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Who Says There is No Cinderella in ‘09?

Will a run to the Sweet 16 be enough to convince the University of Arizona to give Russ Pennell a full time shot, or is this the end of an amazing 6 months for the Interim Head Coach? Speculation continues to fly that Arizona remains committed to holding a national search for Lute Olsen’s replacement at season’s end. If so, than Russ Pennell was never given a chance to win the job, because he’s done everything imaginable to keep his players focused and on task during some pretty trying circumstances. 2 wins this weekend will give the athletic department in Tuscon something to REALLY think about.

Nolan Shulman

Posted 4 days, 12 hours ago at 1:24 PM.

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Can Billy Gillispie’s Tenure Be Over?

After losing to Notre Dame in the Quarterfinals of the NIT last night, rumors are beginning to swirl about Billy Gillispie being let go by the Kentucky Wildcats. Really? Already?

These are the same Wildcats who ran Tubby Smith out of town, despite Tubby bringing them a National Championship in 1998. On top of winning a National Championship, Tubby’s Kentucky resume also included 5 SEC regular season titles, and 5 SEC Tournament titles. He went to the Sweet 16 six times, and the Elite 8 four times. With all that success, Tubby still had the Kentucky community and Kentucky boosters calling for his dismissal. People close to the program felt that Tubby wasn’t recruiting the type of star power high school kids Rick Pitino was able to lure. They insisted Tubby had a ceiling as a head coach because of his inability to recruit 5 star athletes and McDonald’s All-Americans. Two seasons ago, amidst all the pressure put on Tubby, and boosters calling for his job, Tubby Smith decided to step down. Tubby is now the head coach at the University of Minnesota and in just his second season, has already managed to earn the Gophers both a Top 25 recruiting class, and a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Ironically, Kentucky failed to reach the NCAA Tournament this season and have apparently already begun the calls for Tubby’s replacement, Billy Gillispie to be fired.

Billy Gillispie has been the polar opposite of Tubby Smith throughout his short tenure in Kentucky. Although his success on the court hasn’t been superb, he has been able to recruit and sign the type of players the Kentucky faithful was clamoring for while Smith was in town. In Billy’s first summer as head coach, he was able to lure 5-star recruit and McDonald’s All-American Patrick Patterson to Kentucky, as well as a 4-star recruit from the famous Oak Hill Academy, Alex Legion (who’s since transferred to Illinois). In his second summer, Gillispie was able to snag two players on scout.com’s top 40 prospect list, DeAndre Liggins and Darius Miller. 2009 could very well be Billy’s best recruiting class yet. He was able to sign Center Daniel Orton, who chose Kentucky over Kansas, Ohio State, and Oklahoma. Orton will be a McDonald’s All-American and is a 5-star recruit on scout.com’s top 15. Gillispie also picked up local 4-star recruit Jon Hood and convinced him to stay in State and join the new look Wildcats.

How can you fire a coach who has filled the cupboard with so many superstars? The talent is in place for Kentucky to reclaim their rightful spot on top of college basketball, but the patience throughout the State is abysmal. Coach Gillispie has done everything Kentucky brought him in to do. He has sold the top recruits in the land on Kentucky as an institution. He hasn’t gotten them to perform on the court yet, but can Kentucky really fire Coach Gillispie without giving him a fair chance to coach em up?

It’s not as if Gillispie is only a recruiter and can’t coach. He turned UTEP around in just one season, taking them from 6-24 to 24-8. He than helped put Texas A&M on the National map, and won Big Twelve Coach of the Year twice. He turned Acie Law III into a collegiate superstar, and took A&M to it’s first NCAA Tournament since 1987. This guy can coach !!!!

This year was a tough year for the Wildcats, no question. But, Patrick Patterson was injured for a god portion of the year, and they were relying on underclassman to win in a very difficult SEC Conference. The one bright spot this season was that Jodie Meeks became Kentucky’s only first team All-American since 1989. With Meeks, Patterson, and Liggins returning, along with Orton coming to town, I expect Billy to win, and win big next year. NOW ALL HE NEEDS IS THE CHANCE !!!

And if he isn’t given the chance, say goodbye to Orton and Meeks, cause they are as good as gone. And good luck finding another high profile coach after running Tubby Smith out of town, and giving Gillispie only two years to turn it around. This is a very important decision for the University of Kentucky, and I expect them to make the right one. Gillispie should be back next season, and Kentucky basketball will be back on top to stay. If Kentucky decides to fire Coach Gillispie, it could be a long 5 years for those same boosters and fans who are running short on patience.

Nolan Shulman

Posted 4 days, 19 hours ago at 5:47 AM.

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Eric Devendorf:
Tournament Villain or Misunderstood?

Throughout Syracuse three week thrill ride, two things have become abundantly clear. Jonny Flynn has propelled to super-stardom, and Eric Devendorf has become America’s most hated player. Story after story has been written on ESPN, Yahoo, SI, etc., depicting Eric as a bad apple, and a player no one respects or cheers for. Devendorf did have an incident where a student alleged he had physically assaulted her, however, a Syracuse Judicial board later decided he had not done any physical harm to her. The board decided to suspend Eric 2 games anyways, with the reason being, yelling, swearing at, and defending yourself against a female student while drunk in the early hours of the morning was a violation of a previous probation which he had received. Let’s look back at our own college years and reflect for a minute before we judge this kid. I wasn’t there and don’t know what “really” happened that night, and I certainly would never condone hitting a female, but everyone who reads this did something they regret in college. The kid made a mistake, he shouldn’t have yelled at a women or been in a poor situation after 1am. He regrets it, and has apologized. But for the media to completely turn on him for his mistake, is a pretty big overreaction. If you ask Devendorf’s teammates, to a man, they all love playing with him. Gerry McNamara recently called him one of the best teammates he’s ever had. His heart on the basketball court is unmatched, and he wears his emotions on his sleeves. Eric is an instrumental piece to the Syracuse puzzle, and the Cuse would not be here today without him. The kid hasn’t been convicted of a crime while at Syracuse and shouldn’t be treated like a criminal. Eric may have been anointed America’s most hated player, but one writer is here to say, IT AINT RIGHT.

Posted 5 days, 10 hours ago at 2:57 PM.

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Inside The Mind of Blake Griffin

Posted 5 days, 11 hours ago at 1:52 PM.

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Sweet 16: South Region Semifinals
Memphis, TN

The South Region has star power, as 4 of the nations top programs battle it out for a spot in the Final Four. Will Tyler Hansbrough finish his storied career a champion? Will Eric Devendorf, the countries most hated player, get to play in front of his family and friends in Detroit? Will Blake Griffin carry his upstart Sonners to a National Championship before bolting for the NBA lottery? I’m here to answer those questions and more, as I break down the matchups in the South Region.

Oklahoma vs Syracuse

The Sooners will get the opportunity to avenge an embarrassing loss, suffered at the hands of Carmelo Anthony, Gerry McNamara, and Hakim Warrick in the 2003 regional finals. The Sooners had no answers, and no clue how to attack Syracuse famous 2-3 zone, and the nations most unstoppable player (Melo), led the Cuse to a Final Four. 6 years later the rematch is on, accept this time, the nation’s most talented player is wearing the wrong color jersey. Blake Griffin, the consensus soon to be Naismith Award winner, has been on a tear of late, and that’s a scary thought. Blake averaged 22.5 ppg’s and 14.4 rebounds this season, and is considered the Nations top rebounder and most dominant player. Over his last 6 games, the super soph has picked up his numbers to the tune of 24.5 points and 17.2 rebounds. The 2-3 Zone is known for producing a lot of offensive rebound oppurtunities, and how Paul Harris and Rick Jackson fare against Blake on the weak side could very well determine whether the Orange are able to slow him down.

Size shouldn’t be an issue for Syracuse, as the Orange have plenty of meat up front in Arinze Onuaku and Rick Jackson. They are more than capable of playing physical, and frustrating prolific big men. Just ask Matt Kingsley or Jeff Pendergraph, the duo who combined for 11 points, and 6 rebounds, on 4-13 shooting against Syracuse in the first weekend of the tournament. Blake and Taylor Griffin provide a different and unique challenge to the Syracuse front court, and if you were watching this weekend, they are more than up to the task.

But the real question on everyone’s mind isn’t whether Blake Griffin will be great, we already know he will be. The 400 pound elephant in the room is whether or not the Sooners have learned how to attack the 2-3 zone. Will Sooner fans have flashbacks of a 2003 Syracuse defense that held Oklahoma to just 47 points, or will they be the one’s celebrating this time? It’s hard to tell to be perfectly honest. Oklahoma has only played two games this season against teams that play exclusively zone. The most recent was this weekend when the Sooners faced Michigan, and Jon Belein’s daunting 1-3-1 zone. It’s a defense that gives most teams who aren’t familiar with it, a lot of problems. As a team Oklahoma shot 49% from the floor, and Blake Griffin did damage scoring 33 points, and pulling down 17 boards. More importantly Blake went 14-20 from the floor, showing no signs of being slowed down by a zone. Texas, a team that does play quite a bit of 2-3 zone was able to beat Oklahoma and hold them to 45% shooting as a team. Griffin only played 11 minutes however, so that’s a tough game to get too much out of.

The one thing noone has been talking about all week is that Syracuse has a pretty potent offense as well. Everyone is focusing on how the Orange plan to stop Blake Griffin. My initial thought is that they won’t, but they might just try to outscore him. How is Oklahoma going to stop the dribble penetration of Jonny Flynn, and prevent the Cuse’s outside shooters from getting open looks? How will Blake and Taylor fare against Men from the Big East Conference? Oklahoma hasn’t seen a lot of teams with the toughness of the Syracuse big men, nor have they played any teams who have a point guard like budding superstar Jonny Flynn.

I predict that this game will be a very high scoring affair, but in the end, the grit and heart of tournament villan Eric Devendorf, along with “Mr.Big Shot” J Flyzzle , will prove to be too much down the stretch for the Sooners. Expect chants of ONE MORE YEAR to fill the rafters of the Fed Ex Forum as Sooner fans won’t want to say goodbye to their once in a lifetime talent.

North Carolina vs Gonzaga

This game has potential to be the most exciting of the tournament. Gonzaga has the athletes to run up and down the floor and go tit for tat with the Heels, and I expect them to do so. Jeremy Pargo (brother of Jannero Pargo) is the point guard for the Zags, and will have a tremendous challenge going head to head with Ty Lawson. Jeremy is up to the challenge though, as he too is an NBA talent. Averaging 10.1 points and 5 assists per game, Jeremy is an outstanding floor general, and an even better leader. He has the speed to stay in front of Lawson defensively, and the ability to take Lawson off the dribble and create offense for Gonzaga. For UNC, Lawson’s toe is no longer a concern. To prove it, the young man out of Oak Hill Academy went off for 21 points in the second half of the Tar Heels win over LSU.

This isn’t just a game about point guard play. There is going to be plenty of talent all across the board on display in the Fedex Forum. Wayne Ellington, UNC’s 2-guard might just have the sweetest stroke in America. He shoots the ball so effortlessly, he should be nicknamed Ray Allen Light. Tyler Hansbrough will also be wearing baby blue, and his credentials get discussed daily on Flagrant Fouls, and on every other news outlet across America. We’ll put a picture in that says all you need to know about Tyler. Some of the Tar Heels that don’t get as much publicity are wing man Danny Green, and big man Deon Thompson. Danny Green tested the NBA waters last summer, but elected to come back and try to improve both his stock and his game. He does a little bit of everything for the Heels. He averages about 13 points, 5 rebounds, and 3 assists per game, while playing within the team concept and deferring to the Carolina’s other superstars at times. Deon Thompson helps Tyler Hansbrogh in the middle and has quite a few moves in his offensive repertoire. He started the season like a house on fire but has cooled off of late, and has yet to really have a good game in the tournament. Nevertheless the ability is there and Gonzaga will have to account for his whereabouts on the floor.

Gonzaga also has NBA talent. Forward Austin Daye has had a dissapointing sophmore year, but was projected as a potential lottery pick coming into the season. Inconsistency has really plagued him all year, but the potential is there for Daye to have a monsterous game, and Hansbrough might have his hands full. Gonzaga’s other forward, Josh Heytvelt had a tremendous season and has already had one huge game in this tournament. He scored 22 points and pulled down 8 rebounds in the Zags first round game vs Akron. Michah Downs, a transfer from Kansas has also played really well this season. The former 5-Star recruit has helped the Bulldogs in a variety of ways and will likely be asked to go head to head with either Ellington or Green.

This game has all the star power you could ask for, but in the end I predict it will be the MEGA stars from Chapel Hill advancing.

Nolan Shulman

Posted 5 days, 17 hours ago at 8:15 AM.

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Sweet 16: East Region Semifinals
Boston, MA

The Sweet 16 is upon us, and the East Regional semifinals figure to be a dandy. With all 4 top seeds prevailing over the weekend, the stage is set for two epic showdowns Thursday night.

Duke vs Villanova

This figures to be an up-tempo battle between the guards of these two heavyweight programs. Villanova, fresh off manhandling a UCLA team that had been to 3 straight Final Fours, will be playing it’s first neutral site game of the tournament. After spending the first two rounds in the comfortable confines of the Wachovia Center, the Wildcats will head to Boston, eager to prove the Big East Conference was by far the best conference in America. Scottie Reynolds, Dwayne Anderson, and Corey Fisher have been the engine of the Cats all year, running the break, pressuring the ball, and really making guards all around the country play sloppy basketball. This won’t be an easy task with the great guards that Duke fields in their lineup. Starters Jon Sheyer and Elliot Williams are solid, but it’s the Blue Devils depth that makes them a special unit. Senior Greg Paulus was a three year starter before being given a bench role this season, while Nolan Smith (son of late NBA player Derrick Smith) has also had a brief stint as a starter this season. Guard play will be at a premium in this game, and the unit that makes more shots and creates more turnovers, could very well determine the outcome of this big time matchup.

The post play of both teams lack depth, but the big men that are featured are very impressive. Villanova has the Big East’s Most Improved Player, Dante Cunningham. As a senior, Cunningham has relished this final opportunity, and has really stepped up his game in the tournament. Dante has been sensational thus far, going off for 25 points and 7 rebounds in a round one nail biter over American. In round two, Dante came up huge again, with a double-double, ammasing 18 points and 10 boards against UCLA. He hasn’t played anyone as good as Duke’s Kyle Singlar though, and Singlar is no slouch. He has more ability than any of UCLA’s big men, and I won’t dare disrespect him by comparing his to the players on American. Singlar will be the most talented player on the floor, able to post up with his back to the basket, face up his opponent, or drive to the goal and create opportunities for himself and his teammates. This should be a relatively even duel, and a battle I’m eager to see.

I like Duke to pull this game out, as their combination of coaching, shooting, and skill should be enough to “Pitt” them into the Regional Finals. Coach K has struggled in recent tournaments, losing in the first weekend the last two years. This Duke team has the talent and poise to make a deep run, and I believe they will do exactly that.

Pittsburgh vs Xavier

The Panthers survived the first two rounds, struggling with both Eastern Tennessee St. and Oklahoma St. That being said, the name of the game is “Survive and Advance” and the gritty Panthers did exactly that. Sam Young did what he’s been doing the entire season, carrying the Panthers to victory with his dynamite all around game. The Super Senior scored 32 points on 12-20 shooting, adding 8 rebounds, and 3 blocks in Sunday’s win over Oklahoma St. Levance Fields continued his steady, mistake free brand of hoops, scoring 13 points, and handing out 9 assists. More importantly, Fields committed just 2 turnovers and was the consummate floor general the Panthers have come to depend on. Sophmore Sensation Dejuan Blair was average, but threw his body around and made big plays when it counted. It all added up to a trip to the Sweet 16 and a matchup with Xavier.

Xavier is a pretty balanced team, led by BJ Raymond, Derrick Brown, and CJ Anderson. Their lack of size on the interior is a bit worrysome, considering the brute strength of Blair. Jason Love will be given the task of trying to contain Dejuan underneath. His averages of 7 points and 6 rebounds doesn’t make me feel to good about his chances. This is a team with great wing players, but none of them have the abilities of Sam Young. BJ Raymond had a solid effort against Wisconsin going for 15 points, but the Panthers defense will be keying in on the 6-6 senior. The matchup of Young and Raymond will be important, but I just don’t see anyway how it doesn’t go in Sam’s favor.

In the end I expect Pittsburgh to come out and dominate this game from the opening tip. They just have too many advantages when you look at the matchups on paper. I’m still going to encourage Xavier to lace em up and be on time, cause we know that in this tournament “ANYTHING IS POSSIBLE”

Nolan Shulman

Posted 1 week ago at 9:17 AM.

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Cuse Dominate Paint, Stroke It From Deep
Advance to Sweet 16

The trip to Miami was a tremendous success, as the Orange came away with two relatively easy wins and advanced to play in the Sweet 16. After playing poorly and beating Stephen F. Austin by 15 on Friday, Syracuse rebounded and played a superb all around basketball game. They pounded it inside to Ricky Jackson and Onuaku early and often, as it was evident Arizona State didn’t have any bodies that could matchup with the Syracuse bigs.

As the defense started to sag, Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins began what started to feel like a 3 point shoot out. The Orange jumped out to a 16 point lead as Jonny Flynn was penetrating and smiling, while the Junior shooters were coming up wet. It was a complete clinic and the Orange looked dominant in the first half. James Harden was held without a field goal in the first session, and the future lottery pick, looked like he had a better chance of winning 649 than minutes on an NBA roster.

The second half wasn’t much different, though Harden decided to upgrade to his “C” game. Arizona State didn’t attack the gaps of the zone, and relied on big shooting from Rihards Kuksiks (don’t worry, I can’t pronounce it either), who had 20 points, on 6-13 from 3 point land. If Kuksiks didn’t shoot the eyes out of it, this might have gotten embarrasing. Harden showed what he’s made of on the big stage, grading out somewhere between Pau Gasol in the NBA Finals last summer, and Chris Anderson in the 2005 Slam Dunk Competition. NBA Scouts who were on hand were down in the tunnel after the game, asking the Arizona State staff for reinbursment for their airfare. I mean this guy was putrid. Arizona State’s other big name, Jeff Pendergraph, managed just 9 points and 2 rebounds in a foul plagued 24 minutes. More importantly, he looked like a SunBelt Conference 2-guard standing behind Arinze. The bigs were the story in this one, completely out muscling the Pac-10 standout.

Next up for the Cuse, is the almighty Blake Griffin and his #2 Oklahoma Sooners.

Nolan Shulman

Posted 1 week, 1 day ago at 6:25 PM.

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UCLA vs NOVA: Inside the Matchups

The Guards
Darren Collison vs Scottie Reynolds-
Both guards are savy upper-classman. Darren the pesky on ball defender, and Scottie a streaky scorer who can take a game over. Darren is such a great defender it’s going to be difficult for Reynolds to get anything easy.
Advantage: UCLA

Jrue Holiday vs Corey Fisher- Jrue was excellent in the first round against VCU, scoring 13 points, and handing out 6 assists. Corey played a good all around game against American, as he always does. He scored 11 points, and pulled down 4 rebounds to go along with his 4 assists. Both players are more important to their team than the numbers suggest, and this matchhup will be an important one to monitor. Fisher is a feisty and aggresive defender and I think he’s going to get the best of Holiday.
Advantage: VILLANOVA

The Wings
Josh Shipp vs Dwayne Anderson- Dwayne Anderson has been on fire the last couple of weeks. He made the buzzer beater over Marqutte in the Quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament, than went for 25 points and 8 rebounds in the opening round vs American. But Shipp has been to 3 straight Final Fours and has averaged 14.4 ppg’s this season. You can’t overcome 3 years of success with a two week stretch.
Advantage: UCLA

The Bigs

Alfred Aboya vs Dante Cunningham- Cunningham averages 16.3 pts and 7.2 Reb’s and was the Big East’s Most Improved Player. He can post up, and stick the 15 footer. Aboya is also a Senior with a ton of tournament experience. He averages just under 10ppg’s and just over 6 boards. But he’s intelligent, and has been a big part of alot of UCLA wins. Cunningham is a better player and will have to win this matchup for Villanova to have a chance.
Advantage- VILLANOVA

Should be a dynamite game between two teams that are hungry to advance. The game will be played on Nova’s “suto” home court, but UCLA has an experienced, veteran core, and their freshman aren’t freshman anymore. No excuses, the best team will advance. Will it be the Big East, or Pac-10 sending a team to the sweet 16?

Nolan Shulman

Posted 1 week, 2 days ago at 8:32 AM.

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Cleveland State: Not a Cinderella

Cleveland State’s manhandling of Wake Forest last night has generated morning headlines of “Cinderella”. But anyone who followed college basketball this season, knows that Cleveland St. is for real. Cleveland State is coached by Gary Waters, a man who coached in the Big East for 5 seasons at Rutgers. Although he didn’t enjoy a lot of success during his stint at The RAC, he did have the opportunity to coach against the best of the best, and game plan for the countries top talent. Gary Waters was ready to coach on the big stage- everyone knew that. But how did he get his players ready? Coach Waters scheduled some of the toughest teams in the country during the non-conference portion of their schedule. They played at Washington, at West Virginia, and at Syracuse. They walked into one of the hardest places to play in America (the Carrier Dome, Syracuse), and pulled off a dramatic upset in front of 20,000 fans.

So if your surprised that Cleveland State played fearless, and controlled basketball last night on the biggest stage, you haven’t been watching them all year. They’ve beaten Syracuse, Butler, Valparaiso, and have played 6 games against the rpi top 50. They were ready for Wake Forest and certainly weren’t in awe of them. To call them a cinderella is disrespecting what they’ve accomplished this year. Cinderella is a team that surprises the country, and Cleveland State didn’t surprise anyone. I have them going TWO rounds in my bracket.

Arizona, who pulled off an upset of their own by upending Utah in Miami, has it’s work cut out for them. Nic Wise was sensational and will need to be again if Arizona is going to be playing in the sweet 16. Cleveland State’s J’Nathon Bullock, Norris Cole, and Mr Big Shot, Cedric Jackson will be waiting to show the Arizona lottery picks (Chase Budinger and Jorda Hill) what they can do. I just hope the Wildcats are watching film and getting their minds right, and not sitting on the beach. I hope they learned a lesson from Wake Forest, because playing Cleveland State is no vacation.

Nolan Shulman

Posted 1 week, 2 days ago at 5:45 AM.

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Friday Schedule

3 Syracuse vs 14 Stephen F. Austin
8 Oklahoma St. vs 9 Tennessee
6 Marquette vs 11 Utah St.
3 Kansas vs 14 N Dakota St.

6 Arizona St. vs 11 Temple
1 Pitt vs 16 E. Tenn. St.
3 Missouri vs 14 Cornell
6 West Virginia vs 11 Dayton

1 Louisville vs 16 Morehead St.
5 Utah vs 12 Arizona
7 Boston College vs 10 USC
4 Xavier vs 13 Portland St.

8 Ohio St. vs 9 Sienna
4 Wake Forest vs 13 Clevland St.
2 Michigan St. vs 15 Robert Morris
5 Florida St. vs 12 Wisconsin

Posted 1 week, 3 days ago at 8:41 AM.

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