Sunday, December 30, 2007

ACC game of the week (12/30 - 1/6) - #20 Clemson vs. #1 North Carolina (1/6)

ACC ball is starting to pick up and there were a few big games to choose from this week. Virginia at Xavier should be a great game to watch as should #3 Kansas at Boston College. After looking at the schedule though it be hard to say that either of those games matter more than Clemson at UNC next Sunday. The Tigers have won 11 of 12 games this year with their only loss coming against Ole Miss a little over a week ago. Coach Oliver Purnell has a deep squad this season as Clemson has 4 guys averaging over 10 points a game and 9 guys getting over 15 minutes a night. Maybe having so many players giving them good minutes can help them compete with the All-Americans on the other team. Carolina has won all 12 games they've played this season and have won their last two by a margin of 35 and 36 respectively. As expected, the Tar Heels seem to be playing the best ball of all the ACC teams going into Conference play. This should be a competitive game as Clemson wants to make people forget about last years late season breakdown and UNC is looking to go wire to wire.

Backcourt - Carolina's Tywon Lawson is one of the top 5 point guards in the country and he'll definitely be the best one on the floor next Sunday. Clemson's freshman point guard Demontez Stitt is having a decent year for a true freshman and dropped 15 on Samford yesterday. This should give him more confidence going into this game. It also helps Stitt to have senior guard Cliff Hammond and 6'5 junior K.C. Booker on the wings. Rivers is averaging over 16 a night (team best) and a little over 7 rebounds as well. K.C. is the only guard in the conference ranked in the top 10 in rebounding. Clemson should stay in this game as long as they get him going. While the Tigers' guards have been playing well Lawson's speed alone should give the Tar Heels an advantage in this matchup. We've already went on about how great Ellington, Ginyard, and Green have played and their size should give the shorter Clemson guard's problems. It bodes well for you when your point guard is in the top 5 assist leaders in the conference and your your two guard is in the top 5 in scoring. I'd go with Carolina.

Frontcourt - While Clemson has several talented low post players the Tar Heels have Player of the year candidate Tyler Hansbrough. He leads the conference in scoring (22 ppg) and rebounding (9.6 rpg), and free throws made (93). In fact, Tyler is hittin' more free throws than UVA's Sean Singletary (number 2 in free throws made) has shot. While Hansbrough might be tough to handle for one player, Clemson has at least three post players to throw at him. Led by James Mays Clemson's front court has bullied most of their opponents. Mays goes 6'9 230lbs. and considered the NBA for a bit this past summer. His biggest asset is his athleticism as he can do things like this:

To go along with Mays the Tigers have 6'7 240lbs sophomore Trevor Booker. Booker is 3rd in the conference in rebounds per game (9.3) while shooting 60% from the field this season. The matchup inside is the one opportunity that Clemson has to win this game. If they can keep Hansbrough in check they can keep the game close and have a shot to win at the end. Tyler doesn't have too many bad games though and for that reason I like Carolina here as well.

While this should be a great game there's no reason to think that Carolina won't go on a few of those classic runs and keep Clemson at least 8 to 10 points away throughout the game. The Tiger's best chance is to keep their front court players out of foul trouble so they can keep the Heels off the glass late in the game. I think Carolina takes this one by the middle of the second half but Clemson goes on a run at some point late in the game to make it interesting.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

ACC Game of the Week (12/23-12/30) - Nevada vs. #1 North Carolina (12/27)

The best ACC game you'll find this week is on Thursday as the Nevada Wolf Pack come to Chapel Hill to play the number one ranked Tar Heels of North Carolina. While it's unrealistic to expect Nevada to have the quality depth that the Tar Heels possess you shouldn't sleep on the Wolf Pack. The good news for Wolf Pack fans is that after a rough start their team has won their last 5 games and are finally beginning to come into their own. NBA prospect Marcelus Kemp has increased his scoring average to 19.1 and is averaging almost 6 boards a game. He should keep Nevada in the game and even give them a shot to win if North Carolina plays horribly. Unfortunately for these same fans UNC is on an eleven game winning streak and will probably not play bad enough for them to lose this game. Here is a quick look at the matchup:

1. Point Guard - UNC's laser quick Sophomore Tywon Lawson is one of the best point guards in the country. He's so good that the best song in the history of youtube basketball clips was used in his video (the song is 'Cold World' by Tribeca). In fact, I'm willing to bet that Bobby Frasor, UNC's backup point guard, would be too much for Nevada to handle. Who is Nevada's point guard you ask? Well I looked a second a go and it's a guy name Armon Johnson. No disrespect Armon but I think it's going to be a long day for you. Advantage Tar Heels.

2. Shooting Guard - The best player in this match up is UNC Sophomore Wayne Ellington. Ellington, the 06's McDonald's All American, is averaging a little over 17 points a contest and can score with any guard in the country. While Nevada's Brandon Fields has averaged a respectable 12.5 point per game he won't be able to outshine Ellington. Advantage - Tar Heels.

3. Small Forward - This will be the best match up of the night. Nevada's Marcelus Kemp can ball. Plain and simple. He was an NBA prospect last season and decided to come back for his Senior season to drop even more buckets. Across from him will be UNC Junior Marcus Ginyard. For those that don't know Ginyard is a lock down on ball defender. In fact he is the best on ball defender in the ACC and perhaps the country. His athleticism and length give most college guards fits. While Ginyard will probably force Kemp to shoot tough shots Kemp will probably score a lot as his team will need all the points they can get. Advantage - Wolf Pack.

4. Power Forward - This is the only position on the court where both teams don't get much production. North Carolina's 6'8, 240lbs. Sophomore Deon Thompson was supposed to be the perfect compliment to All Everything Center Tyler Hansbrough. Last season he shot almost 56% from the field but this season he has seen his field goal percentage dip to 48%. On the other side Nevada's Sophomore power forward is not really asked to do much offensively. He is mainly in the lineup to provide a big body down low. Normally I would say this matchup is a wash but because Thompson is the more talented player the Heels get the nod here. Advantage - Tar Heels.

5. Center - UNC has Tyler Hansbrough and the Wolf Pack don't. The Wolfpack's starting center these day is 6'11 Flint, Michigan native JaVale McGee. While at first glance it seems like this will be UNC's biggest advantage it actually is not. McGee is a talented big guy averaging almost 13 points and 9 boards a game. Against a California-Berkeley's big time front court (both interior players for the Bears are NBA prospects) JaVale scored 19, had 9 rebounds, and blocked 6 shots. While I think he will cause Tyler problems at times with his length Tyler should get the best of this match up due to his experience and overall skill level. Hansbrough is everyone's All-America and deservedly so. Advantage Tar Heels.

Bench - UNC has at least 5 guys that could probably start on Nevada. UNC's Danny Green is averaging 13 off the bench and would be probably be the Wolf Pack's second best player if here on their team. Advantage Tar Heels.

Coaches - I'll take Roy Williams over most coaches in the country. Mark Fox is a very good coach but he has a ways to go before he builds a resume quite like Roy's. Advantage Tar Heels.

That's 6-1 in favor of North Carolina. From this you might say that I don't think the Wolf Pack have a shot.....You're right. Should still be enjoyable as Nevada does have NCAA tournament experience and should put up a fight.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Storm Watch: Hurricanes are coming on.

The Miami Hurricanes are 9-0. Not the football team, not the baseball team, but the basketball team is undefeated in mid December. Yes, it is Frank Haith's team that is off to their best start in six years. The Hurricanes are led by Baltimore's own Jack McClinton who is averaging just under 15 points a night. The keys to Miami's success has been their ACC leading 44.1% three point field goal percentage and their 42.9 rebounds per game average (second best in the league). That's a pretty easy formula for success. Grab every rebound and hit a lot of three pointers. What many (including myself) overlooked about this Miami team is that they are huge. They have six players who are at least 6'7 232lbs. This is a huge advantage for a team that does not have the consistent guard play that the upper echelon teams in the league possess. The big men, led by 6'9 242lbs fifth year senior Anthony King have been aggressive both offensively and defensively and have taken some of the pressure off of the guards. This season has progressed exactly how Haith would like......and we'll show you how.

While the Hurricanes have yet to play an ACC game they have played some formidable competition. Their first game of the year against Florida Southern (11/9/07) turned out as expected as the Canes' handled the Mocassins easily. After this game it was off to the O'Reilly Auto Parts Puerto Rico Tip-Off to take on Marist in the opening round game. Miami took care of Red foxes and it was clear that this year's Miami squad will be able to handle the opponents they should. Game 3 however was a different animal altogether. They took on a very talented VCU team led by big time point guard Eric Maynor. You might remember Maynor (if you don't remember, watch) absolutely abusing the Duke guards in that round of 32 game in last year's NCAA tournament. Well, things weren't much different for Miami's guards as Maynor went off for 27 points and 6 assists but in this contest Miami got a little bit more. McClinton went off for 23 and Anthony King went to work with 10 points, 15 rebounds, and 3 blocks as Miami went on to win by 6 at home. Two days later 6'7 junior guard Brian Asbury dropped 16 (3-4 from three point land) on Providence in the Puerto Rico tip off championship game (11/18/07) as the Canes' would win that contest by six.

Six days later the Hurricanes were back on the main land for the first of three straight home games against Morgan State, Alabama State, and St. John's respectively. The Hurricanes would take care of these challenge pretty easily and beat a decent Florida International team by 13 on the road before heading to Starkville, Mississippi to take on the Mississippi State Bulldogs. This was the first true test for 8-0 Miami as they had yet to face a team with a physically imposing point guard like the Bulldogs Jamont Gordon. Gordon combines NBA size and skills at the point guard position and is a very difficult match up for any college guard. Well if you heard what happened already it was apparent that Jack McClinton didn't get the memo. He lit up the Bulldogs for 29 on 5-10 three point shooting and the Canes' garnered a huge out of conference road win. On that third Sunday in March when the Hurricanes will be at home watching the NCAA tournament show they can be at ease a bit knowing that they won 3 tough out of conference games early on in the season. The new challenge for Frank Haith's squad is to see if they can make it through the ACC regular season unscathed.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

ACC Season is here.....and I'll be jumping up and down like I'm in a student section. So should you.

With the regular season officially kicking off tonight it is a great time to revisit the ACC basketball predictions. Many teams have played between 7 and 9 games and the coaches have further established which rotations they will use. Not much has changed at the top but the middle of the pack looks a little bit different. This year the ACC is very competitive as the conference won the ACC/Big Ten Challenge for the ninth straight year. ACC teams went a combined 8-3 in the challenge this year proving that once again it is the premiere conference in the country. With this said, here are the updated rankings:

Team Predictions (updated 12/9/07):

1. North Carolina: Still the best. Simply put this team has an unreal amount of talent. They are getting a combined 38.4 points per game from their top 3 wing players (2 starters, 1 bench player). Danny Green is averaging 14 a game on 55% shooting from the field.
2. Duke: Solidly the second best team in this conference. They could have a scare against more experienced opponents like Clemson but they should finish no worse than second this year. Things are going well for you when your 8th man (Taylor King) shoots 50% from three point range and averages just under 10 points per.
3. Maryland: Gary is relying on a lot of freshman this year to provide valuable minutes but they have still have great experience at both guard sports. The key for them is that Eric Hayes is looking to score more. They'll be in good shape all season because their starting backcourt can create scoring opportunities for everyone else. Hayes and Vasquez are averaging a combined 11.4 assists per game.
4. Virginia: Big win at Arizona, tough loss at home against Syracuse (should be noted Sean Singletary had strep throat). The biggest surprise here is the vastly improved play of Adrian Joseph. The 6'7 forward is averaging 12 points and about 9 rebounds per game. Virginia will get some much needed help on defense when Tunji Soroye returns in mid to late January.
5. Clemson: Clemson is undefeated again at this point in the season but this year they have played some more formidable opponents. They also have 4 guys scoring in double figures each night.
6. North Carolina State: They have dropped due to 3 bad losses. I know they are lacking a point guard but you can't lose to East Carlina, get blown out at Michigan State, and lose to New Orleans at home. They'll be better once Tennessee transfer Marques Johnson becomes eligible next semester.
7. Florida State: This team is off to a great start (9-2). They have a great resume win against in-state rival Florida and really haven't gotten much from their highly touted freshman big men yet. Once Julian Vaughn becomes a bit more comfortable he and Alabi should really help this team inside.
8. Boston College: They are also off to a decent start but they still lack scoring and outside shooting. Two of their top 3 point shooters are freshmen.
9. Georgia Tech: Their record (4-4) doesn't indicate the type of team they have. They have played quality competition thus far while trying to recover from losing their starting point guard and small forward from last season. Getting 6-8, 235lbs. Zach Peacock will help the Jackets in both three point shooting and rebounding. He's tough on the opponents big man.
10. Miami: Undefeated Miami has more than exceeded expectations up to this point. I still think they will struggle in the ACC but they have definitely much better than last year. Great win on the road at Providence as well.
11. Virginia Tech: Less than impressive point guard play and youth in the backcourt will be difficult for them to overcome.
12. Wake Forest: Wake is slowly rebuilding. They have a very talented freshman in James Johnson and highly touted recruiting class coming in next year.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Medford's Finest: Kyle Singler

It would not be an exaggeration to say that Duke Freshman Kyle Singler was the biggest thing to happen to his hometown - Medford, Oregon- in the last half-century. Medford rallied around Singler as he carried his South Medford High School team to state supremacy and national renown.

Kyle's father, mother and grandfather (among other family members) were Pac-10 athletes, so his pedigree is true. His high school team featured his brother and younger cousin: three fundamentally-sound Singlers running circles around their competition. Were it not for Lake Oswego's Kevin Love (son of former NBAer Stan Love), Singler most likely would have won back-to-back-to-back state titles.

Singler's array of skills led his legion of gap-toothed followers on a statewide barnstorm, especially during his Junior and Senior year, as the Medford faithful made the hours-long trip up Interstate 5 to watch him play in nationally-recognized tournaments like the Les Schwab Invitational.

Watching Singler in high school, what stood out were his fundamentals, consistency and competitive edge. It's fairly common to see the most-skilled player on the court working his ass off to win games; it's less common to see the same player play end line to end line for 40 full minutes. It's even less common to see that player, at 16 or 17 years of age, playing the game hard, to win, and playing it the right way: boxing out, bounce passes, ball in the triple-threat position immediately upon receiving a pass on the wing, dribbling with his head up at all times, making free throws, getting low when playing defense in the post. The kid just does it all, and does it all well.

In conclusion, Kyle Singler was born to play for Duke University and Coach K. He knows it, the Medford faithful know it, and soon a national audience will know it.

- Ben Golliver

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Swoosh: Isaiah's Swann Song

This week's focus is on the Florida State senior guard Isaiah Swann. Seven games into his final season Isaiah is averaging a team high 16.6 points and 3.9 assists per game while leading his team to a record of 5-2. Swann has improved his game in almost every facet, the most noticeable being his three point shooting percentage. He shot a remarkable 41% from three last season with big Al Thornton diverting the defenses attention. This season, as the teams primary scoring option he is shooting a ridiculous 51% from the three point line. Let that register for a second. On the highest level of college basketball you can play he is making every other three point shot he attempts. That's incredible. If that's not enough for you he is also perfect from the free throw line this season making all 25 of his attempts.

As it might seem, basketball has always come easy to Isaiah Swann . Under coach Dan Harwood he lead Magruder high school (Rockville, MD) to a state championship as a freshman. That's right, as a freshman he was the best player on a Maryland State basketball champion. Apparently, as though he missed the memo on how to be a big time 15 year old basketball player, he was very humble as well. I got a chance to speak with coach Harwood and he told me one of his favorites stories about Swann took place back in 2001, just before Magruder would march through the playoffs for their first state championship. Harwood explained that Swann wasn't playing well defensively in a game against Blair High School, a week before the playoffs were to begin. As a result, he decided that he wouldn't start Swann for the next game but was apprehensive about the move because he wasn't sure how Isaiah would react. Could you imagine if the move didn't work, Isaiah nor the team took well to it, and they didn't play up to their potential? Fortunately for Harwood it worked extremely well. He said Isaiah was actually OK with the move to the bench and clearly the team was as well as they would go on to win it all. Coach Harwood added "The way he handled that. He's always been a great kid."

In high school, the only thing that could stop Isaiah from dominating on the court was his commitment in the classroom. You see, that 01' championship season at Magruder was his second attempt at 9th grade and he was forced to miss a large part of his sophomore basketball season due to academic struggles as well. It is hard to understand why the kid who Coach Harwood said 'worked hard on his game' and 'loved to play' wouldn't do all that he could to stay academically eligible. In fact, I decided to write this story because I remember reading about his issues in the Washington Post, the transfer to Oak Hill, then the move to Hargrave Military Academy, and wondering what would ever come of the talented guard from the DC area. Well I now have my answer. Isaiah Swann is an All-ACC caliber basketball player and most importantly he is scheduled to graduate from Florida State University at the end of this academic year. In addition I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that he will be graduating in good academic standing at FSU. To me this says that Isaiah has taken an improved approach to his education, not just doing the bare minimum to get by. Congratulations Isaiah. Coach Harwood, myself, and the entire DC area are proud of you. Keep doing your thing.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

ACC Game of the Week (11/18-11/25) - Maryland vs. #2 UCLA

This week's big game takes us to Kansas City, Missouri for the O'Reilly Auto Parts CBE Classic matchup between #2 ranked UCLA and Maryland. By the way, does it seem like anyone can sponsor one of these basketball tournaments? I can't wait for the day I'm watching the Gebco Classic (Baltimore, MD) on ESPN and I see this commecial Go Gebco! Disclaimer: If that's not funny to you there is something wrong with you, not me. Anyways, while UCLA appears to be the superior team they are without All-Pac 10 point guard Darren Collison and Maryland's James Gist is averaging a more than respectable 21.5 ppg and 8.5 rbg. While these two players play large roles for their team clearly most of the hype going in is on National Freshman of the Year candidate Kevin Love and deservedly so. The highly ranked freshman is averaging a 20.7 points and 10.3 rebounds in his first three games but this will be his first test against big time basketball competition. Unfortunately for Kevin, Gary Williams has assembled a front line at Maryland that is a bit more competitive than those of his first three opponents (Portland State, Youngstown State, and San Bernardino). Bambale Osby, Jerome Burney, Braxton Dupree, and the aforementioned Gist will prove to be too much for Love and frontcourt partner Lorenzo Mata. Gist is the best athlete either team has inside. Advantage Murlin!

In the backcourt the situation gets a bit more interesting. UCLA will come out with with Russell Westbrook at point guard with smooth Josh Shipp at the two and big time Luc Richard Mbah a Moute running the 3 spot. Westbrook and Shipp have Final Four game experience and loads of talent. Both will get paid in full to play basketball in the near future. Their athleticism and skill set could pose a problem for Maryland's backcourt. Pretty much, Maryland likes to play a lot of man to man and I don't think their point guard Eric Hayes can't check Westbrook, end of story. On the flip side Westbrook doesn't seem that comfortable on the free throw line, which might come back to haunt him in a game that should be close at the end. Hayes is a 93% free throw shooter. Moving to the wing it is fairly evident that Josh Shipp might be the best basketball player on the court at tip off. He's a cerebral basketball player that can get off his shot whenever he wants. To add to UCLA's fire Mbah a Moute is also a very intelligent player. He made a few passes last week that were ridiculous (the good ridiculous). Mbah a Moute doesn't have the ball handling to help as much on the perimeter but he will certainly help on the glass. Advantage Bruins.

My x-factor for this game is Maryland two guard Greivis Vasquez. I'm willing to bet he is one of the few college players averaging over 16 point a game to also put up almost 7 assists and 6 boards a contest as well. Vasquez is a dynamic player and his energy gets his team into the game. He can create this frenzied environment that invigorates his teammates and fans. In college basketball this is huge. I wrote 3 paragraphs about this game and now I'm realizing I only need one sentence. If Vasquez plays big, Maryland wins. Unfortunately I think Shipp's defense will be too much for him and as a result, UCLA will win. Feel free to call me out if you disagree. I'd do it to you.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

ACC Basketball Predictions

ACC Basketball is here again and not a moment too soon. There are several intriguing stories this season that will dictate the standings by seasons end. Will Landon Milbourne be the small forward Gary and the terps need to win? Can Kyle Singler (watch, he's number 33) and the other Duke freshmen provide the scoring and athleticism that they sorely lacked last season? Can Virginia maintain the momentum from last year's magical season without J.R. Reynolds?......This is the beauty of the ACC, every team can win on any night. How many conferences can boast that their 10th place team (Florida State) has brought in the nation's fifth best high school center (five star Solomon Alabi)? With that said I give you the the first ever ACC Ballers season preview:

Team Predictions:

1. North Carolina: Their talent, depth, and athleticism should prove too much for everyone else. Watch for Wayne Ellington to have breakout year as a sophomore after a solid first year.
2. Duke: Talent. Singler, Nolan Smith (watch) and Taylor King should be the influx of talent that this program needed.
3. Maryland: Might be high for some people's liking but they have the ingredients of a good acc team. Young but experienced backcourt and a big time front court player in senior James Gist.
4. North Carolina State: Sidney Lowe has infused new life into this program. They've got the talent inside to beat anyone in this conference but point guard play is an issue. Can Farnold Degand be the solution? I'm not sure, but we'll see. Apparently 07' McDonald's All American power forward J.J. Hickson (watch) is the real deal.
5. Virginia: In college hoops, guards win games. Senior Sean Singletary has been the best point guard in the conference for the past two seasons. He'll retain that title this season as well.
6. Clemson: Played a very soft schedule last season and it hurt them come ACC season. James Mays leads the way here.
7. Georgia Tech: They get Lewis Clinch, their leading scorer before his suspension, back to go along with high school All American Gani Lawal.
8. Florida State: Tough team with experienced guard play. They need a big year from Uche Echefu.
9. Boston College: Lost two first round picks on the front line in Jared Dudley and Sean Williams and will have a tough time making up that loss of production. Junior point guard Tyrese Rice will have to do more than ever this season.
10. Wake Forest: Tough off season for the Demon Deacons. They'll look to sophomore point guard Ishmael Smith to run the show.
11. Virginia Tech: Lost two big time guards and now must rebuild. This could be a very long season in Blacksburg as they have to find a way to replace the almost 29 point per game they lost in the backcourt. The heralded freshman from Washington, DC Jeff Allen should contribute inside though.
12. Miami: Jack McClinton, the junior guard from Charm city leads the way. He needs some help though, and it doesn't look like he'll get it this year.