Wednesday, November 20, 2013

College Hoops 2013 - The Kids Are Allright

Once again in 2013 we’re already taking notice that college basketball has become a young man’s game. Because of NBA’s 2005 collective bargaining agreement rule on eligibility for the Association’s draft which carried over into the 2011 CBA, all drafted players must be at least 19 years old during the calendar year of the draft. Also, any player who is not an “international player”, as defined in the CBA, must be at least one year removed from the graduation of his high school class. Translation for college basketball; all the best players who have professional futures will be in and out of the college game in a heartbeat. Basically still just kids heading into the pros, so catch them while you can! At least this is better than the previous rule which allowed youngsters fresh off their high school campuses to take an immediate shot at pro glory and fame. Kobe Bryant and Kevin Garnett immediately come to mind but there are so many failures also that don’t because their stories were lost like their college eligibility and hoop dreams as well. The system in place is the correct approach while at the same time puts us on notice for the top collegiate players who most of the times are the youngest in the game as well. As we’ve seen already in this young season, almost all of the top squads feature some almost NBA ready “young bucks”. However, the second college basketball poll released does say something for staying in school and experience. Top seeded Michigan State is led by “old men” in today’s college game. Senior Keith Appling averages 15 points and 6 assist, while fellow senior Adreian Payne is the Spartans leading scorer at over 17 a night to go with almost eight rebounds per game. Tom Izzo’s two senior leaders have “Sparty” off to a 4-0 start including a win over then top-ranked Kentucky which as you guessed it, is loaded with freshman who most likely won’t be wearing U.K.’s blue and white very long. The Cats, ranked fourth is this week’s Associated Press Top-25, are notorious for sending more one and done players into the lottery of the NBA draft and just reloading for campus next season, which is what coach John Calipari has accomplished again. According to Coach Cal, this is his most talented team ever! 6’9” frosh Julius Randle is throwing down 20 a night to go with 13 boards while shooting 61% from the field. Next is line is fellow frosh James Young. He’s supplying 14 points per game in 28 minutes followed by freshman brothers Aaron and Andrew Harrison. Aaron is averaging 12 a game, while Andrew the point guard is bringing home 11 points and four assist. All four of these bluegrass superstars are likely to head to the pros next June, the same story the Wildcats wrote in 2012 with three freshmen and one sophomore all taken in the first round. Second-seeded Kansas is the home of everyone’s top-pick for the 2014 draft, freshman guard Andrew Wiggins. The 6’8” guard, a native of Canada is averaging 17 points, 6 rebounds and two assist in his young Jayhawk career. Pair of fellow newcomers is assisting him in Kansas’ brief 2-0 start. Wayne Selden Jr. is chipping in 10 a game with some help from 7-footer Joel Embiid of Cameroon at nine a contest to go with eight boards per game. Embiid, also a predicted as a top-five pick. Give K.U. Coach Bill Self some MADD props for going international to get the Jayhawks in the national title picture again. The number 5, 6 and 7th ranked teams are all led by guys who will be both real young and real rich next June. 5th ranked Arizona is already off to a 5-0 start and 6’9” forward Aaron Gordon has not disappointed. How does 13 points and nine rebounds sound for your first five college games? He is a projected lottery pick and teamed with Zona’s experience could help the Wildcats reach the Final Four for the first time in 13 years. 6th ranked Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski for the first time in his illustrious career may finally have a freshman led him to the “promised land” of a national title. Guard Jabari Parker, who could also be the first player chosen in June’s Lottery, has done more than lived up to the hype so far! He’s averaging 22 points, 8 rebounds and three assist so far in Duke’s five games, one which was a loss to Kansas 94-83. Parker outscored Wiggins 27-24 in that early showdown but the Jayhawks flew home from the United Center with the victory. Finally the last player on our “kid watch” is actually the old man of the group if you can be old at the age of 19. Oklahoma State’s Marcus Smart decided to come back to Stillwater for another season despite probably being an NBA first rounder last June. The 6’4, 220 pound guard wants to not only be a first-rounder but a lottery pick. Last night in the Cowboys win over Memphis, he tied an Oklahoma State sophomore record with 39 points on 11 of 22 shooting in the Cowboys shocking 101-80 rout of the #11 ranked Tigers. He knocked down 5 of 10 beyond the arc proving to be impossible to stop from all areas of the floor. Last night Wiggins, Parker, Randle and Smart were all in action on the college hardwood but the super-sophomore was by far the most impressive. The NBA’s CBA rule on eligibility for the lottery is the proper call as it can prevent kids from ruining their chances at fortune and fame by giving them time to see just how good they actually are at the time. For college hoop fans, the players that are the real deal come and good in a flash so enjoy them while you can.

Friday, June 28, 2013

Midnight Madness in Full Swing

NCAA Basketball kicked off with their “Midnight Madness” culminating with a double header of #1 vs. #2 and #5 vs. #4 matchups. Although there were no Chaminades present on opening day, there were some really good games, even at 3am on the East Coast. Among them was Miami/Georgia Southern, Milwaukee/Davidson, UAB/Rutgers, West Virginia/Virginia Tech, and a shootout between BYU and Stanford where 215 points were scored. The preliminaries have set a high bar for the headliners to reach but no doubt the star power is there to take it over the top. The opening act will be the 2-1 matchup between Michigan State and Kentucky as it appears UK simply reloaded despite being pillaged by the NBA draft and still came out as the pre-season top seed. State only has two seniors on their roster so they should be able to match the Cats in regards to atheism, but come into the game as 3.5point dogs. It sets them up to make a statement to start the season and make a quick jump to the top spot. As the headliner for Midnight Madness the #5Kansas Jayhawks take on the #4 Duke Blue Devils and sets the stage for the most talked about freshman in years, ESPN coverboy Andrew Wiggins. Already possessing NBA pedigree, Wiggins got off to a start worthy of the hype, scoring 16 points in 35 minutes in his first collegiate game, but this will be against premium competition and the first glimpse if he’s really ready for prime time. With all of the story lines opening day the Madness will be starting early this year.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Lousiville Begins to Build its House of Cards

Once again the NCAA Tournament Championship was the only game in town on Monday night and as usual not only did it live up to the hype but provided one of the best ‘Finals” in American sports this year. March Madness is unlike any other of the high profile finals not just because of the ‘one and done’ finality but how every possession of the short 40-minute duration is magnified. Unlike most of the others where you must get to a 7th game to induce that “do or die” tension in the crowd and mentality in the players, this was there from the opining tipoff. Even with seven chances to provide sufficient drama a 7-game series rarely goes the distance and that’s what the MLB and NBA don’t often do is match drama of the commencement ceremony of the Big Dance. The 2013 Final was no different as from the opening tip there was possession-by-possession tension that only subsided when we finally got a chance to catch our breath at halftime. There was a great story to tell regardless of whichever school came out on top. Either the Maze and Blue were going to rise up and raise the banner that the “Fab Five” couldn’t or the “Godfather” Rick Patino was going to get back to the winner circle and bring Louisville it’s first title since 86’ and the surprising “Never Nervous” Pervous Ellison run. If you were not one of the 70,000 plus that watched it in person on huge television audience then too bad, we’re not going to recap the game but Michigan had to be a little dishearted with only a one point lead at the half after going shooting so well from three in the first half including a perfect 4 for 4 from Spike Albrecht. As a neutral observer whom only wanted to see a good game I felt the tide was turning and a red wave was coming in the second half. It did but rather than being swept under the Wolverines answered every call seemingly always getting the key bucket when they were faced with a 9 or 10 point deficit if they didn’t. Even when The’Ville pushed it to 10 Michigan got it down to a six point deficit twice, with the ball, but couldn’t convert the big 3 like they had done so many times throughout the tournament. John Beilein will have to answer some questions regarding substitutions as they didn’t seem to have their best 3-point shooters in the game when it was slipping away. End the end it was the nation's most efficient defense exerting its will, making key still via the press and taking Michigan out of it’s rhythm. Conversely the nation's No. 1-ranked offense Michigan hit a couple of critical scoring droughts which eventually let do their demise. In either case it was what we all wanted to see after our brackets were long since sent to the landfill and our school affiliation either was not invited to the popular kids party or asked to leave early. We all put our tribulations behind us, tuned in, and just wanted to see the greatest show on earth live up to it’s name with no regrets about who else should have been playing, and unlike it’s American compeers, March Madness more than lived up to the billing and will be even more maddening next year with two new stories, perhaps just as intriguing, as the trend of parity continues.

Monday, March 25, 2013

15 Going On Sweet 16

Remember when George Mason made the Final Four a few years ago, the coach delivering pizzas to the students who were waiting outside in the cold to get tickets, and the novelty of a Cinderella Story? Well in this era the dance has become a rave with the young teams really drawing attention and we not only knew parity would be the theme of the club, but now we’re actually expecting Cindy to make more than a cameo appearance wearing her best LBD. Grant it Cindy and more than three mice helping her this year as Oregon being seeded as 12 pretty much put her on the VIP guest list last Sunday afternoon. Along those same (bracket) lines, Arizona as 6-seed when they’ve been ranked in the top 10 for the majority of the season was underhanded as slippin’ the door man a deuce when shaking his hand, so she was definitely in. In hindsight she would have arrived on schedule anyway as for the first time in the history of the dance a 15-seed has made the Sweet 16 as Florida Gulf Coast, whom was already on the radar after beating Miami earlier in the year, upset both Georgetown and San Diego State (who was supposed to be dressed up as Cindy this year according to many) en route to big date Friday night with fellow Floridians the Gators of UF. Rest assured, the CBS hype machine will be pumping us full of FGCU stories and shorts all week leading up to the weekend so get ready, and I gotta’ admit, I’m in, is what the dance is all about. A program that is younger than most of us watching the tournament itself, although they did win 24 games this season, they really only have one signature win over Miami, but got blown out by VCU and Duke, and had double digit losses to St. Johns, Iowa State, and the powerful Lipscomb Bisons(please note Duke is the only school of the afore mentioned to still be playing). So now that they can’t sneak up on anyone and the Gators will have a week to prepare, let the banter begin on whether Cindy rages on past midnight or if she is gator bait. Cindy has some sisters with her at the dance this year, in Wichita State and La Salle whom will be ‘dancing with the upstarts’ when they meet on Thursday night. The downside is that one of them will have to go home but it assures that at least one family member will still be dancing late in to the evening on weekend. Wichita State made all the pundits east of the Grand Canyon happy as they made an early exit and all of East coast bias commentators from ESPN can now say ‘I told you so’ that the Zags didn’t deserve a top line billing. Even now I don’t think that was the case but Cindy can be a real beotch when you try to make her leave the party early, and the shockers lived up they’re name as they shot both 50% from the floor and 50% from 3-point land and that usually results to crying at the podium for an opponent regardless of seeding. La Salle’s party started when Ole’ Miss took out Wisconsin in the first round making a weekend date more that feasible as double digit compeers got together in a 12-13 matchup that honestly both schools would have wanted when the brackets were released. As expected a tight game throughout and as usual in the tournament games like that are decided at the free-throw line and the Explorers exploited the Rebels weakness 72% to 47% and that made a world of difference in a 2-point game. As for the distant cousins several times removed from Cindy’s lineage Oregon and Arizona are the remaining dancers whom were not top 4 seeds, you can change uniforms with almost any other schools still playing and you couldn’t tell the difference. Perhaps only Louisville can make a case against that statement and will have a chance to do so Friday night when they will have to deal with the Ducks. Their lone Pac-12 remaining school Arizona will also be trying to spoil a favorites evening as they take on #3 seed Ohio State and the 3 point line is a harbinger of how close this game should be and how terrible the seedings were put together this year. But, in the spirit of the spirit of the season that’s what we tune in to once our date has gone home early, our brackets have long since collapsed, and we’re looking for another reason to cheer and be involved, that’s the genius of the big number in front of the school name that instantly invokes intrigue with the hopes that perhaps Cindy or one of her sisters hasn’t gone home with someone yet.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Let the Madness of Parity Begin!

The annual spring collegiate basketball tournament that has become a social media sensation and American cultural institution is upon us again! The NCAA Tourney commonly known as March Madness gets started Tuesday evening with the official tip-off taking place on Thursday morning. With the parity college basketball is experiencing there are at least ten teams with a shot a cutting down the nets in Atlanta as favorites not to mention several Cinderella possibilities to wear the glass slipper and stun the country! Forty-four different schools were ranked this season which is just five off the record which was set back in the 2008- 09 campaign. While Gonzaga finished the regular season on top of the Associated Press poll for the first time in school history and as expected grabbed a number one seed in the West Region, the school to beat is Louisville. Rick Pitino’s crew, the top seed in the Mid-West Region showed just how potent and powerful they can be after outscoring Syracuse by 30 points in the second half of the Big East championship game turning a 13 point deficit into a 17 point victory. Indiana, who spent ten weeks at number one this past season, grabbed the top seed in the East Region with Kansas gaining top billing in the South. As always there are some compelling first round match-ups between eighth and ninth seeds. In Lexington, Kentucky Colorado State’s deliberate style of patient basketball, will be put to the test against a Missouri squad that will try to run you out of the gym along with firing three pointers as fast as the scoreboard can change digits! In the East Region, N.C. State who has superior talent is seeded 8th only because the Wolfpack don’t show up unless motivated. They’ll face a Temple squad that has been up and down all season. Expect C.J. Leslie, Richard Howell and Lorenzo Brown to all be ready to go and make a Cinderella run with talent that is as good as most in the entire tournament. Another eight versus nine game that intrigues is North Carolina against Villanova. The Tar Heels may be young but can shoot the deep ball with the best of them. P.J. Hairston and Reggie Bullock are long distance assassins. The Wildcats will counter with trying to pound the rock inside to Jay Vaughn disaster on a neutral court. They take on a red-hot Mississippi squad coming off an upset of Florida in the SEC Championship game. Rebels guard Marshall Henderson is capable of having one of those games carrying the underdog to glory. The other twelve versus five game that sticks out is Arkansas against VCU in Auburn Hills. Some experts believe Shaka Smart’s club can make another run to the final four like in 2011 when they upset top-seeded Kansas in the Southwest region. We say the Rams should be on upset alert in round one! While Arkansas is inconstant at times, the Hogs play the same high-paced tempo game as VCU and when hot can thump anyone as then number one Florida found out in Fayetteville earlier this season. Speaking of the final four which is what this event is all about, who might get there can be anybody’s guess? The favorites are Louisville and Duke out of the Midwest, Gonzaga and Ohio State from the West, Indiana and Miami from the East along with Kansas and Georgetown in the South. Sleeper picks starting in the Midwest Oklahoma State (young but very talented), Michigan State and St. Louis (defense wins games and both this teams can lock you down!). From the West you have to be aware of New Mexico. Steve Alford’s team won the Mountain West Tourney in Vegas against UNLV which says plenty not to mention they are big, have solid guard play and a star player in Kendall Williams who averages 13.5 points a game and can take over at any time. N.C. State in the East could be the surprise team. They have enough talent to take down Indiana in Dayton in the second round. Motivation is all the Wolfpack need and that match-up will bring exactly that! With the A-T-L the final destination, here are our picks for glory. Louisville from the Midwest, two-seed Ohio State from the West, Miami surprises with a ride from Austin all the way to Georgia and Georgetown stops Kansas to win the South. In the semis, Louisville takes down the Buckeyes and Miami’s size proves to be too much for the Hoyas. So we get two teams that love to run and shoot the three-ball, in the Cardinals and Hurricanes. But the difference in the championship game is size and Miami has it. Shane Larkin can handle the Louisville pressure, while Durand Scott and Larkin match Peyton Silva, Russ Smith and Luke Hancock three ball for three ball! The Hurricanes however go to the next level with points in the paint. Kenny Kadji, Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble prove to be too big inside and Miami wins their first national title in a high scoring 82-78 shootout!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

One Big Dog, and Many Small Ones Will Bite Come April

The DJ is setting up, the waitresses are counting their cash drawers, and the bartenders are making sure everything is well stocked. The big dance is set to begin next week and although some invitations have been sent out already, most are still yet to be delivered even though the addresses are on the envelopes. However about five or six bridesmaids still hope that the handsome bachelor will show up at their dorm just in time to whisk them away to the hottest party in the country and the greatest event in American sports. Normally at this time of year the pundits have already begun to fill out their brackets as the top four seeds usually end up on the bottom four lines even though it has only happened once in the tournament’s history, then it’s just a matter of throwing in an upset here or there (so they think). However even that is not possible this year because we still don’t know for sure who the top four seeds will be and moreover don’t know who the number one overall will be despite the fact that Gonzaga University has the best record at 30-2 a full 2 games ahead of the number 2, and is the only ranked school to end the season with an undefeated conference record. There has even been banter on weather the Bulldogs should even hold a top line come Sunday. Grant it that’s coming entirely from the East coast wave that’s two hours in to counting sheep most nights while the Zags are busy bustin’ someone up by double digits. So let me go on record right now and state that not only should they be a top seed but should be THE top seed in the dance and my logic is simple and irrefutable. Who else deserves it more, and can quantitatively make a case? The simple answer is no one can. Every school has lost multiple league games and looked more than vulnerable when on the road. There has not been one school that has stayed on top of the mountain too long, hey we even saw 5 top seeds go down in successive weeks. Don’t even submit a brief that has the words “weak conference” anywhere in it as you name me the school and I present at least two ‘bad losses’ it’s had this year to teams that would be .500 or less in most conferences in college basketball and that’s my point. This will be the year where the parity in college basketball is even more evident and I for one can’t wait to see some these schools with “Nebraska Football Schedules” leave the friendly confines of their campus home gyms. There will many an upset this season and I won’t be the least surprised to see a repeat of 2006 when no school that started on the top line ended up there come April. Also like 06’ look for a double digit school to crash the party and ruffle the feathers of the “Finals Clubs” like Duke and Indiana, where their hotel rooms are already booked in Hotlanta. Oh yea, that already happened when Gonzaga finished the season as number one. For the record guys, this is not a case of “just because you’re here, doesn’t mean you belong”, as the ol’ guard may be waiting for rush invitations stamped from Spokane, Washington.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Big 10 Hoops Tires to Carry the Flag for the Conference

The Big-10 has taken its share of knocks over the past couple of years starting with a football conference that doesn’t seem to be able to either count (12 teams) or hire an effective marketing team (please see Leaders and Legends). Then there was the Penn State scandal before we even to basketball where the big 10 wasn’t mentioned when the top basketball conferences were listed at the beginning of the season. Since then the Big-10 has more than lived up to its name as the top five teams in the conference standings reads similar to the AP top 10 poll. Indiana and Michigan have exchanged views from the top as each has Indiana ruled the top of the mountain early in the year only to have persistent Michigan run them down and hold the spot for a week before a trip to Hoosierland quickly ended their reign. The Hoosiers (#1) join other Big-10 compeers in the top 25 of Michigan (3), Ohio State (10), Michigan State (12), and Minnesota (18). Unfortunately what may come back to haunt the conference come tournament time is fact that they are so stacked at the top that you can count on some of them getting beat up over the last ten games of the season on top of the tournament. If any of the top five schools make it out with only one loss let alone two it will be quite the feat but even one more loss could cost them a top seed as Florida, Duke, Kansas, and Gonzaga are waiting in the wings to move into the bracket and don’t have to run the gauntlet that the remaining B-10 schedule has in store. We expected Ohio State to make a run after their Final Four appearance of last year but Indiana wasn’t expected to be the powerhouse that they turned out to be let alone the best in the nation, Michigan wasn’t supposed to come around for another year, no pundit predicted that Michigan State would already tallying 18 wins, and Minnesota was the media favorite out of the blocks going 16-1 before feeling the strain of the schedule and dropping four straight games. Two weeks ago they would have been the headline of this piece and now sixth place and number 18 seems insulting. Despite all of this season’s success if the conference doesn’t have a few teams make deep runs in the big dance the critics will write off the performances during the regular season and past will be prologue. Until then they will continue their version of “survivor” and whomever is left on the island certainly deserves a regional top billing as for the first time in a long time the football conference can match the Big East, ACC, and SEC punch for punch and will be rewarded line for line on the brackets come selection Sunday.