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2010 ACC Post-Mortem

by - Published May 5, 2010 in Conference Notes

Although several ACC squads had disappointing final results, Duke emerged as the national champ to reaffirm that the conference’s best is always a title contender.

When the season started, we expected Duke to emerge as a national championship contender if the Big Three – Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Nolan Smith – could lead the Blue Devils night in and night out without wearing down.

In November, that seemed like a tall order because the Blue Devils just didn’t have much depth behind those perimeter players. But Scheyer, Singler and Smith fulfilled their potential by carrying Duke to its fourth national championship under coach Mike Krzyzewski.

In the past, Duke has earned its reputation as one of the most hated teams in the country because the national media dwell on every game – much like the media painfully did this season with North Carolina as the Tar Heels crumbled without Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green. But for some reason, there was no hype surrounding this Blue Devils squad. Somehow, Coach K’s team flew under the radar while Kansas, Kentucky and the entire Big East captured the majority of the national coverage.

In the end, Duke proved that its regular-season success wasn’t only the product of a down year in the ACC. The Blue Devils weren’t just the conference’s best team; they were the nation’s best team. Duke had to take down Cinderella – aka Butler – to claim that title. And in the process, the Blue Devils and Bulldogs delivered one of the most thrilling national title games of the past decade.

Few people seriously expected North Carolina to repeat as national champions. But they almost did – if you count the NIT winner as a national champion. After an utterly disastrous regular season that saw the Tar Heels fall apart because of injuries and inexperience, North Carolina pulled things together in the NIT to make a run to the championship game, which the Tar Heels lost to Dayton.

With North Carolina falling from the ACC’s elite, Maryland moved up the conference’s caste system. Fiery guard Greivis Vasquez sparked the Terrapins to a share of the regular-season title. Unfortunately, Maryland peaked about two weeks too early when the Terrapins won a thriller against the Blue Devils in College Park in early March. After that, Maryland failed to win two consecutive games, ending in a second-round defeat to No. 5-seed Michigan State in the NCAA Tournament.

Four other teams joined Duke and Maryland in the NCAA Tournament: Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Wake Forest. Like Maryland, none of them won more than one game in the tournament.

Outside Duke, the conference lacked a second legitimate powerhouse. If that’s your definition of a down year, then yes, the ACC was down. But the bottom of the conference proved to be better than the cellar dwellers of nearly every other conference, as demonstrated by unlikely ACC Tournament runs by Miami and North Carolina State.

Here’s a recap of the 2009-10 season for ACC teams.

Final 2009-10 Standings

Team Overall ACC
Duke Blue Devils 35-5 13-3
Maryland Terrapins 24-9 13-3
Virginia Tech Hokies 25-9 10-6
Florida State Seminoles 22-10 10-6
Clemson Tigers 21-11 9-7
Wake Forest Demon Deacons 20-11 9-7
Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets 23-13 7-9
Boston College Eagles 15-16 6-10
North Carolina Tar Heels 20-17 5-11
North Carolina State Wolfpack 20-16 5-11
Virginia Cavaliers 20-17 5-11
Miami Hurricanes 20-13 4-12

ACC Tournament

The ACC Tournament was a harbinger of the NCAA Tournament, with five major upsets in 11 games. But at the end of the tournament, Duke was cutting down the nets.

The Blue Devils won their second-consecutive conference title and ninth since 1999 by beating No. 7-seed Georgia Tech 65-61. Duke’s difficult run against seemingly overmatched opponents – No. 9-seed Virginia, No. 12-seed Miami and the Yellow Jackets – prepared the Blue Devils for a hard-fought run to the national title in the NCAA Tournament. Georgia Tech sealed its bid to the NCAA Tournament with an impressive run that included an upset of No. 2-seed Maryland.

No. 11-seed North Carolina State and No. 12-seed Miami provided the biggest upsets of the conference tournament. The Wolfpack opened the tournament by nipping No. 6-seed Clemson 59-57 and then beating No. 3-seed Florida State 58-52. The Hurricanes overcame a bad ACC regular season by upsetting No. 5-seed Wake Forest and No. 4-seed Virginia Tech. Duke was the only team seeded No. 6 or better to win even a single conference tournament game.

Hoopville’s All-ACC Awards

Player of the Year: Jon Scheyer, Duke

Rookie of the Year: Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech

Defensive Player of the Year: Solomon Alabi, Florida State

Coach of the Year: Gary Williams, Maryland

First-Team All-ACC:

Jon Scheyer, Duke

Greivis Vasquez, Maryland

Kyle Singler, Duke

Al-Farouq Aminu, Wake Forest

Malcolm Delaney, Virginia Tech

Second-Team All-ACC:

Sylven Landesberg, Virginia

Nolan Smith, Duke

Tracy Smith, North Carolina State

Trevor Booker, Clemson

Gani Lawal, Georgia Tech

Third-Team All-ACC:

Joe Trapani, Boston College

Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech

Jeff Allen, Virginia Tech

Ed Davis, North Carolina

Solomon Alabi, Florida State

Season Highlights

8 Things We Saw Coming

1. Duke won a share of the regular season championship and then dominated the conference tournament.

2. Clemson, Florida State, Georgia Tech and Maryland joined the Blue Devils in the NCAA Tournament.

3. But none of those four advanced far in the tournament.

4. Virginia struggled under new coach Tony Bennett, who put the brakes on the Cavaliers’ pace to one of the slowest tempos in the conference.

5. Miami dropped toward the bottom of the conference with an influx of young talent, such as Durand Scott and Malcolm Grant.

6. Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez went head-to-head with Duke’s best player, Jon Scheyer, for the conference’s Player of the Year award.

7. Virginia Tech established one of the best backcourts in the country with Malcolm Delaney and Dorenzo Hudson – and the juniors look ready to dominate next season if Delaney backs out of the NBA Draft.

8. Florida State’s defensive prowess was remarkably better than the team’s offensive prowess, and it was just enough to carry the Seminoles to an NCAA Tournament bid.

8 Things We Thought We’d See

1. North Carolina was supposed to compete for second place in the conference, but instead finished tied for second worst.

2. The Tar Heels seemed ready to compete with seniors like Marcus Ginyard in the lineup. But Ginyard couldn’t stay healthy for a second consecutive season, and injuries helped derail the Tar Heels’ season.

3. We expected Duke’s highly-touted freshman recruit Mason Plumlee to be a factor. He ended up with 3.7 points and 3.1 rebounds in 14.1 minutes per game.

4. Likewise, Clemson’s Milton Jennings saw even less time, averaging 3.3 points and 2.7 rebounds in 11.2 minutes per game.

5. Wake Forest is usually an offensive juggernaut. But the Demon Deacons struggled on offense despite the presence of a veteran point guard, Ishmael Smith, and talented post players like Al-Farouq Aminu, Chas McFarland and Tony Woods.

6. Georgia Tech point guard Iman Shumpert focused on playing under more control. But the Yellow Jackets couldn’t significantly cut down on their turnovers, committing 16.4 turnovers per game this season compared to 16.8 last season.

7. Usually tough and consistent Boston College remained tough but was anything but consistent, losing five ACC games by double digits.

8. The ACC is traditionally a showcase for electric offense. But only three teams finished in the top 40 in offensive efficiency.

8 Things We Didn’t See Coming

1. Once again, North Carolina stunk. Yes, expectations were too high. Yes, injuries always hurt. But this team looked lost and occasionally apathetic, which utterly baffled coach Roy Williams.

2. Wake Forest exceeded expectations on defense, which had been the team’s bugaboo for several years.

3. Despite the strong defense and a return to the NCAA Tournament, the Demon Deacons axed Dino Gaudio because of his lack of post-season success.

4. Clemson and Boston College also had to find new coaches after Oliver Purnell shockingly bolted for DePaul and the Eagles parted ways with Al Skinner.

5. On the court, the midseason maturation of Duke’s Brian Zoubek was the unlikely catalyst for the Blue Devils’ ascension from contender to champion.

6. Virginia Tech once again proved that you cannot discount a Seth Greenberg-coached team, which finished third in the conference.

7. Quite a few ACC teams – namely, Florida State, Georgia Tech, Wake Forest and Virginia Tech – channeled their inner Big 10 spirit and devoted far more energy to defense than offense.

8. Maryland jumped from the middle of the pack to near the top of the ACC thanks to another dominating season from Vasquez and just enough support from the rest of the team to consistently beat down ACC foes.

Teams of the Rise

Virginia Tech

We should just leave the Hokies in this category each season, unless Greenberg take another job.

Virginia Tech finished third in the ACC this season and just missed the NCAA Tournament because of a weak non-conference schedule and lack of quality wins. If Greenberg lines up more worthy non-conference foes, the Hokies will build a stronger résumé for the 2011 tournament. They certainly will have the lineup to do so.

The Hokies lose only Lewis Witcher to graduation. A veteran lineup anchored by Delaney – assuming he doesn’t stay in the NBA Draft – Hudson, Jeff Allen, J.T. Thompson and Terrell Bell could become the favorite to challenge Duke for next season’s conference championship.

Florida State

The Seminoles remain here as long as Alabi decides to return to school instead of entering the NBA Draft. If he comes back to Tallahassee, the Seminoles will remain one of the best defensive teams in the country. And they have to get better on offense, right?

Florida State was just abysmal offensively for much of the season, committing nearly 17 turnovers per game. The Seminoles struggled as a team to hit shots when they didn’t turn it over. From three-point range, Florida State shot only 33.5 percent, and from the free throw line, the Seminoles were only 64.4 percent.

North Carolina

Thanks to a run to the NIT championship game, the Tar Heels salvaged a disastrous season and inspired hope for next season.

In particular, Larry Drew II finally looked capable of running the Tar Heels’ offense, which should be more powerful next season. Freshmen Leslie McDonald and Dexter Strickland must become better long-range shooters. If they don’t, incoming freshmen Harrison Barnes, Reggie Bullock and Kendall Marshall will challenge them for playing time. One reason the Tar Heels struggled this season is teams didn’t need to respect their outside shooting. That shouldn’t be true next season, which will open the lane for Ed Davis (if he returns, as he declared for the NBA Draft), Tyler Zeller, the Wear twins and John Henson.

With so much talent on this roster, it’s hard to imagine that North Carolina won’t be on the rise from a 10th-place finish.

Teams on the Decline

Maryland

The Terrapins took advantage of their window of opportunity. With the implosion in Chapel Hill, there was a gaping void after Duke at the top of the standings, and Maryland stepped up to fill it.

But with the graduation of Vasquez, Eric Hayes and Landon Milbourne, the Terrapins will lose three players who averaged at least 30 minutes per game and accounted for 54.7 percent of the team’s scoring and 67.3 percent of the team’s assists.

Coach Gary Williams has been reluctant to trust his bench in recent seasons. He won’t have a choice next season when those bench players become starters.

Virginia

Coach Tony Bennett will get a fresh start after his first season with the Cavaliers because seven players who began the season are leaving the program.

Although Bennett has an opportunity to shape this team as he desires, it’s hard to imagine the Cavaliers improving significantly without Sylven Landesberg, who averaged 17.3 points per game for a team that struggled to score. He accounted for more than one-quarter of the team’s points.

Besides Landesberg, Bennett will need to replace the production of Calvin Baker, Jerome Meyinsse, Soloman Tat, Jeff Jones and Tristan Spurlock.

Wake Forest

The Demon Deacons shocked everyone by firing Dino Gaudio and replacing him with Jeff Bzdelik. Yes, Gaudio had failed to win an NCAA Tournament game despite having three NBA first-round draft picks pass through Winston-Salem, assuming Aminu goes early in this year’s draft.

But Gaudio was attracting great high school players and winning many of the in-state recruiting battles. His teams peaked too early in the season twice. But at least they found a way to the top.

Bzdelik prefers a slower pace than Wake Forest is accustomed to playing. And the Demon Deacons will need to find a new point guard to learn that offense because Ishmael Smith is graduating. He’s taking several key teammates with him, as Chas McFarland, David Weaver and L.D. Willams have also finished their playing careers as Demon Deacons, while Aminu is bolting the team for NBA money.

Despite some talented young players, this team figures to go through at least one season of growing pains under a new coach.

Next Season

Entering this season, many experts figured that Duke and North Carolina would contend for the conference title, but they were likely a year away from challenging for a national championship. Duke proved the experts wrong by taking the national title this year. And they might be the front-runner to do it again next season.

The Blue Devils return Singler and Smith, in addition to talented young big men like Mason Plumlee, Miles Plumlee and Ryan Kelly. Sharpshooter Seth Curry will be eligible after transferring from Liberty, and Andre Dawkins will step into the point guard role. If he struggles, Krzyzewski can turn to freshman Kyrie Irving, who is an electric recruit out of New Jersey. The Blue Devils also are adding Joshua Hairston and Tyler Thornton to a solid recruiting class.

Besides Duke, Virginia Tech and Florida State should build on their success from this past season to fill out the conference’s elite. Wake Forest and North Carolina will have plenty of talent on their roster to possibly join those three, but both teams have plenty of issues to overcome.

In Raleigh, coach Sidney Lowe must elevate the Wolfpack to the top half of the conference or he almost certainly will be looking for a new job after next season. Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt might also be on the hot seat if the Yellow Jackets significantly regress – a likely scenario with the losses of Favors and Lawal to the NBA.

If you want a very early sleeper pick to reach the NCAA Tournament, assuming its only 65 teams and not 96, look south to Miami. Coach Frank Haith has reloaded that roster with talented young guards who figure to make their mark next season.

And if the NCAA Tournament expands to 96 teams, look for the ACC to place every single team in the tournament unless expansion includes a rule that teams must have at least a .400 winning percentage in your conference – or something like that.

Thoughts on the Atlantic 10

by - Published March 16, 2010 in Conference Notes

ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – Each year there is an obligatory trip down the Garden State Parkway to Atlantic “Always turned on” City and the Atlantic 10 Tournament. This year it was Friday’s quarterfinals at Boardwalk Hall. A few observations:

1. The Big East has marquee programs, the history and tradition of MSG mix in with the glamour of celebrities and notables, Bill Clinton, Spike Lee and New Jersey Governor Chris Christie just to name a few. The A-10 provides us with strong programs in arguably the best non-BCS conference in the land. The atmosphere at the Big East can be corporate at times but at the A-10 it is different. It’s like being around close friends you haven’t seen in awhile.

2. Unless you are on the opposing bench, you sit back and marvel at the simplicity and execution of Temple. They epitomize the late Al McGuire’s “K.I.S.S.” philosophy – “Keep It Simple Stupid”. Juan Fernandez buries threes. Come out and play him and he finds teammates like Lavoy Allen in the paint. In the 69-51 win over St. Bonaventure the Owls had 18 assists on their 30 field goals. That’s 60 percent of their field goals assisted and that’s great ball movement and unselfishness.

3. Speaking of St. Bonaventure, their stay was not long but getting to AC was progress as the Bonnies defeated Duquesne in the first round.  It was the first quarterfinal appearance for Bonaventure since 2002 and further validation of the great job Mark Schmidt is doing in Olean.

4. Game of the day? On paper it was Xavier-Dayton. Two intense rivals. Close in geography but no love lost between. The pair split during the regular season and Dayton desperately needed this to keep its NCAA tournament hopes alive. The game did not disappoint. In an intense, fast-paced and physical contest, Xavier rallied from 15 down with just under 12 minutes to play to post a 78-73 victory. Credit Xavier‘s Jordan Crawford (20 points) and Terrell Halloway (22 points) for doing appreciable damage during the late run.

5. Rhode Island, another team fighting for its collective NCAA life, posted a convincing win over St. Louis. Rick Majerus’ club normally dictates the action through a succession of well oiled offensive sets. URI took St. Louis out of anything they tried to run, beat them on the boards 38-26 and forced 13 Billiken turnovers. A complete victory that began with defense.

6. UMass made a late run, but Richmond triumphed 77-72. The Spiders put five players in double figures and Chris Mooney’s club is another one that is very difficult to guard, especially with A-10 Player of the Year Kevin Anderson.

7. A little over 6,000 attended the quarterfinals, over 8,000 were at the semis and the Richmond-Temple final drew just under 8,000. In light of that, it seems the A-1- fans are warming up to AC. All three days did not see the best weather and Saturday in particular hit the area hard with a driving rain and wind storm. Still, the fans came out to support a quality event. Personally, I miss the Palestra days but the AC venue at renovated Boardwalk Hall is a fine setting.

8. A final note.  Temple captured the championship game on Sunday by edging Richmond 56-52. It was the third straight championship for Fran Dunphy’s club. Only the John Calipari UMass teams won three or more consecutive A-10 titles. Juan Fernandez had 18 points and 4 turnovers for the Owls. The TOs are mentioned because the the previous two games the Owls’ sophomore guard did not have a turnover in 65 minutes.

Postscript: The NCAA Tournament Selection Committee was not too kind with the A-10. Dayton figured their chances were gone after the Xavier loss, but having Jim Baron’s Rhode Island club left off the board was a setback. The draw is not the best with Richmond facing a dangerous St. Mary’s team. Worse was Temple, the conference co-champions, A-10 post season tournament titlists and with 29 wins. The reward? Fifth seed and a very tough opening round draw in Cornell. Xavier has a Minnesota team that was defeated by Ohio State in the Big Ten finals and could be very dangerous.
Dayton and Rhode Island are in the NIT. As noted, Dayton knew their Big Dance ideas were dead after the quarterfinal setback. Rhody, on the other hand, held hope even after getting eliminated in the semis by Temple. URI has an intriguing first round foe as they host Northwestern. The key here is not to commiserate on the “what could have been” Rather, seize the opportunity and come ready to play . The Rams still have a post season opportunity and are good enough to get to New York.

MIssissippi State: Bulldogs Deliver More Late-Season Heroics

by - Published March 13, 2010 in Conference Notes

When Mississippi State’s season started Nov. 13, Bulldog fans had reason for concern.

The Bulldogs dropped the season opener at home to Rider 88-74. The team’s top recruit, Renardo Sidney, was stuck in eligibility purgatory. With the demise of UCLA, the team lacked any tough non-conference opponents that would give the Bulldogs a signature victory.

Back-to-back losses in early February dropped Mississippi State to 4-4 in the SEC and seemed to knock the Bulldogs off the bubble. Even though the Bulldogs immediately came home to complete a regular-season sweep of in-state rival Mississippi, they lacked any marquee wins. Luckily, an early season win against Old Dominion turns out to be a strong, résumé-building victory.

So as Mississippi State entered the SEC tournament this week, the Bulldogs were in a familiar position.

Last season, the Bulldogs had no chance to receive an at-large bid with a 19-12 record in a relatively weak SEC. But in 2009, Mississippi State caught fire and stormed through four teams in four days, including the only two other SEC teams to make the NCAA Tournament,  to win the conference’s automatic bid.

The SEC is stronger this season, so a 9-7 finish — identical to last season’s conference record — is more respectable. But Mississippi State still came into the SEC tournament needing to make a deep run to reach the NCAA Tournament. And somehow, the Bulldogs have found a way to make an encore appearance in the SEC championship game.

Mississippi State started this year’s run with a big win against bubble mate Florida in the quarterfinals. That win kept Mississippi State relevant in the at-large discussion but did little to propel them past the likes of Virginia Tech, Rhode Island or Dayton. The Hokies and Flyers each had two more wins against the RPI top 25 at the end of Friday, and the Rams have a better strength of schedule and fewer bad losses.

Today’s win against Vanderbilt might be the victory that propels Mississippi State into the NCAA Tournament, though. When comparing the Bulldogs’ profile to rival Mississippi’s, the most noteworthy difference was Mississippi State’s lack of a win against an elite team. The Rebels knocked off Kansas State in November, which remains a fantastic win. The Rebels also have a win against UTEP, which almost certainly will be in the NCAA Tournament. For Mississippi State to surpass their in-state rival and other bubble teams, the Bulldogs needed to notch a marquee win. And beating the Commodores might do it.

Ranked No. 20 in the RPI, Vanderbilt is a great scalp for the Bulldogs to claim. If Mississippi State can remain competitive against Kentucky in the SEC championship game, the Bulldogs have a great shot at receiving an at-large bid even with a loss. If they lose badly, they could be in danger of slipping out of the field.

Of course, the easiest path to making the NCAA Tournament for Mississippi State is to complete the encore performance by defending the team’s SEC title.

Why You Need to Watch the Pac-10 Tournament

by - Published March 10, 2010 in Conference Notes

The Pacific 10 Conference is so feeble this season that even defending-tournament champion USC doesn’t want to be a part of this year’s tournament.

In reality, the Trojans can’t defend their championship because of a self-imposed sanction, but the idea of skipping the historically great league’s competition isn’t as absurd as you might think when considering the fall the Pac-10 has had this year. Regardless, the show must go on. Minus USC, nine hopefuls begin a journey at Staples Center today.

Hoping to lock up a dance ticket for a second consecutive season, regular-season champion and top-seeded Cal (21-9, 13-5 Pac-10) is the odds-on favorite to take the tournament due to its experienced squad and balance. Four of the Golden Bears’ starters are seniors, and they all average double-digit points (in order: guards Jerome Randle and Patrick Christopher and forwards Theo Robertson and Jamal Boykin). The Bears, winners of seven of their last eight games, will face the winner of tonight’s play-in game between No. 8 Oregon (15-15, 7-11) and No. 9 Washington State (16-14, 6-12)  (11 p.m. EST, FSN National).

Winner of six of its last seven games, No. 2 Arizona State (22-9, 12-6) might be the only Pac-10 team not named Cal that has secured itself an NCAA Tournament at-large bid even if it gets bounced out of the tourney early, which is unlikely. After dropping their first two Pac-10 games, the Sun Devils demolished then-No. 22 Washington to start a hot streak that saw them win 12 of their last 16 games, dominating every team but Cal, which won both regular-season meetings against ASU comfortably. The Sun Devils will take on the Landry Fields’ show, No. 7 Stanford (13-17, 7-11), on Thursday (9:18 EST, FSN).

The third-seeded Huskies repaid Arizona State when the Sun Devils came to Washington Feb. 6, knocking them around in a 79-56 win that was a shred of brilliance from the last Pac-10 team that still has a shot at an at-large bid. Led by senior forward Quincy Pondexter, who had a career-high 34 points against Oregon Thursday, Washington was ranked as high as tenth in the nation before entering a Pac-10 stretch in which it lost five of seven games. Pondexter didn’t let his Huskies lose many more games thereafter, though. Along with sidekick, sophomore guard Isaiah Thomas, Pondexter’s 20.2 points and 7.8 rebounds per game helped Washington go 9-2 in its last 11 regular-season games.

The bubble Huskies get No. 6 Oregon State on Thursday (11:40 EST, FSN). Washington is fresh off a Beaver-pounding session as its last game was an 82-70 win at Oregon State Saturday.

No. 4 Arizona is a mystery, a streaky team that can take down the best, as evidenced by its Jan. 31 win over Cal, or choke against the worst, shown in a Jan. 8 last-second loss to Washington State. The Wildcats (16-14, 10-8) had two different three-game losing streaks as well as a winning streak of four games. They’re streaking in the right direction as they enter the tournament, however, as they’ve come up victorious in their last three games, including a win against its Thursday tournament rival: No. 5 UCLA (13-17, 8-10).

The only thing the Bruins will have going in their favor Thursday (3 p.m. EST, FSN) is that they’ll be playing at home. Young talents Darren Collison and Jrue Holiday are in the NBA now — like every other young UCLA star, seemingly — and unable to help them, and Arizona swept the regular-season series from them. UCLA’s attack is balanced, but it won’t be enough. Home court is the wild card for the Bruins. At least they know the NBA won’t be taking any of their players this year.

The Staples Center crowd will be disappointed to see UCLA fall early as all the higher seeds will advance to the Friday semifinals, where Cal will down Arizona and the Huskies will mildly upset Arizona State. Then, in the Saturday final, Cal will prevail over Washington, securing itself a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Both Washington and Arizona State will receive at-large bids.

Lastly, all three conference representatives will lose in the NCAA Tournament’s first round, finally putting an end to a disappointing Pac-10 season.

Why You Need to Watch the ACC Tournament

by - Published March 10, 2010 in Conference Notes

According to some, the ACC is wrapping up a down year. And based on teams in the polls, that’s true. But the conference figures to place as many as seven teams in the NCAA Tournament after what promises to be an intriguing conference tournament in Greensboro, N.C.

Duke and Maryland are the favorites to reach the conference championship game, and the Blue Devils and Terrapins would love to meet for a third time to determine conference superiority after they shared the regular-season title. Maryland asserted itself as the clear No. 2 team in the conference by knocking off Duke in College Park last week. Although the teams shared the regular-season title, Duke has a much stronger profile for the NCAA Tournament and will be competing for a No. 1 seed while the Terrapins likely can only move up to a No. 3 seed. However, considering Maryland’s bubble status about two months ago, that’s a significant rise.

Besides the Blue Devils and Terrapins, five other teams will look to solidify their NCAA Tournament résumés. Florida State, Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech and Clemson figure to receive NCAA Tournament invitations, but they want to avoid losing early in the ACC tournament. Georgia Tech is in the most precarious position after losing five of seven games to end the season. One of their two wins in the final three weeks came against North Carolina, the Yellow Jackets’ opponent in the opening round. The Tar Heels are fresh off a spanking in Durham last weekend, and Georgia Tech might catch North Carolina in a funk after a disappointing season.

Although a loss by Georgia Tech might jeopardize the Jackets’ at-large status, Wake Forest, Clemson, Florida State and Virginia Tech can probably afford to lose their first games of the tournament. The Hokies and Seminoles earned opening-round byes. If Wake Forest gets past Miami, the Demon Deacons will meet Virginia Tech. Florida State awaits the winner of Clemson and North Carolina State.

If a team not named Duke or Maryland wins the ACC tournament, the conference championship would boost its NCAA Tournament seeding by one or two lines. That likely would mean the difference between a No. 8 or 9 seed and No. 6 or 7 seed. A surprising run to the championship would significantly lift the confidence of Wake Forest and Georgia Tech, which appeared to have peaked earlier in the season. If the Demon Deacons falter in the ACC tournament, they might start remembering last season’s disappointing end, when the team flamed out in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

However, the rest of the field has a tough road ahead because the Blue Devils will be looking to defend its 2009 tournament title and earn a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament. Many experts think Duke has the inside track for the last top seed, but a loss before the championship game might give Purdue, Kansas State or a second Big East team a shot at a top spot. In addition, Duke might feel slighted that coach Mike Krzyzewski and Jon Scheyer were passed over for league honors in favor of Maryland’s Gary Williams and Greivis Vasquez. Look for Duke to play with the same passion and determination that the Blue Devils had Saturday against North Carolina.

St. John’s Rolls Over UCONN

by - Published March 9, 2010 in Conference Notes

NEW YORK – There wasn’t a great deal on the X and O side to discuss. St. John’s, from tap to buzzer, simply wanted it more. The Red Storm snapped a nine-game losing streak to UCONN, defeating the Huskies 73-51 in the opening round of the Big East Tournament. “It was a hard physical game,” St. John’s coach Norm Roberts said. “Our guys made plays all day.”
The Red Storm led 35-22 at the break and outside of a brief run or two, were never severely threatened. Sean Evans had a huge game inside with a 19-point, 10-rebound effort to pace St. John’s. The Red Storm placed three in double figures and one, junior forward Justin Brownlee, stepped up to supply 13 points off the bench.
Kemba Walker paced UCONN with 12 points, but was a largely ineffective 4 of 17 from the field. Stanley Robinson added 10 points but was basically a non-factor. The Huskies shot 38 percent from the floor and were guilty of 20 turnovers.
“St. John’s came out with a purpose,” UCONN coach Jim Calhoun said. “They were hungrier.” The Red Storm, not known for prowess beyond the arc, were 7 of 13 from three point range.
From the X and O standpoint a key factor was St. John’s excellent defense on ball screens. “We wanted to stop the penetration of Walker and (Jerome) Dyson,” Roberts said.  They did that to virtual perfection.

The win puts the Red Storm at 17-14. They will face Marquette at 2:30 on Wednesday. UCONN fell to 17-15.

Calhoun said an NIT bid is something he and his staff will discuss. “No disrespect to the NIT,” Calhoun said. “We won it in 1988 and it jump-started our program. Right now we as a staff will sit down and discuss which direction we want to go.”

The eight games of four points or less – all losses – plus the campaign highlighted by inconsistency, has weighed heavily on the entire UCONN program. “For now,” Calhoun said, “there will be no practice the next few days.”
Awards were given following the afternoon doubleheader. Lance Stephenson of Cincinnati earned Rookie of the Year. Syracuse made a big splash with Wes Johnson getting Player of the Year and Jim Boeheim Coach of the Year. Hamady Ndiaye of Rutgers earned Defensive Player of the Year.

Why You Need to Watch the Mountain West Tournament

by - Published March 9, 2010 in Conference Notes

With three Mountain West Conference teams cruising into the NCAA Tournament and a fourth hoping to come along for the ride, what happens in Vegas won’t stay in Vegas.

The most compelling storyline of the Mountain West tournament will be the performance of San Diego State. Ranked No. 36 in the RPI, the Aztecs are in desperate need of another quality win or two. Two quality wins would probably deliver San Diego State a conference championship and automatic bid. If the Aztecs get past Colorado State in the quarterfinals, they will likely face New Mexico, which they have beaten once this season. A second win against the Lobos would give them two wins against the RPI top 25, albeit against the same team.

If the Lobos can handle their business against Wyoming or Air Force and get past San Diego State or Colorado State, they will have a chance to play for the championship and the possibility of moving up in NCAA Tournament seeding. At 28-3, New Mexico has the opportunity to reach 31 wins if the Lobos win the conference championship. Of those 31 wins, eight of them would probably be against RPI top 50 teams, including at least four wins against the top 25. That’s the kind of profile that a No. 2 seed needs to have. Several Big East teams are in contention for No. 2 seeds, too, but they can’t all win in the Big East tournament. That helps the Lobos.

The other favorite to contend for the Mountain West title is BYU, which is probably itching to avenge two regular-season losses by a combined six points to New Mexico. The first two games were so good that a third match up would be a fitting end to one of the best Mountain West seasons of all-time. A New Mexico/BYU championship game would come two weeks after their most recent battle in Utah, after which Lobos coach Steve Alford was reprimanded for calling BYU forward Jonathan Tavernari an expletive that rhymes with “crass mole” following a late-game confrontation between several Lobo and Cougar players. These teams just don’t like each other. And they are both poised to create problems in the NCAA Tournament, and they want to build as much momentum as possible entering the Big Dance.

However, UNLV could spoil that dream championship match up. The Rebels are hosting the tournament and have lost only three home games this season. Granted, one of those losses was to Utah, which UNLV will face in the quarterfinals. But UNLV already beat BYU once in Vegas and would love to solidify its NCAA Tournament status with another big win against the Cougars in the semifinals. The Rebels could move up to as high as a No. 6 seed in the NCAA Tournament if they protect their home court and win the conference championship.

The Mountain West tournament promises to deliver a couple of thrillers, and the home team figures to be a part of one or two of those.

Why You Need to Watch the Conference USA Tournament

by - Published March 9, 2010 in Conference Notes

For the Conference USA, Selection Sunday will be stressful regardless of which team wins the conference tournament and automatic bid.

UTEP enters the conference tournament on a 14-game winning streak and has not lost since dropping its only Conference USA game of the season at Houston Jan. 13. Despite a strong 24-5 record, the Miners have only three wins against the RPI top 50 — two against No. 40 UAB and one against No. 46 Memphis. The Miners cannot afford to lose in the quarterfinals against SMU or Central Florida. For UTEP to feel secure about its at-large chances, the Miners probably need to make it to the championship game.

Although the conference tournament favorite has more work to do, the No. 2 seed, UAB, might be in better position to earn an at-large bid if needed. The Blazers hope that the selection committee values its 23 wins, which include a home win against Butler, one of the RPI top 25 teams. UAB has 11 wins on the road or at neutral sites, and two more in the Conference USA tournament might be enough to book the Blazers a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

Memphis is in a similar position as UTEP with a gaudy record but few quality wins. The Tigers are 23-8 and have two wins against the RPI top 50 — but both of those came against UAB. Memphis came close to knocking off Kansas and Tennessee, but the Tigers came up short. And if they don’t win the automatic bid, their run toward an NCAA Tournament bid might likewise fall short.

The biggest wild card in the Conference USA tournament is Tulsa, which is hosting the tournament. Tulsa has lost only twice at home this season, but the Golden Hurricane has no wins against the top three teams in the conference. If Tulsa wants to live up to its lofty preseason expectations, the Golden Hurricane will need to knock off Rice and Marshall before likely facing UTEP in the semifinals and either Memphis or UAB in the championship game. It’s not inconceivable for the home team to win four games in four days, but it’s a lot to ask for a team that hasn’t posted more than two straight wins since mid-January.

Another sleeper to win the conference championship is Marshall. The Thundering Herd have received less press coverage than UTEP, UAB and Memphis. Besides a five-game losing streak in the middle of conference play, Marshall went 23-3 to start and end the season. Despite the record, Marshall lacks any quality wins and is not a viable at-large candidate. But the Thundering Herd have one of the most dominant defensive players in the nation in Hassan Whiteside, who averages 5.4 blocks per game. He adds 13.6 points and 9.2 rebounds per game to give the Thundering Herd a bona fide game-changer.

The Conference USA figures to place two teams in the NCAA Tournament if the favorites take care of business and reach the conference championship game. If a team seeded six or lower reaches the championship, the conference might slip back to being a one-bid conference yet again.

Why You Need to Watch the Big 12 Tournament

by - Published March 9, 2010 in Conference Notes

The Big East has garnered plenty of praise this season, and many consider it to be the best conference in the country. But the Big 12 teams beg to differ.

The conference has the likely favorite to win the national championship in Kansas. Besides the Jayhawks, three others teams are legitimate threats to reach at least the Elite Eight: Kansas State, Baylor and Texas A&M. And that’s not counting Texas, which reached No. 1 in January after starting the season 17-0. Missouri and Oklahoma State also figure to be dangerous teams.

Although all seven of those teams have likely sealed their NCAA Tournament bids and the other five are nowhere near the bubble, the Big 12 tournament figures to offer plenty of intrigue. In the opening round on Wednesday, Oklahoma State and Oklahoma will play the rubber match of this season’s bedlam rivalry. Each team won at home, and now they will settle the season series on a neutral court in Kansas City, Mo.

The opening round also will be important for Texas, which ended the season 6-8 after reaching No. 1 in January. No. 11-seed Iowa State came up with its best game of the season last weekend when the Cyclones knocked off Kansas State in Manhattan. They will be riding into the Big 12 tournament with plenty of confidence, which might bode poorly for the sputtering Longhorns.

Among the top four seeds, No. 2 Kansas State probably has the most to gain in the Big 12 tournament. If the Wildcats can storm through Baylor and Kansas en route to a conference championship, they might be able to join the Jayhawks as a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if teams like Duke and Purdue lose early in their conference tournaments. Meanwhile, Baylor and Texas A&M look to secure a top four seed in the NCAA Tournament with a strong showing in the conference tournament.

South Florida Eliminates DePaul in Big East Play

by - Published March 9, 2010 in Conference Notes

NEW YORK – South Florida is in relatively new waters but enjoying the voyage. The Bulls defeated DePaul 58-49 in the Big East first round opener at Madison Square Garden on Tuesday.

The keys:

  1. Defense: “I thought we came out with good energy and defensive intensity,” USF coach Stan Heath said.  At the half the Bulls enjoyed a 30-15 lead largely due to a defensive effort that limited the Blue Demons to 23 percent shooting from the field. USF doubled down on inside threat Mac Koshwal of DePaul. No one from DePaul responded especially on the perimeter.
  2. Dominique Jones: The Bulls’ outstanding junior scored a team-high 20 points while taking only five shots the second half. “Dominique doesn’t care about his points or shots,” Heath said. “He just wants to win. Their zone slowed him and didn’t give him many looks but he gladly sacrificed for his teammates.

The hot shooting of DePaul guard Will Walker, who tied for game-high scoring honors with 20 points, allowed the Blue Demons to rally. They cut it to a two-possession game late before USF regrouped.

Interestingly USF did not hit a three, shooting 0 for 8 from the field. They dominated inside with a 50-20 edge on scoring in the paint.  “We have guys who can hit (outside) shots and will,” Heath said. “If we didn’t hit a three and lost I would be concerned but we won so it isn’t a big thing.” The USF mentor did admit knocking down a few against second round opponent Georgetown will be necessary.

In a tempo free note…The game had 64 possessions, a moderately slow pace with the following efficiencies:

USF  91
DePaul 78

That, anyone will agree, is great defense. DePaul finished 8-23 while ,USF advanced to 20-11, the third twenty-win season in school history. Heath did not get into “bubble talk”, stating, “Our idea is to keep playing. You keep playing here and everything takes care of itself.”

College Basketball Tonight

COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT is a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament hosted by veteran college basketball broadcaster Ted Sarandis, who will be joined by former Manhattan and Seton Hall head coach Bobby Gonzalez and many great guests, including Hoopville's own Phil Kasiecki.

The show will air on AM 970 The Answer in New York City from 7-9 p.m. on every Sunday from Selection Sunday to the Final Four. You can listen to the show here.

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2013 Prep School Tour

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

Sept. 9: St. Andrew's
Sept 10: Tilton
Sept. 11: South Kent School and Northfield Mount Hermon
Sept. 12: Putnam Science Academy
Sept. 16: St. Thomas More and Marianapolis Prep
Sept. 17: Brewster Academy and Phillips Exeter
Sept. 23: New Hampton School
Sept. 24: Brimmer and May
Sept. 25: Proctor Academy
Sept. 26: Notre Dame Prep and Cushing Academy
Sept. 29: Worcester Academy and Vermont Academy
Oct. 6: Charlestown High School and Milton Academy
Oct. 13: Tabor Academy
Oct. 15: Brooks School

Hoopville Archives

Even More: City Hoops Recruiting

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Size and options on the wing are not lacking for this year’s junior team

Travel team profile: Expressions Elite

Expressions Elite has quickly become one of the deeper programs in New England

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The senior guard led Watertown to the state semifinal this past season

Travel team profile: Bay State Magic

Bay State Magic doesn’t have much size on their junior team this season, so they’ll have to win with execution and intangibles

Travel team profile: Mass Elite

Mass Elite is one of the largest travel teams in the state despite being relatively new

Coaching Changes and NBA Draft Early Entrants

The coaching carousel is already moving. Keep track of the latest coaching changes right here on Hoopville.

Also, keep track of players who have declared early for the NBA Draft.

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