Indiana’s a work-in-progress, and so is Yogi Ferrell

3 Comments

source: Getty Images

From Nov. 20th thru Dec. 1st, I’ll be on the road, hitting 21 games in 11 days. To follow along and read my stories from the road, click here.

NEW YORK — There is no such thing as a good loss.

There are no moral victories in college basketball, not when top 25 rankings and RPI scores are on the line.

Not when the success of entire seasons are judged on results that come in March, and certainly not when so much of that March success depends on the matchups a team lucks into in the field of 68. A couple of close wins over top 25 teams this time of year could be the difference between a three seed and a five seed, and that could be the difference between a Sweet 16 and an opening round exit.

And that?

That could be the difference between a contract extension and the hot seat, the difference between a guaranteed contract as a late-first round pick and the stress of a training camp as a second round selection.

OK, I know. I’m reaching here.

But you see my point, right?

(MORE: Shabazz Napier’s path to a leadership role)

As a competitor, as a player or a coach with as much on the line as a member of the Indiana Hoosiers has on a nightly basis, there are no quality losses. A loss is a loss, and losing sucks.

“I don’t think you can look at it like that, because when you study the film, there’s always places where we could have played better in the game,” Indiana head coach Tom Crean said when asked if he thought his team’s thrilling, 59-58 loss to No. 18 UConn was a good loss for his team. “I don’t want to rationalize losing, so I would never do that.”

You can understand where Crean is coming from. But for outsiders, for the Indiana fans that made their way to Manhattan, there is plenty of reason to leave the Garden feeling good about their team. Let me explain.

When it comes down to it, Indiana did not play all that well on the offensive end of the floor. They shot 40.8% from the floor and 3-for-12 from three. They turned the ball over 19 times, many of which led to leak outs for the Huskies.

But that’s understandable.

For starters, this is an entirely new Indiana team. Two four-year starters graduated last season, the same time that two all-americans decided to leave school early to enter the NBA Draft. What that means is that Indiana’s rotation includes a number of freshmen, two of whom start, and a group of returnees that have to take over entirely new roles this season. Friday night was the first time that this group played a top 25 team, and it just so happened to be the first time that they played in a hostile environment as well.

Now add in the fact that their best player, freshman big man Noah Vonleh, managed to see the floor for all of 10 minutes, where he produced more turnovers (four) than points and rebounds combined (two). Vonleh was the mismatch that Indiana could take advantage of. He was the guy that UConn, on paper, didn’t have an answer for. And he was a non-entity on Friday, so it only makes sense that the Hoosiers would look out of whack offensively. It only makes sense that, as Crean put it, they had some “freshmen moments from freshmen.”

It happens. They’ll learn. They’ll grow. It’ll take some time, but this group is good enough defensively that the ceiling for the Hoosiers is high. I don’t think it’s out of the question that this group can compete for the Big Ten title this season.

But the key to reaching that ceiling will be Ferrell. Yogi is as quick and explosive as any point guard in the country. His first step, his change of direction, his leaping ability and his strength to absorb contact around the rim, it’s all at an elite level. Where he needs to learn, where he needs to grow, is in his decision-making. Ferrell has a tendency to get a bit out of control. Too often, ill-advised drives to the rim result in turnovers and forced shots. He needs to pick his spots better, knowing when to try to get all the way to the bucket and when to simply pull the ball back out and run another set.

The Hoosiers are young, they don’t have another go-to scorer and their perimeter shooting has taken a hit from last season, all of which means that Ferrell has a ton of responsibility on this team. Add in the lack of a backup point guard, and I don’t think it’s crazy to say that Ferrell is the most important player in the country.

None of this is a surprise.

We knew this group would be a work-in-progress, a team that could look much different in February than they do in November.

And while Friday’s loss is disappointing, I think Crean’s team showed us that they are farther along right now than anyone expected them to be.

“I like our upside,” Crean said. “We’ll learn how to win low-scoring close games like this, but I think it says a lot about where we are already.”

Osun Osunniyi picks St. Bonaventure over Syracuse, Georgetown

Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images
Leave a comment

St. Bonaventure has made something of a late splash on the recruiting trail.

Osun Osunniyi, a 6-foot-10 from Putnam (Conn.) Science Academy, signed with the Bonnies, the school announced Monday.

It’s a bit of a recruiting coup for coach Mark Schmidt, who won the services of Osunniyi over offers from Syracuse and Georgetown, both of whom hosted the prospect on official visits this spring.

“Osun oozes with potential. His ceiling is extremely high. He has so much God-given ability,” Schmidt said in a statement. “And, he’s a great kid, a character kid who is level-headed. He has a great wingspan, he runs well, he has a natural talent for blocking shots and is a very good rebounder. He can score around the basket.

“Osun wants to get better, like all of our players. We saw how he developed at Putnam, which is a credit to coach Espinosa and the staff there. He’s come a long way to become a kid who was highly recruited. We’re thrilled to have him come to St. Bonaventure.”

Osunniyi, who previously committed to La Salle before taking a prep year, becomes the fourth member of the Bonnies’ 2018 freshman class. He averaged 10 points, six rebounds and three blocked shots per game while Putnam won a national prep championship.

The Bonnies made the NCAA tournament as an 11 seed last year after going 26-8.

Christian Vital going back to UConn for junior season

Photo by Mike Stobe/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Dan Hurley is keeping his roster intact at the top.

Christian Vital, UConn’s second-leading scorer a season ago, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, he announced Monday via social media.

“Great Talk Today Coach! Appreciate The Wisdom You Have Let Me In On!” Vital wrote “I Think It’s Time To Get Back To Winning Ways In Storrs! I’m Going To Need That #1 Back ASAP! WE GOT (UNFINISHED) BUSINESS!”

The 6-foot-2 junior-to-be Vital joins Jalen Adams, who was the Huskies’ top-returning scorer, back in Storrs in Hurley’s first year. Vital averaged 14.9 points on 38.3 percent shooting. Adams previously announced he would return to school without declaring for the draft.

The return of UConn’s top two scorers underscores an even bigger trend under Hurley as the Huskies appear to have avoided any major defections from last year’s roster despite the coaching change.

UConn is coming off a 14-18 season that proved to be the last of coach Kevin Ollie’s six years with the Huskies that included a national championship but also back-to-back losing seasons.

Chris Silva returning to South Carolina for senior season

Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images
Leave a comment

South Carolina is getting an first-team all-SEC performer back.

Chris Silva, who led the Gamecocks in scoring and rebounding last season, is returning to school after declaring for the NBA draft without hiring an agent, the school announced Monday.

“I’m thankful for the experience of going through the draft process,” Silva said in a statement. “I want to thank all of the teams that gave me the opportunity to workout for their organization. I’m excited to announce that I’m returning to South Carolina for my senior season. I can’t wait to get back on the court with my brothers and continue to work on my game.”

The 6-foot-9 Silva, who did not get an NBA draft combine invite, averaged 14.3 points and 8 rebounds per game as a junior.  He shot 46.7 percent from the floor.

“Going through the evaluation process was an unbelievable experience for Chris and us,” South Carolina coach Frank Martin said in a statement. “He comes back to a place he loves with some knowledge on some of the things that we have to help him improve on in his efforts to one day fulfill his lifelong dream of playing in the NBA.”

In addition to being South Carolina’s leading scorer, he was the SEC co-defensive player of the year last season after averaging 1.4 blocks per game. His return to Columbia gives the Gamecocks a potential contender for SEC player of the year in 2018-19.

Kansas fires athletic director Sheahon Zenger

Streeter Lecka/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Kansas has fired athletic director Sheahon Zenger, effective immediately, citing a lack of progress in key areas within the athletic department.

“Sheahon has been a loyal Jayhawk, and our athletics department has improved in many areas under his leadership,” Kansas Chancellor Doug Girod wrote in an email to KU faculty and staff. “But athletics continues to face a number of challenges, and progress in key areas has been elusive. To achieve the level of success we need and expect, I have determined a change in leadership is necessary.”

Zenger had been in the role of AD since 2011.

The issue, of course, is not the play of the Kansas basketball program. The Jayhawks have won every Big 12 regular season title since 2004, and head coach Bill Self has taken the program to two Final Fours since Zenger was hired.

The football team is still a disaster, but one can’t help but wonder whether or not the real issue at hand here is Kansas’ getting tied into the FBI’s investigation into college basketball.

The Jayhawks were not mentioned in the initial indictments that were handed down, but Kansas was a central figure in the superseding indictments that were dropped after the national title game. The mother of Billy Preston, who did not play for the Jayhawks this season, was alleged to have been funneled $90,000 by Adidas, while Silvio De Sousa’s status is currently in question after the FBI alleged his guardian was paid at least $20,000 to help offset money that the family had already accepted from a rival shoe company.

All of that came in the aftermath of dealing with Cheick Diallo and Cliff Alexander, both of whom had their one season in Lawrence reduced due to off the court issues.

“Since becoming chancellor, I have spent countless hours with higher education peers and Jayhawks to hear their perspective on KU,” Girod wrote. “A common thread in these conversations is that, as a major public university with national aspirations, we must continue to strive for excellence in all areas — including athletics. As I have said many times, a successful athletics department is inextricably linked to our broader mission as a flagship research university.”

Louisville, ex-AD Tom Jurich reach $4.5M settlement

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — The University of Louisville has reached a $4.5 million settlement with former athletic director Tom Jurich, who was fired in the wake of a national federal corruption investigation of college basketball.

Jurich disputed his Oct. 18 firing for cause after nearly 20 years as AD and had considered suing the school. The University of Louisville Athletic Association and Board of Trustees on Friday approved the settlement. Jurich’s employment ended “without cause” as a result of his resignation, also described in the settlement as “retirement.”

He’ll also receive another $2.6 million in accrued employment benefits, along with home game tickets and parking for Louisville football and basketball for 20 years.

An audit of the University of Louisville Foundation released last June showed that Jurich averaged annual compensation of more than $2.76 million from 2010-16, including more than $5.35 million in 2016.

Then-interim president Greg Postel had placed Jurich on paid administrative leave in September after the school’s acknowledgement of its involvement in the investigation. Trustees voted 10-3 to fire Jurich, two days after the ULAA unanimously fired Hall of Fame men’s basketball coach Rick Pitino.

The former AD said in a joint statement that he “spent the better part of my career” working with dedicated athletes, coaches and staff to elevate Louisville. He added, “I am proud of what we accomplished, which is well documented.”

Jurich’s legal team had stressed that the ex-AD did nothing illegal and hadn’t violated NCAA rules.

Trustee chairman J. David Grissom said in the statement that “Everyone is pleased that this matter has been successfully resolved. All parties can move forward to begin the next chapter.”

Jurich played a major role in Louisville’s success on the field and how the school handled issues off it. He led the school’s 2014 entry into the Atlantic Coast Conference and oversaw numerous program and facility upgrades, including a $63 million expansion of the football stadium due for completion by fall.

He also hired several successful coaches including Pitino, who guided the Cardinals to the 2013 NCAA men’s basketball championship. Louisville ultimately vacated that title in February as part of NCAA penalties for a sex scandal after an escort’s book allegations that former basketball staffer Andre McGee hired her and other dancers to strip and have sex with players and recruits.

Pitino has filed a $38.7 million federal lawsuit against Louisville, alleging breach of contract.