Too much basketball for things like editing, paragraphs, complete sentences or even coherent thoughts. But as we get to know these teams and players who will inhabit our brains for the next several months, I've certainly got some thoughts on what's going down. So here are at least some of them, on a game-by-game basis.
Hampton @ Wake Forest
--The new ESPNU open for college basketball is horrible. Just some bad local public access looking stuff. --There are some pieces here for the Deacs, but the lack of a PG will kill this team. --Walker is a great shotblocker, but his offensive game lags far behind. --I suppose Clark is the best option at point for Wake, but he isn’t meant to be there. Harris has got to be the go-to scorer for the Deacs, and I think he is better off the ball. He's probably better than Clark at the point (though neither is good), but he is needed more as a scorer than as a distributor. --Neither team can make a FT to save their lives. --Wake 63-56, survive a scare from Hampton. --Pellum probably gunned the Pirates out of the game (6/22 FGA), but Funches was fun to watch. --McKie is something else, 21pts, 8 rebs. --No Deac w/ more than 2 assists, 3 w/ more than 2 TOs. 19 total TOs for Wake.
Siena @ Minnesota --My goodness, what a start to this game, nobody missing. We’re on pace for like a 150-130 game after 4min. After 8min, Siena’s pace has slowed to just 125pts, shooting 77% from field. --Jackson has 14 in the first 8 min, and the amazing thing is that a lot of those were on Nolen, a first-rate defensive guard. --Jackson is spectacular. --Minnesota big run to close the half, 17-7, get back within a point. --I think this Minnesota could be a team that has many different leading scorers/go-to guys, depending on the night. --Siena scores 25 in first 8 min, then 24 in the next 26. --Minnesota is for real: excellent athleticism, excellent rebounders, balanced defense all around, shooters, ballhandlers, and all this w/o Joseph. --Rossiter at least three travels on the night, Siena with a ton of turnovers. --This maybe isn’t as talented a Siena team as we’ve seen the past 2-3 years, but there are some serious parts here (Jackson, Rossiter, Brookins, Anosike, Griffin, Wignot) and they should be near the top of the MAAC. --Brookins comes out of nowhere down the stretch to catch fire, but too much of a drought in the middle of the game. --Minnesota 76-69 final. --Jackson 29, Brookins 12 for the Saints, but 24 TOs for the team. --Minnesota balanced scoring: Hoffarber 16, Sampson 13, Hollins 12, Mbakwe 10 plus 11 rebounds. --Minn 30 FTs, Siena 15.
Pepperdine @ UCLA --In the first half I’m having flashback to last year’s CSUF/UCLA abortion. UCLA still struggling against the zone, the point guard situation still isn’t excellent, but they’re a more talented team this year. --And Jerime Anderson still sucks. --KeionBell is not meant to play point. He’s not good at it, and it limits his effectiveness in the offense and turns the team into little more than a series of 1-on-1 moves. --Nelson’s block at the start of the 2nd half is beautiful. --Josh Smith is disturbingly earthbound. --UCLA big run at end of first/start of second. --Howland with his run-breaking timeouts back for another season. --Final UCLA 79-69, score closer than the game, Bruins impressive in 2nd half. --26-2 run for Bruins wrapped around halftime is the difference, but maybe the biggest story is the ankle injury to Lee early in the game that kept him out of the final 34 minutes and will keep him out of Tuesday’s NIT Quarterfinal matchup with Pacific. --Bell 24 unimpressive points, just two assists. --Nelson 20/11, Honeycutt 16, Smith/Jones 13. --UCLA 21 assists, 13 TO. Pepp 18 TO, 10 assists.
Miami @ Memphis --I know Kendrick is a very good player, but Pastner definitely had the luxury to let him leave. This team has plenty of talent at the guard spot. --Unbelievably entertaining albeit sloppy back-and-forth first half. --Aside from Johnson, Hurricanes don’t have much offensive punch in frontcourt. Kirk and his nice midrange jumper may earn a spot in the starting lineup. --Dequan Jones has just never added anything beyond his athleticism. My notes on this kid from his freshman year are just filled with exclamation points. Now he just bores me. --Miami is definitely at its best when it works inside out (or more to the point, just inside). Johnson is incredibly efficient, especially when fresh. --Memphis is an immature team with some absolutely terrible body language at times: players sagging their shoulders, rolling their eyes, at both ref calls and poor plays by teammates. This does not immediately look like a team with great chemistry. --Miami guards definitely settled down for a stretch, played under control and they got right back into it, and then in the last minute or two, both Grant and Scott have terribly out of control plays. --After the first time seeing these incarnations of these teams play, I’m not sure how good either of these teams are. They’ll both get better, but they both certainly need to get better. --Final score 72-68 Memphis. --Jackson 17, Carmouche 13, Witherspoon 12, Antonio Barton 10. --Scott 20, Grant 18, (a combined 10/27 and eight turnovers for those two), Johnson 12 points, 12 rebounds. --5 assists for Miami on 20 field goals, Memphis 10 assists on 19 field goals. --Teams a combined 7/41 from beyond the arc. --Entertaining, but sloppy.
Last we saw of the Jayhawks, they were arguably the favorite to win the NCAA Tournament, with a talented roster highlighted by a couple of All-American caliber veterans. Well, I guess that’s not exactly true, as the absolute last we saw of the Jayhawks was them walking of the court in disappointment, stunned by Northern Iowa and the heroics of Ali Faroukmanesh (a pair of words which, whether in combination or apart, will likely cause anguish to Kansas fans for quite a long time). Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and Xavier Henry are now ex-Jayhawks, preparing for NBA careers, and the Jayhawks that remain, though talented, will have to answer a couple big questions before they can be considered contenders in the Big 12.
Bill Self’s squad is loaded at the guard spot with three big time talents among the group competing for minutes there. The eldest of that bunch is Tyshawn Taylor, a 6’3 junior point guard who has been maddeningly inconsistent and enigmatic in his time in Lawrence. He averaged seven points a game and was second on the team in assists last season, but spent the season playing out of position quite a bit at the two with Collins, and tended to get down on himself and pout when things didn’t go his way. With Collins gone, now is Taylor’s chance to take a leadership role on the team and use his quickness and penetration ability to his benefit. If Taylor can’t get his attitude in shape enough to take over the lead guard role on the Jayhawks, there are two other similarly explosive guards waiting to do just that. Freshman Josh Selby has similar skills to Taylor, and they may wind up in the same backcourt together, which could either be brilliant or a case of not enough basketballs on the court. Selby is probably more suited to playing off of the ball than Taylor is, but in reality, both players will be most effective with the ball in their hands. Selby is an aggressive, attacking guard with great athleticism and coast-to-coast ability, and he is simply too good to keep out of the starting lineup, where he’ll likely be by the end of the season. His willingness to get down and dirty on the defensive end will determine whether he’ll be in that spot immediately. Elijah Johnson is the third uber-talented guard on this squad, a combo-guard who played extremely limited minutes in his first season in Lawrence, but Johnson, a five-star recruit out of high school, should play a much greater role as a sophomore. He is a strong and athletic guard with an uncanny ability to get into the lane with ease, where he is a strong finisher. He has had a tendency towards inconsistent effort in his high school days, but if he can bring the energy every time he hits the floor, he should be ready to make a big leap this season.
Elsewhere in the crowded backcourt, there’s Brady Morningstar, back for his senior season. Morningstar has been an on-again/off-again starter the last couple of seasons, and he supplies a gritty defensive toughness that Self loves. Tyrel Reed, a former Mr. Basketball in Kansas, will also be back for his senior season, and he is a designated shooter, who can surprise you with his athleticism from time to time. Travis Releford redshirted last season after getting limited minutes as a freshman, but he is a long and active slasher with a capable three-point shot who will press for time despite the crowded backcourt. Then there’s Royce Woolridge, an undersized freshman off-guard who will likely have to wait a season to crack Self’s rotation.
There isn’t as much depth up front, but there is still plenty of talent. To start with, senior Mario Little could reasonably be included among the backcourt players, but he is more of a true small forward at 6’5. Little is a junior college transfer who was considered the best JuCo prospect in 2008, but after an injury plagued first season in Lawrence, he redshirted last year. This season, it is possible he steps right into the starting lineup at the three. The four and the five spots may belong to the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, although neither of them is a true center. Marcus is the more skilled of the two, capable of playing both forward spots with his good handles and capable midrange jumper, but both brothers are long and tenacious rebounders with good passing ability (they could be a force to reckon with in the Self hi-lo) and the ability to convert at a high percentage from the field. The lone true center on the roster is junior Jeff Withey, a 7’0 transfer from Arizona who played just 45 minutes all of last season. He has the reputation as being soft, and will need to pick up his aggressiveness in order to get a lot of time, but he should see his minutes increase, regardless. The most intriguing frontcourt prospect may 6’9 sophomore Thomas Robinson, a big and athletic power forward whose minutes dropped precipitously down the stretch. He did, however, have some excellent games early in the season, such as his 15 point and 10 rebound effort in 18 minutes during a blowout of Alcorn State. Expect him to be the first forward off the bench this season.
The rotation up front is pretty set, with the Morrises likely starting together, possibly with Little at the three, while Robinson is the first guy off the bench and Withey seeing his minutes jump. The guard rotation, however, will likely be in flux early until players differentiate themselves from each other. It is possible that Self will play three guards, with two of Taylor, Johnson and Selby snapping up two of the three spots (with the other the next guard off the bench) and perhaps the veteran Morningstar stepping back into a starting role for leadership and defensive tenacity as much as anything else. Releford could also wind up with minutes on the wing, and Reed will likely again be called upon for his three-point range to stretch defenses in spot duty.
This Jayhawk team may not have such big-time returning names as Aldrich and Collins or Rush and Chalmers, but if one of their hyper-talented guards steps up as a team leader and playmaker (my money is on Selby) and they are able to avoid injuries and the type of foul trouble that the Morris twins experienced at the end of last season, this team is very capable of making a deep run into March. Of course, in Lawrence, such quality is simply expected.
Well, been a bit busy lately with some other things, but looking forward to jumping back in with some more Big 12 previews in the near future, especially since we've got Kansas and Kansas State due up next, both of whom should be fun.
In the meantime, I just polished off a Mountain West Summer School post over at Rush the Court, and I should have a similar post on the Pac-10 ready in the next couple of days.
By all accounts, 2009-10 was supposed to be the year for Iowa State. Fourth-year head coach Greg McDermott was fortunate enough to get hypertalented forward Craig Brackins back for his junior season in Ames, despite the fact that he was projected as a mid-first round NBA draft pick. To go with Brackins, McDermott had plenty of surrounding talent and experience with seniors Marquis Gilstrap and Lucca Staiger and junior Diante Garrett. But the Cyclones lost all their up games in the non-conference schedule (although to their credit, they did take care of the teams they were supposed to beat), then proceeded to limp through a pathetic conference season, posting a 4-12 record with only two wins over Nebraska and a win over Colorado to show for their efforts prior to an upset of Kansas State in the season finale. And then things got really bad.
Soon after the season ended, Brackins declared for the NBA draft, Gilstrap lost an appeal to the NCAA for an additional year of eligibility due to an injury early in his career, but Iowa State athletic director Jamie Pollard announced his intentions to keep McDermott on board for another year. However, center Justin Hamilton announced he would be transferring out of the program in order to be closer to his home in Utah (he wound up in Baton Rouge, which suggests that Hamilton did not take Geography 101 at Iowa State). Next, guard Dominique Buckley announced his intentions to transfer. Then point guard Chris Colvin joined Hamilton and Buckley in jumping ship. All of a sudden, McDermott wasn’t so sure he wanted to stick around and in late April, McDermott resigned in order to head back to the Missouri Valley Conference and take over the Creighton position left vacant by Dana Altman’s move to Oregon. Within 24 hours of the McDermott announcement, Pollard named former Cyclone star Fred Hoiberg the new face of the program. But the bad times were just beginning for the Cyclones. Would-be senior guard Charles Boozer was arrested for assault the following weekend, and he subsequently announced that he would not be returning to the team for his senior season, but instead would be “seeking treatment.” Finally, forward LaRon Dendy announced he would be transferring and guard Antwon Oliver chimed in with the announcement that he would not be returning either.
So, what remains for the Cyclones? There are really just three players of any consequence that return from last season’s squad: Garrett, junior guard Scott Christopherson and senior center Jamie Vanderbeken. Garrett is the key cog, having started every game at the point for Iowa State the last two seasons. He can be a bit out of control at times, but he has coast-to-coast ability, is a great passer, can penetrate and score, and is a good team leader. Christopherson is a transfer from Marquette who got about 25 minutes a game last season, as well as a few starts. He is a deadly shooter (43% from behind the arc, 85% from the line), but doesn’t provide much beyond his shooting ability. And Vanderbeken, who earned a medical redshirt last season with a variety of injuries, is a pick-and-pop center with excellent shooting ability and pretty strong work ethic on the glass. All things considering, not a terrible group of returnees.
Hoiberg’s first bit of success as a coach in Ames was his ability to keep the incoming recruiting class intact, and given the shortness of the bench, all of these guys should get a chance to play immediately. There’s Jordan Railey, a long and thin center with developing post moves and a bit of a jumper. He’ll need to add strength, but he’ll at least provide an energetic body in the middle early in his career. Next up are a couple of power forwards: 6’9 Eric McKnight and 6’8 Calvin Godfrey. Both guys are long and athletic, they run the floor well and can block some shots. Godfrey probably has the more polished offensive game at this point, but McKnight might have more upside. Lastly, there are a couple of backcourt players in the class. Melvin Ejim is a 6’6 wing who can play either the two or the three, has great athleticism and length and a good midrange jumper that should develop into three-point range. He is not much of a threat off the bounce at this stage of his career, but that is something he could add, and he should be an excellent defensive wing. DeMarcus Phillips is a JuCo transfer who can play either guard spot, and will probably be the guy tapped to run the point when Garrett needs a break. He is more of a scoring point guard, with a crafty game, but the Cyclones will definitely need somebody to step up and score the ball, so Phillips could be the counted on to bring offense off the bench.
In addition to the incoming recruits, Hoiberg has also drawn in three transfers, two of whom could see some type of playing time this year. The biggest name is Royce White, a transfer from Minnesota. White never played a minute for the Golden Gophers after an alleged shoplifting incident and later a laptop theft on the Minnesota campus. The end for the White/Minnesota marriage was bizarre, with White releasing a rambling YouTube video which apparently announced his retirement from basketball. Hoiberg has talked with White and is convinced that those troubles are in the past, but it may be White’s immense talent and Iowa State’s equally immense need for a playmaker that helped tip the scales in Hoiberg’s mind. White was a top-20 prospect last season with post skills, the ability to put the ball on the floor and finish and strong defensive capabilities. He is petitioning the NCAA to be eligible immediately, with the answer to that petition expected later this summer. If he is allowed to play for the Cyclones this year, that would be a huge boost for the program, and White would probably be the number one offensive option for the squad and a frequent target of Garrett’s passes.
Off-guard Darion Anderson, an incoming transfer from Northern Illinois, is taking advantage of the NCAA rule allowing players who have completed their undergraduate degree to transfer out of their program to a different program without having to sit out a year, provided the new school offers a post-graduate degree that your old school did not, meaning he will be eligible to play immediately. He is a streaky scorer and a great rebounder for his position who could wind up starting immediately, boosting the team’s athleticism and offering a scoring option that may be very much needed.
The final incoming transfer is Chris Babb, from Penn State, who will not be eligible until next season. The combo-guard will have two remaining years of eligibility and should be ready to take over for Garrett when he graduates.
As bad as things got for the Cyclones in the middle of spring, they are actually not in terrible shape. If White is eligible this season (my guess, the NCAA grants him eligibility at the semester break), he’ll pair nicely with Garrett, and guys like Christopherson, Vanderbeken and Anderson could benefit from the ability of those two to break down defenses. Throw in the bouncy athleticism of McKnight and Godfrey, and this team could surprise some people. Unfortunately, they still play in a very stout Big 12, and making any headway against the powers at the top of the conference is a dicey proposition. But given that Hoiberg is going to get a pass for his first year regardless of what happens, this team will be playing without a lot of pressure on them, and they have enough talent to improve upon the mediocre record last year’s underachieving team produced, but probably not enough to challenge for an NCAA tournament bid.
Generally, finishing in eight place in your conference, four games under .500, is not considered a good year at all. But when it comes following a 1-15 conference record and three straight last place finishes, you’re definitely making progress. Enough progress, apparently, for the head coach to parlay that improvement into a new head coaching job in the ACC, which is exactly what Jeff Bzdelik did, heading out to Wake Forest following the season. After leading scorers Cory Higgins and Alec Burks expressed some initial anger over Bzdelik’s departure, they worked on campaigning for associate head coach Steve McClain to get the job, even hinting that Burks, after a very successful freshman season might decide to transfer if McClain were not named the head man. Well, in the end, Mike Bohn, the CU athletic director, plucked Tad Boyle from Northern Colorado to take over the program, with McClain landing in Indiana as an assistant. Boyle built up the Northern Colorado program from one of the worst in the nation to a 25-8 record last season in just four years, and got off to a pretty strong start in Boulder, convincing Burks and others to stick around, with only little-used freshman Keegan Hornbuckle deciding to transfer out of the program.
What remains is the most talented Buffalo team in some time, headlined by Higgins and Burks, who averaged 19 and 17 points per game, respectively, last season. With Boyle generally regarded as running a more up-tempo offense than Bzdelik (although Bzdelik’s reputation as a slow-it-down coach is more than a little exaggerated), and with an additional year under their belt, expect their offensive success to continue. The problem for the Buffaloes in 2009-10, however, was their inability to guard anybody, ranking in the bottom half of Division I in defensive efficiency. They didn’t rebound well, they didn’t defend the post well, and even though the forced a good amount of turnovers and got some steals, those often came with defenders overreaching for the ball, a tendency that led to Colorado trading a handful of easy hoops scored as a result of the turnovers for even more easy hoops given up by the out-of-position defender. And then there’s the fact that outside of Higgins, Burks and senior Marcus Relphorde, there just isn’t a ton of athleticism here.
To start with the good, the group of Higgins, Burks and Relphorde is a pretty strong trio of wings. The bad part here is that they’re all basically the same position with similar skillsets. Higgins and Burks both convert their offensive opportunities at a high rate, even as the focus of opposing defense, both shooting over 50% from the field last season. Relphorde isn’t quite the shooter that the other two are, but is an effective slasher and can knock down a three, and is generally a pretty strong third-option. The problem is, there is a big drop-off in talent after those three.
Nate Tomlinson got 21 starts at the point for Colorado last season, and while he is a nice little player who can distribute and take care of the ball and shoot the lights out from deep, he is more suited towards being a role player rather than a starter at a BCS school. Likewise, Austin Dufault, who got 26 starts up front for the Buffs, is a nice player, but doesn’t rebound particularly well for a four-man (let alone the center position that he was forced into often) isn’t strong enough to body up to power frontcourt players and isn’t quick enough to handle more athletic forwards. Unfortunately, they’ll probably both have to start again, putting what amounts to a four-guard lineup (with Tomlinson, Burks, Higgins and Relphorde) with the overmatched Dufault manning the middle.
There are some other options up front for Boyle. Incoming freshman Andre Roberson is a bit undersized to play the power forward on most teams, but with this team being thin and underathletic up front, the bouncy Roberson could get some early minutes. Roberson needs to add strength, but he is long, athletic and skilled, with some ballhandling skills and a perimeter game that could mesh well with the rest of the squad. Also in the two-man recruiting class is seven-footer Ben Mills, a solidly skilled big guy who, while not a great athlete, can at least bring some good size to the Colorado frontline. There are also a couple of returning bigs in 6’9 junior Trey Eckloff and 6’10 sophomore Shane Harris-Tunks. Harris-Tunks, a big Aussie, is the brightest prospect of the two. He is big and physical and rebounds the ball well, but was just a mess offensively as a freshman, turning the ball over at an alarming rate, although he did show some flashes of some coherent post moves. Eckloff, on the other hand, is more of a perimeter big guy, possessing a nice looking jumper but missing the strength and tenacity to compete inside. Any contributions Boyle gets from him will be bonus.
Depth on the perimeter will generally fall to 6’4 senior shooter Levi Knutson or 6’0 redshirt freshman Shannon Sharpe. Knutson is another guy who is probably below-average athletically, but makes up for it a bit with his accurate shooting. He’ll never be more than a role player here, but he could make some big shots for the Buffs. Sharpe redshirted last season following microfracture surgery, but before the injury he was regarded as the most explosive athlete the Buffaloes had signed in many years. If he is able to get back to full strength, Sharpe could add a bit of energy of the type this team has lacked, and he may just force his way onto the court, even in a crowded backcourt.
The Buffaloes are certainly headed in the right direction, with their days as basement dwellers in the Big 12 done (and not just because they aren’t going to be in the Big 12 after this season). They’ll need to adjust to their new head coach, and it may take a few games, but they should have the kinks worked out by the time conference play rolls around. Unfortunately, while they may be a better team than they were in 09-10, it is hard to see where they are going to make up much ground on their conference in 10-11, with the top half of the Big 12 (think Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor, Texas, Texas A&M, Missouri, even Oklahoma State) looking pretty impenetrable. But with a little luck and some quick adaptations, they could at least remain in the NCAA at-large picture late into the season. At the very least, this will be a fun team to watch.
Last season was a banner season for the Baylor basketball program. Under seventh-year head coach Scott Drew, the Bears made it to the first ever Elite Eight in the school’s history, a feat made even more astounding by the depths from which the program has risen. Drew took over a program that had been rocked by scandal: the murder of player Patrick Dennehy by teammate Carlton Dotson the most salacious and tragic, but multiple NCAA violations by previous head coach Dave Bliss nearly as damning. But Drew has built the program slowly, surely and cleanly, combining recruiting coups with excellent coaching. And now, not only is Baylor coming off the best season in the school’s history, but there is still plenty of talent and plenty of hope that the team can build upon their accomplishments. While forward Ekpe Udoh has departed for the NBA with a year of eligibility remaining, and point guard Tweety Carter, the first major recruiting get for Drew, has used up his eligibility, plenty of talent remains, and the next big Baylor recruiting steal arrives in the form of 6’9 Perry Jones, a skilled big man who already has NBA scouts drooling.
But the focus of the Baylor offense will continue to be 6’4 guard LaceDarius Dunn, now back for his senior season. Dunn led the team in scoring last season with nearly 20 points a night, and along the way also established a school record for total points in a single season. He is one of the nation’s premiere perimeter players (and one of its most confident), a guy that is not only a great shooter (42% from three, 86% from the line), but a great scorer as well, capable of scoring not only as a bomber, but as a slashing threat as well. Likely ready to take over the starting point guard role is sophomore A.J. Walton, who showed himself to be a capable facilitator in relief of Carter last season. Walton also knocked down perimeter shots at a highly efficient rate (46% from three on limited attempts), was an effective and creative finisher in the lane, and excelled defensively. Walton will have to hold off exciting freshman guard Stargell Love, however. Love is a terrific athlete who excels in the open floor and will fit in nicely with the Baylor running game. While Walton has the edge due to his year of experience, Love may be the brighter prospect overall and he will certainly earn plenty of minutes from Drew.
Jones figures to be the big threat in the frontcourt, and given his NBA Lottery-level talent, he’ll be a force. He is long and skilled, with inside/outside game – a good face-up jumper, the ability to put the ball on the floor, plus plenty of post moves to go along with natural rebounding ability. The one knock on him has been inconsistency, so he’ll need to make sure to bring his hard hat every night in order to get the most out of his amazing talents. But while Jones will have the spotlight in the Baylor frontcourt, there are several other talented players ready to contribute. Quincy Acy returns for his junior season, and he’ll be asked to improve upon the nine points and five rebounds he contributed nightly last season. Acy is another spectacular athlete on a uber-talented Bear squad, capable of wow-inducing dunks and rebounds. Most of his scoring is done from point-blank range, but he converts those chances at a high rate – he made his first 20 field goal attempts in his college career on his way to shooting 66% from the field as a freshman, then improved upon that number by making 70% of his field goal attempts last season. Alongside Jones and Acy up front will likely be 6’9 junior small forward Anthony Jones (no relation to Perry), who started all 36 games for the Bears in his sophomore season. Jones is a long and skinny athlete with a smooth offensive game, ranging from glides along the baseline out to three-point ability. It would be nice to see Jones improve his percentages from downtown, but he contributes on the defensive side as well. Speaking of defense, the Bears relied heavily on the 2-3 zone during last season’s run to the Elite Eight, but with Udoh and departed seven-footer Josh Lomers missing from the inside, there is some doubt as to what type of defense Drew will go with. With a frontline of both Jones’ and Acy, each right around 6’9 with spectacular athleticism to boot, the coaching staff has some flexibility. This lineup would present a long and intimidating zone, but each individual is athletic enough to develop into a strong man-on-man defender. In the end, expect Drew to stick with the zone as the primary defense, but mix in more man defense than they did last year.
The Baylor bench will be made up of a handful of young prospects. Junior wing Fred Ellis is the most experienced (he got about six minutes a night in his 29 appearances last year) of a pretty inexperienced bunch. Ellis is a skinny and solid player off the bench who rebounds well for his size, but seems destined to be a limited role player. Sophomore guard Nolan Dennis got a few more minutes a night than Ellis did last season, but seems to have more upside. While he’ll remain behind Dunn in the rotation, he is a capable offensive player who should see his minutes increase in his second year. Cory Jefferson, a 6’9 sophomore center, also got a handful of minutes last season, but he also figures to have his best days ahead of him. Jefferson has arms that seem to go on forever, and uses them to be a strong shotblocker. He also has some good offensive skills, with a little bit of a midrange jumper, and the ability to put the ball on the floor and go by a defender. Fellow sophomore Givon Crump is a combo-forward with excellent scoring ability, range out to the arc and a rebounding mentality. Finally, there is incoming freshman Bakari Turner, a 6’3 off-guard who is a good athlete with in-the-gym range. Given that Turner sits behind Dunn and Dennis (not to mention the two point guards), he’ll likely play a limited role as a freshman, but could be an important cog down the line.
The Bears’ run to the Elite Eight last year should not be mistaken for a fluke; Drew is definitely building a program here. This Baylor roster is jam-packed with elite athletes who should thrive in the open offense, but replacing Carter, both as the floor general and a leader off the court, will be no easy task. While Walton and Love are both talented guards, they have big shoes to fill, although the presence of Dunn’s dead-eye and Perry Jones’ athletic skill ready to bail them out on bad possessions should ease the transition. There is as much talent on this year’s edition of the Bears as there was last season, but they’ll need one of those guards to help bring everything together for Baylor to match or exceed last season’s successes.
In the last three seasons combined, the Big East has placed 23 teams in the NCAA tournament. Perhaps even more impressively, in the last two seasons, the Big East has had ten teams in the tournament as a three-seed or better. However, with just one of the top ten scorers and just three of the top ten rebounders returning this season, it looks like this season will be slightly down year for the conference. Not that there aren’t very good teams in the league, as the first tier of schools (Villanova, Pittsburgh and Syracuse) are all contenders for preseason national top ten consideration.
In the next tier, there are several teams with big question marks, with Seton Hall’s questions over adjustments to a new head coach and the health of Herb Pope the two most obvious. Georgetown, Marquette and West Virginia each lose key contributors to their recent success, but all three teams have intriguing talent, both the proven variety and the kind still labeled as potential, waiting in the wings. For the four teams in this tier, NCAA Tournament bids are expected, but they’ll need positive answers to their questions.
One tier down, however, there are teams who seem more likely to compete for those three new additional entries into the NCAA Tournament with other bubble teams. St. John’s looks to be at the top of this tier, partly due to their heavily senior-laden roster. Also in this tier are three marquee Big East teams (Connecticut, Louisville and Notre Dame) with more questions than answers on their rosters. Major contributors are gone, and what remains are largely inconsistent performers. If some of that inconsistency disappears with experience for players like Kemba Walker, Terrence Jennings and Scott Martin, these teams could move up into the tier of teams that doesn’t have to sweat out selection Sunday.
The fourth tier of teams is a little mini-tier of a couple of teams that I couldn’t rightly consider as bubble contenders, but also teams I didn’t want to put down with the basement of the league. For South Florida and Cincinnati to compete for NCAA Tournament bids, they’ll need not only veteran players like Gus Gilchrist and Yancy Gates to turn into highly efficient players, but also newcomers to provide heavy assistance right out of the gates.
And at the bottom, there are three teams in varying degrees of disarray. Providence and third-year head coach Keno Davis have endured a horrific offseason, while things haven’t been a whole lot better at DePaul and Rutgers. For DePaul and Rutgers, they at least have new coaches to bring hope of a brand new and more successful direction for the program. At Providence, Davis is almost back to square one. The one thing all these programs have in common is that it would take a near miracle for any of these teams to compete for a postseason bid of any kind, let alone an NCAA Tournament bid.
All-Big East First Team G Austin Freeman, Sr, Georgetown G Kemba Walker, Jr, Connecticut F Kevin Jones, Jr, West Virginia F Herb Pope, Jr, Seton Hall F Kris Joseph, Jr, Syracuse
All-Big East Second Team G Corey Fisher, Sr, Villanova G Jeremy Hazell, Sr, Seton Hall G Ashton Gibbs, Jr, Pittsburgh F D.J. Kennedy, Sr, St. John’s F Tim Abromaitis, Sr, Notre Dame
All-Freshman Team G Vander Blue, Marquette G Gerard Coleman, Providence F Jayvaughn Pinkston, Villanova F Roscoe Smith, Connecticut C Fab Melo, Syracuse
Twenty years from now, if and when you think of the 2009-10 West Virginia basketball team, you’ll likely remember one indelible image, an image both heartbreaking and heartwarming at the same time. You know the image. You’ve got it right there in your mind’s eye as you read this. Da’Sean Butler laying there on the floor in Indianapolis, a mixture of physical and emotional pain on his face following a torn ACL and other injuries in the second half of an increasingly uncompetitive loss to eventual national champion Duke, the usually grumpy head coach Bob Huggins cradling his head and consoling him. Just remembering that image is enough to get most sports fans choked up, a great basketball player, a great person, struck down in the final possible game of a truly great four-year college career. While that wasn’t the end anybody wanted for Butler, it was indeed the end, and so for the first time in four years, the Mountaineers will field a team without the smart, athletic and clutch team leader. Gone also is the steady veteran Wellington Smith and the mercurial Devin Ebanks, who headed off for the NBA after two seasons in Morgantown.
But, of course, the cupboard is far from empty for Huggins and his squad. Ready to take over as a team leader and as the number one option is junior forward Kevin Jones, who emerged last season as a versatile threat for the Mountaineers. He’s a terrific athlete with a varied offense game, capable of strong back-to-the-basket moves, explosive finishes around the rim and even stepping out and knocking down some threes, a facet of his game that took a huge step forward last season. His free throw shooting and his midrange game could still use some work, but it appears for all the world that Jones is ready to pick up where Butler left off. Next to Jones up front for the ‘Eers will likely be sophomore center Deniz Kilicli, who gained eligibility in February last season and who showed flashes of brilliance despite his rustiness. Kilicli is an physical post player with the capability of scoring in several ways down low, whether through his variety of post moves or on putbacks. He’ll give West Virginia a post presence that they haven’t had in some time.
The backcourt isn’t exactly settled, but there are a variety of options there. Senior point guard Joe Mazulla and junior point Darryl Bryant both return as team leaders. Mazulla is a gutty little point who first gained national attention with a sparkling game in West Virginia’s second round upset of Duke in 2008, but he has had injury problems that have limited him severely since then. Bryant is no stranger to injuries either, however, as a broken foot kept him out of the last three games of WVU’s Final Four run. Having both back and healthy would give Huggins plenty of options, including possibly starting them both as a two-headed point. More likely, one of the two will get the nod with the other coming off the bench, while a shooter of some sort mans the off-guard position. Likely candidates for that job include senior Casey Mitchell, who played limited minutes in his first season in Morgantown as a JuCo transfer, or sophomore Dalton Pepper, who played even more limited minutes in his freshman season. Both, however, have the reputation of great shooters, even if their percentages in their initial seasons didn’t quite match up to their billing. Rounding out the starting five could be senior forward John Flowers, a glue guy that is as outstanding defensively as he is average offensively.
Other returning depth for the Mountaineers is highlighted by sophomore power forward Dan Jennings, a physically gifted frontcourt player who could turn into a future big-time contributor for this squad and senior wing Cam Thoroughman, a hustle guy with surprising athletic ability. Additionally, Huggins brought in a solid four-man recruiting class. Noah Cottrill, a 6’1 true point guard type, will have to wait his turn behind the veterans Mazulla and Bryant, but he is a good enough player to force his way onto the court. Kevin Noreen is a 6’10 power forward who fell into West Virginia’s lap after he was granted a release from his Letter of Intent to attend Boston College following their firing of head coach Al Skinner. Noreen is a very skilled big man who will likely see some minutes immediately; he has a polished offensive game, with post moves, a face-up game, a jumper out to about 18 feet and excellent hands. David Nyarsuk is a long and lean 7’1 center with a ton of upside, who may see a year or two of bench time (not to mention time in the weight room) before he meets his potential. And then there’s 6’7 forward Darrious Curry, an athletic lefty who is great in the open floor and has range out the three-point line.
While a repeat Final Four run would certainly be a surprise for this Mountaineer team, this is certainly not a program that is going to fall off the map. There is enough talent here for an upper division Big East finish and a NCAA Tournament berth. Jones will have to get comfortable being “the guy” offensively, but a pair of healthy veteran point guards should ease that transition, as should the presence of a strong post force like Kilicli. If Pepper or Mitchell (or better yet, both) can step into the designated shooter role, while still playing the kind of defense that is demanded of a Huggins player, this has all the makings of a solid offensive team, and certainly Huggins will have this team competing on the defensive end on every possession. Their talent may have taken a hit (and how could it have not, with two players off to the NBA), but this is still a team that will make a splash nationally.
The 2009-10 season for the Wildcats can really only be described as incredibly disappointing. After starting out the season 20-1, looking like a strong possibility for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament and a national championship contender while once again rallying behind the steady leadership of senior point guard Scottie Reynolds, the Wildcats struggled down the stretch in Big East play, losing four of their last six (albeit against very tough competition), bowed out in their opening game in the Big East tournament, scraped by 15-seed Robert Morris in the opening round of the NCAA tournament, then got sent home early by St. Mary’s in the second round. Reynolds, in particular, struggled down the stretch, at least compared to his stellar play over the course of the rest of his career, making just 13 of his final 52 shots in a Villanova uniform. Reggie Redding, glue-guy extraordinaire for Jay Wright’s squad is also gone to graduation, but they also lose Taylor King who announced in June that he would be leaving the team, although he would remain in school to complete his degree. King, a former McDonald’s All-American with a long and storied history even before his college days, was a three-point bomber and a decent rebounder whose minutes and production declined over the course of the season. While he could have made some contribution to either this Villanova team, or another team at another level of basketball, his college basketball career turned out to be considerably less fruitful than anyone could have expected. Despite those losses, the ‘Cats have absolutely no lack of talent, with four former McDonald’s All-Americans remaining on their roster, and a host of other talented athletes.
The Wildcats return three starters: 6’1 senior point guard Corey Fisher, 6’5 senior off-guard Corey Stokes and 6’8 senior power forward Antonio Pena. Fisher is the team’s leading returning scorer, and will also be the team’s floor general. He is mostly a below-the-rim type point, with tons of quickness, great handles, and absolutely no conscience about shooting the ball, although his shot selection has tightened up over the years. With Reynolds departed, Fisher will have the ball in his hands more often, and that could be a good thing, since Fisher takes better care of the ball than Reynolds did and is better at creating for teammates.Stokes will run alongside Fisher in the backcourt, and he is an excellent scorer who may see his production explode this season in the absence of Reynolds. He is a big guard, a pure spot-up shooter and he rebounds well for his position. Up front, Pena has improved greatly since his early days in the program when he was little more than a garbage man. Pena can surprise with his ability to put the ball on the floor in short bursts, is a good passer, and has turned into a good offensive post threat, all great additions to his already strong rebounding and defending.
While Wright’s teams have historically been guard-heavy, often employing either a three or even four-guard lineup, this Wildcat roster is more balanced, and features some strong young frontcourt talent, at least one of whom should vault into the starting lineup alongside Pena. Big things were expected of 6’9 power forward Mouphtaou Yarou in his freshman season, but it was derailed early by a battle with Hepatitis B. He did return to play in 21 games, and even started eight, but never looked completely comfortable out there, although ‘Nova may well have fallen to Robert Morris in the first round of the Tournament were it not for Yarou’s best game of the season: 17 points, eight rebounds and three blocks on 5/6 shooting. He is a great athlete with a physical style and a strong body, and he figures to be the guy with the inside track for a starting spot. Classmate Isaiah Armwood is another long and athletic rebounder inside for the ‘Cats, but he is not nearly the finished product that Yarou is, and at 6’7 is a little undersized, although he figures to get some time. Redshirt sophomore Maurice Sutton is the biggest of the frontcourt players at 6’10, but he is also the least polished offensively. He needs to add some strength, but he moves very well and is a long and lean defender who is an active rebounder and shotblocker. Then there is 6’6 freshman power forward Jayvaughn Pinkston, a multi-talented addition to the Wildcat roster. His height tells you he is a small forward, and with the range out to the three-point line, the ballhandling skills, the passing ability and the dribble-drive attacks on the rim, he certainly could spend some time at the three. But with his prodigious strength, rebounding ability and bull-like power moves inside, he relishes his time in the paint. It will be near impossible for Wright to keep this guy off of the floor and he figures to be one of the more exciting newcomers in college basketball in 2010-11.
Along with those bigs, there are a couple of wing types who look to challenge for starting spots as well. Dominic Cheek is a 6’5 sophomore who got some good minutes in his rookie year and figures to have just begun to show the depth of his talent. He is a long defender, an at-times spectacular finisher and an effective shooter out to three-point range. While consistency on the jumper is still on the way, he figures to play a big part in the ‘Nova offense. Pushing Cheek for time is incoming freshman James Bell, who is somewhat similar to Cheek. Bell may be a stronger presence, while Cheek’s outstanding physical attribute is his length, and Bell may be a stronger rebounder than Cheek, but Bell has three-point range and tremendous finishing ability as well.
And then, all the way down here at the bottom, I’m just now getting to sophomore point Maalik Wayns, who was the most productive of last year’s freshmen. Wayns was too often out-of-control as a freshman, so he’ll need to reign some of his exuberance in, but he has a sparkling first step, a great crossover, tremendous speed, a nice little floater and if all that blow-by-ability isn’t enough, a developing three-point shot to keep defenders honest. He could wind up in the starting lineup as part of a three-guard attack, but more likely he’ll bring his energy off the bench.
This Wildcat team may have the most talent from top to bottom in a very talented Big East, and should be a very exciting team to watch. However, after those three seniors, this is all underclassmen – very talented underclassmen, for the most part, but still underclassmen. They’ve got enough players to win 25 games or so without getting out of bed, but in order to compete for a Big East title, and contend for a national championship as this program has come to expect, they’ll need at least a couple of those underclassmen to step up and make major contributions for this team, and they’ll need a few more to settle into roles. That’s easier said than done, but a coach like Wright should not be underestimated. While the future is bright for the ‘Nova program, the present is very enticing as well.
For Jim Boeheim’s Orange, the 2009-10 season was supposed to be something of a down year, with stars like Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf and Paul Harris all headed out of the program before completing their eligibility. Lowered expectations were further cemented when Syracuse dropped an exhibition game to Division II Le Moyne. However, the Orange then went on to win 13 straight and 30 of their 35 games on the season, before being run out of the tournament prematurely by Butler. Along the way, Iowa State transfer Wesley Johnson turned into a National Player of the Year candidate, Andy Rautins cemented his place in Syracuse history and some of the youngsters in the program took their games to the next level, leading to a team that had seven players score more than eight points per game. Now Johnson, Rautins and Arinze Onuaku (comprising three of the team’s four leading scorers) may all be gone, but with a new stable of high quality recruits headed in and key contributors from last year’s team ready to take on even larger roles, this Orange squad will have no chance to fly under the radar.
Junior forward Kris Joseph is the team’s leading returning scorer, and he took a huge leap forward in his sophomore season, just about doubling his minutes played, while more than doubling his scoring, rebounding, and assists, all with skyrocketing shooting percentages both from the field and, perhaps most startlingly, from the line, where he improved from a 40% FT shooter as a freshman to a 75% shooter as a sophomore. That kind of quantum leap in his production is not going to happen again, but Joseph still has a lot of improvement ahead of him. Joseph does so many things well – rebounds, runs the floor well, finishes strong, can drive, a bit of a midrange game – but he can still extend his range out beyond the three-point line, and with more of the offensive focus on his talents, expect to see him get a lot more national attention. Joseph was usually the first guy off the bench last season, but he’ll step right into the starting lineup this season.
Joining him there will be the two returning starters: sophomore guard Brandon Triche and senior forward Rick Jackson. Jackson is a big, grinding competitor inside, getting most of his points off of his offensive rebounding prowess and converting other easy chances, contributing to a 59% clip from the field, but he is a poor free throw shooter, making just half of his 86 attempts last season. Triche started immediately as a freshman and displayed a physical game and composure beyond his years. Not really a true point and not really an off guard, Triche helped run the team and was a very effective defender in Boeheim’s patented zone. A very good shooter, expect Triche’s offensive game to develop over his years with the Orange.
Alongside Triche in the starting backcourt will likely be junior point guard Scoop Jardine, who came back from a redshirt season caused by a stress fracture in his left leg to become a key cog for the Orange, their best (and some would say only) true point. Jardine is effective not only on the drive-and-dish, but is a capable shooter from range, and is excellent in the open floor. He can create both for himself and for his teammates, and now it looks like the keys to the car will belong to him. It is possible that Triche and Jardine will get limited minutes in the backcourt together, since they are the only two returning players capable of running the point on the team, so one of these players could still find themselves in the position of having to contribute off of the bench, although both will get plenty of minutes.
Rounding out the starting lineup will likely be 7’0 freshman center Fab Melo, a Brazilian-born behemoth in the middle. Growing up in Brazil, Melo, of course, played soccer and he’s got the footwork to prove it. While his offensive game is not a finished product, he does have some developing post moves and a nice little jumper. He’ll have to work harder on the glass under Boeheim’s eye, but he has all the tools to be an excellent rebounder and an excellent defender. His stopover in Syracuse may be a short one, but expect the Orange to get the most out of him during his stay.
While that is a pretty imposing starting five, the talent on the roster does not end there. Redshirt sophomore wing Mookie Jones came into college at the same time as Joseph, and was just as highly regarded, but his development has been a bit slower. Injuries have been a part of it, as he took the redshirt season as a freshman after a muscle tear, then broke a finger midway through last season after having been an effective scorer for the Orange early in the season. However, maturity has been an issue for Jones as he had a fairly public disagreement with Boeheim on the sidelines early last season, then tweeted about possibly transferring out of the program after the tournament loss before changing his mind and recommitting himself.Jones is a talented player with good length and a smooth three-point shot, but he’ll need to straighten up to earn minutes, with several other young players ready to fight him for playing time.
Among those fighting Jones for time at the wing are 6’6 sophomore small forward James Southerland, 6’7 freshman small forward C.J. Fair and freshman shooting guard 6’2 Dion Waiters. Southerland played limited minutes in just a couple handfuls of games as a freshman, but has a reputation as a very good shooter, with some excellent athleticism to boot. Perhaps more exciting are the pair of freshmen. Fair, a year removed from an ACL injury, is a long and athletic wing with range out to the arc. While he may not be capable of being a terrific offensive player as a freshman, with his length he can certainly contribute on the defensive end. Waiters is more of a combo guard than a wing, capable of getting some run at the point if necessary, but his main strength is his scoring ability. He is an explosive and acrobatic finisher, capable of getting in the lane with ease and getting to the line or stepping out and knocking down the three.
Rounding out the Orange roster are a couple of big men eyeing playing time behind Jackson and Melo. DaShonte Riley is a 6’10 sophomore center who got some minutes early in his freshman year before settling into a spectator’s role for the bulk of the rest of the season, until he was called upon for some important minutes in the NCAA Tournament in the wake of Onuaku’s knee injury. Riley was startlingly uneffective in those minutes (zero points, two rebounds in 32 minutes over three games), but he is a long and athletic player whose best days are ahead of him. Still unpolished offensively, if he hopes to contribute this season, he’ll need to hustle on the glass. Pressing Riley for the third big-man role will be 6’10 freshman Baye Moussa Keita, a Senegal native, who, like many big young African transplants, is raw offensively, with little more offensive substance than a dunk. However, Keita could contribute right away on the defensive end and on the glass – he is already an excellent shotblocker and strong rebounder – and he has plenty of upside with loads of athleticism and the ability to get up and down the floor very well.
So once again, the Orange lose three major contributors, and yet will still be among the handful of teams competing for a Big East title. However, the team is very young, with just one senior and two juniors among those expected to get serious playing time. On one hand, that means there is a ton of upside on the team, but on the other hand, they’ll need to find some leadership to replace the strong presences of the three departed players. Guys like Jackson, Triche and Jardine seem more than capable of taking over those roles, and with Boeheim’s history of getting the most out of his guys, you’d have to expect the Orange to again be a major contender on the national scene.