After arguably being the third best team in the state of North Carolina the past 3 years (behind UNC and Davidson in 2008 and behind UNC and Wake Forest in 2009), Duke may have just ended up with the best team on Tobacco Road and the ACC by simply holding onto its stars this off-season with the possible exception of Gerald Henderson. Let’s run through the challengers for Duke in the state of North Carolina (NC State left out for Sidney Lowe obvious reasons).
Wake Forest? Having lost James Johnson and Jeff Teague to the NBA Draft, Dino Gaudio will be hard-pressed to replicate this year’s success (outside of their embarrassing first round loss to Cleveland State) with just Al-Farouq Aminu returning to lead the Demon Deacons. I’d say they’re going to be worrying more about playing for a NCAA bid than about challenging Duke for the ACC title (although Teague may ultimately return).
Davidson? Although Davidson’s drop-off this year (from a missed Jason Richards‘ 3-pointer at the buzzer away from the Final 4 to a NIT also-ran) made the Wildcats seem like an unlikely threat this coming season, having Stephen Curry in the mix meant that the Wildcats had the potential to threaten any team in the country (even if some people think he isn’t quite all that he’s hyped up to be). However, today in a move that wasn’t surprising to all but the most deluded fans, Curry announced that he will turn pro and hire an agent ending any chance of stealing Pete Maravich‘s career scoring record (done in 3 years without a 3-point line). Good luck playing for a Southern Conference title and a 15-seed for the next few seasons Wildcats.
UNC? Going into the off-season, the Tar Heels posed the greatest threat to Duke next season even with the loss of all-time ACC leading scorer Tyler Hansbrough (I know it sounds weird to me too), Danny Green, and Bobby Frasor (the Deadspin commenters will miss him more than Tar Heel fans will). As all Tar Heels knew the fate of their 2009-10 season hung on the decision of juniors Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. If either of them returned (both returning was just a pipe dream), Roy Williams would have another national title contender with Marcus Ginyard, Tyler Zeller, and Ed Davis returning and John Henson, David Wear, and Travis Wear (and potentially John Wall) coming to Chapel Hill next year. Instead, both Lawson and Ellington declared for the draft today. Assuming that Ty can hire a designated driver from now until the NBA Draft, I don’t expect to see either of them suiting up in Carolina blue again as they are both at their peak value. The Tar Heels are a shoe-in for the NCAA tournament next year and will probably will be in contention for a top 4 seed particularly if Wall decides to not listen to his handler Brian Clifton and play for Roy.
What does all this mean for Duke, which has struggled to live up to its reputation and ESPN’s infatuation since Chris Duhon left? Although Coach K will have to wait a year to add Seth Curry, and there has been no official communication from Durham, I’d have to guess that it would look something like this. . .
So for all of you Duke haters, get ready for an unbearable next 11 months (especially if the Devils, and not UNC, garner the services of John Wall). For all the Duke fans, the pressure is now back on. Just making it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament won’t cut it this time.
Thanks to Vegas Watch for providing these graphs that measure the moving average of a team’s spread (moving avg.) over time vs. the spread for each individual game (indiv). If a team’s moving average is higher than zero, then Vegas currently has a higher opinion of them than Pomeroy, and vice versa.
Location: Winston-Salem, NC Conference: ACC, at-large Coach: Dino Gaudio, hired 2007. Record at WFU = 41-19. 08-09 Record: 24-6 (11-6) Last 12 Games: 7-5 Best Win: vs. UNC, 92-89, on 1/11 Worst Loss: @ Miami, 52-79, on 2/4. Off. Efficiency Rating: 111.8 (14) Def. Efficiency Rating: 89.4 (40)
Nuts ‘n Bolts Star Player(s): Jeff Teague, 19/3/4 assts/2 stls on 49/45/82% shooting; James Johnson, 15/9 on 53% shooting. Unsung Hero: Chas McFarland – 9/6 on 53% shooting. Potential NBA Draft Pick: Teague, #12 (2009), Johnson, #29 (2009), Al-Farouq Aminu, #9 (2009). Key Injuries: None. Depth: 29.6% mins (204th nationally). Achilles Heel: Three-point shooting. Wake shoots 31.7% from behind the arc, 275th best in the nation. Will Make a Deep Run if…: They play with focus and aggression. This team has a tendency to only get up for the “big” games. Will Make an Early Exit if…: They play unfocused and get caught up in a three-point shooting contest.
NCAA History Last Year Invited: 2005; lost to West Virginia in the Second Round. Streak: 1. Best NCAA Finish: Final Four in 1963. Historical Performance vs. Seed (1985-present): -0.40
Other Distance to First Round Site: 810 miles School’s Claim to Fame: Producing NBA All-Stars without making the Final Four (T. Duncan, J. Howard, C. Paul). School Wishes It Could Forget: Mike Gansey, Jamal Mashburn, the Stanford frontline, Butler. Prediction: If Wake gets by Cleveland St., a big “if,” they have enough NBA-quality talent to beat anybody in the field. The problem is focus and chemistry, and we’re not convinced that they have each other’s best interests in mind. Another WFU flameout like their forebears is in the cards.
What really gets us all juiced and lathered up are statistics that appear self-evident only after someone shows you how to figure them. You know, the kind of thing where we say, “wow, that makes a lot of sense,” and yet, we never thought of it ourselves. Forest for the trees and all that.
So it was with particular interest that we were alerted to a post made earlier this week by our friends at the Virginia athletics blog, Dear Old UVa. This post attempted to get to the bottom of the question about whether UVa coach Dave Leitao was properly utilizing his players on the offensive end of the court. So how would you measure such a thing? With the help of KenPom’s statistical treasure trove, they were able to cross-tab players’ offensive efficiencies with their percentage of team’s possessions used. This produced a relatively simple graphical representation of every player in the ACC which quickly shows which players are being utilized properly or improperly (see below).
On the above graph, you can easily see that Jeff Teague and Ish Smith, for example, are being properly used by Wake Forest head coach Dino Gaudio. Teague has a very high percentage of possessions used and his offensive efficiency is relatively high. Smith has a low efficiency and therefore is being used more sparingly on the offensive end. The graph can also tell you when a player might be over- or under-used. As an example, Georgia Tech’s Iman Shumpert has an efficiency in the same ballpark as Ish Smith, yet he uses significantly more possessions for the Jackets – an example of a player who is overused given his skill set at this time. The converse of course is true for players with high efficiencies but low possession utilization.
We love this stuff, so we’ll try to find some more of this kind of thing as we get closer and closer to the NCAA Tournament. The data is as rich as it will get this season, so hopefully we’ll be able to do so.
Statement Game #1.UNC 101, Duke 87. The UNC seniors mentioned above joined a pair of former Deacs (Tim Duncan and Rusty LaRue) to become the only players to ever win all four of their games at CIS during their careers. This year’s version of UNC’s win reminded us a little of last year’s, where UNC had an early lead only to watch Duke get hot and take the lead deep into the second half before UNC went on another late run to seal the game away. Of course, the key similarity is that both years UNC has had the better team, and anyone who is buying into Duke as a legitimate title threat simply hasn’t been paying attention. UNC carved up the Duke defense to the tune of 55% shooting, particularly during a devastatingly effective stretch where Ty Lawson got to the rim at will (wouldn’t you if Greg Paulus was defending you?) and the Carolina offensive juggernaut blew the doors off the place. All five UNC starters hit for double figures, and although we certainly wouldn’t give the Carolina defense against Duke any major props, they were good enough in the second half to shut down the threes that the Devils were hitting in the first stanza (6 of their 8 were in the first half). We believe that Duke still has 2-3 more losses ahead of it on its schedule, but the Heels seem to be finding their swagger again – they may only lose one more game the rest of the regular season. Oh well, at least the Dookies won the Wiki battle (h/t Hugging Harold Reynolds)…
Statement Game #2. Connecticut 61, Syracuse 47. UConn pulled away in the second half of this game, once again in large part due to Hasheem Thabeet’s defensive presence in the middle. The big man had 8/16/7 blks on the stat sheet, but he influenced numerous other Syracuse possessions by forcing players to alter shots or simply think better of entering the lane. We’ve never been high on Thabeet, but even we have to admit that the past month or so he’s been spectacular, and UConn looks like the best team in the country when he’s doing his thing inside (similar to 2000 Cincinnati with Kenyon Martin in the post). Is Syracuse in trouble, now at 6-6 in the Big East? Home games against Georgetown and Villanova the next week are key to ensuring that Syracuse doesn’t get itself into trouble with the NCAA Tourney Cmte. – they need a minimum of one, but preferably both of those.
Upset of the Night #1.NC State 82, Wake Forest 76. Is it an upset anymore if Wake loses to a bottom-dwelling ACC opponent nowadays? Apparently Dino Gaudio’s team is looking to become this year’s Clemson by becoming the last undefeated team who then falls into the NIT. Impossible you say? Consider that Wake is now 5-4 in the ACC with road games still at Duke, Maryland and Virginia… if this snowball turns into an avalanche, the Deacs could end up 7-9 or so going into the ACC Tourney and squarely on the bubble. Just riddle us one question – how does an offensive talent like Jeff Teague play 36 minutes and only get three FGAs (he made two)? Things are not right with this team. Brandon Costner had 23/9 for NC State.
Upset of the Night #2. Dayton 71, Xavier 58. In an entertaining game in the A10 tonight that Dayton led from start to finish, the Flyers ended a six-game losing streak against the Musketeers behind a balanced effort featuring Chris Wright’s 19/6. Xavier had trouble shooting the ball from deep (3-14) and from the line (9-17), which resulted in a game where they could never quite get over the hump. This was a huge win for Dayton in terms of the A10 standings, as now both teams are 8-2, only behind St. Joseph’s at 7-1 in the league.
Oklahoma 78, Baylor 63. Baylor hung around for a while, but it was the same old story as OU won its 30th in a row against Baylor behind Blake Griffin’s 21 dub-dub of the year (18/10). At 3-7 in the Big 12, the Bears are essentially finished at this point.
Kansas St. 85, Texas Tech 73. K-State continues to surge, winning its sixth in a row behind a huge first half where the Cats ran out to a 49-25 lead.
Utah 67, San Diego St. 55. The Utes took a one-game lead on surprising SDSU in the Mtn West race with a home win where Shaun Green came off the bench for 21/10.
Purdue 61, Penn St. 47. Purdue held conference scoring leader Talor Battle to zero points on 0-7 shooting in a convincing (and needed) win by the Boilermakers, now tied with Illinois and OSU for second place in the league at 7-4.
Drexel 62, Northeastern 58. Drexel used a key second-half run to drop the CAA leaders to three losses, pushing Northeastern into a tie with VCU
Vermont 75, Boston U. 47. UVM took control of the top of the Am East standings with a key home win behind Marqus Blakely’s 12/13/4 assts.
Memphis 63, Tulsa 37. The Memphis defense is hitting on all cylinders right now, holding Tulsa to 36% shooting and forcing 24 turnovers in this shellacking.
LSU 97, Mississippi St. 94 (2OT). Probably the game of the night, as Tasmin Mitchell blew up for 41/11/5 assts including a late three-point play that gave the Tigers their 20th overall win and to go 8-1 in the SEC. Is LSU the best team in this sorry league? They’re certainly playing like it.
Wisconsin 69, Iowa 52. Wisconsin won its third straight to get to 6-6 in the Big Ten and put that nasty six-game losing streak well behind them.
Tennessee 79, Georgia 48. UGa is right there with Indiana, Depaul and Oregon as the worst BCS conference teams in America. There are now four SEC East teams at 6-3 in the league.
Northern Iowa 81, S. Illinois 55. UNI shot 54% in a pasting of the Salukis to go to 12-2 in the Valley.
Creighton 79, Bradley 65. Creighton kept the pressure on UNI by winning a wild game involving a cheerleader getting knocked out cold by P’Allen Stinnett, who contributed 15/3 tonight.
On Tap Thursday (all times EST).
Louisville @ Notre Dame (ESPN) – 7pm. Let there be no question about this game for Notre Dame – it’s a must-win. Seven in a row cannot become eight.
Temple @ St. Joseph’s (ESPN360) – 7pm. A key A10 game between Big 5 rivals that could potentially result in a three-way tie at the top of the league.
Robert Morris v. Sacred Heart (ESPN360) – 8pm. Your NEC game of the year! Can SH pressure 11-1 Robt. Morris?
UCLA @ Arizona State (ESPN) – 9pm. The Bruins have been rolling lately, but will be put to the test in the desert against the team that last beat them.
Illinois @ Northwestern (ESPN360) – 9pm. The Illini are in a battle for the #2 seed in the Big Ten, so they can’t afford to drop this one. Of course, in their last two road games, they’ve scored a total of 86 pts.
USC @ Arizona (FSN) – 10:30pm. These two teams are probably the most confounding in America this season.
Oregon St. @ Washington (FSN) – 11pm. OSU has been a lot more competitive than anybody expected this year, so UW should be vigilant here.
Gonzaga @ St. Mary’s (ESPN2) – 11pm.This was supposed to be an RTC Live event but SMC is apparently too world-renowned to give media access to “blog sites” such as RTC. Wonder if that will still be true when Patty Mills is playing for pay and the Contra Costa Times won’t even show up? Patty Mills isn’t playing – go to bed.
Today’s schedule is a lighter than yesterday, but there are several solid games today.
#13 Purdue at #21 Illinois at 1 PM on CBS: Both teams looking to bounce back from road losses in the Big Ten. The homecourt should be pretty big here as Illinois is 13-1 with their only loss coming by 2 points against a Clemson team that is pretty good (just ask Coach K about the Tigers). If Purdue was at full strength, they might be able to give them a challenge, but they will be without Robbie Hummel. Purdue coach Matt Painter will have to rely on E’Twaun Moore and JaJuan Johnson to have big games against Bruce Weber‘s squad. Watch the Mike Davis-Johnson match-up because Johnson will have to dominate Davis in order for the Boilermakers to win.
Creighton at Northern Iowa at 2:05 PM on CBS Affiliates (in Iowa), ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Yes. Sometimes we think it’s worth watching the “little guys”. This match-up, which features the top 2 teams in the Missouri Valley Conference (Creighton is tied in 2nd with Illinois State), might end up being the most compelling match-up of the day. The Panthers don’t have any player who puts up huge numbers, but they have 5 players averaging between 9.5 and 11.5 PPG with Adam Koch leading the way (11.5 PPG and 4.8 RPG) and Kwadzo Ahelegbe (11.1 PPG and 3.3 APG) close behind. The Bluejays have a legitimate go-to-guy in Booker Woodfox (16.3 PPG). The last time these two teams met Northern Iowa escaped with a 3-point win. Johnny Moran had a big day for the Panthers scoring a season-high 22 points on 6-of-8 shooting from beyond the arc. I doubt Moran will be able to duplicate the effort, but it should be a close game as the Panthers have a tendency to play close games (only have a +/- of 4.7 PPG despite their 17-6 record).
Boston College at #6 Wake Forest at 4 PM on Raycom, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Will Wake come out as flat as Duke did after their 27-point loss? I’m sure that Dino Gaudio will mention that sometime before the start of this game. The last time these teams played, RTC was there and the Demon Deacons dominated the Eagles. The match-up at guard featuring Tyrese Rice and Jeff Teague could be interesting, but I would expect to see Ishmael Smith on Rice. If Wake has shaken off the shock from their blowout loss at Miami, they should be able to win this game relatively easily utilizing Al-Farouq Aminu, Chas McFarland, and James Johnson on the inside.
#25 Washington at Stanford at 5:30 PM on Fox Sports: Despite their nearly identical overall records (16-6 versus 14-6), the Huskies are well ahead of the Cardinal in their quest to land a NCAA tournament bid as they sit 7-3 in the Pac-10 compared to 4-6 for the Cardinal. Lorenzo Romar will be looking to get his Huskies out of their recent skid (losing 2 of 3) when they travel to The Farm. This game will likely come down to which team’s trio of stars plays better. The Huskies are led by Isaiah Thomas, Justin Dentmon, and Jon Brockman while the Cardinals are led by Anthony Goods, Lawrence Hill, and Mitch Johnson. The PG match-up of the freshman Thomas against the senior Johnson should be particularly entertaining as the winner of that duel will probably end up winning the game. I’d look for the Huskies to ride Thomas and Brockman, who comes in averaging a double-double and doesn’t really have anybody on Stanford who can slow him down, to a road victory.
After last night’s relatively weak slate of games, we’re back to normal tonight with a great set of games.
Game of the Day #3 Duke at #10 Clemson at 9 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: Our second top 10 match-up of the week. Once again the road team is the higher ranked team, but I feel like this time they are also the favorites coming in to the game. All of you know about Duke by now thanks to their frequent appearances on national TV so I will keep it brief. Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson have emerged as their two most consistent players. Usually that is enough to get them by most teams even if they only get minimal support from the rest of the team. However, when that happens against quality teams the result isn’t always that good (even if they come really really close). The key for the Blue Devils in this game and for the rest of the season will be the play of Brian Zoubek (go ahead and snicker Duke haters) and Nolan Smith. Zoubek merely needs to be a mediocre 7-footer and Coach K and the rest of the Blue Devils staff will be happy. Smith, who replaced Greg Paulus in the starting lineup, has to improve his decision-making. He must have one of the worst assist-to-turnover ratios (1.03 to 1) of any starting PG on a top team in the nation. On the other side of the ball, Clemson may be the most under-appreciated team in the country. I’m not sure if it is the Tigers’ recent history of falling apart down the stretch, but I never hear anybody mentioning them as a team that could make a run in March despite the fact that they probably have the most reasonable losses of any team in the country (Wake Forest and at UNC). The key for Oliver Purnell‘s team will be to have Trevor Booker dominate on the inside. I doubt that Duke will let him play against Zoubek so he will probably have to do it against Singler, which could make for an interesting match-up. If Booker can win that match-up, Clemson will have a shot. After that they will need a strong game out of K.C. Rivers and hope to contain Duke’s outside shooters (particularly Jon Scheyer). I think Clemson will keep it close until midway through the 2nd half when Duke will go on a run and pull away to win by about a dozen.
Worth Watching West Virginia at #20 Syracuse at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: The Mountaineers are a a perfect example of why it is so hard to read Big East teams. They are only 4-4 in the conference, but all 4 of those losses were to top 10 teams (UConn, Pittsburgh, Louisville, and Marquette). Likewise, Syracuse comes in having lost 3 straight and 4 of 5, but 3 of those losses have been on the road (Georgetown, Pittsburgh, and Providence) and the other to one of the hottest teams (Louisville) in the country. The Orangemen should be able to break their recent skid if they can contain Da’Sean Butler and Alex Ruoff, but a lot of that will have to do with whether or not they will have their full compliment of players available. Mookie Jones is done for the year with a hip injury, but someone will have to step up as Jim Boeheim can’t expect to get 62 points from Jonny Flynn and Eric Devendorf every game (and even that didn’t work in their last game).
#19 Minnesota at #14 Michigan State at 8:30 PM on The Big Ten Network: What is going on with the Spartans? Tom Izzo‘s team has lost back-to-back games at the Breslin Center to pretty weak competition (Northwestern and Penn State). Just two weeks ago everyone was talking about this team as a potential Final 4 contender with the return of Goran Suton. Unfortunately for Izzo, the Spartans will be without Raymar Morgan, who is out with “walking pneumonia”. To turn things around, the Spartans will need improved play out of Kalin Lucas, who still boasts an impressive 3.09 to 1 assist to TO ratio, but most of that is from his early season play. They will have to do it against a Gopher team that held Illinois to a ridiculous 36 points in their last game. Keep an eye on Al Nolen and Ralph Sampson III in this one for the Gophers as they will be matched up against Lucas and Suton respectively.
#6 Wake Forest at Miami (FL) at 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: Wake needs to develop some consistency if they want to be a national championship contender. We know that they can beat the big boys as they knocked off UNC, Clemson, and Duke in a three week stretch. The question is why they can’t maintain that level of play when they go up against Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech (both losses). Dino Gaudio will need to figure this out if he wants to get this team up to the level of Duke and UNC at the end of the season. Maybe it’s just a focus thing, which hopefully shouldn’t be an issue in March. Either way, this trip to Miami should be a nice challenge for the Demon Deacons. Jeff Teague will be matched up against Jack McClinton and Al-Farouq Aminu will be up against Dwayne Collins. I think Miami may be able to hold its own in those match-ups. Unfortunately for Frank Haith, the Hurricanes run into depth problems after their top 2 while the Demon Deacons run much deeper. Perhaps Haith should look into giving more PT to his ridiculously athletic freshman DeQuan Jones.
#16 Villanova at Providence at 8 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: Villanova finally got the signature win we were asking for by beating Pittsburgh last week in the last college basketball game at the Spectrum. This time they will have to do it on the road against a Friar team that was playing well before they ran into the UConn buzzsaw. Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds will need to have solid games if Jay Wright‘s crew is going to pull out a rare Big East road win against a Providence team that is actually above them in the Big East standings. Providence will need a solid effort out of its 8-deep rotation including Weyinmi Efejuku and Jonathan Kale to defend its home court tonight.
Keep an Eye On Notre Dame at Cincinnati at 7:30 PM on ESPN360.com: Mike Brey needs Kyle McAlarney to snap out of his funk and start helping Luke Harangody out or the Fighting Irish might be looking at trip to the NIT this year. This is a game Notre Dame needs to win if they expect to make the NCAA tournament.
Tennessee at Arkansas at 8 PM on Raycom, Fox Sports South, and ESPN360.com: Can freshman Scotty Hopson be the one to reenergize the Vols who have struggled to play up their pre-season #8 ranking? Bruce Pearl might want to give him some more PT against the confusing Arkansas team that beat Texas and Oklahoma (the Sooners only loss), but is just 1-5 in the SEC.
Texas A&M at #2 Oklahoma at 9 PM on The Big 12 Network, ESPN Full Court, and ESPN360.com: Watch this one for Blake Griffin, who will be your national Player of the Year barring some freak injury or sketchy voting. I guess the Aggies played Oklahoma close at College Station so this could be a decent game, but since it is in Norman I doubt it will be that close after the half unless the Sooners are already looking ahead to Texas and Kansas two weeks from now.
USC at #12 UCLA at 10:30 PM on Fox Sports:Ben Howland‘s will be going for a sweep of the California Pac-10 teams at Pauley Pavilion against their cross-town rivals. The Trojans are my pick for secretly good team that nobody is talking about, but could make a run in March. Watch this one for the battle of the freshmen: DeMar DeRozan and Jrue Holiday. They won’t be matched up against each other, but it should be fun to see Josh Shipp guard DeRozan. As an added bonus, you might get to see Lil’ Romeo (ok, maybe not).
Tonight features the biggest game of the week (possibly the biggest game of the season so far.) No, I’m not talking about the Allen at Savannah State game. Instead, I’ll be focusing on a small game in North Carolina that you may have seen advertised a time or two on ESPN.
Game of the Night
#1 Duke at #4 Wake Forest at 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: It will be interesting to see how the young Demon Deacons respond in their first game since their surprising loss at home against Virginia Tech. The Winston-Salem crowd will definitely be amped up for a visit from Duke (ranked #1 for the first time in 2 years). This game provides interesting match-ups all over the floor, but the two to watch are Nolan Smith versus Jeff Teague and Kyle Singler versus Al-Farouq Aminu. Teague will likely have a big advantage unless Coach K puts Smith on Ishmael Smith and puts Gerald Henderson on Teague. Singler versus Aminu will come down to a battle of Singler’s versatility and toughness going against Aminu’s athleticism and raw talent. I have a feeling that Singler will get the better of Aminu this time, but that could change when they meet later this year. I’m assuming that Smith/Singler and Teague/Aminu will basically neutralize each other so they can will probably be decided by whether or not Dino Gaudio can find a way to slow Henderson, who has been making a case for All-ACC honors with his play the last two weeks. In the end, I don’t think Gaudio will find an answer for Henderson and Duke will survive to stay at #1. Well at least until February 11th when Tyler Hansbrough and UNC come into Cameron (aka “The Most Important Game Ever” -ESPN).
Other Games Worth Watching
#3 Pittsburgh at #21 Villanova at 7 PM on ESPNU:Jay Wright‘s team is in a similar situation to what Marquette faced on Monday night. Like the Golden Eagles on Monday, the Wildcats have a relatively high ranking, but do not have a marquee win yet. Although Villanova gets this game at home while Marquette had to travel to South Bend to take on Notre Dame, the Wildcats’ task is significantly harder. To knock off Pittsburgh (ranked 3rd in the nation, but quite possibly only the 3rd best team in their own conference right now), Villanova will need big games out of their stars, Dante Cunningham and Scottie Reynolds, as well as solid performances out of their “Two Coreys”, Corey Stokes and Corey Fisher, to be in a position to beat the Panthers. Even then, the Wildcats will have to find a way to limit Sam Young and DeJuan Blair on the inside and hope that Reynolds can outplay Levance Fields. Even though Villanova has the home court, I’m going with Pittsburgh here because Villanova has not proven that they can win a big game yet (and they have had plenty of opportunities).
Hopefully Jay Wright’s “Two Coreys” will be more successful
#6 UNC at FSU at 9 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: The Tar Heels really shouldn’t have any problem in this game, but to be honest they shouldn’t have much trouble against all but the top 5-10 teams in the country if they are playing well. This game just feels like one where UNC is ready for a letdown. After going through a rough stretch at the beginning of 2009 where they lost 2 of 3 and were temporarily in last place in the ACC, the Tar Heels have rebounded and are coming off a 24-point victory over then #9 Clemson. They’re finally starting to resemble the team that people thought they could be earlier this season. The Seminoles come in with a solid 16-4 record with all of their losses coming against respectable opposition (ok, maybe not Northwestern). The Seminoles are certainly capable of pulling off an upset in Tallahassee (see their close losses versus #1 Duke and #3 Pittsburgh this year), but to get over the hump and actually win one Leonard Hamilton will need someone other than Toney Douglas to have a big game. Douglas averages more than twice as much as any of his teammates. An unbalanced scoring attack might get FSU wins over teams like Florida and Virginia, but it won’t work against a team that has 5 players in double figures including national POY candidate Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington (finally found his stroke), and Ty Lawson (playing much better this year). UNC will win this game, but I have a feeling it will be much closer than people expect.
Thayer Evans and Pete Thamel of the New York Times with a great piece about the influence of Skip Prosser on the current Wake Forest team. Many people don’t realize that Prosser was actually the architect of this team as he recruited all of the current players. However, a great deal of credit has to go to Dino Gaudio for keeping the team together after Prosser’s death in 2007. I’m guessing this will become a bigger story if Wake Forest can stay near the top of the polls late into the season.
We have touched on the APR issue before, but now it looks like the NCAA is looking at extending APR ratings to include coaches. I am not sure if this is necessary since coaches rarely switch schools over short periods of time and I have a feeling the methodology will be questioned on how a student-athlete’s academic performance at a school will affect a coach’s APR after the coach has left that school.
Another story out of the SEC as Alabama’s Ronald Steele has decided to forgo the remainder of his senior season citing ongoing injury issues. It is a sad end to what was a promising career. I still remember some of the hype coming out of the South about this explosive guard. We wish Ronald the best and hope he at least got a good education at Alabama.
An interesting account of Bill Self‘s recent interaction with John Wall, the #1 recruit in the nation. I’m amazed that Self could be this reckless, but to be honest this seems like a rather minor infraction compared to other stuff that goes on.
Thanks to the good folks at the BC athletic department we will be trying our first ever live game blog that actually occurs at the game.
– I’m sitting courtside right now (actually 2nd row) across from the Wake bench.
– Wake goes up 2-0 on a tough lay-up by James Johnson.
– Great play off the alley-oop from Al-Farouq Aminu. Going to the line for the old-fashion 3-point play.
– Should be a good match-up between Tyrese Rice and Jeff Teague tonight.
Teague Splits the BC Defense
– Wake up 10-2 and BC calls a timeout. Crowd is pretty quiet right now. I guess that’s what happens after watching your team lose to Harvard and Miami back-to-back.
– Nice spin move by Corey Raji to get the crowd back into it and Rice follows with a 3. Rakim Sanders going to the line.
– Rice gets stripped again and Aminu leads the break before dishing off to Teague who finishes. I’ve been impressed by Aminu’s handle so far. Much better than I expected.
– Teague and Aminu head to the bench. Let’s see if BC can capitalize and cut into the lead here.
– Wake is really struggling to get into its offense without Teague and Aminu.
– Dino Gaudio appears to be reading my mind or my laptop and signals for both guys to head to the scorer’s table.
– Rice just got run over there leading to a steal and a Wake Forest fast break. The crowd is less than pleased with the officiating so far.
– Rice with a big 3 to get the crowd back into it.
– Aminu goes behind his back and dishes to Gary Clark for the easy layup. Aminu has been ridiculous so far.
– Wake with another alley-up. That has to at least be a half a dozen just 15 minutes into the game. Isn’t Al Skinner telling his guys to stay with their men?
– Teague and Rice both have 10, but Teague has been much more efficient in doing it. Teague is totally dominating Rice right now. Teague is making a case to be 1st team All-ACC and possibly All-American.
– Wow. The new BC head football coach has been sitting in front of me the entire time and I had no idea. I wonder what kind of contract he had to sign after the Jagodzinski fiasco.
– Wake gets bailed out after an ugly possession before the half. The Demon Deacons go into the break with a 47-24 lead.
– Just had a discussion with a BC official about how he doesn’t like the flex offense they run. I told him I don’t care what type of offense you run as long as it doesn’t look as bad as BC’s tonight. I wonder if I am going to get invited back. Maybe I should keep those thoughts to myself. . .
– Nice alley-oop by Rice to Reggie Jackson pulling the Eagles to within 19. The crowd goes wild. . .
– I wonder if anybody calls Reggie “Mr. October”. Great nickname for baseball not so much for college basketball. . .
– Another 3 by Rice pulls BC back to 16. They can’t possible make this a game. Can they?
– Teague almost threw down a nasty dunk. That might have gotten press row out of its chairs.
– Things getting physical now. An altercation between Rice and L.D. Williams. What’s Rice doing getting involved with L.D. Williams?
– Rice is out of the game for BC. I think this is the first time all night. I wonder how long Skinner will rest him.
– Rice is already standing up next to the BC assistant coach.
– Chas McFarland has been having a solid if quiet game and gets into double figures with that tip in.
– BC cuts it to 13 with 9 minutes left. How are they still in this game?
– Offensive foul on McFarland. BC ball now with a chance to cut it to 10.
– Huge 3 by Rice to cut it to single digits and the crowd erupts. Could we have a “Rush the Court” situation at RTC’s first game as a “media member”?
– Errant pass by Rice. He is a great scorer, but sometimes I question his decision-making. He’s thrown a couple awful alley-oops tonight.
– Strong finish by Teague bumps the lead back up to 14 and quiets the crowd.
– Rice needs to step up here.
– And he does with a nice driving lay-up.
– It looks like it is going to be Teague vs. Rice to finish the game off tonight.
– The crowd is heading to the exits with the Eagles down by 14 with 3:23 left.
The BC Student Section Didn't Have a Lot To Cheer About
– Teague just sealed it with a 10-foot runner in the lane to put Wake up by 15 with 1:30 left.
– “Let’s go defense!” chants from the crowd down by 15 with 50 seconds left.
– Teague with the exclamation point dunk and now Aminu with an alley-oop in the last 30 seconds. Not going to say it’s classless, but I don’t think BC appreciated it. Rice said something to Teague after his dunk.
– Well that’s a wrap for our first live blog at an actual game. Let me know what you think since I’ll be at the Miami-UNC game on Saturday night. Feedback, suggestions, and criticism are all welcome.
Game of the Night #8 Syracuse at #12 Georgetown, 7:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: It’s hard to believe that these two powerhouses are only the 3rd and 4th highest ranked teams in their own conference. [Calm down ACC folks. I realize that you have 4 teams ranked ahead of Georgetown, but the ACC doesn’t even come close to the Big East in terms of depth. Look for the next ACC team in the top 25. There are none.] Looking at these teams, I still have a hard time believing that the Orangemen can compete with Pittsburgh, UConn, or Georgetown if all of those teams are playing up to their potential. However, Jim Boeheim has his team playing solid basketball and is one miracle 60-footer away from being undefeated (or at least being in OT to stay undefeated). Syracuse has been able to do this despite the distraction created by the suspension of Eric Devendorf for assaulting a female student as noted extensively here at RTC. Boehiem has been able to do this thanks to solid play from Jonny Flynn (seen below getting away with the most blatant charge that wasn’t called that you will ever see) and Devendorf (when not interacting with the co-eds) on the perimeter and Paul Harris and Arinze Onuaku on the inside. The embarrassingly weak early schedule (SOS: 56th in the nation) has certainly helped the Orangemen have a gaudy record.
Tonight the Orangemen will face their first true test against the Hoyas on the road. Unlike Syracuse, Georgetown has already faced a difficult schedule (SOS: #2 in the nation behind only 6-10 Oregon) including 3 brutal games in the Big East (road games at Connecticut and Notre Dame and at home against Pittsburgh). While the Hoyas lack the depth inside (or thugs according to JT2), they will have the most talented player on the court playing for them on the inside in Greg Monroe who has shown glimpses of brilliance this year. Having seen him in person at the Old Spice Classic over Thanksgiving Break, I can definitely see why he has NBA scouts drooling, but at times he appears too passive at times to dominate games. While neither Harris nor Onuaku can match Monroe’s talent, it will be interesting to see if he can match their intensity the entire game. The other key match-up will be how DaJuan Summers, Chris Wright, and Austin Freeman do against Flynn and Devendorf on the perimeter although I’m not sure how John Thompson III will utilize Summers if Boeheim opts for his patented 2-3 zone. I’m not sure what to make of his experiments with man-to-man, but I would venture that he will go with the more familiar now that he is finally playing some solid teams. I’m guessing that Georgetown has too much talent, the home court, and experience from playing actually competition to lose this game. Syracuse should be able to keep it close until the final 5 minutes when the Hoyas should pull away.
Others to Watch #2 Duke at Georgia Tech, 7 PM on ESPN and ESPN360.com: This has trap game written all over it. Duke just came off a win at FSU, which has shocked Duke several times this year, and the Blue Devils have a nationally televised showcase at Cameron against the aforementioned Hoyas on Saturday. Georgia Tech is mediocre enough (9-6) that the Blue Devils may overlook them, but just talented enough that they could shock Duke particularly since the game will be played at Alexander Memorial Coliseum. The key thing to watch here will be how the Yellow Jacket bigs–Gani Lawal (16.8 PPG and 10.0 RPG) and Alade Aminu (13.5 PPG and 9.4 RPG)–do since interior play will continue to be Duke’s Achilles’ heel (except when they go 3 for their first 27 from 3-point range). If Lawal and Aminu can dominate inside against Kyle Singler and Brian Zoubek, Paul Hewett just may be able to pull out the win.
#3 Wake Forest at Boston College, 9 PM on ESPN Full Court and ESPN360.com: RTC will be at this game (look for the male equivalent of Erin Andrews typing away on his keyboard) to bring you the latest scoop on Wake Forest, the most intriguing team in college basketball. Even after the Demon Deacons win at BYU to end the Cougars nation-leading 53 game home winning streak, there remained a healthy skepticism of Dino Gaudio‘s young squad. However, after they held off everyone’s national title favorite UNC people have really started to come around on this team (I don’t think their rise of 1-2 spots in the polls reflects the magnitude of the change in perception). On the other hand, Boston College may be the most confusing team in the nation. After pulling off one of the bigger upsets of the season (and ending the media’s speculation of an undefeated season for UNC), the Eagles followed it up with a loss at home against Harvard and then to Miami. While the loss to Miami (preseason #17) is excusable, the loss to the Crimson isn’t. Wake will try avoid a letdown similar to the one BC had by relying on Jeff Teague, James Johnson, and Al-Farouq Aminu. Teague will likely be guarded very closely after his explosion against UNC. Wake also hopes to get a big contribution out of Chas McFarland, who was last seen outsprinting Ty Lawson down the court for a crucial lay-up on Saturday. If the Eagles are going to rebound for their back-to-back defeats, they will need a huge game out Tyrese Rice along with solid contributions out of Joe Trapani and Corey Raji. Much like the Duke-Georgia Tech game, this is one to watch to see if the favorite is looking ahead to their next game, which is also a monster match-up for Wake (against undefeated Clemson).
#21 Baylor at Texas A&M, 9:30 PM on ESPN2 and ESPN360.com: A match-up of two lightly regarded teams with impressive records (13-2 and 14-2, respectively). These two teams are my pick to compete with Kansas for the #3 spot in the Big 12 this year. Baylor appears to have recovered from the Dave Bliss fiasco and comes into the game with a top 25 ranking. They have done this with their entire starting 5 averaging double figures, but the unquestioned leader of this team is Curtis Jerrells who will need to have a big game tonight to get a win on the road. Looking through their results so far, I’m having a hard time finding any good wins. A win at College Station would mean a big jump for the Bears in the eyes of the voters. I think a lot of people forget just how good Texas A&M was last year. They were one blown call against UCLA away from potentially forcing OT in the Sweet 16. The Aggies will rely on a balanced attack with Josh Carter, Donald Sloan, Bryan Davis, and Chinemelu Elonu to try and defend their home court.
#24 Michigan at Illinois, 8:30 PM on The Big Ten Network: It looks like a year after his program looked like it was going implode after the Eric Gordon recruiting disaster, Bruce Weber has his team headed in the right direction. Tonight he will try to avenge one of the Fighting Illini’s 2 losses (the other was by 2-points to undefeated Clemson). This should be a close game as the Wolverines won by 10 at Ann Arbor a little over a week ago. Outside of the big guys from each team (Manny Harris and DeShawn Sims for Michigan and Mike Davis and Demetri McCamey for Illinois), my player to watch tonight is Alex Legion, who has shown signs of becoming a big-time scorer since his mid-season addition to Illinois after his transfer from Kentucky.