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.

Kansas and Kansas State end rivalry game in fight

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Kansas and Kansas State erupted into a fight on Tuesday night.

The Jayhawks were closing out an 81-60 Big 12 home win over their in-state rivals. Things got heated when the buzzer sounded.

Kansas forward Silvio De Sousa threw a punch and picked up a chair during the chaos. It’s difficult to pinpoint specific things from there. Police, security and team personnel stepped in to clear up the melee.

It’s one of the uglier incidents in recent memory for the heated Kansas state rivalry.

It’s been a wild night in college basketball. Illinois’ Alan Griffin stepped on Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic and was ejected. This is yet another bad incident that doesn’t involve basketball.

We’re definitely going to see suspensions out of this Kansas and Kansas State fight. It will depend on what the Big 12 is able to see during its investigation. The conference will try to track down as much evidence as possible to see how this started and who instigated things further.

Kansas and Kansas State have some recent history during this rivalry. Bill Self and Kansas forward Jamari Traylor had a difficult time with a court storm after Kansas State won on its home floor five years ago. But that was more of a student-related incident instead of the two teams starting a fight.

No. 3 Kansas improves to 15-3 overall and 5-1 in the Big 12 with the win. Christian Braun paced the Jayhawks with 20 points. Devon Dotson added 18 points while Udoka Azubuike had a double-double with 10 points and 14 rebounds.

A clearly-frustrated Kansas State dropped to 8-10 and 1-5 in the Big 12 as the rebuilding season continues.

These two teams will meet again in the Octagon of Doom on Feb. 29. The fight in the first matchup will be something to monitor as Kansas could still be fighting for a Big 12 title or No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

Illinois’ Alan Griffin ejected for stepping on Purdue player

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Alan Griffin was ejected after stepping on Purdue’s Sasha Stefanovic on Tuesday night. No. 24 Illinois was in the midst of an important Big Ten road game at Purdue and had to play without Griffin after his first-half ejection.

Griffin turned to run back on defense and clearly stepped on Stefanovic while he was on the ground. Attacking the basket and not getting a call, Stefanovic was on the ground when Griffin stepped on his chest.

Before the ejection, Griffin was scoreless.

A 6-foot-5 sophomore, Griffin is a key reserve during Illinois’ resurgent season. Playing 17.9 minutes per game, Griffin is an adequate three-pointer shooter and good rebounder from the wing.

Potentially facing a suspension for his actions, Griffin’s potential absence is something to monitor.

Following an important Big Ten road win for No. 24 Illinois, head coach Brad Underwood spoke out against Griffin’s actions.

 

Walter McCarty dismissed as Evansville head coach

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Walter McCarty was fired as Evansville’s head coach on Tuesday night.

The school officially announced the decision after additional reports of alleged misconduct. On administrative leave since Dec. 26, McCarty was under investigation for Title IX violations.

Bennie Seltzer will remain interim head coach.

“While the investigation of potential Title IX violations will continue under University policies, UE has decided that, based on the facts uncovered thus far, it is necessary to terminate Mr. McCarty’s employment immediately,” the release said.

“There is no place at UE for any behavior by any University employee or student that jeopardizes the safety and security of others,”

The statement also said McCarty received “warnings last year regarding inappropriate off-court behavior with members of the campus community.”

The 45-year-old McCarty was in his second season with the Purple Aces. After an 11-21 finish in the first season, Evansville had a promising 9-4 start. Evansville made national news when the beat No. 1 Kentucky at Rupp Arena earlier this season.

Player of the Year Power Rankings: Powell vs. Pritchard vs. Howard vs. Toppin

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At this point, I do feel like we have reached a point where there is finally a top tier in the College Basketball Player of the Year race.

Myles Powell. Payton Pritchard. Markus Howard. Obi Toppin. That’s the order that I have it in, but there is a strong and legitimate argument for all four to be No. 1 on this list. I wouldn’t call any of them wrong.

This doesn’t mean that the players from outside those ranks cannot win the award — it is so wide open this year, anyone with a couple of big weeks will be in the mix — but as of this moment in time, those are the likely favorites.

Anyway, here is the definitive Player of the Year power rankings:

1. MYLES POWELL, Seton Hall

Stats: 22.4 ppg, 5.1 rpg, 2.3 apg, 34.9 3PT%

Powell had his best week of the season last week, averaging 29.0 points — including 21.0 points in the second half — as he led the Pirates to a pair of come-from-behind wins at Butler and at Saint John’s. It took Powell a while to get to this point, as he dealt with an ankle injury and a concussion, but there is no questioning the fact that he is the leader and the go-to guy for a Seton Hall team that is currently sitting at No. 10 in the AP poll and in sole possession of first place in the Big East.

And here’s the ironic part in all of this: It took a Powell injury for Seton Hall to really find themselves as a team. They made their leap on Dec. 19th, when the Pirates beat Maryland at home without Powell in the lineup. That’s when the supporting cast found their confidence. That’s when Seton Hall became a team, not just a bunch of guys playing next to Myles Powell.

2. PAYTON PRITCHARD, Oregon

Stats: 19.5 ppg, 5.7 apg, 4.4 rpg, 41.2 3PT%

No one in college basketball has had more, or bigger, moments this season. He scored 19 of his 23 points in the second half and overtime, including 15 in the final five minutes, in a win at Michigan. He had 16 points and six assists in a come-from-behind win against Seton Hall in the Battle 4 Atlantis. He hit a number of big shots late as Oregon knocked off Memphis in November, the only game against a quality opponent that James Wiseman played. Then there was Saturday’s game at Washington, when Pritchard hit a 30-footer to tie the game and force overtime then made a pair of big shots in the extra frame, including this ridiculous game-winner:

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Payton Pritchard called game!!!!!!

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He has carried the Ducks this season. He’s the reason this team is a top ten team.

3. MARKUS HOWARD, Marquette

Stats: 28.2 ppg, 2.9 apg, 43.1% 3PT, 9.8 3PAs

The numbers themselves are ridiculous.

Howard is leading the nation in scoring at 28.2 points. He’s shooting better than 43 percent from three on nearly 10 threes attempted per game. He’s doing it while posting a significantly higher offensive rating than Myles Powell and a significantly higher usage rate than Payton Pritchard.

To put his season into context, there is one other high-major player since 1992 that has made better than 42 percent of his threes while shooting more than nine threes per game: J.J. Redick during his college basketball Player of the Year season in 2005-06. Stephen Curry did the same during the 2007-08 season, when he led Davidson to within one shot of the Final Four.

Markus Howard has been the most lethal offensive weapon in college basketball, and if Marquette was a title contender this season, he’s easily be No. 1 on this list.

4. OBI TOPPIN, Dayton

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 35.3% 3PT

What Obi Toppin provides for Dayton cannot be overstated. He’s putting up massive numbers this season, and he’s doing it while being the piece that makes everything Anthony Grant wants to run work so well. The breakdown below explains it all:

The thing that’s tough about placing Toppin on this list is that he is not the go-to guy for Dayton. Jalen Crutcher is going to be the player that takes and makes all of the big shots. See: Kansas, when he forced overtime, and Saint Louis, when he won the game in overtime.

But the reason Dayton is in a position to do things like take Kansas to overtime, get ranked in the top ten and have a shot at winning a national title is because of what Toppin opens up for them every possession other than the final one.

He may not have the moments we all remember, but Dayton is as good as they because of him. That matters.

5. LUKA GARZA, Iowa

Stats: 22.9 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 1.6 bpg

Garza has been relentless this season, and he is absolutely one of the most improved players in the country. The reason that he’s just outside the top four, for me, is because of the defensive side of the ball. I talk through that more in this piece.

6. CASSIUS WINSTON, Michigan State

Stats: 18.1 ppg, 6.1 apg, 2.4 rpg

Winston has been really, really good this year. He has not been quite as good as expected — he was the consensus preseason college basketball player of the year — and neither has Michigan State, which hurts him a bit. I think he’ll be back in the mix by the time the season ends, particularly if the Spartans play their way back into being one of the nation’s elite teams.

7. JARED BUTLER, Baylor

Stats: 16.1 ppg, 3.1 apg, 1.5 spg, 38.1% 3PT

It’s getting harder and harder to ignore the fact that the sophomore point guard is the best player on the best team in college basketball. That’s worth something in the Player of the Year race.

8. JORDAN NWORA, Louisville

Stats: 19.6 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 42.7% 3PT

On the plus side, Louisville once again looks like a team that can win the ACC, get to a Final Four and win a national title now that David Johnson has taken the point guard reins, and Nwora is unquestionably the best player on the roster. On the down side, he really hasn’t shown up in Louisville’s biggest games. That’s a delicate balance.

9. VERNON CAREY, Duke

Stats: 17.3 ppg, 8.4 rpg, 1.8 bpg

Carey looked like a much bigger player in this race before Duke lost two games last week in large part due to the ability to Miami and Louisville to expose Carey on the defensive end of the floor. Coach K has fixed issues like this before. We’ll see what he has up his sleeve this year.

10. MALACHI FLYNN, San Diego State

Stats: 16.5 ppg, 5.0 apg, 3.6 rpg, 40.4% 3PT

Malachi Flynn is the best player, the leader, of the only team in college basketball that remains undefeated. And the reason they are still undefeated is because of him: It was his three that allowed the Aztecs to avoid defeat at the hands of San Jose State back in December.

Three Things To Know: Shaka’s seat heats up, Baylor survives, Virginia doesn’t

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It was a slow night for college hoops on Monday, but there is still plenty to talk about after some weird results.

Here are the three things you need to know:

1. SHAKA’S SEAT IS HEATING UP

The Shaka Smart era at Texas feels like it has hit an inflection point.

On Monday night, the Longhorns went into Morgantown, W.V., and found themselves wishing Country Roads would take them home before the first half came to a close. No. 14 West Virginia, coming off of blowout loss at Kansas State on Saturday, used a 28-2 run over a 10 minute stretch in the first half to turn a 15-13 lead into a 43-15 blowout. They would go on to win 97-59.

The loss dropped Texas to 12-6 on the season and 2-4 in the Big 12. The Longhorns certainly are not out of it just yet — three of their four Big 12 losses came against teams that currently rank in the top six at KenPom — but it’s getting harder and harder to defend the situation that’s brewing in Austin. Texas has now lost four of their last six and five of their last eight. They are in danger of missing the NCAA tournament for the second straight season and for the third time in four years.

But perhaps the biggest concern is that the Longhorns just don’t seem to be growing as a program. Last year, while Texas ended up missing the tournament, they finished as a top 25 team on KenPom and made a run all the way to the NIT title. It’s worth noting that before the tournament started, they were already a top 30 team on KenPom; their ranking wasn’t skewed by getting hot for three weeks in a tournament no one cares about.

The problem this season is that there has been no progression. Texas has been a program under Shaka that has hung their hat on defense, but this is the worst defensive team he has had in his tenure. That becomes even more of an issue when you factor in that they cannot score. They’re 111th nationally in adjusted offensive efficiency, which is what happens when your offense is, essentially, a spread ball-screen into a contested three.

KenPom has Texas favored to win just three more games the rest of the season. They’re projected to finish 17-14 overall and 7-11 in the Big 12.

That’s not good.

2. NO. 1 BAYLOR SURVIVES

It looked like Baylor was going to cruise to a pretty easy win at home against Oklahoma, but the Sooners had other ideas. They hung around long enough in the second half to make things interesting late. Oklahoma hit back-to-back threes in a 40 second span to cut a 59-51 lead to 59-57 with 41 seconds left, and after Baylor couldn’t find a way to score on their next possession, Austin Reaves cut off a 3-on-1 break to flare to the corner and fire up a wide-open, go-ahead three with less than five seconds left.

He missed.

Baylor won.

And No. 1 lived to fight another day.

3. VIRGINIA LOSES AGAIN

The reigning national champions lost for the fourth time in their last five games on Monday night, this time falling at home against N.C. State, 53-51.

Like Oklahoma, Virginia had a shot to win the game at the buzzer, as N.C. State fouled up three and then missed free throws of their own at the other end. But Virginia is the 346th-best three-point shooting team in the country for a reason, and Casey Morsell missed the game-winner as time expired.

At this point, it’s getting harder to see how Virginia is going to find a way to play their way into the NCAA tournament.