Tag Archives: College Basketball

2013-2014 Ohio State Men's Basketball Preview

Entering the 2013-2014 season, the Ohio State Men’s Basketball team is quite enigmatic.

At one end of the spectrum, a lot has changed for the Buckeyes. At the other end, weirdly enough, everything is relatively status quo.

The Buckeyes will bring back 10 of last year’s players, while adding two talented recruits into the fold. Meanwhile, however, those two player might be enough to undo the Buckeyes from the get-go.

After a season in which he put up the third-most points in Ohio State single-season history while leading the Buckeyes to an Elite Eight run, DeShaun Thomas declared for the NBA Draft and was drafted by the San Antonio Spurs with the 28th pick in the second round.

Of course, Thomas decided that playing overseas would be in his best interest until the NBA was ready for him, but nevertheless, Thomas, Ohio State’s premier offensive weapon, left the Buckeyes searching for answers on the offensive end.

Ohio State’s only senior last season, Evan Ravenel, certainly didn’t have the offensive impact of Thomas, but was certainly a formidable post-presence for the Buckeyes off of the bench.

With Amir Williams going through the motions for the majority of last season, Ravenel was often asked to come into the game early, play significant defense and body up the big-time post defenders of the Big Ten. He was ultimately successful on both ends of the floor, but his defense vastly outweighed his offensive numbers.

Obviously, the loss Thomas and Ravenel will be significant for many reasons, but the loss of Thomas may be the one that the Buckeyes may feel the most.

Who will replicate his 19.8 points per game? His 72 three-point field goals? His 733 points?

Those numbers aren’t going to be easy to reproduce, but most of that burden will fall on the shoulders of LaQuinton Ross.

Ross, the 6’8, 220 pound junior out of Mississippi, made his presence felt last season off of the bench for the Buckeyes after a suspension-filled freshman season.

In 2012-2013, Ross averaged 8.3 points per game while shooting 46.8% from the field, but his most notable games came when the lights were the brightest.

Against Michigan in Ann Arbor, Ross scored 16 points on 7-10 shooting. Against Iowa State in the NCAA Tournament, he scored 17 on 6-10 shooting. Against Arizona in the Sweet Sixteen, Ross hit the game winning shot on the way to another 17 points on 5-8 shooting. Finally, in the Elite Eight loss against Wichita State, Ross added 19 points and shot 9-10 from the free throw line.

If the NCAA tournament proved anything, it proved that Laquinton Ross might be ready to fill in for the legendary Thomas this season. With more minutes and more touches, it’s scary what Ross might be able to do.

As for the other sources of offense, the Buckeyes will certainly be looking for some input from the senior leaders- Aaron Craft and Lenzelle Smith Jr.– as well as some scoring from Sam Thompson and Shannon Scott.

Last season, the three veterans combined to average 32.0 points per game and if they’re going to succeed this season, they need to equal or surpass that number during the 2013-2014 campaign.

There will be added help this season from the likes of three-point specialist Amadeo Della Valle and big-time freshman recruits Marc Loving and Kam Williams. If the young-guns can make a significant impact on the offensive end, there’s no telling just how far this team can go.

Defensively, this might be the best teams in the country, which is fortunate as there are so many question marks on the offensive end.

Lead by the nation’s best on-ball defender, Aaron Craft, the Buckeyes will try to improve upon their 39.5% opponent field goal percentage and the 59.4 points-per-game that opponents were able to put on the Buckeyes.

This is where the loss of Evan Ravenel becomes crucial.

While the Buckeyes should have no problems guarding the perimeter, as Craft, Smith Jr and Thompson are tremendous defenders, they might have problems in the interior.

LaQuinton Ross, while a potentially fabulous scorer, isn’t known for a defense and should he start at the power forward position, he could very well be pushed around by some of the Big Ten’s surly power forwards.

At the center position, Amir Williams has an entirely different problem. He has major problems moving his feet. The size is there, the strength is there, but if he hasn’t improved his footwork, opponent centers- (McGary, Payne)- might just go to town on the poor kid.

Ravenel’s hulking presence on the post will be missed and will need to be replicated somehow, someway, if the Buckeyes want to have a chance in college basketball’s premier conference.

Overall, Ohio State has question marks on both sides of the ball, but there’s no reason to believe those questions won’t be answered strongly early on.

LaQuinton Ross is poised for a breakout season in relief of DeShaun Thomas.

Aaron Craft has increased his points per game average by two points every single year of his collegiate career and could definitely do so again.

Lenzelle Smith Jr., Shannon Scott and Sam Thompson should be improved with another year of experience under their belt, despite their already solid output.

The freshmen and Amadeo should make a significant impact on at least one side of the ball.

Amir Williams should have improved his footwork and is hopefully a much better defender this season.

Thad Matta is one of the best coaches in the entirety of college basketball.

All signs are pointing to a very successful season for the Buckeyes, but where can we expect them to end up?

Michigan State is the top dog in the Big Ten, but Ohio State did beat them in both of their meetings last season on their way to a Big Ten Championship. Michigan lost too much in Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. to find their way back in the National Championship hunt

Ultimately, the Buckeyes should finish the season second in the Big Ten and find themselves with a high seed in the NCAA Tournament.

Anything less than a chance for redemption in the Elite Eight would be considered a significant disappointment.

The Buckeyes start their season tomorrow afternoon at the Schott with a 12 pm tipoff against the Morgan State Bears.

Key players returning to school is good for the College & NBA games

To my great joy, the deadline to declare for the NBA draft passed with some surprising players choosing to remain in school for at least one more year.  I could be wrong, but it certainly seems as though more significant players chose to spend more time in college this year, than in recent years.  It’s too early to determine if this will become a trend.  If it does become a trend in the coming years, both the game of college basketball, and the NBA will be better for it.

The obvious impact for next year is on the college game.  Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart, Gary Harris and Adreian Payne of Michigan State, Michigan’s Glenn Robinson III and Mitch McGary, Doug McDermott of Creighton, and Louisville’s Russ Smith were some of the most scrutinized decisions.  That group had varying draft potential.  Smart was a sure-fire top 5 pick, while Smith would’ve gone anywhere from the late first round, into the second.

Regardless of where they would’ve gone in the draft, each will have a tremendous effect on the college basketball season in 2013-14.  It doesn’t matter what the reasons for returning were.  Whether they made the smart choice because they wanted to improve their skills; if they wanted to come back to win a championship; or if they simply like hanging out with college girls; one way or another, the choice to gain additional experience will be a positive one.

While it’s clear that the respective schools will be in better shape due to having these guys back; it may not be clear how that will make the NBA a better game.  The first and easiest answer is that the players mentioned – and any player who considered jumping to the NBA, yet chose to return – is going to further develop their game.

There was a time I loved the NBA; never as much as the college game, but I still loved to watch it.  The reason the NBA was so great in the ‘80’s through the ‘90’s, was that the fundamental skill of the players from top to bottom was far more refined.  That’s tied directly to the fact that your typical NBA player was one who had spent four years in college.  Early entries were rare.  When they did happen, we were spoiled with once in a lifetime talents like Bird, Magic, Jordan etc. 

Everybody else developed their game playing a full college career.  Refining and developing new skills doesn’t happen in the NBA.  It happens in college.  College coaches, the really good ones, know how to squeeze every ounce of potential out of their guys.  Being thrown to the wolves as a high draft choice, or riding the pine as a late first round, early second round pick; does not lead to development. 

Having kids return to school has an often overlooked effect on the NBA.  It keeps the league from continuing to get watered down with players who don’t belong there.  The reason I find the NBA so difficult to watch, is that the league is littered with extremely athletic, erratic players who really don’t belong there.

While there are always a handful of success stories, the vast majority of kids who make the jump early, do not live up to expectations.  Hell, many are flat-out busts.  Too many get to hang around the league simply because someone, somewhere still thinks they may pan out one day.  Like I said, there are some breath-taking athletes, who never truly became basketball players.

Gaining additional experience, and honing their craft, can only make a player more NBA ready when their time comes.  Whether that means a budding star becomes a legit star, a good player becomes a high level NBA player, or an average Joe becomes a solid NBA journeyman; in any case, the league rosters will consist of a higher caliber of player.

In my opinion, the most important impact a return to school has on a player is intangible.  I’m talking about the ability to learn how to win and lose.  When kids go to college for a year, maybe two, they’re essentially a rental.  So much focus is on improving draft stock, that winning and losing has little value.

I’m not saying that those kids don’t want to win, I’m sure they do.  However, there is something to be said for becoming a part of something.  Being part of a family, embracing rivalries, enjoying the sweet taste of victory, and the bitter taste of excruciating defeat is critical to building character. 

McGary and Robinson are prime examples of that for Michigan.  Both had solid freshman seasons.  Far worse players have jumped to the NBA, but they chose to stay.   These two got so close to the pinnacle, only to have it snatched away.  They’re going to take on a greater role now.  Perhaps they lead their school to a championship, or maybe they suffer another disappointment. 

In either case, they become better at the college level, as well as when they get to the NBA.  That experience carries over.  They’ll carry that to whichever teams they go to.  They’ll want to stick it to every rival.  They’ll know what it takes to win a championship, or now how bad it feels not to.  That’s something that will drive them to push themselves, and those around them.  And that goes for any player who chose to go back to school.  That’s invaluable experience that cannot be gained by leaving school early, and playing for an NBA lottery team.

Look, I’ll never begrudge a kid who comes from little means, who jumps at the chance to make millions for his family.  In this era, seeking instant gratification is the rule, not the exception.  However, if more kids stayed in the college game, the cumulative effect would be astounding.

First, the college game would be better, with more highly skilled players.  While some players may lose some draft value, they will likely be set up for a more meaningful career, with greater longevity due to the extra development; rather than being a high lottery pick that becomes a bust.  Ultimately, the NBA game will be better because from the skill level of the brightest star to the last guy off the bench will be more refined.

I could be getting way ahead of myself.  Next year, there may be a mass exodus of ill-prepared youngsters to the NBA.  I hope that’s not the case.  Hopefully, more and more college hoops players realize that the money isn’t going anywhere; and that investing an extra year or two in school, may make them a better long-term investment for an NBA franchise.  If that does become a trend, college basketball will be even better; and the NBA will become a game that I may just want to watch.

[tl;dr] Reduce Both the Men’s Shot Clock and Overall Number of Timeouts

A few weeks ago, Ryan wrote about adjustments college basketball should make in order to make the men’s game more competitive. One of the aspects he focused on was the shot clock, and it just happens that NCAA rules committee is considering a change to the shot clock in its biennial rules cycle. The current men’s shot clock is at 35-seconds, while women use 30 and NBA, WNBA, and FIBA each use a 24-second shot clock.

The intent of the shot clock is quicken the pace of the game so the offense cannot hold the ball for an unlimited about of time.

It’s obvious men’s college basketball has a scoring problem, and while shortening the length of the shot clock might be an obvious way to help correct the situation it isn’t the best solution. To me, the best remedy to basketball’s scoring solutions is fewer timeouts.

Basketball’s scoring problems are most prevalent at the Division I level in media games; that is games where timeouts are automatic every four minutes for broadcast media. In addition to four media timeouts per half, teams still retain their four 75-second timeouts (often expanded to 90-seconds for media) and two 30-second timeouts. Each team must use at least one of their 30-second timeouts in the first half or lose that timeout. Assuming teams use all of their timeouts there is a potential of 20 timeouts in one game.

TWENTY timeouts in one game!

Let that sink in.

The easiest solution to solve Division I’s scoring problem is to reduce the amount of timeouts in media games. We know broadcast media will not give up their structured timeouts, so the best solution is to either reduce the overall number of timeouts to say three per game, or make all non-media timeouts in media games 30-seconds.

As far as reducing the shot clock: yes, it will force more attempts, but that will not necessarily mean more made baskets or better shorts. Initially it will mean fewer of both.

Offenses will need to adjust to a shorter clock. A 30-second clock should also eliminate the requirement to advance to ball to the frontcourt in 10-seconds mirroring the women’s rule.

For college basketball, 24 seconds isn’t enough time for most teams to run a proper offense. In a time of giving offenses the advantage, the best solution is to reduce the clock to 30-seconds along with reducing the overall number of timeouts.

tl; dr is a tech nerd term for too long; didn’t read. the purpose of these posts is to provide a quick summary and analysis of something interesting in the sports world.

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Making Changes to College Basketball

by Ryan Isley

With the Louisville Cardinals’ 82-76 win over Michigan in the national championship game on Monday night, another college basketball season has ended. While the season and the NCAA Tournament as a whole were both entertaining and fun to watch, I think there are some changes that the NCAA needs to take a look at before the 2013-14 season begins.

Here are just a few:

1 – Shorten the Shot Clock:

If the NBA has a 24-second shot clock and women’s college basketball has a 30-second shot clock, why in the world does men’s college basketball need a 35-second shot clock? 35 seconds is just an insane amount of time for a team to be able to run their offense. In my opinion, the 35-second clock is unfair to the defensive team who plays 32-34 seconds of great defense but still gives up a garbage shot with less than three on the shot clock. Personally, I would like to see the NCAA shorten the shot clock to 30 in both the men’s and women’s game.

2 – Figure Out Block/Charge:

If there was one thing that drove everybody crazy in this year’s NCAA Tournament, it was the inconsistency in which the officials called a block or a charge on almost every play in which there was contact near the basket. The NCAA needs to put together a standard operating procedure for these calls and have extensive training for the officials to ensure that this does not become an issue going forward. There were too many games where a block/charge call were the biggest call of the game and you could argue that more than half of the time, the incorrect call was made. This has to be fixed.

3 – Start Calling Off Arm Offensive Fouls:

If block/charge was the most misinterpreted call this season, the most ignored call was the off-arm push by the ball-handler. Every game – including the national championship game – saw multiple instances where the player with the ball would use their off arm to distance themselves from the defender without being called. While some of them could have been ignored because the defender tried to oversell it, officials continuing to allow offensive players to push off has become an issue.

4 – Change the Technical Foul/Personal Foul Rule:

A technical foul also counts for a personal foul in college basketball. This is one of the worst rules in all of sports. When a player only gets five fouls before being disqualified from the game, it is completely unfair for a technical foul to also count as one of those five. Especially when officials have become all too quick to call a double technical when two players are involved. Instead of figuring out the issue, officials just assess both players a technical and in the process give each player a personal foul as well. This is just crazy. Make a technical foul a technical foul and make a personal foul a personal foul. This shouldn’t be so difficult.

5 – Eliminate the Possession Arrow:

I don’t know about you, but I get irritated every time there is a held ball and as I get excited for a jump ball, I realize that college basketball still uses the possession arrow. It is time for the NCAA to insert the jump ball for these situations. It seemed like the NCAA Tournament had more held ball situations than normal, with defensive players tying up the ball knowing that the alternating possession was in play. Make the game more exciting and actually use a jump ball when the ball is tied up instead of the anticlimactic possession arrow.

These are just five of the things I would like to see the NCAA address before next season begins. Of course, they probably won’t listen to any of these and will spend their time trying to make the game more difficult to like.

Comments? Questions? You can leave them here or email Ryan at [email protected]

I’ve been waiting for this since the 5th grade

My Louisville Cardinals are back in the National Championship game.  The last time I got to say that, I was a fifth grader.  Although I’ve been a die hard fan of the Cardinals since the day I was born, I admit, I just didn’t fully appreciate what I was watching back then.

I still feel a bit numb from the win on Saturday night against the Wichita State Shockers.  I knew it was the Final Four, but for some reason, it still hasn’t fully sunk in.  I’m sure it will by tip-off on Monday night.

I know we’re taking on the Michigan Wolverines.  I know we’re a player down with Kevin Ware out injured; and wouldn’t have gotten here without him.  In all honesty, nothing matters on Monday night except the Louisville Cardinals.  I don’t care about the refs.  I don’t care about the dome, I don’t care about the crowd.  I don’t care about anything, except the players wearing the jerseys that say Louisville on the front.

I’m not trying to downplay the Wolverines.  Trust me, I’ve been watching.  They look like the team that in January I believed was the best in the country.  If they take the Cardinals zone apart the way they did the Syracuse zone for most of the semifinal, I may have a stroke.

The match up is a great one.  Michigan is high octane offense.  They will push, they will take almost any three point shot, open or not; and they have finishers at the rim.  Louisville is the opposite.  The Cards will dig in defensively, they’ll hit you with pressure, with zone, and with tough man-to-man defense.  About the only common thread is that both teams will push the pace.

Without a doubt, the match up is a tough one.  Regardless, my attention will mainly be on my guys.  I have been waiting for this one opportunity; this one chance to watch the Louisville Cardinals play 40 minutes for a chance to claim a National Championship.  And now they have it.

Obviously, I want this as bad as I’ve wanted anything in my life.  Championships are extremely hard to come by.  I may not live to see the next opportunity for all I know.  Despite that, I can’t wait to enjoy every moment of the Championship game with this team.

Over the last four or five seasons, I’ve enjoyed each Cardinals teams more than the last.  This team is no exception.  There’s just something about the makeup of this team.  The personalities and the camaraderie make it so much fun to be a fan.  Coach Pitino has done a great job year after year of making these teams easy to gain a connection with.

In an era where so many schools have to watch their “best” players leave early, Rick has done an amazing job of building teams that stick around.  We have three McDonald’s All-Americans.  Peyton Siva is a senior who has been a model of everything that is good about college athletics

Wayne Blackshear and Chane Behanan are sophomores, and realistically aren’t in a position to leave early for the NBA.  At most schools, they’d be considered failures for not achieving one and done status.  Not here.

Gorgui Dieng may leave early.  He’s a junior who was a recruiting afterthought when we missed out on Fab Melo.  Rick went to Huntington, WV to recruit a kid named Justin Coleman, who was a top 50 recruit.  He came out with both of them, but Gorgui is the only one who ended up in Louisville.  He is an amazing kid, and becoming an outstanding player.

Arguably, the best and most impactful player on the team, Russ Smith was a lightly recruited undersized shooting guard.  His freshman year was so uninspiring; he almost transferred out to a mid-major.  Now we don’t know what we’d do without him.

Stephen Van Treese was almost pushed out after several injury plagued years, and the opportunity to welcome Montrezl Harrell.  Now, they’re both key components off the bench in the frontcourt.  Without both of them picking up the slack for Gorgui on Saturday, we wouldn’t be playing in the title game.

And let’s not forget Luke Hancock.  A couple of years ago, he was lifting George Mason to a first round upset of Villanova.  This season, he struggled to make the transition to major college hoops early on.  Now Luke has settled in nicely, using his calm demeanor, and varied skill set to carry the Cards into the Championship game.  He was the most important player on the floor Saturday, and will certainly have an impact on Monday night.

When this team got rolling, I felt this was our year.  I still feel that way.  This team has proven time and time again that they can find a way to win games.  I think they’ll do the same thing one way or another on Monday night.  But, no matter what happens, this group of Cardinals has made the long wait for a shot at the Championship well worth it.  Go Cards!

March Madness: Watching the Final Weekend

As excited as I am for the Final Four this coming Saturday, I’m saddened that my favorite sport will be ending its season as of next Monday.  Obviously, I’m even more anxious as my Louisville Cardinals move ever closer to their first National title since 1986.

Year in and year out, I thoroughly enjoy the NCAA Tournament; and this year has been no exception.  However, just browsing through my twitter timeline over the last two weeks, I’ve seen a lot of opinion to the contrary.  I’ve also seen plenty of sentiment that this year’s Final Four will not live up to what the Final Four is supposed to be.

It makes sense I guess.  Action starved American sports fans need every game to be an up and down scoring fest, which ends with a buzzer-beater, to be happy.  I realize that only one of the Elite Eight games was decided by single digits, but there was plenty of good basketball to watch. 

And although there is only one #1 seed in the Final Four, there will be plenty of quality basketball to see on both Saturday and Monday.  Look, I like to see every game come down to the final possession too – except for Cardinals games – but not every game has to be a buzzer beater to be great. 

Don’t get caught up in the seeding of the other teams.  Michigan and Syracuse may be #4 seeds, but both are playing unbelievable basketball right now.  With that said, here’s a snapshot of what to look for from each team while watching the Final Four this weekend:

Louisville Cardinals:

My Cardinals have been every bit the #1 overall seed.  Other than playing tight with Duke for about 25 minutes, the Cards have been in control.  For most casual hoops fans, I’m sure the words full court pressure and Peyton Siva come to mind when they think of Louisville.  Both key components, but there is so much more to this team.

What you’ll see:

The focus of the TV cameras will be on Russ Smith.  Affectionately nicknamed Russdiculous; Russ has stolen the spotlight this season, and rightfully so.  Russ is a human highlight film who makes fans pull their hair out, and jump for joy within seconds.  Russ is fun to watch, and will undoubtedly get your attention this weekend.

What you should watch for:

There are two things you should look for from the Cardinals if you truly enjoy basketball, the 2-3 matchup zone, and Gorgui Dieng.  I love defense.  I know most of you don’t.  Not sure why, locking people up defensively is extremely satisfying.  The matchup zone the Cards play has morphed into one of the better defenses in recent memory. 

If you’re old enough, think the UNLV amoeba defense in the early ‘90’s.  A suffocating, trapping, switching zone that closes out on every shot; which causes turnovers and shot-clock violations on the regular.  If you have any appreciation for good defense, pay attention on Saturday.

And then there’s Gorgui Dieng.  The kid who was a recruiting afterthought has become perhaps the most important U of L player.  His importance won’t always translate on the stat sheet.  But Gorgui will alter shots, keep offensive rebounds alive, and has developed a nice mid-range jumper.  The little things he does may not look like much as individual plays, but his cumulative impact is immeasureable.

Wichita State Shockers:

I know there are probably plenty of you out there who are annoyed that the Shockers have crashed the Final Four.  I’m not going to claim that I predicted it, because I picked them to lose early.  I figured they’d give Gonzaga a run, but bow out.  I do believe though that I told all of you a number of weeks ago, that you should be paying attention to the Missouri Valley championship, so that you’d know how good this team is.  Well, they went out and proved it.

What you’ll see: 

Point guard Malcolm Armstead is the straw that stirs the drink for the Shockers.  He gets to the lane, he makes big shots, and he runs the show for Wichita.  Carl Hall is the headliner in the frontcourt.  Hall is a bruiser who can go toe-to-toe with just about any forward in the country.  Without a doubt, Armstead & Hall will catch your attention.  If the Shockers have any chance to beat Louisville, they’ll have to come up big, and he’ll be the center of attention.

What you should watch for:

Freshman guard Ron Baker.  He’s sort of a guard/forward tweener, as he’s about 6-3, but weighs almost 220 pounds.  This kid doesn’t put up gaudy stats.  What Baker does do, is a little bit of everything.  If you need a rebound, he’ll track it down.  If you need a big three pointer, he’ll drill it.  If you need someone to dive on a loose ball, he’s got it.  Baker is a difference maker.  Keep an eye out for him on Saturday.  Upsets are made by the Ron Bakers of the world.

Michigan Wolverines:

When the Wolverines shot out of the gates this year, I thought they looked like the best team in the country.  A few stumbles to end the season, and a #4 seed made a lot of people forget how talented this team is.  The Wolverines are back to playing elite basketball, and have a great shot at cutting down the nets.

What you’ll see:

The flash and flare of Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Nik Stauskas, and Glenn Robinson Jr.  You should pay attention to these guys, and with good reason.  Burke may be the best guard in the country, and his running mates provide plenty of big finishes, transition three pointers, and sexy alley-oop dunks.  Burke can be a one man show at times, and when he’s going well, that one man show is hard to stop.

What you should watch for:

The most impressive, and most important player for Michigan in my opinion, is Mitch McGary.  This kid has grown by leaps and bounds over the course of his freshman season.  He is a throwback big man.  He has unbelievable hands, catching crazy pass that Burke throws his way.  More importantly, he has amazing body control.  Despite his huge frame, McGary can gather himself around the rim without barreling over people, and finish with a deft touch.  The Wolverines have other big men, but none of them have the complete game that McGary has.  His ability to operate in the heart of the Syracuse defense will have a significant impact on the outcome of Saturday’s game.

Syracuse Orange:

Like Michigan, the Orange started out like gang-busters, and fizzled a bit down the stretch.   Their late season struggles led to a #4 seed, which for some reason, dissuaded a lot of people from thinking they could go far.  Well, the matchup nightmare that is Syracuse is back in the Final Four; and there’s no reason to think they can’t win it all.

What you’ll see:

Michael Carter Williams and James Southerland get the lion’s share of attention.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s deserved most of the time.  MCW is one of those long, lanky point guards who can impact a game without scoring.  His tremendous length and athleticism allow him to get to the lane, and distribute with ease. 

Many of the forays Carter Williams makes into the lane result in easy kick-outs to Southerland for lethal jumpers.  Southerland is an unconscious shooter.  He’s hard to miss as many of his shots come from so far out, he’s easy to spot.  I’m sure you won’t have a hard time finding this gunner.

What you should watch for:

Jim Boeheim’s 2-3 zone is a staple of college basketball.  Unlike the 2-3 matchup zone Louisville plays; Syracuse employs a much more traditional zone defense.  The major difference is that the Orange have so much length at every position, it is difficult pass around, drive through, or finish when you get to the lane. 

The entire reason this team has gotten this far, is due to their zone defense.  It is a matchup nightmare, particularly for teams that don’t see it all season; and most teams don’t.  People were disappointed that the game against Marquette wasn’t competitive.  Well, it wasn’t close because of how brilliant the Orange played in their zone.  If they keep executing their defense the way they have so far in the tournament, Syracuse is going to be difficult to beat.

 

These four teams are going to make for a brilliant Final Four on Saturday.  College basketball is made up of so much more than just the stars that have the ball in their hands constantly.  Focus on the game within the game, and you’ll gain a deeper appreciation for the sport.  I don’t know what the final scores will look like, but I know we’ll have a couple of great games on Saturday.

The Big Ten is Basketball’s Version of The SEC

 

Traditionally when people think of football power conferences we think of the Big 12 and the Big Ten, in the past ten or so seasons that’s obviously changed with the focus squarely on the Southeastern Conference. The SEC having won eight of 15 BCS titles, don’t forget Tennessee won the first one (Rocky Top!), is are clearly the best conference over the past decade, even if the conference is very top heavy. The Big Ten on the other hand has largely been a disappointment over the same period save a few spots with Ohio State and Michigan.

When it comes to basketball though the two conferences couldn’t be more opposite. This year, the SEC was only able to get three teams into the tournament, and only Ole Miss (!!!) is representing the SEC in the Sweet 16. The Big Ten had seven teams selected and has Indiana, Michigan, Michigan State, and Ohio State playing in the round of 16. Compare that to football where the Big Ten had no teams in the top ten of the final BCS standings and the SEC had six in those same standings.

As good as the Big Ten is in basketball it could not be any worse in football. In a hypothetical world with Penn State and Ohio State being eligible last year one can assume that at least Ohio State would have been in the National Championship conversation and Penn State likely plays in the Rose Bowl. Outside of those two teams, was any other team worthy of being on the same practice field as the top six SEC teams? Didn’t think so, but that’s alright because even though the Big Ten was able to get seven of its teams in the men’s tournament I’m confident any Big Ten team could beat any SEC team in basketball.

Are you able to say the same thing about the Big Ten football schools versus SEC football school? No, and if you try and tell me any Big Ten team can beat any SEC team you should be drug tested, twice.

This isn’t an indictment on the Big Ten as a whole, but consider that a conference that was once great at football is now great at basketball and average at football. Things change, and so will the Big Ten, and in a few years it will probably be good again in football.

This past season the Big Ten was atrocious in football because half of the conference had new head coaches, half had new offensive coordinators and half had new defensive coordinators. The Big Ten can go a long way to improving its football credibility by stabilizing the conference in hiring better coaches and recruiting better.

These are known facts, but the conference also needs to schedule better, something that I’ve written about before. As bad as the conference is, its intra-conference play isn’t actually the worst on the planet, but its non-conference schedule is embarrassing. Ohio State has taken the lead by scheduling tougher opponents, but the conference as a whole needs to step its game up.

In basketball, the conference faces some of the best opponents across Division I, and it shows. Big Ten teams’ RPIs are consistently higher year after year. The conferences biggest basketball spending school, Michigan State, is also its most successful and most profitable and that’s because the school has made a commitment to Tom Izzo the same way Alabama has made a commitment to Nick Saban, the same way it appears Ohio State will commit to Urban Meyer.

All are important, but the most important is that nationally the Big Ten has become a much better basketball conference than football conference. That isn’t a bad thing, and it isn’t what Big Then traditionalists want, but no one in the ACC complains about how they’re more known for basketball over football.

This weekend the Big Ten has a chance to fill each of the Final Four spots with each of its teams. Anything less than two teams in the Final Four is an abject failure for this conference that is college basketball’s version of the SEC.

If you’re a hoops fan, you better be watching Arch Madness today!

As we move full steam ahead into March Madness, the major conferences in College Basketball begin conference tournament play next week.  However, one of my favorite conferences wraps up its tournament today in St. Louis, MO.  The Missouri Valley Conference Championship tips off at approximately 2pm EST on CBS, as the Creighton Blue Jays square off with the Wichita State Shockers for an automatic bid to the Big Dance.

Year in and year out, the Missouri Valley Conference tournament is one of the most entertaining in all of college basketball.  Unfortunately, most of America doesn’t get to see it.  I’m sure somewhere in the country you could catch the early rounds of this tournament on TV.  However, for the rest of us, the finals are all we get.  Regardless, the tournament appropriately named Arch Madness, rarely disappoints.

The Missouri Valley is one of the most under appreciated leagues in the sport.  The MVC frequently receives multiple bids to the dance; and their representatives have consistently had success.  It was just three seasons ago that the Northern Iowa Panthers shocked the #1 seed Kansas Jayhawks to make the Sweet 16.

In most years, the MVC Championship has at least one Cinderella team in the finals.  Creighton and Wichita State just happen to be the two best teams in the league this year; and both should receive NCAA Tournament bids regardless of today’s outcome.  Despite that fact, it should be a great Championship Game.

The Creighton Blue Jays are led by Doug McDermott.  If you haven’t seen this kid play yet, you need to today.  After all, he’s only a National Player of the year candidate.  McDermott and his frontcourt mate Greg Echenique will battle the Shockers tough frontcourt of Cleanthony Early and Carl Hall. 

While those guys will be the headliners, perhaps you’ll learn the names of some of the guys that will be driving your team nuts in the NCAA tournament.  Guys like Creighton’s Grant Gibbs, or Wichita’s Malcom Armstead.  Tough guards you may have never heard of, who get things rolling  for their respective teams. 

Those are just a few of the key players, but both of these teams are deep.  Creighton has eight guys who average more than 14 minutes per game.  Wichita State goes even deeper, shuttling in 11 guys who average more than 11 minutes per game.

If you have even a shred of college basketball fandom in you, there is no reason you shouldn’t be watching this game today.  The Missouri Valley Conference is a phenomenal brand of basketball; and Arch Madness exemplifies what March Madness is all about!  So do yourself a favor today, check out the game.  That way, when your favorite team is struggling with one of these teams during the opening weekend of the NCAA Tourney, it won’t be a complete surprise.  Enjoy!

College Basketball: The Top 4 are primed for top seeds in the Big Dance

Finally, March is here and we’re just a couple of weeks away from Selection Sunday.  Although things have settled down a bit at the top of the AP poll, the teams occupying those spots have been far from perfect.

Indiana and Duke each had multiple losses over the last few weeks.  They’ve been able to maintain their status in the Top 4 based on some timely losses by some of the previous occupants of those slots.  The Miami Hurricanes and Michigan State Spartans made brief appearances in the Top 4, but have scuffled a bit in the meantime to drop out of the pack. 

Barring any inexcusable losses to finish the regular season, or during Conference Tournament play, the current Top 4 should each earn high seeds, if not #1 seeds in the NCAA Tournament.  As March Madness begins to appear on the horizon, here’s a look at the current Top 4 teams in the land.

 

Gonzaga Bulldogs (29-2) – For the first time in school history, Gonzaga University is the #1 team in college basketball.  For the first time in school history, the Bulldogs may also grab a top seed in the NCAA Tournament. 

In previous seasons, deserving Gonzaga teams have been knocked down a few slots based on their perception as a glorified mid-major.  Assuming they don’t lose in the West Coast Conference Tournament, nothing will keep them from claiming a #1 seed this season.

Mark Few has consistently sought out tough non-conference opponents, and this season was no different.  The Zags haven’t lost since a buzzer-beating heartbreaker against Butler back in January at Hinkle Field House.  This team has a solid core, and the right make up to go far in the Tournament.  Kevin Pangos is a steady lead guard, and they have a powerful frontcourt led by Elias Harris and seven-footer Kelly Olynyk. 

It’ll be interesting to see how Gonzaga reacts to being the hunted rather than the hunter.  In a season that lacks a dominant team, the Bulldogs could achieve another first, a Final Four appearance.

 

Indiana Hoosiers (25-4) – The Hoosiers have outstanding players.  They have a pretty solid coach in Tom Crean.  They have a really strong record at 25-4.  What I don’t understand though, is how a team this good could lose four games they really had no business losing.

After an impressive win over Michigan in early February, the Hoosiers blew an eight point lead with under four minutes to play against an average Illinois squad.  Weeks later, Indiana followed up a statement win at Michigan State, with an inexplicable loss at Minnesota a week later. 

Indiana has to close out against the Ohio State Buckeyes at home, and then visit Michigan.  If they were to lose one or both of those games; and then not take home the Big Ten Tournament title, the Hoosiers would be the most likely candidate to get knocked down a seed in the big dance.

Based on how much talent they have, I’ll assume at this point that they can put it all together, and make a run to the Final Four.  However, a team that has proven to have lapses in effort or focus cannot afford one of those once the tournament starts. 

 

Duke Blue Devils (25-4) – As expected, the Blue Devils suffered very little damage while Ryan Kelly sat out with his injury.  Kelly came back in a big way this past Saturday, and led Duke to a huge win over Miami.  With a healthy roster at his disposal, it’s hard to bet against Mike Kryzewski and the Devils making a run.

Yes, they did pick up a couple of road losses.  However, losing at Maryland and Virginia is completely acceptable without all hands on deck.  The return of Ryan Kelly will relieve a lot of pressure that was placed upon some of the supporting cast during his absence. 

Miami has shown they can be considered a legit ACC contender, and North Carolina is starting to play better.  However, the ACC Tournament title is Duke’s to win or lose.  I’m betting on Coach K having his team laser focused on taking the tournament crown, and locking up a top seed in the NCAA’s.

 

Kansas Jayhawks (26-4) – The Jayhawks started off February looking like a complete fraud.  A three game skid to start off the month, which included an atrocious loss to TCU, put them in a bit of a tale spin. 

Bill Self and crew have quietly gotten themselves back on track, and have run off seven straight victories.  This version of the Jayhawks doesn’t feel as strong as the Final Four team from 2012.  However, there’s plenty of talent to make a similar march to the final weekend.

There’s plenty of experience with guys like Jeff Withey, Kevin Young, and Elijah Johnson.  Blend that with stud freshman Ben Mclemore and you’re good to go.  Coach Self is one of the best in the game, and he knows how to make the proper moves to get his teams going at this time of the year. 

 

It’s no foregone conclusion that any of the current teams in the Top 4 will get a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.  Gonzaga is a virtual lock for a #1, as they have no regular season games left, and should be able to win the WCC Tournament.  Duke finishes with North Carolina, but again, the Blue Devils will be favorites to win the ACC Tournament, which would put them in a top line.  Kansas doesn’t face a challenging schedule to end the year.  The Jayhawks should cruise at least to the Big 12 Finals.

There aren’t too many candidates to snatch a top seed away from the current Top 4, but there are a couple of teams that could pounce if anyone stumbles.  Michigan is still in prime position as they can still get a statement win against Indiana, and potentially win the Big 10 Tournament. 

Even though the Big East is considered down this season, 5th ranked Georgetown, and 8th ranked Louisville may still factor into the top seeds.  If either one of those teams wins the Big East Tournament; it will be difficult for the Selection Committee to keep them off the top line.

The madness is upon us!  It’s going to be a fun couple of weeks leading up to Selection Sunday.

College Basketball: Reviewing the Top 4, way before the Final Four

We are now nearly two months into the College Basketball season, and finally moving into the Conference portion of the schedule.  Now that everyone has finished off the non-conference slate, I felt it was fair to do an early assessment of some of the “contenders” at this point. 

While I don’t find the rankings particularly meaningful, they’re in our face; so I’ll use them as my basis for review.  Right now, the top four teams in the AP Top 25 poll look like this: 1. Duke Blue Devils, 2. Michigan Wolverines, 3. Louisville Cardinals, 4. Arizona Wildcats. 

Now, in no way am I saying that these are definitively the top four teams in College Basketball, or that these four will be playing in the final weekend in March.  However, all four deserve their current status atop the poll.  Although I didn’t get to devote as much time to college hoops in November/December as I would’ve liked; I did get a good look at all four of these teams.  Here’s my evaluation of College Basketball’s current top four:

 

Duke – More than any other team, the Blue Devils have earned their #1 ranking.  Coach K’s squad has faced a gauntlet of a schedule.  They beat Kentucky, Louisville (to win the Battle 4 Atlantis), Ohio State, and Temple.  They even beat a couple of quality mid-majors in VCU and Davidson.

Mason Plumlee may not be the best player in the country, but he has certainly played that way.  In recent memory, I don’t recall a player improving as significantly from one season to the next, as Plumlee has this season.  He has an array of post moves, runs the floor, and does all the basics well.

With the emergence of Quinn Cook, and a strong start from freshman Rasheed Sulaimon, Duke is more athletic than they have been in the last few years.  The Devils aren’t a very deep squad, but that hasn’t kept other teams from getting to the Final Four in recent seasons. 

This team reminds me a bit of the 2010 National Title team, with more natural talent.  In a down year for the ACC, Duke may run away with the conference title.  With not much more than fodder in their path, the Devils may very well be in this same spot in a month or two. 

 

Michigan – I’ve really liked what I’ve seen from the Wolverines.  While the schedule wasn’t quite as impressive as the one Duke played, it was still pretty good.  In winning the preseason NIT, they beat tough Pitt and Kansas State teams.  They followed up the NIT championship with solid home wins over NC State and Arkansas. 

Michigan may have the most firepower that I’ve witnessed.  Trey Burke is a jet, and is tremendous at running the show.  Tim Hardaway Jr. and Glenn Robinson are athletic, explosive scorers.  And they have plenty of bangers with Jordan Morgan, Jon Horford, and freshman Mitch McGary.  The X-factor for this team may be Nik Stauskas.  I knew coming in he was supposed to be a shooter, but he’s proven that he belongs on the floor for more than just that.  Stauskas has shown an awful lot of poise for a freshman.

I’m not quite ready to label this team Fab Five good, as some have; but I’m not afraid to say that this is a National Title contender.  The Big Ten will still be a tough task, but the Wolverines have all the pieces necessary to win the conference, and make a deep run in the tournament. 

 

Louisville – Yes, the Cardinals are my team; and yes I can honestly say they deserve to be ranked this high.  If not for a Gorgui Dieng injury in the Battle 4 Atlantis semi-final win over Missouri, this team may have been undefeated.  The only loss thus far was in the finals of that tournament, a hard fought defeat at the hands Duke.

The Cards were able to notch resume building wins on the road against Memphis, and at home versus Kentucky.  In both of those games, they showed an ability to flip the switch on and off.  Hopefully, they keep it turned on the rest of the way. 

Peyton Siva is playing better than ever in his senior season.  His backcourt mate Russ Smith is having an unbelievable year; and is making a dark horse run at Player of the Year honors.  This team is deeper than most, with capable starters and backups at essentially every position.

The keys for this team will be sophomores Chane Behanan and Wayne Blackshear.  Both have had strong performances, but for this team to win it all, they both have to do it consistently.  What this team does do consistently, is play suffocating, harassing defense.  I haven’t seen many teams sell out on D the way the Cardinals do.

The latter part of the Big East schedule will prove to be a tall order as the Cards take on Syracuse and Notre Dame twice.  The Cardinals may or may not be ranked this high at the end of the season.  However, with their depth, experience, and predisposition for aggressive defense; this team is built for the Dance.

 

Arizona Of the four, the Wildcats have the most question marks.  The schedule hasn’t been as daunting as the top three, and they’ve escaped with a couple of gifts.  Not that there’s anything wrong with escaping with a win.  Wins are wins after all.  That said, this team could very well have three losses.

Florida coughed up what looked like certain victory in Tucson.  A last second blocked shot saved the Wildcats in a one point win over San Diego State; and the referees bailed them out against Colorado, overturning a game winning three pointer by the Buffaloes at the buzzer.

The Cats seem to wait until they’re backed into a corner before deciding to get after it.  When they do, their athleticism can make them frightening defensively.  The backcourt is in good hands with Mark Lyons and Nick Johnson.  However, they don’t have much of an identity on the interior.  Solomon Hill is really good, but a bit undersized in the post.  The progression of freshman Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley may determine how far the Wildcats go.

As of right now, the Pac 12 shouldn’t present that much of a challenge. Arizona is clearly more talented than most of the league.  If UCLA gets their stuff together, that could change.  The way Zona plays, I won’t be surprised if they put themselves in a lot of close games in the coming months.

 

Fortunately there’s a long way to go in the College Basketball season; leaving plenty of time for the rankings to shuffle and reshuffle.  While they’re not in the top four right now, powerful teams such as Indiana, Kansas, and Syracuse are lurking.  Each one of those teams fits the mold of a potential title contender. 

I’ll revisit the top four at the beginning of February, to see which of the current members have shown their true colors; and which teams have maintained their status.  We’ll be a month closer to tournament time by then; perhaps with four different teams sitting at the top, and even more questions.  Gotta love College hoops!