Wednesday, October 27, 2010
Hoopsbag: Answering our mail
By Eamonn Brennan
Each Wednesday, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this space. To submit, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the page. You can also e-mail me or send me your entries via Twitter. Let's begin with a video response to a couple of similar questions about Colorado and Louisville:
Matt from New Jersey writes: Where is Seton Hall? It returns the best scorer in the conference, the best rebounder in the conference, two great perimeter guards that can defend, an Ole Miss transfer (6-foot-6 forward Eniel Polynice) and has Jeff Robinson for a whole season. The best part is that they finally have a sane, calm coach with a good demeanor who will preach the two most important elements: defense and rebounding.
Eamonn Brennan: Matt, I assume you're asking about Seton Hall's lack of presence in various preseason discussions of the Big East, and not actually trying to find Seton Hall geographically. But just in case, here you go.
Google Maps-related jokes aside, your question, vague though it may be, is valid. But there are a few reasons why Seton Hall probably isn't on most preseason prognosticators' minds, and I think they're valid too. The first is uncertainty. Kevin Willard takes over as a first-year coach in the Big East, and that's not an easy job for anyone, even a guy like Willard, who is familiar with the territory. Forward Herb Pope is key to Seton Hall's chances, and no one was really sure whether or not he was going to be able to play in 2010-11 -- or, for that matter, ever again. (Pope collapsed during a workout last spring but appears to be able to play this season.) The third is talent: Even with Pope, leading scorer Jeremy Hazell, and forward Jeff Robinson for much of last season, Gonzalez's team struggled to get to 9-9 in the Big East. Returning talent is nice, and adding Polynice gives the Pirates some depth, but is this team really that much better than last year's? And if not, do they really deserve the preseason love?
Don't get me wrong: Seton Hall could definitely surprise some people this season. Willard is inheriting a solid nucleus. If Pope is productive, an NCAA tournament bid is well within reach. But you can't blame preseason scribes from warily avoiding Seton Hall until the Pirates prove a few things on the court. That's only fair.
Tom D. from Austin, Tex., writes: I saw that Duke hung 141 points on last year's CIAA champs in an exhibition game with no player getting more than 22 minutes. Does this mean anything at all?
Uh, yeah. This means nothing at all. It might actually mean less than nothing. If there was an "absolute nothing," this would be it. (Like absolute zero? See what I did there? Har? OK, moving on...)
Stephen from Evansville, Ind., writes: Everyone always seems to get caught up on how many teams a conference gets into the NCAA tournament as a measure for the quality of the conference. What should the Missouri Valley expect as far as NCAA tournament teams and success year-in and year-out?
Brennan: In terms of resources and conference affiliation, it's a little unrealistic to expect the Missouri Valley to recreate its brilliant 2006 run, when the MVC got four NCAA tournament bids and saw two teams streak to Sweet 16 appearances. Like many other mid-majors, it's hard for teams in the MVC to put together strong overall résumés, because it's so hard to convince the big boys to play them. It ain't fair, but that's just life in the sub-high-major world.
I think the Valley would be pretty excited if it could consistently place three teams in the NCAA tournament every year. That means at least two or three programs are building the sort of long-term success that doesn't require a one-year flash in the MVC tourney to get in to the Big Dance. That could be the case this year, as both Wichita State and Creighton (and maybe even Northern Iowa) look like potential NCAA tournament teams. But it's a lot to expect from a conference like the Missouri Valley on a year-to-year basis.
Tim Watts from Philadelphia, writes: Will Ohio State still be a contending team without superstar Evan Turner? And do they have a chance of winning the Big Ten over Michigan State?
Brennan: Yes and yes. Turner was a special player, but Ohio State has a coterie of experienced guards who can share Turner's ballhandling and scoring roles (William Buford, David Lighty, Jon Diebler), and could end up being much deeper and more balanced than last season's team. That's because forward Jared Sullinger could be a Big Ten Player of the Year candidate in the post, and OSU's other highly touted recruits should be able to contribute right away. Sullinger remains unproven, so you have to give Michigan State the nod, but if he pans out, the Buckeyes might be even better than last season. Hard to imagine after the year Turner had, but imagine it anyway.
Tony Waffen from Wasilla, Alaska, writes: What is your evaluation of the Saint Mary's Gaels this year? And what happened to Omar Samhan?
Brennan: Greetings from Wasilla? I promise not to make any Sarah Palin jokes. I think I can hold off.
I also think St. Mary's is clearly a notch or two below Gonzaga this season, if only because coach Randy Bennett doesn't have a clear replacement for the inside-out forward combo of Samhan and Ben Allen. But Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova are as good a guard combo as the WCC will have -- McConnell shot 51 percent from 3 last season, which is just silly -- and with a few contributions from guys like Clint Steindl and Jorden Page, I think Saint Mary's is still a factor at the top of their conference.
As for Omar? After an encouraging stint with the Dallas Mavericks in the NBA summer league, Samhan signed a contract with Zalgiris Kaunus, a club in Lithuania. There's a decent chance Samhan gets a few more NBA looks -- he definitely made an impression on a handful of GMs this summer -- but for now, he's getting paid to play hoops in Eastern Europe. There are worse fates. (And let's hope Omar has been brushing up on his Lithuanian, so he can be the funniest basketball player on two continents, and not just one.)
Derek Rainbolt from Bloomington, Ind., writes: With Kentucky, Florida, Tennessee and Georgia leading the way for the SEC, why does it seem the league is not getting national buzz?
Brennan: And let's not forget Mississippi State and Vanderbilt, both of whom are likely NCAA tournament teams. This is a good conference.
That said, I'm not sure I agree with your premise. "National buzz" is sort of hard to gauge in the first place, but from where I'm sitting (and I might not be the best judge, since I basically spend every day holed away in front of my computer reading and writing about college basketball), I'm not sure the SEC has received any less of this mythical buzz than conferences like the ACC or the Big East, both of which have their strong teams, but both of which are less deep than we're used to. In any case, if the SEC isn't getting the requisite amount of love, that will change as soon as its top five or six teams start proving themselves this winter. Until then, I wouldn't worry about it too much.
Eric from Bethlehem, Pa., writes: Would you consider C.J. McCollum of Lehigh one of the top players in the mid-major ranks? He dominated the Patriot League and played well against Kansas in the NCAA tournament last season.
Brennan: Why yes, yes I would. McCollum won player of the year and rookie of the year awards as a freshman at Lehigh last season. That's big-time stuff no matter the conference, and his performance in the first round of the NCAA tournament -- 26 points, seven rebounds, three assists, three steals and a block -- was very impressive. Maybe the most exciting thing about McCollum (assuming he doesn't decide to transfer at some point, in which case, sorry, Lehigh fans) is that he was only a freshman. He's already one of the better mid-major players in the country, and his ceiling remains very high.
Armand from Springfield, Mo., writes: How much more does Mike Anderson need to do to get some respect? Look at the last two seasons: Big 12 champs in 2008 with an Elite Eight finish. Second round in 2009, with inferior talent compared to K-State, Kansas, Texas and Baylor. Despite a proven system, every fall experts predict Missouri to finish behind all these teams. Well, now we have the best junior college transfer in the country as well as a five-star recruit in Tony Mitchell (eligible in the spring sem., right when conference play begins). Mizzou will be a force to be reckoned with and Big 12 coaches realize this, but the media never seems to. #TheFastest40Minutes
Brennan: First of all, hashtag in a mailbag question gets an immediate thumbs up. You should shorten that and use it to live-tweet Missouri games. After all, like Forrest Gump said, you never know what you're going to trend.
Second, Mizzou fans are awesome. I'm not being sarcastic. Every week the mailbag has at least two or three Missouri-related questions or comments. Columbia is excited about their program.
Then again, why shouldn't they be? I have a couple of soft spots when it comes to Missouri basketball. I love uptempo play, I love a properly run full-court press, and I love a coach who is willing to buck the conventional X's-and-O's wisdom to run a chaotic, onions-to-the-wall style because he believes in it. Mike Anderson has done all three at Missouri, and there's no question it's paid off.
Last Thursday at Big 12 media day, Anderson made a comment to a reporter about his team's propensity to be ranked in the lower half of the league before the season, only to finish among the conference's leaders. I asked him if he thought his system explained the gap. He downplayed it, telling me he thought his players didn't get enough credit, that he had had some underrated talent in his tenure, and that his staff worked hard to develop his guys as the season went along.
It was a nice answer, but it's barely half-right; his system deserves a lot of the credit. Missouri puts opponents on their heels for a full 40 minutes. They shoot from anywhere on the court, they force you to rebound on every possession, they make you move the ball 80 feet to get into your offense, and they don't let up once you do. It's brilliant to watch, and I think it's better proof that undermatched teams can change the conditions of the game than anything Malcolm Gladwell cited last year.
The scary part is what happens when Missouri has the same kind of talent as Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Texas. Assuming Mitchell is able to get eligible for the spring semester, the Tigers will be a fearsome bunch. And, as always, incredibly fun to watch.