Tag Archives: College Basketball

The FBI Sets its Sights on NCAA Basketball

Stop the presses! An FBI investigation suggests that “influencers” surrounding high school basketball hot-shots are getting paid by shoe companies and agents to steer kids to preferred One-and-Done programs!?! Who would have thought it possible? Maybe the better question…is anyone really surprised?

I have no doubt that there are blue-blood basketball programs and blue-blood wannabes that have a river of illicit money flowing to families, coaches, and other influencers that surround the top 30 or so recruits in the country. College coaching staffs may know exactly what is going on and are involved in the money flow. They may know what is going on and simply turn a blind eye. Some programs are not part of the system. They are likely the ones not getting many top 30 recruits.

This is not a question about whether college athletes in revenue sports should get paid (they should). This problem is about the leeches in current system that abuse their relationship and influence with high school kids for profit.

The reality is that every year there is a very small group of high school players who are ready to play in the NBA. The unfortunate reality is that there are another 30 or so kids every year who think they are ready to play in the NBA but are not. Unfortunately, this larger group of “not ready, but think they are” have “experts” and “advisors” whispering in their ears that they are the next Joel Emblid, Jahlil Okafor, or Karl-Anthony Towns, when they aren’t.

Like Ben Simmons, Jabari Parker, Jamal Murray, Stanley Johnson before him, it didn’t take a genius or any special eye for talent to watch Marvin Begley III play basketball and conclude that he was a stratospheric talent. Were there “handers” who profited from O-A-D decisions of these phenoms? I don’t know, and for these players, it doesn’t really matter. It is not these kids who suffer from the actions of the leeches. The only problem for hyper-talented of players coming out of high school is the inconvenience of having to delay earning millions by 12 months with the charade of one year in college.

The bigger problem rests, not with the kids who become one-and-dones and sign big NBA contracts, but with the hundreds of kids over the past 10 years who thought they were O-A-D’s  because their “advisors” told them they were and they weren’t. These players made decisions based on advice and information that was tainted. The players, not the advisors suffer the consequences of bad advice. Crestfallen players languish on the bench at one-and-done factories, realizing they were not as good as they were told. They are recruited-over by the next year’s hot-shots and the dream of the NBA becomes a bridge too far.

Who pays the price for this tragedy? Not the advisers. Not the agents. Not the shoe companies. The kid who would have been far better off going to a program where he would have been the star, where he would have actually played lots of minutes in front of large TV audiences, where he had a chance to get an education, and where, given strong coaching he had a chance to grow into a professional basketball player. He is the one who draws the short straw and suffers the consequences, while the leeches are off in search of their next protege.

I would suggest that “advisors” who get paid under the table to steer kids to preferred programs are not advisors but rather predators, just like any other predator who satisfies their own needs and desires taking advantage of kids. They don’t care about these kids, they care about getting a payday. These players are kids, from a stand point of maturity and in the eyes of the law. Most of their families are not well-schooled in the world of big-time recruiting. These predators who work their way into in the circle of trust of both the players and their families are are leeches, blood suckers. They are the worst kind of threat to the best interests of these kids and their families.

It is my bet that if the FBI goes public with the results of their investigation, there will some big names in college basketball running for cover. We also will learn the names of shadowy figures who, for the right payday, steered high school recruits to the basketball factories that wanted them.

Speculation at this point? Sure. Is there really any doubt that there is illicit money changing hands in an industry that generates billions of dollars annually and the athletes play for free? Pull my finger and it plays Mozart.

2016 College Basketball Invitational Advances to Semifinals

The 2016 College Basketball Invitational quarterfinals wrapped up late Monday night. With four games on the docket, the bracket keeps getting smaller and smaller, as the CBI moves on to the semifinals. We have a recap of all of Monday night’s action below.

Duquesne vs. Morehead State

Morehead State led for most of their match against Duquesne as the Eagles defeated the Dukes, 82-72. Brent Arrington had 17 points for Morehead State, including a midcourt shot at the buzzer to put them up, 43-36, at the half. Morehead State never trailed in the second half and never saw their lead get below nine points as they soundly defeated Duquesne. Morehead State moves on to face Ohio on Wednesday.

UNCG vs. Ohio

Ohio rallied back from a 15 point deficit with 7:45 left to play to defeat UNCG, 72-67, on Monday night. Ohio closed the game off with a 25-5 run as UNCG had no answer for Jordan Dartis and Jaaron Simmons in the second half. Dartis and Simmons ended the game with 14 points and 19 points and eight assists respectively. Ohio advances to face Morehead State on Wednesday.

Eastern Washington vs. Nevada

Tyron Criswell and Cameron Oliver scored more than half of Nevada’s 85 points as they lead the Wolfpack to an 85-70 win over Eastern Washington. The Eagles was without star player Venky Jois, who injured his knee in their previous game. Nevada will host Vermont on Wednesday night.

Vermont vs. Seattle

For the second year in a row, the Catamounts will play in the CBI semifinals. In a 73-54 win over Seattle that saw Kurt Steidl lead all scorers with 17 points, Vermont had no problems handling Seattle in this match. The Catamounts never trailed at all in the game and closed it out with a second half scoring surge that included a 12-0 run. Vermont will play Nevada on Wednesday.

The semifinals for the College Basketball Invitational begin on March 23rd at 7:00pm. The rest of the bracket is listed below.

cbi schedule

Bracket courtesy of Gazelle Group

Email Kevin at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter @kmcgheee.

College Basketball Invitational Moves to Quarterfinals

The College Basketball Invitational first round action wrapped up last night, with seven games being played. We have a recap of all of the action, starting with Morehead State vs. Siena on March 15.

Morehead State vs. Siena

In their first postseason victory since upsetting Louisville in the NCAA Tournament in 2011, Morehead State defeated Siena, 84-80, in the opening round of the College Basketball Invitational. Senior Lyonell Gaines had a career-high 20 points and 11 rebounds and junior Xavier Moon scored 17 points as the Eagles hit 7-of-8 free throw attempts to seal the victory in the closing moments. Morehead State will host Duquesne on Monday night.

Nebraska-Omaha vs. Duquesne

In a game where defense was optional, Duquesne defeated Omaha120-112 on Wednesday night. Both teams broke the CBI single-game scoring record set by Creighton and Davidson in 2011. Derrick Colter scored a career-high 28 points for Duquesne as his Dukes move on to face Morehead State on Monday.

Albany vs. Ohio

Ohio redshirt senior forward Treg Setty recorded a career high 30 points to go with 10 rebounds to lift Ohio to a 94-90 win in overtime on Wednesday night. Setty hit a corner three with a hand in the face to give the Bobcats an 87-86 lead with 1:34 left in the game. After an Albany miss, Setty grabbed the rebound and hit a clutch layup to give Ohio an 89-86 lead they would not lose. Ohio moves on to face UNCG on Monday night.

Houston Baptist vs. UNCG

The UNCG men’s basketball team earned their first-ever postseason tournament victory on Wednesday as UNCG fought out a 69-65 victory over Houston Baptist. UNCG rallied from a six-point second half deficit before going on a 20-2 second half run to take the lead for good. UNCG will face Ohio in the quarterfinals on Monday night.

Western Carolina vs. Vermont

Kurt Steidl scored 20 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in his 100th career game as Vermont beat Western Carolina, 79-74 on Wednesday night. Vermont led the entire game until a 15-0 run tied the game at 39 with 16:43 left to play.  Vermont used a 10-2 run to take the lead for the rest of the game and move on in the tournament. They face Seattle in the quarterfinals on Monday.

Pepperdine vs. Eastern Washington

Eastern Washington earned their first victory in a national tournament as a member of NCAA Division I by defeating Pepperdine, 79-72 on Wednesday night. The victory came as a gift for head coach Jim Hayford, who coached in his 500th career game as a collegiate head coach. Eastern Washington will face Nevada in Reno on Monday night.

Montana vs. Nevada

Nevada rallied back from a 12 point deficit with just over 15 minutes to play to defeat Montana, 79-75 on Wednesday. Junior guard D.J. Fenner scored eight consecutive points to tie the game at 56-56, but the Grizzlies took control of the game and lead 63-57 with 4:50 left. It took a three pointer by Lindsey Drew to put the Wolf Pack up for good at 70-68. Six free throws and a three pointer for the Pack made the final score 79-75. Nevada will host Eastern Washington on Monday night.

Idaho vs. Seattle

Seattle used a balanced game of offense and defense to defeat the University of Idaho, 68-63 on Wednesday night. In a game that featured 11 lead changes, it look two three pointers by Zack Moore and Brendan Westendorf to put Seattle up for good at 43-42. Westerndorf shot 8-of-14 from the field, including 4-of-5 from three as he lead the Redhawks with 21 points, 11 rebounds, and five assists. Seattle will face Vermont on Monday night.

 

The rest of the tournament bracket is listed below. The rest of the CBI action kicks of on Monday night with the quarterfinals.

tournament bracket
Bracket courtesy of Gazelle Group.

Has College Basketball Lost Its Shine?

There are many reasons for sports-lovers to enjoy college basketball: March Madness and unpredictability make spring interesting, players come from small towns to play on big stages, and the wide-open nature of the field is a welcome reprieve from the top-heavy NBA. However, despite being a basketball nut, the college game has lost some of its allure in recent years.

I am a high school English teacher. Part of what I teach my students is to think about the author of a work of literature and decide where he or she is coming from in regards to the context of the pieces they read for me in class. For that reason, I need to tell you a little about myself:

Aside from being an English teacher, I am a basketball coach. Since October, I have spent countless hours in gymnasiums across eastern Ohio. In college, I got the opportunity to have a first-hand, front row seat at the passion and pageantry in college basketball as a student at the University of Dayton the year the Flyers beat Ohio State, Syracuse, and Stanford on their way to the Elite 8. I love basketball, but after long days spent coaching, watching basketball on television is not at the top of my list of priorities, and my perception of the college basketball climate certainly has something to do with that.

For many people like myself, part of the joy of watching college hoops comes from watching the development of players from year to year. Viewers crave the stories of small-town players go from playing sparse minutes to being major contributors in NCAA tournament games. The underdog story, for not only individuals, but teams, also, is what makes college basketball great.

College basketball has lost some of that feeling.

The current climate of college basketball makes it very difficult for casual fans to keep up with ever-changing college basketball rosters. Current rules say that potential NBA prospects must wait a year after their high school graduation before entering the NBA Draft, which has made college basketball merely a stepping stone to the NBA. The development that once took place in college basketball now takes place in the NBA.

Under the current rules, one must wonder whether college basketball prospects choose programs because they connect with a program’s philosophy or whether that decision is more based one which program allows a player an opportunity to play immediately and gain exposure by putting up numbers, even at the expense of team success.

Faced with the threat of players being in their program for only one year, college coaches are forced to play their young prospects extended minutes (often at the expense of older, more experienced players) in an effort to maximize the short amount of time said players spend in their program. College basketball legends like JJ Reddick, Gordon Hayward, and Doug McDermott are becoming fewer and farther between. It seems increasingly obvious that players who do stay in college for four years are the ones who do so because they lack NBA potential.

Perhaps the most troubling is that players like Emmanuel Mudiay chose to play in China immediately after high school rather than spend a year at an American university or that John Calipari had this to say last year after not winning a national title:

“Last year we started the season with a goal. You may think that goal was to win the national title and win all the games. It was to get eight players drafted…

“The mission statement for me would be to be a vehicle to help others reach their dreams, to be the stone that creates the ripple in their lives that goes on and on and on. Now, in our state, they want my mission to be win national titles… But my mission is bigger than that.”

Perhaps a positive is that that the current college basketball situation has allowed mid-major teams the opportunity to compete with the traditional powerhouses—teams such as Dayton and Xavier have each had great seasons at the expense of teams like Duke and Kentucky and much of this has to do with the continuity and their players developing within a system, gaining experience and confidence.

As far as who is at fault for my apathy toward college basketball, I cannot really entertain an answer. Whether others feel the same way I do, I cannot be sure of that, either. College basketball will be fine—I must admit that I’m looking forward to the respective conference and NCAA tournaments. However, I would be lying if I didn’t say that the closer I’ve gotten to the game of basketball, the farther my interest has gone from the college game.

E-mail Ben at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @BBeldenCLE.

Six is the Magic Number

As a lifelong College hoops fanatic, I’m typically resistant to any significant changes to the rules. However, when the NCAA Playing Rules Oversight Panel released the rule updates which were being put in place for 2015-16, it was the first time I can recall agreeing with the changes.

I had my concerns about reducing the shot clock, but 30 seconds is a sweet spot I can live with; and for years, I’ve been shouting to the rooftops to change the 10 second rule. The NCAA did the right thing, and no longer resets the 10 second count if the team in possession calls a time out while still in the back court. Those were the two most significant adjustments to the actual game play; and two months into the season, college basketball is largely unchanged, with some nice enhancements via the rule modifications.

Despite the improvements brought about due to this year’s updates, the one rule change which should have been pushed to the front of the line was to increase personal fouls from five to six. Now, that was proposed, and is in experiment mode to some extent this coming post season; however, it won’t be in play come NCAA Tournament time. Giving players a little bit longer leash would have been a major upgrade to college hoops, and I’ll tell you why.

Across the sports landscape these days, officiating is under heavy fire. Whether it’s college or pro, football, basketball, baseball, you name it; officials in every sport are, let’s just say, not very well liked. Of course it’s not always warranted, but college basketball has its fair share of really poor referees. And more than any other sport, college hoops seems to have more officials, who inject themselves into the game, and think they’re part of the show.

What does any of this have to do with adding a sixth personal foul? It has everything to do with it. Allowing each player an additional personal foul will reduce the impact the officials have on the outcome of the game. I’m not suggesting that by adding that sixth foul, poor officiating shouldn’t be addressed. However, you can’t very well discipline a bad official during the game. So let’s clip their claws a bit.

Scaling back the damage caused by quick whistles will do wonders for the game and the viewers. Even on nights when the refs want to impose their will on both teams, guys who normally would need to sit on the bench for the last 10-15 minutes of the first half, will now have new life. While the constant stoppages will still be annoying, at least the fan favorites will still be on the floor.
That brings me to my next point.

College basketball has a popularity problem, particularly during the regular season. So let’s keep the stars on the floor. There isn’t nearly the amount of true “stars” in college hoops, as there were in decades past. Many teams are carried by one or two strong players, with a bunch of role players around them.

Take the Providence Friars as an example. Last week, Kris Dunn got two first half fouls against Butler. The inability to keep him on the floor, led to a 12 point deficit. While they were able to climb out of it, and ultimately win the game, his absence put them in peril. Dunn needs to be on the floor producing highlight reels, not walking on egg shells trying to avoid picking up number three.

More and more college freshmen are hanging around for one year, until they bolt for the NBA. With such limited opportunity to watch these rising stars play, we need to reduce the possibility of having them saddled with early fouls, planted to the pine.

Ben Simmons is one of the most hyped freshmen in recent history. Given that his LSU Tigers squad has been underwhelming thus far, there’s a distinct possibility America won’t see him in the Big Dance. In the meantime, we run the risk of flipping over to the rare, nationally televised LSU game, and having Simmons nowhere to be found if he gets slapped with a couple early fouls. College ball needs the stars and future stars out there showing off their talents.

A while back, my esteemed colleague Hollis Mclain III wrote a piece explaining how the new rules would narrow the gap between the haves and have-nots. You can check that out here after you finish this post. I personally disagree, and feel that by and large we won’t see much difference than we have in recent years. However, I do believe that adding a sixth personal foul will actually widen the gap; and that’s a good thing. Allow me to explain.

As I stated earlier, by adding another personal foul to each player’s arsenal, we’re drawing power away from the referees; and keeping the best players on the floor for longer periods of time. Over time, the cream will rise. More skill and physical talent will eventually wear down lesser opponents. It will also provide the viewing audience with a better basketball experience.
This won’t be as evident during the regular season, though it will certainly have an impact. Come March, when the games are being played on the biggest stage, that’s when it will really show. Rather than having a top seed sweating it out against some double-digit nightmare because their best player picked up two quick ones, coaches will be able to keep their stars in the game, thus avoiding the scare.

Look, I’m all for the VCUs, Wichita States, and Butlers of the world making a deep tournament run. I enjoy watching a 14 or 15 seed pull off a stunner. However, when we get down to the Elite Eight, and the Final Four; it’s time for the little guys to go, and let the big boys play. This rule change would increase the likelihood that as the NCAA Tournament progresses; the top teams have their best players at their disposal, allowing the tournament to take proper shape.

I love college basketball above any other sport, and I certainly don’t want to see it mirror the NBA game. But adopting the six personal foul rule permanently, like the NBA, is the right move. Ultimately I believe it will be put in play. Since it wasn’t done this year, it needs to be done sooner rather than later, for the good of the game.

Photo: ATrumbly/Flickr

A Farewell to Spike Albrecht

He’s not going to go down as one of the greatest players in the history of University of Michigan basketball. He won’t be known as someone who changed the game or would’ve changed it at the next level. There was nothing about his game that made the pro scouts drool.

But the University of Michigan still laments the loss of point guard Spike Albrecht and really, so should the entire world of college basketball.

On Friday the 11th of November, Albrecht announced that he was ending his on the court career to allow for a nagging hip injury to finally heal. For a kid who was having trouble getting out of bed and out of his desk at class, the fact that it took him this long to finally succumb is pretty amazing.

Fans all over college basketball might not recognize his name immediately until you bring up the 2013 National Championship game against Louisville. With Player of the Year Trey Burke on the bench, the freshmen that would later be dubbed “The Baby Faced Assassin” would step in and start raining 3’s in a half like no other. Spike Albrecht literally made it a game almost by himself.

Pretty good for a kid who the University of Michigan security thought was a manager the first time he showed up.

I personally remember him as the guy who after injuries kept knocking players out last season would essentially play from start to finish in 2015, averaging 32 minutes a game. He never asked to be the star on or off the court, never wanted to be the focus of the offense. He was just the guy that did what was asked of him and what needed to be done. The entire time he was battling through the hip injury that inevitably cost him the rest of his collegiate career.

And that’s why the rest of college basketball should lament the retirement of Spike Albrecht.

He was the the guy that parents could point out to their sons and daughters who wanted to play but were never sure if they were good enough. Spike had one other scholarship offer from Appalachian State and that’s it. No one but he and John Beilein thought he was good enough. He went from the kid mistaken for a manager, to postseason hero, to two-time team captain and the MVP of the 2014-2015 team. He kept his head down, played like a team player and showed everyone what the little guy could do.

Spike Albrecht was one of the best stories sports can offer and the game will be worse off without him. At least if you’re going to retire, you might as well retire as one of the most beloved players in recent memory. Best of luck in whatever you do Spike and thanks for the memories.

March Madness Is Upon Us

There is a commonly held belief that we don’t see what is right in front of our face. Our own city is a primary example of this belief. If you saw your own city as a tourist destination, I bet you would experience more of what your home base has to offer. My city and how I view it is not the exception.

I’ve lived in Kansas City since 2001. In that time, the city has added many new attractions and improved on what it already had to offer. The National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame and its adjoined The College Basketball Experience (CBE) are two of those attractions.

The CBE opened its doors on October 10, 2007. I made a trip there after it first opened and hadn’t been back since that time. So when it was suggested as a destination for a work event, I was actually excited.

For a college sports fan, it is one of the best places that I can imagine. The facility offers interactive activities ranging from a full basketball court to play on as well as pop a shot pods and a booth to have slam dunk competitions on. Yes, the goals are short enough for 5’9″ finance industry professionals to dunk on.

In addition to these features, the facility also includes the hall of fame. The walls are adorned with a history of the college game. That history is consistently updated according to what happened in the current year.

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I can’t think of a better location for the CBE considering the rich college basketball tradition in Kansas City. Long before the Sprint Center was built, KC had Municipal Auditorium. Municipal was built in 1935 and hosted three of the first four Final Fours. My favorite Municipal Final Four story has nothing at all to do with an actual game, but rather how someone attended the 1954 Final Four.

IMG_1097 (2)

Former head coach Eddie Sutton was eighteen and living in Stillwater, OK. Coach Sutton hitchhiked to KC, bought a ticket for $5 and wathched LaSalle cut down the nets. A lot has changed in college sports since 1954 but KC being a hot bed of college basketball has not been one of those changes.

College basketball is something that I enjoy. But as a Missouri Tiger fan, my overall interest has fallen off recently. You can probably cut me some slack on this especially since we’re in the SEC now. You know, where football is king. This weekend was the first time this season that I started to feel excited about what lies ahead. Maybe it was because the Tiger’s season is finally winding to an end. Maybe it was because I really sat down and watched some good games; I’m looking at you Kansas/Texas. Maybe it was because I was geared up about my return trip to the CBE. No matter the reason, i’m all in for the 2015 NCAA tournament.

With that said, please stay tuned to cfbroundtable.com. I promise you’ll see some great college basketball coverage that will also include podcast content. And to stay true to the NCAA Tournament, we’ll have a bracket contest. You’ll want to stay tuned to our twitter feed for that; @CFBRoundtable.

College Basketball Needs a Shorter Shot Clock

The overall excitement for college basketball seems to be waning. With College Football fandom arguably at an all time high, basketball needs to catch up. Teams are finding it hard to fill up stands like they used to. For example, Thompson-Bowling Arena (home of the Tennessee Vols) holds roughly 22,000 seats, and the Vols are having trouble filling 10,000 of those seats. Most would use the counterargument that the Volunteers haven’t exactly had the best season, and that’s true, but it’s not the reason for the lack of fans. Basketball fans have always been a little wishy-washy, and if their teams aren’t good, you won’t find them even watching on TV. Couple that with the fans’ sense of entitlement to a high scoring spectacle, and it’s a recipe for lower ratings. College football fans have become used to high potent, always exciting games, and basketball has suffered because of it. College football is simply more electrifying to watch than basketball right now. There are a good chunk of die-hard basketball fans, however, and they keep the sport going. The Vols aren’t the only program suffering when it comes to attendance, in fact, I would bet they are in the majority of NCAA Men’s teams having problems. Of course, programs like Kentucky, Louisville, Duke, Kansas, and North Carolina will always have support. If we want basketball to reach its previous popularity, a few rules might have to change in the process. The 35-second shot clock is one of those rules up for debate.

The shot clock was first introduced to the NBA, and forced players to shoot quicker than ever before. There was debate whether to include the shot clock in the NCAA until low scoring; boring games changed enough minds to implement the shot clock. Basketball has come full circle. No shot clock led to low scoring games, and the introduction of the shot clock energized fans everywhere. It made the game exciting again. Now, in 2015, we have the same problem, but for different reason. Fans are extremely bored with college basketball, and the only way to fix that is to make the game more exhilarating. The simplest way to do that is shorten the shot clock. We don’t have to change much, just take some seconds off of it. Maybe we could even adopt the NBA’s 24-second clock. ESPN published an article stating that a 30-second shot clock would be used in this year’s NIT tournament. A marvelous idea I might add.

The goal of shortening the shot clock isn’t to make the game faster, but to create more shots, and thus, thrilling action. With basketball games using a couple hours of TV time as it is, speeding up the game would only hurt college basketball. Creating more possessions, however, leads to higher scoring, fun basketball. Would you rather watch a game that ends 50-48, or 101-100? If I had to guess, I would say the latter. As Americans, we like action, and anything else bores us. Because of this, football has had to change its’ identity, and basketball will be next. If basketball wants to stay on par with other sports, that is.

The world we live in today is fast-paced, and sports have followed suit. Oregon football is the perfect example. Oregon scores a ton of points, plays fast, and is always exciting. For this reason, people flock to be fans of Oregon. I don’t see many people running to become a fan of any college basketball team, especially one without a storied history. The key to increasing the college basketball fan base is to create a fun, fast-paced sport that involves all ages. A step in the right direction would be the lowering of the shot clock. It doesn’t have to be a huge change, just something small like a 30 second clock. The NCAA will take notice of the clock’s viability, and the results will force the NCAA to cater to the new sports fan.

2013-2014 Ohio State Men's Basketball Preview

Entering the 2013-2014 season, the Ohio State Men’s Basketball team is quite enigmatic.

At one end of the spectrum, a lot has changed for the Buckeyes. At the other end, weirdly enough, everything is relatively status quo.

The Buckeyes will bring back 10 of last year’s players, while adding two talented recruits into the fold. Meanwhile, however, those two player might be enough to undo the Buckeyes from the get-go.

After a season in which he put up the third-most points in Ohio State single-season history while leading the Buckeyes to an Elite Eight run, DeShaun Thomas declared for the NBA Draft and was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs with the 28th pick in the second round.

Of course, Thomas decided that playing overseas would be in his best interest until the NBA was ready for him, but nevertheless, Thomas, Ohio State’s premier offensive weapon, left the Buckeyes searching for answers on the offensive end.

Ohio State’s only senior last season, Evan Ravenel, certainly didn’t have the offensive impact of Thomas, but was certainly a formidable post-presence for the Buckeyes off of the bench.

With Amir Williams going through the motions for the majority of last season, Ravenel was often asked to come into the game early, play significant defense and body up the big-time post defenders of the Big Ten. He was ultimately successful on both ends of the floor, but his defense vastly outweighed his offensive numbers.

Obviously, the loss Thomas and Ravenel will be significant for many reasons, but the loss of Thomas may be the one that the Buckeyes may feel the most.

Who will replicate his 19.8 points per game? His 72 three-point field goals? His 733 points?

Those numbers aren’t going to be easy to reproduce, but most of that burden will fall on the shoulders of LaQuinton Ross.

Ross, the 6’8, 220 pound junior out of Mississippi, made his presence felt last season off of the bench for the Buckeyes after a suspension-filled freshman season.

In 2012-2013, Ross averaged 8.3 points per game while shooting 46.8% from the field, but his most notable games came when the lights were the brightest.

Against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Ross scored 16 points on 7-10 shooting. Against Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament, he scored 17 on 6-10 shooting. Against Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen, Ross hit the game winning shot on the way to another 17 points on 5-8 shooting. Finally, in the Elite Eight loss against Wichita State, Ross added 19 points and shot 9-10 from the free throw line.

If the NCAA tournament proved anything, it proved that Laquinton Ross might be ready to fill in for the legendary Thomas this season. With more minutes and more touches, it’s scary what Ross might be able to do.

As for the other sources of offense, the Buckeyes will certainly be looking for some input from the senior leaders- Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr.– as well as some scoring from Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott.

Last season, the three veterans combined to average 32.0 points per game and if they’re going to succeed this season, they need to equal or surpass that number during the 2013-2014 campaign.

There will be added help this season from the likes of three-point specialist Amadeo Della Valle and big-time freshman recruits Marc Loving and Kam Williams. If the young-guns can make a significant impact on the offensive end, there’s no telling just how far this team can go.

Defensively, this might be the best teams in the country, which is fortunate as there are so many question marks on the offensive end.

Lead by the nation’s best on-ball defender, Aaron Craft, the Buckeyes will try to improve upon their 39.5% opponent field goal percentage and the 59.4 points-per-game that opponents were able to put on the Buckeyes.

This is where the loss of Evan Ravenel becomes crucial.

While the Buckeyes should have no problems guarding the perimeter, as Craft, Smith Jr and Thompson are tremendous defenders, they might have problems in the interior.

LaQuinton Ross, while a potentially fabulous scorer, isn’t known for a defense and should he start at the power forward position, he could very well be pushed around by some of the Big Ten’s surly power forwards.

At the center position, Amir Williams has an entirely different problem. He has major problems moving his feet. The size is there, the strength is there, but if he hasn’t improved his footwork, opponent centers- (McGary, Payne)- might just go to town on the poor kid.

Ravenel’s hulking presence on the post will be missed and will need to be replicated somehow, someway, if the Buckeyes want to have a chance in college basketball’s premier conference.

Overall, Ohio State has question marks on both sides of the ball, but there’s no reason to believe those questions won’t be answered strongly early on.

LaQuinton Ross is poised for a breakout season in relief of DeShaun Thomas.

Aaron Craft has increased his points per game average by two points every single year of his collegiate career and could definitely do so again.

Lenzelle Smith Jr., Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson should be improved with another year of experience under their belt, despite their already solid output.

The freshmen and Amadeo should make a significant impact on at least one side of the ball.

Amir Williams should have improved his footwork and is hopefully a much better defender this season.

Thad Matta is one of the best coaches in the entirety of college basketball.

All signs are pointing to a very successful season for the Buckeyes, but where can we expect them to end up?

Michigan State is the top dog in the Big Ten, but Ohio State did beat them in both of their meetings last season on their way to a Big Ten Championship. Michigan lost too much in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to find their way back in the National Championship hunt

Ultimately, the Buckeyes should finish the season second in the Big Ten and find themselves with a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Anything less than a chance for redemption in the Elite Eight would be considered a significant disappointment.

The Buckeyes start their season tomorrow afternoon at the Schott with a 12 pm tipoff against the Morgan State Bears.

Key players returning to school is good for the College & NBA games

To my great joy, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft passed with some surprising players choosing to remain in school for at least one more year.  I could be wrong, but it certainly seems as though more significant players chose to spend more time in college this year, than in recent years.  It’s too early to determine if this will become a trend.  If it does become a trend in the coming years, both the game of college basketball, and the NBA will be better for it.

The obvious impact for next year is on the college game.  Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne of Michigan State, Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, Doug McDermott of Creighton, and Louisville’s Russ Smith were some of the most scrutinized decisions.  That group had varying draft potential.  Smart was a sure-fire top 5 pick, while Smith would’ve gone anywhere from the late first round, into the second.

Regardless of where they would’ve gone in the draft, each will have a tremendous effect on the college basketball season in 2013-14.  It doesn’t matter what the reasons for returning were.  Whether they made the smart choice because they wanted to improve their skills; if they wanted to come back to win a championship; or if they simply like hanging out with college girls; one way or another, the choice to gain additional experience will be a positive one.

While it’s clear that the respective schools will be in better shape due to having these guys back; it may not be clear how that will make the NBA a better game.  The first and easiest answer is that the players mentioned – and any player who considered jumping to the NBA, yet chose to return – is going to further develop their game.

There was a time I loved the NBA; never as much as the college game, but I still loved to watch it.  The reason the NBA was so great in the ‘80’s through the ‘90’s, was that the fundamental skill of the players from top to bottom was far more refined.  That’s tied directly to the fact that your typical NBA player was one who had spent four years in college.  Early entries were rare.  When they did happen, we were spoiled with once in a lifetime talents like Bird, Magic, Jordan etc. 

Everybody else developed their game playing a full college career.  Refining and developing new skills doesn’t happen in the NBA.  It happens in college.  College coaches, the really good ones, know how to squeeze every ounce of potential out of their guys.  Being thrown to the wolves as a high draft choice, or riding the pine as a late first round, early second round pick; does not lead to development. 

Having kids return to school has an often overlooked effect on the NBA.  It keeps the league from continuing to get watered down with players who don’t belong there.  The reason I find the NBA so difficult to watch, is that the league is littered with extremely athletic, erratic players who really don’t belong there.

While there are always a handful of success stories, the vast majority of kids who make the jump early, do not live up to expectations.  Hell, many are flat-out busts.  Too many get to hang around the league simply because someone, somewhere still thinks they may pan out one day.  Like I said, there are some breath-taking athletes, who never truly became basketball players.

Gaining additional experience, and honing their craft, can only make a player more NBA ready when their time comes.  Whether that means a budding star becomes a legit star, a good player becomes a high level NBA player, or an average Joe becomes a solid NBA journeyman; in any case, the league rosters will consist of a higher caliber of player.

In my opinion, the most important impact a return to school has on a player is intangible.  I’m talking about the ability to learn how to win and lose.  When kids go to college for a year, maybe two, they’re essentially a rental.  So much focus is on improving draft stock, that winning and losing has little value.

I’m not saying that those kids don’t want to win, I’m sure they do.  However, there is something to be said for becoming a part of something.  Being part of a family, embracing rivalries, enjoying the sweet taste of victory, and the bitter taste of excruciating defeat is critical to building character. 

McGary and Robinson are prime examples of that for Michigan.  Both had solid freshman seasons.  Far worse players have jumped to the NBA, but they chose to stay.   These two got so close to the pinnacle, only to have it snatched away.  They’re going to take on a greater role now.  Perhaps they lead their school to a championship, or maybe they suffer another disappointment. 

In either case, they become better at the college level, as well as when they get to the NBA.  That experience carries over.  They’ll carry that to whichever teams they go to.  They’ll want to stick it to every rival.  They’ll know what it takes to win a championship, or now how bad it feels not to.  That’s something that will drive them to push themselves, and those around them.  And that goes for any player who chose to go back to school.  That’s invaluable experience that cannot be gained by leaving school early, and playing for an NBA lottery team.

Look, I’ll never begrudge a kid who comes from little means, who jumps at the chance to make millions for his family.  In this era, seeking instant gratification is the rule, not the exception.  However, if more kids stayed in the college game, the cumulative effect would be astounding.

First, the college game would be better, with more highly skilled players.  While some players may lose some draft value, they will likely be set up for a more meaningful career, with greater longevity due to the extra development; rather than being a high lottery pick that becomes a bust.  Ultimately, the NBA game will be better because from the skill level of the brightest star to the last guy off the bench will be more refined.

I could be getting way ahead of myself.  Next year, there may be a mass exodus of ill-prepared youngsters to the NBA.  I hope that’s not the case.  Hopefully, more and more college hoops players realize that the money isn’t going anywhere; and that investing an extra year or two in school, may make them a better long-term investment for an NBA franchise.  If that does become a trend, college basketball will be even better; and the NBA will become a game that I may just want to watch.