Tuesday, November 16, 2010

30-ish Hours of College Hoops, Part 1

Too much basketball for things like editing, paragraphs, complete sentences or even coherent thoughts. But as we get to know these teams and players who will inhabit our brains for the next several months, I've certainly got some thoughts on what's going down. So here are at least some of them, on a game-by-game basis.

Hampton @ Wake Forest
--The new ESPNU open for college basketball is horrible. Just some bad local public access looking stuff.
--There are some pieces here for the Deacs, but the lack of a PG will kill this team.
--Walker is a great shotblocker, but his offensive game lags far behind.
--I suppose Clark is the best option at point for Wake, but he isn’t meant to be there. Harris has got to be the go-to scorer for the Deacs, and I think he is better off the ball. He's probably better than Clark at the point (though neither is good), but he is needed more as a scorer than as a distributor.
--Neither team can make a FT to save their lives.
--Wake 63-56, survive a scare from Hampton.
--Pellum probably gunned the Pirates out of the game (6/22 FGA), but Funches was fun to watch.
--McKie is something else, 21pts, 8 rebs.
--No Deac w/ more than 2 assists, 3 w/ more than 2 TOs. 19 total TOs for Wake.

Siena @ Minnesota
--My goodness, what a start to this game, nobody missing. We’re on pace for like a 150-130 game after 4min. After 8min, Siena’s pace has slowed to just 125pts, shooting 77% from field.
--Jackson has 14 in the first 8 min, and the amazing thing is that a lot of those were on Nolen, a first-rate defensive guard.
--Jackson is spectacular.
--Minnesota big run to close the half, 17-7, get back within a point.
--I think this Minnesota could be a team that has many different leading scorers/go-to guys, depending on the night.
--Siena scores 25 in first 8 min, then 24 in the next 26.
--Minnesota is for real: excellent athleticism, excellent rebounders, balanced defense all around, shooters, ballhandlers, and all this w/o Joseph.
--Rossiter at least three travels on the night, Siena with a ton of turnovers.
--This maybe isn’t as talented a Siena team as we’ve seen the past 2-3 years, but there are some serious parts here (Jackson, Rossiter, Brookins, Anosike, Griffin, Wignot) and they should be near the top of the MAAC.
--Brookins comes out of nowhere down the stretch to catch fire, but too much of a drought in the middle of the game.
--Minnesota 76-69 final.
--Jackson 29, Brookins 12 for the Saints, but 24 TOs for the team.
--Minnesota balanced scoring: Hoffarber 16, Sampson 13, Hollins 12, Mbakwe 10 plus 11 rebounds.
--Minn 30 FTs, Siena 15.

Pepperdine @ UCLA
--In the first half I’m having flashback to last year’s CSUF/UCLA abortion. UCLA still struggling against the zone, the point guard situation still isn’t excellent, but they’re a more talented team this year.
--And Jerime Anderson still sucks.
--KeionBell is not meant to play point. He’s not good at it, and it limits his effectiveness in the offense and turns the team into little more than a series of 1-on-1 moves. --Nelson’s block at the start of the 2nd half is beautiful.
--Josh Smith is disturbingly earthbound.
--UCLA big run at end of first/start of second.
--Howland with his run-breaking timeouts back for another season.
--Final UCLA 79-69, score closer than the game, Bruins impressive in 2nd half.
--26-2 run for Bruins wrapped around halftime is the difference, but maybe the biggest story is the ankle injury to Lee early in the game that kept him out of the final 34 minutes and will keep him out of Tuesday’s NIT Quarterfinal matchup with Pacific.
--Bell 24 unimpressive points, just two assists.
--Nelson 20/11, Honeycutt 16, Smith/Jones 13.
--UCLA 21 assists, 13 TO. Pepp 18 TO, 10 assists.

Miami @ Memphis

--I know Kendrick is a very good player, but Pastner definitely had the luxury to let him leave. This team has plenty of talent at the guard spot.
--Unbelievably entertaining albeit sloppy back-and-forth first half.
--Aside from Johnson, Hurricanes don’t have much offensive punch in frontcourt. Kirk and his nice midrange jumper may earn a spot in the starting lineup.
--Dequan Jones has just never added anything beyond his athleticism. My notes on this kid from his freshman year are just filled with exclamation points. Now he just bores me.
--Miami is definitely at its best when it works inside out (or more to the point, just inside). Johnson is incredibly efficient, especially when fresh.
--Memphis is an immature team with some absolutely terrible body language at times: players sagging their shoulders, rolling their eyes, at both ref calls and poor plays by teammates. This does not immediately look like a team with great chemistry.
--Miami guards definitely settled down for a stretch, played under control and they got right back into it, and then in the last minute or two, both Grant and Scott have terribly out of control plays.
--After the first time seeing these incarnations of these teams play, I’m not sure how good either of these teams are. They’ll both get better, but they both certainly need to get better.
--Final score 72-68 Memphis.
--Jackson 17, Carmouche 13, Witherspoon 12, Antonio Barton 10.
--Scott 20, Grant 18, (a combined 10/27 and eight turnovers for those two), Johnson 12 points, 12 rebounds.
--5 assists for Miami on 20 field goals, Memphis 10 assists on 19 field goals.
--Teams a combined 7/41 from beyond the arc.
--Entertaining, but sloppy.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Debacle that is UCLA Football - and Thoughts on Week 2

Here’s the state of the UCLA program: Pac-10 opener, season home opener, Saturday night of “Monster Weekend,” the team is coming off a tough road loss, and could use some home cooking in their place. But, the opening shot of the Rose Bowl for ESPN’s coverage makes it painfully obvious that they are trying to pick out the areas of the stadium where there are actually people in the stands while trying to crop out the huge swaths of un-fannied seats. Yeah, the Rose Bowl is a big place, but if there is really no chance for a UCLA team to even come close to filling that place on a semi-regular basis, it just looks awful to see a major college football team with a fanbase that is so uninspired, that two-thirds of the stadium is empty on a big Saturday night.

Of course, then you watch the Bruin offense, and the uninspired state of the Bruin fanbase (a pretty passive fanbase even in the best of times) makes a lot more sense. Wow, are they awful. The offensive line has been the question mark for the past couple of years, but really they aren’t half bad. But Kevin Prince is simply terrible, the receivers aren’t any better (especially when the only potential playmakers at the receiver spot – guys like Randall Carroll and Josh Smith – sit behind possession receivers like Taylor Embree and Nelson Rosario – you know, possession receivers that don’t catch the ball all that well – and those potential playmakers too often seem to make plays for the other team – see Carroll’s fumble on a fancy-nancy end-around in the second quarter) and the offensive geniuses behind this whole thing (head coach Rick Neuheisel and offensive coordinator Norm Chow) can’t stay focused on what little success they do have long enough to make it work. The Bruins averaged 4.6 yards per rush against Stanford and their two most effective runners, sophomore Jonathan Franklin and freshman Malcolm Jones were even better than that, 6.6 ypc and 7.4 ypc respectively, and given that one of the big reasons the Bruins made their highly publicized addition of the Pistol formation in the offseason was to aid their running game, you’d think that maybe they’d stick with that a bit, especially when it is working and even more especially when the passing game is so obviously not working. Run first, use the run to set up the infrequent pass, and get a little more creative getting playmakers the ball when you do decide to pass the ball – screens and short passes to Smith and Carroll would be a place to start.

And, really, Bruin fans are at a point right now where for the first time in the Neuheisel era, impatience is starting to shine through; the honeymoon period is certainly over. There is some talent here, but the team lacks discipline and the team clearly has conditioning problems. Their defense was gassed in the first quarter on Saturday night – sure, it was at the end of a 14 play drive, and the UCLA offense did nothing to give the defense a rest at all, but the Bruins front seven defensively was just getting dominated in the trenches. Throw in the inability to smoothly substitute defensively without drawing a penalty, or offensive linemen jumping early in key moments, or repeated terrible decisions by the quarterback. UCLA football at present is characterized by unforced errors on the offensive side and getting overpowered on the defensive side.

So, the bright side? Well, I gotta reach for this, but Franklin and Jones are a pretty excellent duo in the backfield and the offensive line, while still not great, is light years better than where they were two years ago. There is upside at the receiver position, but at some point they have to starting catching balls that hit them on the hands and start making some plays. Defensively, there is plenty of talent, but it seems like these guys didn’t put in the work in the offseason to get stronger. And it is too late for that now. Hopefully some of the youngsters (Keenan Graham, Owamagbe Odighizuwa and Cassius Marsh) will earn increased reps over the course of the season, but the fact is that if the offense can give the defense a rest every now and then, the defense, while not as good as the last couple of years, has the potential to be a decent side.

The bad side? It’s going to get worse before it gets any better. I can’t imagine holding Houston to any less than half-a-hundred, and then Texas gets their crack at breaking this piƱata wide open before they get something of a winnable game with a home game against Washington State. Bruins fans – you may want to check out that Cougar game. The way your team is playing right now, that’s about the only chance at a W on your remaining home slate.

Monster Saturday – I didn’t expect Penn State would be able to play with Alabama, so that one didn’t come as any surprise, but Oklahoma owning Florida State caught me off-guard. I expected that to be the game of the big three (Bama/PSU, OSU/Miami, FSU/Okla) that would have been the most competitive, but Oklahoma owned the line of scrimmage and all their playmakers made plays while Christian Ponder and Florida State stayed in bed. The Miami/Ohio State game turned out to be the best of those three, and it even wasn’t much to get excited about. Jacory Harris made too many mistakes (although none of his four INTs were too egregious on their own, although the four-pack taken as a whole stunk) and that Buckeye team is serious.

The best games of the weekend weren’t the big headliners, but the secondary games: Michigan/Notre Dame and Georgia/South Carolina in particular. Denard Robinson vaulted himself to the top of the Heisman list and cooled Rich Rodriguez’s seat a bit, while in Columbia, Steve Spurrier has got himself a ballclub. Freshman running back Marcus Lattimore is the real deal – a big strong back who knows how to finish his runs, always moving forward, the type of back who will rarely lose yards – the receivers are serious playmakers, a strong offensive line, a couple great bookend defensive ends with stellar corners to boot. The question for this team throughout the year will be quarterback Stephen Garcia. If he can continue to make plays, this Gamecock squad has a chance at a date in the SEC championship game and some serious BCS aspirations.

A couple strategic questions that really bugged me this weekend. First, in that Mississippi State/Auburn game on Thursday night, if you’re the Bulldogs and you’re committed to running a two-quarterback system, why wouldn’t you choose which QB you’re going to put in there more strategically? Junior Chris Relf is a big athletic QB who can make plays with his feet but is not terrifically accurate with his passes. Redshirt freshman Tyler Russell is more of a pure pocket passer. The situation: you’re down three, just over two minutes left, you’ve got the ball on your own 20. You’ve gotta go somewhere in the neighborhood of 50 yards to have a chance to send the game to OT, and along the way, you’ve got some situations where you face 3&10 or 3&14 or 4&10. In those particular situations, which QB of the two you are committed to playing gives you a better chance to succeed, the running QB or the pocket passer? Everywhere else on the field, a head coach will substitute players based on the situation, but for some reason Dan Mullen couldn’t find a way to get Russell on the field for those plays? Even if you’re interested in having Relf on the field on such a drive due to his experience, you have to consider his weaknesses and pull the guy on clear passing downs like the ones mentioned above.

Next, West Virginia/Marshall. You know the story, Marshall has the ball 1st and goal, ready to go in and push their improbable lead to 28-6 in the 4th quarter and to effectively seal the game. Marshall has had some success running the ball with sophomore running backs Martin Ward and Andre Booker, but head coach Doc Holliday for some reason puts in freshman Tron Martinez, a kid who hasn’t even played in the first three quarters. Martinez has a little bit of success, gets a couple carries, get a pass catch out of the backfield, picks up a first down. But then, on first and goal, fumbles, West Virginia recovers and instead of 28-6 Marshall, or even 24-6 with a field goal, momentum shifts and the Mountaineers come back to tie and eventually win in overtime. Certainly Martinez can’t fumble there, but at the same time, I just don’t understand why he is in the game there. If you go up 28-6 and the game is effectively over, then you can get some time for youngsters like this, but in that type of intrastate rivalry game, a win that would have been a huge win for the program and the community, you gotta finish the deal.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Basketball Junkie

I'll be moving all of my basketball-related posts to a new site, located here. Still posting about other sports and other stuff here though.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Florida State - a way too early 2010-11 preview

One big question looms over the short-term future of the Seminole basketball program, and at this early date, the answer isn’t yet known: will seven-foot-one center Solomon Alabi be returning to Tallahassee for his senior season, or will he be lured by the promise of NBA millions as a likely first-round draft pick? If Alabi returns, the ‘Noles will have the potential to challenge for an ACC title; if he goes, while still a talented squad, FSU’s hopes diminish greatly.

With Alabi, the Seminoles will return four of their five starters from a team that finished third in the ACC and made life on the offensive end miserable for their opponents. With Alabi manning the middle and long, athletic and versatile forward Chris Singleton alongside, the ‘Noles have the ability to dissuade opponents from exploring the middle of the defense. They’ll need to replace Ryan Reid at the four-spot, but have plenty of contenders to do so, including junior Xavier Gibson, sophomore Terrence Shannon, incoming freshman Okaro White, or one of two JuCo transfers: Bernard James or Jonathan Kreft, a player who originally committed to FSU in 2006 before having his scholarship revoked following some trouble with the law.

In the backcourt, Derwin Kitchen started all of FSU’s games in 09-10, and could do the same next season, but former McDonald’s All-American Michael Snaer came on down the stretch of his freshman season and could move into the starting position at the two-guard. Snaer and Kitchen did get a few starts together in the backcourt, but neither is a true point and ideally for head coach Leonard Hamilton, someone else will step up and take hold of the point guard position. While Deividas Dulkys ran the point some for the ‘Noles last year, it is likely that incoming freshman Ian Miller will have every chance to win the position. Senior Jordan DeMercy will provide depth at the two and the three while junior point Luke Loucks will also get some time in the backcourt.

For the Seminoles to really become a national power, they’ll need to improve their offensive game, and there are a number of things that need to happen on that front: someone will have to take the reins at point, one of the wings (Snaer, Kitchen, DeMercy or Singleton) will have to accept more of the scoring load, and Alabi will need to return and add a go-to post move. Any one of those things will improve the team; all of those things will have the ‘Noles, already a stout defensive team, making big waves in March.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Duke - a way to early 2010-11 preview

Mike Krzyzewski is back on top of the college basketball world, having done it his way, building a program step-by-step with character guys who generally stick around for the majority of their eligibility. So, what to do for an encore? Introducing freshman point guard Kyrie Irving, one of the nation’s top recruits and a guy who could head the NBA after one year. While Irving will be ready to step right in for departed point guard Jon Scheyer, there is still one big unanswered question for the Blue Devils as of April 15: will wing Kyle Singler return for his senior season? If so, expect Duke to be a strong favorite to win the ACC again. But, even if Singler is to head to the next level, this Duke team will still have firepower. Nolan Smith will return for his senior season and start alongside Irving in the backcourt. Seth Curry (Steph’s little brother) joins the team as a sophomore transfer from Liberty (where he led all freshman in the country in scoring two seasons back with 20.2 a game) and could give the Devils either depth in the backcourt or a third-guard, if coach K decides to go that way. Add in Andre Dawkins returning for his second season and incoming freshman point Tyler Thornton and the Devils will not be hurting in the backcourt.

However, regardless of Singler’s decision, the Blue Devils will need some of their talented frontcourt players to take the next step and improve their consistency. Brothers Miles and Mason Plumlee (a junior and a sophomore, respectively) have shown flashes of the type of talent that made them highly sought-after recruits, but need to be able to bring that type of game for more than just a few bursts here and there, and with Greg Zoubek’s Duke career over, they’ll be counted on to provide most of the minutes in the middle. Former McDonald’s All-American Ryan Kelly will also be called on to provide some help up front, but despite his six-foot-ten frame, he is more of a perimeter player and will need to add more strength and toughness to compete in the paint in the ACC. Freshman forward Josh Hairston will likely also need to contribute for the Devils up front, but he is also more of a skilled forward than a grinder.

What put Duke over the top in 2010 was its ability to create points by hitting the offensive glass, and in order for the Devils to replicate that kind of success in March, they’ll need to get some serious improvement from their front court players. But given the talent and upside of those players, that is far from out of the question.

Clemson – a far too early 2010-11 preview

Like other programs around the ACC, the big story in Clemson this offseason is new leadership. Head coach Oliver Purnell bolted for DePaul at the end of the season in a surprise move, leaving Clemson scrambling for a new coach, which they just filled with Brad Brownell, formerly of Wright State and before that UNC Wilmington. The coaching change has left some of the roster in question, with sophomore forward Devin Booker and Noel Johnson reportedly considering their options and incoming freshman wing Marcus Thornton (the 2010 Mr. Basketball from the state of Georgia) reportedly asking the school for a release from his letter of intent. The first order of business for Brownell will be to find out the status of those three players, all very talented pieces on this Tiger team, but perhaps pieces that won’t necessarily fit in well with the style of basketball that Brownell has historically run. Under Purnell, the Tigers were a high-tempo team, pressing defensively and getting out on the break on offense. On the other hand, Brownell’s team have historically controlled tempo, played tight man defense and gotten most of their offense in the half-court. Of course, even as good as the best of the Wright State or UNC Wilmington teams were, they never had a collection of athletes like Booker, Johnson, Thornton and the like, so while it is unlikely that the Tigers will continue to play the type of ball they did under Purnell, they may not turn into Wright State overnight.

Beyond the three question marks mentioned above, the Tigers aren’t exactly hurting for talent. Regardless of what happens to Booker, Johnson and Thornton, senior Demontez Stitt will start at the point and senior Jerai Grant will start up front somewhere. If all goes well, sophomore Milton Jennings will start alongside Grant, and then one of Booker, Johnson and Thornton will complete the Tiger front line while the other two provide depth, with junior Tanner Smith likely manning the two-guard spot. If Brownell can get all three of the question marks to return, the Tigers will have plenty of athletic depth, but even if only one of them remains, this isn’t a Clemson team that is going to immediately sink in the ACC standings. Junior Andre Young will likely back up Stitt, junior Brian Narcisse will provide some depth, and plenty of energy, up front, and sophomore Donte Hill may also get some time in the backcourt. Seven-foot-one junior center Catalin Baciu is in intriguing prospect up front, but he’ll need to add some strength to be a legitimate contributor in the ACC.

Clemson can still be in the conversation for one of the 65 tournament spots this season, but it is going to be interesting to see how Brownell imprints his style on a roster full of players who have gotten used to the Purnell way. Brownell may be an upgrade over Purnell in the long run, but the Tigers could suffer some short-term setbacks if their players chafe at the tightened reins.

**Update 4/15**
As expected, Marcus Thornton has asked for and received a release from his letter of intent and has opened back up his recruitment. It is possible he will follow Oliver Purnell to DePaul, Memphis has jumped into the discussion, and schools like Kentucky, Florida and Georgia Tech are interested as well.

Devin Booker and Noel Johnson have not yet announced their decisions regarding possibly transferring out of the program.

Boston College - a far too early 2010-11 preview

The big story this offseason for the Eagles is the head coaching change: Al Skinner out, former Cornell head coach Steve Donahue in. And, clearly, along with the change in personnel at the top will come a change in style, as Skinner’s defense-first system goes away and Donahue’s Princeton-style offense takes over. The transition will take time as Donahue will be forced to play with mostly the players that Skinner leaves behind, but there is some talent there, with four players who averaged double-figures returning (seniors Joe Trapani, Rakim Sanders and Corey Raji and junior guard Reggie Jackson). Trapani and his three-point ability may fit in nicely with Donahue’s style, and Jackson is a talented offensive player who can play in several different styles, but Donahue will have to get improvement from others on the roster to contend for a NCAA tournament bid (and, for the record, in these posts, I am going to assume that the size of the tournament does not increase this offseason, perhaps a sketchy assumption). Returning point guard Biko Paris will need to improve his ball control, cutting the turnovers and getting the Eagles into some more effective offense, all of which will enable Jackson to play off the ball more at his natural position, the two. Senior big guy Josh Southern is going to have to play up to his talent to give the Eagles a legitimate interior threat. Raji and Sanders may not be natural fits for Donahue’s offense, but they are both athletic wings, with Raji capable of playing bigger than his six-foot-five frame on the interior and Sanders capable of knocking down threes or scoring off of his athleticism. Juniors Evan Ravenel and Dallas Elmore along with senior Courtney Dunn will provide depth along the frontline as will incoming freshmen Kevin Noreen and Papa Samba Ndao. Incoming freshman Brady Heslip could backup Paris at the point.

There is some talent on this Eagle team, but already some around the program are looking towards 2011-12, when Donahue will have six open scholarships with which to begin to mold this team and this program in keeping with his vision.

**Update: 4/15/10**

As can be expected when coaching changes are made, personnel changes. Rakim Sanders has announced his intentions to transfer out of the BC program, a blow to a program in transition. It will be interesting to see if this is an isolated incident or if this is the beginning of Donahue remaking the program in his image, but I suspect Donahue would have rather had Sanders stick around for his senior season, as he is clearly a talented player.