Blogger Spotlight: Troy Nunes dishes on Boeheim, the 2-3 zone and Scoop’s Chipotle addition

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Saturday’s another Syracuse-Georgetown showdown. I expect nothing less than blood, sweat and guts. Once more unto the breach, dear friends. Once more. Yeah. Shakespeare would’ve had a ball with this rivalry.

But the Bard’s not around, so I turned to the next best option – Sean Keeley, who manages the SB Nation blog Troy Nunes is An Absolute Magician.  It’s the go-to Syracuse blog on the web for its mix of humor, links, analysis and all things Orange.

Thankfully, Sean doesn’t write in Iambic pentameter. But he can turn a phrase. That’s why he’s this week’s Blogger Spotlight.

Well, that and the timing of Syracuse-Georgetown. That’s what I call synergy.

Q: Does every Syracuse season feel like this one? Stellar start – in this case, 18-0 – then the Big East season rolls around and douses that hot start a bit. Are all Big East fans prepared for that eventuality?

A: I’d say most Syracuse seasons feel a little bit like this one. The non-conference schedule ranges from suoer-soft to kinda-soft and we cruised through it with 0-2 losses, though to be fair the last couple years it’s not our fault. We scheduled North Carolina, Florida and Michigan State all in down years…we tried, I swear!

After that it’s Big East play where we get a rude awakening, usually thanks to Pitt or Louisville, and there’s a losing skid or rough patch in there somewhere. We ebb and flow with the Big East schedule and usually make it out alive…barely. Then we head into the NCAA Tournament expecting at least a Sweet Sixteen, if not more.

In a nutshell, that’s what it’s like for us.

Q: Which player has surprised you the most the season? And don’t say Fab Melo.

A: Let me put it this way…if you told me back in October that come February, Fab Melo would be riding pine and Baye Moussa Keita would be a starter, I would have committed you to an insane asylum.

Keita was basically considered the “throw-in” to this year’s recruiting class behind Melo, Dion Waiters and C.J. Fair. It wasn’t a question of him playing, it was a question of whether or not he’d get red-shirted. Sophomore DaShonte Riley got hurt and that ended that discussion. It also opened the door for Keita to turn into Syracuse’s new Kristof Ongenaut, i.e. the foreign big guy who doesn’t put up a lot of points but makes tons of scrappy hustle plays and energizes the team while on the court and off it. It’s been a pleasant surprise, to say the least.

Q: When people learn you’re a Syracuse fan, do they immediately ask you how to play against a 2-3 zone? Or do they just mutter ineffectually and toss out a few curse words regarding that zone. Seriously. It’s bear.

A: I think the first question I usually get is, “So have you met Juli Boeheim?” After that, then we turn to the 2-3 zone talk.

The zone is great but, as we’ve learned in the last two seasons, it’s only as good as the players in it. Last year, Andy Rautins, Wes Johnson & Arinze Onuaku anchored what was arguably the most dominant version in Boeheim’s tenure. This year, a lot of inexperience and a vulnerability from outside the arc has been our downfall. That said the guards and wings are making adjustments and Rick Jackson continues to rack up blocks down low.

The motto for this year’s zone (and team, really) is, “We’re not as good as last year, but we’re still pretty good.”

Q: Nervous for Saturday? Or does playing Georgetown simply stir so much hate inside you that it overwhelms everything else?

A: Syracuse vs. Georgetown brings out a lot of emotions no matter what’s going on. I still remember when I was at school (late 90’s) and Georgetown wasn’t very good. It didn’t matter. We still wanted to beat them by 90.

The Chris Wright injury is a good news/bad news scenario. You hate to see anyone get injured and even Syracuse fans can’t take too much pleasure in it. That said, he was Mr. Intangibles against us last time and a Hoya team without him is a more-beatable one. But that also opens the door for “the unheralded bench player who suddenly becomes Craig Hodges from beyond the arc” that always seems to show up against Syracuse in situations like this. It’s the stuff of Cuse fan nightmares.

It’s Senior Day for them and they made sure that the crowd is going to be as Orange-less as possible thanks to some questionable ticket sales practices. Regardless of who’s on the court, Syracuse better not let up cause they’re going into extremely hostile territory. 

Q: Jim Boeheim has been killing it during postgame press conferences lately. Well, at least for those of us who love a good quote. That’s one of the under-appreciated aspects of Boeheim, isn’t? His reputation might be as a complainer, but I’d say he’s just a guy who doesn’t tolerate BS.

A: I love me a good Boeheim presser, especially when he’s defending a player or attacking a faulty microphone with reckless abandon. I have to say though, even I found his most recent press conference outbursts a little depressing. Boeheim spent a lot of time talking about how he didn’t care what people think of him while explaining why it bothered him that people thought certain things about him. I don’t know, I guess I assumed that all those wins, Big East titles and Final Fours would have been enough to let little things slide.

Then again, that’s also what’s so great about Boeheim. Nothing is too little for him to let is just slide.

Q: After watching Wes, Andy and Arinze provide consistently impressive performances last season, do you ever sit there and think, “Man, if Scoop would just lay off the Chipotle, he’d be right there…” ?

A: Here’s the thing with Scoop…physically he’s already made that leap. Before last year he was sluggish and slightly overweight. He worked out all summer, ate better and became a better athlete. He still is in great shape.

The problem with Scoop is all mental. Scoop thinks he’s “The Man” but I assure you, most of the time, he is not. I saw someone say about Scoop that “he’s really good but he thinks he’s All-American.” That’s a perfect way to sum him up and the way he plays, especially if you want to explain why he takes so many crazy shots and makes so many bad passes.

The truth is, sometimes he makes those shots and completes those passes. But it just feels like for every step he takes forward, he takes one right back a few plays later.

Q: Rate the Carrier Dome as a place to watch a game. Loud? Spacious? Odd?

A: I know the Carrier Dome looks weird on TV. You’ve got that cavernous space hind the curtain that you would think kills the sound and ambiance. But once you’re in the middle of that crowd, it really has no effect on you or the atmosphere.

The Dome is loud, there isn’t a bad seat in the house (honestly) and it’s intimidating. I admit there’s a part of me that would love to play in a more-intimate 10-15K arena where everyone seems to be right on top of one another. But the flip side is that the Dome is a pretty unique space and Syracuse seems to have no problem filling it on a regular basis.

I’d love to see what it would look like to put the court right in the middle and one of these days I’m sure they’ll try it. As long as it’s a good opponent, they’ll still sell the place out.

Q: I’m a Kansas grad — still bitter about ’03 by the way — who now lives on the coast. You went to Syracuse and now live on the other coast. Do you find that your fandom has waned with the distance, or does it just not burn as brightly all the time. Seems like that’s how it goes for me. Then again, that could just be my age.

A: Quick tangent. I watched the 2003 National Title game at a beach bar in Manhattan Beach, CA called Sharkeez. There was no reason for anyone there to have any kind of rooting interest. I latched on to a group of Syracuse fans I met in the first round of the tournament and we sat down in the middle of the bar to watch the game. It became apparently clear to me that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE else in the bar was rooting for Kansas. I couldn’t tell if it was alums, Cuse-haters or that Kansas was just “the team everyone wanted to win.” Whatever the reason, it made the victory dance I did afterward that much sweeter.

You know it’s funny, my fandom has gotten one million times stronger since being on the West Coast, but a lot of that has to do with writing the blog as well. I admit that after graduation there was a lull when I really didn’t pay too much attention to what was going on, and I lived on the East Coast at the time. It took me moving 3,000 miles away to become a die-hard again. Weird, I know.

Q: Favorite Syracuse team? Player?

A: My senior year was 2000 and while that team wasn’t exactly the most memorable of Syracuse squads, they’ll always have a special place in my Cusian heart. Jason Hart and Etan Thomas were freshmen when I was a freshmen and I watched those two lead Syracuse for four years. We started with an NIT berth and we ended with a great season that culminated in the Sweet Sixteen. We met eventual-champion Michigan State in the round of 16 that year. We led the game at halftime and there wasn’t a Syracuse fan in the bar that didn’t think we were going to the Final Four, that is, until Mateen Cleaves ripped out hearts out in the second half.

As for favorite player, I know it’s cliche to say Gerry McNamara but it’s gotta be Gerry McNamara. Carmelo Anthony will always be remembered for his one season of glory. He is and will always be the face of that 2003 National Championship game. But Gerry McNamara WAS Syracuse basketball between 2003 and 2006. He was the face of the program and he was the heartbeat of those teams, which was most notable during a certain Big East Tournament you might remember. (Editor’s note: Carmelo had a little help. McNamara hit six 3-pointers in Syracuse’s ’03 title win over Kansas.)

That Gerry is now an assistant on Boeheim’s staff is fait accompli. He’s destined to be an Orangeman for the rest of his life.

Q: Some team blogs strike a serious tone and treat their teams with incredible reverence. I wouldn’t say that’s what Troy Nunes is an Absolute Magician is about, eh? How would you describe its tone?

A: About the most cliche thing a blogger can say is that they were influenced by Deadspin and The Sports Guy. But for those of you who were jaded by both of them long ago, you have to remember a time like 2002/2003 when they were both just barely coming into their own.

For me, it was a whole new world. I honestly didn’t realize we could talk about sports like this now. So wait, we’re allowed to talk about that moment during the game when we saw the coach pick his nose and we can create a whole series of posts about it?

That was my initial goal for TNIAAM. To be “The Deadspin of Syracuse sports.” Of course Deadspin is something…different, these days. Newbies don’t realize it used to be much lighter and much more fun But I try my best to stay with that initial idea. There’s the stories about SU that everyone talks about and then there’s the shared minutia that everyone else lets slip through the cracks. I want to talk about that stuff. That’s fun.

The only limit I put on what I do is that I never want to be responsible for hurting the program. Unless it’s already out there, I won’t post any shady photos or unsubstantiated rumors just to get site traffic. I’m a fan of SU, first and foremost.

Q: How’d you get into blogging? And how much longer do you see yourself doing it?

A: I was living in LA trying to make it in screenwriting and I needed an outlet. I needed something that I could write about every day. Like I said I had recently become a big fan of Deadspin, Sports Guy and a bunch of other blogs and so I decided to get into the blogging business myself.

I tried a couple other topics that crashed and burned. After about a week lost interest in each of them. So I realized I needed a topic that excited me enough to stick with. I needed to wake up in the morning and be interested in learning about and writing on the topic. Syracuse sports came to mind.

I was given the gift of Greg Robinson as my initial target of relentless fun. As miserable as it was to be a Syracuse football fan, the man provided me with more content and absurd quotes than I could keep up with. That said, I’m plenty glad he’s long gone.

As for how long I’ll keep doing it, who knows. The blog has already led to so many things I never, ever thought I do, like writing a book or teaching a class at Syracuse on blogging. Every time I think the craziest thing possible has happened, something else comes along. As long as it continues to be fun and people enjoy it, I’ll keep making Syracuse-themed LOLCat photos. It’s the least I can do.

You can find more of Sean Keeley’s writing at www.nunesmagician.com and follow him on Twitter @NunesMagician.

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.

John Petty Jr. returns to Alabama for senior season

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TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Alabama guard John Petty Jr. is staying in school instead of entering the NBA draft.

The Crimson Tide junior announced his decision to return for his senior season Monday on Twitter, proclaiming: “I’m back.”

Petty, the Tide’s top 3-point shooter, averaged 14.5 points and a team-high 6.6 rebounds rebounds last season. He was second on the team in assists.

Petty made 85 3-pointers in 29 games, shooting at a 44% clip.

Alabama coach Nate Oats called him “one of the best, if not the best, shooters in the country.”

“He’s made it clear that it’s his goal to become a first round pick in the 2021 NBA Draft and we’re going to work with him to make sure he’s in the best position to reach that goal,” Oats said.

Fellow Tide guard Kira Lewis Jr. is regarded as a likely first-round draft pick.

McKinley Wright IV returns to Colorado

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McKinley Wright IV will be back for season No. 4 with the Colorado Buffaloes.

The point guard tested the NBA draft process before announcing a return for his senior year. It’s a big boost for a Buffaloes team that’s coming off a 21-11 mark in 2019-20 and was potentially looking at an NCAA Tournament bid before the season was halted due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wright was an All-Pac-12 first team selection a season ago, along with an all-defensive team pick. He and athletic forward Tyler Bey declared for the draft in late March. Bey remains in the draft.

“We’ve got unfinished business,” said Wright, who averaged 14.4 points and 5.0 assists per game last season.

Midway through the season, the Buffaloes were looking like a lock for their first NCAA Tournament appearance since ’15-16. Then, the team hit a five-game skid, including a loss to Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament. Simply put, they hit a defensive rut they just couldn’t shake out of, Wright said. It drove him to work that much harder in the offseason.

“This is my last go-around and I’ve got big dreams,” the 6-footer from Minnesota said. “I want to take CU to a place they haven’t been in a while. We want to go back to the tournament and win high-level games.”

The feedback from NBA scouts was reaffirming for Wright. He said they appreciated his transition game, movement away from the ball and his defensive intangibles. They also gave Wright areas he needed to shore up such as assist-to-turnover ratio and shooting the 3-pointer with more consistency.

He took it to heart while training in Arizona during the pandemic. He recently returned to Boulder, Colorado, where he’s going through quarantine before joining his teammates for workouts.

“The work I put in and the time I spent in the gym compared to all my other offseasons, it’s a big gap,” Wright said. “Last offseason, I thought I worked hard. But it was nothing compared to the time and different type of mindset I put myself in this year.”

Another motivating factor for his return was this: a chance to be the first in his family to earn his college degree. He’s majoring in ethnic studies with a minor in communications.

“My grandparents are excited about that. My parents are excited about that,” Wright said. “I’m excited about that as well.”

Wright also has an opportunity to take over the top spot on the school’s all-time assists list. His 501 career assists trail only Jay Humphries, who had 562 from 1980-84. Wright also ranks 13th all-time with 1,370 career points.

NOTES: Colorado announced the death of 95-year-old fan Betty Hoover, who along with her twin sister, Peggy Coppom, became fixtures at Buffs sporting events and were season ticket holders since 1958. Wright used to run into them not only on the court, but at the local bank. “I’ve never met anyone as loving and supporting and caring as those two,” Wright said. “They hold a special place in my heart. It sucks that Betty won’t be at any games this year. Maybe we can do something, put her name on our jersey. They’re two of the biggest fans in CU history.”

Jared Butler returns to Baylor

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Baylor got some huge news on Monday as potential All-American Jared Butler announced that he will be returning to school for his junior season, joining MaCio Teague is pulling his name out of the 2020 NBA Draft to get the band back together.

Butler was Baylor’s leading scorer a season ago, averaging 16.0 points and 3.1 assists for a team that went 26-4, spent a portion of the season as the No. 1 team in the country and was in line to receive a 1-seed had the 2020 NCAA Tournament taken place.

With Butler and Teague coming back to school, the Bears will return four starters from last season’s squad. Starting center Freddie Gillespie is gone, as is backup guard Devonte Bandoo, but those are holes that can be filled. Tristan Clark, who was Baylor’s best player during the 2018-19 season before suffering a knee injury that lingered through last year, will be back, and there is more than enough talent in the program to replace the scoring pop of Bandoo. Matthew Mayer will be in line for more minutes, while transfer Adam Flagler will be eligible this season.

Baylor will enter this season as a consensus top three team in the country. They will receive plenty of votes as the No. 1 team in the sport, making them not only a very real contender for the Big 12 regular season crown but one of the favorites to win the national title.

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As MaCio Teague returns, Baylor now awaits Jared Butler’s NBA draft decision

Butler is the key.

Baylor was one of college basketball’s best defensive teams last year. They finished fourth nationally in KenPom’s defensive efficiency metric, a ranking that dropped after they Bears lost two of their last three games to TCU and West Virginia. Where they struggled was on the offensive end of the floor. The Bears would go through droughts were points were at a premium and their best offense was a missed shot. Butler’s intrigue for NBA teams was his ability to shoot and to create space in isolation. He’s the one guy on the roster that can create something out of nothing for himself.

And now he is back to try and lead Baylor to a Final Four.

Arizona State’s Martin to return for senior season

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TEMPE, Ariz. (–Arizona State guard Remy Martin is withdrawing from the NBA draft and will return for his senior season in the desert.

“I’m blessed to have the opportunity to coach Remy Martin for one more season,” Sun Devils coach Bobby Hurley said in a statement Sunday. “Remy will be one of the best players in college basketball this year and will be on a mission to lead Arizona State basketball in its pursuit of championships.”

A 6-foot guard, Martin is the Pac-12’s leading returning scorer after averaging 19.1 points in 2019-20. He also averaged 4.1 assists per game and helped put the Sun Devils in position to reach the NCAA Tournament for the third straight year before the season was cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Martin’s return should put Arizona State among the favorites to win the Pac-12 next season.

Martin joins fellow guard Alonzo Verge Jr. in returning to the Sun Devils after testing the NBA waters. Big man Romello White declared for the draft and later entered the transfer portal.

Hurley has signed one of the program’s best recruiting classes for next season, headed by five-star guard Josh Christopher.

Michigan State forward Xavier Tillman will remain in the 2020 NBA Draft

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In the end, Xavier Tillman Sr.’s decision whether or not to return to remain in the 2020 NBA Draft for his senior season came down to security.

A 6-foot-8 forward that averaged 13.7 points, 10.3 boards, 3.0 assists and 2.1 blocks this past season, Tillman was an NBC Sports third-team All-American a season ago. He’s projected as the No. 23 pick in the latest NBC Sports mock draft. He was the best NBA prospect that had yet to make a decision on his future until Sunday.

That’s when Tillman announced that he will be foregoing his final season of college eligibility to head to the NBA.

In the end, it’s probably the right decision, but it’s not one that the big fella made easily.

Tillman is unlike most college basketball players forced to make a decision on their basketball future. He is married. He has two kids, a three-year old daughter and a six-month old son. This is not a situation where he can bet on himself, head to the pro ranks and figure it out later on.

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He needs something stable, particularly given the fact that we are living in the midst of a pandemic that has put the future of sports in doubt, at least for the short term.

He needs security.

He needed to know that there would be a job for him in the NBA. Not a two-way contract. Not a spot on a camp roster or a chance to develop in the G League. Hell, there might not even be a G League next season. That was an option at Michigan State. He was living in an apartment with his family that was covered by his scholarship and stipend. He had meals paid for. He was able to take food from the training room home and have dinner with his family. He was able to get to class, to the gym, to practice and back home in time to do the dishes at night. He told NBC Sports in March that the school was able to provide him with $1,200-a-month to help pay for things like diapers high chairs. That was all going to be there if he returned to school. It was a great situation, one that lacked the uncertainty that comes with the professional level.

Because as much as I love Tillman as a role player at the next level, NBA teams do not all feel the same. The tricky thing about the draft is that it makes sense to swing for the fences on the guys that can be locked into salaries for the first four years of a contract. The Toronto Raptors took Pascal Siakam with the 27th pick and have paid less than $7 million in total salary in his first four years for a player that made an all-star team. Kyle Kuzma is averaging 16.0 points through three seasons and is on the books for $3.5 million in year four.

Tillman’s ability to defend, his basketball IQ, his play-making and his professional demeanor means that he can step into the modern NBA and do a job as a rotation player for just about any team in the league. But he doesn’t have the upside that other bigs in the same projected range have — Jalen Smith, Daniel Oturu, Jaden McDaniels, Zeke Nnaji — so there are teams that are scared off.

I don’t get it.

But Tillman’s decision to head to the professional ranks indicates that he does, indeed, feel confident in the fact that he will have gainful and steady employment next season. Since he would have walked at Michigan State’s graduation in May had it been held, that doesn’t leave much to return to school for.

The Spartans will now be left in a tough spot. There are quite a few pieces to like on this roster. Rocket Watts had promising moments as a freshman, as did Malik Hall. Gabe Brown and Marcus Bingham are both talented players. Joey Hauser had a good season at Marquette, and the early returns on freshman Mady Sissoko are promising. But this is going to be a young and unproven group.

Izzo has had less at his disposal before, but this is certainly not an ideal situation for Michigan State.