ACC Morning Five: 10.25.11 Edition

Posted by mpatton on October 25th, 2011

  1. The Mikan Drill: Florida State‘s defense last season was excellent, but its offense nearly tipped the scales back the other way with its ineptitude. The Mikan Drill
    takes a look at the Seminoles’ offense with short video clips and diagrams to back up their analysis. Essentially, the ‘Noles did well in the post but very poorly on pick and rolls. Another key in the dysfunctional cog was the team’s inability to take care of the ball. Overall, a very informative piece on one of the most under-the-radar teams in the country coming into the 2011-12 season.
  2. Duke Basketball Report: First, let me give a shout-out to the high-quality pieces Duke Basketball Report has been putting out this offseason (unfortunately, it’s because its Blue Devil Tip-Off magazine didn’t raise the funds to get published, leaving lots of great articles looking for a home). Second, here’s a roundtable article looking at Duke basketball legend Bill Brill. Brill was a distinguished sportswriter who covered the Blue Devils for over 35 years. The interviews are with many ACC journalists who tell personal stories from Brill’s respected career. One of the more interesting anecdotes was that Brill unintentionally co-founded bracketology long before it was a staple in college basketball’s coverage — it’s worth a look.
  3. Testudo Times: Speaking of roundtables, Testudo Times has a great preview of Maryland‘s basketball season. Topics cover everything from predicted offensive style to conference realignment and everything in-between. The Terrapins are one of the more interesting teams in the ACC this season, as they lost quite a bit of size and production from last year’s squad (in addition to a certain hall of fame coach).
  4. Syracuse.com: In a talk with ESPN‘s Andy Katz last week, ACC coaches weighed in on conference realignment. The general consensus was that the conference should expand to 16 teams provided the two new teams fit well. NC State’s Mark Gottfried was the most adamant that the conference will expand, though Mike Krzyzewski has made it clear in the past that he supports going to a 16-team format with divisions. Not surprisingly, commissioner John Swofford evaded the question like the adept politician that he is.
  5. Kentucky Sports Radio: Duke legend Christian Laettner laced up his coaching shoes in Kentucky’s Rupp Arena last night for a Jimmy V fundraiser. Unfortunately, a recent number of Kentucky-related scrimmages led to a meager crowd. But the game was good enough to go to overtime, where Laettner’s “Villains” won the game despite pregame chemistry concerns about Duke’s Nolan Smith and North Carolina’s Tyler Hansborough playing for the same team. Laettner embraced the moment, perhaps his only in Rupp Arena, by wiping down the UK hardwood (see video below) and getting ejected late in the second half.

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A Few ACC Villains Take On the Kentucky All-Stars Tonight

Posted by KCarpenter on October 24th, 2011

Tonight in Lexington, Kentucky, Duke’s Christian Laettner will lead a coalition of players that have terrorized Kentucky in the past against the Big Blue All-Stars, a group of UK alumni that includes Rajon Rondo, John Wall, and several other Wildcat standouts. Laettner is, of course, the natural choice to coach a team against Kentucky (something about a perfect game and a foot stomp?). Beyond Laettner, though, there are a nice pair of additional ACC players involved in this game on the villain side: Tyler Hansbrough and Nolan Smith.

Laettner Is The Arch-Villain in Lexington, but Tyler Hansbrough and Nolan Smith Make A Nice Pair of Henchmen

Hansbrough in particular is a nice pick-up for this team. Despite a lack of postseason showdowns, Hansbrough’s North Carolina team beat Kentucky in each of his four years in Chapel Hill. More importantly, though, is that he is Tyler Hansbrough, one of the most polarizing players in recent college basketball history. While North Carolina’s fans may adore him, Hansbrough’s awkward, sometimes-clumsy, and freakishly intense play irritated all sorts of college basketball fans on a national level. If I had to bet, I would expect that he will the recipient of some the night’s most fervent jeering. Nolan Smith is a more interesting case, mostly because he never played against Kentucky. However, as a Louisville native, the son of former Louisville star Derek Smith, and perhaps most importantly, a star player for the Duke Blue Devils, I expect that Kentucky fans will have no trouble summoning a healthy disdain for the reigning ACC Player of the Year.

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ACC Morning Five: 10.19.11 Edition

Posted by mpatton on October 19th, 2011

  1. ESPN – Grantland: Grantland‘s “Why ____ Will Win the National Championship” series continues with Duke, the weakest team of the five profiles. But don’t let the title keep you from reading the post, which does a great job at assessing the outlook for this year’s team. To sum things up, no one really knows how good Duke can be this year (though he projects a Sweet Sixteen). The one point I disagree on is that Coach K should not have played Kyrie Irving during the NCAA Tournament. Yes, Nolan Smith carried Duke on his back for most of the season; and yes, Nolan Smith played terribly once Irving came back. But if you look at Smith’s progression (minus the ACC Tournament championship game), he began struggling in March. I think Krzyzewski knew that to win he had to put the best team on the floor, and Kyrie Irving was a part of the best team he had. Not to mention if Arizona plays that  second half against any college team, it wins by a lot. But read the article: it’s funny, informative and insightful.
  2. Charlotte Observer: Mark Gottfried had his old boss, former UCLA coach Jim Harrick, at practice with him yesterday. Harrick is a somewhat controversial figure, as he’s seen NCAA trouble nearly everywhere he’s been. NC State athletic director Debbie Yow was quick to point out that Harrick is serving as a “mentor” and “personal adviser,” and not a “university employee” to avoid any rumor or innuendo. But Harrick’s presence was also a reminder of Gottfried’s former success: in addition to a solid head coaching career, Gottfried was an assistant on UCLA’s 1995 National Championship team.
  3. Miami Herald: New Miami coach Jim Larranaga isn’t playing games. Durand Scott earned 20 minutes on a stationary bike after showing up to practice with his shoelaces untied in a motivational statement that appears to be along similar lines to Mark Gottfried referring to CJ Leslie as “Calvin.” While FrankHaith comes across as a player’s coach, Larranaga is decidedly old school: he’s stressing discipline and fundamentals. I for one am very interested to see how his system works, as he’s inherited a talented team from his predecessor. Look out for the Hurricanes come January with Reggie Johnson back in the line-up.
  4. ESPN Boston: In case you haven’t seen Boston College‘s updated roster, they’ve added a lot of guys since Steve Donahue took over a little over a year ago. The team has nine freshmen slated for next year. His monster class is headlined by ESPNU Top 100 recruit Ryan Anderson, but a lot of the other players were more under the recruiting radar. In an interview with ESPN Boston, Donahue expressed his excitement at being able to offer scholarships for the first time, but also made things clear: “Down the road maybe we redshirt one or two of those guys, but we’ve got guys that are high-character, skilled and can play, and in a couple of years they’re gonna be really good.” This is raising a couple of red flags for me personally, as NCAA scholarships are renewable on a year-by-year basis. It makes sense that Donahue would seek to fill up his roster, but what happens if there’s another top 100 recruit up for grabs next season?
  5. Winston-Salem Journal: Wake Forest recruit Devin Thomas wants to be an instant impact player when he suits up as a Demon Deacon next season. Thomas is joining a large 2012 class that looks to be Jeff Bzdelik’s best bid to right the ship. According to his coach Thomas has matured considerably over the last year, and should be a solid rebounder from the start. Based on Wake’s rebounding percentages last season (they ranked an absolutely abysmal #283 in defensive rebounding and #321 in offensive rebounding, according to Ken Pomeroy), and their increased off-the-court troubles, Bzdelik should be thrilled with both.
And now for the image of the day:

Awesome Image of Muggsy Bogues and the Wake Forest Basketball Team (credit: SI Vault)

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Morning Five: 07.29.11 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on July 29th, 2011

  1. Yesterday, Oklahoma released a 430-page report (full report here) regarding its investigation into wrongdoing by former assistant basketball coach Oronde Taliaferro, who is accused of committing two major violations while he coached under Jeff Capel (yes, this happened after the Kelvin Sampson fiasco). The first violation was failing to report impermissible benefits to an unnamed player (Tiny Gallon), who received $3,000 from a financial adviser linked to Taliaferro to pay for his high school transcripts and enable him to enter college. The second violation was the standard lying to the NCAA about the first violation. The most important part about this report is that the school concedes that, by definition, it is a “repeat violator” and thus subject to a minimum penalty of having the sport dropped for one or two years with no scholarships provided during those seasons. Of course, the NCAA can override that minimum and impose less harsh sanctions, which is what Oklahoma is hoping for as it claims that Taliaferro acted alone with Capel and the rest of the staff had no knowledge of the wrongdoing. Oklahoma has asked the NCAA to put its basketball program on two years of probation, vacate its 2009-10 season, and take away one scholarship, two official visits, and 10 in-person recruiting days during the upcoming academic year. With the NCAA’s apparent indifference to schools breaking its rules (it’s OK for the schools run by grown men, but not for teenagers) there will be a sizable group calling for the NCAA to take a stand here, but we wouldn’t count on it.
  2. The big winner out of the Oklahoma scandal? It might be Butler, who is the other reported finalist for the services of Arkansas transfer Rotnei Clarke. With just one year of eligibility remaining the Oklahoma native and all-time leading scorer in Oklahoma high school basketball history may have to think twice about transferring to a program that has asked the NCAA to put it on probation for two years. Clarke was supposed to make his decision by the end of the week and many expected him to select Oklahoma, but with the new report he may wind up at Butler or at the very least will spend some more time before deciding where to transfer.
  3. Speaking of scandals and programs in trouble, UNC athletic director Dick Baddour stepped down yesterday, a day after the school fired its football coach. Although the scandal appears to be just within the football program, Baddour’s decision to leave, which was thought to be inevitable after Davis was fired, may have a significant ripple effect in the college sports community as many athletic administrators will be angling for a move up the ladder when the dominoes start falling as the first athletic director moves from his or her current position to take over at UNC. We doubt that this will have much of an effect on the well-oiled UNC basketball machine, but it may have a much larger effect on many other schools.
  4. With the NBA lockout in place, many former college stars are having to find ways to keep themselves occupied. Nolan Smith is one such player who has chosen to do so by coaching a DC-based AAU team. On Wednesday night, Smith, who had never been ejected from a game as a player, was tossed out of the game with his team down by 19. Smith claims that the “refs were missing some obvious calls.” (Duke haters can make their own jokes here.) Smith’s team ended up losing the game by two (perhaps from the two technical free throws that the other team shot?) and ended up going 8-2 in the tournament. While some might criticize Smith as another arrogant Duke player, it is nice to see that he learned something from Mike Krzyzewski during his four years in Durham.
  5. The top 100 players in Division 1 list by Basketball Prospectus generated a lot of debate (mainly on where individual players were ranked). It appears that there may not have even been a consensus within the Basketball Prospectus office as Drew Cannon, the person who came up with the list, and several other members of the staff engaged in a friendly debate about how to rank players. There isn’t really anything ground-breaking in it, but it is interesting to see how these basketball analysts evaluate players and make their predictions at least on a theoretical level.
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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Kyrie Irving

Posted by nvr1983 on June 22nd, 2011

Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 23, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night. There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.

Player Name: Kyrie Irving

School: Duke

Height/Weight: 6’3/190 lbs.

NBA Position: Point Guard

Projected Draft Range: #1 Overall

Overview: Irving opened his career at Duke playing about as well as anybody could have expected a freshman point guard to play so early in his career even considering the ideal situation he joined (playing on a defending national champion with two of its top players — Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith — returning). Irving was playing so well that by the time Duke’s national championship game rematch against Butler rolled around on December 4 he had established himself as the top player on a loaded team and the runaway choice as national player of the year. Then Irving injured his toe and appeared lost for the season but made a return in the NCAA Tournament where he was solid, but clearly not playing like he had before the injury (excepting one half against Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen). Despite his abbreviated season, Irving showed more than enough to NBA scouts and executives to make him the clear-cut #1 choice to the Cleveland Cavaliers in this year’s NBA Draft. Although his lack of world-class athleticism makes many observers question whether he will ever become a true star in the NBA, there is little doubt he will be a solid player based on his already well-developed all-court game as he appears to have no real weakness in terms of his skill set.

Irving is the clear #1 pick in this year's NBA Draft

Will Translate to the NBA: A point guard that everybody on his team will love playing with. One of the most interesting aspects of Irving’s single season at Duke was not his impressive early-season performances, but instead it was his ability to take command of a senior-laden team without any evidence of a fracture in team chemistry. The freshman guard will be a good starting point guard in the NBA for years and his ability to hit from outside and penetrate will make him a coach’s dream. The big question with Irving from an NBA standpoint is what his ceiling is. Ten years ago this probably would not have been an issue, but with the recent point guard renaissance and the appearance of ridiculously athletic point guards like Derrick Rose and Russell Westbrook in the NBA, it becomes a significant issue for a #1 overall pick. Kyrie will probably never contend for an MVP award and might not even make many All-Star teams, but he is one of the most complete point guards you will find coming out of college and maybe the most complete freshman point guard in years.

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Who’s Got Next? DeAndre Daniels Commits, Duke Spotlight, Rodney Purvis and More…

Posted by Josh Paunil on June 10th, 2011

Who’s Got Next? is a bi-weekly column by Josh Paunil, the RTC recruiting guru. We encourage you to check out his website dedicated solely to college basketball recruiting, National Recruiting Spotlight, for more detailed recruiting information. Twice a week he will bring you an overview of what’s going on in the complex world of recruiting, from who is signing where among the seniors to who the hot prospects are in the lower levels of the sport. If you have any suggestions as to areas we’re missing, please let us know at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

Introduction

The DeAndre Daniels saga is finally over. After committing and then de-committing and then setting up different decision dates and not following through on them, Daniels let everyone know where he will play college basketball. Where, you may ask? Well, that may be the most surprising thing that’s happened is his whole recruitment. Class of 2012 shooting guard Rodney Purvis (#7) also spoke out on a couple of his recent visits and many other top prospects talked about their new lists. And speaking of Purvis, why will he be attending the same camp as North Carolina star Harrison Barnes this weekend?  You can find out that and more in this edition of Who’s Got Next?

What They’re Saying

You Have to Think Calhoun Will Be Back Now

  • Senior DeAndre Daniels on why he committed to Connecticut: “I chose UConn because I thought it was the best fit for me, just their style of play, and just how they develop their wing guys. And just how he makes his guys better.” On head coach Jim Calhoun possibly returning: “[Calhoun said] I don’t have to worry about him not being there. He said he’ll be there.”
  • Junior Archie Goodwin (#19) on his list and when he will commit: “Kentucky, Baylor, Arkansas, Memphis, Tennessee, UConn, Missouri along with a lot of others including Louisville and Georgia. I’m definitely going to [sign] later.”
  • Junior Devonta Pollard (#40) on his offers and what he’s looking for: “Mississippi State, Georgetown, Ole Miss, North Carolina State, LSU, Alabama and Kentucky… a place where I can go and be comfortable, where I can play and be successful.”
  • Junior Perry Ellis (#10) on who he’s considering: “I still am considering all six teams (Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Memphis, Oklahoma, and Wichita State), as well as Duke now.”
  • Sophomore Malcolm Hill on his Indiana visit and the schools who are recruiting him: “They have a nice campus, it’s a good environment and I saw that they have good study habits. I really like the practice facility a lot. The other schools that are looking at me are Ohio State, Xavier, UCLA, Notre Dame, Wisconsin, Providence and Tennessee.”
  • Sophomore standout Isaiah Lewis on what he’s looking for in a school: “The fan base… academics, that’s an important part. I want to see where coaches play me. I really want to go to college playing point guard.”
  • Freshman shooting guard Xavier Rathan-Mayes on his list: “Arizona, North Carolina State, Texas, Oregon and a couple of other schools.”

What Rodney Purvis is Saying

Rodney Purvis talked a lot about recent visits. (Credit: HighSchoolHoop)

Class of 2012 shooting guard Rodney Purvis (#7) recently wrote a player blog for ESPN RISE in which he said some interesting things. Take a look below.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Nolan Smith

Posted by nvr1983 on June 4th, 2011

Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 23, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night. There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.

Player NameNolan Smith

SchoolDuke

Height/Weight6’4, 190 lbs.

NBA Position: Point Guard/Shooting Guard

Projected Draft RangeLate First to Early Second Round

Overview: After spending much of the first three and a half years of his time at Duke in the shadows of more prolific scorers, Smith stepped up in the second half of his senior season to become the Blue Devils’ leader while picking up some pretty significant individual hardware — AP 1st team All-American and ACC Player of the Year — along the way. The son of the late Derek Smith, a star at Louisville in the early 1980s, Smith started to show signs of becoming a potential first round pick as a junior when his production jumped from 8.4 points per game as a sophomore to 17.4 the next year while seeing his playing time increase significantly. However, even at that point he was often in the shadows of All-American Kyle Singler and senior Jon Scheyer. He started to show signs of becoming the team’s leader with a series of scintillating summer league performances a year ago that had the nation buzzing, but found himself in a secondary role when the season started thanks to the arrival of Kyrie Irving, the likely #1 pick in this year’s draft. To his credit, Smith continued to play well while not creating too much attention even when Irving dominated the ball. Smith finally got to show his full repertoire when Irving went down with a toe injury early in the season against Butler. From that point forward, he asserted himself as one of the premier guards in recent years and has turned himself from a player that many considered a fringe NBA candidate to one who has a legitimate shot at being a first round pick.

Smith Will Face a Difficult Transition at the Next Level

Will Translate to the NBA: Smith is a prototypical combo guard. He probably won’t become a star, but should be a solid role player for years because of his ability to score in spurts and fill in as a point guard in spots. Smith will struggle to start in the NBA because he isn’t quite a good enough scorer (mainly due to his erratic outside shooting) to compensate for his lack of size as a shooting guard and isn’t a good enough distributor to be a starting NBA point unless he winds up in a situation like Miami where a ‘point forward’ is dominating the ball and distributing. Smith’s solid defense should be effective when defending point guards, but his lack of size will become an issue when he is forced to defend taller shooting guards; that might be ameliorated by the fact that most NBA shooting guards have an annoying tendency not to take smaller guards into the post, preferring to stay on the perimeter despite their obvious advantage.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Kyle Singler

Posted by nvr1983 on June 1st, 2011

Over the course of the next month until the NBA Draft on June 23, RTC will be rolling out comprehensive profiles of the 35 collegians we feel have the best chance to hear their names called by David Stern in the first round that night. There won’t be any particular order to the list, but you can scroll back through all the finished profiles by clicking here.

Player Name: Kyle Singler

School: Duke

Height/Weight6’9, 225 lbs.

NBA Position: Small Forward/Power Forward

Projected Draft RangeLate First Round

Overview: Although he was unable to lead the Blue Devils to a repeat national championship, Singler leaves Duke as one of the most decorated players in the school’s history. Throughout his four years in Cameron, Singler put up solid if not spectacular numbers. While he doesn’t have a single skill that jumps out at you as being “great,” he does possess a solid overall game that will attract no shortage of NBA scouts and executives. One of the more interesting aspects in evaluating Singler is that while he has puts  up good numbers in all four years at Duke, he never really took the next step as his production appeared to level off around his sophomore season. Prior to his arrival at Duke, Singler was a highly recruited prospect out of Oregon whose team actually beat Kevin Love in the state tournament in their senior year. To his credit, unlike many highly recruited prospects, Singler lived up to the hype although he never developed into a dominant superstar that many had earlier hoped for. It is true that Singler has improved certain aspects of his game (most notably his free throw shooting), but at some level it is also concerning that Singler’s game hasn’t progressed as one might hope. Some of this may be attributable to the improvement in the players around him with Kyrie Irving arriving for Singler’s senior season (albeit briefly) and Nolan Smith showing a dramatic improvement at the same time. This leads to the obvious concern that despite playing for one of the greatest college coaches of all-time Singler’s game may have plateaued and he may not demonstrate the improvement that many players show after making the transition to the NBA. Of course, it could also just be a case of Singler needing to get into new surroundings and playing in a different system that utilizes his all-around game more than was done at Duke.

Singler Has a Lot to Offer an NBA Team in Versatility

Will Translate to the NBA: Singler’s function in the NBA will be a role player. While this might concern some fans, it is also about the risk/reward of a draft pick at the point in the first round that a team would be considering Singler. It is extremely unlikely that a team would be able to land a franchise player in the late first round particularly in this year’s weak draft. On the other hand, it is unlikely that Singler will be a bust. Out of any player in the draft pool, Singler may have the most defined role on his future team–that of a solid rotation player who might start for a team that doesn’t make the playoffs or come off the bench for a playoff team. Obviously there will be some overlap there, but don’t count on Singler being the star of a NBA championship team any time soon. He will probably end up being a solid role player who does a little bit of everything well and becomes a fan favorite because of his fundamentals and willingness to give up his body for this team even if he won’t be putting up many 20+ point games.

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Conference Report Card: ACC

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 28th, 2011

Matt Patton is the RTC correspondent for the ACC.

Conference Recap

The ACC had a down year though North Carolina’s Kendall Marshall-led resurgence and Florida State’s Sweet Sixteen appearance helped a little bit. Before and during the season, Duke was the runaway favorite in the conference: Kyrie Irving’s toe injury obviously was the pivotal point that brought Duke back down to earth. Equally pivotal (in the reverse direction) was Marshall’s move to starting point guard for North Carolina. With Larry Drew II at the helm, there is no way the Tar Heels could have come close to surpassing Duke for the regular season title. The down year did not really surprise most people, and despite lofty preseason expectations (read: people forgot how highly rated North Carolina was to start the season) I think the perception is that the league at least lived up to preseason expectations with a couple of notable exceptions: NC State, Wake Forest, and Virginia Tech. NC State had NCAA Tournament talent, but did not come anywhere close to sniffing the Big Dance; Wake was arguably the worst major conference team in the country; and Virginia Tech once again found itself very highly seeded in the NIT. On the flip side, Clemson and Florida State both exceeded expectations.

Roy Williams and Kendall Marshall led a mid-season resurgence that resulted in a trip the Elite Eight. (News Observer/Robert Willitt)

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Season in Review: Top 15 Storylines From 2010-11

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2011

From Jimmer to Kemba to a Blue Devil toe that wouldn’t heal and a Rocky Top saga that wouldn’t end, it’s been another wild season for college basketball fans from coast to coast.  As we bask in the afterglow of 68 teams down to UConn’s championship, let’s take a look back at the top 15 storylines (in no particular order) of the 2010-11 season.

In an Epic Season-Long Battle, Kemba Smiled Last

  1. Kemba vs. Jimmer.  The national Player of the Year race hasn’t been this exciting since Adam Morrison of Gonzaga and JJ Redick of Duke took turns outdoing each other from opposite ends of the country back in 2006.  Yet these two one-name guards, Kemba from the Boogie Down Bronx and Jimmer from a tiny town in upstate New York, electrified fans nationwide with their unique ability to take over games at Connecticut and BYU, respectively.  Kemba Walker, the cocksure Husky guard with the ball on a string and a crossover dribble to make defenders cry, carried UConn to 32 wins, a sterling 14-0 record in knockout games and the school’s third national championship in what was supposed to be a “down” year.  Fredette, the nation’s leading scorer at 28.9 PPG and owner of a deadeye jumper pure out to 30 feet,  inspired fans to call their cable companies to add The Mountain to their channel lineup.  While it was The Jimmer who swept the NPOY awards (which are based on regular season performance only), we here at RTC factored Kemba’s Big East Tournament MVP and NCAA Tournament MOP performances into our selection of the UConn superstar as our 2010-11 Player of the Year.
  2. A Tourney to Remember, a Championship to Forget.  On the opening Thursday of the NCAA Tournament, still the first “real” day of the Dance to most people, five of the first eight games of the day ended on the final possession.  In addition to close games, there were upsets aplenty in the first weekend, as Butler (knocking out #1 seed Pittsburgh), VCU, Marquette, Florida State and Richmond all broke through as double-digit seeds into the Sweet Sixteen.  The fun didn’t stop there, wither Arizona and Kentucky beating #1s Duke and Ohio State, respectively, in the Sweet Sixteen, followed by VCU shocking the world with its destruction of #1 Kansas in the Elite Eight.  The combined seed total of #3 Connecticut, #4 Kentucky, #8 Butler and #11 VCU was the highest ever in a Final Four, and although the two semifinal games were hard-fought and exciting, the 53-41 championship tilt between UConn and Butler was widely regarded as an ugly finish to what had been a tremendous tournament.  Butler’s 18% shooting for the game was the worst-ever in a championship, and the meme that the national sports media was that such a dud represented some kind of fault in the sport itself.  Last year’s Duke-Butler championship and 2008’s Memphis-Kansas games were awesome — where were those people then?
  3. Kyrie Irving’s Toe.  In early December, there was some talk that preseason #1 Duke, with All-Americans Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler returning to join wunderkind point guard Kyrie Irving, could go unbeaten this year.  All of that discussion ended on December 4 when Irving sprained his toe during what appeared to be a routine play in a win over Butler.  The young player with an explosive extra gear in the open court suffered damage to a ligament and bone that made cutting, running and jumping without pain very difficult.  Subsequently, after sitting out over three months resting and rehabilitating the unusual injury, Irving returned to the court during the opening weekend of the NCAA Tournament.  While at first it appeared that Irving could be the x-factor needed to put Duke into the driver’s seat in a crowded field of national title contenders, there was some question as to whether his return to the lineup threw off the delicate chemistry that Coach K and his players had engendered throughout the season.  The Devils were thoroughly dominated by Arizona and Derrick Williams in the Sweet Sixteen — Irving played well with 28 points against the Wildcats, but his backcourt mate Nolan Smith only managed eight points while committing six turnovers. Read the rest of this entry »
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