Blogger Spotlight: Troy Nunes dishes on Boeheim, the 2-3 zone and Scoop’s Chipotle addition

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Saturday’s another Syracuse-Georgetown showdown. I expect nothing less than blood, sweat and guts. Once more unto the breach, dear friends. Once more. Yeah. Shakespeare would’ve had a ball with this rivalry.

But the Bard’s not around, so I turned to the next best option – Sean Keeley, who manages the SB Nation blog Troy Nunes is An Absolute Magician.  It’s the go-to Syracuse blog on the web for its mix of humor, links, analysis and all things Orange.

Thankfully, Sean doesn’t write in Iambic pentameter. But he can turn a phrase. That’s why he’s this week’s Blogger Spotlight.

Well, that and the timing of Syracuse-Georgetown. That’s what I call synergy.

Q: Does every Syracuse season feel like this one? Stellar start – in this case, 18-0 – then the Big East season rolls around and douses that hot start a bit. Are all Big East fans prepared for that eventuality?

A: I’d say most Syracuse seasons feel a little bit like this one. The non-conference schedule ranges from suoer-soft to kinda-soft and we cruised through it with 0-2 losses, though to be fair the last couple years it’s not our fault. We scheduled North Carolina, Florida and Michigan State all in down years…we tried, I swear!

After that it’s Big East play where we get a rude awakening, usually thanks to Pitt or Louisville, and there’s a losing skid or rough patch in there somewhere. We ebb and flow with the Big East schedule and usually make it out alive…barely. Then we head into the NCAA Tournament expecting at least a Sweet Sixteen, if not more.

In a nutshell, that’s what it’s like for us.

Q: Which player has surprised you the most the season? And don’t say Fab Melo.

A: Let me put it this way…if you told me back in October that come February, Fab Melo would be riding pine and Baye Moussa Keita would be a starter, I would have committed you to an insane asylum.

Keita was basically considered the “throw-in” to this year’s recruiting class behind Melo, Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair. It wasn’t a question of him playing, it was a question of whether or not he’d get red-shirted. Sophomore DaShonte Riley got hurt and that ended that discussion. It also opened the door for Keita to turn into Syracuse’s new Kristof Ongenaut, i.e. the foreign big guy who doesn’t put up a lot of points but makes tons of scrappy hustle plays and energizes the team while on the court and off it. It’s been a pleasant surprise, to say the least.

Q: When people learn you’re a Syracuse fan, do they immediately ask you how to play against a 2-3 zone? Or do they just mutter ineffectually and toss out a few curse words regarding that zone. Seriously. It’s bear.

A: I think the first question I usually get is, “So have you met Juli Boeheim?” After that, then we turn to the 2-3 zone talk.

The zone is great but, as we’ve learned in the last two seasons, it’s only as good as the players in it. Last year, Andy Rautins, Wes Johnson & Arinze Onuaku anchored what was arguably the most dominant version in Boeheim’s tenure. This year, a lot of inexperience and a vulnerability from outside the arc has been our downfall. That said the guards and wings are making adjustments and Rick Jackson continues to rack up blocks down low.

The motto for this year’s zone (and team, really) is, “We’re not as good as last year, but we’re still pretty good.”

Q: Nervous for Saturday? Or does playing Georgetown simply stir so much hate inside you that it overwhelms everything else?

A: Syracuse vs. Georgetown brings out a lot of emotions no matter what’s going on. I still remember when I was at school (late 90’s) and Georgetown wasn’t very good. It didn’t matter. We still wanted to beat them by 90.

The Chris Wright injury is a good news/bad news scenario. You hate to see anyone get injured and even Syracuse fans can’t take too much pleasure in it. That said, he was Mr. Intangibles against us last time and a Hoya team without him is a more-beatable one. But that also opens the door for “the unheralded bench player who suddenly becomes Craig Hodges from beyond the arc” that always seems to show up against Syracuse in situations like this. It’s the stuff of Cuse fan nightmares.

It’s Senior Day for them and they made sure that the crowd is going to be as Orange-less as possible thanks to some questionable ticket sales practices. Regardless of who’s on the court, Syracuse better not let up cause they’re going into extremely hostile territory. 

Q: Jim Boeheim has been killing it during postgame press conferences lately. Well, at least for those of us who love a good quote. That’s one of the under-appreciated aspects of Boeheim, isn’t? His reputation might be as a complainer, but I’d say he’s just a guy who doesn’t tolerate BS.

A: I love me a good Boeheim presser, especially when he’s defending a player or attacking a faulty microphone with reckless abandon. I have to say though, even I found his most recent press conference outbursts a little depressing. Boeheim spent a lot of time talking about how he didn’t care what people think of him while explaining why it bothered him that people thought certain things about him. I don’t know, I guess I assumed that all those wins, Big East titles and Final Fours would have been enough to let little things slide.

Then again, that’s also what’s so great about Boeheim. Nothing is too little for him to let is just slide.

Q: After watching Wes, Andy and Arinze provide consistently impressive performances last season, do you ever sit there and think, “Man, if Scoop would just lay off the Chipotle, he’d be right there…” ?

A: Here’s the thing with Scoop…physically he’s already made that leap. Before last year he was sluggish and slightly overweight. He worked out all summer, ate better and became a better athlete. He still is in great shape.

The problem with Scoop is all mental. Scoop thinks he’s “The Man” but I assure you, most of the time, he is not. I saw someone say about Scoop that “he’s really good but he thinks he’s All-American.” That’s a perfect way to sum him up and the way he plays, especially if you want to explain why he takes so many crazy shots and makes so many bad passes.

The truth is, sometimes he makes those shots and completes those passes. But it just feels like for every step he takes forward, he takes one right back a few plays later.

Q: Rate the Carrier Dome as a place to watch a game. Loud? Spacious? Odd?

A: I know the Carrier Dome looks weird on TV. You’ve got that cavernous space hind the curtain that you would think kills the sound and ambiance. But once you’re in the middle of that crowd, it really has no effect on you or the atmosphere.

The Dome is loud, there isn’t a bad seat in the house (honestly) and it’s intimidating. I admit there’s a part of me that would love to play in a more-intimate 10-15K arena where everyone seems to be right on top of one another. But the flip side is that the Dome is a pretty unique space and Syracuse seems to have no problem filling it on a regular basis.

I’d love to see what it would look like to put the court right in the middle and one of these days I’m sure they’ll try it. As long as it’s a good opponent, they’ll still sell the place out.

Q: I’m a Kansas grad — still bitter about ’03 by the way — who now lives on the coast. You went to Syracuse and now live on the other coast. Do you find that your fandom has waned with the distance, or does it just not burn as brightly all the time. Seems like that’s how it goes for me. Then again, that could just be my age.

A: Quick tangent. I watched the 2003 National Title game at a beach bar in Manhattan Beach, CA called Sharkeez. There was no reason for anyone there to have any kind of rooting interest. I latched on to a group of Syracuse fans I met in the first round of the tournament and we sat down in the middle of the bar to watch the game. It became apparently clear to me that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE else in the bar was rooting for Kansas. I couldn’t tell if it was alums, Cuse-haters or that Kansas was just “the team everyone wanted to win.” Whatever the reason, it made the victory dance I did afterward that much sweeter.

You know it’s funny, my fandom has gotten one million times stronger since being on the West Coast, but a lot of that has to do with writing the blog as well. I admit that after graduation there was a lull when I really didn’t pay too much attention to what was going on, and I lived on the East Coast at the time. It took me moving 3,000 miles away to become a die-hard again. Weird, I know.

Q: Favorite Syracuse team? Player?

A: My senior year was 2000 and while that team wasn’t exactly the most memorable of Syracuse squads, they’ll always have a special place in my Cusian heart. Jason Hart and Etan Thomas were freshmen when I was a freshmen and I watched those two lead Syracuse for four years. We started with an NIT berth and we ended with a great season that culminated in the Sweet Sixteen. We met eventual-champion Michigan State in the round of 16 that year. We led the game at halftime and there wasn’t a Syracuse fan in the bar that didn’t think we were going to the Final Four, that is, until Mateen Cleaves ripped out hearts out in the second half.

As for favorite player, I know it’s cliche to say Gerry McNamara but it’s gotta be Gerry McNamara. Carmelo Anthony will always be remembered for his one season of glory. He is and will always be the face of that 2003 National Championship game. But Gerry McNamara WAS Syracuse basketball between 2003 and 2006. He was the face of the program and he was the heartbeat of those teams, which was most notable during a certain Big East Tournament you might remember. (Editor’s note: Carmelo had a little help. McNamara hit six 3-pointers in Syracuse’s ’03 title win over Kansas.)

That Gerry is now an assistant on Boeheim’s staff is fait accompli. He’s destined to be an Orangeman for the rest of his life.

Q: Some team blogs strike a serious tone and treat their teams with incredible reverence. I wouldn’t say that’s what Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician is about, eh? How would you describe its tone?

A: About the most cliche thing a blogger can say is that they were influenced by Deadspin and The Sports Guy. But for those of you who were jaded by both of them long ago, you have to remember a time like 2002/2003 when they were both just barely coming into their own.

For me, it was a whole new world. I honestly didn’t realize we could talk about sports like this now. So wait, we’re allowed to talk about that moment during the game when we saw the coach pick his nose and we can create a whole series of posts about it?

That was my initial goal for TNIAAM. To be “The Deadspin of Syracuse sports.” Of course Deadspin is something…different, these days. Newbies don’t realize it used to be much lighter and much more fun But I try my best to stay with that initial idea. There’s the stories about SU that everyone talks about and then there’s the shared minutia that everyone else lets slip through the cracks. I want to talk about that stuff. That’s fun.

The only limit I put on what I do is that I never want to be responsible for hurting the program. Unless it’s already out there, I won’t post any shady photos or unsubstantiated rumors just to get site traffic. I’m a fan of SU, first and foremost.

Q: How’d you get into blogging? And how much longer do you see yourself doing it?

A: I was living in LA trying to make it in screenwriting and I needed an outlet. I needed something that I could write about every day. Like I said I had recently become a big fan of Deadspin, Sports Guy and a bunch of other blogs and so I decided to get into the blogging business myself.

I tried a couple other topics that crashed and burned. After about a week lost interest in each of them. So I realized I needed a topic that excited me enough to stick with. I needed to wake up in the morning and be interested in learning about and writing on the topic. Syracuse sports came to mind.

I was given the gift of Greg Robinson as my initial target of relentless fun. As miserable as it was to be a Syracuse football fan, the man provided me with more content and absurd quotes than I could keep up with. That said, I’m plenty glad he’s long gone.

As for how long I’ll keep doing it, who knows. The blog has already led to so many things I never, ever thought I do, like writing a book or teaching a class at Syracuse on blogging. Every time I think the craziest thing possible has happened, something else comes along. As long as it continues to be fun and people enjoy it, I’ll keep making Syracuse-themed LOLCat photos. It’s the least I can do.

You can find more of Sean Keeley’s writing at www.nunesmagician.com and follow him on Twitter @NunesMagician.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

NCAA steering farther and farther away from harsh penalties

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The days of postseason bans and crippling scholarship reductions to punish schools for breaking NCAA rules appear to be winding down.

Memphis was placed on three years of probation earlier this week with a public reprimand and fined for NCAA violations related to the recruitment and short college career of James Wiseman, who is about to start his third season with the Golden State Warriors. The NCAA also wrapped up an investigation of Air Force football for breaking the COVID-19 recruiting quiet period.

No postseason bans or scholarship reductions in either case. The Independent Accountability Review Panel, the NCAA’s outside arm of enforcement, said in its decision in the Memphis case that it did not want to punish current athletes.

That sentiment is widespread in college athletics these days, even with millions of dollars suddenly flowing to athletes from various sources for their celebrity endorsements amid concerns over improper inducements. In fact, it is on the way to being codified: Last month, the Division I Board of Directors adopted three proposals to change the infractions process.

The board also committed to “identifying appropriate types of penalties and modifying current penalty ranges, including identifying potential alternative penalties to postseason bans.”

Trying to predict what those alternatives will be is difficult, but if the goal is to avoid harming athletes and others who were not involved in the violations the options are limited.

“I emphatically believe it’s the wrong direction to go,” said Nebraska law professor Jo Potuto, who spent nine years on the NCAA’s Committee on Infractions in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

“If you’re going to deter, the punishment has to fit the offense, right?” Potuto added. “You’re not going to deter serious violations with penalties that are not perceived to be really serious.”

Since January 2020, there have been at least 45 major infractions cases decided by the NCAA. Of those, at least 15 involved Level I allegations, the most serious and those carrying the most severe penalties; six cases resulted in some kind of postseason ban, with four of them self-imposed.

The Memphis case went through the IARP, which was created in response to the FBI’s investigation of college basketball corruption but is now being discontinued. Sunsetting the IARP was among several recommendations put forth by the NCAA’s Division I Transformation Committee earlier this year and recently adopted by the board.

As college sports moves toward less centralized governance by the NCAA and deregulation in general, the hope is to create a more streamlined enforcement process.

If justice is swift, the thinking goes, it is more likely to be applied fairly.

“The reality is the current system is broken,” said Atlantic Coast Conference Commissioner Jim Phillips, a member of the transformation committee. “I think everyone in the association, in the enterprise, understands it. When (an investigation) takes the amount of time that it does now and you start to penalize young men and women that were high school, if not middle school-age (when the violation occurred), it’s not an effective process.”

The IARP is still handling cases stemming from the FBI probe involving Louisville, Arizona, Kansas and LSU. Those have been in the NCAA enforcement pipeline for years. A related case against Oklahoma State did not go through IARP and the Cowboys did end up with a postseason ban.

David Ridpath, a professor at Ohio University and former compliance director for several schools, said even though the IARP failed, NCAA enforcement would be best handled by an independent organization.

“No system is perfect, but if you’re going to have an enforcement system at the end of the day you need to provide basic due-process protections and then you have to be able to consistently punish people,” he said.

In the Memphis case, Wiseman received $11,500 from Hardaway in 2017 while Hardaway was coach at a local high school. Hardaway was hired as Memphis’ coach in March 2018, and Wiseman committed to the Tigers in November 2018.

The NCAA accused Memphis of four Level I and two Level II violations, including lack of institutional control, head coach responsibility and failure to monitor. In the past, those types of allegations could strike fear into athletic directors but probation and fines seem much more likely to be the outcome now instead of the sweeping scholarship sanctions, vacated victories and postseason ban that Southern California received in 2010 for the Reggie Bush improper benefits case. Those penalties set USC football back years.

In the end, the IARP essentially reduced the charges against Memphis and cleared Hardaway of wrongdoing.

While the NCAA is losing sway in the wake of last year’s Supreme Court ruling, with more power being shifted to its member conferences, it also remains clear the schools still want the association to handle enforcement.

But what exactly is being enforced?

Athletes can now be paid for endorsement and sponsorship deals and college sports is still waiting on and hoping for help from federal lawmakers to regulate name, image and likeness compensation.

Plus, as revenue skyrockets for schools at the top of major college sports, the NCAA is trending toward fewer restrictions on what financial benefits can be provided to athletes.

“Until we have clarity and certainty on what schools and boosters and athletes can and can’t do, I think many recognize that it’s dangerous to hand down significant punishments when it’s not clear what you can and can’t do,” said Gabe Feldman, director of the sports law program at Tulane. “And I think unless you have clear rules, it’s hard to harsh punishment.”

Still, punishments directed at schools (fines) and coaches (suspensions) could become steeper and longer, Feldman said.

Potuto said with so much money flowing into the top of college athletics, it is doubtful fines could be large enough to be a true deterrent. While she understands the desire to not have current athletes pay for the sins of previous regimes, loosened transfer rules could mitigate the potential harm.

“I will make one prediction: If there is a move to impose penalties much less frequently in five years there is going to be a move to put them back in,” Potuto said.

Kentucky moves scrimmage to Eastern Kentucky for flood relief

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White men’s basketball scrimmage in Eastern Kentucky to benefit victims of the devastating summer floods.

The school announced that the Oct. 22 event at Appalachian Wireless Arena in Pikeville will feature a pregame Fan Fest. Ticket proceeds will go through Team Eastern Kentucky Flood Relief.

Wildcat players will also participate in a community service activity with local organizations in the relief effort.

Kentucky coach John Calipari said the team was excited to play for Eastern Kentucky fans and added, “We hope we can provide a temporary escape with basketball and community engagement.”

The scrimmage traditionally is held at Rupp Arena. It will occur eight days after its Big Blue Madness public workout at Rupp.

Kentucky’s Tionna Herron recovering from open-heart surgery

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LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky coach Kyra Elzy says freshman Tionna Herron is recovering from open-heart surgery to correct a structural abnormality.

The 6-foot-4 post player learned of her condition after arriving at school in June and received other opinions before surgery was recommended. Senior trainer Courtney Jones said in a release that Herron underwent surgery Aug. 24 at Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston and is recovering at home in DeSoto, Texas.

Elzy said Herron “is the definition of a warrior” and all are grateful to be on the other side of the player’s surgery. Herron is expected back on campus early next month and will continue rehabilitation until she’s cleared to return to normal activity.

“Her will and determination to eventually return to the court is inspiring, and it’s that `game-on’ attitude that is what makes her such a perfect fit in our program,” Elzy said in a release. “We are so thrilled for Tionna’s return to our locker room; it’s not the same without our full team together.”

Herron committed to Kentucky during last fall’s early signing period, rated as a four-star prospect and a top-70 player in last year’s class. Kentucky won last year’s Southeastern Conference Tournament and reached the NCAA Tournament’s first round.

Emoni Bates charged with 2 felonies

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SUPERIOR TOWNSHIP, Mich — Emoni Bates, a former basketball prodigy who transferred to Eastern Michigan from Memphis, was charged with two felonies after police found a gun in a car during a traffic stop.

The 18-year-old Bates failed to stop at an intersection Sunday night and a search turned up the weapon, said Derrick Jackson, a spokesman for the Washtenaw County sheriff’s office.

Defense attorney Steve Haney told The Associated Press that the vehicle and the gun didn’t belong to Bates.

“I hope people can reserve judgment and understand there’s a presumption of innocence,” Haney said. “This was not his vehicle. This was not his gun. … We’re still gathering facts, too.”

Bates was charged with carrying a concealed weapon and altering identification marks on a firearm. He was released after his lawyer entered a not guilty plea. Bates’ next court hearing is Oct. 6.

“This is his first brush with the law,” Haney said in court. “He poses no threat or risk to society.”

Less than a month ago, the 6-foot-9 Bates transferred to Eastern Michigan to play for his hometown Eagles. Bates averaged nearly 10 points a game last season as a freshman at Memphis, where he enrolled after reclassifying to skip a year of high school and join the class of 2021.

“We are aware of a situation involving one of our student athletes,” EMU spokesman Greg Steiner said. “We are working to gather more details and will have further comment when more information is available.”

Bates was the first sophomore to win the Gatorade national player of the year award in high school basketball in 2020, beating out Cade Cunningham and Evan Mobley. Detroit drafted Cunningham No. 1 overall last year, two spots before Cleveland took Mobley in the 2021 NBA draft.

Bates committed to playing for Tom Izzo at Michigan State two years ago, later de-committed and signed with Memphis. Bates played in 18 games for the Tigers, who finished 22-11 under Penny Hardaway. Bates missed much of the season with a back injury before appearing in Memphis’ two NCAA Tournament games.

In 2019, as a high school freshman, the slender and skilled guard led Ypsilanti Lincoln to a state title and was named Michigan’s Division 1 Player of the Year by The Associated Press. His sophomore season was cut short by the pandemic and he attended Ypsi Prep Academy as a junior, his final year of high school.

UConn to pay Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million over firing

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STORRS, Conn. — UConn announced Thursday it has agreed to pay former men’s basketball coach Kevin Ollie another $3.9 million to settle discrimination claims surrounding his 2018 firing.

The money is in addition to the more than $11.1 million in back salary Ollie has already been paid after an arbitrator ruled in January that he was improperly fired under the school’s agreement with its professor’s union.

“I am grateful that we were able to reach agreement,” Ollie said in a statement Thursday. “My time at UConn as a student-athlete and coach is something I will always cherish. I am pleased that this matter is now fully and finally resolved.”

Ollie, a former UConn point guard who guided the Huskies to a 127-79 record and the 2014 national championship in six seasons as head coach, was let go after two losing seasons. UConn also stopped paying him under his contract, citing numerous NCAA violations in terminating the deal.

In 2019, the NCAA placed UConn on probation for two years and Ollie was sanctioned individually for violations, which the NCAA found occurred between 2013 and 2018. Ollie’s attorneys, Jacques Parenteau and William Madsen, accused UConn of making false claims to the NCAA for the purpose of firing Ollie “with cause.”

The school had argued that Ollie’s transgressions were serious and that his individual contract superseded those union protections.

Ollie’s lawyers had argued that white coaches, including Hall-of-Famers Jim Calhoun and women’s coach Geno Auriemma, had also committed NCAA violations, without being fired, and indicated they were planning to file a federal civil rights lawsuit.

The school and Ollie said in a joint statement Thursday they were settling “to avoid further costly and protracted litigation.”

Both sides declined to comment further.

Ollie, who faced three years of restrictions from the NCAA on becoming a college basketball coach again, is currently coaching for Overtime Elite, a league that prepares top prospects who are not attending college for the pros.