just about every preseason top 25 you came across, which is, in part, a sign of the respect that Shaka Smart has nationally, but also a nod to the amount of physical talent and athleticism that is on his roster. In other words, Smart is one of the best coaches in the country at running a system — ‘Havoc’, as they call it — and he has a roster that would allow him to execute that press to perfection.

The problem, as George Washington exposed on Tuesday night in Foggy Bottom, is that the Rams simply aren’t that good defensively if they aren’t forcing turnovers. George Washington scored 76 points despite turning the ball over on 21 of their 75 possessions on Tuesday, which equates to 1.41 PPP when they actually got a shot off. “We did not play good enough half court defense,” Smart frankly told reporters after the game. “We did not heed enough of the details.”

It’s not the first time that this problem has arisen this season, either. The Rams lead the nation in defensive turnover percentage, but they are in the bottom-third nationally in defensive rebounding percentage and two-point field goal defense. In other words, you can beat them off the dribble, you can score in the paint and you can beat them on the offensive glass.

This is a problem because the best teams in the country aren’t going to be as susceptible to VCU’s pressure. It’s not a fool-proof theory, but generally-speaking, the better a team is, the fewer turnovers they commit.

And if VCU isn’t forcing turnovers, are they going to be able to score?

That’s the second part of the problem.

VCU is 123rd in the nation in offensive efficiency. That means they’re not scoring a lot of points, and if the Rams aren’t scoring, they aren’t able to as effectively mix-up their pressing defenses. You see, that’s when the Rams truly are at their best. VCU doesn’t have just a single defense that they run. Sometimes, they simply play man-to-man defense for 94 feet. Other times, they trap the first pass in the back court and try to jump a passing lane. There are times they try to get a ball-handler sprinting up the sideline only to have their defender beat him to a spot, turning him into a second defender trailing the play. Then there are other times where they’ll simply run a second defender at a ball-handler in half-court sets.

Not only is VCU’s defense coming at you in waves, you simply don’t know what kind of wave to expect.

It’s a nightmare, but one that can be avoided by preventing VCU from scoring and getting into that pressure.

Again, it’s not a fool-proof theory, but the better a basketball team is, the better they are defensively.

Which means that if VCU is going to struggle against teams that can defend and don’t turn the ball over, they’re going to struggle good teams.

I know what you’re thinking right now: “Great analysis, Rob. VCU isn’t going to play as well against good teams as they will against bad teams. Expert analysis.”

My point, however, is that given the unique style that the Rams play, it exacerbates the impact of playing against better teams. In other words, VCU will struggle more, comparatively, with a team like Saint Louis than, say, George Washington will. Right now, VCU is probably in the NCAA tournament. They have a pair of quality road wins over Virginia and Belmont, and their worse loss — at Northern Iowa — isn’t all that bad, all things considered.

Barring a collapse — and losses to Duquesne, Fordham or Rhode Island — that probably isn’t going to change.

But for those waiting for the Rams to ‘turn it on’ this season, this is my warning: I don’t think it’s coming.

North Carolina releases response to latest NCAA Notice of Allegations

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North Carolina is still trying to convince the NCAA that their investigation into the paper classes given by the university’s African-American Studies Department is not, in fact, an NCAA matter.

On Thursday afternoon, the University released their response to the NCAA’s third iteration of the Notice of Allegations, and the core argument in that response is that the school’s “inadequate academic oversight” does not fall under the jurisdiction of the NCAA’s bylaws. In other words, North Carolina is arguing that a rogue professor creating fake classes is not an NCAA issue. It’s a school issue.

What’s more, North Carolina is also arguing that athletes taking these classes should not be classified as an extra benefit because they were available to the entire student body.

“No special arrangements were made for student-athletes in violation of NCAA extra-benefit legislation,” the response reads. “Student-athletes were not treated differently than other students who took the Courses.”

“The public narrative for the last six years, popularized by media accounts, is that Department of Athletics at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took advantage of ‘fake classes’ in the Department of African and African-American Studies to keep student-athletes eligible. That narrative is wrong and contradicted by the facts in the record.”

The NCAA’s allegations center around the idea that UNC’s athletes, most notably members of the football and men’s and women’s basketball teams, were guided to the fake classes within that department in order to keep their GPAs high enough to remain eligible. The classes in question had a disproportionate percentage of athletes.

A hearing in front of the Committee on Infractions is expected to take place at some point this summer.

No indictment for escort, staffer in Louisville sex scandal

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — A grand jury declined to indict an escort and former Louisville men’s basketball staffer in a sex scandal that engulfed the program.

The Jefferson County grand jury decided Thursday there wasn’t enough evidence for charges of prostitution and unlawful transactions with a minor against Katina Powell and Andre McGee.

Powell wrote in a book published in 2015 that McGee hired her to provide dancers to perform sex acts for Cardinal recruits and players from 2010-2014.

The announcement by the Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office comes as the school awaits discipline in early June by the NCAA after an investigation.

Louisville has imposed its own penalties, including a postseason ban in 2015-16 and reductions in scholarships and recruiting visits by coaches.

2017 NBA Mock Draft: Post Early Entry Withdrawal Deadline

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Last week, the fearless leaders of Pro Basketball Talk and College Basketball Talk joined forces to put together a comprehensive mock of the first round of the NBA Draft.

That podcast was recorded prior to the NBA Draft Lottery, which took place last week, and the NCAA’s deadline for underclassmen to return to school, which was Wednesday night at midnight. At a later date, we’ll roll through the updated draft order more in depth, but for now, here is a new mock draft based on the order the teams will actually be picking in.

At the bottom of this post you can find the original podcast, with all of our prospect analysis and thought processes for each team’s draft needs:

1. BOSTON (via Brooklyn) – Markelle Fultz, PG, Washington
2. LAKERS – Lonzo Ball, PG, UCLA
3. PHILADELPHIA – Josh Jackson, SF, Kansas
4. PHOENIX – De’Aaron Fox, PG, Kentucky
5. SACRAMENTO – Jayson Tatum, SF, Duke
6. ORLANDO – Malik Monk, SG, Kentucky
7. MINNESOTA – Lauri Markkanen, PF, Arizona
8. NEW YORK – Frank Ntilikina, PG, France
9. DALLAS – Jonathan Isaac, PF, Florida State
10. SACRAMENTO (via New Orleans) – Dennis Smith Jr., PG, N.C. State
11. CHARLOTTE – Zach Collins, C, Gonzaga
12. DETROIT –  Donovan Mitchell, CG, Louisville
13. DENVER – O.G. Anunoby, SF, Indiana
14. MIAMI – Justin Jackson, SG, North Carolina
15. PORTLAND – Jarrett Allen, C, Texas
16. CHICAGO – Luke Kennard, SG, Duke
17. MILWAUKEE – Justin Patton, C, Creighton
18. INDIANA – John Collins, C, Wake Forest
19. ATLANTA – Terrence Ferguson, SG, Austrailia
20. PORTLAND (via Memphis) – Ike Anigbogu, C, UCLA
21. OKLAHOMA CITY – Semi Ojeleye, PF, SMU
22. BROOKLYN (via Washington) – Isaiah Hartenstein, C, Lithuania
23. TORONTO (via Clippers) – Harry Giles III, C, Duke
24. UTAH – T.J. Leaf, PF, UCLA
25. ORLANDO (via Toronto) – Tyler Lydon, PF, Syracuse
26. PORTLAND (via Cleveland) – Ivan Rabb, PF, Cal
27. BROOKLYN (via Boston) – Bam Adebayo, PF, Kentucky
28. LAKERS (via Houston) – Rodions Kurucs, SF, Barcelona
29. SAN ANTONIO – Jonathan Jeanne, C, France
30. UTAH (via Golden State) – D.J. Wilson, PF, Michigan

 

AP: University of New Mexico spending under review

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ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The state Auditor’s Office is reviewing the spending of public money by the University of New Mexico’s athletic department on a 2015 golf trip to Scotland that included the athletic director, other employees and boosters, the agency confirmed Wednesday.

The review comes as the state’s universities and colleges are being forced to consider tuition increases and other cuts as New Mexico grapples with a budget crisis.

Athletic director Paul Krebs is drawing criticism as more details about the international junket emerge following a series of public records requests filed by journalists, some of which netted documents with large swaths of information that had been blacked out.

Krebs has said the $65,000 trip was meant to strengthen relationships with donors, but critics argue that it should have been paid for by the university’s independent fundraising arm, not with athletic department money.

Albuquerque television station KRQE reported this week that Krebs revealed to the university’s acting president that public money was used to pay for the trips of at least three boosters.

The university told the Albuquerque Journal () that possible discipline against Krebs was being considered.

President Chaouki Abdallah said Wednesday he’s looking forward to a timely process and that UNM will cooperate fully with the auditor’s review.

Athletics spokesman Frank Mercogliano said the department and Krebs, who was out of town and unavailable for comment Wednesday, would cooperate with the review.

University officials were focused Wednesday on a budget summit as the Legislature began a special session aimed at restoring funding for all higher education in the state.

The spending on the golf trip by UNM has raised questions about possible violations of the state Constitution’s anti-donation clause, which prohibits state entities from making gifts to private citizens.

Justine Freeman, a spokeswoman with Auditor Tim Keller’s office, said the findings of the review will be made public once the investigators’ work is complete.

It was not immediately clear how long the review will take. The auditor’s office has been looking into the matter for at least three weeks.

Records show the golf trip cost about $39,000 for Krebs, former men’s basketball coach Craig Neal and Lobo Club executive director Kole McKamey, but the university did not reveal what it paid for the private donors to attend the trip and initially recorded the trip as a basketball tournament in Ireland.

Abdallah told the television station that Krebs came to him and acknowledged that UNM picked up the tab for the boosters. He described it as a serious omission.

“This is not where university funds should be spent,” he said. “I want the public to know that in the future we will not be using university funds for such activities.”

Krebs said in a statement that UNM had not planned to pay for the donors’ trips in 2015 and that the situation “has to be corrected.” He acknowledged that the original plan was to be reimbursed for the travel costs but that a review of documents showed that never happened.

“The public and our fans put their trust in us, and the only way to keep that trust is to admit when an error is made, to rectify it, and to make sure that it doesn’t happen again,” he said.

No Kentucky vs. Kansas as SEC/Big 12 Challenge matchups released

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The matchups for the SEC/Big 12 Challenge were released on Thursday morning. All the games will be played on Saturday, January 27th, and there are some pretty enticing matchups involved here.

It’s worth noting: Kentucky and Kansas will not be playing each other in the Challenge this year. That’s because they are playing in the Champions Classic this season, which means that we’ll get Kentucky and John Calipari making the trip up to Morgantown to take on Bob Huggins and the Mountaineers, a game that will have an overabundance of defense, physicality, athleticism, turnovers and missed shots.

It will be ugly, but it will be fun.

Kansas will host former Big 12 member Texas A&M, a team that is going to sneak up on some people with Robert Williams back in the fold and, finally, with a point guard on the roster.

Other notables:

– Florida is a top ten team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25 while Baylor sits at No. 25.

– Alabama is a preseason top 25 team while Oklahoma, who struggled last season to replace Buddy Hield, will show off why Lon Kruger is one of the most underrated coaches in the business.

– Missouri was not selected. They finished at the bottom of the SEC last season but they added Michael Porter Jr., a preseason first team NBC Sports all-american.

Here are all the matchups:

  • Baylor at Florida
  • Tennessee at Iowa State
  • Texas A&M at Kansas
  • Georgia at Kansas State
  • Oklahoma at Alabama
  • Oklahoma State at Arkansas
  • TCU at Vanderbilt
  • Mississippi at Texas
  • Texas Tech at South Carolina
  • Kentucky at West Virginia