Michael Porter Jr. Cleared for Madness

Missouri’s Michael Porter Jr. returned to practice Friday, being cleared to play just four months removed from major back surgery.

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Though positive news for the top-ranked 6-foot-10 freshman forward, it’s still uncertain he’ll dress for Saturday’s conference contest against Kentucky … or if he’ll be in playing plans for the remainder of the regular season.

But it’s not the end of the world if he doesn’t.

News in November of his once thought of as season-ending surgery put a damper on his collegiate career outlook as the No. 2 overall prospect of the 2017 class (No. 1 before Marvin Bagley reclassified). But his absence wasn’t the know-all, say-all for his team. Mizzou has since survived the wild SEC this season, exceeding expectations of the team without the star. The Tigers are 8-7 in a competitive conference and 18-10 overall. So why scramble to fit Michael Porter Jr. into a game plan that has been working just fine without?

The Tigers travel to play a struggling Kentucky squad Saturday. Even if Michael Porter Jr. were to contribute minutes to the team, Mizzou wouldn’t need to work miracles to earn a ‘W’ in Cat country. Missouri travels to play a docile Vanderbilt group Tuesday before the Tigers wrap up the season at home against Arkansas March 3. Missouri is a dominate 12-3 at home, and can easily go 3-0 to finish the regular season of conference action. The Tigers are in a six-way tie for third now in the SEC.

The other factor in this is the possibility of Porter playing alongside his brother, and for his dad, at least once this year. Family is a big piece for Porter, whose brother Johntay reclassified to 2017 just for the chance to play with Michael. One collegiate game on the court with his brother and dad would mean the world to Porter Jr.

Missouri set itself up nicely postseason play creeps up. The addition of a healthy, talented Porter Jr. gives the Tigers a scary edge as March Madness approaches. But there Is no need to rush the freshman in.

NBA Needs to Overhaul Its Playoff Format

With the NBA season past it’s midway point and All-Star Weekend finished, the focus of the rest of the season turns towards the playoffs and the race for the final playoff positions in both conferences. While there have been subtle mentions in the past about a playoff overhaul, those discussions have become far more frequent over the last few days. Most NBA fans, or rational ones at least, will recall how the Western Conference is regarded as the deeper conference over the last decade plus. That has triggered some minor debates about the merits of the current playoff format. In fact, most discussions have centered around taking the 16 teams with the best records into the playoffs, instead of the 8 best from each conference. In recent days, new ideas have been brought to the forefront of the discussion and the NBA is taking it’s first look at serious talks of a playoff overhaul. Let’s take a look at some of the ideas proposed and what the best options moving forward for an NBA playoff overhaul are.

Taking the 16 best teams

The most common and long held take regarding an NBA playoff overhaul involves taking the top 16 teams and seeding them accordingly in a bracket style playoff. This would put the legitimate 16 best teams in the playoffs instead of taking the 8 best from each conference. Under this format, the 16 teams who made the playoffs would not have changed, but their seeding and their paths to the finals change a little bit. In 2015-2016 the Bulls missed the playoffs in the East, but would have nabbed the final playoff spot in this system over the 41-41 Houston Rockets. The year before, the Thunder missed the playoffs at 45-37. However, they would have been the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference that year. In reality the top 16 teams make the playoffs more often than not, but seeding and creating match-ups with a disregard for conference affiliation would make the playoffs a lot more interesting.

7-10 Seed Play-In Tournament

ESPN’s Zach Lowe first reported on the new discussions centering on a 4-team playoff format in each conference (between the 7-10 seeds) to determine playoff seeding for the 7th and 8th seeds. Under the format the 7th and 8th seeds in each conference would play and the winner would get the 7th seed. The 9th and 10th seeds would play with the winner moving on to play the loser of the 7 and 8 game to battle it out for the 8th seed in the playoffs. While this is a newer discussion brought to the table, it is still a long ways away from potentially being implemented in the NBA playoff discussion. With this plan, the NBA hopes to reduce tanking and make it more viable for teams to stay competitive for the entire 82 game slate.

There have been also some talks of expanding the lottery and including the 7th and 8th seeds in the lottery to also add additional support against tanking. Will either of those moves completely eliminate tanking for the worst teams in the league? Not entirely, but any move to make the playoff race even more competitive could go along way towards making the NBA more competitive from top to bottom. And generating more interest in the playoffs as a whole.

The NBA needs an overhaul to their playoff system. A multiple step overhaul that also gives incentives to make 9, 10 and potentially even 11 seeds reasons to stay competitive and avoid tanking are all things that can increase the overall play of the league. I am a major fan of the top 16 teams making the playoffs regardless of conference. I support a potential play-in tournament to supplement the top 16 seeding format. The top 16 teams making the playoffs and seeding them accordingly will create some interesting match-ups as the playoffs progress. Having the top 12 teams securely in the playoffs, while the next eight teams battle it out for the final four spots would generate a bigger interest in the beginning of the NBA playoffs. It would help to put an end to “tanking.” The NBA needs to address the One and Done issue, but a playoff overhaul should be the second task on the list.

It’s still a few years out, and requires a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, but I believe it would help make the NBA more competitive than it already is.

NCAA Players Revealed in FBI Report to Receive Benefits

It looks like we have our first name drop in the FBI investigation over corruption within college basketball. Yahoo Sports reported this morning that numerous players, from major programs, received impermissible benefits while at, or currently at, school from the ASM Sports agency. The reports come directly from the financial records and spreadsheets of Andy Miller and Christian Dawkins, two men formerly associated with the agency. Dawkins was one of the ten people arrested in September when this news first broke.

The report lists in detail the payments and loans given to players in an attempt to get them to sign with ASM upon declaring for the NBA Draft. The report includes current NBA players such as Dennis Smith, Markelle Fultz, Josh Jackson, Kyle Lowry, Bam Adebayo, Kyle Kuzma and more. It also lists current NCAA athletes such as Wendell Carter (Duke), Collin Sexton (Alabama), Kevin Knox (Kentucky) and Miles Bridges (Michigan State).

It’s important to note that these transactions were mainly between the player’s families and ASM directly, which is different from the school’s directly funneling money to the player and his family in return for a commitment. It’s possible coaches were unaware of these deals occurring, so I don’t expect much to happen to them based on this report. No school other than Xavier would comment on the report. Below is head coach Chris Mack’s comment:

“I have no relationship with Andy Miller or any of his associates. He plays no role in the recruitment of potential student athletes on Xavier’s behalf. Beyond that, our staff has never created a path for him to foster a relationship with any of our student-athletes while enrolled at Xavier. Any suggestion that I or anyone on my staff utilized Andy Miller to provide even the slightest of financial benefits to a Xavier student-athlete is grossly misinformed. We are prepared to cooperate with any and all investigations at any level.”

Former Xavier player Edmund Sumner was a name listed in the documents. I don’t disbelieve Mack. I’m sure he did not utilize ASM to land recruits and I’m sure he was never introducing Sumner to Andy Miller. As I said before, these transactions are primarily between families of players and the agency. It could have gone on behind a coach’s backs. However, as a head coach, you have a pretty good idea of what goes on within your program, on and off the court. For all these coaches to be 100% blind to these deals happening seems a little farfetched, but I’m not here to point fingers and make up rumors.

The news basically just cures a craving that most of the college basketball world has had since last week, when the report of hundreds of documents being in the FBI’s possession broke. It’s illegal, but nothing earth shattering. Most players have dollar amounts next to their name in the thousands, but others are much less. Some players are listed on the report solely because the agency picked up the bill for dinner meeting. Others received a couple hundred dollars to make some bill payments, allegedly.

As for the NCAA, they released a statement this morning, but it was pretty vague and unconvincing. “The Board and I are completely committed to making transformational changes to the game and ensuring all involved in college basketball do so with integrity.” That’s just a piece of the full statement put out by Mark Emmert. Unless those changes are compensating players and their families, in some fashion, for the monetary value that they provide to the NCAA and universities, these cases will never go away. I’m not saying players need hundreds of thousands of dollars, but some of these records are for hundreds of dollars. There is some middle ground that would eliminate this corruption and help players’ families. That’s a conversation for another day.

As I said before, not much should happen to head coaches with this report. I would expect a lot of teams to have to eventually forfeit some wins (joy) for having ineligible players play. We may just get to a point where the NCAA just vacates every National Championship for the past 20 years. Just pretend no one won anything and try to start fresh. It will be interesting to see how the programs with active NCAA players fair for the rest of the year. With conference tournaments and Selection Sunday coming up it’s worth monitoring. This report gave everyone a taste at what could be out there, but it remains a waiting game.

How to Balance Academics and Practice as a Student Athlete

Here we are, sitting at a desk as our leg bobs up and down in great trepidation. Our athletic senses are tingling; our legs are shaking and we are feeling uneasy. A lulling, yet restless energy washes over us as we tap into our memory bank and fill in one of the choices on the test: A, B, C, or D.  While our mind lapses and struggles to differentiate between the two ideas, we decide to select B for basketball. We daydream about a new offensive scheme involving the triangle formation — a much more pleasant thought. If only we could leap out of this desk and run far, far away instead of finishing this drudgery.  We’ve all been there. Balancing academics and athletics can be quite tricky. But if we renew our perspective and understand that the two can coincide harmoniously, we will be able to achieve equilibrium between these opposites.

The Importance of Balance

One way to renew our perspective is to understand how athletic practice and academics go together as two sides of the same coin. The cerebral side (academics) and the physical side (basketball practice) can both benefit each other. When we sharpen our mind with our studies, we also improve our perception of different basketball strategies.  In a basketball game, it is crucial that we stay in the “moment” and focus on the current play, rather than worrying about an error that we made a few moments ago. Likewise, it is important to zoom in on a test and not overly obsess about one question that we are unsure about.

The Importance of Avoiding Procrastination

As a student-athlete, our responsibilities and obligations are doubly increased. A student that is attending school solely for the education aspect only has to worry about one set of duties. If we decide to put off our academics, this can lead to a bigger problem of us showing up late to basketball practice. Thus, procrastination becomes even more poisonous as one can negatively affect the other. To solve this, we should complete our assignments hours ahead of time. This will give us enough breathing room so that we don’t stress when it comes to crunch time for completing our academics and showing up to practice.

Societal Pressure and Lifestyle

Different societies promote varying social functions. In some, physical exercise is emphasized; in others, cerebral parts are emphasized through things like yoga and meditation. Regardless of the values of a particular society, most parents and students that attend college eventually reach the same conclusion of balance between the physical and mental (no matter the sport.)  The strategy for succeeding both on and off the court are similar for youth basketball training/other sports. By embracing our academics instead of resisting them, we promote a good work ethic that translates to success on the court.

With this being said, not all basketball stories are created the same. There are players that ascended to greatness while still defying their education- a common theme in many college dropouts. However, this is not to neglect that sharpening your mind off the court remains to be a paramount factor in success; these players often times found alternative methods to stay balanced and focused before a big game. When thinking about what basketball clinic to join, choose one that is going to help you succeed and build skills to use on and off the court.

 

Making the Case For and Against Vacating Wins

The concept of vacating wins as a form of punishment has been a debate for a few years now. Some people understand the reasoning behind it. Others think it’s dumb and does nothing to punish a program. There are certainly valid points for both sides. Taking wins away doesn’t erase what a team once accomplished. At the same time, it can affect a head coach’s or program’s legacy, to an extent. Let’s take a look at the argument for and against vacating wins as a penalty.

The biggest, and really only argument made against taking away wins is that you’re not really taking away wins. These wins already happened, it’s a part of college basketball history. Sure, Louisville has to take down their 2013 banner. But as Kevin Ware said on Twitter: “Still got this fat a** ring…” Yesterday, Rick Pitino technically lost over 100 games and went to two less Final Fours and a National Championship. Most record books will still have Louisville as 2012-13 National Champions. The only difference is, there may be a tiny asterisk next to it. In reality, most kids growing up 30 years from now will have no idea Louisville had wins and titles taken from them from 2011-2014.

But if vacating wins isn’t the answer, what is? Many think postseason bans and loss of scholarships is a better answer than vacating wins. The argument on the surface makes sense. News comes out that a program cheated or violated NCAA rules, and people want to see immediate punishment. The problem is though, when a school is found guilty, it’s often by a coaching staff, or player who is no longer a part of the program.

Think back to Derrick Rose and Memphis. By the time a decision was made, Rose, and John Calipari, were gone. Think about Louisville yesterday. Rick Pitino is gone, no players who violated the rules are a part of the team. Why should they get punished? Why would you take scholarships away from David Padgett for actions made by Pitino and his staff?

Truth is there is no perfect answer. Did Rick Pitino’s legacy change with the NCAA ruling last night? Absolutely. But are people going to “forget” or pretend Louisville didn’t win that National title? Not a chance. You can’t punish the current team for something a past coach or team did and taking away wins doesn’t erase what that team accomplished. We want to know your thoughts. Is vacating wins a proper punishment for a team that breaks the rules? Is there a better option? Leave a comment and share your thoughts with us.