CBB Cinderella Watch

 

Blue bloods will headline the 2019 college basketball season. However, we all know the main source of excitement and heartache in March will come from random schools beating these powerhouses.

Keep an eye on these mid-majors in the tournament this year.

  1. Buffalo- Coming off an impressive campaign in 2018 the Bison return 5 of their 6 leading scorers from last year. They wrecked the Arizona Wildcats in the NCAA tournament and could be poised for an even deeper run this year. C.J. Massinburg is a stud and their frenetic style of play will continue to wreak havoc on opponents.
  2. Illinois State- This team features a great coach in Dan Mullen and an impressive lead forward in Milik Yarbrough. A senior, Mailik, had an impressive junior campaign averaging 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists a game. The Redbirds boast an experienced roster that will compete with Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean for the MVC title.
  3. South Dakota State- Jackrabbits should have an electric offense led by Mike Daum. If you didn’t see him last year this dude can hoop. Averaging 21.5 points and lighting it up from deep making nearly 43% from 3. Look for the Jackrabbits with a better roster and Daum with the greenest light to average over 25 points a night.
  4. Western Kentucky- The Hilltoppers have potential to make some noise in the tournament this year. 5 Star stud freshman Charles Bassey headlines a talented young core. A good litmus test for this team will be an early November match-up against a good PAC12 team in Washington.
  5. Marshall- The combo of C.J. Burks and Jon Elmore should strike fear in not only conference USA opponents but all of NCAA. An early season clash with Maryland should give insight on their potential. Not even favored in their own conference, this team has a  back-court that will come in handy come NCAA tournament time.

The Voters Have Spoken

With the AP Poll coming out with their official rankings for college basketball before the season starts you might be asking yourself if they got it right? To that I answer your question with another question, does a fat baby fart? The layperson who keeps up with college basketball their first thought is that a Duke or Kentucky should be ranked number one coming into the season and finding out that they aren’t would obviously be some sort of mistake. The truth is going into this season the Jayhawks of Lawrence Kansas are the top team in the nation and they are in this position for good reason.

Like most years Kansas is coming into the season with an outstanding recruiting class, Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson are two of the bigger names that most are excited to see take the court in Phog Allen this year. And while the Kentuckys and Dukes of the country can boast star studded freshman classes as well one area where they have come up short the past ten years or so is in their veteran upperclassman presence. Kansas has repeatedly had experienced players that play major roles that have the conference and tournament experience that helps give them an edge in some of the bigger stage games. This season the biggest of those returners are LaGerald Vick, Mitch Lightfoot and Udoka Azubuike. The biggest factor in this duo is without question going to be Azubuike, the 7 footer is without question the most dominant big man in the Big 12 and possibly the country. Staying healthy has been a concern in the previous two years but when he is on the floor. With a 75% field goal percentage (that took place entirely in the paint) Azubuike was close to averaging a double double in points and rebounds. His size and improvement in his feetwork on the low block has allowed for him to turn most matchups in the post to “Barbecue Chicken” as Dr. O’Neal has so eloquently described it. Coach Bill Self has also been able to land some PAC-12 talent as Charlie Moore, a double digit scorer formerly at Cal will join the roster this year as well.

Kansas for the most part ran the tables in the first place voting receiving 37 first place votes to Kentucky’s 19 and while the rosters play a role in that so does the staff that is at the front of the bench. Coach Self not only has the championships and Final Fours to support his resume, he also has been a part of a level of dominance that is rivaled only by that of the Roman Empire. For 14 straight seasons Kansas has been the Big 12 regular season champions and while some might try to “poo poo” this achievement this was done in the conference that put him up against Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Michael Beasley just to name a few. Coach Self has proven that he has the ability to garner the proper mix of veteran players along with younger talent to fit into his system that plays a grit & grind style of basketball that can only be found in the Big 12 and Charlottesville Virginia with Tony Bennett.

The Jayhawks have an interesting non-conference schedule this year so they will put their ranking and experience to the test very early on this year. On top of that the Big 12 won’t be a pushover either as several teams in the conference are in the top 25 and returning key players. Don’t be surprised though when we see that Kansas hasn’t dropped out of the top ten all year and is a lock for a one seed come late April. The reason being Coach Self has the one piece that he has always needed in order to have a successful season which is a dominant big man. Look back on any of his more successful years and you will see there was an outstanding big man on the block. Azubuike fits that description ten times over and he has the surrounding pieces to make this team a juggernaut on both ends of the floor. If you follow any obnoxious Kansas fans on social media you might want to get a head start and block them now because the Rock Chalk Mafia will be out and about flexing their muscles this year.

 

AP Poll Top 25

  1. Kansas
  2. Kentucky
  3. Gonzaga
  4. Duke
  5. Virginia
  6. Tennessee
  7. Nevada
  8. North Carolina
  9. Villanova
  10. Michigan State
  11. Auburn
  12. Kansas State
  13. West Virginia
  14. Orgegon
  15. Virginia Tech
  16. Syracuse
  17. Florida State
  18. Mississippi State
  19. Michigan
  20. TCU
  21. UCLA
  22. Clemson
  23. LSU
  24. Purdue
  25. Washington

Marvel Villains in the ACC by Jan Redmond

When it comes to super hero movies this year wasn’t a first in regards to the number of movies we saw released. We got the usual sequels and the annual “let’s get all the guys from the sequels together for a group sequel”. However we also got a pleasant surprise with Black Panther, this can be backed by the success the movie saw and still continues to see post release. Let’s be honest, Killmonger was the coolest bad guy in any super hero movie Marvel Studios has put out to date (there are many other categories to rate villains so stay the hate mail). While the style and swagger of Killmonger had our curiosity, his motives grabbed our attention. Here you have a guy who was outcast by his people, spending a decade honing his skills and waiting for the day when he could use those particular sets of skills to take his people’s throne; As king, he would liberate oppressed people all over the world with the resources his country possessed. Take out the super powers and this could pass as a story on CNN, there could easily be someone out there in the world who has seen the same struggles and worked to take the same course of action. Well guess what sports fans, there is, and this storyline has manifested itself in college basketball. The man exercising his “Blue Blood” right to challenge for the mantle of king is none other than the leader of the Pitt Panthers, Jeff Capel.

This all makes complete sense when the scene has been set. The ACC is Wakanda, advanced beyond their years and possibly the cream of the crop in the college basketball landscape. The ruler of this land and the one Capel looks to overthrow is none other than Mike Krzyzewski. The natural resource that Duke and a few others (located in the byzantine backwoods of Lexington) have been selfishly hoarding like a TLC two part special, is the nation’s high school talent, college basketball’s Vibranium. Now that the foundation of this ridiculously intricate and niche metaphor has been laid lets walk through the details that led to Jeff Capel becoming the biggest threat to the culture we have seen present in the ACC for so many years now.

In 2006 Capel landed his first big name head coaching job at Oklahoma University. Before that he was an assistant at Old Dominion and VCU where he eventually had a 4 year stint as head coach. While at OU we were able to see early on what he could do from a recruiting standpoint as he landed the future lottery pick Blake Griffin. While some might say that a nutless monkey could get the Oklahoma City native to commit to his hometown university where his older brother was already playing, it must be said he was still responsible for the team making a run in the tournament with not much more than the Griffin brothers and Willie Warren. The benefits of not being in Lawrence Kansas or Bloomington Indiana is that with runs like that you’ve got some wiggle room as a coach. Stay somewhere in and around .500 with your record and the athletic director sends you a nice Christmas card before the holidays. Capel should have been the gold standard of job security after going to an Elite Eight and losing to the eventual national champion. But everyone has that one friend, the one who doesn’t think things through and takes advice from the vaunted Good Idea Fairy who is infamous for leading even the brightest men and women astray. Yes that one friend for Jeff Capel was none other than assistant coach Oronde Taliaferro. Going into the 2010 season Taliaferro left the OU coaching staff with the rumor being that it was in relation to NCAA violations. This was the birth of the conspiracy theories that still plague Jeff Capel today which is that he isn’t the squeaky clean coach he lets on to be (that is another rant for another day). Even though an investigation proved Taliaferro’s misconduct and Capel’s innocence in regards to NCAA violations, Capel was fired at the end of the season.

Here is where Capel would be gifted the opportunity to hone his craft after being ostracized by programs across the nation. Just two months after being fired from OU he was hired on as an assistant with Coach Krzyzewski’s staff at Duke. It was within the ranks of this cultist like staff comprised entirely of what I like to call “Krzyzewski Youth”, that Capel became arguably one of the two greatest recruiters currently in the sport.

Of all the Blue Bloods Coach K was easily one of the last to jump on board with the idea of taking advantage of the “one and done” phenomenon. He dipped his toe in the water with commits like Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers and two year players like Seth Curry which would make the 2010 national championship team one of the last “traditional” Duke teams before the shift in his recruiting method. A shift that took full effect when Capel arrived. When Duke got into the one and done business they went all in like Tugg Speedman playing Simple Jack. What allowed them to be so successful was Capel and his seeming ability to stay on 5 Star recruits like white on rice with a glass of milk in a snow storm. During his tenure he was responsible for Duke signing Jahlil Okafor (Class of 14’ and ranked #1 in the nation), Tyus Jones (14’)(#8), Justise Winslow (14’)(#13), Brandon Ingram (15’)(#3), Harry Giles (16’)(#2), Marvin Bagley (17’)(#1) and Wendell Carter (17’)(#7). Of the Dukies mentioned five were lottery picks and all were taken in the first round of the NBA draft after one year at Duke (all still in the NBA). As impressive as this track record might seem it was all nothing more than preamble. Capel solidified himself as a one man recruiting powerhouse with his recruiting class for Duke University in 2018. With commitments from RJ Barrett, Cameron Reddish and Zion Williamson (the #1, 2 and 3 ranked players in the nation respectively) Capel had assembled one of the most impressive recruiting classes (on paper) ever. At this point no one is questioning his ability to recruit and it is hard to think Capel wasn’t starting to question if he could take his super human power and put it to use for his own gain as opposed to Coach K’s.

Enter Kevin Stallings and the University of Pittsburgh. In the classic Big East era their conference rosters were filled with quick and scrappy guards from the northeast and teams were captained by coaches that looked like made men from a Scorsese movie. Pitt was no different, with guards like Brad Wanamaker and bigs like Gary McGhee their roster fit the culture of Big East basketball to the letter. That being said nothing was more Big East than their head coach Jamie Dixon. Running a program that even Jake Shuttlesworth would be proud to send his son to. Making numerous tournament appearances and leaving the school with a 328-123 record over 13 years he left big shoes for their new head coach hired our of Vanderbilt, Kevin Stallings. The old Big East was extinct and Pitt with Stallings was a part of the ACC, and if you’re wondering how Stallings did after coming from the nation’s trap game capitol of the world in Memorial Gymnasium allow me to give you the rundown; imagine a dumpster, now fill that dumpster with mounds of garbage, take the now full dumpster and apply heat to it. So what was once a traditional mess is now a sort of heated mess which is even messier. Needless to say Stallings was out after a 24-21 record over just two seasons and Capel took this opportunity to give the whole head coaching thing another try.

So with everything how it is most are probably wondering how any of this screams coup in the ACC. It’s quite simple, Jeff Capel III during his time at Duke became a Demigod amongst mere mortals in the game of recruiting. Since taking the head coaching job at Pitt they have seen the best recruiting class in five years. Now it must be said we can’t expect too much this first year as Capel clearly used all his juice in the recruiting class we will see at Duke this upcoming year. Things won’t start to get interesting until you look to the 2019-2020 season for two major reasons. First, Capel hasn’t fully closed the door on the Monstar recruiting class coming into Duke this year and it is clear that they still have connection with him as well. After taking the job at Pitt Capel was reported as still having communication via text with the recruits at Duke as they prepared for the transition to D1 basketball in the ACC. On the surface this seems quite endearing but in all actuality this is a behind the scenes American Psycho level power move. Duke is no different than any other major program and they see their players transfer all the time when things aren’t going their way. There are plenty of questions as to how the incoming class will work out logistically due to their respective games and the positions they played previously. If for some reason it doesn’t work out Capel wants to make sure he is at the front of the list when they look to transfer. People forget there was a scare toward the end of the last recruiting season as Zion took forever to actually sign with Duke and the worry among the Duke faithful and the prayers of the Clemson and Pitt hopeful was that Zion was going to actually stay close to home or follow Coach Capel but that all was wishful thinking. The second reason his second year will be interesting is because of the actual recruiting class Pitt has for the 2019 season…its actually pretty good. To put things in perspective Duke currently is pursuing 5 top 15 players from the class of 19’. Of those 5, three of them are also being recruited by Pitt who has their eyes set on 4 players in the top 15 of the class of 19’.

Capel is doing all of the right things to set himself up for success. He has a decent sample size as a head coach from his time at OU to his stint as interim head coach for Duke when Coach K was out from injury. The question will be can he recruit with the same success in a division that has him facing Krzyzewski and Roy Williams twice a year? Can he steal some of those top recruits that back in the day were choosing Duke and get them up to Pittsburgh instead? Hearing this should highlight just how much Capel is the real life Killmonger as he has a history of mongering the nation’s top high school recruits. Outcast by his people? Check (thanks OU admin and Coach Taliaferro). Spend years gaining the skills necessary to challenge the king? Check. Finally making the move to openly challenge for supremacy and liberate all the oppressed? Check. For Killmonger it was Vibranium, for Capel it is the top basketball recruits, both with plans to see that commodity used for good and not horded allowing for all those around them to suffer. Now, spoiler alert, we all know that Killmonger’s reign of Wakanda was short lived and ended with him dying on the side of a mountain carved into the shape of a damn panther (irony). This storyline very well might play out the same  with 3 straight years of double digit home losses at the hands of K but I refuse to hedge my bets on this one. The more likely outcome and the one that I am getting behind is Pitt being the new program within the ACC that has a jump in success similar to what we have seen from Miami over the past few years. The conference as a whole is gearing up for a power shift and the moves by Capel along with his background have moved him up very high in the running for the number one spot.