Wednesday, April 22, 2015

The New Hires

VCU: The Rams lost the biggest fish thus far when Shaka Smart finally postponed the inevitable and left Richmond. I think they did well in hiring one of his former assistants, Will Wade who had been the head coach at Chattanooga the last years and runs a similar style as Shaka Smart. Wade was approached for the Charlotte job and declined. There's no reason the Rams can't have continued success in the A-10.

Fordham: At other A-10 locales, Fordham hired Eastern Kentucky's Jeff Neubauer. This is a tough job and Neubauer has work to do. Andy Toole was the initial choice and would have been a great hire.

George Mason: Life in the A-10 hasn't been kind to the Patriots and Paul Hewitt payed with his job. The Patriots kicked the tires on former coach, Jim Larranaga's son Jay, who chose to stay in the NBA. The turned to Bucknell's head man, Dave Paulsen. He'll have the support of the school to be a contender in the A-10 and had success at Bucknell. There's no reason he can't do the same here.

Texas: It was a matter of time before the Longhorns and Rick Barnes parted ways and they did so amicably following this past season. Texas swung for the fences and believe they hit a HR with Shaka Smart. It'll be interesting to see if his system can work on this big a level and in a league with good coaches and a round robin schedule. The nice thing about Austin for Smart will be, basketball will never be king but he'll have access to oodles of talent in the state. The more I think about it, the more I think I like this fit for him and the Longhorns.

DePaul: The Blue Demons did the right thing and "let" Oliver Purnell walk away. His tenure was an unmitigated disaster for them. Given the new framework of the Big East, DePaul has every chance in the world to become a prominent basketball school again. Unfortunately, they botched this hire, I think. Dave Leitao had some success his first go round but bolted on the first thing smoking for Virginia where he flamed out. He was on the bench as an assistant at Tulsa this year with Frank Haith. After allegedly sniffing around Bobby Hurley and Bryce Drew, this was their fall back. Given the depth of young, qualified, hungry assistants throughout this nation, I can't believe Dave Leitao was the best choice.

St. John's: Steve Lavin did a nice job getting the Red Storm back on track but never could get over the hurdle into making them a real national player. Stories abounded he never made an effort to work the greater NYC area for talent and schmooze coaches there. Well, aboard comes Chris Mullin. Mullin seems like a bad choice. No head coaching experience in college and so far removed from the game, how much weight could his name carry? It may not matter because he made two slam dunk assistant hires in Matt Abdelmassih and Barry "Slice" Rohrssen off of Kentucky's staff. It might be bumpy early but these are positive first steps. I think it's closer to this being a Hoiberg/Cyclone match than Jordan/Rutgers.

Arizona State: Bobby Hurley is a great hire. He'll bring enthusiasm and energy to the program that had stagnated under Herb Sendek. It's not an easy or glamour job but Hurley's track record suggests he is willing to do the work and will succeed. This almost certainly won't be his last job but if he can get this program on track and have 4-5 good years in the desert, I think Sun Devil fans will take it. Him and Sean Miller butting heads twice a year? Sign me up.

Mississippi State: Within the last year, the SEC has added Bruce Pearl, Avery Johnson, Rick Barnes and Ben Howland to its coaching fraternity. I said it early last season, the league may not be great now but it will be. It seemed curious Rick Ray had such a short leash at Starkville but it became obvious early that Howland was the man for the job. It's not impossible to win there and it appears he is about to land one of the top prizes in this recruiting cycle with Malik Newman who was targeted by Kentucky among others. Look for the Rebels to be contenders sooner than later.

Tennessee: The Vols didn't want to hire a new coach and I truly believed Donnie Tyndall could have succeeded in Knowville but to get Rick Barnes to come in and clean up the mess is truly as good as things could have gone. Maybe Barnes isn't the best coach but he succeeded at Providence and Clemson before taking the Texas job and there's no reason he won't at Tennessee.

Alabama: The Crimson Tide gave Anthony Grant every chance to succeed and the Tide was always near the bubble every March. Grant is probably a good coach but he wasn't good enough for the SEC. Alabama made a bold choice in hiring Avery Johnson who had some success coaching in the NBA. Can he recruit will be the question. He'll certainly have the pedigree to do so and only adds to the intrigue of the future of the SEC.

Other hires I liked: Steve Donohue to Penn who took Cornell to the Sweet 16 but flamed out at BC, Brian Wardle at Bradley who has a better conference and opportunity to make the NCAA and Eric Musselman at Nevada.

Also, former Marquette player Jon Harris gets his first head coaching gig at SIU-Edwardsville

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Crazy, Early Top 10 for 2015-16

Since everyone else is doing it, here's my Top 10 heading into next year.

1. North Carolina- Sure to make Brian froth at the mouth, this team was good this year and returns everyone. They had a legit shot at beating Wisconsin before Sam Dekker broke their hearts. The only question that remains? Will they be eligible.

2. Kansas- I'll be far higher on Kansas than anyone but if the back court matures like it should, they'll be in the mix. I also expect Bill Self to add another top recruit in this cycle.

3. Iowa State- This is subject to change should Hoiberg leave and that's possible but they'll be loaded and have a potential National POY in Georges Niang returning.

4. Virginia- Everyone is back just about. Can they learn to win and adapt to March? We shall see. Many peg them as the early favorite for next season.

5. Maryland- Getting Melo Trimble back and adding Robert Carter make them the class of what should be a very good Big Ten next year.

6. Villanova- They lose some key parts but the guys ready to step up will ease that and they add a fine young layer in Jalen Brunson. They'll be plenty of pressure in March to do better, though.

7. Michigan State- They lose Trice and Dawson but Valentine was their best player. Still loaded for bear.

8. Gonzaga- The Zags got the monkey off their back playing into the second weekend and should be loaded next year. they lose Pangos and Bell but retain Wiltjer who will be a national POY candidate. Plus, the big men are back. Karnowski and Sabonis will be a force.

9. Duke- Originally had NC State here but am going with Duke. Coach K looks rejuvenated and has some nice pieces coming in with room to add more. I expect some good things from Sean Obi, a Rice transfer. Grayson Allen has the makings of a star.

10. Kentucky- I though Tyler Ulis was their best guard at times this year and he'll get the chance to shine more next year. Cal adds more good talent but no way this team accomplishes what it did this year, next year even if he ads more.

Quick Notes:

- The ACC will be the best conference in America and it might not be close. They have 5 legit top 15 teams and Florida State should make some noise. Notre Dame returns Zach Auguste and others and the bottom feeders should be much improved. Also keep an eye on Louisville and what they do. They added Trey Lewis last night as a grad transfer and are in the mix for others. This league will be an absolute bloodbath.

- The Big Ten will be better, too. Indiana has no excuse not to be a Top 15 team. Wisconsin won't slide far and Michigan will be loads better. It'll be an 8-bid league at a minimum.

- The Big 12 won't slide far and will be wildly competitive again. Baylor and Oklahoma can be Top 10 teams. West Virginia has that ceiling, too.

- My initial Big East projections look like this, subject to change on whether DSR returns to Georgetown and whether Marquette lands another guard via grad transfer.

1. Villanova
2. Xavier
3. Georgetown
4. Butler
5. Marquette
6. Providence
7. Creighton
8. Seton Hall
9. St. John's
10. DePaul

Title Game: The Postmortem

If you were paying attention in the late Fall of 2013, a lot of national writers began to look at what Coach K had done with his 2014-15 recruiting class. He had signed a great class that included Jahlil Okafor, Justise Winslow, Tyus Jones & Grayson Allen. It was hailed as a great class and many openly wondered how a class with at least 2 one and dones would be received nationally should it be Duke winning that way and not Calipari and Kentucky.

Fast forward to last night and we got the answer. Nothing changed. It's the system as we know it and Coach K found guys that could play and buy into playing as a team, something that doesn't always work with one and dones.

We also got the true Bo Ryan. The post-game Bo was classic Bo. Shots at the refs and shots at how other programs build rosters and answering a question by starting with "if you know anything about basketball". He's been a graceless loser his entire career and it was exposed nationally. Heat of the moment makes me give him a pass but it's a bad look.

Ultimately, this may be Wisconsin's best chance in a long time to win a national championship. It's possible he had 4 NBA players on this roster. It's hard to see that happening again soon. For the talk of "developing" Kaminsky, the chances of having a guy that gifted and talented sit on the bench for two years and blossom into the National POY are slim and none. He'll get good players but that was his best team during his tenure. Also, guys his age begin to see dwindling results.

I told Brian last year after Okafor and Jones committed we'd see Duke standing at the podium last night. I hedged after Calipari finalized his class and had the returnees he did. Coach K and his staff did a fantastic job getting this team to play together and clean up their defense. The coaches and players should be applauded. It was fun to watch and they earned this title. 

Only 11 months to March Madness

Monday, April 6, 2015

My Title Game Pick

My dream matchup is tonight.  Either way I’m going to be happy…however, how happy is the question.  Let’s break this one down.

First let’s start with the game back in December.  Remember that?  Ok, now forget everything about it.  Means absolutely nothing.  These team are completely different.  Dekker is healthy, Duke is playing defense, and both teams are just going 7-8 deep to maximize the talent on the court.  So, if that game doesn’t matter, what’s the key to tonight’s game?

1.       Wisconsin’s mindset.  I heard it this morning if Wisconsin’s players will be up for tonight after such a challenging and emotional game just 48 hours ago.  The announcers said absolutely.  I say they can’t possibly be.  This is new to Wisconsin and they are riding so high there’s no place to go but down.  It won’t be a big letdown but Duke is more apt to handle the big stage.
2.       Sam Dekker’s run from late first round pick to possible lottery pick.  The Dude has been on fire taking it strong and right at people.  I’m sure he will draw Justice Winslow who “has an NBA body” wink.  I don’t think he can shut him down but I do think Winslow can hold him to 15-17 points and that’s win.
3.       The big men.  Quite “Frankly” this matchup isn’t what I’m looking forward to the most.  Frank will take Okafor out of the post and abuse him and Okafor will do the exact opposite on their offensive end and abuse him.  I can see either both scoring 20-23 or both ending up in fall trouble.  They cancel each other out.
4.       Nigel Hayes vs Jefferson/Jones.  This is the mismatch.  Jefferson can defend Hayes but then there is no offense from the 4 for Duke.  Jones is undersized and will draw Hayes out a little but Hayes should have his way with him in the interior.  If Hayes gets hot Wisconsin has a huge advantage.  If Jones can nail 2-3 three’s he can cancel that out
5.       Most importantly to me is the guard play.  Jones and Cook have been relatively quiet lately but they have the speed and quickness to get by and create against Koenig and Gasser.  The Badgers guards are good defenders but if Duke can get a slip and cause help side defense to flash to the paint they should be able to kick to the open man.  The Badgers best bet is to get their guards into the post and make Cook and Jones guard down there.  Oh, and limit Jackson’s minutes, yikes!

Ultimately I think this has the makings of a great game but what I expect Coach K to do is rotate Jefferson, Plumlee, Jones, and Okafor in a lot and maximize their fouls.  I also expect him to play just enough zone to throw off Wisconsin and protect their bigs.  I don’t think they play long stretches of zone but just enough to keep Okafor out of foul trouble.  Wisconsin doesn’t defend the three’s real well and I think that’s going to be the deal breaker.  No need for 12 or 13 but just 7 or 8 will be enough to secure the win for the Devils.

Prediction:  Duke 72, Wisconsin 65

Title Game Pick

For the first time since 2008, two 1-seeds meet for the National Championship in college basketball. In a year where parity was a rumor and bracket busters busted, it seems quite appropriate.

Duke enters this game as the least discussed Duke team in a Final 4 ever. The Cult of Izzo overshadowed the previous game and the Badgers win over Kentucky is all the talk leading into this game. I never thought I'd see the day where Duke seems like an afterthought.

As we've discussed, Duke's defense has improved dramatically over the last two months and has been pretty spectacular through the tournament. They've run into some weaker offenses but it's still impressive. The job they did in shutting down Gonzaga's guards was nothing short of spectacular. 

Offensively, they've been getting contributions everywhere while Jahlil Okafor has been steady while not spectacular. They scored 81 points against Sparty while making all of 2 3-pointers. That's impressive in this day and age. People say Duke gets the whistle but they're 97th in FTA/FGA. I suspect they make more there's tonight as Wisconsin is poor at defending the perimeter.

Wisconsin comes in rolling off the two most impressive wins of the year. The offense continues to roll at an incredible rate. Sam Dekker has put to rest any doubts he's ready for the NBA. As good as the Duke defense has been, Wisconsin should be able to score tonight. Frank Kaminsky will likely have a huge game. Duke doesn't have anyone that can match up against him on defense. They'll surely keep Okafor off of him to keep him out of foul trouble.

Wisconsin is still susceptible on defense but the offense has been so good, it hasn't been an issue. I mentioned teams can make 3's against them and if Duke is nailing 3's, that'll open up the paint for Okafor. It'll be interesting to see if Duke tries to wear Kaminsky down on this end. 

My guess is Duke will use its 10 fouls from Jefferson and Plumlee against Kaminsky but the Tank should have a huge game. I think fouls could be part of the story. Duke can't afford for too many key guys to be riding pine with fouls.

Ultimately, Wisconsin's offense is too much and they win late. It should be an incredible game. The Pick: Wisconsin 72 Duke 69

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Kentucky: The Rebuttal

Great post by Kurly but this blog is going to get all Talk Show”ish” because a lot of what he said is wrong.  Let’s start with what he got correct.  Sports do need villains.  Being a huge Duke fan I’m used to being one and revel in knowing it.  The idea that if I can’t cheer for my team but I can cheer against somebody else is what keeps people interested.  I know if Duke or Wisconsin weren’t in the final I’d probably be cheering for whichever team I dislike least.  I think it’s a way better attitude to have 1 or 2 favorite teams and then dislike, but respect, the rest.  Nobody likes the people who always change teams to cheer for a winner.  Take your team from the bottom to top and cheer against the rest.
Now, let’s get to what he got wrong.  First let’s start with indentured servitude.  Completely inaccurate and almost an insult to what a true indentured servant was.  Everybody talks about the rules within college basketball but nobody mentions that baseball and football have similar rules.  The football rules are in place because the game is so much different from college to the pros and “kids” need a couple years to physically mature to be ready.  How is basketball different?  The NBA is not a ballet.  It’s physical and most kids aren’t ready to go straight there.  Do you wonder why “he’s got an NBA body” is spoken so loudly about some kids?  And what doesn’t get mentioned is for every Al Jefferson, Kobe Bryant, or Kevin Garnett there are 10 Robert Swifts, Korleone Young, or Sebastian Telfair’s.  Overall it’s a rule that benefit’s more than it hurts.  By the way, I say all this and I am completely against the rule.  I think it’s a sham to force kids to go to college.
Second, is this a failure for Kentucky?  Your gall darn right it is.  They openly wanted that undefeated season and the came up short.  By definition that is a failure.  Do I as a fan hate them because they were brash?  No.  Do I love that they failed?  Yes.  But not because I’m a poor excuse for a fan or human.  I detest Calipari and all he stands for (more on that later) and I love that the Harrison twins (the only Kentucky players I don’t like) are falling by the way side.  They want history and they didn’t get it.  Failure.

Third, and on to John Calipari.  First thing about him is this whole one and done bullsh!t that somehow came back this year.  That rule has been in effect for 10 years.  This is not new and he didn’t invent something that was revolutionary.  For some stupid reason ESPN decided to make it a story.  Um, Anthony Davis, John Wall, and Derrick Rose are all NBA veterans so let’s be done with the one and done talk.  That’s not the reason to hate him.  The reason to hate him is he is a dirty coach who has been caught numerous times.  Yes, I know pretty much all coaches do it but he’s been caught and that makes a difference.  I hate Bruce Pearl too and all these people who are cheering for him at Auburn out to be ashamed of themselves.  I hold no ill will towards giving these coaches second (and third) chances but I reserve the right to openly despise them.  Some people may hate Calipari for who he recruits or who he doesn’t graduate but it’s solely his arrogance and unacceptance of his past sins that irritate me.  “How can I be accountable for what 1 YMCA coach did or who took Derek Rose’s ACT for him?” is what he says.  Um, your program, you’re accountable.  And I won’t even mention that the first thing out of his mouth when his teams are taken to brink by Notre Dame that “his team didn’t play well” instead of “Notre Dame played a heck of a game”.  Whoops just did.  He’s an arrogant prick and I don’t like him, Bruce Pearl, or Rick Pitino for that matter. 
Last, I want to hit on the “doing it the right way” or “celebrating their demise”.  This is where I shake my head at Kurly.  See, the only thing worse than then ESPN’s talking heads are the knobs that pass as Sports Talk radio hosts in this city.  Homer, Gary Ellerson, and Sparky are as clueless as my wall.  I think half of them say stupid things to get reactions and the other half actually believe the non-sense that comes out of their mouths.  Now, I said the only thing worse than ESPN are these people but there’s another group that actually take it to another level…it’s the people who call in, write to JSOnline, or comment on twitter.  These non-intellectual mouth breathers ruin social media for people like me.  See, that’s the difference between Kurly and me.  I don’t listen to them or read their articles.  Why punish myself with the opinion of un-educated people?  It’s like listening to Bob and Brian for their sports opinion.  It makes no sense.  It’s why I follow about 7 people on twitter and choose to watch Packer games with only 2-3 guys.  I want to be surrounded by people who “get” the sport on my level.  The rest don’t matter, however, I completely understand Kurly’s stance.  I just don’t know why he continues to punish himself and then pontificate that the masses all think this stupid way.  True story…I watched the Packers lose to Seattle in a BW3’s and as soon as the game was over I texted a couple of my non-packer loving friends and told them a little piece of me was cheering for them to lose because 90% of the people there were idiots.

As I stated to begin, it was a great post by Kurly but I can’t agree with most of it.  I felt a need to post my “rebuttal” and I think there are a lot of people who share my thoughts.  My advice coming out though is to stop listening to sports talk, stop reading Bill Simmons, and find the handful of people who make sense and follow them.  Start with Jay Bilas and move from there.

Kentucky: The Postmortem

I finally watched the Laettner documentary on Friday and I thought to myself, college basketball needs a villain. Villains make sports fun. Villain, of course, is a strong word. Christian Laettner isn't really a villain. He was one of the greatest college basketball players ever and we hate greatness unless it's our guy/gal/team.

I was wrong about needing a villain. We have a villain and that villain is John Calipari. By extension, his team becomes the villain. Prior to yesterday's game, non-Kentucky fans attacked Calipari and Kentucky as everything wrong with college basketball. They're a collection of hired guns! They don't take college serious! They're dumb and our guys are smart! We're "morally superior" to the villains of college basketball.

Kentucky also dared to be great this year. They openly pursued 40-0 and this rubbed people the wrong way. Chasing greatness is perceived as brash and somehow arrogant. We celebrate the underdog and the humble. The guy that goes to work everyday in a shitty job and does his job is a great story. But the great and those with the drive to be great and ultra successful are viewed with suspicion and we love nothing more than to knock them from their pedestal. It's the American way. You can dare to be great, but heaven forbid someone else dares to be great.

Going 38-0 was erased with one loss to an outstanding team. Not everyone will, but the majority will call this season a failure for Kentucky. And maybe their right. There's little doubt the Wildcats deep down feel that way. As stupid as it is, had Kentucky lost a game at some point this year prior to last night, the loss to Wisconsin wouldn't be viewed the way it will be in history. That's colossally stupid on every level.

Kentucky went 38-1 with Freshmen, Sophomores and only 1 upperclassmen in their rotation. They played great defense and every player shone at some point this year. No one player dominated the ball. It was a beautiful thing to watch. They pursued perfection with purpose and effort. They embraced the pressure and the hatred and managed to do something only 2 other teams have done and win 38 games. Today, people are celebrating their demise because they dared to do those things and be great.

The NBA has decided the system college basketball plays with (indentured servitude is what it is) not Kentucky. Kids could go to Europe, China, etc. or play for a coach who gets his guys millions. The cult of the head coach is strong in college sports. Coaches are perceived as these leaders and molders of men. It's a cottage industry and these guys have embraced it and wisely so. The truth is, it's all hot air. These guys are driven by success and winning. Rightfully so, I'd argue. You could graduate 100% of your players with a 4.0 GPA in real majors and if you don't make the tournament on a regular basis, you'll get fired. Boosters and fans only talk about those things when they don't like an opponent or when they lose. John Calipari isn't some bold rebel but he's also not hiding behind the facade of something that doesn't exist.

So, today is a great day for people that don't like Kentucky and the way they do things. We'll call them failures and smile. Some will smugly proclaim something about "doing it the right way" ignoring facts and basking in their supposed moral superiority. That's what we do. That's a shame. Kentucky had a great year and did something amazing. They lost to a great team in a great game. Failures? Not even close.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

I Ain't Going Fancy Neither

But I am calling for the Wisconsin upset.

Duke 71, Michigan State 59

Wisconsin 71, Kentucky 66

Final Four: The Picks

Nothing fancy

Duke 66 Michigan State 59

Kentucky 77 Wisconsin 75