Archive for the ‘College Basketball’ category

The Perfect Recipe: What Cornell Must Do to Take Down Kentucky

March 23rd, 2010

The Cornell Big Red are no doubt the sweetheart of the 2010 NCAA Tournament. After all, who doesn't want to see a bunch of smarty-pantses from the lowly Ivy League beat up on a Big Ten Wisconsin squad? The sharpshooting Big Red are the first Ivy League school to advance in the tourney from the Ivy League in over a decade. Plus, they're a No. 12 seed. How's that for a Cinderella?

The next task for Cornell is as tall as a task as anyone will see in the tournament. Beat Kentucky ! There is a chance for Cornell to pull this one out if they stick to a strict game plan. Here are the keys for the Big Red if they want to slay the mighty Wildcats:

1. Hit the Three Pointers : Cornell is the top three point shooting team in the country.  They will need the long ball to help them against a team as talented and hot as Kentucky is. If their 3s are not dropping, they'll have to work the inside game against a formidable duo of Demarcus Cousins and Patrick Patterson. The ideal stat from distance would be in the 12-18 range.

2. Keep the Big Three Out of Trouble : The Cornell Big Three, Louis Dale, Ryan Wittman, and Jeff Foote must remain in the game for at least 30 minutes apiece. Dale or Wittman get into foul trouble, the perimiter game will take a major blow, along with a loss in the senior leadership department. In regards to 7-footer Jeff Foote, they need him to body up to Demarcus Cousins. After Foote, the only true big man that the Red Storm could put on the floor is former Kentucky player Mark Coury. If the three remain in the game, the Big Red should be able to keep pace with the Wildcats.

3. Play Back On the Perimeter :  I know this is not what the tournament calls for, but this is key for Cornell. Kentucky has some of the best drivers in the country in John Wall and Eric Bledsoe. They can flat-out get to the hoop. The three ball has been the Achilles heal for the Wildcats all season. If Cornell allows Wall or Bledsoe to penetrate, it's pretty much a score for KU. If the Big Red challenge Kentucky to shoot, they will miss more times than not.

4. Work the Ball Around : Cornell must take their time and take good shots throughout the game. They must use as much of the 35 as they need to get that shot. If they slow the game down, it will give John Wall and Kentucky less opportunity to play that run n' gun style that they love. The Big Red must be patient and use some baseline screens to get open shots for Ryan Wittman. Efficient possessions are key against a team who can score like Kentucky. They can afford no wasted possessions.

5. Keep the Score in the 60's :  Kentucky has a 34-2 record coming into this game. If you look at both of their losses, there is a theme that can be seen. They scored in the 60s in both. Cornell must realize that the 'Cats love when the scoreboard reads a number above 70. They run and get plenty in transition all game long. As stated earlier, the Big Red must be patient and wait for the shot that they're looking for, or else Kentucky will grab those defensive boards and score on fast breaks all day. 

Key Defensive matchup: Demarcus Cousins VS. Jeff Foote - The reason why Kentucky is so good is because of their balance in the paint and on the perimeter. If you shut down John Wall, the Wildcats will feed it to Cousins and score down low. Therefore, it is crucial that Jeff Foote takes advantage of his size. He has to body up against Cousins and keep him grounded. If Foote controls the paint, Kentucky will be forced to be more one-dimensional, which will play into Cornell's favor. If not, the Big Red will really be shooting themselves in the foot (and yes, that pun was intended).

Key Offensive matchup: Jon Jaques vs. Patrick Patterson - We all know the offense runs through Ryan Wittman and Louis Dale, but neither of them are the X-Factor on the offensive side of the ball. Jon Jaques gives up height and strength to Patrick Patteron.  The thing that Jaques has the Patterson does not is range. If Jaques can get out on the perimeter and hit his mid-range shots, the paint will be more of an opening for a drive or feed to Jeff Foote. This matchup could pose problems for Kentucky if it is executed well by Cornell.

If the Big Red can control the tempo from the get-go and remain patient, they could pull this one out and stun the 'Cats. They pose problems for Kentucky with their lights out shooting and overwhelming experience. This is more than winnable for Cornell if they just keep to the game plan mentioned above. 

NCAA Tournament: Why Northern Iowa Vs. Cornell Is a Possible Final

March 23rd, 2010

I know you may look at this headline, and you may think that it is crazy, and that both of the teams mentioned have had nice runs, but it's time for the Syracuse's and the Kentucky's of the college basketball world to step up to their rightful platform. But I am here to make you think otherwise. 

When events like an Ali Farokhmanesh three that beat Kansas, and Cornell's blowouts against two elite teams, you know that what you are watching is for real.

Northern Iowa, who has five seniors, has been a very consistent team all year beating teams like Siena, Boston College, Old Dominion, and two other power conference schools. In addition they defeated UNLV and Kansas in the NCAA tournament, and haven't lost in over a month.

Their defense is deadly, allowing just 55 points a game. This should favor them well in their next game, Michigan St., who relies a lot on their offense.

Northern Iowa has a complement of three players who average in double figures which includes Jordan Eglseder, Adam Koch, and Kwadzo Ahelegbe. 

They should be able to beat MSU because Michigan St. does not have Kalin Lucas. For a team that loses a lot of offense against such a defense-heavy team in Northern Iowa, the Panthers should find themselves dancing their way to the Elite Eight. 

I could continue to preview every game, but then I would become a broken record. That is because the real key to Northern Iowa is to continue to play their game. Play the same game. They stuck to their game plan the past two games and they find themselves in a great position here. 

And a couple three pointers from Ali Farokhmanesh couldn't hurt. 

For Cornell, who has eight players graduating, the key is the three. They shoot 43% from there, and that will have to continue in order to beat Kentucky. They will also need to apply defensive pressure. This doesn't mean that they have to keep the game under 60. A score in the 65-75 point range would favor the Big Red.

Cornell comes into what will essentially be a home game with ultimate confidence and with nothing to lose. No one expects them to go out and beat Kentucky, and so their mindset is, "Let's have fun".

Said Louis Dale after their win over Wisconsin: "We've got eight seniors on this team, and we want to take this ride as long as we can because after this it's just nothing babies and memories, so we'll just keep going." 

Yes, that quote was meant as a joke. His teammates made him do it, as it is a quote from their favorite movie, "Friday Night Lights". However, the whole spirit of the team is lighthearted. They're smiling on the bench, and their scoring at will from wherever, and whenever. 

This team is no fluke, they are as's Andy Katz says the "David" in this matchup of Goliath Kansas.

So although it isn't likely that we have a Panthers vs. Big Red final, it is possible. It wasn't likely that either team would still be here standing now, and yet they still have a shot. So don't write off the Cinderella yet, because in this tournament, anything is possible. 

Spartan Hoopla: Michigan State’s Kalin Lucas Out with Ruptured Achilles’

March 23rd, 2010

The worst case scenario has now become reality for Tom Izzo and his Michigan State Spartans.

Star point-man and floor general, Kalin Lucas, will miss four to six months due to a ruptured Achilles' tendon.

Lucas tweaked his ankle/heel Sunday in the Spartans' dramatic 85-83 win over Greivis Vasquez and the Maryland Terrapins in March Madness' "round-of-32."

The injury to its star is something that Michigan State has dealt with already, just a month and a half ago.

On Feb. 2's 76-64 loss to Wisconsin, Lucas descended awkwardly from a routine jump shot, only to land on Keaton Nankivil's foot. That "tweaking" of the ankle sidelined Michigan State's leader for the better part of three games; three games that the Spartans dropped.

Talk about bad timing: Michigan State was well on its way to running away with the Big Ten's regular season championship. Sparty bounced back, and ended up sharing the league's pie with Purdue and Ohio State.

If losing his top-scoring threat in the middle of a conference title run wasn't disappointing enough, imagine how Tom Izzo reacted when he learned that his No. 1 guard will be out until late summer/early fall.

To make matters worse, Izzo has now found himself in the thick of a national championship race—the guy just can't catch a break. 

Michigan State's veteran coach has been forced to manage suspensions, injuries, and the media over the last couple of months. Izzo has had to make do with what he was given, and he was given more than a handful of problems that would drive most men up the wall.

Not Izzo.

Mr. March smiles in the face of adversity.

He welcomes the challenge of critics, analysts, and sports writers reporting that "Michigan State can't do it this year."

Lucas is out for the rest of the season, he has to accept that.

What Izzo doesn't have to accept is defeat—and he won't.

There is another capable point-guard that plays for him: Korie Lucious.

Lucious has shown glimpses of greatness in 2010. His three-point shot on Sunday to send the Terps packing could have been a sign of things to come.

Although he's no Lucas, he is a Spartan guard.

Spartan guards have the reputation of being more than good. Lucious will likely take over when Lucas graduates—there is no better time than now for the 5'11" Milwaukee native to get acclimated to his future role. 

When Lucas was sidelined in Feb., Lucious didn't exactly dazzle his nay-sayers with his play. Turnovers, poor shot selection, and the overall pressure of carrying the Spartans hampered his success. 

It is now March, things are different.

Lucious understands just how important protecting the ball and making smart decisions will be from here on out.

He's more than able to do it.

For the most part, the Spartan offense is ran through Lucas.

Now, Lucious will have to facilitate the hot-handed Durrell Summers, and the physical Draymond Green.

Raymar Morgan's recent reliability would help, too.

All is not lost for the Spartans.

Izzo has been here before. In both senses of the word. He has dealt with an injury to his offensive spark-plug, and he has played his way into the Final Four in the midst of a crisis.

Showing their true colors is what March is all about for the Spartans.

The madness will continue without Lucas, who can still be the heart and soul of his team from the bench.

The ball is now in Lucious' hands.

As seen on Barking Carnival's "Sparty On" blog.

Billy Donovan Needs to Either Go…Or Stop the Rumors

March 23rd, 2010

I suppose it's flattering. It's nice to be asked. Billy Donovan sure gets his fair share of flattery.

First it was the Grizzlies.

Then it was Kentucky.

Then it was the Magic which he actually took, for a few days.

Then it was Kentucky again.

Now it's St. John's and Oregon. Who knows, maybe Seton Hall will throw their hat in the ring too.

Each time somebody asks. Donovan, either trying to be polite or actually being the smart businessman and listening to all offers, appears to be at least interested in moving. And while that may not be a big deal in other professions, in college coaching it can come back to hurt you.

Coaching is a very cutthroat game. In college there is no draft. There is no territorial lines like in high school where you get the kids who live near the school and you make due with what you get.

In college every player is up for grabs. So if it appears you are a waffler, other coaches will use that against you. Don't think it hasn't been done already.

Florida is coming off three pretty mediocre seasons. But things are finally starting to look up again. Now is not a good time for speculation about whether or not Donovan will be back next year.

The nation's No. 1 recruit has the Gators on his short list. Brandon Knight would make UF a Final Four contender next year. While this kid is still undecided, Florida doesn't need a bunch of gossip going on about St John's.

If the kid comes out and picks Kentucky, then you can entertain other offers. There won't be that much at risk. But not right now.

Three years ago, Florida was trying to rebuild after losing the entire team. They put together a stellar recruiting class, ranked No. 1 by But when Donovan did his Magic disappearing act and then changed his mind, it cost him Patrick Patterson. Patterson added to that class likely would have kept the train rolling right along.

However, when Adam Allen suffered career threatening knee injuries, losing Patterson and Jai Lucas transferred, that class became a bit more ordinary, not to mention small (as in not many bigs). The Gators then became a bubble team. Any recruiting bounce off the national titles was quickly gone.

Undoubtedly, rival coaches got into players like Patterson's ear and questioned whether or not Donovan would be around for their entire careers. Jai Lucas came out and said as much.

Florida does not need this now. Not with World Wide Wes out there.

If Donovan really wants a new challenge, then he needs to go now. If not, then shut these people up quickly. He needs to not hamstring Florida anymore than he already has.

Just Smoke or Is Tubby Smith Leaving the Minnesota Gophers?

March 23rd, 2010

Minnesota Gophers men’s basketball coach Tubby Smith has been identified in the past two weeks as a candidate for the openings at the University of Oregon and Auburn University. Coach Smith has vehemently denied that he is a candidate for either job but the rumors persist that he is leaving Minnesota.

The most persistent rumor is that Smith is headed back south to the Southeastern Conference to coach Auburn.   John Shultz of the Atlanta Journal Constitution, Phillip Marshall of Auburn Undercover,  Charles Goldberg of the Birmingham News, John Clay of the Lexington Herald-Leader, and Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports have all reported that sources at Auburn are ready to hire or are considering hiring Smith.

When major college coaches leave a program, rarely do they make their intentions known beforehand.   Typically, there a few rumors . . . and then there is a press conference with the coach putting on the new hat of his new employer.  

While all of the daily sports radio talk stations in the Twin Cities are quick to point out that Smith has given no indication that he is interested in leaving, none of the radio stations have completely ruled out the idea that Smith will be gone from the Twin Cities for the warmer climate of Alabama.

Which begs the question in Minnesota: Is this just smoke or is Tubby Smith leaving the Minnesota Gophers?

When one examines the benefits of staying at Minnesota against the potential upside of going to Auburn, Gopher fans who appreciate Coach Smith have to feel pretty confident that this story has more smoke than fire.

Minnesota currently pays Coach Smith $1.8 million a year with an escalator clause in his contract, which will pay him $2.0 million in 2012.  Could Auburn match what Smith is being paid? 

Probably. However, former Auburn coach Jeff Lebo was paid only $750,000 last year.  Minnesota athletics director Joel Maturi has said he can’t afford to pay a higher salary to keep Smith from leaving as a university-wide salary freeze is in place.

One in the hand is better than two in the bush, slight advantage Minnesota.

Minnesota plays in one of the best stadiums for college basketball.  Yes, the Barn has some poor sight lines if you are unfortunate enough to purchase a ticket behind a pole, but the Barn has an intimate college basketball feel that is second to none.

Auburn is scheduled to christen Auburn Arena this summer.  The Auburn Arena at a price tag of $90 million will not only be a great new arena to play in but also contains practice facilities for both the men’s and women’s program.  

The only downside for Coach Smith in Minnesota is that the Gophers lack their own practice facility.  While committed to the idea, Maturi is unable to say when the Gophers will have their very own practice facility.

A slight advantage for Auburn because they will be able to practice in their very own practice facility beginning next year.

Smith is a coach that does not appear to be content to get to the NCAA tournament but wants be a Final Four contender on a regular basis.  Which team is best suited to give Smith an opportunity to win a NCAA Championship?

In each of the past three years, Minnesota has won at least 20 games.  The Gophers have made the NCAA tournament twice in the last three years.

In the last three years, Auburn has won 20 games only once.  In the last three seasons, the Tigers won 20 games only once, and when they did they were only able to make it to the NIT tournament.

Minnesota went 21-14 this year and made the NCAA tournament where they lost to Xavier in the first round.  Auburn finished 15-17 and was bounced in the first round of the SEC tournament.

The recent appearances in the NCAA tournament favor Minnesota.

Coach Smith plays an up tempo style of basketball using a deep bench.

Minnesota returns six players next year who averaged more than 15 minutes of playing time–Blake Hoffarber, Paul Carter Devoe Joseph, Ralph Sampson III, Al Nolen, and Colton Iverson.   Hoffarber, Joseph, Sampson, and Nolen started an appreciable number of games during the year; Carter and Iverson picked up occasional starts during the year. 

Auburn player Frankie Sullivan is the only player to average more than 15 minutes of playing time.  Sullivan started an appreciable number of games during the year.

The players returning next year for Minnesota averaged a total of 56.7 points a game, while Auburn's  returning players average a total of 27.7 points a game.

Players returning ready and able to contribute to make an NCAA tournament run favors Minnesota.

While Smith could ultimately decide that he is tired of the snow and cold in Minnesota, most observers who objectively look at the two programs would be surprised if he leaves for Auburn. 

Now, if next year Minnesota loses two players because of allegations of criminal conduct and another player to academic problems, then Coach Smith might reconsider his long term prospects in the Twin Cities and then the smoke may become fire.

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