Thursday, October 30, 2008

The Stress Fracture Bug Hits The Heels Again

First, it was Marcus Ginyard with a stress fracture in his foot that required surgery, knocking UNC's best defender out of the line-up for about two months. Now, it appears as if reigning ACC player of the year Tyler Hansbrough will have to miss some time with what the school is calling a "stress reaction" in his shin.

From The Worldwide Leader:

The reigning Associated Press player of the year did not practice Thursday. Instead, he underwent an MRI that revealed the stress reaction, which if not properly treated could lead to a stress fracture, team spokesman Steve Kirschner said.

The school issued a statement saying there is no timetable for his return and no further information on the injury was available. Coach Roy Williams said he would have no comment until Friday after he meets with Hansbrough and the medical staff.
Hansbrough still has over two weeks until UNC opens up with Penn on Nov. 15th, but depending on the severity of the stress reaction, he may miss his first start in the 108 games that he has been at Chapel Hill.

Stress reactions and stress fractures seem like a difficult injury to deal with, as you don't want to rush a player back too soon. Case in point, Marcus Ginyard. He played most of last year with what team officials called a stress reaction, and after aggravating the injury in August, he needed surgery to fix it.

No matter how much you hate a certain player, you can't enjoy hearing news like this. Although I, too, am getting sick of hearing about how perfect Hansbrough is, both on and off the court. But the kid busts his behind every second he is on the floor, and clearly loves playing this game (why else would he pass up the NBA's millions for three straight summers), so here's to hoping he makes a full and speedy recovery.

Besides, I would much rather see him getting dunked on than sitting on the bench in street clothes. Continue reading...

10/30 - Some Links, Some News

-The Mountain West and the Missouri Valley have agreed upon a challenge series, similar to the ACC/Big 10 Challenge. All 19 members in the two leagues will participate, but since the MVC has one more team, there will be nine games annually. The goal is to get a four year agreement, starting as early as 2009. This is great news for both conferences, as it would assure a quality opponent each year, and a non-conference home game every other year. For a mid-major (actually, the reason that the MWC entered into this deal is that they wanted to get their better teams guaranteed games without conceding mid-major status by entering BracketBusters), it is so tough to get non-conference home games against quality opponents. It is also great news for fans. Think about some of the match-ups: Southern Illinois vs. UNLV, Creighton vs. BYU.

-Gus Johnson, who is the best college basketball play-by-play announcer, has signed a deal with the Big Ten Network. Maybe now people might actually watch some of those games. According to Awful Announcing, he will be joined by former players Steve Smith (Michigan State) and Kendall Gill (Illinois).

-"We would have ruined college basketball". That is a direct quote from the headline of one of Tark's recent posts on his blog Shark Bytes. I knew that blog was a great idea. Read the article. Apparently, Jason Kidd, Jacque Vaughn, Ed O'Bannon (which is common knowledge, he signed there), Shawn Kemp, and Jalen Rose all wanted to go to UNLV. Can you imagine that team?

-The first ESPN/USA Today coaches poll was released.

-More Arizona news: class of '09 recruit Abdul Gaddy has decided to attend Washington and forward Jeff Withey has decided to transfer. If Chase Budinger and Jordan Hill both enter the draft this year (both are projected as first rounders), Arizona's 2009-2010 roster will be devoid of just about any high-major talent. This Arizona situation may be worse than what Tom Crean is walking into at Indiana.

-Players getting in trouble: Brandon Fields of Nevada had his shoplifting charges dismissed, but still remains suspended; Southeast Missouri State forward Calvin Williams was suspended after being arrested for possession of a controlled substance (weed), driving without a license, and driving without headlights; Ohio University sophomore Maurice Pearson was suspended indefinitely after he was found guilty for shooting a couple sorority girls with an Airsoft gun, which fires soft pellets at a low rate of speed.

-This happened a mile from where I grew up. This happened a mile from where I live now.
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Breakout Players

Sam Young of Pitt went from averaging 7.2 ppg and 3.0 rpg as a sophomore to 18.1 ppg and 6.3 rpg as a junior. Russell Westbrook went from scoring 3.4 ppg in limited action as a freshman to starting as a sophomore and averaging 12.7 ppg and 3.9 apg while playing his way into the fourth overall pick in last year's draft.

Every year there are guys that come from college basketball obscrurity and burst on the scene by putting up all-american type numbers and performances. Who are the guys that will have a break out year in 2008-2009?

DeJuan Blair, Pitt: Blair has already proven that he is one of the best at establishing position in the post, and may be the country's best rebounder. With the Panthers losing the perimeter scoring of Ronald Ramon and Keith Benjamin, and with Levance Fields still nursing a bad foot, Blair should get plenty of opportunities to score down low.

Damion James, Texas: That Rick Barnes recruiting class that included Kevin Durant, DJ Augustin, and James is looking pretty good now, huh? James is a combo forward that has been primarily a hustle guy in his first two years with the 'Horns, but with Augustin and Durant gone, expect for James to be more aggressive with the ball offensively. The most impressive thing about James is that he can score so many different ways - knocking down three's, attacking the basket from the wing, finishing on a break, getting an offensive put back. To be fair, can a guy really have a break out year coming off of a season where he averaged a double double? 

Jodie Meeks, Kentucky: Meeks is a 6'4" combo guard that had a promising freshman season in 2006-2007, but battled injuries (including a sports hernia he underwent surgery for in April) which limited him to 11 games in 2007-2008. With the departure of Ramel Bradley, Joe Crawford, and Derrick Jasper, Meeks is going to be logging a lot of minutes in an inexperienced UK back court, and now that he is finally healthy, expect a big year out of the junior.

Cole Aldrich, Kansas: Aldrich was a Mickey D's all-american coming out of high school, but as a freshman was stuck behind the three-headed monster of Darrell Arthur, Darnell Jackson, and Sasha Kaun. He had a coming out party in the Final Four against UNC, going for 8 points, 7 boards (4 offensive), and 4 blocks in 18 minutes. Aldrich should get a lot of chances as the only front court returner for the Jayhawks.

Chandler Parsons, Florida: Parsons performed well during his freshman year in Gainesville, posting 8.4 ppg and 4.0 rpg in just 20.7 mpg. At 6'9", he is a combo forward, although his lack of bulk as a freshman forced him to spend a lot of time on the perimeter. Word is that Parsons spent the summer in the weight room, putting on 20-plus pounds of muscle. Billy Donovan has a knack for getting his bigs to improve dramatically between their freshman and sophomore years (Marreese Speights, Joakim Noah, Al Horford, to name a few).

Chris Allen, Michigan State: Allen was a top 25 recruit coming out of Georgia, but as a freshman he was lost in the shuffle of the Spartans back court. With Drew Neitzel gone, Allen is probably the best option for Tom Izzo at off-guard. Like Neitzel, Allen gets a lot of his points off of his jump shot, and should get plenty of attempts if teams are going to pay too much attention to Raymarr Morgan.

Chris Wright and Austin Freeman, Georgetown: With the loss of Jonathan Wallace and Roy Hibbert, Georgetown may be looking at having to speed up their style of play, mainly because it would better suit these two sophomores. Wright, who was slowed by an injured ankle last year, is one of the quickest guards in the Big East end to end. Freeman, at 6'4", 240 lb, is one of the most powerful wing players in the country, but he is deceivingly athletic and is a more-than-capable three point shooter. With Georgetown returning just four rotation guys, expect the Hoyas to rely heavily on Wright and Freeman.

James Anderson, Oklahoma State: Anderson, a 6'6" shooting guard, didn't exactly have a quiet freshman season, leading the Cowboys in scoring at 13.3 ppg. With a year to get used to head coach Travis Ford and their top four scorers back from a year ago, this OK State squad should make some noise in the Big XII, and Anderson will be the guy leading the way.

Craig Brackins, Iowa State: Brackins is as talented as they come. The athletic, 6'10" sophomore can play both on the block and on the perimeter, and is a very good three-point shooter (he had 33 points and 8 three's against Baylor last year). Iowa State graduated Jiri Hubalek and Rahshon Clark, and lost Wesley Johnson as a transfer, which means Brackins will be the focal point of the Cyclone offense this year.
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Tuesday, October 28, 2008

No. 1 UNC: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 36-3, 14-2 ACC (1st)

Key Losses: Quentin Thomas (3.1 ppg, 3.0 apg), Alex Stephenson (4.3 ppg, 4.5 rpg)

Key Returnees: Tyler Hansbrough (22.6 ppg, 10.2 rpg), Wayne Ellington (16.6 ppg, 40% 3's), Ty Lawson (12.7 ppg, 5.1 apg)

Newcomers: Larry Drew III, Ed Davis, Tyler Zeller, Justin Watts

Any surprise here? The Heels were a Final Four favorite at the beginning of last season, made it to the Final Four with arguably the most talented team in the country, returned everyone that mattered (including the national player of the year) and replaced the guys they lost with McDonald's all-americans. I wouldn't be surprised if this team averaged 90 ppg and went undefeated.

If you read this blog, then you should already know about UNC and what they bring back: double-double machine and floor-burn specialist Tyler Hansbrough; maybe the fastest guy in the country with a ball in his hands in Ty Lawson; sharp shooter Wayne Ellington; defensive specialists Danny Green and Marcus Guinyard. They will be deep as well. In the front court, Deon Thompson, who is one of the more under appreciated bigs in the conference, returns and will battle it out with freshmen Tyler Zeller and Ed Davis for the starting spot along side Hansbrough. Sophomore Will Graves will join Green off the bench on the wing, and senior Bobby Frasor, who is coming off of a torn ACL, will compete for minutes with freshman Larry Drew III to back up Lawson at the point.

Looking at that line up, it is pretty clear why UNC could win the national title. But what are the things that could keep this team from cutting down the nets in Detroit? For starters, the Heels were not a great defensive team last year, which won't be helped by the fact that their best perimeter defender, Guinyard, will be out until sometime in December with a stress fracture in his foot. The addition of Zeller, a long, lanky 7 footer and capable shot blocker, will provide a defensive presence in the paint, but Zeller is probably still a year or two away from being a dominant defensive force. UNC needs to be able to avoid the kind of defensive lapses that happened in last year's Final Four against Kansas (resulting in the Heels finding themselves down 40-12).

UNC is also going to have to avoid the temptation for individual players looking to "get their's". Lawson, Ellington, and Green all declared for the NBA Draft last year, withdrawing their names late in the process for a variety of reasons. For the Heels to be as good as they are expected to be, each of those three guys (maybe throwing Guinyard, a senior, and Thompson, a junior that has been and will be competing for minutes with some very capable guys, in there as well) will have to accept the role that they play within the UNC system. And they will have to play within that role, instead of trying to prove to NBA scouts what they can do and that they warrant being selected in the first round.

The last, and maybe most difficult, thing that UNC will have to deal with is the pressure of expectations and predictions. For just about any school in the country in any given year, a Final Four trip is considered a great season. Not for these Heels. Anything less than a title will be considered a disappointment. Every loss during the season will result in a string of questions all essentially asking "are the Heels for real?". How far this team goes will depend a lot on how well they can deal with that pressure.

Outlook: As I said before, UNC going undefeated would not surprise many people, even with the difficult schedule that they play. They are talented, deep, well coached, and play a style that should let a lot of players score a lot of points. Fair or not, anything less than a national title will be considered a disappointment in Chapel Hill. This is similar to the situation that Roy Williams dealt with in 1996-97, when his Kansas Jayhawk team, led by Paul Pierce and Jacque Vaughn, was considered the overwhelming favorite. That team lost in the Sweet 16 to eventual champs Arizona. Only time will tell how far this team will go.
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The ACC to Test the "Testing The Waters" Rule

From today's Raleigh News and Observer:

The ACC plans to propose NCAA legislation that would force men's basketball underclassmen to decide whether they are in the NBA Draft within 10 days after the NCAA title game. ... Under the proposal, there would be no grace period -- either you're in or you're out.
Now I don't know about anyone else, but I think the testing the waters rule is one of the best rules the NCAA has. It is strictly in place to aid college players in making the correct decision about their future.

Obviously, it hurts the coaches, who have to wait for the players to decide whether they are going to come back, which makes it difficult to recruit because the coaches never know exactly how many scholarships they will have available. Take Roy Williams as an example. With Danny Green, Ty Lawson, and Wayne Ellington all entering their names in the draft, Roy Williams had to go through the spring signing period not knowing if he was going to have those three extra scholarships available. 

Are there drawbacks to the rule for the players? Absolutely. For example, any player that is convinced they will be a 1st round lock is probably going to blow off a lot of class at the end of the second semester. But what if a guy gets injured during the draft process (a la Dee Brown) or gets in trouble (a la Ty Lawson), which would severely hurt his draft stock and decides to return - will he still be eligible if he actually blew off the classes?

There is a school of thought that says that the longer a player has to decide, the more likely he is to listen to the wrong people (which, frankly, is BS). More time allows the players to go through workouts with the actual NBA teams; to be rated by actual NBA scouts; to actually be matched up against their competition in the pre-draft camp in a situation where they have the chance to show off what they can do on the court.  This allows the players to make a more educated decision on their future. If they have seven days to make a final choice on whether or not to enter the draft and do away with their college eligibility, a kid is much more likely to listen to the "expert" second cousin who knows a guy whose uncle works for the Knicks who said the player was a lottery pick.

I will agree with coaches that the deadline is a bit too late. But is the answer really to get rid of the entire evaluation process? This year, the schedule looked like this:
  • April 7th - NCAA title game
  • April 27th - Cut-off to declare for the draft
  • May 27th-30th - NBA Pre-Draft camp
  • June 16th - Cut-off to withdraw your name from the draft
  • June 26th - The NBA Draft
The NCAA could easily knock 3-4 weeks out of that process and still allow the kids to be properly evaluated. Give the players a week to decide whether or not to enter the draft, then give them 5-6 weeks to decide whether to stay in the draft, ending with the NBA pre-draft camp. Maybe the NCAA could even institute a scholarship waiver, which would allow a team to use an extra scholarship if one or two guys went through the entire draft process (this would probably be thoroughly abused by coaches everywhere, but I'm just throwing ideas out there).

Is that the perfect answer? Probably not, but it is definitely closer to solving the problem then what the ACC plans to propose. This quote probably sums it up the best. From RNO article:
Clemson senior K.C. Rivers, who briefly pondered submitting his name last April, said he disagreed with the legislation because he doesn't think it will give players enough time to gather information from NBA teams and make an informed decision. "If this rule had been in effect [last spring] ... I would probably have not been back at Clemson,'' he said.
How many guys is this true for? How many guys would be without a team to play for once the training camp cuts were done?

I really hope the NCAA doesn't do away with the one rule that is truly in place to benefit the players.
Continue reading...

More Lute Olson News

Yeah, I'm sick of hearing about him too, but it seems as if the fall out from Lute Olson leaving is not over yet. First, Mike Dunlap, who most everyone expected to take over the reins of the Wildcats on an interim basis, turned down the position. The Wildcats instead hired former Arizona State assistant and last year's Sun Devils color commentator Russ Pennell. If that wasn't enough, it now looks as if Pennell will have to do all his own recruiting for the class of 2009, as Abdul Gaddy, Solomon Hill, and Mike Moser have all reopened their recruitment.

It now appears as if there is a reason for all of this madness. From USA Today:

Lute Olson suffered a stroke within the past year that contributed to recent "severe depression" and "changes in judgment," his doctor said Tuesday.
The 74-year-old University of Arizona basketball coach retired last Thursday upon advice of Dr. Steven A. Knope to step down.

Knope said an MRI done Monday confirmed that Olson "had a stroke in the frontal part of the brain" sometime in the past year. The stroke affected Olson's "executive decision-making and personality."
He was apparently taking anti-depressants throughout his leave of absence, was able to stop taking them around April but had to go back on the medication in the last few weeks.

Hopefully Lute will pull through all of this with a clean bill of health. If there is a silver lining here, it is that Lute's legacy as a Hall of Fame coach and legendary program builder is no longer tarnished after the ugly split with UA.

In other news: Cincinnati freshman Cashmere Wright, who was expected to move scorer Deonta Vaughn off the point, tore his ACL and is out for the year. Continue reading...

Charlie Coley may be my new favorite dunker

This is from UNC-Charlotte's midnight madness. It's not so much the dunk as the pass that is so impressive here, but wow is this creative.

Here are two videos from Coley dunking at last year's midnight madness.

Look where he takes off from here...

Oh, he dunked in games too. This is against Davidson.

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Monday, October 27, 2008

No. 2 UConn: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 24-9, 13-5 Big East (4th)

Key Losses: Doug Wiggins (6.7 ppg, 2.4 apg), Curtis Kelly (2.1 ppg)

Key Returnees: Jeff Adrien (14.8 ppg, 9.1 rpg), AJ Price (14.5 ppg, 5.8 apg), Hasheem Thabeet (10.5 ppg, 7.9 rpg, 4.5 bpg)

Newcomers: Charles Okwandu, Kemba Walker, Scottie Haralson, Ater Majok

Can you remember a time when a team as good as UConn is predicted to be had this many question marks regarding key contributors? AJ Price is coming off of off-season knee surgery to repair the ACL he tore in last year's NCAA tournament (he was finally cleared to play about a month ago). Stanley Robinson is working at a sheet metal factory and not even enrolled at UConn while trying to earn back the trust of Jim Calhoun. Ater Majok is still awaiting word on whether or not he will be deemed eligible by the NCAA (Robinson and Majok are both expected to be in school and on the team at the start of the second semester). Nate Miles has been kicked out of school, and already enrolled at the College of Southern Idaho. Even with all of those distractions, UConn is still the favorite to win the Big East according to the conference's coaches.

The heart and soul of this UConn team was last year's leading scorer and rebounder Jeff Adrien. Adrien, a senior, is an undersized power forward (6'7", 243 lb), but he has incredibly long arms and is very quick off his feet. He is a bull on the block, as he can establish position just about whenever he wants offensively and he has a decent set of moves once he gets the ball. He is a strong finisher in the paint and has also added a jumper he can knock down out to about 15 feet. The best aspect of Adrien's game is his rebounding, especially on the offensive end, where he attacks the glass on every shot. One of the key's to UConn's season is that Adrien relishes his role as the team's junkyard dog and hustle guy instead of trying to prove his perimeter and offensive skills to NBA scouts. Joining Adrien up front is 7'3" junior Hasheem Thabeet. Thabeet is the best defensive big man in the country, averaging 4.5 bpg last season. He is phenomenal at coming from the weak side to block shots without picking up fouls (only 2.6 per game), and can essentially alter any shot with 8-10 feet of the rim simply because of his size, reach, and athleticism. He is still fairly weak, as he is not great playing man-to-man defense, establishing position or boxing out (shorter and stronger players are able to back him down) and he struggles defending the pick-and-roll (which is what San Diego beat to death in their upset win over the Huskies). Offensively, he has come a long way but still has a long way to go. His confidence grew as the season progressed, and by the end of the year he was attacking the rim and trying to dunk everytime he got the ball near the basket. Beyond that, however, his offensive skill set and understanding of the game leaves a lot to be desired. He is a terrible passer and has no post moves (although he did show flashes of a nice jump hook going either way), but he improved his free throw percentage by almost 20 points and he has a great work ethic.

Junior big men Gavin Edwards and Jonathan Mandeldove also return. Edwards is an effective role player, bringing energy and defensive intensity off the bench. Mandeldove is a long, 6'11" center that needs to get a lot stronger before he can provide quality minutes. Charles Okwandu, a 7'1" Nigerian native that transferred in form Holcam CC, is still probably a year away from really contributing, but has impressed a lot of people in the first week of practice. Ater Majok, who will miss at least the first eight games, will probably move into the role as the first big guy off the bench by season's end (if he is cleared). A refugee of the Sudan (via Egypt and Australia), he is long and athletic with decent touch on his jumper and a solid face up game, but is still too weak to provide a ton of production in the paint.

UConn's back court will also be loaded. The best of the bunch is AJ Price. Price has had as tumultuous a career as you could probably imagine (in case you forgot, he missed his first two years at UConn before tearing his ACL in March), and after having a sub par year in 2006-2007, Price was the best point guard in the Big East for the last month of the season, averaging 16.1 ppg and 6.0 apg in league play. Price is at his most effective offensively when he is penetrating, as his perimeter shot is streaky and he has a tendency to take ill-advised three's. He is a great floor general, and has a knack for threading the needle, be it off of penetration in the half court or on a fast break, to find one of UConn's big men, although this also leads to a good number of turnovers. Not the greatest athlete in the world, Price finds ways to score inside over taller defenders, usually with some sort of half-floater, half-leaner. Price is more of a scoring guard, and should benefit from some minutes at the two playing alongside Kemba Walker. Walker is another NYC point guard that is very fast and loves to get out and lead the break. He is also a better defender than Price, which is important especially since UConn lost their best on the ball defender in Doug Wiggins. The third guy in the Huskies three guard line-up will be Jerome Dyson. Dyson is an interesting case. During his first two season's up until he was suspended, many believed he was UConn's best player. But the Huskies played their best basketball of the season when he went out. He is clearly talented on both ends of the court - he is very good at getting to the rim where he is an excellent finisher thanks to his size (6'4") and athleticism, but he can also hit the three and is a terror in the passing lanes - but his decision making and poor attitude could be an issue.

Stanley Robinson could be the x-factor for this team if/when he is allowed to suit up. He has reportedly put on 30 lbs of muscle on his 6'9" frame without losing any of his fantastic athleticism. He brings an element to the Huskies wing that none else can, as he can block shots, rebound the ball, and knock down a three pointer. Off the bench will be Craig Austrie, a senior who is a smart player that won't turn the ball over, but doesn't bring much to the table offensively (although he did ice a few games last year thanks to his free throw shooting). Donnell Beverly may also see some time.

Outlook: UConn is going to be the same old UConn - tons of ball pressure on the perimeter forcing you to penetrate into a sea of shot blockers, then running the ball down your throat once they get possession. Once Majok and Robinson get cleared, this team will able to throw so many different looks out there because so many guys can play multiple positions. The biggest question for these Huskies is whether or not they can win a game on a national stage - the last two year's they are 0-3 in the Big East and NCAA tournament's, and were 8-8 on the road or on a neutral court last year, with their best win coming at Indiana right as things were starting to crumble in Bloomington. UConn has the talent, the question will be "can they win the big one?"
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Sunday, October 26, 2008

No. 3 UCLA: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 35-4, 16-2 Pac-10 (1st)

Key Losses: Kevin Love (17.5 ppg, 10.6 rpg), Russell Westbrook (12.7 ppg, 4.3 apg), Luc Richard Mbah a Moute (8.8 ppg, 6.0 rpg)

Key Returnees: Darren Collison (14.5 ppg, 3.9 apg), Josh Shipp (12.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg)

Newcomers: Jrue Holiday, J'Mison Morgan, Drew Gordon, Malcolm Lee, Jerime Anderson

The Bruins lost three guys as early entrants to the NBA draft (two of the top 5 picks), and that is a lot of talent to replace. But Ben Howland did his due diligence and brought in the #1 recruiting class in the country (according to both Scout and Rivals), which includes five of the top 50 recruits in the country.

Even with all the young talent, the Bruins will be led by a senior back court of Darren Collison and Josh Shipp. Collison will be the spark plug for UCLA. He may be the faster player end-to-end in the country (both of his parents were sprinters, and his mother even reached the Olympics) and is also a tremendous defender. Offensively, he really came into his own last year. He is exceptional at breaking players down off of the dribble, as he has always been, but Collison has also added an effective jumper. He shot 48.1% from the field over all, but hit 52.5% of his three's (and he took over 3 per game). His biggest asset is probably his intangibles, as he is a great floor general and has a knack for making big plays. Shipp is a solid all-around contributor on the wing. He can shoot (although his percentages dropped at the end of last year), is a good penetrator, a smart passer, and an excellent defender. The Bruins will get Michael Roll back from injury. UCLA also returns a lot of depth in the front court as Alfred Aboya, Adam Keefe, and Nikola Dragovic will all provide quality minutes for the Bruins.

Now to the Bruin freshmen. The best of the bunch is guard Jrue Holiday. Holiday is a 6'3" combo guard, who has a complete offensive game - he is an outstanding shooter, but he is also very good at getting in to the lane, penetrating and finishing equally well with either hand. Holiday is also a good passer and defender, and has been compared by multiple sources to Randy Foye, the former Villanova guard. Also joining the Bruin backcourt is Jerime Anderson, a 6'0", 165 lb point guard. He is known more for is play making ability on the defensive end than he is for his offensive game, which should make him fit right in with Howland's system. Malcolm Lee is similar to Anderson in that he is a very good athlete and a tough, aggressive kid that will be perfect for fit for UCLA. On the front line, UCLA adds J'Mison Morgan and Drew Gordon. Morgan is a 6'10", 270 lb center that decided on UCLA after withdrawing his commitment to LSU. Morgan is a big, strong kid, and he is surprisingly quick and athletic for someone with his bulk. He has long arms and combined with his athleticism, it makes him a good shot blocker. His offensive game is developing, but he is a good finisher and has been noted as having an excellent presence (knows when to pass and when to try and score, and is adept and finding cutters and shooters) in the post despite not having an impressive repertoire of moves. Gordon is 6'9" and 240 lb, but he is not overly athletic. He is an aggressive rebounder with a nose for the ball, and while his back to the basket game needs improving, he has a decent perimeter game and can knock down an 18 footer.

Outlook: UCLA has so much talent this year. Their freshman alone would probably finish in the top 5 in the Pac 10. Like every other Ben Howland team, UCLA is going to rely heavily on their defensive prowess. They have six guys in their perimeter rotation that are able to play multiple positions, and all of them are excellent on the ball defenders. Inside, they are big and strong, with multiple guys that are able to block shots. On the offensive end, UCLA is very balanced, and if someone (hopefully Morgan) can develop into a consistent scoring threat in the post, UCLA will be close to unstoppable. They should win another Pac-10 crown, and a fourth Final Four trip is well within reach.
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Saturday, October 25, 2008

No. 4 Louisville: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 27-9, 14-4 Big East (t-2nd)

Key Losses: David Padgett (11.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg), Juan Palacios (6.0 ppg, 3.8 rpg)

Key Returnees: Terrence Williams (11.1 ppg, 7.2 rpg, 4.5 apg), Earl Clark (11.1 ppg, 8.1 rpg), Edgar Sosa (7.6 ppg)

Newcomers: Samardo Samuels, George Goode, Reginald Delk, Kyle Kuric, Jared Swoopshire, Terrence Jennings

Louisville returns most of the major pieces from a team that won 27 games, finished tied for second in the Big East, and made it to the Elite 8. Their back court is the same group of guys that have been around for two years. Senior Andre McGee and junior Edgar Sosa split time at the point guard position. McGee is a much better distributor and defender than Sosa, and he protects the ball better (54 turnovers vs. 33 turnovers in around the same number of minutes). Sosa had lofty expectations after an impressive freshman season, but found himself in Rick Pitino's dog house because of lackadaisical effort defensively, poor shot selection, and poor decision making. Senior Jerry Smith, who is Louisville's best perimeter shooter, will also return. Louisville adds Reginald Delk, a two year starter at Mississippi State who sat out the last year. Add in sophomore Preston Knowles (who is one of the best on ball defenders in the Big East) and senior Will Scott to the mix, and Louisville has one of the deeper back courts in the conference.

The Cardinals front court will be talented, albeit inexperienced. Terrence Williams and Earl Clark do return. Williams is a very talented player on the wing. He is a tremendous athlete and the best passer on the Louisville team, but he is an average shooter and has a tendency to force tough shots and passes. Clark is a 6'9" combo forward. He has long arms and is very athletic, and while his ball skills are still developing, he has a knack for slashing to the basket and finishing at the rim. He is also versatile enough to play both forward spots. Both Williams and Clark are excellent defenders as well.

The rest of the Cardinal front line is going to be freshman. Samardo Samuels, a top 10 recruit, will probably slide into David Padgett's role as the starting center. Samuels is 6'8", 240 lb and strong. He is very aggressive on the block, both offensively and going for rebounds, and has a nice set of post moves. Terrence Jennings is 6'10" and a fantastic athlete. He is raw offensively, but goes to the glass hard and gets a lot of easy buckets that way. Gerald Goode was a top 100 recruit coming out of high school, but had to sit out last year due to eligibility issues. Jared Swopshire is more of a wing than a post, but he is a good offensive player with an above average jump shot.

Outlook: There is no question that Louisville is loaded. Between Williams, Clark, Samuels, and Jennings, the Cardinals front line is as good as any in the country. Their back court has a bunch of solid players that get after it on defense. Their are two major question marks that will determine how good Louisville can be: which Edgar shows up this year, the one that made the all big-east rookie team as a freshman or the one that spent much of the year in Pitino's dog house; and how will Louisville handle the loss of David Padgett, the guy who they basically ran their offense through last year.
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Friday, October 24, 2008

No. 5 Pittsburgh: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 27-10, 10-8 Big East (7th)

Key Losses: Ronald Ramon (8.5 ppg, 3.6 apg), Keith Benjamin (9.1 ppg, 3.0 rpg), Mike Cook (10.4 ppg)

Key Returnees: Levance Fields (11.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg), DeJuan Blair (11.6 ppg, 9.1 rpg), Sam Young (18.1 ppg, 6.3 rpg)

Newcomers: Jermaine Dixon, Ashton Gibbs, Dwight Miller, Nasir Robisnon, Travon Woodall

Pitt had a relatively disappointing regular season in '07-'08, but a huge reason for that were the injuries to Mike Cook and Levance Fields. Fields is still not 100% after reinjuring the same foot and undergoing a second surgery on it in August. Although he has not set a date for his return, he should be back by the time conference season starts on New Years Eve, which is huge for the Panthers. Aside from Fields, Pitt is losing pretty much everyone that played guard for them last season.

Fields is probably the most valuable player on Pitt this year. He is their leader on the court, setting the tone for a team known for their toughness and rugged defense with his harassing ball pressure at the point guard spot. He is also the only returner that can create from the perimeter. Fields is adept at getting into the lane, whether it is to score or to pass. With the lack of offensive talent on this Pitt team, how well Fields plays and how well he is able to create is going to be very important to the Panther's success.

The rest of the Pitt backcourt has a lot of question marks. Gilbert Brown, a sophomore and probable starter on the wing, is a 6'6" athlete and a very good defender, but his offensive game is limited as his jump shot needs improvement. Brad Wanamaker, another sophomore, played a limited role as a freshman and should see some expanded minutes, but he is also better on the defensive end and needs to improve his jump shot. Nasir Robinson is probably the best of the four newcomers that play in the back court. He is a typical Pitt wing - 6'5", tough and an athletic defender but with a sub-par jump shot (notice a theme developing here?). The other three back court recruits (freshmen Ashton Gibbs and Travon Woodall and JuCo transfer Jermaine Dixon, all PG's) should battle it out for minutes backing up Fields.

Pitt's front court should be very good this year. The best of the bunch last year was Sam Young. Young made the transition from an athletic power forward to more of a wing with the development of a very consistent and dangerous perimeter stroke, especially in the 15-18 foot range. He is very quick for someone his size, and while his ball-handling needs some work, he is able to get by defenders that crowd his shot. Joining Young up front is bruising sophomore DeJuan Blair. Blair is built more like an offensive lineman at 6'7", 265 lb, but he has a 7'3" wingspan and an outstanding understanding of positioning. He uses his bulk to establish position inside on both ends of the floor, and since his hands are like suction cups, he is one of the best rebounders in the country, ranking 5th in the country in boards per 40 minutes (14.2). Outside of about 7 feet, Blair was pretty ineffective offensively as his ball skills are still fairly raw, but with an off-season of work he could be ready for a huge year a la Luke Harangody. Tyrell Biggs, a 6'8", 250 lb horse inside, will probably be the first big man off the bench, while 6'10", 250 lb sophomore Gary McGhee and 6'8", 230 lb freshman Dwight Miller should both contribute minutes.

Outlook: You know what you are going to get with Pitt - a team that plays tough defense in the half court, attacks the offensive boards, and will make you wish you could wear pads on the basketball court. This year, especially, their front line is going to be very good with Sam Young back and DeJuan Blair (at least in one man's opinion) ready for a huge season. Levance Fields, once healthy, is going to be the same Levance Fields from the last three seasons. The biggest question with Pitt this year is their shooting. Keith Benjamin, Ronald Ramon, and to a lesser degree Mike Cook were the only guys that could knock down three's in the back court last year, and no one Pitt brings in is known as a shooter. But Pitt has never been a team known for their perimeter shooting, and luckily they don't rely on it (and with Blair cleaning up underneath, maybe more misses is a good thing...). Pitt should be in the thick of the chase for the Big East title and a Final Four berth.
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Thursday, October 23, 2008

No. 6 Gonzaga: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Preview: 25-8, 13-1 WCC (1st)

Key Losses: David Pendergraph (8.7 ppg, 4.4 rpg)

Key Returnees: Matt Bouldin (12.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg), Jeremy Pargo (12.1 ppg, 6.1 apg), Austin Daye (10.5 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Josh Heytvelt (10.1 ppg, 4.9 rpg)

Newcomers: Andy Poling, Grant Gibbs, Demetri Goodson

Since Gonzaga exploded onto the national scene with their Elite 8 run in 1999 (and back-to-back Sweet 16 trips in 2000 and 2001), they have been one of only nine schools to play in every NCAA tournament. They have won at least 23 games in every season, and are an astounding 107-4 at home during that span and are 107-12 in conference play. I think it is safe to say that the 'Zags are one of the top college basketball programs in the country right now, but this year's team is probably the most talented Gonzaga team to date.

The thing that makes the 'Zags so dangerous is that they have four guys that could legitimately be considered go-to scorers - guards Jeremy Pargo and Matt Bouldin and forwards Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt. Pargo, a senior and Gonzaga's best athlete, will be the starting point guard. He is a big, strong guy (220 lb) but also very quick, which allows him to get into the lane against just about anyone. He can finish at the rim as well as find the open man if he draws help side defenders (6.1 apg), but he needs to improve his jump shot (26% from deep) and his decision making (3.4 t/o's). Bouldin, a 6'5" junior, will play off the ball for the 'Zags. He is a pretty solid all-around player that does a lot of things well, but is probably at his best when he is slashing to the basket, with or without the ball. He is a sneaky athlete with great body control and can finish with either hand. His jump shot, however, is good enough (36% from 3) that you have to respect it. Micah Downs, a 6'8" senior, and Steven Gray, a 6'4" sophomore, are the 'Zags two best perimeter shooters and will battle it out for minutes on the wing. Gray, who took over the starting spot for the last 19 games last year after recovering from a wrist injury, is probably the better player. Freshmen Demetri Goodson (6'0", 175 lb) and Grant Gibbs (6'5", 190 lb) were both highly touted recruits and should also see some playing time.

Heytvelt has not has the easiest go of it at Gonzaga, but he is very talented and as long as he can stay away from the magic mushrooms, he should have a pretty good year. He is an athletic, 6'11" power forward with a pretty advanced offensive game. He is most effective when he faces up because he is quick, has a decent handle, and has range out to the three point line, but he can also score with his back to the basket. Daye is the best NBA prospect on the 'Zags, but he still has a way to go to grow into is potential. He is a long, lanky, 6'10" forward with a mostly-perimeter oriented game. He has a very smooth and dangerous stroke, especially when he squares up and gets his feet set (he's far less effective off the dribble). He only played 18.5 mpg last year, and at times seemed like he was trying to hard and forcing questionable shots. But, based on the fact that he was always cutting hard and calling for the ball, it seems like Daye just isn't suited to be a role player because of his desire to score, which, when you are as talented as Daye, is a good thing. He also has a pretty good handle, and is effective when he is going to the rim. He is not much of a post defender or rebounder at this stage (only listed at 190 lb on the 'Zags website), but some of that should come with filling out his frame. Also in the 'Zags front court is 6'11" freshman Andy Poling, 7'0" sophomore Robert Sacre, and 7'4" junior Will Foster.

Outlook: Gonzaga's top six (the four mentioned plus Gray and Downs) are as good as anyone in the country in terms of talent. But what they are going to miss is the toughness inside of guys like Dave Pendergraft and Abdullahi Kuso. Neither Heytvelt or Daye really relish contact, and the other three front court players are all really thin and inexperienced (although Poling was rated as a top 20 center by some recruiting services and is listed at 230 lb, which means he could be able to provide that front court strength). Gonzaga, as usual, has scheduled a tough non-conference schedule, and will face as tough of a WCC (especially at the top) as there has been in the last few years. As I said, this is probably the most talented Gonzaga team to date, and big man or not, this is their best shot at reaching the Final Four.
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Lute Olson to Retire

I'm sure you've heard about it by now, but it seems as if Lute Olson has coached his last game at Arizona. According to Jeff Goodman of Fox Sports, Olson will step down as head coach immediately (maybe he heeded our advice) and Mike Dunlap, an associate coach, is expected to be named the interim head coach. It is unclear exactly why Olson is stepping down, but this makes it seem as if it is a health related cause (UPDATE: This NBC Sports article states that it is health concerns that are forcing Olson out, while this is ). Olson will be leaving Arizona with a career record of 780-280 in 25 seasons, taking the Wildcats to the NCAA tournament the last 24 years. He has been to five Final Fours, winning the '97 National Title. 

Regardless of the reason for his retirement, Olson will go down as one of the best coaches of his time. Olson will forever be linked with Arizona basketball as he took a program that was in shambles and turned it into a perennial powerhouse, churning ou NBA draft picks (13 first round pick, 17 second rounders), successful NBA players (Sean Elliot, Damon Stoudamire, Jason Terry, Mike Bibby, Gilbert Arenas, Richard Jefferson, Steve Kerr), and earning the moniker Point Guard U. Before Olson took the reins of this program, it had won just two postseason games of any kind (both upset victories in 1976) and was coming off of a 4-24 campaign. Olson missed the tournament his first season, but reached it every year for the rest of his career, compiling the following resume:

  • 589-188 (.758) record
  • 24 consecutive NCAA tourney's
  • 4 Final Four's ('88, '94, '97 National Champs, '01)
  • 11 Pac-10 Titles
  • 2 National Coach of the Year Awards
Towards the end of his career, Olson seemed to rely too heavily on his recruiting, and earned a reputation as a guy that would just roll the ball out there and let his players play. The last few years have been rough, as Arizona seemed to perpetually be underachieving with the talent on their roster while going through a series of "mishaps", but that doesn't change the fact that Olson should be considered one of the best coaches and program builders in college basketball history. 
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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

No. 7 Notre Dame: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 25-8, 14-4 Big East (t-2nd)

Key Losses: Rob Kurz (12.5 ppg, 7.1 rpg)

Key Returnees: Luke Harangody (20.4 ppg, 10.6 rpg), Kyle McAlarney (15.1 ppg, 44% 3's), Tory Jackson (8.0 ppg, 5.8 apg)

Newcomers: None

Notre Dame returns basically everyone from the team that won 25 games last year and finished tied with Louisville for second in the Big East. Most importantly, Notre Dame returns its two big guns, reigning Big East player of the year Luke Harangody and 1st team all-conference performer Kyle McAlarney.

Harangody had a good freshman year, but not many could have expected what he did as a sophomore: 20.4 ppg and 10.6 rpg, upping those numbers to 23.3 and 11.3 in Big East play. 'Gody is a handful on the block to say the least, checking in at 6'8" and 255 lb. He is a good low-post scorer, tending to use a variety of quick moves (his favorite is probably a righty jump hook) to get his shot off against bigger, more athletic players. He seems like he knows his physical limitations (can't really jump, not very long) and as a result he excels at establishing position, both on the offensive and defensive end of the floor, and using his girth and strength to his advantage. On the defensive end, it results in tough shots for the guy he is guarding, and a flawless box-out technique. Offensively, it allows him seal a defender and finish at the rim (something he does extremely well). He is also surprisingly nimble for a guy his size, with quick feet and a nice spin move. Joining Harangody in the front court are two seniors, Zach Hillesland and Luke Zeller. Hillesland is a scrappy, 6'9" glue guy that plays some defense, rebounds the ball, and will pick up some floor burns along the way. Zeller is 6'11", but fairly perimeter oriented (32 of his 55 field goals last year where three's). With Rob Kurz graduating, one of those two is going to have to step up and be a threat for the Irish. Sophomore Tim Abromaitis and junior Tim Andree could also push for some minutes.

McAlarney is a combo-guard, but usually lines up at the two for the Irish. McAlarney's game centers around his jumper, which he can hit consistently out to around 28 feet, off the dribble or off the catch. He shoots a phenomenal percentage (44%) for someone that takes as many three's as he does (245, or 7.3 a game). He is a good ball-handler and can get by his man at times, but when he penetrates it usually results in a floater, a pull-up jumper, or a kick out. His back court mate is Tory Jackson. Jackson is a great penetrator, and can finish at the rim as well as find one of the many shooters Notre Dame has once he gets in the paint. He is a tough kid and one of the best guard rebounders (under 6'0" but averaged 5.1 boards), but his jump shot leaves much to be desired - he shot 30% from three and an abysmal 52% from the free throw line. Ryan Ayers, who split starts with Hillesland last year, will be the likely starter at the three. Ayers is a dead-eye three point shooter (55 3's on 45% shooting) and not much else (over 65% of his FG's attempted were 3's), but since defense's will have to respect his stroke, it will open up the paint for 'Gody. Jonathan Peoples, who at 6'3" may be the Irish's best perimeter defender, will also see a lot of time.

Outlook: Notre Dame can win games. They proved that last year. They have a lot of talented guys, a lot of guys that can score, and a lot of guys that can shoot. My question is with whether or not this team can win games in the post season. They are 2-4 in the Big East and NCAA tournament's the last two seasons. My other big question mark is who will be able to match up with a scorer in the post. Sure, Harangody will make someone earn their buckets, but do you really want to tire out your best player on defense, especially when that guy is as effective as he is because he out works the opponent? Notre Dame is a very good team and is going to win a lot of games, but in my mind for them to be a serious Final Four threat, they need one of their bigs to step up.
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Full Court Press: Memphis Basketball has a Reality TV Show

Rivals has started a 10 episode series chronicling John Calipari and the Memphis Tigers as they begin to prepare for the 2008-2009 season. A new episode will debut every Friday from now until December 17th. Check out the part about Pierre Niles. If he can actually get down to 280 lb (he signed a contract with Coach Cal that said he couldn't practice until he went from 349 lb to 300 lb, and couldn't get into a game until he hit 280), he could be another Glen Davis. I love that haircut he's rocking, too.

In other news - Minnesota's forward Damian Johnson is out for 4-6 weeks after fracturing his left hand; Georgia Tech's DeAndre Bell will miss the season as a result of spinal stenosis, the same injury that forced TJ Ford to miss a season a few years ago; Clemson's 7'2" freshman Catalin Baciu was suspended for 5 games by the NCAA for playing on a professional team in his native Romania when he was 15; former (can you be former if you never put on the jersey) UConn Husky Nate Miles has landed at the College of Southern Idaho; Greg Anthony has been hired by CBS as a college basketball analyst to replace Clark Kellogg, who replaced Billy Packer. Continue reading...

Wednesday Where Are They Now?: Hiatus

With the off-season officially ending this past weekend, it is about that time to start focusing on the season at hand instead of relishing in the memories of the stars of old. As much as I love doing these WATN posts, they are going to have to take a backseat until next off-season. Apologies to those of you that only read this blog every Wednesday (this guy comes to mind).

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Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No. 8 Purdue: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 25-9, 15-3 Big Ten (2nd)

Key Losses: Scott Martin (8.5 ppg, 3.8 rpg)

Key Returnees: E'Twuan Moore (12.9 ppg, 3.9 rpg), Robbie Hummel (11.4 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Keaton Grant (11.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg), Chris Kramer (6.8 ppg, 2.3 spg)

Newcomers: Lewis Jackson, Ryne Smith, John Hart

I know that this is stating the obvious, but Purdue came out of nowhere to win 25 games and finish second in the Big Ten last year. A huge reason for that was the freshman class, which included E'Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and Scott Martin, three of the Boilermakers top four scorers last year (Martin has since transferred out of Purdue). With Purdue, it all starts on the defensive end, where they are led by reigning Big Ten defensive player of the year Chris Kramer. Kramer is not all that big (6'3", 205 lb), but he is very strong and quick (especially laterally) and has terrific defensive instincts both on the ball and off the ball. He is also the type of kid that plays with reckless abandon (diving on the floor, flying in for o-boards, taking charges) and does not back down from anyone (remember this?). He is the guy that sets the tone for this Purdue team. Offensively, he struggles when forced to create his own shot, but he did lead the team in assists the last two seasons.

Purdue did not have a real prototypical point guard last year. There primary playmaker offensively was E'Twaun Moore. Moore is a lanky 6'3" kid who is an underwhelming athlete. But what he lacks in athleticism, he makes up for in craftiness, basketball IQ, and an outstanding jumper, which he can hit out to the NBA three. Keaton Grant is a very similar player to Moore, both in size and skill set, but is coming off of spring knee surgery. He missed the team's August exhibitions in Australia (although word is that he is back to 100%). Robbie Hummel is basically the same player as Moore and Grant, except bigger (6'8"). He is the ultimate college mismatch on the offensive end as he usually ends up playing the four. His offensive game is completely perimeter oriented, however. He was the Big Ten's leading three-point shooter last year (Purdue was the Big Ten's best three point shooting team), but is quick enough to get by just about any power forward that comes out to defend him on the perimeter. The biggest thing about these three kids is that they are all very smart players that have bought into Matt Painter's system. They play well together and generally make good decisions (combined, they averaged less than 5 turnovers per game).

The biggest change is going to be the addition of freshman Lewis Jackson, a lighting quick 5'9" point guard that can penetrate into the lane and find the multitude of shooters that Purdue has (Moore, Grant, and Hummel combined to hit 174 3's at an astonishing 44% clip). Also battling for time in the back court will be senior Marcus Green and freshmen Ryne Smith and John Hart.

Purdue's biggest weakness last season was in the paint. They really had no post presence defensively and were the third worst rebounding team in the Big Ten. Both centers, JaJuan Johnson and Nemanja Calasan, return. Johnson has a ton of upside, but he has a long way to go to get there. He is long, athletic, and mobile, but when you are 6'10", 215 lb is just too skinny to do any kind of damage on the block, especially in the Big Ten. He has a soft touch on his jump shot (he even hit a three in the tourney), but Purdue needs someone to bang on the block, not another jump shooter. Calasan is a 6'9", 250 lb bruiser and a solid player, but nothing special. That's it for their front court, and with no freshman coming in, an injury to Johnson, Calasan, or Hummel could be devastating to Purdue.

Outlook: Purdue is a very tough defensive team with a bunch of kids that can shoot, play well together, play hard, and have a high basketball IQ - pretty typical Big Ten team. Their most glaring weakness is inside, where they were a terrible rebounding team. But with the three-headed combo of Hummel, Moore, and Grant, the addition Jackson as a change of pace, and (hopefully) the improvement of JaJuan Johnson, the Boilermakers definitely have enough talent that they should be considered one of, if not the, preseason favorite in the Big Ten.
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No. 9 Duke: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 28-6, 13-3 ACC (2nd)

Key Losses: DeMarcus Nelson (14.5 ppg, 5.8 rpg)

Key Returnees: Kyle Singler (13.3 ppg, 5.8 rpg), Gerald Henderson (12.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg), Jon Scheyer (11.7 ppg)

Newcomers: Olek Czyz, Miles Plumlee, Eliot Williams

I know, I know. Everyone hates Duke and thinks they are so overrated and are going to be terrible next year. Well, here is the bottom line. Duke won 28 games last year and finished second in the ACC (the conference with the highest RPI rating), and just so happen to return pretty much their entire team. The loss of Nelson is going to hurt a bit (mostly because he was so adept at producing in the paint at 6'3"), but there is more than enough talent on this roster to make up that production.

In my opinion, the Devils most important returner is Gerald Henderson. I love this kid's game. He is a fantastic athlete and very long, and at 6'6" he uses that length and athleticism to "make plays" - getting into the passing lanes, blocking shots, grabbing o-boards. He always seems to be in the middle of everything, and is definitely not afraid of contact or of going all out (remember the infamous elbow). If he can develop his handle and his jump shot, he has lottery pick written all over him. Kyle Singler is Duke's leading returning scorer. The sophomore had a great freshman season, and creates a lot of match-up problems because he is big enough where he can hold his own against most posts defensively. But his biggest asset offensively is his perimeter game, and he is simply too quick for most centers to guard because they have to respect his jump shot.

The rest of Duke's front line is questionable. Brian Zoubek is your typical 7-foot stiff. Lance Thomas is a great athlete, but not much more. Dave McClure is a good defender (when healthy), but can't do much offensively. The Blue Devils do bring in two freshman to help bolster that front line depth. Miles Plumlee is a thin 6'10" forward (Duke does have him listed at 230 lb) that opted out of his commitment to Stanford when Trent Johnson left. He seems like he will fit perfectly into Duke's offense right now as he is perimeter oriented (he's most effective facing up) and runs the floor well, although his lack of strength won't help Duke's glaring weakness in the post both offensively and defensively. He is long, however, and has garnered a pretty good shot blocker. Olek Czyz is a strong, 6'7" athlete that loves contact, plays hard, and should provide Duke with some toughness.

Duke will have four good guards in their rotation this year. It will be very interesting to see who ends up starting at the point, as there have been a lot of rumblings that sophomore Nolan Smith will replace senior and three year starter Greg Paulus. The two have polar opposite games. Smith is a quick penetrator and a tenacious on the ball defender, but is lacking in the jump shot department. Paulus was Duke's best shooter last year, but is a poor defender and has struggled mightily with his consistency and confidence. As much as I (the non-Dookie BIAH writer) despise Paulus, I have to admit that the kid carried Duke at times last year. He did make some poor decisions and he was appallingly inconsistent, but you cannot argue with the fact that he was far and away Duke's best shooter and that when he was playing well, he was/is one of the better point guards in the country. That said, I still think Nolan Smith is a better point guard for this team, although I suspect they will be sharing the court a lot.

Also in the Duke back court is Jon Scheyer and freshman Elliot Williams. Scheyer had a lot of hype coming out of high school, but has yet to really live up to the billing. He is a solid shooter and crafty offensively, but struggles defensively at this level. He is a smart player with a high basketball IQ, and could be primed for a breakout season with Nelson gone. Williams is a top-25 recruit out of Memphis that can do it all offensively. He has range on his jump shot, can attack the rim, and is able to play both guard positions, meaning he should fit into Coach K's system well.

Outlook: What made Duke so effective last year was how balanced their scoring was (top five players all averaged double figures) and the fact that most of the time, everyone on their team could not only knock down an open three, but could also penetrate and get to the rim or drive and kick to another open shooter. That won't change this year. But neither will the fact that the Devil's are missing a presence inside both offensively and defensively. Just like last year, Duke is going to shoot a lot of three's, score a lot of points, and win a lot of games playing that way. But you need an inside presence to make a long tourney run, so I wouldn't be surprised if the Blue Devils had another early round exit.
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Monday, October 20, 2008

No. 10 Texas: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 31-7, 13-3 Big XII (t-1st)

Key Losses: DJ Augustin (19.2 ppg, 5.7 apg)

Key Returnees: AJ Abrams (16.5 ppg, 3.2 3's), Damion James (13.2 ppg, 10.5 rpg), Connor Atchley (9.5 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 2.1 bpg)

Newcomers: J'Covan Brown, Varez Ward

Texas returns all but one player from the team that won 31 games and shared the Big XII regular season crown. It just so happens that one player was DJ Augustin, who was probably the best point guard in the country last year. Texas will have a huge hole to fill at the one, especially if freshman J'Covan Brown is ineligible all year (right now, he is academically ineligible to even get into UT, but there is still a chance he could enroll in the spring semester).

So the question is, who will run the point for Texas? The obvious answer is AJ Abrams, the undersized (generously listed at 5'11", 161 lb) shooting guard who ran a little bit of point his freshman season before Augustin arrived. That would be great for Abrams' pro potential, especially if he can prove he is able to handle the spot, but it would not be good for the Longhorns' team. He is a great shooter and the leading returning scorer in the Big XII, and losing his spot-up ability and scoring from the wing would be a huge blow to this team.

Another option would be to slide Justin Mason into the point guard role. He is primarily known as a gritty defender and a good rebounder for a guard, but he was second on the team last year in assists with 3.0 ppg (and by a wide margin, although a lot of that had to do with the fact the ball was in Augustin's hands so much). This would allow Texas to go with a very big line-up. Right now, however, it looks like the best option is going to be Turkish point guard Dogus Balbay, who is coming off of knee surgery and will be suspended for the first game of the season (he played in a few games in a pro league in Turkey). Balbay (6'0") is known for his athleticism, quickness, and ability to breakdown a defender down off the dribble, and has a reputation as a guy willing to throw his body around in the paint (be it for rebounds or slashing hard to the rim). The Longhorn's also added late signee Varez Ward. Ward is a prep-schooler from the Patterson School (NC) that is a very good defender and a solid shooter.

Texas doesn't have as many questions about their front line, which will be headlined by Damion James. James is one of those guys with average to above-average skills, but succeeds because of superior athleticism and the simple fact he will out-hustle you. He is a good shooter when he is able to set his feet and square up to the rim, even out to the three point line, but not if he is forced to move (although that improved greatly from his freshman to sophomore year - 9% 3's to 41% 3's). He is not great at creating his own shot, but is tremendous at cutting to the basket or flying in for offensive rebounds and finishing at the rim thanks to his length and athleticism (Draft Express has James listed as fifth in the country for rebounds per 40 minutes). I expect big things out of James this year. Joining James up front is 6'10 senior Connor Atchley (doesn't it feel like he has been there forever?). Atchley's game has developed a lot since he joined Texas. He is a knockdown shooter with NBA range, and is very effective a spotting up off of a pick-and-pop (although a lot of that may have had to do with who he was picking for). Beyond that, his offensive game is very limited, although he is a good athlete and a surprisingly good finisher at the rim. He is also a good defender (bulked up enough to battle in the post, mobile enough to guard face up big men), leading Texas with 2.1 bpg. The front line is pretty deep as well, boasting three guys (junior Dexter Pittman and sophomores Gary Johnson and Alexis Wangmene) that can provide solid minutes. Pittman has great hands, a soft touch, and good feet, but needs to get in shape (listed at 298 lb). Gary Johnson has a great motor and a solid 15 foot jump shot, and Alexis Wangmene is a long, athletic and at the very least five more fouls to give.

Outlook: The core of this Texas team is very talented - Abrams, Mason, James, and Atchley are as good as anyone. But, like last year's team, depth will be the issue, especially at guard as Mason, Abrams, and Augustin were really the only three guys that played (each averaged over 33 mpg, and Texas blew a lot of teams out). With Augustin gone, the Horn's will really need Balbay and Ward to step in and be able to provide quality minutes. I also question how well a team that has played the last two years with the likes of Kevin Durant and DJ Augustin will be able to operate offensively without a go-to player. I mean, the offense the last two seasons has been "give the ball to KD and clear out" or "give the ball to DJ, give him a pick, and cut". How will the players respond? Personally, I think they will be fine as I believe James and Abrams are both primed for big years. Texas will be in for a dogfight with Oklahoma and Baylor (and maybe Kansas) for the Big XII crown.
Continue reading...

10/20 - Some Links, Some News

-Gary Parrish did some research and found out that only one team in the last 40 years has won a national title with less than three players that were drafted and/or played in the NBA. Can you guess who?

-Parrish also gives us 24 things he is looking forward to this season.

-Dana O'Neil takes a look at the history of Midnight Madness.

-Tennessee freshman point guard Daniel West has not been declared eligible and thus did has not yet participated in practice.

-Pitt point guard Levance Fields will be out for at least the start of practices after the second surgery on his foot this summer.

-Lance Stephenson, a highly touted senior at Lincoln High School in NYC, was arrested last week for allegedly groping a female classmate.

-Providence center Ray Hall's career is over, the result of "extensive leg injuries that doctors say cannot heal if he continues his basketball career".

-Scoop Jardine of Syracuse will be redshirted this year. Boeheim says it is because of health issues, but even if he was healthy how much time would Jardine see behind Flynn, Devendorf, and Rautins? 

-During the summer, Nevada lost incoming freshman Mark McLoughlin to eligibility issues. Now, three players - leading returning scorer Brandon Fields and freshmen London Giles and Ahyaro Phillips - have been suspended indefinitely after being charged with petty larceny.
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Sunday, October 19, 2008

Kenny George's Career is Done?

In September it was announced that Kenny George, the 7'7", 360 lb center from UNC-Asheville, would miss the 2008-2009 season following surgery on his right foot. Well, this weekend news came out that the reason for the surgery was that George had a staph infection in that foot. From the Charlotte Observer:

UNC Asheville senior center Kenny George had part of his right foot amputated, a source confirmed to

The source said the amputation, which occurred three weeks ago, was the result of George's battle with MRSA, a sometimes life-threatening, antibiotic-resistant staph infection.

The Asheville Citizen Times first reported the story on Friday.

In August, George returned to his Chicago home from Pete Newell's Big Man Camp in Las Vegas with an infection in his foot.

Doctors suggested George immediately see a specialist. He's been hospitalized in Iowa since then, the source said, enduring several surgeries and at one time battling for his life. He's expected to stay in the hospital for at least another month.
Today, Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach spoke about George, but wouldn't confirm or deny any of the reports. If you read into what he said, however, it seems like the reports are probably true.
There's more to Kenny George than basketball. The students at this school think the world of Kenny George outside of basketball. We're looking forward to him coming back second semester — that's what he wants to do — and complete his degree. At that point, we'd still like him to be a part of our basketball program and part of this school.
All the best to you, Kenny. Continue reading...

Saturday, October 18, 2008

No. 11 Tennessee: 2008-2009 Team Preview

2007-2008 Team Record: 31-5, 14-2 SEC (1st)

Key Losses: Chris Lofton (15.5 ppg, 3 3's, 38%), JaJuan Smith (14.4 ppg, 1.6 spg), Ramar Smith (7.4 ppg, 3.0 apg)

Key Returnees: Tyler Smith (13.6 ppg, 6.7 rpg, 3.1 apg), Wayne Chism (9.9 ppg, 5.8 rpg)

Newcomers: Bobby Maze, Renaldo Woolridge, Scottie Hopson, Daniel West, Emmanuel Negedu, Cameron Tatum, Philip Jurick

Tennessee lost a lot of talent to graduation (Chris Lofton, JaJuan Smith) and suspension (Ramar Smith, Duke Crews), but they will still be loaded next season. They return arguably the best all-around player in the SEC in Tyler Smith. Smith has successfully made the transition from power forward to small forward after transferring from Iowa. He is one of the best passing wing players in the country, but he can also score in a variety of ways - he is a good enough shooter that you have to respect his jumper, and he is able to get by defenders when they get too close. He isn't a great ball handler, and usually attacks the basket with a couple dribbles going right or left, but he is slippery in the lane (meaning he has great body control once he gets in the paint). He is also a tenacious defender and will be the leader of this Tennessee squad. Joining Smith in the front court is Wayne Chism. Chism is known for being a face up power forward because he is a good shooter and is pretty good at putting the ball on the floor and getting by his man. But his back to the basket game is developing and he is a good finisher around the rim. If he continues to develop, he could be one of the better bigs in the SEC.

The Volunteers also have a slew of other talented big men. JP Prince, who was forced into the point guard role at the end of the season because of the struggles of Ramar and JaJuan Smith, is a crafty player who is a very similar player to his cousin (Tayshaun). He is long and athletic and makes a lot of plays defensively, and he should be very effective in Bruce Pearl's tough man-to-man defense. A couple freshman should see a lot of minutes as well. Emmanuel Negedu, a top 40 player who originally committed to Arizona, is a very muscular and athletic kid (6'7", 230 lb). The rest of his game is developing, and he could develop into a Tyler Smith-type player if he continues to work. Renaldo Woolridge is an athletic 6'8" small forward with a nice stroke and should see a lot of time. Also expect freshman Philip Jurick, sophomore Brian Williams, and senior Ryan Childress to compete for playing time.

The Tennessee backcourt will have a completely new look to it this year. Bobby Maze is talented but has had a series of issues involving eligibility. He is very quick and a good defender with a score first mentality, and should step in as the starter. Joining him will be highly touted recruit Scottie Hopson. Hopson is a 6'7" athlete with a developing game. His ball skills (jump shot, handle) are still a little raw, but he knows how to score and should thrive in the Tennessee system. Daniel West (Ed. Note: West did not practice with the team at the start of practice because of eligibility issues) is another incoming point guard, but he is a much different player than Maze - he is a distributor and an excellent defender (6 spg in high school). Redshirt freshman Cameron Tatum, a 6'6" wing, should also see some time.

Outlook: Tennessee has a ton of big, athletic wings, which is perfect for the pressure defense and fast break style that they like to play. There is a ton of talent on their roster, but not a lot of experience. They are probably still the favorite to win the SEC, especially with Vanderbilt, Mississippi State and Kentucky losing so much.
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Friday, October 17, 2008

In Honor of the Official Start of the 2008-09 Season

Yes, it is really here folks. Today, schools around the country will officially start their seasons. After seeing this article on ESPN and reading Rush The Court's 30 reasons posts, I've been inspired. In honor of the start of the new college basketball season, here are BIAH's top 10 15 (I couldn't cut it down farther) most memorable moments from the 2007-2008 season. The list is a little Tournament heavy, but hey, don't the most memorable moments come when they count the most?

As always, if I missed any, let me know about them and I'll get them up there.

15. John Griffin of Bucknell starts off March Madness the right way. Is the announcer saying "Bingo" or "banked home"?

14. Tyler Hansbrough hits a game winner against Virginia Tech in the ACC tourney. Doesn't this play epitomize Hansbrough? Outhustles everyone to come up with a lose ball, hits a big shot, and then pulls out the, well, I'm not quite sure exactly what that celebration was...

13. Minnesota's Blake Hoffarber ends a crazy game with a crazy buzzer beater against Indiana. It wasn't his first miracle shot either.

12. Brook Lopez hits a leaner as Stanford beats Marquette in OT in a second round NCAA tournament game. Some things of note from this game - Mitch Johnson had 16 assists to just 1 turnover for Stanford, and if you remember this game, then you remember Marquette's Jerel McNeal absolutely taking over in the second half and overtime.

11. I'm still bitter about this. Next.

10. #1 plays #2, and it just so happens to be two teams from the same state who just so happen to be heated rivals. Tennessee knocked on undefeated Memphis to claim their first #1 ranking in the school's history.

9. Baylor and Texas A&M go to five OT's to settle things in College Station. Baylor came out on top after 65 minutes of basketball. Of note: eight players fouled out and eight players logged over 40 minutes, with four of those over 50. Gotta tip your hat to the players on both teams after an effort like that.

8. Kansas State knocks off Kansas on their home floor for the first time in 24 years. Michael Beasley had 25, Bill Walker had 22, and Jacob Pullen had 20 in the win.

7. On his senior night at Vanderbilt, Shan Foster scored 42 points, including 29 in the final 15 minutes and overtime. Those 29 points included him hitting 9 straight 3's, and some of them were from 30 feet with a hand in his face.

6. On a similar note as #7, Robert Vaden of UAB scores 28 points in the second half as the Blazers knock off Kentucky. Any coach that wants to teach a player how to move without the ball and how to use screens effectively should show them this clip.

5. Wayne Ellington capped off a 36 point night with a buzzer beating three to beat Clemson in OT. David Potter is a great defender, and even though he probably should have had it, why would you go for a steal there?

4. In Tampa, during the opening weekend of the tournament, two twelve seeds and two thirteen seeds advanced, including Western Kentucky and San Diego in these two fantastic finishes.

Again, still very bitter. Next.

3. Stephen Curry scored 128 points (that's 32 ppg) in Davidson's run to the Elite 8. On the way, he led upsets of Gonzaga, Georgetown, and Wisconsin before he was finally worn out by the multitude of defenders Kansas threw at him. A two week coming out party, if you will. Is it obvious I love guys that can shoot the lights out yet?





2. After a vicious storm tears through Atlanta and rips a hole in the Georgia Dome (seriously, that is a pretty scary video, I can't imagine what it was like in there), the University of Georgia has to play two games in one day, and actually wins both, to earn the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

1. Mario Chalmers. Enough said.

So did I miss anything? Continue reading...