College Basketball By The Tweets: A Big Weekend and #FreePJ In Cameron

Posted by David Harten on December 17th, 2013

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With Saturday marking the first weekend where college football didn’t dominate the sports schedule, college basketball took full advantage, with some pivotal non-conference games on the docket, a few featuring Top 25 teams and some others that made an argument to be ranked.

If you’re starting with Top 25 teams, you have to begin with No. 18 Kentucky at No. 11 North Carolina on Saturday, where the Tar Heels kept their head-scratching narrative going with an 82-77 victory in the Dean Dome. Marcus Paige dropped 23 points, including a 10-of-10 performance from the free throw line. After losing to Belmont at home and UAB in Birmingham, UNC has now notched victories over several of the top teams in the nation, beating the AP’s top three preseason teams in America. As you’ll see, you can attribute their elevated play to hot shooting against elite defensive teams, but it’s pretty impressive that Roy Williams’ bunch is doing all this without P.J. Hairston in the lineup (more on him at the bottom).

Another game that really caught the public eye on Saturday was No. 1 Arizona heading to the Crisler Center to take on Michigan. The Wildcats came back late and held on to win to preserve their spot at the top of the polls. While Brandon Ashley led the Cats with a team-high 18 points, Aaron Gordon put up his own nice performance of 14 points, five rebounds and two assists, but saved his best for what he did defensively in the second half against a red-hot Glenn Robinson III.  Read the rest of this entry »

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College Basketball by the Tweets: Some Good Tuesday Night Games

Posted by David Harten on December 11th, 2013

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“Quality over quantity” might be the best way to describe Tuesday night in college basketball. A majority of schools are in finals week, and as a result, players need their study time. So that means rest. Or easy opponents. Or both. But that wasn’t the case with No. 13 Kansas and No. 19 Florida yesterday. It’s safe to assume that these two schools aren’t in finals prep this week, so they took the opportunity to play each other in Gainesville. Jayhawks coach Bill Self went with four freshmen in the starting lineup. It perhaps wasn’t the greatest of ideas against the Gators’ dual point guard system, but it was the Gators’ zone that stifled Joel Embiid, Perry Ellis and most of the rest of the Jayhawks, leading to a 67-61 win. This prompted a short debate about KU’s offense versus the zone.

Part of the situation with Self seemed weird. Why start four freshmen? It almost seemed like a move that Chuck Daly would make, a la the 1992 Dream Team’s scrimmage against that college all-star team (although I’d be willing to bet Self wouldn’t throw the game.) Maybe it was a move to prepare the Jayhawks’ youth for the conference season, when trips to Manhattan, Stillwater, Ames and Norman await.

That youth showed early for Kansas, who allowed the Gators to go on an blistering 21-0 run. Andrew Wiggins keyed a near comeback, bringing his team back to within range before Florida held them off. For the most part, Kansas was sloppy with the ball, couldn’t shoot and was horrible defensively.

It all added up to a 67-61 loss. Read the rest of this entry »

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College Basketball by the Tweets: A B1G/ACC Tie, UNC Plays Jekyll and Hyde…

Posted by David Harten on December 5th, 2013

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So can anyone figure North Carolina out? Seriously, that’s a question. In the past four games, the Tar Heels have done what can only be deciphered as playing up (or down) to their competition, losing to Belmont at home before beating defending national champion Louisville, then losing to UAB before taking down the No. 1 team in the nation, Michigan State, on Wednesday night. So please, someone explain what makes this team act the way it acts. The Tar Heels’ tussle with the Spartans highlighted the two-day Big Ten/ACC Challenge, with the two conferences tying at 6-6 for the second consecutive year. When it was all over, the national focus was less on the tie and more on the fact that the Tar Heels have two wins over top five teams and two losses to unranked bubble teams.

Speaking of disappointing Michigan State performances, does anyone remember that Garrick Sherman spent the beginning of his career with the Spartans? Well, he’s at Notre Dame now, which everyone probably knows after the five-overtime thriller against Louisville last year, of which he didn’t play a minute of until the first overtime and still finished with 17 points. He’s proven a capable scorer as a fifth-year senior, putting up an event-high 29 points in a 98-93 Irish loss at Iowa. Read the rest of this entry »

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College Basketball By The Tweets: Upsets and Titles Abound Over Holiday Weekend

Posted by David Harten on December 2nd, 2013

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The word of the weekend is upset: U-P-S-E-T. That pretty much sums up the last few days in college basketball, where there seemed to be a lesser-team (at least on paper) beating a seemingly better team (again, at least on paper) in every time slot. If your team had a ranking next to it, chances are they were threatened at one point or another in their latest game or two. Along with those upsets came titles. This weekend marked the unofficial end of the early-season tournaments until a handful of Christmas tourneys come around, with winners being crowned in the Old Spice Classic, the Wooden Legacy and the Battle 4 Atlantis. Even when there wasn’t a trophy up for grabs, the games were just as compelling. Just ask North Carolina (making “upset Sunday” a regularity) or Creighton (which lost in a third-place game). Their losses weren’t softened by knowing that hardware wasn’t on the line.

First, it was Villanova having arguably the best time anyone had in the Caribbean. Initially, the Wildcats pulled off an upset of #2 Kansas 63-59 in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis on Friday night. The Jayhawks shot just 18.9 percent from three-point range.

That’s good, but how do you validate it? Go out and beat no. 23 Iowa in the finals, winning the whole thing on Saturday, 88-83 in overtime. James Bell had 20 in the win.

Jay Wright may submit his application for consideration of a team’s best weekend in college basketball at any time.

On Sunday, the first eye-opener came when pupil beat student as Jarod Haase and UAB welcomed Roy Williams and North Carolina, and sent them packing with a 63-59 loss. Chad Frazier might be the best junior college newcomer in all of college basketball, finishing with 26 points in the win and averaging 18.4 points in his first eight games on campus. Read the rest of this entry »

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College Basketball By The Tweets: Title Game Tilts, Coach Fights & Parker Shows Off

Posted by David Harten on November 28th, 2013

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Wednesday night made for one of the better nights we’ve had so far in this year’s college basketball season. It’s holiday tournament time — the three days in Maui were capped, the semifinals of the NIT Season Tip-Off got underway, and a host of other tournaments across the country start today. Trophies were raised and big performances were necessary… and Syracuse and Baylor made it tough to appreciate having 20/20 vision in what I like to call “the day-glow game.”

Let’s take it to the best tweets of the night, shall we?

The top games on the night came in Madison Square Garden, with Duke taking Alabama after Arizona got all it could want from Drexel, and in the Lahaina Civic Center, with Syracuse and Baylor playing for all of the surfboards in Maui. As far as the Blue Devils’ play was concerned, it wasn’t the start they envisioned.

Arizona also fought back after trailing by as much as 19 to the Dragons, pulling away very late for the win. Drexel suffered more than a loss on its record, with one of their better players in Damion Lee exiting the game in the second half with a knee injury. The good news is that Dragons’ head coach Bruiser Flint said the team doesn’t believe there’s any serious damage.

And before things got underway in the Maui title game, Dayton proved its worth in the third place game, beating California, 82-64. As possibly the most impressive team in the tournament, you’d expect this to be a huge confidence boost for Devin Oliver, coach Archie Miller and the rest of the Flyers.

Staying in Hawaii, Syracuse started fast against Baylor, thanks mainly to Tournament MVP C.J. Fair’s scoring and Tyler Ennis being the steady presence at the point.

Oh, and between the Orange and Baylor’s uniforms, the television was tough to look at.

We cut back to Duke and Alabama, where midway through the first half, Blue Devils’ wunderkind Jabari Parker hit possibly the most impressive shot of the night, with a turnaround, baseline fadeaway over a defender that made so many in attendance and watching on TV say “that’s an NBA elite-level shot.” Read the rest of this entry »

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College Basketball by the Tweets: A Kaminsky, Carson & Smart Sort of Night

Posted by David Harten on November 20th, 2013

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We’ve seen about two weeks of the college basketball season fly by, and between ESPN’s 24 Hours of College Basketball, the State Farm Champions Classic, and the bevy of compelling storylines, there’s been no shortage of great things to discuss. So this week’s College Basketball by the Tweets focuses on Tuesday night, with a strong slate of games to choose from and an unlimited supply of tweets to embed. The night belonged to the scorers — the men who eschewed passing and got their shots up. When it was all said and done, seven players finished with more than 30 points, led by Wisconsin forward Frank Kaminsky‘s 43, which was a school record. Jahii Carson poured in 40 as well for Arizona State. What were some of the reactions around the Twitter-verse?

Also, lost in all this is the play of North Dakota’s Troy Huff, who scored 37 points of his own in the 103-85 loss to the Badgers.

We also saw those same freshman we were introduced to last week, and they backed up their first big-time performance with solid games on Tuesday night. Jabari Parker, for instance, went end-to-end for a huge dunk the Duke’s 83-74 victory over East Carolina. And Twitter went off. Read the rest of this entry »

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Dissecting a College Hoops Revival in the DFW Metroplex

Posted by David Harten on November 6th, 2013

Say what you want about USC vs. UCLA on the west coast, but if you want to see a remarkable arms race between neighboring programs, look to the south. In the Dallas-Fort Worth area, SMU began to show the rest of the college basketball world it is finally making a move when the school hired Larry Brown prior to last season. TCU did the same in a more subtle manner, moving to the Big 12 in 2012 and hiring Trent Johnson away from LSU. Quietly, two teams who have been mediocre at best in their respective hoops histories were beginning to make DFW hardwood relevant outside of the Mavericks.

Dallas-Area College Hoops Appears to be on the Rise

Dallas-Area College Hoops Appears to be on the Rise

Johnson’s first season in Fort Worth went as expected, as the Horned Frogs transitioned to a much more difficult conference. Outside of a home upset over Kansas (probably the biggest single upset of the 2012-13 season), TCU tacked on one more win in conference play and trudged to a 2-16 league record. But off the court, Johnson has steadily done his best to push the Horned Frogs toward the middle of the Big 12 pack, which seems like an impossible task for a program that has only been to seven NCAA Tournaments (none since 1998). It started with his first recruiting class, when Johnson landed journeyman guard Trey Zeigler, even if just for the one upcoming season. He also made a splash in recruiting circles by landing Dallas-area center Karviar Shepherd, who ranked as the 69th-best player in the class. To show future recruits their own commitment to building the program, the university has also announced a $45 million renovation to Daniel-Meyer Coliseum.

Down the road in Dallas, SMU started its road to relevancy by hiring legendary (albeit well-traveled) coach Larry Brown prior to last season. After controversially picking through his roster and cutting certain players, the 73-year old Brown landed his first solid recruiting class with point guard Sterling Brown (ranked no. 82 by Scout.com in the 2013 class), shooting guard Keith Frazier (ranked no. 33) and junior college power forward Yanick Moreira, a consensus top five JuCo prospect. Regardless of his age, Brown has an astute basketball mind that will help the Mustangs drive toward relevance in the newly-formed American Athletic Conference. Couple all this with the fact that SMU also pledged a healthy chunk of change to update the basketball facilities – $47 million worth, to be exact – and you have the start of something brewing in Dallas. The Mustangs will need all of this and more to return to their first NCAA Tournament since 1993.

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Five Fatal Flaws Among the Top Five Teams

Posted by David Harten on October 28th, 2013

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There’s a reason that no college basketball team has finished a season undefeated since Indiana in 1976. Throughout an entire season, the daily grind exposes flaws. Some are correctable while others prove to be a lasting problem. At the beginning of each season, each of the roughly 350 teams in Division I has something to address. Let’s check out the top five teams from the preseason ESPN/USA Today poll and see which flaws will cost certain teams some non-conference games if they don’t get their issues corrected.

Chane Behanan's suspension is one of the bigger stories of the top-tier teams this season. (AP)

Chane Behanan’s suspension is one of the bigger stories of the top-tier teams this season. (AP)

  • We start with #5 Arizona and will work our way to the top. The Wildcats don’t seem to have many flaws on paper. With returnees like Nick Johnson, Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley joining a crazy-talented recruiting class of Aaron Gordon, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson and Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell, there will be plenty of talent in Tucson. But, with Solomon Hill (13.4 PPG, 5.3 RPG), Kevin Parrom (8.3 PPG, 4.9 RPG, 48.3 percent FG) and Mark Lyons (team-leading 15.6 PPG) all gone, the Wildcats will need a new offensive leader. All that scoring would have helped when the Wildcats willplay Michigan in Ann Arbor. Gordon is a leaper with decent offensive game, but therein lies the problem. Johnson will be the veteran leader, but he hasn’t shown a penchant for consistent scoring, finishing last season with only one 20-point game. So which Wildcat steps up and takes control when the pressure mounts on the road?
  • At #4, Duke welcomes back a number of veterans and an elite freshman class headlined by Jabari Parker. So their scoring will be there, even if Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly (47.5 PPG last season combined) have exhausted their eligibility. But looking past the inevitable replacement of the scorers, rebounding will be something the Blue Devils will have to improve upon or suffer with. The leading returning rebounder is Quinn Cook’s 3.9 boards per game. A number of teams on the  Blue Devils’ non-conference schedule could take advantage of that, particularly Kansas, with Memphis transfer Tarik Black and Joel Embiid patrolling the post for the Jayhawks.

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From JuCo to Division I: Four Newcomers Have Valuable Roles to Fill

Posted by David Harten on October 18th, 2013

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During their run to the Final Four last season, Wichita State head coach Gregg Marshall relied heavily on junior college products. Players like leading rebounder Carl Hall, starting point guard Malcolm Armstead and leading scorer Cleanthony Early all spent time in junior college during their playing careers before playing vital roles for the Shockers. They came from places normally reserved for those with some sort of problems — exposure, physical make-up, grades or off-the-court issues — and banded together to make a run that became one of the best stories of the 2013 Big Dance.

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Wichita State Rode Some JuCos All the Way to the Final Four in 2013

Every year, the nation’s top junior college talent heads to new, big-time programs and, at least in the case of most of the the upper-tier players, they’ll be asked to contribute right away. So who are the JuCo targets that will be asked to do the most this season? The options are plenty, and so are their talents. The first that comes to mind has to be Louisville point guard Chris Jones. The national junior college player of the year last season helped Northwest Florida State College to back-to-back JuCo national title game appearances. He’ll be asked to step into the role left open by the graduation of Peyton Siva. Jones’ is a better scorer than Siva (21.8 points per game), on par with him as a distributor (4.2 assists per game vs. Siva’s 5.7) and is a better rebounder (5.1 boards per game vs. Siva’s 2.4). If Louisville wants to reach its third straight Final Four appearance and win a second consecutive national title, Jones will be relied on heavily to help get the Cardinals there.

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Reported adidas Deal With Andrew Wiggins Sets Precedent Very High

Posted by David Harten on October 17th, 2013

According to various media reports on Tuesday, adidas is already stocking up to make a play on current Kansas star Andrew Wiggins, with the shoe giant ready to the throw a 10-year, $140 to $180 million contract at him when he goes pro after this season. Wiggins is widely touted as the top prospect in the 2014 NBA Draft, so let’s move past any issues or claims of amateurism and instead look at the how and why of this supposed deal. Looking at the immediate future, when Wiggins is selected in the first round of the draft next June, he will get the guaranteed four-year contract that comes with selection as a first round pick, per the NBA’s recent collective bargaining agreement. Breaking it down to a simple annual take of salary ($4 million-plus per year) plus endorsements, Wiggins will make a minimum of $18-$22 million per year beginning next summer, assuming of course that he lives up to the overflowing hype while passing through Lawrence.

Why Is This Man Smiling? Nine Figures Waiting Helps

Why Is This Man Smiling? Nine Figures Waiting For Him Helps

For comparison’s sake, let’s look at some of the more lucrative endorsement deals offered to young professional basketball prospects in the last decade. It’s tough to find a good benchmark, but you have to start with LeBron James’ deal with Nike in 2003, which was reportedly worth over $90 million at the time. In terms of one-year collegiate wonders, Kevin Durant signed a seven-year, $60 million deal with Nike when he came out of Texas, and lest we forget, Derrick Rose signed a monster “lifetime” (actual: 14-year) contract with adidas last year worth $260 million.

And yet, none of those deals are as important as the one that Wiggins could reportedly sign. There are certain number of factors that go into it. First, a company being publicly locked and loaded with such a deal (of course, neither adidas nor Wiggins can confirm it) could set off a behind-the-scenes bidding war and set the stage for preemptive moves like this in the future. Everyone around the game knows that the business of basketball begins when top players are still in the AAU ranks. With the shoe companies having such deep and prolific roots in the summer circuits and associations with the major prep schools, it’s easy to understand how and why many players are predestined for adidas, Nike, Reebok, and so forth from the beginning. Kansas is an adidas school. Wouldn’t it make sense for Wiggins to represent the shoe company on the court this season with such a tremendous payoff waiting for him in the wings? Shabazz Muhammad, UCLA, Dream Vision and adidas all say hello.

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