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The Morning Dish – Friday, November 4, 2016

November 4, 2016 The Morning Dish No Comments

As we’ve steadfastly pointed out in the past (and probably will again sometime before the season starts), the college basketball season starts too early, and the sport really has a poorly planned way to start the year, opening with a host of guarantee games in what is still the heart of college football season.

One of the good things about college hoops starting as early as it has in recent years, though, (Nov. 11 this year) is it does allow less time to hear bad news. Because, sad as it is, it seems so much of the news in the offseason with this sport is less than positive. (More unneeded NCAA Tournament and officiating tweaks, anyone?)

Unfortunately, we received more unfortunate news Thursday as it was announced Arizona forward Ray Smith has suffered an ACL injury for the third time in three years. Smith also received meniscus damage in his knee, and with those injuries he has decided to end his basketball career.
The 6-foot-8 Smith was a heavily recruited player out of high school who was anticipated to be a future star at Arizona. He missed all of last year with an ACL injury but was expected to be a key member of this year’s Wildcats team, which is ranked 10th in the Associated Press preseason poll.

Thankfully, Smith seemed at peace with his decision on Thursday in his comments. “Sometimes in life all you can do is the best you can do,” he said in a letter posted on his Twitter account. “I have worked hard to be…(a) college basketball player. This is not a letter to be sorrowful about because when I look at the opportunities basketball has presented to me, I am grateful.”

We can only hope Smith has a long and successful career after basketball, and we will certainly be pulling for him. As he said later: ”My father once told me that just because someone is a good basketball player doesn’t make them a good person. That the sport doesn’t define who we are only what we can do.”

Smith’s injury also underscores just why fans, administrators, media and all interested in college sports need to continue to fight for the ‘college’ part of them.

College athletics provides young adults like Smith opportunities for an education, something that-it should go without saying, but seems to be overlooked more and more these days-will always last longer in a lifetime than a playing career, or any career. For sure, the money involved in major college sports is ridiculous, insane, too much. And contrary to what some self-interested media believe, it should be significantly adjusted (we’d argue for redistribution of more of that money to schools’ academic programs-and less in athletics administrators’ and coaches’ pockets). That doesn’t give license to ignoring the educational opportunities that athletics still provides, and regardless of the trials Smith has endured in his playing career, he still has every opportunity to make the most of his collegiate time and have a successful life after basketball.

Continuing Hoopville’s preseason look at conferences:

  • The Big Ten will again be one of the best conference’s in the country, but just exactly how that will shake out is open to debate coming into the season. Many of last year’s top teams sustained severe graduation losses, and the league also offers room for upward mobility in the middle for a team like Illinois or Northwestern to make significant improvement if it can pick off some top teams at home and steal a game or two on the road. At the top, Wisconsin is the chic pick based on the return of five starters, and while experience is always a good place to start in preseason prognostications, it must be remembered this team lost 13 games a year ago. Michigan State will rely heavily on a touted recruiting class and should end up near the top, like usual, Purdue still has one of the most feared frontlines in the country, and Indiana should remain a contender as well.
  • The Big 12 has been the nation’s best conference in the regular season for the past three years, though something less than that in the postseason. This looks to be a reloading year, as-like the Big Ten-many of the players who made the league so much fun to watch last year (Buddy Hield, Perry Ellis, Georges Niang, Devin Williams) have completed their collegiate careers. In the end, though, some things never change: Kansas is the favorite to win its 13th straight league regular season title. West Virginia and Baylor figure to still be difficult, and watch Oklahoma State and Texas Tech under new coaches Brad Underwood (formerly of Stephen F. Austin) and Chris Beard (Arkansas-Little Rock), both big winners last year at their previous jobs.
  • The Big West was on the uptick the past few years but looks to be in serious reloading mode. No team in the country personifies that better than Hawaii, which advanced to the round of 32 in the NCAAs last year but loses all five starters and returns not a single player who averaged more than two points per game last year. Long Beach State is the favorite entering this season, with 5-7 guard Justin Bibbins leading the 49ers on their annual non-conference gauntlet that this year includes road trips to Wichita State, North Carolina, Louisville, UCLA and Washington-in a row. Cal State Northridge is a popular darkhorse pick, but don’t discount UC Irvine despite losing 7-6 Mamadou Ndiaye, as players such as Ionnis Dimakopoulos and Jaron Martin are poised to play bigger roles this year.
  • The CAA was the most underrated conference in the country a year ago, finishing a solid ninth in the RPI. The league likely won’t be quite as deep this year, not with Hofstra, James Madison, Northeastern and William & Mary all losing all-CAA performers, but it should be competitive and fun to watch just the same. UNC-Wilmington fits that bill as well as almost any team in the country with its fast pace and frenetic pressure defense, and the Seahawks led by outstanding senior guard Chris Flemmings are the preseason favorites. William & Mary will remain a tough out, while Towson and College of Charleston also could push UNCW.

Side Dishes

  • Speaking of UNC Wilmington above, guard Jordan Talley has been suspended indefinitely for “conduct detrimental to the team.” Talley is a hard-driving point guard who led the team in assists a year ago.
  • From Wednesday, the AP released its preseason All-America team. Named to the team were Grayson Allen of Duke, Dillon Brooks of Oregon, Josh Hart from Villanova, Iowa State’s Monte Morris and Ivan Rabb of California.
  • Among exhibition results from Thursday: Boston College struggled before holding off in-state foe Stonehill 81-74, Clemson pummeled Lander (S.C.) 105-49, Alabama handled another NAIA member Faulkner (Ala.) 91-71, Murray State blitzed Berry (Ga.) 116-71 and Middle Tennessee State toppled North Alabama 96-65. Other interesting results: California slid by Cal Baptist 81-73, Washington scraped by Western Washington 109-103, Southern Illinois squeaked by Missouri-St. Louis 72-67 and Southern Mississippi needed two overtimes to nip NCAA Division II Mississippi College’s Choctaws 96-95.

Tonight’s Menu

  • Among the teams playing exhibition games Friday night include North Carolina, Dayton, Michigan, Davidson, Wake Forest, VCU, Auburn, Nevada, Saint Louis and IUPUI.

Have a superb weekend.

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