I'm going to take a page out of the No Mas book and do a little birthday quiz for everybody. Correctly answer who each person is and you win the respect of Don't Ever Give Up the Basketball Blog.I was an average player on the best team ever.
I hit one of the biggest shots in NCAA history
I never really fully developed.
I was a good player on the worst team ever.
Ich bin ein mittelmäßiger Spieler und bin immer gewesen.
Okay, let's get down to business. It's roughly three weeks until the bacon starts simmering on one of the biggest sports events of the year. That's when conference tournaments begin and when the dust settles, we will find ourselves saying, "wait, it's march...isn't it time for...march madness???" and then realizing that March is the sneakiest month of them all. We're halfway to it and I didn't even realize it myself.
Therefore, it's time that Don't Ever Give Up: The Basketball Blog did a little digging to find out who's real and who's fake this year. Also, I will attempt to take stock of as much interesting stuff as I can. But for now, prepare yourself for...
Madness: Part 1 of 4
For this year's late-season report, I am going to analyze things conference-by-conference, starting with my second favorite, the America East.
The America East is one of those sort of puny conferences that generally finds itself in a two-horse race for an automatic bid. Historically, this bid has gone to Boston University or Albany, but lately the kings of the conference have been Jimmy V's own home team, the University of Vermont Catamounts (19-6, 11-1). Conveniently, they played the second best team in the conference (Albany) just three days ago and won, which all but locks up their status as the best team in the conference.
Vermont is led by Mike Tripoli, a sophomore guard who is the team's best scorer and ballhandler. He is a more traditional point guard then the man he replaced, TJ Sorrentine, and is the heart of the team. He is averaging 15.6 points per game, 5.0 assists, and 3.4 rebounds.
Vermont's excellence this year is fairly remarkable. Two years ago, they lost their best classes ever, as well as their experienced, personable and intelligent coach, Tom Brennan. They made a good hire in Mike Lonergan, who coached his DIII team to seven straight title games, and who was an assistant at Maryland. It has taken him only one year to bring the UVM back to the top of their conference.
Will Vermont be an upset special? The Catamounts are showing all the signs, in my opinion, of being the kind of team that gets a 15 or 16 seed and plays a close game, but loses. They have played two legit teams this year, Maryland and BC. They lost badly to Maryland, and beat BC handily. I don't see why they couldn't beat a good team again, but their lone win was very early in the season, when BC took two hard losses and might have been a little less focused than they are now. The focus of teams like BC will surely intensify come March, and I don't know if UVM can play in that sort of environment. I hope they can, though.
[One quick word: Albany's Jamar Wilson is an excellent player who might be capable of doing something. He is 6'1, is a good shooter, and can rebound and pass well. He averages an impressive 18 points, 4.9 assists and 6.4 rebounds per game. If Albany can win the America East tourney he will be hard to handle.]
The next conference happens to house my other home team, UMass. The Atlantic 10 is a conference full of history that has fallen on hard times excepting St. Joe's Final Four run. The best team in the conference is Cincinnati's Xavier, with Umass and Rhode Island close behind. I think the most interesting team is Massachusetts, a team filled with gunners that routinely scores in the 80's, 90's and 100's. They have four guys averaging at least 12 points.
Umass has a bunch of big guys like Rashaun Freeman, a tough motherfucker from Schenectady, New York, who can get it done on the inside against bigger opponents. As a matter of fact, each of those 12 ppg players is over 6-6. Not a lot of teams in a small conference like the A-10 can compete with that, and UMass has picked up some good wins. Unfortunately, it seems like whenever UMass plays a good school, they give up a ton of points and can't score for themselves. (BC and Pitt both beat them by more than ten and scored more than 80.) They recently gave up 98 points to a mediocre Temple team. [An exception to this trend was Umass's win at Louisville, which is heartening.] I think that sometimes having a lot of height throws a defense off a little because big guys have a tendency to let people in at the perimeter and collapse too much. It's like if you had a gun that shot backwards sometimes. (Here at DGUTBB we don't talk too much about swords.)
Xavier is coached by Joey Buttafuco, er Sean Miller, a pinstriped, oily-skinned fellow who knows his basketball. Him and his boys from the Natti have beaten Villanova, Arizona State, Illinois, Charlotte, and Umass pretty handily. Unfortunately, they've been bounced around a little by Alabama and Cincy. Xavier is a funny team. When they win, they destroy their opponents, and when they lose, it's often close. I think they might be kind of like my men's league team; when we get up by like 12 and people start to realize that there's a good chance we're going to win, they relax and start hitting shots. Before long, 15 points becomes 25. The thing is, if we can't get to that flash point, people are all tense and don't play as well as they should, and we get hit by late rallys because the other team's been fighting all game. I'm making Xavier my men's league special.
My favorite player on the team is Drew Lavender, a classic shot college point guard listed at 5-7. He averages 10, 4.5 and 2.3, and does an excellent job running the team. Almost without exception, when he plays badly, the team loses.
Lavender has added a new wrinkle to his game, too; late in the season he has been shooting more three pointers (he only attempted more than five once in the first half). He has had some sweet games, like a 4-7 outing, a 5-5 outing, and a 7-8 game just two weeks ago. He was an All American in high school and led his team in scoring and assists on Oklahoma but decided to transfer, and I think he will be famous by the time he graduates.
The first big conference we get to is the ACC, which is having a decidedly crappy year. I don't really have to say this, but it's pretty clear that ever since the ACC stole two dirtbag teams from the Big East, they have gotten much weaker, while the Big East has become the strongest conference in any sport. (Please remember that this is a crappy year by ACC standards; they have had two top ten teams for god knows how long and now they don't. It's a relative point.)
Anyway, there's a ton of tournament-worthy teams in the conference; eight could legitimately get in: Maryland (18-7, 4-6), FSU (17-9, 5-7), Georgia Tech (17-8, 5-6), Duke (18-7, 5-6), Clemson (19-5, 5-5), Virginia (17-7, 8-3), VT (18-7, 8-3), UNC (22-4, 8-3), and Boston College (18-6, 9-2). [You will notice that former Big East teams have two of the best three conference records.]
BC is excellent, with the best point guard and forward in the conference in Jared Dudley and Tyrese Rice. The worrisome thing about this team is that they have lost to a couple of mediocre teams (Vermont and Duquesne) and also to their conference rivals Clemson and Duke, both by considerable margins. They are about to face the hardest part of their schedule, facing, in order, Duke, UNC, VT, Clemson, and Georgia Tech. If they win half of those games, they're probably legit. If not...they're not.
BC have faced one Big East team, Providence, to whom they lost. I don't think this team is elite, but they do seem very well-equipped to handle ACC play. If they draw a couple of weaklings and ACC opponents in March it could be interesting.
North Carolina just got freshly smoked by VT, which makes VT look very good and UNC look very bad. Personally, I think it's a bit of a fluke; UNC's guard play was worse than usual and Reyshawn Terry was in foul trouble. One interesting thing is about this is it is one of the only games when Terry has been ineffective or in foul trouble. UNC has had a hard time almost every time he stinks it up. I think he's going to be their most important guy, since he's really athletic, has range, and should nicely open things up for Hansborough. (Nice highlights of him here, here, and here.) He seems like one guy who, on a good night, will create matchup problems for almost every team in the country.
(Also, in that game, Zabian Dowell got to the line an incredible 19 times, making 17 of his free throws. His team won by one. Would it happen again? I don't think it would.)
I do think this loss shows that UNC is not a great team. Could they put it together and win a lot of big games? Sure. They already beat a great Ohio state team handily, but they lost to Gonzaga, and this is the second time they've been beaten by VT. They haven't really played any challenging teams from outside their conference and frankly, look a bit to me like a paper tiger. They may not be, but it's very hard to say. I wish that strength of schedule mattered more towards getting into the tournament so that schools could play interesting opponents outside of their conferences. This would mean more money for them (people would be more interested) and better games. I mean, who wants to see UNC play North Alabaster State? Not me.
Moving on...VT is looking pretty good, having beaten Virginia, Duke, UNC twice, Maryland, and Georgia Tech. But they've lost about the same amount of games to similar opponents and it's not clear to me whether they're so streaky because of luck or skill. I'll be honest, I haven't seen this team play and can't make anything out from the statistics. I'm sorry. I wish I could make something up, but I'm just not that fucking creative. They did look good against UNC, but I have no idea why they're bad when they play badly.
Virginia looks like they could be the ACC sleeper, having beat Duke, Clemson, Maryland, Gonzaga, NC State, and Arizona. Their losses haven't been that bad (Stanford by one, BC by five, UNC by ten) when they lose to good teams, but when they lose to bad teams (Utah, Appalachian State) they have been hit pretty serious. They just lost to VT by 27 points and that doesn't look too good. It seems like this team lives and dies with its guards, JR Reynolds and Sean Singletary. They don't have a player over 6-5 averaging more than 10 points a game. It actually seems like a really cool lineup, with both little guys handling the ball and shooting away. This team looks somewhat similar to last year's Villanova team in that if its guards are hitting, it will be very dangerous. Yes, they have a proper front court, but I enjoy teams based on chuckers. Those produce the best highlights (like this one right here).
Clemson couldn't lose early in the season, probably because they didn't play anyone that tough. Now that they are in-conference, they can't win. They've lost to UNC, Duke, Virginia, Georgia Tech, and Maryland in the last month or so. The interesting thing is that no one really expected this team to do that much, and looking over their lineup, it's hard to understand how they ever managed those wins. I don't know what to say about these guys because I haven't seen them play, but they must be well-coached. It does seem apparent that their recent suckage is closely tied to K.C. River, their shooting guard, who did not score less than ten until their first loss (17 games), and has only scored more than ten two games out of six since then.
Duke seems like crap this year, but I think they are sucking at exactly the right time. They are putting themselves in perfect position to be like the 1998-99 Knicks that made everyone all pissed off in the middle of the season, figured themselves out, and then started coming on in the playoffs. Duke's schedule is really hard and their largest loss was by twelve points. They have lost to VT by two, Virginia by two, FSU by one, and UNC by six. They have beat quality opponents like Gonzaga, Indiana, Clemson, and BC, and I don't think they're going to lose many games in the rest of their schedule, except perhaps the UNC game. If they win that game their status as dangerous in the tournament is guaranteed and I think that now that they are playing with a chip on their shoulder, they might actually do something. I certainly hope not, though.
Everyone on Duke, to this point, has been a disappointment, with the exception of DeMarcus Nelson. They don't have any big men who are tough, which is usually a trademark of Duke teams. I think that's the reason they stink more than anything. The thing is, Coach K usually finds a way to make weird players do weird things (in a good way). That's why a lot of his guys suck in the pros - they're actually not that good. In the vacuum that is college, though, I think he'll find a way to get someone to play tough, though I have no idea who it is. To me, that looks like a team of sissies. But like I said above, when everyone thinks you're a bunch of sissies, sometimes you start doing tough-guy things you shouldn't be able to.
Maryland is my favorite to come out of this thing. They are streaky but nasty, and fronted by the progeny of the baddest of the bad, Mr. D.J. Strawberry. The kid is golden, and tough, and one hell of an athlete. Plus you know he's hard if he's the great one's child.
This team also has a versatile forward in James Gist, a good shooting guard in MIKE JONES, another versatile forward in Ekene Ibekwe, and the all-important enforcer, with one of the best enforcer names if I do say so myself, Bambale Osby.
Maryland's had some tough conference losses but also some good wins (Duke, Gtech). They have to play Duke and UNC again, as well as Clemson, but also three cake teams. I think they'll be dangerous when it comes time to play for keeps. It's tough to root against a Strawberry.
Florida State, like Clemson, got off to a very good start, despite having a very hard schedule. Lately, they have been absolutely crapping the bed. It seems like they have trouble keeping their heads, as all of their losses have come in bunches (two in a row, three in a row, one, three in a row). I don't really like their lineup aside from Al Thornton, a pretty standard power forward with good range but limited rebounding skills. I think this team, like Duke, lacks a hard-nosed players to get those boards, which is essential. Unlike Duke, they don't have a bunch of disciplined top flight recruits, an experienced coach, a good home court, or refs that cheat in their favor when the coach yells at them.
Georgia Tech has perhaps the best prospect in the ACC in Javaris Crittenton, who just beat Florida State by himself. He is a freshman, he's 6'5, and he averages 14.5, 5.5 assists, and 3.8 rebounds per game. Pretty impressive for a kid who's only 19.
The team around him is also pretty good, but I feel like the kind of freshman who really helps a team come tourney time is a more monstrous type than Crittenton (See Anthony, Carmelo). He could do something crazy, but I just don't think he, or his team, has enough. (Noah, for instance, was surrounded by a great, great lineup last year. Also, he had a fair amount of luck and a cakey walk to the finals. And by the way, he's not gonna do a thing this year, says I.)
The ACC is such a damn big conference, jesus. I'm tired and it's late. Sometimes it's hard to believe there are so many teams in division one basketball. It kind of makes me think to myself, "Jimmy V, look at all those teams there are, can you believe that you wouldn't have a chance against a single player on any of them?" Basketball in America really is something else.
Part 2, coming up tomorrow. As always, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
PS: Sorry about the lack of pictures. I put this quiz up this morning but was sent home from work because the weather closed the Court. More aesthetics tomorrow, I promise. -JV