2.26.2010

Three-point play: February 26, 2010

 1.  Why Kansas is the odds-on favorite to win it all

It has been more than a decade since college basketball crowned a champion that did not have an experienced point guard. Every team in the last ten years had one. Ty Lawson, Mario Chalmers, Taurean Green, Raymond Felton, Ben Gordon, Keith Duany, Steve Blake, Jason Williams, Mateen Cleaves.

You can bet on it every year, the last team standing will have a quality veteran point guard leading his team. That’s what separates the Kansas Jayhawks from the rest of the top teams in the country this season.

Sherron Collins has been magnificent in 2009-10, leading the Jayhawks in scoring, assists, and free throw percentage. On a supremely talented team with more depth than anyone else in America, Collins has shined above the rest.

The rest of the favorites to make the Final Four all have talented point guards, but they are all inexperienced. John Wall at Kentucky is at the forefront of this argument, but also Brandon Triche at Syracuse, and Truck Bryant at West Virginia.

Some of the top teams with veteran point guards are Duke (Jon Scheyer) – see previous posts for why they won’t make it all the way – Villanova (Scottie Reynolds/Corey Fisher), and Kansas State (Jacob Pullen).

None of those teams are as talented as the Jayhawks are across the board, which is why I’m starting to lean towards Kansas as my early championship pick.

2.    Purdue is royally screwed

When Robbie Hummel went tumbling to the floor in the first half Purdue’s win over Minnesota Wednesday night, so did any hope of a Final Four run for the Boilermakers.

All five of Purdue’s starters average at least 27 minutes per game.

The bench player with the most playing time is Kelsey Barlow with 15.9 minutes per game.

The Boilermakers have no depth whatsoever, and they surely couldn’t afford to lose its best player for the season. Of course, no team wants to lose its star, but when head coach Matt Painter clearly has no solid options to go to off the bench, Purdue is in trouble.

With Hummel in the lineup, the Boilermakers had a good shot at making a run to the Elite Eight, or even the Final Four. Without him, I’ll be shocked if they make it to the Sweet 16.

3.    Game to watch Saturday: (8) Villanova at (4) Syracuse

The Orange need a win Saturday and one more to clinch an outright Big East championship. As if they needed any more motivation in a top-ten conference battle at home in prime time on national television.

Syracuse has won two straight games after its surprising loss to Louisville on Valentine’s Day.

Villanova enters the game in a much bigger rut than the Orange. After starting the Big East season 9-0, the Wildcats are 3-3 since, including consecutive losses last week to Connecticut and at Pittsburgh.

If the ‘Cuse pull off this win tomorrow night, it would be their sixth against a team ranked in the top 15 at the time of the game this season.

This is a pivotal game for Villanova, because its final two games are not easy. The Wildcats travel to Cincinnati and host West Virginia next week.

This could also be one final bout for conference player of the year honors. There are several players in the Big East vying for the honor, but the two favorites have to be Wesley Johnson from Syracuse and Scottie Reynolds at ‘Nova. Johnson averages 16 points and nine rebounds this season to lead the Orange, while Reynolds has put an outstanding cap on an illustrious career, scoring 19 points per game for the Wildcats.

If the Orange win, it could go a long way in making their case for a number one seed in the NCAA Tournament. If the Wildcats win, it will ease the pain of their recent struggles, and give them some momentum heading into the difficult final week of their regular season.

2.25.2010

Live Guest Spot on Terp Talk Live Tonight!

Hey guys, just wanted to let you know I'll be on Terp Talk Live on ESPN 1300 in Maryland tonight between 6:20 and 6:40. You can listen online at http://terptalk.com/. We'll be talking about the Virginia Tech/Maryland game coming up this Saturday. Hope you all tune in!

2.23.2010

Why Duke can’t win championships anymore


 It’s the same story every year.

 

Mike Krzyzewski does a “phenomenal coaching job” with “less athletic” but “intelligent, fundamentally sound” basketball players. Duke runs through the ACC schedule with between 11 and 13 wins, sometimes more, and come March the country seems to think the Devils are ready for a run at national title.

In the past eight seasons, the Devils have gone a combined 94-29 in ACC games. What do they have to show for it? One final four appearance and no other games past the sweet sixteen.

It’s happening again this year. Duke is surging through the ACC and has all but locked up the regular season title.

Fact of the matter is, winning the ACC isn’t all it used to be cracked up to be.

In the past six seasons (since the conference expanded to 11, and eventually 12 teams), only North Carolina has made it past the Sweet Sixteen; the Heels and Devils are the only teams to make it to the tournament’s second weekend in that span.

It simply is not as tough to make it through the ACC schedule in 2010 as it was in 1990. While conferences like the Big East soar in the conference expansion era, the ACC is losing its luster.

This is evidenced by the fact that Duke controls the conference during the regular season, then fizzles in tournament play.


Let’s look at the scores of recent tournament games that eliminated the Blue Devils:

 

2009: (3) Villanova 77,  (2) Duke 54 – Villanova couldn't carry the momentum of a 23-point win to a national title, and would go on to lose in the Final Four to North Carolina 83-69.

 

2008: (7) West Virginia 78, (2) Duke 63 – The Mountaineers blew out the Blue Devils, then bowed out to Atlantic 10 powerhouse Xavier in the next round.

 

2007: (11) Virginia Commonwealth 79 (6) Duke 77 – that’s right, the Colonial Athletic Association champs handed Duke a one-way ticket to Durham on the tournament’s first night.

 

2006: (4) LSU 62, (1) Duke 54 – The J.J. Redick era ended tragically with a loss to the Tigers, led by rising star Tyrus Thomas, who's still trying to find a consistent jump shot.


It hasn’t been a good run in March for Duke lately. Unfortunately for Cameron Crazies, the formula of playing three or four players 35 minutes or more per game and relying on those players for nearly 70% of your scoring only gets you so far.

The triumvirate of Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith and Kyle Singler are imposing for sure, but if you take away their averages, the rest of the team scores 26 points per game.

In 2006-07, Duke played four starters over 30 minutes per game, and only two players off the bench averaged more than 10 minutes per game. College athletes aren’t built to handle that sort of endurance test, and that’s part of the reason why teams like VCU can shock the world come March.

In 2005-2006, Duke also used a seven-man rotation. Even with national player of the year J.J. Redick on its side, the Devils still fizzled out in the sweet sixteen despite a number one seed.

It just doesn’t work to have a couple of the best fundamental players in the country and little else. Teams with deep, athletic, experienced teams are the ones that win championships.

That used to be the case in Durham, when names like Jay Williams, Carlos Boozer, Trajan Langdon, Grant Hill, Elton Brand, Shane Battier, and Chris Duhon slapped the Cameron Indoor hardwood.

Any players like that that have come through Duke recently have not managed to stay very long, like Josh McRoberts and Luol Deng to name a few.

Until the formula for success at Duke gets an overhaul, Blue Devil fans should just remain content with regular season glory and postseason flops. 


--note: this post was meant to be written with bias against the Blue Devils and a response to criticism for lack of substance when discussing Duke basketball. This in no way reflects the future of this blog as an objective and mudslinging source of writing.

Three-point play: February 23, 2010

 1.    UConn is the ACC and A-10’s worst enemy

It wasn’t long ago when Connecticut was in disarray. Head coach Jim Calhoun was in the middle of a medical leave of absence. The Huskies were 4-8 in the Big East and shared the unwelcome honor as struggling powerhouses with North Carolina.

Calhoun is back, and after beating seventh-ranked West Virginia Monday night, the Huskies (17-11, 7-8) are right back in the middle of the NCAA tournament picture. Their final three games are all winnable, and a 10-8 mark in the Big East should warrant an at-large bid.

Just as the horn was sounding on the Huskies’ upset of the Mountaineers, several teams on the bubble cringed. Teams like Clemson, Dayton, Florida State, Rhode Island, Charlotte and Saint Louis are all uncertain of their postseason fates at this juncture.

If the Huskies continue to surge, they will surely sneak up and grab an at-large bid from one of those middle-of-the-pack teams from the ACC or A-10.  You can bet every one of the aforementioned teams will be rooting hard against the Huskies from here on out.

 

2.    Ross Tudor is right – Duke is a master scheduler

I did a double take tonight when looking ahead to the week’s slate of games, and I saw Duke hosting Tulsa on Thursday night. Why on earth the Devils are hosting this game in late February is beyond me, but this much is not: Mike Krzyzewski is a damn good resume builder.

It wasn’t until my friend Ross brought this to my attention that I realized it to be true: Duke makes a living off scheduling teams with RPI rankings between 75-150 who are easily beatable, yet still boost their own RPI greatly.

Now, this strategy is only surefire when you have a perennial top-15 power like the Blue Devils, because if you are any worse, you could lose a game or two in that slate and have some ugly losses to your name.

Tulsa, for instance, is 19-8, 8-5 in Conference USA. Their RPI as of Monday night was 75. That’s perfect for Duke, which has not lost a home game all season and is in little danger of doing so in Thursday.

Some of the Blue Devils’ non-conference games include Charlotte, Arizona State, Connecticut, Wisconsin, Gonzaga, Penn, Iowa State and Georgetown. In the two of those games that were on the road, Duke lost. The other ones were all Blue Devil victories.

There were no games against top 10 teams; no epic made-for-TV matchups to bring money to the school. By playing games that are all mostly winnable but still competitive is why Duke has one of the five strongest schedules in the country and has an outside shot at a 1-seed in the NCAA Tournament.

 

3.    Evan Turner has my vote for player of the year

There is no player in the country doing so many different things at the level Evan Turner is this season. Despite missing six games due to a serious back injury, Turner has been unstoppable even after returning.

Here’s his stat line: 19.5 points, 9.3 rebounds, 5.8 assists, two steals and one block per game; dude is the LeBron James of college basketball. Since returning from injury, the Buckeyes are 10-2.

When the postseason rolls around, teams with standout veteran superstars always seem to do big things. How far did Michael Beasley and O.J. Mayo make it in their only seasons in college? Exactly. Every championship team in the last five years has been led by a bona fide veteran star.

This doesn’t mean Ohio State is prime for a national championship run, but here’s betting Turner is a household name in a month or so.

 

2.22.2010

The Race to Greensboro – Breaking down the ACC Tournament chase

Starting today, I will take a look at each conference and handicap what each team needs to do between now and selection Sunday. First off, the Atlantic Coast Conference.

 

Duke (23-4, 11-2)

NCAA Tournament chances: lock

 

The Blue Devils lead the ACC by a game and a half over Maryland, and have all but wrapped up the regular season championship. That being said, Duke is far from flawless, and is not a shoo-in to win the conference tournament.

No team in the country has a trio as talented as Duke’s Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer and Nolan Smith. All three players bring different but valuable assets to the table and make stopping Duke a living hell for opponents.

The worst news for Mike Krzyzewski’s team is they cannot play their tournament games at home. Each of Duke’s four losses has come on the road, and they have a much tougher time making shots away from Cameron Indoor Stadium.

 

Best-case scenario: ACC Championship/Final Four

Worst-case scenario: ACC Quarterfinals/NCAA first round

Likely scenario: ACC Championship/Sweet Sixteen

 

Maryland (19-7, 9-3)

NCAA Tournament chances: very likely

 

The Terrapins have flown somewhat under the radar this season, but with two weeks left in the regular season, they are in sole possession of second place in the ACC.

Quite frankly, Gary Williams’ team has been one arguable the most dominate team in the conference.  In its nine conference wins, Maryland has outscored its opponents by an average of 14 points per game. When they come to play, the Terps leave no doubt.

The biggest concern for Maryland’s NCAA Tournament hopes is their lack of a quality non-conference victory. The best win in that category was over Indiana, which is hardly anything to brag about.

 

Best-case scenario: ACC Championship/Sweet Sixteen

Worst-case scenario: ACC Quarterfinals/NIT

Likely scenario: ACC Semifinals/NCAA 2nd round


Virginia Tech (21-5, 8-4)

NCAA Tournament chances: somewhat probable

 

The Hokies could have all but solidified a spot in the NCAA tournament with a win at Duke Sunday night. Instead, Tech sits in third place in the ACC with several difficult games remaining.

Seth Greenberg has done a magnificent job coaching this team. Through 14 games at home, the Hokies have yet to lose once. The Feb. 27 date with Maryland in Blacksburg can be circled as a must-win for the Hokies, if they want to lock up a tournament spot before the ACC tournament begins.

With one of the worst non-conference schedules in America, Tech needs to finish at least 10-6 in the ACC to feel comfortable heading into selection Sunday.

 

Best-case scenario: ACC Championship/Sweet Sixteen

Worst-case scenario: ACC Quarterfinals/NIT

Likely scenario: ACC Finals/NCAA Second Round

 

Wake Forest (18-7, 8-5)

NCAA Tournament chances: somewhat probable

 

Last week, the Deacons were a comfortable lock for the NCAA Tournament, until they lost two games in a row.

Wake has strong non-conference victories, including ones over Gonzaga, Xavier and Richmond. Against the stronger opponents in the ACC, though, the Demon Deacons have struggled.

They have lost at Miami, at Duke, at Georgia Tech, at Virginia Tech, and at North Carolina State. Their only road win in the ACC came against North Carolina on Jan. 20.

Their struggles away from home raise a big red flag as far as their tournament prospects. Then again, not too many teams have found success on the road in this conference.

 

Best-case scenario: ACC Championship/Sweet Sixteen

Worst-case scenario: ACC Quarterfinals/NIT

Likely scenario: ACC Quarterfinals/NCAA First Round

 

Clemson (19-7, 7-5)

NCAA Tournament Chances: Bubble


The Tigers sit on the bubble at this point, and their outlook is rough. Three of their last four games are on the road, and they are all against strong teams in Maryland, Florida State and Wake Forest.

After losing at Virginia Tech on Feb. 6, Clemson has won three straight games. 

Realistically, the Tigers need to win at least two games in their final four, and a game in the ACC tournament to make the big dance.

 

Best-case scenario: ACC Semifinals/NCAA second round

Worst-case scenario: ACC first round/NIT

Likely scenario: ACC quarterfinals/NIT

 

Florida State (19-7, 7-5)

NCAA Tournament chances: Bubble

 

The Seminoles sit in a similar boat as Clemson for the time being, but with a much easier line of games down the stretch.

The ‘Noles’ final two road games are against North Carolina and Miami, two of the weaker teams in the conference.

Leonard Hamilton’s team is lacking a big-time scorer a la Toney Douglass or Al Thornton. If they had a better backcourt, FSU might be the best team in the conference.

With such great size inside, Florida State could give teams trouble in postseason play.

 

Best-case scenario: ACC Semifinals/NCAA first round

Worst-case scenario: ACC First round/NIT

Likely scenario: ACC Semifinals/NCAA first round

 

Georgia Tech (18-9, 6-7)

NCAA Tournament Chances: barely on the bubble

 

The Yellow Jackets are one of the more inconsistent, underachieving teams in the nation.

They are 2-4 in their last six games, but two of their final three games are at home. Derrick Favors and Gani Lawal are both All-ACC candidates, but there have been many disappointing performances from the Jackets this season.

To make the NCAA Tournament, Paul Hewitt’s squad must win two of its final three regular season games and make it to the ACC semifinals.

 

Best-case scenario: ACC Semifinals/NCAA first round

Worst-case scenario: ACC First round/NIT

Likely scenario: ACC Quarterfinals/NIT

 

Virginia (14-11, 5-7)

NCAA Tournament chances: very unlikely


Remember when the Cavaliers were in first place in the ACC? After a surprisingly hot start in conference play, the Wahoos have fallen on hard times down the stretch.

Virginia has lost five straight games, and it’s not crazy to think that the Cavs could go from 5-2 to 5-11 or 6-10 by season’s end.

If the Cavaliers want to make a shocking run to the NCAA tournament, they would need to win out in their final four games and probably make the finals of the conference tournament.

 

Boston College (13-13, 4-8)

NCAA Tournament chances: only with an automatic bid


Early season losses to Maine and Harvard spelled doom for the Eagles’ season. Other than a win against Clemson at home on Jan. 26, there are no wins to speak about for Boston College.

The Eagles need to win three more games to be eligible for the NIT. That is very possible, with games against Virginia and North Carolina State left in the regular season. That means they would only have to win one ACC Tournament game should they beat the Cavs and Wolfpack.

 

Best-case scenario: ACC Quarterfinals/NIT

Worst-case scenario: ACC first round/CBI

Likely scenario: ACC first round/CBI

 

North Carolina (14-13, 3-9)

NCAA Tournament chances: only with an automatic bid


The Tar Heels have fallen so far from the top-10 ranked team from early January that only a tournament championship would earn them an NCAA bid.

The scary thing about the Heels is, even if they enter the conference tournament as the 11th seed, they are talented enough to make a miraculous run. 

Is that likely? Yeah, and Matt Collette is a humble gentleman. Still, Carolina could salvage a forgettable season with at least a couple good wins late in the year.

 

Best-case scenario: ACC Semifinals/NCAA First Round

Worst-case scenario: ACC first round/CBI

Likely scenario: ACC first round/CBI


North Carolina State (15-13, 3-10)


NCAA Tournament Chances: only with an automatic bid

Over the course of the season, the Wolfpack have been the worst team in the ACC, but they have had a couple bright moments.

The 88-74 win over Duke gave State fans hope, but since that game, the Pack have lost seven of eight games. On Saturday they may have spoiled Wake Forest’s season with a 68-54 win at home.

 

Even with the select impressive victories, the Wolfpack have little hope to make it to the second day of the ACC Tournament still alive.

 

Best-case scenario: ACC quarterfinals/CBI

Worst-case scenario: ACC first round/CBI

Likely scenario: ACC first round/CBI

2.20.2010

Game Day Predictions: February 20, 2010

Top 25

  • (1) KANSAS 82, Colorado 65
  • (2) KENTUCKY 78, (19) Vanderbilt 75
  • (4) PURDUE 68, Illinois 64
  • (7) KANSAS STATE 84, Oklahoma 78
  • (8) WEST VIRGINIA 73, Seton Hall 65
  • (9) GONZAGA 75, Pepperdine 58
  • (14) BYU 78, Wyoming 58
  • (15) NEW MEXICO 80, Air Force 74
  • TEXAS TECH 72, (17) Texas 70
  • (18) TENNESSEE 76, South Carolina 70
  • (20) TEMPLE 72, St. Joe's 60
  • OKLAHOMA STATE 74, (22) Baylor 70
  • (23) TEXAS A & M 71, Iowa State 62

ACC

  • WAKE FOREST 72, NC State 58
  • NORTH CAROLINA 68, Boston College 63
  • MARYLAND 71, Georgia Tech 69
  • CLEMSON 70, Virginia 66

2.17.2010

Thought for the day in the NBA

Amare Stoudemire is not the answer in the Eastern Conference

Several teams are in a bidding war to pull Amare Stoudemire from Phoenix in a deadline trade, most notably the Heat and Cavaliers. Both teams have two very important goals in mind: first, to help make a run at a championship this season, but also to try and give their star players a reason to stay in town.

It’s no secret by now that Dwyane Wade and LeBron James are both hitting the free agent market this summer, and their respective teams are going to do whatever they can to resign them. Neither player has much of a supporting cast around them, so it’s clear the front offices in Miami and Cleveland are trying to give them a sidekick with star power.

Stoudemire is a poor choice to help make a run to the Finals, however. His lack of commitment on the defensive end makes him unreliable against Dwight Howard of the Magic. Howard is the wrench that twists everything in the East a different direction with his unmatched size, strength, and athleticism. There simply is not another big man in the conference that can contain him.

Stoudemire’s chances of giving him trouble are questionable. If he ends up in Miami, it really might not make them much better of a team. If he goes to Cleveland, it will make them better, but not any more dominant than they are already, especially considering what the Cavaliers might have to give up to get him (J.J. Hickson, Anderson Varejao).

Both teams should just stay put. Seriously, do the Cavaliers, in the midst of a 13-game winning streak, really need to shake up their roster? They risk blowing a shot at a title with such a bold move, and if that were to happen, LeBron would be gone. For the Heat, they would be better served to wait until this summer and try to bring Chris Bosh to South Beach to pair with Wade.

2.16.2010

Three Point Play: February 16, 2010

1. North Carolina should still make the NIT, and Ed Davis’ injury helps their case

The defending national champion Tar Heels were left for dead after losing seven of eight games and four straight. Following the 64-54 loss to Duke, the team announced that Ed Davis would be out for the season with a broken wrist. His loss seemed to spell doom for the struggling Heels. Instead, UNC played perhaps its best game in weeks in a win over North Carolina State on Saturday.

The absence of Davis actually may have helped the Tar Heels’ hopes. Against the Wolfpack, John Henson was able to play his natural position of power forward, and the team’s offense played much more fluently. Davis commanded the ball too much while producing an insufficient amount of effort that actually hindered the team’s production.

With six games left, UNC needs to win two more in order to be eligible for the NIT. The most winnable games in that span are at Boston College on Feb. 20, and Miami at home on Mar. 2. The other games include trips to Georgia Tech, Wake Forest, Duke and a home game with Florida State. Maybe with the improved outlook on offense, the Heels might have a chance.

2. Game of the week: Purdue at Ohio State, Wednesday 6:30 ET

With the recent slide Michigan State is on in conference play, this is a pivotal game involving two of the Big Ten’s best teams. The Boilermakers have not lost in a month, and are led by the dynamic trio of E’Twaun Moore, Robbie Hummel, and JaJuan Johnson. The Buckeyes enter the game on a six-game winning streak; they also defeated Purdue in West Lafayette earlier this season 70-66 in one of the best games this season.

Evan Turner returned from a serious back injury to play in the first Purdue game, and delivered a memorable performance. The national player of the year candidate scored 23 of his 32 points in the second half to help erase a 12-point halftime deficit. It was a complete turnaround from the first half, when Robbie Hummel scored 29 of his game-high 35 points. He also made eight three-pointers in the game, tying a school record.

The Buckeyes sit at 10-3 in Big 10 play, while Purdue is only a half game behind them at 9-3. A win in this game would put that team in prime position to win the regular season conference championship. Both teams are red-hot coming into the game, and if it turns out anything like last month’s tilt, it should be an exciting match-up.

3. Whatever happened to William and Mary?

Remember earlier this season, when the Tribe, picked to finish at the bottom of the Colonial Athletic Association, were knocking off ACC teams like they were Duke? That is a distant memory now, as they sit in fourth place in the CAA at 10-5 in the conference.

The Tribe currently hold victories over Richmond, Wake Forest, Radford, and Maryland to their name, and as of the beginning of January they looked to be a bona fide NCAA tournament team. Instead, they lost four of five games starting Jan. 20 and took themselves out of consideration for an at-large bid.

They have righted the ship to some extent by winning their last three games but the damage has already been made. The best they can hope for at this point is to win the CAA Tournament and finish the season strong, earning at best a 12 seed in March.

2.13.2010

February 13 Game Day Predictions - Top 25/ACC

Last Saturday saw many underdogs come up big at home. There does not appear to be as much potential for that today, but there still should be some intriguing match ups.

· (1) KANSAS 85, Iowa State 66

· (2) KENTUCKY 71, Tennessee 60

· (5) VILLANOVA 84, Providence 71

· (6) PURDUE 74, Iowa 62

· (9) KANSAS STATE 77, Colorado 67

· (10) MICHIGAN STATE 65, Penn State 59

· (11) GONZAGA 74, San Diego 55

· (13) WISCONSIN 60, Indiana 53

· (14) TEXAS 73, Nebraska 57

· (15) BUTLER 80, Cleveland State 76

· (17) BYU 79, Air Force 62

· (18) NORTHERN IOWA 71, Bradley 68

· (19) NEW MEXICO 70, Utah 64

· (21) TEMPLE 70, Rhode Island 63

· PRINCETON 63, (22) Cornell 61

· (24) VANDERBILT 75, LSU 62

· SAN DIEGO STATE 75, (25) UNLV 74

ACC

· (7) DUKE 66, Maryland 62

· WAKE FOREST 68, (20) Georgia Tech 63

· MIAMI 68 at Clemson 62

· NC STATE 63 at North Carolina 58

· VIRGINIA TECH 74, Virginia 72

2.10.2010

Three-point play: February 10, 2010

1. The Big Ten could put five teams in the Sweet Sixteen

A little more than a week ago, the Big Ten Conference appeared to be a race for second place. Michigan State was unbeaten in conference play and the class of the league. Fast-forward to today, and the Spartans are in the midst of a three-game losing streak and a tie for first place in the conference.

Illinois (17-8, 9-3) is surging, after beating the Spartans over the weekend then Wisconsin on the road Tuesday night. Purdue and Ohio State (8-3 in the Big 10) are both a half game behind the Illini and Spartans for the league’s best record. Wisconsin, at 8-4, is in fifth place but only a game behind the leaders.

Every one of those five teams has played a quality out of conference schedule and proven they can win on the nation’s biggest stage. Of those five teams, all are likely to be top five seeds in the NCAA Tournament.

2. The Big East could put four teams in the Elite 8

While not as deep as it was last year, the Big East has four of the nation’s best teams this season, and they are all playing like it right now. Georgetown has recovered from earlier struggles and sit in fourth place. This past Saturday, they were most impressive in beating conference leader Villanova at home.

Despite the loss by the Wildcats, they still look very strong and are easily the deepest team Jay Wright has had with the program. Scottie Reynolds has developed into a real leader for this team, rather than just the most talented player.

Syracuse is also extremely dangerous. They are tied atop the standings with Villanova at 10-1. The biggest concern for the Orange involving the tournament is inexperience at point guard. Brandon Triche has surprised everyone with his steady play as a freshman (9.5 ppg, 3.1 apg,), but history tells us it’s near impossible to win a championship with a rookie at that position.

The Orange also shoot 65% from the foul line as a team…not the most comforting of statistics for Syracuse fans. Still, it’s hard to argue that at 23-1, the Orange are not one of the best three or four teams in America.

West Virginia will also make a strong push in March. The Mountaineers are one of the more lengthy teams in the country, although they lack physicality inside. De’Sean Butler, Kevin Jones, and Devin Ebanks are all stars on the wing, and fit in perfectly with Coach Bob Huggins’ trapping defensive schemes. West Virginia traditionally plays very well during the postseason, and this is the most talented team the program has had in years.

3. Cinderella Alert: Siena, Butler, Northern Iowa

The Siena Saints, who knocked off Ohio State in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament, are riding high again this season. The Saints are 21-4 and 14-0 on the season. In the non-conference schedule, they faced both Georgia Tech and Temple on the road. Those types of games will prepare them well for the tournament.

When they make the big dance, you’ll be sure to hear about the Saints’ reserve player, Just-in’love Smith. He’s only played in four games, but that’s too cool of a name to keep off the air.

They’ll be known as a Cinderella, but if Northern Iowa makes it deep into March, it would not be that much of a surprise. The Panthers are 12-1 and in first place in the Missouri Valley Conference, which has produced several bracket busters this decade.

The Panthers are ranked no. 18 in the AP poll, so they have been recognized for their strong play thus far. They beat Boston College earlier this season on a neutral court, and they should easily earn an at-large bid should they falter in the conference tournament.

Butler also falls under a similar category as Northern Iowa. The Bulldogs were ranked in the top 20 of every preseason poll you could get your hands on. Now ranked 15th in the country, Brad Stevens’ team has recovered from a few disappointing early-season losses to be 21-4 and 14-0 in the Horizon League. Their best win so far this season came against Ohio State in December, but the Buckeyes were without Evan Turner.

All three of these programs hail from little-known conferences, but they have been on cruise control over the past month and a half and could make serious noise during March Madness.


2.07.2010

Three-point play: February 7, 2010

Saturday was filled with statement games by some teams looking to earn respect on the national scene. It was a great day of basketball, and here are some thoughts for the day:

1. The loss to South Florida was a blessing in disguise for Georgetown

We all saw, or at least heard about, Georgetown’s thumping of Duke last Saturday in front of President Barack Obama. The 89-77 win against the Blue Devils was a statement win for both the Hoyas and for the Big East Conference.

Four days later, the lowly South Florida Bulls came into the nation’s capital and sent Georgetown a big fat wake-up call. By beating the Hoyas 72-64, it kept Georgetown’s egos in check, and sent the team a message that no opponent will lay down for them.

So all the Hoyas did was come out Saturday and embarrass the 2nd-ranked Villanova Wildcats 103-90. Backcourt mates Austin Freeman and Jason Clark combined for 49 points in the win.

That makes it two Saturdays in a row where Georgetown has looked like a Final Four team. The upset loss on Wednesday night enabled John Thompson’s club to re-focus and understand just how big the target on their backs really is.

Look for the Hoyas to make the Big East a three-headed monster, including the Wildcats and Syracuse, down the stretch.

2. The Mountain West and the Atlantic 10 should get eight NCAA bids between them

Saturday was a banner day for the unknown teams in both the Atlantic 10 and Mountain West Conference. Dayton, UNLV and Richmond all hosted conference powers, and all three enjoyed convincing upset victories.

The Spiders (18-6, 7-2), who have already knocked off Mississippi State, Missouri and Florida this season, hosted No. 17 Temple and blew them away 71-54. Kevin Anderson, a junior guard from Duluth, Ga. is the engine for that team, averaging 18 points per game while only leaving the floor for three minutes per game.

Dayton took on Xavier as losers in three of its last five games. It was a virtual must-win game for the Flyers to keep their at-large hopes alive, and they destroyed the Musketeers 90-65, avenging a loss earlier in the season on the road. The Flyers need a strong finish down the stretch still; their only quality win out of conference was against Georgia Tech.

UNLV hosted 12th ranked BYU and used a 56 point first half to cruise to victory. The Rebels (19-4, 7-2) are now in a three-way tie for first place in the Mountain West, and after a mid-season slump have rebounded to win seven of their last eight games.

3. Winning on the road is harder than getting Taylor Swift to sing well

In the AP Top 25 alone, seven underdogs won at home. The field of elite teams this year is diluted more than usual, and there are so many teams that could beat anyone.

The balanced standings in so many conferences will make for an interesting week of conference tournaments in early March. While so many of the highest ranked teams are dropping like flies when they hit the road, who knows what will happen when games move to neutral sites?

Fan bases for college basketball are as strong as ever, which makes for entertaining games. The emerging parity across the multiple-bid conferences are going to make this year’s conference tournaments some of the most intriguing ever. Enjoy the upsets while we can …only in college basketball…

Game Day Predictions: February 6 Recap

Overall, it was a solid opening day of predictions. I correctly picked many of Saturday's biggest upsets. There were a few games I just missed on though . . . nobody's perfect (sigh).


CORRECT PICKS

KANSAS over Nebraska

KENTUCKY over LSU

ILLINOIS over Michigan State

WEST VIRGINIA over St. John's

KANSAS STATE over Iowa State

UNLV over Byu

GONZAGA over Memphis

BUTLER over Wright State

WISCONSIN over Michigan

RICHMOND over Temple

PITTSBURGH over Seton Hall

NORTHERN IOWA over Southern Illinois

NEW MEXICO over San Diego State

TEXAS A & M over Baylor

CORNELL over Brown

DUKE over Boston College

GEORGIA TECH over NC State

VIRGINIA TECH over Clemson

FLORIDA STATE over Miami


INCORRECT PICKS (My picks are in CAPS)

Georgetown beat VILLANOVA

Oklahoma beat TEXAS

Tennessee beat SOUTH CAROLINA

Georgia beat VANDERBILT

Wake Forest beat VIRGINIA


OVERALL RECORD: 19-5 (79%)

Four out of every five ain't bad...I'm going to have to do some work before the big dance comes around.

2.06.2010

Game Day Predictions: February 6

Several of the nation’s best teams will be tested Saturday with tough conference games. As the standings begin to take shape with a month remaining in the regular season, so begins The Playbook’s Game Day Predictions. Let’s hope it works out better than the 2010 bowl season . . .

· KANSAS 85, Nebraska 68

· VILLANOVA 88, Georgetown 81

· KENTUCKY 79, Lsu 60

· ILLINOIS 69, Michigan State 65

· WEST VIRGINIA 67, St. John’s 59

· TEXAS 81, Oklahoma 80

· KANSAS STATE 75, Iowa State 66

· UNLV 74, Byu 71

· GONZAGA 82, Memphis 78

· SOUTH CAROLINA 66, Tennessee 64

· BUTLER 78, Wright State 61

· WISCONSIN 59, Michigan 53

· RICHMOND 66, Temple 65

· VANDERBILT 73, Georgia 71

· PITTSBURGH 70, Seton Hall 68

· NORTHERN IOWA 76, Southern Illinois 54

· NEW MEXICO 80, San Diego State 73

· TEXAS A & M 72, Baylor 70

· CORNELL 67, Brown 52

AROUND THE ACC:

· DUKE 77, Boston College 70

· GEORGIA TECH 73, NC State 60

· VIRGINIA 75, Wake Forest 69

· VIRGINIA TECH 74, Clemson 71

· FLORIDA STATE 68, Miami 63

2.05.2010

2010 ACC Schedule – Team-by-team Reaction


On Thursday, the ACC released its 2010 football schedule. There are some notable out of conference games to speak of, and there will be some tough stretches for the favorites in the league. Here is an early breakdown of the 2010 slate for each team.

Boston College:

Toughest non-conference game – Oct. 2 vs. Notre Dame

Toughest conference games – Sept. 25 vs. Virginia Tech, Oct. 16 at Florida State

Easiest FBS game – Nov. 27 at Syracuse

Schedule Strength – C+

Clemson:

Toughest non-conference game – Sept. 18 at Auburn

Toughest conference games – Oct. 2 vs. Miami, Nov. 13 at Florida State

Easiest FBS game – Sept. 4 vs. North Texas

Schedule Strength – B+

Florida State

Toughest non-conference game – Sept. 11 at Oklahoma

Toughest conference games – Oct. 9 at Miami, Nov. 6 vs. UNC

Easiest FBS game – Sept. 18 vs. BYU

Schedule Strength – A

Maryland

Toughest non-conference game – Sept. 18 at West Virginia

Toughest conference games – Nov. 6 at Miami, Nov. 20 vs. Florida State

Easiest FBS game – Sept. 25 vs. FIU

Schedule Strength – C+

NC State

Toughest non-conference game – Sept. 16 (Thurs.) vs. Cincinnati

Toughest conference games – Oct. 2 vs. Virginia Tech, Oct. 28 (Thurs.) vs. Florida State

Easiest FBS game – Sept. 11 at Central Florida

Schedule Strength – A-

Wake Forest

Toughest non-conference game – Sept. 18 at Stanford

Toughest conference games – Sept. 25 at Florida State, Oct. 16 at Virginia Tech

Easiest FBS game – Nov. 27 at Vanderbilt

Schedule Strength – B

Duke

Toughest non-conference game – Sept. 18 vs. Alabama

Toughest conference games- Oct. 23 at Virginia Tech, Nov. 27 vs. Virginia Tech

Easiest FBS game – Sept. 25 vs. Army

Schedule Strength – B+

Georgia Tech

Toughest non-conference game – Nov. 27 at Georgia

Toughest conference games- Nov. 4 (Thurs.) at Virginia Tech, Nov. 13 vs. Miami

Easiest FBS game – Oct. 16 vs. Middle Tennessee

Schedule Strength – B-

Miami

Toughest non-conference game – Sept. 11 at Ohio State

Toughest conference games- Nov. 20 vs. Virginia Tech, Oct. 2 at Clemson

Easiest FBS game – Nov. 27 at South Florida

Schedule Strength – A+

North Carolina

Toughest non-conference game – Sept. 4 vs. LSU (In Atlanta)

Toughest conference games- Oct. 23 at Miami, Nov. 6 at Florida State

Easiest FBS game – Oct. 2 vs. East Carolina

Schedule Strength – B+

Virginia

Toughest non-conference game – Sept. 11 at USC

Toughest conference games- Nov. 27 at Virginia Tech, Oct. 30 vs. Miami

Easiest FBS game – Oct. 23 vs. Eastern Michigan

Schedule Strength – C

Virginia Tech

Toughest non-conference game – Sept. 6 (Mon.) vs. Boise State (In Washington D.C.)

Toughest conference games – Nov. 20 at Miami, Nov. 13 at UNC

Easiest FBS game – Oct. 9 vs. Central Michigan

Schedule Strength – B+

2.04.2010

Three-point play: February 4, 2010

This is a new college basketball feature as we hit the time of the year where the sport is finally nationally relevant.

1. The ACC is a five-bid league at best

Up to this point, many of the NCAA Tournament projections across the internet have the ACC putting seven teams in the big dance. At the rate the league is going, that’s simply not going to happen.

North Carolina is in the tank, losing five of its last seven games. Duke got manhandled at Georgetown over the weekend, and after the Hoyas’ shocking loss to South Florida Wednesday night, it doesn’t make the Blue Devils look too good.

As of Thursday afternoon, there are nine teams within two games in the loss column of the league leader. Miami and North Carolina State both have six conference losses, but both of them are easily capable of beating anyone in the ACC.

Essentially, the league champion will likely finish 11-5 or maybe even a giant tie for first at 10-6. Most teams in the league will be around .500 or below in-conference, and none of them have much quality non-conference wins to brag about.

If the league gets five bids they should consider themselves fortunate.

2. John Wall has a long way to go to be an elite point guard

There is little dissension from the opinion that John Wall will be the first pick in June’s NBA draft. His skill set projects him to be an all-star point guard for the next decade or more at the next level, but there is one stat that should frighten the scouts.

If you take away his three games against Rider, UNC-Asheville, and Hartford, Wall has 101 assists and 82 turnovers. That is a 1.23:1 ratio against the tougher part of the Wildcats’ schedule.

Wall is a dominant scoring point guard – his 16.9 points per game leads Kentucky – but he must learn how to take better care of the ball if the Wildcats hope to make a run at the national title. There has not been a champion in recent memory with a freshman point guard.

3. Matt Bouldin is a warrior

For the better part of the country that does not live on the west coast, you couldn’t pick Matt Bouldin out of a crowd. The senior forward for Gonzaga might be the most valuable player to his team in America.

Over the last nine games, Bouldin has played an average of 39.5 minutes per game. He virtually never leaves the floor, and he is averaging 16.5 points, 4.3 assists, 4.7 rebounds per game, and shoots 39 percent from three-point range.

Wall has garnered most of the nation’s attention so far this season, but his recent struggles have opened the door for another player to be considered for player of the year. Here’s an advocate for Bouldin (He’s No. 15, with shaggy brown hair…. you can’t miss him if you’re browsing ESPN2 late at night).

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