In case it wasn’t obvious already, John Calipari knows how to tell people what they like to hear. If you’re a top-ten basketball talent and you want someone to tell you you’ll be a lottery pick with the right coaching, he can do that. If your stud forward wants to meet Jay-Z or Drake, he can reasonably promise that, as well.
If you’re a fan of the Kentucky Wildcats, he’ll give you goosebumps from the podium, as well.
At Kentucky’s Big Blue Madness event, Calipari stood on a stage that looked like something out of America’s Got Talent, and crooned the words every Wildcats fan wants to hear: “We don’t just play college basketball, we are college basketball. As you know, we are everyone’s Super Bowl.”
Now, there might be a few other programs in the country who can claim to be Super Bowl caliber opponents, and claiming title to all of the sport’s charms is hubris in the extreme, but Calipari has always been a showman. If cranking up the love inside Rupp equals cranking up the hate outside of Lexington, he’ll take that heat.
Coaching is a tricky business. Striking the proper balance between training players’ bodies and minds is crucial, and difficult to quantify.
And, even when focusing just on the mental aspects of the game, there’s still more nuance. Chadrack Lufile found that out recently, when he asked Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall to give him more material to study; something to help him make a difference in the paint for a team that’s losing Carl Hall and Ehimen Orukpe from a wildly successful Final Four team.
“This was the first time I went to coach’s office and said, ‘I want to be better. I want to see what I do in practice and what to work on,’” Lufile told the Wichita Eagle. “It’s like being a professional artist, you’re working every day to get that drawing to its best, as detailed as you can. I’m trying to get my game as detailed and polished as I can.”
The 6-foot-9, 250 lb. Lufile should be hungry for more. The juco transfer saw just 19 minutes of floor time in the NCAA tournament last season.
The key, as far as his coaches are concerned, is to turn a pile of book learning and game film studying into instant action. On the court this season, Lufile isn’t going to have time to think.
A year’s experience in WSU’s system helps. His movements on the court are becoming more instinctive and getting to the right place is no longer a thoughtful process. That frees him to concentrate on improving shooting and ball-handling skills.
“I can work on my game more without having to think about the plays,” Lufile said. “I’ve got to finish better. I’m getting better on my moves.”
As always, the coaches want more defense. Lufile, despite good size and speed, didn’t provide much deterrent to scorers last season. He is not a naturally aggressive defender and that needs to change. Defending, rebounding, setting screens are his primary jobs.
The opportunity is definitely there for him. Cleanthony Early will provide a versatile scoring punch inside for the Shockers, and Lufile will share time with Louisiana transfer Kadeem Coleby and behemoth freshman Shaquille Morris on the low block.
Lufile doesn’t have to be a genius in this offense. In fact, the less he thinks this season, the more successful he is likely to be.
Bo Ryan has been head coach at Wisconsin since 2001. His Badgers haven’t missed the NCAA tournament once during that time. They’ve never finished lower than fourth in the exceptionally loaded Big Ten. Think on that, and consider the persistence and consistency Ryan imparts to a team that changes in makeup every season.
The grit that characterizes Wisconsin basketball under Ryan is born in the preseason, as the Associated Press recently discovered. Ryan has his team run a hill in Madison’s Elver Park that the AP writer estimated to be 150 yards from bottom to top, at an 8 percent grade. As if the hill itself weren’t bad enough, the team has to face the famously unpredictable Wisconsin weather as well.
“The elevation and the pulse. The stamina, the team building. There are days when guys struggle,” Ryan told the AP. “We’ve had days where it’s 90 (degrees). We’ve had days where it’s 40, windy, blustery.”
The hill run is Ryan’s version of the Boot Camp training that other high-profile coaches like Bill Self use to get their players in shape. Somehow, it seems fitting that the grind-it-out Badgers use something so low-tech to get ready year-in and year-out. It’s as much mental as physical, of course:
Ryan, looking fit and rested in shorts, a vest over a sweatshirt and cap, clocked his players with a stopwatch. Midway up, a trainer shouted trivia questions.
The fastest group gets to the top in about 25-26 seconds, while the fourth group gets up in about 29 seconds, Ryan said. Generally, the guards get up the quickest, the big men the slowest.
They went about 10 times this offseason. Each time out, the reps build, from eight the first time to 22 or 23 the last time out.
Wisconsin has talent this season, with Sam Dekker tagged as one of the best players in the Big Ten and guard Josh Gasser back from an injury redshirt season to join a backcourt with Ben Brust and Traevon Jackson. With all that talent learning how to grind it out and work together in the preseason, the Big Dance will likely hold a place for Wisconsin yet again this season.
My man Rob Dauster laid out the case for Arizona State as a potential Top 25 team earlier this month, while stopping just short of actually assigning them one of the coveted preseason numbers. It’s a reasonable precaution – we’ve seen Herb Sendek do more with less and less with more and we’re all waiting to see what the punchline will be.
Looking at the team on paper, the case is strong. They have a lightning-quick, creative point guard in Jahii Carson, and a bulky, defensive-minded center in Jordan Bachynski. Around the inside-out duo is a collection of talent that can wreak havoc if harnessed properly.
One player who doesn’t get mentioned as often is freshman Shaquielle McKissic. He’s inarguably skilled, but he’s also raw. Evidence of how he’d play on hardwood was required in order to lend credence to his paper credentials.
Now Sun Devils fans have the evidence they covet. McKissic threw down 33 points in a scrimmage observed by 3,000 fans and media members, and his coach had good things to say about what he saw.
If McKissic delivers on his early promise, and Carson and Sendek can weld Arizona State’s individuals into a high-functioning team, That “Also Receiving Votes” spot may be just a pit stop on the way to a Top 25 ranking.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.
During a three-year run atop the Summit League, Scott Sutton racked up some pretty impressive wins. He’s not about to let anyone, least of all his young Oral Roberts basketball squad, forget about it.
In the ’05-’06 season, ORU drubbed Southern Cal by twenty points. The next year, Sutton took his charges into Lawrence, KS and left with a stunning 78-71 upset of No. 3 Kansas on his resume. In ’07-’08, Oklahoma State and crosstown rival Tulsa felt his wrath.
In each of those seasons, the Golden Eagles went to the NCAA tournament as low-seeded auto-bid winners, and lost handily to power programs.
Then mid-major reality set in. Sutton’s team never lost more than five league games in any season since then, but losses in the Summit tourney left them outside the Big Dance, peering in. To add insult to injury, the far-flung Summit League kept adding ever more distant members, forcing the Golden Eagles to spend an unsustainable amount of money on the travel budget. When the opportunity came to join the Southland Conference a season ago, it was a fiscal no-brainer. The team never has to leave red-dirt country during conference play, and has the same single shot at making the NCAA tournament, so why not?
“It did make it a little bit easier, because you don’t have to worry about going up north and getting stuck in airports because of weather,” Sutton said. “Now we end up driving five or six hours for a lot of our trips. It has also allowed us to recruit south Texas and New Orleans more, which is great.”
For Sutton and the Golden Eagles, getting that auto bid and a long-awaited return trip to the NCAA tournament has to be paramount. Nonetheless, wouldn’t a couple more marquee non-conference victories be nice? Especially if they teach David how to beat Goliath in March?
Sutton certainly isn’t ducking his opportunities. This year’s ORU slate is pretty brutal before New Year’s Day. November takes them to play at Tulsa again, then to the Little Apple to face Kansas State. Then it’s at St. Louis and at Wisconsin. In December, they visit Final Four darling Wichita State and swing on by Baylor to close out the year. For a lesser coach with a lesser team, it could be soul-crushing.
“We’re not quite as young as we look on paper,” Sutton warned. “This group ought to be able to withstand that schedule, and it’ll make us tougher and better.”
Sutton knows what he’s doing. He’s always got those wins in Lawrence and Stillwater to drag into the pregame talk, and you can bet he’ll point to future foe Gregg Marshall’s Shockers as evidence of the power of positive mid-major thinking.
“We’ve won a bunch of those games,” he said.”We mention them a lot, and it gives our guys confidence.”
He’ll have some decent size, led by Utah transfer Shawn Glover, and he’s always done a great job of coaching up the players who come to play for him in Tulsa. The news that Missouri State transfer and Tulsa native Drew Wilson will be immediately eligible to play after applying for a hardship waiver was more good news. Throw in former Arkansas commit Dederick Lee and the Eagles have the look of a long-term contender.
“The Sutton name is good throughout Arkansas, because of my dad,” the ORU coach said, harkening back to the eleven quality years and a Final Four appearance his legendary father brought to the Razorbacks program in the 1970’s. “Dederick committed to Arkansas early, and when he decommitted, we jumped all over him. He likes that he has a chance to come in and be an impact player right away.”
Sutton expects senior forward Glover to challenge for league POY honors, and he likes the way his recruiting classes are layered behind the big man. With point guard Jabbar Singleton leaving his hometown of New Orleans to team up with fellow freshman Lee in the backcourt, the future looks bright for the Golden Eagles.
The Southland is forewarned, for sure. But those giant programs with Final Four aspirations had better look out for Oral Roberts in November and December as well.
If all goes as planned for Sutton and Company, March could spell even more trouble for the nation’s bluebloods.
All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.
To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of the Conference Previews we’ve published, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.
If the Southland Conference had an unofficial motto this season, it might be “Who Dat?”
Seismic shifts at the top of the NCAA power structure draw the most ink, but you’d be hard-pressed to find a league that has been more visibly impacted by realignment than the Southland. Texas State, UT-Arlington (both now Sun Belt) and UT-San Antonio (C-USA) bolted last season to jump on the BCS football gravy train, and Oral Roberts traded in the Summit League’s frequent flyer miles to join the Southland. The league’s tight four-state footprint solidified this year with the addition of New Orleans, Houston Baptist and transitional DI members Abilene Christian and Incarnate Word.
The Southland isn’t entirely devoid of name recognition, however. Scott Sutton’s Oral Roberts team was an upset special waiting to happen in the late 2000s, and the Golden Eagles have enough talent, although inexperienced, to feast on the diluted Southland slate this season. Pat Knight, son of the legendary Bobby Knight and former Texas Tech coach, has struggled to build a consistent contender at Lamar, but at least he’s a familiar face. Northwestern State, last season’s auto-bid winner, is losing a lot of senior leadership, so they’re likely to suffer the mid-major curse and fall off the pace a bit. The Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks won 27 games last season and missed the Big Dance in a narrow two-point loss in the league’s title game, so they’ll be in the mix as well.
In: Abilene Christian, Houston Baptist, Incarnate Word, New Orleans Out: None
PRESEASON SOUTHLAND PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Shawn Glover, Oral Roberts
A rather slight 6-foot-7 wing, Glover got plenty of minutes in two seasons at Utah but just couldn’t finish well enough. After sitting out a season, he came on strong for ORU, sharing the team lead in blocks and steals while averaging 14.4 points per game. Glover is a strong all-around player who should thrive in his senior season.
FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:
Jalan West, Northwestern State: The redshirt sophomore should build on his strong debut season at the point.
Dederick Lee, Oral Roberts: The highly-regarded freshman from Clarksville, Arkansas had an offer from the Razorbacks, but will star for Sutton instead.
LaQuintin Miles, Central Arkansas: Miles can really pour it on if he finds a way to improve on last season’s 44 percent mark from the floor.
DeQuan Hicks, Northwestern State: Hicks had 12 points and 8 boards against Florida in the NCAA tournament last year. He’s ready to make a difference as a senior.
1. Oral Roberts
2. Northwestern State
3. Southeastern Louisiana
4. Stephen F. Austin
5. Sam Houston State
6. Central Arkansas
7. Nicholls State
8. McNeese State
9. Texas A&M Corpus Christi
10. Houston Baptist
11. New Orleans
13. Abilene Christian
14. Incarnate Word