Northwestern Wins: A College Hoops Blog

An ode to Verne Lundquist’s calls and everything college basketball

Archive for October, 2008

Top 15 Freshmen; Friday News And Notes

Posted by Zach on October 31, 2008

One of the best parts of opening a new college basketball season is seeing the fresh crop of freshmen in action for the first time. Two years ago, Kevin Durant surpassed any expectation and became the best player in the country. Last year, the likes of Michael Beasley, O.J. Mayo and Kevin Love highlighted the deepest and most talented freshman class ever assembled. What’s in store for this year? Most prognosticators suggest this class is much weaker and supremely less talented. I respectfully disagree. This year’s freshman crop has athletes, scorers, dominating big men and all-around superstars who will shine for prominent national programs. Here’s my top 15 from the list:

1. DeMar DeRozan, USC:
I have high expectations for the young DeRozan out of Compton, a player whose highlight-reel athleticism and scoring ability is unmatched among his peers. If DeRozan plays to his potential, I feel he can match the production of O.J. Mayo last season and team up with Taj Gibson and Daniel Hackett in bringing USC back to the top of the Pac-10.

2. Jrue Holiday, UCLA: Holiday is a 6’3 combo guard with an exceptional all-around game who does nothing but win. He’s the perfect Ben Howland player in that he’s smart on the floor and is advanced defensively for an incoming freshman. He could start immediately for the Bruins and headlines their impressive recruiting class.

3. B.J. Mullens, Ohio State:
Mullens is a versatile 7-footer (yes, it’s possible) who can face the basket or mix it up inside with his steady frame. He could be an impact double-double man right away for Thad Matta, and his upside is so high some have him pegged as the #1 pick in the next NBA Draft.

4. Samardo Samuels, Louisville: Samuels is a gem for Rick Pitino in a conference where you need a scoring big man. He’s an aggressive forward with great instincts and a knack for the rim. Samuels is extremely powerful for a freshman and will challenge players like Luke Harangody immediately.

5. Tyreke Evans, Memphis: Evans has to be Memphis’ best player from day one if John Calipari wants to return to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament. Thing is, he very well could be. The dynamic Evans is a confident scorer with excellent range and finishing ability.

6. Greg Monroe, Georgetown: Monroe has dropped on some recruiting charts, but I still feel he’s a perfect player for Georgetown and will shine. He’s blessed with a wide frame and tremendous rebounding skills under the rim. It might take Monroe a year to mold into a feared scorer in the Big East.

7. Willie Warren, Oklahoma:
Warren is a huge reason why I feel Oklahoma can be a top ten team right away. This versatile guard simply has a knack for scoring and should be that second impact players Jeff Capel needs beside Blake Griffin. Warren does need to improve his defense, though.

8. Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest:
I love what Aminu brings to the table for a rising Wake Forest team. He’s an excellent perimeter scorer who can face up mid-range and hit shots. Also, not many can match his athleticism and drive on the court. You don’t find scoring 6’8 small forwards every day.

9. Kemba Walker, Connecticut:
Walker is such an advanced point guard at his age, it’s silly. He reminds of Derrick Rose with his court vision, toughness and leadership. He’s also stout defensively and should see extensive minutes right away for a loaded Connecticut team.

10. Scotty Hopson, Tennessee:
Hopson is an extremely talented prospect who originally signed with Mississippi State. He rebounds well for a guard and can also score consistently. The talent is certainly there, and he’ll provide a steady duo with Tyler Smith in Knoxville this season.

11. Luke Babbitt, 12. Iman Shumpert, 13. Devin Ebanks, 14. Delvin Roe, 15. JaMychal Green

Some quick news and notes on this Friday:

– Roy Williams is planning a news conference today to give us more information regarding the Tyler Hansbrough injury. My guess: Williams estimates they’ll be without Hansbrough for the entire month of November and set a best-case scenario for December 3 vs. Michigan State in Detroit. What the Tar Heels cannot afford to do is rush the ultra-competitive Hansbrough back to action too quickly, because then the stress “reaction” can turn into a Marcus Ginyard stress “fracture.” Then, you’re talking about being without Hansbrough for the entire season, and the entire goal is to have him 100% for March.

– The NCAA has passed legislation disallowing those early practices that Kentucky and Illinois enjoyed as a way to kick off their season because it gives them a recruiting advantage. Maybe so, but, as Gary Parrish so accurately describes, doesn’t the NCAA have more important things to take care of? Like, coaches hiring AAU coaches of their top recruits as an advantage a la John Wall? Taking care of that loophole instead of eliminating early practices for next October seems to make sense.

– Arizona lost their top incoming freshman for this season, Jeff Withey. As I’ve stated before, Arizona could have a mini-Indiana on their hands next season if Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill enter the NBA Draft. They have zero recruits for 2009 because their Pac-10 rivals are stealing them all. Withey, a 6’11 center, was ranked as the #35 overall player by Scout.com. He joins Brandon Jennings and Emmanuel Negedu as 2008 recruits that have jettisoned from Tuscon.

– Some surprising news out of Tennessee as J.P. Prince will miss 3-5 weeks with a shoulder injury he suffered in practice. If Prince cannot return in time for the Old Spice Classic in Orlando, Siena’s chances of pulling an upset just went up a few notches. And if you don’t think it can happen….it can happen. Siena returns everyone from that thrashing of Vanderbilt.

– Prep star Kenny Boynton made his decision yesterday and will attend the University of Florida. Billy Donovan is assembling an impressive recruiting class for 2009, rebuilding quite successfully after losing that national championship core. He chose Florida over USC, Duke and Texas. Boynton might be the quickest and purest scorer in the entire class, ranked as the #2 SG by Scout.com. He’s an absolute gem in what should be a tremendous backcourt for the 2009-10 Gators.

Andy Katz has a piece on new California coach Mike Montgomery. I thought that was a great hire by Cal. It’ll stir up the Stanford rivalry again and Montgomery is a proven college coach with a track record. His failures at Golden State are irrelevant to whether he can get the job done at Berkeley.

– Nevada all-WAC guard Brandon Fields petty larceny charge has been dropped, but he remains suspended by coach Mark Fox. Don’t expect Fields to miss any significant action. Nevada should be the WAC favorite with Fields, Luke Babbitt and Armon Johnson.

– What to expect from this site the next week or so: Big East #1, Pac-10 Preview, Big-12 Preview, ACC #5-1, Preseason Bracketology, Awards, Top 25, Games to Watch and possibly some more as we gear up for the start of college basketball.

Advertisements

Posted in News And Notes, Player Rankings | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Tyler Hansbrough Out Indefinitely

Posted by Zach on October 31, 2008

Put those undefeated talks on hold. On the same day North Carolina was rewarded with a unanimous number one ranking by the coaches, the best player in college basketball and most celebrated Tar Heel in years- Tyler Hansbrough- discovered he has a stress reaction in his left shin and is out indefinitely.

He joins Marcus Ginyard and Ed Davis as players hurting right now for coach Roy Williams. But this Hansbrough injury trumps any that may occur in college basketball this season if it turns out to be majorly serious. The Heels are partially relieved because they caught the injury before it became a stress fracture, which probably would have ended his season. Williams will address the problem in a press conference Friday.

It’s hard to tell how long North Carolina could be without their preseason All-American. The best medicine for this type of injury is rest and more rest, and UNC has already released a statement saying Hansbrough will be “out for a while.” Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports estimates he might not see the court until mid-December. It’s really unpredictable at this point.

True college basketball fans have to feel sad for the senior forward. Here’s a player who is ultra passionate about basketball and his team, one of those rare gems that stays in college for all four years. It would have been exciting to see this loaded North Carolina team at full strength for the entire season. Now they could very well be without Hansbrough for a Maui Invitational with Texas and Notre Dame (who is going to contain Harangody now? Deon Thompson?) as well as a Ford Field battle with Michigan State. It’s still too early to tell, though.

Hansbrough averaged 22.6 PPG and 10.2 RPG for the Final Four Tar Heels last season. He won National Player of the Year in his junior season and is the favorite to defend that honor this year. The Tar Heels open November 15 against Penn at home.

Gene Hansbrough, Tyler’s father: “He’ll be OK. His leg’s been bothering him for a couple of weeks. It’s a stress reaction and he needs to rest a bit. He just needs time to let it heal. There is no reason for him to limp through it.”

“I just hope he recovers soon.”

So do the Chapel Hill faithful.

Posted in Injuries, Quick Posts | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Big East Preview: #2 Louisville

Posted by Zach on October 30, 2008

2. Louisville Cardinals– Coach: Rick Pitino (8th season)

PG- Andre McGee (SR): Along with K.C. Rivers of Clemson, McGee is one of the more underappreciated guards in the country. Hopefully observers of what should be a hyped Louisville team will notice all that this 5’10 senior provides as point guard and floor leader. McGee is the polar opposite of Edgar Sosa- he’s not nearly as explosive offensively, bur Pitino feels much more comfortable with McGee running his offense (and that’s a huge understatement). McGee broke out during his junior season by setting career highs in assists, steals, points and minutes played. Over the final nine games for Louisville with McGee entrenched at the point guard slot, he turned the ball over just nine times. He’s smart, unselfish, rarely makes crippling mistakes, and also plays better defense than Sosa. McGee is precisely the type of intelligent point guard championship teams need, and his emergence has made the Cardinals much deeper by bringing Sosa off the pine.  

SG- Jerry Smith (JR): Smith is the perfect player for Rick Pitino: he defends exceptionally well and can knock down the three-pointer. While his shooting percentage dropped from an uncanny 48% to a stellar 38% from his freshman and sophomore seasons, Smith became more of a complete player in the process. He notched 62 steals on the year and transformed offensively from a stationary three-point popper to someone who flies around the court and can drain jumpers on the move. While Smith could be a stronger passer, Pitino knows his role and will surely find plenty of minutes for an above average defender that can hit around 40% of his threes. Not many programs can rotate four guards as multi-dimensional as McGee, Sosa, Smith and Preston Knowles.

SF- Terrence Williams (SR): The Cardinals need Terrence Williams to recover from his knee injury in time for the Big East season (which he’s expected to easily do) in order to complete their squad. Williams is a super-athletic NBA prospect that scores efficiently, dominates on the glass, and passes with the vision of a point guard. It’s not an overstatement to say Williams can go off for a double-double, or even a triple-double, on any given night. Oh, and he also happens to be Louisville’s best defensive player. He’s beginning to cover up some holes in his game as his college career progresses. For one, he took way too many outside shots early in his career for someone with a below-average jumper. In his junior season, Williams took less threes and improved his FG% to 41%. Now, he’s focused on scoring closer to the paint and working for second chance opportunities. The real question: Can he improve his dismal 57% from the charity stripe as a senior? If he does, you have one of the best players in the country.

PF- Earl Clark (JR)
: Much like Williams, Clark projects to be a lottery selection in the upcoming NBA Draft. His athletic abilities are off the charts and his wingspan is an NBA scout’s dream. After a somewhat surprising return for his junior season in Louisville, Clark is looking to become one of the most feared forwards in the nation and lead the Cardinals to new heights. Clark showed his future stardom in the NCAA Tournament when he exploded with 14.5 PPG and 8.3 RPG in Louisville’s four games. Pitino hopes Clark can maintain that scoring ferocity the entire year while continuing to rebound and block shots, two of Clark’s clear strengths. He’ll need to adapt more playing inside as a four and continue to mature as a defender. 14 PPG and 9 RPG are reasonable expectations for the talented forward.

C- Samardo Samuels (FR)
: The emergence of Samuels as a Kevin Love-type producer for Louisville is the wild card. As talented and hyped as Samuels is (and he deserves the accolades, including being named USA Today’s National High School Player of the Year), he’s still going to be expected to bang down low with the best of the Big East like Hasheem Thabeet, Luke Harangody and DeJuan Blair. Can he handle the workload and expectations? I’d say yes. Samuels is an advanced scorer and rebounder for his age who will take pressure off Clark and Williams on the glass. He’s extremely powerful in the Eddy Curry mold and may be a one-and-done for Pitino. Luckily for him, this is the year Louisville fans expect a ticket to Detroit, and Samuels should be a huge part of that run. I have Samuels finishing a close second to DeMar DeRozan in terms of Newcomer of the Year.

Bench: Edgar Sosa and Preston Knowles will serve as depth in the backcourt for Louisville. Sosa expected to be the next great Louisville guard after dropping 31 on Texas A&M in the second round his freshman year. Instead, the guard who Pitino calls “immature mentally” will have to battle for playing time over those who are more mature mentally, namely McGee and Knowles. Sosa is a hard-nosed player who penetrates and defends well, providing explosiveness for Pitino off the bench. He could see more time at the 2-guard this season. Knowles is more of a complimentary piece who does the little things efficiently and will find minutes even with the talent on the roster. Freshman Terrence Jennings from Notre Dame Prep should help defensively right away with his shot-blocking and rebounding skills. He’ll need to develop offensively, but the Cardinals don’t really need more scoring in the frontcourt with Williams, Clark and Samuels. Mississippi State transfer Reginald Delk should also see minutes.

Backcourt: A-
Frontcourt: A+
Bench: B+
Coaching: A

Bottom Line:
There’s not much to dislike about this Louisville team. They’re perennially one of the top defensive teams in the nation and nobody expects that to change this season. They have the shooter in Jerry Smith, they have the intelligent point guard in McGee, the athletes and rebounders with Clark and Williams, the phenom in Samuels, and a bench that surely will provide enough insurance in case of injury. The only real question is if a team leader will emerge following the graduation of David Padgett. If Louisville stays mentally focused and scores enough points, which I expect will happen, they’ll be a Final Four team. I have them pegged for Detroit along with North Carolina, Connecticut and Michigan State.

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/18 vs. Ole Miss, 12/20 @ Minnesota, 12/27 vs. UAB, 12/31 vs. UNLV
Key Conference Games: 1/17 vs. Pittsburgh, 2/2 vs. Connecticut, 2/12 @ Notre Dame, 2/23 @ Georgetown
Most Valuable Player: Terrence Williams
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Final 4)

Posted in Big East Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

First ESPN/USA Top 25 Released

Posted by Zach on October 30, 2008

You know college basketball is approaching when the first preseason poll (as meaningless as they may be) is finally released. There’s not many surprises on this list and North Carolina was a unanimous #1:

1. North Carolina, 2. Connecticut, 3. Louisville, 4. UCLA, 5. Duke

I can’t take much issue with this top five. In fact, this is what my preseason top four will look like, and I wouldn’t be surprised if AP’s poll has the same order, as well. The coaches realize the influence Jrue Holiday and that outstanding recruiting class will have to counter the losses of Russell Westbrook and Kevin Love. Duke may be getting a tad too much love here. Still plenty of question marks in their frontcourt.

6. Pittsburgh, 7. Michigan State, 8. Texas, 9. Notre Dame, 10. Purdue

Texas at #8 is a bit puzzling. I love James and Abrams, but the point guard situation keeps them out of the preseason top ten for me. I also agree with the Michigan State over Purdue pick. They’re deeper, more athletic and more talented than Purdue in what will be a very tight Big Ten race. If you’re keeping track, 40% of the top ten are from the Big East.

11. Gonzaga, 12. Memphis, 13. Tennessee, 14. Oklahoma, 15. Arizona State

This is a great place for Tennessee and Oklahoma. I’m not as high on Memphis, though. Evans could be a special player, but until I see one of their complimentary players make the leap to stardom (Taggart, Dozier, Anderson, even Evans), I wouldn’t put them in my top 15. Plenty of casual fans will see Gonzaga here and scream “overrated”. Their non-conference schedule is brutal, but if they can survive, they’ll finish the year right around this spot.

16. Miami (FL), 17. Marquette, 18. Georgetown, 19. Florida, 20. Davidson

No issues with Marquette or Georgetown here, these seem like perfect spots for those two teams. I take issue with Miami over Wake Forest in the ACC, even with Jack McClinton. That isn’t a huge omission, but I’d have Wake Forest higher than #24. Davidson earned their spot in the preseason top 20.

21. USC, 22. Wisconsin, 23. Kansas, 24. Wake Forest, 25. Villanova

(#26 UNLV, #27 Saint Mary’s, #28 Ohio State, #29 Baylor, #30 Xavier, #31 Syracuse, #32 Texas A&M, #33 LSU, #34 Arizona, #35 Virginia Tech, #36 BYU, #37 West Virginia, #38 Washington, #39 Siena, #40 Kentucky)

USC and Wisconsin is actually tied for the 21st spot. Notably left out of the top 25 were UNLV, Saint Mary’s and Baylor, three teams you could make a strong argument for to replace Florida, Davidson and Kansas. I have no issues with Wisconsin over Ohio State. I think Syracuse is slightly stronger than Villanova, but the difference is very small.

The first matchup that could pit two Top-25 teams is Oklahoma vs. Davidson (assuming neither is upset) n Norman, Oklahoma in mid-November.

Louisville preview later today, and possibly Tommy’s #5 ACC team.

Posted in Team Rankings | Tagged: , , , , | Leave a Comment »

ACC Preview: #6 Clemson

Posted by Tommy on October 29, 2008

CoachOliver Purnell (5th season)

PG- Demontez Stitt (SO): Stitt experienced his fair share of growing pains during his first year at the point but this kid has a nice upside. He’s a pretty athletic guard and has some nice moves, enabling him to fly right by his defender. In addition, he’s a good defender which really helps Purnell execute his pressure. His 1.09 assist-to-turnover ratio from last season needs to improve and probably will with a full year under his belt. Stitt also needs to improve his 3-point shot after shooting just 27.6% from deep last season. If Stitt solidifies himself as a reliable point guard by making better decisions, it would be a huge addition for Purnell and the Tigers.

SG- K.C. Rivers (SR): Rivers has been the quiet leader for the Tigers for the past couple of seasons. He’s the Tigers’ best player on both the offensive and defensive ends. He can has plenty of size to get to the rim, he has a nice mid-range jumper and he shoots above 40 percent from beyond the arc. I expect him to put up around 15 or 16 PPG and is one of the best rebounders for his size in the country, grabbing 6.3 RPG last season. He also averaged just under 2 steals per game last season and will shut down the opposition’s best backcourt player. Rivers will have to make up for the loss of his long time backcourt-mate Cliff Hammonds and will get plenty of shot opportunities.

SF- David Potter (JR): Although Potter is a junior, he’s not too experienced. I expect Potter to get the starting job at the three instead of putting Oglesby at the two and bumping Rivers down because the combination of Rivers and Potter provides the best defensive lineup possible for Purnell. Potter is a hard-nosed defender and works hard on the boards but will not impress on the offensive end. Clemson has enough weapons in its arsenal to sacrifice the minimal firepower Potter provides to bolster the defense.

PF- Trevor Booker (JR): Booker may be listed at 6-7 but plays much bigger than that. He’s a physical presence in the paint and likes to lower his shoulder into defenders to give him room to get off shots and often give his defender a foul. He uses his great combination of strength and athleticism to out-muscle opponents for rebounds and provides a nice shot-blocking presence (1.9 BPG as a sophomore). Now that he’s an upperclassman, he needs to become a consistent force down low. He has the potential to become one of the best big men in the conference.

C- Raymond Sykes (SR): Like Potter, Sykes found himself coming off the bench last season and isn’t as experienced as most starting seniors are. Sykes is the ideal man to replace the lengthy James Mays who harassed the inbounder for Purnell’s press. He’s long and athletic just like Mays and will certainly give inbounders trouble if Purnell institutes his press again this season. Sykes hasn’t shown that he can fill the scoring column very well, but who knows what can happen with increased playing time.

Bench: One of the best features of last year’s squad was the impeccable depth they had. Purnell was able to substitute liberally and give his guys much needed rest after playing full court basketball and saw little to no drop off in his team’s performance. Unfortunately, Purnell isn’t going to have that luxury this season. Sharpshooting sophomore Terrence Oglesby gives the Tigers a possible lineup with more fire power in case they’re down. After that there really isn’t much. Jerai Grant is a sophomore forward that saw 8.3 MPG last season and will have to step in for either Booker or Sykes if they get into foul trouble. Freshman guard Andre Young and 7-2 freshman Catalin Baciu may be the next options for the backcourt and frontcourt, respectively.

Backcourt: B-
Frontcourt: B
Bench: C-
Coaching: A-

Bottom Line: Purnell seemed to pull all the right strings last season with plenty of substitutions and a press that frustrated their opponents. Purnell is going to have a tougher time pressing after every made basket this season because the starters are going to have to play much of the game. Their starting lineup is a very athletic one, but Stitt, Sykes and Potter have to provide more scoring this season. The Tigers are going to use hard-nosed defense to frustrate their opponents and keep the games within reach. I think they still have enough talent to get into the NCAA tournament but will probably ride the bubble for the entire season.

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/2 @ Illinois, 12/30 @ South Carolina, 1/6 vs. Alabama
Key Conference Games: 1/29 @ Virginia Tech, 2/4 vs. Duke, 2/17 vs. Maryland, 2/25 vs Virginia Tech
Most Valuable Player: K.C. Rivers
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (one and done)

Posted in ACC Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Abdul Gaddy Commits To Washington

Posted by Zach on October 29, 2008

Following Lute Olson’s abrupt resignation as Arizona head coach last week, point guard Abdul Gaddy has found a new home- the University of Washington.

The highly touted 6’3 guard out of Tacoma will stay in his home state and play for Lorenzo Romar’s Huskies. The decision came late Tuesday night and was originally reported by Scout.com, with multiple sources confirming the commitment this afternoon. To have Gaddy rescind his LOI to Arizona and opt for a rival Pac-10 school must be devastating for Wildcat fans. It may also save Washington coach Lorenzo Romar’s job following a few years of mediocrity. Landing the second best high school point guard in the nation should help.

Olson’s stroke in this past year ultimately led to his resignation just a week into practice and caused three top-100 recruits- Gaddy, Solomon Hill and Mike Moser- to all de-commit and search for new schools. There is a strong rumor that Hill, a Los Angeles native, will commit to Southern California, adding another former Arizona signee opting for a Pac-10 school. Olson’s resignation should have major lingering effects. As if losing Brandon Jennings to Europe wasn’t bad enough.

Gaddy should be Washington’s best player the moment he arrives at campus. He has tremendous point guard instincts similiar to Derrick Rose. His feel for the position is off the charts and can anchor a Washington program in need of a backcourt leader since the departure of Brandon Roy. Most expected Gaddy to head to UCLA when he de-committed from Arizona, but Washington ended up landing the ultra-talented guard.

Posted in Quick Posts, Recruiting | Tagged: , , | 1 Comment »

Big East Preview: #3 Notre Dame

Posted by Zach on October 29, 2008

3. Notre Dame Fighting Irish– Coach: Mike Brey (8th season)

PG- Tory Jackson (JR)
: Tory Jackson is the quarterback for the Irish. His quick speed and passing ability plays perfectly into Mike Brey’s fast-paced system and he’s the most reliable defender Coach Brey has. Jackson is a penetrating guard who could find Kyle McAlarney for an open three or Luke Harangody in the low block with his eyes closed. His tenacious style of play is infectious and he’s molded into the Irish floor leader.  Jackson is also a strong rebounder for a point guard, grabbing 13 boards against a tough Pitt team. The one weakness for Jackson is a porous outside jump shot and struggles from the charity stripe. He only shot 30% from three and a terrible 52% from the line last season- these obviously need to improve because Jackson cannot beat a defender off the dribble every single time. He comes about as close as anyone, though.

SG- Kyle McAlarney (SR): After a suspension for marijuana possession kept McAlarney off the sidelines for the second half of 2006-07, he made absolutely sure he was going to return to the Irish stronger than ever. His three-point shot might be the best in all of college basketball, and he’s certainly the head marksman from deep in the Big East. He notched 32 points against Connecticut, 30 against Syracuse and 30 vs. Villanova, eventually leading the conference in three-pointers made and three-point field goal percentage. McAlarney came alive around December and never looked back, forming a dynamic inside-outside duo with junior Luke Harangody (focus too much on Luke and Kyle will torch you from outside). His clear weakness is defense and McAlarney is often beat by quick and athletic 2-guards. Many pegged Tennessee star Chris Lofton as the top three-point shooter in the nation before last season and he struggled mightily. Whether that’s the case with McAlarney is yet to be seen, but I wouldn’t bet on it.

SF- Ryan Ayers (SR): Ayers is the type of complimentary piece that every championship team needs. He plays off McAlarney, Jackson and Harangody exceptionally well by taking what he’s given and making smart plays. Ayers came to South Bend with an extensive high school resume and failed to live up to lavish expectations before his junior season. Ayers made definite contributions during Big East play last year with an accurate three-point shot (45%) and peaked with 17 points against defensively-tough Louisville. Whether Ayers can improve rebounding the basketball and playing consistent defense is certainly a question mark. Brey knows the importance of Ayers as a role player in this type of fast-paced offense and may be asked to shoot even more.

PF- Zach Hillesland (SR): Much like Ayers, Hillesland is an important cog for Brey and the Irish. He’s a multi-dimensional player who can mix it up down low with his 6’9 frame while also showing quickness running the fast break effectively with Jackson and McAlarney as a three rather than a four. He possesses a great feel for the court (third on the team in assists last year) and may mature into the senior leader the Irish need this season on and off the floor. He’s the likely candidate to replace the production of Rob Kurz (12.5 PPG) and will be asked to compliment Harangody in the paint, mainly by providing another option for Notre Dame should Harangody face a fierce double team. Unlike Ayers, Hillesland isn’t any three-point threat, but shot 50% from the floor last season, taking shots within his range and within the offense.

C- Luke Harangody (JR): When Luke Harangody arrived in South Bend as a freshman, many viewed him as nothing more than a promising, rugged post player who can provide key minutes, some inside scoring and grab a few offensive rebounds. He was somewhat hyped, but not even Mike Brey could tell you with a straight face he thought Luke would lead the Big East in scoring and finish second in rebounding in his sophomore season. You saw the progress in Madison Square Garden when he dropped 19 and 14 on Beasley. You saw the stardom emerge with his 40 points in Freedom Hall and his 32 and 16 against Connecticut. Harangody has progressed into one of the most efficient and productive players in all of college basketball: scoring, rebounding, hook shots, short jumpers, dunks, everything but threes. Harangody is even an above-average passer for a big man, capable of finding McAlarney outside when the double team arrives. Brey doesn’t mind that NBA scouts don’t see the Irish star oozing with potential. He’s more than happy to have his own Tyler Hansbrough for four years.

Bench: Luke Zeller is the unquestioned sixth man, providing yet another forward who can shoot from outside. He’s slightly behind the depth chart because of his lack of rebounding and aggressiveness down low, but those areas are progressing rapidly for his senior season. A former McDonald’s All-American, Zeller is looking to silence some critics in his last campaign at Notre Dame. Jonathan Peoples is a valuable third guard with an average shot and great passing instincts on the floor. Tyler Nash is a breakout candidate. The 6’8 sophomore will need to blossom from a player who provides key rebounding and grabs the occasional loose ball, possibly providing more replacement for Kurz in the post.

Backcourt: A
Frontcourt: A-
Bench: B
Coaching: A-

Bottom Line: I really like this Notre Dame team offensively. They led the nation in assists last season and can top 90 points on any given night. Tory Jackson is the perfect component to run the offense and Brey can tout the strongest inside-outside duo this side of Lawson and Hansbrough. You also know they’ll protect their home court. The question for the Irish is defense. Other than Jackson, they’re a below average defensive team who will find it difficult to win if their shooters and/or Harangody have a rare off-night. Believe me, it’ll happen in this conference. A stronger defensive effort is the difference between a Sweet 16 and National Championship team this season.

Key Non-Conference Games: Maui Invitational, 12/6 vs. Ohio State, 2/7 @ UCLA
Key Conference Games: 1/12 @ Louisville, 1/24 vs. Connecticut, 1/31 @ Pittsburgh, 2/28 @ Connecticut
Most Valuable Player: Luke Harangody
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Elite Eight)

(#2 team tomorrow afternoon)

Posted in Big East Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Smith And Plumlee Starting For Duke; ACC Media Day

Posted by Zach on October 27, 2008

Seth Davis attended Duke’s practice over this weekend and wrote an in-depth rundown over at SI.com (By the way, since Clark Kellogg is now the #1 play-by-play man for CBS, Davis will be joined by Greg Anthony in the studio for their college basketball coverage). He writes about how Jon Scheyer will take the big shots for the Dukies, how Kyle Singler put on 20 pounds to counter the workload of playing in the post, and how bust Lance Thomas (should have gone to Rutgers) may find himself in the outside looking in with Coach K’s man crush David McClure, 7-foot stiff Brian Zoubek and 6’8 freshman forward Miles Plumlee receiving more playing time.

The story of Plumlee is ironic because Duke scooped him up after he de-committed from Stanford when Trent Johnson left for LSU. Of course, Duke assistant Johnny Dawkins ended up taking the Stanford job. Coach K didn’t do any favors for his long-time assistant and continued to pursue the improving Plumlee. I thought Plumlee would spend a year off the bench as a role player getting asserted into the Duke mindset, but their lack of size (and faith in Thomas) means he might start at the 5-spot.

Davis: For someone who is as young and tall as he is, Plumlee has plenty of meat on his bones, and he is very agile to boot. (Krzyzewski told me he jumped 6 feet, 9 inches for his high school track team.) He seemed a little lost at times basketball-wise, but that’s nothing unusual considering it was only his fourth practice. Plumlee is Duke’s best shot-blocker, and he fits the Blue Devils’ wide-open style much better than 7-1 sophomore center Brian Zoubek. If the season started today, Plumlee would be Duke’s starting center.

Also surprising is near confirmation that Nolan Smith will start at point guard for the Blue Devils over three-year starter and senior Greg Paulus. Paulus was slowed by knee injuries over the summer and the vast improvement of Smith, along with his athleticism and purer point guard skills, appear to have given him the edge.

Smith had a listless workout when I was there, but that’s only because he was trying to shake off a stomach virus that had him vomiting for two straight days. Everybody I talked to, Krzyzewski included, said that Smith had played better in the summer and fall than any other player. And when I raised the question to Coach K that this development might be tough for Paulus to deal with, he brushed me off. “There’s only one ego on this team, and that’s our team ego,” he said. “So everybody is responsible for doing what’s best for the team. This isn’t some inherited wealth. Each year you have to earn it. That doesn’t mean Greg’s a bad player, but right now Nolan would start.”

I asked Krzyzewski if he had talked to Paulus about this. “We talk to all of our guys. We’re a program of full disclosure,” he said. “You have good chemistry by telling the truth. You can tell a lie without ever saying anything, just by not playing the right people.”

Surely a bold move by Coach K and we’ll see how long it lasts. I wouldn’t doubt the motives of Coach K, though; for all of Paulus’ talent, he knows his players more than anyone. And having Paulus’ shots off the bench could be genius. Expect a small crunch time team of Smith-Paulus-Scheyer-Henderson-Singler.

Today was ACC Media Day in Atlanta and here were the final results for preseason standings/teams (rundown of various thoughts by Jeff Goodman here):

1. North Carolina (unanimous 1st place)
2. Duke
3. Wake Forest
4. Miami
5. Clemson
6. Virginia Tech
7. Maryland
8. Georgia Tech
9. N.C. State
10. Florida State
11. Boston College
12. Virginia

(I’d have BC slightly higher, and NC State could emerge if the reports of Brandon Costner looking like the Costner of old are indeed true. Not sure about Georgia Tech; Shumpert may be their best weapon).

All-Conference Team
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina (unanimous)
Tyrese Rice, Boston College (unanimous)
Jack McClinton, Miami
Ty Lawson, North Carolina
Gerald Henderson, Duke

(No arguments from me here. Toney Douglas of Florida State is my sleeper for this team after the season).

Player of the Year
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina

Rookie of the Year
Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest

I’m loaded the next two nights so expect my #3 Big East team (Notre Dame) on Wednesday.

Posted in Quick Posts | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

ACC Preview #7 & #8

Posted by Tommy on October 27, 2008

8. Boston College Eagles- Coach: Al Skinner (12th season)

PG- Tyrese Rice (SR): There is no question that Rice is the cornerstone of this Boston College team. The lone senior on the Eagles is the best guard in the ACC, perhaps in the country. He’s very good at finding ways to the rim and if defenders over-commit to him, he’ll find the open man. He has a deadly jumper from mid-range as well as beyond the arc. If I had to choose one point guard in the country to run a fast break, it would be Tyrese Rice because he is quick, smart and can hurt opponents in so many ways. He reminds me a lot of Chris Paul, he takes what defenders give him and often makes them pay for their mistakes.

SG- Biko Paris (SO):Paris had a solid freshman campaign and saw significant playing time throughout the year. This year Paris needs to make defenses respect his jump shot to open up space for Rice and Rakim Sanders to penetrate. He shot a dismal 26.1% from beyond the arc last season. Unless Paris improves his jumper, his one dimensional offense makes him a minimal threat. He’ll be the 4th or 5th scoring option for the Eagles, but his improvement would help BC a lot.

SF- Rakim Sanders (SO): Sanders had a pretty good rookie year but underachieved the high expectations put on him as an incoming freshman. What I like most about Sanders is his strong 6-5, 225 lb. frame. He’s a good inside scorer and is the leading returning rebounder. He also has a solid jumper from about 15 feet and is slightly above average from beyond the arc. I’d like to see Sanders not settle for a long range jumper as often as he did last season. He needs to slash to the rim more often and either score, dish or draw the foul. With a small team this season, Sanders is going to need to play big for Al Skinner.

PF- Corey Raji (SO): The four spot is going to be the weakness for BC. Usually the four is a strong player who can rebound and bang bodies down low, but BC doesn’t have anybody like that. Raji is undersized at 6-6, 214 lbs but is the second leading rebounder returning this year behind Sanders. It’s going to be tough for Raji to out-jump his opponents for rebounds because of his size and he doesn’t have the frame to box out the likes of Tyler Hansbrough. Raji does provide a viable scoring option and will give other power forwards a tough time guarding him out on the perimeter.

C- Josh Southern (SO): Southern is a solid big man who really came on the second half of last year. He averaged 7.7 PPG and 4.4 RPG in the last 13 games of last year. He only saw less than 15 Min/G last season, but found himself getting more minutes toward the end of last year. He’s going to be the anchor of this frontline and will have to be a strong rebounder and defender down low because BC lost its two leading rebounders from last season.

Bench:Tyler Roche is the only player with major experience coming off of the bench. Vermont transfer Joe Trapani will give the Eagles an option with more size at the power forward and will get significant minutes along with sophomore Courtney Dunn at the four spot. Freshman Reggie Jackson will give Skinner another option at the two guard. Other than that there aren’t too many more options off of the bench.

Backcourt: B+
Frontcourt: C-
Bench: C
Coach: B

Bottom Line: Rice is going to have to carry the Eagles wherever they may go. It’s never a good indicator if a team is starting four sophomores, but Sanders has a lot of potential and the other three are solid players. The lack of size and depth is going to give Skinner a tough time managing his team.

Key Non-Conference Games: 12/2 vs. Iowa, 12/6 @ UMass
Key Conference Games: 1/17 @ Virginia Tech, 1/27 @ Maryland, 2/24 vs. Florida State, 3/7 vs. Georgia Tech
Most Valuable Player: Tyrese Rice
Projected Postseason: NIT (2nd or 3rd round)

7. Maryland Terrapins- Coach: Gary Williams (20th season)

PG- Greivis Vasquez (JR):Vasquez has been the emotional spark for the Terps during his tenure at the point, but now that he’s the leader of this team he needs to learn how to control his emotions as well as the basketball. He’s always played with his heart but needs to start playing with his head a bit more now that a lot of Maryland’s success rests squarely on his shoulders. Vasquez’s 6-6 frame has always helped him get to the rim and shoot a mid-range jumper over his small defenders but he’s inconsistent from beyond the arc. How Greivis plays is the biggest barometer for the Terps. If he starts turning the ball over, which he has a tendency to do in bunches, they’ll have a pretty tough time finding a way to win. If Vasquez is handling the ball well and finding ways to score, the Terps can beat a good amount of teams in the ACC. The bottom line for Grievis is that he needs to be a consistent leader for Gary Williams.

SG- Eric Hayes (JR): Hayes, who is naturally a point guard, transitioned to the two guard last year for Williams. The transition seemed to be a rough one for Hayes. He drastically improved his shot from beyond the arc last season but his offense is pretty one-dimensional with virtually no ability to beat his defender off the dribble. If he does get into the lane, he’s very good at finding cutters or putting up a floater if a defender doesn’t commit to him. After Vasquez, Hayes is going to be the second scoring option for Maryland.

SF- Landon Milbourne (JR): The junior out of Oak Hill has a great combination of size and leaping ability for the three spot, but his athleticism hasn’t translated into the scoring or rebounding numbers he should put up. When I watch Milbourne, he seems uncomfortable with the ball in his hands. If Milbourne improves his ability to handle the ball, he’ll have the size and athleticism to get to the rim. Like Vasquez, Milbourne is a so-so shooter from beyond the arc, but when he’s on he’ll sink them in bunches. Williams is going to need a lot of production out of Milbourne because of the weak frontcourt.

PF- Jerome Burney (SO): Burney is a prototypical Gary Williams big man: long-armed and athletic. He’ll step in and provide a similar shot-blocking presence to that of James Gist or Bambale Osby, but Burney’s lack of offensive skills could be a liability for the Terps. Burney will have to stay out of foul trouble for Maryland because of the lack of reserves for the frontcourt, so Gary may have to pull on the reins when it comes to Burney’s shot-blocking aggressiveness. If Burney provides around 6 PPG and is a strong rebounder and defender, I’m sure Williams would consider that a successful year for Burney.

C- Braxton Dupree (SO):I consider Dupree to be the poor man’s Sean May. He provides a big body down low and has a pretty good set of post moves, but he just doesn’t have the athleticism to be a quality post player in the ACC. He’s an undersized center at 6-8 and has poor jumping ability, so he’s not going to go above the rim for any rebounds. Dupree does have a combination of a soft touch around the rim and a wide body. While he may not shoot straight over opponents, he uses his skills and his frame to shoot around them.

Bench: The backcourt has a number of fill-ins that can come in and produce. Sophomores Adrian Bowie and Cliff Tucker are a couple of athletic guards that are dangerous in the open court and are very good slashers. Freshman Sean Mosley is another good athlete to fill in at the two spot, giving Gary three viable options off of the bench. As for the frontcourt, it’s a different story. The two starters are sophomores, one who will probably get into foul trouble and another who has trouble running the court. One of the two subs for the frontcourt is senior Dave Neal who would have no business playing significant minutes in the ACC if it wasn’t for his hard-working attitude. Neal will provide solid minutes, but won’t do much on the offensive end. The other sub is sophomore Dino Gregory, another long-armed post man for Gary. Gregory has very little experience but will certainly be thrown into the fire this season. Jin Soo Kim, whose eligibility status is still up in the air, would a be a nice addition to bolster a frontline that needs all the help they can get.

Backcourt: B+
Frontcourt: D+
Bench: B-
Coaching: B-

Bottom Line: Maryland has one of the better backcourts in the ACC, but their frontcourt will be a liability all season unless one of the sophomores step up. Neal is the only senior on this team so Williams is going to have to look to his juniors, two of whom have started their entire carreer at Maryland, to lead this team. There have been murmurs around College Park that this may be Gary’s last season. Those murmurs could escalate if the Terps have another disappointing year and wind up in the NIT. Unfortunately, that’s the likely destination for these Terps, especially when you consider their ACC schedule: three of the five teams they play twice are Miami, UNC and Duke.

Key Non-Conference Games: Old Spice Classic: 11/27 vs. Michigan State, 11/28 vs. Gonzaga/Ok. State, 12/03 vs. Michigan
Key Conference Games: 1/10 vs. Georgia Tech, 1/27 vs. Boston College, 2/17 @ Clemson, 2/25 vs. Duke
Most Valuable Player: Greivis Vasquez
Projected Postseason: NIT (3rd or 4th round)

Posted in ACC Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , | 2 Comments »

Big East Preview: #4 Pittsburgh

Posted by Zach on October 25, 2008

4. Pittsburgh Panthers– Coach: Jamie Dixon

PG- Levance Fields (SR)
: It’s certainly been a battle for Levance Fields the last ten months as a Pittsburgh Panther. On December 20, Fields nailed the game-winning three pointer to defeat Duke at Madison Square Garden and move Pitt to 11-0. The next game in Dayton, Fields fractured a bone in his left foot and missed the next eight weeks, unable to practice even when Fields returned for the stretch run. In August, Fields discovered the same foot was fractured once again and now his full return in November for Pitt is in question. Without Fields, Pitt is a completely different team. They lack his leadership qualities, court vision and outside shooting. He’s an indispensable player for Coach Dixon, evident by their 8-4 record without his services (for Dixon, that’s less than stellar). Fields stars in big games- he shone in the win against Duke and averaged 21.5 PPG in the NCAA Tournament last year. Pitt is a potential Final Four team with Fields on the court and a possible middle-of-the-pack Big East team without Fields on the court.

SG- Brad Wanamaker (SO)
: The battle for the 2-guard spot could end up in the hands of freshman Ashton Gibbs by the end of the season, but for now we’ll peg in sophomore Brad Wanamaker. Taking over for the sharp-shooting Ronald Ramon is no easy task for Wanamaker, especially because he cannot shoot. He does everything else above average or better: rebounding, very physical on defense, second best passer on the team behind Fields. Dixon was hoping to have Mike Cook back and slide Gilbert Brown to the 2-guard. Instead, Wanamaker gets an opportunity and surely needs to improve on his 33% FG to hold down the starting spot on a team looking to go the distance.

SF- Gilbert Brown (SO)
: One of the reasons Pitt should be one of the top defensive teams in the nation this year is due to Gilbert Brown. Rather than clogging up the running game, this Gilbert Brown clogs up the other team’s top shooter. Dixon loves him because of his versatility and ability to play multiple positions. He’s an athletic swingman who has seen his shooting improve mightily over the course of his short college career. After not making a shot in February, Brown came alive and even scored 12 points on 6-10 shooting in the NCAA Tournament vs. Oral Roberts. Brown will never become as good of an offensive player as he is a defensive player, but some consistent improvement offensively, both shooting and penetrating, should take pressure off of Young and Fields to carry the load.

PF- Sam Young (SR)
: No play has shown the vast improvement from the day he stepped onto the Peterson Events Center court to today as much as Sam Young. An average recruit out of a winning high school program that spent some time at Hargrave Military Academy before joining Pitt, Young appeared to be nothing more than a useful role player his first two season before exploding in his junior year and earning honorable mention All-America. Young finished first in scoring and second in rebounding for the Panthers 27-win squad last year, bursting onto the national scene with a dynamic Big East Tournament performance in which he took home MVP honors. Young’s outside shooting has drastically improved; he is now hitting 38% of his three-pointers. Look for Young to contend for Big East Player of the Year this season.

C- DeJuan Blair (SO): Dixon and his staff saw the upside of Blair when they recruited him just blocks from campus coming out of high school, but none could have foreseen he’d make such a positive impact during his first year in a Panther uniform. Blair finished fourth in the conference in double-doubles, fourth in rebounding and seventh in FG%, culminating in the Big East Rookie of the Year honor (along with Jonny Flynn). Blair needs to improve from the free throw line due to his physicality in the post and tendency to draw fouls (Blair shot just 63% last year), but that will come with less freshman jitters this season. His rebounding skills are nearly unmatched and Blair features a series of developing scoring post moves. The offense will surely revolve around Young, Fields and the sophomore Blair for Dixon and the Panthers.

Bench: Dixon lured in some backcourt depth and competition for Wanamaker at the guard spot opposite Fields, including the brother of former Maryland star Juan Dixon, Jermaine Dixon. He’ll need to contribute offensively from behind the arc along with incoming freshman Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall. Replacing Ronald Ramon’s production from outside is a huge factor. Forward Tyrell Biggs should be the first player off the bench for coach Dixon. He’s beginning to live up to his potential and may steal minutes from Brown. Center Gary McGhee may play a prominent role this season if he has to spell Blair when he gets into foul trouble. At 6’10, he provides much-appreciated height and rebounding off the pine.

Backcourt: B
Frontcourt: A-
Bench: B-
Coaching: A

Bottom Line: Pittsburgh has quietly molded into a 30-win mainstay on the national scene under the tutelage of Ben Howland and now Jamie Dixon, but they have yet to make a Final Four. Will this be the year? I have a hard time believing this team has the secondary parts or depth to reach that plateau. Don’t rule it out, though. Dixon has commented this may be his best defensive team ever, and the Big Three of Fields, Young and Blair is certainly a coach’s dream. The golden question: Can this team score enough points to contend with teams like North Carolina, Notre Dame, Michigan State and Duke on a national stage?

Key Non-Conference Games: 11/28 @ Texas Tech, 12/6 vs. Vermont, 12/17 vs. Siena, 12/21 @ Florida State
Key Conference Games: 1/17 @ Louisville, 1/31 vs. Notre Dame, 2/16 @ Connecticut, 3/7 vs. Connecticut
Most Valuable Player: Levance Fields
Projected Postseason Tournament: NCAA (Sweet 16)

Posted in Big East Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »