Tag Archives: ACC Basketball

Will Roy Williams Crush Kent Babb Like a Dove?

The University of North Carolina Tar heels (UNC) basketball team and Roy Williams have had a March to remember. They won the ACC and were awarded a coveted 1-seed by the NCAA Tournament committee. UNC has lived up to their seeding as they’ve cruised into the championship game against the Villanova Wildcats. March Madness has been good to the Tar Heels.

With all of the success UNC has had during the 2015-16 season, there is a shadow that looms over them and Roy Williams. The Washington Post’s Kent Babb illuminated the issues surrounding Williams and his UNC program when he published “Scandals and health burden Roy Williams to deliver for the players he loves.”

These allegations of academic fraud are not new revelations for UNC. The NCAA has been investigating the academic climate at UNC and as Sara Ganin and Devon Sayers stated in their CNN article; there were 18 years of academic fraud that had taken place at UNC.

Whether or not Williams approved of Babb’s perspective, the fact remains that there is well established controversy surrounding UNC and Williams. An argument could even be made that UNC should not be participating in the tournament this year. The only reason they are eligible for the tournament is because the NCAA had to place their investigation on hold in light of new findings that UNC self-reported about their women’s basketball team and men’s soccer team. Aaron Beard highlighted these convenient findings in his Associated Press article.

Schools must respond to NOAs within 90 days, which is often when they self-impose penalties. UNC was near its deadline before reporting additional improper assistance from the women’s basketball adviser and possible recruiting violations in men’s soccer.

How convenient for Williams.

Considering that all of this is common knowledge and has been well documented, it was surprising to hear Williams spout his outrage at Babb. Williams didn’t even have to read Babb’s article himself to be outraged. All it took were his friends reading it and reporting back to the coach. Babb’s colleague at The Washington Post, Cindy Boren, offered this follow-up story where Williams’ reaction was documented.

“You know, Dan (Patrick), I’ll try to treat this lightly because I could deal with it much more strongly,” Williams said. “I haven’t read it. Two of my close friends were so mad that if they were to step in front of that guy in the street, it would be a very bad scene because they felt like the guy took — lied. I started to try to say it nicely.

“One of my guys said, ‘I never said anything like that.’ It’s upset all my friends. I haven’t read it, don’t care to read it, never will read it. He’d better step carefully around any of my friends. My high school coach is one of the finest gentlemen I’ve ever known in my life and one of my assistants that was with me for 21 years — and they are so mad at that guy.”

The thought of someone like Babb viewing Williams as anything other than the self anointed God he thinks he is offended the coaches’ friends so much that Babb had better hope that the disciples of Williams never cross paths with the writer. And Babb’s blasphemy was so strong that Williams told Babb that he had better step carefully.

You know, if I didn’t know better, i’d swear that this was the Tupac and Biggie feud all over again.

Williams likes to play naive and likes to present himself as a precious snowflake who is as nice as they come. But if you’ve paid attention to Williams over the years, you’d know that he is comfortable using intimidation tactics when he believes he’s been wronged.

Back in 2003, the University of Kansas fired athletic director Al Bohl. Bohl and Williams did not get along and Levi Chronister wrote a story for kusports.com that highlighted the tense relationship between the two men. Bohl believed that Williams was responsible for his firing and that Williams had metaphorically held the athletic director in his hands like a dove and crushed him.

So before Babb writes another article that is critical of Williams, he should ask himself this question: Does he want to be another one of Williams’ doves?

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

 

*Featured image courtesy of commons.wikimedia.org

SEC Football: It’s Good to be the King

If you’re a college sports fan, and you know you are, then you’ve undoubtedly been pulled into the football versus basketball argument which revolves around two questions:

Is your school a football school or a basketball school?

Is your school’s conference a football conference or basketball conference?

Personally speaking, I consider my school to be a football school and my school’s conference to be a football conference. My program of choice is the Missouri Tigers and their conference is obviously the SEC.  Yes, Damien Bowman, we know all about geography and the Mason-Dixon Line and all of that stuff, but Mizzou is in the SEC. Trust me.

The reasons for Missouri being a football school and the SEC being a football conference are simple. For starters, Missouri couldn’t be worse on the basketball court. The football team may have faltered in 2015, but make no mistake about it; Missouri is all about football at the moment. And as for the conference, well, nobody would pin the reputation of the SEC on its basketball programs. In terms of both athletic and financial performance, the SEC is king of the football world.

Not only do I consider Missouri and the SEC football entities first and foremost, but I extend that bias to everyone’s school and conference of choice. Everyone’s school and conference should be driven by football. Like I said, it is a bias, but we all have a few and it’s easier to just admit it and move along in the conversation.

I respect schools whose primary money makers are top tier basketball teams and I do respect conferences whose positive reputations have been built upon the basketball court. But I have been transparent about my bias that football is king.

The 2015-2016 bowl season was a lucrative one for the SEC. Not only was Alabama a participant in the College Football Playoff, but Ole Miss also played in a New Year’s Six bowl game. When the payout from those high profile games was combined with the $51 million base payment for being a Power 5 conference, the total revenue created during the bowl season was roughly $63 million. Oh, and that isn’t even accounting for the $40 million the SEC receives just for playing in the Sugar Bowl nor does it account for the revenue brought in by the remaining 8 bowl games the conference had representatives in. Those are a lot of dollar signs.

College basketball is finishing up March Madness and the 2016 basketball post season has been good to the ACC. Teams from the ACC comprised half of the Elite Eight and, since you can do math, you know that means that the ACC makes up half of the Final Four.

Just as success in football creates a jolt to the bank account, so does success in basketball. The success of this year’s ACC basketball teams has created a record revenue stream for the conference. It’s not north of $63 million, but it’s still a nice total.

The ACC is clearly a basketball conference, at least based on the current success of its basketball teams and the SEC is clearly a football conference based on its compounding bank account. Being considered either a football conference or basketball conference is fine since either one will bring notoriety and a healthy paycheck.

But if the full picture is considered, football is king. And it’s good to be the king.

E-mail Seth at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @SethMerenbloom.

 

*Featured image courtesy of youtube.com

Cardinals Will Rise from the Ashes

For the University of Louisville Basketball program and its fans, the 2015-16 season began with a lot of promise; and will come to a grinding halt on March 5. So much has already been said about the self-imposed ban, and what other sanctions may or may not be coming. Despite all of that, the Cardinals players have continued to show tremendous fight.

That was on full display this past Saturday, when the Cardinals overcame a double-digit deficit in the second half, to outlast the Duke Blue Devils 71-64. In that game, and throughout this season, some very bright spots have begun to shine.

Assuming that there aren’t significant additional penalties levied by the NCAA; and that Head Coach Rick Pitino survives the scandal, the future is very bright for this program. Focusing just on the basketball court; here is a look at what the Louisville Cardinals will look like next year.

Let’s begin, naturally, with the projected starting lineup. At point guard, back for his junior year will be Quentin Snider. The 6’2” Snider returns with a ton of experience. After being thrust into the starting lineup late in his freshman season, and running the show for the U of L squad that made a run to the Elite Eight, Q has progressed nicely.

Although he’s not ultra-quick, Snider is able to carve his way through defenses, get to the lane, and has become a decent finisher around the basket. While not a sharpshooter, Quentin’s shot is proficient enough to keep defenses honest, and he’s a more than capable ball-handler. As his decision making continues to improve, Q will be a solid leader.

Sophomore Donovan “Spida” Mitchell will take over as the full-time starter at the shooting guard spot. He has already become a fan favorite, and his freshman season has been filled with highlight reel dunks. His athleticism is off the charts, but he also has a strong mid-range game. He’s showed poise and moxie beyond his years. In order to take the next step to stardom, Mitchell will need to avoid gambling as often on defense. At 6’3”, Spida may need to add some point guard abilities as well, not only to allow the Cardinals some flexibility, but to succeed at the NBA level. He certainly has the goods to do so.

Moving on to the frontcourt, we’ll start at small forward. Deng Adel should be in line to start there. Adel’s freshman season hit a snag when he hurt his knee just two games in. He was a starter right off the bat, and then has struggled for much of the year to get consistent minutes after returning from injury. On Saturday against Duke however, he finally got his chance, and he made the most of it. Scoring 12 points, adding five rebounds, Deng displayed a lot of versatility.

At 6’7”, long and quick, Adel will be able to float between the shooting guard and small forward; and if Pitino wants to go small, perhaps even the power forward spot. Deng has three point range on his jump shot, and can get to the rim. He’ll need to spend the off-season getting acclimated to Coach Pitino’s match-up zone defense. Adel has been glaringly lost in that defensive scheme quite a bit since his return from injury. Assuming he erases his defensive issues, his activity, and rangy body will make him a problem for most teams to deal with.

Jaylen Johnson is next up at power forward. The 6’9” junior to be has shown glimpses, but still has a lot of work to do. Johnson has started for a good portion of his sophomore season, and should continue to progress into a solid college player. Similar to Adel, Jaylen has looked a bit lost in the match-up zone defense. Missed assignments have led to a number of wide open looks for opposing teams. That’s going to be what determines if he keeps the starting gig.

Johnson does have the ability to hit face-up jumpers out to 17-18 feet. With added muscle, he also should be a capable post threat. With three years in the program, hopefully that will lend a bit more confidence, and allow Jaylen to be more assertive.

Based on another assumption, the center position should be in excellent hands. Chinanu Onuaku improved by leaps and bounds from his freshman to sophomore year. He put a tremendous amount of work into his offensive footwork. As a freshman Nanu looked terrified on offense. Now, he can score in a variety of ways. He’s excellent with his back to the basket, and can score over either shoulder. His jump shot is also effective out to 15 feet.

Defensively, Onuaku can be an absolute terror blocking shots. He’s also a rebounding machine. Unfortunately, he’s still a foul magnet, so foul trouble follows him everywhere. If he learns to cut down on silly fouls, particularly moving screens on the offensive end, Nanu could turn into an All-American.

Over the last few years, Rick Pitino’s teams have been blessed with a tremendous amount of depth. 2016-17 should be no different from that standpoint. In particular, the frontcourt is going to be stacked. Rick will be able to look down the bench, and pick from guys standing 6’10”, 6’10”, 7’0”, and 7’0”. Each of those options will come with some quality experience.

Mangok Mathiang will be heading into his fifth season with the program. His junior year was derailed by a foot injury that effectively ended his season in mid-December. Whether he’ll be granted any additional eligibility due to missing most of the season, remains to be seen.

If not, Mangok will be a senior who practiced with the 2013 National Championship team; and has played in the Sweet 16 and Elite Eight. Similar to Onuaku, Mathiang benefited immensely from international experience over the summer of 2015. During the brief time he played in 2015-16, he displayed some offensive ability he didn’t previously have. Mangok’s energy on the boards and defensively will continue to be an asset, and he’s grown into a team leader.

The first seven-footer off the bench will be Anas Mahmoud. This kid just oozes moxie, and basketball IQ. He’s one of those hidden gems that Pitino tends to find. Anas has a smooth offensive game, can run the floor, and has shown some decent shot blocking instinct. He’ll absolutely have to add muscle, as he can be knocked over by a stiff breeze at this point. If he does, Mahmoud is going to be a beast.

Local product Ray Spalding has been a pleasant surprise. It’s always nice having Louisville kids on the team, but even better when they’re legitimate contributors. I thought it would take Ray a couple of years to see the floor, but he has proven to be worthy of immediate minutes.

Spalding is another super athlete. He’s got the quickness to guard on the perimeter, and the spring to swat shots away near the basket. Ray’s offensive game is advanced far beyond what was expected coming in. He’s got nice touch on his shot out to the free throw line, and is crafty in the paint. Like Mahmoud, if he builds up his body so he can physically hold his own, he’ll be hard to handle.

The other seven-footer who will contribute is Matz Stockman. While he still has a long way to go in order to garner a significant amount of minutes, Matz has shown that he won’t be overwhelmed when he gets them. Although not a total liability, Stockman will need to do a lot of work study defensively in order to stay on the floor. He’s already displayed some offensive acumen, and unlike many inexperienced players, Matz is not afraid to attack the basket as soon as he gets the ball.

Unlike the frontcourt, the backcourt depth may be a bit of a question mark. It’s all going to start with incoming freshman V.J. King, who is the gem of the incoming class. King is a 6’6” McDonald’s All-American, who has a penchant for scoring. Attacking the basket is his strongest attribute right now, but is also considered a capable outside shooter. His size should allow him to share the shooting guard/small forward duties with Deng Adel. Whether next year’s Cardinals are a legitimate contender, will hinge upon V.J. living up to his lofty expectations.

The remainder of the backcourt minutes are going to be up for grabs. Cleveland product Frankie Hughes is on his way, and has risen up the recruiting ranks. He’ll be a combo guard to start, and will need to develop into an option at point guard in order to gain early minutes.

After the success of Damion Lee and Trey Lewis this year, Coach P went the route of the grad transfer again. Tony Hicks will provide a veteran presence, and was a solid scorer while at Penn. I doubt he’ll have the type of impact that Lee and Lewis did, but if he can spell Snider at the point guard, that will be enough.

David Levitch will be around for his senior season, and should fill the same role he always has. Rick loves putting him in the game when we all least expect it. He doesn’t typically hurt the team when he’s in, and has finally begun to knock down three’s consistently when the occasion presents itself. What Ryan McMahon brings to the table, remains a complete mystery.

Hopefully the NCAA will have made their final determinations by the time the 2016-17 season tips off. There may be a portion of the season that Rick Pitino is suspended for assuming he’s still at the helm. What he has proven time and time again, is that he will get the absolute maximum out of every person on his team. In the past 10 years, Louisville has jumped into the most difficult conferences in the Big East, and now the ACC; and has competed at a high level. With the talent on board, there’s no reason to believe that next year’s U of L squad will not only compete for ACC supremacy; but also for a National Championship.

Photo via Kevin Coles/Flickr

My Thoughts on the Decision, the Scandal, and the Future of Louisville Basketball

Last Friday around noon, I started seeing tweets about a press conference that the University of Louisville would hold, in which they would announce a postseason ban for the men’s basketball team this year. Obviously as a lifelong, fan of the Cardinals; and a fanatic about college basketball, that was quite a bomb to drop all over my Friday afternoon.

I knew this day would come, so I didn’t immediately smash anything within arms-reach. When I was younger, that would’ve been my immediate reaction. Instead I’ve chosen to give it a couple of days to allow the emotion of the situation to die down a bit; and organize my thoughts on the ordeal in its entirety.

There are a number of aspects to this story which need to be addressed, and I’ll attempt to approach each one of them individually, and present my opinions; and offer solutions when possible. I didn’t write anything about this situation when it surfaced last summer; but as a U of L fan, I have to put in my two cents, so here it goes.

The most important variable in this whole scenario is the decision made on Friday; a self-imposed, postseason ban on this year’s team. First of all, does this make sense? The answer is no. If the concern of University President Ramsey was to provide the NCAA with a pound of flesh, in order to avoid them taking more; why not do so before the season started? Doing so would have allowed Damion Lee and Trey Lewis to seek out a waiver to play elsewhere if they wanted to.

Clearly this is a move to try to avoid long-term damage to the program. Which, sure, yes, that’s important too. But ultimately, it’s just a weak, politically driven move. Save face at all costs, keep the program safe for the future, blah, blah, blah.

You knew at some point penalties were coming, regardless of how weak or strong this case, penalties were coming. So why not take your chances. Force the NCAA to impose the penalties. We all know it takes them years to do it anyway. Don’t take the moment away from the current players who were not a part of the situation. I realize this isn’t really an earth-shattering viewpoint, and it’s been said; but it bears repeating.

Then there’s the self-policing aspect of this whole thing. This certainly isn’t something new. It has been happening in the NCAA for years. I thought it was garbage last year when Syracuse did it, especially since there was a good chance they weren’t going to qualify for the Tournament.   I don’t think any better of it now.

First of all, it doesn’t make any sense. It’s akin to someone getting caught after robbing a bank, then offering to give back the remainder of the money; and in exchange, receiving no jail time. Personally I think the penalty for violations should be loss of scholarships. Nothing else has as significant of an impact.

Sure, playing in the NCAA Tournament is important. But taking away scholarships may facilitate a schools lack of participation, by proxy. If you don’t have enough scholarships, you can’t recruit as effectively. If you can’t recruit the types of players necessary to win consistently, you won’t be in the tournament. You’ve now effectively penalized a school for their indiscretions; and it will be on them to operate efficiently going forward, in order to get back in the game.

After Louisville played on Saturday, Rick Pitino offered an alternate solution. The penalty would be a $10 million fine to the school in violation; along with the Head Coach losing half of his salary; regardless of whether or not it could be proven he was involved.

Okay, not bad, but my concern would be where that money goes. The NCAA isn’t exactly a beacon of light, so I don’t really trust them to handle that cash. Next thing you know, every school in America will be found to have violations; and the coffers of the NCAA will be filled. Personally I’d pass on this option.

Caught up in this whirlwind, are the current U of L players. Garnering particular sympathy, are Damion Lee and Trey Lewis. Both of these young men transferred from mid-major schools Drexel, and Cleveland State, respectively. They’re seniors, who will now have no opportunity to play in the NCAA Tournament.

That is the battle cry that many Cardinals fans are championing after this decision. While I agree with them, it’s not only because of Damion and Trey. Don’t get me wrong, I really like these guys. However, transferring to a school that routinely participates in the Big Dance doesn’t guarantee you anything.

The decision wouldn’t have been fair if it was done this year, next year, or the year after; because none of these kids were involved with the alleged violations. If the University decided to impose this ban next season, it wouldn’t have been fair for Mangok Mathiang. He’ll be a senior, and a guy who will have been with the program for five years. Is it more fair to take away his senior season? I don’t think so.

Unfortunately, simply due to the nature of the beast, future teams will always be the ones penalized for past indiscretions. No matter what school you’re at, the guilty parties are typically long gone. Again, that’s why I think scholarship loss, in addition to suspensions of the Head Coach are, better options.

Now, I do want to bring Damion Lee and Trey Lewis back into focus for just a moment. Due to this announcement, the spotlight has suddenly been turned directly onto them. Most of the attention is good; and people feel for them. That’s great, and they certainly deserve it. They’re both great guys, work hard, and have been leaders. As a Cardinals fan, I couldn’t ask for more; thank you guys.

On the flip side, there have been a number of college basketball analysts who have decided that this is a perfect time to rip them to shreds. Suddenly, the fact that they’re both graduate transfers makes them traitors. Suddenly, they left their former schools in the lurch. Are you [insert bad word] kidding me!

Funny how many of these same people are on the side of the athlete when it comes to leaving school early, or jumping straight to the NBA. In those situations, it’s all about what’s right for the athlete. So a kid transferring to a more prestigious school, after having spent a number of years at a mid-major, is a betrayal huh? What a joke.

Transfers have to meet specific requirements in order to actually do this. One of those being, that they have to transfer to a school that offers a graduate degree program not offered at their current school. The previous school also has to grant their blessing. So don’t tell me about kids betraying a school. The universities get plenty of mileage out of them while they’re there.

Graduate transfers have been taking place for years. They have become more prominent in the last decade or so. In my opinion, the ability to transfer in this manner is actually a way to true-up a kids recruiting. In an era of over hype, and instant gratification, plenty of “top recruits” underperform at major schools.

Kids like Damion Lee and Trey Lewis both outperformed the level of school they ended up at. Why shouldn’t they be afforded the opportunity to now choose a high major school, and compete at the level they dreamed they could? They’ve earned it. They also earned the right to play in the NCAA Tournament.

If the powers that be at the University of Louisville deemed it necessary to take that away, they should’ve done it as soon as this news broke. That way, Trey Lewis could’ve been playing at Xavier and Damion Lee at Maryland or Arizona; enjoying a shot at the title. Regardless, not one person should be acting like these guys deserve some punishment for choosing to transfer. Save your “Karma is a bitch” sentiment. It’s as stupid your superstitious beliefs. Phew, moving on.

So then there’s the actual case. As fans, most of us never want to believe it when extracurricular activity takes place. I certainly won’t suggest that nothing happened here. I believe that Andre McGee had an arrangement with Katina Powell. I’m sure some money changed hands. I also don’t believe there’s much more to it than that.

Sure, that alone would have penalties assigned to it. McGee was a member of the basketball staff, so anything he did, or attempted to do to try to lure recruits, would be a violation. What is irksome though, is that still to this day, not one thing has been concretely proven. Not one thing.

The hundred page pamphlet they classified as a book has pictures of people hanging out at parties fully clothed. Heavens to murgatroid, how could they do that! Powell’s so called ledger is a compilation of vague information, unconvincingly scrawled on notebook paper. How that amounts to evidence, I just don’t get.

Players already on the team were mentioned, like Russ Smith and Montrezl Harrell; along with former players like Terrence Williams, who was already gone to the NBA. Russ was a lightly recruited, two-star athlete coming out of high school. No one was using additional means to try to lure him anywhere. Needless to say, there are holes in the story.

For months the Powell camp kept indicating that she has piles of additional evidence that hasn’t been produced yet. I ask this question, because I haven’t heard it asked enough; why wasn’t it in the book then?

If your intent was to bring this to light, so that those participating in these indiscretions are brought to justice, why not write a much more detailed book, with every piece of evidence possible? There was no timeline to finish this. If all of this evidence existed, they could’ve written an entire series of books, and really blown the doors off the University. That way, the case would be open and shut. It doesn’t add up that they would leave critical evidence out of the book.

Now, people will, and have asked, “Why would U of L self-impose sanctions, if they weren’t told of more evidence being uncovered?” That’s a valid question, but there’s a simple answer. For the same reason people plea bargain in court when not guilty; the fear of greater punishment, based on the appearance of impropriety. Like I said, if I were in charge, I’d go Colonel Jessup, and tell the NCAA that if they want to investigate me, they could roll the dice and take their chances. But I’m a stubborn SOB, and I’d probably get the book thrown at me.

I don’t believe that there’s any more to this case than there was in October when everyone took a hiatus from talking about this. In my opinion, U of L was simply informed that they were going to be facing sanctions regardless, and chose to try to soften the blow with this peace offering.

Again, I’m not saying that the program isn’t likely due some penalties, but I don’t think they should have kowtowed to the NCAA and offered them up. The NCAA should have been forced to impose their penalties based on the vague facts and half-truths they have available to them.

Finally, where in all this mess does Rick Pitino fall? As to the decision to forego the NCAA Tournament this year, by all accounts, including his own, he wasn’t consulted. In a way he’s lucky, because most of the Louisville fan base isn’t laying blame on him for the decision. Who knows if he would’ve made the same recommendation, with the specter of his future teams being in jeopardy? I’d like to believe he would’ve chosen to allow this team to finish the season; and cross the bridge of violations if/when the NCAA determined what those would be.

I also have questions about Rick’s future as the U of L coach, based on the fact that he wasn’t consulted on this. Even if Tom Jurich and James Ramsey were going to make the ultimate decision; wouldn’t they at least ask Coach Pitino what his thoughts were? He’s been here for 15 years, and he’s the Hall of Fame, face of your program. I don’t think he’ll be fired, but it certainly seems like a strange way to handle that decision.

That brings us to Rick’s role in the allegations that have led us here. Logically, there’s no reason to believe that he would know about alleged hooker/stripper parties taking place in dorms. First of all, he doesn’t reside anywhere near the dorms. Head Basketball Coaches aren’t popping into the dorm rooms of their players to see what they’re up to.

He’s also not involved in the hosting portion of the recruiting visits. Coaches essentially instruct the host players not to let the recruits get into too much trouble, or do anything that will land them on the evening news. Major college basketball coaches aren’t invited to the party portion of the night. So no, if there were hookers and strippers on recruiting visits, Rick Pitino would not know or be involved in it.

Another variable which doesn’t add up to Coach Pitino being involved with providing prostitutes to players/recruits, is the method with which it was done. A lot has been made of the money which was involved. Folks, according to Katina Powell, it was $10,000 over four years; and approximately 20 “parties”. Well, if you bust out your calculator that’s only $500/party.

The early sentiment is that the money had to come from someplace else, other than just Andre McGee. Why? You’re telling me a Director of Basketball Operations couldn’t afford $500? Hell, a handful of college kids could scrape together $500 to pay for a stripper party themselves. I know college athletes are always portrayed as these poor, malnourished souls, but that’s awfully presumptive. Not every kid who gets an athletic scholarship comes from poverty. I’m not claiming that these particular kids did that in this case, but it’s not beyond the realm of possibility.

The main point I’m trying to make with the money though, is that if Rick were going to do this as a means to land recruits; he wouldn’t have done it on the cheap. The man is a millionaire with connections. He would’ve spent top dollar, for beautiful high-priced escorts, who worked for a madam that had a reputation for discretion.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not condoning the practice. I’m simply suggesting that if a coach of Pitino’s means were to use this tactic, they’d channel it through unnamed parties outside of the program; and not leave any sort of trail.

Now, if you want to approach this from the viewpoint of whether Rick Pitino should have known what allegedly transpired, then you have a valid argument. The answer there has to be yes. I firmly believe that the Head Coach, especially in college basketball, is the CEO of the program. They get paid the big bucks to have total control of their program.

I know that’s not really fair. Especially considering that coaches at other programs have escaped punishment in the past by claiming ignorance, but that doesn’t make it right. If this was going on over the four year period, then he had to hear a rumor, or a whisper, something that would pique his curiosity. If he didn’t then he wasn’t paying enough attention, or didn’t want to know. And yes, for that, there are consequences.

How U of L moves forward with Rick Pitino is the burning question. Many people feel that he should be fired, that this scandal is the last straw; and that group includes many Louisville fans. If the administration would choose to do that now, based on the circumstances, I’d understand it. I felt the same way after the Karen Sypher scandal. I wouldn’t like it necessarily, but I get the argument for it.

I love what Rick Pitino has done for this basketball program, and I think he’s an all-time great coach. His tenure, and the last five years in particular, have been everything a fan could ask for when it comes to success on the court. That said, as much as I don’t want him to, there’s a large part of my heart and mind that feels like he should resign. Take the high road, and allow the program to move forward. He’s accomplished all that there is to accomplish, and it may simply be time for a fresh start.

In my lifetime, Louisville has only had two coaches; Denny Crum and Rick Pitino. Two Hall of Fame coaches, two legends of the game. It would be a painful transition, but one that may be necessary. No matter what decision is made about Coach Pitino’s future, I’ll support the team.

Ultimately, my loyalty is to the University of Louisville Basketball Program. I want what is best for the continued success of the program. We have the best fan base in college sports, and that’s why during this period of tumult, now more than ever, Cardinals fans need to band together and support this team. Louisville First, Cards Forever.

Photo: Paul and Cathy/Flickr

Tar Heels have the look of a Title Contender

Having played over half their regular season schedule, this year’s North Carolina Tar Heels basketball team looks to have the makings of a team who can win it all come March.

Through 17 games, the Tar Heels sit at a very respectable 15-2. The Heels improved to 4-0 in the ACC, which is the first time in Roy Williams 13 years as head coach at UNC that his team has reached that mark.

This is a pretty crazy stat seeing as how Williams’ 2005 and 2009 national championship teams lost just four games a piece in those respective seasons.

UNC improved to 15-2 on Saturday night after a victory at Syracuse in Jim Boeheim’s first game back on the sideline for the Orange after serving his nine-game suspension.

Although the team has been plagued by injuries to a couple key starters for multiple game stints, the Tar Heels have managed to persevere and become a better team because of it.

Starting guard Marcus Paige missed the first six games of the season due to a broken non-shooting hand. Starting center Kennedy Meeks missed the seven games prior to the game against Syracuse with a bone bruise in his left knee.

All in all, the starting lineup Roy Williams expected to have at the start of the season have started just two games together so far this season.

With Meeks finally working back from injury playing limited minutes against Syracuse but not starting, the Tar Heels are finally looking to gel with all of their players out on the court.

UNC ended the week number six in the AP top-25. But with loses by Oklahoma and Virginia ahead of them, they Tar Heels look to enter this week ranked in the top five.

How have the Tar Heels done so well this season despite not being completely healthy?

UNC is a very balanced team on offense, and as usual boast one of the best offences in the country. On the season, Carolina has six different players that average double digits in scoring.

The entire  Carolina starting five is averaging at least 10 PPG. But a big help this season has been junior forward Isaiah Hicks off the bench.

Although he hasn’t started a game all season, Hicks is the sixth Tar Heel averaging double figures and has scored at least 10 off of the bench in eight of the last nine games.

In his most recent game against Syracuse, Hicks had his best game as a Tar Heel scoring 21 points to go along with eight rebounds off the bench.

Hicks is a 6’9”, 235 pound former McDonald’s All-American and North Carolina high school player of the year, and has all the ability to be a superstar. With the injury to Kennedy Meeks, Hicks has taken full advantage of more playing time and his improvement has help take his team to another level.

Not many teams possess this many players who can put the ball in the basket, this gives Roy Williams a number of options when drawing up plays this season.

Having this number of options has allowed for Carolina to shoot a very good percentage as a team on the season averaging .50% shooting on the season.

The past two seasons, senior Marcus Paige has led the Tar Heels in scoring. He has been relied on heavily the past two seasons to score the ball. The past two years, if Paige had a bad game, UNC didn’t have a very good chance of wining.

This season things have been much different as Paige is the second leading scorer for Carolina to this point in the season averaging 15.1 PPG.

The leading scorer so far this season is none other than Senior forward Brice Johnson, who is finally playing up to the level people thought he could last season. In 17 games this season, Johnson is averaging a staggering 16.7 PPG to go along with 10.2 rebounds.

Johnson is making the most of the attempts he gets to score the ball, shooting an outstanding .64.4% from the field.

With three games with at least 25 points this season, Johnson’s work down low for UNC this season has been exactly what the doctor ordered. With his front court mate Kennedy Meeks missing time due to injury his play has been that much more important.

In a game on Jan. 4 at Florida St., Johnson put forth a performance for the ages. Scoring a career high 39 points and another career high 23 rebounds on 14-16 shooting, the 6’9” senior led the Tar Heels to victory with one of the most dominant performances college basketball has ever seen.

The crazy part of that monster performance from Johnson in UNC’s 106-90 win over FSU, Marcus Paige had a stat line consisting of 30 points, 5 rebounds, and 5 assists in the quietest 30-point performance you’ll ever see.

The play of these two experienced seniors gives Carolina a huge advantage come tourney time. They have done just about everything in their time at UNC except make a deep tourney run, but expect that to change this season as the Tar Heels have the talent and experience to win a national title.

Photo: Gregor Smith/Flickr

Irish Men Open With a Win

The University of Notre Dame Men’s Basketball Team raised their first ever ACC Championship banner inside the Purcell Pavilion on Friday night when the team took on the Red Flash of St. Francis (Pa.).

This moment brought back memories of the run last march that saw them defeat both ACC traditional powers Duke and North Carolina on their way to gaining the ACC automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Obviously, Notre Dame did not stop there. The Irish fought their way all the way to the Elite Eight before falling to the number one overall seed the University of Kentucky.

While that was an extremely exciting time for fans of Notre Dame hoops, the days of Jerian Grant and Pat Connaughton are over, as they have both moved on to the NBA. They’ll be greatly missed on the team, however there are others ready to step up and make this season just as memorable for Notre Dame.

Experienced players such as Demetrius Jackson, Zach Auguste, and Steve Vastuira will lead the 2015-2016 squad.

They were ready to see the banner go up, and have one final walk down memory lane before tuning their focus to this season, and more specifically the Red Flash.

The Irish did just that in their 87-56 thrashing of St. Francis in the season opener. After the banner was unveiled in the Purcell Pavilion, Notre Dame got right to business. They were paced by Demetrius Jackson and Zach Auguste, both of whom had outstanding games. Jackson was the game’s leading scorer with 27 points on 10/14 from the floor, he also added in eight boards and three dimes. Auguste had the first of what should be many double-doubles this season, totaling 15 points and 14 boards. Off the bench Notre Dame got a boost from Freshman Matt Ryan with nine points.

Senior guard Greg Brown paced St. Francis with 15 on the night.

Demetrius Jackson looked extremely athletic, and ready to take some of the load left by the departure of Jerian Grant. If Jackson continues to shoot as well as he did Friday evening, there is no doubt he will be able to find a home in the NBA one day.

Obviously, all games will not go as smooth as the opener did for Notre Dame, but this team looks primed to win over 20 games again this season.

Notre Dame has been picked to finish fourth in the ACC this season, behind North Carolina, Duke, and Virginia. They are the three teams that finished ahead of them in the regular season last year as well. The Irish are also ranked at 19 in the AP Poll to start the season.

Notre Dame has non-conference tilts with notables Indiana and Illinois before opening ACC play on January 2, at the University of Virginia.

North Carolina Tar Heels: 2015-16 Season Preview

Roy Williams and the North Carolina Tar Heels had another disappointing end to their season a year ago losing in the Sweet 16 to Wisconsin.

After beating Harvard and a very respectable Arkansas team to reach he Sweet 16, the Tar Heels had to get through Frank Kaminsky and the #1 seeded Wisconsin Badgers to reach the Elite 8. For North Carolina, a win would have sent them to their sixth regional final since 2007.

NCAA BASKETBALL: MAR 26 Div I Men's Championship - Sweet Sixteen - North Carolina v Wisconsin
J.P. Tokoto, (13) is the only Tar Heel starter not returning this season after deciding to leave early for the NBA draft.

The #4 seed Tar Heels couldn’t have asked for anything more in the first half of play. Both teams struggled on offense and the game remained close (33-31 at the half) with National Player of Year Frank Kaminsky struggling to get going.

The second half was a different ball game. The play picked up on the offense end, as both teams were more efficient scoring the ball. The Tar Heels had a lead early in the second half, but the Badgers turned it on and took control of the game for much of the second half.

Junior guard Marcus Paige got scorching hot from three-point range late to cut the Badger lead to one with 54 seconds to play. However UNC couldn’t get the stop it needed at the end and Wisconsin sealed the game at the free throw line. It was a 79-72 defeat for UNC in a game they feel they could have easily came away victorious.

This season, the Tar Heels return nine of their top ten scorers’ from that Sweet 16 squad. They are tied atop the preseason USA Today Coaches poll with Kentucky as the #1 team in the country.

With so much experience returning from last year’s team, there are very high expectations for a team that is used to having them. Sanctions cloud over the program from a pending investigation of an academic scandal, so this could be the last chance for this group of players to win a national championship after never advancing past the Sweet 16.

marcuspaige-duke
UNC guard Marcus Paige, (5) is one of the top returning players in college basketball. 

For Roy Williams’, this is his most talented Tar Heel squad since the 2011-12 team led by first round picks, Harrison Barnes, Kendall Marshall, John Henson, and Tyler Zeller. Williams has two national championships as the head coach at North Carolina, but none since the 2009 season. There is pressure on Roy this year to at least get his team to a final four.

North Carolina is led by senior combo guard Marcus Paige, and as he goes so will the Tar Heels. Paige is coming off of a season when he was plagued by injuries almost the entire season. After averaging 17.5 points on 44% shooting in his sophomore season, plantar fasciitis, as well as an ankle injury slowed him in his junior campaign to the tune of just 14.1 points on 41% shooting.

Paige has the ability to create for himself as well as others, also leading the Tar Heels in assist with 4.5 assists per game last season. He can score off the dribble, as well as make it rain from long range. If Paige can stay healthy, he has ACC, and even national player of the year capability.

However, bad news has recently come to light regarding Paige and the Tar Heels. Paige, (who was selected as Co-Preseason Player of the year in the ACC by the Sports Media Association) broke a bone in his non-shooting hand at practice on Tues., Nov. 3rd. Paige will be out for three-to-four weeks as he recovers from the injury. This is a huge blow for the Tar Heels as Paige is the most experienced playmaker, as well as best shooter on the UNC roster.

With Paige out, UNC will look more to Brice Johnson, a 6’9 senior is also a very good player for the Tar Heels. Manning the power forward spot, Johnson averaged 12.9 points and 7.8 rebounds a season ago. Expect both those numbers to rise this season with another full season of experience under his belt. Johnson and Paige are the engines that make the Tar Heel’s go, and Johnson will be looked at to do even more with Paige on the shelf to start the season.

Johnson has a good post up game with a fade-away jumper and jump hook. He uses both of these shots to perfection when Carolina needs a score down low. The combination of Johnson and Meeks down low makes for one of the most formidable duos in the country.

justinjackson-unc
North Carolina’s Justin Jackson, (44) is a candidate for a breakout season as a sophomore. 

The Tar Heels return four starters in Marcus Paige, Brice Johnson, Justin Jackson, and Kennedy Meeks. All four players return averaging at least double digits in scoring. With the versatile J.P. Tokoto unexpectedly bolting for the NBA draft, Carolina will have a couple options as to how to replace him.

Former McDonald’s All-American Justin Jackson emerged as a potential star towards the end of last season as a true freshman. At 6’8, Jackson has range from the three-point line, and also a silky smooth floater. Jackson will be one of the most important players for Carolina this season.

Another former high school All-American, Joel Berry possesses all the skills of a traditional Roy Williams point guard. He is very poise running the show, can pass the ball, as well as shoot from the outside. A starting line-up consisting of Berry, Paige, Jackson, Johnson, and Meeks would be one of the best five in the country. We’ll have to wait to see this potential line-up as Paige is out for the first couple weeks.

With Paige out, UNC will almost surely start Berry at point guard. Doing this would mean keeping Justin Jackson at the shooting guard, and inserting another former McDonald’s All-American in sophomore forward Theo Pinson into a starting role. After being injured for much of last season, Pinson has a lot to prove as far as what he can bring to this Tar Heels team this season.

Juniors Nate Britt, (who is another option to start at point guard with Paige out) and Isaiah Hicks will be huge contributors off the bench. Hicks is a player that could make a huge leap this season, and there are rumbling he could even crack the starting five. As a former top recruit nationally, Hicks is a traditional Roy Williams type big man. Running the floor, crashing the offensive glass, and playing rock solid defense are all qualities Hicks possesses. Look for those qualities to earn him a bigger role this season.

Regardless of who’s in the starting line-up, this season’s North Carolina Tar Heels will have the ability to play in waves. With up to five or six solid contributors off of the bench, Williams will have the opportunity to bring five in and five out at a time. This is something that he is known for doing, but not having as much quality depth the past couple seasons has kept him from using this strategy.

North Carolina opens their season in Annapolis, MD., at the Veterans Day Classic on Nov. 13 against Temple. Tip-off is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET.

The Paige injury isn’t a good start to the season for the Tar Heels. But once healthy, look for this veteran North Carolina team to be in the thick of things come March.