College Basketball Nation: Hoopsbag

Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. (Honestly, the best way to get me is Twitter.)

Per the usual, we begin with a video. Remember: For the rest of the 2012 season, Hoopsbag will run on Tuesdays. Adjust your correspondence accordingly.

@c_watson writes: Now that that's over -- just 83 days until One Shining Moment.

Eamonn Brennan: Thank goodness, right? Don't get me wrong: I don't dislike college football. It's not in my top four sports viewing experiences -- which, in order, are college hoops, the NBA, European soccer and the NFL -- but if it's on, I'll watch it. And I was as geeked out for last night's national title game as anyone else. But college football's season has always baffled me, and it continues to do so. There's the whole bowl/playoff dynamic, which sort of speaks for itself, of course, but even so I will never understand the logic of finishing the regular season on Dec. 3, the date of the SEC title game, but playing the championship game on Jan. 9. Jan. 9! Is there another sport in the world that waits that long between its penultimate game and its championship final? Throw in the usual complaints about the way the sport crowns that national champion ... and, well, let's just say I'm happy we can all focus entirely on college hoops. Not that I wasn't already.

@RookTakesPwn writes: I'd rather watch the Butler-UConn game again.

Brennan: Ouch.

Now that I think about it, there are some parallels there -- particularly the athleticism and defensive prowess shared by Alabama and Connecticut. Both just overwhelmed their opponent on that side of the ball. Two of the greatest defensive performances in college sports history; two of the uglier national title games in recent memory.

Steve in Philly writes: I assume you've been in your fair share of news conferences. Have you ever seen a question like the first one Les Miles got last night? Did you see this? Dude basically called him out like it was his coach's show. It was amazing.

Brennan: At the risk of turning this into a college football Hoopsbag, no, I have never seen a question in a postgame news conference -- let alone a packed crazy-house press situation like the national title game or Final Four always is -- like the very first question Miles received after the game last night. It came from local radio host and former Saints quarterback (and father of LSU offensive lineman T-Bob Hebert) Bobby Hebert, and apparently this is just his style. From the transcript:
Coach, did you ever consider bringing in Jarrett Lee, considering that you weren't taking any chances on the field? Now, I know Alabama's defense is dominant. But, come on, that's ridiculous, five first downs. I mean, so it's almost an approach, I'll tell from you the fans' standpoint, that how can you not maybe push the ball down the field and bring in Jarrett Lee? So what if you get a pick six. It seems like the game plan that  not pushing the ball down the field, considering it's like a Rueben Randle or Odell Beckham, Jr. I know the pass rush of Alabama, but there's no reason why in five first downs  you have a great defense, LSU is a great defense, but that's ridiculous.

It's basically a call you'd hear on a radio show, except it happened face-to-face in a massive news conference just minutes after the national championship. I suppose you have to admire the bravado. Given the situation, I also thought Miles handled it about as well as possible.

Anyway, we need to get Hebert to the NCAA tournament this season, if only so he can "ask" a similar "question" of Jim Calhoun. I think we know how that would end.

OK, enough of this. Let's talk hoops.

@MetsUconn16 writes: Is something seriously wrong with Shabazz Napier? Alarming comments Sunday, scoreless yesterday. What's up with No. 13?

Brennan: Fortunately for the Huskies, they got out of some serious second-half trouble against West Virginia Monday night, going on a post-Calhoun-technical 17-3 run and overcoming a 10-point second half deficit just in the nick of time. Had the Huskies dropped their third straight game -- this one at home, no less -- the whole "guys don't let me lead" thing from Napier could have really blown up. It would have been a mess.

But here's why I wouldn't be worried about Napier: He wants to lead. He wants to do the right thing by his teammates. He wants to succeed. He didn't shoot the ball well Monday night -- he was 0-of-6 and finished with zero points -- but he did have eight assists in the win. He's a point guard on a team with a ton of scoring talent in Jeremy Lamb and Andre Drummond; Napier doesn't have to score for this team to win.

I would be far more worried if Napier were checking out entirely, if it looked like the frustration of unrequited leadership was turning him to apathy. That doesn't seem to be the case. UConn has its share of issues to deal with, but Napier's attitude is as much a positive for me as a negative. Leading a group this talented isn't as easy as saying "Hey, guys, I'm the leader now, and that's that" -- but at least Napier wants the job. That's half the battle, right?

@kpotter30 writes: Where is Duke missing the boat at right now? And is there someone on the team that can fix its problems?

Brennan: The Blue Devils have their fair share of issues on offense, where they've struggled to create good shots from time to time. But the real issue is defense. As of Tuesday, Duke ranks No. 4 in the nation in Pomeroy's adjusted offensive efficiency metric and No. 50 in adjusted defense. The lowest the Blue Devils have ever finished in adjusted defense since Pomeroy began tracking this stuff in 2004 is No. 20 overall.

Forget the occasional stagnant offense; this is still, all things considered, a very good offensive team. But if the 2012 Dukies don't significantly improve on the defensive end -- if they don't play defense the way most Duke teams do -- then their ceiling is going to be much lower this season than most.

@ThatPipkensGuy writes: What things (if any) in the universe are less predictable than the 2012 Atlantic 10?

Brennan: Let's make a list:
  • The NCAA tournament
  • The Pac-12, maybe
  • The economy
  • Bradford Cox's musical output
  • My jump shot

I'm reaching on a lot of those. (My jumper is usually pretty good. Usually.) Which is to say, your point is well-taken. With Xavier apparently falling off a cliff, Temple is not quite at an elite level and interesting, emerging teams like Saint Louis, Dayton, St. Joe's and even La Salle and Charlotte (which beat St. Joe's Saturday, mind you), the A-10 appears to be as deep, or at least as wide open, as we've seen it in the past 10 years. Maybe longer.

@hoopthink writes: Is Mick Cronin frontrunner for Big East Coach of the Year? What a job he's done since the Cintas brawl -- gritty road W last night.

Brennan: I can't disagree with the latter -- last night's win at Georgetown, which required a late 16-6 run and five forced turnovers against a team that was shooting lights-out whenever it held the ball long enough to get a look, was as impressive a road win as we've seen this season. Since the Xavier-Cincinnati brawl, X has tanked. But Cincinnati has won eight of its last nine, earned a 3-1 start in Big East play and begun to play with the sort of competency that had caused so many pundits to rank them in the Top 25 to start the season. After a dreary start and the mess that was the brawl, the Bearcats are sitting pretty as of Jan. 10. Points granted, all around.

Having said that ... I'm still hung up on the way the brawl was handled. Frankly, those suspensions weren't long enough, particularly for Yancy Gates and Cheikh Mbodj, both of whom should have missed more Big East games. The Mbodj thing is less glaring, because he's a role player. But Gates only missed six games, and those six games -- Wright State, Radford, Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Chicago State, Oklahoma and Pittsburgh -- hardly conveyed the same punitive attitude Cronin displayed in his well-received post-brawl comments to the media. Maybe I should get over that, but I thought Cronin -- who handled everything as well as possible, with the exception of the suspensions -- could have sent a clearer, realer message after the fight. But that's just me.

Pete in Los Angeles writes: I think you're dead on when you write that the Pac-12 is completely up for grabs. But as someone that has watched almost every Colorado basketball game this year, for better and worse, I wanted to tell you what I'm seeing. This team I'm watching now is completely different from the team I saw early in the year. Early in the year they were lost, the offense was stagnant and they seemed confused as they learned how to play with each other. It's understandable considering CU lost four of it's five starters from last year (two players now playing in the NBA). They have three freshmen logging significant minutes and three other rotation players playing their first season for Boyle after transferring. With so much turnaround it just took some time.

Now this team is jelling. Carlon Brown has taken the leadership role, Andre Roberson continues to prove he's one of the best rebounders in the nation, Spencer Dinwiddie and Aski Booker (their two freshmen guards) are playing with a ton of confidence, and Boyle has got them all playing swarming defense. I know it's easy to look at their play earlier on and dismiss them, but watch them play. They're really good, and that Washington win was no fluke.

Brennan: This email came in before Monday, when I ranked Colorado No. 3 in the Pac-12 power rankings. I will retain my doubts on whether the Buffaloes are "really good" -- that's just way too strong a term right now. Improved? Sure. Really good? Let's give it a week or two and see where Colorado is at that point. The Pac-12 is just too weird to get too excited about a 3-0 team that hasn't played a conference game on the road yet. If the Buffs go to Cal (Thursday) or Stanford (Saturday) and come away with a road split, I'll be more inclined to believe. (Or, if you prefer, #Buffalieve. You're welcome, Colorado hoops fans. OK, let's just move on.)

And now, the two best (read: worst) emails I received all week:

Jon in Denver writes: I have a feeling that you grew up in a family that had a younger sister that was much more in the spotlight than you. Always recieving praise and attention, while you sat in the corner holding your 4th place spelling bee trophy. Your ability to up sell the favorite and down play the underdog is amazing. But if that underdog flourishes, you seem to become hard pressed to give credit where credit is due. I know it is hard to imagine that maybe your initial assessment was wrong, but step back for a moment and rehash your previous opinion. The PAC-12 is young across the board and that may play into how some teams performed in the early going. Instead of writing off what you simply believe can't be, allow others to enjoy their success and the possibilty of more too come. Quit pouting about not being lauded for your previous predictions and give credit to the up coming players and coaches. Pretty weak on your behalf and I bet your sister writes for the New York Times as a hobby. Congrats.

Brennan: I have no idea what most of this means, but I'd just like to clarify one thing: I don't have a sister that works for the New York Times, whether as a hobby or as a profession, because I don't have a younger sister. But I was a pretty killer spelling bee contestant. Fourth place? Pshh.

That's only the email of the week runner-up, though. Ladies and gentlemen, your winner:

Unsigned writes: why are you so stuiped

Brennan: If I was the kind of person that wrote "smh," this is where I would write "smh."

Sigh.

Hey, it's Tuesdays with Hoopsbag

January, 3, 2012
1/03/12
2:25
PM ET
Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. (Honestly, the best way to get me is Twitter.)

Per the usual, we begin with a video. Not per the usual, we're publishing the Hoopsbag on a new day -- a new weekly home for a new season, as it were. Off we go:

@KennyOcker writes: Why are we moving the Hoopsbag to Tuesdays?

Eamonn Brennan: This was one of the first questions I got on Twitter last night. I have to say, I'm sort of surprised anyone noticed, let alone cares, what day the 'Bag shows up at your pixelated doorstep. Then again, I can understand the desire for routine: Every week my copy of the New Yorker, which I specifically want to read in paper format -- it feels like the only right way to read the New Yorker, you know? -- comes on a different day. Sometimes it's Tuesday. Sometimes it's Thursday. I think it's supposed to come on Monday, or at least that's when people in New York get it. Either way, it's is incredibly frustrating.

In any case, we're switching up the Hoopsbag for the simplest of reasons: It simply fits into our schedule better this way. This season, my lone consistent day off will be on Wednesday. (From here on out, my weekends are pretty much shot. This makes for a hermetic lifestyle, but it saves me money. And in the words of Hyman Roth, this is the business we've chosen.) Building and writing the Hoopsbag on my day off is probably not the best way to stay sane, all things considered. Plus, it works better for my editor, Edge, whose job it is to make sure you have a spate of new and glorious content to read each and every day on the men's basketball home. Edge is our mastermind. I am but a lowly grunt in the Light Brigade: Theirs not to reason why / Theirs but to post Synergy breakdowns and trick shot videos. That's a direct passage from Lord Tennyson, by the way.

In any case, look for the Hoospbag on Tuesdays going forward, and be sure to send your questions to one of the above links a little earlier than in editions past. Got it? Got it. Good. (And as always, thanks for reading and sending in your stuff. You are deeply appreciated.)

Let's step back in front of the curtain, shall we? Onward and upward, with actual basketball discussion:


Ryan Hall in Longs, S.C. writes: Due to his recent performances, do you think Quinn Cook should be the permanent starting point guard for Duke?

Brennan: That might be a little premature, because Cook has played truly significant minutes in just three recent games. Those opponents: UNC-Greensboro, Western Michigan, Penn. Those aren't exactly high-pressure situations, and the oft-used Winston Wolfe paraphrase is probably appropriate here.

That said ... Cook has looked fantastic since recovering from nagging early season knee injuries. He's been hyperefficient in the minutes he's played, posting an offensive rating of 137.8 and an assist rate of 34.8, both of which are insanely good for anyone, let alone a freshman point guard competing for minutes with the likes of Austin Rivers and Seth Curry. And people are starting to take notice. Cook was named the ACC Rookie of the Week last week, and the Sporting News' Mike DeCourcy rounded up the following quotes from Coach K, who has been using Cook as an alternate alongside fellow reserve Tyler Thornton in recent weeks:
“We had a chance to make that change just before the Christmas holidays for Tyler,” coach Mike Krzyzewski told the media following Duke’s win Sunday over Penn “Then over the Christmas holidays we evaluated and Quinn physically is better able to do that than he was even at the start of the regular season. He’s gotten stronger. His knees are better. He’s in better shape. He’s had more reps. So we wanted in these two games to take a look at alternating them.

“When we keep a fresh guy there we can push the ball and pressure the ball. Against these two opponents it worked well and we’ll see if it continues to work well. It is a different take than we’ve had the last few years. I think what you have to do is you have to adjust to your personnel, and we’re trying to learn about our personnel.

“But Quinn is playing great. Tyler is playing really well, too. Quinn is a natural point guard. Tyler can play both. Tyler is just a really good leader. The guys like playing with Quinn because he passes, and when he passes he sees you in places where other people have a hard time seeing you.”

That last part -- the bit about seeing teammates, about teammates liking to play with Cook -- is without question the best argument in favor of handing Cook the keys to whatever exotic car you'd use as an analogy to Duke's offense sooner rather than later. Cook is a pure point guard. That was his m.o. as a prep star, when he ranked No. 7 at the position and No. 36 overall in the class of 2011. Duke doesn't necessarily need a "pure" point guard to handle the ball and set up teammates, because it did just fine last season with both Kyrie Irving (a scoring point) and, when Irving was injured for most of the season, Nolan Smith (a combo-guard who took his scoring off the dribble to a new level in 2011), neither of whom fit the always-shaky preconceived notion of what it means to be a "pure" point.

Likewise, that Duke frontcourt is crowded. (Finding minutes for Rivers, Curry and Andre Dawkins has already been something of a challenge, and Krzyzewski has already tinkered with numerous lineup combinations this season.) Plus, Coach K clearly likes Thornton's leadership and steady play.

Still, one can't help but think Cook's skill set -- reading defenses, setting up teammates, working off those spaced-out screen and rolls Duke has used to such great effect the past two seasons -- is a much better fit than Thornton's. Cook could defer, Kendall Marshall-like, to the coterie of talented teammates around him. He could focus entirely on setting up the likes of Curry and Dawkins for those deadly open threes, and could help relieve some of the pressure applied to Rivers, who has been the team's dominant ballhandler and most aggressive scorer -- sometimes to his own detriment -- this season.

Coach K isn't going to suddenly toss Cook into the fire. More likely, he'll bring him along slowly, increasing his minutes as he gets more and more comfortable with his role. But at least in theory, he appears to be worthy of some serious run in the coming weeks. Cook's skills, plus that sharpshooting backcourt? That sounds like a scary recipe, doesn't it?


Michael in Louisville writes: In the Louisville vs. Kentucky game, do you honestly think Louisville fouled as much as they were called for? UK had 32 points from the line, that's 46% of their total points. And it wasn't just UL getting the bad calls, UK had some too. Is this the difference between the Big East and SEC? The SEC is no where near as physical as the Big East. No wonder UK is undefeated at home, they get almost all of the calls.

Brennan: In his postgame news conference -- which was really just him standing outside the Louisville locker room in front of a huge scrum of media -- Cardinals coach Rick Pitino was asked whether he thought the referees called the game so tight because they were concerned with the heated nature of the rivalry and determined to avoid a repeat of Cincinnati-Xavier, which the refs clearly facilitated (if not caused) by not managing the game better throughout. Pitino's response: "I just thought they were fouls."

He rightfully took issue with a couple, specifically the loose-ball foul on Peyton Siva that sent the point guard to the bench with four at the 9:33 mark in the second half. Siva and Doron Lamb were both scrambling for the ball, and it looked like Siva had his hand on it when the whistle blew. During the game, Pitino turned to the photographers and media assembled along the baseline near his bench and complained to no one in particular: "That's two guys going for the ball!" He was right. Bad call.

That play and a hasty technical on freshman Chane Behanan were huge plays that certainly hurt Louisville's chances. And Gorgui Dieng's second-half foul trouble was a major issue. But as far as I could tell (and I haven't watched a recording of the game since Saturday), most of the fouls Louisville was whistled for were, as Pitino said, fouls. The Cardinals had to foul. With Behanan on the bench so long, Louisville was simply overmatched physically. Fouling frequently wasn't the worst strategy, considering Kentucky's questionable accuracy at the free throw line this season. But I don't think the disparity in calls was due to home cooking or bad officiating; I just think Louisville needed to foul to stop Kentucky's athletic frontcourt (specifically Michael Kidd-Gilchrist) from getting easy buckets on the block.


Mike Jones in Connecticut writes: I fail to see your logic at all when saying Louisville is overranked at No. 10. They lost two tight games against two top 10 teams yet they should behind teams like Wisconsin, Florida, and Mississippi State, who all have poor losses? Why not use UNC as an example, a team who has a worst loss (against UNLV) than Louisville? UNC is No. 3 with no wins against the top 10. No wins. Yet you use Louisville as an example, and not the unimpressive Tar Heels. ESPN must have something against Louisville because the Cards don't receive any respect, such as when one of your co-workers placed Louisville behind Marquette in the Big East Power Rankings. Really? Marquette got obliterated versus Vanderbilt at home, when Louisville beat Vanderbilt.

Brennan: The Marquette argument is reasonable, but I wasn't comparing Louisville to Marquette. I was comparing them to Indiana. The point was, look: Indiana clearly has a better resume to date. If we were seeding teams for the NCAA tournament, Indiana would almost certainly be seeded higher. But because the polls work the way they do, and voters vote as much on last week's rankings and reputation as on actual results, Louisville was still ranked higher than the Hoosiers. That made zero sense.

This was not intended to insult the Cardinals. It was intended to insult the polls -- which, thankfully, don't matter. I think Louisville is a very good team, but they were ranked No. 4 because they were undefeated without any truly captivating wins. (Vanderbilt at home? Come on.) They're ranked No. 10 because they were ranked No. 4. See what I mean?


jagwalkley in Spokane, Wash. writes: Gonzaga forward Sam Dower sure reminds me of a guy named Sam Perkins. Soft hands and kind of sleepy, you would think, until he does something. Watch this kid the next couple of years. What do you think?

Brennan: I think a Sam Perkins comparison is fair, as long as we recognize that Sam Perkins was an absolute beast all four years of his college career. (And he was such an effective and altogether fun pro, too. Speaking of which, anytime there's an old game on NBATV, I hope Sam Perkins is playing. Fortunately, because he played on approximately 8,000 NBA teams during his career, he usually is.) Dower has some of the same skills, to be sure, including that gentle left hand. I saw him Saturday night at Xavier, and he was masterful. After the game, Xavier coach Chris Mack said Dower was a "pro."

It's hard to find guys that size with that sort of perimeter touch; Dower has it, and it's a promising weapon for the future. We'll see how he improves this season and in years to come, especially when he's handed more playing time. In the meantime, Mark Few can bring Dower off the bench to play in place of starters Elias Harris and Robert Sacre. If Dower plays anything like he did Saturday, well, that's an awfully impressive substitute.


@rmj_equals_hero (whose awesome Twitter avatar is a Hoopsbag staple at this point) writes: If the print media actually understood tempo-free stats, wouldn't Mike Scott be ACC POY so far?

Brennan: Well, that would also require there to be an ACC POY award vote at this point of the season, and there isn't, and so now we're dealing with multiple hypotheticals and my head is starting to spin. (It does that sometimes.)

Let's just say this: Mike Scott has been fantastic, and his credentials -- like any good player from any good but brutally slow team, which Virginia is -- shouldn't be looked down upon simply because his coach prefers to crawl the ball up the court. Scott's done it all: Despite being the focal point of his team's attack, the fifth-year senior has posted an offensive rating of 125.9, and ranks in the top 50 players in the country in effective field goal percentage, true shooting, and offensive rebounding and defensive rebounding rate, per kenpom.com.

Without him, the Cavaliers aren't ranked. They aren't a sleeper ACC pick. They aren't a potential NCAA tournament team. No ACC player has been this good this consistently in 2012, and no ACC player is more important to his team.


@clintonpriddy writes: As the obvious best team in the OVC, does Murray State have to win the conference tourney or does a one-loss Racers team get in?

Brennan: That scenario presupposes that Murray State will win out in the regular season. While that's possible (incredibly so, actually) -- Pomeroy's probabilities give the Racers at least an 82 percent chance of winning the rest of their regular-season games -- it's still not probable. More likely than not, Murray State will lose at least one game in the next two months. Everyone does, right?

If the undefeated regular season does indeed come to fruition, then it would be almost unfathomable to see Murray State miss out on the NCAA tournament. Sure, its strength of schedule won't be great, and its marquee wins will be limited to that road win at Memphis and (maybe) that nice win against Dayton. And yeah, the OVC is pretty awful. But could the committee really assert that Murray State doesn't deserve to be in if it loses one measly game? And in the conference tournament, no less? I find that very difficult to believe.

Of course, Murray State could make it easy on everyone and just win the conference tournament. That's the most likely scenario, and certainly one the committee -- not to mention a handful of shaky bubble teams -- are wholeheartedly rooting for. Me? I just think an undefeated season would be awesome.


@WarriorBrad writes: Should Pitt and Wisconsin fans be worried about their slow starts?

Brennan: Pitt, yes. Wisconsin, no.

Of course, it's not quite that simple. In Wisconsin's case, a loss at home to the same Iowa team that got drubbed by Campbell in Iowa City just a few weeks back is decidedly disconcerting, but it's hardly cause for panic. The Badgers aren't quite as good as their per-possession numbers would assert, but they have been very good, and one assumes Jordan Taylor will return to form at some point in the next few weeks. Bottom line, Wisconsin will be there.

Pittsburgh, on the other hand, appears to be genuinely shaky. Why? The Panthers play uncharacteristically bad defense; they allow just over a point per possesion, and are ranked No. 174 in Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency rankings. They aren't going to be able to get away with that in the Big East, especially on the road, as they found out during a trip to South Bend two days after Christmas. Let's see how the return of injured point guard Travon Woodall affects this squad before we render any final judgements, but bottom line: If Pitt defends like this all season, it's going to be an unusually mediocre year for this typically consistent program.


Lianne McGlade writes: You have to post this buzzer beater! My son Oliver McGlade hit a 3-pointer from half court to win the Porreco Cup at Gannon University 103-100 in double overtime! He plays for Seton Hill University and they beat Gannon to win their first-ever Porreco Cup!

Brennan: Lianne is such a proud mother! I love this.

In any case, Lianne included a link to a Yfrog video, which you can see here. You might have to turn your monitor upside down to see it -- if you have a desktop, do a handstand, I guess? -- but in any case, it's there.

This mention is probably small potatoes now, because McGlade's play made the SportsCenter top 10 (at No. 2, no less) Saturday. Before today, I admit I had absolutely no idea what Seton Hill or Gannon University or the Porreco Cup or the West Virginia Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (WVIAC if you're nasty) was. But if there's anything we know about Division II hoops, it's that they're good for at least one insane, SC-worthy play per season. It would appear Oliver McGlade, son of the proudest mom on the World Wide Web, is this year's honoree. Well done, Ollie. (I just assume Lianne calls Oliver "Ollie." Has to, right?)
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Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. (Honestly, the best way to get me is Twitter.)

Alex Goldstein in Baltimore writes: After Notre Dame's win over Pittsburgh Tuesday night, is Maryland's win over Note Dame a quality win?

Eamonn Brennan: In the words of the old Fake Steve Jobs: namaste, Alex. I honor the place where your transitive property and the Hoopsbag meet, but I'm afraid I have to disagree. For one, Notre Dame beat Pitt at home, and home wins in the Big East only go so far. More importantly, though, I'm not sure a win over Pittsburgh can be reasonably termed "quality" at this point, either. The Panthers looked atrocious in South Bend last night, particularly on the defensive end, where they have been uncharacteristically bad all season.

They're ranked No. 159 in Pomeroy's adjusted defensive efficiency, and they allowed 1.24 points per possession to a Notre Dame team that has itself struggled mightily since losing star Tim Abromaitis to an ACL tear in November. Pitt's offense let it down, too, which is something we saw in the Panthers' only other true road game this season, a 61-56 win at Tennessee. I remain entirely unsold on Pittsburgh. Thus, I remain entirely unsold on Notre Dame. So, yeah, no, Maryland doesn't get much credit for the win over ND. If the Irish's win Tuesday marks the beginning of a major turnaround, this status could change. But right now, I don't know that any of these three teams, or any of their wins to date, are deserving of the q-word. Sorry.


@betterball writes: Did u see Norris Cole last night for the Heat? He played in Horizon League, correct? Can you educate me/us on him a little?

Brennan: I did see him, yes, and my immediate reaction -- as a Bulls fan, mind you -- was "oh, no." The idea of a surprisingly awesome Norris Cole giving the Heat athleticism, penetration and spot-up shooting at the point guard spot is just utterly terrifying.

In any case, as a college hoops fan, I loved Cole's game almost as much as I loved his high-top fade. He was one of the most versatile and athletic players in the country, let alone the Horizon League, a guy who not only scored and set up teammates but who rebounded at a high rate on the defensive end. (To wit: He went for 41 points, 20 rebounds and nine assists in 40 minutes against Youngstown State last season. Youngstown State is hardly the Boston Celtics, but still. Crazy.) He isn't -- or at least wasn't -- much of a 3-point shooter, averaging around 34 percent from beyond the arc last season. But he's athletic enough to create his own shot against other point guards. He can score from the mid-range. He can get to the rim and finish with contact. He's a knockdown free-throw shooter. And for a team like the Heat -- a team that features two of the best five basketball players on planet Earth -- NBA fans could see Cole do a lot of what he did last night, when he caught the ball against defensive rotation, found his spots with ease and finished efficiently from 20 feet and in.

Thanks to questions about his size and outside shooting, Cole slipped to the Heat at the very bottom of the first round in June's NBA draft. Of course he did. Like I said: terrifying.


Dave Brown in West Paducah, Ky. writes: Eamonn, please tell me how UConn forward Andre Drummond is being allowed to play this year when he was recruited by Jim Calhoun and other coaches as a prep star? I didn't think recruits could walk on, and shouldn't he have to sit out the first year? The Huskies did not have any scholarships to give due to NCAA sanctions, correct?

Jamie Steele in Winchester, Ky. writes: There seems to be some misunderstanding about the recruited/walk on rule and how UConn is able to use Drummond as a walk-on, playing immediately, without taking a hit against their scholarship limit that has been reduced by NCAA penalty. Can you clear this up for those not in the know?

Brennan: OK, so here's how it works. Typically, Jamie and Dave are right -- a recruited player isn't allowed to become a walk-on and play right away, because that is a way around each team's scholarship limits, and the NCAA doesn't like that. But Drummond and Connecticut were able to get around this rule thanks to another, less malignant, scholarship loophole. According to Connecticut -- which couldn't possibly afford another NCAA violation, so a large amount of due diligence and work with the NCAA went into this move -- Drummond is allowed to be a walk-on provided the aid he receives this season is "non-institutional." In other words, Connecticut can't give him the kind of affiliated loans you and I took out when we were in school (and which I'll be paying off forever, it seems). But Drummond and his family could go to a separate financial institution and ask for a loan, which he was apparently granted. The Hartford Courant's Don Amore wrote an excellent recap of the situation last week.

We don't know where or how Drummond got this loan, but it would presumably be easy to attain, considering he's a likely top-five pick in the 2012 NBA draft and sure to make millions whenever he decides to leave UConn. Drummond hails from Connecticut, so he's on in-state tuition, making the loan even less substantial. In other words, it works, and it's a nice little story, too. Future NBA draft pick takes out loans so his walk-on teammate doesn't have to; it's a direct reversal of the seediness that characterized Drummond's decision to attend UConn despite the Huskies' NCAA-mandated scholarship reductions.

That said, there are some nagging questions here. The one I'm most interested in is this: Could other top players follow Drummond's lead? Has Connecticut figured out a way to get a highly touted, highly recruited player -- the kind of guy a program is required to put on scholarship -- on the team without having to use that scholarship? Could another future NBA draft pick choose a school with no place for him and decide, "Hey, I'll be a millionaire in eight months anyway, I might as well just take out $30,000 in loans and pay it off later?" If I'm a highly touted player, I'm not doing that, because $30,000 is still $30,000, and the NBA is never a 100 percent guarantee. I don't imagine we'll see a major trend in this direction. But if there's one thing we know about college hoops coaches, it's this: If there's a loophole to be found and exploited, they will find it and exploit it. We'll see.

Which brings us, right on cue, to an excellent idea from Matt B in Philly. Matt, the floor is yours.


Matt B from Philadelphia writes: Last week, it was discovered that Andre Drummond, and not Michael Bradley, is a walk-on. One of the top players in the country, who was recruited heavily by UConn and others, suddenly doesn't count towards their roster limit? This makes even less sense than when we thought that Bradley lost his scholly. This is absolutely nothing against UConn since they are playing by the rules given to them, and adhering to their punishment as written. Their punishment however turned out to be toothless and meaningless because roster size is determined by scholarships. Wouldn't it be a good idea to base roster limits (at least for head count sports) on the number of recruited players? The NCAA rule book already has definitions to separate recruited and non recruited players, so the change would be fairly simple to make. It would have two great benefits: it would make roster limitations truly stick, and it would allow schools to reward deserving walk-ons with scholarships no matter how many recruited players were on the roster. BTW, the NCAA definition of a "recruited player" is very strict, so it would be nearly impossible to get a top player on a roster without him counting against the limit.

Brennan: There's a decent chance someone more familiar with the vagaries of NCAA scholarship rules -- and the guiding principles therein -- will be able to find holes in this. (I'm looking at you, Mr. Infante.) But I can't. It makes perfect sense to me.

You'd still have to have some overriding scholarship limit, of course, if only to keep the set number of roster spots and available scholarships consistent across all teams and leagues. The playing field must remain level, as it were. And really, at the end of the day, this might not make a huge difference. Drummond's situation is one of a kind for a reason; we necessarily shouldn't expect a deluge of highly recruited players suddenly being willing to leverage their debt against their unknown long-term potential basketball earnings. But Matt's rule would, in essence, cut out any potential of gray area: You can recruit X number of players to your team at any given time. That's that.

Again, there may be flaws here, and maybe someone else can point them out to us. But I'm struggling to see them.


@thisisirbe writes: With Indiana facing injuries to starter Verdell Jones and sixth man Will Sheehey, do they still have a shot to win at Michigan State tonight?

Brennan: The loss of Jones is hardly drastic. Sure, he gives the Hoosiers some nice mid-range scoring and a touch of veteran leadership, but he remains -- as he has for his entire IU career -- prone to turnovers and questionable decisions on the offensive end in addition to occasionally lackluster defense. Indiana may not be better without Jones, but I'm not willing to say they're necessarily worse, either.

Of course, if Jones was the only injury, Sheehey could slot right in to that starting spot, and Indiana would be just fine. But Sheehey's loss is a problem. He might be the best bench player in the country, a versatile 6-foot-6 shooting guard who hits 3s, spots up from mid-range and can guard a handful of positions at any given time. Without him, Indiana's depth -- hardly the Hoosiers' strong suit in the first place -- takes a major hit. Little-used guards like Matt Roth and Remy Abell will almost certainly see some time. That's fine in a home date with UMBC. But on the road, facing a very tough, physical, defensive-minded Michigan State team, that's a tall order indeed. A loss would hardly be a surprise.


@oldenburgc writes: With Xavier on a slide and out of the top 25. How much do you see those losses hurting them even with the quality wins they already have?

Brennan: If we're talking NCAA tournament seeding, yeah, it's going to hurt. Some may make the argument that the NCAA tournament selection committee should view Xavier's three recent losses -- all of which came after the Cincinnati brawl with some various undermanned teams on the floor -- the same way it would view a team who lost a handful of games with its best player on the sidelines. (See: Vanderbilt.) I disagree. These weren't injuries. They were suspensions, deserved ones. Frankly, the players involved (particularly Tu Holloway, who did much to instigate the Cincy brawl and received only one game of suspension) probably should have had to sit for longer. Besides, Xavier had Holloway back for its loss to Long Beach State in the first round of the Diamond Head Classic, and Mark Lyons returned in time for Xavier to lose in OT to a bad Hawaii team the next day.

If I'm a member of the selection committee, I'm not letting the Musketeers off the hook for three straight losses to Oral Roberts, LBSU and Hawaii. To me, those results are worth as much as any other. If that means Xavier's seed takes a hit in March, well, whose fault is that?


Frank in Louisville writes: Do you really believe Rick Pitino will retire when he said he would, in 2017?

Brennan: Some Louisville fans seem to be holding out hope that Pitino will change his mind between now and the end of his current contract, and will decide to keep coaching in 2017 and beyond. My answer? I don't know. It's hard to imagine Pitino making this sort of statement if he doesn't really believe it. But 2017 is also a long time from now. I mean, I don't even know what I'm doing next week. (Besides writing words about college basketball, that is.) Could he change his mind in the next five years? Sure! Will he? I don't know! Unfortunately, I am not Professor Charles Xavier. That's the best I can do.


Colorado Cat in Denver writes: Surprise school of 2011? Kansas State was picked to finish 8th in the Big 12 and we now know they've outperformed expectations. After a few weeks of play, do you think Frank Martin's 'Cats have what it takes to contend for the conference title -- despite preseason predictions?

Brennan: There's no question about it: Kansas State has been much better than pretty much everyone expected this season, and their title in last week's Diamond Head Classic was a nice little confirmation of that fact. (Some might turn their nose up at those three wins in the Diamond Head Classic, let's keep in mind that K-State beat a very good LBSU team by 17 in the tournament final. That's impressive.) The Wildcats are playing stellar defense, and their offense thus far appears to be much less stagnant than it was when it held them back for much of 2010-11. This is thanks primarily to physicality. Forwards Thomas Gipson, Jamar Samuels and Jordan Henriquez protect the rim on defense and crash the glass on offense, getting second-chance looks and frequent trips to the foul line against frontcourts that simply can't match up. (Which is, you know, a lot of them.)

To your question -- can they contend for the Big 12? -- I think the answer has to be yes. Are they the favorite? No. That's Baylor right now, followed closely by Missouri and Kansas. But through 11 games K-State has proven it deserves a spot in, or at least near, the league's second-tier. Considering the struggles of last season, and the talent lost in the offseason (namely senior star Jacob Pullen) that's an accomplish in itself.
Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. (Honestly, the best way to get me is Twitter.) Per the usual, we begin with video.


@Purdidit writes: Each year has one or two: Which preseason top 10 team is most likely to fail to live up to expectations?

Eamonn Brennan: This one's actually pretty easy. It's Memphis.

For much of the summer, I thought the Tigers' preseason ranking was going to be too high; with all this young talent, it's easy to forget that Memphis was basically a so-so C-USA team for much of the 2010-11 season. Sure, the Tigers finished strong, and there's reason to expect scaled improvements from a team that features so many sophomores that played big minutes as freshmen. The addition of highly-touted recruit Adonis Thomas helps, too. But top 10? Didn't that seem just a little optimistic? What was I missing?

I put Memphis at No. 17 in my preseason top-25 ballot. I thought that seemed fair.

Then Ken Pomeroy released his preseason rankings (Memphis is ranked No. 20) and ESPN Insider and Basketball Prospectus maven John Gasaway broke things down in this Monday piece for Insider Insider, and I'm more convinced than ever that Memphis isn't a top-10 team. As John wrote, that doesn't mean they won't be a top-10 team by the end of the season. It may even be earlier than that. But the team with the worst offense in Conference USA -- the only team to score less than a point per possession in C-USA last season -- can't possibly be the ninth-best team in the country. It may happen at some point, but I'd be shocked if the Tigers didn't struggle at times, especially early in the season. People will say they were overrated. But whose fault is that?

(Speaking of Memphis, by the way: Josh Pastner just keeps snatching up elite recruits. The present was already bright, but jeez, that future! Look out.)


@LakeRosenberg writes: In honor of The Mid-Majority, what team from below The Red Line can go the furthest in the NCAA Tournament?

Brennan: It's a new season with (hopefully) new readers, so I won't assume everyone knows what The Red Line is. You can get up to speed right here. The short version: The Mid-Majority's Kyle Whelliston wanted to define what, exactly, a mid-major is. He cut through the usual nonsense about tournament bids and school enrollments (people used to come up with some really wacky mid-major arguments) and instead created an intuitive, simple mechanism: The Red Line. If your conference's average athletics department spends more than X number of dollars, you're a high-major league. If it spends less than that amount, you're a mid-major. Last year, all conferences but the power-six, Mountain West and C-USA were below The Red Line. There are exceptions interspersed throughout; no one, for example, considers Xavier to be a true mid-major. But you get the idea.

With that out of the way -- it seemed like an important thing to clarify, what with the new season and all -- I'd take either of two teams: Iona and Belmont. Lamont "MoMo" Jones' immediate eligibility at Iona is a huge boon to that backcourt; Jones will dominate that league immediately; and thanks to last season's run he has experience in the deeper, tension-filled rounds of the NCAA tournament.

Belmont, 30-4 last season and with pretty much everyone returning, was a Sweet 16 pick for yours truly last season. They caught a tough first-round matchup with Wisconsin and went home right way. Tough loss. (For both the Bruins and, more importantly of course, my bracket). But Belmont will be one of the better mid-major teams in college hoops this season, and there's no reason, with the right matchups and a little luck, they can't make a deep run in the tournament.

Also, Butler will probably go to the Final Four again. I mean, probably not, but I'm going to write that constantly so when it does miraculously happen I look like I had faith in the Bulldogs all along. Pretty sneaky stuff.


@wilson_jasper writes: What do you see as Pitt's biggest weakness?

Brennan: There are two big question marks about Pitt coming in to 2011-12.

The first: Can Khem Birch, Nasir Robinson and the rest of a rebuilt frontcourt dominate the offensive glass? That was Pittsburgh's best offensive quality in 2011; only Old Dominion grabbed a higher percentage of its misses. Without Gary McGhee's girth in the paint, can Pitt still generate those invaluable second, third and fourth offensive chances?

The second: Can Travon Woodall capably fill in at the point guard position? Woodall's shooting is his biggest weakness; he recently said he's been shooting the ball with much more confidence, and that's good news for Pitt. But it remains to be seen how well he can space the floor, and how much pressure he can take off All-American candidate Ashton Gibbs.

While these are the biggest weaknesses in the context of Pitt's team, I'm not sure either is much to be worried about in the grand scheme of things. This is why Dixon is so good: Year after year, his teams are consistent. I'd wager that both concerns, in so far as they're even concerns, will be handily mitigated in a month or so.


@ShockerHoops writes: Who wins the Puerto Rico Tip Off?

Brennan: We've talked a lot about how good the Maui Invitational is this year, but I'm not sure the Puerto Rico Tip-Off is all that far behind. Here's the bracket. Given those prospective matchups, I think Wichita State has a legitimate chance to win the whole deal. (Is that the answer you were looking for?) It may require a little bit of help along the way; I'm not sure the Shockers have the horses to hang with JaMychal Green and the rest of Alabama's brutally tough defense (even though they sure did in the NIT final). That would be a bear of a rematch. I'd list my favorites in this order:
  1. Alabama
  2. Temple
  3. Wichita State
  4. Iona
  5. Purdue
  6. Maryland
  7. Colorado
  8. Western Michigan

Eh?


@BlueDemonsBall writes: DEPAUL!?!?!?! Is Cleveland Melvin a legit NBA prospect?

Brennan: The word DePaul makes me think of, like, an Agatha Christie murder mystery. "Was it DeSteve Montclair who committed the crime? Or was it his brother ... DEPAUL!?!?!"

Anyway, I assume that means you have questions about DePaul. As do I. Oliver Purnell still hasn't quite gotten where he needs to go, talent-wise. But he's doing a solid job on the margins in a place that has really struggled to acquire talent in the last, oh, decade or so. Melvin is one such player. I'm not sure he's an NBA prospect just yet, but he does have the size at 6-foot-8 with a solid combination of skills that it's not out of the question entirely. And hey: Big East Rookie of the Year is no small feat.

DePaul fans should actually hope Melvin isn't getting NBA looks, at least not yet. They need the sophomore to stick around for at least two more seasons, so he can become the focal point of an improved Purnell-led attack. That's probably the Blue Demons' best short-term hope.


Kelly Schubauer in Plattsmouth, Neb., writes: I know no one cares, but what happens to Missouri wrestling in the SEC. I don't know about you, but Missouri is not that strong in football, they are OK in basketball, and now they seem to have drop their wrestling program. Even though they don't compete for national titles, they do produce some individual national champions. The ACC would have been a better fit all around.

Brennan: Despite growing up in Iowa, I know almost nothing about collegiate wrestling. (I know that Iowa is the best program of all-time. I know the name Dan Gable. My high school was awesome at wrestling. That's pretty much it.) But I included this question because it gets to one of the biggest problems with conference realignment: What happens to all those non-revenue sports? We don't talk about that much. Every now and then, we mention how taxing it will be for such and such team to have to travel to meets at such and such a distance in such and such a conference. But it also affects those sports in less logistical, more fundamental ways. This is one of them.


Leon from Petaluma, Calif., writes: SEC best in basketball with Missouri? Are you mad? The Big East now is the best in basketball. Even with the loss of Pitt and Cuse, the Big East would stake claim to at least the No. 3 spot behind ACC and B1G.

Brennan: My argument about the Missouri and the SEC is here. It's difficult to predict just how good each team will be during the conference transition, but when you look at Texas A&M and Missouri right now, and you look at the SEC right now, and you look at the Big East right now ... well, I'm not so sure the SEC wouldn't be right up there with the best leagues in the country. Even if you project it out, Missouri and Texas A&M are both solid, relatively consistent programs. Losing Syracuse and Pittsburgh out of the Big East isn't entirely crippling basketball-wise; there are still solid, consistent programs in that league, too. But it's close. And if UConn leaves? Oof.


Charles in Silver Spring, Md., writes: I started out to claim 5,000 points and ended up here. What's going on?

Brennan: Dude! I have no idea. I would assume you're spam, but would a spammer really call himself Charles from Silver Spring? Maybe he would.)

Either way, if anyone knows where we can get Charles his 5,000 points -- of what, I'm not certain, but the guy needs 5,000 points apparently -- please do so. Dude seems confused.

I get more of these emails than I'd like to admit. Sigh.
Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. Per the usual, let's begin with a video question.

Two weeks ago in this space, one emailer thanked ESPN.com's college hoops desk, myself included, for our nonconference schedule breakdowns. He mentioned how helpful these were for the fantasy basketball league he played in, a league that was based around team projections. Which teams, he wondered, would be good sleeper targets -- teams with surprisingly high win totals -- for this competition?

I didn't really answer his question. Instead, I marveled at the very notion of fantasy college basketball. Wait wait wait, I thought, fantasy college hoops exists? This is something people play? Why had I not heard about this earlier? And is anyone else out there?

Turns out, you are -- quite a lot of you, in fact. My solicitation was met with a deluge of email. People promoted their homemade fantasy hoops web sites. Others explained their league's selective rules. Some just wanted to know if I was down to play.

(By the way, and I really mean this: Thank you to everyone for being so friendly and outgoing with your league invitations. That was kind of flattering, actually. That said, I must respectfully decline, because a) I probably should focus on my actual job as much as possible between now and the first week of April and b) you would probably embarrass me. My ego is fragile, guys.)

The only conclusion? A lot of people play fantasy college hoops. This fascinates me. So I decided to dedicate a portion of today's mailbag entirely to the topic, featuring respondents that provided particularly interesting sets of rules or ways of thinking about the game. Most of these guys (and sorry, ladies, but they were all guys) still run their sites the good old-fashioned way: with Excel spreadsheets and box scores.

If you're interested in starting your own league -- playing for nothing more than pride or jelly beans, of course -- then there are some really interesting formats in the mix.

Gentlemen, the floor is yours.

(Oh, and don't worry: If fantasy hoops means nothing to you, I did answer a couple of random questions in the video above. And I'll be back next week with a whole mess of non-fantasy stuff, promise.)

(Read full post)

Every week, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this here Hoopsbag. To submit a query, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the blog. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. Per the usual, let's begin with a video question -- this one about the players who wish they'd have stayed in college hoops and avoided this lockout mess for a year.

Drew from Denver writes: Eamonn, Bobby loves Sue but Sue loves John. In my observation, this seems to sum up the rivalry situation in the state of Kansas. Missouri and Kansas love to hate one another; either team's fan boys will agree. But ask a K-State alum and you'll hear that Kansas is their rival! Two questions for you: (1) Does the definition of "rival" allow for polygamous relationships? (2) If Mizzou parts with the Big 12, is K-State (having given KU more than it can handle in the recent past in football and basketball) poised to be KU's rebound-rival?

Eamonn Brennan: Drew, I don't think there's any question that rivalries allow for polygamous relationships. For example, take the Kentucky-Louisville-Indiana-Purdue quadrumvirate. Yes, I just used the word quadrumvirate in a Hoopsbag. You're welcome.

Do Kentucky fans hate Indiana fans? It seems that way. And Indiana fans hate Kentucky fans? Sure. But Indiana is not Kentucky's main "rival," right? That's Louisville. And UK is not IU's main rival. That's Purdue. See what I mean? In college sports, you can certainly have more than one rival -- each rivalry may mean something different to the fan bases, and to different sects within those fan bases, but the games are still rivalries all the same. (For example: I have a feeling that Indiana fans from New Albany hate Kentucky much more than Indiana fans from the Chicago suburbs. Familiarity, contempt, you know the drill.)

Anyway, K-State is already one of KU's rivals. If Missouri takes the SEC cash and ditches Kansas -- and Kansas actually follows through on Bill Self's threat and bids farewell to one of the oldest and best rivalries in college sports -- then Kansas State will surely move into the pole position. Something important will be lost in the transition, but that's just the way it goes, I guess. Sigh.


Mike in Binghamton, N.Y., writes: I'm truly enjoying your out of conference schedule breakdown for college basketball. It's very handy for me personally as I'm in a fantasy league where we draft Division-1 teams for strictly # of wins in the regular season. Your article has led me to be pretty high on Creighton in the late rounds. Any other off the radar teams you think could win 27+ games this regular season? Any help you might have is appreciated. Thanks in advance and keep up the good work.

Brennan: First things first: I assumed someone somewhere played college hoops fantasy basketball, but I admit I've never encountered such a person. And I also always assumed fantasy college basketball would be played the same way NBA fantasy (or NFL, or NHL, or golf, or whatever) is played: With a strategically selected group of players. The entry to collegiate fantasy would be much higher -- there are so many more players, I'm not sure how you'd regulate, govern and organize all those statistics. Thus, I assumed no one even bothered.

In other words, my mind is a little bit blown.

I would love to answer your question about the win totals, but I think everyone can find every bit of information they need to make their own educated decisions on the nonconference schedule primers you mentioned. That sounds like a cop-out, but I promise it's not. (OK, OK: I think Belmont is an obvious candidate, even with a toughened schedule; basically any good mid-major team that is significantly better than its conference is someone you should target.) Mostly I'm flabbergasted by how awesome this "fantasy" college basketball could be. I want in.

I'm going to open this up to the readers (leave comments in this post, or send them to me via email or Twitter): Do you play college fantasy hoops? If so, what rules do you use? Is it a team-oriented competition like Mike's? Or do you actually draft players? If so, do you limit it to high-major conferences? How many "jelly beans" do you wager?* No fantasy-system is too arcane; no detail is unworthy of sharing. For one, this could be the wave of the future. Second, if this lockout thing keeps getting worse, it might be the fantasy addict's only winter hope. Let's respond accordingly, huh?

*Jelly beans concept trademarked by Matthew Berry and Nate Ravitz of the Fantasy Focus podcast. Love those guys.


Brandyn in Bloomington, Ind., writes: With the NBA's season in question, will ESPN be broadcasting more college basketball games? Will there be a WAC Wednesday or MAC Monday to make up for the missing programming?

Brennan: Speaking of the lockout, right? Unfortunately I don't control programming decisions. If only! We'd have college basketball on the air 24/7. There would be a separate network dedicated to broadcasting classic college basketball games, similar to what NBATV has done all offseason. (Which has been amazing, by the way.) I'd greenlight a block of programming for every single Jimmer Fredette make in his BYU career. That's 838 makes, in case you were wondering. It could play on a loop.

Wait, what was this question about? Oh, more college hoops in lieu of NBA basketball? To be honest, I doubt it. I don't know, but I doubt it. That's way above my pay grade. But I like where your head's at.


Adam in San Francisco writes: Who emerges as the dominant program on the West Coast? There appears to be a return of the traditional powers. I'm not talking feel goods like St. Mary's and San Diego State and Gonzaga. Who is it going to be -- outside of AZ and UCLA? Is UW able to jump that hurdle and be good on the court as they are on paper?

Brennan: You shouldn't be so quick to dismiss Saint Mary's, SDSU and Gonzaga as "feel goods." I can only assume you're doing that because they aren't power-six major programs, but as we've seen in recent years, that doesn't matter. San Diego State was a buzzsaw last season, SMC is growing and Gonzaga is one of the most consistent winners we have in all of college hoops. I'm not sure why they couldn't be the next "West Coast power," as it were. In lots of ways, for the past three or four years, they have been.

As far as your question goes, though, I think Washington is an excellent candidate. With the exception of Arizona under Sean Miller, no coach in the West has recruited as well as Lorenzo Romar in recent seasons. He just lost his most talented player, the heart and soul of last season's team (Isaiah Thomas), and I'm not so sure this season's squad -- with star freshman Tony Wroten Jr. in the fold -- won't be better than last season's. I'm not sure if the Huskies have a leap to make, or if they're already there; those terms are always vague and abstract. But I do know that Romar has built a consistent winner through top-tier recruiting, and as UCLA and Arizona fortify down south, Washington isn't going to go anywhere.


Rick in Connecticut writes: Will Maalik Wayns emerge as a Big East POY candidate this year?

Brennan: I think there are a couple of reasons for optimism. One, Wayns is going to get a have a ton of touches in Villanova's offense this season. He's not just the de facto point guard anymore; he may have to shoulder some significant portion of the scoring load, and sometimes that's the perfect recipe (quick ballhandling point guard with scoring touch becomes go-to scoring guard) for a breakout, POY-type season. (See Walker, Kemba.)

The question is whether Wayns can improve his scoring enough to carry that aspect of Villanova's offense. He hasn't been a great shooter in his Wildcats career, and he even regressed a bit as a sophomore. (Last season, his effective field goal percentage was 44.5 percent, down from his freshman mark of 48.3 percent). And it's fair to assume that without Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes, Wayns will become the focus of every defense he plays.

The conditions aren't overwhelmingly favorable. I think the talent is there, though, and that's probably the most important part.


Justin Powell in Columbus, Ohio, writes: What are your thoughts on Ohio State potentially playing a lot of minutes with two "point guards" on the floor together, with Aaron Craft sliding over to the two to make some room for Shannon Scott? I think that could be a dynamic (albeit small) backcourt if Craft proves he's a capable shooter.

Brennan: I think this is just one of many aces Ohio State coach Thad Matta can keep up his sleeve. I think the Buckeyes will be best served by playing as big as possible, with Craft at the point, William Buford at the 2, Deshaun Thomas at the 3, Jared Sullinger at the 4 and freshman Amir Williams at center. That's a big lineup but one that can run the floor and score in a variety of ways. It may not be quite as dynamic as last season's team, and the defensive end of the floor may be a struggle at times, but boy, is that a talented group.

That said, there will be times when a) Matta will need to go smaller for matchups or b) will simply want to play Scott, a McDonald's All-American and No. 2-ranked point guard in the 2011 class, because he's (probably) going to be really good. In that case, I like the style you propose. I don't think it's something Matta would use all that frequently, because Craft really isn't a shooting guard. But if you need to (or can afford to) go small, I think it helps to keep your best perimeter defender in the game, regardless of who plays "point guard" and who doesn't. Those are flexible categories anyway.


Ryan in Iowa City writes: Greetings from Iowa. What do you think is a realistic finish for the Hawkeyes this year? Some people around here think that the big dance may be an option but I just don't see that happening, well not yet anyway. I would like to think a near .500 record would be the way to go with an NIT berth. We know what "White Magic" can do but is the NCAA tourney a stretch at this point? Can Fran really bring the kids that far already? I, and the rest of Iowa City, are very excited for Iowa basketball again and the dreams of Carver-Hawkeye arena being full again happen daily.

Brennan: Do not fear, young Ryan, for I bring you tidings of good news: The NCAA tournament isn't completely out of the question this season.

Now, before everyone in Iowa City sends me Whitey's Ice Cream in dry-ice containers (actually, wait, please do that, I'll send you my address in Chicago), that doesn't mean I think it's going to happen. Just that it could. Maybe. Matt Gatens can play. Melsahn Basabe is a beast on the low block (he had a field day with most of the Big Ten's frontcourts last season) and I shudder to think of what he would have done to the MAAC if he had gone to play for McCaffery at Siena instead. These Hawks need to improve in a variety of areas, but they don't travel outside the state of Iowa in their nonconference schedule. If they can head into Big Ten play with one or two losses, all it takes is a decent league performance and they'll be getting some bubble looks.

Again, I do not think this is going to happen. The chances are pretty small. But I guess I'm ... telling you there's a chance!


Jeremy N. from West Lafayette, Ind., writes: Mr. Brennan, I couldn't help but notice you left Purdue out of the two theoretical 16-team "super-conference". I can understand why (although it pains me greatly to admit) you include rival IU, but even Illinois makes the cut instead of Purdue? We are the only Big Ten team who has a winning record against every other Big Ten schools, as well at the records for most Big Ten championships. Finally, our basketball program future has never looked brighter than with Matt Painter at the helm. Please help me understand the logic behind leaving Purdue out of the conversation?

Brennan: I got a lot of response about the 16-team superconference thing in the glorious return of Hoopsbag, and almost all of it was from angry Purdue fans. This is one of the more polite emails, which is why I selected it; you don't want to see some of the others. Actually, you probably do. But this is a family website.

Anyway, guys, contrary to what you may think, I did not leave Purdue off the list because I "hate" the program, or because I went to Indiana and am thus "showing yer true colors." Nothing like that. I actually don't hate Purdue. At all. I think the program's history is admirable; I think Painter is one of the best coaches in college hoops; I think the Paint Crew is downright frightening in Mackey Arena. Great, great program.

I didn't include Purdue in the superconference thing for the same reason I didn't include Butler. One of the conditions of the answer was that we would take into consideration things like market, geography and fan interest, and I thought it made more sense to get one team from Indiana -- thereby securing the Indianapolis market, much of the state itself, and large swaths of fans in Chicago and Louisville -- to go along with the large number of fans from Illinois (and Chicago in particular) that root for the Illini every year. Does Purdue belong in those leagues? Oh yes. But for the purposes of my little thought experiment, someone had to get cut. It wasn't personal. It was business.

I hope Purdue fans can forgive me. We've always been on good terms. I'd hate to see a goofy answer in an October mailbag jeopardize that now.

To mend the fence, here's a greeting card I found after approximately three seconds of Googling. It says everything for me.

Now, about getting those Iowa fans to send me some Whitey's ...
Welcome back, welcome back, welcome back. (If that Mase song didn't start ringing in your ears, I don't think we can be friends.) On each Wednesday of last season, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) responded to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this space. For lack of a more creative name, it was called the Hoopsbag. It makes a glorious return today.

Let's get back at it, shall we? To submit a query, visit this page. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter or Facebook.

@fakegimel writes via Twitter: If the conferences were all blown up and you could make 2 16-team super-basketball-confs, who'd be in?

Eamonn Brennan: This is an excellent question. Before we answer, let's set up some parameters: I'm going to assume every team in every major conference is available to be poached by my two super-leagues. I'm also going to assume football has nothing to do with realignment. (I know, I know: use your imagination.) Beyond that, let's be somewhat realistic: My two super-leagues are looking for storied programs with large fan bases that are financially attractive now and will be for the foreseeable long-term future.

Since we only have two, let's divide them geographically. One is EB West. The other is EB East. (Hey, it's still better than Legends and Leaders.)

Basketball's a bit down out West these days. So I'll admit it: Filling out a 16-team league comprised of teams west of the Mississippi was difficult. Ensuring it wasn't totally imbalanced with EB East was downright daunting. So I took a few geographic liberties. Hey, these programs all charter their planes anyway, right?

Here's what I came up with:

EB East

Seaboard Division
North Carolina Tar Heels
Duke Blue Devils
Connecticut Huskies
Syracuse Orangemen
Villanova Wildcats
Florida Gators
Georgetown Hoyas
Maryland Terrapins

Flyover Division
Kentucky Wildcats
Ohio State Buckeyes
Michigan State Spartans
Wisconsin Badgers
Indiana Hoosiers
Memphis Tigers
Xavier Musketeers
Louisville Cardinals

EB West

Coastal Division
UCLA Bruins
Washington Huskies
Arizona Wildcats
USC Trojans
Stanford Cardinal
Gonzaga Bulldogs
Oregon Ducks
San Diego State Aztecs

"Out There" Division
Texas Longhorns
Kansas Jayhawks
Missouri Tigers
Illinois Fighting Illini
Marquette Golden Eagles
UNLV Rebels
BYU Cougars
New Mexico Lobos

As you can see, EB West looks like the far less-loaded conference for two reasons: One, EB East is just stacked, and two, a few of the programs I raided from the Pac-12 are in rebuilding mode. But those markets are still viable, and my fake superconference commissioner is willing to risk that those teams collectively improve in the next few seasons. The current configuration is designed to cover large swaths of the country's major markets while preserving some semblance of traditional rivalries.

Either way, this was really hard. It probably deserves a whole column, or at least a blog post, and I'm sure there are plenty of fans who think I wrongly omitted their program. So, readers, what would you have done differently?


Harry Baujun in Chicago writes: Has any first year coach done more with his squad in a shorter amount of time than Dayton coach Archie Miller? After losing two of last year's top freshmen in Juwan Staten and Brandon Spearman to transfers, Kid Yuma signed former Providence commit, Alex Gavrilovic, brought in transfers from Georgetown (Vee Sanford) and LSU (Matt Derebecker) and as of yesterday landed former St. John's commit, Jevon Thomas.

Brennan: I think you could argue that Miller's brother, Arizona coach Sean Miller, resurrected a program as fast as anyone in the country. Also, let's not forget what John Calipari did in his very first season at Kentucky. That was basically a mediocre-to-awesome land speed record.

One under-the-radar candidate here? Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg. Hoiberg's recruiting hasn't been off the charts, but his ability to score so many impact transfers (Royce White, Chris Allen, Korie Lucious and so on) in one season put the Cyclones in a position to improve mightily in his second year. Given where this program has been for the past decade, that's quite a feat.


Ross in Youngsville, N.Y. writes: I am a huge Gonzaga Bulldogs fan, and I have heard a ton of good things about incoming freshman Gary Bell Jr. and Kevin Pangos. I think the last really good floor general the Bulldogs had was Derek Raivio in the sense that he knew how to run the offense and was also a threat offensively. I loved Jeremy Pargo, but he dominated the ball at times. Meech Goodson was good, but he never took any great leaps while he was with the program. Could either of these guys be the answer at point, and what can we reasonably expect from them this year?

Brennan: I've heard the most promising news about Kevin Pangos. When Gonzaga landed Pangos in fall 2010, the Canadian prospect was essentially unscouted and unrecruited. But he put up big numbers at the 2010 FIBA U-17 World Championships and was a member of the all-tournament team alongside top recruits like UNC's James Michael McAdoo and Florida's Bradley Beal. Since then, our recruiting analysts have deemed him a four-star prospect and ranked him No. 19 at his position in the 2011 class. It's always hard to hand over a veteran-led offense to a freshman point guard, but it appears Pangos has the chops to handle the job.


Jeff Miller from Bloomington, Ind. writes: Is it realistic to say that the Indiana Hoosiers have a 50/50 chance to make it to the NCAA Tourney this year? Tom Crean has done a heck of a job recruiting, but will that show up this year?

Brennan: I think 50/50 is fair. The addition of Cody Zeller is the biggest one Crean has made in his Indiana career, bar none, and it's one that should make the rest of the team better by osmosis. Forward Tom Pritchard won't be as overmatched under the rim; talented small forward Christian Watford will actually get a chance to play his natural position. A lot will depend on whether the Hoosiers can significantly improve on defense. Zeller should help in that regard, too, but the rest of the team, especially the frontcourt, has to find a way to pressure defenders without fouling if Indiana wants to surprise some people and get back to the NCAA tournament a year ahead of schedule.


Grant Senter from San Antonio writes: Baylor currently has both of its basketball programs in the top 15 in the NCAA. The women's basketball program boasts the best player in game along with a plethora of Final Four runs and an NCAA championship. And how could we forget a men's program that has made one of the best comebacks in history back to the national stage? Baylor has the players now to make Adidas and Nike drool over future endorsement deals once they become pro. Why no mention in basketball circles in conference realignment?

Brennan: Unfortunately, that's not how realignment works. Conference realignment is about football. It is only ever about football. Men's basketball doesn't factor in, and women's basketball couldn't be further off the radar. You might as well cite a school's track and field accomplishments. Nice, sure, but as realignment goes, no one cares.

Baylor's is getting better at football but is historically mediocre in a state drenched with Texas and Texas A&M supporters. As such, its services are not in high demand. And no, having top recruits that may or may not sign endorsement deals with shoe companies after they leave school doesn't factor into football TV rights demand at all. If anything hoops-related was a realignment criterion, Kansas would be in the discussion. It's not. And neither is Baylor.


Scott from New York writes: Reading "How did the ACC get to its current state?" I'm not sure how you could do such an analysis and not mention football. The ACC's persuit of college football money has been at the peril of basketball. They took on BC, despite it making no geographic sense since the ACC is a southern conference and the Big East is a northeast conference. I'm sure that's helped BC's recruiting -- "yes, every conference away game will be 15 hours away." Then they took on Miami, who has never been good at basketball. Meanwhile teams like Maryland and FSU have only focused more on football. The American obsession with college football -- which a lot of us in the northeast don't understand since we don't have any college football powerhouses -- has hurt ACC basketball. Luckily, that's good for this UConn fan who's always thought little of the ACC.

Brett Ayers from Chapel Hill, N.C. writes: The ACC's issue is as much about the quality of the coaches as it is anything else. Tenure has little to do with it. Why has Butler, of all programs, being able to do what it has done with the same budget as what UNC spends on basketballs and shoes. The bottom line, as it is with most traditional powers and or leagues that have been strong in the past is the coaching has really gone down the tubes. It does not take a lot to recruit to the ACC unless you simply don't have a pulse.

Brennan: Two good perspectives on my and Dana's posts on the ACC's recent struggles. It's funny: We published those on Sept. 15. A few days later, Syracuse and Pittsburgh announced they were leaving the Big East and joining the ACC. From then on, the point seemed moot.

I would argue that coaching skill is deeply tied with coaching tenure. Typically, coaches don't get fired unless they lose. It's a vicious cycle. And I agree with Scott, too: Whether pre-existing programs are diverting funds to football or just spending more time caring about it, the ACC's pursuit of football money has at the very least watered down the league since its first expansion in 2003.


Todd in Versailles, Ky., writes: Eamonn, thanks for the entry about Big Blue Madness. Seventy-five percent of Kentucky fans are passionate and rational. Twenty percent are passionate and completely irrational. We treat them like that crazy uncle that you love, but just shake your head at. The other five percent are the nutjobs that make the other 95 percent look bad. I'm guessing that you've received several emails from that segment. For that, we apologize. Keep up the good work.

Brennan: You're welcome! I don't mean to pick on Kentucky fans in particular -- every fan base has its crazies, and every fan base takes umbrage when you write something they can perceive as even remotely negative. College sports fans are particularly provincial, and they seem to be constantly hunting for biases. It happens everywhere.

That said, no one circles the comment-thread wagons quite like Big Blue Nation. I may not always like the comments, but I can't deny the passion. Who could?

See, this is what the first Hoopsbag of the 2011-12 season should be about. Bridges mended; olive branches accepted. Let's keep up the positivity, shall we?


Patrick Wick in Dillon, Co. writes: Keep being negative about KU, go ahead. Eventually, you'll be eating your words. Rock Chalk Jayhawk GO KU!!!!!!!!

Brennan: This was the second question in the mailbag this morning. Sigh. It was fun while it lasted.

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