Morning Five: 02.08.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 8th, 2012

  1. The biggest news Tuesday was that Memphis, one of the best non-power conference basketball programs in America both now and historically, will join the Big East for the 2013-14 season. Whether the Big East that it joins a little over a year from now will resemble itself now is anybody’s guess, but at least this move goes toward shoring up the basketball value of the league that was threatened by prospectively losing Pittsburgh, Syracuse and West Virginia. Central Florida, Houston and SMU are fine, but none of them exactly inspire much confidence when it comes to replacing those annual NCAA Tournament contenders. This is a good move for both Memphis and the Big East in reopening some old Metro/Great Midwest rivalries between Louisville, Cincinnati and the Tigers, but in the shifting sands of conference realignment theater, it’s difficult to know just how long such an arrangement might last.
  2. While on the subject of change begetting more change, the North Dakota Fighting Sioux nickname is back in the national spotlight after supporters of the moniker turned in a petition comprised of over 17,000 signatures to force a June referendum on the subject matter. What this means is that once the Secretary of State approves the signatures, a state law that was repealed last November requiring all school teams to be known as the Fighting Sioux would once again be promulgated into law. If the referendum in June then was passed by the voters, the school would have no choice but to re-institute the nickname. The problem with all of this, of course, is that the NCAA has made its position known — North Dakota will not be allowed to host NCAA-sponsored events, and its teams could be banned from wearing uniforms with the nickname or logo in postseason competition. This could make for a very odd legal situation if the schools is required by law to wear the Sioux uniforms but cannot compete in NCAA-sponsored events.
  3. Kentucky‘s 78-58 domination of Florida last night dominated the Twitter-verse last night with discussion ranging from the Wildcats’ spectacular defense (Jimmy Dykes) to its season-best offense (Ken Pomeroy) to whether Anthony Davis is the front-runner for National Player of the Year. In the absence of a dominant juggernaut this season, everyone seems ready to anoint John Calipari’s squad as that team. If only we crowned national champions before Valentine’s Day… Luke Winn, Mike DeCourcy, and Gary Parrish all checked in with columns about the excellent play of the Cats, but we as the media should be careful to not overrate a blowout win in Rupp against a Florida team that plays awful defense and has a marginal interior game. We’ll honestly be more impressed if the Cats go into Memorial Gymnasium at Vanderbilt on Saturday and punishes the Commodores in much the same way.
  4. Jim Calhoun is no quitter and nobody will ever accused the three-time national champion of being one. Yet how could anyone blame him if he decided to retire from coaching basketball after his diagnosis with spinal stenosis, his latest in a series of ailments and one that kept him bedridden for several days last week? In an interview with Andy Katz on Tuesday, Calhoun said that this is just another “obstacle” that he plans on getting through and that “there’s no question” he will be back on the Connecticut sideline coaching his team soon. Coming off a destructive loss at Louisville on Monday that had at least one UConn beat writer accusing the players of quitting, Calhoun needs to get back to his spot on the bench as soon as possible. He’s not expected to be back for Saturday’s game at Syracuse, but if he doesn’t return soon, his team may be beyond repair.
  5. Tonight might be the best evening of college basketball on paper that you’ll see all year, with Georgetown visiting Syracuse, Duke visiting North Carolina, and Kansas visiting Baylor. There are so many great storylines heading into these games, but one of the few that really caught our eye was this piece on Duke’s Austin Rivers. Whether you love him or hate him (and few people around the country fall in the middle on Rivers), at least he’s honest. He says that one of the reasons he recoils from criticism, whether on or off the court, is because like his hero Kobe Bryant he lives his life and plays basketball with a significant chip on his shoulder. It began with the seemingly constant references to him as “Doc’s kid” as he was growing up, and it has only continued as he moved into the white-hot cross-hairs of becoming a star at Duke.
Share this story

The Way Too Early ACC Freshmen Review

Posted by KCarpenter on February 3rd, 2012

It’s been something of a down year for sensational ACC freshmen after last year’s excellent class. Still there have been some real gems, and though the Rookie of the Year Honor was pretty much wrapped up by the time the first conference game was tipped, most spots on the ACC All-Freshman Team are wide open. A lot of highly-touted recruits have flopped or underperformed, a lot of talented guys haven’t won minutes over their more experienced teammates, and in general, the youngsters have played pretty inconsistently. If voting for the All-Freshmen team was held tomorrow, here’s who I would vote for.

  • G Austin Rivers (Duke)

Rivers Was Anointed An All-ACC Freshman a Long Time Ago

Barring a miracle, Rivers has Rookie of the Year wrapped up. Leading a top-flight Duke team, he’s the only freshman whose average has cracked double digits. He leads the balanced and talented Blue Devils with 14.1 PPG. Rivers game isn’t perfect; he struggles to do much beyond scoring and his offensive efficiency leaves something to be desired at 103.2. Still, he’s the leading scorer on the best offense in the ACC and that makes any other deficiency seem somewhat trivial. If highlight reel appearances were a statistical category, Rivers moves would leave all the other rookies in the dust.

  • G Shane Larkin (Miami)

With an expected backcourt of Malcom Grant and Durand Scott leading the talented Hurricanes, it didn’t seem like there was a lot of room for 5’11″ freshman like Larkin to get a lot of playing time beyond spells off the bench. Somehow though, Larkin proved so valuable to Jim Larranaga that the Hurricanes went to a three guard lineup starting the energetic guard alongside his more experienced teammates. In his first year, Larkin has already managed to jump to the top of the ACC steals charts, averaging 1.9 SPG alongside Lorenzo Brown and Jontel Evans. In terms of tempo-free statistics, Larkin leads the ACC, getting a steal on 4.8% of opponents posessions (this also happens to be the 14th best mark in the nation). Outside of being an all-round pest on defense, Larkin leads ACC freshmen with 2.5 APG and shoots a very respectable 37.5% from behind the arc. With these skills, Larkin is going to be breaking the hearts of other teams fans for the foreseeable future.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Morning Five: 02.03.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on February 3rd, 2012

  1. Blogger So Dear: This was an interesting discussion on Wake Forest basketball halfway through conference play. It’s long but informative, and I found the differing opinions on Jeff Bzdelik particularly interesting. While most Demon Deacon fans seem to want Bzdelik gone as soon as possible, the consensus here appears to be that he deserves one more year. With a strong class coming in next season, giving him another year definitely makes sense. However, the points remain that his team has struggled the past two years with any offensive consistency. Unlike Steve Donahue (whose lukewarm seat should only be attributed to recruiting), Bzdelik’s coaching strategy is hard to pick out. Maybe it’s a personnel issue, but he may be a little over his head too.
  2. Hampton Roads Pilot: Doug Doughty addresses Mike Scott‘s legacy at Virginia. Scott should be the favorite for ACC player of the year right now (the prohibitive favorite if you ask me), though many seem to think someone from North Carolina will take the honor by year’s end. Even then, barring an epic collapse, Scott should make the first team All-Conference. No Virginia big man since Ralph Sampson in the early ’80s can say that. Only two Virginia players in history have ever won ACC player of the year. Certainly, he’s having the best season since at least when Sean Singletary left Charlottesville.
  3. Roanoke Times: When people think of Austin Rivers, they immediately think Doc Rivers‘ son. It’s the curse of having a famous parent in the same field. There’s also an assumption that goes with it that Rivers is good because his father is an NBA coach. Mark Berman’s interview with the Duke freshman guard reminded me that Doc Rivers was away from home more often than not. The NBA season is long and all over the place. His presence may have instilled a respect for the game of basketball, but it did not guarantee his son’s success. Rivers is coming off his best game of the season against Virginia Tech. He finished with 18 points (on 10 shots), a team-leading five assists and four rebounds. He didn’t force things on offense and played very good defense throughout despite being consistently matched up with taller, more experienced players. It may be time to change his narrative yet again.
  4. Raleigh News & Observer: Bad news for Harrison Barnes and North Carolina. The sophomore star has a sprained ankle. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play Saturday at Maryland (Roy Williams tends to overestimate injuries). That said, with Duke looming I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get limited minutes.
  5. ESPN: This post is a few days old, but it’s become surprisingly relevant. Chief of officials John Adams thinks there should be more technical fouls. Since his memo dropped four days ago, I’ve seen at least four or five guys T’d up (Mark Turgeon was ejected against Miami). I’m all for enforcing the technical rules more consistently (and harshly if that keeps games from getting out of hand); however, let’s remember that technical fouls count for two free throws and a personal foul. If you’re going to call more, give players six pesrsonal fouls. No one wants to see someone sit for a single taunt. Also I’d be in favor of moving to one free throw instead of the requisite two. As an example, check out the highlights from Duke’s win over Virginia Tech, as Andre Dawkins gets a technical for taunting (though it looked like he just jogged back on defense).
Share this story

ACC Morning Five: 02.02.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on February 2nd, 2012

Before we get started, Ken Pomeroy offered a very good counter to the flood of compliments about Frank Haith‘s coaching against Texas. It’s worth a read, and I totally agree with it (I’d also add that Rick Barnes’ teams aren’t known for their in-game adjustments).

  1. Winston-Salem Journal: The ACC is struggling with attendance. While Wake Forest reported nearly 13,000 on hand for the North Carolina game, multiple reporters brought light to the large number of empty seats in Lawrence Joel Coliseum. Against North Carolina that shouldn’t happen, even in a bad season. Down in Coral Gables, a “numbers-cruncher” (for the record, I have no idea what that means) counted 1,800 fans on hand to watch Miami take on NC State (the reported attendance was 4,371). The modest attendance was juxtaposed with a horrid shooting night for both teams, with neither able to hit 35% from the field.
  2. Hampton Roads Daily Press: Virginia Tech has a philosophy against Duke: “When you play Duke, first and foremost, you’ve got to match their intensity.” Additionally, “You also have to play through mistakes.” The philosophy worked last season, though both teams looked very different. Seth Greenberg’s squad was anchored by Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen and the Blue Devils had Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith. This year Duke’s biggest advantage is inside play, but Erick Green will cause the Blue Devils major problems on the perimeter. There’s no question that Duke is more talented overall, but if the Hokies stick with their philosophy, this road game could be a major challenge for the Blue Devils.
  3. Fayetteville Observer: Bret Strelow caught up with Austin Rivers to talk about Mike Krzyzewski’s criticism after the St. John’s game. Rivers admits the Blue Devils need to work on fighting throughout the whole game and never “letting up” like they did against the Red Storm. I actually agree with Rivers about their defensive struggles. With better communication and overall grit (not giving up), I think this is a solid (not great) defensive team. The question is whether it can keep up the intensity on the defensive end — especially when faced with adversity (like against Ohio State).
  4. Cavalier Daily: Apparently, there used to be a joke about Assane Sene and his lack of coordination. Those jokes dried up a little bit this year. First, Sene improved a lot over the offseason. Second, Mike Scott joined the team and took over the interior offense (saving Sene from from overuse on the offensive end). Now, instead of being the butt of the joke, Virginia students are hoping Sene’s ankle heals up for a run in the NCAA Tournament.
  5. Fox Sports Carolinas: Brad Brownell has a tough decision. Milton Jennings was supposed to be the next big thing at Clemson. He was the school’s first McDonald’s All-American in nearly two decades, but he’s never quite lived up to his potential. Should Jennings have done so, Clemson would be much more dangerous and it would get Brownell lots of street cred in South Carolina with recruits. Here’s to hoping Jennings figures things out, on and off the court. The ACC is better off with a good Clemson team.

EXTRA: Andy Glockner’s newest bracket is out! Only four ACC teams made the cut (NC State was close). Duke sits on the top seed line with a very interesting potential match-up against UNC Asheville and its dynamic backcourt of JP Primm and Matt Dickey. North Carolina finds itself as a #3 seed in Ohio State’s region. The good news is that the Tar Heels would potentially face Missouri in the Sweet Sixteen. Sign me up. Florida State actually gets some pretty good match-ups, though UNLV would be a really tough game. Virginia gets the unsavory task of facing the Buckeyes in the “third” round. The moral of the story is that fake brackets are fun.

Share this story

Four Thoughts on Duke vs. Maryland

Posted by IRenko on January 27th, 2012

I. Renko is a DC-based correspondent for Rush the Court.  You can follow him on twitter @IRenkoHoops.

Leave it to Duke to add a little bitterness to an otherwise sweet night for Maryland basketball.  During the pre-game ceremony presenting the newly-christened “Gary Williams Court,” the legendary coach acknowledged the students and fans in the building who “helped us win a lot of games,” before reminding them that they had  “a great chance to do that again tonight.”  And for three-quarters of the game, they nearly did just that.  But an 11-1 run midway through the second half propelled Duke to victory.  RTC was in the building, and here’s what we saw as the keys to the game:

Plumlee Was the Difference in College Park Wednesday Night (US Presswire/M. Stringer)

  • Maryland’s Decision to Stay Home – Not literally, of course, as the College Park crowd gave the Terps a nice boost.  Although it’s obvious from the box score that Mason Plumlee’s season-high 23 points led Duke to victory, what is less obvious from the raw stats is that Maryland essentially invited Duke to beat them this way.  Mark Turgeon acknowledged that the game plan was to defend the post one-on-one rather than double off of the perimeter:  “Yeah, we could’ve doubled them and let ‘em shoot threes.  But that was what we went with.”  That was a reasonable approach given Duke’s 40% three-point shooting percentage.  There’s not a single starter who you can comfortably leave to double MP2 — each of the other four shoots at least 37% from three-point range.  But as the game went on, and Plumlee, along with  his older brother and frontcourt mate Ryan Kelly, continued to dominate inside, a tactical change was probably warranted.  Duke’s guards had a miserable shooting night, and it wasn’t only because Maryland wasn’t sagging off the perimeter.  They were missing quality looks as well.  Under those circumstances, it was certainly worth trying to harass Plumlee inside with multiple bodies.
Share this story

ACC Game On: 01.25.12

Posted by KCarpenter on January 25th, 2012

Last night, Miami slammed a terrible-looking Georgia Tech team. The key with this game was the once again the sterling play of Kenny Kadji who has emerged as one of the clear breakthrough players of this season. The Hurricanes played defense and Georgia Tech’s attack basically degenerated into Glen Rice, Jr., and Mfon Udofia chucking shots like they were the only two players on the team. One day both will get hot simultaneously and the pair will annihilate some hapless team. Most days these two take all the shots, however, Georgia Tech will lose.

The Meanest Rivalry in the ACC

  • Duke at Maryland at 9:00 PM at ESPN

Could This Be the Scene in College Park Tonight?

Luckily, the Blue Devils don’t have to play at a hostile Cameron Indoor Stadium, and that’s one of the most underrated bonuses of Duke’s yearly schedule. Year in and year out, the most hostile conference venue for Duke is not in Chapel Hill, but rather in College Park. The Terrapins fans are ferocious at home and their hatred for Duke seems to reach beyond the confines of mere rivalry. For the Blue Devils, this is a tough follow-up after the hard loss at home to Florida State, but there is no doubt that Mike Krzyzewski will have his team ready to play. Maryland hasn’t shown they can play the kind of defense needed to stop Duke, but Terrell Stoglin is the exact kind of player who has the skill set to take advantage of a Duke defense that is softer on the perimeter than in years past. Duke wins this game on paper, but if Stoglin gets hot or the crowd gets really into it, this could be a tough road trip for Austin Rivers and company.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your TiVo: 01.25.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 25th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are no Top 25 matchups or truly ‘great’ games on tonight’s schedule, but it is another packed Wednesday of important conference battles so there will be plenty of action worth monitoring.

Villanova at Louisville – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN (***)

Peyton Siva Looks to Get Louisville Back on Track Tonight Against Another Top Point Guard (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

  • In what would have been billed as a big-time matchup at the beginning of the season, this game now features two unranked teams (Louisville is still #25 in one poll) with a combined 6-9 record in the Big East. But this will still be a fun game to watch, and the away team is playing its best basketball of the season. Nova has won two straight games and lost by only four points at Cincinnati in the game before, as Maalik Wayns has finally taken his game to the next level. His averages over the past three games are an insane 30.7 points, 6.7 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game. He’s also gone 30-33 from the free throw line in that stretch. He’s second in the conference in scoring (18.7 PPG) and leads the Big East in free throws made. Nova needs other players to be strong with the ball against Louisville’s high-pressure defense, as the Wildcats average a terrible 17 turnovers in conference games, worst in the Big East. If Jay Wright’s team can take care of the ball and get to the rim instead of settling for outside shots, they have a chance in this game. Jayvaughn Pinkston will play a key role as an emerging threat (18 points, 11.5 rebounds in his last two) at the forward position that can attack the rim.
  • If Louisville wants to get back into consideration as a ranked team, they must win this game at home. The Cardinals continue to deal with injuries but have all of their key cogs healthy in this one, as leading-scorer Kyle Kuric (13.4 PPG) returned from an ankle injury to score 21 points against Pittsburgh in their last game. Louisville has the advantage on the wings with Kuric, Russ Smith (12.5 PPG), and Chris Smith (10.1 PPG) and they will try to swarm Villanova defensively, who only has one true ballhandler in its lineup. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng have tough matchups with Maalik Wayns and Mouphtaou Yarou, respectively, that are worth watching to see who has the edge on the perimeter and in the paint. Overall, Louisville’s depth and defensive pressure should prove too much for the Wildcats.
  • Louisville is a nine-point favorite at home in the KFC Yum! Center and cannot lose this game if it wants to be taken seriously in the Big East. The 10-10 Wildcats come in with some confidence and will look to play the role of spoiler as Wayns tries to prove he’s the best point guard in the conference. Expect the Cardinals to wear out Villlanova in the second half and come out with the win.

#8 Duke at Maryland- 9:00 PM ET on ESPN (***)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

ACC Morning Five: 01.24.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 24th, 2012

  1. Inside Carolina: The question of the week is how will North Carolina deal with losing Dexter Strickland. The simple answers are Stilman White (who has racked up just over 60 minutes of playing time this year) will be Kendall Marshall’s backup at point, and Reggie Bullock will replace Strickland in the starting line-up. Bullock has really come into his own this year, and many Tar Heel fans were already calling for him to start due to his huge offensive upgrade over Strickland. He also always draws the toughest defensive assignment when he’s on the floor because his length and athleticism make him a terrific perimeter defender. Not surprisingly, Roy Williams is not considering pulling Leslie McDonald’s red-shirt (McDonald isn’t a point guard). One of Williams’ ideas to keep Marshall out of foul trouble: “I may just decide to play a 2-3 zone the whole game and put Kendall in the middle and tell him never to foul.”
  2. Orlando Sentinel: In our no-brainer move of the week, the ACC named Michael Snaer its Player of the Week after he knocked down not one, but two huge threes in Florida State’s upset bid at Duke. Austin Rivers also took rookie of the week honors after settling into conference play with 19 points in the Blue Devils’ loss to the Seminoles. Both performances were pretty significant. Rivers proved he could be “the guy” against tough defenses, and Snaer continued his streak of games scoring in double figures. For both teams to be successful, those trends will have to continue.
  3. Raleigh News & Observer: For the first time in several years, the North Carolina-NC State game feels important beyond the rivalry. NC State looks like a NCAA tournament team but still needs a marquee win to hang its hat on. The Tar Heels have shown some mortality. Even when both teams were ranked in Herb Sendek’s final season with the Wolfpack, his downplaying of the rivalry kept it from feeling like a big deal. Mark Gottfried is not Sendek. I personally think the Wolfpack starting five can hang with the Tar Heels. And I’m very excited to see Lorenzo Brown and Kendall Marshall face off at the point guard spot although I wouldn’t be surprised to see Reggie Bullock guarding Brown.
  4. Fox Sports Carolinas: Duke still has issues defensively and at the point guard position. In the past the Blue Devils have been fine without a point guard, but this year the offense is focused on the interior. The Plumlees need someone to get them the ball. So far, only Quinn Cook has shown the ability to do that consistently (but his turnover issues made him an extreme liability against Florida State). Defensively, Duke lacks the athleticism and flexibility of past teams that had both good on-ball defenders and flexible wings, like Kyle Singler, to make Mike Krzyzewski’s over-playing man-to-man defense effective. They have to fix both issues to be a legitimate contender. Period.
  5. Miami Herald: Jim Larranga is getting tired of his team’s lack of progress. I’d be frustrated too: the Hurricanes had one assist to nine turnovers at the half and shot 2-20 from three against NC State. Kenny Kadji’s play has been about the only positive thing for the Hurricanes so far this season. Reggie Johnson’s injury really set him and the team back, as he still hasn’t been able to get near game shape. Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant have both been plagued by inconsistent play.

EXTRA: Tonight at the game against Duke, Maryland will be dedicating its court to Gary Williams (apparently there were a couple of events last night too). It should be a pretty special event, and Scott Van Pelt hinted there would be some very cool stuff. I’m not sure if the ceremony will be televised, as it starts before the game. I’ll pass along any good videos I find.

Share this story

ACC Morning Five: 01.17.12 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 17th, 2012

Well, you may have heard that Roy Williams‘ early departure got more time in the news when North Carolina released his account of the incident. Condensing the story, Williams didn’t realize his walk-ons were still on the court after the rest of his team left the floor and apologized to them today. This immediately resulted in backlash from both local and national media for being late and a little weird (it’s not like it made him look better). My thoughts are this (admittedly having no more actual information than anyone else): Williams was livid with his team’s performance and legitimately concerned for its safety, so he went to the locker room and did not even see who was following him. Now, if I was handling the situation, I would’ve put my walk-ons right by the bench, had everyone sit down as soon as the game was over and watch the court rushing from the relative safety of a folding chair. Princeton did this last year in its road loss to Harvard (admittedly, the Harvard crowd was significantly smaller than Florida State). Not only would this prove a point, but I also think players sitting on the bench would be perfectly safe and could leave in peace once the students were on the court. Anyways, that’s my two cents. Here are Tar Heel Fan Blog‘s (with Williams’ comments from his radio show).

  1. TechSideline.com: Chris Coleman offers a brutally honest diagnosis of Virginia Tech basketball. It’s also an indictment of Seth Greenberg (one really interesting stat is that Greenberg had more NBA players in six years at Long Beach State than in over eight years at Virginia Tech). As much as I want to remind Hokie fans that Greenberg brought them to new heights, it’s not unreasonable to think he might be on the hot seat. Not on fire, but the points Coleman makes about the team’s personality and falling ticket sales are real issues.
  2. Fayetteville Observer: Duke’s Austin Rivers has really struggled the last few games. Ironically, the national media seems to be ambivalent at this point. Rivers has the right attitude about his slump though, pointing to the team’s undefeated conference record and working more in practice instead of grumbling about getting less playing time. The freshman is still averaging over 14 points a game and is by far the best shot-creator Duke has.
  3. Washington Post: Mike Wise takes a look at Sean Mosley, who is really the main link between Maryland’s past and present. Mosley started with the likes of Greivis Vasquez, and now he provides necessary leadership for a very young Terrapin team this year. Mosley does the crafty things, mainly shot fakes and steals, as well as the fundamental things, like hitting free throws. He’ll almost never wow you from the stat line, but it’s hard to watch Maryland and think there’s a more important intangibles guy.
  4. Soaring To Glory: Is it time to re-evaluate the ceiling for Boston College? I certainly think so (now that the Eagles have reached the prediction I set in the preseason). Now, do I think that BC will win five conference games? I’m not so sure. I think three or four conference games sounds about right (winning against Wake Forest and Miami at home if I had to guess). Still, the fact that we’re even having this discussion is a sign of how much the Eagles have improved over the last month.
  5. Lynchburg News & Advance: If you want to get in the Morning Five, just use the phrase “he’s pretty popular with the ladies on a campus notorious for its attractive women.” That’s what Nathan Warters did, describing Deividas Dulkys. It’s actually a very good article on the Lithuanian assassin, who came to the Seminoles via Findlay Prep. Wait, this article was written in 2010? Whatever, it’s still worth a read following the career performance from Dulkys.
Share this story

Top Ten Diaper Dandies: Midseason Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on January 13th, 2012

Zach Hayes is an editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

Compiling a list of the nation’s top freshmen in mid-January is admittedly unfair. Whether they’re a high-profile athlete or a science lab dork, ask anyone to reminisce about their first semester at school and the phrase “learning experience” comes to mind. Over the next two months, the grind of conference play will quickly mold youthful freshmen into hardened veterans. As Jeremy Lamb can attest, there’s still plenty of time for collegiate rookies to become a household name.

With that important caveat in mind, let’s gauge where this year’s talented rookies rank in terms of production and instant impact. Not all of the inclusions were ballyhooed recruits and high school All-Americans, but instead I present to you the collection of players who possess the maturation, intelligence and skill level to succeed immediately during such a difficult transition both on and off the court.

Cody Zeller has lived up to the lofty billing

Honorable Mention

Thomas Gipson, Kansas State- Gipson has proven a tremendous frontcourt compliment to the more perimeter-oriented Jamar Samuels, bulldozing opponents with his sturdy 6’7” frame to the tune of 9.2 PPG and 6.3 RPG through his first half season at Manhattan. Gipson ranks in the top-60 in the country in both offensive rebounding percentage and fouls drawn per 40 minutes.

Tony Mitchell, North Texas- Since becoming eligible on December 18 after failing to qualify at Missouri, Mitchell immediately scored in double-figures his first four games at North Texas. His banner performance to date was a 34-point, 16-rebound effort against South Alabama. The former five-star recruit is shooting an efficient 65% from inside the arc.

Quincy Miller, Baylor- The jewel of Scott Drew’s recruiting class may not post the raw numbers of other rookies due to the abundance of talent on his roster, but Miller has shown flashes of a future lottery pick, including a smooth step-back three down the stretch in Baylor’s win over Kansas State this past week. Miller is a versatile matchup nightmare as a double-figure scorer that shoots 35% from three and also snatches over five rebounds per contest.

Eli Carter, Rutgers- Carter didn’t come to Piscataway with quite the sterling reputation of some of his fellow classmates, but he’s been the most productive freshman from day one. Carter uses the most shots and possessions on a per-minute basis on the Scarlet Knights, and as long as he’s scoring over 14 a game, shooting 43% and posting 31/7/7 efforts like he did in their upset over Florida, Mike Rice will keep the green light on.

Tony Wroten, Washington- The Seattle native has been a Jekyll and Hyde act early for an equally enigmatic Huskies team. The turnovers (4.1 per game), defensive lapses and shot selection are sometimes mind-numbing, but you’ll live with some faults when your 6’5” guard is shooting 55% from inside the arc and grabbing 4.6 rebounds per game. Wroten has scored 20+ points in three of his first five conference outings.

10. Rodney Hood, Mississippi State- Dee Bost, Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie receive the bulk of the attention, but Hood has provided a steady and efficient complimentary scoring option for Rick Stansbury. The southpaw is averaging 12.6 PPG on 53% from two and 44% from three and turns the ball over roughly once every 34 minutes. Improve from the charity stripe (59%) and Hood could be an all-SEC contender as soon as next season.

9. Austin Rivers, Duke- If you can filter out all of the unrealistic expectations, Rivers has completed a very respectable first semester serving as Duke’s primary dribble-drive threat and crunch-time scoring option. Rivers leads Duke in scoring, shoots 45% from two, 40% from three and put together 20+ point performances against top-15 Ohio State and Michigan. Look for Rivers to cut down on his turnovers as the game slows down and his decision-making improves.

8. Andre Drummond, Connecticut- Outside of #1 on this list, no player has as much room to grow from now until March as Drummond. Just as impressive as his highlight reel dunks during a 20-point, 11-rebound outing against West Virginia last Monday were two baseline jumpers he nailed during the second half. If Drummond can expand his offensive repertoire to include occasional mid-range/post scoring to compliment his explosiveness and pick-and-roll prowess, Connecticut may emerge as the second best team in the Big East by season’s close.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Night Line: Duke Looks Vulnerable Heading Into ACC Play

Posted by EJacoby on January 5th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

Over the past month, Duke had won five straight games and quietly risen to #3 in the AP Poll and #2 in the RPI without skipping a beat. But home victories over the likes of Western Michigan and UNC Greensboro won’t make fans forget about the Devils’ embarrassing 22-point loss at Ohio State earlier in the year, and it would take a strong road performance to erase those memories. Wednesday night showed the Blue Devils get thoroughly outplayed by unranked Temple in downtown Philadelphia, confirming the suspicion that Mike Krzyzewski’s team could be vulnerable both defensively and on the road heading into conference play. Coach K will need to refine his rotation and strengthen his team’s defensive intensity if they want to realistically compete with North Carolina for another ACC title.

Duke Had Major Trouble Defending Temple on Wednesday Night (AP/T. Mihalek)

Perhaps no team played as difficult a non-conference schedule as Duke, which would suggest that they are well prepared for their old familiar foes when conference play begins this weekend. The Blue Devils played Michigan State, Ohio State, Belmont, Michigan, Kansas, Davidson, Tennessee, and Washington as part of one of the most challenging schedules in the country. But Wednesday’s game against Temple was just their second road game (although it was played on one of Villanova’s two home courts, not Temple’s), and they were dominated in both. At Ohio State on November 29, Duke allowed the Buckeyes to shoot 60% on two-pointers and 57% on threes, amounting to a horrendous 130.8 efficiency rating for the Buckeyes. On Wednesday night, Temple shot 58% on twos and 50% on threes for a 114.7 efficiency. Considering that Missouri’s 126.5 offensive efficiency is the best in the country, it goes without saying that Duke is allowing its opponents to score way too easily in hostile environments.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Set Your TiVo: 01.04.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 4th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Huge games in the Big East and Big 12 highlight tonight’s action, along with Duke’s final non-conference test. Here’s your schedule for tonight:

#8 Duke at Temple – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (***)

Will Dunphy Have His Owls Ready To Upset K's Devils? (Getty)

  • The Blue Devils have shockingly stayed out of the spotlight for the past few weeks, quietly handling their business in the non-conference. Perhaps the shellacking that Mike Krzyzewski’s team took in Ohio State in November was the wake-up call that this team needed, as Duke has won five straight in impressive fashion since that game. Coach K’s team is ranked 4th in Ken Pomeroy’s adjusted offensive rankings, boasting the nation’s third-best true shooting percentage (60.6%) and eighth-best points per possession statistic (1.16 PPP), amongst many other impressive offensive numbers. As Austin Rivers continues to improve his decision-making and efficiency offensively, Duke gets harder to defend. The freshman is now up to a team-leading 15.4 points per game while shooting 46% from the field and 41% from three. If Rivers can penetrate the Owls’ defense to create good looks for the other Duke guards and himself, Duke will be in good shape.
  • Temple is an elite perimeter defensive team, where the Owls hold opponents to shoot 25.6% from three-point range, the fourth-best percentage in the country. Against a Duke team that loves to shoot the three, guarding the perimeter will again be priority number one in this game. In addition, Temple is strong with the ball and their 1.28 assist-to-turnover ratio is a top-30 national number, far better than Duke’s 1.02 ratio. By limiting their opponent’s long-range makes and winning the turnover battle, Temple will seek to gain an advantage at home. Their trio of guards Ramone Moore, Juan Fernandez, and Khalif Wyatt, all at 13.3 PPG or better, will look to neutralize Duke’s own trio in the scoring department. However, their best big man Michael Eric remains out with a knee injury, which could spell trouble against Duke’s 6’10” Plumlee brothers.
  • Duke is a seven-point favorite in this game and will be well-prepared in their final non-conference game. But the Blue Devils haven’t played a road game since their blowout loss at OSU, and Temple has the guards to match Duke. With Eric missing down low, Temple is without a key defensive cog, but they’ve been playing without him for over a month. Expect a hard fought game in Philly.

#17 Marquette at #9 Georgetown- 7:00 PM EST on ESPNU (****)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story