Tag:Jeff Borzello
Posted on: February 7, 2012 11:08 am
Edited on: February 7, 2012 12:08 pm

Today's Specials: SEC game of the year (so far)

By Jeff Borzello

There’s only 13 games on the schedule, but it’s highlighted by a battle between two top-10 teams loaded with future pros.

Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP poll.

Best game: No. 8 Florida at No. 1 Kentucky (7 p.m., ESPN). The game of the year in the SEC (so far). Florida has won seven in a row and cemented itself as the second-best team in the conference, while Kentucky is atop the rankings and has many onlookers calling the Wildcats the clear-cut best team in the nation. Both teams are tremendous offensively, despite getting the job done in different ways. The key in this one will be Patric Young; can he hold his own down low against Anthony Davis, or will he continue to struggle? Moreover, will Florida get shots for Erik Murphy and its other shooters? Everyone's excited for this one.

Second-best game: Purdue at No. 3 Ohio State (9 p.m., ESPN). Things are getting a little hairy for the Boilermakers, which lost by 17 at home to Indiana and now face a very difficult road just to finish .500 in the Big Ten. Meanwhile, Ohio State continues to ace every test, winning five in a row. Purdue is going to have trouble defending Jared Sullinger on the interior, as Travis Carroll simply can’t handle him. Moreover, Aaron Craft isn’t going to make life easy for Lewis Jackson to ignite the Purdue offense.

Another one to watch: Alabama at Auburn (9 p.m., ESPNU). It will be interesting to see how Alabama performs without forward Tony Mitchell, who was suspended indefinitely on Monday. The Crimson Tide lack offensive playmakers in general, and missing Mitchell won’t help. Auburn has lost seven of its last 10 games, but the Tigers have only one loss this season at home (to Kentucky) and play good enough defense to make it a contest.

Guaranteed win: Kansas State bounced back from a two-game losing streak with a home win against Texas A&M over the weekend, and the Wildcats should get another victory on Tuesday. They face Texas Tech (8 p.m., ESPN3), which is 0-10 in the Big 12 and has won just one road game this season. In the first meeting, Kansas State won by 22 – at Texas Tech.

Potential upset: Am I convinced that Evansville will beat No. 17 Creighton tonight (8:05 p.m.)? Not at all. But the Aces have beaten Northern Iowa and Missouri State, and also lost to Wichita State in their first meeting. Only one of their MVC losses was my more than 10 points, and four of them were by a combined six points. They will need to get out and guard the perimeter, though; Creighton can get hot from deep. 

Three things to keep an eye on:

  1. Iowa State goes for its fourth win in a row tonight, heading to Oklahoma State (7 p.m., ESPN2). The Cowboys have been tough at home this season.
  2. Maryland and Clemson are both fighting to break into the upper half of the conference, and Tuesday night’s game will help the winner’s cause (7 p.m., ESPNU).
  3. UNC-Asheville is the best team in the Big South, but Coastal Carolina and Campbell are next in line. The two face off tonight (7 p.m.).
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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 7, 2012 10:05 am

Road woes limit Arkansas' potential

By Jeff Borzello

With several quality wins and a gaudy record, Arkansas came out of nowhere last week to get attention as a potential NCAA tournament team. In fact, the Razorbacks were one of the last teams chosen in multiple projected brackets.

Then came Saturday, when Arkansas went into Baton Rouge and lost to LSU, 71-65. By itself, the loss isn’t terrible, but it highlights the glaring weakness on the Razorbacks’ resume: zero road wins. Arkansas is 0-6 in away games.

“We had windows of opportunity to win on the road and we just didn’t finish going down the stretch,” head coach Mike Anderson said, according to Northwest Arkansas Newspapers. “That’s life on the road.”

It was also life on the road last season for Anderson, when he was at Missouri. The Tigers were just 2-7 in true away games a year ago, a number that kept their NCAA hopes in question until the final hours of Selection Weekend.

Right now, that would be the primary thing keeping the Razorbacks out of the NCAA tournament. Everything else is there: quality wins over Michigan, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. A top-50 RPI. Only one loss outside the top 80 of the RPI.

With that said, it’s tough to get an at-large bid without a road win. There are still chances, of course. Arkansas still travels to Georgia, Tennessee, Auburn and Mississippi State – at least three of those are winnable games. Win two of those, and the Razorbacks should feel a lot more comfortable about their road record. 2-8 is still hideous, but it doesn’t jump out like an 0-fer would.

Arkansas is an extremely young team that simply hasn’t figured out how to win on the road yet. The Razorbacks went 2-8 in away games last season, and there are four freshmen and two sophomores in the top eight of the rotation. There just isn’t a ton of experience when it comes to pulling out tough games in hostile environments late in the season.

If Arkansas wants an NCAA bid, though, it needs to figure out how to win outside the friendly confines of Bud Walton Arena – and quickly.

Photo: US Presswire

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 6, 2012 11:23 pm
Edited on: February 6, 2012 11:57 pm

Night Court: Missouri survives another close game

Oklahoma's Steven Pledger reacts after his game-tying 3-pointer rimmed out at the buzzer against Missouri. (AP)

By Jeff Borzello

Here’s everything you need to know about Monday’s slate of college basketball games …

Game of the day: Oklahoma has had several close games recently, and Monday night against Missouri was no different, with the Sooners falling, 71-68. Both teams came out of the gate knocking down shots, especially Marcus Denmon, who finished with 25 points. Missouri had the lead for the entire second half, but Oklahoma kept it within one possession for the final minutes. The Sooners had a chance to tie the game, but Romero Osby missed two free throws and Steven Pledger’s 3-pointer at the buzzer rimmed out.

Win to brag about: Beating Texas A&M this season isn’t the same as it was the past couple of years, but Texas couldn’t afford another close loss (or a loss in general). The Longhorns were 0-7 in games decided by six points or fewer heading into Monday, but they held off Texas A&M down the stretch for a 70-68 win. J’Covan Brown had 20 points and seven assists to lead the Longhorns.

Loss to hide from: Remember when we thought Connecticut might turn things around after its win over Seton Hall on Saturday? Yeah, that didn’t happen. The Huskies were outhustled, outmuscled and outworked by Louisville en route to an 80-59 loss. And it didn’t even feel that close. Louisville shot 44 percent from 3-point range, and held Andre Drummond, Shabazz Napier and Jeremy Lamb to 16 points on 6-for-26 shooting.

Player who deserves improper benefits: Marquette’s Jamil Wilson has only reached double-figures in scoring four times this season, and has not grabbed more than seven rebounds in a game. On Monday night, Wilson led Marquette to a 89-76 comeback win over DePaul, totaling 18 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, two steals and two blocks – on 8-for-12 shooting.

Player(s) who does not deserve improper benefits: Connecticut’s debacle of an offensive performance deserves more than just one mention. Andre Drummond was dominated by Gorgui Dieng all night, as the Louisville big man finished with 15 points, six rebounds and six steals. Even worse, Drummond went 0-for-6 from the field and didn’t score a single point. Drummond has all the talent in the world, but the desire is lacking.

Numbers don’t lie:

  • 4: Four of Missouri’s last five wins have been by three points or fewer.
  • 3:45: Vermont has trailed for just 3:45 in its last 133:02 played. The Catamounts have won seven in a row after beating Maine.
  • 0: Kennesaw State remains winless in the Atlantic Sun after losing at home to USC-Upstate. The Owls are 0-13 in the league, 2-22 vs. D-I competition.
  • 93: Southern beat Jackson State, 49-44. In overtime. That’s 93 combined points in 45 minutes of basketball.
  • 16: South Carolina State had lost 16 games in a row before beating beating Longwood on Monday.

Three other notable results:

  1. Mississippi Valley State is 11-0 in the SWAC after beating Alabama A&M. MVSU was just 1-11 in non-conference play.
  2. Davidson has now won three in a row since dropping its first league game last weekend, beating Wofford by 22.
  3. Stony Brook stayed atop the America East at 11-1 with a 57-48 victory over New Hampshire.


  • Belmont steamrolled Austin Peay, 94-55, in a non-conference tilt.
  • Mercer took a half-game lead in the Atlantic Sun, beating East Tennessee State, 54-46.
  • Idaho State played Montana close for a half, but the Grizzlies dominated the second half in a 76-40 victory to move to 10-1 in the Big Sky.
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Posted on: February 6, 2012 1:46 pm

Today's Specials: UConn, Louisville square off

Chane Behanan and Louisville have won four in a row since earlier struggles. The Cardinals face UConn tonight. (US Presswire)

By Jeff Borzello

A light schedule tonight, but there are several conference clashes that will be important for potential at-large purposes.

Note: All times are Eastern, and the rankings are according to the AP poll.

Best game: Connecticut at Louisville (7 p.m., ESPN). This game means more for Connecticut than Louisville, as the Cardinals have bounced back from three weeks of struggles with four straight wins. Meanwhile, UConn finally got a win over the weekend, throttling Seton Hall at home and ending a four-game losing streak. In this one, Connecticut needs to take care of the ball and not let Louisville get points in transition. The Huskies play tough halfcourt defense, and Louisville has struggled to knock down shots most of the season. Don't expect a lot of beautiful offense.

Second-best game: No. 4 Missouri at Oklahoma (7 p.m., ESPNU). Coming off a win over Kansas and a home date with Baylor on the docket Saturday, will Missouri overlook tonight against the Sooners? Oklahoma has lost four of its last five games, and seven of its last 10, although it has defeated Kansas State twice. The Sooners struggled down the stretch against Iowa State, and they can’t fall victim to Missouri’s pressure. Can Sam Grooms handle Phil Pressey? Oklahoma also has to protect the paint against layups and easy Ricardo Ratliffe buckets.

Another one to watch: Texas at Texas A&M (9 p.m., ESPN). With great KenPom and Sagarin numbers but a mediocre at-large profile, Texas can’t afford any bad losses the rest of the way. Although Texas A&M has looked better lately, the Longhorns need a win here – dropping to 4-7 in the Big 12 with four road games left would be disastrous. If the Aggies are without Khris Middleton and Dash Harris again, they will have a very difficult time scoring against the Texas defense. Can A&M keep J’Covan Brown from having a big game?

Guaranteed win: There will be a couple of easy wins for conference leaders tonight. Montana has quietly won 11 of its last 12 games, sitting at 9-1 in the Big Sky. The Grizzlies get Idaho State – winners of four in a row – tonight (9 p.m.), and should be too tough defensively. Belmont hosts Austin Peay (8 p.m.), which has lost three of four. The Bruins aren’t the team they were last year (yet), but they should still roll.

Potential upset: The America East is getting fun at the top of the standings, but Vermont is only one game out of first place. The Catamounts head to Maine tonight (7 p.m.), and the Black Bears seem to turned things around. They have won three in a row, and have a tremendous trio in Gerald McLemore, Justin Edwards and Alasdair Fraser. If Maine can speed it up, it has a chance.

Three things to keep an eye on:

  1. Marquette was crushed at Notre Dame over the weekend, but the Golden Eagles need to bounce back on the road against DePaul (9 p.m., ESPNU).
  2. Davidson has won two in a row since losing its first conference game last weekend, but Wofford has won six of its last seven. They face off tonight (7 p.m.).
  3. Boston University had a chance to take over the America East last weekend, but the Terriers have lost two of three. To keep pace, they need to win at Albany (7 p.m.).
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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 6, 2012 10:50 am
Edited on: February 6, 2012 10:51 am

Iona relishing being the MAAC's hunted

By Jeff Borzello

Momo Jones and Iona are beginning to enjoy getting everyone's best shot in the MAAC. (US Presswire)

BRONX, N.Y. – Manhattan had Saturday night’s Iona game circled on its calendar. It was on ESPN3, the game was sold out, and they were turning people away at the door.

The Jaspers came at Iona with everything they had, but came up short, losing 85-73 in a battle for first-place in the MAAC.

The intensity and pressure was nothing new for the Gaels.

Iona also received Siena’s best shot. And Fairfield’s best shot. And Canisius’ best shot. And – well, you get the point. The Gaels are clearly the hunted in the MAAC this year.

“We love it. That’s the attention we want,” guard Scott Machado said. “We go into every game like we did tonight, we’ll be fine.”

At times this year, Iona hasn’t handled the limelight very well. It lost to Hofstra in late December; blew a 17-point lead in the first meeting against Manhattan; and also lost two weeks ago to Siena after leading by 18 at one point.

The similarity of both Manhattan games wasn’t lost on Iona head coach Tim Cluess, who realized that the Gaels had jumped out to a big second half lead in each meeting. However, Iona is not the same team it was a month ago.

“Same score, same time – did we grow up or didn’t we? And we did,” Cluess said.

Iona has had a bad habit of blowing big leads, and then resting on its laurels and allowing lesser teams to comeback in the second half. It cost them twice this season, but the Gaels are realizing all eyes are on them right now.

“We can’t take a night off,” Cluess said. “Everyone’s shooting at us. There’s a lot of energy, and so teams are going to play well against us.”

Manhattan did play well against Iona for a half, getting 19 points from George Beamon in the first 20 minutes. In the second stanza, though, the Iona defense – a unit that has much-maligned this season – clamped down on Beamon, and the Jaspers’ offense struggled mightily.

There would be no miracle comeback and Emmy Andujar buzzer-beater this time around.

“We finished the last several games off better,” Cluess said. “Teams are good, so teams are going to have runs. Our job is to answer those runs. And play defense if the offense struggles.”

Iona is starting to play the role of villain pretty well. With Momo Jones heating up offensively – he had 43 points in a game last week – and Sean Armand being the team’s X-factor, it’s no longer just the Machado and Mike Glover show. That should help them in the conference tournament, where the Gaels fell short in the conference title game against St. Peter’s.

They’re also ready for whatever opposing teams – and crowds – throw at them. On Saturday night, Draddy Gymnasium was hot, loud and hostile.

And Iona loved it.

“I think it worked to our advantage,” Jones said. “We fed off of their crowd’s energy more than they did.”

A month ago, you couldn’t have said that about the Gaels. But they’re tougher now. They like having a target on their backs.

They’ve grown up. 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 5, 2012 10:25 am
Edited on: February 6, 2012 6:52 am

Homecourt advantage gives LIU edge in NEC race

By Jeff Borzello

NEW YORK -- Some teams downplay homecourt advantage, especially in a balanced league like the Northeast Conference.

Not Jim Ferry and LIU-Brooklyn -- they know what kind of edge playing at the WRAC gives the Blackbirds.

“It’s huge in this conference,” Ferry said. “It’s the most important thing.”

Long Island has won 21 straight on its home court, including Saturday’s 95-80 victory against Central Connecticut State -- a game that was marred by three technical fouls and a brawl during the post-game handshakes.

The win improved the Blackbirds to 11-1 in the conference, one game ahead of St. Francis (N.Y.). The two teams will play twice this week, but LIU has a pretty easy finish to the season after that. If Long Island ends up getting the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament again this season, mark it down: no one is beating the Blackbirds on their home floor. It doesn't matter if it's a sold-out gym or a sparse crowd, LIU-Brooklyn just plays with a different confidence on its home court. 

“I didn’t think about it until a few weeks ago, but we clearly shoot better,” Ferry said. “Being at home definitely helped us.”

Last season, LIU won the regular-season title, getting homecourt advantage throughout the conference tournament. The Blackbirds survived two close games in the semifinals and finals and got to the NCAA tournament.

Don’t be surprised if that happens again this season.

Long Island has won 12 of its past 13 games, including a road contest at Wagner two weeks ago that changed the momentum of the conference race. While this week’s two games against Brooklyn rival St. Francis (N.Y.) -- including the “Battle of Brooklyn” and a game at Madison Square Garden -- will decide the temporary league leader, it still looks like LIU has the inside track for the top seed.

Many of the same characters from last year’s team are still major factors on this season’s version. Julian Boyd (right) and Jamal Olasewere form the best inside tandem in the conference, with Boyd providing a go-to option offensively and Olasewere bringing his relentless activity at both ends. Jason Brickman is one of the best point guards in the league, and Michael Culpo can knock down shots. Kenny Onyechi provides legitimate depth inside. Long Island ranks third in the country in tempo, and many teams simply can’t keep up with them.

“We had so many good players [last year],” Ferry said. “We don’t have as much depth. Out returning players are better, we just don’t have the depth -- but we still have enough.”

The personnel is almost secondary to homecourt advantage, though. If the Blackbirds get the top seed in the conference tournament, they’re likely heading to the NCAA tournament.

Photo: US Presswire

Posted on: February 3, 2012 2:43 pm
Edited on: February 3, 2012 2:57 pm

ACC announces future basketball scheduling format

By Jeff Borzello

The Atlantic Coast Conference announced its future scheduling formats for all sports, once Pittsburgh and Syracuse join the conference.

For basketball, the ACC will begin playing an 18-game conference schedule in the 2012-13 season. There will be 14 teams in the league when Pitt and Syracuse join, so each school will have one “primary partner.”

  • Boston College – Syracuse
  • Clemson – Georgia Tech
  • Duke – North Carolina
  • Florida State – Miami (Fl.)
  • Maryland – Pitt
  • NC State – Wake Forest
  • Virginia – Virginia Tech

The “partners” will play each other twice every season, while the other 12 teams will rotate in groups of four every seasons. One year, two teams will play each other both home and away; one year, at home only; and one year, away only. It’s essentially based on three-year cycles where partners play each other six times and everyone else four times.

Yes, that means we get to see Boston College and Syracuse play each other twice each year, but the partnerships do seem to make the most sense geographically. Would I prefer to see Syracuse and Pitt play twice every season? Of course, but that simply isn’t doable.

The league also announced that all 14 teams would make the conference tournament, meaning we could get five days of ACC tournament action.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: February 3, 2012 12:28 pm
Edited on: February 3, 2012 12:29 pm

Future is brighter for Hofstra and Towson

By Jeff Borzello

HEMPSTEAD, N.Y. – It’s been a rough season for both Hofstra and Towson, with the two teams combining for three wins in the CAA and a record of 9-39 overall.

However, over the past seven days, each team has found reasons to be optimistic for the future. Towson snapped a 41-game losing streak with a win over UNC-Wilmington last weekend, while Hofstra beat the Tigers by 25 on Wednesday. Neither team is expected to do much damage in the final month of the season, but the future does look brighter for both programs in the coming seasons.

Clearly, neither team has thrown in the towel on the season. They’re playing hard, practicing hard, and building.

“We haven’t prepared any different,” Towson assistant coach Luke Murray said. “We practiced everyday before Wilmington, and since, with the intensity of a team that was competing for a league title.”

The Tigers still have confidence in themselves, despite the losing streak. With so many young pieces, that’s a good sign.

Hofstra is no different. The Pride had impressive wins over Cleveland State, Iona and Long Island in the non-conference, but have struggled to close out games in the CAA.

The win over Towson should give them a boost heading into the final eight games of the season, when the schedule eases up.

“We had two really good practices this week,” head coach Mo Cassara said. “That’s the sign of a team that hasn’t given up. Sometimes you work harder and coach harder when you’re losing.”

Next season should bring about a completely different season for each team.

Towson currently has Georgetown transfer Jerelle Benimon and South Florida transfer Mike Burwell sitting out; both are expected to start next season, and Benimon could be one of the best forwards in the conference. Incoming freshmen Jerome Hairston and Frank Mason will immediately provide speed and explosiveness at the guard positions, while classmates Barrington Alston and Timajh Parker can provide depth. Sophomores Marcus Damas and Erique Gumbs, and freshmen Kris Walden and Deon Jones, have also shown flashes.

There’s talk within the program that the Tigers could be headed for the biggest turnaround in the country next season.

Hofstra will lose three seniors next year – Mike Moore, Nat Lester and Dwan McMillan – but the Pride expect to improve drastically next season as well.

“Look at the guys at the end of the bench in blue warmup suits,” Cassara said.

He’s referring to transfers Jamal Coombs-McDaniel (Connecticut), Taran Buie (Penn State) and Daquan Brown (Fresno State). Coombs-McDaniel and Buie will immediately form one of the best perimeter duos in the league, and Brown gives Hofstra size it is severely lacking this season. Throw in freshmen Dallas Anglin and Jimmy Hall, and Hofstra has reason to be excited about the future.

It’s certainly not a vintage season for either Hofstra or Towson, but that should change in the near-future.  

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Category: NCAAB
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