Tallahassee Democrat: Ira Schoffel hits a home run with this profile on Leonard Hamilton. It’s lengthy, but totally worth the time it takes to read. It’s really unfortunate that it will be buried by Duke – North Carolina previews today. Schoffel spent time with many of Hamilton’s friends and family from his days in Gastonia, North Carolina. He may not look it, but Hamilton is the second oldest coach behind Mike Krzyzewski in the ACC. The FSU head coach has had a really inspirational journey from Gastonia to Tallahassee. Even above and beyond the high school story, Hamilton’s coaching resume is very impressive too. Before the year I said Bernard James might have the best story in college basketball, but I might have been wrong. His coach may have him beat.
Raleigh News & Observer: Lame title aside, this is a terrific piece on Austin Rivers from Jack Daly. Rivers went from being a walking cliche — the talented but selfish son of an NBA coach — when he arrived at Duke to something far more compelling once he took the court. Sure, he’s made mistakes. But he’s also Duke’s best offensive weapon. His critics jumped on his early season struggles and have tended to alter the criticisms instead of the narrative as his game improves. It’s clear he has a chip on his shoulder, but I haven’t heard that chip really expressed openly until this piece. He talks about trying to succeed in the shadow of Doc Rivers and the wealth of expectations and dearth of praise (at least at the college level) for his achievements. Daly finishes the piece with a perfect quote from Rivers:
People always ask what makes me hungry now: I haven’t done anything yet. I haven’t done anything yet. I had a great high school career, I was No. 1 – I don’t care. No one cares about that anymore. At Duke, I haven’t won a national championship, I haven’t won an ACC Tournament, I don’t play in the NBA. I haven’t done anything. I have everything that can motivate me.
CBSSports.com: Continuing the Duke – North Carolina rivalry trope, Brett Friedlander sat down with several former and current Tar Heels to talk about why they chose the school in Chapel Hill over the one eight miles south in Durham. Former Tar Heel big man Eric Montross seems to hit the nail on the head, calling the decision a “gut feeling” of one school over the other. Whether it’s North Carolina’s adjacent museum, the banners, or meeting Michael Jordan — Tar Heel players walk away from visits just knowing… On the flip side I suspect many players who choose Duke feel the same about Cameron Indoor and its many banners overhead as well. The atmospheres are undeniably different, but the two team’s histories share an excellence.
Chicago Tribune: Miami is quietly building an NCAA Tournament resume now that Reggie Johnson is back in the line-up. The Hurricanes have won five of their last six games and four straight including the overtime win at Duke. That said, the “surprise” part of Miami’s bid foundation (for me) is that it’s taken this long to take hold. Certainly Johnson’s injury didn’t do Jim Larranaga any favors, but if you asked me which new coach was doing the worst job at the start of conference season, I wouldn’t have hesitated calling out the former George Mason coach. Miami still has a lot of work to do. I think it splits with Florida State and avenges a home loss to NC State. If the Hurricanes take care of that business, they’ll have 11 conference wins with the disclaimer that the ugly first half of the season was without Johnson (really 10 wins and a solid performance in the ACC Tournament could do the trick, but better safe than sorry).
Fayetteville Observer: In honor of Duke and North Carolina, Stephen Schramm sat down with @thedevilwolf, one of the best trollers in the business. If you follow ACC basketball much on Twitter, you probably know his handle (but not his name). In addition to timely trolling, he’s also good for insightful comments during games and over on Duke Hoop Blog. Schramm also mentioned another mysterious Tobacco Road Twitter celebrity, @TarHeelWire, who disappeared suddenly after nearly two years of constant tweeting on North Carolina athletics when more and more people sought the identity of the man behind the handle.
EXTRA: Troy Machir over at Ballin’ Is A Habit put out his 2011-12 All-Hair-Team, and the list starts with Mike Scott and his many cornrow designs. No other ACC players make the cut (though Miles Plumlee‘s high and tight makes a defensive cameo).
Blogger So Dear: This was an interesting discussion on Wake Forest basketball halfway through conference play. It’s long but informative, and I found the differing opinions on Jeff Bzdelik particularly interesting. While most Demon Deacon fans seem to want Bzdelik gone as soon as possible, the consensus here appears to be that he deserves one more year. With a strong class coming in next season, giving him another year definitely makes sense. However, the points remain that his team has struggled the past two years with any offensive consistency. Unlike Steve Donahue (whose lukewarm seat should only be attributed to recruiting), Bzdelik’s coaching strategy is hard to pick out. Maybe it’s a personnel issue, but he may be a little over his head too.
Hampton Roads Pilot: Doug Doughty addresses Mike Scott‘s legacy at Virginia. Scott should be the favorite for ACC player of the year right now (the prohibitive favorite if you ask me), though many seem to think someone from North Carolina will take the honor by year’s end. Even then, barring an epic collapse, Scott should make the first team All-Conference. No Virginia big man since Ralph Sampson in the early ’80s can say that. Only two Virginia players in history have ever won ACC player of the year. Certainly, he’s having the best season since at least when Sean Singletary left Charlottesville.
Roanoke Times: When people think of Austin Rivers, they immediately think Doc Rivers‘ son. It’s the curse of having a famous parent in the same field. There’s also an assumption that goes with it that Rivers is good because his father is an NBA coach. Mark Berman’s interview with the Duke freshman guard reminded me that Doc Rivers was away from home more often than not. The NBA season is long and all over the place. His presence may have instilled a respect for the game of basketball, but it did not guarantee his son’s success. Rivers is coming off his best game of the season against Virginia Tech. He finished with 18 points (on 10 shots), a team-leading five assists and four rebounds. He didn’t force things on offense and played very good defense throughout despite being consistently matched up with taller, more experienced players. It may be time to change his narrative yet again.
Raleigh News & Observer: Bad news for Harrison Barnes and North Carolina. The sophomore star has a sprained ankle. I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play Saturday at Maryland (Roy Williams tends to overestimate injuries). That said, with Duke looming I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get limited minutes.
ESPN: This post is a few days old, but it’s become surprisingly relevant. Chief of officials John Adams thinks there should be more technical fouls. Since his memo dropped four days ago, I’ve seen at least four or five guys T’d up (Mark Turgeon was ejected against Miami). I’m all for enforcing the technical rules more consistently (and harshly if that keeps games from getting out of hand); however, let’s remember that technical fouls count for two free throws and a personal foul. If you’re going to call more, give players six pesrsonal fouls. No one wants to see someone sit for a single taunt. Also I’d be in favor of moving to one free throw instead of the requisite two. As an example, check out the highlights from Duke’s win over Virginia Tech, as Andre Dawkins gets a technical for taunting (though it looked like he just jogged back on defense).
Wilmington Star News: North Carolina finally showcased its “championship potential” according to Brett Friedlander in its dominant buzzer-to-buzzer victory over Texas last night. The win also wiped away Roy Williams only winless series (against teams he’s faced multiple times since being in Chapel Hill). I would argue that the Tar Heels performance at Kentucky was nearly as impressive (they didn’t play as well, but it was in a very hostile environment against a much better team). Still, this was the team people expected when they universally picked the Tar Heels atop their preseason polls.
Durham Herald-Sun: This season is the first time in Austin Rivers‘ life that he’s been able to play in front of his dad. Unfortunately, he’ll have to readjust to his father’s absence with the NBA starting back up on Christmas Day. But it sounds like both generations enjoyed Doc Rivers‘ chance to watch his son start his career at Duke. It will be interesting to see how many more Duke games the Celtics’ coach will be able to attend this season, if any, with the condensed NBA schedule.
Hampton Daily Press: For the first time in a few years, Virginia and Virginia Tech appear to be the rulers of the state in basketball, as both ACC teams check in in the top-50 of the RPI. A down ACC will help the teams’ possibilities of making the Big Dance, but I still doubt the Hokies sneak in as an at-large. Last year, neither team made the NCAA Tournament, but five total schools from Virginia did. This year, one or two others may sneak in, but Virginia is the commonwealth’s best shot at an at-large bid.
Pensacola News Journal: Florida State‘s game against in-state rival Florida may not determine the success of a given season (like in football), but you can bet your bottom dollar that the coaches and players on both sides are fired up about the game. For the Seminoles, it’s a chance to touch up three early season mishaps. For both teams it’s a chance at a rival and probable NCAA Tournament team. It’ll be a fascinating match-up: elite offense versus elite defense.
Testudo Times: Maryland takes on Radford tomorrow. To be clear, Radford is not good this year. But Maryland fans are looking forward to this game, as it may be their first look at Maryland’s offense with Pe’Shon Howard (MVPe’) back in the line-up since he was forced to the bench with a broken foot in October. Howard’s return should take some of the pressure off Terrell Stoglin to create everything and possibly open up some looks for Nick Faust and Sean Mosley in the process.
Well, the streak is dead after Maryland decided to shoot less than 20% from the floor (OK, Alabama’s slightly-better-than-decent defense had something to do with it too), and Georgia Tech turned around and lost by double figures to St. Joseph’s in the Charleston Classic. Stephen Schramm of the Fayetteville Observer posted a nice recap of the 26-game winning streak if you want to reminisce. The run was great while it lasted. No worries though, the ACC (or at least North Carolina) is still atop of Luke Winn’s Power Rankings!
ESPN Radio (via Washington Post): Maryland alum Scott Van Pelt sat down with Gary Williams to talk about his relationship and rivalry with Mike Krzyzewski. Williams has fond, competitive memories of playing Coach K’s Duke teams in the early 2000s when both schools were at the top of college basketball. Williams brings up a couple of gut-wrenching losses (including this one). The most interesting piece of the interview might have been the lede of one of Van Pelt’s questions when he mentioned that Williams will be an analyst for the Big Ten Network.
New England Cable News: If you believe his dad, Doc Rivers, Austin Rivers isn’t focused on his future so much as the present. According to the Boston Celtics head coach, Rivers isn’t worried about being one-and-done or the NBA lockout; “He’s more concerned about winning.” Doc Rivers’ interview makes it sound like his son is doing his best to fit into Duke’s system, which should be great news for Blue Devil fans (many of whom were concerned Rivers would try and fit the system to him). Rivers has been mercurial through the first three games, averaging a very inefficient 12.7 PPG.
New York Times: Another potential sexual abuse scandal may headed for college sports, as ESPN reported earlier today that Syracuse police are investigating Bobby Davis’ claims that associate head coach Bernie Fine molested him “hundreds of times” when he was a ball boy for the Orange (starting in the seventh grade). Coming on the heels of the Penn State disaster, Syracuse acted immediately. Fine has been placed on administrative leave while the investigation proceeds. One difference between this and the Jerry Sandusky scandal is that this is a newly opened investigation by the police, not grand jury report. Jim Boeheim has already made some waves by coming to the defense of his longtime assistant coach.
Atlanta Journal-Constitution: Mark Gottfried isn’t the only new ACC coach making waves on the recruiting trail. Brian Gregory is quietly putting together a top-15 class headlined by five-star forward Robert Carter. He also still has two scholarships to give (or save for next season when he only has two available). My guess is he’ll use at least one on a point guard in the spring. In their loss last night, the Yellow Jackets only managed four assists to ten turnovers, and only had two players make more than two field goals. Not counting Mfon Udofia and Kammeon Holsey, Georgia Tech starters went a smooth 4-25 from the field.
Orlando Sentinel: It’s safe to say that Bernard James wasn’t impressed with the Seminoles’ defensive effort Wednesday night. His teammates don’t sound impressed either with lots of talk of “lessons” and “growing” from the win. As Leonard Hamilton pointed out, Stetson plays the type of ball that Florida State is most vulnerable to (it runs the dribble drive with lots of shooters). There are more talented teams with similar systems, but I agree with the players that the game should serve as a learning experience (and as a bonus, they did get the win). But these kind of games definitely make you wonder how the Seminoles will fare in conference play.
EXTRA: Apparently the NCAA has its finances online for the world to see (originally Deadspin thought the documents were leaked). If you’ve ever been curious how the NCAA uses the hundreds of millions of dollars generated by college basketball, these documents are worth perusing. It’s an interesting public relations move for the organization to release these documents without publicizing it. But in the wake of all of the recent criticism about NCAA greed, I think releasing the documents was the right choice.
This is the last installment of Fast Breaks for the calendar year, but it’s a loaded one with lots of news before the New Year’s ball drops.
After being spoiled by ridiculously talented freshmen the past two years (Kevin Durant, Derrick Rose, and Michael Beasley), it appears as if we have returned back to normal. While there are several talented diaper dandies out there, none of them has really caught our eye as the next big thing. Pete Thamel gives a short run-down of the candidates for freshman of the year at this point. I’d be interested to hear what you guys have to say about this year’s class because quite frankly I haven’t been that impressed.
Speaking of the Gators. . .UF recruit Austin Rivers, son of Doc (the head coach of the world champion Boston Celtics), led his high school team to a win over nationally-ranked Marietta-Wheeler (GA). Rivers put up 46 points including 30 in the 1st half. We still don’t have word if Doc let him start the next game or made him play JV after his career night.
In a surprising story, Anthony Crater, a highly rated PG coming out of high school last year, was granted a release from his scholarship by Thad Matta. I’d be interested in hearing some of the reasons behind this. It looks like Crater hasn’t been getting much time on the court this year, but it’s really early to be deciding to leave Ohio State just based on that. If any of the Buckeye fans (or haters) have the inside scoop, I would be interested to hear it.
Think you have a rough week ahead of you? Try trading places with Rutgers coach Fred Hill who takes his Scarlet Knights up against #1 UNC, #2 UConn, and #3 Pittsburgh in the same week. On the bright side, only 2 of the 3 games are on the road so Hill at least gets a shot at Pittsburgh in New Jersey. I’m guessing their strength of schedule might go up a little bit this week.
Apparently, Rick left a few of his books back in Rupp Arena because Billy Gillispie wants you to know that the Wildcats can get better. To be fair to Billy, the Wildcats have certainly been much better than what they were like at the beginning of the season, but I don’t think any of us have been wondering if the Wildcats have been playing great basketball recently.
Well it’s the series everybody has been waiting for (ok, not rtmsf). I’ll try to limit my bias in this preview although all of my friends are well aware of the extent of my taunting. Honestly, they’re just happy there isn’t a potential Triple Crown (and eternal bragging rights) at stake here. Anyways, on to what might be the most hyped NBA Finals since 1991 when Michael Jordan formally took the throne away from Magic Johnson (and Larry Bird).
By now, you may have heard that the Boston Celtics and Los Angeles Lakers have a little bit of basketball history. Boston comes in sporting an amazing 16-3 record in NBA Finals, but no appearances since 1987 andno titles since 1986 (following that title they selected a forward out of Maryland named Len Bias). Meanwhile, LA comes in with a 9-13 record, but had a 3-peat from 2000-2002 and appeared in the 2004 Finals. However, as Rick Pitino said during his ignominious stint in Boston:
Despite all the hype ESPN has given (wonder who has broadcast rights) to the history of this rivalry–think hammer versus nail (sorry, I can’t help myself)–none of the players that led the franchises to their numerous titles will be walking through that door except for some guy named Kobe Bryant. So instead of focusing on the glorious past of this match-up, I’ll focus on the present and this season.
Point Guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Derek Fischer. It seems like this match-up hasn’t been getting much press, but I think it could be the most pivotal of the series. This is definitely a young gun versus experience veteran type of match-up as Rondo is much more athletic than Fischer, but is more prone to making silly mistakes. Along with experience, Fischer has a big edge on Rondo in terms of shooting. With all the helpside defense that Kobe demands, Fischer will likely get a lot of shots. Advantage: Fischer. This match-up is closer than you might think because of Rondo’s athleticism and his surprising maturity. Unfortunately for Boston, Rondo is too inconsistent to give Boston the advantage at PG, but if he plays well he should be able to equal Fischer.
Shooting Guard: Ray Allen vs. Kobe Bryant. Somehow this turned into a rivalry soon after Shaq left LA and Ray Allen told the media that Kobe would go to to Mitch Kupchak in a few years and demand a trade (a few years later. . .). Later, Kobe said that he and Jesus Shuttlesworth shouldn’t be mentioned in the same sentence. Now, the two All-Stars are saying that there never really was a feud. Why do I bring this up? Well because even though these two play the same position, I can’t see them guarding each other much. LA might put Kobe on Allen particularly if he goes into another one of his funks, but Kobe roams too much and that’s a very bad idea against Allen even if he hasn’t been performing up to his standard. As for Allen guarding Kobe, even Doc Rivers isn’t that dumb. Kobe will see a steady diet of James Posey and occasionally Paul Pierce although Ray Allen will probably play some matador defense against him early in the game as Kobe will probably defer to his teammates early as he notes “I can get off any time I want” (insert Colorado hotel room joke here). Advantage: Kobe. This one isn’t even close. Allen has sort of become a wild card for the Celtics. Even when he’s on this position goes to Kobe and the Lakers, but if Allen can hit from the outside he can keep Boston in the series.
Small Forward: Paul Pierce vs. Vladimir Radmanovic. This might be the biggest mismatch of the series (not including the coaches). If they match up head-to-head, Pierce will dominate Vlad. As Shaq once said, “My name is Shaquille O’Neal and Paul Pierce is the motherfucking truth. Quote me on that and don’t take nothing out. I knew he could play, but I didn’t know he could play like this. Paul Pierce is the truth.” An Inglewood native, Pierce grew up idolizing Magic and the Showtime Lakers, but during his time in green, he has torched the Lakers for a career average of 27.9 PPG (his most against any team). My guess is that Kobe will be guarding Pierce in crunchtime. The rest of the time Vlad will try to stay in front of him. The key for LA is for Vlad to hit his 3s, which usually energizes the Hollywood crowd (if it’s after the 6 minute mark in the 2nd quarter when the crowd shows up) and will make Pierce or whoever is guarding him work. Advantage: Pierce. Big edge although this might turn into a Kobe vs. Pierce match-up, which Kobe would still win.
Power Forward: Kevin Garnett vs. Lamar Odom. This is the most interesting match-up of the series. Although Pierce is Boston’s go-to guy, KG is the heart-and-soul of the team. Usually he is able to dominate at the 4 because he is much more versatile than the opposing player. However, Odom’s unique skill set could theoretically pose a problem for KG especially with the amount of help defense he will have to play with Kobe and Gasol. Odom has the type of game that could limit KG’s ability to roam, but Odom is so inconsistent that it may not matter. Advantage: Garnett. If you look at the match-up on paper based on skills, it would be pretty close other than defense, which Odom doesn’t seem to care about most of the time. However, KG’s consistency and effort wins out over Odom’s tendency to space out (insert bong joke here).
Center: Kendrick Perkins vs. Pau Gasol. The Boston fans will really hate Chris Wallace by the time this series is over. Not only did he kill a few years of Paul Pierce’s prime by trading Joe Johnson for Rodney Rogers and Tony Delk (some blame falls on Paul Gaston, the Celtics owner at the time, who refused to resign either player), but he also gave the Lakers Gasol, who poses a tough match-up for Perkins. One of the 3 straight-to-pro starters this series (you probably know the other two) Perkins has grown a lot this year. Playing alongside KG has certainly helped during games, but perhaps more importantly off the court in practice and it shows in his improved performance. Unfortunately for Kendrick, Gasol is basically the worst match-up he could have. While Perkins is a hard-nosed defender with good strength, he isn’t particularly agile and the Lakers pick-and-roll with Kobe and Gasol could give Celtics fans nightmares over the next 2 weeks. Gasol will probably dominate this match-up unless Perkins can somehow turn this into a physical match-up. To limit the Lakers advantage, Perkins will have to try and dominate the glass as the Lakers don’t really have a great rebounder (Gasol can put up numbers, but isn’t going to get physical) while the Celtics have two (Perkins and Garnett). Advantage: Gasol. The Lakers have a clear advantage here as Gasol is one of the best centers in the league, but it’s closer than most people think. Perkins has had some big games in the playoffs and will need to do so in this series if the Celtics are to win #17.
Bench: James Posey, P.J. Brown, Eddie House, Leon Powe, Glen Davis, Tony Allen, & Sam Cassell vs. Luke Walton, Sasha Vujacic, Jordan Farmer, Ronny Turiaf, & Trevor Ariza. The Celtics will probably use Posey quite a bit on Kobe and Brown on Gasol as neither of the Celtic starters appear to match up particularly well. If Posey can focus on staying in front of Kobe and knock down 3s on kickouts, he could become an important facto in the series. Outside of Posey, Brown and House are the most likely to play key roles in this series. Brown primarily for his interior presence against Gasol and House to spot up for 3s assuming Doc notices Cassell couldn’t cut it in a YMCA league. Powe and Big Baby could also contribute in spots, but I have a feeling that Doc will yank around their minutes too much to give either a chance to contribute for more than a game or two. If Doc is smart, Allen and Cassell won’t take off their warm-ups as neither of them has contributed much this season. Meanwhile, the Lakers have a very strong bench. I’m pretty sure Walton would start on most teams in the league. He’s one of the rare players who can come into the game and make an immediate impact, which I attribute to Luke being one of the few players in the NBA who plays with his head instead of his body. Vujacic and Farmer have also proven to be valuable and will spell Fischer when Rondo starts to wear him out. Both of them can hit 3s, which will make them valuable when Kobe decides to drive. As for Turiaf, he’s not a great player, but he’s the only legit thing the Lakers have as a 4/5 backup. Advantage: Lakers. This may be the difference in the series even if Doc doesn’t screw up the rotations like he usually does.
Coaching: Phil Jackson vs. Doc Rivers. The Zen Master with 9 rings as a coach (tied with Red Auerbach) and 11 rings overall (tied with Bill Russell) versus the least stable rotation in basketball history. Advantage: Jackson. This is probably the biggest mismatch in Finals history. Even Ubuntu can’t save Doc in this one and it might cost the Celtics a shot at the title.
Prediction: Lakers in 6. If the Celtics play to their potential (that means you Ray), I think they can win, but he’s just been so inconsistent and the Lakers have been so dominant (in a better conference) that I just can’t pick them to win as much as it kills me if you haven’t caught my bias in the preview. I think LA and Boston will split the opening 2 games and Boston will come back to win 1 of 3 in LA before Kobe takes over in Game 6 and puts the Celtics away.