Category Archives: college basketball

Shaka Makes A Smart Decision

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You’re probably asking yourself why did Shaka Smart turn down another big conference deal in the last calendar year.

Because he’s, well, smart… Duh!

Turning down the Illinois job was a brilliant move by Smart because frankly the Illinois job just isn’t worth the trouble.

Let’s be real about Smart’s last two offers from Illinois and Missouri. Yes they are big money conferences who can give him more money and a larger talent pool to choose from.

However, these are middle of the pack schools in their own conferences. Illinois and Mizzou are mid-level major schools (get it, mid-majors?) who would look for Smart to elevate them to Ohio State or Kansas status and if it doesn’t happen then he’d be fired in three years.

If he left VCU to go to either if these schools then it’s high risk and low reward. It’s rare that Illinois is at the top of the Big 10 save for the “Flying Illini” of 89 or the 2005 final team lead by Derin Williams.

It’s a middle of the road team that hardly contends for titles no matter what kind of talent they get.

Would you rather have that job or stay at VCU where after your Final Four run last year you have high job security and no worries?

For Smart the only jobs that make sense for him to take are bigger schools who have a shot at contention no matter who is there.

Imagine if Jim Calhoun leaves UCONN in a month or Ben Howland steps down from UCLA. Those are the jobs Smart should wait on, big schools with high expectations and that want results.

With the possibility of this actually happening it is best that Shaka Smart said no to Illinois.

As a successful mid-major coach, Smart should not settle for a Mid-Major job. He should bring his talents to a big enough school so that he can add to his Final Four credentials.

That’s the Smart thing to do, and hopefully his patience will lead him to that.


Orange Crushed

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On Tuesday afternoon, March 13th, 2012, 2:47 pm I ripped up my NCAA tournament bracket.

That is the earliest in the history of the NCAA tournament that anyones bracket was considered useless.

In big bold red print on ESPN my favorite team and my favorite to win the national championship was done. The print read “Syracuse Orange Center Fab Melo ruled ineligible for the NCAA tournament.”

I walked into the kitchen at my job, pulled my work shirt over my head and put my head in my hands.

Call it howarding.

The loss of Melo completely changes the dynamic of this tournament. Syracuse was considered at minimum a favorite to make the Final Four and by others including yours truly to win the national title.

After going 31-2 and winning the Big East regular season crown it would’ve been hard to bet against them. Syracuse had its best all around team since their title run in 2003.

It was Jim Boeheim’s deepest team with four guards capable of running the point guard position, six players who can light up the scoreboard, and a defensive intimidator in Melo who was almost equal to freshman phenom Anthony Davis in terms of shot blocking.

Melo was Syracuse’s only interior presence an with the kind of production he received from Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph and others that was all Syracuse needed.

Now without him Syracuse is screwed.

Without Melo the Orange go from a title contender to a team that would be lucky to make the Sweet 16.

After UNC-Asheville the Orange have to get through either Kansas State, Vanderbilt, Wisconsin, Cincinnati, West Virginia and Ohio State in some combination and all of those teams have some fore of interior presence whether it be Yancey Gates, Jared Sullinger or Kevin Jones.

Unless Rakeem Christmas or Baye Moussa Keita can put together some sort of inside production then the Syracuse Orange will be the first number one seed eliminated in the tournament.

Jim Boeheim and the Syracuse Orange have overcome two scandals and constant scrutiny to stay at the top of the rankings this season and prime themselves for a run at the national title.

However, the loss of Fab Melo will be the straw the breaks the backs of the Syracuse Orange.

A dream season has now become a nightmare.

Now excuse me while I try to piece this bracket back together.


Perry Jones Is Trash

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I’d like to make an announcement regarding this year’s NBA draft in particular towards a player who rates high on people’s boards…

Ladies and gentlemen Perry Jones III is not worth your lottery pick, as a matter of fact Perry Jones III is basura (Spanish word for trash).

After watching him in extended action this year I have come to the conclusion that the man that was projected to be a top 5 pick last year isn’t worth a top 15 pick on my board.

Jones III has all of the physical attributes a player should have. He’s 6’11” with handles, an NBA ready body with the ability to go inside or outside. At first glance he looks like the evolution of Kevin Durant, a nightmare of a matchup for a coaching staff. He’s too big for a small forward to guard and too fast for a power forward. He should be a monster, instead he’s a mess.

On a Baylor team that many had projected to be a Final Four contender this year Jones III was supposed to be its catalyst. Instead Jones III is the fourth best player on his team behind Quincy Acy, Quincy Miller and Pierre Jackson.

He doesn’t have Miller’s skill set, he doesn’t have Jackson’s tenacity, he doesn’t have Acy’s tenacity… Jones III is just a glorified role player.

The reason why Baylor has tumbled in the rankings in recent weeks is because of its inability to win tough games. Baylor has lost all four games against their fellow Big 12 top dogs Kansas and Missouri and lost to a suddenly hot Kansas State team on Saturday. In each game the Bears seemed overmatched and couldn’t seem to muster up any type of fight.

Most surprising of all is that it was Jones III that seemed to be the biggest sheep of them all.

To say Jones III has come up small when Baylor has needed him most is an understatement. Outside of the 18 he scored against Kansas in their first meeting, Jones III has scored a total of 21 points in the other 4 Baylor losses… That’s 5.2 ppg against two of the top five teams in the country and one of the teams in the Big 12.

More than numbers it’s been Jones III’s demeanor that really worries me. Plain and simple when the game gets tight Jones III gets tighter. Even in Monday’s close win over Texas Jones III seemed distant and wary of contact in the late going. He’s not a guy that’s built for the big moment. In the words of Mobb Deep that gets shook.

If I’m Scott Drew and I need a big shot late I would draw one up for Miller or Jackson. Those guys have the sack to take a big shot and live up to the moment. Jones would rather play the background

Is this a big deal for Baylor? After all of the hype I don’t think this is a Final Four squad. They’re not deep enough and haven’t shown that they can beat a tough opponent that could make them a contender. Right now they’re a Sweet 16 team at best.

If they can show out in the Big 12 tournament and win it then my mind could be changed, but right now they have work to do.

Jones III has the most work to do of anyone though. The one-time player of the year candidate and once thought of top ten pick is sliding and fast.

My advice to him is to man up and be what everyone thinks you are, a star player who NBA GM’s want to build around.

Because right now I see Jones III backing up Marshon Brooks in New Jersey instead of leading them to the playoffs.

Just saying.


The Betrayal Of The Orange

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No one's happy about the move to the ACC in Syracuse.

When I was a kid I remember watching Syracuse-Georgetown on CBS and going insane with every piece of action.

There was one game in particular, I can’t remember the date but it involved John Thompson getting ejected, Syracuse shooting six straight free throws and the Carrier Dome going insane. I had my eyes glued to the television not knowing what to think.

After that game I was a Big East fanatic. It wasn’t just about Syracuse-Georgetown, it was big Monday, Villanova-Georgetown at the Spectrum or Wachovia Center, The Big East tournament at the Garden, The Backyard Brawl twice a year, Gerry McNamera and Kemba Walker’s magic at the Garden, Ray Allen going bonkers in the Big East Tournament… As you can tell I love the Big East.

It’s been the best basketball conference since I was a kid, the only conference to have 11 teams in the tournament, 3 Final Four teams and it’s the conference that my favorite basketball team plays in, The Syracuse Orange.

Since Sherman Douglas, Billy Owens an Derrick Coleman to John Wallace to Anthony and the current group of Orangemen I’ve been a borderline nutcase. Even as an Ohio State alum Syracuse is still the basketball team I die with. I love them more than any NBA team that’s how deep it is.

As much as I love Syracuse football, the school is synonymous with basketball and the Big East.

When February rolls around there is nothing greater than looking at the Syracuse schedule and seeing a gauntlet of opponents that gives me ulcers but creates some of the best basketball around. 10 games against Louisville, Pitt, UCONN, Georgetown, Villanova, Notre Dame who are all ranked in the top 15 at some point and then St. John’s, Providence and Marquette thrown in for good measure. Hostile environments, tough opponents who bruise you in every way and just awesome basketball.

It makes winter just as much fun to be a sports fan as any other time of the year… and it’s now over.

When Syracuse announced that it was joining the ACC I almost cried (no seriously, I was at a bar after the Mayweather fight and saw the announcement on ESPN… I left immediately after in a rage… I’m a little overboard with this stuff sometimes I think). The tradition that it had built up for years, the rivalries with Georgetown and UCONN that had been so prevalent and the mystique of the Garden were pushed aside for a TV deal, money and a chance to showcase the ACC in New York as AD Daryl Gross put it… They have a showcase, it’s called the Greensboro Coliseum, let em have it.

I’m a traditionalist, I like rivalries, I like mystique, that’s what makes sports great especially college. Rivalries are what fuels games and competition. When the Cuse played UCONN it was about supremacy for the conference year in an out with the same area and the games were so physically and passionate it drove you nuts. Are we really going to get the same feel when the Cuse plays Maryland?

This is agonizing, the games will never be the same nor will they have the same intensity. I go from a gauntlet to watching the Cuse play Virginia, N.C. State and Wake Forest (ooooooohhhhh….). The age of the superconference has begun and it is killing the fabric that college sports was built on.

First we get Nebraska-Oklahoma taken away from us, then Texas A&M-Texas, now this… What’s next?

What is the reason for any of this? Jim Boeheim may have the answer himself.

“Football and money,” he said while on ESPN yesterday. That’s all it really is. Schools with football programs want TV money and their own network. The only reason Syracuse and Pitt for that matter are on the move is because of this one reason…

And it makes no sense.

One, if you want more money and a chance to showcase yourself wouldn’t you join a better conference. The ACC has been the most mediocre of the other 5 big BCS conferences (yep more than than the so-called woeful Big East. In BCS bowls the ACC is 1-9, the Big East has 5 wins including a National championship when Miami still called the Big East home) when it comes to football. They’ve become a punching bag for mediocrity and no one outside of their conference takes them too seriously.

Also in terms of basketball is anyone outside of Duke or UNC any good?

You kiss moments like this goodbye Syracuse.

The Big East basketball conference is hands the best in the nation. At least 10 of it’s 16 teams have been in the top 10 in the last few seasons, the ACC has only had 3 Duke, UNC, and Wake Forest who is as bipolar as they come.

So in reality Syracuse downgraded itself in it’s number one sport of basketball and plays lesser competition on a smaller stage while the ACC gains a decent football program that is still trying to find it’s winning ways.

And as fans this is supposed to make us happy? Now instead of the magic of Madison Square Garden in March fans of the Orange and the Panthers get the Georgia Dome or Greensboro Coliseum? It’s like having your Benz repo’d and having to drive a Hyundai Elantra.

But this is what it’s coming to. Tradition is out the window an the AD’s and chancellors of your alma mater’s and favorite schools are putting money first. It’s not fun but change is always eminent even if it’s not for the best such as with this case.

I’m still an Orange fan no matter what though. It’s gonna hurt two years from now when there’s no more Big Monday showcase games, no brawls with St. John’s, no more payback games with Villanova and no gauntlets to run through where every game is a must see.

Syracuse had a great thing going in the Big East and they ruined it over money. Now everyone involved from the players, fans and The Big East conference has to suffer for it.


Kentucky Returns To Where It Belongs

A sight that Kentucky fans have been for for a long time.

All of the expectations, the crazy hopes and dreams of Wildcat Nation, the hunger to win and to always be on top… turns out Kentucky was always right to feel that they should have better.

 

Kentucky beat North Carolina yesterday to head to its first Final 4 since Tubby Smith’s first season in Lexington in 1998. Since that national title year, Kentucky has become unconsciously unrealistic in their expectations of what and where their program should be. At least to u and I.

 

The constant criticism of Smith, the quick hook for Billy Gillespie, who was clearly in over his head, the need for a big time name to lead their program… it was maddening in every sense of the word to the average outsider.

 

But Kentucky always knew what it was worth. Its hopes and dreams were answered when John Calipari left Memphis after leading the Tigers during a great 10 year run to come to Lexington.

 

Calipari has long been considered one of the game’s best coaches and was the man that most felt could handle the enormous pressure that comes with being the coach at Kentucky. He also came with baggage and two vacated Final 4 appearances due to recruiting violations.

 

It was a huge risk for Kentucky to hire Calipari, but they knew in order for them to reach the mountain top they needed that kind of coach. In two years he hasn’t disappointed.

 

Last year’s stellar class featured John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins and a slew of freshmen that led the Wildcats to the Elite 8 before falling to West Virginia and then bolting for the NBA. This year all Coach Cal did was reload with Terrance Jones, Doron Lamb, Brandon Knight and almost Enes Kanter before the NCAA ruled him ineligible.

 

Though not as touted as the last class, Kentucky’s fab freshmen led them to their second consecutive SEC tournament title and Knight in particular has been a savior for Kentucky in every possible way. Knight hit game-winning buckets against Princeton in round one and

Brandon Knight has eclipsed John Wall in equal time at Kentucky.

against Ohio State in the Sweet 16 to put them in a position to make the Final 4 and he dropped 30 on West Virginia in the second round to help them pull away and 22 against UNC.

 

Along with veterans Josh Harrelson and DeAndre Liggins, Kentucky has put together its most cohesive unit since the 2003 squad, which was heavily favored to win the national title but didn’t make it out of the second round.

 

Yesterday versus UNC you saw a team that didn’t melt down late in games like the previous Wildcat squads did under Smith or Gillespie. When UNC kept fighting back and Harrison Barnes started getting hot Knight and Liggins stopped them with huge 3’s late in the game and Darius Miller blocked a Barnes three point heave to seal it for Kentucky.

 

Once it was all said and done Kentucky returned to where it felt it always should be, the Final 4.

 

It took them three coaches, millions of questions and lots of criticism but Kentucky is right back where it belongs, in the Final 4 playing for a shot at its 8th national championship.

 

For some programs, 13 years since its last Final 4 would seem like a normal occurrence. At Kentucky they demand better. Looks like they weren’t so crazy after all.


VCU Sticks It To The Haters

Hate if you want, but VCU is going to Houston.

So… Who still thinks VCU doesn’t belong in the NCAA tournament?

After the long and much talked about selection of VCU over Colorado an Virginia Tech, looks like the committee was absolutely right.

VCU was more than tough enough to hang with the big boys and showed no fear in mowing them down one by one. The Big Ten, Big East, ACC, Big 12 and PAC-10 all fell from their perches to the little school from Richmond, VA who who played bigger than their namesake.

The conversation at the beginning of the tournament was how could the NCAA allow a third team from a small conference like the CAA over another big conference school? The reality is that the CAA might’ve been better than most other conferences (hi, ACC and Big Ten).

Shaka Smart never let any of the attention get to his team. The very animated and energized coach kept his players focused on the task at hand. He put the game in his point guards hands and even though Joey Rodriguez chucked up some bad threes at times, he remained poised and made the necessary plays to help VCU reach the Final 4.

After beating a suspect USC team they handled downtrending Georgetown and beat up Purdue to make the Sweet 16. Brandon Burgess led VCU with 26 including a last second layup to stun Florida State to setup their Elite 8 matchup with the Kansas Jayhawks. To say that Kansas was not like any other team that they’ve faced is an understatement. To be honest with you, VCU faced the middle of the road teams of each conference that they faced. Georgetown, Florida State, USC, and Purdue were not thought about in the national title discussion. Kansas was a national title contender that was the clear favorite after Ohio State fell to Kentucky.

And none of that mattered as Shaka’s boys treated the Jayhawks as if they were the Delaware Blue Hens.

Shaka Smart had led his team to an precedented NCAA tournament run.

VCU raced out to a 14 point halftime lead as Jamie Skeen and company hit 9 of 17 threes and shut down the Kansas offense completely. Markieff Morris suffered through the worst game of his season turning the ball over 8 times and couldn’t stay out of foul trouble. They held Kansas to a season low 27 first half points and 11% from three point land. It was a dominating performance that made it seem like VCU was the one seed.

However, Kansas came back firing in the second causing several turnover and. Cutting the Rams lead to 2. With the partisan crowd rocking and the Rams fading, Smart never lost faith in his boys. He never called timeout and let them work through it. They rewarded him by jumping back up by ten behind Skeen’s shooting and Rodriguez’s ball handling including a great pass to Burgess for a deuce at the 8 minute mark.

That was it for the Jayhawks. They couldnt hit a shot for over four minutes and the Rams salted the game away as Kansas cried on their bench.

The celebration wasn’t like you would’ve expected. The Rams were cool and calm not being too overly exuberant. They dance an their few fans cheered loudly as Kansas walk off to another disappointment.

Their greatest achievement in all of this is that they have bragging right over rival George Mason, because, they are this year’s George Mason. They shocked the world just like their CAA compatriots, as and 11 seed, and beat the tournament favorite to do it.

So for anyone that said VCU didn’t belong, this is for you. Five wins in two weeks against a team from all major conferences except the SEC.

In a sense you could say the VCU Rams already are national champions.


They’re Baaaaaaaaack!

Butler proved that last year was no fluke.

Last year I wrote a blog stating that the Butler Bulldogs should now be perceived as a major program after their run to the Final 4.

 

This year they have more than proven me to be a prophet.

 

After Butler’s 74-71 overtime victory over Florida in the Southeast Regional final, the Bulldogs reached their second consecutive Final 4. In the last 11 years only Florida, Maryland and UCLA have done that exact same feat. Those are heavy hitters folks.

 

Funny thing about this year’s team is that they were on the verge of not making it back to the dance. After last year’s improbable run the team suffered a few setbacks. Super Sophomore Gordon Haywood went to the NBA and combined with their heartbreaking loss to Duke The Bulldogs suffered from a long Final 4 hangover.

 

They came out of the gate super slow going 4-4 with huge losses to Louisville and Duke and a close road loss to Xavier. After they seemed to pull it together by winning the Diamond Head classic in Hawaii they suffered a 24-point thrashing at the hands of Milwaukee-Wisconsin and then lost three straight conference games including an embarrassing loss to 9-21 Youngstown State. At 14-9 the Bulldogs were battered and bloodied and seemed destined for the NIT than the NCAA and winning the Horizon League title was their only sure bet.

 

So naturally they picked themselves off of the mat and kept going.

 

Just like last year’s 24 game winning streak, Butler has reeled off 13 straight games including their 4 wins in the NCAA tournament. Butler has become masterful in close game situations, as 9 of the 13 wins have come by 8 points or less including outlasting a much bigger and stronger Florida team.

 

Butler does it with defense limiting two opponents to over 70 in their last 14 games. Against Florida they outrebounded the Gators 36-33 and held them to 3-14 from behind the arc.

Brad Stevens might be the best coach in college right now.

This is a testament to Brad Stevens’ brilliance as a head coach. You can make the case that Stevens is currently the best coach in America after this four year run in Indianapolis.

 

After losing his star to the NBA and watching his team become the target of every mid-major program, Stevens just kept it moving and kept pushing his players. Once Haywood left, Shelvin Mack stepped in to take on the bulk of the scoring responsibilities. Matt Howard shook off a poor NCAA tournament last year and as been great down low, and Ronald Nored is still the defensive beast this year coming off of the bench.

 

While most coaches would have panicked after a mid-season lull, Stevens stayed the course and let his team figure it out and it paid off. In doing so Stevens now heads to his second Final 4 and is the youngest coach to ever reach two Final 4’s. He now has the same amount of appearances in the Final 4 as John Calipari, Gary Williams, and Bob Huggins and has more appearances than Thad Motta, Tubby Smith and Bill Self. That’s not a bad bragging point.

 

12 months ago after the shot that almost was, we wondered if we would ever see Butler come close to the opportunity that it had to win it all that night. We wondered could the little school from the little Horizon League conference, or any mid-major for that matter, replicate what had almost happened that night.

 

12 months later we get to find out.

 

Once and for all Butler proves their aint nothing small about their program. You can officially remove the mid from their vernacular. These guys are just major.