What Am I Watching?

          When you hear “Tournament Time” one sport obviously comes to mind and that is college basketball. More specifically you think of the month of March and the excitement that it brings as teams fight for a chance at the Final Four and a national championship; and It’s widely considered the best time for college basketball. What if I told you that March isn’t the best month for basketball, what if I were to say the best time could be narrowed down to a week. A week shares the spotlight with the one holiday where everyone throws dietary caution to the wind. That’s right, I’m talking about Thanksgiving, and I’m talking about all the tournaments that will overload our screens as college basketball takes a moment to officially let everyone know it has begun. Now I am not saying that there is more at stake or more emotion in these holiday tournaments because there isn’t. The Tournament in March is in another stratosphere in that regard. The point being made is that from a shear quantitative standpoint there is more basketball and you can see your team play more guaranteed games in these weeks of November than in the National Tournament.
Being that there are quite a few tournaments that are both happening and will happen in the next week its best we focus on the ones that will not only be the most entertaining but also the ones that are going to be on mainstream television. The big ones as usual are the Battle for Atlantis, The NIT season tip off and the Maui Invitational. Now I could go into a long drawn out explanation of why these tournaments are the ones that will give us the college basketball fix we have been looking for. I could even go on about what each team is bringing to the table and how they stack up against one another, but I won’t. These tournaments are a lot like movies, and given they are a lot like movies its only right that be the way I let you know what’s what with college basketball’s Feast Week


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This tournament will feature the Florida Gators, Wisconsin Badgers, Butler Bulldogs, Virginia, the Sooners, Stanford, the Dayton Flyers and Middle Tennessee. If you’re watching this tournament you’ve pretty much decided you want 80’s action…you want Die Hard. Lets meet the cast.

Virginia/John McClane: The tough guy who doesn’t mind a fight, and while he usually wins, its never pretty.
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Oklahoma/Hans Gruber: The one with the plan to walk out of the building with a bag of money in hand and a heap of bodies behind them. He’s on a mission and has something to prove.
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Butler/Karl: Just angry at the world since they lost their brother (Brad) they are on a warpath to have their vengeance, it will end in their demise.
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Wisconsin/Sgt Powell: There was a time when they were on the biggest stage, then they froze, and they’ve never been right since…
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Florida/Mr. Takagi: They have some clout but to those out east of their hometown that doesn’t mean much these days. Also we have questions about the fact that you have something a bad guy would want stashed away in a vault instead of a proper bank.
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Stanford/Harry Ellis: He’s that one guy in the office that everyone rolls their eyes at when they walk by. He’s pretty confident he is the smartest man in the room but what he lacks in book smarts he also lacks in street smarts.
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Middle Tenn/Special Agent Johnson: You probably don’t even remember these guys were in this movie. Need I say more?
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Dayton/Special Agent Johnson: Seriously, do I?
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Its a smaller tournament but it makes up for that with the teams it’s got headlining. This tournament has Kansas, Louisville, Marquette and Tennessee all lined up to go head to head. If you are a suspense/crime thriller type of person then this is the one for you and that is because you’ll be watching The Usual Suspects.

Louisville/Kobayashi: They have a suit on but they are giving off signals that there might be a secret word that has them revert back to some cut throat lifestyle they are trying to leave behind.
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Marquette/Fred Fenster: Their only purpose is to be killed to demonstrate Söze’s power, this character has no meaningful impact on the story.
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Tennessee/Dean Keaton: He has a checkered past, a history of living on the wrong side of the law, but they are a changed person (sort of) and they are the real threat to Mr. Söze.
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Kansas/Verbal Kint: The unassuming crippled that everyone for some reason decided to look past…we all know how that ended.
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Maui InvitationalImage result for maui invitational

this tournament is nothing short of loaded with talent with Arizona, Auburn, Duke, Gonzaga, Illinois, Iowa State, San Diego State and Xavier. This tournament will be an instant classic for the season, an instant classic just like Adam McKay’s Step Brothers. That’s right the Maui Invitational is Step Brothers on the parquet floor.

Auburn/Brennan: There has been some overshadowing by some of the kids in his neighborhood but he’s looking for a chance to show that being old has its advantages. You can just manhandle the little kids across the street who won’t be there next year anyway.
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Gonzaga/Dale: He’s at the point in his life where we are starting to wonder if they are ever going to actually do anything or will they just make a fuss for the first few months then sit at home and watch Cops all day after the first sign of trouble.
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Duke/Derek Huff: The youngest and most successful of the siblings, they have no problem name dropping and bringing up the size of the Bonito they caught on their yacht. They know you wanna punch them and they’re cocky enough they’ll dare you to do it.
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Arizona/Alice: She hates her life, but is OBSESSED with Dale. Nobody ever seems to pay any attention to her and it does its toll on her self esteem. Maybe it’s because of where she’s at or maybe it’s because when she’s given the mic she’s flat and throws off the quartet. Either way there is a lot of constant confusion and crying.
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Xavier/Randy: Dude’s crazy, simple as that, we’ve seen him do things to the competition that would make even the most cut throat of businessmen blush (can’t try a man in international waters).
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Illinois/Robert Doback: There was a time when they headed a house of learned doctors but here lately all they can muster up is lofty goals that are as outlandish as their dream to be a T-rex. It shows on their face, by this time of the year they are ready to remind you it could be worse…you could be them.
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Iowa State/Chris Gardocki: This kid’s got nothing to lose, he’s just out here to crack some skulls, start a playground riot and possibly make you eat some white dog poop.
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San Diego State/Pam: Still to this day Dale and Brennan don’t know how to say her name. Pam’s not getting much respect if you ask me, but she takes it like a champ.
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No matter which tournament you decide to spend your time with you can’t go wrong. There is plenty of good basketball to go around and now you know exactly what to expect from the teams going into the holiday. You know what movies you like and now you know where to start when things tip off next week.

 

Do They Bleed?….They Will

The NCAA equivalent of opening day for the basketball season has come and gone and while most of the ranked teams spent their first game beating up on schools who’s Dean also doubles as the “swipes guy” in the cafeteria, the Champions Classic gave us some games we could actually enjoy watching. Kansas and Michigan State was a great game that wasn’t as close as the score would have you believe, and while Bill Self and the boys showcased a very solid and deep team that proved why they were the preseason number one ranked team, they were not the talk of the town. No, everyone is currently in awe of the snuff film that was aired on a Disney network disguised as Duke vs Kentucky. Beating the Wildcats by 30+ points and being in control of the game from start to finish has just about everyone wondering if this is the greatest college team ever assembled. To those people I say “easy there Pete Davidson” there’s such a thing as jumping the gun and a lot of people have up and done it without the season being underway for a full 24 hours. The game between Duke and Kentucky showed a lot about both the Wildcats and the Blue Devils but what most people missed is how last night’s blowout of the second best team in the state of Kentucky actually laid out the blueprint to bring down the proverbial Goliath of Durham North Carolina.

          Let’s start with Kentucky, it’s finally happened, the formula that John Calipari has been using for the past decade has been used against him. Yesterday Calipari came to the realization that he no longer is the revolutionary who carries the burden of embracing the one and done alone. Everyone is doing it, and this year it is looking like Coach K might have done a better Calipari impersonation that John Calipari. This is definitely not going to be a year where Cal can just roll out the basketballs in practice and let them scrimmage and play 3 on 2, 2 on 1 all day. Cal is always hoping for a season where he can have this type of practice schedule and run through the SEC like Dash Parr; but in order to do that he has always needed one thing, and that is THE top recruiting class. Anything less and his formula collapses on itself. LeBron put it best with his “…not two, not three, not four…” the same goes for Coach Cal in recruiting. In order for him to have a team where the casual fan is calling him the greatest coach ever he needs to have the absolute top recruiting class bar none.
The second area that was concerning was defense, I am aware what they were up against from a defensive standpoint but there were still some major issues with how they were going about playing their matchups. Their defensive woes last night were eerily reminiscent to what we saw from Duke last year when they were at the nadir of their defensive competency. There was a lack luster attempt to switch to zone in the last 7 minutes of the game which had Calipari looking like vintage 2017 Dwane Casey in the adjustments department, but that was to no avail also. Overall Kentucky was a mess on the defensive end and it showed on the scoreboard.
The craziest thing that the Wildcats had us endure last night was without question the ridiculous shot selection by some of the Kentucky players. I don’t know if someone told Tyler Herro that he is the second coming of Jesus in the form of a shoot first point guard but whatever they did they need to take it back. There were other areas within the offense that weren’t taken advantage of because of some of the outrageously quick and deep shots that were taken by some of the guards last night. And as I have always preached to my players, a bad shot is the first pass in the other teams break. There was an egregious amount of “Herro Ball” being played that brought back Pangos PTSD and hopefully Cal has plans on addressing this issue. There are guys that the offense can be properly ran through and Herro ain’t it.
Now with all those issues coming to the front burner there still is no real need for concern if you are a Wildcat fan. This year will be very similar to last season in the sense that they aren’t going to reach their full potential until late January early February. Their record will also be better than it was last year as there is a good amount of talent on the team. Guys like EJ Montgomery and Quade Green are going to come into their own as the year progresses and be big time players when SEC play hits. And let’s not forget about the biggest addition to their team this year, Reid Travis. This Stanford player who grad transferred to Kentucky is a grown man on the low block. Frustratingly enough the team didn’t get him involved in the game as early as they should have and it played a part in the early deficit. He will without question be one of the top forwards in the SEC this year and be a key part to the success Kentucky sees during the season. So as much as it pains me to say it, even with what seems like an embarrassing loss, Kentucky faithful shouldn’t come away from this too worried.

          On to the team that had everyone ready to crown a champion after literally only 80 minutes of nationally televised college basketball. Without question the four Freshman for Duke (Williamson, Barrett, Reddish, Jones) looked outstanding in their season opener last night. Zion and R.J. both broke the record for most points by a freshman in a season debut (25) with 28 and 33 points respectively. Tre Jones looked like a veteran point guard and probably had a few people thinking they were watching Tyus back on the court for his Alma mater. Zion, R.J. and Cam also showed just how K is looking to position the three of them on the court at the same time. All three are technically forwards and the question was how were they going to effectively place them on the floor. This year we can expect to see a good amount of 4 and 5 out from Duke to allow for the four freshmen to be set up for success on the offensive end. Getting to the basket was a strength of this group against Kentucky and it will more than likely be the focus of the team all year. They did a great job drawing fouls around the rim and hitting open shooters from outside the arc later in the game. Coach K spoke before the season started about the emphasis of hitting open spot up 3’s and it was definitely showcased against the Wildcats. Defensively the team looked extremely better compared to any point of last year’s team. It is clear Coach K saw the issues he ran into last year having so many freshmen on the defensive end and was not about to have the same problem two years in a row. All in all the Blue Devils played extremely well against an opponent that seemed to not be totally prepared or in a groove as a team.
All back patting aside, while this was a great showcase of what Duke can look like in a world run by Walgreen’s, they also tipped us off to what their weaknesses are. As a coach in any sport when you have a chance to scout a team your goal is going to be to take away the things a team does well and exploit the things they don’t. Last night Kentucky played into Duke’s hand by jumping on-board with turning the game into a track meet. With players like Barrett and Zion fast break points are their specialty and playing in transition is where they are most comfortable. To no fault of Calipari’s his thought process was obviously “I invented the one and done, run and gun game” and that is what he has and will continue to practice as long as this phenomenon is a part of college basketball. It just so happens that Duke is better at it and it cost Kentucky a chance at making the game respectable. When Kentucky was able to cut into the lead (slightly) about 5 minutes before halftime they were able to do so because they slowed the game down. One area that Coach K seemed to be trying to avoid lingering in too long was the half court offense. They showed off some quick hitters  but what they showed offensively was not built for any extended period of time in the half court set. When teams don’t fall into the trap of playing the Duke pace of basketball and slow the game down the young Blue Devil team could run into some problems with the amount of variety in their offense.
The shot selection for Duke was also a point of interest. As we talked about this team is going to be all in on getting to the basket and looking for open spot up shots on the outside. Things were definitely going their way against the Wildcat defense and we got to see just how skilled this team is when they can get to the basket and when they are left open on the perimeter. The game that was neglected and often is by players and teams in today’s NCAA is the mid-range game. There weren’t too many mid-range shots taken and it was clear that there was an attempt to avoid having them taken at all. There seems to be an attempt to shift to the D’Antoni school of thought of layups and threes under Coach K this year and while that works in the NBA it can be a weakness at the college level.
Looking at the pace this team wants to play at and the shots they want to take there are a few teams in the ACC that can already be put down as problems for this Duke team. This is purely from the fact that the culture that has been built at these programs directly conflicts with what this Duke team wants to do and those teams are Virginia and Syracuse. Virginia without question is the best defensive team in the country and one thing they do better than anyone else is prevent easy buckets and slow offenses down. Virginia leads the NCAA in most games holding a team under 50 pts, has had numerous games where they have went into halftime and their opponent has only scored 20 or less, and bring the overall pace of the game to an almost monotonous crawl (and it’s beautiful). The shot selection and pace that Duke is going to be looking for will be off the table against Tony Bennett’s veteran squad and his team has the size and physicality to go along with what Duke is planning to dish out. Guys like Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome and Jack Salt are not going to be easy matchups for this young team as they have a wealth of experience under their belt and have proven they can defend the best freshmen in the country time and time again. The same issue comes when looking at Syracuse as last time I checked Jim Boeheim still runs the nastiest 2-3 zone in the college game. The problem with Boeheim’s 2-3 is that it is different than the average 2-3 zone you might see team’s run and can be categorized like the option in football when it comes to planning for it. When you coach football and you know you have a game coming up against a team that runs the option the benefit your opponent has is the fact that you can’t properly prepare for it in a week’s time. You know it, your opponent knows it, and you end up just throwing some things together to try and deal with it as best you can. Coaching against Boeheim’s 2-3 is no different and for a young team it has proven to be a culture shock when seeing a 2-3 that shatters all the stereotypes of the lazy nonathletic tags that are associated with zone defenses. As everyone knows, especially Coach Boeheim, the best way to beat his style 2-3 is with mid-range shots in the gaps of the defense via ball movement. These shots are going to have to be quick because their ability to close out on shooters in unprecedented, and they aren’t going to come without a bit of work so there will need to be some offense ran to get those small windows of opportunity. Returning all 5 starters this defense is fresh off a very nice tournament run and is going to pick up right where they left off defensively. Duke will have to find a way to get shots on a defense that wants you to show off your basketball IQ and run some offense then take shots from the mid-range area.

Some will take this as Duke hate and to them I say go pull the legs off a spider. This team has clearly got some great talent in their starting group and it is going to be fun watching them play. Watching a team force a spectacle like that down an improperly ranked Kentucky’s throat is not the time to be swooning over how great and perfect the team is. That is the time to break down the film and see what areas can this dubbed NCAA super power be attacked. This team is without question going to do well this year but don’t have your lip stuck out when there are some growing pains come conference play. The ACC is arguably the best conference in basketball and these teams are not about to bow down without solid preparation and a good fight. Similar to when Batman fought Superman his first question was famously “Do you bleed? You Will.” Plenty of teams are going to come to their game feeling like Batman in his Kryptonite laced suit. It is going to be great to see how teams game plan for Duke this year but I can guarantee you that the teams that have the most success will be taking advantage of the things that they showed and didn’t show in their opener in Indianapolis.

 

 

Meet the Five Who Are Going To Make West Coast Basketball Relevant

          It’s no secret, when it comes to west coast games few outside of the Pacific time zone are staying up to watch these teams play. The sad thing is this is to no fault of even the most dedicated college basketball fans. Outside of Gonzaga, Arizona, Saint Mary’s College and (I guess) Oregon few teams are putting out a product that is worth staying up past your bedtime to check out. It doesn’t help that the local enthusiasm for college basketball isn’t too much better. California in particular is great with their professional teams and college football but when it comes to college basketball there is a distinct drop-off in interest. The teams mentioned earlier are the teams that are going to have to carry the load and get people in the state and around the country to get excited about west coast basketball, but there are also some individual players who are going to give everyone a reason to stay in the loop with west coast hoops. These five guys are a mix of everything, big name freshmen coming onto the NCAA scene, contributing players who will see a bigger role in the upcoming year and returning stars that might be in their last year of college basketball. All of these players will give the college basketball junkies of the world enough of a reason to throw back an energy shot and stay up for those late night matchups.

Elijah Weaver – USC
Elijah Weaver is an incoming freshman that is slated to be a huge contributor for the USC Trojans in the 2018 season. At 6’5” and 200 lbs this four star recruit is expected to compliment the Trojans’ other top back court recruit. Averaging 23 points and 9 assists in his senior year the Trojans are expecting this top 50 player to help jump start the team’s offense both in and out of the PAC-12. The only caveat is that we all will have to wait a little bit longer to see this big guard take the floor, back in August Weaver had surgery on his left ankle and is expected to miss around a month of the season. The coaches are confident that as he rehabs and gets back into playing shape that he will be able to hit the ground running once he is cleared to play.

Bol Manute Bol – Oregon
Bol Bol is the one big man everyone was waiting to see play at the college level and it came to somewhat of a surprise when he chose Oregon. Ranked 4th in the nation Bol stands at a whopping 7’3” with a 7’8” wingspan. This shouldn’t be too much of a surprise as he is the son of NBA star Manute Bol, the 7’7” center from the mid 80’s and 90’s who played for teams like Washington and Golden State. The rim protection of the Ducks this year is expected to be on level 99 as Bol will probably not run into anyone his size all year. He doesn’t necessarily have too much weight on him so his height might be countered by a center with some girth to him. Needless to say it is going to be worth seeing how someone the height of a small U-Haul truck fairs in today’s game. Whether or not he can be dominant to the point he spends only one year in Oregon is something we will have to just wait and find out

Rui Hachimura – Gonzaga
The 6’8” Japanese born forward is one that has intrigued many who have followed Gonzaga basketball the past couple of years. Hachimura is a prime example of someone you can expect to see have a drastically increased role going into this year. Last season he contributed on average 12 points and 5 rebounds. These are the numbers that you can expect to see go up as you see the offense go through him at times. Shooting 80% from the free throw line Mark Few is definitely going to be looking to get Hachimura to the line as many times as possible. Gonzaga is notorious for pulling great players out of a hat and this year Rui is going to be it.

Kris Wilkes – UCLA
Kris Wilkes coming back is great news for UCLA, not having Shareef as they had initially planned was a big hit for the team and having Wilkes return for his sophomore season will give some stability to the team’s roster. Averaging 14 points and 5 rebounds and shooting 35% from three, we can expect Wilkes to increase not only those numbers but also his assist numbers as well. The reason being Wilkes is looking to improve his game enough to get his draft stock where he believes it should be. He worked out for a few teams this past off-season before the draft and wasn’t necessarily pleased with where he was projected to go so he chose to return to improve that projection. “I see myself as a 1st round talent. If the teams don’t think so, I’ll go back to school, I’ll kill it and there won’t be (any) option about it next year.” . Wilkes has big plans for himself so we can look to see if he is going to be able to hold himself to it in a conference that is set up for him to be successful.

Martin – Nevada
The biggest draw that is going to have us all tuning into games on the west coast this year is because of not one but TWO players out in Nevada who are going to make things happen all season long starting from day one; and it’s none other than Caleb and Cody Martin. The Martin twins averaged a combined 33 points  11 rebounds and 8 assists in their junior year at Nevada. They also were a two man wrecking crew during their sweet sixteen tournament run this past season. Going into the 2018-2019 season Nevada is going to have a wealth of senior leadership coming from these two  as well as Jordan Caroline, this trio with the young talent that they will mentor is going to create an a juggernaut in the Mountain West. The good news is this team will hopefully get a decent number of prime time games and the nation will get to see firsthand just how dominant the Martin twins are. If you’re one of those people who only likes to watch college basketball games with future pros playing, then these two are right up your alley.

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Get excited because college basketball is almost here and for all those looking for a reason to tune in to those late night games your prayers have finally been answered. Get your popcorn ready because it’s about to be a show out west.

CBB Cinderella Watch

 

Blue bloods will headline the 2019 college basketball season. However, we all know the main source of excitement and heartache in March will come from random schools beating these powerhouses.

Keep an eye on these mid-majors in the tournament this year.

  1. Buffalo- Coming off an impressive campaign in 2018 the Bison return 5 of their 6 leading scorers from last year. They wrecked the Arizona Wildcats in the NCAA tournament and could be poised for an even deeper run this year. C.J. Massinburg is a stud and their frenetic style of play will continue to wreak havoc on opponents.
  2. Illinois State- This team features a great coach in Dan Mullen and an impressive lead forward in Milik Yarbrough. A senior, Mailik, had an impressive junior campaign averaging 17 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists a game. The Redbirds boast an experienced roster that will compete with Loyola-Chicago and Sister Jean for the MVC title.
  3. South Dakota State- Jackrabbits should have an electric offense led by Mike Daum. If you didn’t see him last year this dude can hoop. Averaging 21.5 points and lighting it up from deep making nearly 43% from 3. Look for the Jackrabbits with a better roster and Daum with the greenest light to average over 25 points a night.
  4. Western Kentucky- The Hilltoppers have potential to make some noise in the tournament this year. 5 Star stud freshman Charles Bassey headlines a talented young core. A good litmus test for this team will be an early November match-up against a good PAC12 team in Washington.
  5. Marshall- The combo of C.J. Burks and Jon Elmore should strike fear in not only conference USA opponents but all of NCAA. An early season clash with Maryland should give insight on their potential. Not even favored in their own conference, this team has a  back-court that will come in handy come NCAA tournament time.

The Voters Have Spoken

With the AP Poll coming out with their official rankings for college basketball before the season starts you might be asking yourself if they got it right? To that I answer your question with another question, does a fat baby fart? The layperson who keeps up with college basketball their first thought is that a Duke or Kentucky should be ranked number one coming into the season and finding out that they aren’t would obviously be some sort of mistake. The truth is going into this season the Jayhawks of Lawrence Kansas are the top team in the nation and they are in this position for good reason.

Like most years Kansas is coming into the season with an outstanding recruiting class, Quentin Grimes and Devon Dotson are two of the bigger names that most are excited to see take the court in Phog Allen this year. And while the Kentuckys and Dukes of the country can boast star studded freshman classes as well one area where they have come up short the past ten years or so is in their veteran upperclassman presence. Kansas has repeatedly had experienced players that play major roles that have the conference and tournament experience that helps give them an edge in some of the bigger stage games. This season the biggest of those returners are LaGerald Vick, Mitch Lightfoot and Udoka Azubuike. The biggest factor in this duo is without question going to be Azubuike, the 7 footer is without question the most dominant big man in the Big 12 and possibly the country. Staying healthy has been a concern in the previous two years but when he is on the floor. With a 75% field goal percentage (that took place entirely in the paint) Azubuike was close to averaging a double double in points and rebounds. His size and improvement in his feetwork on the low block has allowed for him to turn most matchups in the post to “Barbecue Chicken” as Dr. O’Neal has so eloquently described it. Coach Bill Self has also been able to land some PAC-12 talent as Charlie Moore, a double digit scorer formerly at Cal will join the roster this year as well.

Kansas for the most part ran the tables in the first place voting receiving 37 first place votes to Kentucky’s 19 and while the rosters play a role in that so does the staff that is at the front of the bench. Coach Self not only has the championships and Final Fours to support his resume, he also has been a part of a level of dominance that is rivaled only by that of the Roman Empire. For 14 straight seasons Kansas has been the Big 12 regular season champions and while some might try to “poo poo” this achievement this was done in the conference that put him up against Blake Griffin, Kevin Durant, LaMarcus Aldridge and Michael Beasley just to name a few. Coach Self has proven that he has the ability to garner the proper mix of veteran players along with younger talent to fit into his system that plays a grit & grind style of basketball that can only be found in the Big 12 and Charlottesville Virginia with Tony Bennett.

The Jayhawks have an interesting non-conference schedule this year so they will put their ranking and experience to the test very early on this year. On top of that the Big 12 won’t be a pushover either as several teams in the conference are in the top 25 and returning key players. Don’t be surprised though when we see that Kansas hasn’t dropped out of the top ten all year and is a lock for a one seed come late April. The reason being Coach Self has the one piece that he has always needed in order to have a successful season which is a dominant big man. Look back on any of his more successful years and you will see there was an outstanding big man on the block. Azubuike fits that description ten times over and he has the surrounding pieces to make this team a juggernaut on both ends of the floor. If you follow any obnoxious Kansas fans on social media you might want to get a head start and block them now because the Rock Chalk Mafia will be out and about flexing their muscles this year.

 

AP Poll Top 25

  1. Kansas
  2. Kentucky
  3. Gonzaga
  4. Duke
  5. Virginia
  6. Tennessee
  7. Nevada
  8. North Carolina
  9. Villanova
  10. Michigan State
  11. Auburn
  12. Kansas State
  13. West Virginia
  14. Orgegon
  15. Virginia Tech
  16. Syracuse
  17. Florida State
  18. Mississippi State
  19. Michigan
  20. TCU
  21. UCLA
  22. Clemson
  23. LSU
  24. Purdue
  25. Washington

It’s Time You Started Watching College Basketball’s Greatest Rivalry

This coming college basketball season all fans should be concerned, the reason being that one of the game’s greatest rivalries could become endangered. And I’m not talking about polar bear endangered, I’m talking full on black rhino endangered. Now all you ACC and Big 12 elitists can go ahead and cool your jets because we aren’t talking about any rivalry within your conference. You think Duke and UNC is the greatest rivalry? In the 80’s, 90’s and early 2000’s yes you clearly had a dog in the fight; these days those teams are made up of all freshman, they’re too busy trying to remember how to take advantage of their meal plan to be concerned with the team up in Chapel Hill and vis a versa. Kansas against anyone in the Big 12? Stop it. Watching Kansas play anyone who would consider themselves a rival is like watching Jason Statham pistol whip a blind kid. Louisville and Kentucky? Close, the hatred of this in state rivalry runs deep and is well documented but the last time things were interesting Cousins was there. Back in those matchups refs were giving out techs like free samples from that one restaurant in every mall’s food court. These all can be categorized as second tier when compared to what truly takes the cake is the premier rivalry of the past decade, and that rivalry is none other than Xavier and Cincinnati in the Crosstown Shootout.

First things first as a college basketball purist I refuse to call this rivalry anything outside of its birth name, Crosstown Shootout. So rest assured you won’t hear any of that “Crosstown Showdown”  nonsense here. You’re probably wondering why Xavier and Cincinnati could possibly be categorized as one of the greatest rivalries in recent memory. First lets lay out what we all are looking for when we start to rank these games. One, there should be some bad blood. No rivalry is truly a rivalry if the two teams don’t sit up at night dreaming about humiliating the other team in every way possible. Two, there should be parody, there needs to be an actual toss up from year to year in regards to who might win the game. Once upon a time rivalries like Kansas and Missouri were competitive but I’m pretty sure the last time that was the case Bob Knight had a reality show about walk-ons (shame on everyone involved in that production). Finally, there needs to be a certain level of showmanship. A wise man once said “I wasn’t the best because I killed quickly, I was the best because the crowd loved me…win the crowd.” When you have players that are going to play to the crowd and make sure they give the fans a show and have that ESPN montage they have been advertising all week live up to the hype; then you know you have the pieces necessary to complete what makes for a great rivalry.

Xavier and Cincinnati have for a long time now been quietly meeting these criteria. The problem is these games are like Easter Eggs in a video game, if you aren’t looking for them you ain’t gonna find them. These games are almost always on a Saturday afternoon sometime after Thanksgiving (this year is no different as the game is on December 8th at 2pm) and the teams are always ranked in the middle of the pack with someone being between 10 and 15 and the other being at the lower end of the rankings at 23-25. The memorable games go back as far as 99’ when Xavier upset then #1 Cincinnati and while this is all fine and dandy it pales in comparison to what this rivalry has evolved into. Under the most recent regimes of Mick Cronin with Cincinnati and Chris Mack at Xavier, the rivalry has evolved into a dress rehearsal for a spectacle that is a cross between The Purge and WrestleMania.

“We’re grown men over here, we got a whole bench of gangsters in the locker room…and we went over there and zipped them up after the game.”

No boys and girls that is not an excerpt from a Stone Cold Steve Austin monologue, that is a direct quote from a player after the Crosstown Shootout in 2011. With Xavier up by 21 with 9 seconds left and trying to run out the clock things got spicy. Two players who had been going back and forth since the national anthem got in each other’s faces and as if choreographed slapped each other almost simultaneously after they had had enough. Both benches cleared  and like an old school baseball melee, chaos ensued. The only true victim was Xavier big man Kenny Frease who took a right cross square on the side of his head. Frease then proceeded to do his best impression of the crawl Carlton did through the kitchen on Fresh Prince when he thought Will killed Lisa (treat yourself and look that up on YouTube). Trust me though if you ever saw Kenny Frease play you wouldn’t feel bad for him, he was the Bill Laimbeer of the 2010’s. Even this past year we got some extracurricular activities as the final buzzer sounded. At the end of the game this past season Cincinnati’s Mick Cronin had to be restrained as he was seen on camera rushing the Xavier players yelling “You want a piece of me mother f***er?!?!” Now, the player Cronin was ready to go fisticuffs with was none other than Xavier’s JP Macura. If you’re wondering who in God’s name is JP Macura, imagine Greg Paulus, Adam Morrison, Sophomore Grayson Allen and Marshall Henderson all conspired together in a lab and built their dream player, yea that’s JP Macura. If you weren’t an Xavier fan you hated him, if you were a Xavier fan you loved that they hated him. During this most recent meeting Macura in true showman form was involved in a double technical with Mick Cronin right before half after telling him to “suck it” and let’s just say I am cleaning up his wording tenfold. As the game went on Macura continued to talk trash as they extended their lead (Xavier was clearly the better team this past year). When the game ended Macura gave one last dig in the handshake line and it was enough to send Cronin into a frenzy. The post-game interview was where he let the press know exactly why he lost it, “Never had a kid tell me to ‘F off’ before.” Is what he told reporters when they asked what was said. They followed up with who it was that said it and Cronin only had one response, “You know who it was, same guy it always is every game.” Chris Mack went on to back his player in true presidential fashion by saying there are two sides to every story and JP Macura is a good kid who just loves to play the game. He did however say that he planned on using the rest of the day to enjoy this particular win over Cincinnati a little bit more than usual.

As entertaining as this rivalry has been in recent memory it is in danger of losing its WWE Smackdown appeal. Now that Chris Mack is in the 502 (that’s Louisville) there is a chance that there may not be the same fire that we have seen from these two teams in the past. The two reassuring facts are Mick Cronin is still at Cincy and that man doesn’t seem like one who drops a grudge anytime soon; second the new Xavier head coach, Travis Steele, was a former assistant under Mack so he knows what the standard is. He also still has many of the players recruited by Mack so the team Motto very well may still be “Zip’em Up” but only time will tell. On another note my prayers now heavily consist of requests for that same level of gladiatorial mystique to find its way into the Louisville and Kentucky rivalry now that Chris Mack is behind the wheel. If we have seen the last of the old school Crosstown Shootout it is our responsibility to keep its memory alive and stay on the lookout for another pair of teams who desire to elevate their rivalry to a level of savagery that will meet our needs. But if things are destined to stay the same, make sure you have your schedule cleared for this year’s matchup as it never disappoints.

Marvel Villains in the ACC by Jan Redmond

When it comes to super hero movies this year wasn’t a first in regards to the number of movies we saw released. We got the usual sequels and the annual “let’s get all the guys from the sequels together for a group sequel”. However we also got a pleasant surprise with Black Panther, this can be backed by the success the movie saw and still continues to see post release. Let’s be honest, Killmonger was the coolest bad guy in any super hero movie Marvel Studios has put out to date (there are many other categories to rate villains so stay the hate mail). While the style and swagger of Killmonger had our curiosity, his motives grabbed our attention. Here you have a guy who was outcast by his people, spending a decade honing his skills and waiting for the day when he could use those particular sets of skills to take his people’s throne; As king, he would liberate oppressed people all over the world with the resources his country possessed. Take out the super powers and this could pass as a story on CNN, there could easily be someone out there in the world who has seen the same struggles and worked to take the same course of action. Well guess what sports fans, there is, and this storyline has manifested itself in college basketball. The man exercising his “Blue Blood” right to challenge for the mantle of king is none other than the leader of the Pitt Panthers, Jeff Capel.

This all makes complete sense when the scene has been set. The ACC is Wakanda, advanced beyond their years and possibly the cream of the crop in the college basketball landscape. The ruler of this land and the one Capel looks to overthrow is none other than Mike Krzyzewski. The natural resource that Duke and a few others (located in the byzantine backwoods of Lexington) have been selfishly hoarding like a TLC two part special, is the nation’s high school talent, college basketball’s Vibranium. Now that the foundation of this ridiculously intricate and niche metaphor has been laid lets walk through the details that led to Jeff Capel becoming the biggest threat to the culture we have seen present in the ACC for so many years now.

In 2006 Capel landed his first big name head coaching job at Oklahoma University. Before that he was an assistant at Old Dominion and VCU where he eventually had a 4 year stint as head coach. While at OU we were able to see early on what he could do from a recruiting standpoint as he landed the future lottery pick Blake Griffin. While some might say that a nutless monkey could get the Oklahoma City native to commit to his hometown university where his older brother was already playing, it must be said he was still responsible for the team making a run in the tournament with not much more than the Griffin brothers and Willie Warren. The benefits of not being in Lawrence Kansas or Bloomington Indiana is that with runs like that you’ve got some wiggle room as a coach. Stay somewhere in and around .500 with your record and the athletic director sends you a nice Christmas card before the holidays. Capel should have been the gold standard of job security after going to an Elite Eight and losing to the eventual national champion. But everyone has that one friend, the one who doesn’t think things through and takes advice from the vaunted Good Idea Fairy who is infamous for leading even the brightest men and women astray. Yes that one friend for Jeff Capel was none other than assistant coach Oronde Taliaferro. Going into the 2010 season Taliaferro left the OU coaching staff with the rumor being that it was in relation to NCAA violations. This was the birth of the conspiracy theories that still plague Jeff Capel today which is that he isn’t the squeaky clean coach he lets on to be (that is another rant for another day). Even though an investigation proved Taliaferro’s misconduct and Capel’s innocence in regards to NCAA violations, Capel was fired at the end of the season.

Here is where Capel would be gifted the opportunity to hone his craft after being ostracized by programs across the nation. Just two months after being fired from OU he was hired on as an assistant with Coach Krzyzewski’s staff at Duke. It was within the ranks of this cultist like staff comprised entirely of what I like to call “Krzyzewski Youth”, that Capel became arguably one of the two greatest recruiters currently in the sport.

Of all the Blue Bloods Coach K was easily one of the last to jump on board with the idea of taking advantage of the “one and done” phenomenon. He dipped his toe in the water with commits like Kyrie Irving and Austin Rivers and two year players like Seth Curry which would make the 2010 national championship team one of the last “traditional” Duke teams before the shift in his recruiting method. A shift that took full effect when Capel arrived. When Duke got into the one and done business they went all in like Tugg Speedman playing Simple Jack. What allowed them to be so successful was Capel and his seeming ability to stay on 5 Star recruits like white on rice with a glass of milk in a snow storm. During his tenure he was responsible for Duke signing Jahlil Okafor (Class of 14’ and ranked #1 in the nation), Tyus Jones (14’)(#8), Justise Winslow (14’)(#13), Brandon Ingram (15’)(#3), Harry Giles (16’)(#2), Marvin Bagley (17’)(#1) and Wendell Carter (17’)(#7). Of the Dukies mentioned five were lottery picks and all were taken in the first round of the NBA draft after one year at Duke (all still in the NBA). As impressive as this track record might seem it was all nothing more than preamble. Capel solidified himself as a one man recruiting powerhouse with his recruiting class for Duke University in 2018. With commitments from RJ Barrett, Cameron Reddish and Zion Williamson (the #1, 2 and 3 ranked players in the nation respectively) Capel had assembled one of the most impressive recruiting classes (on paper) ever. At this point no one is questioning his ability to recruit and it is hard to think Capel wasn’t starting to question if he could take his super human power and put it to use for his own gain as opposed to Coach K’s.

Enter Kevin Stallings and the University of Pittsburgh. In the classic Big East era their conference rosters were filled with quick and scrappy guards from the northeast and teams were captained by coaches that looked like made men from a Scorsese movie. Pitt was no different, with guards like Brad Wanamaker and bigs like Gary McGhee their roster fit the culture of Big East basketball to the letter. That being said nothing was more Big East than their head coach Jamie Dixon. Running a program that even Jake Shuttlesworth would be proud to send his son to. Making numerous tournament appearances and leaving the school with a 328-123 record over 13 years he left big shoes for their new head coach hired our of Vanderbilt, Kevin Stallings. The old Big East was extinct and Pitt with Stallings was a part of the ACC, and if you’re wondering how Stallings did after coming from the nation’s trap game capitol of the world in Memorial Gymnasium allow me to give you the rundown; imagine a dumpster, now fill that dumpster with mounds of garbage, take the now full dumpster and apply heat to it. So what was once a traditional mess is now a sort of heated mess which is even messier. Needless to say Stallings was out after a 24-21 record over just two seasons and Capel took this opportunity to give the whole head coaching thing another try.

So with everything how it is most are probably wondering how any of this screams coup in the ACC. It’s quite simple, Jeff Capel III during his time at Duke became a Demigod amongst mere mortals in the game of recruiting. Since taking the head coaching job at Pitt they have seen the best recruiting class in five years. Now it must be said we can’t expect too much this first year as Capel clearly used all his juice in the recruiting class we will see at Duke this upcoming year. Things won’t start to get interesting until you look to the 2019-2020 season for two major reasons. First, Capel hasn’t fully closed the door on the Monstar recruiting class coming into Duke this year and it is clear that they still have connection with him as well. After taking the job at Pitt Capel was reported as still having communication via text with the recruits at Duke as they prepared for the transition to D1 basketball in the ACC. On the surface this seems quite endearing but in all actuality this is a behind the scenes American Psycho level power move. Duke is no different than any other major program and they see their players transfer all the time when things aren’t going their way. There are plenty of questions as to how the incoming class will work out logistically due to their respective games and the positions they played previously. If for some reason it doesn’t work out Capel wants to make sure he is at the front of the list when they look to transfer. People forget there was a scare toward the end of the last recruiting season as Zion took forever to actually sign with Duke and the worry among the Duke faithful and the prayers of the Clemson and Pitt hopeful was that Zion was going to actually stay close to home or follow Coach Capel but that all was wishful thinking. The second reason his second year will be interesting is because of the actual recruiting class Pitt has for the 2019 season…its actually pretty good. To put things in perspective Duke currently is pursuing 5 top 15 players from the class of 19’. Of those 5, three of them are also being recruited by Pitt who has their eyes set on 4 players in the top 15 of the class of 19’.

Capel is doing all of the right things to set himself up for success. He has a decent sample size as a head coach from his time at OU to his stint as interim head coach for Duke when Coach K was out from injury. The question will be can he recruit with the same success in a division that has him facing Krzyzewski and Roy Williams twice a year? Can he steal some of those top recruits that back in the day were choosing Duke and get them up to Pittsburgh instead? Hearing this should highlight just how much Capel is the real life Killmonger as he has a history of mongering the nation’s top high school recruits. Outcast by his people? Check (thanks OU admin and Coach Taliaferro). Spend years gaining the skills necessary to challenge the king? Check. Finally making the move to openly challenge for supremacy and liberate all the oppressed? Check. For Killmonger it was Vibranium, for Capel it is the top basketball recruits, both with plans to see that commodity used for good and not horded allowing for all those around them to suffer. Now, spoiler alert, we all know that Killmonger’s reign of Wakanda was short lived and ended with him dying on the side of a mountain carved into the shape of a damn panther (irony). This storyline very well might play out the same  with 3 straight years of double digit home losses at the hands of K but I refuse to hedge my bets on this one. The more likely outcome and the one that I am getting behind is Pitt being the new program within the ACC that has a jump in success similar to what we have seen from Miami over the past few years. The conference as a whole is gearing up for a power shift and the moves by Capel along with his background have moved him up very high in the running for the number one spot.