Hoop Thoughts

College Basketball commentary with Seth Davis

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  • 03:51 PM ET  12.11

Checking up on college hoops, one click at a time:

John Clay previews Indiana v. Kentucky and finds two programs headed in the same direction, but at different speeds.

Bryan Burwell is the 4,673rd person to weigh in against the idea of expanding the NCAA tournament to 96 teams.

Hoops Weiss tells the story of the 1950 CCNY squad, the only team to win the NCAA and NIT tournaments in the same year. That was included as one of the alltime top 10 college basketball moments in MSG history. The game-fixing scandal that consumed the program the following year was, uh, not among the alltime top 10 college basketball moments in MSG history.

Do you know about Colorado freshman guard Alec Burks? Tom Kensler of The Denver Post thinks you should.

Adam Zagoria has some dish on the frosty relationship between Jim Calhoun and John Calipari.

Of course I would never condone gambling, but Chad Millman has an interesting look (which he will update every week) at how college hoops teams are doing against the spread. Not that you're interested in that sort of thing.

Dana O'Neill has the back story of Jeremy Lin, son of a Tawainese immigrant and an alarmingly athletic senior guard at Harvard.

They've noticed in Raleigh that the ACC has three teams in the Top 25. That's only two more than the Pac 10!

If you liked Luke Winn's breakdown of how ESPN controls so many early-season tournaments, here's Basketball Times's Lew Freedman on the efforts by the University of Alaska-Anchorage to save the Great Alaska Shootout.

Speaking of Basketball Times, do you know which active coach has the most former assistants working as Division I head coaches? Bredan F. Quinn has the surprising answer. (Hint: He's only 46.)

South Carolina gave Darrin Horn a raise, but the interesting piece in this story in The State is the list of all the salaries of SEC basketball coaches. I'll give you three guesses who's making the most and the last two don't count.

Here's a closer look at New Mexico forward A.J. Hardeman, who will have his hands full today going up against Texas A&M's Bryan Davis.

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  • 02:52 PM ET  12.11

Ten weekend games, ten predictions. As usual, these picks should be used for entertainment purposes only and not as the basis for actual cash wagers:

Kentucky at Indiana, Saturday, noon: A road date following a big win over UConn would be a classic trap scenario if the Hoosiers had just a little more size and experience up front. Kentucky 76, Indiana 64.

Georgetown vs. Washington in Anaheim, Saturday, 2 p.m.: I worry about Isaiah Thomas’s inability to take care of the ball (2.9 turnovers per game), but the Huskies have a little more perimeter talent. Greg Monroe is due to come back to Earth after his 24-point, 15-rebound performance in the win over Butler. Washington 76, Georgetown 73.

Purdue at Alabama, Saturday, 9 p.m.: Anthony Grant’s Tide has some respectable wins over Providence, Baylor and Michigan, but the Boilermakers have too much toughness and experience. Purdue 73, Alabama 67.

Ohio State at Butler, Saturday, noon: Without Evan Turner, the Buckeyes are just another team. Butler 74, Ohio State 68.

Kansas State at UNLV, Saturday, 7 p.m.: The sleeper game of the day. The Rebels are undefeated with home wins over Pittsburgh Southern Illinois, Louisville and an overtime victory at Arizona. The Wildcats have not shot the ball well, but that shows they rely on rebounding and defense – a good formula for success on the road. Kansas State 74, UNLV 70.

Marquette at Wisconsin, Saturday, 5 p.m.: Marquette showed promise with a 6-0 start but the Eagles have now lost two of their last three. Winning in Madison against a Badgers team in bounce-back mode following a loss at Wisconsin-Green Bay is just too tall an order. Wisconsin 74, Marquette 65.

New Mexico vs. Texas A&M in Houston, Saturday, 6 p.m.: Lobos are off to a tidy 9-0 start with the best win coming at home over California. The competition and locale is about to get less tidy. The Aggies are not spectacular, but they grind you down with patience and efficiency. Texas A&M 69, New Mexico 64.

Cincinnati at Xavier, Sunday, 7 p.m.: This annual rivalry contest is always one of the ugliest yet most watchable games of the pre-conference season. The Musketeers have dropped a few to Marquette, Baylor and Kansas State, but playing at home against their crosstown rival should bring out their A game. The Bearcats will need to lock down on Xavier’s three-point shooting, which ranks sixth in the U.S. Xavier 69, Cincinnati 66.

Villanova at Temple, Sunday, 3 p.m: Any other gym in Philly and I’d go with the favorite. But this is a true home game for Temple in Liacouras Center, and while the Owls might not be pretty to watch, they are one of the best defensive teams in the country (ranked 3rd in the U.S. in three-point defense and 10th in overall defensive efficiency). You gotta love home underdogs in rivalry games. Temple 66, Villanova 65.

Mississippi State vs. UCLA in Anaheim, Sunday, 4:30 p.m.: Despite their four-game losing streak, I am not quite ready to give up on the Bruins, especially if freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt can make small but steady strides. UCLA 72, Mississippi State 65.

 

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  • 03:58 PM ET  12.07

Here is the weekly AP ballot I filed this morning. The teams’ actual rankings in this week’s poll follows in parentheses: 

1.        Kansas (1)

2.        Texas (2)

3.        Villanova (3)

4.        Kentucky (4)

5.        Purdue (5)

6.        West Virginia (6)

7.        Syracuse (7)

8.        Tennessee (9)

9.        Duke (8)

10.  Connecticut (14)

11.  North Carolina (11)

12.  Michigan State (12)

13.  Ohio State (13)

14.  Florida (10)

15.  Gonzaga (21)

16.  Ole Miss (25)

17.  Kansas State (NR)

18.  Dayton (NR)

19.  Georgia Tech (24)

20.  Texas A&M (16)

21.  Minnesota (NR)

22.  UNLV (18)

23.  Georgetown (15)

24.  Wisconsin (20)

25.  Cincinnati (19)

 

Ranked but not on my ballot: Washington (17), Butler (22), Texas Tech (23). 

Skinny: It may have felt like there was a lot of activity last week, but I found it surprisingly easy to assemble my ballot. As you can see, my top seven teams were in the same order as that of my fellow voters. Just about every team in this poll has at least one loss, so it’s hard to ding teams down too much for losing, especially on the road. I actually wondered if I had overrated Duke after its loss in Madison, but instead of punishing the Devils, I thought it was better to reward Wisconsin. My colleagues obviously agreed.

I do have to wonder why Washington, which was ranked 12th last week, did not pay more of a price for losing at Texas Tech. Yes, it was a road game that went to overtime and the Red Raiders are undefeated, but I think my colleagues have overrated Texas Tech. Keep in mind the Raiders have played exactly one game on the road, and that was against Stephen F. Austin. You should have to do more than win at home in overtime to get into the top 25. 

Otherwise, while I would not insist that Minnesota is one of the top 25 teams in the country, I still contend it is wrong to rank the Gophers behind Butler when they beat Butler on a neutral court by nine points. Minnesota’s other losses have come against Portland and Texas A&M on a neutral court, and on the road at Miami. Butler lost on a neutral court to unranked Clemson. Close call, but I wish my fellow voters would pay more heed to head-to-head results.

The other two teams that were knocking on the door of my ballot were Memphis and Richmond. The Spiders could really help their cause if they win at VCU on Saturday, while Memphis won’t have a chance to notch a rank-worthy win until it faces Tennessee at home on New Year’s Eve.

 

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  • 07:11 AM ET  12.07

Happy Monday, Hoopheads. Here are my weekly Hoop Thoughts to get your week started off right:

 * One of the reservations I had about Kentucky going into the season concerns Demarcus Cousins’ maturity. I still have those doubts (he clearly lost control of his emotions during the win over North Carolina), but the team is not as dependent on Cousins as I anticipated. Yes, they could use his production, but John Calipari has plenty of other big men (Patrick Patterson, Perry Stevenson and Daniel Orton) he can rotate through the post. Physically, Cousins is a monster, but emotionally he is still a kid. This team will be better if Calipari has the luxury to bring him along slowly.

* One thing about Norm Roberts’ teams at St. John’s: No matter what their record or what the scoreboard says, they always play really, really hard. 

* We’re about a month away from learning just how good Duke really is, because that’s how long it will take freshman center Mason Plumlee, who just returned after missing four weeks with a broken wrist, to get up to speed.

* I hate to say it because he’s such a good guy, but it’s going to be very, very hard for Jeff Lebo to survive at Auburn. The Tigers lost at home to Troy on Friday to fall to 4-4. Needless to say they could use a win over Virginia tonight.

* I originally thought the speculation that the Pac 10 might only get two teams into the NCAA tournament was silly, but it sure is tough to come up with three who deserve to be in the field. Because the teams have done so poorly in nonconference games, it will be hard for them to improve their RPI once conference play begins.

* Red flag alert: Texas is shooting 62.2 percent from the foul line, which is ranked 302nd in the U.S.

* Let me tell you, Clemson is not going to get over that loss to Illinois easily. You just don’t forget blowing a 23-point lead at home. Somewhere down the road, the Tigers are going to amass a big lead in an important game and wonder in the back of their minds if they’re going to have another pratfall. You can also be sure opponents will know that no lead is insurmountable against them.

* I’m still waiting for Cole Aldrich to break out and have a really big scoring game. So far his season high is 18 points against Memphis. He only scored 7 points on 1 field goal against UCLA Sunday night.

* I think people may be overstating the significance of Florida transfer Jai Lucas becoming eligible for Texas this month. Lucas is a decent point guard and the Longhorns are fortunate to have him after losing Varez Ward for the season. Keep in mind, however, that there’s a reason players transfer. Lucas left Gainesville because he couldn’t beat out the players there for playing time, and there are still a lot of really good guards in that program.

* I will now contradict myself and direct your attention to another transfer who is about to become eligible at Cincinnati. Ibrahima Thomas is a 6-11 junior from Senegal who transferred from Oklahoma State. Bearcats coach Mick Cronin told me that despite Thomas’s size, he is far more comfortable on the perimeter than in the paint, so that’s where Cronin will play him.

* Tough break for Georgia Tech losing Iman Shumpert for three weeks because of a knee injury. The Jackets were already suspect in the backcourt, so this will make it even harder for them to get the ball to Derrick Favors where he can score. Favors does not yet have a polished offensive game, so he really needs a point guard who can set him up properly.

* Good news for UCLA finally getting freshman Tyler Honeycutt back into the lineup. Honeycutt, a 6-9 freshman forward whose slight build will remind you of Tayshaun Prince, was totally inactive over the summer recovering from back surgery, and then he missed the first six games because of a fractured tibia. Honeycutt played 19 minutes against Kansas Sunday night. I don’t know how much impact he will have this season, but he is by far the Bruins’ best freshman, and the sooner he gets going on his development, the better things will be for UCLA.

* I wouldn’t read too much into Louisville’s loss at home against Charlotte. The Cardinals were playing without three guards who sat out with minor injuries (Peyton Siva, Preston Knowles and Jerry Smith), so their defense was nonexistent. The bigger question is why Samardo Samuels can’t get more than 6.6 rebounds per game. (He only had four against Charlotte.) I asked Rick Pitino that question on Sunday night, and he told me Samuels’s lack of explosiveness prevents him from being a good repeat jumper. “He didn’t rebound well in high school either,” Pitino said. Until Samuels remedies this, it’s hard to imagine him a good pro, much less entering the draft next spring.

*  You will recall that after my preseason visit to Notre Dame, I came away very impressed with 6-8 junior forward Tim Abromaitis. He has been coming off the bench, but Mike Brey started Abromaitis Sunday night against Central Florida, and he responded with 31 points in 35 minutes. Abromaitis is shooting 50 percent from three-point range on the season. If he can give the Irish another scoring punch to complement The Gody, they might have a real chance at reaching the NCAA tournament. 

* Don’t look now, but Herb Pope has been putting up some pretty good numbers at Seton Hall – especially on the boards, where he is averaging 11.2 rebounds per game (to go along with 13.3 points). The Pirates have been staying local and playing weak competition, so we won’t know until they face Temple at home on Dec. 19 if they’re for real. But some NBA scouts who have been to their practices say that Pope still shows a lot of potential.

* I kind of like Miami, but Dwayne Collins needs to learn to play with a lot more fire. He was horrible in the loss at BC Sunday night: 4 points and 1 rebound in 18 minutes.

* Big Ten fans can chortle all they want about winning this year’s challenge over the ACC, but keep in mind that Georgia Tech, which was picked to finish fourth in the conference in the preseason, did not participate because the ACC has one more team than the Big Ten.

* Arizona lost at Oklahoma Sunday night to drop its fourth game out of its last five. All of those losses have been respectable so it’s not impossible for them to bounce back, but you have to seriously downgrade this team’s chances of keeping its 25-year NCAA tournament streak alive.

* Is there anyone out there who actually watched a little college basketball last season who is surprised that DaJuan Blair is an effective NBA player?

I heard an announcer during a game recently say that Baylor was the second-tallest team in the country. As Ed McMahon would say, I did not know that. One of those bigs, 6-10 junior forward Ekpe Udoh, is among the season’s early revelations. He is averaging 14.8 points, 9.4 assists and 2.1 assists per game, and he is making 66.2 percent from the floor. Watch him if you can. You’ll thank me later.

* Here’s a little trivia tidbit for ya. What do Ray Meyer, Digger Phelps and Al McGuire have in common? Besides winning a ton of games, none of those guys ever coached a league game at DePaul, Notre Dame and Marquette, because they were always independents back then. That’s not to say they weren’t great coaches, but it’s a little easier to stockpile wins when you can set your schedule end to end.

* The Big 12 is the best conference in the country. Go ahead, disagree with me. I dare ya.

* I can’t tell you how often I see a player miss out on getting a rebound because he’s boxing out his man instead of going after the ball. John Wooden used to tell his players not to bother boxing out, which he referred to as “negative rebounding.” Tom Izzo teaches his guys to hit their man once and then go after the ball. Chasing the ball is much more important than boxing out. Class dismissed.

* It has been a while since Penn and Princeton staged a dual for supremacy in the Ivy, but it looks like Cornell and Harvard are going to give us an ample substitute. Cornell, which has road wins at Alabama and UMass, beat Saint Joseph’s on Sunday to improve to 7-2, while Harvard played UConn tough in Gampel Pavilion before losing 79-73. Cornell and Harvard also have two of the better mid-major guards in America in Ryan Wittman and Jeremy Lin, respectively.

* Good call by Fran Fraschilla throwing out Gonzaga’s Matt Bouldin for early (read: premature) All-America consideration. I don’t know if Bouldin will warrant first-team honors at season’s end, but he has been blazing at the start, averaging 18.4 points (41.8 percent three-point shooting), 5.6 rebounds and 4.0 assists.

* Although if point guard Demetri Goodson doesn’t develop some long-range shooting skills, Gonzaga will a little too easy to guard in the halfcourt. Goodson is fast, but he was just 1 for 8 from three-point range during the Zags’ first eight games. I guarantee you that will be in every opponent’s scouting report this season.

* An NBA scout who recently saw Iowa State’s Craig Brackins play told me he came away very disappointed. Not only did Brackins get his rear end handed to him by Northwestern’s John Shurna, but the scout said it didn’t seem to bother Brackins that it was happening.

* A couple of hidden gems that are popping up on the radars of NBA scouts I’ve spoken with: Seattle U’s Charles Garcia, a 6-9 junior forward who is averaging 25.7 points and 10.4 rebounds; Oakland’s Keith Benson, a 6-11 junior who is averaging 17.3 points and 10.6 rebounds; and George Mason’s Mike Morrison, a 6-9 sophomore whom one scout described as “a Theo Ratliff-type.” That is how these people talk.

* I may end up being wrong (happens about once a decade), but I’m just not a big Jarvis Varnardo guy. People think that because he’s a prolific shot blocker that means he’s a great defender. To me, he’s only a great weakside defender. He’s much less effective at stopping his own man. Plus, he still has not developed his strength or a go-to offensive move. How often do rail-thin guys who can’t score stick around in the pros?

* Seems like every year, Bo Ryan and Al Skinner put a bunch of guys on the floor that nobody has heard of, yet their teams are tough, smart and win games they shouldn’t.

*I gotta say Washington freshman point guard Abdul Gaddy has not exploded onto the college game the way I thought he would. Through six games, Gaddy is averaging just 4.3 points and 2.7 assists in 19 minutes. His biggest struggle has been on the defensive end. Despite playing just 10 minutes in the Huskies’ loss at Texas Tech, Gaddy committed four fouls.

* North Carolina fans don’t need to worry so much about the Heels’s halfcourt offense. This team’s best offense is always going to be throw it up and let the big guys crash the offensive glass.

* I know I say it every year, but I fear it’s only a matter of time before somebody is seriously injured during a court storming. I wish every school made it a policy to have enough security in place to keep fans from rushing the floor.

 

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  • 01:14 PM ET  12.04

With so many games on television these days, there is no hiding in college basketball. When a game is decided at the buzzer, everyone sees it. When a player misses a free throw in a critical situation, everyone sees it. And when a coach spends too much time profanely berating the officials instead of coaching his players, everyone sees it. 

So everyone could see UConn coach Jim Calhoun hurtling himself over the scorer’s table during the second half of the Huskies’ loss to Duke last Friday night at Madison Square Garden, even though subsequent replays showed Calhoun was wrong to argue the call. At least Calhoun had already been assessed a technical foul earlier in the game. The same can’t be said for West Virginia coach Bob Huggins, whose sideline comportment warranted multiple T’s but resulted in none during the Mountaineers’s win over Portland in the final of the 76 Classic in Anaheim. 

Those are just two of many examples of coaches behaving badly I’ve seen during the first three weeks of the season. The NCAA has made player sportsmanship a point of emphasis this season, but unlike three years ago, when the National Association of Basketball Coaches requested stricter enforcement of the coaches’ box, there was no offseason edict requiring refs to reel in the men in suits. Curious to know if I was the only one who noticed this behavior, I dialed up John Adams, the NCAA’s supervisor of officials, on Wednesday afternoon. Adams wouldn’t name names, but he emphatically concurred – so much so that he will make coaching sportsmanship the top item on the agenda for his monthly conference call on Monday with officiating supervisors across the country.

“Every coordinator that’s on that call will hear from the national coordinator that I am pretty disappointed with where we are at this point with managing the unsporting sideline behavior of some of our coaches,” Adams told me. “We can do better.”

Adams said he noticed an “uptick” in the bad behavior while watching nearly two dozen games during Thanksgiving week and attending another two in person. While watching one game, he got a call from a member of the NCAA’s men’s basketball committee who was watching the same game and was similarly disgusted by a coach who was out of control. On Tuesday night, Adams received an email from a Division I coach expressing the same concern. This coach pointed out that the camera close-ups make it easy to read lips and discern precisely which off-color words the coaches are using. 

There are two basic problems at work. First, because many of the early season tournaments are held at neutral sites with teams from several different conferences, they are often being officiated by refs with whom the coaches are not familiar. Second, refs are naturally reluctant to confront a high-profile coach with a technical foul, much less a second T that warrants an ejection. Even if a coach gets T’d up, that is not much of a detterent. Quite the contrary, in fact. As Calhoun demonstrated, coaches often see a technical foul as license to act even worse from then on, virtually daring the zebras to give them the heave-ho. 

Having been an official himself, Adams has sympathy for referees who are slow to pull the trigger.  “It’s human nature not to want to throw a coach out,” he said. However, he also intends to make clear that if referees fail to bring coaches into line, it will adversely affect their assignments for the NCAA tournament. “That’s not a threat. The only velvet hammer we have to order officials to be compliant with national officiating issues is to keep somebody out of the tournament,” he said. “It’s embarrassing for the game, but I’m hoping it’s an aberration. It’s awfully early in the season for us to be at each other’s throats.”

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