NBA Lockout Speculation: Two-and-Through All But Certain?

Posted by rtmsf on November 1st, 2011

Today the RTC preseason All-America Team was announced, and it contains three sophomores on its first team who could have been viable 1-and-done prospects last spring had the NBA’s labor situation not been so tenuous. Those players are Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger, Kentucky’s Terrence Jones, and North Carolina’s Harrison Barnes. The second team has two more — Connecticut’s Jeremy Lamb and Baylor’s Perry Jones, III. The third team has two players who may declare for the NBA Draft after this, their freshman, season — Duke’s Austin Rivers and Kentucky’s Anthony Davis.

Battles Like These Between Barnes & Jones Could Become the Two-Year Norm (Getty/C.Trotman)

It’s no secret that the top talent in college basketball these days tends to skew younger, as our inclusion of seven freshmen and sophomores to our three preseason All-America teams clearly exhibits. In a different year assuming those five sophomores were already in the NBA, we might have included more freshmen such as Connecticut’s Andre Drummond or Oklahoma State’s LeBryan Nash on our list. But we didn’t have to, and the reason for this is that the pool of talent is deeper this season than it has been for the last five years, in the same way that the last half-decade was more talented than the prep-to-pros era of the late 1990s and early 2000s.

Now, imagine if the following players were also back: Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Texas’ Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, Tennessee’s Tobias Harris, Kansas’ Josh Selby. You see where we’re going with this. And the NBA brass, always thinking about its own worldwide marketing of star players and its bottom line, does too. According to Chad Ford over at ESPN Insider, one of the few areas of consensus among the key folks in the ongoing NBA owner and labor negotiations is that 1-and-done is likely on its last legs. Two-and-Through appears to be the new standard. From Ford’s piece:

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Morning Five: 10.05.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 5th, 2011

  1. Official practices start in a little over a week, but players around the country are already involved in conditioning and individual instruction as the season quickly approaches.  As a result, we’ll start to see an uptick in unfortunate injury news as was reported Tuesday that Missouri senior Laurence Bowers has torn his ACL and will miss the entire 2011-12 season.  The 6’8″ forward is a massive loss for a Tiger team already thin across the front line, and it will be felt particularly in the hustle areas of offensive rebounding and blocked shots where the bouncy Bowers excels.  Kim English will more than likely to slide over to Bowers’ position at the four, while center Ricardo Ratliffe, the Big 12′s Newcomer of the Year in 2010-11, will be asked to considerably increase his production of 11/6 per game.
  2. Missouri was the epicenter of college basketball news on Tuesday, as one day after the Big 12 unveiled its new revenue sharing plan for Tier I & II broadcast television rights, the school’s board of directors announced that it had unanimously authorized chancellor Brady Deaton to explore its conference affiliation options.  The backroom snapshot of this, of course, is that Missouri thinks that will receive an invitation to become the SEC’s fourteenth member institution, bringing along the 21st and 31st largest US media markets with it (St. Louis and Kansas City).  Whether this sets off another free-for-all of rapacious deal-making/breaking that sets the Big East and Big 12 completely on fire remains to be seen, but if Missouri ends up following Texas A&M southeast, the Big 12 will have to answer in kind.
  3. Western Michigan sophomore forward and Fab Five progeny, Juwan Howard, Jr., is transferring back to his hometown of Detroit to play at Detroit Mercy for his remaining three seasons of eligibility.  Howard had a very successful freshman campaign at WMU in 2010-11, averaging 9/4 off the bench in just over 23 minutes per contest, and he will be eligible in 2012-13 at his new school.  If Ray McCallum, Jr., is still playing for his father next year, a team that was already on the rise looks even better with Howard and McCallum in the lineup.
  4. With the NBA lockout continuing indefinitely (talks on Tuesday reportedly did not go well), Jeff Goodman checks in with several former NCAA stars who are currently back on campus earning a few more credits toward their college degrees.  Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Texas’ Tristan Thompson, Tennessee’s Tobias Harris, and UCLA’s Kevin Love are but a few of the names current students are shocked to find in some of their classes this fall.  Obviously, we think this is great and highly encourage these guys to continue along that path — we only wish more of them would see the value in it while they’re still in college, but alas… maybe the new NBA collective bargaining agreement will take care of that issue for us.
  5. We’re late to this article, but RTC alumnus John Gorman at GossipSports gets out his tin foil hat and begins connecting some of the open and notorious dots between the power players behind the scenes in the conference realignment discussions.  His target: the marriage between IMG College and its client schools, ESPN and its conference affiliations, and all of the dollars flowing back and forth between them.  It’s a really interesting piece, just try to not pay attention to the person opening his umbrella on the grassy knoll while you’re reading it.
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NBA Draft Thoughts From a College Perspective

Posted by rtmsf on June 27th, 2011

The NBA Draft has come and gone with one of the most boring evenings in its televised history.  Maybe it was the arena setting, maybe it was the lack of marquee names, maybe it was the fact that none of the draftees wore anything particularly ridiculous, but the league’s capstone summer event was so uninspiring that even Bill Simmons’ usually-hilarious draft diary felt trite and mailed in.  Still, the draft represents to every major college basketball player the culmination of a lifelong dream to hear one’s name called by David Stern, and it’s worth a quick reflection on how things went last Thursday for many of the players we’ve been watching and tracking for years.

The 1-and-Dones Did Well in This Year's Draft (AP)

The 1-and-Dones.  Generally speaking, the NBA Draft went well for the seven 1-and-done players who declared after their freshman season.  Excluding Enes Kanter, who never played a minute at Kentucky, from the discussion, six of the seven players who left school after one season were drafted, and five of those went in the first round.  Duke’s Kyrie Irving, Texas’ Tristan Thompson and Cory Joseph, Kentucky’s Brandon Knight, and Tennessee’s Tobias Harris were chosen in the first thirty selections, while Kansas’ Josh Selby was taken in the next thirty picks.  The lone holdout was Illinois’ Jereme Richmond, a player who clearly had a much higher opinion of himself than did NBA general managers (although if you listen to his uncle, delusions of grandeur may extend beyond Richmond to his extended family).  Whether any of the others are “ready” for the NBA is an irrelevant notion in this day and age, but seeing Thompson jumping up to the #4 selection despite not being able to shoot the ball, and Joseph going at #29 despite averaging only 10.4 PPG as a “scorer” has us raising our eyebrows. 

Sneaking Into the First Round... Not Exactly.  We heard time and time again in April that the impetus behind numerous marginal players deciding to enter the NBA Draft this year was because players like Harrison Barnes, Jared Sullinger, Perry Jones and Terrence Jones were not coming out.  The logic was that their staying in school opened up more first round spots for lesser talents, a statement certainly true in theory but in no way a sane justification for a dozen additional players to declare for the draft.  Four doesn’t equal twelve the last time we checked.  Interestingly, three of the four beneficiaries to earn guaranteed first round money were college seniors: Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson, Cleveland State’s Norris Cole, and Marquette’s Jimmy Butler (Texas freshman Cory Joseph was the fourth player to benefit).  As for the players who came out early in an attempt to sneak into the first round of this year’s weaker draft, it didn’t really work out for them.  We’re looking at second rounders like Shelvin Mack (Butler), Jordan Williams (Maryland), Trey Thompkins (Georgia), Darius Morris (Michigan), Malcolm Lee (UCLA), Travis Leslie (Georgia), DeAndre Liggins (Kentucky), and Isaiah Thomas (Washington), as well as undrafted guys like Scotty Hopson (Tennessee), Jeremy Green (Stanford), Terrence Jennings (Louisville), Greg Smith (Fresno State) and Carleton Scott (Notre Dame).  What’s going to be awesome is in future years when underclassmen have roughly two weeks to gauge their draft prospects before having to commit to the draft or heading back to school — we’re sure this will result in nothing but great decisions.

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RTC Mock Draft: Final Edition

Posted by zhayes9 on June 23rd, 2011

1) Cleveland Cavaliers- Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke

2) Minnesota Timberwolves- Derrick Williams, PF, Arizona

3) Utah Jazz- Enes Kanter, C, Turkey

4) Cleveland Cavaliers- Jonas Valanciunas, C, Lithuania

5) Toronto Raptors- Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky

6) Washington Wizards- Jan Vesely, PF, Czech Republic

7) Charlotte Bobcats- Bismack Biyombo, PF, Congo

8) Detroit Pistons- Tristan Thompson, PF, Texas

9) Charlotte Bobcats- Chris Singleton, SF, Florida State

10) Sacramento Kings- Jimmer Fredette, PG, BYU

11) Golden State Warriors- Klay Thompson, SG, Washington State

12) Utah Jazz- Kemba Walker, PG, Connecticut

13) Phoenix Suns- Marcus Morris, SF, Kansas

14) Houston Rockets- Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Diego State

15) Indiana Pacers- Markieff Morris, PF, Kansas

16) Philadelphia Sixers- Nikola Vucevic, C, USC

17) New York Knicks- Iman Shumpert, PG, Georgia Tech

18) Washington Wizards- Alec Burks, SG, Colorado

19) Milwaukee Bucks- Marshon Brooks, SG, Providence

20) Minnesota Timberwolves- Jordan Hamilton, SF, Texas

21) Portland Trail Blazers- Kenneth Faried, PF, Morehead State

22) Denver Nuggets- Tobias Harris, SF, Tennessee

23) Houston Rockets- Donatas Motiejunas, PF, Lithuania

24) Oklahoma City Thunder- Kyle Singler, SF, Duke

25) Boston Celtics- Reggie Jackson, PG, Boston College

26) Dallas Mavericks- Nikola Mirotic, SF, Serbia

27) New Jersey Nets- Justin Harper, PF, Richmond

28) Chicago Bulls- Charles Jenkins, SG, Hofstra

29) San Antonio Spurs- Davis Bertans, SF, Latvia

30) Chicago Bulls- Jeremy Tyler, C, Japan

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2011 RTC Mock Draft: Final Version

Posted by zhayes9 on June 21st, 2011

Zach Hayes is a editor, contributor and bracketologist for Rush the Court.

One final stab at how Thursday night will play out before we finally send off some of our favorite college players to the next level:

1 ) Cleveland Cavaliers- Kyrie Irving, PG, Duke. Any Derrick Williams-to-Cleveland rumor is searching for intrigue that’s simply non-existent. Irving was the pick the night the Cavaliers struck gold at the lottery and remains the pick today. Irving is  a safe bet to develop into a dynamic player at such a vital position on the floor.

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Kyrie Irving appears to be the near-unanimous choice at #1

2) Minnesota Timberwolves- Derrick Williams, SF/PF, Arizona. Ideally, Minnesota would be eyeing a 2-guard, but they’ll have to swing a pre-draft deal to fill that need, as no shooting guard is worth taking this high. My money’s on GM David Kahn holding on to the pick and trying to trade Michael Beasley later. Williams has all of the skills to be an eventual All-Star.

3) Utah Jazz- Brandon Knight, PG, Kentucky. The Jazz are fairly set up front with Al Jefferson, Paul Millsap and Derrick Favors waiting in the wings, so look for #3 to come down to either Knight or Kemba Walker. Given Knight’s shooting ability, size and character, I see the former Kentucky point as the most likely choice.

4) Cleveland Cavaliers- Enes Kanter, C, Turkey. Rumors are spreading that Cleveland is looking to trade #4 for more picks to fill multiple needs, but passing up on Kanter here could be a grave mistake. The young Turk has a great attitude, impressed at the Chicago combine and could mold into the best post player in the entire draft.

5) Toronto Raptors- Jan Vesely, PF, Czech Republic. Toronto has a major need at power forward and worked out both Vesely and Bismack Biyombo this past weekend. The Raptors have been connected with Vesley since the first draft prognostications began and we see no reason to change our minds now. Vesley is a high-level athlete with commendable versatility for his size.

6) Washington Wizards- Kawhi Leonard, SF, San Diego State. Washington could be a candidate to move up to either #4 or #5 and take Kanter or Vesely. If they hold fort here, look for Leonard to be the selection. The former Aztec is a phenomenal rebounder and athletic freak that can instantly boost a position of dire need for the Wizards.

7) Sacramento Kings- Kemba Walker, PG, Connecticut. The Kings wouldn’t mind if Leonard fell to them at #7, but if Washington grabs him, point guard is the next choice with Tyreke Evans more suited as a scoring guard. This pick will come down to Walker, Alec Burks and even Jimmer Fredette. Walker could instill some character to a shaky locker room and can contribute immediately.

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RTC NBA Draft Profiles: Tobias Harris

Posted by jstevrtc on June 5th, 2011

Player Name: Tobias Harris

School: Tennessee

Height/Weight: 6’7, 225 lbs.

NBA Position: Small/Power Forward

Projected Draft Range: Mid to Late First Round

Harris Can Put It On the Floor, But Needs a Jumper

Overview: In his single season at Tennessee, Tobias Harris ended up as the second leading scorer (15.3 PPG) on a squad that had only two players average double figures for the year (Scotty Hopson, 17.0 PPG). He was the Vols’ most efficient player, posting a 14.4 rating, far ahead of Hopson’s 10.7. His 7.3 boards per game was second on the team by a mere tenth of a carom and ranked him seventh in the SEC. Even though he led his team in blocked shots, he averaged less than a single rejection a game (0.9). He impressed with his handle and especially his strength for such a relatively young player, and he showed an ability to finish in the lane that was better than expected. His biggest drawback, though, was his lack of a formidable jumper, and in his short stint in Knoxville the improvement in his back-to-the-basket post game never materialized.

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Around The Blogosphere: May 9, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on May 9th, 2011

If you are interested in participating, send your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com as we will be updating these posts throughout the day.

News

  • Terrence Jones To Return: “Terrence Jones will be returning to Lexington for his sophomore year. That’s good news for the Wildcats’ hopes of winning their eighth national championship, and I think it is the correct decision for Terrence, considering all publicly known factors.” (A Sea of Blue)
  • Jeff Capel headed back home: “The University of Duke has confirmed today that former Oklahoma head basketball coach and Duke alumni, Jeff Capel has accepted an assistant position under his mentor Mike Krzyzewski.” (Crimson and Cream Machine)
  • Texas Guard Cory Joseph To Remain In NBA Draft: Rick Barnes and the Longhorns will have to rebuild next year as they have lost all five starters from this season. (Burnt Orange Nation)
  • DeAndre Liggins Widely Expected To Stay In the NBA Draft: “Jeff Goodman tweeted earlier today that DeAndre Liggins will have a press conference tomorrow at 2:00 PM, where he is expected to announce he will remain in the 2011 NBA Draft. Liggins was said to be amongst the best performers at the New Jersey Combine, and that fact together with the announcement of a press conference almost certainly argue for a decision to move on to the NBA.” (A Sea of Blue)

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Morning Five: 04.29.11 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on April 29th, 2011

  1. Dear unnamed ACC coaches who are more interested in their own selfish interests than the well-being of their players: go eff yourselves.  You got what you wanted in that the NCAA approved yet another change to its NBA Draft withdrawal deadline, making it virtually impossible for players to work out and solicit good advice on their draft status in 2012 and beyond before making a final decision.  The May 8 withdrawal deadline this year is already too short, allowing players merely two weeks to get full information that will help them make a life-changing decision; next year’s deadline will be a ridiculously-early April 12, only ten days after some lucky team will cut the nets down in New Orleans.  The ostensible reason behind this change is that coaches want to know what their rosters will look like going into the spring signing period (which begins at approximately the same time as the new deadline), but it rings extremely hollow when they’re claiming to care about their players first while banking millions of dollars themselves.  The coaches driving this legislation, every one of whom is a millionaire, has the luxury of wealth and privilege to fall back on if they make a hasty mistake, while their players get… what, exactly?  A couple of phone calls, a rumor or two, and a pat on the back?  It’s embarrassing and it’s shameful, and if anyone believes that this change will frighten players who are not draftable to stay in school, they’re dreaming.  Successful people generally believe things will work out for them, no matter the decision — it’s just that now they’ll be making their decisions without proper information on which to rely.  Congratulations, fellas.
  2. Ok, on to the players in this year’s draft who still have another ten days to make a final decision.  The NBA released its official list on Thursday and the biggest surprise name on it was Minnesota’s Ralph Sampson, III.  DraftExpress’ Jonathan Givony makes the call on every one of this year’s early entries, including analysis that shows several players — Tennessee’s Tobias Harris, Michigan’s Darius Morris, and Xavier’s Tu Holloway, to name a few — have difficult decisions ahead of them next week.
  3. Georgia’s Mark Fox received a nice raise as a result of his guiding the Bulldogs to its first legitimate NCAA Tournament appearance in nine seasons last year (the Dawgs’ 2008 appearance with a 17-17 team was a fluke in part caused by the Atlanta tornado).  His contract was extended by one year to 2016 and his salary was increased by $400,000 annually for a total package worth $1.7M per year.  Not bad for a football school, eh?  Fox will lose stars Trey Thompkins and Travis Leslie to the NBA Draft this offseason, so his ultimate worth will be determined by how he does the next four years with his own players.  Still, he’ll have plenty of dollars put away to carry him for a while if things don’t go as well as last season did for his program.
  4. Hey, we can’t say that we did or did not write a couple of letters in a similar vein to this back in the day, but what we can say is that Ethan Peikes’ letter to Georgia Tech AD Dan Radakovich applying for the open head coaching position this spring was probably more logical, likely more witty, and definitely better written.  This is a great story from Mike DeCourcy about how a 15-year old kid from Stamford, Connecticut, made a name for himself by simply, well, making a name for himself.  Nice resume booster.
  5. Jerry Seinfeld on Thursday made headlines when he said that the bombastic businessman-turned-politician Donald Trump was “God’s gift to comedy.”  Little did he know that another God’s Gift would be making his way to the Big Apple, and this one doesn’t involve a weird comb-over and a penchant for egomania.  As far as we know, at least.  God’s Gift Achiuwa, a 6’9 sophomore forward from Erie Community College picked St. John’s over Washington and Cincinnati for his services in the post next year.  Steve Lavin calls him “Gift,” and he represents exactly that to his packed recruiting class that comes in long on talent but not particularly sizable.  The Johnnies will be extremely young next season but should remain fun to watch for a number of reasons, not least of which will be enjoying various announcers handle Achiuwa’s God-Given name.
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Conference Report Card: Big 12

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 25th, 2011


 

 

Brian Goodman is an RTC editor and contributor.

Year In Review

Before the start of the season, pollsters bought into Kansas State as the sexy pick to take the Big 12 in 2011 on the heels of an Elite Eight appearance in 2010. The Big 12 was not overly impressive in non-conference play, as the Wildcats fell hard to Duke in a de facto home game in Kansas City, and Missouri did the same against Georgetown in one of the more thrilling matchups of the early season.

As league play began, the preseason #3 Wildcats disappointed, starting 2-5, and the usual stalwarts of the Big 12, Kansas and Texas, rose to the top. After topping the Jayhawks at Allen Fieldhouse in January, the Longhorns looked to be in the driver’s seat, especially after Kansas was blindsided at Bramlage Coliseum to give Texas a two-game lead. However, Rick Barnes‘ team suffered another late-season collapse, going 2-3 to finish the regular season while the Jayhawks dusted off the competition to pull ahead to take their seventh straight conference crown.

Elsewhere in the conference, the Wildcats bounced back to end the season in third place. The middle of the conference wasn’t settled until the latter stages of the season with Missouri falling lat and Texas A&MColorado and Nebraska treading water. Baylor underachieved, given the talented personnel in Waco, and Oklahoma State never really looked in sync. OklahomaTexas Tech and Iowa State all had awful seasons to finish at the bottom of the standings.

In the conference tournament final, Kansas played its best basketball of the season, topping Texas to gain some revenge entering the Big Dance. Colorado was snubbed on Selection Sunday despite beating Kansas State three times, but the Big 12 still managed to get five teams into the NCAA Tournament. However, only the Jayhawks made it out of opening weekend alive, and they fell short of expectations as they lost to Shaka Smart and the Rams’ reign of BCS destruction.

KU's front line of Thomas Robinson (left) and the Morris twins evolved into a strength, and the Jayhawks struggled most when they weren't utilized on offense. (AP/Jamie Squire)

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Conference Report Card: SEC

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 18th, 2011

Jared Quillen is the RTC correspondent for the SEC conference. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • It was a good year for the Southeastern Conference. After a weak showing in the NCAA Tournament last year, the SEC was the only conference with multiple teams (Kentucky and Florida) in the Elite Eight. The SEC also got five teams into the NCAA Tournament for the first time in three years. It was a major improvement over the sad slump that was 2009 when the SEC only qualified LSU, Tennessee, and Mississippi State at 8, 9, and 13 seeds, respectively.
  • When the season started, I predicted the conference could get five and possibly six teams in the tournament and I still contend that Alabama was snubbed.  But regardless of that, five teams is a good showing and a sign of improvement for a conference that lost a little respect as an elite conference in the past few years.
  • Florida was consistent all year, winning close games by playing calmly even when trailing late, but the biggest turning point for the conference came when Kentucky finally was able to win those same close games.  The Wildcats were sitting at 7-9 in conference play and likely facing a first-round game in the SEC when they won close games against Florida, Vanderbilt, and Tennessee finishing the regular season 10-6 and easily marching through the conference tournament.  Kentucky was the favorite at the Final Four in Houston, but poor shooting likely cost the Wildcats their eighth national championship.  And the debate about John Calipari’s ability to win it all with young teams goes on.
Brandon Knight came up big for John Calipari when he needed the star freshman guard the most.

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Around The Blogosphere: March 31, 2011

Posted by nvr1983 on March 31st, 2011

If you are interested in participating in our ATB2 feature, send in your submissions to rushthecourt@gmail.com. We will add to this post throughout the day as the submissions come in so keep on sending them.

Final Four Notes

  • Feinstein On The Brink … Of Encephalic Detonation: “One definition of insanity is said to be doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. Whether you agree with that or not, it is commonly used to display the logical flaws in not making changes to a given process when the process doesn’t work. John Feinstein wants to give us yet another common example of how one’s sanity can be questioned: ‘Ignore reality and maybe it will go away.’” (A Sea of Blue)
  • Enes Kanter: For Love of Wildcat-Not: “The tragedy that is Enes Kanter’s Kentucky Wildcats basketball career has gone mostly unnoticed since the NCAA declared, for the final time, that Kanter would never be able to play college basketball in the United States. I say this is a tragedy not because the outcome ruined a promising young career — it didn’t. Kanter will be fine. He will be drafted to play in the NBA in this year’s draft, and he’ll be making millions next year.  He could have already been making millions playing for Fenerbahçe Ülker in Turkey. So I use the term “tragedy” advisedly. It is really a tragedy for Wildcat fans that we didn’t get to see Kanter on the court.” (A Sea of Blue)
  • Before we go forward, a look back: Reflecting on the Huskies historic upset of Duke in 1999. (The UConn Blog)
  • Are we witnessing the final days of Jim Calhoun’s career?: “Up until the time UConn was finishing its five-day March to the Big East championship, I thought there was no chance in hell the Huskies would make a Final Four this year, let alone win the national championship. But then the run through Madison Square Garden happened and it became clear that, with a little luck, this UConn team actually did have a shot at the title. And once I started thinking about that, my mind jumped to the next logical place: What does that mean for Jim Calhoun?” (The UConn Blog)
  • As Huskies rise, Lamb emerges as UConn’s future: “The signs have been there, long before the national hype or the unparalleled postseason success. He hinted at as much early on in the season, his efficiency serving as a glimmer of hope amidst a once-successful season in a downward spiral. And he’s proven as much this March, averaging 16 points over an almost unheard of nine-game run spanning the two toughest tournaments in the nation. Now, it’s a fact: Jeremy Lamb is the next star of the UConn Huskies.” (The UConn Blog)

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NCAA Diary From Charlotte: Previewing Sunday

Posted by rtmsf on March 20th, 2011

As you’re no doubt aware, we’ve had our cadre of correspondents traveling around the country to each of the eight NCAA sites over the weekend.  We’ve asked the guys to produce a diary of the games they witnessed including analysis, commentary and opinion concerning the sights and sounds at their venues.  Our hope is that the diaries will give you insights into the games that you may not have otherwise had from watching them on television or catching the highlights package afterward.  Let us know how we do…

Location: Charlotte, NC
Round: Second
Teams: Tennessee, Michigan, UNC, Long Island, Duke, Hampton, Washington, Georgia
Date: 18 March 2011
Correspondent: Frank Barrows

Looking ahead, first from Friday’s second- and third-round NCAA games in Charlotte to Sunday’s competition here, and to the remainder of the tournament, and even to what’s going on in Knoxville:

* No game in Charlotte, and possibly no game staged so far in the tournament, had more implications for the rest of the month than Duke’s 87-45 victory over Hampton. It marked the return of Blue Devils’ point guard Kyrie Irving, who has been out of action since he injured a ligament in his right big toe in a December 4 contest with Butler. His reappearance on the court, and the way he performed against Hampton, significantly changes how Duke can play from here on out and increases the possibility that it can win a second consecutive national championship.

Before Irving, a 6’2 freshman, saw his foot put into a cast December 10, he had in just a few weeks impressed all of basketball with his ability to create shots for himself and others, his capacity for seizing control of a game, his blend of high talent and high smarts. He was beyond precocious. Some said he was the nation’s best at his position. Some projected that he would emerge as the NBA’s first draft choice if he chose to go the one-and-done route. And with Irving driving Duke so magnificently, discussion ensued on the chances of the Blue Devils putting together an undefeated season.

The injury ended all that. Game after game, as Irving sat on Duke’s bench, his foot the subject of endless television close-ups, speculation mounted about whether he would play again this season. One fan website, Duke Basketball Report, has a thread entitled “The Kyrie Irving Toe Rehab Vigil.” It has had more than 372,000 views; most threads there collect a couple thousand, at the most. When the cast came off on February 4, anticipation soared. Word leaked out that he was practicing, at least a little.

So now he’s back, probably not in peak game condition, understandably a bit tentative, maybe a smidge rusty. But against Hampton, especially in the second half, he made several breathtaking plays that indicate he’s not that far from playing as he did in November, when he averaged 17 points and five assists. For example, he swooped in on a long defensive rebound, instantly revved himself into overdrive, sped past two defenders, and blitzed 75 feet for a fastbreak layup that created an eruption in the crowd and among his teammates. All told, he spent 20 minutes on the court, entering the game as a substitute in both the first and second half, and had 14 points on four-of-eight shooting, including two-of-two from three-point range.

Here’s part of what Blue Devils’ coach Mike Krzyzewski had to say afterwards about Irving: “I was really pleased. I thought he was very confident as it moved along.” More from Krzyzewski: “I thought our team was sharp, and I thought Kyrie was sharp. You can’t come on the court after being out for three months and … expect to be fluid. But I thought as the game went along, we were fortunate we got him to play 20 minutes.” And this: “We were trying in the first half to see what kind of rotation we might have using Kyrie, and then in the second half we weren’t worried about a rotation.”

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