Monthly Archives: November 2011

The Indefensible UCLA Bruins

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to defend the UCLA Bruins.

Last week, the Bruins lost at “home” to Loyola Marymount. Their first loss to the cross-town non-rival since 1944. The same team that turned around and lost to Middle Tennessee State a day later. They’re malcontents, overrated, and undisciplined.

In the midst of writing a defense of this Bruins team, the news of Reeves Nelson possibly quitting the team broke (Nelson has since been indefinitely suspended). I could no longer finish my post.

I can no longer defend Ben Howland and his UCLA program.

I started that post early Monday afternoon. That was a time when I thought, “Hey, these Bruins simply have some personnel issues. They just need to reestablish roles, let the learning curve play out, get Zeek to shoot less and distribute more, and they’ll be fine.” I was going to ask everyone to be patient with this team and let them improve with more and more games.

I repeat: the UCLA Bruins are indefensible.

At first it was the early departures. We could excuse those as talent being talent. UCLA was talent rich, making annual appearances in the final four. But when the departures just never stopped, when they went from lottery picks (Kevin Love, Russell Westbrook) to second round picks (Malcom Lee, Tyler Honeycutt) the red flags began to fly. Go ahead and toss Dominic Artis’ decommitment into this category, too.

And at first we could also excuse Drew Gordon’s 2009 departure to a basic conflict of personalities. It happens. Not every relationship is a great one. Gordon’s departure, while somewhat heated, happens.

But a closer look shows us that of the last three recruiting classes (’08, ’09, ’10), UCLA brought in fourteen players, seven of which are no longer with the program; four by transfer, three by NBA draft.

And now there’s Nelson. Another discontented star willing to drastically change his basketball trajectory at the cost of his UCLA jersey. While Nelson isn’t about to win anyone’s award for teammate of the year (Josh Smith, either) this obviously isn’t the first case of someone trying to leave Westwood early.

Simply put, people not wanting to stay in your program doesn’t bode well for your program.

The one constant through all this (am I quoting Field of Dreams?) has been Ben Howland. The aforementioned issues and excuses have been piling up. Either he’s insufferable or he can’t recognize who’s going to be successful with his tough love style. Whatever you want to call it, there would certainly seem to be a lot of smoke leading to the inevitable fire, as they say.

UCLA had best rein this in (calling Dan Guerrero!) before it gets much further out of hand. The saving grace right now is Howland’s 2012 recruiting class but indefinitely suspending your best player is not step one.

Like I said, I want to defend this program, it’s storied and important; but if no one wants to wear the blue and gold, what’s the point?

Twelve Pac: Weekend Roundup

Arizona: This team continues to make no secret of the fact that they’re learning, have yet to develop a PG (Josiah Turner was benched)  and have little-to-no interior presence. That said, they’re 3-0, played their best half of basketball Sunday (44-25 in the 2nd half), and have the heart-and-soul of their program back. Yes, Kevin Parrom made his emotional return to the McKale Center and provided not only a spark but quality play. In 18 minutes he went for 6 points, 4 boards, and 2 assists. With Parrom back, Arizona should begin to look a lot less shaky.

Arizona State: Like others, ASU looked like a team that was learning, committing 22 turnovers en route to a sloppy win over Montana State. Trent Lockett played well (17 & 10) which is a good sign for the Sun Devils because they simply don’t have much by way of talent. They’re going to need him to keep that up. Good sign: ASU outrebounded the Bobcats, a critical stat that the Sun Devils failed at all last season.

Colorado: They beat the linkless wonders (no link on ESPN.com) and had a very encouraging performance from Andre Roberson. The motor of all motors, Roberson is going to need to score for this team to win more than expected. That said, there will be no questions about his rebounding. In 28 minutes he grabbed 15 boards and added a clean 13 points – 4-of-9 shooting including one three-pointer. Next step: put up numbers against a team that gets ESPN-love.

Utah: DNP but tipoff tonight against USD. Prediction: lots and lots of learning. Brand new for Utah this season is the coach, thirteen players, and the conference. Not a recipe for success (disaster rather).

USC: The Trojans received solid performances from their two key players – Maurice Jones and Aaron Fuller – in skating past Cal State Northridge.Here’s a problem though: USC missed every single three point shot they took. As in zero-for-fifteen. Dewayne Dedmon contributed 16 points as well. This Trojans team is going to be very interesting if for no other reason than Kevin O’Neil. The dude manages to keep teams above water if nothing else.

UCLA: Without getting too prescriptive one game into the season, Ben Howland needs to figure this stuff out. Josh Smith has made no improvements to his conditioning, Lazeric Jones is taking eleven shots and missing ten, the vaunted front-court grabs just four more boards than LMU, and the Bruins score just 58 points at home against an LMU team missing their best player. This doesn’t bode well for the season outlook but like I said, it’s just game one, UCLA should just get the panic button out of the drawer.

Stanford: The Cardinal played better than their football counterparts and handily beat Central Arkansas. With injured potential breakout star, Dwight Powell, in street clothes five Cardinal(s) scored in double figures, led by Aaron Bright. Prized freshman, Chasson Randle, debuted with 15-6-4. Additionally, he went to the free-throw line nine times, a sign the Cardinal may have found a scoring threat to replace the departed Jeremy Green.

California: The most impressive team to-date. Cal quickly improved to 2-0 and the most impressive part, and what has everyone calling Cal a legitimate squad, each player knows and fills their role (thus far).  Allen Crabbe is taking (and making) the bulk of the shots, Jorge Gutierrez is distributing and leading, Harper Kamp is solidifying a developing interior, and the role players are being role players. Not too much. Not too little. A relatively standard Monty team. The early and building hoopla is likely deserved.

Oregon: A lot has been said about this team being a possible upset machine. They had a good showing against a highly touted Vanderbilt team; who promptly turned around and lost to Cleveland State at home. This doesn’t reflect too poorly upon the Ducks but it doesn’t help them. The good news: they shot the ball well, Tony Woods debuted strong (Jabari Brown did OK), and the two-headed point guard of Sim and Loyd played solid (combined: 7-11-12). The Ducks have a lot of new faces and it may take some time for that sleeper label to become reality.

Washington: Like Arizona, let’s just say that the Huskies are 2-0. They haven’t looked good doing it but wins are wins, right? Terrence Ross has struggled some (33% shooting) and the turnover bug may haunt them some, too (29 through two games). But, there are some bright spots: Aziz N’Diaye is rebounding and blocking shots (20 boards, 8 blocks through two games) and Abdul Gaddy is playing well. CJ Wilcox has also been a solid contributor. It appears Romar may be running a short bench with only seven players reaching double figures in minutes in either game. This team will improve when Scott Suggs returns.

Washington State: Tonight is their big night, taking on Gonzaga, in Spokane. They’ll be kicking off ESPN’s Marathon of college hoops coverage. Watch for an improved Reggie Moore. He and Faisal Aden are vital to the Cougars’ success and each is a gametime decision for this game (groin, concussion).

 

A Twelve Pac

  1. Game of the weekend. Oregon @ #7 Vanderbilt, 11/11/11, 7pm PST . Can the under-the-radar Ducks make some early national noise in Tennessee? It’ll be tough. Some have Vandy doing big things this year, returning five starters and all.
  2. SI cover jinx? Reeves Nelson is gracing the west coast version of SI’s college hoops preview (if they’d only been more creative). Nelson busted his ankle in practice and is now questionable for tonight’s game. Coincidence?
  3. Parrom practices. Kevin Parrom is back to practice which is great news for a great kid and a growing Arizona team. He’ll return to NYC next week where he was shot a month ago.
  4. ASU Pre-Party. Coming in at 17th on the Princeton Review’s top party schools, it’s no surprise ASU scheduled their season opener for 2:30pm on a Friday. Better double check those Nalogenes.
  5. You’re welcome, east coast. MSU and UNC travel west to play outdoors on a ship. At tip-off: East Lansing 35 degrees, Chapel Hill 37 degrees, San Diego 65 degrees. Nuff said.
  6. The house Jorge built. I’ve long felt Cal’s Jorge Gutierrez is the quintessential player you hate on their team and adore on yours. He confirmed that in a recent interview, “This is my court, and you play the way I want you to play.” Yeah.
  7. Gershon weighs in. Scout’s west coast recruiting guru (dude knows his stuff) Josh Gershon tells us about the Pac’s recruiting class. He ranks it second amongst all the conferences and really just has a lot to say about Sean Miller’s class.
  8. Mmmm, cupcakes. The twelvers, other than Oregon, will kick their respective seasons off with some pretty easy opponents, most notably Colorado who takes on Ft. Lewis. I don’t know Ft. Lewis and they don’t even have linkage on ESPN. Ouch, but CU could use a few of these.
  9. Dead horse beating. It’s been awhile since anyone has said “Pac-12” and “good” in the same sentence but they’re trying real hard now. I love Larry Scott and he’s trying hardest. This conversation, however, has become a beaten horse and probably a cozy excuse. Here’s a nice read on the conference’s relevancy efforts.
  10. Terrence Ross > You. I think I might post this with every Twelve Pac but he was just recently listed on the Naismith Preseason Watch List. He’s one of three Pac-12 players (Josh Smith and Reeves Nelson) but I’d most prefer to watch T.Ross play so I’ll give him the most love.
  11. Dunkless. I’ve watched two Arizona games and they have yet to dunk. But wait! Nick Johnson and Jesse Perry have both grabbed rim (NJ linked). Perhaps this guy dunked them out?
  12. 131 games today. Seven will be played by Pac-12 teams. Be excited. In fact, let’s:

Rebuilding or reloading, UW without 2012 commit

These past few years, the Washington Huskies have run a successful program.

And by past few years I mean the disappearance of the Pac-10. As in no top-25 team for most of the 2009-10 season. As in a national coming-down-upon in which everyone has seemed to rip the Pac. And rightfully so. It’s simply been abysmal.

So while all of that was happening, the conference was up for grabs and Washington did a pretty good job of capitalizing. They won a Pac-10 title (2009), two tournament titles (2010, 2011) and put four players in the NBA (since 2007). They’ve been a good program.

Perhaps it goes overshadowed that Lorenzo Romar teams also went to back-to-back sweet sixteens in 2005 and 2006. They spat out Brandon Roy and have been a solid program under Romar – producing just two sub-.500 campaign in nine seasons at his alma mater.

He wins to the tune of 68% and he pulls in talent. UW has had a top-25 class in five of the last seven years. They maintain a talented cupboard, that’s never been in question.

Until now.

With at least two scholarships coming off the books and likely more by way of NBA draft or inevitable transfer, the Huskies will watch the early signing period come and go without a commitment.

I’m not writing Washington’s death certificate nor do I think Romar is writing one. By many accounts he’s doing well with the class of 2013 but why stockpile for the future? This ain’t y2k but it certainly doesn’t look too good.

Arizona and UCLA have secured top-10 talent for 2012 and Stanford, Cal, Oregon, and Colorado each have top-100 commits.

As I said earlier, UW had a nice window in which they could become the conference elite. They took advantage of it and got themselves some trophies, but not couldn’t quite make the leap to elite.

Although the conference has run into a dry recruiting spell, perhaps that’s starting to effect the Huskies more than others. Maybe it starts at home? In six of their last seven classes, UW has had at least one 4-star recruit from Washington or Oregon (only one from Oregon). Percy Allen – the excellent Seattle Times reporter – notes that the local prep stars haven’t exactly shined bright. The top rated Seattle prospects may not be good enough for UW, in which case Romar is making the right move.

Washington is putting a lot of eggs into its 2013 basket which is fine – there are no doubt some talented players in that class – but if they miss eaither of their major spring targets (Anthony Bennett and Zena Edosomwan) 2013 could turn into a rebuilding class versus reloading.

There’s a lot of time and a lot of recruiting to be done but UW’s seat amongst the western elite may quickly be closing.

Now’s the time to try and get back in there.

Signing period and the Pac’s alright

The early signing period has arrived meaning the class of 2012 can begin signing over their lives letters of intent to play for quick to jet committed coaches and programs. The Pac-12, for the first time in awhile, will be hauling in some big time players. Much has been made of the talent dearth in the West and subsequently the conference, but that appears to be righting itself.

With twelve of Scout’s top-100 recruits heading to the Pac-12 – already the most since 2009 with the late signing period yet to occur – the talent level should once again be at an elite level, earning the monicker “Conference of Champions.”Scout has also ranked the Pac-12 as having the second best recruiting group amongst all conferences. Look who’s back.

Here’s a team-by-team look with player names, position, position rank, and some linkage. Enjoy:

Arizona Brandon Ashley PF (1) Kaleb Tarczewski C (5) Grant Jerrett C (9) Gabe York SG (9)
ASU Calaen Robinson PG (NR) Kenny Martin PF (NR) Eric Jacobsen C (NR)
Colorado Xavier Johnson SF (16) Josh Scott PF (19) Wesley Gordon PF (23)
Utah Jordan Loveridge PF (27) Justin Seymour SG (NR) Josh Hearlihy SF (NR)
USC Larry Lewis SG (NR) Strahinja Gavrilovic PF( NR)
UCLA Kyle Anderson SF (2) Jordan Adams SF (15)
Cal Tyrone Wallace PG (14) Kaileb Rodriguez PF (NR)
Stan Rosco Allen PF (17) Grant Verhoeven C (17) Christian Sanders SG (26)
Wash
WSU Demarquise Johnson SF (28) Richard Longrus SF (NR) Richard Peters C (NR) Brett Boese SF (NR)
Oregon Dominic Artis PG (9) Ben Carter PF (26) Damyean Dotson SF (NR)
OSU Langston Morris-Walker SF (NR) Jarmal Reid SF (NR) Maika Ostling C (NR)

You’ll notice a lot of single digits in Arizona’s row. Those tiny numbers have garnered them the top 2012 recruiting class in the nation (not to mention the conference) and should be a group that hits the floor running. After that, there’s a bunch of wee numerals spread throughout the conference. Oregon and Stanford are piecing together nice classes that should compliment their current, young and developing teams. UCLA has two very good commits in their row and it could get a lot more interesting as the top player in the 2012 class, Shabazz Muhammad, has long been a presumed Bruin. However, Muhammad isn’t commiting in the early period and the longer he waits, the more time Kentucky’s recruiting machine has to get in his ear.

A glaring omission from the above chart is Washington. Not one early commitment. This, frankly, should be alarming. The Huskies free up at least two scholarships next year and could lose more (Terrence Ross and annual transfers). But I think I’ll expand on this in its own post.

Big shout out to @YAYAREASFINEST and Scout.com in this post. Much of the player linkage is courtesy of Yayarea’s crafty video work and all the player rankings are based on Scout’s work (@JoshGershon, @EvanDanielscout, @BSnowscout, @JasonScheer).

 

At first sight five: Arizona Wildcats

I got my first chance to see the Arizona Wildcats on Monday night. Their preseason woes had my interest piqued and, frankly, I wasn’t going to miss an Arizona game for the world. But favorites aside, losing to Seattle Pacific and squeaking by Humboldt State is not an auspicious start for a possible Pac-12 favorite or the nation’s #16 team.

So last night, with the dress rehearsals finally over, Wildcat nation and I watched with bated breath. Perhaps that’s hyperbole – bated breath feels like a March idiom – but make no bones about it, the many questions surrounding this team were quickly becoming concerns.

And the first half did little to address those concerns. The Wildcats were once again out-rebounded, turned the ball over too much, and had atrocious shot selection. Eventually they would settle in, tighten up their defense, and win the ball game. Coach Miller can be happy about some things. Not so much about others.

Here are five things I learned the first time I saw the 2011-12 Arizona Wildcats:

  1. The interior will be an issue – Any team would miss Derrick Williams but particularly this squad. I loved what I saw out of freshman Angelo Chol who appears to be a raw basketball player but is active and will make opponents work. Junior Kyryl Natyazkho has not developed as hoped and one has to believe his starting job could be in jeopardy. He still appears lost on the court at times which greatly hurts the Wildcats particularly as the starting center. And here’s a fact: this team is going to struggle defensively in the post. Senior Jesse Perry cannot carry the defensive load inside. Watching this game I couldn’t help but cringe at the thought of a Smith/Nelson/Wear tornado tossing the Wildcat bigs around. Someone is going to need to get better and quickly for this team to be able to get front court stops.
  2. The PG position is going to be OK – Whether its Turner or Mayes, both players will be wearing an Arizona jersey so the Wildcats stand to be just fine. Sure, at first glance Turner appeared shaky but I’m willing to give a freshman in November the benefit of the doubt when he’s had the type of program building pressure Turner’s had. Mayes, on the other hand, showed a steady hand and an ability to hit open shots, precisely what he (and any good point guard) will be asked to do. Mayes is still regaining his basketball legs following off season foot surgery and – like the rest of the team – will get better as the season unfolds. Also need to get this in there: Turner looks like he might erupt once he finds a comfort zone in this system.
  3. Going as the elders go – Arizona will no doubt depend on the progress of its talented freshman. But if seniors Jesse Perry and Kyle Fogg don’t play like seniors – that is to say consistently and confidently – this team will struggle to develop. Fogg will be looked to for leadership as he’s a four year starter and needs to improve on his slumped junior season (37% FGs). Perry will be asked to anchor an under-talented front court that (as previously stated) will need to fight for everything it gets. In the Wildcats’ first game, Perry managed to carry the ‘Cats through the first half (12 and 5) and Fogg came on in the second as the Wildcats pulled away. The two led the team in scoring, combining for 30 points between them. If these two can produce, expect the freshmen to have a much shorter learning curve.
  4. But they will be important – While Fogg and Perry will have a lot to do with this team staying afloat, the newcomers will control the team’s next-level success. Turner didn’t play well in game one but it is obvious to any observer that he has the talent to make this team go. Simply put: he’s bigger and stronger than the other kids. Nick Johnson is pure energy off the bench and is going to be a pest. An absolute pest. He’ll score and get stops and give the Wildcats some much needed scoring depth. Chol, like I said, will be a defensive asset who is going to learn a lot on the fly. Sidiki Johnson, well, no one quite knows yet especially considering Miller’s post-game comments.
  5. Parrom is missed – Kevin Parrom is expected back relatively soon but until then, this team will miss him. He’s arguably the best player on the team and Arizona needs his versatility. Because of their lack of front court depth, the ‘Cats will be forced to play a lot of small ball – three and maybe four guard sets. Parrom can and has played the two, three, and four for Sean Miller which will go a long way in helping the Wildcats defend when forced into a guard heavy lineup. The good news is that Parrom’s versatility won’t greatly disrupt Arizona’s flow upon his return. For now, the Wildcats will benefit some from having to play others in Parrom’s absence, but number 3 will make this team go.

BB: It’ll take some time to find it

In an impassioned post-game speech last March, Arizona Coach Sean Miller exalted to his team, “Nastiness is required.”

You’re all familiar with it. Over the following months it became the program’s unofficial motto; tossed across message boards and columns and the McKale pregame intro video. It was a big moment for a building program and, simply, it’s true.

Nastiness is indeed required to be a great player, a great team, and a great program. Do you think Williams felt bad putting Darnell Gant’s shot into the student section? How was Isaiah Thomas feeling about taking and hitting the game winner in Momo Jones’ eye for the Pac-10 title? Do you think Miller had any qualms swooping Kaleb Tarczewski from Bill Self’s front porch? No. And each was nasty.

So, after two lackluster exhibition games against inferior opponents, I ask: where is the nasty?

Has it been swept away amongst the hype? Is it buried in self-induced pressure? Does it simply not exist?

Yes, there’s been a lot of hype. Yes, individuals have built a lot of pressure to perform (Fogg, Hill, Perry). No, it exists and it’s there.

As Miller tinkers and adjusts, challenges and teaches, we’ll slowly begin to see this group of Wildcats play Sean-ball. The proof is in the pudding. After being outrebounded – and beat – by an undersized, less talented Seattle Pacific team, Miller’s squad promptly responded by more than doubling Humboldt State’s rebound total and grabbing 29 more boards than against SPU.

Each season brings a learning curve and this one is no different.

As the season develops, so too will Josiah Turner’s control of the offense and the bigs’ control of the lane. Kyle Fogg should convert his now famous 40,000 jumpers into some semblance of confidence and a rotation will emerge. Miller calls his current rotation a “jigsaw puzzle,” working to put the right pieces in the right places to make a beautiful picture. Right now, the 2011-12 Arizona Wildcats puzzle is barely out of the box, not yet scattered across the table.

A group looking for its identity, feeling each other out and learning to play against bigger, stronger, faster opponents than 140 pound high schoolers, will take a little time to get nasty. Because nastiness certainly is not 20 turnovers (14 from upperclassmen) or being outrebounded by a D2 school. It’s responding to those setbacks, improving when you can, and making your teammates better.

So now we begin; a thirty-one game journey stating tonight that will have bumps and setbacks, highs and lows, wins and losses. It’s an uncertain path but one thing is for certain:

Nastiness is required.

 

 

Rank ’em how you will, it’s Game Time

The college basketball interwebs have been blowing up with stat geek info and opinion polls lately. Amongst it all, and as tons of prognosticators have divulged their thoughts on teams and conferences and players, Ken Pomeroy’s ever-fascinating 2011-12 ratings were released.

Kentucky debuted at number one, closely followed by Ohio State and North Carolina. His mathematically based ratings didn’t deviate greatly from the eye-ball – and oft criticized – rankings of the ESPN/USA Today or the AP. The Pac-12 doesn’t rate so high with KP. Cal and Arizona are the highest rated teams at 36 and 37, respectively. Comparatively, the major polls have Arizona (over) ranked at 16 and Cal (appropriately) at 24. UCLA, who is in both polls as a top-20 team, rates as Pomeroy’s 46th best team which is where I would begin to disagree. But that’s the beauty of it.

In his blog post where Pomeroy explains his math, he writes, “I’d encourage you to Google college basketball ratings or even try the opinion polls for something that is more your style.” He shoes you away if you don’t care which is refreshing in a day and age where sabermetrics attempt to mute any and all arguments (as Jason Whitlock ranted).

Now allow me to be clear, especially after linking a Whitlock tirade: I don’t think Ken Pomeroy is ruining college basketball. I love what his numbers bring. They’re thought provoking, insightful, and add depth to the national conversation. His stance isn’t elitist. He’s a fan.

So on the verge of the season’s first tip-off, with Pomeroy and others projecting the season’s outcome – anointing Kentucky or UNC the national champion without making a single shot – I’m reminded why the games are played.

They’re played for big moments, bitter defeats, and Gus (see what I did there?). For this, this, and this. Not to mention this. They play because the ball may bounce any which way and for that we watch. We need to watch.

Pomeroy and all other season projections are fun and all but god damn the games are great. I could YouTube you to death with moments past – here’s just another – but now we’re on the verge of making a whole new highlight reel of moments.

So we can go ahead and rank the teams however we think, factor, or feel; no matter how you slice it, it’s Game Time.

Medieval politcal theory and the NCAA

The NCAA is a unique governing body. With a litany of rules to enforce and just a short arm with which to do such, they find themselves in a difficult situation. How can they police if there is no fear of reprecussions? How can they bite with all that bark? Let’s get medieval.

In his political doctrine, The Prince, Niccolo Machiavelli addresses whether a leader should be feared or loved. “Both,” he says, “but it is far safer to be feared than loved if you cannot be both.”

A feared leader is a followed leader and last week the NCAA got its wish.

Washington and coach Lorenzo Romar cancelled a scrimmage, a scrimmage, with NBA alumni (a pretty solid group from the Husky family) in fear of breaking an NCAA rule. The to-be-violated rule states that former players cannot attend practices if it has been promoted ahead of time. Romar had publicized the event on local radio, KJR-AM, in effect poisoning the fun. They would later carry through with the scrimmage, closing it to media and the public in accordance with NCAA law.

Indeed, rules are rules, and Washington did the right thing in cancelling the scrimmage to avoid any wrist slapping. But it begs the question, is the NCAA scaring the right people?

Also last week, it was announced that Xavier’s Tu Holloway would be suspended one game for playing too much basketball (read this tweet from Jay Bilas). He played in two summer leagues instead of the permitted one league. Again, rules are rules as XU coach, Chris Mack reminds us, “Sometimes there are silly rules out there, but as silly as they are, you have to follow them. Sometimes I don’t like going 55 miles an hour on 71 in certain places but I have to follow the law.”

But now we’re back to the question. A feared leader may be the most effective but who is supposed to be spooked?

Should it be teams trying to promote their season with a fun alumni game? All-Americans trying to get a little summer run? Or should it be street agents, shady boosters, and cutthroat coaches (no pun intended)?

In Chapter 18 of The Prince (Concerning The Way In Which Princes Should Keep Faith), Machiavelli addresses a number of commendable traits pertinent to leadership. A Prince must keep faith, integrity, be merciful, and upright; sound characteristics indeed. But the philosopher continues, “It is unnecessary for a prince to have all the good qualities I have enumerated, but it is very necessary to appear to have them.” To summarize: make it look like you mean well.

Ah, like enforcing nominal infractions (self-reported at that) and dolling out subsequent suspensions while the real bad guys (oh hey, Edward Rife, Nevin Shapiro, Joel Bell) run amuck, untouchable by college athletics’ governing body? But hey, sitting Tim Abromaitis – the Notre Dame senior suspended four games for playing in an exhibition game three years ago – undoubtedly provides the appearance of good governance.

For who can argue with the letter of the law?

Ultimately, it’s a broken system. The NCAA holds no jurisdiction over half of its offenders and really stands to benefit from its biggest earners. As Dan Wetzel explains in light of the recent Michael Beasley law suit, turning a blind eye on any rules transgression is a financial win for anyone and everyone. In Beasley’s case, his agent scored an NBA-bound client and Beasley received handouts and favors while the NCAA cashed in on the talents of an 18-year-old to whom they paid nothing. This of course went conveniently unnoticed by NCAA rule enforcers during Beasley’s time as a student-athlete.

I won’t venture to conjure up a solution; I don’t know the rules nearly well enough and don’t swing a heavy enough bat to make that leap. But, like an umpire’s strike zone, I would ask that the NCAA simply be consistent. I know such a request doesn’t parallel Machiavellian rule – make the people think you’re doing a great job – but pointing the finger can only last so long.

Plus, I’d much rather watch NBA alumni scrimmages and Tu Holloway and Tim Abromaitis play despite wee infractions than pretend I care about vacated wins and Final Four appearances from seasons past.

In the final chaper, Machiavelli anecdotally lays out the oppressive-turned-flourishing empires of several ancient societies. He suggests that each fell into the dark before being drawn back into the light by a heroic and brave leader (two interjected thoughts: this and Suck-for-Luck). Perhaps we’ve reached the NCAAs darkest hour? Maybe it can’t get any worse?

While I don’t think there will be a knight in shining armor – that’s not the NCAA’s course – I do believe change can and should be on the horizon. Some steps have been made towards vacating the selectively Drachonian recruiting laws. Just last week the NCAA announced coaches can place unlimited calls and texts with recruits after their sophomore year. A small step but a step nonetheless.

Ultimately, the objective of Machiavelli’s work was to help make better leaders. To be such, shady tactics may be involved, but the end goal is a better situation for all. The NCAA appears to have the shady part down, next is the whole better situation thing.

The task to uphold amateurism is a difficult one. The NCAA’s job is not enviable to be sure. But no matter where the NCAA goes from here, no matter how bad it may ever get, know that we’ll always have this:

 

 

Previewing the point guards: Pac-12 North

Yesterday we looked at the Pac-12 South’s point guards – a group of talented underclassmen and steady upperclassmen. In the North, we about follow the same trend as there are a number of potentially explosive newcomers, most notably Tony Wroten, Jr.

I present, the point guards of the Pac-12 North:

Washington State: Reggie Moore had a bad sophomore season. His numbers were down across the board, he battled an injured wrist, and he was arrested. Then Klay left. And Angelo. It would appear the cupboard is bare in Pullman. It’s my belief, however, that Moore’s 2010-11 season was anomaly. Moore is just a season removed from being neck-and-neck with Derrick Williams for the Pac-10 FOY. He’s a quick guard and strong, a good distributor and finisher with a knack for getting to the line. Washington State’s success rides squarely on Moore. And evidently he is his own harshest critic which should translate to a big junior year. If indeed his health and confidence are back, Moore and the Cougars could surprise some people.

Washington: If one is good, then two is better. Junior Abdul Gaddy returns from knee surgery and will be helped by one of the most heralded point guard recruits in the country, Tony Wroten Jr. Gaddy has been slower to develop than most would have liked – he averaged just 4 points and 2 assists as a freshman. But he did double his freshman stats in year two before tearing his ACL. His new sidekick, Wroten, is an equally as heralded recruit – the 17th best player in the 2011 class. Not only does he arrive in Seattle with recruiting hype, Wroten has already been compared to Magic Johnson by his coach, Lorenzo Romar. Lofty to say the least, but Gaddy’s steady play and Wroten’s flash, could have an upset minded UW squad causing trouble. It also never hurts to roll out 6’3” (Gaddy) and 6’5” (Wroten) point guards.

Oregon: First dibs as the Ducks starter go to Garrett Sim. Dana Altman is handing the keys (and yes, you’re welcome for the Haarlow link) to his high octane offense to the senior point guard. While he’s not going to wow you with athleticism or shooting – 34% from three and 42% overall – the senior won’t turn the ball over, makes good decisions, and will hit his free throws. Sounds about right for a team with eight fresh faces, plenty of scorers, and a whole lot of under-the-radar hype. Many are calling Oregon a possible sleeper and Sim’s steady hand can go a long way in making that a reality. Then there’s also the talented Jonathan Loyd who didn’t quite live up to expectations last year but returns to Eugene ready to contribute in 2011-12. There’s some players in Eugene and Altman can coach. Whether they’re a sleeping giant or not, they’re going to be an interesting team to watch.

Oregon State: The Beavers have the luxury of having three returning players each capable of running the point. We’ll highlight Jared Cunningham here because he’s the most intriguing of their possible point guards – of all the Beavers for that matter – and he also did this. Many have picked Cunningham as a possible breakout star in the conference and, frankly, it makes sense, especially if he can improve his three-point shooting. Cunningham is obviously an explosive athlete (review that dunk), but he also uses it for defensive good – accumulating 85 steals and shattering Gary “The Glove” Payton’s OSU sophomore record of 72. With this dynamic athlete as well as the steady and improving Roberto Nelson and Ahmad Starks, Craig Robinson has himself quite a backcourt. In fact, they represent 43% of Oregon State’s scoring and assist totals from last year. A sign that OSU could be in good hands. Or not…

Stanford: Does this school just keep seniors around to play point guard? Jarrett Mann is the likely starter and he has some lofty shoes to fill amongst the litany of capable, stable, upperclass Stanford PGs. Remember Chris Hernandez, Arthur Lee, Michael McDonald, and Mitch Johnson? Yeah, all pesky winners. But Mann and the other Cardinal point guard candidates (Aaron Bright, Chasson Randle) will have some work to do. They don’t return the most talented group but rather one with potential. Mann isn’t going to make this team blow up, in fact he’s probably best suited in a backup role; but he’ll allow the Cardinal to start the season off in a controlled manner, befitting Johnny Dawkins’ style. Don’t be surprised to see plenty of Chasson Randle, either. The dynamic freshman can bring some scoring and a style that compliments their athletic bigs, Dwight Powell and Josh Owens. Bright received plenty of minutes last year and his game is similar to Mann’s, heady and steady, but brings some additional athleticism to the court. Stanford will be an interesting group and the point guard position is no different. Ultimately, the battle for playing time will only make this team better.

California: The steadiest of all the league’s point guards: Jorge Gutierrez. A pest, to say the least, Gutierrez is the type of player you hate on their team but love on yours. By no stretch is he the most talented player on the court but he is going to give big effort. He’s gutsy and tough and makes things happen; a dangerous combination for any player, let alone a senior on a talented team with high hopes. He’ll use his size as an advantage in defending smaller guards and to score when guarded by them. He needs to improve his assist/turnover ratio (4.5/3) or really just cut down the turnovers, but many have predicted Gutierrez to be the conference’s player of the year. If he is, look for Cal to top the standings come Pac-12 tournament time.