Welcome back to MSG as we take in the third place game and the finals of the Preseason NIT. In the first game, tipping right at 2:30 pm today, LSU takes on Arizona State. The Tigers were run off the court against UConn, as their backcourt was unable to handle the pressure from the Huskies. The Sun Devils come out strong against Duke, but looked lost on the offensive end over the final 30 minutes of the game. A big issue for the Tigers is going to be how they match up with Arizona State defensively. The Tigers are pretty big — Storm Warren and Tasmin Mitchell are the two forwards, but neither is what you would call a “pure” small forward. ASU plays four guards (including Rihards Kuksiks), meaning that Trent Johnson is going to have to decide between dealing with the mismatch or playing zone. At the other end, ASU is going to have their hands full with Warren inside. He had 15 and 6 in limited minutes against a good Husky front line. Eric Boateng (4 points, 4 boards, 9 turnovers) will need to play much better for ASU.
The final is the game everyone will be waiting to see. There are a few certainties in life — gravity exists, turkey puts you to sleep, Dickie V loves Duke — and one of those certainties is that Duke-UConn is going to be a classic. Think back to 1990 and Christian Laettner‘s heroics; or the 1999 title game and Trajan Langdan’s travels; or the 2004 national semifinal and the UConn comeback. Whenever these two teams tango, it is an event, and tonight will be no different. Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith have been playing fantastic basketball, but they have yet to face a team that has the athletes that UConn has in the backcourt. Jerome “Slicin'” Dyson (ESPN really needs to stop using that nickname, it is terrible. What’s wrong with Romey?) and Kemba Walker are as good defending on the ball as anyone in the nation, and the ability of the Duke guards to handle the 2-2-1 press (with Romey and Kemba up top) will be a huge determinant in the outcome of this game. That said, the difference between UConn last night and UConn of the first three games was their aggressiveness going to the glass. But for the first time all season, they will play a team that can match up with them size-wise. Will the Huskies still be able to rebound the basketball?
Two things to keep an eye on: 1) Who controls the tempo of this game. UConn is going to want to get this thing going up and down, as Duke does not have the athletes to run with them. But Duke is going to want slow this down, sit back in a packed-in zone, and let the Huskies try to shoot their way to the title. 2) Stanley Robinson vs. Kyle Singler. Singler is the best player on this Duke team, and is the guy they look to for big shots. But Sticks is a phenomenal athlete, and will be counted on to slow down Singler.
Is it 5 pm yet? In the immortal words of Fergie, “Let’s get it started in here.”
Ray Floriani is an occasional contributor and the RTC correspondent for the MAAC and NEC conferences. He covers college basketball in the greater New York City area.
NEW YORK CITY – A few Preseason NIT semifinal impressions as the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade marches on. For years it was the Macy’s parade, long before corporate sponsorship entered our stadia and arenas. UConn looked very good pushing the pace. The Huskies entered the semi with LSU averaging 66 possessions. Against the Tigers, UConn had a 37 possession first half and a 45-29 lead at the break. The final possession total was 69, somewhat misleading as the Huskies started using more clock the last six minutes with the game in hand. Their final offensive efficiency in the 81-55 rout was 117.
I’m impressed with the UConn bigs, Gavin Edwards (15 pts), Charles Okwandu and Alex Oriakhi (9 boards). They are all skilled and can run the floor like deer. Don’t forget Stanley Robinson (14 pts, 11 reb), a matchup problem on the wing or in the paint and point guard Kemba Walker (20 pts, 5 assists). It all adds up to a strong cast. The Huskies had some less than spectacular performances before getting here. LSU saw the Big East refs at their best to date. Coach Trent Johnson was upset that his Tigers could not handle the transition. Coach had to be concerned as well about Tasmin Mitchell (9 pts on 4-12 shooting) and point guard Bo Spencer (5 pts and 2-14 from the floor). Storm Warren (15 points 7 rebounds) was the lone Tiger consistently productive on this night. My baseline press vantage point saw Johnson not ranting but in virtual conversation or debate with the officials all night. Clearly, LSU had a lot more issues with execution that needed addressing.
I’m impressed with Arizona State coming out tough. Too often teams are prepared and ready for Duke but play tenuous, afraid to miss a shot or make a turnover. Herb Sendek has plenty of experience facing Duke while at NC State, so he had his team ready and playing the role of aggressor. I was especially impressed with the grit and penetration skills of Sun Devil senior guard Derek Glasser who consistently gained access to the paint. To their credit on a night they could have been headed to a third place game on Black Friday, Duke was resilient to meet the challenge and respond. Kyle Singler (1-6 first half) hit a huge trey that sparked a mid second half spurt that allowed Mike Krzyzewski’s club to prevail 64-53.
This is Duke’s biggest team in years if not the biggest under Coach K. Still, the motion offense, movement and presentation of great looks is there. I’m looking forward to the big man matchup. UConn blocked 13 shots or 21% of the LSU field goal attempts on Wednesday. Their shot-blocking ability has to be a big concern for Duke. I’m also interested to see how well LSU can respond after Wednesday as they meet ASU in the consolation.
RTC Live is taking over the Garden… again. Just last week, we were there to watch Syracuse run roughshod over the rest of the Cal and UNC en route to the CvC tournament title. This time around, we will be there to provide instant analysis of the semifinals and finals of the Preseason NIT. The semis kick off with LSU taking on the UConn Huskies. Not much was expected out of the Tigers this season as they lost Chris Johnson and Marcus Thornton, but Trent Johnson’s group has played well. They are 3-0, including a win over Western Kentucky in the NIT regional final. Bo Spencer (20.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg, 4.0 apg) and Storm Warren (16.3 ppg, 11.7 rpg) are putting up the best numbers, but senior Tasmin Mitchell is the best player on this team. UConn, on the other hand, has been playing below expectations. With underwhelming wins over William & Mary, Colgate, and Hofstra (a game they were down nine with nine minutes left), the Huskies look like they are a long way from being a top three team in the Big East. That said, Jerome Dyson has played like an all-american (20.0 ppg, 6.0 apg), and Stanley Robinson (16.7 ppg) is forever a threat for a big dunk or three.
The second game of the night pits the Duke Blue Devils and the Arizona State Sun Devils. ASU, and the Pac-10 as a whole, could really use a strong showing in NYC. Herb Sendek’s teams are usually expected to low-scoring, but ASU has hit 80 points three times already this season, including breaking the century mark in their last outing against San Francisco. Sharpshooting Rihard Kuksiks leads five players averaging double figures at 13.8 ppg. The Dukies are shorthanded in their backcourt this season, as Nolan Smith, Jon Scheyer and Andre Dawkins are the only scholarship guards Coach K has. Smith and Scheyer are playing like stars, however. Smith is averaging 22/6 apg through his first two games back from suspension, while Scheyer is posting 16.5 ppg and 5.3 apg through four games. His most impressive stat? 0. As in the number of turnovers he has this year. With Kyle Singler playing like Kyle Singler, this Duke team looks a lot better than the pundits gave them credit for during the preseason. Join us for an exciting night of RTC Live hoops again from the mecca of college basketball, Madison Square Garden. Read the rest of this entry »
Steve Moore is a regular contributor and the RTC correspondent for the ACC.
As of about 2 p.m. Sunday afternoon, I was all set to make most of today’s ACC Update about Boston University’s shocking upset of Georgia Tech in Puerto Rico. After all, this is my tiny little segment of the Interwebs, so I can do with it as I please, right? But then, my beloved alma mater forgot how to shoot, and Derrick Favors stomped all over the poor Terriers. Oh well…I guess we’ll just have to beat UConn on Dec. 2. Anyway, on to the real business at hand. The ACC update is slated to appear each Monday during the season, and will include a revolving collection of mini-features that may appear one week and not the next. That will be up to any readers/commenters. If you like something, speak up, and you’ll see it again! Since there’s no real conference play yet, I’m just going with subjective rankings based on the games I’ve seen, and results so far.
ACC POWER RANKINGS (record as of Sunday, Nov. 22)
1. Duke (4-0)
PAST: With wins over all the schools in the Carolinas you’ve never heard of, the Dookies haven’t been tested. But they have won by an average of 34.5 points. And if you’re worried about a lack of guard play, the Devils hit 18 threes in a romp over Radford.
FUTURE: Arizona State (Wed.), then likely UConn (Fri.) at the Devils’ home away from home — Madison Square Garden. Two big wins, and Duke will likely stay atop this list.
2. North Carolina (4-1)
PAST: Yes, the only game many people saw was a flat 16-point loss to Syracuse at MSG. But that’s the Orange’s quasi-home court, and it’s still early. There’s too much talent here to judge the Heels on one game.
FUTURE: With five games already under their belt, the Heels take it easy this week with home games against Gardner-Webb and Nevada. But that Dec. 1 showdown with Michigan State is looming…
An After the Buzzer recap for your liking as you catch up on some much-needed sleep…
What We Learned. It’s very simple. Often we get all jazzed over those little numbers we put in front of each team’s name, but the line between top-ranked teams like Kansas/Michigan State and Memphis/Gonzaga is finer than any of us would like to admit. Teams are good; teams have players; and teams can perform. There’s no dominant team in college basketball, and we shouldn’t be surprised if we see a steady rotation of #1s throughout the year, just like last season.
Game of the Marathon.#2 Michigan State 75, Gonzaga 71. You rarely see such intensity, tenaciousness and pure effort this early in the season, but the battle between Michigan State and Gonzaga surely provided all three and more. Tom Izzo has to be pleased after his team showed toughness and poise coming back from double digits in the second half against a Gonzaga squad that should be ranked in the Top 25 next Monday. Durrell Summers and Kalin Lucas were the stars – Summers going for 21/11 on 8-9 shooting (plenty of foot-on-the-line long shots) and hitting the biggest three of the game to give the Spartans the lead with just over three minutes to play, and Lucas displaying his usual leadership throughout the second half, finishing with 19 points and five assists in a solid all-around effort. Raymar Morgan sunk 10-11 from the stripe and appeared to come back at 100% later in the game after rolling his right ankle and writhing in pain on the floor. Concern for Tom Izzo: the success in the paint for Gonzaga forwards Robert Sacre and Elias Harris. Lack of post production both offensively and defensively (Delvon Roe was a no-show last night) could be their downfall. Even in defeat, Mark Few has to be thrilled. Sacre (17 pts, 7-12 FG) looks incredibly improved, Elias Harris (17/9 on 6-16 FG) is a future star with a great inside/outside game and they nearly knocked off the #2 team in the nation on the road in November with plenty of overhaul on the roster and their starting point guard, Demetri Goodson, laying an egg. This was a thrilling game to watch from start to finish.
#1 Kansas 57, Memphis 55. ESPN got a perfect prime-time matchup to crescendo its 24 hours of hoops coverage tonight. Although Kansas never trailed after Memphis led 7-6 in the early moments of the game, the Jayhawks could never quite put the Tigers away either. After literally scratching and clawing and biting its way back to within one possession in the waning minutes, Memphis caught a break when the usually-reliable Sherron Collins (80% last year) missed one of two at the line to leave the door open with a 2-pt KU lead. Josh Pastner told his team to go for the win, and the Duke transfer/soon-to-be star of Memphis Elliot Williams (21/6) took a contested three on the wing that looked pretty good in the air but ultimately missed, meaning that there would be no Elliot Miracle as a slight payback for Kansas’ heartbreaker in 2008. In the media interviews afterwards, Bill Self was clearly not happy with his team’s performance, especially on the offensive end, where it seemed the only play they ran was to try to throw the ball into Cole Aldrich (18/11/5 blks) and let him go to work. Twenty-one turnovers, many of the careless variety, seemed to really chafe Self’s craw. Josh Pastner, on the other hand, seemed happy with his team’s performance, and why not? Memphis took the nation’s #1 team to the wire on a night where they didn’t shoot the ball well (35% FG, 24% 3FG) and in the process, probably gave his team more confidence than a string of wins over UALR and the like ever would. Our final thought on this game is that Elliot Williams is a lot better than anyone seems to have known – he didn’t shoot lights-out tonight (6-18 FG, 3-11 3FG), but he seemed comfortable with the role of becoming the Tiger go-to guy, and several of his shots and finishes were nothing short of spectacular.
#22 Louisville 96, Arkansas 66. This game was a game of runs; it’s just that Louisville seemed to be the team that had all of them. That’s not completely true, of course, but depending on who you ask, this was an expected result. Rick Pitino said that Arkansas’ suspensions have left them shorthanded (true), and that they wore down in the second half because they simply didn’t have enough bodies (questionable). John Pelphrey said that his team simply didn’t compete at a high enough level that you must do so to beat a team like Louisville (possibly). Here’s what we saw. We saw an Arkansas team that competed in the first half. The Cards got hot from three in the last several minutes of the half to run out to a 48-31 lead, but Arkansas then countered after the half with significant energy and movement to go on a 13-0 run of their own to cut the lead down to six. Then Louisville got hot again (especially Reginald Delk, who had 20/5), drained a bunch more threes (15 for the game) and Arkansas began to noticeably lose its motivation. By the last five minutes of the game, we actually wondered where all this “compete” stuff that we kept hearing about was coming from. Because we weren’t seeing it. The Cards placed six players in double figures, and Peyton Siva looked like a keeper with some of his defensive intensity and drives to the hole. Arkansas was led by Rotnei Clarke, who cooled off from 51 to only 16 this time around.
Bruce Pearl’s 100th win at UT unforgettable. #11 Tennessee 124, UNC-Asheville 49. Where do I start recapping this otherworldly performance for the Volunteers against a Division-I opponent? Tennessee set a school record for points (124), held Asheville to two field goals in the first half (2-26 FG, 7.7%) and 16:50 without a field goal, scored 49 points off 29 Asheville turnovers, started the game on a 20-0 run and finished with a 66-14 one and led at one point, 119-39. I’m not a math major, but I believe that’s an 80-point Tennessee lead! The Vols shot 60% as a team with sophomore Scotty Hopson notching his most impressive game in orange with 25/4/5 on 8-11 FG and 6-7 3pt. Someone hose down Rocky Top.
Just about anyone can name the best teams in college basketball, and, as far as individual players, if you’re reading this site you can most likely reel off three or four of your own personal All-America teams. But what about those individuals who specifically excel at a few of the more exciting aspects of the game? There are certain plays that make everyone come out of their seats: a massive and powerful dunk that liberates some poor defender of his pride; a ridiculously long three-pointer, especially at crunch time; and a blocked shot where the ball goes into orbit. And of course everyone loves basketball players with cool names. So here they are: RTC’s rankings of the best dunkers, best long-range bombers, best shot-blockers, and coolest names in the game today.
The Most Excellent Dunkers
Unlike the NBA All-Star Weekend, we’ll begin with the dunk artists. Each player is listed with a link leading you to an example or two of his work. Sorry, UConn fans. We respect you and your team, but we had to put Summers over Robinson because…well, you know why.
Honorable Mention (or, guys who will probably be on this list by year’s end):Will Coleman, Memphis; John Wall, Kentucky; Delvon Roe, Michigan State; Wes Johnson, Syracuse.
The All-Jeff Fryer Team
This list of the best long-range bombers is named after the legendary (in our minds) Loyola Marymount guard who still holds the record for most three-pointers made in an NCAA Tournament game, an incredible 11 against Michigan in 1990’s second round. If you can catch that game on ESPN Classic, it is something to behold. You have to be a little nuts to be a bomber; you have to forget your last miss like it never happened and be willing to keep firing even when they just won’t fall (our editors are familiar with this feeling). Here’s our ranking of 25 of this season’s best:
Shamelessly cribbing from the very clever NBA catch phrase, we here at RTC will present to you the Thirty Reasons We Love College Basketball as we gear up toward the start of the season next week. We’ll be bringing you players to watch for this season and moments to remember from last season, courtesy of the series of dump trucks, wires and effluvia known as YouTube.
The final two-part edition of our Top 65 games delves into the exciting stretch run of the final five weeks. These highlighted games should have tremendous implications on seeding and conference standings with heated rivals doing battle in the final push towards March Madness. Here’s a preview of what’s guaranteed to be the best slate of games 2009-10 has to offer (top games of November/December, January and the first part of February/March in case you missed them):
February 16- North Carolina @ Georgia Tech(#36 overall)– Many believe Georgia Tech has assembled the talent to play with the supposedly rebuilding reigning champs. Still, UNC should be the favorite to win the ACC and Tech may be right on their heels (no pun intended). Gani Lawal and Derrick Favors make up a frontcourt composed of two possible lottery picks. Iman Shumpert (5.0 APG) returns to bolster the backcourt at the 1 or 2 position while Zach Peacock and Mo Miller provide depth for a Tech squad looking for a late-season impact win.
February 22- West Virginia @ Connecticut(#20 overall)– Whether Stanley Robinson is assigned Da’Sean Butler on the perimeter or Devin Ebanks in the post, Stix is the key for Connecticut this season and in this specific Big East battle. Robinson averaged 14.0 PPG and 9.0 RPG in his final ten contests last year and the UConn coaching staff strongly believes their athletic forward can replicate that success the entire season. He won’t be spending the first half in a sheet metal plant this time around, either.
February 23- Tennessee @ Florida(#62 overall)– The Gators could linger around the bubble this season in a difficult SEC East. Knocking off likely high seed Tennessee at home would send a message to the committee at this late date in the season. It’s imperative Kenny Boynton have an electric shooting game against Tennessee’s shaky defense for the Gators to have a shot. They’ll also need Alex Tyus and Chandler Parsons to contain the Tennessee bigs inside and out.
February 24- Purdue @ Minnesota (#32 overall)– A difficult road contest for a Purdue team looking to capture the Big Ten title. Minnesota always plays at a different level defensively at the Barn, meaning this could be a battle of wills in the 50s that sends Big Ten haters screaming in the streets. How Minnesota’s youth, whether it be sophomores Colton Iverson and Ralph Sampson or their freshmen Royce White and Rodney Williams, develops into late February should reveal whether the Gophers can pull off this upset.
To get our readers excited for the endless possibilities of 2009-10, I’ve compiled an extensive list of the top 65 college basketball games of the upcoming season. Any true college hoops fan knows why we selected the number 65. Splitting up this season preview feature into three posts the next three Mondays (November/December, January and February/March), hopefully this list will provide you with the most vital of dates to circle on your calendar. Coaches are realizing more and more the importance of compiling a respectable non-conference slate to boost RPI/SOS numbers and provide their team adequate experience and preparation for the grind of conference play. Let’s lead off with the first batch of potentially memorable meetings during the first two months of the season:
Ed. Note: we are not including projected matchups from the preseason tournaments in these 65 games because those will be analyzed separately.
November 17- Gonzaga at Michigan State (#59 overall)– The featured game in ESPN’s 24-hour hoops marathon pits a backcourt-laden Gonzaga squad in the first of many difficult road tests against a top-five Michigan State team. The State backcourt of Kalin Lucas, Durrell Summers, Chris Allen and Korie Lucious will be given a true test from the Bulldogs trio of scoring senior Matt Bouldin, deep marksman junior Stephen Gray and emerging sophomore Demetri Goodson.
November 17- Memphis vs. Kansas in St. Louis (#64 overall)– A young and largely inexperienced Memphis team will receive a stiff test right away with the likely #1 team in the nation- Kansas. Guards Doneal Mack and Roburt Sallie must shoot well from deep for the Tigers to stay competitive. Former JUCO standout Will Coleman and burly senior Pierre Henderson-Niles will have their hands full down low with likely All-American Cole Aldrich.
November 19- North Carolina vs. Ohio State in NYC (#39 overall)– November and December means one thing: plenty of electrifying non-conference action at Madison Square Garden. This semifinal matchup could prove the best. Ohio State has their entire team returning besides the underwhelming B.J. Mullens and return defensive stalwart David Lighty from injury. They could definitely surprise the inexperienced Heels, who should have a distinct frontcourt advantage with Dallas Lauderdale sidelined.
December 1- Michigan State at North Carolina(#10 overall)– The Spartans and Heels meet in a rematch of the national title game that once again headlines this year’s ACC/Big Ten challenge. State may be able to avenge those two harsh defeats a year ago by taking advantage of the point guard mismatch. With Ty Lawson no longer around, Kalin Lucas could dominate against Larry Drew or Dexter Strickland. On the flip side, Draymond Green should have his hands full with a loaded UNC frontline.
December 5- North Carolina at Kentucky (#8 overall)– Notice a trend with this list so far? Roy Williams has challenged his team with an extremely difficult non-conference schedule, and this early season matchup in Lexington should be one of the best on the early season. There will be loads of projected lottery picks on the floor in this one, from North Carolina’s Ed Davis to Kentucky’s John Wall and DeMarcus Cousins.