Blogger Spotlight: George Mason’s rolling — is it ’06 all over again?

0 Comments

From Sports Illustrated to ESPN, it seems everyone’s talking about George Mason basketball.

The Patriots have the nation’s longest winning streak (12), are close to wrapping up the Colonial Athletic Association crown and have a team capable of making another run through the NCAA tournament. Maybe even the Final Four again. They could make it 13 with a win Saturday against Northern Iowa in this year’s BracketBuster weekend.

How are the Patriots doing it? For that, I turned to Ryan Kish of georgemasonbasketball.blogspot for this week’s Blogger Spotlight. We talked about this year’s Mason squad, ’06 and more.

BONUS Blogger Spotlight! BracketBusters weekend seemed like a good time to amp up the non-BCS coverage, so come back in an hour when I post today’s second spotlight featuring Kyle Whelliston of The Mid-Majority.

Q: George Mason has won 12 straight games, he last two coming against a rival and the CAA’s second-place team. To say things are going well would be a massive understatement, right?

A: That would be correct Mike. Not only are things going well for Jim Larranaga and the Patriots but they are making their case nationally as one of the better teams not just among mid-majors but among the country. This 12 game streak is a new school record and they averaged over a 17 point margin of victory during it, something no other team in the country could boast about. They are executing to near perfection on both ends of the court on a nightly basis and it’s beginning to get them national recognition.

Q: Life’s good for the CAA in general right now as well. George Mason’s thriving, VCU and ODU are usually mentioned as NCAA tourney contenders and it seems Charles Jenkins does something ridiculous every other game. How would you rate the conference’s overall play and chances to win a few ncaa tourney games?

A: Hands down this is one of the best years we have seen from the CAA and that includes the 2006 season. As a whole they have done their work in the out of conference games and collectively done better than a few of the major conferences. Here’s an example from UNCW beat writer Brian Mull: “James Madison, the sixth place team in the CAA has 6 wins vs. the RPI top 100. Arizona, the first place team in the Pac 10, has 5“. Can they translate that into NCAA tournament wins? I think so because they have been creating havoc in the brackets almost on a yearly basis now between George Mason’s run in ’06, VCU taking down Duke in ’07, and ODU knocking off Notre Dame last year. Certainly it shouldn’t be a surprise to see the CAA get some NCAA tournament wins and I think if they get two squads in this year there is a very good chance one of them could reach the Sweet 16.

Q: The Patriots are no stranger to March wins, either. For those who haven’t seen this year’s team yet — or haven’t watched he hilarious video produced by the athletic department, describe this season’s mason team.

A: This year’s squad is very balanced, versatile and efficient. Jim Larranaga preaches team defense first and foremost however it took awhile for this younger group to buy into it. What we are seeing now is the resulting affects of the team coming together and making the consistent efforts on defense. It can be suffocating at times and they are excellent in forcing other teams into taking shots they are not comfortable with. Offensively they were always a strong group but not since Larranaga set a per-game goal of 16 assists per contest did things really start to take off. When they record 16 or more assists in a game they are 12-0 this season. Their sharing of the ball and their balance is what makes them so dangerous and difficult to defend. On any given night you could have one out of 5 or 6 guys score 15-20 points on you.

Q: Given that Mason’s 2006 Final Four team essentially played five guys, that depth and overall balance might come as a shock to some. But that’s been Larranaga’s style the last few years, hasn’t it? He can rely on Cam Long, Ryan Pearson or Luke Hancock for a chunk of minutes but he doesn’t have to.

A: Larranaga has some really capable guys on the bench but you are correct that he relies heavily on his starters this season like did in 2006. In the beginning of the season he did state publically that he didn’t have much faith in some of the reserve player’s efforts on defense. They all were effective scorers but they weren’t quite buying into the team defensive comcept that he preaches. Even when they are playing better on defense you will often see Larranaga continue to leave in his starters late in the game. It can be puzzling to fans at times but like you said it’s just his style.

Q: Still. Is there one indispensible player?

A: As good as forward Ryan Pearson has been, I’d still have to say that senior guard Cam Long is the most indispensible play on this team. His ability to be a floor general has really helped this team remain poised no matter what situation they have found themselves in. Aside from his leadership Long makes the guys around him better whenever he is on court and although there is a lot of talent on his team you can’t say that about any of the others.

Q: Saturday’s game against Northern Iowa is a Cinderella showdown of sorts. The Panthers beat No. 1 seed Kansas in last year’s NCAA tournament, then lost in the Sweet 16. Yet that doesn’t compare to Mason’s ’06 run, right? Not only did you guys beat a 1 seed (UConn), you took down the reigning champs and another Final Four team in Michigan State.

A: You sound like a promo commercial for ESPN’s BracketBuster weekend. I think both runs by each team were great for college basketball and for each schools. It did end up getting both of them on the cover of Sports Illustrated and proved that the CAA and MVC can produce strong NCAA tournament teams. Although I think the whole BracketBusters idea is a bit of an insult to mid-major schools I still enjoy the idea of watching a “Battle of the Cinderellas” and another good CAA vs MVC match-up.

Q: I did come off as a bit of shill, didn’t I? Couldn’t be helped. Non-conference matchups like this don’t happen often because there’s often nothing to gain from it for a program like Mason. In that regard, it just reinforces how rigged the game is against the non-BCS schools, right?

A: Scheduling is one of the many hardships for non-BCS schools like George Mason and while ESPN Bracketbusters is a nice touch to get schools another non-conference game opponent but it’s still a broken system.  George Mason is in the area of two other prominent BCS schools in Maryland and Georgetown yet you won’t find them on past schedules due to the Patriot’s recent success.  I get why these schools don’t want to schedule the mid-majors but I just wish it wasn’t always their decision.

Q: Fondest memory of that ’06 Final Four run?

A: As a senior at George Mason that year I would have to say watching them take down UConn at the Verizon Center in DC and then running through the streets telling every homeless person the final score. I’ll never forget the atmosphere that day and the thought that our school was American’s team.

Q: Love your blog. How’d you get into it? Judging by your first post, the ’06 run had something to do with it.

A: I was a freshman at George Mason in 2002 and fell in love with the basketball team and the defensive-minded head coach in Jim Larranaga. Watching them take down Tennessee at the Patriot Center in 2004 NIT was one of my fondest memories of following the team. Even after that it was still rare to find people to talk to about the team or find articles online. But after the Final Four run in 2006 there was an influx of media, students, alumni, and other fans searching for reliable news and updates about the team. I wasn’t really happy with the athletic department website so I started a blog as just a place to discuss the team. I just loved sharing my views on the team and was excited that there was finally a larger and more interested fan base for the team.

Q: How has your blogging style changed through the years? You incorporate a little of everything, from Q&As, to videos, link roundups and graphs of the Four Factors. Has that always been the case?

A: My blogging has drastically evolved. I used to just write my thoughts after a game, now I try to post as much content I can about George Mason basketball whether it be about recruiting, scheduling or player news.  As the site got more popular I slowly started to integrate the things you listed.  New tools seem to pop up all the time for bloggers and always enjoy integrating new features. 

Q: Moment of truth: How do the Patriots finish this season?

A: It’s hard to bet against a team like this who is so hot right now. I think they have done enough to warrant an NCAA tournament bid regardless of what happens in the CAA tournament but the real question is whether their dominance in the CAA will translate into wins in March? Usually teams riding a hot streak do well in the tournament and I think the Patriots are more than capable of winning some games at the big dance this year. I think their balance and versatility will take them far and surprise a high seeded team. Anything can happen but I wouldn’t want to seeded in the same region as George Mason if I’m an opposing head coach.

You can find Ryan’s blog at georgemasonbasketball.blogspot.com and follow him on twitter @gmuhoops.

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

College basketball broadcaster Billy Packer dies at 82

billy packer
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
1 Comment

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Billy Packer, an Emmy award-winning college basketball broadcaster who covered 34 Final Fours for NBC and CBS, died Thursday. He was 82.

Packer’s son, Mark, told The Associated Press that his father had been hospitalized in Charlotte for the past three weeks and had several medical issues, and ultimately succumbed to kidney failure.

Packer’s broadcasting career coincided with the growth of college basketball. He worked as analyst or color commentator on every Final Four from 1975 to 2008. He received a Sports Emmy for Outstanding Sports Personality, Studio and Sports Analyst in 1993.

“He really enjoyed doing the Final Fours,” Mark Packer said. “He timed it right. Everything in life is about timing. The ability to get involved in something that, frankly, he was going to watch anyway, was a joy to him. And then college basketball just sort of took off with Magic Johnson and Larry Bird and that became, I think, the catalyst for college basketball fans to just go crazy with March Madness.”

Packer played three seasons at Wake Forest, and helped lead the Demon Deacons to the Final Four in 1962, but it was his work as an analyst that brought him the most acclaim.

He joined NBC in 1974 and called his first Final Four in 1975. UCLA beat Kentucky in the title game that year in what was John Wooden’s final game as coach.

Packer was also part of the broadcast in 1979 with Dick Enberg and Al McGuire when Magic Johnson’s Michigan State team beat Larry Bird’s Indiana State squad in the title game. That remains highest-rated game in basketball history with a 24.1 Nielsen rating, which is an estimated 35.1 million viewers.

Packer went to CBS in the fall of 1981, when the network acquired the rights to the NCAA Tournament. He remained the network’s main analyst until the 2008 Final Four.

In 1996 at CBS, Packer was involved in controversy when he used the term “tough monkey? to describe then-Georgetown star Allen Iverson during a game. Packer later said he “was not apologizing for what I said, because what I said has no implications in my mind whatsoever to do with Allen Iverson’s race.?

Sean McManus, the chairman of CBS Sports, said Packer was “synonymous with college basketball for more than three decades and set the standard of excellence as the voice of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.”

“He had a tremendous impact on the growth and popularity of the sport.” McManus said. “In true Billy fashion, he analyzed the game with his own unique style, perspective and opinions, yet always kept the focus on the game. As passionate as he was about basketball, at his heart Billy was a family man. He leaves part of his legacy at CBS Sports, across college basketball and, most importantly, as a beloved husband, father and grandfather. He will be deeply missed by all.”

Packer was inducted into the National Collegiate Basketball Hall of Fame in 2008.

ESPN broadcaster Dick Vitale took to Twitter as word of Packer’s death spread. “So sad to learn of the passing of Billy Packer who had such a passion for college basketball,” Vitale tweeted. “My (prayers) go out to Billy’s son Mark & the entire Packer family. Always had great RESPECT for Billy & his partners Dick Enberg & Al McGuire-they were super. May Billy RIP.”

College basketball analyst Fran Fraschilla tweeted: “We fell in love (with) college basketball because of you. Your voice will remain in my head forever.”

Packer was viewed as a controversial figure during his broadcasting days, often drawing the ire of college basketball fans, particularly on North Carolina’s “Tobacco Road.”

“As a kid, I was a big NC State fan growing up, and I would watch a game and the next day I’d be like, `Boy you sure have it out for NC State, don’t you?’ And he would just laugh,” Mark Packer said.

The younger Packer, who is the host of ACC PM on the ACC Network, said it didn’t matter what school – most fans felt the same way about his father.

“He would cover North Carolina game and Tar Heels fans would be like, `you hate North Carolina,”‘ Mark Packer said. “Wake (Forest) fans would be like, `you hate us.’ And Billy just sort of got a kick out of that.”

Mark Packer said that while most fans will remember his father as a broadcaster, he’ll remember him even more for his business acumen. He said his father was a big real estate investor, and also owned a vape company, among other ventures.

“Billy was always a bit of a hustler – he was always looking for that next business deal,” Packer said.

Clemson starter Galloway will miss time after surgery

brevin galloway
John Byrum/Getty Images
0 Comments

CLEMSON, S.C. — Clemson starter Brevin Galloway is expected to miss games for the 24th-ranked Tigers after having surgery on his groin area Thursday.

The 6-foot-3 Galloway has started 20 of 21 games after transferring from Boston College this past offseason.

Galloway posted on social media that he’d had the surgery. Clemson coach Brad Brownell confirmed in a text to The Associated Press that Galloway had the operation.

Galloway said in his post he will be in uniform soon. He is not expected to play at Florida State on Saturday.

A fifth-year player, Galloway has averaged 10.6 points a game this season. He’s second on the Tigers with 55 assists and 18 steals.

The Tigers (17-4) lead the Atlantic Coast Conference at 9-1 in league play.

Clemson is already down two experienced players due to injury.

Point guard Chase Hunter, who started the team’s first 18 games, has missed the past three with a foot injury.

Guard Alex Hemenway, in his fourth season, has missed the past nine games with a foot injury. Hemenway was the team’s leading 3-point shooter (27 of 54) before getting hurt.

Zach Edey has 19 points, No. 1 Purdue beats Michigan 75-70

purdue basketball
Junfu Han/USA TODAY NETWORK
6 Comments

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — Zach Edey had 15 of his 19 points in the first half and Fletcher Loyer finished with 17 points to help No. 1 Purdue hold off Michigan 75-70 on Thursday night.

The Boilermakers (20-1, 9-1 Big Ten) had a 15-0 run to go ahead 41-28 lead in the first half after there were 10 lead changes and four ties, but they couldn’t pull away.

The Wolverines (11-9, 5-4) were without standout freshman Jett Howard, who missed the game with an ankle injury, and still hung around until the final seconds.

Joey Baker made a 3-pointer – off the glass – with 5.9 seconds left to pull Michigan within three points, but Purdue’s Brandon Newman sealed the victory with two free throws.

Purdue coach Matt Painter said Michigan slowed down Edey in the second half by pushing him away from the basket.

“They got him out a little more, and got him bottled up,” Painter said.

The 7-foot-4 Edey, though, was too tough to stop early in the game.

“He’s one of the best in the country for a reason,” Michigan coach Juwan Howard said. “He’s very effective, especially if he’s 8 feet and in.”

With size and skills such as a hook shot, the junior center from Toronto scored Purdue’s first seven points and finished the first half 7 of 12 from the field and 1 of 2 at the line.

“He did a great job in the first half, going to his right shoulder and using his left hand,” Painter said. “He made four baskets with his left hand which is huge.”

Freshman Braden Smith had 10 points for the Boilermakers.

Purdue’s defense ultimately denied Michigan’s comeback hopes, holding a 22nd straight opponent to 70 or fewer points.

Hunter Dickinson scored 21, Kobe Bufkin had 16 points and Baker added 11 points for the Wolverines, who have lost four of their last six games.

Dickinson, a 7-1 center, matched up with Edey defensively and pulled him out of the lane offensively by making 3 of 7 3-pointers.

“Half his shots were from the 3, and that’s a little different,” Painter said. “His meat and potatoes are on that block. He’s the real deal.”

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Boilermakers got the top spot in the AP Top 25 this week after winning six games, a stretch that followed a loss to Rutgers on Jan. 3 that dropped them from No. 1 in the poll. Purdue improved to 7-2 as the top-ranked team.

BIG PICTURE

Purdue: Edey can’t beat teams by himself and he’s surrounded by a lot of role players and a potential standout in Loyer. The 6-4 guard was the Big Ten player of the week earlier this month, become the first Boilermaker freshman to win the award since Robbie Hummel in 2008.

“Fletcher is somebody who has played better in the second half, and on the road,” Painter said.

Michigan: Jett Howard’s health is a critical factor for the Wolverines, who will have some work to do over the second half of the Big Ten season to avoid missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2015. Howard averages 14.6 points and is the most dynamic player on his father’s team.

ROAD WARRIORS

The Boilermakers were away from home for 12 of 23 days, winning all five of their road games. They won at Ohio State, Michigan State and Michigan for the first time since the 1997-98 season and beat the Spartans and Wolverines on their home court in the same season for the first time in 12 years.

UP NEXT

Purdue: Hosts Michigan State on Sunday, nearly two weeks after the Boilermakers beat the Spartans by a point on Edey’s shot with 2.2 seconds left.

Michigan: Plays at Penn State on Sunday.

Miller scores 23, No. 10 Maryland tops No. 13 Michigan 72-64

Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports
0 Comments

COLLEGE PARK, Md. – Diamond Miller scored 23 points, and No. 10 Maryland closed the first quarter with a 13-2 run and led the rest of the way in a 72-64 victory over No. 13 Michigan on Thursday night.

Abby Meyers contributed 12 points and 11 rebounds for the Terrapins (17-4, 8-2), who won for the 10th time in 11 games. Lavender Briggs scored 14 points and Shyanne Sellers added 13.

Maryland gained a measure of revenge after losing twice to Michigan last season – including a 20-point rout in College Park.

Leigha Brown led the Wolverines with 16 points.

Michigan (16-5, 6-4) led 13-9 in the first quarter before a three-point play by Miller started Maryland’s big run. Briggs and Faith Masonius made 3-pointers during that stretch.

The Terps pushed the lead to 16 in the third quarter before the Wolverines were able to chip away. Miller sat for a bit with four fouls, and Michigan cut the lead to seven in the fourth quarter, but the Wolverines still wasted too many possessions with turnovers to mount much of a comeback.

Michigan ended up with 24 turnovers, and Maryland had a 25-5 advantage in points off turnovers.

Miller fouled out with 2:19 remaining, but even after those two free throws, the Terps led 65-57 and had little trouble holding on.

Michigan lost for the second time in four days against a top-10 opponent. No. 6 Indiana beat the Wolverines 92-83 on Monday.

BIG PICTURE

Michigan: Whether it was against Maryland’s press or in their half-court offense, the Wolverines turned the ball over too much to score consistently. This was a lower-scoring game than the loss to Indiana, but the margin ended up being similar.

Maryland: While Miller clearly led the way, the Terps had plenty of offensive contributors. They also held Michigan to 13 points below its season average entering the game.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

The Wolverines have appeared in 48 straight AP polls, and although a two-loss week could certainly drop them, the quality of their opponents could save them from a substantial plunge.

Maryland is tied for 10th with an Iowa team that beat No. 2 Ohio State on Monday night. Now the Terps can boast an impressive victory of their own.

UP NEXT

Michigan: The Wolverines play their third game of the week when they visit Minnesota on Sunday.

Maryland: The Terps host Penn State on Monday night.

 

Boum, Jones lead No. 13 Xavier over No. 19 UConn, 82-79

David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
1 Comment

STORRS, Conn. – Souley Boum scored 21 points, Colby Jones added 20 and No. 13 Xavier went on the road and held off No. 19 Connecticut 82-79 Wednesday night.

The win was the 13th in 14 games for the Musketeers (17-4, 9-1 Big East) and it gave them a season sweep over the struggling Huskies (16-6, 5-6).

Jack Nunge had 12 points and Jerome Hunter added 11 for Xavier, which led by 17 in the first half and 39-24 at halftime.

Jordan Hawkins scored 26 of his 28 points in the second half for UConn, leading a comeback that fell just short.

Tristen Newton added 23 points for the Huskies, who won their first 14 games this season but have dropped six of eight since.

The Musketeers never trailed but had to withstand UConn runs that cut the lead to a single point four times in the second half.

A three-point play from Hawkins made it 78-77 with 2:40 left. But a second-chance layup from Nunge put the lead at 80-77 just over a minute later.

Newton was fouled with two seconds left by Desmond Claude, but his apparent attempt to miss his second free throw went into the basket.

Boum then hit two free throws at the other end, and Newton’s final attempt from just beyond halfcourt was well short.

Xavier jumped out to a 9-0 lead as UConn missed its first nine shots.

A 3-pointer from Zach Freemantle gave the Musketeers their first double-digit lead at 20-9, and another from Jones pushed it to 35-18.

BIG PICTURE

Xavier: The Musketeers lead the Big East, and the win over UConn was their ninth conference victory this season, eclipsing their total from last season.

UConn: The Huskies came in with a 17-game winning streak at Gampel Pavilion dating to February 2021. They fell to 1-4 against the four teams in front of them in the Big East standings. The lone win came at Gampel against Creighton.

UP NEXT

Xavier: The Musketeers continue their road trip with a visit to Creighton on Saturday.

UConn: Doesn’t play again until next Tuesday, when the Huskies visit DePaul.