That was fast. Just a little over a week after doctors suggested Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor would miss about three weeks after knee surgery, coach Bill Self confirmed Sunday night that the senior will likely play tonight against Davidson.
Tyshawn Taylor Is Back Early For Kansas
That’s a remarkable turnaround from the original prognosis, and it means the Jayhawks will have a steady leader to help them fight a feisty Davidson squad. It’s unknown whether Taylor will start, but it does appear that Self will be quite careful with him.
“He won’t play 30 minutes or anything,” Self said in an interview with KAKE-TV in Wichita. “If he does not have a setback today than I think he will be okay to at least play a little bit (Monday).”
With Taylor’s limited availability, Elijah Johnson will still assume a greater role in the offense and freshman Naadir Tharpe should see a lot of minutes against the Wildcats. Davidson shouldn’t pose a serious threat to Kansas at the Sprint Center in Kansas City, but stranger things have happened in college basketball. Bob McKillop’s steady success at the school has continued with his 2011-12 squad, as his team has hung with both Duke and Vanderbilt before eventually losing. The Wildcats did just lose by 23 points at Charlotte, but they have decent size and versatile shooters at almost every position. Of course, the major story line here is the rematch of the 2008 Elite Eight game, when Jason Richards missed a game-winning three-point attempt at the buzzer. Had that shout fallen, Stephen Curry and Davidson would have made the Final Four; instead, Kansas marched to a national title.
Tonight’s game probably won’t go down to the wire like that. If it does, Taylor will have to play a heck of a lot more than “a little bit,” that’s for sure.
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.
Preseason Expectations: The Wildcats were the heavy favorites to repeat as Southern Conference champions and both the AP and the ESPN/USA Today poll had Davidson at No. 20 in their preseason polls. It can be argued that ranking was inflated because of the star status of Stephen Curry because this team was clearly not the same without players like Jason Richards and Thomas Sander.
Best Wins: Davidson beat North Carolina State (72-67) and West Virginia (68-65) in back-to-back games in early December and a quick glance at the schedule shows that those wins were far and away the team’s best although the win over West Virginia should come with an asterisk.
Worst Losses: With Curry out with a gimpy ankle, Bob McKillop‘s club got shellacked, 64-46, by the Citadel on February 18th. The Citadel, under the guidance of Ed Conroy, has made vast improvements this season and finished third in the Southern Conference, but getting trounced by the Bulldogs was inexcusable for a team hoping for an at-large bid—even if Curry was out.
Where it ended: Right around the beginning of the second half of today’s game against College of Charleston. The Cougars outscored the Wildcats 39-23 in the second half to send Curry and company home in the semifinal of the Southern Conference tournament.
What went wrong: Aside from the second half of the game against College of Charleston, it can’t be stressed enough how important former point guard Richards was to this team. He averaged 12.7 points per game along with 8.1 assists per game, and had one of the better assist/turnover ratios (2.8/1) in the country. Without his steady hand to run the offense, Curry was forced to move over to the point guard and was unable to run around the court trying to get free on screens. Teams were able to focus their defense on Curry and he struggled with all the attention.
What’s next: It is a very good question, and one that Bob McKillop would more than likely like to put off thinking about it for at least another month. But if the Wildcats fail to make the tournament, it is a realistic possibility that Curry will go pro. While the cupboard won’t be bare, the Wildcats will have scoring issues without Curry and Andrew Lovedale (a senior) on the court. The team will be forced to shift their offensive focus to developing players like Ben Allison and Frank Ben-Eze.
Best wins: Maryland has two fantastic wins on their resume: they had a borderline miraculous comeback victory over North Carolina, 88-85 in overtime, and they also had a big win over Michigan State, 80-62, early in the season when they played in the Old Spice Classic.
Worst losses: Unfortunately the Terps also have two very bad losses. They had every opportunity to solidify their tournament resume on Saturday in Charlottesville against the Virginia Cavaliers, but they blew their opportunity with sloppy play and porous defense as the Wahoos prevailed 68-63. But, possibly a worse loss was back in early January when the Terps let a double-digit lead slip away at home and they lost to Morgan State 66-65.
Where it ended: When Mamade Diane hit a 3-pointer with just under 40 seconds left to give the Cavaliers a three-point lead, Terps fans could see the NCAA tournament slipping away. The Cavaliers gave Maryland every opportunity to step up and run away with the game, but the Terps let the Cavaliers hang around and eventually take the lead in the second half. From that point on Maryland was forced to play catch up and they just didn’t have the firepower to pull it off.
What went wrong: Gary Williams had all year to develop someone to play second fiddle to Greivis Vasquez, and at times, Cliff Tucker, Landon Milbourne, and Dave Neal all played that role. But the role players on the squad were maddeningly inconsistent, disappearing for stretches of the season. In the end the Terps were too reliant on Vasquez to create offensive opportunities with his drive and kick, and Vasquez didn’t respond well to all the responsibility as there were times when he forced bad shots and tried to do too much.
What’s next: If Williams and company don’t make it to the NCAA tournament, Terps fans can take solace in the fact that it will give Williams more time to court top prospect Lance Stephenson, who would be the perfect offensive weapon to add to the Terp arsenal. Neal is the only player who will be moving on unless Vasquez decides to go pro, and the Terps add depth on the frontline with the addition of recruits Jordan Williams and James Padgett. Even if Stephenson does not end up in College Park, the Terps will have a great shot to end their tournament drought.
Since his 40 point explosion in Davidson’s first round victory over Gonzaga last March, college basketball fans have been bombarded with the Stephen Curry lovefest that has been spearheaded by Dick Vitale and ESPN. The WWL and other hoops aficionados loves to point out that Curry was ignored by every major school including Virginia Tech, the alma mater of his father NBA All-Star Dell Curry. Like every other basketball fan we love the way Stephen plays and his sweet stroke from the perimeter that has been augmented by a surprising ability to get to the hoop and finish. Since last March, it has been hard to find anybody that would be critical of the baby-faced assassin from Davidson, but here at Rush the Court we like to let our minds not our hearts analyze the situation.
- #1 Memphis vs. #2 Texas (2:20 PM): The most-maligned #1 seed in recent memory, Memphis looked like they were playing with a chip on their shoulder in the 1st half against Michigan State as they absolutely crushed the Spartans jumping out to a 50-20 lead (that’s not a typo). If they play like that, it doesn’t matter if they continue to shoot free throws like Ben Wallace.
As the Spartans found out, Memphis has the most athletic team in the country. When they are on, they are virtually unbeatable. The problem is that if they aren’t then it comes down to the little things (like the aforementioned free throws). However, they were clicking on Friday night and they were absolutely scary. Honestly, it looked like a good NBA team was playing against a mediocre college team. The Tigers like to get out and run, which they do very well with potential top-2 pick Derrick Rose at point and C-USA POY Chris Douglas-Roberts leading the way. Defensively, they will need to focus on slowing down D.J. Augustin, who is by far the best PG they have faced. I am assuming they will put Antonio Anderson, who held Drew Neitzel scoreless (only 6 garbage time points), on Augustin but it will be a difficult match-up. He will need a lot of help from his teammates as Augustin is difficult to contain with just one man.
For the Longhorns to advance to San Antonio, they will need a big game from Augustin while utilizing Connor Atchley to take Joey Dorsey and company away from the basket. If Dorsey doesn’t come out the defend Atchley he could have a big game. If the Longhorns play their game and Memphis doesn’t play like they did in the 1st half on Friday, they should be in it at the closing moments. At that point, they will have to hope it comes down to free throws and Memphis reverts to its old form.
Opening Line: Memphis -3.5.
Prediction: In my bracket, I had these two teams meeting here and I picked Texas to advance primarily because of the home court advantage. I think Memphis is the better team, but playing what essentially amounts to a home game made it a toss-up. Most sportswriters/bloggers would use the argument that they picked a team at the beginning so they won’t change their pick even if the evidence shows otherwise, but here at RTC we like to use all the data available when making our predictions. The data we’re looking at shows that Memphis gave a good Michigan State team an @$$-whopping. Based on that and the fact that the court configuration makes it seem like the Texas fans are actually in Austin while the game is in Houston, we’re going with Memphis, but it will be close.
- #1 Kansas vs. #10 Davidson (5:05 PM): Davidson has had a great run in the tournament so far, which has surprised many observers, but comes as no surprise to some of their fans after the Wildcats ran through the Southern Conference this season. The question is whether they can continue this run against Kansas, which may be the most complete team in the tournament.
While the Wildcats were able to play great defense against Wisconsin in the 2nd half, I’m not sure how they will be able to handle Kansas’s athletes. The Jayhawks go 7 deep (all on Chard Ford’s top 100 prospect list), which should create match-up problems all over the court for Davidson. The Jayhawks don’t necessarily have a star player who they rely on, but they are led by Darrell Arthur and Brandon Rush. However, they are so deep that any of the 7 could take over the game for stretches. If the game does come down to crunch-time, the ball will most likely go to Mario Chalmers. The Jayhawks will most likely try to get the ball inside to utilize their physical advantage, but they also have Rush and Chalmers, who both had shot over 40% from 3 for the season.
On the other side of the ball, Davidson has quickly become the media darlings. A small school with an excellent academic reputation and a baby-faced assassin (Curry), everybody in the nation knows about them by now. While their victory over Georgetown was considered by some to be a colossal choke-job by the Hoyas, their victory over Wisconsin was about domination in the 2nd half. I think the key to the game will be how Jason Richards handles the the pressure that Kansas throws at him. Rush will likely draw the assignment of guarding Curry (assuming Bill Self puts Chalmers on Richards), but if Davidson is running him off screens like they did on Friday night to free him up against Michael Flowers then all of the Jayhawk guards will get their shot at him.
Opening Line: Kansas -9.
Prediction: The ride ends here for Davidson. They’ve had a great run knocking off 3 excellent teams, but I just don’t see them getting by Kansas who are very, very good when they play with intensity. I don’t think the Jayhawks will have much problem being hyped up for this game. That spells trouble for Davidson. I think Curry will get his 25-30, but it will come off a lot of shots. I see this game being close for most of the first half before the Jayhawks pull away early in the 2nd half and cruise in from there to win by about 10 points. Davidson just doesn’t have the athletes to match up with Kansas. You could have said the same thing in the Georgetown game (Wisconsin isn’t as athletic as either Georgetown or Kansas), but the Jayhawks won’t give up the ball 20 times like the Hoyas did.
On Friday, we made a post asking “Is Stephen Curry becoming a March legend?” Today, we feel like we can answer the question with a resounding “Yes”. Although today wasn’t his finest shooting performance as he went 8/21 from the field and 5/15 from 3, Curry led the Wildcats to the biggest upset of the tournament knocking off #2 seed Georgetown 74-70 in a game Curry sealed with some clutch free throw shooting in the final minute.
The entire Wildcat team showed their mettle coming back from 17 down in the second half to tie the game up before going on a 7-0 run with 4 minutes left to give them the breathing room they needed before bringing in the closer (Curry at the FT line) to seal it. Curry led the way with 30 pts (25 in the 2nd half), but he also had a lot of support from Jason Richards who chipped in 20.
On the other side of the ball, Georgetown is left to pick up the pieces. As on the preseason favorites to win it all, they never really came together. While several new stars emerged, the Hoyas (much like their star Roy Hibbert) never became the juggernaut everyone expected them to become. The Hoyas used hot shooting (ended up 63.4% from the field) to build a big lead, but were unable to hold onto the ball and consequently the lead. Turning the ball over 20 times compared to the Wildcats’ 4 turnovers and having Hibbert only play 16 minutes before fouling out was too much for the Hoyas to overcome. As a result, John Thompson III and the Hoyas legacy players (Jeremiah Rivers and Patrick Ewing Jr) will be heading back to Washington, DC while Bob McKillop and Stephen Curry will head to Detroit for the Sweet 16 to play the Wisconsin Badgers.
WYN2K. The Southern Conference has a reputation as a league on the rise, and deservedly so. After stellar regular seasons in 2006-07 from division winners Davidson and Appalachian St., including five wins over BCS schools among the league members (the highest total wins among the conferences we’ve rated thus far), the league has its sights on breaking into mid-major territory. If this is to ultimately happen, it will likely be led by Davidson, who with spectacular sophomore guard Stephen Curry, will challenge itself with several elite OOC games this season. Even though the league has been a one-bid conference throughout the 64/65 team era, last year Appalachian St. was very close to earning an at-large NCAA bid before ultimately settling for an NIT berth. And with the name cachet of Bobby Cremins bringing in exceptional recruits at College of Charleston, this league could be knocking on the door for two bids sooner rather than later.
Predicted Champion. Davidson (#9 seed NCAA) is the clear choice here. Davidson returns all five starters from the team that pushed extremely talented and athletic Maryland in the NCAA first round last year (down only four after the last tv timeout), including the aforementioned Curry, who had sick numbers for a freshman guard (22 ppg, 5 rpg, 3 apg, 2 spg, .408 3fg%, .855 ft%) including a run of 26.1 ppg the last ten games. But this is no one-man show. Aside from excellent point guard Jason Richards (#2 nationally in total assists), post men Thomas Sander and Boris Meno also both had outstanding seasons manning the inside, clearing boards and playing tough defense. Coach Bob McKillop also adds two significant recruits – Aaron Bond, who received some Burger Boy consideration last year; and his son, Brendan McKillop, who turned down ACC teams Virginia Tech and NC State to play for his pops. Knowing that Davidson needs a high RPI to offset any chance of being left at the altar should the Wildcats stumble in the conference tourney, McKillop has beefed up the OOC schedule considerably, setting up made-for-tv games with local bullies UNC and Duke in Charlotte and a trip to Raleigh to play NC State. Another road trip will include a game vs. UCLA at the Wooden Classic. All four of those teams are ranked in the Top 25.
Others Considered. We don’t expect another team to push Davidson like Appalachian St. did last season, but if Davidson gets lackadaisical or suffers a significant injury, we’d expect UNC-Greensboro to be next in line. Believe it or not, Curry didn’t win conference POY last year, and it’s not a sure thing that he will this year either. This is due to the fact that UNCG has a 6’6, 230 lb. Sir Charles clone named Kyle Hines returning in the post. Hines has scored in double figures in fifty straight games, and the last time a team went single coverage on him, he dropped 38 on their heads. Although #2 scorer Ricky Hickman is gone, UNCG returns a trio of talented sophomore wing scorers who all showed promise of bright futures. Appalachian St. is another team to watch despite losing three key seniors. The key is that two post men, Donte Minter (who should be healthy this year) and Jeremy Clayton, are returning, and in a league of little size, this could carry them a long way. One concern is the loss of heady PG DJ Thompson, who led the team’s uptempo attack, along with two other guards that saw significant time. Georgia Southern is another team on our radar, simply because they have an all-conference performer in the post (Louis Graham – #18 nationally in defReb%) and at the point guard position (Dwayne Foreman – #32 nationally in asstRate). And although College of Charleston lost three starters and a transfer from a 13-5 team, Bobby Cremins brought in the best recruiting class the league has seen in some time, and we should keep an eye on his team for that reason alone.
Games to Watch. The SoCon is going to a 20-game round robin conference schedule this season, which is the largest we’ve ever seen. Next year when the league expands to twelve teams with the addition of Samford, we suspect there will be a push by league coaches to return to a more reasonable sixteen game schedule. But for this year, it guarantees that Davidson will have to visit every road arena to test its mettle.
Davidson @ Appalachian St. (11.26.07) & Appalachian St. @ Davidson (02.27.08)
UNCG @ Appalachian St. (01.12.08) & Appalachian St. @ UNCG (02.16.08)
Southern Conference Championship Game (03.10.08) ESPN2
RPI Booster Games. We alluded to it above, but the SoCon went 5-38 (.118) against BCS teams last year (Appalachian St. – 2; Davidson – 1; Furman – 1; Wofford – 1). The number will be reduced this year, thanks to the additional conference games, but we expect a similar showing.
UNCG @ Georgia Tech (11.09.07)
Western Carolina @ Cincinnati (11.10.07)
Davidson vs. UNC (Charlotte) (11.14.07) ESPN
College of Charleston @ Arkansas (11.15.07) ESPNU
Chattanooga @ S. Illinois (11.22.07) ESPNU
Wichita St. @ Appalachian St. (11.28.07)
Davidson vs. Duke (Charlotte) (12.01.07) ESPNU
Tennessee @ Chattanooga (12.04.07) ESPNU
Davidson @ UCLA (12.08.07)
Georgia Southern @ Florida (12.15.07)
Western Carolina @ Illinois (12.17.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. This one is interesting, because if Davidson performs well against the ACC trio + UCLA, has a great SoCon record (like 18-2), yet loses in the conference tourney, we believe that this will be a two-team league.
Neat-o Stat. The Citadel must be one of the most historically horrific basketball programs in the NCAA. It joined the Southern Conference in 1937, and has yet to see its first NCAA or NIT bid. Pat Conroy wrote of his losing season there in the 60s, and not much has changed since. His cousin, Ed Conroy, will begin his second season at the school with what he calls the youngest team in America – 15 freshmen (incl. redshirts), one sophomore, one junior and one senior. Good luck, Ed, you’re going to need it.
64/65-Team Era. The SoCon has been a one-bid league throughout this era, and it will probably remain so this year (unless Davidson lays an egg in the conference tourney). The conference record (3-23, .115) reflects the success of two Tennessee teams, one of which is no longer in the league. In 1992, #14 ETSU defeated #3 Arizona 87-80 in one of Lute Olson’s earlier tankjobs, and in 1997, #14 UT-Chattanooga went to the Sweet 16 by defeating #3 Georgia (the year prior to Tubby Smith winning the NCAA title at Kentucky) 73-70, and #6 Illinois 75-63. Since then the conference (as an average #13.6 seed) has lost ten straight first round games by an average of 13.0 pts – not too encouraging. Still, the last four years show improvement, as the league representative has only lost by an average of 9.8 pts. Below is a nice clip of Curry dropping three of his thirty against Maryland.
Final Thought. This league is all about Davidson this year. The MSM will remember the Wildcats’ performance against Maryland in the NCAA Tournament and pundits like Dickie V. will be touting Curry as a PTPer all season long. Even if Davidson merely pulls one upset against the four ranked teams it plays in the pre-conference schedule, that’ll be enough to entice everyone to claim it as their Cinderella come March. But there are other good teams in this conference, so Davidson shouldn’t be reading its press clippings too closely. Several other teams could surprise much as Davidson did last year, and the level of talent entering the league is rising. It should make for a very fun SoCon season this time around.