Night Line: In Typical Izzo Fashion, Sparty Quietly Humming Along

Posted by BHayes on January 31st, 2013

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Bennet Hayes is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @HoopsTraveler on Twitter. Night Line runs on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

In many ways, keep moving along — there is not a whole lot to see here. February is beginning, the Michigan State Spartans are near the top of the Big Ten, and March expectations are high in East Lansing. Per usual, Tom Izzo’s crew has arrived at its current position with little pomp or flair, again embracing a gritty, determined approach that has come to define the Green and White. Perhaps the familiarity of the exercise is why the Spartans have largely flown under the radar this season, a lack of attention surely aided by playing in a conference loaded with Top 25 teams. Either way, it’s taken more than Tom Izzo and the Michigan State brand to answer all those questions that surrounded Sparty back in November, and if you are looking for reasons why this has become yet another vintage Izzo team, the continued development of a pair of juniors would be a good place to start.

Juniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne Have Been Major Catalysts For The Continued Spartan Success

Juniors Keith Appling and Adreian Payne Have Been Major Catalysts For The Continued Spartan Success

Back in November, if you asked Tom Izzo which of his players needed to be great for his team to meet or exceed expectations, it would have taken him all of 0.2 seconds to tell you that player was Keith Appling. The former McDonald’s All-American had a nice sophomore season a year ago, but with senior leader Draymond Green’s eligibility expiring, the onus fell on the normally reserved Appling to take the reins of this group of Spartans. And while his statistical profile suggests that Appling is producing at a similar rate to a year ago, the junior has done exactly what Izzo needed him to do – take control of this team. Appling did it all the way back in November, when he took over a close game late to help hand Kansas what is still their only loss of the year. He did it again this evening, coming up with all the key plays down the stretch, the most emphatic of which occurred when he split a double-team then delivered a perfect lob to teammate Branden Dawson for a resounding dunk. But more importantly, in between that victory over KU and the defeat of the Illini tonight, there has been little doubt as to who is running this Michigan State team – an important answer to a question that lingered all summer in East Lansing.

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Sam Dekker Will Be a Star in the Big Ten But Not Until Next Season

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on January 31st, 2013

Deepak is a writer for the Big Ten microsite of Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about B1G hoops at @dee_b1g.

Most top recruits out of high school don’t have Wisconsin on their short list when it is time for them to commit to a college hoops program. Badgers head coach Bo Ryan rarely pursues top-25 players from the prep ranks unless they fit well with his offensive philosophy. Swinging the ball around, using at least 25 to 30 seconds of the shot clock, and playing in an offense which is one of the slowest in the country (61 possessions per game) is not very appealing to the top recruits who don’t want to be held back. But Badger freshman Sam Dekker has been an exception to this trend. Highly touted as a senior (#13 by Rivals), he chose to head to Madison to play for Ryan. Dekker’s performance so far this season has been impressive at times but he hasn’t been seen consistent playing time yet — the limited minutes can be attributed to Ryan’s offensive system and his reliance on the upperclassmen who can play “Badger basketball.”

Sam Dekker (right) may be Wisconsin's best scoring option but he will have wait till next year for extended playing time.

Sam Dekker (right) may be Wisconsin’s best scoring option but he will have wait till next year for extended playing time.

The 6’7″ wing has averaged about 22 minutes per game this season, while scoring an efficient 9.0 PPG along while pulling down 3.4 RPG. His minutes have been inconsistent because he is fourth on the depth chart of forwards this year behind Jared Berggren, Ryan Evans and Mike Bruesewitz. All three seniors have been a significant part of Ryan’s teams over the last two years and understand the principles of his offense very well. They are very disciplined with their shot selection due to their maturity and are also quite physical on the defensive end of the floor. Without Josh Gasser in the lineup this year, the Badgers don’t have as many offensive options so they rely more than ever on using the shot clock efficiently and playing great team defense. Dekker, like most freshmen, is prone to turning the ball over at times or missing defensive assignments, which means more to Ryan’s teams because of fewer possessions. As a result, Ryan has only used the freshman off the bench but always seems to revert to his seniors during crunch time unless Dekker has played a perfect game. For example, during the recent 70-66 loss to Iowa, Dekker scored 13 points but was pulled during the second half because he had turned the ball over five times. During conference play (except against Illinois) the Badgers haven’t run away with any of their games and most of their wins have been within 10 points which pushes Dekker back to the bench because Ryan needs Breusewitz to defend the best wing during the final minutes. Dekker may be Ryan’s best pure scoring option but the combination of three senior forwards who exemplify the physical nature of the Badger’s defensive philosophy seems to be a better plan of attack for him so far this season.

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Humbled: Against Stanford, Oregon’s Problems Come Home To Roost

Posted by mlemaire on January 31st, 2013

Mike Lemaire is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Stanford and Oregon in Palo Alto. 

Those who had watched Oregon eke their way to a 7-0 start in Pac-12 play knew that eventually the team’s offensive struggles and turnover issues would bite them, but no one could have predicted the Ducks’ comeuppance would be so vicious. Even Oregon had to know as it rose to No. 10 in the national polls that their gaudy record was built on a shaky foundation that would struggle to create offense without injured dynamic freshman point guard Dominic Artis. But even without Artis, getting thrashed by Stanford to the tune of 76-52 proves that the young Ducks still have a long way to go if they want to capture a Pac-12 title.

Since conference play began, Dana Altman’s team has made a habit of starting slow before picking up the intensity as the game went on and ultimately finding a way to win. And as if on cue last night, the Ducks turned the ball over four times in the first five minutes and missed a handful of early open jumpers. Oregon tried to turn up the intensity after trailing by double-figures at halftime, but without Artis to create offense in the half-court and facing a veteran team hungry for a big win, things quickly got worse instead of better.

Dominic Artis, Oregon

The importance of Dominic Artis to the Ducks as never more apparent than it was last night.

The Cardinal deserve credit too. Led by guards Chasson Randle and Aaron Bright,  Stanford canned nearly 60 percent of its three-pointers (8-of-14) and harassed Oregon’s perimeter players into a 4-of-16 effort from behind the three-point arc. But Oregon didn’t exactly make Stanford beat them. Offensively they were again plagued by turnovers and poor shooting, and the team’s lackluster defensive effort in the first half — especially on close-outs — allowed Stanford to open up a big lead they would not relinquish. “It’s the first time we’ve fallen flat on our face this year,” Altman said. “I am not going to lie. I am very disappointed. But a lot of that has to do with Stanford. They just kicked us.”

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Breaking Down the Horizon League Race

Posted by WCarey on January 31st, 2013

Walker Carey is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Detroit and Wright State. You can follow him at @walkerRcarey.

While Detroit represented the Horizon League in the NCAA Tournament last season, prior to this season Butler had long maintained a virtual stronghold on the top position in the conference. Luckily for the current members of the Horizon League, Butler is no longer around as the Bulldogs bolted after the 2011-12 season to join the Atlantic 10. With the Bulldogs’ departure, teams who had long played second fiddle to Brad Stevens’ program were now given the opportunity to make themselves known as serious contenders. The following is a breakdown of the four teams who currently possess the best chance of taking home the conference crown this year and represent the Horizon League in the NCAA Tournament.

Broekhoff Leads A Dangerous Valparaiso Team

1. Valparaiso – 16-6 overall (6-2 in Horizon League) – Bryce Drew’s Crusaders are not only in first place in the conference, but they are also one of the hottest teams in the league. After dropping their conference opener, a home match-up with Loyola, the Crusaders have notched wins in six of their last seven games. Valpo is led by a duo of foreign-born front line standouts. Australian senior forward Ryan Broekhoff – last season’s Horizon League Player of the Year – leads the team in scoring (17.2 PPG) and rebounding (8.5 RPG), while fellow senior forward Kevin Van Wijk, a native of the Netherlands, trails only Broekhoff for the team lead in scoring (13.5 PPG) and rebounding (5.2 RPG). While the Crusaders dropped their most recent contest – a road setback to Youngstown State on Wednesday – the remainder of their schedule is manageable enough for the team to remain the favorite to earn the regular season crown and the top seed in the league tournament.

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume VII

Posted by jbaumgartner on January 31st, 2013

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish each week throughout the season. In this piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED…. Kansas guard Ben McLemore. I’ve been captivated this guy since the first time I turned on a KU game this year – the only comparison for pure smoothness as a freshman might be Melo at ‘Cuse. I can usually judge a guy’s talent by how willing I am to prioritize his Thursday snoozer at 8:30 PM on ESPN2. Do I delay dinner? Do I push work off till tomorrow? Do I accidentally forget about Date Night just to marvel at a net-snapping three when the Jayhawks are already up 20? If the answer to any of those is yes, I’m hooked. And for me, McLemore is that year’s player. Watch out for this KU team – they might just have all the pieces.

Mancrushing on Ben McLemore

I LOVED…. trying to figure out Duke.  27 points. TWENTY-SEVEN POINTS. The Miami Hurricanes looked like a pro team taking on the high school JV squad – running, slamming, jamming… even Barry Larkin was lovin’ it. So is Ryan Kelly that important to the Blue Devils? Is he the difference between cutting down the nets and a Hurricane doormat? Is he worth all 27 of those points? I guess we’ll find out.

I LOVED…. in a way that only a true John Calipari hater could love, the following headline: “Wiltjer, Noel Help Kentucky Upset Mississippi.” How a team full of Top 10 recruits can “upset” anyone is beyond me. They must realllllly be underachievers to pull off that one…..

I LOVED…. how the real point of this season seems to be how many teams can claim and then quickly relinquish the coveted (or maybe at this point, despised) Number One ranking. Indiana, Duke, Louisville, Duke, and now Michigan. It’s a tribute both to the difficulty of winning on the road with today’s insane fans, but also to the parity of this year’s college crop. I wouldn’t feel comfortable putting money (sorry NCAA, I mean “friendly non-financially based wager”) behind any of these teams. But it should all add up to one crazy March.

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Pac-12 M5: 01.31.13 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on January 31st, 2013

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  1. Losses to teams like Albany and Utah yet victories over the likes of Stanford and Colorado have Washington fans confused and wondering what the next step is for a program with potential and frustration at every turn. The immediate future likely holds an NIT berth for the Dawgs, but as The Husky Haul points out, this year’s recruiting class could answer the question of when Washington returns to national prominence, and if Lorenzo Romar is the one to lead it there. Landing Archbishop Mitty (CA) wing Aaron Gordon would be a big first step in that direction, as the five-star senior has the bounce and athleticism to turn a team around instantly. At the moment, however, the Huskies have more important things to worry about, as number eight Arizona comes calling tonight in Seattle.
  2. Behind Kaleb Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett, and Brandon Ashley, Gabe York played a bit of the role of “forgotten freshman” early in the 2012-13 season. But York has improved his play significantly the past couple of weeks in practice, and he has continued his success in game situations. The freshman guard dropped a pair of threes on Saturday against USC en route to a career high seven points in Arizona‘s 24-point thrashing of the Trojans. As the feature points out, York needs to step up his play on both ends of the court (averaging just 0.2 SPG) before he sees any extended action for the Cats. But you can never be too deep once we hit the home stretch of the season, and York provides a nice option on Sean Miller’s bench.
  3. Drew noted yesterday of yet another Pac-12 Player of the Week award for Arizona State wing Carrick Felix, and House of Sparky takes a wider look here at how the senior has led the Sun Devils from a 10th place finish last season to the NCAA bubble in 2012-13. Felix’s constant positivity and willingness to give up some of his touches to freshman Jahii Carson has paid dividends for Arizona State, as the Sun Devils find themselves at 16-4 and 5-2 in conference play heading into the final month and a half of basketball. The duo is now one of the most fun to watch in the league, as opposing defenses have to continually be on high alert for a streaking or backdooring Felix awaiting a dime from Carson. And then there’s this, which is on the short list for my favorite play of the season thus far. The Sun Devils visit Pullman tonight and will look to add to their two-game winning streak.
  4. DISASTER. For once, that’s not exactly hyperbole surrounding the UCLA hoops program. In front of a lackluster blued-out crowd at the new Pauley Pavilion on Wednesday, Bruin fans felt extra blue as they fell behind by as many as 15 points and were upset by crosstown rival USC in overtime. UCLA is still safely in the field of 68 at this point, but it has to be careful in eight days when Washington comes calling. Another trip-up against the Huskies would mean a three-game skid and the rumblings would be back in earnest in the Los Angeles basin.
  5. Utah will honor the late Rick Majerus on Saturday by hanging a replica sweater inside the Huntsman Center during its “rivalry” game with Colorado. Majerus took the Utes to seven NCAA Tournaments while in Salt Lake City and will be the first coach honored with a retirement ceremony by the university. “We need Rick in the building. The sweater is going to be there and some of what he has created around here,” current head coach Larry Krystkowiak said about the pending events.
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Biggest Win For Oklahoma Basketball Since… Who Knows?

Posted by dnspewak on January 31st, 2013

Oklahoma nearly blew a 16-point lead on Wednesday night. It turned the ball over 17 times and was outrebounded by 14. Not an absolutely vintage performance against a Baylor team fighting its own issues, but good enough for a 74-71 road victory against one of the league’s better teams. The win solidifies the Sooners’ NCAA Tournament resume and, in most cases, would deserve a pat on the back or modest praise. You know, things like… Nice win. Way to go. Keep up the good work.

Not for this program. For a moment, think back to Jeff Capel’s disastrous break-up with Oklahoma. Think back to the Tiny Gallon accusations of improper benefits, the two straight losing seasons in the post-Blake Griffin era and the overall embarrassment of a once-proud fan base. Consider all of that, and then come back to reality and realize that Oklahoma just won its most important game in years on Wednesday night. Writers like us are often guilty of hyperbole and sensationalism, but Lon Kruger put the Sooners back on the college basketball map tonight. Forget that Baylor wasn’t even ranked, and that nobody’s ever referred to the Ferrell Center in Waco as Cameron Indoor West. It was still Oklahoma’s first true quality victory this season, save for perhaps Oklahoma State earlier this month. It was an example of what this team can do when Wyoming transfer Amath M’Baye is on his game. He scored 20 points tonight, and Steven Pledger broke out in a big way with 20 more of his own. Freshman Buddy Hield played such a terrific basketball game in the backcourt that Kruger didn’t even need our man Sam Grooms (who we’ve so generously supported this season and will continue to do so). There was sharing of the basketball. A 53 percent clip from the field as a team. And a couple of veteran plays by two freshmen — Hield and Je’lon Hornbeak — at the end of the game to seal the win and hold off the Bears.

Remember Blake Griffin? Wednesday Night Might Be OU's Best Win Since He Was There

Remember Blake Griffin? Wednesday Night Might Be OU’s Best Win Since He Was There

Speaking in terms of simply RPI, it is Oklahoma’s best win since February 6, 2010 against Texas, a season in which the Sooners finished with a losing record. For our purposes, let’s call this the biggest win in Oklahoma basketball history since March 27, 2009, when Blake Griffin and his boys smacked around Syracuse in the Sweet Sixteen. It’s been a long four years since that day. Finally, the Sooners are back on track, though it’ll take awhile longer for Kruger to restore that sort of glory. Griffin had a double-double for the Los Angeles Clippers in a victory over Minnesota on Wednesday night, by the way. You could still argue Oklahoma had a better night.

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Big 12 M5: 01.31.13 Edition

Posted by Nate Kotisso on January 31st, 2013

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  1. Oklahoma finally had a chance to score a road win against Baylor that would boost their average tournament profile. So they grabbed a hold of this game early and never let go. The Sooners marched into Baylor’s Ferrell Center and handed the Bears their third home loss of the season (they’ve got six total). They got an outstanding effort from Amath M’Baye but I’m giving major props to a upperclassmen I expected a lot more from during his senior season. I pictured Steven Pledger being a serious contender for player of the year in the Big 12 but his six minute drop in playing time has seen his shooting and scoring numbers take a hit in 2012-13. Last night:  20 points, 6-for-12 shooting, made three threes, had two steals, five assists and one turnover. He made three free throws down the stretch to clinch it for Oklahoma. This game goes to show that he’s better than his season stats would tell you.
  2. Iowa State tried to make history last night, and they came close, but it just wasn’t to be. Again. The Cyclones had not won a game at Gallagher-Iba Arena in a quarter of a century and now they will have to wait another year to rewrite history. They led for a little over half of the game before losing it in an interesting final seconds of regulation. If the original call of a foul plus a 1-and-1 opportunity for Chris Babb stood firm, we could be talking a game that went to overtime and possibly a streak that could be no more. But as players and coaches will tell you, it’s never a good idea to let the referees decide the end of a game. They’ll move on and face Baylor Saturday who ironically enough have never won a game at Hilton Coliseum. Go figure.
  3. Yes it was super frosh Marcus Smart who hit the game-winner last night and had another typical superb game,  but his high school teammate is deserving of some attention tooPhil Forte stands just five feet, eleven inches tall and knows if he wasn’t a gym rat, there’s a chance he wouldn’t be playing Division 1 hoops. His tireless work ethic has earned him starters’ minutes as of late, going over 30 in four of the last five games. Last night, Forte chipped in with 17 points and four steals. It won’t be long before people outside Stillwater will realize that Forte is actually not related to former Cowboy Keiton Page.
  4. We knew it was going to get ugly in Manhattan. What hampered Texas this time? Offense again. All the Longhorns could get was 19 in the first half while K-State happened to score 19 more than UT. The Horns turn the ball over more than anyone (16 turnovers/game) in the Big 12. Wouldn’t you know it, the Wildcats would win the turnover battle 17-6.  Sheldon McClellan described this season better than anyone after the game: “Demoralizing.” At this point Rick Barnes’ only hope this spring is if he can find a way land Julius Randle for next year’s recruiting class.
  5. Kansas State absolutely would have taken a win by any means necessary after losing twice last week. While the game was never in doubt, backup forward Thomas Gipson played like there was no tomorrow. After starting the last 13 games for the Wildcats, Gipson found himself coming off the bench. He took the demotion in stride, scoring 17 points and pulling down seven boards in 21 minutes. For Gipson, there was also some added meaning for playing on January 30th. “I think that today, my real motivation was that today was my sister’s (Jade Middleton) birthday and she passed about a year ago and I just used that as my reason to play hard. I should play like that every day.” At least he’s willing to admit he doesn’t play to his potential. Now it’s time to buck that trend.
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Freeze Frame: Capturing Nerlens Noel’s Defensive Impact Against Ole Miss

Posted by Brian Joyce on January 31st, 2013

Brian Joyce is a writer for the SEC microsite and regular contributor for Rush The Court. Follow him on Twitter for more about SEC basketball at bjoyce_hoops.

Kentucky needed a signature win on its resume, and that’s exactly what it got when the Wildcats defeated the fighting Marshall Hendersons of Ole Miss in Oxford on Tuesday night. All the attention was on the Rebels’ Henderson, but it was a 6’11” freshman without a single field goal in the game who had the largest impact on the outcome. Nerlens Noel blocked a school record 12 blocks (though one was actually blocked by Kyle Wiltjer but credited to Noel) on his way to one of the finest performances of his young career. Perhaps the most impressive statistic of all is that Noel blocked five of his 12 total blocks with less than six minutes to go in the second half while saddled with four fouls.

How was Noel so effective? Most players play with hesitation when so close to fouling out of the game, but he did not. He was an even bigger part of Kentucky’s defense down the stretch because the Rebels suspected his weakness in the middle and tried to exploit it. But man were they wrong. What Andy Kennedy’s squad did not anticipate was that Noel would not back off even with the risk of watching the end of a close game next to John Calipari on the bench. But how exactly did he not pick up his fifth foul? As aggressive as he was in attempting to swat the ball into the upper deck of the Tad Pad, he kept the angle of his body straight up and down to avoid any extra contact.

Straight up and down.

Straight up and down.

Note how Noel jumped straight up without making any contact with the shooter. He has an uncanny ability to make contact up top with the ball and nothing else. Despite the fact that Ole Miss drove toward him repeatedly in an attempt to draw his fifth foul, Noel finished the game on the floor. Another key to Noel’s shot-swatting party on defense is how quickly he bounces back from an initial jump. Noel’s “bounceability” led the great Mike Decourcy to compare his defensive game to that of Bill Russell. And here’s why:

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ACC M5: 01.31.13 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 31st, 2013

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  1. Yahoo! Sports: Here are some fun facts about Shane Larkin. He stopped playing baseball after his little league manager told him, “Whoever taught you to hit didn’t know what he was talking about” (his dad, Barry Larkin, is a Hall of Fame baseball player). Also, at one point in his high school career Jeff Bzdelik was pursuing Larkin pretty hard and Larkin seemed pretty interested. Bzdelik never offered. Now Larkin is a top-three point guard in the ACC (Erick Green, then he and Quinn Cook seem pretty comparable). But Larkin’s development is one of the better stories in the ACC this season. He was an exciting player last year, but made as many stupid plays as jaw-dropping ones. This year, he’s much more in control and Miami’s a better team for it.
  2. Washington PostBefore Michael Snaer’s game-winning dagger last night (see #5, below), Mark Turgeon said Maryland‘s loss to Florida State earlier in the season “probably was the toughest.” My guess is that buzzer-beater didn’t help. The Florida State loss was when Maryland started to slip (or the competition exposed the Terrapins). Maryland was in control most of that game, leading by eight points twice (the second time coming with less than seven minutes to play in the game). But both times it looked like Maryland might stretch things out before the Seminoles came clawing back.
  3. Charleston Post and Courier: Like most of his career, Milton Jennings has been very inconsistent this season. Some days he’s the star of the show. Others he might as well not exist. Travis Sawchik noticed that one determining factor in Jennings’ performance is whether he’s playing at home or on the road. At Littlejohn Coliseum Jennings is shooting nearly 60% from the floor and is good for over 13 points a game. On the road? He’s shooting an abysmal 23% from the floor and is averaging six points a game. Jennings feeds off positive energy, and the crowd at Clemson gives him energy. The crowds on the road makes him tentative. Brad Brownell’s team would benefit a lot if Jennings could become more consistent. He’s the team’s second best player, and it desperately needs him on the road.
  4. Duke Chronicle: This is the best article I’ve seen on Seth Curry‘s injury this year. It’s old news that Curry misses a significant number of Duke’s practices, but I hadn’t read that he “can’t really jump off [his] right leg” or that Tyler Thornton’s job in practice is to emulate Curry (which might explain some of Thornton’s threes). It’s got to be tough for Duke — not to mention Curry — as the team has changed it’s offense pretty significantly since Ryan Kelly went down with his injury.
  5. Tomahawk Nation (video via NBC Sports): So Michael Snaer hit another buzzer-beater — his second this week, fourth in ACC play. This time Snaer stole a win from Maryland. However the biggest news for Florida State fans is the matter of turnovers. Miscues have killed the Seminoles the past few years, but they only gave the ball up six times (less than 10% of possessions) against Maryland. That’s what kept them close enough so that Snaer’s late-game heroics could do the rest. An injured Ian Miller (who, similar to Seth Curry, isn’t practicing) was very productive, even engineering the final play with his drive and kick to Snaer. The moral of this story: Florida State isn’t dead yet. The Seminoles still need to steal a win or two against Duke, NC State or Miami and have a strong showing in the conference tourney, but there’s hope.

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Big East M5: 01.31.13 Edition

Posted by Will Tucker on January 31st, 2013

bigeast_morning5(2) 

  1. Mike Aresco mentioned the likelihood of Big East and Catholic Seven schools scheduling future non-conference series in his comments the other day in Connecticut. Fittingly, neither of the first two programs to arrange such a continuation will play in the Big East in two years. Syracuse and St. John’s will kick off a home-and-home in Madison Square Garden on December 15, extending a century-old intrastate rivalry. While the second game will have no affiliation whatsoever with the Big East, it’s an encouraging bellwether of other efforts to preserve existing Big East rivalries. That’s certainly the impression given in a statement from Syracuse AD Daryl Gross, which begins “As we continue to aggressively secure rivalries that are dear to us…” Perhaps the political entanglements of realignment won’t trample all of the conference traditions fans appreciate.
  2. It’s a moot point, but one Kevin Ollie’s team should feel proud of: the consensus is that UConn would be comfortably in the NCAA Tournament field right now, were they eligible. Before last night’s win over Rutgers, Jerry Palm and Joe Lunardi projected that the Huskies would be seeded between #7-#10, checking in “the low 30s on the S-Curve” in Lunardi’s ESPN Bracketology. Much of the preseason conjecture on UConn’s outlook focused on whether they could stay motivated this season, but Shabazz Napier puts it simply: “You don’t play to lose games.” “It probably hasn’t hit a lot of guys that we’re almost done,” Napier continued, “I think the guys understand that we’re doing this for something bigger. We’re doing this to get ready for next year.”
  3. Prior to hosting Villanova last night, Notre Dame had lost a slumping starter to injury and dropped two of its last three games at the Joyce Center. Meditating on the Fighting Irish’s 65-60 win over Nova, Brian Hamilton at the Chicago Tribune says Notre Dame’s “new reality,” characterized by energetic contributions coming from unimaginable places, “might not be a bad thing.” In his second start in Scott Martin’s stead, Tom Knight scored efficiently in double digits again (10 points, four rebounds, two blocks). Talented freshmen Zach Auguste (four points) and Cam Biedscheid (18 points) contributed off the bench, with the latter scoring a career-high on 5-of-7 three-pointers. “It’s fun watching the new vibe that we have,” said Brey. For now, it’s a promising reality.
  4. In this week’s power rankings, Luke Winn points out that Russ Smith leads the nation with 7.6 transition possessions per 40 minutes, scoring 1.212 points per opportunity. To put that in perspective, deft transition scorer Shabazz Muhammad only scores 1.011 points per possession on 6.9 average chances per ballgame. That statistic underscores that Louisville isn’t utilizing its best offensive asset when the Cards haven’t scored more than seven fast break points in any of their past four games.
  5. Cincinnati managed to overcome a 10-point deficit last night with a hobbled Cashmere Wright to rally past a reeling Rutgers team, 62-54. Though Wright had eight days to rehabilitate his knee after a tough loss to Syracuse, the point guard still struggled to find his shot in 20 minutes of playing time. He’s shooting a paltry 15.7% since returning from injury: He followed last week’s 2-of-13 shooting outing against Syracuse with a 1-of-6, six-point affair tonight. Though Sean Kilpatrick and a defensive lift from Justin Jackson propelled the Bearcats, Wright’s recovery will be pivotal to their contention for a Big East title. According to Kilpatrick, you can’t fault his point guard’s effort: “With the injuries he has, I can’t see anyone playing through it. But he always gives us his everything. That’s a leader for you. He gives you everything until he can’t walk anymore.”
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Morning Five: 01.31.13 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 31st, 2013

morning5

  1. Basketball took a back seat at Ohio yesterday after an armed robbery (reportedly over $5) at 9:30 AM at an apartment complex near the campus led the school to suspend classes and cancel last night’s game against Eastern Michigan. Interestingly, the school remained open for another 2.5 hours with the suspect loose before the administration chose to close the campus. In the aftermath of the announcement there appears to have been quite a bit of confusion regarding the school’s intent, but fortunately it appears that nobody was harmed and no further incidents took place although the suspect was still at-large as of this writing. The school has announced that the game will be made up on February 20, which works well for both teams as they both have their preceding game on February 16 and next game on February 27.
  2. Much of the early part of this week in the blogosphere was spent discussing Marshall Henderson‘s various, shall we say, peculiarities, both on and off the court. After a rough shooting outing against Kentucky on Tuesday night, much of that talk has died down, but on Wednesday USA Today‘s Nicole Auerbach published an insightful piece about the life and history of the controversial Henderson that included a revelation that the junior college transfer once violated his probation in Texas for failing a drug test because he had cocaine (along with marijuana and alcohol) in his system. Both Henderson’s father and his head coach, Andy Kennedy, believe that the guard has moved past his personal demons at this point in his life, but with his on-court demeanor sure to set Twitter ablaze again soon, we’ll have to wait and see if the pressure and infamy carries over to the Oxford after-parties.
  3. The Wednesday news didn’t improve for Ole Miss fans, as the Rebels also learned that sophomore forward Aaron Jones will miss the rest of the season after injuring his ACL in Tuesday night’s game against Kentucky. The bouncy Jones was only averaging 4/4 in about 17 minutes per game this season, but his loss will be a shock to an Ole Miss lineup short on quality size. As if that weren’t enough, senior guard Nick Williams will be out an indefinite amount of time with a foot injury suffered in the same game. The timing on all of this misfortune is not the greatest, either — the Rebels on Saturday will visit a team, Florida, that is winning SEC contests so far by an average of 28.7 PPG. Good luck with that.
  4. The Big East will draw the curtains on what can only be described as a college basketball goliath in less than two months, but unlike some of the other bitterness that has infused divorcing programs in other leagues, Syracuse and St. John’s specifically are looking for an amicable split. It makes sense. Syracuse has been NYC’s flagship college basketball program for a long time now despite its location several hundred miles upstate, and without question the Orange wants to keep its presence in the New York market strong after joining the ACC. St. John’s certainly wants to keep a marquee opponent on its home schedule as Steve Lavin tries to rebuild that proud program as well. The contract begins next year at MSG with a return trip to the Carrier Dome in 2014-15, but for now the series is only scheduled for those two games. We’d expect that it will be extended indefinitely at a certain point.
  5. In this week’s edition of Luke Winn‘s Power Rankings he spends a lot of time focusing on teams in transition (literally, not figuratively). With the nerdtastic tool of Synergy Sports Technology at his disposal, Winn can find statistically enlightening nuances to explain the game in ways that both tease and titillate. In this week’s edition, he examines some of the best players in the country at shooting jumpers off the dribble (hint: two of them play each other Saturday night in a semi-important game), discusses the best transition guys in the game, and a mention of Kelly Olynyk’s “awesome hair.” Memo to Winn, though: It’s not Olynyk’s hair itself that creates the awesomeness — it’s the ropey-looking headband (color coordinated!) that he adds to the ensemble that truly elevates his look from simply Tim Lincecum cool to Andre Agassi spectacular (in his hirsute prime).
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