Forget the BCS. None of the big college football matchups this weekend were worth your time – Texas Tech/Oklahoma: blowout; Ohio St/Michigan: blowout; Penn St/Michigan St: blowout; Utah/BYU: blowout – so hopefully you found some good hoops to watch instead.
The Return of our Lord and Savior Tyler Hansbrough.UNC 84, UC Santa Barbara 67. This game was a little past RTC’s bedtime on Friday night, so we’ll cover it now. Did you guys hear? Tyler Hansbrough made his triumphant return to UNC’s lineup Friday night! The stress reaction is no longer reacting! There was to be no Santa Clara Pt. 2, as Psycho-T returned for 25 minutes of action and 13/7 in the box score. The Heels put all five starters in double figures (led by Ty Lawson’s 19) + Ed Davis off the bench, but didn’t really start to pull away until the mid-second half. James Nunnally had 22/7 off the bench for UCSB, who packed the Thunderdome for its first game against a #1 team in 18 years. Mild cause for concern? UNC is allowing its opponents to shoot 44% from the field in three games thus far this season.
Why Do We Ever Sleep on Xavier?Xavier 63, Memphis 58. Sean Miller just continues to get it done at Xavier year after year. Memphis won’t need this game in March, but Xavier just might, and like Wisconsin, we should just go ahead and put the Muskies in the top 25 no matter what players they’re returning in a given year. We watched this game, and guess what area of basketball once again bit Memphis in the arse? Would you believe FREE throws?!? Yep, 15-30 from the line, including missing seven of the last nine AND the last four as the game still hung in the balance. Robert Dozier had a double-double (10/11) but Memphis isn’t very good at shooting the ball outside of the paint (24% from three this season), and this area of the game might be their major bugaboo this year. Xavier exhibited a balanced attack, but Terrell Holloway’s 10-10 from the line helped XU secure the victory and the Puerto Rico Tipoff Championship.
Introducing Samardo Samuels. Louisville 79, Morehead St. 41; Louisville 81, S. Alabama 54. Samardo Samuels was the clincher as to why we chose Louisville to win the national title over UNC next April, and if his first weekend of games is any indication, we might start patting ourselves on the back soon. Samuels is averaging 21/5 in his first two games, while shooting 17-22 from the field (over half of which were dunks). Pitino is calling him the best freshman he’s ever coached, which is fairly high praise considering Jamal Mashburn, Antoine Walker, Ron Mercer and Francisco Garcia were all pretty solid players for Pitino in their first seasons. Louisville has held its first two opponents to 32% from the field thus far.
Will the Hansbrough Effect Kill Another Big 12 Beast?Oklahoma 80, Gardner-Webb 76. Everyone pretty well knows that Tyler Hansbrough is going to win the NPOY awards again this year (assuming his stress reaction days are behind him). But is he going to win it over a more deserving Big 12 big man for the second year in a row? Google Michael Beasley/Kansas State for a comparison. It’s still early, but indications are that Blake Griffin is going to absolutely pulverize everyone that gets in his way this year. After four games, Griffin is averaging an utterly PREPOSTEROUS 26/20 on 75% shooting from the field. The reason he won’t win is because of games like this one, where poor shooting (42% FG, 26% 3FG) nearly doomed Oklahoma who probably should have lost to a vastly inferior team (and the fact that TH will have 30+ games on national tv, whereas Oklahoma will be lucky to have a third of that). Griffin set personal records with 35 pts, 21 rebounds and 5 assists, but it was his three-point play with 2:36 remaining that finally gave OU a secure lead. Gardner-Webb, now 0-3, was very close to making a name for itself for the second consecutive November.
Upset of the Weekend.Missouri 83, USC 72. This isn’t much of an upset, but it was a light weekend in that department. USC was once again the Jekyll and Hyde team in terms of the tale of two halves. They led Mizzou by six going into the break, but were outscored 46-29 in the second half to lose for the second time in three days. Demarre Carroll blew up for 29/11 for the Tigers, who are 4-1 with their only loss to Xavier and appear to be finally turning the corner a little bit under Mike Anderson. It’s going to take time for USC, as Demar DeRozan hasn’t adjusted to the college game yet (9/5) and Floyd’s teams usually get off to a slow start anyway. What has to be distressing for Floyd is where the Trojans’ are going to get some outside shooting – they’re currently at 23% from deep this year, and if that keeps up, nobody will bother to cover them outside of the paint this year.
Ridiculous Score of the Weekend. San Francisco 74, Academy of Art 23. Seriously, we think if you choose to schedule art schools and multi-directional high schools, then you should automically cede all claims on an NCAA Tournament berth.
Georgetown 81, Drexel 53. Greg Monroe was a beast, contributing 20/8/4/3 stls/3 blks in his second game as a Hoya. Georgetown held Drexel to 25% FG shooting for the game.
Georgia Tech 82, Mercer 76 (OT). Ga Tech barely escaped its trip south to Mercer’s home court by storming back from an 18-pt deficit to tie the game with 32 seconds remaining and getting a stop to send it to overtime. Georgia Tech was led by Gani Lawal’s 27/9, but it was Mercer’s 27 TOs that ultimately killed the Bears. Still, Mercer is making a name for itself this year in the deep south.
St. Louis 53, Boston College 50. In a game that both teams needed to win, Rick Majerus’ SLU team made just enough plays down the stretch to seal the game. BC’s Tyrese Rice and Joe Trapani combined for 4-22 from the field.
Pittsburgh 86, Indiana (PA) 60. Dejuan Blair ripped apart the other Indiana for 27/18 in a mere 21 minutes of play.
Purdue 66, Coppin St. 46. Robbie Hummell had 20/11 and E’Twaun Moore had 10/8/5 assts/3 blks in an easy win for the Boilermakers.
Rhode Island 92, VCU 86. In a game that must have been played with absolutely no defense, URI put five players in double figures while shooting 54% from the field, while VCU shot an even better 61% led by Eric Maynor’s 22/6/8 assts (he also had an ungodly ten TOs). So how did URI win? Home court – the Rams shot 16 more FTS (making 11).
Clemson 71, Charlotte 70. In a game Charlotte really needed to win at home if it intends on making a case for an at-large later this year, Clemson managed to hang on led by Demontez Stitt’s 16/4/4 assts. KC Rivers (12/8) put the Tigers ahead for good with a driving layup with 43 seconds left.
Missouri St. 62, Arkansas 57. Can we go ahead and put the SEC in the mid-major grouping yet? Another loss to a mid-major – at least this one was on the road.
Marquette 100, UW-Milwaukee 80. Marquette’s Wesley Matthews and Lazar Hayward each had 25 pts in a blowout win over crosstown rival UW-Milwaukee. Matthews is up to a fantastic start this year, averaging 26/7/4 over three games.
Nevada 79, Oregon St. 71. We’ll say this for Craig Robinson’s first year at OSU – he has his team playing competitive basketball on the road, and Nevada is no easy venue for a visitor to get a win. Luke Babbit had 20/7 for the Wolfpack.
Duke 78, Montana 58. Greg Paulus didn’t play because of a bruised ego elbow, but Duke still had no trouble putting down the Grizzlies, despite playing four games in the last eight days.
Arizona St. 61, Pepperdine 40. This is a vintage Herb Sendek score, as James Harden’s 33/12 led ASU to a win over a Waves team that literally couldn’t throw it in the ocean (27% FG).
Connecticut 76, Miami (FL) 63. UConn advanced to the finals of the Paradise Jam (vs. Wisconsin) by holding Miami to 35% shooting, helped by Hasheem Thabeet’s patrolling of the inside (19/14 to go with 7 blocks). The game was essentially decided when UConn held Miami to 8 pts for a nine-minute stretch of the first half. Jack McClinton had 27/5 for Miami and his teammate Dwayne Collins had 16/14 in the losing effort.
Wisconsin 64, San Diego 49. The Badgers pulled away late from San Diego, ensuring that there will be no UConn-SD rematch from last year’s NCAAs. Trevon Hughes appears to be the new stud in the Badger system, going for 22 pts tonight after 21 the night before. Some things never change – UW held SD to 35% shooting while going for 51% themselves.
On Tap Monday (all times EST). Feast Week is our favorite basketball week until Championship Week starts in March. There are so many good early-season tourney matchups, between the Maui Invitational, the Preseason NIT semis and finals, the Old Spice and Anaheim Classics, the Las Vegas Invitational, and even the ridiculous CBE and Legends Classic final rounds. Here are the highlighted games for tomorrow.
Texas (-9) v. St. Joseph’s (ESPN2 & 360) – 3pm (Maui Invtl.)
11:45pm ET — Greetings, fellow hoop lovers, and welcome to the ESPN 24-hour Marathon of Hoops Rush The Court live blog. John Stevens, here, ready to truly kick off the college hoops season in freakin’ insane style. I’ll be live-blogging the entire way — that’s right, baby, the WHOLE WAY! — so if you’re out there watching the games, by all means leave a comment.
Of course, I don’t mean to imply any connection between ESPN and RTC with the title of this post. But a while back it was posted here that ESPN really had a great idea when they came up with this, and I for one definitely appreciate that they’re kicking off their coverage in this way. So the title merely refers to the fact that…well, if they’re gonna broadcast it, I’m gonna watch it, and what the heck, I might as well live-blog it.
Why, you ask? Several reasons. First and foremost, my love for college basketball. This off-season has seemed especially long and I’m happy that my favorite sport is finally back. I’ve also got the next 6.5 days off from my real job, an occupation that sometimes has me up overnight anyway. So what better way to kick off my leisure time. I also assume that the more teams I familiarize myself with, the better served I’ll be when the annual mid-March (read: first-and-second rounds) Rush The Court field trip to Las Vegas happens. We go for the museums, but in case we happen to catch an early-round game on a gigantic TV (or six), well, I’ll know more about who I’m watching.
When RTMSF and I first talked about me live-blogging during this offering by ESPN, as usual he was worried about liability; he suggested I go have a quick physical to make sure I could make it through the next 24 hours intact. The address he gave me, though, turned out to be a guy working out of the trunk of his car behind the local movie theatre. I called RTMSF to verify that I had gone to the right place, and he said, “Yeah, the guy in the beret? Yep. That’s him. He’ll take care of you.” Naturally I fled, so let me just say that even though I haven’t been medically cleared for this, I’m doing it of my own accord.
So let’s do this thing. I’ve got 24 hours of college hoops ahead of me. I’ve retired to the cushy environs of the Rush The Court Eastern Compound and assumed a spot in one of our beautiful leather home theatre reclining chairs that would make Turtle from Entourage proud. I’ve got the three LCD HD’s going. I’ve got a fridge stocked with energy drinks. I’ve got a remote control the size of a law school textbook in my hands. I’ve got snow falling outside. And did I mention the 6.5 days off??? It’s time for some serious hoops. We’ll kick things off with UMass-Memphis in about 15 minutes.
12:09 am — We’re off. Two big pieces of news have already come down today, so let me mention them now. The biggest is the death of Pete Newell, a name that sounds strange to say without the words “Big Man Camp” coming directly after. His influence on the game of basketball is immeasurable. As you’ve seen already, not only did he achieve that rare (as in three people, ever) basketball trifecta of coaching an Olympic gold medal squad (1960), an NIT champion (1949), and an NCAA champion (1959)…he only worked with some of the biggest names in the history of the game via his Big Man Camp, like Abdul-Jabbar, Olajuwan, Walton, O’Neal, and countless others. He might not be one of the names that immediately comes to mind if you were to sit down and come up with a “Mt. Rushmore” of American basketball, but he sure makes a strong case.
The other bit of far-less-important news is that Tyler Hansbrough is a no-go against Kentucky on Tuesday night. Not surprised at this. It wasn’t discussed much last year, but quite frankly Kentucky’s Patrick Patterson outplayed Hansbrough; hoops fans who wanted to see how Hansbrough would respond will have to wait a while, unless UNC and UK end up meeting in the tournament somehow. It’ll have to happen in the NBA — and Kentucky fans hope it won’t be next year.
12:20am — We’re through two TV timeouts and this has been a YMCA game. More turnovers than field goals. Lots of threes gettin’ jacked up. UMass has come out in the “sagging man-to-man” which is daring Memphis to bomb away from the outside. They’re more than happy to oblige, which is why they find themselves only up one point almost midway through the half. This will probably be the trend in a lot of these games in the next 24 hours — sloppy Y-ball for the first half, then guys relaxing into their roles in the second and things becoming a little more organized.
12:45am — Memphis’ athletes are starting to assume control with about 5 minutes left in the first half. Tyreke Evans is an absolute pest on defense and despite the strange anatomy of his jump shot, it’s kind of nice to watch. UMass is relying on the drive-and-kickout right now, and Ricky Harris is keeping them in it. Memphis’ turnovers are helping, too. UMass only down 6 right now…
12:58am — Memphis with a 33-25 lead at the half. UMass is still in this game for two reasons: 1) Memphis’ shot selection, or lack of desire to work inside the paint. Robert Dozier is indeed the Tigers’ leading scorer with 12, but he’s 0/3 from the 3-pt line, and he has zero attempts from the line. 2) As soon as Memphis expanded the lead to double-digits and looked like they were about to out-athleticize the Minutemen, UMass showed an ability to grab a loose ball or force a Memphis turnover and capitalize on it. If UMass can calm themselves (no small feat in this environment), they can stay close and may find themselves within striking distance late. If Memphis calms down and plays to their strengths (size and athleticism), they could put this one away rather easily.
1:01am — We have a Tom Brennan sighting! He is very subtly giving a nod to his past at the University of Vermont, with the dark green blazer and yellow tie. He agrees with me in his assessment of the game so far — “It’s a mess.” Amen, sir.
1:15am — Shooting stats for the first half: From 3pt range…UMass 3/13 (23.1%), Memphis 1/12 (8.3%!!!). Egad.
1:22am — The second half starts with not much new…hectic pace, lots of bad shots. UMass is actually outhustling Memphis to every loose ball but they’re giving up some easy points off of turnovers. Memphis has decided to exploit their athleticism by picking up full court, but UMass seems ready; props to Coach Kellogg for prepping his team for this. Unfortunately for the Minutemen, on their last four possessions, Memphis has gone inside (a couple of ill-advised threes led to offensive boards) and the lead is now 11.
1:31am — Tony Gaffney is playing his butt off for UMass with 9 points and 12 boards, but Memphis is starting to look a little too long and quick. Tyreke Evans got an earful from Coach Calipari after a terrible three-point attempt, has gone inside on his last two touches, and scored twice. He’s got 17 now. Still…UMass continues to frustrate Memphis on defense…it’s still only 11 at the under-12 TV timeout.
1:42am — RTMSF just called me to tell me he’s going to the St. Mary’s game. Jackass.
1:46am — Memphis is starting to wear down the Minutemen and are getting some easy layups, and the lead is 61-44. The UMass players are standing straight up on defense. Coach Kellogg calls a timeout 2 seconds before the under-8 TV timeout — definitely a testimonial to the fatigue of his squad.
Calipari is begging his team not to chuck threes. It’s hilarious. Every time one of his players goes up for a long-range jumper, Calipari assumes the expression of someone who has just had his face farted on. His players have gotten the message, though.
1:56am — I’m not sure I’m on board with the Memphis home uniforms. The front is a clean white, and the back is a slightly darker beige/grey. UMass is of course wearing their away maroons, so at times, on the hi-def, it looks like there are three different teams on the floor. Maybe I’m getting a little chippy because it’s a 21-pt bulge (70-49) with five minutes left. And because RTMSF is going to the freakin’ St. Mary’s-Fresno State game.
2:04am — 76-49. Tony Gaffney’s played his tail off for UMass (14p 20r) but Memphis’ seemingly interchangable parts have put a lid on this one.
WYN2K. The story of Conference USA basketball the last few seasons has been the absolute dominance of Memphis. This year should be no different as the Tigers return a great combination of veteran talent and blue chip freshmen. To put it in perspective, they have not lost a Conference USA game since an 80-74 loss at UAB on February 2nd, 2006. Despite the recent Tiger dominance, the arrival of quality coaches like Tom Penders (Houston), Mike Davis (UAB), Larry Eustachy (Southern Miss) and Ben Braun (Rice) has helped raise the level of play. There is enough talent in the conference to get two NCAA tournament teams and a few other teams in the other postseason tournaments. There will be close calls, but in the end none of the other teams will score that elusive upset over Memphis.
Predicted Champion.Memphis (#2 seed NCAA). It’s really too easy to predict this one. I realize that the three most valuable players from last season: G Derrick Rose, G Chris Douglas-Roberts and C Joey Dorsey are all gone, but there are some talented players ready to step in. The star of Memphis coach John Calipari’s latest collection of blue-chip prospects is G Tyreke Evans from American Christian in suburban Philadelphia. Evans was one of the most highly-sought out prep point guards in the nation and is the heir apparent to Rose at the position. The other incoming player that should see a lot of action is F Wesley Witherspoon, a small forward from Lilburn, Georgia. Among the returners, F Robert Dozier is without a doubt the best athlete in the low post and is the leading returning scorer (9.2 ppg), rebounder (6.8 rpg) and shot-blocker (1.7 bpg). Depth abounds at the guard position where Willie Kemp, Antonio Anderson, Shawn Taggart and Doneal Mack all have proven they can step up in key situations. The only area where the Tigers lack a proven commodity is at the center position, where Joey Dorsey starred the past couple of seasons. But there is the enough talent on this roster to dominate the Conference USA field and make another deep run in the NCAA tournament. Here’s a bone for UM fans (last year’s highlight mix)…
Others Considered. Do not sleep on UAB(NCAA #9) this season. If there is any team in this conference with a legitimate shot at making the NCAA tournament outside of Memphis, it’s these guys. They were missing point guard Paul Delaney III for practically all of last season and still ended up finishing second behind Memphis in conference play. The Blazers also return the best shooter in Conference USA, Robert Vaden, and a solid scoring threat at small forward in Lawrence Kinnard. I could definitely see these guys getting in the dance as #9 or #10 seed if they avoid the costly slip-ups. Don’t call these guys one year wonders either because Blazer coach Mike Davis’ 2009 recruiting class is one of the best in the country. There is an outside shot that Tulsa (NIT) could make the NCAA Tournament with their very experienced squad. The Golden Hurricanes have Jerome Jordan, a 7-footer who has the NBA scouts drooling and is poised for a breakout year after a dominant finish last season. It doesn’t hurt Jordan that he has an all-conference point guard in Tony Uzoh getting him the ball. There is an interesting collection of incoming talent on this Houston (NIT) squad, including former St. John’s F Qa’rraan Calhoun and G Desmond Wade, a point guard from New Jersey who led his high school team to two state titles. But the Cougars lost way too much talent to seriously consider making the NCAA tournament. I have similar feelings about UTEP who returns one of the best athletes in this league – Stafon Jackson – and in the low post they bring in talented Memphis transfer Kareem Cooper. The Miners return most all of their key players from last season, but I’m just still not sold that they can put it all together under Coach Tony Barbee and make the NCAA Tournament. If nothing else, the Miners will be extremely tough on their home floor, the Don Haskins Center. Former national Coach of the Year Larry Eustachy has the most experienced team in the league at Southern Miss. Guards Jeremy Wise and Courtney Beasley are all-conference level guards who give the Eagles and Eustachy a shot at being a top-echelon C-USA team.
Important Games. Every time Memphis plays a top-half Conference USA team it could be an interesting contest, since a lot of teams seem to ‘play up’ for the Tigers. But I doubt anyone will beat the Tigers at FedEx Forum this season, so the road games will be the most interesting challenges. Specifically, trips to El Paso and Birmingham loom large on the Tigers’ schedule. There are also a couple of contests that will determine who is behind Memphis in the conference pecking order.
UAB @ Houston (01.10.09)
UAB @ Tulsa (01.28.09)
Memphis @ UTEP (02.21.09)
Memphis @ UAB (02.26.09)
Conference USA Championship Game (03.14.09)
RPI Boosters. If this league wants to move past its status as a ‘one-bid’ league then they’ll need to pull of at least a few decently high-profile upsets in the non-conference season. There are opportunities for every team in the league to get a marquee win at some point. Memphis will not be included in this particular list because they will be favored in most, if not all of their games this season. Not all of these are booster games against big conference foes, there are also some interesting match-ups against other mid-major teams.
Tulsa @ Oklahoma State (11.20.08)
UNLV @ UTEP (11.24.08)
VCU @ East Carolina (11.25.08)
Miami (FL) vs. Southern Miss (11.21.08) @ Paradise Jam (VI)
Rice @ Texas (11.27.08)
Western Kentucky @ Tulane (12.06.08)
SMU @ Texas A&M (12.17.08)
UAB @ Louisville (12.29.08)
Houston @ Mississippi State (01.03.09)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. As compared to the past few seasons, this is a much deeper and generally more talented group of Conference USA teams. Even the middle of the pack teams like Marshall, UCF and Tulane could put some scares into the top teams. But this conference is still fundamentally Memphis and the proverbial eleven dwarves at the end of the day. The other teams are gradually getting stronger and this could become one of the better “mid-major” conferences in the next few seasons.
I know I’ve made the point ad nauseum, but Memphis has absolutely dominated the Conference USA competition in the past three seasons. The Tigers’ combined record in C-USA play in those three seasons: 45-1. If that’s not domination, frankly I do not know what is.
Since basketball powers Marquette, Cincinnati, Louisville, and DePaul left for the Big East in 2005 there’s only been one season where the C-USA has had multiple NCAA tournament teams. In the 2005-06 season, both Memphis (#1 seed) and UAB (#9 seed) qualified for the tournament. No C-USA team besides Memphis has made it to the Big Dance since.
Incoming UCF freshman big man Jakub Kusmieruk may be the biggest guy in all of college basketball since the 7’7” Kenny George of UNC-Asheville had to retire due to injury. Listed at an astonishing 7’4” and 295 pounds, this native of Poland is worth keeping an eye on. He probably won’t see too many minutes in his first season, but all indications are that the kid has a good work ethic and can become a force in the low post for the Golden Knights.
65 Team Era. It’s amazing how far CUSA has fallen since the great exodus of 2005. Consider that in 2004, the league earned SIX bids to the NCAA Tournament, racking up four first-round wins. Now it’s very fortunate to get a team other than Memphis into the Big Dance (only happening once – UAB in 2006). Thus, the historical stats (48-42, .533) don’t hold much meaning because the league has changed so much from its current iteration.
Final Thought. The quality of basketball in Conference USA has taken a dive since the “basketball” teams all left for the Big East and Atlantic 10. But it would be foolish to presume that no team outside of Memphis is worth talking about. In fact this conference’s best days of basketball are ahead of them. UAB is bringing in a top-rated recruiting class and has a couple of serious NBA prospects on their roster currently. UTEP has Stafon Jackson and he could be the best athlete in all of Conference USA. While they aren’t tournament contenders right now, Marshall brought in an impressive recruiting class that includes Florida’s Mr. Basketball, Shaquille Johnson. Outside of Memphis few C-USA teams have players leave early for the draft, but Jeremy Wise is a great combo guard and could be the best player in Southern Miss history. There are multiple strong OOC games for C-USA teams to prove themselves in. Basically the onus is on the teams outside of Memphis to make a name for themselves and continue to elevate the national opinion when it comes to Conference USA basketball.
Whew. After an exhausting day trying to track the news feeds seemingly every minute to figure out who was staying and who was leaving college, we can finally take a deep breath and start to sort out what this means for all the parties involved. Of the 69 early entries of US collegians submitted to the NBA league offices last month, 35 will remain in the 2008 NBA Draft pool. Here are the 35 early entries:
Joe Alexander, West Virginia
Ryan Anderson, California
Darrell Arthur, Kansas
D.J. Augustin, Texas
Jerryd Bayless, Arizona
Michael Beasley, Kansas State
Mario Chalmers, Kansas
Chris Douglas-Roberts, Memphis
C.J. Giles, Oregon State
Donte Greene, Syracuse
Kalen Grimes, Missouri
Eric Gordon, Indiana
DeAndre Jordan, Texas A&M
Kosta Koufos, Ohio State
Jamont Gordon, Mississippi State
Shawn James, Duquesne
Davon Jefferson, Southern California
Brook Lopez, Stanford
Robin Lopez, Stanford
Kevin Love, UCLA
O.J. Mayo, Southern California
Richard Hendrix, Alabama
J.J. Hickson, North Carolina State
George Hill, IUPUI
Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, UCLA
JaVale McGee, Nevada
Kojo Mensah, Duquesne
Trent Plaisted, Brigham Young
Anthony Randolph, LSU
Walter Sharpe, Alabama-Birmingham
Derrick Rose, Memphis
Brandon Rush, Kansas
Marreese Speights, Florida
Bill Walker, Kansas State
Russell Westbrook, UCLA
We’d Be Excited Too, Roy
Roy Williams. Ole Roy could slip into a coke-induced coma for half of next season and still watch his team win 30+ games and make the Final Four. Why? Because the nation’s top backcourt (Ty Lawson & Wayne Ellington) and sixth man (Danny Green) all decided to return to Chapel Hill today to join forces with the reigning NPOY and a top five recruiting class. Yeah, apparently Roy is living right.
Lute Olson. It’s been a rough year for Olson, what with all his divorce proceedings and the loss of Jerryd Bayless to the NBA. The surprising return of the sensational Chase Budinger for his junior season provides Olson a key bulding block to get his program back on track.
Mark Few. Few only had to sweat out his beefy point guard Jeremy Pargo’s decision, but this player remains the key to Gonzaga’s success next season. With Pargo back to run the system, interior players such as Austin Daye and Josh Heytvelt can expect the ball in the right place at the right time.
Mark Gottfried. Alabama was facing a seemingly unthinkable situation where they would lose their best player from last season, forward Richard Hendrix, while simultanously losing their best player from two seasons ago, point guard Ronald Steele, even though Steele sat out the entire last season due to injury. We’ve shown previously how important a healthy Steele is to the Alabama attack, and with the additional return of Alonzo Gee to help offset the Hendrix loss, Gottfried must feel as if he dodged a serious bullet.
John Calipari. Why is he here? Didn’t he lose super-frosh Derrick Rose and Chris Douglas-Roberts to the NBA? Well, yes, but he also retained the services of Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier, which when combined with incoming stud wing Tyreke Evans, there will be more than enough talent for Calipari to roll through CUSA pretty much unscathed again. Calipari isn’t as big a winner as some of the above coaches, but today was a good day for him.
Tough Day For Howland, But He Knows He’ll Have More Chances
Ben Howland. There was some talk that Kevin Love may return to Westwood, but that quickly died down. When Russell Westbrook decided to leave as well, few were surprised. Josh Shipp made the wise choice to return, but today’s decision by Luc Richard Mbah a Moute to leave early has to leave UCLA fans scratching their heads – he’s unlikely to be drafted in either round, according to some people.
Rick Stansbury. It’s bad enough that all-SEC guard Jamont Gordon left Stansbury’s Mississippi St. program, but it’s even worse when there’s a strong sentiment that Gordon may not get a sniff of the second round. This feels a lot like Kennedy WInston from Alabama a few years ago.
Bill Walker. Yes, he gets his own mention here. The popcorn munching, towel-pissing, former K-State guard had it in his head all along that he was going League. So even though he sat out the NBA Predraft Camp and then proceeded to seriously hurt his knee during a workout last weekend – giving scouts even more pause about his shaky sticks – Walker decided that he was ready for the NBA and shouldn’t be too surprised if he finds himself in the D-League next season.
Bill Self. How bad can it be if you just won the national title? Not very. Still, there was a chance Mario Chalmers would return next season to lead Sherron Collins, Cole Aldrich and the other Jayhawks back to another F4 opportunity. Only Collins of the quartet of he, Chalmers, Darrell Arthur and Brandon Rush is returning, but somehow we think Bill Self is still smiling.
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.
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.
So we’ve had some time to ruminate on last night’s proceedings in San Antonio, and we keep circling back to the same conclusion. This was a great college basketball game, but it wasn’t a classically great game in the sense that both teams played exceptionally well and the better team won at the end (think the punch-counterpunch of 92 Duke-Kentucky). No, this game represented for us the maxim of: the team that chokes least is the team that wins. This is to take nothing away from Kansas, who made nearly every play (but one on the missed FT rebound that Memphis stole) in the final two minutes to give themselves a sliver of a chance to win, and once they had that chance in OT, they put the game away like champions do.
Chalmers the Hero (AP Photo/Eric Gay)
No, we’re referring to the 6-7 minutes prior to those final two, when Kansas was still leading the game by three at the 9-minute mark and Bill Self inexplicably decided to go box-and-one on Chris Douglas-Roberts despite the fact that CDR only had two points in the second half. By the same token, Derrick Rose also had only two points in the second half and was struggling to find openings in the KU defense. We all know what came next. The box-and-one opened up driving lanes and shooting spots for Derrick Rose, who then proceeded to score 12 of the next 14 Memphis points as he found the groove facilitated by the switch in Kansas defense. The next thing you know there were less than three minutes remaining and KU was down nine, looked as tight as a drum and had turned the ball over seemingly every trip down the floor. This was Memphis’ game to lose. Check our liveblog for our feelings at this point in the game – we said, “2:22 – Rose’s ridiculous shot was only a two, but somehow we knew that it was going in when he shot it. Wow, Rush babied that one when he should have dunked it. This team is TIGHT right now. We’re not sure they have enough left to make one more run.”
And with under two minutes, things changed for Kansas. Darrell Arthur threw in an 18-footer that he normally wouldn’t take or make, and then the key play of the comeback occurred – Kansas stole the ball off the inbounds and instead of driving in and taking a contested layup attempt, they kicked it out to Sherron Collins for a dagger three. Those two plays were the most offense KU had enjoyed in the last eight minutes of the game. And suddenly, KU was only down four and it seemed as if their confidence was back.
But the Memphis choke hadn’t begun yet. Both teams traded FTs, and then with 1:15 remaining CDR (71%) missed the first of three consecutive foul shots. All badly. Kansas’ Sherron Collins made a terrible decision to go 1-on-3 against the Memphis bigs after one of those misses, but it didn’t matter because CDR couldn’t convert on the line anyway. The one that really surprised us the most was Derrick Rose missing the first of two FTs with only ten seconds left. For a moment we were thinking this could be Darius Washington, Jr., time again, but he did convert the second and KU came screaming upcourt.
Calipari Sees It Slipping Away (RICH SUGG/Kansas City Star)
Bilas, Digger and Vitale were going on and on about how Calipari should have called timeout after the Rose FT and given his troops some direction as to whether to foul (Memphis had two TOs left). In the postgame comments, Calipari made a dubious claim (see 0:21 to 0:34) that they tried to foul Sherron Collins when he was falling down out of control, but replays show clearly that the Memphis defenders were trying very hard to keep from fouling there. We tend to agree that the coaches should foul in those situations, but it’s more fun for the viewing public when they don’t. At any rate, it’s obvious that Calipari and his team were shellshocked by being two minutes from a national championship and really had no clue as to what they should be doing at that point. When Chalmers shot dropped to tie the game (and Dozier’s 50 footer missed), we would have given whatever odds you wanted on Memphis at that point. There was no way they were coming back from that collapse. Actually, in recent history the collapse reminds us a little of the UNC-Georgetown regional final game in last year’s tournament. There was simply no way that UNC was coming back in the OT after gacking up that lead in the final few minutes.
KU – 2008 National Champions (SHANE KEYSER/Kansas City Star)
So it was a great championship game, probably the best since that 1997 OT game between Arizona and Kentucky (which also featured some choking by UK’s Nazr Mohammed at the foul line). And Mario Chalmers deserves all the accolades he shall receive for stepping into that pressure-filled three pointer like a champion and knocking it down. Congrats to the Jayhawks.
– #1 Memphis vs. #5 Michigan State (9:57 PM): It seems like a lot of analysts consider this the best of the Sweet 16 games. I just don’t see it. I’d take either of the 2-3 matchups (Tennessee/Louisville or Texas/Stanford) over this game, but I still think it should be an interesting game.
Tom Izzo has done a good job getting the Spartans back on track after a bad February stretch where they lost 3 of 4 games. The Spartans returned all 5 starters from last year so they obviously have experience, which helped them withstand that rough stretch. However, coming into the tournament not a lot of people were giving them much respect particularly with Pittsburgh waiting in the 2nd round. The Spartans surprised a lot of people, including me, by knocking off the Panthers. The Spartans are led offensively by a pair of 2nd team All-Big 10 players: Raymar Morgan and the more-heralded Drew Neitzel. The duo, who average 14.2 and 14.1 PPG respectively, will need a big performance out of freshman PG Kalin Lucas if they want to try to run with the Tigers (IMO not the best strategy).
If you’re a college basketball fan (and if you’re on this blog you certainly are one unless you ended up here doing a Google search for Erin Andrews), you know about Memphis’s inability to hit free throws. I don’t buy into John Calipari that Memphis won their 2nd round game against Mississippi State at the free throw line because they made more free throws despite going 15/32 from the line. It seems like there hasn’t been a single analyst who picks Memphis to win the title, but when I look at this team I see an unbelievably athletic team that is 35-1 and came very close to being undefeated at this point in the season. The Tigers like to run and utilize a Dribble-Drive Motion offense. Leading the attack are Chris Douglas-Roberts and the ridiculously fast freshman PG Derrick Rose. While having those two along might be enough to sustain an offense, Calipari also has solid players in Robert Dozier, Joey Dorsey, and Antonio Anderson. The result is an unconvential offense filled with freakish athletes, a combination that is very hard to defend. One big key for Memphis will be is if they can keep Dorsey out of foul trouble as he is their muscle inside (at least as long as he doesn’t try to talk trash like he did last year before he got beat down by Greg Oden).
Opening Line: Memphis -5.
Prediction: A lot of analysts think the Tigers will be the first #1 seed to lose. I could definitely see that happening, but just not in this round. The Tigers have too much talent for the Spartans. If the Spartans have an X-factor, it would be Lucas. Unfortunately, he will be going against Rose who is several levels above Lucas at this point in their careers. The result is Memphis winning by 5-10 points. I think they will outplay the Spartans, but will keep the game close with their “winning” free throw shooting.
– #2 Texas vs. #3 Stanford (7:27 PM): Along with the Tennessee-Louisville game, this was our favorite game of the long weekend. Hopefully, this turns out to be more exciting than than the Cardinals rout was.
I’ll get this over with now: nobody left in the tournament can guard Brook Lopez. If he’s on, he should be getting 30 a night for the rest of the tournament. By now everyone knows that his twin brother Robin is the more defensive-minded one, which has led some people to speculate that Robin may be more successful as a pro (think Joakim Noah or Anderson Varejao). While those two will control the inside, the Cardinal use Lawrence Hill, Anthony Goods, and Mitch Johnson to control the perimeter. This trio hasn’t gotten much respect including from yours truly. However, if Stanford wants to beat Texas in Houston, they will need this group to control D.J. Augustin (and for Trent Johnson to stick around for the 2nd half).
Rick Barnes has done a great job making the Longhorns into a national title contender a year after losing Kevin Durant to the NBA. The Longhorns are led by D.J. Augustin, who has taken his game to another level as he has not had Durant to bail him out like last year. Augustin also has great support from A.J. Abrams, Damion James, and Connor Atchley. While the Longhorns don’t really have an answer for Brook Lopez, I don’t know how well the Lopez twins are going to be able to guard Atchley when he steps behind the 3 pt line where he has shot 42.3% (41/97) for the year.
Opening Line: Texas -1.
Prediction: If this game was outside of Texas, I probably would have gone with Stanford and the big guy inside. In the end, I think the homecourt and the Longhorns edge on the perimeter will let them pull away at the end of the game.
– #1 Kansas vs. #12 Villanova (9:40 PM): This weekend in Detroit will once again focus all the attention on Bill Self and his heretofore confounding inability to get extremely talented teams into the F4 (o-4 trips to the E8). Considering that this bracket was blown apart by Cinderellas last weekend, the Jayhawks are the odds on favorite to win this region.
Villanova has looked really good in their two games against Clemson and Siena, shooting 52% and holding its opponents to only 37%. Scottie Reynolds has found his stroke, averaging 23 ppg thus far in the Tourney, and dropping eight threes in the two games. Look for Kansas to focus in on stopping Reynolds, as Villanova simply isn’t nearly as good of a team when he’s misfiring (27 total pts in Nova’s last three Ls).
But let’s be serious here. Kansas is the most talented team that Villanova has faced this season, and their season-long inconsistency is the reason they ended up a #12 seed. Their best wins of the year were probably close wins over Pitt and UConn at home, and neither of those teams bring the noise on offense (#1 off. efficency) and defense (#5 def. efficiency) as Kansas does. Villanova will play hard, but by most measures, a run to the Sweet 16 renders their season a successful one, and they’ll be happy to be there tonight. Kansas has much larger aspirations in mind, and as such, we expect a blowout win here tonight.
Opening Line: Kansas -11.5.
Prediction: KU jumps out early and often. Villanova makes a run in the second half to make things interesting, but they never seriously threaten the Jayhawks tonight. Bill Self’s albatross will be judged on Sunday.
– #3 Wisconsin vs. #10 Davidson (7:10 PM): The undercard in Detroit tonight could end up being a total washout, we’re afraid. Davidson has looked fantastic in its two come-from-behind upsets of Gonzaga and Georgetown last weekend, and Stephen Curry’s legend is already concretely imprinted into the national consciousness. But we have a sneaky suspicion that the #1 defensive team in the land will absolutely lock up Curry, leaving the rest of the Wildcats struggling to pick up the slack.
The game that concerns us was the 6-19 (3-10 from 3) clunker (15 pts) that Curry put up against UCLA back in December. The Bruin defense (#2 nationally) keyed on Curry, which allowed the other Davidson shooters to get open looks early, as Davidson ran out to a quick early lead. But once UCLA figured out that they were going to have to guard all the Davidson shooters, they took control of the game and pulled away easily in the second half.
Wisconsin will probably employ a similar strategy. They’ll slow the game down to a crawl, and essentially dare anyone but Curry to beat them. You can count on a bruising, grinding, no-mistakes gameplan by Bo Ryan’s team, and honestly, short of a superhuman effort by Curry again, we don’t see any way that Davidson wins their way into the Elite 8. Gonzaga was soft mentally, and Georgetown forgot that they had a 7’3 beast underneath the basket, but Wisconsin is a different story.
Opening Line: Wisconsin -4.
Prediction: As much as we’d like to see the Curry bandwagon continue for another game, we just don’t think it’s possible. The Badgers will bump and grind him into a poor shooting night, giving him and his teammates more motivation for next year’s possible dream season.