Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Does Calipari's move put Wall on fence again?

Well, the John Wall sweepstakes just took a turn. John Calipari's leaving Memphis, the front-runner for Wall's considerable services, for Kentucky, according to the Memphis Commercial Appeal.

ESPN says the deal is worth $35 million over eight years.

Wall, the No. 1-rated guard prospect in the class of 2009, said Monday Memphis was his leader but he was waiting for Calipari's decision. The Raleigh Word of God senior said his final list is Memphis, Duke, N.C. State, Baylor and Kansas.

-- J.P. Giglio

Queasy memory for Williams

CHAPEL HILL — Thinking back to Kansas' 40-12 game-opening run last season during the NCAA national semi-finals still makes UNC coach Roy Williams a bit queasy. But not, apparently, as sick as he was that day, when he coached with the stomach flu.

"It bothered me because of the scenario, it bothered me because of the way we played, it bothered me because I thought we would really play well,'' Williams said of the eventual 84-66 loss.

"It bothered me because I'm throwing up in a towel because I'm sick as a dog. It's the first time in 21 years as a head coach I've ever leaned over to an assistant and told him stand up and call a play. ... I've got memories there that are going to last with me forever. Plus I felt it was very very very very very -- add as many as you want -- unfair treatment of me two days later [when fans took him to task for wearing a Jayhawks sticker to the national championship game]. So I'm going to remember it after you guys are all dead and gone."

The Tar Heels will play Villanova on Saturday in this year's national semifinal game, hoping there won't be a repeat of the ill performance.

-- Robbi Pickeral

Recruiting Wall a desperate act by Duke

AP Photo

Duke's pursuit of Raleigh's John Wall (above), a presumed "one-and-done" basketball recruit, illustrates both a shift in Mike Krzyzewski's recruiting philosophy and just how desperate the situation is for Duke.

In the aftermath of the 2004 Final Four, losing Luol Deng after one season and Shaun Livingston before he got to campus, Coach K made a conscious decision to avoid one-year college players.

Maintaining some semblance of academic integrity was an ancillary benefit to the decision but not that primary motivating factor. The disruption of the recruiting cycle is what kept Coach K away.

Two years after Deng departed in '04, before what would be one of K's worst teams (worst being a relative term) since the early 1980s, the Duke coach was still stinging from the twin decisions of Deng and Livingston, both of whom he thought he would have for at least two seasons each.

Asked in Greensboro in the preseason how the program got the point that '06-'07 would be a rebuilding season and why Duke had lost in the Sweet 16 in two straight years, Coach K said:

"We had Luol one year and we never had Shaun," Krzyzewski said. "Those two guys would have made a huge difference."

Duke went two recruiting classes without a serious pursuit of a one-and-done prospect. Josh McRoberts, the No. 1-rated prospect in the class of '05, stayed two seasons.

The Blue Devils did sign mid-level forward prospects David McClure (in '04) and Jamal Boykin (in '05) based on the premise that both would stick around for four years, and perhaps develop into senior leaders in the mold of Shane Battier, albeit less talented.

Neither four-year project worked out according to plan. McClure, as a fifth-year senior, eventually became a functional role player. Boykin transferred to Cal after one-and-half seasons.

Only after the disappointment of 0-4 finish in March '07 did the reality of the changed recruiting landscape hit Duke.

The Devils pursued blue-chip forward Patrick Patterson, who chose Kentucky instead, and settled for another late signee, Lance Thomas, a McDonald's All-American who has started 62 games in three seasons but not made a high-level impact (see: career scoring average, 4.6).

They struck out again in the spring of '08 with top forward prospect Greg Monroe, who chose Georgetown. Again, Duke decided to add another late recruit in forward Miles Plumlee, who had committed to Stanford but decided on Duke after Cardinal coach Trent Johnson left for LSU.

Despite his size, 6-10 and 235 pounds — and Duke's need for interior size — Plumlee averaged less than 2 points in less than 7 minutes a game as a freshman.

In the immediate aftermath of the successful yet unconventional '08-'09 season, which included the ACC title, Coach K promised to hit the recruiting trail in search of a conventional point guard and a capable post option.

On Sunday, the Devils landed Seth Curry, who'll transfer from Liberty after leading all freshman scorers this past season. Curry plays neither of K's intended target positions, but he will slide nicely into the combo guard role of Jon Scheyer in '10-'11.

But Curry can't help Duke in '09-'10, a potentially great Duke team if both Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler return. Wall can, hence the mercenary's visit with Duke on Monday, a recruit K wouldn't have touched five years ago. A less desperate Coach K would have wished Wall good luck, not promised him Jason Williams' playbook.

The truth is, as Krzyzewski himself admitted it after UNC's win in Durham on Feb. 11, UNC's just better than Duke right now. And despite public protests to the opposite, by both sides when the subject is brought up, beyond winning, what matters most to both Duke and Carolina is keeping up with the other side.

Since Duke's most recent Final Four appearance ('04), UNC has been to the Final Four three times, with one title in the bag and another just 80 minutes away.

That's why Duke is back in the one-and-done business. Right or wrong, it's that simple.


Either by their own volition, or their own recruiting failures, Duke has avoided one-and-done recruits.

While Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski has been criticized for this decision, Ohio State's Thad Matta has been burned by it.

Ohio State freshman B.J. Mullens declared for the NBA Draft earlier this week. Since '06-'07, OSU has had five players (Greg Oden, Mike Conley Jr., DeQuan Cook Kosta Koufos and Mullens) leave after just one season.

No Duke players have left after one season over the same period.

How does Duke's record compare to Ohio State's?


Overall ACC NCAA Overall Big Ten NCAA
2008-09 30-7 11-5 2-1 22-11 10-8 0-1
2007-08 28-6 13-3 1-1 24-13 10-8 0-0
2006-07 22-11 8-8 0-1 35-4 15-1 5-1
Totals 80-24 32-16 3-3 81-28 35-17 5-2

They have virtually the same overall winning percentage and the same conference winning percentage.

They each have a conference title — Duke in '09, OSU in '07.

They each have one Sweet 16 appearance — Duke '09, OSU in '07.

OSU went to the Final Four in '07 and Duke did not reach the Final Four in the three seasons. Duke did make the NCAA Tournament all three years, OSU did not (missed in '08).

Which program would you rather be? -- J.P. Giglio

Bennett a good hire for UVa

Tony Bennett's not Rick Barnes, Tubby Smith or Jeff Capel but he is an excellent basketball coach and a great hire by Virginia. If you think otherwise, you are either a victim of East Coast Bias or you don't understand basketball.

Bennett, who turns 40 in June, gives Virginia a young coach, who has already been successful at the highest Division I level, with a likable personality (the opposite of Dave Leitao), a discernible style of play and an ability to teach his system.

What else is there? Oh, yeah, he played three seasons in the NBA (with the Charlotte Hornets). Every team outside of UNC, Duke, Maryland and Boston College would be ecstatic to have such a combination in their head coach.

Two reasons Virginia fans should like Bennett:

1) Any idea how hard it is to win at Washington State? In the 66 seasons before Bennett succeeded his father, Dick, as the head coach in 2006, the Cougars went to the NCAA Tournament four times and won three games.

Bennett took the Cougars to the NCAA Tournament twice in three seasons, going 3-2 in the 2007 and 2008 tournaments.

You think it will be a little easier to recruit at Virginia, with access to DC, Baltimore and the Tidewater areas than it was in Pullman, Wash., where Bennett was fighting UCLA and Washington for the Seattle leftovers?

2) If "UNC" or "Duke" is not on the front of your jersey, you have to be different. You're not going to out-recruit those two schools for the elite talent in the country. You have to have a niche, whether it's a unique offense or defense.

In four years, Leitao failed established any identity for the program, other than his abusive sideline behavior. You'll recognize what Bennett is trying to do in the first preseason game.

Bennett uses the same defensive system his father did at Wisconsin, and Bo Ryan still does. The Bennetts took Wisconsin went to the Final Four in 2000 with their "Pack Line" defense. A shifting zone that prevents dribble penetration and forces the opposition to take contested outside shots. The Cougars have led the country in scoring defense the past two seasons, allowing less than 57 points per game.

It's not unlike Syracuse's 2-3 zone, only Bennett's teams don't play as up-tempo on offense. Bennett understands his style can be classified as boring but he calls it "good" basketball.

"In a nutshell I'd say, [we] make the other team work to get contested shots and [we] work to get good shots," Bennett said in Charlotte last year before the Cougars lost to UNC in the Sweet 16.

And, as a bonus, Bennett's personality doesn't match his philosophy. Unlike other coaches' sons, Bennett's not a basketball nerd who only understands Xs and Os. In one week in Charlotte at the NCAA Tournament last year, he showed more personality at the podium than most coaches do in 10 years. -- J.P. Giglio

Tony Bennett, meet the ACC

Welcome to the ACC, Tony Bennett.

We’re not sure if the snail’s pace basketball you used to become one of the nation’s hottest coaches in 2007 and 2008 will work at Virginia. But you seemed like a decent guy when we met you in Charlotte last year for the NCAA Tournament regional, and after suffering through three seasons of Dave Leitao, Virginia needs a decent guy.

In a little more than a month, you will find yourself seated in a Ritz Carlton conference room on Amelia Island near Jacksonville, Fla., with the rest of the ACC’s coaches. Here’s what you need to know about them as you join the conference:

Mike Krzyzewski and Roy Williams: They are not as clumsy as they look in their “Guitar Hero” TV commercial guest spot. K likes fine wine and Roy likes to play golf. And though they may seem friendly, Roy will run circles around you in recruiting and K will simply outcoach you during the course of a game.

Sidney Lowe: He’s a really loud whistler. And he's a strong X's and O's coach. His ability to build a program, though, has yet to be proven.

Oliver Purnell: You don’t want to play his team in early January. You do want to play Clemson in late February or March. It may be because the Tigers’ full-court press wears them out.

Paul Hewitt: Don’t get too close to him, because he might not be around too long. He’s a heck of a recruiter and a highly principled leader in the college basketball world, but his teams are never as good as the sum of their parts.

Gary Williams: If you could put Hewitt in charge of recruiting and Williams in charge of game coaching, you’d have one of the strongest programs in the country. Williams might be the best X’s and O’s guy in Division I, and he’s not a maniac away from the court even though he looks like one while he’s coaching.

Al Skinner: Here’s another guy who will flat-out take your lunch. How he beat North Carolina and Duke with a team that consisted of Tyrese Rice and not much else this season is almost impossible to figure.

Seth Greenberg: This is the coach in the ACC you’d most want to have a beer with. Unless you were a referee. For some reason, he always seems like he thinks the officiating tilts against his team.

Leonard Hamilton: If you need a primer on how to coach defense in the ACC, this is your guy. If you’re interested in offense, he wouldn't be at the top of the list.

Frank Haith: He’s still a good coach even though his team underachieved this season. But when you see him, be thankful you landed where you did. Miami is just not a college basketball town.

Dino Gaudio: Don’t worry if he doesn’t have much to say. He’s still trying to figure out how a team with three future first-round NBA draft picks could get hammered by Cleveland State in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

One more piece of advice, Tony. Make sure you’re wearing a sweater when you leave your room at the Ritz for the conference room, which is the coldest place in the ACC region other than the Greensboro Coliseum media room.

In the meantime, good luck getting started at Virginia. The new arena there is gorgeous and the fans will be excited to have you around. It won’t be difficult to generate more good will than Leitao did, so you should have a nice grace period as you prepare to build a winner when you start without much talent. – Ken Tysiac

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ol' Roy's Final Four record not that bad

Roy Williams is off to his seventh Final Four and the Tar Heels are installed as a 4-to-5 favorite to win the national title.

Yet, some UNC fans, or followers of Barack-a-tology, are worried Ol' Roy will screw up another Final Four.


In the grand scheme of things Ol' Roy is 1-for-6 at the Final Four but the overall record (4-5) and round-by-round numbers are more than respectable. Williams is 3-3 in the semifinals and 1-2 in the title game.

If you measure the six trips on the Ol'-Roy-o-Meter, it's more like: Acceptable Losses 3.5, Should Have Won 1.5, Won 1

Let's take a closer look at those individual years:

Semifinals: beat UNC 79-73
Final: lost to Duke 72-65

Williams beats his mentor, Dean Smith, in the Final Four and then gets Duke, which just pulled off one of the biggest upsets in tournament history (and the biggest in the semifinal round).

Are you really going to hold this loss against Roy?

Semifinals: lost to UNC, 78-68

How can you be mad at anyone for losing to Dean in the Final Four? Another acceptable Final Four loss.

Semifinals: lost Maryland, 97-88

A veteran Maryland team on a mission against Kansas' junior-based team. Make that three-for-three on the Roy-o-meter.

Semifinals: beat Marquette, 94-61
Final: lost to Syracuse, 81-78

Senior-based team and Roy's second-best group at Kansas (behind the Paul Pierce-Raef LaFrentz-Jacque Vaughn trio) destroys Marquette and Dwyane Wade in the Final Four and then loses a game it should have won against a freshmen-based Syracuse team.

Score one for the Ol' Roy haters.

Semifinals: beat Michigan State, 87-71
Final: beat Illinois, 75-70

Score one for Ol' Roy.

Semifinals: lost to Kansas, 84-66

Should UNC have been more prepared and should have been more motivated? Absolutely. But, honestly, Kansas was just a better team than Carolina.

Split the difference here: Half for the Ol' Roy haters, half for Ol' Roy. -- J.P. Giglio

Final Four cheering guide for ACC fans

You're a fan of the other 11 ACC teams and your team is at home while UNC chases the national title at the Final Four.

Who should you root for at the Final Four?

Duke: Villanova
You always want to get knocked out by the champ, plus, there's the small, private school kinship.

And this is no time to be an ABCer. You really don't want UNC to win but let's think of the alternative. If UConn wins, Jim Calhoun would have three titles, just like Mike Krzyzewski.

Right now, Coach K can claim coaching supremacy over Calhoun, despite the Final Four losses in 1999 and 2004, but if Calhoun equals K's title collection, that would be a tough argument to make.

N.C. State: Michigan State
Land grants unite!

Wake Forest: Michigan State
Right now, you're desperate for good coaching so you take the best one still in the dance.

Georgia Tech: ABC
Anybody but Connecticut. Never forget the '04 title game.

Virginia: UNC
The Heels were kind enough to end Jeff Capel's season, and perhaps, expedite his arrival in Hooville.

Clemson, Florida State, Maryland: UNC
Conference pride!

Miami, Virginia Tech and Boston College: UConn or Villanova
Conference pride!

-- J.P. Giglio

Score one for the numerologists

Pencil Michigan State in for the 2013 Final Four and UConn for a return in 2014, but not before.

History majors should have put the Spartans in Detroit on the four-year cycle. Tom Izzo took the Spartans to the Final Four in 2001 and 2005 (let's just ignore the '99 and '00 trips for purpose of this blog post).

Like the Olympics or World Cup, Izzo has his team ready every four years (which actually makes some sense on a recruiting-cycle basis).

UConn's five-year plan is tougher to decipher but easier to predict. Jim Calhoun's only Final Four trips have come five years apart. All three have been routed through the greater Phoenix area as well.

One thought for UNC fans: Calhoun's 2-for-2 in the Final Four, winning the title in 1999 and 2004 and each championship win came against an ACC team -- Duke in '99 and Georgia Tech in '04.

One thought for UConn fans: The Huskies refused to cut down the nets after winning the West Regional. Mistake. Always cut down the nets after the conference tournament or regional final (but not the regular-season title).

UNC skipped the net-cutting ceremony in 1994 in Charlotte after winning the ACC Tournament. The Final Four was in Charlotte that year and the Heels assumed they would be back and take the nets then. UNC never got back to Charlotte, losing to Boston College in the second round. -- J.P. Giglio

Virginia to hire Bennett

Tony Bennett will be Virginia's next basketball coach, according to the Charlottesville Daily Progress. Bennett led Washington State to the NCAA Tournament twice in three seasons, including an appearance in the Sweet 16 in 2008.

Bennett replaces Dave Leitao who resigned after the ACC Tournament, his fourth season at UVa. Bennett, a defensive-minded coach and former NBA player, inherits a team that 10-18 this past season and went 9-23 in the ACC since sharing the regular-season title in 2006-07. -- J.P. Giglio

Duke gets proven commodity in Curry

Future Duke wing Seth Curry might be as close to a sure thing as you can get in recruiting as a transfer from Liberty University.

When evaluating high school players, coaches always have to project how they might fare against ACC competition. The problem with that is, the high school players are being guarded by other high school players.

Curry already has demonstrated what he can do against the ACC. He scored 26 points with four 3-pointers on Nov. 25 as Liberty defeated Virginia 86-82 in Charlottesville, Va.

On Dec. 7 at Clemson, Curry made six 3-pointers and scored 24 points in an 80-75 loss. Those numbers, even more than the 20.3 points per game that made him the nation’s leading freshman scorer, made him attractive to ACC coaches.

Curry’s father, Dell, confirmed Sunday that Curry has committed to Duke. Scout.com analyst Dave Telep predicted that Curry -- the brother of Davidson junior Stephen Curry -- will play a big role for the Blue Devils.

Telep also said sitting out one season, as NCAA rules demand transfer students must do, actually will benefit Curry because he needs to get stronger. Curry is listed as 6-foot-3 and 180 pounds on Liberty’s roster.

“The best thing that’s going to happen to Seth Curry is that he now has a year off to get his body prepared for the ACC,” Telep said. “There’s a significant difference between the Big South and the ACC, and he’s got one year to get his body ready to go for the rigors of that league.”

He already has demonstrated that he can score against ACC teams in isolated games. Adding some muscle should help prepare him for the cumulative pounding a full ACC schedule will exert on his body. – Ken Tysiac

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Tudor's Take: Behind the Heels' 72 points

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Although North Carolina's 72-60 win over Oklahoma wasn't really as close as the final score indicates, the Tar Heels were in their offensive trouble range.

In the only two other games this season when they failed to score more than 73 points, the Heels' record was 1-1. There was the 73-70 loss to Florida State in the ACC Tournament semifinals at Atlanta and a 69-65 win at Miami on Feb. 15.

Several factors contributed Sunday, the most important of which was OU's defensive work against Tyler Hansbrough (eight points).

But Carolina also eased off the tempo, which Roy Williams very rarely does.

Up 61-40 with more than seven minutes left, Carolina was on pace to hit the high 70s or low 80s, depending upon the Sooners' willingness to foul and gamble to grab steals. On five straight possessions after getting that 21-point lead, the Heels turned to their clock-killing strategy. It's one of the few things this team doesn't do well. The momentum quickly changed, and had Ty Lawson not canned a couple of free throws to make it 63-49 with 4:12 to go, the final minutes could have been exciting.

A third, but less obvious, contributor was the fact that Carolina wingman Wayne Ellington finally had a poor shooting performance - 3-for-9 with four misses on five 3-point attempts. He finished with nine points after having averaged 20-plus over the past five games.

On the opposite end of the court, Ellington more than countered. For most of the game, he held OU's Willie Warren in check. Warren finished with 18 points, but seven of those came after the outcome was beyond doubt. He also committed four turnovers and rarely got an open look on 3-pointers.

The Sooners naturally preferred to cite their bad shooting luck, but Carolina had nine steals. Only Blake Griffin consistently had offensive success and much of that was the result of his six offensive rebounds.

-- Caulton Tudor

Roy, K get their 'Guitar Hero' on

Presented without comment, Roy Williams and Mike Krzyzewski's new commercial. There's also an ESPN look at the commercial, which also features Rick Pitino and Bobby Knight.

-- Rachel Carter

Plenty of history between UNC, 'Nova

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- North Carolina and Villanova have a long, rich history of conflict in the NCAA Tournament, including a couple of heartbreaks on each side.

When the two meet Saturday at about 9 p.m. in the Detroit Final Four, it'll be their fifth NCAA game.

The Heels have won three of the previous four. But in 1985 at Birmingham, Rollie Massimino's eventual national championship Wildcats defended the life out of the Tar Heels' season, winning 56-44 en route to the Lexington Final Four and a championship win over Big East rival Georgetown.

Three seasons earlier, Dean Smith and UNC had stopped the Wildcats, 71-60, in the East Regional title game at N.C. State's Reynolds Coliseum.

That UNC team won the title and over the same opponent Villanova beat in '85.

In 2005, the Heels had perhaps their most difficult NCAA game in a 67-66 escape against the Wildcats in a third-round East game at Syracuse. Lots of Villanova fans that night thought Carolina got more than its fair share of officiating judgments.

Carolina made the most of the escape, though. Roy Williams' team then defeated Wisconsin in the regional final and outlasted two more Big Ten teams -- Michigan State and Illinois -- in the Final Four at St. Louis.

The Heels' most difficult season ever against Villanova was in 1995-96, when they lost to the 'Cats in the championship game of the Maui Invitational and then absorbed a second loss a month or so later in the Smith Center.

Heels headed to Detroit for Final Four

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — UNC looked like a veteran NCAA Tournament, one that has been there and done that. Now, the Tar Heels are going to do it again.

Carolina's experience helped control Oklahoma from tip-off to the final horn in the NCAA South Regional in Memphis. As a result of its 72-60 victory at FedExForum, UNC advances to its 18th Final Four. It will play Villanova at approximately 8:47 p.m. on Saturday in Detroit.

The Heels jumped out to a 13-2 lead and kept Oklahoma at arms length for the entire game despite foul trouble by star forward Tyler Hansbrough (8 points), who was out-played by Blake Griffin (23 points).

But it didn't matter. Not with Ty Lawson getting 19 points, Danny Green chipping in 18 and the team playing solid defense.

The Sooners were hurt in the first half by their 3-point shooting (0-9), which was so successful (9-21) in Friday's rout of Syracuse.

Trailing 61-40 in the second half after UNC's Deon Thompson scored on an inside move, OU tried to make it interesting, peeling off a 9-0 run to cut it to 61-49. But two free throws by Lawson padded the Tar Heels' cushion.

All-region team:

Jonny Flynn, Syracuse
Tyler Hansbrough, UNC
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
Danny Green, UNC
Ty Lawson, UNC (Most outstanding player)


Ford Field - Detroit, Michigan

(2) Michigan State (30-7) vs. (1) Connecticut (31-4), 6:07 p.m.

(3) Villanova (30-7) vs. (1) North Carolina (32-4), 8:47 p.m.


Semifinal winners, 9:15 p.m.

-- Robbi Pickeral

UNC-OU: Four (other) things to watch

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- North Carolina forward Tyler Hansbrough, the 2008 consensus national player of the year, returned for his senior season because he wanted another chance to win a national championship. So it seems rather fitting that to reach the Final Four, he'll face the toughest individual match-up of his career tonight: Oklahoma's Blake Griffin, who is expected to sweep the NPOY awards this time around.

If you're going to focus on one thing during tonight's NCAA regional final game, that would be it. But here are a few other things that will be key to the outcome:

* THE BENCH. UNC reserves, whittled earlier this season by varying injuries, have been on a roll of late, getting 55 points from the combination of Bobby Frasor, Larry Drew, Ed Davis and Tyler Zeller during the NCAA tournament. Oklahoma's bench production, meanwhile, has been lean at best. It has managed only 12 points over the last three games, and 9 came during it's opening blowout over Morgan State.

* OU's TONY CROCKER. The long-sleeved shirt he wears under his jersey is to help keep him warm. But the Tar Heels need to keep him from getting downright hot again. His 28 points against Syracuse on Friday were a career high, and helped make up for the 2-for-7 performance of Big 12 Freshman of the Year Willie Warren.

* DEON'S DEFENSE. It wouldn't be surprising to see UNC junior Deon Thompson guarding Griffin, and one of the biggest keys will be to try to keep the OU sophomore away from the post. Griffin doesn't like shooting from very far out, and the combination of Thompson and Hansbrough need to try to keep the big guy out of his comfort zone -- while also watching out of that other Griffin brother, Taylor, who starts at the other forward spot.

* DANNY GREEN'S SHOOTING TOUCH. The senior small forward finally started coming out of his shooting slump Friday, making multiple 3-pointers for the first time since the end of the regular season. If he keeps hitting -- as well as Wayne Ellington and Ty Lawson -- the Tar Heels might have too much firepower to beat, no matter who wins the Hansbrough-Griffin battle.

-- Robbi Pickeral

Cookie conundrum for Tar Heels

MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- North Carolina coach Roy Williams is a superstitious guy. So maybe he was just trying to continue his NCAA trend when he started complaining that there weren't enough cookies at FedExForum before his team began its press conference on Saturday.

"I think as much money as we're making off this tournament, we oughta be able to afford more than one frickin' cookie back in the room there," said Williams, whose team will face Oklahoma tonight. "I think the NCAA can afford more than that. Other than that, we're happy to be here."

Remember: two years ago, Williams was cranky about the fact that he had to pour his soda into an NCAA-mandated cup. Last year, it was all about the NCAA sticker-logo in the middle of the playing floor.

Eventually, a moderator asked that more baked goods be made available for the Tar Heels (Ty Lawson requested oatmeal, Williams asked for peanut-butter). But what happened to that one cookie in the meantime?

"Nobody got the cookie," Lawson said. "I was about to take it, but everybody was looking at it, and I didn't want to be selfish. So I just left it there." -- Robbi Pickeral

Pick Two: Sunday's fourth round

South Regional

Oklahoma (2) vs. UNC (1)
@ Memphis
Time: 5:05

Sadly, I've been right about only two teams in this tournament — UNC and Michigan State. That can't bode well for either team today. I'm sticking with the Heels because they have better guards and they have tournament experience.

This is a huge test for Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel. If he is half as good as we think he is, he'll attack Tyler Hansbrough (like Kansas did) early on defense and run four to five different players at home on offense (I'm guessing he uses the "other" Griffin to keep the "great" Griffin out of foul trouble).

Two predictions:

1) Ed Davis' NBA stock goes through the roof with a defensive performance against Blake Griffin.

2) UNC wins this game and the national title. Pick: UNC

Midwest Regional

Michigan State (2) vs. Louisville (1)
@ Indianapolis
Time: 2:20

Picking against the Big East has worked so well this tournament. I'm the last person in the world not sold on Louisville. The Cards avoided just about every big road game in the Big East and have wins over Morehead State (16), Siena (9) and Arizona (12) in the tournament.

Rick Pitino's 9-0 in the Sweet 16 but has a history of choking (or losing epic games) in the Final Eight (1992, 1995, 2008).

Since Michigan State is other team I have been right about, I'm sticking with the Spartans. Pick: Michigan State

First round: 25-8. Second round: 13-3. Third round: 4-4. Fourth round: 0-2

-- J.P. Giglio

Villanova would be next for UNC

If UNC can get past Oklahoma on Sunday, Villanova will be waiting in the Final Four. That's a good sign for the Tar Heels. UNC beat Nova in the tournament in 2005 and 1982.

What do those years have in common?

Scottie Reynolds' runner with 0.5 seconds left lifted the Wildcats to a 78-76 win over Pittsburgh and a spot in the Final Four for the first time since 1985.

Nova, the third seed in the East Regional, almost let the top-seeded Panthers steal the win late. Levance Fields' free throws with 5.5 seconds left tied the game at 76, after Pitt had trailed by four in the final minute.

Reynolds took the inbounds pass and darted up the right sideline and then cut into the lane for a hanging 5-footer over Pitt's defense.

Nova beat American in the first round, UCLA in the second and Duke in the third to get back to the Final Four. The Wildcats have tournament history with the Tar Heels. They almost beat the Heels in 2005, losing 67-66 in the Sweet 16 on a late traveling call.

UNC beat Villanova in the regional final in 1982 and in the second round in 1991.

Of course, the Heels presence could be a good omen for the Wildcats. Nova's national title in 1985 went through UNC in the regional final. -- J.P. Giglio

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Source: Matheny lands Elon job

Davidson associate basketball head coach Matt Matheny will be named Elon's new head coach at a 1 p.m. press conference today at the school, according to a source close to the proceedings.

Matheny, 39, has been on the Wildcats staff since 1993. He is also a Davidson graduate who played basketball and football at the college.

He replaces Ernie Nestor, who was removed after finishing 11-20 overall this season. Nestor was 67-117 over six seasons.

Elon, like Davidson, is a Southern Conference member, meaning that Matheny will now be coaching against his long-time mentor, Wildcats coach Bob McKillop.--Stan Olson

Q&A with recruiting expert Dave Telep

Even Dave Telep can't be in two places at once.

Not that he doesn't try. Telep has two courts set up at Cary Academy for his Carolina Challenge, a showcase of the top 80 high school basketball players in the state. As much as he wants to, Telep can't watch every game.

Scout.com's national recruiting director took time for a few questions on Saturday to talk about the third annual challenge:

Q: Why did you decide to start this event?

Telep: "I've gotten a lot out of the state of North Carolina, professionally basketball-wise and personally. I thought this was my to say thanks.

I thought if you could invite the guys who are not seniors, you can get to them and talk to them just a little bit about academics. You give them three games to play, and you try to talk to them a little bit about life skills and try and get them thinking a little bit.

The guys in the state have taken this event and made it a priority to be here and that's made it a huge help."

Q: You're not going to have too many groups like last year (with top prospects John Wall, Ryan Kelly and Mason Plumlee) but what do you think of this year's group?

"I think this is a better field, one to 80. Last year we had unbelievable star power. This year, one through 80, everything is going to be so competitive."

Q: Procedural question — how are you able to tell which player is No. 2, 20, 21 or 50?

"I cheat because I've seen these guys a lot. In a camp like this, guys will separate themselves, whether it's athletically or their basketball IQ.

You just keep watching, watching and watching. When it's your job, you know, you're supposed to be able to tell if these guys can play or not."

Q: Is C.J. Leslie the best player here?

"I don't know. There are a lot of good prospects here. There's no doubt he's one of the best guys here and across the country when you add up his athletic ability and his attributes. C.J.'s just about putting polish on and finishing that product up.

Athletically, he's so far and away superior to the other guys it's ridiculous." -- J.P. Giglio

Heels likely to see mix of defenses

MEMPHIS — If patterns hold, Oklahoma will give North Carolina a dual defensive look Sunday in the NCAA South Regional championship game.

Throughout most of the season, OU coach Jeff Capel has mixed zone and man-to-man strategies. In Friday's 84-71 semifinal win over Syracuse, the Sooners played zone variations on about 25 percent of the Orange possessions.

"We're comfortable doing that," said senior forward Taylor Griffin. "I guess it's a little unusual, but I think it's helped us against a few teams. It's surprised a few of our opponents a little, I think."

Zone defenses have given Carolina some trouble over the years, but this season's team generally has been different, due in large part to the perimeter shooting of Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington and Danny Green.

"But our plan still is try to go inside first, even if we are playing against a zone. That doesn't change," Lawson said Saturday. "When you have guys in there like we have, you don't to just settle for long jump shots."

When the Sooners go man, the 5-11 Lawson expects to face lanky 6-3 senior Austin Johnson, who has been rated among the top defenders in the Big 12 Conference for the past two seasons. If Lawson's correct, then OU frosh Willie Warren (6-4, 207) would get the primary assignment against Ellington (6-4, 200) with the Sooners' Tony Crocker (6-6, 206) on Green (6-6, 210).

Apart from rebounding, Lawson thinks the outcome will hinge on the abilities of the Carolina perimeter players to find and make shots when the Sooners limit entry feeds to Tyler Hansbrough, Deon Thompson and Ed Davis.

"Rebounding is the most important thing, because Blake Griffin gets so many offensive boards [eight against Syracuse, 130 for the season]," Lawson said. "But after that, I believe it's going to be the guards and not just our shooting. We've got to have the best perimeter defense we've played all season. Their quickness is something we've really got to worry about. They're just quick, I mean really quick."

Like most of his teammates, Lawson said without prompting that the Sooners present the biggest challenge of the season.

"If I were just around here this weekend and not playing, this is a game I'd pay to see," Lawson said. "I'd pay what it takes to buy a seat right at courtside, too." -- Caulton Tudor

UNC's Davis: I'll be back

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — With freshman forward Ed Davis’ increased offensive presence of late, there’s been a lot of speculation as to whether the reserve might jump to the NBA after this season. Asked Saturday if he will consider it, he said “no.”

“I just want to win a national championship, I just want to play my years at Carolina, that’s all I’m thinking about right now,’’ said Davis, whose Tar Heels play Oklahoma in the regional final Sunday.

Davis is averaging 6.7 points and 6.7 rebounds this season. His dad, Terry, played in the NBA for 10 years. -- Robbi Pickeral

Leslie weighing all his options

CARY — C.J. Leslie is not in a hurry.

After committing to N.C. State as a freshman, the Word of God junior wants to take a second look at his college options. As the 16th-rated prospect in the country in the class of 2010, Leslie has plenty of options.

"I wanted to open it up and see what else is out there," Leslie said Saturday at Dave Telep's Carolina Challenge in Cary. "I wanted to make sure I didn't miss any opportunities."

Leslie, a 6-8 forward, said he was too young when he made his initial verbal commitment. Leslie said the Wolfpack is still on his list but he has "no favorite." Leslie said he has offers from "everybody" and has recently talked to Florida, Memphis, North Carolina, Virginia Tech and Miami.

"I want to look at everybody before I make my final decision and make sure that's the place that I really want to go," Leslie said. "There may be something else out there and I would have missed out on that if I had stayed committed [to N.C State]."

Leslie showed flashes of the ability that has so many colleges pursuing his services. The tall and skinny forward hit a quick turn-around in traffic, a move that showed touch, in his first game on Saturday with Team Josh Howard. In the same game, he rained in a 3-pointer from the left corner, showing some range.

Leslie has a busy summer planned with trips to the Vince Carter Skills Academy (June in Orlando), LeBron James Skills Academy (July in San Diego) and NBPA top 100 camp. He said he will make his official visits in the fall before making a final decision.

"I want to take my time," Leslie said. "I'm going to weigh my options after all the visits. I'm just focused on finding a good team that's a good fit for me." --J.P. Giglio

'Cuse surprised by Sooners' Crocker

MEMPHIS — The most surprised person in the FedExForum on Friday night must have been Jim Boeheim.

In his team’s 84-71 NCAA South third-round loss to Oklahoma, the Syracuse coach expected all sorts of trouble from the Sooners’ Blake Griffin, Willie Warren and Austin Johnson.

But the guy who really shot holes in Boeheim’s usually reliable 2-3 zone defense was OU wingman Tony Crocker, who poured in 28 points and canned six 3-pointers.

At halftime, when the game essentially was over, Crocker had 14. Not bad for a guy who had scored all of eight points in the two previous NCAA games and had not been in double digits since rustling up 14 points against Texas on Fed. 21.

“We didn’t do a good job on Crocker, obviously,” Boeheim said.

Obviously. While Crocker was going off beyond the arc, Syracuse missed all 10 of its 3-point attempts in the first half.

Sooner coach Jeff Capel was less surprised by Crocker’s outburst.

“I just had a feeling he was ready to have a good game,” Capel said. “Tony’s a good shooter who’s been off for a few games and has looked more to help us win games in other ways than with his shot. But he can shoot, and we never lost confidence in him.”

In some ways, Crocker has gone through a shooting slump similar to that of North Carolina’s Danny Green. But in the Tar Heels’ 98-77 win over Gonzaga, Green converted his first 3-point of the game and finished with 13 points and three 3s.

In Sunday’s regional title game (5:05 p.m. Eastern), Green likely will have the defensive assignment on Crocker. -- J.P. Giglio

Friday, March 27, 2009

Pick Four: Friday's third round

On the heels of a blistering 1-3 performance on Thursday, I figured you could use these picks to go the other way tonight. I like the Heels, but that might not be bad news UNC fans, I did get one right on Thursday (Pitt).

On with the games:

First round: 25-8. Second round: 13-3. Third round: 1-3

All games on CBS

South Regional

Syracuse (3) vs. Oklahoma (2)
@ Memphis
Time: 7:27

To beat Syracuse and its 2-3 zone, you have to hit 3s from the wings or the corner. If your point guard is your best 3-point shooter, and Willie Warren is for Oklahoma, it's tough to find shots because of the way Syracuse pressures the top of the zone.

Johnny Flynn and Eric Devendorf get all the press mileage for the Orange but forwards Rick Jackson and Arinze Onuake have the strength and size to relatively control Oklahoma's Blake Griffin.

Oklahoma's a two-man team and Syracuse's defense is designed to stop those two parts. That's bad news for OU. Pick: Syracuse

Gonzaga (4) vs. UNC (1)
@ Memphis
Time: 9:57

Gonzaga has some parts — namely point guard Jeremy Pargo, small forward Matt Bouldin and center Josh Heytvelt — but the Zags lack toughness and positive tournament experience. This group lost in the first round in 2007 and 2008.

Plus, the Zags just don't play enough defense. Western Kentucky scored 81 points on the Zags in the second round. How many do you think UNC will score? Pick: UNC

Midwest Regional

Arizona (12) vs. Louisville (1)
@ Indianapolis
Time: 7:07

Quick, name Arizona's coach. No cheating. His name is Russ Pennell and just last year he was working the radio broadcasts for Arizona State. That's like Duke asking Eric Montross to replace Mike Krzyzewski for a year.

There's no doubt Zona has talent — forward Jordan Hill projects as a top-5 pick in the next draft — but coaching plays a role. Rick Pitino has never lost in the Round of 16 (8-0). Pick: Louisville.

Kansas (3) vs. Michigan State (2)

@ Indianapolis
Time: 9:57

Is it me or should Kansas fans be thankful Roy Williams left for UNC? Bill Self won a title at Kansas, beating Roy Williams no less in last year's Final Four. He also one-upped Ol' Roy in his "year after" piecing together a patchwork roster and reaching the Sweet 16 (UNC lost in the second round in 2006). One thing is for sure, Self's teams play better defense than Ol' Roy's.

Can the Jayhawks out-halfcourt the master halfcourter, Michigan State's Tom Izzo? Sparty beat KU by 13 earlier this season in East Lansing. Closer this time but still the same result. Pick: Michigan State

-- J.P. Giglio

Heels getting ready

MEMPHIS — After breakfast and a couple of hours of free time, North Carolina began its standard basketball game-day routine with a midday light practice session and shoot-around in a Memphis area high school gym.

The favored Tar Heels (30-4) face Gonzaga (28-5) at approximately 9:57 p.m. Eastern time in a third-round NCAA Tournament game at the FedExForum. The winner will face the survivor of the other South Regional semifinal between Oklahoma (29-5) and Syracuse (28-9). That game will begin at 7:27 p.m. Eastern.

Tonight's winners will play for a Final Four berth on Sunday. Starting time for that game will be announced late tonight or Saturday by CBS-TV.

After the practice, the Tar Heels will return to their team hotel and have an early-afternoon academic study hall with tutors. The pre-game meal will be served in the hotel at approximately 5:30 p.m. Eastern.

There were no other team activities scheduled for Friday. Should Carolina win the game and advance to Sunday's round, the players and coaches could have enough free time Saturday to tour the city. Also on the Saturday agenda would be a formal practice period and a 30-minute media interview session. All practices today and later in the weekend are closed to the public and the media.

With Duke's third-round loss to Villanova on Thursday in Boston's East Regional, the Heels are the last ACC team remaining in the post-season mix.

Entering the Friday workout, there was no update on guard Ty Lawson's toe injury. -- Caulton Tudor

Curry on ESPN's PTI today

Davidson guard Stephen Curry will be a guest on ESPN's Pardon The Interruption at some point during the today's show, scheduled to air at 5:30 p.m.

The interview, which lasts about 5 minutes, touches on his struggle to decide whether to return for his senior year or enter the NBA draft, his thoughts about brother Seth's decision to transfer from Liberty and who he likes to win the NCAA Tournament.

The segment was taped earlier this afternoon.--Stan Olson

Keys to offseason improvement for Duke

BOSTON - There’s no disputing the fact that Duke’s 77-54 debacle at the hands of Villanova was an ugly way to finish the season.
It was the Blue Devils’ most lopsided NCAA Tournament loss since UNLV sent Duke home from the 1990 NCAA championship game with a 103-73 decision, and coach Mike Krzyzewski admitted afterward that he wished his team had played better.
Nonetheless, Duke did make strides this season. The team captured its first ACC title in three years and advanced to the regional semifinals for the first time since 2006, when J.J. Redick was a senior.
If the Blue Devils are going to continue improving, everybody in the program needs to make progress. Here are some things Duke’s guys can work on to get better during the offseason:

F Gerald Henderson: Make a good decision. Before the NCAA Tournament, first-team All-ACC selection Henderson seemed a good bet to forgo his senior season and leave for the NBA draft. By shooting a combined 11-for-44 in three NCAA Tournament games, he might have demonstrated he’s not ready for the NBA yet. His father, former Boston Celtic Gerald Sr., should be able to help him make the right choice.

G Jon Scheyer: Get stronger. If Duke moves forward with Scheyer at point guard rather than on the wing next season, he will need to be able to muscle his way into the lane better. He makes great decisions with the basketball, but he needs more than guile to make plays against athletic opponents.

F Kyle Singler. Develop more of a post-up game. Singler is big and strong enough to score over other power forwards with his back to the basket now. If Duke can work inside-out and outside-in with him, he will be even more effective.

F Lance Thomas. Practice the mid-range jump shot. Most opposing centers are strong enough to push Thomas off the block. If he could pull them away from the basket a bit with 15-foot jump shots, it would open up rebounding opportunities for the Blue Devils.

G Nolan Smith and G Elliot Williams. Work on ball handling. Both players have the athletic ability to be more dangerous on the dribble. Their development in this aspect will be much more important if Henderson decides not to return.

C Brian Zoubek. Get quicker. Anything Zoubek can do to increase his ability to move his feet faster will make him more of an asset, although he already made huge strides defensively this season. Of course, it’s a tall task to be quick at 7-foot-1.

F Miles Plumlee and F Olek Czyz. Become skillful. Both rising sophomores have big bodies and are athletic enough to help the Blue Devils. But they need to make strides in all aspects of their basketball skills – passing, ball handling and shooting – to make an impact.

Coach Mike Krzyzewski. Recruit, recruit, recruit. Krzyzewski himself said Duke needs a big-time post scorer and a point guard. The Blue Devils made the best of a roster with essentially a bunch of extremely talented wing players this season, but it’s no secret that point guard and center are the two most important positions in college basketball. Duke is a proud enough program to have excellent players at both positions. – Ken Tysiac

Star Wars: Only Heels can save ACC universe

After Duke's pathetic limp to the exit on Thursday night, John Swofford deployed the droids to Memphis with an urgent message for Roy Williams.

Indeed this is the ACC's most desperate hour and UNC's the only hope.

Two scenarios that seem to be unfolding:

1) The Big East builds the Death Star

Will the grin ever leave ACC critic and departing Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese's face if the Big East takes all four spots in the Final Four?

The East Regional is guaranted for the Big East, with either Pitt or Villanova headed to Detroit.

UConn dominated again on Thursday in the West Regional, dispatching Purdue. The Huskies have to beat upstart Missouri — the Tigers are Big 12 champs but still upstarts in this heavyweight tournament — to return to the Final Four for the first time since 2004.

Louisville, the No. 1 seed in the Midwest, has 12th-seeded Arizona — the highest/lowest seed left in the field — and the Kansas-Michigan State survivor in its way of a date in Detroit.

Syracuse, the No. 3 seed in the South, has the toughest path, but given how well the Orange is playing — and how well the conference is playing – it would be foolish to think Jim Boeheim couldn't pull off consecutive wins over Oklahoma and UNC.

With the right combination of wins, the Big East — and it's 14-2 in the NCAA Tournament — could have Louisville-UConn on one side of the bracket and Pitt (or Nova)-Syracuse on the other.

The conference sent three teams to the Final Four in 1985 (with Villanova beating Georgetown in the final) but there has never been an all-conference Final Four.

2) Luke Skywalker (UNC) blows up the Death Star

The Tar Heels need to win four more games to win the national title. It's possible three of those will have to be against Big East teams.

With the right combo, UNC's looking at Syracuse in the regional final; Pitt/Nova in the Final Four and UConn/Louisville in the title game.

Would the smile ever leave Swofford's face if his team beat three straight Big East teams and won the title as the outsider in a three-team Big East Final Four?

Or, of course, the Missouri student with the Perfect Bracket could be right and Mizzou could win it all.

Cohen should help keep Davidson atop SC

Davidson fans are still getting over their Southern Conference Tournament and NIT losses, but help is on the way in the form of 6-foot-10, 205-pound center Jake Cohen.

Cohen, an in-coming freshman who signed with the Wildcats out of Conestoga High in Berwyn, Pa., continues a recent trend of nationally-recruited players picking the Wildcats, for which some credit must go to junior guard Stephen Curry and the team's run to the Elite Eight a year ago.

Cohen had offers from a number of schools, including Stanford, Penn State, Northwestern, Nebraska and Penn, but visited Davidson, liked it and decided to come on down. On his visit, he spent considerable time with Curry.

"He played ball with us, so I've seen him play," Curry said this week. "I've seen a couple videos on the internet of his playoff games. He's supposed to be a dominant force. He kind of reminds me of Steve Rossiter the way he looks and the way he plays. If we can have two of those down there, that should be pretty good."

While Rossiter is hardly dominant, he is a solid complementary piece. And consider that he is 6-7, while Cohen is three inches taller. Cohen is a good passer from the high post, has a nice mid-range jumper and posts up well despite his lack of bulk. The latter problem can be eliminated in the weight room.

The Wildcats also hope to have 6-9 rising sophomore Frank Ben-Eze, recovering from a knee injury, in good health next season.

Ben-Eze helped establish the trend of big-time prospects picking Davidson--he had offers from Virginia Tech, Virginia, Georgia Tech and Marquette, among others.

The bottom line? If Curry turns pro, the Wildcats will still be a force in the Southern Conference. If he returns they should be better than this year, and back in the NCAA Tournament. --Stan Olson

ACC flops as Big East soars

BOSTON – After Villanova finished demolishing Duke on Thursday night, a reporter asked Wildcats coach Jay Wright how Big East commissioner Mike Tranghese would react to having two teams in the East Regional final in the NCAA Tournament.

Wright smiled, because March has been good to Tranghese. The Big East has followed through on its claims of college basketball superiority in this tournament.

On Thursday night, Villanova, Pittsburgh and Connecticut all advanced to regional finals. Louisville and Syracuse have a chance to join them if they can win regional semifinal games tonight.

“I don’t think he’s gloating or anything,” Wright said of Tranghese after Villanova’s 77-54 win. “But he always likes when his guys are successful. I think everybody in the Big East likes this.”

Nobody in the ACC likes this. The ACC finished the regular season atop the RPI, a mathematical formula that combines won-loss record and schedule quality to measure the relative strength of teams.

The Big East finished fourth in the RPI. For most of the season, coaches from both leagues tried to make the case that theirs was the best conference.

It seems the Big East’s and ACC’s NCAA Tournament results have settled that dispute. The seven ACC teams that reached the tournament are a combined 5-6, with only North Carolina still alive as it prepares to meet Gonzaga at 9:57 p.m. in today’s South Regional semifinals.

Since expanding to 12 schools before the 2005-06 season, the ACC has won 53.3 percent of its NCAA Tournament games, a 24-21 record. Before expansion, the ACC was 313-153 in its history for a 66.9 percent clip that led all Division I conferences.

Those are numbers that will make even the conference’s most enthusiastic backers cringe. Clearly something has changed in ACC basketball since expansion, and it’s not a change for the better.

Meanwhile, the conference that lost Boston College, Virginia Tech and Miami to the ACC is dominating the NCAA Tournament. If you’re Tranghese, who criticized the ACC as it took the three schools from the Big East, maybe you do gloat a little.

If you’re the ACC, maybe you stop trying to claim you’re still the best, and you start trying to figure out what you have to do to get better. – Ken Tysiac

Duke routed from NCAA tourney

The Big East is guaranteed one spot in the Final Four. After Villanova's romp of Duke on Thursday in the East Regional, it's just a question of which Big East team will advance to Detroit.

Villanova hit nine of its first 12 shots of the second half to break open a three-point halftime lead and bury the cold-shooting Blue Devils. The Wildcats squashed Duke 77-54 to set up a matchup with Pittsburgh in the regional final on Saturday.

Nova's aggressive defense, a mix of man and a three-quarter trap, reduced Duke's trio of Jon Scheyer, Kyle Singler and Gerald Henderson to the "Little Three."

Henderson, Duke's leading scorer, missed his first 11 shots from the field and finished 1 of 14 with seven points. The junior wing didn't score until hitting two free throws with 1:10 left in the first half.

He wasn't the only Duke player who couldn't shoot. The Blue Devils made only 5 of 25 from 3-point range and 16 of 58 from the field.

Reggie Redding's 3-pointer at 8:44 pushed Nova's advantage to 56-40.

Scheyer responded with a 3 on the next possession but it was a fleeting hope for the Blue Devils who have lost in the round of 16 seven times this decade.

Scheyer finished with 13 points and Singler led the team wth 15. Duke ends the season at 30-7.

Guard Scottie Reynolds led a balanced Nova scoring effort with 16 points.

Pitt (1) beat Xavier (4) 60-55 in the first game, giving the Big East three of the four decided spots in the Elite Eight. The Big East improved to 14-2 in the tournament while the ACC fell to 5-6 with only UNC left.

The Big East still has a shot at all four Final Four spots.

On an officiating note, either the NCAA reads ACC Now (and has a sense of humor) or the luck of the random draw reunited Karl Hess and J.D. Collins — two-thirds of the officiating crew from the infamous Duke-FSU game in Durham on March 3.

-- J.P. Giglio

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Blue Devils on verge of being bounced

The combination of Duke's cold shooting in the first half and Villanova's hot shooting in the second, has Duke on the verge of leaving the NCAA Tournament.

Villanova leads the Blue Devils 49-33 with 11:44 left in the second half of the East Regional semifinal in Boston.

The Wildcats have hit nine of their first 12 shots in the second half — after Duke went 7 of 24 in the first half.

Nova (10 of 29) didn't shoot much better in the first half but seized control of the game with its aggressive with its man defense. The Wildcats have forced Duke into bad shots or rushed shots at the end of the shot clock.

Gerald Henderson, Duke's leading scorer, is 0-for-7 from the field with two points. The junior wing didn't score until hitting two free throws with 1:10 left in the first half.

Forward Dante Cunningham leads a balanced Nova scoring effort with nine points.

Jon Scheyer, 2 of 12, leads Duke with nine points.

Pitt (1) beat Xavier (4) 60-55 in the first game in the East Regional in Boston and awaits the Duke-Nova winner in the regional final.

On an officiating note, either the NCAA reads ACC Now (and has a sense of humor) or the luck of the random draw reunited Karl Hess and J.D. Collins — two-thirds of the officiating crew from the infamous Duke-FSU game in Durham on March 3.

Villanova leading Duke at half

Duke has made a habit of shooting poorly in the first half this season. For the most part, the Blue Devils were been able to get away with it against the ACC.

The slow start could cost the Devils their season against Villanova in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Devils have made just seven of their first 24 shots and trail Villanova, 26-23 at halftime of the East Regional semifinal in Boston.

No. 3 Nova (10 of 29) hasn't shot much better but has been aggressive with its man defense and forced Duke into bad shots or rushed shots at the end of the shot clock.

Gerald Henderson, Duke's leading scorer, is 0-for-5 from the field with two points. The junior wing hit two free throws with 1:10 left for his first points.

Forward Dante Cunningham leads a balanced Nova scoring effort with seven points.

Jon Scheyer, 1-of-7, leads Duke with seven points.

Pitt (1) beat Xavier (4) 60-55 in the first game in the East Regional in Boston and awaits the Duke-Nova winner in the regional final.

On an officiating note, either the NCAA reads ACC Now (and has a sense of humor) or the luck of the random draw reunited Karl Hess and J.D. Collins — two-thirds of the officiating crew from the infamous Duke-FSU game in Durham on March 3.

Duke starts off cold, trails 'Nova

Duke has made a habit of shooting poorly in the first half this season. For the most part, the Blue Devils were been able to get away with it against the ACC.

The slow start could cost the Devils their season against Villanova in the third round of the NCAA Tournament.

The Devils have made just seven of their first 24 shots and trail Villanova, 26-23 at halftime of the East Regional semifinal in Boston.

No. 3 Nova (10 of 29) hasn't shot much better but has been aggressive with its man defense and forced Duke into bad shots or rushed shots at the end of the shot clock.

Gerald Henderson, Duke's leading scorer, is 0-for-5 from the field with two points. The junior wing hit two free throws with 1:10 left for his first points.

Forward Dante Cunningham leads a balanced Nova scoring effort with seven points.

Jon Scheyer, 1-of-7, leads Duke with seven points.

Pitt (1) beat Xavier (4) 60-55 in the first game in the East Regional in Boston and awaits the Duke-Nova winner in the regional final.

On an officiating note, either the NCAA reads ACC Now (and has a sense of humor) or the luck of the random draw reunited Karl Hess and J.D. Collins — two-thirds of the officiating crew from the infamous Duke-FSU game in Durham on March 3.

-- J.P. Giglio

Gonzaga eyes underdog role

MEMPHIS — Oddsmakers have made Gonzaga an 8-point underdog against North Carolina in Friday’s South Regional semifinal game in the FedEx Forum.

That fact has not escaped the attention of the Bulldog players. Among the final 16 teams, only Arizona against Louisville is considered more of a long shot to advance.

“It’s kind of nice to be the underdog,” said Zags senior center Josh Heytvelt. “Most of the season, we’ve had the bull’s eye on our back ... There’s just a lot of hype for Carolina. Their fans don’t expect anything less than a championship from those guys.”

When the two teams last met, Gonzaga took an 82-74 win in the Preseason NIT during the 2006-07 season. Carolina star Tyler Hansbrough’s performance in that game (9 points, 9 rebounds, 3 turnovers) was one of his least productive ever. It was due largely to the defensive work of the 6-11, 260-pound Heytvelt, who thinks that experience could work in his favor Friday.

“I had to go into that game with a chip on my shoulder,” Heytvelt said. “You have to make up your mind to match his intensity out there. That gave some confidence, but it’ll take even more this time.”

The Zags aren’t about to back down on the point guard issue, either.

Syracuse’s Jonny Flynn and Carolina’s Ty Lawson are among the top two rated playmakers in the country, and Oklahoma freshman Willie Warren, who averages 14.7 points, sometimes mans the point for his team. But Gonzaga senior Jeremy Pargo (10.1 ppg, 5.0 assists) has plenty of fans.

“It’s for sure I wouldn’t trade him for any of the other point guards here, and I know there are some great ones,” said teammate Matt Bouldin. “We’ve played [against Lawson and Flynn]. I would not make that trade for Jeremy.”

Bulldog coach Mark Few was a little less bold when talking about the Lawson vs. Pargo match. At 220 pounds, Pargo still has plenty of quickness. But in good health, the 195-pound Lawson usually covers floor space in split-seconds.

“That speed at which Lawson can play is something that we really have to be concerned about,” Few said. “Lots of good teams and players have tried to deal with him, but not very many have had that much success.”-- Caulton Tudor

Capel stays on topic

MEMPHIS — While there's at least a reasonable chance that Oklahoma's Jeff Capel will someday coach an ACC basketball program, the former Duke player didn't sound much like a jumper Thursday.

A day before the Sooners’ South Regional semifinal against Syracuse, Capel was predictably on topic and doing nothing to create unrest in his team’s locker room.

Asked what he likes most about Norman, aside from the money, wins, fans and players, Capel quickly went to his Fayetteville roots.

“The people,” he said. “I mean, it actually reminds me of North Carolina. People are all very friendly. They’re just good people and people you enjoy being around ... that’s really important to me.”

But pressed on the memories of his days in the ACC, Capel did sound a bit homesick at times.
“Growing up in North Carolina, everything revolved around basketball,” he said. “The first things I remember, it was all about the sport, but I did grow up in a coach’s home. ...

“One of my proudest memories was my senior season at Duke, when we came back from a lot of tough times to win the ACC regular-season championship. I had been the guy who was blamed for the demise of Duke basketball. My senior year, I got benched early in the season. But in the end that season, I felt like I contributed to our finish.”

With Virginia in need of a coach, Capel is frequently mentioned as a possible target. And when the season ends for the Sooners, there could be reason to look around.

The team’s top player, Blake Griffin, is expected to enter the NBA Draft and freshman guard star Willie Warren could go along. Two other starters _ Taylor Griffin and Austin Johnson _ are seniors. It’s possible that the only returning starter for ‘09-’10 will be junior guard Tony Crocker. -- Caulton Tudor

Heels popular with N.C. swimsuit model Decker

Brooklyn Decker is a big UNC fan.

The SI swimsuit model, and Matthews product, joined Dan Patrick on Thursday to talk brackets, the Tar Heels and supermodels.

What? Couldn't post a link without a picture. -- J.P. Giglio

(At right: Decker arrives at a launch party for the 2009 Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue Feb. 12, 2009 in Las Vegas, Nev. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images for Sports Illustrated)

Lawson a '6'

Update No. 12,325 (or at least it seems like it) on UNC point guard Ty Lawson's jammed right big toe: It has not improved much since Update No. 12,323 or 12,324.

"I went up to him this morning, and said on a scale of 1 to 10, how was it yesterday?" said coach Roy Williams. "He said about a 8. How is it today? About a 6. I said how was it Saturday before the LSU game? He said about an 8.

"That's not encouraging to me. It's just something that's taking a long, long time to heal."

Nonetheless, both Williams and Lawson expect that the point guard will play against Gonzaga on Friday in the NCAA regional semi-finals. -- Robbi Pickeral

Pining for 2005 with Pack, ACC reeling

BOSTON – Make no mistake, this is a great week to be covering college basketball for the Charlotte Observer and Raleigh News & Observer with Duke and North Carolina playing highly anticipated NCAA regional semifinal games on consecutive nights.

But as I wait (and wait, and wait) for Duke’s 9:57 p.m. tipoff tonight against Villanova, I can’t help but be nostalgic about 2005. I don’t have a dog in this fight. I graduated from Notre Dame and don’t care who wins or loses.

But at this stage in 2005, the Triangle was abuzz about college basketball in a way that I haven’t seen before or since. Because N.C. State was in the Sweet 16 along with Duke and North Carolina.

Wolfpack fans are a passionate bunch, and it’s great to see them excited about something. But the 2005 NCAA Tournament captured in a nutshell the quandary of former coach Herb Sendek.

He got them to the Sweet 16 with a well-executed upset of Connecticut, then got ahead of Wisconsin in Syracuse. But then the Badgers, who might have been the only team in the tournament with an offense more boring than Sendek’s, bounced back and won 65-56.

Instead of playing North Carolina in the regional final, Sendek was going home. In many ways, it had been a great season for the Wolfpack, but it wasn’t nearly enough for the fans, especially when the Tar Heels went on to win the NCAA title.

For me, that Final Four was fun to cover because the most outstanding player, Sean May, was one of my favorite athletes to work with as a reporter. Because of his injury problems, May hasn’t had a good NBA career with the Bobcats, but he was a fantastic college low-block scorer, a class act with a great sense of humor.

For N.C. State fans, that Final Four must have been agonizing. Sendek is done torturing them now and followed a pattern familiar to them with a second-round NCAA exit at Arizona State this season.

Now they face a new kind of torture. Sidney Lowe, a coach whose legacy they love as the point guard of the 1983 NCAA championship team, hasn’t even come close to the kind of production Sendek provided. And with the roster N.C. State has returning, next season doesn’t appear especially promising.

As for Duke and North Carolina, there is a lot of pressure on both this week to make a big statement on behalf of the ACC. Boston College may be the top basketball draw in town, but this still is Big East country in many ways with its proximity to Connecticut and New York.

The consensus here is that five ACC teams failed to make it past the second round of the NCAA Tournament because the ACC just isn’t tough enough. The ACC is carrying on the legacy of beautiful basketball that’s been established through the years with high-flying players such as David Thompson and Michael Jordan.

Roy Williams runs a gorgeous fast break at North Carolina that relies on speed rather than bulk. Duke rains 3-pointers on opponents but doesn’t have much power in the post.

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski offered a plausible explanation for the ACC’s troubles this week when he said recent newcomers to the NCAA Tournament from the league (think Clemson and Wake Forest) may just need a year or two to get accustomed to the tournament in order to advance.

But it seems to me that the toughness theory rings true. And that’s a shame. If I want to watch forearm shivers, I can watch football. I’m not really into gymnastics, so I watch basketball to see style and grace, which is disappearing from the game.

If only it were 2005 again. – Ken Tysiac

Duke-Villanova: Five things to watch

BOSTON – The last time Duke won an NCAA Tournament regional semifinal game, J.J. Redick was a sophomore and Larry Brown – not Mike Krzyzewski – was preparing to coach Team USA in the Olympics in 2004.

Opportunities like the Blue Devils have tonight just don’t come around all the time, even for a program as proud as Duke. Can the Blue Devils make the most of this chance?

Perhaps. Here are five things to watch when No. 2 seed Duke (30-6) meets No. 3 Villanova (28-7) at 9:57 p.m. today in the NCAA Tournament’s East Regional:

1. Scottie Reynolds’ production. Villanova’s honorable mention All-Big East guard holds the key to the Wildcats’ fortunes. He’s averaging 16.2 points with 100 assists and 61 turnovers in Villanova’s 28 wins.

In seven losses, he averaged 10.9 points with 21 assists and 32 turnovers. Duke will have to count on some combination of Elliot Williams, Nolan Smith and Jon Scheyer to slow him down.

2. Duke’s 3-point percentage.
The Blue Devils have made at least 40 percent of their 3-point attempts in each of their postseason games, going 5-0.

This team relies on perimeter shooting because it’s not a great team attacking the basket unless forwards Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler find an advantage on the drive.

Villanova’s opponents have shot 33.9 percent from 3-point range this season. If the Wildcats hold Duke below 36 percent, the Blue Devils could be in trouble.

3. Defense on Cunningham. Duke needs to be able to defend Villanova forward Dante Cunningham with somebody other than Kyle Singler, who’s the Blue Devils’ second-best scorer.

Cunningham has the ability to get Singler in foul trouble, which is why defensive specialists Lance Thomas and Dave McClure need to handle him. Their play will be important as Duke tries to protect Singler.

4. Villanova’s bench boost. If the Wildcats don’t score early, they bring guards Corey Fisher (10.9 ppg) and Corey Stokes (9.7) off the bench for instant offense.

Duke doesn’t have that kind of scoring ability coming off the bench and will have to be aware of the boost Fisher and Stokes can give Villanova.

5. Gerald Henderson’s field goal percentage. Henderson, Duke’s leading scorer, is shooting 33.3 percent (10-for-30) from the field during the NCAA Tournament.

Numbers like that will get you past teams seeded No. 15 (Binghamton) and No. 7 (Texas) in Greensboro. They won’t help much against No. 3 seed Villanova in Big East country.- Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Davidson's Curry recruiting brother Seth

Liberty freshman guard Seth Curry's decision to transfer -- after averaging 20.2 points a game -- has most certainly set off a feeding frenzy among the larger schools in the Southeast. Curry has made it clear that he would like to play on a higher level than the Big South Conference offers.

Older brother Stephen, currently making a decision of his own on whether to turn pro or return for his senior season, would like to help Seth with his choice.

"Davidson is one (of Seth's possible schools)," Curry said this afternoon. "I'm going to try to recruit him hard, try to finish the job I started when he was in high school two years ago. But we'll have to see where he feels comfortable and where his heart is."

If Seth picked the Wildcats, the two would not be able to play together next year should Stephen decide to return. The NCAA's transfer rule will force the younger Curry to sit out a season.

Stephen, who didn't find out his sibling was transferring until Monday, said he knew that Seth already has a pile of offers, but wasn't sure which schools are in the hunt. Most likely, a number of ACC and SEC programs, and also some Big East schools.

"That was his goal in high school," Stephen Curry said. "It's every kid's dream to go to that kind of level. And now he has plenty of opportunities to do that. I wouldn't be surprised if he did; I wouldn't be surprised if we got him here. It's pretty much up in the air right now.

"He can go pretty much where he wants to at this point."

-- Stan Olson

Duke's national allure lands top scorers

BOSTON - If nothing else, Wednesday's media session reinforced the notion of Duke's ability to wrestle top players throughout the nation away from their home-state schools in recruiting.

The four teams in the East regional held interviews and open practices in preparation for Thursday night’s Sweet 16 games. Duke meets Villanova, whose coach, Jay Wright, spoke fondly of Gerald Henderson.

When Henderson was 9 or 10 years old, his father introduced him to Wright and told him that some day Wright would coach Gerald at Hofstra. Wright’s children went to high school at the Episcopal Academy near Philadelphia with Henderson, and Henderson’s sister attended Villanova.

“Duke just ended up being the right place,” Henderson said Wednesday. “Coach (Mike) Krzyzewski and his vision for me as a player was something that was really intriguing to me.”

Guard Jon Scheyer grew up in the suburbs of Chicago and was coached at Glenbrook North High by Dave Weber – the brother of Illinois coach Bruce Weber. Scheyer said he felt a lot of pressure at home once Krzyzewski started recruiting him.

He had always liked Duke, and grew up idolizing former Glenbrook North standout Chris Collins – who played at Duke and recruited Scheyer as an assistant for the Blue Devils.

“Obviously my coach being the brother, that was something where there’s really a unique situation,” Scheyer said. “But luckily my high school coach was a great guy, he was really understanding and just wanted to do what was best for me. And so in the end I was going to Duke.”

Throw in the fact that forward Kyle Singler’s father and mother played football and basketball, respectively, at Oregon State, and Krzyzewski broke a lot of significant ties to land the three best players on this team.

“Because we’re a national school, our school plucks good people in different parts of the country,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s what a national school does.”

Wright sees big future for King at Villanova

BOSTON – Villanova coach Jay Wright envisions an important role for forward Taylor King with the Wildcats some day.

King, a transfer from Duke, won’t be able to play when the Blue Devils meet Villanova at 9:57 p.m. Thursday because he is sitting out one season in accordance with NCAA rules for transfers.
As a freshman last season for Duke, he averaged 5.5 points in 9.7 minutes per game.

“He will help us,” Wright said during Wednesday’s media session. “He’s a tremendous competitor, outstanding shooter and he loves to play. He’s in the gym all the time. Those kind of guys usually do pretty well for us.”

King did not attend Wednesday’s practice and media session because of class obligations. But Wright expects King to catch a ride to Boston with a friend in time for Thursday night’s game.

Some of King’s former Duke teammates still keep in touch with him. Duke guard Nolan Smith said that after the NCAA bracket was announced on Selection Sunday, King told him he was looking forward to a potential Sweet 16 meeting.

Duke assistant coach Chris Collins said King, who’s a strong 3-point shooter at forward, helped the Blue Devils win some games with his scoring punch off the bench last season.

“Certainly we were disappointed (when he decided to leave),” Collins said. “For him, he wanted a little bigger role and a little different situation, so we tried to help him the best we could in finding Villanova. But there’s no ill will, and we appreciate what he brought to us while he was here.” – Ken Tysiac

Ex-Pack aide Miller faces alma mater in Sweet 16

BOSTON - Former N.C. State assistant coach Sean Miller has one of the most intriguing matchups in the Sweet 16.

Miller, who coaches Xavier, meets his alma mater in Thursday’s 7:27 p.m. opener at the East Regional. He played and has been an assistant coach at Pittsburgh, which is the No. 1 regional seed.

He graduated from Pittsburgh in 1992 and is a member of the school’s All-Centennial team, which honored its best players from 1905 to 2005.

“Pitt has (been) a special place for me,” said Miller, who was the first coach at the podium during Wednesday’s interview sessions. “. . .Like so many former student-athletes, you look back at your experience and mine was amazing. Some of my strongest relationships, including my wife, stem from my time at Pitt, and several of my teammates will be at the game. What side they will be on, I don’t know, until the tipoff.”

Xavier has made steady improvement under Miller’s guidance. After failing to make the NCAA Tournament in 2005, the Musketeers have reached the first round in 2006, the Sweet 16 the following year and the Elite Eight last year.

Miller credits that to the balance in Xavier’s classes, as steady groups of seniors have led the team each season. He said the team’s success in the NCAA Tournament has opened doors to recruits of a quality Xavier would not have been able to approach in the past.

He said he believes the Musketeers have shed the label of “mid-major” that comes from their association with the Atlantic 10, which doesn’t get as much exposure as conferences such as the ACC and Big East.

“It’s about the NCAA Tournament,” Miller said. “Can you get there? Can you advance?. . .We can recruit a high-level student-athlete right now.” – Ken Tysiac

Davidson's Matheny a coaching target?

Matt Metheny, Davidson's associate head coach, has had his name pop up in the middle of several on-going coaching searches, the by-product of the Wildcats' recent and continued success.

The latest mention has been Appalachian State, but a source close to the proceedings said that the Mountaineers are likely to go in a different direction. But that hardly means that Matheny is unwanted--Elon, the source said, has shown considerable interest in Matheny recently.

Matheny is 39 now, and a Davidson grad who has been working with head coach Bob McKillop for 16 seasons. He's ready to take the next step, but is probably considering whether Elon, a school with a limited profile and resources, is right for him.

In any event, expect him to get a team of his own somewhere, and sometime soon.--Stan Olson

Will Roy Williams spit or roll the bones?

CHAPEL HILL — Roy Williams has made a habit of spitting in the Mississippi River for luck during the NCAA tournament -- he did it in 1982 as an assistant coach, when the Tar Heels won the national championship in New Orleans, and again in 2005, when he led UNC to his first national title as a head coach in St. Louis.

So will he do it this week, when North Carolina plays the Sweet 16 in Memphis?

"I'll have to look back on it and see if I've been successful,'' he said. "St Louis -- that one worked pretty good. Yeah, probably."

His real conundrum is whether to add a new superstition — and throw of the dice — to the mix.

"I'm just trying to think if I should go shoot craps,'' he said. "I shot craps in Detroit [earlier this season], and we played pretty well against Michigan State. Shot craps in Reno and we won. And Tunica's 30 miles south of Memphis, so I've got to decide that. Somebody will say, 'Oh, you shouldn't be doing that.' But I don't sleep anyways, so I might as well do something."

Redick congratulates Hansbrough on record

CHAPEL HILL — Orlando Magic guard J.J. Redick called UNC's Tyler Hansbrough on Friday to congratulate the forward on breaking his ACC career scoring record.

"It was a little awkward, because I've never talked to J.J. very much; I don't really know him well,'' Hansbrough said. "But when you have a great college player like that who calls you, who's accomplished a lot, you just beat a record -- it just means a lot. And to just kind of push away the Duke-UNC thing, to try to get over that, it was a little difficult, but it was something you have to grow up and do sometimes."

Redick also told Hansbrough he figured before the season that the record would fall, and wished the senior the best of luck. The Tar Heels play Gonzaga in the NCAA regional semifinals on Friday.

— Robbi Pickeral

Duke, Villanova: Mirror images

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski was asked Monday to name the team the Blue Devils have played that reminds him of NCAA regional semifinal opponent Villanova.

He thought for a moment, but couldn’t come up with anybody. That’s because Villanova resembles Duke more than any other team in the ACC.
“They are very similar in that they can score from all their positions,” Krzyzewski said. “They like to drive. They give their players the ability to make plays.”

The numbers for forwards Dante Cunningham (16.3 ppg, 7.3 ppg) of Villanova and Kyle Singler (16.5 ppg, 7.7 ppg) of Duke are almost eerily similar. So are the teams’ scoring averages (77.0 ppg for Villanova, 78.1 ppg for Duke) and defensive numbers (67.1 ppg for Villanova, 65.6 ppg for Duke).

The good thing for Duke in this matchup is that Villanova doesn’t appear to have a big post player who’s capable of dominating the game against the Blue Devils’ smallish front line. The bad news for Duke is that Villanova doesn’t appear to have a big post player whom the Blue Devils can draw away from the basket with a small lineup.

“They play the three or four guards just like we do,” said Duke guard Nolan Smith. “It will be a good matchup.”

There are subtle differences between the two teams. Villanova likes to run its offense through guard Scottie Reynolds while Duke turns to a small forward Gerald Henderson to penetrate and create.

Villanova also has two guys averaging about 10 points per game (guards Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes) coming off the bench. Duke’s bench is known more for its defense.

“Fisher and Stokes have really been scoring the ball well,” Krzyzewski said. “They’re deep and they’re really good. They’re just a hard team to defend.”

With so many similarities between the teams, coaching might make the difference Thursday night in Boston. That’s where Duke fans will have to hope Krzyzewski’s experience pulls their team through against Villanova’s Jay Wright, who’s one of the hottest young names in the business but doesn’t yet possess Krzyzewski’s pedigree. – Ken Tysiac

An offseason improvement plan for N.C. State

Now that Brandon Costner and Trevor Ferguson have decided not to return as seniors next season, it’s time for N.C. State to get to work without them and without 2008-09 seniors Ben McCauley and Courtney Fells.

The returning players have a lot to work on if N.C. State plans to improve on its 16-14 overall record and 6-10 ACC mark from 2008-09. Here is a brief offseason plan listing what should be the most important development priority for all the scholarship players on the roster, plus coach Sidney Lowe:

C Tracy Smith: A jump shot. If Smith can learn to score on 12- to 14-foot jumpers rather than just with his back to the basket, he will be much more effective in the post. He ought to particularly work on the same baseline shot McCauley developed last season.

F Dennis Horner: Nerves of steel. Horner was one of N.C. State’s best free throw shooters until the closing minutes of tight games. As a potential starter, he will be in position to shoot more key free throws next season.

G C.J. Williams: A pull-up jumper. Williams improved immensely as a catch-and-shoot scorer last season as a freshman. The next step will be to develop as a slasher, and a pull-up jump shot will help him do that.

F Johnny Thomas: A baseline game. Thomas, who’s N.C. State’s best athlete, has an opportunity to gain huge minutes next season and stands to benefit most from the departures of Costner and Ferguson. He isn’t much of a scorer, though, and could make a huge impact if he can score on baseline drives and jump shots.

G Javi Gonzalez, G Farnold Degand, G Julius Mays: Consistency. At their best, any one of these players is capable of being an ACC-caliber point guard. Problem is, not a single one of these guys stays at his best for any appreciable length of time. Coach Sidney Lowe would love for one of them to seize the reigns this summer.

G Lorenzo Brown, F Richard Howell, G Scott Wood, F Josh Davis: Maturity beyond their years. At least two of N.C. State’s freshmen are going to have to contribute immediately. Brown and Howell in particular need to be ready for vital roles if this team is to have any chance of reaching postseason play.

Coach Sidney Lowe: A new plan. Whatever success N.C. State had last season came as a result of Lowe’s introducing a big lineup with Smith, Costner and McCauley on the floor early in ACC play. The Wolfpack doesn’t have the bodies up front to play big anymore.

That would make a fast tempo a logical option, but with three shaky point guards that could lead to a lot of unforced errors. Then again, maybe N.C. State will be better off getting the ball out of the hands of those point guards quickly rather than waiting for them to make mistakes in a half-court offense.

Whatever the case, Lowe has his hands full coming up with a blueprint for success this summer. – Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Losing Costner big blow to N.C. State

After Brandon Costner slumped at the end of last season, some N.C. State fans hinted that the team might have been better without him if he didn’t return as a senior.

Nothing could be further from the truth. Losing its leading scorer in addition to seniors Ben McCauley and Courtney Fells was a significant blow for a team that finished 16-14, and 6-10 in the ACC.

When you look at the roster the Wolfpack has returning, it’s impossible to deduce that the team will be better off without Costner and reserve guard Trevor Ferguson, who also is leaving.

In the frontcourt, Tracy Smith is developing into a strong low-post scorer and Dennis Horner demonstrated promise at the end of last season. But N.C. State will be counting on freshman Richard Howell to add depth as three players rotate in the two post positions. That’s just enough talent to get by, but still one injury away from a crisis.

At point guard and the wings, though, N.C. State won’t have anybody who’s averaged more than seven points a game in a college season. Sophomores C.J. Williams and Johnny Thomas will have to play small forward, perhaps with help from Howell. Athens Drive’s Josh Davis, who committed to N.C. State on Monday, might take a year or two to develop into a contributor in ACC play.

At point guard N.C. State will have the same players (Javi Gonzalez, Farnold Degand, Julius Mays) who struggled in 2007-08. Lorenzo Brown of Roswell, Ga., the top recruit in the Wolfpack’s class, might play both point guard and shooting guard. And freshman Scott Wood could get into the rotation at shooting guard, where Williams might also be a factor.

As a whole, this roster will not scare North Carolina when it gets off the bus next season at the Smith Center. Against the rest of the ACC, N.C. State might hold up OK because there is a lot of backcourt talent leaving from the traditional middle-of-the-pack schools.

Toney Douglas, Tyrese Rice and Jack McClinton all were seniors, and there’s no guarantee Maryland’s Greivis Vasquez will return for his senior season. But hoping the competition falls back to N.C. State’s level is not a where the Wolfpack hoped to be in Sidney Lowe’s fourth season.

Coach Sidney Lowe’s incoming recruiting class might turn out to be his best yet. But the members of his past classes will be sophomores and juniors next season comprising the bulk of N.C. State’s roster. Lowe’s initial difficulties gaining a foothold as a recruiter after coming to N.C. State from the NBA look like they will come home to roost next season. – Ken Tysiac

Krzyzewski: 'I'm so happy'

Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski’s hand in front of his face told the whole story Saturday night.

While seated in front of the microphones at the Greensboro Coliseum, he was trying to hide his ear-to-ear grin as he watched Duke players Jon Scheyer, Gerald Henderson and Kyle Singler explain how it felt to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament.

Thursday’s 9:57 p.m. game against Villanova in Boston will be Duke’s first regional semifinal game since 2006. Krzyzewski, who has coached in 10 Final Fours in 28 previous seasons at Duke, is thrilled to see the current team’s joy at reaching a point that’s still two wins short of the Final Four.

“I’m just smiling because I’m so happy for these kids,” Krzyzewski said Monday, explaining his own feelings Saturday night. “Because that’s the first time they’ve been able to do that. And for me, that’s something I’ve gotten over the years watching Johnny Dawkins be able to do that. Or Grant Hill. Everyone thinks it’s, go to Duke, get that free pass. And it doesn’t work that way. It never works that way. And I love my team.”

Krzyzewski said Duke’s players aren’t trying to prove their critics wrong, and they’re not trying to measure up to the accomplishments of past Duke teams. Players on other Duke teams might have felt pressure to reach the Final Four, and they might have been satisfied with nothing less.

A short drive down Route 15/501 in Chapel Hill, Duke’s rivals at North Carolina probably won’t be happy if they don’t reach the Final Four. But these Duke players have been thrilled to get to the Sweet 16, and their coach is savoring their reaction.

“I think it’s a neat thing, because it’s refreshing,” Krzyzewski said. “It’s fun. Our kids were so happy the past two weekends. I mean, true happiness. I love it.” – Ken Tysiac