Friday, February 29, 2008

Davidson fans should root for Cougars

One of Davidson's biggest rivals in the Southern Conference has been the College of Charleston, but Wildcat fans would be wise to cheer for the Cougars Saturday.

Charleston hosts Furman, and a win would guarantee the Cougars at least the No.7 seed in the Southern Conference tournament.

That's important for Davidson for two reasons.

1. It means Davidson, the No.1 seed, wouldn't have to play Charleston until the finals. It might not be a big deal anyway - Davidson dominated the Cougars in both previous meetings, winning by at least 18 points in both games. But, Charleston is the only Southern Conference team that can create a home-court advantage against the Wildcats in the tournament, and the rest of the league is floundering. Georgia Southern is the only other team besides Davidson to have a winning record in its last 10 games.

2. By avoiding Charleston, Davidson will get a favorable tournament schedule. The Southern Conference allows tournament hosts such as Charleston to dictate the schedule - or at least be guaranteed the slots that will bring in the highest attendance. Charleston is going to play during the night session March 7 and 8 (Davidson has a bye until the 8th). So, if Davidson is on the other side of the bracket, the Wildcats would play at 2 p.m. Saturday and get the maximum rest it needs. If not, Davidson would face a later game, and have less rest than teams that finished below the Wildcats in the standings.

-- Kevin Cary

Winthrop faces big obstacle to top seed

A big man will come to Rock Hill for a big game Saturday as Winthrop plays host to UNC Asheville in both teams’ Big South regular season finale.

The winner will receive the No. 1 seed and home-court advantage for the Big South tournament. Winthrop (19-10, 10-3 Big South) will have to contend with 7-foot-7 center Kenny George, who is averaging 12.6 points and 6.8 rebounds for the Bulldogs (20-8, 9-4).
“There isn’t anybody like him in college basketball and very few like him have ever played the game,” said UNC Asheville coach Eddie Biedenbach. “He’s just bigger than everybody, and he’s a pretty good basketball player on top of that.”

Biedenbach would prefer that the Big South tournament were played on a neutral court like the ACC, SEC and other tournaments. But the way the tournament is set up could benefit the Bulldogs.

The home sites create the need for a travel day to be built in after the quarterfinals and semifinals (though the semis and finals can be at the same site if the No. 1 seed reaches the finals).

That day in between games benefits George, who would have difficulty running the court on consecutive days. That’s why it’s especially important for Winthrop to win and secure the homecourt advantage.
– Ken Tysiac

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Without Lawson, other Tar Heels improve

North Carolina is 6-1 in the ACC point guard Ty Lawson played and 5-1 in ACC games he has missed because of a sprained left ankle.

Coach Roy Williams said Thursday that’s a testament to the way Lawson’s teammates have improved since his injury.

“The kids take some ownership when I say, ‘We’re not going to have Ty, so you’ve got to play better,’ ” Williams said.

Obviously Lawson’s replacement, Quentin Thomas, plays a role in that. He has added about five points to his scoring average with Lawson out.

Tyler Hansbrough has scored at least 23 points in every game Lawson has missed and has scored more than 30 twice in Lawson’s absence. North Carolina has improved its defense and its halfcourt offense since Lawson was hurt.

Despite that, Williams has no doubt North Carolina will be a better team when Lawson returns. There’s a chance Lawson will play a few minutes Saturday at Boston College.

Williams said the team will have to adjust again, but said Lawson can help the Tar Heels score the easy fast-break baskets Williams believes are critical in the NCAA tournament.

“We haven’t gotten nearly as many easy ones as you get with Ty,” Williams said. “. . .I still think when you get down to tournament play, you’ve got to get some easy ones.”

Location, location, location?

A lot of North Carolina fans would love to see the Tar Heels in Charlotte for the East Regional if they can win their first two NCAA tournament games.

Williams said Thursday that he cares more about how his team plays than where his team plays.

“Some people may really look at it (site assignments) and think it’s important,” Williams said Thursday during his weekly news conference. “I try to focus on something that I can have a little bit of say in, and that’s how my team is playing. I don’t look at those things.”

Williams mentioned that in 1995 while he was coaching Kansas, everybody told him how great it would be to play in a regional in Kansas City. Playing in front of Kansas fans didn’t seem so important after Virginia upset the top-seeded Jayhawks.

Syracuse ordinarily wouldn’t be atop Williams’ list of places to visit, but he believes it’s a great place because the Tar Heels defeated Villanova and Wisconsin there to reach the Final Four on the way to the 2005 NCAA title.

“If they send my butt to Slippery Rock and we’re going to win two (games), I’m for it,” Williams said.

– Ken Tysiac

Wolfpack needs more Trevor Fergusons

Some thoughts after Wednesday night’s games:

Coach Mike Krzyzewski, who will visit the RBC Center with Duke on Saturday, said N.C. State has a lot of talent, and he’s right.

You won’t find many teams with as strong a collection as J.J. Hickson, Gavin Grant, Courtney Fells, Ben McCauley, Brandon Costner and Tracy Smith at the positions other than point guard.
That’s why it’s mystifying that Trevor Ferguson – perhaps the team’s least athletic player – led the team with 17 points against Florida State after posting a career-high 11 points Sunday at Virginia.

If everybody else on the team played as hard as Ferguson, N.C. State wouldn’t have six losses in a row that have put the Wolfpack in danger of missing the NIT.

That’s right. If N.C. State loses its final two ACC games to Duke and Wake Forest, and then falls in the first round of the ACC tournament, it will finish 15-16 – short of the .500 overall record necessary for NIT consideration.

That would be an incredible disappointment for a team picked third in the ACC preseason media poll.

- Duke (24-3, 11-2 ACC) and North Carolina (26-2, 11-2) are on a collision course for one of the most significant regular season meetings in the history of the storied series.

If both teams win their next two conference games, their meeting March 8 at Cameron Indoor Stadium will decide which team finishes atop the ACC standings. This will be the first time that’s happened since 2001, when Duke won at North Carolina to tie the Tar Heels for first place in the ACC.

After Wednesday’s 71-58 win over Georgia Tech, it still doesn’t seem as though the Blue Devils are playing as well as North Carolina at this point in the season. But the Tar Heels might face a period of adjustment whenever point guard Ty Lawson returns to the lineup.

- It’s just about time for Clemson fans to celebrate.

The Tigers are 8-5 in the ACC and might need one more win to lock up their first NCAA tournament bid in 10 years. But even if they don’t get that win, their resume looks strong after stopping Miami’s four-game winning streak with a 79-69 win Wednesday night.

Junior guard K.C. Rivers of Charlotte has established himself as one of the best clutch players in the league. He shot 4-for-5 from 3-point range against the Hurricanes and made some big shots late after Miami rallied from a double-digit deficit for a 60-59 lead.

-- Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Lots of praise for ACC coaches

ACC basketball coaches love to pontificate on the ability of the coaches in the conference.

Showering the competition with compliments makes a coach look good, whether he is winning or losing against the coaches he is praising.

This season, a lot of that praise is deserved. The most interesting postseason awards vote by the media will be the one for ACC coach of the year because there are so many strong candidates:

- Mike Krzyzewski tossed out Duke’s plodding style and remade the Blue Devils into a fast-breaking, 3-point shooting whirlwind, creating a competitive race with North Carolina for the top spot in the ACC standings.

- Roy Williams has directed North Carolina to five wins in six games without point guard Ty Lawson. The Tar Heels overcame injuries and illness to move a half-game ahead of Duke in the standings as the Blue Devils prepared to play Georgia Tech on Wednesday night.

- Dino Gaudio has Wake Forest in the hunt for an NCAA tournament bid despite the heartrending offseason loss of former coach Skip Prosser. The Demon Deacons were picked 11th in the ACC’s preseason media poll but are 6-6 in conference play.

- Seth Greenberg has an 8-6 conference record at Virginia Tech despite being picked to finish 10th in the ACC in the preseason. He could earn his second coach of the year award in four years.

- Frank Haith has coached a Miami team picked to finish last in the conference to the brink of the NCAA tournament. Two wins in their last four games probably will get the Hurricanes, who’ve won four in a row, an at-large bid.

All these coaches have had outstanding seasons. The guess here is that if all candidates otherwise seem equal, Gaudio will deservedly get the award because he made winners out of a team that could have been emotionally wrecked.

“Dino and his staff have done a terrific job developing his own identity while honoring what happened this summer with Skip,” Krzyzewski said last week.

That’s praise Gaudio richly deserves.

– Ken Tysiac

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Tennessee vs. Memphis set ESPN record

Move over, Duke-North Carolina. No. 2 Tennessee at No. 1 Memphis on Saturday set a record as ESPN’s most-viewed men’s college basketball game.

It averaged 3.6 million households and 5.3 million viewers, ESPN announced Tuesday.

Saturday’s game – won 66-62 by Tennessee – eclipsed North Carolina at Duke from March 4, 2006, which reached 3.1 million households on ESPN. (When ESPN-2’s “Above the Rim” coverage of that same game is added, North Carolina at Duke averaged 3.8 million households).

The 3.8 rating for Tennessee at Memphis was the highest for an ESPN men’s college basketball game since Dec. 22, 1998, when Kentucky vs. Duke in the Jimmy V Classic averaged a 3.9.

The high rating is good news for college basketball in general. In a hypercompetitive TV market saturated with sports coverage, ESPN’s men’s games have posted 11 percent increases in households and ratings over last season through the same point. Even though they relinquished their most-viewed status, Duke and North Carolina benefit along with others in the sport when interest increases. – Ken Tysiac

Ranking would boost Davidson at-large hopes

Davidson is scooting up the national rankings, and that might mean more than just a number in a few weeks.

The Wildcats finished 27th in the Associated Press poll Monday, one week after not getting a vote. Davidson is 29th in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.

Davidson has two games this week, and the Wildcats could hop into the Top 25 with wins in both games. And, a national ranking would bolster the Wildcats' hopes for an at-large berth.

Since the NCAA Tournament field expanded to 64 teams in 1985, only one currently ranked team has been left out of the field. Utah State went 25-3 in 2004, but did not get chosen.

If Davidson is ranked after this week, the Wildcats won't drop out before Selection Sunday as long as they win their first two games in the Southern Conference tournament. The Southern Conference tournament championship game will be a few hours after the polls come out March 10, so that game would have no bearing on the rankings the committee sees.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Help for Davidson

Does Davidson deserve an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament?

That question will be moot if the Wildcats win the Southern Conference tournament, but it could become a hot topic if Davidson loses in the tournament championship game.

The NCAA picks 34 at-large teams for the tournament, but Davidson might need some help to get in. Here are three outside things that will help the Wildcats' candidacy.

1. Top seeds doing what they are supposed to. Any Cinderella team that wins its conference tournament is likely bad news for Davidson, especially if the top seed is considered a strong candidate for the NCAA tournament. That is especially true among lower-profile conferences. So Wildcat fans should pull for teams such as Drake and Butler to win out in their conference.

2. Big conference bumbling. Remember when the Atlantic 10 was looking at five bids? That's likely not happening now. Mediocre play throughout the major conferences has muddied the candidate field, and that's good news for Davidson. It might be harder for the committee to take a floundering team such as Maryland or Texas A&M, while Davidson would have only one loss since Christmas.

3. Bubble teams bursting. Maryland and Texas A&M are a couple teams Davidson fans should cheer against, but others include: Ohio State, Miami, Villanova, Syracuse, and St. Joseph's. The more those teams lose, the better Davidson looks.

What North Carolina, Duke have that Tennessee, Memphis don't

Observations after a weekend of basketball that brought a new No. 1 in the polls and a new No. 11 in the ACC standings:

-- Tennessee and Memphis are more athletic overall and better defensively than North Carolina or Duke. But the Tar Heels and Blue Devils are more polished and disciplined on offense. The Vols and Tigers took a lot of ill-advised shots before Tennessee emerged with a road win.

-- Memphis point guard Derrick Rose was the best player on the floor in the No. 1 vs. No. 2 matchup, and he’s better than any freshman in the ACC.

-- If John Calipari was going to bring players like Joey Dorsey to N.C. State, it’s a good thing Calipari stayed at Memphis. Dorsey argued with the referees and apparently talked trash to J.P. Prince before some late free throws. Calipari shouldn’t let him get away with that kind of poor sportsmanship.

-- With a Big 12-record 44 points against Baylor, Kansas State’s Michael Beasley might have gained momentum in the national player of the year race with North Carolina’s Tyler Hansbrough. Hopefully voters won’t discount Beasley because he’s a freshman and Hansbrough’s a junior. The winner should be decided on merit, not the amount of time a player has been in school.

-- This might be remembered as one of the most disappointing seasons in N.C. State history. The Wolfpack was picked third in the ACC preseason media poll but is 11th in the standings after five straight losses. N.C. State had almost as many turnovers (17) as points (18) at halftime in a 78-60 loss Saturday at last-place Virginia. If J.J. Hickson leaves early for the NBA, things will get uglier next season for a team that already will be missing current senior Gavin Grant.

-- North Carolina’s ACC record without injured point guard Ty Lawson (5-1) is nearly as good as its record in the conference with Lawson (6-1).

-- Wake Forest freshman forward James Johnson, who scored 22 against North Carolina on Sunday night, is superb. He possesses a rare blend of quickness, power and 3-point shooting ability that make him difficult for any power forward to guard.

-- Ken Tysiac

Friday, February 22, 2008

Duke soul searching after losses

After back-to-back losses to Wake Forest and Miami, Duke’s players spent Thursday baring their souls to one another and the coaching staff.

Coaches met individually with players. The players met as a group. Before the team began reviewing film Thursday, coach Mike Krzyzewski explained what he’d concluded after the day of soul searching.

“The last two games we were attacked and pushed back on our heels instead of attacking,” senior team captain DeMarcus Nelson told reporters Friday.

Nelson and freshman reserve guard Nolan Smith agreed that turnovers are one of Duke’s biggest problems. The Blue Devils hadn’t committed more than 20 turnovers in any game this season until Sunday, when they committed 22 at Wake Forest.

On Wednesday, Duke turned it over 23 times at Miami.

“When you don’t attack, you second-guess your passes and second-guess your shots,” Smith said. “If you play a game second-guessing yourself, you’re going to throw the ball away or not shoot with confidence. That leads to missed shots, and things go bad when you’re doing that.”

Playing at home in a nonconference game Saturday against struggling St. John’s (10-15) could help Duke regain that confidence. After that Duke plays three games against ACC foes (Georgia Tech, N.C. State and Virginia) that have a combined 10-23 conference record.

This is a period in the schedule when the Blue Devils could get straightened out in time for a March 8 meeting with North Carolina that could decide the No. 1 seed for the ACC tournament.

“In February, you want to iron out all the things you can get better in and make sure you’re in full stride when March comes,” Nelson said.

For the Blue Devils, that starts with being aggressive on offense and defense and making opponents react to them. – Ken Tysiac

Thursday, February 21, 2008

What a state for college hoops

To get to the capital of the college basketball world, you have to visit a certain Southern state.

That state has:
- A nickname referring to pre-1900 war heroes.
- The Great Smoky Mountains running from north to south along its border.
- A struggling NBA team in its most populated city.

That would be the Volunteer state, with the Great Smokies in the East and the Memphis Grizzlies cutting payroll in a city that will be the site of the biggest game of the regular season in college basketball Saturday.

No. 1 Memphis plays host to No. 2 Tennessee at 9 p.m. Eastern Time on Saturday as our neighbors to the west have swiped the national spotlight that usually shines on North Carolina.

Known primarily for the blues, country music and the checkerboard end zone at Neyland Stadium, Tennessee might rival North Carolina as a college basketball hotbed for more than just one season.

After turning down the N.C. State job two years ago, John Calipari has Memphis (26-0) poised to become the first team since Nevada-Las Vegas in 1991 to finish the regular season undefeated – if the Tigers can win today.

Calipari has a well-established reputation as a strong recruiter and is among the pioneers of an offense called “Dribble-Drive Motion” that’s rapidly growing in popularity because it frees the lane for dribble penetration.

Bruce Pearl at Tennessee has lost some recent recruiting battles to North Carolina schools (J.J. Hickson to N.C. State, Elliot Williams to Duke). But he plays an uptempo style that’s attractive to recruits and coaches with an enthusiasm best demonstrated by the day he went shirtless and painted his chest orange to attend a Tennessee women’s game.

Calipari and Pearl still can’t grab headlines with merely a few choice words the way Duke's Mike Krzyzewski and North Carolina’s Roy Williams did earlier this week. But they’re smart and charismatic enough to build on the national recognition they will receive this weekend. – Ken Tysiac

Duke's struggles point to exciting finish

Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s comments on the Duke radio network Wednesday night won’t get nearly as much attention as those from Sunday night, when Roy Williams’ reaction to a remark about injuries created a national story about a spat between the coaches.

But the postgame interview after the 96-95 loss to Miami was interesting because Krzyzewski stated an unusual amount of disappointment with himself and his team.

He was stunned at how poorly Duke played defensively. He was shocked at the turnovers Duke committed against an opponent that doesn’t exactly pressure the ball.

But he didn’t describe the mechanics that caused the Blue Devils to lose two games in a row after a 22-1 start.

It’s no surprise that Wake Forest’s James Johnson (24 points) and Miami’s Dwayne Collins (26 points) shredded Duke’s defense on the blocks. All season long, opposing post players have scored easily against the Blue Devils when they’ve gotten the ball in the lane.

Until the last two games, Duke had compensated for its lack of a post presence with excellent perimeter defense. The Blue Devils scored off opponents’ turnovers and shut down opposing 3-point shooters.

The last two games, Duke has been the team giving the ball away, with 23 turnovers against Miami and 22 against Wake Forest. Miami shot 7-for-14 from 3-point range against Duke, and Wake Forest was 5-for-11.

If you don’t have any muscle in the post, your perimeter play has to be stellar. And Duke’s hasn’t been the last two games.

It’s true that Gerald Henderson’s wrist injury has prevented him from scoring on drives the way he ordinarily does. But Duke is hardly the only team suffering from a debilitating injury.

Just down the road, North Carolina has rebounded from its loss to Duke with four straight wins without point guard Ty Lawson, tying the Blue Devils for first place in the ACC. It will make for an exciting finish to the regular season, especially when Duke appeared ready to hold a three-game lead when Clemson had North Carolina on the ropes just 11 days ago.

When you look at things in that context, it’s easy to understand Krzyzewski’s disappointment Wednesday night.

– Ken Tysiac

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

N.C. doesn't match opponents' intensity

North Carolina guard Wayne Ellington stopped short of saying N.C. State quit.

But Ellington did say the Wolfpack didn’t get back on defense as quickly after North Carolina’s lead widened to double digits in the second half of an 84-70 win at the RBC Center.

“It seemed like they got a little bit tired,” Ellington said. “We were attacking the basket, and it was wide open for us.”

That much was obvious. Marcus Ginyard’s drive for a dunk late in the second half was as poorly defended a play as there’s been in the ACC all season.

Freshman center J.J. Hickson said N.C. State doesn’t respond well to adversity.

“When this team is down, we break down mentally and physically, and it’s hard to (win) like that,” he said.

Coach Sidney Lowe has noticed a pattern during N.C. State’s current, four-game losing streak. The Wolfpack grabs an early lead but is unable to raise its level of play when an opponent gets desperate.

“It’s not whether you get down,” Lowe said. “It’s whether you get back up. And we’re not getting up.” – Ken Tysiac

Coach Roy vs Coach K on 'Injurygate'

You can’t have a college basketball blog in North Carolina without mentioning “Injurygate.”

So here goes. . .

North Carolina’s Roy Williams believes Duke’s Mike Krzyzewski was aiming a thinly veiled insult at the Tar Heels when Krzyzewski said Sunday night that Duke doesn’t release its injuries to the public.
If that’s the case (and Krzyzewski isn’t commenting further so we don’t know for sure), then Williams is right. Krzyzewski should worry about coaching his own team.

But Williams shouldn’t have fired back Monday night on his weekly radio show at Krzyzewski. Williams said Tuesday that the coaches have more important things to do than argue through the media.
Again, he’s right. That’s why he would have been better off biting his tongue. Krzyzewski made his comment on the Duke radio network’s postgame show after a loss, so only a small number of fans would have known about his comments if Williams hadn’t said anything about them.

Now everybody knows.
The question of whether to release injuries to the public isn’t worth getting excited about either. Some might suggest that if Duke is withholding injury information, it encourages gambling interests to try to get close to the team to gain an edge.

But the reality is that despite Krzyzewski’s statement, Duke’s injuries aren’t a secret. He has mentioned that Gerald Henderson is playing with an injured wrist. Before the Blue Devils played at North Carolina, Krzyzewski mentioned that center Brian Zoubek was close to returning from a broken foot, perhaps later that week against Boston College.

Zoubek did return in that game. And believe me, the media weren’t clamoring for injury updates on Brian Zoubek. So it’s not like Krzyzewski is withholding valuable information.

Nor is Williams giving too much information about North Carolina’s injuries. Media members ask him during every news conference when Ty Lawson might return from his sprained ankle, and Williams answers. When he’s talking about Lawson’s health, he naturally also mentions the status of his other players.

It’s newsworthy that two Hall of Fame coaches are having a spat. That’s why in its preview story for the Feb. 6 game in Chapel Hill, the Observer wrote a lot about the coaches’ disagreement over what was said about Hansbrough vs. Henderson. The players seemed to have made peace over last year’s incident.

Williams said neither coach would ever be completely happy with what was said. They had to agree to disagree.
But in the case of Injurygate, the subject matter of the disagreement is so trivial that both coaches come off looking silly. – Ken Tysiac

Monday, February 18, 2008

McKillop could repeat as coach of year

Davidson coach Bob McKillop was named the Southern Conference coach of the year last season, and repeating that honor the next season is rare.

The coach of the year award is typically given to a coach of a team that surpasses expectations. McKillop earned the honor last season because Davidson - one of the most inexperienced teams in the country - ended up 17-1 in conference play and 29-5 overall.

Yet, the 57-year old coach might earn that award again if he can guide Davidson to a perfect conference record. The Southern Conference doesn't have many other coaches who are leading overachieving teams.

The top candidate from other schools might be Chattanooga's John Shulman. The Mocs were picked to finish fifth in the North Division, but Chattanooga is 11-6 in conference play. But even though McKillop's team was expected to dominate the conference, he has made subtle moves to help Davidson stay unbeaten. Davidson has won 15 straight games since Andrew Lovedale entered the lineup, and McKillop has also instituted in-game changes to help the Wildcats win. And, McKillop has to get credit for the way Davidson has to maintained the consistency to win 41 of its last 42 games against conference opponents.

-- Kevin Cary

More work ahead for Deacons

For the moment, anyway, Wake Forest can think realistically about making the NCAA tournament.

The notion was a long shot before the Deacons’ impressive 86-73 victory against second-ranked Duke Sunday night, but their performance – built on their speed – against the Blue Devils threw Wake Forest into the discussion.

The Deacons are 16-8 overall and 6-5 in the ACC, but now comes the tough part – building on what they did against Duke.

The Deacons have a week off to enjoy the win, but they play at North Carolina next Sunday then host Maryland. From there, the Deacons have dangerous road games at Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech before closing the regular season at home against N.C. State.

They need to win at least two of those games, maybe three to stay in the NCAA conversation.

Mike Krzyzewski wasn’t just being nice when talked about how good the Deacons were Sunday night. They were that good against Duke.

For some reason, freshman forward James Johnson has been largely overlooked this season, but he’s a terrific talent whose biggest fault has been a tendency to "float in and out a little bit" his coach, Dino Gaudio, said. He has a big man’s body – 6-8, 235 pounds – but he can play on the perimeter.

Freshman guard Jeff Teague was fearless against Duke and coupled with point guard Ish Smith, the Deacons have a backcourt capable of breaking down opposing defenses with their penetration.

The Blue Devils wound up with all five starters fouling out, which curtailed their comeback. Krzyzewski brushed off the foul problems, saying his team has handled foul trouble in other games but didn’t do it against Wake Forest.

It was the kind of game Krzyzewski will use to his advantage as the Blue Devils head down the regular-season stretch.

"We’ve won and been fortunate," Krzyzewski said. "We have to play like we haven’t done anything and tonight we played like we had already done something. That’s part of learning. We have some young guys who haven’t been champions before and they’re trying to learn how to be that."

-- Ron Green Jr.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Curry can make case for All-America

Stephen Curry's 41-point effort against UNC Greensboro all but wrapped up the Southern Conference Player of the Year award for the Davidson sophomore, but there might be a bigger honor coming for Curry.

Davidson hasn't had a player named to the AP All-America first, second or third team since 1970, but Curry has a strong chance of getting selected this season. He's already been named to as a Wooden and Naismith Award final Top 30 lists, and he's currently ranked No.7 among all players on the Wooden Award list.

Curry shrugs off such talk, but AP voters from across the country will get two chances to see him make his case on the court next week. Davidson's home game against UNC Greensboro Tuesday and the Wildcats' road game at Winthrop Friday will both be on ESPN2.

-- Kevin Cary

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Williams: Hansbrough should be POY

It looked like the politicking was over in Virginia.

Barack Obama and John McCain had scored big presidential primary wins Tuesday night before North Carolina’s 75-74 victory over Virginia ended.

Then North Carolina coach Roy Williams sat in front of the microphone at John Paul Jones Arena and started his own campaign.

His candidate?

Tyler Hansbrough for national player of the year.

“I get tickled listening to these people talk about national player of the year,” Williams told reporters. “Guys, there can’t be anybody that gives more to college basketball than that guy.”

There is a debate brewing over whether North Carolina junior center Hansbrough or Kansas State freshman forward Michael Beasley should receive national player of the year honors.

Hansbrough is averaging 22.8 points and 10.7 rebounds, and his team is 23-2. Beasley is at 25.2 points and 12.3 rebounds per game, and his much-improved team is 17-5.

Beasley is more athletic and flashier than Hansbrough, and Williams doesn’t want that factor to decide the race.

“(Hansbrough) is not in some ways maybe a popular choice because he’s a blue-collar guy and he thrashes around in there,” Williams said. “But bottom line is, that sucker can really play. He’s been a load for a lot of people, and you can’t be a better kid.”

As with the presidential primaries, don’t be surprised if there’s a lot more campaigning before this race is decided.

– Ken Tysiac

Monday, February 11, 2008

Davidson set to clinch postseason berth

Talk is starting to bubble up about whether Davidson should make the NCAA tournament, but the Wildcats can become the first team in the nation to clinch some kind of postseason berth this week.

If Davidson wins Wednesday at UNC Greensboro and Saturday at home against Furman, the Wildcats will clinch the Southern Conference regular season title. So, even if Davidson doesn't qualify for the NCAA Tournament, the Wildcats will be guaranteed a spot in the NIT as the regular season champion.

Getting that distinction this early means two things: 1. Davidson is really strong against conference opponents. 2. The rest of the top teams in the Southern Conference are underachieving.

Every other conference team has at least four conference losses, and some of the top teams have slid down to the pack in recent weeks. Appalachian State (10-4) lost to College of Charleston Thursday, and barely beat The Citadel - which is winless in conference play - in overtime Saturday.

Chattanooga (10-5) has lost three of its last four games, and its only win in that stretch came against Furman (4-11). UNC Greensboro (7-6) has lost three straight games, and now faces Davidson twice and Appalachian once in its next three games.

Georgia Southern (10-5) is the only other conference team with a winning record who is playing well. The Eagles have won three straight, but lost their only game against Davidson by 25 points.

All of that means Davidson will be one of the biggest favorites in the nation once conference tournaments start (the Southern Conference tournament begins March 7). That will put more pressure on the Wildcats to avoid an upset loss that could knock Davidson out of the NCAA tournament.

-- Kevin Cary

UNC stirred, Clemson shaken

Imagine you’re Clemson guard Cliff Hammonds on Monday morning, trying to get out of bed to face the day and the rest of the season after what happened Sunday night in Chapel Hill.

"We can’t change what happened tonight," Hammonds said bravely after the Tigers squandered a 15-point, second-half lead and lost 103-93 in double overtime despite his 31 points. "We’ve got to look forward."

Monday morning will be a lot easier for Tyler Hansbrough even though he endured 47 minutes of pounding at the hands of the Tigers. Two home losses in a row, even without injured point guard Ty Lawson, might have had North Carolina’s players questioning their legitimacy as a favorite to get to the Final Four.

Instead, thanks in part to 39 points by Hansbrough, the Tar Heels emerged a confident team.

"We never gave up, and that’s what’s special about this win for us," Hansbrough said.

It was the type of game that could reverse the fortunes of both teams.

Clemson (17-6, 5-4 ACC) experienced one just like it last season at Duke, when officials’ failure to administer the clock properly gave Dave McClure time to make a winning basket at the end of regulation.

The Tigers failed to make the NCAA tournament after starting 17-0 and might always wonder what would have happened if they had a chance to play overtime at Cameron Indoor Stadium that night.

Now, they will be wondering what would have happened if they could have prevented North Carolina from extending Sunday’s game to overtime as they fell to 0-for-53 all-time in Chapel Hill.

Coach Oliver Purnell needs to help his players put Sunday’s loss behind them.

"I told the team that we certainly can’t afford to take time to think about this too long," Purnell said.

Purnell is giving Clemson’s players Monday off, and they don’t play again until Thursday’s home game against Georgia Tech. That short break should be good for them.

The Tar Heels (22-2, 7-2) need to find the energy to travel Monday to Virginia for Tuesday night’s game. That will be a lot easier after Sunday’s unforgettable rally.

"I hate Sunday night games," said North Carolina coach Roy Williams, "but this feels pretty good right now."

-- Ken Tysiac

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Criticism of Green's sideshow will grow if Tar Heels' play doesn't improve

Since Duke’s 89-78 win against North Carolina on Wednesday night, one of the most often debated topics in basketball circles in the Triangle has been ... dancing.

A talk radio caller proclaiming himself a North Carolina fan boiled down the issue to its essence when he said Tar Heels junior forward Danny Green ought to devote more energy to defense and less energy to dancing.

As many ACC fans are aware, Green engages in a wild dance in front of the North Carolina bench to the song “Jump Around” in the moments before tipoff when the Tar Heels play at the Smith Center.

His teammates on the bench groove to the beat along with him, and coach Roy Williams at times looks Green’s way and smiles approvingly.

This is why Williams’ players love him. He permits them to express their individuality and have fun playing a game that’s supposed to be fun. During the “Late Night With Roy” opening practice, Williams and his assistants even dance with the players on the court.

Critics of Green’s dancing say it’s unsportsmanlike and calls attention to Green and the Tar Heels’ bench rather than the game that’s about to unfold.

Both sides of the debate have merit. Green isn’t hurting anybody with his show, and he’s a fantastic dancer. But if his team is interested more in the sideshow than the opening tap, or if Green’s show motivates opponents, he ought to save his fancy footwork for another time.

The only certain thing is that criticism will increase if Green and North Carolina don’t play well. And that fans will be watching Green closely Sunday before the tip against Clemson after the Tar Heels have lost two of their last three home games.

- Ken Tysiac

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Curry likely to get the point next season

Davidson guard Stephen Curry has been on a scoring tear recently, averaging 29 points in his past seven games.

Coach Bob McKillop has preferred to talk about Curry’s all-around game, from his improved rebounding to his defense to his passing.

That last skill might be pivotal next season, because Curry probably will have to slide over to a new position: point guard.

Starter Jason Richards graduates, and the Wildcats don’t have anyone to fill the void. Freshman Brendan McKillop is more comfortable on a wing so far, and Curry is the only Wildcat who has filled in at the point this season.

Davidson hasn’t signed a point guard recruit this year, and isn’t expected to this spring. That means the Wildcats will have to turn to Curry to both run and create the team’s offense next season.

The sophomore guard is a good passer – he’s averaged four assists over his past three games – but he tends to force passes. Curry has 64 assists this season, but also has 63 turnovers. He’s come a long way – Curry had 13 turnovers in his first college game last season – but he’ll have to take another step forward to keep the Wildcats on top in the Southern Conference next season.

-- Kevin Cary

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Winthrop not what Davidson needed

Davidson’s BracketBuster game with Winthrop will create some local interest, but Wildcats officials can’t be thrilled with the matchup.

That’s not because Davidson doesn’t want to play Winthrop at some point, but the Feb. 22 game might kill any chance Davidson had for an at-large berth in the NCAA tournament.

Davidson, which was No. 69 in RPI according to, needed a matchup against a top-30 RPI team, such as Butler or St. Mary’s, in the BracketBuster game to help its NCAA resume. The Wildcats are 1-6 in Division I nonconference games and don’t have a signature road win.

Davidson won’t get that against Winthrop this season. The Eagles have a strong history – reaching the NCAA tournament seven of the past nine years – but Winthrop’s RPI is around 110. That won’t improve before the game with Davidson, because Winthrop’s next six opponents other than the Wildcats all have RPIs of 200 or higher.

Winthrop’s RPI is comparable to Southern Conference teams Chattanooga, Georgia Southern and UNC Greensboro, and wins against those schools won’t help Davidson’s cause either.

So, while the matchup with Winthrop might create a buzz locally, it will be a buzz kill for Davidson’s NCAA chances unless the Wildcats win the Southern Conference tournament in March.

-- Kevin Cary

Monday, February 4, 2008

Davidson-Butler a Bracketbuster game?

Davidson has won 11 straight games and the Wildcats will find out this afternoon whether that hot streak helped them get another nationally televised game.

Davidson will likely find out its opponent for the ESPN BracketBuster event, when the televised games for the Feb.22-23 event are announced. Davidson (15-6) is expected to get a televised game, to showcase guard Stephen Curry and the streaking Wildcats.

Davidson will be a road team no matter who it plays, but the Wildcats could end up with St. Mary's (Calif.) Butler, or a team from the Mid-America Conference. Davidson needs a high-profile opponent, because a win against a team with a strong RPI would boost Davidson's chances of getting an at-large NCAA tournament bid.

ESPNU will officially announce the pairings tonight at 7 p.m., but the guess here is that the Wildcats head to Butler for an ESPN2 game. That game would feature Curry and Butler guard A.J. Graves, and would be the most appealing for ESPN.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Comparing scores of ACC games no way to choose favorite in Duke vs. UNC

If you compare the scores of ACC games, Duke would seem to have an edge going into Wednesday’s rivalry game at North Carolina.

Duke (19-1, 7-0 ACC) doesn’t have a conference loss. It hasn’t even been close to losing in the ACC. The Blue Devils have won each of their ACC games by at least nine points and have an average winning margin of almost 16 points against conference opponents.

“We’re definitely playing good basketball now,” said Duke freshman forward Kyle Singler.

North Carolina (20-1, 5-1 heading into Sunday’s game at Florida State) has an average scoring margin of 11.7 points in ACC games. The Tar Heels lost at home to Maryland, needed an overtime buzzer beater to edge Clemson and won by a point at Georgia Tech.

But comparing scores isn’t a good way to analyze basketball games. Looking at the matchups is more important, and they seem to favor North Carolina.

Duke doesn’t have a big-bodied player who can muscle up to Tyler Hansbrough, the ACC’s leading scorer and rebounder, in the post. The Blue Devils are a better defensive team than North Carolina and score a lot of points off turnovers, but playing a fast-breaking style against speedy Tar Heels point guard Ty Lawson is dangerous.

North Carolina wing Marcus Ginyard is capable of shutting down Duke’s DeMarcus Nelson, and sweet-shooting guards Wayne Ellington of North Carolina and Greg Paulus of Duke could neutralize each other.

That leaves one position where Duke needs to capitalize on its advantage. North Carolina forward Deon Thompson won’t easily guard versatile freshman Kyle Singler around the 3-point arc. A big game by Singler might be the Blue Devils’ best chance of winning.

But counting on a freshman forward to hit 3-pointers in front of a crowd that’s sure to be wild will be a dangerous way for Duke to live Wednesday night.

- Ken Tysiac

Friday, February 1, 2008

Davidson has path to an at-large bid

January went well for Davidson, which won all 10 of its games and stormed to the Southern Conference lead. But February might not just give the Wildcats a shot at the top seed in the Southern Conference tournament, it might give Davidson a chance for something else:

An at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

People would have snickered at that scenario a month ago, when Davidson stood 4-6. Yet, even though Davidson only has one nonconference win against a Division I opponent (2-23 N.C. Central), the Wildcats still have a chance.

The lack of nonconference wins likely means Davidson would have to win its next 11 games, losing in the Southern Conference tournament final, to have a strong shot. That's not out of the realm of possibility - Davidson has only lost one conference game over the last two seasons, but the next three days will be pivotal.

Davidson plays at Chattanooga Saturday, and a win wouldn't just earn Davidson a victory against a Top 100 opponent, it would likely give the Wildcats one of the top matchups when the nonconference ESPN BracketBuster games are announced Monday. Thanks to its winning streak and All-American candidate Stephen Curry, the Wildcats could get paired up with ranked teams Butler or St. Mary's (Calif.). Davidson is guaranteed to be the road team no matter who it plays in the Feb. 23 game, so that would earn Davidson a nonconference road win.

If Davidson can win that game, and win everything else until the conference tournament final, I bet the Wildcats get in. Here's why:

---Davidson would be 21-1 in its last 22 games, and could have an RPI around 50 (it is around 80 now, depending on which site is used).

---Three of Davidson's seven losses would be to Top 10 RPI teams (assuming Duke, UNC and UCLA continue to win). Its other nonconference losses would be to at-large contender Charlotte, a one-point loss to N.C. State, and a loss at Western Michigan (which leads its division in the Mid-America Conference) in Davidson's second game of the season.

---Davidson could have five wins against Top 100 teams. (two against Chattanooga and App State, one against a BracketBuster team).

---The Wildcats can point to injuries as a factor in their slow start. Starters Max Paulhus Gosselin (back) and Curry (wrist) are much healthier now than they were at the start of season. Davidson has won every game by at least 10 points since Curry shedded his wrist wrap in January, and Gosselin is much more active now.

---Davidson might be ranked by March. (the Wildcats are already getting votes in the USA Today poll) .

It might sound crazy, but wait three weeks. If Davidson wins every game from now through the BracketBuster, you'll start finding the Wildcats in the bubble conversation. And, if they can win out from here until the conference final, they'll be in the NCAA tournament.

-- Kevin Cary

Did Duke play the perfect half?

There’s no such thing as a perfect half of basketball, but third-ranked Duke came close with an incredible 20 minutes after halftime in a 92-72 defeat of N.C. State on Thursday at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

After trailing 46-37 at halftime, Duke scored 55 points in the second half. The Blue Devils shot 7-for-11 from 3-point range, outrebounded N.C. State 19-7 and committed just four turnovers.

“We knew the first half wasn’t us,” said Duke wing Gerald Henderson. “That’s not how we’ve been playing all year. (The second half) was probably our best half of the whole season, and the first half was probably our worst half of the whole season.”

For the second straight game, Duke won comfortably by scoring more than 50 second-half points after facing a nine-point halftime deficit. On Thursday, N.C. State was overwhelmed by the Blue Devils’ energy after halftime.

“We just turned it around,” said Duke freshman forward Kyle Singler. “This team is special. We just have something that we can’t really explain, and it’s just something special that makes this team good. We don’t really panic.”

Improvement at the point

Freshman point guard Javier Gonzalez, who’s often struggled for N.C. State this season, made progress in the loss.

Gonzalez played 28 minutes, made both of his field goal attempts and created some shot opportunities for opponents on the drive. After a shaky start by teammate Marques Johnson, Gonzalez calmed his team as N.C. State took a 46-37 lead.

A boxing aficionado, Gonzalez also showed his toughness by standing up to gritty Duke guard Greg Paulus after committing a first-half foul. Though Gonzalez committed three turnovers, two came on questionable five-second calls.

If he plays as well as he did Thursday night, N.C. State will have a chance to improve on its 2-4 ACC record.

- Ken Tysiac