College Basketball Nation: Tre'Von Willis
Chace Stanback, the Rebels' top scorer and rebounder from last season, was arrested for allegedly driving under the influence last week. That means one month after leaving BYU to return to his alma mater, Rice is already in the spotlight/
He issued a brief statement earlier in the week after the arrest became public. He followed it up Thursday with another statement sent to media members and posted on the team's website:
"I take this situation with Chace Stanback very seriously. I am disappointed with the bad decision that he made last week, but I will support and help him through the process. Chace and I have met several times and he has consistently expressed regret. He is a valued member of our team, but he has a very clear understanding of what is expected from each individual in this program and that his actions were unacceptable. The process is ongoing and when it is complete we will have further comment regarding a resolution."
The investigation into the case is ongoing, so discipline isn't expected until that is completed. But given that this is the second leading scorer in as many years to come down with a serious legal issue heading into the season, Rice's response becomes magnified.
Last season, Lon Kruger suspended Tre'Von Willis after the senior guard pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor related to a domestic dispute. Kruger handed down a suspension that consisted of two exhibition games and the regular-season opener against UC Riverside. He eventually tacked on a second regular-season game against Southeastern Louisiana before Willis played in a win against a ranked Wisconsin team.
Media members weren't satisfied, and now, Las Vegas Review-Journal columnists are putting on the pressure for Rice to get the disciplinary action right. Ed Graney writes that Kruger "went too soft" on Willis, and Ron Kantowski wants to see Stanback banned for at least five games.
A five-game suspension, or more, isn't out of the question. No glorified scrimmages against Grand Canyon and Washburn this time. Five games, minimum, that count for something when the selection committee meets to discuss the brackets next spring.
Five games will show that UNLV learned from the Willis debacle.
Five games will show that Dave Rice means business, that he isn't such a nice guy, per his reputation, when it comes to serious matters such as driving under the influence, when a lapse in judgment can result in other people being hurt or so much worse.
TULSA, Okla. -- A brief breakdown of the two night games here Friday
No. 1 seed Kansas (32-2) vs. No. 15 seed Boston (21-13), 6:50 p.m. ET (TBS)
What to watch: Are the Jayhawks ready to take care of business? The No. 1 seed in the Southwest was handed a huge potential gift Thursday when the 4 and 5 seeds in the region, Louisville and Vanderbilt, both lost. That means Kansas will face either a No. 12 (Richmond) or a No. 13 (Morehead State) in the Sweet Sixteen … IF it gets there. Last year, as the overall No. 1 seed in the tourney, the Jayhawks were shocked by Northern Iowa in the second round, and there have been other early NCAA pratfalls in Bill Self’s time in Lawrence. Odds of a loss Friday to Boston U. are astronomical, so the question is whether or not Kansas passes the “look test” as a title contender against the Terriers.
Who to watch: The Morris twins are where it starts for the Jayhawks. Marcus and Markieff combine for 31 points and 15 rebounds and will be a major challenge for a Boston front line that is not overly long. The Terriers counter with America East Player of the Year John Holland, a 6-5 combo player who averages 19.2 points and 5.9 rebounds. Holland already has set the school record for points in a season and is No. 2 in school history in scoring.
Why to watch: If history is made and Boston becomes the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1, you’ll hate yourself if you miss it.
What they’re saying: Kansas guard Mario Little, on Self putting copies of the Sports Illustrated cover of Northern Iowa hero Ali Farokhmanesh in every locker: “Kind of got flashbacks. Couple of guys took the clippings and threw it in the garbage. I don’t think anybody laughed, but it brought back memories.” … Boston coach Pat Chambers, a former assistant at Villanova, where he saw the Morris twins play a lot growing up in Philadelphia: “I just saw them in the hallway and they gave me big hugs, so it was good to see them. They got bigger.” … Self, on his all-over-the-board tourney history: “If anybody has lived out all ends of the spectrum, we probably have, because we lost in the first round a couple times and we’ve cut down the nets. I don’t know if there are too many people that can say they’ve done all those things. So our guys understand that one or two possessions is the difference in advancing or going home.”
Of note: If you’re into omens, note that Kansas’ two recent first-round flameouts came against schools with the initials B.U. -- Bucknell and Bradley. Now comes Boston U. … If the Terriers are somehow in contention late, they should have confidence going to the foul line. They’ve made 73 percent of their free throws in the final five minutes plus overtime this year, and 81 percent in the final one plus plus overtime. … Boston’s only two NCAA tourney victories came in 1959.
No. 8 seed UNLV (19-13) vs. No. 9 seed Illinois (24-8), 9:20 p.m. ET (TBS)
What to watch: Who rules at the 3-point arc, the Vegas offense or the Illini defense? UNLV predicates its offense on driving and kicking the ball to open shooters. The Rebels have four players capable of shooting the 3 – but the rangy Illinois defenders have done a solid job this year covering the perimeter. Illini opponents have made just 30.5 percent of their 3-point shots. But it may be more complicated than the stats indicate; Illinois is susceptible to quickness, so it must concern itself with UNLV’s drivers and then try to recover to the shooters.
Who to watch: A pair of veteran guards who have had roller-coaster seasons. UNLV is led by Tre'von Willis, whose scoring and shooting percentages have dipped from last year. but who remains the most important Rebel. Illinois is led by Demetri McCamey, who went from first-team all-Big Ten as a junior to third team as a senior but nevertheless dictates the offense as the team’s leading scorer (14.8 ppg) and distributor (6.1 apg).
Why to watch: To see which disappointing team can help salvage its season with a first-round NCAA win. With seven experienced players back at UNLV and after a 9-0 start, more was expected of the Rebels than a distant third-place finish in the Mountain West Conference. The same can be said for Illinois, which starts four seniors and was ranked as high as No. 12 nationally in December. One fan base will feel a bit better Friday night, while the other will be left to ruminate on a season that got away.
What they’re saying: Illinois coach Bruce Weber: “We’re good enough. We’ve just got to find that new life and hope some balls bounce our way a little bit. Maybe March will be good to us.” … Vegas’ Anthony Marshall, on trying to bring the program back to prominence: “I think right now is a big platform for us to make a national statement.” … Illinois senior Mike Davis, on a sense of urgency: “It’s do or die. It’s our last game if we lose.”
Of note: UNLV is 2-7 against teams in the tournament, while Illinois is 8-10. … Illinois has lost its past four games away from home, while UNLV has won its past four. … They might as well name this place Reunion Arena for Illinois. Vegas coach Lon Kruger is a former coach of the Illini, and so is Bill Self. His Kansas Jayhawks could be next up for Illinois if both teams win Friday.
But if rival UNLV guard Tre'Von Willis had a vote, he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that he would have given it to a San Diego State player and appeared to take a swipe at Fredette.
"My vote would have been for Kawhi Leonard or maybe D.J. Gay, all-around players who can play defense," Willis said.
Earlier in the season, Willis drew attention from the BYU fan base when he said Fredette was "supposedly" the best player in the conference. Fredette heard about the comment and responded by scoring 39 points in Vegas as Willis tried to guard him.
Many have noted that Fredette's defense is the weakest part of his game. But it wasn't enough to keep any of the conference's voters from picking him for player of the year. Fredette, in fact, the favorite for national player of the year while Willis was selected to the all-conference second-team.
BYU and UNLV open play in the Mountain West Conference tournament Thursday, but they're on opposite sides of the bracket and would only meet in the title game.
One final matchup between Fredette and Willis at the Thomas & Mack might be one to watch.
Eh, forget the qualifier. It would definitely be a must-see.
"We just got to do a good job of having all five guys... moving around, talking, yelling at each other, having that fire in our eyes, where you can look at each other and be like, 'No, we're winning this game,'" guard Tre'Von Willis told reporters moments after the 12-point loss.
"When we do that, I don' t think no team in the country can beat us."
Willis will get another chance to prove that when UNLV plays at San Diego State on Wednesday and looks to hand the Aztecs their first loss of the season.
Expect the Rebels to remain confident going into this one even after having a tough time in the Mountain West opener. They followed up the BYU loss by blasting TCU 83-49 with Willis leading the way and the team putting together its most focused 40-minute performance of the season, according to coach Lon Kruger.
"You naturally come back with a little bit more urgency," Kruger explained.
The Aztecs, meanwhile, have spent all season enjoying their best start in school history and the national ranking while at the same time trying not to let success get to their heads.
"We can't let it obsess all our thoughts," coach Steve Fisher said. "We embrace it. I do believe our kids have embraced it the right way."
Viejas Arena has been sold out for this game since before the new year, with this game circled on many calendars as the one where San Diego State's run will face its greatest test.
The Rebels realize this of course and will also go into the game remembering how the Aztecs beat them on their home floor last year to win the MWC conference tournament championship game as a prelude to what's been a dream season.
"It's really great for our league," Kruger said. "They're very deserving of that."
"He's a great player, and he always plays well against us in the league," Fredette told reporters. "He played really well last year, and I'm expecting the same thing.
"I know he gets up for the challenge to play against ourselves and myself, and I do the same. It's a good thing to have players like that in the league that you can look forward to playing against."
The two seniors will be the featured matchup in the Las Vegas showdown between the two nationally ranked teams. Both players got the spotlight in the offseason, with Fredette getting All-American consideration from national publications while Willis' legal woes and subsequent suspension were big news in Las Vegas.
In the preseason, the media also picked Fredette as the league's player of the year while Willis made the all-conference team. It was something Willis noticed going into the game against the nation's third-leading scorer, according to the Las Vegas Sun.
"They've got a preseason All-American and supposedly the best player in the conference on the other team, so that's gonna be nothing but fun," the Rebels' senior guard said in reference to Wednesday's monster of a conference opener at the Thomas & Mack Center. "I try to make him earn everything he gets. Like I said, he's got all of those accolades, but he's gotta come in and prove it.
"I take wonderful pride in my defense with whoever I'm guarding, not just him."
Still, the extra boost Willis gets from this matchup multiple times per season is written all over his face when he talks about it. He gives a smile when the words 'BYU' or 'Fredette' are brought up in a question, then chooses the answer carefully.
He's averaging 28.5 points over the past six games to move up to third on the nation's scoring list. He also got to play twice in his home state of New York.
Playing against Buffalo, about a five-hour drive from his hometown, Fredette appeared to be held in check with a six-point first half before this happened, according to the Buffalo News.
A native of Glens Falls, Fredette scored 28 of his season-high 34 points in the second half, which led [Buffalo coach Reggie] Witherspoon to call him "a bad dude."
"If you do a bad job on him, he gets 50," Witherspoon said. "There's enough witnesses out there that saw him do it."
Fredette was 11 for 24 from the field, 4 of 12 from three-point range and 8 of 10 from the free-throw line.
BYU won 90-82, setting the stage for the huge Mountain West Conference opener at UNLV on Jan. 5.
How big is this matchup? UNLV's Tre'Von Willis, the Rebels' best defender, already got asked about facing Fredette Thursday night.
First the Cougars have a tune-up against Fresno Pacific Saturday, and they will more than likely be 14-1 going into UNLV.
But on the road against 22nd-ranked UNLV, Nunnally came through with 23 points and sank six clutch free throws down the stretch to help the Gauchos pull off the 68-62 upset.
"He's just playing very confidently," UC Santa Barbara coach Bob Williams said by phone late Wednesday night. "There's nobody I'd rather have at the foul line."
Reigning Big West player of the year Orlando Johnson was held to 12 points, but also hauled in 15 rebounds. This season, it's been Nunnally leading the team in scoring as he entered the game averaging 21.9 points to Johnson's 21.4.
"He’s not a sidekick to anybody," Williams said of Nunnally, who was 7-of-12 from the field and played 33 minutes on the bad ankle.
While UCSB shot 50 percent, the Gauchos limited UNLV to 29 percent shooting. That includes a putrid 6-of-29 from 3-point range, with Tre'Von Willis (1-of-7) struggling the most from beyond the arc while making his first start of the season.
UC Santa Barbara is now riding high heading into Saturday's road showdown against unbeaten San Diego State. The school's sports information department can't find any record of having previously played back-to-back road games against ranked teams.
Williams said he believes UNLV and San Diego State are Sweet 16-caliber teams. Of course, his team wouldn't mind another signature nonconference win against a Mountain West Conference team as it hopes to get back to the NCAA tournament.
"We told the [players] there’s an opportunity for us," Williams said.
On Wednesday night in Vegas, it was an opportunity not wasted.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Murray State guard Isacc Miles only needed a couple sentences during a postgame news conference to sum up why UNLV will be difficult to beat when the Rebels face Virginia Tech for the 76 Classic championship on Sunday (9 ET, ESPN2).
"They made all the shots they needed to make, and they didn't hurt themselves," Miles said after the Runnin' Rebels beat his team by 14 in the semis. "When they do that and shoot 60 percent, it's pretty hard to win."
Not only is 5-0 UNLV getting scoring production from junior forward Chace Stanback (17.2 ppg), but its swarming defense is also looking good behind the efforts of Stanback and guards Derrick Jasper and Anthony Marshall.
The Rebels, who have already beaten a ranked Wisconsin team, are doing all this without big numbers from returning leading scorer Tre'Von Willis. Willis continues to come off the bench while playing his way back into game shape following a four-game suspension.
"We know Tre is going to return in full form in time," UNLV coach Lon Kruger said.
Kruger is also well-aware that Virginia Tech presents challenges after the Hokies successfully got other teams to play their style, which is, as coach Seth Greenberg lovingly calls it, "ugly."
Virginia Tech squeezed out a win against Oklahoma State in the semis despite shooting 34.7 percent from the field, so Malcolm Delaney and Co. are accustomed to grinding out wins when the shots don't fall.
It helps the Hokies' backcourt if they get guard Erick Green back for the game after he exited the first-round game against Cal State Northridge with a calf injury.
But Delaney is more than capable of generating offense by himself, and with forward Jeff Allen also having a fine tournament, it'll be an intriguing matchup against a stingy defense.
A championship game win would mean an early boost for UNLV before the Mountain West Conference season. For Virginia Tech, anything that helps get it over the hump and into the NCAA tournament is seen as crucial.
Beating a red-hot Rebels team would qualify.
ANAHEIM, Calif. -- Despite the way Chace Stanback has burst into the headlines as UNLV’s go-to player, it certainly didn’t happen overnight.
Last season, in his first year of action with the Rebels, the 6-foot-8 forward started and contributed to an NCAA tournament team, but felt himself being too passive around his new team and resolved to get aggressive.
Three years ago, he was struggling to simply crack the rotation of a Final Four team at UCLA and played sparingly before finding new life in the desert.
“It wasn’t a good fit,” Stanback said of his time with the Bruins. “I’ll leave it at that.”
Stanback doesn’t have to say much, as his game-high 19-point performance in a 69-55 semifinal win over Murray State at the 76 Classic served as a statement via bullhorn to those who haven’t noticed his rise.
“Chace is obviously making shots, but defensively, he’s playing with much more awareness and readiness from a year ago,” said UNLV coach Lon Kruger, whose team advances to play in Sunday night's final against Virginia Tech (ESPN2, 9 ET).
In a game that pitted the Runnin’ Rebels against the Racers, it was no surprise the game turned into a track meet. Murray State had no answer for Stanback and struggled to solve a swarming UNLV defense that forced 16 turnovers and caused the Racers to shoot 34.8 percent from the field.
The Rebels, 5-0 and already riding high after their recent win against a ranked Wisconsin team, were happy to out-execute their opponents at their own game.
“We try to do what we do -- make them adjust to us,” Kruger said. “Keep them from being comfortable in the halfcourt. We were disruptive and caused some havoc.”
The Rebels do it with five transfers on their active roster, including Stanback, Kansas transfer Quintrell Thomas (12 points, six rebounds) and Kentucky transfer Derrick Jasper (10 points, four rebounds). Last year’s leading scorer, Tre’Von Willis, came to Vegas from Memphis and is expected to continue working his way back into game shape after missing the first four games of the season due to suspension.
Willis contributed two field goals in 15 minutes off the bench, while Stanback continues to play the starring role.
Of course, Las Vegas has produced its share of talent as well. Rebels guard Anthony Marshall is a native and made his own emphatic statements with his two blocks. He came out of nowhere to swat Isaiah Canaan’s attempt at a driving layup in the second half.
Asked if he thought he could catch Murray State’s speedy point guard, Marshall said, “I just tried to sprint.”
It’s a fast start for UNLV, after all.
- Murray State guard Donte Poole went to Mojave High School in North Las Vegas with UNLV guard Anthony Marshall, and the matchup holds meaning for the two, according to the Las Vegas Sun. "He was kind of my big brother my freshman year up until he left," Marshall told the paper. "We've played a lot against each other in the summer in pick-up games, but never in a real game."
- Stanford guard Jeremy Green was held scoreless until the final minute in yesterday's game against Murray State, and there might have been some reason for his struggles. According to ESPN broadcasters, Green was ill. The Cardinal did get a good game out of freshman Dwight Powell, and he'll be one to watch this evening against Tulsa.
UNLV guard Tre'Von Willis will remain on suspension for one more game before returning for next week's contest against Wisconsin, Rebels coach Lon Kruger announced Saturday.
Willis, the team's leading scorer last season, had been suspended for the team's two exhibition games and Friday's 85-41 season-opening win against UC Riverside after pleading no contest in September to a misdemeanor charge related to a domestic incident.
"Tre'Von has done well during his suspension, but has left a few details undone -- nothing major," Kruger said in a statement. "He will sit out the Southeastern Louisiana game on Wednesday. We have closure in sight and are anxious to move on. He will play against Wisconsin."
Willis, a senior who averaged 17.2 points per game last season, would return in time to face a ranked Wisconsin team and play in the 76 Classic in Anaheim during Thanksgiving weekend.
Julie Haeussler from Bartlett, Ill. writes: Thanks for not totally counting Purdue out. In fact, I kind of wish you were a little more pessimistic. I believe the more the media counts Purdue down and out the the more Purdue has to prove and will prove in a big way. After Robbie's injury last February everyone counted Purdue out and we proved we belonged with or without Robbie on the floor. We still have two top players and as you said a little depth. Matt Painter is an excellent coach and you can look for Purdue to be a title contender.
Eamonn Brennan: Hey, no problem! And also, um, sorry? I will say this: It's good to see Purdue fans keeping the faith. If something similar happened to my favorite college hoops team, I would be locked in my room listening to Joy Division and posting miserable, depressing things on my Facebook wall.
As for your other assertions, though, I'm not sure the media's reaction will matter all that much. Purdue will have something to prove this season one way or another. Intangible stuff aside, the Boilers are still an awfully good team with or without Hummel, and given the timing of the injury, they'll have time to figure out their style without the star forward in the lineup. That's the good news. Unfortunately, I have to disagree with your last sentence: Without Hummel, Purdue is unlikely to remain a national title contender. They'll be a top 15 team, and they will make a run at the Big Ten title, but it's hard to imagine them retaining that elite, top-three status they would have had with Hummel in the fray. (And hey, there's some pessimism for you, Julie. I hope my work here is done.)
Ryan from Dayton, Ohio writes: Eamonn, what are your predictions on the Dayton Flyers for this year?
Brennan: The Flyers have an extremely interesting returners/departures dynamic happening this season. They return their most talented players: Chris Wright, who might be the favorite for A-10 player of the year honors this year, eschewed an NBA jump to return for his senior season. Chris Johnson, the team's second leading scorer in 2009-10, took a big step forward last year. And Paul Williams, the team's best defender, is still around. But Dayton also lost five seniors from last year's NIT-title team, and while that sort of core attrition can be hard to quantify, it can also be hard to overcome. (For example: Does Dayton man up and streak to an NIT bid if those five seniors aren't around? Maybe, but maybe not.)
Fortunately, there's a pretty great recruiting class arriving this season. That class includes one player ranked in the ESPNU 100, point guard Juwan Staten, the No. 12-ranked player at his position in 2010. That's a big addition as Staten could start immediately. How he plays, and how coach Brian Gregory incorporates the rest of his young guys around the talented mainstays will be the difference between another NIT season and a top-two finish in the Atlantic-10 and NCAA tourney berth. In other words, I don't know! Like I said, it's a strange dynamic. But if I had to lay a bet, I'd say Dayton makes the tournament. There's still an awful lot of talent there.
Jeff from Venice, Calif. writes: Maryland has three returning seniors and two returning starters. Why are they getting no love from the pollsters?It seems to be all about recruiting stars, not actual performance. The Terps tied for the ACC championship with Duke. Shouldn't they start in the top 20?
Brennan: I'd say I'm more bullish on the Terrapins than many. Jordan Williams is becoming a legit big man, Sean Mosley is an efficient scorer and a very good perimeter defender, James Padgett could take a big sophomore leap, and the three seniors you mention (Adrian Bowie, Cliff Tucker, and Dino Gregory) are all solid contributors with a variety of individual skills on offer. The Terrapins aren't without talent, and in a down ACC, they could make some noise.
But top 20? To start the year? Come on. Any team that loses three seniors is going to take a preseason rankings dive. That goes double when those seniors are Greivous Vasquez (the ACC player of the year), Landon Milbourne, and Eric Hayes (one of the more underrated and efficient scorers in the country last season). The Terps have some reasons for optimism, and Williams is a solid centerpiece to build around, but the 2010-11 Terps are going to have to earn their way out of the ACC's muddled lower half. Top 20? Simmer.
Micah P. from Charlotte, N.C. writes: Now that the Tarheels have kicked Will Graves off the team they have gotten even younger! Do you think that Roy and the boys have still have a shot at winning the ACC this year over Duke?
Brennan: Another question, another bit of overzealous wishful (I assume it's wishful, anyway) thinking in the ACC. Sure, if there's any team that can hang with Duke in the conference this year, it's North Carolina; the Tar Heels are extremely talented. But that "if" is exactly as big as the gap between Duke and the rest of the conference, even with all that talent at UNC.
Scott from Eugene writes: With Tre'von Willis looking like he is only going to miss one regular season game, and some intriguing new pieces like Karam Mashour and Quintrell Thomas, is UNLV a legitimate top 25 team?
Brennan: I think so. The main thing holding most from placing UNLV in that group this offseason was Tre'Von Willis's domestic abuse-related drama. Since those issues in June, Willis has entered a no-contest plea to a misdemeanor charge and has been ever-so-gingerly suspended for three games -- two of which will apparently be exhibitions -- by UNLV coach Lon Kruger. Willis could be suspended for longer than three games if he doesn't meet Kruger's expectations, but it's hard to imagine the head coach keeping his star player out for too long. (I would find myself somewhat queasy about all this were I a UNLV fan; suspending a player for two exhibition games seems less like a punishment than a knowing wink in the direction of propriety.)
Of course, there's also Willis' minor offseason knee surgery to contend with, which forced him to the sidelines for a practice last Friday. But yes: UNLV returns all five starters from a team that made the NCAA tournament last year, and given what we now know about Willis' senior season with the team, that alone is enough for me to consider them among the top 25 fray.
Mark from Boulder, Colo. writes: What are Michigan State's chances of going to the Final Four again? They are returning a number of key players, but have an panoply of injuries (Lucas, Lucious, Bryd, etc.).
Brennan: First off, Mark, extra credit for working "panoply" into a Hoopsbag question. Gold star.
Second, yes, Michigan State will have to deal with their share of injuries, but I'm not all that concerned. Tom Izzo is famous for rounding his teams into tournament shape just in time for February and March, and there might not be a better tournament coach in the country. That's to say nothing of the fact that this is one of the most talented MSU teams Izzo has ever had. Even with those injuries -- all of which should be good and healed sooner rather than later -- would you bet against a loaded Spartans team in March? I wouldn't.
Hank Morris from New York writes: How is Steve Lavin doing it so well and so quickly? What's the magic? Everyone in New York is excited and amazed. Also, do you think a team of mostly freshmen can challenge in the Beast next year?
Brennan: How's Lavin doing it? I think it's a mix of charm, charisma, enthusiasm -- the tools that made Lavin one of the more likable television presences in college hoops for nearly a decade -- with a good understanding of how to use those tools in a crowded media market. Lavin has been out there, and the chatter about St. John's is at a higher level than it's been in years. He's also leveraging the program's two most important recruiting assets: location (New York City) and location (Madison Square Garden). It's still very early, but the fact that Lavin has already landed a class that has fans this excited bodes well for his future in the city.
Before St. John's fans get too far ahead of themselves though, the program is still probably a couple years away from contending in the Beast, as you call it. Those freshmen will be good, but these things don't happen overnight.
Dennis from Owensboro, Ky. writes: Rick Pitino met with Wake Forest transfer Tony Woods this past weekend. Does this do more damage to U of L's program than help it? Thanks.
Brennan: First off, as Andy Katz reported yesterday, Pitino is merely considering Woods's desire to transfer to Louisville. Nothing is final yet, and Pitino seems to be doing a fair amount of diligence before he makes any major commitments.
That said, I think it hurts. I'm not sure how you could think otherwise. Here's what we know: Woods, a promising but unproven forward at Wake Forest, was accused by police of kicking and pushing down his girlfriend in front of their 8-month-old child. His girlfriend fractured her spine in the process. Woods pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault on a female and was given a suspended 60-day sentence and 100 hours of community service. Woods's lawyer says he's a good kid who learned his lesson and wants a chance to move on.
All well and good. Maybe Woods deserves a second chance; maybe he doesn't. The vagaries of his case are very troubling, but whether or not he deserves a second chance is, for Louisville, entirely beside the point. I tend to agree with Louisville Courier-Journal columnist Rick Bozich, who wrote a forceful column on the topic Monday: Pitino's is a program in need of a serious image revamp, and if he agrees to take on a player who pleaded guilty to misdemeanor assault after breaking his girlfriend's back, that image takes another major hit. Yes, winning matters too. With John Calipari down the road, the pressure is on. But if I'm a Louisville fan, I don't care how talented Woods is. I just want my coach to stay away.
Maybe it's different for other programs. Maybe the rehabilitation process could be seen as genuine elsewhere. And maybe -- because we really don't know, and it'd be silly to condemn a person forever based on one bad mistake -- Woods is a good kid who made a bad mistake and will one day make good on his second chance. All of that is entirely possible. But at Louisville? Bad idea blue jeans.
Faced with a felony charge of domestic battery by strangulation, Willis and his lawyer instead pleaded no contest to a reduced misdemeanor charge. As part of his plea agreement, Willis has to a pay a $340 fine, perform 100 hours of community service and attend counseling sessions. He also issued a public apology in a news conference at UNLV Tuesday afternoon.
If I were Tre'Von Willis, I would be exceedingly happy about this outcome.
If I could afford it, I'd be sure to give my lawyer a bonus, too. Facing what appeared to be a rather serious felony charge, a protracted trial process, and possible jail time, Willis ended up with a measly fine (similar to what you'd pay for an underage drinking citation in many college towns), a good chunk of community service, and some free counseling sessions. What could have been a wasted senior season ended up becoming a measly three-game suspension, which happens to include two exhibition games -- who cares, right? -- and a season opener against UC Riverside.
There's no guarantee Willis will avoid further punishment, but as long as he maintains the apparent sincerity he displayed in his apology Tuesday, it will be hard for Kruger to keep him off the court.
Naturally, this is exactly what Willis' attorney was hoping for:
“Let me put it this way: I wouldn’t recommend to my client that he accept this settlement if I didn’t think it was going to allow him to play on the basketball team, to be a star on the basketball team and have a very productive year, and be a good student; be a good student-athlete,” said attorney Steven B. Wolfson.
Willis' punishment allows him to do all that. But it is enough? Las Vegas Review-Journal columnist Ed Graney doesn't think so; Graney believes UNLV's reputation is on the line:
It's simple then: If the suspension of senior guard Tre'Von Willis remains at three games (laughably including two exhibitions) and he is allowed to play beginning Nov. 17 against Southeastern Louisiana, UNLV should be perceived as having a basketball program soft on discipline and not interested in making the appropriate statement for what won't be tolerated from its players.
It will be interesting to see what Kruger decides to do. Leaving Willis out of the lineup for two exhibitions, or games against UC Riverside and Southeastern Louisiana is one thing. If Kruger had five such games to begin the season, he could wait until December to reinstate Willis, and no one would blink an eye.
But on Nov. 20, in the third game of their season, UNLV will welcome the Wisconsin Badgers to the Thomas and Mack Center. It's as important as any Nov. 20 game can be: The Rebels are desperate to prove themselves worthy of an NCAA tournament bid in 2010-11, and a win over Wisconsin, even a win that early in the season, could be a nice bit of resumé fodder when it matters in March. That having Willis, the Rebels' best player, in the lineup on Nov. 20 would increase UNLV's chances of beating Jon Leuer and the Badgers is the kind of thing one doesn't really need to write.
As it stands, Kruger has set up the leverage he needs to get Willis on the floor by the time Wisconsin comes to town. But if Kruger thinks suspending Willis for two exhibitions and one regular-season game is equal to Willis' offense, he'll be the only one.
It might be easier for UNLV coach Lon Kruger if he did, though. Thanks to the date of Willis' preliminary hearing on a charge of domestic violence-strangulation -- a felony -- things could get awfully tricky for the Runnin' Rebels coach in the months to come.
Willis was arrested for the charge on June 29. His lawyer, Steven Wolfson, filed a not guilty plea Tuesday morning, adding the following on his way out of court:
After the brief hearing [Tuesday] morning, Wolfson asked for patience with the case and said "not all of the facts have come out."
"The police did a preliminary investigation and that is what is the basis of the charges," Wolfson said. "We're doing our own investigation and I'm confident that when all the facts and the truth comes out, that Tre'Von will play basketball this year for UNLV, have a great year, perhaps be the leading scorer again and have a great future."
That sounds great, right? The only problem is that Willis' court preliminary hearing date is set for Nov. 22. That lands right in the thick of the first portion of the college hoops season. Worse yet, it's just the preliminary hearing, which means there won't likely be any resolution on Willis' situation for weeks afterward.
It's a tricky situation. Most coaches would sit their players for even being charged with something this nefarious. Willis, after all, is facing a felony charge. But there's also an argument to be made that depriving Willis of his basketball career before the court hears the facts of his case is in essence punishing him before he's proven guilty.
The question for Kruger, who has remained mum on Willis' case thus far, is whether he wants to take that risk, or deal with that stigma, for the sake of having his leading scorer around the team during such a fraught time. It's worth thinking about. It's also hard to see Kruger bucking the college hoops trend in such blatant fashion. Willis' lawyer might have big ideas on the 2010-11 season, but until his coach delivers a similar vote of confidence, few else will.
BYU star Jimmer Fredette told the Las Vegas Sun's Ryan Greene that if he couldn't pick his own team to win the MWC, he'd go with San Diego State.
There's certainly reason to be high on the Aztecs. Steve Fisher's team has an emerging star in conference freshman Kawhi Leonard while returning all five starters and eight of its top nine scorers.
San Diego State has won at least 20 games in each of its past five season and might very well be the best bet to return to the NCAA tournament as it plays in what's expected to be a strong conference once again.
Defending regular-season conference champion New Mexico behind the strength of point guard Dairese Gary should get better as the season goes along, having to incorporate transfer Drew Gordon and Emmanuel Negedu while losing player of the year Darington Hobson to the NBA draft.
BYU has conference scoring champ Fredette leading the way, but backcourt sidekick Tyler Haws is off to serve his Mormon mission and once-emerging guard Michael Loyd Jr. is stunningly expected to transfer to a Division II school.
UNLV has a major question mark as well as star guard Tre'Von Willis faces a felony battery charge (one other charge has been dropped).
All that quite possibly leaves San Diego State as the team to beat in the MWC.