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Picking out some early season turkeys – and sweet performances

by - Published November 23, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

Thanksgiving is nearly upon us, and that means we’re cooking up something for the holiday.

For the main course, we’re serving a few turkeys that have crept up in the college basketball nation. These conferences, teams, players and — in one case — an entire city’s judicial/law enforcement institution just aren’t getting the job done for one reason or another.

Some of these look tastier than others, but all will be heading to the chopping block if they don’t shape up soon. Some much-needed improvement could save these proverbial turkeys from the fate awaiting their avian namesakes across the country.

After the entrees, we’ve got a delicious spread of all-American winners that are worth saving room for — just like that pumpkin or apple pie. In the Protos household, my mother has added a German chocolate pie to the mix that is as mouth-watering as its more traditionally American pastries. Perhaps we need a new name for the pie. Or maybe not, as one of the coaches that we name has a distinctly Central European flavor.

Let’s get to the tryptophan-inducers first.

J’Covan Brown

How can someone putting up more than 26 ppg be on a list of turkeys? Well, when you get kicked out of a game for swearing and your young teammates subsequently choke up a double-digit lead in a few minutes, you become a turkey. Brown is absolutely essentially to a Longhorns team dominated by freshmen. After picking up a fourth foul midway through the second half against NC State, Brown protested the call with a vulgarity en route to his bench during a timeout. The referee took offense and gave Brown at technical and fifth personal, thus ending his night and beginning the Wolfpack’s comeback.

Colonial Athletic Association

The CAA isn’t exactly off to a great start, just months removed from sending VCU to the Final Four. The conference’s preseason favorite, Drexel, dropped a game to Norfolk State and then scored only 35 points in a loss to Virginia. George Mason has two overtime losses already, to Florida International and Florida Atlantic. Every team except Northeastern has at least two losses already, and five teams haven’t won more than one game.

UCLA

It’s messy out in Westwood. Heading into tonight’s game against Michigan, the Bruins are still looking for their first win against a Division I team after losing to Kansas in Maui and Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State — by 20 — at home. The team can’t hit anything right now, and Reeves Nelson earned a suspension for sulking during the team’s opening loss to Loyola Marymount. There’s time to turn it around, but if they don’t, Howland might take much of the blame for this sloppiness.

The Syracuse edition of law & order

There’s no bigger turkey in college basketball right now than the attorneys and police officials in Syracuse, N.Y. They’re not even related to Orange basketball, but they have been thrust into the spotlight by accusations that Syracuse assistant coach Bernie Fine molested two ball boys over a span of more than a decade. The sordid story has devolved into people calling one another liars, and we need a functional investigation to get even close to realizing justice and revealing the truth. But the Syracuse district attorney’s office and police chief are too busy blaming each other for bungling the original investigation last decade. The DA has accused the police chief of hiding information while the police officers are calling the attorneys incompetent and unresponsive.

And now let’s enjoy some good stuff.

Coastal Carolina

The Chanticleers are back in business after injuries and suspensions derailed a promising season last February. Coastal Carolina already has knocked off power conferences foes LSU and Clemson — with the victory against the Tigers coming on the road. Besides a road game at East Carolina and a home date with Charleston, the Chanticleers look setup to post another gaudy record, which could earn this team an at-large bid if needed. That’d be a major accomplishment for the Big South.

Cleveland State

It’s certainly far more common for the Horizon League to get some extra love in the NCAA Tournament than the Big South, and the conference is certainly on the basketball nation’s radar after Butler made two consecutive trips to the title game. But with Norris Cole gone this season, the Vikings didn’t appear to be the team to beat in the conference. They certainly are playing the part after taking out Vanderbilt and Kent State on the road and a strong St. Bonaventure team at home by Lake Erie.

The cream of the crop

The top teams in the country have looked strong thus far, as North Carolina, Kentucky, Ohio State, Syracuse, Connecticut and Duke have performed well against some stiff competition. As mentioned plenty of times, the top teams are returning an unusual amount of top talent, thanks in large part to the NBA lockout. We should be in store for a fantastic season with plenty of epic match ups, especially come March and April.

Coach K

Speaking of Duke, coach Mike Krzyzewski notched one of the sweetest accomplishments in sports in 2011 by surpassing his mentor, Bob Knight, for the most Division I wins in NCAA coaching history. Coach K has Duke in contention for ACC and NCAA titles nearly every season, a testament to his ability to adapt to a changing game and remain in the forefront for multiple generations of ballers.

Missouri Valley

The MVC might be the new CAA, which had been the new MVC anyways. Creighton, Wichita State, Indiana State, Northern Iowa and even Missouri State look like they could be in NCAA Tournament contention by the end of the regular season. Creighton annihilated Iowa on in Des Moines, while Wichita State dispatched Colorado and looked strong against Alabama and Temple.

Norfolk State

A week after losing to Marquette by 31 points, the Spartans regrouped to win three straight — including games against Drexel and TCU — before taking Marquette to the final possession in a rematch in the Paradise Jam title game in the Virgin Islands.

Learning curve looks steep for young Eagles

by - Published November 22, 2011 in Conference Notes

After three games, Boston College looks to be in store for a long season.

With nine freshmen on the roster, no one in Chestnut Hill entered this season with ACC title expectations for the Eagles. In fact, anything short of a finish near the bottom of the season would solidify Steve Donahue’s status as a brilliant coach.

That would require quite turnaround.

The Eagles didn’t do anything particularly well in two blowout losses to Holy Cross and Massachusetts and a three-point win against New Hampshire. As Donahue’s teams are wont to do, the Eagles shoot lots of 3-pointers, with 44 percent of their shots from the field coming from behind the arc. But those shots aren’t falling frequently, as the team is shooting 31 percent from behind the arc.

One player who won’t be living behind the arc is Patrick Heckmann. The freshman guard from Germany has been a bright spot for Boston College, with 30 points and 13 rebounds in two games. He missed the team’s loss to Holy Cross with a sprained ankle. Heckmann is only 1-of-5 from 3-point range, but he’s 6-of-14 inside the arc.

Heckmann’s willingness to battle for boards at both ends of the court is good to see, and he could help set a tough tone for the Eagles, who will need to grind out victories this season. One negative trend in Heckmann’s game right now is his propensity to commit turnovers, as he’s got six turnovers compared to four assists. Of course, after only two games, it’s too early to be overly concerned about that.

The road won’t get much easier for Boston College this week. The Eagles are heading west to Anaheim, Calif., for the 76 Classic, and they’ll start the three-game tournament on Thanksgiving against Saint Louis. The Billikens have one of the toughest defenses in the country — again it’s early, but that’s true thus far — holding opponents to 34.2 percent from inside the arc and 26.5 percent from outside. As a team that already struggles to shoot, the Eagles figure to be in for a tough day. Cracking 50 points could be difficult.

But win or lose, Donahue needs his team to compete during each possession. The youngsters will improve only with hard work and game experience. That experience figures to feature plenty of losses for now, but that could start to change by February.

Player rankings for the Big 12, Big East and Big Ten

by - Published November 20, 2011 in Columns

Each week, we’ll update the Total Impact Quotient ratings for three major conferences. We’ll put it out there right now — we’d love to have player ratings for every conference, but this system is quite time-consuming to produce and we’re relying on manual data collection and analysis to make this happen. So there’s no disrespect for other conferences, just focusing on the big guys first. And that stars with the Big 12, Big East and Big Ten, with the ACC, Pac-12 and SEC coming next week.

That said, we’ve got some fairly expected results here in addition to the unexpected. For example, who would guessed that after about a week, Kansas’ Kevin Young would have the biggest impact per 40 minutes of any Jayhawk? But that’s the kind of TIQ that a player can post when he shoots 6-of-8 from the field in 16 minutes … Continue Reading

Syracuse adamantly denies molestation allegations by associate coach

by - Published November 18, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

The biggest storyline of the day broke late afternoon Nov. 17 when ESPN reported that Syracuse police are investigating allegations that Syracuse associate coach Bernie Fine sexually molested a couple of ball boys during a period that lasted more than a decade.

ESPN is taking a risk with this story. The rumors about Fine molesting a former ball boy emerged more than five years ago. In fact, in a statement posted on the university’s website last night, Syracuse heard about the allegations from an adult male who said he talked to police. The university conducted its own investigation, which included interviews with people that the accuser named. None of those people corroborated the accusations.

That leaves ESPN in a precarious position. The network is bringing this story to the forefront now because a second person has launched molestation charges at Fine. That person happens to be the older stepbrother of the other accuser. Syracuse police are looking into the accusations again. But there’s nothing certain.

However, if you watch the eight-minute segment about Mark Schwarz’s research for ESPN, you get the sense that he is siding with Bobby Davis, the 39-year-old who previously accused Fine. Schwarz questions why no one asked whether it would be inappropriate for Davis and Fine to share hotel rooms during travel and spend significant secluded time together. Those are legitimate questions, but his reporting seems wholly one-sided, and we don’t hear the opinions of other people involved.

In another statement posted on Syracuse’s site, coach Jim Boeheim denies the accusations, citing the university’s 2005 investigation and his 40-year relationship with his associate coach. In an article accompanying the interview with Schwarz, Boeheim told ESPN that he believes the accusers are seeking money and using ESPN as part of their scheme.

That’s a brash accusation in its own right. On one side, we have two individuals — who have a family relationship — making sordid accusations that scarily resemble the scandal unfolding at Penn State. On the other side, we have Syracuse representatives and Boeheim vehemently denying the charges and painting the accusers as mercenaries.

This will not end well for someone.

So far, Syracuse seems to be handling the events fairly well, placing Fine on administrative leave while police continue their investigation. That’s probably an appropriate reaction that allows the school to reinstate the coach if the charges are unfounded. But if there’s truth to these accusations, the university can quickly terminate Fine and avoid the negative appearance of callously paying a sexual predator.

Although it’s somewhat hard to tell based on the mess in State College, Pa., people are innocent until proven guilty in this country. Syracuse seems to be on the right track to allow the police and attorneys to do their jobs.

ESPN, on the other hand, will appear to be less objective if it turns out that the Worldwide Leader in Sports was played in a plot to achieve personal gains.

Fortunately, we have lots of great basketball ahead this weekend to keep our attention on the hardwood. Here’s a rundown of some of the top match ups on tap.

Friday

  • Davidson at Duke
  • Temple vs. Purdue in Puerto Rico Tip-Off
  • Wichita State vs. Alabama in Puerto Rico Tip-Off
  • Arizona vs. Mississippi State in 2K Sports Classic in New York City
  • Texas A&M vs. St. John’s in 2K Sports Classic in New York City
  • Drake at Ole Miss
  • Akron at Valparaiso

Saturday

  • Louisville at Butler
  • James Madison at La Salle in Philly Hoop Group Classic
  • Long Beach State at San Diego State
  • Charleston at Clemson
  • Vanderbilt vs. NC State in TicketCity Legends Classic in East Rutherford, N.J.
  • Texas vs. Oregon State in TicketCity Legends Classic in East Rutherford, N.J.

Sunday

  • Championship and third-place game of Puerto Rico Tip-Off
  • Washington at Saint Louis
  • Rhode Island at Nebraska
  • Murray State at UAB
  • Creighton at Iowa

 

We go coast to coast with other news from the college basketball nation.

  • UCLA’s Reeves Nelson convinced coach Ben Howland that he’s had an attitude adjustment and is ready to return to action after Howland suspended him earlier this week, writes Peter Yoon for ESPN Los Angeles.
  • For Louisville’s big game against the national runners-up, Butler, the Cardinals likely won’t have their starting point guard, Peyton Siva, according to the Associated Press. Siva injured his ankle in practice, and he could need another week or so to fully recover.
  • The dust is beginning to settle on the initial signing period for 2012 recruits, and Rivals.com has the ACC as the big winner thus far. The conference sneaks past the Big East for the top spot, with NC State and North Carolina as the headliners.

ACC’s hot start could be a harbinger of better times ahead

by - Published November 17, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

After six full days into the regular season, the ACC is the only undefeated conference remaining. And that pretty much guarantees that Maryland will lose to Alabama Thursday night or Georgia Tech will fall against Saint Joseph’s.

No one really keeps track of which conferences go the longest without a loss, but hoops pundits love to banter about which conference is tops in the game. The ACC hasn’t been part of that conversation for a few years now, despite claiming two of the past three champions and a contender or two for this year’s title.

As of this week, the ACC has North Carolina, Duke and Florida State in the top 25. No other team even received a vote from the pollsters. As Rodney Dangerfield often lamented, this conference doesn’t get any respect these days, with everyone focusing on Tobacco Road and ignoring most of the rest of the conference. That would be a mistake this season.

Already, Virginia Tech, Clemson and Virginia have flashed plenty of promise. They’ll need to bring down some of the big boys from conferences like the Big East, Big 12 and Big Ten before they rise into the public spotlight. That’s probably going to start happening in the next couple of weeks as the early season tournaments gain steam and more power conference squads go head to head.

When it’s all said and done this season, don’t be surprised if at least five different ACC teams spend some quality time in the top 25, and the conference once again joins the discussion as tops in the land.

We go coast to coast with other news from the college basketball nation.

  • New Providence coach Ed Cooley and the Friars returned to his former employers at Fairfield Monday, and Providence escaped with a hard-fought 80-72 win, according to a CBS Sports.com report. The Friars’ head honcho had plenty of reason to feel emotionally torn after enjoying success in the MAAC in his first coaching gig and building strong relationships with players such as Rakim Sanders, writes Matt Norlander.
  • UCLA suspended Reeves Nelson for bad behavior after the junior forward blew off a practice Monday and looked selfishly frustrated in the Bruins’ opening loss to Loyola Marymount, writes Peter Yoon for ESPN Los Angeles. The Bruins dropped their second consecutive game Tuesday when Middle Tennessee State handled the Nelson-less squad.
  • After an 0-2 start, UCLA fans must be yearning for the golden age led by the legendary John Wooden. Those days are long gone, but Wooden — or at least a statue bearing his resemblance — will greet every player and fan entering the renovated Pauley Pavilion, Peter Yoon writes on ESPN.com.
  • St. Bonaventure will play the rest of the season without forward Marquise Simmons, who tore his Achilles tendon against Cornell, according to a CBS Sports.com wire report. The junior provided solid depth for St. Bonaventure, averaging about four points and rebounds per game last season.
  • If “best” refers to most talented, CBS Sports.com’s Jeff Goodman explains why Kentucky, not North Carolina, is the best team in the country this season.
  • No sleep till Brooklyn! The Beastie Boys can lend that motto to Kentucky and Maryland next year when the Wildcats and Terrapins meet in the first-ever Barclays Center Classic, to be held at the new arena under construction in Brooklyn, N.Y., according to the Associated Press.

Hokies hope Green gets plenty of rest before clash with the Cuse

by - Published November 16, 2011 in Conference Notes

Virginia Tech beat back Isiah Thomas’ Florida International team with ease Nov. 15, despite losing Erick Green midway through the game.

The junior guard aggravated an Achilles’ tendon that forced him to miss Virginia Tech’s first game of the season, a 64-53 win against East Tennessee State Nov. 12. Green told the Washington Post’s Mark Giannotto after the Florida International game that he would be fine by the time Virginia Tech travels to New York next Wednesday to face Syracuse in the NIT Season Tip-Off semifinals.

The Hokies will need Green to be at full strength because he’s been hot from long range to start this season, making 4-of-5 3-pointers. Virginia Tech has shot 22-of-52 from deep range as a team this season, and the Hokies will need that sharpshooting to continue to stretch out Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. That would create more room for Dorenzo Hudson to operate off the ball and slash to the hoop. Green would be important in getting Hudson some good looks because he has five assists in 48 minutes.

In addition to Hudson, the Hokies will need Dorian Finney-Smith to continue playing like the ACC’s rookie of the year. The highly touted recruit has been a monster in his first three games, averaging about eight points, 11 rebounds and four assists per game.

Coach K closes in on D-I record, passing his mentor en route

by - Published November 15, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

From the hallowed hardwood in Madison Square Garden, a pupil could surpass the master tonight.

When Duke takes on Michigan State in the Champions Classic in New York City, coach Mike Krzyzewski will have an opportunity to pass his mentor, Bob Knight, for the most Division I wins in NCAA history. The Blue Devils beat Presbyterian Saturday to give Coach K win No. 902. A third consecutive victory to open the season would be the record-setter.

In a press conference Monday, Coach K said that “somebody asked me this morning about where would this be in a list of things that you feel really good about, and I said, ‘It’s behind every championship. And not just national championships but league championships.'”

That doesn’t mean it’s not a big deal. Krzyzewski, who turns 65 in February, has been one of the top coaches in the game for several decades after a slow start to his career in Durham. His perseverance and determination are a model of leadership that extends far beyond a basketball arena. In a sport filled with unsavory characters and frequent recruiting violations, Coach K keeps Duke on the up and up. He takes pride in his players’ high graduation rate, and he cares more about the accomplishments of specific Blue Devil teams than his own accolades.

“You want to win a championship with the team that you coach that year, and those are the things that you remember are championship moments — whether they be league championship moments, regular season, ACC,” Krzyzewski said. “Obviously the biggest thing that you can remember easily is national championships. But championships are things that I look back on because that’s a real accomplishment.”

Another coaching legend, Michigan State’s Tom Izzo, won’t make it easy for Coach K to celebrate his record-breaking victory. But whenever Krzyzewski gets No. 903, it will be one of the major highlights of the entire 2011-12 season.

We go coast to coast with other news from the college basketball nation.

  • Louisville junior guard Mike Marra will miss the rest of the season after tearing his ACL against Lamar Sunday, according to an Associated Press report. Marra’s loss is significant as he was an important member of coach Rick Pitino’s backcourt rotation, averaging 6.4 points per game last season.
  • The good news for Louisville is that freshman guard Kevin Ware has his academics in order now and will be eligible to play for the Cardinals starting in mid-December, after the university’s fall semesters concludes, according to a Lexington Herald-Leader report.
  • Arizona had to dig deep to rally past Ball State, which held a nine-point halftime lead against the Wildcats Sunday. With junior swingman Kevin Parrom back in the lineup just seven weeks after being shot in the leg and hand while visiting family in New York City and four weeks after his mother died, according to the Associated Press, the Wildcats found the will to lock down the Cardinals in the second half for a 73-63 win. Parrom contributed six points and four rebounds in 18 minutes to help get the Wildcats the victory.
  • Instant replay might slow down the game in the NFL, but at least the officials get the calls right more often than not. Vermont probably wishes more stadiums had replay capabilities after falling victim to a lack of technology in a 61-59 loss to South Florida played at Division II University of Tampa. After calling a timeout, the clock ran for an extra second or two, but the referees couldn’t review the time on the clock because there were no available video feeds, writes ESPN.com’s Eamonn Brennan. The Catamounts hit a would-be game-tying tip-in on their final possession — just after the buzzer.
  • Texas A&M will be without one of the best players in the Big 12, Khris Middleton, while the junior forward recovers from a knee injury suffered during the Aggies’ 81-59 win against Liberty, according to an Associated Press report.
  • According to a CBS Sports.com wire report, Marquette will play its first three games without freshman Juan Anderson for a rules violation. The oftense? Accepting a free ticket to see the Milwaukee Brewers in the Major League Baseball playoffs.

Don’t sleep on James’ dominance amid other great performances

by - Published November 14, 2011 in Columns

When is 18 greater than 39? When you’re a stat stuffer like Florida State’s Bernard James.

Two Monday night games demonstrated the importance of evaluating a player’s total contribution to his team, especially for defensive-minded squads like coach Leonard Hamilton’s Seminoles. Florida State has emerged as one of the toughest teams to score against these days, and James is the centerpiece of that defense.

In Florida State’s 73-50 win against Central Florida, James finished with 18 points, 11 rebounds — five at the offensive end — and three blocks. Those numbers are solid, but they don’t pop out as much as those of Central Connecticut State’s Kyle Vinales. The freshman guard put up 39 points in the Blue Demons’ high-scoring 102-93 overtime loss to Niagara. … Continue Reading

Henson sets the tone for Tar Heels

by - Published November 12, 2011 in Conference Notes

Unlike the North Carolina championship teams of the past decade, this Tar Heel squad’s calling card is defense. And John Henson is smack in the middle of that.

Against Michigan State, the Tar Heels started hot, then fell behind as the offense fell into a funk as night fell on the USS Carl Vinson in San Diego. Blame the offensive woes on the players adjusting to darkness during a game played outdoors if you’d like. But really, this is what the Tar Heels do.

After the Spartans established a lead midway through the first half, North Carolina jacked up the defensive pressure, with Henson and Tyler Zeller daring anyone to attack the rim. Henson finished with nine blocks, and at times, he looked intent on swatting the ball into the Pacific Ocean. With the post on lockdown, Michigan State turned to the perimeter, where the Spartans made only two 3-points out of 20 attempts. Despite the strong effort against Michigan State’s initial attacks, the Tar Heels played a little soft on the boards, allowing the Spartans to grab 19 offensive rebounds, or 38 percent of their missed shots. The 67-55 final would have been a much bigger blowout if North Carolina had done a better job boxing out Draymond Green, Derrick Nix and Branden Dawson.

The scoring stats won’t always reveal the game changers for North Carolina in 2011-12. The 2005 and 2009 championship teams used a high-octane offense to mask some defensive flaws, especially when teams forced North Carolina to play a primarily half-court game. This year’s team can play defense with the best of them, regardless whether the game flow is sprinting up and down the court or methodically working through half-court sets. As usual, the Tar Heels’ offense is at its best when the team is running and Kendall Marshall has an opportunity to slice and dice opponents with laser-guided passes.

But it will start and end with the defense, led by Henson. Against the Spartans, Harrison Barnes led the team with 17 points and five rebounds. That line is respectable, but was a little less impressive than Henson’s, despite the higher points total. Like Barnes, Henson logged 31 minutes, and in that time, he filled his stat sheet with 12 points, seven rebounds, nine blocks and two assists. Turning to the Total Impact Quotient rating system, Barnes had a Real TIQ of 19.6 points for the game compared to 22.3 points for Henson. By isolating the defensive side of that formula, Henson’s work on that end prevented 12.3 points, while Barnes’ defensive effort saved 4.3 points. Yep, that’s what Henson does.

And here we go…

by - Published November 11, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

Today marks the official start of the 2011-12 season, though we’ve already had a few games in action this week as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer Classic tourney.

The highlight of today’s action will be the North Carolina vs. Michigan State match up, which — if you somehow haven’t heard yet — will be played on an aircraft carrier in San Diego. The move is a fantastic way to honor our military services on Veterans Day and kick off the season with two of the sport’s premier programs.

In addition to the top-ranked Tar Heels and Spartans, here’s a  list of other noteworthy games.

  1. Marist at No. 2 Kentucky, one of the frontrunners for this year’s national championshipWright State at No. 3 Ohio State, which returns Jared Sullinger, possibly the best big man in the country
  2. Columbia at defending national champs No. 4 Connecticut
  3. Belmont at No. 6 Duke, which needs two wins for coach Mike Krzyzewski to match his mentor, Bob Knight, for most Division I wins in NCAA history
  4. Oregon at No. 7 Vanderbilt, one of the only match ups between power conference teams
  5. North Florida at No. 17 Alabama, a potential sleeper in the top-heavy SEC
  6. Rhode Island at George Mason, a solid match up of mid-majors in Paul Hewitt’s first game as the Colonials’ coach
  7. BYU at Utah State, the in-state battle continues to rage on, even without Jimmer-mania in effect in 2011-12
  8. Army at Air Force, on Veterans Day, the two services look to claim a little bragging rights for superiority on the hardwood
  9. Citadel at VMI, another military-centric match up worth highlighting


Kentucky’s Terrence Jones and Stacey Poole were in a car accident at 2:30 a.m. last night when a driver crossed into their lane on the road and hit the car they were in, according to Sports Illustrated.com. Everyone was fine, and the driver of the vehicle that hit Poole and Jones has been charged with driving under the influence.

The bad luck continues for Jim Larranaga in Coral Gables. Miami’s new coach will be without DeQuan Jones for the entire season as the NCAA investigates allegations that Jones received $10,000 from a booster while he was a recruit, according to a report at Rivals.com. Jones figured to play a bigger role for the Hurricanes this season, especially with Reggie Johnson and Julian Gamble injured.

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Missed a recap of an open gym workout? We have them all right here for you.

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