Here’s a scary thought: Anthony Davis, one of the top players in the NBA, would be a college senior this season. If players were forced to stay in school for four years, what would this season look like? Taking into account transfers (but not future injuries) and acknowledging that many of these players would have chosen other schools, here is a potential Final Four.
It was a weekend of near upsets in college basketball, as several top teams narrowly escaped against unranked foes. Iowa State was not one of them, falling to Texas Tech on Saturday, but the other favorites held on for victory.
To read about close victories by Duke, Virginia, Wisconsin, West Virginia, and Maryland, read my latest CBS Local story.
Every Monday I write a recap of the previous weekend’s college basketball action for the CBS Charlotte website. You can find links to this content on the freelance page of my website. This week’s article can be found by clicking the following link:
Here are some observations that didn’t make it into the CBS column:
N.C State hands Duke its first loss
“Unbelievable! Did you see that?!” Dick Vitale utters those phrases all the time while calling a basketball game, but on Saturday he used them after spotting someone in a wheelchair among the mass of fans storming the court after North Carolina State upset Duke. “My heart goes out, I hope he’s OK,” Vitale added.
Continue reading College Hoops Recap: Duke and Michigan Lose
The NBA has cancelled games through Dec. 15, putting the entire season in jeopardy. College basketball, however, remains lockout-free. With the season underway, I thought it would be worthwhile to provide a college hoops guide for NBA fans. Here are some things to keep in mind as you watch:
The Players Aren’t As Good
You already knew this, but I wanted to remind you so you’re not too critical of the quality of play. Unlike pro ballers, college kids are not full-time basketball players (please no jokes about John Calipari’s players). Partly because of the talent differential, college games have less scoring. Try not to yell at your TV over missed 15-footers. And don’t get too mad at the players when they screw up. Remember, they are just college kids. The coaches are the ones making the big bucks, so if you feel the need to direct your displeasure at someone, choose a coach. Just know that such criticism may fall on deaf ears because…
…Coaches Are Kings
Phil Jackson was widely respected, often referred to as a guru/innovator/Zen Master. But Coach K is a living legend; his team plays on a court named after him. Great college coaches are seen as more than just basketball coaches—they are teachers/role models/Leaders of Young Men. Roy Williams, Jim Boeheim, and Tom Izzo are household names. Meanwhile, Frank Vogel, Dwane Casey, and Tyrone Corbin are current NBA head coaches. Did you know that?
Like everything in this guide, I am not saying the college or pro way is better. I’m just telling you that while the NBA is a league built on the backs of superstar players, coaches are the stars of the college game.
It’s Not Just About March
There are several intriguing early season tournaments being played this month everywhere from Madison Square Garden to Maui. The cold winter months bring us heated conference rivalries. The league tournaments are wild and crazy. There are meaningful, interesting, exciting college basketball games throughout the season. Even if that weren’t true, college hoops would still be entertaining—March Madness is that awesome.
Just don’t think that watching more games will help you do better in your NCAA Tournament pool. You will, without fail, do worse.
Lower Your Volume
Have you ever flipped channels between an NBA and college game? The sounds are vastly different. For many pro games, fans are still filtering into the arena as the first quarter winds down. On major college campuses, the arena is rocking a half hour before tip for big games. The “de-fense” chants you’ll hear are organized by real life fans, not P.A. systems and Jumbotrons. When the ball is in play you won’t hear rap music over the loudspeakers, but during dead balls you will hear a live band. The louder crowds are largely due to raucous student sections, which, at places like Duke and Michigan, are located courtside for maximum effect.
Because this lockout didn’t exactly come as a surprise, several sure-fire lottery picks returned to school. That means there are probably more future pros playing college ball this year than in a long time, as stars like sophomores Harrison Barnes (North Carolina), Jared Sullinger (Ohio State), and Terrence Jones (Kentucky) are joined by first year players Austin Rivers (Duke), Anthony Davis (Kentucky), and Andre Drummond (Connecticut).
While a lockout is never going to be a good thing, for NBA fans looking to get their hoops fix, this season of college basketball should be ideal. So go ahead, pick a school or two—a local team or the alma mater of a friend or relative—and keep an eye on them from now through March. You can tell me how much fun you had at next year’s NBA Draft, when your opinion of your favorite team’s pick won’t have to come from someone else.
Mike Krzyzewski can set the all-time wins record tonight against Michigan State at Madison Square Garden. Had some of his wins not been credited to someone else, he would have already passed Bob Knight.
Coach K officially has 902 wins, tied with his mentor Knight for the most among Division I basketball coaches. That total includes just nine victories from the 1994-95 season, Krzyzewski’s 15th at Duke. Krzyzewski left the team after its 9-3 start due to exhaustion following back surgery, and assistant coach Pete Gaudet took over as interim coach. Duke went 4-15 the rest of the way to finish with a 13-18 record.
Krzyzewski’s career record reflects the 9-3 start, but not the 4-15 finish during his absence. I’m not sure how I feel about these games not appearing on Coach K’s official record. Other coaches have missed games (Jim Calhoun comes to mind) and those results still appeared on their individual records, but those were just a few games. This was the majority of a season. I understand arguments for both sides.
|Coach K (right) is tied with his mentor Bob Knight (left) for career wins. (Credit: John Pellino/DOIM)|
What’s interesting is that the NCAA chooses to leave decisions like this to the school, so it was Duke and Krzyzewski that decided how to record the 1994-95 season. However, on a conference call with reporters in 2007, Krzyzewski said, “I think I should have been credited with all the losses…The bottom line is I’m responsible even though I wasn’t there. I wouldn’t want the wins but you could give me the losses.”
That doesn’t make much sense to me. Either all of the final 19 games should be attributed to Krzyzewski or none of them, but not just the losses. Regardless, if Coach K truly felt this way, his career record would be 902-299, not 902-284, as I’m certain the school would change the record books upon his request.
Again, I’ll leave the debate over how that asterisked season should be handled to others. I am only certain of this: Had the entire season been credited to Krzyzewski, the record-setting victory would have come against Hampton in the first round of last year’s NCAA Tournament. But that’s not nearly as fun as it potentially coming in The World’s Most Famous Arena against an elite program with its own outstanding coach.
3/25 Update, Postgame Reaction:
Connecticut 74, San Diego State 67
I’ll quickly review some questionable strategy before getting to the controversy. The UConn Huskies, and their star, Kemba Walker, are great in transition. San Diego State, despite what you may have heard from last night’s TV announcers, prefers to play a half court game. It has athletic, versatile big men that can, at times, electrify on the break, but that is certainly not the Aztecs’ strength.
So it was baffling why Steve Fisher’s squad tried to run with the Huskies in the first half last night. It led to a lot of careless turnovers and a 36-37 halftime deficit. A coach once told me it could be a pride thing—players wanting to show they can run with the opponent—so maybe that was a factor.
Equally questionable was UConn’s decision to slow the tempo for large stretches of the second half. That played right into the hands of San Diego State, which was able to tie the game before the second media timeout. When reserve Jamaal Franklin stole the inbounds pass and found Billy White inside to give the Aztecs a 53-49 lead, Jim Calhoun called timeout.
The basket came on the right side of the court and the San Diego State players had retreated back on defense, so most of them had to cross half court to return to their bench. Likewise, the UConn players had to cross the Aztecs’ path to return to their bench on the other side of the court.
This happens all the time in college basketball: one team (often including its bench players) celebrates while the other team dejectedly returns to its bench. This was the case at the 9:20 mark of this game, but what made it unique is that when Franklin and Walker bumped shoulders, Walker fell to the floor as if he had been tackled by a linebacker. We see this type of acting all the time when players are trying to draw a charge, but that is during actual game action.
My initial disgust was directed towards Walker, but he is certainly free to attempt a stunt like this. The blame lies with the officials who decided a technical foul should be assessed to Franklin. Some will point out that Walker didn’t even see Franklin coming, but slow-motion replays showed that was because Walker was too busy jawing with another San Diego State player.
Things did not go well for the Aztecs after this incident, as they found themselves on the wrong side of an 11-1 run to go down 60-54. Even then they had six minutes to respond, so saying the technical foul was a complete game-changer is a bit unfair. But it was certainly an unfortunate call, yet another in a March that seems to be dominated by them.
Arizona 93, Duke 77
I can’t say I saw the Duke-Arizona result coming. The fact that the Wildcats won was not a shocker—Michigan doesn’t have the talent of Arizona yet came within a basket of eliminating the Blue Devils, and exposed some of their deficiencies in the process.
Duke doesn’t quite have the supporting cast to withstand a poor performance from one of its stars—Nolan Smith shot 3-for-14—especially when it comes on the same night the opposition scored at will. Derrick Williams scored 25 of his 32 points in the first half to keep ’Zona within striking distance. In the second half, the rest of the Wildcats came alive, as Arizona went on a 19-2 run to seize control and run away with the victory.
On Thursday night, the Sweet 16 games get underway in the West region and Southeast region. In the West region, played in Anaheim, California, the Connecticut Huskies play the San Diego State Aztecs (7:15 EST, CBS) while the Duke Blue Devils take on the Arizona Wildcats (9:45, CBS). The winners meet for the right to go to the Final Four in Houston.
Below is a preview of the four teams (with the seed noted), outlining how each school advanced through the bracket as well as their strengths and weaknesses. There are also anecdotes from my trip to Las Vegas last weekend for the first two rounds of the Tournament.
No. 1 Duke
How they got here: By benefitting from the surprise return of Kyrie Irving, who had been sitting since Dec. 4 with a foot injury. The star freshman point guard led Duke with 14 points in a 42-point demolishing of Hampton, then scored 11, including Duke’s final field goal, to help the Blue Devils survive a pesky Michigan team 73-71.
Why you should have seen it coming: Is a Sweet 16 appearance ever surprising for Duke? Public opinion seemed to be split over whether the Blue Devils would face an athletic Tennessee team that had knocked off another No. 1 seed, Pitt, earlier in the season, or the Wolverines, whose changing defenses and complex offense can be difficult for even the more talented opponents to solve. It was the latter, and while Michigan gave the Dukies all they could handle, Coach K has a veteran team that isn’t easily rattled. And if you knew that not only would Irving return, but that he’d somehow look pretty darn good, then you probably picked Duke to reach Houston.
Why they may not go much further: The victory over Michigan wasn’t exactly convincing, as the baby Wolverines had a great look in the lane that would have sent the game to overtime. Leading by 15 with less than 11 minutes remaining, Duke couldn’t put Michigan away, struggling against the 1-3-1 zone.
The games only get tougher from here, as Duke leaves the friendly confines of North Carolina and heads west to face Derrick Williams and Arizona before a potential matchup with Kemba Walker and red-hot UConn or underrated San Diego State (remember, in California). Duke has already attempted 39 three-pointers in this Tourney, and another poor shooting performance like the one against Michigan (5-for-20 from deep) could lead to the end for the Blue Devils.
Vegas anecdote: A co-worker of mine went to Hampton, so I was prepared to take the 20+ points I was sure to get and bet against Duke in Round One. Standing in line, a fellow bettor told me he saw Hampton’s conference championship game and “they looked horrible.” Horrible enough to lose by 25? “Absolutely,” he said. That, coupled with my co-worker saying it was “unfair” that her alma mater had to play a basketball powerhouse like Duke, led me to stay away from the game, which proved to be a wise decision.
No. 5 Arizona
How they got here: On the broad shoulders of sophomore forward Derrick Williams, who made game-winning plays in each of Arizona’s first two contests. In a battle with 12 seed Memphis, Wesley Witherspoon grabbed an offensive rebound off a missed free throw and attempted a layup that would have sent the game to overtime, but Williams came out of nowhere to swat away the shot and preserve the victory.
Two days later, in what was a wild and controversial finish against 4 seed Texas, Williams drove to the hoop and completed an improbable and-one basket, making the foul shot to give the Wildcats a one-point lead with less than 10 seconds remaining. On Texas’ ensuing possession, Williams soared high to challenge the shot attempt at the buzzer to seal the victory.
Why you should have seen it coming: You’ve heard it before: Big players make big plays in big games. That’s exactly what Williams did in the opening weekend and is why he’s considered to be a top pick in the NBA draft. When a team has a superstar, you always have to assume he can carry the team for a couple of rounds.
Why they may not go much further: Arizona earned its spot in the Sweet 16, but it was certainly aided by a late-game meltdown by Texas. The Wildcats can’t expect Duke to do the same. The Blue Devils don’t have one player who can match Williams in the post, but they have enough big bodies to perhaps slow him down, and that could spell trouble for ’Zona.
Vegas anecdote: Arizona always has a lot of fans in Vegas, as many as any other school, and they were loud and proud when the Wildcats overcame a sluggish start to take the lead against Memphis. While Arizona held on for the win, it did not cover, leading to the always interesting bittersweet fan reaction: happy their team is advancing, but upset they can’t cash their tickets. Ah, the joys of sports betting.
No. 2 San Diego State
How they got here: By getting the March Madness monkey off their back, beating Northern Colorado for its first ever NCAA Tournament victory, and following it up with a double-overtime win over 7 seed Temple. The Aztecs, as they have all season, excelled on the defensive end, limiting the Bears to 33 percent shooting and Temple to 38 percent. They outrebounded the two opponents by a total of 21.
Why you should have seen it coming: The Mountain West Conference was strong this year, so the Aztecs’ 14-2 league record (with both losses coming against BYU) and conference tournament championship was impressive. Oh, and San Diego St. went undefeated out of conference, including a victory at Gonzaga. They have a potential NBA lottery pick in sophomore forward Kawhi Leonard, who leads an extremely athletic frontcourt. The Aztecs have three senior starters, including clutch-shooting point guard D.J. Gay.
Why they may not go much further: The Aztecs sometimes struggle offensively, at least when compared to other teams vying for a spot in Houston. They scored just 18 points in the second half against Temple. The starting backcourt of Gay and Chase Tapley, along with reserve James Rahon, will have to provide enough perimeter scoring to at least come close to matching what UConn and potentially Duke can do offensively.
Vegas anecdote: San Diego St. provided my most memorable Tourney game of the weekend. While my friends and I wanted the Aztecs to win—for betting purposes and as fans of the team—we also wanted them to cover the 5.5-point spread, something that didn’t seem likely as the game went into the first and then second overtime. But Leonard’s two free throws put San Diego St. up five, and his steal and breakaway dunk with 20 seconds left gave the Aztecs the magical seven-point lead. This led to rowdy rejoicing—among friends and strangers alike—in the aisle of the Hilton theater.
No. 3 Connecticut
How they got here: By showing absolutely no hangover effects from a five-wins-in-five-days Big East tournament run. UConn opened on Thursday, just five days after their improbable march in Madison Square Garden, and walloped Bucknell, taking a 17-point halftime lead en route to an 81-52 victory. They led by just three against fellow Big East member Cincinnati with less than five minutes left, but pulled away for a 69-58 win. Kemba Walker picked up right where he left off in New York. Playing all but six minutes so far, Walker has led his team in scoring in both Tourney games, shot 20-for-20 from the free throw line, and posted 17 assists against just four turnovers.
|Rise and fire. Kemba (probably) drains a jumper. (Credit: Kevin Scheller/The Daily Campus)|
Why you should have seen it coming: You’re familiar with this Kemba guy, right? OK, I thought so, but if you’ve been watching UConn lately you know that Walker’s young supporting cast has been playing well also. With all the big wins the Huskies scored this season—five victories over teams given 4 seeds or better—an appearance in the Sweet 16 is no surprise.
Why they may not go much further: This team has to run out of gas at some point…maybe. Even if fatigue doesn’t set in, inexperience might. UConn starts three freshmen and a sophomore, and has two other underclassmen play prominent roles off the bench. No one is playing better than Connecticut right now, but I still think San Diego State is a better team, as is Duke, should the regional finals be a rematch of the 1999 title game.
Vegas anecdote: Unfortunately for me, the UConn-Cincinnati game was the last game on Saturday and I didn’t have much rooting interest since I had chosen Missouri in my bracket. But that’s what Vegas is for, so I bet on UConn for the second half and sweated it out as they covered the line.
NEW YORK—I’ve heard Madison Square Garden referred to as Cameron North when Duke comes to New York City. Yesterday, however, Duke was the true road team against St. John’s in the World’s Most Famous Arena, which was sold out for the first time for a regular season St. John’s game since March 2, 2003. There wasn’t an overwhelming majority of Red Storm fans (probably about 65/35), but given previous attendance splits when Duke visited it was a big step in the right direction for the St. John’s program.
This also helped give the program a boost: a 93-78 dismantling of the No. 3 Blue Devils in a game that wasn’t even as close as the score suggests. St. John’s had dropped seven straight in the matchup, its last win coming in that ’03 game.
It wasn’t easy to gauge the number of Duke supporters since they had little to cheer about. The first half was a perfect half of basketball for St. John’s. The Red Storm tied the game at six with 16:17 to go and never trailed again. They closed the half on a 22-8 run to turn a modest lead into a blowout, 46-25, at half.
If the players weren’t wearing jerseys you would’ve thought St. John’s was Duke and Duke was a bad mid-major. The Blue Devils turned it over 11 times in the first half and St. John’s converted those into 21 points. Duke shot under 30 percent, including 1-of-13 from three.
St. John’s defense was impressive—their pressing and trapping frustrating Duke throughout—but their unselfishness on offense stood out more than anything. The Johnnies had assists on 21 of their 32 made field goals. Time after time a Red Storm player passed on an open shot to get a teammate an even better look.
“We call it sharing the sugar,” first-year St. John’s head coach Steve Lavin said. “We call it the ‘one more,’ the ‘swing swing pass,’ where someone gets the ball and looks like he’s going to shoot it but he makes one more pass underneath and the guy gets a layup. There were a lot of those. We were really sharing. The ball was popping.”
The second half started with a familiar play: St. John’s getting an easy basket inside, as Paris Horne found DJ Kennedy wide open for a dunk. Two possessions later, the Red Storm pushed the lead to 25. It didn’t get closer than 17 until the 5:11 mark.
Duke, which had been 1-of-21 on three-pointers, made a desperation push with three minutes to go, hitting four consecutive from deep. But they simply traded three for two with St. John’s, and the closest margin was 11.
It was a huge breakthrough for a team that was playing its eighth consecutive game against a ranked opponent. The beginning of the brutal stretch went OK for St. John’s, as it knocked off Georgetown and Notre Dame. But the Red Storm entered Sunday’s contest having lost five of its last six and three in a row, its record just 11-8 (4-5 in the Big East). You wouldn’t have known it watching yesterday’s action, nor would you have figured Duke was 19-1.
“We were not ready to compete. We had blank expressions on our faces,” Duke head coach Mike Krzyzewski said. “Our program didn’t do well here today.”
We must keep in mind it was just one game. As Krzyzewski said, “I think this game speaks to Duke not playing real hard today and St John’s playing a beautiful game.” Duke had a similar performance against Georgetown last season, leading many to believe the Blue Devils were a team incapable of a deep Tournament run. We all know how that turned out. “I try to coach so that we’re at our best in March and we have a chance to win a championship,” Krzyzewski said.
|Steve Lavin will try to sell the St. John’s program to top recruits. (Credit: St. John’s Athletic Communications)|
St. John’s, meanwhile, earned a win that may do more for the program in the long run than it will this season. The Red Storm could certainly still play its way into the NCAA Tournament, but will likely need another signature victory or two. It would be a great way to go out for the seniors, of which there are a whopping 10 on the St. John’s roster. Of the eight players who saw action against Duke, seven are seniors. The college basketball statistical website KenPom.com uses a formula that uses eligibility class weighted by minutes played to determine a team’s experience. By this measure, St. John’s is the fourth most experienced team in the country.
Lavin’s greatest strength may be as a recruiter, and he will be replacing the large group of seniors with what currently projects to be the nation’s No. 2 recruiting class. New York will certainly support a winner on the hardwood, as evidenced by the buzz surrounding the Knicks. Lavin and St. John’s may be on their way to giving the Big Apple a big-time college team as well.