Morning Five: 06.13.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on June 13th, 2012

  1. Last night the NBA Finals between Miami and OKC began in Oklahoma City, and aside from the fact that Thunder fans have the look and feel of college fans (that tends to happen when you’re the only professional franchise in a traditional college sports state), we found the former collegiate talent on the floor just as compelling. Many NBA fans are not college basketball fans and vice versa, but we’d encourage any of our college-only readers to spend some time this week and next getting a look at how well former collegiate stars such as Kevin Durant, Dwyane Wade, Russell Westbrook, Mario Chalmers, Shane Battier, Udonis Haslem, James Harden, and even Nick Collison have acquitted themselves as pros. This piece we published yesterday takes a look back at some of the accomplishments of these and several other players during their amateur days, with the general sentiment that folks like us will especially this year’s version of June Madness.
  2. While on the subject of basketball in the great state of Oklahoma, there’s more coming that way. Conference USA has decided to move its 2013 conference tournament to Tulsa in light of Memphis’ decision to join the Big East beginning in the 2013-14 season. Although we certainly understand the incentive of the league to punish Memphis for its disloyalty, it feels a bit like cutting off the nose here to spite the face. The last time the C-USA Tournament was held in Tulsa in 2010, the attendance numbers were somewhat disappointing and the Golden Hurricane had a solid squad that year. Whether new head coach Danny Manning will be able to fire up the locals enough to make this decision a success next March is an open question.
  3. It’s never too early to start thinking about next season, and Jeff Goodman is the type of guy who has already played out 2013 in his head before most of us see it on the horizon. In this post he outlines the 55 best non-conference games that are already on the schedule for next season. The top game on his list is a rematch of the first half of the 2012 Final Four, but we’re actually more interested in a certain Champions Classic game that involves a couple of schools that do not play each other regularly. In case you’re wondering — and we know you are — Kentucky vs. Indiana is still nowhere to be found on this list.
  4. Providence appears to be on the way up the standings of the Big East with a top recruiting class coming in for Ed Cooley next season, featuring Ricardo Ledo in the backcourt. For that reason, Friar guard Gerard Coleman began looking elsewhere despite averaging 13/5 last year as a sophomore, and he has decided to resurface 3,000 miles across the country at Gonzaga. Mark Few is getting an athletic scorer who tailed off considerably last year as the losses piled up in Providence, but one who will no doubt benefit from a year watching the game from the bench to better learn about good shot selection (42.4% FG; 23.8% 3FG).
  5. The men’s basketball NCAA Tournament Selection Committee is one of the most scrutinized bodies in all of American sports. Each year the group of dignitaries is shuttered away in an Indianapolis hotel and expected to produce a perfectly balanced and justified bracket to satisfy millions of college basketball fans around the country. The task is a herculean one, fraught with time-sensitive pressure and an overwhelming fear of mistakes. Now that the BCS has decided to move to a four-team playoff in college football, the topic of a similarly situated selection committee is on the table. But, as ESPN.com’s Heather Dinich writes, there is no consensus among college presidents and other NCAA insiders as to how the four lucky teams should be selected. The one thing we can rest assured of is this: future Selection Committee members should just go ahead and change their addresses, because there is an enormous difference between being the first school left out of a 68-team field and a four-team one.
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Morning Five: 04.26.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 26th, 2011

  1. George Washington University fired longtime coach Karl Hobbs on Monday, and it appears to have been a complete surprise to him.  In ten seasons at the helm in Foggy Bottom, he went 166-129 (84-76 A-10), but after a nice run in the middle part of the decade where GW averaged 24 wins and made three straight NCAA Tournaments, his teams have been consistently mediocre for the last four years (averaging 13 wins and finishing near the bottom of the Atlantic 10 in three of the four years).  Given its academic and international focus in addition to its location in the heart of DC, GW isn’t the easiest school in the world at which to build a great basketball program, but Hobbs did as well as could be reasonably expected for a little while.  He eventually wore out his welcome, though, with a tendency to recruit academically questionable kids and a stubborn refusal to fix a strained relationship with both fans and the local media — it’ll be interesting to see who GW brass gets to replace him.
  2. Former San Diego star and current accused pointshaver Brandon Johnson made his first appearance in federal court yesterday as a result of his arrest for allegedly fixing a 2010 game and soliciting a former teammate to do the same in a 2011 contest.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, he pleaded not guilty to all charges and informed the judge that he could not afford his own counsel and would need an appointed one.  He will remain free on a $25,000 bond until trial is set for later this spring — he may want to spend his time in the next month or two prepping for routines.
  3. From players facing time to those who have already done it, Iowa head coach Fran McCaffery announced over the weekend that his team would add JuCo transfer player Anthony Hubbard to its roster next season.  The reason this is a little different than your typical offseason transfer is that Hubbard spent four years in prison as a result of a robbery conviction that he suffered as an 18-year old in Woodbridge, Virginia.  The 6’5 wing will start at small forward, but according to McCaffery, he has a versatile skill set that will allow him to play multiple positions as a Hawkeye.  From what Hubbard is saying, it appears that his head is on straight and is thankful for the opportunity he has to play Division I basketball — still, he should expect to hear all kinds of things on the road in places like West Lafayette and East Lansing next season.
  4. As we mentioned yesterday, the NBA Draft deadline came and went on Sunday night.  The early entrants who have not yet signed with an agent will have a grand total of two weeks to decide if they’re going to stick with the draft or head back to their college campuses for another year.  Luke Winn breaks down the ten schools with the most to lose in the next two weeks, and unsurprisingly, Kentucky with its possible loss of three starters is at the top of the list.  Mike DeCourcy names his four schools who have been hit hardest thus far (with players not returning), and it might surprise you the school he has listed at the top.
  5. This article by the Louisville Courier-Journal’s Rick Bozich takes a look at the NBA Playoffs from the perspective of a college hoops fan.  While we take issue with his choice of “top fifty playoff scorers” as the only metric to determine playoff performance, he still found some interesting results from the analysis.  For example, which school do you think has gotten the most scoring bang for its buck in this year’s playoffs so far?  Any clues?  Would you believe… UCLA, with Russell Westbrook, Trevor Ariza and Jrue Holiday?  Yeah, go figure…
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04.25.08 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on April 25th, 2008

Some news on early entries as the deadline (Sunday at midnight) looms and some other flotsam we’ve been holding on to for your Friday…

  • UNC’s point guard Tywon Lawson will be testing the waters.  Reading the tea leaves, does this signal a pending domino effect for his teammates Wayne Ellington, Tyler Hansbrough and/or Danny Green? 
  • Speaking of the Heels, in light of KU’s title, ol’ Roy’s face was consequently removed from a bathroom in a Lawrence, KS, barber shop. 
  • Super Mario Chalmers will be testing the waters of the NBA Draft, joining teammates Brandon Rush and Darrell Arthur in the pool. 
  • Memphis juniors Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier joined Derrick Rose and CDR in declaring for the NBA Draft this week – both will test the waters.  With Joey Dorsey (ahem) graduating, Memphis could potentially lose its entire starting five.    
  • The Texas backcourt of DJ Augustin and AJ Abrams have also decided to declare for the draft.  Abrams is probably only testing the waters. 
  • Missouri’s DeMarre Carroll and Leo Lyons will be testing the waters this year as well. 
  • A returner!!!  Tennessee’s Tyler Smith will return to Knoxville, where he’ll likely lead the Vols to another SEC regular season title (and not much else). 
  • VCU’s Anthony Grant and UAB’s Mike Davis received contract extensions from their schools.
  • You’ve probably heard that the itinerant Larry Brown stepped down from his job as Executive VP with the Sixers yesterday.  At least one report thinks he might be going to Stanford to take over Trent Johnson’s old job. 
  • This is a neat article on which Tobacco Road players and coaches are supporting whom in the 2008 election.  Um, shouldn’t Grant Hill be supporting Billary, given that his mom roomed with her at Wellesley?  Or…  maybe that tells you all you need to know. 
  • From the leftovers department, YABB did a quick and dirty analysis of the final conference standings of the NCAA Tournament.  Big 12… good.  ACC and SEC… bad. 
  • This is something we found that shows the progression/regression of the top four programs in terms of total wins over the last ten years.  Carolina really took a hit during those Doherty years, didn’t they?
  • Turning to the NBA Playoffs, this is a nice article on the positive effects that the late Skip Prosser had on his players now in the postseason – CP3, David West and J-Ho. 
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Kenny Smith is no Kobe…

Posted by rtmsf on April 23rd, 2008

Ok, this is not college hoops related, but it was too fall-off-the-couch funny not to post the vids…

First, the much-discussed viral Nike video of Kobe jumping over an Aston Martin convertible:

Kenny Smith then decided to re-enact it on Inside the NBA tonight:

This proves, once again, the Inside the NBA is the best sports show on television. Aaaaaand Kenny can’t get up quite as well as he used to

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FIU Still an NBA Breeding Ground

Posted by rtmsf on April 21st, 2008

Spring is in the air, the F4 is well into our rearview mirror and we’re gearing up for nightly visits with Ernie, Chuck and The Jet on Inside the NBA (with occasional stop-ins from Magic, Reggie and several others, of course). This means it’s playoff time in the Association, which also means its time for RTC’s second annual review of the pedigree of the key contributors for all sixteen playoff teams. Yes, second annual. That’s the first time we’ve been able to say that and it feels invigorating.

Where Are All the Auburn Players, Chuck?

As the three of you who were around at the beginning of this blog may recall from last year’s post, we learned that 56% of key contributors on playoff teams went to a BCS conference school, another 18% came from other levels of college basketball, and 26% were foreign and/or never stepped foot on a college campus. We also learned that the historically best schools tend to produce the most contributing pros on playoff teams, as Duke, Kentucky, UConn, UNC and UCLA led the way with the most players last year. But that trend was bucked somewhat when one considers that teeny little Florida International University managed to produce two players who were key contributors to playoff teams, more than such notable programs as Syracuse, Louisville and Indiana.

So what about this year? For ease of analysis, we did what we always do – we created excel tables! Remember, all data only considers what we call key contributors – players who played in at least half of its team’s games and averaged over 10 minutes per game. For the starters data, we used the starting lineups as announced in the first game of each playoff series last weekend (therefore, Gilbert Arenas is not represented, having only played 13 games this year and coming off the bench in the first game of the playoffs). We ended up with 158 key contributors and 80 starters over sixteen teams.

Quick Hits:

  • Roughly the same number of key contributors on this year’s playoff teams (25%) never stepped foot on a college campus as compared to last year (26%). We expect that the foreign cohort will stay roughly the same (15%/16%) or even rise a little in the future, but with the NBA’s new one-and-done rule now in the second year of its implementation, the high school-only crowd (11%/14%) should continue to dwindle in the next five years.
  • Last year Duke, UConn and Kentucky each had six players contributing to playoff teams. This year, only UNC has as many as five contributors, all of whom are starters (R. Wallace, J. Stackhouse, M. Williams, A. Jamison, B. Haywood). There are five other schools with four contributors each, and seven schools with three each. After UNC’s five starters, only Duke (C. Boozer, G. Hill, S. Battier), UConn (R. Allen, C. Butler, R. Hamilton) and Wake Forest (T. Duncan, J. Howard, C. Paul) have as many as three starters in the playoffs this year (although we’d take Wake’s three over anybody else’s).
  • The cream rises, doesn’t it? Of the top 13 schools mentioned with three or more contributors this year, they account for 38 of the last 60 Final Four teams (63%) and 10 of the last 15 national champions (67%).
  • Which school doesn’t belong (again)? Thanks to Raja Bell and Carlos Arroyo, little Florida International once again made its name onto the list among all the heavyweights with two key contributors. FIU has more players contributing in the playoffs than the likes of hoops stalwarts Ohio St. (0), Louisville (0), and Indiana (0).

More Quick Hits:

  • Considering only the 118 players who went to college in some capacity, the six BCS conferences account for 69% of key contributors and 50% of playoff starters. This is a dropoff from last season (76%/77%), which shows some of the variability that goes into comparing different playoff teams in a year-over-year manner – four of the sixteen teams in this year’s NBA playoffs are different.
  • Take a look at the top three conferences above – the ACC, Pac-10 and SEC. They look roughly equivalent when comparing them by number of key contributors (17/15/15), but when you consider them by starters (13/3/8), you see a rift develop. It appears that all three leagues produce a lot of NBA talent (47 players), but the ACC appears the best in producing playoff-caliber starting talent. The SEC is solid at doing so, but the Pac-10 appears to excel in producing backups for good teams. By the same token, the Big East may not have as much NBA talent on good teams this year (only 11), but they tend to be starters (8).
  • The mid-major and low-major D1 conferences account for 29% of key contributors and 27% of starters this year, somewhat above last year’s totals (24%/13%). Speaking of mid-majors, take a look at the Atlantic 10 again – with 8 key contributors and 5 starters, this league arguably outdoes a certain midwestern conference with eleven members. Other than the A10, only the MAC and the Sun Belt are mid-majors with multiple starters in the playoffs this year.
  • Devean George (Augsburg College), Ben Wallace (Virginia Union) and Jamario Moon (Meridian (MS) Community College) represent the three non-D1 players who contribute for playoff teams.

Well, that’s all that jumped out at us in reviewing the key contributor and starter lists. If you see something else we missed, just put it in the comments. And if there’s a calculation you’d like to see, let us know and we can try to figure that out as well.

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NBA Playoffs – JV Conference Preview

Posted by nvr1983 on April 18th, 2008

It seems like the general consensus among NBA analysts is that this will be Boston vs. Detroit in the conference finals unless Lebron goes off for an entire series. I’m hoping to provide a little more insight than that with a preview of each opening round series and brief predictions of what I think will happen for the rest of the conference playoffs. I won’t expound upon the later rounds in great detail as I’ll probably mess up my first round picks making the subsequent previews meaningless.

First Round
#1 Boston vs. #8 Atlanta: This series looks like the biggest mismatch in the 1st round. Boston won all 3 games this year including the last when they sat the starters for the 4th quarter and still managed to win handily despite the fact that Atlanta actually needed the game to help get them into the playoffs. I don’t think there is any question that Boston will win the series easily. The only question I have seen by any analysts will be whether the Hawks will manage to win a game (most analysts don’t think they will). The more interesting thing is the individual match-ups:

PG: Rajon Rondo vs. Mike Bibby: This will be our first good look at Rondo against a quality PG in a playoff series. While Bibby isn’t the same player he was back around 2000 when he was the only Sacramento King who would take (and hit) big shots against the Lakers. It seemed like Bibby was ready to become a star at that point, but he never did. Rondo should have his hands full in this match-up individually, but the Celtics overall advantage is so great that it should actually serve as a great introduction to the playoffs for Rondo. If he struggles, the Celtics should be able to overcome it that night and if necessary they can always rely on Sam Cassell for short periods of time.

SG: Ray Allen vs. Joe Johnson: This match-upprobably has the most star power with 2 All-Stars battling. Johnson, who started his career in Boston before being traded during his rookie season, could give Allen a hard time throughout this series. If Atlanta is going to win a game, Johnson will have to dominate Allen for a night (along with Bibby winning his match-up against Rondo/Cassell).

SF: Paul Pierce vs. Josh Smith: Pierce is certainly the better player in this match-up (he deserves consideration for one of the All-NBA teams), but Smith’s length and athleticism make this an interesting match-up. Smith may also have to help on KG, who will be killing Marvin Williams.

PF: Kevin Garnett vs. Marvin Williams: To be honest, I haven’t seen Williams play much since his days at UNC. He seems to be putting up decent numbers, but this is a really bad match-up for him against Garnett, a MVP candidate. KG’s team playoff troubles and inability to hit the big shot has been well-documented, but that won’t come into play this series.

C: Kendrick Perkins vs. Al Horford: This is probably the only match-up that Atlanta has a decided advantage in with Horford, who will likely finish 2nd to Kevin Durant in ROY voting. Even though he is still the weak link in the starting line-up, Perkins has evolved into a decent NBA center, which might say more about the level of NBA centers in the league than it does about Kendrick’s game. I’m interested to see how Horford’s game has changed since he left Gainesville.

-Prediction: Celtics in 4. None of the games will be close.

#2 Detroit vs. #7 Philadelphia: The veteran Pistons team should win this series pretty easily in 4 or 5 games. The Pistons match-up well against the Sixers 2 best players (Andre Miller versus Chauncey Billups and Andre Igoudala versus Tayshaun Prince). The only real question is how intense the Pistons will be as they have a tendency to take games off even in the playoffs.

-Prediction: Detroit in 5. Philadelphia has a surprisingly tough team, but Detroit is too good to blow this series especially since the Sixers don’t have a Lebron-type player to win the series by himself.

#3 Orlando vs. #6 Toronto: Although the NBA experts have been ripping the Eastern Conference first round match-ups, I have to say that this series and the Cleveland-Washington series could be very interesting. Dwight Howard and Chris Bosh are obviously the marquee stars here, but both teams have good players at the other positions. It will be interesting to see which of the other players (Rashard Lewis, Hedo Turkoglu, Jameer Nelson, T.J. Ford, Jose Calderon, and Rasho Nesterovic) in this series step up and make themselves household names (outside of basketball junkie circles).

-Prediction: Toronto in 6. In such a close series, I’m tempted to go with the home-court. However, in this case I’m going with the relative experience of the Raptors to win a couple of the close games and close out the series in Toronto.

#4 Cleveland vs. #5 Washington: It appears like this is the only first round series in the Eastern Conference that the mainstream media cares about. It seems like the media is focusing on the Wizards (DeShawn Stevenson and Gilbert Arenas) calling out Lebron. However, there are a bunch of other interesting things about this series: (1) Can Washington finally beat Cleveland having lost to them the last 2 years in first round? (2) Can Agent Zero control his ego enough to play a supporting role? (3) Can Lebron win another series with a horrible supporting cast? Our answers: No. No. Yes.

Prediction: Cleveland in 7. I think that Washington is the better team, but Cleveland has Lebron. Ever since the Detroit series it appears that Lebron has decided to start taking over games (not counting the Finals last year that nobody watched). In the end, it will be Lebron (and David Stern’s refs) pushing the Cavs into the 2nd round.

I’ll make longer posts for the later rounds when the match-ups are set. For now, I’ll just stick with predictions.

Second Round
#1 Boston vs. #4 Cleveland: Celtics in 5.
#2 Detroit vs. #6 Toronto: Detroit in 6.

Conference Finals
#1 Boston vs. #2 Detroit: Celtics in 7.

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NBA Playoffs – Varsity Conference Preview

Posted by rtmsf on April 18th, 2008

What a crazy season out west this year. Much has already been written about it, but the mere fact that we came into the last two games of the year with six teams having a shot at the #1 seed is remarkable. And every Varsity Conference playoff team won fifty games for the first time since the playoffs expanded to eight teams from each conference. Think about that. The Golden State Warriors won 48 games (good enough for 4th in the east), and they finished two games OUT of the playoffs this year. Insane.

Since this year’s Varsity Conference playoff matchups are so juicy, delicious, wonderful and otherwise enchanting, we asked our buddy MO-Sack to draft a couple of these previews. Since he’s usually spot on with his picks and can sniff out a lock from a light year away, (“it’s a LOCK“), pay particular attention to his drops of wisdom.

#1 LA Lakers vs. #8 Denver (h/t MO-Sack)

Is Denver this year’s Golden State Warriors? The photo-finish for the eighth and final seed in the West represents all that is right about the Varsity Conference and all that is wrong about the JV. Both Denver and Golden State are playoff-caliber teams, or were until geography intervened against Golden State. But we give Denver a lot of credit for entering hostile Oracle arena on April 10 and dominating the home team throughout the entirety of the game. Denver earned it, and Baron Davis could learn much from AI’s ability to carouse late into the night and still perform at the highest level the following evening. In this respect, Baron’s no AI.

Overcoming Golden State was the first challenge, but what approaches is an almost impossible task. The Lakers are the best team in the Western Conference and have proved it all year, especially after stealing Pau Gasol from Memphis. Don’t believe the orgy of pejorative anti-Lakers blather currently spewing forth from ESPN; in our view, only San Antonio and Boston have a realistic chance of beating the Lakers.

Denver does not. The more difficult question is: how many games in the series will the Nuggets win? One? Two? Zero? Let’s just say that if the o/u on Denver wins against the Lakers in this series was 0.5, we’d take the under. This has nothing to do with Carmelo’s intoxication; he and Iverson will put up big numbers in this series, and AI could do so even with a hangover and one hand tied behind his back. Our reasoning focuses on the rest of the team: Denver lacks size underneath, Kenyon Martin is over-rated, Anthony Carter is Denver’s starting point-guard, and Marcus Camby takes as long to shoot the ball as it takes NASA to launch a shuttle into space. Initiate countdown now… in seven, six, five, four… Houston, we have lift-off into the next round. Lakers in 4.

Disclaimer: LA is a cesspool of narcissism, so please don’t confuse us with Lakers fans.

#2 New Orleans vs. #7 Dallas

Old vs. New. One of the better stories of the year has been the transcendent play of Chris Paul for the Hornets, who statistically had one of the best seasons by a point guard in the history of the league, leading NO to the third-best record (56-26) merely one year after finishing 39-43. This will be CP3’s first year of playoff basketball, however, and there are serious questions as to how the Hornets will handle their first taste in his regime, especially when playing as the favorites.

A story that hasn’t been discussed nearly as much this year has been the confounding drop of the Mavs from last year’s 67-15 record to monumental first-round losers and a subsequent 51-31 year. It’s apparent to us that the Mavs never really recovered from the embarrassing smackdown that the Warriors laid on them in last season’s playoffs, but this is still a very good team. Dirk Nowitzki has been playing lately like he did in his MVP year, and there is a surplus of playoff experience on this squad between J-Ho, Jason Terry, Stack and Kidd.

We think this will be a very competitive series, but Dallas tends to play better when the bullseye isn’t on their backs. We have no idea how New Orleans will respond to playoff intensity, although we’re certain that Paul will be superb. Still, the NBA playoffs come down to the equation talent+experience, and we actually believe that Dallas has New Orleans on both counts here, although their window is closing fast. Mavs in 6.

#3 San Antonio vs. #6 Phoenix

Champs Slipping? Believe it or not, but the Spurs were the #3 seed as well last year, when they pretty much steamrolled through the playoffs (with a little help from Stern’s suspensions) en route to their 4th title in the last 9 years. Still, we have a sense that people are sleeping on them a little bit this year (perhaps it has something to do with five of the six ESPN experts picking Phoenix). This first-round matchup doesn’t help. In fact, it’s probably the worst matchup that SA could face in the entire bracket of the Varsity Conference. Not only did Phoenix enjoy a 3-1 advantage in the season series, but the last two games (w/ Shaq in the lineup) were Suns blowouts. Then there’s that whole residual resentment that the Suns are surely feeling based on last year’s debacle with Nash’s bloody nose and the bench suspensions. So Phoenix is the obvoius pick, right?

Not necessarily. Like the Pats in the NFL, the Spurs are the boring team that people are sick of seeing win, but veterans like Duncan, Ginobili (Mr. Clutch) and Parker know that the regular season is just for staying healthy and treading water. When serious, there still is no more efficient team in the league (witness the thrashing Utah took on Wed. night when the Spurs could have lost home court in the first round). It’s true that the team is getting older and the role players (Horry, Barry, Vaughn) especially are showing their age, but they still have one weapon nobody else has, and he’s historically been pretty darn effective in April through June.

Tim Duncan has never lost in the first round of the playoffs – it won’t start this year. Spurs in 7.

#4 Utah vs. #5 Houston (h/t MO-Sack)

Sweet Jazz Tune or a Rocket Blast? Whatever happens in this series will not detract from the story of the year in the Association: the Rockets’ 22-game win streak during all of February and most of March. And remember, these were Varsity Conference teams that the Rockets were defeating, not their inferior JV counterparts.

But this is the playoffs. And in recent history, the playoffs have not been kind to Houston. At least this time they have home court advantage, and the best player on the court at any time in Tracy McGrady. And they would have had the two best players were it not for the loss of the big fella, Yao Ming. When the Rockets fall in this series, it won’t be because of McGrady. We expect great things from T-Mac – his superstar status is unquestionable – but his surrounding cast leaves us with some doubts. Can Shane “Mr. Ruffles” Battier continue to shine in the playoff spotlight? Is Skip 2 My Lou for real? Luis Scola is less consistent, but can Mutumbo shoulder the playoff load?

In the end it will be difficult for the Rockets to overcome that sweet Jazz tune. It’s hard enough beating those guys at sea level, but forget it at 4000 feet. Although Utah lacks home court advantage, they can and probably will beat Houston on the road. But Houston won’t beat Utah at home – their diminished lung capacity won’t allow it. Utah advances for the same reason that high-altitude Kenyan athletes dominate marathons, and because they have Jerry Sloan, one of the best coaches in the business. Jazz in 6.

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Does March Madness matter in May and June?

Posted by rtmsf on May 31st, 2007

Mike Wilbon 

Wilbon, as usual, is up in arms. 

Today we wanted to take a moment to examine an idea put forth by the inimitable Mike Wilbon in Monday’s Washington Post.   Wilbon’s essential take (written after game 3 of the Detroit-Cleveland series) was that much of Lebron’s struggles in late-game situations of the NBA playoffs is directly attributable to his lack of “big game” experience, which his predecessors (Magic, MJ, Bird, etc.) honed and developed during the crucible of March Madness.  He wrote:

LeBron’s bigger problem is never having learned how to play these kinds of high-stakes games in college — and now having to learn against a recent champion. Most every iconic player in NBA history, particularly the triumvirate of Magic, Larry Bird and Michael Jordan, learned to play big games during March Madness. For every Kobe (who had Shaquille O’Neal), there’s an Isiah Thomas or Dwyane Wade or Richard Hamilton, guys who learned how to deal with the enormous pressure of big games in college, then successfully transitioned into the NBA playoffs. It’s no coincidence that Tracy McGrady and Kevin Garnett, who also skipped college, struggle so mightily in the playoffs. Without Shaq, Bryant is 0 for 2 getting out of the first round of the playoffs.

Since the high school-to-NBA era began in 1995 with Kevin Garnett, there have been 28 first round picks used on US kids a month removed from their high school graduations.  It’s too early to say for many, but early returns suggest that only seven were definitely worth the pick – KG, Kobe, Jermaine O’Neal, T-Mac, Amare, Lebron & Dwight Howard.  Others such as Shaun Livingston, Al Jefferson, Andrew Bynum and the two Smiths – Josh and J.R. – may end up being stars in a few years, but for now it’s too early to tell.

Of that group of high school-to-NBA superstars, and with the very notable exception of Kobe as first lieutenant second banana to Shaq, how many of that group have led their teams to postseason NBA success?  The struggles of KG (2 playoff series wins in his 12-yr career) and T-Mac (0 series wins in 10 yrs) are well documented, although Jermaine O’Neal (3 series wins in 7 yrs as a starter in Indiana) may soon also warrant inclusion on that list.  Still, Amare (5 series wins in 5 seasons in the NBA – assist to Steve Nash) and Lebron’s (3 series wins in 4 seasons) rather quick starts confound Wilbon’s blanket theory a bit.  It’s too early to say with Dwight Howard.

For now, we think there is some validity to Wilbon’s theory, but it’s not as clear-cut as he suggests.  The NCAA Tournament’s knockout format eliminates pretenders from contenders very quickly, and the teams with gamebreaking talents who can keep their cool and make plays at the end of games are usually the ones last standing.   But where we feel Wilbon’s argument fails is that it’s very difficult to go deep in the NBA playoffs for just about anyone, whether a four-year college player or one who skipped it altogether.  During the era of which we’re speaking (96-07), only five franchises have won NBA titles (Chicago, San Antonio, LA Lakers, Detroit, Miami), and it appears that one of those same franchises will win again this season (SA or Detroit).  History tends to show that only age and collapse from within creates a vacuum by which a different NBA franchise can rise to the top of the heap.

Shaq Graduation Laettner at Duke

Shaq & Laettner have had different degrees of success in college and the NBA.   

With so few historical opportunities for superstars to elevate their teams to the highest level of the sport, we find it somewhat unfounded to correlate the amount of time spent playing in March Madness as an indicator of future NBA playoff success.  After all, didn’t Shaq (4 NBA titles and 123 playoff wins) flame out early every year at LSU, winning a grand total of two NCAA Tournament games in his three seasons in Baton Rouge?  Conversely, Christian Laettner won 21 NCAA Tournament  games at Duke, but his NBA teams only won 11 playoff games where he was a significant contributor (note: he also averaged 2.2 ppg in 11 more playoff wins with the Heat in 2005).  There are undoubtedly other examples that will support both viewpoints.  We tend to believe that the those who are destined to become superstars will ultimately use their talent and drive to work their way to that level, and whether those players learned how to do that in college or on the job in the L  doesn’t really matter.  Tonight Lebron will have his biggest opportunity yet to prove us right.      

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05.07.07 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on May 7th, 2007

  • But for Winthrop (doh!), Mike Brey might have been given an extension at Notre Dame through 2023 (instead of 2013).   
  • Rick Pitino has also signed an extension with Louisville through 2013.  Six more seasons at Louisville??  The Vegas over/under is three.   
  • The Big Ten is looking to bring future thrillers such as Northwestern vs. Iowa to homes from Malibu to Manhattan (currently starved for midwestern basketball) with its deal to place the Big Ten Network on DirecTv & AT&T cable providers.   
  • There were a host of rumors floating around the message boards this weekend that Billy Donovan had interviewed with the Memphis Grizzlies last week, and was seriously considering their offer of $5M per annum.  Yahoo Sports corroborated this story on Sunday, but it has since been completely debunked, as Donovan did not interview with Memphis and has no interest in the job. 
  • From the looks of it, UCLA is the very early leader for the best class of 2008, already receiving commitments from three of the Rivals top fifty players (login required) (Jerime Anderson, Malcolm Lee and Drew Gordon) and the possibility of two more. 
  • NBA Second Round Predictions – a 5-3 record is pretty pathetic for the first round of the NBA Playoffs, and yes, we realize we’re late, but here are the predictions for Round Two:
    • Pistons over Bulls in 7 – the aging Pistons hold off the young Bulls for one last season 
    • Cavs over Nets in 7 - if we watch more than 5 minutes of this series, have us exported immediately to a country where soccer is watched for fun
    • Spurs over Suns in 6 – this would have been the pick even prior to Nash’s bloody nose Game 1 on Sunday
    • Warriors over Jazz in 6 – the magic carpet ride for Nellie & Co. continues for one more series
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Who knew Florida International was an NBA breeding ground?

Posted by rtmsf on April 21st, 2007

One of our spring rituals when the NBA playoffs arrive is to analyze the makeup of the teams through the lens of what colleges and conferences the key contributors passed through on their way to the L (assuming they went to college at all). There is talent on every team in the NBA, but it takes more than stockpiled talent to ensure success – experience, competent role players, solid team chemistry, and coaching all come into play. This exercise shows us where the best of the best in basketball are coming from. Are the big conferences over- or underrepresented – and if so, which ones? Which schools are consistently putting talent on the top NBA teams – who is missing? What about the foreign player invasion of the past decade – how is that playing out? To answer these questions and more, we’ll examine both the key contributors and the starters of each playoff team, to see if anything in the results surprises us.

blackboard

The methodology used ensures that we only assessed key contributors on each playoff team. First, we only considered players who averaged at least ten minutes per game this season, figuring that a benchwarmer like Paul Shirley hasn’t contributed much toward the team’s on-court success. Second, each player must have played in at least half of his team’s games (if he was traded during the season, the games with the previous team were included as well). Finally, with respect to selecting starters, we only considered those who were projected to start for their teams during the playoffs (sorry Wiz duo Agent Zero and Caron Butler). This process left us with 168 key contributors and 80 starters spread over sixteen teams. Read the rest of this entry »

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NBA Playoffs – Varsity Conference

Posted by rtmsf on April 20th, 2007

 NBA Western Conf Logo

(1) Dallas vs. (8) Golden State

Nellie’s baaaack.  This is probably the most interesting 1 vs. 8 matchup in many years.  Why?  For one, the Warriors have simply owned the Mavs over the last two seasons, winning five in a row between the clubs – and no other team beat Dallas twice this year.  Secondly, they’re hot, winning nine of their last ten, and finishing the season on a 16-5 run, no doubt sparked by the midseason trades of the Bonehead Brother and Troy Murphy, allowing the Warriors to play Nellie’s preferred smallball style.   Still, the Mavs have great players up and down their lineup, and didn’t win 67 games as a fluke.   Due to both teams looking to push the ball, this should be a tremendously entertaining series, but the Mavs’ experience will be the ultimate difference.  Make no mistake, though, they will get a scare here. 

The Pick – Dallas rides Nowitzki to a closeout win at home in Game 7.  Mavs in seven.   

(2) Phoenix vs. (7) LA Lakers

Over/Under on Kobe 50s?  1.5.  See, this is why we love the Varsity.  Another juicy matchup.  Since Kobe has decided that the only way LA has a chance to win games is by going medieval on his opponents, watching just to see the Mamba pursue Jordan’s record 63 vs. the Celtics is worth the time.  We also love the subplot of Raja Bell firmly implanting himself in Kobe’s head (and shorts) – perhaps this will be the year that Kobe remembers “that kid.”  Even so, despite last year’s close series until Kobe decided to “set up his teammates,” the two teams are further apart this time around.  Phoenix has Stoudemire back patrolling the middle, and the Lakers have regressed at key non-Kobe positions (particularly Smush Parker and Lamar Odom).  Phil Jackson will have to find a new Zen mantra in order to inspire enough confidence into those guys to beat the Suns this year.  Not gonna happen.         

The Pick – Kobe as The Man?  Zero playoff series wins in two seasons – make it three this time around.  Suns in five.   

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NBA Playoffs – JV Conference

Posted by rtmsf on April 19th, 2007

 NBA Playoffs Logo

We at Rush the Court don’t really get why so many college hoops fans do not appreciate the NBA playoffs, which features unquestionably the highest level of basketball played in the world.  Sure, the school spirit and passion of the fans isn’t the same, and the endless regular season often renders some players joyless and methodical.  But the playoffs are a different story.  The players defend better, fight through screens harder, and the very best of the bunch – Bird, Magic, Isiah, Jordan, Hakeem, Duncan, Shaq – rise to the occasion time and time again.  With the young guard of Wade, Lebron, Melo, Bosh and D. Howard ready to take the game to a higher plane for its generation, we find it compelling drama again this spring. 

The JV (Eastern, in common parlance) Conference has been so mediocre for so many years that it took us a while to remember when it was truly competitive with the West.  The last time you could say that the East was marginally on par with the West was 1999, immediately prior to the ascent of the Lakers (Phil Jackson arrived on the scene in 2000) and commensurate with the slow and steady descent of the mid-late 90s stalwarts Knicks, Heat, Pacers and Bulls (not so slowly or steadily).  In that lockout-shortened year, the West had five thirty-win teams, while the East had four – although their Finals representative was the 8th seeded and 27-win Knicks, perhaps already belying the weakness among the top eastern teams.  The very next season, in 2000, the West had six fifty-win teams, while the East only managed three.  Over the course of the next five years, arguably only one eastern team (Philadelphia in 2001; New Jersey in 2002-03; and Detroit in 2004-05) would have broken into the top six of the West.  Since Shaq came to Miami in 2005, the Heat along with the Pistons can be considered elite.  No other team in the East deserves that consideration.        

So here are the picks for the JV Conference: 

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