Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Champions Classic -The Best Night Of The Non-Conference Season

The best single night of the non-conference season is the Champions Classic tonight in Chicago. (nationofblue.com)

In the first week of the college basketball season, when ranked programs are supposed to hone their skills against weaker opponents, the big boys are coming out to do battle tonight in Chicago. Four of the most storied programs in college basketball will be under the same roof for a double header that will be the center of the college basketball world.

This is the final leg of the three-year, round-robin-style Champions Classic. No. 1 vs. No. 2 and No. 4 vs. No. 5. Kentucky vs. Michigan State and Duke vs. Kansas. These are matchups perfect for March but four months early. Freshmen phenoms will battle. Hall of Fame coaches will try to outwit their counterpart. Passionate fan bases will get into heated Twitter fights about how the other team is a bunch of cheaters.

These coaches and programs need to be commended for agreeing to this tournament. It seems like an easy sell; go play in the United Center or Madison Square Garden in prime time against one of the best teams in the country. But doing so the second week of the season when even John Calipari thinks his team of McDonalds All-Americans isn't very good yet is a lot to ask.

Yet no one will look in March at a Kentucky or Michigan State loss tonight as a reason either should fall in the bracket seeding. A win for either side doesn't guarantee anything, but it's a marker to evaluate and boost a team's confidence. And after playing this level of competition, Miami of Ohio is going to seem like a walk in the park. You want your team to get better? Play the best.

One of the best decisions of the college basketball season thus far was to extend the classic for another three years, traveling to Indianapolis in 2014, Chicago in 2015 and New York City in 2016. The Maui Invitational and Preseason NIT are great early-season tournaments, but there is no greater one night of hoops in November than the Champions Classic. You know what you will get every year. Great players, great coaches and a ton of hype.

In the first year of the event, Kansas faced Kentucky. Those two teams later met up in the national championship game. Enjoy the games tonight and hope and we may be lucky enough to see part two of these matchups in March.

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Friday, November 8, 2013

Friday Roundtable: The 2013-14 Final Four

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among a group of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

Poorly fitting polos and too-short ties are what the Big 12 is all about until March. (Danny Medly/USA Today Sports)

This week's question:The college basketball season kicks off today. Who will make it to the Final Four in March?

Andrew Wiggins already set his goals of winning a national championship and going No. 1 in the NBA draft directly afterward. The truly imposing thing is, although the freshman forward is getting the lion's share of Kansas' attention, he has the supporting cast to accomplish the former. Wayne Selden and Joel Embiid are getting some secondary shine after offseason and exhibition workouts, but this Jayhawks team is still stacked with players the like of Perry Ellis and freshman Conner Frankamp, a combo guard with deep range and a reliable shooting form who is lost in the media hype surrounding a KU team that should make the Final Four.

Kentucky? As stacked as ever. The Wildcats are young, of course, and after a year off, head coach John Calipari has what is arguably his best recruiting class in recent years. Expect a deep NCAA Tournament run capped with - if nothing else - a Final Four appearance.

This next name isn't as much of a shoo-in as Kansas or Kentucky, and isn't exactly an underdog, but it still feels like a bit of an out-on-a-limb guess: Louisville. The defending national champions lost Peyton Siva (whom I championed during the draft) and interior presence Gorgui Dieng to the NBA, but head coach Rick Pitino's squad still sports lightning bolt Russ Smith as a lead guard with backcourt mates Chris Jones and Kevin Ware balancing his occasionally out-of-control play, which shouldn't be completely erased even with an expected step forward in maturity. At 6'10", freshman Mangok Mathiang is the tallest body on the Cardinals' roster, which will allow Pitino to utilize the same sets in which the 6'11" Dieng stood out last season. There's some ground to make up without Siva's ability to pick pockets, but Louisville's pressure defense will still create turnovers and quick points for the Cardinals in the newly branded American Athletic Conference and on the way to a follow-up trip to the Final Four.

The last spot is a toss-up, for me, and even though strong cases can be made for multiple teams, I'll call it for Oklahoma State. I don't believe the Cowboys can win it all in the Big 12, much less the nation, with Travis Ford coaching. The return of Marcus Smart, one of the nation's premier point guards, for a sophomore season in which he'll be surrounded by supreme athleticism from the likes of Le'Bryan Nash and Markel Brown is just enticing enough for me to be sold on the Pokes willing their way into a rather unexpected run through the NCAA Tournament and topping out just short of the title game.

I actually don't think it would be out of the question for the four participants in Tuesday's Champions' Classic to all be in the Final Four. That would be Kentucky, Michigan State, Duke and Kansas, who are all in the top five in the preseason poll. We would be lucky if that was the case because there are countless great matchups there from four prestigious programs. Seeing as it is called March Madness and all four of these teams could be No. 1 seeds, rarely does it work out like this. However, this year feels top-heavy and I don't know how many Cinderellas, or even 3-4 seeds, will be able to crack the Final Four. A team like VCU or Marquette has a chance, but it's too early to make a pick on them now.

That's why my Final Four, which at this point we are basically basing on potential, is going to be Michigan State, Kentucky, Kansas and Arizona. A Tom Izzo player always gets to a Final Four and this is the year that happens again. Gary Harris, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne are experienced and lead an extremely talented team. For the other three teams, it's so hard to tell how freshmen will react (see Kentucky last year) but there is so much talent that can't be overlooked. Kentucky is overflowing with McDonalds All-Americans, led by No. 2 recruit Julius Randle. Arizona has the freakishly athletic Aaron Gordon and junior guard Nick Johnson could be huge for the Wildcats this season. Finally, my Kansas pick is more than just Andrew Wiggins. Wayne Selden is a probable one-and-done, the 7-footer Joel Embiid could have the highest ceiling of them all, and quiet forward Perry Ellis could still lead this team in scoring.

It's so hard to predict this early in the year, as so much could change, but just by looking at potential, these four seem to have as good a shot as anyone.

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Thursday, November 7, 2013

ACC Preview: The New-Look ACC Is Stacked

The long wait will soon be over when the first full slate of NCAA basketball games of the 2013-14 season will tip-off on Nov. 8. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

Duke freshman Jabari Parker is a big reason why the Blue Devils are a favorite to win the ACC. (bigstory.ap.com)

Favorite: Duke
Syracuse, Notre Dame and Pitt are entering their first season in the ACC, but it is still Duke who is projected to be at the top of the standings. The Blue Devils received 50 first-place votes from ACC media in the preseason poll in large part thanks to freshman Jabari Parker and Mississippi State transfer Rodney Hood. Duke lost Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly, but Quinn Cook will take over at point guard and the Blue Devils have the talent to find themselves in first in the ACC at the end of the season. Go ahead and circle the regular-season finale between UNC and Duke in Durham to possibly decide the conference.

Dark Horse: Virginia
Virginia is ranked No. 24 in the preseason AP poll, yet with the star power of the teams mentioned above, it is quite possible Virginia gets overlooked. Still, the ACC writers have the Cavaliers finishing fourth in the conference, and with four returning starters (most notably the top to scorers from last season, Joe Harris and Akil Mitchell), Virginia could improve on a 23-12 record from a year ago. Virginia gets two key games at home at the end of the season against Notre Dame and Syracuse before ending the year at Maryland. This team seems poised to pull and upset or two at the expense of the conference elite.

Player of the Year: Jabari Parker, Duke
The ACC media picked Syracuse's C.J. Fair, who last year led a very talented team in scoring with 14.5 points per game and added seven rebounds per game. Fair very well may be the best player in the ACC this year, but it's tough to pick against another freshman phenom in Jabari Parker. Remember, Parker was on the cover of Sports Illustrated being called the next LeBron before Andrew Wiggins. Obviously any comparison between LeBron James and a player who has yet to record a minute in college is absurd. Still, it would be no surprise if the 6-foot-8, 220-pound forward burst onto the scene and dominated the ACC this year.  

Coach of the Year: Jim Boeheim, Syracuse
The natural instinct, after looking at who our favorite, player and newcomer of the years are, would be to select Mike Krzyzewski as coach of the year. Then we came across an interesting stat. Coach K has not won ACC Coach of the Year since 2000. That's not a knock on Krzyzewski. He's one of the greatest coaches of all time. Instead, it seems like the media like picking coaches such as Jim Larranaga of Miami and Leonard Hamilton of Florida State who have brought up surprising teams to the top of the conference. That's why if Boeheim can have Syracuse in competition for the ACC crown in the Cuse's first year in the conference, he seems like a strong pick for coach of the year. Also keep an eye on Tony Bennett from Virginia if the Cavaliers make one of those Florida State-like runs in conference play.

Newcomer of the Year:Jabari Parker, Duke
It seems like with many of our previews, the picks for conference player of the year are also newcomers. That's a credit to how strong this freshman class is, and tells you a bit about the culture of college basketball in the one-and-done era. Parker will be dangerous from all over the court and finds a way to score. His teammate, and Mississippi State transfer, Rodney Hood should also make a big impact on the Blue Devils this season and could be in the hunt for this award at the end of the year.

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Monday, November 4, 2013

SEC Preview: Can Kentucky Live Up To The Hype?

The long wait will soon be over when the first full slate of NCAA basketball games of the 2013-14 season will tip-off on Nov. 8. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

It could be all smiles for Julius Randle (30) and Kentucky as the Wildcats enter the season as the No. 1 team in the country. (kentucky.com)

Favorite: Kentucky
Before playing a game that matters, Kentucky is not only the favorite to win the SEC, but is also the No. 1 team in the country. The Wildcats will have something to prove after last year's experiment ended in a hugely disappointing loss in the NIT to Robert Morris. Like any Kentucky team under John Calipari, the Wildcats will be young, but very talented. This might be the most talented class Cal has assembled. Kentucky brought in five players ranked in the top 11 in Rivals 150 (Julius Randle, No. 2, Andrew Harrison, No. 5, Aaron Harrison, No. 7, Dakari Johnson, No. 9, and James Young, No. 11). Add in returners Willie Cauley-Stein and Alex Poythress and this UK team is stacked. The question will be if these young players can mesh together and mature quickly, and if there are enough shots to go around. Still, inexperienced or not, this Kentucky team should be skilled enough to avoid a scenario like last season.

Dark Horse Team To Watch: Alabama
Alabama is coming off a 23-13 season in which it found itself in a three-way tie for second place in the SEC with Ole Miss and Kentucky. Alabama was picked sixth by the media, but Anthony Grant's squad could make a run similar to last season. The big loss for the Crimson Tide is Trevor Lacy, who transferred to North Carolina State after finishing second on the team in scoring (11.7 ppg) last season. Still, Alabama returns another Trevor in senior Trevor Releford, the point guard who led the team with 15.4 ppg last season and was voted Preseason First-Team All-SEC by the media this year. Add in Rodney Cooper and freshman big man Jimmie Taylor, who was No. 69 on the Rivals 150, and the Crimson Tide could compete in the top half of the conference.

Player of the Year: Julius Randle, Kentucky
Randle was the No.2 player in the 2013 recruiting class, only behind Kansas' Andrew Wiggins. The left-handed, 6-9 forward is dangerous from every part of the floor and figures to be a very high pick in next year's draft. There will be a lot of bright spots on this Kentucky team, but Randle should shine the brightest. He will have some big stages to practice on before conference play as Kentucky plays No. 2 Michigan State, No. 25 Baylor, No. 12 North Carolina and No. 3 Louisville all before the new year.

Coach of the Year: John Calipari, Kentucky
It's difficult to pick anyone else when the leader of Big Blue Nation has the No. 1 recruiting class in the country and the No. 1 team in the preseason rankings. The pressure will be on Cal because of Kentucky's disappointment from a year ago, but that might actually help his chances of winning this award this season. If Cal can get his team to play like the national champion from two years ago and not the NIT team from last year, and win the league, the award will probably be his.

Newcomer of the Year: Julius Randle, Kentucky
Randle clearly has the biggest upside of any player in the SEC this year. Randle is a tough matchup with his ability to drive to the basket and post up. The only reason Randle is not either SEC Newcomer of the Year or SEC Player of the Year is because of all the talent around him getting their shots as well. Florida also has a pair of freshmen, Chris Walker (6-10" center, No. 6 Rivals recruit) and Kasey Hill (6-1" guard, No. 10 Rivals recruit), that could make a run at this award.

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Friday, November 1, 2013

Friday Roundtable: Biggest NBA Jumps and Falls

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among a group of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

Cleveland's Kyrie Irving abuses Brooklyn Nets coach Jason Kidd. (via NBA Offseason)

This week's question: Which NBA team will make the biggest rise or fall in 2013-14?

Chris S.:
Here's a wild prediction for you: the Cavs will make the 2nd round of the playoffs...by beating the Nets in the first round.

Cleveland has an MVP candidate in Kyrie Irving, but it's the improvement from Tristan Thompson and Dion Waiters that will help them get to the next step. Jarrett Jack is an excellent fit as a crunch-time combo guard, and there are a lot of talented bigs (Andrew Bynum, Andy Varejao, Anthony Bennett, Thompson and Tyler Zeller) to give Mike Brown more flexibility through the long regular season.

The Nets may be the best team money of curious origins can buy, but I don't think they'll be one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference. There are the very highest of expectations for this group, which will need to gel a talented, yet uninspiring core of Deron Williams, Brook Lopez and Joe Johnson with...the Celtics' old core of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce. Jason Terry was thrown in as a parting gift, because headbands are the new black. I'm not optimistic for this team's chances of finding an identity and learning how to play together under head coach Lawrence Frank - sorry, I meant Jason Kidd. Unless Deron Williams transforms from coach killer into a leader who can win over both cliques AND find enough shots to keep everyone happy, this could be a very emo season in Brooklyn. Too many cantankerous cooks in the kitchen.

The Detroit Pistons don't come with a reputation this season, not that anyone remembers away -- the team had maintenance work-done over the summer.

Though Jose Calderon's ability to play, composed, at the point and shooting guard positions will be missed, however; Chauncey Billups returns Detroit with the same aura that earned him Finals MVP after leading the Pistons to an NBA Championship in 2004. His lack of ability is compensated by leadership, his production beyond mentoring will come from behind the arc, he's a 39 percent lifetime shooter from three-point range. Billups was 4 of 5 from 'distance' in the season opener against the Wizards, he had 16 points in 31 minutes. 

The Pistons added a turbo with Brandon Jennings, reputation aside -- he's talented. Essentially swapping a third-year player for the man responsible for giving Earth the phrase "Bucks in Six" isn't a raw deal. Knight averaged one turnover more per 48 minutes last season, while Jennings ranked 16th in assists per game at the end of the year. Buckle up because he's the guy behind the wheel. Josh Smith who may attempt to navigate without control all season, but his game works at high speeds much like the rest of the Pistons. Playing aside Greg Monroe and Andre Drummond, the addition of "J-Smoove" completes a frontcourt that will look to score in transition -- a lot. 

With a new coach (Maurice Cheeks), new faces and newly-found optimistic expectations --the Pistons in the postseason would be the biggest jump, I believe, a team may make this season.

Numerically, the Cleveland Cavaliers will make the biggest jump of any team in the NBA. Point guard and dribbling savant Kyrie Irving was sporadically injured and the front court production was largely ravaged by the loss of Anderson Varejao after the veteran big man began the season on a tear, leading to the Cavs finishing last season with a lowly 24-58 record — third worst in the league. That won't be the case in 2013-14, particularly if some of the health issues ebb. A revamped roster has Varejao backed up by Andrew Bynum, who was considered by some to be the NBA's best center just two years; one of Golden State's bench spark plugs from last season, Jarrett Jack, and Matthew Dellavedova, an undrafted rookie playmaker out of St. Mary's, offer depth behind Irving; and Earl Clark is starting at small forward after showing flashes of previously unquantified talent with the Los Angeles Lakers in 2012. First-rounder Anthony Bennett should be able to provide bench scoring and, with Irving set to officially ascend to superstar status as back court sidekick Dion Waiters and power forward Tristan Thompson continue to develop, the Cavs can legitimately be projected into the playoffs as high up as the sixth seed. Need proof? Cleveland's already beaten a team considered to be a top-five talent in the Eastern Conference in the Brooklyn Nets squad that made one of the splashiest roster rearrangements over the summer.

The "biggest fall" team is tougher to predict, but the Denver Nuggets seem ripe to drop down the standings. A No. 3 seed in the Western Conference in the previous playoffs, there are numerous departures that stand starkly in contrast to an "addition by subtraction" argument. George Karl may not have a championship on his head coaching resume, but his frenetic offensive system was the perfect fit for speedy point guard Ty Lawson, with his upside being perpetually realized. The abilities of young, athletic players such as JaVale McGee and Kennth Faried could also be maximized in such a system. New head coach Brian Shaw worked in an historically rich culture with the Lakers, but the transition will be abrupt. Factor in the loss of one of the league's premier defenders and a top 10 or 15 overall asset in Andre Iguodala, then the rehabbing of small forward Danilo Gallinari ruling the Italian out until at least December, and the Nuggets could be in store for a long season.

I'm also of the mindset that Cleveland will make a huge jump this season, but seeing as we've covered the Cavs well in this piece, I like the Minnesota Timberwolves this season. I know, this is a risky pick seeing as some accident will happen throughout the course of the season to injure at least three players. Kevin Love and Ricky Rubio will break a rib giving a chest bump. That's just the way it's been. I think, and hope for their sake, this year will be different. If Love's 31-point, 17-rebound performance in the season opener is any indication, a massive season is in store for him. Rubio will continue to make plays and keep the offense moving, Corey Brewer can knock down shots and J.J. Barea and Alex Shved are more than capable of preventing a letup with Rubio is on the bench. The addition of Kevin Martin is also looking like a offseason move that will pay off. Martin didn't have a great shooting night against the Magic (23 points on 6-19 shooting), but found a way to get to the line (9-9) and is another weapon on the wing to give Love more space inside.

It's been a building process in Minnesota. It was just four and three years ago that Minnesota won 15 and 17 games respectively. The Timberwolves were 20 games under .500 last season, but the 31 wins shows improvement. This could be the season all the pieces come together and Minnesota finds itself closer to that .500 record.

After toying with mediocrity for years (and at times being downright dreadful) I’ve got the Milwaukee Bucks taking a big step forward. Yes, the Bucks made the playoffs last season, but this was not a team ready to make a postseason run. However, I think Milwaukee is primed and ready to do just that. I love what they’ve done, shaking up the personnel. I’ve been a huge O.J. Mayo fan since he entered the league, and I think the Bucks are the perfect team for him. Mayo’s best years have come as a starter, averaging 18.5, 17.5, and 15.3 points per game in his seasons as a starter. Coming off the bench, Mayo has only averaged 11.3 and 12.6 points per game. Mayo is still only 25 years old, and has his best years in front of him. Going back to a team where he is not only a starter, but one of, if not the, primary scoring option will only help both Mayo and the Bucks reach greatness. 

The addition of Caron Butler is another I think the Bucks did well to make. While Butler’s production has been on a gradual decline the past couple of seasons, what he will bring to Milwaukee is some much needed leadership. The Bucks are a young squad (only three players on the roster are over 30) and having a quality, veteran presence the younger players can look up to is an invaluable piece to have. If the Bucks young front court of Ekpe Udoh, John Henson, and Larry Sanders can continue to develop and take strides forward, and point guard Brandon Knight can begin to realize his potential, Milwaukee is going to be a handful for the rest of the league.

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Friday, October 25, 2013

Friday Roundtable: Expectations for Derrick Rose

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among a group of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

Can Derrick Rose rise to expectations in 2013-14? (Peter G. Aiken/USA Today Sports)

This week's question: Derrick Rose has finally returned to the court for the Chicago Bulls. What will the expectations be of him this season?

This is the rare occasion in which what expectations will be and what expectations should be are identical. Derrick Rose sat on the Chicago Bulls' bench in dress clothes for more than one season, including playoff games, and now the expectations are high as he's decided he's ready to return to the court. Rose has been under a magnifying glass since injuring his knee in the 2012 playoffs, with the media cycle focusing on when he would be ready for action and the heat intensifying after he was declared ready to play by team doctors and chose to continue riding pine under the banner of not being mentally ready.

Rose's 26-point performance against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Wednesday raised expectations even more. Even if it was just a preseason game, Rose managed to eclipse his career scoring average while notching six assists and four rebounds in 35 minutes. While he also committed five turnovers, those will be forgiven because the play-making and scoring are what grab attention. The extra time Rose took to rehab his injury and get his mind right allowed him to foster confidence in his ability to make the moves required of a point guard who utilizes cuts and explosiveness to do nearly everything. That's what allowed him to put up a Rose-routine stat line, as he made his way to the free throw line five times and sunk 10-of-10 gimmes. The more eye-popping statistic -- and what should be a precursor of things to come, according to Jeremy Bauman of Sheridan Hoops -- is Rose's 50 percent shooting from three. For a player hitting 31 percent of long range attempts on his career, going for 4-8 would typically be considered an anomaly, but Bauman notes that players returning from severe knee injuries tend to come back as better shooters. If this holds true and Rose is as healthy as he looks, Chicago's latest savior enters 2013-14 with an expanded arsenal that could not only meet expectations, but demolish them.

The expectations are always going to be high when the player is seen as the face of a franchise as Derrick Rose is with the Chicago Bulls. If Rose would have come back at some point last year, he would have been cut some slack. Maybe it was too soon? At least he's out there competing. Now it's been over a year and a pile of criticism has rained on Rose for not playing in last-season's playoffs when many thought he was ready. The expectations are even higher now that Rose put up 26 points in the Bulls' preseason game Wednesday against the Thunder.

I expect Rose to be back to the form that made him an elite player by the end of the year. These first games will be telling of what point that elite player returns. Ask any player who has suffered a major knee or leg injury and if they say they weren't cautious or terrified of contact or the normal cuts and jumping when they first return, they are liars. Rose's performance all depends on how quickly he can overcome the fear of re-injuring the knee and get back to confidently cutting and taking the ball into traffic. Wednesday was a good start and if that performance was any indication, expectations should be high for Rose this season. 

Typically with players coming off an ACL surgery, I’m hesitant to have too many expectations for the following season. However, Derrick Rose isn’t a typical player. Last season, Rose was physically cleared in time to finish the season and play in the playoffs. For some reason, though, Rose elected not to suit up and take the court. Many analysts and fans (myself included) speculated Rose was not mentally ready to push himself to 100 percent. While this may have had some truth to it, ultra-competitive superstars (such as Rose) don’t appreciate hearing their motivation and toughness questioned by spectators. The Chicago Bulls made a heck of a showing in the playoffs, knocking off the Brooklyn Nets in the first round, before falling to the eventual champions in the Miami Heat in the second round. Even though the Bulls fell in five games to Miami, they gave the Heat all they could handle physically. The one thing they lacked was a player who could take over a game and get the tough baskets. 

Rose is primed and ready, after having had the time to heal physically, and is motivated to prove the nation wrong about his mental toughness. I expect Rose to be the same player we were used to seeing before he was injured: a game changer who puts up 25 points and eight to 10 assists per game. With Rose back in full force, I think the Bulls are legitimate contenders to unseat the Heat as champions of the East and the NBA.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Pac 12 Preview: Aaron Gordon, Arizona Clear Favorites

The long wait will soon be over when the first full slate of NCAA basketball games of the 2013-14 season will tip-off on Nov. 8. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

Arizona freshmen Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (left) and Aaron Gordon (right) look to make a splash in the Pac-12 this season. (bleacherreport.com)

Favorite: Arizona
Sean Miller's club is the clear favorite, receiving 21 of 23 first-place votes from the Pac-12 media. The Wildcats lost their top two scores from last season in Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill, but part of Arizona's perceived success lies in the arrival of hyped freshman Aaron Gordon, the No. 4-ranked player in the ESPN 100 rankings. Arizona also has another McDonald's All-American in Rondae Hollis-Jefferson to compliment Gordon, as well as guard Nick Johnson, who averaged 11.5 points per game last season, and 7-foot sophomore Kaleb Tarczewski. This Wildcats team will be fairly young but loaded with talent that should be clicking by conference play.

Dark Horse Team to Watch: California
The loss of Allen Crabbe is significant, but if the Golden Bears can patch the scoring hole left by Crabbe, this could be a dangerous team. Seniors Justin Cobbs (15.1 ppg, 4.8 apg) and Richard Solomon (8.9 ppg, 6.8 rpg) will look to make the most out of their senior campaign and will have the help of freshman Jabari Bird, a McDonald's All-American shooting guard and No. 23 player in the ESPN 100. Cal was picked fifth by the Pac-12 media, but the Golden Bears' potential is greater. 

Player of the Year: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
It's tough not to pick the player that has had this much hype surrounding him. He will be the most talked about player in the conference, and has the luxury of playing on what many feel is the conference's best team. Remember this dunk? Gordon has a ton of raw talent and with Lyons and Hill gone, he will have an opening to make his presence known early on.

Coach of the Year: Tad Boyle, Colorado
This was a difficult selection, as Arizona's Sean Miller is always going to be a high candidate and if Steve Alford can turn UCLA around in his first season, it would be tough not to give him the honor. But Alford also has a ton of pressure on him and changing the culture in LA may take a bit more time. That's why I like Colorado's Tad Boyle. The Buffaloes lost Andre Robinson but are returning juniors Spencer Dinwiddle and Askia Booker, who were first and second on the team in scoring with 15.3 and 12.4 ppg respectively. Boyle will have to find someone to crash the boards as well as Robinson, but overall has a talented team that has played together before. Boyle is testing his team early with non-conference games against Baylor, Kansas and Oklahoma State from the Big 12, and the Buffs could be seasoned and balanced enough by January to make a run at the Pac-12. 

Newcomer of the Year: Aaron Gordon, Arizona
I know, I know, this isn't a very original pick, but sometimes the obvious choice is the correct answer. It's difficult to find flaws in his game, and Gordon will get tested early in the season against games versus UNLV and Michigan to get some of the freshman jitters and kinks worked out. It's obviously tough to judge a player who has yet to play a game of college basketball, but Gordon's potential is that he could be a star.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Big Ten Preview: Is It Michigan State's Turn At The Top?

The long wait will soon be over when the first full slate of NCAA basketball games of the 2013-14 season will tip-off on Nov. 8. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

Gary Harris and Michigan State are loaded and ready to reclaim the Big Ten crown. (iusportcom.com)

Five Big Ten ballers were drafted in June, four went in the first round and three in the lottery. Will the nation's "best conference" defend this imaginary title and send seven teams into the NCAA tourney again? While things appear to be thinner at the top, the depth remains strong and some squads (I'm lookin at you, Hoosiers) may thrive under lower expectations. This year, however, Tom Izzo will be the coach carrying the weight of Final Four expectations.

Favorite: Michigan State
A year after watching Indiana finish first in the regular season, seeing Ohio State win the conference tournament, and (worst of all for Spartans fans) viewing the big brother Wolverines in the national title game, Sparty should have more to cheer about this year as Gary Harris returns for what could be a very memorable sophomore season. The 6'4" guard was second on the team in minutes last year and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year, but nagging shoulder injuries blunted his effectiveness. Adreian Payne also returns as a top shot blocker with a great free throw stroke and surprising range from the floor. Swingman Branden Dawson, like Harris, is very talented and should break out this year if he can stay healthy. Point guard Keith Appling continued to tease and frustrate Spartan fans with his mercurial shooting and decision-making. In his senior year, will Appling cede to Harris in the backcourt? Izzo will earn his pay if he can smooth everything over and get his team to make the deep run their talent demands.

Dark Horse Team to Watch: Iowa
Ohio State should be nipping at the Spartans' heels all year, but in the spirit of picking an actual dark horse and not a runner-up, I'm going with the Hawkeyes. Coach Fran McCaffery has been rebuilding in Iowa City with an entertaining brand of ball, but it will be a disappointing setback if they don't get into the NCAAs in his fourth season. The NIT runner-up Hawkeyes return all of their key contributors; only seven starts from big man Eric May must be replaced this year. Roy Devyn Marble (yes, that is Roy's kid) had an up-and-down year and was actually benched at times by McCaffery, but he finished on a high note and his ability to get to the line and stretch a defense are crucial for this team. Aaron White is another quality player causing mismatch problems for opposing defenses, and four-star recruit (and 7-footer) Adam Woodbury should start to assert himself more in his sophomore season. The shooting of sophomore guards Mike Gesell and Anthony Clemmens will need to improve for the Hawkeyes to reach their full potential and dance into the Sweet 16 for the first time since Dr. Tom Davis helmed the Hawkeyes in 1999.

Player of the Year: Gary Harris (Michigan State)
Aaron Craft will be your broadcaster choice, but thankfully most of them don't get to vote on anything. Glenn Robinson and Sam Dekker should also contend here. That said, the best player on the best team generally wins this award, and Harris is my prime choice here. Harris has great size for a scoring guard in college, and with his shooting and athletic ability he should be getting to the free throw line much more often this year. As the featured option in the Spartan attack, his points per game should improve quite a bit. It will be interesting to see if he can show more playmaking ability, as nba scouts would be keen to have more examples on tape.

Coach of the Year: Fran McCaffery (Iowa)
In this conference there will always be a lot of qualified candidates who have already won this award, which actually makes it easier for voters to justify giving the nod to a "new guy" in the mix. Iowa is loaded up to take the next step, and McCaffery knows it. A Tuesday night showdown hosting the Spartans on January 28 could be a statement win.

Newcomer of the Year: Derrick Walton (Michigan) 
Replacing the national player of the year is a tall order, but Walton will only be asked to help steer what should still be a prolific offense under coach John Beilein. Mitch McGary, Glenn Robinson and Nik Stauskas will give Walton plenty of passing targets, and the true freshman point guard should show enough 3 point range to keep defenses honest as well.

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Thursday, October 17, 2013

Friday Roundtable: NBA Owner 1-on-1 Game

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among a group of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

L-toR: NBA owner, some guy, NBA owner. (deadspin.com)

This week's question: Memphis Grizzlies' owner Robert Pera wants to play Michael Jordan in a 1-on-1 owner game for $1 million to go to charity. What 1-on-1 matchup between NBA owners do you most want to watch?

Part of me wants to pit Justin Timberlake (Memphis Grizzlies) and Usher (Cleveland Cavaliers) against one another, but there would only be one winner when it came down to crunch time. In a face-off between New York Knicks owner James Dolan and Cavs majority owner Dan Gilbert, however, everyone is a winner (aside from, you know, whichever one loses). Both have been viewed as bumbling owners of NBA franchises, with Dolan taking flack for hiring Isiah Thomas as Knicks general manager and never anything else, while Gilbert became a famed Comic Sans calligrapher when his organization failed to put serviceable role players around LeBron James for seven seasons before seeing the homegrown talent take flight to Miami. James eventually disproved Gilbert's claim that Cleveland would win a championship before LBJ, who vanquished New York's hopes in the Eastern Conference while in the process of capturing two titles.

The only safe assumption in a Dolan-Gilbert square off is that there would be lots of awkward fumbling, probably some illegal hand-checking and a whole bunch of sweat, but Dolan gets the edge here as he would probably employ a "tickle-the-other-guy's-neck-with-your-beard" defense and either A) steal the ball for a contest-clinching basket as Gilbert pleads, "Come on, man, cut it out! That's going to irritate my skin!" or B) generally just creep out Gilbert and anyone bystanders until Dolan is left alone the court, taking several shots en route to a game-winner.

Maybe I'm wrong, but Michael Jordan doesn't make one of the two spots I most want to see. Yes, he's the best ever but a charity 1-on-1 game between NBA owners is for entertainment, and I want the two most entertaining owners on the court. That's why my match-up is Mark Cuban against Shaq. Remember, Shaq recently became an owner in the Sacramento Kings. Obviously, both would need to be wearing mics because the trash talk and banter would be the best part. Shaq would repeatedly back Cuban into the paint and lay a shoulder into him while going up for a dunk while Cuban screams for a foul and goes nuts like a ref just cost the Mavs a win. The thing that could make this interesting is Cuban looks like he could be sneaky athletic and I'm guessing Shaq hasn't been doing a lot of wind sprints since hanging up the jersey. The game ends with Shaq picking Cuban up so he can dunk it. Who wouldn't want to watch that?

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Mountain West Preview: Replacing NBA Talent

The long wait will soon be over when the first full slate of NCAA basketball games of the 2013-14 season will tip-off on Nov. 8. Some of our favorite players have moved on the ranks of professional athletes, new recruits have been polishing their games in gyms with recognizable logos on the court, and schools have switched conference allegiances. Through a series of conference previews, the BDD crew will do its best to prepare you for the next 4.5 months of collegiate hoops.

New Mexico's Kendall Williams will be the player to watch in the Mountain West this season. (denverpost.com)

Favorite: New Mexico
The Mountain West will be an interesting conference to watch this year as many of the top teams lost big-name players to the draft, but will still have firepower to compete for the crown. It could be crowded at the top, with UNLV losing Anthony Bennett but still having lots of talent, and Boise State, whom CBS Sports actually picked to win the conference. New Mexico may have lost Tony Snell, but the Lobos are returning senior Kendall Williams (team-high 13.5 points and five assists last year), who despite not having the recognition of Snell, was the Mountain West Player of the Year a year ago. UNM will also have a strong inside presence with Alex Kirk, a 7-footer who led the team in rebounding with 8.1 boards a game and was third on the team in scoring with 12.1 points per game. Both players were picked on the Mountain West Media Preseason All-Conference Team and could lead the Lobos to a third-straight regular-season conference title.

Darkhorse Team to Watch: Utah State
This is the first season for Utah State in the Mountain West after coming over from the Western Athletic Conference. The Aggies are picked to finish fifth in the conference media preseason poll, but before even looking at the team, Utah State has a weapon in the Dee Glen Smith Spectrum, which has been in the conversation for best home court advantages in college basketball. With this being the Aggies first year in the conference, many of these teams don't have much experience in that atmosphere. Utah State is also led by a talented group of seniors in Preston Medlin, Jarred Shaw and Spencer Butterfield. Medlin led the team in scoring with 16.3 ppg before breaking his wrist midway through the season. Shaw nearly averaged a double-double last year with 14.2 points and 8.4 rebounds and Butterfield also contributed 12.2 ppg and 6.6 rpg. If everyone remains healthy, this could be a dangerous team in conference play.

Player of the Year: Kendall Williams, New Mexico
As mentioned above, Williams was a stats leader for the Lobos even with Tony Snell getting all of the attention. He's the reigning player of the year, so this isn't exactly a going-out-on-a-limb pick, but with Snell gone, this looks to be Williams' team. Williams has proven he can do a little bit of everything, scoring 13.5 points, five assists and 3.5 rebounds per game. It is also easier for a player to win this award when he is at the top of the conference, and that should be the case for New Mexico.

Coach of the Year: Larry Eustachy, Colorado State
The coach of the year award doesn't just necessarily go to the coach of the best team. It can also go to the guy who did the most with little resources. Colorado State has lost nearly all of its resources. All five starters are gone, which means the top five leading scorers are also gone. Eustachy will have two talented freshmen guards in David Cohn and Carlton Hurst to help the team get better, but it is still a difficult task. If Colorado State can find itself in the top four in the conference at the end of the year, with the talent of teams around it, that's a coaching job worthy of coach of the year.

Newcomer of the Year: Christian Wood, UNLV
The Mountain West media writers have Wood's teammate Kendall Smith as the preseason newcomer of the year, but Wood can also be a big factor in the post for the Rebels. Wood was the No. 35-ranked recruit according to Rivals and with the departure of big man Anthony Bennett, Wood's 6-foot-10 frame could help UNLV in the post. 


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Friday, October 11, 2013

Friday Roundtable: Andrew Wiggins SI Cover

As if the hype wasn't enough, Sports Illustrated as KU freshman Andrew Wiggins on the cover with Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning. (bleacherreport.com)

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among a group of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

This week's question: Kansas' Andrew Wiggins is on the newest cover of Sports Illustrated with Wilt Chamberlain and Danny Manning. Is it fair to Wiggins to have him on a cover with two of KU's best and put that level of pressure on him before he's played a collegiate game?

Absolutely, it is fair, although SI's choice to put Andrew Wiggins on the cover is less impactful than it would be if the NBA's one-and-done rule wasn't in place and the young Canadian still chose to play through a year (at least) in the NCAA. As it stands, Wiggins is exactly as important to Kansas as Wilt and Manning were during their respective post-commitment, pre-playing days. Although he likely will not single-handedly dominate or lead the Jayhawks as a freshman, Wiggins' marriage to KU brings the program the credibility that can only be attained by obtaining a No. 1 recruit who happens to be heavily lauded as a once-in-a-generation talent. It's the kind of thing a university's men's hoops team can leverage during scouting trips and home visits for years, even coasting if it so chose -- and head coach Bill Self is not one to coast, as evidenced by the steady stream of excellent ability that flows through the program he commands.

That Wiggins chose Kansas means even more in a landscape in which John Calipari can trot out five freshmen starters at Kentucky each season with expectations for roughly half of his roster to enter the NBA draft. While UK and KU are both tradition-rich programs, Calipari's superb recruiting tactics may have diluted the public's perception of the Wildcats in a way that the Jayhawks and every other collegiate team have escaped by not filling their squads around all-around unproven quantities, whether those programs have the requisite recruiting weight to do so or not. 

Wiggins is one of the few high school players with critical mass-level hype that make it to college without flaming out. By going to Kansas instead of Florida State (another school that made it into his final four choices), Wiggins has hedged his bets against seeing his star dim before becoming a professional. He won't have to carry the Jayhawks like he would have done for the Seminoles. The kid is -- or his parents, or his handlers are -- smart. Wilt towered above and overpowered his opponents; Manning was a four-year KU denizen led a miracle team to a championship; and, when all is said and done, Wiggins won't match either of those profiles, but he will be exactly as important to Kansas' basketball legacy as the two players he shares the SI cover with. Yes, he is worthy of the pressure.

First off, it's important to not get the wrong idea about the cover. SI is making a comparison about freshman hype, yet some may take it as SI is calling Wilt, Manning and now Wiggins the three best freshmen to ever play at KU. Freshmen weren't allowed to play varsity basketball during Wilt's days and Manning scored twice as many points his senior year than he did as a freshman. He was still very good as a freshman (14 points per game), but nothing like by the time he was a senior (24 ppg). But what all three have in common was the hype around getting them to Lawrence. Ben McLemore now owns the freshman scoring record at KU after last year's performance. Even so, people were calling McLemore a bust because of his inconsistency. Wiggins can put up Manning and McLemore-like freshman numbers, but that's not what the cover represents. No one in recent years has been hyped as much as Wiggins. It is an automatic burden he must live with, much like Wilt.

Is it fair? Sure. It wasn't libelous or painting Wiggins in a poor light. But can it be easily taken out of context and in turn throw massive amounts of pressure on the kid? Absolutely. It's one thing to label Wiggins as the best in his class (I'm not going to even get into the LeBron comparisions) but even without saying he will be in the pantheon of Kansas basketball without playing a game, and merely making a comparison of the circus each player drew, is not something that should be placed on his shoulders.

I'm worried about the national attention and analysis of Wiggins. People are expecting Wiggins to put up a performance similar to what Kevin Durant did during his one season at Texas. But here's the biggest difference: Wiggins is both blessed and cursed to have so much talent around him. Durant was able to score so much because he was the guy. Look at the Texas roster from 2006. D.J. Augustin and A.J. Abrams had solid years and ended up as fine college players, but Durant took more than 200 more shots than Abrams and 300 more than Augustin. Durant was the offense.

Now look at what Wiggins has. Wayne Seldon has the potential to be a star; Joel Embiid could be a future No. 1 draft pick if he stays a few years and has had his footwork compared to Hakeem Olajuwon; and some are saying sophomore Perry Ellis still might be the leading scorer on the team. Wiggins will be good. Probably very good. But he won't average 25 points per game because he won't need to. He has so much talent around him to make plays that fans and analysts won't just be able to look at his stat line to know what kind of player he is. He could still have a great impact on the college landscape this year, but be wary of expecting Durant's numbers and don't call him a bust if he averages 16 ppg instead of 24.

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Friday, October 4, 2013

Friday Roundtable: Most Underpaid Coaches In College Basketball

Mike Brey has Notre Dame - and one Cincinnati Bengals fan - ready for war. (USO photo by Mike Theiler)

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among a group of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

This week's question: Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall recently got a raise after taking his team to the Final Four, which got us to thinking, who are the most underpaid coaches in college basketball?

Bob McKillop. His name doesn't carry the same swagger as a Bill Self and he doesn't have a well-known nickname like Coach K, but it should spark some memories, at the very least. Like the time McKillop's Davidson team knocked down Gonzaga, Georgetown and Wisconsin on a march to the Elite Eight behind strong team chemistry and the hot hand of Stephen Curry, coming within three points of the Final Four as Kansas outlasted the Wildcats. Or the time, more recently, when McKillop's squad beat Self's Jayhawks in what was essentially a home game for KU (they played in Kansas City), as teamwork and a knack for efficient three-point shooting prevailed against the college all-stars (Thomas Robinson, anyone?) and rich tradition of the eventual national runner-up.

The list goes on, yet McKillop is just the 49th-highest paid coach ($370,618 with no incentives or bonuses) in NCAA hoops, trailing the likes of current Kansas State head coach and Illinois-reject Bruce Weber (No. 25; $1.5 million with $655k available via bonuses) and Cincinnati's Mick Cronin (No. 29; $1,358,900 before $555k in possible bonuses). McKillop has been consistently more successful than both relative to his school and conference affiliation (Southern), taking the Wildcats to seven March Madnesses since 1997-98, including six in the past nine seasons. His brand of basketball isn't flashy and he doesn't attract top-tier recruits, but he develops the right recruits in a system that allows them to play to their strengths without sacrificing team ideals for individual success.

The good people at USA Today ranked the 62 highest-paid college basketball coaches for 2013, and most of the names at the top are no shock to anyone. Yet one that surprised me, because of the conference, success of the program and number of years with the school was Mike Brey of Notre Dame. Brey is the No. 41 highest-paid college basketball coach at $616,843 without any bonus opportunities.

Notre Dame has not been a national title contender much, but the program has always been competitive in the brutal Big East, and considering where the program was before Brey took over, he is a steal for $616,000. Brey came to Notre Dame in 2000-01, and after not making the NCAA Tournament since 1990, Brey has taken the Fighting Irish to the big dance in eight of his 13 years as head coach, including a Sweet 16 appearance in 2003. Notre Dame has also had 20 wins or more in ever season but three during that stretch.

Brey might not be an elite college coach, but when Jay Wright and Travis Ford are making $2.2 million a year and Mike Montgomery at Cal is making a million more than Brey, he has had a lot of success for just over half a million dollars.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday Roundtable: The Next Former NBA Player Turned Owner

Which of these guys deserves to own an NBA franchise? Probably not Damon Stoudamire. Sorry. (Tsugufumi Matsumoto/AP)

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among a group of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

This week's question: Shaquille O'Neal recently became an owner of the Sacramento Kings. What retired player do you want buy an ownership stake in an NBA team next?


I'm 100 percent sure this is okay within NBA guidelines: Jason Kidd should buy a piece of the New York Knicks. Not only does Kidd have recent history with the 'Bockers, but, if for some reason David Stern and Adam Silver were to look down upon such a purchase, they're overlooking the fact that it would virtually ensure Kidd doesn't become the first NBA player-coach in decades. What we lose in the potential player-coach situation and Kidd backing up Deron Williams while logging minutes with Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, we gain in one of the greatest point guards ever becoming the King of New York. Barclay's Center, where Kidd's Brooklyn Nets play, is the House that Jay-Z Built, but could Hova - now without an ownership stake in the BK franchise - really rival the owner of both New York basketball teams, one who happens to hold multiple assist and three-point records in a professional tenure that includes stints with both the Knicks and Nets? I can't decide, and I'm betting you're likely split, too, since no one has been able to agree who rap's King of New York is since the Notorious B.I.G. passed away. Hip-Hop can't agree that Jay is the top dog in its own community; how would they be able to present a united front against Kidd, whose presence would be felt in more than the two boroughs in which his NBA franchises would reside?


Guys, there's plenty of good answers out there. Shawn's is a fine example. I would very much enjoy Barkley as an owner. Kareem could become an owner and have the power to make himself the coach so he can finally get a coaching job. I can't say this one, because the question says retired player, but who wouldn't want to see LeBron James buy the Cavs once his playing days are over to have the Cleveland sports fans who ridiculed him so much in the palm of his hand. Not to mention keeping Dan Gilbert on but in a new role as one of the boys who wipes down the court during timeouts. Then LeBron could trade for and subsequently trade away Andrew Wiggins to New York, where he then buys the Knicks with Jay-Z and sells the Cavs to Chris Bosh.

But again, LeBron isn't retired yet, so that answer will have to wait. So my answer is ... Brian Scalabrine. Why not? I imagine he got the money when challenging and beating all of those civilians to 1-on-1 games in Boston. And that's exactly why he should be an owner. Everyone will doubt him. He will be the butt of jokes. He's a guy who was the butt of jokes throughout his career, yet played 11 years in the league. Scalabrine will compile a team of underdogs who no one will take seriously, Moneyball style, because how could they compete with Miami and then oh my god they are up by 14 already how is that possible? A movie will be made where Scalabrine will be played by Louie C.K. and he will be one of the most praised owners of his generation.

When I first began racking my brain for a suitable candidate to answer this question, I found myself continuously drawn to players who I thought would make good NBA coaches, rather than owners. There are some prominent names who could potentially be very good coaches, but I struggled to find one I thought would be a good owner. However, when it comes down to it, I was able to settle on one former player I desperately want to see become an NBA owner above all others. And it’s really not even close.

It has to be Charles Barkley. 

Think about it. Barkley has the personality to rival even the most flamboyant and impassioned owners, like a Mark Cuban. His personality is infectious and he would be a fantastic interview for journalists and broadcasters who cover his team. Having worked on the other side of the sport as an analyst and broadcaster, I feel Barkley would be very open with any person who is fortunate enough to earn the assignment of interviewing him. His personality lends itself to being very forthright anyway, so having the experience on the other side would only encourage him to be open and honest, with the frankness that only Barkley can provide.

Barkley also has the well-deserved reputation of being a big spender, so opening up the checkbook to bring in high-priced free agents won’t be a problem. His history of gambling could potentially drive fans crazy if Barkley has a hunch on an unproven player. But overall, the willingness to spend money is a plus for an organization. I think you could potentially see another “Dream Team” similar to the one in Miami, because I think Barkley is more than willing to spend what it takes to bring the best to his team. 

Finally, there is one major reason I feel Barkley would be a fantastic owner: He’s never won an NBA championship. Ever. I remember an instance on TNT where everyone on the panel had been to and won an NBA championship, except Barkley. It was brought up extensively, and you could tell it ate at Barkley. He wants that ring. He wants to hoist that trophy in the air, and this is his best chance to do it. His competitive fire would be fantastic to see on the sideline, and a real asset in the locker room. All of these elements combined culminate to why I believe Barkley should absolutely make the investment and become an NBA owner.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

NBA Considers Putting Nicknames On Heat, Nets Jerseys

"King James" could soon make its way to the back of a Miami Heat jersey. (nba.si.com)

The NBA is about superstars. It is also about the money, like any other successful business. The league is considering yet another way to capitalize on player stardom to sell more jerseys; putting the players' nicknames on the back of the jerseys.

NBA.com posted a story from the Associated Press on its website late Monday night that the league may replace Miami Heat and Brooklyn Nets players' last name with their nicknames on the back of the jerseys for one of the teams' four head-to-head matchups. For example, LeBron's jersey would say "King James," Paul Pierce would have "The Truth," Kevin Garnett "KG," Chris Andersen would be "Birdman" and Ray Allen would have possibly the best of them all with "Jesus Shuttlesworth," in reference to his role in the movie "He Got Game."

Allen was quoted in the AP story saying, "It shows growth in our league and it shows we do adapt to what's going on around us. And we're still kids, playing a kids' game. Even though we're now men playing a kids' game, we still remember where we come from. Everybody had a nickname and it's a way to let the fans in a little bit more."

Whether for or against the idea, it is sure to sell jerseys, especially with the younger audience. The NBA is the only sport in which nicknames are prevalent, due to the visibility of players and amount of impact players in the league. The NFL and MLB are leagues where the teams are mostly still the focus more than the individual, minus a few elite quarterbacks. 

The question will be what will happen for players who don't currently have a nickname? Will they just have their last name on the jersey, or pick a name out themselves? Maybe it could be left to a fan vote? Players might not be thrilled when Greg Oden is forced to have "Crutches" on the back of his jersey, or "Grandpa" for Juan Howard thanks to the fans, but it would be interesting.

This is just the latest step in the evolution of the uniform as a marketing tool for the league, and it surely won't be the last.

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Saturday Roundtable: What Cinderella Can Repeat At The NCAA Tournament?

Who doesn't want to dance in March? (Sarah Coward/AP Photo)

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among a group of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

This week's question: Which Cinderella team has the best chance at making a repeat to the NCAA tourney? 

Wichita State. I know it isn't the sexy choice and their dorms are mired in a college hill area with a less-than-stellar reputation rather than on a beach, but this works not only for the homer angle but because the Shockers knocked off a then-No. 1 Gonzaga and came within minutes of upsetting eventual national champion Louisville and making it to the biggest game in college basketball. WSU returns tournament spark plug Ron Baker in a talented guard corps than also includes Fred VanVleet and Tekele Cotton, plus forward Cleanthony Early will be the Shockers go-to when the team needs baskets and make no mistake -- Early is likely one of the best scorers in the NCAA. However, the loss of point guard Malcolm Armstead's senior leadership and Carl Hall's commanding defensive presence in the paint leave holes that head coach Gregg Marshall will have to patch. Compounding the problem of needing a dominant big man in the paint due to Hall's graduation is the fact that the Shockers also lost 7-footer Ehimen Orukpe, who was at least good for committing fouls, when needed.

Not to be underestimated is the Shockers' undisputed big man on campus status in the Missouri Valley Conference now that Creighton and that Doug McDermott guy bolted for the new Big East. It was usually a two-man race between WSU and the Bluejays for the MVC title, with Indiana State making a valiant effort to contend and ultimately collapsing at the end of last season. The conference's crab-in-a-bucket mentality (Creighton and WSU finished first and second, respectively, in 2012-13 with each successive team trailing by just one game with a three-way tie near the bottom) sees a looming Northern Iowa, but should be able to stave off the Panthers for at least one more season atop the MVC and an easy entry into the big dance.
Yes, I'll admit I'm jumping on the bandwagon. I'll also admit that the team popped into my head first out of emotion and reaction. How can you not think of Florida Gulf Coast after what that team did in March? The Eagles were the talk of the tournament, and overall were just really fun to watch. Who doesn't like Dunk City? Then I did some research. FGCU lost it's leading scorer in senior Sherwood Brown, but he and senior Eddie Murray (who averaged 3.8 ppg last season) are the only players not returning. Everyone else is back. Bernard Thompson, Brett Comer and Chase Fieler will lead the Eagles and revive Dunk City for another year. FGCU also lost head coach Andy Enfield to USC, but brought on long-time KU assistant Joe Dooley. Dooley has been offered head coaching jobs for years now, and the fact he took this one should mean he's ready. Dooley has long been seen as one of the best assistants in the country, and if he can bring a piece of Bill Self's system to FGCU, the Eagles should be fine.

FGCU's schedule is also favorable. The Eagles scheduled games against power-conference teams, traveling to Nebraska to start the season, then going to NC State in late November and back-to-back games against South Florida and Mississippi State on the road right before Christmas. Those are opponents that are recognizable names, but also teams that can be beaten. The Eagles will then head to conference play in the very winnable Atlantic Sun Conference. FGCU actually finished second last year to Mercer (14-4, 24-12) but they were the only two conference teams with more than 15 wins. Be honest with yourselves, a piece of you wants to see Dunk City back in the big dance for another year.

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Chris Andersen Latest Victim of Catfishing Hoax

Chris Andersen was the latest victim of a catfishing hoax. (nbadunkers.com)

It has to be a pretty elaborate prank to be called "Manti Te'o on steroids."

A Canadian woman created this super-charged hoax that had police investigating Miami Heat forward Chris Andersen's home in regards a possible relationship between Andersen and a minor in California while he was a member of the Denver Nuggets.

The woman, Shelly Lynn Chartier, not only used social media to pose as Andersen while talking to the underage woman in California, but she also posed as the woman in conversations with Andersen. Threats and extortion attempts followed, and even got the California woman to travel to Colorado.

Te'o's hoax cost him a high draft status, but Andersen's nearly ended his career. Chartier was arrested by Canadian police in January.

Now professional and collegiate athletes can add catfishing as the latest concern to deal with as part of the fame. No longer is being told you suck the worst thing that can happen to players on social media sites. That's child's play compared to this. Those fans are venting. This is someone trying to ruin an athlete's life.

It is doubtful Andersen is the final person to be duped. Andersen is now able to clear his name, but Te'o can attest that it is not just over and gone now.

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Friday, September 13, 2013

Friday Roundtable: Next to Enter Hall of Fame

Is Tom Izzo the next college coach to be inducted in the Naismith Memorial Hall of Fame? (thesportspost.com)

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among a group of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

This week's question: Rick Pitino was inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame last week. Who is the next active coach(es) most likely to be in the HOF?

Compared to his contemporaries, this man may be the most precise college basketball coach in the NCAA landscape. His team is always expected to contend for a title in one of the nation's most competitive conferences and never, under any circumstances, to be discounted when March Madness arrives. Consistency has been his key.

Over the past 18 years, head coach Tom Izzo has led the Michigan State Spartans to a combined record of 439-178, earning an eye-popping 71.2 win percentage and fielding some of the toughest squads in the history of college hoops. Although Izzo only owns one national championship, his Spartans are no slouches around tournament time, compiling a 39-15 record in the NCAA Tournament and failing to make the big dance just twice since Izzo took the reins in 1995-96. Other active coaches may have more championships than him, but when looked at on a macro-level, none is more worthy of being enshrined in the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame than Izzo.

Three names instantly jump out at me: Tom Izzo, Bill Self and John Calipari. I know, I know, many of you think Calipari is a glorified recruiter, but he's a glorified recruiter who has won a national championship and taken multiple schools to the Final Four. Self also has a national championship under his belt, and also wins conference championships like they are written into his contract. He's won nine straight Big 12 titles and 10 of 12 conference titles going back to his time at Illinois. Those other two years? His team finished second. Echoing Alex's statements about Izzo, he really has been one of the most consistent, productive forces in coaching. This stat from Sporting News is all you need to know about Izzo: "every four-year player that has completed his eligibility under the Spartans head coach has been to at least one Final Four." That is a truly astonishing stat. Most coaches are happy to reach a Final Four in their career, and Izzo is offering it to nearly every player he has. Michigan State will have to make the Final Four this year for that to continue the streak, but I won't count him out.

I think Izzo will make it in the hall first (he is the oldest of the three) but all three get in. If you want to put some bigger odds on a younger coach eventually reaching the HOF, Shaka Smart seems to be everyone's top choice. But I'm not going to take the easy way out. I'm giving a legitimate long-shot dark horse. It's probably crazy, but I really like the potential of Fred Hoiberg at Iowa State. He's only 40 years old, and in his first three years of college coaching he has averaged 20.6 wins per season and has reached the NCAA Tournament twice. There's a chance he could take the Brad Stevens route and head for the NBA (he did play in the NBA for 10 years) but ISU is his alma mater and if he stays, Hoiberg has a promising future in college basketball. 

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Thursday, September 12, 2013

Rhode Island Keeps It Simple With New Court Design

Rhode Island keeps from going over the top on its new court design. (nbcsports.com)

The newest college basketball fad is redesigning the basketball courts to be covered in trees, national monuments or tiger stripes.

Schools are trying to take a piece of their environment and enshrine it in the court. It makes sense, and is a nice gesture, but rarely is it done well.

When Rhode Island announced it was unveiling a new court design Wednesday, more of the same was expected. Yet URI didn't give in to peer pressure and managed to create a design that was not over the top, but still easy on the eyes. Rhode Island has included plenty of color with the two-tone logo at half court and the darker wood inside the 3-point arc, and proudly displays the athletics website and Twitter handle on both sides of the court.

The goal of any court design is to easily let people watching at home know where the game is taking place and to add to the atmosphere of the arena. By looking at this design, it is easy to figure out what school the court belongs to, so what else is needed? Is the action on the court not interesting enough that fans need something else to look at during games?

If Rhode Island wanted to take a piece of its environment or history and place it on the court, top choices probably would be the state bird (Rhode Island Red - a type of chicken) tree (Red Maple), flower (Violets) or maybe Peter Griffin from Family Guy.

It's probably best to stick with the final product above.

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Friday, September 6, 2013

Friday Roundtable: Best Early-Season College Basketball Tournament

Is this year's Maui Invitational the best early-season tournament? (bleacherreport.com)

BDD's Friday Roundtable is a weekly discussion among a group of our writers on a trending NBA or college basketball topic.

This week's question: What is this year's best early-season college basketball tournament?

Every tournament seems to have roughly four interest-worthy teams and an equal or greater number of programs that warrant a shoulder shrug followed by a muttered, "Meh." Though it's not nearly as high-profile as some of the other early-season gatherings, the Wooden Legacy should be on every college hoops fan's radar for the following reasons:

1. High parity. Mixing the nation's best college basketball teams with mid-major is a standard expectation for such tournaments, but the Wooden Classic features a surprisingly even battlefield. The tourney's heavy-hitters are Miami, Marquette, Creighton and San Diego State. The Hurricanes seem like an early favorite until one remembers about the departure of Shane Larkin, the team's 2012 spark plug, for the NBA. Enter: Kansas State transfer Angel Rodriguez, a sometimes frustrating point guard with a knack for big moments who will still be learning head coach Jim Larranaga's system. Creighton, the new-look Big East's representative, features one of the nation's best players in senior small forward Doug McDermott, who may be the NCAA's single most talented scorer. Buzz Williams' Marquette squads are never pushovers and Steve Fisher always has the Aztecs ready for anything, as seen during the program's increased national exposure over the past 14 years. They're not blue-bloods, but opposing coaches would be foolish to overlook any of these programs now or in March.

The (relatively) minor players of the Wooden Legacy are Arizona State, Cal-State Fullerton, College of Charleston and George Washington. Cal-State and CoC are capable of capturing Big West and Colonial Athletic titles, respectively, whereas George Washington is a routine member of Kansas State's non-conference schedule, usually playing the Wildcats close until the end. This means the Colonials will have some level of familiarity with the Hurricanes' showrunner when they face Rodriguez and Miami in the first-round.

Any mix of Creighton/Miami/San Diego State (and possibly Marquette) match-ups will be great early-season theater for fans, but that doesn't mean the field's mid-majors won't knock off any of the higher regarded teams. And, yeah, this explanation ended up being only one point — but look at the potential semifinal games and find a game that won't be close. You likely won't.

I don't know if the Champion's Classic counts here because it's not a typical early-season tournament, but more of a three-year, round-robin event with the site location changing each year, and the teams involved go on to play in another tournament a few weeks later. Some of you may be taking the wording of this question extremely seriously, and because of this, I will select a new answer. It's probably best, because I don't think any tournament can compare to having Kentucky, Kansas, Duke and Michigan State make up your field in any year, but especially this one. All four are top 10 teams. People are starting the "Kentucky might not lose a game" talk again, while Kansas has the No. 1 recruit in Andrew Wiggins and Duke has the No. 2 recruit in Jabari Parker. Wiggins and Parker will square off in one game, with Kentucky and Izzo's Spartans in the other. What are you doing Nov. 12? Watching that all night is the correct answer.

The Hall of Fame Tip-Off has a good field, which includes defending national champion Louisville and North Carolina, as well as a couple of strong mid-major programs in Richmond and Belmont. The NIT Preseason Tip-Off is also strong, with Duke and Arizona, who could be a preseason top-five team with freshman Aaron Gordon, headline the field, along with Alabama and Rutgers as regional hosts. The reason to watch this is for the potential Arizona vs. Duke showdown in the finals.

But my pick will have to be the Maui Invitational. Maui is always a star-studded event, and one that major programs love to participate in. Who could blame them? They get to spend a week in Hawaii and winning this tournament is great for the résumé. Although this year's lineup has teams that can potentially be great, but have question marks. Syracuse, Baylor and Gonzaga headline the field, followed by Arkansas, Cal and Minnesota, and while people seem to have a good barometer on Syracuse, Baylor is a team that is expected to be good, but was also expected to be great last year and underperformed. The Bears have no Pierre Jackson, but Isaiah Austin should be improved. Gonzaga has to bounce back from losing several key players, including Kelly Olynyk and Elias Harris, but still has one of the best point guards in the country in Kevin Pangos.

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