Podcast: 2013 March Madness Preview

march-madness

I was joined by Aaron Torres, author of The Unlikeliest Champion, to talk about the 2013 NCAA Tournament. We broke down all four of the brackets, joked about why the non-basketball fan at your job will win the office pool this year and he gives a list of players for NBA fans to keep an eye out for.

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NCAA Basketball Update – July 16, 2012

With summer officially  in full swing, I’m reminded of AAU/summer league basketball. The sound of Nike’s screaching the floor, the smell of sweat and humidity, and the boundless energy of kids driving to the hoop.

I played and coached in summer hoops for years and I can attest that this is where passion meets opportunity. For coaches Ben Howland (UCLA) and Brad Stevens (Butler) it is an escape. Both coaches are in similar circumstances but at vastly different programs.

One has eleven banners hanging from the rafters with National Champion written on them. The other plays in a gym that used was the backdrop to the 80’s sports cult hit “Hoosiers.” One has the number one player in Class of  2012 signed up for the fall. The other just lost the second best player in the history of the program. One has a plethora of four & five star phenoms to choose from. The other has a 3/4 of team never even ranked. One is on the way up, the other headed in a down position.

Lets take a closer look at both programs.

While Ben Howland watches Long Beach blue chip PG Zack Levine bring the ball up in a AAU game this day, he has to be reminded of how good life really is. Before his stint at Pittsburgh he had never coached a squad any further east than Northern Arizona in mid-late 90’s.

The UCLA Bruins head coach came to the storied program with high expectations and he delivered early; three consecutive Final Fours (06-08) can do a world a of good for job security in college hoops.

The last three years however have been far from maintaining expectations.  A one-and-done in the NCAA’s just doesn’t cut it in Westwood. When you lose a Russell Westbrook or a Darren Collison playing lock down defense, that would affect any team. A load of underachieving five-star high school prospects, and malcontents added to the misery.

With the departure of troublemaker Jordan Reeves last winter, Howland proclaimed an instant boost in team chemistry and overall attitude.

That spilled over into the top ranked Class of 2012 according to Rivals and Scout. Leading the charge is Shabazz Muhammed, only the number one player in the country; SF from Las Vegas, Nevada. Going along with him is fellow five-star point guard Kyle Anderson.

Tony Parker and Jordan Adams are also National Top 100 players that made this the premier group.

Want  more boost in attitude? How about the athletic department sinking $136 million dollars into your already “cathedral like” arena, Pauley Pavilion. Add the returning Wear twins, David and Travis, and 6’10 post Joshua Smith and their is a good reason for the renewed spirit in College basketball’s title town.

One more stat about Howland I thought really put his time their in perspective: In legendary coach John Wooden’s first nine seasons at UCLA he won 183 games. In Howland’s first nine he has 201. That’s got to feel good.

In 2010 Butler University became a household name as it became the poster child for the Mid-Major. In the NCAA final vs Duke, Gordon Hayward’s half-court heave was just off the rim, otherwise the Butler Bulldogs would have been national champions.

In 2011 the team not only made it back to the Big Dance, but the National title game, again. This time losing to Connecticut and coach Jim Calhoun.

But for a program like Butler to make it to Back-to-back Final Fours was nothing short of astonishing. Coach Brad Stevens became the “hot” commodity in coaching with analysts predicting which major program he would leave for.

But he didn’t leave. Instead, he signed a 12 year extension signaling to other programs that Indianapolis would remain his home for the near future.

Fast forward to March 2012. Things start going downhill. The Bulldogs miss the NCAA’s, an almost expected finish. They were 13-12 and tied for 5th in the Horizon League ( their last season in the conference, begin play in the Atlantic 10 this fall). It was their seventh consecutive 20 win season. Yet they lost in the Horizon League semifinals and failed to make an at-large bid to March Madness.

Coach Stevens crew also lose senior Ronald Nored, who was a Lowe’s Senior Class 1st Team All-American. He was a four year starter who excelled in the classroom. He leaves the school as the All-time record holder in assists. He’s also one of two Butler Bulldogs to finish with 400 points, 400 assists, and 400 steals. He’s now gone.

Returning are two promising wings. Junior Chrishawn Hopkins, their leading scorer in Horizon League and tournament games. On the other side is sophomore Roosevelt Jones, a sleek 6’4 Guard with tremendous upside. Junior Forward Andrew Smith returns in the paint with solid credentials; .596% shooting percentage, and eye popping .46% 3-point percentage. Khyle Marshall will also contribute averaging 11 points in the teams final 12 games last spring.

Just as UCLA reloads with some of the country’s best, Butler does much of the same except on a much smaller scale. Both programs have two coaches with proven track records with their given universities. Both are hard working, detail oriented teachers that are constantly tweaking there craft. And that begins here in the summer, where the gyms are filled with kids who dream that could be a UCLA Bruin or a Butler Bulldog.

You can’t go wrong in a 110 degree high school gym in July, because both coaches love it just where they’re at.

2012 March Madness Preview With ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb

I was able to chat with ESPN’s Doug Gottlieb about who his four #1 seeds would be, North Carolina peaking at just the right time, what mid-major teams he is rooting for, he raved about Mike Brey doing a great job coaching Notre Dame this season, who some players for casual basketball fans to keep an eye out for in the tournament, who he thinks will win the tournament and he plugs the promo that Rogaine and ESPN is doing for NCAA fans.

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2011 NBA Mock Draft

1. Cleveland – Kyrie Irving PG
18 years old; 6’2″; 185 lbs.
Duke, Freshman

2. Minnesota – Derrick Williams PF
19 years old; 6’8″; 235 lbs.
Arizona, Sophomore

3. Utah – Enes Kanter C
18 years old; 6’9″; 250 lbs.
Kentucky, Freshman

4. Cleveland – Tristan Thompson PF – Audio from after his pre-draft workout in Toronto
19 years old; 6′ 8″; 235lbs.
Texas, Freshman

5. Toronto – Brandon Knight SG - Audio from after his pre-draft workout in Toronto
18 years old; 6′ 3″; 170lbs.
Kentucky, Freshman

6. Washington – Jan Vesely SF
20 years old; 6’11″; 240 lbs.
KK Partizan Belgrade, International

7. Sacramento – Bismack Biyombo PF/C
18 years old; 6′ 9″; 240lbs.
Baloncesto Fuenlabrada

8. Detroit – Kawhi Leonard SF – Audio from after his pre-draft workout in Toronto
19 years old; 6′ 7″; 225lbs.
San Diego State, Sophomore

9. Charlotte – Kemba Walker PG – Audio from after his pre-draft workout in Toronto
20 years old; 6’0″; 180 lbs.
Connecticut, Junior

10. Milwaukee – Jonas Valanciunas PF
18 years old; 6’11″; 240 lbs.
Lietuvos Rytas, International

11. Golden State – Klay Thompson SG/SF
21 years old; 6′ 6″; 187lbs.
Washington State

12. Utah – Alec Burks SG
19 years old; 6′ 6″; 200lbs.
Colorado, Sophomore

13. Phoenix – Marcus Morris PF – Audio from after his pre-draft workout in Toronto
21 years old; 6’9″; 225 lbs.
Kansas, Junior

14. Houston – Markieff Morris PF
21 years old; 6′ 10″; 235lbs.
Kansas, Junior

15. Indiana – Jimmer Fredette PG
22 years old; 6′ 2″ 195lbs.
BYU, Senior

16. Philadelphia – Tobias Harris SF - Audio from after his pre-draft workout in Toronto
18 years old; 6′ 8″; 210lbs.
Tennessee, Freshman

17. New York – Jordan Hamilton SF
20 years old; 6′ 7″; 210lbs.
Texas, Sophomore

18. Washington – Chris Singleton SF
21 years old; 6’8″; 210 lbs.
Florida State, Junior

19. Charlotte – Donatas Motiejunas PF/C
20 years old; 7’0″; 215 lbs.
Benetton Treviso, International

20. Minnesota – Marshon Brooks SG
22 years old; 6’5″; 195 lbs.
Providence, Senior

21. Portland – Josh Selby SG
20 years old; 6′ 1″; 180lbs.
Kansas

22. Denver – Kenneth Faried PF
21 years old; 6’8″; 225 lbs.
Morehead State, Senior

23. Houston – Tyler Honeycutt SF
20 years old; 6;9″; 180 lbs.
UCLA, Sophomore

24. Oklahoma City – Reggie Jackson PG
20 years old; 6’3″, 208 lbs.
Boston College, Junior

25. Boston – Jeremy Tyler C
19 years old; 6’11″; 260 lbs.
Tokyo Apache, International

26. Dallas – Nikola Mirotic PF
20 years old; 6′ 10″; 210lbs.
Real Madrid

27. New Jersey – JaJuan Johnson PF
21 years old; 6’10″; 215 lbs.
Purdue, Senior

28. Chicago – Justin Harper PF
21 years old; 6′ 10″; 225lbs.
Richmond, Senior

29. San Antonio – Charles Jenkins PG/SG
22 years old; 6’3″; 220 lbs.
Hofstra, Senior

30. Chicago – Nolan Smith PG/SG
22 years old; 6’3″; 185 lbs.
Duke, Senior

Podcast: 2011 March Madness Preview

This morning I spent some time chatting with Aaron Torres about the 2011 NCAA Tournament that starts this week.

Some of the topics we covered include:
* Ohio State deserves to be the top seed overall but they have the toughest bracket
* I claim Washington is my sleeper team
* We debate if Duke should bring Kyrie Irving back at some point during the tournament
* I try to justify Purdue being my pick to escape from the Southeast
* Aaron soaks up the fact his alma matter, UConn, managed to get a #3 seed
* We step up and give you some great advice for your March Madness odds
* We break down why the Southeast bracket is poised to be upset city

Also, if you’re looking for a March Madness pool to join, you can join both of us in the HOOPSADDICT.com March Madness pool on Yahoo! Sports. Also, make sure you join the pool Aaron is running on his site because there is a $100 gift card to Amazon up for grabs as well as some other goodies.

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In The Scrum With Omar Samhan

When the Wizards PR staff announced that Omar Samhan would be coming out of the locker room to meet with media, my fellow colleague Mike Prada (of Bullets Forever) made a keen observation.  “This should be a fun one,” Prada said.

Prada was right, and Samhan did not disappoint.

Fresh off of his workout with the Washington Wizards, Samhan talked about how this workout was an improvement over his last one, which parts of his game need work, the importance of social media, and much much more.

Get the Flash Player to see the wordTube Media Player.

NCAA Tournament Recap

It seems like it was only yesterday that the NCAA Tournament was set to get underway, with 65 of college basketball’s best teams brimming with confidence, and hoping that they would be the last team standing in Indianapolis on April 4.

Well, after two weeks of some of the most exciting hoops action in recent memory, we’ve whittled those 65 teams down to just four, as we’re just a few days from tipping off the Final Four from Indianapolis on Saturday.

So how did we get here? Let’s take a look back at the best and brightest from this past weekend, while also looking ahead at the four teams that will be vying for this year’s National Championship.

Best Game: Xavier-Kansas State, Sweet 16, Thursday:

While the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament had more good games than you could count, the second weekend had one that stood taller than all others: Thursday night’s Sweet 16 West Regional game between Xavier and Kansas State.

For those who missed it, this game had everything this tournament is supposed to be about. Two teams doing whatever it took to win. Star players stepping up and making great plays. Buzzer beaters. Defensive stands. Great coaching. Oh, and by the way, the best announcer in the game – Gus Johnson – was courtside to call the action for us.

Most importantly, this game showed exactly what makes this tournament so great. The NCAA Tournament isn’t a best of seven, but a best of one, meaning if you lose today, you go home tomorrow. And you saw that from these two teams.

Best Team: Butler

I tweeted this on Saturday afternoon, but it’s worth repeating: If you’d given me 50-1 odds on Butler making the Final Four before this weekend started, I wouldn’t have taken it. Maybe not even 100-1, after the Bulldogs barely got by Murray State in the second round.

Well, this past weekend, Butler looked like a totally different group. They were the best team in Salt Lake City, and proved it, by beating the No. 1 seed Syracuse Orange, and followed it up with an even better win over Kansas State to gain their Final Four spot.

What was maybe most impressive was how Butler got it done. On Thursday, the Bulldogs couldn’t have thrown the ball into the ocean, as they shot just 6 for 24 from three, and didn’t look comfortable on offense all evening long. But they stepped up defensively, forced 18 turnovers, and gutted out a win.

On Saturday, it was the exact opposite. Sure their defense was good, but it was the offense that carried the team. They shot 46 percent from the field, and outrebounded the rugged K-State Wildcats 36 to 27.

Now they head back to their hometown of Indianapolis for the first Final Four in school history. We can only imagine what this team will be capable of with a home court advantage!

Best Player: Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia

Here’s the truth: If you don’t appreciate West Virginia superstar Da’Sean Butler, then you don’t appreciate the game of basketball.

The guy does everything. He scores (17.4 points a game). He rebounds (6.3 a game). He makes his foul shots (78 percent). He plays great defense. He dives on the floor for loose balls. He does everything for his team that a leader should do.

And in this NCAA Tournament he has saved his best for his biggest games, as it was his 18 points (including 4 of 8 from three) that led West Virginia to their shocking Elite Eight victory over Kentucky. Butler was the Mountaineers emotional leader, spiritual leader, and the leader in the box score, like any great player should be.

And now, West Virginia is going to their first Final Four since 1959. Who knows where they’d be without him.

Most Surprising Player: Lance Thomas, Duke

Look, it’s easy to rip the guys on Duke. Everybody does it. They’re America’s bad guys, a team that everyone seems to enjoy watching lose.

But to give the Blue Devils a little bit of credit, on Sunday, they did everything needed to win. They made open jumpers, played great defense, and made foul shots when they mattered.

Most of all though, they proved that yes, even they, the Duke Blue Devils, can get tough when needed. And against a rugged Baylor Bears front line, Lance Thomas stood out above all others.

Looking at the stat line, Thomas’ numbers might not jump right out at you. Seven points and nine rebounds is pretty ho-hum right?

But it was Thomas who made two of the biggest plays of the game, when on back-to-back possessions he got offensive rebounds, and kicked them out to Nolan Smith for two game-clinching 3-pointers. He also played a big chunk of his minutes in the middle alone, as center Brian Zoubek was out most of the game with foul trouble.

For all the talk about Duke’s “Big Three,” Smith, Jon Scheyer, and Singler, it was Thomas who was arguably the MVP of the game on Sunday. Duke survived a miserable night shooting from Singler (0-10 from the field). But they couldn’t have survived without Thomas.

The Storylines You’ll Be Hearing About All Final Four Week:

1. The Return of Coach K to the Final Four: Coach K is one of the best ever in his chosen profession. But he hasn’t been to a Final Four since 2004, an eternity in Duke basketball circles. Well, he’s back, with what he calls the “Closest team he’s ever had.” Can he get his first championship since 2001 as well?

2. Speaking of Coaches: Brad Stevens of Butler may have the best story of any coach this weekend. After graduating from DePauw University back in 1999, Stevens went into a corporate career in marketing, before deciding after just a few months that it wasn’t for him. He ultimately latched on at Butler, where he started as an unpaid volunteer assistant, sleeping on the floors of the office, before working his way up, and getting his break as a head coach just seven years later. Now he’s in his first Final Four.

Told you he had a good story!

3. Then There’s West Virginia’s Bob Huggins: While at Cincinnati Huggins was one of college basketball’s most controversial coaches, and left the Queen City after being forced out by school president Nancy Zimpher (Read the part about her and Huggins on Wikipedia. Fascinating stuff).

Of course for all the controversy, Huggins is also one of the sport’s biggest winners, and currently ranks fourth amongst all active coaches in wins, behind only Coach K, Jim Boeheim and Jim Calhoun. And since returning to his home state, and alma mater, he has quietly turned them into a National Championship contender. Huggins has been one of the best coaches in the game for year’s, but never seems to get the credit he deserves. Well that time has finally come.

4. The Final, Final Four Coach: Is Tom Izzo the best coach in college basketball? It’s hard to argue as this will be his sixth trip to the Final Four since 1999. Six! For comparison’s sake, this will be Coach K’s fourth trip in the same amount of time, with Jim Calhoun going to three and John Calipari just one in the last 12 years.

Told you it was hard to argue.

5. Butler’s Return Home: Despite the site of this year’s Final Four being just minutes from the Butler campus, Coach Brad Stevens refused to let his players talk about the possibility of playing there all season long. Well Coach, now that your team made it all the way back to Indianapolis, is it safe to talk about yet?

6. Nolan Smith’s Emotional Road to the Final Four: ESPN.com’s Dana O’Neil did an excellent job of telling Duke guard Nolan Smith’s story, in an article published on Sunday. Smith’s father- who passed away in 1996- was a key player as part of Louisville’s run to the National Championship in 1980, in a Final Four played in Indianapolis. Can Smith win a title in the same city as his father 30 years later?

To read all of Aaron’s writing, be sure to check him out at www.aarontorres-sports.com. Also for his up to the minute thoughts on the NCAA Tournament, follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres

Five Burning Questions

While most everyone is still recovering from one of the most exciting opening weekend’s in NCAA Tournament history, as hard as it is to believe, the Sweet 16 is set to tip-off again Thursday.

As you get ready for another exhilarating weekend of basketball action, here are the five most burning questions heading into this weekend’s games:

1. Is Northern Iowa The New Favorite In The Midwest?

It’s funny, but just a few short weeks ago we were calling the Midwest the “Bracket of Death,” as Kansas, Ohio State and Georgetown seemed set to duke it out in St. Louis for the right to get to the Final Four. Only here we are ready to tip-off, and Kansas and Georgetown will be watching the action from the comfort of their couches, just like you and I will be.

With those two college basketball super powers out of the equation, has a new one emerged? Is Northern Iowa now the team to beat in this region?

Think about it. Michigan State is without their best player, guard Kalin Lucas (Although we should all know by now to never, ever, doubt a Tom Izzo coached team). Ohio State has hardly been impressive over their last half dozen games. Tennessee will be the underdog in their game. So why not Northern Iowa?

Remember also, that the Panthers rank in the top 10 in college basketball in free throw percentage, fewest turnovers and fewest points allowed. It’s simple math really, if you do all those things well, you’re going to be in every game you play.

So could this team be another George Mason from 2006? Maybe, but if so, it’d be in Final Four acumen only. This Northern Iowa team is already better than that one was, regardless of what happens going forward.

2. Will Cornell Be Able To Keep Up With Kentucky?

For all the talk about Northern Iowa last weekend, Cornell was just as impressive, if not more so. But when they line up against Kentucky on Thursday night, it will be an entirely new ball-game.

We all know what the Wildcats have: Size, strength, agility and athleticism, amongst a bounty of other skills. They’ve got the highest paid (and arguably) best coach in the game. Basically, they’re a professional team taking the court in a college uniform. And they’re nothing like Cornell has seen all year.

Sure the Big Red played at Kansas earlier this season, and even nearly pulled off the upset. But remember, there’s a big difference between a mid-week game in December, and a Sweet 16 matchup in March. There is no way Kentucky will be overlooking their Ivy League counterparts, and Cornell definitely won’t be creeping up on anyone this weekend.

Remember though, this game will be played in Syracuse, just a mere few miles from the Cornell campus. Meaning, that if the Big Red can keep this game close, they’ll have 40,000 people cheering for them all game long.

But will it be enough against the tournament’s best remaining team?

3. Can St. Mary’s Center Omar Samhan Keep Up His Heroics?

Amongst a bunch of already great stories, Samhan is the talk of this tournament. Not only is he a heck of a player on the court, but he’s lively, interesting and gregarious off it. And he’s been a hit.

But the Baylor frontcourt he’ll be going up against Friday is no joke. Ekpe Udoh, Quincy Acy, Anthony Jones and the suddenly red-hot Josh Lomers provide the size, skill and depth that the Gaels have yet to see so far. Udoh in specific is a feared shot blocker, averaging almost four a game.

It’s a little unrealistic to expect Samhan to score 30 points against Baylor like he did against Villanova. But the Gaels will need at least 20 to keep up.

Is their biggest man, up for his biggest challenge of the season?

4. Staying in the South

Can Duke Exorcise Their Tournament Demons? They’re the team that everyone loves to hate. They’re the Duke Blue Devils.

But for all that animosity, Duke really hasn’t been all that good in recent tournaments. This is the first year they’ve been a No. 1 seed since 2006, and haven’t been to a Final Four since 2004. In between they’ve had tournament disappointments scattered all over their resume. Could this be the year things change?

It won’t be easy, as on Friday, they’ll go up against a feisty Purdue team that might have lost its best player, but hasn’t lost its fight to compete. They’ve won two close games already and won’t be afraid of Coach K’s boys. Should Duke win, they’ll get either Baylor or St. Mary’s.

The path for Duke won’t be easy, but this is the best Blue Devils team we’ve seen in half a decade.

Coach K and his boys are running out of excuses.

5. Can Syracuse Stay Hot?

With all the chatter about all the teams listed above, our old friends from Syracuse got a bit lost in the shuffle. Not only did they beat an underrated Vermont team in their opener, but were fantastic against a Gonzaga crew that was ranked in the top 25 for virtually the entire season. It’s hard to imagine this team performing any better than they did in their 87-65 win over the ‘Zags on Sunday. They did it all: Played great defense, made the extra pass and hit their open jumpers. Wes Johnson even added 31 points and 14 rebounds just for good measure.

But now, as they get ready to take on Butler in the West Regional in Salt Lake City, a new question has emerged. When, if ever, will the Orange get back Arinze Onuaku? Coach Jim Boeheim announced at a Wednesday press conference he wouldn’t be playing Thursday, and his status for Saturday has to be highly questionable at this point.

It’s important to note that the Orange should be able to get by Butler without Onuaku. But they won’t be hoisting a championship trophy without him.

To read all of Aaron’s work, including his detailed predictions of this weekend’s Sweet 16 games, please visit him at www.aarontorres-sports.com. Also, for his thoughts on all things sports, including on this weekend’s NCAA Tournament action, be sure to follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres

While most everyone is still recovering from one of the most exciting opening weekend’s in NCAA Tournament history, as hard as it is to believe, the Sweet 16 is set to tip-off again Thursday.

As you get ready for another exhilarating weekend of basketball action, here are the five most burning questions heading into this weekend’s games:

NCAA Tournament: Round Two Recap

After an exciting opening round of the NCAA Tournament, it seemed all but impossible that the excitement could be topped when Round 2 tipped off on Saturday. Only it was was.

Here are the bet and brightest, that the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament had to offer.

Best Game: Northern Iowa-Kansas

No if’s, and’s or but’s about it, this one was the best game of the weekend by far.

Northern Iowa and Kansas had everything you could ever want from an NCAA Tournament game: A small school going up against one of college basketball’s established powers; As much excitement and tension as any game in recent memory (was anyone on the edge of their seat for just about the last 10 minutes of this game? Because I sure was); A great comeback from a championship caliber team; And ultimately the most shocking result of this young tournament.

But here’s the question: How big of an upset was this really? Remember, Northern Iowa returned five starters off a team that played in the NCAA Tournament last year, narrowly losing to Purdue in the First Round. They had the No. 2 scoring defense in college basketball this year, allowing only 54 points a game. And they went 28-4 during the regular season, and won their final three games before the tournament by at least 15 points.

This one may have an upset to you and me (and made us rip up our brackets in the process). Just don’t tell the kids from Northern Iowa this one was an upset. They won’t believe it.

Best Team Performance of the Weekend: Cornell

We touched on this one a little in the First Round recap, but it’s worth repeating. The Big Red were nothing short of phenomenal this weekend, blitzing two teams that’d been ranked in the top 25 all year. And like Northern Iowa, watching them play, it was the Big Red, not their opponents who seemed to think that they were the favorites.

With two wins under their belts, Cornell goes to Syracuse this weekend to take on Kentucky, in the Sweet 16 on Thursday.

Has there ever been a matchup between two teams that are so seemingly different?

Best Individual Performance: Omar Samhan, St. Mary’s

Samhan was nothing short of spectacular against Villanova on Saturday, scoring 32 points and grabbing seven rebounds, just two days after toasting Richmond for 27 and 11. Not bad for a guy that few had heard of just a week ago.

In the process, Samhan displayed every trait that NBA General Manager’s drool over when evaluating big men: Quick feet, soft hands, a softer touch around the hoop, and the ability to pass out of the low post.

With St. Mary’s heading to Houston to take on Baylor this weekend, Samhan has at least one more game before his college career is over. But he’s also got the beginnings of what looks to be a bright professional future as well.

Best Coaching Performance: John Calipari, Kentucky

Whether you love or hate Calipari (and outside of Kentucky those feelings are definitely mixed), no coach out there knows how to get players to perform this time of year quite like he does. I guess it makes sense that 2010 marks the fifth straight year a Calipari coached team has reached the Sweet 16, with his clubs reaching the Elite Eight or beyond in 2006, 2007 and 2008 as well.

And after two wins by a combined 59 points over the weekend, Calipari’s ‘Cats are just starting to roll.

After their victory Saturday, Wake Forest coach Dino Gaudio had this to say about Coach Calipari’s crew: “I’ve been in the ACC for 10 years. That’s (Kentucky) as good a basketball team as we played against in the 10 years I’ve been here.

Well that’s certainly not the kind of praise you hear from the opposition very often. But then again, when your John Calipari at this time of the year, you’re probably used to it.

Worst Coaching Performance: Jay Wright, Villanova

Look its hard not to love what Jay Wright has done during his time at Villanova, as no one does more with less than he does.

But Wright just didn’t have his best showing Saturday against St. Mary’s. And truthfully, anyone who saw the Wildcats opener against Robert Morris knows that Villanova could have (and maybe should have) lost that game too.

But here’s the bigger question about Villanova’s stink bomb Saturday afternoon: How did Scottie Reynolds (84 percent foul shooter) and Corey Fisher (77 percent foul shooter), only combine to shoot five free throws the entire game. Even more embarrassingly, why did they continue to shoot from the perimeter, as the two went just 5 for 24 from the field?

I have a feeling those are questions that Wright will be asking himself for a very, very long time.

Five More Teams That Are Rolling Into The Sweet 16:

Syracuse: Arinze who? The Orange made HSBC Arena in Buffalo their personal boxing ring, as they beat both Vermont and Gonzaga to a pulp, on their way to the Sweet 16. Imagine what they’ll be like when they do get Arinze Onuaku- their starting center- back in the lineup this weekend? Can someone say, Final Four?

Kansas State: Another set of Wildcats (is every team nicknamed the Wildcats in this tournament?) got physical with BYU and put them away late, thanks in a big way to Jacob Pullen’s 34 points. This season marks Kansas State’s first trip to the Sweet 16 since all the way back in 1988, a year when several of their current players weren’t even born.

Washington: Finally (finally!) the Huskies look like the team that everyone had in their preseason top 15. The truth is, if Washington keeps playing the way they have in their opening two rounds, West Virginia could be their latest upset victim this weekend.

Tennessee: All hail Bruce Pearl. It seems like every time we begin to doubt the Tennessee coach, he comes up even bigger and better than we could have ever imagined. Forget the Volunteers victories over Kansas and Kentucky this season, Tennessee had their biggest win Saturday, when they advanced to their third Sweet 16 in four years. Who says Tennessee is just a “football school?”

Baylor: Remember everyone’s favorite dark horse team to make it to the Final Four? Well amidst all the chaos on Saturday, the Bears quietly advanced to their first Sweet 16 in school history. Is their first ever Elite Eight in the immediate future too?

Five More Players Who Deserve Some Praise:

Wes Johnson, Syracuse: Yes, he was the Big East Player of the Year, but Johnson saved his best performance of 2010 for Sunday’s victory over Gonzaga, when he scored 31 points and added 14 rebounds. Johnson was already considered an elite NBA prospect, but now that pro stock seems to be going through the roof.

Korie Lucious, Michigan State: Who needs Kalin Lucas, when you’ve got Korie Lucious? The low scoring sophomore hit the biggest shot of his Michigan State career Sunday, a game-winning, 3-pointer at the buzzer to propel the Spartans to a victory over Maryland. With Lucas expected to be out this weekend and beyond, this might not be the last time we hear Lucious’ name.

Chris Kramer, Purdue: Apparently Kramer got quite offended about being labeled a defensive player. The 6’3 senior scored 17 points in Purdue’s overtime victory over Texas A&M Sunday, extending his career in West Lafayette at least one game. Purdue will face off with Duke this weekend.

Eric Bledsoe, Kentucky: Don’t sleep on Kentucky’s other…other…freshman. The Wildcats fourth leading scorer on the season has never played better than he did this weekend, when he scored 29 points in the Wildcats opener, followed by a 13 point, five assist performance Saturday.

Ronald Nored, Butler: For all the talk about Gordon Hayward, Matt Howard and Shelvin Mack, it was Nored who came through the biggest for the Bulldogs in their Second Round victory over Murray State. He scored 15 points and had six assists, not to mention a three point play in the final seconds, which sealed the victory.

Finally…

Check back to HoopsAddict.com on Wednesday, as we reveal the Five Biggest Questions Heading into the Sweet 16.

To read all of Aaron’s additional work, make sure to stop by his site, www.aarontorres-sports.com. Also, for his opinions on all things sports, follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres

NCAA Tournament: Round One Recap

The first round of the 2010 NCAA Tournament is officially in the books, with the action coming to an end late Friday night, as Maryland beat Houston.

But from the opening tip of Thursday’s games, fans were treated to some of the most exciting college basketball action in modern tournament history, as 11 of the 32 games were decided by five points or less, with three going into overtime.

Let’s take a look back now, at the good and bad, pretty and ugly and everything in between in Round 1.

The Biggest Winner: The Fans

Experts are calling Thursday’s opening day the best in the history of the tournament, and it’s hard to disagree, as several games came right down to the wire, and two of the first three needed extra time to decide them.

Amongst the highlights were BYU’s double overtime win over Florida, Robert Morris’ near shocker of Villanova, Murray State’s buzzer beating win against Vanderbilt and much more, including higher seeded teams like Wisconsin and Tennessee holding on for dear life.

The Most Surprising Team…In A Good Way: Ohio

Wow. What else can you say, but wow? Not just because Ohio beat everyone’s favorite dark horse Final Four team in Georgetown- a team with three or four future NBA players- but because of the way they did it.

Ohio not only won Thursday night, they absolutely dominated the Hoyas from the opening tip-off. They shot an incredible 58 percent from the field, 56 percent from three (13 of 23) and 77 percent from the foul line, turning a game in which they were big underdogs, into a laugher late in the second half. Not only did the Bobcats beat Georgetown, they embarrassed them by 14 points.

The story of the game was the play of Indiana transfer Armon Bassett who finished with 32 points as well as his teammate and point guard D.J. Cooper, who tallied 23 points and eight assists.

This all, by the way, from an Ohio team who finished ninth in the MAC regular season standings, never won more than two games in a row between Christmas and March, and needed a conference tournament run just to be in the NCAA Tournament.

I guess there really is a reason they call this tournament March Madness.

The Most Surprising Team… In A Bad Way: Villanova

Yes, they won, which is more than a lot of other higher seeded teams can claim. But, what a truly disappointing effort, from a team that is one of the most experienced in the tournament.

The Wildcats played their opening round game against Robert Morris, lethargic, lazy and disinterested, and needed some spotty officiating down the stretch to get out of their opener with a win (I have my opinions on all this, but I’ll save it for another day). And to make matters worse, Villanova’s two best players- and supposed leaders- Scottie Reynolds and Corey Fisher, were benched to start the game, for what Coach Jay Wright deemed, “Minor Teaching Points.” Whatever that means.

Regardless, hopefully Thursday was the wake up call Villanova needed. Because if they play on Saturday against St. Mary’s like they did Thursday, it’s going to be a short March stay for the Wildcats.

Best Coaching Job: Steve Donahue, Cornell

You could make a case for any number of guys: Ohio’s John Groyce, Old Dominion’s Blaine Taylor, even Robert Morris’ Mike Trice in defeat. But today, we’re giving the edge to Steve Donahue at Cornell, who not only beat Temple, but beat his former mentor too, Owls coach Fran Dunphy.

What made Cornell’s win so surprising, was the ease with which they made it look. The Big Red jumped out to an early lead against Temple, and never let them get comfortable. They were more prepared, got to every loose ball, and just seemed better on offense and defense than Temple. Basically, if you took an average basketball fan who knew nothing about these two teams, they’d have thought Cornell was the No. 5 seed and Temple the plucky underdog.

Either way, it’ll be interesting to see how Cornell matches up with a struggling Wisconsin team on Sunday, and to see if they can pull another upset against the Badgers. Then again, with the way they played Friday, would it really even be an upset?

Worst Coaching Job: Rick Barnes, Texas

I know Barnes had to deal with some injury issues this year, but still. There might not be a single coach who routinely gets less out of his talent annually than Barnes does.

Watching Texas’ game against Wake Forest, the Longhorns not only looked ill-prepared, but at times, like they were on another planet, as Wake point guard Ish Smith sliced and diced them, ending the game with a near triple double (19 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists).

Even when Texas did put together a comeback to force overtime, they squandered an eight point lead in the extra period, and missed crucial foul shots down the stretch to lose.

It was another short March in Austin, a trend that is becoming all too routine this time of year. And after awhile, it’s hard to blame the guys on the court.

Stars of Round 1:

Jimmer Fredette, BYU: Hoops Addict told you to watch out for Fredette, and he obliged, putting up 37 points on 13-26 shooting in BYU’s double overtime victory over Florida.

It’ll be interesting to see what he has in store Saturday afternoon, as the Cougars take on Kansas State, a team that you know will be happy to run up and down and make this a high-scoring game. This one will be nothing, if not entertaining.

Indiana Transfers: We already mentioned Armon Bassett’s heroics for Ohio against Georgetown, but what about his former teammate Jordan Crawford? Crawford scored 28 points, and added six rebounds and five assists in Xavier’s victory over Minnesota Friday afternoon.

With Bassett and Crawford shining this March, we’ve got to ask ourselves: What kind of dynasty could Kelvin Sampson be putting together at Indiana right now? If only he could keep his phone dialing fingers to himself…

Omar Samhan, St. Mary’s: Samhan looked like a man against boys on Thursday against Richmond, as the St. Mary’s center had the easiest 29 point and 11 rebound performance you’ll ever see. What made the whole thing even more impressive was that he did it in just 28 minutes because of foul trouble.

Maybe more importantly, Samhan poses a huge (Pun definitely intended) problem for Villanova on Saturday afternoon. The one thing Villanova simply cannot account for is a big guy who can score, and Samhan most certainly fits that bill.

Could St. Mary’s be in store for another shocker Saturday?

Ish Smith, Wake Forest: We already mentioned it, but it’s worth repeating, 19 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists. Never a bad line for a 5’11 point guard. Right?

John Calipari, Kentucky Coach: Whether you love or hate Calipari (and believe me, there are plenty of people on both sides of that fence), you can’t deny that there isn’t a coach who has his team better prepared this time of year.

In his last four years at Memphis, Calipari’s resume looked like this:

Elite Eight in 2006

Elite Eight in 2007

National Championship Game Runner-Up in 2008

Sweet 16 in 2009

And his Kentucky team opened this tournament with maybe the most impressive opening round performance of all, a 100-71 beat down of hopeless and hapless East Tennessee State.

There’s still a lot of time between now and the National Championship game in early April. But could this year finally be Calipari’s one shining moment?

Running Down Ten Second Round Games, In Two Sentences Or Less:

No. 10 St. Mary’s vs. No. 2 Villanova, Saturday, 1:05 p.m.: If both teams play the way they did Thursday (St. Mary’s great, Villanova not so much), we could be in line for the first upset of the second round, just one game in.

No. 9 Northern Iowa vs. No. 1 Kansas, Saturday, 5:40 p.m.: The nation’s No. 2 scoring defense (Northern Iowa) goes against college basketball’s No. 1 overall team. This one culd be closer than you think.

No. 11 Washington vs. No. 3 New Mexico, Saturday, 5:50 p.m.: Despite the seeding, Washington actually comes into this game as the favorite, after their victory over Marquette Saturday. Guess the Pac-10 wasn’t so bad after-all, huh?

No. 7 BYU vs. No. 2 Kansas State, Saturday, 8:10 p.m.: Set the TIVO, because a trio of great guards (Fredette, Kansas State’s Denis Clemente and Jacob Pullen) could make this one an instant classic.

No. 9 Wake Forest vs. No. 1 Kentucky, Saturday, 8:15 p.m.: A lot of brackets could be busted if Kentucky were to lose here. John Wall vs. Ish Smith is worth the price of admission alone.

No. 8 Gonzaga vs. No. 1 Syracuse, Sunday, 12:15 p.m.: Gonzaga’s got the scorers inside to beat Syracuse, especially if the Orange are still without Arinze Onuaku. But the start time sure doesn’t help Gonzaga (9:15 A.M. Spokane time).

No. 10 Georgia Tech vs. No. 2 Ohio State, Sunday, 2:20 p.m.: Georgia Tech’s size and length could keep this one close right down to the wire. Don’t be shocked by an upset here.

No. 12 Cornell vs. No. 4 Wisconsin, Sunday, 2:50 p.m.: Similar to Villanova and St. Mary’s. If these two teams both play the way they did Friday, Cornell will be Sweet 16 bound.

No. 6 Xavier vs. No. 3 Pittsburgh, Sunday, 4:50 p.m.: An absolute street fight between two, tough, physical teams. Question: Why didn’t anyone talk me out of my Oakland over Pittsburgh upset pick?

No. 8 California vs. No. 1 Duke, Sunday, 5:15 p.m.: Could the weekend end with No. 1 seed packing its bags and headed home? Nahhh…

To read all of Aaron’s additional work, make sure to stop by his site, www.aarontorres-sports.com. Also, for his opinions on all things sports, follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres

March Madness Preview

With the NCAA Tournament kicking off on Thursday, I took some time this afternoon to chat with Aaron Torres about  first-round matchups he’s excited to watch, what high seeds could be booted early from the tournament, what teams are over or under-rated, how Kentucky’s lack of experience in the Tournament will play out and if Texas can regain the form that helped them start the season  17-0.

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March Madness Prize Package From Coke Zero

Look, I know the incentive to join the Hoops Addict March Madness Pool was  slim since only bragging rights were on the line. So, to up the ante, we’ve partnered with Coke Zero to give prize packages to the people who finish first and second in the pool.

The prize package will include a Coke Zero fleece jacket, cap, and a water bottle.

Right now there are only 10 people registered in the pool so you’re odds of winning a prize package are pretty good.

Why are they helping us out? Because they want my help in spreading the word about Coke Zero’s unique program called Dept. of Fannovation.

Coke Zero challenged fans the last few months to think of ways to improve the NCAA fan experience by submitting ideas to the Dept. of Fannovation for a shot at $10,000 and a trip to the 2011 NCAA Final Four. The top 64 ideas have been chosen, and fans can head over now to www.cocacolazero.com/ncaa to vote for their favorites in the “Coca-Cola Zero Brain Bracket Championship” — a survive and advance tournament similar in format to the NCAA one.

Unfortunately this giveaway is limited to residents of the US and Canada. Sorry.

Click this link to join the Hoops Addict March Madness Pool on Yahoo! Sports.

Even though the prize was provided by The Coca-Cola Company, the Coca-Cola Company is not a sponsor, administrator or connected in any other way with this giveaway.

Six Players To Watch In The NCAA Tournament

Coming into the NCAA Tournament, we all know the names of the biggest game-changers in college basketball are John Wall, Evan Turner and Sherron. But what about everybody else? What about the guys who weren’t All-Americans this year? You need to know about them too.

Which is why Hoops Addict has identified a group of six players you need to get to know and watch out for, as we head into the 2010 NCAA Tournament:

Derrick Favors, Georgia Tech: Don’t worry, I already know what you’re thinking: How can a guy who is very likely going to be a top five NBA Draft pick, a player we should watch out for? Well, if you watched Georgia Tech at all this year, you know that the Jackets did anything but look out for their biggest, baddest player. And it almost cost them a trip to the NCAA Tournament.

That’s because through the regular season, Favors was almost an afterthought on his own team, as he averaged just 12 points and less than eight shot attempts per game. In a related story, the Yellow Jackets limped to a 19-11 regular season record.

Once the ACC Tournament started Favors was a different man, as he averaged over 17 points a game, and Georgia Tech beat North Carolina, Maryland and NC State before ultimately losing to Duke in the conference finals.

Look, it’s pretty simple really. If the Yellow Jackets get the ball to their big guy these next few weeks, there aren’t many who can stop Favors, or the Yellow Jackets for that matter.

But if they don’t? Well, there might not be much madness in their March. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

Jon, Leuer, Wisconsin: As hard as it is to believe, Wisconsin has been one of the most consistent teams in college basketball over the last decade or so, winning 20 or more games in every year but one since 2003. And in the one year they didn’t, they “only,” got to 19 wins and the NCAA Tournament. Needless to say, Coach Bo Ryan knows how to evaluate talent and coach it up.

Well this year, he’s got a pretty special big man in Leuer.

Leuer stands at 6’10 and while not overly athletic, is a smart player, with a nice soft touch around the basket. Which is the biggest reason he finished second on the Badgers in scoring this season, averaging just under 15 points a game.

And after coming back fro a midseason injury, Leuer is just starting to regain his early season form. He’s now scored in double figures in each of the last five games, with Wisconsin going 4-1 over that time frame.

Expect a still improving Leuer to be a headache for opponents all NCAA Tournament long.

Lazar Hayward, Marquette: Watch Marquette enough and you might start to ask yourself, “What am I missing?” They’re not that big, physical or overly athletic, and just don’t seem like they should be as good as their 22-11 record would indicate they are. Only, well, they are that good. And there’s no bigger reason for their success than Hayward.

Like the rest of him teammates, if you were lining Hayward up next to his opponent, he wouldn’t just out at you, but just watch the Golden Eagles 6’6″ power forward. The kid can play.

Hayward was Marquette’s leading scorer (18.1 points a game) and rebounder (7.7) and shot 43 percent from the field, all while facing the opponent’s best low post defender. He’s also gritty and tough, and it was his play that led the Golden Eagles to their fifth place finish in the rugged Big East.

Again, if you pick the Golden Eagles in your bracket, don’t expect to be overwhelmed the first time you lay eyes on Hayward (Honestly, seeing him with his headband and beard, he looks like a 6’6 version of Denver Nuggets forward Kenyon Martin. All he’s only missing the kiss tattoo on his neck), but by the end of the game, not only will he be your favorite Marquette player, you’ll probably be looking to buy his replica jersey off Eastbay too.

Either way, the Golden Eagles will make some noise in this tournament, and no one will play a bigger role, than their most important player.

Donald Sloan, Texas A&M: Much like Marquette, if you just caught Texas A&M in passing at any point this season you probably weren’t overwhelmed; they’re the type of team that does everything good, but nothing great. At the same time though, let’s be honest, the Aggies didn’t finish fourth in college basketball’s toughest conference by accident. But as good as Texas A&M is (and believe me they’re good), they would have been a lot closer to the bottom of the Big XII without Sloan.

What makes Sloan so special is his consistency. He never seems to force his offense, yet he’s still scored in double-figures in every game but one since…wait for it…wait for it… The last week of November! Not too shabby huh? What makes Sloan’s feat even more impressive is that the Aggies haven’t had their second leading scorer- Derrick Roland- since right around New Year’s.

Again, Sloan isn’t a name you’re probably familiar with, but you better get to know it quick. Before it’s too late, and he’s knocked your favorite team out of the Big Dance.

Jimmer Fredette, BYU: Jimmer Fredette? Sounds more like the lead singer of the house band at your favorite local pub than a basketball player right? He actually looks the part too. But get him on the court, and the kid is a stone-cold assassin.

The 6’2 guard from Glen Falls, NY (How’d he end up out in Provo, Utah? Your guess is as good as mine), led the Mountain West with a 21.4 points a game average, while at the same time leading BYU with close to five dimes a game too. More importantly, he saved his best performances for the Cougars biggest games, as he dropped 45 and 30 on back-to-back nights in the Mountain West Tournament.

While BYU ultimately lost to UNLV in the conference semifinals, make no mistake, they will make noise come this NCAA Tournament. And that noise will come from the unlikeliest source: The one man house band himself, Jimmer Fredette.

Johnathan Jones, Oakland: Want a deep, deep sleeper who could blow up on your radar this 2010 NCAA Tournament? Well head out West…well not that far West…but to Oakland, MI, where one of college basketball’s most underrated point guards plays, Johnathan Jones of Oakland University.

Jones is a coaches dream (unless you’re the opposing coach, then he’s more like a nightmare), an experienced floor leader that gets more joy out of setting up his teammates than getting his own points. Jones finished third in college basketball in assists this year averaging 6.4 a game, which wouldn’t be all that bad, except well, he averaged over eight a game a year ago to lead college basketball. Add in over 12 points a game, and you’re looking at one of the best floor generals in college basketball, regardless of school.

Oakland comes into this tournament having won 20 of their last 21 games dating all the way back to the end of December, and won’t lay down to Pittsburgh in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. And if they do win, look for the smallest guy on the court to have the biggest impact.

For the best coverage of the NCAA Tournament, be sure to check back at HOOPSADDICT.com all March long. To read all of Aaron’s work, please visit him at his own personal site, www.aarontorres-sports.com and follow him on Twitter @Aaron_Torres.

Selection Sunday Chat

Hey college basketball fans!

It’s hard to believe, but it’s already time for the one of the best sporting events on the calendar. That’s right, it’s time for March Madness and the 2010 NCAA Tournament.

This year, before you fill out your brackets and enter your office pools, make sure you’re prepared.  This Sunday – Selection Sunday for the NCAA’s 65 teams – Hoops Addict editor Ryan McNeill will be joined by Hoops Addict college basketball writer Aaron Torres for a live chat leading up to and during the announcement of the field at 6 p.m. EST.

Join Ryan and Aaron as they take your questions on the teams and players that will pull off the biggest upsets and make it all the way to the Final Four and beyond.

So to the Hoops Addict community, the invitation has been extended to you to come talk some college basketball this Sunday evening, starting at 5:30. We’ll see you there!