Tuesday, March 31, 2009

4/1 - Some Links, Some News

Some writers take a look at what Calipari going to Kentucky means:

  • Marty Dobrow of the Boston Globe: Does this hiring make Cal the king of Kentucky hoops?
  • Pat Forde of ESPN.com: Hiring Calipari does have its risks.
  • Jeff Goodman of FoxSports: Cal is the right call.
  • Gregg Doyel of CBSSports: Kentucky will dominate college basketball with this hiring.
  • Blair Kerkhoff of the KC Star: Cal is a home-run hire.
  • Marlen Garcia of USA Today: Cal has his work cut out for him.
  • Rich Bozich of the Louisville Courier-Journal: Kenny Payne owes Cal a beer.
  • Eric Crawford of the Louisville Courier-Journal: Last two years are why Cal is getting hired.
  • Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports: Cal is no longer black-listed from the "in crowd".
  • Geoff Calkins of the Memphis Commercial Appeal: What does this mean for Memphis.
Some more news and notes for you, as the coaching carousel heats up and NBA Draft Early Entrants start to trickle out:
  • John Calipari isn't the only guy that Memphis lost. Tyreke Evans, the Tigers star freshman, is also gone (don't expect him to be the last Memphis player/recruit to be heading elsewhere) will be leaving school to enter the NBA Draft. Most expected Evans to head out regardless, but it seems that Calipari's departure was the icing on the cake.
  • Missouri has locked up head coach Mike Anderson for a while, as he inked a seven-year deal worth at least $1.55 million per. Georgia, who was actively pursuing Anderson, now turn their attention to Jeff Capel of Oklahoma (although I have also seen Frank Haith of Miami mentioned as well). Reports put the offer to Capel at over $2 million a year, which would be a significant salary increase. Which both the Griffins leaving, is that enough to land Capel?
  • BJ Mullens has also entered the NBA Draft. This one was no surprise. The story of Mullens childhood is well-known (great read on it here), as he even spent time living in a homeless shelter.
  • Mullens teammate at OSU, Evan Turner, looks like he will be headed back to school for his junior season.
  • Jerome Dyson will be in uniform for the Huskies against Michigan State, but he won't be cleared to play.
  • Dexter Pittman has a press conference today to announce whether or not he will return to school for his senior season. These guys think he will not declare. I think he might as well. There is not harm in going through the process (assuming he doesn't sign an agent - he is a junior and gets one free pass with the "testing the waters" rule).
  • It looks like Jrue Holiday is going to be entering the draft as well.
  • Purdue's JaJuan Johnson looks to be coming back.
Continue reading...

Who Saw This Coming?

Well, everyone. John Calipari has officially accepted the coaching gig at Kentucky. And he will be paid handsomely.

Calipari will receive an eight-year, $35 million deal. He gets a $2.5 million signing bonus and $3 million per year for the first four years. In years five, six, seven and eight, Calipari will get an additional $1.5 million per year, so for the last four years of the contract his salary would be $4.5 million. Incentives push the deal up a few more million to get to the $35 million mark.
The question now becomes who will follow Cal from Memphis to Kentucky. As we wrote earlier, DeMarcus Cousins, Nolan Dennis, and Xavier Henry, all recruits currently committed Memphis (Dennis and Henry are signed but will be released from their LOI's with Calipari leaving, Cousins is only committed), could easily follow Cal to Kentucky. Will John Wall end up in Lexington? Will Daniel Orton and Jon Hood both keep their commitment's to Kentucky?

Big Blue could be one of the best teams in the country next year.

Memphis, on the other end, could end up being decimated. Instead of landing what could have been the great recruiting class of all time, they may not get a single one of those five star recruits and may lose Tyreke Evans to the draft (in a addition to Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier). There have also been rumors that multiple Tigers could end up following Cal to Kentucky.

I hope Tiger fans enjoyed their run, because this may be the end of it. Continue reading...

DaJuan Summers Is Going Pro

It's not surprising, but it's unfortunate. Georgetown's leading scorer and would-be Senior captain decided to forgo his last year at the Hilltop to pursue a career at the next level.

This is particularly interesting because about a month ago, the Washington Post reported that Summers and freshman stud Greg Monroe would be returning for next year. I believe this occurred after their win at Villanova.

Since that point, Georgetown finished their season in a downward spiral, and a first round loss to Baylor in the N.I.T. probably solidified Summer's thoughts to go pro.

Summers entered Georgetown as a top recruit, along with McDonald's All-American Vernon Macklin, but quickly stepped up as a go-to option down low and showed effective range from outside. After his freshman year, Summers was selected to the Big East All-Freshman team, and ended up second behind Villanova's Scotty Reynolds for Freshman of the Year honors.

In his sophomore year, Summers was a pivotal part of Georgetown's top 10-ranked team, and contributed heavily on offense. But after the graduation of center Roy Hibbert, guard Jon Wallace, and forward Patrick Ewing Jr, along with the transferring of guard Jeremiah Rivers (Indiana) and Vernon Macklin (Florida), Summers was left virtually by himself as the only go-to scorer left from the Hoya team that reached the Final Four in 2007.

The 2008-2009 campaign was particularly tough for the Hoyas. They started 13-1 and beat top-ranked UConn in the Big East opener, but from there the Hoyas plummeted, winning only 6 of the remaining 21 games. Summer's led the Hoyas with 13 points and averaged 4 rebounds this past year, but struggled to assert himself on the blocks, often opting to stay in the corner, waiting to spot up for a three pointer.

At 6'8 and 235 pounds, Summers has a NBA body and is athletic enough to be a good small forward. He has a long frame, and is a solid perimeter shooter. If he can toughen up down low, he could turn in to a legitimate pro.

Summers was often chastised by Hoya fans for never making the leap to star status after his solid freshman campaign. He had/has the ability to be a game-changer like his former teammate Jeff Green, but often became invisible on the court for long stretches.

The loss of Summers will hurt the Hoyas for next year. If he were to return, the Hoyas would have a solid front-court, with the addition of incoming small forward Hollis Thompson and Big East rookie of the Year Greg Monroe. Now the Hoyas will struggle to find a solid replacement at power forward.

As a Hoya fan, I am obviously upset, Summers was an explosive player who frequently displayed highlight-reel dunks and blocks. He showed flashes of raw power and tenacity.

There were not a lot of things better than seeing him throw down a thunderous drunk off of a fast break live at the Verizon Center. Yet the decision is not too surprising given the circumstances.

Summer's leaves Georgetown tied for 29th in team history with 1,129 points. He averaged 11.2 points and 4.4 rebounds in his 101 career games. Continue reading...

Monday, March 30, 2009

Calipari to Memphis?

(We are moving this post back to the top because of everything that has happened in the last few hours)

The Kentucky coaching circus is becoming a bit like an issue of US Weekly. The newest rumors? That Coach Cal, who had previously said that he was only interested in remaining with Memphis, will be speaking with Kentucky officials regarding their coaching vacancy.

Cal may be one of the few guys that is capable of handling the pressure, expectations, and media circus that comes with coaching in a place like Lexington. It wouldn't be a bad move for Cal either. He has put Memphis back on the map as a basketball school, but let's face it - the Tigers still play in Conference USA.

One of the things I've been hearing is that Cal does not want to leave behind one of the best recruiting classes in history. But two of those players, DeMarcus Cousins (committed to Memphis) and John Wall (#1 player in the class of '09 who is strongly considering Memphis), have yet to sign and could still follow him to UK.

Jodie Meeks, Patrick Patterson, Wall, and Cousins. Sounds like the core of a Final Four team, doesn't it?

UPDATE: We are hearing that the offer that Calipari received will make him the highest paid coach in college basketball. NBC has reported it is in the neighborhood of $5 million per year, while ESPN is saying that he will get 8 years, $35 million. It needs to be high, as Cal is walking away from $2.5 million a year until 2012-13, which also includes a $5 million bonus should he finish his contract with Memphis.

Time for those UK boosters to open their wallets Swiss bank accounts.

As I said before, this could make UK an early Final Four contender. In addition to Meeks, Patterson, Cousins, and Wall (if he chooses Kentucky Memphis Calipari), UK will also be adding Daniel Orton, a 5 star big man, and Jon Hood, a 4 star wins player. Now, word has come out that Nolan Dennis, a 4 star recruit that has signed with Memphis, has a deal with the school that releases him from his commitment should Calipari leave.

Xavier Henry, a top 5 player in the class of '09, has also signed with Memphis and Cal, but he has yet to make a decision based on what his brother told the Commercial Appeal.

This could be devastating to Memphis. Not only will they be losing the majority of what could have been the greatest recruiting class of all-time, but it increases the chances that Tyreke Evans, who greatly improved his draft stock in the last few months of the season, will he to the league. Combine all that with the loss of Robert Dozier and Antonio Anderson, and the Tigers are going to be a much different team in '09-'10 than many expected two weeks ago.

Some names we have been hearing to replace Calipari - Tony Barbee of UTEP (who is a former Calipari assistant, was told by the coach to remove his name from the UMass job to allow Derek Kellogg to get it in exchange for Cal pushing his name when he left Memphis), Mike Anderson from Missouri, and Tim Floyd from USC.

UPDATE 2: Apparently, Memphis would release Henry from his commitment if Calipari decides to take the Kentucky job, which is looking more and more like an inevitability.

UPDATE 3: Anticipation grows as Calipari's decision is expected to come down this afternoon. Some clues as to Cal's decision came down early today. Apparently, he went to his local donut shop to meet some friends, and there just so happened to be a reporter for the Commercial Appeal there. According to the reports, he said two pretty telling things:

Things will be OK here.
Taking the job is the easy part of the decision. Leaving here is the hard part.
Read into that as you will. Continue reading...

Bad News for Billy Donovan: Maybe he should have taken the Kentucky job

Florida won a national title in both 2006 and 2007. These successes catapulted Billy Donovan's stock as a head coach. He flirted with the NBA's Orlando Magic two summers ago, and this off-season his name was in the running for the Kentucky job.

But Donovan declined the offer, convinced that Florida was the place for him to be.

Too bad none of his players feel that way.

Last off-season, after failing to reach the NCAA tournament, Donovan lost Marreese Speights to the NBA. During the season, Jai Lucas, the son of Jon Lucas and the brother of former Oklahoma State standout Jon Lucas III, transferred out of Florida looking for more playing time.

Now, it looks like Donovan may lose his most important player. Nick Calathes, the Gator's standout point guard, has declared for the NBA Draft, although he will not sign with an agent.

Calathes may be better served coming back for a season. While he has improved a lot from his freshman year, namely becoming a much better decision maker (although he stills gambles too much, trying to make the huge play both offensively and defensively) and a better shooter across the board, the bottom line is that Calathes still has not shown the ability to defend his position. Continue reading...

Breaking: Tony Bennett to UVA

I guess Oklahoma fans can sleep easy that Jeff Capel won't be leaving anytime soon. According to the Charlottesville Daily Progress, Washington State's Tony Bennett will be the new coach of the Virginia Cavaliers.

Bennett was a hot coaching item last year after taking the Cougars to the Sweet 16, but the team fell back to earth this season, going 17-16 and reaching the NIT. With Taylor Rochestie and Aron Baynes graduating, it seems like a pretty good time to get out of Pullman.

He will have his work cut out for him at UVA, however. The Cavs are coming off a season in which they went 4-12 in the ACC, second to last in the league. It's all bad. He does get the top six scorers back, including Sylvan Landesburg, who is coming off of a freshman season in which he averaged 16.6 ppg. Continue reading...

Timing of the Yahoo! Article aka The Guillotine

Earlier today, we linked an article by Jason Whitlock criticizing Adrian Wojnarowski and Dan Wetzel and the timing of their report on the UConn recruiting scandal.

Maybe he judged too soon.

From a column by Jeff Jacobs of the Hartford Courant:

"We sent a FOI request for phone records several months earlier and were promised that they were coming very quickly on several occasions in the last couple of months," Wojnarowski said Sunday. "The records never came. It wasn't until we got our legal people involved to help us get UConn to honor the FOI that they finally provided the phone and text records."
When we did get them, the process of going through almost two years worth of phone records, identifying numbers, text messages, understanding the patterns and sequences, took more time," Wojnarowski said. "There was some more reporting we had to do based on the phone records, and from there we had to put together the complete story. We did all that within two weeks. The story was going to run the moment it was ready and up to our standards."
He does have a point. We are talking about a hall of fame coach and one of the top ten programs of the last 20 years. No matter when this report was released, it was going to be a huge deal.

But if it was released in, say, August, when the baseball pennant races are just starting to heat up and football is on the forefront of every red-blooded american's mind, would it have created as much of a stir as it did when released a few days before the Huskies were to take on Purdue in the Sweet 16?


In an era of internet journalism, where page views are absolutely everything, wouldn't these two journalists want a story that could very well define their career to get as much play as possible? Would they have spent an entire morning with their article all over sportscenter, doing a number of on-air phone interviews at the same time, were this to have been released at a time other than the NCAA Tournament, when an entire nation is wrapped up in college basketball and their tournament bracket?

Again, doubtful.

But I don't blame them. Hell, I probably would have done the same thing. To be honest, it has probably been a long time coming for this program. Duke Basketball Report says it best:
UNC has overcome a great deal this season and deserves respect for doing that. They’re not our choices, but they do deserve immense respect for their grittiness. Finally, after four years, they are taking on Tyler Hansbrough’s personality. On-court anyway.

And then there’s UConn. How to put this…UConn at times plays superb basketball. They’re smart, they’re fast, they shoot well, they’re sound in almost every area. And yet they’ve been dislikable for some time.

They beat Duke in 1999, of course, and knocked Duke out again in 2004. Losing isn’t the worst thing in the world. Duke’s had tremendous games with Michigan, for instance, for years. There’s still respect there. But with UConn? Not so much.

It began when UConn coach Jim Calhoun, instead of celebrating his own team’s win, bragged that UConn had “kicked some ass and broken some hearts” or words to that effect. It was kind of a stupid thing to say, and not particularly good sportsmanship, but that’s who he is. He’s a tremendous coach. He’s also cranky, obnoxious, and prone to shoot off his mouth at times when he could just as easily shut up. That whole deal with the overreaction to the reporter who was questioning his salary - it was a setup, but his reaction was perfectly in character.

Then of course there were the hints that not all was right at UConn. First it was the off-court behavior of Khalid El-Amin, who was busted for marijuana. Former Huskie Doug Wrenn was arrested for shoplifting. Then assistant Clyde Vaughan was arrested for solicitation and Antonio Kellogg for marijuana. Then of course there was the recruitment of Rudy Gay, with what amounted to a legal bribe to his AAU team, and LaptopGate, which saw former star Marcus Williams and current point A.J. Price arrested after stealing and fencing laptops from other students.

Did they get a break? Sure seemed like it.

Then there was the hilarious overbuying of NCAA rings, with one even going to the governor, and the deal where UConn athletic department officials were trading tickets for cars. It more or less amounted to scalping.

And now the latest, where we learn that a former student manager turned agent has allegedly been steering players to Storrs, allegedly paying for surgeries.

What UConn has done on the court has frequently been magnificent. But what they’ve done off of it has frequently stunk. It’s very hard to find anything admirable about them at this point. The current investigation will uncover whatever it uncovers, but at this point, after everything else that’s gone on, UConn’s reputation is shot.
It is probably too much for Husky fans to hope for that this report won't tarnish Calhoun's legacy and won't but a giant question mark next to their success's of the last fifteen years. What they should be hoping is that the NCAA doesn't use this as an opportunity to make an example out of the Huskies and throw the book at them.

This very well could be the proverbial "death penalty" for this UConn program.

Enjoy this Final Four while it lasts. It could be the last one for a long time.
Continue reading...

NCAA Tournament Risky Business Guitar Hero Commercial

Disturbing? A bit.

Hilarious? Absolutely. Watch Coach K and Pitino and try not to laugh.

My favorite part is when Bobby Knight says "We're playing the guitar hee-ro". Continue reading...

AJ Price: Toughness Exemplified

Late last night, we wrote about Duke and their lack-of-toughness when discussing Seth Curry's decision to transfer to the Krzyzewskiville.

Specifically, we wrote:

Toughness is also Levance Fields knocking down two free throws with 5.5 seconds to tie Villanova, after hitting big threes to put away OK State and Xavier. Toughness is Blake Griffin getting flipped on a cheap shot by a player from Morgan State and not reacting with his fists. Toughness is Cleveland State holding on to a lead when a more talented Wake Forest team makes a run on them.
AJ Price is a perfect example of toughness. I'm not going to talk about how Price overcame an a brain aneurysm, as proved himself as a better person after trying to sell stolen lap-tops, or came back from a devastating knee injury last season.

No, I'm talking about Price's actions on the court the last two seasons.

UConn has size, UConn has athletes, but UConn only has one player that has proven the ability to create for himself and for his teammates. When UConn needs a basket, Price is who they go to.

Which brings us to Saturday night. A first half in which UConn had blown an 11 point lead was coming to a close. Price was at the top of the key, waiting to make a move to try and send the Huskies into the locker room on a high note. He was being guarded by Zaire Taylor, who decided that it would be a good idea to smile and clap in Price's face.

So what did Price do?

Shoulda been an and-1 too.

That is what I mean when I say "toughness".
Continue reading...

3/30 - Some Links, Some News

Monday morning. No basketball for a solid six days. So what else is there for me to do than give you guys some good reads.

Continue reading...

Tyler Hansbrough thinks he is Stretch Armstrong

Funniest moment of the tournament.

In the second half of the Oklahoma-North Carolina Elite 8 game, Tyler Hansbrough put the ball on the floor and drove the lane. He was cut off by Blake Griffin a good five feet from the rim. Hansbrough went up, and tried to go Dwight Howard on the guy that is going to take his reign as player of the year.

Just watch:

I'm not really sure what Hansbrough expected to happen. But I'll tell you what the result was - a video that will go down in youtube infamy. Continue reading...

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Monday Morning Shootaround: And the Final Four is set

The Final Four is all set. Next Saturday, Michigan State will play UConn while Villanova will be taking on UNC. Great match-ups, as we get four of the best programs in recent history traveling to Ford Field (where, of course, yours truly will be in attendance).

But previewing the Final Four is for another day. Let's take a look at what happened last night.

Michigan State 64, Louisville 52: This game started out how most expected it too - a defensive dogfight, with two heavy weights trading punches for 25 minutes. But the Spartans got the knock out blow.

Trailing 34-32 with 15:37 left in the game, the Michigan State defense turned up their intensity. Having already frustrated the Cardinals for 25 minutes, MSU made it near impossible for Louisville to score the rest of the way. They went on a number of runs, and outscored Louisville 32-13 over a 12 minute stretch, sending the Spartans to the Final Four.

Durrell Summers, a Detroit native, soars in for a dunk against Louisville.
(photo credit: Darron Cummings/AP)

It was what Tom Izzo wanted to do. Michigan State was not going to win a game that was a track meet. As good as the Spartans are, they simply do not have the athletes to run with the Cardinals. Their tough, harassing man-to-man defense held the Cards to just eight field goals in the second half, one of which came with 15 seconds left in a game that was already decided.

The biggest issue for the Cardinals was not offensively, however. No one is trying to claim the Cardinals as an offensive juggernaut. Their issue was that MSU was not struggling against the press and Louisville was not getting any easy buckets. The Spartans had just 12 turnovers on the game.

The problem was two fold. Louisville's press was ineffective, which meant that they weren't getting any easy baskets. Since they weren't scoring, they weren't able to get into their press. The Spartans were able to control the pace that the game was played at, which is why they won.

Michigan State got 19 points (17 in the first half to carry them), 10 boards, and 4 assists from Goran Suton. Durrell Summers added 12 points (10 in the second half) and Kalin Lucas chipped in 10 points and 5 assists. Earl Clark scored 19 points for the Cardinals, but they got just 5 points, 6 boards, and 4 assists from Terrence Williams.

UNC 72, Oklahoma 60: Blake Griffin scored 23 points and grabbed 16 rebounds, besting Tyler Hansbrough's 8 points and 6 boards.

On the stat sheet, Griffin won this one outright.

Too bad the stat sheet doesn't count for jack. Hansbrough's Tar Heels used a total team effort as they ran away from the Sooners early. UNC jumped out to a 13-2 lead, and never looked back. The Sooners were able to get it to five midway through the first half, but UNC responded by scoring six straight points, and was never really threatened the rest of the way.

The battle between players of the year never really lived up to expectations.
(photo credit: NY Daily News)

As I said, it was a total team effort. UNC got 19 points from Ty Lawson and 18 from Danny Green, but more importantly every Heel on the floor was hitting big shots. After struggling through a first half in which neither team could really get into a flow offensively, the Heels turned it on early in the second half. They hit their first seven shots from the floor, and looked unstoppable scoring the ball, as they opened up a 61-40 lead with 8 minutes to play. Willie Warren would get hot, scoring 14 points in the last 8 minutes to make the score respectable, but have no doubt, the Heels were the dominant team on this day.

The scary part of this performance wasn't UNC offensively. Every knows they can score. It was their defense, which completely suffocated what was a good Oklahoma team. They were able to slow Griffin down early, building a double digit lead (he didn't score until there were 11 minutes gone) all the while keeping Tony Crocker, Austin Johnson, and Warren from getting going. Granted, a lot of that was a result of the Sooners missing some open looks, but watching the game, UNC had people running at shooters quite often.
Continue reading...

Seth Curry to Duke

Last week, it came out that Seth Curry was transferring out of Liberty in search of a bigger program and better basketball. We speculated a bit, and came up with Wake Forest and Virginia as possible destinations.

Well, we were wrong.

News broke today that the younger Curry would be taking his services to Duke. Seth visited Duke today, and committed there before he left the campus. From the Raleigh News & Observer:

"Seth committed before he left," Dell Curry said in an interview. 
Duke was the only school Curry visited since being granted his release by Liberty University. 

"There were other schools he was going to visit, but Coach K really wanted Seth," said Dell Curry, a former Virginia Tech and Charlotte Hornets star.

"His vision for Seth and for the program, it was great as parents to hear someone of his stature sell us on how bad he wanted Seth."
The question now becomes how good is Curry going to be with Duke. The reason that Seth ended up at a school like Liberty that many major programs considered him to be too frail to play at the high-major level (that, and he committed to Liberty early in his senior year - before Steph went on his tear in the tourney - and suffered through a hamstring injury that limited how much he could play during his senior year). Bottom line, this kid can score. He isn't quite the pure shooter that Steph is, but is a bit better at getting to the basket. I'd expect him to be something similar to a Greg Paulus.

I don't know how much Curry is going to help Duke either. The Blue Devils issue right now is toughness. Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler - these guys are talented and do a lot of things well. But, they are soft. Look at the teams that made the Final Four - UConn, Villanova, UNC, and Michigan State. There are a lot of big, strong, tough kids on those four teams. With the exception of UNC (and the Heels are the exception, not the rule), those three teams survive on pushing you around and beating you up defensively and/or on the glass.

Duke just does not have those kinds of player, and has not for a long time. Jon Scheyer was ineffective as a two-guard because bigger, stronger defenders would keep him from being able to do much on the offensive end. Gerald Henderson can dunk on you, but do you really trust him trying to lock up a guy like Sam Young? Kyle Singler struggled down the stretch last season because he was worn down, physically, from the season. He put on some muscle during the off season, but still, you get my point.

To me, there is a difference between toughness and physical strength as well. Toughness is not just being able to play on a sprained ankle, box out DeJuan Blair, or stand in and take a charge.

Toughness is also Levance Fields knocking down two free throws with 5.5 seconds to tie Villanova, after hitting big threes to put away OK State and Xavier. Toughness is Blake Griffin getting flipped on a cheap shot by a player from Morgan State and not reacting with his fists. Toughness is Cleveland State holding on to a lead when a more talented Wake Forest team makes a run on them.

Where do you see that coming from Duke?
Continue reading...

Billy Gillispie runs from a TV crew

I'm sure you have seen it by now, but here is some pretty hilarious footage of a Louisville television crew chasing Billy Gillispie for an interview.

Why would anyone want to coach at a place like this? Oh yeah, tradition. That's right. Got it.

In other news, Coach Cal is out of the running for the UK job, saying instead that "Memphis is where I want to coach". Continue reading...

BIAH Elite 8 Live Blog Day 2

After today's games, our Final Four will be set. We start today with Michigan State and Louisville. The Spartan's Raymar Morgan broke his nose against Kansas and will be playing today with a mask. The second game features UNC and Oklahoma, which pits last year's player of the year (Tyler Hansbrough) against the likely player of the year this season (Blake Griffin).

Like always, follow along after the jump.

- That's it. UNC is headed back to the Final Four with a 72-60 win over the Sooners.

- Warren is trying to lead the Sooners back. They have cut the lead to 12 with over three minutes left.

That basket by Green probably will do it.

- Oh. My. God. If I never seed the Guitar Hero commerical with Knight, K, Williams, and Pitino ever again, it will be too soon. You cannot un-see things.

- OU is 0-15 from three. That is horrendous.

- UNC is simply better than Oklahoma. We have been saying it from day 1 - when OU doesn't get any shooting from their perimeter players, they are not a good team.

- This should tell you everything you need to know about these two teams: Blake has 19 points, so does the rest of the Sooners. Hansbrough has 4 points, the rest of the Heels have 46.

- Juan Patillo has provided an excellent spark off the bench. Two dunks in the first half, and now he just grabbed another offensive board, drawing Davis's third foul in the process.

- UNC just missed their first shot of the half ... with 14:23 left. They had made seven in a row.

- Explain this one to me. Watching a replay of Griffin's thunderous oop, Kellogg said "That's yee-lium. Yeast, with ability to rise, and helium that can hang". Yee-lium < Onions.

- Blake is taking over this game offensively for the Sooners, scoring eight quick points here in the second half. The scoring has really picked up as well, but the problem is that the Sooners absolutely cannot get a stop against the Heels. UNC is scoring at will.

- I take back every thing I said about Hansbrough guarding Griffin. He has all 11 points when T is out of the game.

- UNC takes a 32-23 lead into the break. Griffin has been fantastic as usual, going for 11 points and 9 boards in the first half, but he is getting nothing from the rest of the Sooners. Warren, Johnson, and Crocker are a combined 0-7 from three.

Danny Green has continued his great play in the dance as he heads into the break leading UNC with 14 points, but UNC's offense has been slowed down by the Sooners.

- Blake looks frustrated. He is not very active trying to get position on offense, and while he does have 8 boards, he has had three offensive taken from him in the last two possessions.

- Jesus. Griffin has seven rebounds in seven minutes. The problem? He is not getting any touches offensively. He has just one shot and no points.

- Two fouls on Hansbrough. He would not have the first one if he was not matched up with Blake.

- UNC has scored nine points off of four OU turnovers. Warren is getting more aggressive. On the last three possessions, he has scored and picked up an assist for a Pattillo dunk.

- The Sooners are not looking good offensively. They need to get the ball into Griffin. He will get doubled, and he is good at kicking the ball out. That will lead to either open shots or lanes for penetrating. This nine point deficit is the biggest OU has faced all season long.

- OU made the right decision. Taylor is on Hansbrough. Blake is on Thompson.

- Hansbrough comes out guarding Griffin, and picks up a foul on the first possession. SWITCH.

- Tyler Hansbrough is the NCAA tournament's all-time leading scorer now? Did not know that.

- UNC-Oklahoma is about to tip, and I think this could end up being the game that everyone has been hoping for. This may be the first time all season that the most talented team in the country (UNC) has not had the most talented player on the floor (Blake Griffin). If I am Roy Williams, I put Hansbrough on Taylor Griffin, and use Thompson and Davis on Blake. None of those three are really going to have much of a chance to slow down Griffin, but at least Hansbrough won't get as tired grappling with Taylor as he will with Blake.

- Problem solved (and I think I figured out how to prevent it from happening again ... I think). Michigan State took over in the second half, at one point going on a 30-11 run, completely shutting down the Cardinals with their defense.

- We are experiencing more technical difficulties. The internet has decided now is a great time to not work. Stay tuned as I try to figure this out.

- MSU answers with a 9-2 run. The one thing that has stood out to me in this game is the Spartan's ability to get easy baskets in transition. The run was capped by a big dunk by Durrell Summers.

- Louisville's athleticism is taking over here in the second half. Two blocks and T-Will's dunk as the Cards take the lead back.

- And there is T-Will. He was scoreless coming into the second half (5 boards and 4 dimes), but he got on the board with a huge oop to kick off the second half.

- Walton is not a good scorer. Why is he always isolated when the clock is winding down? It never works out well, and makes even less sense when you consider that the Spartans have the Big Ten player of the year running the point for them.

- Sosa really makes some gorgeous passes in traffic. It is too bad that he is so inconsistent, because he really has a ton of talent.

- Louisville has gotten 15 of their 24 points off the bench. Knowles has 10 of those, but the Cards have no answer for Suton. He just banged his second straight three, giving him 17 in the first half.

- The Spartans are really moving the ball well against the Louisville zone. That last possession, they swung the ball all the way around the perimeter before finally finding Walton open in the corner for a jumper that gave them the lead back. 19-18 MSU.

- Louisville looks like they are starting to take control of this game. Knowles has hit back-to-back threes, and Louisville is now 4-8 from three. The good news for Michigan State is that Suton has nine early points. If Suton keeps scoring inside, then it will eventually lead to better looks for the Spartan perimeter players.

- Terrence Williams is so good at drawing defenders and finding open shooters. His height and athleticism allows him to be able to see over defenders.

- Louisville is heating up from the perimeter. They just took a 10-8 lead hitting their second straight three. When they hit eight or more, they are 23-0.

- Michigan State looks very good against this Cardinal zone early, getting the ball into the high post.

- Louisville's press has not been terribly effective here in the early going. They aren't shooting too well, either, which is limiting the opportunities they have to get into the press.

Continue reading...

Sunday Morning Shootaround: Two Big East Teams reach the Final Four

The Elite 8 started out with a bang, as UConn and Missouri played a competitive game out in the desert while Villanova and Pitt battled in what was probably the best game of the tournament to date. So that means we now have two Big East teams headed too Detroit, and if Louisville can knock off Michigan State, there will be three teams from the same conference advancing for the first time since 1985.

Villanova 78, Pitt 76: Best game of the tournament to date. Villanova jumped out to an early 18-8 lead. Pitt would slowly work their way back, cutting the lead to three on a number of occasions before Levance Fields finally tied it up with a three pointer. Pitt would eventually take 34-32 lead into the break.

The second half was back-and-forth. All told, there were 15 lead changes in the game, but six of them came in the last six minutes. Pitt would eventually take a 67-63 lead with 3:24 left, but Villanova would respond with a 10-2 run to take a 73-69 lead with just over a minute left. But Sam Young responded by hitting a three to cut the lead to 73-72. Nova would hit three free throws before a DeJuan Blair lay-up made the score 76-74.

That's when it got good.

Reggie Redding took the ball out of bounds and tried to hit Dante Cunningham deep, who he thought was wide open. Jermaine Dixon made a play and intercepted the ball, and Fields got fouled with 5.5 seconds left on the clock. He hit both free throws.

This was the ensuing inbounds:

Pitt made a huge mistake on this play when they were doubling Reynolds. They had a player on each side of him. You are supposed to put someone in front and someone in back, because if Reynolds gets a running start going sideways, that doesn't hurt you. But Reynolds was able to get a running start going straight at the rim, and not wanting to foul, Pitt allowed him to get all the way to the paint. Game over.

Reynolds, who was named the East Region most outstanding player, finished with 15 points. Dwayne Anderson led the Wildcats with 17 and 4 steals. Sam Young had 28 points and Blair added 20 and 10 boards for the Panthers.

UConn 82, Missouri 75: UConn was too big for the Tigers in the first half. It took a while for Missouri's press to really start clicking, as UConn broke it with ease in the first half, taking a 13-2 lead.

Mizzou wasn't going to go away, however. They drew an early foul on Thabeet, and took advantage when he went to the bench. The Tigers were able to get the lead to one, before heading into the break down 44-38. In the second half, however, Mizzou's press started to work. They forced 17 turnovers on the game, 9 coming in the second half, before finally taking the lead 50-49 after a 9-0 run. The game would be back-and-forth for a while, but UConn would eventually regain control.

But the guy that took over wasn't AJ Price. It wasn't Thabeet, Jeff Adrien, or Stanley Robinson. It was 6'1" freshman Kemba Walker, who almost single-handedly broke Mizzou's press in the second half. For the game, Walker scored a career-high 23 points and added 5 assists. After Mizzou cut the UConn lead to 59-58 with about five minutes left, Walker took over. He broke the press, finding Adrien (who was fouled), then scored on a lay-up breaking the press on the next possession. After getting a stop, Walker found Thabeet for a lay-up, opening a 65-59 lead that Mizzou would never recover from.

Leo Lyons led the Tigers with 13 points. Thabeet had 13 boards on the game, but finished with just 5 points and 0 blocks.
Continue reading...

Saturday, March 28, 2009

BIAH Elite 8 Live Blog

The Elite 8 kicks off this after noon was UConn takes on Missouri followed by a battle of Big East powers as Pitt plays Nova. This well be the second time that Pitt and Nova will be squaring off. The Wildcats knocked off the Panthers 67-57 during the Big East season. Nova was able to capitalize on smaller players, spreading out the Panthers and getting DeJuan Blair into foul trouble.

UConn is going to have their hands full with Missouri. The Tigers run a very good full court press and an effecient offense based on pushing the ball. If Mizzou can turn this into a full court game, then they eliminate to Hasheem Thabeet effect.

As always, follow along after the jump.

- Apologies to anyone that tried to follow along after about the ten minute mark of the second half. We were experiencing technical difficulties. Check back tomorrow for a full recap.

- Pitt has been really vulnerable to the offensive rebound in this tournament - which is not what you would expect from a Pitt team. Nova has 11 so far tonight.

- Villanova is noticeably more aggressive here in the second half, as they have been putting the ball on the floor much more. Scottie Reynolds is able to get to the rim just about any time he pleases.

- Pitt heads into the half leading for the first time since 2-0 despite a five minute scoring drought.

- Pitt ties it up on another Blair dunk-in and a Fields three. How many big shots does he hit?

Nova is actually playing pretty poorly offensively tonight. They are settling for a ton of threes, and they need to start getting to the rim. They have drawn two fouls on Blair already, why not try and get him his third.

- Blair is taking over the paint. He is grabbing every defensive board, scoring on some fantastic post ups, and he even ripped a Nova player and went the distance for a three-point play (running over corey Stokes in the process). It is now 26-21 Nova, who is just 3-13 from deep. They still need to penetrate more.

- Pitt switched to a zone the first possession after Nova ran their first screen and roll 9 minutes into the game. The Wildcats scored on a Redding jumper. This is not a team you can Zone. 22-12 Nova.

- Nova has started the game out on an 18-8 run. They were cold at the start, but they gave hit three straight threes now. Pitt cannot guard them when they spread the floor.

- That shot by Sam Young was so tough. He stopped his drive on a dime, elevated off of one foot, and avoided a charge by banking in an 8 footer over Cunningham.

- Nova takes the early 10-3 lead. While they have scored 10 points in 5 minutes, they have not been good offensively, settling for jumpers too much. They have looked fantastic defensively, as Pitt is struggling to get anything going, especially with Blair on the bench.

- Dixon pulls Blair with his first foul after just 2:30 of game time. Clearly, the Panthers are trying to protect the big fella, but after one foul?

- Nova is settling for too many threes early. Their advantage is going to the basket, not chucking up early triples.

- And we have our first Final Four team. UConn advances with an 82-75 win.

- UConn is hitting their free throws. Austrie and Walker have hit six straight to keep this thing at six. Walker now has a career-high 23 points.

- Waker grabs yet another tough defensive board in traffic, and it looks like UConn will be heading to Detroit. Walker scores his 21st point as he extends the UConn lead to 74-67 with a minute left.

- Mizzou has looked very good offensively the last three or four possessions.

- And that's why you don't throw one handed passes. Seriously, why is Adrien taking the ball out still?

- When Walker plays within himself, he is the best player on the floor right now. He just grabbed a tough board in traffic, taking it end to end and finding Thabeet for a lay-up.

- This game is turning into a defensive struggle as both teams are really defending well. UConn had a possession where Mizzou had numbers, but the Huskies were able to get back. Their defensive rotations kept Mizzou from getting a good look, as it ended with Thabeet running at Tiller shooting a three.

Walker is playing too fast right now. He has dribbled through the press twice for lay-ups, but has also turned it over three times in that manner.

- Missouri has done a great job defensively in this half. They are forcing turnovers and playing much stronger under the rim. They have also forced the Huskies to play a quicker game than they would like.

The issue? UConn is 2-14 this half and it is tied. That's not good for Mizzou.

- UConn is now trailing for the first time since the beginning of their first round game. The Huskies have gone ice cold, starting just 1-13 from the floor.

- Thabeet is not going up string at the rim. He has missed four shots at the rim on two possessions.

- Thabeet has just picked up his third trying to guard Lyons. UConn also has 12 turnovers on the game. Not really sure why they insist on having Adrien take the ball out of bounds.

- Kemba Walker is going to be a star.

- Just saw some stats - UConn is winning the rebounding battle 24-10 and outshooting Mizzou 70%-44%. How is it a six point game?

- Price hits a floater over Carroll and Lyons in the lane, the Huskies end the half up 44-38. UConn tightened up a bit at the end, but the reason that Mizzou was able to climb back in this game was that they were getting to the basket and the backboards. Thabeet did have two fouls, which played a factor, but UConn still is bigger than the Tigers without him.

- UConn's defense is non-existant.

- Lawrence is taking this game over with his shooting. UConn has a tendency to struggle defending the three ball. He has 8.

- Did Thabeet just pick up a charge? That is a great sign for NBA scouts that he can move his feet quick enough the stay in front of Leo Lyons.

- Mizzou has cut the lead to four by locking down defensively. UConn is shooting over 60% from the floor, but has missed three in a row, while Mizzou has hit 9 of 14.

- UConn's half court offense has been sensational thus far. They are able to get penetration, but have been pounding the ball inside and scoring in the paint at will.

- Mizzou is starting to make this game played at their speed. UConn cannot go up and down with the Tigers. But unless Missouri starts getting some stops and turnovers, they are notr going to be able to get into their running game. Their press has been midly effective the two or three times they have been able to get into it.

- UConn is dominating the interior early. 10-2 lead, and all ten have been scored in the paint, while Sticks has pinned two shots already. Mizzou did not come out ready to play.

- This game is going to be decided based on who controls tempo. If UConn can keep this game from being a track meet and utilize their substantial advantage on the interior, they will win. Frist two possessions - Adrien lay-up, and Robinson blpock.
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Tony Crocker is the Difference Maker for OU

At this point in the season, everyone knows about Blake Griffin. Rim-rattling dunks. Rebounding machine. Strong as a bull.

He is a man amongst boys, and the best player in the country. No one is doubting that. He has the ability to carry his team to and through Ford Field, bringing a national title to Norman.

But he cannot do it alone.

The biggest question mark coming into the season was OU's perimeter play. Were the Sooner guards going to shoot it well enough that teams had to respect them, preventing defenses from collapsing on the big fella inside.

For the majority of the season, the answer was a resounding yes. Willie Warren played his way into the lottery. Tony Cropcker was burying threes at a tremendous clip. Austin Johnson looked nothing like, well, Austin Johnson. Oklahoma was playing like a legitimate national title contender.

That all changed when Griffin got his concussion. Willie Warren was benched because of attitude problems (he was apparently buying into the hype that he was a lottery pick; there were also rumors that he and Johnson were squabbling over a girl they were both dating). Tony Crocker lost his stroke, and Oklahoma lost four of six, including a first round date with OK State in the quarters of the Big XII tournament.

This led many, including myself, to question how good OU really was. Was anyone going to pick a team oin turmoil to make a run in the dance?

The Sooners made all of us doubters look foolish Friday night as they ran through and beat up Tourney darlings Syracuse.

It wasn't Blake Griffin that did it. His 30 and 14 actually brought down his tournament averages.

It was the three guards, specifically Tony Crocker. Warren and Johnson both had decent games, combining for 15 points, 11 assists, and 3-8 shooting from deep. But it was Crocker that made the difference. He finished with a career high 28 points, hitting six of his first eight threes and scoring eight in an 11-3 run that closed the half, giving OU a 13 point lead.

If Oklahoma is going to get that kind of performance from their guards, they are right back in the national title picture.
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Friday, March 27, 2009

Saturday Morning Shootaround: And The Elite 8 Is Set

The Elite 8 is set, and if anything has become clear during the last ten days, it is that the Big East was far and away the best conference in the country. Four teams from the conference have made the Elite 8 (along with two from the Big XII and one from both the Big XII and the ACC). With the tournament officially halfway done, half of the teams left are from the Big East.

Think about that for a second.

That is pretty impressive.

One Big East team is guaranteed to be in the Final Four (Pitt plays Villanova), but with the way that Louisville and UConn have looked, would it surprise anyone if three teams from the league reached the Final Four?

Didn't think so. Let's get into the night's Sweet 16 action.

Louisville 103, Arizona 64: The Cardinals showed how good they can be tonight. Take a look at some of these stats:

  • 57.6% shooting from the field
  • 14-29 from deep
  • 29 assists on 38 field goals
  • Committed 9 turnovers
  • Held Zona to 38.6% shooting
  • Got an offensive rebound on 11 of their 28 misses
That is just the beginning of it. They looked dominating defensively, making every pass and every shot difficult for the Wildcats. On the offensive end, crisp ball movement and beautiful passing led to open threes and lay-ups. And the Cardinals did not miss.

The Cards opened up a 17-9 lead early in the first half. After a quick 14-4 run, they took a 34-19 run with six minutes left in the half, and eventually went into the half ahead 49-28. The play that epitomized the day happens at the 1:00 mark in the following highlight clip:

T-Will grabs a defensive rebound, whips it around his back to avoid getting the ball stripped, then leads a fast break that results in an Earl Clark three from the corner.

Clark led the Cards with 19 points and 9 boards, T-Will added 14 points, 7 boards, 6 assists, and 2 steals, and Jerry Smith chipped in with 16 (13 in the first half). Chase Budinger has 22 for Zona, while Jordan Hill added 14 points and 11 boards.

Oklahoma 84, Syracuse 71: Syracuse just wasn't ready for the Sooners. Oklahoma jumped out to a quick 10-2 lead, and while they were able to get that lead down to one point on a couple occasions during the first half, Oklahoma pulled away at the end of the half before jumped on the Orange in the second half. By the time Syracuse decided to start playing, they were down 56-29 and the game was all but over.

Blake Griffin added a ho-hum 30 points and 14 rebounds, but he was not the star for the Sooners. That honor would go to Tony Crocker, who scored a career-high 28 points, hitting 6-11 threes. It was Crocker who hit a three at the end of the half (and scored 8 of the last 11 for the Sooners) as OU opened up a 39-26 halftime lead.

The biggest play in this game came with about a minute to go in the half. Blake Griffin was driving to the rim, and Jonny Flynn slid over to try and take a charge. It was called a block, and Griffin finished a three-point play to give the Sooners a 10 point lead. Flynn ended up with a bad bruise on his back, and did not get a chance to try and make a play on the ensuing Orange possession. Instead, Tony Crocker hit a three right before the buzzer to send the game into halftime. Instead of being down 33-26 with the ball, the Cuse had to head into the half down 13. They were never able to recover.

Flynn led the Orange with 22 points, the majority of came in the second half when the game was already out of reach.

Bonus dunk video: Blake Griffin showing off his insane athleticism by hitting his face (not the top of his head, his left cheek) on the back board on a dunk:

Michigan State 67, Kansas 62: The Spartans trailed Kansas 32-19 at one point in the first half, but that is when the MSU defense woke up. The Jayhawks committed 19 turnovers on the day, 10 of which came in the second half, as MSU was able to crawl all the way back and eventually take a lead late in the second half.

This one was billed as the Sherron Collins-Kalin Lucas show. For much of the game, it was a disappointment. Lucas struggled to find his shot, while Collins was hitting tough jumper after tough jumper.

That changed down the stretch. After Lucas found Raymar Morgan for a dunk that tied the game, Collins committed a costly turnover on an errant pass intended for Cole Aldrich. At the other end, Lucas drove by Collins, finishing in the paint and earning a three-point play. After the teams traded free throws, Collins was fouled on the perimeter with a chance to cut the lead to two, but he missed the front-end. Lucas would knock own two more free throws (he scored the last seven for the Spartans) and MSU would hang on to win.

This game also featured a good match-up inside as Cole Aldrich went toe-to-toe with Goran Suton. Aldrich ended the game with 17 points, 13 boards, 4 assists, and 4 blocks, but was not as much of a factor late (Kansas only scored two points in the paint in the second half). Suton was. He led MSU with 20 points, 9 boards, and 5 steals (just about all of which came by knocking away an entry pass).

This game also featured the funniest moment of the day. After MSU hit two free throws during the second half, Idong Ibok took the ball out of bounds under the MSU basket, while the Kansas players just stood there and looked at him.

UNC 98, Gonzaga 77: North Carolina looked absolutely dominant against Gonzaga in the first half, to the point where they were just about unstoppable offensively. The Heels put up 53 points, scoring in just about every way imaginable - on the break, on post-ups, on dribble penetration, by hitting threes, beautiful back court cuts for dunks (like the one Lawson threw to Green early in the first half.

There were two problems for Gonzaga last night. The first was that they absolutely could not get a stop. UNC was hitting everything they threw at the rim, and the only turned the ball over twice in the half. Gonzaga, on the other hand, committed four turnovers in the first six minutes, which led to 10 Tar Heels points. The Zags did go basket for basket with the Heels for a while, but the Heels were just too efficient.

The Heels were up 17 midway through the half, but a 10-2 Gonzaga run cut the deficit to 51-42. But, as they have always done, UNC answered. Hansbrough scored the last hoop of the first half, and then the Heels scored the first three buckets on the second half, pushing the lead back to 17 and taking the air out of Gonzaga's sails.

Ty Lawson scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half to help UNC open up the big lead. Hansbrough added 24 and 10 boards.
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Late Breaking: Anthony Grant Accepts Alabama

Anthony Grant, who had coached three seasons at VCU (winning the CAA regular season title all three seasons, winning the tournament title twice, and beating Duke in the 2007 NCAA tournament), has decided to take the job at Alabama after finding out Billy Donovan would not be leaving Florida.

The Alabama program has been a bit down of late, but it seems as if the school is trying to turn themselves into a two-sport powerhouse. He does have a decent core coming back in Mikhail Torrance (rising senior), Senario Hillman (a rising junior), and JaMychal Green (rising sophomore). Continue reading...

Breaking: Billy Gillispie is out at Kentucky

According to sources for WHAS 11 in Louisville, Gillispie is gone. From the release:

After WHAS11 broke the story around 9:30 P.M., UK’s Sports Information Department issued a statement saying:

“UK men’s basketball coach Billy Gillispie has not been fired. There have been no meetings between Gillispie and UK officials today and there is no scheduled press conference for tomorrow”

Again WHAS11’s sources saying Billy Gillispie will not be the head coach of the Kentucky men’s basketball team next year.
More on this as it comes out. Many people are saying the decision will come as early as tomorrow, but we are also hearing that Mitch Barnhart, the Kentucky AD, wants to be sure he has a candidate lined up to replace BCG.

This is all conjecture at this point, but we have yet to hear one rumor (that was not from the University) saying Gillispie is going to get a third season in Lexington.

UPDATE: Gillispie is out. Our question now: who does Kentucky hire? We are hearing they make a run at Billy Donovan, but Tom Izzo and John Calipari have also been mentioned.

UPDATE II: Billy Donovan has withdrawn his name from consideration for the UK job. So will Coach Cal or Izzo bite? Will UK end up with Rick Barnes or Jay Wright? Travis Ford is probably a guarantee signing, but from what I've read, it seems like UK wants a more established coach. Ford is a UK alum and just took an Oklahoma State lacking a true big man to the second round of the dance.

Anthony Grant should be another name to keep in mind but, like I said, I get the feeling that UK wants a more established coach. They already whiffed on hiring an up-and-comer. Continue reading...

Friday Morning Shootaround: The Three Big East Schools and Missouri Advance

Last night was fairly similar to the rest of the tournament as there was not a ton of nailbiting while the better teams advanced (and trust me, Mizzou and Villanova are the better teams). That's not to say there wasn't some great basketball played. Pitt was dominant in the second half, UConn and Villanova overpowered Purdue and Duke, respectively, and Missouri showed off what may be the best press since Nolan Richardson's Arkansas in the mid-90's.

UConn 72, Purdue 60: Purdue's defense was as stingy as advertised, as the Boilermakers were able to hang in with the bigger and more talented Huskies. UConn never trailed in this one, but Purdue kept in interesting after falling behind 14-3.

In the first half, it was on the strength of Robbie Hummel's shooting. UConn opened the game with Jeff Adrien guarding Hummel, which was quickly apparent as a mismatch. Hummel scored 15 of his 17 points in the first half (Purdue had just 25 at the break) on a variety of jumpers. But with the rest of his team ice cold, Purdue was not able to take the lead. In the second half, UConn put Stanley Robinson on Hummel and slid Adrien over onto the much-less offensive-minded (don't you love hyphenated words?) Chris Kramer. The result was that Hummel had just one field goal in the second half.

Hasheem Thabeet was too much in the middle for the Huskies.
(photo credit: Chris Carlson/AP)

Purdue had an answer for just about everything UConn threw at them on the defensive end ... except for Hasheem Thabeet. The co-Big East player of the year was a force in the second half, as he scored UConn's first eight points, on a series of lay-ups and baby hooks, and had a block and a tipped-out defensive rebound lead to fast break buckets. The surge gave UConn another 11 point lead at 42-31. Purdue wouldn't get closer than four the rest of the way as Thabeet finished with 15 points, 15 boards, and 4 blocks.

Craig Austrie finished with 17 points to lead the Huskies, while Stanley Robinson added 10 points and 11 boards.

Pitt 60, Xavier 55: Xavier dominated the first half of this game. They were able to get penetration, thus getting good shots near the rim and on kickouts. The Musketeers outworked the Panthers on the glass, and basically beat Pitt at their own game. Derrick Brown was the best player on the floor, scoring on a couple perimeter jumpers and two beautiful drives to the rim.

That all changed in the second half. Pitt was more active defensively, forcing a number of turnovers by the Musketeers (a number by Kenny Frease, who looked intimidated by DeJuan Blair the entire game), and was much more dominant on the boards (Blair grabbed 13 of his 17 boards in the second half). As a result, Xavier went stone cold in the second half, missing their first ten shots, finishing the half 7-29 from the floor. They would score just 18 points in the half.

But Pitt was just as bad in the second half, and Xavier found themselves up 54-52 with under a minute left. That's when Levance Fields came to the rescue again. Against Oklahoma State, Fields hit a three and scored on a tough drive in the lane to give the Panthers a lead they would not relinquish. In this one, Fields hit a very tough step-back three in Dante Jackson's face with 50.9 seconds left. On the ensuing possession, he got his hands on a lazy pass and took that the distance for a lay-up with 23.9 seconds left. After Xavier missed a three, Pitt would hit their free throws to seal the win.

Levance Fields celebrates after scoring a lay-up to give Pitt a late three point lead.
(photo credit: Winslow Townson/AP)

It was a familiar formula for the Panthers, as they rode the (very) broad shoulders of their three stars - Fields, Blair, and Sam Young. Fields would finish the game with 14 points and 6 assists, Blair added 10 points, 3 steals, and 2 blocks to his 17 boards all while Sam Young scored a team-high 19 points. Brown had 14 points and 9 boards while BJ Raymond finished with 15 points to lead Xavier.

Missouri 102, Memphis 91: Did anyone predict that the Tigers would put up 102 points on the best defense in the country?

We didn't.

Missouri jumped on Memphis from the tip, breaking down the Tigers defensively and forcing them into an uptempo game that they just didn't have the horses for. JT Tiller was the catalyst at the start, has he had 15 of his team-high 23 points in the first half, getting to the rim almost at will. After Marcus Denmon hit a 3/4 court shot to beat the halftime buzzer, Missouri would take a 49-36 lead into the break.

Mizzou would extend their lead to 64-40 just four minutes into the second half, finishing off a 43-15 run. But that is when Memphis finally woke up. In the last 16 minutes of the game, Cal's Tigers would score 51 points, but it was too little, too late, as Memphis never got closer than six.

DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons, the versatile forwards, were a tough match-up for the less-mobile Memphis bigs, as the two combined for 32 points, 18 boards, 8 assists, and 3 blocks. Robert Dozier had 19 points and 16 boards for Memphis, but the best player on the floor tonight (on either team) was Tyreke Evans, who may have just played his way out of Memphis. Evans finished the game with 33 points, slicing and dicing the Mizzou pressure throughout the game. He showed an incredible ability to penetrate, and despite not being overly explosive, he was able able to finish at the rim. Given his height (6'6") and wingspan (7'0"), if he can develop a consistent perimeter shot, Evans will be a heckuva scorer at the next level.

Villanova 77, Duke 54: For the sixth straight season Duke has lost in the tournament to a lower seed (and the fifth straight season the Devils have been eliminated from the dance before the Elite 8). This year, it was the result of a dominating defense performance from Villanova (who, coincidentally, won their 14th game over a higher-rated team in the tournament, a record). Nova held Gerald Henderson and Jon Scheyer to a combined 4-32 shooting, and as a team Duke shot just 26.7% from the field.

It was a snowball effect. The Wildcats frustrated Duke early on in the game, making buckets hard to come by. But Duke was also playing some terrific defense, as the team's headed into the break with the score 26-23. But in the second half, Nova went on a 12-1 run after Duke scored the opening basket, taking a 38-26 lead. As the Wildcats kept pushing their lead bigger, Duke kept forcing the issue. Bad shots and turnovers led to quick, easy baskets on the other end for Nova.

Villanova also was much more aggressive going to the basket. Duke has a penchant for struggling against teams and players that can penetrate, and that was more than obvious tonight as Nova was able to get to the rack just about whenever they pleased in the second half. And when they weren't scoring on their first shot, they were getting the offensive boards. Nova won the rebounding battle 49-34, including 12 on the offensive glass.

Dwayne Anderson and company held the Blue Devils to 26.7% shooting.
(photo credit: Elise Amendola/AP)

As usual, it was a team effort from the Cats (you notice I have yet to mention a Villanova players name - that is the norm for this team). They were led by 16 points form Scottie Reynolds, but Dante Cunningham added 14 and 11 boards and Reggie Redding had 11 points, 9 boards, and 4 assists. Four other players added between six and eight points.

Dwayne Anderson is fast becoming one of my favorite players in the country. He is a gritty defender that can, literally, defend every position on the floor (most everyone needed to be able to tonight, as Nova was switching everything for the majority of the night). He can also knock down threes, score in the post, and take his man off the dribble. My favorite aspect to his game is how hard he goes to the glass. He always seems to be in the middle of every scrum for a rebound, and is good for at least one put-back per game.
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Sweet 16 Preview

UPDATE: The Friday Sweet 16 previews are now up. We were 4-4 in our picks yesterday, by the way (h/t myself).

The NCAA Tournament's first weekend was, in a word, uneventful. While teams like Memphis and Pitt and Louisville all received early round scares, the first two rounds of the greatest spectacle in sports left us with a chalky Sweet 16. Each of the top three seeds won two games for the first time since the tournament expanded to 64/65 teams. Two regions had their top four seed make the Sweet 16, also a first. The other two teams to make the second weekend - fifth seed Purdue, who was a preseason favorite in the Big Ten, and twelfth seed Arizona, who is making their 25th straight tournament appearance.

To some, the first weekend was a bust. But what the this year's version of the dance lacks in cinderellas, upsets, and buzzer beaters, it makes up for with dynamite Sweet 16 match-ups.

So without further ado, here is your Sweet 16 preview:

Best Match-up, Storyline: We could go with Eric Devendorf and inundation of hate/anti-hate he has gotten in the last few days, but I feel like we've written about that before. We could go with UConn and the distractions they are going to face heading into their date with Purdue tomorrow, but the tournament is supposed to be college hoops bliss, not a reminder of how unethical and corrupt the landscape of college athletics has become. We could even go with the fact that there are seven coaches remaining who have a national title on their resume (two of whom, Tim Izzo and Bill Self, are squaring off) or that Taylor King transferred from Duke to Villanova during the off-season, but that bores us.

So we will go with this: Sean Miller vs. Pitt. Miller ran the point for Pitt from 1987-92 before graduating and joining the coaching ranks. But Miller is also one of the hottest coaching commodities this side of Anthony Grant. Do we dare mention that Miller is considered by many to be the heir to the throw at Pitt whenever Jamie Dixon decides to move on? Apparently, we do. Boom.

Best Match-up, Stylistically: This one is easy. Villanova versus Duke. Both teams are loaded with perimeter talent, both teams love to spread the floor, and both play a tough, pressuring style of defense. We originally had Nova winning this game, but at the last minute went with Duke because, among other things, we were swayed by an article talking about offensive efficiency and tournament success. It was 2 am, and for the record, I regret the decision after seeing Texas come within two borderline foul calls of having a shot at the end of regulation to beat Duke and seeing Villanova pummel three-time Final Four participant UCLA.

Best Match-up, Mano-a-Mano: There are some intriguing match-ups all over the Sweet 16 landscape (C-Bud#34 vs. T-Will, DeMarre Carroll/Leo Lyons vs. Shawn Taggart/Robert Dozier, anyone on UNC vs. anyone on Gonzaga), but the best is going to be Sherron Collins going up against Kalin Lucas. Lucas (the Big Ten player of the year) and Collins (the Big XII player of the year had Blake Griffin gone pro) are both scoring point guards that can also distribute. Lucas is lightening quick with the ball in his hands, especially in transition, and can get around even some of the best defenders. Collins is a broader, stronger player with the ball that can over power smaller guards. It should be fun watching these two go at each other all game. And yes, I know mano-a-mano means hand-to-hand, not man-to-man.

Best Match-up, Just Because: I don't know why, but I cannot wait for the Memphis-Missouri match-up. Maybe it is all the athletes in the game. Maybe it is because perennial powerhouse Memphis is playing newcomer Missouri. Maybe it is the contrasting, but tough nonetheless, defensive styles (Missouri playing their 40 minutes of hell defense while Memphis plays the best half court defense in the country). I don't know, I'm just pissed that this game is on at the same time as Duke-Nova.

He is your Sweet 16 schedule of games and announcers (follow the links for a preview of the games):

- Thursday, 7:07 PM, West Region: #5 Purdue vs. #1 UConn - Dick Enberg, Jay Bilas
- Thursday, 7:27 PM, East Region: #4 Xavier vs. #1 Pitt - Verne Lundquist, Bill Raftery
- Thursday, 9:37 PM, West Region: #3 Missouri vs. #2 Memphis - Enberg, Bilas
- Thursday, 9:57 PM, East Region: #3 Villanova vs. #2 Duke - Lundquist, Raftery

- Friday, 7:07 PM, Midwest Region: #12 Arizona vs. #1 Louisville - Gus Johnson, Len Elmore
- Friday, 7:27 PM, South Region: #3 Syracuse vs. #2 Oklahoma - Jim Nantz, Clark Kellogg
- Friday, 9:37 PM, Midwest Region: #3 Kansas, #2 Michigan State - Johnson, Elmore
- Friday, 9:57 PM, South Region: #4 Gonzaga vs. #1 UNC - Nantz, Kellogg Continue reading...

Gonzaga vs. UNC Sweet 16 Preview

Why UNC Can Win: Gonzaga's defense. The Zags have rated fairly highly in terms of defensive efficiency, but a lot of that has come from dominating lesser competition in the WCC. The Zags are far from a great team defensively, and Pargo is far from a great defender. That could be a problem as they go up against an UNC team that is loaded at every position and has a point guard with a habit of taking over games. I also worry about who Austin Daye is going to guard. Deon Thompson? Ed Davis? Tyler Hansbrough (god forbid)? All three of these guys would have a huge mismatch against Daye in the post and on the glass.

Why Gonzaga Can Win: Talent. If UNC is the most talented team in the country 1-5, the Zags might be second. They have four legit NBA prospects on their team, and when they put it all together, they are as good offensively as anyone in the country. The issue with them all season is that they have not figured out how to play with and off of each other. If they can put it all together for this one, they have a shot at toppling the mighty Tar Heels.

Key To The Game: You guessed it - slowing down the Heels break. The Zags like the get out and run at times, but if they try and get in a track meet with the Heels, Gonzaga is going to be in trouble. That's not to say it isn't ok to run. They are just going to have to be selective of when they do. UNC feasts off of quick shots, especially quick threes and long misses, so Gonzaga is going to have to avoid the temptation of every fast break and pick and choose their spots.

BIAH Pick: UNC. We just don't see the Zags being disciplined enough to slow down their game or dedicated enough to play the defense needed to beat this team.
Continue reading...

Kansas vs. Michigan State Sweet 16 Preview

Why Kansas Can Win: Cole Aldrich. These teams are almost identical, except for the fact that Kansas has Aldrich in the paint. Yes, MSU has some good big men (Suton, Roe, Green), but none of them are as much of a "presence" as Aldrich is. The Spartans are not a great three point shooting team, and instead rely on a group of slashers/penetrators that can go get offensive rebounds. Aldrich is a difference maker, in that he not only can block shots, but he also cleans up the defensive glass.

Why Michigan State Can Win: Because they already have. Back on January 10th, these two teams squared off in the Breslin Center, and the Spartans just about ran the Jayhawks off the court, jumping out to a 37-18 halftime lead. Yes, this is a different Jayhawk team as the freshmen have gained more experience, but this is also a different Spartan team in that they appear to finally be healthy. The biggest issue for the Spartans is going to be whether or not Raymar Morgan decides to show up. Morgan is supposedly back to 100% after dealing with a case of mono, but he has scored double figures just once in his last five games.

Key To The Game: Sherron Collins vs. Kalin Lucas. In the first match-up, Lucas got the best of Collins. While Collins outscored him 25-22, he also committed 8 turnovers. It is no secret that right now, as Collins goes, so go the Jayhawks (think about the 26 he had against Oklahoma and the 3-19 he put up against Texas Tech in the blowout loss). As I mentioned in the Sweet 16 preview post, this is probably the best 1-on-1 match-up in the round of 16. If Lucas can once again outplay Collins, the Spartans may be headed to another Elite 8. Random stat of the day - Michigan State is 13-2 during the second weekend in Tom Izzo's 12 years at the helm.

BIAH Pick: As much as we love Aldrich and Collins right now, I can't bet against Izzo in a situation where he is going up against a team full of freshmen and sophomores in the dance.
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Syracuse vs. Oklahoma Sweet 16 Preview

Why Oklahoma Can Win: Umm, have you followed college basketball this season? I'm going to say it is because they have the best player in the country suiting up for them in Blake Griffin. The guy averaged 22 and 14 on the season, and has stepped that up to 31 and 15 in the tournament this far. Bottom line, he is a beast. Next question.

Why Syracuse Can Win: They play zone. Playing this zone means that it is will be fairly easy for the Orange to swarm, collapse, surround, molest, and do anything else that they can to force Griffin to go up against two and three and even four defenders at a time. It is only more beneficial to the Orange that Willie Warren, Austin Johnson, and Tony Crocker have been inconsistent from beyond the arc this year. If Syracuse can slow down Griffin and/or the Oklahoma wings are not hitting their perimeter shots, the Orange will have an excellent opportunity to become the 4th/5th Big East team in the Elite 8.

Key To The Game: Eric Devendorf. You know who Oklahoma's 1-2 punch is. The Orange? Not so much. Syracuse is going to need someone outside of Flynn to rise to the occasion, make some shots, and create plays for some teammates. Devo is the guy. He is fast earning a reputation as a clutch shooter and a big game player, and the Orange are going to need the Devo from the ASU game to show up, not the Devo from the SFA game.

Sidenote: I cannot wait to watch Warren and Flynn square off. These two are both NBA players, and it should be exciting to watch them go at it. Believe it or not, this is the third best PG match-up on Friday.

BIAH Pick: We're going mild upset. Syracuse win.
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Louisville vs. Arizona Sweet 16 Preview

Why Arizona Can Win: Their big three. As we have been saying with Pitt, when you are building a team, what you want is a point guard, a wing scorer, and a dominant big man. Arizona has all three is Nic Wise, Jordan Hill, and Chase Budinger. Budinger and Hill may very well end up in the lottery three months from now (and Wise has a shot at getting drafted somewhere down the road), which clearly means that the Wildcats have talent. As we have mentioned a number of times, talent - specifically NBA caliber talent - is the biggest factor when it comes to winning at this level. Arizona has two, maybe three, NBA talents on their roster.

Why Louisville Can Win: Depth. Arizona's big three all log between 36 and 38 minutes per game. Granted, with TV timeouts, the minutes that they play do get broken up, that is still a lot of court time over the course of a season. On the other hand, Louisville goes 10 deep and runs a system designed solely around wearing out their opponents. Yes, Jordan Hill is going to be the best big man on the floor. But when he plays 40 minutes and Samardo Samuels and Terrence Jennings split that time, who is going to be fresher and more willing and able to bang bodies down the stretch?

Key To The Game: This is pretty obvious - can Arizona handle Louisville's pressure and who will then control the pace of this game. Arizona cannot turn the ball over against the Cardinals (a la Siena, who had just nine and nearly knocked off the Cards) but also must attack the Cards pressure while not playing out of control. It sounds difficult (and it is - Louisville is the #1 overall seed), but Arizona needs to avoid playing a helter skelter type game. If they do, Louisville will run away with this one. The Cards are simply deeper and tougher.

BIAH Pick: You think we would really go against the Cards here?
Continue reading...

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Anthony Grant: Wait on that Alabama offer

VCU's head coach and longtime Billy Donovan assistant Anthony Grant is the new hot coaching prospect in the college basketball ranks.

Rightfully so. Since he got the job before the 2006-2007 season, the Rams have gone 76-24 and 45-9 in the CAA, winning three straight regular season conference titles and two tournament titles. And let's not forget about their upset of Duke in the 2007 tournament. Before that, he was an assistant to Billy Donovan for 11 years, ten of them at Florida where he helped build a team that reached three Final Fours and won two titles.

Hell, he was the guy that was going to replace Donovan at Florida in 2007 had Billy not pulled out of the deal with the Orlando Magic.

If he was ever going to leave VCU, now would probably be a good time. His star point guard, and possible first round draft pick, Eric Maynor is graduating, and who knows if sophomore Stretch Armstrong Larry Sanders will be returning to school (Draft Express has him projected as a lottery pick in 2010).

Anthony Grant has probably coached his last game for VCU.
(photo credit: sptimes.com)

(Ed. Note: Funny story we've heard about Sanders - he didn't start playing organized ball until his sophomore year in high school, and in his first varsity game, he scored on the wrong basket at the start of the second half because he didn't know they switched ends. His quote about it was "My IQ for the game was very low". You can't make this stuff up.)

Grant's name has been mentioned at a number of schools with openings - Georgia, Virginia, and Alabama, who apparently are willing to offer Grant $2 million a year.

All three schools are a step up from the CAA. All three schools will be able to throw some dollars at him.

But Grant may want to wait a few days before signing anything.

There may be a much more appealing job opening up.

Kentucky lost to Notre Dame in the Elite 8 of the NIT tonight, ending a disappointing season for the Wildcats. After starting the year 16-4 and SEC play 5-0, the Cats tumbled, losing 8 of 11 to end the season with a 19-11 record, just 8-8 in the SEC.

What makes it all the worse is that Kentucky had two of the best players in the conference on their roster. Jodie Meeks was being talked about as a national player of the year candidate after he put up a school record (for Kentucky none the less, that means something) 54 points against Tennessee earlier in the season.

This is bad news. Kentucky is not a place that tolerates losing. Tubby Smith, who had won a national title in 1998 with the Wildcats, was run out of town because, among other things, of subpar recruiting and the fact that he hadn't reached a Final Four in nine seasons after winning the title. Smith had reached four more Elite 8's, won four more SEC regular season title as well as four more SEC tournament titles, but that wasn't enough.

So is a first round exit and NIT Elite 8 enough?

If you believe Jeff Goodman, then Billy Gillispie may have coached his last game in Lexington. We touched on this pretty extensively a few weeks back, so I'll give you the short version. All coaches deserve a grace period. Two years is just flat out not enough time to prove your worth as a coach. You need time to get in your players and teach them your system, and regardless of whetheror not you have all-americans on the court, if they are not buying into the way you want them to play, as a coach you are not going to succeed.

But it is more than just results with Gillispie. By all accounts, the guy is a prick. He has problems dealing with the media and doesn't know how to handle his players (how many UK players have left the program?) or the administration. Oh, and he may be an alcoholic.

When a program is winning, you can handle a coach with questionable ethics and personal skills, just as a struggling program is less likely to fire a coach when he is a great guy. But when a coach is losing and is disliked by, well, everyone (?), that coach is going to have a very short leash.

Which is why Grant should hold off on making a decision on where to head next.

If Gillispie is, in fact, let go by Kentucky, most are suggesting that the Wildcats will take a run at Billy Donovan. Donovan's Gators have gone to two straight NIT's, and if Nick Calathes turns pro this spring, a third straight NIT may be a reach.

The idea of Donovan taking the Kentucky job is not that much of a stretch. And if Florida wanted Grant in 2007 after just one season as a head coach, is it not reasonable to assume they would still want him when he is the hottest commodity in college hoops?

And if Donovan passes on the Kentucky job, is not reasonable to assume the Wildcats next option would be to go after "the next Billy Donovan"?

So Coach Grant, if you read this: wait a few days before making any decisions. Continue reading...