Friday, October 17, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #8 Iowa Hawkeyes

I'm going to be honest with you here - I barely remember anything about Iowa.  I know they should have made the NCAA Tournament two years ago over the Gophers after closing hot but didn't, and I know they probably shouldn't have made it last season after collapsing down the stretch which they then proved by losing to Tennessee in a game which I can't even remember if it was close or not.  I also remember Roy Marble - both of them - and they're both gone now and even though they're used to the old guy being gone his kid having graduated is going to pose a major problem since he was pretty much the guy who could create his own shot there.  Maybe I do remember more stuff.  Like how annoying that entire team (sans Marble) was.

Now the job of scorer goes to annoying ginger Aaron White, the Hawkeyes second leading scorer (12.8ppg) and leading rebounder (6.7rpg) last season.  White was incredibly efficient last season (15th best true shooting % in the country) in large part because he was able to be more selective with Marble using up so many possessions and drawing tons of defensive attention.  Zach McCabe also used a ton of possessions (took 22% of Iowa's shots when he was on the floor) and he's gone too so there'll be plenty of extra shots this season for White to take more of and fail spectacularly.

Two other guys who might grab some of those extra shots are starting guards Mike Gesell and Josh Oglesby.  They're super mediocre, but Gesell does a nice job of running the offense and Oglesby can heat up from the outside which the Gophers unfortunately saw twice since Oglesby shot 9-16 from three in the two games Iowa played against them.  The fit the profile for Iowa guards by being extremely annoying, as does reserve guard Peter Jok who really, really likes to shoot and other reserve guard Anthony Clemmens who really hates to.

Even though White is probably the key to seeing if the Hawkeyes make the NCAA Tournament or not, the key to how good they can be and how far they can go is junior center Adam Woodbury.  He's a legit 7-1 and it was a major upset a couple of years ago when the hometown kid signed on with the Hawkeyes despite offers from North Carolina and Ohio State when he ranked as the #39 player in the country.  After a so-so freshman year, however, Woodbury stagnated and maybe even regressed in year two, and put up averages of just 5.7 points and 3.9 rebounds per game last year.  With both McCabe and Melsahn Basabe (7.2ppg, 5.7rpg) gone it's time for Woodbury to get his shit together.  6-8 junior Jarrod Uthoff was pretty decent last year and he should help out, but it kind of needs to be Woodbury's year.

Iowa has several fairly decent pieces back, but a ton of questions as well.  Most likely 8th is a bit low and they'll be in the hunt for an NCAA bid, but they're Iowa so they can all just go to hell.


Monday, October 13, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #9 Maryland Terrapins

Welcome to the league, Maryland.  Sorry all your players are leaving.  Ok not all, and there's still talent here, but five of the team's eight top scorers transferred out - not graduated, but transferred which is pretty weird.  They still retained scorers #1, #3, and #4 and bring in a nice recruiting class so they won't be at the bottom of the conference, but I don't really see them finishing in the upper division either.

The leading returnee is senior wing Dez Wells, who averaged 14.9 points per game last season.  He's a pretty rare combo of both efficient (top 200ish true shooting percentage each of the last two seasons) and high usage (25% of possessions each of those seasons).  Wells should be in line for post-season All Big 10 hardware, and will likely also cause the most "who the hell is this guy" reactions among the Williams Arena faithful.  Among those who know, you may see a "no means no" sign or something similar considering he was booted from Xavier due to what look like false allegations, but visiting fans aren't much interested in truth so you know.

Along with Wells the Terps get a couple of long-range bombers back in wings Jake Layman (6-8) and Evan Smotrycz (6-9, and yes the same one who used to be at Michigan) who each hit more than 50 three pointers last year, both at a 37% clip.  They should help ease the loss of those other five guys seeing as how they can supply both perimeter scoring and size/rebounding (5.0 and 6.0 per game last year).  Neither is completely reliant on the three either, so they can help provide inside scoring as well.  If you were going to keep just three guys off last year's Maryland squad, these would probably be your three best choices.

Which is good, because they're basically going to have to rely on freshmen beyond Wells, Layman, and Smotrycz.  The key to the season may be point guard Romelo Trimble, ESPN's #29 incoming freshman this year, who, because of the defections, will basically be handed the ball and the starting job.  He plays both guard spots but thrived after moving to point guard, even snagging a position as a McDonald's All-American.  Fellow freshman Dion Wiley (#52) will provide depth and join Layman and Smotrycz as another light 'em up jump shooter.

Normally losing what Maryland lost would be recipe for disaster and obviously they'd be a better team if everybody stuck around, but Maryland has enough staying and enough incoming to at least challenge for an NCAA Tournament bid.  Maryland hasn't been the Maryland of the past, not having made an NCAA Tournament since 2010 - not once in Mark Turgeon's three years.  He's going to need to find a way to have this team take a step forward this season or he could find himself in trouble.


Thursday, October 9, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #10 Indiana Hoosiers

And you thought Yogi Ferrell shot the ball a ton last year.  Four hundred and nine times to be precise, a number that ranked 7th in the entire league.  Considering Ferrell was supposed to be a "true" point guard, nobody else on the team even cracked 300 and only two other players shot over 200 times, and he was fourth in eFG% among those who played 50% of Indiana's minutes last season, that's probably not a good thing.  Don't get me wrong, Ferrell had a pretty fantastic season overall and he deserved his All Big Ten status, but ignoring everyone else, particularly when you have a guy like Noah Vonleh on the team, either means you have a terrible coach or a very selfish player.  Consider Tom Crean is the coach and Ferrell's usage rate skyrocketed once Crean didn't have his security blanket combo of Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo to rely upon, I feel safe blaming it on Crean, mainly because he's an absolutely horrible coach and a terrible person.

Crean did take an Indiana program that Kelvin Sampson did his best to destroy from a 1-17 conference record in 2009 all the way to a national title contender in 2013 and he deserves credit for that.  The problem is that now he seems to be reversing course and crashing the program back into the abyss with players fleeing left and right.  Ferrell is back from last season and Vonleh heading to the NBA was inevitable, even if Crean completely mismanaged him.  Will Sheehey and Evan Gordon graduated which isn't technically Crean's fault.  But then the transfers:  Austin Etherington to Butler, Jeremy Hollowell to Georgia State, Peter Jurkin to ETSU, and Luke Fischer to Marquette, All this with plenty of minutes available, leaving Indiana completely gutted on the inside.

It's debatable how much any of these guys would have helped, but 3 of the 4 played 10 or more minutes per game last season and all were big men.  All of the impact returnees (Ferrell, Stanford Robinson, and Troy Williams) are guards or wings, and even though Crean is bringing in a highly regarded recruiting class the two big impact recruits are James Blackmon Jr. and Robert Johnson, both guards.  No matter how good these guys are, and they are ranked in the top 50 overall by ESPN, they're both 6-3 or under.  I just don't know how Indiana is going to compete in the Big Ten with this lack of size.

The returnees who could impact things are Williams, who is 6-7 but weighs just 207 lbs., Devin Davis, who could probably play in the paint but averaged just 8.8 minutes per game last year, and Hanner Mosquera-Perea, who is big enough but played less than Davis.  Crean brought in two freshman centers but one is 6-9 and 200 lbs. and was described by ESPN as frail, and the other seems like a panic signing considering they nabbed in Spring (always a little scary) and his offer list was a little mid-major-y (actually both were Spring signings after all the transfers).

Don't get me wrong, if I'm an Indiana fan I could talk myself into some optimism.  Ferrell, Blackmon, and Johnson could end up as the best backcourt trio in the conference by the end of the season.Mosquera-Perea, Williams and Robinson were all top 100 recruits as incoming freshman, and Davis played two of his best games of the year in the two games prior to their season finale (in which he played 6 minutes because Crean).  I can see why most publications see this as rosier for the Hoosiers than I do, but do I think Crean can take this mix and blend them into a highly efficient basketball machine?  Not remotely.  I see him rolling the ball to Ferrell and telling him to run fast and shoot faster, which means the Hoosiers will be playing a lot of circus ball this year while being crappy at the same time.  And that's kind of perfect.


Monday, October 6, 2014

Big 10 Basketball Preview: #11 Penn State

Now Tim Frazier, like Talor Battle is gone.  The next version may have just arrived in University Park (more on him later) but for now at least the cupboard isn't totally bare as the Nittany Lions bring back an all-league player (I assume, I didn't look this up) in D.J. Newbill, the second leading returning scorer in the conference at 17.8 points per game.  Newbill doesn't have the all-around game Frazier had, but he was a more efficient scorer (50.2 vs. 46.3 eFG%) despite a higher usage rate, and he out-rebounded Frazier 4.9 vs. 4.4 per game while coming in second on the team in assists.  He really is an excellent scorer, hitting double figures in 31 of 34 games last year, and also very consistent, as he never scored more than 25 in a game.  That'll probably be different this year.

After Newbill you have five guys who are pretty much known commodities, seeing as they're all juniors or seniors.  Ross Travis is the tough bang around rebounder, Brandon Taylor is the stretch four, Donovan Jack is the athlete, John Johnson is the shooter, and Jordan Dickerson is the seven footer.  The good news is these guys are all experienced, all have a skill, and mostly all have size (only Johnson at 6-1 is smaller than 6-6).  The not as good news is this is basically the same team from last year that went 6-12 in conference, except without their best player.

There's certainly upside here.  With this many older players it increases the likelihood that one or more of them make more than a marginal improvement over last season and it's possible somebody becomes a solid second banana.  Travis could develop a more complete offensive game and/or completely dominate the boards.  Taylor or Jack could become an elite scorer.  Johnson could destroy from the 3-point line or Dickerson could become a paint destroyer.  That's why I'd say of all the lower division teams (as I'm predicting) I think Penn State has the most potential to jump up and surprise.  Of course it's equally likely these guys are who we think they are, and they finish 11th.  It will be especially difficult for anyone to make a big jump without a real playmaker, and that's why Shep Garner is so important.

Garner, a freshman guard from Philly, ranks as the 34th point guard in the country per ESPN, just three spots behind our own Nate Mason.  The interesting thing to me is how similar his profile sounds to Tim Frazier's when he was a freshman:  great instincts, lightning quick, ability to play either guard spot equally well, attacks the rim, needs to add strength.  great ball handler and passer, under control, high basketball IQ - it's all here.  Now it's a pretty bold statement to say this kid will come in and be the next Tim Frazier so I know it sounds crazy and probably won't happen, but if it does, remember you heard it here first.  Plus he's from Philly and was basically a Penn State commit the minute he was born, so if does end up good we'll be tortured by that story over and over again and the universe likes to annoy me so.......

Anyway, PSU is a hard team for me to figure out.  They could finish anywhere from 5th to 14th and it wouldn't shock me.  Plus things are looking up with two ESPN Top 100 recruits already on board for 2015.  Two more than the Gophers, FYI.

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Thursday, October 2, 2014

Big Ten Basketball Preview: #12 Northwestern Wildcats

Well it was a run.  Northwestern did everything they could do grab that elusive (to them, not to anyone else) first ever NCAA Tournament bid and fell short year after year.  Now there's no John Shurna.  There's no Drew Crawford.  There's no Juice Thompson.  There's no Luka Mirkovic.  There's just Dave Sobolewski and his lesbian haircut.  Well there's also hope because of this new coach guy you maybe heard about, Chris Collins.  Yeah the weiner from Duke.  No not Wojo, he's at Marquette.  The other one, the one with some talent, and he's already making a difference because he signed Vic Law, ESPN's 66th ranked prospect for 2014, as well as a handful of other quality recruits between 2014 and 2015.  This year, however, Northwestern probably isn't looking at that first bid, but they do have enough to remain dangerous.

The biggest reason for this danger is Tre Demps, who is a great chucker (26% of team shots when on the floor despite a 45.7% eFG%) but is also made of stone balls.  Here's what he did in Northwestern's conference wins last season:  Three pointer against the Gophers in a tie game with 54 seconds remaining. Five points and three assists in a four minute span against Wisconsin to give Northwestern control of the game. Game tying 3-pointer with a minute left in overtime against Purdue and then 4-4 on free throws in double OT to close it out. Thirteen straight points at the end of the game against Indiana. Three 3-pointers in a row down the stretch against Illinois.  He's a chucker for sure, and his overall numbers don't make you squeal from last year (11.0ppg, 38% FG) he clearly has an ability to step up in the the big moment.  So, you know, I'd recommend the Gophers don't, you know, let Northwestern hang around until Demps just goes ahead and wins the game for them.

Demps will be joined on the wing by JerShon Cobb, the team's leading returning scorer at 12.2 points per game.  He's more consistent and efficient than Demps, and will likely be their go to guy for the majority of the game until Demps decides he wants to rip some hearts out.  Cobb was a pretty big deal recruit back when, but has had injury problems his whole career including leg problems that shut him down early last season.  If he can stay healthy he has All-Big 10 type talent, as evidenced by his four 20+ point games against quality opponents last season, but that's a big if.

With Demps, Cobb, and Law the Wildcats should be solid and athletic on the wing, which will help their league best defense from last season return, but that's about where the good news ends.  Alex Olah will be the starting center though he's limited on offense and a horrendous rebounder for a 7-footer, though 6-10 transfer from Yale Jeremiah Kreisberg might end up stealing that spot.  It's probably best for Northwestern if he does.  There's decent, if unproven, depth with Sanjay Lumpkin and Nathan Taphorn.  Taphorn should inherit the "wander around and shoot some threes" role from the departed Kale Abrahamson.

Point guard is a real issue, as Dave Sobolewski just fell off a cliff last season, putting up some truly hideous shooting numbers (18% from 3, 26% overall) and putting up the worst turnover and foul rates of his career.  He did suffer a concussion midseason, missing four games in a row and genearlly having trouble getting back into the swing of things, but he was having a rough year prior to that anyway and with Collins playing more man-to-man than Carmody did, Sobolewski's contributions may be limited.  That either means Demps plays more point (super chucker alert!) or freshman Bryant McIntosh takes over.  McIntosh is a fringe top 200 kid, but he should fit in well at Northwestern because he just looks so freaking annoying.  Seriously.

So Punchable.  Plus his name is Bryant McIntosh for pete's sake.

It's an interesting time, and probably a fun one, to be a Northwestern fan as they've managed to take a string of failed seasons and recycle them back into optimism with an exciting new coach who is bringing in a whole slew of new players.  It'll be interesting to see how and if Collins changes the program (and how long he sticks around, if successful).  He seems to be recruiting a more athletic player, so the slow down game may shortly be a thing of the past.  Lotta hope in Evanston, and with good reason, even if everyone still misses Luka.

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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Big 10 Basketball Preview: #13 Purdue Boilermakers

Here is what I wrote about Purdue (more like Pur-don't, amirite?) last season:
I'm not really sure what's going on here with Purdue lately.  If this season goes the way I'm expecting that'll make a second straight sub-par season and a second straight year missing the NCAA Tournament after making it six straight years (2 Sweet Sixteens).  Looking at this year's freshman class and who is on the hook for 2014 there isn't really much of an impact here.  In fact, Painter hasn't brought in anything resembling an impact class since that crazy Moore/Johnson/Hummel/Martin quartet, and that was back in 2007.  Does this mean we're witnessing the slow death of Purdue basketball?  Yes.
Basically that all still stands, except add another year on.  Last year was another dud as the Boilers went 5-13 in conference play and 15-17 overall.  They're losing their top two scorers who also happened to be top 2 in assists on the squad, They do have some recruiting momentum at least with Painter signing two ESPN Top 100 guys (7-0 center Isaac Haas (way too many A's in that name) who they rank #87 and 6-7 forward Vincent Edwards who is #89) but unless the twin towers thing works (more on that in a second) or a bunch of role players suddenly start to thrive it's going to be another tough year.

I mention twin towers because the one real bright spot for Purdue is another seven-footer, junior A.J. Hammons who has the ability to completely dominate a game (see:  18 pts, 16 rebs, and 5 blocks vs. Ohio State or, and you probably remember this one better, 20/14/6 against your beloved Gophers).  Unfortunately he's also been a bit of a headcase at times who can disappear by either simply not engaging (7 pts, 1 reb, 0 blocks in the other game against Minnesota despite only committing one foul) or getting himself in foul trouble (bunch of times).  Really, when he's engaged he's nearly unstoppable and he could take Purdue up a level by bringing it consistently every night (and by that I mean an invite to the CBI).

Outside of Hammons I'm not really sure Purdue even knows what Purdue has.  Leading non-Hammons returning scorer is Kendall Stephens at 8.0 per game, a sophomore wing who takes good care of the ball and can shoot.  Out of all the non-Hammons returnees he has the best chance to develop into something special.  Hammons and Stephens will likely be joined in the lineup by Basil Smotherman (sweet name), Raphael Davis, and Bryson Scott which means Purdue will be undersized (Smotherman will have to play the 4, and he's just 6-5).  It'll be important for either Haas or fellow freshman Jacquil Taylor to figure out it out quickly or Hammons will pretty much be alone in the paint, but Scott is probably the biggest key to the season because with the Johnsons gone Purdue is desperate for a playmaker.

There are reasons Purdue could be better than this, sure.  Hammons could put it altogether night after night.  Haas has the opportunity to give them a rare true twin towers advantage over every other team.  Kendall Stephens could very well end up the most improved player in the conference this year, and Bryson Scott or Raphael Davis (or both) could end up the playmaking scorer the team needs.  But even if everything single one of those things ends up happening I'm not sure how much better that vaults Purdue from here.  At least things seem to be improving.  Even though it helps the Gophers, the world just doesn't seem right when Purdue basketball is in a multi-year slide at the bottom of the conference.

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#14 Rutgers Scarlet Knights

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Big 10 Basketball Preview: #14 Rutgers

What do you get if you take a 12-21 team, take away 5 of it's top 8 players, and move it to a much tougher conference?  Sadness.  Lots and lots of sadness.  That is my prediction for the Rutgers hoopers this season.

Actually, it's not all bad.  They do have their top 2 guys back in senior point guard Myles Mack (14.9 points, 4.3 assists per game last year) and junior power forward Kadeem Jack (14.3ppg, 6.8rpg) and the RAC (Rutgers Athletic Center now known as the Louis Brown Athletic Center named after the former Indians manager) gives them one of the better home court advantages in the country.  No it's true.  It's a really weird place that's shaped weird and has the fans right on top of the court and the acoustics make it super loud, and not that long ago (2011-2012) they beat both #10 Florida and #8 UCONN at the RAC, and that was a sub .500 team (overall, not just conference play).  Here look:

See?  Weird looking.

Fans so close they can taste it.

I mean the place is a trapezoid for pete's sake.  A trapezoid.  

Anyway, Jack and Mack are very good players, but it will be up to the newcomers - and they are legion - if Rutgers is going to be anything other than the conference doormat.

One intriguing prospect is Shaquille Doorson, a teammate of Gaston Diedhiou at the Canarias Basketball Academy, because he is a giant.  Doorson is 6-11 and weighs in at 275 pounds - a serious monster.  He originally signed on with Pitt where he'd fit in pretty well given his natural affinity to defense and rebounding, however he pulled out and reopened his recruitment and landed with the Scarlet Knights.  He's said to be quite raw offensively and his rankings are all over the board on the major sites so who knows what you're getting (4 stars on ESPN), but a huge, Big 10 ready body guy who can already rebound and block shots and, presumably, dunk a put back or two is a nice weapon to have.

The other newcomer worth mentioning is forward D.J. Foreman who has a sweet name and also is ranked as a Top 150 guy by 247sports (and took an unofficial to the U).   He chose Rutgers over offers from VCU, Iowa, Iowa State, and Ohio State so he's probably pretty good and stuff.  Like Doorson (and fellow giatn freshman Ibrahima Diallo who is 6-10, 240 lbs.) Foreman is physically good to go.  Also like those two his athletic ability currently outweighs his offensive game.  And I should also say something about Mike Williams.  He didn't rank as anything special (#231) and his offer list wasn't anything special, but I've seen a couple spots where coach Eddie Jordan has praised him at length, and his game sounds like he could end up a Tim Frazier type of player.  Probably not or anything, but I'm putting it in here just in case he blows up so in four years I can point out how smart I am.  I also really hope I'm not still doing this blog in 4 years.

Basically it's Mack and Jack and a lot of unknown.  Both will be in the running for All-Big Ten honors, and Jack at least will get sniffed around when NBA Draft time comes, but what they have to fill the gaps between those two is either not all that good or very young.  Things are looking up as Rutgers just signed Corey Sanders, a top 100 guy and ESPN's #7 point guard in the class, but this probably won't be a super fun first season in the Big Ten for the Scarlet Knights.  I do expect at least 1-2 teams to trip up and lose at the RAC that probably shouldn't, given that it will be everyone's first time.  Don't worry, I already checked and the Gophers don't play there this year.  Whew.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Hola from Los Angeles!

That means "The Angels" in Spanish.  You're welcome.  I've written from LA many, many, many times and I got to say, it's still a weird place.  The people all wear weird hats and everyone has sunglasses and fancy shoes and their clothes look weird.  The hotel bar has like, The Big Bang Theory on instead of the Monday Night Football game, most of the cars cost more than my house, and there's more movie billboards than you could shake a stick at and they're all bigger than my house.  Then when I first got here we went for a light breakfast and I ordered two eggs (over easy) and bacon (NOT extra crispy) and when they brought it out they brought it out with a ramekin of ketchup.  Ketchup.  Why on earth would I need ketchup for that meal?  It's probably some proto-hipster thing that is just on the coast right now and will make its way to the midwest in a year or two.  Weird place, but not in that charming way Portland is weird.

-  I'm not sure how long I'll be with you tonight, it's been a long day.  I had to get up at 5am to head to the airport, followed by a 3.5 hour flight into LAX.  Got to the hotel at 10 (12 your time) and of course my room wasn't ready, which I expected, but they said they'd rush it so I could get in the room before I had to head over to the HQ for meetings because I'm a high roller like that.  After my breakfast which should have been ketchup free I got up to the room for an entire 15 minutes.  Then came 4 hours of meetings.  We did get a 2 hour break after that but I used a good chunk of it walking to the grocery store to get booze for the room (actually grabbed a bottle of wine to go with the beer because I'm classy that way) which was about 6 blocks away in 95 degree heat (and what the fuck LA?  You're supposed to be good for three things:  making movies and tv shows, awesome sushi, and being 80 degrees everyday).

Then came dinner at Pink Taco which was fabulous.  Endless pitchers of margaritas, family style food consisting of some weird avocado salad, some kind of excellent chicken skewers, corn tamales, cheese quesadillas, pork burritos, carne asada tacos, churros, and topped off with a shot of some very good tequila.  I'm still not sure why I did that shot but whatevs.  Also pretty solid cleavage on the waitress.  All in all an A+ meal.  So anyway it's 9:18 out here which means it's 11:18 back there which means I'm sitting at about an 18 hour day right now.  I'll try to cram in a bit more, but only because I love you.

-  College basketball magazines are starting to come out, and of course I didn't wait for the good one (Athlon) or the decent one (Lindy's) but instead grabbed the first one that was available from the Sporting News.  Big mistake.  First thing I did was flip to the Gophers, and what do I find:

And it just gets worse.  Well actually not worse because that's impossible but just bad.  The team previews are terribly written and don't go into any kind of depth.  Then they have this thing where they give you the "difference maker" for each team which is a good idea, but then they name the team's best player nearly every time.  Sure, sometimes it makes sense as Andre Hollins (Austin's bro) and Branden Dawson for MSU are probably their team's best player and both probably will make a huge difference to their team's success depending on how they play.

But for Penn State they have D.J. Newbill.  For Nebraksa is Terran Petteway.  Indiana is Yogi Ferrell.  I mean, you pretty much know what you're going to get here.  The difference maker should be somebody like Ross Travis for PSU (if he can learn to give them another scorer), Tai Webster for Nebraska (they need someone to become a good point guard to make another leap forward), and basically anyone else for Indiana since Ferrell is the only known quantity.  Seriously this probably is really whiny but it just feels like they made no real effort.  And before you say anything I'm allowed to make very little effort since I'm just a poor crappy blogger living in his mom's basement.

-  Also, and I know this kills you since I've called the college basketball champ both of the last two years, but I don't have a call yet.  I was all over the SMU train, and loaded up on them at 33-1 to win the whole thing, and then that son of a bitch Emmanuel Mudiay decides to go play over seas.  What a jerk.  SMU was set up perfectly:  tons of returning talent from a good but not great team, good experience, returning starters in the front and back court, and getting a big time scorer transfer in Justin Martin.  With Mudiay they were getting that big time talent who could put them over the top and carry the team when needed.  But now he's gone and SMU is just another team hoping to make the Sweet 16.

-  I know you've all been waiting to hear what I have to say about the whole Adrian Peterson situation.  Here it is:  just kidding.  Seriously I didn't start this blog a million years ago to talk about icky things that are actually controversial and you have to have real feelings about.  I started it to talk about who sucks and who is awesome.  So that's what I'm going to do instead.

The one guy who has really popped for me this NFL season so far is Le'Veon Bell.  There is no doubt in my mind he's the next great running back in the league.  He's like a new version of LeSean McCoy.  He's got that same elusiveness and quickness with the ball, good speed, and can catch which makes him that much better.  If you're in a fantasy keeper league, go get him.  Do it now.

Also awesome is Gio Bernard (just a step below Bell), Darren Sproles (just thriving in that role), Frank Gore (does this guy ever age?), Carlos Hyde (just biding his time), Matt Ryan (he's back), Philip Rivers (just keeps humming along), Derek Carr (going to be a good one), Calvin Johnson (duh), Dez Bryant (also duh), Andrew Hawkins (haven't actually seen him since he's on the Browns but I hear good things), Brandon Marshall (still unstoppable), Steve Smith (Flacco has complete radar lock), Markus Wheaton (could be a star in a year or two), and Julian Edelman (he's boring, but he's being Wes Welker and doing it quite well).

The people who suck are Matt Cassell (duh, #freeteddy), Brian Quick (no, he's not a thing), James Jones (just no), DeAndre Hopkins (if Andre Johnson would just stop we could see what we have here), all Tennessee WRs (who knows who is good there from week to week?), Dwayne Bowe (it's over), all New York Giants (that offense is so gross), DeMarco Murray (hot start won't last), Chris Ivory (no idea how he has so many yards), Zac Stacy (going to lose that job by week 8), Bernard Pierce (what a terrible back-up plan), Bishop Sankey (when you can't beat out an old Shonn Greene oof), Steven Jackson (just waiting for one of those two donkeys to grab the reins), Tony Romo (should be better for the 20th year in a row), Ryan Tannehill (perhaps that leap isn't coming), Josh McCown (if you didn't see this coming you're stupid), and Jason Witten (is he suddenly too old?)

-  So how about that Big Ten football?  Oof.  If you're the kind of person who follows college football you already know this, but it's been a brutal year for the Big Ten football player guys.  Just this weekend alone Maryland lost to West Virginia, Indiana lost to Bowling Green, Iowa lost to Iowa State, your Gophers got rolled by TCU in a game that wasn't nearly as close as the 23-point margin, and Illinois got crushed by Washington.  The week prior Purdue got beat by Central Michigan, Northwestern was dropped by Northern Illinois, Michigan and Michigan State were non-competitive against Notre Dame and Oregon, and Ohio State got dropped by Virginia Tech.  I'm not a big college football guy, but I know the Big Ten has a terrible reputation in relation to the other major conferences lately, and this ain't helping.

-  I was going to do that fun thing where I look at the NBDL draft this year and laugh at who all got drafted, but it turns out the draft hasn't happened yet.  So instead I looked back and the 2013 draft and I think it's getting worse or something because I've barely heard of any of these guys and I pay way too much attention to college basketball.  Out of the 17 first round picks (what kind of league has 17 teams?) I could only tell you about 8 of the guys without cheating - James Johnson (wake), Quincy Douby (rutgers but hasn't he been out of school for like 5 years? What are the rules of this draft?), Pierre Jackson (baylor), C.J. Aiken (st joe), DeAndre Liggins (kentucky), William Buford (osu), Bo Spencer (nebraska), and Dario Hunt (nevada, not as good as his name sounds).  The second round is even worse.  Ryan Evans (wisconsin) got drafted (not joking), plus two guys with busted knees (Reggie Jackson, miami and Abdul Gaddy, washington who should have been the next circus ball captain), and a guy who couldn't crack the lineup at Arizona in four years (Kevin Parrom) plus a whole mess of guys I've never heard of.

I swear this thing used to be more fun and full of guys where you'd say "yeah, I could see him cracking an NBA rotation."  Now it's a bunch of guys I've barely heard of with no shot and guys like Salim Stoudamire and Ricky Davis (yes that Ricky Davis) are getting drafted and yes I'm serious.  And suddenly it goes from 17 picks per round to 8 picks in the 7th and then 4 picks in the 8th.  This draft makes as much sense as ketchup with eggs and bacon and it's making me cranky and tired.  I'm leaving.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Welcome Aboard Jarvis Johnson!

As I clairvoyantly stated in my welcome Jonathan Nwankwo post, the Gopher hoop team having just one open scholarship (in theory) for 2015 racheted up the pressure on at least one of the Minnesota boys with Jarvis Johnson committing to the Gophers today in a ceremony at De La Salle that went significantly better than the last one.

Johnson, the fourth Pitino commit for 2015, has fallen out of a favor a bit with the recruiting services post AAU season, dropping out of ESPN's top 100 and Rivals Top 150, but still ranks as the 103rd best player by 247 (17th point guard) and 168th by their industry composite number (28th PG).  Johnson is a terrific fit in Pitino's offense as a super athletic point guard who excels at getting to the rim and should be, at worst, an average defender right from the get go with significant potential to excel in that department.  He also brings the ability to get teammates involved and is the closest thing to a pure point guard who looks to be on the roster in 2015 and between Johnson, Nate Mason, and Kevin Dorsey they'll have three guys who can run an offense and handle the ball, and that doesn't address the depth when you add Daquein McNeil, Carlos Morris, Dupree McBrayer, and Zach Lofton on the wing.   Sounds pretty good.

Being a Minnesota kid, Johnson has been a target of both the fan base and the school for quite sometime, and as much as I detest the "we must have all Minnesota kids" mentality it is nice to see one, and a highly ranked one at that, actually want to play for the Gophers.  It also brings up some big ole questions about the other Minnesota kid.  I find it hard to believe the Gophers would just stop recruiting Alex Illikainen, especially if he's given them indication that he's at least considering committing (all indications are the Gophers are still on the list and I think they flew out to his prep school to visit him this week), however at this point the Gophers don't have a spot for him if everything works out with Gaston Diedhiou.  The good news is that this is big-time (relatively) college basketball, and these things have a way of working out in favor of talent.  If Illikainen decides he wants to be a Gopher, he will be, one way or another.

If not, the Gophers still have a hell of a class that ranks somewhere in the low 20s nationally.  That'll slide down some as more top kids start signing, but it should end up in the top 50 at worst and that's a major step in the right direction.  Not to mention that the Gophers are now in a situation where their roster is full in the fall period and they may have to turn down a talented kid who wants to play here (they won't, but just having that conversation says a lot) rather than staring at open roster spots in the Spring and begging anyone with a pulse to come to Minnesota.  That's pretty awesome.

I may have some minor concerns about shooting considering all four signees for 2015 have some questions about that part of their game, but it's obvious what kind of team Pitino is trying to build and all four fit the bill.  And with Jarvis Johnson on board he has his Russ Smith.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Welcome Aboard, Jonathan Nwankwo!

I sort of feel like he has one too many Ws in his name, but it doesn't matter because those are now our Ws as Jonathan Nwankwo committed to your favorite basketball team over the weekend after registering for an account on Gopher Hole during his official visit and chatting with fans all weekend, then breaking the news on the message board.  He's a 6-10, 245 lb. center with a Big Ten ready body and a 7-2 wingspan who shores up the Gophers' big man situation in case things continue to go south with Gaston Diedhiou.   Not that he's any kind of back-up plan, considering he ranks as the #17 center and #147 overall by 247sports, and #23/#214 by the industry composite and by all accounts is rising up the ranks.

His highlight videos all seem to be like "oh you don't want me to dunk this basketball?  Well I am very strong and jumpy and I am going to dunk this basketball and you can't stop me."  I watched nearly two minutes of a highlight video and I'm not seeing a lot of offensive skills, which isn't really true because being an unstoppable dunking machine is a skill, but you know what I mean.  Plus, Nwankwo fits Pitino's type.  And in this case I don't mean a super athletic dude, although he is, but I mean the late blooming type who is shooting up rankings and everyone who is supposed to be an expert says things like "great get for the Gophers" and stuff like that.  Assuming these guys all work out it's a great thing.  Of course it could also mean that Pitino is just getting over aggressive offering guys who aren't that good.  We'll find out.  Right now I feel good, and I still have trust in Pitino.  Because he's so freaking sweet.

The three signings - Nwakwo, Kevin Dorsey, and Dupree McBrayer - leave the Gophers with one open scholarship for 2015 (again, depending on what happens with Diedhiou) which has some people all in a tizzy because both of the top rated Minnesota kids - Jarvis Johnson and Alex Illikainen - are still out there.  Seriously though, who cares?  I mean, I would love the Gophers to get one or both because they're rated in the top 100-150 range depending on where you look, but as far as them being from Minnesota?  Big whoop.

The whole point of recruiting home town kids is that you're supposed to have an advantage in snagging them, but how's that been working out lately?  Minnesota kids have always known they can string the Gophers along and if things don't break the way they hope use them as their fall back option, partially because the fan base is so rabid in "keeping Minnesota kids home" because well, that's how this state generally thinks (why do you think Jason Kubel and Matt Guerrier were signed by the Twins this year?).  Rather than holding off on signing comparable players and holding out hoping the home town kids stay home, Pitino is signing whoever he likes who is willing to sign.  According to rankings Alex Illikainen is better than Jonathan Nwankwo, but why take a chance on losing both just to satisfy some bizarre yearning to build the team out of all Minnesota kids? (this ain't hockey)  After all, a bush in hand is worth two birds who may end up at other schools I always say.

This being (relatively) big time basketball, nothing is guaranteed so it's possible both Johnson and Illikainen end up in maroon and gold.  If they both want to be Gophers they likely will with a surprise transfer opening up a slot or something along those lines - it's a reality of big-time (relatively) college sports, and I'm ok with it.  In the meantime, however, assuming Pitino doesn't have a strong positional preference at this time this puts pressure on them both to hurry up and commit.  If things stay strong at only 4 new players for 2015 that means only one of them can get in, which means the Gophers said no to a quality Minnesota player because he took too long to make a decision.  That's a message I can get behind, so move your ass Amir Coffey.

As of right now the Gophers have the #23 class in the country according to 247sports, and the #5 class in the Big Ten.  This will likely move down as more of the high profile programs continue signing players and fill out their classes, but it's a big step the right direction for the program.  Potentially, I suppose, but I'll take it.