Blogger Spotlight: Testudo Times talks Maryland and the ACC

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Nobody’s want a piece of Maryland this season. The Terps are just 11-6, but feature the nation’s most efficient defense and one of the nation’s top players in forward Jordan Williams.

Maybe that’s why their close losses – to the likes of Top 25 mainstays Pitt, Illinois, Temple, BC, Duke and Villanova – make it seem like Maryland’s ready to run off a host of ACC wins. Tonight against Virginia Tech would be a good place to start. (9 p.m. ET, ESPN2)

So I chatted with Ben Broman, the man behind the Maryland blog Testudo Times, in this week’s Blogg Spotlight for his thoughts on the Terps, the ACC and blogging.

Q: Anyone just tuning into the college hoops season would look at Maryland’s 11-6 and shrug indifference. That must be infuriating given the Terps’ losses and that superb defense, right?

A: I don’t know if I’d say “infuriating.” It’s a little frustrating and disappointing, definitely. Maryland’s not nearly as bad as the record indicates. In fact, if they could hit free throws – a relatively small alteration – it’s not a stretch to say they’d be 14-2 or so right now, with a bunch of impressive wins. So yeah, it’s kind of annoying to think that there are people out there assuming this is a down year for Maryland.

Except for the fact that, well, it kind of is. The defense is great, don’t get me wrong, and the losses are far from damning – in fact, playing top 10 teams toe-to-toe in hostile environments is pretty impressive. But the flaws that caused those games to be lost have popped up again and again. They aren’t one-time occasions. It’s pretty easy to see what’s wrong with this team: they have no consistent perimeter scorer, experienced guard, or anyone capable of hitting free throws, and it’ll more than likely stay that way unless the NCAA unexpectedly introduces free agency. (Too late to call dibs on Jelan Kendrick?)

As long as those problems are around, no one really knows if Maryland is worth more than a shrug of indifference, and most Terrapin fans will agree. After all, it’s not like they only have close road losses to top 25 teams; the Terrapins lost to BC at home earlier in the year and probably should’ve beaten Temple in a virtual home game, too. They’ll probably prove that they’re worth more than a shrug of indifference by the end of the season, hopefully by running through ACC play with relative ease. But until that happens, I’m not upset by casual fans’ ignorance. Who knows? They might actually be unintentionally right.

Q: Same must apply to Jordan Williams. Guy’s been nothing short of a beast (18.1 points 12 rebounds a game) and playing a ton of minutes, but it’s all Jared Sullinger, JaJuan Johnson, Terrence Jones, etc, etc.

A: Maybe it’s just selective perception, but I’ve actually heard a solid amount of Jordan Williams talk by knowledgeable fans. If we’re talking solely casual fans, then yeah, he’s probably being overlooked. But that’s what happens when you can’t win big games on a national stage. I don’t think you can expect any great player to get a lot of talk if they’re on a bad team. Again, if Maryland could hit free throws – or, for that matter, if Jordan Williams could hit free throws – he’s probably seen as a first team All-American candidate.

It may also hurt that he’s not really exciting to watch. It might come as surprise to people that don’t watch him regularly that he’s kind of…awkward. He’s very strong, surprisingly agile and quick, and extremely savvy, but he doesn’t always look the part of a dominant college big man. That might be an impediment.

Either way, almost everyone that truly cares about the game considers him among the top 5 post players in the nation and perhaps the best player in the ACC. For now, that’s enough for me. Hopefully he’ll stick around one more year to reap the benefits of the hype machine that would almost surely surround him in 2011-12.

Q: Compare the difference to last year’s squad to this season’s. Ignore the records. Which would you prefer?

A: Last year’s, and it’s not particularly close. Jordan Williams has the potential to be an all-time great at Maryland, but he isn’t yet. Greivis Vasquez had not only reached that level by his senior year, he was extremely entertaining to watch. More importantly, last year’s team doesn’t have this year’s team’s fatal flaws: the lack of experience, the absence of a consistent perimeter scorer, and free throw shooting. After all, they were one Korie Lucious three-pointer away from being in the Sweet Sixteen (and potentially much farther) last season.

But if we’re playing preferences, let’s just put the sophomore version of Jordan Williams on last year’s team and call it a Final Four.

Q: Gary Williams recently said home-court advantage at Cameron Indoor Stadium was worth about eight points. What’s the Comcast Center worth? (This one will have a follow up)

A: Probably about four, but it depends on how full it is. It definitely gets overlooked by the people that are obsessed with Cameron, but it lacks the tradition and reputation that makes Cameron intimidating. Comcast is probably the second- or third-best homecourt advantage in the conference.

The thing about it is that while it’s an advantage, it’s not as big of one as Cole Field House was. Comcast is cavernous; those intimate places like Cameron, Cole, or even Cassel at VT seem like they’re so much louder when the fans really get riled up.

Q: Agreed completely on Cole Fieldhouse. The trend of replacing classic venues with bright and shiny new spots is never going to end, which is fine, I guess. Schools have to find ways to make money. But when Oregon replaces Mac Court – a dump, but a fabulous edge for the Ducks – with a $226 million arena, it seems like some of the soul is gone. Is Comcast ever going to feel the same as Cole did?

A: It’s all relative, so it’ll probably feel similarly eventually. But the combination of extreme intimacy and storied history isn’t easy to replicate, and it’s certainly not present in Comcast as it stands right now. It has some unique advantages, like the wall of students, the hypno-signs during free throws, and a cheesy nickname (the Comcastle!), but it’s still huge (in a bad way) and without much tradition.

As other sacred grounds are devalued, Comcast will rise up the ranks and will start to feel like “one of those special places” again. Speaking in absolute terms, though, Comcast will never reach Cole one-on-one.

Q: Here’s an easy question, but difficult to answer – Why are so many ACC teams so damn bad this year?

A: Most conferences have a team or two going through a rough patch, on a downswing, if you will. K-State and Oklahoma in the Big 12, Michigan and Indiana in the Big Ten, etc. It’s a temporary problem that should be fixed in a year or two. The problem with the ACC is that that’s half the conference.

Malcolm Delaney essentially is VT. Wake Forest wasn’t left with a full cupboard and is imploding under Bzdelik, who isn’t exactly John Wooden. UNC is still a year away from being back and was overhyped. N.C. State is still suffering under Sidney Lowe. And Maryland continues to blow chances to look impressive out of conference.

I wish there was some really cool, smart answer as to why this is, but there isn’t. Or if there is, I don’t know it. A lot of usually strong teams are bad this year, and that’s about all you can draw from it. The ACC will be back eventually, but probably not anytime soon.

Q: And the thing, is, we all know the ACC will be back given its rich hoops history. Where would you place the Terps in that history? Above N.C. State, below Duke?

A: It’s kind of hard to quantify where Maryland deserves to be, mostly because of their varied history. They’ve had a few stretches of national prominence under Lefty and Gary Williams, but they’ve also been nationally irrelevant for a long stretch, too. Heck, they didn’t even have a Final Four appearance until the past decade. I know there’s a lot of timing that goes into that (thanks, Duke, UNC, and UCLA) but it’s still strange to see a team with two Final Four appearances be the third-most storied team in the game’s most storied conference.

I think saying they’re in the second tier, right below Duke and UNC and fighting for space with N.C. State and Wake Forest, is pretty spot-on. And if I’m picking programs between N.C. State, Wake Forest, and Maryland, I’ll take Maryland. In that sense, yeah, they’re probably No. 3 in the conference in terms of history, right above N.C. State and right below Duke.

Q: And what about that 2002 Maryland team, which, in my opinion, always gets overlooked as one of the top teams of the past 15 years. Where do they rank in ACC lore?

A: That one’s pretty tough. If we’re talking strictly the past 15 years, just off the top of my head, I don’t know, around top 5ish? Number two or three or so? The fact that they didn’t win the ACC tournament hurts, but that 15-1 record in conference and 32-4 record overall is pretty amazing. And they did win a natty, after all.

I’ve never really been surprised that they’ve been overlooked, either. For one, ACC also happens to stand for All-Carolina Conference, so expecting any team out of Tobacco Road to get consistent props is probably expecting too much. And Indiana, the opponent in the national title game, was pretty weak that season. They got hot at the right time, but they were far from a power that year. It’s not like that should devalue what Maryland did – they beat UConn and a really good Kansas team on the way to the title game – but that final game wasn’t an all-time great. That hurts, too.

 Q: For those who don’t know who “Testudo” is, explain your blog’s name and how it ended up on SB Nation.

 A: Testudo is Maryland’s mascot. It’s Latin for “shell”, which makes sense. As for why I picked it: I’m exceedingly unwitty.

As for how we got on SBN, sometimes I still wonder. I had been doing some blogging odd-jobs over the past couple years before deciding to go full-time for Maryland in early 2008, which was my first true sporting love. I’ve been a Terrapin fan essentially since birth and there was a hole in the blogosphere where Maryland blogs were supposed to be, so I decided to fill it. I started blogging on a WordPress site for a few months before reaching out to Peter Bean and the guys at SBN. Looking back on it, I’m kind of surprised they agreed to let me aboard given my relatively unproven blogging chops and the extremely high-quality content elsewhere on the network. All worked out in the end, though, and the ride has been a blast.

Q: Best and worst part of running the blog? For those of us who rely on it for Maryland news, how much longer do you envision do it?

A: The worst part is either the time devotion or the occasional disgruntled reader/commenter. Like many other bloggers, the site isn’t my full-time job, so the time constraints can be rough. And there’s always that weird feeling when someone less than happy with whatever I wrote, be it a random fan or a former player, decides to let me know about it in less than pleasant terms. Maryland’s unwillingness to offer press credentials is annoying, too.

But it’s always worth it for the best part: while being as minimally cheesy as possible, it’s the odd occasion when someone gives an honest, heartfelt compliment and tells me how much they enjoy TT. I never expected that when I started, and I still kind of get goosebumps when it happens. The sense of community at the site is truly amazing, too. There are some regulars on TT that graduated in the 50s and 60s, talking Terps sporst with current students. That’s a pretty proud thing for me.

I don’t think there’s anything coming in the near future, as far as changes in the site go. I don’t plan far enough ahead to give a definitive asnwer on how long I’ll keep doing it, but I don’t see any reason coming in the near future to stop. I really like where the site is right now and don’t want to change too much. As long as I can keep doing what I’m doing now (and I don’t know why I wouldn’t be able to do so), I’ll keep blogging.

You can find Ben’s work at Testudo Times.

Want more? I’m also on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

Report: LSU coach Will Wade drawing NCAA scrutiny

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Will Wade’s success on the recruiting trail in his first 11 months at LSU has caught the eye of the NCAA, according to a report from Yahoo sports.

This does not appear to coincide with the FBI’s investigation into corruption in the sport for the simple fact that the NCAA has kept clear of the players, coaches and the programs named in the FBI complaints and the documents published by Yahoo in the last week while the government does their job.

At this point, according to the report, this appears to be a simple case of fact-finding. The investigation has “stalled” because the NCAA has not gotten enough people to talk, but Wade — who spent two years as the head coach at Chattanooga before going to VCU for two seasons — has undoubtedly been cleaning up on the recruiting trail. He landed four-star point guard Tremont Waters, a Connecticut native and a former Georgetown commit, just a couple of months after getting hired. He’s also landed five-star Naz Reid (New Jersey) and Emmitt Williams (Florida) along with four-stars Darius Days (Florida) and Javonte Smart (Louisiana) in the Class of 2018.

Wade and LSU made headlines last month, as Williams, who was arrested for sexual assault in October, committed to the program on the same day that ESPN dropped their bombshell Michigan State investigation.

With hoops under federal probe, fans say business as usual

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Arenas were packed, fans were cheering and schools were competing.

In most places, it was a typical Saturday of college basketball. There was little visible hangover from the latest developments in the federal investigation of corruption in college basketball.

Coaches were taking the same tact they have been, some saying they’ve found no evidence of wrongdoing and appear to be waiting for the next shoe to drop. Several players still played despite being named in a Yahoo Sports report saying documents showed they had taken impermissible benefits.

Fans, for the most part, were not surprised — with some saying the circumstances have been reality in college hoops for a long time.

Others had fun with it.

At SMU, where the Mustangs were taking on No. 13 Wichita State, some students chanted “FBI! FBI!” and held balloons spelling out the name of the federal agency leading a corruption investigation that has led to 10 arrests of coaches and others alleged to have worked in the seamy underbelly of the sport. One of more than two dozen names mentioned as receiving impermissible benefits in documents in a Yahoo Sports report Friday was former Wichita State guard Fred VanVleet, now with the NBA’s Toronto Raptors.

In sentiments echoed by many coaches, Wichita State coach Gregg Marshall said he didn’t know about the alleged payments but that his program overall has “nothing to hide.”

Utah’s student section mocked Southern California forward Chimezie Metu, who was mentioned in Yahoo’s report but played and scored 14 points to lead the Trojans in a win. The Utah fans displayed signs like “Need Money? Metu! (Me too)” and chanted, “Payroll! Payroll!” whenever he had the ball or returned to the bench.

“When I’m on the court, nothing else matters. I was just out there playing. I wasn’t paying attention to anything anybody else was saying,” Metu said. “I’m not going to lose any focus at all. I didn’t do anything wrong. Nobody in my family did anything wrong. … For me, there was never a doubt I’d play.”

One school where officials were not enjoying themselves Saturday was Arizona.

Wildcats recruit Shareef O’Neal, son of former NBA star Shaquille O’Neal, withdrew his commitment after ESPN reported coach Sean Miller was heard on a wiretap discussing a $100,000 payment to freshman Deandre Ayton to get him to sign with the school.

Arizona announced that Miller would not coach Saturday night in the 14th-ranked Wildcats’ game at Oregon. Associate head coach Lorenzo Romar stood in for Miller, and the Wildcats lost 98-93 in overtime to the Ducks.

It was unclear what the coaching situation at Arizona would be going forward.

“As basketball players, we have a job. And we’re not going to let outsiders, outside noise, let it mistreat us, in a way. We’re just going to keep pushing, keep grinding,” senior guard Parker Jackson-Cartwright said. “We have games to play. We have practices to practice. That’s what we’re looking forward to.”

While Miller was absent, Ayton played and finished with 28 points and 18 rebounds. Oregon fans taunted him with a sign in the image of a check for $100,000.

In Omaha, where Creighton played No. 3 Villanova, the Bluejays were also linked to possible violations.

The Yahoo report said Christian Dawkins, who worked for former agent Andy Miller, may have bought dinner for former Creighton center Justin Patton or his family. Patton signed with Miller’s agency but fired him once Miller was implicated in the probe in September. Creighton coach Greg McDermott has said he didn’t know if Dawkins had a meal with Patton, but knew Dawkins met with Patton because McDermott also attended the meeting.

“So they took him to dinner. Big deal,” said 54-year-old Creighton fan Jim Belgrade, who has been attending games since he was 6. Belgrade said there needs to be a crackdown if money is exchanging hands and that some fans are more concerned than others.

“They will be if it’s a big-time school involved,” Belgrade said. “And there are people who say it’s the rules, and the rules are the rules, so we have to cap it some way. But will fans at Missouri Valley schools be worried about it? Probably not.”

Several players singled out in the report played on Saturday.

Kentucky fans cheered Kevin Knox as usual before he started against Missouri, and the freshman forward did his best to keep things normal. An internal review found no issues and he said afterward, “I was sure I would be able to play all week. I let Kentucky and compliance handle all that.”

Texas held out Eric Davis against Oklahoma while the Longhorns conduct their own investigation, while Alabama’s Collin Sexton started against Arkansas.

At Duke, Wendell Carter Jr. was in the starting lineup after the school said there were no issues with his eligibility. Afterward, Carter said he refused to let it become a distraction “because I know I didn’t do anything. I know my family didn’t do anything.”

The only obvious indication that anything was different was found on the dry-erase board near the Cameron Crazies’ entrance: A Twitter hashtag , #FreeWendell.

“Obviously I was disappointed that a former player was acknowledged in this report,” Maryland coach Mark Turgeon said after the Terrapins were beaten 85-61 by No. 17 Michigan . Former Maryland player Diamond Stone, who played one season for the Terrapins, was also mentioned as receiving an improper loan from an agent.

“I have absolutely zero relationship with that agent or that agency. Wouldn’t know him if he walked into the room today,” Turgeon said.

Michigan guard Muhammad Ali Abdur-Rahkman said he is aware of the scandal, but that’s about as far as it goes.

“We still have to go out there and play the game. People didn’t pay us. I mean, there’s here and there,” Abdur-Rahkman said. “I don’t really think about it. I can’t speak for anyone else.”

Ken Tighe, a Terrapins season-ticket holder since 2002, said college basketball has an issue that needs to be addressed.

“I think the problem is widespread,” Tighe said. “Diamond Stone is part of an attempt by agents to influence the game.”

Michigan coach John Beilein offered a simple solution.

“Educate your players, educate the parents the best that you can,” Beilein said. “When somebody’s offering them something, they’ve got to say no to a Coca-Cola if an agent is talking to them, and they’ve also obviously got to say no to money.”

In Dallas, Jim Randolph — who attended SMU in the late 1960s and was a fan during the 1980s when the football program received the so-called death penalty from the NCAA — said fans expect their teams to do whatever they can to win.

“The entire infrastructure of amateur athletics, especially basketball, is just as dirty as can be,” Randolph said. “So many people have looked the other way for so long. It’s about time it surfaced.”

Dustan Foster of San Angelo, Texas, grew up in Missouri and is a lifelong Kansas fan. The 36-year-old oil field worker attended the eighth-ranked Jayhawks’ game at Texas Tech on Saturday and said he doesn’t know what is going to happen next.

“I don’t even think (NCAA President) Mark Emmert knows at this point,” Foster said. “I don’t think anybody knows. Flip a coin.”

Villanova coach Jay Wright said the scandal has cast a cloud over basketball that everyone in the sport has to work together to remove.

“It’s certainly not a good day for us,” Wright said. “But I do think we have a lot of good people in college basketball, a lot of good things in college basketball that we’re all going to try to work together to get it right again.”

When asked about a line item on an expense report by Dawkins cited by Yahoo that said Dawkins had a meal with “Villanova coaches,” Wright said: “My athletic director has advised me not to respond to it. He will. The athletic department is on top of it and will respond to it.”

AP Sports Writers Eric Olson in Omaha, Nebraska; Joedy McCreary in Durham, North Carolina; Schuyler Dixon in Lubbock, Texas; Anne M. Peterson in Oregon and Gary B. Graves in Lexington, Kentucky; and Associated Press writers Jeff Miller in Dallas and Matthew Coles in Salt Lake City contributed to this report.

No. 2 Michigan State beats Wisconsin, wraps up Big Ten

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MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Cassius Winston scored 20 points and went 6 for 6 from the 3-point line, and No. 2 Michigan State held off Wisconsin 68-63 on Sunday to earn the outright regular-season Big Ten title.

Winston hit two 3s during an 11-2 run in the second half — the second with a defender in his face from well beyond the arc — to lead the Spartans (28-3, 16-2).

Brad Davison finished with 30 points for Wisconsin (14-17, 7-11), including a 3 with 4.7 seconds left that had hometown fans holding out hope for an upset.

Miles Bridges wrapped up the Spartans’ 12th straight win with two foul shots.

It was a milestone victory in what has been a challenging season off the court for Michigan State basketball.

One issue involved Bridges. The star forward had 10 points on 3-of-15 shooting in his first game since getting cleared by the NCAA following a Yahoo! Sports article on Friday that identified him as one of many players who may have received improper benefits.

Winston and Nick Ward, who had 14 points, picked up the scoring slack. Winston’s 3 with 4:45 left gave the Spartans a 58-51 lead, a huge cushion in what had been a tight game.

Davison nearly single-handedly brought Wisconsin back, giving the Badgers a huge boost even after aggravating a left shoulder injury. The freshman sprinted to the locker room with a trainer with about 14 minutes left before returning a couple minutes later and checking right back into the game to rousing applause.

He scored Wisconsin’s next six points, popping perimeter jumpers to electrify an already vocal home crowd in the regular season finale.

The teams dueled the rest of the way until Bridges’ late foul shots.

Michigan State muscled its way to a 34-27 halftime lead by taking control of the paint early before softening up the perimeter for Winston. The sophomore sharpshooter made 3 of 4 from beyond the arc in the first half, with a couple buckets coming quickly in transition.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan State: Documents in the Yahoo! story showed that the star forward may have improperly accepted benefits from an agency implicated in a federal investigation into bribery and other misdeeds in college basketball. The team said Saturday that the school’s compliance office conducted a “thorough internal review” and presented findings to the NCAA, which then cleared Bridges. … The Spartans had too much bulk up front for Wisconsin, building an early edge on points in the paint and finishing with a 40-28 edge on the boards.

Wisconsin: The team honored three reserve seniors in its final regular-season game, including fifth-year forward Aaron Moesch. He is the last link to the Badgers’ back-to-back Final Four appearances in 2014 and ’15, a little-used backup on each of those squads. The Badgers’ reliance on freshmen to play key roles in the rotation, especially in the backcourt, led to growing pains this season. They’ve shown signs of maturity of late, winning three straight games before Sunday.

UP NEXT

Michigan State: Opens play in the conference tournament in New York on Friday after earning a double bye as the top seed.

Wisconsin: Locked into the Big Ten tourney as the No. 9 seed, where it will play Maryland on Thursday.

No. 11 Cincinnati rallies for 82-74 win over Tulsa

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HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. — Gary Clark led a 24-4 run that put Cincinnati ahead to stay early in the second half, and the 11th-ranked Bearcats held on for an 82-74 victory over Tulsa on Sunday that preserved their one-game lead in the American Athletic Conference heading into the final week.

Cincinnati (25-4, 14-2) stayed ahead of No. 13 Wichita State (23-5, 13-3) in the race for the regular-season title. The Shockers won on Cincinnati’s home court 76-72 a week ago.

Wichita State plays at UCF on Thursday and hosts Cincinnati next Sunday in a potential showdown game. The Bearcats play at Tulane on Thursday before heading to Wichita State.

The Bearcats struggled defensively, giving up a season-high 14 3-pointers, but made a season-high 15 from beyond the arc. Clark and Jarron Cumberland had 17 points apiece.

Tulsa (17-11, 10-7) led by eight points early in the second before Clark scored during the decisive run. Junior Etou scored 21 for Tulsa, which had its six-game winning streak snapped.

Cincinnati completed its season playing at Northern Kentucky University while its on-campus arena is renovated, going 14-1 at BB&T Arena.

BIG PICTURE

Tulsa: The Golden Hurricane is wrapping up a regular season that marks a step up for the program. Tulsa went 15-17 last season and 8-10 in the AAC, finishing seventh. It’s fourth in the league with two games to go.

Cincinnati: Even though the Bearcats rank second nationally in defense, they’d given up a lot of open shots in the previous two games, a concern to coach Mick Cronin. The Golden Hurricane got plenty of those, too, while shooting 59 percent in the first half. The Golden Hurricane led 47-44 at the break, the most points Cincinnati has allowed in a half this season.

UP NEXT

Tulsa: Golden Hurricane plays at East Carolina on Thursday. Tulsa opened AAC play by beating ECU 79-53 on Dec. 28.

Cincinnati: The Bearcats have won four straight and 14 of 15 against Tulane, including a 78-61 victory last season.

Bubble Banter: Sunday Funday on the bubble

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As we will do every day throughout the rest of the season, here is a look at how college basketball’s bubble teams fared on Sunday.

It’s worth reminding you here that the way winning are labeled have changed this season. Instead of looking at all top 50 wins equally, the selection committee will be using criteria that breaks wins down into four quadrants, using the RPI:

  • Quadrant 1: Home vs. 1-30, Neutral vs. 1-50, Road vs. 1-75
  • Quadrant 2: Home vs. 31-75, Neutral vs. 51-100, Road vs. 76-135
  • Quadrant 3: Home vs. 76-160, Neutral vs. 101-200, Road vs. 136-240
  • Quadrant 4: Home vs. 161 plus, Neutral vs. 201 plus, Road vs. 240 plus

The latest NBC Sports Bracketology can be found here.

WINNERS

YET TO PLAY

UCLA
PENN STATE
NEBRASKA
N.C. STATE