A Column of Enchantment: The Mystery of Steve Lavin’s Future

Posted by Joseph Nardone on February 5th, 2015

(Ed. Note: quotes may or may not be verbatim. Or accurate.) 

It is not another typical day at the St. John’s campus. Something seems different. Maybe it is the dark clouds that hover in the air, or the students walking around, seemingly faceless and unhappy. Possibly it is the basketball team that is strutting around aimlessly, daydreaming about the things that could have been. Nevertheless, something is strange at 8000 Utopia Parkway, Jamaica, NY. Some will say it shouldn’t be that way. St. John’s is a fine school. It enrolls nearly 21,000 kids despite only accepting about half of the people who apply to attend such a fine university. Still, there’s whispers of a big change coming. Not from an academic standpoint, though. A possible looming change could be what is making everyone seem, if not on edge, a bit too sad.

—————–

A man named Steve Lavin is the current face of St. John’s. Steve typically wears fine suits with a pair of sneakers because he treasures comfort as much as he does style. Slicked back hair, slightly pudgy but certainly not fat, Steve has been helping mold young minds at the program for nearly five years. He came to St. John’s after years as a TV personality and before that as a molder of young minds over on the West Coast. Steve is a very likable fellow. He has always had a reputation of getting the best of the best to enroll at whatever school he was affiliated with at that particular moment, but things haven’t quite worked out that way since joining the big New York university. Sure, Steve has shown some glimpses of brilliance that made the people within the university fall in love with him in the first place, yet that era of him being all that and a bag of recruiting potato chips has seemingly passed.

St. Johns coach Steve Lavin

Steve Lavin and Chris Monasch in Happy Times (NY Post)

He isn’t a broken man, though. No one keeps a good guy like Steve down. Few people have been through as much as he on a personal level over the last few years. Still, St. John’s brought him in to do a specific job and he hasn’t lived up to his end of the bargain. It wasn’t always that way. When Steve first took over the basketball program he had a slew of kids brought in by another man, Norm Roberts. Norm and Steve could not have been any different — Steve coming from a high-profile program and gig while Norm coming from the land of lesser known places of higher education. However, where Norm failed to bring St. John’s, Steve did in his very first year with the program. All in all, because of Steve’s immediate success. many thought their basketball program was on the way back up.

——————–

There’s a note on Steve’s desk this morning. It reads: “Steve, we need to talk. Sincerely, Chris Monasch.” Chris is the boss. The head honcho of all things related to sports at St. John’s. Often mentioned as a kind man, who by all accounts really likes Steve and wants him to succeed if for no other reason than Steve being a good person, Chris has been under a different kind of pressure than the head basketball coach. People are starting to implore Chris, through newspapers, new media and social media, to look at the future of the St. John’s basketball program through a different lens. It is that pressure from the outside which has resulted in such a note landing on Steve’s desk.

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Morning Five: 02.04.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 4th, 2015

morning5

  1. With Greg Anthony currently dealing with legal issues from his arrest for allegedly soliciting a prostitute, CBS has decided to go with Bill Raftery and Grant Hill along with Jim Nantz and Tracy Wolfson to call the Final Four. While Raftery is well-established as a broadcasting icon, Hill is relatively new to the field although he has some studio experience and is well-spoken. Overall it seems like a safe line-up that is unlikely to say anything controversial and although they don’t have much any experience working as a group we doubt there will be any major issues.
  2. Josh Speidel, a Vermont commit, is listed as being in “critical but stable condition” at an Indiana hospital after being involved in a car accident on Sunday night. Speidel, a 6’7″ senior who is one of the top prospects in the state (25.6 points and 9.3 rebounds per game this season), surprised many observers by committing to Vermont after having received interest from several Big Ten schools. None of the other four individuals involved in the two-car crash were seriously injured. For their part the Catamounts have posted a get well video on YouTube showing their support for Speidel. There is also a GoFundMe campaign #JoshStrong to help assist his family with the medical costs related to the accident.
  3. Oregon might have its share of off-the-court problems, but they don’t seem to have any problem recruiting as they received a commitment from Tyler Dorsey, a four-star guard, on Monday giving them three four-star commitments for the class of 2015 to go along with Kendall Small and Trevor Manuel. Dorsey, a 6’4″ combo guard from California, had originally committed to Arizona, but backed out of that commitment as the Wildcats appeared to head in a different direction with their recruiting. With Joseph Young’s departure after this season, Dorsey could have a spot waiting for him in the Oregon lineup.
  4. One of our earliest posts on this site was one criticizing Grant Wahl’s Magic Eight, which attempted to narrow down the list of potential national champions. Wahl has since moved onto soccer, which still has less scoring that college basketball despite what some writers would have you believe, and Luke Winn has inherited the task of coming up with a Magic Eight. We can’t quite remember Wahl’s track record, but Winn is quick to point out that his own picks have been far from perfect as he failed to include Connecticut in his list. This year’s list, which requires him to leave out two of the top eight teams in the country and include a team outside of the top 15, doesn’t include any particularly shocking teams (even if we can’t see Wichita State winning) and he doesn’t exclude any big names that people realistically see winning (sorry, Gonzaga), but Winn does point out some of most significant strengths and weaknesses of each team so it is worth a read particularly if you are still trying to catch up after football ended.
  5. Lost in all of the talk about President Obama’s budget is a measure that could have a significant impact on college athletics by proposing to end tax deductions for donations made to college athletics for seat-related contributions. For those of you who are unaware of the practice, when college teams sell season tickets a substantial portion is listed as a donation making it tax-deductible. By taking this away, they would in effect be raising the effective price of those tickets. We are not sure what the elasticity is for these type of tickets, but we have to assume they would have a bigger impact on programs that rely on these donations for such a significant portion of their revenues. And the government’s figure of $2.5 billion in increased revenues from taxes over the next decade from this change is a decent if not perfectly correlated indicator of the magnitude of the effect this could have on some athletic programs.

RTC Weekly Primer: At Long Last, It’s Basketball Season

Posted by Henry Bushnell on February 3rd, 2015

It’s basketball season. At long last, it’s basketball season. It’s a shame that the general sports-loving public takes so long to realize that’s the case, but regardless of their failures and inadequacies, it’s time to look ahead. Football is finally and definitively over, and it’s time for the roundball and the hardwood floor to take center stage on the American sports landscape. The Super Bowl was awesome — one of the greatest of all-time, and a phenomenal advertisement for the competitiveness of the NFL — but as always, it was a bit anti-climactic. After two weeks of buildup, it’s all over; and just like that, there is a major void on the sports scene.

There's No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

There’s No Better Environment That Those in College Basketball (USA Sports Images)

College basketball must fill that void. For the dedicated fans, it undoubtedly will. But a frequently posed question in recent years has been whether college basketball has become a “niche sport”? According to a recent Harris poll, the game has indeed declined in popularity. Currently only three percent of American sports fans identify college hoops as their go-to game — down from five percent in 2011, and 10 percent in 1989 — and only a seismic shift in popularity could see the sport return to its peak levels in the 1980s and 1990s. Does that matter? For those who attach themselves to the overall health and growth of the game, yeah, it does. But at least in the short run from now until April 6, no poll will inhibit the joy we derive from the on-court action of college basketball. “Niche” can be viewed as a demeaning word when it is used in this context, but niche is fine so long as it can produce compelling games like Duke-Virginia in Charlottesville on Saturday and atmospheres like Kansas-Iowa State in Allen Fieldhouse last night.

Three for the Money

  • West Virginia at Oklahoma | Tuesday, 8:00 PM EST, ESPN2. After an explosive Big Monday of important (if not competitive) games, it’s a rather slow work week in the world of college hoops. But before we jump ahead to the weekend’s action, let’s not lose sight of this one on Tuesday night in Norman. It’s time to focus on the season that West Virginia is putting together. All of a sudden, the Mountaineers at 6-2 appear to be the biggest threat to Kansas in the Big 12 race. Bob Huggins has done a spectacular job in rebuilding this team after a couple of down years. He has possibly the conference’s best player in senior Juwan Staten but his true value with this year’s group has been molding them into a new identity featuring pressure defense all over the floor. Four West Virginia players rank among the nation’s top 100 in steal percentage, and the team prides itself on turning opponents over and getting out in transition. Tonight’s game could go either way. Oklahoma could get sucked into West Virginia’s traps and come out on the wrong end of a helter-skelter contest; or the Sooners could constantly be in attack mode, using the fast tempo and a raucous home crowd to play right into their hands.

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RTC Top 25: Week Eleven

Posted by Walker Carey on February 2nd, 2015

The story of the past week in college basketball was highlighted by some really good games between the ACC’s best. It all started last Wednesday when #10 Notre Dame came back from a 10-point second half deficit to knock off #4 Duke in South Bend. The loss dropped the Blue Devils to 4-3 in conference play and, coupled with the dismissal of junior guard Rasheed Sulaimon on Thursday, it appeared that Duke swirling in turmoil. Before the Blue Devils faced off with #2 Virginia on Saturday evening, Duke’s archrival, #11 North Carolina, blew an 18-point second half lead at #9 Louisville, thus suffering its second conference loss of the season. Later that night in Charlottesville, Duke showed that reports of its demise were greatly exaggerated when it rallied late in the second half to best the previously-unbeaten Cavaliers. To make matters even wackier in the ACC, Notre Dame suffered a loss at Pittsburgh earlier in the day for its second league loss of the season. As the calendar turns to February, Virginia is still on top of the ACC standings at 7-1, but it certainly has several teams breathing down its neck:  Notre Dame is right behind at 8-2; North Carolina is at 7-2; Louisville is at 6-2; and always-dangerous Duke now sits at 5-3. The ACC may not be the deepest league in the country, but watching these five great teams battle it out over the final five weeks of the regular season promises to be extremely entertaining.

This week’s Quick N’ Dirty after the jump…

rtc25 w11

Quick N’ Dirty Analysis.

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Who’s Got Next? A Look at the Top McDonald’s All-American Match-Ups

Posted by Sean Moran on February 2nd, 2015

http://rushthecourt.net/mag/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/whosgotnext.jpg

Who’s Got Next? is a weekly column by Sean Moran, the RTC recruiting guru. Once a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to discussing the recruitment of the top uncommitted players in the country. We also encourage you to check out his contributions at The Intentional Foul dedicated to recruiting coverage and analysis. You can also follow Sean at his Twitter account @Seanmohoops for up-to-date news from the high school and college hoops scene. If you have any suggestions as to areas we are missing or different things you would like to see, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Note: Scout.com used for all player rankings.

The rosters for the 38th McDonald’s All-American game were released last week, with 24 of the top high school players in the country set to play in Chicago’s United Center on April 1. But before they play in front of a nationally-televised audience for fans hoping to catch a glimpse of the next big thing, they will compete against each other in a series of practices that will be highly scrutinized by media and NBA scouts. Let’s take a look at some of the top practice match-ups that will only be seen by a select few as well as several to keep an eye on during the actual game.

Top Practice Match-Ups:

No. 1 Jaylen Brown, 6’7”, SF, Wheeler (GA) vs. No. 2 Ben Simmons, 6’8”, SF, Montverde (FL)

NBA Scouts will be salivating with this one. The top two players in the country will have two practice sessions to compete against each other in drills and scrimmages. Ben Simmons and Jaylen Brown already faced off once this year at the City of Palms tournament in December, with Brown getting the better of the individual match-up while also leading his team to the championship. While they didn’t spend a lot of time guarding each other in that game, it will be interesting to watch how they attack each other in the practices leading up to the McDonald’s game. Simmons is a unique wing with stellar passing skills and a strong ball-handling ability that allows him to act as a point forward. Brown is very reminiscent of current Arizona freshman Stanley Johnson, someone capable of using his strength to attack the basket and punish smaller and weaker defenders. Perimeter shooting is not a strength for either player at this point in their development, but both have markedly improved over the last year and are more than capable from hitting a few from deep.

Simmons will head to LSU next year to play for his godfather and assistant coach David Patrick, while Brown is still undecided on his collegiate destination. He has taken official visits to Kansas, Kentucky, UCLA, UNC and most likely Michigan while taking numerous unofficial visits to in-state Georgia and Georgia Tech.

No. 11 Malik Newman, 6’3”, G, Callaway (MS) vs. No. 14 Allonzo Trier, 6’4”, SG, Findlay Prep (NV)

Malik Newman and Allonzo Trier are two of the most prolific scorers in the prep game and have been scorching the nets from the moment they both entered high school. They spent three years playing on the U-17 Nike EYBL AAU circuit and as a result have had numerous individual battles. While Newman and Trier are similar in their ability to put points up in a hurry, their high school careers have been quite different. Newman has spent all four of his years in Mississippi while Trier has played in Oklahoma, Maryland and Nevada. Trier is also the more methodical of the two while Newman gets shout-outs from NBA players who drop 52 in a game.

Allonzo Trier will lace up his shoes at Arizona next year and Newman will wait until the spring to decide on his destination.

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What’s Trending: Comeback Saturday Edition

Posted by Griffin Wong on February 2nd, 2015

What’s Trending is a column examining the week that was in college basketball social media. Griffin Wong (@griffwong90) is your weekly host.

Pitino Steals the Spotlight

And it wasn’t because of his team’s come-from-behind win over UNC (more on that later). Pitino went with the Colonel Sanders white suit to go along with the beginnings of a beard.

A bold look, but I guess it paid off.

A Wild Saturday in the ACC

As mentioned above, Louisville came back from an 18-point second half deficit to give Pitino his first career victory over North Carolina (now 1-6). Junior Montrezl Harrell went off with 22 points, 15 rebounds, and a one-handed alley-oop that brought The House That Colonel Sanders Built completely down.

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Morning Five: 02.02.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on February 2nd, 2015

morning5

  1. We are not sure what made John Feinstein decide to file a column on Saturday recommending that a switch from the “one-and-done” model to the baseball model of drafting, but it certainly generated quite a bit of attention.  If you aren’t familiar with the baseball model, it essentially lets players enter the draft after high school and if they are selected they can enter become a professional baseball player (even if it is at the minor league level). If they choose not to go the professional route, they are not eligible until they have completed their junior year of college or are 21 years old. As you can imagine, the reaction has mostly been negative for a variety of reasons including the fact that baseball has a well-developed minor league system, which every player is expected to go through before playing for the MLB team that drafted them whereas nearly every first round pick is expected to play for their NBA team immediately. While we agree that the the NCAA/NBA policy regarding early entry, Feinstein’s analysis is too rudimentary to be enforced.
  2. Normally the dismissal of a junior who comes off the bench would not be newsworthy (at least if it did not involve an arrest or NCAA violation), but when it involves Duke it certainly is. Late Thursday, Duke announced that Mike Krzyzewski had dismissed junior Rasheed Sulaimon from the team for being “unable to consistently live up to the standards required to be a member of our program”. While we don’t know what exactly Sulaimon did for Krzyzewski to make him the first player dismissed from the program–it was reportedly a series of events–but it must have occurred after their loss at Notre Dame. What it appears to have come down to is that Sulaimon’s production (10 points, 2.7 rebounds, and 2 assists per game during his career, but declining over the years with less playing time) was not worth the headache. For its part Duke bounced back without Sulaimon for an improbable come-from-behind victory at Virginia on Saturday. As for Sulaimon we are not sure where he will end up next, but what once appeared to be a potential NBA career now looks more like one that will be spent overseas.
  3. While Sulaimon’s dismissal may have been a bigger story in terms of headlines, the bigger news in terms of impact on the court came when Virginia Commonwealth guard Briante Weber tore the ACL and MCL in his right knee ending his college career. Weber suffered the injury late in a loss on Saturday against Richmond. It goes without saying that losing their defensive leader, who is just 12 short of the NCAA all-time leader, is a huge blow to VCU and its famed HAVOC defense. Perhaps even more importantly the Rams have now lost their point guard and leader on the court. While VCU is more well-equipped to handle this than you would expect from an Atlantic-10 team, but it certainly puts  a cap on their ceiling.
  4. Illinois‘ hopes of making the NCAA Tournament this year already appeared pretty dim and the news that they have indefinitely suspended Rayvonte Rice and Aaron Crosby makes that seem even less likely. The timing of the suspension is interesting because both players have been injured with Rice having already missed seven games and Crosby having missed three games, but according to the school both are ready to return. The school would not elaborate on what the players did, but missing Ricer (17.2 points and 6.9 rebounds per game) and Crosby (7.8 points and 3.6 rebounds per game) for much longer would eliminate whatever slim hopes they have of making it to the NCAA Tournament.
  5. It has been a rough year at Bradley. The team 7-15 including 2-7 in the Missouri Valley and their coach has to pay $1.2 million to his old school for leaving early. On Thursday morning their leading scorer–Warren Jones–was arrested at a strip club for using an older teammate’s ID and underage drinking. In addition to Jones (13.9 points per game), there were also citations levied against Ka’Darryl Bell (7.5 points per game) and Omari Grier (8.2 points per game). The extra salary will probably help Geno Ford sleep easier at night, but it has been a rough few weeks for him.

A Column of Enchantment: Robert Upshaw, URI and Honestly Fixing College Hoops

Posted by Joseph Nardone on January 29th, 2015

Looks like another week of people getting on their soapboxes to tell the world how horrible other people are. Stuff like that happens to be one of the things I hate about social media. You know, some guy or gal behind a keyboard pounding away on some keys to tell other people who aren’t even in remotely the same position as the person or group of people who they are bashing how horrible they are. Good times, right? A lot of the soap-boxing is going on in the world of the NFL where Marshawn Lynch is getting scorned by old white guys for not doing what they want him to do. But this is a college basketball column (kind of), so let’s move on to another weird situation going on in that sport. This one has to deal with an ultra-talented big man who also happens to have first-round NBA Draft talent.

Robert Upshaw (USA Today Images)

Robert Upshaw (USA Today Images)

Robert Upshaw has been dismissed by the Washington Huskies for violating team rules. The seven-footer has no one to blame for this but himself. Between his rocky stay with Fresno State and his seemingly tumultuous time with Washigton Upshaw, reportedly, has failed multiple drug tests. That is completely on him. Not a soul to blame, regardless of his drug of choice, for not learning to make better decisions. However, none of us “really” know this kid. Few probably know what personal demons he might have or what insecurities come with being a seven-foot human in a six-foot-ish world. Passing judgment on him over reports that aren’t that detailed just seems silly to me. But man, you have a hot take about people choosing drugs over money (or here, the potential of money), so get to your keyboard!

People do realize that is not the choice people are making though, right? It is not as if Upshaw or any other athlete is thinking about losing out on millions of dollars over one more hit of weed or whatever. Not to mention, in Upshaw’s case, he is a kid — a kid in college. He probably thinks he is invincible. I know I did in my early twenties. I don’t know what you were doing in college or in your early twenties, but I doubt you were spending your Friday nights giving blankets out to the homeless. I mean, if you were, then give yourself a gosh slam gold star. These athletes live in a microscope that no one on the outside could even comprehend. Maybe we should stop pretending we can.

There’s also some dirty little code stuff going on whenever someone gets in trouble over getting busted for weed or drugs or booze. People mostly don’t seem to think the actual offense is that bad, but that the person who violated should be punished. Here is a question I have for that: If it is weed, which most people think is not that horrible of a thing, why are you so mad at that person? Do you just want him to be punished for breaking a stupid rule or do you care about that rule so much in the first place? Answer that question honestly because it will tell you a lot about yourself. If you honestly care that much about the letter of the law then I guess it is what it is. But if you’re the person who doesn’t really care about the rule but still wants the person punished, why? Why is punishment always the preferred method instead of getting people help? Then again, if it is something so blah that you don’t think they actually need help (like weed not being addictive), why are you so mad? Don’t know if you can tell what I did there, but basically you’re all a bunch of scumbuckets for judging other people and wanting punishment for punishment’s sake.

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Morning Five: 01.29.15 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 29th, 2015

morning5

  1. Any hopes that Washington had of making the NCAA Tournament this year disappeared over the weeekend when they announced that they had dismissed Robert Upshaw for an unspecified violation of team rules. The talented but troubled big man was clearly the Huskies best player averaging 10.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, and a NCAA-leading 4.4 blocks per game. This is the second time that Upshaw has been kicked out of a program as he was also dismissed from Fresno State in 2013. While this certainly won’t help his draft stock he is still probably a late first round pick because skilled big men are hard to find even if there are some red flags around them. There is a possibility that Upshaw could start playing in the NBA Development League much like P.J. Hairston did last year, but that would require him to be ineligible to play NCAA basketball. Since we don’t know all the details behind Upshaw’s dismissal we cannot comment too much on the probability of that happening, but it is worth keeping an eye on moving forward.
  2. As we have mentioned many times we don’t pay that much attention to high school recruiting for a variety of reasons (including, but not limited to time constraints and a desire to remain sane), but the McDonald’s All-American designation has been around for long enough that we still pay attention when the rosters are announced. This year’s roster was no different even if we only know about half of the players well. The first thing that jumped out at us was that there was only one Kentucky commit on the two rosters, which is certainly different than previous years although part of that has to do with how Kentucky is recruiting now, but there are still nine uncommitted players in the game so John Calipari still has plenty of time to catch up. The other thing was that the players were spread out pretty evenly with only two schools–Duke and LSU–having two commits in the game.
  3. Speaking of Kentucky and their recruiting, maybe one of the reasons that their recruiting is “down” this year is that they are not just focusing on American talent. A striking example of this is the verbal commitment they received from Tai Wynyard, a 6’9″ power forward out of New Zealand. Although we are a little uncertain of the skills of a player from New Zealand, we do trust Calipari’s eye for talent and he has played at a high level internationally. For now the big question regarding Wynyard is when he would come to Lexington as he is still just 16 and currently in the class of 2016, but might reclassify to the class of 2015 meaning he would be on campus for next fall, which would already add to what could be the #1 class in the country (again).
  4. Wichita State guard Conner Frankamp was arrested early Sunday morning on a DUI charge. Frankamp blood alcohol level at the scene was 0.186, which is twice the legal limit in the state of Kansas (0.08). Although Frankamp is still sitting out this year after transferring from Kansas, the school did release the typical generic statement saying they will be looking into the matter. Despite Frankamp’s meager production at Kansas (2.5 points per game last year), he was a top-50 recruit coming out of high school, which would seem to suggest the possibility that he could have a big role playing with less competition particularly against a lower level of competition too.
  5. Speaking of transfer, former Memphis forward Kuran Iverson will be transferring to Rhode Island. Like Frankamp, Iverson’s production (4.6 points and 1.9 rebounds per game) does not particularly grab your attention, but he was also a top-50 recruit coming out of high school. Unlike Frankamp, Iverson made sure to leave a mark at the school on his way out by first getting suspended then retweeting someone’s criticism of Josh Pastner at which point the decision for Iverson to transfer was probably welcome on both sides. While the AAC is not exactly a basketball powerhouse, the move down to the Atlantic-10 (however slight it might be) and perhaps more importantly new scenery might be the boost that Iverson needs to show us why he was so highly recruited coming out of high school.

Rushed Reactions: #8 Notre Dame 77, #4 Duke 73

Posted by Walker Carey on January 29th, 2015

Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) is an RTC Correspondent. He filed this report after Wednesday night’s game between Duke and Notre Dame in South Bend.

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Irish Eyes Were Smiling Wednesday Night (USA Today Images)

Three Key Takeaways.

  1. Jerian Grant proved that he is one of the best players in the country. The senior guard turned in an amazing performance on Wednesday night, finishing the game with game-highs in both points (23) and assists (12). His dozen assists also set a new career-high. None of those assists were more important than the one he threw to sophomore guard Steve Vasturia for an open three to put the Irish up by four with 22 seconds to play. Points and assists were not the only categories where Grant excelled, though, as he showcased his durability by playing all 40 minutes and picking up six rebounds, three steals, and two blocks. Notre Dame is now 20-2 on the season and 8-1 in ACC play, and the biggest reason for the team’s incredible start to the 2014-15 campaign has been the All-America play of the team’s senior leader. The Irish now expect to be an ACC contender for the rest of the season, and if Grant can continue his play at such a high level, that expectation will become a reality.
  2. This was an incredible college basketball game. There has been talk this season about how college basketball has been a bit unwatchable, but that was absolutely not the case on Wednesday night as Notre Dame and Duke completed one of the most entertaining games of the regular season. Swings in momentum came fast and furious. For example: Notre Dame led by seven at the 9:01 mark of the first half before Duke went on a big run to take a three-point lead into the half; Duke then led by 10 at the 10:58 mark of the second half before being outscored 22-8 the rest of the way. Another reason why Wednesday’s battle in South Bend was so entertaining was that two of the best players in college basketball turned in star performances. Jerian Grant’s stat-stuffing game was mentioned above and Duke freshman big man Jahlil Okafor also turned in a performance that has practically become the norm for him during his first year in Durham. The freshman finished the game with 22 points on 10-of-18 shooting to go along with a game-high 17 rebounds. Sure, there are some nights where college basketball doesn’t put its best foot forward, but Wednesday night at Notre Dame, those nights seemed very distant. Read the rest of this entry »

RTC Weekly Primer: Duke’s Hell Week

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 27th, 2015

The hurdles just keep on coming. That’s what Mike Krzyzewski and Duke must be thinking right now. After a glorious Sunday and heartfelt celebrations, including a hero’s welcome back home in Durham, the Blue Devils have no time to bask in the glory of Coach K’s 1,000th win. Instead, they must hop aboard another plane, this time to the Midwest, and begin a murderous week. The ACC isn’t quite as relentless and unforgiving as the Big 12. But when it can deal a team a Wednesday-Saturday weekly slate that includes two games on the road at top-10 teams, it’s pretty darn strong. This past weekend on College Gameday, Jay Bilas even tried to argue that the ACC is the best conference in America. I’m not going to go that far (his logic was arbitrary and therefore a bit flawed), but it’s certainly up there. At the very least, the ACC will provide more marquee matchups than any other league. For evidence, look no further than this week.

After Sunday's Celebration, No Rest This Week for the Blue Devils (USA Today Images)

After Sunday’s Celebration, No Rest This Week for the Blue Devils (USA Today Images)

Three for the Money

  • Duke at Notre Dame | Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EST, ESPN2. It’s an ACC trifecta this week because, as mentioned above, Duke’s mettle is going to be put to the test. And what’s more, that test, which begins Wednesday in South Bend, should be a whole lot of fun. Both Duke and Notre Dame are top-five offensive clubs nationally, and especially recently, neither is particularly stout defensively. The floor will be beautifully spread, three-pointers will be flying, and the Joyce Center should be rocking. If Notre Dame can match Duke blow for blow, and especially if it can win, it’ll be time to accept the Fighting Irish as a legitimate top-10 team.

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RTC Rewind: No. 1,000, Kansas Bill Selfing, Crazy Endings at WVU, Maryland…

Posted by Henry Bushnell on January 26th, 2015

One thousand wins. One, zero, zero, zero. It was a busy weekend in college basketball, but everything else was overshadowed by that number. We’ll start by stating the obvious. In a career full of them, what a truly remarkable accomplishment for Mike Krzyzewski. It’s one thing to coach for a long time and break records and reach milestones based on longevity, but what makes Coach K so special is that he’s combined all those years with such consistent winning. His teams are perennial contenders. He’s established a tradition of greatness, and built a distinct culture over 30 years in Durham that has not eroded in the least.

Coach 1K Was the Story of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

Coach 1K Was the Story of the Weekend (USA Today Images)

One of the things that made win No. 1,000 so awesome was the way in which Krzyzewski and Duke achieved it. Their Sunday afternoon performance in the World’s Most Famous Arena was evocative of the culture and recipe for sustained success that he has crafted. Trailing by as many as 10 points in the second half, the Blue Devils fought back with a 26-7 run to end the game. The players, of course, knew what was on the line, taking it upon themselves to come through for their coach — playing with incredible passion, emotion and commitment. They slapped the floor. They punched the air. They were determined and focused. Afterward, when his team hugged Krzyzewski and his wife and donned shirts and hats to commemorate the milestone, their love for their leader was crystal clear. And in the end, that is exactly why Coach K has been able to achieve what he has achieved. And has he ever achieved a lot! Afterward, Krzyzewski was insistent that the focus remain on the present as opposed to the past. As big of a win it was for him personally, it was also a huge one for Duke. St. John’s — seeing the resume-enhancing possibility with Duke in its building — came to play on Sunday, and made things very difficult for the Blue Devils for most of the game. But in crunch time, Tyus Jones, Quinn Cook and Jahlil Okafor all found another gear, and it pushed Duke to a dominant finish that the Johnnies just couldn’t match.

And That Sets Up…

An ACC showdown on Wednesday in South Bend, because Notre Dame pulled out a massive comeback win of its own at NC State on Sunday. The Wolfpack jumped out to an 18-point first half lead, but the Fighting Irish’s consistent scoring allowed them to claw back into the game so that Jerian Grant and his supporting cast could showcase their ‘clutch genes’ down the stretch. Notre Dame is now 19-2 and will welcome Duke to the Joyce Center on Wednesday. What a game that will be.

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