Posted on: January 3, 2011 12:20 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2011 12:37 pm
Posted by Matt Norlander
There was one time Chris Mack was a part of a team that was down to nine scholarship players. It was during his sophomore year of college at Evansville.
But as a coach? This has been hellish, unprecedented and daunting, to say the least.
“We just have to deal with the circumstances at hand," Mack said. "As I told our guys, no one’s going to feel sorry."
Well, I will. That OK, coach?
“A lot of people are making a bigger issue out of it than it needs to be,” he said.
Well ... all right. Still, let's reset just all that's gone wrong with this team in the past three months, and I won't even include the team's travel issues in this timeline. It's pretty clear 2011 couldn't get here fast enough.
Oct. 24: Brad Redford, one of the team's most vital long-distance shooters, tears his ACL and is done for the season.
Oct. 25: The next day, Xavier is informed Justin Martin, a player immediately expected to help replace Redford's production, is ineligible. That ineligibility will last the entire season. Why? He is ruled a "partial qualifier," meaning he can be on scholarship and practice, but can't suit up for games. Paired with the Redford injury, this puts Xavier down to 10 scholarship players before it's played a game.
Nov. 2: The hits keep coming. Literally. Senior forward Jamel McLean is ruled out for four to six weeks after he cracks an orbital socket around his eye in an exhibition game. McLean makes it sooner than expected, however.
Nov. 6: Bellarmine, a D-II school, beats the Musketeers in an exhibition.
Dec. 1: Xavier takes its first really bad loss of the season, losing by 11 to sub-.500 Miami University.
Dec. 28: X can't get out of 2010 without any more harm; Jay Canty, another player who was needed to replace Redford, is ruled out four to six weeks with a stress fracture in his right foot.
Dec. 31: Twenty-ten ends on a particularly sour note when wobbly Florida beats X to end the 'Eers' 30-game win streak at the Cintas Center.
Through all of this, Mack never made an excuse or allowed his team to.
“We are a different team than maybe when the ship set sail in October, but it doesn’t mean we can’t be a successful team," the Xavier coach told me over the phone last week. "Kids are going to have to play more minutes. We have to play with higher expectations.”
Xavier, once considered to be at the top of the Atlantic 10 — along with Temple — is now an 8-4 team that's prepping for its passionate intra-city battle against undefeated Cincinnati later this week before conference play begins Sunday at Rhode Island.
Because of all the injuries, Mack’s only been effectively playing seven guys, and it's clear the Musketeers will need to lean on them as much as possible to tread water and hope big wins come soon. Jordan Latham, a freshman, has improved, according to Mack. (He's yet to earn significant playing minutes, it should be noted.)
Amid the bumpy ride, Mack's been open and honest with this group about the challenges and what can still be achieved.
"As a coach, you’re constantly assessing on where your team’s at. You’re open and honest with them. The injuries are no different in that regard," he said. "They understand their role may change a little bit. The expectation you have from them may change a little bit.”
That includes something that's often overlooked: egos, and how they're affected by playing time, substitutions, etc.
"We now have to make sure we always have experience on the floor," Mack said. "We’ve had to watch our substitution patterns. We have to have experience on the defensive end. We’re dealing with a limited deck, so we have to be sure of who's out there.”
Perspective is something the often-humorous coach has gone back to with himself, his coaches and his players. The depleted roster is the go-to topic after every game. But the team is doing better, resume-wise, than about 85 percent of other teams in college basketball. And plenty of opportunities remain.
“It’s going to make us tougher. Hopefully it’ll harden our mental toughness,” Mack said. “I told my guys, 'If this is the worst thing that happens to you in your life, you’re going to have a great life.'”
Posted on: January 3, 2011 10:19 am
Edited on: January 3, 2011 11:29 am
Posted by Eric Angevine
"I was just trying to get (assistant coach) Tony Jones some reps."
"Josh had 23 points and 14 rebounds? Oh my gosh."
Hot Seat: Trent Johnson, LSU
If anyone made his seat hotter this week, it's LSU's Trent Johnson. The man who won 80 games in a difficult recruiting environment at Stanford probably thought winning in Baton Rouge would be a piece of cake, but things have gone downhill since his first season with the purple and gold, which ended in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Last year there was no postseason bid at all, and this season looks much the same. The Tigers are 8-7, and this week's road trip, with a short turnaround between playing Rice in Houston on December 29th and then Virginia in Charlottesville on January 2nd, didn't do him any favors, as both ended in losses to very beatable teams.
Louisiana State fired John Brady two years after he reached a Final Four. How much patience will they have with Johnson? The road trip continues on Saturday with a trip to the terrible, horrible, no-good Auburn Tigers. If that game ends in a loss, Tiger fans will be howling for Johnson's head on a platter.
Posted on: January 3, 2011 9:37 am
Posted by Matt Norlander
How is a college basketball player's three-game suspension over discounted clothing comparable to an NFL player's multi-year jail sentence for killing dogs?
It's not, but Jacob Pullen was trying to find an analogy that worked.
In his first meeting (since his suspension was handed down) with the press a few days ago, Pullen addressed his careless mistake, owned it completely and shared some personal information, like when he promised his mom he'd never miss another basketball game over an elibigility problem after he was forced to sit when he was a freshman in high school.
But the money quote was his self-catalyzed comparison to Vick, who remains to be a figure athletes from all arenas continue to admire. In that sense, this quote from the K-State guard isn't surprising:
"I kind of feel like Michael Vick in some ways. I feel like I've got something to prove again. I feel like people doubt what I've done and feel like that I shouldn't be in a place that I've been in," Pullen said. "I feel like now is a reason for me to show them I worked hard for everything that's came my way and everything that this team has gotten. It really makes you hungry again, and I feel like God did it for a reason."
Can you empathize with where Pullen's coming from? I can. The 21-year-old has become a player of lore in Manhattan, Kansas, in the past year and a half. There's a lot of weight on those shoulders that so often shake off defenders and ball screens all night long.
From most accounts, Pullen's a smart guy (which made the clothing fiasco all the more befuddling), and his comments, re: Vick, could be taken out of context pretty easily. I won't be doing that, but I will say bringing up Michael Vick's name when waxing about redemption stories still remains a sensitive issue.
And Vick has had to overcome so much more than Pullen. But athletes need to self-motivate. I get that. To wit:
"It's good to be back on the bad side," Pullen said. "Now it's just giving me a reason to go out and beat everybody."
As for the rest of the eight-minute press conference, Pullen said he found out about his suspension an hour before tip-off, and that "the NCAA sees everything."
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: January 3, 2011 8:32 am
Edited on: January 3, 2011 8:46 am
Posted by Matt Norlander
• This is something those in the business a call a must-read.
• Kentucky ups the fan ante, updates Obama with a letter about Enes Kanter.
• The UConn women's streak is over at 90, as you know. But read the lede from the New York Times' take. Just a meat-and-potatoes graf that will capture the essence of the time and place when it's read 20, 30 years down the road.
• Goodman compartmentalizes the remaining unbeatens into three categories. He doesn't believe in UCF. I do, and will have more on the Knights, win or lose, by week's end.
• We can gripe with Boss Parrish: Still no way UConn's a top-seven team in the nation, man! Slide those Huskies to the mid-teens by next week, please.
• Last night, Virginia Tech got the biggest win, by margin, it will have all season.
• If you're a betting degenerate (a term used with jocularity around these parts), then you probably already know the five toughest conferences to bet on.
• Auburn basketball is enjoying a three-game win streak. It best enjoy it; I'm not seeing how such a streak happens again for the rest of the season.
• Jereme Richmond is helping a Big Ten team become even more legitimate inside. Do you know who Richmond plays for?
• And a different kind of Richmond's been a let-down this season. Tough way to blow it against Bucknell yesterday.
• Bigger sign of Central Florida's success? The four-star player who committed to the program over the weekend.
• Simple gamer on Boston College's win over South Carolina over the weekend. But can you tell the primary headline writers got the weekend off? Is going to bed before midnight on New Year's Eve "going to great lengths"?
• Agreed, Mr. Miller, but yet again this is a fun team to watch do its thing.
• Looking back, and forward, at what the college hoops calendar has presented.
• What went down in the past two months in the Summit League? You should be aware, and you can find out here.
• There could be other records falling at Duke this year, too.
Few things are cooler in college hoops (heck, all sports) than great plays in scene through the lens of extreme slow motion. (H/T here to friends at BIAH)
Posted on: January 3, 2011 12:58 am
Posted by Matt Norlander
This is not how reputations are mended.
The 12-2 Arizona Wildcats just went into Corvallis and did the worst thing they could have done (other than get stuck in Corvallis): lost.
Not good at all for 'Zona, which probably will now claw with other wannabes in the conference to earn the No. 2 spot come the end of the regular season. That kind of finish will hardly guarantee an NCAA berth, even with the field expanding to 68 teams this March.
The Pac-10 is believed to be improved from last season (not hard to do; the Pac-10 was at an all-time low last year year), but these kinds of results are horrifying and hurting the conference's credibility as a whole.
Oregon State was 6-6 entering this game, its six losses coming to teams that were a combined two games under .500, and that's with the help of a couple paper tigers like Colorado and Montana. Where Arizona goes from here, we'll see. But Derrick Williams must get more involved and the team can't lack the focus or energy it so clearly did tonight.
The bright spot — the game did produce a hell of a highlight. Here's Beaver Jared Cunningham with a sick one-handed put-back in traffic (via @bubbaprog) . It's so springy.
Posted on: January 2, 2011 8:37 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2011 3:38 pm
Posted by Matt Jones
Going into the last really irrelevant Sunday of the college basketball season, I saw nothing of interest in the afternoon games and assumed that we could go through the evening with little fanfare. But, as seems to always be the case, the best moment came from the least likely source, as the story of the day took place during the waning moments of the Tennessee State-Memphis game. With Memphis having already embarrassed itself by being up only five after a legitimate battle with a mediocre OVC school, the Tigers took a collective team poll and thought, "what could we do to make this already forgettable game become a national story, all the while spurring a whole series of writers to pontificate on the chaos in the program? Oh yeah, I know! Lets start a fight with the other team and then watch as the wife of one of our biggest boosters gets kicked out of the arena in the process!"
The incident started with a scuffle between the two teams after Memphis's Antonio Barton was knocked down on a fastbreak by Tennessee State's Kenny Moore. No punches were thrown, but the players began the usual jawing back and forth and even added the requisite notice that if one were to engage in future behavior to which he found objectionable, there would be a high price to pay indeed my dear sir. The ensuing chaos resulted in the ejection of the Tigers' Tarik Black for leaving the bench area and led to the rather odd sight of coach Josh Pastner grabbing Will Barton and performing a mini-bodyslam that might have even taken down Andre the Giant at Wrestlemania III. Cooler heads then prevailed on the court, but the injection of juice into the arena could not be contained in the stands as the wife of a Memphis booster began yelling at Moore and, according to this tweet by a fairly famous witness (Penny Hardaway) , told him he should "choke on his mouthpiece" for the hard foul on Barton. What ensued was sheer hilarity as the booster's wife became enraged, threw her pom-pom in utter disgust and was ejected from the arena by referee Mark Whitehead. Her departure from the arena was caught on the video above and immediately placed her among the potential first ballot nominees for the Fan-Player Interaction Hall of Fame.
As for Memphis, I will leave it to the other columnists to tell you how its 11-2 team seems on the verge of combustion. With Central Florida and UAB grabbing the headlines, Memphis is now in danger of not only losing its spot as a national story (that probably happened when John Calipari departed), but also getting lost in the shuffle in Conference USA. What is much more important to me however, is what happens with the lovely lady who was sent packing with a minute to go. Will she be allowed in future Memphis games? Does her rumored wealthy donor husband now have to up his yearly donation, or promise to no longer attend games with his wife, in order to maintain his prime seats. These are the real stories that matter and will be the focus of the College Basketball Blog's investigation in the days to come.
Posted on: January 1, 2011 5:43 pm
Edited on: January 1, 2011 5:45 pm
Posted by Eric Angevine
Posted on: January 1, 2011 3:25 pm
Edited on: January 1, 2011 3:42 pm
Posted by Matt Jones
At halftime of yesterday's Kentucky-Louisville game, CBS's Seth Davis sat down with Bruce Pearl to talk about the NCAA investigation that is swirling around the Tennessee program. Pearl has admitted to the NCAA that he gave false information when confronted with evidence of a relatively minor rules violation committed by he and his staff during a recruiting visit. Seth confronted Pearl about the issues and asked how he would respond to viewers who believed that he was a liar. His answer, which can be seen above in the video, in many ways makes him look even worse than he did before the question.
Pearl responded with a classic Bill Clinton "it depends on what the definition of 'is' is" answer and attempted to draw a distinction between not telling the truth and being a liar. It came off to me as totally disingenuous, and I am actually a huge Bruce Pearl fan. Rather than just totally accepting responsiblity and acknowledging that his actions were totally unacceptable, Pearl still tries to hold out some hope that his actions can be looked at differently, and detached from the actual Bruce Pearl. With Bruce, and anyone else for that matter, that is impossible.
The fact is Bruce, based on your actions with the NCAA, you were a liar. It is up to you to show that you are not a liar going forward. Drawing distinctions between Bruce Pearl the individual and Bruce Pearl's actions does nothing to change that reality.