Horizon League Finds New Partner

With July 1 being the start of the new fiscal year, news reports surfaced on Wednesday that the IUPUI Jaugars will replace Valparaiso in the Horizon League.

This move means they will no longer have to travel to South Dakota.  Instead, the Jaguars will play the likes of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Detroit (in their new Little Caesars Arena that replaces Joe Louis Arena and The Palace of Auburn Hills), Illinois-Chicago, and Green Bay.

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Is Having a 20 Game Conference Schedule Here to Stay, or Just A Fad?

John Calipari is fed up about the change the ACC will be doing, and the Big Ten may soon follow suit

I found this interesting article from the sports media site Awful Announcing on June 13.  Kentucky Head Coach John Calipari, in addition to having a really cool podcast simply called CalCast which I highly suggest subscribing to–was quoted in USA Today via a teleconference call with the other coaches in the SEC about the possible move to having 20 conference games each season instead of the current 18.

The simple reason, the TV networks of ESPN, Fox Sports 1, and CBS want more money.

Taking his comments which I posted below at face value, I have to be honest.  With the ACC slated to move in this direction come 2019-2020 as part of their new cable channel of the ACC Network, the marquee and sometimes sexy matchups of the early part of the non-conference may become fewer and far between unlike in years past.

Here are Coach Calipari’s comments about why he mostly does not support the SEC’s possible change to a 20 game conference schedule:

“They need more inventory for their own network so you just play more league games and then you have more inventory for your network to put on,” Hopefully in our case in this league (the Southeastern Conference) we stay where we are and if we don’t, we’ll make it work.”

What you do is, you take away some of those kind of games that have been good to us.  North Carolina, for example: If they go to 20 games we won’t have any more series with North Carolina, so I’m not for it.

I think teams can use those last two games to put their own schedule together.  If you need a tougher game, if you have a rivalry game, if you need an easier game, if your team needs a team they can beat or a team they’re challenged by, if they need a road game, you can do it with those two games.”

In basic terms, those games will be more than likely be played between December 26 and January 2 when all students are on holiday break.  The Big Ten usually has a conference game as part of a New Year’s Eve blowout of staging a quadrupleheader for their AT&T U-Verse and Comcast based subscribers.

What will this mean as far as schools being pegged in future NCAA Tournaments?  Too early to tell, but logic tells me that scheduling difficult non-conference games and winning them on the road usually leads to Top 4 seed status, not easy 40 point wins against teams in the lower third of the RPI rankings.

At the very least, the fans will be treated to more games–isn’t that what we all crave for during the constant stream of all college football bowl games, all the time every December?  It would more than likely become a welcome respite, but we will see how this all plays out in the future.

 

Kentucky and Kansas Non-Conference Schedules Filled With Mostly Cupcakes Early On

Two of the sport’s true blue bloods not helping out with Selection Committee

Kentucky will be fielding their youngest team since 2012-2013, the year after Anthony Davis led the Wildcats to the national championship.

In the non-conference portion of the schedule that was released on June 7, seven games will feature teams which played in the 2017 NCAA Tournament.
As I commented briefly in my last blog, they continue to churn out excellent talent but the signs always point to them leaving campus three years early and testing the waters in the NBA.

Starting out on Friday, November 10, UK will host Utah Valley–a cupcake game, as Dick Vitale of ESPN fame usually likes to say.  Two days later, the Vermont Catamounts will pay a visit.  Most of the players on Vermont should be back to help lead a possible repeat trip from the America East.

Of course, Christmas will arrive for devoted hoops superfans like me when on Tuesday, November 14–as the back end of ESPN’s annual Tip-Off Marathon, the House That Jordan Built (aka the United Center in Chicago) will host the Champions Classic.  Yes, their backcourt will be young but Kansas is bringing back Devonte’ Graham and Malik Newman–so expect this game to be a major measuring stick for Ashley Judd and other loyal UK alums.

The Wildcats then close out their opening stretch with four games in a eight day stretch hosting East Tennessee State at Rupp Arena on Friday, November 17.  Another cupcake game since four of their top 5 scorers all graduated.  Nothing much to talk about there, except this is the only team in the early part of the season that they have a small history of playing against.  UK has won the previous four meetings.

Troy will more than likely loose by 30 as Kentucky continues to provide more home cooking for their rabid fans on November 20, then two nights later hosts the early darlings of last December, the Mastodons of Indiana-Purdue Fort Wayne.  What kind of game that will turn out to be?  If it is better than seeing Tracey Gold performing on the cheesy reboot of Battle of The Network Stars, count me in on possibly blogging this game before the Turkey break.

During the second busiest travel day of the year, the Sunday after Thanksgiving–UK will continue their homestand against the UIC Flames.  UIC has not had a real competitive team since winning their first NCAA bid way back in 1998, but I will try my best to keep a brief eye on it while most of my focus day is on Le Coupe Grey, Canada’s answer to the Super Bowl with the annual Grey Cup to be staged outdoors at Ottawa.

On December 2, the Harvard Crimson will provide the opposition at Rupp.  What kind of team will Harvard field–the one that is always in the mix come Ivy League season, or will they be in the bottom half trying to fight for a playoff spot to be held at the famed Palestra on the University of Pennsylvania campus during Selection Weekend.

The following Saturday in New York City on December 9, UK will have their first true road game at Monmouth.  Without solid scorers in the likes of Je’lon Hornbeak and Justin Robinson, don’t expect much in this game.

December 16 finds them back at Rupp Arena taking on Virginia Tech.  Finally, a sexy matchup to get excited about.  Expect the Hokies to field another competitive ACC team and we will see by early 2018 if they appear in my “Under The Microscope” series.  The final full shopping day before Christmas (December 23) is the fourth annual CBS Sports Classic, with North Carolina taking on Ohio State and their new head coach Chris Holtmann, Kentucky will renew acquaintances with long-time rival UCLA in New Orleans.  Even without Lonzo Ball, the Bruins should bring their usual compliment of inside presence and deadly long distance shooting.

The second best rivalry behind Duke and North Carolina, Louisville pays their every two year visit to Rupp on December 29.  The Cards will be out to prove to people that they will try their best to put the major sting of their sexual parties inside of their campus dorms behind them.  The Cardinals will be again loaded bringing aboard five-star recruit Brian Bowen along with Deng Adel.

The only real true road game as defined by the NCAA Selection Committee will not take place until January 17, 2018 at West Virginia.  As part of the annual SEC-Big 12 Challenge.  Expect the Mountaineers to get after UK with their full-court press and cause major havoc in front of their excitable crowd in Morgantown.

 

Kansas should be good, but schedule does not quite measure up early on

Bill Self has to replace his two leading scorers, but Kansas fans need not worry too much.  They do bring back some stellar talent.  However, at first glance–this schedule looks like too many laughable wins for Rock. Chalk. Jayhawk:

 

Their schedule strength in non-conference was in the Top 10 during the last five years.  According to KenPom.com, they are ranked 80th which does not translate very well in terms of getting a top 4 seed in next March’s NCAA Tournament–at least on paper.

However, before they attempt to extend their record in romping through the Big 12 Conference, they will start things off hosting Tennessee State at Allen Fieldhouse on November 10.  Four nights later, they will appear at the United Center in the neutral court Champions Classic event on ESPN against Kentucky.

They might have a much tougher test when South Dakota State arrives in Lawrence on Friday, November 17.  One might remember last season the fact that South Dakota State finished fifth in the Summit League, but managed to win their conference tourney to get the auto bid which ended up getting a 16 seed in the NCAAs.

After they should coast easily past Texas Southern on November 21, they close out their pre-Thanksgiving slate with another home game on November 24 against Oakland (Michigan).  Along with Toledo and Syracuse, those two games will be part of the Hoophall Miami Invitational tournament.

Toledo continues the home slate on November 28 before jetting off to Miami for a semi-interesting matchup with the Orange of Syracuse.  Without dynamic scorers in Andrew White, John Gillon, Tyler Robersoon, and Tyler Lydon–the jury will still be out on what kind of team Jim Boeheim will field in his final season as head coach.

December 6 will have a neutral site game in their annual hoops heaven place of Kansas City taking on Washington and first year head coach Mike Hopkins, the former longtime assistant at Syracuse.

On December 10, Arizona State will pay a visit and more than likely lose by 30 or more points.  Six days later will have KU playing their first true road game in Nebraska.  By this point, true Huskers fans will more than likely be thinking about another Final Four appearance by their stellar volleyball team instead of the action on the hardwood.  Expect Kansas to win this game rather handily, along with Omaha back in Lawrence on December 18.

A possible and I mean possible trap game is scheduled for December 21 in Sacramento as Stanford plays an alternate home game 125 miles away from their Palo Alto campus.  Some websites have them possibly grabbing one of the last at-large bids for next March.  Will the Cardinal be included in my annual Fall Season Preview?  Hope you check back regularly and find out close to Halloween.

Finally, as part of the annual Big 12/SEC Challenge, Kansas will host Texas A&M.  Look for the Aggies to possibly finish anywhere from fourth to seventh in the Big 12 this coming season.

Some players to look out for this coming fall

 

 

 

 

Possible preseason First Team All-American in senior Devonte’ Graham leads the Jayhawks to battle and they will also bring back a possible 2018 draft pick in Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk, wing man Lagerald Vick (no relation to the recently retired NFL quarterback Michael Vick) and big man Udoka Azubuike.  Malik Newman will be listed as a redshirt sophomore and the true freshman looking to make an early impact is combo forward Billy Preston.

 

 

 

 

 

 

More Freshmen Leaving For The NBA Than Ever Before

SPECIAL NOTE:  This blog is dedicated to a consummate pro who had a pure radio voice that was honest, calm, fun when it had to be, and most of all–sincere.  In a June 2010 blog post on the website of popular Chicago rock radio station WXRT.com, this longtime disk jockey who helped start a popular program called ‘Saturday Morning Flashback’ had this to say on why she loved doing the job:

“Imagine, picking a bunch of great songs of a certain year from the amazing XRT archives, closing the studio door, and cranking it up! That’s what I get to do every Saturday, and I love it.”

Today (Saturday, June 24) marked the final day for longtime radio personality Wendy Rice as she announced her retirement after 39 years in radio, the last 35 consecutive of them spent in Chicago after doing a brief stint in downstate Peoria.  Growing up in Champaign, Illinois–Rice cut her teeth both writing and producing a 15 minute weekly show devoted to high school sports.  When she interned for WXRT–then a progressive rock station in 1978, she admitted that, “I only signed up for a few weeks, but did not know I would be there my whole career.”

My memories go back as far as March 1998 while stumbling through the digits on my digital stereo, as she would highlight the top songs on that year’s Listener Poll, along with dropping in tidbits on pop culture, top movies, news headlines, and other odd/cool things from 1988.  The following month, 1989 premiered and the fun times were just beginning for four fun filled hours to fill up every Saturday morning.

Each Wednesday, I would usually check their website in the Programming Highlights section to see what year would be coming up for the following weekend.  If it is any year from the 1980’s, I was definitely listening–even for a few minutes doing my weekly errands away from the computer.

If they were featuring a year from 1967 through 1979 or anything from 1991 on, I would be doing other things.  But this morning, Wendy dedicated her final show from the year she began as an intern in 1978 by simply saying to her fans:

“Carry on.  And I will definitely be listening to ‘Flashback’, done by the very capable hands of Johnny Mars and Frank E. Lee.”

I will admit, having the four hour block is excellent for any painting parties you might be having–whether it is fixing up a few rooms or an entire house.

And figuring with most of our general attention spans being the size of a pea, the show will be truncated starting on July 1 to three hours:  9 a.m. to noon if you are listening with the TuneIn or CBS Radio apps in Eastern time, 8 to 11 a.m. in Chicago.

I wish to take this brief opportunity to thank WXRT for giving us the immense talents of one Wendy Rice, a true pro all the way in every sense of the word.

Who knew that during her time away from the radio, she would use her voice in an entirely different era–as a middle school teacher.

Next stop for Wendy Rice, hopefully her name will come up for possible enshrinement in the National Radio Hall of Fame.  She definitely deserves it.

And the other reason I wanted to thank WXRT Radio, you have given me full permission to spend that 11 a.m. hour and beyond with your corporate cousins over at CBS Sports so I can enjoy the football factory that is SEC college football in the fall and more college basketball during the winter months.

**********************************************************************************

Back to the main point in this blog:

On Thursday evening at the annual NBA Draft, a record 16 freshmen were selected by NBA teams.  Only two seniors were chosen.

As Jalen Rose said during the telecast,

“We are choosing players on potential.  It used to be, we would draft players based on performance.  That is no longer the case.”

Two names immediately come to mind, Frank Mason III of Kansas and Josh Hart of Villanova.  Great players in college, I get that.  Had they been playing in 1987, they would have been in the top 10.  Instead, they went late in the first round as the likes of Markelle Fultz of Washington and Zach Collins of Gonzaga impressed scouts at the Draft Combine in Chicago to become Top 10 picks.

This era of ‘one and done’ is certainly not working.  Players continue to follow the money and colleges are suffering a bit with the fact that their ability to get degrees on time has largely taken a back seat.

I have a simple question:  What happens if that player makes a cut to the basket and is fouled hard, either ruining their ACL, MCL, back, or foot in the process?  Players today need to be educated big time on the complex puzzle we simply call life.

Can the players sustain themselves financially if their playing days suddenly come to an end?  Can the NCAA and NBA ever come to a consensus that a minimum two years staying in college help improve at all levels of the sport?

Kentucky would be number one in the polls this coming November if Malik Monk and De’Aaron Fox decided to stay in school.  Instead, John Calipari will be hard at work trying to teach the youngest group ever in Kentucky basketball history.

As you will see in my next few blogs, the non-conference schedule for November and December has a lot of cupcake games in them.  Same for fellow blue bloods in Kansas.  Whatever happened to creative scheduling so the Selection Committee can give those schools an extra incentive to getting higher seeds in the NCAA Tournament, instead of just skating by with a 10 or 11 seed and being sent to Dayton to play in the first four set of games.

And what happened to great note takers?  I am sure many ladies reading this blog know exactly what I am talking about.  I recall reading a few studies during the late 1990’s and it simply said that the people who took great notes while in school would land successful and profitable careers, while those who took below average notes mostly have struggled to find decent paying work.

Hopefully, something can be done with the administrations and athletic departments in each of the Power 5 conferences to make the game better and keep most of their key stars at least for three full seasons.  This way, the NBA would benefit on getting character guys and use their time with handling the rock as not only their primary focus.

Louisville Sanctions from Sex Scandals Handed Down by NCAA

Four year probation period includes games played with ineligible players from November 2010 through July 2014

ESPN and other media outlets and websites reported what is the first wave of sanctions against Rick Pitino and the Louisville men’s basketball program.

On Thursday morning, the laundry list of sanctions includes but is not limited to the following:

  • A four year probation period starting in November 2017 and continuing into the 2020-2021 school year
  • Head Coach Rick Pitino will be suspended from coaching the first five ACC games in January 2018
  • Former assistant Andre McGee was given a ten year show of cause penalty.  This means McGee cannot apply for any NCAA type job until June 2027 at the earliest.

What was not mentioned at all was which specific games ineligible players played between November 2010 and March 2014.  In an Outside the Lines report on ESPN, some recruits who attended the parties where Katrina Powell led her sexual encounters inside some of the Louisville dorms were under the age of 18.

Remember, this ruling from the NCAA is not without precedent.  Syracuse, Kentucky, and separately years ago with SMU football in the 1980’s have had similar or harsher penalties.

As expected, Louisville proceeded with fighting the charges and they have 45 days to file a formal dispute.

What ESPN college basketball analyst Seth Greenberg mentioned on Thursday afternoon is what other shoes might drop in reference to the pending academic cheating scandal at North Carolina:

“Will this be enough to take down the banner?  North Carolina is simply waiting for something to happen.”

The Louisville Cardinals 2013 national championship could be subject to more questioning in the days and weeks going forward.

Thinking big picture here for a moment…

If any CEO of any organization feels inside his/her mind that they are running a clear ship free of any problems large or small and out of nowhere–without their knowledge they are handed a memo or worse, shown a video clip on their smartphone of a CMO or similar high ranking position doing things against the company rules with a secretary outside of business hours, the blame clearly falls with the CEO for failing to comply.

Rick Pitino is one of a handful of great coaches in basketball, I don’t care if you are talking college or in the NBA.  What we don’t know is how much he was in on what Andre McGree did in arranging for the strippers to visit with the recruits.

Through it all, Pitino continues to take the high road in standing firm that he did not see anything out of the ordinary happen behind closed doors.  It is such a shame we live in a society where mostly strange things happening are suddenly the norm and honesty for the most part is given the cold shoulder.

And if the NCAA acted even for a brief moment like most respectable organizations, the penalties would have been way harsher than this.   Will possible ineligibility to play in the 2018 ACC and NCAA Tournaments not be too far behind?

In the court of public opinion, myself and other fans who answer that proverbial questions would tend to do the same things that Heidi Klum, Howie Mandel and Friends do most of the time on America’s Got Talent–say a resounding “Yes.”

This story is not over.  It will be interesting to see what happens next at the school as a whole and especially with the working of the men’s basketball program, normally one of the nation’s top 40 programs in the country year in and year out.

 

LaVall Jordan leaves Wisconsin-Milwaukee to become new coach at Butler

Wow, that was fast.

Just three days after Chris Holtmann left Indianapolis for Columbus, Ohio to try and steer the Ohio State Buckeyes to respectability in the Big Ten, Butler pounced quickly for his replacement.

Beating out some major names from the likes of former longtime Marquette and Indiana Coach Tom Crean and Xavier assisatnt coach Travis Steele, LaVall Jordan returns to his alma mater with quite a resume already in hand.

He is 37 and was a player when current Athletic Director Barry Collier was a coach for Butler.  Although he started out as a head coach just this past season suffering some familiar growing pains going only 11-24 (4-14 in the Horizon League) at Wisconsin-Milwaukee, this should be a nice hire for Butler in the fact that he both played there and was an assistant there.

“LaVall is a tremendous coach who exemplifies ‘The Butler Way,’ ” He has played a major role in successful programs that have competed at the highest levels. LaVall also has a deep appreciation for our university and this program, and will recruit and develop young men who will represent Butler well.”

Butler Athletic Director Barry Collier in statement on Monday night in announcing LaVall Jordan as new men’s basketball coach

Financial terms of the deal, according to many broadcast outlets and websites were not disclosed.

Chris Holtmann leaves Butler to become new coach at Ohio State

Nationwide search lasted only four days

The news came rather swiftly on Friday afternoon.

According to media outlets ranging from ESPN, CBSSports.com, and the Associated Press, the 45 year old Holtmann leaves Butler after three very impressive years in which the Bulldogs reached the NCAA Tournament each time.

Something for the diehards in Columbus to hang their hat on is the fact that Butler reached the Sweet 16 this past March.

The contract is good for 8 years at a robust $24 million.

For Butler, the clock is ticking towards the July evaluation period and we will see if former longtime Marquette and Indiana coach Tom Crean will be heading north on desolate Indiana Highway 37 to reach the legendary Hinkle Fieldhouse.  According to Garry Parrish from CBSSports.com, he mentioned that Crean’s name is one huge name that the Bulldogs are hoping to covet.

We will see if and when anything transpires sometime next week.  In the meantime, it is back to Square One for the Buckeyes men’s basketball program.