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Hoopsbag: On UNC, Butler and Bruce Pearl

Today brings glad tidings and great joy: It's the first edition of the Wednesday Hoopsbag, in which we, you know, do the whole mailbag thing. Go here to submit your questions. You can also email me at collegebasketballnation@gmail.com, or message me on Twitter. Let's begin with a question about defending national runner-up Butler ...

gurufrisbee, from Kent, Wash. writes: Is the North Carolina buzz just a little too high? This is a team that didn't make the NCAA tournament last year and then lost all three starters from the frontcourt -- and the back court was HORRIBLE. Zeller has had moments, but even healthy how is he better than a multi-year starter and national champion in Thompson? Henson improved some but how is he better than a lottery pick in Davis? And Barnes has hype, but Ginyard was a fifth-year guy who started a ton and was their only good defensive player. [...] I'm having a hard time seeing how this team is even as good as last year's version.

Eamonn Brennan: Interesting points. I think it's fair to be conservative in any North Carolina prospectus, because last year's team was a young one full of inexperienced but highly touted players, and look how that turned out? Still, last year's team didn't have the kind of immediate impact player that Harrison Barnes should be. It's simply hard to imagine a player of his skill set faltering much, even as a freshman. And when you add the return of Tyler Zeller, some apparently improved physicality in John Henson, and a year of experience for Dexter Strickland and Larry Drew III -- not to mention a few other highly touted freshmen joining Barnes on campus this fall -- and I think it's reasonable to expect UNC to be better than last year's NIT grossness.


brosallman from Elmhurst, Ill., writes: E, in light of Indiana getting early commitments from the class of 2014 (Blackmon and Lyles) do you think the NCAA should set guidelines as to the recruitment of incoming high school freshmen?

Brennan: Sure. The NCAA is currently in the process of considering a rule (when the NCAA mulls new rules, "in the process of considering" is actually a pretty accurate phrase) that would prohibit coaches from making scholarship offers to recruits before July 1 in the summer between their junior and senior years. Sounds great, right? The problem is that there's little conceivable way to enforce this rule. Sure, coaches couldn't formally offer scholarships, but there's no real way to stop them from hinting -- wink-wink, nod-nod -- that a scholarship just might be available if a recruit were duly interested.

Still, in theory, such a rule sounds great. Every 14- and 15-year-old is different, but I think we can all agree that most high school freshmen shouldn't be committing to any high-pressure college decision that early in their careers.


Phil from Houston, Tex., writes: Whenever you read or hear something about C-USA basketball, you hear about all the coaching experience and wisdom that the league has. Many coaches have had great experience at big time programs, but are now in C-USA. So why is it such a crummy basketball conference? Memphis is the only one that wins consistently, and UAB only makes a splash about half the time. The rest just stink.

Brennan: The best, easiest answer, is probably because it takes more than good coaches to build a consistent, winning conference. In C-USA's case, there are systemic disadvantages at work: Lack of hoops tradition (with a few exceptions), budget issues, more than a handful of "football" schools, the defection of Marquette, Cincinnati, Louisville, etc. But it's probably worth noting that there are signs of life in Conference USA, at least for the future. Tim Floyd should help make UTEP's revival more than a one-year thing. Tulsa has shown some improvement under Doug Wojcik and it's a program several former coaches (Tubby Smith, Bill Self, etc.) have shown can succeed. Mike Davis has kept UAB competitive. And Josh Pastner is poised to have Memphis back in the elite. That's only four teams, sure, but if all four find their stride -- not inconceivable -- we're not having this conversation in the first place.


Adam Rowe (@DukeHoopsBlog) asks via Twitter: Why don't teams led by freshmen point guards usually win titles and do you see one that can this year?

Brennan: A question about whether a team with a freshman point guard can win the national title ... from a Duke fan? Shocking. Anyway, assuming we accept your premise is true (Derrick Rose was 10 seconds away from leading his team to an NCAA title; Gerry McNamara was a freshman at Syracuse in 2003, and so on), the answer is simple. Point guard, perhaps more than any position, requires intuition and leadership and experience. Those are difficult for freshmen to acquire. Naturally, every situation is different, and to answer the second part of your very leading question (if this were a court, I'd be throwing objections all over the place), yes: Duke can. Kyrie Irving is by all accounts a special player, but more than anything he will be accompanied in the backcourt by Nolan Smith, as experienced and talented a guard as any in the country. He won't have to dominate to win. He won't even have to lead.


Chas from Willoughby, Ohio writes: For predicting the Big East in spots 5-12, is there a better process than tossing darts?

Brennan: Actually ... no. Next question.


Dan from East Providence, R.I., writes: Sean Miller has done an unbelievable job in Arizona so far. With the class they have coming in, and the #3 class of 2011, do you see them getting back to the glory days (and a deep NCAA run) in the next couple years?

Brennan: I'm no recruiting expert, so I had to check with the ESPNU fellas to see what they thought. In their description of Arizona's 2011 class, the first sentence reads: "In a short time, Sean Miller and his staff are bringing in talent that could regain the glory days at Arizona under Lute Olson." So there you go! The answer is yes.

More seriously, though, Miller has done a rather remarkable job at Zona, especially considering the unfortunate circumstances surrounding Lute Olson's retirement and the NCAA violations that somewhat marred the end of his storied career at the school. The first step toward rebuilding any program is (obviously) recruiting, and Miller has done plenty of that in just two years in Tucson.

It's also an advantageous time for Zona to be rebuilding: With the exception of Washington, the Pac-10 is collectively struggling, which means fewer ugly win-loss ratios and fewer discouraging beatdowns for your young players to swallow. It's a forgiving time, and a convenient one for an ascendant Wildcats program.


Mitchell Havarty (@mitchellhavarty) asks via Twitter: Do you think Kansas can win the Big 12 if Josh Selby doesn't get cleared?

Brennan: Kansas recruit Josh Selby is, by all accounts, a tremendous player; with him, the Jayhawks are a legitimate NCAA title contender. (It took me a while to get my head around this notion, but consider how deep KU's second five was last season, and you have some idea of why this makes sense.) Without him? The Jayhawks might lose their fastball, but they still have plenty of stuff to throw at you. If Selby can't get cleared, that opens the door to guard Tyshawn Taylor, who has yet to really live up to his high school hype in Lawrence in part because he's always been behind better or more experienced guards on the depth chart. (Last year, it was Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry -- whose minutes was Taylor going to take, exactly?) But it would be interesting to see Taylor take the reins. Maybe he's a star, and no one's figured it out just yet.

Anyway, the Jayhawks are talented enough to win the Big 12 even if Selby can't get eligible, but without him, they look less like a favorite and more like an underdog a notch below Kansas State.


Wildcats4Ever from Cologne, Germany, writes: Assuming the $100,000 was paid to Enes Kanter, how on this bluegrass earth can Coach Cal claim that he'll play this year?

Brennan: First Hoopsbag, first question from overseas. God bless the power of the Internet.

Anyway, John Calipari's optimism in the Kanter case likely relies on a few things. One: Kanter never signed a professional agreement during his time with his former club. Two: The Kanter family apparently took their own records of Enes' finances during his time in preparation for such a dispute. Three: If the numbers align, the NCAA could consider Kanter's receipts as similar to the tuition and board some prep school players receive before heading off to college. And four: The GM of Kanter's former club has a vested interest in making sure Kanter can't come to Kentucky; Kanter would be forced to find another club, and his former team would receive a transfer fee in the process. So maybe he's not telling the truth.

All that said, if Kanter's former GM was truthful about the documents he says he submitted to the NCAA, then it's hard to imagine the NCAA letting Kanter play. It's really that simple. Now it's the NCAA's job to figure out the details, and we'll wait to see whether Cal's optimism is misplaced or not.


orcharddowns from Davenport, Iowa, writes: Given that the NCAA basically took away a season of football eligibility from Dez Bryant for lying to NCAA inverstigators (about something that was not against NCAA regulations), what do you think they will do with Pearl, given he has broken numerous recruiting rules and foolishly lied to the NCAA?

Brennan: Unfortunately for Pearl and Tennessee, everything seems to be on the table. Pearl has openly hoped that his transgressions don't rise to the level of a "significant violation." That's the only circumstance under which Tennessee could fire its head coach for cause. But the lie in question -- Pearl reportedly denied knowing where a photo of he and recruit Aaron Craft was taken, even though it was taken in Pearl's home -- seems serious enough to warrant the NCAA's big stick.