Houston Rockets

Houston Rockets GM Daryl Morey on college hoops: ‘It’s absolute torture watching some of these games’ (AUDIO)

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Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey has become a bit of a cult hero among basketball circles for his use of analytics when it comes to making his team’s personnel decisions.

The eight-year general manager of the Rockets went on Mad Radio on Friday night before attending the Sweet 16 games in the South Regional and made some remarks on the current state of college basketball. Among the topics of discussion included Morey’s distaste for athletic directors and college basketball coaches that run unimaginative offense.

Morey had plenty to say on why he believes college basketball can be unwatchable and he believes a lot of it has to do with the hiring practices and coaching styles of certain programs:

“I think it starts with the athletic directors. They hire safe. They’re not more sophisticated. They’re generally going to hire for defense so they don’t know how to adjust for pace. So they just look, at like, a schedule of who has the fewest points per game given up. So they end up hiring these coaches that just try and milk the shot clock, waste 30 seconds of the 35, then throw up a horrible shot just to keep the pace low; keep the sense of points-per-game down.

Honestly, it’s self-defeating, especially if they’ve got more talent than the other team.

Now if you’re a terrible team, like if you’re a team that’s going to be at the back-end of your conference in your ability to recruit, slowing the game down and things like that makes some sense. But if you’re a top team, playing slow-it-down ball with more talent, wasting the shot clock, not running anything imaginative on offense, it’s torture, honestly.

It’s absolute torture watching some of these games.

Honestly, it’s self-defeating for the ADs and the coaches that run those styles. You’d be surprised. The culture among the athletic directors is so strong in terms of hiring safe hires so the finger can’t get pointed at them if they hire someone who is out-of-the-box and it doesn’t work. It’s pretty pathetic, honestly.”

You can listen to Morey’s full rant starting around the 2:04 mark. Morey also talks a little bit about Kentucky right before his rant and then talks about the NBA from there.

Much has been made about college basketball becoming increasingly difficult to watch and Morey makes some fantastic points. While much of the “watchability” discussion with college hoops has centered around reducing the shot clock from 35 seconds to 30 seconds — like the NCAA is testing in the postseason NIT — there would still be plenty of coaches who run little-to-no offense and try to slow the game down to maximize possessions.

I can certainly understand Morey’s frustrations with certain programs who like to slow it down for the sake of slowing it down. His point about athletic directors not having the courage to make outside-the-box hires is another interesting topic of discussion that doesn’t get brought up nearly enough.

Norvel Pelle unlikely to suit up for Iona in 2012-13

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Iona has gifted this season with an influx of transfers seen only by the likes of USC on any level — low, mid or high major — this season.

With as many as six eligible transfers this season, the Gaels were going to need all of them to make for the loss of players like Michael Glover and Scott Machado, who led the nation in assists last season.

That number of eligible transfers won’t get any bigger this season. Incoming freshman Norvel Pelle is unlikely to suit up this year, according to Adam Zagoria.

Pelle, a former St. John’s commitment, has been in limbo with his eligibility all season and as far back as the beginning of last season when he was supposed to enroll with the Red Storm. The 7-footer has yet to be cleared by the NCAA and it doesn’t look likely that it will happen anytime soon.

A source told SNY.tv that it all comes down to paperwork.

“He hasn’t been cleared by the NCAA,” a source close to the Iona basketball team told SNY.tv following Rutgers’ 81-73 victory over Iona at Madison Square Garden. “He went to so many schools, they’re still probably trying to track down his paperwork.”

Pelle is not currently on the Iona campus and he isn’t on the team’s official roster.

Iona has been average all season without Pelle, so there’s no reason to believe this affects the Gaels and coach Tim Cluess in any way. It would’ve improved the team’s post presence, but Pelle may never find his way to a college campus. He spent time at a number of schools, including a prep year, so if he hasn’t found a home 18 months into what was supposed to be his college career, it’s tough to believe it’ll happen at all.

David Harten is a sportswriter and college basketball blogger. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Kentucky out of Top 25 for first time under Calipari

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Yes, Big Blue Nation, it finally happened. A Calipari-coached Kentucky team will play their next game without a ranking next to their name.

For the first time since Cal took over prior to the 2009-10 season, the Wildcats aren’t ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll. It’s a product of back-to-back losses to Notre Dame on the road and Baylor at home, a loss that was also Cal’s first at home since taking over at Kentucky.

Now breathe. It’s going to be ok.

This team is not anywhere near the caliber of last season’s national champions that steam-rolled essentially everyone (sans Indiana and Vanderbilt) on it’s way to one of the greatest seasons in college basketball history. You probably knew that already.

But first of all, polls are dumb. They are meaningless, really. Especially this early. They factor a little bit into opinions for at-large bids in the NCAA Tournament. The end.

But mainly, this team has a huge deficiency in leadership and that’s due to the fact that for the first season under Cal, the team lacks the senior leader that has been through the pre-Calipari Domination years. There’s no Patrick Patterson, Perry Stevenson or Ramon Harris. No Jorts, DeAndre Liggins or Darius Miller. No big brother figure that can lead the team mentally and emotionally when they’re tired of hearing it from Calipari. No, Jon Hood and Jarrod Polson don’t count.

It’s a newsworthy item because of Kentucky’s recent dominance. But nothing that should send Wildcats fans into a panic. There’s still four months to play until Selection Sunday.

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

Unfair to rush to any judgement on UCLA after Shabazz’s first game

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BROOKLYN – All things considered, Shabazz Muhammad didn’t play too badly in his first game as a collegian.

He finished with 15 points on 5-10 shooting in 25 minutes of action, although a couple of those buckets came in the final minute with the outcome, a 78-70 loss to Georgetown in the semifinals of the Legends Classic, all-but decided. He only grabbed one rebound, which is concerning given his strength and athleticism, and he was no where near the player that he needs to be on the defensive end of the floor. He was a long way from good, and he certainly didn’t come close to the reputation he had built for himself coming into the game.

This wass supposed to be a top three pick, mind you, and top three picks aren’t supposed to look as consistently over-matched as Muhammad did on both ends of the floor tonight.

And Muhammad will tell you the same thing.

“I can get a lot better. I didn’t play well tonight. I didn’t play well on defense,” Muhammad told reporters after the game.

That’s understandable. This was Muhammad’s first college basketball game after spending the past six months dealing with NCAA investigations into his time as a high schooler. He suffered a high-ankle sprain that kept him out for nine weeks over the summer. He didn’t practice with the team before they went to China. He didn’t go with the team to China. The first chance he had to practice was about a month ago, and in that time he’s dealt with a shoulder injury that kept him from being able to play, lift, or work on his conditioning for half that time.

He’s out of shape, out of sync with his teammates and, quite frankly, probably rusty.

And you thought he was going to come in here and look like James Harden did in his first game with the Rockets?

“It was really exciting getting out on the court for the first time,” Muhammad said when asked how he felt about his debut. “Just finally getting the jitters out and getting comfortable playing college basketball for the first time was a good experience.”

“I’m trying to get out here and gel with my teammates for the first time. My first college game, trying to get used to playing with all these players.”

It’s not like Muhammad is a piece getting plugged into an experienced team, either. Kyle Anderson is a freshman. Larry Drew II is a transfer that is playing for the first time in 20 months. Norman Powell is starting for the first time in his college career. Jordan Adams, who has scored at least 20 points in all four games as a collegian, is also a freshman.

It’s also worth mentioning that the Bruins have been dealt a bad hand when it comes to injuries. Muhammad has already dealt with ankle and shoulder issues. Kyle Anderson missed a couple months over the summer after thumb surgery. Tony Parker didn’t play on Monday due to a back issue. Tyler Lamb hasn’t returned to the court yet after getting surgery on his knee.

In other words, Muhammad isn’t the only one that needs to gel on this team.

It’s a group that doesn’t necessarily fit together perfectly with a coach who isn’t necessarily built to handle a team with their strengths. They were shredded defensively by Georgetown’s Princeton-style offense, which is not something you typically see from a Ben Howland-coached team. They looked lost offensively against Georgetown’s zone. They didn’t run the floor well at all. The 16 offensive rebounds they collected were nice, but the 60% Georgetown shot from the floor in the second half wasn’t.

“We are a team that is very young and we got hurt defensively,” Howland said. “They shot 55% from the game, 60% for the second half. Those two stats jump out.”

I spent the preseason doing nothing but send up warning flares that UCLA had dumpster fire potential written all over them.

And while I would love to take this time to revel in the fact that I was, once again, right, I’d be remiss if I didn’t tell you that there were some positives to take out of this game.

First and foremost, Drew looks like a different player than they one that flamed out at North Carolina. He now has 33 assists and just six turnovers in 135 minutes this season. He got in the lane and created, he found shooters on the secondary break, he got the ball to his teammates where they needed it and when they needed it, and, most importantly, he did nothing dumb to hurt them. In the end, that’s all he really needs to do.

The other thing I liked was the way Howland used Anderson in the second half. There’s no question that Anderson is one of the more unique talents in the country, but asking him to be a primary ball-handler at this level is unfair. He’s not going to be blowing by players like Otto Porter and Greg Whittington off the dribble. Where he is effective, however, is as a playmaker out of the high post. When UCLA cut Georgetown’s lead to four in the second half, it’s because Anderson got them easy shot after easy shot against a 2-3 zone.

The Wears are capable up front, Josh Smith and Tony Parker can provide muscle when need be, and Muhammad, Adams and Powell provide as much scoring punch on the wing as you’ll find anywhere in the country.

There are still plenty of pieces that need to fall into place for this group.

But if you’re a UCLA fan, now is not the time to be selling off your season tickets, and judging them too harshly off of their first game with Muhammad in the fold is unfair.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

USC, the transfer capital of the 2012-13 season

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Kevin O’Neill couldn’t fathom the season he had in 2011-12. USC was slammed with an unbelievable amount of injuries, transfers and lack of cohesion among his squad and it ended with a school record 26 losses.

If you compare last season’s team to this year’s, there’s barely a resemblance. Point guard Jio Fontan returns after tearing his ACL prior to last year, along with five Division I transfers getting eligible, including Rice transfer Omar Oraby, who was granted a waiver for immediate eligibility on Thursday.

The pair are just two of a total of 10 transfers on the Trojans squad, and six have just one season of eligibility left. With 10 transfers that makes up over half of their 17-man roster, USC bares resemblance to Missouri and their 11 newcomers this season. They have their own version of Phil Pressey in Fontan, a Fordham transfer who will be one of the best point guards in the Pac-12 Conference this season.

But this a bit of a stretch. USC has eight Division I transfers and two junior college transfers (center Jame Blasczyk and guard J.T. Terrell spent time at both).

It’s a model that’s tough to win with, but we all remember last season’s Iowa State team that took a team of transfers, both new and old, to the NCAA Tournament third round last year, led by Minnesota transfer Royce White (who didn’t even suit up for the Golden Gophers) and others like Chris Babb from Penn State and Marquette defector Scott Christopherson and others. It can be done.

But I think it’s clear that Kevin O’Neill is putting a lot of his career on the line with this season. While it’s obvious there wasn’t a ton that O’Neill could’ve done last season to make things better, a 6-26 record is tough to overcome if the next season isn’t a lot better in big-time college basketball. O’Neill understands that. As Baxter Holmes from the Los Angeles Times writes.

He said most coaches — unless they’re Kentucky’s John Calipari, North Carolina’s Roy Williams or of that stature — are always only two bad seasons from being fired.

“So I’m one [season] into that,” [O’Neill] said.

This could definitely work for the Trojans this season. A number of those transfers, some who have already played a season, are coming from big-time programs such as Wake Forest (Terrell and Ari Stewart), Texas A&M (Blasczyk), Aaron Fuller (Iowa) and Tennessee (Renaldo Woolridge) and contributed. Others come from smaller programs and are looking for tougher competition like Fontan, Oraby and UC-Irvine transfer Eric Wise. They know what it takes.

The one problem is, it’s a one-year fix for O’Neill. What happens in 2013-14? Well, I guess he could watch what Fred Hoiberg does this season with the Cyclones. But USC has taken a calculated risk with this team. It’s only two seasons removed from an NCAA Tournament berth, and this is a move to at least make sure they get back.

David Harten is the editor of The Backboard Chronicles. You can follow him on Twitter at @David_Harten.

2013 guard Jajuan Johnson verbally commits to Marquette

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Already boasting a 2013 recruiting class that ranks among the best in the country, Marquette got even deeper as 6-4 shooting guard Jajuan Johnson verbally committed to the school as reported by Jerry Meyer of 247Sports.

Johnson, who attends Southwind High School in Memphis, picked the Golden Eagles over Alabama and Miami.

Johnson fits right in with Marquette’s style of play, and he’ll give the Golden Eagles another attack-minded guard when he arrives on campus.

Marquette already has verbal commitments from guards Duane Wilson and John Dawson, wing Deonte Burton and Indian Hills JC power forward Jameel McKay.

Johnson and company will join a backcourt that has just two seniors this season, point guard Junior Cadougan and shooting guard Trent Lockett.

Vander Blue will be a senior next season while Todd Mayo and Derrick Wilson will be juniors, and 6-4 Jamal Ferguson will be a sophomore.

The Golden Eagles have been a very consistent program since joining the Big East in 2005, failing to finish in the top five of the standings just once (2010-11) and reaching the NCAA tournament every year (overall Marquette has gone to the tournament eight straight years).

But the question, with the conference once again going through realignment after this season, is whether or not Buzz Williams’ program can take the next step and win a Big East title.

With the work that Marquette has done on the recruiting trail with this 2013 group, that could very well happen in the near future.

Raphielle is also the assistant editor at CollegeHoops.net and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.