Tag Archives: 2012 NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament

Week 15 NCAA men’s basketball power rankings

During Week 15 of last year’s college basketball season, it was evident that the Kentucky Wildcats were the premier team in college basketball and UK’s freshman center Anthony Davis was the best player in the country. The Wildcats had  a 25-1 record, with their only slip up being a 73-72 loss at Indiana early in December that will forever be remembered for the “Wat Shot.” Kentucky lost only one more game, the SEC Championship, the rest of the season and lived up to expectations by winning last year’s NCAA Tournament.

There is no Kentucky this year. In the past six weeks, the No. 1 team has changed five teams. No one has separated from the pack and any team that enters the top five seems to play hot potato with the No. 1 spot by losing. Last week, four of the top five teams–Indiana, Florida, Michigan and Kansas–in the Associated Press Top 25 Poll lost at least once. Kansas dropped consecutive games for the first time since November 21-22, 2005. Every team in the latest AP Poll has at least two losses, the average number of losses per top 25 team is slightly over four and No. 20 Wisconsin has seven.

So what does it all mean?

A) The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee are going to have a difficult time determining the field of the 68 teams that make it to the Big Dance.

and

B) Once the teams and seeds are finalized, the national championship is truly up for grabs.

Without further adieu, here are my NCAA men’s basketball power rankings for Week 15:

1. Miami Hurricanes (19-3, 10-0)-Miami is the only team in one of the power six conferences to have a perfect conference record. The Hurricanes’ 10-0 record in ACC play has given Miami a two-game cushion over Duke. The Hurricanes have proven that they can run traditional college basketball powerhouses out of the gym as seen by their 27-point win against Duke and 26-point victory over North Carolina.

The Miami Hurricanes are the only team in a power six conference that is undefeated in conference play. (Image courtesy of http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/29/3118194/win-signals-progress-for-miami.html)
The Miami Hurricanes are the only team in a power six conference that is undefeated in conference play. (Image courtesy of http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/11/29/3118194/win-signals-progress-for-miami.html)

2. Indiana Hoosiers (21-3, 9-2)-Indiana let an 11-point lead with seven minutes remaining against Illinois slip away, which could been a major concern for the Hoosiers if it wasn’t for IU’s bounce back win at No. 10 Ohio State. The 81-68 victory was Indiana’s first road win over a ranked opponent since 2002 and kept the Hoosiers atop the AP Poll.

3. Michigan Wolverines (21-3, 8-3)-If Ben Brust’s half-court prayer didn’t force overtime in Madison, Wisc. and eventually lead to a Badgers victory, Michigan would likely be No. 1 team in the country. The Big Ten’s abundance of tournament-bound teams has taken its toll on the Wolverines, who are tied for third in the conference with Wisconsin.

4. Duke Blue Devils (21-2, 8-2)-The Blue Devils have finally gotten their feet under them after losing senior forward Ryan Kelly to a foot injury. Duke lost two of its first three games without Kelly but have rattled off five straight wins as the team sits in second place in the ACC.

5. Michigan State (20-4, 9-2)-Don’t look now but the Spartans are tied for first in the Big Ten with Indiana. The Spartans still have to play Michigan twice as well as Indiana, Ohio State and Wisconsin a second time; if Sparty can survive the gauntlet, they have a shot at a No. 1 seed in March.

6. Florida Gators (19-3, 9-1)-The Gators should not be judged too harshly for their 80-69 loss to Arkansas. Every team has off nights and Florida showed that their lone conference loss was a fluke. They returned to their prior form by beating Mississippi State by 25 on Saturday.

7. Gonzaga Bulldogs (23-2, 10-0)-Barring a horrible loss or two, Gonzaga seems destined for a No. 2 seed with an outside chance to be a No. 1 if the teams in front of them don’t finish the regular season on high notes. The Bulldogs are a major question mark because of their weak conference schedule. They aren’t tested on a nightly basis the way that ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12 or Pac-12 teams are. Gonzaga played against three ranked opponents and lost two of those matchups, which could hint at an early exit in the tournament.

8. Syracuse Orange (20-3, 8-2)-If Syracuse can settle senior forward James Southerland’s eligibility issue, then the Orange may be the favorite to win the Big East and ‘Cuse could match last year’s Elite Eight appearance.

9. Kansas Jayhawks (20-4, 8-3)-Last week may have been the darkest period in the history of Kansas basketball with three losses. Texas Christian University’s first Big 12 win, an unexpected 62-55 upset of the Jayhawks, was sandwiched by Kansas losses to unranked Oklahoma State and Oklahoma. With four teams within one game of the conference lead, Kansas doesn’t have any more room for error in a wide open Big 12.

10. Arizona Wildcats (20-3, 8-3)-Arizona was one of the hottest teams in the country and arguably the best team out West early in the season with wins against No. 5 Florida, Miami (Fla.) and No. 17 San Diego State during its 14-0 start. However, the Wildcats have started to show their true colors and fade from the spotlight with losses to unranked Oregon, UCLA and California.

An Open Letter to Chris Mack

Dear Coach Mack,

I have been very impressed with the Xavier University men’s basketball team during your three-year tenure at the school. The Musketeers have made the NCAA Tournament every year with you at the helm, which includes two Sweet Sixteen appearances. I give you credit where it is deserved–in your entire body of work as the head coach at Xavier since 2009. However, I question your coaching in Xavier’s 56-55 loss to Wofford.

The game was an opportunity for the team to prove themselves against a non-conference opponent and to boost its confidence after a disappointing loss to rival Cincinnati in the Crosstown Classic. Against the Terriers, your team came out strong in the first half with a 34-22 lead thanks to 15 points from forward Travis Taylor. While Taylor was in the forefront of the Xavier’s dominating first half performance, it was a team effort that allowed your team to be in the driver’s seat. Nine players saw the floor as you put different combinations of Musketeers out on the court but it was the starting five of Taylor, forward Isaiah Philmore, forward Justin Martin, guard Dee Davis and guard Semaj Christon that had the most success.

For some reason, in the second half, you largely abandoned your starting five by replacing Philmore and Martin with forward Erik Stenger and guard Brad Redford. Redford’s ideal role on the team is to be a spot-up three-point shooter. That has been clear since his senior year of high school when he averaged 36.7 points per game and his freshman season at Xavier when he knocked down 46.5 percent of his three-point attempts. Redford fulfilled his role when he hit two shots from behind the arc in the final 15 seconds to tie the game at 55. However, before those shots, he had played 24 minutes, missed all three of his shot attempts, grabbed one rebound and committed three fouls. If Brad Redford isn’t knocking down jumpers, then he is taking away minutes from capable rebounders such as Philmore, Martin and Jeff Robinson. Redford doesn’t add speed, spectacular ball handling ability or a lock-down defensive presence, so his second half minutes were extremely questionable. I give you credit for playing him in the team’s final offensive possessions. He deserved to be on the floor so that Xavier had a three-point scorer who could give the Muskies a chance to come from behind. However, if Redford didn’t play as much as he did in the second half, then Xavier may not have needed to hit a pair of threes in the final minute to have a chance to win; more minutes for Philmore and Martin could have translated to the team cruising to its eighth win of the season.

Chris Mack's questionable coaching decisions make him largely responsible for Xavier's one-point loss to Wofford. (Image courtesy of http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-basketball/2012/10/01/juco-star-chris-thomas-back-on-the-market-after-decommitting-from-xavier/)
Chris Mack’s questionable coaching decisions make him largely responsible for Xavier’s one-point loss to Wofford. (Image courtesy of http://www.rantsports.com/ncaa-basketball/2012/10/01/juco-star-chris-thomas-back-on-the-market-after-decommitting-from-xavier/)

Xavier’s second half offense with Redford and Stenger on the floor left me scratching my head as I tried to figure out what was the team’s plan. There was lots of passing on the perimeter that rarely led to good looks. Too often a Musketeer would settle for a bad shot on offense, which is why the team only scored 21 points in the second half. Xavier has the Atlantic 10’s best NBA prospect, freshman Semaj Christon, yet not enough offensive plays were run through him. Christon, who stands at 6’3″ and weighs 180 lbs., has much greater size than former Xavier point guards Drew Lavender (5’7″ 153 lbs.) and Tu Holloway (6’0″ 190 lbs.). The Cincinnati native can drive to the rim at will and hold his own in the lane in ways that his predecessors couldn’t due to their height, so where were the calls for him to take over the game? When things were heading south for Xavier and Wofford came back after being down 30-16, the best option was to have Semaj Christon penetrate the lane. Once Christon exposed the Terriers defense, he could look to Taylor, who made six of his seven shot attempts in the first half. Taylor only had five second half points because Xavier stopped feeding him the ball even though he was on pace to have a career high in points scored.

Wofford taking the lead with 3:10 remaining in the game was the impetus to substitute Philmore, Martin and Robinson back in the game but it was too little too late. Xavier started playing a full-court press and showed a strong defensive intensity, especially from Christon, that had been absent for most of the day. It was that same constant pressure on defense that held Butler to only 47 points and a 36.5 shooting percentage in a statement win earlier in the season, so why is it not a staple for the Musketeers?

Coach Mack, I applaud your seamless transition from the Sean Miller era of the Xavier University men’s basketball program and your recruitment of talented players such as Semaj Christon. However, this year’s team is inexperienced and the Musketeers are going to need great coaching in order to reach their potential. A shooting percentage of 27.3 from behind the arc and eight missed free throws certainly contributed to the one-point loss but I think the coaching in Saturday’s game deserves most of the blame. There is lots for the team to learn from in the loss to Wofford and it will be just one of the many growing pains for a squad that could easily exceed expectations when all is said and done this season. Hopefully learning to play Isaiah Philmore and Justin Martin more than Brad Redford, to allow Semaj Christon to take over the game on offense and to play forty minutes of intense defense are a few of the takeaways from the loss.

Sincerely,

Andy Wittry

The Future of the “Catholic Seven”

Last week, the Big East’s seven Catholic, non-FBS schools voted to leave due to the uncertainty of the conference’s future. DePaul, Georgetown, Marquette, Providence, St. John’s, Seton Hall and Villanova are set to officially leave the Big East on June 30, 2015 according to Big East spokesman John Paquette and ESPN.com.

The Catholic 7 announced last week that they voted and are going to leave the Big East to form their own conference. (Image courtesy of http://collegebasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/12/15/catholic-7-release-statement-announcing-departure-from-big-east/)
The Catholic 7 announced last week that they voted and are going to leave the Big East to form their own conference. (Image courtesy of http://collegebasketballtalk.nbcsports.com/2012/12/15/catholic-7-release-statement-announcing-departure-from-big-east/)

Ideally, the “Catholic Seven” will campaign to other schools to join them in the creation of a ten-team conference. The schools have two options for the expansion of their future conference–either recruit only Catholic, non-FBS universities or take in the best available schools regardless of their religious affiliations.

If the Catholic Seven want to go the Catholic route, they could acquire Xavier, Dayton and Saint Louis to form a ten team conference. While all three programs would currently be classified as “mid-majors,” they bring recent success that would help the depth of the future conference. The Musketeers have gone to the NCAA Tournament every year since 2006 and have made the Sweet Sixteen five times in the past decade. While Dayton hasn’t made the tourney since 2009, the Flyers’ record has been respectable. UD has a 117-59 record since the ’07-’08 season and the school won the NIT in 2010. Saint Louis is often up and down in the A-10 standings but the Billikens are fresh off of 25-7 season in which they lost in the third round to No. 1 seed Michigan State.

On the other hand, if the seven schools want to compile the best field of teams, then they could look to take Butler and Virginia Commonwealth from the Atlantic 10, in addition to a third school of their choice. Under Coach Brad Stevens, the Butler Bulldogs have a 147-42 record, two National Runner-Up titles, four NCAA Tournament appearances and four conference titles. With an 8-2 start, including wins over No. 9 UNC and No. 1 Indiana, the Bulldogs are back in the spotlight as one of the country’s most relentless teams. Assuming that Butler would be willing to leave the A-10 only a few years after joining the conference, the Bulldogs would be a great addition to the Catholic Seven. Similarly to Butler, Virginia Commonwealth has a young coach who has led the Rams to unimaginable success in the NCAA Tournament. In Shaka Smart’s first season at VCU, the team won the 2010 College Basketball Invitational. In the next two seasons, the Rams made the Final Four and the third round of the tourney. This season, VCU is 8-3 with close losses to No. 5 Duke and No. 13 Missouri. Acquiring Butler, VCU and Xavier would make the Catholic Seven a stronger basketball conference than the future Big East, Pac-12 and A-10.

There are a lot of moving parts in this conference re-alignment but the Catholic Seven have a number of schools to choose from and there are no bad choices among them.

Ranking the 6 Power Conferences in College Basketball

The majority of the teams that make the NCAA Tournament every spring are from the Power 6 Conferences: the ACC, Big 12, Big Ten, Big East, Pac-12 and SEC. From year to year, the best college basketball conference varies. With three teams in the top five, the Big Ten takes the crown this year.

Big Ten

Ranked Teams

1. Indiana

4. Ohio State

5. Michigan

14. Michigan State

23. Wisconsin

All-Americans

Trey Burke-Guard-Michigan

DeShaun Thomas-Forward-Ohio State

Cody Zeller-Center-Indiana

The Hoosiers have taken control of the preseason #1 ranking thanks to Cody Zeller and depth unparalleled in the rest of college basketball. Courtesy of http://bleacherreport.com/articles/1319961-big-ten-basketball-predicting-the-2012-13-big-ten-stats-leaders

Big Ten basketball is back. The Indiana Hoosiers are the unanimous preseason number one team with the best player in the country. Ohio State returns junior DeShaun Thomas, who shot 52% from the field last season and doubled his scoring from his freshman year. The Buckeyes also have Aaron Craft, who is arguably the best defender in the country. Only Penn State and Nebraska, which are historically schools focused on their football programs, finished with a record below .500 last season. From top to bottom, the Big Ten has depth in teams and individual players. Minnesota, a middle-of-the-road Big Ten team, has a top prospect in power forward Trevor Mbakwe. Michigan sophomore guard Trey Burke is a preseason All-American in many sports outlets after averaging 14.8 points, 4.6 assists, and 3.5 rebounds as a freshman.

ACC

Ranked Teams

6. North Carolina State

8. Duke

11. North Carolina

25. Florida State

C.J. Leslie leads the Wolfpack to the top ten rankings and NC State is ready for a national championship run. Courtesy of http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/sports/college/mensbasketball/acc/story/2012-04-18/cj-leslie-nc-state/54385466/1.

North Carolina lost four starters and Duke lost two starters to the 2012 NBA Draft, which hurts the strength of the ACC this year. However, North Carolina State is taking over the reigns as a national championship contender because its top four players are returning from last season. C.J. Leslie, Lorenzo Brown, Scott Wood, and Richard Howell all averaged double-digits in scoring last year, when the Wolfpack made a Sweet Sixteen run. They also have the tenth best recruiting class, which is highlighted by shooting guard Rodney Purvis. The bottom of the ACC drops off quickly with teams like Boston College, Georgia Tech, and Wake Forest, which were significantly below last season.

Big East

Ranked Teams

2. Louisville

9. Syracuse

22. Notre Dame

24. Cincinnati

Peyton Siva is an electric guard and the motor behind the Louisville Cardinals. Courtesy of http://www.zimbio.com/pictures/9vA3Yb_luTk/East+Basketball+Tournament+Second+Round/k0L4kz6WMdR/Yancy+Gates.

Louisville was a surprise Final Four team in a region that featured Michigan State and Missouri as the top two teams. The Cardinals return a loaded roster with Russ Smith, Chane Behanan, Peyton Siva, and Gorgui Dieng, which is why they sit at the second spot in the preseason rankings. While Syracuse and Pittsburgh are set to join the ACC in July of 2012, the Big East will still benefit from the Orange’s top ten preseason rank. While ‘Cuse lost Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, and Fab Melo to the NBA Draft, they bring back Brandon Triche, C.J. Fair, James Southerland, Rakeem Christmas. They also have the fifteenth ranked recruiting class for this year, with forward Jerami Grant, guard Trevor Cooney, and forward DaJuan Coleman. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish, who were ousted in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season by the upset-minded Xavier Musketeers and Cincinnati Bearcats, led by their talented backcourt of Sean Kilpatrick and Cashmere Wright, are also ranked going into the season. Pittsburgh, Marquette, and Georgetown are all knocking on the door of the top 25.

SEC

Ranked Teams

3. Kentucky

10. Florida

15. Missouri

While the SEC is the perennial powerhouse in college football, it does not have much depth in college basketball. Outside of its top few teams, the conference is dismal. Kentucky is one of the best teams in country once again thanks to the best recruiting class in the nation with four ESPN 100 players. Nerlens Noel, Alex Poythress, Archie Goodwin, and Willie Cauley-Stein are the next class of potential one-and-dones who were recruited by John Calipari. Senior Kenny Boynton will have Florida in the spotlight this season. The newest school to the SEC, Missouri is ranked fifteenth in the preseason. Tennessee received some attention in the preseason rankings but is still far off from cracking the top 25.

Big 12

Ranked Teams

7. Kansas

19. Baylor

Kansas’ Jeff Withey is one of the best centers in college basketball and will be crucial to the Jayhawks’ success this season. Courtesy of http://www.zimbio.com/photos/Jeff+Withey/Ivo+Baltic/Las+Vegas+Invitational+Day+One/h5A83sDt-ft.

Overall, the Big 12 had a successful 2012 NCAA Tournament. Kansas made the National Championship game and Baylor made the Elite Eight. Three of its six teams lost to the eventual champion Kentucky. Former Jayhawks Tyshawn Taylor and Thomas Robinson are now in the NBA, which means that this year’s Kansas squad will rely on Elijah Johnson and Jeff Withey to take them back to the promised land. Baylor will be a prominent team on the national level. Texas, Oklahoma State, and Kansas State all received votes for the AP Top 25 but fell short of being ranked. Having Missouri leave for the SEC will hurt them.

Pac-12

Ranked Teams

12. Arizona

13. UCLA

Shabazz Muhammad is looking to bring back the glory days of UCLA basketball but that may be hard to do if he is only there one year. Courtesy of http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/ncaab-the-dagger/ucla-shabazz-muhammad-miss-2-4-weeks-due-005359555–ncaab.html.

Similarly to the SEC, the Pac-12’s top tier is elite and the rest of the conference struggles greatly. Arizona and UCLA are both bringing in top 25 recruiting classes and Xavier transfer Mark Lyons will certainly bolster the Wildcats’ lineup this season. The Pac-12 is looking to improve upon its overall performance last season, where only Colorado and California made the NCAA Tournament.

Where are the Xavier Musketeers Headed?

I love the Xavier Musketeers. I always have been a fan of the Musketeers but I can’t say that I always will be. The past eight months have left me questioning who Chris Mack’s squad is and for what they stand.

Of course there was the Crosstown Shootout brawl, where the rivalry and animosity of the annual competition became bigger than the fun tradition that Cincinnatians look forward to every December. The confrontations that occurred in the closing seconds were disappointing and the comments after the game by senior Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons were even more regrettable for the image of Xavier University. Luckily for Xavier, their season wasn’t a complete failure since they made the Sweet Sixteen and played Baylor close for the chance to match up against Kentucky.

However, since the 2011-12 season ended, the Muskies’ two best players are no longer enrolled at Xavier. Mark Lyons was not willing to be the leader and team player that coach Chris Mack asked him to be in the upcoming season and he transferred to the University of Arizona to play for former Xavier coach Sean Miller. Then, sophomore Dez Wells was expelled from the university this past week for breaking an unspecified code of conduct.

Courtesy of http://www.musketeermadness.com/article.asp?gameID=1203991

If Xavier wants to keep up their men’s basketball tradition, including four Sweet Sixteen appearances in the past five years and seven straight NCAA Tournament appearances, they have to continue recruiting great players, but why have XU’s recent stars had so much extra baggage that is unparalleled in the team’s past? Is it a fundamental flaw in Xavier University’s men’s basketball program, such as the coaching staff and expectations, or did the Musketeers just get unlucky by having multiple players with selfish and alternate agendas on the roster at the same time?

Without a doubt, it is going to be a treacherous road ahead for the Xavier Musketeers.They lost their top five players from last season. In addition to Lyons and Wells, the Muskies graduated Holloway, Kenny Frease, and Andre Walker. The returning players averaged a total of 16.8 points per game last season and there will be a lot of expectations for the incoming freshman class. Semaj Christon is their highest ranked recruit as the third best point guard in the 2012 recruiting class. Christon’s teammate from Brewster Academy, Jalen Reynolds, is a 6’8″ 220 lb. power forward and four-star recruit. Xavier is also bringing in Myles Davis, a 6’1″ shooting guard from Fitchburg, Massachusetts, and James Farr, a 6’8″ power forward who played at the Maine Central Institute.

Courtesy of http://cincyprephoopsreport.blogspot.com/2011/01/stars-of-favc.html. There are high expectations for Semaj Christon in the 2012-13 season.

Despite the freshman talent the Muskies added to their roster, it will be a long year for them and may be for the next several years. Who is the team’s go-to scorer? Who will talk during a timeout or in the locker room to get the Musketeers pumped up for a big game? Which player will keep the others in line and make sure that they are at school for the right reasons? These questions and more still need to be answered in the next few months. In the mean time, Xavier needs to use the next few years to rebuild their program on and off the court in order to improve their reputation to one that makes alumni and fans proud to say that Xavier is their team.

Sorting out the Top Undrafted Free Agents in the NBA of 2012

With only two rounds in the NBA Draft, a handful of talented graduated seniors and second round hopefuls are passed on and left to sign as undrafted free agents, play overseas, or start their post-basketball lives. Scouting reports of “He can’t create his own shot” or “undersized” or a recent injury scare teams off. Whatever the case may be, there was no shortage of undrafted talent this year.

Scott Machado-PG-Iona

Courtesy of http://www.draftexpress.com/profile/Scott-Machado-7024/

Machado lead the Iona Gaels to a 25-8 record and a berth in the NCAA Tournament as a 14 seed. He averaged 13.6 ppg, 5.0 rpg, and an NCAA-leading 9.9 apg. If his assist numbers aren’t enough for a point guard prospect, Scott Machado shot 49.5% from the field and 40% from behind the arc. According to the New York Post, Machado has heard from the Bobcats, Raptors, Cavaliers, Hawks and Rockets. The Atlanta Hawks are the best team on the Iona product’s radar, with a 40-26 record and a playoff berth last season. Between Joe Johnson, Josh Smith, Al Horford, and Jeff Teague, the Hawks have a number of offensive weapons for Machado to be successful in the NBA.

Kevin Jones-F-West Virginia

Courtesy of http://old.post-gazette.com/pg/10346/1109883-135.stm

Kevin Jones was the heart and soul of West Virginia’s men’s basketball team. As a senior, he averaged a double-double with twenty points and eleven rebounds per game. Jones was a major reason why the Mountaineers made appearances in the NCAA Tournament all four years that Jones was at West Virginia, including a Final Four run in 2010. Kevin Jones had interest from the Charlotte Bobcats as well as the Cleveland Cavaliers and signed with the Cavs yesterday to a three-year, partially guaranteed contract.

Tu Holloway-PG-Xavier

Courtesy of http://www.madduxsports.com/blog/xavier-vs-butler-former-conference-rivals-face-off-inside-hinkle-fieldhouse-20063/

Sadly, Tu Holloway will forever be remember for his role in the 2011 Crosstown Shootout brawl instead of his fantastic play as a Xavier Musketeer. Last season, Holloway lead the charge for the Muskies, who finished with a 23-13 record and made their third Sweet Sixteen appearance since Holloway’s freshman year. He averaged seventeen points, five assists, and four rebounds during his senior year. Holloway worked out for fourteen NBA teams before this year’s draft so it is likely that he will be invited to participate in the NBA’s summer league in Las Vegas in mid-July.

William Buford-SG-Ohio State

Courtesy of http://www.rankopedia.com/Best-Player-in-the-2011-NCAA-Men’s-Basketball-Tournament/Step1/23897/.htm

William Buford played significant minutes from his first year on campus at Ohio State. He averaged double-digits in points per game all four years as a Buckeye. His senior year averages were 14.7 ppg, 4.9 rpg, and 2.9 apg. His biggest contribution to Ohio State was his spot-up jump shooting and he can be a marginal player when outside of that role as a shooter. Buford was a member of the Buckeyes when they made it to two Sweet Sixteens. The Ohio State graduate has not had any offers from NBA teams but the international route is definitely available if he would like to continue his basketball career.

Henry Sims-C-Georgetown

Courtesy of http://themajors.net/detroit/?p=8473

Henry Sims took great strides in his off-seasons at Georgetown to progress from a player who averaged less than two points and two rebounds per game to a starter who averaged twelve points, six rebounds, and four assists per game his senior year. Watching Sims have the game of his life by putting up 22 and 15 against Yancy Gates and the Cincinnati Bearcats in the Big East Tournament showed me what kind of player he can be when at his best. Scouts questioned his passion for the game and why it took three seasons for him to put up the numbers that he did last year. The Washington Wizards worked out Henry Sims before the draft but with four players who can play center on their roster, it would be extremely difficult for Sims to make the team if they do invite him to join their summer league team.

Hollis Thompson-F-Georgetown

Courtesy of http://dc.sbnation.com/georgetown-hoyas/2011/4/22/2127300/hollis-thompson-georgetown-nba-draft-2011

After averaging thirteen points and six rebounds per game for Georgetown during his junior year, Hollis Thompson forgoed his senior year to enter the NBA Draft and must be regretting that decision after not hearing his name called for any of the sixty picks in the draft. Thompson is an excellent shooter, especially from the outside considering his size as a 6’8″ forward. He was a 44% three-point shooter during his three years as a Hoya and made an impressive 46% of his shots from behind the arc during his sophomore year. He worked out for the Washington Wizards and Indiana Pacers and will likely spark interest from an NBA team because of his combination of size and excellent shooting ability.

J’Covan Brown-G-Texas

Courtesy of http://news.cincinnati.com/article/20120312/SPT0101/303120160/Texas-doesn-t-lack-talent

It is hard to believe that a player who averaged twenty points per game in the Big 12 could go undrafted. Somehow, J’Covan Brown of Texas managed to do so. Similarly to Hollis Thompson, Brown left school after his junior year for the NBA Draft. Last season, he had four thirty-point games, including a thirty-four point performance, going 6-7 on three-pointers, against then #9 Missouri. While his rebound and assist numbers are low, J’Covan Brown is a proven scorer and those categories are not critical to a shooting guard’s success. The 2011-2012 Big 12 scoring leader will not be upset for long about being undrafted because he was picked up by the defending NBA Champions the Miami Heat as a free agent. The Heat could use some fresh legs and a good shooter like Brown to go along side of veterans Mike Miller, Shane Battier, and Ray Allen (if the NBA’s all-time leader in three-pointers made decides to sign there).

Casper Ware-G-Long Beach State

Courtesy of http://thefrontofficenews.com/2011/11/18/long-beach-states-casper-ware-is-primed-for-a-big-season/

Long Beach State had more last year than just a cool name, sweet jerseys, and an NCAA Tournament appearance. They also had senior shooting guard Casper Ware, who averaged 17.4 points per game. Ware was one of the leaders on the 49’ers and helped them to a 25-9 record last season. His best performances were his 28, 29, 30, 33, and 38-point games in the regular season, two of which were against Pittsburgh and North Carolina. Of Ware’s three offers, from the Brooklyn Nets, Houston Rockets, and Detroit Pistons, he chose to become a Piston as a member of their summer league team.

Jordan Taylor-G-Wisconsin

Courtesy of http://www.draftexpress.com/article/NBA-Draft-Prospect-of-the-Week-Jordan-Taylor-3633/

Jordan Taylor’s best season as a Wisconsin Badger was his junior year, in which he averaged eighteen points, five assists, and four rebounds per game. He shot 43% from the field and from behind the arc and had an 83% free throw percentage. While his senior year numbers weren’t quite as remarkable, he was still a very competitive player in the Big Ten and lead Wisconsin to the NCAA Tournament, where they lost by one point to the Syracuse Orange. Taylor drew interest from the Milwaukee Bucks and the Atlanta Hawks and settled on the Hawks because they start their summer league games earlier.

Indiana’s Case for Preseason #1

Indiana Hoosiers head coach Tom Crean’s years of hard work have finally paid off. After enduring consecutive 6-25, 10-21, and 12-20 seasons in his first three years in Bloomington, his recruits developed into excellent players and they meshed as a team. The stars aligned in the 2011-2012 season when the Hoosiers achieved a 27-9 record and a Sweet Sixteen appearance. They defeated the #1 Kentucky Wildcats at home during the regular season, as well as Notre Dame, Ohio State, Michigan, and Michigan State. The NCAA Tournament selection committee gave IU a 4 seed and the Hoosiers defeated New Mexico State and VCU before being eliminated by the eventual champions, the Kentucky Wildcats, 102-90.

In addition to Indiana’s four returning starters and twelve total returning players , including AP Honorable Mention All-American freshman Cody Zeller and Honorable Mention All-Big Ten forward Christian Watford, the Hoosiers bring in the tenth best recruiting class in the country, according to ESPN. Of the graduating seniors, only Verdell Jones III played significant minutes for IU but the team learned how to play without him in the NCAA Tournament due to a knee injury. The four seniors combined for only 13.2 points per game and with Zeller and Watford’s decisions to return to Indiana for another year instead of declaring for the NBA Draft, the majority of the last year’s #13 team in the nation will be back next year.

IU’s 2012-2013 recruiting class features one of the top point guard prospects in the country, Yogi Ferrell, who is a four-five-star recruit by ESPN, Rivals, and Scouts Inc. The other four members of Tom Crean’s recruiting class are Jeremy Hollowell (6’7″, 195 lbs., four-star recruit), Hanner Mosquera-Perea (6’7″, 205 lbs., four-/five-star recruit), Ron Patterson (6’3″, 200 lbs., three-star recruit), and Peter Jurkin (7’0″, 205 lbs., three-star recruit).

Indiana will have a great combination of experience and youth in its starting lineup next season with Jordan Hulls, Victor Oladipo, Will Sheehey, Christian Watford, and Cody Zeller. If Maurice Creek, a redshirt junior who has suffered three season-ending injuries while at IU, can remain healthy next season and return to his freshman year form (averaged of seventeen points per game) alongside the new recruits, the Hoosiers will be a very good from the start of the season. Their opponents struggle at Assembly Hall and they’re coming off of a great season in which they can build off of in the future.

How I Met Anthony Davis

I have been fortunate enough to meet several local sports figures over the course of junior high and high school. Former University of Cincinnati football coach and current Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly as well as Anthony Munoz, the former Cincinnati Bengals offensive tackle and Hall of Famer, both spoke at my school in eighth grade. In the fall of my freshman year, I met former UC quarterback Ben Mauk after storming the field when the Bearcats beat the Pittsburgh Panthers 45-44 at Nippert Stadium. Last summer, through my summer job as a snack shack employee at a local country club I served food to Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Leon Hall, former Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton, national radio host and television personality Bill Cunningham, and Cincinnati Bengals then-rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. Dalton is a class-act and talked with me for a solid ten minutes, signed an autograph for me, and called me by name the next time he stopped by.

However famous and influential these sports figures are in the city of Cincinnati, meeting Anthony Davis at Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport was on a completely different scale in terms of the timing and national spotlight. Only a week earlier, Davis had been cutting down the nets in New Orleans as a college basketball national champion. Add every 2012 National Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, SEC Player of the Year, and Freshman of the Year award possible to his one-year resumé at Kentucky and you have the biggest sports star over the past six months in the United States.

I was flying solo for the first time and was calling my parents about potentially getting bumped from my flight when I turned around and saw a 6’10” African American with a unibrow, wearing a sweatsuit. I did a double-take and thought to myself “there’s no way that’s actually him.” Then I realized that there is honestly no one else I could be confusing him with and started following him. He was talking on the phone and I didn’t want to interrupt him so I followed him until he sat down at his gate, snapping a few pictures along the way.

A little bit creepy?

Yes.

Was it worth it?

Of course.

The entire time that I was walking a few strides behind him down the “G” wing of O’Hare I felt like I was the famous one, simply because of all of the people who were staring at the nationally-recognized ‘brow and whispering to those around them. Since I was by myself, there was no one to talk to about him, so I had to do the next best thing, which consisted of introducing myself to him and then Tweeting about it.

I was the one person with enough courage to actually approach him. He was sitting down and off the phone, so I went up and said, “Hey Anthony, I’m a big fan.” He had seen me coming so we had a half-second of awkward eye contact and he didn’t respond to my greeting. I had no idea what to do next so I blurted out “It’s nice to meet you” and stuck out my hand. He slowly reached out and gave me the infamous “dead fish” that every etiquette teacher warns against. It may have been awkward but I walked away with my head held high because I just shook hands with the #1 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft.

And that is how I met Anthony Davis.

From the Press Box–April 4th, 2012

After an extended leave of absence from writing, due to finals, college visits, and scholarship applications, I’m finally on Spring Break. So much has happened since my last post on March 18th, both for me personally and in the world of sports. I finally experienced world renound Chicago-style pizza at Giordano’s, was accepted to the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern and had a great campus visit (followed by being notified in the mail that the first year in Evanston would be upwards of $60,000 and I lost any interest I had in the school), officially became a second semester senior, and most importantly, decided on Indiana University for college and can not be happier about it. A month’s worth of sports headlines have taken place in the past eighteen days; the Major League Baseball season officially kicked off in Asia, the Kentucky Wildcats won their eighth national championship, Nike released the new NFL uniforms, and Mohammed El Akkari, an International Basketball Federation player for Moutahed of Tripoli, allegedly scored 113 points in a single game.

March Madness

Going into the NCAA Tourney, UK was clearly the best team in the country and I picked them to win the National Championship, yet it was so difficult to choose the Wildcats because of the reservations I had about them. Coach Cal had choked in his previous appearance in the title game as well as Kentucky was relying on freshmen and sophomores to not crack under the pressure riding on them to win it all. Not to mention that UK entered the NCAA Tournament on a one-game losing streak after being defeated by Vanderbilt in the SEC Championship.

Coach Calipari and the University of Kentucky needed the National Championship to validate their one-and-done focused program. In each of Cal’s previous six seasons, going back to his tenure at Memphis, his worst postseason finish was in the Sweet Sixteen. His teams were eliminated three times in the Elite Eight, once in the Final Four, and once in the National Championsip in 2008 (Memphis later had its entire 2007-2008 season vacated due to Derrick Rose’s misconduct regarding his false SAT score). If he had fallen to Kansas, many of his critics would question his ability to close out a season. No one can argue his greatness from November through February, but if UK would have lost in the NCAA Tourney a part of Big Blue Nation would have been ready to show him the door out of Lexington.

Overall, this was an ideal tournament for college basketball. There were some major upsets, with #2 seeds Duke and Missouri exiting in the first round, and three double-digit seeds advanced to the Sweet Sixteen, but no “Cinderellas” made it to the Elite Eight. It was exciting to watch the likes of Xavier, Ohio, and North Carolina State challenge major powers in college basketball, but at the end of the day, the best matchups are between the premier teams. The 2011 National Championship between UConn and Butler may have been the ugliest college basketball game I’ve ever seen. Upset-minded md-majors and Cinderellas can make the first two weekends of the NCAA Tournament two of the best weeks of the year, but once the Final Four rolls around, basketball powerhouses are the only teams who can guarantee high-quality basketball that is enjoyable to watch.

Jared Sullinger to the NBA

I can’t argue with his decision to leave because there is a direct correlation between the number of years of college and when a prospect is drafted. Sully has nothing left to prove in college. He’s averaged 17 points and 10 rebounds for his two years of college, with a shooting percentage above 50%. He has lead Ohio State to the Elite Eight and Final Four in consecutive years and the Buckeyes have sixty-four wins in that time span. However, don’t expect him to be dominant in the NBA as he is in college. While he is physically big at 6’9″ and 265 lbs., he lacks the height and the jumping ability to average a double-double immediately at the next level. If he can develop a consistent outside jumper, he can become a very nice role player. He shares the size and stature of Indiana Pacers forward David West, who has career averages of sixteen points per game and seven rebounds per game. The longer he stayed at OSU, the more NBA teams would begin to see him plateau at the college level and it could only hurt his draft prospects.

Joe Flacco Thinks He’s the Best QB in the NFL

On WNST 1570 in Baltimore earlier this week, Joe Flacco said that he believes he is the best quarterback in the NFL. I have no problem with him thinking this. If I were an NFL owner or coach, I want a QB who thinks that he is the best every single snap. However, his thoughts about how he stacks up compared to the rest of the starting quarterbacks in the league should not leave a four inch radius in his brain. He is only opening himself up to more criticism than he already deserves and his resumé does not warrant him being a top five quarterback, let alone the best one in the NFL. Last season he threw for 3,610 yards and 20 touchdowns while Aaron Rodgers threw for 4,643 and 45, Eli Manning threw for 4,933 and 29, and Tom Brady threw for 5,235 and 39, to name a few of the league’s elite quarterbacks. Of course, statistics alone do not define a player and Flacco’s two AFC Championship Games help his case but still not enough. If I rank all of the starting quarterbacks in the NFL, he is thirteenth on my list. Eli Manning has two Super Bowl rings, Aaron Rodgers has one, Tom Brady has three, Ben Roethlisberger has two, Peyton Manning has one, and Drew Brees has one. Until Flacco gets some jewelry on his hand, he is not in the conversation and should be careful about publicizing questionable statements.

Ubaldo Jimenez Beans Troy Tulowiztki

The pitch was by all means intentional, especially considering the bitter feelings Jimenez has towards his former club. It’s a shame that he was willing to plunk Tulo in the preseason. He deserves his five-game suspension, but he still may be able to make his scheduled start if the MLB hasn’t responded to his appeal in time. Hopefully Jimenez does not start for the Indians if they face the Rockies this season because there is a high likelihood that Colorado would get revenge in some form or fashion.

FIBA Player Drops 113?

It is highly unlikely that a story like this could be completely fabricated but part of me is still skeptical. Mohammad El Akkari averaged just under eight points per game heading into his three-point shooting contest that happened to occur in the middle of the Lebanese Division A League Final Eight game. Maybe it’s that basketball overseas is different than what we’re accustomed to in the NBA and there were 314 total points in the game, but Akkari’s performance is out of the ordinary by all means. There are only three players in the modern era of the NBA who I could rationalize their taking of sixty-nine shots in a game–Kobe Bryant, Allen Iverson, and Monta Ellis. To make 40 of 69 shots from the floor and 32 of 59 from behind the arc is beyond comprehension. I’m not sure who his team was playing that night, possibly a team of local nuns or fifth-grade rec basketball team, but his performance goes down in history nontheless.

Joey Votto’s Contract

It is great to see that the Cincinnati Reds are committed to winning and have a “World Series or Bust” mentality. However, the 10-year, $225 million dollar contract should raise an eyebrow. The Reds have no idea how good Votto will be in ten years, but if the first baseman can lead Cincy to a World Series, then it won’t matter as much. The 2010 N.L. MVP’s price tag makes it difficult to re-sign second baseman Brandon Phillips, which is very hard to swallow since Phillips is one of the best Reds on and off of the field. The contract extension tops off the biggest offseason in Cincinnati Reds history and is a great way to kick off the season with their best player under contract until 2023.

Mo Egger Interview

I got the chance to interview sports talk show host Mo Egger of ESPN 1530 tonight and it was fascinating listening to him talk about his career and Cincinnati sports. The interview will takes lots of editing but should be posted in the next week.

Matchup of the Day

St. Louis Cardinals @ Miami Marlins. Tonight’s game is Opening Day in America since the Oakland A’s and Seattle Mariners played in Japan last week and also is the first game played in Miami’s new stadium. Two excellent pitchers in Kyle Lohse and Josh Johnson face off in the National League matchup.

Video of the Day

Courtesy of http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OBMQ79NweQU

Royce White: The Definition of Versatility

Iowa State is not known for its basketball program. The 2011-2012 season marked the fourteenth time that the Cyclones were selected for the NCAA Tournament. Iowa State made the Final Four once in 1944 but their most famous appearance in the tourney was when they were upset by 15 seeded Hampton, only the fourth time such an upset had occurred.

After the Cyclones’ 23-11 season and fourth place finish in the Big 12, behind three top 10 teams in Missouri, Kansas, and Baylor, the selection committee chose Iowa State as the 8 seed in the South region. Much of their success can be credited to redshirt sophomore Royce White. The 6’8″, 270 lb. power forward spent the first eighteen years of his life in Minnesota, first as a two-time state champion in high school and then he committed to the University of Minnesota to play for Tubby Smith. After multiple run-ins with the law in his freshman year as a Golden Gopher, including charges for theft, disorderly conduct, and trespassing, White transferred to Iowa State. John Calipari had contacted the talented forward to play for Kentucky but he decided on Iowa State instead. Since his transfer was before the end of his freshman year, Royce White could not play for a scholarship in the following season and was forced to redshirt in the 2010-2011 season.

In his first full season of playing college basketball, White hit the ground running and quickly became the Cyclones’ go-to player. In the opening game of the year, Royce White scored 25 points and pulled in 11 rebounds as Iowa State defeated Lehigh 86-77. The Minnesota-native recorded a double-double in the next game with 21 and 14 as he was began a season-long routine of putting up big numbers on a nightly basis. Iowa State reached the national spotlight when the Cyclones defeated #5 Kansas, giving the Jayhawks their first conference loss of the season. White and Iowa State tallied their second victory over a top 25 team in their last regular season game of the season against #10 Baylor. Despite heading into the Big 12 tournament on a high note, Iowa State lost to Texas in its opening game.

Courtesy of http://www.mysanantonio.com/slideshows/sports/slideshow/Texas-vs-Iowa-State-36531.php

Iowa State was matched up against the Connecticut Huskies in the Round of 64 of the NCAA Tournament and defeated the reigning national champions 77-64 after a hot-shooting performance. The Cyclones were 6-16 from behind the three-point line and were nearly perfect from the charity stripe, missing only one of their twenty free throw attempts. White played very well against Jim Calhoun’s squad, scoring fifteen points, securing fourteen rebounds, and racking up two assists.

As the Iowa State Cyclones advanced to the Round of 32, the media took a closer look at the Big 12 team and found that it was the Minnesota transfer, who was named to the All-Big 12 First Team and Big 12 Rookie of the Year that was making the Cyclones go. Royce White boasts himself on being the only player in the country who leads his team in every major statistical category. Despite playing power forward, a position which is traditionally known for scoring points in the paint and grabbing rebounds, White shines in every aspect of his game. Royce White has the ability to put up 25 points every game but focuses on the team’s success over his personal glory. He averaged 13.1 points, 9.2 rebounds, 5.1 assists, 1.2 steals, and 0.94 blocks per game in the 2011-2012 season.

White faced a difficult test Saturday night when he was matched up against the front-runner for Player of the Year Anthony Davis of Kentucky. Even though Iowa State was defeated 87-71, White was one of the few bright spots for the Cyclones, finishing with 23 points, 9 rebounds, and 4 assists. For the Cyclones’ opening possessions, it was Royce White who took the ball down the court and played point guard. Although, for most of the game, White was playing well in the paint, getting open for easy baskets and scoring crucial points whenever Kentucky started to pull away. His best play of the game was when he stripped Davis on defense and went coast to coast for the dunk. Despite his large stature, Royce White has exceptional ball control and court vision.

Courtesy of http://ksrcollege.com/

If White declares for the NBA draft, he will likely be a first round draft pick. Although, if he stays for his remaining two years of eligibility, Iowa State could be a very formidable team. They are only graduating two seniors, Chris Allen and Scott Christopherson. The guard duo combine for twenty-four points per game and will surely be missed, but with many young players with post-season experience, Iowa State can rebuild to challenge the powerhouses of the Big 12.