06.28.09 Fast Breaks

Posted by rtmsf on June 28th, 2009

Let’s get caught up after a glorious weekend…

  • Elliot Williams to Memphis.  Nothing surprising here, as we reported last week that Elliot Williams was leaving Duke to move closer to home to attend to his mother’s illness.  The only school that made reasonable sense was his hometown University of Memphis, and Gary Parrish reported yesterday that Williams will indeed become a Tiger.  If Williams can get the NCAA to approve his hardship waiver so that he can play next season, he should walk right into a starting position at the PG spot for Josh Pastner’s squad.  While we’re on the subject of Memphis getting new players, former Kentucky player (well, he never actually played) Matt Pilgrim is probably transferring to Memphis with the assistance of new UK coach John Calipari.  Pilgrim, a transfer from Hampton who sat out last season at UK, wasn’t part of the new regime’s plans.  Since he didn’t want to leave Lexington but was no longer welcome, Coach Cal is trying to facilitate a seamless transfer for him.
  • The NCAA Shell Game. Seth Davis wrote an article last week that illustrates just how one-sided the NCAA scholarship system can be.  When new coaches (e.g.,Isiah Thomas and John Calipari) get to their new schools, they often feel the need to run off players (such as Pilgrim, mentioned above) who don’t fit in their lofty plans for the program.  That’s all fine and well for replacing lesser players, but the whole house of cards gets exposed when a coach wants to keep a player who otherwise would like to transfer.  Meet Freddy Asprilla, a 6’10 Colombian center at FIU who had a great freshman year and wants to transfer to a major conference school, but whom isn’t being released by FIU simply because, well, they don’t have to.  There’s an adage about the deck getting stacked somewhere in here.
  • FIU Cheerleading.  We know it’s purely coincidental that FIU is enabling cost-cutting measures by cutting its cheerleaders during the same year that they hired Isiah Thomas to coach their men’s basketball team (Thomas isn’t taking a base salary this year).  Still, the rich irony of FIU wholly dismantling the cheerleading team within months of Thomas’ arrival on campus isn’t lost on anyone.  Sometimes the unintended consequences are more compelling than the intended ones.
  • NBA Draft DetritusGary Parrish: the NBA will find you wherever you play.  Luke Winn: behind the scenes at MSG, and raising legitimate questions as to Ty Lawson and DeJuan Blair’s draft positions.  Jeff Goodman: Brandon Jennings made the right choice to go to Europe.  More Parrish: like RTC, he also thinks Demar DeRozan is going to be a stud.
  • More Quick Hits.  Marquette’s Maurice Acker: done with basketballRenardo Sidney: stop delaying, NCAAJeremy Tyler: headed to Israel Brian Ellerbe: new assistant at GW.  BYU’s Dave Rose: now cancer-free and returning to coach this fall.   William & Mary: considering an asparagus mascotRoy Williams: Aw Shucks… the RW Story, on sale in November.  Antonio Anderson: those Ws are ours!
Share this story

Boom/Bust Cycle

Posted by rtmsf on June 25th, 2009

It’s a little less than an hour before tonight’s NBA Draft, and this should have probably been done days ago, but we wanted to use our undeniable RTC expertise when it comes to projecting college hoops talent to the pros so we can say “told ya so” when the one undervalued player we said would be a star pans out (while the other ten we said would be don’t, but let’s not quibble).  We’ll use Andy Katz’s final mock draft from this morning, and we’re only going to evaluate college players (because we’ve seen them play for at least one year).  The criteria is BOOM or BUST – either that player is undervalued or overvalued based on his selection.  That’s it.  Here we go…

SKU-000062925_COVER.indd

1.  Blake Griffin, Oklahoma – BOOM, although the fact that he’s going to ClipperLand means drug addiction and/or horrific injury.  Bill Simmons agrees

2.  Hasheem Thabeet, UConn – BUST, his offensive game won’t develop any further and he’s no Dikembe.

4.  Tyreke Evans, Memphis – BUST, not seeing it at this selection; opposing defenses can lay off of him out to 18 feet. 

5.  James  Harden, Arizona St. – BOOM, a Joe Johnson/Monta Ellis clone.  Kid can really play.

6.  Stephen Curry, Davidson – BUST, limitless range but really, #6?  Too many question marks to be this high.

7.  Jordan Hill, Arizona – BUST, nice player but he’s not even as good as Big Baby.

8.  Jrue Holiday, UCLA – BUST, classic example of being a better athlete than player. 

9.  Demar DeRozan, USC – BOOM, DeRozan really came on at the end of the season and appears poised to break out.

10.  Jonny Flynn, Syracuse – BUST, is Flynn really the best true point in this draft?  No way. 

11.  Terrence Williams, Louisville – BUST, seems like the kind of player who will be out of the league in 3 years (does everything well, nothing great).

12.  Gerald Henderson, Duke – BOOM, second best guard in the draft behind Harden.

13.  DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh – HEDGE, this is about the right position for an undersized beast like Blair. 

14.  Earl Clark, Louisville – BOOM, should have been higher but has a reputation for being lazy.  Will shed that and become an excellent NBAer.

15.  Austin Daye, Gonzaga – BUST, we used to love this guy, but he hasn’t shown much improvement in two years of college.  We don’t believe in him.

16.  BJ Mullens, Ohio St. – HUGE BUST, this is a joke.  Either he’ll be washing cars in two years with Patrick O’Bryant or turn into Chris Kaman, who knows?

17.  Ty Lawson, UNC – BOOM, he’s proven that he’s a winner and has improved his game substantially.  Could be TJ Ford w/o the back problems.

18.  James Johnson, Wake Forest – BOOM, has a reputation for being lazy, but he’s silky smooth at his size and will succeed in this league.

19.  Tyler Hansbrough. UNC – HEDGE, we all know what kind of player he’ll be.  Average at best.

20.  Sam Young, Pittsburgh – BOOM, an absolute steal at this pick; Young could end up being a star.

21.  Jeff Teague, Wake Forest – BOOM, would have been a lottery pick had he not packed in the second half of the year; the talent and athleticism is apparent.

24.  Eric Maynor, VCU - HEDGE, nice pickup for this position. 

25.  Jon Brockman, Washington – BUST, sorry, but Brockman just isn’t NBA material in the long run.

26.  Toney Douglas, Florida St. – HEDGE, could go either way here, but we’d expect Douglas to find a niche in the League.

27.  Darren Collison, UCLA – BUST, Collison has always struck us as someone who should have been better than he was. 

29.  Nick Calathes, Florida – BOOM, Calathes will find a way to make himself a good pro if he decides to play in good ole USA instead of Greece.

30.  DaJuan Summers, Georgetown – BUST, but it’s worth a gamble given his natural abilities.  Could become a defensive stalwart at some point if he tried.

Share this story

On Obama, the Heels and Reggie Love’s Chin…

Posted by nvr1983 on May 12th, 2009

Yesterday in the White House South Lawn, President Obama greeted Coach Roy Williams and his Tar Heels to celebrate their recent national championship.  Obama spent some time in his remarks reflecting on his pickup game in Chapel Hill last year, going so far as to suggest that luck may have carried both he and the Heels to victory in the ensuing year.  (well, that, plus a catastrophic economic collapse and Ty Lawson’s DUI; so yeah, it was all luck…)

obama-unc-jersey

Obama is our first genuine hoops president, so it’s no surprise that he employs former Dookie and teabagger extraordinaire Reggie Love as his assistant.  Everyone can use a House Dookie, after all.  This was a culmination of a particularly rough few days for Love, though, as he was forced to endure the gigantic slurping of his most hated rival from his BFF, coming on the heels of a weekend pickup game where he took a substantial shot to his face during play.  From Politics Daily:

After the game, Mr. Love had a bandage on his chin, according to the pool reporter at the scene. And on return to the White House, he “muttered he might need stitches.” 

reggie-love-obama-team

Yes, you read that correctly.  Mr. Teabags took a shot to his chin, a phrase which carries all kinds of hilariously inappropriate references that we won’t use here for fear of ending up in Gitmo. 

While our confidential sources did not give up the name of Team Obama‘s version of Dikembe Mutombo (Chris Paul?), it’s pretty clear that the President means business on the court – his team won three of the five games against Love’s crew (RTC is still waiting for its invitation).  As you can see from the above photo taken at the UNC ceremony on Monday, though, it appears that Love is just another whining Democrat Dookie who can’t handle a little rough action around the edges (unless of course it involves voluminous amounts of alcohol and someone’s scrotal region, then he’s +1).

Share this story

Gladwell’s Theory on Full Court Pressure is the Only Outlier Here

Posted by nvr1983 on May 5th, 2009

Everyone’s favorite contrarian and make-sense-of-the-world guru, Malcolm Gladwell, wrote a provocative piece in this week’s New Yorker that is making the rounds among the hoops blognoscenti today.  Gladwell, the author of such fantastic thinking-man’s books such as The Tipping Point, Blink and Outliers, is one of our favorite writers, one of the few in the industry for whom we’ll actually make a specific trek to the book store and pay for a hardcover (!) edition shortly after his new material arrives.  So when we say we’re a major fan of his writing, thinking and (ahem) moral clarity, we’re not joking.  In RTC’s view of the world, Gladwell is Blake Griffin and the rest of us are merely the rim (or a hapless Michigan defender, take your pick).

Well, except for today.

gladwell-cartoon

Gladwell’s Argument

The article is long, but Gladwell’s thesis focuses on a story about a girls’ junior league basketball team located in Silicon Valley, filled with 12-yr olds who admittedly weren’t very good at the skillful parts of the game, but they could run and hustle and were able to win their local league and make the national tournament based upon their reliance and perfection of a strategy that any team can employ: the use of full-court pressure defense.  In his argument, Gladwell successfully interweaves the biblical story of David vs. Goliath with quantitative analyses of historical military strategy and modern basketball, ultimately concluding that the Davids in every facet of competition have a much better chance of winning by simply changing up how the game is played.

Using his typical mixture of anecdotal and statistical evidence, Gladwell argues that for a David to have a chance at beating Goliath, he must do two things.  The first thing – outwork Goliath – is a simple enough concept; but, more importantly,  the second requirement is that David must also be willing to do something that is “socially horrifying” in order to change the conventions of the battle.  For example, David knew he couldn’t defeat Goliath in a traditional swordfight; so he reconsidered his options and decided instead to pick up and throw the five stones by which his opponent fell.  Gladwell likens this strategy to the one implemented by the girls’ team’s coach, Vivek Ranadive, an Indian-born immigrant who had never before played the game of basketball.   Noting that his team wasn’t skilled enough to compete in the traditional half-court style of basketball played by most teams at that level, he instituted a full court pressure defense that truly confounded their opponents.  Using Gladwell’s model, the press was a socially horrifying construct that allowed Ranadive’s team a chance to compete with their more pysically talented contemporaries.  And compete they did, all the way to the national tournament.

Given the purported equalizing effect of the press, Gladwell asked why isn’t the use of full-court pressure defense more commonly used in organized basketball?  He cites Rick Pitino as one of the most successful adopters of the strategy, particularly with his 80s Providence and 90s Kentucky teams, but other than a few coaches here and there over the years, in his estimation the strategy remains largely underutilized (Mizzou’s Mike Anderson and Oklahoma St.’s Travis Ford, a Pitino protege, say “hi”).

malcolm-gladwell-for-harry-rosen

Why It’s Wrong

We’re somewhat concerned about a lightning bolt striking us when we say this, but Gladwell completely misses the mark on this one – the full court press as a strategy works great when you’re dealing with 12-yr old girls whose teams are generally all at roughly the same skill and confidence levels (i.e., not very good), but as you climb the ladder and start to see the filtration of elite talent develop in the high schools, it actually becomes a weapon that favors the really good teams, the Goliaths, more than that of the underdogs.  The reason for this disparity is simple – successful pressure defense is a function of phenomenal athleticism (quickness, activity and agility) more than any other single factor, and the best teams tend to have the best athletes (not always, but often).  That’s why the early 90s leviathans of UNLV, Arkansas and Kentucky were so unbelievably devastating – they each could send wave after wave of long, athletic players at their opponents, which were usually slower, less athletic and shallower teams.

Gladwell confirms this when he talks with Pitino at length about the 1996 Kentucky dismantling of LSU, when the Wildcats went into the locker room with an 86-42 lead as an example of the devastating consequences of a great full-court press.  No argument there, but where it breaks down is when he fails to recognize that 1996 UK team was one of the best and deepest teams in the last quarter century of college basketball.  Nine players saw time in the NBA from a team who steamrolled most everyone they came into contact with that season.  The LSU first half was Exhibit A of the destruction, but they were far from the only one, and for Gladwell to use this example to somehow make a case for full-court pressure defense assisting the Davids pull off an upset is borderline absurd!

The other factor that Gladwell doesn’t discuss in his piece is that teams at the highest levels of basketball usually have guards who can beat pressure by themselves (not typically found at the 12-yr old level).  There’s a very good reason that you almost never see a full-court press in the NBA, and it’s because point guards like Chris Paul and Rajon Rondo are nearly impossible to trap in the full-court.  Every NBA team has at least one player who can easily negotiate any backcourt trap, which will lead to an automatic fast break advantage and two points at the other end – a coach of an underdog employing this strategy on a consistent basis will soon be in the unemployment line if he tries this too often.  This is obviously less true at the collegiate level, but there are enough good guards at the top programs that similarly make full-court pressure a relatively futile effort.  Are you seriously going to trap Ty Lawson or Sherron Collins for an entire game?  Good luck with that strategy.

Not Even Matt Doherty Would Press Full Court as an Underdog

Not Even Matt Doherty Would Press Full Court as an Underdog

Conclusion

What’s particularly ironic about Gladwell’s conclusion that full-court pressure defense could act as the great equalizer in basketball is that a byproduct of this strategy is that it speeds up the game.  Yet, the tried-and-true method for less talented teams to have a shot to beat their more talented counterparts is to slow the game down.   Taking the air out of the ball became such a problem in the late 70s and early 80s that the NCAA instituted the shot clock to eliminate 24-11 abominations like this one.  Even former UNC coach Matt Doherty employed a modern shot-clock version of the strategy in a 60-48 loss against #1 Duke in the 2002 ACC Tournament.  We’d never say never about Doherty’s coaching acumen, but we would be seriously shocked if he had considered pressing Duke (and Jason Williams) as a viable strategy to pull off the major upset.  It is Doherty, though, so you never know.

Gladwell, as always, wrote a thought-provoking article that told a fascinating story about Vivek Ranadive’s team of twelve-year old “blonde girls.”  He failed, however, when he made a logical leap from youth league girls’ basketball to the elite levels on the assumption that such a strategy would work similarly for lesser talented teams.  It’s a fair assumption that was likely made by someone not as familiar with the intricacies of high-level basketball, but our job here of course is to set the record straight.  If we ever end up coaching youth league basketball, though, it’s now clear what our first practice will focus on.

Share this story

Maryland HS Star Decides To Go To Maryland?!?

Posted by nvr1983 on April 24th, 2009

We have mentioned Gary Williams and his struggles to keep his Maryland program relevant since Juan Dixon left College Park, Maryland, but it looks like he might he temporarily fixed one of the many problems with a commitment from Terrence Ross, a 2010 recruit from Montrose Christian (same high school as Kevin Durant) in Maryland. Ross is a 6’5″ SG who transferred to Montrose from Portland, OR before his junior year. Even though he only averaged 13.5 PPG this year (partly attributable to playing alongside Mouphtaou Yarou, a senior who is ranked 10th in Rivals Top 150), he is a 4-star recruit who is ranked 31st in his class by Rivals with some ridiculous athleticism (see below).

Keeping an in-state star might not seem like a big deal to most people (especially when you’re the only legit program in the state), but it is from Williams who has lost a bevy of stars (Kevin Durant, Michael Beasley, and Ty Lawson) to out-of-state programs in recent years as well as the aforementioned Yarou, who signed with Villanova. While this might not necessarily mean that Williams has righted the Terrapin ship, it is certainly a very good start.

Share this story

Davidson and UNC Lose 3 Star Juniors: Coach K Pumps Fist

Posted by nvr1983 on April 23rd, 2009

After arguably being the third best team in the state of North Carolina the past 3 years (behind UNC and Davidson in 2008 and behind UNC and Wake Forest in 2009), Duke may have just ended up with the best team on Tobacco Road and the ACC by simply holding onto its stars this off-season with the possible exception of Gerald Henderson. Let’s run through the challengers for Duke in the state of North Carolina (NC State left out for Sidney Lowe obvious reasons).

TP_261586_CASS_fenlons_

Wake Forest? Having lost James Johnson and Jeff Teague to the NBA Draft, Dino Gaudio will be hard-pressed to replicate this year’s success (outside of their embarrassing first round loss to Cleveland State) with just Al-Farouq Aminu returning to lead the Demon Deacons. I’d say they’re going to be worrying more about playing for a NCAA bid than about challenging Duke for the ACC title (although Teague may ultimately return).

Davidson? Although Davidson’s drop-off this year (from a missed Jason Richards‘ 3-pointer at the buzzer away from the Final 4 to a NIT also-ran) made the Wildcats seem like an unlikely threat this coming season, having Stephen Curry in the mix meant that the Wildcats had the potential to threaten any team in the country (even if some people think he isn’t quite all that he’s hyped up to be). However, today in a move that wasn’t surprising to all but the most deluded fans, Curry announced that he will turn pro and hire an agent ending any chance of stealing Pete Maravich‘s career scoring record (done in 3 years without a 3-point line). Good luck playing for a Southern Conference title and a 15-seed for the next few seasons Wildcats.

UNC? Going into the off-season, the Tar Heels posed the greatest threat to Duke next season even with the loss of all-time ACC leading scorer Tyler Hansbrough (I know it sounds weird to me too), Danny Green, and Bobby Frasor (the Deadspin commenters will miss him more than Tar Heel fans will). As all Tar Heels knew the fate of their 2009-10 season hung on the decision of juniors Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington. If either of them returned (both returning was just a pipe dream), Roy Williams would have another national title contender with Marcus Ginyard, Tyler Zeller, and Ed Davis returning and John Henson, David Wear, and Travis Wear (and potentially John Wall) coming to Chapel Hill next year. Instead, both Lawson and Ellington declared for the draft today. Assuming that Ty can hire a designated driver from now until the NBA Draft, I don’t expect to see either of them suiting up in Carolina blue again as they are both at their peak value. The Tar Heels are a shoe-in for the NCAA tournament next year and will probably will be in contention for a top 4 seed particularly if Wall decides to not listen to his handler Brian Clifton and play for Roy.

What does all this mean for Duke, which has struggled to live up to its reputation and ESPN’s infatuation since Chris Duhon left?  Although Coach K will have to wait a year to add Seth Curry, and there has been no official communication from Durham, I’d have to guess that it would look something like this. . .

So for all of you Duke haters, get ready for an unbearable next 11 months (especially if the Devils, and not UNC, garner the services of John Wall). For all the Duke fans, the pressure is now back on. Just making it to the second weekend of the NCAA tournament won’t cut it this time.

Share this story

Buzz: Talk About Breaking Ankles

Posted by rtmsf on April 8th, 2009

.

Buzz: Talk About Breaking Ankles.  Ty Lawson must be the fastest guard on earth, as it was reported today that not one, but TWO Michigan State guards have broken right feet as a result of Monday night’s game against the Tar Heels.  Korie Lucious and Chris Allen will both have surgery on Friday to repair the injuries, and they are expected to fully recover by next season (you know, when Ty Lawson can no longer inflict damage on them). 

Share this story

04.07.09 Fast Breaks: Championship Post-Mortem

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2009

Several things to get up, so we’ll be updating this throughout the day…

  • NBA Early Entry news:  Kentucky’s Jodie Meeks will test the waters, but he will not sign with an agent (expect him back); South Carolina’s Devan Downey will do the same (also expect him back).
  • POY Decision.  Oklahoma’s all-world and probable #1 overall pick Blake Griffin will make his announcement at 3:30 EDT today (um, GONE).   Update: Gone.
  • The UNC Guys.  UNC’s Ed Davis has already decided that he’s returning next season, but Roy Williams said he’s unsure about what his two junior stars (Ty Lawson and Wayne Ellington) will do (expect them both to leave).
  • In Case You Missed It.  Wake’s James Johnson is going pro and has already signed with an agent.  He’s 22 yrs old and a projected top 20 pick, so this makes sense.
  • Pittsed Off.  DeJuan Blair will reportedly announce his intention to go pro next week.
  • Good Luck, Sean MillerChase Budinger will hire an agent and go to the NBA, but Nic Wise will not hire an agent as he ascertains his draft position.
  • ASU Not ImmuneJames Harden said that he is also leaving the Sun Devil program.
  • Tough Day for Louisville.  Not only did UConn spank them, but Earl Clark has decided to go pro.
  • At FSU, Once in 10 Years is FineLeonard Hamilton got a five-year extension on his contract, ensuring another half-decade of mediocrity in Tallahassee.
  • NCAA Championship Ratings.  The final game blowout wasn’t good for CBS, but the Tournament as a whole was.  Interesting, considering there were, like, four, good games.
  • BBall Prospectus.  Why turnovers doomed MSU last night.
Share this story

UNC Overwhelms Michigan St. to Win the 2009 National Championship

Posted by rtmsf on April 7th, 2009

Carolina is the 2009 National Champion.

Head Over Heels (John McDonough/SI)

Head Over Heels (John McDonough/SI)

If we had to pick one series of plays from tonight’s shellacking that perfectly illustrated Michigan St.’s problems throughout, it was a series from early in the second half.  If MSU was to make any attempt at a comeback, it had to happen soon.  Immediately was more like it.  Goran Suton had just hit a three to reduce the lead from 21 to 18, and at the other end, the Spartans forced a contested three that rattled out by Wayne Ellington.  The Spartans’ Durrell Summers looked ahead to start the break, but instead he threw the ball into the waiting arms of the defensive back thief extraordinaire Ty Lawson, who saved it to his Carolina teammate, who then immediately found a waiting Ed Davis underneath the basket, foul, and-one.  Ballgame.

That Kind of a Night for MSU (Andy Lyons/Getty)

That Kind of a Night for MSU (Andy Lyons/Getty)

Yeah, the game was decided in the first five minutes, but that singular play seemed to happen to Michigan St. a hundred separate times tonight.  But by saying it ‘happened to’ MSU doesn’t give the proper amount of credit where it lies, which is that UNC was doing the happening all over the Spartans.  It was UNC’s defense that was forcing all thirteen of those first-half turnovers; it was UNC’s offense that was nailing everything (no rim) en route to a 24-8 start to the game; it was UNC’s preparation and poise that silenced the 60,000 green-clad Spartan fans by the game’s first TV timeout, never to be seriously heard from again.

Once Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green decided to return to Chapel Hill, we wrote last June that UNC was #1 with a bullet, because on paper at least, there is “nobody on the horizon who can pretend to match up with the Heels.”  Part of the reason for this was seredipity – Carolina kept its pro prospects while the teams better than it last year (Kansas, Memphis, UCLA) didn’t.  The silly talk about going undefeated in the preseason was just hyperbole gone wild, but there should never have been any question about which team had the strongest combination of talent and experience returning this season.

The MOP Splits the Double Team (Eric Gay/AP)

The MOP Wayne Ellington Splits the Double Team (Eric Gay/AP)

When the brackets came out, we thought UNC had the easiest road to the Final Four, and we only saw three teams that could realistically give the Heels all they wanted there – Pitt, UConn and Louisville.  UNC avoided playing any of them.  But that’s not their fault or any kind of a hedge against the validity of their 2009 national title – you can only play the teams in front of you, and each of those other schools blew their chances along the way.  Even that’s not to say that any of those three would have necessarily won such a fictional game – it’s only to say that they would have had a reasonable chance to do so.

We won’t bother going through all the particulars of tonight’s game or cast all the platitudes about the illustrious career of Tyler Hansbrough; there’ll be plenty of others who will do that for us.  But what we will do is talk about how tonight Roy Williams went from merely a great coach to one joining the pantheon.  As CBS pointed out tonight during the broadcast, only thirteen coaches have won multiple national titles, and several of those (most recently Billy Donovan at Florida) did so with the core nucleus of the same players.  Ol’ Roy has now done it with two completely different teams, both within the last five seasons.  He’s also been to five of the last eight Final Fours, and to say that he’s figured outthis whole recruiting/coaching/tournament success balance is the understatement of the new millenium.  It seems like eons ago when Williams was known as a coach whose players came out tighter than a drum in big postseason games.  Did you see any tightness among tonight’s players wearing the light blue and white?  We didn’t either.  And at this point, it wouldn’t shock us in the least if Roy gets a couple more of these things before he hangs it up.

Roy Could Realistically Do This a Couple More Times (John Blever/SI)

Roy Could Realistically Do This a Couple More Times (John Blever/SI)

For Carolina fans, this is exactly what they were hoping for when they lured Williams away from Kansas in 2004.  Five short years later, in the 1-and-done era no less, Williams has already equaled the number of national titles that his mentor and resident deity Dean Smith brought back to Tobacco Road.  Enjoy #5, Heel fans, but don’t insult us by claiming six.  Yet.

Share this story

NCAA Title Preview: Meet the Real Team of Destiny…

Posted by rtmsf on April 6th, 2009

Much of what has been written in the last 36 hours about tonight’s UNC-Michigan St. showdown in the national title game has applied liberally the use of the word “destiny.”  And on the surface, we can understand some of the hyperbole.  Detroit, in fact the entire state of Michigan, is going through hard times.  Harder than the rest of us, at least.  MSU, personified by its tough-as-nails coach who also happens to be one of the very best preparation NCAA coaches of all-time, has gutted and clawed its way back from multiple injuries this year to put together a Big Ten regular season championship season and two straight victories over #1 seeds from the very talented Big East Conference.  The game is 92 miles from their campus, and roughly 80% of the available 75,000 seats are expected to be filled with green-and-white clad Spartan fans.   Their opponent, UNC, was the prohibitive favorite prior to the season and came into the Tournament as the prohibitive favorite once again (both in the pools and in Vegas).   When the two teams played in this same venue 126 days ago, Carolina looked like it possibly could become the greatest team in the history of history, as it eviscerated, immolated and annihilated Sparty by a score of 98-63.  Despite MSU’s 27-4 record since that point (not dissimilar than UNC’s 25-4 in the same interim), there’s a perception that this is still a team of underdogs, fighting for their town, their neighbors, their state. 

So the narrative seems clear: the NCAA Tournament, the most magical postseason event in all of sports, filled with glorious upsets that have become de riguer in the national consciousness, will once again work its sorcery tonight in Detroit.  Michigan State’s gutty bunch of tough guys who happen to play a little ball will bring home the golden crystal trophy in front of its adoring fans, sorely in need of a caffeinated jolt of good fortune to rally around. 

The problem is… it’s not gonna happen. 

destiny

If there’s a Team of Destiny in this year’s Tournament, it’s the team residing in a state that has also gotten hit fairly hard by the downswing of the textile, banking and tobacco industries.  More contextually, Carolina’s destiny was secured on June 6, 2008, when Ty Lawson, who at the time was leaning toward staying in the NBA Draft, was picked up by Chapel Hill police for ‘drinking while driving,’ a head-scratching offense that may have put just enough doubt in Lawson’s mind about his being a certain first-rounder on draft day. 

So he came back to Carolina, and like dominoes, so did Wayne Ellington and Danny Green.  Tyler Hansbrough wasn’t ever leaving, and suddenly Roy Williams enjoyed a fortuitous situation where a majority of his Final Four team was returning while every other major contender (Kansas, Memphis, UCLA) was getting parceled up like an auction for engine parts.  It’s not just the players who returned, mind you, it’s also how they’ve improved as this season (which could have been their rookie years)has progressed. 

Lawson, Green & Ellington: There's Your Destiny (photo credit: AP/Haraz Ghanbari)

Lawson, Green & Ellington: There's Your Destiny (photo credit: AP/Haraz Ghanbari)

For the fake Team of Destiny to defeat the real Team of Destiny tonight, three things ALL have to happen.  If any one of these three things doesn’t happen, Carolina assuredly will cut down the nets.  The likelihood of any one thing happening is good; of two things happening is not-so-good; and all three, damn near impossible.  Still, these are the three things…

1) Travis Walton must get into Ty Lawson’s head.  Good luck with that.  Lawson is generally unflappable, having committed a ridiculously low six turnovers in 128 minutes of play over four NCAA Tournament games.  Granted, four of those were against Villanova, but he also dished out eight assists and had 22 pts in that game.  Walton, who has harassed AJ Price (5-20) and Terrence Williams (1-7) into terrible games the last two outings, will this time be at a quickness disadvantage.  If he (and by proxy, Izzo) can figure out a way to slow down the mercurial Lawson, then the Spartans will have a chance.  In three of Carolina’s four losses this season, Lawson shot the ball poorly (~33%) and he turned the ball over at least four times per game. 

2) MSU must dominate the boards.  Where MSU excels, they must continue to do so.  Izzo’s Spartans are the #1 reb% team in America, securing 58% of all caroms.  In the game against UNC in December, the Heels actually won the battle of the boards in addition to the score (40-39).  But in the Spartans’ most recent two games, they dominated Louisville and played even with the super-sized UConn frontline through hustle and aggressiveness.  Michigan St. will need a +10 rebounding margin with multiple second-shot opportunities to win this game. 

3) The Spartans Need Others to Step Up.  Against Louisville, it was Goran Suton’s 19/10; against UConn, it was Korie Lucious’ three treys off the bench in the first half.  The Spartans will need someone unexpected to provide offensive punch against a team that is going to score 70+ points against them.   Tom Izzo has a multitude of options, including Draymond Green, Durrell Summers, Chris Allen and Marquise Gray, but he’s going to absolutely have to have one or more of these players contributing points for his team to have a fighting chance tonight. 

franklin-street-unc

Assuming Michigan St. accomplishes all three of these things, they’ll have a chance to win tonight’s title game.  Three of UNC’s four losses were one-possession Ls, so it’s impossible extremely unlikely the Heels will lay an egg and get blown out tonight, no matter what happens.  But like we said above, the odds of all three of these occurrences happening simultaneously tonight are not good.  MSU should feel great about its accomplishments this season, but the ony Team of Destiny for 2009 is going to take another trophy back to the party on Franklin Street tonight. 

Share this story

Why North Carolina Will Win…

Posted by rtmsf on April 3rd, 2009

As part of our ongoing attempt to bring you the best college basketball coverage anywhere, we enlisted the editors from the finest blogs we could find to write posts explaining why their team will win tomorrow.

This submission is from our friends at Carolina March.

Three Reasons Why UNC Will Be Cutting Down the Nets

Experience. UNC starts three seniors and two juniors, all who made the Final Four a year ago and the Elite Eight a year before that. Only Connecticut has that level of seniority, and this is their first trip to the final weekend.  This isn’t even this team’s first trip to Ford Field; they rather handily disposed of a Michigan State team by 35 points back in November. I wonder what became of that Michigan State team?

Scoring. You can’t win games solely by scoring a lot of points, but it helps.  And UNC certainly can do that well. They’re the top team in offensive efficiency for the season, third highest team in conference-only offensive efficiency, and if you don’t care how efficient they are, they’ve quite simply scored more points this season than any other team in college basketball.

Speed. No major conference team in the country runs at a faster tempo than the Heels – Missouri was getting a full three possessions less per game.  If you don’t get back on defense immediately, you’ve given up two points.  If you don’t get your offensive rebounds – and you won’t – it’s two points. Turn it over? Two points. And this wears on you as the game goes on. Unless UNC’s opponent is particularly deep or in shape, they inevitably fade at the eight minute mark, like LSU did in the round of thirty-two.  Carolina has the bench depth to keep throwing bodies at you during the game, and they will to use it. Hell, Justin Watts got playing time in the the first half of the Oklahoma game, and there are members of his own family who don’t know who he is. Villanova’s the only team with the bench depth to match Carolina, although the talent is a bit shallower. If the Heels play at their preferred pace, look for their opponents to be sucking wind by the end of the game.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Why Villanova Will Win…

Posted by nvr1983 on April 3rd, 2009

As part of our ongoing attempt to bring you the best college basketball coverage anywhere, we enlisted the editors from the finest team-specific blogs we could find to write posts explaining why their team will win tomorrow.

Our first submission is brought to you by Pete of LetsGoNova.com.

Make no mistake about it: Villanova is the underdog tomorrow. North Carolina is favored by 7.5 points in Vegas and by 4 points by KenPom (with a 66 percent chance of victory).

More intuitively, common sense tells us the Tarheels are the superior team. North Carolina features five likely future first-round draft picks: Ed Davis, Danny Green, Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, and Ty Lawson will all cash big NBA paychecks.

Villanova might sneak Dante Cunningham into this year’s second round, but that’s pretty much it in terms of NBA prospects as of right now. (Corey Fisher, Scottie Reynolds, and Corey Stokes are also plausible NBA candidates, but are not quite there yet.)

The Tar Heels have lost just four games this season compared to seven for Villanova. While the Wildcats squeaked by Pittsburgh last weekend in one of the all-time great NCAA tournament games, North Carolina blew out Blake Griffin and Oklahoma, with a 12-point margin of victory in a game that was not even that close.

Carolina has not really been challenged in the tournament so far, winning four blow-outs. Villanova trailed American by double digits in the second half before coming up with the win. The ‘Cats also played Pittsburgh to a virtual draw for 39 minutes and 55 seconds before Scottie Reynolds entered the pantheon of great NCAA tournament buzzer-beaters to win the game.

Reynolds hits "The Shot" (Credit: Getty Images)

Reynolds hits "The Shot" (Credit: Getty Images)

Villanova was able to blow out both UCLA and Duke, which is a good sign.

North Carolina also will enjoy a tremendous coaching edge. I don’t care how much you like Jay Wright; Roy Williams is one of the all-time greats. I don’t think there can be much debate about that.

Positives for Villanova include a rapid, intense improvement in quality of play late in the season, a versatile bunch of players who can multitask on the court, a superior half-court defense, and a likely favorable crowd in Detroit, especially if Michigan State wins the opener.

Conventional wisdom also says that the Wildcats play “tougher” than the Heels, but I am not so sure toughness matters so much when your opponent has a lineup full of NBA players. (I do think it matters some.) We shall see.

So, in the face of these long odds, how can Villanova actually win the game?

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story