This year's NCAA tournament was a wild, unpredictable ride. It was something that had more than a few twists and turns, lots of upsets and pretty much every bracket busted, repaired and rebusted. And that was just the first weekend.
Could we have seen that coming? In a way, of course not. Nobody knew to jump on the road to Dunk City until it happened. No one had the inkling that WSU would Shock the World. But everyone could have known that there would be plenty of upsets. Why? NBA draft class strength.
For the purposes of this, I will rank drafts as "strong" or "weak". That's an oversimplification, to be sure, but it will provide some insight. When the class is strong, the NCAA tournament has relatively few upsets, because the high end talent separates the strong teams from the average ones. When the draft class is weak, anything can happen because the margin is just so thin.
Let's look back at 2006-2011 and see how those draft classes were, and how they affected the Final Four.
Generally considered a weak draft. This was the first year of the new OAD rule in the NBA. Oddly, this was the perfect year for that rule to go into effect, as there really weren't many freshmen that could have been considered for the NBA. Only a couple of freshmen (Tyrus Thomas - LSU and Shawne Williams - Memphis) were even drafted. Lots of seniors were selected, including five in the lottery.
How weak was this class? Well, only three players (Rajon Rondo, Lamarcus Aldridge and Brandon Roy) have been selected to an all-star game, and Roy is retired because of health issues. The rest of the draft is littered with lots of solid players (JJ Redick, Paul Millsap, others), disappointments (Adam Morrison, Shelden Williams, others) and washouts (Patrick O'Bryant, others).
The Final Four in 2006? That FF didn't include a single #1 seed. 3 seed Florida beat 2 seed UCLA in the title game. LSU (4) and George Mason (11) rounded out the FF. Weak draft class, and no #1 seeds in the FF. Two double digit seeds (Bradley and George Mason) went to the S16. 3 #1 seeds were in the E8, but all were defeated.
Wild tournament, weak draft.
Made stronger by the return of the Florida group. In fact, the Florida group is the difference between the 2006 draft being strong and 2007 being weak and what we had actually happen. Kevin Durant, Al Horford and Joakim Noah are your All-Stars from this draft (Marc Gasol is also an All-Star, but he didn't play in the NCAA). This was better than the 2006 draft (aided by the Florida guys returning rather than declaring a year earlier). Besides the all stars, guys like Jeff Green, Mike Conley, Corey Brewer and Spencer Hawes all were solid lottery picks. Nick Young, Rodney Stuckey, Daequan Cook, Jared Dudley, Arron Afflalo and Wilson Chandler all showed up in the later part of the first round. Just a lot of talent floating around in this draft.
The Final Four that year? A pair of #1's (Florida and Ohio State) played in the title game after dispatching a pair of #2's (Georgetown and UCLA) in the semis. The return of the Florida guys made this a strong draft and carried Florida to a title (and a strong FF). No team seeded lower than 7 made it to the S16, and no team lower than 3 was in the E8.
Generally stable tournament, strong draft.
Very strong draft. Five guys from this draft (Rose, Westbrook, Love, Brook Lopez, Hibbert) have already been All-stars. Mayo, Speights, McGee, Ryan Anderson, Courtney Lee, and Kosta Koufas are all very solid players. Strong, strong draft. So strong that Luc Mbah a Moute, Mario Chalmers and DeAndre Jordan all lasted until the second round!
That year's Final Four was the only Final Four ever to feature all four number one seeds (Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina and UCLA). Davidson was the only seed lower than 3 to make it to the E8 (riding the shooting of future NBA star Steph Curry).
A very strong draft and, knowing what we know now about Steph Curry, not surprising that he was able to drag Davidson into the E8.
Another strong draft, led by Blake Griffin, James Harden and Jrue Holiday (all-stars), with Tyreke Evans, Steph Curry, Ty Lawson, and Taj Gibson all in the first round and Marcus Thornton, Chase Budinger, Danny Green, Dejuan Blair and Dante Cunningham all in the second.
As for the NCAA tournament, no team lower than 3 made it to the E8. The FF was 2 #1's (North Carolina, UConn), a #2 (Michigan State) and a #3 (Villanova).
Another fairly stable tournament result, with a very strong draft to follow.
Hard to rule on this draft so far, although it looks to be pretty strong, actually. Paul George was an all star this year. Wall, Turner, Monroe, Hayward, Cousins, Bledsoe, Larry Sanders, Derrick Favors and Avery Bradley are all solid to good players. Landry Fields and Lance Stephenson both lasted until the second round. Likely another strong draft given what we have seen so far.
There is some caution, however. Most drafts produce at least 3-4 all-stars. If you think two of the Wall, Turner, Monroe, Hayward, Cousins, Bledsoe, Sanders, Favors, Bradley, Stephenson group will be all stars, then this is definitely a strong draft. If not, this could be a weak draft, we just don't know it yet.
The tournament? Well, a little goofy, actually. The FF had a #1 (Duke), a #2 (West Virginia) and 2 #5 (Butler and Michigan State).
Probably a strong draft (so far), but a wild tournament. This is an outlier, I think, but that could also be because the talent in this draft is so unpredictable (Wall, Cousins, Sanders, Favors, Stephenson) and that manifested itself in the tournament.
This draft looks good at the top with Kyrie Irving, but that's deceptive. It's pretty weak overall. If you had to redo this draft right this instant, Kawhi Leonard is one of the first five players taken, probably one of the first three. That's partly because he's a very nice player, but again, most drafts produce at least 3 all-stars. Irving is one. Leonard is probably another eventually. But unless you really love Kenneth Faried, Norris Cole, Klay Thompson or Jimmy Butler, its hard to find another all star. Maybe Enes Kanter? Lots of solid rotation guys in this draft, but lacking in the top line talent.
The tournament was wild. For the first time ever, neither a 1 or 2 seed made it to the FF. There was a 3 (eventual champ UConn) a 4 (Kentucky), an 8 (two time runner up Butler) and an 11 (VCU). The FF was a microcosm of the draft. Lots of solid players, but not a lot in the way of elite top line talent. Picks 8-10 of the draft (Brandon Knight - UK, Kemba Walker - UConn, Jimmer Fredette - BYU) are a perfect example of the season. All solid players who definitely were very good in college and are solid guys in the NBA, but none of whom will be stars at the NBA level.
It's way too early for 2012, but the tournament ended with a #1 seed (Kentucky) beating a #2 seed (Kansas) in a FF that featured another #2 (Ohio State) and a #4 (Louisville). The draft looks to have some strong potential with Anthony Davis, Bradley Beal, Dion Waiters and Damian Lillard all looking good as rookies, plus Harrison Barnes, Andre Drummond, Thomas Robinson and Terrance Ross all with tons of potential.
The 2013 draft class has been labelled as weak since before the college season started last fall. Nothing during the season really altered that. The fact that Nerlens Noel probably will go #1 even though he can't run right now, and that Ben McLemore will probably be second or third even though he missed the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament (he played? my mistake) says everything about the strength of the class right there. This class will probably be similar to 2011 or even 2006 with a lack of both depth and top line talent. And we all should have known that the lack of those things would take us on a ride in March.
Talent matters. Top end talent matters more. And if there's a lack of those things, well, it can (and will) get crazy in March.
Next year's draft is predicted to be VERY deep. I'd recommend picking chalk in your bracket.
As I mentioned in the Ratings column, Ben McLemore is doing something that is on a historic pace right now for KU. He is scoring nearly as efficiently as anyone to ever don the Crimson and Blue. What he is doing is outright scary.
To emphasize what Ben is doing, I took several KU greats - Wilt Chamberlain, Danny Manning, Rex Walters, Paul Pierce, Nick Collison and Kirk Hinrich - and looked at their most efficient seasons in the Phog.
Right now, Ben is shooting 51% from the field, 43% from 3, 87% from the line and has 404 points on only 265 shot attempts. He's averaging 1.52 points per shot attempt. He's scored 319 points from the field (removing his 85 made FTs) good for 1.20 points every time he ends a possession with something other than FTs.
Dealing first with the big guys, since they aren't perimeter shooters, Wilt's best season was 1957-58. During that season he averaged 30 PPG, but shot only 47% from the field and only 61% from the line. He scored 633 on 482 shots, good for 1.31 points per attempt. Take out his 177 FTs and he averaged 0.94 points per FGA. Yes, Wilt scored more, but he wasn't even close to Ben's efficiency.
Manning's best season was actually his junior year. His 24 ppg was just a point less than what he did as a senior, but he shot the ball better as a junior and was a better rebounder as well. In that 1986-87 year, Manning shot 61% from the field, 33% from 3 (1 for 3) and 73% from the line. He scored 860 points on 562 shots good for 1.53 points per shot attempt. That's almost dead even with what Ben is doing this season. Take away the 165 FTs he made and he's a bit better than Ben at 1.23 points per attempt. And remember, Danny played inside. Ben's a perimeter player.
Collison's best season was his junior year as well. His senior season saw more points, but again, this is about efficiency, and that was his junior year. 16 points a night on 59% shooting, including 37% from 3 (3-8) and 57% at the line (which ended up haunting us the next season). He scored 577 on 414 shots, for 1.39 pps. When you take away his 87 FTs, he's still at 1.19. Collison could have been on a truly elite level had he been even a 65% FT shooter.
And those are all guys that did a fair amount of their damage in the paint. They were not jump shooters.
Rex Walters was a jump shooter. In 1991-92 he put up 16 ppg on 52/40/83 shooting. Pretty impressive. Scored 513 points on just 314 shots for a mind blowing 1.63 points per shot. That's one point six three points per shot. Holy cow. Taking away his 115 FTs, he scored an equally ridiculous 1.26 points per FGA. That's just absurd. How that team lost to UTEP I will never understand. The key for Walters was that he was so good inside the arc, and he shot a lot of threes at a fairly good percentage. He shot 168 3's to only 146 2's. He made 97 of his 146 2's (66%). Basically when Rex Walters was inside the arc he was either scoring or getting fouled (and making free throws). And when he was outside the arc he was burying triples at a more than respectable rate. That 2 point shooting percentage is hard to comprehend. Just incredible. Had I not looked at the numbers myself, I would have doubted it.
Paul Pierce is a similar size to Ben. His junior year he shot 51/34/74. Not bad. Tossed in 20 ppg. Scored 777 points on 559 shots, or 1.38 points per shot. Take away his 163 FTs and his number drops to 1.09. It's pretty clear Paul owed much of his efficiency to being able to get to the line at a pretty high rate (over 4 made FTs a game). Pierce shouldered a pretty hefty scoring load and was pretty efficient, but not at the rate that Ben has been.
Kirk Hinrich's junior year was pretty crazy. The line of 54/48/81 is healthy any way you look at it. When you consider the fact that he was a guard, that's even more impressive. Kirk threw up 15 a game, and on the season had 546 points on 366 shots. That's 1.49 points per shot. That's really good. Take away his FTs (84) and he matches Walters with 1.26 points per FGA.
That's six of the greatest shooting seasons in the history of KU basketball, and of those, only one is superior to what Ben is doing - Rex Walters incredible 1991-92 season - and only two others (Manning in 86-87 and Hinrich in 01-02) are even on par. The rest (Chamberlain, Pierce, Collison) are clearly not as efficient as what Ben is doing right now.
The even crazier thing is this. Rex Walters season was so efficient because his shot selection went directly to his strengths - excellent three point shooter, only taking twos if they were wide open, or layups. 53% of his FGA were 3's. What Walters did in 1991-92 probably can't be duplicated. I know that I didn't appreciate how efficient Rex was at the time, but I definitely do now. And I am definitely going to appreciate how efficient Ben McLemore is playing on offense right now. It's gonna be a while before you see something like this again.
I haven't blogged on here in probably close to a year, but I figured I would take a look at next year's KU recruiting class while we are having fun rolling to another Big 12 title. I'm going to ignore possible additions to the class right now and just focus on the guys we have - Conner Frankamp, Wayne Selden, Joel Embiid, Frank Mason and Brannen Greene. I really like this class as it's currently constructed. If we add a PF type, that's icing, but there's plenty of cake to go around with this group.
Greene 6-7, 200, SG/SF - I think he's more of a "pure shooter" than a "pure scorer", but my goodness is that jumper pretty to look at. If you think McLemore's jumper is picturesque, wait for Brannen to show up in the Phog. The release is high, it's consistent, he finishes it nicely, he can catch and shoot or hit it off the bounce. I can't say enough good things about his shot. Now for what he's not. He's not a slasher. He can put it on the floor, but that's not his game. He's a shooter first, which is awesome, especially when you can stroke the jumper like he can. He's not super athletic, more of a smooth athlete than an explosive one, but his size and length should make him an adequate defender, particularly in college where he will see guys much smaller than he is. He won't blow by guys and dunk in traffic, but he could be the type of guy to hit 6 threes in a game. He will benefit from Hudy, as he's not a big kid right now and that will help him quite a bit.
Mason 5-11, 160, PG - He's a scoring PG, which is worrisome considering his size. He's quick and has the ability to finish, but his size makes me wonder how that will translate in college. He has good vision and seems to be very efficient with his shots and decision making. He's a good pace PG, meaning he knows how to push the ball without being out of control, and he can find his teammates in transition. Because he's such a scorer in HS, it's hard to figure how he would run an offense where he is not the primary scorer. He looks to have the handles and vision for it, but that's not really his role right now. I wish he were more of a ball hawk because at his size he can't just settle for being an okay on ball defender. He has the quickness to do so, but that type of thing requires a commitment that he hasn't been asked to make to this point.
Embiid 7-0, 220, C - Easily the guy I am most excited about because of his height, agility, balance and athleticism. He's a 7 footer that moves like a 6-7 guy. That's a huge compliment. Whereas most 7 footers lose some of their agility as they grow, he's similar to Hakeem Olajuwon not in skill, but in that he moves like a much smaller player. His skills are very raw, but that's to be expected for someone that has only been playing ball for a year. He should be an exceptional shotblocker right away. Offensively, his game is limited to dunks and short hooks, with a developing jump shot, but I think he will develop very quickly as he learns the game. Physically all of the skills are there, but he has to shape those into a basketball skill set. If anyone would have benefited from a year under Danny Manning, it would have been him, but that ship has sailed. Still, I see him as a very good defender right away (maybe even a great one with his agility) and a decent offensive player eventually. Hudy is probably excited to get to work with such a raw athlete like Embiid. If his work ethic is high, he may only be in Lawrence 2-3 years, but he will leave as a lottery pick.
Selden 6-5, 225, SG - Most on this board will cringe when I make this comparison, but this is a big compliment from me - Selden seems to be a bigger, stronger version of Josh Selby. The Selby I saw coming out of high school was quick, explosive, powerful, strong, great vision and shooting range and absolutely would rise up and cram on any defender foolish enough to challenge his attacks. Selden has all of the same tools and elements to his game - the explosiveness, the quickness, the range, the handles, the power, the vision - but he's 6-5, 225. He's a load on the perimeter. Unlike Greene, he absolutely will dunk on somebody's head in traffic. I think he looks to do that quite a bit, actually. He also reminds me a bit of Lance Stephenson in that his strength creates space that most others can't create for themselves. He could be an exceptional pure scorer. Obviously those tools should make him an exceptional defender, but the commitment on that end will take time and Bill Self coaching.
Frankamp 6-0, 160, PG - He can flat out fill it up. At the high school level, he's probably the most accomplished scorer in this group. He can shoot it, he can drive it, he can flat out put the ball in the basket. My concerns for him mirror my concerns about Frank Mason. At his size, can he do that in college? Similar to Mason, can he adapt from being the primary option to the primary distributor? He's a good passer, so I think it's likely he can, and will with the talent that will surround him here at KU. That leaves my only concern being his defense. His HS plays a ton of zone, so he doesn't have to guard the ball a whole lot. Obviously that will change in college. He's got a good hoops IQ and quick hands, so I think he should be a solid defender, maybe even an above average one, but again, his size will be at issue on that end against bigger guards, although with the size KU should have next year on the perimeter, that is much less an issue than it could otherwise be.
I have a problem with the NCAA scholarship process. The problem is the responsibility all falls on one party, while the rewards and control all go to the other.
The player must attend meetings, practices, get good grades, play well, etc. In return, they receive an athletic scholarship that pays tuition, board and a small stipend.
The university gets the rewards of having athletic teams (donors, gate receipts, concessions, public recognition, etc) and gets to decide if they will renew those scholarships every year. If a student decides they do not like a certain school, the school can decide whether or not they can transfer, or if they can transfer to certain schools or not and be offered scholarships at those places.
The next time someone says that D-1 athletes are just like other students on scholarship I want you to remember this – a student on an academic scholarship can decide that they don’t like the major offered at one school, or they want to go to a different school that has a different program and, if their grades are good enough, they are gone. They don’t have to wait for the English department to release them from their scholarship. They don’t have to petition the NCAA for a waiver. They can just pack up their stuff and apply to another school and that’s that. Athletes cannot do that. They have to be released, or apply for a waiver. If neither of those things happen, their only other option is to drop down a level (meaning a D-1 player can only go D-2, D-3 or NAIA, D-2’s can only go D-3 or NAIA).
Charlie Weis (allegedly) kicked Brock Berglund off the team, along with JaQwaylin Arps, Dexter McDonald, Darrian Miller, Adonis Saunders, and Keeston Terry. It is now rumored that KU is not releasing Berglund and that Miller is having trouble being granted his release as well. These players say they had informed the staff that they wanted to transfer, and the staff has indicated (by saying they kicked them off the team) that they don’t want them on the KU football team. So why not grant the releases? Only Travis Bodenstein has been granted a release to transfer and he has moved on to Arkansas State. Is KU not releasing the others because there’s a chance that Miller, Terry and McDonald all transfer to Mizzou (all were high on the Tigers before ultimately picking KU). Adonis Saunders to K-State or Iowa State maybe? Is KU worried that they could lose these guys to rivals and doesn’t want to look bad?
This isn’t an indictment of Weis so much as it is on the system. There was a coaching change. Recruits pick schools based on the coach. That coach isn’t there anymore, so they should be allowed to transfer if they so choose in my opinion. Coaches can take another job and coach there immediately. We don’t see Weis having to sit out a year after leaving Florida for the head job at KU. Sumlin left Houston for Texas A&M and will be on the sidelines there next year. Coaches can leave one job for another with no penalty. Athletes have to give up a year, and if they have already redshirted, they just lose that year of playing.
I sincerely hope that KU does the right thing and grants these releases. There’s no reason to keep these kids from pursuing their careers elsewhere if they are no longer wanted on the team at KU.
Over the course of this season, I have been thinking quite a bit about the construction of this team. When I looked at the squad in the Fall, the thing that I was most worried about was the lack of a true #1 scorer.
Every basketball team needs a number one scorer. This is the guy that gets the ball when everyone knows that the ball is going to him, and then he scores anyway. At least that’s what the best number one scorers do. But it’s more than that. Being the number one scorer is a responsibility. It’s knowing that you absolutely have to get your offensive game going every night. It’s knowing that even if you aren’t shooting the ball well, you need to get to the FT line, or get inside for buckets, or something because you HAVE to put points on the board. I worried that KU didn’t have that.
The best number one scorers have been number ones all their lives. Chamberlain, Abdul-Jabbar, Bird, Jordan, Iverson, Bryant, they all were number one scorers from their high school (and in some cases earlier) days on.
This KU team didn’t have that. Robinson was a rebounder/enforcer in high school. Yeah, he got his points, but his meal ticket in high school (and even now) is rebounding and bringing that D.C. toughness to the table. Tyshawn Taylor averaged about 10 points a game as a senior because he was the lead distributor on a D-1 talent laden roster. Jeff Withey was always just the tallest guy. Elijah Johnson was a guy that could score in bunches, but he was considered more of a combo guard than a true scorer.
And then I remembered that one guy on the team had been a number one scorer. One guy had gone for over 40 points as a freshman in a j.v. game while in high school. One guy had been the guy that they gave the ball to even when everyone knew he was getting the ball – Travis Releford.
It’s been a long time coming for Travis. Barely playing, then redshirted, then battling injuries, and now, finally healthy and at the top of his game. Congratulations Travis. And hopefully, the best is yet to come.
Charlie Weis? Really, Charlie Weis?
Ok, let's think about this for a minute.
Charlie Weis is a brilliant offensive coordinator. He has run successful offenses in the NFL, and had some pretty solid attacks at Notre Dame on a couple of occasions. He has a reputation of being great with young quarterbacks and he doesn't bring a lot of baggage to the table. These are all good things.
That said, he failed as a coach at Notre Dame. He has said that he "doesn't like recruiting." He has said that he "doesn't like making appearances at booster events." He's not a defensive coach. These are all not so good things.
Great offensive coach/ poor defensive coach is a wash. The right coordinator and position coaches can make up for that, so that is not a concern. Lack of baggage is good. I will grant him a pass on struggling at Notre Dame because nobody has really won at Notre Dame since Lou Holtz left.
I'm even okay with him not being a rah rah pep rally booster event fund raiser type. It's alright to have a coach that isn't a fundraiser and public speaker, as long as his X's and O's are solid.
That said, how can you hire someone to coach at the University of Kansas when he doesn't like to recruit? This isn't Texas, where you can walk into a school with a UT polo on and convince top flight players to commit on the spot. This isn't Florida, where you have D-1 caliber athletes tripping over each other at every high school in the state. This isn't a name school like Alabama or USC or even Notre Dame, where you can recruit purely off the name.
This is Kansas. We have to recruit. We have to recruit night and day. We have to out scout and out work and out recruit other schools. We have to scout hard and recruit hard and sell hard to convince a kid to ignore Texas, and A&M and the mad hatter at LSU and Nick Saban at Alabama and Arkansas and medium sized game Bob Stoops at Oklahoma and Boone Pickens money at Oklahoma State and 100,000 screaming fans at Michigan or Ohio State or the sunshine at Florida or USC or any of those other things so he can play football on the hill in Lawrence. You have to have a DRIVE to do that, and outrecruit those names and those traditions and those locations and the homesickness and everything else that pops up along the way. Charlie Weis has said he DOES NOT HAVE THAT. Is it fair to tell Reggie Mitchell that he isn't the head coach, won't be paid like a head coach, but that he has to get recruits here because the head coach doesn't really enjoy that part of his job? Really? Really?!?!
The other issues with Charlie Weis I can ignore because they aren't really that important. But half the job of being a college football coach is RECRUITING. Charlie Weis DOES NOT LIKE RECRUITING. I'd argue that 60-70% of the job at KU is RECRUITING and we are set to hire a coach that doesn't like to do that.
I'm baffled. I hope my gut feeling is wrong. I really sincerely do. Will we be looking for a new coach in December 2014 or 2015? And how bare will the cupboard be then?
Turner Gill is gone. I am sure that statement makes some individuals happier than others, but either way, the deed is done. Now is the time to move on.
However, we have a problem here. Who will be the next coach? The way I see it, you can see if you can land an established name, go after a hot coordinator, or try and get an up and comer from a smaller conference.
I laid out the problems with those briefly in my last post, but want to go over them again in a little more detail here. For an established coach, KU isn’t that attractive of an option. Programwise, KU is no better than seventh in its own conference as far as resources and attractiveness, behind Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State, West Virginia, TCU, and Texas Tech. K-State has been more successful, but doesn’t have nearly the resources as those other schools. Baylor doesn’t have the resources or the sustained success, although being in Texas is a HUGE plus for them. Iowa State is at the bottom of this list any way you slice it.
So why would an established coach take on the KU job unless they have some serious baggage (Mike Leach) or were unceremoniously excused from their previous job because of W’s and L’s (Phil Fulmer, Houston Nutt). Out of that group, Nutt is probably the best coach, but there’s no proof that he would want to come to KU. Leach has so much baggage that he probably shouldn’t even be considered (and yet somehow he’s the favorite). And Fulmer isn’t even being mentioned for open SEC jobs yet, so there have to be questions about his interest in coaching at all, let alone at KU. Sure, there are other guys out there that have coaching experience in BCS conferences (Jim Leavitt – too much baggage, Mike Stoops – not enough success), but they don’t exactly improve the overall field. For that reason, I think hiring a coach with BCS experience is unlikely. If Nutt is willing to take the job, sure, come on down. The rest are shaky moves at best, and unless you want another coaching search kicking off in December 2014, they aren’t the best ideas.
Looking at the up and coming coaches, you have to wonder if any of them would even consider KU a possibility. They are currently kings of campus where they are at. If they come to KU, they know that they may only have a 2-3 year window to get things turned around. Depending on how they feel about the talent Gill has brought in, they may think that’s enough, but it’s a dicey call. And regardless, you would have to think that Chris Petersen, Troy Calhoun, Kevin Sumlin and Dave Doeren all have a much easier task at their current school, with less pressure, than they would have at KU, where it is clear that the right donors (with the right money) can orchestrate your ouster rather quickly. I’m not saying that this doesn’t happen at other schools, because it does. However, when you are in a position of trying to build a program, that doesn’t help the attractiveness of your school to have donors that can bully a coach out the door after only a couple of seasons.
On a side note, as much as I like Kevin Sumlin (I wanted him to get the job when Gill was hired) I really don’t want him to take this job now. He has a good situation at Houston and this KU situation is tenuous at best. I’m not sure that he could rally support from the key donors and boosters right now, and he would probably have the shortest amount of leeway among any coaching candidate. So I hope he stays at Houston or gets a shot at another BCS school.
For the coordinators, its really simple. Right now, they are on staffs of perennial top 10 teams. Coming to KU is building from the ground up. The last four years the program has been in decline – yes, I said the last four. Mangino’s last two years showed that the foundation was cracked and giving way. Gill has put in a solid foundation with young talent, but there’s nothing other than the foundation here. So would Venables want to leave his stable of talent at OU for a shaky situation at KU (and have to go down to Norman next season, too)? Would Smart want to leave Bama, where they will almost certainly be in the hunt for a BCS bowl again next season for Lawrence and try to figure out how to calm the masses by beating K-State?
And remember, every single one of these candidates also will be considering the fact that they could get pushed out if the right people aren’t happy with the progress after 2-3 years. For the current coaches and coordinators, that’s a pretty high risk situation. Add to that the tenuous nature of the Big X(II), and KU may not be the most attractive landing spot for a coaching candidate right now, particularly those in non-BCS conferences who could take the KU job, then wind up in the Mountain West a couple years from now if the Big X(II) really implodes.
This situation isn't any easier today than it was with Gill as head coach, and the wrong decision could cripple KU football for the next decade.
The season is early and tonight’s game is a pretty big one, but we know a few things about this team so far.
First, we know that we can play 8-9 guys, but that our success is directly tied to our top 3. If Robinson, Johnson and Taylor play well, we can stay with just about anyone. If any one of the three struggles, we are in for a long night. Against elite (top 10) level competition, we are going to rely on these three and they absolutely have to respond.
Second, we know about what we are going to get from our interior players not named Thomas Robinson. The trio of Withey, Wesley and Young will give us some solid minutes. They will rebound a little bit. Withey will block some shots. Ultimately, we are going to be hoping for about 55 mpg, 55% shooting, 12-15 rebounds, 2 blocks and 10-12 points. Anything more will be gravy. If one of these three emerges, we could have a deep tournament run, but that remains to be seen. Still, they will be at least solid night in and night out.
Third, we know that when we need a bucket, we will be looking at Taylor or Johnson to create. In the three tough games so far this year (not counting Towson), when we have needed to score the ball has gone out top to either Taylor or Johnson and they have been looking to create off the dribble. Other than Sherron’s junior year, that hasn’t been the preferred Bill Self method, but that looks to be our best option. T-Rob is really better as a scorer when he can turn, face up and use his quickness, particularly because he isn’t as natural a jump shooter as someone like Marcus Morris, and he isn’t as big as a guy like Cole Aldrich. He’s got an array of moves, but T-Rob has never been a #1 scorer, and I’m not sure he’s comfortable in that role. That’s okay, because he will still average a double double and be an All-American, but when we need to stop a run, or get a big hoop down the stretch, we are probably going to see Johnson or Taylor creating off the bounce.
Fourth, we know that we will need Releford AND Teahan to hit open perimeter shots. This kind of goes without saying. Some thought that Teahan alone could be our designated shooter, and to some degree, he still is because Travis is a natural slasher. However, Travis has worked on his shot, and it shows. We will need him to continue to knock down his open opportunities. In addition, we need Conner to start using his pump fake to get one dribble and knock down the 17 footer. Everybody knows that he’s a terrific three point marksman, and they are going to do everything they can to run him off that shot. The counter is the Bobby Knight approved pump fake, one hard dribble and the jump shot. Conner’s such a pure shooter that if he can slow down the challenge even a little because they have to consider the shot fake as a weapon, he can still get up 2-3 threes per game (which is where he will be most dangerous).
Finally, this team needs Travis Releford to be the “fill-in-the-blanks” guy. Some nights, that will be upping his scoring from 8 or so into the 12-15 range. Other nights it will be locking down the opponent’s best wing scorer. Other nights, we will need him to grab 8-10 boards. Travis’ role this year is going to be doing whatever the big 3 aren’t doing that night (scoring, rebounding, passing, defending, saving possessions, getting floorburns, etc.). It’s a tough role to have, because the expectation will change without warning.
Right now, my prediction for KU is 26 wins, Big XII regular season champs, loss in the conference semis, Sweet Sixteen. I don’t know that we have enough Elite Level talent to beat a 1 or 2 seed right now, but I am willing to revise after I see what happens tonight against Duke, and on Dec. 10 (Ohio State).
This time next week, there's a good chance that KU football will be in the market for a head coach. Those of you that have read my comments know that I have been in Coach Gill's corner since he was hired. I am still generally supportive of his plan, although it goes without saying that his results have been very poor.
The question now is whether a coaching change will help or hurt KU in both the short and long runs. I am unsure on both fronts.
In the short term...
Yes, a coaching change will probably pump life into the program, even if it is only very briefly. A change will appease a large portion of alums, boosters and fans frustrated by the blowout losses. Those are all good things.
On the other hand, though, a coaching change after only two years on the job for Coach Gill is a red flag for any potential coaching candidate out there. Remember, Gill inherited a KU team that was losing its all time leading passer, top two receivers, it's #2 rusher from the previous season, the entire LB corps and its top DB (and defensive leader). This from a team that had gone 5-7 (1-7). Yes the losses have been embarassing, but was there any way to predict that KU would have done better than 3-9 or 4-8 last year anyway regardless of coaching? Would a young KU team have done much better than 3 wins this season, regardless of coaching? And regardless of the answer to those two questions, will any established coach (Houston Nutt or the equivalent), or any up and coming coordinator (Brent Venerables or the equivalent) want to risk his job security knowing that he will only have a 2 year window to improve on field results?
Further, Gill has, by all accounts, done very well on the recruiting trail. Will axing him harm the relationships built by this staff with key coaches in Texas, Missouri, Oklahoma, and here in Kansas?
Moving to the long term...
If KU can't land a big name (and it's unlikely that we will), there is no guarantee that we won't be pondering another change in 2-3 years. To have the program on its 4th coach in less than 7 years could be potentially devastating long term.
Missouri moving to the SEC changes their recruiting dynamic. The change of the Big XII structure alters the scheduling considerations for KU. Simply put, we have to be prepared for a Big XII world where we have to match up with OU, Texas, TCU and OSU every single year. There will be no backing into the Big XII title game, as KSU has done before. There will be no magical run to the BCS without having to play any of the other traditional powers like we did in 2008. That means that we have to legitimately plan to compete with those schools, and the only way we can do that is to recruit against them.
I don't know if Turner Gill will be head coach after this weekend.
I don't know if he's the right man for the job.
I don't even know if there is a legitimate replacement out there.
I do know that if he is fired, that's where the questions really begin.
I haven't had time to lead up to the Who Can Win it All series this year, but I still want to do at least a couple. Part of the problem is it has taken quite a bit of time to figure this year out in college hoops. Teams have struggled. Injuries have mounted. Some leagues are extremely deep (Big East, Big 12). Some leagues are very shallow (Pac 10). And then there are leagues that look deep, but really aren't (SEC, Big 10, ACC).
If ever there was a year that mid major teams could make some serious noise, this is that year. Every team is flawed, some significantly. Every team is vulnerable. And with the way injuries have been going this year, unless you are really deep, I can't really put too much into any one team. That said, Contenders are still the top dogs, Threats are the next group and Pretenders are the overranked teams.
One side note that I think has to be mentioned here.
The point of emphasis on swinging elbows has been a big thing in college hoops this year. At least one major NCAA game will turn because a prominent player gets the showers after the officials review the video, and it will cost a team a game. That's part of what makes this so tough. A game could change depending on what the officiating crew sees in slow motion video, and there is no way to predict that because every crew enforces the intent part differently.
Contenders 1. Ohio State - They are still undefeated and Sullinger is a horse inside, ensuring that they can score in the half court. They are very good defensively, too. They are really vulnerable to the officiating though, because if Sullinger and Lighty aren't available, their offense could bog down against a good team.
Kansas - They can score on anybody. That shouldn't be a problem. Surprisingly, the problem is that this team (a Bill Self team) is just ok on defense. That scares me come March, when getting stops will be at a premium.
Texas - They can score, and they can protect the basket. The thing that hurts them is that Rick Barnes occasionally gets in the way of the talent on the floor. Still, they should be in every game, and if they start rolling, they have the talent to run all the way to Houston.
Duke - They have the scoring punch, and come March, it's guaranteed that no matter where they go, they will get the calls. Every team in the country should be afraid of that. I know I am worried that if KU sees Duke in the national semifinal that Marcus could get tossed for an incidental elbow while fighting Kyle Singler for a rebound. Ohio State and Texas should have much the same concern.
Threats 1. San Diego State - They are one of those mid majors that I think can legitimately think about going to Houston. They should stay out west for most of their games, meaning they will have an advantage if they catch an east coast team in an afternoon game.
BYU - Jimmer Fredette is the key here. Because he's not a big, he doesn't have to worry about fouls or elbows nearly as much as the inside guys who will be fighting for rebounds and position on every play. And every night, you have to worry about him going for 35. It's like Steph Curry, except with better supporting players.
Pitt - They will come out of the Big East as battle tested as anyone. They defend great. The issue, as it has been for the last few years, is can they score when they absolutely have to against a team intent on locking them up. If I knew the answer was yes, they would be one category higher. If I knew the answer would be no, they would be one category lower. Since I don't know, they are here.
Pretenders 1. Notre Dame - They are probably the fifth best team in the Big East, but right now, they are somehow a few spots up. I am guessing that will change in the coming weeks.
Wisconsin - always tough at home, always solid on the road, but again, can they score? I know they can defend, but their lack of punch makes me think they are ripe for an upset, especially since they can't overwhelm you with sheer talent.
Purdue - Just not healthy enough. Come March, they will need Robbie Hummel, and they won't have him.
Teams I have no idea what to do with, but wouldn't want to play in March 1. Tennessee - They are simply too talented to be the mess that they are. If they make the tournament as a 8-10 seed, be very wary of them. 2. K-State - see above. Also, they will defend. Even if you beat them, you will work to do it, and that could be your undoing in the next round. 3. Kentucky - If they put it all together, they can beat anybody. They aren't as talented as last year, but they have more shooters and still possess an ok inside game. And of course, Calipari has gone deep in the tournament with less talent than he has this year at UK. 4. Arizona - they gave KU fits, and they have two elite level players. That could be enough to win a couple of tournament games, maybe more, or flame out in the first round. 5. George Mason, Wichita State, St. Mary's, Temple, Xavier, Utah State - two of those teams will get seeded too low and pull upsets. I just don't know which two yet.
As always, discuss.