Blogger Spotlight: Hoops fundamentals with The Mikan Drill

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Words sometimes just aren’t enough for college hoops. Sure, you read everything out there, but sometimes you need a play detailed down to every pass, dribble and motion.

That’s where The Mikan Drill comes in.

Josh Riddell’s blog breaks down the game through embedded videos and photos and always turns up an insight or two. It’s fantastic for people like me who are always chasing down just how a team pulled off a play or a win and is perfect for fans who just want to learn more about the game.

So how’s he do it? Glad you asked. I did in the latest Blogger Spotlight

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Q: OK, I gotta start with the name. Are you a DePaul student or grad, or was George Mikan simply one of the first to use video replay breakdowns? I doubt his were as detailed as yours though …

A: I set out to start a full time blog before the 2010-11 season and I did not really have a purpose or subject I felt passionate about. The initial name of my blog was The Legend of Randolph Childress, as seen in the blog url.I am actually a Wake Forest graduate and set out to write mainly about Wake Forest. It was the off-season, so news was slow and it was still too early to write a season preview yet.

I decided to pull up the NCAA Vault and subject myself to watching one of Wake’s recent tournament losses, their 2004 Sweet Sixteen loss to St. Joe’s. I wanted to write how Wake Forest failed to get the ball to Eric Williams in the second half, which is part of the reason they lost. Instead of just writing that, I wanted to show readers, so I came up with this post, which is admittedly bad.

I realized that there was not really any blog out there that showed this kind of analysis on a nightly basis. I always liked reading game recaps and analysis but I always felt a desire to be shown what the author was saying instead of just taking it at face value. I wanted the blog to be about the fundamentals of basketball and why plays did or did not work. In my mind, it doesn’t get any more fundamental than the Mikan Drill, which is where I got the name.

Q: As hoops sites go, yours is invaluable. The essential breakdowns of offense and set plays through video and pictures is fantastic. What’s your feedback been like? Do you have any metrics about your audience?

A: The site does fairly well. I think one of the reasons that there wasn’t a blog like mine before was that people were not really interested in reading about the X’s and O’s, especially if it wasn’t about a team they like or a game they saw. My mission is to change that and get people thinking more critically about the game as they watch it. Like you said, it’s one thing to describe a play, it’s another thing to let the reader see what you are talking about. If I can show something about a team (like how the defend the pick and roll one game), I hope readers can take that info and see how it stayed the same or changed to the next game.

Q: I’d guess the pop you got during last year’s NCAA tournament from Luke Winn’s blog must’ve helped too. What’s the site’s future hold? What’s the ideal situation for you?

A:  I’m not really sure what the future holds. I did a couple projects that helped the readership (Winn’s tourney blog, KenPom’s coaching resume database) and have a few freelance opportunities for this season for some cool new sites, so you will see my work a few different places. I also have some new ideas for my own site this year and hope to be able to continue to provide nightly coverage of the X’s and O’s of college basketball.

Q: Give me a hint to the new ideas. C’mon, just a teaser.

A: Ha ha, I wasn’t trying to hide anything from you. I just am not sure I will be able to get all the video I want to make the posts happen. I don’t have access to Synergy Sport Technology, so it can be difficult to find tape sometimes.

The main thing I want to focus on this year is a bigger picture view of teams and players and how they play from game to game. Last year I focused on things that happened in a single game, while this year I hope to show how teams are changing (or not changing) from game to game. I will still be posting on what happens in single games, such as set plays/inbounds plays/end of game situations, etc but I hope to move beyond that and show how teams are changing or how they are staying the same. It does depend on the video I can get, which is why I can’t make promises at this point.

Q: Any conferences you tend to focus on more? Or is simply what interests you and what’s available?

A: I would say the conferences I focused on the most last season were the Big East and the ACC, mainly because they are on ESPN the most. However, I do like to cover all conferences so you will see plenty of mid-major and low-major focus this season. On a Saturday when there are 5 games broadcast at one time, I usually try to pick one game and watch it closely, instead of having 4 games that I am all paying partial attention to at the same time. While this lead me toward major conferences more, I do try to make time for the smaller conferences and try to focus on the teams near the top of these conferences that I think will make the NCAA tournament. Hopefully this will give readers a sense of how they actually play, so they can get a look at the team outside of just their stats.

From there, I try to find games that I didn’t watch that had close finishes and watch the last 5 minutes to see how the final possessions went. This often leads to some good material, as we can see what teams are made of in crunch time.

 Q: When you review players and teams, what stands out the most? Do you try to review video with an idea of what you’re looking for or do things usually just present themselves?

A: I sometimes have an idea of what I want to watch for going into a game but I often just watch and see how the games play out. I did a few posts on Texas A&M and FSU this past month, so I ended up watching their tournament game around 5 times (it didn’t get any prettier on offense by the 5th watching). Last year during the season, I usually went in with no idea of what I was going to write on and just let the game come to me. For example, for this post about the Pitt – Notre Dame game, we saw Pitt struggle down the stretch with ND’s pick and roll. One of the topics I like to post on is plays that had an impact on the game, which we may not know until the end of the game, such as these pick and roll plays.

Q: Five times? How much time do you typically spend on a post?

A: That was a bit of an outlier. For my offseason posts this summer, I usually watch 3-4 games two times each. So for the Khyle Marshall scouting report, I watched the UConn, VCU, Florida and Wisconsin game. I think I watched the Wisconsin and VCU game once and the UConn and Florida game twice. During the season, I try to get post up the night of the game or early morning the day after, so I usually don’t watch those games more than once.

Q: It’s that time of year where everyone makes predictions. Give me a national title pick, a sleeper team and the player you love to watch.

A: I feel that with the strength of college basketball this season, the NCAA tournament is going to be insanely tough to win, which is why it is insanely tough for me to pick a team that will win 6 (or 7) games in a row. That said, it is hard to pick against UNC, as much as it pains me to say it as a Wake grad. They have all the components of a national title contender: a strong point guard in Kendall Marshall, a great defense (#6 in defensive efficiency last season), solid rebounders in Tyler Zeller and John Henson and star in Harrison Barnes.

I want to pick FSU as my sleeper team but I do not want to make this too ACC-centric so I will choose Creighton. Each year, a mid-major team makes a deep run in the NCAA tournament and Creighton is the logical preseason pick for that mid major team this year. I think they will be in the top 25 almost all season and will surprise some people come March. Doug McDermott is a great player and one I hope to check out several times this season.

The most interesting story for me going into the first month of the season is what style Mark Turgeon will play at Maryland and how that will affect the team, especially Terrell Stoglin. The ACC is wide open after UNC, Duke and FSU and any number of teams could emerge from that pack. The loss of Pe’shon Howard is big and Maryland still has to rely on getting Alex Len eligible but Maryland could be one of those teams depending on how Turgeon coaches the team. I have talked at length at how Turgeon’s slow pace may affect Terrell Stoglin so it will be interesting to see how that dynamic plays out. Turgeon already puts an emphasis on defensive rebounding, so a lack of a big man may not hurt them that much, at least in that sense. Combine this with the lack of depth that Maryland has and it is looking more and more like Turgeon will have Maryland playing at a slow pace. The question is, will Stoglin regress from his freshman year or will he learn to thrive in a half-court offense?

I could go on and on about players I love to watch: Jae Crowder, Travis McKie or Aaron Craft but if I had to pick one player to watch, based on his fundamentals, it would have to be Ashton Gibbs. He amazes me how he can run his defenders off screens and get open despite his average speed, height and athleticism. He is the perfect example of how to use screens to your advantage to create space. He is such a joy to watch.

You can read more of Josh’s work at The Mikan Drill and follow him on Twitter @TheMikanDrill.

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.