Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Big Ten Title Race: Here Comes Wisconsin

Michigan State sits atop the Big Ten standings at 8 and 0. For those who have declared the rest of the season a formality before the Spartans are given the title, take a glance at the rest of the schedule. It can be a quick one. It won't take long to get the picture. Tom Izzo's club still has dates at Wisconsin, at Illinois and at Purdue. Their home stretch isn't a gimme either, with visits to come from Purdue and Ohio State. To say the Spartans haven't hit the meat of their Big Ten schedule yet is an understatement. If this was Super Mario Bros 3, State's only in Desert Hill right now. Bowser's Kingdom is coming fast.

Wisconsin is second place in the big ten standings at 6 and 2. And guess what? They're in Grass Land the rest of the way (last Mario Bros reference, I promise). Their toughest road games remaining are at Purdue this Thursday and at Minnesota. They play Michigan State again, but at home. Oh, and they're done with Ohio State and Evan Turner. They still have Indiana twice, Iowa twice, Northwestern at home, Michigan on the road and some Illinois thrown in for good measure. There is a very good possibility that Wisconsin could be looking at only 2 more losses the rest of the way.

Michigan State has done an awesome job staying undefeated during a relatively easy opening stretch. Now, they have to keep their foot planted on the accelerator. A 2 game lead on Wisconsin doesn't leave a lot of room for error. Especially when you're about to face Bowser, and Wisconsin is kicking some goombas around out on the lawn.

Wednesday's Worth the Price of Admission

Florida State at Duke 9 pm ESPN Currently Duke (16-3, 4-2) and Florida State (15-4, 3-2) are firmly in the middle of the pack in the ACC race right now. One of the two is looking for some seperation this evening. The game is at Cameron Indoor Stadium, where the Blue Devils are undefeated this season.

Duke is coming down from a monster win at Clemson on Saturday, 60 to 47. Nolan Smith had a great outing, netting 22 points and is averaging 22 over the last four games. The Plumlee brothers, Duke's talented freshman forwards, are pulling a disappearing act. Kyle Singler has been playing better, but Duke really needs the Plumlees if they want to make a serious run at the ACC crown this season.

Meanwhile, there is no doubt that Florida State's strength is down low. Their leading scorer is Solomon Alabi, their 7'1 center, who's also averaging almost 3 blocked shots a game. The Seminoles second leading scorer is forward Chris Singleton. Florida State is going to try and bang in the paint. The most interesting storyline will be how Duke responds. For a team that has consistently been questioned about it's interior presence the past four or five seasons, this is a big one at home.

I see Duke doing just enough down low to allow their superior guard play to pull this one out. Unfortunately for the Seminoles, I don't think they have the depth or the maturity at the guard spot to pull off the upset at Duke. Still, likely to be the best action around this evening.

It's Clutch Time

The game is on the line and it's come to the last few possessions. Your team is down, one bucket to make a difference, a few points between glory and shame. You can pluck any player this season and entrust the ball to their hands. Who would it be? Here are my three:

Chandler Parsons Duh. Chandler has already come up with two miracle, emphasis on miracle, shots this season. The first was against North Carolina State back on January 3. It was overtime, the buzzer was sounding, the shot was thrown up 75 feet from the basket, swish. The 3 pointer made it a 62 to 61 Florida victory. Parsons even got the ball off of a missed free throw with 2.6 seconds on the clock. That's as clutch as it comes.

The second miracle of the season came against South Carolina, the giant killers, this past Saturday. Again, he hit a buzzer beating three to put Florida up 58 to 56. It was in regulation this time, and it wasn't 75 feet, but clutch is clutch. And this kid is clutch.

Scottie Reynolds Everyone remembers his game winning shot against Pitt that sent Villanova to the Final Four last year. That shot made Reynolds a household name. This year? How about a dead on 3 in the wanning seconds against Marquette for a 74 to 72 win, back on January 2. Against Georgetown, January 17, Reynolds went 4 for 4 from the free-throw line in the final 36 seconds on the way to a 82 to 77 victory. When the clock is winding down, you want the ball in Reynolds hands.

Kalin Lucas Remember when Lucas broke Sherron Collins ankles in a key drive to the basket in Michigan State's win over Kansas in the Sweet 16 last year? Awesome. Almost as awesome as the cold blooded, icy stare of death Lucas gets when pulling up to crush opponents hopes and dreams. In State's last two road games, at Minnesota and at Michigan, they've won by a combined total of 2 points. The Spartans can thank Kalin Lucas for that.

Against Minnesota, State hadn't lead the entire game. That is, until Lucas had the ball in his hands with 1:27 left. Perfectly positioned at the top of the arc, Lucas took aim, pulled up and let loose. Lucas backed away with this stoic expression on his face, and Michigan State rode that shot to the win. In Ann Arbor, during a time out with less than 20 seconds on the clock, Lucas told his teammates and his coaches he wanted the ball. No one argued. With 3.5 seconds left on the clock, he took a mid range jumper that you knew was good two days ago. He had that same cold expression. He just bought another one.

Cool Hand Lucas And A Toot of My Own Horn

Michigan State 57 Michigan 56 So, in my breakdown of this game yesterday, I concluded that Michigan needed to shoot much better from behind the arc than they have been to have a shot at winning. They didn't. They missed a staggering 22 of 29 three point attempts. Despite that, they were a rimmed out shot from DeShawn Sims away from victory in the final second. I seriously underestimated two things: 1) Michigan's ability to create turnovers with their 1-3-1 zone and Michigan State's happy propensity to cough up turnovers; 2) DeShawn Sim's impact.

The Spartans turned it over 18 times, and Michigan made them pay with 23 points off turnovers. DeShawn Sims was the Wolverines highest scorer last year, and he repeated the performance with 19 points last night. When MSU made a run late in the second half, he responded with two clutch threes to keep Michigan ahead.

In the end, I was right about one thing, the Spartans had too many ways to win. They got a great defensive performance from Chris Allen on Manny Harris. Raymar Morgan turned in a monster performance, with 8 for 9 shooting and 20 points. Then Kalin Lucas took over again, hitting a stone cold mid range jumper with 3.5 seconds left to play. It was enough to put the Spartans up for good, 57 to 56. State is now 8 and 0 in Big Ten play, their best conference start in school history.

South Carolina 68 Kentucky 62 The day after Texas fell to Kansas State, I made the bold, foolhardy prediction that Kentucky would lose their first game to South Carolina. Apparently the fates saw fit to smile on me and the Gamecocks. I made the prediction based on four factors: 1) Kentucky's shaky performance on the road, and their lack of road experience; 2) South Carolina's impressive play at home; 3) The awesome that is Devan Downey (didn't do too shabby for my fantasy team's stats last night, either); 4) The fact that this game wasn't even registering as a possible upset.

It's entirely possible that Kentucky looked past this game, though it would be a shame considering it was their first as no. 1 in the country. That part is debatable. What isn't debatable is that Kentucky was rattled on the road, and even the great John Wall showed a little of the freshman in him. Eric Bledsoe and John Wall turned the ball over 9 times between the two of them. Devan Downey, meanwhile, took care of the ball and lead his team with 30 points. He did it on 9 for 29 shooting, but in a win like this, with a stat like 30 points, I don't think anyone is going to remember that part.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Breaking Down Super Tuesday

Michigan vs. Michigan State 7 pm ESPN If you look at this matchup, it's way too easy to say that in order to win, Michigan needs to knock down a considerable amount of 3 pointers. If you dig deeper, it's clear that Manny Harris has to take control of this team and limit their mental mistakes. They need to get back on transition defense and eliminate easy, quick buckets for the Spartans. Their defense needs to shut down Kalin Lucas's driving lanes a contain his ability to take control of the game. Beilein needs to drill his guys to contest shots, and hope that MSU has another abysmal shooting night.

When it comes right down to it, though, State has too many ways to win this game. State can push it up the court with Lucas or Korie Lucious. Michigan will look to pull a Minnesota by clogging the middle and forcing MSU to the perimeter. If U of M can manage that, it would be nice if Chris Allen and company could knock down 3s, but not essential, because Sparty can run their offense through their forwards. One 6'8 DeShawn Sims and four guards are not going to cause nearly the disruption that Damian Johnson and Ralph Sampson III did. The Wolverines can't play big with State. Derrick Nix will likely see some minutes, but I don't see him staying fresh enough to keep up against a smaller line up. But if Draymond Green, Delvon Roe and Raymar Morgan play like they're capable, it could get ugly.
So, while it is way too easy, it also rings way too true. To win this game, Michigan must hit a considerable number of 3 pointers.

Kentucky at South Carolina 9 pm ESPN A week back, or so, I picked this as Kentucky's first loss. A little less confident about the pick after Kentucky throtled Arkansas on Saturday, but the initial points are still valid. Kentucky is young, haven't been tested on the road much, and Devan Downey is sweet. If you're looking for a nice long explanation as to why South Carolina could win, you're not going to get one. Kentucky should win this game. I'm just saying, on the road, Devan Downey, maybe not.

Parity Part Deux. Or, Who's Beaten Who

In my last post, if you look just below this one, I expounded on why Kentucky is a top 5 (or so) team and not the number 1. Because, while there are many contenders this year, I don't see a clear favorite. Venturing a little further down the line, I'd like to do a segment called: Who's Beaten Who. For the lazy, forgetful or uninformed, here is a quick parity reference:

Texas has beaten the likes of Pitt, UNC and MSU. But they have also just dropped two straight to K-State and UConn. K-State then turned around and lost at home to OK-State, not being very nice to Texas. UConn, might I remind you, lost to U of M, the team that was suppose to be top 15 good, but is actually 10 and 9 right now.

Kansas has beaten...well, they're undefeated in Big XII play and that's pretty impressive, even if their toughest challenge was Baylor at Home. Their only quality out of conference opponent, however, was Tennessee. And they lost to Tennessee. And while Tennessee is ranked, they were only playing with six scholarship players at the time. Tennessee, meanwhile, has dropped a dissapointing game to Georgia since.

Villanova Their sole belmish is against Temple, which isn't too bad of a blemish to have. They still have to travel to Georgetown, West Virginia, Pitt and Syracuse before the season is out. I wouldn't expect them to stay at 1 loss forever.

Syracuse Their one loss was to Pitt, which wouldn't be so bad if it wasn't at home. It also would have looked better if Pitt hadn't dropped their last two, at home to Georgetown and on the road against Seton Hall.

Michigan State They've beaten Gonzaga and Wisconsin. They've lost to UNC, Texas and Florida. The UNC loss is looking worse in retrospect, while the loss to Florida is down right unacceptable.

Duke Best wins are UConn and Gonzaga. While they've lost to Georgia Tech and Wisconsin, the one that hits the nose with a stink is a double digit loss to North Carolina State.

Purdue and West Virginia These two get lumped together, mostly because it is a funny case. West Virginia has lost to Purdue and Syracuse, neither of which are bad losses, but also dropped one to Notre Dame. The funny part is that Purdue not only beat West Virginia, they molly-whoped them. The final margin was 15, but it wasn't that close. If you weren't sipping the Purdue kool-aid before that, you were after. Then Purdue decides to drop three straight. They lost at Wisconsin, not bad. They lost at home to Ohio State, eyebrow raising. They lost on the road to Northwestern, concerning. Now, they have decided to start blowing opponents out again. The crazy world that is college basketball.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Parity, Not Just Another Overused Sports Expression

Last year there was North Carolina. They were the elite team. They were better than every other college basketball team playing. Hands down. Ty Lawson, Tyler Hansbrough, Danny Green, Wayne Ellington. On the way to the national title they blew out everyone. Nobody came within single digits of those guys. Last year, there was NC and there was everyone else.

This year, there is no NC. Right now, Kentucky is undefeated. It's always tempting to get carried away with the last undefeated. Step back from the ledge, because you're fooling yourself in the bluegrass state if you think Kentucky is the team. Kentucky is undefeated. Kentucky is very good. Kentucky is all freshman, and Partick Patterson. I know how good John Wall is. Eric Bledsoe too. And Demarcus Cousins is playing almost as good in the post as Wall is from the point. Almost. But there is a difference between a group of insanely talented freshman, and a group of insanely talented multi-year starters who have been there before. The Wildcats are one immature play from Cousins away from a loss come tourney time. One missed three (of many) from John Wall. They are five minutes of uncomposed basketball from coming up short.

What Calipari has done year one at Kentucky is very impressive. But let's temper it for a moment. While the Wildcats are 19 and 0, they have a whopping 5 wins against teams in the top 100 of the RPI rankings: UConn, Florida, North Carolina, Louisville and Georgia. They've only played three true road games: at Indiana, Auburn and Florida. Kentucky's RPI ranking, for those who are curious, is 7. So, yes, Kentucky is impressive. But they have a lot to prove before being put in a class above teams like Kansas, Nova, Cuse, Michigan State, Texas and down the line. Because right now, they're not peerless. That was North Carolina. This is now.

Diagnosing the Spartans

After Michigan State had to come back from a 13-point deficit to beat Minnesota, 65 to 64 on Saturday, it looked as though Sparty had been seriously exposed down low. Looks can be deceiving.

There is no question that Minnesota did much better in the paint. Delvon Roe, Derrick Nix, Draymond Green and Garrick Sherman combined to give Michigan State 5 points. Meanwhile, Minnesota managed to shoot 48 percent inside the three-point arc, got killer performances out of Damian Johnson and Ralph Sampson III, and recorded 7 blocked shots on the day. Even so, I don’t think the Spartans' game in the paint is the weak point opposing teams should be aiming their silver bullet at.

Raymar Morgan played with foul trouble the whole game, but still got 17 points, and did some nice things including an impressive post move and a couple blocked shots of his own. Draymond Green had a quiet day offensively, but he was a very uncharacteristic 2 for 9 from the field. Delvon Roe didn’t do much, but his play has been a bright spot for the Spartans the past few weeks. And Garrick Sherman and Derrick Nix are both in a good place considering it’s their freshman season. As for rebounding, the Spartans still out rebounded the Gophers 32 to 29, because out rebounding teams is what they do.

On the season, State’s frontcourt has been pretty good. In the loss to Florida, the Spartan bigs shot over 50 percent from the paint. In the loss to UNC, the play of Michigan State’s forwards was actually the bright spot. Roe, Green and Morgan all played above expectations against the (at the time) vaunted frontcourt of UNC. And even in the Texas game, Derrick Nix, of all people, played valuable minutes, forced a turnover and contributed some points going against guys like Dexter Pittman and Damian James.

As the two freshman centers continue to grow, and Delvon Roe continues to improve with some healthy legs this season, I think MSU will be just fine in the frontcourt. If Delvon Roe can really start to cut loose, and Raymar can summon more performances like the one he had Saturday, they’ll be more than fine.

Michigan State’s backcourt, led by point guard Kalin Lucas, was supposed to be their strongpoint coming into this season. But, if you look at their three losses, it was the guard play that let them down. Against Florida, State turned it over 22 times. Fourteen of those turnovers were on the guards. The Texas game is a worse tale: 22 turnovers, 17 by the guards, 6 by Kalin Lucas. In the loss to North Carolina, they limited turnovers, but shot the ball close to an abysmal 30 percent in the first half. State shot 2 for 20 from behind the arc that night. Chris Allen, the team’s sharpshooter, shot a combined 32 percent in those three games.

Which is why the win on Saturday should be taken as an encouraging sign. This was a game the Spartans easily could have, and maybe should have, lost. They didn’t because of their guards. At the start of the second half, when MSU was struggling to get any offense going, it was the three point shooting of Chris Allen that kept them in the game. He finished with 12 points, all of them threes. Kalin Lucas scored 22, and when Raymar Morgan was riding pine in foul trouble for long stretches, was the only other consistent spark. Durrell Summers added 9 points off the bench and along with Chris Allen, actually played some pretty good defense throughout. This road game was big for State’s guards.

In the end, it wasn’t a very good outing for the big men of Michigan State. But, coming into the game, I don’t think they were the ones with the most to prove.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Elias Harris and FOY

The great John Wall's shadow spans this vast continent. Its reach is felt even in Spokane, where a guy named Elias Harris is playing. See, if this year were any other year than the year of Wall, we would have a fairly interesting Freshman of the Year race. As it is, it's going to John Wall, likely along with Player of the Year honors. If you'll humor me for a moment and take a step into the twilight zone, a place where maybe the above statement is not a foregone conclusion, I will present to you the case of Elias Harris.

This 6'7 freshman forward for Gonzaga is good. Really good. I'm definitely not the first to say this, and I certainly won't be the last. The Bulldogs had a brutal four game stretch on the road, kicked of at Illinois and then continuing into the start of conference play at Portland, at St. Mary's and at San Diego. Elias averaged 22 points and 11 rebounds a game in those contests. Harris is filling a lot of voids for Gonzaga this year and is one of the major reasons they haven't experienced a drop off and are favorites again in the West Coast Conference. Remember how this was supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Zags? Not anymore.

Last night, Gonzaga got all it could handle from a Pepperdine squad who was battling for sole possession of first place in the conference. Gonzaga won, 91 to 84. Credit Matt Bouldin, who came up big with 32 points. But the contribution from Harris, 20 points and 13 rebounds, was that of a calm veteran, not a freshman. His game and poise have matured tremendously since the start of the season. Though even early in the season, when Gonzaga lost to MSU, Harris still came through with a monster performance. He scored 17 and got 9 boards, in the Breslin Center, in his second college game ever. Next year, he'll likely be playing in the NBA. And, he likely would have had a shot at Freshman of the Year. That is, if this wasn't the year of Wall.

UCLA Got a Win, Good For Them

UCLA 62 Washington 61 A walk on for UCLA, Mustafa Abdul-Hamid, hit the game winning shot for UCLA last night. Washington led 61 to 60 with a whole whopping 3 seconds left on the clock, before the Bruins hit their unlikely game winner. It was a euphoric moment for the Bruins. Now back in the light of day, they likely realize that they're still 8 and 10 for the season, but last night it was special. So Washington, supposedly the best team in the PAC 10, is 3 and 4 in conference play. UCLA, supposedly one of the worst, is 3 and 3. Crazy finish aside, there's no shiny gloss that can cover up the rickity hooverville that is the PAC 10's house this season.

Indiana 67 Penn State 61 Tom Crean has now picked up nine wins on the season, and has held this team together in the absence of his top freshman, Maurice Creek. Meanwhile, in Happy Valley, Ed DeChillis can't even hold together a jock strap. After their great NIT run last year, Penn State is winless so far in Big Ten play at 0 and 6. No Stanley Pringle or Jamelle Cornley this year for Penn State. Turns out, Talor Battle cannot be a one man team. Well, he can, they just can't win that way.

Butler 48 Loyola 47 You want to talk about slow, plodding Big 10 games? You should have checked this one out. Or not. Butler shot 35 percent from the floor and Loyola shot a staggering 34. From 3 point land, Butler was 3 for 20. The Bulldogs are 15 and 4 on the season now.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

"Leaving Not an Admission of Guilt"....huh

In a story from ESPN news services, Tim Floyd claims that leaving USC had nothing to due with his guilt or innocence: "Why I left was not in any way an admission of guilt. It was a complete testament to a lack of support by my administration and how we were treated after four years of doing everything the right way." Right, so I understand that Mike Garrett is sort of a s.o.b. I understand that USC basketball has taken the brunt of USC's self imposed penalties, despite the fact that the football program has not so quietly been buying pro teams for the past 8 or 9 seasons. All of that makes Floyd leaving due to friction with the administration completely plausible. But doing everything the right way??? Come on. There is nothing about recruiting a guy like O.J. Mayo that is right. So, Tim Floyd, while your explanation is probably part of the reason you left, I gotta believe that the other part was a little bit o'guilt.

Cougars Quietly Climbing the Polls

BYU had their Sports Center moment of glory when Jimmer Fredette blew up against Arizona for 49 points. That night, the Cougars picked Arizona apart on their way to a blow out victory, 99 to 69 in Tuscon. Believe it or not, the Cougars haven't stopped winning just because they've faded into Mountain West obscurity. In fact, BYU is currently 1 win away from their longest win streak in school history, 15. They have a total of 19 wins, the most of any ranked team and they're beating opponents by almost 24 points a game on average. If they were from a power six conference, or Memphis, they would be ranked in the top 10 right now. Instead, they're BYU, from the Mountain West.

Quietly, they sit at 14 in the AP top 25 and 13 in the coaches. Don't let that fool you. BYU is a top ten squad. They're currently 4th in Ken Pomeroy's ratings, which adjusts for strength of schedule. Their field goal percentage is a staggering 57 percent, while holding opponents to 44. And, yeah, Jimmer Fredette is one of the most explosive guards in the country. Sadly, there won't be many chances to see BYU play before the tournament. But, don't be surprised if they end up with a 4 seed, or higher. And don't be surprised if they stick around for a while once they get there. They may be a quiet 14, but that doesn't mean they aren't one of the best teams playing right now.

Holy Hoops Batman!

This college basketball season just got a whole lot crazier last night. I’m not talking mildly funny crazy, like that wacky aunt who steals sips of schnapps from her too big purse with the kitten print on it. This is certifiable grade A crazy. The street value of this stuff is through the roof. Let us delve into the madness:

Wake Forest 82 UNC 69/N Carolina State 88 Duke 74 In case you haven’t been reading the headlines, this is the first time since 2003 that both North Carolina and Duke have lost on the same day. It was the Wolfpack’s first victory over the Blue Devils at home since 2004. That streak may have gotten under their collars. North Carolina State didn’t feel like an upset team in this contest. They dominated the whole way. Once they broke out to a double-digit lead, they didn’t let the Blue Devils come any closer than 8 points behind. Don’t think that Kyle Singler and Jon Scheyer were absent in this one, either. They scored 22 and 21 points respectively. The team picked to finish last in the ACC was the better team last night. The North Carolina loss ranks a little lower on the crazy scale, just because I don’t know that many people were still buying the no. 23 ranking the Tar Heels were selling. But the fact that North Carolina got absolutely dominated on their home floor dials it back up a few notches. Throw in the factoid that this is the largest loss for UNC in the Roy Williams era, and you have one sad stretch of Tobacco Road this morning.

UTEP 72 Memphis 67 UTEP put the skids on Memphis’s 64 game win streak. Everyone was predicting it would happen at some point this year, but nobody knew quite when. The suspense is officially over. This one had to be extra salty for the Tigers, because if they could have won they would have set the NCAA record for consecutive conference wins. UTEP’s junior guard, Randy Culpepper, grew up in the Memphis area. After the game, he said one of his goals at UTEP was to beat Memphis. When you can make it the goal of opposing teams just to beat you, just once, you’ve done something amazing. But it had to end sometime.

Kansas 81 Baylor 75/MSU 70 Iowa 63 These were the upsets that came close, just not nearly close enough. Give credit to Matt Gattens of Iowa and LaceDarius Dunn of Baylor for giving their teams a nasty edge last night. Gattens led Iowa in scoring with 17 points in a furious effort. Dunn did what Dunn does and put up 27 points and grabbed 9 boards. You better believe that Kansas is taking a deep sigh of relief over not having to play at Baylor this season.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Game to Watch

Baylor at no. 3 Kansas These two teams will meet tonight on ESPN 2 at 9. This one has me more excited than the prospect of a Gin Blossoms reunion tour...wait, you mean they already came back and I missed it...embarrassing. Anyway, Baylor was the team that upset Kansas in the first round of the Big XII tourney last year, and this one could shape up into a great game. Or a blowout. One of the two.

The impressive thing about Baylor is that they're 14 and 2. The really unimpressive thing is their loss to Colorado. Pretender? In the words of the immortal Lee Corso, not so fast my friend! Yes, losing to Colorado is a black eye that can't be easily erased. And, Baylor doesn't have a really good win to speak of. You know what they do have? Ekpe Udoh. I'm an Udoh- fanatic. A Fudoh, if you will (I'm trademarking that, by the way). He is averaging 14 points, 11 rebounds and over 4 blocks a game. Is he a better center than Cole Aldrich? Probably not. But I can tell you that if you look at his body of work, it's clear that Baylor is utilizing him better than Kansas is utilizing Aldrich.

Baylor also has this guy named LaceDarius Dunn. LaceDarius has been an explosive scoring threat his whole career, but last year you could have described his on court demenor as "emotional." If you're looking for a descriptor this year, try mature. His own court growth is one of the main reasons he's scored over 20 points in his last three games, and leads the team in scoring.

On the flip side of the argument, there's, well, Kansas. The team with Cole Aldrich, Sherron Collins and Xavier Henry, plus at least a couple more that will likely see some floor time in the NBA. There is the longest active home winning streak in the nation at 52 games. With the exception of last year's loss in the tournament, there is Kansas's historical domination of Baylor. Despite all of this, Collins hasn't been having his best games of late. Kansas really struggled with Baylor's zone in the upset loss last year. And, while Kansas is shooting 50 percent from the field in Big XII play, Baylor is shooting 49.9 percent.

Home winning streaks are built to be broken. And this could be a great one. Just don't be surprised if it isn't.

What Did Kansas Do Last Year???

All right, my blog is only 3 days old and already I feel the need to take a pot shot. In Gary Parrish's blog, he answers an e-mail from a reader who feels Kansas is overrated. Parrish's analysis of any team can usually be condensed down to a simple formula of how many NBA players other people tell him the team likely has. To my surprise, however, he actually took it a step further this time. He added the age old preseason poll mentality addage, "based on what they did last year."

Before I go any further, I'm not arguing Kansas is overrated. At least not now that they're no longer number 1. Further, I believe Kansas is a very good team. But I'm tired of hearing about what they did last year. They had a much better than expected season, given their attrition after winning the national title. But they got bounced by Baylor in the Big XII tourney, and then went on to beat the titans of basketball that were North Dakota State and Dayton before loosing in the Sweet Sixteen. Admittedly, they lost to MSU who went on to play in the title game. But a loss is a loss. So you have a Sweet Sixteen team from last year who returned everyone. So what. You take a Sweet Sixteen team and add Xavier Henry, that does not automatically make them the elite team in college basketball this year. There is no the elite team this year. Can we please stop talking about last year already.

Georgia Tech, Who Art Thou?

Paul Hewitt took the Yellow Jackets on an amazing ride to the national title game in 2004. They lost to Uconn, but it was a damn fine run. What have they done since then? Answer, not much. They’ve had only two winning seasons, and one tournament victory against George Washington to their names since. Understandably, Paul Hewitt entered the season on a bit of a hot seat. Luckily for Hewitt, he has the inside combo this year of Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal. In this current climate of mid-season coach firings brought to us courtesy of the hyper intense world of college football, those two are what you call job savers.

Georgia Tech’s guards did a decent job of breaking Clemson’s press and when they did, the results were nasty…in a sweet way. Favors and Lawal combined for 24 rebounds and 33 points on the way to a tense 66 to 64 victory. From the field, Favors shot 8 for 13 and Lawal shot 8 for 10. There is no way they would have shot that well unless they were dominating Clemson’s front line. (For the record, they were dominating Jerai Grant and David Potter, who combined for 5 points and 5 rebounds. But, nobody really dominates Trevor Booker. Man’s a beast.) If last night’s game was all you saw of Georgia Tech, however, you might have got the wrong impression. That is to say, depending on which impression is the right impression to get of this Yellow Jackets squad.

Last night Georgia Tech’s two bigs played amazing. More importantly, they played amazing together. That hasn’t been a constant for this team. The Yellow Jackets have four losses on the season. Florida State, Virginia, and Dayton, which aren’t horrible, and Georgia, which kind of is. In the loss to Dayton, Lawal turned the ball over 8 times and only ended up with 4 rebounds and 9 points. Favors only did marginally better, with 4 rebounds and 10 points. In the loss to Florida State, Favors was amazing with 4 blocks, 3 steals, 12 rebounds and 8 points. Lawal had 4 rebounds and 4 points. In the loss to Georgia, Lawal put up 21 points. Favors was flat. You get the picture.

Georgia Tech has also knocked off 3 ranked opponents in the past couple of weeks: Duke, North Carolina and now Clemson. The most dominating performance by the two together was on display last night against Clemson. If they can click from here out, and both decide to play on the same night, Georgia Tech could be scary good. National Title run good? Maybe. But, if they don’t play well together…job savers only come along every so often.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Is Lewis Jackson Purdue's Cure All?

Something is awry in Boilertown USA. Purdue was picked as a Final Four contender preseason. After jumping out to 14 and 0, with impressive wins over West Virginia and Tennessee, it certainly looked like a reasonable prediction. Now that they've hit conference play, they're on a three game loosing streak. What happened? Is Purdue not who we thought they were?
To be perfectly honest, loosing at Wisconsin isn't that bad. Loosing to Ohio State isn't either. Except that they did it at home. And then to drop the third at Northwestern doesn't paint a pretty picture. A lot of people have pointed to the Boilers' turnover woes. If only Lewis Jackson were back at the point, the Boilers would be fine. The only hole in the argument is that they haven't had Lewis Jackson all year. Somehow, they still managed to go 14 and 0. Remember that 15 point win over West Virginia? That was without Jackson too. So we have to dig a little deeper here.
Purdue was outrebounded by 21 boards in their three losses, including getting outrebounded by 11 to Northwestern. But, Purdue hasn't been particularly good on the boards all season. They've been outrebounded by the likes of Valparaiso, Ball State and Cal State Northridge to name a few.
Defensively they have taken a step back. On the season they've held opponents to 40 percent shooting. The last three games their opponents have shot an average of 45 percent from the field. So it would seem Purdue let up a little on the intensity. Their own field goal percentage is the more jarring stat, though. After averaging over 45 percent shooting on the season, Wisconsin, Ohio State and Northwestern managed to hold the Boilers to 36 percent shooting on average.
So, yeah, having a true point guard back on offense might be just what this team needs. But if they hit the boards a little harder, and played some of this famed defense that Chris Kramer and company are supposed to be known for, they may not need him as much.

Jim Calhoun to Take Medical Leave of absence

Jim Calhoun is taking a medical leave of absence

Follow Up: Are the Texas Starters Under Conditioned?

Earlier today I half-heartedly agreed with Digger Phelps that Rick Barnes was subbing too many guys. When you have 10 players averaging double-digit playing time, you may be going overboard. Conversely, in the second half of the Kansas State Game, Dexter Pittman didn’t get much rest until he got into foul trouble. He was sluggish getting up and down the court, and didn’t produce much in the second half. The worst part about it, Pittman only played 16 minutes last night. Ouch! Depth is great, but what happens when you need a guy like Pittman to play 25 minutes plus in a slugfest against a quality team? Much like you did last night? Is Rick Barnes inadvertently making his starters soft by exploiting his depth?

When is Kentucky Going Down?

Come on. Everyone wants to know this. It’s human nature. There is one undefeated team left, so the juiciest story line left is when they’re going to fall. A lot of people think it isn’t happening until at least February and likely not until the Cats travel to Tennessee. Not me. I give it until January 26. That’s when Kentucky travels to South Carolina. Did that raise a few eyebrows? Elicit a few scoffs? It shouldn’t. While they are loaded with talent, Calipari’s squad is young and hasn’t looked all that elite on the road this season, even against sub-par competition. They only beat Auburn by five points. John Wall (a.k.a. the messiah) turned the ball over seven times in that game. Auburn lost to the Sam Houston State Bearkats, by the way. And no, I did not misspell BearKats. Sam Houston State actually spells it with a K. So much shame.

Instead of asking why I think they will loss to South Carolina, I ask why not? South Carolina only has five losses, and is very firmly a bubble team. Kentucky could punch their ticket. They also have one of the best, albeit turnover prone, point guards in the country in Devan Downey. He is averaging almost 21 points a game, 4 assists, 3 rebounds and 3 steals a game. Take away the four turnovers he’s averaging a game and the kid’s perfect. That was tongue in cheek, but he is taking care of the ball much better at home than he is away. Kentucky isn’t going to lose to Tennessee on the road. That’s so Kansas. But losing to South Carolina on the road, that I could see.

What Do Some Wildcats (Who Aren’t Kentucky or Kansas State) Have to do to get Respect?

Northwestern, if the tournament were held today, would not get in. At least according to Joe Lunardi. It seems harsh, doesn’t it? We’re talking about the only team from a power six conference to never make the tourney. We’re talking about a team who lost their heart and soul guy, Kevin Coble, before their season even started. But somehow, they have managed to rally to 13 and 4 for the season. In case you missed it, Northwestern has one of the best players in the big ten in John Shurna, who is averaging almost seventeen points a game and seven rebounds. Drew Crawford and Michael Thompson haven’t been too shabby either. They even beat number 13 ranked Purdue over the weekend (no less of an accomplishment despite the fact that beating Purdue is becoming the favorite past time of Big Ten teams).

So what gives? Other than their win over Purdue, there are no signature wins unless you count Notre Dame. For the record, I don’t count Notre Dame. But, to their credit, there aren’t any horrible losses either. They have a loss to Butler, Wisconsin, Michigan State and at Illinois. Sadly, avoiding embarrassing losses is only one part of many to the equation. The good news for Northwestern is that by my estimation they have three shots left at another big win: at Ohio State, at Wisconsin and at Michigan State. That also sounds like the bad news. They can kick it off with a bang tonight at 7 at Ohio State. Or they can continue to be the only team from a power six conference to never make the tournament. Poor Wildcats.

“You Gotta Get Some Movement!” Or, Keep Your Head Up Frank Martin

Syracuse 84 Notre Dame 71 Question: who wins between Syracuse and Luke Harangody? Syracuse. But only because Jim Boeheim keeps a lock of Harangody’s hair next to his chest at all times. Seriously, though, Notre Dame didn’t have a shot.

Kansas State 71 Texas 62 So it’s come to this. Only one unbeaten team left in the country, and it isn’t Texas. K State played a great first half, and then Texas came out after the break and was Texas. After rattling off six points in the amount of time it takes to clean spilled beer with a ShamWow (no time at all, for the record), it felt like the Longhorns had taken control. And K State’s half-court offense was bad. For about fifteen minutes, it was putrid. Bob Knight could only repeat “you gotta get some movement” so many times before even he got sick of hearing himself. And right on cue, Jacob Pullen would bring it up the court while four of his teammates would stand like statues for 30 seconds, before Pullen would throw up an awful shot, and Texas was back on offense. ESPN had a brilliant cut shot at this point to Frank Martin, hunched shouldered, shaking his head in disgust.

So how did the Wildcats pull it off? When the dust settled, they got back on defense. As bad as their offense was, their transition d was amazing. Texas ended up with 18 turnovers, the same as K State, but the Longhorns seemed to turn it over at all the wrong times. Or, the Wildcats forced them at all the right ones. Either way, defense won this game last night as Dexter Pittman and Damion James were held to just 15 points and 14 rebounds combined. It also didn’t help that Texas only made 9 of 22 free throws. Yeah, it was that bad.

Final thought: As much as it kills me to admit this, Digger may have made a point at halftime…sort of. Phelps questioned the player rotation Rick Barnes was using. Namely, he thought he was subbing in too many guys, not allowing his starters to develop a rhythm. While this may have felt true in the first half, I would criticize Barnes for not subbing enough in the second half. Around the 11-minute mark it was clear that Dexter Pittman’s tank was running on empty. But Barnes just kept letting it run. Meanwhile Clint Chapman, who had done an outstanding job in the first half, didn’t see the floor again until Pittman picked up his fourth foul. So whether there was too much subbing in the first half, or too little in the second, it was evident that a set rotation hasn’t landed in Austin yet.

Monday, January 18, 2010

How Tough is the Big East?

(Photo Credit Detroit Free Press)
The Big East is good. With Villanova, Syracuse and Pittsburgh all in the top ten, the Big East is very good. But I have to ask, how tough is the big east? And when I ask how tough, I mean how knock down, drag em' out, contest every shot, scrap for every rebound, play hard and foul hard tough is the Big East? It's a fair question to ask after UConn's loss to Michigan on Sunday. I know UConn is not the shining gem of the Big East this year, so too much emphasis shouldn't be placed on this game. But Indiana managed to out tough the toughest Big East team of the moment, Pitt earlier this season. And Purdue absolutely put a clinic on West Virginia. All of those losses were away, and we all know how big home court is, but that doesn't completely excuse the fact that the Big East got plain out toughed in these contests.

Rebounding is usually one of the first measures of how tough a team plays. From that standpoint, the Big East looks pretty good. Against out of conference BCS foes this season, the Big East has outrebounded opponents 1258 to 1207. And, in fact West Virginia, Pitt and UConn all managed to outrebound their opponents in the games listed above. But rebounds don't tell the whole tale. Defense is the other measure for the intangible "tough" factor. There were times in yesterday's contest against Michigan that UConn defenders didn't look like they knew or cared that Zach Novak was wide open for yet another 3.

If you look at Big East teams in the top 25 (Nova, Cuse, Pitt, W. Virginia and Georgetown), Syracuse is currently the only team holding non-conference BCS opponents below their season average in field goal percentage. And, for the record, that is one of the major reasons I feel Syracuse is going to win the coference this year. I wouldn't be surprised to see Cuse win it all, because they're a great team playing in a very good conference. But I still have to ask, how tough is it?

Andy Rautins Deserves Some Love

(Also Note the Hair)

Have you heard of Wesley Johnson? You know, the guy who is player of the year good. Averaging almost 17 points and 9 assists a game. It's a rhetorical question, because of course you have. And, then there's the phenomenal job that Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche are doing taking up the point this season. Triche led the team in scoring with 16 in their impressive win at West Virginia on Saturday. There is a lot to like about this team, but one of the things I like the most is the roll-playing ability of Andy Rautins.

Rautins is a shooting guard, with 43 3's made this season. But, he's also averaging over 5 assists a game. In fact, he has a better assist to turnover ratio than Scoop Jardine or Brandon Triche. His passing game wasn't really on display in the win over West Virginia, but he stepped up with seven rebounds. Oh yeah, and he contributed 12 points. When you have a shooting guard that can hand out nine assists in one game, and turn around and contribute on the boards the next, then you have a true role-player. And the more role players you have, the deeper you can go come March. I have a feeling Syracuse will be going pretty deep.

No one is going to read this blog

I am fully aware that I am competing for readers with thousands of other bloggers. The chances of me finding an audience are slim to none. So, lucky for me, my audience isn’t whom I’m really doing this for. I’ve had a lifelong love of basketball, despite the fact that I’m an altogether mediocre player. I was a so-so forward on my middle school team, the Foster Community Flyers. I saw some decent playing time, but our team was epically bad. In high school I wasn’t good enough to make the team. And no, they weren’t very good either.

But that love has followed me to this day. I grew up watching the NBA, and just to get it out of the way, Reggie Miller was my childhood hero. By the time I got to college, I had realized that the college game is the place where the truly fanatical go to tune in. There is nothing quite like the game of college basketball. For all of the corruption, all of the sleaze, for every O.J. Mayo and Guillory, every Fab Five and for every Kelvin Sampson, there is a counter. If you want to see the purest and the best that competition has to offer, I give you:

Tyler Hansbrough’s entire career; Stephon Curry’s steady hand en route to the elite eight; George Mason’s magical carpet ride; the fiery grit and passion of a Mateen Cleaves, born again in Travis Walton; Carmelo Anthony taking the Syracuse Orange on his back in 2003; unheralded coaches who build programs and men, like Bo Ryan does; a Grevias Vasquez holding up the name on the front of the jersey; a five overtime game that takes you deep into the night; a Mario Chalmers 3; Adam Morrison giving everything he had and then giving more.

That’s just the 2000’s. That’s just a relatively young perspective. That’s what makes this game what it is. I will never apologize for catching every contest I can, for screaming myself horse in a packed stadium, for actually following the 24 hours of games that ESPN uses to try and start the season with a bang. For people like you and me, for the truly fanatical, there is never enough to say, read or breath about college ball. Ultimately I’m doing this for me. Because after I have delved into all the college basketball there is, there’s still more.