Morning Five: 07.30.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 30th, 2012

  1. We hate to start out the week’s Morning Five on a somber note, but when an incoming recruit or any player is murdered we have to lead with it. On Thursday, Iona recruit Michael Haynes was killed while apparently trying to break up a fight over a stolen necklace near his home in Chicago. Haynes, who was a prep school star in Chicago, had worked his way through the junior college ranks and was just weeks away from realizing his dream of playing Division I basketball. Initial reports indicated that Haynes might be able to make it because he appeared fairly strong immediately after the shooting, but he died in the operating room shortly afterwards. We have not heard anything about funeral arrangements for Haynes, but given some of the players he played against there should be some prominent names present.
  2. The biggest surprise of the weekend for us came out of Orlando where the Magic announced that  former Kansas star Jacque Vaughn would be their next head coach. To be honest, we had lost track of Vaughn’s whereabouts over the past few seasons, but apparently he had been serving as an assistant for the San Antonio Spurs. The choice is a curious one in the sense that the Magic could be a playoff team (depending on the whims of Dwight Howard) and Vaughn has no head coaching experience. We like seeing teams hire coaches who are not the same retreads, but we can see how some individuals like Shaquille O’Neal might not be fans of the move. Vaughn’s first order of business should be figuring out what to do with Howard who has been holding the franchise hostage for quite sometime. Only after he does that can he think of moving forward.
  3. Jeff Goodman got the #SCOOP on who Gonzaga‘s newest coach-in-waiting and while it is interesting at some level we wonder if the title really means anything. Goodman reports that assistant Tommy Lloyd has been given the designation to follow-up Mark Few in Spokane. The issue is that Few has not even turned 50 yet and Lloyd is the third coach-in-waiting at the school after the other two decided they had waited long enough and took head coaching jobs at other schools. The position on the Gonzaga sideline is no doubt among the most coveted in the country especially for coaches who are not established enough to get a position with a blue-blood program, but we don’t see any movement coming any time soon there.
  4. For our part we don’t particularly care for the culture associated with the AAU scene, but when we heard that the legendary Sonny Vaccaro had returned to Las Vegas we were intrigued. Vaccaro, the man who has been credited with making the summer basketball scene what it is today (for better or for worse), had not been on the scene since the summer of 2006, but returned to film scenes for his upcoming 30 for 30 documentary. The documentaries in the series that we have seen appear to be fairly balanced so we will be interested to see how they deal with Vaccaro’s creation and the effects of the world that he helped create as well as his (hopefully candid) comments on it although we suspect that he will place the blame for the unseemly aspects of it on other people.
  5. Divorces are rarely amicable and often the people hurt the most by them are the children particularly when issues of child custody are raised. In that vein, when a Syracuse fan was looking through the division of custody based on holidays he felt that it was unequal so he inserted a clause that would allow him to have visitation rights for his kids if the Orange were playing for the national championship on the first Monday night in April. The request might be made fun of in some circles, but compared to some of the other requests we have heard of in these cases it seems fairly benign and sweet even if it is a bit quixotic as it has only happened three times and not since 2003.
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UNC: Let’s Not Go Sucking Each Other’s [redacted] Just Yet

Posted by rtmsf on December 7th, 2008

Yeah, like most everyone else, we’re equally in awe of what Carolina has been able to do thus far in the season.  We are on record saying that the Heels wouldn’t be able to get through a pretty tough first month of the season without taking an L due to the loss of Marcus Ginyard and Tyler Hansbrough to injuries, and we couldn’t have been more wrong.  The Heels have been nothing short of awesome through the first quarter of the regular season, beating eight opponents (two of which were in the preseason top 10) by an average of 30.4 points per game.

Their offensive and defensive stats are through the roof thus far.  They average nearly 100 pts per game (97.0), shooting 51% from the field and 41% from three.  They are #2 nationally in points per possession (1.207) and percentage of trips where they score at least a point (59.7%).   They share the ball amazingly well (#2 nationally in assists – 21.7) and have a preposterous nearly 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio (1.87).  The Heels also rebound with the best of the country (#8 nationally) and play defense with abandon (holding opponents to 37.3% shooting and forcing 19 turnovers per game – 14th nationally).   Put simply, this team is playing GREAT basketball.

The Heels are Posterizing Everyone in Their Path

The Heels are Posterizing Everyone in Their Path

photo credit:  Jim Hawkins/AP

So the question is begged – why do we need to finish out the season if we know that Carolina is far-and-away the best team?  Well… because it’s still early.  December 5th is a light year away from April 6th in college basketball time, and  a lot can and will happen in the interim.  Other teams will improve, and UNC, while looking indomitable at this point, could eventually suffer from the fatigue of increasing pressure to win every game and/or simply a rough night in March.  That’s the beauty of our game.  Short of a major injury, we can rest assured that the Lakers and Celtics will more than likely be back in the NBA Finals due to the sport’s seven-game series playoff format.  But in a one-game situation in the NCAA Tournament, much like the World Cup and NFL Playoffs, an inspired underdog can accomplish the unthinkable and take down the seemingly unbeatable favorite (witness last year’s Super Bowl for just such a recent example).

For proof of this, let’s take a walk down memory lane for a brief history lesson.  Below are a handful of teams who, like this year’s Tarheels, were seemingly invincible for the entire season.  That is, until they ran into a plucky team who had enough heart and made just enough plays in the right moments to block the favorite’s manifest destiny.

  • 1984 UNC (28-3, 15-1 ACC) - We can start with a former version of the Heels.  Bob Knight’s Indiana team shot 65% from the field (69% in the second half) to take down Michael Jordan and Sam Perkins’ Heels in the second round of the NCAAs.  To this day, old-time Heels fans lament an injury to Kenny Smith’s wrist that limited his effectiveness in the postseason.  UNC had only a 1-pt loss at Arkansas and a 2-pt loss to Duke in the ACC Tourney prior to the NCAAs.  Of the 28 victories, only four were by single-digit margins.  This team was nasty.
  • 1985 Georgetown (35-3, 17-2 Big East) – We still can’t fathom how this absolute beast of a defending national champion with Patrick Ewing and Reggie Williams lost to Villanova in the greatest upset in NCAA Tournament history.  Still, they did, as Villanova hit a ridiculous 79% from the field against a defensive dynamo that regularly held teams well under 40%.
  • 1987 UNC (32-4, 16-1 ACC) - UNC, led by all-american Kenny Smith and super-frosh JR Reid, lost in the regional finals to Syracuse by 4 pts, in a game where Derrick Coleman and Rony Seikaly destroyed the Heels on the boards to eke out the victory.  Their only other losses were at UCLA (5 pts), at Notre Dame (2 pts) and in the finals of the ACC Tourney vs. NC State (1 pt).  While not as dominant as the 1984 version, this team was everyone’s choice to win the national title.
  • 1991 UNLV (34-1, 20-0 Big West) - The best team we’ve ever seen that didn’t win the national title.  Simply an astonishing combination of talent and experience on the cusp of the early-entry era.  Duke, who had lost by 30 in the NCAA Final to this same team one year prior, became Duke on this night – roaring back behind Mr. March, Christian Laettner, to win the game in the final minutes 79-77.  UNLV, who placed all five starters on the all-Big West team (four 1st teamers), had beaten its opponents by an average of 27.5 pts per game coming into the national semis, including a whipping of #2  Arkansas at the old Barnhill Arena by a score of 112-105 (the final was much closer than the game actually was).
  • 1997 Kansas (34-2, 18-1 Big 12) – We still contend that this was Roy Williams’ best team (even better than the 2005 UNC national champions).  A two-pt double-OT loss at Missouri was the only blemish on a near-perfect season until upstart and eventual national champion Arizona, led by Mike Bibby and Miles Simon, pulled off an 85-82 upset in the regional semifinals of the NCAAs.  Raef Lafrentz, Paul Pierce and Jacque Vaughn led a balanced attack that absolutely devastated most of its oppenents, many of whom were ranked (9-1).
  • 1999 Duke (37-2, 19-0 ACC) – With the possible exception of 2006 UConn (who we find overrated), this was the last college team that was absolutely loaded with A-grade NBA talent. The lineup featured two NPOYs (Elton Brand, Shane Battier) in addition to draftees Will Avery, Trajan Langdon and Chris Carrawell.   Future all-star Corey Maggette came off the bench.  Only four teams all season were able to stay within 10 pts of the Devils, who crushed teams by an average of 24.6 points per game.  Had this team won the title game against UConn, it would have been on the short list of greatest teams in the modern era.
  • 2002 Duke (31-4, 16-3 ACC) - This team didn’t have the outrageous statistical profile of its predecessor three years prior, but it was the defending national champs and boasted Jason Williams, Mike Dunleavy Jr. and Carlos Boozer in a balanced attack that seemed destined for back-to-back titles.  That is, until this team’s only bugaboo, FT shooting (68.9%) popped up to bite them in the Sweet 16 against Indiana.  Two one-pt losses, a three-pt loss and a 14-pt loss to national champion Maryland were the only blemishes on this team’s resume.

So there you have it.  Our memories don’t go back further than the 80s, but we’re sure there are probably some other great historical examples of this phenomenon.  Leave them in the comments if you wish.  Of course, there are just as many (if not more) dominant teams that actually got it done and won the national title – which one will the 2008-09 Tarheels become?  To answer that question is why we will continue to watch.

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A whole generation of kids will now have their foot on the line…

Posted by rtmsf on May 3rd, 2007

If you didn’t already catch it, the NCAA was busy again today.  After taking away our text messages and putting the whomp down on academic rogues in the last week, it decided that beginning in the 2008-09 season, college basketball will move back its three-point line by a foot to 20 feet, 9 inches.  This remains three feet shy of the NBA range at the top of the key, but inexplicably, it is three inches longer than the international distance.  In keeping with NCAA decisionmaking, this extra three inches makes almost no sense, considering that a given court could have as many as four different three-point lines on it – women’s NCAA (staying at 19’9), international (20’6), men’s NCAA (20’9) and NBA (23’9).

Three pointer

Notwithstanding the playing surface chaos we anticipate at the likes of UC-Santa Barbara and other schools that use their home floors for volleyball in addition to men’s and women’s basketball (so… many… lines…), some coaches have chafed at the change because it did not also address the width of the lane.  Their complaint is that if you are trying to open up the court and reduce physical play by extending the three-point distance, you need to also expand the width of the lane to compensate for the post men’s strength inside.  In our worldview, though, anything that provides for less bumping and grinding in the paint is without question a good thing.  See: Suns, Phoenix, for a template on this style.     

Although we question the confounding extra three inches, we actually believe this is a good rule change for player development purposes as well - and overdue, at that.  When the 12 year olds at your local rec center (or this kid!) can consistently hit the current three-point shot, it’s probably a little too easy for college athletes.  Plus, every additional inch will provide a disincentive for guys who shouldn’t have been shooting threes in the first place – do you hear us Jacque Vaughn/Wayne Turner/TJ Ford? 

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