Eric Angevine

From left, Creighton's Avery Dingman (22), Will Artino, Isaiah Zierden (21), Jahenns Manigat and Josh Jones joke around during their NCAA college basketball media day, Wednesday, Oct. 17, 2012, in Omaha, Neb. (AP Photo/The World-Herald, Alyssa Schukar) MAGS OUT; ALL NEBRASKA LOCAL BROADCAST TV OUT

Bluejay Zierden lauds redshirt learning experience

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You’ll never find a college basketball player who relishes the thought of spending a season on the bench. Injuries and coaches decisions will often put a young player out of commission for a season, however. It’s up to the redshirtee to get the most he can out of the experience.

Creighton’s redshirt freshman Isaiah Zierden, a 6-2 guard from Minnesota, is “biting the bit,” as he told the Omaha World-Herald, to get on the floor after sitting out his first season as a Blue Jay.

Zierden does acknowledge the wisdom shown by head coach Greg McDermott in sitting him for a year, however.

Zierden said the redshirt season allowed him to adjust to the speed of the college game.

“The game just slowed down,” he said. “Last year, during summer workouts and during training camp, it seemed like everything was just going a million miles per hour. Things have just slowed down.

“I have time to read the pick-and-rolls and that kind of stuff. That’s the biggest thing.”

The other important benefit, and it will be crucial as the Bluejays move into the Big East, is the time Zierden spent improving his strength. The redshirt freshman admitted that he looked like “a twig” at the beginning of last season. Strength and conditioning coach Dan Bailey showed Zierden a photo taken last season and the player barely recognized himself.

Intelligent use of reshirt seasons is one of the hidden tasks a top-notch college coach must tackle. Sounds like McDermott thought ahead when it came to preparing his team for the big realignment move.

Spartans look to invert A/TO ratio from last season

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Last year was a major anomaly for the Michigan State Spartans. As Diamond Leung of pointed out today, the 2012-2013 season was the first time in a decade that a Tom Izzo-coached team had a negative assist-to-turnover ratio. Leung pointed out that the Spartans matched 489 turnovers with 474 assists.

That’s not going to fly.

“That was a ridiculous stat for a top-10 team,” Izzo told the Sporting News earlier this month.

The Sporting News pointed a finger at the team’s primary culprits, as well.

Sporting News writer Mike DeCourcy noted that guards Keith Appling and Denzel Valentine were among the Spartans that needed to cut down on turnovers. He also wrote that the Spartans last season were the highest-seeded team in the NCAA tournament with a negative assist-to-turnover ratio.

Appling had a rather meager 1.4 A/TO ratio as an individual, and Valentine was even lower at 1.2; the team’s best mark was a 1.5 posted by Travis Trice in limited action.

Appling (13.4 ppg) carried most of the team’s scoring load as well, so it may be that his assist numbers will improve when, you know, someone catches his passes and puts them in the basket. Then again, Appling projects as a point guard in the NBA, and the current state of his ballhandling makes his selection in the 2014 draft highly unlikely. So it behooves him, and his coach, to solve this problem as quickly as possible.



Vols will retire Dale Ellis’ jersey at Vandy game

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Tennessee is getting ready to honor one of its greatest players, and they’ve chosen a big date – the March 1 game when in-state rival Vanderbilt comes to Thompson-Boling – as the perfect time for the ceremony.

The Vols will run Dale Ellis’ number 14 jersey to the rafters in front of a rabid, partisan crowd, and a national television audience. The game is set to be shown on one of the ESPN networks.

Ellis was a two-time All-American and SEC player of the year, back-to-back in the 1982 and 1983 seasons. As Brendan F. Quinn of the Knoxville News-Sentinel pointed out, Ellis would have been higher on the list had he played in a later era:

Ellis’ tally of 2,065 points with the Vols would have been considerably higher had a 3-point line existed at the time. He made 1,719 3-pointers in his NBA career, ninth-most all-time.

Ellis had nine career 30+-point games in his Vols career, including a 30-point effort against Vanderbilt on January 29, 1983.


Marquette played on the godfather of all colorful courts

courtesy Fast Company Magazine
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College basketball fans are acting like colorful arena floors are a modern invention, with a lineage traced directly from the painted foliage at Oregon’s Matthew Knight Arena to the Life of Pi theme at Florida International. But eye-popping basketball courts were – and doesn’t it seem obvious in retrospect? – a product of the freewheeling 1970s.

Right around the corner from the Bicentennial, an artist named Robert Indiana was commissioned to create a new court design for the Milwaukee Bucks. He created what amounts to a massive pop-art painting for the Milwaukee Exposition and Convention Center and Arena, adorning the center of the court with the building’s acronymic nickname: MECCA.

What’s this have to do with college hoops? I hear you asking, once again.

Well, Marquette called the building home as well. From 1977 to 1988, when both teams moved to the Bradley Center, the then-Warriors dribbled, passed and dunked on a floor that resembled the national flag of a small island nation.

Fast Company magazine has the story of the resurrection of the MECCA floor:

At a time when sports were more aesthetically practical, Indiana painted the court bright yellow (“At first, I thought we had to wear sunglasses because it was so bright,” former Bucks coach Don Nelson once commented), and he featured the arena’s name, MECCA, large enough so that TV cameras couldn’t miss it. He signed the court, like a painting, on one of its baselines.

The MECCA floor will be reassembled and displayed as a work of art at U.S. Cellular Arena soon. As you watch the mountains closing in on the Colorado Buffs or try to locate players on UCF’s greyscale floor this season, take a moment to thank, or curse Robert Indiana and MECCA as befits your own aesthetic sense.

Hoosiers are unofficially very busy this weekend


There’s a full house in Bloomington this weekend, according to the Indianapolis Star.

It seems several of Tom Crean’s top recruiting targets are in town this weekend, taking “unofficial” visits. As informal as these visits might be, they are super-meaningful for the program. Some of the school’s biggest potential future stars will be wandering campus this weekend, according to the newspaper’s site.

The Hoosiers will try to re-recruit James Blackmon, Jr. this weekend, and Blackmon is said to be on an unofficial visit today. Five-star guard Isaiah Whitehead is unofficially dropping by (short jaunt on the subway from New York to Indiana, don’t you know) on Sunday. Indiana expects to host wing player Malachi Richardson over the next couple of days as well.
Per the Star, only one player is “officially” visiting Bloomington this weekend.

The Hoosiers are also hosting four-star Virginia combo guard Robert Johnson this weekend on an official visit that has been scheduled for weeks.It’s the only official trip he’s scheduled. Johnson is ranked No. 54 nationally by Scout.

Look at that list and you’ll see plenty of guards. I’d love to be a fly on the wall to see how Crean and his staff juggle all of these players who nominally would share the same backourt if they were all to sign. The psychological gamesmanship must really be something.

Understated new court at… Boise State?

photo courtesy Boise State
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New court surfaces are going in fast and furious throughout college basketball. Most of them are wild, eye-busting designs, with each program looking to top the last.

One school, however, put in a nice, modest new floor. Boise State’s Taco Bell Arena, of all places, is the home of a relatively mellow, mostly natural-wood-colored court.

You may remember that Boise State is the home of the famous blue football turf. Taco Bell Arena, in fact, was a bit of an eye-popper before. But the current powers that be in the basketball program are pretty proud of the less colorful new joint they’ll be playing in.

“I’m little bit more of a tradtionalist,” men’s coach Leon Rice said. “You can look around the nation, a lot of pro teams are doing this, the NCAA Tournament, this is exactly the way they do it,” Rice said. “For us, the way we play, with as many 3s as we like to take, it shows you where it is pretty clearly, and the key being colored, it will hopefully keep the (former UNLV star and No. 1 overall NBA Draft pick) Anthony Bennetts of the world from staying out there too long.”

I’m not one to put down the colorful courts. College hoops are supposed to be fun, after all. But there’s something kind of cool about Rice and his program deciding to be famous for their style of play rather than the flamboyance of their playing surface.