Monday, November 30, 2009

My Top 25 11/30

1. Kansas- They are the undisputed best team in the country with a tremendous amount of talent all around. They were tested by Memphis, but remain the team to beat.
2. West Virginia- This team should climb the charts simply because they were playing underhanded for a while and were still blowing teams out. With Devin Ebanks in the game, the Mountaineers are playing on another level.
3. Texas- They probably have the talent to be the far and away favorite this year. But, for some reason- much like last year- they are prone to sloppy plays and mental lapses.
4. Purdue- This experienced squad keeps on winning, with an impressive display against top ranked Tennessee under their belt. They are finally beginning to get over the hump, and become an elite squad.
5. Michigan St.- The Spartans have had several games now where they have played poor basketball for part of a game. Right now, this team does not look like the championship runner-up squad from a year ago. But, you can bet they will be ranked higher by year’s end.
6. Villanova- With several nice, albeit sloppy wins under their belt, Villanova is progressing nicely at this point in the season. Expect them to only get better and seriously contend for a title later in the year once their slashing offense and interior defense begin to gel more.
7. Kentucky- This team has the most young talent in the country and could very well contend for the title later in the year. Right now, though, they do not yet have the chemistry of the top squads.
8. Duke- Like the Duke teams of recent years, this squad continues to remain in the top 10 with some nice play. However, their dependence on the perimeter shot might hurt them later in the year.
9. Syracuse- As of today, Cuse looks like a title contender with their tremendous length in their zone defense and excellent interior play. However, expect them to move down a couple spots by year’s end, as other teams catch up to them in terms of chemistry.
10. Tennessee- The Vols returned everyone from a year ago, and again look to be one of the elite teams in college basketball. Their experience and the improvement of several key contributors from a year ago make them a dangerous squad.
11. Florida- If Syracuse is the surprise team of this year, the Gators are not far behind. With an impressive win over Michigan St., Florida is looming far under the radar at this point in the season. This team has a wealth of athletes and, as such, their defense has been spectacular.
12. Gonzaga- After an impressive overtime victory against Cincinnati, it is clear that the Zags are once again a serious contender. They are tougher than in years past and can battle on both ends of the floor.
13. North Carolina- While most expected big things out of North Carolina this season, the Tar Heels have a fatal flaw: the point guard slot. While Larry Drew II is a good player by most standards, he could still use some assistance feeding the post. Expect this team to be limited by Drew’s play.
14. Washington- With one of the best guard tandems in the country, the Huskies once again are going to finish towards the top of the Pac-10. A gritty home win against Wright St. solidified this position for now.
15. Cincinnati- This is one of the toughest teams, even by Big East standards. They rebound the ball with the efficiency of former Bob Huggins’ teams. Expect them to be a surprise in the Big East if they can limit the turnovers and play under control.
16. Portland- This is probably the most deserved spot in the top 25. After running UCLA out of the building in the 76 Classic, they concluded their run by defeating a ranked Minnesota squad. With such deadly accuracy beyond the arc, look for the Pilots to seriously contend for the WCC title.
17. UNLV- Most evaluators have not examined the Rebels team that year in and year out finishes towards the top of the Mountain West conference. After defeating Louisville a year ago, the Rebels followed this win up with an impressive repeat performance. They play extremely hard and should catch many teams off guard as the season continues to unfold.
18. Minnesota- This is a solid team that will only get better as they add suspended players. With excellent experience in the backcourt, look for the Gophers to finish towards the top of the Big 10 standings.
19. Oklahoma St.- The Cowboys are yet another team that no one seems to be talking about. They return an NBA player in James Anderson, who can fill it up from anywhere on the court. The only question mark that still remains is at the point guard slot.
20. Butler- The Bulldogs have slipped after sloppy early play. I would be shocked- though- if this team finishes lower than they did a year ago.
21. Texas A&M- This feisty Aggies club has defeated both Clemson and Minnesota already. Look for them to have an excellent season in the Big 12.
22. Clemson- Despite losing to A&M, this team rebounded against Butler in a down-to-the-wire battle. They play tough defense and are strong inside.
23. Georgetown- After a close call against Temple, the Hoyas continue to win against mediocre competition. Only the Big East schedule can determine if this team is actually a contender.
24. Louisville- Despite their comeback loss to UNLV, the Cards demonstrated gritty team defense, which will allow them to remain competitive in virtually any contest.
25. Pittsburgh- Even though Texas handed them a huge loss, the Panthers kept it close throughout most of the game. Once starters Gilbert Brown and Jermaine Dixon return, look for this team to show much improvement.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Big East Preseason Preview Part 1

In part one of this three part installment, I outline the teams at the very top of my Big East rankings.

1. Villanova- Following an impressive run to the Final Four, I predict that our Villanova Wildcats- as some polls have speculated- will sit atop the Big East standings this season. Coach Jay Wright has done a tremendous job assembling a team that fits our usual dynamic- a gritty, guard-oriented squad capable of shutting teams down on the defensive end.

Strengths: There are many positive signs coming into this season. Because they are loaded in the backcourt, look for Nova to- at times- utilize the four guard offense of year’s past. Team captain Scottie Reynolds returns for another year at the helm. Just as he made improvements in the past focusing on his jump shooting and shot selection, he has continued to harness other facets of his game in route to a future professional career. Specifically, Scottie is physically faster and stronger than he has ever been. Fellow backcourt mate Corey Fisher also seems to have made significant strides in his development after a summer playing for the US World University Games team. He seems more poised and under control, having faced some of the top team defenses in his age bracket. Corey Stokes, another returning contributor from last year’s Final Four squad, will look to step away from the three point line to display his newfound versatility. And, in spite of his semester long suspension, Reggie Redding should bring his senior leadership and continue progressing as a heady defender. Look for two impact freshman guards to develop over the course of the season. Dominic Cheek should work his way into the starting rotation and could challenge for the All-Big East freshman team. While he may not receive immediate playing time, Maalik Wayns’s hard work in practice should earn him a spot in the rotation.
In the frontcourt, Yarou should be considered one of the best young big men in the nation by year’s end. He is the frontcourt player that Villanova has been sorely lacking throughout Jay Wright’s tenure- one with NBA size and athleticism. Also, look for teammate Antonio Pena to play more on the perimeter this season. Finally, freshman Isaiah Armwood is a tremendous athlete that will be on Villanova highlight reels for years to come.

Possible Concerns: Despite being undersized, Dante Cunningham’s experience and work ethic were invaluable a year ago. His intensity and presence in the paint will surely be missed. While Villanova’s backcourt should be improved from a year ago, there are less frontcourt options. Against bigger, NBA caliber athletes, Villanova’s four guard lineups have historically had some difficulties. And with an inexperienced Yarou anchoring Nova in the paint, foul trouble is a legitimate concern.

2. West Virginia- Bob Huggins is one of the most successful coaches in a conference littered with historical greats. From watching any Huggins-coached team, it becomes clear that the toughness that he preaches in the locker room is exuded in his players’ physicality on the court. This year’s squad is no different, boasting arguably the deepest team he has had as the Mountaineer’s head coach. While a suspension and injuries plagued a tournament bound West Virginia team a year ago, lead guards Darryl Bryant and Joe Mazzulla will finally see action on the court as WVU’s point guard duo. This West Virginia squad is extremely close to the top ranking, with a loaded roster from top to bottom.

Strengths: West Virginia’s starting lineup is packed with athletes. From probable first team all Big East Selection Devin Ebanks to much improved forward Desean Butler, WVU has a one-two punch capable of challenging any team in the country. Look for Ebanks to play stronger inside and demonstrate a nice midrange game. Butler, on the other hand, will probably spend more time on the perimeter this year in an effort to woo scouts. Rounding out the returning frontcourt is experienced big man Wellington Smith, who can score inside or out and block shots in the paint. Newcomers Dan Jennings and Deniz Kilicli will provide considerable girth on the block and should receive immediate playing time.
In the backcourt, WVU has two capable point guards in Truck Bryant and Joe Mazzulla. Mazzulla will probably get the starting nod after significantly improving his jump shot in the offseason. With the loss of Alex Ruoff, the Mountaineers desperately needed long range shooters. Enter Casey Mitchell, the top JUCO shooter in the country. His dynamic scoring presence should make an immediate impact for WVU, probably earning him the newcomer of the year honor. Throw in top 50 shooting guard recruit Dalton Pepper, and Huggins more than compensated for any shooting holes he may have had.

Possible Concerns: The greatest concern I have with WVU is with their chemistry. Despite the impressive depth at virtually every position, WVU will have to come together as a team- which is easier said than done for a team littered with newcomers and players absent a season ago. While I expect Mazzulla to make his impact felt from the beginning of the season, it is going to take some time for his teammates to gel with him. Moreover, interior defense might be a concern if WVU is forced to match up with some power post players. Also, look for Mitchell and Pepper to have some difficulty adjusting defensively in Big East play.

3. Pittsburgh- Don’t be too shocked when you read that Pittsburgh once again will challenge for a Big East title. But how can they do this? Dejuan Blair, Sam Young, and Levance Fields are all gone from a team that reached the Elite Eight- only succumbing to Scottie Reynold’s late-second heroics. Well the answer is that Jamie Dixon is not only one of the most underrated coaches in the country, but he specifically does a tremendous job recruiting. Dixon plugs the right type of prospects into his system in order to fill holes. Thus, it can be said that Pitt does not rebuild, they simply retool.

Strengths: With one of the best point guards in the country gone, it is difficult to say that Pitt’s greatest strength comes at this position. However, I expect Field’s heir, Ashton Gibbs, to have a breakout season. While Gibbs is a capable passer, I also believe that he will score a lot more than Levance Fields ever could. His deadly efficiency from long range will be a key to the Panther’s continued success. Over the summer, Gibbs gained a great deal of experience playing for the USA Under-21 squad, leading the team in minutes. While admittedly Pitt does have some inexperience at the point guard position, they have two other players who are capable of filling in as the lead guard and distributing the ball. Senior transfer Chase Adams (5’10) was the top defender in the Summit Conference a year ago, tallying an average of 2.7 steals per game- good for eighth in the nation. He should fit in well with this hard-nosed defensive squad. And, redshirt freshman Travon Woodall (5’11) could possibly earn some playing time as well. In high school, he led St. Anthony’s, the top team in the nation at the time. Rounding out the backcourt are veterans Brad Wanamaker and starter Jermaine Dixon. Wanamaker is a serviceable defender who can score on occasion. And, Dixon can really fill it up from the perimeter and get out in transition.
Three incoming freshman should make an immediate impact inside and receive playing time right away. Small forward Lamar Patterson will look to replace Sam Young’s production. While I do expect him to require a period of adjustment, Patterson is physically ready to compete in Big East play with his NBA-ready, 6’5, 220 pound frame. Lamar is savvy with the ball in his hands- he is capable of shooting lights out from the perimeter, or seeing the floor and making a remarkable pass. Face-up big man Dante Taylor is probably Pitt’s most prized recruit. Not only is he physically strong enough to bang down low, but he is also a capable perimeter shooter. I surely expect this versatile big man to earn All Big East Newcomer honors. Finally, under hyped forward J.J. Richardson should receive considerable playing time as an aggressive, undersized, back-to-the-basket big man.

Possible Concerns: Pitt’s frontcourt is much weaker than it was a year ago. I honestly do not expect Pitt to come close to the level of dominance on the glass that they achieved a year ago. Dejuan Blair’s rebounding efficiency was unprecedented in the college game. However, the physicality that Jamie Dixon instills in his players should always give them an edge. While they will miss Blair’s considerable muscle inside, look for experienced role player Gary McGhee to crash the glass this year alongside talented freshman Dante Taylor. Foul trouble could be an issue though, with three less experienced frontcourt players- Taylor, McGhee, and Richardson- receiving the vast majority of minutes.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

NCAA tournament preview

I will be previewing every first round game.

Pittsburgh vs East Tennessee St.

This should be the best 1-16 matchup in the entire NCAA tournament. ETSU really should have been seeded lower because they have the offensive firepower to compete. Courtney Pigram should give Pitt some problems and Mike Smith is a versatile player. With that said, Pitt is just too big inside with Dejuan Blair and Sam Young. ETSU has no one who can match up with the physicality of this Panther squad. It should be a fairly easy win, but the score is not indicative of just how dangerous this midmajor is.
Victor: Pitt

Oklahoma St. vs. Tennessee

Florida St. vs. Wisconsin

This should be one of the more interesting first round games. It features a complete contrast in styles. Wisconsin plays slow, grind-it-out basketball, while Florida St. has a high octane offense. While normally this would be in consideration for an upset, the Seminoles are a more than capable team in the half court. They are able to penetrate and certainly can hit their shots from behind the arc. Singleton and Douglass should fill it up. Alabi is really emerging as an inside force and Leuer and co should have their hands full.
Victor: Florida St.

Xavier vs. Portland St.

This game should be a three point shoot out. If Dante Jackson can handle the ball and Xavier can control the glass, they should come out on top. Jeremiah Dominguez and co. should give this team some headaches along the way though. However, if Xavier is able to penetrate inside and get easy shots from Love, Brown and Anderson, this could be more of a blowout than most would anticipate. Portland St. is not great at defending on the perimeter, so they could allow a team like Xavier to get back in the game, or push a lead further out of reach. Their post defense is also poor. All and all, Jackson and Holloway's abilities to control the tempo of this game and defend on the perimeter will truly determine how well the Vikings fair.
Victor: Xavier


When watching UCLA, you notice that they are a tough defensive team that rarely allows easy three point shots. However, it seems like they are vulnerable to penetration, they tend to slack on the perimeter. This is exactly the what VCU and Eric Maynor will exploit. Also, UCLA tends to get most of their offense off of screen and jump shot plays. Also, they use the high ball screen and attempt to role to the basket. This UCLA team is somewhat effective in transition and they have many options that can catch fire from the perimeter- including Roll, Shipp, and Dragovic. If Holiday and Collison can stop Maynor's attack, this should be a long night for VCU. While this may be the case, UCLA's commitment to man-to-man defense may prove to be a critical error in stopping the VCU attack. When you examine the common denominator amongst their losses, it becomes clear that they lose when Maynor shoots poorly and when they face teams with large, physical big men. Although Sanders faired well against Blake Griffin, the focus on Blake allowed Crocker to get into a rhythm. Other losses were to ODU and Nevada, where Gerald Lee and Luke Babbitt had excellent games respectively. Because UCLA does not have such a dominant presence inside, VCU should not struggle as much. Aboya should have a big game, but he is the sole weapon inside. In their previous contest, VCU shut down Darryl Monroe, giving him no room to score. I expect VCU to be patient on offense and stifle UCLA defensively by not letting them get into a rhythm. (by intercepting their screen and role passes)
Victor: VCU

Villanova vs. American

American has some solid players that can slash to the basket. Their strengths are in their outside shooting and perimeter play. Garrison Carr is able to create his own offense and should be a difficult threat to contain for the Villanova defense. Look for American's guards to attack the Nova defense and draw some fouls. I expect Nova's guards to have some open three point shots. If they can hit these attempts, they should be able to pull away virtually at home. Also, this must occur because it will extend the American defense and open up the game for Anderson, Clark, and Cunningham. This American team is a tough squad capable of upsetting a 3 seed. But, Villanova is a rising team, who is streaking at just the right time. Look for Corey Fisher's ability to penetrate as a major key in this game. Defensively, Nova's defense is tremendous at times. It should be very difficult for American to hit perimeter jump shots. All in all, American is a fundamentally sound team that should keep this game fairly close- but I highly doubt there will be an upset.
Victor: Villanova

Texas vs. Minnesota

When considering who will come out on top in this contest, one must consider the superior frontcourt play of Texas. While Ralph Sampson III is a rising young star, he must contend with a frontline of James, Pittman, and Atchley. He does possess some promise, but Texas's bigs are simply too strong inside. They will outmuscle the improving freshman and should dominate on the glass. On the offensive end, Lawrence Westbrook is a dynamic scorer that can score in a variety of ways. He is effective off the dribble, but can also distribute the ball. Minnesota is a great defensive team that clamps down on the passing lanes. On the offensive end, they are not a great three point shooting team, but they can hit midrange jumpers and are patient in looking for the best shot available. Texas may be able to exploit Damion James as a pick and roll player because Minnesota's defense tends to converge on the hedge. If AJ Abrams can hit his shots and control the pace of the game, Texas should win in a fairly low scoring contest.
Victor: Texas

Duke vs. Binghamton

This Bearcat team is a nightmare matchup for the Bluedevils. They play a four guard lineup and are extremely athletic on the perimeter. DJ Rivera is a tremendous scorer who can slash to the hoop. He uses his length to separate himself from defenders. Point guard Tiki Mayben has been tremendous controlling the tempo and hitting shots. If this team can somehow outrebound Duke, they should at least make it competitive. Do not look for this game to be as close as the Belmont contest a year ago. That is because Duke is much improved this season. Singler and Lance Thomas should hurt this team inside. And, Gerald Henderson should be a difficult player for this team to guard. Look for Duke to be challenged early, but pull ahead in the end.
Victor: Duke

Louisville vs. Morehead St.

Kenneth Faried is one of the best rebounding players in the country and few have heard of him. He should challenge Clark and Samuals inside. However, Morehead has a tough time playing controlled basketball, failing to turn the ball over. Louisville on the other hand, is arguably the best defensive team in the country. Not exactly a fair matchup.
Victor: Louisville

Ohio St. vs. Siena

Ohio St. and Siena both have lengthy players on the perimeter that can cause headaches. Siena is a very patient team offensively that make the extra pass and are excellent at spacing the floor. Kenny Hasbrouck is coming off of a minor injury, so he may not be as effective as usual. Edwin Ubiles and Rossiter are crafty inside. Watch for these two to be the X factors. Watch for Moore to really push the ball and catch Ohio St. off guard. While Siena is probably the better defensive team all around, able to clog the passing lanes and collect breakaway steals. But, Ohio St. has more muscle down low in Mullens and Lauderdale. Lately, the Saints have done a nice job collapsing on big men and defending in the paint. If Diebler and Turner catch fire, it could be a long night for Siena. However, look for Siena to play the more patient basketball and clamp down on defense. Ohio St. may come out a bit anxious, and expect Siena to take advantage of this.
Victor: Siena

Utah vs. Arizona

While Arizona possesses the bigger names, they also make some silly mistakes and have a tendency of blowing big leads. Look for Shawn Green and Lawrence Borha to really hit their perimeter shots. Luke Nevill may be too much inside at 7'1. His matchup with Jordan Hill will determine who wins this contest. If Utah can control the ball and hit their three point bombs, they should come out on top.
Victor: Utah

Wake Forest vs. Cleveland St.

Many people expect Cleveland St. to pull off this upset. Cedric Jackson is a solid guard to work around, and if he can shoot the basketball, Cleveland St. is a very efficient team. However, they have not gone up against such a lengthy athletic squad. Look for the combination of Al Farouq Aminu and James Johnson to shut down J'Nathan Bullock and render the Cleveland St. offense largely ineffective.
Victor: Wake Forest

West Virginia vs. Dayton

Both of these teams are capable defensively and can get to the basket. Desean Butler vs. Chris Wright should be the highlighted matchup. Look for Butler to catch fire from the perimeter and outscore this hard nosed, defensive Flyers squad. The difference maker in this contest is certainly emerging freshman Devin Ebanks. His length and scoring inside should really hurt Dayton. If Ruoff can hit his perimeter shots and shut down Dayton's dribble penetration through Bob Huggins' tough defense, WVU should come out on top.
Victor: West Virginia

Kansas vs. North Dakota St.

Kansas is one of the most talented young teams in the country. They certainly have the advantage inside with the Morris twins and Cole Aldrich. Lucas Moormann cannot matchup with these talented players. However, North Dakota St. is one of the best upset picks because they shoot lights out from the field. Ben Woodside is extremely quick and may give even Sherron Collins a hard time. Add to that the fact that Bill Self teams have a tendency of falling first round. Moreover, the Bison will have many of their fans making the trek to see this squad. If North Dakota St. can play any semblance of defense inside and can collect rebounds, they may surprise Kansas in a thriller.
Victor: North Dakota St.

Boston College vs. USC

Al Skinner's club is one of the most hot-and-cold teams in the country. They have defeated UNC, but they also lost to Harvard. That makes this contest one of the most difficult to predict considering USC is one of the hotter teams in the nation. At times, Boston College plays out of control basketball. Their guards have a tendency to force the issue. For example, when Tyrese Rice is not shooting well, he will take some questionable shots. Burly guard Rakim Sanders should be the key perimeter spark that can lead this team past USC. USC should have some trouble defensively against the flex, an offensive scheme which they probably have not seen. On the other end, Demar Derosan If Trapani and Sanders can hit their outside shots, they should come out on top. Southern is going to have to play some tough defense on Taj Gibsen as well.
Victor: Boston College

Michigan St. vs. Robert Morris

While Jeremy Chappell is one of the most underrated guards in the country, Michigan St. is simply too fast and tough on the perimeter. Lucas and Lucious are electric in the open floor, and they should easily defeat this team by throwing the ball inside. Look for Suton to have a big night.
Victor: Michigan St.

UConn vs. Chattanooga

While Chattanooga does have some serious perimeter scoring threats, UConn is much bigger inside and should dominate them on the glass. Look for AJ Price to initiate the offense and defeat this team by a large margin.
Victor: UConn

BYU vs. Texas A&M

It is difficult to defeat a tough Mountain West opponent like BYU two years in a row. Lee Cummard is a matchup nightmare for Josh Carter and the rest of the Aggies defense. This Texas A&M squad has several weapons, but is not as solid inside as they were a year ago. Similarly, the loss of Trent Plaisted hurt for BYU. Forward Jonathan Tavernari should be the X factor in this matchup. The Aggies should have difficulty defending him.
Victor: BYU

Southland Semi Final: Texas A&M Corpus Christi vs. Stephen F. Austin

Game Summary:

This contest was a challenging one for the eventual Southland champs- the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks. Early in this contest, they played a helping zone, focusing their efforts on the interior defense. TAMCC had great size inside and exploited the efforts of Justin Reynolds and Demond Watt. Stephen F's high low spacing offense was fairly effective against the Corpus Christi defense. Both teams knocked down several shots early on, hitting a startling sixty percent from the field each. Akpan was a nice counter inside who fought for position inside. Coombs was able to shoot over Bell in the first half because of his tremendous size advantage. This could be a problem for the Lumberjacks in the tournament. The Islanders played a man-to-man defense throughout much of the first half, while switching to zone on a couple of instances. Walt Harris was able to hit some midrange shots down the stretch. But, Kevin Palmer countered with some late baskets of his own. Stephen F. hit some shots because they were patient on the offensive end. However, it was Corpus Christi's efficiency that kept this game close. Eric bell drew three offensive fouls in the first half alone. Perry Clark called for a 1-3-1 zone late in the game which caused some problems for the Lumberjacks. This could be a worrisome sign for their tournament aspirations.

In the second half, Watt continued to clean up on the glass on both ends of the floor. Matt Kingsley came out hitting shots from everywhere on the floor. Corpus Christi was able to take the momentum that they gained from the foul on the three point attempt as the half expired. Stephen F. Austin still played efficient basketball and was able to counter the Islanders' punches early. Both teams were fundamentally sound rebounding the ball and utilizing basketball other basketball skills. The Islanders have received many second chance points by employing their length in order to outwork the Lumberjacks inside. While they did mount a sizable six point lead, Texas A&M Corpus Christi was unable to really extend that margin. Bell again played some excellent defense, causing several Islanders players to travel after the catch. Coombs and Watt did not play as well in the second half as they did in the first. Kingsley, on the other hand, proved why he was the player of the year, by tying the game on a three point play. The Islanders missed on several easy . Both teams rarely turned the ball over and showed considerable poise against each other's hard nosed defenses. Stephen F. Austin is a poor free throw shooting team, and this could haunt them down the stretch. Kingsley hit a fadaway shot to reclaim the lead for the Lumberjacks. Alexander's outstanding block, stopping what would have been an easy layup attempt, really set the stage for the offense. Just to demonstrate how close this game was- at the three minute mark, there were eight ties in the game. Down the stretch, Kingsley completely took over the game- this was the difference in their win.

Prospects of Note:

Stephen F. Austin

Eric Bell- This diminutive point guard is a hard nosed defender that controls the game outside of being a standout scoring weapon. He is able to draw charges and move his feet on defense. On the offensive end, he can hit open three point shots and free throws, but he certainly plays within the system. While he is extremely aggressive on the defensive end, he is too small- at 5'2- to effectively block and alter shots once players pull up.

Josh Alexander- He is a lengthy shooter that can put the ball on the floor and attack the basket. He is a versatile player that can score in a variety of ways. Alexander does not have a great ball handling ability, which is why he probably will not make the leap to the NBA. Moreover, he shoots a rather low percentage from the field for such a scoring weapon. On the defensive end, he is able to guard taller players, but is not always as strong as some of the bigger forwards. While this was not one of his best games, Alexander may receive some looks from overseas scouts.

Matt Kingsley- He is the conference POY who scores in a variety of ways. He has several post moves, including a nice spin move involving a drop step. Matt is able to get very low post position and demonstrates nice fundamentals in this area of the game. Furthermore, he can step out and hit a midrange shot. On the defensive end, he does have some difficulty. Kingsley is not a great shot blocker and has some trouble laterally against bigger players. Because he can shoot the ball and is fairly effective with his back to the basket, scouts should give him a look at Portsmouth this year. At 6'9, he is not entirely undersized and has the skillset to be solid role player.

Walt Harris- Harris is a decent spot up shooter that attacked the basket on occasion. Defensively, he was rather effective, getting his hands in the passing lanes and trying to corral a steal.

Eddie Williams- He is one of Stephen F's more versatile players who is able to shoot off the dribble and create his own shot. He hit several key baskets against the zone and I would expect his offensive abilities to translate against Syracuse.

Texas A&M Corpus Christi

Demond Watt- Watt was extremely effective on the interior, scoring and defending Kingsley. He demonstrated a nice face up game which got him to the free throw line on several occasions. Watt is able to hit some easy inside shots and impact the game in a variety of ways- whether it be on defense or scoring on easy finish opportunities. He is able to be in the right place at the right time. Specifically, he possesses a nice drop step in his arsenal.

Shamar Coombs- This 6'1 guard was able to hit some outside shots. He is an intelligent player that can make nice decisions with the ball in his hands and hit the long ball as well. In the second half, he attacked the basket and posted up against the smaller Bell. Coombs demonstrated his basketball intellect on the defensive end as well, switching on several key plays down the stretch- really challenging the Lumberjacks.

Kevin Palmer- This wing did not put on a tremendous scoring display in the first half. However, he was effective defensively, utilizing his excellent length. Palmer is a dynamic, big guard that can hit shots and is capable of getting to the line. He is aggressive attacking the basket, with excellent body control. The ball runs through Palmer on the offensive end, and he is able to distribute the ball rather effectively, despite not being a true point guard. Overall, Palmer looks to be a potential Portsmouth Camp invite for the future. He is the most outstanding scorer in the conference and he can affect the game in a variety of ways.

Justin Reynolds- He demonstrated an ability to step out on the perimeter and hit the outside jumper. He seems to have improved his body strength from a year ago. Reynolds is an excellent athlete who needs to receive more touches and look to assert himself more on the offensive end. His passing ability is rather underrated as well.

Tim Green- A long, experienced point guard that is a capable athlete. Despite his size relative to the big men on the floor, he was able to tip in misses. Also, Green attacked the basket and was able to get to the free throw line. Despite his offensive prowess, he is not a true point guard, and this could cause some trouble if he wants to continue playing basketball professionally. On defense, he had a tendency to body his opponent and this is a cause for concern because it could limit his playing time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Play in game preview: Morehead St. vs. Alabama St.

This contest is one of the better Bracket Buster matchups in recent memory. Both teams have a legitimate chance to come out on top. A quick glance at their records would tell you that Alabama St. is the clear-cut favorite. However, the Ohio Valley conference is fairly competitive and Morehead St. has won against some fierce competition in their conference tournament. All in all, I believe that Alabama St. is certainly the favorite and will probably emerge as the victors.

After falling behind for most of the game against Austin Peay, Morehead St. looks poised to fight in their NCAA tournament appearance. They are an extremely motivated team that plays tough defense and is solid inside. Inside presence Kenneth Faried is a force to be reckoned with. He is effective fronting his man and cutting to the hoop, or simply is a post up threat. His combination of height, athleticism, and timing allows him to dominate on the glass and disrupt and alter numerous shots. Morehead's most effective offensive option is versatile senior forward Leon Buchanon, who can slash and attack the basket. Guards Maze Stallworth and Demonte Harper can attack the basket and are capable shooters off the dribble. Their ability to attack Alabama St. defenders is going to determine who wins this game. Overall, Morehead's screen and role offense is fairly effective against nearly any opponent. However, penetration hurts this team on the defensive end- as evinced by the play of Drake Reed. Their 3-2 zone defense is not immune to gaps, which can lead to easy layup opportunities.

On the other end, Alabama St. has been effective the entire season- playing several close games against some difficult opponents. 7'1 center Chief Kickingstallionsims should give even Faried some headaches inside. His height and ability to step out and hit shots will determine who wins this game. While he is not a star offensive option, his defense will be pivotal- if he can shut down Faried, this team should be able to exploit Morehead on the perimeter. The abilities of Hayles, Provitt, and Butler to attack the hoop will be critical. If Brooks can dominate the ball and control the tempo and these wings are effective from the perimeter and going to the hoop, Alabama St. should win. All and all, Morehead St. may very well outmuscle them inside. However, it is the guard play of star Brandon Brooks that will determine who wins this contest.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

A Look at the PBL: Augusta Groove vs. Wilmington Sea Dogs

After severing ties to the infamous ABA, several teams have coordinated this new league, which airs live games on their website In this matchup, several key minor league prospects stood out.

In terms of team effort as a whole, the Groove were a very scrappy defensive team- they were able to put their hands in the passing lanes on multiple occasions. In the second period, they caught fire from the perimeter in order to take the lead. However, a minor run by the Sea Dogs and a technical foul on Donyell Davis gave the opposition some momentum. The Groove had no answer for the post play of McGinnis in the second period. He was able to draw fouls on Augusta and slow down the tempo of the game. They had several intelligent outlet passing plays that gave them easy layup opportunities. The Groove got to the line a great deal in the second half and were able to capitalize the vast majority of the time. However, they also committed a great deal of fouls in the third period.

The Sea Dogs are a fiesty rebounding club, who lives off of second chance baskets. Clark and McGinnis collected many offensive rebounds, creating several extra possessions for this Wilmington squad. Their ball movement was quite good for a minor league team, and they were more than willing to share the wealth and play within themselves. At certain points in the game, they were relatively foul prone though. Instead of grabbing players, they should have played better team and help defense. The inside combination of Joe Buck and Cedric McGinnis was simply too much in the second period. The Sea Dogs are not a tremendous shooting team, but they are more than capable of hitting open shots down the stretch. In the end, McGinnis a dominant presence in the paint.

Wilmington Sea Dogs
Joe Buck- Early on, Buck demonstrated a nice array of fundamentals- boxing out nicely and utilizing nice post pivot moves. He possesses a decent form on his jump shot but has a tendency to go a bit flat. He corraled several offensive rebounds and displayed great hands on defense. Buck stopped his man and was an excellent help defender that was able to clog the passing lanes.

Cedric McGinnis- He is a strong big man, who establishes nice post position. He is fairly mobile for his size and is adept at drawing fouls in the post. In this contest, he utilized the drop step in order to get around his defender. Surprisingly, McGinnis was able to step out and attack the basket as a faceup player. As such, it can be said that Cedric possesses an underrated ball handling ability. If he is going to play at a higher level of basketball, he must continue to work on his perimeter shooting. While he did hit a few three pointers, he was not consistent enough in this area.

Chris Clark- He is one of the top guards on this squad. Clark was able to penetrate to the basket, and was explosive enough to set up shots for his teammates. In the third period, he dribbled around three defenders and made a nice pass out to his teammate for the open three. This play simply demonstrates his impressive handle. He does not have great lift on his jumper, but is able to hit outside shots when called upon.

Jim Jones- He is the steady ball handler for the Sea Dogs, who drew several fouls throughout the course of the game. Jones is also a sparkplug shooter who made several tough jumpshots in pivotal moments.

Joseph King- King is a solid shooter, who was able to collect some steals on defense as well. He played at a high intensity level and looked to get his teammates involved.

Augusta Groove
Lance Leach- Leach is an explosive small guard that was able to drain many shots from beyond the arc. At times, he looked a bit out of control, trying to drive through four Sea Dog defenders. But, he played under control for the vast majority of the game. Leach had a pretty behind-the-back pass to his teammate for an easy layup to close out the third period.

Kenneth Curtis- This big man possesses considerable girth, but has a fairly diversified game. In this contest, he was able to bring his defender outside and nail the three point shot. On several plays inside, he utilized both hands to score inside. He was a bit foul prone, not able to contain the quicker Joe Buck.

Cory Sims- Sims seemed to be the best player on the Groove. Despite being the team's point guard, he grabbed several key rebounds and displayed great effort when attacking the basket. Sims had several second chance opportunities and played bigger than his 6'1 listed height would indicate. He is a consummate slasher that should show more of a perimeter game.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Conference Tournament Previews

In lieu of March Madness settling in, I find it most appropriate to offer predictions on any and every conference tournament. This analysis should provide some insights as to what sleepers may emerge in the NCAA tournament. But, more importantly, it will detail some of the most gut-wrenching battles during the best time of year for sports.

March 6th

Clear Cut Favorite: VCU
Eric Maynor and VCU are the favorites to win the conference. Maynor has free reign within this offensive scheme and is able to distribute the ball to his teammates. Fellow shooter Jamal Schuler should be a weapon to contend with as well. If Sanders can get involved down in the post, VCU stands a chance against George Mason and the rest of the conference. If the Rams' three point shots are not falling and defenses shut down Maynor's dribble drive game, VCU will be dethroned. However, if Eric plays with the same poise and consistency that he did a couple of years back, it will be very tough for any team in this conference to slow him down. Also, their ability to rebound the basketball will be the X factor in this contest. With Maynor operating on all cylinders and Sanders playing like a force down low, the Rams should have little difficulty advancing to the NCAA tournament.

My Selection: George Mason
How can you discount this team after they have made it to the finals the past several years? Jim Larranaga's club has simply rebooted from a year ago, when they lost Thomas and Campbell to graduation. This year they are led by second team all conference seniors John Vaughan and Darryl Monroe. Vaughan's perimeter defense is probably the most critical aspect of Mason's strategy- as he is going to be called upon to shut down the tougher guards in the Colonial. If he can be successful in this endeavor and hit his perimeter shots, George Mason could very well win this tournament. But, this club features more than just one perimeter weapon. Steadily improving guard Cam Long can shoot it from deep, but also is able to drive in the lane and kick. The ability of he and Dre Smith to attack the basket will be the essential part of the Patriots' offensive strategy. Finally, they will need the post play of Darryl Monroe to open up the game for their perimeter shooters. If he is able to proficiently rebound the ball, utilizing his strength down low, the Patriots could very well receive an NCAA bid.

Sleeper Pick: Northeastern
At second place in the conference, this team is not really a sleeper within the conference. However, they receive very little notoriety from outside media and thus warrant the sleeper pick nomination. This team is comprised of a solid inside-outside duo in Matt Janning and Manny Adako. Janning has a knack for scoring and getting to the free throw line, while Adako is a very efficient post option that plays within the team's system. This is a very patient offensive club that likes to move the ball around before they shoot. Whether or not they can play at their methodical pace will determine how they fair in this tournament. They are not a great outside shooting team, and this will limit their chances of coming back from a large deficit. Because they are an efficient offensive team, they may not need to outrebound their opponent to come out wiht a victory. The key for the Huskies' chances rests in their ability to have few empty possessions and slow the tempo of the game down.

American East-

Clear Cut Favorite: Binghamton
After a tremendous season in which the Bearcats finished first in the American East regular season, Binghamton looks to receive an NCAA tournament berth. This squad contains many notable transfers, who have gelled together and are now the best team in the American East. They are led by star guards DJ Rivera and Tiki Mayben, transfers from St. Joes and UMass respectively. Rivera is a dynamic slasher who can score virtually at will against conference opponents. Mayben, is a consummate distributor that works to get everyone on the team involved. His steady play has enabled this team to defeat rival Vermont twice. In their hopes for an NCAA tournament appearance, Reggie Fuller's ability to control the glass is going to be critical. They have struggled on the boards this season, so his contributions will be the most vital piece in their attempt to secure a bid.

My Selection: Binghamton (same)
Although they are really not the clear cut favorites, they have faired well recently, winning their last eight contests. After an early season victory at Rutgers, I believe that their guard play is some of the best at the midmajor level. If they can speed up the pace and attack teams in transition, the Bearcats will come out on top. If they advance and face Vermont, I expect them to win in a thriller.

Sleeper Picks: Vermont and Boston University
While they certainly should not be termed a sleeper, I believe that they have a great shot to win this American East tournament. They do not match up well with Binghamton, but they do possess the interior might to contend with them. If guard Trimboli can hit his perimeter shots, and Marquise Blakely can be effective inside, this team will be hard to stop. Also, underappreciated forward Colin McIntosh should be a serious factor in their tournament hopes. Finally, the Catamounts will need consistent play from Michigan St. transfer Maurice Joseph, who has lost his offensive swagger. If he can keep defenses honest as he did in the Big Ten, Vermont should advance to the NCAA tournament.
Boston University is a sleeper team that could make some noise in the American East tournament. Led by guards John Holland and Corey Lowe, this Terrier club is capable of catching fire in a hurry. Look for them to give Binghamton some headaches if they can advance far enough.


Clear Cut Favorite: Davidson
No one expects Davidson to lose in this tournament. With that said, they are facing a much deeper Southern Conference than in year's past. When examining Davidson, it is impossible to understand the team dynamic without accounting for their top weapon. Stephen Curry is not only the best player in this conference, but is probably one of the top three guards in the nation. His overall impact on the game turns an average Davidson squad into a potential upset team come time for the Big Dance. Curry is more important to the Wildcats than any other single player in the country is to their team. The offense runs through him, and his ability to distribute the ball really solidifies Davidson as the favorite to garner a bid from this conference. Curry's ability to shoot the ball is the greatest factor in Davidson's success. If he is stifled offensively, he is more than willing to defer to his teammates. Davidson's top big man is another offensive weapon worth mentioning. Andrew Lovedale is a capable post scorer that can defend virtually anyone. But, if Davidson is to find success, teammates Bryant Barr, Max Paulhus Gosselin, and Brendan McKillop will have to make three point shots in order to keep defenses honest. Archambault and Rossiter must clean up on the boards and assist Andrew Lovedale in the post. Finally, the X factor for this team is Ben Allison, who has shown flashes of excellent athleticism in the paint.

My Selection: College of Charleston
While I thoroughly enjoy Davidson's team and believe that they are far and away the best team in the conference, I feel that College of Charleston may have the willpower to defeat them. Perimeter scorer Andrew Goudelock is arguably the best perimeter shooter in the conference not named Curry. His ability to hit shots is crucial to the Cougars' success. He is 8-33 from behind the arc in College of Charleston's conference losses. Their point guard Tony White Jr. is a capable spot up shooter as well, and his ability to hit shots down the stretch will go along way for this team. If they are to win, they must rely on their greatest strengths- their strength and athleticism in the post. Experienced forwards Jermaine Johnson and Dustin Scott are commanding physical presences that will spell trouble for conference opponents. Throw in emerging big man Jeremy Simmons and you have a nice frontline. The X factor in their success will be Antwaine Wiggins, probably the top defender in the conference. If he can lock down Curry and other top scorers, the Cougars will earn their right to dance.

Sleeper Picks: Wofford and the Citadel
Wofford has won seven of their last nine games in conference. (Their two losses coming against College of Charleston and Davidson) The Terriers rely heavily on the interior play of undersized forward Noah Dahlman, who is extremely difficult to contain. On the outside, they have three point gunner Junior Salters. If Wofford wants to earn a bid to the Big Dance, they will have to play tremendous team defense and limit their turnovers, which have been a problem in the past.

The Citadel is another team that is playing well down the stretch. This twenty win team features forward Demetrius Nelson, who is coming back from an injury that made him miss most of last year. If Nelson is able to get the opposition in foul trouble, the Citadel might be able to earn a bid. Sophomore guards Cameron Wells and Zach Urbanus will need to find Nelson when attacking the basket. If they are able to penetrate to the basket, this team has a very good chance of upsetting either Davidson or College of Charleston.

West Coast-

Clear Cut Favorite: Gonzaga
Gonzaga has established themselves as the best team in the WCC this year, as usual. Josh Heytvelt has nearly returned to his original form and is probably the toughest post player the WCC has to offer. His combination of height and athleticism is going to be difficult to handle, even for a loaded St. Mary's club. Guard Matt Bouldin is a capable scorer who can penetrate to the basket and either score or dish the ball to a teammate. Micah Downs has really improved this season and is showing that he can hit the long ball and be an effective defender. But, if Gonzaga is to win the automatic bid, Jeremy Pargo and Austin Daye will have to be factors. The former is having a down year, not looking as powerful on the block as he once was. And, his perimeter shot has not been falling. If he can get on track by finding his offense, the Zags should win. Also, Daye is going to have to be a factor on both ends of the floor. If he can play stronger than his strength limitations, the Bulldogs will thrive. However, if he fails to show up offensively, and becomes a liability on the other end, they will most certainly fall.

My Selection: St. Mary's
While I believe that they have done enough to merit a bid, St. Mary's is not going to want to leave their tournament hopes to chance. With a healthy Patty Mills, this team is undoubtably the best squad in the WCC. He is unquestionably the best player in the conference and is capable of slashing to the hoop or reigning three point shots. Mills is a crafty player that is able to find his teammates and opens up the game for virtually everyone. Omar Samhan and Diamon Simpson, his post counterparts, are nice interior compliments that can snatch rebounds and score inside. Outside shooters such as Carlin Hughes will have to step up if this team is going to make it past a deep Gonzaga squad. If this team can avoid getting into foul trouble and Mills plays as he did right before his injury, St. Marys will earn the automatic bid.

Sleeper Pick: Portland
The third place team in the conference earns the sleeper nomination simply because San Diego has too many injuries. Nik Raivio, the younger brother of former Gonzaga guard Derek, is quietly having an excellent season for the Pilots. If he catches fire, this Portland team is difficult to stop. Look for sharpshooter Jared Stohl to fill it up from three point range. Raivio and big man Robin Smeulders will have to share the rebounding duties. With so many tough big men in this league, they will have to at least match the Zags and St. Mary's on the glass in order to come out on top. And, if they can continue to share the wealth on offense, they should put up a fight against their top WCC foes.


Clear Cut Favorite: Siena
The key to the success of the Saints is going to be the play of Kenny Hasbrouck and Edwin Ubiles. If they can penetrate and hit jump shots, the Siena offense should be effective. Ronald Moore is going to need to distribute the ball to these two go-to scorers. On the interior, Steve Rossiter and Alex Franklin will need to play physical basketball. If they are unable to control the defensive glass, Siena could be upset by either Rider or Niagara. If this team is patient offensively, they may be able to outscore their opponents. However, their ability to defend some of the bigger MAAC players is going to determine whether or not they receive an NCAA tournament berth.

My Selection: Siena (same)
This team has the most offensive firepower, and even though they lost against Niagara recently, their squad knows how to play well down the stretch. Also, they are undefeated at the Times Union Center this year. All indications point to them winning this MAAC conference tournament.

Sleeper Selections: Niagara and Rider
These two teams both upset Siena at home. Niagara has the interior presences in Bilal Benn and 6'10 behemoth Benson Egemonye to earn the MAAC automatic bid. This team is very physical and they play tough post defense. On the perimeter, they clog the passing lanes and are able to steal the ball for open fast break attempts. Tyrone Nelson is an excellent scoring guard who can attack the basket or shoot it from deep. This team will need to exploit teams inside if they are to advance to the NCAA's.
Rider also has a star big man in Ryan Thompson. (the brother of former Bronc and NBA player Jason). He is an adept post player that can shoot from beyond the arc as well. They also have four other double digit scorers including guards Harris Mansell and Justin Robinson. If they can get balanced scoring and control the glass, Rider has a chance to upset either Niagara or Siena.

March 5th

Clear Cut Favorite: Robert Morris
The Colonials are looking to make the NCAA tournament after falling short just a season ago. Led by NEC player of the year Jeremy Chappell, this team is dynamic on the offensive end. They work to distribute the ball and find the open shooter. As a result, they are an excellent three point shooting team that can fill it up in a hurry. Guard Jimmy Langhurst is also a capable scorer, who should have the ball in his hands. If Rob Robinson and Dallas Green can collect the loose boards, this team should fulfill their regular season title and advance to the Big Dance. Finally, Robert Morris must work on minimizing turnovers if it hopes to outlast conference rivals.

My Selection: Robert Morris (same)
I believe that this team has the offensive fire power to defeat any NEC opponent. If Langhurst and Chappell play under control, they should face little difficulty all the way to the title game.

Sleeper Pick: Mount St. Mary's
This team upset Robert Morris in the semifinals last year in order to secure a bid. And, they return key members of that squad in Jeremy Goode and Kelly Beidler. This team wins by forcing turnovers against its opponents and altogether playing solid defense. They do stand a chance of upsetting Robert Morris again, if they can play tight perimeter defense and not allow Chappell to settle into a rhythm. All in all, this team must play a very methodical game by controlling the glass, if they hope to gain an advantage over their NEC foes.

Missouri Valley-

Clear Cut Favorite: Creighton
After a tremendous all around season, the Blujays seem to be streaking at just the right time. They recently defeated contender Illinois St. and probably solidified an at large bid, assuming they are not upset early in this tournament. The play of conference POY Booker Woodfox will need to be a constant if the Blujays are going to win this chaotic conference tournament, where teams are upset year in and year out. Even with the steady play of their lead guard, the offensive production from P'Allen Stinnett is going to be the X factor in their race for a bid. If he can score on all cylinders and play within himself, Creighton has a legitamite shot to win. However, if his production slows down, as it has over the course of the season, the Blujays will need one of their role players to step up. Creighton is a hard nosed defensive team that scores in spurts. Because they are not very big inside, their greatest key to victory will be limiting offensive rebounds.

My Selection: Illinois St.
After losing late contests against Creighton and Northern Iowa, the Redbirds will look to capitalize on their 20+ win season and finally make the dance, after being left out a year ago. The keys in this effort are the perimeter duo of Camp Oguchi and Osiris Eldridge. Osiris's play down the stretch has been a bit inconsistent and he will have to take his game to the next level if the Redbirds are to win. Dinma Odiakosa has been dominant inside as of late, and his defensive play will be critical if the Redbirds are looking to stop the likes of Northern Iowa. In the end, Oguchi and Eldridge must make their shots down the stretch and play tough perimeter defense. It seems that virtually every Valley team is capable of getting into a groove from beyond the arc. The Redbirds are going to have to limit this, if they hope to earn an NCAA bid this year. They have the personnel to win this tournament, but must have consistent defensive performances, if they can actualize this potential.

Sleeper Picks: Evansville and Drake
Shy Ely and the Purple Aces look to upset the top of the conference and prove that they are worthy of a bid. After coming into the conference season with considerable momentum, Evansville has suffered some setbacks, but still possesses the wherewithal to defeat their conference rivals. This team plays at a methodical pace, but is capable of attacking the basket and hitting three point shots under pressure. They are a consummate team and tend to share the ball and slow the pace of the game down. However, they must play consistent defense if they are to be a realistic contender. They already hold two wins against the other sleeper pick. If they can control the tempo of the game and hit the three ball, they will come out on top.
The other conference sleeper pick is last season's representative, Drake. After losing to Western Kentucky in a thriller, this team should come out motivated. Returning leaders Jonathan Cox and star guard Josh Young will look to outshoot their opponents. If they can distribute the ball instead of having too many empty possessions, they should be a deadly team to face. Cox must receive help on the boards- the likely candidate being Heemskerk. Despite being fairly thin inside, Drake will not face too many post oriented teams. So, if they are able to fill it up from beyond the arc, they could also reek havoc in the Missouri Valley Tournament.

March 4th
Atlantic Sun-

Clear Cut Favorite: Jacksonville
After appearing dominant in the early going of the conference season, Jacksonville has seemed to find its rhythm, winning five of their last seven going into the conference tournament. After closing out the season with a road win against Belmont, it seems as though they have hit their stride. While they do stand alone at the top of the conference, they are vulnerable to an upset. The likely candidates are the streaking Lipscomb (who recently defeated them at home), Belmont, and East Tennessee St. On the season Jacksonville is 4-2 against these teams, but has not been as solid of late. Their ability to hit the three point shot relative to their opponent will be key in securing a tournament bid. Ben Smith and Lehmon Colbert are going to have to hit some shots, and the Dolphins must play some tough perimeter defense. If their contests escalate to a three point shoot out, this team may very well lose. Thus, their ability to contain and recognize shooters is critical to their success. On the interior, Marcus Allen and Colbert must score inside for this team to stand a fighting chance.

My Selection: East Tennessee St.
After splitting the series with Jacksonville, the Buccaneers will look to exploit their considerable experience against conference foes. More than likely, Courtney Pigram will play a vital role in initiating the offense- attacking the basket and hitting big shots down the stretch. However, it will be the offensive threat of Kevin Tiggs that really separates this team from the rest of the pack. If he can hit shots from the outside, this team may simply outscore their opponents. And finally, guard/forward Mike Smith rounds out this trio. He is a crafty player that is capable of attacking the basket and playing within himself. If he is utilized properly, the Buccaneers should receive little trouble from their conference foes.

Sleeper Pick: Lipscomb
The key for this team is to continue their hot pace by making three point shots. Interior presence Adnan Hodzic is going to have to produce inside in order to open up the game for Lipscomb's perimeter game. As of late, they have been red hot, winning their past eight contests. Brian Wright will have to continue his steady production and try to stay out of foul trouble. If he can do this, Lipscomb should have the frontcourt to dominate inside and secure a bid for the NCAA tournament.

Patriot League-

Clear Cut Favorite: American
American has been the overwhelming favorite the entire season. They have only one loss on the season, despite winning several close contests including a battle on the road against Navy. The Eagles are led by diminutive guard Garrison Carr, who is quite difficult to contain from beyond the arc when he catches fire. Moreover, American has a fairly strong supporting cast led by frontcourt mates Brian Gilmore and Jordan Nichols. If they can successfully control the glass against Patriot League opponents, American should win out. The biggest key to their offensive success rests in the hands of an even smaller guard in 5'9 Derrick Mercer, who will have to control the pace of the game. His ability to distribute the ball is going to determine how well Carr and the rest of the team fairs on offense. If they can maintain their rebounding margin over opponents and avoid foul trouble, the Eagles should make an appearance in the Big Dance.

My Selection: American (again)
In recent memory, the favorite has always made it to- at the very least- the Patriot League final. So, I cannot imagine American getting upset before that time, unless they run into significant foul trouble. Barring an offensive collapse on the part of Carr and Gilmore, American should run the table and claim their rightful spot as the Patriot League champion.

Sleeper Picks- Navy and Holy Cross
The greatest sleeper pick that this tournament has to offer is clearly 3rd place finisher Navy. While they have lost to American, their contests have always been down to the wire. 6'4 guard Kaleo Kina impacts the game in a variety of ways- he is a capable passer, a finisher attacking the basket, and a great rebounding guard. His success on the offensive end will determine how well Navy fairs against the likes of Holy Cross and American. He has seen some success against American in the past, but has struggled against the Crusaders. This team must come to play early in the game with significant defensive pressure in order to simply wear out its opponents. If they can control the glass, the Midshipmen could very well come out on top. That responsibility falls in the hands of senior forward Adam Teague, whose production is the X factor in Navy's Patriot tournament run.
The second sleeper team is usual contender Holy Cross, which is back towards the top of the conference. The Crusaders have won eight out of their last ten to close the regular season. This young team will rely on their defensive pressure to upset the likes of Carr and Kina. They are fairly balanced offensively and possess many different weapons. If they play within themselves and at the tempo they desire, the Crusaders could very well win the Patriot League yet again.

Sun Belt-

Clear Cut Favorite: Western Kentucky
After a highly improbable run to the sweet sixteen last March, the Hilltoppers are the leading candidate to once again win the Sun Belt. This season, they bulster a huge blow out victory against a since improved Louisville squad. However, this team is as deadly as any bracket buster in the country. After the losses of Brazelton and Lee however, WKU possesses a much more balanced offensive attack. Mendez-Valdez and AJ Slaughter will hit shots from the perimeter. Both are deadly weapons from the three point line. However, WKU wins when their interior players are at their best. This means that Jeremy Evans and Magley will have to corrale some offensive rebounds and play physical defense. Evans possesses the length to alter shots and be a solid help defender. Kerusch and Pettigrew will have to provide some help scoring inside if this team is to make an NCAA tournament appearance.

My Selection: Middle Tennessee St.
While this may seem highly unlikely- especially with the way this team has been playing of late- the Raiders are still a force to be reckoned with. If star forward Desmond Yates can stay out of foul trouble, this team could very well surprise experts. Kevin Kanaskie must hit some perimeter shots and Green has to find some success attacking the basket as well. If Yates can defend some of the bigger forwards inside, this team could make a run. The key is the ability to Nigel Johnson and Green to feed him in post up attempts. If their passes are lacksidasical, this team's chances are shot. Also, Kermit Davis must keep his team from playing selfishly on the offensive end, which they are prone to at times. Finally, the emergence of Haddock on put back attempts coupled with the potential production of Calvin O' Neil are going to be X factors in the Raiders attempt to reach the NCAA tournament- after falling just short a year ago.

Sleeper Picks: Troy and Arkansas Little-Rock
Troy has been one of the greatest enigmas in the league this year. They are on a tear as of late, winning twelve out of their last thirteen games. The Trojans are a team that relies exclusively on the three point shot. When they hit some long range bombs, they can stay in a game, but when they go cold, it is often difficult for them to recover. Brandon Hazzard has been unconscious from behind the three point line. If he and slasher Richard Delk can provide a consistent scoring threat to go along with their scrappy defense, several teams may be in for a big surprise.
My other sleeper choice can hardly be considered a sleeper. Holding the best overall record in the entire league, Arkansas Little-Rock is a balanced scoring club. The inside outside combination of Shane Edwards and Steven Moore lead the charge on this end of the floor. Moore is a capable shooter, while Edwards has a knack for scoring inside. The ability of John Fowler to lock down top scoring options is going to be the greatest key to this other Trojan team's success. If Moore can minimize his turnovers, these Trojans should advance far and potentially receive a bid.

March 3rd
Horizon League-

Clear Cut Favorite: Butler
After a tremendous year which was supposed to be one of rebuilding, Butler finds itself again as the favorites against its Horizon league foes. This young team simply retooled from a year ago and looks to be as strong as ever. After defeating Davidson on the road in the Bracket Buster game, it appears that this team will have an at large bid lined up regardless of the result of this tournament. Most predict that this team will come out on top as in years past. If they are to win, their youthful squad is going to have to show poise under pressure. And, Matt Howard is going to have to be a factor on both ends of the floor. This can only occur is Hayward and Mack are hitting from the perimeter, however, because their shooting (or the very threat) opens up the game inside.

My selection: Cleveland St.
The preseason conference favorites are streaking at just the right time, winning 8 out of its last 10 contests to close out the regular season. It is clear that the Vikings have the experience to win at this time of year. However, they clearly have a tough road ahead of them: potentially facing league sleeper UIC in their first matchup, and then matching up with the difficult 2 seed in Wisconsin Green Bay- all before facing Butler, who has defeated them by a combined four points in two contests. If Cleveland St. can get consistent play out of Jackson and Cole, they will stand a chance. As last year proved, Bullock cannot work alone. Will it take another heroic Cedric Jackson heave to establish a tournament bid? Maybe not. But, one thing is for sure- the Vikings have a tough road ahead of them before they can punch their ticket to the Big Dance.

Sleeper Picks: UIC and Green Bay (and to a lesser extent Wright St.)
This league has so many sleeper picks, from a Wright St. team that can upset virtually anyone on any given day, to a very talented UIC squad. Jimmy Collins' team has the potential to make a run in the Horizon League tournament. With arguably the most dynamic inside-outside combination in the league (Mayo and Vandermeer), UIC stands a fighting chance against anyone. Several factors must occur if UIC is to go on a tear. First and foremost, Josh Mayo is going to have to play consistent basketball and not score in spurts. If he is not shooting well, Robo Kreps will have to overcompensate as a significant offensive threat. Next, Vandermeer must continue his consistent play inside- blocking shots and corralling rebounds. Tori Boyd is an X factor who could be a scoring spark inside as well. Finally, Spencer Stewart must play under control if this team wants to make a late season run.
The second team that I feel has a solid shot at surprising everyone is Wisconsin Green Bay. While it would not be much of a shock if this team received an automatic berth to the Big Dance, (they have defeated Butler already and finished second in the conference) they have consistently underachieved over the years. This is what makes them a sleeper pick despite their record. The keys to their success rest in the hands of Ryan Tilemma and Troy Cotton. If they can provide a steady perimeter offense, Green Bay will be competitive. Undersized forward Terry Evans is going to have to lock down some of the tougher offensive threats that the Phoenix face. Finally, after a decrease in production and playing time from a season ago, Mike Schachtner will have to be a solid presence inside for Green Bay to win the tournament. Because Green Bay is on average being outrebounded by its opponents, his ability to control the glass will determine how far the Phoenix go.
Worth mentioning is Wright St. because they play at a very methodical pace and can beat you inside. Vital to their success is star Todd Brown- one of the best rebounding guards in the conference.

Big South-

Clear Cut Favorite: Radford
This year's Radford team has the best conference record and has played the best as of late. This high scoring team has many weapons, but is led by 6'11 center Artsiom Parakhouski- a huge presence inside. His ability to dominate the glass is going to be critical against such teams as contender VMI. Their squad likes to play a transition game and is going to attempt to tire this Radford team with their pace. Therein, Artsiom's ability to control the offensive glass will be critical in determining the tempo this game is played at. (that is, assuming both teams make it to the final) He should receive some help from fellow frontcourt mate Joey Lynch-Flohr, who is a consistent weapon inside. Thus, their ability to feed the post is probably the most important factor in their gameplan. Moreover, second leading scorer Kenny Thomas must make some perimeter shots. Finally, Radford must minimize their turnovers all around and play under control.

My Selection: VMI
VMI is one of the most interesting teams in the country. What started out as an experimental system has now become one of the most difficult strategies to play against. After the graduation of leading scorer Reggie Williams, this team has a much more balanced attack. Travis runs the point and is a capable passer as well as a solid rebounding guard. His brother Chavis can fill it up from the outside. While the other cogs in their offensive system can score effectively, they are missing a significant rebounding big man. This is going to hurt them against the likes of Radford and other such teams. They will probably be able to wear them down through a constant transition offense attack. That means that the defense of Willie Bell will determine how far VMI can go in this tournament. Their style is difficult to face for the first time and should disrupt an NCAA tournament team first round, if they can get that far.

Sleeper Picks: Liberty and Winthrop
If Radford faces some difficulty getting to the title game, it is possible that Liberty might secure a bid. After winning several key games in its nonconference schedule, including a four point win on the road at Virginia and a thrilling three point victory over George Mason, Liberty has the potential to make a run at the Big South title. Seth Curry is a dynamic scorer who can fill it up and put his team on his back. If he catches fire, we could see something similar to his brother's breakout performance in the NCAA tournament. Moreover, fellow guard Anthony Smith is a solid weapon who can rebound the ball as well. However, if they face Radford at any point, I do not believe that they will be able to counter their interior presence.
The second team that should never be counted out of a Big South tournament run is the 8th seed Winthrop. After a shaky start at the beginning of their conference season, Winthrop has stepped up their game at the right time of year, winning their last five conference games. They have a tough battle ahead of them at UNC Asheville, but they should be ready after defeating them a season ago. (with game-changer Kenny George) Winthrop has a very balanced attack with forwards Charles Corbin and Cameron Stanley leading the way. Their stifling team defense should give them a chance against anyone in the conference. Look for guard/forward Mantoris Robinson to have a breakout performance.

Ohio Valley-

Clear Cut Favorite: UT- Martin
While it cannot be said that there is one clear cut favorite in this conference, the team with best player and the best record deserves this honor. Lester Hudson, a legitamite NBA prospect, has led his team in virtually every category this year, dishing out assists and grabbing rebounds. Hudson is a born winner and will try to lead his team to the promise land. Complimentary guard Marquis Weddle is going to have to score and make some plays for his team. If Hudson can defer the distribution duties to Marquis, UT-Martin should have a fighting chance defending their regular season title. Senior forward Olajide Hay is going to be the key focal point in their frontcourt defense.

My Selection: Austin Peay
Never count this team out of any Ohio Valley tournament. Year in and year out, they have made it to the title game and most of the time, they receive a berth to the Big Dance. The Governors are led by the underrated duo of Drake Reed and Wes Channels. Their defensive pressure against Hudson and some of the other top guards in the Ohio Valley is going to determine their fate. If they can force turnovers and convert on offensive sets off of empty possessions by the opposition, they should come out on top. Their inside-outside combination should provide instant offense. Caleb Brown's decision making should be the X factor for this high scoring offense. Not only do they have the personnel to win this tournament, but the Governors are also streaking at the right time, winning five of their last seven.

Sleeper Picks: Tennessee St. and Murray St.
Far and away, the hottest team in the conference right now is Tennessee St. They have won their last six games, including a victory on the road against Austin Peay. They play my other sleeper pick in round one and the outcome of this matchup should have fairly large implications for other contending teams. Diminutive guard Gerald Robinson Jr. is going to play a crucial role in deciding the outcome of their season. His scoring numbers, as of late, have been fairly consistent. The only issue of concern for this team has been their turnovers, which need to be minimized if they stand a chance at an NCAA tournament berth. Parker Smith is going to have to produce from the outside and Jerrell Houston must dominate the boards for this team to win. The strategy for the Tigers will be to outscore their opponents and minimize their errors on offense. If Robinson Jr. can get into a rhythm, and his supporting cast can get open, this team could role to the title game.
Murray St. has had a tremendous season thus far with a fairly balanced offensive attack. The Racers are a solid defensive team that can disrupt the offensive sync of their opponents. Moreover, streaking guard Isacc Miles should provide the brunt of the scoring load. If he and Kevin Thomas can distribute the ball and Miles can find his offense, the Racers should find success on both ends of the floor. Inconsistent freshman Ivan Aska could be the X factor for this team in their hopes of another NCAA tournament appearance. (since their heart breaking loss to UNC four years ago) He and the other two members of the Racers' frontcourt trio- Tony Easley and Jeffrey McClain- should be able to control the glass. The real question is whether or not their offense will show up.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Scouting Report: Keith Benson

Keith Benson, a 6'11 redshirt sophomore for Oakland, is a developing post player in the Summit league. Emerging out of relative obscurity, Benson has posted some nice numbers this season to compliment experienced perimeter threats such as Erik Kangas. The first word that comes to mind when analyzing Benson's basketball abilities is raw. At a whopping 225 pounds, Keith needs to put on some weight through any means possible. At this stage, his lack of girth is the primary obstacle preventing him from actualizing his potential. On the offensive end, Benson establishes nice post position. In his contest against Oral Roberts, he was able to edge out a more muscular player and utilized his current assets to the best of his ability. Benson is very fundamental in securing this position, and tends to come off of picks and motion plays in order to firmly plant himself under the basket. Although this may work for him in the Summit league, his lack of bulk allows him to be edged out- this occurred several times in the contest. Moreover, because of this detriment, he predominantly relies upon turnaround jumpers in the post. While this may be a solid use of his current tools, he needs to diversify his game if he wants to become a top Summit League player and have any hope of a professional career. Furthermore, he received most of his points off of dunks- the vast majority of which were due to defensive confusion on picks. In transition, Benson is fairly quick and fluid. While he does not rely upon any form of a jumper, Benson has a soft touch on his free throws. This shows that there is potential for future development away from the basket.

On the defensive end of the floor, Benson is primarily a serviceable help defender. He is often able to utilize his physical gifts such as his tremendous length to disrupt players cutting to the basket. With that said, he is only an average leaper, but is fairly quick at collecting himself and jumping again. Because of his lack of bulk, he often allows deep post position. Therefore, as a man-to-man defender, he oftentimes gives away easy points. And, at this stage of his development, he is prone to biting on shot fakes and rarely ever stands his ground, thinking that he can block virtually any shot attempt. In regards to rebounding, he has decent box out fundamentals, but is usually tenuous at demonstrating this skill. Currently, the majority of his rebounds are attributable to his excellent size and length, which are a rare commodity in the Summit League.

Altogether, Keith Benson has a long way to go before he can be considered in NBA draft conversations. But, he is certainly making strides at his current level of basketball and should be a player to keep an eye on if he continues developing with the same learning curve.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Spotlight on Vermont basketball

Assuming they make it past Binghampton (which is not a guarantee), Vermont should be a tough team to face in the NCAA tournament. Their team defense is stifling and their overall chemistry is tremendous. In their Bracket Buster contest, they faced Buffalo, who came out 'guns blazing' from the field. Vermont responded to this initial punch by running off a significant scoring stretch. However, it was their assertiveness on the defensive end, which really secured this victory.

In the end, two players of note really stood out for this squad.

Marquis Blakely- Blakely is an athletic specimen in the mold of a Darvin Ham. He is the reigning American East Defensive Player of the year and an exciting highlight reel waiting to happen. Blakely is not an outside shooter and receives most of his points on post plays and basket attacks. At 6'5, this will likely not translate at the next level. His shooting form demonstrated on free throw attempts shows some potential. However, he rarely steps outside to hit shots. If he is going to be a success overseas, it will be as a high energy guy, scoring off of basket cuts. This is a strong possibility simply because of his athletic prowess and knack for scoring the ball. Because of his impressive leaping ability, Blakely has established himself as a proficient rebounder. And, this strength coupled with his quick hands allows him to collect steals and blocks. All in all, Blakely is a successful player in virtually every facet of the game aside from shooting. While he is not going to win over pro scouts with his skillset as a 6'5 forward, his hustle and desire to improve himself as a player will ultimately determine which level he will find himself at in the future.

Mike Trimboli- He is an excellent offensive weapon who can shoot the ball from anywhere on the court. Not only can he fill it up from the outside, but he also is a distributor. Trimboli made several beautiful post entry passes and was able to involve his teammates. And, if his defender did not step out against him, he would drain the jumper. Trimboli was also able to take his man off the dribble and drained several floaters in the lane. His free throw shooting was pivotal in this contest as well. Although his point totals in this contest were not overwhelming by any stretch, he certainly played within his system and led his team to victory. On the defensive side of the floor, Trimboli was aggressive and deflected several passes. He possesses a nice defensive awareness and this allows him to anticipate plays. All in all, his lateral quickness is fairly average at the college level, but his commitment to intensity and team defense make him a threat on this end of the floor. Trimboli should receive an invite to Portsmouth camp, so that scouts can really evaluate his performances against top tier opponents.

For the opposition, one player really stood out.

Rodney Pierce- Buffalo's leading scorer really filled it up from the outside. He was fairly aggressive when attacking the basket. Pierce achieved success by utilizing his nice first step and by playing at a high intensity level. Despite being down by double digits, Pierce was pivotal in Buffalo's late run. Essentially, he has a fairly complete offensive arsenal. Pierce is not tremendously athletic though and will probably not receive too many looks from scouts. Defensively, he has a low stance. His quick hands allowed him to collect several picks and overall, simply disrupt Vermont's offensive scheme. Pierce is a top player in the MAC and should receive some looks from scouts. However, he is a borderline Portsmouth player in my mind, and the likelihood of him attending this event will depend on Buffalo's success in the MAC's postseason tournament.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Special Scouting Report: Gordon Watt

This standout guard/forward is a senior at Houston Baptist. Earlier in his career, he was a role player on the Purdue Boilmakers. However, he has now come into his own as the top player for his low major squad. While this may not seem unprecedented, I believe that his abilities deserve a brief look.

On the offensive end, Watt is strong taking the ball to the basket after having improved his handle. Oftentimes, he is prone to getting a bit out of control- in which case he is called for an offensive foul. While this facet of his game- namely his slashing ability- is much improved, it is questionable whether he can utilize his current tools to further a career at the next level. Nonetheless, his strength and bulk is an asset for any wing and this allows him to create space when attacking the rim. Thus, with the proper instruction, Gordon may be able to attain a role overseas or maybe impress an NBA scout in summer league. At this stage, his offensive game will likely earn him a slot on the Portsmouth Camp roster. Watt is fairly quick in transition, but he needs to utilize his body more when finishing through contact. Despite playing forward for his squad, he does have a nice face up game. Still it is questionable how this will work at the next level, where he won't be matched up against slower big men. He has demonstrated a nice touch from the outside, but he will have to be more consistent in this respect if he expects to find a role professionally. At the free throw line, he is extremely inconsistent and does not really possess a soft touch. Finally, Watt is a good offensive rebounder for his size.

Watt is somewhat of an enigma on the defensive end judging strictly by his role in the Houston Baptist scheme. He hedges hard and is very physical in the post, boxing out well and demonstrating nice fundamentals. Previously, Watt did defend players with similar talents at Purdue. And, many pegged him as a hard nosed specialist. Assuming he still has the wearwithall to exert his perimeter defense during pre-draft camp invites, Watt may attain a role solely through his aggressive defense.

There are some red flags for NBA scouts concerning his falling out at Purdue. He was dismissed from the team following his arrest for his second DUI in less than a year. If he has truly changed and finally has his head on straight, Watt may get a few looks from scouts at the next level. Gordon continues to play without the publicity that he once had at a Big Ten school. He has quietly improved his game and will soon be looking for a new path once his collegiate career is over.