Monday, November 16, 2009

Big 12 Basketball Preview

If you look at the experts of most predictions, Kansas is the almost consensus choice to win the national championship. It's easy to see why. They return everyone from a Sweet 16 team a year ago, including Cole Aldrich and Sherron Collins, two Player of the Year candidates. They also return guys like Tyshawn Taylor and Markief Morris, two talented guys who were just getting their feet wet last season. To top it off, they are adding Xavier Henry, one of the best freshmen in the country, a guy that scored 27 points in his collegiate debut. They are the most talented and experienced team in the country.

However, they will have competition within their own conference, as Texas also looks like a Final Four contender. Damion James is one of the most versatile players in the country, and he is joined by Dexter Pittman and Justin Mason to form a solid senior trio. Gary Johnson provides depth and bulk up front, as he was a double digit scorer last season. In the backcourt, Avery Bradley is one of the best freshmen in the country, and should be a great defender from day one. Varez Ward and Florida transfer Jai Lucas should battle for minutes at the point. The Longhorns will be a great team under Rick Barnes.

Oklahoma lost Player of the Year Blake Griffin, but they appear to simply reload under Jeff Capel. Willie Warren was a high recruit last year, and should take control of the team in his second season. Tony Crocker joins him to form a solid backcourt. Upfront, Keith "Tiny" Gallon will be relied upon to contribute immediately, and he seems up for the challenge, as he scored 18 points and grabbed 15rebounds in his college debut.

There is a large talent dropoff after those three teams, but there are still some teams that get after it. Kansas State has some very solid scorers in Frank Martin's third season. Oklahoma St. finished very strong last year, and will look to build on that, led by James Anderson. Iowa St. will look to get to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in years, and they might have the firepower to do that with the return of Craig Brackins, one of the best players in the conference.

The Big 12 appears to be very top heavy heading into the season, but the top of the conference might be better than in any other conference in America. Kansas is the number 1 team in the country, and Texas is not far behind. If Oklahoma can be a top 10 team, the Big 12 could be the most talented conference in America.

NCAA Basketball Big Ten Preview

The Big Ten has been very much maligned in recent years, as fans tend to see the slow, defensive-minded teams and think that teams from the Big Ten cannot compete with national powers. In the past, they might have been right, but things should be different this season. Michigan St. and Purdue are legitimate Final Four contenders, and they have a host of other teams that will be in the running to make the NCAA Tournament.

The Spartans made a surprising run to the Championship game last season, and return almost everyone from that team. Leading them will be PG Kalin Lucas, who is the Preseason Big Ten Player of the Year. He is a lightning quick PG that can make a lot of things happen when he pushes the ball. The key for the Spartans will be Raymar Morgan, a guy with star ability who has not played to his talent. If he does, the Spartans could get back to the title game.

Purdue will have a little something to say about the Big Ten title race, as they return almost all of their talent from a Sweet 16 team. Their leader is Robbie Hummel, who put up excellent all-around numbers despite battling injury problems. But they are a very balanced squad, with JaJuan Johnson, E'Twaun Moore, and Keaton Grant all providing scoring pop. They've also got diminutive Lewis Jackson and defensive specialist Chris Kramer to provide sparks in the backcourt.

The middle of the pack is also very deep and talented, as they have at least 4 teams that should be ranked or close to it for much of the season. Michigan should be a Tourney team again in John Beilein's third year, as both Manny Harris and Deshawn Sims could be all Big Ten performers. Evan Turner is one of the most well-rounded players in America, and fills up a stat sheet better than almost everyone else in the country. He averaged 17 PPG/7 RPG/4 APG last season.

Minnesota will continue its resurgence under Tubby Smith, as they should have their most talented team under him. They don't have a lot of stars, but they are deeper than any team in the conference and can throw a lot of different looks at teams. Illinois was third in the Big Ten last season, and they bring in one of the best recruiting classes in the conference. Bruce Weber will have them back in the NCAA Tournament once again.

The Big Ten will be one of the deepest and best conferences in the country this season, something that has not been said very much recently. With two Final Four candidates and up to 9 out of 11 teams thinking they will have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament, look for the Big Ten to make some noise this season.

Monday, November 09, 2009

NCAA Basketball Big East Preview

In 2008-09, the Big East was the best and deepest conference in America, sending 7 teams into the NCAA Tournament, including three teams that garned a #1 seed. However, they lost a lot of talent to the NBA and to graduation in the offseason, leaving room for a lot of potential change within the conference.

Villanova and West Virginia look like they will be the main challengers for the conference title. Villanova might have the best guard play in the conference (led by senior Scottie Reynolds, hero in the NCAA Tournament), as Jay Wright's teams are always strong in this area. The Wildcats also have some very talented big men coming into the program, and the speed of their development could dictate how much success Villanova will have this season.

The Mountaineers have the best duo in the Conference, with forwards Devin Ebanks and Da'Sean Butler. Both are potential All-Big East performers, and Ebanks could be the best player in the Big East. If they can get consistent guard play from Joe Mazzulla and Darryl Bryant, Bob Huggins team could have a chance to go all the way to the Final Four.

There is uncertainty after that. Connecticut and Louisville will likely be down a bit after #1 seeds last season, but they should still challenge for spots near the top of the conference. If Stanley Robinson can play up to his potential for UConn, they should be considered the favorite to finish third in the Big East, especially with sophomore Kemba Walker and veteran guard Jerome Dyson in the backcourt. The Cardinals will have to deal with a lot of off the court things after Rick Pitino's tumultuous offseason, but they have the talent to be very good once again.

Luke Harangody is the best player in the Big East and could be the favorite for National Player of the Year. He put up huge numbers last season, and returned for his senior year of college poised to break all types of Notre Dame records. He likes the Irish' chances of getting back to the NCAA Tournament, but they will be on the bubble all season. Seton Hall could be a big surprise, as they welcome in a trio of talented transfers into the mix. Bobby Gonzalez could get the Pirates back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2006.

The Big East is not as strong at the top and doesn't have as many great teams as it did a season ago, but it should still be very strong and deep. In particular, the middle of the conference, with teams like Seton Hall, St. John's, and Rutgers, should all be improved this season, meaning that there will be no easy night in the Big East. Well, except maybe DePaul.

NCAA Basketball ACC Preview

A season ago, North Carolina had their One Shining Moment, beating Michigan St. for the National Title and declaring that the ACC had the best team in the nation. However, they lost much of their core roster (including Tyler Hansbrough, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green, and Ty Lawson), making the ACC race wide open.

Even with the losses, the Tar Heels will still be in contention for the title. They return a lot of young talent, and they brought in a strong recruiting class. They should be very strong up front, led by Ed Davis (who showed tons of talent as a freshman off the bench and should be a star as a sophomore), Deon Thompson, Tyler Zeller, and freshman John Henson. If the backcourt can play well, the Tar Heels could certainly contender for another national championship.

Duke looks to be their main contender, and the rivalry between the two schools should remain strong. Duke is also deep up front, and will be led by Kyle Singler, one of the most versatile players in the country. He has a chance to be a first-team All-American. They will be very thin in the backcourt after the transfer of Elliot Williams to Memphis, as Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, and freshman Andre Dawkins will be relied on to play very heavy minutes. Still, they have the talent to win an ACC title.

Georgia Tech is coming off of a disappointing season, but they bring in one of the best freshman classes in the country. The headliner is post man Derrick Favors, who rivals only John Wall of Kentucky for best freshman in the country. He teams with returnee Gani Lawal in the post (15.1 PPG, 9.5 RPG) to form one of the best front lines in the entire country. If the freshman can mature and blend in with some talented returners, look for Georgia Tech to get back to the Tourney.

Things are less clear after that. Maryland and Clemson look like Tourney teams again, and Greivis Vazquez for the Terps could be the ACC Player of the Year. Beyond that, Florida State, Boston College, and perhaps Wake Forest should challenge for Tourney spots in what could be a deep conference.

The ACC is also a very strong conference, and things appear no different this season. With Duke, North Carolina, and Georgia Tech leading the way, the ACC will again boast some of the most talented teams in the country. While there are no favorites to reach the Final Four like last year, things are still looking up in the ACC.

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Best Three-Point Shooters in NBA History

The three point shot is one of the biggest weapons in all of basketball, an equalizer that can allow less talented teams to stick with more talented teams. It has become more and more in style in all levels of basketball, as teams have begun to see it as more beneficial than two point shots. When thinking about it... if you make 1 out of 3 three-point shots, that is comparable to making 50% of your two-point shots, so if you can hit a reasonable amount of them, it makes sense to shoot threes.

So who are some of the best ever from downtown? Near the top of the list would have to be Reggie Miller, who is the all-time leader in three point shots made. He is also one of the most clutch shooters ever, as he made big shot after big shot for the Indiana Pacers over the years. Perhaps most famous is his 6 points in 7 seconds against the New York Knicks in the NBA playoffs. He had a very consistent form, and made a lot of shots over a lot of years. He was likely the best three point shooter in NBA history. At 6'7'' he also had the height to get shots off against any defender.

Ray Allen is still active, and he is one of the best shooters in NBA history. He has perhaps the quickest release in NBA history, and seemingly needs only a blink of an eye to get a shot off. Whether he is creating his own shot, coming off a ball screen, or coming off another screen, if the defender is not right on him, he can and will get the shot off. He has enjoyed a long and successful career, playing for the Seattle Supersonics, Milwaukee Bucks, and the Boston Celtics. He finally got his ring with the Celtics, further cementing his place as one of the best shooting guards in the game and one of the best shooters in history.

Steve Kerr is not one of the most prolific shooters ever, but he is one of the most accurate. Playing mostly for the Chicago Bulls, he made about 45% for his career. He was helped by playing with Michael Jordan and Scottie Pipper, which got him a lot of open looks throughout his career. His biggest moment came when he made the game winning shot to clinch an NBA Finals series. He parlayed his successful playing career into an NBA analyst spot, and is now GM of the Phoenix Suns.

The three-point shot has grown in popularity over the years, and has now become an essential part of any basketball team's strategy. Chances are, this trend will continue to develop as time passes.

NBA Preseason MVP Candidates

LeBron James captured his first NBA MVP title in the 2008-2009 title, cementing his status as the best basketball player in the world right now. He has to be high up on a list of candidates heading into the 2009-10 season as well. His Cavaliers are expected to be one of the top contenders for the title this season, and being on a successful team is key to winning the award. James is the most athletically gifted player ever in the NBA. He can finish better than anyone else, as well as being an excellent rebounder, passer, and defender. With each passing season, it seems like another weakness in his game has been shored up, so it will be interesting to see how he can improve on last season.

Kobe Bryant is another annual contender for the award, as he will be playing on the defending champion Los Angeles Lakers, a team that is the favroties to repeat. Bryant has lost some of the explosiveness of his younger days, but he makes up for it with craftiness and smarts. He has a great jumper, and is very creative about getting it off in many different situations. He has started to share the ball more and more, highlighting his skills as a passer. The numbers, star power, and wins will be there, which is why you can't count otu Kobe Bryant for the MVP award.

Dwyane Wade was magnificent last season, leading an otherwise bad Miami Heat team to the NBA playoffs. He puts his body on the line every night, and no guy is better at getting to the hole and drawing contact. He is a great teammate, getting others involved (over 7 assists per game last season) and playing staunch defense. If his body can withstand the pounding that he takes, he will be high up on the list of MVP candidates.

Dwight Howard continues to grow every year, and his Magic team will again be one of the strongest contenders in the East. Howard is the best rebounder and shot blocker in the NBA, and his offensive game seems to get a little bit better every season. Howard is an athletic freak down low, with size, speed, and strength that you normally don't ever see for men his size. With a lot of help from teammates, Howard should put up huge numbers once again, and will likely lead the league in rebounds.

These are just four of the contenders for MVP. Though it is possible that someone like Chris Paul or Kevin Durant will sneak into the race and garner some votes, it seems likely to me that as we embark on the 2009-10 season, the MVP will be one of these four guys.

NBA Preseason Rookie of the Year Candidates

Right after the NBA Draft in June, almost everyone penciled in Blake Griffin for the Rookie of the Year. It's easy to see why. As the first pick in the draft, he was going to get ample opportunity to see the court. He has more physical skills and potential than anyone else in the rookie class, and he looked polish enough to contribute a lot of quality minutes right away. However, his body did not cooperate, as injuries forced him to miss at least the first 4-6 weeks of the season.

This opened the door for other candidates to stake their claim to be Rookie of the Year. One such guy is Brandon Jennings of the Milwaukee Bucks. After struggling in his year in Europe, not a lot was expected from him right away. However, with a rebuilding Bucks team, he stepped right into the starting lineup and showed off his immense talent. He almost had a triple-double in his first game, and then followed that up with a 24 point game. He is leading or close to leading the Bucks in many categories, and certainly looks like the real deal so far.

DeJuan Blair was seen as a steal for the San Antonio Spurs in round 2, and he has not disappointed. He is a rebound machine, and he procured a double-double in his first game in the NBA. As he continues to learn on the offensive end from Tim Duncan, he should turn into a better and better player, and could have a chance to compete for this award if he gets enough minutes.

Stephen Curry seems ideally suited for Don Nelson's "It's better to ask for forgiveness than permission" type offense, as he likes to get up the court and take lots of shots. He has played well early going, distributing the ball well in addition to using his beautiful shooting talents. As long as he continues to get consistent minutes (no certainty for a Don Nelson team), he will put up numbers that will put him in the Rookie of the Year discussion.

Johnny Flynn is starting at PG for the Minnesota Timberwolves, and he has an NBA ready body. He is a great finisher and defender, and should be able to spread the ball around well for the young Timberwolves, as he grows into a leadership role. Tyreke Evans will get plenty of burn for a bad Sacramento Kings team, and we should expect to see him lighting up the scoreboard this season.

If Blake Griffin can recover quickly from his injury problems and contribute like everyone thought he would, he will still have a shot to win the Rookie of the Year award. However, if he falters, there will certainly be a lot of other guys vying to win a little bit of hardware in their rookie season.