The NCAA on Tuesday revealed something that fans of Kansas University basketball have believed to be true for a long time.
Allen Fieldhouse was named as the loudest, most intimidating arena in college basketball in a High-Five feature on NCAA.com, the website announced Tuesday.
Duke's Cameron Indoor Stadium was ranked second followed by the Carrier Dome at Syracuse, Gallagher-Iba Arena at Oklahoma State and The Pit at New Mexico.
Kansas men's basketball signees Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre are two of the 10 names on the Naismith Trophy Early-Season Watch List, the Atlanta Tipoff Club announced Monday.
Alexander, from Curie High School in Chicago, and Oubre from Findlay Prep in Henderson, Nev., are two of the top 10 boys playing high school basketball in the country named to the Naismith Trophy High School Player of the Year Early-Season Watch List.
Alexander has led Curie to a 4-0 record early in the 2013-14 season. The 6-8, 240-pound forward opened the year with 22 points, 20 rebounds and five blocked shots against Las Vegas Bishop Gorman High School at the Chicago Elite Classic. In his second game he scored 18 points and pulled down 13 rebounds in a 79-76 overtime victory against St. Rita High School. Through 15 games, Oubre (6-7, 200-pound) is averaging 24.7 points, 7.1 rebounds and 2.8 steals for Findley Prep.
Last season, current Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins became the first Jayhawk to be named the Naismith High School Player of the Year since the award began in 1987.
Believe it or not, Saturday’s 11 a.m. contest against Georgetown will be the first men’s game in Allen in 29 days.
“I can’t wait for that,” KU freshman guard Wayne Selden said with a smile.
Same goes for coach Bill Self, who has taken his team to the Bahamas for three games, Colorado and Florida, as well as Kansas City’s Sprint Center for a six-game stretch away from home.
“I bet it’s the longest time (not) playing in Allen Fieldhouse maybe in the history of the building,” Self said Monday on his “Hawk Talk” radio show. “I could be wrong on that. I bet there’s not been one situation where it’s been a month where a team hasn’t played a home game there.”
He’s close to being correct.
It’s the longest stretch between games in the fieldhouse in the Self era, with the previous 19 days four different times.
The longest stretch in the modern era appears to be 32 days between home games from Dec. 16, 2000, to Jan. 17, 2001. Roy Williams was the coach at that time.
…After looking at the film, Self thought KU played well Saturday.
Junior point guard Naadir Tharpe celebrated his return to a starting position after a two-game absence by dishing nine assists against four turnovers and scoring eight points in 37 minutes.
“He is trying,” Self said. “I am probably harder on Naadir than I am anybody just because I think he should know. We have had numerous talks. He does know. He gets it. I didn’t think he was doing much to help the other guys, whether it be on the court or off the court. I got frustrated with him.
We put him on the bench.
“The reality is, he didn’t react that well (to benching) so that was a little bit disappointing to me,” Self added. “We had a talk about that. The bottom line is, he’s as valuable a player as we have. He can play. He’s a great kid. He has to understand his value to us. He can’t take days off. He is the only one we have with any experience.
“Perry (Ellis, 21 points, nine rebounds) had a good game, obviously, and the big kid was terrific,” he noted of Joel Embiid, who had 18 points and six boards — 17 points the second half. “That was a good team. People will find out. They’ll either win the Mountain West or finish second, because the other team we play (from that league), San Diego State, will win it or finish second.”
…Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall tells Foxsportskansascity.com he would like to schedule a series with KU — one game in Allen Fieldhouse, one in Sprint Center and one at Intrust Bank Arena in Wichita.
“I’m not going to just be bought,” Marshall said. “I’m not going to go to Allen Fieldhouse for a check (as guarantee game opponent). We’d like to play home-and-home. Ultimately, we’ve got to put ourselves in a position where playing (the Jayhawks) or not playing them has no bearing on our success, and that’s what we’re doing. It would be helpful, but still, we’re putting ourselves in a position where it doesn’t matter if they want to play or not. That’s what we have to do. One day, when it behooves them, then maybe it’ll happen.”
KU currently has no plans to schedule WSU in men’s hoops.
“It’s out there that we will play anybody,” Marshall told FOX, “and the better the team, the better for us. And we’ll start on the road.”
“This isn’t knocking Wichita State,” Self told The Star on Tuesday. “But if it was best for our program, I would reach out to them about scheduling them. But it’s not. I’ve heard a lot of talk about them wanting to play us so bad; Gregg Marshall’s never contacted me about playing.”
…“The one thing about being in coaching a long time and coaching at different schools and different levels is the fact that you understand that coaches schedule what’s in the best interest of their program,” Self said. “Nowhere does it say that they are obligated to schedule in the best interest of somebody else’s program that wants to play them.”
Self said he ran into similar issues while coaching at Tulsa in the late 1990s. He wanted to play Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Arkansas and other bigger programs in the region.
“And they wouldn’t play,” Self said. “But I didn’t blame them. And I didn’t make a big deal of it.”
He respects what Marshall is building down the road at Wichita State — and he praises what the Shockers are doing this season. But he sees no reason why a series with Wichita State would benefit KU.
“Certainly, Wichita State’s done such a good job,” Self said. “They got to the Final Four, and they’re off to a great start now. But it’s about a program. It’s not about a team.”
Even after a strong offensive effort against New Mexico, Bill Self still believes his team has a long way to go when it comes to passing.
“It’s been awful. Oh my gosh,” the Kansas coach said on his weekly radio show Monday. “We’ve gone over it and over it and showed them film. We do not have great passers. Now we’re going to get better, and we have gotten better.”
The 11th-year coach says it’s an issue his team has worked on every day in practice. Self, along with his assistants, go over how to feed the post and the best time to throw it inside.
Things just haven't gone as smoothly in games. Self compares it to golfers who receives great instruction on the driving range only to go back to bad habits when they step on the first teebox.
“It’s the same thing in basketball,” Self said. “You work on it and practice, practice, practice. You get in a game they’re a little bit longer, a little bit harder to pass over or pass around, (you're) a little bit tentative, and the next thing you know, you’re not quite as confident, and so you don’t make the same plays you made in practice.”
…Getting the ball inside becomes even more important with the quick maturation of 7-foot center Joel Embiid. In the second half alone against UNM, the freshman had 16 points on 5-for-5 shooting.
Self also says the big man, with his passing skills, has the potential to open things up for the Jayhawks' perimeter players. When Embiid passes out of the post, that can force poor closeouts for opposing defenders, which could enable KU to play more to its athleticism with players like Andrew Wiggins and Wayne Selden Jr.
“We’ve got to do a better job of playing through our bigs,” Self said, “because whether we think it or not, it’s still the strength of our team without question.”
The numbers back Self’s claim. Ellis has made 62 percent of his 2-pointers this year, while Embiid has made 69 percent of his twos. The NCAA average is 49 percent.
“If we’re going to have a chance this year to really be a good team — I’m not talking about a special team; I’m talking about a really good team — then we’ve got to get where we can obviously feed the post,” Self said, “and do some things that are just simple plays.”
Kansas University basketball coach Bill Self hasn’t given up on Memphis transfer Tarik Black, who has not scored and grabbed just seven rebounds total in limited action the last four games.
“Tarik ... today he was the best player in practice,” Self said, praising the 6-foot-9, 260-pound senior on Monday’s “Hawk Talk” radio show. “I know he’ll have some moments, and I know he’ll catch some breaks (in upcoming games).
“He wants it so bad. Sometimes he puts too much pressure on himself,” Self added of the Memphis native who has come off the bench the last two games after starting the first eight.
Six of KU’s “bigs” played two or more minutes in Saturday’s 80-63 victory over New Mexico.
Black, who had two turnovers, worked two minutes, as did Justin Wesley, who had a rebound and hit one free throw. Perry Ellis had 21 points and nine rebounds in 31 minutes; Joel Embiid 18 points and six boards in 25 minutes; Landen Lucas two points and five boards in 10 minutes; and Jamari Traylor four points, three assists and a rebound in nine minutes.
“Jamari has been terrific,” Self said of the 6-8 sophomore who had nine rebounds and five points in 17 minutes at Florida. “He makes two great passes for layups (vs. UNM). He’s playing with energy.
“Landen gave us some good minutes,” he added of 6-10 red-shirt freshman Lucas, “and Justin (6-9, senior) played late and did fine. We are a deep team up front, but with that being said, if the big fella keeps getting better ... he needs to be playing 30 minutes a game.”
…KU’s players continue to prepare for Saturday’s 11 a.m. home game against Georgetown while also taking their final exams in the classroom.
“We have a master final exam schedule. We work around the master schedule,” Self said of a list of the players and their exam times. “We had a four-hour window (Monday). The 2:30 (p.m.) range was the first time available (to practice). It was the same (Tuesday). Starting Wednesday, we’ll go at 11 (a.m.) or 12 (noon) every day. That’s the time slot available, which is not bad because we play at 11 Saturday.
“We’ll be in the gym a lot when we come back (from holiday break on Dec. 26). We’ll be in the gym a lot, not necessarily practicing all the time. There will be a lot of film and individual improvement and shooting and things like that. We’ll be in there a couple times a day that can vary. We can practice any time on those days (until start of second-semester classes on Jan. 21).”
The players will leave for their hometowns after the game Saturday. Joel Embiid, who hails from Cameroon, will be the only one not heading home. He’ll be able to hang out with players from the area as well as coaches and their families.
“They get four days off, which is a big number for what we usually get,” Self said. KU will meet Toledo at 7 p.m., Dec. 30, in Allen.
Jayhawks freshmen Andrew Wiggins, Joel Embiid and Wayne Selden, Jr. are all projected by DraftExpress to be chosen in the top 14 of the 2014 NBA Draft. Wiggins was the consensus No. 1 recruit in the Class of 2013 and has been the presumed No. 1 pick in 2014 for over a year. He is featured on the cover of the current SI.
“I like all three of them,” Nets point guard and former Kansas star point guard Tyshawn Taylor told SNY.tv at shootaround on Saturday morning. “I think they’re all one-and-done and I think they’re all gonna be really good pros.”
…“I was a four-year guy, yeah, but I didn’t go to college expecting to stay four years, trust me,” the former St. Anthony star said. “It just kind of happened that way. For the individual, the one-and-done is great. If I had the chance to leave after my freshman year, I would’ve been out. But, for the college game, it takes away from it a little bit.”
…“Up until Xavier Henry, Coach Self hadn’t really had a one-and-done and I remember during that time, he really wanted Xavier,” Taylor said. “I think he even leaned on Xavier to be a one-and-done. He pushed for that because he obviously thought he was a talented enough player to do it.”
While all of the one-and-dones were happening Kansas, Self never wavered on his reputation as a developer as the Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, Thomas Robinson, Jeff Withey and Cole Aldrich (now with the Knicks) all became stars over multiple seasons at Kansas, not to mention NBA players in the process.
“I think he understands that’s the type of environment we’re in right now,” Taylor said. “As a recruiter, you have to stay with what’s going on. Guys who thought they would be one-and-done were seeing Kansas as a spot to stay two, three years and that didn’t end up being their choice. Coach Self had Xavier one year, then Josh Selby the next year and Ben McLemore the next year. I think he just understands that that’s the direction college basketball is in and he had to go with it.”
As for this new wave of potential one-and-dones at Kansas, Taylor admitted not seen Oubre play yet, but he has seen Wiggins, Selden, Jr. and Embiid. Wiggins is getting much of the spotlight in the preseason, but Self apparently had some strong words to Taylor regarding Embiid, a 7-footer from The Rock School (Fla.) by way of Cameroon who did not begin playing basketball until he was 16.
“I watched him play and his game is crazy, he’s 7-foot doing between-the-leg dunks and windmills and all that,” Taylor said. “Coach Self told me that if he has him for two years, he’ll be the best big man he probably ever coached as far as skill, footwork, hands, everything. I played with some great big men, Cole Aldrich, Thomas Robinson, the Morris twins and to hear coach say that, I was blown away when I played with him in June when I was out there.”
Speaking of freshmen, I am going to enjoy watching Kansas freshman center Joel Embiid improve as much as I have any player in a long, long time. Embiid isn't just getting better each game. It seems like he's getting better each possession. He's a beautiful kid, too.
And speaking of Kansas, I'm wondering if Tarik Black regrets leaving Memphis to join the Jayhawks. He would have been an important piece for the Tigers, but he played all of two minutes in the Jayhawks' win over New Mexico.
SI Seth Davis
The first time Kansas center Joel Embiid played basketball on U.S. soil, his high school teammates laughed.
In the same game, Embiid got hit in the stomach by a guard's pass, tripped and fell coming off a screen, and had the ball bounce off his foot when he was trying to dribble past a defender.
Fresh off a plane from the African country of Cameroon, Embiid had arrived at Montverde Academy—a prep school in Florida—knowing little English and even less about basketball. As a child, he had focused on volleyball and soccer.
Still, at 6'9", with the wingspan of a pterodactyl and the footwork of a ballet dancer, it was obvious to coach Kevin Boyle that he had landed a treasure in the 16-year-old Embiid—no matter how awkward he appeared in his first informal practice at the school.
When Montverde's players snickered at yet another clumsy play by their gargantuan newcomer, Boyle blew his whistle and motioned for Embiid to get a drink of water.
As Embiid walked away, Boyle summoned his players to center court.
"Laugh all you want," he said, "But in five years, you're going to be asking him for a loan, because he's going to be worth about $50 million."
Boyle chuckles when recalling the story.
"I told them, 'You have no idea how good that kid is going to be.'"
…"He can do things that only a few people in the world can do," one NBA scout said.
It's no stretch to say Embiid is a basketball savant. Self calls him a "sponge" because he soaks up so much information. No college player in America has a higher ceiling than Embiid, and that's if he has one at all.
"It comes easy to him," Self said. "He moves like a 6-footer with his feet. He can move in a way that very few guys in the past have been able to move. There's a skill set there that very few 7-footers have.
"He has a natural feel, natural instincts. Of all the guys on our team, he's the most instinctive basketball guy we have."
And that's the crazy part: It shouldn't be like that. If there's any player in college basketball with an excuse to look uncomfortable on the court, it's a 7-foot center from the middle of Africa who three years ago didn't know the difference between man-to-man and zone defense.
…Each day at practice, Embiid was pitted against standouts such as Nnoko, current Florida point guard Kasey Hill and center Dakari Johnson, a McDonald's All-American who now plays for Kentucky.
Embiid was behind his teammates when it came to understanding the game, but he hardly let that intimidate him. His battles in the paint with Johnson are still talked about among Montverde alums.
"Every single day, he and Dakari were about to fight," Hill said by phone from Florida last week.
"Coach Boyle was always having to break them up. They were fouling each other, pounding on each other, elbowing each other.
"JoJo is a happy kid. He's real outgoing. But on the court, he's not going to back down from anyone."
Even though Embiid spent almost all of the season on the junior varsity squad, he was making progress at an alarming rate—mainly because of his work ethic. During his lunch breaks and after practice, he would often seek out extra instruction from Boyle.
…For more than an hour, Self hardly said a word.
At the urging of his assistant, Norm Roberts, the Kansas coach had traveled to Gainesville (Fla.) in the fall of 2012 to watch Embiid in an open scrimmage at The Rock, the private school to which he had transferred in hopes of getting more playing time as a senior.
As Embiid and his teammates trotted off the court, Roberts turned to Self.
"Well," Roberts said, "what do you think?"
Self was still speechless.
"I mean, I know he's raw," Roberts said. "I know he's a project and all, but ... "
"Are you frickin' kidding me?" he said. "This dude could be the No. 1 pick in the draft. He can run. He's got good feet. He's got touch. He's unbelievable. He'll be the best big man we've ever coached if we can get him."
…Florida coach Billy Donovan had already made Embiid one of his top priorities, and it certainly didn't hurt that Walker and Hill, Embiid's AAU teammates, had pledged to the Gators. And since The Rock was in Gainesville, Embiid often found himself in pickup games with Florida players.
Texas was heavily pursuing Embiid, too, and he fell in love with Austin on his official visit.
Kansas, though, scheduled Embiid's trip to Lawrence the same weekend as Late Night in the Phog, the Jayhawks' version of Midnight Madness. Embiid said walking into Allen Fieldhouse and seeing 16,300 fans was nothing short of overwhelming.
"It was crazy," said Embiid, who was joined on his visit by future teammate Wayne Selden. "We walked in there and everyone started clapping and yelling. I didn't know what was going on. I was scared. I was like, 'Are they clapping for us?' I just looked down at the ground. I couldn't believe it."
…To help with his final decision, Embiid said he made a list of pros and cons for each of the three schools. Kansas topped the list for atmosphere and its track record of sending post players to the pros, but Texas and Florida ranked first in other categories.
Embiid said the final decision came after NBA types told his high school coaches and Mbah a Moute that Kansas would best prepare him for the next level.
Draft Express NBA Prospect of the Week: Joel Embiid
But there apparently is some risk to scheduling aggressively, and that risk is that Associated Press voters might not take the time to look at your losses and use context, which brings me Doug Doughty of the Roanoke Times. He's the only one of the 65 AP voters who has Kansas unranked on his ballot, and I can only assume it's because he can't bring himself to rank a school that's lost three of its first 10 games. Now let me explain why that's silly.
Yes, Kansas is 7-3.
But that 7-3 record has come against a schedule featuring five games against opponents that are currently ranked in the top 35 at KenPom.com. According to the AP poll, Kansas has a neutral-court win over No. 8 Duke (to go with a neutral-court win over New Mexico), and the losses are to No. 8 Villanova on a neutral court, to No. 16 Florida on the road, and to No. 20 Colorado on the road, and those three losses have come by an average of 4.3 points. In other words, the Jayhawks have shown they can beat good teams, and they haven't lost to a single bad team. But they're still unworthy of a spot on Doughty's Top 25 ballot.
Meantime, he ranked Oklahoma 22nd.
To be clear, Oklahoma might end up being good.
I have no idea.
But, to date, all Oklahoma has done is build a 9-1 record against a non-conference schedule rated 254th at KenPom.com. The Sooners have played one top-40 team, and they lost that game (to Michigan State) by double-digits. But OU got the nod over KU on Doughty's ballot because, I guess, 9-1 looks better than 7-3 when you don't take the time to really look at it.
#1 Wiggins continues to face harsh scrutiny, especially after a tepid performance in the Battle 4 Atlantis and career-low six points against UTEP. But he's recently looked the part of the No. 1 pick again, scoring 22 points against Colorado and 26 against Florida. Wiggins has become more aggressive taking the ball to the basket and took a total of 17 free throws in those two games before having another off game against New Mexico on Saturday. Given that scouts are primarily concerned with his lack of aggressiveness, that's a very good sign if he can start doing it consistently.
#3 Embiid has made his way into KU's starting lineup, and while his numbers don't scream No. 1 pick, every time he's on the floor he's a game changer. No one thought Embiid would be this far along so early. He seems to be getting better by the game and had a career-high 18 points against New Mexico on Saturday. While he might be a bit of a risky No. 1 pick, the upside is evident. I'm not sure there's a player in this draft who could be more dominant if he lived up to his potential.
#19 Selden is a great prospect, but he is not yet dominating the ways scouts would like. He had one of his worst games of the season against Florida: a four-point, four-turnover stinker. The turnovers are a problem in general, as he's had 13 in the past four games.
ESPN 2014 Draft Board ($)
Vote here for NBA All-Stars Paul Pierce, Mario Chalmers
Kings guard Ben McLemore won Western Conference Rookie of the Month honors for November, but December hasn’t been kind to him.
McLemore is shooting 30.3 percent in December, including 4-for-25 in his last four games.
The Kings, however, haven’t lost faith in their first-round draft pick.
“He’s been struggling a little lately,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “I don’t want him getting down on himself.”
McLemore should have better looks at the basket playing off Rudy Gay, DeMarcus Cousins and Isaiah Thomas. Malone said the Kings also “try to get him some easy looks” by getting McLemore out in transition.
It doesn’t help that McLemore has drawn some tough defensive assignments lately, including Monta Ellis, Eric Bledsoe and James Harden.
“He’s got to obviously play better defense at times, but he’s going to fine,” Malone said. “He’s a work in progress, he’s young. He only played one year in college, and we feel he’s got a bright, bright future, and he’s gotten a lot better just in the short time from summer league until now.”
Big 12/College News
Then and Now: Pretty funny pics of college basketball coaches
3. Has Marcus Smart actually changed his game and improved his perimeter stroke? He’s missed 16 of his last 19 threes. Take a look at his shot chart (right) from the last four games.
More concerning? During that stretch, Smart has 17 assists and 16 turnovers. Keep in mind this is a small sample size, and that in the three games prior he shot 10-for-21 from three and averaged 31.3 points, scoring at least 23 points in the first half of all three games.
On the season, Smart is shooting 32.1% from three, up from 29.0% last season.
10. Andrew Wiggins, Kansas: Wiggins gets an awful lot of criticism for a guy averaging 15.9 points and 5.9 boards that just so happens to be the nation’s best perimeter defender.
NBC POY rankings
Oklahoma State's first eight possessions against Louisiana Tech on Saturday: seven missed shots and a turnover.
So started a sluggish afternoon offensively, with the Cowboys never sustaining any flow or rhythm.
And still the No. 7-ranked Cowboys rolled, winning by 15 points.
Defense was the difference.
“When your defense is on point, that's what matters,” said OSU guard Marcus Smart, who had four steals against Tech, giving him a Big 12-best 30 in 10 games. “You're going to have off games on offense, that's just the nature of the game. We're humans. So that's going to happen. But if you're focused on the defense, that can make up for a lot of things that may not go right on the offensive end.”
The Cowboys have been dialed in on defense, residing at or near the top of every major defensive category in the Big 12 statistical rankings. And the numbers should improve when OSU hosts Delaware State on Tuesday in a 7 p.m. tip at Gallagher-Iba Arena.
Maybe it's time to change the label on Travis Ford.
“I've always been known for offense, because my teams score a lot of points,” Ford said. “But people don't understand, we've had very good defensive numbers since I've been here.”
Still, the Cowboys have never, Ford said, had a better defensive team under his watch. And the numbers back it up.
In the Big 12, OSU ranks No. 1 in steals and turnover margin; No. 2 in scoring defense, field goal percentage defense and blocked shots; No. 3 in 3-point field goal percentage defense.
All that from a team that plays fast, averages 88.4 points per game and leads the league in scoring margin. Only three teams have managed as many as 70 points against the Cowboys.
“I like our defense,” Ford said. “And I don't mind quietly going about it, as long as our team understands — defense and rebounding wins games and championships.
It would have been difficult to guess that the Big 12's leading rebounder would be Iowa State forward Dustin Hogue, a lightly heralded junior college transfer.
But Cyclones forward Georges Niang knew right away not to doubt his remarkable new teammate.
"He's a mean cat, man. When he wants something, he gets it. Whether it's a sandwich after practice or a rebound. He's just determined," Niang said. "When you have determination like that, nothing's going to stop you."
So far, no one has been able to stop Hogue or the Cyclones — whose surprising 8-0 start has been keyed by their most surprising player.
The 6-foot-6 Hogue is the leading rebounder among Big 12 teams with 11.1 a game — nearly two more than anyone else in the league — and he has 12.6 points a game on 60.3 percent shooting.
Hogue is also averaging 17 points and 15.3 rebounds in his past three games, wins over Auburn, Northern Iowa and No. 25 Iowa.
"He's just an absolute warrior. He goes after every ball. The rebounds he gets, he gets up higher than everyone else and then he elevates a couple of inches. It's just amazing to see how he goes after that ball," Iowa State coach Fred Hoiberg said.
The Wisconsin Badgers rank No. 1 in BPI after starting 12-0 with five wins over top-50 BPI teams -- St. John's, Florida, Saint Louis, West Virginia and Virginia. Their five wins against top-50 teams are the most by any team. Kansas and Davidson are the only other teams that have even faced five top-50 teams.
Wisconsin has the 11th-most difficult schedule according to BPI. Seven of their 12 wins are against top-100 opponents and none of them are against teams outside the top 175.
The Badgers have been successful playing a slow pace (17th-fewest possessions per game). Two of their three worst BPI game scores this season have come in the two games in which they played at the fastest pace (at Green Bay, vs North Dakota).
ESPN: BPI Talk: Duke is not a top-25 team
When high school coaches across this state visit Wisconsin to watch practice every winter, the same sequence occurs: They see the Badgers pair up – just two players and a ball – and engage in the most rudimentary activity, monotonously passing and catching a basketball.
Then the high school coaches find Wisconsin assistant Lamont Paris to say, "You guys don't have to water things down just because we're here."
"We're not," Paris says. "We do things other teams in the middle of the season don't do. Basics."
The oft-told narrative of this college basketball season involves a handful of highlight reel-creating freshmen and new officiating rules intended to increase scoring and improve the game's artistry. Complicating that script are the Wisconsin players here, squatting in defensive stances as their head coach stands in the corner, hands behind his back, whistling at an imperfect box out.
Wisconsin, off to its best start since the 1915-16 season, ranks No. 1 in the RPI and has beaten more top 100 teams (nine) than any team in the country. The sixth-ranked Badgers (12-0) have done it the way they have always done it under 13th-year coach Bo Ryan, highlighting unglamorous skills like precise passing angles, adequate spacing and strong pivots. Ryan's no-frills system is as effective as ever, even if no jump stops will find there way onto YouTube.
"It is not pretty," says sophomore Sam Dekker, the team's second-leading scorer. "It has some rough edges on it. But it's what we do. It's not so sexy. But winning is fun. If it's not sexy, that's fine with us. We're not going to be dunking on everyone."
Kentucky's early-season attendance is declining.
That's what Lexington Herald-Leader writer John Clay discovered last week, when he compared attendance numbers for the first seven games of the 2013-14 season to their equivalents in 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011, and 2012. Clay's charts (at the link) offer up the numbers, and they point to a clear trend: Fewer people are showing up for UK basketball games this season than in Gillispie's final season. Huh?
The most interesting question is: Why? Clay's theories -- "television, or the lack of an enticing home schedule, or a lack of connection with the ever-changing roster, or the students" -- seem to represent the general consensus among Kentucky fans, at least those who responded to John on Facebook. There is also a fair amount of understandable frustration regarding this season's disappointing team -- frustration Calipari attempted to assuage in a blog post Tuesday morning:
I know we have to be more organized, our mission has to be clearer to the players, and I have to be less emotional during the game because we’ve got a bunch of young kids. I can’t put winning before their growth. … This is about getting these players to think a different way, to think about serving each other. My job is to serve them. Their job is to serve each other. …. I just have to stay patient and continue loving them as I challenge them and raise the bar -- no easy task when you’re dealing with 18-year-olds. These are good kids. They want to learn. We are going to be fine. Just remember it’s a process. Enjoy the ride, Big Blue Nation, because we need you.
Is this the hidden dynamic in Kentucky's attendance blips? It must be difficult to grow attached to a new team every season, and then turn that roster over entirely the following fall; a good number of people wrote some version of this theory to Clay in their responses. Is that the risk of Calipari's high-stakes talent experiment: That fans grow more distant and clinical, too?
Casey Prather gingerly wheeled his Florida-logoed roller bag down a Madison Square Garden hallway, pausing a few times to rest.
It was just after midnight on Wednesday, following the Jimmy V Classic. He pointed to his knees, on which he'd scored 22 points in a 77-75 win over No. 15-ranked Memphis, and said to a writer walking beside him, "I'm old, man. I'm getting old."
Prather is 22. Old, maybe, for college basketball player. An advanced age, certainly, for someone who all of a sudden becomes a college basketball star. This sort of thing does not happen. A guy who averages 3.1 points per game over his first three seasons does not turn into an 18.3-point scorer as a senior, especially for a No. 16-ranked team loaded with talent.
By Prather's age, a player typically is what he is as a collegian. He is a former top-100 recruit, a 6-foot-6 forward who had a few high-flying highlights and a longer list of injuries. As a junior, he was mostly known for being beat up. He suffered two concussions in that preseason -- one from a Patric Young elbow to the head -- and later broke his nose, suffered a head gash that required stitches and high-sprained an ankle. Prather missed nine full games in '12-13 and was limited in others. He was once again expected to be a role player as a senior.
And then a funny thing happened in the Florida's lead-up to 2013-14, coming off a trip to the Elite Eight: Its projected starting senior point guard, Scottie Wilbekin, was indefinitely suspended, along with prize transfer forwards Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris. Top freshman pro prospect Chris Walker wasn't eligible to enroll in school until December. The Gators' best shooter, sophomore guard Michael Frazier, came down with mononucleosis in late October. It was unclear who would be the early focal point of their offense.
"Honestly," Prather said, "we had no idea who would [be the leading scorer]. It just had to play itself out."
"When we walk on the court to play, it's not like our guys are overwhelmed. They've seen just about everything," Donovan said. "Kansas and those teams have great potential, great upside because of their youth. I don't know how many older teams there are. For our eight guys we're playing, four are seniors. … I think there's something to be said for that, having experienced guys."
Technically, there are 77 teams in college basketball with more experience on their roster than Florida, according to KenPom.com. But very few of these older teams have the potential for a deep postseason run quite like the Gators do.
12/18/13, 7:55 AM
Belmont got whacked by 28 points at Denver last night. Somebody wasn't ready to play.
Southern Illinois lost its eighth game of this nascent season and, afterward, Salukis coach Barry Hinson lost his, um, decorum.
This made winners of us all because he went off on what can only be described as an epic rant after the loss to Murray State, one that’s going to be shown endlessly and wonderfully at this joyous holiday season. Highlights:
His best line? “I’ve been telling my wife this for years, size doesn’t matter.” He was talking about rebounds. Presumably.
But wait, there’s more: “My wife…my wife…can score more than two buckets on 11 shots because I know my wife will at least shot fake one time.” Perhaps he should watch “The Mango” episode of Seinfeld.
Then, he went to the “sniper” routine from his days at Kansas. “There was a sniper in the gym. Didn’t you see that? We had guys falling down. We had a guy snipered at half-court. Two guys snipered at half-court. It was unbelievable. I would’ve thought Navy Seal Team 6 was out there.”
“To me, when you’ve got a young team, it’s a lot like house training a puppy dog,” he said. “You know what, when the dog does something wrong, bad dog [gestures as if hitting a pooch with a rolled up program]. I’m not going to hit ‘em. I’m not going to swat ‘em, but bad dog, get on the treadmill.”
“I’ve got a bunch of mama’s boys right now,” Hinson said. “We just won’t buck up and bow our
necks and we’ve got to get through that.”
12/18/13, 8:27 AM
If you know Barry Hinson, you know that rant was vintage. Somewhere this morning, Bill Self is in hysterics, I'm sure
Big XII composite schedule (includes results, highlights, stats)
ESPN College GameDay Schedule
2013-14 TV Schedule
12/18/13, 8:25 AM
Duke transfer Alex Murphy makes his decision today. Florida has been the favorite since he left the Blue Devils. Hasn't changed.
Huntington Prep was taken out of its normal up-and-down style Friday night.
The Irish didn't allow the slowed pace to take them out of the win, though.
In a contrast of styles, Huntington Prep was able to use its speed and athleticism to run past the methodical offensive sets of Cincinnati Walnut Hills in a 64-46 boys basketball victory at the Boyd County Roundball Classic.
The game stayed within 10 points for the first three quarters, but as Walnut Hills had to speed up in an effort to climb back, the Express was able to speed up and extend the lead.
"I'm glad we pulled it out," Huntington Prep coach Rob Fulford said. "That's a tough game obviously because of flow, but we did what we had to late to take control."
Huntington Prep took a 16-point lead on the first possession of the fourth quarter when Ivan Gandia converted a four-point play on a 3-point shot and a foul shot.
Walnut Hills countered with a 9-2 run to close within single digits, but JaQuan Lyle got into the lane on the next two possessions and went to the foul line to extend the lead back to 13.
Lyle had 20 points in the win.
Pete Kaffey was an assistant basketball coach at Cooper High School in April and also the self-described “mentor” to Rashad Vaughn, the team’s star and one of the nation’s top prep players.
But Vaughn left for a prep school near Las Vegas in July — and Kaffey was not far behind in joining him.
By October, Vaughn was a rising star at Findlay Prep, a program in Nevada known as a pipeline for potential NBA talent. Kaffey, meanwhile, emerged as a Findlay Prep assistant coach.
Kaffey said in an interview that he offered Vaughn “an honest opinion” about transferring to Findlay Prep. He declined to discuss how he became a Findlay assistant coach.
Both departures left Cooper’s head coach, Steve Burton, and athletic director John Oelfke struggling to make sense of it all.
“[I’m] a little ‘old school.’ I’m not used to the way these kids transfer around,” Oelfke said. “To be honest with you, I don’t know how Pete is behind that. [We] did a lot of good things for [Vaughn].”
…It is also unclear how Kaffey’s role as Vaughn’s “mentor” applies to the array of high school and college recruiting rules. A new NCAA rule, while not specifically referring to situations such as Kaffey’s, expanded the definition of sports agents to include anyone who represents an individual “for the purpose of marketing his or her athletics ability” for money, or gets paid for getting them into a school. An agent might include, but is not limited to, contract advisers, financial advisers, marketing representatives and brand managers — or anyone associated with such individuals.
NCAA rules prohibit student-athletes from receiving benefits from “agents and advisers.”
Shortly after Kaffey arrived at Findlay Prep, he announced that Vaughn would be taking an official recruiting visit to the nearby University of Nevada-Las Vegas, where Findlay Prep’s former head coach, Todd Simon, is now an assistant.
Kaffey said his mentoring role began when Vaughn was a fifth-grader in Minnesota — he is now a senior — and that Vaughn had become close to Kaffey’s own son.
…Kaffey, 27, pleaded guilty in 2004 to first-degree aggravated robbery. In the case, Kaffey and another man were charged with pulling up to a playground in Brooklyn Center in a purple Dodge and pistol-whipping one victim with the butt of a gun. A second victim, court records showed, was hit several times on the back of the head as he tried to put his infant into a car. According to the complaint, they took roughly $250 and a cellphone.
After successfully completing and being released early from probation, according to court records, Kaffey’s sentence was permanently stayed.
Said F. Clayton Tyler, Kaffey’s attorney: “I can’t say whether he’s a good guy, or a bad guy, but I think that there’s some records that would reflect that he wasn’t a bad guy.”
In a text message last month, Kaffey indicated he would not discuss the case but said that it was “incorrect” to say he had a criminal conviction.
By mid-July, Kaffey was operating in another world from the one he left behind in Minnesota. He said in a phone conversation from Washington, D.C., where he was watching Vaughn, Reid and Jones play in a summer tournament that “I’m here checking them out.” He said he would be back in Minnesota for a few days, then off to Las Vegas and Los Angeles for basketball tournaments and camps. “I’m super busy,” he said.
By late September, Kaffey was at Findlay Prep and talking of how Anthony Bennett, a former Findlay Prep and UNLV player, was the first pick in June’s NBA draft and how that had influenced Vaughn’s decision to transfer. Taylor Bern, a Las Vegas Sun reporter who covers UNLV, said the arrival of Vaughn and then Kaffey at Findlay Prep “looked completely like a package deal.”
Back in Minnesota, the feeling was largely the same. Kaffey’s “got his relationship with Rashad — I really don’t know really what that is,” said Rene Pulley, the executive director of Howard Pulley Basketball in Minnesota. “We don’t have ‘handlers’ or ‘mentors’ here.”
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