Saturday, May 15, 2010

College Basketball Farms Underclassmen To Pros

Chad Ford's Top 100

College Basketball is taking one additional step towards becoming the farm system for professional basketball worldwide. The NCAA has a "One and Done" rule. The NBA has millions of dollars to pay and the International Leagues have no restrictions. The International League is waiting for the kids who don't want to make a mockery of the term Student-Athlete and waste a scholarship for another deserving player who has enough skill to play at the college level and enough self discipline and time management skills to balance court and classroom, to continue their plight towards a college education and being a productive component in building a basketball program. A concept played out successfully by Brandon Jennings, now playing with the Milwaukee Bucks. OK, well maybe just the talented kids who don't want to go to class for one semester to play one year. I know, there are the TV contracts, the apparel deals, commercials, marketing, boosters, donors, and even the win at all cost. But the NCAA has left itself right on the edge of being controlled by the NBA, influenced by the off-season basketball programs and camps, conspiring to lead young men in a direction of risk versus reward in the gamble with true preparedness for life and anything that may happen or to become one of 70 new entries into the NBA from the thousands of players that play and become eligible for the draft, free agency and long-shot tryouts for a chance at the luxury of millionaire basketball or a career in the alternate international market.

David Stern did not intend to become a servant to a juvenile movement, but he has sold out to exploiting kids and allowing the key to our GNP, "supply and demand", to rule the policy provisions against collateral damage of thousands of failed dreams for the success of a few and the success of selling a athletic product to the struggling consumer market. Don't get me wrong, but the college game is more attractive than the pro game. The players play more frequently at the championship level on both ends of the floor making the game more intriguing and suspenseful, along with energetic and entertaining. But the pro game pays and the college game plays, so follow the money, but can we really afford it America. There needs to be a better distribution of wealth and resources that trickle through the professional ranks from our consumer dollar and end in smaller hands. Like anything else technology has reduced the need for employment enhancements, so the money is not distributed as broad has it once displayed, but the incomes of the internal participants continues to grow. "Follow the Money."

As we enter the much awaited NBA Draft, the Marquee names such as John Wall, Xavier Henry and Demarcus Cousins, Avery Bradley, Greg Monroe, Patrick Patterson, Evan Turner, Derrick Favors, Al-Faroug Aminu, Ed Davis, Eric Bledsoe, Daniel Orton and Gordon Hayward to name a few of the 70 plus underclassmen who have entered the "one & done" and early entry arena. Now we will watch the progression from their partial college successes and await their NBA courtship. The results of their teams' successes, career decisions and next year's recruiting will reveal the potential shift of high school superstars to signing one year college deals for class to International Basketball for cash. The "One & Done" NBA mandate is not a success, it never had any chance other than assuring that no high school player could be left out of a college opportunity after the NBA draft because of a premature or even immature decision to turn professional before nurturing their respective skills at desiring college programs. In all cases these talented young men would be playing at the highest level for quality programs, learning from the best coaches and mentors, seeking their skills. While only a few college coaches, like Kentucky's John Calipari, actually embrace this recruiting and early draft culture, many are forced to tolerate and accept the program consequences to avoid being left out of the sweepstakes for the highly talented high school players that can help turn a program for a season or a couple of years into both conference and national championship contenders. Each year there are approximately 70 jobs available in the NBA for all aspiring college basketball players leaving school early or after graduation.  This year alone there are over 70 underclassmen, alone,  making themselves available for the NBA draft and giving up their college eligibility.  But as most things in America, it's not perfect but it's the best we have under the circumstances, anywhere in the world.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Is Match-Up Butler vs Duke, "David & Goliath"?

Many analysts who don't like fairy tales will say that Butler (33-4) is no Cinderella, and that the #5 Seed is nationally ranked and been there before.  But lets make it clear when a small school, yes small, approximately 4512 student enrollment, beats the #1 and #2 teams in their bracket and holds off other aspiring programs along the way.   And then entering the Final Four against a Tom Izzo coached and experienced team, to come out the victor is a Cinderella story rather you want to hear it or not.  Tell me when the last team of this size won a national basketball title at the division 1 level.

Now you have them playing the #1 Duke (34-5) Blue Devils going for national title number four, by the way, Duke's enrollment is 13,457.  Data provided through the "Equity in Athletics" reveals that Duke spent over $394,000 per player last year, Butler spent just over $347,000 on the entire team.  The ACC versus the Horizon League opens the question of the quality of one of the leagues if this is not an unprecedented match up of statistical opposites.  Butler is on a 25 game winning streak and has shot an average of 39% from the field during the tournament with its' opponents shooting at an average of 41%.  Duke shoots 50.3% from the field and scores an average of 69 points per game, a mere 15 points above the Butler defensive limits per game.  But if some of these insignificant stats don't blow you away, let's look at Duke's lineup, 7'1" Brian Zoubek, 6'8" Lance Thomas, 6'10" Miles and Mason Plumlee and 6'8" Kyle Singler for the primary swing to post rotation, against Butler 6'9" Matt Howard, 6'9" Gordon Hayward, 6'3" William Veasle, 6'8" Andrew Jukes, the 6'11" Freshman Andrew Smith rarely plays in close games.  Duke has blown through the tournament, Butler has been in a war just about each time out, but capable of controlling the game down the stretch.

But remember, David did defeat Goliath in the classic biblical altercation.  Regardless of the analysis, with a 33 year old head coach, Brad Stevens, who was 3 years old when legendary Coach "K" took over as head coach of the Duke Blue Devils at the age of 33, matching strategies there is a gross disparity in the championship coaching experience adding another lopsided variable in favor of Duke.

Basketball analyst have Duke favored in tangible areas such as Starting Backcourt, Starting Frontcourt, Bench Strength, and Coaching.  But USA Today gives Butler the edge in the intangibles (hustle, defense, free throw shooting and find ways to win).  Both teams have held their opponents to an average of less than 60 points, with Butler not allowing a single team to exceed 60 points.  So how does David (Butler) beat Goliath (Duke)?  Play a near perfect game the Butler was with Hustle, Defense, Rebound and Control the clock and limit Duke's possession.  Butler will have to challenge every shot and make the Duke post players beat you and don't allow the offense to come from the Big Three, Smith, Singler and Scheyer.

Butler is the Cinderella and this game should end before midnight, so don't count this group out, remember they have found a way to win 25 consecutive games dating back to late December.  A Butler win will be one for the ages.

Butler and Duke in the Finals

Butler-MSU Stats                Duke-WV Stats

When the season started in the fall, Coach Brad Stevens told his team, "why not us in the championship game", as he later said he didn't know if he believed it when he said it, but obviously his players did as Butler (33-4) riding a 25 game winning streak that precedes the last time Santa left the north pole, enters the NCAA Championship Game after slaying the likes of #1 Syracuse, #2 Kansas State and now #5 Michigan State, the 2009 NCAA Runner-Up.  Butler with Gordon Hayward, who looks like he's still in high school, playing for Coach Stevens, who looks like he just graduated high school have manhandled and controlled their prophetic destiny to the finals by playing gritty, smothering defense and out rebounding opponents, while limiting possessions and controlling the clock.  The 52-50 victory over MSU was indicative of the entire run in the tournament, contenting to hold all opponents under 60 points.  The Bulldogs held the Spartans to zero fast break points, and out rebounded the Spartans on the offensive glass.  Even when Butler could not find a field goal in approximately ten minutes, their defense stifled MSU for eight minutes to maintain the slim but controlling lead right through to the end.  Late in the game, with Butler holding a slim lead 52-49, after Ronald Nored's two free throws with 6 seconds to go.  Following an ensuing timeout, Coach Stevens set up a smothering defense that would intentionally foul with 2.5 seconds to go sending Korie Lucious to the line where he would make one and intentionally missed the other, but Hayward would grab his 9th rebound to go with 19 points to preserve the victory and keep the Butler Cinderella script alive.

Duke on the other hand was always one run away from a blowout of West Virginia, who was also riddled with a few injuries that hampered their ability to win without a near mistake free game against a team that was fundamentally sound, played athletically superior and was well coached and prepared by the legendary Mike Krzyzewski.  While Duke received little productivity from its bench in comparison to WV Head Coach Bob Huggins, whose bench provided 14 points and 4 rebounds in 27 combined minutes from three players, while Coach K 4 points and 3 rebounds from the primary three reserves Miles and Mason Plumlee and Andre Dawkins in 27 minutes between the three.  But it was the now recognized "Big Three", Kyle Singler (21 pts, 9 rebs & 5 asts), Jon Scheyer (23 pts, 6 asts & 2 stls) and Nolan Smith (19 pts & 6 asts) that provided 81% of the team's offense in putting the Mountaineers away relatively easy after De Shaun Butler went down with a knee injury for the remainder of the game with just under 9 minutes to go and the Blue Devils guarding a 9 point lead.  Duke's aggressive defense generated only 10 turnovers, but challenged shot after shot, allowing only 41% shooting and limited WV to 9 offensive rebounds, but only 8 second chance points.  Duke on the other hand had 11 offensive rebounds and 16 second chance points to go with its' 53% shooting and only 5 turnovers.  Coach K moves on to now his 8th championship game, looking for his 4th title Monday night against Butler.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Who Wins Semi Finals of the Final Four?

Duke        West Virginia       Michigan State       Butler        NCAA Bracket      Final 4 History

With #1 playing #2, Duke versus West Virginia, and #5 against #5, Michigan State versus Butler you could ask for a more evenly matched semi-final round in the Final Four of the NCAA National Basketball Championship being played this weekend in Indianapolis.  But that being said, who wins tonight and goes on to play in the championship game on Monday night?  Let's look at each matchup.

Butler (32-4) is on a 24 game winning streak that dates back to 2009 before Christmas, their record is the third best in the country and Brad Stevens is 88-14 nearing the end of his third season as a Head Coach.  Butler plays possession basketball and has lost 3 of its 4 ball games when teams, Georgetown, Minnesota and UAB did not allow Butler to play control basketball and pushed the game, allowing the winning teams to gain more possessions than Butler.  In its fourth loss to Clemson, Butler was able to establish a half court game, but failed to shoot the ball well and could not stop Clemson from penetrating the paint and were out rebounded on the offensive glass late in the game.  The defensive minded Butler Bulldogs live up to their mascot title, as they guard the ball extremely well and do not allow its opponents to get into fast transition games.  They are very efficient with its possessions and rarely take bad shots.  In four tournament games this year, the Bulldogs have not allowed a team to score 60 points.  They are very comfortable playing games in the 50's, but while holding their opponents to under 60 points, Butler has scored 77, 63 twice and slipped by Murray State 54-52.  As a disciplined half court team, Butler rebounds the ball extremely well and appears as fundamentally prepared as any team in America.  To beat Butler, a team will need to increase tempo and try to beat the set defense down the floor and create offensive advantages.  Force the actions and don't fall into the slow half court tempo.  And by all means, rebound the ball and reduce the second chance opportunities for a team that scores at a high rate during normal single possessions.

Michigan State (28-8), the only returning team from last year's Final Four, is coached by Tom Izzo, that alone is a notable team advantage, now considered one of the best college coaches in the country.  During the regular season the team was somewhat inconsistent, but only one loss in the eight came from a team not playing in the field of 64, Illinois.  The Spartans have played a number of close games this year and appear to be playing their best basketball of the season after an overtime loss (72-67) to Minnesota to end their conference season.  Coach Izzo's group attacks the offensive glass, and plays the game extremely aggressive.  Izzo will play possession games at times using timeout possessions to execute set plays for baskets more often than most teams in the country.  The Spartans have had some turnover problems this year and will need to protect the ball, rebound and attempt to play the game at their pace which somewhat up tempo, creating baskets in transition.  Statistics reveal that the Spartans rebound approximately 40% of their misses, so poor shooting does not always play against MSU, but they will have to defend the ball consistently for 25-30 seconds per Butler possession to have a chance to move on to the Finals.

Duke (33-5) was considered the weakest of the #1 seeds in the tournament, but has been playing great basketball with a real emphasis on rebounding.  Once Coach Mike Krzyzewski was able to motivate Brian Zoubek to become a presence on the boards, Duke has been able to allow its perimeter dominating game to open the floor and its length is a advantage factor with Miles and Mason Plumlee at 6'10", Zoubek at 7'1" and high flying Lance Thomas now is allowed to gain fromthe offensive board volley ball match generated by the Duke size.  Duke then has the scoring trio of Nolan Smith, Kyle Singler, who is struggling in post season, along with Jon Scheyer.  Defensively Duke is aggressive on the perimeter, relying on size to cover the penetration and post entry.  Duke has really cruised through the tournament and even dominated the final five minutes of a close Baylor game by just pounding the glass and then shooting with confidence from the perimeter down the stretch.  Smith is playing with an emotional and spiritual-like motivation and his deceased father, Derek Smith led a Louisville team to the Final Four 30 years ago and Smith has dedicated this tournament to his late father.  Coach K is the most experienced Final Four coach in the mix of all four high profile coaches, which includes the new "young gun" Brad Stevens of Butler.  Duke will have to guard against an early slump and allowing an early early leads by their opponent.  If Dukes kick out threes are falling they will be hard to beat, along with second chance possessions and scoring opportunities.

West Virginia (31-6) Coached by Bob Huggins, the controversial coach who has been criticized for low graduation rates, a demanding practice philosophy and a sarcastic demeanor seems to irk the general sports fan.  The result a physical and athletic basketball team that plays an aggressive 1-3-1 matching defense and alternating in your face man to man schemes.  The Mountaineers are returning to the Final Four for the first time since 1959, when a Jerry West led West Virginia team lost in the finals to California 71-70 .  This team has the son of Jerry West, Jonnie on the roster and believes they are playing this weekend for the National Championship in representation of the entire state of West Virginia.  It will take more than inspiration and nostalgia to get to the championship game on Monday.  Coach Huggins' team will have to play their physical style on defense and on the glass.  They will have to defend the perimeter and contest all kick outs and limit the second chance opportunities of their opponent.  WV needs to push the ball and not allow their contenders to establish defensive rhythm often, as WV scores more proficiently when attacking early and not getting late into their shot clock.  The Mountaineers have suffered from high turnover games and have survived some through sheer athleticism, but in the Final Four they will need to protect the ball and try to emerge with more possessions than their opponent.

Both games will be close, and as stated the semis offer the best personnel and team playing styles, in regards to match ups, and should prove to be close games.  Dukes length appears to bed the advantage, along with its perimeter shooting threats, but WV has a very skilled team, even with injuries they have depth, but no match for the length, late game second chances should give Duke the 2 point winning advantage, plus there is always Coach K in his 11th Final Hour.  In the early game you will see two teams that really match up well from position to position, but Coach Izzo has been able to survive without his starting point guard and key big play shooter, as others have stepped up cover the loss, but the young coach of Butler may look like a kid, but his 88-14 record is nothing to kid about, he is a true student of the game and has his team playing the most efficient and consistent basketball in the tournament, next to Duke.  Butler should shock the country and please the home crowd with a close 4 point victory over the future "Hall of Famer" and give Coach Stevens the spotlight going into Monday's Championship game.  Both games are really to close to call, but enjoy the ride, but expect a Duke versus Butler National Championship game on Monday night.  

Sunday, March 28, 2010

More Parity, Lack Of Dominance Lower Seeds Going Home

NCAA Brackets

Regardless of the argument parity, dominance, luck, pairings, seedings or officiating, this year's NCAA Basketball Tournament has witnessed the elimination of several Lower Seeds early and recently, with only one #1 seed, Duke,  remaining potentially for the Final Four.  Michigan State is the only team still in the dance from last year's final four, while storied programs like defending national champion North Carolina are in the NIT this year, with UConn, UCLA, Memphis, Illinois, Cincinnati and NC State.

This year in round one, #14 Ohio U wins over #3 Georgetown, #13 Murray State beats #4 Vanderbilt, #11 Washington beats #6 Marquette, then three # 10's Missouri, St. Mary's and Georgia Tech notch wins against #7's Clemson, Richmond and Oklahoma State, respectively.  So if those upsets weren't enough to convince you of a national change, then Round Two offered #9 Northern Iowa over Championship favorite, #1 Kansas, #12 St. Mary's upsets #2 Villanova and #12 Cornell over #4 Wisconsin.

Opponents to the belief in parity in college basketball strongly recommended that the Cinderella show is over and the "Sweet Sixteen" would separate the strong teams from those good to average teams surviving on the heels of bad one-game play by the beaten lower seeds.   #12 Cornell was no match for #1 Kentucky, with it's young NBA talented roster and #12 St. Mary's caught #3 Baylor bringing their "A" and lost while #11 Washington was not physical enough for #2 West Virginia, but #5 Butler was up to the task in upsetting #1 Syracuse, #6 Tennessee took out #2 Ohio State.  As the "Elite Eight" was paired, #2 Kansas State could not hold off #5 Butler, as Butler wins and returns home as the first designated Final Four participant.  #2 West Virginia confirmed the lack of dominance by any team with a solid win against #1 Kentucky for the second spot in the Final Four.

If seedings are a description of the best teams for the current season, the first 4 seedings should represent the top 16 teams in the field of 64 (65 with the play-in game).  Therefore it would stand to reason that any wins by teams seeded below # 4 could be considered an upset or at least a win by a less favored opponent. Currently with one game remaining in the "Elite Eight," #1 Duke against #3 Baylor, the "Sweet Sixteen" began with 8 teams seeded in the top four spots, with tow #5's and #2 already in the Final Four, with a #1 or #3 pending the results of the Duke/Baylor matchup.  The combination of this year's victories, with the number of Marquee programs in the NIT, college basketball has developed a product that offers competitive games by a volume of teams from around the country, making college basketball possibly one of the most exciting games in competitive athletics currently.  As far as parity or lack of dominance, no more than two top ten teams from the final regular season rankings will play in the final four, should Duke win later this afternoon. 

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Another Shinning Moment For Mid Majors and Higher Seeds

Tournament Bracket        Sweet 16 Analysis       Game Highlight Videos          

The Sweet Sixteen is primarily the home of the Power Conferences in previous years.  In most seasons the Sweet Sixteen offers an average of one and a half Mid Major schools in the field of 16.  But this year the parity that many analyst have been touting and debating is beginning to surface as five Mid Majors, #5 Butler, #12 Cornell, #9 Northern Iowa, #10 St Mary's and #6 Xavier enter week two participating in the Sweet Sixteen.  In all the group of 16 represents a total of 11 conferences, seedings of one each 9-12, two 5 and 6 seeds, one 3 and 4 to go with the three 1's and 2's.

The tournament is set up for a potential Cinderella finish for someone.  While #1 Duke has the appearance of a favorable portion of the bracket, #4 Purdue, #3 Baylor and #10 St. Mary's each bring elements to eventual and potential meetings that could challenge Duke Final Four march.  The real intrigue matchup is  in the East Region where #1 Kentucky will compete against the best three-point shooting team in the country, #12 Cornell, who has literally destroyed each of it's higher ranked opponents, #5 Temple and #4 Wisconsin.  If Kentucky somehow is relegated to a half court game, this could be the next huge upset of the NCAA Tournament.  #2 West Virginia should stop the surprising run of #11 Washington, but the PAC 10 was down and nobody expected any noise from the teams in this conference, but that's why you play the games.  The favorable predictions would land #1 vs #2, UK against WVA, but an unprecedented #11 versus #12 is not out of the realm of possibilities, if Washington and Cornell believe in miracles or dreams.  

Most would believe that #1 Syracuse has too many weapons for #5 Butler, however Butler is battle tested and has become comfortable in postseason so the Orangemen will need to bring their "A" game to assure a show down with #2 Kansas State, which has to get by Mid-Major powerhouse, Xavier, another battle tested program that seems to punch their ticket every year as a team ready to audition for the "One Shinning Moment".  #5 Michigan State is the only team returning from last year's final four, but as if the injury to Kalin Lucas was not enough, the Spartans will have to enter this game without its' floor leader and against the team, #9 Northern Iowa, that derailed the championship plans of the top number one program, Kansas, on Sunday afternoon.  If N. Iowa can refocus its energy and emotions they may be in the best position to advance to the Elite Eight with a chance to meet the winner of the #2 Ohio State versus #6 Tennessee.  This game could be the most physical of the eight games played in the "Sweet Sixteen".

The debate has begun, is parity good for the sport or is it a problem to have early post season upsets remove higher seeds from the tournament.  The question is how good is it for the sport to have "David and Goliath" reenacted on the basketball court, Cinderella stepping deeper into the dance, the Nerd standing up against the Bully and improbable Dreams coming True.  This year's NCAA Basketball Tournament is a tribute to all hard working Americans, having the chance to make the impossible, possible and the unthinkable a reality.  Better known as "The American Dream", it is what movies such as "Hoosiers" is all about, making heros of the unknowns and champions of the underdog.  For "One Shinning Moment" you just have to be the best team for a game not the entire season.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Mid Majors Make Major Statement In Tournament

Tourney Brackets           Round 2 Preview               President Obama's Bracket                

The Mid Major Conferences made major statements in the first round, certifying that they belong.  With the field of 65 represented mostly by the 6 power conferences in America, the Big East, ACC, SEC, Pac 10, Big 10 and Big 12.  It was the Ivy League, OVC, A10, Horizon, MVC, MAC, MWC, WCC and Colonial that was stealing headlines and making the key plays down the stretch to gain the attention of college basketball fans around the bars, pubs, offices, living rooms and internet.  The Mid Major conferences won 11 of the 32 (8 Thursday and 3 Friday) opening round games in this year's NCAA Basketball Tournament.  At a glance some would say that's a reasonable percentage until you recognize that there are 31 conference, 25 mid-majors and 6 power conferences.  Of the field of 65, there are 6 automatic bids to power conferences and 25 automatic bids to the mid-major schools, after that the at-large bids were given to 8 other mid-major conferences.  The 6 power conferences received the remaining or additional 26 bids (Big East 7, Big 12 6, ACC 5, Big 10 4, SEC 3 & PAC 10 1).

With all the discussions about the teams that were snuffed from primarily power conferences, the elite of these conferences had all they could handle with the elites of the mid-major leagues.  Not to mention a few near misses in the upset category by Robert Morris a 15 seed, taking 2 seed Villanova to OT and 4 seed Wisconsin needing heroics late in the ball game to salvage a 53-49 nail bitter against Wofford, a 13 seed, with less than 2000 students.

The first round would end with victories by a 14 Seed Ohio University, the lone participant from the MAC over #3 Georgetown (Big East), #13 Murray State of the OVC over #4 Vanderbilt (SEC),  #12 Cornell from the Ivy League defeating Temple of the A10, the Colonial's only entry, #11 Old Dominion was victorious over #5 Notre Dame (Big East), #10 St. Mary's of the WCC shocked #7 Richmond of the A10 to round out the mid-major upsets in round one.  In all 9 mid-major or lesser conferences, as some would say, would be responsible for over a third of the first round wins, 11.

Next, round two, which now has 16 games deciding the field of 16 for next week's count down, "The Sweet 16", which offers teams advancement towards the ultimate goal, The Final Four, the final stage for College Basketball's National Championship.  10 of 16 games involve at least one mid-major school, which leaves increased potential in at least one, if not several mid-major teams in the "Sweet Sixteen".

Teams to watch, #12 Cornell is long, can shoot, defend and control the pace of a game.  #4 Wisconsin just got by Wofford of the Southern Conference, don't know if they can struggle against the elite squad from the Ivy League, a league that hasn't won a NCAA tournament game until Thursday, in twelve years.  Tennessee may match up better with the Ohio transition game, but can they survive the kind of shooting this team dished out against #3 Georgetown on Thursday in the biggest shocker so far in the tournament.  Then there is #10 St. Mary's who has been catching analysts eyes gradually as the season came to an end, playing against #2 Villanova, a "Jekyl & Hyde" elite team that is ripe for the Cinderella upset, with their late season slump.  #5 Butler is a really good team, but no one realizes yet how good the #13 Murray State club plays, even after their thriller against #4 Vanderbilt.  Look for Murray State to be in the filed of 16 next week.  In another battle of two mid-majors, #11 ODU will have their hands full with #3 Baylor, but proved what they can do with a very poised victory against #6 Notre Dame in  round one, should be a very competitive contest.  #9 Northern Iowa is in the must see position, playing the top #1 Kansas, after a convincing victory over a talented #8UNLV.  #8 California can pound and shoot with physical teams, and defends the perimeter well, but this is #1 Duke, a disciplined ball club playing its' best basketball late in the season, appears to be the least of the likely upsets, but this is the search for "One Shining Moment.  #8 Gonzaga will try to take advantage of the #1 Syracuse, that recently lost in the opening round of the Big East Tournament and placed the "curse" of first round tourney losses.  No team has ever lost the opening game of their conference tournament and gone on to win the National Championship, that being said,  Syracuse sits in the right line of sight for being shot out of the picture by a mid-major.  #9 Wake Forest will not blow anyone but they are capable of staying around to steal a game against any team in the field, as they try to end the dream season for the #1 Kentucky.   The parity in college basketball is evident and the mid-majors are maximizing their opportunities to display their talent and skills and this dance is still up for grabs, even if the President of the United States has named the winner, the NCAA says we have to play the games to see who really will live that "One Shinning Moment".

Friday, March 12, 2010

Late Collapse or Late Surge Bama Wins 68-63

Game Stats

Who gets the credit for Alabama's (17-14) second "come from behind" victory against the South Carolina Gamecocks after trailing by 18 points with just over 11 minutes remaining in the ballgame?  Initially you have to credit Alabama Head Coach Anthony Grant for keeping his team motivated to play with confidence and efficiency down the stretch outscoring the Gamecocks 32-9 from the 11:39 mark to stun South Carolina (15-16) for the second time in 8 days.  Then there was Senior Guard Mikhail Torrance who scored 17 points on 5-11 shooting and Junior Forward Justin Knox who added 16 points on 5-9 accuracy.  After shooting 41% (15-36) in the first half, South Carolina was held to 8-27 shooting for 29.6%.  This was a tail of two halves as Alabama shot 50% (13-26) in the second half following a dismal 30% in the opening half.  In the most significant stretch from 11:18 remaining to 9:21 Alabama scored 10 unanswered points before a 30-second timeout was called and by then the momentum had completely shifted and the game was on a complete reverse spiral for Head Coach Darrin Horn, who had no answer for Grant's confident team, as the Tide continued to roll, allowing only one South Carolina field goal in the final 11 minutes and 39 seconds, a three-pointer by Ramon Galloway with 1:17 to play, shortly after the Crimson Tide had established a 62-59 lead, to tie at 62-62, but the Cocks would only get a single free throw from Devan Downey who likely ends his college career  with 21 points in a losing effort and no post season play.  Downey would experience his first and only missed free throw (6-7) with 18 seconds leaving the score 64-63 in favor of Bama.

In the end, South Carolina just fell completely apart as a team and appeared like a herd of deer in spot lights, while the Tide never looked like a team trailing by as much as 18 points deep in the final half.  South Carolina also led at the half 38-27.  The loss would eventually taint a marvelous game on the boards by Lakeem Jackson who finished with 14 rebounds (10 offensive) to go with his 9 points, and efficient shooting by Ramon Galloway 3-4 from the field (2-2 from 3) and 6-8 from the line.  And would watch Senior Guard Brandis Raley-Ross go scoreless (0-7) in 32 minutes on the floor. Junior Forward Sam Muldrow would finish with 13 points, all scored in the first half.  Muldrow's 3 second half shot attempts would all come from the perimeter.  

South Carolina will have all summer to wonder what could have been had they closed the game with less long jump shots and more interior play, even with the guards as they shot 70% (14-20) from the free throw line, but vacated the effort to penetrate and keep the pressure on the Crimson Tide.  They will also want to question not packing the zone and forcing the Tide to complete the run with some perimeter play.  Grant's two and three man half court schemes created passing lanes for cutters and isolation for players to penetrate the slow rotating defense of South Carolina during the comeback run.  The Cocks had little gas down the stretch with the limited use of the bench in the ball game.  Austin Steed played only one minute in the ball game.

So as the buzzer sounds, is it poor shooting, poor defense or great scoring and great defense.  Is it poor coaching or great coaching?  What we do know is that there is someone to congratulate and someone to criticize for this great Alabama victory and this disappointing loss by South Carolina.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Downey Ignites Upset In Nashville

Final Stats       SEC Tourney Bracket

South Carolina (15-15, 6-10)  needed Devan Downey to have a big day to have any chance to win at Vanderbilt (23-7, 12-4).  And big game he had, scoring 26 points, 22 in the second half to ignite a come from behind victory over the #13 Vanderbilt Commodores.  Vandy's loss to Kentucky was their lone blemish at home until the Gamecocks rallied behind Downey to record a 77-73 victory in Nashville.  

This victory comes at the right time, as the Cocks will return to Nashville to open SEC tournament play Thursday.  Downey was not alone in the scoring as Sam Muldrow scored 20 points to go with 9 rebounds, 2 blocks and 2 steals.  Downey leading the league in scoring and steals, added a couple of steals in this contest, along with one big steal and score during his second half highlight run.  Downey struggled in the first half shooting 2-9 for 4 points.  With USC trailing 35-27 at the half, and trailing by 9 points with just over 9 minutes to play in the ball game, Downey went on a scoring flurry hitting back to back threes and the run, comeback and 50-point second half was ignited.  South Carolina built a 7 point lead in about 4 minutes with a little over 5 minutes to go before Vandy tied the game at 69-69 with just under two minutes to play.  But the Gamecocks were more like "Fighting Gamecocks", as they could see the kill in sight and denied the host team and crowd the chance to regain control of the game.  Downey would come down and immediately hit a three and give the visitors the lead for good.

The game would wind down with Head Coach John Stallings' team cutting the lead to 2 points, but South Carolina would make free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory.  South Carolina locks up the #5 seed and will likely play Auburn or Alabama in the opening round of the SEC Tournament.

Other contributing factors in the game would be Muldrow, scoring 13 points in the first half, and Lakeem Jackson's first half penetration and scoring in the paint.  Darrin Horn's ball club would play physical throughout the game, which led to USC out rebounding the taller Commodores 29-24 (9-4 offensive).    In the earlier meeting won by Vandy, USC was out rebounded 39-24.  Horn never stopped coaching, and obviously the team kept believing and executing, and when Downey began scoring the Commodores went cold and appeared "shell-shocked" by the Downey scoring outburst.  Vanderbilt Senior Jermaine Beal would see his senior day and 21 point, 8 rebound, 2 assist performance tainted by  Downey and company.  A.J. Ogilvy added 15 points and Jeffrey Taylor 13 for Vandy.

South Carolina's Season Near The End

South Carolina (14-15, 5-10) travels into Nashville on a six game (1-7 over the last eight games) losing streak that will place the Gamecocks in a disappointing regular season finish unless they can find a way to upset the Commodores in the regular season finale.  #19 Vanderbilt (23-6, 12-3) is 14-1 at home losing only to the Kentucky Wildcats this season.  South Carolina will need a victory in Nashville and a couple of wins in the SEC tournament to extend the season.  Vanderbilt has a size advantage and recorded a severe rebounding advantage in the earlier meeting when Head Coach John Stallings' team out rebounded the Gamecocks 39-24 and shot better than 60%, with many of those shots around the basket.

South Carolina Head Coach Darrin Horn must find a way to get more post presence and board work to have a chance playing in Memorial Arena on Saturday.  South Carolina has been able to win only one game on the road this year in the SEC, which is their lone road victory of the season on a team's home floor.

This game may very well be about pride and resilience as the Gamecocks are on the verge of recording a losing season similar to the final two seasons of Dave Odom, former head coach at 14-16 and 14-18 respectively.

The season, with the loss of Dominique Archie and Mike Holmes, has become a devastating end to the career of Devan Downey, who was hoping to lead his team into the NCAA tournament in his final year.  Downey, a candidate for many individual accolades, wanted to end his college career playing in the NCAA tournament a feat he has never experienced during his journey from Cincinnati to South Carolina after a one year all freshman season with the Bearcats.  Downey has given his entire arsenal of offense in an attempt to carry a team that lacked offensive weapons, but his efforts fell short as the conference season prevailed and teams found ways to neutralize the performance and disruption of Downey's multi-faceted scoring.  It appears Devan will have to settle for personal accolades and recognitions for his body of work at South Carolina.

South Carolina will have to rely on a miracle season end to see post season play.  A really disappointing situation after a season that started with so much promise.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Cocks Fight Hard But Come Up Short

Game Stats

When South Carolina (14-13, 5-8) traveled to Lexington, Ky to take on the Wildcats, everyone had predicted a blowout, a revenge beat down for the lone loss on the Kentucky (27-1, 12-1) record.  While the 82-61 victory by John Calipari's team would appear to be a blowout, it was anything but that.  Fans don't like to talk about morale victories and this was not one, but the USC Basketball Team played extremely hard and competed with the team most believe will win the national championship.  A team with an estimated 4-5 future NBA players.

After jumping out to a 11-2 lead in the first two and a half minutes, Kentucky and its' fans could smell an embarrassing route of the visiting team.  But a nice 7-2 run over the next two minutes narrowed the lead to 13-9 and the scrappy competitive game was on.  For the rest of the game, Kentucky, led by John Wall, Demarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson could not gain more than an 8 point lead for the next ten minutes.  In the final five minutes of the half, the Wildcat size and strength began to take over.  With Kentucky shooting poorly from the outside (3-11 from 3-Pt range) they began to pound the glass and penetrate to grind points in closing out the first half.  After establishing a 14 point lead at the 1:31 mark, no one could score until SEC scoring leader Devan Downey scored his 9th point on a long 30-foot shot to end the first half with Kentucky leading 37-26.  In the second half Devan would add 17 more points shooting 9-25 and 3-9 from the arc.

The tenacity and competitive spirit of USC Head Coach Darrin Horn and Downey would display itself again in the second half, when Kentucky jumped out to a 16 point lead just under two minutes into the half.  But over the next nine minutes the Gamecocks would get as close as 6 points before the size, speed and talent of Kentucky would take advantage in the post and in transition, and with 9:18 to go USC would watch its efforts become overshadowed by the gradual growth of a small double digit lead between 10-15 points over that period.  With just under three minutes and the score 69-59 Kentucky, Patterson, who finished with a team high 23 points, to go with his 8 rebounds, grabbed an offensive rebound and dunked to start the run for the final margin of victory.

USC has a few positives to take from this loss, forcing John Wall into 6 turnovers, Wall was held to 12 points on 4-15 shooting, scoring on 10 assisted plays, after averaging less than 10 assists during SEC play and holding Kentucky to only 10 fast break points.  Overall, the Gamecocks did not back down, nor did they allow various runs during most of the game to discourage their level of effort against a superior ball club.  Concerns will obviously be noted in the post scoring where Kentucky scored 56 of its' total 82 points in the paint.  South Carolina was able to generate 30 of its' 61 points in the paint on penetration and passing, along with stick backs from offensive rebounds.  The Wildcats had a decisive advantage at the free throw line due to post play, going 15-20 from the line and the Gamecocks were 5-7, with Downey going 5-5 from the charity stripe.  No bench scoring for the Gamecocks was obviously disappointing to Coach Horn.

Lakeem Jackson took two ill-advised shots from the perimeter, but otherwise was near perfect scoring aggressively on 8-11 shooting for 16 points (4 rebs, 3 stls, 2 asts & 1 blk), while Sam Muldrow was effective earlier in the game and finished with 10 points (5-11), 8 rebounds and 3 blocks.
It is now South Carolina's turn to attempt a home court beat down, returning home to play Mississippi State at the Colonial Life Arena, where the Gamecocks have played their best basketball all year, winning 11 of its total 14 victories in this arena.

Monday, February 22, 2010

USC Signee Falls Short In Playoffs To Lexington

Full Game Story        Playoff Bracket

In Devan Downey-like fashion, South Carolina 5'10" signee Bruce Ellington of Berkeley (14-11) single handily shot his team into contention against highly ranked Lexington (23-5) as he scored 25 second half points to finish with 33, as Lexington needed clutch free throw shooting from Sophomore sensation Shaq Roland, who sank two free throws with 0.9 seconds remaining in regulation to send the game to overtime, 72-72 .

The overtime became the "Shaq Roland Show" as Lexington turned the game into a rout with a 15-0 run to open the overtime.  Roland finished with 34 points, 12 rebounds and 5 assists.  But Roland was not alone as Lexington received a double-double from Adrian Wigfall (18pts/10rebs) and David Burns scored 23 points for the Wildcats coached by Bailey Harris, who has 14 twenty-win seasons in 23 years, two 4A state championship in four trips to the season finale. 

South Carolina Coach Darrin Horn and staff were on hand at the Wildcat gymnasium to watch his future point guard Ellington, along with a few USC players.  Ellington was impressive down the stretch, but the opposing team effort, a pesky zone and depth was so familiar to his future coach who has had to endure similar concerns.  Hopefully Ellington will have more help by the time he transforms his skill sets to the SEC level at South Carolina.

Ellington did get double digit scoring assistance from R.J. Robinson 12 pts., Marcus Wiggs 11pts., and D.J. Harrison 11pts.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Free Throws Solve Home Court Disadvantage For Vols

Game Stats       Highlights     Post-Game Interview

The game was played in Colonial Life Arena, a definite advantage for the Gamecocks on most game days, but for Tennessee (20-6, 8-4) a 63-55 winner over South Carolina (14-12, 5-7) Saturday, it was just a matter of taking advantage of what was given to them.  After trailing or playing close for 33 minutes of the ball game, the Vols continued to grind out plays, loose balls and opportunities in the middle of the lane to score or get to the free throw line, where they outscored the home team by 9 points in an 8-point game.  In a game of 13 lead changes, 6 ties and a 10-19 turnover advantage for the host squad, one would think this was a formula for a home court victory.  But in the end it would be the repeat of the decisive free throw advantage that teams have shown in each of the three consecutive losses by the Gamecocks that would make the actual difference, in lieu of poor shooting.

The game overall was not pretty for either team or its stars.  Devan Downey was well under his 23 point average with 15 points on 4-18 shooting and Wayne Chism fell below his 17 point conference average with 11 points on 4-6 shooting.  #20 Tennessee started the game with 8 turnovers in the first 8 minutes of play.  South Carolina on the other hand rarely converted those turnovers in to points and could only establish a 2 point lead 11-9 by the second media timeout.  By halftime the Gamecocks held a 28-24 lead with 8 points off turnovers and 7 points on second chance opportunities, shooting only 33% (11-33 and 4-14 from 3-pt).  The Vols shot 45% (9-20, 2-7) for the same ugly period but managed to shoot 4-8 from the charity stripe versus South Carolina 2-4, to stay close with all the turnovers.

In the second half it was more of the same, with South Carolina continuing to concentrate on the perimeter and Tennessee grinding to push the ball in the paint and take only open perimeter shots, however the results began to shift late in the half as the Gamecocks were able to hold the lead or stay within 3 points for nearly 13 minutes, before the Vols began to take over.  Tennessee Head Coach Bruce Pearl was able to counter the game plan of USC Head Coach Darrin Horn's aggressive match-up zone, with running offensive sets that constantly flashed players to the middle of the lane with quick feeds to attack the zone from the middle to score or interior pass to the blocks.  This periodically left Bobby Maze open to hit a few key jump shots to establish some balance in a game where both teams shot poorly from the perimeter.  The difference?  The Vols used the paint in the second half to shoot 52.4% (11-21, 2-4), while the Cocks continued to struggle at 30% (9-30, 1-12).  The Vols were 15-24 from the free throw line during the final period, getting there by concentrating on the inside, shooting only 4 long range shots.  The Gamecocks were fouled less often obviously taking 12 long range perimeter shots and was 8-11 (72%) from the charity stripe in the second half.

Tennessee really only led in three key statistical areas, "shooting percentage" 48.8% versus 31.7%, "points in the paint" 32-22 and "assists" 13-3.  South Carolina led in "free throw shooting percentage" 66.7% against 59.4%, "offensive rebounds" 13-10, "second chance points" 12-9.  With a cold perimeter afternoon, the home team had become the disadvantaged squad as the odds of percentages in basketball took over, the high percentage shot either went in or generated foul shot opportunities for Tennessee and the low percentage shot failed to fall for South Carolina and rarely did they get to the foul line.   

The Garnet Army was again alive and well represented, but in the end they could not will their basketball heroes to victory, as Tennessee countered a sloppy game with grinding and getting to the free stripe twice as many times as the host team.  South Carolina will only wonder what could have been if the free throw percentage advantage could have been matched with equal trips to the line.  Only three South Carolina players even shot free throws, Downey, Raley-Ross and Austin Steed (1-2). 

The free throw difference, along with a 20-3 Tennessee bench scoring difference assisted the Vols in grinding out a late 17-3 run that virtually rendered the game a Tennessee victory.

Brandis Raley-Ross continued his scoring support and balanced play, as the senior guard scored a team high 16 points on 5-10 shooting (2-6 from 3 and 4-7 from the line).

Friday, February 19, 2010

USC Returns To The Comforts of Home Against Tennessee

SEC Standings               South Carolina Stats                 Tennessee Stats         

After a tough two games on the road, the Gamecocks (14-11, 5-6) return home where opponents of the South Carolina Basketball Program find it hard to get a win.  The Tennessee Vols (19-6, 7-4) will come into the Colonial Life Arena, better known as "The House That Horn Rebuilt" on Saturday afternoon trying to keep their winning momentum alive.  After finding the road again tough with losses at Georgia and Arkansas, Darrin Horn and team are understandably excited about returning home to the arena that has allowed few to leave with a victory since Horn has arrived in Columbia.  Sporting a record of 11-2 at home this season, including a win over then #1 Kentucky and only 2 regular season losses at home last year, Horn's first season.

Tennessee is fresh off a 69-60 victory at home against Georgia, but Tennessee while posting a 13-1 record at home this season is only 3-4 away from Knoxville.  South Carolina plays extremely well in the Colonial Life Arena for a few obvious reasons, but it appears that the Horn developed and inspired Garnet Army has raised the level of home court advantage and the energy deployed on game day in Columbia.  Returning the fan attention to the student body, along with reaching out to the female fan base, has allow the hosting basketball team to create a very hostile venue to visit and a tough place for opponents to execute their offense.  The atmosphere seems to fuel defensive energy in the Gamecocks and the fans appear ready to fuel the team's adrenaline following every positive play and any noticed extra individual effort displayed by the USC players.

While the NCAA may be a long shot, if a possibility at all, the post season still offers the NIT, which could be a better location for a team being built into a program.  To get in even that post season event requires wins.  Chances are great that South Carolina would host a couple of NIT games before having go on the road if they can continue to taking care of business at home and steal a victory or two in the SEC tournament.  A lot will ride on the game Saturday afternoon for both squads, but USC and Coach Horn have the advantage of being able to protect their house with a sixth man that is ready to execute with energizing support for 40+ minutes.

While the road has been tough, the welcome that awaits the Cocks as they return home Saturday to take on the Vols, who gave the Gamecocks one of the two regular season home losses last season, and get back to their winning ways should be extremely comforting to the competitive young men who believe in and support one another, the characteristic of a real team.  Hopefully the fan base will allow them to restore some of their confidence and aggressiveness to compete as always in Columbia.

The keys to victory tomorrow; re-identify with intense defense, challenge shots in the post and gain the same scoring output as displayed on the road over the last week, but support it with more interior offensive play to get to the free throw line more and make the opposing defense cover the entire floor with all five players.  If they continue to protect the ball as a team, gain a better balance of shot selection from post to perimeter and close the gap between their opponents and them at the free throw line, Coach Horn will continue to appreciate the term..."Home Sweet Home".