AP preseason poll is upon us

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
It's the end of October. You're sick of pumpkin spice lattes. You're enjoying sweater weather and dreading the winter. You're kicking yourself for waiting until today to figure out your Halloween costume, because you don't have time to make anything and all of the good costumes at the pop-up shop are picked clean.

And, yes, you're scanning the Associated Press preseason college hoops poll.

The AP released its first poll of the 2014-15 season on Friday, and the results are ... well, they're exactly what you'd expect. Kentucky and its band of nine McDonald's All-Americans lead the way at No. 1, followed by Arizona, Wisconsin, Duke and Kansas. That's the same top five, in the same order, as ESPN's own preseason power rankings, the sign of a strong general consensus about the best teams in the country.

The differences between our rankngs and the AP poll are minimal throughout. There are some changes to the order here and there. But every team you saw ranked earlier this week was also included by the Associated Press voters, with one exception: Kansas State. Instead, the AP chose Utah and Harvard, which tied for the 25th spot with 98 points. It's hard to argue with that: Both teams are top 25 quality, and both could be better than Kansas State, and also it's the 25th spot in a preseason poll, and why would you argue about that anyway? You have a Halloween costume to figure out. You don't have time for this.

Still, if you think the preseason poll is worthless, think again. Beyond a poll's unique ability to provide casual fans with a quick view of the college hoops landscape, it also retains some strong predictive power. More than the polls that follow, anyway. As soon as the season begins, voting becomes tainted by random results and short-term performance fluctuations -- we can't help but overreact. But before the season, when everyone is just sitting at their computer trying to figure out how good teams seem to be? That's when the wisdom of the crowd truly shines.

The preseason poll isn't perfect. But as a predictive measure of the season to come, it's far from pointless, either.
The Auburn basketball team hosted "Pearl Jam," a promotional event for students on Thursday night, and wait, is that Gus Malzahn? No, it’s just Bruce Pearl being Bruce Pearl.

On the eve of Halloween, Pearl came out dressed as the Auburn football coach, and he had the look down -- from the sweater vest to the visor to the glasses to play cards. The only thing better would have been if Pearl had come out shirtless.

After spending the last three seasons as an analyst for ESPN, Pearl took over as Auburn's basketball coach in March. The event on Thursday was held to give students a taste of the Auburn basketball experience. An estimated 2,500 students were on hand. Auburn opens the season a week from Friday with an exhibition game against West Alabama. Meanwhile, Malzahn and the football team are busy getting ready for their showdown with No. 4 Ole Miss on Saturday.

3-point shot: Keys to Virginia's season

October, 31, 2014
Oct 31
Virginia guard Malcolm Brogdon joins Andy Katz to discuss the keys to the Cavaliers' season.
Bill Self is a hero in Lawrence, Kansas. So his appearance at the campus’ restaurant hub, the Underground, on Thursday created a frenzy.

But the Jayhawks coach didn’t stop there. He whipped out the credit card -- or cash, if that’s his thing -- and bought lunch for multiple students.

"We came up and hung out with the students -- I don't get a chance to do that very often," said Self, according to KUathletics.com. "We were able to buy many meals for students as they went through the line to pay, so that was fun. It was a good day. It's always great to interact with the kids. Since we had a day off today, it was a good way to relax a little over lunch."

Kansas fans lost it after that.

Then came the selfies. Naturally.

Now Self’s approval rating will skyrocket to 140 percent or something in Lawrence.

How Briante Weber ended up at VCU 

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
Believe it or not, Shaka Smart's presence didn't always loom so large on the recruiting trail.

While he's made a habit of out-recruiting high-major programs in recent years, that was hardly the case when he first arrived at VCU, and in the case of senior guard Briante Weber, it was anything but the case.

Weber may be the reigning two-time defensive player of the year in the Atlantic 10 and a preseason pick for the league's all-conference team, but he didn't have a single Division I scholarship offer to his name when he finished his senior season at Great Bridge High School in Chesapeake, Virginia.

3-point shot: North Carolina keys

October, 30, 2014
Oct 30
North Carolina's Marcus Paige and Brice Johnson join Andy Katz to discuss the keys for UNC's upcoming season.
Last week, Tom Izzo shut the game down when he dressed up like a member of KISS to kick off Michigan State’s Midnight Madness festivities.

Somehow, Izzo’s efforts topped the rest, even though John Calipari brought Drake to Lexington, Josh Pastner called his pal Rick Ross, Bill Self wore Andrew Wiggins’ jazzy NBA Draft jacket and Tubby Smith crashed a motorcycle in Lubbock during similar events.

Now, you can own Izzo’s autographed KISS uniform and the accompanying KISS sign through the school’s online auction, Michigan State announced on Wednesday. The auction ends Nov. 6 at 7 p.m. ET. The bidding starts at $500 for the outfit and $250 for the sign.

At 1 p.m. ET on Wednesday, there weren't any bids on the outfit and only one person had bid on the sign.

Too bad it won’t be available in time for Halloween. Sorry, Jeff Goodman. But it seems perfect for Halloween 2015 and beyond.

Per team spokesman Matt Larson, proceeds from the auction will go to MSU athletics. But hopefully some of the cash will be used to fund an Izzo-Snoop Dogg collaboration for next year’s Midnight Madness. One can dream.

3-point shot: gauging role of transfers at Memphis, Pitt

October, 29, 2014
Oct 29
Andy Katz discusses the impact of transfers at Memphis and Pitt and the health of Pitt guard Cameron Wright.

3-point shot: UConn, SMU and Cincinnati

October, 28, 2014
Oct 28

Andy Katz discusses preseason expectations for a key UConn freshman, SMU center Yanick Moreira and the Cincinnati Bearcats.
On Monday morning, we revealed ESPN's 2014-15 Preseason Top 25. Topping the list was, surprise surprise, none other than the Kentucky Wildcats, who edged out (No. 4) Duke's own highly touted talent freshmen, (No.3) Wisconsin's experienced returners, and (No. 2) Arizona's combination therein.

But as we wrote in the power rankings, our interest in the Wildcats lies not just in whether UK will be good, but how. How do you get so much talent -- not only a swath of returning stars but a loaded 2014 class, too -- into a five-man basketball rotation? John Calipari's answer was predictably radical: He would sort his players into two platoons. Each group would play roughly the same number of minutes. The Wildcats would attack their opponents in waves.

There are plenty of questions worth asking about this idea, chief among them whether so many NBA-hungry talents will be eager to play role-player minutes. There's also the issue of general flexibility. What happens in late-and-close situations? What if one group vastly outperforms the other? And then there's the matter of the groups themselves: Who will play with whom?

The latter query now has an answer. On Monday night, Kentucky will play its annual Blue-White Scrimmage, and on Monday afternoon, via Facebook, Calipari officially assigned hotkeys to his Starcraft-ian Control Groups. They are:
It's worth noting, of course, that this is a first draft, Monday night is just a scrimmage, these teams are subject to change, etc. Still, there are some interesting thoughts here. For starters, no pun intended, it's clear that Calipari wants to mix his returning players with newcomers. Publicly, the coach would likely argue that these configurations simply work better; privately, it's fair to wonder whether avoiding some emergent freshmen-versus-veterans narrative is also a priority.

It's also interesting, though not especially surprising, to see the Harrisons in the same lineup. Earlier this month, Calipari told the ESPN College Basketball Podcast he had considered splitting the duo, to give each a chance to prove themselves as individuals to NBA scouts. "But," Calipari eventually concluded, "for me, to win now, it's best if they play together."

Anyway, platoons! They're totally a real thing, the No. 1 team in the country is totally unveiling them tonight, and you can now totally point to specifics in your arguments against them. So: What do we think?

3-point shot: Georgia Tech, Kentucky and UNC

October, 27, 2014
Oct 27
Andy Katz looks at two impact transfers at Georgia Tech, what SEC coaches think about Kentucky and a possible result of the UNC academic scandal.

3-point shot: Talking with Georgia coach Mark Fox

October, 24, 2014
Oct 24
Andy Katz catches up with Georgia coach Mark Fox at SEC media day.
Syracuse University's men's basketball and football programs are under NCAA investigation for allegations, including providing extra benefits and academic issues, that date back at least 10 years, a source told ESPN's Brett McMurphy.

Syracuse will go before the NCAA's Committee on Infractions in Indianapolis on Oct. 30-31, sources said.

The majority of the allegations -- and the most serious -- involve the men's basketball program. Among the allegations facing the men's basketball team are receiving extra benefits and academic issues, a source said. Those allegations go back about 10 years and are as current as the 2013 season, a source said.

"There were things going on consistently (with the men's basketball program) for a long time," a source said.

Jim Boeheim has been Syracuse's head basketball coach since 1976.

The football team is also facing allegations involving extra benefits, but only for a two-or-three-year stretch around 2004 or 2005, a source said. From 1991-2004, Paul Pasqualoni was Syracuse's football coach, followed by Greg Robinson from 2005-08. Pasqualoni is now a defensive line coach with the Chicago Bears, while Robinson is defensive coordinator at San Jose State.

To read the rest of Brett McMurphy's report click here.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Sometimes a piece of information is so hard to believe that no matter how many times you go back to it, it never gets any more digestible. Greg Maddux's 1995 season, for example. No matter how many times you open Maddux's Baseball Reference Page, no matter how often you shove your iPhone into your friend's face and scream at them -- Ten complete games! A .811 WHIP! 181 strikeouts to 38 walks! *Look at this!* -- it never gets any less insane.

The Pac-12's 2011-12 season is like this. You remember: Arizona's young players struggled in Sean Miller's third season. UCLA was mired in its protracted Ben Howland purge. The rest of the conference was either mediocre (no Pac-12 team finished with fewer than 10 losses) or just plain awful (USC and Utah combined for four conference wins). In overall average efficiency, the league ranked below not only the rest of its power six brethren, but the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West, too. The league was so devoid of nonconference wins and marquee teams that its regular-season champ, Washington, failed to earn an at-large NCAA tournament bid -- an unprecedented brush-off made all the more surreal by the realization that nobody outside the Pac-12 offices really disagreed with it.

Three years later, the Pac-12 has arrived at a vastly stronger place. Arizona is a perennial national title threat. UCLA got back to the Sweet 16 last season and is recruiting top West Coast talent again. Utah has gone from "abhorrent" to "conference title contender" in record time. Colorado, UCLA, Stanford, Arizona State, and even Washington are all realistic tournament hopefuls with either intriguing talent, loads of experience, or both. USC, which finished 2-16 in league play last season, is rapidly trending upward.

The result is a league with one obvious national title contender and maybe seven or eight good outfits.

"I could see where Arizona would be the unanimous pick," Arizona State coach Herb Sendek said. "I think that's clear cut. As for the rest of the league, you could probably put everybody in a hat, shake it up, and have just as good a chance at predicting the order of finish as we are able to do sitting here today."

The current setup might make the Pac-12 hard to predict, but it should also make it very interesting -- not only during conference play but in November and December, too. At the very least, 2011-12 now feels even more removed from the current reality. As the Pac-12 improves, that wild outlier becomes harder and harder to believe.

Four other observations from Pac-12 media day:

2. The arrival of a new season hasn't done anything to quell misgivings about Oregon's tumultuous offseason. In May, three players were dismissed following sexual assault allegations, and coach Dana Altman and the university were criticized for allowing players to play in the NCAA tournament despite an ongoing investigation into those allegations. One of those players, Brandon Austin, had been suspended by his previous school, Providence, for an alleged sexual assault.

[+] EnlargeOregon
AP PhotoDana Altman's Oregon program had a tough offseason.
Since then, two players (Ben Carter and A.J. Lapray) have transferred, top recruit JaQuan Lyle was unable to enroll at the school, and Elgin Cook was cited for shoplifting. Local media in Eugene soon discovered that Cook, as a teenager in Wisconsin, had been found guilty of assault and battery, disorderly conduct and vandalism.

Altman's summer hasn't just left his roster gutted. It's also left many wondering whether a coach whose squeaky-clean reputation that preceded his hiring deserved to be fired.

On Thursday, the questions continued. Altman reiterated that he did not know the extent of the charges against the three players in March. He stood by his and the university's decision, and pointed to his entire career as an indicator of his judgement.

"Six months have not been good, but the other 25 years have been pretty solid," Altman said.

The Ducks have made one noticeable change off the floor: Altman has now moved all of his players into the same apartment complex, where they live alongside graduate assistants.

"We have our graduate assistants living with them to try to help them with some of the day-to-day decisions they make," Altman said. "Other than that, we haven't made many changes."

3. These days, nothing sinks a bubble team's NCAA tournament hopes more than a weak nonconference schedule. You could hardly blame Utah for its RPI-crushing 2013-14 slate, though: Even coach Larry Krystkowiak didn't expect his team to be as good as it was. The Utes were ahead of schedule.

"Oftentimes a schedule is done a year or two in advance," Krystkowiak said. "We were probably ahead of the curve last year."

There will be no such surprises in 2014-15. The preseason poll slotted Utah at No. 2 in the league projections; star small forward Delon Wright is a returning All-Pac-12 performer. This time, Krystkowiak has scheduled accordingly. The Utes have road games against Kansas, San Diego State, UNLV and BYU. That slate will certainly help assuage the NCAA's road-obsessed concerns, but it also presents major challenges.

"On paper I don't know how intelligent I am to bite off some of that," Krystkowiak said. "I just felt like our team was ready for it."

4. Steve Alford's teams were never known for playing fast, but his arrival at UCLA last season was accompanied by a massive tempo boost relative to Alford's work at New Mexico and Iowa. With the strength of that attack -- an excellent backcourt -- almost entirely gone, will the Bruins maintain that pace? Alford hopes so.

"We want to be able to continue to do the things we've done, with the speed with which we want to play," Alford said. "We want to play fast. ... But there's a fine line. You can only run as hard as you can to where you're also valuing the ball."

5. New coaches are a minor subplot of the 2014-15 Pac-12. The conference has three new men in charge of programs this season: Cuonzo Martin at California, Wayne Tinkle at Oregon State and Ernie Kent at Washington State. Oregon State and Washington State are probably due for extended rebuilding periods. But Mike Montgomery's retirement didn't leave the Bears quite as bereft of personnel, which makes them slightly more intriguing. At the very least, forward David Kravish drew raves from Martin as the two sat at the podium together.

"The guy is just battle-tested," Martin said. "He understands what it means to win. He's probably one of the better leaders I've ever been around."
When Chris Collins was named as the new head coach at Northwestern in March of 2013, one of his first priorities was Victor Law, a four-star prospect from St. Rita (Ill.). At the time, Law was leaning elsewhere, but Collins knew he had to sit down with Law and make a final pitch.

He met with Law and Law's father, and the two sides immediately connected. The Wildcats were squarely back in the mix.

"Vic's biggest question the day he spoke to Chris was, 'Coach, do you believe in Chris Collins?'" said Gary DeCesare, Law's former coach at St. Rita. "I said, 'Absolutely. I believe he will get it done.'"

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