Who are the most underrated teams in the country? What’s a school that you think will surprise people?
JJ: I like Vanderbilt to surprise a lot of folks. I know they are top-10 in a lot of polls, but I still feel like the Commodores aren’t getting the recognition they deserve (of course many will argue they don’t deserve any because of their recent tournament futility, but Vandy is loaded).
DC: Michigan has a chance to do some damage this year. The Wolverines are a young team that came together very nicely by the end of last season. Although Darius Morris is gone, there is still a lot of talent on this roster that will contend for a Big Ten title.
As for an off-the-radar team, Belmont has all the tools it needs to make a surprise run in March. The Bruins won 30 games last season and graduated just one of their top-seven scorers.
CB: My choice for underrated is easy, Vanderbilt. This was one of the most disappointing teams in my opinion, last March. They did have an unlucky draw in the tourney by pulling Richmond in the first round, but this team returns this season with its entire cast of players. Among these are the nation’s best perimeter shooter in John Jenkins, one of the country’s most versatile in Jeremy Taylor and a developing talent in big man, Festus Ezeli. Throw in the fact that all of their glue/role guys return to Nashville, as well and this team could and should be the top team in the SEC and one that could make some major noise come tourney-time. Be the first kid on your block to rep Vandy! (I hate you Jay Cutler.)
JJ: Duke. Losing Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith will hurt a lot more than people realize. Even if Austin Rivers and the rest of Coach K’s recruiting class meets expectations, replacing that senior leadership and production will be tough.
DC: Butler will not go on the kind of run it did the last two seasons. With Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard leaving, it will be a transition period for Brad Stevens and the Bulldogs.
As for a major conference team, Syracuse is getting a little too much hype right now. The Orange lack an inside presence with Rick Jackson graduating, and Scoop Jardine has shown to be a shaking decision maker at times. Syracuse is a talented squad but might not live up to top-10 expectations.
CB: I’m going with the Syracuse Orange as the most overrated. They were arguably the most frustrating team from a season ago. They struggled to find consistency and lose big man Rick Jackson, who gave the team the bulk of their grit and punch. Jim Boeheim does return a load of talent, but I just haven’t seen enough out of this team in the positive light, to think that they will be able to hang with the UNCs and UKs of the world. They are still “second-tier” in my estimation.
Butler has shocked everyone in the past two Tournaments. Can we expect the same this year? Should we already be penciling them in for three March upsets?
JJ: I hate to count out Brad Stevens, but if he can produce more than one NCAA Tournament win with his ‘11-12 team, his head belongs on Mount Rushmore. The Bulldogs will miss Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack’s production way too much to be counted on for another deep March run. No one will be surprised if Butler is the Horizon League’s Tournament representative once again, though.
DC: As I said earlier, Butler just does not have the talent to make it to the Final Four this year. If Andrew Smith and Khyle Marshall take a dramatic leap forward, the Bulldogs might make it to the second weekend, but as of now, Butler appears a year away from being a serious contender again.
CB: The fact that Butler even made one of those Finals, let alone the past two was a miracle. There is no way that the Bulldogs will make another run not only because of the talent they have lost over the past two years, but just based on pure probability. They really shouldn’t have even made it out of the first-round last March, if not for a fluke last-second shot to beat Old Dominion (I’m still very bitter, as ODU was my Final Four sleeper last year). It’s too hard. There are too many good teams. And most importantly, Coach Brad Stevens no longer has the likes of Matt Howard, Gordon Hayward and Shelvin Mack. I do like their team this year, but not to make the Cinderella run their fans may be getting accustomed to.
So what’s your opinion on this Nevin Shapiro story, and boosters in general?
JJ: The story is obviously alarming. Even if Miami Athletics was not actively backing Shapiro’s corruption, its negligence is indisputable and foreboding of other BCS programs overlooking similar transgressions.
Despite the depth of Shapiro’s offenses, boosters are a necessary part of college athletics. Part of college head coach’s job description is to schmooze and buddy-up with the donors who help to legally pay for the uniforms, facilities and amenities that attract the best recruits. Shapiro is a renegage, and although I’m not naïve enough to think he’s the only one, throwing all boosters (and this element of NCAA athletics) under the bus because of this is a mistake.
DC: College basketball is not as affected as college football because it doesn’t bring in the same type of revenue. Miami was a very extreme case that we don’t see that often in college basketball. Boosters can become a problem in college athletics, but Nevin Shapiro’s situation is something that still rarely happens on this scale.
CB: Nevin Shapiro? Wow. The booster system is a bizarre one in the world of American sports. Grown men spending exorbitant amounts of money (and a big chunk up front just to become an official “booster”) to “be down” with teenage kids is not only weird but creepy in my mind, as well. Unfortunately, this is a system that is well-entrenched into all big-time programs, both football and basketball ones, alike. I found it interesting how integral the basketball program at Miami was to the Shapiro story, but how it was rarely brought up in the outraged national narrative. There weren’t any pictures of Shapiro chillin’ with football bosses, Larry Coker or Randy Shannon. No, but the hoops’ coaches were down with the dude in several situations. This whole predicament was a problem for the university, as a whole (I’m looking at you Donna Shalala) not just the football program.
I have said this on several mediums, but it bears repeating. When your job security depends on the performance of not only other people, but teenagers to boot, there is a tendency to take any measure necessary to keep your job. The system is set-up for cheaters. It is reason No. 1, of why I resisted returning to college coaching after my one season as an undergraduate assistant at Brown University.