Wednesday, December 31, 2008

New Year's Eve Roundup

Just a quick roundup of last night's action, which saw two ranked teams get upset.

  • Arkansas 96, Oklahoma 88: The Razorbacks jumped all over the Sooners, going up 21-8 and taking a 53-38 lead into halftime. They pushed the lead to 25 early in the second half before Oklahoma made a run. The Sooners got it down to four on two different occasions, but Arkansas eventually pulled away for the win. Willie Warren led OU with 35 points, his second straight game of 30+. He scored 20 of their 38 in the first half, and at one point he was 6-6 from the floor while the rest of the team was 1-15. Blake Griffin had 21 and 13 boards while Tony Crocker added 18 with five second half three's. The Razorbacks got a balanced effort as six guys reached double figures. Michael Washington finished with 24 and 11 boards while Courtney Fortson finished with 14 points, 10 dimes, and 8 rebounds. But the story of this game was the play of Arkansas wide out Marcus Monk, who has used up his football eligibility. In just his third game with the basketball team, Monk finished with 12 points and 6 boards in 20 minutes.
  • Illinois 71, Purdue 67 OT: The story of this game was the way that Illinois played offensively. Purdue has one of the best defenses in the country, but Illinois did not seem fazed as Chester Frazier and the Illini were able to penetrate and pass at will. Illinois did not shoot all that well (43%) and gathered just six offensive rebounds, but they only turned the ball over six times on the game compared to 21 assists. Illinois's big men played fantastic, especially Mike Tisdale. With JaJuan Johnson camping out in the paint, the 7'1" Tisdale roamed the perimeter knocking down jumper after jumper. Purdue had two huge defensive breakdowns at the end of regulation, with both coming off of sideline out of bounds plays. On one, Trent Meachem came off of a screen and went all the way to the rim for a lay-up with no help defenders in sight. Two possessions later, Meachem went off a screen the other way, drawing three defenders and finding Mike Davis for a lay-up, which actually gave the Illini the lead with six seconds left (Davis fouled Johnson on the other end, and he hit 1-2 to send it to OT). Outside of Johnson (16, 15, 3 blocks) and E'Twaun Moore (17, but didn't show up until late in the game), Purdue struggled to a man. They were just 15-27 from the line and Robbie Hummel and Keaton Grant (who missed about four or five lay-ups at the rim) finished with a combined 16 points on 6-20 shooting.
  • Wake Forest 83, Radford 61: Wake struggled early, but pulled away at the end. Al-Farouq Aminu led the Deacs with 18 and 10, while James Johnson added 12, 12, and 5 dimes.
  • Syracuse 100, Seton Hall 76: Andy Rautins was on fire again, finishing with 26 points on 7-10 from three. Eric Devendorf returned to the line-up in this one.
  • Clemson 98, South Carolina 87: Devon Downey had 37 for the Gamecocks, but Clemson's hot shooting was just too much. The Tigers were 10-21 from deep (led by six from Terrence Oglesby, who finished with 25 points) and shot 55% on the night.
  • Florida 78, Stetson 57: Nick Calathes led the way for the Gators with 23 and 5 dimes.
  • Butler 72, UAB 68: Freshman Shelvin Mack hit five three's in the first seven minutes of the second half en route to 22 points as Butler overcame an 11 point deficit for the win.
  • Dayton 66, George Mason 62: The Patriots led for most of the game, but a late 11-2 Dayton run gave the Flyers the victory. Rob Lowery and Marcus Johnson each had 13 for Dayton.
  • Maryland 76, Elon 50
  • Missouri 80, Centenary 52
  • BYU 74, Tulsa 68: Lee Cummard netted 26 in the win.
  • Kansas 79, Albany 43
  • Stanford 69, Hartford 55
A lot of basketball on tomorrow, especially on ESPN. Did anyone else notice that despite having seven games on between Noon and 2 AM, the only ones that ESPN promoted during the last two or three days were Duke-Loyola MD and UNC-Nevada?
  • 12:00 PM: Michigan State (9-2) @ Minnesota (12-0): Best game of the day as Minnesota heads into Big Ten play against a tough Michigan State team that seems to be hitting their stride. I'm not sure if Minnesota will be able to handle the athleticism of the Spartans. I know Tubby Smith has these kids playing hard, especially at the defensive end, but I think MSU gets it done on the road.
  • 12:00 PM: Northwestern (11-2) @ Penn State (8-2): How is this game on ESPN instead on MSU-Minnesota?
  • 2:00 PM: Wisconsin (9-3) @ Michigan (10-2): Another great Big Ten match-up (there are going to be a lot of those this year). Should be fun to see the two best system coaches in America go head to head. I like Wisconsin in this one. Those guys are too disciplined defensively to get burned by back doors and open three's.
  • 2:00 PM: Pitt (12-0) @ Rutgers (9-4)
  • 2:30 PM: Louisiana-Lafayette (4-7) @ LSU (10-1)
  • 3:05 PM: Evansville (9-2, 1-0 MVC) @ Illinois State (12-0, 1-0 MVC): The two early favorites in the MVC square off.
  • 4:00 PM: Loyola MD (4-8) @ Duke (10-1)
  • 4:00 PM: Iowa (10-3) @ Ohio State (9-1)
  • 4:00 PM: Texas A&M (11-1) @ Rice (5-7)
  • 5:00 PM: Jackson State (1-10) @ Baylor (11-1)
  • 6:00 PM: UNLV (11-2) @ Louisville (8-2): If Louisville plays like they did against UAB, they shouldn't have a problem with the Runnin' Rebels. If they play like they did against Western Kentucky, they could lose by 25.
  • 6:00 PM: Robert Morris (6-6) @ Xavier (9-2)
  • 8:00 PM: Gonzaga (8-3) @ Utah (7-5)
  • 10:00 PM: UNC (12-0) @ Nevada (7-5)
And since we will not be here tomorrow morning (I doubt many of you will be either), here is a look at what's on tap New Year's Day.
  • 2:30 PM: Villanova (12-1) @ Marquette (11-2): Two of the better back courts in the Big East go head to head. I don't see how Villanova's guards are going to be able to hand the size, strength, and quickness of Jerel McNeal and Wesley Matthews.
  • 4:00 PM: Stephen F. Austin (7-3) @ Texas Tech (9-4): Both of these teams score a lot of points.
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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tuesday Lay-up Lines

The best game of the night comes in the Big Ten as Illinois heads to West Lafayette to take on Purdue. The Boilermakers were considered, along with Michigan State, be the preseason favorite in the conference, but few teams have played as well as the Illini have this year. Illinois is 12-1 coming into this game, and while they haven't played the toughest schedule in the world, they are coming off a recent beatdown of Missouri in St. Louis. The key to this game for Illinois will be to handle Purdue's defense, which is arguably the best in the country (well, at least the most efficient, holding opponent's to .79 points per possession). The Illini have a very balanced team, with a solid backcourt anchored by the underrated Chester Frazier and a good front line (featuring Mike Davis and 7'1" Mike Tisdale). Purdue is beat up right now (Chris Kramer has missed the last game and a half with a sprained foot, Nemanja Calasan has played just 12 minutes in the last two games because of a sore knee, and Robbie Hummel has a bad back), so if the Illini can limit their turnovers and take good shots, they have a shot at knocking off Purdue.

The rest of the night's action:

  • 1:00 PM: Stetson (5-4) @ Florida (10-2)
  • 7:00 PM: Radford (4-8) @ Wake Forest (11-0)
  • 7:00 PM: Seton Hall (9-3) @ Syracuse (12-1)
  • 7:00 PM: Clemson (12-0) @ South Carolina (9-1)
  • 7:00 PM: UAB (8-4) @ Butler (10-1)
  • 7:00 PM: George Mason (8-2) @ Dayton (11-1)
  • 8:00 PM: Centenary (2-11) @ Missouri (10-2)
  • 8:05 PM: Oklahoma (12-0) @ Arkansas (8-1)
  • 8:05 PM: BYU (10-1) @ Tulsa (8-4)
  • 9:00 PM: Albany (8-4) @ Kansas (8-3)
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Why Are Freshman Playing Like Freshman This Season?

Who is the best freshman in the country? Last year, that conversation included guys like Derrick Rose and Michael Beasley and Kevin Love. All three of them were not only all-americans, but were also in the discussion for national player of the year at different points in the season.

This year, we are looking at guys like Greg Monroe and Samardo Samuels and Sylvan Landesberg. All excellent players with great careers ahead of them, but none of them look destined to even make first team all-conference.

College basketball fans have been spoiled the last two years. Freshman, by definition, are not supposed to carry a team. They could be the difference makers in the sense that you bring in a guy to fill a role you are missing. But freshman aren't supposed to be your team. Ohio State reached the finals in 2007 because they had freshmen Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., and Daequan Cook to carry them. Last year, Derrick Rose was the best player on a Memphis team that reached the finals and won an NCAA record 38 games. Beasley, OJ Mayo, Kevin Durant, Chase Budinger, Jerryd Bayless, Eric Gordon (I could go on). These guys came in and from day one, they were the go-to guys for NCAA tournament teams.

That isn't happening this year. So it begs the question - why?

More than anything, I think this is just one of those years where the freshman class isn't that good. It really is as simple as that. The last two years, the freshman coming in were essentially complete players, meaning that they had the athleticism and "high-ceiling" that make scouts salivate, but they also had advanced offensive games.

A guy like Demar Derozan is a perfect example. When you think about the physical tools you want out of a small forward, Derozan has it all. 6'7" and long. Ridiculous hops. Speed. Quickness. All of it. But he just doesn't have a feel for how to use his god-given talent. His jump shot needs work, his handle is suspect, and he just does not understand (yet) how to play the game or how to score.

But don't get to accustomed to freshman being role players thanks to the rule requiring high school kids to spend a year in college before heading to the league (or forcing them to pull a Brandon Jennings). Yes, the last two classes of freshman have been stacked, but take a look at 2004's class. Dwight Howard, Shaun Livingston, Al Jefferson, Josh Smith, and Sebastian Telfair all were top 10 recruits that went straight to the NBA Draft. Tell me those guys would not have lit up scoreboards at the collegiate level.

2005 saw Gerald Green, Monta Ellis, Andray Blatche, Louis Williams, Andrew Bynum, and Martell Webster skip college. Again, another group that could have dominated the college level.

Lebron James 20.9 ppg, 5.5 rpg, and 4.2 apg as a rookie in the NBA. Imagine the numbers he would have put up had he gone to college. I don't think saying he could have averaged 35 is even an exaggeration.

The bottom line is that as long as the best high schoolers in the country are going to be forced spend a year on campus, there are going to be season's where they come in and dominate. And there are also going to be season's where the freshman aren't ready to compete at this level. It just so happens that the last two years have been the two ends of the spectrum. It may be a while until you see a class as good as last year's, and it may also take some time until you see a class that has as few guys ready to dominate on this level.
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Tuesday Morning Shootaround

The biggest game of this night saw UConn get knocked off at home by Georgetown 74-63. The Hoyas pounced all over the Huskies from the tip, jumping out to a 15-1 lead. UConn got as close as three in the second half, but the Hoyas responded by pushing the lead back to double digits.

Georgetown, a team known for its defensive prowess, won this game because of their offense. The Huskies, a pretty good defensive team in their own right, just could not get a stop against the Hoyas down the stretch. None of what the Hoyas did offensively was flashy, and it was actually very simple. The Hoyas were patient on the offensive end, running through their offense, taking time off the clock, until the Huskies had a break down on defense. The Hoyas would then attack (be it off the dribble, finding a back-door cutter, taking an open jump shot), and they either scored or drew a foul and hit their free throws (18-19 in the second half).

When it comes down to it, Georgetown forced UConn to play their game. The Huskies are not a great team in the half court, especially on the offensive end. They don't have a lot of perimeter shooting and they don't have all that many guys that can create their own shots. UConn is successful when they get into a helter-skelter, almost play ground type game because their athletes can take over. The key to beating UConn is to control the tempo and the pace of the game, which the Hoyas did successfully by packing in their defense and by playing smart, patient basketball on the offensive end.

I think I have finally accepted the fact that Greg Monroe is not going to be an all-american ... yet. But that doesn't mean he isn't one helluva basketball player. He showed that he can do just about anything on a basketball court. Passing? How about the three gorgeous back doors he threw. Shooting? Yea, he knocked down two three's. Post moves? I can think of at least two times he got the ball on the block and scored over Hasheem Thabeet, with the second one being a sweeping lefty hook off the glass. Defense? He had a couple thunderous blocks (although I don't think either counted due to a foul call) and even ripped AJ Price in the middle of the court, leading to an and-one lay-up. The best part about Monroe is how well he fits in with the Hoya mentality. He doesn't need to get 20 and 10 every night. He is fine playing within the system and piling up wins.

I know that this is just one loss, but there were some serious red flags for UConn. How are they going to beat a zone? Who is going to be a leader? But the most worrisome is not what UConn did last night, it is how they did it. The Huskies never seemed ready to play. They showed no emotion and no toughness throughout the game. This is a not a team that is going to beat people based solely on talent, because they don't have that much of it. Jerome Dyson, Hasheem Thabeet, and Jeff Adrien, the Huskies three leading scorers, are all guys that need to outwork and out hustle people to be effective.

I don't want to make it sound like these guys didn't play hard and didn't want to win, because I genuinely believe they did. But hustle can only get you so far if you don't play tough. Two examples immediately come to mind. The first was Thabeet early in the first half. He held a seal on Monroe, caught a nice lob pass, kept the ball away from the help side defender, then went up and missed an open dunk. The second play was by Dyson, who had a rough night offensively (1-10 from the floor, 4 turnovers) all around. He managed to come up with a loose ball in between two Hoyas, which led to a break out. Dyson is a great athlete and loves to dunk on people, but instead of going up strong over Chris Wright, Dyson tried to get cute and missed a finger roll. Those two plays epitomized how the Huskies played.

I'll put like this: UConn was playing the Big East opener against one of their biggest rivals on national television at home with both teams ranked in the top 10. And they came out flat and played without emotion and excitement for most of the game. How is that possible?

The other game I got a chance to see was Memphis beat Cincinnati 60-45. Just a couple of thoughts from this game, as it was pretty unbearable to watch. This was a nice bounce back win for Memphis. Without a point guard, this is how the Tigers have to play to win. They need to dig in defensively (last night Cincinnati was 12-46 from the floor with 20 turnovers) and get easy baskets in transition and on second chance points.

Memphis really needs to stop shooting so many three's. They take 21 per game and make just under 28%. And that is before last night's 2-18 performance.

I wish Tyreke Evans was playing in a different system. He is being asked to do so much for the Tigers right now, and while he is definitely a talented player, he is being forced to play beyond what he is capable of. Last night is a perfect example - he finished with 14 points, 10 boards, 8 assists, 3 steals, and 2 blocks, but he also had 7 turnovers and was 6-15 from the floor.

The rest of last night's games:

  • Villanova 62, Temple 45: Temple would go up 32-24 early in the second half, but Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher combined to hit four three's in a 14-0 run that gave the Wildcats the lead for good. Temple wouldn't hit a field goal for over 11 minutes, and have now lost three straight after beating Tennessee. Fisher finished with 23 points, while Temple's Dionte Christmas had just 13 on a 3-18 night shooting.
  • Arizona State 84, Central Ct State 47: The Sun Devils were 32-49 from the floor (66%).
  • Tennessee 89, Louisiana-Lafayette 62: Wayne Chism had 18 and 15, but had to be taken off the court on a stretcher after landing hard on his back with five minutes left. He had movement in his arms, fingers, and toes and never lost consciousness. According to Bruce Pearl, it was a stinger and Chism should be OK.
  • Baylor 79, Portland State 66: LaceDarius Dunn led the Bears with 22 and 6 boards as they held Jeremiah Dominguez (who went for 25 against Gonzaga) to just two points.
  • Michigan 77, North Carolina Central 57: Manny Harris led the Wolverines with 29, 16, and 7 dimes. Michigan, who has beaten both Duke and UCLA, has struggled a bit this year against teams like NCC and Savannah State.
  • Kentucky 82, Central Michigan 54: UK was down 13-4 early, but used a 38-10 run to close the first half. Jodie Meeks led the Wildcats with 23.
  • Davidson 79, College of Charleston 75: The Wildcats were up 77-65 with four minutes left, but had to hold off a late surge by Charleston, who cut the lead to two with under a minute left. Steph Curry had 29, 9 assists, 7 boards, and 3 steals, but had to overcome another sub par shooting night. He was 11-25 from the floor and 2-9 from deep. Davidson has now won 38 straight Southern Conference games.
  • Chicago State 98, Campbell 89: CSU's David Holston finished with 40 points and 10 assists.
  • Boston College 84, San Francisco 62: Joe Trapani led the Eagles with 22 and 11 boards.
  • NC State 62, Loyola MD 60: Ben McCauley had 16 and 11 as the Wolfpack held off Loyola late.
  • Cornell 89, Boston University 59
  • Arizona 71, Weber State 65: The Wildcats won despite not playing with Jordan Hill (lower leg injury from practice this week). Nic Wise had a career high 23 while Chase Budinger added 16, 12 boards, and 6 dimes.
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Monday, December 29, 2008

Gus Johnson Remix

If you read this blog, then you know how much we enjoy Gus Johnson as an announcer. The guy is awesome. And here is an awesome youtube video of Johnson's greatest calls.

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Monday Lay-up Lines

Clearly, the game of the night is the first Big East conference game of the season as Georgetown heads to Hartford to take on UConn. Georgetown's bigs pose all sorts of problems for the Huskies. As Gonzaga proved, UConn is going to have the most trouble against a team that has post players that can play on the perimeter. Both Greg Monroe and DaJuan Summers can do that. It is going to be so important for Hasheem Thabeet to stay out of foul trouble when he is guarding (most likely) Monroe. With Stanley Robinson back, the Huskies have the personal to go smaller (putting Sticks at the four) to match-up with Georgetown, but I doubt that they will do that - it would take away from their advantage in the paint.

I would expect the Hoyas to come out in a zone, which means that two things. The most important is whether or not Georgetown will be able to keep UConn off of the offensive glass. It was a problem against Memphis, another team the Hoyas went zone against. It also means that UConn is going to have to be aggressive on the perimeter. The Huskies always seem to get bogged down against a zone, but if they want to win they need to move the ball around to get the zone moving, and then attack gaps from the perimeter. AJ Price's penetration against the Gonzaga zone is what brought UConn back.

There are some other good games on tonight as well:

  • 7:00 PM: Central Michigan (3-8) @ Kentucky (10-3)
  • 7:00 PM: North Carolina Central (0-14) @ Michigan (9-2)
  • 7:00 PM: Temple (5-5) @ Villanova (11-1): Temple has a win over Tennessee, but has otherwise been a bit disappointing this year. Villanova is ranked in the top 25, but has yet to really play like a top 25 team.
  • 7:00 PM: Boston University @ Cornell: Two of the better low-majors teams. Cornell is almost back to a full roster as their all-everything PG Louis Dale finally seems to be back to 100%.
  • 7:30 PM: Louisiana-Lafeyette (4-6) @ Tennessee (8-2)
  • 8:00 PM: Portland State (10-3) @ Baylor (10-1)
  • 8:30 PM: Weber State (6-6) @ Arizona (8-3)
  • 9:00 PM: Central Connecticut (5-5) @ Arizona State (10-1)
  • 9:00 PM: Cincinnati (10-2) @ Memphis (7-3): Memphis has struggled this year and could really use a win over a decent Cincinnati team. The Bearcats are 10-2 and talented, but still are looking for a marquee win on their resume. A win over the Tigers in Memphis would put Cinci in great position heading into Big East play.
  • 9:00 PM: Davidson (8-2) @ Charleston (10-1): Charleston might be the team to overtake Davidson atop the Southern Conference.
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BIAH Season Update: Top 25

1. UNC (12-0): The Tar Heels have come down to earth a little bit in their last few games, but I still think they might be the best team I have ever seen play. They have won all 12 of their games by double digits.

2. UConn (11-0): After UNC, there really is not all that much of a difference between #2 and #10, and #10 and #30. UConn looks to be the best of the bunch. They have a tough front line with Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien, and a great back court led by AJ Price and Jerome Dyson. The guy that could make the difference for this team is Stanley Robinson, who rejoined the team two weeks ago. He adds an element to their perimeter that not many teams in the country have. He is 6'9" and a great athlete. He can rebound and block shots (which is sure to help UConn inside, where they have not been as dominant as expected) but he can also get out and guard any position 1-3. And he has range beyond the three-point line. He makes UConn that much bigger along their front line, but allows them to play much smaller when needed (by putting him at the four).

3. Pitt (12-0): The Panthers are still largely untested, but if you look at some of their wins, they are more impressive than you think. They won the Legends Classic in New Jersey by beating Texas Tech (a run-and-gun team that scored 167 points in a game this year) and Washington State (a grind-it-out team that sometimes does not reach 167 points in three games) on back-to-back nights. They also beat a good Siena team and own a win at Florida State. I really like the decision to put Sam Young on the perimeter. Not only is he the team's best perimeter shooter, he is a good enough defender that he can guard most perimeter players. More importantly it helps Pitt get bigger on their front line (Tyrell Biggs and DeJuam Blair are both about 6'7"). The x-factor for this team is going to be Jermaine Dixon. Already considered one of the best perimeter defenders, if he can turn into a legitimate scoring threat, it takes that much more pressure off Young, Blair and Levance Fields. Pitt is not going to blow a lot of teams out this year, mainly because their offense is not that good (Jamie Dixon has Pitt getting out on the break more than ever because of their struggles in the half court). They are going to try and score around 65 and bank on the fact that their defense will hold you under 60.

4. Oklahoma (12-0): If you put the Griffin brothers on the floor with the Jonas brothers, you have a top 25 team. Combined, they are averaging 33.6 ppg and 21.5 rpg. The question has been can Oklahoma get enough out of their perimeter guys that it forces teams to go 1-on-1 against Blake in the post. Thus far, the results have been mixed. Willie Warren has been inconsistent (20 vs. Davidson, 6 vs. UAB, 22 vs. Purdue, 5 vs. USC). A side note on Warren - it has been widely reported that he is trying to defer to Blake Griffin and the other upper-classmen. If Oklahoma wants to be a Final Four team, they need Warren to be a bit more selfish when it comes to attacking the rim and scoring. Tony Crocker, expected to be the team's best shooter, is down to 31% on 3's from 42% as a sophomore. Cade Davis is shooting 9-34 from deep his last seven games. Austin Johnson is the only guy playing above expectations - 7.8 ppg, 4.4 apg (3:1 a-t/o), 1.8 spg, 46% from the floor (31% 3's). That said, Oklahoma is 12-0 with some really good wins. If Crocker and Davis can play up to their potential and Warren can become more consistent, then Oklahoma can legitimately be considered a national title contender.

5. Wake Forest(11-0): I knew Wake was going to be good this year, but they are better than I ever thought they could be. I love Jeff Teague. He is the best guard in the ACC not named Lawson. Their front line is arguably the best in the ACC. James Johnson and Al-Farouq Aminu are both incredibly athletic and versatile, but they also have a couple of talented 7-footers in Chas McFarland and Tony Woods. I really like Johnson's game. He can post up smaller defenders, but he will take a bigger defender away from the basket and hit a jumper or put it on the floor and go by them. The key to this team is going to be the guys that join Teague in the back court - Harvey Hale and LD Williams. While their games are polar opposites (Hale is a sharp-shooter while LD Williams is an athlete and a defense/hustle guy), they both provide an element that Wake is lacking on their perimeter otherwise. In my opinion, Wake has surpassed Duke as the second best team in the ACC.

6. Texas (10-2): I am really high on this Texas team right now. Everyone knows about AJ Abrams. He may have the quickest release in the country, and if he gets a clean look with his feet set, he is literally automatic. He has also developed into a guy that can score off the bounce, and although he isn't going to take it all the way to the rim, he will tear drop you to death. Their front line is as big and deep as anyone in the country. Damion James and Connor Atchley have both played well, but the big surprises have been the lesser known guys. Dexter Pittman is going to be a beast once he gets into shape (right now, he is averaging 8.6 ppg and 4.0 rpg in 12 mpg, which adds up to 28 and 13 per 40 minutes). Gary Johnson could start for just about any other team in the country. Clint Chapman has not put up the numbers, but in his limited minutes he has been really active. But the biggest reason I like Texas so much is Justin Mason. He guards the best player on the other team (and does a heckuva job - he might be the best perimeter defender in the Big XII) and is their glue guy, but he is also running the point this year. He is a much improved offensive player. You have to respect his jumper, but he is athletic enough to get into the lane just about whenever he wants (be it to score or to pass). They just lost a tough one to Michigan State, but (as you will see), I am pretty high on the Spartans as well.

7. Duke (10-1): More than anyone in the country, Duke is the team that I am having trouble pinpointing. Yes, they have a lot of talent. Yes, they have some (very) impressive wins over Purdue and Xavier. But I just cannot help but feel like this is the exact same team as last year (which, for the most part, it is). Basically, Duke is a group of role players, albeit very good ones. Like I've been saying all year, I think they need either Jon Scheyer or Gerald Henderson to step up and be a go-to scorer (Singler, as talented as he is, is not a guy that you can rely on to create his own shot). Scheyer has been in the last four games, averaging 18 in that span. He has the ability to create from the perimeter, either to score or to pass. The question with him has always been that he is too good of a teammate at times, opting to fit into the offense instead of becoming a big-time scorer. One thing Duke is doing very well this year is pressuring the ball defensively. They get out and guard you man-to-man (a lot of times in the full-court), forcing you to start your offense a long way from the basket.

8. Michigan State (9-2): Goran Suton and Delvon Roe seem to finally be close to 100%, which means that Michigan State is getting close to 100% as a team. Getting Suton back is especially important to MSU. He is a tough guy that will go out and set some screens and get some offensive rebounds. He has a knack for getting open, either rolling/cutting to the basket or by finding a soft spot in the zone. Once he gets the ball within about seven feet he is such a good finisher. In return, it gives the Spartan guards another option when they penetrate. Right now, the biggest thing is going to be getting Raymar Morgan to play more consistently. He has five games of 20+, five games in single digits, and just one game where he scored in between 10-19 points. But the Spartans proved how good they can be when they beat Texas in a road game neutral site game in Houston where Morgan took just three shots. Once this team gets into a rhythm, they are going to be scary.

9. Syracuse (12-1): The Eric Devendorf fiasco is finally over as he will be reinstated before the Seton Hall game, so now the Orange can get back to business. In terms of talent, Syracuse looks to be one of the best in the country, especially if Rick Jackson continues his emergence as a second option inside. The question with the Orange is focus. Too many times this season they have started out a game slow, only to come from way back to win. It burned them against Cleveland State. I'm going to give the Orange the benefit of the doubt, hoping that conference season will help them focus better at the start of games. But if you can't get fired up playing Kansas in Kansas City or Memphis at Memphis (both on national TV), then how are you going to get motivated when you play Seton Hall at home?

10. Gonzaga (8-3): Wait, wait, wait. Am I really going to put an 8-3 team from the WCC into my top 10? Yes, I am. Losing to Arizona on the road and UConn at home in OT (when three of your starters foul out) are not necessarily bad losses. Losing to Portland State two days after the UConn loss and two days before Christmas is inexcusable, but still understandable. I see a similar issue with this team that I do with Duke. Who is their go-to guy? It needs to be Jeremy Pargo, but is he going to be up to the task? He disappeared down the stretch against UConn when they really needed someone to step up and get them a big hoop. But, like I said, this Gonzaga team just has too much size, versatility, talent, and balance to actually be this bad.

11. Notre Dame (9-2): I haven't been all that impressed with Notre Dame, but they have a pretty impressive resume. They hold a win over Texas in the Maui Invitational, and their only two losses are to UNC and Ohio State, neither of which could really be considered "bad" losses. The biggest issue for the Irish right now is that they need to get Kyle McAlarney and Luke Harangody back on the same page. In the three games the big fella missed due to pneumonia, K-Mac was 26-48 from deep and averaged 32.7 ppg. In the last four, he is just 10-27 from deep and averaging 11 ppg.

12. UCLA (10-2): This Bruins team is still very young, but they look like they are probably the class of the Pac-10. Jrue Holiday has been as good as advertised, but the rest of this freshman class has been a bit underwhelming. The Bruins still need someone to step up in the post to go along side Alfred Aboya, but neither J'Mison Morgan or Drew Gordan has been up to the task this season. The Bruins got a boost when Josh Shipp returned from his thumb injury, but him missing two games may have actually benefited UCLA. In his absence, Micheal Roll found his shooting stroke, averaging 20.5 ppg and shooting 9-12 from distance.

13. Baylor (9-1): A bit of a bold statement putting the Bears this high, especially since they have been somewhat inconsistent thus far. But they do own a win over Arizona State and their only loss is to Wake. If possible, the Baylor back court has been better than expected. They are all averaging at least 10.9 ppg, led by Curtis Jerrells at 17.2 ppg, 4.6 rpg, and 6.3 apg. The one thing that needs to happen is Kevin Rogers must start to play better. He is currently averaging just 10.7 ppg and 7.1 rpg, his lowest totals since he was a freshman. The Big XII's top teams have great interior play, and in order for Baylor to be considered in that group (with a #13 ranking, I am putting them in that conversation), Rogers must be tougher inside.

14. Arizona State (9-1): By now you should know about James Harden. He has been as good as anyone in the country this season averaging 23.6 ppg, 6.3 rpg, and 4.2 apg. Jeff Pendergraph is still his same old self, averaging 12.6 ppg and 7.4 rpg. But one of the biggest reasons that the Sun Devils will be challenging UCLA for the Pac-10 crown is the play of Ty Abbott and Rihards Kuksiks. Abbott has been a solid #3 scoring option again this season, although his shooting numbers are a bit down. Kuksiks, on the other hand, has picked up right where he left off last season. He averaged 10 ppg over the last nine games for the Sun Devils, and this season he is averaging 10.7 ppg while shooting 50% (32-64) from deep. If Abbott and Kuksiks continue to be threats from the wing, it will open up much more space for Pendergraph and Harden to work.

15. Georgetown (9-1): I'm still not sure what to make of this Georgetown team. Their only win of significance is against Memphis (a win that is looking less and less impressive). I think I am finally able to accept that Greg Monroe is not going to be a superstar just yet. What he is going to be right now is a solid player that will fit into the Georgetown system, provide match-up problems on the offensive end, and can make plays defensively. I have been impressed, however, with the play of point guard Chris Wright, who is showing everybody why he was a Mickey D's all-american in high school. We will know who Georgetown is after their next seven games: @ UConn, Pitt, @ Notre Dame, Providence, Syracuse, @ Duke, West Virginia.

16. Purdue (9-2): I think people over hyped Purdue in the pre-season. As good as these guys are, they still basically rely on the play of three sophomores - Robbie Hummel, E'Twaun Moore, and JaJuan Johnson. They are an excellent defensive team, holding their opponents to 56 ppg and 35% shooting. A big boost for the Boilermakers has been the play of big man Nemanja Calasan. Johnson is good inside, but his slender frame keeps him from really being able to bang on the block. Calasan, who stands 6'9" and 250 lb, gives Purdue some muscle on the interior. Right now, the most important thing for Purdue is to get Keaton Grant to start playing at the same level he did last season. His scoring (11.2 ppg to 7.8 ppg) and shooting (44% from deep to 31% from deep) are both way down this year.

17. Ohio State (9-1): Getting blown out by West Virginia at home did not look good, but I still think the Buckeyes are the third best team in the Big Ten. BJ Mullens has been a bit of a flop thus far, but Thad Matta should be ecstatic with the play of Evan Turner. Turner had a fairly promising freshman campaign, but has come on strong as a sophomore, averaging a team high 16.2 ppg to go along with 7.2 rpg. He is a slasher, and at 6'7", he is long and athletic, which makes him some what of a match-up nightmare. Ohio State will miss David Lighty, who is out for about another month with a broken foot. The biggest thing they need to do is come out focused. In the loss to the Mountaineers, they had no energy and could never seem to get into a rhythm on either side of the ball.

18. Louisville (9-2): I really want to move Louisville up this list after their win over UAB, but I am still not convinced they are more than just an average team right now. Here is the thing with Louisville. They have a great front court with Samardo Samuels, Earl Clark, and Terrence Williams. The issue is their back court. Can they knock down shots? Jerry Smith and Preston Knowles, both shooting well over 40% from deep, have been of late. The key to this team is what kind of three's are they going to be taking, because 11 games into the season it is obvious they are going to rely heavily on the three-ball. If they are taking open looks off of a kick out, be it from penetration, a post touch, or an offensive rebound, they are going to knock down a good percentage. They struggle when they force three's early in a possession, off the dribble, or after just swinging the ball around the perimeter.

19. West Virginia (10-2): I have been saying this for a while, but the Mountaineers are one of the more underrated teams in the country right now. Yes, they are going to be missing Joe Mazzulla for a while with his shoulder injury, but Truck Bryant has filled in very handily, averaging 11.3 ppg. WVU is very long and very athletic, at times fielding a team where Da'Sean Butler (6'6"), Alex Ruoff (6'6"), and Devin Ebanks (6'9") are all playing on the perimeter. That length and athleticism allows Huggy Bear's squad to do two things very well - defend and hit the offensive glass. They are not the best shooting team in the world, but when they can get easy baskets in transition and off of o-boards, they are a really dangerous team.

20. Minnesota (12-0): I am still not really sure what to make of this Minnesota team. Are they for real? A convincing win over Louisville on a neutral court says that they are. The Gophers have been successful because of their balance. They have eight guys that average between 5.8 ppg and 13 ppg, 11 guys averaging double digits in minutes played, and had eight different guys start. The are solid defensively and play together on the offensive end (assists on more than two-thirds of their field goals). We get to see who they really are this week and they host both Michigan State and Ohio State.

21. Clemson (12-0): For the last four seasons, Clemson has come storming out of the gates to win at least their first ten games. So seeing Clemson sitting at 12-0 is not a surprise. But is this Tiger team going to fall off come ACC play? The loss of Cliff Hammonds has been nullified thanks to the play of Demontez Stitt. KC Rivers is scoring in bunches, Trevor Booker has been a double double machine, and the Tigers are still pressing you all over the court. With Virginia Tech and Miami fading, I think the Tigers will be in a battle with Florida State for that fourth spot in the ACC.

22. Tennessee (8-2): Tennessee is the best team in the SEC this year, but the SEC is way down. I just see the Vols as way too inconsistent. They have beaten Marquette, but were blown out by Temple and struggled to hold off an under manned Belmont team. I know Bruce Pearl is trying to run his system, but at some point you need to realize that your team is what it is. They have a lot of fantastic athletes that should be trying to get to the rim and finish instead of settling for tough three's. The two x-factors on this team are Wayne Chism and Bobby Maze. Maze is the only point guard on the roster that is eligible, and the Vols need him to be a creator. Wayne Chism can be very good when he wants to be (see his 26 and 11 against Marquette), but he also has a tendency to disappear on the offensive end.

23. Michigan (9-2): By now, you should know about John Beilein's system, and how it has been so effective for Michigan. You should also know about Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims. Both have been playing factastic basketball for the Woverines this year, averaging a combined 36.2 ppg. The guy that is going to make the difference for this team is Laval Lucas-Perry, a 6'3" scorer that is going to be so effective playing in Beilein's system because he can shoot it.

24. Florida State (12-2): I really like this Seminoles team, who already have wins over Cal, Cincinnati, and Florida. They have a ton of long, athletic big guys that they can run at you. The best of the bunch is probably freshman Chris Singleton, who has been a bit inconsistent but is averaging 10 ppg. They still have Toney Douglas, who is one of the best scorers in the ACC. But the biggest reason I see Florida State making a run to the tourney is that Derwin Kitchen is now eligible. By no means do I think Kitchen ends up being an all-ACC guy, but he provides some much needed back court relief for Douglas because he is able to penetrate and create on his own.

25. Butler (10-1): The Bulldogs lost so much to graduation (namely AJ Graves and Mike Green), everyone kind of expected them to blend in with the rest of the Horizon League this year. But Brad Stevens has taken this team, which starts three freshman and a sophomore, and pushed back into the national picture after a three-point road loss to Ohio State and a road win over Xavier. Matt Howard is the Bulldogs leading scorer and rebounder at 13.4 ppg and 7.5 rpg, but two freshman (Gordan Hayward and Shelvin Mack) have really stepped up and been impressive.

Notable Absences: Memphis, Xavier, Villanova, Marquette
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College Basketball Week in Review: Where Have All The Freshman Gone?

What We Learned This Week: Even D1 hoopers get a Christmas break. A pretty slow week for college basketball as Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday saw a grand total on one game.

We also learned that this year, unlike the past two, freshman are, in fact, freshman again. It has been a recurring theme this season, but Saturday really reinforced it to me. Did anyone happen to see the West Virginia-Ohio State game? BJ Mullens was coming off his best game as a collegian, going for 19, 8 boards, and 3 blocks while playing over 20 minutes for the first time in his career.

Well, Saturday was a much different story. Mullens missed a dunk on the first play of the game, and it was all downhill from there. He was just 1-5 from the floor, finishing with 4 points, 3 boards, and 4 fouls. Mullens showed flashes of what he could become. On one possession it was sealing Wellington Smith for a lob entry pass and finishing on the other side of the rim with a one handed dunk. On the other end he blocked a couple shots and changed a couple more. But overall, Mullens was largely irrelevant in a game that featured one other player taller than 6'8".

Isn't this what freshman are supposed to be? Role players that fill in holes, with the idea that in a year or two they could become a star? I'm going to take a deeper look at this later in the week.

Texas 74, Wisconsin 69
Texas hung on against a scrappy Wisconsin team to avoid losing to their second straight Big Ten foe. Neither team could pull away in the second half (the biggest lead came when Wisconsin was up 60-56 with 9:07 left), which set up an exciting ending. Jason Bohannon hit a three that put Wisconsin up 67-66 with three minutes left. Wisconsin then forced a Damion James turnover, but on the ensuing possession, Dogus Balbay made a steal and got a lay-up out of it, and James followed that up with a short jumper in the lane. Marcus Landry scored to cut the lead back to one with 1:23 left, but James grabbed an offensive rebound on an Abram's miss. The Longhorns ran the clock down, and Gary Johnson banked in a 20-footer to give Texas a three-point lead with 23.5 seconds left. James blocked a Trevon Hughes lay-up and was fouled, hitting both free throws to seal the win.

This is a huge loss for Wisconsin, as they now head into conference play without a signature win. Sure, the Big Ten is better than in recent years, meaning the Badgers will have plenty of chances to knock off big name opponents. But they are going to have their work cut out for them. Right now, they are probably the sixth or seventh best team in a league that should not get more than five, maybe six bids. That said, I will never bet against a Bo Ryan team, no matter how down they look.

Jeremiah Dominguez, Portland State
The diminutive (5'6") point guard caught fire as he led the Vikings to a 77-70 victory at Gonzaga. Dominguez finished with 25 points, 6 boards, and 5 assists, also hitting on 7-10 three's. It was a performance all the more impressive considering the problems Portland State had getting to the game. Due to a snowstorm in the Northwest, the Vikings bussed to Seattle, stayed over night there, then bussed to Spokane the morning of the game, getting there too late to hold a shoot-around.

This was a huge victory for an improving Portland State team. Not only is it their first win over a ranked team since they reinstated the basketball team in 1996, the win came against a Gonzaga team that people in Washington follow very closely. Combine that with their one point loss to Washington earlier in the year, and the Vikings might have a bit of an easier time recruiting in Washington and the rest of the Northwest (an area proving to be one of the more fertile for high school basketball).

West Virginia
The Mountaineers really made a statement in their win against Ohio State. Yes, the Buckeyes were missing David Lighty, arguably their most valuable player, but the Mountaineers still dominated a good basketball team. What impressed me the most was that they did it without dominating the offensive glass. West Virginia isn't a great offensive team by any stretch of the imagination, even with Joe Mazzulla in the line-up. What they rely on is forcing turnovers and getting easy baskets, or crashing the offensive glass and getting easy baskets. They didn't really do either against the Buckeyes. Instead, it was just tough, solid defense, forcing OSU to miss shots on the defensive end and great ball movement against a zone on offense, especially in the second half when they made their run.

The amazing part about this performance by West Virginia is that they didn't play all that great. Alex Ruoff was just 6-15 from the field, Da'Sean Butler scored 14 in the first half, but sat out for 10 minutes in the second half with four fouls. Mazzulla missed the game and may be out for the year. And despite all that, West Virginia shot 47.7% from the field and only turned the ball over seven times. I'm really starting to take a liking to back up PG Truck Bryant. Bryant reminds me a lot of Levance Fields as a freshman - a strong, thick, tough NYC point guard that can power his way into the lane and finish amongst the trees.

The Mountaineers also blew out Radford this week, 89-54, on the strength of 38 points from Alex Ruoff.

12/29 - Georgetown @ UConn: UConn struggled dealing with Gonzaga's bigs on the perimeter. How will they handles DaJuan Summers and Greg Monroe.

12/30 - Illinois @ Purdue: Are the Illini for real this year? A win at Purdue, and that 12-1 record looks a little more legitimate.

12/31 - Michigan State @ Minnesota: One of the best games on the year in the Big Ten.

12/31 - UNLV @ Louisville: After stomping on UAB, the Cardinals look to keep their momentum going as they host the Runnin' Rebels.

1/1 - Villanova @ Marquette: You think any of these guys want their Big East opener to happen on New Years Day?

1/2 - Arizona State @ Stanford: Stanford lost Team Lopez and coach Trent Edwards Johnson (Ed. Note: Troy Machir, ladies and gentlemen), but they still have started off the year undefeated.

1/3 - Pitt @ Georgetown: Georgetown starts off conference season with UConn, Pitt, Notre Dame, Providence, and Syracuse. Yup, that's the Big East.

1/3 - Ohio State @ Minnesota: Did anyone think that this match-up would be between two of the favorites for the Big Ten title?

1/3 - Tennessee @ Kansas: If Tennessee loses this game, then in all likelihood there will not be any SEC teams ranked in the top 25. The SEC in basketball is the opposite of the league in football.

1/4 - Kentucky @ Louisville: How do you define rivalry?
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Monday Morning Shootaround

Some good basketball was played on Sunday, including the first round of games in the MVC. Only five ranked teams took the floor, however, with each of them winning their games:

  • UNC 97, Rutgers 75: Hansbrough finished with 26 and 10 in the rout. Lawson added 19 and 6 dimes without a turnover.
  • UCLA 78, Louisiana Tech 55: Josh Shipp returned from a sprained thumb to score 16 points and Jrue Holiday added 12 and 10 boards as UCLA cruised to their sixth straight win.
  • Purdue 59, Valpo 45: Playing without Chris Kramer, the Boilermakers got 14 from E'Twaun Moore, 9 and 14 from Robbie Hummel, and 9 points from Bobby Riddell, a former walk-on who started in Kramer's place.
  • Minnesota 82, High Point 56: The Gophers may be the ultimate "team". Five guys scored in double figures, they shot 53% from the floor (11-24 from deep), they had 24 assists on 32 field goals, and seven different guys had two or more assists while seven different guys had three or more rebounds.
  • Marquette 84, Presbyterian 45: Lazar Hayward had 22 and 11 in the rout.
The MVC had an exciting start to their regular season, as it once again looks like it will be one of the toughest conferences top-to-bottom in the country:
  • Indiana State 85, Northern Iowa 84 2OT: The Sycamores took a 17 point lead into halftime, but Northern Iowa came all the way back to tie it on a Travis Brown three with 1 second left in regulation. ISU was again ahead in the first overtime, but a lay-up by Kwadzo Ahelegbe sent the game to another overtime. In the second OT, NIU got up four early, but Aaron Carter hit back-to-back threes, one of which was a four-point play, to give the Sycamores a lead they wouldn't reliquish. Harry Marshall led ISU with 23 points, while Ahelegbe had 28 for NIU.
  • Illinois State 72, Missouri State 69 OT: The Redbirds managed to stay undefeated with a come from behind win. Down 15 early in the second half, ISU went on a 22-2 run over the next 13 minutes. Missouri State was down three on their last possession of regulation, but Will Creekmore, who finished with 19 and 11, hit a three at the buzzer to force OT. The Redbirds built up a five point lead in the OT, but the Bears cut it to 61-60. After Spencer Laurie grabbed a defensive rebound, he was stripped and the ball ended up in Osiris Eldridge's hands, who threw down an and-one dunk to give ISU a four-point lead. The Redbirds hit their free throws down the stretch to seal it up.
  • Bradley 79, Southern Illinois 63: If Southern Illinois has an off game defensively, they are in trouble. See tonight, as Bradley shot 55% from the field and 7-13 from deep in the win.
  • Evansville 76, Drake 65: Jason Holsinger and Shy Ely (yes, that is his real name) both scored 16 points as the Aces knocked off the defending MVC champs. It looks like Evansville will be right up there with Illinois State and Creighton (see below) as the favorites to win the conference.
  • Creighton 68, Wichita State 56: You have to throw the Blue Jays into the conversation in the MVC as well as they improved to 11-2 with a win over a hot Shockers team. Booker Woodfox (the MVC is just full of awesome names) led the Blue Jays with 16 points.
The rest of the day's action:
  • Illinois 62, Eastern Michigan 53: Mike Tisdale led the Illini with 25.
  • Florida State 82, Western Kentucky 69: Toney Douglas had 27, 5 boards, and 5 dimes and Chris Singleton added 18 and 6 rebounds in the win.
  • USC 66, Oral Roberts 56: Another ho-hum win for the Trojans. Demar Derozan had 18.
  • Virginia 88, Georgia Tech 84 OT: Calvin Baker scored with 10 seconds left to give the Cavs the win. Gani Lawal had just tied it up five seconds earlier with a steal and a lay-up. Sylvan Landesberg had 26 on the night, while Gani Lawal led the Jackets with 21 and 9.
  • Florida 74, Winthrop 45: Is Winthrop really 1-10? The Gators led this one 53-11 at the half.
  • Siena 75, St. Joe's 74: Ryan Rossiter hit two free throws with 2.4 seconds left to give the Saints the win.
  • Alabama 66, Yale 63: Really? Yup.
  • Texas A&M 60, Sam Houston State 50
  • Stanford 111, Texas Tech 66: The Cardinal remain undefeated after beating Tech in a game that was never really close.
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Sunday, December 28, 2008

POSTERIZED: The Best Dunks from Non-Conference Season

You know, I sometimes wonder how people survived before the internet came about. Ok, maybe "survived" is the wrong term, but seriously, how did anything ever get accomplished? How did you find out the scores of games? How did anyone ever find some chinese food that delivers at 3 AM? How did a bet ever get settled? I think it is safe to say that if I had a Blackberry or an iPhone in college, my test scores and GPA probably would have been good enough that I wouldn't need to be bartending right now.

Back to the point, here is a perfect example. On Saturday, I was working as said bartender, and it was pretty much the slowest day ever. So, I sat at the bar with a couple of the other staff, and we watched Dan In Real Life, that movie with Steve Carell. I ended up getting in an argument about whether or not one of the cast members was Alanis Morrisette, and I eventually bet lunch on the fact that it was her. So my buddy whipped out his iPhone, did a quick google search, and we had our answer. No, it wasn't Alanis Morrisette (it was actually the lady that played Susan on Friends) and yes, steak and eggs were on me.

How would you go about settling a bet of this nature without the internet?

Another great example of why the internet is so awesome is youtube. Now I only use youtube for two things - too watch people make a fool out of themselves and to watch highlights.

One of the things I've noticed about this season is that there as been an unusual number of sick dunks in the early going. If you read this site, then you know how much I enjoy a huge dunk. So without further ado, here are some of the best dunks of the young season. As always, if there are any that I have missed, please post a link in the comments section.

Most of you should know by now that Arizona smacked Kansas by 17 at home on Tuesday. Some of you know that they did it with Chase Budinger going 1-9 from the floor. A few of you may know that Budinger's one field goal was this vicious one-handed alley-oop from Nic Wise.

Budinger with another big dunk, this time off the bounce and on some dude's head from Florida Atlantic.

Carlon Brown of Utah with a one-handed dunk on a fast break against Utah State. You don't think it sounds that impressive? Watch the video.

Justin Mason of Texas showing of some serious bounce.

Jeff Teague has had three monster dunks this year, although the third one didn't count. The first one is a Dunk of the Year candidate.

Not to be outdone, Teague's teammate James Johnson had a DOTY candidate as well.

Maurice Acker of Marquette was about a step away from being jumped over completely embarrassed by Chris Wright aka Flyght of Dayton. Look where Flyght catches the ball, and then think about the fact that he doesn't use a dribble getting to the rim.

Now here is a brief public service announcement from Blake Griffin.

Seriously though, no more comments about him. Just enjoy some ridiculous dunks (this season's dunks start at about the :43 mark). Question: is Griffin the best dunker in college basketball? Gotta be, right?

Gerald Henderson of Duke has had a couple nice dunks this year. Expect many more out of him.

Sick courtside video of Henderson's dunk on Southern Illinois.

Amhad Nivins of St. Joe's with a two-handed dunk on Corey Stokes of Villanova. If Stokes had stood in there, he would have gotten the charge.

But I still don't think any dunk this year has compared to the one Paul George put down during the tip-off marathon. Right now, the favorite for the DOTY.

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Saturday, December 27, 2008

Sunday Roundup

I got a chance to see three games yesterday, none of which were all too exciting. The day started with Washington State losing at LSU 64-52. The Tigers were down 47-40 with eight minutes to play, but finished the game on a 24-5 run, getting a lot of east buckets off of Cougar turnovers. LSU put the game away when Marcus Thornton hit a three, then on the next possession Bo Spencer made a steal and got an and-1 lay-up at the other end to put LSU up 60-52 with under two left. To be honest, I was not impressed by either team, especially Washington State. The Cougars, as always, as a tough defensive team, but they look lost and timid on the offensive end. I can't tell you how many bad passes were picked off by Tiger defenders (crazy stat of the day: LSU had 13 steals in the game, led by Garrett Temple with six, while Wazzu had exacty zero).

LSU looked a little bit better. Trent Edwards definitely has some talent to play with. Their starting five (Tasmin Mitchell, Garrett Temple, Bo Spencer, Chris Johnson, and Marcus Thornton) is not all that big, but they are quick, athletic, and they play hard. I'm not completely sold on them being a tournament team just yet - they don't have much depth - but they play in a very weak SEC, and if they can make a run through the league and finish somewhere in the neighborhood of 10-6, they are going to get a long look from the committee. Winning this game will only help their cause.

The second game that I got to see was Louisville knocking off UAB at home 82-62. This is the fourth time I've had a chance to see the Cardinals play, and this was probably their best performance. I know UAB has just six scholarship players (nine total), but they still have their big three of Robert Vaden, Lawrence Kinnard, and Paul Delaney. While it will be a mini-miracle if they reach the tourney, this is still a decent UAB team, and Louisville beat them by 20.

Pitino shook things up yesterday. He started freshman Jared Swopshire over Earl Clark and sophomore Preston Knowles over senior Andre McGee. He said it was because he wanted to make sure Swopshire and Knowles had experience playing big minutes in case a starter was in foul trouble, but more likely he was trying to send a message to his team. Louisville is a top 10 team in terms of talent, but they have not played up to their potential. Pitino has said before that Earl Clark is a great player in games, but not in practice, so what better way to send a wake up call than to revoke a starting role.

Regardless of why he was doing it, the move worked. Swopshire was really effective in his 14 minutes, finishing with 8 points and 4 boards. The same goes for Knowles, who had 8 points and 5 boards. Coming off the bench, Clark has 12, 4 boards, 3 assists, and 4 blocks while McGee finished with 13 and hit 3 three's.

The biggest reason for this Louisville victory was the play of Terrence Williams, who proved why he is one of the best all-around players in the Big East. Williams finished with 21, 10 boards, 7 dimes, and 3 blocks and hit 5-8 from deep. Williams has struggled a bit offensively this year, especially with his shooting. He still took some ill-advised shots yesterday, but since he forced the UAB defenders to respect his jump shot, it was much easier for him to get into the lane.

Louisville really shot the ball well yesterday, finishing 11-27 from deep. The Cardinals rely so much on the three-ball this year, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. Jerry Smith and Preston Knowles are both hitting well over 40% on their three's, while Terrence Williams and Andre McGee both are streaky, but have shown an ability to knock down two or three in a row. The question becomes how they get their three's. Louisville has a tendency to get lazy on offense, settling for contested three's after swinging the ball on the perimeter. They are much better, however, when they get the ball into the paint, whether via penetration or a post touch, and then kick it out to open shooters. The problem this year is that Samardo Samuels is no where near the passer that David Padgett was. But Samuels was effective getting rid of the ball when he got doubled yesterday, which opened up a lot of good looks for the Cardinal shooters. Samuels finished with 17 and 11 boards.

The last game I got to see yesterday was West Virginia at Ohio State, where the Mountaineers blew out the Buckeyes 76-48. OSU just never showed up. They looked listless the entire game, and just never got into a rhythm. They finished with only three assists on 18 field goals.

The game had a weird feeling to it. West Virginia never really seemed like they were playing all that well themselves. Alex Ruoff was just 6-15 from the field (17 points) and Da'Sean Butler finished with 16, but picked up his fourth foul with 14 minutes left up 45-36. The Mountaineers proceeded to make a huge run, outscoring OSU 31-8 over the next 13 minutes of play (the majority of which was done with Butler on the bench), eventually leading by as much as 32.

WVU did it with defense. They just simply did not allow Ohio State anything easy. OSU only turned the ball over 12 times, but they shot a miserable 31% from the field and 2-18 from deep. West Virginia, on the other hand, finished the game shooting 47% from the field. They shot 55% in the second half, and during the 31-8 run, it seemed like they were hitting everything. Like I said, it had a really weird feel to it. It wasn't like West Virginia was forcing turnovers and getting easy baskets. For that 13 minute span, all they did was get a stop, come down and score in their half court offense. On a side note, I couldn't tell if the Mountaineer offense looked so good because they were playing well or if it was because the Buckeyes were not playing any defense. West Virginia was moving the ball beautifully against the OSU zone, routinely getting wide open jumpers and easy lay-ups.

The bottom line is that West Virginia was just the tougher team yesterday. Huggins had his guys ready to play, especially on the defensive end, and Ohio State just did not have an answer.

The rest of the action from Saturday:

  • Miami FL 70, St. John's 56: Jack McClinton led the Hurricanes with 20 points, 6 boards, and 4 dimes and hit 5-7 from deep.
  • Kentucky 76, Florida Atlantic 69: Patrick Patterson had 27 and 14 as the Wildcats held off a pesky FAU team. The biggest stat of note for this game is that UK only had seven turnovers on the game.
  • UMass 64, IUPUI 57: Ricky Harris had 23, 7 boards, and 4 dimes and Tony Gaffney added 11, 11, 5 blocks, and 3 steals as the Minutemen won their fourth in a row.
  • Missouri 107, SIU-Edwardsville 57
  • Michigan State 82, Oakland 66
  • St. Mary's 87, San Jose State 78: The Gaels are now 11-1 and seem to be flying a bit under the radar. Patty Mills (19.7 ppg), Omar Samhan (14.9 ppg, 9.6 rpg) and Diamon Simpson (12.6 ppg, 12.1 rpg) are as good as anyone out west.
Sunday's games:
  • 2:00 PM: Presbyterian (5-7) @ Marquette (10-2)
  • 2:00 PM: Eastern Michigan (2-9) @ Illinois (11-1)
  • 3:00 PM: Louisiana Tech (6-6) @ UCLA (9-2)
  • 4:00 PM: Western Kentucky (7-3) @ Florida State (11-2)
  • 4:00 PM: Valparaiso (3-8) @ Purdue (10-2)
  • 5:30 PM: Virginia (5-4) @ Georgia Tech (7-3)
  • 6:00 PM: Iowa State (7-4) @ Houston (7-1)
  • 6:30 PM: Winthrop (1-9) @ Florida (9-2)
  • 7:00 PM: High Point (4-7) @ Minnesota (11-0)
  • 7:00 PM: Siena (6-4) @ St. Joe's (5-5)
  • 7:45 PM: Rutgers (9-3) @ North Carolina (11-0): Crazy fact of the day: Rutgers next three games are difficult, to say the least. They head to Chapel Hill today to play #1 UNC, host #3 Pitt on Wednesday, and then head up to Storrs to play #2 UConn on Saturday.
  • 10:00 PM: Texas Tech (9-3) @ Stanford (9-0)
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Saturday Roundup

Just one game on the books last night as UConn used a combined 41 points, 25 boards, and 8 blocks from Jeff Adrien and Hasheem Thabeet to beat Fairfield 75-55. Nothing too exciting.

On Saturday, there is a decent schedule of games to look forward too. The best of the day is probably at 4:00 when West Virginia heads to Columbus to take on the Buckeyes. Ohio State is playing a man down as David Lighty is out with a broken foot for at least another month. Regardless, it would be a huge win for the Mountaineers, who are still looking for a marquee win on their tournament resume (right now their best win is at Mississippi).

I like West Virginia in this one. Alex Ruoff (who is coming off of a 38 point performance against Radford) and Joe Mazzulla are back and healthy, which makes WVU such a better team offensively. The key will be the battle on the glass, specifically how well the Buckeyes keep the Mountaineers from getting second shots. Ohio State has not played all that difficult of a schedule, but is only out rebounding their opponent's by an average of 1.2 boards per game and give up 11.5 offensive boards a game. The Mountaineers are not huge, but they have a ton of 6'7"-6'9" guys that can jump out of the gym and are really aggressive going after o-boards.

The rest of the games tomorrow:

  • 12:00 PM: Miami FL (7-3) @ St. John's (9-2)
  • 2:00 PM: Washington State (8-3) @ LSU (9-1): Both teams could use the win to boost their tournament resumes. The best win between the two teams is Washington State's win over a mediocre Mississippi State team.
  • 4:00 PM: UAB (8-3) @ Louisville (7-2): Chance for a confidence boosting win for the Cardinals. UAB only has six scholarship players right now, but the trio of Lawrence Kinnard, Paul Delaney, and Robert Vaden are good enough to keep them in most games.
  • 4:00 PM: IUPUI (7-4) @ UMass (4-6): Two teams that struggled early but have really been playing well of late. Jaguar freshman Alex Young is for real.
  • 5:00 PM: Michigan State (8-2) @ Oakland (8-6)
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Friday, December 26, 2008

What Has Happened to Hoops in Bluegrass Country?

Big name coaches. Die hard fan bases. Talented rosters. Storied programs.

Memphis, Tennessee, Louisville, and Kentucky can claim all of the above. So why are these programs struggling this year?

Granted, considering these programs to be "struggling" is all relative. Three of the four are ranked in the top 25, and Kentucky is now 9-3 after dropping their first two games. Most schools would strangle their top boosters with a shoe lace to have that kind of national relevance. But I digress.

Back to the point. Why are these programs struggling?

It isn't due to a lack of talent. Pearl, Pitino, Calipari, Gillispie - all four of these names are synonymous with recruiting. Just look at this year's class. Combined, they landed nine of Rivals top 50 recruits for 2008 and have six of the Rivals top 50 committed for the class of 2009 (and there is a good chance they land two or three of the seven top 50 recruits still undecided).

Then is it due to a lack of coaching? Probably not. Rick Pitino has won a national title and reached four Final Fours. John Calipari has taken two different schools to the Final Four, including last year at Memphis. Bruce Pearl and Billy Gillispie are both highly regarded coaches who have turned around major conference schools (Pearl at Tennessee and Gillispie at Texas A&M).

It comes down to the make up of these rosters. Each of these four teams are loaded with athletes, loaded with size, and loaded with guys that have an incredible combination of both. This allows all four coaches to utilize tough defensive philosophies. Tennessee presses you the entire game, Kentucky plays a stingy man-to-man half court defense, and Memphis and Louisville are both somewhere in the middle.

While recruiting guys with length and athleticism is great defensively, it kills these teams on the offensive end. It is slightly different for each team, but the bottom line is that their rosters are essentially void of point guards and shooters.

Outside of maybe Bobby Maze, is their anyone on any of these rosters that you would trust to run your team? Wesley Witherspoon? Edgar Sosa? Maybe two years ago.

Likewise, outside of Jodie Meeks, is there anyone on any of these rosters that you cannot help off of a la a Lee Humphrey or a Shan Foster? Doneal Mack does not exactly strike fear in the hearts of Memphis opponents.

That is exactly the problem. These teams struggle to score in the half court. When you are a pressing team and cannot score, it means that you cannot get into your press (meaning you can't forces turnovers and get easy baskets). If you are a half court team, an inability to score puts that much more pressure of your defense, because every basket you give up becomes magnified.

There are ways to get around this. Memphis didn't have a shooter last year, but because they had a point guard (Derrick Rose) that could get into the paint, draw help, and dump the ball off to their numerous bigs for a lay-up they were able to succeed. This year, they have tried to put Tyreke Evans and Antonio Anderson into that role, but they are not able to do what Rose could (few are).

Louisville didn't have a point guard last year, but they had a big guy in David Padgett that they could run their offense through. This year they have Samardo Samuels, who is an excellent rebounder and scorer on the block, but he can't do what Padgett did.

I'm not saying that these aren't quality teams. All four are going to win a lot of games, should reach the NCAA tournament, and most likely will win some games they shouldn't win. If Meeks and Patrick Patterson both go for 30 (like they did against Tennessee State), Kentucky is going to be tough to beat. If Preston Knowles and Jerry Smith combine to go 6-9 from three (like they did against Ohio), it is going to open up a lot of space for Samuels and Earl Clark to operate inside.

It is a problem of consistency. The role player is becoming somewhat of a lost art in college basketball as more and more coaches are recruiting the athletic guys that are long, can run the floor, and jump out of the gym. While these athletes will get on Sportscenter's top 10 and make quite a few posters, it is the role players that will get your program piling up the wins.

But there is a reason coaches like Bo Ryan and John Beilein keep putting out winning teams. They have a group of guys that know their role on the team, perform that specific role well, and just know how to play basketball. When these guys all end up being NBA prospects, you run into a situation like Florida had, where they won back-to-back titles. Kansas last year was the same way. And when each role player ends up being a star-caliber player, you get a situation like you have with UNC, where people question whether the team will even lose a game.

The bottom line is that until these teams find a way to be able to score when their opponent's are able to set their defense, they are going to have a much more difficult time winning games.

Hope is not lost yet. Memphis has already gotten some help with the emergence of Roburt Sallie as a deep threat, and more help could be on the way when PG CJ Henry gets healthy. Louisville and Tennessee both have enough average shooters that they should be able to get by. Kentucky still has Meeks and Patterson, as potent of an inside-outside combo as there is in the country.

Unless these teams develop a more balanced attack, they are all a staunch defense, a great game plan, and a hot shooting night away from being upset. Temple, VMI, and Western Kentucky can all attest to that fact.
Continue reading...

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Wednesday Morning Shootaround

We are strapped for time here with the Holiday coming up, so a quick shoot around this morning. A couple of upsets top the list of games from last night. Portland State went into Spokane and beat Gonzaga 77-70. They were led by 5'6" Jeremiah Dominguez, who finished with 25 points, 6 boards, and 5 assists while hitting 7 or PSU's 12 three's. Judging by the number's, the Zags did not play that terribly. They shot 42% from the floor, they were 7-19 from deep, and they only turned the ball over 11 times. According to Few, it was because Gonzaga was out worked and out hustled the entire game. Gonzaga has now lost three out of their last four games. The Zags were led by 18 points from Matt Bouldin.

Butler picked up a 74-65 win on the road against Xavier. This is a big time win for a young Bulldogs team looking to legitimize their now 10-1 start. Matt Howard and Gordon Hayward led the way for Butler with 19 apiece.

The rest of the games:

  • Texas 74, Wisconsin 69: AJ Abrams scored 21 and Damion James had 18 and 15 as the Longhorns knocked off a pesky Badger team. Texas won this game on the glass, finishing with a 40-25 advantage.
  • Georgetown 76, Florida International 38
  • UCLA 113, Wyoming 62: Did UCLA really put up 113? That's not a good sign for Pac-10 teams.
  • Arizona State 90, Idaho State 55
  • Minnesota 8-, Southeastern Louisiana 71
  • Illinois 75, Missouri 59: Missouri's press was largely ineffective against Illinois, who jumped all over the Tigers in the first half and never looked back.
  • Stanford 77, Santa Clara 69: John Bryant from Santa Clara finished with 27 and 22. This is a guy who was stabbed and spent time in the hospital during the off-season.
  • Arizona 84, Kansas 67: Down 44-35 early in the second half, the Qildcats used a 29-6 run to put this game away. Jordan Hill finished with 23 and 11, Jamelle Horne had 19 and 13, and Nic Wise finished with 16 and 8 dimes.
Things are going to be a little light here around the Holidays. I hope everyone has a safe and wonderful holiday, and we will see you here on Saturday. Continue reading...

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday Lay-up Lines

There are three pretty good games on tonight:

  • 7:00 PM: Butler (9-1) @ Xavier (9-1): Xavier was playing some of the best basketball in the country as they were 9-0 heading into their game with Duke over the weekend, but they got absolutely run off the floor against the Devils. The Musketeers struggled to get into their offensive against Duke's defensive pressure, resulting in a lot of turnovers and quick shots. Butler has been one of the surprises of the young season. After losing so much to graduation (pretty much everyone except Matt Howard), they looked to be headed for a down year. But the play of two freshman, Shelden Mack (13.0 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.7 apg) and Gordon Hayward (12.6 ppg, 5.3 rpg), have sent the Bulldogs right back to the top of the Horizon League. If you get ESPN U (I don't, curse you Comcast), be sure to check in on this one.
  • 7:30 PM: Missouri (9-1) vs. Illinois (10-1) in St. Louis: This is a game against two of the under-the-radar power conference teams. Missouri is a team full of athletes that is going to press you for 40 minutes. They are led by DeMarre Carroll, who is averaging 17.6 ppg and 7.3 rpg. Illinois already played Clemson this year (who runs a similar "40 minutes of hell" defense) and lost 76-74 at home. Clemson forced 17 turnovers with their press. Clemson is better than Mizzou offensively, especially in the back court, and another reason they were able to beat the Illini is that Clemson got 34 points out of KC Rivers and Demontez Stitt. I'm not sure if Mizzou's back court can match that output. Of note - Illinois center Mike Davis had 28 and 8 in that game, with the majority of those coming on dunks when Illinois broke the press. If he is on your fantasy team, he deserves a start tonight.
  • 9:30 PM: Texas (9-2) @ Wisconsin (9-2): The Badgers have struggled thus far this season. They lack offensive firepower. That will be a big problem against a tough Texas defense. That said, Wisconsin is so good at the Kohl Center. The biggest issue in this game is how will Wisconsin stop AJ Abrams. Michigan State held him to eight points by having Travis Walton chase him around screens all game. Trevon Hughes is an excellent defender, but he is also Wisconsin's best offensive option. Do you risk tiring him out chasing Abrams? I think Texas pulls this win out.
The rest of the night's action:
  • 2:00 PM: Idaho State (2-8) @ Arizona State (9-1)
  • 7:30 PM: Florida International (4-8) @ Georgetown (9-1)
  • 8:00 PM: Portland State (8-3) @ Gonzaga (8-2)
  • 9:00 PM: Southeastern Louisiana (6-4) @ Minnesota (10-0): Upset watch here. This is a let down game for the Gophers against a Lions team that took Arkansas to OT on the road and lost to Texas Tech by 11 on the road. Minnesota better not come out too cocky in this one.
  • 10:00 PM: Kansas (8-2) @ Arizona (7-3): Not that often that a game between these two teams comes with neither of them ranked. Both squads could really use this win. Arizona beat Gonzaga, but then got smacked on the road against UNLV. Kansas rebounded from an ugly loss to UMass by beating Temple. Best match-up of the day should be seeing Jordan Hill go against Cole Aldrich.
  • 10:30 PM: Wyoming (9-1) @ UCLA (8-2)
  • 11:00 PM: Stanford (7-0) @ Santa Clara (5-6)
There are not games being played on Wednesday or Thursday, and only one on Friday. UConn will host Fairfield at 7:00 PM.
Continue reading...