Well, Hoopheads, your dark days are over. There is now not one, not two, but three ways to be heard. The first is through this link, which can also be found in the header of every column I write. The second is my Twitter feed; the handle is @SethDavisHoops. And finally, I've got a new Facebook page -- you can like and/or friend me here: facebook.com/sethdavishoops. So now there is no excuse for not getting a hold of me if something is burning your brain. And there is no excuse for me not to answer.
As we tip off the season (and the season's first mailbag), allow me to weigh in on the big news of the week: The NCAA has ruled Kentucky center Enes Kanter permanently ineligible for accepting $33,033 above "actual and necessary expenses" from his professional club in Turkey. There are a few points that need to be made:
1. This is not about John Calipari. I get the feeling that the casual sports fan glanced at the headline this morning and muttered into his oatmeal, "Of course, it's Calipari. The guy's crooked." Not fair. Nobody is accusing anybody of cheating. This is solely about the interpretation of a brand new rule that was put in place last spring regarding international players. Calipari took a chance in signing Kanter, but it was a smart chance. The fact that it turned out this way is not a reflection on him in any way.
2. Rip the NCAA all youwant -- just don't blame the NCAA. What I mean is that too often people rail against "the NCAA" without specifying who they are talking about. This decision came from the staff at the NCAA's headquarters in Indianapolis, but the rule, like all legislation, was proposed and passed by the member schools. If you don't like this decision, focus your ire on the university presidents. I'm sure they'd love to hear from you.
3. Nobody is denying Enes Kanter the chance to get an education. I'm sure the kid is bright and is trying hard in his classes, but it is wrong to cast this move as the big, bad NCAA preventing a youngster from cultivating his mind. Kanter came to the U.S. a year ago to attend a prep school and then play college basketball to improve his game, get him some exposure, and raise his position in the NBA draft. Period. He is still a student at Kentucky and can be one as long as he wants. There is nothing preventing Kentucky from keeping Kanter on scholarship. The only thing he is not allowed to do there is play basketball.
4. This is going to make it less likely that elite foreign players will play college basketball in the U.S. This is a lose-lose all around -- for the players, the schools and the fans. That's not to say it isn't necessary, but the fact is, without a real high school/grassroots base to develop players overseas, their only outlet for improving their games is to join clubs that operate several teams, some of which are professional. Questions of academics and compensation are difficult to translate across the pond. Kanter was just deemed permanently ineligible for accepting a fraction of what he would have made had he remained at home. I believe many foreign players and U.S. coaches will decide in the future that trying to come over here to play college ball really isn't worth the bother. And that's too bad.
5. Kentucky is now just another good team. I was not as high on the 'Cats as some others, even with Kanter in the lineup. Without him, Kentucky is a bottom-of-the-Top 25 type of team -- still pretty good, but not much different than the Virginia Techs and Georgetowns of the world.
As I dip into the mailbag, here are a pair of readers who raised similar questions.
With the Kanter verdict in, how long before the NCAA rules on Josh Selby?-- @nickgleason
Why does it take so long for the NCAA to clear basketball players (e.g.: Josh Selby) for play? My job requires that I meet time guidelines. Why doesn't the NCAA have a time frame for investigation of each student-athlete?-- Tari Parmely, Kansas City
As many of you know, Selby is a freshman point guard at Kansas who has still not been cleared by the NCAA. Unlike Kanter, Selby, who hails from Baltimore, is allowed to practice with the team while the NCAA examines his relationship with a man named Robert "Bay" Frazier, who is the business manager for another Baltimore native, Carmelo Anthony.
With respect to Tari's question, I am also miffed that the season is starting this weekend without a verdict. I realize the NCAA processes hundreds, if not thousands, of eligibility requests each year, but I think there needs to be more accountability to get these matters settled before the first game. It would be one thing if Selby or Kansas were stonewalling the NCAA like Mississippi State forward Renardo Sidney did last year. But in this case, all the requisite information has been collected. We are now firmly in the "processing" stage.
When will the answer come? Hard to say. I posed that question this week to two people in the know. One said we are still a few weeks away, the other said it should happen sometime next week. Kansas coach Bill Self has repeatedly voiced confidence that in the end the kid will be cleared, but when you're playing your first game and you still don't know for sure, I don't see how you can be so confident. Clearly some information has emerged that has concerned the NCAA enough to mete out what is turning into a de facto suspension.
Selby's situation seems to be tracking the one faced by John Wall at Kentucky last year, when the NCAA took a closer look at his relationship with his AAU coach, Brian Clifton. Wall was eventually suspended for two games (one of which was an exhibition) and had repay the $800 he had improperly received to charity. The difference was, that verdict was handed down in late October. Here we are in mid-November, and Selby and Kansas are still waiting. And that's not right.
Now on to the rest of your questions. First, from the SI.com mailbag:
Is this the year that [Purdue senior guard] E'Twaun Moore becomes a household name?-- Jeremy, Ohio
He's already one in my house, Jeremy. If that's not the case elsewhere, it may be because his name's so doggone hard to spell.
Or it may be because Moore has been overshadowed by classmates JaJuan Johnson and Robbie Hummel. Now that Hummel is lost for the year with a torn ACL, Moore will have to take on much more responsibility, and I believe he's ready for his close-up. I was concerned when Moore's shooting percentages dropped significantly from his freshman to his sophomore seasons, but his shot selection really improved last year. He is strong, smart and mature. I know most folks dismissed Purdue's chances to get to the Final Four after Hummel went out, but if this team never had Hummel in the first place, we'd be talking a lot more about what the Boilermakers have than what they don't. What will it take for Purdue to get to Houston? More Moore.
Unless I am mistaken, two years ago you said you would always vote Bo Ryan and Wisconsin at least 25 in the preseason poll, saying that they deserved the benefit of the doubt every season. A year ago, you admitted that you hadn't and said you would never make that mistake again. This year I noticed you ... again ... did not vote for the Badgers. I think you should start writing yourself reminder notes because Wisconsin again will be ranked by January. You and I both know it.-- Edward Gustafson, Geneva, Ill.
I don't know if your claims about my past comments are true, but if they are, it is bad manners to use my own words against me. You should know, however, that I did tab the Badgers as my surprise team in the annual SI.com Crystal Ball picks. I mentioned that I think Jon Leuer will end up being considered the best player ever to suit up for Ryan in Madison (yes, that includes Alando Tucker), but I'm equally excited to see the improvement of junior point guard Jordan Taylor, who had 35 points on 12-for-17 shooting in Wisconsin's two exhibition games.
Regardless of its ranking, I do believe Wisconsin will make the NCAA tournament for the 13th straight year. Think about that: The Badgers have been to 12 straight tourneys, including bids in every one of Ryan's nine years there. And only once has the guy lost in the first round. Remarkable.
Who will be this year's Oklahoma: loved by the media preseason, but a total disaster?-- Jimmy, Phoenix
This is a great question, because right now I see more teams that I would consider overrated than ones who strike me as sleepers. I don't like Ohio State's vacancy at point guard, but the Buckeyes won't be a "total disaster." North Carolina, Memphis and Kentucky concern me with their youth, and I can't help but wonder if Syracuse's roster contains a bunch of role players who aren't quite cut out to be featured performers.
It's impossible to know until after the fact which teams have poisonous locker rooms (which was Oklahoma's problem last year). But two schools come to mind, in both cases because they are facing unresolved off-court issues. The first is Tennessee, which is dealing with an NCAA investigation and just lost an embarrassing exhibition to the University of Indianapolis, a Division II school, by 15 points. Will the Vols bounce back the way Syracuse did last year after falling to Le Moyne? Or is this the start of a great unraveling?
Likewise, the karma surrounding Baylor is not very good right now. The school is also facing an NCAA investigation into the coaching staff's recruiting tactics, and there is still no final resolution to the suspension handed out to LaceDarius Dunn in the wake of his assault charge. Coaches can talk all they want about how they won't let these things become distractions, but Tennessee's pratfall indicates that is easier said than done.
Do you believe that Steve Lavin and his staff will be enough to bring St. John's back to the tournament this season?-- Quinn, Guilford, Conn.
I got a lot of questions about St. John's, and let me tell you -- it's great to see people excited about this program. Lavin is certainly not unfamiliar with the weight of expectations, based on his experience at UCLA. And even with this much excitement, the expectations, as reflected in Quinn's question, are not even that lofty. Nobody's talking about the Sweet 16 or the Final Four or, heaven forbid, a national championship. The bar has been set about waist-high: Get to the NCAA tournament, and we're happy!
To answer Quinn's question: You'll be happy. In this day and age, you'd be hard-pressed to find any team in the big six conferences where seven of the top 10 players are seniors. These guys have shown they can play, too, as long as they stay healthy. St. John's will remain offensively challenged, but if Lavin can get them out on the break instead of making his guys score in the half court, that would make a big difference.
And even if the Red Storm should fall short of the NCAA tournament, the excitement won't dim anytime soon because Lavin is recruiting his tail off. This week he got his best prize so far when Norvel Pelle, a 6-foot-9 jumping jack from Long Beach, Calif., committed to St. John's. It's way too early to issue a final verdict on the Lavin era, but so far this has been a home run hire.
From the Twitterbox:
Why is Seton Hall rated so low? They have all pieces back and finally a real XO's coach.-- @dvond
You're right about the pieces coming back, and Kevin Willard seems like an up-and-comer. But Bobby Gonzalez was supposed to be an up-and-comer, too, and look what happened to him.
Has this program really put all the disarray behind it? Three players -- including one of those important pieces, senior guard Keon Lawrence -- sat out the Hall's exhibition game last Friday because of a "coach's decision." That's not good. There's also the lingering doubts about the health of senior forward Herb Pope, a monster rebounder who almost died over the summer when his heart stopped beating because of a genetic defect. Jeremy Hazell scores a ton of points, but he also shoots his team out of a lot of games, too. The Pirates have some talent, and I love their experience, but it's hard to argue as of now that they're underrated.
What do you think of the job Bennett is doing at UVa? Seems like a decent incoming class, but not much senior leadership.-- @rma33
I'm a big Tony Bennett fan. I think he's a solid dude and a very, very smart basketball coach -- and I would love to see him succeed at Virginia. But for the moment, I stand by my initial assessment that this was an odd hire. Winning is always better than losing no matter what style you play, but if you're going to lose at Virginia, it's better to lose 90-80 than 60-50.
Bennett had a rocky first season in Charlottesville. The Cavs won their first four ACC games, but then they hit the skids. Sylven Landesberg, who was hailed as such an academically-oriented, high-character prospect when he got there, was booted off the team in early March and then foolishly declared for the NBA draft. Bennett has brought in some decent freshmen (most notably 6-5 guard K.T. Harrell from Alabama), but his top returning guard, 6-1 junior Sammy Zeglinski, is out until mid-December following knee surgery.
The early signing period for the Class of 2011, which started this week, did not portend much change. Virginia has not received a single commitment from a player ranked in the top 100 on Rivals.com. Granted, it's hard to evaluate Bennett's recruiting based on rankings because his system is so unique, but until his efforts on the trail bear fruit on the court, nobody can reasonably proclaim this program to be off and running. Bennett deserves a lot more time obviously, but right now, when I think about Virginia basketball, the best I can offer is a dispassionate shrug.
The game seems plagued by too many fouls, diminishing the tempo. Refs need to let more rough stuff go, right?-- @OleOlafLefse
Wrong. I hope the refs call it tighter than ever this season. It's up to the players and coaches to adjust, not the refs. The problem is that every year, the NCAA and the various league supervisors start off insisting to their zebras that they knock off the rough stuff. Then conference play begins and things slack off. Finally, the NCAA tournament harkens on the horizon, and the refs tighten up again because they want the plum assignments during the tournament. There is very little uniformity in the system, which makes it hard for the coaches and players to respond accordingly. In the end, the refs need to do their best to stay consistent and maintain the flow of the game. But this is basketball, not football, so I encourage them to err on the side of keeping it clean.
How many freshmen leaving for the draft (1st rounders)?-- @sandman49
People have to remember that not all freshman classes are created equal. In the grand scheme of things, this is a pretty mediocre bunch. It has some pretty good players at the top, but it's not very deep, and even among the top prospects there's no LeBron or Durant in sight. I'd say North Carolina's Harrison Barnes, Duke's Kyrie Irving, Ohio State's Jared Sullinger and Baylor's Perry Jones would all have a chance to be lottery picks, as would Selby and Kanter. Beyond that, I don't see many guys making the leap.
Do you think Jordan Williams is the best big man in the ACC?-- @terps96
It depends on how you define "big man." There are a couple of frontline players who I would consider to be better than Williams (Barnes and Kyle Singler come to mind), but if you're looking for an old school, back-to-the-basket scorer, then Williams isn't just the best in the ACC, he is also one of the best in the country. He is a legit 6-10 and carries his 260 pounds much better than he did last season. Williams was splendid in Maryland's squeaker over the College of Charleston Wednesday night, finishing with 26 points and 15 rebounds. He is talented, strong and has a high basketball IQ. I'm not ready to start a man crush on him, but I promise I will sing this guy's praises every chance I get.
Is Florida overhyped considering the fact they barely made the tournament last season?-- @Fsegal527
I don't think they're overhyped or underhyped. I think they're properly hyped. I actually put the Gators at No. 6 on my initial AP ballot, which is three spots higher than where they ended up. What can I say, I'm a big believer in experience, and even though the Gators barely squeaked into the field last year, they did return all of their starters. Their point guard play is still a concern, but I'm a big fan of their stud freshman, 6-9 power forward Patric Young. He's not one of these soft big guys who typically come to Florida because they want to play on the perimeter. He's a real enforcer in the paint.
Tell us #Michigan fans something to cheer us up. Anything.-- @TheSpicedLife
I saw Megamind with my kids. It's terrific.
Why no love in the preseason Top 25 for Huggins and the Mountaineers after a Final Four run and losing only three players?-- @Wvmaniac
This query is as relevant as the one about Wisconsin. And I'll now pay Huggins the ultimate compliment by saying I can envision him as the Bo Ryan of the Big East. The occasional Devin Ebanks aside, Huggins is not going to convince a lot of McDonald's All-Americans to play in Morgantown. But he is going to recruit guys who are well-suited to his style and then coach the heck out of 'em. Exhibit A is Kevin Jones, a 6-8 junior forward who was one of the most improved players in the league last year. Without Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler, Jones will be the primary option in West Virginia's offense, but he'll have plenty of help up front from Deniz Kilicli. I'm not a huge fan of point guard Truck Bryant, but Huggins has always excelled at devising his offense to hide his players' weaknesses. As long as they work hard on defense, they can play. So while I did not vote West Virginia on my AP ballot, I assure you I'll be watching.
Finally, a pair of questions from Facebook:
What do you expect out of the Hoosiers this year? Do you see a chance of surprising their way into the top half of the league, or is the Big Ten too tough? [Dan] Dakich says we're deeper than Purdue and practice harder than Illinois. Is this the year Coach Crean breaks through on the court?-- Pat Maley
I expect the Hoosiers to be a) better than they were last year, and b) a lot worse than Purdue and Illinois. With all due respect to my guy Dakich, who I'm glad to see will be taking his hoops acumen and broadcasting talents to ESPN this season, I'd rather have a few really good players than a deep team with mediocre talent. In other words, it may not be a great thing to return all five starters from a team that won 10 games.
To be fair, all but 12 of the Hoosiers' games last season were played without Maurice Creek, who fractured his left knee in late December. Creek, a 6-5 sophomore guard who was the team's leading scorer when he went out, is healthy again, but he shot 3-for-13 from the three-point line in the Hoosiers' overtime exhibition win over Ferris State. (Incidentally, Ferris State made just 52.6 percent from the free-throw line. If they had been merely bad, they would have won in regulation.) The guy who I think may end up having a bigger impact this season is another sophomore, 6-9 forward Christian Watford, who got pushed around a lot last year but is now stronger and more mature. This is going to be a young team, Pat, and I seriously doubt it will be playing in the NCAA tournament.
Even so, the program enjoyed a huge win on Thursday when Cody Zeller, a 6-10 forward from Washington, Ind., committed to IU, spurning not only another local school in Butler but also North Carolina, where his brother, Tyler, is a 7-foot junior. Cody is better than Tyler, but I would not expect him to be one-and-done. That makes him the perfect "get" for Tom Crean. He's a McDonald's All-American-level talent who is from inside the state and will stick around for at least a couple of years. Next season, Crean will add Zeller to a mix of players who will be that much more experienced. That's when things will really be looking up in Hoosierland then.
Other than Cameron Indoor, what is your favorite spot on Duke's campus?-- Jonathan Page
I could take the obvious tack and go with the Chapel. I always liked the Bryan Center walkway, which is where I once spent an hour calling charges on innocent bystanders as part of a fraternity pledging ritual. (Wore a striped shirt and everything.) But in the end, I'll go with the Crowell Quad, because that's where I lived my last two years as an undergraduate in House EE -- or as we knew it, the SPE section. Being a SPE at Duke in the early 1990s was akin to being at Woodstock: If you remember it, you weren't there.