Getty Images

Pac-12 Offseason Reset: Arizona favored or bracing for wrath of NCAA?

2 Comments

The grad transfer market is still in full swing, but for the most part, we know what the meaningful parts for the majority of the teams around the country will be.

That means that it is time to start talking about what is coming instead of what was.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at key personnel changes, the impact of the coaching carousel and the most important storylines heading into the 2019-20 season for each of college basketball’s top seven conferences.

Today, we are talking Pac-12.

KEY OFFSEASON STORYLINES

WHO IS GETTING HIT WITH NCAA SANCTIONS?: As much as Arizona and USC will have been hoping that this season would be all about basketball with the FBI’s investigation into college basketball now done and dusted, the truth is that it is just beginning for the schools themselves.

That’s because the NCAA is only just now getting involved.

According to a report last month from Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports, at least six basketball programs are going to receive a notice of allegations from the NCAA regarding Level I violations before the summer is over, and that there are at least two “high-profile” programs that could receive them by early July.

As of today, it is early July.

Which means that Arizona, and, to a point, USC, have as much to worry about as anyone in college basketball.

By now, you should know all about the involvement of those two programs. A pair of former assistants — Arizona’s Book Richardson and USC’s Tony Bland — plead guilty during the trials. Sean Miller’s name has been brought as much as anyone that wasn’t actually charged with a crime. Why does this matter? Because the NCAA is allowed to use any and all information that was dug up by the FBI and made public by these trials to punish the programs that were involved.

Andy Enfield (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

And the NCAA will have plenty of incentive to punish these programs, because unlike the scandals that came out of North Carolina and Penn State, a wannabe agent making under-the-table payments to assistant coaches is exactly the kind of cheating that sits in NCAA enforcement’s wheelhouse.

Richardson and Bland plead guilty to crimes that double as NCAA violations.

Head coaches are responsible for any violations that are committed by the people that work for them. Just yesterday, Kevin Ollie was given a three-year show-cause penalty for violations that were committed while he was the head coach at UConn. Part of that show-cause was the result of lying to the NCAA investigators, but he was charged with violating head coach responsibility rules. There is reason for Sean Miller and Andy Enfield to be worried.

The question, if we’re being frank, has more to do with how harsh will the punishments be, not whether or not the NCAA is going to be able to find something to punish.

WILL ANYONE PULL A SYRACUSE OR A LOUISVILLE?: In February of 2015, with an investigation staring them straight in the face, Syracuse self-imposed a postseason ban for that season. Louisville did the same the following year. It’s an easy way to try and get into the NCAA’s good graces and avoid a harsher, longer-term punishment — why create the recruiting disincentive by putting off a postseason ban that can be put into effect with the players already on the roster?

Will either USC or Arizona opt to go down that path this season?

HOW WILL MICK CRONIN’S COACHING STYLE FIT IN SOCAL?: Mick Cronin was not the first pick for UCLA this spring. In fact, the Bruins rolled through five, if not more, candidates before they landed on the former Cincinnati head coach, but don’t, for a second, think that that has anything to do with Cronin’s coaching acumen.

Cronin built the Bearcats back into a program that was, for the last nine years, an annual lock to get an NCAA tournament bid. They were always a threat to win whatever league they were in, and in the years where they did not enter the season in the top 25, they were, at the very least, under consideration. That’s not an easy thing to do at a school like that. Cronin knows how to win.

But what makes UCLA’s decision to hire him to replace Steve Alford such an interesting storyline is that he is the polar opposite of the kind of coach that you would think the flagship program in Southern California would need to hire. Cronin is tough, he’s no-nonsense, he’s intense and he preaches a brand of basketball that resembles rugby more than it does the pace-and-space era. He’s Ben Howland, only shorter and angrier, and Howland was run out of Westwood despite reaching three Final Four in ten years and winning the Pac-12 the year that he was fired.

It won’t be easy for Cronin to make the transition to the west coast, but it wasn’t easy to be the guy to try and rebuild Cincinnati after Bob Huggins.

(Jayne Kamin-Oncea/Getty Images)

JUST HOW GOOD WILL JADEN MCDANIELS BE THIS YEAR?: Washington is the x-factor in the Pac-12 race this season. Mike Hopkins lost a number of key pieces off of last season’s roster, but there is a ton of length and athleticism at his disposal, not to mention the two top ten prospects that are entering the program.

That would be Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. Stewart, at this point, is more of a known commodity. At 6-foot-9 and 245 pounds, he should more than make up for the loss of Noah Dickerson to graduation, and there are some that believe he will be the most productive freshman in all of college basketball, more than James Wiseman or Cole Anthony.

McDaniels is a bit more of a question mark. His potential is through the roof. He’s 6-foot-11 with high level perimeter skills. He can handle, he can shoot and his ceiling is legitimately as high as anyone in the class of 2019. But he is a long way from being a finished product. He isn’t quite 200 pounds. He’s a guy that can make shots more than a shooter at this point in his development. He has the potential to be a big time shot-creator, but he’s still somewhat inconsistent and can be bothered by smaller players that climb up under him.

The reason that Washington is being picked as one of the teams that can win the Pac-12 this season is because they have two potential top five picks on a roster that is littered with solid role players. Whether or not they actually win the league, however, will likely come down to just how close McDaniels’ production as a one-and-done is to his potential.

WHAT HAPPENS IF MCKINLEY WRIGHT CAN MAKE IT THROUGH THE SEASON HEALTHY?: The best player in the Pac-12 that you have never heard of is Colorado point guard McKinley Wright. He’s spent the last two seasons putting up all-league numbers without getting the kind of attention or acclaim that players at bigger or more relevant programs have gotten. The Buffaloes bring back the just about every notable piece off of last year’s roster, and that includes Wright, who played much of last season with a shoulder injury that had to be surgically repaired this offseason. If he’s healthy, are the Buffs the biggest sleeper in the conference?

WHAT TRICKS DOES DANA ALTMAN HAVE UP HIS SLEEVE?: Altman is one of the few coaches who I trust to be able to find a way to make his team relevant regardless of what is actually on his roster, but he is going to have to make some magic happen this season if the Ducks are going to make it back to the NCAA tournament this season. He lost Louis King, Kenny Wooten and Bol Bol off of last year’s roster. He does return potential Pac-12 Player of the Year Payton Pritchard, as well as Will Richardson, who has a chance to be the league’s breakout star. There are also a number of key additions for this group — Anthony Mathis, C.J. Walker, Chandler Lawson, Chris Duarte — but overall, this does not exactly look like a team that is going to push Arizona and Washington for a league title.

McKinley Wright IV (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

WHO’S GONE

  • LOUIS KING and KENNY WOOTEN, Oregon: The Ducks may be bringing back a potential Pac-12 Player of the Year in Payton Pritchard, but it is hard to ignore what they are losing in King and Wooten. Wooten might be the bigger loss, because his combination of athleticism and rim protection anchored Oregon’s defense down the stretch of last season and mimics what Jordan Bell provided during their 2019 Final Four run. King’s loss will be felt as he was the perfect floor-spacing small-ball four for Altman’s offense. Combined, these two left five years of eligibility on the table. Both went undrafted.
  • LU DORT, Arizona State: Speaking on undrafted players, Dort spent the majority of the season drawing comparisons to Marcus Smart before he failed to hear his named called on June 20th. The Sun Devils not only lose Dort, but they will also saw Zylan Cheatam graduate. There are still plenty of talented pieces at Bobby Hurley’s disposal, but his life certainly would have been easier with Dort in the fold.
  • JAYLEN HANDS, KRIS WILKES and MOSES BROWN, UCLA: Everything about UCLA is going to look different next season. New head coach. New style of play. A new top three scorers. There will be a changing of the guard in Westwood, and based on the culture that enveloped that program in recent years, that may not be a bad thing.
  • KZ OKPALA, Stanford: Okpala was one of last year’s biggest risers, from a draft prospect perspective, but it didn’t turn into wins for the Cardinal. What that means is that for the second straight season, Jerod Haase will lose his best player despite that player still having eligibility remaining.

WHO’S BACK

  • MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado: The best player out west that you don’t know about. He’s a darkhorse Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate, and the biggest reason that the Buffaloes are going to find themselves in the mix for an NCAA tournament bid.
  • PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon: If the Ducks are going to have any chance to make it back to the NCAA tournament next season, it is going to be because Pritchard is one of the best point guards in the sport. He’ll keep them relevant after the departure of Kenny Wooten and Louis King.
  • TRES TINKLE, Oregon State: He doesn’t get the recognition because he plays for Oregon State, but Tinkle is one of the best scorers in college hoops. He put up 20.8 points to go along with 8.1 boards and 3.8 assists as a junior, and he’ll return to a team that does have some interesting pieces next season.
  • LOTS OF TALENT, UCLA: Here’s the thing about this UCLA program — there are still some really good players in the mix. Tyger Campbell and Shareef O’Neeal will be healthy. Cody Riley and Jalen Hill are back. Chris Smith will have a chance to spread his wings, as will Jules Bernard and David Singleton. Even redshirt senior Prince Ali (fabulous he, Ali Ababwa) was a top 30 recruit coming out of high school. Whether or not those guys fit Cronin’s style of play or will be willing to buy in with a new coach in town is up for debate, but the cupboard isn’t bare.

WHO’S COMING

  • NICO MANNION and JOSH GREEN, Arizona: Remember when you thought that Arizona wouldn’t be able to recruit because of everything happening with the FBI investigation? All Sean Miller did was go out and land two five-star prospects that could end up giving the Wildcats one of the best backcourts in the country. Mannion and Green are the reason Arizona looks like the favorite to win the league this season.
  • ISAIAH STEWART and JADEN MCDANIELS, Washington: We discussed McDaniels earlier, so let’s talk about Stewart here. He’s an absolute man-child on the block, a low-post scorer that seems a pretty good bet to lead the conference in rebounding. I would not be surprised to look up in February and see Stewart averaging 15 points, 10 boards and 2.5 blocks for a top 20 team.
  • ONYEKA OKONGWU and ISAIAH MOBLEY, USC: The Trojans are going to look an awful lot like Dunk City West again this season. Okongwu and Mobley are both top 25 recruits that will share time in the frontcourt with Nick Rakocevic. There are a lot of really, really good big men on this roster.
Tres Tinkle (Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

WAY-TOO-EARLY ALL-PAC-12 TEAM

TRES TINKLE, Oregon State (Preseason Player of the Year)
PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon
MCKINLEY WRIGHT, Colorado
NICO MANNION, Arizona
NICK RAKOCEVIC, USC

WAY-TOO-EARLY POWER RANKINGS

1. ARIZONA: There’s a reason that the Arizona administration is going to stand by Sean Miller for as long as they can, and that’s because the man knows how to build a basketball team. Arizona completely restocked a depleted roster that finished eighth in last year’s Pac-12, headlined by the addition of Nico Mannion and Josh Green. With UC Irvine grad transfer Max Hazzard, the return of Chase Jeter and Brandon Williams and a pair of sneaky-good freshmen bigs in Zeke Nnaji and Christian Koloko, the Wildcats have a nice combination of talent and depth.

2. WASHINGTON: The Huskies are losing five of their top six scorers from last season, but there is a chance that they could end up being better next season than they were this past season. Mike Hopkins will have a nice combination of young star power — Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels — and good, veteran role players that can do a job in their system — Hameir Wright, Nahziah Carter and Quade Green. If they’re going to win the league, the Huskies will need a few of their youngsters to grow into supporting roles, but they have a chance.

3. COLORADO: McKinley Wright is the name that you need to know, but the Buffs are more than just a one man team. They bring back basically everyone of consequence, including another all-conference player in Tyler Bey, giving them a balanced, experienced and talented roster in a conference where that isn’t all that common.

4. USC: I’m actually buying the talent on this USC roster. Their frontline of Nick Rakocevic, Isaiah Mobley and Onyeka Okongwu will be as long and athletic as anyone. They added a bunch of shooting with a trio of grad transfers as well. The big question is going to be point guard play, but given what is going on in the rest of this league, I think they have enough to make a run at finishing top four.

5. OREGON: Losing Wooten is a major blow, as it will cost them defensively, but I do think that there will be enough scoring on this roster to keep them relevant with Dana Altman calling the shots. We know wht Payton Pritchard will be. The big question for me is going to be Will Richardson’s development, C.J. Walker’s impact and just how effective Anthony Mathis is as a shooter moving up a level.

6. UCLA: We’ve written plenty about UCLA in this preview, so I’ll leave it at this: I think the Bruins have NCAA tournament upside, but I would not bet on it happening this year.

7. ARIZONA STATE: Bobby Hurley has gotten a ton of hype over the last two seasons thanks to some impressive wins that his Sun Devils have been able to cobble together in non-conference play. But they’re a combined 43-23 in those two seasons, with a 20-16 record in league play and two NCAA tournament trips that produced last year’s play-in game win over St. John’s. There is some talent on this roster, but I’m going to have to see it to buy into it.

8. OREGON STATE: Tres Tinkle might actually have some help this season. Ethan Thompson returned to school, as did Kylor Kelley, while Payton Dastrup will be getting eligible. It would be a shame if a player as good as Tinkle had another All-American caliber season wasted.

9. UTAH: I am very much a believer in Larry Krystkowiak’s coaching ability, but this version of the Utes is going to be really, really young. Losing Donnie Tillman didn’t help matters. As it stands, the only upperclassmen on the roster is going to be a JuCo transfer.

10. STANFORD: Every year I manage to talk myself into the talent on Stanford’s roster and every year I find myself regretting it. There are some intriguing pieces in Palo Alto this season even with K.Z. Okpala in the NBA, but I’m not going to predict them to do much of anything until, you know, they actually do it.

11. WASHINGTON STATE: Everyone is going to talk about how difficult Mark Fox’s rebuilding job at Cal is going to be, but at least he’s not Kyle Smith at Washington State.

12. CAL: The Golden Bears went 16-47 overall and just 5-31 in the Pac-12 the last two seasons, and they now have a new head coach and lost most of their best players this offseason. Good luck, Mark Fox.

Evolution of Matt Painter: Most malleable coach in college basketball

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The second installment of our memorable moments series features Purdue.

The Boilermakers played two of the best games of last year’s tournament, and they exemplified just how malleable Matt Painter’s coaching is, and just how much that matters heading into next season.

RELATED: Looking back at Virginia’s title run

This is recency bias at it’s very finest, I can fully admit that, but I find it very hard to believe that you can find an example of a more heart-wrenching roller coaster ride of emotions than what Purdue fans experienced in Louisville during the second weekend of the NCAA tournament in 2019.

Let’s start with that Sweet 16 game against Tennessee. Purdue blew a 17-point second half lead before Ryan Cline made four straight threes in the final six minutes to put the Boilermakers in a position where a controversial foul sent Carsen Edwards to the free throw line. He made two of three to force overtime, where Purdue pulled away. After putting the Volunteers to bed, Matt Painter’s boys advanced to the Elite Eight to face Virginia, owners of the nation’s best defense, where Edwards went nuts, scoring 24 of his 42 points – and hitting six of his ten threes – in the final 13 minutes before a missed box out and this heads up play from Virginia’s Kihei Clark forced overtime and, eventually, cost the Boilermakers a trip to their first Final Four in 39 years:

My fingernails and voice were gone by the time Tony Bennett and Virginia officially advanced to the Final Four, and all I had on the line was a couple of bets.

(For the record, I took Tennessee in the Sweet 16 and Purdue in the Elite Eight. I lost both bets.)

But beyond my degeneracy, both of these games had something else in common – a Purdue player going absolutely bonkers to close out the game.

Against Tennessee, Cline scored 22 of his 27 points in the second half, hitting four straight threes in a five minute stretch to get the game to the extra period. Cline didn’t even end up as Purdue’s leading scorer on that night. Edwards, who had 29 points and fired up 14 threes, was. Those 29 points came in between back-to-back 42 point outbursts by the 33rd pick in the 2019 NBA Draft. In total, Edwards found a way to get up 61 threes in four NCAA tournament games. Cline was able to get off 34 threes in four games, and those two stats serve as a pretty fair summation of what Purdue basketball was during the 2018-19 season.

Purdue attempted 977 threes last year. Since 2010, only four high major teams have shot more threes in a single season than Purdue did last year – Villanova in each of the last two seasons, Auburn in 2018-19 and Michigan in 2017-18; the latter played in an NCAA record 41 games that season and averaged 2.5 fewer threes attempted per game than Purdue did this past season. The Boilermakers set a record for the most threes attempted in a Big Ten season with 501.

Edwards and Cline were the two guys that led the way. They took 646 threes combined last year, which is two-thirds of their team total. Edwards led the Big Ten in three-pointers attempted during league play. Cline finished second. Combined, they shot more threes – 327 in total – than Minnesota’s entire team.

And that’s fascinating to me.

Because just four years ago, the Boilermakers finished 12th in the Big Ten in three pointers attempted with just 332 as a team. That season, the first in a four-year stretch where Purdue has been arguably the best program in the Big Ten, 24.8 percent of Purdue’s offense came via post-ups.

For the record, that number is insane.

Oral Roberts finished second nationally in that stat in 2016, finishing with just over 18 percent of their offense coming via post-ups. Since the 2007-08 season – which is as far back as I’m willing to trust Synergy’s data – only three teams have finished the season running more than 21 percent of their through the post: Purdue in 2015-16, Purdue in 2016-17 and Stanford in 2007-08, the final year that the Lopez twins were in Palo Alto.

But there’s more.

This past season, just 7.4 percent of Purdue’s offense came via post-ups. In 2011-12, Robbie Hummel’s final season with the program, that number was just 2.9 percent.

In the span of seven years, Matt Painter went from running a program that played Hummel, a 6-foot-8 small forward, at the five to one that paired Caleb Swanigan with Isaac Haas to one that rode Edwards going full YOLO to within a Mamadi Diakite buzzer-beater of the Final Four.

That is not normal.

And it should tell you all you need to know about the man running things in West Lafayette.


(Getty Images)

Robbie Hummel remembers it like it was yesterday.

It’s early December in 2011, just nine games into his senior season, and Purdue is fresh off of blowing a 19-point second half lead in a loss in Cincinnati to No. 11 Xavier. He’s with the rest of his team in the film room, watching as Painter is going over everything that went wrong on that Saturday in the Cintas Center. When you blow a 19-point lead in less than 11 minutes, a lot went wrong.

Hummel’s not looking forward to it. He scored 17 points, but it took him 21 shots to get there. He didn’t play great, but there is one shot in particular that he’s dreading. He knows it’s going to be in the edit that Painter shows. With more than 20 seconds left on the shot clock, he waves off not one but two different Purdue guards. He squares up Xavier’s Travis Taylor. He goes between his legs, he crosses over, he puts the ball back between his legs, takes one dribble to get into a rhythm and lets loose with a 24-foot three that hits nothing but air.

It’s not even close.

When it shows up on the screen, he knows what’s coming.

“Robbie,” Painter says, without a hint of sarcasm in his voice, “that’s the worst f***ing shot in the history of basketball.”

And Painter is right.

The announcers on the broadcast point out how bad the shot is. His teammates at the time know it’s an awful shot. Watching the clip now, Hummel says it’s “just a horrific possession and shot,” laughing with the benefit of hindsight.

I’m telling you that story because it’s funny. Anyone that knows Painter has a story like that, he’s just that kind of a guy. Maybe one day I’ll share the one I heard about the time Pat Knight hosted him on a recruiting visit at Indiana, but first I’ll need to iron out what’s fact, what’s legend and what is forever off the record. Again, that’s the kind of guy he is.

But it also serves to drive home a point, one that I kept hearing from people is what makes Painter so damn good as a coach: His ability to identify what, specifically, his players can do great, how to put them in a position to take advantage of those skills and – this is the important part – convincing them that they need to fully understand their own scouting report and play within their own abilities.

“Everybody looks at ‘talent,'” Painter told me last month, “but talent is overrated if someone is not going to play within the limits of what they can and cannot do. The more guys embrace that, the more productive they can be.”

And, in turn, the better the team can be.

The story I told you?

It’s the perfect example of this.

As a senior, Hummel was an All-American. As a junior, before suffering a pair of torn ACLs within the span of nine months, he averaged 15.7 points for a team that was one of the five best in America. As a senior two years later, he averaged 16.4 points before becoming a second round pick. He was a damn good college player, one of the best to ever set foot in Mackey Arena.

And that shot?

The worst f***ing shot in the history of basketball?

It looks an awful lot like these, doesn’t it?

Ask guys that have played for Painter about him, and they’ll tell you that he is very much a believer in the idea of confidence. He doesn’t want his players to be thinking when they are on the floor. If they have a chance to make a play or take a shot, he wants them to let it fly without being concerned that they’ll get yanked if they miss. But that comes with the caveat that his guys understand that what is a good shot for them differs from what is a good shot for him.

Edwards was the best in the country at what he did last season. He’ll spend a decade playing in the NBA specifically because of his ability to score, to make tough, deep, contested shots. “He’s got the juice,” Painter said. Likewise, Cline was one of the Big Ten’s very best shooters, and when he gets into the kind of rhythm that he was in against Tennessee, Painter is going to let him go. He has the ability to make those shots.

Hummel, as good as he was, is not a guy you want going 1-on-1 35 feet from the rim and settling for a contested, pull-up three. That’s not his game, but it is a good way to blow a 19-point lead on the road.

Which brings me back to the top.

Those post-ups.

In 2015-16, Purdue laid claim to the biggest and strongest frontline you’re ever going to see. They started 6-foot-9, 250 pound Caleb Swanigan at the four alongside either A.J. Hammons – who stood 7-foot, 250 pounds – or Isaac Haas – who checked in at 7-foot-2, 282 pounds. The following season, after Hammons graduated, Swanigan and Haas started together.

In 2017-18, Purdue ran out a lineup that looked different but played the same. Instead of using lineups predominantly featuring a pair of posts playing together, the Boilermakers put four perimeter players around Haas. That season, “only” 16 percent of their offense came via post-ups, which was sixth nationally.

“We had some really good big guys,” Greg Gary, who ran Purdue’s offense for the last four seasons, said. “That was our advantage. Our guards would get mad because we threw it in so much.”

The advantage for the Boilermakers lay in the fact that they forced the decision into making a decision. There were few, if any, players in the college ranks that were capable of slowing down any of those three Purdue bigs 1-on-1 in the post. If they got the ball where they wanted it, they were going to score. They were probably going to draw a foul. They would get your frontline into all kinds of foul trouble. You had to double, but doing so meant leaving someone that was a very good three-point shooter, because every perimeter player on the Purdue roster in recent seasons was a good three-point shooter.

Over the course of the last four seasons, even with a roster that featured the best post-up play in the country in three of those four seasons, Purdue has shot 36.7 percent, 40.2 percent, 42 percent and 37.4 percent from three. At worst, they were in the 80th percentile nationally from beyond the arc.

There is no better example of this than in 2017-18. That was the best offensive team Painter has ever had. They were the second most efficient offense in the country that season, trailing only national champion Villanova, who set a KenPom era record for efficiency that season. Your choice was either allowing Haas – who shot 61.7 percent from the floor, drew seven fouls per 40 minutes and made better than 75 percent of his free throws – to go 1-on-1, or you double-teamed him by leaving one of Carsen Edwards (40.6% 3PT), Vincent Edwards (39.8% 3PT), Dakota Mathias (46.6% 3PT), Ryan Cline (39.6% 3PT) or P.J. Thompson (44.1% 3PT).

So you tell me.

How do you stop that?

Everything changed this past season.

Matt Haarms took over as the starting center. He may be 7-foot-3, but he is not the post presence of his predecessors. Trevion Williams is going to be good, but he was a 280 pound freshman that just wasn’t ready. What that meant was that the Purdue coaching staff had to figure out something different.


(AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

Purdue has one of the biggest playbooks in college basketball.

Painter estimates that they have roughly 50 plays, but each one of those plays can be initiated from multiple different looks and they all have counters to the counters that are countering a counter.

“We would get a stapled booklet with all the plays every year during preseason,” Cline said, adding that often times offseason pick-up games would double as playbook study halls, because “if you don’t know the plays, you don’t play.

“There’s so many different play calls, five word sentences where one word changes [the play].”

Edwards used to joke with Gary that the play book “was my toughest class at Purdue.”

As a result, so much of Purdue’s success on the offensive end of the floor comes down to execution and deception. They don’t win off of raw talent. They win because the players excel at doing what the coaching staff asks them to do, and the coaching staff excels at figuring out exactly where they have an edge.

From 2015-2017, the answer was pounding the ball into the paint as much as humanly possible. When every post touch turns into David vs. Goliath, and you have Goliath, you give him the rock.

In 2017-18, it was forcing defenses to choose between guarding Mr. Incredible with one guy or playing 4-on-3 against four of the best shooters you’ll find in the college ranks.

This past season, the coaching staff figured out that there were three things they could build an offense around:

1. Edwards’ speed. He is not only one of the fastest players on any basketball court he steps foot on, he’s an absolute nightmare to chase around screens because he’s small, he’s compact, he can maneuver around screens better than anyone chasing him and he’s capable of rising up and drilling a catch-and-shoot three at top speed, especially when running to his left.

2. Haarms’ mobility. He can really move for a man his size. He can also handle the ball, he thrives in dribble-handoff actions and he has an innate understanding of when he can slip a screen and get a free run at the rim.

3. Cline’s awkward release. He has something of a slingshot motion that he fires from behind his head with a natural fade. That makes it very difficult to contest, especially when he is sprinting around screens to his right. He also proved himself an excellent passer and decision-maker, capable of hitting a big man rolling to the rim.

The result was an offense that, quite literally, turned into Edwards and Cline running circles around the court.

“We just had so much more movement because of not having a low post guy down there,” Gary said. “When you throw it to a guy in the post it gets stagnant. You try to get the big guy as much space as possible. We weren’t going to overpower anybody, so we had to have movement to occupy both sides of the floor.”

Imagine trying to guard this.

Imagine chasing Carsen Edwards off of a triple-screen. Imagine being a center 22 feet from the rim knowing that if you don’t help, Ryan Cline might bang a three in your face, but if you do help, Matt Haarms will slip the screen and find himself all alone in the paint without anyone within 10 feet of him.

And now imagine doing all of that knowing that one word is all it takes to change what action Purdue will be looking for, or that they can run the same thing out of three different looks.

Here’s the perfect example. Purdue ran the same action – a dribble-handoff in the middle of the floor that acts as a double-pindown for a shooter – 10 times in the Tennessee game. Look at how many different options they have, and how many ways they can get into it:

Perhaps the most frustrating part, at least if you are a member of that Purdue coaching staff, is that you’re going back to the drawing board next year.

Edwards is gone. Cline is gone. Gary is gone, too. That’s a huge chunk of their offense, the two guys they built the way they played around, not to mention the guy that was in charge of building it. What’s left is … well, it’s different.

But it’s also familiar.

Of Purdue’s five best players next season, there’s a reasonable argument to make that four of them will be bigs – Haarms, Williams, Aaron Wheeler and Evan Boudreaux – and the fifth will be a guard – Nojel Eastern – that has shot 3-for-13 from three in two years.

Bringing in Jahaad Proctor from High Point, a grad transfer lead guard, will help, and sophomore guards Sasha Stefanovic and Eric Hunter did have their moments last season. Frankly, Painter seems to like what he has in his program, and their new offensive coordinator – Micah Shrewsberry – has already spent time on Purdue’s staff, in between spending time with Brad Stevens at Butler and in Boston.

They’re in good hands.

“There’s a really big sophomore jump with talented guys,” he said, “and we had four freshmen come off the bench that will now be sophomores. I think all four of them will have good years, and Nojel and Matt will be able to expand what they’re doing.

“I think the one think we have to make sure is that we don’t try to make anyone Carsen or Caleb. Allow guys to be the best version of themselves and play through that.”

It’s Painter’s job to figure out what, exactly, “the best version of themselves” is.

Duke lands D.J. Steward, third commitment in the Class of 2020

Justin K. Aller/Getty Images
1 Comment

Duke landed their third commitment in the Class of 2020 on Wednesday, as Chicago shooting guard D.J. Steward pledged to play his college ball for Coach K.

A high-volume scorer and potent shot-maker, the 6-foot-2 Steward visited Duke over the weekend before committing.

“Me and my family were amazed on our official visit, we loved the principals of Duke, and how united Duke is as a basketball program,” Steward told Rivals.com. “At Duke I will be able to get the best of both worlds; education wise and on the court playing on the biggest stage possible night in and night out.

“I will get to chase my goals and be one step closer to achieving my dream of playing in the NBA. Also I will be able to develop as a person off the court and as a ball player while playing under the most winningest coach in history, Coach K.”

Steward joins five-star forward Jalen Johnson and five-star point guard Jeremy Roach in Duke’s 2020 recruiting class. Johnson is the quintessential small-ball four that we have seen arrive in Durham in recent classes, while Roach appears to be the heir apparent to Tre Jones at the point guard spot. Steward should fit in nicely playing off the ball for the Blue Devils, who can always use some excess shot-making.

Duke is far from done here, as they are in the mix for the likes of Walker Kessler, Ziaire Williams and Henry Coleman.

New York senator the latest to propose bill to abolish amateurism

Johnny Nunez/WireImage
3 Comments

A second state now has legislation in the works that would make it legal for college athletes to profit off of their name, image and likeness.

Kevin Parker, a New York state senator from Brooklyn, has proposed a bill similar to California’s Fair Pay To Play act, not only giving college athletes the ability to sell their NIL rights but also requiring athletic departments to give a 15 percent share of their annual revenue to the student-athletes. California’s bill, which will go into effect in 2023 if it is signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom, would make removing a student-athlete from their scholarship for accepting endorsement money illegal.

“It’s about equity,” Parker told ESPN. “These young people are adding their skill, talent and labor to these universities.

“You don’t need the shortcuts and the end-arounds because now we’re providing some real support for these student-athletes.”

New York joins the growing list of organizations that are pushing back against the NCAA’s rules on amateurism. South Carolina, Maryland, Colorado and Washington have had legislators discuss whether or not to make similar changes to the law, while Congressmen from North Carolina and Connecticut have made pushes at the federal level. Democratic Presidential candidate Anrew Yang has blasted the NCAA over their amateurism rules, while just last week, NBA agents made public the fact that they will be refusing to register for the NCAA’s proposed certification process.

Rick Pitino, Louisville settle lawsuit

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - MARCH 19: Head coach Rick Pitino of the Louisville Cardinals looks on in the first half against the Michigan Wolverines during the second round of the 2017 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament at the Bankers Life Fieldhouse on March 19, 2017 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Joe Robbins/Getty Images
2 Comments

The University of Louisville and former head coach Rick Pitino have reached a joint agreement to drop their lawsuits against each other.

The two sides “have mutually agreed to dismiss their legal claims against each other, designate his departure as a resignation and move forward,” according to a joint statement that was released by the University and Pitino. Pitino will not be paid any money as a result of this settlement, but he departure will now be classified as a resignation, effective Oct. 3rd, 2017.

Pitino had sued Louisville for somewhere around $40 million.

“For 17 years, Coach Pitino ran a program that combined excellence on the court with a commitment to the program’s student-athletes, their academic achievement, and their futures in and out of basketball,” the state said. “Nevertheless, there were NCAA infractions during his term which led to serious consequences for the university. Although these infractions may not have occurred at Pitino’s direction or with his knowledge, the problems leading to NCAA infractions happened under his leadership. We thank Coach Pitino for his years of service to the University of Louisville basketball program and wish him well.”

“Today I move on to a new chapter in my life,” a statement from Pitino reads. “Against my lawyer’s advice, I’m dropping my lawsuit with ULAA. I am very proud of the many accomplishments my teams achieved at Louisville. I’m so thankful and honored to coach such dedicated athletes. I’m also disappointed in how it ended. But as head coach I am held responsible for the actions of all team members. I still have so much passion for the game and so many goals I want to achieve. From this day forward I start my climb.”

Kentucky lands commitments from two more elite prospects

Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Leave a comment

John Calipari is getting his work done early in the 2020 recruiting class, as he added two more commitments over the weekend.

On Thursday, it was Lance Ware, a 6-foot-10 post player from Camden, New Jersey, that announced his commitment. Ware is a top 50 recruit that held offers from the likes of Michigan, Ohio State and Miami. The bigger news, however, came on Saturday afternoon, when Terrance Clarke announced that he will be enrolling at Kentucky whenever he ends his high school tenure. Clarke is currently a member of the Class of 2021, but the plan is for him to reclassify and graduate high school this year.

Clarke is a consensus top three player in 2021 – and he may be the No. 1 player in that class, depending on who you ask – and should immediately vault into the top five of the 2020 recruiting class. An athletic, versatile wing that stands 6-foot-6, Clarke is a potential lottery pick given his physical tools and the way that he projects as multi-positional defender with the ability to create off of the dribble. Ware, like Nick Richards and E.J. Montgomery before him, projects as the kind of player that will spend 2-3 years in Lexington.

Clarke and Ware join top ten prospect B.J. Boston and another top 50 recruit, Cam’Ron Fletcher, in Kentucky’s 2020 class. That’s three wings in the class with Johnny Juzang, Kahlil Whitney, Dontaie Allen and Keion Brooks currently on campus. Throw Montgomery into the mix, and that’s eight players that fit somewhere into a lineup as a wing or a face-up big man, and it seems rather unlikely that all five of the guys currently at Kentucky will leave the school this offseason. Put another way, this looks like the end of Kentucky’s pursuit of the likes of Jalen Green and Josh Christopher.

Calipari is still recruiting Cade Cunningham despite the fact that many expect Cunningham to end up at Oklahoma State, where Mike Boynton hired his brother Cannen, but Cade has skyrocketed up the recruiting rankings as he has transitioned to playing the point. Kentucky is still in the mix for a handful of other forwards, including Scottie Barnes, Isaiah Todd and Greg Brown.