Singler, Devils Seek a Repeat
By Ken Davis
Wake up people. A new college basketball season is upon us.
This is what you’ve been waiting for since Gordon Hayward’s desperation heave barely missed at the buzzer and Duke won the national championship at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. This week, the games start counting in the standings again and the race for the 2011 Final Four in Houston officially begins.
That gives us one final chance to review some of the top storylines heading into the 2010-2011 season.
Can Duke repeat?
Yes, the Blue Devils can. Most programs don’t understand just how difficult a task that can be, but Duke knows what it takes. Here are four good reasons why Duke can pull it off: Kyle Singler, Nolan Smith, freshman Kyrie Irving, and coach Mike Krzyzewski. Duke won back-to-back in 1991 and 1992. The Blue Devils missed another shot in 2002, when they lost in the Sweet 16. But no one expected Duke to win the championship last season. It was supposed to be Kentucky or Kansas standing on the victory podium, watching the “One Shining Moment” video. Now Coach K has a deeper, more talented squad this season. There will probably be a night or two where the Blue Devils can’t hit a three, but the fact remains this is a talented offensive team. Depth will ultimately make Duke a better defensive unit. There are other worthy challengers to the crown, but the Devils are the clear favorites as we begin.
Which conference will be the toughest?
The edge has to go to the Big Ten with Michigan State and Purdue candidates for the Final Four and Ohio State not far behind. Add Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota to the mix and the upper crust looks pretty tough this season. Beyond that, everyone will be watching to see if Northwestern can finally reach the NCAA Tournament — without Kevin Coble. Yes, I still give Purdue a shot at the Final Four, despite the injury that will keep Robbie Hummel out for the entire season. Coach Matt Painter still has JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore, and the Boilermakers have had the entire preseason to make adjustments. Michigan State has been to the last two Final Fours. Would a third time be the charm? Coach Tom Izzo decided to stick around and see if he can win another championship. If you are looking for another contender for conference bragging rights, the Big 12 would be next. Kansas, Kansas State, Baylor and Missouri should go deep into the NCAA tournament with Texas and Colorado making their share of noise too.
Is the Big East down this season?
Compared to the last two seasons? Absolutely. A lot of talent has been lost. Guards will dominate the league, not big men. The teams at the top aren’t as powerful. But Pittsburgh, Villanova and Syracuse are talented squads that should get better as the season goes along. Jim Boeheim has shuffled his Orange lineup but don’t be surprised if Syracuse takes a serious run at the Final Four. West Virginia and Georgetown complete the top five teams — at least on paper. After that it should be a mad scramble for the next eight spots in this 16-team league. It will still be very entertaining.
What about Josh Selby and Enes Kanter?
Good question. No answer yet from the NCAA. So Kansas and Kentucky are in limbo, awaiting decisions from the NCAA regarding these talented recruits. The NCAA is investigating whether Selby had an improper relationship, while in high school, with Carmelo Anthony’s business manager. Robert Frazier served as adviser to Selby and his mother during the recruiting process. Kanter, a center who might be a lottery pick in the NBA Draft next summer, has ties to a pro team in his native Turkey. The NCAA is looking at the amount of his expenses that were paid by the team. Both are in school, waiting for the NCAA to hand down decisions. But they can’t play yet. When will Bill Self and John Calipari learn the fate of these talented players? Wouldn’t they like to know? No problem here with the NCAA checking out the facts. But couldn’t justice be a little swifter?
Where is the drama?
You could start in Tennessee and Connecticut. No, we are not talking women’s basketball and the feud between Pat and Geno. This time the focus is on Bruce and Jim. Bruce Pearl is on the hot seat after firing up the barbecue grill and telling his recruiting guests and their families that it was a violation of NCAA rules. It remains to be seen if Pearl can hold on to his job after a chain of lies. At UConn, the NCAA has already accused the Huskies of breaking recruiting rules with improper cell phone calls — and more. UConn officials, including coach Jim Calhoun, appeared before the Committee on Infractions on Oct. 15. Penalties should be announced within the next month. Both coaches are trying to keep their teams focused on playing. That might be tough when the Vols visit the Huskies on Jan. 22 for a nationally televised game.
The 68-team format for the NCAA Tournament is new. It includes the “First Four” round, to be played two or three days after Selection Sunday. Don’t forget CBS will be sharing the tournament with TBS, TNT and truTV, divisions of Turner Broadcasting. It’s different, but relatively painless. Imagine your angst level right now if the NCAA had gone to a 96-team format.
Our Player of the Week and Freshman of the Week awards will begin next week. For now, we give you our preseason award selections.
PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR
You’ve seen his face on the cover of several preseason publications. This is the safe pick, there’s no doubt about it. Kyle Singler of Duke is the best player on the best team in the country — at least as the season begins. That could change. Things can change in an instant. In fact, Purdue’s Robbie Hummel might have been the choice here if he hadn’t been injured and lost for the season during the first few hours of official workouts. Duke is loaded with talent and has a balanced attack. But as a senior, and a versatile talent who can play multiple positions, Singler will likely be the star for the Blue Devils again. He didn’t return to school just for his Duke diploma. Singler wants another national championship and all the POY trophies that could come with it.
PRESEASON FRESHMAN OF THE YEAR
Again, there’s no reason to gamble here. Harrison Barnes was the coveted prize in last year’s recruiting class and he made Ol’ Roy Williams a happy man when Barnes selected North Carolina for his pit stop before the NBA. Williams has had a lot of success recruiting players from Iowa, and this Ames product might be the best of the bunch. Tar Heel fans are counting on the 6-8 freshman forward to lead UNC back to the NCAA Tournament. Just getting there probably won’t be enough for Barnes. After all, how many chances will he get to win a NCAA title? Maybe just one.
GAMES OF THE WEEK
Monday, Nov. 8
Rhode Island at Pittsburgh
The exhibition games are over. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon might have the recipe for a Big East Conference championship. This is the first game of the 2K Sports Classic Benefiting Coaches vs. Cancer.
Wednesday, Nov. 10
Louisiana Tech at Texas
Expectations are lower for the Longhorns after they plummeted from No. 1 in the nation to a first-round exit in the 2010 NCAA Tournament. Coach Rick Barnes hopes to build some momentum on the way to New York City in the Coaches vs. Cancer tournament.
Friday, Nov. 12
Northern Iowa at Syracuse
Coach Jim Boeheim just keeps reloading with tremendous recruiting classes. Goodbye to Wes Johnson. Hello to Fab Melo. Boeheim doesn’t have to apologize for scheduling the Panthers in the season opener. Northern Iowa shocked Kansas in the 2010 NCAA Tournament.
Seton Hall at Temple
Coach Kevin Willard worked magic at Iona and now will try to do the same thing at Seton Hall. But the Pirates have a tough opening assignment against No. 22 Temple, the top team in the Atlantic-10.
Stony Brook at Connecticut
Former UConn captain Steve Pikiell returns to Gampel Pavilion with his talented Seawolves, a favorite in the America East. UConn coach Jim Calhoun has a work in progress with his young team. Could this be one of those November scores that will have fans rubbing their eyes in disbelief?
Saturday, Nov. 13
Marian at Butler
Can’t wait to see how the Bulldogs of Butler follow up on their Final Four season. Coach Brad Stevens will continue to see his stock rise, that is certain.
Princeton at Duke
Sure, No. 1 Duke will win this opener. But coach Mike Krzyzewski does everything for a reason. The Blue Devils will get something out of this, something they can use later in the season.
THEY SAID IT:
“Anybody can come in any time and take your spot, so you have to make sure you’re as near-perfect as you can be. I was kind of upset with myself that I missed a free throw [in an exhibition game against American International]. Coach [Kevin] Ollie told me, ‘Point guards don’t miss free throws.’” — Connecticut freshman guard Shabazz Napier, on the adjustment from high school to college ball. Ollie, a former UConn point guard, is in his first season as an assistant to coach Jim Calhoun.
“It’s a shame, because he was on target. … Moving better and shooting well. Don’t write him off just yet.” —Glenn Hummel, father of injured Purdue star Robbie Hummel, speaking to USA Today about his son’s torn ACL.
“We definitely have a legit seven, but I think the eighth, ninth and 10th guys are just as good. I think they’ll definitely play a big part on this team this year.” — Syracuse’s Kris Joseph, commenting in the Syracuse Post-Standard, on the depth of this year’s Orange team.
During the numerous early season tournaments that now dot the landscape, be aware that most will be utilizing a “restricted area” arc located two feet from the center of the basket inside the lane. This is the next step following up on last season’s rules change that made it illegal for a secondary defender to take a charge underneath the basket. Notre Dame coach Mike Brey, chair of the NCAA men’s basketball rules committee, said the visual aid will help coaches, players and officials determine proper positioning. “We want to take an aggressive look at this,” Brey told NCAA.org. “The biggest question is where the arc should be placed that is right for our game. That is the data and feedback we need.” The arc could be permanently adopted by the 2011-12 season.
Duke’s Cameron Crazies were probably stunned by the news that Cameron Indoor Stadium ranks as the second “most boisterous arena” in college basketball. But the Kansas sports information office was so delighted that Allen Fieldhouse had been ranked No.1, it sent out a news release on the top 10 list published by ESPN The Magazine. Penn State University’s acoustic program researched the facilities and submitted its results to ESPN The Magazine. The story described Allen Fieldhouse as “the perfect combo of dimension, students-to-court proximity and low absorption materials.” Kentucky’s Rupp Arena was third. Perhaps the most surprising fact from the top 10 was that three Big 12 schools made the cut. In addition to Kansas, there was Kansas State’s Bramlage Coliseum at No. 7 and Oklahoma State’s Gallagher-Iba Arena was No. 9.
Freedom Hall is history. Louisville opened the new KFC Yumi Center with an 83-66 exhibition win over Northern Kentucky on Oct. 31. Another exhibition game is scheduled for Nov. 11 and the regular-season opener comes Nov. 16 against 2010 NCAA runner-up Butler. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino loves the new building, calling it the best basketball facility in the country. “We've had the opportunity to practice here, unlike at Freedom Hall,” he said after the Northern Kentucky game. “This building has a totally different feeling. When you walk out, it feels like a NCAA Tournament. When you go and play in tournaments, it’s always large arenas. It feels that way. It doesn’t have the Freedom Hall feeling — that’s neither good nor bad. It’s an overpowering place. Our guys are doing a good job with it. They’ve shot well in here.”
Ken Davis is the author of Basketball Vault books covering the history of the University of Kansas and the University of Connecticut. Both are available through the publisher (http://www.whitmanvaultbooks.com/) and autographed copies are available at Ken's web page (http://kendavis55.wordpress.com/).