Tuesday, November 30, 2004

The Third Game of the Seventeenth Year

Kansas 85 Nevada 52

Through three games, it would be difficult to find fault with Kansas on defensive end of the floor. Vermont, St. Joseph's, and Nevada have combined to shoot 30.4% from the floor. Only 12 of their opponent's 57 made baskets have been three-pointers.

Their defensive rebounding, however, has been mediocre. Simien has certainly gotten his share. Moody appears to do a decent job of blocking out, but hasn't translated good position into rebounds in the last two games. If Moody can't both block out and move to the ball, it will be incumbent upon Giddens, Langford, and Lee to help on the boards which will limit fast break opportunities.

Kansas fans were spoiled with a steady diet of Pollard, LaFrentz, Gooden, and Collison controlling the defensive boards and igniting the break. Simien is not in their class as a rebounder. Help may be on the way, though. The freshman big men, however confused they might be while learning the system and adjusting to college, can put forth a good effort on the glass. They combined for 14 rebounds in 30 minutes against Nevada.

On offense, the Jayhawks took too many jump shots early in the possession for my taste. A fair number went in, and a quick jumper is probably preferable to all the turnovers they committed against Vermont trying to force the ball into Simien.

Player comments and ratings (1-low, 5-average, 10-high):

Wayne Simien, 6: Missed a couple of jump hooks and forced a couple of perimeter jumpers, but the attention he drew gave the perimeter players a lot of freedom. He still carries too much of the rebounding load and is the only player consistently making free throws.

Christian Moody, 4: Moody's a non-factor on offense. His playing time seems predicated on his inability to actively hurt the team's chances of winning. Once Kansas had the game in hand, the freshmen played. Self recognizes Moody's limitations, his value as a motivational tool for the freshmen, and the freshmen's developmental needs. How he balances his use of the four players to hide their respective weaknesses will largely determine the season's outcome.

Keith Langford, 5: Keith Langford is not healthy. It's not fun watching him play with diminished capacities. He needs to start making free throws.

Aaron Miles, 9: The only blemish on Miles' line is his missed free throw. 3-6 shooting, 1-2 on threes, 10 assists, and no turnovers while harassing (in tandem with Russell Robinson) Ramon Sessions into a 6-17 night. The first three point guards to face Kansas this year have had no fun on the offensive end of the floor.

JR Giddens, 6.5: Giddens took a couple of quick shots, but shot the ball well overall. According to Mark Jones, Giddens is "a surprisingly good shooter." Actually, shooting the ball still seems to be the one skill Giddens demonstrates consistently, but then, Mark Jones had trouble recognizing which players were on the floor. Maybe he's employed to make Fran Fraschilla sound good in comparison. Kind of like Mike Jarvis makes Digger Phelps seem reasoned and coherent.

Michael Lee, 6: He looked like he did in his (good) sophomore year. He played solid defense, grabbed a couple of rebounds, moved the ball, and took advantage of good spacing to make a couple of open shots. That's all he needs to do. Perhaps we've seen the last of Lee attempting to create his own shot off the dribble.

Russell Robinson, 7: I've spent a long time wishing for a New York City guard to come play for Kansas. Robinson makes it worth the wait. He has a tendency toward carelessness with his passes and takes too many chances on defense. If he tightens up his game in those two areas, he'll take minutes away first from Michael Lee, then Langford and Giddens. Coach Self will have a lot of combinations of perimeter players at his disposal this year.

Sasha Kaun, 4.5: Kaun has a solid base when he gets position, but struggles with his footwork when he receives the ball in the post. He moves well when rebounding and running the court, so it seems to be fixable.

CJ Giles, 5.5: Five points, eight rebounds (four offensive), and a block in ten minutes. Giles hasn't played much yet until after the games have been decided. If he can maintain his level of activity in important half-court situations, he'll be useful very soon.

Darnell Jackson, 3.5: Jackson never got in the flow during his six minutes on the court, but not for a lack of effort.

Alex Galindo, 4.5: Though he may develop into what Luke Axtell should have been, Galindo may spend this season as the evolutionary advance upon TJ Whatley (sadly, minus the mustache). He shot the ball (way long) on his first touch, then took the temperature of the game and found his scoring opportunities near the basket. Three lay-ups in three minutes. Alex Galindo makes garbage time fun.

Nick Bahe, Moulaye Niang, and Jeff Hawkins, incomplete: I credit both Hakwins and Bahe for their willingness to shoot immediately upon entering the game. It demonstrates an understanding of their roles and the preciousness of their opportunities to play.

Monday, November 29, 2004

Yes, I Was Wrong About the Washington Huskies

In my NCAA Preview, I (informally) ranked Washington behind both Utah and Oklahoma.

The Huskies are certainly better than both those teams right now. Though, in my defense, Washington gave up 23 and 12 to Andrew Bogut, who went 8-8 from the field, and 39 points to Kevin Bookout and Taj Gray, who shot a combined 15-21 from the floor, doing nothing to allay my fears regarding their post defense. Shooting 53.8% and 39.5% from the three-point line will compensate for a host of sins.

They capitalized on those wins by beating Alabama (another team I didn't trust in the preview, though I'll stick by that assessment for now) to take the Great Alaska Shootout.

Nate Robinson's tournament line, to be considered as his initial submission for the Player of the Year award: 21.3 PPG, 3.67 RPG, and 5 APG with 5 steals, two blocks, and only six turnovers while shooting 59% from the floor, 57% on three-pointers, and 83% from the line.

Chris Paul, Wayne Simien, and Hakim Warrick have all played well so far this year, but if Robinson had played on TV before midnight last week, everybody would be talking about him.

With Arizona putting up a mere 121 points in 85 minutes at Madison Square Garden following the bad loss in Charlottesville, even this doubter now sees Washington as the clear favorite in the Pac-10. Very few good teams shoot 34% from the floor over the course of a week.

The Second Game of the Seventeenth Year

Kansas 91 St. Joseph's 51

Bowling Green and Toledo conspired to run 40 minutes over the time allotted for their football game last Tuesday. Not being in the state of Kansas or in Philly, by the time I saw Allen Field House, there were a little under four minutes left in the first half and St. Joe's was finished. Thus, no player ratings.

In the twenty-four minutes of the game that I saw, Russell Robinson looked quite exciting. It's comforting to assert that the Cedric Hunter and Darnell Valentine comparisons may be apt. Especially because, despite protestations to the contrary, Keith Langford does not appear to be healthy. I can't remember the last time he got to the rim and dunked on a defender. He attempted to do so twice against St. Joe's but appeared physically unable to get high enough. As a freshman and sophomore, Langford excelled at getting into the paint and scoring in traffic, often scoring over bigger defenders. He's improved his outside shooting, but Keith Langford minus the ability to dribble penetrate and score will be a complementary player at most.

That, in turn, will heap more pressure on the freshman big men. The nature of the game (blowout) and the opponent (St. Joe's interior players provided little resistance on either end of the court) allowed Jackson, Giles, and Kaun to demonstrate some of their skills. In the long-term they could be a very good trio. I retain doubts about their ability to make key plays in key moments in the near future.

Monday, November 22, 2004

The First Game of the Seventeenth Year

Kansas 68 Vermont 61

It wasn't pretty for the first thirty minutes. With about ten minutes left, both teams looked to get tired all at once and commenced what I hope to be the worst three minutes of basketball I see all year. Kansas sort of pulled it together to finish off Vermont down the stretch. This Kansas team might need to stay at home until 2005. They've got a lot on which to work.

Player comments and ratings (1-low, 5-average, 10-high):

Wayne Simien, 7: Simien suffered from his teammates inability to feed the post consistently, but took advantage of the mis-matches when he successfully received the ball, both in the post and when facing up and shooting over Vermont defenders. The fourteen rebounds were good, the five turnovers were not.

Keith Langford, 5: Langford hit two early threes, but did little else after that. He missed half his free throws, snagged but two rebounds, and gave up a couple of open three point looks on the defensive end.

Christian Moody, 5.5: Moody didn't do anything wrong. Coppenrath beat him a handful of times, but that's unsuprising. Moody made his field goal attempt, three of his four free throws, grabbed six rebounds, and negated his lone turnover with an assist. Likely the only player on the Kansas roster capable of chasing smaller fours on the perimeter, Moody should see more of that type of situational duty as the freshmen mature. Until they mature, though, he'll continue to attempt to do no harm.

Aaron Miles, 6.5: Miles shot the ball horribly without taking any really bad shots. Chris Piper correctly pointed out again that the result of a Miles' shot attempt is known as soon as it leaves his hand. He looked open and awkward Friday night, but nine assists, seven rebounds, two blocks, two steals, and harassing TJ Sorrentine into a 4-22 night offsets the 1-9 shooting and five turnovers (one which looked to be Sasha Kaun's fault, see below).

Michael Lee, 4: Lee had one fine defensive possession where his ball pressure single-handedly forced a turnover. He shot poorly, but unlike last season, he restrained himself from forcing things on the offensive end.

JR Giddens, 6.5: Unique among the perimeter players, Giddens shot the ball the well against Vermont. The seven rebounds were a welcome addition and will be necessary until the freshman bigs show the ability to contribute consistently on the glass.

Darnell Jackson, 5.5: Jackson was intriguingly active on the offensive end. He appeared to need reminding of what play was being run a couple of times and predictably struggled guarding Coppenrath.

Moulaye Niang, 3: Niang didn't help the team while on the court. I hope he played ahead of Giles and Kaun because Self thought his lateral quickness and long arms might temper Coppenrath's impact on the game. If the two freshmen who made cameos aren't as far along as Niang, it's going to be a long season.

Russell Robinson, 3.5: Robinson took a couple quick, ill-advised shots and never got comfortable on offense. He did provide Miles with a bit of rest and played pretty good on-the-ball defense for a freshman. I'm eagerly anticipating the form he showed in Canada and the exhibitions which got Jayhawk Nation all aflutter.

Sasha Kaun and CJ Giles, Incomplete: Kaun and Giles only played a minute each. Giles committed two fouls and never returned. Kaun got good post position, sealing the defender fronting him, but took a rather indirect path toward the entry pass. He made an awkward turn away from the direction of the pass before moving toward the rim, creating a turnover and offering evidence of his basketball inexperience.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

The Ugliness in Detroit and Thoughts About Madrid

Neither Ben Wallace nor Ron Artest acquitted themselves honorably in the initial on-court skirmish.

I condemn the coward who chucked his cup at the prone Artest. Though Artest had reason to upset about that incident, there was no legitimate reason for either him or Stephen Jackson to enter the stands. The presence of players in the stands should not be seen by fans as an invitation to begin throwing drinks, cups, and popcorn willy-nilly.

I have no sympathy for any pain absorbed by the fans who invaded the court once the Pacers were hauled out of the stands. If footage exists showing prone fans being hit, I would temper the previous sentence, but the idiots who entered the court and challenged the Pacers to fight must suffer the consequences of having their offer accepted. I wish the Pacers players could have restrained themselves from hitting the fans on the court, but a part of myself of which I'm less proud thinks the fans deserved to be hit.

As I write this, Artest, Jackson, Jermaine O'Neal, and Ben Wallace have been suspended indefinitely. All will likely be suspended for the skirmish between opposing players. Artest and Jackson will likely earn lengthy, deserved suspensions for entering the crowd. I don't feel O'Neal should be suspended for a significant period of time for hitting a fan who invaded the court.

The Pistons should be forced to play at least one home game in an empty arena. When fans are allowed to return to watch them play, beer sales should be suspended for a significant period of time. A shocking number of Pistons fans proved themselves incapable of handling the simple responsibilities of supporting their team. Beyond those who physically confronted players, many fans felt entitled to shower the Pacers with debris. I have no idea why they felt compelled to do so. Some committed serious offenses, more exhibited mob-like behavior, and every individual who can be identified as committing a crime should be prosecuted to fullest extent of the law.

I witnessed the melee in Detroit only days after both the Spain-England Under-21 and full international matches were marred by racist chants from Spanish fans directed toward England's black players. English players, officials, columnists, and citizens have rightly condemned the behavior of the Spanish fans. Shockingly, the Spanish federation and large segments of the Spanish press have attempted to minimize the seriousness or even question the existence of examples of racism from the matches held in Madrid.

Just last month, Spain's national team coach, Luis Aragones, was captured on film calling France and Arsenal start Thierry Henry a "black shit." Aragones defended his remark as a motivational tactic intended for Spanish forward Jose Antonio Reyes, Henry's Arsenal teammate. Aragones was unapologetic and was not reprimanded. Thus commenced the first example of wide-spread English outrage directed at someone who had slurred a Frenchman.

I hope that the condemnation of the chants heard in Madrid this week carries over to the remaining examples of racism in English football. Millwall, and, I'm ashamed to admit, Leeds United, still have fans capable of launching racist chants and English fans have little trouble expressing their least enlightened thoughts and feelings about opposing players and fans when England meets Turkey, Germany, or France in international competition.

The only encouraging thing to come out of Detroit last night is that no one (to my knowledge) has attempted to defend anyone's behavior or minimize the seriousness of what occurred. There seems to be a common resolve never to allow such a melee to occur again. I find that encouraging.

Friday, November 19, 2004

For Entertainment Purposes Only

Chicago at Denver under 198.5
Memphis (+220) at Sacramento

NBA Year-to-date: Sides 1-3-0, Totals 4-4-0, Money Line 3-2-0 (+3.2 units)
NCAA Year-to-date: Sides 1-0-0

Thursday, November 18, 2004

For Entertainment Purposes Only

Seventeen Green has a pick I can get behind tonight despite Lawrence Roberts making his return.

That, I believe, is called a jinx.

Mississippi State vs. Syracuse (-4.5)

NBA Year-to-date: Sides 1-3-0, Totals 4-4-0, Money Line 3-2-0 (+3.2 units)

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

An Evening's Recap

With a busy, music-heavy Saturday and a recuperative Sunday behind me, I spent last night on the couch watching basketball. Some thoughts...

Seattle at Philadelphia

I like what Nate McMillan's doing with the Sonics. I'm still not convinced they'll finish much over .500, but he's getting the most out of the available talent, playing as many as four perimeter players at once, spreading the floor, and using Evans, Fortson, James, and Collison to set picks, reverse the ball, and rebound.

Last night, half of their field goal attempts and makes were three-pointers. They looked like the Lithuanian National Team. High marks for their spacing, ball movement, and shooting. As an American, I would have liked to have had Ray Allen on the Olympic team, but I can't begrudge Sonics fans the treat of a rested, energized Allen providing more excitement in the first two weeks of the season than they expected to witness the entire year.

Niagara at Providence

I watched Providence lose to the University of the Pacific in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last March in Kemper Arena. Pacific had a nice, well-coached team and Guillame Yango's a sleeper both to make a run at an All-American team and in the second round of the NBA draft, but Providence lost because Ryan Gomes didn't touch the ball on offense for long stretches of the second half unless he rebounded the result of a teammate's ill-advised shot.

Ryan Gomes is good enough to win college basketball games by himself. He's talented and he plays hard and Providence missed an opportunity to take advantage of that last season.

I was shocked to watch the second half of this game last night and see Providence (minus Marcus Douthit, Sheiku Kabba, and Rob Sanders this season) attempt to give away their home opener in the same fashion. Again, the Friars would go multiple offensive possessions without letting Gomes touch the ball unless he got an offensive rebound. Gomes took sixteen shots, got to the line six times, and had a 5:3 assist to turnover ratio but should have had the opportunity to do more.

Niagara, obviously, focused their defense on Gomes but they weren't actively denying him the ball. Providence guards McGrath, Brown, and Brewington must do a better job of getting the ball to Gomes. They showed an ability to make the open jump shot when the defense collapsed, but often lacked the patience to let a possession develop, rushing shots and passes thus triggering the Niagara fast break. If Niagara had done anything right in the last minute-and-a-half they would have won the game. Unless Providence plays to their only real strength they'll struggle to finish ahead of Rutgers and West Virginia in the Big East.

Chicago at Sacramento

Seventeen Green called me at halftime of this game to rant and rave about the porous Kings defense. I'm glad I don't bet on sports anymore and can enjoy (most) games stress-free. Not a moral distinction, mind you, just something I've learned about myself.

But, seriously, how can you give up 106 points to the Bulls. Sacramento has defensive problems. Right now, I can't envision them making the playoffs.

Across the court, it's tough to watch the Bulls and figure out how they'll score consistently enough against the rest of the league to win more than 20 games. Chicago's a jump shooting team with only one player who can even semi-consistently draw a double-team in the post and Eddy Curry cannot pass out of a double-team to save his life (career assist-to-turnover ratio: 1:3). Every time I watch him play I'm surprised again by the gulf between his combination of size and agility and his ability to play basketball.

There's no greater Kirk Hinrich fan than me (oh, wait, there is, and she writes here too), but creating his own shot in the half-court is not among his chief attributes. Nor, apparently, is he handling his defensive responsibilities very well this year. He can keep his man in front of him most of the day (whether guarding the 1 or the 2), but he seems to bear the load (or believes himself to) of covering up for his teammates lapses as well. He's fouled out of three of the five games this year and committed five fouls in another. Most of those fouls occur after an opponent beats a teammate. Hinrich is easily Chicago's best defender. He can't continue to sacrifice himself in this manner.

The Bulls will likely lose a lot more games like this one. Wildly fluctuating leads and deficits are endemic to jump-shooting teams. Plus, a graph of Chicago's talent would be fairly flat. Their starters struggle to match up five-on-five against other teams' first units, but Skiles can put together interesting combinations with his second unit (Duhon paired with the as yet enigmatic Gordon or a less foul-prone Hinrich in a small back court and Deng playing any of three positions alongside a combination of Othella Harrington, Antonio Davis, and Adrian Griffin) that match up well with benches around the league.

Unfortunately for Bulls fans, this collection of talent, though they play hard, will only be good enough to tease. Wins still appear to be years away.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

For Entertainment Purposes Only

I cost Seventeen Green some cred by failing to post his college picks from last week. Sorry, pal, it won't happen again. His prophetic wisdom returns with one NBA pick for this evening.

Chicago at Sacramento under 196.5

Year-to-date: Sides 1-3-0, Totals 4-3-0, Money Line 3-2-0 (+3.2 units)

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Ohio State Preview (per request)

This one goes out to Stats.

Ohio State's all-transfer backcourt struggled at the start of last season and never managed to turn things around. This year, the Buckeyes must replace center Velimir Radinovic and adjust to new coach Thad Matta's system.

Matta claims he'll bring an up-tempo attack similar to the one he employed at Xavier. Long term that's a good idea, but it may just exacerbate matters until Ohio State weathers the sanctions brought down for the previous regime's payments to players and academic malfeasance.

Rick Pitino insisted on pressing full-court for 40 minutes with his first, undermanned Kentucky team. They suffered some terrible losses (150-95 at Kansas with my young self in attendance), but Pitino had the authority to keep player and booster grousing to a minimum. He started turning things around the very next year with Jamal Mashburn.

Matta has neither Pitino's reputation or his skill as a recruiter. The NCAA sanctions are sure to cripple Matta's recruiting efforts whether by limiting scholarships, visits, travel, or a combination of all three. It will be years before Ohio State becomes a college basketball again, and, if Thad Matta attempts to run with more talented teams (even though the talent level is declining throughout the Big 10; Wisconsin signee Joe Krabbenhoft was the highest rated high school senior signed by a Big 10 school this week and he's not even a consensus top 50 recruit) the volume and severity of losses could cripple his tenure there.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

NCAA Preview

It's much more difficult to write an NCAA preview than an NBA preview for the simple reason that I've seen the NBA players play ball for years. Outside of Wake Forest, Georgia Tech, and Syracuse every national championship contender will need freshmen whom I've never seen play to make key contributions. I can't forecast that, I could only guess; of which I've done a little.

Also, because freshmen have key roles on so many teams and the constant player turnover, coaching is a greater cause of success or failure in college than in the NBA. Pound-for-Pound is the greatest basketball coach in the world, but I'd never give the Pistons their own category (as I've done with Rick Pitino's Louisville Cardinals) in an NBA preview. Similarly, at least until Isiah takes over the Knicks, no NBA coach could have the adverse effect upon talent that Billy Donovan exerts

As the season progresses, there will be more college and less NBA content here for the very reasons I've mentioned above: the excitement of discovering new players (I can't wait to see Marvin Williams, Rudy Gay, Rajon Rondo, Malik Hairston, JP Batista, and Russell Robinson play.) and the greater variety of abilities on display.

The NBA monopolizes the pre-season and post-season, but from next Monday until April 4th Hoopinion will be college-centric.

The Four Teams Most Likely to Win the National Championship

Wake Forest: The quality of their defense remains to be seen, but everybody’s back, last season ended only at the hands of a similar but more veteran team in the tournament, Chris Paul is the best player in college basketball, and I still think Danelius (if healthy) is the most talented big man in the ACC.

Kansas: They salvaged a lost year with a tournament run picking off those who had upset others. The team was never healthy and didn’t buy into Self’s system for much of the year. That they played their best basketball when most banged up augurs well for this season. It will be imperative that one of the three freshman big men relieve some of Simien’s workload each night.

Georgia Tech: The loss of Marvin Lewis and Clarence Moore throws into question who will play after the first six. Will Bynum has yet to show he can do much without the ball in his hands, but every touch he takes away from Jarrett Jack will be to the Yellow Jackets detriment.

Oklahoma State: They’ll miss Tony Allen on the defensive end of the court, but slashing, physical wings rarely make the difference on the other end of the court in college basketball. John Lucas will be hard pressed to improve on last year’s performance, but Joey Graham could move closer to the Carmelo Anthony than the Ryan Gomes end of the ‘tweener continuum.

Perfectly Reasonable Final Four Candidates

Illinois: If Dee Brown is healthy, they’ll make the above quartet a quintet. If he’s not, the Illini’s backcourt will not be able to mask the frontcourt’s offensive limitations.

Syracuse: They’ll be better if Billy Edelin plays, but if their only options for the other backcourt spot is Joshs Pace and Wright they’ll still be plenty good. Gerry McNamara and Hakim Warrick are both individually capable of carrying the team to victory on any night.

North Carolina: The additions of Marvin Williams and Quentin Thomas will allow Carolina to go nine deep this year. Presumably Roy Williams will be able to bench Matt Doherty’s recruits punitively if necessary without forcing under-qualified practice players onto the floor. Felton, McCants, and May are still talented and still haven’t accomplished much of anything beyond the coup. This may be their last chance to do so as another good recruiting class will give Coach Williams even more of his own players for 2005-06.

Heavily Dependent on Freshmen I've Never Seen Play

UConn: I have no idea how good Rudy Gay is, but Charlie Villanueva seems poised to explode this year. The frontcourt rotation of Villanueva, Josh Boone, Ed Nelson, and Hilton Armstrong should be the nation’s best.

Kentucky: Relying on Rajon Rondo, Joe Crawford, and Randolph Morris makes Kentucky this pre-season’s biggest mystery team. Chuck Hayes will likely remain the nation’s finest role player while Patrick Sparks and Kelenna Azubuike try to limit the pressure on the freshman guards. Competition for the rest of the spots in the rotation is wide open. If one or two of candidates demonstrates a particular, exploitable skill, Tubby Smith will have another outstanding and dangerous team.

Good, but with Reservations

Maryland: When they play well, they are very good and could easily make a tournament run, but, despite their enviable depth, they lack the frontline talent to dominate consistently in college basketball. The quality of the ACC this year may hurt their record while helping their tournament preparation.

Arizona: They’ll go as far as Salim Stoudamire allows. If he accepts that he’s the fourth-best player on the team, things should be fine. If Stoudamire insists on dominating the proceedings, Lute Olson must hope that Chris Rodgers, Ivan Radenovic, or Jawann McClellan offer him an alternative to having Stoudamire on the floor.

Duke: Let’s get one thing clear, JJ Redick can only do one thing: shoot the basketball. He does it well, but it’s relatively easy to slow a one-dimensional talent. If he didn’t play at Duke, he’d be recognized for what he is, a taller Jake Sullivan. Duke will be as good as Daniel Ewing and Shavlik Randolph allow themselves to be. Both have the talent to dominate college basketball games, though neither has yet acknowledged this fact consistently.


Louisville: Before he left for the Celtics, Pitino was clearly the best coach in college basketball. I expect him eventually to challenge for that distinction as Louisville’s head coach. The Cardinals got to number one last year before injuries decimated their frontline talent. If Taquan Dean provides steady play at the point and Ellis Myles stays healthy, I don’t see why they couldn’t ride Francisco Garcia’s (presumably) final season deep into the tournament.

Next Best Major Conference Teams

Pittsburgh: Their non-conference schedule will again provide little illumination as to their quality. Carl Krauser is the most underrated point guard in the country, especially when he acknowledges his limitations. Some of the attention due Krauser goes instead to Chris Taft, who, though undeniably talented, has yet to merit it in full.

NC State: Marcus Melvin will be sorely missed, both for his rebounding and his ability to combine with Julius Hodge in creating matchup problems. Levi Watkins and Jordan Collins could provide help on the boards at the expense of stretching opposing defenses. Freshmen Cedric Simmons and Andrew Brackman might be able to replace Melvin’s production eventually, but likely not this year. As Hodge attracts more attention and more conventional matchups this season, increased stress will be placed on perimeter shooting from Engin Atsur, Cameron Bennerman, and transfer Tony Bethel.

Michigan State: Drew Neitzel is expected to bring stability to the point guard role, but Michigan State’s primary problem last year was their inability to guard anybody. If Alan Anderson is again stuck guarding opposing power forwards, it’ll be another year since Tom Izzo was a successful defense and rebounding coach.

Texas: Though they’ll also depend on freshmen in key roles, I didn’t include Texas with UConn and Kentucky because they’re not likely to be as good. PJ Tucker was surprisingly effective as a freshman, but his upside is more Melvin Sanders than Desmond Mason or Tony Allen. Brad Buckman looks like he should be good, but hasn’t been often enough thus far. Furthermore, the freshman may struggle dealing with the frequent, inscrutable substitution patterns favored by Rick Barnes.

Wisconsin: I had Wisconsin up with Duke, Arizona, and Maryland before they lost Boo Wade. Bo Ryan and Alondo Tucker are enough to challenge for a second place finish in the Big Ten, but this solid, unspectacular bunch could be looking at another nice season that comes to the end in the second round of the tournament.

Mississippi State: They will miss Timmy Bowers more than anyone thinks. Lawrence Roberts is a nice player, but Bowers allowed him to be compared to better players like Wayne Simien and Hakim Warrick. There are enough decent players around to get Mississippi State into the tournament, but no one to take them very deep.

Stanford: The Cardinal are in the same boat as Wisconsin. They’re too solid and well-coached to have a down year, but will struggle to have more than a nice season. Chris Hernandez might be exposed by the increased responsibilities brought on by the departure of Josh Childress and Matt Lottich even with Nick Robinson picking up some of their slack.

Tip-off Is at Midnight Eastern Time

Utah: Andrew Bogut has a ton of potential and Justin Hawkins has only incrementally less. Marc Jackson returns (on the cusp of turning thirty) to provide backcourt depth. If Bogut makes the leap, the Utes will be dangerous. Even if he only shows improvement, they should hang around the bottom of the top twenty-five.

Gonzaga: JP Batista, Nathan Doudney, and Pierre Marie Altidor-Cespedes will not be able to replace Blake Stepp. Cory Violette, Tony Skinner, and Kyle Bankhead but they’ll come close to matching their production. Ultimately, the Zags will only go as far as Ronny Turiaf and Adam Morrison take them, but the newcomers and an increased role for Erroll Knight should help to maintain their remarkable level of accomplishment.

Teams I Don't Trust

Alabama: The Crimson Tide parlayed three good games last March into top fifteen consideration this pre-season. I’m skeptical. They were 8-8 in a conference that only had two good teams and they have to replace their point guard.

Washington: All five starters return for a team that surprised, but got a lot more positive attention than a 19-12 team that lost in the first round of the tournament deserved. If they buy into how great they are, they’re more likely to be caught by Oregon than to pass Arizona and Stanford in the Pac-10. The four-guard set is unlikely to make much impact on a national stage.

Florida: It’s taken eight years, but people are starting to notice that Billy Donovan isn’t a very good coach. An unquestionably tireless recruiter, even that effort begins to pale when top recruits fail to stay at Florida. The team should look the same as last year. David Lee is still a good player who doesn’t get enough touches; Anthony Roberson is still not a point guard; and Matt Walsh still has a game I hate more than words.


Memphis: It pains me to say nice things about John Calipari, but he’s put assembled an intriguing collection of talent at Memphis. Sean Banks is one the twenty best players in the nation; Rodney Carney, Anthony Rice, and Jeremy Hunt are all rangy, athletic, useful wings; if Darius Washington can adequately replace Antonio Burks at the point and Waki Williams adds some quality post play to the mix, Memphis could be scary good.

Oklahoma: Last year was a mess in Norman, but Drew Lavender is now a sophomore point guard, Kevin Bookout has two healthy shoulders, and Taj Gray is everyone’s pick for Big 12 Newcomer of the Year. Fourth place is definitely up for grabs in the Big 12, but if Kelvin Sampson finds enough defensive-minded role players to complement his three best players he could again suppress opponent’s scoring sufficiently to challenge the young Texas team for third place.

Preseason All-American 1st Team

Chris Paul, Wake Forest
Gerry McNamara, Syracuse
Joey Graham, Oklahoma State
Hakim Warrick, Syracuse
Wayne Simien, Kansas

Preseason All-American 2nd Team

Deron Willimas, Illinois
Francisco Garcia, Louisville
Julius Hodge, NC State
Ryan Gomes Providence
Lawrence Roberts, Mississippi State

Preseason All-American 3rd Team

Jarrett Jack, Georgia Tech
JR Giddens, Kansas
Hassan Adams, Arizona
Ike Diogu, Arizona State
Andrew Bogut, Utah

Preseason All-American 4th Team

John Gilchrist, Maryland
Daniel Ewing, Duke
Sean Banks, Memphis
Charlie Villanueva, UConn
Ronny Turiaf, Gonzaga

Preseason All-American 5th Team

Aaron Miles, Kansas
Justin Gray, Wake Forest
Kennedy Winston, Alabama
Chuck Hayes, Kentucky
Chris Taft, Pittsburgh

Preseason All-American 6th Team

John Lucas, Oklahoma State
Dee Brown, Illinois
Adam Morrison, Gonzaga
Taylor Coppenrath, Vermont
Craig Smith, Boston College

Preseason All-American Honorable Mention

Raymond Felton, North Carolina; Carl Krauser, Pittsburgh; Travis Diener, Marquette; Chris Hernandez, Stanford; Chris Thomas, Notre Dame; Nate Robinson, Washington; Bracey Wright, Indiana; BJ Elder, Georgia Tech; Keith Langford, Kansas; Malik Hairston, Oregon; Rudy Gay, UConn; Marvin Williams, North Carolina; Shelden Williams, Duke; Sean May, North Carolina; Eric Williams, Wake Forest; Vytus Danelius, Wake Forest; Paul Davis, Michigan State; Linas Kleiza, Missouri

For Entertainment Purposes Only

Three picks tonight.

Lakers at Memphis over 189.5
Phoenix at Cleveland (+180)
Sacramento at Seattle over 203.5

Year-to-date: Sides 1-3-0, Totals 3-2-0, Money Line 2-2-0 (+1.4 units)

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Premature Speculations

1) While editing my NBA preview, it became clear that I liked the Jazz more than I consciously realized. Unfortunately, I chose to leave them 5th in the West rather than move them up to 3rd because I didn't want to re-format. Sigh. I could have looked smart.

2) Isiah Thomas is already moving to dismiss Lenny Wilkens, replacing Wilkens assistant Dick Helm with Brendan Suhr. Opinion in NYC seems mixed as to whether Suhr has been put in place to succeed Wilkens or to act as associate head coach under Thomas. Knicks fans may yet look back wistfully to November 6th, the night of the 107-73 loss to Boston in the home opener, as a time when they still thought things could get better.

3) The Atlanta Hawks are unwatchably bad. Jon Barry already looks melancholy and has taken to attempting ridiculous behind-the-back passes in the first half of games just to enliven the tedium of watching guys who can't shoot (Walker, Harrington, Diaw, Josh Smith) shoot a lot. They can't be paying Mike Woodson enough.

4) On the aesthetic flip-side of that coin, the Phoenix Suns are further along than I anticipated. They're already fun to watch. They'll run bad teams out of the gym, but struggle against good teams who can control tempo and force them to play Voskuhl, Vroman, and Lampe extended minutes. Today, I'd pick them to make the playoffs.

5) Memphis will probably get better but Sacramento may not, thus, the Lakers have a slightly better chance to make the playoffs than I originally forecast.

6) Chris Wilcox will emerge as Elton Brand's sidekick this season, but could be the better player as early as next year.

7) Early returns indicate another strong rookie class this year. Okafor, Deng, Iguodala, and Howard are all doing useful things for their respective teams already. Devin Harris and Andres Nocioni have had their moments as well. Ben Gordon, Trevor Ariza, and Tony Allen have been uneven but still remain ahead of strugglers Shaun Livingston, Jameer Nelson, Nick Collison, JR Smith, Josh Smith, and Josh Childress.

For Entertainment Purposes Only

Thanks to Seventeen Green for providing content as a finish up my NCAA Preview. One pick tonight.

Seattle at Denver (-5.5)

Year-to-date: Sides 1-2-0, Totals 3-2-0, Money Line 2-2-0 (+1.4 units)

Monday, November 08, 2004

For Entertainment Purposes Only

Only an update today, Seventeen Green has informed me he's passing on tonight's abbreviated slate of games.

Year-to-date: Sides 1-2-0, Totals 3-2-0, Money Line 2-2-0 (+1.4 units)

Saturday, November 06, 2004

For Entertainment Purposes Only

Saturday, November 6th

Clippers (+160) at Golden State
Clippers at Golden State over 180.5
Cleveland (+145) at Milwaukee
Utah (+180) at Denver

Year-to-date: Sides 1-2-0, Totals 3-1-0, Money Line 0-1-0 (-1 unit)

Friday, November 05, 2004

For Entertainment Purposes Only

Friday, November 5th

Atlanta at Seattle over 192
Utah (-1.5) at Golden State

Year-to-date: Sides 0-2-0, Totals 3-0-0, Money Line 0-1-0 (-1 unit)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Little help?

I've been looking forward to Bill Simmons' NBA preview for a week or so now primarily for the joy of witnessing him rip Knicks GM (and future Knicks coach) Isiah Thomas. Sometimes it seems Simmons alone holds Thomas accountable for his disastrous stints as Raptors GM (building a team around Damon Stoudamire), Pacers coach (losing a play-off series to the inferior Celtics by having Al Harrington attempt to guard Paul Pierce for long stretches and playing Ron Mercer at point guard in the 4th quarter), and CBA executioner (no parenthetical necessary).

So I read it and now I'm confused. Perhaps my sister could unpack the following reference for me: "From a competitive standpoint, even the Real World/Road Rules Challenge isn't as lopsided as the NBA right now. And the Knicks don't even have someone like Tonya."


For Entertainment Purposes Only

Seventeen Green treaded water on opening night, but is back with 4 picks from tonight's full slate of games.

Wednesday, November 3rd
Milwaukee at Orlando (-4)
Philadelphia at Boston (-3)
Dallas and New Orleans over 193
Atlanta and Phoenix over 191

Year-to-date: Sides 0-0-0, Totals 1-0-0, Money Line 0-1-0 (-1 unit)

Basketball New Year (Nuggets-Lakers)

I only caught a bit of the Nuggets-Lakers game amidst the election reports last night but I'm comfortable declaring it a bad night for Denver.

They shot (30-88 from the field, 3-12 from three) and passed (17 assists/16 turnovers) poorly against a Laker team that I don't foresee being one of the better defensive teams in the league.

Losing Voshon Lenard, their one legitimate three-point shooter, will make things very difficult for the Nuggets this year. Rodney White and DerMarr Johnson will be pressed into service as shooters in the half-court offense. The Nuggets will have to become even more of a defense and transition team now. It will be imperative that Martin, Camby, Nene, and Francisco Elson both control the defensive glass and get the ball quickly into the hands of Andre Miller and Earl Boykins. That Chris Mihm posted 20 and 10 against the Denver big men does not bode well for their success with this approach.

Kobe put up a Paul Pierce looking line, making just over a third of his shots, going to the line a ton, and contributing both assists (7) and turnovers (4).

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Let's get it started...

Even with the Chiefs finally playing as I knew the could against Atlanta and Indianapolis the past two weeks, their season is already a disappointment, and their chances of pulling out a respectable playoff run are slim. Kansas finally beat K-State in football this year, and that win will define this season. They're better, and in the Big 12 North, better goes a long way to being near the top, but now Adam Barmann is out for the season, and any other big wins are doubtful. Bring on basketball season.

I blame my inability to finish and post my NBA preview until NBA tip-off day on Election Day apprehension. As Nov. 2 approached, I found myself suddenly completely stressed out at the possibility that the world might be stuck with four more years of Bush and his cronies. Thankfully, as we wait an unknown number of days and court cases for the results, I can amuse myself with the less life and civil rights-threatening antics of Iverson, Kobe and Spree rather than deal with the political reality we live in. It's a new season, and after my failed Kirk Hinrich for Rookie of the Year campaign last year, I've moved on to the more ambitious Hinrich for MVP campaign.

For Entertainment Purposes Only

My friend Seventeen Green likes basketball, numbers, and gambling. He'll provide his daily NBA picks in this space and I'll track his results.

Tuesday, November 2nd
Sacramento at Dallas under 206
Denver (+135) to win at LA Lakers

Year-to-date: 0-0-0 (natch)

The Official Hoopinion Fantasy Team

Competing in Yahoo Public League 186749.

Guards: Luke RIdnour, Paul Pierce, Michael Redd, Cuttino Mobley, and Latrell Sprewell
Forwards: Corey Maggette, Andrei Kirilenko, Josh Howard, Caron Butler, and Luol Deng
Centers: Chris Bosh, Raef LaFrentz, and Eddy Curry

Rookie Preview--Key Contributors

Josh Childress, Atlanta
It’s unclear how the rotation at the 2 and 3 spots will shake out for Atlanta, but it seems the Hawks will give Childress every chance to start alongside Al Harrington. It would make the most sense to have Childress and Diaw split the minutes alongside Harrington, with Josh Smith taking up the leftovers. The presence of Jon Barry on the roster confuses things. I’m not sure what value his typical 16-20 minutes a game of solid bench play gives this team. He’ll undoubtedly outplay Childress and Diaw much of the time forcing Mike Woodson to weigh his job security options: develop the young players or eke out of few extra wins.

Emeka Okafor, Charlotte
The default favorite for Rookie of the Year, Okafor is the only rookie who is his team’s best player. The only possible roadblock for him is his teammates, a mesmerizingly awful collection of sub-NBA talent that will force Okafor to adjust to the NBA while being the focus of opposing defenses. His saving grace will be that so much of his value derives from defense and rebounding.

Luol Deng and Andres Nocioni, Chicago
Deng had an excellent pre-season, proving himself the best of the Bulls’ stable of rookies. Without much competition for minutes on the wing, he should get a chance to lead all rookies in scoring.

Slightly less polished than Deng, Nocioni might lose some minutes to calmer veterans Eric Piatkowski and Adrian Griffin. Neither should challenge Nocioni for his starting job but both have their uses in certain situations and could spell Nocioni should he struggle to channel his energy in a productive direction.

Devin Harris, Dallas
Harris has won the starting point guard job on the strength of 22 steals in pre-season play. I’m not sure how the perimeter rotation will work as Don Nelson seems to have little opportunity to play Harris and Jason Terry together as Michael Finley, Josh Howard, Marquis Daniels, and the rapidly healing Jerry Stackhouse all need minutes at the 2 or the 3. Jason Terry is most qualified to be a third guard and could thrive in the role. If it were up to me, Stackhouse would be at the end of the line, but more likely the hard choices will be avoided by one of the wing players being hurt at all times.

Carlos Delfino, Detroit
Slated to backup Rip Hamilton and Tayshaun Prince, Delfino will prove active on defense and useful on offense. The comparisons to Manu Ginobili seem apt.

JR Smith, New Orleans
Smith has appeared more polished than expected in the pre-season, shooting for a decent percentage from the floor (.417) and from distance (.400 on 30 shots) while only turning the ball over 10 times in 174 minutes. Smith may start the season behind David Wesley and George Lynch on the Hornets’ depth chart, but with little hope for a play-off berth in the West, Smith’s development will take precedence over short-term results as the season progresses.

Dwight Howard, Orlando
Barring foul trouble, Howard will get plenty of minutes in Orlando. Playing alongside Steve Francis and Cuttino Mobley might limit his touches, but he doesn’t possess, at this early date, enough of a post game to deserve the focus of the offense. An impressively quick leaper, Howard should be an immediate factor on the offensive glass while developing the rest of his skills.

Andre Iguodala, Philadelphia
Iguodala beat out Glenn Robinson for the starting small forward job this pre-season. The move should benefit both players. Iguodala has no particularly great skill, but he’s a good basketball player and his defense and passing will benefit from increased minutes. Robinson, as a reserve, will not be exposed as such a defensive liability and give the Sixers a viable scoring option for those fleeting moments when Iverson’s off the floor. Jim O’Brien’s a good coach. I might should have picked the Sixers to win the Atlantic.

Nick Collison, Seattle

Reggie Evans will begin the season as the starting power forward, but he’s just keeping the spot warm for Collison. Vitaly Potapenko’s broken finger might test the Sonics’ patience with Collison’s development. He’ll be forced to play out-of-position at center early this year, though his quickness may be a more immediate aid there than against the great power forwards in the West. Collison will be a decent NBA player by April, but there may be some rough nights in November and December.

Rookie Preview--Members of the Rotation

Tony Allen, Boston
Boston is high on Tony Allen, but he may be stuck backing up Paul Pierce this year. Allen doesn’t have three-point range and is a mediocre ball handler. An active defender and useful player in the open-court, he doesn’t seem to make much sense in any combination with Pierce, Ricky Davis, Jiri Welsch, and Gary Payton. If Welsch takes most of the backup point guard minutes away from Marcus Banks, that would help Allen in the short term. In the long term, Allen’s development as a player may make Ricky Davis expendable.

Chris Duhon and Ben Gordon, Chicago
Chris Duhon won the backup point guard job this pre-season. Ben Gordon’s early struggles as an NBA 2-guard may limit the benefits of that victory. If Gordon is unable to prosper alongside Kirk Hinrich, the Bulls will likely give him minutes relieving Hinrich at the point. Duhon played his best alongside Hinrich this pre-season but may not get that chance very often when the games count because he was not the third pick in the draft. I don’t think giving Gordon the benefit of the doubt is a cynical decision. Of the two, he’s the one with a chance to be a good NBA player.

Luke Jackson, Cleveland
Without even taking into account the variety of skills possessed by LeBron James, Paul Silas has a lot of lineup options. Jeff McInnis and Eric Snow will share the point guard minutes and could play together as well. Lucious Harris will likely be the third guard, with Dajuan Wagner as an option if Silas wants to go small. If Silas chooses to go big, he could have either Luke Jackson or Aleksandar Pavlovic play with James. When matchups don’t favor a big lineup, Jackson will battle Pavlovic and Ira Newble for the spare minutes at small forward.

Shaun Livingston, Clippers
As would be expected, Shaun Livingston struggled in the pre-season. The adjustment from college to the NBA slows most point guards. Leaping from high school to the NBA as a point guard is ridiculously difficult. Livingston will get minutes backing up Marko Jaric and he’ll struggle in those minutes. We won’t know if Livingston is going to be any good for three years at least: right around the time that the Clippers will have to be making decisions regarding Livingston’s contract. That’s why it’s not a good idea to build a team by drafting high schoolers.

Jameer Nelson, Orlando
As I said above, it’s tough to learn how to play point guard in the NBA. Nelson’s adjustment will be hampered by a lack of minutes and touches. Steve Francis, Cuttino Mobley, and Grant Hill will all have the ball in their hands more often than Nelson. The Magic’s lack of post players will force Nelson to figure out how to create his own shot on the job. Nelson stands a very real chance of being prematurely labeled a bust but he’s not Mateen Cleaves. Once Nelson adjusts, he’ll be a good point guard in the league. That won’t happen this year and might not happen with this team. Keep Steve Nash’s career path foremost in your mind.

Kevin Martin, Sacramento
Doug Christie’s got a bad foot, Courtney Alexander’s on the injured list having been told in no uncertain terms that he better start practicing or look for work, and the rest of the bench will be comprised of Maurice Evans, Matt Barnes, and Erik Daniels. Kevin Martin could get a lot of run in Sacramento this year. The opportunity to play will be beneficial but the opportunity to be a visible manifestation of the Kings’ collapse could be damaging.

Rafael Araujo, Toronto
The only thing standing between Araujo and a starting job is Loren Woods. Araujo may win the battle whether he’s ready to contribute or not.

Rookie Preview--Possible Contributors

Josh Smith, Atlanta
Smith will get the minutes leftover from the Childress/Harrington/Diaw/Jon Barry logjam plus Atlanta’s sure-to-be-ample amount of garbage time.

Al Jefferson and Delonte West, Boston
Jefferson only has to compete with Kendrick Perkins to be the fourth big man in the Celtics’ rotation. Should both play well, Walter McCarty’s lovable days could be numbered barring injury to Gugliotta and/or LaFrentz.

The Celtics placed West on the injured list with a broken thumb. In West’s absence, the Celtics will have the opportunity to try the Jiri Welsch Backup Point Guard Experiment and/or decide that Marcus Banks is not the answer as Payton’s backup. Once West is healed he should get a chance to spell Payton.

Jared Reiner, Chicago
Forced into service by the Eddy Curry/Antonio Davis suspensions, Reiner will get a couple of games to make his case as an energy guy off the bench. As neither Davis nor Tyson Chandler is a good bet to make it through the season without missing time, Reiner could parlay a couple of good performances into fairly significant minutes.

Anderson Varejao, Cleveland
Only has to outperform Tractor Traylor and Scott Williams to get minutes behind Drew Gooden.

Sasha Vujacic, Lakers
Tierre Brown is in the mix to play point guard for the Lakers. Vujacic has the advantage of not having proved himself to be unable to play the point in the NBA. He’ll get his chance sometime this year.

Nenad Kristic, New Jersey
On a team that’s planning to start Eric Williams or Brian Scalabrine at power forward and lists Alonzo Mourning as the backup center, a young, active big man will get an opportunity.

Trevor Ariza, New York
Ariza, if he’s not traded, will benefit from being the rare Knick that is neither a shooting guard nor an undersized power forward. Out of necessity, Lenny Wilkens might turn him into this year’s Marquis Daniels.

Sebastian Telfair, Portland
He might not be qualified to be Portland’s third point guard, but he’s there on the roster. The Blazers lack the talent to contend for a play-off berth and either Damon Stoudamire or Nick Van Exel could be included in the Shareef Abdur-Rahim trade so Telfair might actually get on the court sometime this year.

Beno Udrih, San Antonio
Udrih will get first crack at backing up Tony Parker. Brent Barry’s a pretty good Plan B, so a slow start from Udrih may relegate him to the end of the bench.

Robert Swift, Seattle
Potapenko’s injury might force Swift into NBA games at far too young an age. Jerome James, Danny Fortson, and Nick Collison will do their best to keep Swift safely on the bench, but he’ll see a few minutes and get manhandled. It shouldn’t adversely effect his development.

Kris Humphries and Kirk Snyder, Utah
Humphries is listed as Carlos Boozer’s backup, but both Andrei Kirilenko and Mehmet Okur could see time at power forward as well. Snyder might take some time to adjust the Jazz offense after being the focal point of Nevada’s half-court game, but will be given the chance to surpass Gordan Giricek and Raja Bell on the depth chart when he’s ready to contribute. Both will be key contributors to the 2005-06 Utah Jazz.