The X-Factors of the 2013-2014 College Basketball Season

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All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists,click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Duke’s big men: With Jabari Parker, Rodney Hood and Rasheed Sulaimon on the roster, Duke’s perimeter attack is so loaded that it will be tough to find minutes for guys like Matt Jones, Andre Dawkins and Alex Murphy. The issue for the Blue Devils will be in the paint. With Mason Plumlee having graduated, the Blue Devils will have a couple of options: using redshirt freshman Marshall Plumlee, consistently out-talented Josh Hairston or playing an undersized youngster like Amile Jefferson or Semi Ojeleye out of position. The Blue Devils will be able to spread the floor and create matchup problems, but will they defend the rim and rebound the ball?

Keith Appling, Michigan State: It seems like Appling has been the x-factor for the Spartans for the better part of a decade, and this season is no different. Appling has never been a pure point guard, and it’s taken him time to learn to be a playmaker first and foremost. It will be all the more essential this season, as the Spartans plan to play in transition more often this season. There’s enough talent on this roster to win a national title if Appling can lead them there.

Aaron Gordon’s position: If Aaron Gordon can embrace the idea of playing the four, than he has a chance to be a first-team All-American and Arizona should be considered a legitimate title contender. But if he forces his way into being a wing, it creates problems for the Wildcats. I wrote about this extensively here, so I’ll keep this section brief.

Yogi Ferrell, Indiana: There are so many question marks about the Indiana program heading into this season, but if there is anything that we do know about the Hoosiers, it’s that Ferrell will be the guy running the point. The only guy running the point, as a matter of fact. Indiana doesn’t really have a back-up. He’ll also be asked to be Tom Crean’s go-to guy offensively as well, which is a lot of pressure to put on one player. If he can handle it, Indiana should end up near the top of the Big Ten.

Chris Jones, Louisville: I’m not sure that people truly understand just how valuable Peyton Siva was to Louisville last season. He was the guy with the ball in his hands at the end of a clock, he was their leader and play maker, and he was a perfect fit for what Rick Pitino wanted defensively. More importantly, Siva was a calming influence alongside Russdiculous. Those are mighty big shoes for Jones, a one-time Tennessee commit and the best JuCo player in the country a year ago, to fill.

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Tyler Ennis, Syracuse: Ennis is really the only point guard on the Syracuse roster, which means that Jim Boeheim will be turning over the reigns of his team to a player that has never set foot on a collegiate court before the season. The Orange are once again talented enough to be considered a top ten team and a title contender heading into the season, but if this group is to make a return to the Final Four, they’ll need Ennis to have a big freshman year.

Michael Cobbins, Oklahoma State: Travis Ford will have more guards at his disposal than he will know what to do with next season. In addition to all-league performers Marcus Smart and Markel Brown, the Pokes have Phil Forte, Brian Williams and Stevie Clark on the roster. Throw in Le’Bryan Nash, and Oklahoma State has the pieces to be able to spread the floor quite effectively. To make that happen, however, Ford will need to find a presence in the paint, and Cobbins, a 6-foot-8 redshirt junior that averaged 6.9 points and 6.1 boards a year ago, is the guy that will be called upon.

Joel Embiid, Kansas: You know about Andrew Wiggins and how good he should end up being. You’ve probably heard about Wayne Selden and Perry Ellis and how they can compliment Wiggins offensively. But with a team as young as Kansas is with as many question marks as the Jayhawks have at the point guard spot, consistency on the offensive end will be hard to come by. As always, Kansas will be a team that wins because they are elite defensively, and Embiid, like Jeff Withey was the past two seasons, will be the anchor of that defense.

Derrick Walton, Michigan: Replacing Trey Burke is not going to be an easy thing for Michigan to do, as it was his ability to come off of screens and create that made the Wolverines so dangerous. That’s why Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III got so many open threes throughout the year, and that’s part of the reason that Mitch McGary blew up in the postseason. Burke made everyone that much better with his ability to create. Walton, and to a lesser extent Spike Albrecht, is the hear apparent to the point guard spot at Michigan. No pressure, he just have to replace the National Player of the Year.

Zach Auguste, Notre Dame: The Irish have a terrific perimeter attack this season, but losing Jack Cooley is going to hurt. He was a double-double machine that got Mike Brey’s club so many second-chance points. Tom Knight and Garrick Sherman are known quantities, big bodies that will play hard, use their five fouls and reward you with a couple of buckets and a couple boards. Auguste is more talented than that. He’s good enough to be a real replacement for Cooley, and a real post presence on this team is a difference-maker.

Josh Smith, Georgetown: If Josh Smith can get into shape, he’s an all-american caliber talent. His size, his quick feet, his touch around the rim. He could really be effective for the Hoyas considering how good some of their guards are. The problem? Not only has Smith never been in shape in his career, but he’s still waiting for word from the NCAA when he can suit up this season. If he joins the team in December, will he be as effective?

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AP

Here are 12 more X-Factors:

  • Shaq Goodwin and David Pellom, Memphis: The Tigers are loaded on the perimeter, but they’ll need Goodwin and Pellom to be a presence in the paint to compete for the AAC title.
  • Kenny Chery, Baylor: The JuCo transfer will have first crack at replacing Pierre Jackson at the point.
  • Kris Dunn, Providence: Finally healthy, Dunn is a dynamic point guard that should thrive in Ed Cooley’s uptempo system.
  • Cullen Neal and Deshawn Delaney, New Mexico: Replacing Tony Snell’s defense and perimeter shooting will be the key to New Mexico’s season.
  • Dorian Finney-Smith, Florida: With Will Yeguete banged up and Chris Walker ineligible for at least the fall, the versatile Finney-Smith will see plenty of minutes.
  • Xavier Johnson, Colorado: Johnson was awesome in flashes last season and will fill the role Andre Roberson left vacant.
  • Robert Hubbs, Tennessee: The Vols need someone to help Jordan McRae keep the floor spread for their big men.
  • Tony Parker, UCLA: If reports are true and Parker has gotten into shape this offseason, he could be the paint presence Steve Alford needs.
  • Deandre Kane, Iowa State: Kane put up huge numbers at Marshall but wasn’t the easiest player to deal with in the locker room.
  • Deandre Daniels, UConn: With more guards than Kevin Ollie can handle, Daniels will need to help Tyler Olander up front.
  • Alex Dragicevich, Boston College: Can the Notre Dame transfer help take the pressure off of Ryan Anderson and Olivier Hanlon?
  • Jarrod Uthoff, Iowa: We will finally get to see the Wisconsin transfer in action after two straight redshirt seasons.

Former UConn assistant levies serious accusations at Kevin Ollie

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On Thursday, after a Freedom Of Information Act request filed by local newspapers, UConn released more than 1,000 pages of documents pertaining to the investigation that led to the decision to fire of Kevin Ollie.

In those documents were the fairly innocuous NCAA violations that were allegedly committed by Ollie that UConn used as “just cause” for firing him and digging themselves out of the $10 million that he was owed on that contract.

But that is just the beginning of where this thing gets interesting, because there are more accusations levied at Ollie than what UConn was able to confirm.

Let’s start with this one: Former assistant coach Glen Miller said that Ollie paid $30,000 to the mother of a recruit to allow her to afford an apartment and move to Connecticut to be closer to her son. He didn’t have any first-hand information — his wife had befriended the mother of the player and opened up about it while they were on a road trip together — but that’s not the only bomb that Miller tried to drop. He also alleged that Ollie fired his former agent because he wouldn’t help him to recruit, which Miller implies is the agent paying players to go to UConn.

Again, none of these allegations are corroborated. This is Miller, a long-time UConn assistant that was fired — and is clearly still bitter about it — passing along things that he had heard second-hand. One story was from his wife, the other was from one of the most powerful agents in the business. There’s no proof those conversations actually happened, let alone that what was discussed is actually true.

But this is a good example of just how ugly this thing has a chance to get.

There is $10 million on the line for a school and a state that is not exactly overflowing in cash, but is there a larger cost that could be associated with this decision? Could fighting to save that $10 million eventually turn up major violations within the UConn program?

As it stands, Ollie has not technically been fired by UConn yet. He is only suspended with pay as of now. The process to fire him included a hearing with athletic director David Benedict in April and a hearing with school president Susan Herbst last month. Both Benedict and, as of yesterday, Herbst supported the decision to fire Ollie with cause, meaning that he will now be forced to face arbitration. If that ruling goes against him, he will have the option to take UConn to court, which, it seems, he will be willing to do.

Which is where the headache for UConn comes into play.

Do they really want to have a case that has already had these accusations come to light get discussed in a court of law? If this is what a FOIA turns up, what happens during depositions? For a program that has already dealt with their share of NCAA scandals — which, mind you, did not get Jim Calhoun fired — is it really worth the money to risk having even more turn up?

The worst kept secret in college basketball is that UConn is grasping at straws with this decision. They want anything they can find that will allow them to get out from underneath what, in hindsight, was a terrible contract.

And in the end, that could cost them more than just money.

Report: Alleged NCAA violations against former UConn coach Kevin Ollie revealed

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Fired former UConn head coach Kevin Ollie allegedly committed multiple NCAA violations that led to his dismissal last spring, according to a report released Wednesday by the Hartford Courant.

Ollie was dismissed from the position after a disappointing 2017-18 campaign as he’s been in a battle with the school over the remaining $10 million on his contract. Since Ollie was fired for just cause, the school is trying to withhold that remaining money as the case will proceed to arbitration. UConn president Susan Herbst upheld the school’s decision to terminate Ollie for just cause on Tuesday as he is still, technically, suspended without pay.

According to documents obtained by The Courant under a Freedom of Information Act request, Ollie and his staff committed multiple violations, including an impermissible phone call between Huskies legend Ray Allen and a recruit. Multiple UConn players were also sent to work with an outside trainer on campus, and later, in Atlanta. Another violation occurred when Ollie shot baskets with recruit James Akinjo during an official visit as the video was posted by Akinjo’s guardian on Twitter. The video was later deleted.

Among the 1,355 pages of documents that The Courant obtained, it includes the NCAA’s transcripts from their investigation as well as UConn’s case to terminate Ollie as head coach.

Perhaps the worst violation includes the alleged involvement of the trainer, as Ollie allegedly had a friendship with Derrek Hamilton. During the 2015-16 season, Hamilton allegedly worked out UConn players after hours during on-campus workouts as well as off-campus workouts. Three players also allegedly traveled to Atlanta to train with Hamilton as the players were fed, transported and housed for free — all of which are NCAA violations.

The NCAA has yet to proceed with any action against UConn as 900 pages of the report were based on the NCAA’s interviews and findings. Former UConn coach Glen Miller was also granted immunity in exchange for his testimony to the NCAA regarding the violations.

These alleged violations are a new step in the Ollie case, as the case does not look great for him to receive the remaining $10 million on the contract. Ollie and UConn still have to go through arbitration, but the release of these documents, and alleged violations, is very hurtful to Ollie’s case.

Harvard captain Chris Egi opts for Wall Street instead of pro basketball dreams

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Harvard forward and team captain Chris Egi is opting to skip potential professional basketball options in order to pursue a career on Wall Street.

In a great profile from Michael Grange of Sportsnet Canada, the 6-foot-9 Egi will become an investment analyst at Goldman Sachs after his four-year career with the Crimson ended after this season.

At one point considered a top-100 prospect in his high school Class of 2014, Egi never found consistent footing on the Harvard basketball team as he played sparingly over the course of his four seasons. Injuries and a competitive roster forced Egi to re-evaluate his basketball ambitions as a concussion forced him to miss a lot of his senior season.

“I kind of made an agreement with myself that I’d put it all in for a final shot senior year. But chances were it wasn’t going to be basketball for me unless something great happened,” Egi said in the story.

“[Playing professionally] would be a great experience and part of me wants to do it. But part of me feels like this isn’t the path for me and there are a lot of opportunities here that aren’t about playing basketball and I want to take advantage of those and get started on this new journey.”

While Egi never got stable playing time with Harvard, he could have been an intriguing professional player thanks to his run-and-jump athleticism. Since Egi is also Canadian, he would not have fit under some international league policies that limit the number of American players on certain rosters. If healthy, Egi could have eventually morphed into a serviceable pro after a disappointing college basketball career.

In the classroom at Harvard, however, things were hardly disappointing for Egi. In fact, it appears he might have made the correct decision by going the Wall Street route. Selected to give a commencement speech at Harvard’s underclass graduation late in May, Egi shined as he told his family’s story and personal experiences at the Ivy League school he always dreamed of attending.

As Michael Porter Jr. joins Puma, will brand make splash into college basketball?

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As the 2018 NBA Draft approaches, Puma has made major headlines by signing a handful of lottery picks — including the potential top two picks in Deandre Ayton and Marvin Bagley.

Puma’s aggressive move to get back into basketball continued on Wednesday afternoon as ESPN’s Nick DePaula reported that Missouri forward Michael Porter Jr. — another likely top-10 pick — will sign a multi-year deal with the apparel company.

Dormant in the basketball business since Vince Carter signed with the brand as a rookie in 1998, Puma has become one of the intriguing subplots of this year’s draft as they attempt to position themselves in a crowded basketball apparel market that includes heavyweights like Nike, Adidas and Under Armour.

But while Puma has made a splash by signing three potential top ten picks, and another potential lottery pick in Texas Tech guard Zhaire Smith, the intriguing question becomes what the brand might do at the college and grassroots levels of basketball?

Besides targeting 2018 NBA draft picks, Puma has recently made a strong push as a lifestyle brand by forging partnerships with music icons like Jay-Z and Rihanna. The brand’s soccer division also received a boost when they opted to sign Manchester United’s Romelu Lukaku to a roster that already included the likes of Atletico Madrid’s Antoine Griezmann. The company also has a longstanding partnership with 11-time Olympic gold medal sprinter Usain Bolt.

So, even outside of professional basketball, Puma is trying to make major moves, while spending major money, over the last several months.

Having star NBA talents signed to apparel deals is one thing. Those same companies often attempt to align with as many college programs and high school programs as possible. Nike, Adidas and Under Armour have also formed their own spring and summer grassroots basketball leagues over the last decade with the EYBL, Adidas Gauntlet and the Under Armour Association.

While Puma is undoubtedly spending enough to be seen by the masses, it’s hard to say if they have the monetary means, or the labor, to make a major push into smaller basketball levels like college and the AAU scene. Multiple basketball and apparel sources speculated to NBCSports.com that Puma’s sudden rise into the NBA doesn’t necessarily mean they’ll want to make the leap into college or high school basketball.

That’s been the natural progression of the other apparel companies who have made a major mark in basketball, as those brands value the long-term relationships and local credibility that comes with having top-notch college and high school players wearing their product.

Maybe Puma doesn’t see things that way as they try to align themselves with star professional players. And for all of the talk of Nike having long-term relationships with Ayton, Bagley and Porter, all three of them jumped at the chance to make the most money with the new(ish) kids on the block. Money will still be the ultimate factor in a lot of athletes signing with apparel companies.

If Puma does decide to enter the college athletics arms race, it would certainly make for a fascinating apparel company to enter the mix. Since Puma has credibility in sports like golf, tennis, soccer and track and field they could also make a splash signing larger schools to long-term apparel deals that go across all sports.

But it remains to be seen what Puma’s long-term goal is after signing four strong draft prospects. Puma is off to a great start re-entering basketball, but we have no idea what kind of end-goal they have in mind. Or if that even involves college basketball.

Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis commits to Kentucky

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Reid Travis announced on Wednesday morning that he will be committing to Kentucky.

Travis had spent the past four seasons at Stanford, where he averaged 19.5 points and 8.7 boards and, when healthy, had been one of the best big men in the Pac-12 for the better part of three seasons.

But injuries had taken a toll on the 6-foot-8, 250 pound forward. He played just eight games his sophomore season due to a stress reaction in his left leg, for which he was given a medical redshirt for. In total, Travis missed 35 games in four years with the Cardinal.

Travis is a terrific rebounder and a low-post scorer that will immediately provide a Kentucky team with plenty of perimeter talent with an anchor in the paint. Travis will be the only scholarship player on the roster with more than one season of experience.

If there is a concern here, it’s that Travis and fellow forward P.J. Washington play a similar style. Both are somewhat undersized bigs that do most of their damage in the paint, and neither are known for their ability to be a rim protector or to stretch the floor. Spacing, once again, is going to be an issue for this Kentucky team, even with all the perimeter talent that is on the roster.

But there is a ton of perimeter talent. Ashton Hagans, Kelden Johnson, Immanuel Quickley, Tyler Herro, Quade Green. Kentucky is not short on pieces, but like we seem to say every season, the key to unlocking that talent is finding a way for all those pieces to fit together. It’s not perfect, but this is certainly a more balanced roster than Kentucky had a year ago, and if anyone has earned the faith that he can find a way to make it work, it’s John Calipari.