Is Durant unable to palm a basketball?

Simply unbelievable.

      
 

 

View full post on USATODAY – NBA Top Stories

Cleveland Cavaliers Unveil New Basketball Court

TweetWith a brand new era starting in Cleveland, they decided they might as well change the floor. They will probably be changing uniform designs as well, but that takes a few years to process. Below is a tweet by owner Dan Gilbert.
I have to say, it’s not a bad look, nothing spectacular. It looks more like the College of Charleston or some other cheesy college logo.
It doesn’t really matter when you have Lebron, Kyrie, and Kevin Love. They could have left it blank.
 
. @cavs fans:Here’s our brand new court installed at The Q. It’s even better in person. Hope you like the CLE skyline pic.twitter.com/36zoaeYpTA
— Dan Gilbert (@cavsdan) October 1, 2014

View full post on Yardbarker: NBA

Ohio State Basketball: Factors That Will Make or Break Buckeyes in 2014-15

The Ohio State basketball program has been far too impressive over the years under Thad Matta to lose a round of 64 game to Dayton in the NCAA tournament. That means the 2014-15 season is something of a bounce-back campaign.

The only way the Buckeyes will contend for a Big Ten crown and deep postseason run in March is if they take care of a few things that didn’t necessarily go their way last year. 

With that in mind, here is a look at three factors in particular that could make or break Ohio State’s 2014-15 season.

 

Willingness to Run

Ohio State’s willingness to get out in transition this year will be critical based on the roster personnel alone.

Shannon Scott is a speedster at the point, and Kam Williams, Sam Thompson, D’Angelo Russell, Keita Bates-Diop, Jae’Sean Tate, Marc Loving and even Anthony Lee are all capable of running the floor. That is some serious depth for Matta to work with (whether he actually does remains to be seen), which means Ohio State can wear some opponents out by instituting more of a fast-break approach.

While there is certainly plenty of talent in place, especially if the freshmen deliver on their potential, this is not exactly a roster built to pound the ball in half-court sets.

Scott still isn’t a great perimeter shooter on the outside, Thompson is better suited to slash to the basket in transition and Lee is not exactly a traditional post-up center. Loving and Williams can also maximize their production by spotting up as trailers on the fast break.

What’s more, the pressure defense may take a small step back without Aaron Craft, but Scott, Russell and Thompson will create a number of turnovers. The Buckeyes have to convert them into easy opportunities on the other end, which will improve their No. 128 ranking in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted offense efficiency ratings from last year by default. 

As Ari Wasserman of Cleveland.com pointed out last season, the Buckeyes just didn’t get out in transition enough:

More fast breaks will lead to more easy baskets and a much better offensive squad. It could even lead to a chance at the Big Ten title.

 

Amir Williams’ Continued Development

Complaining about Amir Williams is almost as much of a favored pastime in Buckeye Nation as singing “Hang On Sloopy” or laughing at what a disaster the Michigan football program has become. However, fans need to come to reality a bit here when it comes to Williams.

He is never going to be Jared Sullinger or Greg Oden, and that’s perfectly fine.

Williams has improved every season since he arrived in Columbus, as the numbers below indicate.

While those are still not incredible statistics for a starting center, the improvement is certainly encouraging. Matta recognized that the Buckeyes are going to need more of that from Williams this year, via Daniel Rogers of The Lantern:

We need Amir to play well. We need Amir to play consistently on both ends. We gotta get him back to tracking the ball, we gotta get him back to blocking shots more actively around the rim in terms of challenging shots … When he’s played well, we’ve played well. I know that.

Ohio State is a guard- and small forward-oriented team, even with Lee in the fold, so Williams must control the boards and protect the rim.

A productive Williams gives Matta much more flexibility with his lineup as well because it will allow him to play Lee at the power forward spot at times, which will prove critical in Big Ten play when rebounding is the lifeblood to victories. Matta can also go small at times with four guards and forwards around either Williams or Lee when the team needs a boost, but only if he trusts that the middle is not going to get exposed. 

Williams needs to be a viable member of the rotation this year. If he continues to improve, he will be just that.

 

Rebounding

This goes hand in hand with Williams’ continued improvement, but you just can’t survive in the physically demanding Big Ten and rebound like Ohio State did last year.

The Buckeyes finished a lowly 216th in the nation in total rebounding per game and need to be much more effective on the glass this season.

The defense, which is how the program has won games the past few years, will be even better with improved rebounding because the easy second-chance opportunities won’t be there anymore. The offense would also improve if it was the Buckeyes and not the opposition converting those same second chances.

It is reasonable to expect better numbers in 2014-15 now that Temple-transfer Lee joins Williams down low.

We touched on Williams’ projected improvement, but Lee was a double-double machine for the Owls who averaged 8.6 boards a night last year. When he and Williams play together, Ohio State should be able to control the glass. 

Jon Rothstein of CBS Sports certainly thinks Lee will help in the rebounding department:

That is a lot of height on the floor, and Lee is versatile and athletic enough to chase rebounds down all year. A major weakness from a season ago could be a strength for the Buckeyes in 2014-15.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

Ranking the 5 Most Surprising Seasons in Pittsburgh Basketball History

One of the trademarks of the Jamie Dixon era in Pittsburgh has been, for all the unmet expectations of fans, the Panthers have exceeded just as many expectations under his watch. However, for a better perspective, how would some of Dixon’s surprising Pitt teams measure up with some of the school’s most surprising teams of years past?

We didn’t just look at bottom lines. We looked at how certain teams found success, or even failure, in some cases, and why that success or failure might have been thought hard to come by at the time.

It isn’t just coach-speak—or athlete-speak, as it were—to say there are inherent challenges with comparing one season to another. This is especially true when tasked with making apples-to-apples comparisons among different teams in different eras of college basketball.

For example, one surprising season that just missed our cut involved the 1940-41 Panthers, who bounced back from an 8-9 campaign to reach the Final Four. On one hand, they made it further in the NCAA tournament than any team in school history one year removed from not making the tournament at all. On the other hand, is it fair to call that team as surprising or more surprising than the teams that did make our cut, when factors like a smaller bracket and a shorter season made quick turnarounds more possible?

Giving the next generation its due credit without selling short the previous one, or vice versa, isn’t much easier. I’m not one to date myself, but, in the interest of maintaining candor with our readers, I’m not old enough to fully appreciate the playing careers of such Pitt legends as Charles Smith (pictured), Billy Knight or Don Hennon. Such limitations will inevitably alter my perspective, even though it’s common knowledge those guys turned quite a few heads in their day.

Nevertheless, we’ve given this assignment the same good-faith effort we give the rest. Let our ranking of the most surprising seasons in Pitt men’s basketball history begin—and let the debating begin as well.

Begin Slideshow

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

Duke Basketball: Biggest Ups and Downs of the Offseason

It has been a busy offseason for Duke basketball. Most teams’ summers are usually quiet, with the biggest news often coming in recruiting or players dominating summer leagues. While Duke has been in the news with a couple of early commitments, there have been many other newsworthy moments in the Devils’ offseason. From coaching changes to controversies, all has not been quiet on the Duke front this summer.

Here are the stories from Duke’s offseason.

 

Wojo Takes Head Coaching Job at Marquette

This is both an up and a down for Duke.

On one hand, assistant Steve Wojciechowski taking the head coaching job at Marquette puts another branch on Coach K’s tree of disciples. Having so many of his former assistants now serving as head coaches is further proof that Coach K is one of the greatest coaches and leaders in college basketball history. The move also adds Wojo to the long list of potential successors when Krzyzewski retires. There are already a lot of candidates, but Wojo could add his name to the list if he is able to maintain a winning tradition at Marquette.

However, the loss will hurt Duke’s coaching staff. The team has now lost assistant coaches in consecutive years in Wojo and Chris Collins. Jeff Capel is now the No. 1 assistant, and he has plenty of experience. But Jon Scheyer is next in line after Capel, and it seems like Scheyer just graduated (2010). Coach K doles out a lot of responsibility to his assistants, so it will be important that all the assistants quickly acclimate to their new roles. Fortunately, they were able to gain valuable experience leading the team this summer while Coach K was in Spain with Team USA.

 

Coach K leads Team USA to FIBA World Cup Title

While Capel and Scheyer took their turns running the team, Coach K was busy leading Team USA to its fourth straight international basketball tournament title. Most of the top superstars in the NBA stayed home this summer, but Coach K employed his patented three-guard lineup, and Team USA dominated on its way to gold.

It was great to see Kyrie Irving and Mason Plumlee playing for Team USA. Irving won tournament MVP honors, and while Plumlee was often one of the last players off the bench, he got some great experience that will help him going forward in his pro career.

But as with anything remotely involving Duke basketball, the success brought on the detractors. Coach K was already receiving some criticism for choosing Plumlee for the team, but the main bomb was the article accusing Coach K of taking advantage of his USA gig and using it to benefit Duke’s recruiting. Coach K briskly fired back by claiming that winners always have an advantage, and it seems like the controversy is passing. Coach K is used to winning despite tons of dissenters, and his experience in Spain was no different.

 

Chase Jeter Commits Early

After landing Jabari Parker in 2013, followed by the top recruiting class of 2014, Duke showed no signs of slowing down in recruiting. The Devils received a commitment from shooting guard Luke Kennard back in March, and Chase Jeter became the second member of the class this summer.

Jeter is a 6’10” power forward who was been steadily rising in the recruiting ranks over the past few months. He is currently the ninth best prospect in the class of 2015, according to ESPN. Jeter is the type of athletic big man Duke often covets, and he should be able to contribute immediately next season.

Jeter’s commitment also cemented Duke as a top-10 team heading into the 2015 season. It is a little silly to look ahead a season with a new one just weeks away, but Duke’s journey into the world of one-and-dones necessitates it. With star players leaving campus every year, Duke has to bring in replacements in each class to stay relevant. Duke lost Parker but has Jahlil Okafor to take his spot, and after his likely departure, the team will need Jeter to be able to step in and be a force from the moment he reaches campus.

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

College basketball countdown: No. 27 Minnesota

USA TODAY Sports breaks down the projected NCAA tournament field of 68.

      
 

 

View full post on USATODAY – NCAA Top Stories

College basketball countdown: No. 28 Kansas State

USA TODAY Sports breaks down the projected NCAA tournament field of 68.

      
 

 

View full post on USATODAY – NCAA Top Stories

Villanova Basketball: Factors That Will Make or Break Wildcats in 2014-15

Just like every program across the nation, the Villanova Wildcats will come across some make-or-break moments throughout the 2014-15 season. 

Whether it be big games, numbers put up by certain players or coaching decisions, there are sure to be a few factors that will determine the Wildcats’ fate. 

Below we take a look at the biggest factors that will change the landscape of Villanova’s season.

 

Production Levels of Starting Guards

Last season, James Bell came out of nowhere to deliver big numbers for the Wildcats in the points department.

Now that Bell has graduated, the duo of Ryan Arcidiacono and Darrun Hilliard will have to replace the 14.4 points per game that the guard put up last season. 

The two top starting guards for the Wildcats combined for 24.2 points per game during the 2013-14 season, but Arcidiacono saw a slip in production, as he was down two points from the total he recorded in his freshman year. 

For the Wildcats to succeed throughout the entire season, the two stars will have to show their experience and rise to the occasion in every game they suit up. 

Of course they will have an off night or two, but for 90 percent of the games, this pairing needs to lead the Wildcats in points for a successful run into the postseason to become a possibility. 

 

Nonconference Record

It may seem odd to talk about NCAA tournament resumes in October, but for Villanova to earn a favorable seed in March, it must win big nonconference games. 

The big names that stick out on the nonconference slate for Jay Wright’s side are VCU, Illinois, Syracuse and either Michigan or Oregon. 

Beating VCU, a team that always shows up during March Madness, early in the season should benefit Villanova in some way, shape or form. 

If the Wildcats can get past Shaka Smart’s Rams, they will take on either Michigan or Oregon in the Legends Classic final.

No offense to Oregon, but everyone in the Villanova camp would probably prefer a chance to take down a premier Big Ten team instead of the Ducks. 

A win over the Wolverines would do wonders for Villanova’s resume, and so would a win over rival Syracuse, which is always in contention for a top-tier seed in March.

As for the Illinois game, it never hurts to have a win over a power conference team just in case they catch fire during conference play.

 

Consistency off the Bench 

The Wildcats were extremely lucky to receive terrific contributions off the bench from Kris Jenkins and Josh Hart last season, but you can’t always have players ready to shine right away. 

With Bell now out of the fold, one of those two players will jump into a starting role, while the other will become the go-to sixth man for Wright. 

Other than the sixth man, Villanova will have Dylan Ennis, Phil Booth, Mikal Bridges and Darryl Reynolds to rely on. 

Out of that group, Ennis is the only player with a decent amount of experience, while the other three are still relatively new to the college game. 

With some uncertainty surrounding the bench situation past the seventh man, the Wildcats may have to use a short bench at times, which has the potential to backfire. 

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

Duke Basketball: Factors That Will Make or Break Blue Devils in 2014-15

“National championship or bust” may be asking too much from the Duke Blue Devils in the 2014-15 season, but it is certainly a “deep run in the NCAA tournament or bust” scenario for the team.

Mike Krzyzewski’s squad inexplicably lost to Mercer in its first game of the last NCAA tournament and needs to redeem itself quickly. Landing an absolutely loaded recruiting class certainly helps in that regard, and now it is time to win some basketball games.

There are a few things that will make or break this freshman-dominated squad on the path to an ACC crown and potential deep postseason run.

Let’s take a look at them.

 

Defense

Duke finished 116th in Ken Pomeroy’s pace-adjusted defensive efficiency during the 2013-14 campaign, which is the only explanation for how the team ranked No. 2 in pace-adjusted offensive efficiency saw its season end after one tournament game.

The perimeter defense was lackluster at best and consistently let ball-handlers get to the rim with relative ease. The guards also failed to close out on perimeter shooters far too often.

The interior defense wasn’t much better and didn’t have much of a shot-blocking presence. Beyond allowing opponents to get to the rim, the big guys weren’t quick enough on their rotations to protect the basket.

Fortunately for Duke fans, the answer for the defense comes in the form of two players in particular.

Jahlil Okafor will man the paint while Justise Winslow patrols the outside. Winslow can defend up to four positions thanks to his length, athleticism and quickness and will likely find himself guarding the opponent’s best player almost every night.

Winslow will be a security blanket for the perimeter defenders, who will now be able to take more chances knowing the big guy is in front of the rim.

Jon Rothstein of CBSSports.com had some high praise for Okafor:

I’m not saying Okafor is going to be Tim Duncan because that wouldn’t be fair. Duncan is one of the best big men to ever play basketball at any level, but Okafor is going to be the best pure center that the college game has seen in quite some time.

The 6-foot-10 Okafor is a throwback. In a time where fewer true five-men are playing the game and the position is filled with shot blockers or power forwards masquerading as centers, Okafor is like a mid-1990s NBA big man with post moves, craftiness and incredibly long arms. The Chicago native is the type of jaw-dropping talent that comes along once every couple of decades. 

Duke just can’t have an incredibly poor defense and accomplish its season goals of a conference title, Final Four appearance and national title run. Okafor and Winslow will make sure the Blue Devils are drastically better on that side of the ball.

 

Rebounding

Duke finished an abysmal 193rd in the country in total rebounding last year.

There is not much to add here that is different than the themes of the defense section. The Blue Devils cannot afford to rebound like that for a second consecutive year and expect to win any type of championship, be it in the conference or on a national stage.

Again, Okafor will be critical here. His incredible strength will help him clear out space on both ends of the floor and grab the majority of rebounds that come within arm’s length.

Don’t overlook Amile Jefferson, who was Duke’s best big man a year ago and finished with 6.9 rebounds a night.

Ideally, Marshall Plumlee would provide some help off the bench in the rebounding department, and Winslow will contribute on the glass thanks to the same length and athleticism that help him as a lockdown defender.

The defense will also naturally improve with better rebounding because those easy second-chance opportunities will fade away.

 

Early-Season Performance

Duke will challenge itself this year in the nonconference portion of its schedule with showdowns against Michigan State, Temple, Connecticut and Wisconsin. What’s more, not a single one of those games will take place in the friendly confines of Cameron.

That may be a problem with so many inexperienced freshmen.

We are not suggesting that the Blue Devils have to enter ACC play with an undefeated mark, but these games will be critical in terms of building confidence and preparing for conference play.

Duke will not be the same team in March as it is in November and December, but it also cannot afford to lose multiple blowout contests against some of the nation’s best teams.

The freshmen need some positive experiences in raucous environments before starting ACC play.

Fortunately, Krzyzewski has some battle-tested leaders on this young roster. He suggested as much recently, via The Herald-Sun:

As a team and as a staff, we could not be happier to have Quinn [Cook] and Amile [Jefferson] as our co-captains. They’re two veterans, returning starters. They know us, they know what we want to accomplish and their personalities just fit in so perfectly with the development of teamwork on our team. We’re very excited about having them as captains. 

If Duke picks up a couple of impressive nonconference wins, it will prove beneficial for seeding purposes come Selection Sunday. Battling with the likes of Wisconsin, Michigan State and the defending champion Connecticut will also set the stage for a formidable conference run from a confidence standpoint.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

NCAA Basketball Preseason Rankings 2014: Predicting Initial Top 25 Poll

If the NCAA tournament is like Christmas for college basketball fans, then the release of the initial Top 25 rankings are the equivalent of the first decorations and holiday music in the stores.

It may not be the real thing quite yet, but it reminds us of what we are so excited about in the first place.

The 2014-15 season is right around the corner, and some of the blue-blood programs in the country are stacked with talent. Teams like Duke, North Carolina, Kentucky and Kansas will be among the nation’s best, which should set the stage for a thrilling month of madness in March.

With that in mind, here is a look at a prediction for the initial Top 25 rankings.

 

Digging Deeper 

Duke

Ho hum, another season and another Duke team near the top of the polls.

This time Mike Krzyzewski has the Blue Devils among the nation’s best because of a loaded recruiting class that includes dominant big man Jahlil Okafor, point guard Tyus Jones and versatile weapon Justise Winslow. Throw in the returning veterans Amile Jefferson, Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon, and there is a lot to work with here for Duke.

Okafor is the name that immediately jumps out as the potential No. 1 pick in the next NBA draft.

He is incredibly strong and clears out space down low with some impressive post moves. He also controls the glass with his rebounding prowess and will shore up Duke’s interior defense, which was a major concern last year.

Winslow and Jones are also solid defenders who give the Blue Devils more potential stoppers on that end of the floor. The primary reason Duke went home so early in the NCAA tournament last season was the guards couldn’t prevent penetration and the big men couldn’t swat opposing shots away when the ball made its way to the basket.

Okafor, Jones and Winslow should take care of that this year. 

Scott Gleeson and Nicole Auerbach of USA Today had the Blue Devils at No. 1 in their early rankings and made many of the same points: 

Despite losing their two best players and most prolific scorers in Jabari Parker and Rodney Hood, the Blue Devils will be loaded once again come fall — enough to land as our preseason No. 1. They’ll return veteran guards Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon as well as developing big man Amile Jefferson. Coach Mike Krzyzewski brings in the nation’s top-ranked recruiting class, which includes the best high school prospect in the country — 6-10 center Jahlil Okafor. He’s joined by two top-10 recruits in point guard Tyus Jones and versatile wing Justise Winslow. Duke’s woes this past season stemmed in large part from of its lack of an interior presence. 

 

Wisconsin

We can talk about the Dukes and North Carolinas of the world all we want, but it was Wisconsin that made it to the Final Four last season and narrowly missed a shot at the NCAA title when Aaron Harrison drilled a gut-wrenching three-pointer in the final seconds of the semifinal.

The centerpiece, quite literally, of the Badgers’ attack in 2014-15 will be Frank Kaminsky, who will use his versatility to lead the team from the inside and out. Evan Flood of 247Sports noted that Kaminsky was named a preseason All-American in some circles:

Kaminsky won’t be all by himself, though. Sam Dekker and Nigel Hayes give Bo Ryan multiple options at the forward position, while Traevon Jackson and Josh Gasser will patrol the perimeter. 

Wisconsin’s starting five is the best combination of Final Four experience and talent in the entire nation. The Badgers appear to be the class of a Big Ten that has a number of good teams but no real great team (besides Wisconsin) and could very well seize a No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament.

 

Kentucky

The team that knocked Wisconsin out at the Final Four will also be among the nation’s best yet again.

Kentucky will have the familiar freshmen studs who always anchor its lineup, but there is an air of experience that is not always there for John Calipari teams. Aaron and Andrew Harrison are the recognizable names in the backcourt, and Willie Cauley-Stein, Dakari Johnson and Alex Poythress should anchor some of the big men and forward responsibilities.

It would still be a mistake to overlook the freshmen this year, especially with Karl Towns, Trey Lyles, Devin Booker and Tyler Ulis arriving on campus. Between the veterans and youngsters, Calipari has depth at every position and will likely have a more talented group of five on the bench at any given time than most teams have on the floor.

Towns is perhaps the most intriguing one of the bunch, and the big man captured the eyes of NBA scouts when he was named the 2014 Gatorade Player of the Year after averaging 21.5 points, 13.7 rebounds and an astounding 6.4 blocks a game as a senior in high school.

One scout discussed Towns with Marc J. Spears of Yahoo Sports: ”He’s very skilled and has a very good feel for playing the game of basketball. He’s strong. He plays his position well. There are not a lot of basketball players with his feel for the game. He can face up and make jump shots. He’s special.” 

The NBA will be the ultimate destination for Towns and plenty other Wildcats, but they will look to win a title in Lexington first.

 

Follow me on Twitter:

Read more College Basketball news on BleacherReport.com

View full post on Bleacher Report – College Basketball

Next Page »