Morning Five: 07.18.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on July 18th, 2012

  1. This offseason has been unique in the sense that a newly promulgated NCAA rule has allowed coaches and their players to have considerably more in-person interaction than in previous years. While students (including new freshman) are on campus attending summer school, coaches can provide two hours per week of instruction and training. It may not sound like much on its face, but 24 hours of focused practice when compared with zero is a substantial difference. CBSSports.com’s Matt Norlander writes that without question, coaches around the country are 100% behind this new rule and are employing it to the best of their abilities. That is, except in the Ivy League. The wrinkle in the Ancient Eight is that Harvard and Princeton — academic titans though they are — do not offer summer school coursework. Without a level playing field among all eight schools, none of them can (or will) take advantage of the rule. And aside from that, summer courses cost money, a bit of a pinch for non-scholarship athletes. It’s an interesting insight into just how different the priorities are from the rest of Division I basketball, even at a successful time when the league is placing competitive teams (Cornell, Princeton and Harvard) into the NCAA Tournament.
  2. While on the subject of summer basketball, one of the great things about unofficial team pick-up games is that it makes for tremendous message board fodder: “Ivan Renko dropped 45 on Anthony Davis in a half! He’s going to be a first-team All-American!” You know how it goes. Players who are career bench-warmers or otherwise unfulfilled talents seemingly become hoops messiahs under the dim lights in the sweaty gyms of July and August. That isn’t to say that there aren’t clues to be found, though, especially in cases where players have never actually been seen in uniform before. One such storyline coming out of Kansas in the past week is that redshirt freshman Ben McLemore is drawing reasonable comparisons to former Jayhawk star Brandon Rush for his jaw-dropping athletic ability and shot-making prowess. Down on Tobacco Road, UNC’s Leslie McDonald and PJ Hairston may not be getting such a lofty comparison from a former player, but they are receiving lessons in how to play the game from former Tar Heel superstar Rasheed Wallace. So there’s that.
  3. While on the subject of the Heels, one of the slowly smoldering stories in the back rooms and dark alleys of the Internet this summer has related to the ongoing academic scandal involving a large number of football players at the school. Armed with the knowledge that some of UNC’s basketball players took the same tainted courses as the football team, Pat Forde in a piece Tuesday mentioned that UNC has not been as forthcoming as some would like with the release of exculpatory information. He doesn’t go as far as to make any accusations of wrongdoing other than to quote a history professor at UNC who remains skeptical, but it does bring up a question of transparency and whether UNC might be willing to throw football under the bus to save the basketball program.
  4. We’ve mentioned Jabari Parker quite a bit in the last week, as the Class of 2013 prospect made news for narrowing his list of schools down to a more manageable 10 suitors and his family’s decision to let him rest for the remainder of the summer camp period. At least one school that you may have heard of on the recruiting trail — it starts with a K and ends with a Y — may, according to an unnamed head coach “who has been involved” with Parker’s recruitment, be the clubhouse leader. Duke has been mentioned as Parker’s leader numerous times by people supposedly in the know, and BYU has always been in the mix because of the LDS connection. All any prognosticator worth his salt can do at this point is await announcements as to where Parker will take his official visits and work backwards from there.
  5. A number of college basketball head coaches are in North Augusta, South Carolina, this week for the Nike Peach Jam, an elite prep basketball event featuring many of the nation’s top uncommitted players. Local news station WJBF-TV interviewed a few of the attendees about the Penn State/Sandusky scandal, and at least Clemson’s Brad Brownell, Minnesota’s Tubby Smith, and Georgia Tech’s Brian Gregory appear to be “using Penn State’s mistakes as a lesson.” For the sake of the next generation of America’s overlooked children, let’s hope so.

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Big 12 Team Previews: Kansas Jayhawks

Posted by cwilliams on November 13th, 2011

Predicted finish: 1st

2010-11 Record: 35-3 (14-2, Big 12)

Head Coach: Bill Self, 9th season

Key Losses: Marcus Morris (17.2 PPG), Markieff Morris (13.7 PPG), Tyrel Reed (9.7 PPG), Josh Selby (7.9 PPG), Brady Morningstar (7.1 PPG), Mario Little (5.1 PPG)

The 2011-12 Jayhawks face a daunting rebuilding task, after losing six players from last season’s 35-win team. If there is one coach who has proven he knows how to reload instead of rebuild, it’s Bill Self. The appeal of NBA riches hit the 2010-11 Jayhawk team hard with the early departure of the Morris twins and Josh Selby. That won’t stop Self and his squad from competing for a Big 12 championship, though, a title they’ve earned the past seven seasons. Kansas will not roll over, especially at home — Allen Fieldhouse has had 164 consecutive sellouts and has one of the most intimidating student sections in the game. Like always, the Jayhawks will thrive at home. Where we will see who they really are is on the road. Despite not being considered as talented a team as compared to those in recent years, Kansas will still have the bulls-eye pinned to their backs. All season long.

It Says Here That Self's Team Will Find a Way...

The Stars: All eyes will be on Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson this season. Taylor is the lone returning 2010-11 starter. He averaged 9.3 PPG last season with 4.6 APG. He will have to carry this team with his leadership this season, both on the court and off. Robinson was Kansas’s sixth man last season, contributing 7.6 PPG and 6.4 RPG. Robinson is more known for his personal tragedies off the court last season. We watched as the young man experienced the death of his maternal grandparents and his mother all in the course of a month (read the tragic yet inspiring tale here). He  provided us with one of the more awe-inspiring sports comebacks, as he played the rest of the season as an integral part of his team despite the darkness resting on his shoulders. I expect Robinson to have an All-America caliber season.

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Big 12 Morning Five: 11.04.11 Edition

Posted by dnspewak on November 4th, 2011

  1. Billy Gillispie’s exhibition debut at Texas Tech resulted in a victory, but it wasn’t a banner performance by any means. Tech trailed by four at halftime to Southwestern Oklahoma before scrapping out a 76-70 victory. The game went to the wire as the Red Raiders led by just two points with 10 seconds remaining. Although Gillispie’s entire team is essentially composed entirely of newcomers, it was two returners who led the way on Thursday night. Sophomore Javarez Willis scored 22 points while Robert Lewandowski, the lone senior on the team, chipped in 18 points. It wasn’t a pretty start start for Texas Tech, but a win’s a win, as they say.
  2. Gillispie’s old school, Texas A&M, had a little less trouble in its exhibition match-up with Dallas Baptist. Khris Middleton’s 20 points led the Aggies to a 91-55 romp, a game that featured a ridiculous rebounding margin (47-23) and a lot of three-point attempts (38 combined between the two teams). A&M led by 26 at halftime and coasted from there. Kourtney Roberson also finished with a double-double: 14 points and 12 rebounds.
  3. The NBA Development League held its 2011 draft Thursday night. It’s not exactly a hit with the Nielsen ratings, but a few notable Big 12 players were selected. Former Iowa State Cyclone Jamaal Tinsley, a former Big 12 Player of the Year, went first overall. He’s already played eight years in the NBA so the moment for him probably wasn’t a tearjerker. Gary Johnson (Texas) went in the late first round, Brady Morningstar (Kansas) went in the third, and Darion Anderson (Iowa State) was drafted in the fourth. Here’s to an extended career to those four players.
  4. For you TV announcer junkies, here’s a look at the commentators for the upcoming Big 12 season, as well as the rest of college basketball. Looks like more of the same, especially on Big Monday: Bob Knight and Brent Musburger are back. Depending on how you feel about The General, that’s either a brilliant or disastrous move. Also, both Jon Sciambi and Mitch Holthus will call weekly Big 12 games.
  5. And in your sad news of the morning: Oklahoma held a memorial service for radio announcer Bob Barry, Sr., who died last weekend at the age of 80. Barry spent 50 years in the business and every player, reporter, and coach he’s ever worked alongside had nothing but the best to say about him. Barry was an Oklahoma icon, and he will be missed–even by people who never met him.
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Conference Report Card: Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 25th, 2011


 

 

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor and contributor.

Year In Review

Before the start of the season, pollsters bought into Kansas State as the sexy pick to take the Big 12 in 2011 on the heels of an Elite Eight appearance in 2010. The Big 12 was not overly impressive in non-conference play, as the Wildcats fell hard to Duke in a de facto home game in Kansas City, and Missouri did the same against Georgetown in one of the more thrilling matchups of the early season.

As league play began, the preseason #3 Wildcats disappointed, starting 2-5, and the usual stalwarts of the Big 12, Kansas and Texas, rose to the top. After topping the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in January, the Longhorns looked to be in the driver’s seat, especially after Kansas was blindsided at Bramlage Coliseum to give Texas a two-game lead. However, Rick Barnes‘ team suffered another late-season collapse, going 2-3 to finish the regular season while the Jayhawks dusted off the competition to pull ahead to take their seventh straight conference crown.

Elsewhere in the conference, the Wildcats bounced back to end the season in third place. The middle of the conference wasn’t settled until the latter stages of the season with Missouri falling lat and Texas A&MColorado and Nebraska treading water. Baylor underachieved, given the talented personnel in Waco, and Oklahoma State never really looked in sync. OklahomaTexas Tech and Iowa State all had awful seasons to finish at the bottom of the standings.

In the conference tournament final, Kansas played its best basketball of the season, topping Texas to gain some revenge entering the Big Dance. Colorado was snubbed on Selection Sunday despite beating Kansas State three times, but the Big 12 still managed to get five teams into the NCAA Tournament. However, only the Jayhawks made it out of opening weekend alive, and they fell short of expectations as they lost to Shaka Smart and the Rams’ reign of BCS destruction.

KU's front line of Thomas Robinson (left) and the Morris twins evolved into a strength, and the Jayhawks struggled most when they weren't utilized on offense. (AP/Jamie Squire)

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NCAA Regional Diary From San Antonio

Posted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2011

After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend.

Location: San Antonio, TX
Round: Regional Final
Teams: VCU, Kansas
Date: 27 March 2011

To read all the diaries throughout the NCAA Tournament, click here.

The San Antonio Riverwalk is Always a Hit.

  • This is the second time in this Tournament that I’ve personally witnessed this happen (Gonzaga vs. St. John’s being the other).  Kansas’ strategy from the opening tip was to get the ball inside early and often to their big men, Marcus and Markieff Morris.  It worked in the beginning as the twins got KU off to a 6-2 start, but VCU started to figure out the entry passes, and before long the Kansas guards were trying to throw the ball into a quadruple-team underneath.  The perimeter players weren’t looking to score at all, and I sometimes wonder if a focused strategy to take advantage of a strength (as here) actually backfires in the sense that the perimeter players don’t have an opportunity to play offensively.  In the Richmond game, as a contrasting example, the KU perimeter players got going early and UR as a result was out of the game by the second television timeout.
  • I love Shaka Smart for many reasons, not least of which is his bulldog mentality of taking on all comers, but watching him get down into a defensive crouch on the sidelines as his players guard the ball on that side of the floor is phenomenal.  He moves his feet very well for his advanced age of all of 33 years old.  With Brad Stevens Lambeau Leap into the team circle after beating #1 Pitt last week, and Smart acting as a sixth defender for the Rams, youth in the coaching ranks is most definitely served.
Shaka Can!
  • Whew, Markieff Morris (eight turnovers) and Tyrel Reed (1-9 FGs) would like to have this game back.  Through the first twelve minutes of action, Markieff had already turned the ball over six times to VCU, including a ridiculous Ewing-step-through travel that he damn well knows better than to do in the college game.  Reed suffered a miserable game, and he never looked less comfortable than when Kansas was in desperate need of someone — anyone — to hit some threes down the stretch, but he was badly off on all of them.  It was pretty clear to me from my vantage point that both of these guys were feeling the pressure of expectations, and they were generally crushed by it.
  • I liked Self’s decision to try to get Josh Selby into the game early to combat the scoring woes of his team on the perimeter.  Other than Selby, none of the KU guards are elite talents capable of scoring on demand.  It didn’t work out today, as Selby went 1-5 for two points and clearly wasn’t feeling it, but it was still worth the gamble.  He couldn’t have done much worse than the pair of Reed and Brady Morningstar (2-16 FGs).
  • Speaking of Selby, has any freshman in America been a bigger disappointment this season?  Hailed as the possible missing piece to a dominant KU team, he looked good in December before tailing off completely the rest of the way to become nearly a late-season afterthought.  It’s not very often that high school players good enough to rate #1 in the nation by at least one scouting service will suffer such a weird diminishment of his playing time and influence.  Yet, had he been akin to a John Wall or even a Brandon Knight, Kansas might still be playing.  The perimeter absolutely killed the Jayhawks today.

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NCAA Tournament Tidbits: 03.28.11

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 28th, 2011

Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.

East

  • In what was thought to be a transition year for Kentucky, head coach John Calipari has led the Wildcats to the Final Four. Due to the personnel and roster turnover from last season, it can be argued that this season is Calipari’s best work.
  • The Final Four matchup between Connecticut and Kentucky is made even more interesting due to the history between John Calipari and Jim Calhoun. However, both men have acknowledged that the feud is behind them.
  • John Calipari has seen his Final Four banners from his tenures at UMass and Memphis get taken down due to NCAA violations. Kentucky president Dr. Lee Todd insisted on Sunday that “this banner will not be taken down.”
  • Kentucky junior guard DeAndre Liggins was undoubtedly a pest for North Carolina. Liggins was a stalwart defensively, got into the heads of several Tar Heels, and made the shot that seemingly lifted the Wildcats to the Final Four.
  • While Sunday’s loss stings for North Carolina now, it can be argued that the loss will eventually benefit the program. If Harrison Barnes, John Henson and Tyler Zeller all return to Chapel Hill, UNC will enter next season as a title contender once again.

Southeast

  • With two Final Four appearances already under his belt at the age of 34, Butler head coach Brad Stevens is moving up the coaching pantheon at a rapid pace. Considering the success of the past two seasons, we can assume that Stevens is just getting started.
  • Butler forward Matt Howard takes a workmanlike approach to the game of basketball. This approach embodies Butler basketball, and he’s not through yet.
  • The Bulldogs have experienced two close calls with injuries in their last two games. The anxiety that fills Butler fans’ hearts when someone comes up limp have been as heart-stopping as the Butler’s unexpected heroics.
  • An interesting piece about whether Miami (FL) should go after Brad Stevens or Shaka Smart to be the Hurricanes’ head coach. This is interesting due to the fact that Frank Haith is still gainfully employed by the Hurricanes and was thought by many to have one year left to translate the Durand Scott/Malcolm Grant/Reggie Johnson trio into some postseason success.
  • Even with his Elite Eight loss to Butler, Florida head coach Billy Donovan is still proud of the season his Gators put together. After embarrassing early season losses to Central Florida and Jacksonville, the Gators put together a run that mimicked the 2006 and 2007 editions of the Florida Gators.

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Conference Tournament Daily Diaries: Saturday

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2011

RTC is pleased to announce that we’ll be covering all of the major conference tournaments this year — the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC — in addition to the strongest two high-middies, the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West.  Each day for the rest of this week, we’re asking our correspondents to provide us with a Daily Diary of the sights and sounds from the arena at each site.  Equal parts game analysis and opinion, the hope is that this will go beyond the tiresome game recaps you can find elsewhere and give you an insightful look into Championship Week.  Yesterday’s coverage:  ACC, Atlantic 10, Big East (pending), Big 12, Big Ten, Mountain West,  Pac-10 & SEC.

ACC Tournamentby Kellen Carpenter

  • Despite a collective freak-out Nolan Smith is obviously fine. He torched Virginia Tech en route to a 27-point performance. He played 39 minutes and didn’t limp. After the game he said that he had woken up and felt pretty good, was given a shot for the pain and that was that. Smith also basically admitted that there was no injury that was going to stop him from playing the last, precious few games of his college career. Bold words.
  • There were other bold words that came from a raucous Coliseum crowd. An insistent six year-old Duke fan had one message and one message alone for Virginia Tech’s star whenever he went to the free throw line: “Delaney! Give me your money! Give me your money!” A Hokies fan, noting that an inordinate amount of time seemed to be taken up wiping the floor, was adamant in his commands to the Plumlee frontcourt: “Stop peeing on the floor, Plumlee!” This apparently applied to both. The winner of the impromptu ACC semifinals heckling contest, however, was an older Clemson fan. For some reason that I do not know, this fan spent the entire game heckling. He didn’t heckle the Tar Heels and he didn’t heckle the referees as a group, but rather singled out referee Les Jones. For forty solid minutes, he yelled at “Leslie” about every single thing. It was weird and oddly masterful. Kudos to you, demented stranger.
  • The Tar Heels sent out a mixed message. Dexter Strickland joked on Twitter this afternoon that they were calling his team “The Comeback Kids,” after UNC turned yet another double digit deficit into an overtime win. Kendall Marshall, who played forty minutes, simplyannounced, “I’m tired.” Harrison Barnes didn’t tweet anything, because he is too cool for Twitter.
  • Harrison Barnes, in the best individual performance of the tournament, hung 40 points on the Tigers. That’s impressive enough, but the really impressive part is how he did it. He scored his 40 on a mere 17 shots. He made 6 of 8 three-pointers and 10 of 11 free throws. He had 8 rebounds, four of which were offensive boards. When you play like that, you are, factually, too cool for Twitter. Carolina fans will lift a drink to play that speaks for itself.
  • After both games were finished, the buzz around the Coliseum was palpable. It’s been ten years since Duke and North Carolina have met in the ACC finals, and the town, as a whole, seems legitimately excited about it. A rubber match to the split series is something that everyone involved with both teams’ desires. With a number one seed potentially at stake, and a not insignificant amount of pride, both seem poised to deliver a memorable showdown. Given North Carolina’s apparent propensity for dramatic tournament finishes, the chances of a great game happening seem awfully high.
  • While the rivals exult, Virginia Tech and Clemson fret. Both improved their NCAA stock, but neither was able to seal their destiny with a signature win. There is a degree of optimism for both teams and Seth Greenberg joked that he wasn’t going to sleep because he was so excited about the Hokies chances. A solemn Malcolm Delaney just shook his head and firmly disagreed: After all that had happened over his four years at Virginia Tech, he going to expect the worst and wasn’t going to believe it until he heard it himself. While I’m hopeful for Virginia Tech’s chances, I’m with tough and wise Delaney on this one. That said, I wish him the best. That kid is too tough and too good to never make it to the Big Dance.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.21.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 21st, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, every game now becomes critical. Syracuse and Villanova battle it out tonight in Philly, trying to position themselves for a double-bye in the Big East Tournament. In Lawrence, a shorthanded Kansas team will look to keep rolling against Oklahoma State. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#20 Syracuse @ #13 Villanova – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The Orange Have To Limit How Many Slices They Allow Fisher To Make In That Zone

A Syracuse loss tonight would be their seventh in Big East play, likely knocking them out of contention for a double-bye at Madison Square Garden next month. If that happens, the Orange would still have to fight with a host of teams to avoid playing on Tuesday in the conference tournament. Villanova’s hopes would obviously be damaged with a loss as well, plus they have a tough remaining schedule. Whatever happens the rest of the way in the Big East, three teams with NCAA Tournament hopes will be playing on day one of the conference tournament and would have to win five games in five days to take the title. Read the rest of this entry »

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Set Your Tivo: 02.14.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 14th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

We’re now less than a month away from Selection Sunday. A couple of Big East teams try to enhance their resume while one Big 12 team is in desperation mode tonight. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

West Virginia @ #12 Syracuse – 7 pm on ESPN (***)

How Tough Is the Big East? The Orange Got Clowned In the Carrier Dome On 1/25...by Seton Hall

Given the state of the bubble, you’d have to say these two teams are solidly in the field of 68. We’re sure, however, that Jim Boeheim isn’t feeling so fine and dandy about his Orange right now. Syracuse has lost six of their last eight games and will look to snap a three game home losing streak when West Virginia visits the Carrier Dome this evening. Syracuse hasn’t won on their home floor in a month, their last victory coming over Cincinnati on January 15. In order to help the Orange continue that home losing streak, West Virginia needs to control the pace and work every possession through the middle of the Syracuse 2-3 zone. Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant have proven to be a solid tandem at the point and it’ll be up to them to take care of the ball, control the pace and create open shots.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.07.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 7th, 2011

***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.

Two of the top teams in the country are each without a key player tonight, plus one is on the road. How will the personnel losses affect these two deep teams? All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#4 Pittsburgh @ West Virginia – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The Panthers Will Have To Learn to Live Without Gibbs For a While

The Backyard Brawl, hoops edition, tips off for the 181st time tonight in Morgantown with West Virginia owning a 95-85 series edge. However, Pittsburgh has won seven of the last ten meetings with Jamie Dixon’s program reloading every year of late. This evening the Panthers will be without a key cog in their offense, itself ranked #2 in efficiency. Ashton Gibbs, Pitt’s leading scorer and best three point shooter, is out with a knee injury and will miss up to two weeks. That means Travon Woodall will start at the point guard position and the Panthers’ outstanding depth will be put to the test.

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One Man’s Opinion: Contenders After One Month

Posted by zhayes9 on December 6th, 2010

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

After engulfing myself in a nightly binge of college basketball over the first month of the season- taking in games from the Big Apple to the Little Apple and from Cancun to Maui- here is one man’s evaluation on some of the top teams in the country and where they stand heading into the final weeks of non-conference play:

Kyrie Irving has surpassed expectations thus far

Duke- It’s going to take a near perfect effort to beat Duke this season. Being able to lure Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler back to campus coinciding with a severe down year in the ACC was truly the perfect storm of circumstance. One chance a team may have to dethrone Duke is if they lure Mason Plumlee into two early fouls, keep them in the halfcourt and the Blue Devils become three-happy, but Duke does have five players who can catch fire from deep at any time. Kyrie Irving has surpassed any and all expectations during the first month of the season. His court awareness is reminiscent of a 10-year NBA veteran rather than an 18-year old college freshman. His use of the hesitation dribble, ability to split screens, explode to the basket and display innate court awareness has vaulted Irving to stardom. What makes Duke so lethal is that they have a plethora of options that can explode for 25 points on any given night, just as Plumlee did against Marquette or Singler against Oregon or Irving against Michigan State.  There’s three potential lottery picks on this team, but selfishness is never an issue and they flow together seamlessly on the court. I have a hard time pointing out exactly where Duke slips up this season; after all, they don’t face a currently ranked team the rest of the slate.

Ohio State- Here’s the one team I feel would have a good shot at knocking off Duke on a neutral floor right now. They can come close to matching the Blue Devils at every position on the floor if William Buford runs the point. Jared Sullinger has been overrated a bit in the early going. Most of his production has come off easy dunks and layups and I haven’t seen an array of post moves quite yet, although I trust that they exist in his arsenal. It’s his fellow freshmen that should be receiving more attention. DeShaun Thomas is scoring 13 PPG in just over 17 MPG of play and shooting 56% from the floor. I’ve also been wildly impressed with the headiness and intelligence of Aaron Craft at the point. He’s compiled a near 2/1 assist/turnover ratio in the early going and has done a fantastic job finding shooters Diebler and Lighty off screens or Sullinger in low post position. David Lighty is this team’s MVP. He’s a lockdown defender and has really improved his outside jumper, while Buford may have the best mid-range game in the Big Ten. One should always anticipate Tom Izzo’s team to improve as the season wears on, but the Buckeyes have to be the odds-on favorite to win this conference as of now.

Pittsburgh- I know it’s horribly cliché when talking about Pittsburgh, but “tough” is the first word that comes to mind. Jamie Dixon’s teams are never outworked and currently lead all of college basketball is offensive rebounding percentage. Pitt seemingly has an assembly line of big men they can trot off the bench to give Gary McGhee, Nasir Robinson and Talib Zanna breathers. Dixon loves to run Ashton Gibbs off screens for open looks and the junior sharpshooter is connecting better than ever, although he still lacks true point guard skills. Although the rotation will eventually be trimmed down, Dixon has the luxury of digging 10-deep into his bench that Big East rivals like Georgetown and Connecticut simply do not have. McGhee is the type of bruiser inside that every team would love to throw out there for 20 MPG. He gives Pitt’s offense extra shot opportunities and shuts down opposing big men inside. Pitt doesn’t necessarily have the star power of other Final Four contenders, but their toughness and execution as a unit may be enough to carry them to Houston.

Kansas- I think we all need to take a moment to applaud the job Bill Self has done in Lawrence. This program lost two lottery picks and an All-American and have taken maybe one step back. This is a credit to the tremendous depth Self has compiled at Kansas and his staff’s ability to develop players. When Josh Selby is eligible on December 18, this team becomes Final Four good. He could be lumped into the same category as Irving, Walker and McCamey come March. I’ve been wildly impressed with how well the Jayhawks know their roles. The Morris brothers complement each other with Marcus as the inside-outside scoring threat (18.6 PPG, 6.3 RPG, 65% FG, 9/15 from deep) and Markieff perfectly content with doing the dirty work on the boards and in the paint. In and out of Self’s doghouse during his tenure at Kansas, Tyshawn Taylor has done a quietly solid job filling in for Selby at the point distributing the basketball.  A player who also flies under the radar is Brady Morningstar. Most just view him as a spot-up shooter, but he’s a valuable cog for Self ushering the fast break and setting up teammates for open looks.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles

Posted by zhayes9 on November 23rd, 2010

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

Pitt has a team capable of reaching that elusive Final Four

1. I had an opportunity to attend the consolation and championship games of the 2K Sports Classic last Friday and learned a great deal about the four teams participating- Pittsburgh, Texas, Illinois and Maryland. The Panthers were one of my preseason Final Four teams and did nothing to give me second thoughts on that prediction. Ashton Gibbs is a true playmaker at the end of the shot clock, Jamie Dixon has an incredibly deep frontcourt and the Panthers play heady, smart, hard-nosed basketball for 40 minutes. It’s possible we overrated Illinois a bit coming into the year. They lack a bruiser down low that can post up on the block and demand the basketball. Mike Tisdale’s the same player he’s been his entire career at Illinois, a capable mid-range jump shooter that lacks any sort of physicality and is often mired in foul trouble because opposing power forwards constantly out-muscle him. Maryland looks like a middle-of-the-pack ACC team that should sneak into the NCAA Tournament because Gary Williams always receives max effort from his teams and Jordan Williams is a force in the post, although he needs to avoid silly fouls and demand the basketball more often. The team that needed to convince me they were a contender after last season’s disaster is Texas. The Longhorns are a top-20 team with a duo of physical, lockdown defenders on the perimeter in Dogus Balbay and Cory Joseph, an athletic low-post presence in Tristan Thompson and an explosive scorer in Jordan Hamilton. A shortened rotation and accepted roles has helped Rick Barnes develop improved chemistry, as well.

2. The story of the first two weeks of college basketball might just be Minnesota. The Big Ten was the best conference coming into the season with Michigan State and Ohio State shaping up to be Final Four frontrunners, Purdue and Illinois mainstays in the polls and Wisconsin as solid as ever. Minnesota was a team that nobody could quite get a handle on, especially considering it was impossible to predict just how much the additions of Trevor Mbakwe and Al Nolen would help Tubby Smith.  After three statements wins in Puerto Rico over Western Kentucky, North Carolina and West Virginia, the Gophers appear to be yet another contender primed for a deep March run out of the absolutely loaded Big Ten. Al Nolen was superb in the championship game against West Virginia locking down the Mountaineer’s point guard duo of Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant on defense and splitting the West Virginia defense with dribble penetration that either resulted in free throws (11-12 on the night) or open looks for sharpshooting teammate Blake Hoffarber. Where the Gophers have forged their identity, though, is inside with a plethora of size and length. Ralph Sampson, Colton Iverson, Mbakwe and big bodied Mo Walker provide Smith a frontline that can go toe-to-toe with any in the nation. Just wait till they get Devoe Joseph back.

3. The most crippling defeat for any team with NCAA Tournament aspirations could have come Monday afternoon at the Maui Invitational for Wichita State. The Shockers inability to contain Kemba Walker (29 second half points) cost them a chance to pick up a quality win over a Big East opponent and a shot at potential #1-seed Michigan State in the semifinals. Why is this so devastating? One, Wichita just blew their best chance for an RPI/SOS booster. The only other challenging non-conference game on the slate is a road trip to San Diego State, where it’s extremely unlikely the Shockers leave with a victory. Merely the addition of the Spartans on their schedule would improve Wichita’s power rating dramatically. Instead, it’s increasingly likely Gregg Marshall’s team will have to win the MVC Tournament. This task is very possible; after all, the Shockers are the prohibitive favorite, a senior-laden squad with talents like Toure Murry, David Kyles and J.T. Durley. Marshall’s goal in Maui was to pick up two quality wins for the resume in March. That chance has gone by the wayside.

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