Blogger Spotlight: Card Chronicle on Louisville’s lively offseason

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Louisville’s had a busy offseason (though Maryland might scoff at that remark). Assistants left for other programs, a starter left for the NBA and coach Rick Pitino won’t be going abroad to coach.

What’s all that mean?

I turned to Mike Rutherford of Card Chronicle to sort out the latest news, look at Louisville’s promising 2011-12 season and more in the latest Blogger Spotlight.

         Click here to read previous Blogger Spotlight posts

Q: Let’s recap: Two assistants took other jobs, Terrence Jennings stayed in the NBA draft and Rick Pitino didn’t get the Puerto Rico job. Busy few weeks. But I’m sure it’s preferable to the offseason news from the last two summers.

A: Yeah, going into “woe is me” mode almost feels forced at this point, but as far as occurrences which will actually have a direct impact on what takes place on the court, I’m not sure we (Louisville fans) have gone through a more tumultuous offseason. And it hasn’t even been two months since “last year” actually ended.

A couple of weeks after the season-ending loss to Morehead State, I got word from a current player that Jennings was “most likely” going to be leaving. The player said Jennings was fully aware that making an NBA roster was a long-shot, and that he was content with a professional career in Europe. I figured this may have been somewhat of a knee-jerk reaction, but it appears the additional time had no effect on TJ’s perspective.

It’s easy to chastise Jennings’ decision as foolish or reckless, but a closer inspection reveals that it might well be the best play for him personally. Freshman Gorgui Dieng actually stole the starting center spot from Jennings relatively early on in the season, and held onto it before getting hurt about midway through conference play. More than any other player on last year’s roster, Jennings seemed to take being substituted out of the game extremely personally. Whenever he made anything that could potentially be viewed as a mistake, his next move was always a glance to the bench. It’s not a coincidence that his best games as a Louisville Cardinal came during the period where Dieng was in street clothes. A situation where he would be competing for minutes with a sophomore Dieng, freshman Zach Price, and (potentially) Wake Forest transfer Tony Woods surely weighed heavily on Jennings’ decision.

I think the other big factor behind Jennings’ leap was seeing what happened to Samardo Samuels last year. Samuels’ decision to sign with an agent was almost universally panned, then he went undrafted, but then he caught on with the Cleveland Cavaliers and ranked among the NBA’s top 10 rookie scorers for the bulk of the season. Jennings’ stats were unlikely to improve dramatically next season and this year’s draft class figures to be extremely less formidable than next year’s, so it stands to reason that this might be the best chance he has at getting a decent look from an NBA franchise.

The other key event of the offseason thus far was the departure of assistant coach Tim Fuller, who bolted for Missouri and the open arms of pal Frank Haith after just one season in town. Fuller is a big Nike guy and was instrumental in the bulk of the big-name recruits who pledged their allegiance to U of L over the past 12 months. Since his departure, elite commits Negus Webster-Chan and Rodney Purvis have both re-opened their recruitment, and controversial Wake Forest transfer Tony Woods has said that he’s re-exploring his options.

The unrest on the staff was the reason given by Webster-Chan – who was not recruited by Fuller – and that’s fairly easy to understand. In a short span of time, Fuller bounced, Steve Masiello took the head-coaching job at Manhattan, and Mark Lieberman – who did recruit Webster-Chan – moved from assistant coach to director of basketball operations. Everyone’s hoping for some recruiting life to be breathed back into the program now that the staff of Richard Pitino, Wyking Jones, and Kevin Keatts has been set in place.

As far as the Pitino to Puerto Rico deal is concerned, the pair pretty much parted ways when the NCAA ruled that Pitino couldn’t bring Louisville players down to the island nation with him to scrimmage against the national team. When that determination was made it caused multiple scheduling conflicts for Pitino, who told the federation he couldn’t be committed 100% to the team, and that was essentially that.

Q: Will the Cards miss Jennings other than having him for frontcourt depth?

A: He’ll definitely be missed, but the extent of the longing will depend largely on the offseason development of Dieng and what happens with Woods.

Dieng showed flashes of absolute brilliance as a freshman, and Pitino even said and one point that Gorgui can end up being as good as he wants to be. For whatever reason, though, big men haven’t made great strides from one season to the next during the Pitino era. That could be an issue as Dieng, who is originally from Senegal, still looked undeniably raw at times last year. The good news for U of L fans is that one of Gorgui’s biggest strengths is his willingness to rebound, an area where Jennings consistently struggled.

The big question mark right now is Woods, the former blue chip recruit from Wake Forest who was dismissed from school after pleading guilty to assaulting the mother of his child. Woods claimed in the days following Fuller’s exodus that he was “re-exploring his options,” and we haven’t heard a whole lot out from him since. If he does join the team for the spring semester as expected, he’ll almost certainly have an immediate impact as Price, a top-100 recruit from Louisville Jeffersontown High School, is talented but unlikely to come in and contribute immediately.

Q: How high are your expectations for the backcourt next season? Peyton Siva, Chris Smith, Kyle Kuric and Wayne Blackshear? Not bad.

A: Very high. Siva had a terrific sophomore season, but the exciting thing is that he still hasn’t come close to hitting his ceiling. He had planned on spending some time working out with Chris Paul this summer (thanks to the Tim Fuller connection), but he’ll now reportedly be spending that time with the Nuggets’ J.R. Smith.

J.R.’s little brother, Chris, was perhaps the biggest surprise on the team last year. He led the Big East in three-point shooting for much of the season, and finished the year averaging a hair under 10.0 ppg, something nobody expected from the Manhattan transfer. I think the case can be made that he’s the most valuable walk-on in college basketball.

Kuric, whose dunk over Notre Dame’s Scott Martin was named the best of the year by CBS, looked like a first team All-Big East player during the last six weeks of the season. It took until late in his junior season, but the coaching staff finally got him to become more than just a perimeter player, which is a huge step in his development since his athleticism is off-the-charts.

We knew for certain that Blackshear was meant to be a Cardinal when he started coming down with minor injuries throughout his senior season of high school ball in Chicago. If he can stay healthy, though, Blackshear may have more of an impact than any Louisville freshman has during the Pitino era. The kid is a pure scorer, which is something the Cardinals have lacked the past couple of seasons.

The only question mark in the backcourt is who runs the show when Siva’s on the bench. Pitino turned to senior two-guard Preston Knowles more and more at the point near the end of last season because he felt freshmen Elisha Justice and Russ Smith couldn’t be trusted. One of those two will need to step up significantly between now and the start of the season to earn the title of reliable backup.

Q: Pitino talked a little bit about retiring after the Morehead State loss. I chalk that up to a tough loss, but it is a question that’ll come up more often, right? How much longer do you see him in Louisville given he’s been there as long as he was at Kentucky and Providence combined.

A: He’s talked about it after each of the past few seasons, which has left a lot of us wondering why. Pitino has to know that talking about not wanting to coach anymore can only have a negative effect in terms of recruiting and national perception, so it’s beyond me why he continues to go there during national interviews.

I think the consensus among most Louisville fans is that he’s sort of been looking at the next handful of seasons as his last shot at a second national title. If it comes this year, next year, or in three years, then I think he’s done immediately after. It might actually only take a Final Four for him to hang it up. By all indications, Pitino seems perturbed by the new world of recruiting and the modern game, so if he doesn’t taste major success over the next two or three seasons I’d still be surprised if he hung around here any longer.

In hindsight, the expectations Louisville folks had for Pitino when he came here 10 years ago were unrealistic. We expected him to do exactly what he did at Kentucky, and because that hasn’t happened yet, some deem the Pitino era as it stands to be a disappointment. But people forget that this was a program near its lowest point and heading even further south when Pitino took over.

U of L won 12 games in Denny Crum’s final season, and Pitino inherited a roster that would have struggled to win the MEAC. If AD Tom Jurich had made the wrong hire in that situation (it was widely rumored that Jurich’s second choice was Larry Eustachy), there’s a decent chance that we’re DePaul right now, or have at least gone through a DePaul-esque period between then and now. In that light, a Final Four and a pair of Elite Eights over a decade doesn’t look too bad. Pitino’s earned the right to choose when to hang it up, however near or far that time may be.

Q: I can only imagine how much the Kentucky fans would’ve loved the idea of Eustachy. When Pitino does retire, do you the idea of a coach in waiting, or would prefer a big name coming in – knowing that Louisville could face the same issue Maryland just did. Louisville’s a great job but could it pry away any coach out there?

A: When the whole “Richard Pitino as coach in waiting” rumor broke out, I had a source close to Jurich tell me that “we’ll never have a coach in waiting,” and I think that’s accurate. While I don’t think Jurich will be able to get whoever he wants, I do think that the Louisville job is one of the most elite in the game. In an era where the turnover rate for coaches is higher than it’s ever been, U of L has had exactly two head coaches in 40 years, and both of them are hall-of-famers.

While I’m not naive enough to think that Coach K would leave Duke or Roy Williams would leave UNC, or even that a guy like Jay Wright would leave Villanova, I do think the Louisville job still holds a certain prestige and that a big name will be brought in whenever Pitino decides to call it a career here.

Q: Has the KFC Yum! Center landed a nickname yet? And how much do people love that place? It looks impressive.

A: Please don’t use the exclamation point. It haunts and taunts (rhyme) all of us.

I think most people are still just calling it “The Yum.” Sorry. We use all our creativity on Derby-related endeavors. Rivals like to call it “The Chicken Shack” or other variations, but all the attempts so far have been just as lame as the name itself.

There’s no doubt that the Yum Center is among the nicest in all of college basketball. As Pitino likes to say: we have a college team playing in an NBA arena. Still, it definitely took some getting used to for a lot of the folks, especially the ones with seats in the upper level where the view isn’t nearly as good as it was inside Freedom Hall.

Freedom Hall was the cute girl with the great family who made being in a serious relationship unbelievably easy. The Yum Center is unfathomably hot and your friends are all very impressed, but she shops a bit too much and you have the sneaking suspicion that being married to her might not be as sexy as it appears to the outside world. Still, the benefits of the relationship are pretty self-explanatory.

I think the biggest factor in getting people to accept The Yum relatively quickly was the amount of success the team had their in its first season. Louisville was undefeated at home in Big East play, and Cards fans were treated to some absolute classics (Marquette comeback) in the arena’s first year.

Q: Favorite Cardinal of the Pitino era?

A: Preston Knowles. You just don’t see stories anymore like his in big-time college basketball.

Knowles is a Kentucky kid who was a two-star recruit with one other college offer (VCU) coming out of high school. Then that May he gets a chance to play in a pick-up game with some current Louisville players who report to Pitino that this kid might be worth a scholarship. He earns playing time almost immediately because of the insane effort he gives on the defensive end and becomes a fan favorite. And then he ends his college career as the leading scorer and undisputed captain of a Louisville team which spent a large chunk of the season ranked in the top 15 nationally.

Q: How’d you get into blogging and how much longer do you anticipate doing this? And randomly, a lot of bloggers I’ve met are lawyers. Is there something to that?

A: I got into blogging about five years ago because I was bored and was preparing myself for some form of a writing career. Then I got out of college and realized quickly that no one is willing to pay you for written words anymore unless those words are telling a tale of vampire romance. I plan on continuing to do this as long as people are reading…and then probably a little while longer after that.

As far as lawyers who blog, my guess is the numbers are so high because they tell you that your only other free-time alternatives are alcoholism and suicide. Seriously kids, if you want to go to law school, brace yourself for hours upon hours of suicide, depression, and alcoholism discussions. Legally Blonde is incredibly misleading.

More of Mike’s writing can be found at Card Chronicle, or follow him on Twitter.

You can follow Mike Miller on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

AP Poll: Baylor remains No. 1 in week with few changes at the top

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Here is the latest college basketball AP Poll.

For those interested, here is the NBC Sports Top 25.

Baylor is No. 1 for a second straight week in a college basketball AP poll that had no major changes at the top, a rare bit of stability in a wildly unpredictable season.

The Bears stayed well ahead of No. 2 Gonzaga in Monday’s poll, part of an unchanged top seven for the first time this season. In fact, the only change in the top 10 came with Villanova moving up a spot to No. 8 to swap positions with No. 9 Duke. That comes in a season that has seen seven different teams reach No. 1 this season, matching a record set during the 1982-83 season.

Baylor (17-1) hopped over Gonzaga last week to reach No. 1 for the second time in program history, then earned 44 of 64 first-place votes to keep a firm hold on the top spot after beating Oklahoma and Florida last week.

The Zags earned 19 first-place votes to remain either No. 1 or No. 2 in the poll since the middle of December, followed by Kansas, San Diego State — the last unbeaten team in Division I — and Florida State.

Louisville, Dayton, Villanova, Duke and Seton Hall rounded out the top 10.

No. 22 LSU, No. 23 Wichita State and No. 24 Penn State were the week’s new additions, re-entering the poll after appearances earlier this season. Texas Tech, Memphis and Arizona fell out of the rankings.

Here is the full college basketball AP Poll:

1. Baylor (44 first-place votes)
2. Gonzaga (19)
3. Kansas (1)
4. San Diego State
5. Florida State
6. Louisville
7. Dayton
8. Villanova
9. Duke
10. Seton Hall
11. Oregon
12. West Virginia
13. Kentucky
14. Michigan State
15. Maryland
16. Butler
17. Auburn
18. Iowa
19. Illinois
20. Colorado
21. Houston
22. LSU
23. Wichita State
24. Penn State
25. Rutgers

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More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25

___

Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/aaronbeardap

ACC fines Brey for his officiating comments

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) The Atlantic Coast Conference has fined Notre Dame $20,000 and publicly reprimanded Fighting Irish basketball coach Mike Brey for his comments about officiating after Saturday’s loss at Florida State.

The league announced the penalties Monday, saying Brey’s comments “were in direct violation” of the league’s sportsmanship policy that states that public criticism of officiating “is not in the best interest of intercollegiate athletics.”

Brey referenced several issues after the 85-84 loss to the Seminoles, including a technical foul called on the Irish bench with 2:31 left. He also mentioned game official John Gaffney by name as he left the news conference in Tallahassee.

“We’re treated by the officials like we haven’t brought football as a full member (to the league), but yet we get a full share of the ACC Network TV, are you kidding me?” Brey said, a reference to Notre Dame’s independence in football even as it remains a member of all other league sports.

Moments later, a frustrated Brey waved both hands as he got up to leave and continued his comments as he left the room.

“You’ve got to be kidding me, man,” Brey said, raising his voice. “Come on, man. We’re in the league, too.”

The league said in a news release that the matter is closed and declined to make additional comment. The fine will go toward an ACC scholarship fund that assists athletes with pursuing graduate degrees after completing undergraduate requirements.

More AP college basketball: http://apnews.com/Collegebasketball and http://www.twitter.com/AP-Top25

Monday Overreactions: Ayo Dosunmu, Maryland and Nick Richards’ takeoer

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PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Ayo Dosunmu, Illinois

Ayo Dosunmu did it again.

Illinois’ sophomore star and leading scorer finished with 27 points, none of which were bigger than the final shot of the game as Dosunmu hit a foul line jumper over Zavier Simpson with 0.5 seconds left on the clock to beat Michigan in Ann Arbor:

It’s the sixth straight win for the Illini, who have climbed all the way up to No. 21 in the AP poll, and no one has been more influential in that run than Dosunmu. He’s averaging 19.0 points and 5.4 assists over the last five games, and in a conference where winning road games is notoriously difficult, the Illini have won at Wisconsin, at Purdue and at Michigan during that stretch.

TEAM OF THE WEEK: Maryland Terrapins

No team in the country has elicited a louder chorus of doubters throughout the course of the season than Maryland.

The Terps were a top ten team in the preseason, and spent the entire season ranked inside the top 20 of the AP poll and currently sit at No. 10 in KenPom’s rankings. But because of some uninspiring performances early in the season, combined with the fact that the Terps had entered the week with an 0-4 record on the road, it was easy to overlook this group as nothing more than another fraudulent Mark Turgeon roster.

This week, the narrative changed. The Terps erased a 14 point deficit on the road to knock off Northwester, 77-66, in Chicago and then followed that up by going on a 7-0 run in the final two minutes to land a 77-76 win at Indiana.

Suddenly, the Terps are on a three game winning streak with back-to-back home games coming up next.

MONDAY’S OVERREACTIONS

1. NICK RICHARDS IS THE SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR

Richards has been one of the most improved players in the country this season, but Saturday was really the first time that we saw him completely take over a game.

He finished with 25 points, 14 boards and four blocks in the 76-74 overtime win at Texas Tech, scoring the game-winning points with 10 seconds left.

This is notable, because if you look at Kentucky’s biggest wins of the season to date, they all happened to be a result of one of Hagans or Maxey going absolutely nuts. Maxey had 27 in the win over Michigan State. He had 26  against Louisville. Hagans went for 21 points, seven boards and seven assists against Georgia Tech. He had 13 points, six boards and six assists at Arkansas and 15 points, nine boards and nine assists against Alabama.

Point being, this is the first time that Richards has definitively been the best player on the floor while carrying Kentucky to a win like this on the road.

I also get it: He completely overwhelmed Texas Tech’s frontline — which, frankly, is not a new occurrence, if you have seen the Red Raiders play this season. But we’ve seen Richards play against frontlines he should dominate and, well, not dominate.

As it stands, he’s now the leading scorer and rebounder for the Wildcats. He’s probably the leader in the clubhouse for SEC Player of the Year, and very much in the mix for an all-american team.

2. TEXAS TECH HAS A SIGNIFICANT AMOUNT OF WORK TO DO TO GET TO THE TOURNAMENT

I’m not sure people realize just how little there is on Texas Tech’s resume right now. They beat Louisville (11) on a neutral court. They beat Iowa State (70) at home. They beat Oklahoma State (83) at home. They won at Kansas State (89). Combined, that’s one Quad 1, two Quad 2 and a Quad 3 win. They have eight wins against sub-200 teams and have lost to seven Quad 1 opponents, including Kentucky (23) at home on Saturday. The Red Raiders will have plenty of chances to build on their profile — they get West Virginia (7) at home and play at Kansas (3) next week alone — but there is no doubt that this team has to start winning some games against teams that are not horrific.

As it stands, the Red Raiders are the very last team in the most recent NBC Sports bracket projection.

3. THE BIG TEN IS GOING TO DISAPPOINT IN MARCH

The biggest reason that I believe this is the lack of elite point guard play. I’ve made this point roughly 18,000 times by now, but in the last decade, the only team that won the national title without having two lead guards playing together was the 2012 Kentucky team that had the top two picks playing together.

And the thing about this year’s Big Ten is that the lead guard play is not great. Cassius Winston, when he’s right, is the best in the country. Ayo Dosunmu, the way he’s been playing for the last month, is right there with him. Anthony Cowan is, in theory, on that list. Zavier Simpson? Maybe. Marcus Carr? At times.

I think that’s it.

So that’s a concern.

As is the fact that every team in the Big Ten is built around their frontcourt play.

I was struck over the weekend as I watch Michigan and Illinois down the stretch play with four centers on the floor — Kofi Cockburn and Giorgi Bezhanishvili for the Illini and Jon Teske and Austin Davis for the Wolverines. Iowa is at their best when they play with Luka Garza and Ryan Kriener. Tom Izzo loves to play Xavier Tillman with another big man. I could keep going if I had the time.

That is the only league in the country where that happens, and I think it is fair to wonder how well that will hold up in March.

4. ARIZONA IS NOT FAR AWAY FROM BEING REALLY DANGEROUS

More than anyone else in college basketball, the Wildcats are the team that appear to be the darling of the predictive metrics this season.

(I would say Ohio State, but they spent the first half of the season absolutely bludgeoning really good teams and still don’t have a loss to a team outside the top 40.)

They have one win against a top 30 team and just two wins against top 55 opponents. Their best win away from home is against Wake Forest, yet the Wildcats, at 13-6 overall, find themselves sitting at 10th in KenPom and 12th in the NET. This is what happens when you find a way to lose games close. Five fo their six losses came by five points or less, and it hasn’t always been the same formula. Arizona erased leads to land backdoor covers against Baylor, Gonzaga and Saint John’s. They blew leads on the road in league play in losses to Oregon and Arizona State. They completely collapsed in the second half against Oregon State.

So I’m not sure there is a clear-cut answer to what ails the Wildcats right now.

But I do know that with the talent on their roster, they are not as far away from being an actual top ten team as the average Arizona fan on twitter will have you believe.

5. IS SYRACUSE THE FOURTH-BEST TEAM IN THE ACC?

Someone has to be the fourth-best team in the ACC, and as far as league standings go, the Orange currently qualify. They are 6-3 in the conference, having won their last five games, and they have fully embraced the idea that this roster needs to fire up as many threes as possible to have a chance to win.

That said, they still haven’t beaten anyone. Their best win came at Virginia in overtime, but Virginia may not be a tournament team this season. The trouble is that the Orange only get the other top teams in the conference — Duke, N.C. State, Florida State and Louisville — once each.

They probably need to win at least two of those games to have a real shot at a tournament bid.

Bracketology: Baylor strengthens its grip on the No. 1 overall seed

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Here is the latest NCAA tournament bracketology projection.

Baylor continues to strengthen its grip on the No. 1 overall seed.  The Bears won their fifth true road game (5-0 in opportunities) of the season at Florida on Saturday.  They are No. 1 in the NCAA’s NET ratings, 6-1 in Quadrant 1 games and 10-1 against Quadrant 1 and 2 opponents combined.  Baylor hasn’t lost since November 8, a nearly two-month stretch of perfection.

Elsewhere, the top line remains in tact.  There’s room for debate across lines two through four. It’ll be interesting to see how the Selection Committee views the profiles of teams like Florida State, Louisville and Duke in the weeks ahead.  Unless something changes, there will be fewer Quad 1 opportunities in this year’s Atlantic Coast Conference.

Tracking the Bubble is going to keep you busy.  It’s several lines deep into the bracket today.  The margins between a nine seed and an 11-seeded play-in team are minimal.  And that’s not factoring in the next 8-12 teams knocking on the door.

The latest look at where our NCAA tournament bracketology projection stands …

UPDATED: January 27, 2020

FIRST FOUR – DAYTON
MIDWEST REGION NC State vs. Arizona State
SOUTH REGION VCU vs. Texas Tech
SOUTH REGION  ROBERT MORRIS vs. NORFOLK ST
MIDWEST REGION MONMOUTH vs. PR VIEW A&M

SOUTH Houston WEST – Los Angeles                         
Omaha Spokane
1) BAYLOR 1) GONZAGA
16) ROB MORRIS / NORFOLK ST 16) NORTHERN COLORADO
8) Wichita State 8) USC
9) Saint Mary’s 9) Oklahoma 
Sacramento Tampa
5) Penn State 5) LSU
12) YALE 12) AKRON
4) Kentucky 4) West Virginia
13) NEW MEXICO ST 13) S.F. AUSTIN
Cleveland Albany
6) Marquette 6) Colorado
11) VCU / Texas Tech 11) BYU
3) MICHIGAN STATE 3) Villanova
14) NORTH TEXAS 14) COLGATE
Tampa Spokane
7) Indiana 7) Wisconsin
10) Saint John’s 10) Memphis
2) Florida State 2) OREGON
15) AUSTIN PEAY 15) SOUTH DAKOTA ST
EAST – New York MIDWEST – Indianapolis
Sacramento Omaha
1) SAN DIEGO STATE 1) Kansas
16) UC-IRVINE 16) MONMOUTH / PV A&M
8) Ohio State 8) HOUSTON
9) Florida 9) Arkansas
Greensboro St. Louis
5) Butler 5) Creighton
12) EAST TENNESSEE ST 12) NORTHERN IOWA
4) Maryland 4) Iowa
13) VERMONT 13) LIBERTY
Greensboro Cleveland
6) Auburn 6) Illinois
11) DePaul 11) NC State / Arizona St
3) Duke 3) DAYTON
14) WRIGHT STATE 14) LITTLE ROCK
Albany St. Louis
7) Rutgers 7) Arizona
10) Stanford 10) Michigan
2) SETON HALL 2) LOUISVILLE
15) WILLIAM & MARY 15) WINTHROP

BUBBLE NOTES
Last 4 Byes Last 4 IN      First 4 OUT Next 4 OUT
Michigan Arizona State Rhode Island Purdue
BYU NC State Virginia Tech Tennessee
Saint John’s VCU Richmond Xavier
DePaul Texas Tech Minnesota Georgetown

Top Seed Line
Baylor, Gonzaga, Kansas, San Diego State
Seed List

Breakdown by Conference …
Big Ten (10)
Big East (7)
Pac 12 (6)
SEC (5)
Big 12 (5)

ACC (4)
American (3)

West Coast (3)
Atlantic 10 (2)
Mountain West (1)

College Basketball Top 25 Power Rankings: Baylor, Gonzaga lead the way

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A new college basketball top 25 is now live.

I sat down at my laptop to write out a column about why I ranked certain teams in certain spots and, to be perfectly honest, I couldn’t find a way to give a damn.

As I’m sure you all know, Kobe Bryant died today. He was in a helicopter along with eight other people, including his daughter, Gianna, and her teammate, Alyssa Altobelli along with her mom, Keri, and dad, John. They were on the way to play in a travel team game. At least two, and certainly more, families were gutted, and while we are going to be talking about Kobe for the most part, I do think that should be emphasized.

Nine people died on that helicopter. Nine.

I’ve been thinking a lot today about why so many folks — like myself — spent Sunday completely torn up about the death of a person that we never met, a person that may or may not be deserving of the outpouring of love and adoration coming his way. What I came up with is this: The true heartbreak in this story is that Kobe was on the plane with one of his four daughters, the one he has spent the last couple of years proudly and publicly developing into a full-blown middle-aged sports dad with. It was awesome to see. This was not how their story was supposed to end.

Kobe and his wife also have three other daughters: a 17-year old along with a three year old and a newborn that is just seven months old. The Altobellis left a family behind, too, and what that family is going through is crushing as well, but I can’t stop thinking about what Vanessa, his wife, is going to be forced to deal with. She’s post-partum, with one daughter that will never know her father, and now has to cope with the loss of her husband and the loss of a child while trying to keep that 17-year old sane and explain to a three-year old why daddy and her big sister are never coming home.

That’s unfathomable to me.

But the reason I think this hit me so hard is that I keep putting myself in that helicopter. As a parent, the only goal in your life is keep your kids safe and happy. At any cost. It’s that simple. How do you deal with being on a helicopter with your child — and, for the Altobellis, with your spouse — knowing that something has gone wrong? Knowing what’s going to happen? Knowing the inevitability of your situation? Knowing that there’s nothing you can do to stop it, to keep your baby safe?

I don’t think that I’m alone there.

So I spent as much time as I could today playing with my kids, because arguing about ranking college basketball top 25 teams has never seemed dumber.

We can yell at each other next week.

Anyway, here is the rest of the NBC Sports college basketball top 25.



1. BAYLOR (17-1, Last Week: 1)
2. GONZAGA (21-1, 2)
3. KANSAS (16-3, 3)
4. FLORIDA STATE (17-2, 4)
5. LOUISVILLE (17-3, 5)
6. SETON HALL (15-4, 6)
7. DUKE (17-3, 7)
8. SAN DIEGO STATE (21-0, 8)
9. DAYTON (18-2, 9)
10. OREGON (17-4, 13)
11. KENTUCKY (16-5, 14)
12. WEST VIRGINIA (16-3, 15)
13. VILLANOVA (16-3, 17)
14. ILLINOIS (15-5, 24)
15. AUBURN (17-2, 12)
16. MICHIGAN STATE (16-3, 10)
17. IOWA (14-5, 18)
18. MARYLAND (16-4, 23)
19. HOUSTON (16-4, 20)
20. BUTLER (16-4, 11)
21. CREIGHTON (16-5, 25)
22. COLORADO (16-4, NR)
23. PENN STATE (14-5, NR)
24. RUTGERS (15-5, NR)
25. ARIZONA (13-6, 19)

NEW ADDITIONS: No. 22 Colorado, No. 23 Penn State, No. 24 Rutgers
DROPPED OUT: No. 16 Texas Tech, No. 21 Memphis, No. 22 Michigan