Making Sense of Florida State’s Weird Season Trajectory

Posted by rtmsf on January 23rd, 2012

Matt Poindexter is an RTC correspondent. He filed this report after Saturday’s Duke-Florida State game in Durham.

Before the season started, ESPN Bracketologist Joe Lunardi pegged Leonard Hamilton’s Florida State team as an 8-seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament. Then talented Seminole forward Terrance Shannon suffered a season-ending shoulder injury, and a 5-0 start was followed up by a 4-6 stretch that featured an inexplicable home loss to Princeton and a blowout loss at Clemson to start ACC play. A week into January, the team that many expected to sit near the top of the ACC was instead 9-6, with their best victory a home win against Central Florida. The Seminoles have some more impressive wins today. First, FSU handed North Carolina by giving the Heels one of the worst beatings of the Roy Williams era, leading for all but the first 39 seconds of the game and winning 90-57. Then, a week after beating UNC, FSU’s Michael Snaer hit a last-second shot to snap Duke’s 45-game winning streak at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Why the sudden change?

According to Hamilton, the drastic improvement over the past few games is due to more experience and better point guard play. In his postgame press conference on Saturday, Hamilton said that many were confusing his team’s age with experience. Though already 26 years old, star forward Bernard James’ pre-Seminole basketball experience consisted of a few years as an enlisted member of the United States Air Force and one season at Tallahassee (FL) Community College. Many of James’ teammates are also upperclassmen, but played limited minutes behind Derwin Kitchen and Chris Singleton until this season. His juniors and seniors, Hamilton feels, are only now catching up on court time.

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BGTD: Selected Thoughts From an Upset Saturday

Posted by rtmsf on January 21st, 2012

What a Saturday of college basketball. Three of the AP top four teams lost, and a number of other games have gone down to the wire today. Here are a few thoughts on the action from this afternoon…

  • #1 Syracuse’s Unbeaten Season Ends at Notre Dame. This is why projecting unbeaten seasons from power conference teams is an exercise in folly — in the modern game, there are always going to be at least a couple of off nights, and a motivated jacked-up home team will eventually take advantage. Notre Dame, no stranger to beating top-ranked foes in South Bend (seven times now), was ready from tonight’s tip and capitalized on a lethargic offensive night from the Orange to earn its biggest win in years. Some might point to the loss of Orange center Fab Melo to academics as the reason for Syracuse’s loss, but the truth is that the one factor that has worried us about SU all season — who will step up? — came back to bite them tonight. Dion Waiters is their best offensive talent, but he was 4-14 from the field; the next best talent is Kris Joseph (4-12), followed by the guards of Brandon Triche (2-6) and Scoop Jardine (0-5) — with around seven minutes remaining, Syracuse was still down 10 points but Notre Dame was teetering a bit. The game was there for the Orange to take if someone, anyone, had been able to put a series of offensive moves together. Nobody in orange could do so, and thus, the bedlam below. Jim Boeheim’s best teams in the NCAA Tournament always had a go-to guy, from Sherman Douglas to Derrick Coleman to John Wallace to Carmelo Anthony… who is it on this team?

  • Duke’s Home Court Winning Streak Ends at 45 Games. We have no idea what fountain of offense Florida State discovered down there in the wilds of the Sunshine State, but the last three games for the Seminoles have been extraordinary. It wasn’t as much the 76 points that FSU scored in Cameron Indoor Stadium to end the Blue Devils’ 45-game home court winning streak, but it was the efficiency in which they did so. When was the last time a team shot nearly 15% better from the floor than Duke did in its own building? FSU hit 54% from the field on its way to another highly impressive 1.126 points per possession, its third straight game well over the Seminoles’ season average of 0.995 PPP, and the final play to hit Michael Snaer with a wide-open three on the right wing was outstanding in its execution. With a dominant home win over UNC last weekend and a road win at Duke to get to 4-1 in the ACC, could Florida State with its newfound offensive capability be the best team in the league? Hard to believe, but an authentic case can be made for Leonard Hamilton’s team right now.

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ATB: Michigan Shuts Down MSU, Florida State Scores, and Anthony Davis’ Block Record…

Posted by rtmsf on January 18th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. It wasn’t the best night of college basketball we’ve ever witnessed, but as always, the storylines were plentiful. We’d love to walk you through the Michigan-MSU rivalry game that went down to the wire, Florida State’s newfound affinity for offense, Western Carolina’s embarrassing 102-point victory, and some other things… but Anthony Davis just swatted away our train of thought.

Your Watercooler Moment. Michigan-Michigan State Rivalry Heats Up On and Off the Court.

College Basketball Is Better When Both Michigan Schools Are Elite (K. Dozier/DFP)

In anticipation of his rivalry game with Michigan tonight, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo made his feelings known about his in-state rival loud and clear — even though he claims to respect UM and it’s head coach, John Beilein, he also doesn’t care for the Maize and Blue — “not one bit.” He may start to venture into hatred territory if the Wolverines continue beating his Spartans as they did tonight. Michigan point guard Trey Burke led the way with another superb performance, going for 20/4/3 assts/2 stls as the Wolverines defeated MSU for the third straight time in the series. The key to the game, however, was the consistent defensive pressure Michigan put on the Spartans’ primary three scorers: Draymond Green, Keith Appling, and Brandon Wood. The trio came in averaging 38 points per game, but were held to only 21 points on 9-26 shooting tonight. None of the three were ever able to find any sort of offensive rhythm, and when on the final possession Green ended up with the ball in his hands for a leaning jumper from the foul line, the shot was badly long with virtually no chance to drop in. With the win, Michigan moves to 5-2 in the Big Ten race while Michigan State drops to 4-2, but we’re high on both of these teams for the long run of the season and playing into March.

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It’s A Love/Hate Relationship: Volume VIII

Posted by jbaumgartner on January 17th, 2012

Jesse Baumgartner is an RTC columnist. His Love/Hate column will publish on Mondays throughout the season. In this weekly piece he’ll review the five things he loved and hated about the previous seven days of college basketball.

Five Things I Loved This Week

I LOVED….Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s momentum changing alley-oop against Tennessee. My favorite plays are those ones where in a second, the whole mood of a chaotic gym suddenly changes. The combination of floating from one side of the hoop to the other (hang time we can only dream of) and the emphatic CRACK of the rim snapping took UT’s good vibes and threw them for a complete 180. If there’s one thing I love about the modern game, it’s the microphone near the rims – they make monster slams even better (watch at the 0:40 mark).

I LOVED….Baylor keeping me wondering whether they’re for real. Coming into this week, I looked at their schedule and thought, well, they still haven’t played anyone stellar. And yet, even after last night’s tough loss in Allen Fieldhouse — a place where nobody can reasonably expect to win — it’s getting harder and harder to find too much to fault with these Bears. This weekend’s upcoming game in Waco against Missouri will help me figure this team out.

I LOVED….Syracuse continuing to shrug off the scandal surrounding the program and keep pace at No. 1. It’s tough to focus on playing when your coach and the university are under so much scrutiny, but this mess was not brought on by these kids – who have worked hard to put themselves in prime position for a postseason run. Let’s hope that they continue to tune out the other stuff.

I LOVED….feeling the upset-happy “This is College Basketball” vibe for the first time this year on Saturday. North Carolina turned the world upside down by getting trounced, Northwestern shocked the hottest team in the country, Iowa upended Michigan, Oklahoma took out KSU….this is the chaos I know and love.

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ATB: On Baylor’s Legitimacy, Brandon Paul’s Explosion, and Frank Martin’s Billy Gillispie Moment…

Posted by rtmsf on January 11th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. It wasn’t just any other Tuesday night, as a number of ranked teams were in action and there was more than enough intrigue around the country to keep everyone interested. Whether it was a team few people seem to believe in slowly swaying hearts and minds, or a much-maligned former prep star bringing forth the game of his life, or an acerbic coach showing his true colors in a postgame interview, there was a lot to cover tonight. Let’s jump right in…

Will Some Pundits Begin to Take Baylor Seriously Now? (AP/C. Riedel)

Your Watercooler Moment, Part I. Baylor Stakes a Claim of Legitimacy. One of the knocks against Scott Drew’s Baylor Bears to date has been its lack of exceptional road wins this season. Apparently the non-believers did not take seriously wins at BYU and Northwestern, although neither the Marriott Center nor the Welsh-Ryan Arena these days are the easiest places to escape victorious. Still, Kansas State’s Bramlage Arena is universally regarded as a tough-as-nails venue, borne out most recently by K-State’s dominant weekend victory over an unbeaten Missouri squad. Baylor’s mid-second half run to come back from seven points down behind several eye-popping defensive transition dunks, along with its ability to hold K-State to a single bucket in the last four minutes of the game, showed America how things have changed. Last year, Drew’s Bears hardly played defense, generally preferring to use that end of the court to rest before another wild LaceDarius Dunn field goal attempt. This year, long green-and-yellow-clad arms and legs seem to cover all four corners of the court, and in fact, the two game-saving plays on this night resulted from a strip from behind of Angel Rodriguez with three seconds remaining, and a deflected pass on the ensuing inbounds play. The Bears are not going to win every game this season, but they’ve already won 16 and have survived one of their four toughest road tests on the schedule. With Pierre Jackson (10/11 assts) running the show, Brady Heslip (13/4 stls) providing scoring punch, and an elite corps of forwards in Quincy Acy, Perry Jones, III, and Quincy Miller wreaking havoc defensively, it’s time to stop questioning Scott Drew’s team and take the Bears seriously as a national title contender.

Your Watercooler Moment, Part II. Brandon Paul Hits Everything, Leads Illini Over Ohio State. In two-and-a-half seasons at Illinois, Brandon Paul has been better defined by what he is not rather than what he is. The former Chicago-area prep star who came to Champaign with sky-high expectations has largely disappointed, gradually improving his scoring output over three years but never shooting the ball efficiently (career 37.2% shooter) nor becoming an effective distributor (2.0 APG). Paul must have eaten a full bowl of his Wheaties this morning. The 6’4″ junior literally took over tonight’s game against OSU, scoring his team’s last 15 points en route to a career-high 43 points on 8-10 shooting from behind the arc. Unless you saw the game, you cannot comprehend just how ridiculous a couple of the late threes that Paul hit were, perhaps none more so than his final trey which gave Illinois a four-point lead with 43 seconds remaining.

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After the Buzzer: A Wild and Wacky Wednesday Night to Close Out November…

Posted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2011

Tonight’s Lede. Big Ten Does It Again. Day two of the ACC/Big Ten Challenge finished in the same way as the first — with a Big Ten beatdown. The midwestern-based conference rode wins from Michigan State and Minnesota at home along with Penn State and Indiana on the road, to notch another 4-2 night and win the event convincingly, 8-4. Four of those eight victories this year came on ACC hardwood, showing that Big Ten teams can pick up victories in hostile environments regardless of location. It’s difficult to draw too much from late November events like these, but the eye and sniff test in watching pieces of the twelve games over the last two nights is highly suggestive that the Big Ten appears to go seven or eight teams deep this year for NCAA Tournament consideration, while the ACC looks to be in the neighborhood of five or six. As our columnist Evan Jacoby wrote in Night Line last night, the Big Ten has unquestionably earned the right to hold the mantle as the top conference in college basketball a few weeks into the season. The ACC appears to be in the mid-pack, perhaps as high as third but also maybe the worst of the five power conferences (the Pac-12 has some work to do to earn our good graces again).

Your Watercooler Moment. Double Overtime in the Thunderdome.

How Jacked Up Does the ThunderDome Look? (h/t @amurawa)

That’s right, we’re passing on the #4 North Carolina vs. #7 Wisconsin snoozer in favor of a high-intensity, mid-major game that went two overtimes and featured enough twists, turns and amazing plays to outdo the entire ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Luckily, our man Andrew Murawa was there for all 50 minutes of the action. Here’s his report (and some highlights from the UCSB side here).

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The Pre-Conference Tournaments and the ACC

Posted by KCarpenter on November 18th, 2011

While technically speaking the pre-conference tournaments started long before yesterday, counting the opening rounds of the NIT and a few others with qualifiers, but Thursday was the day that the tournaments began in earnest. I thought it would be a useful exercise to go through the list of all 12 ACC teams and evaluate their individual chances of winning their respective tournaments.

Boston College – 76 Classic

The Boston College team picked to finish last in the ACC would have a tough time in just about any competitive tournament field. An opening game against St. Louis will be challenging enough, as SLU is one of the better teams in a very strong Atlantic 10 this year. If they pass St. Louis, they will probably have to play Villanova, a tough out for an ultra-young BC team. The rest of the field includes New Mexico and Santa Clara, both capable of pushing Boston College to the breaking point. There’s not a good chance that the Eagles win this tournament, but they could at least win the opener.

Clemson – Diamond Head Classic

Xavier is the easy favorite for this tournament, but fortunately for Clemson, they are positioned on the other side of the bracket along with the (by-December) battle-hardened Long Beach State. The Beach is gunning for upsets and Xavier will have to take care to win its opening matchup against Casper Ware and company. Clemson’s path to the finals is significantly easier. The Tigers’ side of the bracket features rebuilding Kansas State, inexperienced UTEP, and a Southern Illinois team that isn’t what it once was. Clemson should make the finals, but taking down XU will be a challenge.

Duke – Maui Invitational

Duke Has Never Lost In Maui (12-0)

The Maui Invitational is loaded, but I’d say that Duke has a good shot at a heavyweight bout with Kansas, and a fair shot at winning considering the troubles the Jayhawks had against Kentucky. Duke will have to beat either a talented Michigan or Memphis team after beating Tennessee (which the Blue Devils should). Michigan and Memphis are both teams with a lot of potential that hasn’t necessarily translated to wins yet and both are trying to make the leap this year. Beating Duke is a great way to make such a statement. On the other side of the bracket, Kansas just has to beat Georgetown to have a clear shot at the final considering the troubles that have plagued Ben Howland’s UCLA team. Beating Kansas, even in a down year is a tall order, but in a head-to-head match-up, I think Duke is certainly good enough to win.

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The AP Preseason Poll: North Carolina #1 On All But Three Ballots

Posted by KCarpenter on October 28th, 2011

The first AP poll repeats the refrain of the offseason: North Carolina is the best team in the country. Amassing 62 out 65 first-place votes, the Tar Heels ran away from the rest of the field. This is no surprise and pretty much matches what the coaches thought last week. Like in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll, Kentucky came in second with Ohio State and Connecticut not far behind. One first place vote went to the Buckeyes and two more to the Huskies, with the Wildcats getting no votes at the top spot. While that’s a slight difference from the coaches poll where Kentucky got the only non-UNC vote, it pretty much lines up with the conventional wisdom: Going into the season, there are four clear top tier teams, with the debate being over who goes in slots two through four. While guessing which writers submitted the minority reports favoring Connecticut and Ohio State is an entertaining game, the AP is happy to spoil that fun by posting the voters and their ballots online.

As for the rest of the ACC, Duke comes in at sixth, the same as in the coaches poll. Contributing to this mounting sense of déjà vu, Florida State once again finishes just outside the top twenty-five at the the twenty-sixth spot. Virginia, despite receiving a vote or two in the coaches poll, doesn’t get any love from the AP’s panel. Interestingly enough, the only other team to receive votes outside of last year’s top three finishers is Miami, a team that is returning a lot of highly skilled players and deserves a little more love than it’s been getting. In any case, the preseason is winding down and this poll will soon be forgotten as actual basketball games take the place of educated guesswork. I don’t know if that’s any consolation to an overlooked team like UVA, but it’s something.

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Morning Five: 10.20.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 20th, 2011

  1. In yesterday’s M5 we mentioned that a poll of media facilitated by the Syracuse Post-Standard found that Syracuse and Connecticut were essentially viewed as equals at the top of the Big East this year.  Wednesday’s survey of Big East coaches at Media Day came to the same ultimate conclusion.  The Huskies had more first-place votes (seven) than the Orange (five), but more coaches chose SU second or third than UConn, which accounts for the difference.  Louisville received three first-place votes (Rick Pitino took shots at the votes too), while Pittsburgh received one.  The Panthers’ Ashton Gibbs was chosen as the preseason Big East POY, with UConn’s Jeremy Lamb, Syracuse’s Kris Joseph, Marquette’s Darius Johnson-Odom, WVU’s Kevin Jones, and Notre Dame’s Tim Abromaitis rounding out the first team.
  2. Down on Tobacco Road, the ACC was simultaneously holding its Media Day Operation Basketball, and the proceedings generally read like a Carolina love-fest.  UNC received 57 of the 59 first-place votes from the media, and the Heels’ Harrison Barnes was a unanimous selection on the preseason all-ACC first team along with teammates Tyler Zeller and John Henson (incidentally, Luke Winn breaks down Barnes’ 2010-11 progression here).  The last time that a single school had three selections on the preseason all-ACC team was a decade ago, when defending national champion Duke brought back Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy and Carlos Boozer.  In no surprise whatsoever, Duke was picked to finish second, with Florida State third.  The remaining all-ACC choices were Duke’s Seth Curry, Miami’s Malcolm Grant, and Virginia’s Mike Scott, with Duke’s Austin Rivers selected as the preseason ROY.  More on Operation Basketball later this morning on our ACC microsite.
  3. We never contemplated a Wake Forest to USC pipeline developing, but if Jeff Bzdelik’s few talented players continue to get into trouble in Winston-Salem so that they ultimately transfer to Southern Cal, we’re sure that Kevin O’Neill will be happy to take them.  After Wake forward Ari Stewart transferred across the country in May to spend his final two years at USC, guard JT Terrell (whom Stewart hosted on his official visit to Troy) has also decided to re-surface as a Trojan.  Terrell is spending this season at a junior college in Washington, but the talented sophomore who averaged 11.1 PPG as a Demon Deacon frosh has announced that he will sign with O’Neill’s club during the early signing period in November.  Between Alex Stepheson (UNC to USC), Larry Drew II (UNC to UCLA), Travis and David Wear (UNC to UCLA), Stewart, and now Terrell, there’s something weird going on here.
  4. Is Billy Gillispie ready to turn around the basketball fortunes at his third Texas destination in his somewhat short collegiate coaching career?  After very successful stints at UTEP and Texas A&M, followed by a disastrous one at Kentucky, Gillispie says that he’s sober and back on track at his new school, Texas Tech.  What was lost amidst all the chaos that surrounded Gillispie in his two years in Lexington is that he had completely rebuilt moribund programs in both El Paso and College Station very quickly, his teams employing a hard-nosed, defensive style that mimicked the coach’s somewhat infamous and notorious work ethic.  Texas Tech seems like a great fit for him not only because he’s back in his home state surrounded by his people, but the expectations and pressures at a school like TTU are incredibly tame in comparison with one of the nation’s flagship basketball schools.  Even during the Bob Knight experiment, getting to the Sweet Sixteen was cause for celebration.  It says here that Gillispie will do well in Lubbock.
  5. We’ve already mentioned the heartbreaking story of Arizona’s Kevin Parrom in this space earlier this week.  Jeff Goodman caught up with him recently and the drive and fortitude that the Wildcat junior continues to show in the face of such adversity — losing his grandmother, his mother, and getting shot in the hand and leg in the span of several months — is nothing short of remarkable.  Rather than feeling sorry for himself, it’s clear in reading his quotes that he considers himself lucky to not only be alive, but also to have the opportunity to get an education on a basketball scholarship, something his mother made sure he put above all else.  And that, my friends, is what good parenting is all about.  Continued best of luck to Parrom as he works through these emotional and physical issues — we’re rooting for ya, kid.
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After the Madness: Highlights From The First ACC Practices

Posted by KCarpenter on October 17th, 2011

The University of Maryland invented Midnight Madness in 1971 under legendary coach Lefty Driesell. That makes last Friday the 40th anniversary of the very first Madness. Terrapin fans turned out in droves for the event, but, sadly, the history of the event and the Maryland program seemed to overshadow the future. The highlight of the event was an alumni game that included many members of the 2002 National Championship squad as well as other famous basketball alumni, like Grievis Vasquez. Fans were happy to see Steve Blake, Chris Wilcox, and Steve Francis, but the largest ovation was for legendary coach and recent retiree Gary Williams. It’s nice that Maryland was able to celebrate and savor it’s proud basketball tradition, but the fact that new head coach Mark Turgeon and the current Maryland squad were overshadowed by the looming legends of the past doesn’t bode well for this season.

Lefty Driesell Invented Midnight Madness 40 Years Ago at Maryland

Meanwhile, at Duke, the focus was squarely on the new guys,  specifically, the highly-touted Austin Rivers. Rivers showed off his range and touch by sinking his first three three-pointers in the intra-squad scrimmage before he began struggling in the second half. Despite this slight letdown, Blue Devils fans have no cause for sadness: Rivers looks like he will be fine. Other highlights of the night? Seth Curry. He absolutely dominated the game, scoring 28 points in 24 minutes to go along with a pair of steals and four assists. Besides the scrimmage, there was also a dunk contest judged by J.J. Redick and Shelden Williams, which was won by Miles Plumlee. That said I think Jim Sumner at Duke Basketball Report summed it up best:

The evening concluded with a dunk contest that demonstrated conclusively that seven-footers can dunk a basketball if no one is guarding them and they don’t actually have to dribble the basketball.

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