NEW YORK -- With college football's National Football Foundation's awards dinner taking place a mere few blocks away, NCAA President Mark Emmert instead decided on Tuesday night to take in some basketball.
Emmert was on hand at the Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden to watch Oklahoma vs. Notre Dame and Florida vs. West Virginia. Sitting with him: NCAA vice president for basketball Dan Gavitt and Stanford athletic director Bernard Muir, who is the current chairman of the NCAA Tournament selection committee.
Emmert spoke on record for the first time about the NCAA's new NET rankings -- and some of the early criticism about the NET -- telling CBS Sports: "The goal is to make sure that the analytic works at the end of the season. The data is so new, there are so few data points right now it's going to take a while to work its way through. Everybody was unhappy with the RPI too."
And with the season underway, the federal trial from October has drifted relatively far off the radar.and will face sentencing in March. There are still two more trials to come, with four former college basketball assistants caught in the crosshairs. News emerged in November that the FBI had cleared the NCAA to begin looking into schools that were involved in the first trial. I asked Emmert to clarify where the NCAA is at this point with those investigations.
"That's a little misleading," he said. "They (the Department of Justice) have in fact provided an opportunity to interact with some of the people involved, but not all of them, because there's still ongoing trials. We're still making sure that we don't interfere in any fashion with their investigation or their trials."
On Wednesday morning, Emmert also said the NCAA is not being given free reign on all documents and wiretaps collected by the DOJ in this case, according to CBS Sports' Dennis Dodd.
"There is some assumptions in some quarters that we get all access to all the evidence gathered by the FBI," Emmert said. "That's not true."
As for who is currently being looked at, that won't be known in full for many months.
"We don't comment on ongoing cases or individual cases," Emmert said. "We're being as assertive as we can in the current context."
Emmert came under criticism in October for failing to show in federal court, even if for a day or two, as the first trial played out to plenty of publicity. Emmert said the NCAA had multiple people at the trial every day, and that it would be "a good assumption" that protocol will remain the same come February and April, when the next two are scheduled to be held.
As for Emmert showing up at either of those, it's probably not happening.
"There's no reason for me to go," Emmert told CBS Sports. "That would be a distraction to the trial. There's no need for me to be at the trial."
Emmert said promoting the ethics of college basketball remains a focus, admitted the FBI probe has shined a bad light on the sport, but added that adjudications -- whatever punishments may or may not get meted -- will not come prior to the end of the 2018-19 season.
Hoiberg not a sure thing to return to college
this week perked up the attention of those in college basketball, given that Hoiberg will make for an enticing coaching candidate in the sport going forward.
But will he opt to return to college hoops? If he does, when?
The 46-year-old Hoiberg, who went 115-155 in the NBA after going 115-56 at Iowa State, was a success at his alma mater but also became widely known for having distaste with the realities of college recruiting and all that comes with it. Hoiberg coached the Bulls for three-and-a-quarter seasons and made $25 million on a five-year deal. He still has options in the NBA. Hoiberg could work his way into a front office gig, or simply take an indefinite retirement. Between his playing days, his time at Iowa State and the money he earned in Chicago, Hoiberg never has to work another day in his life if he doesn't want to.
But he'll nevertheless be courted in the coming months for college jobs by athletic directors looking to make a splashy hire. He'll have his pick, too. Hoiberg can be patient -- again, if he even wants to head back to that level.
On Tuesday night, I spoke with Oklahoma coach Lon Kruger, who in 2004 made the return back to college after coaching the NBA's Atlanta Hawks.
"Getting fired, at that point, for the first time was a humbling experience — in a healthy way," Kruger said.
Kruger knew he wanted to coach again. He didn't know what would happen, or when, but the timing and opportunity worked for UNLV. He was there from 2004-2011.
"I think it was easier going [back to college]," said Kruger, "as opposed to the other way. I hadn't been in the NBA but three or four years. The college part was more natural."
Two schools, at this moment, have already been buzzed about as potential landing spots: UCLA and Minnesota. Before I get into either of those situations, I must note that it's too early into this season to have any type of real read on what jobs will actually open, let alone which spots could truly be in play for Hoiberg. Speculation is obviously inevitable, but this puts even more pressure on Steve Alford and Richard Pitino.
Let's look at UCLA. The Bruins are not a natural fit for Hoiberg, who's a Midwest guy through and through, but it's not like that would prevent him from succeeding out there. It would come down to what kind of staff he would hire, and how his approach would have to change a bit. Hoiberg modernized the win-with-transfers template at Iowa State; at prestigious UCLA, getting transfers in isn't as seamless.
Besides, Alford should have an NCAA Tournament team this season and I don't see how you fire him if he goes to the Big Dance for the fifth time in six years in Westwood.
Minnesota, which could wind up in the NCAAs as well under Richard Pitino, is a geographic fit. It suits the midwestern ideal. Plus, Hoiberg played with the T'Wolves and spent time in the front office there as well. I could see that working. I could really see that working.
Whatever comes of the next few months, I guarantee you the landscape will look different on March 1 than it does now.
Oklahoma looking good (better?) without Trae Young
Kruger's Oklahoma Sooners beat Notre Dame 85-80 Tuesday night at the Jimmy V Classic inside Madison Square Garden. The win got OU to 7-1 this season, marking the third time in four seasons the Sooners have won at least seven of their first eight games.
Through the first month of this season Oklahoma has won five of its seven games away from home and has four wins against top-100 competition. Last season it was all about Trae Young, who parlayed a historic freshman campaign into being a top-five NBA pick. But without Young, the Sooners are thriving somewhat unexpectedly. Might they actually be better?
Oklahoma infamously flamed out in 2017-18, losing nine of its final 11 games and drastically falling from top-five team to NCAA Tournament one-and-doner. After the end of the season, Kruger and his staff had a heart-to-heart with the players about an identity overhaul.
"We knew team morale wasn't great," Oklahoma assistant Carlin Hartman told CBS Sports. "We had to do a good job as a staff of changing that. We did that. We think the personalities we brought in, in Miles Reynolds, Aaron Calixte, those guys came from mid-major programs but also have an appreciation for where they are right now, playing at this level."
Defense was the focal point. Oklahoma's D last season was a running joke. The team finished 85th in defensive efficiency at KenPom last season and was the worst turnover-forcing team in the Big 12. As of Wednesday morning, Oklahoma is No. 38 at KenPom. So is the defense somewhat better?
"Much better," Kruger said. "It's been a focus since June. Usually you don't spend as much time on defense in the summertime, but we spent way more than we ever have before. ... The biggest thing is this is a really good practice group. They've taken ownership of the defensive identity, they're proud of that, and they make progress every day."
Oklahoma's 2-point percentage defense ranks sixth in the country and its been better without the ball (29th in defense) than with it (58th in offense). This team is loaded with experience. Including grad transfers, there are six seniors on this squad, including new alpha Christian James. James is averaging 19.9 points, 10 points per game more than a quarter of Sooners putting up between 9.1 and 9.9. The Oklahoma staff told me that James has a belief now about his ability to close out, to be the guy with the ball in his hands at the end of games.
It's not as though Young was a detriment to the team last season -- really, he brought more attention and good things to that program than was imaginable -- but it's clear that this Oklahoma group is jelling in way it couldn't eight, nine months ago.
"Grittier, grimier," Hartman said of the team's mentality. "And letting that lead to our offense, not letting our offense dictate how we win and lose basketball games. Last year it was mainly one pass and a shot -- or no passes and a shot. This year our guys touch it, our guys feel good about the other guy, and there's a trust in each other."
The Sooners' 7-1 start has been huge, especially because the schedule doesn't get easier. A game against Wichita State in Oklahoma City awaits this weekend, then home games vs. USC and Creighton on Dec. 15 and 18, respectively. The Sooners will play at Northwestern on Dec. 21 and then start Big 12 play on Jan. 2 at Kansas.
One last thing: senior center Jamuni McNeace injured his ankle in practice over the weekend, but Kruger told me McNeace is expected to be on the floor for Saturday's game against Wichita State.
One month in, Zion Williamson leads POY rankings
Given that we're a month into the season, we should stop to smell the statistics. There's a lot of intriguing and worthy candidates for a top-10 list for National Player of the Year. It wasn't easy to settle on these exact 10, but here's my overall evaluation on the most impressive and valuable college basketball players.
My as-of-now Player of the Year power rankings:
1. Zion Williamson
20.8 ppg, 8.8 rpg, 2.3 bpg, 44.1 PER
20.4 ppg, 8.9 rpg, 4.3 apg, 1.6 bpg
3. Rui Hachimura
21.0 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 61.9 2-pt%
4. Ethan Happ
17.7 ppg, 10.8 rpg, 5.0 apg, 1.7 bpg
5. RJ Barrett
23.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg, 4.0 apg
19.0 ppg, 10.7 rpg, 3.1 apg
7. Ja Morant
27.2 apg, 8.2 rpg, 8.4 apg, 1.4 spg
31.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 3.3 apg, 1.8 spg
9. Shamorie Ponds
22.4 ppg, 4.6 apg, 3.6 rpg, 2.7 spg
10. De'Andre Hunter
16.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg, 64.5 2-pt%
Florida's Hudson struggling in his senior season
The nightcap at MSG on Tuesday was Florida vs. West Virginia. The game was a rough watch, to say the least. For the 5-3 Gators, a much-needed 66-56 win. But this team has also, oddly, gone nearly 180 degrees from where it was almost exactly one year ago.
I remember speaking with Gators coach Mike White in late November 2017, when his team was elite in offensive efficiency, and him saying that he wouldn't get too optimistic about the shooting numbers until they reflected similarly come conference play. White ultimately wound up being right, as Florida was good-not-great on offense by March.
"We're the opposite team," White told me Tuesday night, noting that this group is playing differently from what he expected a few months back. "You couldn't guard us (then) and we couldn't guard a soul."
The Gators are wading through mud on offense. Against their five major-conference opponents this season, the Gators are 2-3 and averaging 62.4 points.
The obvious oddity of Florida is the puzzling disappearance of senior Jalen Hudson, an athletic wing who waited until almost the end of the open window before deciding not to go to the NBA. The pro prospect averaged 15.5 points, 3.9 rebounds and shot 40.4 percent from 3 last season. In 2018-19, Hudson's at 6.0 points, 2.7 rebounds, 20.7 percent from 3 and is averaging only 16.8 minutes.
He played just six minutes against West Virginia, pinned to the bench after a few questionable shots midway through the first half.
"There was no message being sent or anything like that," White said. "I'd tell you if there was."
But it's obvious that Hudson's struggles are affecting Florida to the point where White is seeing lineups without Hudson on the floor succeed. White said he's vexed by Hudson's struggles. Noah Locke, Deaundre Ballard and other wings have stepped up and earned those minutes. There's no telling if or when the Hudson will crack his own code and return to form.
"I know at some point Jalen will settle in offensively," White said. "He's just too talented a player. He's gotta earn more minutes."
Brey dealing with his youngest team ever
On Nov. 6, when Notre Dame opened the season at home against UIC, freshman Robby Carmody was in the starting lineup. Carmody getting his name called in pre-game introductions marked the first time Irish coach Mike Brey had a true freshman start in a game since 2002 (Torin Frances). It might have ended one of the longest droughts of its kind in Division I.
With four freshman and a sophomore earning significant minutes for 6-2 Notre Dame, Brey told me on Tuesday night at MSG that this is his youngest team ever.
"This is very new territory for me," Brey said. "The guy who made up the phrase 'get old and stay old' has thoroughly violated his philosophy. I actually said the staff about a month ago, 'How the hell did this happen?'"
Notre Dame was outclassed by Oklahoma, as noted above, but Brey was in good spirits despite the loss. Notre Dame's only other loss this season came against Radford, which also has a win against Texas.
"I'm excited, like, tonight -- we have to build off this," Brey said. "We threw some young dudes into this setting, against men. They've (Oklahoma) got six, seven men. I kind of like where we're at."
Notre Dame is led by T.J. Gibbs and Rex Pflueger. Gibbs is averaging 14.3 points, 3.4 assists and shooting just 34.9 percent.
"I think he's gotta try to get 18, 19 (points) for us," Brey said. "People have really taken him away. (Prentiss) Hubb helps him. Hubb can handle the ball and take some pressure off."
The Irish are still finding themselves offensively. It's going to take time, but Brey said that since the team is so young, there's a lot of growth to look forward to. No telling if this team, which was ranked 33rd in the preseason AP Poll, winds up as an NCAA Tournament-quality club. Notre Dame was derailed by injuries to key seniors last season. It hasn't missed consecutive NCAA Tournaments since 2004-06.
"We've always been old," said. "This is new for me—but I love it. It's exhausting. You are teaching, your mind races with options. You know me. I've usually had my seven dudes, five of them are juniors and seniors, maybe six of them. … I'll wake up at 2 in the morning and write stuff down. I'm having fun with it."
- Kansas took on a concerning injury Tuesday night in its 72-47 home win over Wofford. Junior center Udoka Azubuike left the game with what Bill Self called afterward an ankle sprain which will keep him out indefinitely. Azubuike only played 11 games two seasons ago, when his season ended due to a left wrist injury. It seems unlikely Azubuike will be back before Christmas, which means Kansas' big home game on Dec. 15 against Villanova is more intriguing.
- The NCAA announced on Wednesday that Oregon's men's basketball (in addition various penalties with women's basketball, football and women's track and field) violated NCAA rules when a director of men's basketball operations (DOBO) "participated in or observed individual voluntary workouts at least 64 times" and that 'after learning of the activity, the men's basketball coach imposed disciplinary measures, including a one-month suspension." This is a relatively minor infraction, albeit one that was violated 64 times. The NCAA noted Dana Altman's history of abiding by the rules. What wasn't subject to this inquiry were the allegations that came up in court in October, . That matter has still not been clarified.
- I mentioned Shamorie Ponds in my POY power rankings above. Here's something: St. John's hasn't started a season 7-0 since 1994-95. It figures to open Big East play undefeated, at 12-0, given the next five opponents for Chris Mullin's team are currently ranked 160 or worse at KenPom and all five of those games are at home. The last time SJU was 12-0, Mullin was a sophomore for the Johnnies.
- The biggest swan dive in college basketball through the first month of the season is at Miami. The Hurricanes started 5-0, were top-25 material, and have dropped four straight since. On Tuesday night, things hit a low with a loss to Penn, which came subsequent to the Canes losing to Yale on Saturday. Anyone know the last time a power-conference program lost consecutive games to Ivy League schools? Has it happened since 1960?
- Michigan blew a big lead and almost lost at Northwestern on Tuesday night, but the Wolverines got out 62-60 to remain one of the 11 undefeated teams in college basketball. The Wolverines' defense lapsed at point, but overall, it remains incredible. Consider this: Villanova scored 47 points below its season average when it lost to Michigan; North Carolina scored 30 points below its average vs. the Wolverines; and Purdue 27 points. Northwestern was kept 14 points below its season average heading into its game against UM. That is power.
- Have to note what former Ohio State walk-on and failed Chicago State coaching candidate Mark Titus is doing for the betterment of college hoops. Titus announced this week he's in the process of getting a scholarship fund developed, officially approved by the NCAA, for walk-ons. Fantastic idea. Titus brought the role of the walk-on into the mainstream, and this figures to benefit college basketball all the more in the years to come.
- Shouts to Maine, which beat Fordham on Tuesday night in double OT and is now off the winless list. The only teams left without a victory are Alabama A&M, Coppin State, La Salle, Monmouth and Mount St. Mary's. Can everyone pick up a dub before Jan. 1?