Dixon took the Horned Frogs to the NCAA tournament for the first time in 20 years this season as he’s done a great job of turning around his alma mater. The release also notes that TCU had the highest average attendance in program history this season. Fans are also taking notice of a revitalized team.
With back-to-back 20-win seasons and postseason appearances, Dixon and TCU have a lot of positive momentum going on right now. The two-year extension for Dixon should help a bit in recruiting when it comes to overall stability, as well, as he’s been able to attract some quality talent so far.
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Kentucky’s PJ Washington says coach John Calipari has “chilled out” at practice leading up to the season.
It doesn’t take as much yelling from coaches when you have a little seasoning and maturity on the roster, qualities that the Wildcats and other top Southeastern Conference teams are banking on to match — or even better — the league’s strong 2017-18 season. Calipari says he hasn’t had to raise his voice yet in practice.
“Last year it was pretty much every day but this year he’s kind of chilled out a little bit,” Washington said Wednesday at SEC media day. “We have experience obviously.”
Seriously? No yelling?
“I’m shocked, too,” Washington said. “He’s usually screaming every five seconds. Now, he’s just stopping practice and trying to teach young guys what to do.”
It helps when they’re not all young guys. Stanford grad transfer Reid Travis , a two-time All-Pac-12 performer, brought a wealth of experience to the lineup.
There are plenty of highly touted freshmen in Lexington and around the league, of course. But a number of standouts returned, too, including reigning SEC player of the year Grant Williams at Tennessee, Arkansas’ Daniel Gafford, Auburn’s Jared Harper, Florida’s Jalen Hudson and LSU’s Tremont Waters.
The SEC proved its back as a basketball power last season, sending a record eight teams to the NCAA Tournament. Optimism abounds again going into this season, with coaches not being shy about trumpeting the league’s strength.
“The league top to bottom has probably never been stronger,” Calipari said. “Top-heavy, too. Crazy.”
Added Mississippi State’s Ben Howland: “I can’t say enough about our league. This league is going to be so good this year. As good as it was last year, this year’s group is going to be even better.”
LSU coach Will Wade said last year there were a number of good teams, and now there are some that can be “elite.”
Plenty of players explored entering the NBA draft after last season but opted to return.
Tennessee and Auburn shared the SEC regular season title and return most of their top players. The Volunteers return all five starters and are led by Williams and senior Admiral Schofield. That experience prompts Howland to proclaim: “There’s no doubt they’re the team to beat in our conference.”
Auburn lost leading scorer Mustapha Heron, who transferred to St. John’s. Harper and Bryce Brown returned while center Austin Wiley and forward Danjel Purifoy are back after being ineligible last season.
“Austin is as big, as strong, as fast and as mobile as any big guy in the country,” said Auburn coach Bruce Pearl, whose team is no longer undersized.
Wiley is recovering from a foot injury that could sideline him early in the season. Purifoy is still ineligible for the first nine games.
The Tigers snapped a 15-year NCAA Tournament drought last season.
Then there’s Kentucky. Washington, Quade Green and Nick Richards are among the returnees.
Travis is the Wildcats’ only preseason first-team All-SEC pick.
The Wildcats are the preseason league favorites — as usual. But teams like Tennessee and Auburn are potential preseason top 10 teams, too.
For all the returning veterans, there’s also a strong wave of incoming talent.
Kentucky brought in the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class with four five-star recruits, according to the 247Sports composite rankings.
LSU was ranked No. 4, led by five-star forwards Nazreon Reid and Emmitt Williams, and teams like Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Florida also had highly rated classes. The Gators (Andrew Nembhard) and Commodores (Darius Garland) both signed five-star point guards.
“I think we have some really good incoming freshmen and I think we have some terrific veterans that have had a big impact on the league,” Calipari said. “The teams that won the league last year have most of their players back.
“We finally have a couple of returning players. It’s been awhile.”
LOS ANGELES (AP) — UCLA has its tallest team under coach Steve Alford, and it added another inch after the summer thanks to the continued growth of Moses Brown.
Brown, a 7-foot-2 center from New York, said he grew an inch since his arrival on the UCLA campus. People have noticed, and he’ll be a star attraction in Westwood this season.
“A lot of people want to take pictures of me,” Brown said. “Every time I walk in class, the first person they see is me. The teacher always wants to pick on me, ‘Hey, how tall are you?’ So then I introduce myself in front of the class. It’s pretty cool. You meet a lot of new people.”
And then, of course, there are the people who just take selfies with Brown in the background. He sees them as he’s walking by.
“I pose a lot,” Brown said while flashing a peace sign.
Freshman guard David Singleton made it his personal mission to show Brown the beaches on the West Coast are better than those on the East Coast. Singleton, a 6-foot-4 guard who played at Bishop Montgomery High School in Los Angeles, said they went to the Santa Monica Pier, Huntington Beach, Venice and more in the summer.
“We went to Huntington Beach for Fourth of July and everyone was coming up to us and everyone was breaking their necks,” Singleton said.
Brown, who is wearing No. 1, said the biggest change for him has been his offseason weightlifting program. He’s ready to get his college career started and to try to help UCLA improve from its 21-12 season a year ago.
“I just want to get with all my guys. I want to build a relationship with my teammates,” Brown said. “We have a lot of chemistry.”
Brown weighs 250 pounds and said he’s excited that in college, he gets fed after practice. UCLA will be feeding him the ball when he’s on the court as he will present constant mismatches.
“Moses at 7-2 presents a lot of good problems,” Alford said. “Being 7-2 and length, really runs the floor well and for a guy that big, how he handles the ball and those types of things inside has been very impressive. He gives us a shot-blocker, which, to be honest with you we really haven’t had an elite shot-blocker since we’ve been here. I think he is that.”
His stature is even an eye-opener for his frontcourt teammates.
“I have to break my neck to see Moses, which usually does not happen to me,” said sophomore guard Chris Smith, who is 6-9. “When I stand next to him, to look in his eyes, I have to look up. I’ve never had to do that before.”
G League unveils plan to intercept one-and-done players before the NCAA
The G League announced on Thursday an initiative that is a direct response to the FBI investigation into corruption in college basketball and the Rice Commission on College Basketball that stemmed from it.
Beginning in the summer of 2019, the G League plans to launch a venture that would offer $125,000 “select contracts” to certain high school prospects that are 18 years old but not yet eligible for the NBA draft. This is a direct effort to challenge the NCAA’s monopoly on elite basketball talent during the one year between the end of their high school career and their draft eligibility.
“We appreciate the NBA’s decision to provide additional opportunities for those who would like to pursue their dream of playing professionally,” NCAA president Mark Emmert said in a statement. “The NCAA recently implemented significant reforms to support student-athlete success, including more flexibility when deciding whether to play professionally.”
“Obtaining a college education continues to provide unmatched preparation for success in life for the majority of student-athletes and remains an excellent path to professional sports for many. However, this change provides another option for those who would prefer not to attend college but want to directly pursue professional basketball.”
There are some moving parts here. How many select contracts will be offered? What is the criteria for a player to be eligible to receive one? How will those teams be dispersed throughout the G League?
But the intent is clear. The Rice Commission challenged the NBA to create an alternate path to the NBA for kids that want to get paid by the pros, and this is it.
The effect that it will have on college hoops will be interesting to follow.
Without question, this is a path that any player that is offered one of these select contracts should consider and evaluate. $125,000 is a lot of money, as is the potential to land endorsement deals. Getting a chance to work with professional coaches and professional organizations would help as hell, to say nothing of the money that these players would be able to earn legally — from shoe companies, from agents, from financial advisors — during their high school days. Adidas will be able to pay the next Brian Bowen directly without having to worry about jeopardizing his eligibility of landing one of their executives in federal prison.
But that path may not end up being the ideal route for a high school graduate to follow.
I’ve written plenty of words over the years about how and why college basketball is almost always going to be the best option for an elite high school recruit, whether or not he gets paid, and whether or not the money he does receive is legal. (You can read that here.) College basketball players, particularly the star players, deserve more than they get, but that doesn’t mean that they don’tlead a pretty good life.
And it is certainly a better life than flying commercial, riding buses and playing in front of tens of fans in cold gyms with games televised on YouTube streams.
That’s the G League.
The G League is also full of grown men that are, themselves, former five-star prospects fighting for their shot at a paycheck. Walking into that as an 18-year old that has never spent a second in a college strength and conditioning program and is just weeks removed from having their bed made by their mother is not exactly the best way for a kid to market himself to NBA teams. There’s a reason that Darius Bazely is spending the next year training on his own instead of playing in the G League. He’d get worked over.
And that’s before we consider what shoe companies want.
The reason that Adidas was willing to pay $100,000 to the family of Brian Bowen to get him to go to Louisville was that he would be on national television wearing Louisville gear. It was, more or less, an endorsement. It is good for Adidas to have Louisville — and Kansas, and Indiana, and every other program branded by the three stripes — to be good at basketball. Is that money going to be there for these kids if they are playing for the Reno Bighorns instead of the Kansas Jayhawks? Or will they be more apt to invest it in the next-best player available in the college ranks?
And, perhaps more importantly, will that endorsement money be as big when these kids haven’t spent a full season playing on national television every single night? Without the hype that comes with being a star in March Madness?
There is a lot that is going to play out in this regard over the ten months, when this will go into effect.
And the ripples throughout the sport of college basketball will be just as interesting to follow.
No. 7 Tennessee: With everyone back, are the Vols a national title favorite?
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. 7 Tennessee.
The Vols were one of the best stories in all of college basketball last season.
They were picked 13th out of 14 teams in the SEC in the preseason. They didn’t have a single player on their roster that was ranked in the top 100 of their recruiting class, according to 247 Sports composite rankings. They were led by a coach in Rick Barnes that not enough people respected and that some believed had taken Tennessee in an effort to land one, last payday before hanging up the clipboard.
And all they did was go out and win a share of the SEC regular season title in a year where the SEC sent eight teams to the NCAA tournament.
Barnes, as you might imagine, was named the SEC Coach of the Year as a result.
Perhaps the best news of all is that the Vols will return essentially everyone from that team. All five starters are back, including SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams. Their sixth-man, who played starters’ minutes and was the third-leading scorer on the team, is back as well. Their bench, which was young and unproved last season, has another year of experience under their belt and adds four-star freshman D.J. Burns, who, while talented, is year another sub-100 prospect.
When it comes down to it, the only real difference between this Tennessee team and last year’s Tennessee team is that this team is going to have to face the full weight of expectation.
The Vols are no longer a secret.
They are the reigning SEC champs, a preseason top ten team and one of, if not the biggest game on the schedule for everyone they are going to face this season.
How the Vols handle that burden will determine just how much success they have this season.
There were really good last year, and they are essentially the same team this year.
It really is going to be that simple with the Vols.
They bring back the SEC Player of the Year in Grant Williams. They bring back the three guards that they featured when they played their small lineup. They bring back Admiral Schofield, who is the physical, no-nonsense wing that can guard-up, rebound the ball and shoot nearly-40 percent from three. Starting center Kyle Alexander is now a senior, and he’ll be pushed for minutes as Rick Barnes added frontcourt depth with the addition of four-star recruit D.J. Burns and the return of Zach Kent. Throw in the fact that Yves Pons, one of the very-best athletes in the SEC regardless of sport, might actually have a better feel of how to be a basketball player this season, and it stands to season that the Vols are going to be just as good, if not better, this year.
I’m not sure how else to put it.
And if anything, the roster additions that Barnes made should help.
Tennessee was one of the best defensive teams in the country last season. They finished sixth-nationally in KenPom’s adjusted defensive efficiency metric, and they did so because they forced a lot of turnovers and were terrific at contesting shots and running teams off the three-point line. Their weakness on that end of the floor was the fact that they allowed their opponents a 31.1 offensive rebounding percentage — 281st nationally — but it would stand to reason adding more size would help here.
Either way, it’s hard to envision a scenario where Tennessee is going to be worse this season than last when thinking strictly about the X’s and O’s of it all …
… but basketball isn’t just about the X’s and O’s.
In 2017, Northwestern made the NCAA tournament for the first time in the history of the program. They then won a game in the tournament and, if it wasn’t for a questionable goaltending call and the ensuing technical foul on Chris Collins, the Wildcats might have actually picked off eventual runners-up Gonzaga in the second round.
The following season, Northwestern returned everyone and found themselves ranked in the preseason top 20 before falling off a cliff. The Wildcats finished below .500, losing their final seven games of the season while earmarking what was supposed to be a breakout year for the program with a 6-12 Big Ten record.
“I kind of knew we weren’t ready,” star point guard Bryant McIntosh said at the time. “We weren’t really prepared to play a good team. We weren’t mentally ready. I don’t think we were in shape physically,” while Collins added that the team had lost their edge. “We didn’t have that same hunger,” he said.
Northwestern thought they had made it, they eased up instead of striving to be better and it cost them.
This is precisely what Tennessee needed to avoid this offseason. Complacency and satisfaction is the most dangerous thing that a team like these Vols can face. This is not a group that is going to out-talent anyone at this level. I’m not sure there is an NBA player on the roster. They win games because they work their tails off at all times: Defensively, on the glass, in transition, cutting on offense and, perhaps most importantly, during offseason workouts.
It is not easy to go from being the hunter to the hunted, and Tennessee is going to find that out this year.
I wonder where the Vols can improve individually.
As a team, there is a clear answer to this: They can get better on the defensive glass. The way that their roster is composed and that they execute their defense is always going to leave them liable to giving up second-chance points — this is what happens when you play small and you gamble for steals — but they couldn’t even grab seven out of every ten potential defensive rebounds. That number can get better.
I’m curious which player on this team can take a step forward.
Because it looks like the six rotations players they are bringing back have more or less maxed themselves out.
Williams can become a better three-point shooter. That will help. Turner, Bowden and Bone all shot under 40.3% from two-point range last season. That certainly can improve. Those guards have a tendency to turn the ball over a little too much. That can get better as well.
But those are the margins.
What I’m struggling to see is where a someone can go from being a role player to an all-SEC player. I don’t think they have a breakout star, and to me, that is the difference between Tennessee being considered a top ten team and the Vols being looked at as a real contender to Kentucky in the SEC title race.
If that happens — if, say, Admiral Schofield becomes the best wing in the league — then we may have to start talking about Tennessee as a basketball school.
Outside of the teams in the top four, Tennessee to me has the narrowest gap between their ceiling and their floor of any team in the top 15 or 20 this season.
We know they’re going to be really good because they were really good last season and this is basically the same team. We also know there may not be an NBA player on this roster, and it is not easy to win at the highest level in college hoops without having the kind of talent that can play in the NBA.
What does all that mean?
It’s hard to fathom Tennessee falling out of the top three in the SEC.
It also seems unlikely that Tennessee will be cutting down the nets on the final weekend of the season.
Rob Dauster was joined by Scott Phillips on Thursday morning to dive into everything Big Ten. Can Michigan repeat last season’s run to the national title game? What do we make of this Michigan State team after losing Miles Bridges and Jaren Jackson? Is Romeo Langford worth the hype? Is Carsen Edwards? Can Wisconsin get back to their winning ways?