ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Jordan Poole scored 19 of his 26 points in the second half, and No. 5 Michigan remained unbeaten with an 89-78 victory over South Carolina on Saturday.
The Gamecocks (4-5) scored more points than any team all season against Michigan. But the Wolverines (10-0) were ahead by six at halftime, and they led comfortably for most of the second half.
Iggy Brazdeikis scored 17 points and Jon Teske added 15 for Michigan. Chris Silva led South Carolina with 18.
Michigan was coming off its first close game of the season — a two-point win at Northwestern on Tuesday night. The Wolverines were uncharacteristically careless against South Carolina, turning the ball over 11 times in the first half.
Still, Michigan went on a 13-2 run near the end of the first and led 42-36 at halftime.
Poole went to work in the second half with a pair of 3-pointers and a dunk, putting the Wolverines up 56-45. The sophomore guard scored 15 points in the first 10 minutes of the half.
South Carolina: No opponent had shot better than 45 percent from the field against Michigan. The Gamecocks finished at 52 and also won the turnover battle against the Wolverines. South Carolina was done in by fouls. Michigan shot 23 of 30 on free throws while the Gamecocks were just 9 of 14.
Michigan: The Wolverines had held every opponent under 40 percent from the floor until their last two games, when Northwestern and South Carolina eclipsed that. So Michigan hasn’t been as dominant this week at the defensive end, but the Wolverines had five players score at least 12 points Saturday and won without much drama.
Nobody ahead of Michigan lost this week, although Sunday’s matchup between No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 7 Tennessee could affect where the Wolverines end up in the next ranking.
South Carolina’s Justin Minaya to undergo knee surgery
South Carolina is still hopeful that Justin Minaya may return yet this season.
The 6-foot-5 forward will undergo knee surgery later this week and remains out indefinitely but not ruled out for the season, the school announced Tuesday.
Minaya and the Gamecocks were considering two courses of action – one which would have sidelined him for the season – and ultimately chose the option that could have him back, with coach Frank Martin estimating a potential January return when he initially announced the injury Monday.
“Ten minutes to go in practice, he jumped, landed and he just crumbled to the floor,” Martin said then, according to The State. “I thought it was really bad.”
South Carolina said it would provide an updated timetable after Minaya undergoes surgery.
The New Jersey native is averaging 7.4 points, 5.6 rebounds and 1.6 assists while shooting 45.5 percent from the floor.
His injury added to an already brutal start to the week for the Gamecocks, who got thrashed by 20 at home by Wofford on Monday evening. South Carolina has begun the season 3-3 with losses to Stoney Brook and Providence. The loss of Minaya will likely hit them most significantly around the basket, where he was shooting 72.2 percent on 2-point attempts and was one of the team’s best rebounders.
Monday’s Things to Know: No. 1 Gonzaga wins; ACC/Big Ten Challenge starts; Oregon, South Carolina falls
Monday’s college hoops had the start of the annual ACC/Big Ten Challenge while No. 1 Gonzaga played without one of its rotation players for the first time. An SEC team also lost at home to a regular giant killer.
ACC/BIG TEN CHALLENGE GETS STARTED
The ACC/Big Ten Challenge started with two matchups between unranked opponents. The two games earned splits among the two leagues with each of the winners getting solid non-conference wins in the process.
Nebraska (6-1) earned its biggest non-conference road win in two seasons as the Huskers held off Clemson for a 68-66 win. Getting 20 points and nine rebounds from senior James Palmer Jr., Nebraska might have just picked up a win they desperately needed for postseason implications.
The Huskers still have more opportunities to earn solid non-conference wins against Creighton and Oklahoma State, but the road win against a Sweet 16 team on the road is a huge confidence booster.
Boston College (5-1) pulled out a 68-56 win over previously-unbeaten Minnesota at home in the second game. Nik Popovic went for 18 points as the Eagles won even though Ky Bowman (13 points) didn’t have his best game from the field.
The Eagles have that loss to IUPUI. They’ve also earned back-to-back wins over Loyola and Minnesota to help themselves build some momentum for Providence and Texas A&M.
NO. 1 GONZAGA CRUISES TO WIN WHILE ALSO LOSING CRANDALL
New No. 1 Gonzaga earned a 102-60 non-conference home win over North Dakota State on Monday night as six players finished in double-figures. Brandon Clarke and Rui Hachimura both finished with 18 points while Corey Kispert had 17 points.
But perhaps the bigger news of the day for the Zags is the loss of senior backup guard Geno Crandall with a fractured right hand. Gonzaga has a tough stretch of non-conference games beginning on Dec. 1 that includes two matchups with top-15 teams.
We’ll have to see if Gonzaga can sustain like this with the loss of Crandall, and how it alters Perkins playing heavy minutes at lead guard.
TEXAS SOUTHERN STUNS NO. 18 OREGON
The last game of the evening saw the night’s biggest upset as Texas Southern shocked No. 18 Oregon with a non-conference road win. The Tigers scored 57 points in the second half as big man Trayvon Reed was a perfect 9-for-9 from the field to finish with 23 points and seven rebounds. Five Texas Southern players finished in double-figures as John Jones also added 20 points.
This is a stunning loss for Oregon, who had 32 points and 11 rebounds from freshman big man Bol Bol, as they couldn’t protect the rim following the loss of big man Kenny Wooten to a left knee injury. Reed scored all of his buckets on dunks as his interior physicality was an issue for the Ducks.
Oregon doesn’t have the most difficult schedule coming up, but this is a concerning loss to a team from a one-bid league. They need to fix the interior defense while also a consistent third scoring option behind Bol and Payton Pritchard. Freshman Louis King would at least help in the third scorer department for the Ducks, but they’ll have to hope the injury to Wooten isn’t anything serious.
WOFFORD CLIPS SOUTH CAROLINA
For the second straight season, Wofford earned a big road win over a high-major opponent. Although this season wasn’t quite as big as last season’s win at the Dean Dome over North Carolina, the Terriers knocked off South Carolina for another big road win.
The SoCon had 30 points and nine three-pointers from junior guard Nathan Hoover while senior Fletcher Magee only had eight points on 3-for-15 shooting. Wofford still has two more major opportunities to win at Kansas and at Mississippi State before conference season begins.
South Carolina (3-3) meanwhile dropped another one to a one-bid league at home as they’ve really struggled to win against lesser competition. The Gamecocks still have two games against top-ten teams (No. 7 Michigan and No. 4 Virginia) and an in-state game against Clemson before SEC play even gets started. Considering this team also lost to a Division II opponent, and this season could get ugly for South Carolina.
2018-19 SEC Preview: Can Kentucky beat out Tennessee, Auburn?
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.
Today, we are previewing the SEC.
Known mostly as a football (or even baseball) conference for many years, the SEC is starting to come into form as a deep and respected basketball league.
The SEC’s stable of coaches has improved dramatically over the last decade, and with that, has come an influx of talent and top programs.
This season’s SEC boasts three serious contenders along with a bevy of second-tier teams who are dangerous enough to make deep postseason runs if things really come together.
The SEC features elite coaches, McDonald’s All-American freshmen, and a lot of returning talent from successful teams.
It should be another fun year for a league that was once a basketball afterthought.
Let’s get into it.
FIVE THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW
1. The SEC should send a bunch of teams back to the NCAA tournament
Last season was a banner year for the SEC. The league sent a record eight teams to the NCAA tournament. The SEC had tons of top-50 caliber teams. This isn’t just a football conference anymore. The SEC has some serious depth on the hardwood.
We all know about Kentucky’s yearly influx of elite talent. It’s the other conference regular season leaders like Auburn and Tennessee who are the returning teams to keep an eye on. Both co-SEC regular season champions return most of last season’s teams. Then there are others like LSU, Mississippi State, Florida and Vanderbilt who have loads of young talent coming in. That should make for another deep year of SEC NCAA tournament teams. Even the group of teams just after the second tier shouldn’t be slept on. The depth of coaching and talent in the SEC is as good as it has ever been.
It should make for some unpredictable action in the conference this season as it will be very difficult to earn wins on the road.
2. Kentucky has as much depth as its had in years
We can usually count on Kentucky having a freshman-heavy team of elite recruits. That’s the case with five top-40 recruits — four of them five-star prospects. What makes this Kentucky team especially unique is that three McDonald’s All-American sophomores return in P.J. Washington, Nick Richards and Quade Green. Stanford graduate transfer Reid Travis put up monster numbers last season as he’s immediately eligible of the Wildcats.
This is perhaps the deepest and most balanced Kentucky team we’ve seen since the Final Four team in 2015 as this Wildcat team has the potential to go nine or 10 deep. Freshmen like Immanuel Quickley and Ashton Hagans help Kentucky’s ball-handling and perimeter defense while guards Keldon Johnson and Tyler Herro should help provide scoring on the wing. E.J. Montgomery is a great option to have in the frontcourt to spell Richards, Washington or Travis.
If the exhibition trip to the Bahamas is any indicator of how talented and deep Kentucky is, then the Wildcats could be a major national title contender and the favorite in the SEC. They have a bit of everything this season, and the upside is scary.
3. Returning SEC champion Tennessee returns most of its team
For as good as Kentucky is on paper, Tennessee will still be a force to be reckoned with. The Vols return basically the entire roster from a team that won a share of the SEC regular season title. SEC Player of the Year Grant Williams is back. He’s surrounded by four returning upperclass starters. SEC Sixth Man of the Year Lamonte Turner also returns for his junior season.
Tennessee returns a talented and cohesive top six that are all upperclassmen. The key could be the team’s play at point guard. We know Williams and Admiral Schofield as the team’s top two players. Senior big man Kyle Alexander is a solid glue guy who can protect the rim. The up-and-down play of Jordan Bone, Turner and Jordan Bowden at point has to get stronger.
Bone is the starter and steady for most of the time. Turner comes off the bench as a heat-check scorer who can also distribute. Bowden usually defends the other team’s top perimeter threat and adds some other elements as well. But all three of those guys shot just below 40 percent from the field. If that trio gets stronger, and becomes more efficient, then Tennessee has even more room to grow from last season and a Sweet 16 is very possible.
4. Auburn returns two key players suspended after the FBI investigations last season
Tennessee isn’t the only returning SEC regular season roster with a talented returning roster. Auburn shouldn’t be counted out either. The Tigers return a lot of contributors while returning two key players who sat out last season. Expectations will be huge for Auburn after last season’s unexpected success.
Although the Tigers lost Mustapha Heron to transfer and Desean Murray is gone as well, they gain forward Danjel Purifoy and center Austin Wiley. VCU transfer Samir Doughty is also eligible, as he’ll provide some rotational depth at guard.
With Auburn returning six rotation players from last season’s team, they should have plenty of options to choose from this year despite the losses. Auburn’s frontcourt depth will be superior to last season, as Purifoy and Wiley make the Tigers much bigger and more athletic. If Auburn goes with Chuma Okeke at the three, then they’ll have the size to go against some bigger lineups like Kentucky or Tennessee.
And Auburn’s guards are already well-established as Bryce Brown and Jared Harper are proven upperclass scorers. With that duo having Doughty and senior Malik Dunbar behind them, Auburn appears to also have solid depth on the perimeter. Integrating Wiley and Purifoy back into the rotation and changing how Auburn’s lineup might play could take an adjustment period. But this new-look lineup also lends itself to more versatile looks and size on the interior. Auburn should stay right in the SEC race if their two lineups can blend together.
5. LSU, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Alabama are all capable of making it to the NCAA tournament
The race for the SEC’s regular season title is going to be very fun to watch this season. There are also a group of second-tier SEC teams worth keeping track of. This league, once again, looks like it will have a lot of depth this season.
It’s clear that Auburn, Kentucky and Tennessee look like the three favorites of the league this preseason. But the second group of teams in the conference shouldn’t be taken lightly. LSU, Mississippi State, Vanderbilt and Alabama are all capable of making it to the NCAA tournament thanks to deep rosters of talented players. Missouri would also very likely be in that group of second-tier SEC teams if they didn’t lose Jontay Porter for the season with a torn ACL.
Although the three favorites look like top-15 teams this season, don’t be surprised if one of these second-tier teams ends up making a deep tournament run, or even finishing in that top three of the regular season standings.
PRESEASON SEC PLAYER OF THE YEAR: GRANT WILLIAMS, Tennessee
The reigning SEC Player of the Year has the same team back around him this season as the Vols have big expectations. The 6-foot-7, 240-pound Williams is a load to handle on the interior thanks to his natural strength as he’s able to play through contact while handling double teams.
An underrated passer out of the post, Williams can find shooters and wings for easy looks as he’s a huge part of Tennessee’s inside-outside game. The junior put up 15.2 points, 6.0 rebounds and 1.9 assists per game last season while shooting 47 percent from the field.
THE REST OF THE SEC FIRST TEAM
P.J. WASHINGTON, Kentucky: Big expectations are on tap for Washington after a promising freshman season. The 6-foot-7 forward put up 10.8 points and 5.7 rebounds per game last season. If he improves his 23 percent three-point shooting then Washington could be a matchup nightmare for opponents.
REID TRAVIS, Kentucky: It’s doubtful Travis matches the 19.5 points and 8.7 rebounds per game he put up at Stanford. But Travis will also have more talent around him, as he won’t get as many double teams. And his natural strength is elite at the college level, as he should rebound at a high level.
BRYCE BROWN, Auburn: The senior guard is the SEC’s most prolific three-point shooter as his range makes him a deadly threat. Brown averaged 15.9 points, 2.0 rebounds and 1.7 assists last season as he’ll be counted on for more offense with Mustapha Heron gone.
TREMONT WATERS, LSU: Brilliant at times as a freshman, the 5-foot-11 Waters is capable of running an effective offense or taking over the scoring himself. Armed with a deep pull-up game, Waters could have some monster games this season.
FIVE MORE NAMES TO KNOW
DANIEL GAFFORD, Arkansas
DARIUS GARLAND, Vanderbilt
JARED HARPER, Auburn
JALEN HUDSON, Florida
QUINNDARY WEATHERSPOON, Mississippi State
Tennessee has huge expectations with the entire team returning. Schofield, a 6-foot-5, 240-pound wing, is capable of making the Vols one of the most flexible teams in the country. With the size and strength to play bigger, but the skill level (39 percent three-point shooting) to play on the wing, Schofield enables Tennessee to throw different looks at opponents since he usually plays the three. Schofield should get more national attention this season as Tennessee’s second option beside Grant Williams.
COACH UNDER PRESSURE
The SEC doesn’t have many coaches on the actual hot seat since so many are coming off of tournament appearances or recently being hired. But Auburn’s Bruce Pearl is going to face big expectations this season a year after the Tigers unexpectedly made the Round of 32. And now the Tigers get two key players in Danjel Purifoy and Austin Wiley back.
Auburn will face big expectations this season, and they’ll be expected to deliver results. If Pearl and Auburn flop, then the FBI investigation is still looming, and many of the teams veterans are starting to filter through the program. The Tigers have a lot on the line this season.
ON SELECTION SUNDAY WE’LL BE SAYING …
The SEC has a deep collection of teams with some legitimate Final Four contenders in Kentucky and Tennessee.
I’M MOST EXCITED ABOUT …
It’s strange to feel excited about SEC conference play — for basketball. But the SEC was unpredictable, loaded with talent and completely compelling to watch last season. So much of the league’s talent is returning along with some seriously talented freshmen. It should be another great year to watch the SEC conference race.
FIVE NON-CONFERENCE GAMES TO CIRCLE ON YOUR CALENDAR
Nov. 6, Duke vs. Kentucky (Champions Classic, Indianapolis)
Nov. 9, Washington at Auburn
Nov. 29, Kentucky at Louisville
Dec. 9, Gonzaga vs. Tennessee (in Phoenix)
Jan. 26, Kansas at Kentucky (Big 12/SEC Challenge)
1. KENTUCKY: Kentucky’s depth and how it figures out the rotation will be something to monitor during the season. With three-point shooting being an issue last season, the Wildcats should improve that mark this season with the addition of guys like Herro. Frontline depth is also a major strength for the Wildcats as they feature veteran experience coupled with talented freshmen.
As long as Kentucky gets consistent point guard play and hits enough shots, they will come at teams in waves at both ends of the floor. For most teams, that should be too much to deal with.
2. TENNESSEE: The Vols are a preseason top-10 team with loads of balance and experience. And they’ll be tested by a tough schedule that includes West Virginia, Gonzaga, Louisville and Georgia Tech during non-conference play. If Tennessee’s perimeter play gets slightly better than this is a team with Final Four upside thanks to the frontcourt versatility.
Tennessee can play big and physical with teams like Kentucky, or they can use a surprising amount of perimeter skill and shooting if teams try to go uptempo with small-ball lineups. That’s what makes Tennessee such an intriguing team for this season. They should be able to win in a number of different ways.
3. AUBURN: With a top-40 offense and defense last season, the Tigers didn’t have many holes except for frontcourt depth. That was fixed since Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy are both back. As long as that duo can come in and play at a solid level, then Horace Spencer and Anfernee McLemore provides quality frontcourt depth for the Tigers.
From there, the Auburn backcourt should be able to handle itself like last season. Brown and Harper are one of the toughest duos in the conference, and improved depth should also be present on the perimeter. There are still looming questions about the FBI investigation. And the Tigers have been hit with the injury bug early this season. But they still have huge expectations entering this season.
4. LSU: An NIT with big dreams thanks to a strong incoming recruiting class, LSU has a lot to be excited about. It starts with sophomore point guard Tremont Waters. A potential All-American who can take over a game with his scoring, Waters gets help from Skylar Mays, Daryl Edwards and a five-star backcourt newcomer in Javonte Smart.
But it’s LSU’s revamped frontcourt that has people very excited. Freshmen Naz Reid and Emmitt Williams were both five-star recruits and should play an immediate role. Transfer senior Kavell Bigby-Williams (Oregon) and junior college big man Courtese Cooper should also add to the depth while freshman Darius Days is another touted four-star prospect.
LSU ultimately has the tools to be one of the best teams in the country. It’s all going to depend on how the frontcourt of freshmen like Reid and Williams performs this season. Waters has a chance to be sensational, but he needs more consistency and help from the supporting cast for LSU to make a deep run.
5. MISSISSIPPI STATE: It looks like things should be promising for Mississippi State this season. The Bulldogs return all five starters and a quality sixth man while bringing in a top-20 recruiting class from an NIT team. That means head coach Ben Howland should take this program to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2009.
The Weatherspoon brothers, Quinndary and Nick, are back to bring scoring, along with junior floor general Lamar Peters. As long as that trio can shoot more effectively from three-point range, they will be nearly impossible to defend. Junior guard Tyson Carter also returns after starting half his games and playing over 20 minutes per game last season. This perimeter group is tough and experienced. The interior has sophomore center Abdul Ado and senior Aric Holman returning along with freshman forward Reggie Perry. The McDonald’s All-American, along with junior college center Jethro Tshisumpa, gives the Bulldogs more interior depth this season.
With a core that has played together for a long time, along with an infusion of young talent and frontcourt depth, and Mississippi State should return to the NCAA tournament for the first time in a decade.
6. FLORIDA: Florida has a lot to like about its team this season. Two high-scoring senior guards in Jalen Hudson and KeVaughn Allen have returned as they play with a five-star freshman point guard in Andrew Nembhard. That trio has the chance to be long and athletic as Nembhard’s natural passing ability and leadership should help others get good looks.
The Gators return some veterans in the frontcourt, but that duo will have to improve when it comes to physicality and rebounding. Senior Kevarrius Hayes and junior Keith Stone both played extended periods last season, as both need to get tougher on the interior. That duo should be helped by a younger and healthier rotation that includes junior Gorjok Gak, sophomore Chase Johnson and freshman Isaiah Stokes. The bench also has some talent to watch with forward Deaundrae Ballard and guard Keyontae Johnson.
Replacing Chris Chiozza at point is going to be difficult, but Florida has a chance to make a new imprint with the bigger Nembhard at point. The Gators still have interior question marks, but they’ll have the perimeter punch to make nearly anybody.
7. VANDERBILT: The recruiting addition of two McDonald’s All-Americans has Vanderbilt with huge expectations for this season. Point guard Darius Garland’s signing was big for the Commodores as the five-star gives Vanderbilt two quality lead guards in a young backcourt that includes sophomore Saben Lee. Garland and Lee should be dangerous right away, especially is Lee can improve his 30 percent three-point shooting.
Besides for Garland, five-star big man Simi Shittu is a giant addition on the interior. Shittu is coming off of a torn ACL, but he had top-five potential in the class if his trajectory continued. Junior forward Clevon Brown and senior wing Joe Toye received plenty of minutes last season. Shittu should also play plenty with Division II transfer Yanni Wetzell (St. Mary’s TX) a New Zealander who put up big numbers before his move to the SEC. Notre Dame transfer Matt Ryan and freshman Aaron Nesmith should also add perimeter shooting to a group that could use a lot more of it.
Vanderbilt had a top-30 offense last season, so with the addition of talents like Garland and Shittu, it’ll be interesting to see if head coach Bryce Drew’s offense can sustain that kind of effectiveness. The Commodores have some big-time talent as they should be a dangerous team this season.
8. ALABAMA: Moving on from Collin Sexton and Braxton Key is going to be difficult. The good news for Alabama is that the rest of a talented and young roster is back. Eight players who averaged double-figure minutes are back for the Crimson Tide.
The key for Alabama is finding a replacement go-to scorer for Sexton. Senior forward Donta Hall, sophomore guard John Petty and junior guard Dazon Ingram are all capable scorers as Petty could be the one to make a big leap. In the frontcourt, junior Daniel Giddens and sophomores Alex Reese and Galin Smith all received solid minutes last season to form a good rotation for Alabama. In the perimeter, sophomore Herb Jones could be another key player for Alabama this season. A potential two-way wing with devastating defensive upside, Jones has the tools to be great.
Texas transfer Tevin Mack also joins to program and senior wing Riley Norris and guard Avery Johnson Jr. have all played in big games. As long as the Crimson Tide find a go-to scorer, they have the depth and talent to return to the tournament.
9. MISSOURI: It’s almost as if Missouri and head coach Cuonzo Martin have to hit the reset button from last season. The top two scorers are gone as Jordan Barnett and Kassius Robertson have graduated. There will be no Porter presence this season after Michael Jr. went pro and Jontay tore his ACL in the preseason. But the Tigers still have a lot of young talent.
The frontcourt of sophomore Jeremiah Tilmon and senior Kevin Puryear has a shot to be good. The guard play of the Tigers is going to be key. Point guard is a concern as senior Jordan Geist, Illinois transfer Mark Smith and a group of freshmen will all try their hand at the position early on. Missouri has plenty of talent coming into the pipeline. But this group might be too young and inexperienced to make a major dent in a talented league this season.
10. GEORGIA: Tom Crean takes over as head coach from Mark Fox as he inherits a decent rotation. The crop of bigs includes some depth and talent as senior Derek Ogbeide and sophomores Nicolas Claxton and Rayshaun Hammonds are a key part of Georgia’s season.
The backcourt also has some former starters as Turtle Jackson and sophomore Teshaun Hightower both started at point last season while Tyree Crump also earned legitimate minutes. Georgia is going to have a very tough time replacing departed forward Yante Maten. But this team will also play a bit more uptempo and shoot a lot more three-pointers under Crean this season. This roster is talented enough to surprise, as Georgia could be an intriguing spoiler.
11. TEXAS A&M: A new-look Texas A&M group won’t feature loads of interior talent and depth that we’ve seen the last several seasons. This version of the Aggies will be guard-heavy. There could be a lot of three- and four-guard sets this season.
Returning guards like junior Admon Gilder and sophomore T.J. Starks lead the way this season as they look for a whole new supporting cast. Transfers like Christian Mekowulu (Tennessee State) and Josh Nebo (St. Francis) should help defensively on the interior while JUCO transfers like Wendell Mitchell and Bandon Mahan help with more depth on the wing. Texas A&M will have to find their way pretty quickly. This group already lost a secret scrimmage to Stephen F. Austin as the season draws closer.
12. ARKANSAS: Arkansas will have more newcomers than Kentucky this season, so a transition year is expected for the Razorbacks. The good news is the return of sophomore center Daniel Gafford — a potential first-round pick next season. Gafford is a force on both ends of the floor, and with some offensive improvement, he’s a sleeper All-American pick.
From there, Arkansas has to integrate eight new freshmen and two sophomore transfers into a new rotation. Junior guard Adrio Bailey and sophomore forward Gabe Osabuohien are the only two other returning players with solid SEC experience. Guard play will be huge for Arkansas as New Mexico transfer Jalen Harris could get a shot to run point early. The Razorbacks have to hope for a big season from Gafford while hoping the newcomers are ready to hit the deep end.
13. SOUTH CAROLINA: The Gamecocks haven’t found consistent footing since reaching the Final Four in 2017. Last season’s roster barely finished above .500 as this roster looks very similar this season. South Carolina’s strength lies in the frontcourt as senior Chris Silva and junior Maik Kotsar are returning starters with plenty of experience.
Backcourt depth and questions are point guard are the chief concerns. Hassani Gravett is more natural off the ball, so the Gamecocks are hoping Georgetown grad transfer Tre Campbell or a freshman like T.J. Moss can help earn some minutes at lead guard. Preseason hasn’t been kind to South Carolina either. They’ve already lost to Division II Augusta in a game in which the veteran frontcourt barely showed up.
14. OLE MISS: New head coach Kermit Davis only inherits five scholarship players from a team that was already last in the SEC the previous year. While the Rebels don’t have a lot of experienced pieces, they do return some SEC-caliber players in senior guard Terence Davis, senior forward Bruce Stevens and junior guard Breein Tyree. Sophomore guard Devontae Shuler should also make a leap, meaning Ole Miss has some decent backcourt depth.
Ole Miss is hoping that Davis’ defensive work at Middle Tennessee comes to the Rebels. Ole Miss was one of the worst defensive high-major teams in the country last season. If Ole Miss doesn’t get more stops, while developing some young talent, it could be another long season.
Veteran frontcourt struggles as South Carolina loses exhibition to Division II Augusta
South Carolina suffered a puzzling loss to a Division II opponent on Friday night as the Gamecocks hosted an exhibition game. Coming only 10 days before South Carolina begins their regular season, the Gamecocks suffered a 77-72 loss to Augusta.
With the veteran frontcourt of Chris Silva and Maik Kotsar struggling to bring intensity and production, the Gamecocks blew a 12-point first-half lead as they lost to a DII opponent who only finished 16-13 last season. While South Carolina can point to the fact that Martin didn’t use seven timeouts, while basically allowing his young team to play through mistakes during a close game, this is still a really bad loss for a team entering a deep SEC this season.
“I’m kind of happy that I kind of let it happen, for lack of better words,” Martin said to reporters after the loss. “Because we weren’t very good in practice this week. And we got so many new guys on our team that I’m still trying to figure some stuff out.
“So I just kind of let this happen.”
South Carolina opens the regular season with three buy games at home against USC Upstate, Stony Brook and Norfolk State before they have to face Providence and George Washington or Michigan on Nov. 17/18 at a neutral site.
Obviously, the Gamecocks need more out of their veteran frontcourt, as Silva battled foul trouble against a DII team after having that happen a lot last season. But, Martin also left Silva out of action for the final 10 minutes — something he wouldn’t typically do during the regular season. Silva finished with only seven points and four rebounds in 14 minutes of action while Kotsar had four points and seven rebounds in 27 minutes.
The Gamecocks also struggled with 13 missed free throws and 16 turnovers, as this team has plenty to fix besides for an inconsistent frontcourt effort.
It’ll be interesting to see if this loss acts as a wake-up call for South Carolina and how they handle this preseason loss. If things don’t turn around, it could be a very long season for the Gamecocks in the SEC.
Scandal Proof: A year after the arrests, is college basketball immune to change or consequence?
Four high major assistant coaches, two shoe company executives, the head of a high-profile AAU program, a former runner for an NBA agent, a Princeton-based financial advisor and a former NBA-referee-turned-suit-maker were caught up in the FBI raids that would eventually end the career of one prominent NBA agent and implicate ten high-major programs — Louisville, Arizona, USC, Auburn, Oklahoma State, Miami, South Carolina, Kansas, Maryland and Alabama — while leaving dozens more twisting in the winds of rumor and hearsay.
This was supposed to be the moment of reckoning for a sport that had, many believe, spun out of control, a chance for the federal government to do what the NCAA had proven incapable of for so many decades: Clean up college hoops.
The FBI had exposed, as U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon Kim referred to it, “the dark underbelly of college athletics.”
“Today’s arrests serve as a warning to others choosing to conduct business this way in the world of college athletics,” Kim added, “We have your playbook.”
A year on, and eight of the 10 people arrested will be heading to trial in the next six months while one Hall of Fame head coach has lost his job as a result of the investigation.
But the reality, no matter what the NCAA or the FBI has tried to tout over the course of the last 12 months, is that not much has truly changed, and that the one measure the NCAA could have taken to find an answer was hardly even discussed.
In the weeks and months after armed FBI agents raided the homes of the 10 men who were arrested, the entire college basketball world felt like it came to a halt.
Everyone — media members, coaches, players, agents — was, and to a point still is, waiting for the other shoe to drop.
If the FBI had managed to clandestinely investigate college basketball for more than two years, if they had wiretaps on the phones of powerful shoe company executives like Jim Gatto and Merl Code Jr., then there had to be more famous names than Book Richardson and Tony Bland just waiting to get arrested. All of those man-hours, the grandiose press conference touting the end of corruption in college basketball, it wasn’t just so the Southern District of New York could parade out four assistant coaches and a couple guys that helped distribute Adidas’ slush fund and say they fixed the sport.
There had to be more.
But as the weeks and months passed, it became more and more evident that this case had as much to do with Mischa Barton as it did a targeted strike on the biggest players in the world of amateur basketball.
Marty Blazer, a Pittsburgh-based financial advisor for professional athletes, was caught by the SEC committing securities fraud, illegally using his clients’ money to fund Hollywood movies — like this flop, which starred Barton, Devon Sawa and Michael Clarke-Duncan — at the same time that his name and firm was tied to the agent scandal that was developing on the campus of North Carolina. He flipped, and he offered the government the sport of college basketball.
Blazer started handing out bribes to assistant coaches, trading wads of cash for handshake agreements of influence over where soon-to-be professional athletes would invest their money. That eventually led him, and the FBI agents listening to his phone calls and conversations, to Christian Dawkins, a former runner for ex-NBA agent Andy Miller.
Dawkins was the perfect mark, a young go-getter that was connected enough to attract big names and high-profile programs while being green enough that he didn’t recognize the con. Blazer had put Auburn assistant Chuck Person and Oklahoma State assistant Lamont Evans on the radar. Dawkins was the one that brought Louisville, USC, and a number of other programs into that Las Vegas hotel suite, the one wired for video and sound by the undercover FBI agents posing as Dawkins’ money men. He helped get Gatto and Code on the FBI’s radar, which in turn ensnared the likes of Miami, Arizona, Kansas and Maryland.
But the bottom never fell out. The blue-bloods — Duke, Kentucky, UNC, Indiana, UCLA — more-or-less remained unscathed. The biggest name to get fired was Rick Pitino and his athletic director, Tom Jurich, but that had as much to do with the fact that this was Pitino’s third embarrassing scandal as it did the Louisville coaching staff getting caught (allegedly) helping to funnel $100,000 to a prospect.
In fact, one could argue that most of the programs that were caught up in the raid are doing better than ever.
Take, for example, Auburn.
Person, then an assistant with the Tigers, allegedly accepted at least $91,500 in bribes from Blazer in exchange for steering players Austin Wiley and Danjel Purifoy to Blazer for financial services, going as far as to lie to the players and their families about how well he knew Blazer and their past professional relationship. Getting kickbacks — or, as Person’s lawyer refers to it, “referral fees” — to send players that trust you to shady financial advisors is much different than finding a way to funnel $100,000 to the family of a player to get him on your roster.
Person will go to trial to face six federal charges in February of 2019.
They are coming off of their best season in decades. They won their first SEC regular season title since 1999 and just their third league title in program history last year. They reached the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. They enter this season as the No. 10 team in the NBC Sports Preseason Top 25, and Bruce Pearl — their head coach who has already served a three-year show-cause penalty for lying to NCAA investigators about violating NCAA rules — received a five-year contract extension in June.
Louisville is the program that had to deal with the most direct evidence of cheating, as it became quite evident that Adidas helped the coaching staff funnel $100,000 to five-star recruit Brian Bowen in exchange for his commitment. This cost Hall of Fame head coach Rick Pitino his job — and possibly his career.
But it’s not like the Cardinals are suffering. They went out and hired the best young coach in the sport in Chris Mack, and he has proceeded to put together a recruiting class that would have made his predecessor envious. Four four-star recruits have committed since May, including three players in the month of September, one of whom was previously committed to the program under Pitino.
USC and Arizona both had an assistant coaches get arrested for accepting bribes. The Trojans currently have the nation’s top-ranked 2019 recruiting class — including a pair of five-star recruits — and are the favorite to land a commitment from the top player in the Class of 2020. They also managed to land a top 20 recruiting class this year.
Arizona dealt with as much fallout from the FBI investigation as anyone, losing a five-star prospect in Jahvon Quinerly, an assistant coach and nearly a head coach after a questionable report about head coach Sean Miller getting caught on a wiretap surfaced. Despite all of that, Arizona is still a force to be reckoned with on the recruiting trail. Five-star guard Nico Mannion picked the Wildcats over Duke and Kansas, among many others.
Kansas themselves were officially linked to the investigation after a superseding indictment in April, and while that might cost them Silvio De Sousa this season the way it cost them Billy Preston last season, the Jayhawks are still sitting as the preseason No. 1 team in the country. They are still coming off of a run to the 2018 Final Four. Quentin Grimes, a five-star prospect from Texas and a potential top five pick in the 2019 NBA Draft, didn’t seem too worried about the investigation when he enrolled for this season.
Alabama is coming off of a trip to the NCAA tournament and looks like a team that can get back there again next season. Maryland may not have returned to the heights that they were at prior to leaving the ACC, but that has as much to do with Mark Turgeon as it does any links to this investigation. Miami looks to be headed to a down year, but that probably has more to do with the natural swings that come with being a mid-level program in the ACC as anything.
Scandal does not impact a program as much as you might think. North Carolina reached a title game and won the title the following season with the recruiting classes that were built during the throes of the investigation into academic fraud. Impropriety is not going to affect recruiting. Instability does.
Once it became clear Sean Miller wasn’t losing his job, Arizona was back to landing five-stars. Once Louisville landed another elite head coach, the Cardinals were back to getting the players the program is used to. That’s why Bruce Pearl got his extension.
As much as Condoleezza Rice and the NCAA would like you to believe, not much has actually changed in the day-to-day realities of running a high-major college basketball program.
At this point, we know how ridiculous it is that the FBI is stepping in to try and turn the NCAA’s amateurism bylaws into federal law. We know that the legs that this case stands on are flimsy, that the men going to trial are facing decades in prison for something that no one truly believes is a crime. We know that the victims in this case — the universities — are not actually victims, that they are willingly complicit in the deals that get done. If they weren’t, would Kansas have signed a 12-year, $191 million extension on their apparel deal with Adidas after Adidas victimized the university by allegedly funneling $90,000 to the family of Preston and $20,000 to the guardian of De Sousa?
The question that is left here is what comes next, and that likely depends on what happens over the course of the three trials. Dawkins, Gatto and Code will be in court beginning on October 1st. The trial for Person and Michel is scheduled to begin on Feb. 4th, 2019, while the trial for Richardson, Evans and Bland is set to begin on April 22nd, 2019.
And that’s where things are going to get dicey for the programs that have had their names tied up in this scandal. Once those trials begin, the evidence that the FBI gathered over the course of their two-year investigation — which included wiretaps, undercover sting operations and the seizure of cell phones and laptops — becomes public. We’ve gotten a taste of what might be included in that evidence already. In February, Yahoo Sports got their hands on a couple of pages of evidence, and that was enough to get programs like Duke, Kentucky, Michigan State and Texas linked to this investigation.
What happens when all of that evidence comes out?
Perhaps more importantly, what happens when the NCAA if finally allowed to get their hands on all of this evidence?
But what the Commission did manage to get through this rule change: “People charged with investigating and resolving NCAA cases can accept information established by another administrative body, including a court of law [or] government agency.” In other words, the NCAA can use any and all evidence that the FBI dug up to hammer schools, coaches and players that found themselves caught in this mess.
They won’t actually start their investigatory procedures until the legal process has fully played out, but they absolutely will have a chance to come down hard on the offenders that get exposed by the FBI.
That stability currently being enjoyed by Louisville, USC, Arizona and the like?