Monday, February 26, 2007

Examining the Minor Leagues: The EBA

Few have heard of the Eastern Basketball Alliance, a minor league located throughout New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Even though it does not attract as much attention as some of the more popular leagues, it still provides some entertaining basketball.

The February 24th game was between the North Jersey Lakers and the Schuylkill Firedogs. Here were the rosters of each team (note: there may be a player or two missing because they played in that game, but were not listed on the roster):

North Jersey Lakers
Wayne Bucknor
Chris Hendershot
Jeff Houser
Mark Stanley
Mike Scott
Scott Hoffman
Christopher Morgan
Alfonzo Thomas
Tim Corrigan
Bobby Jorgensen
Wade Walters
Ish Nyilas

Schuylkill Firedogs
Erik Henrysen
Jason Sims
Charles Jackson
Kelvin Fleming
Nick Miskar
Tyrone Rucker
Ngola Santos
Paul Gaskin
Mark Jamerson
Byron Diggs

This game was held in probably the nicest church gym I have ever seen. Both teams played with a great deal of intensity and demonstrated a clear passion for the game. At the very beginning of the contest, the Lakers came out strong, using their team chemistry to get the ball in the hands of an open perimeter shooter. But, as the quarter progressed, number 42 scored some key inside baskets to put the Firedogs within striking distance. The Firedogs's Charles Jackson then sparked another run, which tied the game. From then on, Schuylkill built a small lead.

The Firedogs opened the second quarter on a serious run. The game tempo was now a faster style of play; therein the Firedogs possessed a clear advantage. Jackson was scoring on all cylinders- using his ball handling ability to craftily maneuvered around big men- Chris Hendershot and Wade Walters in particular- to score easy layups. Tim Corrigan kept the Lakers in the game with a key three point basket and some nice midrange shots. Walters also scored inside during pivotal points. But, late into the second quarter, the Firedogs began pulling away. Jackson continued scoring inside and number 42 matched Jackson's production with a nice array of post moves. Despite their intensity at the beginning of the game, the Lakers were down by 8 points at the half- the score was 59-51 Firedogs. They had built on their first quarter lead and it seemed as though the Lakers were going to lose by a large margin due to the shift in momentum.

And, to reinforce this premonition, the Firedogs opened the third quarter with some quick points. But, the Lakers were not willing to give up in this contest. Roughly two minutes into the third quarter, the Lakers mounted a comeback. Corrigan and Alfonzo Thomas attacked the inside- allowing for easy putbacks. By the end of the third quarter, the Lakers had come back from a large deficit and now had an opportunity to win this game.

The fourth quarter was easily the best basketball of the day. Despite the excellent defense played by each side, both teams scored on possession after possession- employing their excellent team chemistry to secure some a temporary lead. Corrigan emerged as the centerpiece of the Lakers' offense and North Jersey relied on him to carry them throughout the quarter. Late buckets by Chris Hendershot and a three pointer by Mark Stanley gave the Lakers a small lead late in the game- for the first time since the opening minutes. But, the Lakers quickly responded. Erik Henrysen took it upon himself to lead his Firedog squad. He attacked the rim and got to the free throw line on several occasions late in the game. Number 42 also played with a great deal of heart and intensity. His late free throws finally gave the Firedogs the victory. The final score was 121-116 Firedogs.

This contest was a hard fought battle and both squads displayed an evident passion for the game. For example, Henrysen and the coach of Schuylkill constantly bickered with the referees over certain calls. The refs warned the coach that he would receive a technical foul if he continued to speak to officials in such a manner. Also, number 42 displayed excellent emotion on the floor- yelling at himself for missed inside shot attempts despite drawing the foul. For the Lakers, you could tell that they were a cohesive unit. During their timeouts, they huddled together in a team circle and discussed various techniques they could use in order to get back in the game. Overall, I enjoyed the entire EBA scene- the professional aspect of the sport, the competitiveness, and the talent on both squads.

While the Firedogs and the Lakers employed many weapons on both ends of the floor, two players really stood out in this contest. I believe that if Charles Jackson or Tim Corrigan attended open tryout for a more established minor league like the ABA, they would make the cut.

Charles Jackson displayed an excellent first step- one that is not all too common. His outstanding agility and body control allowed him to cut to the basket. This gave him the option of either continuing to attack the basket for an open layup or kicking it out to his teammates for an open three point shot. He complemented his slashing ability with a nice midrange game. Jackson was such a weapon because he could pull up and hit a key jumper or he could blow by his defender. Overall, I was impressed with his leadership on the offensive end. Despite his overwhelming scoring numbers, Jackson had the court vision necessary to play the point guard position. On the offensive end, I noticed some weaknesses. He does not shoot from long range as often as a player of his caliber should. Also, he could stand to add some weight if he wanted to compete at the next level. Defensively, he had very quick hands and the necessary footspeed to keep up with his man. I can recall several instances where he would steal the ball and take it the length of the floor for an uncontested layup. At a higher level of basketball- though- I wonder if his thin body will be able to defend more physical guards. At times, he seemed complacent on the defensive end of the floor- he should have kept up the defensive pressure even during their lead. Nevertheless, Charles Jackson was the best player for either team and his 30 points gave the Firedogs the victory.

For the opposing squad, Tim Corrigan displayed an excellent set of post moves that would allow him to play several different positions at a higher level of basketball. He had the necessary strength inside to play as a small forward. And, he had the outside shooting ability to effectively play as a guard. Corrigan was a true leader who brought a great deal of intangibles to his squad. He attacked the basket on key possessions and knew when to give the ball up. His long range shooting ability allowed him to move inside for a layup or to step out for a shot; thereby, he stretched the defenses. In regards to his offensive weaknesses, he is somewhat of a tweener. He does not possess the necessary ball handling ability to be an effective guard and he was not tall enough to permanently play inside as a center or power forward. If he perfects this ability, I think he will be able to play the small forward at a higher level of basketball. Defensively, his foot speed was ordinary at best. He was not the best man-to-man defender, but he worked hard to corral loose balls, thereby giving his team an advantage. Corrigan's 29 points were the most vital contribution to the North Jersey Lakers' comeback.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Reactions to the Bracket Buster

The Bracket Buster games yielded some interesting results. Some teams really boasted their tournament resumes, while others faultered down the stretch. All in all, the Bracket Buster was a huge success because it broadcasted teams that are not normally in the public spotlight. There are countless midmajor squads that play with such intensity night in and night out. We were able to see some of this fire last weekend.

Specifically, several teams really put themselves on the map as far as the NCAA tournament is concerned.

Winthrop is the biggest Bracket Buster winner of them all. They defeated Missouri St., a team that had a secured a bid already. Winthrop pulled away in the second half and really proved that they can contend in a tournament setting. If they remain undefeated in their conference and make it to the Big South championship game, they could conceivably earn an at large bid. Because of this win, Winthrop is firmly on the bubble and is one step closer to fulfilling their tournament aspirations.

Fresno St. earned bubble consideration because of their win against Sam Houston St. SM St. really hurt its seeding by losing this contest handedly.

Appalachian St. was another Bracket Buster winner. They defeated a rising MVC team- Wichita St.- on a buzzer beating shot. Donte Minter played extremely well inside and led his team to victory. Kyle Wilson tied the game, but DJ Thompson's runner sunk before the horn and gave Appalachian St. the victory. With wins against Vanderbilt, Davidson, VCU, and Virginia on the road, Appalachian St. is one step closer to a bid.

Hofstra added to their resume by defeating Holy Cross in a close contest.

Southern Illinois's victory against Butler was extremely impressive. Both teams played the way basketball ought to be played- they were extremely tough on defense, corralling the ball on several occasions for fast break points. The fundamentals present in this game made it a thing of beauty. Both of these teams, although undersized up front, played with intensity in the paint, attacked the rim and- most of all-shot unbelievably well from long range. Pete Campbell and Brandon Crone knocked down some clutch three point shots to bring Butler back from a double digit deficit. Tatum had an excellent game as I predicted. His quickness broke through Butler's defense and opened up the game for his teammates. Before the half ended, he hit a three pointer to put Southern Illinois up by five points. Then, when Butler started to come back, he hit several fade away shots from near the three point line with a defender in his face. The biggest surprise was AJ Graves's disappearing act. He had one of his worst games of the season and connected on only one three point attempt. Mike Green elevated his Butler squad by attacking the rim and thus getting Randal Faulker into foul trouble. Both of these teams demonstrated basketball fundamentals that- in some cases- are not even present on the next level. The chemistry that both teams exhibit is going to them deep into the tournament in March.

Nevada crushed Northern Iowa, but did not really earn a quality win. It did- however- further appeal to the committee as far as seeding is concerned.

Old Dominion has been on a tear recently and their victory over Toledo only added to their resume. Although they have not secured a bid, they are closer to receiving an at large than most midmajor bubble teams.

Wright St. helped its potential seeding by defeating Cal St. Fullerton by a large margin. This only demonstrates the extent as to which the Big West has declined; they are no longer a threat to upset major squads as they were during Pacific's heyday.

Bradley really boasted their resume with a win over VCU. Commonwealth will have to advance far in the Colonial Athletic tournament if they want any shot at an at large.

New Mexico St.'s victory over Ohio was quite an intriguing game. They were down by 18 points at the half and nothing was falling from the field. They made careless turnovers and could not seem to contain Walther from beyond the three point line. Ohio made few mistakes in the first half and looked like they were on pace for a nice road win. But, New Mexico St. had another result in mind. They came out strong at the start of the second half and slowly crept back into the game. New Mexico St. employed several techniques in order to come back. First, they moved away from the three point line. In the first half, they kept trying to match Walther's long range bombs with outside shots of their own. This strategy clearly was not working; so, New Mexico St. went back to their bread and butter- attacking the paint whenever they got the opportunity. Also, New Mexico St. drove at Ohio's big men. Because Ohio did not possess the frontcourt depth of New Mexico St., Theus's players attacked the opposition's big men and got them into foul trouble. The main cogs in Ohio's frontcourt- Jerome Tillman and Leon Williams- played sporatically throughout the second half due to foul trouble. New Mexico St. continued to feed their big men in order to take advantage of their size and depth advantages inside; thereby, Tyrone Nelson and Hatila Passos were a valuable part of this comeback. Suddenly, Fred Peete began making midrange shots and Elijah Ingram was hitting some clutch three pointers. Although the aforementioned players made some significant contributions, Martin Iti's performance played the paramount role in New Mexico St.'s comeback victory. His impeccable frontcourt defense coupled with his thundering dunks at key junctures in the game motivated his team and got them back in the contest. Ultimately, a series of key plays by Passos- including a steal and a dunk on the other end- gave New Mexico St. the lead. Overall, I was impressed by New Mexico St.'s pressure defense and its composure to come back from such a deficit. They will still need to win out in their conference tournament in order to make the Big Dance, but this win had major seeding implications.

Drexel's win at Creighton has put them into tournament discussions. Creighton was in control the vast majority of the game. During the first half of play, Anthony Tolliver was a dominant force in the paint. But, midway into the second half, he received his fourth foul. Suddenly Drexel was firing on all cylinders. They ran several screen plays to free up Dominick Meija and he took advantage of this, finishing with twenty points. Meija's counterpart inside- Frank Elegar- also elevated his game in the second half. He outrebounded Creighton's frontcourt and effectively altered the momentum in the game with a putback dunk on the fastbreak. Ultimately, Funk missed a few late opportunities to tie the game from beyond the three point line. Overall, Drexel displayed a valient effort, continuing a nice road win streak. Because of this game, Creighton is very close to the bubble- while they may be secure, they cannot afford a bad loss early in the MVC tournament.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Bracket Buster Contests- The Players of Note and the Importance of Each Game

There are other teams of note that are involved in the Bracket Buster, but I summarized only the best games. For example, Loyola has been on a tear recently, but a win against Eastern Illinois is not going to do much for their resume.

Tonight- Missouri St. vs. Winthrop

Players of Note:
Watch out for guard Blake Ahearn of Missouri St. and guard/forward Torrell Martin of Winthrop. Both of these guys will be at the draft camps this summer and have a shot at the second round. Martin can do a little bit of everything, while Ahearn scores the majority of his points from the outside.

Importance of this Game:
While Missouri St. could use this win to solidify their solid resume, Winthrop absolutely needs a win here to be considered for an at large bid. Winthrop is playing at home, so this is a must win for them if they want any chance to make the Big Dance- assuming they lose their conference tournament.

Tomorrow- Sam Houston St. vs. Fresno St.

Players of note:
Ryan Bright and Aaron Wade lead a balanced Sam Houston St. attack. Dominic McGuire and Quinton Hosley will be draft picks at some point.

Importance of this Game:
Neither of these teams will receive an at large bid even if they win this contest. But, if either or both of these teams win their conference tournaments, this game will have major implications for each team's seeding in the bracket.

Wichita St. vs. Appalachian St.

Players of Note:
For Appalachian St, DJ Thompson is severely undersized, but makes up for his lack of height by playing with a lot of heart. Thompson and his forward counterpart Donte Minter form a nice inside-outside combination. For Wichita, Kyle Wilson is another great shooter.

Importance of this Game: Both of these teams are outside the bubble, but a win here could grant either side some tournament consideration.

Hofstra vs. Holy Cross

Players of Note:
Hofstra's big three- Rivera, Aguido and Stokes- is quite a trio. Holy Cross will try to counter Hofstra's efforts with their star Keith Simmons.

Importance of this Game:
Holy Cross was on a tear recently, but has since come back down to earth with a loss against Bucknell. Hofstra has had a few recent losses as well. Holy Cross will not receive an at large bid, but a win in this game would give Hofstra some serious consideration.

Butler vs. Southern Illinois

Players of Note:
AJ Graves has had a tremendous year. He is another outstanding shooter who can also create for his teammates. On the Southern Illinois side, the offense runs through Jamaal Tatum.

Importance of this Game:
Both of these teams are locks to make the tournament at this point. This game will decide seeding.

Nevada vs. Northern Iowa

Players of Note:
The main player to watch in this contest is Nick Fazekas, who is receiving some consideration nation wide for various basketball accolades. He has tremendous footwork and fundamentals. Then there's the guard/wing combination of Sessions and Kemp. As for Northern Iowa: they do not have any players with NBA upside, but they do have some solid big men in Grant Stout and Erik Coleman.

Importance of this Game:
Northern Iowa is on the outside of the bubble, but a win in this contest could really build their resume. They would have to follow a victory here with some quality conference wins if they want an at large bid. Nevada is a lock at this point.

Toledo vs. Old Dominion

Players of Note:
Justin Ingram can run his Toledo squad, while Vasylius and Dahi are solid contributors inside and out for ODU.

Importance of this Game:
This game will help decide the strength of the MAC conference. Toledo has played well of late- with a win against Akron- and a loss here would lower the seeding of pretty much any MAC squad. Old Dominion is firmly on the bubble right now and needs a win here.

Wright St. vs. Fullerton

Players of Note:
Fullerton's Bobby Brown has NBA potential and is capable of scoring in a hurry. Wright St. has Dashaun Wood, a Horizon League player of the year candidate.

Importance of this Game:
This game will determine the seeding if either of these squads wins their respective conference tournaments.

VCU vs. Bradley

Players of Note:
Both these teams have multiple players who can score in double figures on any given night. Walker and Maynor are VCU's stars, while Will Franklin and Daniel Ruffin are Bradley's noteworthy guards.

Importance of this Game:
VCU is right on the bubble and a win here coupled with some conference victories would most likely get them an at large bid. A win for Bradley would put them back on the bubble.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Exploring College Basketball Talent Feb. 15 Part 1

This past weekend, ESPN showcased the occasional midmajor contest- thus providing me with the opportunity to scout schools that are not ordinarily caught in the public limelight.

Western Kentucky vs. Middle Tennessee St.
Between these two teams, only one prospect has really caught the eye of NBA scouts- namely Western Kentucky's Courtney Lee. But, as I watched this game, several intriguing prospects emerged that were not on my radar beforehand.

First and foremost, Jeremy Evans seized this opportunity for NBA recognition and really willed his team to victory. This 6'9, 190 pound freshman played well on both ends of the floor, demonstrating an uncharacteristic swagger which is normally seen after years of college experience. Evans's length really separates him defensively from most players at this level. In this contest, he recorded four blocked shots and three steals. But, these numbers do not tell the entire story. These statistics fail to account for all the shots that he deterred and the various hustle plays that he was responsible for. Evans showed his tremendous athleticism at the forward spot with his various tip ins and dunks. Furthermore, while most talented youngsters force the issue on the offensive end, Evans plays within his Western Kentucky offense. He was 5-5 from the field in this contest and is shooting 63% from the floor on the season. While many freshman hoist off balanced shots, Evans impressed me with his restraint. Had he forced the issue, he could have easily doubled his scoring totals. Although Evans possesses the necessary size and length to be effective at the next level, his overall stength and weight will be a major concern. In this contest, his underdeveloped body did not prevent him from grabbing nine rebounds and scoring on powerful alley-oop dunks. This only demonstrates that he has a knack for rebounding against more physically mature players. In the NBA, however, he will face players with similar length and athleticism; thereby, he will need to put on at least 40 pounds of muscle. Evans is only a freshman- though- and has plenty of time to fill out his body. Overall, I feel that Evans is a player that scouts should keep a tab on throughout his four years. If he ever develops any semblance of an outside jumper, he will be successful on the next level.

Middle Tennessee St. looked to counter the efforts of WKU's impressive freshman with a youngster of their own. But, unlike Evans, their freshman, Desmond Yates, already has the body to succeed at the next level. At 6'7, 220 pounds Yates has the physique of an NBA SG/SF. On this occasion, Yates demonstrated that his strengths were shooting the ball from midrange and driving by defenders- clearly in line with any NBA expectations. However, foul trouble limited his aggressiveness on both ends of the floor; thus, his display against WKU was not wholly indicative of his potential. Even though he was clearly outplayed by Evans, Yates has had the better season thus far. He's the second leading scorer on his squad and is averaging 11 points per game. Despite his overaggressiveness on the defensive end of the floor, Yates possesses the midrange game and physical attributes of an NBA small forward.

The freshmen were not the only potential NBA prospects. Tyrone Brazelton, WKU's junior point guard, also deserves some attention. Although he was not a noteworthy name coming into this contest, this former JUCO player demonstrated a quickness that few rival on the collegiate level. In this matchup, he was able to blow by defenders with his superior speed. Brazelton can pass the ball even though his assist totals are far from impressive. He is an adept three point shooter as well. On the defensive end, Brazelton uses his quick hands to collect steals. If WKU makes the tournament, Tyrone may have the opportunity to showcase his ability. Despite his extraordinary speed, Brazelton possesses some glaring weaknesses which could prevent him from playing at the next level. He is clearly undersized- in the NBA, there are taller point guards with similar quickness. Brazelton also needs to take care of the ball. While his quickness allows him to blow by his opponents, he often attacks a crowd of help defenders- losing the ball in the process. Because of this erratic nature, Brazelton's talent level is comparable to a rich man's Jihad Muhammad or a poor man's Antonio Burks. All in all, Brazelton may play at the Portsmouth Camp next year, but he first has to impress scouts against a higher level of competition.

The other half of the starting backcourt- Courtney Lee- was the most highly touted prospect in this contest. Despite the hype surrounding his name, Lee failed to impress. His jump shot was very streaky in this instance and needs some consistency if he wants to be an NBA shooting guard. He demonstrated his defensive prowess by holding Middle Tennessee St. swingmen in check. Another redeeming quality is his world class athleticism, which will distinguish him even at the NBA level. Overall, he did not possess the necessary assertiveness on the offensive end of the floor; in other words, Lee did not look to dominate as most midmajor stars do.

Duke article following VT loss

January 7th
Here's a little something I wrote the day after Duke's heart breaking loss.

This year’s Duke Blue Devils: What comes to your basketball oriented minds when you hear the preceding phrase? The words talent, youth, and Coach K may all be synonymous reactions to such an inquiry. But now- ask yourself if this squad should be ranked in the top 5… if your answer at this juncture in the season is “yes” I would assume one of three things: you either attend the University, write for the AP poll, have not watched the recent contest against Virginia Tech, or are a combination of the latter two. Question number two: do you believe Duke should be in the top 25 at all? If your answer is “no”, I ask you to rethink this. I would venture to say that this year’s Duke Program is the greatest enigma in college basketball today. Casual fans seem to be of two persuasions: either one feels that Duke deserves its ranking or one believes that Duke is the most overrated team in all the land. My objective in this article is to convince you of the middle ground. Duke’s Basketball Program, despite its deceiving non-conference schedule, is still a serious contender. Without further adieu, I will break out the Steckerbrett on my Enigma and begin deciphering.

Before one can fully understand the current state of Duke Basketball, one must take into account the personnel Duke lost from a year ago. JJ Redick and Shelden Williams were arguably the best inside-outside combination in all of college basketball. JJ’s unbelievable three point shooting ability coupled with Williams’s knack for the boards gave Duke probably the best one-two punch in college basketball. When those two graduated, they left a huge void. Then, factor in the loss of the team’s top perimeter defender in Dockery and you have a huge hole to fill. This year’s Duke team is a talented group who will only get better as the season progresses.

Duke’s squad is a team of contrasts. On one hand, Duke statistically has the least productive offense in all of the ACC. On the other, Duke is holding its opponents to conference leading scoring numbers. Clearly, these figures are a product of inexperience. But, these numbers are deceiving. In no way is Duke’s squad the least dynamic offense in the ACC. Moreover, Duke’s defense has some glaring holes which need to be mended before the tournament. The stats are not entirely reflective of Duke’s actual performances on both ends of the floor.

Duke’s young core is only beginning to mature offensively. When the aforementioned duo of Redick and Williams graduated, Duke lost the focal points of the frontcourt and backcourt. Disregarding the difficult situation Roy Williams faced when his top seven scorers left, Coach K’s project this year is arguably the most difficult ACC rebuilding project in recent memory.

Specifically, Duke’s team is beginning to develop chemistry. They have the top three point shooting percentage in the ACC- this shows that they can survive without JJ at the helm. Young teams such as this one are constantly in search of go-to-guys and role players in the frontcourt and backcourt. The good news is that Duke seems to have such solid role players who are capable scorers- David McClure, Brian Zoubek, Lance Thomas and Gerald Henderson seem to come to mind first. Although McClure and Henderson have bright futures ahead, they do not possess the same experience that countless Duke role players have had in the past. I cannot picture McClure hitting a clutch three at a critical juncture in the game as Lee Melchionni did so many times a year ago- in fact he missed an open attempt late yesterday that could have given Duke the win or at the very least provided momentum for his club. The same can be said for Henderson- whose long range shooting is still a work in progress. Despite his lack of three point shooting accuracy, Gerald can hit pull up shots at key points in the game. Regardless of whether or not they are adept outside shooters, both are still quality role players. Brian Zoubek and Lance Thomas play alongside McRoberts in the frontcourt. Thomas is a tenacious rebounder whose aggressive nature provides him with plenty of opportunities at the free throw line. Zoubek can provide instant scoring in limited minutes.

The real problem with the Duke offense rests in the hands of the go-to guys. Some have questioned, “Who are Duke’s go-to-guys?” Two players have separated themselves from the rest- Josh McRoberts and DeMarcus Nelson. Nelson hit a clutch three towards the end of regulation to send last night’s Virginia Tech game to overtime. Duke looked for McRoberts down the stretch as well. But, poor decisions by both guys contributed to the Virginia Tech loss. Another key player is Greg Paulus, who needs to distribute the ball as a leader on this club. Thus far, he is doing his best Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde impression.

On the defensive end of the floor, there are some areas that this Duke team excels in and others that could use a great deal of improvement. Duke’s perimeter defense is stifling. These young players clog the passing lanes and play characteristic Coach K man-to-man defense. They work very hard on the defensive end and display a great deal of intensity; Coach K obviously cultivates this mentality in his practices. The glaring weakness that I have noted on several occasions is the lackadaisical defense against slashers. If this Duke squad can develop better help defense, they can be one of the most dangerous teams in the country. After watching both the Kent St. and Virginia Tech games, several common difficulties struck me. At times, Duke players fail to hedge when they are playing man-to-man defense. I am sure this gives Coach K a headache: he designates the matchups before the game for a reason. When players switch off, they become susceptible to mismatches. Also, whenever an athletic player capable of creating his own shot gets by a Duke player, team defense tends to break down. A prime example of this failure was the matchup between Greg Paulus and Dominic James. James, who is normally known for his scoring, tallied seven assists against the Duke defense and his team shot 46% from the field. Similar situations occurred against Kent St. and Virginia Tech and I feel that an analysis of these games would provide a great deal of insight into this team’s strengths and weaknesses. In the first contest, Duke played poorly, but came away with a win. Against Virginia Tech- however- they mounted a comeback, yet came up short in the end.

I’ll start with an analysis up until the half. Duke was leading 39-38. Omni Smith, who came into this game averaging just over 11 points per contest, was on fire from behind the three point line. Haminn Quaintance served as a point forward- dishing to his teammates virtually at will. For Duke, Scheyer was on fire from behind the three point arc. He had 15 points in the first half alone. McRoberts did not really demonstrate his leadership ability. He forced some passes and lacked confidence scoring the ball. On the defensive end, he battled and blocked three shots. But, his help defense left Kent St. players open inside. Paulus seemed lost on defense and did not put forth the necessary effort on either end.

The second half was more of the same. This time, Omni Smith seemed to be creating off the dribble and off of screens because Quaintance was sitting on the bench. His acrobatic moves single handedly kept Kent St. in the game. Duke could not stop him on the drive. With six minutes left to go in the game, something clicked for Duke’s stars on the offensive end. In a sequence of plays, McRoberts hit a jump hook, DeMarcus Nelson nailed a three, and McRoberts tipped a shot in to put Duke up by 6 with 3:52 left in the game. Smith hit a few mid range shots and got Kent St. back in the game. Finally, with 90 seconds left, Paulus stripped Smith on a key possession. He made both of his free throws and sealed the win. This clutch play down the stretch is what Duke expects from Greg Paulus. McRoberts had arguably the best game of his career in the second half. He dominated by scoring 11 of his 19 points and chipped in with six blocks, six rebounds, four assists, and four steals for the game. DeMarcus Nelson added 18 points.

The Virginia Tech game developed in a similar way. Paulus started the game with 4 turnovers in 6 minutes of play. He was promptly benched after that display. He passed behind cutting players and threw floating passes which were easily picked off. McRoberts also turned the ball over several times, just as he had in the Kent St. game. Nelson provided the needed leadership with 12 points on 5-7 shooting. Virginia Tech was up at the half however. Jamon Gordan played like a man on a mission. He scored in a variety of ways. Similarly, Coleman Collins was a serious threat early on.

In the second half, Gordan virtually took over. His penetration of the Duke defense left guys like Dowdell and Washington wide opened for shots. McRoberts came alive in the second half. He used his solid footwork and nice handles to draw fouls- he was just so explosive. At the 16:57 mark, DeMarcus Nelson nailed a three pointer. Jamon Gordan responded. But, a critical moment came with 14:05 left in the game. Nelson committed his fourth personal foul and was sent to the bench. The player who led this team throughout the game was now sitting on the bench. McRoberts came through with two defenders covering him. He nonchalantly drop stepped through the double team to score the bucket and draw the foul. With time running out, Gordan nailed a desperation three point shot. Paulus then made a nice pass to Henderson to tie the game. He could have passed to Scheyer in the corner for a wide open three point shot, but he chose the easy bucket- finally, a nice decision down the stretch. A nice pass to McRoberts gave Duke its first lead of the night. Dowdell then went on to hit a pair of shots off the dribble. McRoberts drew Deron Washington’s fourth foul and missed two critical free throws. Duke missed five straight free throw attempts. Finally, McClure broke that streak after drawing a foul on a box out. Two unbelievable plays helped Virginia Tech sustain its lead. First, Gordan slipped and made a shot virtually from the ground. Then Washington got the ball on the fast break and literally jumped over Greg Paulus, who was trying to draw the charge. After a Henderson pull up jumper late in the game, Duke was forced to foul. After Virginia Tech free throws, DeMarcus Nelson handled the ball and calmly hit the game tying three pointer with a roughly 20 seconds remaining. Tough Duke defense forced the game to overtime. In the extra period, Gordan broke the tie with a floater. On the next possession, McClure missed a wide open shot from the top of the key. Duke fouled Tech’s Vasallo, who hit one of two free throws. So Duke is down by two points and has a chance to tie or win the game. McRoberts grabbed the rebound and threw the ball to Paulus, who was idly staring in a different direction. He bobble it for a few seconds, dribbled the length of the court and took and ill-advised three point shot which was emphatically blocked by Deron Washington. Virginia Tech spoiled Duke’s ACC home opener streak and avenged Dockery’s miracle shot a year ago.

Why exactly did Duke lose this game and nearly fall to Kent St? Well, the key is bringing the intensity from the beginning of the game. McRoberts looked timid on the offensive end in both of these contests. He needs to assert himself early on as a leader on both ends of the floor. His defense was impeccable in both of these games- his length, mobility, and athleticism gives him a great advantage on that end of the floor. In order to hold a leadership position on this team, DeMarcus Nelson cannot afford to get in foul trouble early on. His experience and athleticism on both ends really help Duke’s perimeter defense. As for Greg Paulus, he needs to bring consistency and steady play night in and night out. Duke will not thrive with Scheyer at the point- he is most effective as a catch and shoot guy on the perimeter. Paulus has to focus and allow the game to come to him- he cannot make poor decisions down the stretch and cost his team the game as he did against Virginia Tech. The 22 turnovers and Virginia Tech’s 20 points off of those turnovers cost Duke the game. It seems that Duke’s players do not have the quickest foot speed on the defensive end. This explains why help defense has been a problem. I can recall countless instances where McRoberts had the rotate over to stop a guard who got past his man. Then, that same perimeter player passed to a wide open big man; it is a vicious cycle. The second reason for the loss was free throw shooting. This young squad failed to make its free throws down the stretch. McRoberts hit 50% from the line in both of these contests. This cannot happen if Duke wants to win. They shot 64% from the line as a team and missed some free ones late in the game, which could have given them the win. Several other key players will really decide the fate of Duke’s basketball program this year. Jon Scheyer has the potential to really carry his team, but he cannot force the issue. For example, he drew a foul early in the Virginia Tech game on a three point shot. It probably should not have been called because he leaned into the defender; regardless, he cannot take that kind of shot late in the game. Henderson rarely displays his athletic ability in a game time situation- he often settles for his midrange game. Gerald is a poor defender at this point, but he has the raw tools to excel in this aspect of the game. I love the intensity that Lance Thomas brings on a regular basis, but he needs to stay out of foul trouble. Because the turnovers and missed free throws are the main reasons Duke lost, I am optimistic about this club. Nelson and McRoberts are taking on leadership roles, Scheyer is providing outside shooting, Paulus has shown some flashes of brilliance, and Duke’s role players are playing within the system. The Virginia Tech defeat is only going to serve as a motivator for this club- they played poorly and lost. As a young team, there is always room for growth. I expect this Duke Blue Devils club to be one of the deadliest come tournament time because I know that the combination of Coach K’s discipline and competitive ACC play will have these players prepared for a serious run in March.

First Post: My minor league fantasy team commentary

Finally, my first post. I'll try to update with articles I wrote prior to the creation of this blog.

Here was my minor league fantasy squad, the Greenland Purple Frogs, with commentary on my selected players:

Pick #1
Name: Marcus Brown
born: April 3, 1974

He is arguably the top American overseas right now. He consistently makes All Euroleague squads and is arguably the top guard not in the NBA right now.

-Excellent long range shooter: one of the best in the world
-Nice perimeter scorer
-Nice slasher
-Good passer
-Solid defensively
-Excellent leader
-Steps his game up in big time situations and has been especially successful CSKA in Euroleague

-A bit short at the 2 guard
-Probably could improve a little bit on defense

Pick #2
Name: Aqqualyuk Zyng
born: -

No Photo Available

-local product
-6'8 with shot blocking ability
-can steal
-decent three point shooter with range

-no professional experience
-merely a publicity stunt pick
-probable misspelling of name by me

Pick #3
Name: Horace Jenkins
born: October 14, 1974

-has a great deal of experience in Europe and some in the NBA
-extremely athletic
-explosive dunker for his height
-nice passer
-great slasher/scorer

-somewhat past his prime
-a bit on the small side

Pick #4
Name: Michael Hicks
born: 1976 (not sure exact date)

-World Championship experience where he was the leader of his Panamanian squad
-Excellent at slashing to the hoop
-strong player who thrives getting past guys
-Has a great deal of experience playing in Italy and France
-Solid rebounder for a guard

-Not a great shooter
-Undersized and cannot double at the point

Pick #5
Name: Alvin Young
born: December 11, 1975

-Tons of experience
-One of the top scoring guards overseas
-Solid shooter
-Nice amount of steals
-Good from long distance

-The classic case of a SG in a PG's body
-No great passing ability

Pick #6
Name: Troy Bell
born: November 10, 1980

-Great scoring guard
-Can shoot
-Can drive to the basket
-NBA experience
-Great leader

-Scoring PG
-Not a great passer
-Streaky shooter

Pick #7
Name: Thomas Hamilton
born: April 3, 1975

-Enormous 7 footer who clogs the middle
-Shaq-like size
-solid shot blocker and defensive force
-decent post moves

-Extremely slow

Pick #8
Name: Terrell Bell
born: -

No Photo Available

-Great height (6'11)
-Excellent experience overseas
-Solid rebounder
-Defensive Presence

-Not much of a scorer

Pick #9
Name: Rodrick Rhodes
born: September 24, 1973

-great scorer
-capable of playing and defending SG/SF
-NBA experience
-coaching mindset (now is working as coach)
-can beat his man off the dribble
-excellent defender

-a little selfish at times
-not a great jump shooter

Pick #10
Name: Cedrick Banks
born: December 16, 1981

-Excellent dead on three point shooter
-Excellent shooter in general
-Nice fadeaway shot
-Good rebounder for his size
-Solid passer
-Good defensively
-Nice slashing ability
-Solid athleticism

-Sometimes streaky and shows up at random points
-Undersized 2 guard

Round 2 Picks:
Jon Stefansson

He has excellent height for a PG. He can shoot the ball and has solid fundamentals. He is pretty athletic and is capable of playing both guard spots. He can distribute the ball. Jon is relatively young and thus has room to improve.

Darnell Robinson
No Pic Available

He has great height for a big man. Darnell's strengths are typical for a top ranking former college big man- he is a great rebounder and shot blocker. His offensive ability isn't half bad either, but he thrives on the defensive end of the floor- snatching rebounds and blocking shots.

Zoran Viskovic

Zoran has a great deal of experience overseas. He brings interior height and length to my squad. Zoran is solid defensively as well and is an adept rebounder.

Terrence Todd

Todd is a solid shooter with a very nice midrange game. He can handle the ball and possesses a unique slashing ability. He is a typical SG stuck in a PGs body. He has been molded to play the PG position his last year in college and has been successful due in large part to his solid court vision.

Justin Gainey

Justin was one of the most clutch players in the history of the ACC and maybe in all of college basketball. He was a constant winner that hit shot after shot with the game on the line. I remember when he single handedly scored over 5 points (give or take) with less than 30 seconds left. He takes over games in the clutch and wills his team to win. He is a very steady passer as well. I consider him a Reggie Miller type player for this team. (he's not a star though, I would consider him the PG version of Robert Horry- in other words, a clutch role player)

Abe Edwards
No Pic Available

At one point, he was a top JUCO prospect. He is a small, steady PG who will bring a lot of energy to this squad.

Zakee Smith

This guy is the consummate PG who is a great leader and passer. He is a solid role player to have on the squad.

Guus Steens
No Pic Available

Has some solid height for a big man and is fundamentally sound. His experience overseas will help this team succeed.

Tony Irons

He is a solid three point shooter at the PG position. He can pass the ball and lead his squad to decisive victories.

Kelvin Davis

He is a great defender that plays with a lot of heart and intensity. He's also the oldest professional basketball player.

Round 3 Picks:
Michael Ford

He is a consumate PG who is also an excellent and capable scorer. He can lead a team in many different areas.

Leon Brisport

He is capable of playing either the center or PF spots. He shoots an excellent percentage from the field and is a double double waiting to happen.

Jakob Sigurdarson

He is an excellent shooter that is capable of playing the two or the three. He can also pass.

Derick Andrew

He is a typical combo guard who can play some PG when called upon. He is a solid but streaky shooter who can slash. He is also a decent passer.

Currie Yutzy

Currie is a solid guard who has minor league experience and can fill up the scoring column in a hurry. He can lead his team to victory even when he is not the number one or two option. This was seen last year when he played for Colorado in the IBL.

Jason Wright
No Pic Available

Jason is a steady PG who can lead a team to victory with his outside shooting and dishing. He is a smart player and thus is the type of role player my team needs.

Kenny Minor

He plays with a lot of heart and intensity. Kenny is a tenacious defender who is one of the best defensive PGs under 5'10.

Vladimir Ryzhov
No Pic Available

He is a versatile SF that is capable of stepping out to hit the three and driving inside. He has solid experience and fundamentals. He also played with Michael Hicks and this could build chemistry.

James Lattimore
No Pic Available

James is a former NJ high school legend that never played college ball. But, he is one of the most athletic PGs around. Although he is far under 6 feet, he is lightning speed and dunking ability make up for this. He can shoot from the perimeter and is all over the court with his hustle plays.

Lance Takaki

Lance is an undersized PG who plays with a lot of heart. His leadership ability will be key in the minutes he receives and on the bench, where he could act as a mentor to younger players.