Four Thoughts on SMU’s Pasting at Gonzaga

Posted by Mike Lemaire on November 18th, 2014

SMU didn’t exactly make a great impression in its nationally televised showdown with Gonzaga last night. The final score was 72-56 and that was after the Mustangs closed the gap late against the Bulldogs’ scrubs. It started early when Larry Brown’s team gifted Gonzaga way too many open looks, and continued in the second half as the Mustangs suffered through a poor shooting performance — at one point in the second half, they were 3-of-23 from the field — so bad it’s unlikely to be repeated this season. The second half got so out of hand that it gave the Gonzaga student section time to audition some new chants for this season (the “You need Mudiay” version was the best of the bunch, in my opinion). The Mustangs are too experienced and talented to be blown out so easily, but despite a disappointing showing in a marquee match-up during the 24 Hours of Hoops Marathon, there were a few positives to take away from the game. Gonzaga is really good and Spokane is a difficult place to play, so I don’t think that this game will be reflective of the team that SMU will become by the end of the season.

Brown Had A Similar Pained Look On His Face Often Watching Gonzaga. (AP)

Brown Had A Similar Pained Look On His Face Often Watching Gonzaga. (AP)

Here are the four things that stuck out to me about last night’s game:

  1. Did I mention how good Gonzaga is yet? The Bulldogs haven’t been a true mid-major team in years, but this may be the season that Mark Few’s club looks the least like a punchy underdog. Gonzaga has more size than almost any team in the country outside of Kentucky; it has one of the best point guards in the country in Kevin Pangos; it has plenty of shooting; and its rotation might be legitimately nine-deep. The Bulldogs fed off an explosive atmosphere in having their way with the Mustangs all game long. Domantas Sabonis and Kyle Wiltjer are a pair of frontcourt players with NBA futures, and Pangos is one of the most versatile offensive weapons in the country. What am I trying to say is that there is no shame in losing to the Zags in their building this early in the season.  At one point Fran Fraschilla said that if there are “12 teams in the country better than Gonzaga, they must be really good.” Yeah, there is no way that there are 12 teams in America better than that team right now. Read the rest of this entry »
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One on One: An AAC Preview With Jason Smith

Posted by Walker Carey on November 6th, 2014

RTC interviews one on one

Rush the Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you throughout the preseason with previews of each of the major conferences.

With the college basketball season nearly upon us, we thought it would be a good idea to gather some expert opinions on the nation’s major college basketball conferences. As part of our national preview with the AAC, RTC correspondent Walker Carey (@walkerRcarey) recently had the pleasure of speaking with an AAC expert in Jason Smith (@TheCAJasonSmith), the Memphis Tigers beat reporter for The Commercial Appeal.

Rush the Court: Defending national champion Connecticut obviously lost a lot from last season’s team with dynamic guard Shabazz Napier now a member of the Miami Heat. Nevertheless, the Huskies are still expected to contend for the league title. What is it about Kevin Ollie’s squad that has the unit in position to contend in the first year of the post-Shabazz era?

Jason Smith: It starts with Ryan Boatright, who was a great complementary player to Shabazz Napier last season. They are expecting him to be a Shabazz-type as their go-to-guy this season. I am not sure if Boatright is a guy who can shoulder the entire load like Shabazz or like Kemba Walker did in 2011, but Connecticut does bring back some other pieces that should help with things. They have one of the best rim protectors in the country in Amida Brimah, the sophomore seven-footer. A lot of people are excited about Daniel Hamilton, the five-star freshman who was named conference Newcomer of the Year. People are expecting a lot from him. At this point last year, I do not think a lot of people thought Connecticut was a team that could win a national title and they obviously proved us all wrong. A lot of the credit has to go to Kevin Ollie, and with him back in the fold, Connecticut has to be a team that you should expect to compete for the league title.

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

Who Will Step Up For the Huskies This Season?

RTC: SMU clearly took a hit when it lost blue-chip recruit Emmanuel Mudiay to eligibility issues. Despite this loss, the Mustangs figure to be a contender in the conference. With Keith Frazier, Nic Moore, and Markus Kennedy returning to the fold, what is the ceiling for SMU in year three of the Larry Brown era?

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Morning Five: 10.27.14 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on October 27th, 2014

morning5

  1. Once North Carolina released the findings of the independent investigation into the widespread academic fraud at its institution the next obvious step was to hear from Roy Williams, who spoke about the issue at a press conference on Friday. Williams stated he “thought we were doing the right thing” at the time and noted his reported initial concerns about the high number of players from his 2005 title team that were so many African and Afro-American Studies majors. We aren’t sure whether we believe that Roy (or any other coach involved in this type of scandal) actually cared to know about what was going on or just preferred not to worry about the details of how the sausage was made in his program. The next step in this process is what the NCAA will do with the school. Dennis Dodd has already come out in favor of  the death penalty, but acknowledges that it won’t happen.  Given the widespread nature of the scandal we understand the sentiment, but find it unlikely that the NCAA would touch one of its sacred (cash) cows. Not to be outdone by their new ACC rivals, Syracuse already has its day(s) in (NCAA) court set for October 30 and 31. These allegations go back 10 years and involve both the men’s basketball and football programs with the biggest charges revolving around extra benefits and academic issues with the basketball team. We can’t wait for the weekly ACC conference calls.
  2. We knew that we would have to deal with teams losing players to the professional ranks at some point this season we just figured that it would be after the season actually started. Charlotte junior shooting guard Shawn Lester is leaving the program to pursue a professional basketball career. Carter, who was second on the team in scoring last year at 11.9 points per game, is reportedly looking for an agent with a plan on signing overseas. Even with the loss, the 49ers will still have four returning starters and ad Florida transfer Braxton Ogbueze as well as freshmen Keyshawn Woods and Torin Dorn Jr. Although Lester’s reasons for leaving are unclear (reportedly under the pretense of supporting his family financially), he is the fifth player to leave the program early since the end of the 2012-13 season.
  3. We are just a few weeks away from the start of college basketball season so we can only imagine the panic in Madison when it was reported that Sam Dekker sprained his left ankle at a Friday practice. Dekker, who averaged 12.4 points and 6.1 rebounds per game last season and is a potential All-American, sprained his ankle during a 4-on-4 drill and is only expected to miss one to two weeks as he recovers. Fortunately Wisconsin has a relatively easy start to the season before they play Green Bay on November 19 at which point we would expect Dekker would be back at full strength based on the information that Wisconsin is providing.
  4. It won’t make up for the loss of Emmanuel Mudiay or (possibly) Markus Kennedy, but Southern Methodist got a boost when the NCAA ruled that Virginia Tech transfer Ben Emelogu had been granted a transfer waiver and would be eligible to play this season. Emelogu, who is from Dallas, averaged 10.5 points, 3.1 rebounds and 1.9 assists as a freshman last season. Emelogu could also provide some stability to the team, which has been in flux the past few month as he actually was a team captain last season despite being only a freshman. If they can get Kennedy back, the Mustangs have the potential to be a dangerous team even if the person who was going to save them is on the other side of the planet.
  5. With all the crying about the rivalries lost with conference realignment a number of schools have figured out ways to keep those rivalries intact at least temporarily. The latest two school to do so are Connecticut and Georgetown, which will renew their rivalry for at least two years beginning with the 2015-16 season. The first game will be played on January 23, 2016 at the XL Center with the return date at the Verizon Center on January 21, 2017. While the rivalry might lack the history of others (remember Connecticut was nothing before Jim Calhoun got there), the Hoyas only lead the series 35-29 with the two schools each having a record seven Big East Tournament titles (something the Hoyas should be able to reclaim now that Connecticut is in the AAC). We are sure that we will be seeing plenty of clips of Allen Iverson and Ray Allen going at it in the lead up to these games.
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James Johnson’s Dismissal Highlights the Other Unpleasant Side of March

Posted by Lathan Wells on March 17th, 2014

The month of March is one that brings joy to many college basketball programs across the country, as they now have the chance to chase a national championship via the NCAA Tournament (or to a lesser extent, an NIT title that at least yields a banner). But as many know, March is often a time of despondency across the college basketball landscape. It starts with the teams that had their hopes dashed on Selection Sunday when their names weren’t called, but it also extends to the programs whose seasons are completely over. That’s where the dark days in March occur, and Virginia Tech’s James Johnson experienced such a day today as he was relieved of his duties as head coach of the Hokies after a mere two seasons on the bench.

James Johnson's uninspiring term at Virginia Tech ended after only two years (newsleader.com)

James Johnson’s uninspiring term at Virginia Tech ended after only two years (newsleader.com)

Johnson was considered something of a surprise hire when he replaced the ousted Seth Greenberg two years ago. In fact, he had never been a head coach at all, having recently left Blacksburg to take on a similar assistant coaching role at Clemson. Instead, Greenberg’s messy exit coupled with resounding support from the holdover players convinced the administration to hire Johnson to take over the program, citing in particular his recruiting ability for some of the better teams of the Greenberg era. He inherited a bad team in his first season that only produced 13 wins, even with ACC Player of the Year and eventual pro Erick Green on the roster. His follow-up nine-win campaign, which resulted in a dead-last performance in a 15-team ACC, was due to an extremely underwhelming roster. In the preseason, Johnson made the bizarre decision to name an incoming freshman team captain despite the presence of seniors Jarell Eddie and Cadarian Raines returning. And it wasn’t a superstar talent like Jabari Parker who was named the leader, either; it was two- or three-star guard Ben Emelogu. Emelogu had a decent start to his first college campaign, but he was far from a star.

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A Closer Look at the ACC’s Early Impact Freshmen

Posted by Chris Kehoe on December 11th, 2013

The ACC has struggled as a whole to live up to its self-proclaimed billing as the best basketball conference of all-time. It can’t even lay a claim to the best conference currently, as it came out with a tie in the Big Ten/ACC Challenge, an event in which three of the ACC’s worst teams weren’t invited. However, the talent in the ACC is deep and it remains an exciting conference from top to bottom. Part of the reason for that is the emergence of new and exciting young players across the league, tantalizing casual fans with skills usually reserved for seasoned veterans. These ACC newcomers play various roles on their teams, some shouldering a large offensive burden while others bring a spark off the bench. Whether these players are one-and-done or around for the long haul, they represent the future of the ACC and have fan bases optimistically looking toward future conference championships and Final Four runs. While some relatively high-profile freshmen have struggled to adapt to the college game — UNC’s Isaiah Hicks and N.C. State’s Beejay Anya come to mind there are plenty of freshmen to note who are already producing. Broken down into a tiered system based on efficacy and impact, the following 13 freshmen represent the best of the ACC so far this season.

Tyler Ennis is a major reason for Syracuse's success

Tyler Ennis is a major reason for Syracuse’s success this season.

The Elite ACC ROY Candidates

1). Jabari Parker, F, Duke: Parker is not only an ACC ROY front-runner but an ACC Player of the Year favorite as well. His offensive game has been compared to Paul Pierce and Carmelo Anthony and he possesses an abundance of elite moves in isolation, ranging from the perimeter to the post. Parker carries a large burden of Duke’s offense this season and his ultimate performance will be judged largely on the Blue Devils’ success. If he can lead his team to an ACC title, he’ll probably win both awards.

2). Tyler Ennis, G, Syracuse: Ennis is a calming and consistent offensive presence for Syracuse. He rarely gets flustered and is a key member at the top of the Orange’s 2-3 zone. He has started since day one for Jim Boeheim and is a large reason why Syracuse remains undefeated and an ACC title favorite. On ESPN‘s college basketball podcast, ESPN commentator and former Virginia Tech head coach Seth Greenberg said Syracuse would be a “borderline NCAA Tournament team without Ennis.” This shows how much of an impact the youngster has had.

On the Cusp

3). Anthony Barber, G, N.C. State: Barber is playing nearly 30 minutes and averaging 13 points per game for the Wolfpack. A lightning-quick, reed-thin guard, Barber shares the floor with diminutive point guard Tyler Lewis and has been relied on thus far for his scoring more than his distributing abilities.

4). Kennedy Meeks, F/C, UNC: Kennedy Meeks recently took home the ACC Rookie of the Week award after a pair of convincing performances versus UNC-Greensboro and a statement win at Michigan State. The big-bodied, 290-pound frontcourt player is known for his Kevin Love-like outlet passes and is an efficient interior scorer and big-time rebounder for this Tar Heels’ team.

Kennedy Meeks took home ACC Rookie of the Week honors (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

Kennedy Meeks took home ACC Rookie of the Week honors (Mark L. Baer-USA TODAY Sports)

5). Demetrius Jackson, G, Notre Dame: Jackson has to back up one of the best backcourt tandems in the country in Eric Atkins and Jerian Grant, but it is a testament to his abilities that Mike Brey finds 24 minutes per game for him. Jackson is the future of the Notre Dame backcourt and is having a very successful, if not understated, freshman campaign, averaging almost eight points per game with very good shooting numbers — 50 percent from three and 53.7 percent from the floor.

6). Ben Emelogu, G, Virginia Tech: Much was made of Emelogu getting named a freshman captain for the Hokies, but he has validated James Johnson’s decision to the tune of 14.0 PPG for the 7-3 squad.

Productive and Will Continue to Improve

7). Davon Reed, G, Miami (FL): Reed averages 9.0 PPG in almost 29 minutes per game for a rebuilding Miami program, and he will be a key cog for the Hurricanes’ future.

8). Roddy Peters, G, Maryland: Peters has taken over some point guard duties (along with Dez Wells) since Seth Allen’s early injury, and he has risen to the occasion.

Roddy Peters has been a bright spot for a disappointing Maryland team.

Roddy Peters has been a bright spot for a disappointing Maryland team.

9). Michael Young, F, Pittsburgh: A highly-regarded recruit coming out of high school, Young has complemented the experience and maturity of Pitt’s seniors well.

10). Devin Wilson, G, Virginia Tech: This rookie guard is handling 32 minutes per game well for the inexperienced Hokies, whose true talent will be tested come conference play.

11). Jaron Blossomgame, F, Clemson: Blossomgame has shown himself to be a versatile interior force, averaging close to 5.0 RPG and PPG while blocking over a shot per contest as well.

12). Nate Britt, G, North Carolina: Britt plays 25 minutes per game and has taken on the point guard duties as Marcus Paige has become the Tar Heels’ primary perimeter scoring option with P.J. Hairston still sidelined.

13). Lennard Freeman, F, N.C. State: Freeman plays 26 minutes per game for Mark Gottfried, and the Washington, D.C., native is a huge help on the boards, averaging almost seven rebounds per contest.

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ACC Team Preview: Virginia Tech Hokies

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 25th, 2013

It’s difficult to argue that a coach with the eventual Atlantic Coast Conference Player of the Year on his roster was dealt a difficult hand, but that’s exactly what James Johnson was given in his first season at Virginia Tech last year. Johnson’s team, following the dismissal of long-tenured coach Seth Greenberg, operated most of the season with only eight scholarship players (and at times as few as six), making it difficult for the Hokies to employ his favored full-court pressure and trapping defenses. It also made for a very taxing season on his players overall, with very little depth to turn to and no consistent offense outside of the POY award-winning Erick Green. Green has departed for the greener pastures of the NBA, which leaves the Hokies in a transitional year as Johnson attempts to mold the team in his image in his second term.

Virginia Tech Preview 2013

Virginia Tech didn’t lose much outside of Green (their only other significant departure was the transfer of guard Robert Brown to UAB), but as stated above, the team certainly stood to gain quite a bit from an influx of new faces. While Johnson’s recruiting class this season is dominated by lightly-regarded players (at least by most scouting services), they will all be thrown into the cauldron early as the Hokies experiment with lineups and combinations. Combo guard Ben Emelogu, recently named captain of the team despite being a freshman, is characterized by Johnson as someone who can slash and jump-start the offense. Guard Adam Smith, a transfer from UNC-Wilmington, sat out the requisite season last year, but posted solid numbers in his freshman campaign in the Colonial Athletic Association (13.7 points per game, the top freshman scorer in the conference). Smith also has the benefit of familiarity with ACC competition, having notched 32 points against Wake Forest and 23 against Maryland in non-conference action two seasons ago. Freshman Devin Wilson also should see some minutes at the point as the Hokies try to rebuild their guard ranks.

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Virginia Tech Turns Leadership Reins Over To Freshman

Posted by Lathan Wells on October 21st, 2013

On October 17, Virginia Tech head coach James Johnson did something he’d never done in 22 years as either a head or assistant coach: He named a freshman his team captain. And this wasn’t one of those once-in-a-generation, program-altering freshman talents that was tapped to be the leader of a Hokies team in transition. This isn’t Carmelo Anthony at Syracuse, Kevin Durant at Texas, or even Andrew Wiggins at Kansas. “Hokies fans, we present to you 6’5” combo guard Ben Emelogu, a player who went largely unnoticed by the major programs at the national level!” While Johnson says he’s a player who can “flat out put the ball in the hole,” his senior year average of 13.5 points per game in high school in Grand Prairie, Texas, doesn’t lend much credence to that assessment. There are three key points to be highlighted with this decision: Johnson’s seemingly long leash as head coach; the extreme youth movement going on in Blacksburg; and the lack of leadership now that last year’s star Erick Green has departed.

Ben Emelogu Will Start the Season as Virginia Tech's Captain

Ben Emelogu Will Start the Season as Virginia Tech’s Captain

Johnson is in his second year at Virginia Tech after replacing Seth Greenberg.  His Hokies, despite having the ACC Player of the Year in Green on the roster last year, won a mere four league games and finished 13-19 overall on the season. Johnson’s contract, signed prior to last season, is for five years. The Virginia Tech administration is known to like Johnson, and he is definitely well-liked by his team, all of whom went to bat for him to assume the mantle of head coach when Greenberg was dismissed. Thus, naming a freshman as captain should not prove divisive to his locker room, at least on the surface.  It also shouldn’t shake the confidence the athletic department has in him, since it’s widely known that the administration understands the rebuilding effort Johnson faces and trusts his reputation as a solid recruiter to make the team relevant in the coming seasons.

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ACC M5: 10.15.12 Edition

Posted by KCarpenter on October 15th, 2012

  1. CBS Sports: Florida State‘s next recruiting class is getting better and better by the day. Jarquez Smith, a 6’9″ forward with perimeter skills, will join Xavier Rathan-Mayes as the early crown jewels of the Seminoles’ next recruiting class. While Smith doesn’t quite have the reputation of Rathan-Mayes, as a rangy forward with serious defensive and shot-blocking chops, he is in many ways the prototypical Leonard Hamilton player. An excellent fit and an even better get for Florida State.
  2. Daily Press: Though it isn’t as splashy as the Seminoles’ move, the Hokies have quietly been putting together a solid class of their own. On Sunday, Ben Emelogu, a scoring wing with excellent size, committed to Virginia Tech. Emelogu joins Maurice Kirby, a slender center who committed on Friday. While both players don’t quite have the prestige of highly-ranked recruits, they both figure to help a Virginia Tech team that will be trying to find a new identity after the departure of former coach Seth Greenberg.
  3. Fayetteville Observer:  “Primetime With The Pack,” the appropriately titled event that marks the beginning of North Carolina State‘s basketball season, came to an abrupt close when Scott Wood‘s grandfather collapsed and had to be carried out on a stretcher. The scrimmage was cut short with a few minutes left. According to a message on Scott Wood’s Twitter account, his grandfather appears to be doing better after receiving some fluids. A strange end to an event that had an even stranger beginning with coach Mark Gottfried being somewhat inexplicably lowered from the ceiling.
  4. Washington Post: The renaming of the beginning of basketball season is surely complete when the inventors of Midnight Madness abandon the name. They are calling it Maryland Madness in the place where Lefty Driesell once invented Midnight Madness. Still, despite the change in name, the event had plenty of highlights, including some new looks by a few of the big men. Shaquille Cleare and Charles Mitchell showed off the weight loss that will make the big men a little more agile. Of course, not to be undone, the giant bruiser Alex Len showed off his newfound range by draining a step-back three-pointer. If that wasn’t an incredible enough sight, the event also featured the team dancing to Gangnam Style. There is apparently a lot of that going around.
  5. Raleigh News & Observer: At Chapel Hill, the evening practice kick-off went as it usually does, but the event had a different tone as most of the gathered fans reserved their loudest cheers for coach Roy Williams, who is still recovering from the surgical removal of a benign kidney tumor. Earlier Friday, Williams, along with George Karl and a few other North Carolina legends held a fundraising breakfast for cancer research, an annual tradition since Williams’ return to Chapel Hill.   The event, a more somber precursor to the antics that were to come later that evening, raised around $150,000 to fight this disease.
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