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2013-14 American Athletic Conference Post-Mortem

by - Published May 13, 2014 in Columns, Conference Notes
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A year ago at this time, much about the American Athletic Conference was unknown. The conference had a new name for barely a month, and aside from that, what we knew it had was a bunch of schools that were breaking away from the old Big East. It did have an office – that which had long belonged to the Big East in Providence, even though Providence College would remain in the Big East.

But when the 2013-14 season was over, it was clear the conference had quite a bit going for it on the hardwood. They had the runner-up in the NIT and the national champion – not bad for a conference that barely existed a year before the season ended.

… Continue Reading

BracketBusters takes center stage once again

by - Published February 19, 2012 in Columns
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Every year, there is a lot of talk about how to make BracketBusters better, or if it should just go away entirely. While teams have undoubtedly benefited from it over the years of its existence, the feelings on it seem a bit mixed, and it’s debatable whether or not it has been good as a whole. Right now, it’s what we have, and on Saturday it was center stage.

Proponents have talked about teams getting an extra national television appearance for people to see them. They have also cited the chance to get an RPI boost. Certainly, some of the teams that have benefited can look back and argue that they would not have made the NCAA Tournament if not for a win in the BracketBusters, including Final Four teams from George Mason and VCU. … Continue Reading

Round 233: UNC vs. Duke tips off with more than pride at stake

by - Published February 8, 2012 in Full Court Sprints
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The first of two regular-season meetings between two of the most hate-filled rivals in American sports goes down tonight when Duke makes the short trip to the Dean Dome to visit North Carolina.

As is usually the case in recent years, this game has significant importance in the standings, with both teams jockeying with Florida State for the top spot in the ACC. North Carolina enters the game at 7-1 in conference action, while Duke slipped to 6-2 after losing to Miami. Duke can ill-afford another loss, especially because the Seminoles and Tar Heels will not meet again this regular season.

Besides the usual hostility generated by one of the most intense rivalries in the game, the 233rd match up between these teams — UNC leads the all-time series 131-101 — is critical for both teams. Duke is facing more than its fair share of critics after a lackluster performance against the Hurricanes. Meanwhile, North Carolina needs to prove it can beat an elite team, sometime the Heels haven’t done in a few months.

For the Blue Devils, coach Mike Krzyzewski will be looking for renewed passion from his team after calling them out for lacking the energy to compete with the Hurricanes in the overtime loss at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Expect his team to rally around his battle cry, especially on the road surrounded by the Enemy in Powder Blue. To win, Duke will need to play smart defense, something the Blue Devils haven’t done consistently this season.

On the other hand, North Carolina seems to be on the rise, especially after a gutsy win in College Park last weekend in which Maryland tried to beat up the Tar Heels. Unlike the game in Tallahassee in which Florida State annihilated UNC, the Tar Heels responded after getting hit in the mouth and clamped down in the second half to erase a nine-point deficit to win by nine. However, the Tar Heels haven’t beaten a team guaranteed to be in the NCAA Tournament since they knocked off Wisconsin in Chapel Hill Nov. 30. North Carolina needs a win at home against the team’s arch rival to validate the argument that this team should be in the conversation for a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

That adds a lot of pressure to both teams, and that might favor North Carolina. The Tar Heels have a roster full of players who have been through this rivalry at least three times after last season. Duke has struggled with leadership on the court, and the Blue Devils must get someone to step up or else things could ugly for Duke pretty quickly.

Let the battle begin.

We take you coast to coast with news from around the college basketball nation.

Louisville coach Rick Pitino got his wish with Memphis, as the Tigers will be joining the Big East starting in 2013-14, according an ESPN.com news services report. Pitino had lobbied for the Conference USA’s Tigers to join the Big East to help replace the power that will be departing with West Virginia, Syracuse and Pittsburgh in coming years.

Florida coach Billy Donovan tried to preach that Kentucky faced all the pressure entering the Gators/Wildcats clash Tuesday night, with the home team trying to extend a 15-game winning streak and 48-game undefeated streak at Rupp Arena, according to the Associated Press. That psyche-out didn’t seem to work as the Wildcats clobbered Florida 78-58.

If Connecticut can rally around the toughness of coach Jim Calhoun, the Huskies won’t be out of the picture despite a bleak couple of weeks, including a horrid loss Monday night at Louisville. Calhoun told ESPN’s Andy Katz that he doesn’t plan to let spinal stenosis to force him into retirement, and the coach could return to the sidelines sometime this season if the pain in his legs and back subsides.

There’s also health concerns for another coach: College of Charleston’s Bobby Cremins. The 64-year-old Cougar coach took a leave of absence Jan. 27, and he told people that he’s just taking a break to recuperate from a lack of energy, according to a CBS Sports.com wire report.

Alabama’s tournament chances could be in some jeopardy after the team indefinitely suspended junior Tony Mitchell for misconduct, writes TideNation’s Alex Scarborough. The junior forward averages 13.1 ppg and 7.0 rpg in more than 30 minutes per game for the Crimson Tide.

Stepping back to look beyond basketball

by - Published December 13, 2011 in Full Court Sprints
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This past weekend has reminded us that there are bigger things than basketball. Most teams are off for final exams for some/all of this week, and a major brawl on Saturday also brought out that sentiment. While we’ll have more on the brawl later, right now there’s something else to think about in keeping with the theme.

I’m sure others have said it, but I remember ESPN’s Buster Olney once remarking that when you’re in the media, you become a fan of the game instead of a particular team. It’s very true, and part of that is being a fan of the people involved in the game. This is a people business in every respect, and those who succeed the most in this industry, no matter what capacity they are in, know how to deal with people.

To that end, I give you Ken Dempsey, the associate head coach at New Hampshire. Tuesday is an important day for him.

Dempsey recently shared on the National Coaches’ Diary Series on College Chalktalk that he has been diagnosed with prostate cancer. On Tuesday, he goes for surgery to address it, and will take an undetermined leave of absence from the basketball team. He is not the first and won’t be the last college coach to have to deal with this dreaded disease, but fortunately the outlook is good and there’s some personal significance.

We all have people who have helped us get where we are. Dempsey has helped many people in that respect in 25 years of coaching at several Division I schools, but it isn’t just players who have benefited from knowing him. I have no better friend in basketball than Ken Dempsey.

When I was an undergraduate at Northeastern, Dempsey joined the basketball staff when Dave Leitao took over as the head coach my freshman year. Dempsey was the first coach I met, and after a badly failed attempt to walk on to the team, he didn’t forget me. I would see him around the gym (back then, Cabot Gym was not only where the team practiced, but also the student recreational facility), especially if I was playing basketball before the team came to practice. He sensed that I liked the game, and encouraged me to join them as a manager. I would stop by the office and have conversations with him and Darryl Hilliard, also an assistant there at the time, and the relationship grew from there.

The next year, I became a manager. My experience in doing that was tremendous for a lot of reasons, from being so close to the game that I love to traveling to places I had never been to understanding what goes into a team’s season. There is not enough space to share how much that helped me to get where I am today, and that’s before I mention some of the things external to my role as a manager. Dempsey gave me access to recruiting reports so I could see what they looked like and start having a feel for the next college stars, and introduced me to Bob Gibbons when he visited Northeastern one time. This was back when there weren’t nearly as many people covering recruiting as there are now, as the Internet was still in its infancy in terms of its effects on athletic media.

That was only the beginning. When Dempsey left Northeastern just before I graduated, we made sure to stay in touch, and have done that. After some time away from the northeast, he’s been back for several years now. Interestingly, I covered what proved to be his last game as an assistant coach at UMKC before coming to New Hampshire – a tough loss in the then-Mid-Continent Conference (now the Summit League) Tournament in Tulsa.

Dempsey is optimistic that his leave from the team will be on the order of weeks. He is well-connected and has been in contact with some people who have dealt with this to learn from their experiences, and has had great support from everyone in Durham. And as he goes in for surgery on Tuesday to start the battle against prostate cancer, I know I am one of many people who is praying for a positive result at the end of all of this.

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

  • About that brawl: Cincinnati and Xavier each suspended four players for their roles in the well-chronicled brawl at the end of Saturday’s meeting between the two teams. Cincinnati suspended Yancy Gates, Cheikh Mbodj and Octavius Ellis for six games each and Ge’Lawn Guyn for one game, while Xavier suspended Dez Wells and Landen Amos for four games each, Mark Lyons for two and Tu Holloway for one.
  • Indiana scored a dramatic win over Kentucky with a buzzer-beater on Saturday. It’s the biggest win for the Hoosiers under Tom Crean.
  • Murray State knocked off Memphis on Sunday night, which improves the Racers to 10-0. But what has unfortunately received a little more buzz from that game than how good the Racers look is Memphis’ public address announcer announcing John Calipari as the Tigers’ head coach, which was greeted with a round of boos.
  • It’s a light week of game action, and Monday night was no exception as the most notable game was probably Oregon’s 79-70 win over Portland State.

 

Games to watch on Tuesday

  • Wisconsin at Milwaukee, 8 pm EST
  • Belmont at Middle Tennessee, 8 pm EST

Memphis Tigers not a finished product

by - Published November 21, 2011 in Conference Notes

Losing to a top 15 team in November is not exactly a season-ending event. Still, when Michigan defeated Memphis 73-61 in the EA Sports Maui Invitational Tournament, it became obvious that several questions still plague the Tigers.

Michigan employed a zone defense that forced Memphis into half court sets. The Tigers were unsuccessful penetrating the zone and, instead, settled for 3-pointers. More than a third of Memphis’ shots came from behind the arc. The fact that they went 4-of-20 didn’t help matters.

Rebounding continues to be an issue for Memphis. Part of the problem is with Tarik Black. This is the second game in a row in which Black picked up his second foul in under two minutes. He’s going to need to play much smarter if the Tigers are going to have the season they are hoping for.

The final problem is discipline. Memphis can out-athlete many opponents, but when they play a well-coached opponent with talent, they need to rely on fundamentals and proper execution. Will Barton is an excellent example of the Tigers lack of discipline. He might have been the most talented player on the court today, but he was also the most frustrating. He forces the issue and takes circus shots. When he learns to play within the offense, the Tigers will be a much more formidable opponent.

Losing to a team as highly ranked as Michigan does not mean Memphis will not put together a good season. Unfortunately, it will have major implications on seeding come tournament time in March. Losing to Michigan means Memphis will be playing Tennessee instead of Duke in the next round of the EA Sports Maui Invitational. The chances of the Tigers facing another ranked opponent in Maui is very slim.

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.

Memphis Tigers 2011-12 Preview

by - Published November 5, 2011 in Conference Notes

Memphis Tigers (25-9, 10-6)

 

 

 

 

Projected starting five:

So. G Joe Jackson
So. G Will Barton
Fr. F Adonis Thomas
Sr. F Wesley Witherspoon
So. F Tarik Black

Important departures:

Will Coleman: 7 ppg, 4.5 rpg

Additions:

Top 10-ranked SF Adonis Thomas
Juco C Stan Simpson

% returning scoring and rebounding:

Scoring: 88.3 percent
Rebounding: 85.5 percent

Schedule highlights

Key nonconference game: Michigan, Nov. 21
Key conference stretch: at Marshall Feb. 25, vs. UCF Feb. 28 and at Tulsa March 3

Outlook:

Memphis didn’t quite live up to the hype last season. Early on, the team played disjointed, as should be expected from a freshmen-laden team. During conference play, Memphis proved that it could beat the best teams in C-USA. Unfortunately, they also proved that they could lose to the worst teams in C-USA.

Once the C-USA tournament rolled around, Memphis finally seemed to click. It’s no coincidence that the team looked much better once Joe Jackson started playing under control. Jackson ended up earning the tournament MVP award, and Memphis won the tournament, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. They lost their NCAA tournament game by one point to an Arizona team that made the Elite Eight. Expect Memphis to dominate C-USA this season and put together a deeper run in the Big Dance.

Prediction: First

Next: Rice Owls

Back to Conference USA preview

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.”

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Simply put, Syracuse needs to improve offensively

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2014 Prep School Tour

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

Sept. 9: Putnam Science Academy
Sept 10: Commonwealth Academy
Sept. 11: St. Andrew's
Sept. 12: Northfield Mount Hermon
Sept. 16: Brewster Academy and Phillips Exeter
Sept. 17: Brooks School
Sept. 21: Holderness School
Sept. 23: St. Thomas More and Marianapolis Prep
Sept. 24: South Kent School and Kent School
Sept. 25: Williston Northampton
Sept. 28: Wilbraham and Monson Academy and Suffield Academy
Sept. 30: New Hampton
Oct. 5: Worcester Academy
Oct. 7: Brimmer and May
Oct. 8: Cushing Academy
Oct. 9: Tilton
Oct. 12: Tabor Academy and Rivers School
Oct. 14: The Master's School
Oct. 16: Vermont Academy

You can also find them all right here.

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Recruiting Coverage

New England Prep Schools 2014-15: looking back and looking ahead

November 3, 2014 by

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With a series of prep school open gym visits in the book and the season not far away, here’s a look back at open gyms and a look forward to the season in the New England prep school ranks.

Marianapolis Prep will battle in Class AA

October 20, 2014 by

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Marianapolis Prep is far from loaded with talent, but they have enough perimeter talent to be dangerous. As is usually the case, they will battle and be a tough out in Class AA.

New Vermont Academy coach has put together a contender

October 17, 2014 by

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Vermont Academy has a new coach for the second year in a row, but they shouldn’t skip a beat. They have enough talent to win a lot of games and make a deep run in NEPSAC Class AA.

The Master’s School has good students and talent

October 15, 2014 by

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The Master’s School has a number of good students, and they will continue to head to college later. This time around, they also have some talent on the hardwood and should win a few more games.

Rivers will try to build on a breakthrough season

October 13, 2014 by

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The Rivers School had a breakthrough season last year, winning the Independent School League. They will try to build on that with a team that loses a lot but also returns a lot from last season’s team.