College Basketball Nation: Will Graves

Hoopsbag: Answering our mail

October, 20, 2010
Each Wednesday, your humble college basketball hoops blogger (er, me) will respond to your questions, comments and nonsensical rants in this space. To submit, visit this page by clicking the link under my name in the upper right-hand corner of the page. You can also email me or send me your entries via Twitter. Let's begin with a couple of video responses about the worst team in the NCAA and how much Kansas needs freshman point guard Josh Selby:

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.
Thursday afternoon, North Carolina coach Roy Williams announced that senior forward Will Graves was dismissed from the Tar Heels. This was a bit of a surprise, and not only because a dismissal is, at least in most cases, inherently surprising.

Graves had played in 92 games for UNC over the past three seasons. He averaged 9.8 points and 4.6 rebounds per game in 2009-10. He was one of two Tar Heels (the other being Larry Drew II) capable of shooting the ball with any consistency from beyond, oh, 15 feet. And, in what would have been his fifth year, Graves was one of the few veterans on what will be another very young Tar Heels team.

In other words, North Carolina could have used Will Graves. So why the dismissal? His coach didn't make that clear. But Williams did want to make sure everyone got one thing straight:
"This is 100 percent not related to any NCAA matters on campus," said Williams. "I hate this for Will. He worked extremely hard this summer to get himself physically in the best shape he's been in years, but he did not do everything he needed to do to be a part of our basketball program. This is a huge blow to our team, but an even bigger blow for Will. Playing for the Tar Heels meant so much to him."

Apparently, not enough to do ... well, whatever it was Graves was supposed to do. The real reason for Graves' dismissal is probably best left to the fluorescent rumor-filled din of message boards. No point in taking a guess.

But even as they wave farewell to a solid role player, UNC fans can take solace in knowing that Graves had nothing to do with the ongoing investigation into possible academic misconduct that may or may not be sinking UNC's football program even as we speak. That much we know. So, hey, you guys! Good news!

UNC descends further into unknown

February, 20, 2010
CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams scanned his team's schedule Friday night and saw a potential path to the NCAA tournament.

[+] EnlargeTyler Zeller
AP Photo/Michael DwyerTyler Zeller and UNC lost again Saturday, their ninth loss in the last 11 games.
Beat Boston College on Saturday, rip off four more wins in a row to get to 8-8 in the ACC and the Tar Heels would be right there for an NCAA at-large bid.

"I thought we'd get on a run and be in the NCAA tournament," said the Hall of Fame coach. "Now we have to readjust and get it done Wednesday [against Florida State]. I've never been in this position. I've never cared if we were a one seed, two seed or a three seed. But I thought that if we win five in a row, get to 8-8, that would get us in, but we didn’t get the first step."

Despite having multiple chances to beat Boston College, the Tar Heels once again couldn't finish a game, losing to the Eagles 71-67 at Conte Forum. The loss dropped UNC to 3-9 in the ACC, 14-13 overall, and left it dangerously close to playing itself out of the NIT (it's unlikely UNC would pay to play in the CBI) and, gasp, finishing last in the ACC.

The Tar Heels have the tiebreaker with last-place NC State (3-10 in ACC play) after sweeping the Wolfpack. But if the Tar Heels were to fall so far as to finish last they would, per league rules, not participate in next season's ACC-Big Ten Challenge, just like Georgia Tech this season. That would have been unheard of a few months ago.

After the game, it was BC sophomore Reggie Jackson (17 points), not anyone on the Tar Heels, talking about winning out and finishing 8-8 in the league and possibly winning the ACC tournament and bursting a team's bubble. The Eagles now stand at 4-8 in the ACC, 13-13 overall.

"Everybody knew that this could be the start of five wins in a row," said Tar Heels senior guard Marcus Ginyard. "We were excited. We felt like we had a great attitude, a great practice and it didn't equate to the type of play we needed to win. We've got to play with more pride. That's the bottom line."

Don't blame Williams for projecting a possible NCAA tournament bid. He hasn't missed the NCAA tournament since 1989 -- his first season at Kansas -- and that was because the Jayhawks were on probation after Larry Brown's 1988 national championship season.

This is new territory for this group of Tar Heels as well as Williams. And it's hard to fathom for all of those involved.

North Carolina beat Ohio State -- with Evan Turner -- in New York in November and took out a healthy Michigan State team in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge in Chapel Hill, N.C., in December. The Tar Heels also beat the ACC's second-place team, Virginia Tech, at home, even after losing at College of Charleston in a game in which they were missing Ginyard and Will Graves to injury. Tyler Zeller missed 10 games with a stress fracture in his foot. He returned Saturday to score nine points and grab seven boards in 16 minutes, but he missed seven shots. Travis Wear missed his fourth game with a sprained left ankle and David Wear nearly missed this game with a hip injury. And, of course, double-double threat Ed Davis missed his third straight game with a fractured left wrist.

But these aren’t excuses. The Tar Heels still have talent (just watch John Henson as he scooped up a loose ball and snapped in a jumper while getting fouled or as he picked up a steal and flushed a jam). UNC has seven McDonald's All-Americans on its roster.

The Tar Heels were just 1-of-8 on 3-pointers, missed 32 2-point shots and were outrebounded by four by the smaller Eagles. Their guard play has been inconsistent, to say the least. Larry Drew II, Dexter Strickland and Leslie McDonald were unable to find a smooth stroke. Graves was 1-of-5 on 3s.

"It's been the most frustrating time I've had in coaching," Williams said.

Williams said the Charleston and Clemson losses shook UNC's confidence. He said prior to that he thought "we were really going to be good."

Williams said there was one point during the BC game when Drew looked at him after a turnover and said "my fault."

That didn’t wash well with Williams. Overall, he said the Tar Heels need to "freakin' play," since their backs were against the wall.

"You’ve got to go out and fight until you frickin' die," said a heated Williams, who has been coaching with a sling for a few weeks after undergoing shoulder surgery this season and is now dealing with a bad head cold.

The mood in the Tar Heels' locker room was somber. Remaining games against Florida State, at Wake Forest, home against Miami and at Duke all seem difficult at this stage.

Said UNC senior forward Deon Thompson, "I guess I know how other teams feel now."

That emotion may not subside until the season ends.

North Carolina comes back, still loses

January, 16, 2010
North Carolina fell behind early again, prompting some to wonder what's up the Tar Heels?

They were dominated by Clemson, then went back to the Dean Dome and fell behind by 20 in the first half to Georgia Tech.

Will Graves brought them back with 24 points, and the Tar Heels had the lead late for a brief time, but Graves only had 1.7 seconds left to get off a desperation three-point attempt at the buzzer that missed.

Should UNC stay in the rankings when they come out Monday?video

Halftime thoughts from Clemson

January, 13, 2010
CLEMSON, S.C. -- Any thought Clemson couldn’t be a pressing, disruptive, turnover-producing team at Littlejohn Coliseum this season was dispelled in the first 20 minutes Wednesday night, as the Tigers have a 50-32 lead on No. 13 North Carolina.

Sure, the Tigers gave up a 23-point lead to Illinois early in the season and lost.

Yes, the Tigers beat Boston College here last Saturday and were able to dictate the pace. But the Eagles have traditionally been bothered by the Tigers’ pressure here or in Chestnut Hill.

But for the Tigers to do to North Carolina what it did last season to Duke was a significant confidence boost in the first half. Clemson scored 50 points before halftime after racing out to a double-digit lead within the first few minutes. The Tigers forced Carolina into 16 turnovers and the Tar Heels couldn’t make a 3-pointer.

Meanwhile, Clemson was scoring at a rapid pace, with Trevor Booker owning the paint early and then Tanner Smith, Andre Young and Noel Johnson all finding their stroke for two 3s a piece.

Clemson shot 57 percent, 46 on 3s and shared the ball well with 12 assists on 19 field goals.

It didn’t help the Heels that they weren’t full strength, either. For the second straight time UNC came limping into the state of South Carolina.

A week ago Monday, the Tar Heels lost to the College of Charleston without Marcus Ginyard and Will Graves (both out with ankle injuries). This time, Tyler Zeller is out and was wearing a boot on his right foot. An MRI proved negative but he will get a bone scan when he returns to Chapel Hill. The move is meant to be preventive with so much of the season still to go.

North Carolina coach Roy Williams said to me at the half: “Our big guys have to move more.’’

Deon Thompson made one field goal, Ed Davis made none and neither did Will Graves. Backup Travis Wear had more field goals than all three with two.

“(Clemson’s) pressure was really good,’’ Williams said. “Our team was scared to death. I’ve never seen anything like that (from one of his teams).’’

Carolina's loss exposes perimeter

January, 4, 2010
North Carolina’s question from the preseason on was going to be its ability to score and defend on the perimeter.

[+] EnlargeLarry Drew
AP Photo/Mic SmithLarry Drew II and the Tar Heels suffered a surprising loss to College of Charleston.
On the eve of the ACC, the Tar Heels haven’t been able to solve that issue confidently. Not having starters Marcus Ginyard and Will Graves against the College of Charleston on Monday night meant the Tar Heels were down their top perimeter defender and their top 3-point shooter.

What that did was give Charleston the green light to launch 3-pointers. And the Cougars didn’t hesitate, making 13-of-32 in a thrilling 82-79 victory over the Tar Heels to create a worthy court-storming at Carolina First Arena.

Meanwhile, the Tar Heels made just 1-of-6 as guards Dexter Strickland (2-of-11) and Larry Drew II (3-of-10) struggled mightily from the field. Without Ginyard and Graves the Tar Heels just don’t have the personnel to defend someone like Andrew Goudelock, who has speed and the ability to launch shots over taller defenders. He did that in making 10 of 20 overall and 4 of 8 3s, including the game-tying, overtime-inducing 3-pointer with 2 seconds left on the Cougars’ final possession.

As ESPN researcher Jason McCallum pointed out, the Charleston starting backcourt outscored its UNC counterpart 52-17. Carolina's starting guards scored or assisted on just 11 of the 27 shots the Heels made. Yikes.

North Carolina can’t win the ACC unless Ginyard and Graves are healthy, and even with them, the guard play hasn’t been as consistent as say rival Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith at Duke. Charleston should be in the mix for the Southern Conference title as projected in the preseason. The Tar Heels were considered an ACC title contender and a possible Final Four-bound team. If the guard play doesn’t improve, then the potential of big men Deon Thompson, Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller, John Henson and David Wear won’t be enough for UNC.