Sunday, January 31, 2010

Player of the Week: Devan Downey, South Carolina

Sometimes, picking a Player of the Week is difficult. In some weeks, one has to go through dozens and dozens of box scores, seeing which players had two good games during the week, which teams did well and were carried by a certain player and then narrow it down to eight or nine players. After that, you have to pick a few of the marquee performers and then eventually choose one. This week, however, was easy. Forget West Virginia’s Da’Sean Butler and his 27 points against Louisville; forget Illinois’ Demetri McCamey’s 19 points, eight assists and buzzer shot vs. Indiana; forget Dominique Jones of South Florida and his phenomenal week against Seton Hall and Pittsburgh; forget Quincy Pondexter of Washington averaging 28.0 points and 11.5 rebounds this week; forget everything.

The clear Player of the Week honor this week has to go to Devan Downey of South Carolina. In case you don’t follow college basketball, or sports in general – and I’m guessing that’s doesn’t cover any of the people reading this, since you’re, well, reading this – Downey had 30 points and single-handedly led the Gamecocks to an upset of No. 1 Kentucky on Tuesday. While he did shoot just 9-for-29 from the field against the Wildcats, Downey’s craftiness and scoring ability late in the game enabled South Carolina to get the victory. Downey also grabbed five rebounds, dished out three assists and banned two steals. That performance would have likely won him this week’s honors anyway, but Downey wasn’t done. The diminutive 5-9 waterbug of a guard dropped 33 points and hit the game-winning basket with 50 seconds left to give South Carolina a one-point victory over Georgia.

In the two games this week, Downey averaged 31.5 points, 3.0 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 2.0 steals – and only 1.5 turnovers per game. Overall this season, Downey is now averaging 22.4 points, 3.4 rebounds, 3.6 assists and 3.1 steals per game. While his shooting percentages are not overly attractive, it is Downey’s clutch scoring ability and innate knack for getting into the lane that makes him so difficult to contain. If he continues to play like this – and leads South Carolina to some more big victories – Downey and the Gamecocks could be in the thick of things come Selection Sunday.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Game of the Night, Jan. 28

Game of the Night: No. 16 Wisconsin at No. 10 Purdue (7:00 PM, ESPN)

With February right around the corner, the stretch drive is officially here in college basketball. Some conferences are at the mid-point in league play, meaning it’s time for teams to start making moves with an eye towards the NCAA Tournament. Thursday is a perfect example of that, with plenty of solid battles. The best one, however, is a Big Ten showdown between Wisconsin and Purdue, two teams chasing Michigan State in the conference standings. Wisconsin (16-4, 6-2 in the Big Ten) won the first meeting between the two teams, knocking off the Boilermakers, 73-66, in Madison. The Badgers have also defeated Duke, Ohio State, Maryland, Northwestern, Marquette and Arizona, although they have a loss to Wisconsin-Green Bay on the resume as well. On the other side, Purdue (16-3, 4-3) had lost three in a row in Big Ten play before winning its last two games heading into Thursday. The Boilermakers own big wins over West Virginia, Tennessee and Wake Forest, as well as victories over Alabama, Illinois and Minnesota.

Wisconsin has looked like a different team without forward Jon Leuer, the team’s second-leading scorer who has missed the last four games with a broken wrist. In his absence, guard Jordan Taylor has gotten the starting job; he’s a solid all-around player who can do a little of everything. Guard Trevon Hughes has had a huge senior season, averaging 16.4 points per game and hitting 40.4 percent of his threes. Shooter Jason Bohannon is also averaging double-figures. Swingman Tim Jarmusz also starts on the perimeter, while big man Keaton Nankivil holds down the fort inside. Wings Ryan Evans and Rob Wilson get double-figure minutes off the bench for the relatively thin Badgers.

Purdue has everything a team needs to make a deep run in March – except for a consistent point guard. With Lewis Jackson missing the entire season, Keaton Grant has tried to play the role, but he is better-suited to play off the ball. Chris Kramer starts next to him; he is a defensive stopper who might play harder than anyone in the country. Leading scorer E’Twuan Moore can really fill it up on the offensive end, and can carry the Boilermakers. Robbie Hummel is one of the most versatile players in the country, and JaJuan Johnson is a go-to option in the paint for Purdue. Purdue utilizes its bench well, bringing Kelsey Barlow and Patrick Bade off the pine up front, with shooters Ryne Smith, D.J. Byrd and Mark Wohlford also seeing minutes.

This is going to be a half-court contest filled with plenty of banging in the paint. The interesting match-up will be Purdue’s lockdown defender, Chris Kramer, against Wisconsin’s go-to scorer, Trevon Hughes. If Kramer can shut Hughes down, Wisconsin will be in trouble. Also, will the Jon Leuer-less Badgers be able to hang with Robbie Hummel and JaJuan Johnson up front? On the other side, will Wisconsin’s tough defense combined with Purdue’s point guard problems make for a rough night offensively for the Boilermakers? I think that Kramer will slow down Hughes, and Hummel and Johnson could have monster games up front. Don’t forget E’Twaun Moore, either.

Prediction: Purdue 68, Wisconsin 61

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Wednesday, Jan. 27 Predictions

Prediction Record:

Temple at Charlotte (+1.5): Prediction: Temple 72, Charlotte 68
Vanderbilt at Tennessee (-6.5): Prediction: Tennessee 78, Vanderbilt 69
Notre Dame at Villanova (-11): Prediction: Villanova 84, Notre Dame 70
Illinois State at Wichita State (-6.5): Prediction: Wichita State 67, Illinois State 61
Texas A&M at Oklahoma State (-5.5): Prediction: Oklahoma State 80, Texas A&M 70
Memphis at Marshall (+2): Prediction: Marshall 74, Memphis 69
Texas Tech at Texas (-16.5): Prediction: Texas 85, Texas Tech 67
Florida State at Duke (-12.5): Prediction: Duke 76, Florida State 66
BYU at New Mexico (-1.5): Prediction: New Mexico 77, BYU 74

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Player of the Week: Jerome Dyson, Connecticut

Player of the Week: Jerome Dyson, Connecticut

With less than two months remaining until Selection Sunday, it’s about that time to look at every game with an eye on the NCAA Tournament. Not surprisingly, this week had dozens and dozens of games that had implications for March. As a result, we saw plenty of impressive individual performances. There was UTEP’s Randy Culpepper scoring 39 against UCF after hitting key shots in a win over Memphis earlier in the week; South Florida’s Dominique Jones dropping 46 on Providence on Saturday, while also grabbing 10 rebounds and dishing out eight assists; Jimmer Fredette of BYU putting up 33 points at San Diego State; Oklahoma State’s James Anderson averaging 28.0 points in two wins; Florida’s Erving Walker averaging 20.0 points, 4.0 rebounds and 5.5 assists in two wins; Wesley Johnson of Syracuse putting up 22.0 points and 11.5 rebounds in victories over Notre Dame and Marquette; and Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson averaging 22.5 points and 9.5 rebounds to beat Illinois and Michigan.

The best player this week, however, was Connecticut guard Jerome Dyson. Heading into the week, the Huskies were in trouble.  They had lost three in a row and head coach Jim Calhoun took a leave of absence for health issues. Dyson was in an individual funk, too. He had averaged just 13.0 points in the three losses and was struggling. All of that changed this week. Dyson opened the week with 21 points, six rebounds and five assists in a 75-59 win over St. John’s. A fine performance, of course, but Dyson won this week’s honor because of his work on Saturday. In the Huskies’ upset of No. 1 Texas, the 6-4 senior went for 32 points, three rebounds, three assists and two steals. His play in the second half helped spur the come-from-behind victory.

On the week, Dyson averaged 26.5 points, 4.5 rebounds and 4.0 assists, hitting 50 percent of his three-pointers and 54 percent from the field. For the season, Dyson is going for career highs across the board, averaging 18.8 points, 4.9 rebounds and 5.1 assists per game. Connecticut still needs to keep winning, although games this week against Providence and Marquette could continue the two-game streak.

Tuesday, Jan. 26 Predictions

Prediction Record: (Haven't done predictions in a bit, will calculate record later)

Rhode Island at Dayton: Prediction: Dayton 77, Rhode Island 70
Miami (Fl.) at Maryland (-8.5): Prediction: Maryland 75, Miami (Fl.) 64
Kansas State at Baylor (-2.5): Prediction: Baylor 84, Kansas State 79
Tulsa at UAB (-4): Prediction: UAB 69, Tulsa 63 
North Carolina at North Carolina State (+1): Prediction: North Carolina 81, North Carolina State 76
Northwestern at Minnesota (-12): Prediction: Minnesota 72, Northwestern 64

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Week Ahead

With February right around the corner, the stretch drive is officially here in college basketball. Some conferences are at the mid-point in league play, meaning it’s time for teams to start making moves with an eye towards the NCAA Tournament. This week is filled with important conference clashes that could make the difference between whether a team is “in” or “on the bubble” come March, as well as important contests that will have a huge impact at the top of the league standings. That “Last Ten Games” category on teams’ NCAA Tournament profiles? It’s just about to start.


Charleston at Western Carolina (7:00 PM, Regional TV): The two best teams in the Southern Conference go head-to-head for league supremacy. Charleston has beaten UNC; Western Carolina defeated Louisville.

No. 12 Georgetown at No. 5 Syracuse (7:00 PM, ESPN): Big-time battle in the Big East. There are interesting match-up galore, but I’m interested to see how Greg Monroe matches up against the zone of ‘Cuse.

Missouri at No. 3 Kansas (9:00 PM, ESPN): Two teams that like to get up-and-down the floor. Expect plenty of points in this one, but I don’t know if Missouri is going to force enough turnovers to win.


Rhode Island at Dayton (7:00 PM, Regional TV): A couple of Atlantic-10 teams in the at-large mix. URI fell at Xavier over the weekend, while Dayton has lost two of three and cannot afford another loss.

Miami (Fl.) at Maryland (7:00 PM, ESPNU): Surprisingly, the teams with the worst and best records in the ACC, respectively, match-up. Maryland has won three in a row, but Miami has dropped three consecutive contests.

No. 10 Kansas State at No. 25 Baylor (8:00 PM, Regional TV/ESPN FullCourt): Will Kansas State bounce back from its home loss to Oklahoma State? Or will Baylor get another win for its at-large resume.

Tulsa at UAB (8:00 PM): Conference-USA clash for supremacy. Both teams are 5-0 in the league, with Tulsa needing work for an at-large bid. UAB is undefeated at home this season and could be the C-USA favorite.

No. 24 North Carolina at North Carolina State (9:00 PM, Regional TV/ESPN FullCourt): North Carolina has lost three in a row and four of its last five, while North Carolina State defeated Duke at home last week.

Northwestern at Minnesota (9:00 PM, Big Ten Network): Huge bubble battle in the Big Ten. Northwestern is just 4-4 in its last eight games, while Minnesota has lost four of five. The winner gets back on track towards a bid.


No. 16 Temple at Charlotte (7:00 PM, Regional TV): Charlotte doesn’t have much on its resume besides wins at Louisville and Richmond, but it is only one game out of the A-10 lead. Temple is basically a lock for the Big Dance, and could be a top-four seed.

Vanderbilt at No. 8 Tennessee (7:00 PM, ESPNU): Can either of these teams compete with Kentucky all season? Vandy has won nine in a row, while Tennessee finally snapped its winning streak with a loss at Georgia over the weekend.

Notre Dame at No. 4 Villanova (7:00 PM, ESPN): This should be an interesting game in the Big East. Villanova has more guards than a state prison, while Notre Dame relies on burly forward Luke Harangody. Which side will prevail?

Illinois State at Wichita State (7:05 PM, Regional TV): The Missouri Valley is looking like a one-bid conference this season, although both of these teams are still on the bubble periphery. The winner stays in the mix.

Texas A&M at Oklahoma State (7:30 PM, ESPN2): This game could mean a ton come Selection Sunday. OK State has won two in a row, including a win over Kansas State, while A&M has won its last two games by a combined seven points.

Memphis at Marshall (8:00 PM, CBS College Sports): Both of these teams will try to keep pace with the winner of UAB-Tulsa in Conference-USA. They are each 4-1, and both teams are need of a win.

Texas Tech at No. 1 Texas (9:00 PM, ESPNU): Intrastate battle in the Longhorn State. Texas Tech could use a marquee win for its potential at-large candidacy, while Texas needs to snap a two-game losing streak that dropped it from its No. 1 perch.

Florida State at No. 7 Duke (9:00 PM, ESPN): This game should feature plenty of quality big guys, as each team has plenty of talent and depth on the inside. Can the Florida State guards hang with the Duke backcourt?

No. 14 BYU at New Mexico (10:00 PM, Regional TV): Not surprisingly, there is a meaningful Mountain West game going on this week. BYU was the nation’s first 20-win team, while New Mexico has Darington Hobson.


Wake Forest at No. 19 Georgia Tech (7:00 PM, Regional TV): Two teams that are going to need to develop consistency if they want to make noise in March. Wake has won two in a row and 10 of 12. Tech is 3-3 in its last six games.

Virginia Tech at Virginia (7:00 PM, Regional TV): Virginia is shockingly tied for first in the ACC, while Tech is a game back. If the Hokies want to compete for an at-large bid, this is the sort of game they need to win.

St. John’s at No. 9 Pittsburgh (7:00 PM, ESPNU): Both teams need to bounce back and get into the win column. The Johnnies have lost two in a row and five of seven, while the surprising Panthers came down to Earth with two losses last week.

No. 18 Wisconsin at No. 13 Purdue (7:00 PM, ESPN): The winner of this game will stay within striking distance of Michigan State. Expect tons of physical play and keep an eye on the battle between Trevon Hughes vs. Chris Kramer.

Oakland at IUPUI (7:00 PM): The top two teams in the Summit. Oakland is 9-0 in the conference, while IUPUI is one game back at 8-1. Oakland won the first match-up between these two, beating the Jaguars by seven.

California at Arizona State (8:30 PM, Regional TV): California is basically the only team in the Pac-10 with legitimate at-large hopes right now, but the Golden Bears can’t fall into the same trap as everyone else in the league has.


Butler at Wisconsin-Green Bay (9:00 PM, ESPNU): A win by Butler would give it a four-game lead in the loss column over Green Bay. Needless to say, UWGB needs a victory here, while Butler can’t afford a loss to a sub-100 team.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Power Sweet 16 Rankings

Yet another jam-packed week of conference clashes featured plenty of top-notch college basketball, which made a huge impact on potential seedings. Five teams that were ranked in last week’s edition lost, as did one of the teams who would have been next in line. Of course, it will all lead to a major shake-up in this week's rankings, but who will move where? Who will drop out and who will get their first taste of the Rankings? I will post the rankings every Sunday night until I begin to release complete brackets in February.

  • - Standard bracketing rules apply (no two teams from the same conference in the same half-bracket, etc.)
  • - Numbers in parenthesis next to the team indicate what 1-16 ranking they are

Syracuse Region (East):

  • 1. Villanova (4)
  • 2. Duke (5)
  • 3. Wisconsin (11)
  • 4. Temple (14)

Houston Region (South):

  • 1. Kansas (2)
  • 2. Michigan State (7)
  • 3. West Virginia (9)
  • 4. Tennessee (15)

Salt Lake City Region (West):

  • 1. Syracuse (3)
  • 2. Texas (6)
  • 3. Purdue (12)
  • 4. BYU (13)

St. Louis Region (Midwest):

  • 1. Kentucky (1)
  • 2. Georgetown (8)
  • 3. Kansas State (10)
  • 4. Pittsburgh (16)

17th Team: Gonzaga

Others Considered: NONE

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Remember Jan. 23 on March 14

A monster Saturday in college basketball had dozens of games that will have major implications for Selection Sunday. Here’s a look back at some of the most important goings-on of the day:

- With its loss to Michigan State at home, Minnesota has now lost four of five and is 3-4 in the Big Ten. The Golden Gophers have wins over Butler and Ohio State, but it needs to be more consistent on the road the rest of the season. 1-4 away from home isn’t going to cut it. On the other side, It’s going to take a lot for Michigan State to not win the Big Ten title at this point. The Spartans are 7-0 in the conference, and the team in second, Wisconsin, is still without Jon Leuer.

- It’s still tough to get a read on Mississippi State. The Bulldogs have losses to Rider, Richmond, Western Kentucky and now Alabama. As for the Crimson Tide, their wins over the Bulldogs and Baylor could come in handy if they get into the mix come March.

- St. John’s is not even in the bubble discussion anymore, while Villanova is cruising towards possibly being a No. 1 seed in the NCAA Tournament.

- What is going on in the Sun Belt? With Western Kentucky’s home loss to Middle Tennessee State, six teams have at least five league wins.

- On “upset Saturday,” Purdue, Baylor, Kansas, Missouri, Vanderbilt, Temple, Texas A&M, Mississippi, Notre Dame, Butler, Cornell, Kentucky, Harvard and Georgetown all avoided the disease by beating inferior opponents. FYI, I don’t really see why it’s being called “upset Saturday,” but hey, I’m not ESPN.

- Dorenzo Hudson’s last-second lay-up to beat Boston College kept Virginia Tech in the hunt for an at-large bid. The Hokies have a terrible RPI and SOS, and they don’t have any noteworthy wins, so they are going to need to continue winning games like this.

- Marquette might be No. 22 in the country according to, but its close losses might have done them in. Yet another single-digit defeat – this time to Syracuse – dropped them to 11-8.

- Although William & Mary has by far the best at-large profile in the CAA, finishing in fourth place won’t get the job done. With the Tribe’s loss to Old Dominion, they are now two games behind ODU, Northeastern and George Mason in the standings.

- Tied at the top of the ACC standings? Virginia and Maryland, both 3-1. The Terrapins need to pick up some more marquee wins, but they are building a solid at-large resume.

- Clemson might not be in line for another late-season swoon, but the Tigers’ two double-digit losses to Duke could prove they are not ready to beat elite teams just yet.

- Wake Forest is looking better and better lately. The Demon Deacons might have lost Jeff Teague and James Johnson, but they play much better team basketball than last season, and will go further in the NCAA Tournament than that team did too.

- Obviously the biggest game of the day was Connecticut dominating the second half against Texas and knocking off the Longhorns. The Huskies now have a marquee win to hang their hat on, and could be over their struggles of late. As for Texas, the Longhorns are still primed for a No. 1 seed, but they might drop a seed line in the upcoming mock brackets.

- Although Ohio State didn’t really need it, a win at West Virginia would have been tremendous in its quest for a top-four seed. However, the Mountaineers took over the second half and were able to knock off Evan Turner and the Buckeyes. It’s a big win for West Virginia too, as it had lost three of five going into the week before beating Marshall on the road and then the Buckeyes today.

- Can you say “bubble battle”? Northwestern went on a late run to defeat Illinois and improve to 14-5 overall. The loss dropped the Fighting Illini to just 12-8 overall; they have now lost three in a row. Wins over Clemson, Vanderbilt and Northwestern look good, but they need to improve their overall record in a hurry.

- Kansas State followed up its huge win over Texas by . . . losing at home to Oklahoma State? The Cowboys’ first road win over a top-10 team in 52 years gives them a marquee win and adds some meat to what was already a decent computer profile. As for Kansas State, the Wildcats could be in for a tough few weeks as three of the next four are on the road, and the lone home game is against Kansas.

- Oklahoma looked to be back in the mix with wins over Oklahoma State and Missouri last week, but the Sooners dropped games to Texas A&M and Texas Tech this week to fall back. Texas Tech needed a win to stay in the at-large hunt, and the Red Raiders got it by knocking off Oklahoma. They still need to pick up some big wins in the coming weeks, though.

- Richmond kept its at-large hopes alive by beating George Washington, but Dayton had a brutal loss to Saint Joseph’s, a sub-150 team in the RPI. Dayton dropped to 14-5 overall, and is hanging a lot of its NCAA bid hopes on a November win over Georgia Tech.

- Also in the Atlantic-10, Xavier defeated Rhode Island in a battle of conference bubble teams. Xavier needed another good win, while Rhode Island needs to start backing up its gaudy RPI.

- UAB has been living on the edge for a few weeks now, and continued that trend by beating Marshall by two. The Blazers have won six in a row by single-digits, with the last three coming by a combined four points. UTEP, Tulsa and Memphis also won in Conference-USA.

- The Missouri Valley could have trouble garnering multiple bids this season, especially after Saturday’s results. Wichita State lost on the road to Drake by 14, while Illinois State dropped one in overtime to Southern Illinois.

- I don’t know if the Pac-10 could be worse if it tried. There are only four teams with remote at-large hopes, and three of them lost on Saturday – Washington State, Washington and Arizona State. At least California won. The chances of this conference getting one bid come Selection Sunday get greater by the day.

- In the Mountain West, UNLV picked up a nice road win at TCU, while New Mexico defeated Colorado State. In the biggest game of the day, BYU held off San Diego State late in the game to defeat the Aztecs on the road by three. The Cougars could be a real threat in March if Jonathan Tavernari gets his touch back.

- Gonzaga shook off a poor first half against Loyola Marymount to win by 16. The Bulldogs could be in line for another top-four seed in the NCAA Tournament.

- Weird day in the WAC. New Mexico State gave up 61 points in the second half to San Jose State, and dropped to 5-2 in the league. Utah State defeated Idaho on the road, while Nevada lost by 10 to a mediocre Fresno State team. Louisiana Tech is the league’s only legit at-large candidate, and they kept those chances alive with a late win at Hawaii after dropping one at San Jose State on Wednesday.

- Chandler Parsons kept Florida in the NCAA Tournament hunt earlier this month with a 60-footer to beat North Carolina State at the buzzer, and he did it again on Saturday against South Carolina. After Devan Downey made a tough lay-up to put South Carolina up one with 5.1 seconds remaining, Parsons took a pass from Erving Walker and knocked in a three at the buzzer to give the Gators a win. Florida is only 14-5, but at least they’re in the at-large mix. A 12-7 record wouldn’t have done that for them.

- After competitive losses to Kentucky, Mississippi and Mississippi State, I think everyone knew that Georgia was going to break through eventually. Well, that day was Saturday, as the Bulldogs blew Tennessee out of the building from the opening tap. Georgia’s combo of wins over Georgia Tech and Tennessee is as good as any two January wins by any other team in the country. 

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Pittsburgh surprising everyone but itself

Back in October, Pittsburgh was picked to finish ninth in the Big East by the league coaches. Not surprisingly, the Panthers were looking forward to proving people wrong.

“This is nothing new to us,” senior guard Jermaine Dixon told me at the time. “I love being an underdog, I love that. I love to have that challenge, and [my teammates] feel the same way as me.”

Dixon and his teammates have been arguably the biggest surprise in college basketball this season, starting the season 15-2, including 5-0 in the Big East.

With the loss of four starters, namely forwards Sam Young and DeJuan Blair and guard Levance Fields, Pittsburgh had very low expectations this season. However, sophomores Ashton Gibbs and Nasir Robinson and juniors Brad Wanamaker and Gary McGhee have made sure the Panthers did not miss a beat. Additionally, since the additions of Dixon and junior Gilbert Brown in December, Pittsburgh has not lost a game.

Head coach Jamie Dixon is not surprised at the success of his team this season.

“We didn’t lower our expectations, so I’m not surprised by where we’re at. And the players understood that, the staff understood that,” Dixon said. “Right now, we’re a team that has surprised some people but hasn’t surprised ourselves.”

Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim said that people who picked Pittsburgh to finish in the bottom half of the Big East this season simply weren’t looking at the Panthers’ personnel.

“They were picked low for the same reason we were – they lost their three best players,” Boeheim said. “But they have very good players, and prognostications are always based on who you have coming back. People didn’t know how good Gibbs was; he’s as good as anyone in the league in the backcourt. Dixon is as good of a defender as anyone in the league. Wanamaker is a very good player.

“It’s all these predictions; it’s all based on who you lost. And when you lose a lot of guys and don’t have five McDonald’s All-Americans coming in like North Carolina, you’re picked low.”

Gibbs played under Dixon on the United States’ U-19 team in New Zealand last summer, winning a gold medal. That experience has clearly helped Gibbs become a better player this season, as he is averaging 17.5 points per game and knocking down better than 43 percent of his three-point attempts.

While Gibbs is not the same sort of playmaker as his predecessor Fields was, his scoring ability makes Pittsburgh more difficult to defend.

“Gibbs is an improvement, a big improvement,” Boeheim said. “And some other guys are improvements, because they shoot the ball better.”

Boeheim is not the only Big East coach who thinks that Pittsburgh might be a better offensive team without Blair, Young and Fields.

Louisville head coach Rick Pitino said the versatile skill sets of the guards and wings makes the Panthers harder to game plan against.

“They rely more on perimeter quickness,” Pitino said. “They’re a different team than the ones in the past. The similarities are that they still execute offensively and defensively. But their personnel is more difficult to prepare for in the past. It’s the same execution, but different personnel.”

Along with Gibbs, Wanamaker has been a major key in the backcourt. He is averaging 13.1 points, 6.2 rebounds and 3.9 assists and averaged 19.5 points in the two wins over Connecticut and Louisville last week.

Before the season, many people around the program thought that Wanamaker would be the key to the offense – he certainly has not disappointed.

“He’s always been a good player,” coach Dixon said. “Last year he had some flashes, he played well against Connecticut last year. When you’re coming off the bench and not getting as many minutes, you’re going to have games where you’re having good games and games when you’re not. He’s a better shooter, a better decision-maker. He’s gotten better each year.”

Some rival coaches in the conference believe that Pittsburgh is an elite program, the type of team that will always compete no matter the personnel.

Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin said he noticed in the first couple of weeks that the Panthers were going to be better than expected, and he is not the least bit surprised.

“There were signs early in the year, with the way they played Texas,” Cronin said of the Panthers’ 78-62 loss to the Longhorns that was much closer than the score indicated. “They beat Kent State without their two most experienced players, and Kent State is a very formidable mid-major team. They beat Wofford, came from behind in that game.

“The DNA is that program is that ‘we’ll do whatever it takes to win. We don’t turn the ball over, we defend people – this is our formula for success’, and it’s not questioned.”

In addition to the backcourt play and midseason additions of Dixon and Brown, the typical Panthers’ defense and rebounding prowess have been two more keys to success this season.

Pittsburgh has allowed more than 70 points just five times this season, ranking No. 8 in the country in scoring defense and No. 25 in defensive efficiency, according to Moreover, despite starting just one player taller than 6-5, Pittsburgh ranks No. 22 in defensive rebounding percentage and No. 19 in rebound margin. The Panthers have been outrebounded in just two games this season, and the last time it occurred was November 24.

“They play the same great defense,” Boeheim said. “They lost two great inside players, but they’re very good – they can play with anyone in the country. They’re a different team now.”

Although not getting the type of national exposure as some of the other top Big East teams, Pittsburgh has won road games at Syracuse, Cincinnati and Connecticut and has the potential to play with anyone in the country.

Jamie Dixon is not putting anything past his team this season.

“Since we’ve improved every game and every week, we won’t set any bars again,” Dixon said. “I think there’s no limit for this team.”

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Hoop Hall Classic Recap, Monday

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – After a light Sunday with only three national teams playing – called “the calm before the storm” by one media member – the Monday of the Hoop Hall Classic at Blake Arena in Springfield, Mass. was one of the best days of the year in high school basketball. There were four national games, all televised on ESPNU. St. Benedict’s Prep (N.J.) faced Bishop O’Connell (Va.), St. Anthony (N.J.) took on Westchester (Ca.) and DeMatha Catholic (Md.) battled Mater Dei (Ca.). Furthermore, the marquee match-up of the tournament was St. Patrick (N.J.) against Findlay Prep (Nev.). The gym was packed with fans, coaches and plenty of media, and the games were certainly not a disappointment. Here is a look at some of the top performers of the day:

Note: Top committed players that were featured on Monday included Kendall Marshall (14 points, 5 rebounds and 7 turnovers, North Carolina), Myck Kabongo (20 points, 6 rebounds and 12 assists, Texas), Sidiki Johnson (5 points, Arizona), Aaron Brown (14 points, Temple), Devon Collier (1 points and 6 rebounds, Oregon State), Ashton Pankey (DNP, Maryland), Derrick Williams (21 points and 7 rebounds, Richmond), Eli Carter (9 points and 5 rebounds, St. Bonaventure), Kareem Jamar (17 points and 6 rebounds, Montana), Kyrie Irving (30 points, Duke), Derrick Gordon (10 points, Western Kentucky), Chase Plummer (4 points, UMBC), Josh Daniel (6 points, Wagner), Tristan Thompson (8 points and 6 rebounds, Texas), Victor Oladipo (15 points and 16 rebounds, Indiana), Tyler Lamb (23 points, 11 rebounds and 4 assists, UCLA), Keala King (9 points and 5 rebounds, Arizona State) and Gary Franklin (17 points, California).

Gilvydas Biruta, St. Benedict’s Prep, 2010, Rutgers: Biruta had an excellent game; he is certainly a player. He is an inside-outside forward who has a very nice stroke from three-point range but can also bang down low. Biruta is active on the backboards and is relentless when going after the ball. Furthermore, he is surprisingly athletic, finishing multiple times with fierce dunks, including a put-back off a miss. Defensively, he picks up steals and also drew a charge in the first half. Biruta is always moving and has a nose for the ball. He finished with 16 points and seven boards.

J.P. Kambola, St. Benedict’s Prep, 2010: Kambola did some of the dirty work down low at both ends, rebounding the basketball and blocking shots. He had a couple of nice blocked shots and had a few put-backs around the basket on offense. On one play, Kambola made a nice catch in transition for a lay-up. He moves well for a big man, but needs to become more aggressive offensively and improve his ability to score.

Mike Poole, St. Benedict’s Prep, 2010: Poole had seen his stock fall in the past year after being hyped as one of the better NYC prospects in his class. However, he demonstrated his potential against Bishop O’Connell early in the game. Poole knocked down two threes in the first quarter, and also picked up a couple of steals. He showed an ability to penetrate into the lane and dish it off to teammates for easy baskets and also led the fast break and transition offense for the Gray Bees. 

Jordan Burgess, Bishop O’Connell, 2011: Bishop O’Connell struggled mightily against St. Benedict’s and its pressure defense throughout the game, but Burgess was a bright spot. He was able to rack up plenty of transition lay-ups and also was active around the basket despite his size. He is a tough rebounder who can get put-backs and second chances. His outside shot needs work, but he can get into the mid-range and also score with his back to the basket. He had a nice catch in the post, leading to a jump hook. Burgess finished with 20 points and eight rebounds.

Dwayne Polee, Westchester, 2010: Polee might be the best athlete in the country. He has a long and wiry frame, which is more conducive to him playing out on the wing, but he is not a very good shooter and is not consistent with his ability to create his own shot. However, he has tremendous leaping ability and can finish with the best of them. Polee gets out in transition for baskets and can also score off of offensive rebounds or cuts to the basket. He is very quick off his feet and is active around the basket at both ends.

Jordin Mayes, Westchester, 2010: Mayes is a crafty point guard who has plenty of ability, but was admittedly not aggressive enough against St. Anthony’s on Monday. Offensively, he can shoot the three and get into the lane against defenders. He has good dribbling ability and vision, and is a very solid facilitator of the offense. Mayes had a few nice finishes around the rim and took a couple of mid-range jumpers. He finished with nine points.

Michael Gilchrist, St. Patrick, 2011: Although Gilchrist was hampered by a prior knee injury, which was aggravated when he was stepped on early in the game, he still demonstrated his potential and skill set throughout the night. He started the game with several nice drives to the basket, either to finish himself or dump it off to a teammate. He played well around the basket, getting great position for rebounds or entry passes. Gilchrist also showed a solid ability to handle the ball and lead the offense.

Cory Joseph, Findlay Prep, 2010: In the first half, Joseph showed why he is regarded as one of the premier guards in the country. He was absolutely unstoppable offensively, getting to the basket at will against Kyrie Irving, and also shutting down Irving at the other end. However, in the second half, he struggled with a cramp, which slowed him down, enabling Irving to have a big finish. Joseph has excellent quickness and dribbling ability, and he can get separation against nearly any defender. He can hit the mid-range jumper and also step out and knock down three-pointers. When his shot is falling, he’s fantastic.

Nick Johnson, Findlay Prep, 2010: Johnson was another player who stepped up throughout the game and looked like a big-time prospect. Afterwards, head coach Michael Peck said that he wants Johnson to take on the same role that former Findlay guard and current Texas standout Avery Bradley did – a lockdown defender that can score. While Johnson is not on the same level as Bradley, that is exactly what he can do. He has tremendous elevation on his jump shot and he can also finish very well at the rim. Johnson is a smart player who can handle the ball well and find open teammates.

Winston Shepard, Findlay Prep, 2012: Shepard is one of the top players in his class, and is still developing. He is a tremendous athlete who is long and active, making him a tough player to prepare for at both ends of the floor. He runs the floor very well, and can really get to the basket. Shepard is a well-rounded prospect who is going to be a dynamite player as he matures and becomes more aggressive on the offensive end.

Godwin Okonji, Findlay Prep, 2010: The bottom line is that Okonji is a phenomenal athlete who can finish at the rim with authoritative dunks and also rebound the ball very well at both ends. He has a good body and build, and gets solid position on the low block. Once he gets the ball, he can turn towards the basket for a short finish or pass it to an open teammate. Okonji can also finish effectively with contact down low. He has a great motor and played all 32 minutes.

Jerian Grant, DeMatha, 2010, Notre Dame: The future Fighting Irish guard displayed what he usually does: an excellent first step and driving ability to the basket. He drove baseline past a defender for a solid finish, and also made another lay-up with contact in the second half. Defensively, he is quick and active, picking up steals and forcing turnovers. With his speed and athleticism, he will be a major boost to Notre Dame next season. He finished with 12 points, seven rebounds and four assists.

Quinn Cook, DeMatha, 2011: One of the top point guards in his class, Cook showed his quickness and penetration ability on multiple occasions. His outside shot was not falling early on, but he had a nice step back jumper while fading to his left that got him going. He also hit a couple of three-pointers, and was able to get into the lane past his defender for assists and nice finishes. Cook also handled the ball very well, not turning it over much or forcing the action. Defensively, he was aggressive and forced turnovers. Cook finished with 23 points and three assists.

Mikael Hopkins, DeMatha, 2011: Due to Mater Dei’s lack of size down low, Hopkins was able to have a big game in the paint. The junior has improved every time I have seen him over the past several months, and is developing into a go-to-guy on the block. Hopkins was able to get terrific position for rebounds and entry passes, and finished well. He also is expanding his game, adding a face-up jumper and dribbling ability to his repertoire. On one occasion, he spun past a defender off the dribble for an impressive finish. Hopkins had 12 points and four rebounds.

James Robinson, DeMatha, 2012: Robinson started slowly, but he continues to impress with his all-around ability. He knocked in a couple of jump shots, showing the smoothness with which he moves into his shot. Robinson has good vision and can find teammates for baskets. He is also a tough player who can play solid defense and get loose balls. Essentially, he can do a little bit of everything and will become a more aggressive player as he gets older.  Robinson had six points, five rebounds and three assists against Mater Dei.

Jerami Grant, DeMatha, 2012: The next in a long line of various Grant legends, Jerami also will likely team with Robinson to form a potent combo over the next couple of years. He is very long and athletic, but is a versatile performer who can defend down low and also play on the perimeter. Grant moves well without the ball and can pass. Furthermore, he knocked down a three-pointer from the corner and was not afraid to take shots.

Max Hooper, Mater Dei, 2010: Right now, Hooper is not much more than an outside shooter who struggles to create his own shot. However, he steps into his shot well and will knock down three-pointers in transition or in a half-court set. Once he heats up, he is difficult to contain on the perimeter. At one point, Hooper did show a nice spin move and drive, but he failed to finish once he was at the rim. He will need to become more mobile and improve his ability to create his own shot, though. Hooper had 11 points and five rebounds against DeMatha.

Katin Reinhardt, Mater Dei, 2012: If you’re looking for the next big-time scorer to come out of Mater Dei, look no further than Reinhardt. The Jason Kapono-clone is an absolutely deadly outside shooter who has tremendous range and will knock it down from anywhere on the court. He has excellent form on his jumper and is not afraid to take the big shot. Reinhardt plays with a certain swagger and bounce in his step that is impressive in such a young player. He also showed his all-around ability with a rebound at one end, leading to a crossover and pull-up jumper at the other. Reinhardt finished with 13 points.

Recruiting Notes:

- Jordan Burgess has offers from VCU, George Mason, Delaware and Richmond, with interest from Old Dominion, Towson and other CAA schools. However, he did say that he’s “trying to get to the Big East.”

- Mike Poole holds offers from Virginia, Providence, Rhode Island, Connecticut and Marquette, with interest from USC and Florida. He has taken visits to Connecticut and Florida and hopes to make a final decision about a week or two after the season ends.

- Jordin Mayes has a final four of Oklahoma, Arizona, San Diego State and Boston College. He’s visited Boston College, and hopes to check out Oklahoma and Arizona soon.

- Since decommitting from USC, Dwayne Polee has offers from Arizona State, Arizona, UNLV, Washington and Oregon, while Missouri recently contacted him.

- Westchester guard Denzel Douglas said his recruitment is wide-open, and he is looking to pick up more interest in the near-future.

- Cory Joseph has taken all five of his official visits, with his list at Texas, Connecticut, Villanova, UNLV and Minnesota. “When I’m 100 percent sure, that’s when I’ll decide,” he said.

- Godwin Okonji said he currently has offers from New Mexico, TCU, Hawaii, Missouri, Marquette, UCLa and Houston.

- Findlay head coach Michael Peck said that Nick Johnson has interest and/or offers from Kentucky, Arizona, California, UNLV and some other Pac-10 programs.

- Peck also said that 2012 prospect Winston Graham is receiving the most interest from Texas and Kentucky at this point.

- The foreign shooting combo of Thomas Laerke and Marko Petrovic is picking up some momentum, as they become better known in the United States. Laerke is getting interest from New Mexico State, while Peck said Petrovic is starting to increase his college looks.

- Katin Reinhardt, who lived in New Jersey for two years before heading back out to California, has an early favorite of Syracuse, with San Diego State, San Diego and Villanova also giving him looks.

- DeMatha head coach Mike Jones said that sophomore Jerami Grant is getting early interest from Clemson, Oklahoma, Maryland, Virginia Tech and Virginia.

- Mikael Hopkins, who is quickly developing into one of the top big men in his class, has offers from Kansas, Syracuse, Georgetown, Virginia, Virginia Tech, West Virginia, Maryland, Villanova, Miami (Fl.), Clemson, Florida and Florida State. He added that his favorites right now are Syracuse, Kansas and Miami (Fl.).

- Quinn Cook said that he has offers from Arizona, Wake Forest, Georgetown, Maryland, Tennessee, Baylor, Virginia, Virginia Tech and Villanova. He has visited North Carolina, Wake Forest and Villanova, but does not plan on making a college decision until his senior season.