College Basketball’s Five Best Games of 2013-14

Posted by Bennet Hayes (@HoopsTraveler) on April 15th, 2014

As we continue to sift through the memories of the 2013-14 college basketball season, we take a look back at some of the best games of the season. In order, here are the five best games from 2013-14. We covered the five best stories of the season last week, if you’re interested.

  1. November 12: Kansas 94, Duke 83 – Two of the most anticipated freshmen in recent college hoops history matched up in the Champions Classic nightcap, and neither Wiggins (22 points, eight rebounds) nor Parker (27 points, nine rebounds ) disappointed. Kansas broke open a close game behind a late push from Wiggins and Perry Ellis (24 points, nine rebounds), in the process earning one of the season’s first true statement victories. The young Jayhawks would go on to win 25 games and the Big 12 regular season title, but their finest (and most entertaining) win may have come in their second outing of the year.

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

    Star Freshmen Jabari Parker And Andrew Wiggins Matched Up In What Was A Memorable Champions Classic Battle. (Getty)

  2. March 29: Wisconsin 64, Arizona 63 (OT) – The low-possession game that everyone expected came to fruition, but both the Badgers (1.05 PPP) and Wildcats (1.03 PPP) managed solid offensive efforts in this Elite Eight battle. Neither team was able to build more than a three-point lead during the final 17 minutes of play (including overtime) in a tangibly tense seesaw battle, but it was the offensive clinic put on by the Badgers’ Frank Kaminsky (28 points, 11 rebounds) that proved to be the ultimate difference. After a controversial replay review in the final seconds that gave the ball back to Arizona, Nick Johnson was unable to get up a winning shot attempt in time, and Wisconsin was headed to the Final Four for the first time under Bo Ryan. Read the rest of this entry »
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NCAA Game Analysis: Second Round, Thursday Afternoon

Posted by Andrew Murawa, Bennet Hayes, Brian Otskey & Walker Carey on March 20th, 2014

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And so it begins. Today at exactly 12:15 PM in Buffalo, New York, the 2014 NCAA Tournament as we all know it will officially tip off, setting in motion a chain of events that will undoubtedly bust most people’s brackets by mid-afternoon. Nevertheless, the anticipation for the best two weekdays in all of sports is over. Savor it. Embrace it. Respect it. Let’s get things started with an analysis of all of today’s games, beginning with the afternoon slate of eight contests.

#6 Ohio State vs. #11 Dayton — South Region Second Round (at Buffalo, NY) — 12:15 PM ET on CBS.

Aaron Craft And The Buckeyes Have Had A Difficult Time Putting The Ball In The Hoop This Season; Can They Score Often Enough To Knock Off In-State Foe Dayton?

Aaron Craft And The Buckeyes Have Had A Difficult Time Putting The Ball Through The Hoop This Season; Can They Score Often Enough To Knock Off In-State Foe Dayton On Thursday? (AP)

You could ignore the fact that Dayton and Ohio State are separated by 70 miles of Ohio interstate, that the Flyer’s leading scorer is an Ohio State transfer, that Thad Matta has never had any interest in scheduling a regular season game with UD, and this game would still be one of the most intriguing matchups of the first round. Or you could, of course, take account of all those things and declare this the game to watch in the round of 64. Former Buckeye Jordan Sibert will be a marked man on Thursday afternoon, and not just because he used to don the scarlet and gray. Sibert (43% 3PT) leads a proficient Flyer offense that excels beyond the arc; Dayton has made 38% of their three-point attempts this season. Aaron Craft receives plenty of recognition for his defensive abilities on the perimeter, but Shannon Scott is nearly Craft’s equal when it comes to on-ball defense, and both will strive to make Sibert and the rest of the Flyers’ life difficult. Similar resistance is unlikely to be provided by a Dayton defense that is less than elite, but can the Buckeyes take advantage? Ohio State’s scoring struggles this season have been well documented, but look for LaQuinton Ross and Lenzelle Smith to get just enough done offensively for the Buckeyes to seize this battle for Ohio. Either way though, subplots abound.

The RTC Certified Pick: Ohio State

#2 Wisconsin vs #15 American – West Regional Second Round (at Milwaukee, WI) – 12:40 PM ET on truTV

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Otskey’s Observations: Episode XIV

Posted by Brian Otskey (@botskey) on February 26th, 2014

Each week throughout the season, RTC columnist Brian Otskey (@botskey) will run down his observations from the previous week of college basketball.

Wichita State Deserves a Number One Seed

There is a vocal group out there making it known that Wichita State should not receive a top seed in next month’s NCAA Tournament. They argue that the 30-0 Shockers “haven’t played anyone” and that alone should disqualify Gregg Marshall’s team from landing on the No. 1 seed line when the brackets are released two and a half weeks from now. We can debate the merits of the RPI all we want, but the fact is it remains one of many important selection criteria. Wichita State’s non-conference schedule ranks No. 34 in that metric, which is actually pretty good. By comparison, it is only four spots lower than Georgetown, a middling Big East team about whose schedule people have been raving. Perception is indeed a funny thing.

Ron Baker should be angry if his Shockers don't get a No. 1 seed. (photo courtesy rantsports.com).

Ron Baker should be angry if his Shockers don’t get a No. 1 seed. (photo courtesy rantsports.com).

Wichita State cannot control the strength of its own league, which also happened to lose Creighton to conference realignment this season. There is something to be said, however, for taking every team’s best shot each and every night and still winning with relative ease. The Shockers beat the second best team in the Missouri Valley, Indiana State, in convincing fashion in Wichita and won the return meeting in Terre Haute comfortably. Out of conference, the Shockers challenged themselves with games at Saint Louis, Tulsa and Alabama, along with a visit by Tennessee to Wichita (Note: Game was played off campus and not at the Roundhouse). Wichita State also played BYU in a two-day event at the CBE Hall of Fame Classic in Kansas City. The Shockers have certainly not faced a murderer’s row type of schedule, but at 30-0 with a top 35 non-conference slate, that is good enough to be rewarded with a No. 1 seed. In the next two weeks you will hear a lot of pundits talk about tournament resumes, good wins and bad losses. Just remember, Wichita State doesn’t have any bad losses. It has NO losses, period. Dear Selection Committee: Do the right thing and give this team a No. 1 seed!

Jim Boeheim’s Meltdown Masks Syracuse’s Real Issue

Say the word “Syracuse” this week and most people will immediately think of Jim Boeheim’s classic meltdown at Cameron Indoor Stadium where the iconic Orange coach was ejected from a regular season or postseason game for the first time in 38 years as a head coach. While that was certainly a memorable moment, it masks the nosedive that Syracuse’s offense has taken over its last four games. Over the Orange’s first 24 contests, they recorded an offensive efficiency below 102.1 points per 100 possessions just twice (in wins over Miami and North Carolina). Over the last four games, Syracuse’s offensive efficiency has been 92.5, 94.3, 99.6 and 88.6. Ironically the 99.6 number was in the loss to Duke, but the Blue Devils are the best offensive team Syracuse has faced all season.

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ACC M5: 02.24.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 24th, 2014

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  1. WRAL Sports Fan: What a game. Before we even get to the controversial call, Syracuse and Duke on Saturday night was another evenly-matched contest in one of the best atmospheres of the season. One thing that is lost in the early season tournaments that are increasingly drawing better lineups is the raucous home environments. Moving forward, I thought the call should have been a block (especially under the new rules), but it was a closer decision than many gave it credit for. To me Rodney Hood was set (his feat “shuffled,” but didn’t go anywhere), but he never quite got squared up with CJ Fair. A tough 50/50 call was bound to go against the Orange late there, but it’s unfortunate that it somewhat overshadowed a second terrific game. So with that said, let me second Adam Gold in saying that the ACC has to find a way to make this happen twice a year (and go ahead and queue up the same piece with North Carolina and Louisville for next season).
  2. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Oh, and there was Jim Boeheim‘s rant that resulted in his ejection. It was epic. It was a perfect “10″ in photoshop-ability. He also embraced it after the game, saying “I thought I got out there pretty good. I was quick; I stayed down; I didn’t get injured.” It was Boeheim’s first ejection in a non-preseason game, and to be clear, I don’t blame him for losing it. I don’t think he was “making a point” to the league or its officials, but I also don’t think the two techs cost his team the game either. Long story short: enjoy the meme.
  3. Sports Illustrated: Lastly, here’s a good preview from Pete Thamel that looked at the relationship between Mike Krzyzewski and Jim Boeheim. Other than their penchant for salty press conferences, age, and  significant figures in the wins column, there aren’t all that many similarities between Coach K and Boeheim. But their differences also probably help each other somewhat. Boeheim pointed to Krzyzewski’s ability to teach mental preparation. My guess is that Krzyzewski has learned some things beyond the intricacies of the 2-3 zone from Boeheim too.
  4. Washington Post: It’s always a treat when John Feinstein writes on the ACC. This time, he writes about Virginia and the 180 that the team did after Tennessee took them behind a woodshed in Knoxville. The Cavaliers now sit in control of their own destiny in sole possession of first place in the ACC. Likely favored to win the (increasingly unbalanced) ACC regular season title, they will almost certainly get a double-bye in next month’s ACC Tournament. The one big test remaining for Tony Bennett’s team — Syracuse at home — will also be a chance to confirm to the Selection Committee that this team is as good as its record.
  5. Tomahawk Nation: Leonard Hamilton‘s team has revived its NCAA chances with a win at Pittsburgh yesterday. Meanwhile, the Panthers likely earned themselves a very uncomfortable position on the bubble. One surprise is how much success that ACC teams are having at Pittsburgh this season, a school known for its great home-court advantage. Part of that may be that this team has over-performed against mediocre and poor teams. Regardless, we should have plenty to talk about with the NCAA Tournament bubble in this league during the last couple of weeks of conference play.
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ACC M5: 02.13.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 13th, 2014

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  1. CBS Sports and ESPN: A couple of interesting tidbits from after Syracuse‘s miracle win last night at Pittsburgh. First, according to the Panther players after the game, they forced the Orange to take the shot they wanted. And truthfully, if you go back a couple possessions, I’m pretty sure they were fine with CJ Fair’s long three and step-back 15-footer too. Even more impressive is Tyler Ennis‘ resume in the last five minutes of one-possession games and overtime: he’s 8-of-9 from the field, 14-of-14 from the free throw line, with six assists and no turnovers. Ennis lives for the moment. It’s amazing (and lucky). But the best make their own luck, and it’s starting to look like Ennis is one of the best.
  2. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Here’s where I’m going to jump on the Internet bandwagon. Jamie Dixon shouldn’t have used his last timeout — the one he called after making a free throw to go up one with 4.4 seconds left. The one that let Syracuse set up a final play. Unless a Pittsburgh player was woefully out of position or Syracuse happened to be in the perfect formation to get an easy shot, I would have kept that timeout. But when it comes down to it, Pittsburgh played well enough to win and just caught a bad break. Unfortunately, that bad break probably puts the Panthers in the bubble conversation (although with its record, I think the Panthers are a shoo-in barring an epic collapse).
  3. AP (via Winston-Salem Journal): Wake Forest athletic director and chairman of the Selection Committee Ron Wellman (hey, at least he doesn’t have to worry about a conflict of interest anytime soon) announced some changes in how the NCAA seeds its teams that will matter for bracketologists. The two big ones are allowing rematches earlier in the tournament and having “more latitude in assigning teams to sites closer to their homes.” The second point runs counter to Wellman’s goal of honoring seed lines. If you honor the seeds and locations, you’re going to end up with ones in home regions for eights, which is beyond stupid.
  4. Fayetteville Observer: Duke vs. North Carolina was postponed last night, but that doesn’t mean we won’t talk about both teams. Here’s a good look at Marcus Paige from Bret Strelow. Paige, a little like Ennis, doesn’t have gobs of natural athleticism, but they both seem to make the game slow down. That’s essentially where the similarities end, though — Ennis is a distributor who morphs into an unstoppable machine in the final five minutes, while Paige is the first offensive option all game long.
  5. Washington Post: Terrific short (18 minutes) documentary on the dying Maryland-Duke rivalry, focusing on the back-to-back national championships in 2001 and 2002. The Duke title year (2001) was when the rivalry came into its own with four (yes, four) absolutely tremendous, unforgettable games. I’ve mostly come to accept the Terrapins leaving for the Big Ten at this point, but work like this definitely makes me think twice. For a good stretch in the 2000s, the Maryland-Duke games were on an unparalleled level. There’s still a level of vitriol that runs between the schools that made for unbelievable atmospheres.
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ACC M10: 02.12.14 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on February 12th, 2014

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  1. Fayetteville Observer: Great piece from Bret Strelow with a transcript from a conference call of ACC coaches discussing the Marcus Smart situation. Always good for a quote, Jeff Bzdelik mentioned “Twitter muscle,” noting “there are a lot of unhappy people out there.” Mike Krzyzewski had a lot to say and was the only coach to provide an example of something concrete that’s been done to try and avoid situations like these (in the 1980s, Duke put opposing fans in the 75 seats closest to the bench instead of students). Duke is a special circumstance though because many of its students are right on the court level. It was nice to see Jim Boeheim stick up for Smart (and generally, it feels like people are doing a good job with the post-kneejerk reactions on the incident).
  2. Charlottesville Daily Progress: A lot of disappointed articles have been written about Virginia’s Akil Mitchell this year, as his numbers have dropped significantly from last season. But what hasn’t been getting enough love outside of local media and blogs is attention to his defense. Mitchell consistently draws the opponents’ best large wing/high post players, and he locked down Evan Smotrycz in Virginia’s too-close-for-comfort win against Maryland Monday night.
  3. Macon Telegraph: Even in the slow-tempo ACC, Georgia Tech‘s current offense just isn’t cutting it. The good news is that Robert Carter is back. The bad news is that the team still relies on Chris Bolden (who is making a truly abysmal 28.7 percent of his twos this season) as a scoring option. But the Yellow Jackets need Trae Golden healthy to even be competitive in most conference games.
  4. John Gasaway: Tuesday Truths is back! That means another head-scratching look at the ACC’s tempo and wondering just how Syracuse has averaged 55 possessions per game. That’s ridiculously slow. What’s also becoming clear is that Syracuse is playing with fire right now. The Orange have slipped well below Virginia and Duke in efficiency margin (+0.17 compared with +0.22 and +0.21, respectively), and they still have road games against Pittsburgh, Duke, Virginia and a dangerous Florida State team that may be truly desperate for a resume win. Syracuse could easily go 1-3 in those games, and I’d be surprised if it didn’t lose at least two of them. Long story short: Don’t wrap up the regular season ACC title just yet.
  5. Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Speaking of Pittsburgh-Syracuse later tonight, Paul Zeise had a chat about the Panthers. Other than someone calling the Orange uptempo (see above), there’s a lot of good stuff here. Remember, in Pittsburgh’s recent slide, Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna have not been playing at 100 percent. It’s also interesting that despite the injuries, Zeise likes Pittsburgh’s match-up with Syracuse. Clearly, the Panthers have to play better than they did against Virginia Tech last weekend, but that game may have been a worst case scenario (unhealthy trap game). Read the rest of this entry »
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Saturday Preview: Entering February, Stakes Are Raised

Posted by Bennet Hayes on February 1st, 2014

Hello February! College hoops welcomes you into 2014’s second month with a mouth-watering slate of action. You may be sold at “Duke-Syracuse,” but there will be plenty of games that don’t set Carrier Dome attendance records worth watching. That’s not to say that your college basketball fan credentials will be confiscated if you aren’t settling in to your couch for some ACC on ESPN action at 6:30 PM ET today – because they will be – but here are some other storylines to watch on the first day of February.

Perfection Will Be Tested

All Three Unbeatens Are In Action Saturday. With Visitors From Durham In Town, C.J. Fair And Syracuse Look To Be The Most Vulnerable Of The Trio.

All Three Unbeatens Are In Action Saturday. With Visitors From Durham In Town, C.J. Fair And Syracuse Look To Be The Most Vulnerable Of The Trio.

For the first time since 1976, there are three teams 20-0 or better in college basketball, and all three are in action on Saturday. Wichita State shouldn’t have any issues with Evansville (3-6 in the MVC) at The Roundhouse (3:00 PM ET, ESPNU), but both Arizona and Syracuse face serious threats to their dreams of perfection. The Wildcats visit Berkeley to take on a Cal team (10:30 PM ET, P12 Nets) which had been undefeated at home up until Wednesday, when Arizona State squeezed out an overtime win over the Bears. If Mike Montgomery’s team is to add the signature victory of all signature victories to its resume, they will need senior Richard Solomon to have a big game against that impressive Arizona frontcourt. All the way across the country, Duke would be well-served to find a way to match up with the impressive frontcourt of their undefeated opponent. The Blue Devils are not a great rebounding team, but in their game with Syracuse (6:30 PM ET, ESPN), keeping the Orange (ninth nationally in OR%) off the offensive glass will be imperative for Coach K’s squad. On the other end, look for Jabari Parker to get plenty of touches out of the high post. A record crowd is expected at the Carrier Dome for this one, which obviously sounds like good news for Syracuse. Maybe not, though. The last time there was an attendance record set at the dome (last February, versus Georgetown), a do-it-all 6’8” forward named Otto Porter torched the Orange for 33 points and eight rebounds in a lopsided victory for the visitors. Can Parker induce a little déjà vu on Saturday, and end Syracuse’s perfect season while he’s at it?

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ACC M5: 01.22.14 Edition

Posted by mpatton on January 22nd, 2014

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  1. Sports Illustrated: Good stuff on CJ Fair here, whose two sporting idols are Carmelo Anthony and Michael Jordan. Anthony makes sense for a multitude of reasons: Fair is also from Baltimore, has the same Syracuse pedigree, and Anthony has one of the best mid-range games in the world. Jordan? More of a stretch. Here I’ll turn to Kelli Anderson: “A few years ago Fair read an interview in which Jordan was asked how he stayed motivated to give his best effort every single game, even against lesser competition. Jordan’s response: There might be a family out there seeing him for the first time, and he wanted to make a good impression.”
  2. Tallahassee Democrat: The end of Florida State’s recent game at Virginia got ugly. After an admittedly unnecessary alley-oop with 18 seconds left, Justin Anderson was called for a technical foul. During the stoppage in play, some players started jawing. As the officials were separating the teams, London Perrantes and Okaro White continued talking and Perrantes appears to have shoved White. White shoved him back, whereupon two Virginia players then left the bench and were ejected. After a lengthy review from the officials, a double-technical was assessed to White (his fifth personal) and Perrantes. After the game in the handshake line, there was a second scuffle catalyzed by more contact between the two. Long story short: White was “publicly reprimanded” by the ACC, but the league won’t take further action.
  3. Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician: Syracuse starting forward Dujuan Coleman is out for the year. To be clear, Coleman starts over Jerami Grant, but Grant plays a far larger role in the Syracuse rotation. Coleman only averaged 13 minutes per game this season, but without him Jim Boeheim effectively plays seven players (and Michael Gbinije has only played between four and 11 minutes in any of the team’s five conference games). That’s not a lot of depth available, which means that four guys are likely to suit up for 30-plus minutes per game from here on out. Depth is overrated — especially on teams that mostly play zone — but the Orange lose much of their wiggle room if a player gets sick, injured, or in foul trouble.
  4. Washington Post: Glad to see Mike Wilbon take up for tradition here. Wilbon once worked the Maryland beat and currently serves on the board at Northwestern. He didn’t mince words when talking about Maryland’s move to the Big Ten: “Because if it’s not [a windfall], it just destroys the tradition and the history of rivalries, and the competition, and just says, ‘Okay, let’s pimp ourselves out, we’re going to go for the money.’” What sparked the commentary was NC State fans chanting “A-C-C” in the closing seconds of their win over the Terrapins on Monday night.
  5. Tar Heel Blog: Great piece on why Roy Williams didn’t recruit any wing players for this season. The obvious answer is that he didn’t expect to need any with Reggie Bullock and PJ Hairston expected to be available. But the issue is more complex than that, and Brian Barbour does a good job looking at a lot of different angles here. Recruiting issues tend to play out a couple of years later (except at Kentucky), but right now, I tend to agree with the theory that North Carolina is suffering because of early defections (both transfers and departures for the NBA) along with a couple of players who haven’t developed like Williams hoped.

VIDEO EXTRA: Mark Gottfried was psyched after NC State’s win without TJ Warren.

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Rushed Reactions: #2 Syracuse 59, #22 Pittsburgh 54

Posted by mpatton on January 18th, 2014

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Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Pittsburgh is worthy of a higher ranking. With no great non-conference wins and that horribly slow loss to Cincinnati, there was good reason to question whether the Panthers deserved their advanced statistical love. But they played Syracuse even on the road, even owning a lead in the final three minutes. But even more impressive was that the Panthers took the lead after trailing by double figures in the second half. It’s not a secret at this point: Lamar Patterson is a special player and may be frontrunner for ACC Player of the Year if he keeps up the pace.

    Tyler Ennis got to the rim to seal Syracuse's victory. (credit: Dick Blume / Syracuse Post-Standard)

    Tyler Ennis got to the rim to seal Syracuse’s victory. (credit: Dick Blume / Syracuse Post-Standard)

  2. Syracuse isn’t going undefeated in the ACC. The Orange might be perfect at home when it’s all said and done, but their late game rebounding is a huge concern. Pittsburgh missed a lot of foul shots and layups, and still almost won the game at the Carrier Dome. Someone will get hot from beyond the arc and torch Syracuse on the offensive glass. Even more importantly, the Orange only played seven players, and every starter logged more than 29 minutes. Jerami Grant, CJ Fair and Tyler Ennis each played the entire 40 minutes, which could cause problems if the Orange get in foul trouble.
  3. Syracuse’s interior length bothered Pittsburgh on offense. Part of the problem is that the Panthers’ front line doesn’t have a lot of height. But multiple times Pittsburgh ended up having to force a jumper late in the shot clock because a guard was met by Rakeem Christmas or Baye Keita in the paint. That said, Talib Zanna had a couple of really good offensive possessions operating near the elbow, and finished with an efficient double-double.

Star of the Game: Tyler Ennis, Syracuse. Ennis scored six of Syracuse’s last eight points to close the game, including the big shot to retake the lead. He finished with 16 points (a team high) on eight shots with three assists and one turnover in just shy of 40 minutes. Jim Boeheim made it clear after the game that they opened the floor (keeping CJ Fair and Trevor Cooney on the wing) to let Ennis work. That’s a lot of responsibility for a freshman, but you never felt like Ennis was rattled. Even when Pittsburgh deflected his pass late in the second half, he stayed calm and got it back.

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Big East M5: 12.30.13 Edition

Posted by Dan Lyons on December 30th, 2013

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  1. Big East teams have wrapped up non-conference play, and with the start of conference games on the horizon with five straight games scheduled throughout Tuesday, writers are beginning to file their mid-year reviews of the new-look league. IndyStar‘s Zak Keefer cites conference winning percentage, true road wins, and the current RPI numbers in defense of the Big East. Seton Hall coach Kevin Willard also finds value in that last statistic: “[We have] six teams in the top 50. Rankings [the Big East has just one team, #8 Villanova, in the Top 25] don’t really matter. The RPI does matter.”
  2. Not everyone is as high on the work that the Big East has done so far this season. USA Today‘s Nicole Auerbach digs into some of the same numbers and her findings aren’t too kind for the conference, especially without Villanova‘s impressive resume: “Just one of those 85 wins has come against a team with an RPI in the top 25. Even worse, Big East teams were just 5-19 against the RPI’s top 50. Villanova has done most of that heavy lifting on its own. Its sparkling 11-1 record — including a missed opportunity Saturday with a loss to Syracuse — features wins against Kansas and Iowa, ranked No. 3 and No. 38 in the RPI, respectively.” In the past, Big East teams could recover from mediocre Novembers and Decembers with big league wins against highly-ranked Syracuse, Connecticut or Louisville squads. Now, those opportunities will be much more fleeting.
  3. Doug McDermott checks in at number two on RTC alumnus and Cleveland.com‘s David Cassilo’s weekly Player of the Year rankings. Cassilo praises McDermott’s elite shooting and all-around scoring ability, while noting his attention to detail: “Being a coach’s son (his father Greg is the coach of Creighton) means that McDermott pays special attention to the little things too. He’s averaging just 2.0 turnovers per game, 1.5 fouls per game and shoots 89.3 percent from the line.”  McDermott is the only Big East player on a list topped by Duke’s Jabari Parker. Former Big East players Shabazz Napier, Russ Smith, and C.J. Fair also appear in the top 12.
  4. Despite a setback in Syracuse over the weekend, Villanova enters conference play as the favorite to win the new league. The Wildcats were expected by many to return to the NCAA Tournament and finish among the top half of the conference this season, but just a few years removed from a 13-19 nightmare, few would have guessed that they would be the only Big East team in the Top 25 and have wins against Kansas and Iowa to their name. Wright credits a refocus in the philosophy of the program for the success that the team has recently experienced: “We got caught in a situation where we had guys that were coming in thinking about leaving early, so we were backing ourselves up in recruiting thinking they were going to leave. Then they didn’t leave. They were frustrated they were here and the guys behind them weren’t getting the playing time to develop. I think we learned a good lesson from that.” Now, Villanova enters league play stacked to the brim with talented guards, as well as strong frontcourt players like JayVaughn Pinkston and Daniel Ochefu, and their upcoming opponents can’t be too excited to see the Wildcats on the schedule.
  5. Big East commissioner Val Ackerman considers the Butler basketball program as a great model for what she believes the entire conference can achieve as a hoops-focused league in a college athletics landscape largely dominated by football revenues. She believes that schools can thrive in athletics without big time college football, and uses Butler’s recent Final Four runs as a strong example: “It was a bold move, don’t get me wrong, for all these schools to essentially say, ‘We’re not going to get into the football arms race’, but the commonality is what separates this league from others, and certainly from what the old Big East had become in terms of the division of interest between large and small, football and non-football.” Butler should reap the benefits of membership as well. As Zak Keefer notes, Butler’s conference schedule has been upgraded to include teams like Georgetown and Villanova as opposed to the Horizon League opponents it regularly faced, and increased exposure in places like New York City, where the conference will host its conference tournament, should help its recruiting take off.
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College Basketball By The Tweets: A Big Weekend and #FreePJ In Cameron

Posted by David Harten on December 17th, 2013

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With Saturday marking the first weekend where college football didn’t dominate the sports schedule, college basketball took full advantage, with some pivotal non-conference games on the docket, a few featuring Top 25 teams and some others that made an argument to be ranked.

If you’re starting with Top 25 teams, you have to begin with No. 18 Kentucky at No. 11 North Carolina on Saturday, where the Tar Heels kept their head-scratching narrative going with an 82-77 victory in the Dean Dome. Marcus Paige dropped 23 points, including a 10-of-10 performance from the free throw line. After losing to Belmont at home and UAB in Birmingham, UNC has now notched victories over several of the top teams in the nation, beating the AP’s top three preseason teams in America. As you’ll see, you can attribute their elevated play to hot shooting against elite defensive teams, but it’s pretty impressive that Roy Williams’ bunch is doing all this without P.J. Hairston in the lineup (more on him at the bottom).

Another game that really caught the public eye on Saturday was No. 1 Arizona heading to the Crisler Center to take on Michigan. The Wildcats came back late and held on to win to preserve their spot at the top of the polls. While Brandon Ashley led the Cats with a team-high 18 points, Aaron Gordon put up his own nice performance of 14 points, five rebounds and two assists, but saved his best for what he did defensively in the second half against a red-hot Glenn Robinson III.  Read the rest of this entry »

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ACC M5: 12.05.13 Edition

Posted by Matt Patton on December 5th, 2013

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  1. Raleigh News & Observer: The story of the night was North Carolina dismantling Michigan State in East Lansing. Roy Williams has owned the Spartans since taking the helm in Chapel Hill, and his team flat outplayed Izzo’s in every respect. But James Michael McAdoo‘s struggles continued, as he finished 3-of-11 from the floor, 2-of-6 from the free throw line, and grabbed only four rebounds. It’s starting to look like Brice Johnson (14 points on 11 shots) and Kennedy Meeks (15 points on eight shots) will see more of McAdoo’s playing time. To be fair to McAdoo, his game isn’t suited for the three position (where a lot of his minutes are coming thanks to North Carolina’s thin roster on the wing), but with the way the current frontcourt is playing, it’s hard to argue that the Tar Heels would be better off with him back at power forward.
  2. Raleigh News & Observer: Nearly all the talk from Duke’s rout of Michigan Tuesday night was about the Blue Devils’ newfound toughness, defense and rebounding (probably all correlated), and that was certainly the biggest story from the game. But a sidenote to the game was that Rasheed Sulaimon earned the old DNP (coach’s decision). Afterwards Tyler Thornton cut straight to the point: “As a man, he has to step up and accept what he needs to do,” Thornton said. “We need him. That’s all I can really say about that.” However, I was struck watching the game that Sulaimon needs to step up quickly not because Duke needs him but precisely the opposite. If he’s in some proverbial Coach K dog house, it doesn’t help for Matt Jones and Tyler Thornton to piece together Duke’s best wing defense of the season (with Andre Dawkins providing his patented spark off the bench). Still, Thornton is right in that Duke needs Sulaimon on the court to achieve its potential this season.
  3. Sports Illustrated: CJ Fair is quietly filling the “go-to” guy role for Syracuse this year — at least, that’s the perception (largely thanks to some clutch shooting against Baylor in Maui). And don’t get me wrong, Fair’s athleticism and mid-range game still make him one of the best players in the conference (and he’s Syracuse’s most important offensive player not named Tyler Ennis). But he’s the least efficient Orange starter by a significant margin thanks to his proclivity to turn the ball over. Part of that is due to the offense Fair often runs (high-risk isolations), and there’s no question he makes his teammates better. But he needs to cut down on his turnovers, or running the offense through him will ultimately prove an error in judgment.
  4. Charlottesville Daily Progress: Looks like the quest-for-40 joke yesterday wasn’t such a joke after all. Virginia lost to Wisconsin at home despite holding the Badgers to under 29 percent shooting from the field. Only one player eked his way into double figures (Wisconsin’s Josh Gasser with 11). The Cavaliers didn’t hit a field goal during the last nine minutes of regulation nor the first 8:42 of the second half. That’s right, Virginia made a grand total of three field goals in the second half (all in a span of just over two minutes). That’s downright abysmal. Toss in a nearly 10-minute field goal drought in the first half and it’s amazing Tony Bennett’s team kept the game as close as it did.
  5. Soaring to Glory: If December really is make-or-break for Boston College, it’s looking like a break. I guess winning the ACC Tournament is always possible, but more and more that looks like the only way the Eagles will earn a ticket to the Big Dance. Boston College got beat by a not so great Purdue team on Wednesday night. Speaking of guys in the dog house, Patrick Heckmann got all of four minutes against the Boilermakers. Steve Donahue has said Heckmann isn’t hurt, which is confusing to say the least (during his freshman year before contracting mononucleosis, Heckmann was the team’s leading scorer).
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