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Posts Tagged ‘Texas Longhorns’

Top Ten Games Of The Week (12/8-12/14)

Posted by Zach on December 7, 2008

The November tournaments are complete. The ACC/Big Ten Challenge is complete. We’re starting to become more and more familiar with the contenders and pretenders as we inch closer and closer to conference season in college basketball. Even though exams are nearing and a bit of a lull in quality games may be upon us, there’s still ample opportunity for some teams to notch resume-building victories. Here’s my top ten intriguing matchups for this week:

1. #8 Texas vs. #17 Villanova- Jimmy V Classic, Tuesday (ESPNHD)– We’ve seen what the Texas Longhorns are capable of this season. They’ve already played two very difficult games- losing to Notre Dame by 1 in Maui and inching UCLA at home last week. We know A.J. Abrams is an impressive shooting when he’s hot, Damion James is an NBA scout’s dream with his rebounding and scoring skills, and players like Justin Mason and Dexter Pittman are fine secondary players. We know this team is capable of finishing their season in Detroit. But what do we know about Villanova? Not much considering their two best wins are on a neutral floor against Rhode Island and at Pennsylvania. I don’t necessarily blame Jay Wright for cooking up a cupcake schedule early for his young Villanova squad. The question remains: Does beating up on Houston Baptist really prepare you for physical and battle-tested Texas? We’ll find out Tuesday night. Dante Cunningham has been phenomenal for Villanova- 17.3 PPG, 8.0 RPG- and will need to play a huge role in a Wildcats victory at the Jimmy V. Prediction: Texas 77, Villanova 69

2. #18 Memphis at #20 Georgetown- Saturday (CBSHD)-
Speaking of being unable to properly evaluate contending teams, how about Memphis? They’ve played only one game since the Puerto Rico loss to Xavier, a thrashing of Marshall featuring the coming out party of Tyreke Evans, and will not play before this showdown in D.C. on Saturday afternoon. Memphis has five players scoring in double figures; we certainly know they can use their superior athleticism and penetration abilities to overwhelm the less-athletic Georgetown bunch. But, will this type of game come down to toughness? Free throws? Home court advantage? Inexperience at the point guard position with Wesley Witherspoon the new ball carrier for John Calipari? I expect the excellent Georgetown defense to confuse the Memphis offense in this basketball game and leave with a quality victory. Memphis’ Shawn Taggart is averaging a double-double thus far at 11 and 10. We’ll see if he can keep it up on Saturday. Prediction: Georgetown 68, Memphis 64

3. #14 Xavier at Cincinnati- Saturday (ESPN2)
– One of my favorite rivalries in college basketball has meaning this time around. The Xavier Musketeers will march into their inner-city rival’s home turf Saturday night 8-0 (assuming they beat Ohio at home) and likely ranked near the top ten in the nation. Cincinnati, with their rich heritage basketball tradition dating back to Oscar Robertson, has all of a sudden transformed into a football school with their Orange Bowl berth. It would be a monumental win for coach Mike Cronin if he can dethrone the hated Musketeers at home behind stars Deonta Vaughn and Mike Williams. Beating UNLV in Vegas and UAB on their home floor is a good start, but the Bearcats only scored 47 points against Florida State. Which Cincinnati squad will show up Saturday? Expect the fired up one. Prediction: Cincinnati 70, Xavier 68

4. #5 Gonzaga at Washington State- Wednesday– Pullman, Washington is not an easy place to win. The home crowd is always rowdy, the stifling Washington State defense is terrifying and the Cougars may desperately need a quality win for their NCAA Tournament resume before delving into a weakened Pac-10 schedule. They had an opportunity in New Jersey against Pittsburgh and lost. They had Baylor at home on Saturday and faltered. If they fall to Gonzaga, their only real chances in-conference are Arizona State and UCLA. Gonzaga doesn’t quite have the same problem- they already downed Maryland and Tennessee and have games vs. Connecticut, Memphis, Tennessee and Arizona on the slate (does Arizona really quality anymore?) Look for Taylor Rochestie, Aron Baynes, Klay Thompson and the balanced fighting Bennett’s give Gonzaga a scare in the first half before talents like Josh Heytvelt and Austin Daye down low are simply way too much to handle. Prediction: Gonzaga 67, Washington State 58

5. #22 Davidson vs. West Virginia- Jimmy V Classic, Tuesday (ESPNHD)- Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Stephen Curry. Sorry, but why else would you watch this game? No offense to Alex Ruoff or Devin Ebanks, but let’s be honest here. Prediction: Davidson 77, West Virginia 67

6. Butler at Ohio State- Saturday (BTN)– Don’t look now, folks, but perennial contender Butler is unbeaten in this early season. They’ve downed Northwestern, who has beaten Florida State and crushed DePaul, and won a big conference game at Cleveland State. The road becomes a bit more treacherous for Brad Stevens and Butler in the next couple weeks, though- @ Bradley, @ Ohio State, @ Xavier and UAB at home. Luckily, none of these matter an incredible amount because Butler probably isn’t going to grab an at-large berth anyway. The point is: Butler, supposedly in a down year after losing A.J. Graves, Pete Campbell and Mike Green, is still winning and it shows how tremendous of a problem they have in Indianapolis. Ohio State has two great wins @ Miami after the McClinton Swipe and in Indy against Notre Dame with Harangody playing. I won’t let Pat take credit for predicting Ohio State’s resurgence, either, because his entire reasoning was that B.J. Mullens will dominate college basketball and he’s not even averaging 7 PPG. Prediction: Ohio State 66, Butler 58

7. Dayton at Creighton- Wednesday- Mmmm, nothing like a yummy quality mid-major game on a Wednesday night! Okay, that was weird. But seriously, how about those Dayton Flyers? They downed mighty Mercer at home, defeated Auburn in Chicago and won a 54-50 nail biter at Akron Saturday that sent basketball back about 50 years. Oh, and they toppled Marquette in that same Chicago tournament for a win that will surely be discussed in March along with Dayton’s seed. When forward Chris Wright- 13.6 PPG, 7.3 RPG- is playing, Dayton wins. They have an extremely difficult test in Omaha against a Creighton team that needs a resume-building win after New Mexico has flopped and the Jays lost to Arkansas Little Rock and Nebraska. Booker Woodfox and P’Allen Stinnett (I did not make up those names) are two outstanding players for Creighton and I expect them to defend their always packed home court and take down mighty Dayton. Prediction: Creighton 78, Dayton 70

8. #10 Tennessee at Temple- Saturday (ESPN)
– Could the Temple Owls be hitting their stride? They were outplayed by Buffalo and Miami (OH) in two games prior to an underrated win in Happy Valley against Penn State. The most positive sign for Temple? They won while receiving only two points from Dionte Christmas, who may be the best all-around player in the Atlantic 10 (19.0 PPG, 7.3 RPG, 2.9 APG). Still, let’s be real, we’re talking about Penn State here. Not exactly Tennessee and their incredible talent, depth and athleticism. Temple will need an upset of epic proportions to win this game and most likely a 30+ point performance from Christmas. If you didn’t know, Tyler Smith notched the first triple-double in Tennessee basketball history on Wednesday. Prediction: Tennessee 83, Temple 67

9. #5 Gonzaga vs. Arizona in Phoenix- Sunday (FSNHD)
– Speaking of teams that need a quality win. Arizona not only needs to win this game to stay alive for an at-large berth, they may need this win to keep their basketball program in tact. Forget the Olson drama and the departing players and Brandon Jennings, this team has now lost two heartbreakers: the UAB fiasco that prevented them from notching two high-quality wins in Madison Square Garden and the 11-point halftime lead blown at Texas A&M on Friday ending in a game-winning Aggies three. Chase Budinger is doing his part at 20.1 PPG and Jordan Hill has been phenomenal at 17.4 PPG and 12.3 RPG. But can they stop Gonzaga? My guess is no. Prediction: Gonzaga 85, Arizona 75

10. San Diego State vs. Saint Mary’s- Saturday (HDNET)
– Is this San Diego State team flying under the radar? They beat struggling San Diego at home and led most of the game vs. Arizona State, but you’ll have to search hard for any quality wins. Beating tournament-bound Saint Mary’s on a neutral floor is a nice start. Kyle Spain is setting himself up to contend for Mountain West Player of the Year at 17.9 PPG and 5.3 RPG for the Aztecs. Unfortunately, they may be getting Patrick Mills when he’s hitting his stride. In his last three games against Fullerton, Providence and Kent State, he’s scored 20+ points and made 25 of 55 shots. Prediction: Saint Mary’s 74, San Diego State 68

Honorable Mention

  • California at Utah- Wednesday (MTN)
  • San Diego State at Arizona- Wednesday
  • Saint Joseph’s at Villanova- Thursday (ESPN2)
  • Iowa State at Iowa- Friday (BTN)
  • VCU at Richmond- Saturday (ESPNU)
  • Indiana at Kentucky- Saturday (CBSHD)
  • Utah at Oklahoma- Saturday (ESPN2)
  • DePaul vs. UCLA- Saturday (HDNET)
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December 5: The Day After

Posted by Zach on December 5, 2008

UCLA Texas Basketball

A.J. Abrams would not let Texas lose that game.

The sweet shooting senior scored 31 points- including the final six in the game- to lead the Longhorns to a hard-nosed victory over an energized UCLA team not only looking to exact revenge following last year’s defeat at the hands of Texas in Pauley Pavilion last season, but a UCLA squad hoping to silence some doubters following a disappointing performance in the 2K Sports Classic, a game in which they looked completely lost on offense against the Beilein Zone. The Bruins fought back valianty after falling behind by nine at intermission, but ultimately A.J. Abrams would have none of that.

Matching his career high with 31 points, Abrams can certainly score points. We all knew that. But for the senior to take over the point guard duties and step into the esteemed shoes of D.J. Augustin is no easy task, especially a kid burdened with being the #1 scoring option at all times. Not many college players, even experienced seniors like Abrams, can take that much responsbility and experience success. The assist totals have been unimpressive, sure. The scoring, and the success of the Texas Longhorns, though, has not suffered.

Abrams was awesome Thursday night, sinking 9/18 from the floor, 5/9 from three and 8/9 from the free throw line, coupling another strong double-double from Damion James into a Texas win over a fellow Top 10 team (at least right now). Abrams is now averaging 18.0 PPG on the young season, an improvement from a year ago. This Texas team legitimately looks like an Elite Eight contender- Justin Mason is an underrated player, James is a beast on the boards and can score inside, Pittman and Johnson give them bulk. Rick Barnes is also a fine coach. After losing a heartbreaker to a good Notre Dame team in Maui, this was a much-needed boost for Texas. If Abrams can handle the point and maybe get some help from Balbay down the road, the Longhorns will, like always, be in the mix in March.

UCLA will also continue to improve as the season wears on. Going into Austin and leaving with a victory is no easy task. Darren Collison needs some help, though. He took 22 shots in the game and turned the ball over 6 times. It just doesn’t feel like UCLA is a true threat like they have been the last three years under Ben Howland. Aboya, Dragovic and Keefe are somewhat useful players, but there’s just so much pressure on Collison and the inconsistent Josh Shipp. Look for Jrue Holiday to improve more and more (he did not play well last night) and contribute in all areas. For now, UCLA seems like a contender to be upset early in the tournament and fight for the Pac-10 title with Arizona State.

You can’t make the Final Four every year, Ben.

Other Top 25 games played on Thursday night:

  • #2 Connecticut (8-0) remained perfect, but it was not easy. Buffalo and their star Rodney Pierce (28 pts on 10/19) gave the Huskies all they could handle, notably guards A.J. Price (another so-so outing), Kemba Walker (did not put up a shot) and Jerome Dyson (major off night). Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien had to muscle the Huskies to the win, sinking 14/21 shots and combining for 39 points and 25 rebounds in a 68-64 bullet dodger.
  • #6 Oklahoma (7-0) survived a Leonard Washington cheap shot on Blake Griffin for a 73-72 win at home to remain undefeated. DeMar DeRozan is still struggling (5/13 FG, 0/1 3pt) and Daniel Hackett still cannot get on track scoring-wise, meaning it was Dwight Lewis who had to handle the scoring for the Trojans (25 pts). Blake Griffin was excellent again (8/12, 25 pts, 6 reb) and the Sooners finally received a promising outing from point guard Austin Johnson- 7/12 FG, 17 pts, but only 1 assist.
  • #16 Villanova (8-0) destroyed Houston Baptist 93-57 behind five double-digit scorers, notably Scottie Reynolds with 23/6 and Corey Stokes hitting six triples. Villanova hasn’t really played anyone of note (other than Rhode Island, which is a nice win) so we should be able to evaluate them more effectively after facing Texas this Tuesday in the Jimmy V.
  • #19 Arizona State (6-1) took care of Jackson State 81-60. James Harden: 7-10 FG, 4-5 3pt, 22 pts, 8 reb. He’s good.

Other games of some interest:

– Could Charleston be the team to end Davidson’s Southern Conference streak? They improved to 6-1 (1-0) on the season Thursday and have a win over South Carolina this season.

– Saint Mary’s picked up a quality road win against a fellow mid major, toppling Kent State 75-69 in Ohio. Patty Mills is starting to get back on track- 8/17 FG, 4/7 3pt, 6/6 FT, 26 points, while Diamon Simpson (I love this guy) grabbed 15 rebounds in the winning effort. Kent State nearly came back in this one after the Gaels jumped out to a big early lead, but didn’t get enough out of their star Al Fisher: 5/14 FG, 14 points. Kent State is 3-4, but they’re stronger than their record indicates.

– The Horizon began their conference season last night (actually earlier in the week with one game) with Valparaiso winning on the road at Youngstown State, Butler getting a Zach Hahn three at the buzzer to stay unbeaten and win at preseason favorite Cleveland State, Milwaukee handled Detroit at home and Green Bay sent Wright State to 0-5 with a home victory.

– Isaiah Thomas is an impressive freshman for Washington. He and Abdul Gaddy should form a nice backcourt for Lorenzo Romar in the next couple seasons. Thomas finished with 18 points and Washington toppled Oklahoma State at home for a much-needed victory. They’re now 4-3 and the Cowboys (James Anderson 3/12 FG) fall to 5-3.

NW Wins Horse Trailer Player of the Day: A.J. Abrams, Texas

Arizona @ Texas A&M on the U tonight.

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Top Ten Games Of The Week (12/1-12/7)

Posted by Zach on November 30, 2008

While the non-conference tournaments are complete, take a long look at this week’s slate of games and you won’t be disappointed. I doubt I’ll have a harder time picking out the best ten out of these the entire month of December.

1. #4 Duke at #9 Purdue– Tuesday (ESPNHD)- The premiere game of the ACC-Big Ten Challenge was supposed to be the battle at Ford Field between North Carolina and Michigan State. I give a slight edge to undefeated and #7 Duke heading to West Lafayette to face Purdue in front of a surely raucous crowd pumped for the biggest basketball game for the Boilermakers in years. No longer the Baby Boilers (still young though), Purdue fell to Oklahoma in OT in the Preseason NIT final for their only loss, led by the sharpshooting E’Twaun Moore, do-everything sophomore Robbie Hummel and defensive stalwart Chris Kramer. This will be the first true road test for Duke, who will certainly need a big performance from junior Gerald Henderson and point guard Nolan Smith. These two teams could be #1 and #2 for the 2009-10 season. Not a bad game for this season, either. Prediction: Purdue 70, Duke 69

2. #1 North Carolina at #13 Michigan State
– Wednesday (ESPNHD)- Rumblings suggest this game could hold the largest regular season crowd in college basketball history. And why not? Most pundits pointed to this game as the one stumbling block for the seemingly unstoppable Tar Heels. Those notions have been put to bed by three things: 1) Goran Suton may be out with a knee injury, 2) North Carolina straight up dominating Maui in epic fashion, 3) Michigan State slipping in the first round of the Old Spice to bubble-bound Maryland. But this is college basketball, and in front of tens of thousands at Ford Field, Tom Izzo and the Spartans could come out firing behind Raymar Morgan and Kalin Lucas. Prediction: North Carolina 88, Michigan State 75

3. #12 UCLA at #8 Texas
– Thursday (ESPNHD)- These two teams are likely barely separated in the rankings now that Texas lost, but if UCLA should march into Austin and take down the Longhorns, that would be considered a pretty big upset following the Bruins stinker against Michigan just two weeks ago. Texas impressed me at Maui- they lost to a very strong Notre Dame team by 1- with their size, athleticism and clear improvement on defense. A.J. Abrams and/or Damion James can have monstrous games at any time and Justin Mason has turned into the best passer on the Texas team. Darren Collison, Josh Shipp and the veterans of the UCLA squad will have to be the ones to lead the Bruins in a difficult environment. Prediction: Texas 73, UCLA 66

4. Wisconsin at #25 Marquette- Saturday (ESPNU)- How this always entertaining rivalry game isn’t on ESPN confuses the hell out of me. Both of these teams and their fans have a general disdain for each other. Don’t count out the Badgers just because the game is in Milwaukee, either. Road teams have won the last two games of this contest, with the Golden Eagles scratching out a rare victory in Kohl Center last season. It’s also a battle of contrasting styles: Dom James, Jerel McNeal and fast-paced Marquette will try to keep the tempo high against sluggish-but-always-efficient Wisconsin and Marcus Landry. I know I’m going to regret picking against Wisconsin, but Marquette should be fired up this week after losing to Dayton. Prediction: Marquette 70, Wisconsin 67

5. USC @ #6 Oklahoma
– Thursday (ESPNHD)- These were my two sleeper Final Four contenders before the season. Fair to say, at least thus far, I whiffed on USC and hit a grand slam on Oklahoma. If anyone can contain Blake Griffin individually (usually takes a team effort- ask Purdue), it could be Taj Gibson in the paint. Which means Oklahoma’s secondary pieces must contribute to the winning cause once again, players like Taylor Griffin, Cade Davis and Austin Johnson. This would be an excellent bounce back win for the Trojans following the disaster in Puerto Rico. Will this finally be DeMar DeRozan’s breakout party? Plenty of storylines in this one that I’m excited to see how it plays out. Prediction: Oklahoma 77, Southern Cal 72

6. #21 Miami (FL) @ Kentucky
– Saturday (ESPNHD)- Is Kentucky getting back on track like they did after the Gardner Webb loss last season? Remember, the SEC isn’t exactly loaded with NCAA-caliber teams at this point (Tennessee must be licking their chops). They’ll look to defend their home turf against a very underrated Miami team led by Jack McClinton, who is due for a huge performance, and solid secondary pieces like Dwayne Collins and Brian Asbury. Kentucky is receiving improved point guard outings from Michael Porter and DeAndre Liggins (when he decides to play…I would suspend him for that). Winning the Las Vegas Invitational was huge for Billy Gillispie. This win would be even bigger. Prediction: Miami 69, Kentucky 68

7. #4 Duke @ Michigan
– Saturday (ESPNHD)- This is Duke’s second game in five days going on the road to face a Big Ten opponent in their building. If they should escape Purdue with a victory, Coach K would be wise to not overlook a Michigan team that is beginning to click (look at me giving Coach K advice). They dodged the always-horrid Savannah State on Saturday in a shocker, so maybe Michigan is falling back to earth sooner than expected? Regardless, Duke pretty much dismantled the Wolverines in the final of Coaches vs. Cancer, and even though this game is in Ann Arbor, I expect more of the same. Although there’s epic upset potential here. Prediction: Duke 75, Michigan 65

8. Clemson @ Illinois
– Tuesday (ESPN2HD)- Quietly this game has become one of the top pairings in the ACC-Big Ten challenge this season. Clemson is 7-0 and have beaten teams like Charlotte, TCU and Temple behind double-double machine Trevor Booker and three-point threat Terrence Oglesby, while Illinois is 6-0 with wins at Vanderbilt, Kent State and Tulsa behind Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey. So it’s not like these teams have been beating up on total cupcakes, although they both lack a real quality win. Here marks the first opportunity. The game being played in Champagne is a big advantage for the Illini in my mind. Prediction: Illinois 68, Clemson 66

9. #23 Florida @ Florida State
– Sunday (FSN)- The debut of Sunday night FSN games (the return of Tim Brando!) is an interstate rivalry game that was settled on the football field just yesterday. These two talented teams will do battle on the hardwood in a difficult one for Billy Donovan and his Gators. We can look at the Seminoles in two ways: 1) they struggled badly with Jacksonville, La Salle and Stetson at home and their 7-0 record is deceiving or 2) they toppled two quality opponents- Cincinnati and California- in Las Vegas over the weekend and could be a sleeper in the ACC. We’ll find out a lot more about Florida State after this game, surely. Prediction: Florida 77, Florida State 70

10. #24 Baylor @ Washington State– Saturday (FSN)- I think this game is hugely underrated. In fact, I can’t wait to see how the run-and-gun Baylor Bears, who have certainly impressed followers with their performance in Anaheim over the weekend, match up with Tony Bennett and, well, let’s just say Washington State doesn’t run the same offense. This could prove a VERY difficult road game for Baylor, not only because it’s in Pullman, but the Wazzu defense is always a difficult one to figure out and could confuse the Bears. I expect the talent of Baylor to prove victorious in a nail biter. Prediction: Baylor 65, Washington State 62

Other Games To Watch

  • Wisconsin @ Virginia Tech (Monday)
  • Ohio State @ Miami (FL) (Tuesday)
  • Michigan @ Maryland (Wednesday)
  • Oklahoma State @ Washington (Thursday)
  • Arizona @ Texas A&M (Friday)
  • NC State vs. Davidson (Saturday)
  • UAB @ Cincinnati (Saturday)
  • Rhode Island @ Providence (Saturday)
  • Ohio State vs. #7 Notre Dame (Saturday)
  • San Diego @ San Diego State (Saturday)
  • California @ Missouri (Sunday)
  • #6 Oklahoma @ Tulsa (Sunday)

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November 26: The Day After

Posted by Zach on November 26, 2008

Syracuse Kansas Basketball

I’m starting to believe this Syracuse team can finish in the top five in the Big East.

Why? Primarily because there’s no way they would have won that overtime thriller against the Kansas Jayhawks last year. In Kansas City with thousands of screaming Rock Chalk diehards. Down double digits in the second half.

This is a new Syracuse team. Not one that folds defensively, makes careless turnovers, has absolutely no depth and won’t make adjustments. Hell, Jim Boeheim even ditched his patented zone defense midway through the second half after the athletic Jayhawks were attacking it with ease (most notably impressive freshman Tyshawn Taylor) and went straight man-to-man, allowing athletic defenders like Paul Harris and Jonny Flynn more leeway to be aggressive.

It appears to me defense would be the only thing holding back this Orange team from finshing in the top five in the loaded Big East, and even in that area I feel they can surely improve to an above-average defensive team in time for March. They have the pieces necessary to patch together a top-15/20 caliber campaign- an intelligent, steady, playmaking, clutch shooting point guard who allows the inconsistent Eric Devendorf to play off the ball in Jonny Flynn, who clearly outplayed the fatigued Sherron Collins late in that game. They have Arinze Onuaku in the post, who has made it clear to me in these two CBE Classic games he can become a star in the Big East. It baffles me why Boeheim doesn’t attempt to keep him more involved in the offense (I think Dickie V pointed this out). He’s also a ferocious rebounder and a superb defender, swatting away two Kansas shots late in the game on one possession and actually bringing me to my feet.

Okay, so the depth isn’t tremendous. Rick Jackson won’t provide much off the pine. But the additions of both Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins give this Syracuse team an entirely new dimension, spreading the defense and allowing both Flynn and Onuaku more room to work on the outside and inside, respectively. I also saw some encouraging play from freshman forward Kris Joseph in the tournament.

Bottom line: This Syracuse team is much more poised, mature and developed than a season ago when they missed the NCAA Tournament. While the Big East is loaded and I have a difficult time believing they’ll outlast Connecticut, Louisville, Notre Dame or Pittsburgh at the top of the conference, stranger things have happened. Credit Jim Boeheim for avoiding all cupcakes and challenging his Syracuse team to see what they’re made of early in the season. It certainly paid off.

#8 Notre Dame 81, #7 Texas 80: Both of these teams showed Tuesday night in a hotly contested Maui battle that they’re top ten teams. Both entered the game playing phenomenal defense- Notre Dame at 54 PPG and Texas at an even more impressive 46.3 PPG- but both explosive offenses managed to score 80 points in a thriller that Notre Dame almost blew from the free throw line. They held a seemingly comfortable eight point lead with about a minute to go when Tory Jackson, Zach Hillesland and Luke Harangody missed six free throws down the stretch to aid a Texas comeback. A 60-foot desperation heave from A.J. Abrams (who finished just 5/17 from behind the arc and took 27 shots total) hit the front rim in a shot that surely had the entire city of South Bend holding their breath.

Both squads made it fairly clear they belong in the top ten in the nation and could reach the Final Four. Texas received a strong effort from Justin Mason (16 pts, 7/12 FG, 7 reb, 5 asst and an electric dunk), Damion James (11pts, 12reb, 4/10 FG, didn’t force outside jumpers), Gary Johnson (5/11 FG, 10 pts, 8 reb) and Abrams even though he struggled overall from behind the arc. For the Irish, Kyle McAlarney did his thing, hitting five threes and scoring 19 points. Tory Jackson had another solid game (6/12 FG, 16 pts, 7 reb, 5asst, 2 TO) and Harangody finished with 29 points, 13 rebounds and a desperation heave from nearly halfcourt that banked in late in the second half. Mike Brey should be concerned about two things, though: 1) Yeah, Texas is a very potent offensive team, but Notre Dame struggled yet again defensively, 2) they got all of two points from their bench of Nash, Peoples and Zeller.

Curry Held Scoreless: No, Loyola (MD) did not find some 11-foot behemoth with a dinosaur’s wingspan to cover Curry. Coach Jimmy Patsos, the always creative mind who decided to sit in the stands for the second half of his game against Cornell to avoid receiving another technical, decided to employ a plan that seems fairly obvious now that someone has finally thought of it: double-team Stephen Curry. Not your usual double team, though. Loyola literally drapped two defenders on Curry the entire game. For every single Davidson offensive possession, the Wildcats held a 4-to-3 advantage, meaning Andrew Lovedale, Bryant Barr, Aaron Bond and Will Archambault could have career nights. Curry: 0/3 FG, 0/1 3pt, 3 assists, 0 points. For a guy averaging about 35 points per game. Instead of forcing shots through a constant double team, he deferred to teammates. Which brings up the question: Can this guy do anything wrong?

Other Top 25 Action

  • #1 North Carolina advanced to face Notre Dame after smoking Oregon 98-69. Hansbrough scored 16 points on 12/14 FT, making just two shots
  • #4 Pittsburgh took care of a quality Belmont team 74-60. Scary note: DeJuan Blair didn’t play due to inflammation in his right knee
  • #15 Marquette cruised 85-68 over Texas Southern with Jerel McNeal (20 points) and Lazar Hayward (18 and 9) leading the charge
  • #18 Florida barely squeaked by Washington 86-84 with Nick Calathes picking up 21 points and dishing out 8 assists
  • #22 Villanova dominated Monmouth 71-48 behind 18 points and five threes from Corey Stokes and Cunningham (9/17) with another good game

Games of Note: Arizona trailed pretty much the entire game against bottom-feeder WCC squad Santa Clara before pulling out a 69-66 victory in Athens, Georgia with Chase Budinger scoring 22 points; Virginia Commonwealth will need more than Eric Maynor to win the Colonial this season. His final line: 35 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists, 11/20 FG, 6/12 3pt, 7/9 FT, and besides some solid efforts from Larry Sanders, the depth just isn’t there. They lost a heartbreaker 93-90 in OT at 4-1 East Carolina; Indiana received another drubbing in Maui, losing by 26 to St. Joseph’s and allowing seven threes from Darrin Govins; You know the saying “fool me once, shame on you…fool me twice, shame on me?” Liberty defeated Virginia in Charlottesville 86-82 last night with Seth Curry dropping 26 points and averaging 21/6/4 this season. He’s playing at Liberty. What are these Virginia schools doing?!?!?! If there’s another Curry on the way, RECRUIT HIM; Saint Louis couldn’t build off their BC win and lost to Nebraska by 14 points, allowing the Huskers to shoot nearly 60%; Penn State with a decent win on the road vs. in-state rival Pennsylvania.

News And Notes

Results from the punishments handed down on Indiana yesterday: Kelvin Sampson cannot coach in college for five years and Indiana received three years probation. This program should be slightly rejuvinated by a top ten recruiting class entering Bloomington next season. Be patient, Hoosier fans!

– Troubled Massachusetts guard Doug Wiggins has now been suspended indefinitely by coach Derek Kellogg after an arrest for breaking and entering. The incident occurred off campus in Amherst last weekend and wasn’t the first of such incidents for Wiggins, who left Connecticut over the summer after averaging nearly 7 PPG there as a reserve.

– Devestating news for St. John’s that broke a few days ago: Roger Mason, Jr, the best player on a St. John’s team looking to avoid the cellar in the Big East, tore a tendon in his right foot and will miss the rest of the season. This can’t be a good sign for either Norm Roberts job security or the chances the Johnnies had of avoiding another disappointing season. Mason led the team in scoring last season at 14.0 PPG.

– Some other quick injury news: UCLA dodged a bullet as forward Alfred Aboya’s left wrist appears to be okay and he should play in the Bruins next game; Southern Illinois wasn’t so lucky, losing their center Nick Evans for 4-6 weeks after breaking his wrist in the same game; impressive Xavier freshman guard Terrell Holloway will miss 2-3 weeks of action with a stress fracture in his left foot.

NW Wins Horse Trailer Player of the Day- Eric Maynor, VCU

On The Tube Today

  • Alabama vs. Saint Joseph’s- 2pm (ESPN2)
  • Texas vs. Oregon- 430pm (ESPN2)
  • Boston College vs. Purdue- 7pm (ESPN2HD)
  • Indiana vs. Chaminade- 7pm (ESPNU)
  • Eastern Washington @ Minnesota- 830pm (BTN)
  • Southern Methodist @ TCU- 830pm (MTN)
  • UAB vs. Oklahoma- 915pm (ESPN2HD)
  • Notre Dame vs. North Carolina- 10pm (ESPN)

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Thirty Must-See Games This Season

Posted by Zach on November 14, 2008

If you call yourself a college basketball fan, here’s thirty games you absolutely cannot miss this season. Not for a wedding, not for a funeral, not for your son’s Bar Mitzvah. There is no excuse. Get the calendar out, folks.

1. North Carolina at Duke (2/11)– A given for anyone that loves the best rivalry in sports
2. North Carolina vs. Michigan State (12/3)– This battle at Ford Field tops any other non-conference duel
3. Connecticut at Louisville (2/2)– This one could very well decide the strongest league in NCAA history
4. Notre Dame at UCLA (2/7)– A historic battle of top ten teams in the heat of conference season? Sign me up.
5. Gonzaga vs. Connecticut (12/20)– The rematch in Seattle could very well be a Final Four preview
6. Texas at Oklahoma (1/12)– The battle of Big 12 contenders begins in Norman with the first meeting
7. Michigan State vs. Texas (12/20)– This game directly follows Connecticut-Gonzaga. Not a bad December doubleheader
8. Duke at Purdue (12/2)– The Blue Devils travel to a raucous atmosphere to face the Baby Boilers in the ACC/Big Ten challenge
9. Memphis at Tennessee (1/24)– It won’t be 1 vs. 2 like last season, but surely this intense rivalry will provide another thriller
10. UCLA at Texas (12/4)– The Bruins are looking for revenge after Texas knocked them off in Pauley early last season
11. Connecticut at Notre Dame (1/24)– If the Irish are ever going to lose at home, this should be the date
12. USC at Oklahoma (12/4)– Two of my underrated teams and two of my favorite players- Griffin vs. DeRozan
13. Michigan State at Purdue (2/17)– This could determine the winner of the Big Ten and possibly a 2-seed in late February
14. North Carolina at Wake Forest (1/11)– Early enough in the conference season where Wake can shock the college hoops world
15. Gonzaga at Tennessee (1/7)– This could be very tough for the Zags. This one isn’t neutral, either…it’s in Tennessee’s backyard
16. Davidson at Duke (1/7)– Cannot wait to see what Stephen Curry has in store for the Cameron Crazies. Good luck Nolan
17. UCLA at Arizona State (2/12)– Some feel Arizona State has a chance to dethrone UCLA this season. Here’s your chance
18. Duke at North Carolina (3/8)– The only contest that repeats on this list. And, really, what else but Duke-UNC deserves it?
19. Texas at Wisconsin (12/23)– The Longhorns would love to win this huge road game after Flowers three last season
20. Wisconsin at Marquette (12/6)– One of the more underrated rivalries in college hoops. These players and fans hate each other
21. Kentucky at Louisville (1/4)– Speaking of bitter rivalries…Kentucky would love to play underdog and knock off Pitino here
22. Gonzaga at Saint Mary’s (2/12)– Don’t think for a second that the Gaels will be pushed over here, especially in their house
23. Louisville at Notre Dame (2/12)– This could be the date, also.
24. Connecticut at Pittsburgh (3/7)– Not an easy place to play for the Huskies in March. This may have BET seed implications
25. UCLA at USC (1/11)– This budding duel should reach a climax in the battle of two outstanding freshmen- Holiday vs. DeRozan
26. Purdue at Wisconsin (1/27)– The Baby Boilers marched into Madison and won last year. How about a repeat performance?
27. UNLV at Louisville (12/31)– This New Year’s Eve clash could end up being a stunner in Louisville
28. Tennessee at Florida (3/1)– Could this game decide the SEC? I wouldn’t be surprised.
29. Duke at Wake Forest (1/28)– Wake stunned the Dukies last season in Winston-Salem. They’re well-equipped to do it again
30. Kansas at Michigan State (1/10)– If KU can win this game, it could be a huge step for this young team

If I missed any, please leave them in the comments. Because I’m sure I did.

Posted in Quick Posts | Tagged: , , , , | 4 Comments »

2008-09 Big 12 Preview

Posted by Zach on November 8, 2008

The Big 12 is becoming more deep, more talented and more balanced every single season. They boast the national champion Kansas Jayhawks, up-and-comers like Baylor and Oklahoma, mainstays atop the standings such as Texas, and perennial dangerous teams Texas Tech, Kansas State, Missouri, Texas A&M and Oklahoma State. It wouldn’t be wise to underestimate Colorado, Iowa State or Nebraska, either. With Kansas losing basically their entire championship roster, it’s time for a new team to emerge. Will it be Texas and A.J. Abrams? Oklahoma and Blake Griffin? Baylor and Curtis Jerrells? Here are my predictions for the 2008-09 season:

1. Oklahoma Sooners: While most preseason prognosticators have the Longhorns notched to the top spot, I’m picking Oklahoma based on three assumptions: 1) I feel like their backcourt of Johnson and Crocker will stay healthy and overachieve, 2) Willie Warren is going to have a major impact, and 3) Blake Griffin could be the best player in the country (hey, he is my preseason player of the year over Hansbrough). None of these expectations are out of the realm of possibility, and I may even argue they all have a high probability of happening.

Backcourt:
Point guard Austin Johnson isn’t the type of player to wow anyone with his pure skills, but he’s a solid point guard and court anchor for coach Jeff Capel. He finished with near a 2:1 assist to turnover ratio last season, can drain a clutch three-pointer, and also led the team in minutes played per game. The drop in FT% from 93% to 73% is concerning, yet I feel that is more fluke than reality. Fellow backcourt mate Tony Crocker is a double digit scorer with one of the deadliest shots from behind the arc. Crocker shot 42% overall from three last year, but in Sooner wins he shot a stunning 52%. If he can improve on reducing the turnovers and become more of a complete guard, it’ll be awfully difficult to defend Tony Crocker this season. Completing Jeff Capel’s three guard lineup is freshman sensation Willie Warren, a dynamic scorer who may be Oklahoma’s top recruit in the program’s history. Warren has an outstanding mid-range jumper and exceptional athleticism, but Warren must learn to transition from the high school game where he dominated every night scoring-wise to more of a team-oriented passer and rebounder for the Sooners. Coach Capel believes he can, and Warren even predicted he’d average eight assists per game this season.

Frontcourt:
The Griffin brothers. More famous than the Jonas Brothers? Probably not, but they play a decent game of basketball. Most would imagine Taylor Griffin may become slightly jealous of his younger brother, but the modest Taylor remains Blake’s biggest fan. He embraces his role as the team’s prototypical glue player, a guy never afraid to dive on the floor for a loose ball or snag the key offensive rebound. With the loss of Longar Longar, Griffin’s 4.9 RPG must improve for Oklahoma. Capel wants Taylor to play with “reckless abandon” this season in the paint. The more touted of the siblings is All-American brother Blake Griffin, the player that truly transformed the atmosphere around Oklahoma basketball. As a freshman, Blake showed the skills to average nearly 15 PPG and just over 9 RPG including a 57% mark from the field. Those stats don’t tell the entire story; Griffin really improved during Big 12 play and against the best forwards in the nation. If he can improve defensively, he’ll be the best player in college basketball and likely the #1 pick in the NBA Draft. Blake’s in the best shape of his life and ready to win a national title first.

Bottom Line: The Sooners have an experienced and tested backcourt with a little Willie Warren mixed in. They also have a duo in the frontcourt that does everything to win. Their bench is useful with JC transfer Juan Pattillo and senior Omar Leary. Coach Jeff Capel has done a tremendous job with this Oklahoma program, but with Warren a possible one-and-done and Griffin surely entering the draft, this may be his one year to shine in the near future. Look for him to take advantage.

2. Texas Longhorns:
When I rank Oklahoma number one, don’t think that’s a slap in the face to the most underrated coach in the nation, Rick Barnes, and this Texas Longhorns squad. I just think very highly of the Sooners upside. Texas and Oklahoma will be neck-and-neck all through January and February battling for that conference banner much like Texas and Kansas did last season.

Backcourt: A.J. Abrams was told by NBA scouts after testing the draft waters that they viewed the 5’11 dynamo as more of a point guard than a shooting guard. Well, it appears like Rick Barnes agrees, and Abrams will be playing mostly the 1-spot this season. Abrams led the Big 12 in three-pointers made en route to a 16.5 PPG average in a season in which he made second team all-Big 12. Why does Barnes believe Abrams can play the point guard with flourishing success? How about only 31 turnovers total last year. The biggest knock on Texas heading into the season is whether they can find a dependable floor leader, but A.J. Abrams certainly fits that bill and he should have Texas competing for a #2 seed. Also in the mix will be Turkish guard Dogus Balbay, who played for the U20 Turkey club and led the team in assists per game over the summer. Justin Mason is Texas’s glue guy- a defensive mastermind who flies around the court and plays like the ultimate competitor he is. Mason only boasts average all-around offensive skills, but makes up for his weaknesses with effort and athleticism.



Frontcourt:
Damion James is more of a perimeter-oriented forward that finished second in the conference in RPG last season with 10.3 per game. How is that possible? Watch James play on a consistent basis and you’ll find out: it seems like this athletic forward is about 15 different places on the court at one time. He’s truly a complete player, someone that can step back and drain a clutch three-pointer (41%) or lock down the other team’s top scoring wing on the other end of the floor. Seemingly his only true weakness is at the free throw line. Gary Johnson is the player that can turn Texas into an elite team. The 6’6 sophomore has finally recovered fully from a scary heart condition and the athletic forward should finally be able to see the floor on a consistent basis for Rick Barnes. When Texas is playing on all cylinders, center Connor Atchley is leading the charge. The breakout player from last year, a season in which he averaged nearly 10 PPG, shot 54% overall and blocked 80 shots,  Atchley is looking to become one of the most feared postmen in the Big 12. Dexter Pittman is another wild card. He’s lost over 75 pounds since coming to Austin and still weighs around 315 pounds. When he’s able to play prolonged minutes, Pittman is a ferocious rebounder and a capable post scorer.

Bottom Line:
Much like Oklahoma, Texas has plenty of question marks. Can Abrams run the point? Can Dexter Pittman contribute? Is Gary Johnson finally healthy? If most of these questions play to Rick Barnes’ favor, they should win another Big 12 title. They preach stout defense and can shoot from outside- a recipe for another successful year in Austin.

3. Baylor Bears: The rebuilding project of all rebuilding projects is finally crystallizing into something special for the Baylor Bears and head coach Scott Drew. Last season, Baylor was the last team admitted to the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday after winning 21 games and 9 conference contests. But that doesn’t tell the whole story: nine of the team’s 11 losses were by 10 points or less. That means Baylor won 21 games and was still unlucky last season. That bodes well for 2008-09 and the four returning starters.

Backcourt: The leading scorer in the history of United States high school basketball- Tweety Carter- will start at point guard for Baylor in his junior season. Carter isn’t a polished point guard by any means, but the quick tempo that coach Drew instills means half-court sets are a rarity, and Carter can do what he does best: score the basketball. He shot 43% from the floor last season, a good number for a 5’11 combo guard. Curtin Jerrells is the backcourt star, a 13.6 PPG scorer who should explode in his senior season. Someone with his pure talent could have bolted after Baylor was littered with punishments (including a year of zero non-conference games) but Jerrells stayed loyal and that decision is bearing fruit. He led the Bears in scoring- he’s led Baylor in scoring all three years- assists, minutes, field goals and free throws, finished second in three-pointers and earned a spot on the all-Big 12 squad. Sophomore LaceDarius Dunn may come off the bench like he did much of last season and provide coach Drew with an excellent shooter from outside and the free throw stripe. If Dunn can mold into a more fundamentally sound player on defense, he’ll be a national star by his junior season. Henry Dugat is yet another double-digit scorer who’s also Baylor’s top returning defender and is the opposite of Dunn- a complete and consistent player who simply contributes where he can.

Frontcourt: Kevin Rogers is the post anchor for Baylor. His numbers- 12.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG, 50% FG, 77% FT- are all extremely solid. It’s a luxury for Drew to have a consistent player like Rogers to depend on if the Bears need a basket inside. He notched 18 boards last year vs. tournament team Texas A&M and is an outside contender to average a double-double this season. The center position is much more of a question mark, meaning it’s entirely possible Drew goes with four guards and Rogers for the majority of the time. The 7 foot Josh Lomers started 24 games last year and shot 61% from the floor, using his size and strength to dominate for easy baskets in the post. Anthony Jones is a 6’10 freshman that should see major minutes. The lanky forward was ranked in the top-50 nationally in most recruiting magazines and should provide Drew with advanced defense and another scoring option. Quincy Acy is another freshman who may make an impact. Credit Drew with assembling recruits where he was clearly short-manned this season.



Bottom Line:
The job this program has done through epic trials and tribulations to make the NCAA Tournament last season and hopefully contend for the Big 12 title this year is truly remarkable. They’ll be a national favorite and deservedly so. The talent assembled could reach unimagined heights four years ago with Dunn, Jerrells, Rogers and Dugat leading the charge. Watch out for the rejuvenated Bears.

4. Kansas Jayhawks:
As the national championship banner rose to the rafters a couple Friday’s ago in Lawrence, only two contributors from that squad actually remained: Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich. Gone is hero Mario Chalmers, Darnell Jackson, Brandon Rush, Russell Robinson, Darrell Arthur and Sasha Kaun. Luckily for coach Bill Self, who finally tore that postseason monkey off his back, he’s recruited a top-flight class to keep Kansas in contention.

Backcourt: Sherron Collins needs to develop into one of the top point guards in the nation for Kansas to compete for a conference championship. Whether Collins is fully motivated and can get his weight and conditioning under control are two question marks that Bill Self hopes to answer in the affirmative. With the youth assembled on this Kansas team, Self needs Collins to be a leader more than anything, because we know the talented Chicago guard can score and distribute. Whether Collins can answer that call and become the face of the Kansas program is undetermined. Freshman Tyshawn Taylor, a former Crean recruit at Marquette, looks to be the second starting guard, but who really knows at this point. Taylor led St. Anthony’s to a 32-0 record and can really play the point guard position for someone his age, much like Kemba Walker at Connecticut. Mario Little could be Kansas’s top player by the end of the campaign. The top JUCO player in the nation shot 55% from the floor and 40% from three as a wing player. Freshman Travis Releford is an excellent defender and should play the role of knocking down a clutch three-pointer.

Frontcourt:
The Morris twins, Marcus and Markieff, are the gems of the incoming recruiting class. Marcus is a versatile forward who can handle the rock both inside and outside.  He’s made outstanding improvements both defensively and rebounding the basketball in his last year, two areas where Self needs Marcus to contribute this season. Twin brother Markieff is much like Marcus in that he’s a versatile post player who can step outside and drive to the hoop. He’ll likely start off on the bench and give Self another defender and rebounding option. The most improved player in the nation this year could be center Cole Aldrich. He wasn’t able to see many minutes due to the frontcourt logjam for Kansas last year. Now he’s the starting center and ready to shine. Aldrich is a shot-blocker who could also led the Jayhawks in scoring and rebounding in his sophomore campaign. We saw glimpses of his potential against North Carolina in the national semifinal when he contributed with eight points and four blocks.

Bottom Line:
It’s going to be a rebuilding year in Lawrence, and it’s probably a good sign that a rebuilding year means a likely winning record in conference and an NCAA Tournament selection nonetheless. The freshman talent is certainly assembled, they’ve lured two outstanding JUCO players, and Aldrich and Collins are two players who could really make the leap. Kansas will be right in the mix as always.

5. Texas A&M Aggies: Coach Mark Turgeon should have another competitive team in College Station. Three-point shooter extraordinaire Josh Carter returns, a 6’7 swingman who shot 50% from three as a sophomore to lead the nation and “fell off” to 38% last season. Donald Sloan went through rough times replacing Acie Law at point guard, but improved mightily in the second half of the year cutting down on turnovers and turning into a team leader. His jump shot still needs improvement. Forward Bryan Davis also improved as the season wore on for the Aggies, averaging 9.2 PPG and 5.2 RPG during conference play. He’s also A&M’s strongest post defender and shot blocker. Junior Derrick Roland should see minutes as a role player. Two freshmen will contribute immediately: Dashan Harris and David Loubeau. Harris is a 6’0 scoring point guard who’s ranked #70 by Scout.com nationally, and Loubeau, who averaged a stunning 29 and 17 as a senior, chose Texas A&M over UCLA and Pittsburgh.



6. Oklahoma State Cowboys:
New coach Travis Ford leads a backcourt-oriented Cowboys team into battle. Byron Eaton averaged 20.6 PPG during the Cowboys’ late winning streak in February and March, and with his weight under wraps, Ford expects Eaton to become a top point guard in the nation this season. He should bloom under Ford’s freer offense rather than the strict Sutton rules. I’m more excited about sophomore James Anderson and his potential. A future NBA talent, Anderson led Oklahoma State in three-pointers last season as a freshman and averaged 13.3 PPG. His numbers dipped mightily in conference play, though. Anderson will need to play a full season of top-notch basketball for the Cowboys to contend. Terrel Harris is another double-digit scoring returnee in the backcourt. Harris will need to improve on his dismal 27% from behind the arc. He’s a better shooter than that number indicates. Junior Obi Muonelo will need to step up in a thin frontcourt and provide OSU with more rebounding and toughness than he did last year. 6’11 sophomore Ibrahima Thomas and senior Anthony Brown need to play more in the post or Oklahoma State will be out-rebounded on a nightly basis.

7. Missouri Tigers:
Coach Mike Anderson would love to play more of a fast-paced offense, but his two best players are both over 6’8: DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons. Carroll, a former Vandy transfer, emerged as the do-everything forward for Missouri, leading the team in rebounding, points, free throws made, steals and blocked shots. His two weaknesses are committing stupid fouls and struggles at the free throw line. Lyons really emerged in the second half of Missouri’s season, culminating in 27 points and 18 rebounds against Oklahoma State in February. Lyons can certainly score and rebound, and he may even prove to be an all-Big 12 type player if his defense continues to improve. 6’9 JUCO transfer Keith Ramsey will also contribute in the frontcourt. The loss of Keon Lawrence to Seton Hall could be crushing blow in what would have been a stellar backcourt that’s now just average. 6’7 senior Matt Lawrence is an outstanding jump shooter and 6’3 junior J.T. Tiller is a dependable point guard and defensive stopper. 6’2 freshman Marcus Denmon will also see plenty of minutes.

8. Kansas State Wildcats:
Losing Michael Beasley and Bill Walker certainly stings. The only returning starter is Jacob Pullen, who finished third in scoring behind the dynamic freshman duo last season. He’s a smart ball-handler with shooting skills and made a mark with his 20 points in the epic win over Kansas. Sophomore Fred Brown should start at the other guard. He shot the three well at 37%, but has plenty of development to do before he’s a reliable contributor. Ron Anderson and Dominique Sutton should anchor the frontcourt. Anderson is a ferocious rebounder who shot 55% from the field a year ago in limited time. Sutton is also a strong rebounder who needs to become more of a scoring presence. Miami transfer Denis Clemente will help right away as a scoring combo guard. While this is a rebuilding year in Manhattan, coach Frank Martin has a great freshman class in line for next season.

9. Texas Tech Red Raiders
10. Nebraska Cornhuskers
11. Iowa State Cyclones
12. Colorado Buffaloes

Big 12 First Team
G- Sherron Collins, Kansas
G- A.J. Abrams, Texas
G- Curtis Jerrells, Baylor
F- Damion James, Texas
F- Blake Griffin, Oklahoma

Freshman of the Year:
Willie Warren, Oklahoma
Newcomer of the Year: Mario Little, Kansas
Coach of the Year:
Jeff Capel, Oklahoma and Scott Drew, Baylor
Player of the Year: Blake Griffin, Oklahoma

Posted in Big 12 Report, Conference Previews | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

Top Ten Backcourts/Frontcourts

Posted by Zach on October 14, 2008

Much like Luke Winn and Jeff Borzello have done, here’s my take on the top backcourts and frontcourts in the nation:

Top Ten Frontcourts

1. Louisville- Terrence Williams, Earl Clark, Samardo Samuels, Terrence Jennings
2. North Carolina- Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Deon Thompson, Marcus Ginyard, Ed Davis
3. Pittsburgh- DeJuan Blair, Sam Young, Gilbert Brown, Tyrell Biggs
4. Connecticut- Jeff Adrien, Hasheem Thabeet, Stanley Robinson*, Gavin Edwards
5. Michigan State- Goran Suton, Delvon Roe, Raymar Morgan, Marquise Gray, Idong Ibok
6. Texas- Gary Johnson, Connor Atchley, Damion James, Dexter Pittman
7. Duke- Gerald Henderson, Kyle Singler, Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek, Miles Plumlee
8. Wake Forest- James Johnson, Al-Farouq Aminu, Ty Walker, Tony Woods
9. Arizona- Chase Budinger, Jordan Hill, Jamelle Horne, Bud Withey
10. Oklahoma- Blake Griffin, Taylor Griffin, Ryan Wright

The call for Louisville over North Carolina was a difficult one. Tyler Hansbrough nearly single-handedly bumps Carolina to #1. I love the overall depth of the Cardinals frontcourt, led by freshman sensation Samardo Samuels, triple-double threat Terrence Williams, and the most complete player of the group- Earl Clark. Connecticut would get a big boost if Stanley Robinson is deemed eligible for the second semester. Pittsburgh has the most dependable player of the entire list- Sam Young. I also can see Texas making a giant leap throughout the year as Damion James emerges as one of the top players in the Big 12. The consensus preseason top Big 12 player, Blake Griffin, bumps Oklahoma to #10 by himself.

Top Ten Backcourts

1. North Carolina- Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Bobby Frasor, Larry Drew
2. Connecticut- A.J. Price, Jerome Dyson, Kemba Walker, Craig Austrie
3. Gonzaga- Jeremy Pargo, Matt Bouldin, Stephen Gray
4. UCLA- Darren Collison, Jrue Holiday, Malcolm Lee, Jerime Anderson
5. Marquette- Jerel McNeal, Dominic James, Wesley Matthews, Maurice Acker, David Cubillan
6. USC- DeMar DeRozan, Dwight Lewis, Daniel Hackett
7. Memphis- Antonio Anderson, Tyreke Evans, Willie Kemp, Roburt Sallie, Doneal Mack
8. Baylor- Curtis Jerrells, LaceDarius Dunn, Henry Dugat
9. Notre Dame- Kyle McAlarney, Tory Jackson, Jonathan Peoples
10. Duke- Nolan Smith, Greg Paulus, Jon Scheyer, Elliot Williams

It wasn’t easy deciding between those bottom three and teams like Texas, Syracuse and Georgetown. What was easy is North Carolina at #1 and Connecticut at #2. These are my top two preseason teams overall for a simple reason- they both possess top five backcourts and frontcourts this season. I love Gonzaga’s backcourt led by the explosive Jeremy Pargo and Stephen Gray, who I feel could make a huge impact from behind the arc in his sophomore season. Marquette has the most cohesion of any group as the main three have been making plays together for three full seasons. DeRozan has the most potential of any single player and Baylor could be overlooked, but Dunn and Jerrells are true playmakers.

Posted in Team Rankings | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

Quick Recruiting Update

Posted by Zach on September 20, 2008

There’s been an influx of stunning recruiting news this past week, so it’s time for a roundup:

– Two more top-25 players committed over the last few days, most recently Avery Bradley pledging his allegiances to Rick Barnes and Texas, who are quickly putting together one of the most impressive classes in the nation. Bradley is a do-everything point guard that has an advanced mid-range jumper and is positively mature for his age on the defensive end of the court. He’s ranked #10 in the nation for 2009 by Scout.com and will team up with Shaun Williams, who most consider the top HS player in Texas, for possibly Rick Barnes’ top class in recent years. Also committing over this past week is Tyler Honeycutt, who chose Bradley’s second choice- the UCLA Bruins. Honeycutt is a 6’8 forward ranked #21 overall by Scout who saw his stock soar this summer at elite camps. Honeycutt opted for UCLA over rival USC.

– With the Bradley and Honeycutt commitments, along with Abdul Gaddy choosing Arizona recently, 16 of the top 30 prospects in the 2009 class have made their decision. Some of the top names in the class are still ripe for the picking, though. This group includes Renardo Sidney (Arizona State, Kentucky, USC, UCLA, Texas), John Wall (Baylor, Kansas, Kentucky), Derrick Favors (Florida, Florida State, Georgia, Georgia Tech) and Xavier Henry (Kansas, Memphis, North Carolina). The top overall class for 2009 still remains in the hands of Roy Williams and North Carolina, who have five top 75 prospect locked up, and appear to be in the running for Xavier Henry, which would be just unfair. Other top classes include Villanova, Arizona and Kansas.

– The real story of this recruiting season is a developing pattern that, frankly, I think is great for college basketball: top-flight prospects committing to mid-major schools. The newest example, and really the most stunning, is the #26 player overall from Rivals opting for Georgia State. That’s right, Georgia State. Rashanti Harris will be the biggest man in the history of the Georgia State campus. Harris had plenty of academic problems to derail possible suitors, but he still chose GSU over Memphis, Arkansas and Mississippi State. Harris had a great relationship with coach Rod Barnes and decided to stray far, far away for the norm of top-30 prospects and commit to a low-major program. I say, good for him.

This isn’t the first example of huge prospects going to small schools. And I’m not talking about Gonzaga, Butler or Nevada. Four of the top-13 center prospects are heading to these smaller schools. As someone who has season tickets to a mid-major school, I say this is excellent for the state of college basketball. Spread the wealth a bit and get more people interested in more schools. Of the centers, Harris to Georgia State joins Zeke Marshall to Akron, Greg Smith to Fresno State and Aaric Murray to La Salle. Throw in Nevada and you have Luke Babbitt. Also, don’t forget DeMarcus Cousins,  Rivals #2 prospect in the entire 2009 class, will be a UAB Blazer.

Gary Parrish of CBS thinks the change is due to a number of elite prospects noticing star players from these small schools still going high in drafts. While before they felt obligated to commit to a BCS school to receive attention, stories like Courtney Lee, George Hill and Jason Thompson have turned the tide. They now feel comfortable going with the best option for themselves. And that’s a good thing.

Quick note: Davidson-Purdue and Southern Illinois-Saint Mary’s in the Wooden Classic this season.

College basketball isn’t that far off, folks.

Posted in Recruiting | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

Summer Big 12 Report

Posted by Patrick on August 23, 2008

As we try to kill time during this long break in college basketball action, it’s time to preview another major conference. Recently the Big 12 has featured some of the best freshman in the league i.e. Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, Blake Griffin, etc. and this conference has also had its success in the tournament. Most notably, Kansas took home the title last season. It will be interesting to see if the Big 12 will be represented in the Final Four. The last time they had one in (before Kansas) was Oklahoma State in 2004, but I’m not expecting another drought as long as four years. This season is also very intriguing because there is no clear-cut favorite to win the conference. Some may say there as many as four teams that have a legitimate shot at the crown.

Baylor- Scott Drew did a heck of a job getting this program back on the right track after being suspended from non-conference play just two seasons ago. Drew is figuring out that Texas is a great state to recruit in, and I think soon you may be seeing Baylor steal some of the big programs’ recruits (A&M and UT). As for this year’s team, they really didn’t lose a lot of talent and are returning most of their key starters. Leading scorer Curtis Jerrells will attempt to lead this team to the NCAA tournament with a great supporting cast in guards Henry Dugat and LaceDarius Dunn. Kevin Rogers is really the only guy that can make noise in the frontcourt for the Bears so I wouldn’t be surprised if they used key reserve Tweety Carter as a starter in a four guard lineup. This team’s strengths will be speed and the ability to put the ball in the bucket, but the weaknesses definitely lie in size and rebounding.

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Colorado- If I said things were going to get better in Colorado I would definitely question my own credibility; the Buffaloes are coming off a 3-13 finish in the conference putting them in last place once again. This season might be even worse because their three top scorers all graduated (Marcus Hall and Richard Roby are signed with NBA teams). Sophomore Cory Higgins will lead the backcourt while Jermyl Jackson-Wilson will be their best threat at the forward position, but it really doesn’t look good for CU basketball fans in 2008.

Iowa State- Once again here is a team that lately has not been any kind of factor in the Big 12, and like Colorado it doesn’t look like the tables will be turning this season. The top four scorers are gone and there are only three seniors on this year’s team. Diante Garrett (6.3 PPG and 2.8 APG last year as a freshman) will be the Cyclones best player, followed by seniors Bryan Peterson and Sean Haluska. Dominique Buckley could make a big impact as a freshman in ’08, but it doesn’t look like this team will be getting back to any postseason tournament any time soon.

Kansas- This is easily the team that lost the most key players for this upcoming season; however, Bill Self will still have himself a pretty quality basketball team. Sherron Collins will lead the Jayhawks at point and try to get the ball to a pair of freshman forwards, twin brothers Marcus and Markief Morris (if eligible). Cole Aldrich will also be a very solid contributor to this offense, but I don’t see Kansas getting anywhere close to where they finished last season. A Sweet Sixteen isn’t impossible, though. If the Jayhawks get one more guard to step it up, they could catch some teams sleeping in the Big 12.

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Kansas State- Kansas State is another team that probably won’t have success like they did last season because of the loss of key players such as Michael Beasley and Bill Walker. Sophomore Jacob Pullen will lead along with fellow sophomore guard Fred Brown. It’s likely the Wildcats will go through a lot of growing pains this season, but they could be back on the radar for a Big 12 championship in 2009.

Missouri- This is probably one of the only teams in this conference that has improved since last season. Senior forwards DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons (26.1 PPG and 12.4 RPG combined last season) will be the duo that will determine the success of the Tigers on offense and defense. Key contributors include J.T. Tiller and freshman Miguel Paul and Steve Moore. The Tigers can definitely be a surprise team in the Big 12 for this upcoming season, and I wouldn’t be surprised with a top five finish. In order to make the NCAA tournament, they are going to need consistent play from their support players.

Nebraska- The Cornhuskers are a trendy pick to surprise in 2008, especially when people saw what they could do after beating Oregon at home last season. If Nebraska continues to have success it could be scary for other teams because their great facilities provide a great recruiting edge. As or this year, guards Steve Harley and Ade Dagunduro will be the prime offensive threats. Cookie Miller (one of the best names in basketball) and Ryan Anderson will also be key contributors and need to play well behind the two guards in order for this team to live up to rare expectations, especially in year where they can make noise in the Big 12.

Oklahoma- Obviously Blake Griffin will be the one that is leading this team all season, and he might just be good enough to carry the Sooners all the way to a deep NCAA tournament run. Guards Tony Crocker and Austin Johnson will be the outside threats in Oklahoma’s offense, and both have a key role: spread the floor to open up plays for Griffin on the inside. Freshman phenom Willie Warren will probably get starting time right out of the gate (ranked as the #3 SG in the nation). The Sooners toughest non-conference test will come in the Preseason NIT where they will have to beat Davidson to advance to New York to meet the likes of Purdue, Arizona, and Boston College (two of those three).

Oklahoma State- The Cowboys could definitely be a dark horse candidate in the Big 12, especially because their top three scorers are back for this season. Sophomore James Anderson, senior Byron Eaton, and senior Terrel Harris (just deemed eligible) averaged 35.3 PPG and 11.2 RPG. Former UMass coach Travis Ford took the Oklahoma State job for this season, and he is being handsomely paid to do so with his $9.1 million contract.  The only inside threat that the Cowboys have is Ibrahima Thomas. They’ll surely be trying to shoot more threes because their outside attack is formidable.

Texas A&M- Mark Turgeon’s first year at Texas A&M was filled with ups and downs. The Aggies struggled on the road in conference play, but they showed what they’re team was capable of in the NCAA Tournament when they lost a nailbiter to UCLA. Star freshman DeAndre Jordan entered the draft, and they also lose some good scorers. However, the “Big Three” are back in leading scorer and NBA prospect Josh Carter, Bryan Davis who will be really the only experienced force on the inside, and point guard Donald Sloan. The Aggies will once again be a force in the Big 12, but in order to compete for a title they need to play consistently all season long.

Texas- If this team still had D.J. Augustin, they would probably be ranked #2 in the nation behind the Tar Heels. Augustin entered the draft and it’s tough to say if Texas is even a Top 15 team. A.J. Abrams will be taking over the leadership role for Texas, but many don’t have faith in Abrams because of his unreliable play down the stretch last season. Damion James is probably UT’s best player, and a big reason for why they upset UCLA early last year. If Abrams steps it up and James can bring it like he did last season, Texas has all the surrounding pieces to win a Big 12 title.

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Texas Tech- The Pat Knight reign begins in Red Raider land, and it will be interesting to see how the fans react if the team isn’t up to par. However, I don’t think Knight will have to worry about having a bad team. He returns Mike Singletary, who was a strong forward last season, and outside threat Alan Voskuil. The loss of scoring leader Martin Zeno will probably affect this team. Look for someone else to step up and take over the scoring load.

Projected Finish (Postseason Tournament)

1. Texas (NCAA)

2. Oklahoma (NCAA)

3. Baylor (NCAA)

4. Kansas (NCAA)

5. Texas A&M (NCAA)

6. Oklahoma State (NIT)

7. Missouri (NIT)

8. Texas Tech (CBI)

9. Nebraska (CBI)

10. Kansas State (none)

11. Iowa State (none)

12. Colorado (none)

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