Billy Baron is motivated now more than ever to lead Canisius

Leave a comment
source:
Billy Baron (GoGriffs.com)

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here.

Billy Baron wasn’t supposed to play at Canisius.

Near the end of his post-graduate year at Worcester Academy in 2010 and after much deliberation of whether to play for his father, Jim, at the University of Rhode Island, or at a bigger basketball school, Baron elected to play for Tony Bennett at Virginia.

He was supposed to be a staple in the Cavaliers’ backcourt and, notching 19 points in Virginia’s season-opening game against William & Mary, the future looked bright for Baron. Ultimately, as the season unfolded, Baron’s playing time dwindled leading him to transfer back to his home state of Rhode Island to play for his father. The decision was not easy and one he wrestled with before deciding that for the betterment of his basketball career, transferring was the best move.

Baron told NBCSports.com by phone: “Obviously, transferring wasn’t the plan, but it motivated me a tremendous amount, more than I ever thought that I could be motivated. I met a lot of great people [at Virginia] and still stay in touch with the coaching staff. I keep in contact with Joe Harris; he’ll be one of my best friends for life…Transferring was just a wall to get over. It set a bar for me and motivated me.”

(CLICK HERE to read NBCSports.com’s MAAC Preview)

When Baron transferred to Rhode Island, he was able to play right away for his father who had led the Rams to four straight 20+ win seasons and postseason appearances. It was a program where Baron’s older brother, Jimmy, was a four-year letter winner for and one of the school’s top three-point shooters in history.

Billy grew up around the Rhode Island basketball program with his father having coached there beginning in 2001, when Billy was just ten years old. It was a homecoming of sorts when he transferred to URI, which is why when his father was fired at the conclusion of the 2011-12 season finishing out the academic year was such a difficult task.

“I would have never transferred to URI if I thought my Dad only had one year [left as coach]. It came as a complete shock to me after we lost to UMass in the final game of the year when he told me he got fired at 8:00 AM the next morning; I was completely shocked. I had to finish the semester there, walk from class to class, go to lunch – you know it was just extremely tough knowing my father wasn’t there. Rhode Island really became a part of the family with my brother playing there and dad coaching – when I was the only one left, I knew I couldn’t stay.”

It didn’t take long for a school to scoop up Jim Baron. Just weeks after he was fired at Rhode Island, Canisius hired Baron in early April of 2012. That summer, Billy transferred to Canisius where he was granted immediate eligibility. It has been a whirlwind of a college basketball career, but Billy has found a home at Canisius.

“When I tell you that I was motivated more than ever after transferring from Virginia, now I was at a whole new level. I had to back my father up. I’m so thankful that Canisius welcomed me with open arms and believe in me like they did with my father. I can’t tell you how good it feels to be back at Canisius for a second year, and not have to go through that whole process again of building relationships with teammates and learning my way around a new school.”

(CLICK HERE to read through the rest of NBCSports.com’s feature stories)

Now that he had found a home, it was time to win. Baron was part of a 16-15 team during his lone season at Virginia, and then a 7-24 team at Rhode Island. Entering a program who won just five games in 2011-12, winning was becoming a foreign concept.

That quickly changed. Canisius posted solid early-season wins against Boston University and St. Bonaventure, but their signature win that garnered the attention of the college basketball community came against Temple, a 72-62 victory to move to 8-2 on the season.

“I think I had forgotten the feeling, a little bit, of what it was like to win,” Baron said. “As a team, we weren’t all that surprised that we won 20 games, although I am sure that everyone outside of our locker room was, and why not after winning just five games the year prior.”

Canisius went 12-12 to close out the season, which was a minor disappointment given their hot start. Considering they improved their record by 15 wins though, last season should be viewed as nothing short of a success — the Barons helped to turn around the program in just a season. Billy is hardly satisfied, though: “If you look at the schedule [last year], we beat Temple, but then kind of struggled down the stretch. We weren’t able to win more than three games in a row and lost a lot of close games that we didn’t know how to close out…To go from five wins to 20 wins was great, but now it’s got to carry over from 20 to 25 to even 30. That’s something I feel we can do.”

The ultimate goal, as is the case for many mid-major programs in the country, is to win the league championship and advance to the NCAA Tournament — something Canisius hasn’t accomplished since 1996.

There was no questioning Canisius’ offensive ability last season as they averaged 73.5 ppg (41st nationally), but the defense proved to be the Achilles heel. Baron explained that improvement on the defensive end is an absolute must to reach that next level: “It’s really going to start on the defensive end. When you look back at that Iona game [in the MAAC tournament], we lost 89-85 and, even though it’s Iona, you can’t give up 89 points and expect to win. Getting key stops in the second half to close teams out – getting scores after those stops – is so important. It has to be a full team effort on the defensive end.”

Expectations are, no doubt, much higher this year than last. In the MAAC preseason poll, Canisius was picked to finish third in the 11 team conference behind Manhattan and Iona, but that’s just fine, according to Baron: “Being picked to finish third in the conference, we are kind of behind the scenes which is perfect for us. With Iona and Manhattan picked ahead of us, we are fine staying behind the scenes and then hopefully get hot come March.”

Injury bug biting Iowa State as Solomon Young the latest Cyclone to get hurt

AP Photo
Leave a comment

Iowa State has dealt with a lot of injuries and illnesses this preseason as the Cyclones are trying to get healthy with the regular season only weeks away.

The latest Iowa State player to go down is starting center Solomon Young, as the junior is out indefinitely with a groin strain. The 6-foot-8 Young has been a key cog on the interior for the Cyclones the past two seasons as he put up 7.2 points and 5.9 rebounds per game as a sophomore last season.

Young is also far from the only key Iowa State player currently dealing with an issue. Veteran forward Zoran Talley just had surgery to repair a broken nose as he’s hoping to return faster than a 4-to-6 week window that doctors gave him. Talley will be required to wear a protective face mask once he’s cleared to return.

Iowa State’s highly-touted freshman class is also trying to overcome illness and injury. Big man George Conditt and guard Tyrese Haliburton are both recovering from mono. Forward Zion Griffin just returned from a knee sprain while wing Talen Horton-Tucker has been in a boot at times during the preseason.

While none of these injuries seem to be for an excessive amount of time, it’s clear that Iowa State just needs to get healthy before they start their season on Nov. 6. With all four freshmen missing some time, it will be vital to make sure they catch up and understand everything before they are thrust into the spotlight.

Texas guard Andrew Jones out with a fractured toe

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Texas junior guard Andrew Jones suffered an unfortunate setback in practice this week as he sustained a fractured toe in his right foot during Thursday’s practice. According to a release from Texas, there is no current timetable for Jones to return from the injury.

The 6-foot-4 Jones is currently in the midst of making a full return to basketball after being diagnosed with leukemia in January. Missing the second half of last season, Jones has made an inspiring comeback to the floor over the last several months as he has been practicing and planning to play with the Longhorns this season. Jones completed his chemotherapy treatments in August.

While it isn’t clear how much Jones could have played this upcoming season, the fractured toe is another setback that will cause the junior guard to miss additional time. The leading scorer for Texas last season at the time of his diagnosis, Jones is a former McDonald’s All-American who was a double-figure scorer during his first two seasons with Texas.

Auburn transfer Mustapha Heron ruled eligible to immediately play at St. John’s

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Mustapha Heron has been ruled immediately eligible after an offseason transfer from Auburn to St. John’s, the school announced on Saturday. Heron’s eligibility was first reported by Adam Zagoria.

One of the biggest transfers to make a move last offseason, the 6-foot-4 Heron gives the Red Storm a potent double-figure scorer as expectations will now be sky-high for St. John’s to make a run for a bid to the NCAA tournament. Heron is receiving a hardship waiver from the NCAA, as the Waterbury, Connecticut native moved closer to home so that he could be near his ill mother.

As a sophomore with the Tigers last season, Heron put up 16.4 points and 5.3 rebounds per game, helping lead Auburn to a surprising season in the SEC. Entering the 2018 NBA Draft process before pulling his name out and transferring, Heron is a former five-star prospect who brings a lot of hype to the Red Storm for this season.

St. John’s now as four returning double-figure scorers in the lineup for next season, including two All-American candidates in Heron and junior guard Shamorie Ponds. That duo, along with junior guard Justin Simon, and senior forward Marvin Clark II, gives the Red Storm one of the most intimidating lineups in the Big East. Finding a big man who can rebound and protect the rim might ultimately be the key to the ceiling of St. John’s season, but adding a high-caliber weapon like Heron is huge step for the Red Storm.

Tom Izzo breaks silence on Michigan State’s handling of sexual assault allegations

Rey Del Rio/Getty Images
2 Comments

When his program was embroiled in the middle of the biggest story in sports last winter, Tom Izzo promised that he would talk when the time was right.

As Michigan State was in the crosshairs for their handling of Larry Nassar, a former team doctor for Michigan State and the USA Gymnastic teams that was convicted for being a serial child molester, Outside The Lines published an explosive piece that alleged Izzo and Michigan State’s football coach, Mark Dantonio, helped to cover up allegations of sexual assault against members of their programs.

Included in ESPN’s coverage of the story — which alleged that former Michigan State player Travis Walton assaulted a woman in a bar while a student assistant with the program, that Walton was later accused of sexually assaulting a different woman and that Keith Appling and Adreian Payne were arrested after being accused of sexual assault — was a graphic that pictured Izzo and Dantonio next to Nassar, who was sentenced to 175 years in prison for his crimes.

“That picture will go down as the worst thing that ever happened to Tom Izzo and Mark Dantonio,” Izzo said at Big Ten media day. “That picture, which was completely uncalled for, had nothing to do with anything. I didn’t know the guy, didn’t deal with the guy.”

Izzo was grilled at every opportunity by members of the media for months after the story was published, and he repeatedly told reporters that he wished he could talk but that he was being told not to.

“I’m not apologizing for how I acted, how I treated people,” Izzo said. “I have the utmost confidence in myself that I’m not perfect, but nobody is. The thought that I was going to hide something like what happened makes me sick. The thought of that makes me sick.”

According to the OTL story, Walton punched a woman at a bar and was charged with a crime, but he was never prosecuted because he had presented witnesses that contradicted the story of the alleged victim; she told ESPN she was dissuaded from going to the press at the time. Izzo said at Big Ten media day that he was never made aware of this incident.

Izzo did acknowledge that he would likely handle the situation with Appling and Payne differently today. The two players were never prosecuted, and a Title IX investigation concluded they did not violate school policy; it’s important to note here that one of the allegations made in ESPN’s reporting was that the coaches had influence over the way that the school handled these allegations. The NCAA later determined Michigan State committed no violations.

“I think they’re up to the court of public opinion now,” he said. “Would things be handled differently? I’m a little bit bothered to say yes. Every kid would be suspended for everything that happened”

“I get some damn good kids and I believe in them,” he added, “and you know what? I’ve kicked kids out for drugs. I’ve kicked kids off for that academics. I’m not going to kick somebody off for sexual assault? That’s insulting.”

No. 11 Kansas State: Is a return to the Elite 8 in the cards?

Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Beginning in September and running up until November 6th, the first day of the season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2018-2019 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.

Every day at Noon ET, we will be releasing an in-depth preview of one member of our Preseason Top 25.

Today we dive into No. 11 Kansas State.


Bruce Weber entered the 2017-18 season on the hot seat and, frankly, nothing about the way that the regular season played out changed that fact.

The Wildcats finished the regular season at 21-10 overall and 10-8 in the Big 12, earning themselves a bid to the NCAA tournament in large part due to the fact that they beat up on the bottom of a Big 12 that was really deep; nine Big 12 teams were on the bubble come Selection Sunday.

Kansas State lost all seven games they played against the top three teams in the league — Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech. Their best non-conference win came against a Georgia team that fired their head coach. They didn’t beat a single Big 12 team that finished above .500 in league play.

Sneaking into the tournament as a No. 9 seed seemed like a gift awarded to the Wildcats because they played in a conference that boosted their computer numbers.

And then the NCAA tournament happened.

Despite essentially playing without Dean Wade, Kansas State knocked off Creighton in the first round, ended the Cinderella run of UMBC in the second round and then picked off Kentucky in the Sweet 16 to get within 40 minutes of the Final Four. Loyola-Chicago ended that dream, but the expectations were set.

Kansas State returns every single member of a team that won 25 games and played in the Elite 8.

This will be the most highly-regarded team that Weber has had entering a season in Manhattan.

And in a way, this may be the most pressure he’s ever had to win.

MOREPreseason Top 25 | NBC Sports All-Americans | Preview Schedule

MOREMid-Major Power Rankings The Hot Seat | Perry Ellis All-Stars

KANSAS STATE WILL BE GOOD BECAUSE …

This team has the three components that you look for in a good college basketball team.

For starters, the Wildcats really do have good guard play. Barry Brown is the name that you need to know. A tough, 6-foot-3 lead guard, Brown is a 195-pound bowling ball when he decides he wants to get to the rim. He is also a tenacious defender — he hounded Trae Young twice last season — and was the forgotten man in a conference that was absolutely stacked at the point guard spot a year ago. If he learns how to make consistently threes, Brown will be a first-team all-Big 12 player this season and a potential second round pick in June.

Kamau Stokes will help to lessen the playmaking load on Brown, and he is also a sparkplug offensively, a dynamic scorer that can pop off for 25 points. Xavier Sneed and Cartier Diarra are floor-spacers and versatile wings that are tough enough to let the Wildcats play super-small at times. Throw in Mike McGuirl — a sophomore that burned his redshirt when Stokes was injured last season only to drop 17 points on Creighton in the first round of the NCAA tournament — and the Wildcats have a ton of guard depth.

And the best part about all that guard depth is that they all can defend. As a team, the Wildcats finished 21st nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric. They get killed on the glass — that’s what happens when you play four guys that are 6-foot-5 or shorter for extended minutes — but they make up for it by running teams off of the three-point line and forcing turnovers with their ball pressure.

So we have a team with really good guard play that can really defend.

The last piece of the puzzle?

Dean Wade.

This is not a name that many people nationally are going to be all that familiar with. He saw limited minutes in Kansas State’s tournament run after suffering a foot injury in the Big 12 tournament quarterfinals, and he spent last season playing in a league where he was in the shadow of Kansas, Trae Young, Press Virginia and Texas Tech’s rise. But this kid can play. He’s 6-foot-10 but shoots 44 percent from three. He can pass the ball, he can move without the ball and he can play the four or the five. If you don’t want to believe me, this is what Mo Bamba had to say about him:

“I’d say one of the toughest players that I played against as far as just scouting, like, this was the first player that I looked at as far as tendencies and seeing what he does, is [Kansas State’s] Dean Wade. I’m not sure if you guys are familiar with him, but he’s really good. He’s super talented. He’s about 6-9 but can really move, and it was a challenge defensively.”

I like it when the dots connect, and, on this Kansas State team, all the dots connect.

It’s hard to see them being a total bust this year.

Dean Wade (Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
RELATED: Expert Picks | CBT Podcast | Best non-conference games

BUT KANSAS STATE IS GOING TO STRUGGLE BECAUSE …

Outside of those three wins in March, Kansas State did nothing that would lead us to believe that they are going to be good enough to be a top 10-15 team in college basketball this season.

They lost seven games to Kansas, West Virginia and Texas Tech last season by an average of 16 points. Their only win over a Big 12 team that finished .500 in league play came when they beat TCU at home, and even that may not technically count; the Horned Frogs went 9-9 in the regular season and then lost their Big 12 tournament opener to Kansas State, dropping them to 9-10 against league foes on the year.

The Wildcats beat Georgia during the SEC/Big 12 Challenge, and that came just two months before Georgia fired head coach Mark Fox. They beat Vanderbilt and Washington State. The best thing you can say about Kansas State’s regular season is that they didn’t lose at home against anyone outside of the top three in the league, and they managed to pick off Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma State and Iowa State on the road.

Which is fine.

In a year where the Big 12 was as deep as it was, that’s enough to get into the NCAA tournament.

But if the Wildcats hadn’t advanced to the Elite 8 — hell, if they had lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16, capping their tournament run at wins over a No. 8 and a No. 16 seed — I’m not sure they’d have the hype they currently have heading into this season …

THE X-FACTOR

… which is why the x-factor for Kansas State isn’t so much what they are capable of but rather how they will handle the burden that comes with being targeted.

There are three or four names that can make the claim of being the second-best team in the Big 12 this season, and Kansas State — along with West Virginia, TCU and maybe even Iowa State — are right there in the mix. They are going to enter the season with a very high ranking next to their name. Every game they play, from their opener against Kennesaw State to their trip to the Paradise Jam to a visit to Marquette to a game against Kansas in the Octagon of Doom, will be one of, if not the biggest game that their opponent is going to play.

We’ve seen teams struggle with this before.

Just last season, Northwestern followed up their first-ever trip to the NCAA tournament with a preseason top 20 ranking and a disastrous season that left them utterly irrelevant by the time that Thanksgiving rolled around.

There’s another side of this as well.

Bruce Weber is an underrated coach. He gets a lot of stick for what he’s been able to accomplish since he arrived in Manhattan, and I don’t think that it is entirely warranted. This is also his seventh season at Kansas State, and the Wildcats have yet to come close to matching what he accomplished in his first season — a 27-8 record, a 14-4 mark in the Big 12 and a No. 4 seed in the NCAA tournament. Prior to last year’s Elite 8 run, he had been to just two tournaments in the last four years and was 0-3 in the Big Dance in his Kansas State tenure.

Barry Brown (Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

I say all that to say this: The truth is that a coach never really gets off of the hot seat. Once a fan base decides that they want a coach gone, that coach is always one season — hell, one game — away from having people calling for his job. Ask Tom Crean about this.

Seeing how Weber will handle any disappoints, especially those that come early in the season, will be fascinating. The Kansas State fanbase is very well aware of the fact that missing out on Brad
Underwood, an alumnus and a former Frank Martin assistant that has twice changed jobs in the last 30 months, may mean missing out on an elite head coach that would have a reason to wind down his career with them.

The hype for this Kansas State team is very real — we have them 11th nationally, and that likely won’t be an outlier — even if there is a chance the team may not be.

What will happen if the Wildcats end up being closer to a borderline top 25 team than a borderline top 10 team? Will Weber be able to get this team to continue to perform if they don’t live up to expectations they had no part in creating?

And will that end up being his ultimate downfall?

Kansas State is one of the most interesting teams to follow this season.

2018-19 OUTLOOK

I think Kansas State will be just fine.

They might not end up being the second-best team in the Big 12, but I don’t see anyway they aren’t right there with the two or three teams that are chasing Kansas. They might not end up being a top two or three seed heading into the NCAA tournament, but I have a hard team seeing them fall past the No. 5-seed line.

This is a veteran group with March experience that defends, that has tough guards and that has two first-team all-Big 12-caliber players, including a potential all-american in Dean Wade.

There floor is quite high, even if there isn’t necessarily a Final Four-ceiling with this group.

THE REST OF THE TOP 25

No. 12 Virginia Tech
No. 13 Michigan State
No. 14 Florida State
No. 15 TCU
No. 16 UCLA
No. 17 West Virginia
No. 18 Oregon
No. 19 Syracuse
No. 20 LSU
No. 21 Mississippi State
No. 22 Clemson
No. 23 Michigan
No. 24 N.C. State
No. 25 Marquette