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The Jimmy V: Analysis and teams headed in opposite directions

by - Published December 6, 2012 in Columns
author_floriani

NEW YORK – It was a doubleheader with a little of both. The Jimmy V Classic featured one lopsided game followed by a close, down to the wire affair.

Scores:

Georgetown 64, Texas 41
NC State 69, UCONN 65

… Continue Reading

In a time of tribulation, college hoops shows the good in sports

by - Published December 6, 2011 in Full Court Sprints

The Jimmy V Classic couldn’t have come at a more necessary time this year.

College sports have had a rough run in recent months. Throughout the summer, fans had to try to figure out which conference their favorite team would be playing in when all the moving and shaking subsides. The motivation for conference realignment is all about the dollar bills, often at the expense of any sport not named football — and with little consideration for rivalries that make sports thrilling to watch and play.

But conference realignment was utterly benign compared to the chaos that erupted in State College, Pa., when one of the NCAA’s premier football programs crumbled under the weight of allegation after allegation of sexual misconduct by Jerry Sandusky, a former coordinator. Exacerbating the situation, coach Joe Paterno and Penn State officials appear to have covered up the activities, and it cost one of college football’s legends his job.

Then scandal crept into college hoops, at another sacred program. Coach Jim Boeheim has built Syracuse into a top program, and he relied on his top assistant, Bernie Fine, to help get the Orange there. But allegations of sexual abuse have surrounded Fine, and university officials fired him. Syracuse has received plenty of criticism for possibly failing to do enough to report the rumors of the abuse to police nearly 10 years ago, and Boeheim passionately defended his friend and assistant when ESPN first reported the allegations. He has had to backtrack from those statements, and some experts are calling for his ouster.

Yuck.

With such greed and alleged corruption percolating in college sports, it’d be easy to become disillusioned.

But resist the urge. Or to put it another way: “Don’t ever give up.”

Former NC State coach Jim Valvano made that phrase the motto of the foundation named for him after he died of cancer in 1993. Since his death, ESPN has partnered with the Jimmy V Foundation to raise funds for cancer research. The money goes directly to research, and it goes to a broad range of medical experts toiling to find a cure, not just for popular causes such as breast or prostate cancer but also rarer cancers that have a far worse death rate.

The annual Jimmy V Classic serves as a forum for ESPN to reach a national audience to urge donations, in addition to showcasing a few of the country’s best teams. If that’s not a great role for sports in U.S. society, I don’t know what is.

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

Utah doesn’t have a Division I win yet on the season, and the Utes could struggle some more to pick that up after indefinitely suspending Josh Watkins, according to the Associated Press. Watkins has been Utah’s best player by far, averaging 17.7 ppg and 4.9 apg.

Things aren’t much better for one of the Utes’ biggest rivals, the Utah State Aggies. Diamond Leung, of ESPN.com’s “College Basketball Nation” blog, writes that Brady Jardine could be out all season after injuring his foot Nov. 19 in the team’s win against Southern Utah. Jardine is one of the team’s top rebounders, averaging 7.7 rpg.

West Virginia v. the Big East continues to froth in the legal system, with the Big East’s lawyers moving for a dismissal of West Virginia’s lawsuit attempting to get the Mountaineers out of the conference and into the Big 12 ahead of the Big East’s mandatory 27-month waiting period, according to the Associated Press’ Vicki Smith.

We don’t place a ton of stock in the polls in general, but Harvard’s arrival this week is newsworthy. As CBS Sports.com reports, it’s the first time that the Crimson have ever appeared in the top 25, and they are the first Ivy League team to reach the polls since Princeton in 1998.

Games to watch Tuesday

  • Missouri vs. Villanova, 7 pm EST (Jimmy V Classic)
  • George Mason at Virginia, 7 pm EST
  • Kent State at James Madison, 7 pm EST
  • Robert Morris at Duquesne, 7 pm EST
  • Iowa at Northern Iowa, 8 pm EST
  • Washington vs. Marquette, 9 pm EST (Jimmy V Classic)
  • Long Beach State at Kansas, 9 pm EST
  • Memphis at Miami, 9 pm EST

The Jimmy V Classic: Five Things We Learned

by - Published December 10, 2010 in Columns

NEW YORK – A sellout crowd of 19,391 packed Madison Square Garden to give an atmosphere of electricity. Four ranked teams were in the building. The games did not disappoint and gave us a few things to notice and consider from a tempo-free perspective.

The scores:

Kansas 81, Memphis 68
Syracuse 72, Michigan state 58

1. Syracuse can mix it up inside. The Orange enjoyed a 36-26 percent edge in offensive rebounding percentage. They also had a whopping 41-17 percent advantage in free throw rate, a figure suggesting a team pounding it inside and getting to the line. That was exactly what the Orange did all night. Michigan State coach Tom Izzo called it a “butt kicking” and couldn’t remember when his team was outscored 42-24 in the paint. Syracuse repeatedly broke down the Spartan interior defense to the extent 14 of their 15 first half field goals were in the paint. Rick Jackson, with 17 points and 16 boards, was virtually unstoppable, doing the most damage for the Orange in the lane.

2. Memphis is good but still a work in progress. They came in with the national ranking and 7-0 record, only to exit the Garden with a double-digit loss. A young Memphis team showed questionable shot selection and seemed to rush their offense as they were caught up in the moment. You can also credit the Kansas defense that forced the Tigers into a far below average (they came in at 110) offensive efficiency mark of 91. “Our guys missed shots and became dejected,” said Memphis coach Josh Pastner. “Look at Kansas. They would turn the ball over and get right back and play defense. It all starts with defense.” Offensively, a good part of Memphis’ offense came off the Jayhawk miscues as they held a 29-18 advantage in points off turnovers. “We are learning,” Pastner continued. “I am learning every day as a coach. But it is a players’ game and we want our players to learn and get better every day.”

3. The Syracuse 2-3 zone is still tough to figure. The Michigan State fan behind my baseline press table seat constantly pleaded with his team to beat a “high school” zone. The 2-3 of Jim Boeheim once again took another highly-ranked team down. Big East teams fare a little better because they see it once or twice a year. A Michigan state may face zones but none like this. The Orange trap the corners and always have quick, long players getting into the passing lanes. Stifled by a defense not allowing them access in the lane, Izzo’s Spartans got caught up in what he termed “a sissy jump shooting game.” It was just a matter of playing into Syracuse’s hands. The Spartans shot 7 of 24 (29 percent) from three-point range. Lest anyone think zones are passive, Syracuse forced Michigan State into a 25 percent turnover rate.

4. The Jayhawks spread the wealth. They assisted on 59 percent of their field goals and even in transition always looked for the extra pass. Kansas also put four players in double figures, led by Markieff Morris with 16 points. Basically, they ran on all cylinders except one area: turnovers. They had 22 for the game, and given their 74 possessions it adds up to a dangerously high 30 percent TO rate – a loss of the ball without a chance to score on 3 of every 10 possessions.

Post -game talk centered around Josh Selby, who will join Kansas late December. Will the delicate chemistry be altered with Selby’s addition. KU coach Bill Self feels it won’t. “(Selby) will be part of us not the ‘guy’,” Self predicted. Stay tuned.

5. The Orange have “struggled”. They are 8-0 but Boeheim said, “I never had a team struggle early in the season like this team has.” The good thing is the struggling is not keeping them from winning and the veteran Orange mentor is certain with each day there is improvement. The senior Jackson, as noted, is providing strong inside play. Junior guard Scoop Jardine had a strong 19-point, three-assist night. Freshmen such as C.J. Fair, Fab Melo and Baye Moussa Keita are gaining valuable game experience and contributions in their own right. “We are defending,” Boeheim said. “We have to get better offensively. And we will.”

Jimmy V Classic Features Solid Performances

by - Published December 14, 2008 in Columns

NEW YORK – The Jimmy V Classic at Madison Square Garden gave us a vintage individual performance. And a team performance that, if not vintage, was certainly eye-opening.

Scores:
Davidson 68, West Virginia 65
Texas 67, Villanova 58

What Davidson Did Well: Follow the lead of their “franchise” player and maintain poise. The Wildcats built an early second half double-digit lead only to see West Virginia claw back and take a lead of their own. Sterling guard Stephen Curry was struggling from the floor, largely due to being hounded by a taller, longer Mountaineer defender all night long. In the end, Curry proved to be the major difference. With the game on the balance Curry stepped up. In front of over 14,000 with five minutes left the Davidson junior hit four major shots. And they weren’t exactly wide open looks. He simply put his signature on the contest and willed his team to victory when they needed it most. Curry finished with a game-high 27 points and 10 assists. The stat sheet tells us Curry was 9 of 27 from the field, including 4 of 16 beyond the arc. The stats list him as game-high scorer but do not tell the type performance he had those final few minutes – when his team needed him most. Lest anyone think Curry is solely a green-light gunner, he had a game-high 10 assists and looked for his teammates all night.

What West Virginia Did Well: Rebound and defend. Davidson coach Bob McKillop was hard-pressed to remember another time his team was out-rebounded so bad, and won. West Virginia owned a 58-32 edge on the boards; on the offensive end it was 29-12. The Mountaineers were hit with backcourt injuries, as Alex Ruoff was out and Joe Mazzulla was limited to six minutes of action. Regardless, you knew coach Bob Huggins would not use that as an excuse and come up with a defensive scheme to neutralize Curry. And he did. Huggins kept rotating fresh bodies on Curry. Virtually all of the West Virginia defenders were the taller, long type, hoping to disrupt the Wildcat marksman. It worked.

“They (West Virginia) were taller and longer defensively than what I am used to,” Curry said. “Every time we screened they switched and another tall defender was there waiting.” Simply, he was forced to earn every shot. In the end Curry just did what great players do. Even then, there weren’t any easy shots.

What Villanova Did Well: Compete inside. Texas posed a huge problem with three 6-10 players in the rotation. The Texas “bigs” are collectively not the greatest skilled but they can bang and wear you down. Dante Cunningham had another impressive performance, battling inside and putting up a team-high 23 points and 12 boards. Dwayne Anderson added 9 boards in relief. The 6-6 senior swingman will have to step up and help inside on a regular basis once Big East play unfolds with a succession of physical challenges. Villanova out-rebounded Texas 35-31 and was not significantly hurt on the offensive end by the Longhorn big men.

What Texas Did Well: Defend all night long. In the post-game press conference A.J. Abrams enthusiastically discussed the Longhorn defense. They forced Villanova into a 38 percent shooting night, which included a 4 of 18 (22 percent) mark from beyond the arc. Texas also imposed their defensive will to disrupt the Villanova offense into a 19-turnover evening. On a night when the pace was moderate and possessions were at a premium, that figure loomed as a crucial one. The stat sheet, again, will tell one and all Justin Mason scored 3 points in 33 minutes. Mason’s work is another example of the stats not doing him justice. He played outstanding perimeter defense and was a big reason Villanova’s Scottie Reynolds had a 10-point night on 2 of 7 shooting from the floor.

Final Note on ‘Nova: For Villanova this was their first major test of the year. Actually, they faced Rhode Island in the Hoop Group Classic but didn’t get the challenge they expected. Texas provided the measurement. It would be harsh to say the Wildcats failed. Let’s say it was a learning experience. As well as the Wildcats competed, coach Jay Wright noted a little extra toughness is needed facing a team like Texas. In the loaded Big East, Villanova will face several programs of a similar challenge.
Wright is looking for key defensive stops. Villanova trailed by four points midway through the second half. On several consecutive trips they simply could not get the contest to a one-possession game, thanks largely to Abrams’ (game high 26 points) clutch shooting. The game boiled down to defense. And the Wildcats couldn’t get those key stops at crunch time.

A few players that impressed:

  • Abrams, Texas G: Scored 26 points, 4-of-9 from 3.
  • Mason, Texas G: The defense never rests.
  • Damion James, Texas F: Scored16 points. Can operate in the paint or outside.
  • Cunningham, Villanova F: A competitive and tough 23 point 12 board night.
  • Corey Stokes, Villanova G: Knocked down a few threes early, finished with 11 points.
  • Stephon Curry, Davidson G: Went for 27 points, but his spurt in the last five minutes was the story.
  • Andrew Lovedale, Davidson F: Took advantage of the defense’s concern over Curry, scored 15 points.
  • Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia F: Solid 24-point, 14-board outing.
  • Devin Ebanks, West Virginia F: Impressive inside, scored 13 points and added 17 rebounds.

Quotable: “I really think we have the ability to get to the Final Four. But before we even think about that, we just want to get better each day.” – A.J. Abrams, Texas

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