Author Archives: conormu

NCAA: Quit Pretending. Go Back to Your Roots.

I’m not the first columnist or blogger to announce to the world that the NCAA has an image problem.  By now, it’s brutally obvious, what with the Terrelle Pryor/OSU scandal topping the list of blemishes against the NCAA over a myriad of other issues. Plain and simple, the NCAA has chosen to adopt the approach of unaccountability, under-supervision, and acceptance of the utter disregard its constituent universities show towards its already-flaky set of rules. With Congress giving them a tough run for their money, NCAA executives are currently leading the race for least trusted and most despised public figures in America (source: Conor Murphy).

It’s almost depressing to consider the way the NCAA and media attempt desperately to turn prima donnas into role models.  After watching the NCAA Lacrosse playoffs, I started to consider myself a failure, having never saved an entire village from famine or accomplished a feat of similar magnitude. Apparently, a bunch of players on the field at any given time had done so, or at least made a valiant attempt, while a substantial number of their best friends sat on the sidelines for “undisclosed disciplinary reasons”. (NB: I have the utmost respect for the way the UMD team overcame their adversity, and this is in no way meant to be a criticism of that team or the media’s paying attention to that story).  The fact of the matter is that enough negative stories have surfaced over the years that the NCAA’s propaganda, across all its sports, isn’t fooling me anymore, and I suspect there are more and more fans soon to join my camp.

Am I going to stop watching? No. I have a blog to write. Will the casual observer? Maybe. So if I were running the NCAA, I’d be deep in the process of developing alternate strategies to make the on-field (court) product better, and the depressing behind-the-scenes stories a little bit easier to take. Of course, the governing body of the NCAA is probably not doing this, but I am (and therein lies the problem).  I have an idea that certainly won’t cure the NCAA’s problems, but it might just help lift its image a little bit.

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Beware the Overachiever – David Kahn, et al.

NBA Mock Drafters are brilliant. Not simply because they get pretty close each and every year, but because they are somehow able to untangle the unfathomable thoughts going through the brains of the 30 dumbest people in the world NBA General Managers and predict whom they’ll select. There is no rhyme or reason, and certainly no logic to explain the decisions these guys make.

It’s so typical for this type of discussion to turn to the follies of David Kahn, chieftain of the Minnesota Timberwolves, but I can’t help it. In 2009, the Timberwolves drafted THREE point guards in the first round. Granted, PG was their biggest need at the time. But after blowing through three first round picks, Nos. 5, 6, and 18, they’ve only gotten worse at the position! (Luke Ridnour starting for an NBA franchise???) They forgot to check to see whether international phenom Ricky Rubio would play for them before they built their franchise around him (it looks less and less likely that he will). Once they realized they drafted three point guards, they decided to shop one of them, opting to keep Johnny Flynn and get rid of Ty Lawson. Two years later, Johnny Flynn sits on the bench and watches Ridnour, while Lawson produces for a playoff team. The Timberwolves did everything they possibly could to screw up their own future. And this was David Kahn’s first draft! He mortgaged the entire franchise in one night. How does he still have a job? Because Kevin Love almost single handedly makes up for three blown first rounders? Nice try, but that was Kevin McHale’s doing. He made one of the best moves in 2011 by acquiring former #2 pick Michael Beasley for only a 2nd round pick? Great move, yes, but he still presided over the worst team in the NBA (again), a team that continues to be plagued by absolutely zero production from the PG spot. I’m surprised the franchise even has the rights to a 2nd round pick after the 2009 debacle.

Side Note: I fully expect Michael Beasley to screw up his second chance. This was a good move, until that day comes.

But historical blunders aren’t what bother me most about the draft. Hindsight is 20-20, and all of us would make a few mistakes through the years if we had the job. What drives me crazy is the ubiquitous NBA fascination with “upside” and “potential”. How many times have we heard the following introduction to a draft prospect: “He hasn’t produced at the rate many thought he would, but he has tremendous upside, and that’s what we like about him”. I vomit just a little bit each time I hear it. If he didn’t produce at the rate we expected, why do we still like him as much or more than we did before???

I realize that both are returning to school next year, but can anybody provide a decent answer as to why most experts rated Baylor PF Perry Jones III a higher NBA prospect than Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, even after watching their respective freshman seasons? I use these two guys to illustrate my larger point: NBA GM’s want to hit the home run each and every time, but strike out more often than not. Why do they shy away from a guy like Sullinger and drool over Jones? If Jones had fulfilled his “potential” during his first year of college, maybe he would have been able to produce at Sullinger’s level – probably not. Unfortunately for Jared, he’s polished his skills too early. I know that Sullinger was projected to go in the upper half of the lottery, but in my opinion, only Derrick Williams and Kyrie Irving deserved to be considered at his level.

One out of every five Perry Jones-like prospects will get there eventually, and they’ll go on to star in the NBA. But when a guy comes out of Duncanville HS, struggles to crack double digits in points in multiple high school games, and doesn’t win a state championship, despite playing with fellow top 100 recruit Shawn Williams (Texas), why weren’t there any red flags? In fact, his team went 23-9, and his senior season was called “very disappointing” by Rivals.com. And yet, most experts had him in the top 3 NBA prospects. Jones then went on to Baylor, where he averaged 13 points and 7 rebounds per contest as a freshman, and watched his team fall from #9 in the country to unranked non-tournament participants. There was not one time during Baylor’s 2010-11 campaign when Jones put the team on his back and decided to affect the outcome of a game. Instead, he was largely deferential and non-chalant. Again, he struggled to crack double digits in scoring in a number of games, and his 7 boards a game left a lot to be desired for a 6’11” prospect with elite jumping ability and long arms. Apparently, that combination was good enough to earn him #1 overall selection consideration.

On the flip side, Sullinger led his Northland HS team to a 21-0 record and #1 National Ranking during his senior year of high school. He then moved to Ohio State and led the Buckeyes to the #1 overall ranking and Big 10 title. He was in the hunt for the Naismith Award as college basketball’s MVP. And when they lost to Kentucky in the Sweet 16, nobody blamed Sullinger. He played his heart out, and came up big a number of times down the stretch.

My purpose in writing this isn’t to dump on Perry Jones. In fact, I give him the utmost credit for understanding he needed another year for development, rather than jumping at millions of dollars on the table. But in basketball, like in any other sport, there are winners and there are losers. There are those who work to polish their game and get every inch out of it, and there are those who leave a lot on the table. I wonder: why would you want to rebuild your franchise on a guy in the latter category? And why do we punish the guy who has already peaked, if his peak is just as high as anybody else in the draft class could hope to reach? The guys banking on their “upside”, as opposed to their track records, leave me with a lot of questions – too many questions to warrant selecting them high in the draft. GM’s shouldn’t search high and low for answers when there’s an obvious one staring them in the face.

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Pro or No, Episode 5: SEC Volume 2

Here’s our fifth edition of Pro or No, in which we’ll take a closer look at a few more SEC products.  Let’s hope the readers feel as passionately about these guys as they did about Klay Thompson…

Trey Thompkins, Georgia, Jr. – PF

Overview: Thompkins is a guy that NBA scouts can’t seem to figure out. He’s bounced around from the lower ends of the lottery, to late first round/early second round, and now most experts see him going somewhere in the 15th-20th range.  The 6′ 9″ SF from Georgia played a very complete junior season, putting up almost 18 PPG and over 8 rebounds per contest.  He shoots very effectively, knocking down almost 50%. Of course, there’s always the chance that he’ll return for another year, but I doubt that’s the case here.

Best Case: Most NBA scouts had Thompkins going in the middle of the first round last year. He might drop a few spots this year, but this is a guy who really benefitted from an extra year in college.  His game is much more polished, and NBA-ready. He doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses at the moment, and he won’t have any trouble making/staying on an NBA roster.  If he does drop down to the latter portions of the first round, I think the team that selects him will be adding really strong value.

Worst Case: I don’t view Thompkins as a boom or bust type prospect. He never boomed and never in his three-year career at Georgia. Oh, I have to come up with a worst case scenario? Okay…Somehow, Thompkins and Klay Thompson wind up on the same team.  Thompkins starts running in the same horrible marijuana-crazed circles that Thompson frequents, and they both find themselves out of the league and in a world of trouble within six months.

Tobias Harris, Tennessee, Fr. – SF

Overview: I went to see Harris play twice in high school and was convinced that he was the next big thing. His first season at Tennessee didn’t live up to expectations, and yet he’s still being talked about as a 1-and-done first rounder. The kid’s got game and the all important upside, which NBA executives toss around as a word to justify otherwise insane decisions. At 6’8″, 210 lbs, he already has the prototype NBA body, and most of the skill set to match. While this season was one to forget at Tennessee,it’s tough to blame the players for underperforming.  If Harris stays another year or two, things will get better in Volunteer Country.

Best Case Scenario: The best case scenario for Harris is a press conference, at which he announces his intentions to stay another year.  With Bruce Pearl doing Bruce Pearl things all year and paying Bruce Pearl amounts of attention to himself first, and then to his players, Harris didn’t develop much as a player this year. That said, his upside is frightening, and another year in school will help him realize it. I see him as a lottery pick next year if he makes the right decision.

Worst Case Scenario: Harris goes pro and is drafted in the middle of the first round as a “purely potential” pick.  He’ll get a few minutes each game, but never find himself in a position to really improve his game, as is the case with so many of the guys chosen for their “potential”.

Brandon Knight, Kentucky, Fr. – PG

Overview: One of Kentucky’s two floor generals (the other being Doron Lamb), Knight was the heartbeat of the 2010-11 squad.  Sure, the Wildcats would have won plenty of games without him, but few of the ones that mattered most.  His penchant for hitting big shots at key moments further solidifies his status as a deserving one-and-done NBA prospect. With Knight having recently declared for the draft, Calipari has already started writing checks to fill Knight’s shoes.

Best Case Scenario: Knight is a lock to go in the lottery of the 2011 Draft, and his skill set is strong enough to expect solid play wherever he lands.  But he still has some room to develop, and it would really benefit him in the long run to play on a team that lacks depth at the point guard position.  Minutes are the key to improvement in the NBA.

Worst Case Scenario: There are two scenarios that could really stunt Knight’s career: 1) He becomes a Toronto Raptor. 2) He is selected by a team that drafts according to the “best player available” approach, and loads its roster with guards, leaving Knight with 15 minutes per game and little room for improvement. By the way, I understand that line of thinking for NFL teams, but when NBA GMs don’t draft to fill holes in their 5-man starting rosters, I age considerably in frustration.  More rants on NBA draft methods to follow.


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2011 UConn: Worst Champ Ever?

College basketball fans will remember the 2010-11 season, if at all, for UConn winning its third national championship under coach Jim Calhoun.  I’ll recall it as the year Kemba Walker won a championship with an, at best, supporting cast.  Sure, guys stepped up for the Huskies here and there throughout the championship run, and Jeremy Lamb evolved into a solid #2 option by the end of the year.  But as I watched the worst game in the history of (the Final Four) (college) basketball, admittedly rooting against the Huskies, I thought to myself, is this the worst national championship team ever? I couldn’t recall a net-cutting squad that wouldn’t have run all over the Huskies, but I figured I’d let my Butler-induced frustration cool off and perhaps appreciate them in a few days. Well, I let a week pass, and I’ve made no progress.  To illustrate my point, allow me to match the 2011 Huskies against some of their peers.  In a 10 game set, 2011 UConn doesn’t win 3 against any of them.

2010 Duke – No chance.  I know UConn advanced out of Duke’s region this year, but they did so with a very easy road that did not include Duke.  I think 2011 Duke beats UConn at least 7 out of 10 games, and last year’s squad was even better. Remember, I turned in my Duke blue for Carolina blue almost 6 years ago.  It pains me to applaud them like this…

2009 North Carolina – Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington (115 points in the tournament), Marcus Ginyard, Danny Green, Ty Lawson, Tyler Zeller, Deon Thompson, Bobby Frasor.  They made Villanova (three pros, two soon-to-be) look like five Conor Murphys on an off night.  Don’t be silly…

2008 Kansas – Mario Chalmers, Cole Aldrich, Darrell Arthur and Sherron Collins could beat 2011 UConn 4 vs 5.

* Note: the same applies to Memphis

2007 Florida – In 10 games, UConn might win one or two, but I’d be surprised.  This team probably doesn’t get as much respect as it deserves. Joakim Noah, Al Horford (need I go on?), Corey Brewer, Taurean Green, and Lee Humphrey don’t lose against most NBA teams…

2006 Florida – See Above.

2005 North Carolina – Again, no chance. Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Marvin Williams, Jawad Williams would do horrible things to these Huskies.

2004 UConn – Great time to call it quits here! (Can’t give UConn credit).

Look, there’s just no way the Huskies win in any other year but 2011.  Sure, they were the champions of the best conference in college basketball, but they also tied for 9th best in regular season conference play, winning only half their games.  Don’t try to tell me that this was a dominant team that belongs in the same category with the above-listed teams.  It was a year to forget in college basketball.  And while this might seem like my way of earning emotional revenge on behalf of Butler, there’s another way to look at it: UConn massively overachieved, while almost every other team did the opposite (Bulter, VCU excepted).  So, yes, I’m taking shots at the talent level of the roster, but I give Calhoun and his players the utmost credit for going out there and winning in a tournament that seemed to otherwise consist only of losers.

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Pro or No, Episode 2: SEC Volume 1

Vernon Macklin, Florida, Sr. – PF

Macklin has come a long way to give himself a shot at a career in the NBA

Overview: I’ve followed Vernon Macklin since the days Georgetown recruited him as a McDonald’s All-American and sure-fire one-and-done pro, to our days in sociology class together, (scene of my favorite Big-Ticket line: “my research has been through the internet, library research, and this book I found”). I watched him show zero skill for two years and squander his professional aspirations, shooting 25% from the free throw line in one year. If you told me four years ago that I’d be writing about Vernon as an NBA prospect, I’d have laughed. But he’s come a long way since he turned in his Hoya Blue for the Gator uniform.

Best case scenario: Macklin continues to improve at the same blistering rate and fulfills his potential. Don’t look for him to be in the MVP discussion, but at the peak of his potential, Macklin could play to the level of someone like Serge Ibaka, mostly a defensive threat.  Don’t forget, in their loss to Butler, how heavily the Gators relied on Macklin, and how convincingly he delivered.

Worst case scenario: Macklin has already peaked…there’s no more room to grow. If that’s the case, he won’t be playing in the NBA.  He’s got the NBA body, now he needs to develop the skill set to match.

Terrence Jones, Kentucky, Fr. – SF

Terrence Jones is ready to take the next step

Overview: Since his outburst at the beginning of the 2010-11 season, NBA scouts tabbed Jones as a guaranteed lottery pick.  Given his decision to play at Kentucky, it’s safe to say Jones went to college because he had to, not because he wanted to. He’s leaving, and few would argue with his decision once he makes it. He has an NBA body, a variety of post moves, and mobility to get his shot off from outside the paint.

Best case scenario: It’s important to mention that Jones produced at the college level at the rate one would expect from a lottery pick.  Sure, he’ll be drafted with the expectation that he will improve, but GMs scouting Jones know they’ll be getting a player ready to produce right away. I don’t see All-Star games in his future, but if he can stay healthy, Jones should enjoy a long career with only minor interruptions for inquiries on his college eligibility.

Worst case scenario: I don’t see Jones flopping. However, I worry about how he will fit into an NBA system.  He doesn’t really dominate down low, and he seems to want to play point guard, while trapped in a big man’s body.  Oh right, we’re talking about the NBA. He’ll be fine.

Chandler Parsons, Florida, Sr. – SF

Chandler Parsons left it all on the court at Florida

Overview: I’m a little surprised that Parsons hasn’t been given more credit as an NBA prospect.  In flashes of athleticism, he has proven his ability to get to the rim and protect it on the other end.  He’s got a great jumper, decent range, and plays fundamentally sound defense (again, I’m forgetting the prerequisites for success in the NBA).

Best case scenario: If everything goes perfectly for Parsons, I don’t think it’s too great a stretch to cast comparisons to Mike Dunleavy, Jr.  Not an All-Star, but a solid producer for a number of years.

Worst case scenario: The worst case scenario seems, at the moment, to be the most likely: that Parsons doesn’t get the opportunity that his college career should have earned him.  It’s so difficult to crack an NBA roster from the undrafted ranks, Chandler might be headed to the dreaded D-League.

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Butler: The Fans’ Choice

For those of you who have not yet made up your mind about whom to root for on Saturday (and Monday), I’ll make your decision for you.  In fact, the answer is so obvious, I’d be surprised if my inaugural post even applies to anyone out there.  Unless you attend(ed), bet on, or are otherwise closely affiliated with Kentucky, UConn, or VCU, you are out of your mind to pull for any of the three.  Butler is the only program that deserves the random observer’s support.

Before I get into the reasons FOR rooting Butler on, I’ll begin (as is my style) by discrediting any alternative arguments:

1.    Q: VCU is the Cinderella of the 2011 Big Dance.  Cinderella stories are the reason many of us watch the tournament to begin with.  Why not root them all the way across the finish line?

A: Be my guest, if the Cinderella champion is what you’re looking for.  But don’t think for one second that because Butler shined in the 2010 Tournament, they don’t qualify for Cinderella status this year. We’re forgetting, because the 11 next to VCU’s name is a bigger number than the 8 next to Butler’s, that nobody gave Butler a shot before the tournament either.  Sure, they were fantastic last year, but this is not the same Butler team as last year.  Same system, perhaps.  But nobody in their right mind would have chosen Butler to come this far the year after losing the best player in its program’s history.

2.   Q: If VCU or Butler wins, it might be cool for a few weeks, but in the end we all want this Final Four to count for something in the history books. So, shouldn’t I root for Kentucky or UConn?

A: The point is valid when applied to VCU.  Shaka Smart is going to catch the next train out of Virginia when this run ends.  In other words, you won’t see the Rams making a return trip to the Final Four any time soon. But if the last two years have taught us anything about treating Brad Stevens and Butler as underdogs, beware jumping to the same conclusion about the future of the Butler basketball program.  No, they’re not the next Duke, or UNC, or even their latest victim, Florida. But with Stevens locked into a 10-year deal and showing little eagerness to leave, this program has the potential to bring in a great crop of guys to fit his brilliant team-oriented system.

Answer #2: If you’re worried about the history books, you definitely can’t root for Kentucky or UConn.  I have no inside information, but I can say with the utmost confidence that in the next ten years, it will be determined that a number of players on both powerhouse squads should have been ruled ineligible for this weekend’s contests.  Think about it: you’re a top tier talent trying to decide where to go to college. You can go anywhere in the country. If you’re not looking for improper benefits, doesn’t it seem unnatural to choose a coach who has brought ill-repute to the character of the best of his former players, while running the programs for which they played into the ground, and getting a salary bump at each stop along the road? Are we (and his recruits) supposed to believe that Coach Cal learned from his mistakes and is now on the righteous path? Did Calhoun really take his recent sanctions to heart, or does his insatiable desire to win continue to translate into a total disregard for NCAA “rules”.

3.     Screw the NCAA.  This should be one we can all agree on. You can’t root for VCU, because if they win, the NCAA will have undeniable leverage to increase the field even further, thus even further diluting the importance of the regular season in an effort to print more dollars.  You can’t root for Kentucky or UConn because that’s equivalent to approving the underwhelming sanctions the NCAA has imposed on two coaches who don’t feel the need to play on a level court.

I don’t know Brad Stevens and I won’t make the unsubstantiated claim that Butler’s program is squeaky-clean.  I might not be the best judge of class out there (this is a guy who used to worship Coach K and vilify Dean Smith as a child. I was such an idiot!) So I’ll try not to incorporate the fact that they just seem like such a nice group of gentlemen into my argument (too late).  The real reason to root for Butler isn’t the purity of the program (I still feel like it’s so pure), but the purity of its product.  The Bulldogs play the most fundamentally sound brand of basketball I’ve seen…on both sides of the court.  They play the kind of basketball that makes us watch college ranks instead of the NBA. Brad Stevens has come to grips that he is head of a college basketball program, not an NBA prep school, and his players buy into that concept fully.  You can rest assured that the focus of each member of the Butler program will be on the task at hand: a national championship, here and now. If they reach the final, the same might not be said of their opponent, especially if they draw Kentucky.  Sure, they’ll look and act like a team, but I have to think that thoughts of dollar signs and NBA lottery status enters into the heads of their stars this week.  For that reason, if you find yourself rooting for Butler down the stretch of a close game on Monday night, don’t be surprised if your side comes out on top.

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