Charlotte Bobcats

Kemba Walker

Kemba Walker makes Michael Kidd-Gilchrist wear UConn shirt after National Title win over Kentucky (PHOTO)

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Kemba Walker led UConn to a National Title three years ago. The next season, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist and Anthony Davis propelled Kentucky to the program’s eighth championship.

In consecutive seasons, the Charlotte Bobcats used draft picks on Walker and Kidd-Gilchrist. On Monday night, the teammates watched the championship game, rooting for their former schools. From start to finish, Walker’s Huskies led, beating MKG’s Wildcats, 60-54, in front of a record crowd inside AT&T Stadium in Arlington, Texas.

Following the game, the two Bobcats posed for a picture with Kidd-Gilchrist wearing a No. 15 UConn T-shirt.

Abdul Gaddy is the key to Washington’s season

Abdul Gaddy
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UNCASVILLE, Conn. – Senior point guard Abdul Gaddy had made a career out of being a pretty good point guard for the Washington Huskies.

He came of the bench as a freshman, spelling Venoy Overton and Isaiah Thomas. He moved into a starting role as a sophomore, averaging 8.5 points and 3.8 assists before tearing his ACL that January, and followed that up with averages of 8.1 points and 5.2 assists as a junior. Throw in two NCAA tournament trips in those three seasons, and Gaddy has had himself a decent collegiate tenure.

The problem with Gaddy having a ‘decent collegiate tenure’ is that he was supposed to be oh so much more.

A McDonald’s All-American back in 2009, Gaddy was the No. 2 point guard in the class, sitting squarely behind John Wall. By comparison, the No. 2 ranked point guard in the Class of 2008, according to ESPN, was Kemba Walker. In 2010, it was Brandon Knight. In 2011, it was Myck Kabongo. Impressive company.

This season is Gaddy’s final chance to prove that he is capable of living up to those lofty expectations, and it happens to coincide with a year where Washington desperately needs to him to be a star.

Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar may have lost Terrence Ross after last season, but there are still plenty of pieces at his disposal, particularly on the wing. Scott Suggs and CJ Wilcox are both big, athletic wings capable of putting up 20 points on any given night, while sixth-man Andrew Andrews looks like he has the chance to be really good down the road. Aziz N’Diaye anchors the front court, and while he isn’t much more than a shot-blocker and a rebounder, Desmond Simmons has had a solid start to the year, averaging 9.0 points and 7.0 boards through three games.

But it all comes back to Gaddy, the tie that binds.

And never was that more clear than on Saturday night, as Washington knocked off Seton Hall 84-73 in overtime in the semifinals of the Hall of Fame Tip-Off.

In the first half, the Huskies looked utterly dominant. They shot 61.3% from the floor, they scored 49 points and they went into the break with a 16 point lead. And Gaddy? He was sensational, finishing with 14 points, five assists and just a single turnover while shooting 6-8 from the floor. He hit a three. He drove the lane and finished at the rim. He penetrated, drew defenders, and found the open man. He showed off a decent mid-range game.

“He played as good a first half as any guard around, I thought,” Washington head coach Lorenzo Romar said after the game. “When he plays that way he makes our team play at a high, high level.”

And when he doesn’t?

“If no one else steps up, we’re just not that good. We don’t have much ‘superstar’ on our team, so if a couple guys aren’t performing at a high level, there’s not a lot of margin for error.”

That was evident in the second half.

As good as Gaddy was for the first 20 minutes, he was that bad in the second 20. Well, maybe bad is the wrong term; nonexistent is probably more accurate. He took just three shots from the floor. He didn’t score a single point or notch a single assist. He turned the ball over twice, but that’s not really an outlandish number.

Perhaps the biggest sign of Gaddy’s struggles were Washington’s struggles, as they blew that entire 16 point halftime lead. Seton Hall made went on a 31-9 run, eventually taking a 66-60 lead, as the Huskies struggled to get open looks and, at times, to simply get the ball across half court.

And that’s where Gaddy’s importance lies.

It’s not simply the points or the assists; it’s initiating the offense and getting the ball to the right people in the right spots at the right time. It’s facilitation more than simple production. And when he’s doing that effectively, the points and the assists are going to be a by-product.

The Huskies need him to be a leader, to be able to reliable on his consistent production.

It’s the difference between being a tournament team and a team that blows 16 point leads to Big East also-rans.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

How much will Shabazz Muhammad affect UCLA this year?

Indiana State v UCLA
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I had UCLA ranked 25th in the preseason.

That was well below where everyone else had them.

My thinking?

The pieces didn’t fit for the Bruins. Their point guard play was reliant up a 6-foot-9 freshman, Kyle Anderson, nicknamed ‘slo-mo’ and a guy that flamed out at North Carolina, Larry Drew II, in about as epic a fashion as you’ll see. Their roster makeup included a lot of freshmen, a couple of overweight big men, a lack of perimeter shooting and no where near the kind of defensive ability we’re used to seeing with a Ben Howland team.

But most importantly, Shabazz Muhammad was dealing with eligibility issues. There was no indication, at the time, of when — or if — he’d ever be allowed to play college basketball.

Well, now we know the answer to that: he’ll be in the lineup on Monday against Georgetown.

And that means that UCLA’s potential this season skyrocketed.

The biggest concern I had with Shabazz’s return is that sitting out ten games would mean that his return to the lineup could cause issues with the rotation, with understanding of roles, with minutes that wings play. And his return could still cause those problems, but tendencies that are built up over three games are much easier to break than habits developed over a third of the season.

The bottom line is this: Muhammad is a top five pick. He’s not a pure scorer at this point in his career, but he’s tough, incredibly athletic and as competitive as anyone in the country. They are different players, but imagine the impact that Michael Kidd-Gilchrist had on Kentucky last season. That’s how big of a deal Friday’s ruling by the NCAA is.

What this ruling doesn’t change, however, are the other underlying issues: roster makeup, Josh Smith’s weight problems, perimeter shooting.

But the infusion of talent will make it easier for UCLA to overcome those issues.

So is UCLA still the 25th best team in the country?

I’ll tell you on Wednesday morning, after the Legends Classic.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Preview: Syracuse meets San Diego State in Battle on the Midway carrier game

Steve Fisher, Jim Boeheim
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Condensation was the spoiler Friday night, stopping two aircraft carrier games before their completion, having effectively halted Ohio State-Marquette before it could get started and forcing a halftime cancellation of Georgetown-Florida.

Third time’s the charm, right?

Syracuse and San Diego State hope the West Coast is friendlier than the East when they tip off at 4 p.m. ET aboard the USS Midway off the coast of California.

This Battle of the Midway has already seen a delay, postponed from Friday until Sunday due to rainy conditions in the area. Weather forecasts look good for today, though, with sunny skies expected and temperatures in the mid-60s.

Check out below for NBCSports.com’s preview:

Players to Watch:

Jamaal Franklin, San Diego State

For San Diego State, everything is centered around the junior Franklin, who is coming off a season in which he averaged 17.4 points and 7.9 rebounds per game. In a match-up of two ranked teams, expect Franklin to show up big.

Michael Carter-Williams

Chatter about MCW has been happening almost since last season ended and Dion Waiters, Kris Joseph, Fab Melo, and Scoop Jardine left the program. Carter-Williams is expected by many to be a breakout performer this season and on national TV would be a good time to start.

Keys to the Game:

– San Diego State is smaller than Syracuse, with the Orange featuring Rakeem Christmas, Baye Keita, and DaJuan Coleman on the front line.  That likely means that Syracuse will have the advantage on the glass, so the Aztecs can’t waste possessions Sunday afternoon.

-Wind could be a big factor aboard the USS Midway, which also favors the Orange. Jim Boeheim’s zone defense will try to keep San Diego State on the perimeter, with wind making three-point shooting more difficult. Michigan State lost to North Carolina aboard the USS Carl Vinson last season after shooting 2-of-20 from three-point range.

– San Diego State needs to exploit its advantage in the backcourt, led by Franklin and senior Chase Tapley. Syracuse guard Brandon Triche, who is expected to step into a larger role this season, could have his hands full.

Daniel Martin is a writer and editor at JohnnyJungle.com, covering St. John’s. You can find him on Twitter:@DanielJMartin_

Top 25 Countdown: No. 3 Kentucky Wildcats

John Calipari
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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 38-2, 16-0 SEC (1st); Won the National Title

Head Coach: John Calipari

Key Losses: Anthony Davis, Michael Kidd-Gilchrist, Marquis Teague, Terrence Jones, Darius Miller, Doron Lamb

Newcomers: Alex Poythress, Nerlens Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Ryan Harrow, Archie Goodwin, Julius Mays

Projected Lineup:

G: Ryan Harrow, So.
G: Archie Goodwin, Fr.
F: Alex Poythress, Fr.
F: Kyle Wiltjer, So.
C: Nerlens Noel, Fr.
Bench: Willie Cauley-Stein, Fr.; Julius Mays, Sr.; Twany Beckham, Sr.; Jon Hood, Jr.

Outlook: As is the norm for this Kentucky program, there aren’t going to be many familiar faces on the Wildcat roster heading into the 2012-2013 season. Gone is just about everyone significant from last year’s team, with all six of Kentucky’s key players getting drafted in 2012.

What that means is, once again, Coach Cal is going to have to build his team from the bottom up, and he’s going to have to do it quickly — in just nine days, he’ll be kicking off the season with a trip to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn to take on Maryland, heading to Atlanta just four days later to take on Duke. The learning curve for this group is is non-existent.

There’s no question about the talent level and NBA potential on this crop of ‘Cats. Nerlens Noel isn’t the second coming of Anthony Davis simply because he doesn’t have the same advanced perimeter skills that Davis did, but that doesn’t change the fact that Noel is a dominant interior force on the defensive end of the floor. He may even be a better shot-blocker than Davis was, and surely his ability on the offensive end will develop as the season progresses.

What’s scary is that, thus far in the preseason, the excitement for this group seems to be more about Willie Cauley-Stein than Noel. Cauley-Stein is seven-feet tall and was a wide receiver in high school, which should give you a bit of an idea of his athleticism. He’s very raw, maybe even more so than Noel, but with those two taking the floor at the same time, opponents may not be able to get a shot off within 10 feet of the rim.

Joining them up front will be Alex Poythress and Kyle Wiltjer. Poythress is a guy that may have the most potential for success this season, as he seems to be one of the more polished freshmen in the class. He’s a 6-foot-7, athletic combo-forward that has really put on muscle-mass since arriving on campus. He could have the same kind of impact as Terrence Jones did as a freshman, minus the attitude issues. Wiltjer could be the x-factor for this group. He’s by far the best perimeter shooter on the roster, and the fact that he’s a 6-foot-9 forward makes him a tough matchup. The question mark with him is simply how he well he’s going to be able to defend and rebound.

In the back court, Ryan Harrow takes over the point guard role. A transfer from NC State, Harrow spent last season redshirting and practicing every day against Marquis Teague. He’s not the same kind of talent as Coach Cal’s last five point guard recruits, however, and it will be interesting to see just how successful he ends up being in the role. Archie Goodwin will likely be the best perimeter scoring threat. He’s a hyper-athletic, 6-foot-5 slasher that understands how to get to the rim and score. Kentucky may end up needing him to be a guy that averages about 15 points given some of their other question marks offensively. Julius Mays, Twany Beckham and Jon Hood are the other guys that could end up seeing time in the back court.

The biggest question mark I have with this Kentucky group is simple: How well does this roster fit together? Cauley-Stein and Noel are, essentially, the same player — big, tall, athletic shot-blockers that can’t do much offensively besides dunk the ball. But Kentucky’s best lineup is probably going to be with both of them on the floor together because I’m not completely sold on Wiltjer being a good fit for Cal’s system. This is a group that is going to have to thrive on athleticism and defense, especially early in the season, and those are the two biggest weaknesses for Wiltjer.

The problem with leaving Wiltjer off the floor is that he’s really the only guy that is the kind of shooter that cannot be left open; Kentucky has no one to play the role that Deandre Liggins and Darius Miller have the past three seasons. Poythress seems like a better fit at the four than at the three, but he needs to play the three because Kentucky isn’t very deep in the back court. That means that either Cauley-Stein or Wiltjer is going to have to play major minutes unless one of Beckham, Mays or Hood can prove that can be a defensive stopper and three-point marksman.

Predictions?: There’s plenty of talent here, and if there is anything in Calipari’s coaching repertoire that rivals his ability to recruit, it’s his ability to convince elite talents to buy into playing a specific role for the betterment of the team. I don’t doubt that he’ll find a way to get his best five players on the floor at the same time; one of the most interesting subplots to the college basketball season as a whole will be to watch what he does to make that happen. I don’t think that Kentucky is as safe of a bet to win the SEC as a lot of people are giving them credit for simply because I believe Missouri is being severely underrated. That said, as long as Kentucky as this much talent on their roster and Coach Cal making their decisions, they have to be considered a top three team and a national title contender.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.

Top 25 Countdown: No. 4 Syracuse Orange

spt-111017-cjfair
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Throughout the month of October, CollegeBasketballTalk will be rolling out our previews for the 2012-2013 season. Check back at 9 a.m. and just after lunch every day, Monday-Friday, for a new preview item.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To look at the rest of the Top 25, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last Season: 34-3, 17-1 Big East (1st); Lost in the Elite 8 to Ohio State

Head Coach: Jim Boeheim

Key Losses: Scoop Jardine, Kris Joseph, Dion Waiters, Fab Melo

Newcomers: Jerami Grant, DaJuan Coleman

Projected Lineup:

G: Brandon Triche, Sr.
G: Michael Carter-Williams, So.
F: James Southerland, Sr.
F: CJ Fair, Jr.
C: Rakeem Christmas, So.
Bench: Jerami Grant, Fr.; DaJuan Coleman, Fr.; Baye Keita, So.; Trevor Cooney, Fr.

Outlook: Jim Boeheim has done a lot of impressive things during his long and illustrious coaching career, but there may be no achievement greater than what he was able to accomplish last season. In a year plagued by scandal — The Dion Waiter transfer saga; the Bernie Fine scandal; Fab Melo’s eligibility, and legal, issues; a report of failed drug tests that were covered up. — the Orange were still able to finish the regulars season at 30-1 and make the Elite 8. And if Melo, the anchor of their 2-3 zone last season, had done his homework, who knows what could have ended up happening. The Orange lost just one game when he was in the lineup.

Melo is gone this season, as are three of Syracuse’s top four scorers from last season. But the Orange return quite a bit of a talent and a team that should be perfectly suited to playing Boeheim’s 2-3 zone.

The key to this season is going to be the development of Michael Carter-Williams. A top 25 recruit coming out of high school, MCW was buried on the bench for much of last season as Scoop Jardine, Waiters and Triche made up the perimeter rotation. As a sophomore, MCW will be asked to slide into the starting role, and there’s little reason to believe he won’t be able to thrive. From his size, to his handle, to his passing ability, MCW has been compared to Jason Kidd, and while that’s a tough comparison to live up to, it’s not that far off. He’ll make everyone on the team better because they’ll get open shots. With the combination of shooters on the perimeter and athletes around the rim that Syracuse has on the roster this season, it’s not crazy to think MCW could averaged 15 points and five assists this year.

While his back court mate is quite inexperienced, even for a sophomore, Brandon Triche is arguably as experienced as any player in the country, having started every game for the Orange for the past three years. He’s also the epitome of a team-player, sacrificing his minutes last season to allow Waiters more playing time without making a peep. He’s a combo-guard that defends, rebounds and (usually) is a knockdown three point shooter.

But most importantly, like MCW (who’s 6-foot-6), Triche is a bigger guard. He stands 6-foot-4, which means that, when teaming with MCW at the top of the Syracuse 2-3 zone, he’ll help create all kinds of problems for Syracuse opponents.

Expect redshirt freshman sharpshooter Trevor Cooney to be the third guard in this equation.

In the front court, Syracuse has a multitude of weapons and different looks that can be used. The most familiar roster for Big East fans should be CJ Fair, an uber-athletic, 6-foot-8 combo-forward who has had his fair share of poster-worthy dunks during his college career. Fair has also had some impressive performances in his two seasons with the Orange, but he’s struggled to find consistent minutes on the floor. He’ll get them this season, and should thrive.

James Southerland is the guy I expect to eventually start at the four. Like Fair, he’s athletic and, at 6-foot-8, lanky enough to cause serious problems in the 2-3 zone. Southerland is also a very good three-point shooter, meaning he’ll be able to help create space in the paint. Freshman Jerami Grant, another athletic, 6-foot-8 forward, should see minutes as well.

The biggest question mark for the Orange will be at the center spot, where Rakeem Christmas, a sophomore, and DaJuan Coleman, a freshman, will likely split minutes. Christmas and Coleman are both 6-foot-9, but where Christmas is long and a shotblocker, Coleman is much bigger, checking in around 280 pounds.What Boeheim has done the past two seasons with elite center recruits — Melo and Christmas — is to put them in the starting lineup but yank them just a few minutes into the game, going with a smaller lineup. It will be interesting to see if he does that with Coleman this season.

Whatever the case, if he decides to use them on the floor together, it may end up hurting the Orange defensively; neither is ideal to play the wing in the 2-3 zone. Individually, Christmas is the better defender while Coleman is better offensively and on the glass. Another lanky center, sophomore Baye Keita, will also see minutes up front.

Predictions?: I still think Louisville is the best team in the Big East, but Syracuse isn’t really all that far behind. Like the Cardinals, I think the Orange are going to be much better on the defensive end of the floor than on the offensive end. But the bottom line is this: all the players taking over bigger roles for this Syracuse team were highly-touted recruits, and a few of them — MCW, Christmas, even throwing Coleman in there — were ranked in the top 25 nationally. Boeheim has done a great job recruiting in recent years, and this is the season it will pay off for him.

Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @robdauster.