Mark Turgeon

Burning Questions: Coach of the Year picks, and biggest surprises and disappointments

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Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon (AP Photo)

Following up on the first round of questions, we’re now delving into the topics of national Coach of the Year and the biggest surprises and disappointments in college basketball to this point in the season. Included are two undefeated head coaches and a program that’s hit the ground running in its first season as a member of the Big Ten.

1. Who would be your choice for national Coach of the Year? 

Rob Dauster: At this point, I think I’d lean towards Coach Cal for National Coach of the Year. Regardless of whether or not you believe he’s actually using platoons, he’s convinced a team full of future first round picks to buy into this idea that no one plays more than 20-25 minutes a night. He was expected to have a team that could go undefeated this season and he’s managed to outperform expectations. That’s not easy to do.

Raphielle Johnson: I like both Calipari and Turgeon as possibilities, but I have to go with Virginia’s Tony Bennett here. He lost two key starters in Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell, and the Cavaliers haven’t missed a beat. London Perrantes remains solid at the point, and with Malcolm Brodgon and Justin Anderson on the wings they have two talented players capable of giving opponents fits on both ends of the floor. Add in the front court, anchored by Anthony Gill and Mike Tobey, and Virginia’s picked up right where they left off in 2013-14.

Scott Phillips: Maryland head coach Mark Turgeon was at the top of my Coaches on the Hot Seat list this preseason and he’s navigated a young Terrapin team to near the top 10 in the polls and the top of the Big Ten. Turgeon deserves a ton of credit for having his team play so well after the litany of transfers they faced in the offseason all while joining a new conference and dealing with the pressure to win now.

Terrence Payne: Last season, Gregg Marshall won AP Coach of the Year honors after leading Wichita State to a perfect regular season. With that precedent, you’d expect John Calipari and Tony Bennett to be the two prime candidates if their seasons end in similar fashion. But Mark Turgeon, like Rick Barnes did last season, has gone from hot seat to coach of the year candidate after an offseason of turnover. More importantly he did so with injuries to Dez Wells and Evan Smotrycz.

2. Which team has been the biggest surprise?

RD: I’m going with Virginia. I thought that losing Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell would have a much bigger impact on this group than it has. Credit the likes of Justin Anderson and Anthony Gill for taking giant steps forward this season.

RJ: I’ll take Maryland for biggest surprise. I was cautiously optimistic about this team, hesitant to label them a lock NCAA tournament team given the fact that they’ve missed out in each of the last four seasons. But not only are they a lock, they’re also firmly entrenched in the “who’s the best team in the Big Ten” conversation right there with preseason favorite Wisconsin.

SP: For me, it’s Seton Hall. The Pirates have exceeded my expectations from the preseason, the middle of the season and now look like a NCAA Tournament team even without freshman McDonald’s All-American Isaiah Whitehead for the last few weeks. Sterling Gibbs has matured into a really good scoring guard and Kevin Willard has a hard-playing team with a lot of young pieces like Angel Delgado and Khadeen Carrington that are stepping up.

TP: I’ll go with West Virginia despite losing two of three. Bobby Huggins lost two of his three top scorers to transfer this offseason, but the Mountaineers have found a place right in the heart of a loaded Big 12 title race with a host of other ranked teams.

3. Which team has been the biggest disappointment? 

RD: I’ll say Michigan, even though their issues are not entirely this team’s fault. Their front line is just simply too young to be ready to compete at this level, and that, in turn, put too much pressure on guys like Derrick Walton and Zak Irvin to be as good as Nik Stauskas and Trey Burke. And now with Caris LeVert’s broken foot, they looked destined for the NIT, at best.

RJ: I’ll take another Big Ten team and pick Nebraska. Coming off of last season’s NCAA tournament appearance the Huskers were expected to factor into the Big Ten race behind Wisconsin, and they haven’t been that team to this point. Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields are guys they can look to for scoring night in and night out, but a consistent third option hasn’t stepped forward. The return of Leslee Smith should help them in the post, but there are still questions to be answered at the point. Nebraska has a lot of work to do if they’re to return to the NCAA tournament.

SP: The most disappointing team has to be Florida. The Gators had high preseason aspirations and they’ve started off 10-7 including getting swept by Miami and Florida State and not beating any legitimate teams this season. Kasey Hill and Chris Walker have both been really mediocre in their sophomore seasons and this team should be way better than their current record.

TP: UConn. The loss of DeAndre Daniels, Neils Giffey and most importantly Shabazz Napier can’t be stated enough. But the cupboard wasn’t particularly bare for the defending national champion entering this season. UConn returned Ryan Boatright, who has battled an injury this year, while adding transfer Rodney Purvis and star recruit Daniel Hamilton.

Burning Questions: Most intriguing storylines, best conference races and Kentucky’s biggest threat

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With there being just one more football game of high importance left on the schedule (sorry, Pro Bowl fans), casual observers are beginning to pay a little more attention to college basketball. With that in mind, the College Basketball Talk staff has decided to answer a few burning questions beginning with what they view as the most intriguing storyline in college basketball to this point in the season.

1. What has been the most intriguing storyline to date in college basketball?

Rob Dauster: Just how good is Duke this season? They have the best player in the country and they’re supposed to be the only team that is actually good enough to knock off Kentucky — winning at Louisville and Wisconsin in the same season just doesn’t happen — but they also have such massive defensive issues they’ve had to make the switch to a zone defense.

Raphielle Johnson: I’d have to say Kentucky’s rotation. Even with the loss of Alex Poythress, John Calipari still has nine players who many project to get drafted at some point in their respective careers. I’m not going to write the word that was overused like a pop music hit (you know, the “P-word”), but having the number of options that Kentucky has helps them adjust to whatever opponents throw at them. But will there be any changes moving forward, especially in the backcourt? Will there need to be any changes? Right now, they look fine.

Scott Phillips: The number of All-American candidates and teams in and out of the top 25 from week-to-week has been really interesting to keep track of. So many for both. I feel like with so many quality players and teams having similar resumes, it’s going to be a really difficult NCAA Tournament to predict.

Terrence Payne: Kentucky’s pursuit of perfection. No team has gone undefeated since the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers. The Wildcats are one of two remaining teams without a loss, and gives Kentucky a 36.6 percent chance to run the table heading into postseason play. The SEC is still a weak conference, but just like Ole Miss and Texas A&M, the Wildcats are going to get everyone’s best shot as they continue to rack up the wins.

2. Which conference will have the best race heading into March? 

RD: The Big 12, and it’s not going to be all that close. That league could end up sending eight of the ten teams to the NCAA tournament, and while Kansas is always going to be the favorite to win the conference until they leave the conference, this is the year to pick them off. A lack of true rim protecter and the issues that Self has had with Kelly Oubre and Cliff Alexander has made this group vulnerable. Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas will all make a run at the title.

RJ: The answer here has to be the Big 12, for historical reasons. Kansas has won at least a share of the last ten regular season titles, which is an incredibly impressive run put together by Bill Self’s program. I wouldn’t say that the Jayhawks are “vulnerable” this season, so much as it would be a case of their challengers having both the talent and belief needed to break through. As Rob noted Iowa State, Oklahoma and Texas will all have their say, and I would include West Virginia in that mix as well. Can K-State, Baylor and/or Oklahoma State get involved too? It wouldn’t shock me if those teams did just that.

SP: The Big 12 is just so good and so deep. With the true home-and-home conference schedule it means that nobody is hiding from anyone. Kansas having won the league for a decade straight makes for an enticing storyline as so many try to unseat the Jayhawks.

TP: The Big East. In the fall, we were wondering if Villanova could go unbeaten, now look at mess. DePaul in the top half of the conference, St. John’s in ninth place. Who would have predicted that? At the moment, 70 percent of the league is separated by less than two games, and that’s not including a talented St. John’s team.

3. Who is Kentucky’s biggest challenger nationally?

RD: I thought it was Duke, but then Duke decided they weren’t going to be able to get stops while playing man-to-man. I think that at this point, the team that matchups up with Kentucky the best is Virginia. They won’t get rattled by UK’s defensive pressure, they won’t get overwhelmed on the glass and they’ll make Kentucky beat them with threes over the top of the pack-line.

RJ: While the names have changed to a certain extent (first Arizona, then Duke) the Wildcats have remained in their perch. I think there will be multiple teams capable of beating them in the NCAA tournament, but I’ll take Virginia. This is one of the most efficient teams in the country on both ends of the floor, and they’ve got one of the most improved players in America in Justin Anderson. With options such as Anderson, Malcolm Brodgon and Anthony Gill, the Cavaliers have the pieces needed to win a national title.

SP: Besides themselves, Kentucky’s biggest outside challenger is Duke. Recent poor play aside, the Blue Devils have the size to match up with Kentucky on the interior and Jahlil Okafor is the rare inside presence who could give the Wildcats problems. With nine McDonald’s All-Americans on each roster, this would be a heck of a title game or Final Four matchup.

TP: Despite its recent slump, I’ll still say it’ll be Duke come March. They’ll have the national player of the year inside to battle Kentucky’s deep frontline and are equipped with shooters

Burning Questions: If you could change one on-court rule in college basketball, what would it be?

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If you were put in charge of college basketball, what’s one on-court rule that you would change/add and why?

MORE: Read through all the Burning Questions here

Rob Dauster: Man, where do I even start? First of all, let’s make it a 30-second shot clock. There’s no reason that men’s college basketball should be different from every other level of the sport. That’s foolish. Next, I’d move the charge circle out farther from the rim and go back to the rules that we had last season. Allowing a defender to slide underneath a player that’s in the air to take a charge is a scourge on our game. The next thing I’d do is limit the TV timeouts. There are NINE TV timeouts during a college basketball game, which is about five too many. It destroys the flow of games. We’re approaching the NFL’s extra point-commercial-kickoff-commercial ridiculousness.

That whole you can pump fake and jump into a player that’s already in the air to draw a foul move? Gone. Flagrant fouls for unintentional elbows? Gone. (I understand the need to protect players, but if you don’t want to get bowed in the face, don’t stick your face into a defender’s chest.) Extended reviews for anything? No. I’d also prevent coaches from being able to gather their team during reviews. No huddles.

Raphielle Johnson: Give me a 30-second shot clock, and that isn’t about the thought that such a move would automatically speed up the game either because that’s not a given. Women’s college basketball uses the 30-second clock, and FIBA amateur competitions use a 24-second clock. College basketball can’t just shave off five seconds? I find it to be a joke personally, so drop down to 30 seconds across the board. And I’m not buying the excuse that it will be “difficult” for players to adjust either. They, and the coaches entrusted with the task of teaching them, will adjust.

Scott Phillips: Too many timeouts. It’s one of the biggest complaints I hear about college basketball. During televised games we now have to sit through eight TV timeouts and each team also has five timeouts of their own. The first team timeout in the second half also turns into a fifth TV timeout in the second half. Great, more commercials…

That means a ridiculous 18 potential stoppages per game for coaches to draw up plays in a 40-minute period. That’s way too much.

I understand the need to generate revenue and it’s silly to ask for a change with that, but why not reduce the number of timeouts that coaches can use so that we speed up games and reduce stoppages?

Make coaches prepare their players more before games or have them figure out another way to convey things with them, but let’s eliminate so many stoppages that are killing the flow of the game.

Terrence Payne: I was originally going to go with changing the 35-second shot clock. To me it makes no sense why it’s the longest in organized basketball (even longer than states that use shot clocks in high school), but seeing as it’s been touched on above, let’s go with the “hanging on the rim” technical. Look I get it, those plays happen in real time and officials instinctually blow the whistle and asses the technical. But in most cases players are racing down the floor with their weight carrying them forward. Holding onto the rim is a protective measure from what could be a serious injury. Need a reference on this: watch Kendall Pollard’s technical in the first half of the Dayton-UConn game Friday afternoon.