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From 1961 to 1997, Smith was the head coach of the University of North Carolina Tar Heels. His lengthy list of accolades includes 11 Final Four appearances, two national titles, four National Coach of the Year designations, and an Olympic gold medal won in 1976. He trained many notable NBA players, including Vince Carter, Rasheed Wallace, Sam Perkins, Jerry Stackhouse, J.R. Reid, Kenny Smith, Brad Daugherty, James Worthy, and of course Michael Jordan. Jordan released the following statement, Sunday, in memory of Smith:
“Other than my parents, no one had a bigger influence on my life than Coach Smith. He was more than a coach — he was my mentor, my teacher, my second father. Coach was always there for me whenever I needed him and I loved him for it. In teaching me the game of basketball, he taught me about life. My heart goes out to Linnea and their kids. We’ve lost a great man who had an incredible impact on his players, his staff and the entire UNC family.”
Stackhouse sent out this tweet, and explained in an XM radio interview how Smith would even assist him with financial management.
Worthy kept it short and sweet:
There are so many things I could say about Coach Dean Smith but simply put, he is the greatest man I've ever known. pic.twitter.com/tWaE2LPYpK— James Worthy (@JamesWorthy42) February 8, 2015
And Worthy’s fellow Los Angeles Lakers trustee, general manager Mitch Kupchak, sent out the following:
“Coach Smith was one of the most influential people in my life, and his passing brings me great sadness. However, he was a great man and someone I loved and respected greatly, and I celebrate the fact that I knew him and had him in my life for as long as I did. His influence on my life didn’t end when I left Chapel Hill, as he was a trusted and valuable advisor to me when I became a player, then an executive in the NBA. He had a hugely positive impact on the lives of hundreds of young men who were lucky enough to call him Coach, and I was blessed to be among them.”
Rest in peace.
— John Wilmes
Athlon Sports has averaged out the four major recruiting services team rankings for the ACC — 247Sports, Rivals.com, Scout.com and ESPN — and created the ACC consensus team recruiting rankings for 2015. Here is what we learned:
Florida State, Clemson and everybody else
It’s clear who the class of the ACC was in 2015 recruiting. The Seminoles and Tigers were ranked in the top five nationally by both Rivals and ESPN and the top eight by 247. No one else in the ACC was even close and North Carolina finished third with an average ranking just outside of the top 25. That said, for whatever reason, Scout didn’t agree, ranking both Clemson and Florida State outside of the top 10 nationally (take it up with them, fans).
Louisville and Bobby Petrino just completed their first full cycle as a member of the ACC and it appears the Cardinals will do just fine in their new league. The Cards ranked no lower than 32nd nationally by any service and finished solidly in the top half of the league. The same cannot be said about Pitt and Syracuse, who signed the worst two classes in the ACC this fall (mostly due to size for the Panthers).
Florida State and Clemson signed all seven five-star recruits that the ACC landed this cycle. Those two programs, as expected, signed 19 of the 42 four-star recruits as well. Who didn’t sign a single five- or four-star recruit in the ACC? Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Boston College and Syracuse were the only ACC teams that didn’t land a four-star recruit this year.
Middle of the pACCk
The middle of the ACC pack needs to show improvement. Miami was one of the National Signing Day losers after missing out a bunch of quality players and falling outside of the top 25. ESPN and Rivals barely snuck Virginia Tech into the Top 25 and North Carolina was 24th by Scout and ESPN. But those three programs are the next best recruiting brands in the league and have history of competing at a high level in the ACC. So if the league wants to be considered on the same playing field as the SEC or Pac-12 nationally, these three programs need to start threatening top-10 classes on the recruiting trail.
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast Recruiting Special feat. Barton Simmons:
Positive signs in Winston-Salem?
Using Rivals.com team rankings — because they date back the farthest — Wake Forest signed its best class of the modern era this year. Three of the four sites ranked the Demon Deacons 53rd or better, making it the highest-rated class for Wake Forest since Rivals began tracking team rankings in 2002. ESPN ranked the Deacs an exciting 42nd in the nation — ahead of quality programs like Maryland, BYU, Cal, Utah, Iowa and others. Things could be looking up for Dave Clawson.
2015 ACC Consensus Team Recruiting Rankings:
The league’s coordinator carousel this offseason is another example of how things are just different down South. When it comes to coaching, there is no league in the nation more cutthroat than the SEC.
The SEC has hired 14 new coordinators since the end of the season. Six of them have coached in the SEC within the last two years, five were on staff last season and four of them are making the switch to a new SEC school in 2015.
Here are the winners and losers from the SEC’s ’15 coordinator carousel:
The Tigers went from Ellis Johnson to Will Muschamp and the former Florida coach’s impact was felt immediately. Auburn dominated headlines on Signing Day and Muschamp will undoubtly dominate offensive lines for as long as he stays on the Plains. Guschamp is as good an offense-defense tandem as there is in the nation.
It was costly but landing John Chavis in exchange for Mark Snyder was a big win for Kevin Sumlin. Chavis has a long track record of success in the SEC and for the Aggies to not only secure his services but also steal him from a division rival — one who had shut them down in two meetings — can’t be overrated.
Doug Nussmeier is a solid hire but Jim McElwain will likely control the majority of the offense. However, luring Geoff Collins away from Mississippi State and back to Gainesville was a big win for McElwain. His defensive hire was going to be significantly more important than his offensive move and Coach Juice Points was a home run.
Part of what gives Missouri the ability to “overachieve” is the coaching staff’s continuity. So losing Dave Steckel to Missouri State after 14 excellent years of service was a big blow to Gary Pinkel’s staff stability. He couldn’t have landed a better replacement, however, in Barry Odom. He played and coached at Mizzou under Pinkel (2003-11) and did fantastic work turning around Memphis’ defense in three short years.
Going from John Chavis to Kevin Steele can only be considered a major step down. Steele is a great recruiter but that isn’t what LSU needs. The last two years he was in charge of a defense, his unit allowed a pathetic 5.6 yards per play for Clemson in both 2011 and ’12 — ranking 71st and 69th nationally. And technically, Alabama’s defense, while still really good in 2014, was the “worst” it has been since '08. Just ask Urban Meyer. Les Miles did salvage the offseason somewhat by landing ace recruiter and elite D-line coach Ed Orgeron.
Mike DeBord is maybe the most fascinating hire in the SEC this year. He hasn’t coached any football since 2012, hasn’t been relevant in college football since leaving Michigan in '07 and hasn’t been a QB coach since '86. He knows Butch Jones extremely well, brings continuity to the offense and maybe even adds a much-needed power running element. And Michigan did go to two Rose Bowls during his last stint in Ann Arbor. But the game has changed dramatically since then, and normally, there is a reason someone hasn’t held a meaningful position in nearly a decade. DeBord is extremely experienced but there are reasonable questions about his upside, ability to develop young talent and knowledge of the way today's SEC works.
There should always be concerns when hiring a top assistant from a coaching staff where the head coach is really the offensive architect. Shannon Dawson posted some big numbers on offense for West Virginia last year but didn’t really design the offense and didn’t call the plays either. Dawson can only be considered a step back from a young rising offensive mind like Neal Brown.
On the plus side, Brian Schottenheimer will give Mark Richt the exact offensive style he wants, his NFL pedigree suggests that the industry’s best respect him and he knows the SEC from his playing days at Florida. However, his offenses in The League have been far from solid (despite some injuries) ranking 25th, 23rd, 30th and 28th in the NFL in total offense over the last four seasons. Generally speaking, coaches don’t leave a high-ranking NFL job for a coordinator job in college and, many times, NFL offenses are too complex for the college game. This is a step down from Mike Bobo.
Wait and See:
Being able to lure a current head coach away to become a coordinator is no small feat but Dan Enos didn’t exactly set Mount Pleasant on fire during his five-year stint at Central Michigan. He meshes very well with Bret Bielema’s offensive philosophy so odds are this will be a win for the Hogs. But Enos is still very much of an unknown in the SEC.
Andy Ludwig will bring a power offense that has been extremely successful and his ability to coach quarterbacks is a huge need. Derek Mason’s decision to coach the defense is both a win and loss simultaneously. No one can coach, manage and call that defense better than him (win) but it’s nearly impossible to manage every aspect of the game in such a demanding league when you are so focused on one side of the ball (loss). The jury is still very much out on the Dores' moves but there is no doubt they upgraded these two positions from a year ago.
The similarities between DeBord and Jon Hoke are bizarrely similar with a few small twists. Both have deep connections with their new head coaches and haven’t coached in college for a long time. The slight difference is Hoke has been coaching at a high level in the NFL while DeBord has been out of the game for three years. Another difference is Hoke is almost guaranteed to be an upgrade over Lorenzo Ward and is going to call the plays while DeBord could be a step down from Mike Bajakian and will have much less influence than Hoke.
Manny Diaz knows Mississippi State very well having coached there under Dan Mullen in 2010. He was solid for MTSU prior to coming to Starkville and was solid for the Bulldogs, but his track record is a mixed bag since. He did great work last year at Louisiana Tech, taking a unit ranked 70th nationally in total defense the year prior to 35th in '14. However, he also is partly responsible for two of the worst defenses in Texas Longhorns history, giving up over 400 yards per game in 2012-13 in Austin.
Alabama: Lane Kiffin, OC and Kirby Smart, DC
Ole Miss: Matt Luke/Dan Werner, OC and Jason Jones/Dave Wommack, DC
The Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is among the best in college football, and the intensity between these two programs went up a notch since Jim Harbaugh arrived in Ann Arbor to return the Wolverines back to the Big Ten elite.
While these two teams won’t meet until November, that won’t stop the fireworks between the two programs until the matchup on the gridiron.
Standout high school running back Mike Weber was committed to Michigan at one point but is headed to Ohio State after flipping to the Buckeyes late in the recruiting process. However, Weber’s position coach (Stan Drayton) recently left for the NFL. Needless to say, Weber (and his high school coach had some words for Urban Meyer) wasn’t happy with the news and tweeted this following the announcement.
Which brings us to this Harbaugh tweet from Saturday…was this directed at Ohio State?
Thought of the day - What a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive! - Sir Walter Scott— Coach Harbaugh (@CoachJim4UM) February 7, 2015
After Harbaugh's tweet, Ohio State director of player personnel Mark Pantoni tweeted this in response:
Thought of the day... pic.twitter.com/fA1yJD6SBr— Mark Pantoni (@markpantoni) February 7, 2015
Are we reading too much into these tweets? Or was Harbaugh's tweet a jab at Ohio State over the Weber recruiting situation? Either way, the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry is certainly more interesting with Harbaugh back in Ann Arbor.
Revenge was the name of the game this week in college basketball.
Not too long ago, the cracks appeared to be showing for teams like Duke, Villanova and Iowa State as they took key losses. A few weeks later, those losses now look like wake-up calls as all three answered in rematches.
Duke would find no drama in its second game against Notre Dame this season as the Blue Devils embarrassed a top 10 team by 30 points. Villanova took its only loss in regulation in a lopsided defeat to Georgetown, but the Wildcats returned the favor with an impressive defensive performance against its classic Big East rival. And Iowa State, which lost a head-scratcher to Texas Tech two weeks ago, turned around for a 37-point rout.
Yet the story of the week may be the continued win streak by Kentucky. The Wildcats lost all three meetings to Florida a year ago, but needed all 60 minutes to put away the Gators in their first matchup this season.
1. Kentucky keeps finding ways to stay undefeated
Winning conference road games is tough, and we’re sure Kentucky’s not going to get enough credit for answering the call each game in an otherwise mediocre SEC. The Wildcats’ 68-61 win at Florida is a perfect example of why Kentucky remains undefeated. The Gators played arguably their best game of the season (only days after their worst game of the season in a loss at Vanderbilt), Kentucky had some key lapses, and still the Wildcats walked away with a win. Andrew Harrison was a non-factor (no field goals, three turnovers), and the Wildcats shot 3-of-14 from 3-point range. Still, Kentucky won because it was 21-of-22 from the free throw line while Florida went 7-of-14. And Karl-Anthony Towns played his best game of the season with 19 points and eight rebounds. Towns is averaging 15.3 points per game in his last three, and Aaron Harrison rebounded from a one-point game against Georgia for 23 against the Gators. We’ve known this for a while, but taking out Kentucky is going to take an outstanding effort from a darn good team.
2. Duke looks like the scariest team in the country
Time to stop worrying about what’s wrong with Duke and try to figure out how anyone is going to slow down the Blue Devils. On Jan. 28, Notre Dame beat Duke 77-73 in South Bend for the Blue Devils’ third loss of the season. Duke hasn’t lost since. The rematch against the top-10 Irish was a thorough 90-60 beatdown. Notre Dame took a 6-0 lead, and from there, Duke went on a 43-7 run during the first half. This came with Jahlil Okafor playing only eight minutes in the first half due to foul trouble. Meanwhile, Justise Winslow continued his hot streak, flourishing in transition for 19 points. Guard Matt Jones obliterated his career high with 17 points (3-of-5 from 3) off the bench. And when Okafor was in the game he simply went 9-of-11 form the field for 20 points with 10 rebounds in 23 minutes. Quite the statement for Duke.
3. Virginia needs to adjust without Justin Anderson
On the court Saturday, Virginia played yet another stifling game against a quality opponent. The Cavaliers defeated Louisville 52-47, holding the Cardinals to 13 points in the first half and 0.85 points per possession overall. The rub, though, is pending hand surgery for Justin Anderson, arguably the team’s most important player. Surgery to repair a broken finger may put him out for 4-6 weeks, through the first week of March or into the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament. The Cavaliers face only three KenPom top 100 teams (North Carolina, Pittsburgh, Syracuse) before the finale against Louisville, but Anderson’s absence will be a key speed bump for a team that’s had trouble closing out games in recent weeks.
4. Oklahoma State makes a major statement
Oklahoma State found one way to separate itself from the depth of the Big 12, arguably the deepest league in the country. The Cowboys defeated Kansas 67-62 to give the Pokes a win over Kansas in each of the last three seasons, including the last two games in Stillwater. Kansas did not have a great game, turning the ball over 18 times, but the key for Oklahoma State is the emergency of secondary scorers. For most of the season, the Pokes could count on only Le’Bryan Nash and Phil Forte to light up the scoresheet. That’s changed. Four Cowboys scored in double figures against KU. Point guard Anthony Hickey has become the key No. 3 with 12 points per game in the last four.
5. Another red flag for Arizona?
On first glance, Arizona’s 81-78 loss to Arizona State shouldn’t be a major warning sign. The season is long, and this was a road game against a capable rival. The Sun Devils got a little hot from 3 (7-of-15) and were able to pull off the upset. But this is also the third loss of the season for Arizona against a team that won’t be in the NCAA Tournament. The other two were to UNLV and Oregon State, both on the road. Arizona may still be a title contender at 20-3 but these losses may cost the Wildcats a No. 1 seed.
6. Villanova avenges its worst loss of the season
OK, Villanova, we’re believers again. The Wildcats lost by 20 to Georgetown back on Jan. 19 for one of its two losses of the season, and from there they faced the dregs of the Big East. On Saturday, Villanova made a statement in its rematch with the Hoyas, defeating Georgetown 69-53 in a defensive turnaround. Georgetown averaged 1.18 points per possession and shot 51.1 percent from the field in the first meeting. In the second game in Philadelphia, Villanova held Georgetown to 0.79 points per possession and 30 percent shooting from the field, including 1-of-17 from 3-point range. Villanova was especially effective off takeaways, outscoring Georgetown 24-8 on turnovers despite being in the red in turnover margin (20-15).
7. Time to start buying into Baylor
There are plenty of Baylor and Scott Drew skeptics out there. Some of that is earned, for sure. Dare we say this is a year to start buying into the Bears? Baylor demolished West Virginia 87-69 on the road for their fourth win in their last five Big 12 games. Wins in bunches don’t come often in this league, so Baylor’s hot streak must be noted. Baylor went on a 21-0 run in the first half and took advantage of West Virginia’s struggles in the halfcourt. Against the Baylor zone, West Virginia shot a mere 6-of-23 from 3. Meanwhile, Rico Gathers was a beast as always on the glass with 16 rebounds, five on the offensive glass. Gathers’ 17 points against West Virginia was his second-highest total in a Big 12 game in his career.
8. Time to start selling West Virginia?
The other side of Baylor’s rout in Morgantown: Maybe West Virginia is a team to start looking at a little more critically. The Mountaineers’ elite pressure defense helped turn around the team this season, but West Virginia doesn’t do much of anything else very well. Now, the Mountaineers’ other deficiencies are starting to catch up to them. Their last three Big 12 losses — to Texas, Oklahoma and Baylor — have been routs. The loss also highlights that West Virginia has only two top-50 RPI wins and one of those is over Wofford.
9. Shorthanded Illinois is making a move
On Jan. 24, Illinois was 13-8 overall and 3-5 in the Big Ten, thanks in part to an injury to guard Rayvonte Rice. Now, Rice and fellow guard Aaron Cosby are still out with suspension. That hasn’t been a problem for Illinois, which won its third consecutive game with a 59-54 road win over Michigan State. Malcolm Hill, who scored 19 points against the Spartans, has become Illinois’ best player as the Illini have quietly become an NCAA bubble team. Even before the win over Michigan State, Illinois had a 2-3 record against the RPI top 20 with wins over Baylor and Maryland.
10. Temple is the turnaround team no one’s talking about
The consistently underrated Fran Dunphy has led a remarkable turnaround in Philadelphia, leading the Owls to a 17-7 start and 8-3 in the American Athletic Conference. The Owls went 9-22 (4-14 AAC) a year ago, and after a 61-60 comeback on the road against Memphis, the Owls are in the NCAA Tournament discussion. The final shot, a Josh Brown jumper off a bounce pass from Will Cummings, deserves attention, especially since Dunphy elected not to take a timeout. But the real story is that Temple is back to defending at a high level after a three-year slump. The Owls rank eighth in the nation in defensive efficiency on KenPom and 13th in defensive effective field gal rate, both the best for Temple since 2009-10.
• Providence coach Ed Cooley was hospitalized Saturday after leaving the Friars’ game against Xavier early in the second half. After overnight observation for high blood pressure, Cooley is expected to return Wednesday against Villanova.
• UCLA built momentum for its at-large credentials and then promptly ended its hot streak with a 64-62 loss at Cal. The Bruins defeated Utah, Colorado and Stanford just before sustaining their worst loss of the season, at least considering the opponent.
• Seton Hall’s at-large credentials are crumbling, too. The Pirates fell to 5-6 in the Big East after back-to-back losses to DePaul and Marquette. Not a great omen with Georgetown, Providence and Villanova in the next two weeks.
• Georgia welcomed back Marcus Thornton after a two-game absence due to a concussion — the Bulldogs lost both games. Thornton scored only eight points in 26 minutes, but the Bulldogs still found a way to beat Tennessee 56-53.
• Texas Tech gets the award for worst box score of the week. The Red Raiders scored only 38 points in a loss to Iowa State, in part by going 0-of-8 from the free throw line.
• No team had a more exciting week than St. Bonaventure. The Bonnies had buzzer-beaters to defeated two of the best teams in the Atlantic 10 in Davidson and VCU.
On Saturday, Syracuse will play its first meaningless game of the season.
Wait, that’s not entirely true. The game means something for Pittsburgh, a team clinging to the NCAA Tournament fringe but more than likely host an NIT game.
In that way, the Panthers aren’t all that different from Syracuse, another team that at least until Wednesday still had the slimmest of hopes of participating in March Madness.
The difference, though, is that Syracuse isn’t playing any more games that really matter. Instead, Syracuse, facing an NCAA investigation, elected to get a head start on its potential sanctions by forfeiting its chance at any postseason. No NCAA Tournament. No ACC Tournament. No NIT. No CBI.
Pittsburgh still has an opportunity to do what Syracuse cannot. Maybe Pitt will win the NCAA Tournament. Maybe Pitt will beat Louisville, North Carolina and Virginia. That’s all highly unlikely, for sure, but Panthers coach Jamie Dixon’s team can still try to pull off the feat.
No matter how much Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim tries to dress this up as a self-imposed punishment with teeth or tries to acknowledge mistakes, this move is as cynical as they come.
Syracuse, as an institution, decided to make the lost season official. The timing is, to put it mildly, convenient.
Syracuse has lost three of its last five and eked out a two-point win against lowly Virginia Tech on Tuesday. Hope is pretty slim for a meaningful postseason. This will probably be only the second Syracuse team to fail to win 20 games since 1982.
No question, Syracuse did the smart thing as a program, sacrificing what’s likely to be a mediocre postseason in hopes that by the time the Orange are ready to be a more realistic contender in future the sanctions will be done and gone.
“You can’t wait and say, ‘We’ll take it next year,’” Boeheim told host Chris McManus on his weekly coach’s radio show. “You have to take it.”
That’s not entirely true. Syracuse could have waited out the NCAA or could have announced a postseason ban for 2015-16. Syracuse could have announced the ban before the season — the investigation concluded in October — before it became evident the Orange would fall well below their own standard.
Instead, Syracuse elected to change the conditions of this season. The Sporting News’ Mike DeCourcy has gone so far as to call it “a disgrace that rises to the highest level of all that is untoward in college athletics.”
Denying guys like Rakeem Christmas, Trevor Cooney and Michael Gbinije a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament — a goal they thought they had until this week — is “reprehensible,” DeCourcy writes.
Indeed, the players are the primary losers here. Not Boeheim, whose march to 1,000 wins will only be marginally impacted. Not the program, which gets to avoid a likely NIT invite so a better team can play in the NCAA Tournament.
Boeheim tried to save face this week, but in some ways his defense makes the curiously timed self-imposed sanctions seem worse.
Boeheim says he believes the self-imposed punishment indeed has teeth. Syracuse still has a shot at the NCAA Tournament, he says, and playing in the NIT and ACC Tournament is still a chance for his young team to improve.
The former is a long shot. Syracuse is ranked No. 71 in the RPI with only two wins against teams in the top 90 — No. 47 Iowa and No. 62 Long Beach State. His team is woefully thin with the season-ending injury to freshman forward Chris McCullough. And his team, already 15-7, has the toughest portion of the ACC schedule ahead of it. The Orange still have to face Duke twice, plus Notre Dame on the road and Virginia and Louisville at home.
The latter, the extra practice time and experience in a one-and-done situation, is a legitimate sanction for the Orange.
But who loses if Syracuse doesn’t get those extra games or practices? Syracuse has only two top 100 prospects for the 2015 draft, according to DraftExpress.com. One is out for the rest of the season with injury. The other is Christmas, a senior. Both are second-rounders right now at best.
Syracuse though has a handful of juniors and underclassmen who could become pros or solid college players. Even Boeheim says NIT experience could be good for them. Instead, the Orange's season ends March 7 at NC State.
“I saw Hakim Warrick grow up in the NIT when he was a freshman,” Boeheim told McManus. “He came in and had an unbelievable game at Richmond. It led to a breakout year as a sophomore, so you’re giving up something.”
So exactly who is giving up something? Not any of the adults in the room.
Of course, Syracuse isn’t the first to decide when it will serve its sanctions. Miami football announced midseason that it would self-impose a postseason ban in 2011 and '12, amid the Nevin Shapiro scandal.
Ohio State learned the wrong lesson when the Buckeyes elected to play out a 6-7 season under an interim coach that ended in a Gator Bowl loss. The Buckeyes served a bowl ban in 2012, when a 12-0 season ended without a Big Ten title game or a BCS bowl appearance.
This shouldn’t even be an option for schools. That the NCAA allows programs to decide when it serves a punishment is preposterous. The NCAA tacitly encourages such behavior from institutions that broke rules in the first place.
In other words, the NCAA is investigating a program for doing something against the rules and then allows the program to decide when and how it serves its sentence. Syracuse gets to plea bargain and punish its current players for something that happened several years ago.
At least as far as NCAA rules are concerned, these are serious issues. Fab Melo, who was declared ineligible for the 2012 NCAA Tournament, is having his academic record investigated. James Southerland, who missed six games in 2012-13 due to an academic issue, is also believed to be involved.
At one point, Syracuse itself admitted that the NCAA was investigating the program’s adherence to its own drug policies.
And Syracuse’s own investigators looked into an internship program that placed Syracuse athletes at an Oneida, N.Y., YMCA. The investigation centered on a former YMCA employee that had exceptional access to men’s basketball players and had been sued by the YMCA for allegedly misappropriating $338,000 worth of funds.
According to an ESPN source, the issues stretch back for more than a decade, ending in 2013. “Things were going on consistently for a long time,” the source told ESPN.com’s Brett McMurphy.
Boeheim has been there for the entire time, plus for Syracuse’s previous postseason ban in 1993. Should he know everything going in the athletic program? No, but these are issues that span several years and several areas of NCAA interest. Perhaps he should know something.
In the end, Syracuse may end up dodging any major sanctions. The NCAA isn’t known for its track record of consistency. But skipping out on the postseason this year has another effect: Even at 15-7 now, the Orange may end the season approaching a .500 record; They could very well find themselves in a position where one and done in the ACC Tournament and NIT hands Jim Boeheim the first losing season of his career.
Perhaps the notion of two postseason bans in his career, including one has he’s marching toward 1,000 wins, is enough to dent his tremendous legacy of building his alma mater into a national power.
But decades from now, his ledger merely will read 1,000 wins and one or two below-average seasons in the twilight of his career.
Again, how convenient.
On top of the bad loss was a worse media gaffe by their point guard and leader, Chris Paul. Paul took to criticizing rookie female referee Lauren Holtkamp after the game. He wasn’t too pleased with a technical foul call in the third quarter.
"I think we have to show better composure, but at the same time some of [the technical fouls] were ridiculous," Paul told reporters. "The tech that I get right there was ridiculous. I don't care what nobody says, I don't care what she says; that's terrible. There's no way that can be a tech. We try to get the ball out fast every time down the court, and when we did that, she said, 'Uh-uh.' I said, 'Why, uh-uh?' And she gave me a tech. That's ridiculous. If that's the case, this might not be for her.”
Poor choice of words, CP3. While criticizing a rookie referee is hardly taboo, and while the “her” in “this might not be for her” is technically correct, many are going to read this as sexist.
Personally? Paul doesn’t strike me as the politically incorrect type; just a guy who got beat badly by one of his close friends — LeBron — on national TV, and was thus liable to say all kinds of dumb nonsense in his post-game frustration. He was throwing a bit of a hissyfit at the wrong time. That’s the peril of having a job where they throw microphones into your face right after you take a shower.
In any event, it’s a bad look for Paul, his team, and for the league, and it should surprise no one when he inevitably gets fined for his words.
— John Wilmes
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 6:
• Brian Williams got caught in a lie, and the Internet sprang into action.
• Tiger withdrew yesterday, citing an inability to activate his glutes. Hate it when that happens. If this spells the end, then Tiger can sit on his glutes and count the $1.3 billion he's earned.
• Pete Carroll cried at 4:50 am Tuesday morning. Boy, coaches keep tight schedules.
• In case you're not on Gronk overload, here he is dancing to MC Hammer.
• Chris Paul called out a lady ref after last night's game. Off to sensitivity training with him.
• I know some of you are excited for "Better Call Saul." So this one's for you.
• Tom Hanks reunited with a former co-star at last night's Rangers game.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
The Super Bowl is over, which means the NFL season is complete and it’s almost time for baseball! Spring training will start up in two weeks in Florida and Arizona with the St. Louis Cardinals and Chicago Cubs set to open the 2015 MLB season on Sunday night, April 5. Opening Day will follow, as the San Francisco Giants look to defend their World Series title.
Florida plays host to 15 teams, the Grapefruit League, during spring training, while the greater Phoenix metropolitan area is home to the other 15 teams that make up the Cactus League.
To help get you ready for the upcoming season, Athlon Sports' 2015 MLB Preview magazine is available on newsstands and to order online now. Starting with 22 unique covers to choose from, Athlon covers the diamond and circles the bases with enough in-depth preseason analysis, predictions and other information to satisfy fans of the national pastime from the Bronx to the Bay and everywhere in between.
This year's edition includes "15 Things to Watch in 2015," a look back on the 2005 MLB Draft, features on World Series MVP Madison Bumgarner, the return of New York Yankees outcast Alex Rodriguez, and Joe Maddon’s arrival as manager of the Chicago Cubs, and much more. As always, there are team-by-team previews for all 30 clubs, with rosters, stats and schedules as well as analysis on the top 10 prospects in their farm system. Athlon also offers its predictions on how this season will shake out, both for the regular and postseason, as well as for the major awards. Athlon Sports' 2015 MLB Preview is the most complete preseason publication available today. Order your copy now!
|Team||Location||Pitchers & Catchers||Position Players|
|Reporting Date||First Workout||Reporting Date||First Workout|
|Arizona Diamondbacks||Scottsdale, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Atlanta Braves||Lake Buena Vista, FL||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 25||Feb. 26|
|Baltimore Orioles||Sarasota, FL||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Boston Red Sox||Lee County, FL||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Chicago Cubs||Mesa, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 25||Feb. 25|
|Chicago White Sox||Glendale, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 24|
|Cincinnati Reds||Goodyear, AZ||Feb. 18||Feb. 19||Feb. 23||Feb. 24|
|Cleveland Indians||Goodyear, AZ||Feb. 18||Feb. 20||Feb. 22||Feb. 24|
|Colorado Rockies||Scottsdale, AZ||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 27||Feb. 27|
|Detroit Tigers||Lakeland, FL||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 24|
|Houston Astros||Kissimmee, FL||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Kansas City Royals||Surprise, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Los Angeles Angels||Tempe, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Los Angeles Dodgers||Glendale, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 26|
|Miami Marlins||Jupiter, FL||Feb. 20||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 24|
|Milwaukee Brewers||Phoenix, AZ||Feb. 20||Feb. 22||Feb. 25||Feb. 26|
|Minnesota Twins||Fort Myers, FL||Feb. 22||Feb. 23||Feb. 27||Feb. 28|
|New York Mets||Port St. Lucie, FL||Feb. 19||Feb. 21||Feb. 24||Feb. 26|
|New York Yankees||Tampa, FL||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 25||Feb. 26|
|Oakland A's||Mesa, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Philadelphia Phillies||Clearwater, FL||Feb. 18||Feb. 19||Feb. 24||Feb. 24|
|Pittsburgh Pirates||Bradenton, FL||Feb. 18||Feb. 19||Feb. 23||Feb. 24|
|St. Louis Cardinals||Jupiter, FL||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|San Diego Padres||Peoria, AZ||Feb. 19||Feb. 20||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|San Francisco Giants||Scottsdale, AZ||Feb. 18||Feb. 19||Feb. 24||Feb. 24|
|Seattle Mariners||Peoria, AZ||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 24||Feb. 25|
|Tampa Bay Rays||Charlotte County, FL||Feb. 21||Feb. 23||Feb. 25||Feb. 28|
|Texas Rangers||Surprise, AZ||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 25||Feb. 26|
|Toronto Blue Jays||Dunedin, FL||Feb. 23||Feb. 23||Feb. 27||Feb. 27|
|Washington Nationals||Viera, FL||Feb. 20||Feb. 21||Feb. 26||Feb. 26|
Add body No. 2 to the dispatched head coaches of the 2014-15 NBA season. Jacque Vaughn joined the previously fired Mike Malone in the unemployment line yesterday, when the Orlando Magic excused him as their man.
Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo! Sports — who broke the news — reports that assistant coach James Borrego is expected to fill in as the interim leader for now, while rumors that Scott Skiles could step into the job on a permanent basis have been alive for at least a week. Skiles is a former Magic point guard and head coach for the Phoenix Suns, Chicago Bulls and Milwaukee Bucks. ESPN’s Chris Broussard is the one to connect him to the job opening, while Wojnarowski has also floated his name.
Vaughn, a 39-year-old who played point guard for five different NBA teams from 1997 to 2009, had just a .269 winning percentage over three-and-a-half years of leading Orlando. The Magic didn’t have high expectations for any of his teams; they handed Vaughn the keys at an obviously transitional moment, when Dwight Howard and Stan Van Gundy had been traded and fired, respectively, in the summer of 2012.
But there has been little-to-no improvement in central Florida, and the team’s front office clearly became convinced that Vaughn wasn’t the right man to get the most out of a young roster featuring Nikola Vucevic, Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton.
Is Skiles the man to right the ship for them? Who knows. The fiery coach has had success in turning teams around, but he also tends to grate on his players over time. He’s gotten all of his squads to the playoffs, while he’s also had ugly mid-season exits from every coaching job he’s had.
— John Wilmes
This weekend of college basketball may be a key lesson in the important of matchups in college basketball.
Let’s start with Duke: A team that’s had trouble with stopping opposing guards. Notre Dame’s Jerian Grant knows first hand and would like to again prove that guards like him are Blue Devil Kryptonite.
Then there’s Villanova, a team that’s made easy work most of its Big East schedule but lost in a blowout to Georgetown. Does John Thompson III hold the key to beating up on Nova? The Wildcats will find out.
In the Big 12, West Virginia often wins the matchup in the full-court press, and Baylor often wins the matchup on the offensive glass. Which one will take over in Morgantown?
And Virginia’s ability to defend might only be only matched by their resilience in the last week. Louisville has displayed plenty of mental fortitude, too, this season, but do the Cardinals have the offensive game to beat Virginia in Charlottesville? Maybe not.
College Basketball Weekend Preview: Feb. 7-8
All times Eastern
Tennessee at Georgia
Saturday, noon, ESPN2
With a top 25 RPI and a 2-4 record against the top 50, Georgia has a passable NCAA resume. The Bulldogs have lost their last two games, but that came without leading scorer Marcus Thornton, who was out with a concussion. If Thornton returns, Georgia can re-establish itself during the next week against a pesky Tennessee team and on the road against Texas A&M.
Pick: Georgia 70-59
Baylor at West Virginia
Saturday, noon, ESPNU
Neither is going to catch up to Kansas for the Big 12 title, but these are two squads that each do one thing really, really well. West Virginia is an average defensive team in the halfcourt, but the Mountaineers lead the nation in turnover rate and steal percentage. Led by Rico Gathers, Baylor is the nation’s best offensive rebounding team. Steals and second-chance points will be the name of the game. We’ll take it.
Pick: West Virginia 68-62
Notre Dame at Duke
Saturday, 2 p.m., CBS
Duke gets another shot at Notre Dame after the Irish got two late miracle shots to help defeat the Blue Devils 77-73 on Jan. 28. Expect another shootout as Notre Dame and Duke rank in the top four nationally on offensive efficiency. Duke is only getting more dangerous, especially as freshman Justise Winslow (30 points and 21 rebounds in his last two games) rounds into March form.
Pick: Duke 75-70
Georgetown at Villanova
Saturday, 2 p.m., FOX
Villanova had a bit of a Creighton problem last season, losing twice to the Bluejays in routs. Might the Wildcats have the same issue with Georgetown this year? Villanova has lost twice this season; the only time in regulation came by 20 to Georgetown. That meeting truly was an outlier against a solid defensive squad from Nova. Georgetown averaged 1.18 points per possession in that game and shot 51.5 percent from 2 and 50 percent from 3 in that meeting. Does Villanova get revenge?
Pick: Georgetown 68-65
Kansas at Oklahoma State
Saturday, 2 p.m., ESPN
Never doubt Kansas in the Big 12. The Jayhawks have reeled off five wins in a row since an 86-81 loss at Iowa State. Kansas, though, has played three of those five games at the Phog, the only road games against TCU and slumping Texas. Kansas beat Oklahoma State 67-57 on Jan. 13, but it wasn’t easy. In a sloppy effort, the two teams combined for 71 free throw attempts and shot 6-of-28 from 3-point range.
Pick: Kansas 72-68
Louisville at Virginia
Saturday, 7 p.m., ESPN
Virginia deserves credit for answering its first loss of the season with a quick, resilient win. The Cavaliers lost in the final five minutes to Duke on Saturday and then turned around to beat North Carolina convincingly on the road on Monday. The Cardinals have re-established themselves as contenders, but they may be an awful matchup against Virginia’s defense. Long-range shooting from multiple players is one of they keys to the pack-line defense, and Louisville doesn’t exactly meet that criteria.
Pick: Virginia 67-57
SMU at Tulsa
Saturday, 8 p.m., ESPNU
SMU-Tulsa probably wasn’t many people’s idea of a key American Athletic Conference game to start the season, but it’s turned out to be a game between the top two teams in the league standings. Tulsa has been one of the surprises of the league, starting 5-5 and then winning 11 in a row, including 10 in the AAC. SMU won eight in a row before losing at home to Cincinnati on Thursday. The Bearcats are 2-0 against SMU for the Mustangs' only two AAC losses.
Pick: SMU 63-60
UCLA at Cal
Saturday, 8 p.m., Pac-12 Networks
OK, UCLA, you have our attention. Since Jan. 29, the Bruins have defeated Utah at home and Stanford on the road, the latter giving UCLA a season sweep of the Cardinal. The Bruins have had some poor performances against top 100 teams this season, but they also haven’t lost to a team outside of the RPI top 100. That makes for a team inching its way into the NCAA Tournament, provided it can sustain its momentum on the road against a Cal team riding a three-game win streak.
Pick: UCLA 70-65
Kentucky at Florida
Saturday, 9 p.m., ESPN
Kentucky may not be challenged in SEC play, but the Wildcats going on the road against one of its top rivals in conference is worth keeping an eye on. The Gators started to play their way into being one of the more interesting teams in the second half of the conference season before a no-show against Vanderbilt on Tuesday. The matchup of Kentucky’s frontcourt size does not favor Florida, to say the least.
Pick: Kentucky 70-59
Maryland at Iowa
Sunday, 3:15 p.m., Big Ten Network
A key game for confidence for both teams. Iowa has lost three of the last five, albeit twice to Wisconsin. Maryland hasn’t won a Big Ten road game since Jan. 10 against Purdue, losing in lospided fashion to Indiana and Ohio State. All the action, though, will be on one side of the court — Maryland’s offense and Iowa’s defense are in the bottom four of the Big Ten in efficiency while Iowa’s offense and Maryland’s defense are both in the top four.
Pick: Maryland 68-66
Joining Houston Rockets MVP candidate James Harden (who gets the nod as Western Conference Player of the Month) is the entire starting five for the Atlanta Hawks, representing the Eastern Conference: Jeff Teague, Kyle Korver, DeMarre Carroll, Paul Millsap and Al Horford.
In Adam Silver’s NBA, this move isn’t entirely surprising. The league’s new commissioner — who just hit his one-year mark on the job — is all about grand symbolic gestures.
When 2014 draft hopeful Isaiah Austin, a standout big man from Baylor University, saw his hopes dashed a by tragic diagnosis of Marfan Syndrome, Silver made him a ceremonial pick on draft night, offering him a job in the league so long as he finishes his degree at Baylor.
And there’s also, of course, Silver’s brash lifetime ban of disgraced former Los Angeles Clippers owner Donald Sterling — the move that announced Silver’s presence to many followers of the league.
The decision to give the Hawks’ front five this award as a collective is, similarly, a sign of Silver’s relatively radical ethos. A celebration of teamwork and selflessness, the gesture could perhaps encourage other lineups throughout the league to skew their games in a direction less concerned with individual achievement, and more concerned with group achievement.
The curious announcement should also turn some more heads to what’s going on in Atlanta. Although they had their 19-game winning streak snapped by Anthony Davis and the New Orleans Pelicans this past Monday, the Hawks had a lossless January. And it’s not as if they did it with a creampuff schedule: their victim list through the month included the Los Angeles Clippers, Washington Wizards, Portland Trail Blazers, Oklahoma City Thunder and Memphis Grizzlies.
Three of the Hawks’ starters (Teague, Horford, Millsap) were, additionally, selected as reserves for the Eastern Conference All-Star team.
— John Wilmes
Ohio State running back Ezekiel Elliott recently showed off an awesome tattoo celebrating the Buckeyes’ national championship win. And now a fan of Ohio State (Kevin Alexander) has added to the offseason artwork with an impressive tattoo of current coach Urban Meyer, former coach Woody Hayes and two-time Heisman winner Archie Griffin.
In this story from Cleveland.com, Alexander details his decision to get an Ohio State tattoo on Wednesday and why he decided to switch from a Block “O” to the Hayes, Griffin and Meyer artwork.
Check out the full story here
And here’s a few photos from Alexander’s new tattoos:
Don’t be that guy.
Don’t be the old, stodgy curmudgeon who refuses to acknowledge that society moves forward.
Don’t ignore facts, research and statistical data because of some longing for the days of the Wing-T and leather helmets. Don’t let an anecdotal stat about the Super Bowl starting lineups, lazy reporting on the NFL Draft or an undefeated season from Boise State blind you to the truth.
Recruiting matters and so do the rankings. More importantly, this isn’t an opinion.
It’s a fact.
Does it take great coaching, quality development, a conglomerate of hard-working support staffers and even a bit of luck to win a championship? Are recruiting rankings an inexact science filled with busts?
Of course, but to win championships in college football, it takes great players. In general, teams with better players according to the recruiting rankings win more games and players who have more stars are more likely to get drafted.
Again, those aren’t opinions.
The 2014 College Football Playoff featured three of the top four rosters according to the recruiting rankings. Based on the last five classes, Alabama had the No. 1 roster in the nation in ‘14, Florida State was No. 2 and Ohio State was No. 4 nationally. Oregon wasn’t far behind with the 14th-ranked roster in America.
Both Florida State (No. 5) and Auburn (No. 10) had two of the top 10 rosters in the nation a year earlier based on the same criteria and they met in the ’13 BCS title game. In 2011, Alabama and LSU were two of the top three rosters in the nation based on the previous five recruiting classes. They met in the BCS title game that year and only lost to each other. Notre Dame vs. Alabama? Yup, both top-10 rosters.
Additionally, signing the No. 1 class in the nation has historically produced national titles.
Since 2002 (as far back as Rivals.com team rankings go), nearly every team that landed a No. 1 class in the nation eventually won a national championship. Texas signed the top class in 2002 and won a title three years later. LSU signed the top class in 2003 and won two titles with those players. USC inked the top class in 2004 and played in back-to-back title games. Florida won the recruiting championship in 2007 and the BCS championship in '08. Alabama claimed three national championships after winning four recruiting titles in between 2008-12.
Further, every single BCS national champion had at least two top-10 classes in the four years leading up to its championship season.
Still need more?
The good folks at SB Nation — Matt Hinton and Bud Elliott — have done marvelous work breaking down the statistics as it relates to recruiting rankings. I suggest reading the articles, but the gist of their research reveals two telling and undeniable truths: 1) Teams with better recruiting classes win more games and 2) players with more stars are more likely to be drafted.
Working with the top 75 teams in the nation — the six “BCS” leagues, Notre Dame, Boise State and BYU — Hinton plotted out where those teams ranked in recruiting and what happened when they played each other. In nearly 1,500 matchups between 2010-13, the “higher-ranked team according to the recruiting rankings won roughly two-thirds of the time” and the larger the talent differential, the easier it was to predict wins and losses. To quote the author, "it's a landslide."
Listen to the Cover 2 Podcast Recruiting Special feat. Barton Simmons:
Essentially, in a world where it’s nearly impossible to predict outcomes, picking games based purely on star rankings is actually your best bet.
There are roughly 4,500 scholarships signed each National Signing Day with about 30 prospects receiving the heralded five-star ranking. An additional 400 will get four stars while the other 4,000 check in as three- or two-star prospects. So when a stat says only 16 five-stars were drafted against 71 two-stars (like in 2014), it’s utterly lazy reporting.
Elliott provides the real data. The ratios indicate that four- and five-star recruits are 995 percent more likely to be drafted in the first round than a three- or two-star prospect. Additionally, based on the 2014 NFL Draft, a five-star recruit has a 60 percent chance of getting drafted (16 of 27) and a four-star has a 20 percent opportunity (77 of 395). Meanwhile, three-star recruits have just a 5.5 percent chance (92 of 1644) and two-stars/unranked players have less than a three-percent likelihood of getting drafted (71 of 2,434).
I’m no mathematician but 60 is significantly larger than 2.9.
Three of the best four rosters in the sport, according to the rankings, eventually filled playoff spots this year. Landing the top class has led directly to competing for a national title over the last 10 years. Higher ranked recruiting classes regularly defeat lower ranked classes at nearly a 70 percent clip. And higher ranked prospects are significantly more likely to get drafted by the NFL than lower ranked ones.
Recruiting at an elite level doesn’t guarantee success. Bad coaches underachieve with great players all the time. But no one has won a national title without elite talent.
So if you don’t like glorifying teenagers or pompous announcement ceremonies, that’s fair and totally acceptable. But don’t lie to yourself about the value of the rankings.
Remember, facts not opinions.
Dustin Johnson called his victory at the WGC-Cadillac Championship "one of my biggest wins," and he relied on his driver during a stellar weekend, leading the field with an average of 328.3 yards off the tee with his smooth, rhythmic swing. Here, Dustin and his instructor, top-ranked teacher Butch Harmon, share Dustin's secrets for producing those jaw-dropping tee shots.
DUSTIN JOHNSON'S EFFORTLESS POWER
If I feel like I have to try to hit one far, then I'm not swinging correctly. Butch Harmon and I always talk about effortless power, instead of power with effort.
When I'm on the launch monitor, when I'm swinging really hard — which I never do on a golf course — I can get one 330-335 in the air. A normal swing, when I'm on the golf course, it's going to fly maybe 300. Anywhere between 290 and 300. Obviously, I can step it up once in a while and maybe fly one 310. But I never like swinging with that mindset. I don't want to hit it hard. Maybe when I'm on the driving range and just goofing around I'll smash 'em sometimes for fun. But on a golf course, I might swing 85 to 90 percent at the highest.
My keys to effortless power:
• Obviously, keeping my right knee flexed, letting my arms get back down in front of the clubhead — those things slow me down a little bit and keep me from over-swinging. Some of the longest drives I've ever hit are ones that I felt like I hit easy and smooth.
• Great balance. I'm never coming out of my shoes. If I'm swinging correctly, I'm in balance. You'll notice that if I'm not swinging well, if I've gotta work to hit one far, then I'm not going to be in balance. When I'm swinging correctly, I'm going to hit it even further, and I'm going to stay balanced.
Butch Harmon's Take:
What I want amateurs to notice about Dustin's swing on the tee is his beautiful rhythm and balance. The middle of the clubhead makes contact with the ball with a nice, smooth tempo, and he has a balanced finish.
That rhythm and balance allow Dustin to make a good, aggressive, confident swing without over-swinging. Dustin has tremendous self-confidence with the driver, and that confidence is required on the tight driving holes of the PGA Tour.
Other things to notice:
• Dustin maintains an unusual bowed left wrist at the top of his backswing. I haven't worked to fix that, because it works for him.
• His flexibility and athleticism allow him to use a strong, fast unwind as he approaches the impact position. That allows him to unleash tremendous power on the golf ball.
• Dustin's head rotates through as his body unwinds, and that allows him to generate clubhead speed.
• Two keys: We've worked on a level shoulder turn, and we've worked especially hard on keeping the flex in his right leg.
This is your daily links roundup of our favorite sports and entertainment posts on the web for Feb. 5:
• SI has released the cover of its swimsuit issue, and resentment of Derek Jeter grows. Here are five things you need to know about cover model and Jeter gal-pal Hannah Davis.
• If you have time to kill, browse all 52 SI Swimsuit covers in the issue's history.
• Packers DL Letroy Guion had some interesting cargo in his ride, including a sizable amount of weed and cash.
• Belichick sticks up for Carroll. Smart, especially since his own management of the end of the game was not flawless.
• Today's palate cleanser: Watch a Tennessee orthodontist make 41 one-handed catches in a minute.
• The Heat committed the most absurd turnover in history last night.
-- Email us with any compelling sports-related links at [email protected]
College football’s 2015 National Signing Day is officially in the books. Prospects from across the nation and for all 128 FBS programs inked a National Letter of Intent on Wednesday, which should provide all coaches with a good snapshot of how their program looks for the upcoming season.
There will be several impact performers from the 2015 class this season, and it’s impossible to narrow the names down to just 10. However, now that signing day is complete, let’s take a look at 10 names to watch in 2015 and how they could impact their team in on-field action.
10 Instant-Impact College Football Recruits for 2015
Byron Cowart, DE, Auburn
247Sports Composite: No. 1 Strong-Side Defensive End, No. 3 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Cowart: With Will Muschamp calling the defensive signals at Auburn next year, expect the Tigers to show marked improvement on defense. Cowart is a key piece of the puzzle for Muschamp, as the Tigers need an improved pass rush to compete for the SEC title. In 2014, Auburn mustered only 21 sacks, with 10 of those coming in conference play. Cowart and the return of end Carl Lawson should significantly boost the Tigers’ performance in the trenches next year.
Breiden Fehoko, DT, Texas Tech
247Sports Composite: No. 8 Defensive Tackle, No. 50 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Fehoko: Texas Tech’s defense is in need of a major fix after giving up 6.2 yards per play last season. While the numbers weren’t pretty from last year, there’s hope for a turnaround with the addition of new coordinator David Gibbs. And Gibbs has to be optimistic about his defensive line for next season, especially with Fehoko ranked as one of the top 50 recruits in the nation. The Hawaii native recorded 16 sacks and six forced fumbles at Farrington High School in 2014. Expect Fehoko to play right away for the Red Raiders in 2015.
Martez Ivey, OL, Florida
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 1 OT, No. 2 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Ivey: It’s a cliché, but winning championships and contending for SEC titles has to start in the trenches. New coach Jim McElwain has major holes to fill up front on the offensive side this offseason, as the Gators return just one starter on the line and lost four players with starting experience. Guard Trip Thurman is the lone returning starter from a group that gave up only 16 sacks in 2014. Ivey ranked as the No. 2 prospect in the 247Sports Composite, and while the increased physical demands of playing in the SEC will be a challenge, the playing time is certainly there for the talented tackle.
Malik Jefferson, LB, Texas
247Sports Composite: No. 1 OLB, No. 10 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Jefferson: It’s no secret Texas coach Charlie Strong is one of the top defensive minds in college football. The Longhorns limited Big 12 offenses to just 23.4 points per game (No. 2 in conference) in 2014 and should be one of the best in the conference once again in 2015. Jefferson is an instant-impact defender for Strong and should play right away with Jordan Hicks and Steve Edmond departing the linebacking corps.
Canton Kaumatale, DL, Oregon
247Sports Composite: No. 16 Nationally, No. 3 Strong-Side Defensive End
Why You Need to Know About Kaumatale: Oregon is losing end Arik Armstead and nose guard Sam Kamp, leaving a line that was already thin on depth with a need for instant-impact performers. Enter Kaumatale. The Hawaii native checks in at 290 pounds and will only get better and physically ready for Pac-12 play with an offseason in Oregon’s weight room. Kaumatule has good quickness off the line and a 6-foot-7 frame will allow him to provide plenty of headaches for opposing offensive linemen. Kaumatule should be a good fit in Oregon’s 3-4/4-3 scheme.
Iman Marshall, DB, USC
247Sports Composite: No. 1 CB, No. 4 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Marshall: USC signed one of the nation’s top classes this season, and Marshall could be the top freshman from the signing haul in 2015. The Long Beach native has coveted size for cornerbacks at 6-foot-2 and was regarded by coach Steve Sarkisian for his physicality at the line of scrimmage. USC gave up 20 passing scores in 2014, but with Marshall involved and the development of safety Su’a Cravens, this secondary should take a step forward on the stat sheet in 2015.
Kahlil McKenzie, DT, Tennessee
247Sports Composite: No. 2 DT, No. 6 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About McKenzie: Tennessee has a chance to surprise in the SEC East this year if the lines of scrimmage develop over the offseason. McKenzie is the type of difference maker that the Volunteers lacked on the interior this season, as Tennessee’s defense ranked ninth in the SEC against the run. McKenzie did not play his senior year of high school but dominated as a junior with 12 sacks and 74 tackles. At 327 pounds and a 6-foot-3 frame, McKenzie is the type of player coach Butch Jones needs to get Tennessee’s defense near the top of the SEC.
Calvin Ridley, WR, Alabama
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 1 WR, No. 11 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Ridley: Alabama recorded 290 receptions last season, and 183 of those catches are gone as DeAndrew White and Christion Jones expired their eligibility after the Sugar Bowl, while Amari Cooper left for the NFL. Chris Black (15 catches) and ArDarius Stewart (12 catches) are the top statistical returning wide receivers for 2015. Ridley was considered a five-star prospect and had a monster junior year by catching 41 passes for 1,131 yards and 12 scores in 2013. With Cooper, Jones and White leaving, there’s an immediate opportunity for Ridley to play major snaps in 2015.
Josh Rosen, QB, UCLA
247Sports Composite Rank: No. 1 Pro-Style QB, No. 12 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Rosen: Brett Hundley is gone, leaving a huge void under center for the Bruins. Jerry Neuheisel is the team’s most-experienced option at quarterback, but the job is expected to be a three-man battle this spring. Asiantti Woulard is also in the mix with Rosen and Neuheisel for snaps in 2015. Rosen enrolled in time to compete this spring, which should give the California native a chance to play right away. Starting as a true freshman quarterback in the Pac-12 is never easy, but Rosen has a chance to do just that in 2015.
Trent Thompson, DT, Georgia
247Sports Composite: No. 1 DT, No. 1 Nationally
Why You Need to Know About Thompson: He’s the No. 1 recruit in the 2015 signing class by the 247Sports Composite. Keeping Thompson in the state of Georgia and out of the hands of another SEC rival was a big deal for coach Mark Richt and coordinator Jeremy Pruitt. The 6-foot-4 defensive tackle should be poised for immediate playing time this fall, with nose tackle Mike Thornton and defensive ends Ray Drew and Toby Johnson expiring their eligibility. It’s always tough for linemen to physically prepare for the challenge of playing in the SEC, but all signs point to Thompson being up to the task.
Other Players to Watch in 2015
Blake Barnett, QB, Alabama
Terry Beckner Jr., DT, Missouri
Jake Browning, QB, Washington
Derwin James, S, Florida State
CeCe Jefferson, DE, Florida
Mitch Hyatt, OT, Clemson
DaMarkus Lodge, WR, Ole Miss
Daylon Mack, DT, Texas A&M
Jamal Peters, S, Mississippi State
Brett Rypien, QB, Boise State
Kendall Sheffield, CB, Alabama
Christian Wilkins, DT, Clemson
After suffering one of the most difficult-to-watch leg injuries in pro basketball history at a televised Team USA scrimmage, Indiana Pacers forward Paul George began to heal with alarming speed.
That trend has continued, and George is now looking almost ready to play. After Pacers president Larry Bird said things were looking good recently, George sent out this tweet:
March?!— Paul George (@Yg_Trece) February 3, 2015
"It seems like every week Paul is getting better and better," Bird said to reporters on Tuesday. "So if we do have an opportunity to get into the playoffs and [George] can get some games under his belt and get ready to go next year ... I always say if a player is ready to play, they gotta play. We're not going to hold him back if he's able to go out there and play. When you're out like that, you lose something. ... I still think it's important if he's able to play, he should be out there.”
Bird’s approach shouldn’t exactly come as a surprise. His Boston Celtics teams of yore frequently pushed through injuries. Then-teammate Kevin McHale played with a broken navicular bone in his right foot suffered in March of 1987, all the way through to an NBA Finals loss against the Los Angeles Lakers.
And while George isn’t promising to play in such a compromised state — McHale’s gambit has resulted in a visibly hobbled step he now displays on the sideline as coach of the Houston Rockets — he and his team look like they’re definitely not going to go down the maddening, confusing, constantly prolonged recovery route that teams like the Chicago Bulls have with ever-valuable superstar Derrick Rose.
In the shaky Eastern Conference, one month of George could be the difference between the playoffs and the draft lottery for Indiana. Despite having their worst season since 2009-10 at 17-32, the Pacers are just 4.5 games away from the conference’s eighth and final playoff spot.
— John Wilmes
Recruiting is the basic blueprint for any college football program. And recruiting isn’t just a one-month exercise, as coaches are essentially on the trail all year for multiple classes.
New coaches are often placed into a difficult position, as it takes a year or two to build relationships for a signing class. Most new coaches only have a couple of months (if that) to target their prospects to fit the new systems and fight for commitments on the recruiting trail.
Florida and Michigan are two programs that didn’t land top-10 classes in 2015 largely due to the coaching turnover and the short time to ink the 2015 prospects. Needless to say, we can’t read much into how new coaches recruited this season due to the short turnaround time. However, the numbers are certainly interesting. And it will be critical to see how these numbers change after each coach has a full year to recruit.
Sure, there are going to be hits and misses in the team and player projections each season, but there’s plenty of accuracy and meaning behind the final rankings.
Let’s take a look at how the new coaches for 2015 recruited (rankings and data from 247Sports)
Power 5 Conferences
|Pittsburgh||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Paul Chryst (2014)||23||43||18||2||0|
|Pat Narduzzi (2015)||14||62||11||2||0|
|Kansas||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Charlie Weis (2014)||25||51||19||1||0|
|David Beaty (2015)||26||72||16||0||0|
|Michigan||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Brady Hoke (2014)||16||20||7||8||1|
|Jim Harbaugh (2015)||14||38||8||6||0|
|Nebraska||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Bo Pelini (2014)||25||36||22||2||0|
|Mike Riley (2015)||20||31||16||3||0|
|Wisconsin||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Gary Andersen (2014)||26||33||20||3||0|
|Paul Chryst (2015)||20||34||17||2||0|
|Oregon State||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Mike Riley (2014)||30||63||22||0||0|
|Gary Andersen (2015)||18||70||17||0||0|
|Florida||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Will Muschamp (2014)||24||9||15||8||1|
|Jim McElwain (2015)||21||21||16||3||2|
Group of 5 Conferences
|Houston||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Tony Levine (2014)||26||76||19||0||0|
|Tom Herman (2015)||19||89||7||0||0|
|SMU||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|June Jones (2014)||24||81||9||0||0|
|Chad Morris (2015)||23||79||12||0||0|
|Tulsa||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Bill Blankenship (2014)||24||80||9||0||0|
|Philip Montgomery (2015)||19||105||3||0||0|
|Buffalo||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Jeff Quinn (2014)||23||97||6||0||0|
|Lance Leipold (2015)||19||121||3||0||0|
|Central Michigan||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Dan Enos (2014)||19||119||2||0||0|
|Colorado State||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Jim McElwain (2014)||26||87||5||0||0|
|Mike Bobo (2015)||14||119||5||0||0|
|UNLV||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Bobby Hauck (2014)||19||117||3||0||0|
|Tony Sanchez (2015)||22||115||5||0||0|
|Troy||Total||National Rank||3 Stars Signed||4 Stars Signed||5 Stars Signed|
|Larry Blakeney (2014)||17||130||1||0||0|
|Neal Brown (2015)||23||109||7||0||0|
It's starting to get boring — although, the 2015 recruiting national championship race was closer than it has been in years.
Steve Sarkisian and USC made a valiant push, landing big name after big name over the final 48 hours of the '15 cycle. When the last fax came through, however, it wasn't enough to overcome Saban. In fact, both Rivals and Scout actually rank USC's class No. 1 in the land. However, ESPN's list ultimately gave the consensus top class to Alabama by having USC at No. 3. It marks the fifth straight No. 1 class in the nation for Alabama.
Most seemed to agree that the Trojans and Tide boasted the best two collections of talent, but there were major disagreements when the rankings move beyond the top two slots. Scout, for example, ranked No. 3 Florida State (11th) and No. 7 Clemson (15th) the lowest of the four major recruiting services by a wide margin. ESPN and Rivals didn't think nearly as highly of the UCLA Bruins class as Scout or 247. There were major disagreements on LSU, Notre Dame, Virginia Tech and TCU as well.
Very rarely, as was the case with Nebraska or Louisville, the four services were in complete harmony.
This is why 247Sports, Rivals, Scout and ESPN's 2015 team recruiting rankings have been combined to give fans a consensus class order.
2015 Team Recruiting Rankings
National Signing Day 2015 is (mostly) over and Alabama is once again the champion of the recruiting trail, according to ESPN and 247Sports. In fact, it's almost boring how good Nick Saban and Alabama has been at luring talent to Tuscaloosa, landing their fifth consecutive recruiting championship.
Programs like Alabama, Ohio State, Florida State and Clemson all signed elite top 10 classes but were mostly inactive on National Signing Day. That wasn't the case in the state of Florida, out West in the Pac-12 or down on the Plains.
NSD '15 Winners:
No one won National Signing Day more than Guschamp at Auburn. Gus Malzahn and Will Muschamp have formed one of the nastiest recruiting duos in college football and it showed on NSD. Auburn landed five-star Byron Cowart and four-stars Jeff Holland, Ryan Davis and Carlton Davis on NSD to with Prince Tega Wanogho Jr. the night before. Guschamp also flipped four-star Darius Slayton (Georgia) and three-star Mike Horton (Florida) from SEC East powers on NSD as well.
UCLA dominated the headlines early on NSD, pulling elite talent to Los Angeles from all over the country. USC rallied in the afternoon, scoring elite-level talents like Iman Marshall, Rasheem Green and John Houston from instate. Both programs surged through Signing Day and secured top 10 classes. USC finished No. 2 in the rankings while the Bruins jumped 12 spots on NSD to No. 7.
Early in the day it appeared Jim McElwain and the Gators would be in the "losers" category for NSD '15. But as the day went along, Florida kept gaining momentum and McElwain was able to secure a top 20 class. This comes after taking over the worst-ranked class in the SEC. Florida jumped nearly 50 spots in the team ranks to 21st after landing two five-star prospects in Martez Ivey and CeCe Jefferson as well as four-star recruits D'Anfernee McGriff and Jordan Cronkrite.
SEC defensive lines
Five of the top seven players left on the board entering National Signing Day were five-star defensive lineman. Four of them signed with four different SEC schools. Cowart (eventually) signed with Auburn, Daylon Mack re-upped with Texas A&M and McElwain desperately needed to land Jefferson. More important, Missouri inked instate stud Terry Beckner in emotional fashion. The lone D-Line outside of the SEC to score a five-star on NSD was USC when it got tackle Rasheem Green. Additionally, Georgia signed the No. 1 player in the nation in defensive lineman Trent Thompson, Tennessee signed the No. 6 player in the nation in nose tackle Kahlil McKenzie and Bama got their own five-star D-Liner in Daron Payne.
Some (mostly older) fans don't enjoy NSD or the flamboyant nature of the event. But for most, NSD is a day of crazy plotlines, bizarre twists and creative announcements. Tennessee's Preston Williams won the day with his ensemble while Biggie Marshall won the day by announcing his commitment to USC in a way no one has ever seen before. Never change, National Signing Day. Never.
NSD '15 Losers:
Michigan, Florida, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Oregon State, Pitt and Kansas were the seven Power 5 teams that changed head coaches this year. Only Jim McElwain was able to build a top 25 recruiting class in that group. In fact, no class other than Florida even finished in the top 30. Oregon State, Kansas and Pitt — who dropped 15 spots in the team rankings on NSD — didn't finish in the top 60 nationally.
McElwain was able to salvage his class with a wild but successful NSD. Harbaugh did some good work down the stretch and all signs point to domination in 2016, but the Wolverines should not be satisfied with the 36th ranked class in the nation. The haul is small (14) and the Maize and Blue signed just three of the top 50 players in Michigan. Harbaugh had to take some players "Michigan University Wolverines" wouldn't normally take in order to fill the class.
The Big 12
Charlie Strong and Texas had the best class in the league but the 11th best class in the nation would only be good for sixth in the SEC. Oklahoma was also solidly ranked in the top 20. But as a league, the Big 12 once again should be concerned about landing elite level talent as those are the only two classes ranked in the Top 30. Additionally, in 2014, the Big 12 signed just six of the Top 100 players in the nation while the SEC signed 47. This year wasn't much better as the Big 12 scored just eight of the top 100 players in the nation.
The Horned Frogs were having one of the best classes of the Gary Patterson era when NSD began with a top 30 class. But after losing the best players in the class to Texas Tech (JF Thomas), TCU dropped 11 spots in the team rankings to outside of the top 40. Tech, Oklahoma State, Baylor and West Virginia all jumped TCU in the Big 12 team rankings.
They might have been a long shot, but Miami was in the mix with seven four- or five-star prospects on NSD. Al Golden and the Canes didn't win one battle among those seven, losing players to Florida, Florida State and Auburn among others. Golden has a young team and the '15 class is solid within the ACC. However, Miami didn't finish well, dropping six spots out of the Top 25.
Literally every single recruiting class was a huge success, loaded with future stars and will carry [insert school of choice] to a conference championship. At least, that's what every head football coach will tell you. Just once I'd like to hear a coach say something like "we missed on a lot of guys we wanted" or "this is a group that might get me fired in two years." National Signing Day is the purest form of coach speak.
The NCAA Tournament can be something like a big family reunion, gathering names and faces we haven’t seen in years.
As always, this year’s Tournament will have its share of long lost faces we may have had fond memories of in the last few decades.
A former national champion (Maryland) expects to be back as do three other Final Four teams from recent years (Butler and West Virginia) and a one-time Cinderella (Northern Iowa).
Before you get caught unaware on Selection Sunday, these are the teams about to end NCAA Tournament droughts this season.
Last NCAA appearance: 2009
2014-15 record: 17-4, 7-2 Pac-12
Basketball fans of a certain age probably remember Utah has a national power when the Utes reached the championship game in 1998. The run under Rick Majerus eventually ended, and Utah limped descended into irrelevance. The Utes have reached the Tournament once since 2005 and have won one NCAA game since 2003.
Even though the Utes lost Jan. 29 to a mediocre UCLA squad, Utah is a lock for the NCAA Tournament. Even with the loss to the Bruins (and earlier to Arizona), Utah is outscoring league opponents by 15.7 points per game. Utah could be in contention for a Pac-12 title for its rematch in Salt Lake City against Arizona on Feb. 28.
Last NCAA appearance: 2012
2014-15 record: 18-4, 6-3 Big 12
The Mountaineers reached the NCAA Tournament seven times in an eight-season span under John Beilein and Bob Huggins, landing in the Final Four (2010), Elite Eight (2005) and Sweet 16 twice (2006 and 2008). In two seasons in the Big 12, West Virginia has missed the Tourney twice.
West Virginia has weathered a storm of transfers to become one of the toughest opponents to face thanks to its press. The Mountaineers lead the nation in turnover rate. And after starting his career at Dayton, fifth-year senior point guard Juwan Staten will finally get his chance at the NCAA Tournament.
Last NCAA appearance: 2010
2014-15 record: 19-4, 7-3 Big Ten
Mark Turgeon entered the season needing to show signs of progress after reaching just one NIT in his first three seasons. The Terrapins endured a rash of transfers before the season, but they still had upperclassmen Dez Wells and Jake Layman. The latter has taken a major step forward this season, and the team has come together around freshman Melo Trimble, Maryland’s first McDonald’s All-American in more than a decade.
With the exception of Wisconsin, nearly every Big Ten power is down. Maryland has pounced and could end up the No. 2 team in the league.
Last NCAA appearance: 1993
2014-15 record: 18-4, 9-1 American
Off the court, SMU is facing questions. Emmanuel Mudiay never played this season, and an NCAA investigation has claimed Keith Frazier. On the court, SMU keeps rolling. The Mustangs started 2-3, but they’ve lost only once since (at Cincinnati). SMU remains the favorite in the AAC, but this is a league with only three other RPI top-50 teams (No. 34 Cincinnati, No. 42 Tulsa and No. 44 Temple). The Mustangs were one of the top snubs from last season’s NCAA Tournament, but they may have put in the work to be an at-large team if they don't win the AAC tournament.
Last NCAA appearance: 2013
2014-15 record: 21-3, 9-2 ACC
The Irish missed only one NCAA Tournament in the last five seasons, so this drought isn’t much of one. Still, Mike Brey’s only win in the Tourney since 2008 is over 15th-seeded Akron in 2011. This team looks built to make noise in the NCAA Tournament. The Irish have a guard who can carry them in Jerian Grant, they can score with anyone and they already defeated Duke this season.
Last NCAA appearance: 2013
2014-15 record: 17-6, 7-3 Big East
Butler has been out of the NCAA Tournament for only a year, but few teams have had such a mountain to climb. Brad Stevens left for the Celtics two years ago, and his replacement, Brandon Miller, has been absent due to an unspecified medical issue. Butler elevated Chris Holtmann to full-time head coach earlier this season, and the Bulldogs seemed to have weathered the storm. A healthy return by junior forward Roosevelt Jones also has been a boon for a team that went 4-14 in its first season in the Big East. Butler, which has already swept Seton Hall and St. John’s this season, is going to more than double that total.
Last NCAA appearance: 2011
2014-15 record: 14-7, 5-4 SEC
Georgia has been to the NCAA Tournament only once in Mark Fox’s six seasons. This season might change that trend. The Bulldogs defeated Seton Hall in the non-conference and put together a five-game SEC win streak that ended a week ago, but they’re not giving themselves a ton of wiggle room with a road loss to South Carolina and early SEC losses to bubble squads from Arkansas and LSU. Georgia doesn’t have a ton of depth, but the Bulldogs do have two juniors and two seniors in the starting lineup.
Last NCAA appearance: 2010
2014-15 record: 21-2, 10-1 Missouri Valley
Northern Iowa went to the NCAA Tournament five times in seven seasons at one point, but hasn’t been since Ali Farokhmanesh helped the Panthers upset No. 1 seed Kansas to reach the Sweet 16 in 2010. Led by senior forward Seth Tuttle, the Panthers can wrestle the Valley away from Wichita State. The Panthers already defeated the Shockers with surprising ease Saturday to all but ensure they’ll be an at-large team.
Last NCAA appearance: 2011
2014-15 record: 15-6, 6-3 SEC
Back on Jan. 10, Kentucky going to double overtime with Texas A&M was supposed to be a sign of something wrong with the Wildcats. It was a sign of something right with the Aggies, who won six in a row before Wednesday's loss at Ole Miss. Texas A&M is a year ahead of schedule thanks to transfers Jalen Jones (SMU) and Danuel House (Houston) arriving ahead of a standout signing class. The Aggies still have plenty of work ahead of them to seal an at-large bid thanks to a non-conference schedule lacking in RPI top 100 wins.
Last NCAA appearance: 2006
2014-15 record: 15-7, 5-5 Big East
One of the biggest surprises in a surprising Big East has been charter member Seton Hall. The Pirates started league play with wins over St. John’s and Villanova — both without star freshman Isaiah Whitehead — to move into the AP top 20 for the first time since 2001. Seton Hall has cooled since that hot start, but the Pirates are at least closer to moving closer to full strength. Whitehead returned in the last two games to score 19 and 14 points. The Pirates can’t afford many more losses like Tuesday’s to DePaul if they want to stay on the right side of the bubble.
Last NCAA appearance: 2011
2014-15 record: 14-8, 3-6 Big East
St. John’s needs to get on a hot streak in Big East play and fast. A sweep of Providence and a home win over Marquette — that's all St. John's has in the Big East — won’t be enough. The Red Storm’s signature non-conference wins over Minnesota, Syracuse and Saint Mary’s might not include an NCAA Tournament team among them.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For most of Tuesday’s game at Vanderbilt, Florida coach Billy Donovan appeared to operate at a simmer.
He spent stretches of the second half seated in his folding chair on the Florida bench at the baseline. At least twice, he slouched back into his seat while Florida played defense on the far end of Memorial Gym.
As the clock ticked to the end, Donovan had pulled aside Michael Frazier, one of the few players who had a good game in this 67-61 drubbing. As he talked to Frazier, Donovan shook his head and then rubbed his forehead when sent his junior guard back to the bench.
By the time Donovan exited the players’ locker room on the way to the coaches’ locker room after the game, he adequately summed up his assessment of the Gators’ play in a critical game of the season.
“It’s a joke,” he told his team as the locker room door swung closed behind him.
After three Elite Eights and a Final Four, Florida all but punched its ticket to the NIT with a loss to Vanderbilt, a team that had won only one SEC game entering Tuesday.
Perhaps the loss wouldn’t have been so frustrating for Donovan if Florida hadn’t picked up a new lease on the NCAA Tournament in the last two games. The Gators have been a Tournament reach since November and December, but defeating Alabama on the road and Arkansas at home in back-to-back games moved Florida onto the fringe of the NCAA bubble.
Florida went to Vanderbilt at a crossroads. A win over the Commodores would continue the Gators’ hot streak and solidify them as a team worth monitoring. A loss to sub-100 RPI team would mark the Gators’ 10th loss this season and effectively end Florida’s at-large hopes.
Even with those stakes in mind, Florida showed up like a team whose season had already come to an end.
Vanderbilt jumped to a 15-0 lead, and the Gators missed their first nine shots from the field. Florida spent most of the game chasing a Vanderbilt of at least five points. The Gators couldn’t defend without fouling, allowing Vanderbilt to amass more made free throws (29 on 42 attempts) than Florida made field goals (21-of-57).
The Gators were “annihilated” on the glass, in Donovan's words — Florida grabbed nine offensive rebounds to Vandy’s 29 defensive boards and 17 defensive rebounds to the Commodores’ 13 offensive boards.
“We were frustrated that we didn’t come out ready to play and we got beat,” Frazier said. “That’s not our culture, and (Donovan) expressed that to us. We’ve got to come out with more energy to start the game.”
Florida is talking about a lack of passion and energy at a critical juncture in February, which is another reason Donovan is so befuddled, even if he saw all the warning signs.
“Things just have to change,” guard Eli Carter said.
Things have changed for Florida. Unless the Gators can win the SEC Tournament — a feat that would require them or someone else knocking off undefeated Kentucky — Florida is going to the NIT for the first time since 2009.
The loss to Vanderbilt gives the Gators their third loss to a team ranked outside of the top 100 of the RPI, compared to a 1-3 record against the top 50.
Internally, this isn't a total shock. Donovan anticipated falling below the preseason rankings. Despite losing four senior starters, Florida had enough role players and highly touted prospects and transfers in the pipeline to be ranked in the preseason top 10.
What outsiders in the preseason saw was five-star recruits ready to breakout as sophomores (Kasey Hill and Chris Walker), two key returnees with Final Four experience (Frazier and Dorian Finney-Smith) and two transfers ready to make an impact in the frontcourt (Jon Horford from Michigan and Alex Murphy from Duke).
What Donovan saw were players who were coming off the bench or playing less than 10 minutes per game for a reason.
“Last year’s team covered up a lot of these returning players’ inconsistencies,” Donovan said. “That’s what you’re seeing is a high level of inconsistency.”
Even if it’s not a surprise that a team of former role players is struggling to find its way as a team of starters, that the problems have continued into February is a source of frustration.
The Gators can defend. They are ranked 22nd in defensive efficiency on KenPom. Even in a game in which nothing went right for the Gators, the defense was a spark for the offense. When Florida started to close the gap on Vanderbilt, the Gators picked up turnovers on the press (18 total) and were able to get into transition.
But this is still a team that can’t seem to figure out how to score enough to string together wins in SEC play.
“For our guys, there’s a difference between performance and competing,” Donovan said. “Our guys get wrapped up in performing well, but we don’t compete well. That was the difference.”
In other words, Donovan has a bunch of players who believe they need to perform individually for the team to win. That’s a long way from last year’s team that went 18-0 in the SEC with four players averaging double figures but none more than 14 points per game.
After this latest loss, though, Donovan has seemed to resigned himself that those answers haven’t come in time for an NCAA bid this season.
“They’ve got to learn and they’ve got to grow, and they’re not...” Donovan trailed off. “Sometimes it takes going through a season like this to really understand how far we have to go as a team and how far they have to go as individuals.”
Running back recruit Chris Warren had a hard time deciding between Washington and Texas on National Signing Day. So the high school senior used a coin flip to decide where he would spend the next four years of his collegiate career.
Here’s video of Warren’s coin flip:
Warren said the coin flip was a real thing. If it landed tails? "I'd be wearing purple and gold right now."— Michael Florek (@michaelflorek) February 4, 2015
Chris Warren's purple and gold balloons had the coin flip gone the other way. pic.twitter.com/kWgmcrAjWp— Michael Florek (@michaelflorek) February 4, 2015