College Basketball Nation: Georgetown Hoyas
WASHINGTON -- If there was any lingering doubt that Monday was Georgetown's night -- the night it would finally put a complete performance together, the night it would demonstrate how much better than its 12-5 record it really is -- Jabril Trawick wiped it away just in time for Jack the Bulldog to take his halftime skateboard run.
In retrospect, Trawick's step-back 3-pointer was preceded by one of Villanova's better defensive possessions of the half. The Hoyas forward was isolated on the wing and defended well. It was a short possession -- just 10 seconds into the shot clock. Trawick is more of a broad-shouldered battering ram than a 3-point shooter by trade: He'd attempted just 28 3s all season entering Monday night.
It was an ill-advised attempt, no doubt about it, the kind Villanova point guard Ryan Arcidiacono said the Wildcats didn't force enough. But Trawick squared up and banged home that step-back 3 anyway, and the result was a 42-19 lead over the fourth-ranked team in the country -- and, after the 78-58 final was in the books, a full look at just how good Georgetown can be when all its proverbial cylinders are firing.
"I think they're a really good team," Villanova coach Jay Wright said.
That's easy for Wright to say, given the thorough beating his top-five team suffered at the Hoyas' hands. It was diplomatic to boot. Villanova's first half was easily its worst 20 minutes of basketball of the season, and almost certainly its worst 20 minutes since the first half of the first Creighton game in 2013-14. Afterward, Georgetown coach John Thompson III readily admitted the Wildcats weren't at their best.
"As a team that puts you in a bind in so many ways, they had an off night," he said. "We had a lot to do with them having an off night, but they didn't have their best night."
In this regard, Trawick, and not center Josh Smith or guard D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera, was Georgetown's best player. His hard-nosed immovability on the defensive end serves to obscure his efficient scoring and ballhandling on offense. But those aforementioned cylinders included Smith, too, the massive center experiencing a senior-year renaissance in D.C. It included Smith-Rivera, perhaps the Big East's best combo guard, and center Mikael Hopkins, a vertical force on the back line, and off-guard L.J. Peak, a spurty freshman scorer.
"The skill level at every position makes them very difficult to play," Wright said. "But also the athleticism and speed in transition makes them really difficult."
They also, after Monday, must include freshman Isaac Copeland. For most of the season, as the class of 2014's 16th-ranked incoming freshman struggled to grasp the Princeton offense, Copeland was a non-factor. Before the Hoyas' home win over Butler on Saturday -- when Copeland hit a key late 3 to help secure the win -- John Thompson III's marquee recruit was averaging just 4.3 points in 13.9 mintes per game. There were occasional flashes of immense talent, ball skills uncommon to a 6-foot-9 frame, but they were too few to trust.
On Monday, Copeland finally put it all together. He finished with 17 points and six rebounds on 5-of-6 from the field and 7-of-8 from the free throw line. His five buckets came on a mix of gliding interior drives and coolly taken jump shots. Two of his free throws came midway through the second half, when Villanova had cut the lead to 12 and looked like it might have a Syracuse-style surprise left in store. Copeland finished without an assist, but he demonstrated plenty of passing touch on a late waved-off dump pass to Smith. All of a sudden, after a mostly invisible freshman season, Copeland's bright future was easy to see.
So it was with the Hoyas generally, who have always looked better than their record this season. They nearly knocked off Wisconsin in the Bahamas in November before falling by 3, lost another close game that week to Butler, and fell just short of Kansas at home in December. All five of their losses have come against potential (or guaranteed) NCAA tournament teams, and only one (at Xavier on Dec. 31) came by double digits.
Visually, the Hoyas could be a cognitively dissonant watch. They were a physically imposing defensive team that only sporadically played good defense, and a clearly-skilled offensive team that entered Monday night ranked eighth in the Big East in points per possession.
On Monday, it all came rushing to the surface, and it ended with Georgetown students rushing the court. Afterward, Thompson said he would have preferred the students at a program that still very much regards itself as a national power hadn't celebrated like a mid-major outfit.
"The students watch a lot of TV," Thompson III said. "So they're excited, and they stormed the court. I probably wish they hadn't done that, but they watch a lot of TV."
A few minutes later, when asked if Monday's performance changed his expectations for the season in any way, Thompson was even more succinct.
"No," he said.
And why not? Yes, Villanova was bad. Yes, the Hoyas had a brilliant, everything-working, Trawick-step-back-3s-are-falling kind of night. But somewhere in that perceptual jumble is the reality of a Georgetown team finally showing more than hints of just how good it might be.
"I think you saw the best of them tonight," Wright said.
No, seriously, they did. Watch the cuteness overload here:
Well, Butler returns to D.C. to face the Hoyas this weekend, so ol' Blue got into town a little early to hang out with his buddy from Georgetown on Thursday morning. And the result, to no one's surprise, was precious.
- Yesterday, we discussed the ongoing travails of referee Karl Hess, who was accused by a Mit Shah, an Atlanta-area CEO and former member of the Wake Forest board of trustees, of using a racial remark in a sideline exchange during Sunday's Louisville-Wake Forest game. Today, the ACC fired Hess, the result of an "accumulation of events," a source told ESPN. Soon thereafter, Hess withdrew himself from his American Athletic Conference assignments, and is considering doing so in the Big 12, Big East, and SEC. The Big East says it is conducting its own independent investigation into Hess's work. Hess told ESPN that Friday was "a sad day and is devastating. But I'm responsible. I wasn't trying to deliberately hurt anyone. That's not my character. I goof around a lot, and there was no intent to hurt anyone." We have conflicting feelings here. Hess does seem remorseful, and the suddden sport-wide dogpile does feel a little unseemly. On the other hand, joke or not, Hess's remark was ridiculous and inexcusable and, yes, racist. (Shah is of Indian descent, not Egyptian, as Hess quipped. He was born in New Jersey and raised in Winston-Salem. None of those places are remotely close to Egypt.) So, yes, the punishment should be severe. If this was Hess's first run-in with the ACC league office, perhaps he would deserved a quiet reprimand, a brief suspension, and instructions to apologize. But it wasn't, and so here we are.
- The time of the Three Wolf T-Shirt has long since passed. (Was it really five years ago already?) But that doesn't mean Georgetown's version -- featuring three howling likenesses of Jack the Bulldog -- isn't awesome. Let's be clear: That shirt is very, very awesome.
- If you're looking for reasons to feel good about Kansas' ability to close out tight games late -- like, for example, Wednesday's "Bloodsport" match of a win Baylor -- having an inbound target who has yet to miss a free throw this season is a pretty good place to start.
- Gonzaga has just begun its expected roll through the West Coast Conference, and the difficulties they face in earning a potential No. 1 seed -- even with one nonconference loss at Arizona -- are already becoming clear. Then again, given what happened in 2012-13, maybe it's better to eschew the top-seed bullseye.
- Cleveland, Ohio, native Carlton Bragg is a five-star prospect in the class of 2015 with the college hoops world at his feet. Bragg's final five schools were Kansas, Kentucky, Illinois, UCLA, and Arizona, with the Jayhawks, Wildcats, and Fighting Illini in the top three. On Thursday, the 6-foot-10 Villa Angela-St. Joseph product walked to a podium at his high school and dramatically announced his choice: Kentucky. Er, wait. Kansas! Yes, Bragg accidentally said Kentucky even as he was putting on a Kansas hat, in spite of his intentions to join Bill Self's program. Poor kid. Nerves are a fickle mistress.
Enjoy the weekend, everyone.
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- One might be inclined to think that after five straight wins -- including three in a row over Michigan State, Florida and Georgetown -- the Kansas Jayhawks are a pretty good basketball team. Not great, necessarily. Not vintage. But pretty good, right?
Bill Self would be the first to disabuse you of that notion.
"We're not very good yet," Self said.
He is happy to list the reasons.
"We're not a good passing team at all," Self said. "We don't make the game easier for our teammates. ... We don't know where our shots are coming from consistently. We don't know who to play through at times. Sometimes Frank [Mason] is the best player on our team. Sometimes Wayne [Selden] is. Sometimes Perry [Ellis] is. We haven't quite figured it out yet. But that's OK. The key to having great seasons is winning when you don't play great."
Judged by that standard, Wednesday night's win was Kansas' most impressive yet.
All the while, Self continued to tinker with his lineup. He gave forward Landen Lucas the nod in the starting lineup. He gave Kelly Oubre -- a star freshman prospect who has largely disappointed to date -- his biggest and most impactful minutes of the season. And he rode the hot hand of Brannen Greene, whom Self said has "gotten in his own way with us on the court by not doing what we think he's capable of doing," to 19 points on 5-of-5 from 3 and 4-of-4 from the free throw line.
"It was a toughness win," Greene said. "Coach kept saying the toughest team was going to win. That's what I felt like we did. We grinded it out."
Greene's shooting made him the lone Jayhawk to hit better than 50 percent Wednesday night. Perry Ellis finished 4-of-15 for 13 points but contributed 10 rebounds to the cause. Wayne Selden shot 2-of-7. Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk started the game but managed just one attempt before being relegated to the bench for the rest of the evening. Mason was probably the Jayhawks' second-best player, and even he finished just 4-of-8 with four turnovers, though several of his buckets came at crucial junctures in the game.
A good portion of the credit should go to Georgetown. After the game, John Thompson II said he was struggling to identify positives from the outing. The Hoyas truly, desperately wanted a win.
But even if the wins haven't come, Georgetown has been undeniably more impressive this season than during 2013-14's lackluster 18-15 campaign. They're more efficient on offense, thanks to the emergence of D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera as the team's lead guard and (finally!) the arrival of long-awaited UCLA transfer Josh Smith. Smith in particular has been impressive, with a usage rate of 29.7 percent and an offensive rebounding rate of 15.5 percent. Georgetown is far better on defense, too, holding opponents to well under a point per trip this season. The uptick on both ends hasn't translated into wins -- the Hoyas played Wisconsin close in the Bahamas and fell to Butler two days after topping Florida in overtime -- but the odds this team will miss the tournament are minimal.
All of which makes Kansas's performance praiseworthy. With a lineup in flux and an offense prone to sputters, Self's team emerged from a true, nonconference road test with a win. An unsightly win, sure. But a win all the same.
"I think we're learning how to win ugly," Self said. "Which is still winning."
PARADISE ISLAND, Bahamas -- Five observations from the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis:
1. Wisconsin has two more options that aren't being discussed as much
The Badgers beat Georgetown 68-65 despite player of the year candidate Frank Kaminsky going 1-of-8, 0-for-4 on 3-pointers and Sam Dekker having a game that was on and then off and then on again.
Traevon Jackson was in trouble with four foul and limited to less than 20 minutes, and fellow senior guard Josh Gasser had four fouls as well and made just one field goal. That was a blessing in disguise for the Badgers. Sophomore Bronson Koenig played a solid floor game with 14 points, a pair of 3s, four assists and only one turnover in 27 minutes. He was much more of the aggressor and helped will the Badgers back into the game after trailing Georgetown for 26 minutes. Koenig is a viable option for Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan going forward and may be called upon more than projected. Ryan did go back to Jackson for the final possession and despite sitting for long stretches, the senior point guard did drive to the bucket and set up a put-back by Nigel Hayes that ended up being the difference for the Badgers.
"I just tried to come in and control the game the best I could," said Koenig, who is clearly going to be the lead guard next season if he doesn't wrestle it from Jackson at some point this season. "Coach always tells the guys on the bench to come in and be productive and that's what Duje [Dukan] and I did a good job of."
Dukan made two 3s that helped propel the Badgers at key points in the game, especially when Wisconsin was having some lulls.
"Coach made a good decision and called two good plays for me, and I ended up getting two wide-open 3s, knocked them down and then Bronson [Koenig] obviously had clutch moments as well," said Dukan. "There's going to be different points that are going to trigger our responses and we knew that when the moment came we had to step up."
2. The Badgers will need to be ready for a fight
"I think this game was really good for our team, playing against a good opponent and being in a battle," said Dekker. "We have a team that's been in close games and they have a team that's been in those situations as well. It was two good teams going at it and we're not going to win every game by 15-20 points. We have to show that we have the guys and the characters who are going to step up and make plays."
Wisconsin will face plenty of physical teams, including Friday's final against Oklahoma. If Wisconsin thought the Hoyas, who play with an edge they haven't had in a few years, were tough then wait until they have to deal with keeping the Sooners' Ryan Spangler off the glass.
3. Georgetown will challenge Villanova and Providence for the Big East title
The Hoyas are playing with a physicality and purpose that they didn't have recently. And a lot of that has to do with D'Vauntes Smith-Rivera. He is a legit Big East player of the year candidate and an All-American potentially. Smith-Rivera knows where he wants to go on the floor. He has purpose with each possession. The Badgers couldn't contain him. He scored 29 points, making 11 of 18 shots as well as converting five 3s.
Ryan said Smith-Rivera "felt comfortable and we tried to run him off his spots. He is a guard that can control a game -- can score and control a game."
Georgetown coach John Thompson III emphatically said Smith-Rivera is one of the best guards in the country, "because there's not much he can't do on the court. He goes out with an X on his back and he's still able to get his points and at the time share the game with his teammates. At the defensive end, I think his defense is under appreciated. On a lot of nights, he is going to guard the opposition's best player and he's done a pretty good job so far."
The Hoyas have a stable of rugged bigs who are productive, even if it's not on the stat sheet in Hopkins, Jabril Trawick and Aaron Bowen, by making the play before the score or a stop or deflection. The freshmen are hidden gems nationally in L.J. Peak and Paul White, who are only going to get better and more productive. Peak made a critical 3-pointer in the late-night overtime win over Florida. But the rebuilding job of Joshua Smith by the Georgetown staff may be the most impressive development, so far. Smith is an immovable, place holder in the post and his effectiveness grew in the past two days. Once he learns to turn without committing an offensive foul (if officials give him that space) he'll be even more productive.
4. Oklahoma has more possibilities on offense than Buddy Hield
OU coach Lon Kruger challenged the Sooners by taking them to Creighton (where they fell 65-63) when few other teams would take on such a road game. Kruger said he wasn't sure how the Sooners would handle the challenges and expectations. Well, they have here in the Bahamas and in large part that's a product of the unselfishness. Hield is a volume scorer/shooter. He was off against Butler with only five points, going 2-of-10 from the floor. So, the Sooners had to find other ways to score against a Butler team that doesn't give up much space. Isaiah Cousins got inside and finished with 13 points, and the combination of Jordan Woodard on the wing and TaShawn Thomas (Houston transfer) inside with a little help from Spangler was enough to beat the Bulldogs. The Sooners had to show well against Butler with Hield off. And they were able to do so in the 59-46 win.
"This group is very genuine in their interest in making plays for each other and doing things together," Kruger said. "We've got a lot of different guys who can score. Offensively, interestingly enough, we haven't had the flow and rhythm that we want."
The Sooners had to defend to beat Butler and get on the glass. They shut down Alex Barlow (1-of-7) and made Kelan Martin suddenly look like a freshman again (1-of-8) after he was one of the best first-year players on the floor against the Tar Heels. Butler was just 4-of-23 from 3 and was outrebounded 41-32 after dominating the category against the Tar Heels the previous day.
5. The Big East is incredibly deep if Butler can back this up
Butler was not mentioned as a contender with Villanova, Providence and Georgetown in the preseason. Creighton (which beat Oklahoma at home last week) and Xavier may end up in that group as well. The jury is still out on St. John's and Seton Hall. Marquette and DePaul are rebuilding, with the latter in a perpetual state of trying to retool. But Butler was the unknown. The Bulldogs that beat the Tar Heels with rebounding, defense and the scoring from Barlow, Roosevelt Jones and Martin will be an interesting case to follow. One thing is certain -- the Butler way is alive and well. This team won't stop competing.
1. Justise Winslow, Duke
Winslow has a college-ready body and mindset that will help him influence the game with his defensive prowess. His defensive versatility might be the best among the entire freshman class as the 6-foot-6 forward can defend point guards through power forwards. The athletic Winslow can be a factor in full-court pressure or trapping situations as well as in a straight-up man-to-man denial defense locking up, the opposing team's best offensive threat. What makes him a special defender is that he is always thinking about where he should be next on the floor. Winslow will be extremely important for Duke next season.
"Surprise" doesn't really go far enough. Simply put, there was almost no precedent for Smith -- who played six games in 2012-13, his final season at UCLA -- to earn immediate eligibility. Smith didn't fit within any traditional legislative relief (or "hardship waiver" archetype. The Kent, Wash., native wasn't transferring to be closer to home, or care for an ill family member. The NCAA has restricted players or wiped entire seasons of eligibility off the board for far less -- long-lost preseason participation has frequently been enough to do the trick. And while the situation at UCLA in Ben Howland's final year was no doubt less than conducive to Smith's development, he didn't leave after his coach was fired, or in the wake of some NCAA sanctions. He left after the first six games of his junior campaign.
ESPN's Jeff Goodman reported Wednesday that the waiver was granted thanks to a combination of "NCAA's fear" and "weight issues/Howland treatment." Why would a player who played in six regular-season games not lose at least a semester of eligibility -- or at least have to wait an extra few months -- as pretty much every other similar transfer has? Because the NCAA is scared of criticism? Because he has struggled with his weight? Because his former coach discarded him? I'm sympathetic to all of that -- and I think college players should be able to transfer with far fewer restrictions and wait times than currently exist — but that doesn't make the ruling consistent with any past precedent. What about every kid in the past five years with a legitimate appeal who was denied on technicality? Is the NCAA really that rattled?
Anyway, any furor over the decision doesn't matter now. Frankly, it might never matter -- not unless Smith has an even bigger surprise in store.
The ballad of Josh Smith has been the same lyrics, sung to the same tune, since as far back as 2007, when Smith was a promising but slightly oversized high school sophomore. He has always wowed scouts with his actual basketball skills: soft hands, quick feet, good touch around the rim. The only issue was his weight. It never came down. Indeed, under Howland, it went up, and even when Smith made it clear to the media he understood why he had to get in shape once and for all, he still never really made progress. At some point, UCLA just stopped updating his player profile dimensions.
Thus far, Georgetown has listed Smith at 350 pounds. He has two years remaining. John Thompson III has said Smith needs to "maintain a high level of commitment on and off the court," and if he does, Thompson will have a place for him. Not only do the Hoyas need another big body, period. Thompson is also far more flexible with his offensive system -- to the point that he is openly bristling against it being called the "Princeton offense" -- than many assume. If Smith is a viable addition to the Hoyas' frontcourt, Thompson would love to run sets through a post scorer with the kind of ball skills Smith has to offer. He has done so in the past: In 2011-12, center Henry Sims led the Hoyas in assist rate (27.3 percent); in 2009-10, 6-foot-11 forward Greg Monroe performed the same function.
The template is there. The opportunity is ripe. But until Smith answers the core question of his basketball career -- but can he stay on the floor? -- the impact of another inexplicable NCAA decision will be solely reserved for the theoretical.
We’ve officially judged and juried every nonconference schedule.
Kudos to the teams that had the nerve to schedule bravely. Your just rewards could come in March, when the selection committee recognizes the merits of playing tough opponents, even if there’s a risk of a loss.
And shame on those who scheduled meekly. Enjoy the NIT.
Now, it’s time to play Armchair Scheduler -- or King/Queen of the Basketball Universe, whichever title floats your boat -- and offer up 15 nonconference games that won’t be played this year, but we wish would be:
Kansas vs. Missouri: Let’s just file this under an annual request. One of the greatest rivalries in college basketball ought to be played this year, next year and every year. We don’t care who left what conference. We don’t care who’s angry. This is like two divorcing parents sparring over the china with the kids stuck in the middle. Here the two schools’ fan bases and fans of the game in general are the kids. So hire a good mediator, work this out and play ball.
Georgetown vs. Syracuse: See Kansas-Missouri argument above. The two teams here at least have agreed that continuing the rivalry at some point is a good idea and it appears a multiyear contract is imminent, but there’s nothing yet on the schedule. Let’s fix that. Soon.
Kentucky vs. Indiana: Ibid. Or is it op. cit.? Whatever, reference the Kansas-Missouri, Georgetown-Syracuse arguments cited above. Two states separated by a river. Great rivalry. Lousy excuses. Figure it out.
North Carolina vs. Raleigh News & Observer: The Tar Heels’ crimes, misdeeds and lack of punishment have been well documented in the news media, but nowhere as thoroughly and as well as at the local newspaper. The staff at the N&O has been relentless and thorough in its coverage. We suggest a game of H-O-R-S-E (with the African-American studies department excused from judging) at the Newseum to settle this once and for all.
Harvard vs. Duke: Smart school versus smart school. Mentor versus mentee. Easy storylines for reporters. What’s not to like about this matchup? Not to mention it would feature two top-25 teams and give the Crimson a chance to show how good they really are.
Kansas vs. Kentucky: Yes, we will get to enjoy Kansas (Andrew Wiggins) versus Duke (Jabari Parker) in Chicago, but we’re selfish. We’d like to see Wiggins go up against Kentucky, one of the schools he spurned. Not to mention it might be fun witnessing what could essentially be a freshman All-American game, with Wiggins, the Harrison twins, James Young, Julius Randle and Joel Embiid together on one floor.
Florida Gulf Coast vs. Georgetown: Let’s see if the slipper still fits when last season’s Cinderella goes rematch against its Madness victims, the Hoyas. Georgetown doesn’t have Otto Porter anymore and Greg Whittington is hurt, but hey, Dunk City lost its drum major when Andy Enfield headed to USC. Seems about even.
Michigan vs. Notre Dame: No one would dare call Mike Brey a chicken, would they? The two schools called the football rivalry quits this year amid acrimony and an endgame Wolverine chicken dance, but maybe the basketball schools can extend the olive branch and play for the first time since 2006.
Michigan State vs. Duke: Tom Izzo may not want to see the Blue Devils very often -- he’s 1-7 against Duke in his tenure -- but this game never disappoints. The two schools have met nine times and only twice, in 2003 and in 1958, has it been a blowout. The two have gone head-to-head over top recruits, including Jabari Parker, and come into the season as top-10 locks.
Memphis vs. Arizona: Josh Pastner revisits his coaching roots in a game that will answer the biggest question facing the Wildcats -- how good is point guard T.J. McConnell? If the Duquesne transfer can handle the Tigers’ onslaught of Joe Jackson, Geron Johnson, Chris Crawford and Michael Dixon, he can handle everything.
Louisville vs. Oklahoma State: You like good guard play? Imagine this one. Russ Smith, Chris Jones, Terry Rozier (and maybe Kevin Ware) against Marcus Smart, Markel Brown and incoming freshman Stevie Clark. The coaches would be miserable -- with Rick Pitino going up against his own beloved point guard, Travis Ford -- but the rest of us would enjoy it tremendously.
Oregon vs. Creighton: This game stacks up on merit, not just on the storyline of Dana Altman facing his old squad. With Doug McDermott back in the fold, the Bluejays are legit. Their schedule is less so, a sort of meandering plunder of nonconference nothingness. Adding the Ducks, a team Altman has reconstructed, and his impressive backcourt would be helpful. And OK, old coach/old school is fun.
New Mexico vs. Florida: The Gators already have a pretty impressive nonconference slate, but hey, what’s one more? This one would be a nice tussle between pretty skilled, albeit different, big men in Alex Kirk and Patric Young. Kirk enjoyed a breakout season last year, but facing Young would be a real test of the 7-footer’s abilities.
In a sports world full of clumsy, inane analogies to armed conflict, the Border War -- the centurylong rivalry between Kansas and Missouri -- legitimately deserved its designation. The Jayhawks and Tigers first met on the gridiron in 1891, just 36 years after a perfectly real, horribly violent border war broke out between pro-slavery Missouri and abolitionist Kansas, as The New York Times recounts:
In 1855, Missourians crossed the border in droves to vote in the first Kansas election, and 6,000 votes were somehow cast by a total voting population of 2,905 to elect a proslavery government. New Englanders opposed to slavery organized to send settlers, money and guns to the antislavery residents there. Amos Lawrence, a New England textile magnate whose name was given to the city where the University of Kansas now stands, helped ship hundreds of rifles to aid the fight against the “border ruffians” from Missouri and the proslavery settlers in Kansas.
It did not take long for violence to erupt. On May 21, 1856, parts of Lawrence were destroyed when Missourians marched on the town with five cannons in tow. A day later, Senator Charles Sumner of Massachusetts was beaten almost to death on the floor of the United States Senate by a Southern congressman upset by Sumner’s speech, “The Crime Against Kansas.” A week later, John Brown and several abolitionists hacked five proslavery Kansans to death with swords.
Today, when you check in to a hotel in Kansas City, those senseless horrors are impossible to fathom. But the up-close-and-personal violence -- neighboring cities burning, rival bands of "Jayhawkers" fighting to the death, dignitaries beaten to a pulp on the Senate floor -- is really only a handful of generations removed from present day. People still remember. They just express themselves differently.
For example: In April 2012, the morning of Kansas' national title showdown with Kentucky, the morning announcements at an elementary school in tiny Lee's Summit, Mo. -- a 20-minute drive from the Kansas border -- included the Jayhawks' fight song. In roughly 99 percent of the country, that would be seen as a small, token gesture toward regional sporting spirit. In Lee's Summit, it was a slap in the face:
“As a parent of two and a taxpaying resident of the Lee’s Summit R–7 School District, I am shocked and disappointed that there was an apparent attempt to indoctrinate Lee’s Summit school children to be KU fans at Trailridge Elementary this week,” said Brian Yates, a former state representative and graduate of the University of Missouri, at the time. “Playing the KU fight song or any college fight song over the intercom in a publicly funded elementary school is unacceptable.”
Indoctrinate! Another example: In 2011, the town of Osceola, Mo., passed a citywide resolution condemning the Jayhawks' nickname, which it saw as a "celebration of this murderous gang of terrorists by an institution of ‘higher education’" in a "brazen and malicious manner."
A couple of weeks ago, apropos of nothing, a Lawrence resident who had stumbled upon that old school-announcements chestnut sent me an email. He felt obligated to explain:
People that have not grown up in this area have no real understanding of this rivalry between MU and KU. To quantify it with words just diminishes the intensity of it.
This was never a sports rivalry. This was hatred that is taught and bred into the youth on both sides of the border. […] The memories are vivid and each side has their version of what "really" happened.
People along the border communities of Kansas and Missouri murdered each other at will. Bands of men from Missouri would ride into Kansas and indiscriminately kill men, women and children and so did bands of men from Kansas as well as Union forces into Missouri. This didn't happen once or twice. This occurred regularly for 8 years before the Civil War and then throughout the Civil War. It doesn't matter which side won, the Union or the Confederacy. For us it never ended.
We don't like them and they don't like us. That's the way it was, is, and will be.
In 2012, after more than 120 years of expressing their fans' intense distaste for the Kansas Jayhawks at least once a year, the Missouri Tigers left the Big 12 for the SEC. The two played three more times in the 2011-12 season, each game more thrilling than the last. And then, just like that, it was over. Kansas basketball coach Bill Self, his blue-blooded program having been made suddenly vulnerable by Big 12 turmoil, loudly proclaimed that he didn't see the need to play Missouri anymore.
"I will say this," Self said in 2011, when Missouri announced its impending move. "The media is not going to dictate who we play. I’ll dictate who we play as long as I’m coaching here. I have no ill will toward Missouri at all, but to do something at a time that could be so damaging and hurtful to a group, I can’t see us just taking it and forgetting."
The two schools haven't played since. There are no future plans to do so. The Border War, at least for basketball purposes, is dead. How powerful is conference realignment? That's how.
Syracuse and Georgetown never shared that kind of immense historical baggage. (Thankfully, because sheesh.) The SU-GU distaste was sparked in purely sporting terms: When John Thompson Jr. "closed" Manley Field House in 1980, ending the Orangemen's 57-game win streak in the last game in the building, Syracuse fans boiled over. Their hatred of Georgetown might not have been preceded by a decade of Civil War-era violence, but it is a product of shared cultural memory. No one talks about Manley Field House like that.
In the 30 years since, both programs have won titles and been consistent national powers. Thompson's mid-'80s teams brimmed with "Hoya Paranoia"; Jim Boeheim's 2-3 zone made him the second-winningest coach of all time; and the rivalry blossomed into the Big East's best and most reliable fixture, the marquee matchup in the country's marquee hoops attraction.
In 2013, those two teams played their last game as co-members of the Big East. Syracuse was headed to the ACC, set to be part of a new marquee basketball league; Georgetown had found refuge in the new Big East, a smaller, basketball-only assemblage. For the most part, conference realignment avoided drastic changes to the status quo. It hasn't been as bad, or as crazy, as we all thought. But it did kill the Border War. Now, it had taken Syracuse-Georgetown, too.
That's why this news is so very exciting. Syracuse and Georgetown are in talks to keep their rivalry alive, with the most prominent option being a 10-year, rotating home-and-home contract being enthusiastically pushed by Boeheim and Syracuse athletic director Daryl Gross. There are still plenty of details to iron out, of course. Georgetown still needs to accept and hasn't commented. There are modern, real-world concerns to attend to: Will the logistics of each team's schedule line up? Does Georgetown get as much out of the game as Syracuse, which very much enjoys the chance to play in downtown Washington, one of the hottest recruiting hotbeds in the country?
But all of that stuff is minor, even petty. The fact is, Syracuse and Georgetown have a chance to do what Missouri and Kansas couldn't: keep a storied, cherished rivalry alive in the face of shifting conference allegiances. They have a chance to set a precedent for what appears to be a future of pretty much nonstop conference changes. League affiliations might come and go, but rivalries deserve to stand the test of time.
Kansas and Missouri had that once. Syracuse and Georgetown, thankfully, are doing their best not to lose it.
Toughest: Old Spice Classic (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Orlando, Fla.), Purdue (Dec. 14 in Indianapolis)
Next toughest: Princeton (Nov. 16)
The rest: Lamar (Nov. 9), Vanderbilt (Nov. 19), at Ball State (Nov. 23), North Dakota (Dec. 7), Manchester (Dec. 9), at Evansville (Dec. 21), NJIT (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 4 -- This isn’t an overwhelming schedule for first-year coach Brandon Miller, but it’s not a complete cakewalk either -- especially since Roosevelt Jones is out for the year. The Old Spice Classic gives the Bulldogs some pop, with a potential date with Marcus Smart and Oklahoma State in the second round (with Washington State as the opener) or Memphis down the road.
Toughest: Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec.1 in Fullerton and Anaheim, Calif.)
Next toughest: at Saint Joseph’s (Nov. 16), California (Nov. 22), at Long Beach State (Dec. 3), Nebraska (Dec. 8)
The rest: Alcorn State (Nov. 8), UMKC (Nov. 11), Tulsa (Nov. 23), Arkansas-Pine Bluff (Dec. 17)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- The hefty Wooden Legacy gives the Bluejays a challenge. There’s a first-round date with Arizona State and Jahii Carson then possibly San Diego State and a potential matchup with either Marquette or Miami on the other side. But for a loaded lineup like Creighton has, I would have hoped to see a little more meat in the nonconference schedule.
Toughest: CBE Classic (Nov. 25-26 in Kansas City, Mo.), Arizona State (Dec. 6)
Next toughest: at Northwestern (Dec. 27)
The rest: Grambling State (Nov. 9), Southern Miss (Nov. 13), Wright State (Nov. 16), at Milwaukee (Nov. 19), Oregon State (Dec. 1), Florida Atlantic (Dec. 12), Chicago State (Dec. 15), Houston Baptist (Dec. 18), at Illinois State (Dec. 22)
Toughness scale (1-10): 5 -- If this is the year the Blue Demons turn the corner, they will have earned their stripes. This is a decent schedule, thanks largely to an opening date with Final Four participant Wichita State in the semis of the CBE Classic. (Texas and BYU are on the other side.) Tussles with Arizona State and Northwestern also add some muscle.
Toughest: Oregon (Nov. 8 in Seoul, South Korea), at Kansas (Dec. 21), Michigan State (Feb. 1 in New York)
Next toughest: Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Nov. 21-24)
The rest: Wright State (Nov. 13), Lipscomb (Nov. 30), High Point (Dec. 5), Colgate (Dec. 7), Elon (Dec. 17), Florida International (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Short of matching up with Kentucky in Kabul, I’m not sure how John Thompson III could have made his schedule much more daunting. From South Korea to Lawrence, with a date with Michigan State for added fun, that’s literally anyone anywhere. There’s also a pretty decent Puerto Rico Tip-Off field, with VCU, Michigan, Kansas State and Florida State.
Toughest: Ohio State (Nov. 16), New Mexico (Nov. 21), at Wisconsin (Dec. 7)
Next toughest: Arizona State (Nov. 25), Wooden Legacy (Nov. 28-Dec. 1 in Fullerton and Anaheim, Calif.)
The rest: Southern (Nov. 8), Grambling State (Nov. 12), New Hampshire (Nov. 21), IUPUI (Dec. 14), Ball State (Dec. 17), Samford (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 10 -- Love when a good team plays a good schedule. Buzz Williams has a delicious mix, traipsing across leagues (Big Ten, Pac-12 and Mountain West) and mixing in a decent tourney as well. The only oddity is that the Wooden Legacy title game might merely be a Big East preview, with Creighton and Marquette seemingly headed toward each other.
Toughest: Kentucky (Dec. 1 in Brooklyn)
Next toughest: Boston College (Nov. 8), Paradise Jam (Nov. 22-25 in St. Thomas, Virgin Islands), UMass (Dec. 28)
The rest: Brown (Nov. 13), Marist (Nov. 16), Vermont (Nov. 18), Fairfield (Nov. 29), at Rhode Island (Dec. 5), Yale (Dec. 17), Maine (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1 to 10): 4 -- Yes, Kentucky is on the schedule, which is big, but one game does not a schedule make. The Paradise Jam is a bunch of meh, with Maryland and La Salle the only intriguing opponents available. The rest of the Friars’ schedule is just a trip through New England.
Toughest: Coaches vs. Cancer (Nov. 22-23 in New York)
Next toughest: at Rutgers (Dec. 8)
The rest: Niagara (Nov. 9), Kent State (Nov. 13), at Mercer (Nov. 16), Monmouth (Nov. 18), Fairleigh Dickinson (Dec. 1), LIU Brooklyn (Dec. 5), NJIT (Dec. 10), St. Peter’s (Dec. 14), Eastern Washington (Dec. 22), Lafayette (Dec. 27)
Toughness scale (1 to 10): 2 -- If the Pirates beat Oklahoma in the Coaches vs. Cancer, they might face Michigan State. Or they might not. And that’s about all there is to like about this schedule.
Toughest: Wisconsin (Nov. 8 in Sioux Falls, S.D.), Syracuse (Dec. 15)
Next toughest: Bucknell (Nov. 19), Barclays Center Classic (Nov. 29-30 in Brooklyn)
The rest: Wagner (Nov. 15), Monmouth (Nov. 22), Longwood (Nov. 26), Fordham (Dec. 7), San Francisco (Dec. 18), Youngstown State (Dec. 21), Columbia (Dec. 28), Dartmouth (Jan. 18)
Toughness scale (1 to 10): 6 -- The Red Storm’s top two games are pretty good, and bonus points for playing the Badgers in Sioux Falls. After Penn State in Brooklyn, they face a decent test from either Ole Miss or Georgia Tech. The rest isn’t much to look at.
Toughest: Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30 in the Bahamas), at Syracuse (Dec. 28)
Next toughest: at Saint Joseph’s (Dec. 7), La Salle (Dec. 15), at Temple (Feb. 1)
The rest: Lafayette (Nov. 8), Mount St. Mary’s (Nov. 13), Towson (Nov. 17), Delaware (Nov. 22), Penn (Dec. 4), Rider (Dec. 21)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- To understand this ranking, you have to understand the Big Five. Even when the Philly schools are down, the games are brutal, and with La Salle, Penn and St. Joe’s on the uptick, the city series is a beast. Now mix in a Battle 4 Atlantis that opens with USC and then likely Kansas (with Tennessee, Iowa or Xavier as likely third opponents) plus a visit to the Carrier Dome and you have a solid slate for Jay Wright’s crew.
Toughest: Tennessee (Nov. 12), Battle 4 Atlantis (Nov. 28-30 in the Bahamas), Cincinnati (Dec. 14)
Next toughest: Alabama (Dec. 21)
The rest: Gardner-Webb (Nov. 8), Morehead State (Nov. 18), Miami (Ohio) (Nov. 20), Abilene Christian (Nov. 25), Bowling Green (Dec. 7), Evansville (Dec. 10), Wake Forest (Dec. 28)
Toughness scale (1-10): 8 -- Like Villanova, the Musketeers get a nice boost from playing in Atlantis, taking on a good Iowa team in the opening round. An on-the-rise Tennessee offers bonus points (and they could face the Vols for a second time in the Bahamas), as does the annual Crosstown Classic with the Bearcats.
2. Thompson III said it's unknown when Greg Whittington will return from an ACL injury. The Hoyas are under the assumption he won't play this season, but no one is ruling out that he could return at some point. "Some people come back in six months, some take a year," said Thompson III. "You have to figure, though, nine months if everything goes well." Whittington had to sit the second semester due to academics. But there are no longer issues with his eligibility, according to JT3.
3. ESPN and the ACC and Big 12 released the new Big Monday schedule for next season. With the Big East now on Fox Sports 1, the ACC was the natural replacement. But the influx of former Big East teams into the ACC will make some nights look like the traditional Big East Big Monday. Four of the eight games include a former Big East member. And one game, Notre Dame at Syracuse on Feb. 3, is a former Big East game. Virginia got three dates, including the first two. The Cavs should be an ACC top four contender with Joe Harris and Mike Tobey. But this was clearly a sign of respect by getting the Cavaliers that many high-profile games. It will be interesting to hear how the ACC coaches deal with what the Big East coaches dealt with for years -- the dreaded Saturday-Monday turnaround. The Jan. 27 Duke at Pitt game should go down as one of the best atmospheres at the Petersen Events Center. And the Syracuse at Maryland game on Feb. 24 is quite a swan song for the departing ACC member. But this game could resurface in future years as part of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge. Putting Kansas and Oklahoma State on four times and Baylor twice was the right amount for the top three Big 12 contenders.
Not so much! Indeed, even last week, a controversy was already brewing. A story in The Hoya, Georgetown's student newspaper, was filled with wholly outraged quotes from student body leadership bemoaning both the sudden decision and the lack of transparency with which it was reached. That outrage was quickly accompanied by an open letter by Father Christopher Steck, the mascots' caretaker, who was reasoned and reflective (he admitted he was biased on the topic of J.J., which, awwwww) but clearly confused by the decision.
Now, a few days later, Steck has taken to the pages of the Hoya himself, writing in critical, stern terms about Georgetown's mascot throwdown:
Unfortunately for Jack and J.J., Healy [Hall, home to Georgetown's administrative offices] has been more enthusiastic about control than support. While Healy, no doubt, appreciates the mascot, I have not sensed a great deal of passion for him within its corridors. My one request to any administrator in Healy for $200 of funding was declined because, I was told, his unit was not involved in the mascot. (The university, by the way, does not provide any financial support for Jack and J.J.’s upkeep). Before J.J.’s arrival, a few reporters shared with me their puzzlement over the university’s ambivalence toward the mascot. I invited several Healy administrators to join me any time on a walk with J.J. so that they could meet him and see his interaction with children on campus — a cause for concern in Healy. All of them declined. A university spokesperson’s recent praise for the importance of having “no emotional attachment” in making decisions about the mascot was institutionally revealing, even if unwittingly so.
The fear here, it seems, is that Georgetown brass is plotting to either a) begin phasing out the live Hoyas mascot entirely, a practice that began when students pushed hard for it in 1999 or b) mitigate school liability by transitioning to a "rent-a-dog" model (when random ringer dogs are brought in for campus events for a day or two at a time). In its original statement, the school said it planned to continue the live mascot tradition, but Steck and more than a few Georgetown students seem worried that's just a cover. At the very least, as Steck writes, "if the mascot is to be an adequate symbol of Georgetown, decisions about him should reflect its rich, dialogical life" -- as opposed to being made unilaterally.
It would be easy to chalk this up to some good old-fashioned campus lather. There's nothing like a seemingly minor controversy to rile students active in the school government and newspaper; in case you hadn't noticed, college kids love to argue passionately about matters both small and large. Everyone is finding their voice, and this often produces hilarious results.
There's a good bit of that going on here, sure. (As I wrote last week: Is it November yet?) But at the heart of the matter, it's hard to fault the aggrieved parties for wanting their clear emotional investment in J.J. to come to some clear resolution. At the very least, they'd like some input on the matter. Silly as it may seem from the outside, people love their fuzzy mascots something fierce, and it's hardly surprising when a poorly explained decision coalesces that attachment into outrage.
I can already see how this ends: In a moving final courtroom scene, J.J. is asked to pick between his life as a mascot and his life sitting around being an awesome bulldog. Faculty members scowl on one side; students cheer on the other. As the final soundtrack flourish rises and swells, J.J. saunters over to his mascot uniform, pauses for a second, and lays down, panting. The crowd rushes the scene, lifting the little bulldog hero above their heads, and as we zoom in we see J.J. almost smile ... just before winking unmistakably at the camera.
Freeze frame, star wipe, roll credits. You're welcome, Hollywood.
Alas, all dogs are not created alike. Most, but not all. Some don't want the celebrity, the fawning, the constant requests for photos. Some dogs don't want to perform. Some dogs just want a full bowl of food, a toy to chew on, a couple of walks, and approximately 22 hours of sleep per day. Some dogs just want the simple life.
Such, it seems, was the case for would-be Georgetown mascot Jack Jr. (J.J.), the Georgetown mascot-in-training at the school since 2012. In a release on its athletics web site today, the Hoyas announced that, after extending time with professional trainers, J.J. never truly embraced the fame and fortune associated with being the next Georgetown mascot. J.J. would prefer to kick it at home:
Since that time, J.J.’s caretaker and walkers have worked to orient him to campus and train him for mascot duties. We also worked with professional trainers to help J.J. learn about life on a busy college campus. Recognizing that the lifestyle of a mascot is exciting and hectic, involving many people, thousands of screaming fans, and regular appearances at events both on and off-campus, we wanted to ensure that our puppy would be happy with this unique lifestyle.
After 15 months of monitoring and training, in consultation with these experts and the breeder, we determined that returning to a home environment is what is best for J.J.
You other dogs out there might not understand it. Doesn't every dog want to be famous? Wasn't J.J. about to live the dream? How could he turn down all those scratches on the head -- a whole lifetime full of head-scratches! The glitz! The glamour! The staff of handlers! The expensive gift bags full of holistic treats! You threw it all away, J.J.! You threw away the dream!
No, dogs, that's your dream. It wasn't J.J.'s dream. That's not his journey. J.J.'s a simple dog. He doesn't need the flashing lights. He'll take the quiet life, a handshake of crude protein dog treats, and no alarms and no surprises. Silent.
(Oh, and in case you're wondering, Georgetown's former mascot, Jack Sr., will continue to live on campus, and Georgetown promised that the "cherished" bulldog mascot tradition will continue. You may now breathe easy.)
Update: Apparently there is some minor controversy afoot here. Today, the Hoya reported that J.J.'s handlers disagreed with the decision and were critical of its unilateral nature. Meanwhile, Reverend Christopher Steck, who lives and trains with the Georgetown mascots, composed an open letter on the matter: "The university's decision is a surprise and disappointment to me. I genuinely believe that J.J. would thrive as the next university mascot." Georgetown mascot Kremlinology! Is it November yet?
Top 10 teams that will tumble in 2013-14:
10. Gonzaga: For the first time in school history, the Zags recorded a No. 1 ranking and a top seed in the Big Dance. Their early tournament exit ended their season on a sour note, but the program reached new heights in 2012-13. Elias Harris and Kelly Olynyk comprised one of the toughest frontcourts in America. Harris (14.6 PPG, 7.4 RPG) was a rugged forward who had finesse and power. Olynyk (17.8 PPG, 7.3 RPG) was the best combo forward in America. He had an underrated post game too. The duo created matchup problems for every team they faced last season. And now both players are gone. Kevin Pangos and multiple members of a respectable backcourt are back, but that Olynyk-Harris combo was special. There’s still enough talent in Spokane to win the WCC and reach the NCAA tournament, but the Zags won’t be the national title contenders they appeared to be through the 2012-13 campaign.
9. Cincinnati: Coach Mick Cronin had one of the nation’s top backcourts last season. Now, two members of a trio that anchored his 22-win NCAA tournament team -- JaQuon Parker and Cashmere Wright -- are gone. Sean Kilpatrick, the team’s leading scorer, returns. But a Cincinnati squad that struggled with consistent scoring benefited from Parker’s and Wright’s ability to stretch the floor. Both shot better than 36 percent from behind the 3-point line. Kilpatrick could be a one-man show in 2013-14, but that’s not necessarily a good thing. The toughest void for the Bearcats (14th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy) could be the defensive deficit created by the departure of Cheikh Mbodj (2.6 BPG). There are holes everywhere for this Bearcats squad.
8. Detroit: Ray McCallum Jr. turned down offers from powerhouse programs to play for his father, Ray McCallum Sr. With McCallum at point guard, Detroit reached the NCAA tournament in 2012 after the Titans won the Horizon League tournament. But he’s gone now. And he’s not the only key player that Detroit will miss. The Titans have lost their top four scorers from last season. Somehow, Detroit must find respectable offensive contributors who can make up for the loss of McCallum (18.7 PPG), Nick Minnerath (14.6 PPG), Jason Calliste (14.4 PPG) and Doug Anderson (12.1 PPG). McCallum could face his toughest season as a head coach in 2013-14.
7. San Diego State: It’s fair to say that San Diego State underachieved last season. The Aztecs finished in a tie for fourth in the stacked Mountain West Conference. Then they were stopped in the third round of the Big Dance by Florida Gulf Coast. Not a shameful showing, but their potential suggested that they had a higher ceiling. Well, that ceiling is lower now with the loss of four of the team’s top six scorers from last season. Jamaal Franklin and Chase Tapley were two of the Aztecs’ top defenders too. Franklin wasn’t the game’s most efficient player (3.4 TPG, 28 percent from the 3-point line), but he was the guy with the ball in his hands when the Aztecs needed a big play. Whom will they turn to next year? Steve Fisher seems to have more questions than answers right now.
6. Butler: Rotnei Clarke (16.9 PPG) and Andrew Smith (11.3 PPG) have moved on. That’s a challenge for the program because they formed a potent inside-outside combo. But Roosevelt Jones, Khyle Marshall and Kellen Dunham remain. So Butler can find buckets in 2013-14. The Bulldogs are on this list, however, because Brad Stevens will not be on the sideline next season. Brandon Miller has a strong pedigree. I don’t doubt his coaching acumen. But Stevens is making millions in the NBA because he has the rare ability to extract every ounce of talent from his players. At Butler, they were devoted to him and his system. That combination of buy-in and strategy led to amazing highs in recent years. Even though Miller is in the Butler family, this is still a transition. And it’s a transition without the mastermind who made Butler a household name. The Bulldogs may fall before they establish their footing under Miller.
5. Georgetown: First, Otto Porter turned pro. Then Greg Whittington tore an ACL, jeopardizing his status for next season. Yes, three starters from last season's squad return, and former UCLA standout Josh Smith will join the team at midseason. And that helps. Markel Starks' presence is a major boost for the program too. But who will create offensive opportunities for a team that registered just 64.6 PPG (247th nationally) with a lottery pick running the show? That number doesn’t tell the full story of Georgetown basketball in 2012-13. The Hoyas were fourth in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy. But Porter’s versatility eased the defensive responsibilities of his teammates. With a healthy Whittington, however, the latter will be a minimal concern for John Thompson III’s program. But there’s no guarantee that Whittington will be ready in time to help Georgetown in 2013-14. And that’s a problem.
4. Indiana: Yogi Ferrell is back. That’s the good news for Tom Crean. The bad news? Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo are in the NBA. Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls are gone too. Although Indiana entered last season as a preseason pick by many to win the national title, similar hype will not follow the Hoosiers into the 2013-14 season. They have three top-100 kids, including five-star recruit Noah Vonleh, in their incoming class. And multiple players who contributed in spurts last season will earn more minutes. So there’s enough talent in Bloomington to register another NCAA tournament bid. But the Hoosiers were the No. 1 team in America in multiple stretches last season. I can’t imagine the young program rivaling that effort next season.
3. Temple: Remember when Khalif Wyatt dropped 31 points in Temple’s win over NC State in the NCAA tournament? Remember when he did it again versus Indiana two days later? Wyatt’s offensive explosiveness helped Temple beat teams that were more talented than the Owls last season. He scored 33 points in his team’s win over Syracuse in December. He recorded 30 points when the Owls defeated VCU in early March. Now, Wyatt and sidekick Scootie Randall have left the stage. That’s a combined average of 31.8 PPG, 2.7 SPG and 6.1 APG.
2. Minnesota: Can a team that went 8-10 in the Big Ten tumble? Yep, especially if that team is implementing a new system with a limited talent pool. Andre Hollins and Austin Hollins could be all-Big Ten performers next season, but the void created when Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams exhausted their eligibility will be a challenge for new coach Richard Pitino. Plus, Joe Coleman transferred from a team that reached the Big Dance and beat UCLA in the second round. Pitino’s fast-paced, pressure system could work in the Big Ten, but he needs the right pieces to make that happen. He just doesn’t appear to have them yet.
1. Miami: Last season, Miami had it all. The hoopla that followed the surging Hurricanes included courtside appearances by LeBron James and Dwyane Wade. It was a great ride for the program. But a new reality will soon take hold as Miami coach Jim Larranaga attempts to replace Shane Larkin, Julian Gamble, Kenny Kadji, Reggie Johnson, Trey McKinney Jones and Durand Scott. Those veterans were responsible for one of the ACC’s and the nation’s top defensive attacks (28th in adjusted defensive efficiency per KenPom.com). His rebuilding effort will commence in a league that will add Pitt, Syracuse and Notre Dame next season. Hard times ahead for the Hurricanes.
Tournament bracket for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off (Editor's Note: An earlier version of this bracket had a pair of incorrect matchups. We apologize for the mix-up.)
When and where: Nov. 21-22, 24 in San Juan, Puerto Rico
Initial thoughts: The bracket seems to grant Georgetown an easy path to the title game. Northeastern lost its top two scorers -- Joel Smith and Jonathan Lee -- from last season (29.9 PPG combined). And Kansas State is recovering from a tumultuous offseason that included the loss of Angel Rodriguez and Rodney McGruder. Georgetown’s opening-round opponent, Charlotte, had offensive issues last year (187th in adjusted offensive efficiency, per Ken Pomeroy) and now top scorer Chris Braswell is gone.
A title, however, is not a guarantee. The Hoyas will probably travel to San Juan without Greg Whittington, who recently tore his ACL. And the other side of the bracket is much tougher, even though Long Beach State is depleted after multiple offseason dismissals. Florida State struggled last season but the Seminoles were young so most of their roster returns, although they’ll miss Michael Snaer. Michigan is the obvious favorite. The Wolverines will be led by Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, a pair of players who would have been first-round draft picks last month had they decided to leave school after their team’s national title game loss to Louisville in April. Freshman Derrick Walton will probably follow Trey Burke as the team’s new point guard. He’ll be surrounded by a strong crew. VCU will be tough, too. The HAVOC defense helped VCU acquire the nation’s highest turnover rate last season. The Rams, however, lost point guard Darius Theus and Troy Daniels. Still, they haven’t lost much steam with a solid recruiting class and Florida State transfer Terrance Shannon in the mix now.
Things could get interesting on Friday in this tournament.
Matchup I can’t wait to see: Florida State has a lot to prove. Last season was a mess for Leonard Hamilton, who recently received a contract extension. His program has a chance, however, to make an early statement in the 2013-14 season with a win over a VCU squad that will be a Top 25 program entering the season. But Shaka Smart has some new faces, and his squad must identify a new leader now that Theus is gone.
Five players to watch:
Treveon Graham, VCU: The Rams are often praised for their defensive strengths. Last season, however, VCU proved its worth on offense, too -- averaging 78.0 points (11th in the nation). Graham, the team’s top scorer, was a catalyst. He averaged 15.1 PPG and 5.8 RPG. He also hit 36.6 percent of his 3-pointers. Graham doesn’t waste minutes, either. He had the Atlantic 10’s top offensive rating (118.1 per KenPom.com, among players who used at least 24 percent of their team’s possessions). Last season was a breakout campaign for this guy. If VCU reaches its ceiling, the 6-foot-5 guard/forward could earn All-American consideration.
Mitch McGary and Glenn Robinson III, Michigan: After the Wolverines rumbled to the national championship game in Atlanta, many expected McGary and Robinson to take their talents to the NBA. The two youngsters had a chance to turn pro and make millions. But their decision to return means that the Wolverines will enter the season as Big Ten contenders again. There’s a huge gap at PG, a spot that was occupied by Wooden Award winner Trey Burke last season. With McGary and Robinson back, John Beilein has one of America’s top centers and one of the nation’s most versatile wings. This tournament will be an early opportunity for the duo to prove that Michigan is still potent without Burke.
Okaro White, Florida State: There’s a lot of pressure on White right now. Florida State will enter 2013-14 without top scorer and veteran Michael Snaer. Terrance Shannon transferred. And Leonard Hamilton will be forced to rely on some young players again in a league (ACC) that could be the nation’s best conference with the arrival of Pitt, Notre Dame and Syracuse. But White made major strides in his junior campaign. The 6-8 forward averaged 12.4 points, 5.9 rebounds, 1.0 steals and 1.1 blocks. He hit 81.5 percent of his free throws, and he was 10th in the ACC with a 4.13 block percentage (KenPom.com). But can he lead this group? We’ll find out in Puerto Rico.
Markel Starks, Georgetown: Greg Whittington’s torn ACL jeopardizes his entire season and it also jeopardizes the Hoyas’ season. Three other starters from last season return. But it was much easier to view Georgetown as a threat to win the inaugural title in the new Big East when Whittington was healthy. To maintain that hope -- if Whittington can’t return -- Starks has to guide a team that still has some talented pieces from last season and will add UCLA transfer Josh Smith after the first semester. Starks did it all for Georgetown last year (12.8 points, 3.0 assists, 1.3 steals, 41.7 percent from the 3-point line). But the Hoyas might need him to do even more in 2013-14.
Title-game prediction: VCU over Georgetown.
The Hoyas should reach the title game, but I think they’ll face a VCU squad that’s equipped with a multitude of talent and depth. Smart has a rotation that could be 10-11 players deep. And even though he has lost a few veterans, he will gain the services of former top recruits Mo Alie-Cox and Jordan Burgess, two players who were academically ineligible for competition last season. And Shannon, the Florida State transfer, will be available, too. Smart’s HAVOC attack demands talent and depth, and he has both. This is the most skilled squad that he has had at VCU. That’s just too much for Georgetown to overcome, especially with VCU’s interior advantage (see Shannon and 6-9 forward Juvonte Reddic). These Rams will be dangerous. They’ll prove it in San Juan.
Who others are picking:
Eamonn Brennan: VCU over Georgetown
Jeff Goodman: VCU over Northeastern
Seth Greenberg: Michigan over Georgetown
Andy Katz: Michigan over Georgetown
Jason King: VCU over Kansas State
Dana O'Neil: VCU over Kansas State