Is Syracuse's self-imposed postseason ban fair to players? Will the Big East be rewarded for its strength? Seth Davis answers these questions in his mailbag.
Note: Seth Davis will periodically answer questions posed to him over Twitter, Facebook and emails sent through SI.com. Be sure to check out his Hoop Thoughts column every Monday and to send questions during his Twenty for Tuesday Q&A on Twitter at @SethDavisHoops. Tweets have been edited for clarity. Trolls have not been included.
I was planning to open this week’s Twitterbag by addressing a question from a Syracuse fan asking about the Orange’s chances of making the NCAA tournament. On Wednesday, the school answered that question for me by announcing that it was self-imposing a postseason ban as part of an ongoing NCAA investigation into alleged academic malfeasance and irregularities in the school’s drug policy with regard to its men's basketball and football programs. Yes, the Orange have been struggling and have a difficult schedule ahead, but they are 6-3 in the ACC and 15-7 overall, so there was a high probability this team was going to play in the postseason somewhere. Now it won’t -- no ACC tournament, no NIT and certainly no NCAA tournament. The suspense is over.
Which is not to say this case is over. This was the school’s decision, not the NCAA’s. That hammer has yet to fall. There is no timetable for the NCAA’s final verdict, but it has the option of imposing even more penalties, and there is every reason to believe it will. The most obvious next-step options include reduction in scholarships and vacating of games. I’d expect the penalties will also include NCAA probation, which is more of an administrative hassle than anything. The biggest question of all is whether Boeheim will personally be penalized. Now that we are in the coach responsibility era, that is a real possibility, and it could include anything from a reprimand to suspension to, worst-case scenario, a show-cause penalty.
In the meantime, we are left to sift through the rubble of where that leaves the 2014-15 Syracuse Orange. It is a very sad day for these players, especially given that, according to the school’s press release, none of the current players had anything to do with the reasons for the ban. The only player we know for sure was involved is Fab Melo, a 7-foot center from Brazil who played at Syracuse from 2010-12 but was suspended right before the start of the 2012 NCAA tournament for academic reasons. Melo had also been declared ineligible temporarily during that season, as was another player, James Southerland. In announcing this penalty Wednesday, the school said that none of the potential violations occurred after 2012. Yet, the current players, who are not culpable, are the ones who will suffer the most.
That definitely stinks. Whenever such penalties are meted out, a persuasive argument is made that they unfairly punish players who have done nothing wrong. Yet I have never heard anyone suggest a better alternative. What sanction would have enough teeth to scare other schools so they won’t commit similar violations? Short of suspending Boeheim for the remainder of the season, it’s hard to think of one. The NCAA can force schools to return earnings from the basketball tournament, but it is not in position to levy huge fines. Probation and scholarship reductions are inconveniences, not deterrents. At a time when many people inside college athletics have been complaining that the NCAA’s enforcement division has no teeth, the NCAA needs every tool it can find to chomp down on bad actors. How do you hit a basketball program where it hurts? By denying it access to the best experience it can have.
I feel for these Syracuse players. I really do. They are paying a heavy price for sins they did not commit. It doesn’t feel right, yet it is the only way to do business. The decision the school made has caused a lot of pain. The NCAA will likely inflict some more. That is unfortunate, but that is also the point.
What does Nebraska have to do to save its season? -- White Mamba (@B3nn3t07)
I hate to be Captain Obvious here, but the answer for the Huskers is the same as it is for any team: win more games.
In Nebraska’s case, that especially means winning more road games. Or should I say, any road games. The only road win Nebraska has this season came at Florida State, and that won’t help their cause much. Last week’s road trip to Michigan and Minnesota, where Nebraska lost by a combined 32 points, was not encouraging. The Cornhuskers have road games remaining at Penn State, Purdue, Maryland, Ohio State and Illinois. None of those will be easy, not even Penn State. And the home games remaining against Wisconsin, Iowa and Maryland aren’t exactly layups either. Nebraska is 5-5 in the Big Ten, so it is probably looking at finishing several games under .500. That is not going to cut it.
The Huskers are in a similar situation as a lot of teams in college basketball right now: Solid defensively, but just can’t score. Which is frankly shocking given that Nebraska has two of the Big Ten’s top five scorers in Terran Petteway and Shavon Shields. The Huskers have players who are scorers but not shooters, which makes them easier to guard. Nebraska is ranked 266th in the country in offensive efficiency and 291st in three-point percentage. Moreover, they are not making up for that deficiency on the boards, ranking 328th nationally in offensive rebound percentage and dead last in the Big Ten in rebound margin.
If there is one saving grace for Nebraska fans, it is the fact that this time last year, the Huskers were 3-6 in the Big Ten. They finished by winning eight of their last nine games, including on the road over Michigan State and then at home over Wisconsin in the season finale. That allowed them to eke into the NCAA tournament, where they lost by 14 points in their opening game against Baylor. Do I envision a similar late flourish? No, I don’t. But I certainly wouldn’t have predicted it last year, either.
Who's the one player in CBB no is talking about, that come tourney time, could be a household name? -- Weidman (@Nittany8)
You all know how much I love making lists, so I can’t give you just one. Here are six who come to mind:
1. Seth Tuttle, 6-foot-8 senior forward, Northern Iowa. He’s big, skilled and savvy, and he just torched Wichita State for 29 points and seven rebounds in the Panthers’ 16-point win last Saturday. Tuttle leads his team in points (15.1), rebounds (6.7) and assists (3.1), and he’s ranked sixth nationally in field goal percentage (60.9). He has also made 11 three-pointers this season and attempts about six-and-a-half free throws per game.
2. LaDontae Henton and Kris Dunn, Providence. Henton is a 6-6 senior forward who is eighth in the country in scoring at 20.8 per game. Dunn, a 6-3 sophomore point guard, leads the nation in assists (7.8), ranks ninth in steals (2.6) and also pulls down 6.2 rebounds per game. And both these cats rank in the top three of the Big East in field goal percentage. That’s as good a one-two punch as you will find anywhere in the country.
3. Cameron Payne, 6-2 sophomore point guard, Murray State. I’ve been watching this team and this player more and more in recent weeks, and I like what I see. Payne is a demon at both ends of the floor. He leads the Ohio Valley Conference in scoring (19.3), and he’s second in assists (5.8). He gets to the foul line (where he converts 77.3 percent), he takes care of the ball (2.37 assist-to-turnover ratio, also best in the league) and he’s second in the conference (and 16th nationally) at 2.23 steals per game. This kid is a winner.
4. Nic Moore, 5-9 junior point guard, SMU. Larry Brown has been riding this kid hard for two years now, and you can see the results. Moore averages nearly 15 points per game, thanks largely to his 46.3 percent clip from three-point range, which is tops in the AAC. He also leads the league (and ranks 11th nationally) in free throw shooting (89.2 percent) and is fourth in assist-to-turnover ratio (1.82). The Mustangs have only lost four games all season, which means they shouldn’t have to sweat out Selection Sunday like they did last year.
5. Isaiah Whitehead, 6-4 freshman guard, Seton Hall. Maybe I’m just overreacting to one game, but Whitehead’s ability to score 19 points in 23 minutes in Saturday’s win over Xavier after missing a month with a broken foot was incredible, especially for a freshman. He added 14 in the loss at DePaul on Tuesday night. Seton Hall is the kind of team that can lose to just about anyone or beat just about anyone. The Pirates went 5-4 without Whitehead, but one of those wins came in overtime against Villanova. Whitehead scored 25 earlier this season in a win over Rutgers and 23 in a loss to Wichita State.
Does the committee reward the Big East for overall strength or ding them since nobody has a gaudy record? -- Brian Miller (@brian_miller)
As much as the committee has tried to explain over the years that conference affiliation matters little, this line of questioning still persists. So let me make two points here.
First, the only way conference affiliation matters is the degree to which it lines up quality opponents. A team doesn’t get extra consideration for being in the Big 12 per se, but the reality is, if you are a member of that conference and you have a good record, you probably beat some good teams, hopefully away from home. So yes, that helps.
And yet, in this era of the unbalanced megaconference schedules, not all conference resumes are alike, even compared to other members of the same conference.
Second, there are much better ways to judge a conference’s relative strength than just the number of teams it sends to the NCAA tournament. For example, right now, RPI guru Jerry Palm has seven Big East teams in his bracket, and only six from the ACC -- even though the Big East has 10 teams and the ACC has 14. Yet, his ACC teams are seeded 1, 2, 3, 3, 4 and 11. His Big East teams are seeded 2, 4, 5, 7, 7, 10 and 11. So by that measure, the ACC is the stronger league.
On a scale of 1-10 how unfair is it that D.J. Newbill won’t get the chance to play in the tournament barring something crazy? -- Bill (@bflip33)
Life is indeed unfair. Newbill, a 6-4 senior guard, has been outstanding in the three years he has played for Penn State after transferring from Southern Miss. He is having another stellar season, averaging a career-best 21.5 points per game (to go along with 4.8 rebounds and 3.0 assists) on 46.5 percent shooting. Yet, he will end his college career having never played in an NCAA tournament game. For shame.
Who are some other really good players on really bad teams this season? I can feel another list coming on. In order:
Olivier Hanlon, 6-4 junior guard, Boston College. Ranks sixth in the ACC in points (16.5), fourth in assists (4.7) and ninth in steals (1.47). Had 25 points (on 4-for-5 three-point shooting) in the Eagles’ lone ACC victory this season at Georgia Tech.
Shevon Thompson, 6-11 freshman center, George Mason. Thompson has been the lone bright spot for the Patriots, which are 2-6 in the Atlantic 10. He leads the league in rebounding (11.5) and field goal percentage (56.1) and is ninth in blocks (1.26).Myles Mack, 5-10 senior guard, Rutgers.
Tyrone Wallace, 6-5 junior guard, Cal. It seems like years ago that we were talking about Wallace as a potential All-America, but it was only early December. As the Bears have fallen by the wayside, Wallace’s numbers have stayed consistent. He ranks fourth in the Pac 12 in scoring (17.6), fifth in rebounds (8.0), seventh in assists (3.7) and seventh in field goal percentage (43.5).
Jordan McLaughlin, 6-1 freshman guard, USC. It has been a rough second season for Andy Enfield, but McLaughlin offers some hope for the future. He has been effective at both ends of the floor, ranking fifth in the Pac 12 in assists (4.9) and steals (1.56) while scoring 11.6 points per game. His 2.26 assist-to-turnover ratio is also fourth in the league.
KT Harrell, 6-4 senior guard, Auburn. Harrell’s scoring is down a little from last season, but he still ranks second in the SEC at 17.1 points per game, even though the Tigers are just 2-6 in conference play. He’s also fourth in three-point shooting (43.3) and ninth in field goal percentage (46.0).