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Who’s Hot & Who’s Not

Posted by Tommy on December 3, 2008

The early stages of college basketball have been a blast. Some teams/players have impressed early on, and some have been disappointing so far. Here’s my rundown of “Who’s Hot and Who’s Not” so far this season.

Who’s Hot:

Gonzaga Bulldogs: Mark Few and the Bulldogs have shown that they deserve to be at the top along with the BCS conference powerhouses. The Zags have all the pieces to make a run to the Final Four- a great senior point guard in Jeremy Pargo, strong big men in Josh Heyvelt, Ira Brown and Robert Sacre, and a couple great scorers in Micah Downs and Austin Daye. Stephen Gray is a solid role player and is lights out from beyond the arc when locked in. Heytvelt has looked like the projected lottery pick of old and Daye is emerging as one of the most versatile players in the country. The Zags took down Oklahoma State, blew out Maryland and beat a great Tennessee team to win the Old Spice Classic.

Blake Griffin: Griffin is rapidly becoming the poster child of college basketball and deservedly so. His numbers are off the charts. 25.7 PPG is impressive, but what really jumps out is the fact that he’s shooting 69.2% from the field. His rebounding skills are already well-documented with three 21-rebound performances. His combination of size, athleticism and basketball skills are unlike any I have witnessed in my short time as a college basketball fan.

Tobacco Road Rivals: The best rivalry in all of sports is carrying heavy national implications once again this year. UNC is the favorite to win the title and Duke has shown they are among the best in the land. Even though Duke was in the Top 10 in the preseason polls, there were some questions about their front court going into the season. After the first few weeks, the Dukies have changed any doubters minds with four wins by over twenty points, a 2K Sports Classic crown and a win over #10 Purdue in the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. Singler, Smith, Thomas and Zoubek all look much improved from last season.  Scheyer is also playing a huge role in Duke’s early success and Henderson, although he can do better, has been good thus far. On the other side, UNC has been running like a well-oiled machine. Lawson has proven that he is one of the best point guards in the land and Hansbrough looks like he’s in midseason form despite the injury that held him out of the Heels’ first couple of games. February 11th and March 8. Mark your calendars, folks, because these two games between storied rivals are going to be incredible.

Stephen & Seth Curry: Stephen Curry has proven that he is the best scorer in college basketball. He’s still leading the country in scoring after being held scoreless against a constant double-team from Loyola (MD). Going into the season, a lot of people, myself included, were questioning whether or not the transition to the point and the burden of running the offense would hinder his ability to score, but Curry has shown he can score as well as involve his other teammates. He’s averaging 7 APG and has a assist-to-turnover ratio of 2.8. Curry is also contributing on the defensive end with 3 steals per game. Curry has evolved from a pure shooter into a college basketball star and perhaps the best player in the land. His younger brother Seth has shown that he’s learned a thing or two from his father and older brother. He’s averaging 22 PPG as a freshman at Liberty and had a 26 point performance against Virginia and 22 points against George Mason.

Kyle McAlarney: We all knew this guy could shoot. But the way he’s shooting right now is nothing short of insane. He’s shooting 51.3% from beyond the arc and in his last three performances went 10-18, 9-17 and 7-13 from deep. He isn’t only doing this against weak opponents. He went 5-9 against Texas and his 10-18 performance came against UNC, a game in which he had 39 of the Irish’s 87 points. If he keeps on shooting like this, it’ll be tough for even the best of teams to guard the inside-outside combination of McAlarney and Harangody.

Honorable Mention: James Harden, Middle of the Big East, 76 Classic’s Final Four (Wake, Baylor, UTEP, AZ State)

Who’s Not:

Mullens & DeRozan: This years class of diaper dandies pales in comparison to the classes of the two previous seasons. The big names like Mullens and DeRozan have vastly underperformed their expectations coming out of high school. DeRozan is averaging less than 10 PPG and under 5 RPG against weak competition. Against USC toughest opponents so far, Seton Hall and Missouri, he averaged 5.5 points and 4.5 rebounds. BJ Mullens was supposed to be one of the best big men in the country but has been nothing short of disappointing early. He’s averaging 5.5 PPG annd 4 RPG and has two blocks in his first four games. He’s seen no more than 20 minutes in a game so perhaps Thad is working his freshman in little by little, but a supposed stud like Mullens should see all the playing time he can get, so there must be something wrong.

Siena: For a team that returns all five starters that made it to the second round of the last year’s NCAA tournament, Siena has not looked very impressive in the early going. Granted they did play in the toughest non-conference tournament, but they played two teams they should have beat and lost both games. Siena blew a 12 point lead midway through the second half against Wichita State and never led in the Oklahoma State game. Siena has a good starting five, but their lack of depth has been a thorn in Fran McCaffrey’s backside.

Hurricanes discipline: Miami’s sophomore point guard Eddie Rios was suspended indefinitely on Tuesday for a violation of team rules. This suspension was handed down shortly before the tip of their ACC/Big 10 Challenge matchup against #21 Ohio State. Rios had been filling in at the point for Lance Hurdle, who has been recovering from injury. As if Rios’ suspension wasn’t bad enough, star guard Jack McClinton was ejected with 10 minutes left in the first half after he slapped Ohio State’s Anthony Crater in the face right after McClinton passed the ball. McClinton got the ball back after he slapped Crater and sunk his fourth 3-pointer in the first ten minutes of the game. McClinton hadn’t missed from beyond the arc that game and the Canes were rolling against Ohio State. Ohio State chipped away at Miami’s 14-point halftime lead to secure a 73-68 win. Although the slap didn’t appear to be too violent, McClinton has to keep his cool as the leader of the Hurricanes.

Patrick: C’mon Pat, you jumped out to a pretty nice lead in our daily selections, and now you’re under .500…

Honorable Mention: USC, Charlotte, A.J. Price

Anything else you can think of? Just leave a comment.

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For Xavier The Road Gets Even Tougher

Posted by Patrick on November 24, 2008*AJQ9SIcXO84lsW3szTsLPx6hXFLdahS21CUAbA73N-mjayrjcShhLzKfP*08D4fD/SeanMiller.jpg

Coming off three huge wins at one of the premier non-conference college basketball tournaments, the Xavier University men’s basketball team looks like it’s picking up right where it left off last season when Sean Miller’s squad made the Elite Eight for only the second time in the school’s history.

This weekend in the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, Xavier took home the championship after three very close victories. In the first game Xavier took on Missouri winning 75-71 mostly because the Tigers had a terrible night from the free throw line. The next night the Musketeers played Virginia Tech, a team that missed the NCAA tournament just narrowly last season and is looked at as a bubble team once again this year. Even though Xavier trailed at halftime, they did not look like they were ready to give up a chance to play in the championship game. The regulation buzzer sounded with the score all knotted up after the Hokies had a great chance to win the game on their last possession. In overtime with the score tied, Jeff Allen of Virginia Tech converted a tip-in to give the Hokies a 62-60 lead with just three seconds left. Then, Xavier guard Dante Jackson threw up a half-court heave that banked in giving Xavier a 63-62 thrilling victory and its fourth win of the season.

Tournament favorite and 12th ranked Memphis advanced from the bottom half of the bracket to take on Xavier in the championship game. The Musketeers trailed only once, but it was still a very close game and Xavier’s leads never extended past six points. In the end, free throw shooting was Memphis’ downfall and Xavier went home with the championship trophy despite freshman center Kenny Frease fouling out midway through the second half.

The newly released polls show Xavier at #16 in the AP poll and #20 for ESPN/USA Today’s. With a 5-0 record, and picked to finish second in the conference behind Saint Joseph’s, the Musketeers look like they are still going to have a large say in what happens in the NCAA tournament. However, their slate of games is anything but easy, and some may even say that their non-conference schedule is one of the hardest of any A-10 team.

This Saturday, Xavier takes on Miami (OH), a team that lost to UCLA at Pauley Pavilion by just five points and also caused plenty of trouble early for Pittsburgh. Miami is just 1-2 but their record is very misleading; they play great defense and can be a very dangerous team from behind the arc if left open.

The Musketeers then have two home games against Auburn and Ohio, two improved teams since last season. Xavier then travels to rival Cincinnati, a sleeper in one of the best Big East conferences ever seen in terms of talent and depth. After that, Xavier faces Kyle Singler and the Duke Blue Devils which should provide one of the best tests of the season for both teams as they prepare for their conference schedule.

Xavier then battles Robert Morris, a team that has been very good in the Northeast Conference these past few seasons. They’re also slated to face the inexperienced but dangerous Virginia Cavaliers.

While the Atlantic 10 is down this season compared to years past, there are still many teams that will contend with Xavier for the conference crown: Saint Joseph’s (picked ahead of Xavier in the Preseason A-10 poll), Saint Louis (just upset Boston College at home), and Rhode Island (played Duke to wire at Cameron Indoor). Xavier has crossed a major roadblock winning the Puerto Rico Tip-Off, but they have a very long way to go to not only win their conference, but to have a shot at gaining a respectable seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Led by coach Sean Miller, who has taken Xavier from mid-major level to high major in just five seasons, and players such as Derrick Brown, BJ Raymond, and CJ Anderson, Xavier appears early like it will be a powerhouse once again this season.

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Storylines After Two Weeks

Posted by Zach on November 24, 2008

Puerto Rico Xavier Memphis Basketball

What have we learned so far after two weeks of college basketball? That Samardo Samuels looks to be a force. That Wisconsin and Washington State keep on playing great defense. That Wesley Matthews finally wants to be the best player on Marquette. That Arizona doesn’t know that fouling in a tie game is a poor idea. That ESPN’s Tip-Off Marathon was a roaring success. That Jimmy Baron is the best outside shooter in the nation other than Stephen Curry. That Duke loves dominating in November. That scheduling Mercer is a bad idea. That NJIT needs to rethink the whole Division I thing. That DeJuan Blair can be totally unstoppable. That it’s going to be a long year for Barack Obama’s brother-in-law.

Okay, those are pretty important. But what are the single most looming and captivating stories that we should take away from the first two weeks of college hoops? Here’s a few:

1. James Harden, Stephen Curry and Blake Griffin are the best players in the nation.
Okay, we’ll give Tyler Hansbrough an opportunity to reclaim his crown when he’s finally healthy, but these three superstars and eventual lottery picks have certainly filled up the box score while facing “weaker” opponents (should point out that Oklahoma did play Davidson). Harden is averaging 25 points, 6.7 rebounds and 5 assists per game, including a line Sunday against Pepperdine where he made 11 of 13 two-point shots. Curry hasn’t let anyone down looking for an encore performance, averaging 34 points and shooting 43% from deep. Almost as important for Davidson? 8.8 APG and 2.8 TO/PG, meaning he’s made a smooth transition over to point guard. How about 26 PPG and 19.8 RPG for Blake Griffin? Sounds like Wilt Chamberlain to me. He’s played incredible this season, and even though it’s incredibly early to be ranking Player of the Year contenders, I’m going to do it anyway: Griffin is #1. Of course, these are all small sample sizes (three or so games). But there’s no denying these three are producing up to expectation and much more.

2. This freshman class is nowhere near last year’s crop.
Watching most of the top-ranked players in this years recruiting class struggle mightily in their transition to the college game, it’s hard to not think back and appreciate the likes of Michael Beasley, Kevin Love and Derrick Rose dominating from day one on their respective teams. Beasley was putting up record numbers instantly, Love was clearly the best player on a Final Four squad right away, and Derrick Rose might have been the best point guard in the nation a year ago. Someone like DeMar DeRozan is a prime example. I expected him to dominate right away for the Trojans, and while I still think he’s a phenomenal player, the transition has been a difficult one initially. DeRozan has yet to top 14 points in five games and disappeared in two key USC losses vs. Seton Hall and Missouri.  Tyreke Evans has made 2 of 16 threes and went 4/16 in their battle with Xavier Sunday for the Puerto Rico championship. Jrue Holiday seems like more of a two or three-year college player. It’s been the Big East froshies looking the most comfortable: Samuels, Walker and Monroe.

3. Xavier is once again one of the top non-BCS schools in the nation. I hesitate to call them a mid-major at this point. They’ve undoubtedly graduated from that label, so I’ll go with non-BCS. Memphis should take some notes after freshman Terrell “Icewater” Holloway (I made up that nickname, just go with it and make me happy) sunk free throw after free throw to capture the Puerto Rico championship Sunday. B.J. Raymond is an excellent three-point shooter, Derrick Brown is a powerful scoring forward and Kenny Frease will continue to develop inside. Sean Miller also has solid players like C.J. Anderson, Jason Love, Dante Jackson and Jamel McClean at his disposal. Not many programs can rebound this quickly after losing players as important as Josh Duncan, Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell. Credit Sean Miller for re-tooling this quickly and building a Sweet 16-caliber squad.

4. The Big 12 looks stronger than ever. Some laughed when I said the Big 12 is deeper and more loaded than ever when I wrote their preview last month. It’s real early, but this conference could challenge the ACC for #2 in the rankings. We expected Texas and Oklahoma to come out firing. Contenders Kansas and Baylor are also playing well early (should get a nice gauge of KU after the CBE Classic). But it’s the bottom half of the conference playing exceptional basketball that’s the real story. Missouri played well over the weekend against stiff competition, almost beating Xavier in the first game of the tournament. Texas Tech and Oklahoma State are scoring like crazy. Even Kansas State and Iowa State are dominating weak competition and avoiding the upset bug like some other high majors (Alabama, Auburn, Kentucky, etc.) Combined, the Big 12 is 39-2 as a conference. That’s a good record.

5. It could be a down year for Los Angeles basketball.
Stress the word “could.” Southern Cal has been the #1 disappointment in two weeks of play- DeRozan hasn’t played like himself, Hackett is a turnover machine, they’ve shot 26% from deep and 64% from the line. The reason I used “could” instead of “will” is because I have faith DeRozan will explode sooner than later, and Tim Floyd the type of coach who can turn the ship around. UCLA should also improve as the season goes on as Holiday, Morgan, Lee and the other young players get more acquainted with the college game. They desperately need the passive and often uninterested Josh Shipp to bring his game to another level because Alfred Aboya isn’t going to score 20 points on most nights. Early on, the Bruins look more like a Sweet 16-caliber team than a Final Four contender we’re used to seeing in Westwood, while USC could be bubble-bound.

Any that I missed?

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Olson Tainting His Own Legacy

Posted by Zach on October 24, 2008

It’s a difficult task to question Lute Olson’s accomplishments during his coaching career at Arizona. A national title, numerous lottery picks, Sweet 16’s and Pac-10 titles galore. Trophies, pennants and shiny awards nobody in Tuscon could have ever dreamed of when Olson arrived from Iowa City in the mid-80s. Olson belongs in the conversation with Hall-of-Famers like Coach K, Boeheim, Calhoun, Pitino, Knight, Williams and Izzo in the discussion over the best NCAA basketball coach of the last 20 years. Nobody is denying that. Nobody is trying to deface his proud accomplishments.

Yet it’s hard to sit back and accept this next bizarre chapter in Lute Olson’s strange exit from Arizona as just another legend passing the torch. Much like other coaching greats who have departed under shady circumstances, namely Bob Knight (more than once) and Eddie Sutton, Olson seemingly leaves his program in a state of turmoil. His exit proved less than graceful. His decisions over the last two years have hurt the Arizona program rather than kept it on the winning track.

A brief timeline: Olson stunningly steps down as Arizona head coach prior to last season and names Kevin O’Neill his successor without guaranteeing a return, Olson announces prior to the Pac-10 Tournament that he will return to the sidelines next year, prompting an enormous distraction, O’Neill then angrily departs for the Grizzlies and his entire coaching staff needs to be replaced, Chase Budinger is convinced Olson is now in good health and decides to return because he wants to play for Lute another season, Olson ducks out of practice Monday, remarking he is “just sick,” ESPN learns mid-Thursday that Olson has retired without the players and prominent administration ever hearing of such news.

Now Arizona is left with an interim coach in Russ Pennell who most recently was an AAU coach in Phoenix and formerly worked for the Arizona State coaching staff before being let go. Quite a resume to be leading the Arizona Wildcats. Meanwhile, assistant Mike Dunlap, who was originally reported to be taking over for Olson, turned down the job because he wanted long-term security while Arizona looks to go after Gonzaga coach Mark Few or Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon. I have a hard time believing either of them will leave comfortable situations for what could end up being the next Indiana sans the major violations.

Rather than exiting gracefully from Tuscon with his head held high and the program in workable shape, Olson takes off with Arizona under a coach with no experience, a team completely confused and angry over their coach suddenly deciding to retire, and two top-50 recruits in Abdul Gaddy and Solomon Hill who will likely de-commit and look elsewhere. If Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill depart for the NBA early like we all expect next June, this program could be headed for a spell of turmoil and irrelevance.

Surely, Olson dealt with difficult family and health ordeals over the last 12-24 months. Leaving the Arizona program under the tutelege of O’Neill may not have gone over well with many Wildcat fans, but as long as Olson got his well-being taken care of in time for 2008-09, the problem would be solved. Now, with practice just beginning and Arizona looking to return to prominence in the Pac-10, their legendary coach, one that promised to return this season and lead the march to glory, has ducked out, replaced by an AAU coach from Phoenix and fired Arizona State assistant. If an Arizona fan is looking for the nearest bridge, I don’t necessarily blame them.

In an age where athletes and coaching legends just cannot quit, Olson has quit in the worst way possible. No private meeting telling his players the news and giving specifics on why he’s leaving, instead a leaked news report and word of recruits’ fathers receiving word prior to Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill. No organized departure this summer before practice and leaving the program plenty of time to recover for this season, just a stunning and sudden retirement with three weeks remaining before the season begins.

Whether or not Lute Olson accomplished the unthinkable at Arizona during his illustrious term at head coach, nobody can deny the last two tumultious years of his tenure have been more problematic than graceful.

Posted in Coaching, Features, Uncategorized | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Let The Madness Begin

Posted by Zach on October 17, 2008

No, not March Madness. This is October Madness, otherwise known as Midnight Madness. Sure, it’s only layup lines, dunk contests, dressed-up speeches and optimism abound, but it’s something. It’s college basketball. And for those diehards like us three who have been clamoring for the sound of sneakers squeaking against the newly-minted court ever since Kansas shocked Memphis last April, this is a holiday ranking just behind Thanksgiving, Opening Day and Yankee Elimination Day on my list.

I assume most of our limited readership that visits the site on a somewhat regular basis are college basketball nuts, as well. So you know exactly how I feel at this very moment. I’d like to think I’m not the only one who has November 10 circled on the calender (yes, even if it’s only Duke vs. Presbyterian), have checked out the non-conference tournaments more than once, purused Andy Katz blog every single day this summer and long for the sights and sounds that a college hoops game provides. The emotion, the passion and the intensity is simply unmatched, especially at the professional level.

Tonight is only the beginning. Some teams, like West Virginia, Kentucky and Illinois, have already had their massive celebration on campus (or on a football field). Most will take their place at the starting line tonight, and some of the most prestigious programs will be highlighted by exclusive ESPNU coverage, if you’re lucky enough to get that awesome channel. They’ll be featuring Gonzaga, Davidson, Kansas and Georgetown with the Big Ten Network covering Wisconsin, Michigan State, Indiana and Minnesota. That’s right- the first chance to see Stephen Curry swish another off-balance three, or Jeremy Pargo shattering the rim with a monster dunk, or a chance to get an early glimpse at prized froshies like Greg Monroe, Delvon Roe, Ralph Sampson and Tyshawn Taylor. Devin Ebanks didn’t look so shabby for the Mountaineers last Friday, either.

The optimism is abound. Teams like Indiana can have a night of joyous celebration for the program they root so valiantly and diligently for before….well, they know what could be coming this year. There will be heartbreak, there will be dramatics, there will be celebration. The start of practice can represent plainly the start of practice to some, but for me it’s a new beginning and a fresh season where nobody knows what will happen next. Take it from a Red Sox fan that sometimes sports will give you the most exruciating punch to the gut ever imaginable, but there are those unexplainable moments like last night where the tough times seem like absolute bargains.

The emotions run high in college basketball more than any other sport. Allow me to join these schools in an optimistic mood and say that I have a feeling this season will be one of the greatest ever. The story lines are numerous: Can UNC go undefeated? Can Davidson make it back? Who will win the loaded Big East and Big East tournament? Who is this years Cinderella- San Diego, Siena, American? Which senior will lead their team to the promised land? What unforgettable moments will take place this March?

Yes, college basketball season is officially here. Lace up the Adidas and get in those layup lines, boys.

Some Midnight Madness links for everyone:

Andy Katz goes through the injuries that may impact big-name teams at the start of the season. Lorrenzo Wade and the Aztecs could have plenty of trouble on their hands.

Seth Davis asks 20 lingering questions for this season, including the prospect of senior Greg Paulus coming off the bench and sophomore Nolan Smith getting the starting nod.

Gary Parrish sums up some possibilities we could see this year, including a 50-point performance from Stephen Curry. That’s not too far-fetched of a notion.

Dana O’Neil runs down the history of the Midnight Madness tradition. Yet another highlight on the resume of one Lefty Driesell.

Posted in Features, Midnight Madness, News And Notes | 1 Comment »

Chase For Perfection: UNC Tar Heels

Posted by Zach on October 14, 2008

Unlike past Octobers, there is no debate over who should be deemed the preseason #1 team in the nation. In a near consensus for anyone with their head screwed on properly, North Carolina takes the honor.

Most major programs in BCS conferences would kill to have just three or four players on North Carolina’s roster for their own squad. Never before in my short life following college basketball can I recall a team so loaded in every capacity of the game. They tout the reigning national player of the year Tyler Hansbrough, a dominant power forward in Deon Thompson, the best sixth man in the country in Danny Green and two top-15 recruits in Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller. And that’s just the frontcourt. Don’t forget about the best guard duo in the nation- Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington- to go along with former starter and pinpoint shooter Bobby Frasor and, you guessed it, another five-star recruit in Larry Drew. It’s simply unfair.

For a college basketball team so completely stacked, the one question remains: can they do it?

And by do it, I mean finish the regular season undefeated. People thought going 16-0 in the NFL was a near impossibility until the Patriots pulled it off. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that this North Carolina team finishes the regular season with a perfect record. Not when I look at that roster.

Here are some of the roadblocks that UNC might run into on their path to immortality in 2008-09. Since college basketball is so damn unpredictable, this may be a futile exercise (anyone remember a certain Maryland team going into Chapel Hill and stunning these Heels?), but I figure this roster is so talented, a stunning upset at the hands of, say, Boston College or Virginia Tech will likely be avoided.

11/15 vs. Pennsylvania

Don’t underestimate the Quakers. This team can play with anyone in the country.

(Kidding, of course. Just wanted to see if you were still paying attention.)

11/26 vs. Texas/Notre Dame (Maui Invitational)

This is the second stiffest non-conference test for the Heels. They’ll face either a Texas team led by A.J. Abrams, Damion James and Justin Mason or a Notre Dame team with the dynamic inside-outside duo of Harangody and McAlarney. Notre Dame could give them the toughest test if Harangody handles Hansbrough and cancels out North Carolina’s best player. Tory Jackson can also match the speed of Ty Lawson. On the other hand, UNC can put up 100 points on Notre Dame’s often lackluster defense. Both of these finals could be classics, but it’s hard to say either of these teams are great matchups against the Tar Heels, especially on a neutral court.

12/3 @ Michigan State (Detroit)

North Carolina and Michigan State, the respective favorites in each of their conferences, were pitted to face off in the ACC-Big Ten challenge this season. Michigan State will enjoy a home-court feel with the game in Detroit, although the spacious facility (to say the least) may prove any sort of Spartan advantage moot. This game matches the quickest guards in the country, Kalin Lucas and Ty Lawson. Also, with Ginyard injured, Raymar Morgan may have a breakout performance. Still, who is guarding Hansbrough? Freshman Delvon Roe? Goran Suton? I don’t think so. Michigan State will test UNC but falter in the end.

1/11 @ Wake Forest

If everything comes together quickly for the youthful Demon Deacons, they could challenge North Carolina. Wake would need to perform like they did against Duke at home last season. That means depending on their stout freshmen and sophomores for a near-perfect performance. I wouldn’t count on it all coming together against Carolina, even at home and even relatively early in the conference season when Roy Williams may not know the Wake freshman so well. This is a definite test, though.

2/11 @ Duke

As much as the Cameron Crazies would give their future first-born to defeat undefeated North Carolina in Durham and end their undefeated ride (or beat them with one or two losses, like it matters), I don’t feel Duke matches up well with North Carolina at all. Unless Paulus, Singler and Scheyer put on a show from behind the arc like they showed they’re capable of back in Chapel Hill last season, you’ll see this contest finish more similarly to the game in Cameron. Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek are way too soft to handle Hansbrough and Thompson, so they’d have to win in a shootout, which I don’t see happening.

2/15 @ Miami

Miami, usually reserved for the middle ranks of the ACC, are contenders for a second place finish this season. Led by one of the top players in the nation in Jack McClinton and freshman stud Dequan Jones, the Canes have a chance. The depth of the Heels is the difference and the ultimate reason why they’ll take care of Miami.

So, what do you readers think: Which game poses the biggest threat to North Carolina? If I had to choose one loss, I’d say the Spartans. But in the end, my inclination remains that UNC does not lose this season.

The NCAA Tournament? That’s a whole different story.

Posted in Features | Tagged: , , , , , | 12 Comments »

Title Participants Eye New Season

Posted by Zach on August 4, 2008

April 7, 2008. Kansas vs. Memphis. The national title on the line.

All year we heard about Memphis’ free throw shooting woes. Few denied the Tigers possessed the talent to cut down the nets in San Antonio, but the majority picked UCLA or North Carolina or Kansas to finish on top for one distinct reason: Memphis was completely unreliable from the charity stripe, and this giant Achilles heel would rear its ugly head at the worst possible time. The Tigers shot 61% from the line on the season, with Rose at just 71%, Anderson at 57%, Dozier at 68% and Dorsey at 38%. They sprinted past Texas in the regional final, edged UCLA in the national semifinal, and saw their national title hopes within reach when a miracle fall-away Derrick Rose three somehow found the bottom of the net. The free throws? Never a problem.

I lived through the agonizing pain that followed as someone who would have benefited greatly money-wise had Memphis won the national title. While most in my pool opted for UCLA and North Carolina, I figured the only way to keep myself alive in case of a devastating first two rounds would be to take a more unpopular team, risking blowing my entire bracket for the small shot at glory. I picked all four #1 seeds to make the Final Four and it happened. I picked a Memphis-Kansas final and it happened. Yet with Memphis holding a close lead in the final minutes, the free throws began rimming out. And another. And another. Soon enough, a Chalmers three sent the game to overtime and instead of enjoying an all-time college basketball classic, I sat with my head in my hands completely stunned.

John Calipari, one of the more intense and spirited coaches in all of college hoops, probably needed a few weeks of alone time after that epic contest. Calipari reached high grounds with Massachusetts in the 90s and flirted with national titles in previous years with Memphis, but for someone as devoted as Calipari, the sting of losing the 2008 title wouldn’t go away quickly. Receiving a commitment from the top point guard in the nation Tyreke Evans healed some wounds. Losing team leaders Chris Douglas-Roberts, Derrick Rose and Joey Dorsey to the NBA won’t be easy. How Calipari handles the Year After will be the most stern test of his coaching career.

On the other end of the spectrum, Kansas, one of the most historic and celebrated programs in all of college basketball, will play this season as defending national champions. Bill Self got the monkey off of his back by squeaking out a win over Davidson, topping favorite North Carolina with a thrilling start and finish, and orchestrated the unbelievable comeback vs. Memphis. He watched his top players- Darrell Arthur, Mario Chalmers, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kaun, Brandon Rush- all depart for the NBA or Europe. They restocked with a solid recruiting class and hopefully Self will enjoy the small grace period at Kansas before the pressure cooker heats up again in Lawrence.

Both Memphis and Kansas will enter the 2008-09 campaign with fresh faces and a new look. No longer will Derrick Rose be the sparkplug in the Tigers backcourt, and no longer will Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson be solid and reliable presences in the Jayhawks backcourt. Chicago native Sherron Collins will shoulder much of the load, a near double-digit scorer from last season with a strong inside-outside game and good instincts who will likely lead Kansas in scoring. Freshmen and Marquette defection Tyshawn Taylor and all-around athlete Travis Releford will aid Collins. The Memphis show will be run by freshman Tyreke Evans, a special scorer and excellent finisher who can be Derrick Rose Lite with a better jump shot but worse court vision. Antonio Anderson’s three point range and contributions from Willie Kemp will take some pressure off Evans to be The Man at all times.

The frontcourt for Bill Self will be a question mark and depends primarily on the development of 6’11 big man Cole Aldrich, a strong finisher and rebounding presence who showed signs of breaking out against North Carolina in the national semifinal. Self loaded up in the recruiting class with bulk up front, reeling in three 4-star players at the small and power forward positions. Memphis will find its strength up front: lanky Robert Dozier returns, junior Shawn Taggart is back and could help scoring-wise in a big way, and Calipari loaded the frontcourt with freshmen Angel Garcia, Wesley Witherspoon and Matt Simpkins.

Both Memphis and Kansas, teams with storied programs and high expectations, hope to return to the Final Four again this season. While more realistic expectations see Memphis as a top-20 team who will storm through Conference USA and receive a high seed in the tournament while Kansas is experiencing a rebuilding/reloading season, both of these teams will be back at the top soon enough, with Memphis looking for revenge and Kansas looking for a return to glory.

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Impact Of The New Three

Posted by Zach on June 30, 2008 photo

In the scope of college basketball these days, more and more teams are relying heavily on the three-point shot to win games. At just 19 feet and 9 inches away from the basket, the three-point line has opened up scoring opportunities for long-range dynamos like Stephen Curry and Chris Lofton that seem to be taken with more frequency than the lost art of the mid range shot. Mid majors run their offense not around “how can we get the ball into the paint?” but “how can we get the best look from three?” Basketball, especially at the college level, has changed dramatically.

That’s why I’ve been surprised talk about the three-point line move from 19’9 to 20’9 hasn’t received as much publicity. Sure, the move isn’t too awfully drastic, and I’m sure teams had the new line painted in their gym just seconds after their 07-08 season came to an end, but it’s still a move that may turn marginal three-point poppers into terrible ones, and could turn some marginal three-point shooting teams into ones addicted to their worst enemy.

Without even looking this up, I could have guessed Butler shot the most threes of any team in the nation last season. As most compelling mid-majors tend to be, Butler has always been centered around the three-point shot. They actually take more threes (40.8% of their shots) than twos (39.1%), and you can be sure head coach Brad Stevens recruited more Indiana boys ready to shoot 3’s.

The loss of A.J. Graves, Pete Campbell, Julian Betko and Mike Green may squelch that plan slightly, but this how Butler plays, along with many other mid-majors. Drake shot 38.4% of their shots from downtown, Davidson 34.4%, BYU 33.1%…and even high majors like Georgetown, Oregon and Vanderbilt (all over 1/3 of their shots) could be affected. How are freshman on these teams going to adjust? Will, say, Brad Stevens or Bob McKillop allow his team to shoot 35% of their shots from deep when, surely, the national percentage will go down with the line being pushed back?

It opens up an interesting question that these coaches must consider. It also lends to the idea that high-majors who have the recruiting prowess to reel in these talented 6’9 and 6’10 forwards and centers that dominate the post, once again, have the ultimate advantage. The teams that relied on the three-point shot less than anyone else, North Carolina at 18.8%, will not be affected. Connecticut, Michigan State and UCLA are all also members of the top five. UNC, for example, loves to penetrate with Ty Lawson or feed the post to Tyler Hansbrough. Wayne Ellington and Danny Green are the only players who can become too three-heavy at times, until Roy Williams sets them straight.

What you could see from the new three-point line: a decrease in the number of threes taken and threes made, coaches disallowing their low-30% three-point shooters to pop treys at any open look, a struggle for freshmen mostly relying on the long jumper, a decrease in the amount of mid-majors stunning high-majors by pouring in threes, at least for the time being. The move may be somewhat subtle, but will the impact be?

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