On this Veteran’s Day, looking ahead at a couple more conferences as the season is now just three days away:
The Northeast Conference is wide open, with a number of teams sustaining significant player losses. When in doubt, go with Robert Morris, the most consistent program over the last five years. The Colonials have built some toughness, as evidenced by NIT wins over Kentucky and St. John’s the last two years.
Murray State featured maybe the best-kept freshman secret in the country last year in Cameron Payne, a brilliant talent helped Murray State get back near the top of the Ohio Valley. The Racers return Payne and three other starters and are the league favorites, though Steve Prohm’s club will be challenged by fast-improving Morehead State and always tough Belmont.
In basketball, the Pac-12 this year closely mirrors its annual football Rose Bowl competitor, the Big 10. The league features one heavy national favorite (Arizona), a trendy up-and-comer (Utah) and a lot of question marks due to heavy personnel losses at some heavyweights (UCLA, Oregon). The league still figures to sort itself out with at least 4-5 NCAA tourney teams.
If anyone thought Boston University and Loyola (Md.) were dropping down a level when they joined the Patriot League, they are sorely mistaken, as it would not surprise if both are second-division teams this year. Holy Cross and Lafayette are considered favorites, and whether Army can seriously threaten for its first-ever NCAA tourney bid is also a story to follow.
The SEC has to get better one of these years, right? So many programs (Arkansas, LSU, Mississippi) seemed close to getting over the hump the last couple years, but it may be a team from far behind that passes all of them this year. Would not be surprised if Bruce Pearl takes Auburn from obscurity to the NCAA Tournament as quickly as this year. Oh, and while Kentucky will be good, can we can the nonsense about the Wildcats possibly going undefeated? Weren’t people asking the team thing last year? How did that turn out?
The venerable Southern Conference is as anonymous as its been in a long time, now that Davidson has departed. Wofford won the postseason tournament last year and is considered the favorite by most everyone (coaches, media, Blue Ribbon, Sporting News, Basketball Times), but we’re keeping an eye on UT-Chattanooga, where coach Will Wade (a former VCU assistant) is promising to pick up the pace even more this year. The SoCon always survives, and made some nice moves in bringing back East Tennessee State and VMI as well as that Mercer program that torpedoed Duke in the NCAA Tournament but lost all five starters.
On our soapbox for a moment
Transferring is a problem in college basketball, whether some want to admit it or not. Whether the NCAA and its member schools are ever going to have an interest in addressing it, we should find out pretty soon.
A study released by the NCAA last week gave some disturbing data about one of the segments of the transfer problem. The graduate transfer rule, which has widely been seen as more a source of free agency than the educational reward it once was touted as, really isn’t being used for furthering education that much at all, according to the study.
The study showed that, while football and men’s basketball players made up half of all student-athletes using the graduate transfer, just 24% of football players and 32% of men’s basketball players were completing graduate degrees in two years. Those not completing degrees were typically withdrawing when their athletics eligibility had expired.
The graduate transfer rule was initially approved with good intentions, with a student-athlete’s education actually in mind. Many predicted at that time, though, that the rule would be exploited far more than used honestly, and that is pretty much exactly what has happened.
There’s an ever-increasing litany of voices that, in essence, will argue this is a good thing, that college athletes are oppressed and anything giving them more power is a positive, even if it’s just gaming the system that allegedly is gaming all of them.
You’re not going to find that here. For one, the number of college athletes out there-even in Division I-who believe in the college athletics model and do want an education is more than cynics make it sound. Don’t have numbers to present on that, but that’s just a belief in our young people based on most balanced stories that actually ask their views on the subject.
Furthermore, transferring is not something the NCAA, or anyone involved in education, should be providing an incentive to do. From the business side, of course it’s not a good thing for coaches or schools, but that’s irrelevant. More importantly, from an educational angle the negative outcomes of “student mobility,” as it’s known, are well documented in research. Whether they’re of adult age or not, they’re still students, still getting an education.
That said, transfers will happen, and that’s fine. But athletes shouldn’t be practically rewarded for doing it. The NCAA has plenty of good reasons to require transfers to sit out a year after transferring: to serve as a deterrent, and to allow student-athletes to get acclimated to their new school and focus on their studies for their first year. If anything, the only problem is that Division I transfer rules aren’t consistent across all sports.
This is the type of issue that, if the NCAA member schools don’t want to address it, then perhaps the organization’s time really has passed. That says a whole lot more about the member schools, though, than it does about the organization being some kind of bureaucracy that pushes rules on its members, because like almost every NCAA rule, this is an issue the schools should be able to settle.
- San Diego State has lost sophomore forward Matt Shrigley for at least a month after he was injured on a flagrant foul Saturday in an exhibition game against Point Loma Nazarene (Calif.). Sad to hear, and a few more injuries like this and perhaps it will be time to start looking at stiffening penalties even more for flagrant fouls.
- Indiana defeated Indianapolis 76-63 in an exhibition Monday night. The Hoosiers actually trailed 17-6 in the early going and were behind much of the first half before scoring 22 straight points to end the half. IU beat up the Greyhounds’ zone with seven first half three-pointers, and the Hoosiers played a lot of zone in this one. At first glance, this Indiana team in its current form resembles some of Tom Crean’s earlier teams, that had to scratch and claw for everything they could get. An NIT bid might be an accomplishment this year.
- Alabama held on to defeat Montevallo (Ala.) 81-67. The Tide closed the game on a 13-2 run over the final 1:45.
- Colorado State rolled state foe Fort Lewis 85-54.
- Illinois State pounded Lewis (Ill.) on the glass (53-26 edge) but still received a solid game from the Flyers before winning 76-67. The score might’ve been even closer had Lewis shot better than 3-for-17 from the free throw line. Yuck.
- Vanderbilt hosts Sewanee (Tenn.), a.k.a. the University of the South