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Memphis Tigers’ Big 3 put in work against Belmont

by - Published November 15, 2011 in Conference Notes

Memphis topped a Belmont team that lost to Duke at Cameron Indoor by one point four days earlier. The final seconds were not as tense for Memphis, as they won 97-81. The victory was due in large part to three players: Will Barton, Wesley Witherspoon and Joe Jackson. The three combined for 65 points.

Barton was the leading scorer for Memphis with 23 points to go along with five rebounds and three assists. He did force the issue at times, going 7-of-12 from the field and 0-of-4 from behind the 3-point line. Still, it’s hard to deny his talent. Barton can make shots that seem to have no chance of going in.

Witherspoon put his versatility on display against Belmont. He was the second-leading scorer with 22 points, tied for most rebounds with five and had two steals. His shot selection was superb. Witherspoon made 8-of-8 field goals, including 3-of-3 3-pointers. The only thing he did poorly was shoot free throws and a grab a poorly timed flagrant foul.

Jackson looked much better than he did most of last season. He had 20 points, four rebounds, seven assists and only two turnovers. He can blow by defenders at will, and he seems to have figured out what to do once he gets past them.

Barton has always been a good player, albeit a bit too flashy at times. If Witherspoon and Jackson can continue to play like they did against Belmont, Memphis will stay in the Top 10 all year.

No Norris Cole? No problem. Cleveland State Vikings shock Vanderbilt Commodores

by - Published November 14, 2011 in Conference Notes

Most coaches would be thrilled if they had four-fifths of their starting lineup returning after a successful season in which their team tied for the conference title, qualified for the NIT, and had a hard-nosed senior defender returning after missing the past season with a finger injury.

However, when the one-fifth that is not returning is Norris Cole, the point guard who rewrote Cleveland State’s record books and played a pivotal role in helping the Vikings advance to the postseason two times in four years on his way to being drafted in the first round of the 2011 NBA Draft, many coaches would be tempted to load their nonconference schedule with easy teams and drastically lower their expectations for the season.

Not Gary Waters. While some coaches may have viewed scheduling the nationally ranked Vanderbilt Commodores as a risky move as a regular-season opener and even point to Cleveland State’s major stumbles against top-ranked nonconference opponents during the 2009-10 season as evidence for their view, Waters penciled in a match up against a team whom many expect to be a major contender in the SEC.

Today, Waters looks like a genius as the Vikings upset the Commodores on their home floor on Sunday afternoon, 71-58.

Admittedly, the Commodores did not head into Sunday’s game at full strength. The Commodores were without star center Festus Ezeli, who was suspended for the first six games of the season after taking improper benefits from a booster and later injured his MCL in his knee. Additionally, coach Kevin Stallings’ squad also played a late game on Friday night against Oregon and appeared to be slow, tired and a step behind the hard-charging Vikings.

Nevertheless, the Vikings’ overwhelming dominance from start to finish shows that Cleveland State is indeed a team to be reckoned with this season and that Vanderbilt must realize that they need to work hard to fulfill the praises and potential heaped upon them in the media. The Vikings never trailed after taking a 3-0 lead on a 3-pointer by senior guard Trevon Harmon in the first minute of the game and led by as many as 15 points on the way to a win that captured the nation’s attention.

One of the brightest spots for the Vikings was the return of D’Aundray Brown, who returned after missing last season with a finger injury. Brown contributed 18 points, eight rebounds, and seven steals in his first regular season game since March 2010. The Vikings will lean heavily on Brown’s defense and experience this season.

Another bright spot for the Vikings was their bench play. Last season, the Vikings received inconsistent play from their bench all season long, and the starters were forced to play major minutes every game. While this did not hinder the Vikings at first as they jumped out to a 21-3 start to the season, the heavy minutes logged by the starting unit eventually took their toll toward the end of the season as the Vikings slogged through much of their conference schedule and lost in the Horizon League Tournament semifinals. On Sunday, the Vikings received 22 points, 13 rebounds, four blocks, and three assists from their bench. Freshman forward Anton Grady, a local product from Cleveland Central Catholic High School, made an impact in his regular-season debut with seven points, four rebounds, and four blocks in 22 minutes of action. Furthermore, no Vikings starter played more than 33 minutes.

Of course, it is far too early in the season for the Vikings to start printing NCAA Tournament commemorative hats and for fans to begin making travel plans to watch the Vikings in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Injuries, surprise NCAA violations, and the grind of the regular-season schedule can take down even the most talented team, and the Vikings have a long road ahead of them. Nevertheless, Sunday’s win gives Vikings fans much to celebrate and shows that the team will still be very competitive this season despite the loss of Norris Cole.

The Vikings will play their regular season home opener against the Rio Grande Redmen at 7:00 P.M. at the Wolstein Center.

Long night for UCF

by - Published November 12, 2011 in Conference Notes

The NCAA has made major allegations about the athletic department of Central Florida. According to ESPN, Ken Caldwell, who is identified by the NCAA as “a recruiter for a professional sports agency” and his associate Brandon Bender were said to have given improper benefits to players and recruits, as well as having illegal contact with recruits.

According to the allegations, Caldwell and Bender helped to recruit six men’s basketball players and five football prospects. Central Florida’s Athletic Director Keith Tribble, as well as football coach David Kelly and men’s basketball coach Donnie Jones, were aware of this contact, according to the NCAA.

The NCAA also claims that Caldwell and Bender paid the tuition and fees for Central Florida’s men’s basketball players, provided funding for transportation of men’s basketball recruits, and provided a laptop to a football recruit.

Amid these allegations, Tribble and Kelly have both resigned. Jones is suspended for three conference games without pay.

The NCAA has recently cleared Jeff Jordan to play, but A.J. Rompza is still sitting out as his eligibility has yet to be determined. Marcus Jordan, P.J. Gaynor, and Josh Crittle are also not playing due to an unspecified violation of team rules. The have no timetable for return.

The loss of these players is a major hit to UCF’s mens basketball team. They were poised to have a breakout season. Last year, they spent some time in the top 25, going undefeated before conference play. As conference play hit, injuries contributed to their collapse.

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.

Cincinnati Bearcats 2011-12 Preview

by - Published November 11, 2011 in Conference Notes

Cincinnati Bearcats

 

Last Year:

26-9 overall, 11-7 Big East (T-6th)

Coach:

Mick Cronin (6th season, 87-77)

Projected starting five:

G: Cashmere Wright, Jr.
G: Dion Dixon, Jr.
G: Sean Kilpatrick, So.
F: Justin Jackson, So.
C: Yancy Gates, Sr.

Important departures:

Rashad Bishop 8.4 ppg, 3.5 rpg, 1.7 apg
Ibrahima Thomas 5.7 ppg, 5.3 rpg

Inside the numbers:

66 percent scoring returning
64 percent rebounding returning

Additions:

F: Shaquille Thomas, 6’6”, 165 – Rivals #81
F: Jermaine Sanders 6’4”, 205 – Rivals #131
G: Jeremiah Davis, 6’3”, 195 – ESPNU Pos. #43

Schedule:

Toughest nonconference game: 12/10 at (15) Xavier
Toughest in-conference stretch: 1/18 – 1/23 at (4) Connecticut, at West Virginia, at (5) Syracuse

Prediction:

5th in BE; 25+ wins; Second weekend of NCAA Tournament

What to expect:

A lot of how the Bearcats do this year is dependent on Yancy Gates and his “want-to.” Gates has been hit-or-miss in his time in Cincinnati, playing up to his potential at the end of last season, which has given Bearcat fans the hope that he will continue his upward trend. However, Gates’ midseason dismissal for lack of effort looms in the back of the minds of Cincinnati fans.

Returning four starters from last year should help the Bearcats continue their trend of regaining national prominence. Sean Kilpatrick has a lot of expectations to fulfill this year. The sophomore is touted as UC’s microwave, giving Cincinnati an outside threat to balance Gates on the inside.

Coach Mick Cronin has handled predicament well over the past six years at the helm. Taking some hits along the way, the Cincinnati native has once again brought the Bearcats into the preseason rankings with the belief that 22nd is the lowest they will be ranked all year. A solid starting five and a talented young bench should help the Bearcats build on their second-round dismissal from the NCAA Tournament a year ago.

Next: Connecticut Huskies

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Connecticut Huskies 2011-12 Preview

by - Published November 11, 2011 in Conference Notes

Connecticut Huskies

 

Last Year:

32-9 overall, 9-9 Big East (T-9th)

Coach:

Jim Calhoun (25th season, 605-228)

Projected starting five:

G: Shabazz Napier, So.
G: Jeremy Lamb, So.
F: Alex Oriakhi, Jr.
F: Roscoe Smith, So.
C: Andre Drummond, Fr.

Important departures:

Kemba Walker 23.5 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.5 apg 37.6 mpg
Jamal Coombs-McDaniel 5.6 ppg, 2.6 rpg, 16.6 mpg
Charles Okwandu 2.9 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 15.4 mpg

Inside the numbers:

53 percent scoring returning
70 percent rebounding returning

Additions:

C: Andre Drummond, 6’10”, 275 – ESPNU #2
G: Ryan Boatright, 6’2”, 165 – Rivals #42
F: DeAndre Daniels, 6’8”, 180 – Rivals #10

Schedule:

Toughest nonconference game: 1/21 at Tennessee
Toughest in-conference stretch: 2/6 – 2/18 at (8) Louisville, at (5) Syracuse, vs. DePaul, vs. (21) Marquette

Prediction:

3rd in BE; 25+ wins; Second weekend of NCAA Tournament

What to expect:

Despite losing their All-Everything floor general Kemba Walker, the defending national champs might have even more talent in 2011-12 than they did on the title squad. Returning All-Rookie team selections Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier, the Huskies also have big man Alex Oriakhi as well as a top recruiting class that expects to see major playing time right out of the gate.

Andre Drummond, one of the nation’s top high school centers looks to be inserted into the starting lineup, and Ryan Boatright should see some time as Napier’s backup whenever he becomes eligible. The question in Husky-land isn’t whether or not this team will be able to live up to last year’s accomplishments; it is if they can match them.

The postseason runs through the Big East and NCAA tournaments masked the fact that the Huskies were perfectly mediocre in conference play, ending at 9-9. With most of the championship team returning in 2011 as well as the influx of top recruits, folks in Storrs will be calling this a reloading year, not rebuilding.

Next: DePaul Blue Demons

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DePaul Blue Demons 2011-12 Preview

by - Published November 11, 2011 in Conference Notes

DePaul Blue Demons

 

Last Year:

7-24 overall, 1-17 Big East (16th)

Coach:

Oliver Purnell (2nd season, 7-24)

Projected starting five:

G: Jeremiah Kelly, Sr.
G: Brandon Young, So.
F: Cleveland Melvin, So.
F: Tony Freeland, Jr.
C: Krys Faber, Sr.

Important departures:

Jimmy Drew 6.4 ppg. 3.3 rpg, 2.1 apg
Mike Stovall 5.4 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.2 apg
Devin Hill 5.2 ppg, 1.4 rpg, 1.0 apg

Inside the numbers:

80 percent scoring returning
78 percent rebounding returning

Additions:

G: Shane Larking, 6’0”, 170 – MaxPreps #68
G: Charles McKinney, 6’4”, 190 – ESPNU Pos. #51
C: Derrell Robertson, 6’9”, 215 – ESPNU Pos. #56

Schedule:

Toughest nonconference game: 11/24 Minnesota
Toughest in-conference stretch: 1/1 – 1/8 vs. (5) Syracuse, vs. (11) Pittsburgh, at Villanova

Prediction:

15th in BE; 10+ wins

What to expect:

DePaul returns a good and young core of last year’s team that showed flashes of possibly big things to come. Brandon Young and Cleveland Melvin enter their sophomore seasons after gaining quality experience in the freshman seasons, playing the majority of the games for the Blue Demons.

Senior PG Jeremiah Kelly who led the team in minutes played and steals last season will aid Melvin and Young. Krys Faber will be the Blue Demons’ man in the middle and give Oliver Purnell’s team the big body they need. Tony Freeland will round out the starting five after averaging nearly 10 ppg last year.

Purnell is installing his system of full-court pressing that showed it could keep DePaul close against Louisville, West Virginia and Villanova last year, but unfortunately for Blue Demons fans, it looks like it will take a few more years to realize Purnell’s dream of building the success he enjoyed at Clemson.

Next: Georgetown Hoyas

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Georgetown Hoyas 2011-12 Preview

by - Published November 11, 2011 in Conference Notes

Georgetown Hoyas

 

Last Year:

21-11 overall, 10-8 Big East (8th)

Coach:

John Thompson III (8th season, 159-66)

Projected starting five:

G: Markel Starks, So.
G: Jason Clark, Sr.
F: Hollis Thompson, Jr.
F: Nate Lubick, So.
C: Henry Sims, Sr.

Important departures:

Austin Freeman 17.6 ppg, 3.7 rpg, 2.4 apg
Chris Wright 12.9 ppg, 2.9 rpg, 5.3 apg
Julian Vaughn 7.8 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.5 apg

Inside the numbers:

43 percent scoring returning
63 percent rebounding returning

Additions:

F: Otto Porter, 6’9”, 200 – ESPNU #42
C: Mikael Hopkins, 6’8”, 210 – ESPNU #78
G: Jabril Trawick, 6’5”, 200 – ESPNU #80

Schedule:

Toughest nonconference game(s): 11/21 at (13) Kansas, 12/1 at (17) Alabama, 12/22 vs. (9) Memphis
Toughest in-conference stretch: 1/28 – 2/8 at (11) Pittsburgh, vs. (4) Connecticut, vs. South Florida, at (5) Syracuse

Prediction:

8th in BE; 20+ wins; NCAA Tournament berth

What to expect:

The Hoyas lost their two leading scorers, Austin Freeman and Chris Wright, but reloaded with the No. 15 recruiting class according to ESPNU. Although we don’t project any of the newcomers to start right away for the Hoyas, don’t be surprised to see Otto Porter, Mikael Hopkins or Jabril Trawick play some significant time for JT3.

Georgetown isn’t doing itself any favors with their nonconference schedule, playing three top 25 teams before opening the Big East with Louisville Dec. 28. The last time we saw the Hoyas, they were getting in a little skirmish with a Chinese team, but perhaps that fight could do something for the chemistry of the young team.

Hollis Thompson and Jason Clark will be the leaders of the team with Clark finally getting his time to shine. Thompson is one of those long swing guys who can cause match up nightmares for opposing coaches. Sophomore guard Markel Starks could become the facilitator that the Hoyas lacked after Wright’s wrist injury last year. As usual, JT3’s boys will have the athleticism and talent to beat any team on a given day.

Next: Louisville Cardinals

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Louisville Cardinals 2011-12 Preview

by - Published November 11, 2011 in Conference Notes

Louisville Cardinals

 

Last Year:

25-10 overall, 12-6 Big East (T-3rd)

Coach:

Rick Pitino (11th season, 245-96)

Projected starting five:

G: Peyton Siva, Jr.
G: Chris Smith, Sr.
F: Kyle Kuric, Sr.
F: Chane Behanan, Fr.
C: Gorgui Dieng, So.

Important departures:

Preston Knowles 14.6 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 3.1 apg
Terrence Jennings 9.6 ppg, 5.2 rpg

Inside the numbers:

66 percent scoring returning
67 percent rebounding returning

Additions:

F: Chane Behanan, 6’6”, 250 – Rivals #21
F: Wayne Blackshear, 6’5” 210 – Rivals #36
C: Zach Price, 6’1”, 240 – Rivals #67
G: Kevin Ware, 6’4”, 167 – Rivals # 70
F: Angel Nunez, 6’8”, 190 – ESPNU #91

Schedule:

Toughest nonconference game(s): 12/2 vs. (7) Vanderbilt, 12/31 at (2) Kentucky
Toughest in-conference stretch: 2/23 – 3/3 at (22) Cincinnati, vs. (11) Pittsburgh, vs. South Florida, at (5) Syracuse

Prediction:

4th in BE; 25+ wins; Second weekend of NCAA Tournament

What to expect:

One of the strongest recruiting classes in the nation gives the Cards more than enough to replace Preston Knowles and Terrence Jennings. As Louisville showed last year, they don’t have any real standout players, although Siva is on the cusp and Kyle Kuric showed on multiple occasions last season he can take over the game — and win homecoming king.

Louisville’s depth give the Cards the chance to wear out their opponents running Pitino’s full-court press, creating turnovers and forcing tough shots late in the shot clock. With Siva and Kuric in the backcourt, accompanied by Chris Smith, the Cards will look down low to Gorgui Dieng.

Dieng will take Jennings’ place on the low block and will act as the last line of defense if a team were to break the Cardinals’ pressure. Dieng’s length gives him the ability to alter shots around the rim, although Dieng, as well as the team as a whole, could benefit from picking up more boards. If the Cards can get past the idea of only having one ball between their dynamic playmakers, look for Louisville to make a run at a league and possibly, a national championship.

Next: Marquette Golden Eagles

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Marquette Golden Eagles 2011-12 Preview

by - Published November 11, 2011 in Conference Notes

Marquette Golden Eagles

 

Last Year:

22-15 overall, 9-9 Big East (T-9th)

Coach:

Buzz Williams (4th season, 69-36)

Projected starting five:

G: Junior Cadougan, Sr.
G: Darius Johnson-Odom, Sr.
F: Vander Blue, So.
F: Jae Crowder, Sr.
C: Chris Otule, Jr.

Important departures:

Jimmy Butler 15.7 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 2.3 apg
Dwight Buycks 8.8 ppg, 3.1 rpg, 3.4 apg

Inside the numbers:

62 percent scoring returning
66 percent rebounding returning

Additions:

F: Juan Anderson 6’6”, 200 – Rivals #61
G: Derrick Wilson, 6’0”, 205 – ESPNU Pos. #32
G: Todd Mayo, 6’3”, 190

Schedule:

Toughest nonconference game(s): 12/3 at (14) Wisconsin, 12/29 vs. (7) Vanderbilt
Toughest in-conference stretch: 1/7 – 1/16 at (5) Syracuse, vs. St. John’s, vs. (11) Pittsburgh, vs. (8) Louisville

Prediction:

6th in BE; 20+ wins; Second round of NCAA Tournament

What to expect:

Marquette, coming off a roller-coaster season that ended with a loss to UNC in the Sweet 16, should have a solid core returning that could make the Golden Eagles a threat to make a little run in the NCAA Tournament again this year.

Despite losing Jimmy Butler and Dwight Buycks, Marquette has guys like Darius Johnson-Odom, Jae Crowder and Junior Cadougan who can fill the void. DJO and Crowder will be the primary scorers for Marquette as Cadougan will be pegged as mainly a facilitator.

Look for DJO and Crowder to flourish as Buzz Williams mixes in Vander Blue, Oregon transfer Jamil Wilson and Derrick Wilson, giving the Golden Eagles plenty of options to have a solid year in the BE and possibly make some noise in the NCAA.

Next: Notre Dame

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