Kanter fallout at Kentucky, Kansas' waiting game with Selby and more
Don't dismiss Robbie Hummel-less Purdue; E'Twaun Moore's ready for his close-up
Two ranked teams that could come unraveled quickly: Tennessee and Baylor
Steve Lavin has created a buzz at St. John's; can the Red Storm make the dance?
With the 2010-11 college basketball season kicking off in earnest this weekend, there is only one question nettling the heart of the true college basketball fan: Why are there not more ways to submit questions for SI.com's weekly mailbag?
Well, Hoopheads, your dark days are over. There is now not one, not two, but three ways to be heard. The first is through this link, which can also be found in the header of every column I write. The second is my Twitter feed; the handle is @SethDavisHoops. And finally, I've got a new Facebook page -- you can like and/or friend me here: facebook.com/sethdavishoops. So now there is no excuse for not getting a hold of me if something is burning your brain. And there is no excuse for me not to answer.
As we tip off the season (and the season's first mailbag), allow me to weigh in on the big news of the week: The NCAA has ruled Kentucky center Enes Kanter permanently ineligible for accepting $33,033 above "actual and necessary expenses" from his professional club in Turkey. There are a few points that need to be made:
1. This is not about John Calipari. I get the feeling that the casual sports fan glanced at the headline this morning and muttered into his oatmeal, "Of course, it's Calipari. The guy's crooked." Not fair. Nobody is accusing anybody of cheating. This is solely about the interpretation of a brand new rule that was put in place last spring regarding international players. Calipari took a chance in signing Kanter, but it was a smart chance. The fact that it turned out this way is not a reflection on him in any way.
2. Rip the NCAA all you want -- just don't blame the NCAA. What I mean is that too often people rail against "the NCAA" without specifying who they are talking about. This decision came from the staff at the NCAA's headquarters in Indianapolis, but the rule, like all legislation, was proposed and passed by the member schools. If you don't like this decision, focus your ire on the university presidents. I'm sure they'd love to hear from you.
3. Nobody is denying Enes Kanter the chance to get an education. I'm sure the kid is bright and is trying hard in his classes, but it is wrong to cast this move as the big, bad NCAA preventing a youngster from cultivating his mind. Kanter came to the U.S. a year ago to attend a prep school and then play college basketball to improve his game, get him some exposure, and raise his position in the NBA draft. Period. He is still a student at Kentucky and can be one as long as he wants. There is nothing preventing Kentucky from keeping Kanter on scholarship. The only thing he is not allowed to do there is play basketball.
4. This is going to make it less likely that elite foreign players will play college basketball in the U.S. This is a lose-lose all around -- for the players, the schools and the fans. That's not to say it isn't necessary, but the fact is, without a real high school/grassroots base to develop players overseas, their only outlet for improving their games is to join clubs that operate several teams, some of which are professional. Questions of academics and compensation are difficult to translate across the pond. Kanter was just deemed permanently ineligible for accepting a fraction of what he would have made had he remained at home. I believe many foreign players and U.S. coaches will decide in the future that trying to come over here to play college ball really isn't worth the bother. And that's too bad.
5. Kentucky is now just another good team. I was not as high on the 'Cats as some others, even with Kanter in the lineup. Without him, Kentucky is a bottom-of-the-Top 25 type of team -- still pretty good, but not much different than the Virginia Techs and Georgetowns of the world.
As I dip into the mailbag, here are a pair of readers who raised similar questions.
With the Kanter verdict in, how long before the NCAA rules on Josh Selby?
Why does it take so long for the NCAA to clear basketball players (e.g.: Josh Selby) for play? My job requires that I meet time guidelines. Why doesn't the NCAA have a time frame for investigation of each student-athlete?
-- Tari Parmely, Kansas City
As many of you know, Selby is a freshman point guard at Kansas who has still not been cleared by the NCAA. Unlike Kanter, Selby, who hails from Baltimore, is allowed to practice with the team while the NCAA examines his relationship with a man named Robert "Bay" Frazier, who is the business manager for another Baltimore native, Carmelo Anthony.
With respect to Tari's question, I am also miffed that the season is starting this weekend without a verdict. I realize the NCAA processes hundreds, if not thousands, of eligibility requests each year, but I think there needs to be more accountability to get these matters settled before the first game. It would be one thing if Selby or Kansas were stonewalling the NCAA like Mississippi State forward Renardo Sidney did last year. But in this case, all the requisite information has been collected. We are now firmly in the "processing" stage.
When will the answer come? Hard to say. I posed that question this week to two people in the know. One said we are still a few weeks away, the other said it should happen sometime next week. Kansas coach Bill Self has repeatedly voiced confidence that in the end the kid will be cleared, but when you're playing your first game and you still don't know for sure, I don't see how you can be so confident. Clearly some information has emerged that has concerned the NCAA enough to mete out what is turning into a de facto suspension.
Selby's situation seems to be tracking the one faced by John Wall at Kentucky last year, when the NCAA took a closer look at his relationship with his AAU coach, Brian Clifton. Wall was eventually suspended for two games (one of which was an exhibition) and had repay the $800 he had improperly received to charity. The difference was, that verdict was handed down in late October. Here we are in mid-November, and Selby and Kansas are still waiting. And that's not right.
Now on to the rest of your questions. First, from the SI.com mailbag:
Is this the year that [Purdue senior guard] E'Twaun Moore becomes a household name?
-- Jeremy, Ohio
He's already one in my house, Jeremy. If that's not the case elsewhere, it may be because his name's so doggone hard to spell.
Or it may be because Moore has been overshadowed by classmates JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel. Now that Hummel is lost for the year with a torn ACL, Moore will have to take on much more responsibility, and I believe he's ready for his close-up. I was concerned when Moore's shooting percentages dropped significantly from his freshman to his sophomore seasons, but his shot selection really improved last year. He is strong, smart and mature. I know most folks dismissed Purdue's chances to get to the Final Four after Hummel went out, but if this team never had Hummel in the first place, we'd be talking a lot more about what the Boilermakers have than what they don't. What will it take for Purdue to get to Houston? More Moore.
Unless I am mistaken, two years ago you said you would always vote Bo Ryan and Wisconsin at least 25 in the preseason poll, saying that they deserved the benefit of the doubt every season. A year ago, you admitted that you hadn't and said you would never make that mistake again. This year I noticed you ... again ... did not vote for the Badgers. I think you should start writing yourself reminder notes because Wisconsin again will be ranked by January. You and I both know it.
-- Edward Gustafson, Geneva, Ill.
I don't know if your claims about my past comments are true, but if they are, it is bad manners to use my own words against me. You should know, however, that I did tab the Badgers as my surprise team in the annual SI.com Crystal Ball picks. I mentioned that I think Jon Leuer will end up being considered the best player ever to suit up for Ryan in Madison (yes, that includes Alando Tucker), but I'm equally excited to see the improvement of junior point guard Jordan Taylor, who had 35 points on 12-for-17 shooting in Wisconsin's two exhibition games.
Regardless of its ranking, I do believe Wisconsin will make the NCAA tournament for the 13th straight year. Think about that: The Badgers have been to 12 straight tourneys, including bids in every one of Ryan's nine years there. And only once has the guy lost in the first round. Remarkable.
Who will be this year's Oklahoma: loved by the media preseason, but a total disaster?
-- Jimmy, Phoenix
This is a great question, because right now I see more teams that I would consider overrated than ones who strike me as sleepers. I don't like Ohio State's vacancy at point guard, but the Buckeyes won't be a "total disaster." North Carolina, Memphis and Kentucky concern me with their youth, and I can't help but wonder if Syracuse's roster contains a bunch of role players who aren't quite cut out to be featured performers.
It's impossible to know until after the fact which teams have poisonous locker rooms (which was Oklahoma's problem last year). But two schools come to mind, in both cases because they are facing unresolved off-court issues. The first is Tennessee, which is dealing with an NCAA investigation and just lost an embarrassing exhibition to the University of Indianapolis, a Division II school, by 15 points. Will the Vols bounce back the way Syracuse did last year after falling to Le Moyne? Or is this the start of a great unraveling?
Likewise, the karma surrounding Baylor is not very good right now. The school is also facing an NCAA investigation into the coaching staff's recruiting tactics, and there is still no final resolution to the suspension handed out to LaceDarius Dunn in the wake of his assault charge. Coaches can talk all they want about how they won't let these things become distractions, but Tennessee's pratfall indicates that is easier said than done.
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