Tate: It's anyone's guess who's best
With Rutgers the latest black eye, we are reminded that college basketball is imperfect. Not exactly a revelation, huh?
April shows up with its usual ground-shaking earthquake of developments ... players and coaches darting hither and yon ... fans complaining about bad officiating ... investigators looking into Miami and Syracuse ... and Kentucky reloading as the only fully pro operation among the reputed amateurs.
How have they pulled this off in the Commonwealth? Easy. You don’t have to make illegal payments up front when the players will be millionaires in a few months anyway. No more need to bundle and mail. No need to join the chorus for monthly stipends. Just be patient.
In something of a 2013 shocker, the Wildcats fizzled. They didn’t even make the 68-team field — lost to Robert Morris in the NIT — but they still show an injured Nerlens Noel vying for the NBA’s top draft slot, Archie Goodwin as a likely first-rounder and, according to usually reliable Jeff Goodman of CBS Sports, 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein is a first-round possibility.
And here we go again with a half-dozen or more incoming blue-chippers — the greatest class ever — joining John Calipari’s one-and-done program.
How extreme is this? Well, CBS has made it’s Too-Early Projections and puts Kentucky in the No. 1 slot ahead of Michigan State, a status the Spartans can only hold if Gary Harris and Adreian Payne decline NBA overtures.
If those two return, they’ll be resisting a rumbling tide of non-seniors going for the quick bucks ... Indiana’s Cody Zeller and Victor Oladipo, Ohio State’s Deshaun Thomas, Louisville’s Russ Smith (second thoughts?), Syracuse’s Michael Carter-Williams, Cal’s Allen Crabbe, Kansas’ Ben McLemore, Providence’s Ricky Ledo (he didn’t even play), North Carolina State’s C.J. Leslie and Lorenzo Brown, and hold on ... the boys from Michigan haven’t even announced yet.
Oh, and did you see Phil Pressey is leaving Missouri? With Pressey and seniors Laurence Bowers and Alex Oriakhi gone, maybe Illinois can win one in St. Louis next Christmas.
Illini on the prowl
Where are the Illini in this Mixmaster of endless swapping?
First, let’s understand why John Groce is so active in the seconds market. On Thursday, Groce received a visit from Seton Hall guard Aaron Cosby (he must sit out a year). And the UI is a finalist for arguably the nation’s premier fifth-year transfer, 6-foot-8 Josh Davis of Tulane, as well as 6-7 Jon Ekey of Illinois State.
If you don’t think Illinois needs help, check out the latest BTN report provided by Brent Yarina.
This is the first of many evaluations that will express doubts about Groce’s second UI edition.
As presently composed, the Illini — sit down, Gus Phan, and take a deep breath — come in 11th by the BTN, and only ahead of ravaged Minnesota. Below Northwestern, assuming Drew Crawford and JerShon Cobb return. Below Penn State, which gets injured Tim Frazier back alongside the conference’s top two returning scorers, D.J. Newbill and Jermaine Marshall.
Gus, before you start dreaming about the Illini surpassing Ohio State and the Michigans, consider: Illinois must first work around Nebraska and Purdue and, way up there, a fourth-rated Iowa team with five starters and ample reserves returning (assuming junior Roy Marble doesn’t lose his marbles at the last minute).
Big holes to fill
The UI squad, as presently constructed for 2013-14, is on the slender side. It needs rebounding muscle, and it won’t be easy for the lone senior, Joe Bertrand, to get stronger when he’ll spend the summer recuperating from shoulder surgery.
The ability to attract a rebounder like Davis is critical. He averaged 10.7 boards for Tulane, while picking up 17.6 points on 49.5 percent shooting. He would be a perfect fit alongside Nnanna Egwu, providing much more inside scoring punch than Sam McLaurin did.
Davis, who sat out a year after transferring from North Carolina State, topped 20 points on 11 occasions for Tulane this season. He had 19 points and 13 rebounds in a 61-57 loss at Nebraska, and 18 and 12 in a 53-50 win against Alabama. In the Conference USA tournament, Davis had 18 and 12 in a 66-64 defeat of Marshall, and 21 and 15 in an 81-68 loss to No. 20 Memphis.
And get this: Davis fouled out once all season. This is significant because Egwu was disqualified eight times in committing a team-high 110 personals.
You don’t hear much about other Big Ten teams seeking fifth-year transfers. But Illinois is in this fix because the team is short-handed with one senior, Bertrand, and no sophomores on scholarship.
The BTN’s unbiased evaluation gave us our first taste of basketball reality for 2013-14.
But get off the floor, Gus. What it didn’t consider is how much Groce accomplished in the face of similar prognostications this past season. His Illini won an NCAA game. Here are a few who didn’t: Wisconsin, Missouri, Kansas State, Notre Dame, Georgetown, UCLA, Pitt, New Mexico and, oh, yeah, Kentucky.
Prognostications won’t count. Only the results on the court do.
Loren Tate writes for The News-Gazette. He can be reached at email@example.com.