Wednesday, September 24, 2014

On Board: Gonzaga

Two years ago, Gonzaga went into the NCAA Tournament as a 1-seed, only to be upset by Wichita State in a 3rd round game. It continued a March trend for the Bulldogs who haven't made it to the second weekend since 2009. Since their 3 year run from 1999-2001, Gonzaga has made only two Sweet 16's. This isn't a dismissal of an incredible run by Mark Few and his team. But it begs the question, is Gonzaga capable of more?

As good as the Bulldogs roster was two years ago, this team might be even better. The West Coast Conference should be better this year with St. Mary's improved. BYU still looks to be Gonzaga's biggest threat to a conference title. Prior to conference play, the Bulldogs will play a solid non-conference schedule.

The 'Zags challenge themselves right off the bat with November home games against St. Joe's & SMU. They also play in the pre-season NIT which has a guaranteed game against Georgia and then will play either St. John's or Minnesota. After that, Gonzaga will head to Arizona in a game against possible top 10 teams on December 6th. A week later, they travel to UCLA to take on the Bruins.

Mark few returns arguably the nations best back court. Seniors Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell, Jr. return after injury plagued seasons. Gonzaga also brings in USC transfer, Byron Wesley. Wesley scored 17.8ppg at USC last year. The 'Zags will also have the services of highly ranked recruit, Josh Perkins. Perkins plays the point.

As good as the back court is, the front court isn't too shabby, either. Big man Przemek Karnowski returns and will man the pivot. Karnowski really came into his own at the end of last season. Wouldn't be surprised if he has a huge season. Gonzaga also adds Kentucky transfer, Kyle Wiltjer. Wiltjer at this point is more of an outside threat as an ofefnsive player. Gonzaga also adds Domantas Sabonis, the son of Arvydas Sabonis. Big things are expected of this kid.

The NCAA Tournament is tough. Bad matchups, bad luck, etc. often determine your fate. Once destiny's darlings, Gonzaga has risen above just another "mid-major" but recent history has been tougher. The pieces are in place for a special season in Spokane. I'm on board with Gonzaga heading into the season and will not be shocked if they break all the way through to the Final 4. They have the talent and they have the depth.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Marquette the Moribund

Did you know Marquette is a moribund program? For the 1st time since the 2005 season, Marquette failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament. Two years removed from an Elite 8, Seth Davis of SI.Com has declared Marquette a moribund program. For those unsure what moribund means, Merriam-Webster defines it as: "no longer active or effective; close to failure; very sick; close to death."

Yes, Marquette is basically DePaul.

Let's FJM some key passages from Seth's piece:

This program is on shaky footing, which is largely why Williams left for Blacksburg. Last season, the Golden Eagles finished sixth in the Big East with a 9-9 record (17-15 overall) and failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time in nine years.

No, Buzz left because he created expectations he didn't feel he could continually match. The going got tough, so Buzz got going.

And let's talk about why the program is "on shaky footing." The recruiting classes Buzz assembled in 2011 and 2012 have been pedestrian at best. PG Derrick Wilson and F Juan Anderson have been quality role players at Marquette. Both can serve a role on a good team but neither has shown the capabiliy to be All-Conference type players. The other member of that class was the maddening Todd Mayo who left the program this summer to pursue a pro career. The only player left from 2012 is Steve Taylor, Jr. who almost certainly would have transfered had Buzz stayed. The 2013 class only saw limited minutes for JaJuan Johnson, a top-50 recruit, PG John Dawson and F Deonte Burton, who Buzz wouldn't trust on defense. Duane Wilson had a medical redshirt and JUCO Jameel McKay transfered shortly before the season. Things would probably be less "shaky" had the previous coach developed his freshmen and not lost yet another player in McKay transfer.

The task of replenishing those losses was made more difficult when two of the school’s recruits were released from their commitments so they could follow Williams to Virgina Tech, while a third backed out and signed with Kansas State.

Really? The coach who left a program on shaky footing, totally justifying a move, I guess, took 2 recruits with him? As for Malek Harris, who signed with Kansas State, he never signed his LOI. Had he enrolled, Buzz would have had to lose a scholarship player. All signs pointed to JaJuan Johnson and Steve Taylor moving on had Buzz stayed. Mayo was probably gone, too. Wojo did a damn good job keeping everyone sans Mayo aboard. As for the lost recruits of 2014, the players Buzz was bringing in never would have fit the style of play Wojo will try and implement. I'd argue keeping Sandy Cohen was far more important, as was adding BYU transfer Matt Carlino.

Ellenson averaged 8.7 points and 5.7 rebounds in just 12 minutes while playing for the USA Basketball squad that just captured the gold medal at the Under-17 championships in Dubai. He’s big, he’s skilled – and he’s local. He is exactly the kind of breakthrough recruit who could jumpstart a moribund program.

Rice Lake is closer to Minnesota than to Madison or Milwaukee.

Landing Ellenson is pivotal, but Wojciechowski has done well to lock up verbal commitments from two of the top high school seniors in Wisconsin: 6-2 point guard Nick Noskowiak and Matt Heldt, a 6-10 center. “We can recruit nationally, but we need to have a base in the Midwest,” he said. “Fortunately, there are a lot of players there.”

Seth conveniently fails to mention both players are Top-100 players nationally. For a program in such rough shape, seems shocking they'd choose a school like that.

So yes, Marquette will probably lose its share of games next season. You might think that will be hard on Wojciechowski because he came from a championship-level program, but he reminded me that when he was a freshman at Duke in 1994-95, the Blue Devils won just two ACC games because Krzyzewski missed most of the season while recovering from back surgery. “We went 31-31 my first two years,” he said. “For us to make the NCAA tournament my sophomore year was incredible."

Yes, the program is near death like Duke in 1995. And they somehow overcame near death to make the NCAA Tournament a year later! 

Thus, the territory he now travels is not as unfamiliar as it may seem. For Marquette and its rookie head coach, the season will present an opportunity for a fresh start, as well as a new attitude. In case you haven’t noticed, Steve Wojciechowski is not a boy anymore. He wants his guys to man up. “There’s some uncertainty and not a lot of proven commodities, but if the players and staff embrace it the right way, it can really be an important year in the history of the program,” Wojciechowski said. “Our fan base and our program have a lot of pride. They tend to remember things. Our players have a chance to be remembered.”

Sounds awful, doesn't it.

As for the narrative, Buzz is what made Maqruette go, well, Matt Norlander of CBS pushes that narrative along with this article today. The man who built it, lessened it and left instead of trying to live up to "expectations" and rebuild after his first rough patch. Fascinating how the national media sees Marquette and the coach who "built the program".

Friday, June 20, 2014

The Curious Case of Buzz Williams

If there's one thing we should know by now as sports fans, the teams we follow are populated with people we don't know.  We know their faces, names, accomplishments, etc.  But in very few cases, we don't know them.

This is the one thing I try to impart on people when they talk about sports figures.  Don't put them on a pedestal, don't bury them because we don't know them as people.  So and so appears "classy" and then we find out he's a raging a-hole and so on.  I cheered for Brett Favre and he was/ is one of the bigger d-bags to ever play in Green Bay.  Knew it, didn't care.  My QB, won games and wasn't Randy Wright on the field.

That brings us to Buzz Williams.  Buzz abruptly left Marquette for Virginia Tech last March.  Gary Parrish of CBS tackled the question of why, yesterday  

Paint Touches responded to the Parrish piece today  It asks the questions Parrish either didn't ask or get answered and paints Buzz in a bad light.

I don't know if I really believed Marquette was better off moving on after he left.  I'd convinced myself they were because that's what fans do.  Now, I'm pretty sure of it.  Buzz is a strange dude who did good things in Milwaukee.  Yet, it's clear he never invested himself into 2013-14 and while a man of many words and slogans, far too often, they were just cliches to him.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Big East-B1G Challenge

It was announced today that the Big East and B1G will begin a season-opening "challenge" beginning with the 2015-16 season. It will be known as the "Gavitt Tipoff Games", named after Big East founder, Dave Gavitt. The games will be played over 4 nights of the opening week beginning on Tuesday, ending on Friday with two games per night. Games will be played at home campuses or arenas. The contract runs through 2022 and guarantees each B1G team will play at least 4 times during this stretch and Big East teams will play at least 6 times.

The B1G will also continue with its annual ACC-B1G challenge, which is aired exclusively on ESPN family of networks. This new series will have TV controlled by the home schools. The Big East will certainly put the games on FoxSports1. Fox owns 51% of the B1G TV Network, so it's likely they will air home games from B1G schools on the B1G Network.

The TV part of this is interesting from the standpoint B1G TV rights are up for grabs in a few years. ESPN is favored to retain those rights but expect Fox to make a serious run at them to fill air time and help legitimize the network as a major player in sports programming.

This series will not include annual match ups between Marquette-Wisonsin, Creighton-Nebraska and Seton Hall-Rutgers (snickers). Also, the games will not be scheduled based on geography but similar to the ACC-B1G Challenge where similarly competitive teams play. Next year's games would probably look something like this:

Villanova vs. Wisconsin
Creighton vs. Michigan
Providence vs. Iowa
Xavier vs. Michigan State
St. John's vs. Nebraska
Georgetown vs. Ohio State
Marquette vs. Maryland
Seton Hall vs. Minnesota

Certainly, at this moment, it helps the Big East more in adding another quality opponent. Either way, it's a fun concept to open the season for both leagues. College basketball has never done opening week well. Things like this should help. Sounds like a Big XII-SEC Challenge will be announced at some point, too.

These things are silly from the standpoint nothing is "settled" but give fans something to look forward to and are better than opening the season against Alcorn State

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Early Top Ten

Now that all the Early Entrants have declared and Myles Turner selected a college we can take a quick look at next year’s early top 10.

1.       Kentucky – With the Harrison’s returning they have the most talent by far.  The only questions is can all these player co-exist with only 1 ball?

2.       Wisconsin – Returns all but Brust and I expect Nigel Hayes to be huge next year.  The class of the Big 10

3.       Duke – The #1 recruiting class and finally a big man in the post.  Everybody love Okafor and their guards but I’m excited to see Jefferson play at the 4

4.       Arizona – Yes, they lost Gordon and Johnson but their bigs return and Stanley Johnson is a stud.

5.       Villanova – only lose 1 starter from a 29 win season.  No sneaking up on people next year

6.       Texas – Myles Turner moves them into the top 10.  No defections and still very young.

7.       North Carolina – A solid recruiting class and Marcus Paige back.  JP Tokoto is primed for a big year

8.       Wichita State – Cleanthony is gone but their 3 guard tandem is all back

9.       Kansas – It doesn’t matter who they lose, they just keep reloading and winning Big 12 titles

10.   SMU – maybe a little high but I like what Emmanual Munday will bring

11.   Gonzaga – As an added bonus you get the 11th team in my list.  Bell and Pangos return but I’m excited to see what Kentucky transfer, Kyle Wiltjer can do.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Recapping the New Coaching Hires

With Missouri's hiring of Kim Anderson, all the major jobs in college basketball have been filled. It's possible new jobs could open. Tom Izzo, Billy Donovan and Fred Hoiberg are frequently mentioned in NBA circles. I'd guess Hoiberg would be the most likely to jump but nothing indicates this will happen with certainty.


Houston: Kelvin Sampson- Besides the obvious issues with the NCAA, Sampson has been pretty successful as a head coach. Winning at Washington State is impressive. He took Oklahoma to the Final 4 before disaster hit at Indiana. Long considered a possible coach in the NBA, his x's and o's are solid. Texas is loaded with talent so he should find talent. Houston under Guy Lewis was one of the better programs in the nation. It'll be difficult to get back to those days but Sampson is the kind of guy that can reinvigorate the program.

South Florida: Orlando Antigua- Antigua was on my list of assistants I wanted Marquette to consider. The Bulls initially hired Steve Masiello who was deal was never finalized after resume "enhancements" were discovered. I still think they hit a home run with this hire. Antigua is plugged in with many top HS programs and is an elite recruiter. Coaching acumen will be a question but he should get talent. Buy now on the Bulls.


Virginia Tech: Buzz Williams- Buzz has a much tougher job at Virginia Tech than he did at Marquette. We'll learn how good a coach he is. He "took" Marquette's top recruit with him and has been active with transfers and JUCO's. I don't think this is a long-term spot for him. The sledding will be much tougher, even tougher than the Big East before realignment. If he can make Virginia Tech and upper half team in the ACC, job well done.

Boston College: Jim Christian-This hire is one of the weakest of the off-season on the surface. Christian had success at Ohio and Kent State, while also having time at TCU. He doesn't have a ton of roots in this part of the country and given the rise of UMass, the continued success of UConn and the steady improvement at URI and Providence, it'll be tough sledding. What's a better job right now? Harvard or BC?

Wake Forest: Danny Manning- Here's a fascinating hire. Manning did a wonderful job at Tulsa where the program had slipped dramatically. 15 years ago, Bill Self had Tulsa knocking on the door of a Final 4 before getting the Illinois job. This is the same school that gave us Nolan Richardson and Tubby Smith, too. As for Wake Forest, Manning will try and recapture the success Dave Odom had. All he has to do is find another Tim Duncan. I think he finds success here though it'll take a little time. The conference is freaking tough.

THE A-10

No new hires


Marquette: Steve Wojciehowski- Wojo kept his roster intact even if he lost 4 of 5 commits. I wouldn't fret about that. His style will be radically different than what Buzz did so the team is better off getting his kind of players. And the one he was able to keep is probably the best fit. He added a transfer PG in Matt Carlino that will give him a lot of back court options. He doesn't have the luxury of the Triplets and JR. Lazar Hayward that Buzz had, so expecting to match Buzz's 1st season is silly. Could be an inspired hire.


No New Hires


No New Hires


No New Hires


Washington State: Ernie Kent -Easily the most difficult job in the conference, Washington State did well to get Ernie Kent. Kent is familiar with the conference and the Pacific Northwest in general having coached at Oregon successfully for years. He also spent his last few years on the Pac-12 Network so he still has familiarity with what is new. He has a chance to succeed. Washington has struggled the last few seasons. Can he capitalize on that?

California: Cuonzo Martin- This is another odd hire. It's obvious Martin wanted out of Knoxville as he also went after the Marquette job, losing out to Wojo. Coaches can coach anywhere. Can he effectively recruit at Cal? He replaces a Bay Area legend in Mike Montgomery and Stanford looks to have turned a corner under Johnny Dawkins. He may have felt unloved in Knoxville but this isn't an easy situation he walks into. If he's successful, look for him to be a contender for the Purdue job as Matt Painter's seat could get hotter with another bad season.


Tennessee: Donnie Tyndall- Of all the hires, I think I like this one best. Tyndall did a great job at Morehead State and continued the success Larry Eustachy established at Southern Miss. Tennessee will take a dip next year losing almost all their best talent. The recruiting class was mediocre at best. Most people think the class Tyndall pulls will end up better than the one he inherited. You may not see it next year but look for him to find success at Tennessee.

Auburn: Bruce Pearl- Grand slam hire. Coupled with piles and piles of sweet Auburn cash, Pearl will be winner on the Plains. He has that nagging show cause that ends in December and his team may not compete next season but it won't take him long to produce a winner. Auburn has had success and with the right guy, can be formidable. Give AD Jay Jacobs credit. He has two dynamic coach hires in the last 18 months.

Missouri: Kim Anderson- A clear step up from Frank Haith and will have more support. Anderson is a Mizzou guy that like Bo Ryan and Tim Cluess, had success at lower levels winning the D2 title at Central Missouri this past season to go along with3 Final 4's before getting his dream job. It's not Gregg Marshall who allegedly listened to Mizzou's pitch according to Jason King of Bleacher Report but it's a "right guy". Best case scenario for Mizzou is he is their Bo Ryan. I think the SEC got the best crop of new hires.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

2013-14 and What We Learned or Not

It's pretty remarkable UConn now has 4 titles in the last 15 years. That's as many titles as Duke, more than Kansas, Louisville & Michigan State. Only UCLA, Kentucky, Indiana and North Carolina have more. When Kevin Ollie took the job, my first reaction was UConn had seen its best days. I suppose its possible this is still the case since key players were Calhoun recruits but with a National Championship in his back pocket and his NBA pedigree, I think Ollie and UConn will continue to be a force. Whatever the case, by Monday night, UConn was playing as good as anyone had all season. I can't think of another backcourt in the nation that could have handled Napier and Boatright.

As for Kentucky, it took them a while to figure things out but they played very well in March. They definitely had their share of luck but the level at which they played was quite high from Wichita State on. John Calipari's March record is pretty good at Kentucky. The 2011 team made the Final 4 as a 4-seed knocking off Ohio State, KenPom #1 along the way. I'm not sure having Willie Cauley-Stein would have mattered but not having him didn't help. Sounds like a good chunk of his players are NBA bound. Don't cry. They have a great class in 2014, too.

This season was a return to parity. Not to take anything away from the teams in the Final 4, but none would have matched some previous champs. Florida was the best team entering the tournament but lacked NBA talent. Arizona would have been interesting had Brandon Ashley stayed healthy but they, like Florida, lacked a dynamic offense. Both were efficient but hardly explosive. Louisville was a very good team by the end of the year but couldn't match Kentucky's overall talent, blowing a late lead in the Sweet 16. Other conference champs all had major flaws. Michigan was a dynamic offense with a questionable defense. Virginia was the polar opposite. Kansas was uber-talented similar to Kentucky. The Joel Embiid injury dampened their chances but even with him, they were prone to inconsistency. By the end of the year, the Kentucky youngsters looked like a better "team". Villanova, like Florida lacked NBA talent and couldn't matchup against the UConn guards.

The ACC was a mess this season. Duke couldn't guard and UNC was inconsistent, plagued early by personnel issues. Virginia rose to the top and was impressive in doing so. Syracuse won a lot of close games early to jump out to an early #1 ranking. By time Dayton knocked them out, Syracuse was a team reeling. Pitt did Pitt things. Computer loved bit never as good as what the numbers said. The rest of the conference was mediocre or awful. Adding Louisville helps for next season. Duke and Carolina should be much better in 2015.

The A-10 rode Dayton to the Elite 8 and have some young coaching stars in Shaka Smart and Archie Miller. St. Louis will take a step back. The conference will be fun again in 2015. Keep an eye on Rhode Island next season.

The first year of the new Big East was uneven as pre-season favorites Georgetown and Marquette struggled. Creighton will definitely fall back in 2015. Seton Hall should take a leap and Providence loses Bryce Cotton but gets Kris Dunn back. Villanova looks to be the only top-25 team for next year. As of today, the conference has a lot of talent scheduled to come in next year.

The Big 12 had a great season but a bad March, not sending any teams to the Elite 8 and only 2 to the Sweet 16. Kansas will remain the alpha dog. Can anyone knock them off next season? Iowa State loses Melvin Ejim and DeAndre Kane but still have a lot of talent in Ames. Don't count them out. I like Texas a lot in 2015, too. West Virginia will be a team to watch early along with Oklahoma.

The Big 10 was statistically the best conference but I thought they were a bit overrated. They got their top 3 teams to the Elite 8 so they certainly showed their strength. Barring some unforeseen decisions, Wisconsin will be atop 5 team. Michigan shapes up as the second best team, assuming GR3 comes back. The conference will take a step back as Ohio State and Michigan State figure to be lesser teams. In fact Nebraska may open in the top 3. Northwestern may be the surprise team. Maryland joins and could be a tourney team but lost 3 players to transfers yesterday. Odd happenings there.

Even with their losses, Florida will be among the favorites in the SEC along with Kentucky. I like Georgia next year as a team to watch. Auburn will be interesting, too with Bruce Pearl there. He should get some players late to make them competetive. Tennessee saved their season late but will be hard pressed to repeat that in 2015. It'll also probably be a make or break season in Missouri and Arkansas.

Arizona won the Pac-12 and will be favored again in 2015. UCLA won't be far behind and I really like Utah next year. Utah was pretty unlucky in 2014 and were a victim of a terrible non-con schedule. Stanford should build on their Sweet 16. Johnny Dawkins has a real nice class coming in. Oregon a times, was as good as anyone in the west but also played as bad as anyone in the west. They should be in the mix as well.

Finally, the American Athletic claims this seasons National Champ in UConn. They lose Louisville and Cincinnati loses 3 key contributors. The favorite in 2014 will be SMU. Larry Brown came up short in 2014 but won't next season. Memphis will be gooad as well but the natives are getting restless with Josh Pastner. He'll have to get to the 2nd weekend sooner than later. Kelvin Sampson returns to college hoops with Houston. They'll be interesting next year. South Florida hired Orlando Antigua after the Steve Masiello fiasco. Not sure that's a big difference. They won't be a contender next year but don't be surprised if they are in a year or two.

Way too early Final 4 for 2015 in Indianapolis:

1. Duke
2. North Carolina
3. Arizona
4. SMU

Congrats to UConn! Time for 2014-15 yet?