Category archive: West Virginia Mountaineers

If the 2014 NBA draft lives up to its hype, the upcoming college basketball season could rival or supersede any since the turn of the century.

That's a big if.

But the buzz isn't going away and won't unless the returning and incoming talent takes a dramatic drop from preseason projections.

Let's assume Kansas freshman Andrew Wiggins, Kentucky freshman Julius Randle and Oklahoma State sophomore Marcus Smart are locks for the top three to five spots in the NBA draft. Who else registers with NBA decision-makers to fill out the top 10?

Jabari Parker, freshman, Duke Blue Devils

Parker will pair up with Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood to create a dynamic tandem for the Blue Devils. Parker's overall basketball IQ makes him a cinch to be in the top 10. He will be in the running for ACC Player of the Year with Hood, Virginia's Joe Harris and Syracuse's C.J. Fair.

Joel Embiid, freshman, Kansas Jayhawks

Wiggins has swallowed most of the oxygen coming from Lawrence, but Bill Self potentially has one of the best big men he has coached at KU in Embiid. He is a sponge, soaking up knowledge, and could be the most dominant big man outside of Randle this season.

Glenn Robinson III, sophomore, Michigan Wolverines

Robinson is described as having a pro game with excellent shooting skills. The trick will be how he handles being much more of a featured presence for the Wolverines.

Mitch McGary, sophomore, Michigan Wolverines

McGary could have easily bolted from Michigan after its Final Four run last season. He was a hot candidate in an incredibly weak draft, yet he chose to return. Now, he's battling back issues. The upside is there, but he needs to show well for a full season.

James Young, freshman, Kentucky Wildcats

Kentucky coach John Calipari isn't hesitating promoting Young's skill set. If he has Michael Kidd-Gilchrist's work ethic but is even better in the skill department, Young could be a sleeper to shoot up into the top five in June.

Aaron Gordon, freshman, Arizona Wildcats

Gordon was the MVP of the United States' under-19 gold-medal-winning team in the Czech Republic in July. His athleticism was on full display in the event. But Gordon will need to show he can shoot and defend to ensure he's a top-five talent.

Andrew Harrison, freshman, Kentucky Wildcats

Harrison will step in as the Wildcats' point guard. If he stands out, the long line of highly placed Calipari-coached point guards will continue to dominate the lottery.

With alignment on hold until after next season, the lines have been drawn, the places set. Now, it's time for programs that have lost their way to lock in and start the climb out of mediocrity.

Such as:

Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons stuck with Jeff Bzdelik for a fourth season after winning just 13 games in each of the past two seasons. Transfers have become all too common in the program. There was progress last season: winning six conference games, beating ACC champ Miami and knocking off NC State. But the Demon Deacons couldn't win on the road. Climbing out of the bottom third will be even tougher this year with the additions of Syracuse, Pitt and Notre Dame, not to mention the forthcoming switch of Maryland for Louisville. Wake Forest athletic director Ron Wellman and Bzdelik are good friends. Wellman put his stake in Bzdelik and has to see this through. Now is the time for the Demon Deacons to make a move to ensure that the rocky road was worth the wait. The Wake Forest fan base is one of the most passionate in the league. It's a shame that it hasn't had the opportunity to create a feared, frenzied atmosphere like the one it had less than 10 years ago.

Nebraska

The Cornhuskers are investing in basketball like never before. Nebraska is playing in $179 million Pinnacle Bank Arena. Coach Tim Miles is entering his second season. He has a young team in Lincoln, and there will be growing pains. Still, there needs to be a return investment. The Huskers must make Lincoln a feared road stop in the Big Ten going forward. Nebraska has a chance to show promise. The time is now to make a move before even the most passionate fans begin to lose interest.

West Virginia

The Mountaineers' transition to a new league might have been the toughest of any team that moved. That shouldn't have derailed a program Bob Huggins had rolling to a Final Four just over three years ago. Huggins has too much pride to let West Virginia wallow in mediocrity, but the talent drain was in effect last season. There were recruiting mistakes and opportunities lost. The Mountaineers must make Morgantown as difficult a road stop for opposing teams. Moving into the league's top four is more than doable for the Mountaineers.

Seton Hall

The Pirates might be one of the biggest beneficiaries of a move to a smaller conference. Seton Hall was lost amid the bloated old Big East. Now the opportunity is there for the Hall to climb. A strong 2014-15 recruiting class should give hope. There is optimism for one of the most difficult high-major jobs in the Northeast. Kevin Willard is entering his fourth season as a .500 coach, but he could be judged with a clean slate in a new league where the true round-robin schedule will be a fair barometer. The new Big East desperately needs the New York-market teams to matter in March. St. John's appears to be ready to accept the responsibility. The Pirates must do their share, too.

Utah

If you've never seen the Huntsman Center rocking, then you've missed out on one of the top home courts in the West. The problem is that those instances, since the late Rick Majerus was on the sideline, have been limited. Crime-fighting coach Larry Krystkowiak has the right demeanor, character and credibility to deliver a winner, but the corner must be turned soon. Utah can -- and should -- be one of the rising teams in a conference that allows plenty of chances for schools to take a turn near the top. If once downtrodden Colorado can be a regular, established contender, then Utah can as well. Krystkowiak said he believes in the younger players in the program. Now it must ignite the passion that once made Salt Lake City an intimidating destination.

Georgia

Georgia has always been one of the more intriguing SEC teams not named Kentucky or Florida. The Bulldogs are within range of plenty of talent, notably in Atlanta, even going against hometown Georgia Tech. The Bulldogs have a determined and loyal fan base that craves a winner. Mark Fox has coached and recruited pros, but he hasn't been able to get that talent to win consistently in the postseason. The SEC is wide open beyond the top two teams, with room after that for whoever can produce. If there ever was a time to make a move back into being a team of consequence, this is it.

Houston

When Guy Lewis was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame last month, it brought back memories of the Cougars' dominance in the 1980s. That era is long gone while Houston has spent time in the Witness Protection Program. Now the Cougars have come out of their shell in the American Conference, where there is a real opportunity for Houston to get on the national stage. Once Louisville leaves, UConn, Memphis and Cincinnati will need challengers. Temple and SMU might take their shot. Houston, though, can draw from as much, if not more, of a talent base than any school outside of Memphis. The Cougars might never have a better chance to be a factor than right now. The 1980s aren't coming back, but Houston has a shot to create its own revival.

The Big East will send out its annual straw poll to its coaches to get their preseason predictions about the strength of the league's teams to help put together next season's conference schedule.

The league office said Syracuse's Jim Boeheim and Pitt's Jamie Dixon will be allowed to vote in the poll, even though the schools are leaving the conference for the ACC. They weren't invited to the conference meetings earlier this week in Florida.

The results of the poll will determine which teams face each other twice during the conference schedule. Having a tiered system based on those predictions has worked well for the Big East, rather than the predetermined rotations of which teams play each other twice used by the Big Ten, ACC and SEC.

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Bill Streicher/Icon SMIBig East coaches are confident the formula the league uses to determine conference schedules ahead of each season has helped in getting more NCAA tournament bids.

The Big East had 11 teams in the NCAA tournament in 2011; it sent nine teams last season. Coaches firmly believe handling scheduling this way is the reason.

"We've been able to give the league the flexibility to balance the schedule," Cincinnati's Mick Cronin said after the Big East meetings wrapped up Tuesday morning in Ponte Vedra Beach. "The repeat opponents have been set up by the hierarchy of the league in the summer. Something has been done right. We've had 11 teams and then nine teams in the NCAA. The coaches were against 18 league games but then it has helped us get more teams in [the tournament]."

Notre Dame coach Mike Brey agreed that the formula has worked for the Big East.

"It has driven us to get more bids," said Brey, who added it was odd not to have Boeheim at the Big East meetings for the first time during Brey's tenure at Notre Dame. "We've got to stay with this formula. It's not too constrictive. We don't want a rotation. We've got to keep an open mind. Some of it is by design, some of it is by luck, but it has really worked. You can sit there as a coach and say, 'If you're in the top eight, you're in the tournament.'"

There were 13 men's basketball coaches in attendance at Monday's meeting. Four coaches stayed to meet with athletic directors Tuesday. UConn's Jim Calhoun and Louisville's Rick Pitino weren't in attendance and neither were coaches from incoming 2013 members Temple (Fran Dunphy), Memphis (Josh Pastner) and SMU (Larry Brown).

According to Brey, the 11 other coaches in attendance, outside of him and Cronin, were: Stan Heath (South Florida), Ed Cooley (Providence), Kevin Willard (Seton Hall), Steve Lavin (St. John's), Mike Rice (Rutgers), Jay Wright (Villanova), Buzz Williams (Marquette), John Thompson III (Georgetown), Oliver Purnell (DePaul) and 2013 new members Donnie Jones (Central Florida) and James Dickey (Houston).

Heath said that there was even discussion about possibly opening up to 20 games from 18 when the new teams come into the conference.

"We had some conversation, but nothing was shot down," Heath said.

Heath, Cronin and Brey all said there was a renewed sense of optimism in the room, especially with presentations from television executives from NBC and Fox. ESPN and CBS have the current Big East rights, but the league will enter a new negotiating period in the fall.

"There was excitement over the TV presentation possibilities," Cronin said. "The Big East can't negotiate now but there was interest in our product. You could see people spending valuable time on the presentations and they say we'll be even stronger with the media market changes in adding Dallas, Houston and Orlando, which only helps the big picture."

The coaches agreed that the conference tournament must include all members in 2013, regardless of that number.

Heath said he brought up to the coaches that former USF player Kentrell Gransberry never played at Madison Square Garden during his career at South Florida because all the teams weren't invited.

"It's meaningful to the players and the teams even if it's one game," Heath said. "It's a big part of being in the Big East."

The format for the 2013 Big East tournament is still being discussed. There are 15 teams in the league this season with West Virginia's departure. Connecticut is currently not eligible for the tournament since it is not allowed to play in the postseason because of an NCAA ban for poor academics.

The coaches said the plan would be a for 14-team tournament with two games on Tuesday (instead of the previous four) and the rest of the schedule going forward from Wednesday on during championship week with the remaining teams.

Brey said the number of games for an 18-team Big East is still an issue.

"Everybody wants to play everybody," Brey said. "We can't have no-plays. And we need all of the schools to come to New York. A lot of these schools do a lot of business around the Big East tournament. We've got to figure out a way to do this. We're going to figure this all out together."

Marshall and Western Kentucky say they did their due diligence before hiring former Miami assistants Jorge Fernandez and Jake Morton, respectively.

Both schools' head coaches -- Marshall's Tom Herrion and Western Kentucky's Ken McDonald -- said they went through the proper protocol, as did their compliance offices. That means an email or phone call to the NCAA enforcement to see if there are any violations, even if they are secondary, on the record of the individual.

But what is not given up is whether there is an ongoing investigation.

"We've never received information like that," said Marshall's Derek Gwinn, the school's associate director of athletics for compliance. "It's always been that they won't comment on ongoing investigations."

Bob Williams, the NCAA's vice president of communications, confirmed as much.

"What we do is tell schools who have secondary or major violations," Williams said. "If there is an investigation ongoing, they won't say the individual is under investigation because of the confidentiality clause."

The NCAA has said it's been investigating Miami for five months, while Yahoo! Sports spent 11 months on its investigation. The allegations broke by Yahoo! on Fernandez were that Miami booster Nevin Shapiro witnessed him having impermissible contact with Miami football players in 2008 and entertaining then-AAU-coach Moe Hicks (now on the St. John's staff).

The allegations against Morton were more serious. Shapiro alleges that Morton was aware a family member of then-recruit and current senior DeQuan Jones wanted $10,000 for a commitment to Miami and that Shapiro agreed to front the money. The allegation is Morton met Shapiro to pick up the cash and Morton returned the money after Shapiro went to prison.

Former Miami head coach Frank Haith didn't take Morton and Fernandez with him to Missouri.

So far, according to Marshall and Western Kentucky, neither Morton nor Fernandez has spoken to NCAA investigators. That sort of leaves them in limbo, but Herrion and McDonald are sticking with their new assistants and have been told by each that the two men didn't do anything wrong. Both coaches say the cases have to run their course before any judgment can be reached. Both coaches will remain on staff and continue to recruit.

Meanwhile, Haith isn't allowed to comment on the case as he waits to be interviewed by the NCAA for his alleged role in knowing about a payment for Jones. Haith is being kept in limbo as well since the NCAA investigation will likely last into 2012 since it also involves football. That means Haith will have a shadow over him for quite some time, forcing Missouri to decide if it is going to stick with him or cut him a negotiated settlement (which would likely be in the millions) before any investigation is complete. Haith has publicly professed his innocence in a statement but can't speak anymore on the subject, making it harder for him to defend himself.

The former assistants are in a similar situation, but with a much dimmer spotlight on them. Yet, like Haith, both are at new institutions, and that makes it more difficult since neither has built up any equity at his new job.

More news and notes from around the country:

• Herrion said Marshall has signed up to play at Syracuse this season for a $100,000 guarantee. The Thundering Herd, which fancy themselves contenders with Memphis for the Conference USA title, will play two other notable Big East teams -- at Cincinnati (a return game in 2012-13 will be in Charleston, W. Va.) and the annual rivalry game against West Virginia in Charleston. MAAC favorite Iona is going to Huntington, as is MAC contender Akron. Marshall is also playing an in-season home-and-home against a Belmont team that won 30 games last season and returns nearly everyone. Games against Ohio, UNC Wilmington and High Point are also on the schedule as Marshall looks for one more game.

• The NCAA is expected to resolve outgoing UConn athletic director Jeff Hathaway's situation as incoming chair of the men's basketball tournament committee in weeks, not months, according to a NCAA spokesperson. The Big East would like to see Hathaway in the same role and trust his due diligence on the committee, even if he's not employed at a member institution. He will, after all, be technically paid by one during his year as chair since UConn reached a settlement with Hathaway.

• Williams said you can expect a number of the actions discussed at the presidential retreat to be enacted at either the next board of presidents meeting in October or in January at the NCAA convention. Williams said the new cut score for the APR (930) will likely be adopted and that teams will start missing the NCAA tournament if they don't average at least that number over a four-year period. Williams said it wouldn't affect the 2012 tournament since the schools need time to adjust to the new score. It'll kick in for the 2013 tourney at the earliest, but likely later.

• The Big East hopes to finish its conference schedule sometime around Labor Day. And that means Connecticut will know who its opponents will be for the first three Big East games that coach Jim Calhoun will have to miss due to an NCAA-imposed suspension. The Big East traditionally is the last conference to publish its league schedule as it works with a number of NBA and NHL arenas on scheduling dates.

• The MAC's decision to advance the top two teams to the semifinals of its league tournament was a much-needed change. The MAC had to do something to protect the best teams and give them the best chance to advance to the NCAA tournament then win a game. This is the same move that a number of leagues, notably the WCC, have made recently.

• Texas A&M to the SEC makes sense with the conference getting into the Houston market and dipping into a state that certainly loves its football. Leaving Texas and its natural rivalries would be a sacrifice worth taking for the more lucrative payday and passion within the Southeastern Conference. But figuring out the SEC's 14th fit -- if it comes to that -- is a bit trickier. If the SEC schools were to block out schools from their own states, that eliminates Florida State, Georgia Tech, Louisville and Clemson.

Virginia Tech would seem a natural, but the Hokies like their competitive position in the ACC and there are also the political ramifications to "breaking up" with rival Virginia. If there is one school that's a dark horse, it's West Virginia. The Mountaineers certainly could hang in both major sports (football and men's basketball) and compete at a high level. The SEC offers a lot more stability than the Big East in football and WVU's passion for its sports teams is akin to the SEC.

The problem of course is that the media market is small and doesn't deliver much to the SEC in terms of number of households. West Virginia can dip into the Pittsburgh area and that wouldn't hurt. The school would also likely have the least resistance politically of any of the other candidates. From a hoops standpoint, adding Bob Huggins to the mix and renewing an old rivalry with his old pal John Calipari would be entertaining for all.

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