Will Lance Thomas’ Jewelery Purchases Endanger Duke’s 2010 National Championship?

Posted by Chris Johnson on September 10th, 2012

Chris Johnson is an RTC columnist. He can be reached @ChrisDJohnsonn.

The following names are listed as “clients” on the website of Rafaello & Co. Jewelers: Drake, Jay-Z, T-Pain, Lil Wayne, Rihanna, Justin Bieber. I’m barely scratching the surface of the illustrious canon of entertainment superstars and hip-hop moguls associated with the famous New York jeweler, but you get the point. This is not your average knock-off thrift shop. You don’t walk into Rafaello & Co. unless you have some serious cash to splash. So it’s not at all surprising that Lance Thomas, a starting forward on Duke’s 2010 National Championship team and a current member of the New Orleans Hornets, needed nearly $100,000 to purchase a black diamond necklace, a diamond-encrusted watch, a pair of diamond-stud earrings, a diamond cross and a black diamond pendant in the shape of Jesus’ head. No, what’s surprising is how Thomas was able to pony up $30,000 just two days after Duke defeated then-No. 15 Gonzaga at Madison Square Garden, in the midst of the Blue Devils’ title-winning season. And how Thomas was extended a nearly $70,000 loan to complete the glamorous spending spree. Even more puzzling is the fact that Thomas was expected to repay the loan within 15 days, and that Rafaello & Co. waited over two years to file a suit against him demanding he break even on the very credit he sought when he made purchase.

The NCAA will likely investigate Thomas’ involvement in a potential improper benefits scandal, endangering Duke’s 2010 National Championship (Photo credit: AP Photo).

There’s plenty to be resolved here, and it’s far too early to draw conclusions. But unless Thomas somehow managed to accumulate $30,000 (and was expected to raise nearly $70,000 on top of that within the next 15 days) while undergoing one of the more rigorous academic curricula in the nation and, mind you, the added time spent practicing, lifting, studying film and playing basketball at Duke, this situation has the looks of a hanging curve ball, slowly arching its way into the heart of the strike zone, awaiting its bludgeoning from the NCAA’s sanction-laced Louisville Slugger. If college athletics’ ruling body is determined to achieve one mission with its quirky and vaguely byzantine rulebook, it is to sustain the notion of amateurism. Student-athletes are not to use their extra-curricular activities as leverage to obtain financial benefits or other gifts unavailable to non-athletes. Which means Thomas must have received no outside assistance in making a five-figure lump-sum payment at a world-renowned jeweler. He had to have made the money himself. Nor could he have used his status as “Duke forward” to persuade the jeweler into giving him the loan. That’s the baseline assumption we’re making for his innocence. However, if an outside source provided aid when Thomas completed his transaction nearly three years ago, things could get ugly for one of college basketball’s marquee programs and the patron saint that bosses its sidelines.

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Morning Five: 09.10.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on September 10th, 2012

  1. The biggest news from the weekend was without question the bombshell that dropped Friday that former Duke forward Lance Thomas is being sued by a New York City jeweler who caters to professional athletes for an unpaid debt of $67,800 — credit that was extended to Thomas upon a down payment of $30,000 and purchase of several items during December of his senior season. This is the same senior season that led to Duke and Mike Krzyzewski’s fourth national championship won over upstart Butler; the same senior season where Thomas started in most of the Blue Devils’ games and contributed five points and five rebounds in roughly 25 minutes per game. Right now, there are more questions than answers — where did Thomas get such a large sum of money to make the down payment? Why would a jeweler give a college student of marginal skill such exorbitant credit? What happened to the jewelry, and did anyone at Duke see him wearing it? Right now, all we know is that the NCAA and Duke both say that they are aware of the issue, but you’d better believe that a nation full of fans of schools other than Duke will be watching this one very, very closely.
  2. Of the six power conferences, the Big East has without question been the one most expendable because of its relative lack of marquee football programs. In an effort to keep up with the Joneses, it has expanded its gridiron presence to include schools from all four US time zones which hasled to understandable mockery over the word “East” in its moniker. Last week former interim commissioner Joe Bailey stated at a sports business conference that the league was investigating a name change to better fit its new national geographic presence. Within minutes of this news releasing, Twitter had a field day making fun of it, no doubt sending current Big East commissioner Mike Aresco into panic mode. Putting the matter to rest on Saturday, Aresco said that there are no plans to change the name, citing “tremendous brand equity” in the conference’s geographic misnomer. Let’s hope for Aresco’s sake that the equity he refers to is more Apple than Enron.
  3. The third buzzworthy item from the weekend related to a comment made by NCAA executive VP for championships, Mark Lewis, late last week. In a conversation with ESPN.com, Lewis said he pulled out a US map and openly wondered why the population-heavy east and west coasts were effectively shut out of the possibility of hosting a Final Four because there are no domed stadiums located in those areas (every Final Four from 1997 to present has been in a dome). The eight existing viable locations — Atlanta, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Detroit, Houston, Indianapolis, Minneapolis, New Orleans, and St. Louis — are generally found in the nation’s mid-section, far from the media hype machines located along the seaboards. The primary impact, of course, would be on the ticket market. Domes are set up to hold upward of 70,000 fans, whereas traditional basketball arenas top out in the low 20,000+ range. We’ve been to a number of Final Fours over the years, and in general have to agree with Mike DeCourcy who argues that the buzz and energy of the building filled with that many people surpasses the tradeoff of a more intimate environment. As a compromise position, we’d offer this suggestion — limit the regional rounds to traditional arenas only, allowing the NBA cities located up and down both coasts regular hosting opportunities; but keep the Final Fours in the dome environments, allowing huge fanbases as well as the general public a reasonable chance to experience one of the great spectacles in all of sports.
  4. As we inch closer to the 2012-13 season, UNLV basketball continues to receive positive attention. The Runnin’ Rebels are loaded with talent and expectations are sky high in the desert. With good attention and expectations comes demands, and the Nevada Board of Regents made an effort to keep head coach Dave Rice happy by approving a raise to a base salary of $600,000 and an extension through the 2016-17 season. Rice’s first season featured the emergence of star forward Mike Moser and a 26-9 overall record although it ended prematurely in the Rebs’ first game of the NCAA Tournament. Next year’s team will add star recruit Anthony Bennett and transfer Khem Birch to bolster the front line along with Moser, making UNLV a chic preseason pick to make a run at the 2013 Final Four.
  5. The 2012 Basketball Hall of Fame class was inducted on Friday night, and as always, college basketball was well-represented. The biggest name from our game was Virginia’s three-time NPOY Ralph Sampson — for those of you under 40, read that part in italics again — a player who was so utterly dominant during one of the most talented eras the sport has ever seen that his NBA career (only four All-Star appearances) pales in comparison. Other college stars of note were UCLA’s Jamaal Wilkes (two-time first-team All-American), UCLA’s Don Barksdale (second-team All-American), Reggie Miller (two-time first-team Pac-10), Iowa’s Don Nelson (two-time All-American, although he was selected for his coaching), Bradley’s Chet Walker (two-time All-American), New Mexico’s Mel Daniels (second-team All-American) and referee Hank Nichols. An interesting non-basketball-playing inductee was Nike CEO Phil Knight, whose impact on the sport through his sneakers and corollary marketing efforts have been incalculable.
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Night Line: Duke Resembling Its 2010 Championship Team?

Posted by EJacoby on November 25th, 2011

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist. You can find him @evanJacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s slate of games.

The Maui Invitational finals played to an instant classic last night, with Duke leaving the island as champions yet again. Coach K and the Blue Devils are now a perfect 15-0 in their five trips to Maui. Duke has won the first seven games of this season, and a team that nearly lost its season-opener at home to Belmont is starting to establish an identity. Upon further review, the 2011-’12 Blue Devils might just begin to resemble the 2009-’10 team that cut down the nets as NCAA Tournament champions. Just to be clear — no, this is not to say that Duke is the title favorite this season — teams like Ohio State, Kentucky, North Carolina, and UConn may be better built for long-term success. But the 2010 Blue Devils were a surprise champion, and this Duke team has a similar make-up.

Duke Doesn't Look Like a National Champ, But It Didn't in 2010 Either (Kemper Lesnik/B. Spurlock)

Duke started five upperclassmen (Smith, Scheyer, Singler, Thomas, Zoubek) in 2010 and turned to their bench for youth and energy. This year’s team starts four upperclassmen (Curry, Dawkins, Kelly, Mason Plumlee) and brings sophomore Tyler Thornton and freshman Quinn Cook off the bench, along with senior Miles Plumlee, to provide a spark. The biggest difference here is that freshman Austin Rivers is starting on the wing where the 2010 team had a junior leader, Kyle Singler, filling that role. But Rivers (14.4 PPG) is so far having a similar scoring impact on the game that Singler (17.7 PPG) did, and the rookie will no doubt continue to improve as the season goes along. While this year’s backcourt of Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins are not the big-name stars or volume scorers that Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer were, the two have seen tremendous improvements from last season and are playing at a very high level. This year’s team makes up for the small backcourt-scoring gap with Mason Plumlee’s offensive contributions down low. Plumlee averages 11.4 points per game so far, while no inside player averaged more than 5.6 PPG for the champions.

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Singler’s Return = Duke #1

Posted by rtmsf on April 19th, 2010

The SCOOP doctor, Jeff Goodman, is reporting that Duke all-american forward Kyle Singler is returning to Durham for his senior year.  A formal announcement from Singler is expected in the next 24 hours, but suffice it to say that good fortune is shining on Mike Krzyzewski and his Blue Devil program in a big way lately.  According to the mock drafts, Singler was projected as a late first-rounder but he has decided that a shot at another national title at Duke is worth more than the guaranteed dollars that he would have received as a new draftee.  He and fellow ACC big man Solomon Alabi were the only two underclassmen in this mock draft projected as first rounders who had not yet declared — will Singler be the only legitimate first round returnee in the college game next season?

Singler Will Be the Top Returnee in America Next Year

Regardless of what Alabi decides, Duke is in tremendous position to defend its title next year.  The Devils lose three regular seniors from its national championship team — Jon Scheyer, Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek — but their replacements are just as talented if not more so in the forms of Kyrie Irving/Seth Curry and the Miles/Mason Plumlee brothers.  The irreplaceable wildcard was always going to be the versatile Singler, but with his return to the Duke lineup Coach K’s team will undoubtedly enter 2010-11 as the #1 team in America with a very good chance at repeating next April.  The team will upgrade its athleticism at the guard positions and among the bigs, and so long as Coach K can find ways to feed and channel the intensity of the Plumlees in the same way as it worked with Zoubek this spring, Duke will be once again be on the grand stage for all of America to hate.  Maybe if we’re really lucky Singler will all of a sudden start attracting random teenage fangirls, begin referring to himself in the third person and use opportune moments during NCAA Tournament games to step on other players’ chests.  If we’re lucky.

Seriously, though, it’s funny how college basketball works sometimes.  Two years ago we had major cognitive dissonance believing that Singler had been considered the equal of UCLA’s Kevin Love when the two were doing battle back in the Oregon high school prep ranks throughout the mid-2000s.  Yet here we sit in 2010 and it is Singler, not Love, who has the chance to make college basketball history with repeat national titles.  We’re certainly not implying that makes him better than Love either then or now, but it’s well beyond what we thought we were getting when the blonde forward came out of Medford three years ago.  And it just goes to show that sometimes it’s better in college basketball to have a stable of pretty-darn-good players who stick around three or four years rather than sicknasty players who you can only keep on campus for one.

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Final Four Game Analysis

Posted by rtmsf on April 2nd, 2010

RTC will break down the Final Four games using our best analytical efforts to understand these teams, the matchups and their individual strengths and weaknesses.  Our hope is that you’ll let us know in the comments where you agree, disagree or otherwise think we’ve lost our collective minds.  Here are Saturday evening’s national semifinals…aka…THE FINAL FOUR!

6:07 pm – #5 Michigan State vs. #5 Butler The winner of this game will have a built-in motivational mechanism, since this game is popularly considered the “Who will lose to West Virginia or Duke on Monday?” game.  Best be careful, because as we know, there’s almost no better way to get your guys ready to play than to tell them that it’s them against the world.  That nobody respects them.  That everyone expects them to lose and lose big.  In the case of Butler, I know I wouldn’t want to face a team playing in their home city and with that motivational tool.  A lot is being made of the home crowd advantage that Butler supposed to enjoy this weekend, but I ask you: because people love the storyline of a mid-major getting to the Final Four, in what city could you play this thing where Butler wouldn’t have most of the fans in the arena rooting for them?  I’ll tell you — East Lansing, Durham, and Morgantown (or anywhere else in West Virginia).  Well, we’re not in any of those towns.  Let me just add this…walking around this downtown area, I see mostly Butler fans, which is understandable.  But it’s not like the Duke, Michigan State, and West Virginia fans stayed home.  It’s Lucas Oil Stadium, people.  It seats over 70,000 (it must, to qualify to host this thing).  The freakin’ Colts play here.  The Butler cheers might be loud, but the other squads will have their supporters, too.  As to what’s going to happen on the floor, watch the boards.  This will be a rebounding battle for the ages, because it’s the biggest disparity between the two teams.  It’s not something Butler does particularly well, and it’s Michigan State’s greatest strength.  Brad Stevens knows his boys have to swarm the glass to have a chance.  They’ve done everything else he’s asked of them in each tournament game, not to mention the rest of the season, and I wouldn’t doubt that you’ll see them turn in their biggest effort on the boards this whole year on Saturday evening. Can Butler do it but still stay out of foul trouble?

We only picked against you three times, Coach Izzo. And we're sorry. (AP/Al Goldis)

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Final Four Team-By-Team Previews: Duke

Posted by zhayes9 on April 1st, 2010

Rush the Court’s Zach Hayes will deliver a breakdown of each Final Four team every day this week. Here are the Butler, West Virginia and Michigan State previews. The final installment discusses the Duke Blue Devils in their quest to return to college basketball glory.

NCAA title for Scheyer in his senior season?

Crucial Tourney Moment(s): Nolan Smith delivered the best game of his Duke career at the most opportune time. Facing a two point deficit late in the second half against an ultra-talented Baylor team playing in their home state, it was a Lance Thomas offensive rebound kicked out to Nolan Smith for an open three that gave Duke the lead and the momentum. Following a free throw and defensive stop, it was once again the vastly improved Smith knocking down a three to hand his Blue Devils an advantage they wouldn’t surrender. Their back against the wall against a team athletically superior and equally talented, Duke teams in the past four years would have folded up their tents, unable to match the size, physicality and fight of their venerable opponent. This year, toughness has been the mark of a Duke squad that finds themselves labeled Final Four favorites. And Nolan Smith’s back-to-back threes against Baylor were a huge reason the Blue Devils are still standing.

Advantage Area: Duke has the best perimeter scoring of any Final Four team. Nolan Smith can knock down outside shots, beat defenders off the dribble and has established a patented floater that’s impossible to defend. Jon Scheyer loves to drive or find open shots off of ball screens and is a marksman both from long range and the charity stripe. Kyle Singler is the hardest player to defend when he establishes position near the basket and loves to utilize a mastered fade-away jumper. Any one of these three can score 25 points on a given night and it’ll be the task of a stellar West Virginia defense to contain two of them and force the pressure on one of Singler, Smith and Scheyer to carry the load. Duke has also shed the notion this season of being soft. Their forwards- Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek and the Plumlee brothers- are tremendous at finding prime rebounding position with the sole purpose of kicking out to an open guard for an unchallenged three. Nobody plays with more intensity than Duke, something you simply could not see in previous seasons.

Potential Downfall: The Blue Devils are not a particularly good man-to-man defensive team. They play defense at an efficient rate as a unit. The guards don’t overextend as much as in past years because there’s size under the basket to disrupt shots, meaning the guards don’t feel as pressured to force turnovers on a constant basis. If Da’Sean Butler or Kevin Jones can get Scheyer or Singler into a one-on-one isolation opportunity on the offensive end, they should be able to draw a foul at the very least because none of the Duke guards are exceptionally quick. The problem is that the Mountaineers offense is based more on cutting and screening than penetration. Duke also relies completely on three players for their scoring. Their forwards and centers are just there to set effective screens and hit the boards with authority. If one of the Big Three gets in foul trouble and the other has a poor shooting night, Duke could be in serious trouble because they’re so dependent on Singler, Scheyer and Smith.

X-Factor: Brian Zoubek has improved over the course of three months more than any player in college basketball. His breakout performance came against Maryland in the middle of ACC play and Big Z certainly has not regressed since then. There might not be a better rebounder in the nation right now, forming quite a rebounding tag team with Lance Thomas and/or Miles Plumlee. Zoubek also operates at a more efficient rate when he gets the ball in the low post and can power his way to the foul line with his 7’2 frame. Prior to this season, Zoubek was an offensive liability that just clogged up space on the floor. Now he’s a vital cog on a Final Four team.

Key Semifinal Matchup: Kyle Singler vs. Devin Ebanks. Duke’s second leading scorer is coming off a regional final performance in which he didn’t make a shot for the first time in his career and had to chase LaceDarius Dunn around the floor for almost 40 minutes. The matchup with Ebanks might be easier defensively but should be quite the task on the offensive end. Ebanks is a superior defender, extremely long and loves to draw charges. If Ebanks frustrates Singler into another off night, it’ll be up to Smith and Scheyer to bail Duke out once again. Ebanks should also look to push Singler further and further away from the basket because he’s not particularly proficient at dribble penetration that far away from the rim. Both of these small forwards love to induce contact and live at the foul line.

Crunch Time Performer: Jon Scheyer is the #1 option late in games for Duke, although Nolan Smith can also provide a clutch shot like he did against Baylor, and Kyle Singler isn’t chopped liver himself. If Scheyer receives a ball screen from Zoubek or Thomas and gains momentum going to his right, he’s almost impossible to stop from either scoring or drawing a foul. He  loves to linger around the three-point line when a shot goes up for an offensive rebound and kickback, so even if Smith’s name is called late against West Virginia, Scheyer could still end up with an attempt. Also, if the ball is inbounded under the basket by Scheyer, look for him to receive the ball right back in the corner for a three. Duke runs that play constantly and yet nobody seems to be able to defend it.

Experience: This Duke unit doesn’t possess a plethora of tournament experience. The seniors lost in the first round in 2007, lost in the second round in 2008 and lost in the Sweet 16 in 2009, so none of these players have Final Four experience, a rarity for a Duke roster. I’m pretty sure Mike Krzyzewski has been here before, though. Only Michigan State truly has experience at this stage.

Forecast: Duke is the favorite heading into the Final Four, and for good reason. They’re healthy, efficient on both ends and playing their best basketball at the right time. Jon Scheyer has found his outside stroke just in time for the Final Four and Nolan Smith is also peaking. Even their oft-criticized forwards Thomas and Zoubek have perfected their roles within the Duke game plan. Whether they can contain Da’Sean Butler if the game is tight and rebound as effectively as in previous rounds could be the key to advancing. Many believe the tougher test is Saturday’s contest with the Mountaineers rather than the winner of Butler/Michigan State. I’m not as convinced.

Prediction: Duke hasn’t won a national title since 2001. That seems way too long for a program that’s become the standard bearer of college basketball since the mid 80s. Much like the Yankees finally breaking through at the end of the decade, I see Duke beginning a new era on Monday night. Another banner is hoisted to the rafters of Cameron Indoor Stadium and the Blue Devils are your 2010 National Champions.

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‘Eers A Question: Mazzulla Or Bryant?

Posted by jstevrtc on March 30th, 2010

And now…quiz time!

Here’s your vignette.  You have 35 seconds to take a shot:

A week ago, the news went out that West Virginia point guard Darryl “Truck” Bryant had fractured the fifth metatarsal bone in his right foot and that he’d be out for the season. There was even talk that he’d need surgery to fix the break instead of the usual regimen of ice, rest, and a bulky, annoying stabilizer boot.

Then, the Mountaineers beat Kentucky. Bryant is now medically cleared to play in the Final Four.

Using your knowledge in each of the fields of cybernetics, Bob Huggins‘ black warm-up suit collection, and the “High Risk Zone” of the fifth metatarsal bone, how do you account for the change in Darryl Bryant’s status for the games this weekend?  Please select one answer only:

  • a) Darryl Bryant’s right pinkie toe is an orthopedic and osteologic wonder.  It heals even FASTER than that stoic but awesome liquid robot from Terminator 2, and the words “Bryant Metatarsal” will now be added to our language as something representing a person’s/object’s strong point —  the diametric opposite of “Achilles’ Heel.”  As in: “That’s right, Greg Gumbel, Kentucky’s Achilles’ heels are their 3-point shooting and their perimeter defense, but the ability of Wall, Cousins, and Patterson to get close looks in the lane is their Bryant Metatarsal,” *
  • b) the injury wasn’t as bad as originally thought, and the Truck should never have been parked,
  • c) the “rest of the season” part was added because whoever sent out the press release assumed WVU would lose to UK, thereby rendering their prognosis about Bryant correct…or,
  • d) Bryant’s going to try to tough it out…because it’s the Four.

Time’s up.  If you selected a), then, like us, you’re probably hoping that this really is the case. If you chose b) or c), you’re just cynical and wrong and may show yourself out.  If you chose d), we think you’re right.

Bryant (historically) scores more, but is Mazzulla the better option? (David Smith/AP)

Bryant’s change in status should surprise nobody.  It’s easy to wonder how a guy can go from possibly needing surgery one day to being medically cleared to play the next, but there are three reasons why you could see Bryant on the floor this weekend.  First, in athletes, fixing this type of fracture with surgery instead of the ice/rest/boot combo is gaining popularity as the ideal treatment.  Second, Bryant was fitted for a special orthotic shoe-and-insert on Monday — in Durham, North Carolina, of all places — which could help to allow him to play.  Assuming the insert does not, at some point in the first half, emit a strange royal blue-colored sleeping gas to which all Blue Devils are immune (we’re kidding, Durham-area foot doctors), the device is designed to take some weight off the broken bone and reduce Bryant’s level of pain.

Third…it’s the Final Four.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles… (With a Wednesday Twist)

Posted by zhayes9 on February 3rd, 2010

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every week as the season progresses.

This week’s Scribbles column will look ahead to a couple months down the road in Indianapolis, where 65 deserving teams will be whittled down to just four, and to that blissful Monday night in April when one lucky group will be dancing at mid-court to the tune of One Shining Moment. In my estimation, there are ten squads with a promising-to-slight chance of hoisting a 2010 National Champions banner during their home opener next season. I’m here to tell you those ten teams, why they have hopes of winning a national title, what’s holding them back, and the most realistic scenario as I see it come late March or beginning of April. These teams are ranked in reverse order from 10-1 with the #1 school holding the best cards in their deck.

10. Duke

Why they can win it all: Their floor leader and senior stalwart Jon Scheyer is the steadiest distributor in all of college basketball, evident from his incredibly stellar 3.28 A/T ratio and a 5.6 APG mark that ranks third in the ACC and 23d in the nation. Scheyer is also a deadly shooter coming off screens when he has time to square his body to the basket, nailing a career-high 39% from deep to go along with 44% from the floor overall. Duke is also a tremendous free-throw shooting team as a whole and Coach K has the ability to play a group of Scheyer-Kyle Singler-Nolan Smith-Mason Plumlee-Lance Thomas that doesn’t feature one player under 70% from the charity stripe. Duke also features a ton more size in the paint than during previous flameouts in the NCAA Tournament. When Singler plays small forward, Coach K can rotate Miles and Mason Plumlee, the glue guy Thomas, rebounding force Brian Zoubek and even Ryan Kelly at two positions with no player under 6’8. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more efficient backcourt in the nation than Scheyer and Smith. And it’s widely known that exceptional guard play is the ultimate key to winning in March.

What Makes Duke 2010 Different than Duke 2006-09?

Why they won’t win it all: Depth could certainly be an issue for the Blue Devils’ chances of raising their first banner since 2001. Andre Dawkins has fallen almost entirely out of the rotation and Coach K has started to limit Mason Plumlee’s minutes during important games. Also, Brian Zoubek’s tendency to immediately step into foul trouble limits his availability. It wouldn’t shock me to see Duke play Scheyer, Smith and Singler 40 minutes per game during their time in the NCAA Tournament. That could cause those key players, who rely primarily on their jump shot, to lose their legs and start throwing up bricks. Kyle Singler isn’t quite the superstar he was last season, either. Singler’s numbers are down across the board — scoring, rebounding, FG%, 3pt% — and he’s been dealing with a nagging wrist injury that may not improve in the weeks and months ahead. Duke also lacks the athleticism of teams like Kansas, Kentucky, Syracuse and Texas. They could struggle with quicker guards like John Wall and athletic rebounders of the Damion James mold.

Likely scenario: I see Duke reaching the Sweet 16 as a #2 seed where they fall to a more athletic, quick group of guards that can explode to the rim and draw fouls. Duke may have height, but most of that height just isn’t a threat offensively by any stretch of the imagination. Eventually getting into a jump shooting contest could be the Blue Devils’ downfall if two of Smith, Scheyer and Singler go cold.

9. West Virginia

Why they can win it all: Da’Sean Butler is one of the best players in the nation when the chips are on the table. If the Mountaineers need a big shot to keep their season alive, Butler will demand the basketball and more than likely deliver. He’s downed Marquette and Louisville on game-deciding jumpers and led the second half charge against Ohio State. West Virginia is also supremely athletic and Bob Huggins’ teams always crash the boards with a tremendous ferocity. No contender can match the height across the board that West Virginia touts other than Kentucky. Huggins has experimented with lineups in which all of his players are 6’6 or taller, including 6’9 Devin Ebanks acting as a point-forward and 6’7 Da’Sean Butler capable of posting up smaller two-guards. Sophomore Kevin Jones is an incredible talent and a rebounding machine (7.7 RPG) that hits 55% of his shots from the floor and 44% from deep. West Virginia has the luxury of any of their forwards being able to step out and drain a mid-range jumper, from Ebanks to Jones to Wellington Smith to John Flowers every once in a full moon.

Ebanks is the X-factor for West Virginia

Why they won’t win it all: Let’s face it: Bob Huggins doesn’t have exactly the best track record when it comes to NCAA Tournament success. Huggins hasn’t reached the Elite 8 since 1995-96 with Cincinnati and only one Sweet 16 in the last ten years. In 2000 and 2002, his Bearcats lost just four games all season and yet didn’t reach the second weekend of March both times. Most also question whether the Mountaineers can hit outside shots on a consistent basis. They’ve struggled mightily in the first half of Big East games and can’t afford to fall behind against elite competition in March like they did against Dayton last season. Point guard play is a prudent question for West Virginia, as well. Joe Mazzulla is a quality perimeter defender and a capable distributor, but he’ll never be the offensive threat he was two seasons ago due to that shoulder injury. Darryl Bryant can certainly catch a hot streak shooting-wise, but in all honestly he’s more suited as an undersized two-guard. Bryant is averaging just 3.6 APG in 25+ MPG of action.

Likely scenario: I’m still fairly high on this team. I love Butler at the end of games and Ebanks can do anything for Huggins — from score to rebound to run the point — and Kevin Jones is one of the most underappreciated players in the Big East. In the end, I see a clankfest from outside ultimately costing West Virginia their season. And for all their rebounding history, the Mountaineers are in the mid-60s in the nation. The Elite Eight seems like a proper place for their season to conclude.

8. Texas

Why they can win it all: No team boasts better perimeter defenders than Texas. Anyone that watched Dogus Balbay completely shut down James Anderson in the second half Monday night knows he’s the best perimeter defender in the nation, even stronger than Purdue’s Chris Kramer. Avery Bradley came in with the reputation as an elite defender and he’s certainly lived up to that billing. Even J’Covan Brown off the bench is a capable defensive player and Justin Mason is a plus defender. When Dexter Pittman stays out of foul trouble, Texas boasts a legitimate shot-blocking presence that can negate quick guards on the rare occasion they slip past Balbay or Bradley. Texas is also the deepest team in the nation and Rick Barnes has the capability of playing 10 or 11 men on any night if he feels the need. The preserved minutes could pay dividends in the form of fresh players come March. Damion James should also be on a mission come March as a senior. He’s never reached a Final Four during his Longhorns career and came back for a fourth year in Austin to accomplish that very feat.

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Ten Tuesday Scribbles…

Posted by zhayes9 on December 29th, 2009

RTC contributor and bracketologist Zach Hayes will deliver ten permeating thoughts every Tuesday as the season progresses.

1. The most competitive conference in the land this season should spark the most competitive Player of the Year race come March. Top-seeded Kansas boasts three potential candidates once center Cole Aldrich starts to play with a more aggressive mentality on the offensive end. Senior point guard Sherron Collins has the skill set to explode come conference play and should provide the Jayhawks with more than one clutch play the season wears on. Freshman Xavier Henry has surpassed everyone’s expectations early in Lawrence as the Jayhawks early scoring leader. Nipping at the heels of #1 Kansas is #2 Texas and their all-time rebounder Damion James. James has exploded onto the scene the last week-plus with two masterful performances against North Carolina (25/15/4 stl on 8-22 FG) and Michigan State (23/13 on 10-18 FG). You’d be hard-pressed to find someone that argues James isn’t the current frontrunner for Big 12 POY and deserves definite consideration for first team All-America honors. Kansas State has been one of the bigger surprises in college basketball through the first month and a half behind sharp-shooting guard Jacob Pullen. The junior went on a tear recently scoring 28 in a big road win at UNLV then topping himself with 30 points at Alabama. In his last three games, Pullen has nailed an incredible 16 of his last 25 threes. Lurking in the shadows is Oklahoma State’s James Anderson (21.8 PPG, 6.0 RPG) and Iowa State forward Craig Brackins (17.5 PPG, 8.1 RPG) with Baylor’s Ekpe Ugoh and Oklahoma’s Willie Warren also making large impacts on their respective squads.

2. It’s fairly clear the top two teams in a weaker Pac-10 conference will be Washington behind Isaiah Thomas and Quincy Pondexter and California behind their big three of Jerome Randle, Theo Robertson and Patrick Christopher. While both teams have encountered their early season struggles, Washington knocking off an emotionally scarred Texas A&M squad at home Tuesday and California hanging in with Kansas in Allen Fieldhouse should convince most critics that those two will compete for the Pac-10 title. Prior to the season, many believed UCLA would be that third team in the Pac-10 to cause some damage and sneak into the NCAA field. But with a week that included wins over Tennessee, St. Mary’s and UNLV, it’s becoming quite evident that USC might very well be that team. Even with early season home defeats at the hands of Loyola Marymount and Nebraska and blowout losses at Texas and Georgia Tech, the Trojans are coming together behind newly-entrenched point guard Mike Gerrity and coach Kevin O’Neill. The two-time transfer Gerrity is already the Trojans leading scorer and far and away their best assist man. He won’t blow anyone away with flash and speed, but he knows how to run an offense and play the position with efficiency. A starting five of Gerrity, Nikola Vucevic, Alex Stepheson, Dwight Lewis and Marcus Johnson all of a sudden doesn’t look too shabby, does it?

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Floriani: A Tempo-Free Look at the PNIT

Posted by rtmsf on December 2nd, 2009

Ray Floriani of College Chalktalk is the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC conferences.  He also regularly covers all levels of basketball in the New York City area.

NEW YORK CITY – The morning started on a Northeast Conference note. I officiated three basketball games in the NJ Goats (love that name!) Thanksgiving Tournament. My partner was Ed Mills, a NEC official who occasionally will do a 12-and-under boys tournament such as this. Our third and final game had a former NEC official, Tony Banks, who stepped down a few years ago due to illness.  Three nice games in the book and off to New York. Forget Black Friday shopping.

A final look back on the Pre-Season NIT finals and consolation. Duke knocked off UConn 68-59 for the championship.

pnit table 3

Think of Duke and the images of motion offense, passes quickly distributed around the perimeter, precision cuts and open shots come to mind. Friday’s Pre-Season NIT final gave us a look at this year’s Duke, a team that will battle you in the paint and contest everything. The offensive rebounding rate is proof enough. Overall the Blue Devils outrebounded UConn 56-43 with a 25-14 edge on the offensive glass. And this was against a Husky team with several skilled, tough big men.  The principal damage on the offensive glass was inflicted by Brian Zoubek (7 off boards) and Lance Thomas (5 off rebs). Zoubek scored only 2 points but impacted things contesting the paint and adding 11 rebounds overall. Coach Mike Krzyzewski noted two of Zoubek’s offensive rebounds resulted in pitches back out to the perimeter that resulted in three point field goals.

UConn shot 0-4 on the afternoon from three. Not a big concern for Coach Jim Calhoun as the gameplan was to attack the basket. Offensively two things stood out for the Huskies: the field goal percentage of 37% (22-59) and worse yet, a 15-28 mark from the charity stripe. Time and again as UConn was in the process of a run a missed free throw or two put a serious dent in their momentum. Two key points were emphasized by Calhoun. “I can’t remember holding an opponent to 28% field goal percentage (for the game) and limiting them to eight second-half field goals and losing.” Calhoun answered his own question looking at the stat sheet and lamenting the loss of the battle of the boards.

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ATB: Gator Chomp & Upset Friday Night

Posted by rtmsf on November 28th, 2009

atb

Gators Chomp Spartans. Florida 77, #2 Michigan State 74.  We’re still trying to figure out why this was a semifinal game at the Legends Classic instead of the title tilt tomorrow night, but we’re sure there was a method to the madness somewhere in that decision.  So given that the game was only available on something called HDNet, we’re trying to figure out how this happened.  First thought — had to be hot shooting by the Gators, right?  Errr, nope.  Florida shot 41% from the field compared to MSU’s 53% for the game.  Ok, a bunch of threes then?  Nope again.  UF hit more than the Spartans, but a margin of five to two from deep isn’t exactly dominant.  Second chance points?  Wrong again.  MSU dominated the boards to the tune of +15 overall and +5 on the offensive end of the court.  No, the only two areas of the game where Florida outperformed the second-ranked Spartans were on turnovers (forcing 22 vs. their own 12) and getting to the foul line (25 attempts vs. MSU’s 14).  Well, that, and Erving Walker’s three (his only one on a 12/7/3 stls night) from NBA range to put the Gators up 72-71, providing just enough cushion down the stretch with some additional FTs to hold off the Spartans’ last-ditch efforts by Durrell Summers to tie the game and send it into OT.   We’re not about to say that the Gators are anywhere near back to where they are nationally relevant again, but this is their biggest win since 2007, and we will give some props to John Stevens for having ranked Florida in the three RTC Top 25 polls so far this season — maybe he knows something that the rest of us don’t?  Florida will advance to play Rutgers in the championship game of the Legends Classic tomorrow night, while Michigan State gets UMass in the consolation game.

kenny boynton fla

WCC Continues to Impress.  The WCC continues to flex its mid-major deltoids this season.  With wins over Wisconsin, Minnesota, UCLA, USC, Stanford, Oklahoma and now Houston, the top half of this league is not messing around.  And why should it – there’s some good basketball being played in this league, and if the bottom-feeders like LMU and USF can manage just halfway-decent records in the OOC, the league could be looking at three solid NCAA bids again this year (as in 2008).

  • Portland 61, #16 Minnesota 56.  If you haven’t caught the Portland Pilots on tv yet this season, make a point of watching these guys on Sunday night in the 76 Classic title game against West Virginia — they’re really entertaining in a plucky Gonzaga-ten-years-ago sort of way.  Their mixed defenses left the Minnesota big players who had such nice games last night — Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson, III — confused and relatively unproductive tonight.  TJ Campbell was superb for Portland, carving out 23/5 to supplement the work that Nik Raivio (9/11) and Robin Smeulders (13/6) were putting in.  Minnesota shot only 33% from the field and a terrible 16% from deep, and got killed on the boards, but they managed to turn UP over just enough to stay in the game throughout.
  • San Diego 72, Houston 65. USD moves on to the finals of the Great Alaska Shootout, where they will face Washington State, arguably the weakest opponent they will have faced while in the frozen northern environs of Palin-land this weekend.  Clinton Houston (irony?) led San Diego with 21 pts, while Brandon Johnson stepped up to drop 13 of his 15 in the second half to ensure the win.

Other Upsets Tonight.  We were all set to destroy the SEC for another terrible night before we saw the Florida-MSU score, which saves considerable face for the league.  But we’re definitely watching you, SEC.  The Big Ten didn’t have a great night either, but at least they lost at neutral sites to teams that are better than their ranking.

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Checking in on… the ACC

Posted by rtmsf on November 23rd, 2009

checkinginon

Steve Moore is a regular contributor and the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

As of about 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon, I was all set to make most of today’s ACC Update about Boston University’s shocking upset of Georgia Tech in Puerto Rico. After all, this is my tiny little segment of the Interwebs, so I can do with it as I please, right? But then, my beloved alma mater forgot how to shoot, and Derrick Favors stomped all over the poor Terriers. Oh well…I guess we’ll just have to beat UConn on Dec. 2.  Anyway, on to the real business at hand. The ACC update is slated to appear each Monday during the season, and will include a revolving collection of mini-features that may appear one week and not the next. That will be up to any readers/commenters. If you like something, speak up, and you’ll see it again!  Since there’s no real conference play yet, I’m just going with subjective rankings based on the games I’ve seen, and results so far.

ACC POWER RANKINGS (record as of Sunday, Nov. 22)

1. Duke (4-0)

  • PAST: With wins over all the schools in the Carolinas you’ve never heard of, the Dookies haven’t been tested. But they have won by an average of 34.5 points. And if you’re worried about a lack of guard play, the Devils hit 18 threes in a romp over Radford.
  • FUTURE: Arizona State (Wed.), then likely UConn (Fri.) at the Devils’ home away from home — Madison Square Garden. Two big wins, and Duke will likely stay atop this list.

2. North Carolina (4-1)

  • PAST: Yes, the only game many people saw was a flat 16-point loss to Syracuse at MSG. But that’s the Orange’s quasi-home court, and it’s still early. There’s too much talent here to judge the Heels on one game.
  • FUTURE: With five games already under their belt, the Heels take it easy this week with home games against Gardner-Webb and Nevada. But that Dec. 1 showdown with Michigan State is looming…

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