We’re taking a look at some of the nations most popular college basketball conferences this season. In this installment, we take a look at the ACC, for seasons change and all that.
-Montrezl Harrell, F, Jr., Louisville
-Jahlil Okafor, F, Fr., Duke
-London Perrantes, Soph., G, Virginia
-Olivier Hanlan, Jr., G, Boston College
Breakdown – Harrell, Okafor and Paige and mortal locks for most first-teams. It’s not even close, really. The last two spots? I really looked at Perrantes and how quickly he grew up as a freshman under Tony Bennett. I think he’ll be key in how well the Cavaliers do after losing Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. Hanlan will be asked to do pretty much everything in Jim Christian’s first season.
Predicting The Finish
Duke – Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow and Tyus Jones headline an amazing recruiting class. Rasheed Suliamon should be doing Rasheed Suliamon things. It’s Duke. It’s Mike Krzyzewski. It’s another season.
North Carolina – Outside of the afforementioned Meeks and Paige, look for J.P. Tokoto to emerge this year. The real winner here though, is Meeks’ waistline.
Louisville – New team on the block with an All-American candidate in Harrell. But the real focus is on Terry Rozier, who has been viewed as a possible first-rounder in the 2015 NBA Draft if he lives up to his potential.
Virginia – The scary thing is, this Virginia team might be as good as last year’s and the lost Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell. Perrantes plays beyond his year and Malcolm Brogdon has the skills to be the ACC’s top scorer.
Syracuse – With Dejuan Coleman coming back, this team will have their best chance at having a solid low-block presence. Rakeem Christmas should have a great senior season, but watch for yet another Joseph on Jim Boeheim’s roster: Kaleb.
Pittsburgh – Durand Johnson could be a darkhorse for ACC Player of the Year and will pace a pretty solid team for Jamie Dixon. Look for Vanderbilt transfer Sheldon Jeter to string together a lot of good performances.
North Carolina State – What do you do when you lose your entire offensive gameplan? No, Mark Gottfried didn’t shred it on accident or anything. T.J. Warren just left for the NBA. Cat Barber and even Desmond Lee could pace this squad.
Sleeper Team – Virginia Tech – Forgive me, but there’s just something about Buzz Williams. The man finds way to make something out of nothing. He’ll get a lot out of Seth Allen and somehow, he’ll find a way to make this a middle-of-the-pack team.
The Rest….because there’s only so much you can saw about sub-par teams
Kennedy Meeks, Soph., F, North Carolina – Not only will Meeks, who averaged 7.6 points and 6.1 rebounds, benefit from Paige being his point guard for another season, but he also lost around 50 pounds, which could greatly help his conditioning on the court. He’s not exactly a ‘sleeper’ with all stats like that and the McDonald’s All-American label, but I think you could see a double-double of 17-12 per out of him if all the hype is true.
Most Likely To….upset Duke in Cameron Indoor Stadium this season
Calling it an upset, that eliminates the top teams. That said, I’m going with Wake Forest on March 4. Danny Manning has like magic or something in his coaching acumen. He pulled a few good wins in his time in Tulsa. He may have to rip all the tread off Codi Miller-McIntyre’s figurative tires to get it, but for some reason, I see Wake pulling the shocker at the end of the season. Maybe it’s because it’s 2 a.m. and I decided to finish this up now.
Yes, folks. Even though the new hand-check rules the NCAA put in place seem like a problem, what with exhibitions finishing with 70 free throws off a billion fouls, everyone needs to chill.
As with all new rules: 1.) Referees have a hard time calling them the right way at first and 2.) Teams have a hard time adjusting their style of play to it. However, once teams adjust, it will improve a major problems that arose last season.
The first was, believe or not, all the fouls. Last year, refs were just calling one-on-one fouls with no basis other than the one that has stood for years. That is, you can’t physically impede the process of the ball-handler and going for steals is now an even bigger gamble. This led to maximum drives to the basket and a subsequent spike in free throw attempts. Well, think about this: There’s now a set rule. Meaning it’s now in the books that hand-checking is to be at a minimum.
After teams adjust, the good ones at least, we’ll start to see smarter defense by the teams that know how to play smart defenses. Meaning the Louisville’s, Kansas’ and VCUs of the world. You’ll definitely see more blowouts as a result, but that’s the nature of the game. Adapt or die.
So once teams realize that calling hand-check fouls is no longer subjective according to which referees have their game, they’ll start to figure out how to beat ball-handlers to spots for charges (which is also slightly altered this season) and to cut off lanes. They’ll learn to keep active arms and slide consistently, switch on screens and communicate. They’ll slap the floor, hike the shorts and focus in on staying in front of their man, rather than just trying to get the bump to keep them back.
That, in turn, will improve scoring. With less contact means more space, and the faster, guard-oriented teams will take advantage of the extra area to slash. Physical teams such as West Virginia and South Carolina (the product of physically-dominant coaches in Bob Huggins and Frank Martin) will suffer, but that may also force them to play zone, another adjustment.
Keep in mind this (obviously) won’t be immediate. But when looking at what this rule could mean, come February, this might be the one recent change the NCAA got right.
Thanks to Louisville advancing to the Final Four last season the Big East has had a presence during the final weekend six of the last seven seasons, you can probably go on and pencil them in for seven out of eight, Louisville fans and the media seem to think that the Cardinals will be there.
Realignment will begin to take its toll on the Big East as West Virginia is gone and Pittsburgh, Syracuse and Notre Dame to follow in the years to come. Jim Calhoun has retired from his post at UConn leading the way for Kevin Ollie to take over. Steve Lavin is set to return to the sidelines after taking last season off due to prostate cancer.
Big East Preseason Rankings
1. Louisville – hard not to buy into the national hype. 3 starters return for Coach Pitino, as Peyton Siva guides the offense in his Senior season with help from Chane Behanan and Gorgui Dieng, and don’t forget about Russ Smith (11.5 ppg, 2.2 steals in 21 mpg). The problem could be injuries, it seems every year the Cardinals have more players in the training room than the bench early in the year, and have already lost Mike Marra who torn his ACL for the 2nd time in as many years.
2. Notre Dame – for the past two years the Irish have exceeded expectationsso maybe I am a little too high on the Irish. However with all of the starters back for Coach Brey it’s hard not to like the Irish especially when in the friendly confines of Purcell Pavilion where they went 16-1 last season.
3. Cincinnati – Mick Cronin seems to have the Bearcats back on the national radar. Yancy Gates is gone but Cronin has Sean Kilpatrick who led the Big East with 92 3-pointers. Cashmere Wright also returns after averaging 10.9 ppg.
4. Pittsburgh – Sure Pitt missed the NCAA Tournament last year, they ended the year poorly but capped it off with a CBI Championship (a win is a win).Tray Woodall will lead the Panther’s who return five of their top seven scorers from last season.
5. Syrcasue – Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters and Fab Melo have all departed but Syracuse has been so deep that they have players that return with experience. Brandon Triche will be ready to lead the Orange to what fans hope is a trip to Atlanta.
9. St. John’s
14. Seton Hall
All Conference Team
Shabazz Napier – taking control for the new reign of the Huskies.
Sean Kilpatrick – if teams don’t shut him down behind the arc the Bearcats may do better than expected.
Gorgui Diend – let’s see a guy that can rebound, score and block shots, yeah I will give him a All Conference nod.
Tray Woodall – a healthy Woodall should do better than last seasons 11.7 ppg
Jack Cooley – after voted Most Improved last season, the Irish have high hopes for Cooley who average 12.3 points and 8.9 rebounds.
Most Underrated Team – Cincinnati, Cronin has his team bonding.
Most Overrated Team – Notre Dame, could the Irish just be riding a wave of recent success?
Player of the Year – Peyton Siva, last years MOP at the Big East Championship should win if the Cardinals run the conference.
Coach of the Year – Heart wants to say Steve Lavin, but my mind says Rick Pitino with Cronin in 2nd.
Sleeper Impact Player – 1a Cleveland Melvin, was the leading scorer in the league last season. I am going to say D’Andelo Harrison is 1b especially if Lavin has the Red Storm on upset mode.
We have made it to the final weekend of college basketball.
New Orleans is the place to be, for those that are stuck watching CBS, hopefully they don’t use the SkyCam shot too much, and hopefully Jim Nantz doesn’t force his ‘non-scripted’ sayings into the broadcast.
On one side of the bracket you have a bitter instate rivalry, Louisville vs Kentucky. Being from Louisville I have to list Louisville first, Kentucky can not be first when you list these two teams. One the other side Ohio State and Kansas face off for the right to play in the last college game of the season.
Back on December 10 Kansas defeated the Buckeyes 78-67, Thomas Robinson led Kansas with 21 points and 7 rebounds, however Jared Sullinger was out for the Buckeyes with an injury.
The Jayhawks are making their 14th Final Four appearance, they are one of six schools to appear in the Final Four at least 10 times, Kentucky and Ohio State are also on this list.
Here are a few reasons why the Jayhawks might cut down the nets on Monday. Kansas has out rebounded 29 of their 37 opponents, shot a higher percentage than 34 teams. In all of their games this season six different players have led the team in scoring, so they do not rely on one player to provide the spark. The Jayhawks have won 11 Final Four games (6th best in college basketball).
Thomas Robinson was named the ESPN.com 2012 National Player of the Year, is a First-Team All-American as well as Big 12 Player of the Year. With 17.7 ppg and 11.8 rpg, Robinson is the only player in the Big 12 that is averaging a double-double. Tyshawn Taylor has scored 20 or more points in five of his last nine games. The downside for Kansas, they are 2-4 in the Superdome.
If you are a fan can this Final Four be any better? You are in New Orleans, you have Kentucky and Kansas, two programs that have fans that are everywhere and travel well. You have the Louisville fans that flock to destinations to watch the Cardinals and you have Ohio State wanting to prove that the Big Ten is a power basketball conference.
-It took awhile to fathom what I’m writing. What you’re about to read.
For those around my age, we all heard from our parents about the 1983 Dream Game. Louisville, a team that had pined to play Kentucky for so long, got their shot because they met in the Mideast Regional of the NCAA Tournament. The Cardinals came out on top 80-68 in overtime in Knoxville. I didn’t even have to look any of that up, I swear.
We all heard about 1984, a Kentucky win, as well, in the NCAA Tournament. Those were great games, but it all pales in comparison to what we’re about to witness.
Louisville and Kentucky are about to meet in the Final Four.
Take a second and think about it. Think about all the times anyone hoped this could happen, then shook it off.
In my (incredibly biased) opinion, Kentucky and Louisville is the best rivalry in college basketball. I’ll spare the details, because that’s not why I’m writing this. But it’s happening.
Two of the top 10 programs in college basketball history, interstate rivals, a bitter hatred among the coaches, the whole nine. There are too many moments in the past that define this rivalry. The Dream Game, Samaki Walker’s triple-double, Pitino’s return to Rupp, Patrick Spark’s three free throws, Edgar Sosa’s 3-pointer saving a near-collapse. Anyone who has paid any attention to these two teams has a moment.
And now it’s happening on the biggest stage of college basketball. In a city that thrives on things getting totally out-of-hand.
And that city thought the BCS National Title Game was insane.
The two fanbases need no more motivation to hate one another. Both teams, while they’ll deny it until the end, now have more motivation.
While most expected Kentucky to be in this position, no one saw Louisville coming. A 4-seed and a generous West Region allowed it to happen.
No matter which way you slice it, Kentucky looks like a heavy favorite, and it should be. The no. 1-overall seed is there for a reason. Louisville has nothing to lose, which also makes them dangerous.
But none of that matters this week. The city of Louisville is about to explode. Sports talk radio will talk about nothing else. If you’re a supervisor, don’t expect anyone to get much work done. And if you doubt that this rivalry is one of the tops in college basketball, I invite you to go to Youtube and explore, it won’t take much time.
I could never imagine this ever happening in my lifetime.
It’s about to. Good Lord is it ever.
-PHOTO: RIVALS.COM/THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
The first weekend of the NCAA Tournament gave us a lot of surprises, but will the Final Four teams be a surprise? We will find out by Sunday, but first let me preview the four match-ups I’m most excited for.
No. 7 Florida vs. No. 3 Marquette: These two teams are probably the best two teams nobody has been talking about during the tournament. I didn’t have either of these squads getting this far, but they have really impressed thus far. Jae Crowder put up 25 points and 16 rebounds one game and 17 points and 13 rebounds the next for Marquette — he has officially reached beast mode status. Florida hasn’t played the same type of competition as Marquette has, as they have blown out Virginia and Norfolk State, but in the NCAA Tournament you have to respect any blowout win. I think Crowder will be too much for the Gators though, and the Golden Eagles make the Elite Eight.
No. 4 Louisville vs. No. 1 Michigan State: This is perhaps the best coaching battle of the round, as we have Rick Pitno and Tom Izzo going up against each other. The two have combined for 11 Final Four appearances, and I think the winner of this game will be able to beat the Florida-Marquette winner. Both teams have peaked at the right time, but I think the Cardinals still have too many question marks. If Gorgui Dieng gets into foul trouble again or if Peyton Siva is inconsistent with his shot again, then the Spartans should win this one easily.
No. 4 Indiana vs. No. 1 Kentucky: The rematch everyone has been waiting for will be here Friday night. Kentucky has cruised through their first two rounds, backed off of strong performances from Terrence Jones and Marquis Teague. Last time the Hoosiers were able to beat the Wildcats, they were able to get Anthony Davis in quick foul trouble, and Jones was basically nonexistent. Don’t expect that to happen again. Jones and Teague will be the wild-cards for UK — if they are playing to their full potential I’m not sure if anyone in the country can beat them.
No. 4 Wisconsin vs. No. 1 Syracuse: This is the one I’m most excited for. I love match-ups with teams of contrasting styles, and that’s exactly what this is. The Orangemen are as fun and exciting as a team as there is to watch in college basketball, and the Badgers simply aren’t, but their defense can stifle opponents. I agree with my counterpart, David Harten, in thinking that the Wisconsin style of play will throw Syracuse off too much, giving them the upset.
With Conference Tournament games just over a week away here is a look at some of the games that you should keep an eye on this week.
Monday: Connecticut @ Villanova (7pm ESPN) – ESPN’s Big Monday has a double-header worth watching. UConn and Nova both are in need of a confidence boost before they head to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. If you want a second game tonight, Baylor is at Texas at 9pm on ESPN
Tuesday: Kansas St at Missouri (7pm ESPN2) – The Big 12 leader host 5th place Wildcats. This games kicks off a tough week for both teams.
Wednesday: So many games to pick this week but a few to keep an eye on include West Virginia @ Notre Dame (7pm ESPN2), USF at Syracuse (7pm Big East Net.), Oklahoma State @ Oklahoma (8pm Big 12 Net.).
Thursday: Duke @ Florida State (7pm ESPN) – Two of the three teams at the top of the ACC meet in Durham. Murray State @ Tennessee State (8pm ESPNU), the top two in the OVC will battle it out, the Racers are coming off the win over St. Mary’s. Louisville @ Cincinnati (9pm ESPN) the long time conference rivals meet at Fifth Third Arena, both teams are currently at 9-5 in conference play.
Friday:Baseball is back; go watch your college program play our national past-time. If you really want to watch some hoops Butler @ Valparaiso (7pm ESPNU) and Marquette @ West Virginia (9pm ESPN) should settle that craving.
Saturday: Go on and clear your schedule it’s the last full Saturday of regular season basketball. The day starts with Vanderbilt @ Kentucky (Noon CBS), Iowa State @ Kansas State (1:30 Big 12 Net.), North Carolina @ Virginia (4pm ESPN), Creighton @ Indiana State (4pm ESPN2), and what could be the final meeting of Missouri @ Kansas (4pm CBS).
Sunday: It’s the Daytona 500 why do you want to watch basketball? Cincinnati @ USF (Noon Big East Net), Indiana @ Minnesota (1pm ESPN), Pittsburgh @ Louisville (2pm CBS), Florida State @ Miami (FL) (6pm ESPNU), Oregon @ Oregon State (7:30pm FSN).
If you can not find a game that peaks your interest this week then you might not be a college basketball fan.
Here is a quick look at a game each day this week that may catch your attention.
Monday: Syracuse @ Louisville (7pm ESPN) – ESPN’s Big Monday crew rolls into town with Louisville off a win at West Virginia, and Syracuse comes into the KFC Yum! Center with a five game winning streak.
Tuesday: Buffalo at Kent St. (7pm ESPN Full Court) – 2nd and 3rd place in the MAC East Division take the court in a Valentine’s Night game. The Bulls won by one point when these teams met January 7th.
Wednesday: Missouri St. at Wichita St. (8pm ESPN Full Court) – 1st place Shockers host 3rd place Missouri St., the Shockers took the previous match-up at the start of the month by seven.
Thursday: Wisconsin at Michigan St. (7pm ESPN) – 2nd and 3rdin the Big Ten, the Spartans won by three in Overtime last month in Madison.
Friday: Northern Iowa at VCU (7pm ESPN2) – The kickoff game of this years BracketBusters event, two teams that have been busting brackets in March make for a great start to the 10th year of the BracketBusters series.
Saturday: St. Mary’s at Murray State (6pm ESPN2) – The match-up that everyone wanted in BracketBusters. This game should still be a great game even without the Racers being undefeated, plus Dick Vitale is calling the game, should be a great atmosphere.
Sunday: Michigan State at Purdue (1pm CBS) – The Boilermakers get a shot to get a quality win over the Spartans under the lights of CBS.
No. 23 Louisville 77, West Virginia 74
-Wayne Blackshear made his debut (24 games in) four Louisville, and scored 13 points. While there was a lot to talk about in this game — we’ll get to it — that has to be the most encouraging part for Louisville fans. Blackshear obviously kept himself in basketball shape while rehabbing. The future is bright…. Now, talk about going in opposite directions. The Cardinals (20-5, 8-4 Big East) reached 20 wins and have won six straight now, while the loss is the Mountaineers’ (16-10, 6-7) have lost five of their last six. WVU led for most of the game until a Kyle Kuric 3-pointer and a steal-and-score by Russ Smith on the ensuing inbounds play gave Louisville a 73-71 lead with 2:17 left. Kyle Kuric would steal a Gary Browne pass inside to Kevin Jones with 10 seconds left, hit two free throws after being fouled, and Truck Bryant’s left wing 3 went begging as time expired.
Butler 52, Cleveland State 49
-A big win for the Bulldogs (15-12, 9-6 Horizon League), who really needed this just for confidence heading into crunch time and the Horizon League tournament. The Vikings (20-6, 10-4) had a shot at an at-large bid, but those hopes are dashed now. All a matter of who gets hot in the tourney. Butler held Cleveland State to 26.3 percent from 3-point range and forced 16 turnovers, all the while overcoming an 0-for-8 3-point day and shooting 38 percent on their own.
No.5 North Carolina 70, No. 20 Virginia 52
-It was a game in the first half, with the Tar Heels (21-4, 8-2 ACC) leading just 35-32 at the half. The second half made a lot of people believe that the Cavaliers (19-5, 6-4) might not be the team everyone expected, what with Mike Scott getting completely owned and UNC showing no ill effects from that tough loss to Duke. Tyler Zeller had 25 points and nine rebounds for the Heels, with John Henson (10 and10) and Harrison Barnes (14 and 11) notching double-doubles. The bigs were obviously the difference in this one. Mike Scott has been carrying the Wahoos all season and had 18 in the loss.
No. 2 Syracuse 85, UConn 67
-I’m not saying that UConn (15-9, 5-7 Big East) can’t bounce back from a game that they basically quit in at Louisville, but they didn’t start with a loss at the ‘Cuse (25-1, 12-1). Four players finished in double-figures and Andre Drummond has 13 points and seven boards in the loss. But they never could match up athletically with the Orange, which if you’ve seen the Huskies, shouldn’t happen. They’ve got as much talent and athletic ability as any team in the nation.
No. 4 Missouri 72, No. 6 Baylor 57
-The Tigers (23-2, 9-2 Big 12) got the sweep over the Bears (21-4, 8-4) on the season, and wow, they did it quick. This team is guard-heavy, and they ran on Baylor’s athletic big men in the second half, using a 17-1 keyed by three 3-pointers midway through the second half to propel them to the W. Phil Pressey had 19 points and four three’s in the game and Mizzou shot 50 percent from 3-point range (14-for-28). They bombed it. Baylor still has to figure out it’s identity, which is scary considering it’s identity. They have long athletic forwards who play essentially like swingmen in Perry Jones III and the Quincy’s (Miller and Acy) but seem inept at finishing down low, though Acy has improved. Most telling stat? They out-rebounded Mizzou 35-22.
No. 17 Florida State 64, Miami 59
-The Hurricanes (15-8, 6-4 ACC) didn’t necessarily hurt their at-large hopes with this loss to the Seminoles (17-7, 8-2), but if they don’t get in, this is one game that Jim Larranaga will look at and shake his head. Reggie Johnson was held to four points (which can’t happen) to go with six rebounds, which really was the difference being that the game was never more than a three-possession game late. Bernard James ha 18 points, six boards and four blocks in the win.
Vanderbilt vs. No. 1 Kentucky (9 p.m., ESPN)
-A lot of folks taking Vandy (17-7, 6-4 SEC) in this one, especially being at home in Memorial Coliseum and the magic that seems to ensue in big games there for the Commodores. Kentucky (24-1, 10-0) is still Kentucky, they still have Anthony Davis and his Stretch Armstrong arms. It’s going to be tough for Festus Ezeli to be effective by himself, they’ll really need guys like Steve Tchiengang to show up down low and 6-8 Lance Gilbourne to provide a mid-range to draw out Davis and Kentucky’s other lengthy bigs.
No. 15 Creighton vs. Wichita State (5 p.m., ESPN2)
-Just another day in the Missouri Valley Conference. Creighton (21-4, 11-3 MVC) is somehow surviving in the Top-25 despite losses to Northern Iowa and Evansville on the road. Granted, they’ll fall come tomorrow, but a win over the Shockers (21-4, 12-2) would not only help them stay in the rankings, but also go a long way to help their confidence and steady their at-large hopes. Which to me, is the best a conference win can do, being that teams see these opponents automatically every year. Wichita State has won three in a row after a loss at Drake.
No. 16 UNLV vs. No. 14 San Diego State (4 p.m, The Mtn.)
-This one is set for a classic. The Rebels (21-4, 5-2 Mountain West Conference) losing at Wyoming in their last game took some luster off this game, but it’s still a battle of Top-20 teams. The Aztecs (20-3, 6-1) have only lost one game since Dec. 4, a bad one at Colorado State, but other than that have been soaring.
No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 12 Michigan State (6 p.m., ESPN)
-It seems like every week, the Buckeyes (21-3, 9-2 Big Ten) play the second-best team in the B1G. Whoever it is. This week, it’s Michigan State (19-5, 8-3). It’ll be Jared Sullinger vs. Draymond Green for the most part, but can any of the Spartan’s guards get past ball-hawking Aaron Craft? That will probably be a big reason if Tom Izzo’s bunch can get a win. Look for William Buford to have a big game for tOSU, he had a career-high 29 last game, a victory at Purdue.
Temple vs. Xavier (9 p.m., ESPN2)
-What do the Owls have to do to get some serious poll love? They’ve beaten Duke this season, have a KenPom rating of 30 and have won eight in a row after a bad loss to Richmond on the road. They’re 18-5 overall and 7-2 in the Atlantic 10 and also have wins over Wichita State and Penn, two teams deep in the NCAA Tournament conversation. They won’t help themselves that much with a win over the Musketeers (16-8, 7-3), but it would certainly make me look stupid if they took a loss. Chris Mack’s squad, on the other hand, desperately needs a confidence W, losing three of their last six.
-PHOTO: GOOGLE IMAGES