Monday, April 14, 2008

2008 NCAA Dunks of the Year

Nice mixtape of some of the best dunks of the year.

Continue reading...

Thursday, April 10, 2008

End of the Year Awards

1st Team
G - DJ Augustin, Texas
G - Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis
C - Tyler Hansbrough, UNC
F - Michael Beasley, Kansas State
F - Kevin Love, UCLA

2nd Team
G - Eric Gordon, Indiana
G - Jerryd Bayless, Arizona
G - Stephen Curry, Davidson
C - Brook Lopez, Stanford
F - Luke Harangody, Notre Dame

3rd Team
G - OJ Mayo, USC
G - Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State
G - Derrick Rose, Memphis
F - Shan Foster, Vanderbilt
F - DJ White, Indiana

Player of the Year
Tyler Hansbrough
For a guy that's already a two-time all-american, its pretty impressive when you can say he had his best season yet. His numbers speak for themselves - 22.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg (both career highs) while shooting 54% from the field and 81% from the line. Yes, Beasley did have more impressive numbers, and it was a tough decision, but what Hansbrough did in the seven games Ty Lawson missed during ACC play is what gave him the nod. In those games, Psycho T raised his game to another level, averaging 28.4 ppg and 13.6 rpg. I hate how much of a media darling he has become, but the bottom line is Hansbrough has given everything he's had in every game he's played in Carolina blue.

Coach of the Year
Bob McKillop, Davidson
With all due respect to Drake's Keno Davis, I think what McKillop did at Davidson is more impressive. In his 19 years at the tiny North Carolina school (1,700 students), he has them on the brink of becoming the East Coast Gonzaga, reaching the Elite 8 this year in their second straight NCAA tourney and third consecutive national postseason tournament. The Wildcats overcame a 2-6 start, losing their big time match-ups with UCLA, UNC, Duke and NC State, to finish the season on a 22 game win streak, which included a 20-0 mark in league play and the Southern Conference tourney crown. They then proceeded to beat Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin en route to the Elite 8.

Game of the Year
Baylor 116, Texas A&M 110 5 OT
As always, the 2008 college basketball season was full of incredible games, but the game of the year was the one nobody saw. In one of the longest games in basketball history, Baylor outlasted Texas A&M in 5 OT's to win a thriller 116-110. Baylor, playing as a ranked team for the first time since 1969, got 36 points, which included 22 in the overtimes with 11 coming in the final stanza, and eight assists out of Curtis Jerrells and 19 points and 18 rebounds from Kevin Rogers. The high final score says otherwise, but this game was a hard-fought, grind-it-out, defensive battle. Combined, the Bears and the Aggies shot just under 37%, committed 69 fouls, had 8 players foul out, and shot 106 free throws. The loss was A&M's third consecutive, all in conference, while the win helped solidify Baylor's ranking and status as a top team in the Big XII.

Freshman of the Year
Michael Beasley, Kansas State
In a season full of outstanding play by freshman, Beasley was by far the best. He had two games of 30 points and 20 rebounds in his first three, and didn't slow down, finishing the season with averages of 26.2 ppg and 12.4 rpg. Beasley can do everything on the floor - he is a phenomenal offensive rebounder, can finish equally well with either hand, has range to the three-point line, and can score with his back to the basket or facing a defender up. He also led Kansas State to a third place finish in the Big XII and, as an 11 seed, to the second round of the NCAA Tournament. No one thought that a freshman would have a season like Kevin Durant's last year, let alone a better one the very next season.

Defensive Player of the Year
Hasheem Thabeet, UConn
The 7'3" center anchored a Huskies defense that was as good as any in the country. The Huskies led the country in blocked shots for what seems like the 20th straight year, led by Thabeet's 4.5 average, good for third in the country. Thabeet's shot-blocking ability allowed the Huskies to get out and apply pressure on the wings while funneling players to the middle where the big man waited. Thabeet had six games this season with eight or more blocks.

Most Surprising Team
DrakeThe Bulldogs were coming of a 17-15 season where they finished 6-12 in the MVC. They lost four starters, including their top two scorers. But Drake set a school record with 28 wins on the season, including a 21 game win streak, en route to the MVC regular season and Tournament titles and their first NCAA Tournament bid since 1971. They were led by PG Adam Emmenecker, a former walk-on who earned his scholarship just two weeks before the season started but won this year's conference player of the year. Drake was upset in the first round of the tournament by Western Kentucky, but overall it was a great season for the Bulldogs.

Most Disappointing Team
The Terrapins have fallen on hard times since their 2002 NCAA Championship. Maryland was maddeningly inconsistent this year. They beat UNC, but also lost to American and Ohio at home and blew a 20 point second half lead to Clemson in the last game of the regular season, a game which could have put them into the NCAA Tournament. It wasn't for a lack of talent - Bambale Osby and James Gist form a pretty formidable front line, and Greveis Vazquez is talented enough to be a 1st team All-ACC player, but was just as inconsistent as the Maryland team was. Continue reading...

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Title Game Thoughts

I don't know if there is any way that this title game loss could hurt more for Memphis. They got nothing out of Joey Dorsey, they got nothing out of Derrick Rose in the first half, but held Kansas to 18 points through the first 17:48 of the second half as they built a 60-51 lead. Down the stretch, Memphis had the people they wanted at the line. But Chris Douglas -Roberts missed the front end of a 1-and-1 up four with 1:15 left which led to a Darrel Arthur turn-around. CDR then missed both shots with 16 seconds left and the Tigers up two, but Robert Dozier got the rebound and kicked it to Derrick Rose who was fouled. But he proceeded to make just 1-2, giving Kansas a chance.

Mario Chalmers made the most of that opportunity. He took a hand-off from Collins, took one dribble left, and hit a high-arching three over Rose and Dozier that settled softly in the net, sending the game into overtime. In OT, Kansas jumped out a quick six point lead and never looked back - the closest Memphis would get was 3.

Memphis looked exhausted by the end of the game. Rose played 45 minutes, while CDR and Antonio Anderson both played 42 minutes. Memphis got a total of 7 minutes played from people not in their top 6. It was most evident in the overtime, as Kansas looked much fresher and more energetic as they jumped out to that lead, although some of that can probably be attributed to Memphis being demoralized after missing free throws and blowing their lead.

One thing I didn't mind was Calipari's decision not to foul Kansas to prevent the three at the end of regulation. The Memphis achilles heel all season has been their free throw shooting, and I know that they had been hitting them all tournament, but if you foul Kansas you are putting your guys back on the line. If Kansas hit two, and then Memphis missed one or both of them, do you really want to give Kansas a chance to win the game? Even if there only would have been four or five seconds on the clock after the Memphis foul shots, limiting what Kansas would be able to set up on offense, I still think Calipari made the right decision. Especially when you consider that the two guys he would want to take the free throws (CDR and Rose) are the ones that had been missing them.

Think about it like this - Chalmers hit a very difficult shot with a hand right in his face. How many times does he make that? 1 out of 4? Given what had just occurred in the last two minutes, I think there was a better that Kansas hit both free throws, and Memphis missed at least one of theirs than Chalmers hitting that shot. How much worse would this loss be if Chalmers had hit a shot like that, except Kansas was only down two and it won the game for them?

What gets lost in all the hoopla about the free throws in the great job that Kansas did defending CDR and Rose. CDR scored 22, but never really got into a rhythm and looked uncomfortable most of the night as Brandon Rush face guarded him and Kansas went box-and-1. Sherron Collins, Russell Robinson, and Mario Chalmers were in Rose's jock all night, holding him to just 3 points in the first 28 minutes and forcing him into 5 turnovers for the game. He did score 14 of 16 Memphis points during an eight minute stretch in the second half, which pushed the Tigers lead to 56-49, but only managed the one free throw in the last four minutes of the game.

The most important part of the Jayhawk defense was that they kept CDR and Rose from getting big baskets down the stretch while they were making their comeback. All in all, those two are talented enough that they are going to get their points. But the Jayhawks were able to keep them from taking over the game, which kept them close enough to be able to make that comeback.

The bottom line is that this was a phenomenal game and made up for what had been a lackluster last two weekends. I am curious whether this game will be remembered for the great comeback Kansas made, capped off by the Mario Chalmers shot, or the Memphis collapse down the stretch, missing all those free throws.

Now the question becomes will Bill Self return to Kansas or take the job at Oklahoma State, his alma mater. He made $1.4 million at Kansas this year, and could probably expect to get at least a $1 million raise on his new contract, but with Ok. State (read booster T. Boone Pickens' money) Self would become the richest coach in college basketball and be able to return home to coach. If you ask me, he would be crazy to leave one of the top 5 coaching jobs in the country. But, at more than double the salary, could you really blame the guy? Continue reading...

Monday, April 7, 2008

Title Game Preview

Game Preview:
Kansas and Memphis are very similar teams. They both have excellent guard play and excellent post play, are deep at every position (although the injury to Rodrick Stewart and suspension of Andre Allen has taken away from that a bit), and are playing as well as they have all season heading into tonight's game.

For me, the best part about this game is that I would wouldn't mind seeing either team win. Yes, there are some pretty unsavory characters on the Memphis team (Robert Dozier and Andre Allen come to mind immediately), but all of these guys play hard and although they aren't the smartest group (for example, Chris Douglas-Roberts' major is Sport and Leisure Management) they seem like pretty decent people. Rose's three brothers did everything they could to keep him isolated growing up in a tough neighborhood of Chicago, and CDR has a tattoo of his Mom on his neck, and has the first three verses of Psalm 37 from the Bible tattooed on his arm which he rubs three time before shooting every free throw.

For Kansas, they all are pretty likeable guys. Sasha Kaun's father was murdered by the Russian government when he was 12, and he had to grow up very quickly (after he lost his starting spot, his mom came all the way from Russia, where he has visited twice since starting his sophomore year in High School in Florida, to live with him. Check out this article from the NY Times about him). Sherron Collins has overcome growing up on the streets of Chicago with a father who was in and out of jail and the death of his two week old son the summer before his freshman year to become a spark for Kansas.

How can you not root for these guys to succeed?

Keys to the game:
-Can Kansas slow down Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts? They have been shredding teams apart in the tournament, but Kansas has four guards to throw at the two of them.
-How will the Kansas guards handle to pressure from Memphis? They had 13 turnovers combined (7 from Sherron Collins) in the games against UNC.
-How will Dorsey and company handle Kansas's interior players? Memphis' relies on their advantage in size and athleticism inside, and Kansas can match-up with them.
-Free Throws? It will always be a question with Memphis, even if they have been hitting them in the tournament.
-Which Kansas team show up? The one that went up by 28 in the first half of the UNC game, or the one that would have been up by just two points had Danny Green's three rattled in.
-Which Brandon Rush shows up? Kansas is a much better team when he plays like the go-to player he has the potential to be.

Why Kansas can win:
Kansas's guards are all good defenders. UCLA's were as well, but the difference is that guys like Mario Chalmers, Russell Robinson, and (especially) Sherron Collins and Brandon Rush are bigger and stronger than the UCLA guards (Collins still holds football records in Chicago, where he played as a free safety and receiver). Rose and CDR score a lot of their points because they are bigger, stronger, and can elevate over their defenders. The guards from Kansas are as big as any that Memphis has faced this year, and have done valiant jobs on Scottie Reynolds, Stephen Curry, Ty Lawson, and Wayne Ellington in their last three games.

Why Memphis can win:
Simply put - they are playing the best basketball in the country. They rolled through the C-USA conference tourney, and if they hit their free throws against Mississippi State, they would have won every game in the NCAA's by double digits. Derrick Rose has finally lived up to the substantial hype, CDR is playing phenomenal, and Joey Dorsey is back being a beast. Everyone has said all year, if Memphis can play up to their potential, they can win a title. Well, now they are.

My Pick:
Memphis. This one is so hard to pick, because both teams are playing so well and are so talented, but I think Derrick Rose and CDR will be too much. Continue reading...

Sunday, April 6, 2008

And Then There Were Two....

After watching Memphis slowly dismantle UCLA and Kansas put a whipping on UNC, I'm as excited for tomorrow night's championship as I could possibly be for a title game without UConn playing in it. It's going to be a fantastic game. Here are my thoughts on last night's games:

Memphis 78, UCLA 63
-Derrick Rose is going to be a superstar in the NBA. After watching him last night (and for the whole tournament, actually), I'm sure of it. He's got all the physical attributes you want - big, strong in the air, lightening quicks, incredible hops - and besides having a jumper that is a bit inconsistent, he can do anything on a basketball court. Two moves from last night stick in my mind. In the first half, on a fast break, he hit Russell Westbrook (Pac-10 defensive player of the year) with an in-and-out move that completely fooled him and then finished with a tough lefty lay-in. In the second half, he drove to middle with his left hand from the right wing, cam to a jump stop on the opposite block, went up and finished with his right hand on the other side of the rim in traffic.

That's not even the best part about this kid. He's unselfish. In an interview after the game last night, when asked about comments Penny Hardaway made about his talents, Rose said "C'mon man, it's not about me". He could have easily gone for 40 last night, but he deferred to the open man (more often than not Chris Douglas-Roberts who finished with 28. Every time he got into the lane against UCLA's smaller guards, he was able to elevate and finish over or through them. He finished with 25 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists. This kid's going to be a star. I've heard many comparisons for Rose - Jason Kidd, Mike Bibby, etc. - but I see him being more of a Deron Williams/Dwayne Wade type player.

-At one point in the first half, with Dorsey playing poorly, Coach John Calipari was caught on camera meeting Dorsey at half court and ripping into him. From that point forward, Dorsey was an animal - he finished with 15 boards and 2 blocks. But his most important contribution was the job he did defensively on Kevin Love. The freshman scored just 12 points on 4-11 shooting with no second half field goals.

-Was that really Darren Collison out there? He played horribly - he shot 1-9 from the field, had 5 turnovers, could not guard anyone, and fouled out with 3 minutes left. He wasn't able to get any penetration, instead dribbling aimlessly around the perimeter. Not the way you want NBA scouts to see you end your season.

-Russell Westbrook looked great. His ball skills (jump shot and handle) need some improvement, but he's a heck of an athlete, tough, and a great defender that can get in the passing lanes.

Kansas 84, UNC 66
-This was one of the stranger games I've witnessed in my life. First of all, I have never seen anything like the show Kansas put on in the first 15 minutes of their game against UNC last night. It seemed like Kansas had seven guys on the floor - every time UNC had possession the ball was knocked loose, and most of the time Kansas wound up with the loose ball. UNC couldn't dribble, couldn't pass, couldn't shoot, couldn't keep Kansas from getting a lay-up, dunk or wide open three. It was the single most dominating performance I have ever seen in my life - and it came against not only a #1 seed, but the #1 team in the country. Amazing.

-For as well as KU played in the first 15 minutes, UNC played that well for the next 20. After the Jayhawks built their 40-12 lead, UNC outscored them 41-18 and were a Danny Green jump shot going half way down and coming out away from cutting the lead to two. From that point on, Kansas pulled away, in large part due to the tired legs of the Heels.

-Wayne Ellington was one of the lone bright spots for the Heels. He ended the game with 18 points on just 8-21 shooting, but he got hot at the right team. Ellington and Danny Green shot UNC back into the game.

-I did not understand Roy Williams substitution patterns. The first half was one thing - when your team is struggling that badly you need to do something to get your team jump started. But in the second half, there were times when Williams had Hansbrough, Ellington, and Lawson on the bench at the same time. When Green's three rimmed out, with only about six minutes left, Will Graves got the offensive rebound and lost it out of bounds. Graves played 6 minutes against Arkansas, 1 minute against Washington State, and earned a DNP-CD (did not play-coach's decision) against Louisville when all three games were won by double digits. And he is on the floor with under six minutes left in the Final Four when you're trying to make a comeback? I understand that you guys are going to be getting tired, but with Green, Ellington, Lawson, Quentin Thomas, and Marcus Guinyard you don't have enough bodies in the back court?

-The Kansas front court may be better than advertised. Every one knows about the three-headed monster of Darnell Jackson, Darrell Arthur, and Sasha Kaun, but when those three faced foul trouble early in the first half - before Kansas had really made their big run - freshman Cole Aldrich came in and outplayed them all. There was about an 8 minute span when he was the best player on the floor. He finished 8 points, 7 boards (4 offensive), and 4 blocks (6, 6, and 3 in the 1st half, all double his season averages), but there was one sequence that really stood out in my mind as proof that this kid will be the real deal. In the first half, he received a beautiful feed and tried to go up an dunk with one hand and missed it. UNC went the other way, but Aldrich hustled down the court and blocked (with the help of Arthur) a Hansbrough hook shot. Kansas had a fast break the other way and missed a lay-up, but guess who was there for a follow up dunk. Aldrich. He played a great game, and was a huge reason for the Kansas lead in the first half.

-Brandon Rush finally played like he should play every night. He finished with 25 points on 11-17 from the field and added 7 boards. He scored in such a variety of ways. He knocked down threes. He hit pull-ups and floaters. He got all the way to the rim, but also made his patented drive-right, fade-away one-handed-leaner off-the-glass about three times. It's too bad he doesn't play that way more often. Continue reading...

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Final Four Preview and Predictions

I'm sure everyone and their mother knows this by now, but Saturday's 6:07 tip will mark the first time since the NCAA started seeding the Tournament that all four #1 seeds made it through their regions to the Final Four. Throughout the season, these four teams were widely considered the four best teams in the country, with the four accounting for all but one week as the #1 team in the country and spending the entire season ranked no lower than 8th. This weekend in San Antonio should be one of the best Final Fours in recent memory.

UCLA vs. Memphis

Game Preview:
This is a match-up of two very tough defensive teams, although the style of defense that each team plays is very different. Where Memphis uses their superior athleticism to apply terrific ball pressure, forcing turnovers and baiting opponents to drive where they have shot-blocking machine Joey Dorsey lying in wait, UCLA plays disciplined and fundamental half-court defense that takes a team out of offensive rhythm.

Both of these teams have made long runs in the tourney in recent years (Memphis finally reached the Final Four in their third straight Elite 8 run, while UCLA has been in the Final Four the last two years) and came away empty. With a number of players from both teams most likely gone to the NBA draft after the season, this is probably the last chance for these two teams to get a championship with this group of guys.

Why UCLA can win:
While UCLA does not match-up athletically with Memphis, they are sound enough defensively that they can handle Memphis. UCLA is going pack in their defense and let Memphis shoot over the top, much the way that Tennessee did. If the Tigers don't shoot well, they won't win.

Why Memphis can win:
The Tigers back court is much bigger than the Bruins. While Darren Collison, Russell Westbrook, and Josh Shipp can all match-up athletically with Memphis, the likes of Derrick Rose, Antonio Anderson, and Chris Douglas-Roberts are all big enough that they can get their shot off over the Bruins guards whenever they want. Collison, whose penetration has been vital to the UCLA success of late, will also not be able to out-quick Rose and get into the lane at will.

Best Match-up:
Kevin Love and Joey Dorsey. Even in the league, there aren't many guys that are as strong and as athletic as Dorsey, and with everything that Love can do, athleticism is not one of his strong suits. But he is excellent at establishing position, a great positional rebounder, and has a vast array of post moves. Dorsey is so important to Memphis defensively with his shot-blocking ability. If he can stay on the floor (read not pick up fouls against Love), then Memphis will be that much better.

Keys to the game:
- Who wins the rebounding battle? As both team tend to struggle offensively, second chance points will be very important.
- Can UCLA prevent penetration by Memphis? When the Memphis guards get into the lane, they are tremendous finishers but also are very good at finding Dorsey, Robert Dozier, and Shawn Taggert for lobs at the rim.
- Will the Bruins half-court offense be effective? This UCLA team has never been known for their offensive prowess, and as they do not look to break all that much, they need to be able to run their sets.
- Fouls. Can Dorsey stay out of foul trouble? Memphis was the second worst foul shooting team in the country during the regular season, but has been knocking them down in the tourney. Which trend continues?
- Can Memphis hit their three's? UCLA will most likely pack in their defense, whether its man or zone, and Memphis needs to knock down perimeter jumpers to open up driving lanes.

My Pick:
Memphis. After the Tigers beat Texas to win the South Region, they didn't celebrate by cutting down the nets. Dorsey got up on the ladder and cut down the whole net. CDR didn't even stay on the court to see it happen. It's clear that this team is on a mission to win a title. I wouldn't bet against them.

UNC vs. Kansas

Game Preview:
All season, I've thought that UNC and Kansas were the best two teams in the country. If Memphis and UCLA is a match-up of two of the best defenses in the country, UNC and Kansas is a battle of high powered offenses. UNC gets their points off of their incredible fast break and the rugged work inside by Tyler Hansbrough an Deon Thompson. Kansas is about as balanced as a team can be, with their top 7 (maybe the best to 7 in the country) all averaging between 7-13 ppg and 18-29 mpg.

The most interesting part of this game, however, isn't the players. It is the coaches. After leading the Jayhawks to the NCAA final in 2003, Williams left Kansas to coach at UNC, his alma mater, to replace Matt Doherty and promptly led UNC to the 2005 national title. This is the first time Williams has faced Kansas since he left. Bill Self, on the other hand, has finally reached the Final Four with the Jayhawks. Rumors had been swirling that he would have been ousted as the Kansas head coach had they lost to Davidson in the Elite 8, and taken over at Oklahoma State, his alma mater.

Why UNC can win:
Simply put, this is the best offensive team in the country. They rolled through the East region, winning all four games by double digits and with the exception of a second half surge by Louisville in the regional final, have been in control throughout every game. The key to this team has been the emergence of Wayne Ellington as a star and Quenton Thomas as a more-than-reliable backup to Lawson.

Why Kansas can win:
There is no drop off between their starters and the first guys off their bench - Sherron Collins and Sasha Kaun. As we saw with Stephen Curry, Kansas has the ability to wear out perimeter shooters by throwing four quality defenders at them and has enough good post players to give Hansbrough fits.

Best Matchup:
The frontlines. There are only a handful of players in the country that are as effective in all aspects of the game as Hansbrough. He can score with his back to the basket and off the offensive glass, and has proven he has range to the three-point line and can face a defender up. Deon Thompson would be a star almost any other team in the country. But Kansas has three guys that are just as good in Kaun, Darrell Arthur, and Darnell Jackson. Whoever wins the battle in the paint will win the game.

Keys to the game
- Can Kansas slow down UNC? Mario Chalmers and Russell Robinson combine to average 4.5 spg, and they will need to be able to slow down Ty Lawson. Noone has done it in the tourney yet.
- Will Kansas hit their 3's? Kansas has a lot of great shooters, and if they are hitting they are a tough team to beat.
- Which Brandon Rush shows up? The knock on Kansas all year has been they don't have a go-to guy in crunch time. Rush is talented enough and has been that guy at times, but he has a tendency to fade down the stretch.
- Marcus Guinyard and Danny Green. These guys do a lot of the dirty work for the Heels - o-boards, defense, hustle plays. Other than Rush (and even he is a bit soft), Kansas doesn't really have anyone with their size on the perimeter.

My Pick:
UNC. Kansas has been one of those teams that could never get to the Final Four, and I can see them having a let down after finally reaching it. Continue reading...