College Hoops Teams of the Week: Butler and Arizona

1 Comment

Team of the Week: Butler Bulldogs

How could it not be the Bulldogs? Butler took on the big, bad Indiana Hoosiers in Conseco Fieldhouse in the opening game of the Crossroads Classic and won in overtime, 88-86. Roosevelt Jones led the way with 16 points, 12 boards and seven assists while Rotnei Clarke finished with 19 points and Andrew Smith did the dirty work in the paint, to the tune of 12 points and nine boards. But it was former walk-on Alex Barlow, who coaxed home a runner over Jordy Hulls with 2.5 seconds left on the clock to win it.

The most impressive part of this win wasn’t the fact that Butler was able to pull the upset, because, by now, there shouldn’t be anything that Brad Stevens does that surprises you. What was most impressive was that the Bulldogs were able to pull out the win despite the fact that Jones, Smith and Erik Fromm — also known as three-quarters of their front line — fouled out. Jones and Smith were gone with a couple of minutes left in regulation. And yet, the Bulldogs were able to hang on in regulation and pulled out the win in overtime.

Co-Team of the Week: Arizona Wildcats

The Wildcats had one of the more miraculous comebacks of the weekend, as they knocked off previously undefeated Florida 65-64. They did it by forcing a trio of turnovers in the final minutes and by catching a break as Kenny Boynton missed the front end of a one-and-one. Mark Lyons hit the game-winner.

Florida outplayed the Wildcats for a 90% chunk of this game, but good teams win games in which they don’t play well and capitalize on their opponent’s mistakes. That’s precisely what Sean Miller’s club did. Two important takeaways: a) Arizona’s big men got outplayed, but in beating one of the best teams in the country this season, there is no question they build confidence; and b) Mark Lyons was brought in not because of his playmaking ability, but because he is a veteran, tough-minded kid that has been through a lot  in his career. He was brought in to hit big shots, in other words, and he did just that on Saturday night.

Five teams deserving of a shoutout:

  • Cincinnati: Here’s the thing about the Bearcats: they always seem to get out to a quick start to the season, so the fact that Mick Cronin’s club is 10-0 right now is certainly not a surprise. But neither is the fact that they’re being somewhat slept on a month and a half into the season. This year is different, however. Cincinnati isn’t filling up on pastries; they’ve beaten Oregon, Alabama, Iowa State and won at Marshall. Not exactly a murderer’s row, but that’s much more than we are used to from the Bearcats.
  • Miami: The Hurricanes are now 4-0 with Durand Scott in the lineup, with all four of those wins being of the impressive variety. The latest? A 77-46 drubbing of previously undefeated Charlotte. Scott led the way with 16 points, 12 boards, four assists and four steals.
  • Boise State: The Broncos just keep on winning. The latest, which moved them to 7-2 on the season, came against LSU at home in the form of a 19 point victory. Anthony Drmic led the way with 34 points, but Derrick Marks chipped in 23 points, six boards, and six assists while Ryan Watkins chipped in with 12 points and 17 boards, 10 of which came on the offensive end of the floor.
  • Santa Clara: The Broncos moved to 8-2 on the season — with both of those losses coming in overtime — with a 75-71 win over Pacific on the road on Saturday. Last year, we thought that SCU was going to be able to compete in the WCC, but with Marc Trasolini tearing his ACL and Kevin Foster getting suspended, the Broncos completely collapsed. This season could end up being different, as those two, plus point guard Evan Roquemore, make up one of the most underrated 1-2-3 punches in the country.
  • Tennessee: The Volunteers picked up a much-needed, statement win over Wichita State on Thursday evening. Playing without Jeronne Maymon and with Jarnell Stokes in foul trouble much of the game, the Vols got 25 points and five assists from Trae Golden in a 69-60 win over the then-No. 23 Shockers.

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

Pac-12 loosens intra-conference transfer rule

Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Pac-12 approved a measure Monday that will lighten restrictions on players that want to transfer to schools within the conference.

Players who now make an intra-conference transfer will no longer be subject to an immediate loss of a season of eligibility, the conference announced.

“This rule change removes one of the last remaining penalties associated with transferring between Conference schools,” the league said in a press release, “and is designed to provide student-athletes with a similar experience to any other student who decides to transfer.”

The league also has passed rules to beef up its non-conference schedule as programs will be required to a non-conference five-year trailing average of opponents’ NET ranking must be 175 or less, no participation in road buy games, no regular season games against non-Division I opponents and no road games versus a non-conference opponent with a five-year trailing average of 200 NET. Those requirements, along with the move to a 20-game conference schedule, come in response to continued struggles by the league in basketball, with last season seeing the league flirt with being a one-bid NCAA tournament conference. Ultimately, its league champion, Washington, received a No. 9 seed with Oregon getting a 12 and Arizona State an 11 and a First Four invitation.

 

Kenny Wooten writes he won’t return to Oregon

Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kenny Wooten took to Instagram on Monday to discuss his future.

“I know I’ve waited a very long time to answer this question,” Wooten wrote in response to a question from a fan, “but I will not be coming back for year 3.”

Presumably that means that Wooten means to continue to pursue a professional career after declaring for the NBA draft after his sophomore season. He competed at the G-Leage Elite minicamp last week in Chicago along with a host of other draft hopefuls.

The 6-foot-9 California native averaged 6.3 points, 4.8 rebounds and 2.2 blocks per game while shooting 58.9 percent from the field. At the moment, it’s likely that Wooten would have to pursue a path to the NBA that includes the G-League.

Wooten makes it a loss of seven players from last year’s Sweet 16 squad for coach Dana Altman, who also saw Bol Bol and Louis King go to the draft. Payton Pritchard Jr., who averaged nearly 13 points per game as a junior, has also declared, but has not indicated if he plans to stay in or return to school.

Five-star forward Trendon Watford commits to LSU

AP Photo/Vasha Hunt
Leave a comment

Whatever issues have dogged LSU coach Will Wade over the last few months, they aren’t enough to keep him from landing another five-star recruit.

Trendon Watford, a top-25 forward in 2019, committed to Wade and the Tigers in an Monday afternoon announcement.

“It’s the trust,” he said of his pick of the Tigers, according to AL.com, “the trust I have with those coaches and them helping me reach my potential.”

Watford said he had been leaning towards heading to Baton Rouge, but retreated from that stance when Wade was suspended by LSU after reports surfaced about federal wiretaps featuring Wade discussing making a “strong-ass offer” for a recruit. Former Arizona assistant Book Richardson was also on wiretap discussing Wade, recruit Naz Reid and $300,000. Ultimately, though, LSU has stood by him as it reinstated him from suspension.

“When all that was going on it was definitely a pause in my recruitment,” Watford told 247Sports. “Before that I was going to commit to LSU during the McDonald’s game and that happened so we postponed. He still contacted me throughout that time and would tell me what was up. When he got reinstated they got pushed back to the top.”

Ultimately, the Tigers are landing one of the top players that were left on the board this spring, a 6-foot-9 forward that was also considering Alabama, Memphis and Indiana, where his brother Christian played. He joins James Bishop, a top-150 guard from Maryland, and junior college transfer guard Charles Manning in Wade’s 2019 class. It would also seem there is little immediate concern, at least by Watford, that the NCAA might soon find wrongdoing that was suggested by the evidence and testimony to come out the federal investigation into college hoops.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with what Nassir Little said about North Carolina at the combine

Sam Wasson/Getty Images
2 Comments

One of the storylines that has popped up since the NBA draft combine came to an end last week has centered around a couple of things that potential top ten pick and former North Carolina Tar Heel Nassir Little said.

Before we dive into it, here is what the actual quote was, courtesy of our own Scott Phillips:

“Hesitancy. Not being sure of what I wanted to do at UNC,” Little said when he was asked why he thinks he struggled more in college than he did in the high school ranks. “The coaching staff didn’t really understand exactly what my role was early on, especially in the offense, (which) created a lot of hesitancy which didn’t allow me to play like myself.”

Then we he was asked to elaborate on whether or not being unsure of his role contributed to his hesitancy, Little said, “Just kind of being unsure, playing out of position, created some confusion on the court which caused me to be hesitant.”

Little has taken some criticism for this, and, to be frank, this can be read as something of a criticism of the coaching staff. Without context, one can infer that Little is passing the buck and pinning the blame for his struggles on his coaches.

But the context here matters, and it changes the tone of what he is trying to say.

Let me start with this: Little says that he would not jump straight from high school to the NBA even if he had the chance to do it all over again.

“It was a struggle statistically,” he said, “but on the court I developed, my body developed and became more mature in the weight room there, learning about the game, playing against actual defense – in high school there is no help, you beat your guy, you’re going to get a dunk. Going to college exposes you to what’s helpful for the NBA.”

That doesn’t sound like someone who is bitter that an inability to crack the starting lineup at North Carolina cost him some draft spots.

To me, it sounds like a guy who realized that he didn’t know what he didn’t know before he arrived in Chapel Hill.

The thing about Little is that he was always just a weird fit for North Carolina’s system and the way that Roy Williams wants to play.

In this day and age, basketball is becoming more and more about versatility and your ability to play multiple positions. Think about Giannis Antetokounmpo bringing the ball up the floor for the Bucks or the job that Draymond Green does for Golden State. Little is such an attractive prospect because he has the size, strength and athleticism to be able to guard multiple different positions — which you cannot teach — while having the upside of still needing to learn how to do pretty much everything better offensively.

North Carolina’s offense is not one that preaches versatility. The positions are quite rigid. Williams wants two bigs on the floor that are true bigs. He wants two wings on the floor that are going to be able to get out in transition and make threes on the wing. He wants a point guard that can lead the break. Where Little’s versatility makes him an intriguing prospect at the highest level, he’s relegated to being something of a tweener for a coach that is just two years removed from his third national title.

So when Little says “the coaching staff didn’t really understand exactly what my role was,” he’s not blaming them.

He’s just speaking the truth.

When he says that created a “hesitancy” in him, of course it did. If you walked into a new job tomorrow, and your boss never really gives you clear and concise instructions on what he expects you to do, are you going to be at your very best right away, or will it take you some time to adjust?

Roy Williams is one of the best to ever coach college basketball, and one of his biggest strengths is the ability to find and recruit players that fit into his system. Coby White is the perfect example. Don’t be surprised when Cole Anthony and Armando Bacot have us saying the same thing next season.

Little is not one of those players that fit perfectly into what Williams wanted to do, but as far as I can tell, this was the closest that we came to hearing Little complain about it. He accepted his role, he got better throughout the year and he had some of his best games in big moments — the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, the Florida State game at home, the Virginia Tech game in January.

Maybe I’m reading this entirely wrong, but to me, Little doesn’t come off as bitter or angry, he sounds like a mature, self-aware kid that was honestly answering questions about his one season in college.

Javonte Smart’s decision to return to LSU could complicate things next season

Scott Clause/The Daily Advertiser via AP
Leave a comment

Javonte Smart announced over the weekend that he will be withdrawing from the NBA draft and returning to LSU for his sophomore season.

Smart is a 6-foot-4 point guard and a former four-star recruit that averaged 11.1 points, 3.3 boards and 2.4 assists as a freshman. He was one of six Tigers — along with Naz Reid, Tremont Waters, Skylar Mays, Marlon Taylor and Emmitt Williams — to declare for the draft. None of the other five have announced a decision yet.

In a vacuum, this is obviously a good thing for an LSU program that has quite a bit up in the air right now.

But there is more to this story than a solid freshman returning to school for his sophomore season, because Smart found himself smack in the middle of the controversy involving the FBI’s investigation into corruption in college basketball. In March, Yahoo Sports reported that LSU head coach Will Wade was caught on a wire tap discussing with Christian Dawkins, an ex-runner for a former NBA agent that has been convicted of fraud and sentenced to prison as a result of this scandal, a “strong-ass” offer that he made to one of Smart’s handlers.

“I was thinking last night on this Smart thing,” Wade reportedly said in the conversation on wiretap with Dawkins. “I’ll be honest with you, I’m [expletive] tired of dealing with the thing. Like I’m just [expletive] sick of dealing with the [expletive]. Like, this should not be that [expletive] complicated.”

“Dude,” Wade continued to Dawkins, referring to the third party involved in the recruitment. “I went to him with a [expletive] strong-ass offer about a month ago. [Expletive] strong.

“The problem was, I know why he didn’t take it now, it was [expletive] tilted toward the family a little bit. It was tilted toward taking care of the mom, taking care of the kid. Like it was tilted towards that. Now I know for a fact he didn’t explain everything to the mom. I know now, he didn’t get enough of the piece of the pie in the deal.”

Smart was suspended for the final game of the regular season, but he was reinstated prior to the start of the SEC tournament. Will Wade was suspended at the same time, but he was not reinstated until last month.

This might end up being problematic, for Wade, for Smart and, potentially, for LSU. Smart returning to school means that the NCAA can now exert influence over him. They will be investigating everything that has popped up as a result of the FBI’s investigation into college basketball corruption, from what was discussed at trial to the things that were reported separately in the media. I have very little doubt that LSU is going to be one of the programs that gets investigated, and since he is back in college, the NCAA will once again be able to hold power over him.

They can call him in to be interviewed. If he does not tell the truth in that interview, he can be suspended. If he does tell the truth, just how much of a headache is that going to be for the coaching staff and the program as a whole?

I don’t have the answer to that question, and based on LSU’s decision to reinstate Smart in March, they must either believe that the player did not know anything about that “strong-ass offer” or that the story is inaccurate in some way.

Either way, Smart’s decision to come back to school is going to complicate things, even if it makes the team better.