Wake Forest’s Jeff Bzdelik: Make Sure to Leave Home Without Him

Posted by JPriz on January 12th, 2014

From growing up playing basketball through college to observing many coaches over the last few years, it is my contention that a coach never strays too far from his roots, and you can look to one’s history to get a sense of the present. One coaching profile I read recently was on Alabama football head coach, Nick Saban, who gained his attention to detail from washing cars at his father’s dealership. If the car wasn’t completely streak-free, he had to wash the entire car again.

Jeff Bzdelik Simply Cannot Win Games on the Road (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

Jeff Bzdelik Simply Cannot Win Games on the Road (AP Photo/Chuck Burton)

The same can be said for Wake Forest’s head coach Jeff Bzdelik. The guy simply can’t win on the road, and hasn’t been able to win on the road for the past several years, tracing back to his time at Colorado. He is quite literally 2-50 in conference road games during that stretch. OK, so the facts are out there, the guy clearly can’t win on the road. But why can’t he win on the road? I think the answer lies in Bzdelik’s history, one that has plenty of twists and turns. Here is a man who has been near greatness, and has taken credit for it. When he isn’t near greatness, he has been completely unable to win games, with the exception of his anomalous tenure at Air Force.

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What to Make of Pittsburgh Through Another Weak Non-Conference Schedule

Posted by Jason Priziborowski on December 22nd, 2013

Pittsburgh is having another solid season, currently sitting at 11-1 after torching visiting Cal Poly by 17 points over the weekend. Here’s the key question, though: Does this record represent a run at an elite season for the Panthers or is this just another instance of strategic scheduling? Many coaches schedule their non-conference slates to challenge and help prepare their teams for the rigors of conference play; while others schedule to win a bunch of games. John Calipari, Roy Williams, and Tom Izzo tend to fall into the latter camp, whereas Jamie Dixon, Jim Boeheim and many others are regularly accused of falling into the former camp.

Jamie Dixon has been piling up non-conference wins, but does it prepare his team for later in the season?

For the past three years, Dixon has clearly followed the philosophy of scheduling to win. This season Pittsburgh is 11-1 in non-conference play with one more game against Albany to go before ACC play begins. This year the Panthers have only played four teams in the RPI Top 100 (Stanford at #46, Cincinnati at #67, Penn State at #73, and Fresno State at #92), beating all but the Bearcats. Last season they also finished non-conference play 12-1, having played only two teams in the RPI top 100 (Michigan at #17 and Detroit at #64), splitting those games. In 2011-12, Pittsburgh finished non-conference play at 11-2, playing five teams in the RPI top 100 (Long Beach State at #36, La Salle at #83, Tennessee at #86, Wagner at #92, and Penn at #98), losing to both Long Beach State and Wagner.

The problem for Pittsburgh is that it plays in the tough-as-nails ACC, so if non-conference play doesn’t prepare the Panthers for the difficulties of league play, it’s tough to just flip the switch on come January. It’s understandable that coaches don’t want to schedule such a difficult non-conference schedule that their teams are burned out and lacking confidence heading into the conference season, but there needs to be enough competition so that the team also improves from early November to late December. Last year Pitt finished the non-conference season at 12-1, went 12-6 in the Big East, and then lost its first game of the Big East Tournament before doing likewise in the NCAA Tournament. The year before that, Pitt finished non-conference play at 11-2 before falling apart in the Big East with a 5-13 record and not making the NCAAs at all.

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Rushed Reaction: #2 Ohio State 73, #7 Gonzaga 66

Posted by JPriz on March 17th, 2012

Three key takeaways.

  1. Great teams make big plays. Gonzaga was impressive for 38 minutes. They absolutely battled tooth and nail with one of the best teams in the country in Ohio State, but during the last two minutes they didn’t make the plays they needed to win. Elias Harris missed two crucial free throws. The defense couldn’t stop Jared Sullinger. The offense couldn’t make the big shots. Ohio State delivered when the game was on the line in the tough moments, and that’s why they are a great team, and that’s why Gonzaga will be going home.
  2. Stars will be stars, and some won’t. Ohio State almost has a roster of stars from Sullinger to Aaron Craft to Deshaun Thomas to William Buford. Gonzaga has one big star in Robert Sacre. Sullinger and Craft, as will be noted below, showed up big, especially when it counted. Thomas, who annihilated Loyola on Thursday for 31, was sleepwalking through the first half, and ended up with 12 points in a hurry. Buford, who didn’t show up until late against Loyola, was solid and very smooth tonight with 13. Sacre, on the other hand, didn’t show up in the way that the Zags needed. He finished with eight points, but only had brief glimpses in this one of his potential dominance. He blocked Sullinger and got him into foul trouble, but other than that, he didn’t give enough to get the Zags over the top.
  3. Ohio State still has upside. As crazy as this may seem, Ohio State still has a lot of upside in this tournament. They were outrebounded heavily in the first half, and that’s the sole reason that the Zags were still in the game. The Zags had 13 2nd half points in the first half, so it is clear that Ohio State has work to do on the boards. On the offensive end, Lenzelle Smith Jr didn’t make much of a presence until late in the 2nd half when he knocked down a big 3. The same can be said of Deshaun Thomas who had a goose egg halfway through the 1st. It’s almost scary to think that once this team puts a complete game together they might be able to beat the best teams here by double digits.

Star(s) of the game. Aaron Craft and Jared Sullinger, Ohio State. Aaron Craft wound up finishing the night with a very solid double-double. He had 17 points on 7-9 from the field to go with 10 assists to go with two turnovers. He completely dominated in the first half and took Kevin Pangos to school. Jared Sullinger finished with 18 points on 5-9 from the field, 6-7 from the line, and hit some of the biggest shots at the end of the game, including some very clutch free throws to close it out.

Sights & Sounds. Ohio State doesn’t mess around when it comes to school spirit. They brought their band, their cheerleaders, their mascot, and their fans. They performed their fight song several times throughout the game, and every fan was dotting the I.

What’s Next? #2 Ohio State will advance to take on the winner of #3 FSU/#6 Cincinnati. OSU will match up very well with either, as both Florida State and Cincinnati has plenty of size and speed. Ohio State matches up well with any team in the country. They will just have to make sure that everyone comes to play from start to finish, and hits the boards a little harder.

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Rushed Reaction: #1 Syracuse 75, #8 Kansas State 59

Posted by JPriz on March 17th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Don’t leave the bench at home. K-State had challenges with only four players scoring in its win over Southern Miss, and Syracuse exploited their lack of depth by shutting out the Wildcats’ bench 33-0. Nobody stepped up after Jordan Henriquez was forced out of the game with three fouls midway through the second half. K-State needed one more guy. Syracuse, meanwhile, had Dion Waiters lead all scorers with 18, and he came off the bench.
  2. Balance is better than a one man show. Syracuse found the answer for Fab Melo today, and that was team defense. The guards up top were tenacious, and continued to drop down on the high post, whether it was Jordan Henriquez or Thomas Gipson. Syracuse had eight blocks as a team to none for K-State. They also put four players in double figures, with Kris Joseph stepping up big with 11 points and a very efficient 7-8 from the line.
  3. You need to adjust. Kansas State had a great plan to start the game, and was executing very well in being only down one point at half. Syracuse adjusted to the zone, penetrated the seams, and found open shots in the form of Scoop Jardine, Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, and James Southerland. Kansas State didn’t adjust in its zone offense, and instead had their leading scorer in the first half, Henriquez, up on the high post passing the ball, and Gipson, their undersized post, down low, trying to battle the likes of Christmas and Joseph. That led to foul trouble for Henriquez, only three more points, and a K-State defeat.

Star of the Game. Scoop Jardine, Syracuse. Scoop really turned it on for Syracuse. During the first half he played well but had several turnovers. He really stepped up in the second half to put the game out of reach for the Wildcats. He ended the game with a stat sheet stuffer in terms of 16 points, eight assists, and a steal. The stat he will want to forget are the six turnovers he committed today, with most coming in the first half.

Sights & Sounds. Being St. Patricks Day, I was seeing  a lot of green in the crowd, but it just goes to show that orange and green go very well together, especially today.

What’s Next? #1 Syracuse will advance to take on the winner of the #4 Wisconsin/#5 Vanderbilt winner in Boston next week. Syracuse looked a lot better today, and should match up very well with either Wisconsin or Vanderbilt. They might have to watch being lulled into a slow tempo game against Wisconsin or the long range shooting of Vanderbilt if they take on the Commodores.

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Rushed Reaction: #2 Ohio State 78, #15 Loyola (MD) 59

Posted by JPriz on March 15th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. OSU has many weapons, not all of which are loaded. OSU has as many weapons as anyone in the tourney. They have Jared Sullinger, William Buford, Deshaun Thomas, Aaron Craft, and Lenzelle Smith, Jr. They can afford in the early going to not have each of their weapons loaded, but that’s not going to cut it when they get deeper. Buford wasn’t firing on all cylinders today. The box score might suggest otherwise, but half of his points were in garbage time at the end. The same goes with Craft. He wasn’t his usual intense and defense-oriented self tonight. OSU needs that version of Craft throughout the tourney. The bottom line is for this team to win a championship, they need all of their weapons to be loaded and firing at the same time.
  2. Energy will only take you so far. Loyola came out firing, and actually surprised me for a bit. They led 5-1 right away, and didn’t look like they were going away. Then reality caught up to them. They are a little shorter, a little less athletic, a lot less tested, and nowhere near as deep as Ohio State. I have to tip my hat to Dylon Cormier and Erik Etherly, who gave everything they had versus OSU. Cormier finished the game with 14 points on 5-12 shooting, and a perfect 2-2 from the line. Etherly finished with 19 points on an even more efficient 6-12 from the field and a near perfect 7-8 from the field along with 7 boards and 4 blocks.
  3. Who is OSU’s leader? I have heard that Aaron Kraft is OSU’s leader, or maybe it’s Jared Sullinger, or, well, I am not exactly sure. I am not sure if OSU knows either. Usually you can tell by who is bringing everyone together in the huddle, or who is getting in other guys’ faces, but I didn’t see that today at all. I saw a collection of very good players that played very well together at times, and then played well individually at times. I didn’t see a complete team effort, and I didn’t see one person step up and take control as a leader. I think OSU is going to need that as they get deeper, or they won’t be the team standing with the trophy at the end of this. I think that’s what hurt them last year too.

Star of the game. Deshaun Thomas, Ohio State. Thomas literally had a career day today, with 31 points setting a new career high. He did it in a fairly efficient manner on 13-22 from the field for 59%. In addition, he had 12 boards, seven on which were offensive, for a pretty phenomenal double double to start out the tourney.

Sights and Sounds. Unlike many of the earlier games, this game was lacking in sights and sounds outside of the cheerleaders and mascots for each team. During halftime I actually saw the Greyhound from Loyola jumping to give high fives to fans sitting above the hallway to the court entrance. Now that’s dedication and school spirit wrapped in one right there.

What’s Next? #2 Ohio State will advance to take on #7 Gonzaga on Saturday. Both teams essentially had blowouts today, and were never seriously challenged. Ohio State will need a couple more of their weapons to come with their guns loaded, in particular William Buford and Aaron Craft. Sullinger will need to be much more efficient, especially when operating in the post. Deshaun Thomas had a solid effort, so if he continues his scoring spree they should be in a good position to advance.

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Rushed Reaction: #7 Gonzaga 77, #10 West Virginia 54

Posted by JPriz on March 15th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways

  1. Crowds only matter when you give them something to cheer about. West Virginia had the perfect opportunity to take advantage of the Selection Committee’s gift. They were the away team, but had to travel 90 minutes up the highway to Pittsburgh to take on Gonzaga, the “home” team that had to fly over 2,000 miles across the country to be here. West Virginia was flat from the start, and beyond the yellow and blue clothing, they didn’t have anything to cheer about. West Virginia was behind by 10 points right away, and they never got closer. I am actually surprised that they didn’t leave at halftime.
  2. Good teams make shots. Defense might win championships, but if your team can’t put any points on the board, it is awfully hard to win as well. West Virginia shot way under 30% in the first half, and only barely above 30% for the game. Gonzaga, on the other hand, came to play, and shot well over 60% during the first half and over 50% for the game. They flat out made shots. They 28-50 from the field, 9-17 from 3 point, and 12-16 from the line. They shot so well that even when it seemed like West Virginia might chip away, they had no shot.
  3. Sometimes long distance can work. Much has been made of Gonzaga’s geographical draw, and how putting them in West Virginia’s backyard was a poor decision. It looks like Gonzaga thrives on these types of situations because they came into Pittsburgh with guns blazed, and immediately got up by 10, and never looked back. Gonzaga has overcome playing in a mid major conference, and now it looks like they have proven that wherever you choose to send them, they will play like it’s a home game.

Star of the Game. Kevin Pangos, Gonzaga. Even though Gonzaga had an extremely balanced offensive attack, Kevin was lights out right away, shooting 100% at one point deep into the 1st half, and ended shooting 5-7 from the field and 2-4 from 3 point. Not only did he take care of his own offense, he dished out 5 assists to 1 turnover, and grabbed 2 steals as well.

Sights & Sounds. You don’t think of an away team filling up the gym with fans, but due to the unusual match up of West Virginia being the away team by rank, but home team by geography, so I some plenty of yellow and blue. Unfortunately the poor play of West Virginia didn’t let the “home fans” show their school spirit.

What’s Next? #7 Gonzaga will advance to take on the winner of #2 Ohio State/#15 Loyola. Mark Few will likely be watching plenty of film on Ohio State in anticipation of that matchup. Gonzaga’s starting five matches up fairly well with Ohio State, and could even present itself with some match up advantages due to size in the post. The Buckeyes depth, speed, and athleticism will be cause for concern though. It should be a fun game to watch between two of the more successful programs of the past decade.

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Rushed Reaction: #1 Syracuse 72, #16 UNC Asheville 65

Posted by JPriz on March 15th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Syracuse isn’t a Final Four Team…Even though Syracuse won the second half by 11 points and the game, I was not impressed. They didn’t perform like a#1 seed. They didn’t create separation, or go on any sustainable runs. This was really a 3 point ball game throughout. It is clear that the loss of Fab Melo is bigger than Jim Boeheim has made it out to be. He allowed the rest of their defense to free lance. Now that they aren’t able to do that, they really struggled to contain the 3-point shot and to get out on the fast break. I know Syracuse was credited with 13 fast break points, but that is small potatoes to what they normally do. I don’t see Syracuse beating the likes of a Vanderbilt or Wisconsin, let alone an Ohio State or Florida State. Where was Kris Joseph today? Where was Scoop Jardine for much of the game? Where was Dion Waiters in the second half? There are a lot more questions than answers.
  2. Refs can change the game. UNC-Asheville had it down to a 3-point game with Syracuse shooting a 1 and 1 with less than 2 minutes left. Syracuse missed the free throw, but the refs called UNC-Asheville for a lane violation, leading to 2 more free throws. Then with a minute left and UNC-Asheville pressing, they gave the ball back to Syracuse after a loose ball foul call on UNC-Asheville that was clearly after the ball had already gone out of bounds off of Syracuse. Last but not least, the refs almost let Syracuse shoot 3 free throws for a 2 point shot at the end, but fortunately someone caught it. There are many plays throughout the game, but this missed calls came at a pivotal time for UNC-Asheville, and contributed to their comeback falling short.
  3. Will there be Christmas in March? Syracuse clearly needs to filling a gaping hole that Melo left. That job fell to Rakeem Christmas today, and he didn’t step up in my opinion. Sure, he ended up with a couple blocks, 7 boards, and about a half dozen points, but he didn’t provide the presence they need. He was soft and got pushed off the boards and out of the paint, especially in the first half when UNC-Asheville went on several runs. If the job isn’t Christmas’ to fill, they are going to have to find someone else, because he isn’t going to provide the type of spark they need to make a deep run in the tourney.

Star of the Game. James Southerland, Syracuse. I am not sure there was a single star in this game, but I think the person who most helped Syracuse to win the game was Southerland. He hit all of his 3′s from the right side of the court in the 2nd half, and provided the spark they needed to get back in the game, and then take the lead. He was also a very efficient 6-8 from the field and 3-5 from long range. He also had 8 boards.

Sights and Sounds. I haven’t been to a game where 90% of the fans are cheering against the favorite, but that’s exactly what happened today. It was amazing to see that the underdog was treated like the home team, and I look forward to seeing that type of treatment when there isn’t a clear favorite or home team in attendance. The crowd was the difference maker, and definitely helped boosted the confidence of UNC-Asheville.

What’s Next? #1 Syracuse advances to take on #8 Kansas State on Saturday. I wasn’t impressed with Syracuse tonight, but I was also not impressed with Kansas State. I think Kansas State should be a good test for Syracuse, but at the end of the day, I think Syracuse has too much firepower not to advance against the Wildcats. Kansas State is too one dimensional, and had a hard time hitting 3′s, so it doesn’t bode well against Syracuse. Syracuse needs to find an identity quick though if they want to last long this year.

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Rushed Reaction: #8 Kansas State 70, #9 Southern Miss 64

Posted by JPriz on March 15th, 2012

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Kansas State wins with experience. Kansas State has been here before, and it showed. They didn’t panic when they let Southern Miss back in the game twice. After Jordan Henriquez went to the bench with his fourth foul with more than six minutes left, they slowed it down, got the ball inside, and either scored on close shots or got to the line several possessions in a row. They shot 26-34 from the line, blocked 7 shots, and forced bad shots for Southern Miss at the end.
  2. Batman and Robin came up big. Rodney McGruder had 30 points on 69% from the field as well as 4 steals. Jordan Henriquez came up with 15 points, 9 boards, and 6 blocks to completely stuff the stat sheet today. With him in the game, Southern Miss didn’t have a chance to get the ball inside.
  3. Southern Miss’ bench kept them in the game. It is not often where you can say that your bench outscored your starters, but that was the case today for Southern Miss. Not only did Southern Miss outscore Kansas State’s bench 35-9, but they outscored their own starters 35-29. In the end it wasn’t enough to beat Kansas State, but without their depth, the game would have been a blow out.

Star of the Game. Rodney McGruder, Kansas State. McGruder not only led all scorers today with 30, but he carried Kansas State on his back from start to finish. It is safe to say that he had gotten in foul trouble, or struggled to make shots, that Southern Miss would be advancing, and not Kansas State. It was so obvious how dominant he was, that even the Southern Miss band was calling him the one man show every time he shot  free throws. If the stat line of 11-16 from the field, 2-5 from 3-point, and 6-8 from the line doesn’t read efficiently dominant, I am not sure what does.

Sights and Sounds. Even though the Consol Energy Center is where the Pittsburgh Penguins play hockey, you couldn’t have figured that out today. The Southern Miss band proved to me that not only can college kids play great music, but they can talk trash with the best of them although they may have crossed the line with some of their chants (like the one at Angel Rodriguez, which if true definitely did). The Southern Miss band started doing that during warmups if you can believe it.

What’s Next? Kansas State will take on the winner of Syracuse/UNC Asheville on Saturday. Frank Martin will need to give his guys some kind of pep talk because I wasn’t that impressed with Kansas State today. If someone figures out a way to shut down McGruder, they are in for a world of hurt. Kansas State needs more guys to step up, and they will need to do a more consistent job of playing lock down defense throughout the game, whoever they play.

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