Hoops is back ... with a whimper (cont.)
Other Hoop Thoughts
I've written/tweeted that Seton Hall was my number one sleeper team this season. But if I confined myself to west of the Mississippi River, I'd go with USC. This is partly a reflection on the weakness of the Pac-10, but despite all the turmoil that has taken place since Tim Floyd's resignation, the Trojans still have a solid starting five. I'm hearing Alex Stepheson, the transfer from North Carolina, might end up being the best frontcourt player in the league.
Keeping us out west, I don't know that there's a team in America that has had a more disastrous preseason than UCLA. The latest blow came Sunday, when the school announced freshman forward Tyler Honeycutt, who had already been inactive for most of the summer and fall because of a back injury, will be out three to four weeks because of a stress reaction in his leg that he suffered during practice. I still think it's more likely than not that the Bruins will make the NCAA tournament, but it is not going to be a pretty season in Westwood.
I hate to say it because he's such a great guy, but I don't know of anyone who thinks Jerry Wainwright is going to survive another season at DePaul. The administration restructured his contract last year to make his buyout more affordable, and they also forced Wainwright to rejigger his staff. That, plus another potential winless season in the Big East, would likely seal his fate. Should Wainwright lose his job, the names of two Chicago natives will instantly be bandied about as likely replacements: Oregon State coach Craig Robinson, who brings extra cachet as the brother-in-law of a certain former Illinois state senator, and FIU's Isiah Thomas.
Regarding my blog entry on the NCAA's recruiting reforms package, some questions have arisen over the fact that the prohibition against hiring a player's AAU coach/father/mentor is limited to non-staff positions like director of basketball operations or video coordinator. Why would the NCAA do this? Won't coaches now get around the new rules by simply hiring these middlemen as fulltime assistants?
The answer is that in the past, coaches have mostly stashed their package hires in those lower-rung positions. Thus, if the NCAA tried to include fulltime assistants in the new rule, it would be more vulnerable to a legal challenge because there is no established history there. But if head coaches start using the fulltime assistant positions for their package hires, then the NCAA would be in a stronger legal position to pass a rule against doing that as well. So my advice for coaches is simple: Don't go there. The days of hiring a guy to get a guy are hopefully over.
I've been talking to a few NBA scouts lately, and I can tell you that if at the end of the season Kyle Singler's three-point percentage begins with a 4, it will make a huge difference in his draft stock.
Did you catch the sharp elbow Roy Williams threw at Michigan State sophomore Delvon Roe in his new autobiography? Williams doesn't call out Roe by name, but he does tell a story about how he celebrated when a recruit told him he was coming to North Carolina, only to have that same recruit tell him six weeks later he was going to Michigan State. Williams wrote that the player -- who is obviously Roe -- "lied" to him. That should make for a nice little subplot when those teams have their national championship game reunion on December 1.
Last year was clearly a down year for mid-majors, but now the middies are back up. Besides the usual suspects like Butler, Siena and Gonzaga, nearly a dozen other mid-majors are beginning the season with legitimate hopes of reaching the tournament's second weekend. They include Northern Iowa, which is leading a resurgence in the Missouri Valley Conference, as well as Dayton, Tulsa, BYU, VCU and Western Kentucky. Let's hope the selection committee goes out of its way to extend bids to these guys, because we all know how difficult it is for them to put together quality nonconference schedules.
As bad as the last month has been for Minnesota coach Tubby Smith -- who suspended three of his players for an array of off-court malfeasances that include theft, assault and battery, can you imagine how much worse his life would be if those distractions came while he was still coaching under the klieg lights in Lexington? You think Tubby has sent any thank you notes to Brett Favre for sucking up all of the media oxygen in that state?
The season hasn't even begun and Rick Pitino is already calling out Terrence Jennings for not working hard enough over the summer. When you have to push one of your key player's buttons after an exhibition game, it's not a good sign.
Georgia Tech is beginning the season with high expectations. The Jackets are ranked 20th in the coaches' poll and 22nd in the AP poll. So it has to be a concern that Georgia Tech needed to go to overtime to beat Indiana (Pa.) in an exhibition game Sunday night. Freshman Derrick Favors grabbed nine rebounds, but on the whole Georgia Tech was out-rebounded by three. I'm guessing that will be a point of emphasis for Paul Hewitt at the next few practices.
There's plenty of blame to go around in the Marcus Jordan sneaker fiasco at UCF, but I don't see how anyone can direct some of that blame at the kid. I love this little kerfuffle because it highlights how corrupt it is that schools feel they can dictate to their players what sneakers they can wear. It's obvious someone made a promise they couldn't keep. Either the school told Jordan he could wear Nikes without clearing it through adidas, or someone at adidas told the school that Jordan could wear Nikes without clearing it through the higher-ups. Either way, it's understandable why Jordan wouldn't want to wear adidas, and if everyone had just left him alone it wouldn't have been a big deal. But adidas felt compelled to take a stand, and now everybody looks plain silly. Is this a great country or what?
Jim Calhoun told me over the summer he was going to retire if UConn had won the championship last season. I'm not sure he really would have done it had it gotten to that point, but it was an interesting window into his mindset.
I wonder if Arizona fans realize just how close they were to getting John Calipari as their coach. If the Kentucky job hadn't opened, I'd say there was about a 75 percent chance Cal was going to end up in Tucson. That's why Arizona's coaching search looked so disorganized at the end. They thought they had their man.
I find the annual debate over which is the best conference to be both tiresome and irresistible. (Story of my life.) So for now I'll say that this season the designation will be deciced by the teams in the middle tiers of these leagues. That's why I'm giving an advantage at the start to the Big East. Seton Hall, St. John's, Cincinnati and Rutgers are going to be better than they have been in years (not saying much I realize), and even in down seasons Pittsburgh, Notre Dame and Syracuse will at least be bubble-worthy. I also think the middle of the Big 12 is stronger than people realize. Consider that Baylor was picked to finish ninth in the preseason. Thus, my order of the BCS leagues going into the season (and always subject to change) stands as follows: Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, SEC, ACC, Pac-10.
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