Kanter fallout at Kentucky, Kansas' waiting game and more (cont.)
Do you believe that Steve Lavin and his staff will be enough to bring St. John's back to the tournament this season?
-- Quinn, Guilford, Conn.
I got a lot of questions about St. John's, and let me tell you -- it's great to see people excited about this program. Lavin is certainly not unfamiliar with the weight of expectations, based on his experience at UCLA. And even with this much excitement, the expectations, as reflected in Quinn's question, are not even that lofty. Nobody's talking about the Sweet 16 or the Final Four or, heaven forbid, a national championship. The bar has been set about waist-high: Get to the NCAA tournament, and we're happy!
To answer Quinn's question: You'll be happy. In this day and age, you'd be hard-pressed to find any team in the big six conferences where seven of the top 10 players are seniors. These guys have shown they can play, too, as long as they stay healthy. St. John's will remain offensively challenged, but if Lavin can get them out on the break instead of making his guys score in the half court, that would make a big difference.
And even if the Red Storm should fall short of the NCAA tournament, the excitement won't dim anytime soon because Lavin is recruiting his tail off. This week he got his best prize so far when Norvel Pelle, a 6-foot-9 jumping jack from Long Beach, Calif., committed to St. John's. It's way too early to issue a final verdict on the Lavin era, but so far this has been a home run hire.
From the Twitterbox:
Why is Seton Hall rated so low? They have all pieces back and finally a real XO's coach.
You're right about the pieces coming back, and Kevin Willard seems like an up-and-comer. But Bobby Gonzalez was supposed to be an up-and-comer, too, and look what happened to him.
Has this program really put all the disarray behind it? Three players -- including one of those important pieces, senior guard Keon Lawrence -- sat out the Hall's exhibition game last Friday because of a "coach's decision." That's not good. There's also the lingering doubts about the health of senior forward Herb Pope, a monster rebounder who almost died over the summer when his heart stopped beating because of a genetic defect. Jeremy Hazell scores a ton of points, but he also shoots his team out of a lot of games, too. The Pirates have some talent, and I love their experience, but it's hard to argue as of now that they're underrated.
What do you think of the job Bennett is doing at UVa? Seems like a decent incoming class, but not much senior leadership.
I'm a big Tony Bennett fan. I think he's a solid dude and a very, very smart basketball coach -- and I would love to see him succeed at Virginia. But for the moment, I stand by my initial assessment that this was an odd hire. Winning is always better than losing no matter what style you play, but if you're going to lose at Virginia, it's better to lose 90-80 than 60-50.
Bennett had a rocky first season in Charlottesville. The Cavs won their first four ACC games, but then they hit the skids. Sylven Landesberg, who was hailed as such an academically-oriented, high-character prospect when he got there, was booted off the team in early March and then foolishly declared for the NBA draft. Bennett has brought in some decent freshmen (most notably 6-5 guard K.T. Harrell from Alabama), but his top returning guard, 6-1 junior Sammy Zeglinski, is out until mid-December following knee surgery.
The early signing period for the Class of 2011, which started this week, did not portend much change. Virginia has not received a single commitment from a player ranked in the top 100 on Rivals.com. Granted, it's hard to evaluate Bennett's recruiting based on rankings because his system is so unique, but until his efforts on the trail bear fruit on the court, nobody can reasonably proclaim this program to be off and running. Bennett deserves a lot more time obviously, but right now, when I think about Virginia basketball, the best I can offer is a dispassionate shrug.
The game seems plagued by too many fouls, diminishing the tempo. Refs need to let more rough stuff go, right?
Wrong. I hope the refs call it tighter than ever this season. It's up to the players and coaches to adjust, not the refs. The problem is that every year, the NCAA and the various league supervisors start off insisting to their zebras that they knock off the rough stuff. Then conference play begins and things slack off. Finally, the NCAA tournament harkens on the horizon, and the refs tighten up again because they want the plum assignments during the tournament. There is very little uniformity in the system, which makes it hard for the coaches and players to respond accordingly. In the end, the refs need to do their best to stay consistent and maintain the flow of the game. But this is basketball, not football, so I encourage them to err on the side of keeping it clean.
How many freshmen leaving for the draft (1st rounders)?
People have to remember that not all freshman classes are created equal. In the grand scheme of things, this is a pretty mediocre bunch. It has some pretty good players at the top, but it's not very deep, and even among the top prospects there's no LeBron or Durant in sight. I'd say North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, Duke's Kyrie Irving, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Baylor's Perry Jones would all have a chance to be lottery picks, as would Selby and Kanter. Beyond that, I don't see many guys making the leap.
Do you think Jordan Williams is the best big man in the ACC?
It depends on how you define "big man." There are a couple of frontline players who I would consider to be better than Williams (Barnes and Kyle Singler come to mind), but if you're looking for an old school, back-to-the-basket scorer, then Williams isn't just the best in the ACC, he is also one of the best in the country. He is a legit 6-10 and carries his 260 pounds much better than he did last season. Williams was splendid in Maryland's squeaker over the College of Charleston Wednesday night, finishing with 26 points and 15 rebounds. He is talented, strong and has a high basketball IQ. I'm not ready to start a man crush on him, but I promise I will sing this guy's praises every chance I get.
Is Florida overhyped considering the fact they barely made the tournament last season?
I don't think they're overhyped or underhyped. I think they're properly hyped. I actually put the Gators at No. 6 on my initial AP ballot, which is three spots higher than where they ended up. What can I say, I'm a big believer in experience, and even though the Gators barely squeaked into the field last year, they did return all of their starters. Their point guard play is still a concern, but I'm a big fan of their stud freshman, 6-9 power forward Patric Young. He's not one of these soft big guys who typically come to Florida because they want to play on the perimeter. He's a real enforcer in the paint.
Tell us #Michigan fans something to cheer us up. Anything.
I saw Megamind with my kids. It's terrific.
Why no love in the preseason Top 25 for Huggins and the Mountaineers after a Final Four run and losing only three players?
This query is as relevant as the one about Wisconsin. And I'll now pay Huggins the ultimate compliment by saying I can envision him as the Bo Ryan of the Big East. The occasional Devin Ebanks aside, Huggins is not going to convince a lot of McDonald's All-Americans to play in Morgantown. But he is going to recruit guys who are well-suited to his style and then coach the heck out of 'em. Exhibit A is Kevin Jones, a 6-8 junior forward who was one of the most improved players in the league last year. Without Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler, Jones will be the primary option in West Virginia's offense, but he'll have plenty of help up front from Deniz Kilicli. I'm not a huge fan of point guard Truck Bryant, but Huggins has always excelled at devising his offense to hide his players' weaknesses. As long as they work hard on defense, they can play. So while I did not vote West Virginia on my AP ballot, I assure you I'll be watching.
Finally, a pair of questions from Facebook:
What do you expect out of the Hoosiers this year? Do you see a chance of surprising their way into the top half of the league, or is the Big Ten too tough? [Dan] Dakich says we're deeper than Purdue and practice harder than Illinois. Is this the year Coach Crean breaks through on the court?
-- Pat Maley
I expect the Hoosiers to be a) better than they were last year, and b) a lot worse than Purdue and Illinois. With all due respect to my guy Dakich, who I'm glad to see will be taking his hoops acumen and broadcasting talents to ESPN this season, I'd rather have a few really good players than a deep team with mediocre talent. In other words, it may not be a great thing to return all five starters from a team that won 10 games.
To be fair, all but 12 of the Hoosiers' games last season were played without Maurice Creek, who fractured his left knee in late December. Creek, a 6-5 sophomore guard who was the team's leading scorer when he went out, is healthy again, but he shot 3-for-13 from the three-point line in the Hoosiers' overtime exhibition win over Ferris State. (Incidentally, Ferris State made just 52.6 percent from the free-throw line. If they had been merely bad, they would have won in regulation.) The guy who I think may end up having a bigger impact this season is another sophomore, 6-9 forward Christian Watford, who got pushed around a lot last year but is now stronger and more mature. This is going to be a young team, Pat, and I seriously doubt it will be playing in the NCAA tournament.
Even so, the program enjoyed a huge win on Thursday when Cody Zeller, a 6-10 forward from Washington, Ind., committed to IU, spurning not only another local school in Butler but also North Carolina, where his brother, Tyler, is a 7-foot junior. Cody is better than Tyler, but I would not expect him to be one-and-done. That makes him the perfect "get" for Tom Crean. He's a McDonald's All-American-level talent who is from inside the state and will stick around for at least a couple of years. Next season, Crean will add Zeller to a mix of players who will be that much more experienced. That's when things will really be looking up in Hoosierland then.
Other than Cameron Indoor, what is your favorite spot on Duke's campus?
-- Jonathan Page
I could take the obvious tack and go with the Chapel. I always liked the Bryan Center walkway, which is where I once spent an hour calling charges on innocent bystanders as part of a fraternity pledging ritual. (Wore a striped shirt and everything.) But in the end, I'll go with the Crowell Quad, because that's where I lived my last two years as an undergraduate in House EE -- or as we knew it, the SPE section. Being a SPE at Duke in the early 1990s was akin to being at Woodstock: If you remember it, you weren't there.
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