December 10, 2013
Don’t look now, but the college basketball season is already about a third of the way complete. Who knew? With bowl season and the NFL playoffs closing in, college basketball doesn’t get much attention, but it is shaping up to be a great season. Kentucky, Michigan St., and Arizona have all been ranked No. 1. The defending champions in Louisville have just one loss and are at No. 6. And there are still 15(????) teams that haven’t lost. How long will that last? Let’s take a look.
No. 2 Syracuse (9-0) – The Orange should have no trouble in the next two and ought to be 11-0 heading into a showdown with No. 10 Villanova. The Wildcats will probably also be undefeated heading into that game. One streak will end.
No. 3 Ohio State (8-0) - The Buckeyes have a bunch of wins against schools that I have not heard of. So I’m not impressed. But they did hold a ranked Marquette team to 35 points. That is impressive. If they beat Michigan State on Jan. 7 then I’ll really be impressed.
No. 9 Connecticut (9-0) – The Huskies have three wins by one point and another win by just two. They could get to 16-0, but they won’t make it to 18-0. With games against No. 16 Memphis and No. 6 Louisville coming in a three day span, at least one loss is coming.
No. 10 Villanova (9-0) – Same story here as with Syracuse. If the Wildcats can beat Syracuse, they could go for a long run. There are no other ranked teams left on the schedule.
No. 12 Wichita State (9-0) – The Shockers have only been tested on a couple of occasions. There are no ranked teams on their schedule so they should finish the season with just a couple losses. And the first one will come at Alabama on Dec. 17.
No. 15 Oregon (8-0) – The Ducks have only played one close game and escaped with a win in overtime at Mississippi. They’ll be tested in two of the next three games when they play Illinios and BYU. My gut says they lose one of them.
No. 17 Iowa State (7-0) – The Cyclones are ranked in the top four in the nation in points, rebounds and assists. No wonder they haven’t lost. But they are about to. In-state rival Iowa (ranked in the top nine in the nation in points, rebounds and assists) comes to town on Friday and will give the Cyclones their first L of the season.
No. 22 Massachusetts (8-0) – The Minutemen have an impressive list of wins already. Boston College, LSU, New Mexico, Clemson and BYU gives them a pretty nice early season resume. I’ll be really impressed if they make it to 11-0 because that will require a win over Florida Sate on Dec. 21.
No. 29 Boise State (8-0) – Could Chris Peterson have left Boise State because he didn’t even have the highest ranked team at his own school? When was the last time the basketball team was ranked higher than the football team? The Broncos have the top scoring team in the country. Can they pull the upset at Kentucky tonight?
No. 35 St. Mary’s (7-0) – They don’t have any great wins yet, but St. Mary’s has a shot to pick one up against Boise State on Saturday.
Toledo (8-0) – The Rockets do not even have a vote to be in the top 25 right now. But they can shoot (6th in the country) and have put up at least 90 points five times already. A couple more wins should get some people’s attention. Then we’ll see what they can do when they visit No. 13 Kansas on Dec. 30.
January 11, 2013
Just about halfway through the college basketball season, we are beginning to find out who’s for real and who’s a pretender. After Arizona’s loss Thursday night to Oregon, there are only two more teams left undefeated; Duke and Michigan. Now were going to party like it’s 1992. Yes it’s been a little over 20 years since Duke played Michigan for the national title, with the “Fab 5” as freshmen. For Duke, almost nothing has changed, Mike Krzyzewski is still the head coach, and Duke is number 1 in the country. However, in Ann Arbor, pretty much everything has changed. The only slight similarity is the youth movement that features a starting 5 with 2 freshmen and 1 sophomore. The Big Ten has officially dethroned the Big East as college basketball’s top conference, and the ACC is having a down year without Florida State and North Carolina in the top 25. That being said, the Blue Devils will have to beat themselves to lose the ACC.
With that I give you the marquee matchups this weekend in college hoops:
1. Duke (15-0) (2-0 ACC) at 20. North Carolina State (13-2) (2-0 ACC) Saturday 12 noon (ESPN)
The Blue Devils are without starting senior forward Ryan Kelly who is out indefinitely with a foot injury. The Blue Devils don’t have the depth to replace a guy who averages 13.4 PPG and 5.4 RPG. The Wolfpack are balanced with 6 guys averaging double figures in scoring. Mark Gottfried’s club also ranks 1st in field goal percentage. Duke will have no answer for C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell on the interior. Prediction: Duke-69 NC State- 73
8. Minnesota (15-1) (3-0 Big Ten) at 5. Indiana (14-1) (2-0 Big Ten) Saturday 12 noon (BTN)
Since their lone loss to Duke on November 22nd, Tubby Smith’s Golden Gophers have won 11 in a row including two big conference wins against Michigan State and Illinois. Indiana has won their last 5 since losing to Butler. The Gopher’s Andre Hollins may be the best point guard in the country. That in combination with Trevor Mbakwe and Rodney Williams in the post is too much for the Hoosiers. The Gophers will do it by committee to pull the upset at Assembly Hall. Prediction: Minnesota-67 Indiana-63
2. Michigan (16-0) (3-0 Big Ten) at 15. Ohio State (12-3) (2-1 Big Ten) Sunday 1:30 (CBS)
There hasn’t been this much excitement in Ann Arbor since the “Fab 5”. The Wolverines have 4 guys averaging over 12 points per game. Their backcourt is the best in nation with Wooden Award candidate Trey Burke and Tim Hardaway Jr. Big Blue’s frontcourt is also scary with two fabulous freshmen in Nik Stauskas and Glenn Robinson III. This balance will be too much for the Buckeyes. The Buckeyes are 12th in turnovers per game while the Wolverines are 2nd. The Buckeyes will struggle to find high percentage shots and Michigan’s depth will dominate from start to finish. Prediction: Michigan-66 Ohio State-58.
April 16, 2012
Thomas was brought in after many consecutive losing seasons and was never able to turn it around at FIU. He didn’t even come close to a winning season and is leaving with a 26-65 record. Still, even with such little success, Thomas and his players were still shocked by the decision.
FIU wasn’t the only place where Thomas has had trouble, though. He left as an executive with the Toronto Raptors after only a few seasons without accomplishing all that much. Thomas later became the owner of the CBA, but the league quickly became bankrupt shortly after he left. After that, he became the coach of the Indiana Pacers and New York Knicks. While he had some success in Indiana, leading the Pacers to the NBA Playoffs in each season, he couldn’t get the team out of the first round. That, however, was better than what the Knicks accomplished under his tenure – never reaching the postseason in either of his two seasons there.
It was at FIU where Zeke was going to have a fresh start. A Hall of Fame player, there was no reason to think that he couldn’t at least bring the program into respectability. While it’s true that he didn’t have college coaching experience, his name alone meant that he should have been able to recruit reasonably well. But after three straight losing seasons, the administration decided they’d seen enough.
So that begs the question – what’s next for Isiah? Obviously, any number of non-sports business ventures could be available. But if Thomas wants to stay in basketball, his options might be a bit limited.
It’s hard to imagine Zeke will get another head coaching job right away. He’s had limited success in the NBA and virtually none on the collegiate level. Sure, there’s high school or prep school, I suppose. But jobs at the elite high school level are hard to come by and it’s hard to imagine him dropping down that far, anyway.
If Thomas wants to get back into coaching, he may need to accept an assistant job. His best bet may be to land with a team that has a coach almost ready to retire or move on to another job. If he does an admirable job in that role, he could be named as a successor and given another shot.
Another realistic opportunity for Thomas might be as a color commentator. Regardless of what you may think of the job he’s done as an executive or coach, there’s no doubt Thomas knows the game of basketball. Whether he can accurately explain the happenings of a game on TV may be another matter, but I think it’s a role that could work. He also has experience in that job as he previously served as an analyst in the NBA on NBC series with Bob Costas.
Lastly, he could go the front office route. His track record in that arena isn’t particularly impressive, but a job as an assistant or even a scout probably isn’t out of reach. I don’t see an organization handing over the keys to an entire franchise to him as a general manager just yet, but there are any other number of front office roles he could fill.
Where Thomas finally lands is anybody’s guess. But he’s still young enough that the odds of him coming back to basketball in some capacity are high.
March 23, 2012
Last night’s NCAA Tournament games went terribly wrong for both my picks and my bracket. I went 1-3 with my picks last night, so of course I have to try and regain some dignity with a better showing in this version. I went heavy on the Big Ten yesterday, and the pain they put me through leaves me wondering if I can trust Indiana. There are three double-digit seeds playing tonight which make things very interesting as well. Without further delay, here are my (most likely incorrect) picks for tonight.
Xavier vs. Baylor
Xavier pulled a small upset over Notre Dame to start the tournament, then took down Cinderella hopeful Lehigh in the second round. They now get their toughest test to date in Baylor, while ironically being the toughest test Baylor has faced in the NCAA Tournament as well. This game should be an absolute shootout, with both teams having scored 80 points on multiple occasions. One advantage Baylor will have is their blinding neon green uniforms they are wearing during the tournament. In all honesty though, I do think Baylor is the better team and should find a way to advance to the Elite Eight.
Ohio vs. North Carolina
Speaking of high scoring, there is only one team in the nation that has scored more PPG than North Carolina. That may take a hit this game though, with point guard Kendall Marshall expected to miss the game after having wrist surgery. Even more importantly, Ohio thrives on steals, and the Tar Heels will need to take extra care of the ball without Marshall in the game. Ohio isn’t nearly as explosive on offense, but they have proven deadly for teams like Michigan and South Florida, who have fallen on Ohio’s trip to the Sweet 16. Everyone likes to root for the underdog, but I can’t imagine Ohio making it past North Carolina. If North Carolina doesn’t come ready to play, which includes stopping D.J. Cooper, Marshall could have a lot longer to rest before their next game. While Ohio has shown that the MAC shouldn’t be taken lightly, I will take North Carolina to take care of business.
Indiana vs. Kentucky
This isn’t the final game of the night, but make no mistake about it, this game is the main event. These two historic basketball programs will give us a rematch of an amazing game earlier this season. Then unranked Indiana gave then #1 Kentucky their first (and only) loss of the regular season on a ridiculous buzzer beater, winning 73-72. Kentucky, now the overall #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament, would like nothing more than to avenge that loss when it matters most. I stuck with the Big Ten all day yesterday and said I think it was the toughest conference in the nation this year. The Wildcats will truly be tested by Indiana who, sticking with the trend in all of these games, can score at will. Kentucky will need Anthony Davis to take over this game and prove why he is the best player in college basketball. I think this game will come down to the wire, but Kentucky gets the nod from me and will play in the Elite Eight.
North Carolina State vs. Kansas
With the amount of times I have mentioned high scoring teams in this column, maybe defense doesn’t win championships. North Carolina State and Kansas both average scoring in the mid 70’s, and have the ability to explode to as high as 100 in Kansas’ case. With that being said, the Jayhawks struggled mightily against Purdue in the last round, coming dangerously close to a loss. Add to that a shocking loss to VCU last NCAA Tournament, and I don’t think they will come into this game assuming anything. Nor should they, as NC State has beaten San Diego State (predicted to be a potential Cinderella) and Georgetown on their way to the Sweet 16. Kansas is in a much higher class than the two aforementioned teams, however, and will look to run the court for quick baskets on the Wolfpack. I hate to have all three high seeds lose in my picks, but I just don’t think they will win tonight. I will take Kansas and if last night was any foreshadowing, we will have a high-seeded Elite Eight!
March 14, 2012
By now you’re sitting around with only one thing on your mind—your bracket. With only hours before the meat and potatoes of the tournament tips off, you’re trying to finalize your decisions and put your mind at ease.
You’ve been in this situation before, you know there will be upsets, but you can’t put your finger on it this year. There are always a few sleeper teams who seemingly appear out of thin air and become the darlings of the nation. The sleeper teams are the ones that make or break your bracket. They either give you a sense of pride or have you hanging your head in embarrassment for an entire year.
So as you flip-flop between picks, do yourself a favor, keep these teams in mind:
South Region: Wichita State Shockers
Sure, at 27-5 the Wichita State Shockers may not appear to be a big sleeper, but anyone who’s ever completed a bracket knows that picking the No. 5 vs. No. 12 matchups can be some of the most nerve-racking.
The Shockers will play the Virginia Commonwealth University Rams in their first game. VCU was last year’s Cinderella, which many will put into effect for this season. Don’t be fooled, as the Shockers are the ones that’ll advance. They have plenty of experience with six seniors and an NIT Championship last season.
Wichita State will advance to the Sweet 16 before losing to the Kentucky Wildcats.
West Region: Florida Gators
The Florida Gators should go into this year’s dance with a chip on their shoulder. How does a team ranked No. 19 before the tournament end up with a No. 7 seed? Good thing the Gators are the best No. 7 seed in this year’s tournament. Before you think they’re a fish out of water, the Gators will make it to the Elite 8.
Midwest Region: California Golden Bears
The Pac-12 conference got no respect from the NCAA selection committee. The regular season conference winner Washington Huskies were left out in the cold, leaving only the Colorado Buffaloes and California Golden Bears to represent the conference.
The Golden Bears have some extra work to do, as they’ll be involved in one of the play-in games. California will have to beat the University of South Florida Bulls before they’re technically in the field of 64.
Regardless of what they have to do, they’ll get the job done, as they’ll be this year’s version of the Virginia Commonwealth Rams, who made it all the way to the Final Four in 2011. After all, California is playing not for themselves, but the entire conference.
The Golden Bears won’t get as far as the Rams did in 2011, but they will turn some heads and reach the Sweet 16 before they lose to a tough North Carolina Tar Heels squad.
East Region: West Virginia Mountaineers
The West Virginia Mountaineers may have finished the regular season with a mediocre 19-13 record, but that doesn’t mean they won’t make a splash in the tourney.
The Mountaineers are slated as a No. 10 seed, which is always a good slot for a sleeper. They’ll handle the No. 7 seed Gonzaga Bulldogs with ease in their first game. Then they’ll take on the No. 2 seed Ohio State University Buckeyes, where their size will frustrate OSU until the final horn sounds.
The Mountaineers will then reach the Elite 8 by beating the Florida State Seminoles in the Sweet 16 on a buzzer-beater. Bust out your banjo—the Mountaineers will be dancing.