2017-2018 Season Preview: Seeking Some Much Needed Clarity From The Biggest Scandal Ever To Rock The Sport

Hi once again, hoops fans.  I hope everyone had a nice summer, even with all of the trials and tribulations that life often greets us with (and sometimes gives us outcomes we do not wish to see or hear–i.e. the daily fishbowl that is Capitol Hill and the constant stream of events at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, DC that have many millions of Americans mostly feeling angry or uncertain).

There are so many angles I could have chosen to begin my Fifth Annual Season Preview:

a) With Grayson Allen returning to Duke, will he act like the second coming of Bobby Hurley–or will he still play the Villain card and trip up more people while getting more technical fouls and possible ACC suspensions in the process?  Even having heralded freshman Marvin Bagley III in a mostly crowded back court, will he just be another in the long line of Blue Devils phenoms gone in the blink of an eye?  Or, will media members be labeling him as a logical replacement for Jayson Tatum?

b) The former media darlings in Valparaiso (2018 will mark the 20th anniversary of Bryce Drew’s most famous shot to slay down Mississippi in the first round of the NCAA Tournament)–most people don’t know they are in a different conference this season.  The Crusaders departed their longtime cushy place in the Horizon League and bolted for (hopefully) bigger pastures in the Missouri Valley.  On a larger scale, the recent giant killers in Gregg Marshall’s Wichita State Shockers sent the first dominoes eastward when they moved out of The Valley and into some slightly rough terrain that is the American Athletic Conference (more in that in my next blog, where I give my annual predictions on which 68 schools will hear their names called on CBS Sports come the early evening of Sunday, March 11, 2018).

c) Can Fox Sports actually draw anywhere between a 4 and a 5 rating for their debut season covering college basketball?  They can barely draw between a 2 and 3 for their Big Ten, Big 12, and Pac 12 football games.

d) With esteemed journalists from the likes of Dana O’Neil and Seth Davis moving to an online pay subscriber site called TheAthletic.com, will fans pony up enough money to continue receiving quality content–since FoxSports.com is all videos and no text since July 2017?

e) This also plays into the fact that Sports Illustrated recently announced that they will be cutting back further on producing issues per year–from their last high of 51 in 2015 to 32 in 2017 and will go down to 26 in 2018.  Clearly, people are using their smartphones wayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy too much, and that is the way we are heading into the next decade and beyond.  Just look back at one of my blog posts from this past March, and you can see how many options there are to catch college basketball without using a television set or cable provider like Comcast or AT&T U-Verse.

f) And please don’t get me started on what Cooper Hefner is planning to do with Playboy magazine, since The Man, The Legend himself in Hugh Hefner finally had too many silk robes to take to heaven so he could talk side by side with past Playmates that have gone before us.

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The scandal that has rocked college basketball which came to light on September 26, 2017 has literally and figuratively changed the general landscape on which teams will (hopefully) emerge scot-free from the sting of this scandal, and if more names could be brought in for questioning.  I have often wondered for years why shoe companies get away with so much and student-athletes continue to be mostly be used as guinea pigs instead of trying to figure out West Virginia’s full-court press starting in the back court.  No question about it, the 2017-2018 season is going to start out unlike any other in recent memory.

And even CBS Sports has devoted a full-time link to any stories that continue to come to the surface–and if more names are mentioned, they can be found here:

http://www.cbssports.com/college-basketball/news/college-basketball-scandal-updates-fired-louisville-coach-rick-pitino-sues-adidas/

It is well documented from many print and online sources too numerous to mention that many of the high profile coaches earn more money than their school presidents or even the Governors in their state.  To me, mentioning that statement is extremely shocking.

Presuming there is any clarity at all in the coming weeks and months, this much I do know:

  • Expect the schools affected initially by the bribery scandal to take a dip in the polls–like Arizona, Oklahoma State, Auburn, USC, and especially Louisville.  I would not be surprised if they appeared in my periodic “Under The Microscope” series come either January or February.
  • This could be the last year of the RPI as we know it, as the rules are going to be relaxed just a bit to help the mid-majors get their coveted chance at reaching the NCAA Tournament.  The biggest change involved any road losses by schools in the 300 plus range, they will not hurt as much as it did in the cases of Monmouth in 2015, Murray State and SMU in 2016, along with Illinois State in 2017.  If the new rules were around then, all of those aforementioned teams would have qualified for the Big Dance.
  • We are firmly in an era of “one and done” players.  16 players were drafted in the first round in this past June’s NBA Draft, with the previous high being 8.  As NBA Commissioner Adam Silver mentioned on one of the final editions of the Mike & Mike Show on ESPN Radio (October 16, 2017):

“Clearly, we see the college game is not working.”

“The last two #1 picks (Ben Simmons of LSU and Marques Fultz of Washington) came from schools that did not reach the NCAA Tournament.”

Fans in the traditional conferences will not have the chance to savor great moments spanning sometimes over 100 games for three or four years, unlike during the Atari video game heyday when star players stuck around not only to get an education–but learn valuable life lessons while attending college.  That somehow is being sugarcoated in today’s economy, since most people in the Millennial generation are looking for ways to get more money and they want it quickly.  Some students even get away with skirting the system strictly for their benefit.

And yes, I am one of many thousands of people praying and hoping and wishing that something has to change, and it all starts with the administrations of those schools.  Not only they have to be held accountable, they might have to think seriously about rewriting part of their antiquated rule books.

Each school has to come up with a system that not only works, but works well and most importantly, is fair for everyone.  From the upper level chemist looking to make our lives better in the field of medicine or the softball player hoping to start up a Silicon Valley business of her own, and maybe the volleyball player that could someday unseat Megyn Kelly and her somewhat unpopular show on NBC News.  But that could be another topic for another day.

And we are all still scratching our heads over the North Carolina decision on October 13, where fake courses were given to student-athletes over a period of 13 years and very little was done to rectify it.  All the NCAA says in their rules is that jurisdiction has to fall with the individual institutions–the NCAA was not judge or jury in this 3 1/2 year case.  North Carolina would have been faced with up to five major rules violations.  So, where is the answer?  I bet not even retired sportscaster Brent Musburger might have something to say with him promoting gambling 24/7 out in Las Vegas.

Will the interconference matchups be as juicy as they were in years past?

Yes and no.  Yes in the fact that ESPN wants you to continue to watch, whether on TV or on the ESPN app.  I am glad Dan Shulman is giving up baseball so he can concentrate on corralling Dickie V from going off the rails.  Former Indiana and Marquette head coach Tom Crean will be dissecting key moments inside the comfy ESPN studios, while former standout players from UConn in Caron Butler and Robbie Hummel from Purdue fame will be game analysts throughout the season.  Meanwhile, over at BTN–Andy Katz has found himself a new gig in Chicago basically doing the same things he did nationally for many years at ESPN before being one of the over 120 people that was laid off in May 2017.  Look for Katz both in the studio and being an analyst at key games throughout the Big Ten Conference.

And if I say no, it depends on how many freshman and sophomores end up starting in key roles.  Generally speaking, college basketball is more fun if you have juniors and seniors at the forward spots, a crafty sophomore or junior guard at the 4 spot, a sophomore to senior sharp setter at the shooting guard position, and maybe another established junior or senior at center.

At the Big Ten Media Day on October 19 inside the ballroom at the famous Madison Square Garden in New York City, the conference announced they will be expanding their conference season to 20 games, up from 18 starting with the 2018-2019 season.  There will also be three “protected match-ups” (basically, the geographic in-state rivalries), which means these schools will play each other twice during the regular season:

  • Illinois-Northwestern
  • Purdue-Indiana
  • Michigan-Michigan State

And yet, the conference will have its’ earliest end date ever on Sunday, March 4 when CBS airs yet another Big Ten postseason title game.  This will be just a scant three weeks after the Grammy Awards will be presented on that same stage, also on CBS.  Only time will tell if that extra week off will help those teams that do end up qualifying for the Big Dance.

The Annual Big Z All Cool Names Team

F Bonzie Colson, Notre Dame.  On track for hopefully one more double-double season.  Even the ACC on October 26 placed its’ collective stock as the conference’s annual Preseason Player of the Year.

F Francesco Badocchi, Virginia.  Bet with a last name like that, some type of Barilla pasta is on the game day menu (for me, penne or mostaciolli gets me every time).

C Jo Lual-Acuil, Baylor.  Hope the announcers have the last syllable as “Cool.”

If that isn’t the case, my bad.

G DeAnthony Melton, USC

G Landry Shamet, Wichita State

Honorable Mention:  David Nickleberry, Memphis and LiAngelo Ball, younger brother of Lonzo–following in his rather large footsteps at UCLA.  And yes, another younger brother is on the horizon for Westwood fans longing for the glory days in LaMelo–pegged for the 2019-2020 school year.

Top Five Games To Watch, Either on TV or your Smartphone

Tuesday, November 14:  State Farm Champions Classic United Center, Chicago

7 p.m. Duke vs. Michigan State on ESPN Television or on the ESPN app.  Early chance to see potential All-American candidates Miles Bridges against Grayson Allen.

In between games will again have Rece Davis, Joey Galloway, and Friends in one of the upper balconies dissecting that week’s college football rankings before revealing the CFP’s Top 4.  At around 9:30 p.m. Eastern time to close out ESPN’s 24 Hour Tip-Off Marathon, another classic match-up will feature heavyweights Kentucky basically starting over against more prized freshmen from Kansas.

Monday, November 20  Maui Jim Maui Invitational, Lahaina Civic Center, Hawaii

4:30 p.m. Wichita State vs. California, second Quarterfinal on ESPN2.  The Shockers should already have a nice winning streak going into this game.  I will hope to preview the entire tournament the weekend of November 18-19 with a short blog and podcast, so look for that later on this month in your inboxes.

Wednesday, November 29  7:30 p.m. Michigan at North Carolina, part of the annual Big Ten/ACC Challenge on ESPN.  Other games worth a small peek include Maryland at Syracuse along with Wisconsin at Virginia on November 27, while Northwestern will have a tricky challenge trying to corral the Wramblin’ Wreck that is Georgia Tech on November 28.  Louisville at Purdue would have been a stellar game if it was played last year, but we will see what type of teams David Padgett and Matt Painter will present at Mackey Arena/Gene Keady Court.

Friday, December 1  Creighton at Gonzaga, 10:15 p.m. on ESPN2.  Will the ‘Zags have any lingering feelings after missing out on cutting down the nets this past April?

Saturday, December 30  CBS/CBS Sports app Tripleheader:

Noon, Wichita State at UConn, XL Center in Hartford.  Great early season test for the new AAC entrants, as some experts have Wichita State possibly meeting Cincinnati or UConn in the final game before Selection Sunday at the Amway Center in Orlando, Florida.

2 p.m. Florida State at Duke, followed up at 4 p.m. with Villanova at Butler.

Two games with contrasting styles, the visitors hope to play fast–while the home teams look to milk the shot clock in every way possible.  Normally, CBS has a tripleheader following the end of the NFL regular season.  But with the Sun Bowl being on earlier in the week, and the key women’s games being shifted over to their 24 hour cable home at the CBS Sports Network, one can safely say this will be a nice pre-New Year’s feast for true hoops fans.  The next time you would see another tripleheader without cable access will be January 20, 2018 with Villanova visiting UConn, followed by Texas at West Virginia and closing out with Arizona traveling to Stanford.

The Westwood One Radio Network will have a slightly truncated schedule due to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea from February 8-25.  Their first games will be airing in-between football’s conference championships and the Super Bowl on the weekend of January 27 and 28.  Of course, my best bet from the many thousands of games that are not only provided by each school network and other local outlets can be found easily using the TuneIn app–also available for free on desktops and laptops at  www.tunein.com

A Few Key Rule Changes To Keep In Mind

With every new season comes the usual plethora of rules that are adopted by the NABC to help improve the flow of the game and make it more player and fan friendly (usually involves the case of the latter and not the former).

Change number one is when there is a foul committed while there are less than 20 seconds showing on the shot clock, the shot clock will reset to 20, not at the regular length of 30.  Hopefully, more quick sets should bring about more possessions per game and possibly more scoring.  The other big change is that there will be a 10-foot extension on each side for each coaching box, an increase from 28 to 38 feet.  Coaches will no longer have to yell from that wide of a distance ever again.

Final Early Season Thoughts

Usually every year, there can be anywhere from six to eight schools that most media members (except for the sports editors and SID’s at the respective campuses) will be surprised by their overall body of record and getting that coveted invite to the NCAA Tournament.  Consequently, there will be some past powerhouse teams that will continue to struggle–like Wisconsin, Syracuse, and North Carolina State.

Once all of the turkey leftovers are either properly disposed of during the annual four day long Thanksgiving holiday weekend, or better off frozen for the duration of the winter to make your favorite turkey soup–we should have a pretty good idea on which 25 to 30 teams will be in the upper echelon and have a nice feeling towards the ten members that comprise the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Committee.

More about them if and only if CBS Sports decides to do another bracket preview show like they did last February.

In my next blog coming to your inboxes during the week of November 6, I will present my annual ‘blind stabs in the dark’ as I try to predict which 68 schools will qualify for the 2018 NCAA Men’s Division I Basketball Tournament.

As usual, comments are always welcome in any of my blogs from the past or the ones that are in the present.  The bottom line is–we all have our favorite schools and players.  And thanks to most people enjoying the coverage on their mobile devices, watching and listening to the games is a lot easier than in decades past.

All I then have to say is:

Let the fun begin next Friday night!  Hopefully, there won’t be any more major news of significance stemming from the bribery scandal that could further rock the sport.  Above all, with the concussion issue still front and center across all sports–especially in football–I hope that all players can try to play fair and most importantly, stay healthy both athletically and academically.  After all, they are part of our future and hopefully, these players can set themselves and show their schools some great examples for today’s current high school students whom are looking for true understanding in how to survive today’s ever changing technological environment.

 

 

 

 

 

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Joel Berry II of North Carolina out at least 4 weeks

Very freakish injury, at least in the mind of this blog reporter

ESPN, the Sporting News, CBS Sports, and other media outlets reported Wednesday afternoon that the 2017 Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four–North Carolina senior guard Joel Berry II injured his hand on Monday after punching a door moments after losing a video game to teammate Theo Pinson and a team manager.  No other details about this injury were made public.

North Carolina Head Coach Roy Williams disclosed on ACC Media Day that there will be a platoon system involving Pinson, along with Jalek Felton and Seventh Woods that will see some significant playing time against some very stiff competition that the Tar Heels usually face in the non-conference portion of the schedule.

If that was me, I would go punch any pillow–much softer and no trip to the hospital would become necessary.  Next thing you know, Saturday Night Live might make a point about it in their next Weekend Update.

And that creates yet another change in my Fifth Annual Men’s College Basketball Season Preview, which is in the finishing touches.  All that is left for me to do besides checking that my voice is ready to do the first podcast since April and read over the 30 conference previews so I can fill my second blog in early November.

Rick Pitino Fired As Louisville Coach

Louisville Board of Directors reached unanimous decision on Monday

This news should not come as any surprise for those following the corruption scandal involving the Basketball Hall of Fame coach.

Bottom line is this–Rick Pitino is out after 16 years as Louisville Head Coach.  As it stands (unless the NCAA ultimately strips their 2013 championship banner), he is the only coach to win NCAA championships with two different schools–the other while he was at arch-rival Kentucky in the last year that a Final Four took place not in a domed stadium, at the old East Rutherford Arena in New Jersey in 1996.

He was initially given an unpaid administrative leave, unlike former Athletic Director Tom Jurich who was given a paid administrative leave.

ESPN and other broadcast outlets reported that the firing was done “for just cause.”  What that basically means for you non-Criminal Justice majors out there is that according to Wikipedia and thefreedictionary.com website under Employment Law, it means the following:

This type of standard has developed for employees not protected by an employment or a union contract.  This standard developed during the 1980’s is an alternative to the traditional employment at-will doctrine.  Under this doctrine, which has been in place since the late 1800s, employees who do not have an employment contract could be terminated at the will of the employer for any reason, or for no reason at all.  Under the newer just cause standard, many jurisdictions can hold an employer to their word where the employer stated it would not fire employees without just cause.

Before this despicable set of circumstances occurred, the Louisville Cardinals were pegged by many experts to be a Final Four contender, let alone a Top 10 team.  Kiss those predictions good bye because as it stands right now as I typed this blog at 7:15 p.m. Central Daylight Time, I would not be at all surprised to possibly see the NCAA lay down the hammer big time and strip away their 2013 national championship banner.

Unlike what happened with North Carolina this past Friday, where they basically got off scot-free avoiding up to five major violations in their academic scandal involving 13 years of the school giving out fake classes to student-athletes.

Again, this is basically the tip of the iceberg.  By the time the first set of games tip off shortly after Veteran’s Day–hopefully, there will be more clarity going forward in the sport that I have been following passionately since Magic Johnson and Larry Bird dueled for the first time at the 1979 Final Four in Salt Lake City, Utah.

My Fifth Annual Season Preview will be hitting your inboxes soon enough.  In the meantime, please have a good night and a really nice tomorrow.