Last week we introduced a new weekly column that will provide insider information, interesting stories, videos, photos, stats to know, game picks and lots more. Read all about it here, in the first edition. This is the Court Report.
Monday's big unveiling of the NET rankings brought a lot of backlash -- probably more than even the NCAA was expecting. Nate Silver going out of his way to trash your rankings and deem them the worst of any type in sports, ever, will only harshen and hasten the discussion.
So will having Loyola Marymount ranked 10th, Belmont 12th, Radford 22nd ... and Kentucky 61st.
But it's key to keep in mind that the NET, which I'm willing to wager will get tweaked in the coming years, is not a ranking system that takes any preseason projections or forecasts into account. Because of that, it's going off a relatively small dataset. That's in part how you get Ohio State first and Loyola Marymount 10th. It's also how Oregon can drop 60-plus spots in one day after losing to a SWAC team. Volatile results drastically change rankings when everyone's not even 10 games deep into a schedule. I can't explain it all to you, but I can say that the long-lambasted RPI is no better.
A year ago, this was the top five in the RPI three weeks into the season:
1. Texas A&M
While Duke went on to earn a No. 2 seed, Texas A&M eventually slipped to a No. 7 seed and Missouri landed on the No. 8 line. (Vermont and Temple missed the NCAAs altogether.)
"No one was complaining back then about releasing the RPI (early)," senior vice president of NCAA men's basketball Dan Gavitt told me. "This is a year-long education process on a brand new metric."
And this season? Here's where we are with the RPI's top 10 today:
2. Georgia Southern
4. St. John's
5. Loyola Marymount
The Citadel is 17th. Kentucky is 84th. How quickly we forget, huh?
I'm of the opinion that the NCAA would have been better served to wait a full month into the season, at least, and deliver the rankings after college football's conference championships had wrapped and college hoops was in the doldrums of finals week, when buzzy games are much harder to come by. But Gavitt said publishing the NET rankings 20 days into the season, right after the conclusion of all the Thanksgiving-week multi-team events, was the plan all along.
"The thought behind this is let's be consistent with what we've done in the past," Gavitt said. "The effort here is to be transparent, to share, educate, and that's why this date was decided upon. Secondarily, and not where the decision was made, but in my thinking about it a little today, we're constantly thinking about how we market the game, promote the game, promote the tournament, and we're in about as busy a time period in the sports year as you can get to in this country. College football's regular season, the championship games next weekend, week 12 of the NFL, the NBA. I don't think it's a bad thing to have some discussion -- good, bad or indifferent -- about college basketball, the tournament, when it otherwise might get drowned out."
So it wasn't what drove this decision, but it is a beneficial offshoot. Gavitt added that those who were part of the efforts to get the NET running had "a little anxiety" in the build-up to its release. And for the critics who claim it could have waited another week or two or three, he added, "I would flip and say that the question that could come the other way is: What if we didn't. 'Why not? Why are you trying to hide it?'"
The NCAA wants the rankings out now so people can react, discuss, critique -- and the powers-that-be affiliated with the NET can learn from it. Everyone associated with the NET knew the debut would have outliers attached to it. These rankings were not, and won't be for at least a month, expected to look close to KenPom.com, the Sagarin Ratings, KPI, BPI and others.
"In any rankings system when you've played less than 20 percent of the season, you're going to have some head-scratchers," Gavitt said. "This is a year-long education process. I think we feel comfortable with the decisions to date and we'll continue to evaluate it. This is very much a forward-looking analytic. We're trying to track all of this and evaluate it for the future as we go along. We are not going to make any changes to the NET during the season. It wouldn't be until after the season, after selections, that we consider any tweaks, and don't anticipate those right now, but will certainly evaluate it."
I asked Gavitt if there was consideration to publishing the final ranking for 2017-18 in the NET, which the NCAA has on hand. He said that specific discussion hasn't been had but he would take it into consideration. If it's done, it could ease the fever around the NET.
"There's a lot of questions about transparency and sharing information," Gavitt said. "This is what it's all about. There's certainly, just like the RPI, there's not enough games for it all to make sense [in late November], but not starting to share it would potentially lead people to make up things in their mind that are just not accurate, like there's something to hide here or we're not being as open as we've tried to be about the committee's resources."
And as for Ohio State, I reached out to coach Chris Holtmann shortly after OSU debuted atop the NET echelon. He essentially said this stuff makes for good media fodder, but "it's nonsense" for Ohio State right now. He's right, of course.
"Way too early for any of this," Holtmann said. "We are 136th in turnover percentage and 168th in defensive rebounding. (That's) all I care about right now."
Garland injury could doom Vanderbilt
The biggest injury of college basketball's season so far is Vanderbilt guard Darius Garland's meniscus tear, which required surgery and thus almost certainly ended his freshman season in Nashville. Garland is a local talent and was arguably the most important basketball recruit in the program's history. He's that good.
Vanderbilt coach Bryce Drew told me on Saturday that the initial outlook was optimistic, that it might only be a short-term injury that kept Garland out into late December or early January. But further tests concluded surgery was required, and Tuesday brought the bad news. Now Garland, a projected lottery pick, will rehab in the ensuing three months.
"Sickening," Drew told CBS Sports on Tuesday. "Rough. Wants to play. Such a great kid."
Prior to the Kent State game that he was injured in, Garland was averaging 19.7 points, 4.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists. He was unquestionably a top-10 freshman in the first three weeks of the season. Without him, Vandy will rely on Saben Lee and Max Evans, neither of which plays natural point guard, to step up in Garland's stead. Tough to say it, but Garland's injury could well be the thing that keeps Vanderbilt out of the NCAA Tournament.
Self believes De Sousa ruling coming sooner than later
After Kansas' win against Tennessee on Friday night at the Barclays Center, I asked Kansas coach Bill Self if there was any update to the status or outlook of sophomore forward Silvio De Sousa, who is being held out by the school due to eligibility concerns. At that time, there was nothing.
But Self did say he thinks a verdict on De Sousa shouldn't carry over for more than half the length of this season.
"We're not in a holding pattern," Self said, referring to Kansas waiting on the NCAA.
I asked Self if he thought the timeline was unknown to the point that it could come as quickly as in a couple of days or as long as two months.
"I don't think it will be the latter, but I don't think it will be [the former] either," he said.
When I tossed out the possibility that an answer comes around Christmastime, Self said, "Nobody's told us that, but that's kind of the feel I get."
De Sousa's eligibility has been subject to review in light of former Adidas consultant T.J. Gassnola testifying under oath that he helped facilitate a payment to De Sousa's guardian, who also allegedly accepted tens of thousands of dollars when it was believed De Sousa would initially commit to Maryland.
As for Kansas ... why isn't it No. 1?
This is an oddity worth pointing out.
The Jayhawks were the preseason No. 1 team in the AP Top 25. They're still undefeated and have two wins over two top-10 teams on neutral courts. And yet, Kansas is no longer No. 1 and hasn't been since Nov. 11. First, Kansas was leapfrogged by Duke in the first week of the poll in the regular season. And this week, Gonzaga bumped past the Jayhawks because it beat ... Duke.
Kansas' biggest issue, it seems, is that it hasn't played the Blue Devils.
It's just a bit weird. I don't violently disagree with keeping Kansas at No. 2, but you'd expect a non-traditional school -- a team that seldom gets to No. 1 -- to be subject to this kind of treatment. The fact that Kansas is the school being held at No. 2 is curious. I don't want to get too conspiratorial, but I wonder if some AP voters have held the federal trial stuff against Kansas just a little bit and if that's played into KU being ever so slightly suppressed in the polls.
Individual scoring is up-up-up!
College basketball has an elite bucket-getter or two every season, but it's been a long time since a sizable portion of players put up big scoring averages. Last season, three players finished with a scoring average of 25.0 points or higher: Oklahoma's Trae Young (27.4), Oakland's Kendrick Nunn (25.9) and Central Arkansas' Jordan Howard (25.1). The previous season also had three. The season before that, in 2015-16, only James Daniel of Howard and Buddy Hield of Oklahoma averaged 25.0 points or better.
But this season is off to a blazing start. There are 11 guys who've managed 25 per game or better, led by Campbell's Chris Clemons, fresh off dropping 45 on Georgetown over the weekend. Clemons is averaging 33.8 points, best in college hoops, and is trailed by Detroit Mercy's Antoine Davis (30.0) in second place. Here are the rest:
- Robert Franks, Washington State (28.3)
- Martaveous Mcknight, Arkansas-Pine Bluff (28.0)
- Justin Wright-Foreman, Hofstra (27.8)
- Ja Morant, Murray State (27.8)
- Jermaine Marrow, Hampton (27.0)
- Matt Morgan, Cornell (25.5)
- Carsen Edwards, Purdue (25.3)
- Charlie Brown, Saint Joseph's (25.0)
- Nick Mayo, Eastern Kentucky (25.0)
It's almost certain that a few of these guys will drop down in average as they play more games, but it should be noted that most of these players have put up big numbers by facing nearly as many power programs as non-Division I teams so far. There's also seven more players averaging between 24.0 and 24.9 points. Who knows? We could have a season of big-time performances and one of the best individual-scoring renditions across the sport in a long time.
Louisville in midst of rough noncon stretch
Louisville's 82-78 overtime win against Michigan State on Tuesday was the biggest victory of Chris Mack's young career with the Cardinals.
"Some programs never get those type of opportunities," Mack told me of his November-into-December gauntlet. "The committee has shown it's going to reward teams that challenge themselves. I think we're getting better. Huge opponent."
Huge win. He, and his team, needed that kind of morale boost. Check the postgame celebration:
That winning feeling.#GoCards pic.twitter.com/e8Ojoc6eEa— Louisville Basketball (@LouisvilleMBB) November 28, 2018
Louisville improved to 4-2, but check this stretch: it lost in New York last week against Marquette and Tennessee. Then came the Michigan State game. Next up is a road test Saturday at Seton Hall, which is fresh off a win over Miami. A week later, Louisville plays at Indiana. All of the aforementioned teams could wind up in the NCAA Tournament. I asked Mack if he's ever faced a stretch like this outside of conference play since becoming a head coach.
"Out of league, no, probably not," Mack said. "It's tough."
And he inherited this noncon schedule for the most part. It's never simple or easy to take on a top-10 job in college hoops. The circumstances under which Mack accepted the gig have no parallel in college hoops history. The schedule just adds another heavy layer to the adjustment process. The team is doing fairly well, all things considered.
"I got a great group of guys," Mack said. "They've really bought in, they're really together. They're learning from me, I'm learning from them. ... I don't know if a group, especially the older players that have been here, have had to handle more adversity in their college careers than those guys. But we have high-character guys in our locker room and guys representing our school and program in unbelievable fashion."
In addition to all this, Louisville's likely to wind up with a top-10 recruiting class for 2019. That pipeline of players will help the fan base, which is eager for a new era. And Mack's decision to bring over some of his staff from Xavier is working well.
"When our coaching staff took over at the end of March and I brought Mike (Pegues) and Luke (Murray) with me, and everybody couldn't believe it," Mack said. "Now the sun's starting to shine."
Elite prospect to enroll early at East Coast power
Connecticut, Georgetown, Pittsburgh, Providence and Syracuse have a combined record of 25-7.
One of those five teams will be adding a four-star, 6-foot-10 power forward in the next few weeks. Evan Daniels of 247Sports reports that Akok Akok has left Putnam Science Academy, in Connecticut, and plans to enter college for the upcoming second semester. Akok is finished with high school coursework and will take his SAT on Dec. 1. If all goes as planned, Akok will commit to one of those five schools in December and be admitted for January.
UConn is the Crystal Ball favorite, but regardless of where Akok ends up, it appears this is setting up as a Hamidou Diallo situation. Meaning, Akok won't play this season even if he's on campus. Diallo, the former Kentucky player, joined midway through UK's 2016-17 season but didn't suit up until the following fall. That could very well be the case with Akok, who nonetheless will add valuable practice experience and get on campus in the buildup for 2019-20.
And on a trivia note, with Akok set to join Division I, he'll join Oregon's Bol Bol and Baylor's Deng Deng as college basketball's players on campus in 2019 who have repeating names. Shoutout to Duany Duany!
It's always fun to embrace and engage with you. I'll be taking answering a few questions from readers each week. Have a question, curiosity or complaint? Do @ me. Lob your question my way on Twitter.
Hey @MattNorlander ,you & @GaryParrishCBS do a great job wi/polls & interesting angles to talk to coaches about. How about a “if you had to pick a college coach to win best of 7 series, who would you choose ?” ? This would involve game mgt, game planning, adjustments & motivating— Mike Mannix (@Coach_Mannix) November 25, 2018
Mike, interesting question. If you're saying that the coach we pick would be fielded with an average team and is going up against another average team, then the obvious pick feels like Mike Krzyzewski. He's still considered an elite tactician, and given his history of success in the NCAA Tournament, there's no other pick that makes as much pragmatic sense. But picking K almost seems too easy, so in the spirit of variety, another good choice to consider is John Beilein. Really good with prep and the X-and-O game. If you're getting an average team, Beilein's team would be hard to beat four times in seven tries.
If you were given the power to change 1 cbb rule, what would it be?— Marnie Mitchell (@TheRealMarnieM) November 21, 2018
So many choices. I'll cheat the question and start with this: I would dock assignments to any official who made a habit of prematurely calling a jump-ball when two players are fighting over a loose ball. Let the tug-of-war play out. Four times out of five, possession will be determined in the tussle; that's more fun than blowing the whistle one second after both players wind up on the floor and leaving it to the possession arrow (which also needs to go). Premature jump-balls are a scourge on the sport! But, really, the one rule I would change is to revert the NCAA Tournament permanently, forever, immutably back to 64 teams. It is the perfect number and arrangement.
What is your prediction for last undefeated team and when they take their first loss?— John Steichen (@JohnSteichen) November 22, 2018
Well, we're at 20 undefeated teams and will probably be down to single digits by next weekend. Let's look at a handful of nominees, some more obvious than others.
- Gonzaga: Next four games are at Creighton, vs. Washington, vs. Tennessee (in Phoenix) and at North Carolina. The Zags, good as they are, will lose one of those due to Geno Crandall and Killian Tillie being unavailable.
- Texas Tech: Has Duke on Dec. 20 at Madison Square Garden. Other than that, though, clear sailing until Jan. 2 at West Virginia. But the final undefeated team is lasting beyond 1.2.19, so TTU can't be the best candidate. Also: Did you see what Duke did to Indiana?
- Nevada: The Wolf Pack got out with ease against Loyola-Chicago on Tuesday, but games at Southern Cal, at a neutral-site vs. Arizona State and at Utah all await in December. Eric Musselman's team could understandably get picked off once there.
- Houston: Only has one road game (at Oklahoma State) between now and Jan. 9, but LSU, Saint Louis and Oregon are all due to visit UH. The Coogs are good but not that good.
- Kansas: Kansas hasn't even looked that great so far this season and it's still at 5-0. The Jayhawks host Villanova on Dec. 15, play at Arizona State on Dec. 22 and go to Iowa State on Jan. 5. It's plausible that KU wins all of those, but the overall chance of getting to 14-0, which is what Self's squad would be if it got past ISU on Jan. 5, is pretty low.
- Michigan: The Wolverines rate as a top-10 team in most metrics. The only road game over the next month is Dec. 4 in a weirdly early Big Ten contest against Northwestern. But it does have North Carolina on Wednesday night, then Purdue this weekend. Indiana comes around in early January. Michigan's been really good, but it has one too many top-40 opponents to deem it the winner here.
- Virginia: This is my pick ... if Virginia can beat Maryland on the road Wednesday. The Wahoos rank third in KenPom and will not face a top-30 team on the road until Clemson on Jan. 12. UVA's schedule doesn't get tough until the back end of January. I don't think any team makes it to Jan. 20 without a loss. Virginia goes longest and gets its first L at Duke on Jan. 19. Again -- if it can win at Maryland. I have conditions, people!
Thoughts on Georgia and Tom Crean? Long term success or failure in Athens?— Hey berto (@Heyberto) November 21, 2018
More success than failure. Look at it this way: Georgia has made the NCAA Tournament only three times since 2003. Considering the talent in the state, that's a paltry track record. In fact, Georgia has only 12 Big Dance appearances in its history. Flatly unacceptable for a major-conference program in a good pocket of the country for hoops talent. So the bar for Tom Crean to clear isn't that high. I expect UGA to make the NCAAs at least three times in the next six seasons. Crean will get the program to a better place.
- Here's a special shoutout to the undefeated teams that have won every game in convincing fashion. Four squads -- Nevada, Michigan, Texas Tech and Houston -- have walked away with double-digit victories in each of their games. (H/T, Jordan Sperber)
- Meantime, only three schools are still flawless in men's and women's hoops: Abilene Christian (men's team 7-0, women's team 6-0); Kansas (men and women's teams 5-0); Maryland (men and women's teams 6-0).
- On the flip side, college basketball waits for these seven winless teams to get off the schneid: Alabama A&M (0-6), Maine (0-6), Mount St. Mary's (0-6), Coppin State (0-7), La Salle (0-7), Monmouth (0-7), Chicago State (0-8).
- Ja Morant is the mid-major player who's got the best chance at this moment to vault into the 2019 NBA lottery. The Murray State sophomore -- who was unquestionably a top-20 freshman last season -- is averaging 27.8 points, 9.0 assists, 7.5 rebounds, 2.0 steals and is making 64.3 percent of his 2-pointers. He put up 38 points (but also had 10 turnovers) in the Racers' loss to Alabama on Monday night. Oh, and he did this to Alabama, too. You will be reading more about him later this season.
Phew, this finish by Ja Morant is all sorts of strong. pic.twitter.com/YZVVotg8bc— Bobby Reagan (@BarstoolReags) November 27, 2018
- Remember back in 2012 when a Division III player named Jack Taylor scored an unthinkable record of 138 points in one game? It took over college basketball's news cycle for a few days. Taylor played for Grinnell and its gimmicky 3-point system. Well, Grinnell was on the wrong end of some more history recently: it lost 105-96 to Central College. So why is it notable? Central College scored 105 points and didn't attempt a 3-pointer ... while Grinnell launched an NCAA-record 89 treys and left losers. The all-out deep-launch attack backfired on Grinnell, which made just 20 of its 3-point attempts. Fascinating outcome.
- I will wrap buzzer-beaters on a buzzer-beater that wasn't. Illinois threatened at Notre Dame on Tuesday night. The Fighting Illini are still in rebuilding mode. Brad Underwood is going to eventually turn it around at Illinois. But check Underwood's bear-hug reaction to Trent Frazier's final attempt lipping out in a 76-74 loss to the Irish. It was a really great moment between coach and player that shouldn't go unnoticed.
November 28, 2018
Normally I'll post something from a major photo wire service, but for this week I wanted to follow up on the item from last week's Court Report. Oakland coach Greg Kampe kept to his word and pinked up his head in the spirit of cancer awareness. Seriously, how many coaches in college hoops would do this?
I hope a lot. I got to talking to Kampe about trying to get more coaches to go all-in on this idea and dye their hair for a day next season. Perhaps the idea can catch on. It would unquestionably raise the profile of the sport and bring even more fundraising in for cancer research. Picture your coach in pink. It would be hilarious, but also could do a lot of good.
.@KampeOU will be coaching tonight with pink hair to raise cancer awareness/discussion. Incredibly awesome. Here’s an early look. pic.twitter.com/Yn6bIIq65R— Matt Norlander (@MattNorlander) November 23, 2018