2011-2012 Conference Previews
John Groce didn’t like what he was seeing with 7:06 left in the game last night so he did what a lot of coaches do, he called a 30 second timeout.
Gary Bell Jr’s three-pointer for Gonzaga had just cut the Illini lead to 68-64 and Tracy Abrams looked hesitant setting up the offense as the “Kennel” was going insane for the first time in ages. After all, Groce’s crew had grabbed this game by the neck and controlled it throughout the second half. So Groce called for his dry erase board and flipped the script on his first year squad. The over caffeinated Groce — who is normally stomping his feet, pacing the sidelines and screaming for a ref’s attention — was the epitome of calm as he drew up what he wanted coming out of the timeout. You could see his mind clicking, firing on all cylinders and taking in how truly big this moment was for his squad.
They were 9-0 and up on the road against a Zags team ranked #10 in the country. A Zags team, by the way, that everyone was already crowning as Few’s best ever and a final four contender (yawn, heard it before, holler at me in March if they’re still balling on weekend number two).
Not only were the pundits knighting the Zags, they were also throwing some salt on the Orange Crush and their incredible start. Arguments varied from they won a weak Maui field -to- they shoot too many 3′s-to- the one the Illini had heard all week, wait until they go into Spokane and get snapped back to reality.
So Groce called the timeout, told his stud Brandon Paul to check back into the game, and drew up a horns set.
That set turned into a high ball screen for Paul set by Sam McLaurin after Paul had probed the opposite side of the free throw line and told D.J. Richardson to drop into the lane. Elias Harris didn’t stay nearly close enough to McLaurin as he set the screen, plus he hedged out on Paul in a manner that a 145 pound high school guard could’ve handled without much trouble. Meanwhile Gary Bell Jr went under the screen and when Paul found himself all alone at the three-point arc, he did what Brandon Paul does… he raised up and nailed it.
Gonzaga’s response on the next possession was to refuse to play inside out. Instead, the Zags got a contested three point attempt that missed.
Illinois came down and ran the same set. This time Paul passed on the shot and his squad ran through about 29 seconds of the shot clock. With 6 seconds left on the clock, Paul found himself up top isolated with a big, Kelly Olynyk. Paul attacked him off the bounce and finished at the rim for his 26th and 27th point of the night.
73-64 Illinois with 5:46 left.
Gonzaga cut it to 3, 73-70 a few minutes later and this time Tracy Abrams was the guard who responded, attacking his man off the bounce for a bucket.
75-70 Illini with a little over 3 minutes left.
Paul finally sent the Dawgs to their crate without dinner with another drive to the rim — again, Harris was less than hearty in his objection to Paul’s path — which he finished while being fouled by Olynyk.
Olynyk finally received a pass underneath and instead of going up strong, he faded a little, looking like he expected contact.
Man’s game, no boys allowed.
Abrams, a sophomore, hit two free throws to put the Illini up 80-71.
Illinois came into Gonzaga and controlled the home team.
John Groce has an experienced, grown up group who are fully invested in his philosophy and hungry for success. They get into you defensively and rip the ball out of your hands. They recognize mismatches and attack them offensively. They push the ball. They believe.
Brad Stevens tried to tell everybody that this bunch was for real after getting blitzed by them in Maui.
Folks seemed skeptical.
Please, no more skepticism.
Illinois will be in the mix all year in the Big Ten and will challenge for the top spot.
Brandon Paul will be in the mix for player of the year.
The final score was 85-74 Illinois.
Add one more contender to the list in the already loaded Big Ten.
The Illini are for real.
By Raphielle Johnson
After three seasons of poor performance the Pac-12 and its fans are hopeful that 2012-13 is the beginning of a turnaround for the league. The conference has claimed just eight NCAA tournament bids in those three years, but given the amount of talent in the league (both newcomers and transfers) the Pac-12 should grab at least three bids this year. But who gets them? That’s a question that will be answered throughout the season of course, but there are some teams better positioned than others to answer that question in the affirmative.
Both Arizona and UCLA welcome Top 5 recruiting classes but only one knows that they’ll have all hands on deck come November. That’s Arizona, which received a much-needed infusion of talent inside while also landing Xavier transfer Mark Lyons to run the point. As for the Bruins they’re still awaiting news on Kyle Anderson and Shabazz Muhammad, two freshmen who are talented enough to be game-changers for Ben Howland’s program. But even with the talent at those two schools, by no means is this a two-team race.
Defending Pac-12 tournament champion Colorado returns three key figures from last year’s team, and the cupboard certainly isn’t bare at Stanford either as the Postseason NIT champions return most of their major contributors. USC has a number of transfers eligible and returnees such as Jio Fontan and Dwayne Dedmon are healthy after having to deal with injuries in 2011-12. California can argue that they have the best back court in the Pac-12 in Allen Crabbe and Justin Cobbs, while Washington, Oregon, Oregon State and even Arizona State will all have reasons for optimism.
In college basketball there’s always something to be said for locking down your backyard recruiting-wise.
And when you’re the new coach at Central Michigan University at a time when Northern Michigan is producing a steady stream of D-1 talent that’s so close to you, it behooves you to try and get in on some of that action.
In recent years it’s been the big boys like Michigan State landing the prime talent (Dwaun Anderson, a kid who ended up transferring to Wagner and who just might make — along with his teammates — Bobby Hurley regret passing on the Wagner head job) while the mid-majors out East have feasted.
The Lake Michigan Conference has sent players to Lehigh (Holden Greiner from Traverse City St Francis) Brown (Scott Friske from Charlevoix) William & Mary (Sean Sheldon –another St Francis kid) and Bucknell (Cory Starkey from Petoskey and Chris Hass from Pelliston). Not too shabby for a Class C league (Michigan goes A, B, C AND D from largest to smallest). Keno Davis noticed the exodus and, with an environment that suits any Northern Michigan kid in Mt Pleasant, instantly started trying to hit his local area hard.
That’s paid off with the earliest MAC verbal we can remember in Redman. I had heard of Redman some because I keep up with some folks back in Michigan (where I spent a good deal of my younger years) so I instantly knew the man to check in with regarding Redman’s game — Parallel 45′s AAU coach and Michigan HS Hoop’s go-to-guy Steve Bell. For those of you wanting the latest scuttlebutt on the scene in Michigan you need to check out his message board and site at Bankhoops.com. Bell shared a little bit about Redman and why he thinks this is a fantastic development for CMU’s future.
“He’s got that long, sinewy, athletic body that’s built for basketball,” says Bell. He’s a legit 6-4 who can shoot it with a quick release and does so with supreme confidence.” Bell mentioned that Redman has to improve on his strength and explosion around the hoop but what soon-to-be-sophomore in high school doesn’t?
Redman averaged 12 points a game as a 9th grader for a varsity team that featured three other kids that will play at the college level. The kid has always played up in AAU competition and had big games at both Spiece and the King James event playing for THE ACB/BANKHOOPS 16U TEAM. Redman is Boyne City’s first D-1 kid since Jason Rozycki did his thing for Oakland from 1998-2002. Redman managed to impress the CMU staff early during their team camp with a couple of major throwdowns that started their wheels spinning. And Redman isn’t the only talented youngster in the area. Shae Somers of Bellaire and Gage Kreski of St Ignace are both talents that will be heard from in the 2016 class according to Bell.
Who knows, maybe Corey Redman is the start of a pipeline of Northern Michigan kids to CMU? The pied piper if you will. Chippewa fans would love nothing more to see their glory days return with the help of some Michiganders.
Keno Davis will spend the next few years mining that same area for new talent…and babysitting the one who’s pledged already.
Wagner came into their game at Pitt with some definite ideas about attacking the Panthers.
“I felt like our game plan going in was to extend our defense up the court because we felt we could get into their legs that way,” said Dan Hurley, Wagner’s second year coach. “They’ve got bigger perimeter players on the wings, Lamar Patterson played for me in high school and he played the 4, so we wanted to run them at both ends of the court, run them off a lot of staggers, run them off a lot of flair screens, just make them guard a lot of offense, extend the court and try to wear on them a little bit.” Hurley’s plan, especially the part about making the Panthers guard a lot of offense, is one that every coach should follow the rest of the season.
Simply put, Pitt struggles to guard teams that spread them out and make them move their feet. Wagner guards Kenneth Ortiz and Latif Rivers controlled the game from the beginning, and got plenty of help from Tyler Murray and Jonathon Williams. Ortiz frustrated Pitt All American Ashton Gibbs into a 5-16 night that included 4 turnovers (seemed like 7-8 to me) while on the other end Ortiz, Rivers and Murray took their turns scoring at the rim or with jump-shots. Williams got some big buckets in isolation sets from the wing driving baseline and spinning back for easy lay-ins as the 6’6″ Juco transfer finished with 7 points and 9 rebounds.
Rivers sealed it from the line late going 6-6 for the game to finish with 18 points. “Latif is coming back you know he finished the season with a torn labrum in his shoulder and he played through it because that’s the kind of guy he is and the type of teammate he is,” said Hurley. “That injury is a four or five month recovery and he’s almost been relearning to shoot and maybe ten games or so to feel comfortable and that’s the Latif we recruited, clutch, big free throws you know he’s from Jersey just like Kenny (Ortiz) and they have that toughness and belief.” Hurley said his team is full of kids like Rivers and Ortiz.
These guys have a brotherhood,” said Hurley, “this isn’t something we’re putting together on a year-to-year basis these guys practice hard they relate well to each other on and off the court and it’s a blessing to coach these guys.”
Ortiz scored 12 while assisting on 7 other Wagner baskets. Murray was was 3-5 from deep. Naofall Folahan grabbed 8 rebounds of his own while bothering Pitt defensively at the rim. Wagners guards grabbed 9 boards as well. Hurley thought staying with UConn earlier this season helped his team meet the challenge of facing Pitt. “I think it gave us the confidence,” said Hurley, “we had it at an 8-point game with 8 minutes to go and we didn’t play as well there as we did here but I think it gave our guys confidence knowing the caliber of team and players that they are. I think we had confidence we could come in here and if guys executed we’d have a chance to win the game.” Ortiz and Rivers were both beaming in the press conference after getting the biggest win of their careers against some familiar faces.
“It’s definitely really big for us as individuals and for us as a team,” said Rivers, “they’re a top ranked type team and to be able to come into their home and win is huge.”
“The Big East is what we all grow up talking about,” Ortiz said, “this is something big me and Tif talked about this our whole life growing up talking about doing big things and we got our chance and took advantage and that’s a great feeling.”
Wagner outplayed Pitt for 40 minutes.
As a result, the Seahawks got a much deserved win. Hurley said he advised his kids to get their cell phones charged when I asked him if he’d hear from his father yet following the win. “I said to the coaches and players to make sure they get their phones charged because we’ll all be getting a lot of texts and a lot of calls.”
As Hurley and his two stars left the media room they wished everyone a good Christmas and happy holidays.
By the way they bounced out of the room it was quite evident that their best present came two days early this year.
South Dakota State beat Western Michigan earlier today 82-76 in a game that saw WMU’s 6’10″ sophomore center Matt Stainbrook go for 32 points. The Jackrabbits had no answer for “Big Stain” a lefty with a variety of post moves (although they all usually end up going over his right shoulder) and a soft touch who torched SDSU on 14-16 shooting from the floor and 4-5 from the free throw line.
Meanwhile, the victorious Jackrabbits got 32 points of their own from the splendid junior point guard Nate Wolters (who lit up the Broncos last year in Kalamazoo for 28 in a losing effort).
Both Stainbrook, a lightly recruited big man out of Ohio who’s at WMU because a former assistant talked head coach Steve Hawkins into watching him late in the recruiting period, and Wolters are players for college fans to keep an eye on as the season progresses and their teams compete for conference titles.
We didn’t get much of a chance to write about Akron’s beatdown of Mississippi State the other night. The Zips, led by Quincy Diggs on offense and Zeke Marshall on defense, controlled the SEC group for the full 40 minutes before winning by ten. Akron coach Keith Dambrot was kind enough to join us following the win for our new podcast called “The Experience” which will be available online tomorrow (keep your eye out for it).
Myself and Lauren Kirschman will be doing the podcast throughout the season and hope to bring you interesting discussions that you won’t get anywhere else.
The second podcast has been scheduled for tomorrow morning with a coach who has a Final Four on his record. I’ll also be checking out Wisconsin Green Bay vs Duquesne tomorrow afternoon before driving up the block to catch Pitt vs Rider in the evening (Robert Morris drilled Rider by 26 last night). Green Bay features a really talented sophomore big in 7’1″ Alec Brown, while the Dukes have a sophomore star of their own in TJ McConnell.
Watched Wright State and Ohio State Friday night in a game that the Buckeyes won handily. Not sure if Ohio State is a top-3 team as of yet. They have three really good players and a lot of inexperienced parts, but those three players (Jared Sullinger, Aaron Craft and William Buford) are special, just not sure this team is as good as Thad Matta’s previous team that featured David Lighty and had Dallas Lauderdale backing up Sullinger. Time will tell.
Wright State will be up and down all year but they have a really strong first year core of Reggie Arceneaux, Tavares Sledge and Kendall Griffin. Arceneaux is a 5’8″ jet who battled Craft and Shannon Scott all night long. Sledge is a 6’9″ athlete with a body who’s capable of defending and rebounding at a high level already (I think he had 8 in 16 minutes vs OSU) while Griffin will be a steady 2/3 for the Raiders for the next four years. Sophomore big man AJ Pacher has vastly improved his game as well. Wright State has Cole Darling and Matt Vest out with injuries right now and needs their two first-year junior guards (Julius Mays and John Balwigaire) to play well if they want to compete and win games. One thing that’s different about Wright State’s team from last years squad is that Arceneaux is the only Raider who can break his man down off the dribble consistently, while last year’s team had two real creative guys off the bounce in Vaughn Duggins and N’Gai Evans.
By Raphielle Johnson
The last couple of seasons the Pac-12 Conference has been a punching bag in many college hoops conversations, with pundits pointing out that the conference has been down (let’s just say that the Pac-12 has a few freshmen who could have a legit beef with the McDonald’s All-America Game selection committee). While that has been true, with the biggest piece of evidence being their two NCAA Tournament bids in 2010, many have also ignored the fact that the league was getting better thanks to an infusion of young talent. In two seasons Arizona went from a program welcoming a new coach in Sean Miller to one basket away from the Final Four, ultimately falling to eventual champ Connecticut.
Four teams made the Big Dance last season with three winning at least one game, but now comes the tough part: building on 2010-11 in spite of the heavy losses at the top of the league. Of the 15 players named First- or Second-Team all-conference just five return, with Arizona (Derrick Williams) and UCLA (Tyler Honeycutt and Malcolm Lee) incurring the biggest of the losses. The roster turnover has resulted in a wide-open race at the top of the Pac-12, meaning that it wouldn’t be a surprise if any of the top candidates won the league. Below are my predictions for how the Pac-12 will shake out.
2010-11: 18-15, 10-8 Pac-10 (NIT)
Returning starters: 4
By Ray Mernagh
In the first installment of our Big East Preview I gave you the two teams, based on what’s known from last year’s results and the talent coming in, that should win the league’s regular season championship.
In case you missed it the two I pegged were Syracuse and UConn.
Today I look at three teams that can win it, and truth be told, injuries have made me consider making this a foursome or switching out one team for another.
The Panthers won this thing last year and they return a National Player of the Year candidate in Ashton Gibbs. My two viewings of the Panthers thus far, especially the last one vs a D3 foe, have made me more of a believer than I was beforehand (and they were going to be my third pick regardless). Pitt has a program built on winning Big East games, it’s what the staff expects and that expectation is drilled into kids the second they move into their first-year dorm in Oakland. That’s all well and good but this years squad features some pieces, some sure to be backup pieces, that would tend to make me feel giddy were I an Oakland Zoo resident. This year the rookies possess, along with one vet without a lot of playing experience, talent that gives the Panthers a squad that potentially can roll as deep and thick as ONYX used to back in the day while scaring opposing coaches as much as Sticky Fingas scared the parents of daughters who loved his crew.
By Ray Mernagh
I have a job separate from this one that, while not as fulfilling, happens to pay my mortgage every month.
At that job there’s a lady from West Virginia, Maggie who, aside from being a wonderful person and a dear friend, is a huge fan of Big East basketball. At least five times a day, like clockwork, Maggie will say “I love the Big East Ray, why do they have to do this?” over the cubicle wall that makes eye contact between us impossible unless we’re both standing.
“It’s dead Maggie,” I’ll say. “It ain’t right, but it’s dead.” And then I’ll hear the reservation sink in through her sigh that travels over the wall…until she says it again a few hours later. I feel like a cold hearted bastard telling a little kid there’s no Santa Claus. But as we all know, Big East basketball is, within the next few years, dead as we know it.
It’s a funny thing too, because Maggie isn’t talking about Big East football — although she and her husband Terry never miss a WVU football game. Nope, she’s talking about hoops, Huggs, and all the magical sh!t that goes with that combination when you place it within the Big East — New York City, Madison Square Garden at Big East Tournament time and the sea of Mountaineer fans that love the fact that they’re a part of such a fantastic league.
A media poll of 24 writers who cover the Big 10 was released earlier this week and they all agreed that Ohio State is this season’s favorite in the conference. The Buckeyes received all 24 1st-place votes to easily out-distance the field. The rest of the league is a little less certain in the eyes of the writers, with four teams receiving second place votes as the voting varied greatly from one ballot to the next. Here is the media poll results, with range of selections in parenthesis:
1. Ohio State, 288 (1)
2. Wisconsin, 248 (2-5)
3. Michigan, 233 (2-6)
4. Michigan State, 219 (2-6)
5. Purdue, 194 (2-9)
6. Illinois, 150 (4-9)
7. Minnesota, 142 (3-10)
8. Northwestern, 115 (6-11)
9. Indiana, 111 (5-12)
10. Iowa, 86 (6-12)
11. Nebraska, 60 (8-11)
12. Penn State, 26 (11-12)
Of course this is a new-look Big 10 as Nebraska joins the conference as the 12th member. Why the name of the Big 10 still? Who really know anymore with college sports. Only in this day and age of conference re-shuffling can the Big 12 have 10 teams and the Big 12 have 12 teams. Makes sense…
At the official Big 10 (plus 2) media day, the league releases their official preseason polls. The conference chooses to release only the top-three in the team voting and, to nobody’s surprise, Ohio State was the preseason favorite in that poll as well, followed by Wisconsin and Michigan State. The Big Ten also announced that Ohio State’s Jared Sullinger has been tabbed as the conference’s preseason player of the year. Also on the preseason all-Big Ten team were Purdue’s Robbie Hummel, Minnesota’s Trevor Mbakwe, Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor and Michigan State’s Draymond Green.
With little surprise, the media members of the SEC put John Calipari’s Kentucky Wildcats as the preseason favorite as announced earlier in the week at the conference’s media day. The Wildcats received 282 total points (18 first-place votes), ahead of second-place Vanderbilt’s 265 points (four first-place votes). Florida (235 points) was the only other school to receive a first place vote.
The SEC will have a new look this season, scrapping the two-division East/West format for a one-division, 12-team set-up. It is the first time since 1992 that the SEC has not gone with a two-division set-up.
The media also voted on all-league teams with Kentucky sophomore Terrence Jones being the choice of the media for SEC Men’s Basketball Player of the Year with 12 votes. Jones responded by scoring 52 points in the annual Blue-White Kentucky scrimmage this week. Vanderbilt junior John Jenkins finished second (nine votes) while Alabama senior JaMychal Green (one vote) and Kentucky freshman Anthony Davis (one vote) also received votes in the Player of the Year voting.
Here is the full results of the media voting (first place votes in parenthesis):
1) Kentucky (18), 282 points
2) Vanderbilt (4), 265 points
3) Florida (1), 235 points
4) Alabama, 219 points
5) Mississippi State, 191 points
6) Arkansas, 154 points
7) Mississippi, 119 points
8} Georgia, 108 points
9) LSU, 91 points
10) Auburn, 80 points
11) Tennessee, 71 points
12) South Carolina, 57 points
Preseason Player of the Year: Terrence Jones, Kentucky
1st Team All-SEC:
JaMychal Green, Alabama
Dee Bost, Mississippi State
Jeffery Taylor, Vanderbilt
John Jenkins, Vanderbilt
Terrence Jones, Kentucky
2nd Team All-SEC:
Darius Miller, Kentucky
Anthony Davis, Kentucky
Doron Lamb, Kentucky
Festus Ezeli, Vanderbilt
Kenny Boynton, Florida
Erving Walker, Florida
By RAY MERNAGH
Will this season signal the Return of the MAC?
MAC basketball is a subject that will always stay, at minimum, in my peripheral — like James Worthy stayed in Magic’s during the Showtime Era in LA (By the way, that NBA Video game commercial is really ticking me off. The three biggest gripes I have with it: 1) Drake shouldn’t be in it, if they wanted to publicize a myth that so many young fans believe up to this point, either about the Heat or about Lebron, they should’ve gone with this scene from an entirely forgettable movie last year; 2) The aforementioned Showtime Lakers were a fading memory when Detroit blitzed them, although that didn’t stop me from completely and utterly enjoying it ; and 3) Bird dunked quite a few times in his career).
Sorry for the rant, back to the MAC. The league has a storied history and was at the top of any best lists for years when it came to leagues that don’t reside in the big-money neighborhoods of college athletics. That’s changed over the last several years, with the MAC falling from a consistent #10-11-12-type spot to as low as the 20′s…having said that, the talent in the league this season seems pretty good. Kent State is the only sure-fire favorite, any other site that prognosticates otherwise should be laughed at and clicked off of immediately. Anybody arguing that someone other than the Golden Flashes are the on paper favorite needs their head examined.
Still, there’s at least 5 or 6 teams capable and possessing enough talent to, with the right breaks, actually win this league. The key to both in-conference success and attention gathering wins out of conference at the MAC level — IMHO — is to have strong returning players. And the league is full of vets coming back for their second, third and fourth years, as well as some transfers that could add to puzzles already seemingly primed for an upswing (keep your eyes on Chris Evans at Kent State and Walter Offutt at Ohio).
Part of the MAC’s trouble has been the divisional alignment of the league. It’s been a mistake since they did it and has hampered — really done away with– what was once a great regular season conference race and replaced it with one dominant division the East, and one lesser light in the West. Winning the West has been good for getting coaches contract extensions. Finishing third or lower in the West has been good for getting coaches fired.
The MAC has changed the conference tournament seeding system so that it will no longer automatically reward one division winner with the #2 seed (which is smart). The West is still not as strong as the East but it does have two teams, Ball State and Western Michigan, that have been proclaimed, based on last year’s results and returning players, ready to challenge for the league’s top spot. Both have talent, toughness and some decent size returning. They will no doubt battle for the West.
Toledo should be helped by an infusion of guys that are eligible to suit up following transfer years. Eastern Michigan and Northern Illinois offer the hope that comes with new coaching hires (Rob Murphy and Mark Montgomery). The West division has also been riddled, in retrospect, with poor coaching hires in years past. Some just didn’t work out on the court in wins and losses (Eastern Michigan) while others were complete abominations that had people scratching their heads from day one (Ball State, NIU and Toledo). The current coaches at those three spots have a chance to right their collective ships.
Time will tell.
So let’s take a look at the East Division first followed by the West. The entire East is full of capable teams should Kent falter. The league breaks down into one clear favorite and a bunch of teams that are just a tier below that favorite.
And that’s how we’re going to preview it.
By N.D. Kendrick
It is time to take a look at the Big Ten Preseason predictions now that we know who is heading to the NBA and who is coming back. It should be a down year for the Big Ten as far as teams but plenty of young talent is heading to the conference.
1. Ohio State (34-3, 16-2 Big Ten)
Key Losses: Sr. G John Diebler (12.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg), Sr. G David Lighty (12.1 ppg, 4.0 rpg), Sr. C DallasLauderdale (4.2 ppg, 4.0 rpg)
Key Returnees: Jr. F William Buford (14.3 ppg, 3.2rpg), Fr. C Jared Sullinger (17.5 ppg, 10.9 rpg), Fr. G Aaron Craft (6.9 ppg, 2.9 spg), Fr. G DeshaunThomas (7.6 ppg)
Key Additions: C Amir Williams, PG Shannon Scott, SF LaQuinton Ross, SF Sam Thompson
The Skinny: Unlike past years the Buckeyes bring back a ton of experience in Sully, Buford and Craft, while the other young man — Deshaun Thomas has a year of experience in the Matta system. Ross, and Shannon Scott should get the bulk of the few minutes that will be available from the bench.