Pac-12 contenders look very different now than six weeks ago

Leave a comment
source: Getty Images
Getty Images

Cinco de Mayo was not kind to basketball programs in the state of Oregon.

It started with Craig Robinson, Oregon State’s now-former head coach and President Barack Obama’s brother-in-law. He was let go in mid-May — which almost never happens — after an offseason that saw the Beavers lose their entire starting lineup to graduation, transfer or the professional ranks. Oregon State will be in full-blown rebuilding mode next season, and that’s not a good sign for a program that just finished a 16-16 campaign and that went 39-69 in the Pac-12 during Robinson’s tenure.

How bad is it in Corvallis?

The situation may be too dire for Ben Howland to want to deal with, and he has made a push for just about every high-major job that has come open this offseason.

And that wasn’t as shocking as what Oregon announced a couple of hours later. Sophomore Dominic Artis and Damyean Dotson and freshman Brandon Austin have all been suspended from the Oregon program. They’ll follow Ben Carter and A.J. Lapray out the door, meaning that of the 10 players on Oregon’s roster that were a part of their rotation a season ago, eight are now gone. Only Joseph Young and Elgin Cook are scheduled to return.

The Ducks do bring in a solid class of recruits — headlined by five-star prospect JaQuan Lyle and former top 50 recruit and JuCo center Michael Chandler — but Dana Altman cleaning house will turn what could have been a top 15 team into one that will likely be on the bubble until late in the 2014-2015 season.

Things only get worse when you look at the Pac-12 as a whole:

  • UCLA had a shot to be Arizona’s biggest challenger in the league, but they went 0-for-3 when it came to stars leaving for the NBA Draft. Kyle Anderson was a given — he made no secret about the fact that he was leaving school this year — but losing a Zach LaVine and Jordan Adams is going to hurt. Adams would have been an all-american while LaVine had the potential to be a star at this level.
  • Early entry wasn’t kind to Colorado, either, as Spencer Dinwiddie announced that his career in Boulder is over. The Buffaloes still have a chance to make the tournament in 2015, but they went from being a potential top 15 team to one that is probably closer to the top 40 when they lost their best player.
  • Arizona State was ready for Jahii Carson to go pro, but his departure combined with the graduation of Jordan Bachynski and Jermaine Marshall puts the Sun Devils in a hole.
  • Cal saw Mike Montgomery retire, and while new head coach Cuonzo Martin might end up being a perfect fit in Berkeley — especially with his hire of ace recruiter Yanni Hufnagel — a coaching change is never easy when it coincides with the loss of a team’s two best players (Richard Solomon and Justin Cobbs).
  • USC and Washington State both lost their leading scorers, and Wazzu will be replacing head coach Ken Bone.

Arizona is our No. 2 team in the country and the clear favorite in the Pac-12, but after that, things get really murky. Utah looks like they will be good next season as they essentially return their entire team, but this is also a group that couldn’t close out a big win in last season and is just two years removed from winning all of six games in a season.

Stanford returns Chasson Randle, Stefan Nastic and Anthony Brown and has the size to handle the loss of Dwight Powell and Josh Huestis, but we’ve been waiting for the Cardinal to live up to the amount of talent that the program has for a couple of years now.

I say all that to say this: the Pac-12, at the end of the 2014 NCAA tournament, looked like it would end up being one of the stronger conferences in the country.

And while it still could every well produce the 2015 national champion, the last six weeks have yielded quite a talent drain at the top of the conference.

Report: Texas’ Jones to test NBA possibility

Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images
1 Comment

Both of Texas’ McDonald’s All-Americans from its 2016 class will test the NBA waters.

Andrew Jones will declare for the draft, but will not hire an agent, according to ESPN’s Jeff Goodman.

The 6-foot-4 guard joins Jarrett Allen, the Longhorns’ star center, in utilizing the rule change that became available to players last year in which they can declare, workout for teams, attend the NBA combine and still return to school.

Jones averaged 11.4 points, 3.9 rebounds and 3.5 assists per game as a freshman. He shot 42.5 percent from the field overall and 32.8 percent from 3-point range.

Allen seems the likelier candidate to remain in the draft as a potential lottery pick, but Jones came to Austin with similar one-and-done possibilities given his status as one of the class’ top recruits.

Texas, of course, is hoping both return, not just because they’re both big talents, but because incoming and highly-touted recruit Matt Coleman fills the major hole in last year’s lineup – point guard. If the three of them can share the floor together, Year 3 of the Shaka Smart era will be much more interesting.

Morrow announces transfer from Nebraska

Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Nebraska was once again hit with a surprising and damaging transfer.

Ed Morrow, Jr., who led the Huskers in rebounding last year, announced his intention to transfer, the school announced Wednesday.

“I support Ed in his decision to transfer schools and wish him well,” Nebraska coach Tim Miles said in a statement. “We appreciate his hard work over the last two years. Although I am disappointed, we will continue to recruit young men who are committed to our mission of building Nebraska Basketball with a culture of success in all areas…life, school and winning basketball at its highest level.”

The 6-foot-7 sophomore’s departure is a major hit to the Huskers, who are coming off a 12-19 year in which Miles’ job security was called into question. It almost assuredly will be again this year as Nebraska hasn’t been able to build on its 2014 NCAA tournament appearance, instead putting together three-straight losing seasons.

Morrow’s decision is surprising not only given he’d been a productive member of the team – averaging 9.4 points and 7.5 rebounds per game – but because he was born in Nebraska before attending high school in Chicago and both his parents were Nebraska student-athletes his father winning a national title on the football team in 1994 and his mother an all-Big Eight performer on the basketball team.

“I want to say thank you to my teammates, coaches, the fans and the University of Nebraska athletics department for giving me the opportunity to play Division I basketball,” Morrow said in a statement. “It is hard to leave home, and Nebraska is my home. I was born and raised here, it is my parents’ alma mater, and I have a lot of friends here. But sometimes you have to venture out to pursue dreams and aspirations in a career. This is a sacrifice I have to make to better myself.”

Morrow’s transfer comes a year after Andrew White surprised Nebraska with his decision to graduate and transfer to Syracuse, which no doubt impacted the Huskers’ poor 2016-17 record.

Miles was on the hot seat at the end of last season and will assuredly begin this season there as well. A roster hit like Morrow won’t do much to help him improve the situation. Nebraska does, however, have three starters returning while Georgetown transfer Isaac Copeland is eligible, as is Miami (Fla.) transfer James Palmer, Jr.

Lonzo Ball says “I’m better than” Markelle Fultz

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
1 Comment

Usually, it’s LaVar Ball that makes news for what he says.

His eldest son is now getting in on the business of generating headlines with something other than his play.

The UCLA star, who said he’ll enter the draft after just one season with the Bruins, claimed he’s the better prospect than Washington freshman Markelle Fultz, who many have pegged as the No. 1 pick in June’s draft.

“Markelle’s a great player,” Ball said, according to ESPN, “but I feel I’m better than him,” “I think I can lead a team better than him. Obviously he’s a great scorer — he’s a great player, so I’m not taking that away from him.”

Not exactly inflammatory stuff – like saying you could have beaten Michael Jordan, that you want a $1 billion apparel deal or a number of things his father has said – bu Ball is certainly projecting confidence. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. There’s quite a bit of money – and pride – at stake with the draft, and Ball put up a season worthy of comparison to Fultz, who had great numbers but played for an abysmal Washington team. Ball, on the other had, had strong numbers while leading UCLA to the Sweet 16.

Both are going to go at the top of a draft that’s stocked full of promising point guards. Which player goes before the other remains to be seen, but it’s likely public pronouncements aren’t going to affect the draft order.

 

UMass hires McCall away from Chattanooga

AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall
Leave a comment

UMass has found, once more, the man to take over its basketball program.

The Minutemen have reached an agreement with Chattanooga coach Matt McCall, the school announce Wednesday

“The tradition and resources that are in place not only make this one of the best basketball jobs in the Atlantic 10 Conference,” McCall said in a statement released by the school, “but one of the best jobs in the country. We couldn’t be more excited about becoming part of the UMass family and look forward to building upon the rich tradition that has been established here in the past.”

In McCall’s two years at Chattanooga, the Mocs to the NCAA tournament in 2016 and a 19-12 record this year that featured five-straight losses to end the season.

The move will take McCall out of the southeast for the first time in his career as he previously served as at Florida and Florida Atlantic before getting his first head coaching job at Chattanooga.

McCall wasn’t the Minutemen’s first choice to replace Derek Kellogg after three-straight lackluster seasons. Winthrop coach Pat Kelsey had agreed to take the job before a last-minute about-face that saw him return to the Eagles program just before his introductory press conference was scheduled to begin.

“Matt is a rising star in college basketball coaching who has been a key piece of three successful programs in his career,” UMass athletic director Ryan Bamford said in a statement. “He has earned a reputation as a relentless worker, a great teammate and colleague and a confident leader of young men.

“Matt has worked with some of the most respected coaches and administrators in the country, who loudly sing his praises. Coach McCall’s appointment begins an exciting new chapter for our tradition-rich men’s basketball program at UMass.”

Despite being the second choice, McCall’s reputation in the coaching industry makes him a strong hire, having worked under Mike Jarvis and Billy Donovan. He took over at Chattanooga for Will Wade, and brought the Mocs to a 29-6 record and a  12-seed in the NCAA tournament in 2016.

UMass went to just one NCAA tournament under Kellogg (in 2014) during his nine seasons leading the Minutemen.

VIDEO: Frank Martin’s sideline demeanor as a high school coach

Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images
Leave a comment

South Carolina coach Frank Martin has the reputation of being rather, shall we say, intense on the sidelines during games.

The coach has a stare that seemingly could bore a hole through his players when they do something that doesn’t reach his level of expectation. Martin’s demeanor, though, didn’t just come into form once he hit the college ranks.

He was plenty intense on high school sidelines as well.

Martin won three titles while at Miami Senior in the mid-1990s, coaching the likes of future pros Steve Blake and Udonis Haslem. Now having reached his first career Final Four, that sideline persona has put him on the precipice of winning yet another championship, this time at the collegiate level.