Sunday, March 31, 2013

The Smart Decision

Shaka Smart is one of the most intriguing figures in all of college basketball. He is just overall one incredibly fun guy. He has created a brand of basketball that has never been seen before. His influence on the young men he coaches, and the institution at which he has done it have been profound. To convince a in immature high school kid to buy into the system he calls Havoc, a system in which their is a commitment to run and dispense all energy on the defensive end takes a unique individual. Guess what, that he is. He really has left a lot to be desired in his four years at VCU. I mean winning a CBI championship, and putting together seven NCAA tournament wins in his four years is really unacceptable. He also made a run to that Final Four thing. In all seriousness, that is one heck of a resume.
In the past decade, VCU has been prone to delivering some high quality coaches. Jeff Capel brought the Rams solid success during his reign in the River City, but he made the ever so wise decision to go to Oklahoma due to the lure of the almighty dollar. But poor Jeff had an extreme lack of success, and was sent packing. Anthony Grant also had solid success at VCU, highlighted by a successful season capped off by Senior guard Eric Maynor delivering the dagger took down the Duke Blue Devils in the first round of the tournament. Grant also decided to go for the big bucks and is currently the head coach of the Crimson Tide. It is safe to say that his success has been lacking as well, as he has simply made Alabama an NIT team.

However, it is very safe to say Shaka has had twice the success of the other two combined. As a result, the offers have rolled in, not just from average basketball schools such as Alabama or Oklahoma(no offense to the Tide or Sooners) but from big time programs; including Illinois, NC State, Minnesota, and UCLA. You must have some pretty incredible reasons to turn down opportunities to be a Golden Gopher, one of the most fun mascots in the game, and to turn down an opportunity to coach at one of if not the most storied program in the history of college basketball in Westwood, California.

The first reason Smart does not want to leave is his personal experience. Shaka Smart played point guard at Kenyon College, a small Liberal Arts school in Gambier, Ohio. Go Lords. The significance of his college career is that the coach that recruited Shaka left Kenyon after Shaka’s freshman year. He has told the media that this really hurt him, and he did not know how he could ever do that to a player of his own. That type of thing sticks with you. Through this experience he has demonstrated a level of personal understanding with his players and the promise to not leave them victim to the frantic spinning of the college basketball coaching carousel.

On top of everything else, Shaka is also a father. He and his wife Maya have a one year old daughter. They just moved into a new house, and made very significant renovations to it. The type of renovations that you make when you are certain you are going to be there for a long time.
Lastly, and possibly the most important, is Shaka thinks he can win a National Championship at VCU(There is a reason his last name is Smart). He does not see the BCS conference schools as the only ones having the means to create something special. He has turned VCU from a Cinderella into a 5-seed in less than half a decade. He has taken a school that had never been to the Sweet 16 or the Final Four. This makes you wonder what he is capable of doing in the next 4 years. And you know Shaka believes that he can do some really incredible things.

Smart has turned VCU into one of the most fun teams in the country to watch. Recruits want to play for him because he is fun, he is loose, and he is loyal. Talk about a triple whammy. He has done something completely unthinkable. He has made the Siegel Center one of the best environments in college basketball. He is responsible for VCU winning the best student section in the country award. He is responsible for the 35 straight sellouts. VCU basketball is something special, and one man is responsible for that. Shaka could go somewhere else and have success and make more money. But Shaka is a refreshing exception from today’s society. It is not about the money. It is not about the history. It is about staying loyal. It is about finishing what you started. Shaka is here to stay, and I wait with anticipation to see how he finishes what is already a marvelous career.-Ben Greer

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Packed House

Arguably the most packed bracket in the bunch, the south regions boasts institutions which  have combined for 12 final four appearances since 2006 and 4 of the last 6 national champions.

Best Team:The Kansas Jayhawks beat out Otto Porter for this title, not Georgetown, Otto Porter. With an offensive attack lead by frosh Ben McLemore and have the ultimate shot alter(er) in Jeff Withey. Bill Self's team might run into trouble when they play either VCU or Michigan in the sweet 16, teams which pride themselves on their fantastic guard play, a position where Kansas is weak. The key for them is to make sure that McLemore produces at a high level and the roll players such as Releford and Elijiah Johnson get involved as well. The Jayhawks' major flaw is that they will play down to the opponent and the Jayhawks are (5-1) against the top 25, meaning that 4 losses have come against unranked and frankly unworthy competition. Losses to TCU, OK State, Oklahoma and Baylor. But, if the Jayhawks can create the right mentality prior to every game, they will be very successful in the south region.

Best player: Otto Porter Jr. In 6 losses this year, Porter only broke 15 twice. When he scores above that mark, the Hoyas are (21-4). Out of 14 players who play on this Hoyas team, there are no seniors. Coach John Thompson has talked tirelessly about the job Markel Starks and Porter have done leading the team. Porter shines bright in the biggest game, hanging 33(5 three pointers) in the dome @ Syracuse, and a 17 point 12 rebound performance against Louisville, both wins. Porters best performance this year was in the 22 point win over Syracuse in their 2nd meeting, when Porter had 10 points, 8 boards, and 7 assists. This was the 6'8 sophomore forward's most complete game of the season and you can see the development in the other facets of the game. Porter shoots 49% from the field and 43% from behind the arc, displaying his ability to take smart shots, also a sold 78% from the line. This Georgetown team rides Porter on the offensive and defensive end and I think he is more important to his team than Marshall Henderson to Ole Miss because of what he does on both ends. Porter is a star and I cannot wait to watch him lead this young and hungry Hoya club.

Best Coach: It was between Steve Fisher and my man Shaka Smart because anytime you stress the defensive side of the basketball like these guys do, your team has a chance in every game. Both use athletes to run a high pressure defensive system. VCU's patented  "Havoc" defense is a full court frenzy in which Smart mixes man and zone pressed, attempting to force an mid-court entry pass to the awkward big man who will cough it up, or D you up with fantastic defensive guards such as Darius Theus and Briante Webber. And then you have Steve Fisher's grind you out in the half court defense, which is very similar to Ohio State's suffocating defense. ESPN writer Kevin Gemmel described the Aztecs 69-67 win over UNLV last year. as "more of an MMA scrap then a college basketball game." Coach Fisher wouldn't have it any other way, when asked about the win he replied "this was a wonderful college game." Quite frankly, not a lot has changed. 20 games in this year, 3 teams had broken 70 points against SDSU. It's been an up and down year at times for both teams, VCU had two 2 game losing streaks.... not a common occurrence for the Rams. Smart has done a great job rallying his troops and his enthusiasm is unmatched on the court. There aren't many defensive possessions for the Rams where you won't see Shaka, coat off, down in a stance yelling and screaming. This is a split decision for me, the old timer and the up and comer share the title.

Most overrated team: This one is glaring to me, sorry Gator Nation. The SEC is garbage and the Gators haven't played that many great teams. Their best win was an early season win against Wisconsin on November 14th. The last ranked opponent they played was Kentucky, when the Wildcats were 25th in the country. This is also the game where Nerlens Noel was injured. Which sounds even worse considering the Gators dropped a game @ Rupp Arena a few weeks later. Kenny Boyton's scoring has dropped 3 points, which is a considerable amount, his assists and rebounds have gone up fractionally. His last 20 point game was January 12th against LSU. But it's not just on Boyton, the trio of seniors(Boyton,Mike Rosario, Erik Murphy) have to step up. They visibly gave up in the Gators loss at Arkansas. A potential 2nd round matchup with Minnesota would see the Gators make an early exit in my mind, they haven't played a great team in a considerable stretch, and Minnesota plays strong teams night in and night out in the Big 10(no discredit to UCLA, but the Jordan Adams injury is a sizable blow). The Gators might surprise me with inspired basketball after that heartbreaking loss to Ole Miss, but I do not see it happening for Billy Donavan's club this year.

Most Underrated team: Did you ever think Roy Williams' UNC Tarheels would be underrated in the tournament? After seeing them play live three times in Greensboro, I'm ready to call them a dark horse. Things didn't start off well, but the Heels got it together winning 9 of their last 11 games, and I know the loss to Duke was bad, but they challenged Miami last week in a game where honestly Carolina looked really good in. The Heels have a big 3 in PJ Hairston, Reggie Bullock, and James Michael McAdoo. Also, Freshman Marcus Page hits big shots, as he did against Maryland. Carolina has appeared to have figured it out, and with a man who has been to the mountain top multiple times in Roy Williams, anything is possible.-Josh Neighbors

Photo credit:,or.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.44011176,d.dmg&fp=536bbe69c8fe9e1e&biw=1246&bih=595&,or.r_cp.r_qf.&bvm=bv.44011176,d.dmg&fp=536bbe69c8fe9e1e&biw=1246&bih=595&

Weak Out West

Next, we head out to the West region where where the controversial Gonzaga Bulldogs own the #1 seed. They might be top dogs, but are they the best team?

Best team: It's a week bracket with the zags, OSU, and New Mexico owning the top three spots. But I think the best team by a favorable margin Is The Ohio State university. I have always had a dislike for Ohio State in every sport, but this year's Buckeyes have something about them. In the beginning of the year, it appeared as though Ohio State could beat everyone they were supposed to, but fell short against elite competition. All of that changed on Feb 20. when the Buckeyes handed a 71-45 lashing to Minnesota, which began an 8 game win streak in which OSU allowed one team to score over 60 points. They beat 4 ranked opponents, 3 top 10's, highlighted by a come from behind road win  in Bloomington Indiana. Thad Matta's brilliance has shown this year, as his relatively short handed Buckeyes have become a nightmare for opposing offenses. Players get fired up over dunk, Ohio State players get fired up over defensive stops, taking charges, and shot clock violations. Aaron Craft is one of the best decision makers in the country, and DeSean Thomas(for some reason, whenever I flip to an Ohio State game, this kid is nailing a corner 3.... It's happened about 7 times this year) is the only double figure scorer on the team, averaging close to 19.5 points per game and is a ravenous defender. Depth isn't an issue for the Buckeyes who are primed to make a final four run in a week west bracket.

Best Player: This is a tough call, but nobody means more to his team then Ole Miss guard Marshall Henderson. The "land shark" is a prolific scorer, and unless your team has an exceptional lockdown man defender, you better double team or hope your help defense is good. He is unconventional because he establishes his outside shot and then goes inside. He shoots close to 39% from the field and is a 37% 3 point shooter. Also, he shoots 88% from the stripe. He is so much fun to watch play because he plays with unbelievable passion, and his teammates feed him because Henderson will find the open man if he is double teamed. Henderson will have a chance to prove his worth to his team, and we will see how prolific of a scorer he really is when the Rebels square off with Wisconsin Badgers, one of the best defensive teams in the country.

Best Coach: The first article I ever wrote was about Sean Miller and I believe he is one of the most underrated coaches in the NCAA. In his tirade on Sunday afternoon, he demonstrated why. Defending his players, and fighting for them, which in turn will motivate them. Miller loves his guys, and even thought Arizona hasn't had a great year, Miller has done a fantastic job with the personal he has.

Most overrated team: Bruce Webber's Kansas State team is a defensive monster, and might be the worst offensive team in the tournament in big games. 3 ranked wins, two against Oklahoma State, and one against an inconsistent Florida team. The Wildcats haven't beaten an elite team yet this year, and were held to 35% shooting from the field against KU last week.(25% from 3, and 50% on free throws) Play all the defense you want, but when you play an elite team you need to score, and those numbers won't cut it. If Kansas State gets in a hole early, it's over. McGruder and Angel Rodriguez aren't enough offensively.

Most underrated Team: They are Kansas State on defense, but have the offensive part of it worked out. The Wisconsin Badgers are better then a 5 seed and I like them to grind their way to an Elite 8 matchup with Ohio State. This a classic, under appreciated, Bo Ryan team.-Josh Neighbors

photo credit:

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Heartland Heroes

Here comes My 2013 NCAA tourney preview in the planes of the midwest.

Best team: No surprises here people, the Louisville Cardinals are without a doubt the best team in this bracket, with the best player, and the best coach. Everything else will be based on the other 15 teams in this region.

Best player: This guy has so many haters and it is completely unfair. Doug McDermott, the coaches son and star of the Creighton Jays is the best player in this region(besides Russ Smith). His critics would say the competition would inflate his numbers and make him appear better than he truly is, which is completely false. McDermott has had his best games against tournament teams. In the 8 games this season where the Jays played tournament teams, McDermott averaged close to 28 points per game in those 8 games and his Jays had a record of (5-3) against those teams, which included wins against Wisconsin, Cal, and a 41 point performance vs Witchita State in their 2nd meeting this season. He is his father on the court and does a fantastic job of leading his team. His game isn't always pretty, but he is a blue collar player who is a leader and the best player in the midwest.(but I think they lose in the first round to either Saint Mary's or MTSU)

Best Coach: I am going off the map on this one and going with Cincinnati's Mick Cromin. Cincinnati has not had a great year, but Cromin is a fantastic motivator and I think he will make sure his team is ready for Creighton. The talented, experienced trio of Sean Kilpatrick, Cashmere Wright, and JaQuon Parker will lead this team to a first round upset of Creighton.

Most overrated team: Easily the Memphis Tigers. They have played 3 tournament teams and lost all 3. They also lost to Xavier. I like either La Salle or St. Marys to knock off Memphis.

Most underrated team: The 12 seeded Oregon Ducks are not a 12 seed. The PAC-12 champions were given the big 12, leading many to believe that they had to win their conference tournament to get in. They are a balanced team lead by a core group of seniors and posses some talented freshmen. The struggle for this team is to remain consistent and continue this role they are on right now and they have an early challenge with Marcus Smart and the Cowboys.-Josh Neighbors

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Monday, March 18, 2013

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

There are 12 months in a year. Some months are better than others. December is a great time of the year with all of the holidays and families coming together. How about November being a great time to give thanks? Maybe one of the summer months because the weather is great, and you get to really have an enjoyable time with friends. However, all of these months are truly abysmal compared to one: March.

The NCAA Tournament is undoubtedly the most exciting postseason in all of sports. I do not want to hear any argument for the NFL or NBA and do not even think about the Bowl system. No other postseason provides the suspense and intensity, the passion, the storylines, the heartbreak, and the joy March Madness provides. If you are still not convinced, take a walk with me.

One of my favorite parts of the system is the opportunity provided by the conference tournaments. Disregarding the Ivy League and the bottom four teams in a few conferences, every single team in college basketball has a chance. If you went (0-30) and did not shoot over 15% in any game that season, you are still awarded the opportunity to make a run at the big dance and win the National Championship. Sure, the odds of this situation are very minimal, but the fact is that they exist. Every team has a chance to make it into the tournament. And as we have learned in the past, once you get into the tournament, absolutely anything is possible.
The second aspect is the drama. Absolutely nothing beats a college basketball game where an entire season is on the line with two minutes left. With 64 teams playing in the first round, there will always be a fair number of games that come down to the very last play. The buzzer beaters that which sends one fan base into euphoric hysteria, but sends another into indescribable, heartbreaking pain. You remember the feeling of having your team’s heart ripped out, which makes it all the more sweeter when your teams rips another’s out. 1.2% of college players make play professionally, which makes college basketball even more special. A majority of these kids realize this is the end of their meaningful basketball career, which renders itself the to high intensity and passion of the game. This high tension creates an atmosphere in which scrutiny is heightened, every error magnified and criticized, every succession praised and adored.
We end with Cinderella. Every year a certain team makes a run that nobody predicted. Some of these runs are to a greater extent than other, but there is always at least one team that seems to have something magical about them. Some of the most notable runs in the past few years have been George Mason getting to the Final Four, Davidson making it to the Elite 8, a Butler squad making the National Championship back to back years, VCU embarking on an incredible Final Four run, and then last year an Ohio Bobcat team making it to the Sweet 16. These teams give hope to the little guy. They give hope to every team that they can be the next Cinderella. When these teams make their run, they have the whole country behind them. Everybody loves an underdog story, and there are plenty of those when March rolls around.
This year is a special year in college basketball to say the least. Never before have we seen such an even landscape of teams. This season has consisted of upset after upset. The nationwide absence of dominance has lead to a beautiful anarchal basketball landscape. This plethora of statements means that this NCAA Tournament may be the best. Upsets will happen, and the true Cinderella will be hard to identify until the latter part of the tournament. I will even go as far as say that this will be the first time ever that a 16 seed beats a 1. I could be wrong. If theres anything we have learned this season, it’s that we can predict absolutely nothing. After it’s all over and we get to watch the montage of highlights from the tournament known as One Shining Moment, watching all the moments will give us goose bumps.  The culmination of memories we cannot wait for which will mark the end of this beautiful chaos which we call the Road to Atlanta. Let the mayhem begin.
-Ben Greer

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Change in Pace

The Miami Heat have pounded every team they have played this year. Except for one, the Indiana Pacers. The Pacers in two meetings with the heat this year, the Pacers have won both meetings by double digits. The Heat are averaging 103 points per game this season. Against the Pacers they scored 87 and 77.  The Heat average 10 more points per game than the Pacers. The Heat shoot 50% from the field and the Pacers shoot 35%. The Miami Heat run the floor and if you asked any casual NBA fan they could name you the best 3 players on the Heat easily and could probably name you 1 player on the Pacers. But in two meetings this season its been the Indiana Pacers handling the Heat easily and frustrating the Heat. LeBron and Dwayne Wade both had great games when they played twice, but it was the role players that were nowhere to be found. Indiana’s blue collar defensive approach is uncommon in the NBA and that is what makes them successful. There is no #1 guy, which is not the case on most teams. Everyone on the team is physical and is better on the defensive end than the offensive end, once again atypical. Playing against them is a culture shock, making teams switch up their game their normal gameplans. The Heat got down early last year, but adjusted and ending up winning the series, but that series gave the Pacers all the confidence they needed. Indiana left that series feeling that they let one get away.
Indiana currently sits at 16 games over .500 and are 7 games back of the Heat, rendering them the #2 seed in the playoffs. They have done most of it without Danny Granger, who has played 5 games since recovering from injury, but it appears to have been a blessing in disguise. Paul George has emerged as a rising star in this league. Averaging close to 18 points 8 rebounds and 4 assists per game. George, at age 22, has become a mature player even with only 2 years of experience under his belt. Even though the scoring output is great, his best attribute is his athleticism which has translated into some rather fine defense. He proved his ability in the dunk contest, was in the 3 point contest this year, and has the experience of a playoff loss to the Heat under his belt. I love Paul George and what he brings to Indiana with his youth, but my favorite young player is the rather unknown sophomore shooting guard from Cincinati, Lance Stephenson. Growing up in Brooklyn, and playing under defensive minded Mick Cronin at Cinci has morphed Stephenson into a defensive nightmare. Dwayne Wade has hung 30 and 17 on Stephenson this year and look for those numbers to get worse because Stephenson is a highly motivated guy with a high basketball IQ and a student of the game on the defensive side of the ball. He refuses to back down, and while the shooting numbers aren’t great, he doesn’t take many bad shots and realizes his place.
In the paint, David West has brought his steady play and veteran leadership to Indiana. He’s heard the talk about how Chris Bosh’s injury before the conference semi’s last year was the reason they were in it and has taken it to heart. In the last meeting between the two, David West dropped 30 points on Bosh, who looked like the 32 year old as West looked as if he was as youthful as ever. Let’s not forget everyone’s favorite player on the bench Tyler Hansborough, and I really hate this guy, but I cannot dispute the fact that he comes to work every day. Amidst all this, we have forgotten the player who is most motivated to beat the Heat, Danny Granger. The iconic image of Danny Granger staring down at LeBron during the playoff series tells the entire story. He remembers how badly LeBron torched him the second half of that series and he and his teammates are determined to not let their foot off the pedal if they see the Heat again in the playoffs.
My synopsis of the Eastern Conference Finals would start off with a familiar tone, the Pacers would win game 1 in a close defensive struggle, lose game two by about 10. I’d like them to split games 3 and 4 in Indiana, leaving a three game series to decide who would represent the East in the Finals. In a three game series, I like Indiana because they are not afraid to play on the road. LeBron will get his, but the Indiana Pacers will hit the Heat where it hurts, on the boards. I will take Hibbert and West over Bosh and Joel Anthony every time. Also, in hustle plays and plays in which momentum will shift, I like the Pacers as well because of this defensive minded style they bring to the game. I believe Miami is the best team in the league right now, but the balanced, defensive minded, youthful, veteran lead Indiana Pacers are the nightmare matchup for the King and his men.-Josh Neighbors