Photo by John Weast/Getty Images

Monday’s Things To Know: Baylor keeps winning, Duke dominates and Texas Tech finds Jarrett Culver some help

Leave a comment

There wasn’t much in the way of high-profile matchups or huge upsets Monday, but that doesn’t mean you don’t need to catch up on the important action – and trash talking – from across the country. Here’s what you need to know, starting Baylor being…pretty good?

BAYLOR IS GOOD AND NO ONE KNOWS HOW

No one thought Baylor would be particularly good this season. In fact, most thought they’d be bad, having lost the two best players – Manu Lecomte and Jo Lual-Acuil – off a team that wasn’t all that good a year ago. It wasn’t just media punditry, either. The Big 12’s coaches voted the Bears ninth in the league preseason poll.

So pretty much everyone was expecting Scott Drew’s team to languish through this season, and for the select few, probably none outside Waco, Texas or without a Baylor degree framed on their wall, that actually had some hope, they certainly let go of those dreams when Tristan Clark, this year’s team’s best player, was lost for the season with a knee injury early this month. Surely, that would extinguish any hope of a meaningful season for Baylor.

Well, Baylor just absolutely stomped Oklahoma, 77-47, in Norman on Monday night to win its fifth-straight game and improve to 5-2 in the Big 12, which, would you seriously look at this, is tied for the best record in the conference. It’s honestly amazing – the team picked to finish next-to-last lost its best player and now has the best record in the league almost halfway through the schedule.

If you’re still making Scott Drew Can’t Coach jokes, you really, really need to stop. He’s the Big 12 coach of the year right now, and probably will move into the national discussion if things keep moving in the same direction.

The Bears have morphed into – I kid you not – the Big 12’s best offense during league play, per KenPom. They’re grabbing about 40 percent of their own misses to help offset so-so shooting while hoisting 41.9 percent of their attempts from 3-point range. They’re also assisting on better than 60 percent of their buckets. Makai Mason, whose foot injury made him a true mystery before the season, is shooting 38.6 percent from 3-point range during Big 12 play while King McClure and Mario Kegler have helped fill the void over the last month.

So the question here is how real is this? The offensive rebounding, which is powering the offense, seems sustainable given Drew’s teams are always great on the boards. The defense is suspect, though, with Big 12 opponents clocking in at a league-worst 53.9 percent effective field goal percentage. The Bears’ opponents are making 40 percent of their 3s. Not great. Still, though, the Bears’ schedule seems awfully well set up for them to keep the momentum. They’ve got TCU at home this weekend before a trip to Texas, which has lost five of six. Then it’s home dates with Kansas State and the Sooners again. It’s really not too hard to see them at 9-2 or 8-3 there, is it? You get there by the second week of February in the Big 12, and the NCAA tournament seems attainable with just another win or two, no problem.

We’ll see if this magic evaporates, but given what we’ve seen already from Baylor, it would almost be more surprising to see the Bears collapse than it has been to see them get here.

As for Oklahoma, not exactly an ideal way to follow up a 31-point win against Vanderbilt. The team that spent November and December piling up a great resume now has home losses to Kansas State and Baylor along with road Ls to Kansas, Texas Tech and Texas. It’s hard to make sense of the Sooners, but their upcoming stretch (at West Virginia, vs. Iowa State, vs. Texas Tech, at Baylor, at TCU) should rectify that.

DUKE ROLLS

GIven how the highlight reel dunks have become commonplace and the presumption is he’ll go No. 1 in June’s NBA draft, sometimes you can lose sight of how good Duke’s Zion Williamson is. Look at what the freshman did in the Blue Devils’ 83-61 thrashing of Notre Dame in South Bend.

Williamson made 10 of 12 shots from the floor, including his only 3-point attempt, had nine rebounds, four assists and four blocks in 36 minutes. It’s wild what he’s doing, and even wilder that games like this aren’t all that noteworthy any more.

TEXAS TECH BUILDS MOMENTUM

You could be forgiven if your faith in Texas Tech had hobbled over the last couple weeks. That 4-0 start to the Big 12 looked a whole lot less impressive after the Red Raiders dropped three-straight – at home to Iowa State and then at Baylor and Kansas State – followed by a “meh” win at home against Arkansas in the Big 12/SEC Challenge on Saturday.

Texas Tech took a step toward rebuilding that trust Monday.

The 16th-ranked Red Raiders took care of business in Lubbock against TCU with an 84-65 win in which they controlled the game essentially from start to finish.

Undoubtedly the best sign for Chris Beard and Co. was an offense that didn’t rely on Jarrett Culver to do literally everything. Culver, whose usage rate of 32.3 percent is the highest in the Big 12 during conference play, got a ton of help against the Horned Frogs with Matt Mooney scoring 18, Tariq Owens 17 and Davide Moretti 11. Culver still got his with 18 points but the fact that he was 0-6 from 3-point range didn’t haunt the Raiders with the rest of the team going 9-15 from distance.

Culver is going to have to do the bulk of the work for the Texas Tech offense this year – that’s just reality – but if the likes of Mooney, Owens and Moretti can chip in with regularity, that’s going to ease things on the Red Raiders and put way less pressure on Culver to be great and the Texas Tech defense to be near-perfect.

New-look Virginia back to work after winning NCAA title

Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images
Leave a comment

Tony Bennett’s first offseason as a national champion coach has come with benefits on the recruiting trail. His first season at Virginia after winning the title, however, will bring challenges.

Five players who helped Virginia beat Texas Tech to capture the first basketball title in school history are gone, and that’s four more than expected. Center Jack Salt graduated, and guards De’Andre Hunter, Ty Jerome and Kyle Guy declared for the NBA draft. Seldom-used Marco Anthony transferred.

Recruiting was already well underway before the Cavaliers won it all, but Bennett said Wednesday the result “certainly can’t hurt and I think it has helped. It validates a lot of good stuff that’s happened in the past.”

Virginia hopes the spoils of those improvements are evident quickly in incoming freshmen guard Casey Morsell, big men Justin McKoy and Kadin Shedrick and junior college shooting guard Tomas Woldetensae.

Virginia opened its summer practice period on Tuesday, and Bennett said he’s not sure just yet who will be ready to contribute.

“Everyone will have ample opportunity, the newcomers, so to speak,” he said. “To say who, you just don’t know. … There are some opportunities out there. So it’s the returners and we can go down the list of the guys we brought in, but I think they’re excited about the opportunity.

“There’s always a learning curve any time you go from whether it’s high school to college or junior college to college or coming from a redshirt to being eligible. … Going up a level and playing in the ACC, for any of these guys, there’s the challenge of the physicality and the level of talent and the speed.”

Woldetensae, a left-handed shooter, averaged 17.3 points per game and shot 47.6 percent from 3-point range last season at Indian Hills Community College.

“We thought we needed to add some experience and a quality player on the perimeter and when he was mentioned and we did our homework and watched film and all those kinds of things,” he said. “His personality came out as a young man of character and we always start there. He seemed wanting to challenge himself at a very high level.”

The Cavaliers were delighted that Mamadi Diakite decided to come back for his senior year after testing the professional waters. And they added senior transfer Sam Hauser, who averaged 14.9 points and 7.2 rebounds last season at Marquette. Hauser will be eligible to practice with the team, but won’t be able to play until 2020-21.

Bennett’s offseason included numerous speaking engagements, recruiting, talking to NBA scouts about his players and some time to decompress.

He also checked an item off his bucket list when, with his father, longtime college coach Dick Bennett, he played Augusta National Golf Club, home of The Masters. That, he said, “was amazing.”

Now, it’s back to work.

“I’m grateful for the busy-ness of it,” he said of the offseason. “It means something good happened.”

Four-star forward commits to West Virginia

Photo by Elsa/Getty Images
Leave a comment

West Virginia landed a top-75 recruit Thursday night.

Isaiah Cottrell, a 6-foot-9 forward from Bishop Gorman in Las Vegas, committed to West Virginia’s 2020 recruiting class.

Cottrell picked the Mountaineers overs offers from the likes of Kansas, Washington and Arizona, among others. His father, Brian Lewin, played for West Virginia in the 1990s. The four-star prospect continues a promising recruiting trend for Bob Huggins, who landed a top-40 commit in center Oscar Tshiebwe in the 2019 class.

The Mountaineers missed the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in four years as they slid to 15-21 overall and last in the Big 12 with a 4-14 mark.

John Calipari’s new deal at Kentucky worth $86 million over 10 years

Getty Images
1 Comment

John Calipari and Kentucky agreed in April to what was described as a “lifetime contract.” Thursday, the exact terms of that deal were disclosed.

The Wildcats coach’s new contract worth $86 million over 10 years.

“I’ve said from day one that this would be the gold standard and it has been for student-athletes and coaches,” Calipari said in a statement released by the school. “As I enter my 11th year, I’m reminded it took me 20 years to get an opportunity to like this. There is no other place I want to be. As I look forward, my mindset is what’s next and how can we be first at it for the young people that we coach.”

Calipari, 60, will likely continue to be a source of speculation for other jobs presuming he keeps things rolling in Lexington as he has for the last 10 years, but what Kentucky is paying him will almost certainly be more than any other program – and potentially NBA franchises – are going to be willing to. Calipari’s success, NBA history and ability to always be central to the broader college basketball conversation means he’ll always be in demand, but it’s hard to picture a situation that could intrigue Calipari enough to leave one of – if not the – best jobs in basketball.

“(Calipari) has added a special chapter to the greatest tradition in college basketball and it’s a chapter we want him to continue writing until the end of his coaching career,” Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart said in a statement. “We are pleased to announce a new contract that will enable him to do exactly that.”

Calipari 305-71 with one national championship, four Final Fours and 26 first-round draft picks in 10 years with the Wildcats. He and Kentucky will likely open the 2019-20 season as one of the frontrunners for the national championship.

Michigan State reports violation for Tom Izzo hosting visit for former high school

Getty Images
2 Comments

Michigan State self-reported an NCAA rules violation for Tom Izzo hosting Iron Mountain High School for a tour while the team was in town to compete for its first ever state title that weekend.

Izzo unknowingly committed the violation — which only occurred because Iron Mountain was competing in the Breslin Center that weekend — and the Spartans immediately gave notice once they became aware of it. Proud of his alma mater for advancing to Michigan’s final weekend, Izzo was merely taking interest in players and a team connected to his youth. The Iron Mountain program toured the Breslin Center with Izzo and toured Michigan State’s locked room while also watching the Spartans practice before their state semifinal game.

Since it was a special privilege for Iron Mountain, playing in an event there, the Spartans were technically at fault for a violation. The fact that Izzo and Michigan State have to report a violation for this sort of thing is kind of ridiculous since Izzo has a natural connection to the team in question. Although Michigan State likely isn’t going to get hit with any NCAA issues from this, it’s the kind of thing that critics come to question about the NCAA’s rulebook.

Former lacrosse star Pat Spencer commits to Northwestern for basketball

Getty Images
1 Comment

Northwestern landed a unique graduate transfer on Thursday as Loyola lacrosse star Pat Spencer will spend his final year of college eligibility hooping for the Wildcats, according to Stadium’s Jeff Goodman.

A former high school basketball standout at Boys’ Latin (MD), Spencer was one of the best lacrosse players in the country for the Greyhounds the past four years in college. He was selected in two drafts during the Spring. Spencer was taken first overall in the inaugural PLL College Draft while getting taken seventh overall in the MLL’s Collegiate Draft. Loyola remains in the NCAA tournament as Spencer is playing out his senior season of college.

Spencer is passing up multiple professional lacrosse opportunities to play Big Ten basketball for Northwestern. For a stud athlete in a sport to pass up money to pursue another athletic dream is one of the college basketball’s best things to follow next season.

As if Spencer’s background wasn’t unique enough, he’ll be at a Northwestern team starving for an identity since making the NCAA tournament a few seasons ago. By playing in the Big Ten, Spencer will be thrown against Final Four contenders and potential draft picks, which makes this transition particularly intriguing. It’s a cool story to follow this season as college hoops doesn’t often get athletes from other sports playing in such prominent conferences.

Greg Paulus famously went from Duke point guard to Syracuse quarterback as a graduate transfer, but he was leaving the sport to pursue an opportunity to play football. Spencer choosing basketball over a sure pro shot in lacrosse is an interesting opportunity for him this season. It’ll be interesting to see if he can still contribute anything on the hardwood.

(Ht: Jeff Goodman, Stadium)