LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – As the local sports landscape searches for sustained old-fashioned normalcy, so does the Monday Muse.
Football chatter percolates with Louisville winning at Florida State and Kentucky having a legitimate shot to defeat Tennessee on Saturday in Lexington. Basketball chatter escalates with the season 2 ½ weeks away.
I’m always ready to talk baseball, but I’ll delay the World Series conversation until Tuesday because there are plenty of college football and basketball items.
1. What’s the Price for Rick Pitino’s Absence?
The University of Louisville has been a trendy pick in the preseason magazines. Athlon Sports ranked the Cardinals fifth nationally, ahead of Kentucky, Villanova and North Carolina.
Inside scoop: The preseason magazines were written in June and July, long before the U of L basketball program was turned upside down by the news about the federal investigation into college basketball recruiting broke Sept. 26.
No Rick Pitino. No Brian Bowen. No Kenny Johnson (so far).
No easy way to gauge where to rank the Cardinals with confidence with David Padgett opening as a rookie coach against guys like John Calipari, Matt Painter, Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, Tony Bennett and Mike Krzyzewski.
Ken Pomeroy is a numbers guy who relies on analytics and his power formula to rank teams. He posted his first numbers for the 2017-18 season Sunday, placing the Cardinals 16th nationally and fourth in the Atlantic Coast Conference, behind Duke, Virginia and North Carolina. (Link to his ratings, although it is a pay site to proceed past the opening screen).
I asked Pomeroy where the Cardinals would have been ranked before the events of the last month.
Pomeroy wrote this in an e-mail: “Louisville was third before the news broke. Most of the drop is due to Pitino being fired. There is a large penalty for good teams that lose their coach.”
Pomeroy has the Cards heavy favorites to win their first four games before they visit Purdue Nov 28. Their win probability for West Lafayette is 39 percent. Not bad for Mackey Arena. His projected season record for Louisville is 22-9.
Ranking the Cards will be the toughest call on my preseason ballot in the Associated Press college hoops poll. Difficult to believe they can maintain their top-10 defensive profile without Pitino.
2. Where to Rank Kentucky?
Two seasons ago, John Calipari’s Kentucky basketball team was ranked second in the AP college basketball preseason poll, receiving 10 first-place votes. They exited the NCAA Tournament in the Sweet Sixteen.
Last season, the Wildcats were ranked also second in the opening poll, behind Duke. They received a pair of first-place votes. They lost in the Elite Eight, ranked sixth in the final poll.
Small sample size, but Kentucky (like Duke, North Carolina and Kansas) is often overrated in October and November.
This season the hurricane of hype is not swirling as ferociously around the Wildcats, which is a good thing if the goal is exceeding expectations. Kentucky was ranked fourth in the USA Today coaches’ preseason poll that was released last week.
Without significant seniors or juniors to contribute, this team lacks the veteran presence of Calipari’s best Kentucky teams. They’re still the pick in the SEC, but the world will be watching Kentucky’s young guards.
Preseason Top Five? Ken Pomeroy’s numbers have the Wildcats ranked second, behind Villanova. His season record for UK is 25-6.
I’m working on my Top 25, but 6-to-10 is a reasonable range for Kentucky.
3. Jim Boeheim says No Nonsense From Nike
It was refreshing to hear from College Basketball Commissioner Jim Boeheim on the Play-for-Pay Scandal that has overshadowed the buildup to this season.
Boeheim surprised everybody with his take: There’s no problem with the Nike schools.
Nike does not play games. There are so many programs affiliated with Nike that the brand has slugged it way to the top of the college sports landscape by coloring inside the lines. Nike plays no favorites.
No doubt out it.
When a Nike school is locked in a recruiting battle with an adidas or Under Armor program, Nike stays out of it. Syracuse can sell Boeheim’s sunny personality and the spectacular winter weather in central New York.
The Commissioner has spoken.
4. Kevin Ware Defends Rick Pitino
I have not been surprised that former Louisville players have delivered words of support and encouragement for Rick Pitino in the aftermath of his firing a week ago.
I was surprised that Kevin Ware was one of those players. Ware departed Louisville to finish his college career at Georgia State. The player and coach relationship wasn’t always warm and fuzzy after Ware recovered from his horrific leg injury during the 2013 NCAA Tournament.
TMZ (who else?) connected with Ware last week for what appeared to be a Skype interview. Ware voiced his support for his former coach, saying his former coach is a “fall guy.” It’s worth a listen.
5. Wooden Award Top 50
This is a big week for college basketball deadlines. The Los Angeles Athletic Club has requested 50 nominees for the 2018 John Wooden Award.
The Wooden folks have a different game plan than the Heisman folks.
There’s no preseason Heisman list. There is no mid-season Heisman list. In early December, ballots are distributed with instructions to vote for three players.
In basketball, the Wooden process starts with 50 preseason names. The list is sliced in half by January, then down to 20, 15 and then 10 on the final ballot.
My preseason list includes two Kentucky players – guard Hamidou Diallo and forward Kevin Knox – as well as Louisville forward Deng Adel.
The floor is open for additional nominees.
Ray Spalding? Nick Richards? P.J. Washington? Quade Green?
Make your case.
6. Schedule Batters Hoosiers
Playing in the Big Ten East is the gift that keeps giving for the Indiana University football program. In a season where the Hoosiers led Ohio State in the third quarter and took Michigan into overtime, Indiana lost at Michigan State Saturday after leading, 9-3, midway through the fourth quarter.
Over the last three seasons, IU’s defense has been transformed from terrible to stout, while the offense has backtracked from dangerous to drab.
The Spartans were the fourth IU opponent that was ranked when the Hoosiers played them (Michigan has exited the Top 25), which explains how IU’s strength schedule is ranked 10th in the Jeff Sagarin power formula.
The Hoosiers (3-4) have another Top-10 opponent ahead – Wisconsin, which visits Bloomington after Tom Allen’s team travels to Maryland Saturday. If the Hoosiers fail to beat Wisconsin, they’ll have to win at least twice on the road (against Maryland, Illinois and Purdue) to become bowl eligible for the third consecutive season.
7. The One That Got Away from Jeff Brohm
ESPN’s Football Power Index rankings projects 5.5 wins from Jeff Brohm’s first Purdue team after the Boilermakers slipped to 3-4 with a stinging 14-12 loss at Rutgers Saturday.
If the Boilermakers fall short of six victories and bowl eligibility, the Rutgers game will be the one that resonates in West Lafayette this winter.
If you study the numbers, you’d expect a solid Purdue victory. The Boilermakers had 25 first downs. Rutgers had eight. Purdue out-gained Rutgers, 474-217 in yardage. Purdue possessed the ball for four more minutes. They ran 85 plays, 30 more than the home team. A failed two-point conversion and two interceptions stopped Brohm’s team.
The encouraging news for Purdue is the Boilermakers have only two remaining opponents with winning records – Iowa and Nebraska, both 4-3. The Northwestern, Illinois and Indiana games are all winnable.
8. Charlie Strong Rules First-Year Coach Comparison
For all the howling about Western Kentucky coach Mike Sanford this month, here is an interesting list shared by Paul Myerberg of USA Today. It is the record of coaches in their first seasons at their current jobs.
The leader is no surprise: Former U of L coach Charlie Strong has South Florida perfect after seven games. He is followed by Lincoln Riley of Oklahoma. The Sooners are 6-1.
Then comes Sanford, whose WKU squad has rallied to win four straight, improving to 5-2. All Sanford has to do is beat Florida Atlantic and Lane Kiffin Saturday as well as win at Vanderbilt and the howling will cease and desist, right?
9. Beware the Preseason Magazines
After mentioning the pre-season college basketball magazines, I can’t overlook the preseason college football magazines, especially after two months of play has provided evidence of what they did well – and what they did wrong.
Georgia – Ranked 22nd by Phil Steele, the Bulldogs are on a collision course with Alabama for the SEC championship game. Sports Illustrated put Georgia 16th. Oops.
TCU – Ranked 20th by Phil Steele, the Horned Frogs are 7-0 and the best hope of the Big 12 to make the national playoff. Athlon ranked TCU 32nd.
Wisconsin – Ranked 12th by Athlon, the Badgers have taken advantage of a friendly schedule to win their first seven. They’re close to a lock to make the Big Ten title game and proceed to the national playoff.
Notre Dame – Ranked 19th by Phil Steele, the Irish have surged to ninth by winning five straight. Somebody advise The Sporting News, which called Notre Dame the most overrated team in the nation before the season.
Florida State – Sports Illustrated ranked the Seminoles second, behind Alabama. They’re 2-4. Somebody tell the Sporting News, which ranked the Seminoles third. Ditto for Athlon Sports
USC – ESPN put quarterback Sam Darnold on its cover. He won’t be back after losing to Washington State and Notre Dame. The Sporting News also whiffed on this one, ranking the Trojans fourth.
Michigan – Ranked ninth by The Sporting News, the Wolverines have sagged behind Penn State, Ohio State and Michigan State in the Big Ten East. The Big Ten East is strong, but Michigan has exited the Top 25.