Ten great things to look forward to this hoops season

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Conference realignment, coaches caught up in a Ponzi Scheme, and stories about conditioning.

Something tells me you’re bored by all that, and ready for one of the most anticipated college basketball seasons in a decade. Whether you’re an ardent fan that’s eagerly awaiting story lines to play out or an NBA fan hoping to be entertained, there’s plenty to look forward to from November to March.

Looking at the national landscape, I’ll weasel my way back over to Beyond the Arc by providing the 10 things I’m most looking forward to for the 2011-2012 college basketball season.

The Game Played on a Boat

SNL Digital Short references aside, college basketball will take center stage on November 11th as North Carolina tips off against Michigan State in the Carrier Classic. It will be the first marquee game this season, and the first time a ship (in ocean water, no less) hosts a sporting event since the last volleyball match your father participated in during his recent Caribbean vacation.

Even better is that basketball aficionado President Barack Obama will be in attendance, and it will be held on the USS Carl Vinson, the aircraft carrier that carried Osama bin Laden’s dead body to a burial at sea.

If that’s not enough, the Spartans and Tar Heels will don one-of-a-kind monochrome army fatigue uniforms that will either hurt your eyes or have you begging for this game to be played every season.

December 3, 2011

On this first Saturday of December, the NBA season tips-off!

Errr…sort of.

Unquestionably, the most anticipated inter-conference battle this season is between North Carolina and Kentucky, featuring more than 10 future pros, a half-dozen or so lottery picks and a few players who could become perennial all-stars at the next level. Naturally, this could serve as a preview of a Final Four or National Championship match-up

If you can’t get excited about these types of match-ups, then you’re not a fan.

The Year of Thomas Robinson

He averaged only 8 and 6 in 14 minutes a game last season, but with the Morris Twins moving on the time is now for junior Thomas Robinson to flex his enormous biceps and live up to all the pre-season fanfare he’s receiving.

I’m thinking the guys over at CBS Sports put a lot of stock into Robinson’s pace-adjusted numbers from a year ago when they named Robinson to their preseason first team All-American. Regardless of the lofty expectations, it will at the very least be fun to see the high-energy forward to see plenty of court time in Lawrence.

The Battle for First Place in the ACC

Until new members Syracuse and Pittsburgh join the conference, it will likely be only the usual two suspects competing for conference supremacy. While North Carolina is unquestionably the favorites, Duke is not far behind, and I’m not convinced that the Blue Devils won’t be in contention for the regular season title when the two teams meet at Cameron Indoor Stadium on March 3rd.

My guess is that, head-to-head, it comes down to the Heels’ frontcourt vs. the Devils’ backcourt, and which batch of players produces more.

The Battle for Last Place in the ACC

Equally as intriguing for all the wrong reasons is the three horse race between Boston College, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest for last place in the ACC. The jockeying will be intense.

So who will prevail: Steve Donahue’s nine freshman you’ve never heard of, Jeff Bzdelik’s club that was 11th in the ACC in both offensive and defensive averages last season, or first year head coach Brian Gregory whose starting point guard had more turnovers than assists last season?

The impending intriguing is palpable.

The Ascent of Andre Drummond

By all accounts and a few Google searches from me, the non-recruitnik, Jim Calhoun’s prized freshman is man-child who immediately puts the Huskies in contention to repeat as national champions. His frame and athleticism will remind you of Greg Oden, and the national media will remind you of how he was able to secure a scholarship through the “goodwill” of a Husky role player.

Despite being a freshman with plenty of talent around him, Drummond’s game and demeanor will be under much scrutiny all season. How he responds will be very intriguing.

The Redemption of Renardo Sidney

OK, like, for real this time. Let’s get this kid some run! The Sidney Soap Opera continues this season with plenty of alternate endings awaiting us. A fringe NCAA Tournament team, Sidney – who spent the summer training in Houston with John Lucas – can make or break the Bulldogs season. He’s slimmed down to look like less of a dough boy and allegedly policed himself to keep that weight in check so he can play a full college basketball season. With a promising freshman class and 6’11” UTEP transfer Arnett Moultrie ready to step in and contribute immediately (h/t) @sc101071), there is plenty of opportunity for  Sidney to squash many of the preconceived notions that have dogged him for the past two years and help lead the Bulldogs to a successful season.

Smaht Kids Goin Dancin’

Something special could be happening in Cambridge, Massachusetts. No, not the next big thing, but rather the likelihood that the Harvard Crimson basketball team will reach the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1946. Ever so close last season, Keith Wright and Oliver McNally are back to right last season’s wrong. Wright is probably the toughest player to guard in the Ivy League and, assuming they are one of the 68-teams admitted to the dance, will most certainly be capable to helping Harvard pull off the upset of some vulnerable four-seed.

Ratings, Share, and Our Favorite Sport

Don’t believe the rumblings, the NBA’s players and owners are not going to resolve their contentious labor negotiations any time soon. If you’re looking for a hoops game on TV this winter, you’re likely going to land on one of the college brand.

With more talent amongst the major conferences than a season before and more familiar faces opting to stay on campus for another season, college basketball is perfectly set up for a magical season that will garner national attention and create discussion on airwaves and 2.0 sports websites before Selection Sunday.

It will be fascinating to track the “No Pro Effect,” and the ratings boost it should give nationally televised college games.

Cal’s Cats Winning a National Championship

Yes, Kentucky Wildcat blog bots and spiders, you can post a link to this article exclaiming that I believe your beloved team will win the 2012 National Championship. Go ahead, point 100,000 unique visitors to Beyond the Arc for me. I’d really appreciate it.

While it may be a shortcut to earning page views, UK will cut down the nets in New Orleans to conclude year three of the John Calipari Experiment. It certainly won’t be a cakewalk, but an elite freshman class combined with a returning future pro and a handful of other nice wing men means the most fanatic fans in college basketball will spend the entire month of April and then some drinking rye whiskey to their team’s first national championship since 1998.

Order will have been restored, but please, Wildcat fans, just be sure to enjoy the ride.

Nick Fasulo is the editor of Searching for Billy Edelin. Follow him on Twitter @billyedelinSBN.

Kansas and Kansas State end rivalry game in fight

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Kansas and Kansas State erupted into a fight on Tuesday night.

The Jayhawks were closing out an 81-60 Big 12 home win over their in-state rivals. Things got heated when the buzzer sounded.

Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa threw a punch and picked up a chair during the chaos. It’s difficult to pinpoint specific things from there. Police, security and team personnel stepped in to clear up the melee.

It’s one of the uglier incidents in recent memory for the heated Kansas state rivalry.

It’s been a wild night in college basketball. Illinois’ Alan Griffin stepped on Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic and was ejected. This is yet another bad incident that doesn’t involve basketball.

We’re definitely going to see suspensions out of this Kansas and Kansas State fight. It will depend on what the Big 12 is able to see during its investigation. The conference will try to track down as much evidence as possible to see how this started and who instigated things further.

Kansas and Kansas State have some recent history during this rivalry. Bill Self and Kansas forward Jamari Traylor had a difficult time with a court storm after Kansas State won on its home floor five years ago. But that was more of a student-related incident instead of the two teams starting a fight.

No. 3 Kansas improves to 15-3 overall and 5-1 in the Big 12 with the win. Christian Braun paced the Jayhawks with 20 points. Devon Dotson added 18 points while Udoka Azubuike had a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds.

A clearly-frustrated Kansas State dropped to 8-10 and 1-5 in the Big 12 as the rebuilding season continues.

These two teams will meet again in the Octagon of Doom on Feb. 29. The fight in the first matchup will be something to monitor as Kansas could still be fighting for a Big 12 title or No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Illinois’ Alan Griffin ejected for stepping on Purdue player

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Referees ejected Illinois’ Alan Griffin for stepping on Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic on Tuesday night. The Boilermakers were hosting No. 24 Illinois in a heated Big Ten clash. The ejection happened midway through the first half when Griffin intentionally stepped on Stefanovic.

Griffin turned to run back on defense and clearly stepped on Stefanovic while he was on the ground. Attacking the basket and not getting a call, Stefanovic was on the ground when Griffin stepped on his chest.

Before the ejection, Griffin was scoreless.

A 6-foot-5 sophomore, Griffin is a key reserve during Illinois’ resurgent season. Playing 17.9 minutes per game, Griffin is an adequate three-pointer shooter and good rebounder from the wing.

Potentially facing a suspension for his actions, Griffin’s potential absence is something to monitor.

Following an important Big Ten road win for No. 24 Illinois, head coach Brad Underwood spoke out against Griffin’s actions.

 

Walter McCarty dismissed as Evansville head coach

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Walter McCarty was fired as Evansville’s head coach on Tuesday night.

The school officially announced the decision after additional reports of alleged misconduct. On administrative leave since Dec. 26, McCarty was under investigation for Title IX violations.

Bennie Seltzer will remain interim head coach.

“While the investigation of potential Title IX violations will continue under University policies, UE has decided that, based on the facts uncovered thus far, it is necessary to terminate Mr. McCarty’s employment immediately,” the release said.

“There is no place at UE for any behavior by any University employee or student that jeopardizes the safety and security of others,”

The statement also said McCarty received “warnings last year regarding inappropriate off-court behavior with members of the campus community.”

The 45-year-old McCarty was in his second season with the Purple Aces. After an 11-21 finish in the first season, Evansville had a promising 9-4 start. Evansville made national news when the beat No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena earlier this season.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Powell vs. Pritchard vs. Howard vs. Toppin

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At this point, I do feel like we have reached a point where there is finally a top tier in the College Basketball Player of the Year race.

Myles Powell. Payton Pritchard. Markus Howard. Obi Toppin. That’s the order that I have it in, but there is a strong and legitimate argument for all four to be No. 1 on this list. I wouldn’t call any of them wrong.

This doesn’t mean that the players from outside those ranks cannot win the award — it is so wide open this year, anyone with a couple of big weeks will be in the mix — but as of this moment in time, those are the likely favorites.

Anyway, here is the definitive Player of the Year power rankings:

1. MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

Stats: 22.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 34.9 3PT%

Powell had his best week of the season last week, averaging 29.0 points — including 21.0 points in the second half — as he led the Pirates to a pair of come-from-behind wins at Butler and at Saint John’s. It took Powell a while to get to this point, as he dealt with an ankle injury and a concussion, but there is no questioning the fact that he is the leader and the go-to guy for a Seton Hall team that is currently sitting at No. 10 in the AP poll and in sole possession of first place in the Big East.

And here’s the ironic part in all of this: It took a Powell injury for Seton Hall to really find themselves as a team. They made their leap on Dec. 19th, when the Pirates beat Maryland at home without Powell in the lineup. That’s when the supporting cast found their confidence. That’s when Seton Hall became a team, not just a bunch of guys playing next to Myles Powell.

2. PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon

Stats: 19.5 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.4 rpg, 41.2 3PT%

No one in college basketball has had more, or bigger, moments this season. He scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half and overtime, including 15 in the final five minutes, in a win at Michigan. He had 16 points and six assists in a come-from-behind win against Seton Hall in the Battle 4 Atlantis. He hit a number of big shots late as Oregon knocked off Memphis in November, the only game against a quality opponent that James Wiseman played. Then there was Saturday’s game at Washington, when Pritchard hit a 30-footer to tie the game and force overtime then made a pair of big shots in the extra frame, including this ridiculous game-winner:

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Payton Pritchard called game!!!!!!

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He has carried the Ducks this season. He’s the reason this team is a top ten team.

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

Stats: 28.2 ppg, 2.9 apg, 43.1% 3PT, 9.8 3PAs

The numbers themselves are ridiculous.

Howard is leading the nation in scoring at 28.2 points. He’s shooting better than 43 percent from three on nearly 10 threes attempted per game. He’s doing it while posting a significantly higher offensive rating than Myles Powell and a significantly higher usage rate than Payton Pritchard.

To put his season into context, there is one other high-major player since 1992 that has made better than 42 percent of his threes while shooting more than nine threes per game: J.J. Redick during his college basketball Player of the Year season in 2005-06. Stephen Curry did the same during the 2007-08 season, when he led Davidson to within one shot of the Final Four.

Markus Howard has been the most lethal offensive weapon in college basketball, and if Marquette was a title contender this season, he’s easily be No. 1 on this list.

4. OBI TOPPIN, Dayton

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 35.3% 3PT

What Obi Toppin provides for Dayton cannot be overstated. He’s putting up massive numbers this season, and he’s doing it while being the piece that makes everything Anthony Grant wants to run work so well. The breakdown below explains it all:

The thing that’s tough about placing Toppin on this list is that he is not the go-to guy for Dayton. Jalen Crutcher is going to be the player that takes and makes all of the big shots. See: Kansas, when he forced overtime, and Saint Louis, when he won the game in overtime.

But the reason Dayton is in a position to do things like take Kansas to overtime, get ranked in the top ten and have a shot at winning a national title is because of what Toppin opens up for them every possession other than the final one.

He may not have the moments we all remember, but Dayton is as good as they because of him. That matters.

5. LUKA GARZA, Iowa

Stats: 22.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg

Garza has been relentless this season, and he is absolutely one of the most improved players in the country. The reason that he’s just outside the top four, for me, is because of the defensive side of the ball. I talk through that more in this piece.

6. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

Stats: 18.1 ppg, 6.1 apg, 2.4 rpg

Winston has been really, really good this year. He has not been quite as good as expected — he was the consensus preseason college basketball player of the year — and neither has Michigan State, which hurts him a bit. I think he’ll be back in the mix by the time the season ends, particularly if the Spartans play their way back into being one of the nation’s elite teams.

7. JARED BUTLER, Baylor

Stats: 16.1 ppg, 3.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 38.1% 3PT

It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that the sophomore point guard is the best player on the best team in college basketball. That’s worth something in the Player of the Year race.

8. JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 42.7% 3PT

On the plus side, Louisville once again looks like a team that can win the ACC, get to a Final Four and win a national title now that David Johnson has taken the point guard reins, and Nwora is unquestionably the best player on the roster. On the down side, he really hasn’t shown up in Louisville’s biggest games. That’s a delicate balance.

9. VERNON CAREY, Duke

Stats: 17.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg

Carey looked like a much bigger player in this race before Duke lost two games last week in large part due to the ability to Miami and Louisville to expose Carey on the defensive end of the floor. Coach K has fixed issues like this before. We’ll see what he has up his sleeve this year.

10. MALACHI FLYNN, San Diego State

Stats: 16.5 ppg, 5.0 apg, 3.6 rpg, 40.4% 3PT

Malachi Flynn is the best player, the leader, of the only team in college basketball that remains undefeated. And the reason they are still undefeated is because of him: It was his three that allowed the Aztecs to avoid defeat at the hands of San Jose State back in December.

Three Things To Know: Shaka’s seat heats up, Baylor survives, Virginia doesn’t

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It was a slow night for college hoops on Monday, but there is still plenty to talk about after some weird results.

Here are the three things you need to know:

1. SHAKA’S SEAT IS HEATING UP

The Shaka Smart era at Texas feels like it has hit an inflection point.

On Monday night, the Longhorns went into Morgantown, W.V., and found themselves wishing Country Roads would take them home before the first half came to a close. No. 14 West Virginia, coming off of blowout loss at Kansas State on Saturday, used a 28-2 run over a 10 minute stretch in the first half to turn a 15-13 lead into a 43-15 blowout. They would go on to win 97-59.

The loss dropped Texas to 12-6 on the season and 2-4 in the Big 12. The Longhorns certainly are not out of it just yet — three of their four Big 12 losses came against teams that currently rank in the top six at KenPom — but it’s getting harder and harder to defend the situation that’s brewing in Austin. Texas has now lost four of their last six and five of their last eight. They are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight season and for the third time in four years.

But perhaps the biggest concern is that the Longhorns just don’t seem to be growing as a program. Last year, while Texas ended up missing the tournament, they finished as a top 25 team on KenPom and made a run all the way to the NIT title. It’s worth noting that before the tournament started, they were already a top 30 team on KenPom; their ranking wasn’t skewed by getting hot for three weeks in a tournament no one cares about.

The problem this season is that there has been no progression. Texas has been a program under Shaka that has hung their hat on defense, but this is the worst defensive team he has had in his tenure. That becomes even more of an issue when you factor in that they cannot score. They’re 111th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is what happens when your offense is, essentially, a spread ball-screen into a contested three.

KenPom has Texas favored to win just three more games the rest of the season. They’re projected to finish 17-14 overall and 7-11 in the Big 12.

That’s not good.

2. NO. 1 BAYLOR SURVIVES

It looked like Baylor was going to cruise to a pretty easy win at home against Oklahoma, but the Sooners had other ideas. They hung around long enough in the second half to make things interesting late. Oklahoma hit back-to-back threes in a 40 second span to cut a 59-51 lead to 59-57 with 41 seconds left, and after Baylor couldn’t find a way to score on their next possession, Austin Reaves cut off a 3-on-1 break to flare to the corner and fire up a wide-open, go-ahead three with less than five seconds left.

He missed.

Baylor won.

And No. 1 lived to fight another day.

3. VIRGINIA LOSES AGAIN

The reigning national champions lost for the fourth time in their last five games on Monday night, this time falling at home against N.C. State, 53-51.

Like Oklahoma, Virginia had a shot to win the game at the buzzer, as N.C. State fouled up three and then missed free throws of their own at the other end. But Virginia is the 346th-best three-point shooting team in the country for a reason, and Casey Morsell missed the game-winner as time expired.

At this point, it’s getting harder to see how Virginia is going to find a way to play their way into the NCAA tournament.