It looked like Ball State, behind the deep shooting and attack-dribble of Jauwan Scaife, was set on continuing their hot late season run of wins. BSU was knocking down shots–Scaife had 17 at the break — and handling Buffalo’s spread offense pretty effectively in the first half last night. Everything was working beautifully for Billy Taylor’s group but their 36-30 halftime lead felt like it should have been bigger –the Bulls had missed some point blank chances at the hoop and also turned the ball over 9 times. Then three things happened things happened that helped Buffalo finish with a comfortable 15 point win: 1) Will Regan went bananas, thus allowing Buffalo’s offense to open up even more and causing Ball State to chase them more. 2) Tony Watson, Buffalo’s fine young point guard, really got into Scaife in the second half and limited him almost completely until garbage time and 3) Ball State shot just 25% in the second twenty minutes of action while continuing to turn the ball over.
Sad day today. Thoughts go out to Nerlens Noel. I hope he can return and get back to the form that will allow him to see the millions of dollars he’s now no doubt worrying about never making. Terrible situation.
For those of you unaware, Noel’s knee buckled and slammed into the basket support in Gainesville last night after he chased down a sure layup and turned it into another block. Noel’s been a defensive shot-blocking extraordinaire seemingly since he came out of the womb. It’s what he was put here to do –block shots.
I distinctly remember watching Noel in Orlando a few years back while in the company of a former Big East head coach with strong ties to the Massachusetts area and the BABC travel team Noel was competing for. The conversation centered on the injury history the young kid had already suffered through up to that point, and how he was finally healthy and was starting to become a monster. The coach wisely predicted, before I’d heard anyone else speak on the topic, that Noel would –barring another injury — probably reclassify up and join the High Major world sooner rather than later.
Pitt needed to dominate somebody after their two straight losses to start Big East play– at home against Cincinnati and at Rutgers.
It was just icing on the cake that it was Georgetown on the road in basically a 30-point shellacking. Georgetown has problems, especially offensively. JT3 would probably be better served by isolating Otto Porter as much as possible and letting him try and go to work and create for himself and others from the mid-post area. But this blurb is about Pitt and what they need to do to build on this win and not fall back to where they were before this result (we’ll tackle the Hoyas and their issues at a later date).
It’s never been more evident that this Pittsburg team needs to play with pace as much as possible. James Robinson and Tray Woodall both make good decisions in transition and when they push the pace it tends to give athletic shooters like Durand Johnson (who needs to continue to see his minutes increase) and JJ Moore shots in rhythm off the secondary break or the chance to attack the rim on the hard, desperate closeouts those kind of situations create. Playing with pace also counters the areas where Pitt can struggle. Easy baskets are good for this team because in the half-court they often settle for late-clock contested three point attempts that lead to bad results.
By Ray Mernagh
Karvel Anderson had just connected on his fourth consecutive three-pointer when he turned, smiled, and cackled the way that, well, any of us would if we had just happened to hit four consecutive three-pointers in a highly competitive Division One basketball game. As Anderson ran back to play defense, I looked directly across the court at Ohio coach Jimmy Christian who was most definitely not cackling. Christian’s distorted face was twisted up in an expressive equation of angry + frustrated x helpless = powerless.
Yeah, Anderson’s first look of the night might have been wide open, but his remaining seven looks from distance were all contested by Bobcat hands. And it didn’t matter. On this night, nothing any defender could muster was going to deter Karvel Anderson. He was gettin’ buckets and nobody was stopping him. Anderson was a perfect 10-10 from the floor (8-8 from deep) for a career high 28 points. His last make was a dagger three-pointer (of course) that put Robert Morris up 80-73 and assured the Ohio fans that came to Moon Township in force that they could head for the parking lot — their Bobcats would be tasting defeat for the first time this season.
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.
Daquein McNeil is a grinder. By the time the sun comes up in leafy Vermont, he’s already hard at work, bucking the odds.
Whether he’s perfecting his skill-set on the hardwood, getting stronger in the weight room, or cracking a book, everything McNeil does on a daily basis is done with one goal in mind — to prove the perception that exists about kids like him wrong.
“People don’t think kids like me will amount to anything,” says McNeil, “kids from East Baltimore aren’t expected to make it.”
McNeil makes it a little each day. He makes it just by waking up and realizing he’s safe. He makes it by understanding he’s in a place, at Vermont Academy, that gives him a chance.
And for a kid like Daquein McNeil, who can still feel the pulse of the Latrobe Projects coursing through his veins, a real chance isn’t always something you can count on. It’s evident when you speak to McNeil that the young man is wise beyond his years. He understands he deserves what he’s been given because he’s put in the work, but he also knows that nothing is ever guaranteed in life (except for the sounds of sirens ringing out 24/7 in East Baltimore).
“Most of my friends from Baltimore are either dead or locked up,” says McNeil, “none of them were really trying to play ball or anything like that.”
But McNeil wasn’t only trying to play ball, he was playing it well enough to run with Baltimore Elite on the AAU circuit.
And it was at a tournament a few years ago, in the under 15 division of the Playaz event in New Jersey, that McNeil first met a man that would become influential in his college decision. “We played New Heights in the final four that year,” says McNeil, “and I played pretty well against Coach Kimani Young’s team.” The two spoke afterwards and Young would often check in with McNeal’s coach and ask about the kid who scored bucket after bucket against his team.
“He was always asking how I was doing and my coach would let me know that,” says McNeil. “When he got hired as an assistant at FIU, it was definitely a place I was going to check out.”
McNeil’s relationship with Young was vital to get his attention focused on FIU, but he says once he visited the campus in Miami and experienced Richard Pitino’s program firsthand, he really understood it was the best place for him. “Coach Young was huge,” says McNeil, “but it was a collective effort by the whole staff and players once I went down there.” And the funny thing is that the kid from Baltimore wasn’t dazzled by the sunshine or South Beach.
In fact — “It rained when I was there,” says McNeil, laughing.
So what attracted him to the point where he gave a verbal commitment to FIU yesterday?
“The way they worked reminded me of how we do things here at Vermont Academy,” says McNeil. “They worked out at 6 am and then they came back later and lifted. It was all business, but upbeat too, and I just wanted to be a part of it.”
Hard work was the attraction.
One other thing — McNeil says we shouldn’t buy into the perception that FIU will struggle this season.
“They’re going to surprise people,” says McNeil, “they work too hard not to have success.”
Daquein McNeal knows about hard work, about how the perception doesn’t have to be the reality.
Daquein McNeil’s the epitome of the word.
Kevin Ollie wanted a chance to coach his alma mater and now he’s gotten it…in the form of a one season contract.
Everyone has an opinion on the deal, and most fall somewhere within the range of he’s being set up to fail to the Husky roster isn’t nearly talented enough for him to succeed.
The problem with the first opinion, which seems to be the consensus, is that it completely fails to take the man into consideration. Kevin Ollie and his history suggest the opposite.
The second opinion is garbage.
But let’s start with the man in question, Kevin Ollie, and his history.
Ollie came out of Crenshaw High School in L.A., where he displayed a steely resolve to stay out of trouble off the court, but also a toughness on the court that made him an attractive recruit to then UConn assistant Howie Dickenman. Ollie was the unquestioned leader of three Husky squads before graduating. Most thought he would play overseas for a while, especially after not being drafted, before going into business or coaching. Ollie ignored the perception surrounding his hoops future and did what he’s always done. He went to work. First the CBA, and then incredibly, the NBA.
Below is the list of teams Ollie played for in his 13 year career.
00-01 New Jersey
That list represents a lot of 10 day contracts parlayed into full seasons and the value placed on Ollie’s kind of leadership inside NBA locker rooms. It’s a tale of Ollie receiving a lot of calls come spring or summer from GM’s offering employment, because they knew that Ollie’s ego was non-existent and that he’d do the job on the court when called upon. That’s being a highly respected pro. A team-first guy in a league that seems to acquire its fair share of me-first guys.
Ollie’s first year on the bench beside Jim Calhoun resulted in a national title. Talking with him in the bowels of the Garden after UConn beat Pitt on Thursday of that crazy week, I asked him if he thought that team – a team that finished ninth in the regular season – could win the Big East Tournament. He held my gaze for a second or two and responded, “I think we can win the whole thing!”
He was talking about the NCAA Tournament. And of course, they did win it all, reeling off wins on Friday and Saturday in NYC, followed by six more on their way to Jim Calhoun’s third title.
Eleven straight wins, and following the third of eleven, Ollie was already preaching that the impossible was possible.
Telling Kemba Walker he was the best player in the country. Telling Jeremy Lamb that he couldn’t be stopped. Telling Roscoe Smith that nobody could box him out. Telling Tyler Olander they needed big things from him. Telling Shabazz Napier that he was a key. Telling all of them that the workouts they’d gone through together were about to pay off. The list goes on but basically Ollie was preaching the gospel according to KO. A guy that turned one or two isolated and minute chances into a 13 year NBA career.
And about that dearth of talent?
Tyler Olander had offers from Florida, Notre Dame, Virginia, Wake and Rhode Island.
Ryan Boatright has proven he’s special and had Oklahoma, UNLV and WVU wanting him.
Napier’s played a key role on a championship team and seen what happened the following disappointing year.
DeAndre Daniels had lightweights like Duke, Kansas, Florida, and Kentucky after him and was a top-10 talent.
Phil Nolan had offers from a myriad of high majors despite a transient high school career.
Omar Calhoun had everyone offering except Kentucky and UNC.
The roster has three top 40 players, plus role players in Niels Giffey and RJ Evans.
Last year’s team had two lottery picks and went 9-13 after an 11-1 start. This team is thin upfront but so are most of the teams they’ll go to battle against. Ollie will put guys in position to score with a perimeter heavy lineup.
So what if Ollie wins the same amount of games as last year’s group or even a few less minus two lottery picks?
Who’s in a better position come April when his contract expires?
Manuel, a new AD whose signature program had success despite a coach under a 7-month contract who really couldn’t, in good faith, recruit over that time span (despite getting a miraculous in-home visit with Jabari Parker and family). All of a sudden he’s a guy who has to decide whether to extend the favorite son who everyone loves or roll the dice on someone wanting the job who’s better.
Or Kevin Ollie? A free agent coach who got a group of kids with no postseason prospects to ball out. Who now has high major head coaching experience, to go along with strong ties to the NBA, and roots on both coasts.
If Ollie has success, with his personality and experience, there will be strong interest in him.
So, you can go ahead and believe that Warde Manuel has set Kevin Ollie up to fail if you want. That’s your prerogative.
The belief here, until proven otherwise, is that this decision will end up costing UConn.
Hopefully for the Husky Nation, it will only cost them in the pocketbook when they have to dig deep to keep Kevin Ollie. Because the man’s history has proven it’s unwise to bet against him…and when you really think about it, that’s kind of what his boss has done.
Wes Clark became a top 100 guard the old fashioned way — through extremely hard work and an attention to detail when it came to honing his craft.
Defensively, Clark will sit down and get into his man like few other guards with his accolades.
The perimeter star comes from two highly successful programs out of the Detroit area — The Family is his Grassroots/AAU squad while Romulus High is the jersey he represented during his high school season (Terry Mills, Grant Long and John Long are three of many Romulus studs to light up scoreboards throughout the years).
Missouri had a pipeline back in the day with Michigan prep players, but a recent hire by head man Frank Haith may have reignited and brightened a path that’s been somewhat dim for a number of years. Wes Clark was on Missouri’s radar for sure, but when Haith hired Rick Carter as an assistant from Western Michigan on August 14th, the pursuit of Clark was taken to another level. Carter is a bulldog, a grinder in the classic basketball/gym rat/junkie sense.
Like so many assistants at the mid major level, all he ever needed or was looking for, was a chance at the highest level (no Rob Murphy, not the NBA, the SEC or any other high major league). But first he had to pay his dues and, as things always seem to go in the basketball world, also have a little luck with who he ran into along the way. The assistant got his start on the Michigan AAU scene with the Mustangs before moving on to Michigan State in a managerial role for Tom Izzo (I remember seeing him constantly around Izzo when I was writing a book back in the day). He parlayed that into an Operations job at Fairfield for a year before becoming an assistant in his second season in the MAAC under Ed Cooley. Carter left Fairfield after two years to study under veteran coach Steve Hawkins at Western Michigan. Hawkins is a guy who in recent years has had assistants hired away by the programs at Michigan, Iowa State, Alabama, NC State and now Missouri. And relationships definitely played a role in Carter’s break.
One of the friendships Carter developed while at Fairfield was with Tim Fuller. When Ryan Miller left Mizzou suddenly to take a huge promotion at Auburn about a month ago, I imagine Fuller was in Haith’s ear about Carter, and the prospects the 33-year-old assistant might be able to get the Tigers “in” with rather quickly. Carter is a hard worker in the scouting and coaching department as well, but he’s also known Romulus coach Nate Oats for 12 years, and that had to be a plus (not to mention the talent coming up in Michigan over the next few years).
I tweeted about Carter’s addition at Missouri on August 8th.
He was officially hired on August 14th.
Wes Clark committed to Missouri on August 29th.
Carter finally got his chance — in the SEC — and in his first turn at bat hit a monster rope off the center field wall.
Haith and company now have their heir apparent to Phil Pressey at point guard… thanks to a nice assist from their new addition.
Villanova Gets O’Leary’d
Jay Wright was looking to capitalize by adding an assistant to his staff with strong connections to the power base of prospects currently entrenched in Keith Stevens’ Team Takeover grassroots powerhouse and the talent at Paul V HS in Virginia. It appeared as if Wright hit the daily double when he added Doug Martin to his staff last week. Martin has had a profile on the bench of each team for the last several years and is very close with players in the next 3-to-4 recruiting classes coming through both programs.
But shortly after adding Martin there was a discovery of some possible shenanigans on a resume he handed in, a resume claiming Martin played under the legendary UWGB coach Dick Bennett (who also had successful stints at Stevens Point, Wisconsin and Washington State to name a few). Turns out nobody at Green Bay has ever heard of Martin. It also turns out that Dick Bennett has never heard of, or coached, Doug Martin either. Villanova is looking into the situation — you think?!
This is a headache for Wright, one that he really doesn’t need. It’s also a headache that never should have happened. Jay Wright first call needed to be to Dick Bennett the minute he saw the resume (and if he didn’t see it that’s a whole other story because he should see every resume of any candidate he’s considering). Here’s how that scenario would have played out.
Wright: “Coach, How are you? It’s Jay Wright at Nova.”
Bennett: “Jay, how are you, what’s going on?”
Wright: “Just wanted to get your take on one of your old players at Green Bay that I’m thinking about hiring.”
Bennett: “Awesome, I’m surprised they haven’t reached out to me to call you though, who is it?”
Wright: “Doug Martin.”
Bennett: “Never heard of him Jay.”
Wright: “Thanks coach, sorry for wasting your time.”
Wright hangs up and then dials another number.
Wright: “Keith, you got another coach for me, Doug lied on his resume.”
Stevens: “What a Dumb #$$, yeah coach I’ll email you a list in an hour after I make sure they’re clean. Sorry about that.”
Wright: “Hey, stuff happens.”
I mean, the fact that this guy didn’t change his resume the second that Tony Freaking Bennett got hired at the University of Virginia a few years back tells you all you need to know. Didn’t he think eventually somebody would bring it up? It’s sad that a guy with a chance to move into a six-figure career, completely by-passing the levels that so many others have to go through, would throw it away because of a useless lie on a piece of paper.
Possible Marquette Violation No Big Deal
Marquette, just like 100′s of other programs, self-reported a possible NCAA violation. It would be no big deal except the release that the school put out failed to specify what kind of violation it was, which led to all kinds of posts and reports about an “NCAA Violation” being reported by Marquette . I have it on good authority that it was a secondary violation the likes of which get reported every day to the NCAA. It’s minor. So, no worries Marquette fans.
Tweet Tweet Tweet…EWWW
Tom Crean’s been thinking a lot about you lately…a whole lot.
By now I’m sure you’ve read about the tweet Crean sent out, allegedly meant for a recruit, that sounded rather creepy.
Step your tweet game up coach….because that last one ain’t right.
Crean also received some bad news when Trey Lyles reopened his recruitment after pledging to Indiana with his first words out of the womb.
My guess? Lyles eventually matriculates to Kentucky.
CBS Asked and Coaches Answered
CBSsports.com asked a bunch of coaches who they perceived to be college basketball’s biggest cheaters?
The runaway winners were John Calipari and Scott Drew. Of course each coach that answered did so with anonymity and CBS’ Gary Parrish was quick to point out that he didn’t want anyone saying “CBSsports.com says the biggest cheaters are” because they were just reporting what the coaches said.
I understand that…I think you understand that… but something tells me Cal and Drew will be plenty unhappy with CBSSPORTS.com
The funny thing is that almost every coach thinks anyone who beat him for a kid cheated — Cal and Drew have gotten a ton of highly coveted players. Tom Izzo recently talked about the fact that he’s lost players to other coaches who cheat but until a coach like Izzo wants to step up and say “coach x paid so and so 50k to get that kid” he should stop whining and also be careful. It’s crazy that most of us still seem to buy the whole (insert name of coach here) “is full of character and clean” compared to all the others propaganda. I’m sorry to break it to you but nobodies squeaky clean….nobody! Didn’t we learn anything from the recent Penn State scandal? Everybody is human…and humans tend to act in their own self-interest and justify it.
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.
The opening tip of the NBA Finals is still about 40 hours away as I begin writing this and even that short span of time seems entirely too long to have to wait for the show we’re about to get.
Make no mistake about this series, it will answer many questions while raising plenty of new ones.
So lets do a little preliminary digging into this matchup, starting of course with the best two players in the league.
LeBron James has been ridiculous throughout the playoffs and became a downright killer in games 6 and 7 of the conference finals, while Kevin Durant has been a killer consistently, especially offensively late in games. The anticipation for this head-to-head is greater than any other head-to-head in several years. It will be revealing how much time each player spends checking the other as I really don’t see any “real” options on either team to put on these two studs. Battier may get a possession here or there but that won’t be effective as Durant will just shoot over him once he gets to a comfortable spot from which to do so. Bosh and Haslem may both get their turns but who’re we kidding right? The King has to check Durant doesn’t he? OKC may want to throw multiple bodies at James as well. The best bet for the Thunder is if James starts settling for, and missing, jump shots. I don’t see this happening though as I think LeBron will be in full-attack mode in the search for his first title.
Bosh could counter Ibaka’s shot blocking presence if he can pull him away and make three-pointers like he did against Boston in the clincher.
Who the hell does the Heat put on Russell Westbrook?
James Harden is another problem for Miami defensively in my opinion.
Which coach makes the better game-to-game adjustments?
Lots of questions, some of which will be answered tonight with game 1 tipping off in prime time.
My early pick? OKC in 7.
Let’s do this!
Jabari Parker Overexposed?
Scott Powers wrote about Jabari Parker the other day. Powers did a good job, as is the norm with his daily ritual of updating us on big stories from the Windy City. And well, with the Bulls exiting the Playoffs prematurely, the biggest hoops-related story in the basketball-mad Chi-City has been Jabari Parker, the 6’9″ basketball talent from the legendary program at Simeon. Parker is pretty much unchallenged at this point for the #1 spot in the high school class of 2013. Throughout the piece Powers quotes Parker’s father — Sonny — lamenting the exposure his son is receiving and how it’s negatively effecting his sons ability to just be the normal kid he wants to be. Now, I would be the first to argue that if you don’t want your son to be inundated with media exposure then it’s probably best to say “no” to Sports Illustrated when they ask him to pose for a cover story that hypes him as the best HS player since LeBron James, a piece that IMHO really went out of its way to brand Jabari, at an extremely young age, as a sort of Mormon Tim Tebow. Sonny Parker makes some good points, especially when he argues how social media has really brought all kinds of new and not so great attention to young ballplayers. The following quote — shown below from Powers piece that is linked above in the first sentence — is where Parker completely loses me however.
Okay, I give you permission…No, really, you can admit that you’re now watching the NBA because if you’re not, you’re going to miss the best basketball you’ll watch all year over the next two weeks — I guarantee it for a number of reasons.
The defensive intensity — yes they play it in the NBA despite what everybody who doesn’t watch the NBA claims.
Stephen Jackson, and the energy he exerted last night trying to bother Kevin Durant was my favorite match up of the first game of the Western Conference Finals. A game, by the way, won by the Spurs, their 19th win in a row, despite the fact that they probably played at around 78% effectiveness offensively. Think about that. The Spurs played poorly — for them — on offense but still managed to pull it together enough to score 101 points and beat the Thunder by 3.
The Ball Movement
Watch how many open shots the Spurs get, how they send their opponent’s defense scrambling after either Tony Parker or Manu Ginobili get into the lane or turn a corner off the dribble. They’ll send a simple bounce pass to a cutter, throw back to a shooter, or attack the basket themselves. Any of these decisions inevitably lead to either an open shot or a series of pop-pop-pop passes that result in an open shot. The Spurs are skilled and surgeon-like offensively (an incredible 51% on 111 three-point-attempts vs the Thunder over the last two seasons). Which leads me to the next reason why you should watch this series in particular.
POP — Gregg Popovich is the best basketball coach in the world and he has been for several years. He’s completely gone away from the style that won 4 titles and embraced a new one that gives his team their best chance to win. A lot is being made, incorrectly, in the media today of Pop’s “snarling plea” to his team to get nasty heading into the 4th quarter last night. Pop was not snarling, in fact he was rather calm and his plea actually began with the question “Are we having fun yet?” He then went on to explain to his team that this — the Playoffs and trying to win a championship — isn’t going to be easy. The “nasty” comment was meant to relate what needed to go into the effort that every single aspect of the game had to include in order for his team to come out victorious. How they needed to drive the ball extra hard, how they had to move the ball with more urgency, how they had to understand just how good the dudes wearing the other jerseys are and what it’s going to take to best them. A lot of coaches really think they’re smart. They think they’re geniuses and they’re not afraid to explain that to you. Popovich is exactly the opposite, he’s not interested in letting anyone know how smart he is, he just wants to coach his team in his way and be left the hell alone. But here’s the thing: Pop is truly that dude that all those other posers think they are. Pop could actually sit down with the world leaders in different areas and hold his own. He could really be doing anything he wanted to do in life and it’s his choice to coach ball because he loves it that much and understands its what makes him happiest. I had to laugh at a piece I read out of Orlando bemoaning the fact that Stan Van Gundy and Dwight Howard had missed out on their chance to be another version of Pop and Tim Duncan. I laughed because just a few weeks ago I read a profile of Duncan in SI that included the story about how Pop flew to Duncan’s home in the Virgin Islands and spent 4 days or so with his new draft pick swimming in the ocean and talking about life on the beach. It went on to explain that when Duncan was weighing leaving the Spurs for Orlando about a decade ago that he and Pop figured it out over beers in Pop’s backyard. Let’s just say I can’t see Van Gundy, and especially Howard, being able to even have a conversation that didn’t go through the media first. But yeah, they could’ve been another Pop and Duncan. Anyway, Popovich is really good, the best at his craft, and any coach worth his salt realizes that. So watch how he does it with a mixed bag of talent and personalities. Watch how his bench reacts, how the dudes not playing are standing right behind him during short timeouts. It’s the perfect example of a team, an example that’s too often missing in today’s sporting landscape, especially at the highest level. My last reason is just that, the level.
Talent and Pace
Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook are exquisite talents. Diamonds really. Durant is a 6’10″ scorer in the mold of, well, how about a mixture of George Gervin, Michel Ray Richardson and Larry Bird? He’s so rare, moves so smoothly with or without the ball and plays so hard that it’s really just ridiculous how freaking skilled and good he is. Plus he plays through contact and doesn’t bitch over every little call. Westbrook is a jet, a young point guard still coming into his own while being the third player in NBA history to accumulate 5,000 points, 1,900 assists and 1,300 rebounds in his first 274 games (Magic Johnson and Oscar Robertson are the others). Tim Duncan is a top-10 player of all time and probably this generation’s most under-appreciated superstar. He’s got 4 titles and is working towards a 5th. Tony Parker is as fast or faster than Westbrook with the ball in his hands. Ginobili is an offensive force who flings his body all over the floor.
The pace of last night’s game was like what the Chicago Skyway would be if they gave every driver Turbo Porsches at the toll booth. It was crazy last night although a bit sloppy. Both teams will only get sharper now that the series is underway. Do yourself a favor if you dig basketball and watch.
You won’t be sorry.
By Ray Mernagh
I remember my exact thoughts when Illinois State cut ties with their old coach and hired Tim Jankovich a few years back.
That guy’s inheriting a helluva team and is going to win big and get a huge job off of Porter Moser and his staff’s hard work.
It didn’t exactly work out that way.
Osiris Eldridge, a splendid guard left over in the coaching change from Moser to Jankovich (who sported a sweet haircut) never got to taste the NCAA tournament. Jankovich got to three conference title games but came up short each time and his non-conference schedule never gave his talented teams a chance for an at-large berth throughout his tenure in Bloomington-Normal. Of course I’m talking in the past tense here because yesterday it was announced that “Coach Jank” is leaving the Redbirds to become an assistant for Larry Brown at SMU. I guess it’s been implied/agreed/stated that he will be the next head coach once Brown decides to leave next week….okay, I’m joking (sort of).
And this decision by Jankovich, to me, is mind boggling from a strictly moral standpoint. I understand he got a raise. I understand SMU is moving into the Big East even though I’m not really sure, nor is anyone else, what the Big East exactly is or will be going forward.
Here’s what’s clear to me. One– Jankovich had a really talented team returning. Two– he has one of the better jobs in the Valley, a league where teams can get an at-large if they schedule even 2-3 good games out of the league. And three, most importantly, Jankovich has a roster and staff full of folks that believed in him and are just now realizing that when crunch time came — that belief wasn’t returned. All three of Jank’s assistants have families and suddenly, in just about freaking May, they’re without any clue of what their future holds.
The one hope is that the past week or so hasn’t really been about Jank trying to decide if he should take the SMU offer but instead has been about the coach making sure his entire staff is taken care of. I doubt that’s the case though. There’s a report that Rob Judson is guaranteed to stay on the next staff no matter what but that report probably doesn’t make Anthony Beane, his wife Katrina or his two sons (one who recently committed to ISU) feel any better. It certainly doesn’t make Paris Parham, his wife Keisha or their two boys feel secure either. When a man accepts a head coaching job it comes with a lot of perks, but one of the biggest responsibilities it comes with is the knowledge that your every move can effect families that have put their faith in you.
Jankovich also leaves behind 5 freshmen, 3 sophomores and six juniors on his old roster. He’s pulled this move before, leaving a head job back in the day to go work as an assistant at Kansas. It makes me wonder if Jank ever understood the history of the Valley or his now former program’s role in that storied history? It also makes me wonder how confident Jankovich is in his abilities.
After all, he had a roster, and a point guard in Nic Moore, that just about every non-big-six-conference coach would kill for…and he quit on them.
By Ray Mernagh
Duquesne fired head basketball coach Ron Everhart Friday. While the move surprised many, you could see it coming if you’d been paying attention to the program on the Bluff over the last few years. Player turnover was a definite problem. If Everhart, a great guy and a good coach, had been axed on a Friday in March of say 2013, or 2014, it would’ve been understandable. That kind of timing would’ve allowed for his latest class, featuring two really talented kids, to have a season under their belt and possibly get the Dukes back to an A-10 final like the memorable run Aaron Jackson had led them on back in 2009.
Duquesne’s AD Greg Amodio came to the campus in Uptown with great fanfare due to his time at A-10 power Xavier. In his first signature move he hired Everhart.
It was a great hire.
Duquesne wasn’t in the basement of D-1 basketball, it was in the bomb shelter attached to the basement by the long tunnel through the sewage. And no matter how much Dukes fans wanted it to be true, neither Norm Nixon or Sihugo Green were walking through the doors of the Palumbo.
March 13, 8:28 PM:
Gracious sakes alive in the name of John Wooden.
I can understand your dislike for this event I mean, dang, it’s not like some team from the CAA will get in unexpectedly, get routinely bashed by everyone from Joe Lunardi to Jay Bilas and, in-spite of all the negativity, still win five games to get to the final four….oh wait.
Iona vs BYU
Machado vs Carlino — two great guards with really good support. This could be a great game and the winner has a chance to win 1-2 “real” games afterwards.
Vermont vs Lamar
My hope for this one of Lamar’s seniors to hit a deep three from the corner to win it at the buzzer, dig a blunt out of his sock, light it up and blow the smoke in Pat Knight’s face. Would that change your un-American view of the First Four?
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The First Four (Round One) – University of Dayton Arena
-Mississippi Valley State vs. Western Kentucky
-Lamar vs. Vermont
-BYU vs. Iona
-California vs. South Florida
ROUNDS 2 & 3 (Various Sites):
PITTSBURGH – Consol Energy Center — Thurs/Sat
–Syracuse vs. UNC-Asheville
–Kansas State vs. Southern Miss
–Gonzaga vs. West Virginia
–Ohio State vs. Loyola (MD)
LOUISVILLE – KFC Yum! Center — Thurs/Sat
–Kentucky vs. Miss. Valley St/WKU winner
–Iowa State vs. Connecticut
–Murray State vs. Colorado State
–Marquette vs.BYU/Iona winner
Columbus – Nationwide Arena — Fri/Sun
–Michigan State vs. LIU-Brooklyn
–Memphis vs. St. Louis
–San Diego State vs. NC State
–Georgetown vs. Belmont
Greensboro – Greensboro Coliseum — Fri/Sun
–Notre Dame vs. Xavier
–Duke vs. Lehigh
–North Carolina vs. Lamar/Vermont winner
–Creighton vs. Alabama
Portland – Rose Garden — Thurs/Sat
–Wichita State vs. VCU
–Indiana vs. New Mexico State
–New Mexico vs. Long Beach State
–Louisville vs. Davidson
Nashville – Bridgestone Arena — Fri/Sun
–Cincinnati vs. Texas
–Florida State vs. St. Bonaventure
–Temple vs. California/South Florida winner
–Michigan vs. Ohio
Omaha – Century Link Center — Fri/Sun
–Florida vs. Virginia
–Missouri vs. Norfolk State
–St. Mary’s vs. Purdue
–Kansas vs. Detroit
Albuquerque – The Pit — Thurs/Sat
–UNLV vs. Colorado
–Baylor vs. South Dakota State
–Vanderbilt vs. Harvard
–Wisconsin vs. Montana
REGIONAL FINALS (Sweet 16 & Elite 8):
Boston – TD Garden
Atlanta – Georgia Dome
Phoenix – US Airways Center
St. Louis – Edward Jones Dome
2012 NCAA FINAL FOUR – New Orleans Mercedes-Benz Superdome
By Ray Mernagh
MAC Daddy Dandy
The hoops world saw last night why the MAC is so freaking awesome even with all its warts. What a game! Ohio and Akron put on a championship battle that was better than 98% of all the conference title games played s far. Ohio got the dub 64-63 behind some great play by point guard DJ Cooper, clutch shooting from Ivo Baltic, and as always is the case in title games, some good fortune. What a game, what a crowd, and what a couple of blueprints to follow in building programs for any AD or dreaming coach to follow in Akron and Ohio. Keith Dambrot’s team was making their sixth straight Saturday night appearance while john Groce was winning his second in four years at the helm in Athens. I would love to see Dambrot get a bigger job, and in a fairer world he would, but he’s been fantastic and will continue to be as long as he’s at Akron. Groce now turns into a candidate of serious AD’s everywhere. We’ll see what happens but came across the column below while browsing this AM and it’s quite interesting regarding one of the dominoes –Nebraska — that’s certain to fall here soon.
Detroit Ices Penguins
A lot of folks thought Detroit would be the team to beat in the Horizon League coming into this season. Injuries, coaching, and depth have, at times, stopped the Motown ballers from living up to their potential in the regular campaign but hey, it’s all about the post-season baybay — I changed the spelling because I want you to pronounce it that way, it’s kind of a play on words and a kind of non-shoutout to that announcer that used to coach the Titans — and this group may have righted the ship just in time. 20-13 ain’t too shabby, just not good enough for the talent on this team in this writer’s opinion, of course when you have a beast like Eli Holman and refuse to play through him, well….that’s all for another time I guess.
Detroit made shots in this one and it’s really that simple. The Titans shot 60% and then made a lot of noise postgame about sending a message to Cleveland State with their performance, especially Ray McCallum Jr. The Vikings were watching the game and they will face the Titans today in one semifinal. Like I said, the Titans are talented and maybe they’ve turned it around. They beat Jerry Slocum’s team 93-76. We’ll see how they fare against Gary Waters and Crew.
Butler Pounds Milwaukee
71-49 was the score as, guess who, Butler is back in the semifinals hoping to upset league champ Valpo on the Crusaders floor later Saturday. Khyle Marshall had 17 points and 10 rebounds. Butler lost 71-59 last week to Valpo and Brad Stevens was channeling his inner-Jim Calhoun by addressing the fact that Valpo is a very physical team. “Nobody talks about this, but they’re really physical,” Stevens said. “They grab you, they get you, they hit you. They’re tough.” Bryce Drew has to love that!
Should be a great pair of games this evening.
Creighton and McDermott Get Tested by Drake
Doug McDermott hit two big three pointers in the middle of the second half and it looked like the Valley’s Player of the Year and his teammates were ready to pull away from Drake. The young Bulldogs had other plans though, cutting a 13-point lead with a little over 4 minutes remaining to 3 –63-60 – on a Rayvonte Rice bucket with 1:24 left on the clock. Creighton was able to salt things away by hitting 5-6 from the stripe in the final minute and winning 68-61.
McDermott was brilliant in the second half and finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds for the game. Greg Echenique contested multiple shots in the last 3 minutes, blocking one by Drake’s Ben Simons that was huge down inside a minute left. Drake looks to have a bright future heading into next season while Creighton rolls into this afternoon’s semifinals in St. Louis where they will play Evansville. The Missouri Valley Tournament is a great event and anyone with a sports package on their TV can find it up in the Fox Sports Missouri/Midwest channels. Today’s games are usually the best. Tomorrow’s final will be on CBS I’m sure where it’s expected Creighton and Wichita State will slug it out (the greatest thing about this event is the expected rarely happens).
Evansville beat Missouri State 72-64 in the late game as Kenny Harris had 20 and Colt Ryan 19 to lead Marty Simmons’ crew. Evansville now plays #25 Creighton in what, judging by their two earlier games, should be a battle. The Purple Aces beat the Bluejays in Evansville and lost the game in Omaha in overtime.
The other semifinal features Wichita State going against Illinois State. The Shockers pounded a tired Indiana State club 72-48 in the Quarters while the Redbirds outlasted Northern Iowa. #14 Wichita State is 27-4 and led by a bevy of veteran players. The Shocks have had three different winning streaks of 8 or more this year and have an NCAA best record of 19-3 on the road since last season. The defending NIT champs are looking to make a deep run here in a few weeks (and with players like 7-footer Garret Stutz, Toure Murry and Joe Ragland, that’s a distinct probability).
Southern Illinois did the inevitable when, facing multiple consecutive losing seasons (including this year’s school record 23 loss campaign) they fired head coach and former Saluki player Chris Lowery. Lowery was the hottest name in the coaching business just four short years ago. He turned down more than one big six league job as SIU stepped up and rewarded him with a fat contract. That contract still had 2 years left on it – the buyout is $1.5 million – and in all likelihood was the only thing that kept SIU from pulling the trigger on Lowery last year. Lowery enjoyed great success, but is the latest example of how quickly things can turn on a coach when they lose players to transfer and miss on recruits. Hindsight is 20/20, but I’m guessing that Michigan job Lowery once turned down is looking pretty good right now.
A-10 Action at Noon
Rick – “I’m not a big Gay guy” – Majerus and his Billikens are coming to town to play Duquesne at noon. St. Louis is having a great year at 23-6 (11-4 in the league). I look forward to watching them play the always game at home Dukes at noon today.
Is everyone so busy calling Missouri/Kansas an instant classic that they failed to notice the referee’s decision down the stretch that I thought really effected the last offensive possession for Mizzou? I’m talking about how the official bailed out Tyshawn Taylor on his drive with what looked like, at best, very minimal contact from Phil Pressey — contact that resulted in Pressey fouling out of the game and not being available on the next possession when Michael Dixon struggled to find anyone before the buzzer. We never saw a replay from a different angle on the foul call. I just thought it was a really tough call and effected the game in a huge way. I also felt that Missouri didn’t get the benefit of any whistles when they attacked the rim late.
Buzz Williams and Marquette got a huge character win at West Virginia. Williams apologized after the game for doing his little two-step to John Denver’s hit on his way to the postgame interview. I thought it was awesome and wish more coaches would have fun the way Williams did on Saturday. Marquette is in great shape for a good seed and a deep run in March. More importantly, they’re playing really well at the perfect time.
Syracuse has been dominant all season in Big East play. The Orange are a sure-fire #1 seed and could be Kentucky’s biggest challenger should those two teams meet in the National Championship game (please let this happen).
Michigan State is another squad rolling at the right time. Izzo clinched his 7th Big Ten title after Ohio State faltered against Wisconsin yesterday in Columbus. Draymond Green is a leader in the Mateen Cleaves mold for Izzo.
For more on the latest happenings around college basketball, be sure to check out the latest NBE Basketball ‘The Experience’ Podcast.