Thursday, March 25, 2010
NCAA Tourney: Thursday Night Previews
Obviously, the level of competition in the Horizon League wasn't strong this season, as the Bulldogs ripped through the regular season and the conference tournament unscathed and unfazed, tearing up Wright St. in the final, 70-45. Butler easily won their opening round game over UTEP, 77-59, but survived a scare against Murray State, winning 54-52. The win over Murray State put Butler's determination and game-ending abilities on display against a very capable team. The Bulldogs trailed much of the game, but stepped up as time wound down, making key buckets and finally stopping the Racers - with a chance to tie or win - from getting off a final shot. Besides their obvious talent on offense, Butler can defend as well.
Syracuse seems to not miss Onuaku at all, winning their tourney opener against Vermont by 23 points and pounding Gonzaga by 22. The Orange 2-3 zone defense seems to be all its cracked up to be, allowing 56 and 65 points respectively in the first two rounds.
Even without their center, Syracuse appears likely to advance due to their explosive offense. They will have four or five players on the floor at any time who can single-handedly run up the score. Wes Johnson is coming off his best game of the season and has seemingly unlimited upside. Andy Rautins is one of the best pure shooters left in the tourney, and Brandon Triche, Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph and Rick Jackson can all fill it up. Butler will be racing to keep up with the expected Orange scoring onslaught. Butler beat Xavier by a point and topped Ohio State earlier in the season, though the Buckeyes were without Evan Turner at that time, a difference-maker. Losses to Georgetown, Minnesota and Clemson might be more indicative of their true quality.
11 Washington (26-9) vs. 2 West Virginia (29-6), 7:27 pm EDT - Both teams won their conference tournaments and received automatic bids. The Mountaineers have won 8 straight, the Huskies 9 in a row. Washington relies heavily on Quincy Pondexter and Isaiah Thomas, their only players who average in double figures, though Elston Turner has stepped up in their first two tourney games and is their best 3-point shooter.
The Mountaineers sport more balance on offense, though their key player, Da'Sean Butler is a big-play guy with ice in his veins. If any game comes down to the wire, Butler is sure to have the ball in his hands, and he usually produces a winning play. Tourney play usually produces a number of stars, and Butler looks like one. He only scored 9 points in the opening round win over Morgan State, but wasn't really needed as West Virginia won by 27 points. Against Missouri, he was unstoppable, scoring 28 points and helping out on the boards with 8 rebounds.
West Virginia has a distinct size advantage over the Huskies. Pondexter, Washington's best inside player, is only 6'6", but plays bigger. Butler, who lines up as a guard, goes 6'7". Kevin Jones is 6'8", Devin Ebanks, 6'9" and Wellington Smith stands 6'7". If the size doesn't get to Washington, the Mountaineers can bring on their outside gunners, John Flowers and Jonnie West, son of West Virginia and NBA legend Jerry West.
This could turn into a coaching clinic as well. Washington's Lorenzo Romar is arguably the best coach in the PAC-10 and a brilliant tactician. Bob Huggins is coaching at his alma mater. This is his dream team.
6 Xavier (26-8) vs. 2 Kansas St. (28-7), 9:37 pm EDT The Xavier Musketeers have flown somewhat under the radar all season even though they've been ranked in the top 15 or 20 most of the season. They've won 9 of their last 10, the only loss coming to Richmond in the A-10 tourney final, which put three teams from that conference into the tourney. Xavier is the last one standing as Richmond and Temple were wiped out in the opening round.
Jordan Crawford is Xavier's go-to guy, scoring at over 20 points per game on average and coming up big in the tourney with 28 against Minnesota and 27 in the second round win over Pitt.
While Crawford is a one-man highlight reel, K-State offers an abundance of talent, especially in their back court, where Jacob Pullen and Denis Clemente have ruled all season. The front line of Curtis Kelly, Dominique Sutton and Jamar Samuels can get after as well. Their combined 30 points per game, with Pullen and Clemente's combined 35, gives the Wildcats unusual scoring balance and plenty of options.
K-State's record down the stretch may be a little misleading. After winning 7 straight in the Big 12, they ended the regular season with losses to Kansas and Iowa State, and then lost to Kansas again in the conference tourney final, but they remained motivated, easily handling North Texas and BYU in the first two rounds. They will be further energized by the departure of Kansas from the tourney field, knowing that they were the second-best team in the Big 12 all year and now have a shot at the Final Four. A meeting with #1 seed in the West region, Syracuse, seems inevitable.
1 Kentucky (32-2) vs. 12 Cornell (29-4), 9:57 pm EDT - This game could be a shocker or a Kentucky rout. It depends on whether the upstarts from upstate - the Cornell Big Red - can continue their torrid shooting pace against the tallest - and possibly the best - team in the nation.
Cornell bombed Temple, 78-65, and blistered Wisconsin, 87-69, shooting 56% against the Owls and an incredible 61% against the Badgers. The Big Red has shocked higher seeds - Temple was 5, Washington a 4 - but Kentucky poses other problems. Still, any team that shoots over 50% is going to be in any game, and the Cornell offense, predicated on ball screens, three-pointers and back-door cuts is extremely disciplined and they carry a nine-game win streak into the fray.
Kentucky comes into the game with about as much swagger and confidence a young, 34-2 team can offer. Guard John Wall has been touted as the NBA's next big thing, forward DeMarcus Cousins is a true powerhouse inside and the balance of the team is absolutely loaded with talent. The Wildcats can, and have, done damage inside or out, in transition or in their half-court sets.
The only knock on them - if there is a legitimate one - is their youth. They will put four freshman on the floor at any given time. Along with Wall and Cousins, guard Eric Bledose and forward Daniel Orton are also freshmen, but they will be aided by junior Patrick Patterson, a blue chip player in his own regard, who could prove to be the wild card for the Wildcats. Cornell simply doesn't have a player who can match up to his size and speed.
Cornell counters with plenty of experience, the biggest man on the floor, center Jeff Foote, Ivy league player of the year, Ryan Wittman and a bevy of 3-point bombers. The Big Red owns the top percentage from beyond the arc in the nation, and, if they're on the mark, will make this game much closer than many expect.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Moving Day: Orange, Buckeyes, Spartans, Big Red, Mountaineers Advance
10 Missouri 59
2 West Virginia 68
The Mountaineers held off a scrappy Mizzou squad, but eventually wore them out. DaSean Butler led the charge with 28 points, including 12 of 13 from the foul line.
12 Cornell 87
4 Wisconsin 69
Cinderella Cornell established an early lead and expanded it to as many as 24 points in the second half, completely dominating their Big Ten rivals. Louis Dale had 26 points and Ryan Whittman scored 24 to pace the Big Red, improving their season record to 29-4. Cornell will face the region's top seed, Kentucky, in a regional semi-final game.
10 GA Tech 66
2 Ohio St. 75
The Buckeyes advanced past Georgia Tech to the regional semi-finals on the strength of Evan Turner's all-around floor presence. Turner tallied a game-high 24 points to go with 10 rebounds and 9 assists.
5 Michigan St. 85
4 Maryland 83
Greivis Vazquez hit a jumper to give Maryland a one-point lead with 6.6 seconds left, but Cory Lucious nailed a three as time expired, enabling Michigan State to advance. Durrell Summers single-handedly kept the Spartan hopes alive with 26 points, hitting 6 of 8 threes and 10 of 15 overall. Durrell's game-high total also equalled his career best.
1 Syracuse 87
8 Gonzaga 65
Once Syracuse had established a lead early in the first half, there was no looking back as the Orange, led by Wesley Johnson's game-high 31 and 14 rebounds and Andy Rautins' 24 points, throughly disabled the Gonzaga offense with the 2-3 zone defense and demoralized Gonzaga players by bombarding them with 3-pointers and an up-tempo offense. Syracuse shot 55% for the game, hitting 12 of 25 from beyond the arc.
The Orange advance to the regional semi-final against Butler.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Advancing: West Virginia, Cornell, Xavier Pitt
15 Morgan St. 50
2 W Virginia 77
Kevin Jones canned 7 of 8 shots and finished with a game-high 17 points and Devin Ebanks scored 16 to go with 13 rebounds, as the Mountaineers easily disposed of Morgan State in their opening round win.
12 Cornell 78
5 Temple 65
Louis Dale tallied a game-high 21 points and Ryan Wittman went 4-for-6 from beyond the arc as the Ivy league chalked up a win over A-10 rival, Temple. The owls trailed virtually the entire game, much of the time by double digits. Cornell advances to the second round where they will likely face Wisconsin, if the Badgers win their opening round game with Wofford. Cornell's win was the sixth by a double-digit seed in the tournament.
11 Minnesota 54
6 Xavier 65
The only Xavier player in double figures, Jordan Crawford poured in 28 points to lead all scorers as Xavier opened up late to hold off Minnesota, the first Big Ten team to see action in the tournament. Crawford has scored in double figures in 32 of Xavier's 33 games this season. It was his second-highest point total of the campaign.
Pitt put six players in double figures, exemplifying the kind of team effort the Panthers have relied upon all season, to leave no doubt against long-shot Oakland. The Panthers meet Xavier in the next round.
Saturday, March 06, 2010
Cornell Captures Ivy; Earns Tourney Seed
With their 95-76 win at Brown Friday night, Cornell's Big Red locked up first place in the Ivy League, earning them an automatic NCAA tournament bid.
Their remaining game at Yale tonight becomes inconsequential as Cornell already has a 12-1 record and 2nd place Harvard is two games back at 10-3, so, after Saturday's road finale, it will be back to the books for the brainy Cornellians, awaiting their fate from the selection committee on March 14. By the time Cornell players are back on the hardwood they will have had at least an 11-day layoff. That's a long time the Big Red can use to plot the overthrow of a #3 or #4 seed. They're currently ranked around 50 in the field of 65.
In Friday's win, the Big Red used long ball to demolish the Brown Bears, hitting 20 of 30 shots from 3-point range. Leading the long-range barrage was senior forward Jon Jaques, who 7 of 9, including 6 of 8 from downtown. A 48% 3-point shooter on the season, Jaques also handled 7 rebounds and led five players in double figures with 20 points.
The Big Red has demonstrated ability to score in all aspects of the game throughout the season, so their opponent in the first round of the NCAA tourney better come well-prepared.
Saturday, February 20, 2010
Big Red Steaming Toward Ivy league Title
If it's Friday, it must mean Ivy League hoops. Unlike most other conferences, which take Friday's off, many of the Ivy League schools - where the focus is on academics - play almost exclusively on weekends, meaning cramming games onto the Friday night fare.
Last Friday, Cornell was suffering through its worst game of the season, a 79-64 loss to lowly Penn at the Palestra. The Big Red quickly made amends, beating Princeton the following night before heading back North to Ithaca, NY.
This Friday found the Cornell troops at Harvard, where Ryan Wittman and his buddies dispatched the Crimson smart set with a 79-70 win. Wittman, a 6'6" senior forward, scored a game-high 27 points on 10-for-20 shooting, which included 6 of 12 from beyond the arc. He also collected 6 rebounds and blocked a pair of sots as Cornell won their third straight game - all on the road - and continued to lead Princeton by a 1/2 game at 8-1 in the conference standings. Princeton improved to 7-1, coasting past Yale, 81-52.
Wittman has scored in double figures every game except one this season, when he scored just 4 points at UMass in Cornell's second game of the season.
Cornell travels again, to Dartmouth, Saturday, before returning home to prepare for next Friday's 7:00 pm home showdown with Princeton.
Saturday, February 06, 2010
Big Red Continues to Stomp Through Ivy
After dispatching with previously-perfect in conference Harvard in a very unfriendly manner last Saturday (86-50), Cornell's Big Red continued their domination of lesser Ivy league foes by thrashing Yale, 90-71, with 7-foot senior center Jeff Foote having another big game.
Foote hit 7 of 11 shots from the field for 15 points and pulled down 13 rebounds for his 7th double-double of the season. Unranked Cornell sports one of the better records in the nation at 19-3 are 5-0 in the Ivy League. Their remaining major test comes next Saturday (Feb. 13), when they travel to face Princeton (12-5, 3-0). The two teams have a return date at Cornell on the 26th of February. Those two games should decide the Ivy League champion, though Cornell currently appears unbeatable.
Saturday, January 30, 2010
Cornell Stomps Dartmoth, Continues Roll through Ivy
When Ivy Leaguers from Dartmoth meet with Cornell, it's Big Green vs. Big Red, but the greens were swallowed up in a sea of red Friday night as Cornell plastered Big Green, 71-37, continuing their dominance over fellow Ivy Leaguers.
Sporting a 17-3 record, Cornell's only losses have come from outside the conference, to powerhouses Syracuse, Kansas and Seton Hall, though Big Red held their own in each of those contests. Against Dartmouth, Cornell emptied their bench (amd maybe some of the stands) using 19 different players to extend a 27-13 half time lead for 44 second half points and a thorough beating.
Leading the way was 3-point specialist and Massachusetts transfer, Max Groebe, who hit his only 2-point attempt, and connected on 4 of 6 from beyond the arc to raise his season shooting percentage from long range to an incredible 59.4%. Groebe played just 16 minutes but tallied a team-high 15 points. 11 other Big Red players scored in the one-sided affair.
Cornell will try to go 4-0 in the Ivy League when they face Harvard - also 3-0 - on Saturday in Ithaca, NY. Back-to-back weekend games are the norm in the Ivy, where the focus is on books rather than hoops. All conference games are played on either a Friday or Saturday.