Wisconsin v Arizona

Why is Wisconsin basketball so good at producing talented big men?

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ARLINGTON, Texas – Bo Ryan is one of the best system coaches in all of college basketball. With very few exceptions — maybe Shaka Smart, maybe John Beilein — no coach in the country is better at identifying players that will fit into his basketball program than Ryan is.

The stereotype of a ‘Wisconsin player’ is that they are big, they are slow and they are white, and while that is not exactly inaccurate — it is a fact that Frank Kaminsky is big, he is slow and he is white — it does ignore one indisputable fact: no one on the Badgers is a stiff.

Kaminsky may not have the physical tools of Mason Plumlee and he may never get mistaken for a professional wrestler like Patric Young, but he is by no means a stiff. In fact, I’d argue that he was one of the five most skilled big men in college basketball. His low-post moves are NBA-caliber, he can step out and hit a three and he can beat a slower-footed big man off of the dribble and get all the way to the rim.

Outside of Adreian Payne on one of his good days, there may not have been a more difficult player to matchup with in the entire country. How do you guard him? He over powers smaller players and he torches bigger defenders on the perimeter. He made the second-best defensive team nationally this season — Arizona, just so happened to feature the best individual defender in Aaron Gordon — look powerless against him in the Elite 8.

Frank Kaminsky single-handedly sent Arizona into the offseason.

Think about that.

Kaminsky played about 10 minutes per game as a sophomore. If you aren’t a serious Big Ten fan or a resident of Wisconsin, you probably had no idea who he was entering the season. I’m sure there is a large population of college hoops fans that had never head of Kaminsky until that Elite 8 performance.

He may be the most improved player in college basketball, but none of that should surprise you if you’ve been paying attention.

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Brian Butch was a McDonald’s All-American coming out of high school in 2003, and a top ten recruit usually enters schools with a center level of expectation. They’ll get minutes right away. They’ll get a chance to showcase their skills in their first season. They’ll have a chance to show NBA scouts that they belong in the NBA Draft’s HOV lane, bypassing the traffic on the road to the riches of a guaranteed contract.

Butch?

He redshirted.

“I was a McDonald’s All-American, but I was 185 pounds coming in trying to play in the Big Ten,” Butch told NBCSports.com in a telephone interview on Friday. “I sat down with the coaches and they said would I be better my freshmen year, or take some time to develop my body and really be a force my fifth year.”

For Butch, the decision was simple. He redshirted, giving up his first season on campus for the chance to get better because, in the long run, that’s what would be better for the program.

“They knew what kind of person I was, first and foremost,” Butch said. “They knew I was all about winning and all about team and not a selfish guy. I was all about what the University of Wisconsin was about. And those are the guys that they continue to get.”

Butch was just one link in a chain of Wisconsin big men that have paid their dues, as a redshirt or a scout team member, before stepping into a bigger role in the program. Mike Wilkinson gave way to Butch. Butch passed the torch to Marcus Landry, who was succeeded by Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil, who gave way to Jared Berggren who, eventually, led us to Kaminsky.

“It’s a culture thing,” assistant coach Gary Close said, doing everything he could to deflect credit from the coaching staff and directing it all towards the players. The way Close sees it, all the coaching in the world wouldn’t help a kid whose uninterested in actually getting better. They put in the work, which is why they see the results.

But Close and the coaching will take some credit in what they have their players do to improve. In every college basketball practice at every level, at some point the team will split up into big men and guards, running through drills and working on specific fundamentals. Post moves and outlet passing drills for the big men. Ball-handling and jump shooting drills for the guards. Wisconsin makes a point of ensuring that every player on the roster goes through both. “We ask a little more than other programs,” he said. “We want our guys to be versatile out on the floor, in the post, passing, handling the ball, shooting. There’s a little more work there in terms of versatility.”

“The coaches have a lot to do with [our development],” current Memphis Grizzlies forward Jon Leuer said. “We work hard in the preseason and the offseason. [They] are big on the individual work.”

And it certainly doesn’t hurt that all of that individual work is done against all-Big Ten caliber big men.

“I got to play against Jared [Berggren] for two years and that really helped me grow as a player,” Kaminsky said. “I had to learn things from him and apply it to my game. I had to learn to score on him. I had to learn how to defend him.”

“Jared used to beat me up, day in and day out, but eventually got to the point where I was beating him up a little bit. It’s a process. It’s frustrating. But it really works for us.”

Wisconsin’s success lies in their ability to identify and develop players that fit in their program, and while that’s a testament to the kids that they bring in, it also says a lot about the work that Ryan has put in to get Wisconsin basketball to where it is today.

“Coach Ryan has a system and he recruits people into his system that are going to take their four years to grow, physically and mentally, into that system,” Kaminsky said. “By the time you’re ready to play you’re going to be effective in that system. It comes with a lot of frustrations and a lot of ups and downs, but he really demands the best out of every one of his players. That’s happened with me and I’ve been able to grow into this person and player that I am today.”

“I wouldn’t have it any other way.”

Report: Former Buckeye Mitchell headed to Arizona State

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 11: Head coach Thad Matta of the Ohio State Buckeyes talks to Mickey Mitchell #00 against the Michigan State Spartans in the quarterfinal round of the Big Ten Basketball Tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 11, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Yet another one of the members of the heralded 2015 Ohio State recruiting class won’t be playing at his second choice of school either.

Mickey Mitchell will transfer to Arizona State after initially planning on going to UC-Santa Barbara upon his exit from the Buckeyes, according to Scout.

Thad Matta lost four players from that top-10 five-man recruiting class with Austin Grandstaff, Daniel Giddens and A.J. Harris all also deciding to leave Columbus.

Grandstaff also did not play at his first choice after Ohio State, deciding to ultimately depart Oklahoma for DePaul after heading to Norman from OSU.

Mitchell, once a four-star recruit, appeared in 23 games for the Buckeyes as a freshman, averaging 2 points and 2.8 rebounds per game. He is expected to enroll at Arizona State in time for the next semester and will be eligible at the semester break next year for the Sun Devils.

Utah’s Krystkowiak reveals he had cancerous thyroid removed

Larry Krystkowiak
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Utah coach Larry Krystkowiak had surgery this spring to remove his thyroid after cancer was discovered in it, he revealed Monday during his coach’s radio show, according to the Deseret News.

“I had my thyroid taken out this spring,” Krystkowiak said. “Found some cancer in it.”

Krystkowiak made light of the situation, mentioning it contributed to some weight game.

“It’s OK if I skip a meal from time to time,” he said. “I gotta watch the midsection. That’s one of the byproducts of not having a thyroid. I guess you get a little chunky.”

Krystkowiak, who has been at Utah since 2011, and the Utes are currently 6-1 with their lone loss coming to Butler. They travel to face Xavier on Saturday.

Bobby Hurley ridicules his Arizona State team’s effort in loss

LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 16:  Head coach Bobby Hurley of the Arizona State Sun Devils yells to his players during their game against the UNLV Rebels at the Thomas & Mack Center on December 16, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Arizona State won 66-56.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)
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NEW YORK — A totally forgettable Arizona State performance in the Jimmy V Classic on Tuesday night led to some truly unforgettable comments from head coach Bobby Hurley.

Hurley, who has a reputation for having something of a temper, teed off on his team in the press conference after the game, criticizing them as harshly as you’ll ever see a coach do in public. He called them “embarrassing” and the performance “disturbing”.

“I thought we competed for about eight minutes out of 40,” Hurley said. The Sun Devils were down 47-21 at the half, by as many as 42 points in the second half and eventually lost 97-64 to a Purdue team that scored 19 first half points against Louisville exactly a week ago. “It’s unfortunate that our team didn’t even come close to the energy that Jimmy V had in his life and his passion. We had no passion for playing. We did a disservice to this game and this event and what he represented.”

It’s not often that you see a coach publicly ridicule players like that. Humiliation isn’t always the best motivating tactic. Oftentimes, it’s the easiest way to lose a locker room.

Hurley wasn’t done.

“For a city that’s a blue-collar city and an arena that has so much tradition and so many good players that have played on this court — to look like that, it was embarrassing,” he said. “And then the cause, such a great cause that we’re playing for tonight. Did my players play as hard as the people that are going through what they go through in cancer, as families go through in their personal situations? I don’t think so.”

Oh, there’s more.

“That was really disturbing, how we competed,” Hurley said. “It’s not a reflection of my personality or the teams I’ve coached in the past, so we have to make some changes.”

For better or worse, this is the second time in Hurley’s tenure with Arizona State that he’s made national headlines. Last season, he went viral during a theatrical ejection in an Arizona State loss against in-state rival Arizona.

Hurley is trying to make Arizona State relevant, which is why he’s scheduling games against anyone and everyone in an effort to get his brand on national television.

And he’s succeeded in a sense.

After this rant, you’ll see his name on every sports website this morning.

I’m not so sure that’s the best way to build recruiting momentum.

CBT Podcast: Recapping Kentucky-UCLA, Player of the Year ranks, Cuse-UConn

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In the latest episode of the NBCSports.com College Basketball Talk podcast, I was joined by my former colleague Raphielle Johnson to discuss everything from Kentucky-UCLA to Syracuse-UConn to who deserves to be the Player of the Year after the first month of the season.

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You can subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, Stitcher and Audioboom

Return on Investment: Dixon era already paying dividends for TCU

Pittsburgh v Wichita State
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Jaylen Fisher was in demand.

Not only is the Tennessee native talented, rated by most services as a four-star recruit, he suddenly became available when players of his caliber are in short supply, having decommitted from UNLV last spring.

The likes of Baylor, Ohio State, Florida and UConn were all interested. So, too, was TCU.

While rarely a player for prospects of Fisher’s pedigree, the Horned Frogs had a strong recruiting pitch, starting with a new coach, Jamie Dixon, taking over for his alma mater after 11 NCAA tournaments in 13 years at Pitt, plus the assistant who got him to commit to UNLV, Ryan Miller, joining the staff.

TCU, though, had a perception problem.

“Last year they didn’t charter (to away games),” Dixon told NBCSports.com in October, “and everybody else chartered.

“Everybody was using it against us in the conference, saying TCU doesn’t charter to games. I didn’t know that because they had told me we were going to charter to every game. So we had to address that and get that out there.”

Such is life at a place that has long prioritized football and baseball, with winter being the time before spring football, not basketball season.

That, though, may be changing.

TCU is investing in basketball, from chartered flights, to a new arena to Dixon himself. The race is on to climb out of the Big 12 cellar, get to the program’s first NCAA tournament in nearly two decades and then win its first game there in three.

“We’re trying,” senior Karviar Shepherd said, “to make basketball a big thing.”

LAWRENCE, KS - FEBRUARY 21: Head coach Trent Johnson of the TCU Horned Frogs reacts during the second half of the game against the Kansas Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse on February 21, 2015 in Lawrence, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Since bolting the Mountain West for Big 12 to pursue football glory, basketball has been a disaster for TCU.

The Frogs have won eight conference games in four years, going 0-for-2014 with 18 league losses that season. The highwater mark came in 2015, when they went 4-14 and finished a game ahead of last. They’ve finished last in attendance every year, averaging fewer than 5,000 fans per game.

“I came in knowing that it was going to be that way, kind of,” Shepherd, a four-star recruit in 2013, said. “I didn’t know it was going to be that intense, but it happened.”

Losses were only part of the ignominy for the Horned Frogs.

The school’s largest public pronouncement of caring about basketball also caused the program to appear its most unimportant.

They spent 2014-15 playing in a high school gym.

Certainly, it was an ends justify the means situation as TCU was displaced by a $72 million renovation to the outdated Daniel-Meyer Coliseum (now Schollmaier Arena).

But a season’s worth of games at the Wilkerson-Greines Athletic Center, home of the Fort Worth Independent School District, was no picnic.

“Playing at the high school was more like an away game,” Shepherd said. “We didn’t have that much of a crowd come in.

“It was kind of compact, orange all over. We had to get through it.”

TCU's Jalen Fisher, left scrambles for a loose basketball against Washington's Markelle Fultz during the first half of an NCAA college basketball game Wednesday, No. 30, 2016, in Fort Worth, Texas. (Bob Haynes/Star-Telegram via AP)
Bob Haynes/Star-Telegram via AP

The Horned Frogs now hope the growing pains have been worth it.

They spent last year in the Schollmaier Arena, a modern facility that helps keep pace with the rest of the league. The losses eventually proved too much for the school to stay with Trent Johnson, but their decision to act aggressively with his dismissal allowed them to pursue Dixon, who not only won at the highest levels at Pitt but graduated from TCU in 1987 after winning back-to-back Southwest Conference titles.

“Losing a coach that’s been with you for three years, any coach, that’s hard to do,” Shepherd said. “(Dixon) came in with a positive attitude, which helped us and guided us in to what he wanted to do.”

Dixon status as not only an alum, but one with connections to one of the few successful eras of TCU basketball is something that makes him uniquely qualified to turn the Frogs from cellar-dwellers to contenders.

“I think it gives more passion,” Shepherd said. “It’s TCU for TCU. He has that type of thing going on. He wants to do the best for his community, which is TCU.”

Dixon’s degree makes for a nice recruiting pitch, too.

“I think it brings something different,” he said. “Not many coaches out there are coaching at the place they went to school. I made the choice to come there. I had choices to be at other great places, other great programs, move to other great places and I think I‘m recognizing it more.

“I don’t think I saw it initially but now that I’ve been at it and I’ve seen and I’ve looked around, you can sell, you can talk about a different experience than the other coaches can. We talk about once you go to TCU, it’s not a four-year decision, it’s a decision for life.

“There’s no better example than myself.”

FILE - In this March 22,, 2016, file photo, TCU's new men's basketball coach Jamie Dixon acknowledges the crowds response as he was introduced during an NCAA college basketball news conference, in Fort Worth, Texas. Dixon’s Horned Frogs have started 4-0 in his first season but have gone 8-64 in Big 12 play over the past four years. (Ron T. Ennis/Star-Telegram via AP, File)
Ron T. Ennis/Star-Telegram via AP, File

TCU’s investment in basketball appears to be initially paying off. The Frogs are 8-0 heading into tonight’s matchup with their crosstown counterpart, SMU, tonight. The schedule they’ve conquered to remain unbeaten is no Goliath, but when you’ve spent as much time as TCU has with that zero on the front end of your record, strength of schedule is of little consequence, at least at this point.

“It doesn’t happen overnight,” Dixon said at Big 12 media day before the season. “The administration is expressing that and there’s some things that I have to bring to their attention, too as well.

“And then there’s things that are happening over time. Next year there’s going to be something that’s hot that everybody’s going to do and you’ve got to stay up with that. That’s what I learned at Pitt. You’ve got to stay up with the times and advantages because it’s a war out there.”

The real war is always on the recruiting trail, where it looks as though TCU is making up ground in the talent-rich Lone Star State. Kevin Samuel, a four-star center from Houston, and R.J. Nembhard, a four-star guard from right outside Dallas, are both signed for the 2017 class.

The Horned Frogs may be seeing early returns, but their true return on investment won’t be known for some time. TCU, even with a fast start, wouldn’t appear to be on an NCAA tournament track this season. Building a program, especially one with little previous historical tradition and playing in one of the country’s toughest league, takes time.

“You don’t want to say, that’s how we did it at Pitt. You don’t want to say that every sentence,” Dixon said, “but we’ve had experience building something from nothing. That’s the reality of it at Pitt. We need to do that.”

Part of that begins with changing perception. An 8-0 start – and potentially a win against SMU – would helps in that department. Dixon, though, has already begun to change the way TCU is thought of.

Before they got Samuel and Nembhard, the Horned Frogs got Fisher, getting out in front of any aircraft-related negative recruiting.

“When you’re picked 10th and you finish at the bottom,” Dixon said, “we’re easier to take shots at. They can find them and people are more apt to believe it too.”

So are the darkest days now behind TCU?

“The losses that we had,” Shepherd said, “it built character within each player, just knowing where we came from, where we want to be and where we’re going.

“It builds character.”

With the character secure, it’s now on Dixon and TCU to build a program.