Sunday, December 29, 2013

Fordham/Siena Preview

Following 86-point losing effort against Harvard, Fordham heads upstate for second game in three days, with Jimmy Patsos and Siena awaiting at Times Union Center. (Photo courtesy of the Albany Times Union)

For the second time in as many weeks, Fordham completes a stretch of two games in three days, and does so on the heels of a hard-fought game against Harvard where; despite falling behind by 15 points late in the first half, the 7-5 Rams battled the Crimson during the final minutes, only falling short by the final of 94-86 behind 31 points from Branden Frazier and 29 from Jon Severe, the third time this season in which the freshman sensation has scored at least 28.

Up next for Fordham is a Siena team that is much like the Rams in terms of relative youth, as well as personnel in their first year under Jimmy Patsos, who arrived in April from Loyola University as the successor to Mitch Buonaguro. At 4-8, the road to redemption has not been smooth for the Saints, but Patsos is slowly improving this team and molding it into a contender with the resumption of MAAC play on the horizon. Siena also has the advantage of having played Fordham close last season, overcoming a 47-point explosion by Fordham in the first half to only lose by just six in an 81-75 decision at Rose Hill Gym.

Siena only has one double-figure scorer in Rob Poole, (14.3 points per game) but 5-8 guard Evan Hymes and freshman forward Lavon Long are averaging nearly ten per game in their own right. Not to be outdone, Brett Bisping joins Poole by managing a team-leading six rebounds per game on average, with big man Imoh Silas not too far behind at 5.8 boards per contest as the Saints attempt to replace program legend O.D. Anosike.

With both teams looking much better going into conference play than they have in recent years, tomorrow night's matchup at the Times Union Center makes for an interesting one on both ends, and with that said, we welcome Andrew Santillo; who covers Siena for the Troy Record, in for our pregame Q&A to help us get to know the Saints a little better.

Jaden Daly: With wins in two of their last three games, does it look like Siena is buying further into Jimmy Patsos' system? How much more has this team come together in the eight weeks following the season opener against Albany?

Andrew Santillo: The team is certainly starting to buy in to Coach Patsos. Jimmy is a very enthusiastic coach, and wants guys to work incredibly hard in practice. His style has taken a little adjusting to, but this team is certainly playing harder than they were last year. A perfect example is Brett Bisping. The sophomore has really come alive since the Purdue game down in Orlando, when he went into the starting lineup. He is averaging 9.4 points and 6.7 rebounds over the past nine games and doing a lot of the dirty work, playing the power forward position.

JD: Replacing O.D. Anosike hasn't been easy, but if you had to grade Brett Bisping and Lavon Long on their efforts, what grade would they receive?

AS: You can't replace O.D. Anosike. He led the country in rebounding two straight years and was such a cerebral player. That being said, Lavon Long has been incredibly good in his first few collegiate games. He is big and bulky like a forward, but also has a smooth mid-range game. He's really a wing type player, but his body suggests a true post man at this level. I would say so far his biggest downfall is his fouling, as he's committed a team-high 52 fouls and fouled out of six of the team's 12 games. He will be a good one though. The other player who is really "filling" Anosike's spot is Imoh Silas. He's shown a lot more on the court this season, even getting the game-winning basket against Cornell, on an offensive rebound putback. He's really been working on his post moves, has one that he uses extensively and is getting better around the basket.

JD: For fans who haven't seen Marquis Wright and Maurice White, what can they expect from the two freshmen, and how much of an impact have they had on Rob Poole and Evan Hymes in the backcourt?

AS: Marquis Wright has been so good. After the Hofstra win, I wrote about how this team has been good in close games, despite having so many young players playing a lot. Wright really is the key there. He's running the offense and been the starting point guard since he stepped onto campus this summer. He's averaging 5.8 assists per game, which puts him among the leaders in the country. Maurice White has been more of a sparkplug type player. He really gives a lot of effort and can score in bunches, as he led the team in scoring in his first career game -- 17 points against UAlbany. He can score in bunches and puts pressure on the defense, as he attacks the rim.

JD: How much more of a premium will rebounds be held at for Siena, especially with the four-guard outfit Tom Pecora brings into Loudonville Monday night?

AS: This team isn't exactly a terrific rebounding squad, as it is somewhat undersized. They had been playing without freshman Javion Ogunyemi, who missed seven games after spraining his ankle against St. Bonaventure. This is a team that will need its guards, like Rob Poole and Maurice White, to help out in rebounding. White had a career-high eight boards against Hofstra, all of which came in the first half. This could be a game where whichever team has the edge on the glass wins the game.

JD: Last year's contest between these two teams at Rose Hill Gym saw a second half in which Siena ran the floor much like they do now in Patsos' offense, a much more uptempo style than that of Mitch Buonaguro. With that experience playing fast against virtually the same Fordham personnel, does this matchup favor the Saints despite their much younger roster, and what are the keys to victory?

AS: The Mitch Buonaguro era was supposed to be about speed and going up and down, which never really materialized for one reason or another. Jimmy Patsos has made no bones about how his team will get up and down, despite having young players who typically make mistakes when things are moving too fast. I'd have to say that has been one remarkable thing about this team so far, other than the game against Purdue at the Old Spice Classic, this team hasn't really made too many rookie mistakes in close games. Now, that may change come league play, where opponents know much more about personnel. Rob Poole will be one key for the Saints. He has played well in his junior season and without any scholarship seniors, he's the unquestioned leader. Patsos said that Fordham's Jon Severe and Branden Frazier are the two best scorers in this game, but that doesn't mean his team can't win. Siena has traditionally, and this season, played much better at home; where they often draw 6,000-7,000 per game in Albany, and I expect this to be a close game because of that.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Fordham/Harvard Preview

Tommy Amaker and Harvard return to Rose Hill seeking an 11-1 start going into 2014. (Photo courtesy of Harvard University)

For Fordham, tomorrow afternoon's matchup with Harvard is the biggest game Rose Hill Gym has seen in over ten months, since the Rams nearly upended Brad Stevens and Butler this past February.

At 7-4, Tom Pecora's Rams have already matched last season's win total, and have two more matchups; including this one, before Atlantic 10 play begins at Duquesne one week from Wednesday. Having already clinched a winning nonconference record, Fordham is not coming in with nothing to lose, but definitely enters their final home game before league play with everything to gain, hoping to steal a second consecutive home victory over the two-time reigning Ivy League champions, who of course captured headlines last March with their NCAA Tournament victory over New Mexico.

With virtually everyone coming back for Tommy Amaker's Crimson squad this season, the personnel has not changed much, but the product on the court has become mounds better with Harvard's 10-1 start. To further profile the intellectual powerhouse from Cambridge, we welcome John Ezekowitz of Harvard Hoops Online for our latest Q&A session, wherein he sheds further light on just what makes the Crimson such a strong outfit:

Jaden Daly: At 10-1, including a Great Alaska Shootout title, Harvard isn't showing much of an NCAA Tournament hangover. What has impressed you most with this team as they have followed up their round of 32 appearance?

John Ezekowitz: Because of injuries to Brandyn Curry and Kenyatta Smith, the 2014 Harvard team is essentially the 2013 team, but with Kyle Casey replacing Smith and no Christian Webster. Given this composition, I am most impressed by Harvard's improvement on defense. Last year, the Crimson were pedestrian defensively, but this year they have held opponents to under 1.1 points per possession in every game. I believe this improvement can largely be attributed to the play of the front court. Junior big men Steve Moundou-Missi and (especially) Jonah Travis have improved immensely defensively, and the emergence of sophomore Evan Cummins off the bench has been a big lift.

JD: Tommy Amaker employs a seven-man rotation, with only two of his reserves averaging more than 10 minutes per game. Against a Fordham team that matches up similarly in size and depth, does the clear definition of roles benefit the Crimson?

JE: As long as Siyani Chambers is on the court, Harvard will benefit from his leadership on the offensive end. Interestingly, despite the fairly short rotation previously, the unit that helped the Crimson come back from a late deficit against Vermont consisted of three bench players, Cummins, Travis, and Agunwa Okolie, with Chambers (26 points, including 6 threes) and Laurent Rivard.

Tommy Amaker's watchword since he arrived at Harvard has been execution. He expects all of his players to know their roles in the offensive and defensive schemes. While this occasionally leads to fairly boring motion offense passing around the perimeter that ends in a high pick and roll, it also means that the Crimson rarely beat themselves. 

The last time Harvard played at Rose Hill (2012 when they were ranked inside the top 25), the Rams won by throwing a tough zone defense at the Crimson. Harvard had no idea what to do down the stretch. By the middle of Ivy play, however, the Crimson had been drilled into shape and were making opponents pay for playing zone.

JD: Also much like Fordham, Harvard has excelled at defending the three-point shot, holding opponents to just 27 percent from beyond the arc. With that said, who will likely draw Jon Severe to start the game, and what scheme(s) can we expect from the Crimson defensively?

JE: I would bet that Wesley Saunders will get the Severe assignment. If Brandyn Curry plays, he will help as well. Wes is a very strong guard, and has played strong defense against the opponent's best guard most of the season. Keifer Sykes is really the only one who has had individual success. Harvard will play man, with a couple of zone possessions thrown in.

JD: Against a Harvard team that has handled the ball very well this season, what else must Fordham do other than look to get them turned over?

JE: Vermont did well defensively against Harvard by aggressively doubling the ball when Harvard attempted to enter the post and by rotating quickly. The Crimson struggle if they cannot get their spacing right, and Fordham could have success by crowding the post.

JD: Brandyn Curry is expected back after missing nine games. What does he bring to the lineup, and with the status of Mandell Thomas uncertain, how much of a matchup problem does he represent?

JE: Brandyn is a very important player for the Crimson going forward because he provides another shooting threat and is a fantastic perimeter defender. A lineup with Rivard, Saunders, and Curry on the perimeter will be tough on any set of opposing guards. Throw in Siyani Chambers on the offensive end, and Harvard has great depth. With that said, if Brandyn plays, I expect his minutes to be a bit limited as he gets back into the flow of the game.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Fordham 83, Loyola 69: Quotes, Takeaways & Nuggets

Without Mandell Thomas, Jon Severe's 23 points were even more important in Fordham's win over Loyola. (Photo courtesy of Richard Restivo via Big Apple Buckets)

Fordham head coach Tom Pecora's opening statement: (All quotes courtesy of Anthony Sulla-Heffinger, who formerly covered Fordham for the New York Post and still freelances for Yahoo! Sports and, and was on hand at the Rose Hill Gym this afternoon)
"Our free throw shooting continues to be great, and, you know, I was upset with these two guys (Branden Frazier and Bryan Smith) Saturday because I told them as veterans, as my senior and my junior, they have to control games late, they have to take games over, they have to make shots, and they have to feel comfortable taking them and knowing that I trust them. So, that was a big game for Bryan with 17 and 7, and for Branden with 16, nine assists, three rebounds. You know, we only had six turnovers the entire game, so that speaks volumes for the job he's doing now at the point. So, a very good win, a bounce-back win, it looked like we showed some spirit, and we've got two days off. We're going to come back on the 26th and go twice and go on the 27th, and then get ready for our little mini-two-day tournament, three-day tournament there with Harvard up here and then one day to prepare for a good Siena team up there. You know, we've got a week off until conference matchups, so I'm excited."

On how Fordham has grown, and also on clinching another winning nonconference season:
"I think it's difficult. You get some experience, we talk about that all the time, and the experience with these two guys, (Frazier and Smith) and as I've said in the past; even as sophomores, the amount of minutes that they got last year, you know, Tra(vion Leonard) and Rhoomsie (Ryan Rhoomes) and even Jermaine, (Myers) and then to do this without Mandell, (Thomas, who missed today's game due to a pulled hamstring suffered against Monmouth on Saturday) you know? It's big, it's a big win for us, because he's obviously a big part of our seven-man, eight-man rotation. I thought Tra and Rhoomes did a good job on the backboards, they played well together, they took care of the basketball, I mean, they only had one turnover between the two of them. I'm always concerned about our turnover numbers going up when we play big, and I think there's more talent on the floor. Obviously, they've gotten better as players, they've worked harder to develop as players, and then the players we've brought in are a little bit better, so that's why the outcome is good."

On taking care of business at home:
"(The) first step in rebuilding, I don't have to tell you guys, you've all been here with me. It's been a tough job, there's been a lot of heavy lifting and there's been a lot of hard work has gone into it and a lot of challenges, but you've got to be good at home and I don't care who you're playing in this building, I expect us to beat them. We go on the road, I expect us to win, find a way to win, but at home, I expect to win in this building. We had a great crowd today, my assistants did a great job with youth groups with the students away. I was shocked when I came out to see what a great crowd we had here on the 23rd, and we were concerned about having a 4:00 game, I did it for Porter, (Moser, Loyola's coach) he's a good friend, a good coach, and he couldn't get a flight back tomorrow...the last flight was 8:40, so I'm like 'alright, we'll move the game up.' Thank God it worked out. That's why we played at 4:00, (and) a great crowd."

On his halftime speech:
"It wasn't over the top. Coaching's different, there's like six words I can't use at all anymore that I used to use all the time when I was a young coach, so they're pretty mellow. Really, we just addressed business, we told them all what they need to do. One of the neat things we did was we brought a group in over the fall called 'The Program,' and it was sort of a special ops group, and all the kind of special ops Army, Navy SEAL people, and they come in for two days. It's really intense, it's really wild, and the gentleman who was involved as the director of our group, we had come back to the game today for military day, he's a vet of the Middle Eastern wars, and I surprised them at the 12-minute mark before the game, I had him come in and speak to them. So I'm going to yell at him because they didn't come out in the first half the way I expected, and it took my halftime speech to get them going, but it was a good win for the team, it was a good win for the program. They're a good basketball team, and I can enjoy Christmas."

On Jon Severe (23 points, 6 assists) and attacking the basket to score:
"Well, the thing is he's capable of it, you know? I mean, there's a lot of guys out there that can just make jumpers. The good thing about Jon, Branden, Bryan, Mandell is that they can do both, so they can keep you off balance, but, yeah, he drove the ball a couple of times with a fury, you know? Then he got to the rim and he made some great baskets, so I think we all did a good job of putting it on the deck more in the second half. We talked about fall in love with the jumper early in the first half, (but) when we drove the ball, we had much better success."

On Fordham's defense in the second half:
"Well, we got out of the zone, and I think what hurt us in the first half was (that) they were 6-of-10 from three. So, I mean, boom, all of a sudden, you're deep into a possession and then they reverse the ball and knock down a three. So by going man and being able to stay close to (Devon) Turk and not allowing him to get as many looks in the second half, that was a big difference maker. It gave us great energy, and we can run, you know? The expression we use is 'rebound to run,' so when we go rebound, Bryan had a number of big time rebounds. I thought he did a good job in traffic of going and getting rebounds, and he had seven, and Frazier had a few tonight. Our guards have got to rebound for us to be successful, but that becomes like an outlet because they get the rebound and then they can start the break by putting the ball on the ground."

Branden Frazier on having space to create his own shots:
"Every time down, it seemed like a different defense. In the first half, we weren't being patient enough, we were just rushing shots and just getting them up. In the second half, we just kind of came back down, made the right shots, got them to the rim, and we responded on open looks, so I think that was the difference. In the first half, we were settling for the jump shot."

Frazier on playing with two forwards more than usual:
"We haven't done it the first couple of games, so we may have fallen off a little bit, but we know how to play with two bigs. We know our jobs, they know their jobs."

Bryan Smith on his performance:
"It felt good. I just wanted to play confident and be aggressive so I could help the team, and be more aggressive so we could get the win."

Pecora on responding after a loss on multiple occasions this season:
"Yeah, we've never lost two in a row, (this season) right? We talk all the time about one-game winning streaks, you know, and just having one-game losing streaks. It's good, and bouncing back shows a lot of pride, plus if you're down nine at home and come back, but I could feel it (the energy) in the first minutes of the second half, you saw us just come out, and we kind of pounced on them, and then when we passed them, we just kept going. We didn't have that lull that's kind of taken the wind out of our sails."

Smith on his second half approach:
"Just don't let them get any touches, almost face guarding them. The less touches you get, the harder it is to score. He (Devon Turk) was the main reason they were in the game, he made all them threes."

Pecora on seizing opportunity:
"We talked about it at the end, I said, 'Look, we're getting ready for Harvard to come in here.' Like everyone else, we expect them to come in and we expect to beat them, but yeah, two years ago we did all we needed to do, and we had a good day, they had a rough day shooting the ball, and we found a way to beat them, but we fear nobody in this gym. It's hard to get people in this gym, it's hard to get people to come play us in the home-and-home, especially with who we consider a marquee opponent, you know?"

Nuggets of Note:
- Fordham picked up the 600th win in program history at Rose Hill Gym today, and did it with an emphatic 23-point second half swing where the Rams outscored Loyola 54-31 behind a 58 percent (15-for-26) shooting effort from the field.

- As tweeted before the game by Mack Rosenberg, the voice of the Rams on WFUV, Fordham has become an Andy Pettitte-esque stopper this season when taking the court immediately following a loss, as the Rams have won each of the four games following their defeats. In fact, this win was the most decisive performance following a loss that Fordham has had all season, with the last two (Manhattan and Colgate) being a pair of four-point road victories.

- Today's win was only the third time all season in which the Rams have broken the 80-point plateau, with all three coming at home, and each of the other two (the season opener against Saint Francis and November 15th against Lehigh) also resulting in wins, giving Fordham a perfect 3-0 ledger when reaching that offensive zenith.

- One underlying set of numbers on the stat sheet tonight? That would be the free throw disparity, particularly in the second half. Fordham went to the foul line 23 times, making all but two of their attempts, whereas Loyola only got two shots at the charity stripe, splitting them. Without Fordham's 20-of-21 effort at the line after the intermission, Loyola wins the game 69-63 and deals the Rams what would have been yet another crushing home defeat.

- Finally, Branden Frazier continues to prove that he deserves a game ball for his evolution into a pure point guard from the combo guard who, for his first three years in the Bronx, seemed to never meet a shot he didn't like. Give Frazier mounds of credit for his latest tour de force, which included nine assists to back up his 16-point outing, which is magnified even more in the absence of Mandell Thomas.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Fordham/Loyola Preview

Fordham may need Mandell Thomas at full strength tomorrow to bounce back from loss to Monmouth.

Now 6-4 after a devastating loss to Monmouth that saw the Hawks erase a seven-point deficit in the final three minutes, Fordham has to regroup quickly as they play their second game in three days for the first of two times this season, with Loyola University making the trip to the Rose Hill Gym from Chicago.

In their first season as a member of the Missouri Valley Conference after leaving the Horizon League, the Ramblers and forward Christian Thomas will take on a Fordham team that has yet again been ravaged by injuries, with Mandell Thomas leaving the Monmouth game in the first half and only playing ten minutes, not to mention apparently pulling a hamstring in the losing effort as well. On the positive side, the Rams did welcome Ryan Canty back to the team for the first time since November 15th after the 6-9 junior missed six games for personal reasons, and will have Jon Severe coming off a career day against Monmouth, whom he scored 32 points and connected on eight three-pointers against.

For today's Q&A about Loyola, we welcome in Jesse Kramer, who covers the Ramblers for The Catch And Shoot, a former New York-based website that has now shifted its focus to Chicago with Jesse now basing himself at Northwestern University. Here is what he had to say about the Ramblers, who take to the Bronx for one of their final tuneups before Valley play:

Jaden Daly: Through the first two months of the season, how would you grade Loyola's season as they prepare for Missouri Valley play?

Jesse Kramer: To set a scale, let's say the average Missouri Valley team is a B. By that standard, I'd say Loyola is in the C/C+ range. When at their best, the Ramblers look like a middle-of-the-pack MVC team, but at their worst, there is nothing stopping them from finishing in last place. Loyola has really struggled holding on to leads in the second half. Earlier this week against Northern Illinois, they blew a 15-point lead at home and lost. They also blew double-digit leads in losses to Tennessee Tech, Tulane, and Portland State. Where the Ramblers do excel is sharing the ball and working to find good shots in the halfcourt offense. They just need to learn to consistently execute and convert.

JD: After Christian Thomas, who gets most of Loyola's attention on the offensive end, and what does Fordham need to do to stop him?

JK: So far, no one has really been able to stop Thomas. He is crafty enough in the post to reach double figures every night, but he's also not a big threat to dominate a game with only three games in his career of more than 20 points. Despite being 6'5", that craftiness and strength at 220 lbs. can neutralize the size advantage of Fordham's big men.
Thomas gets a lot a lot of help from sophomore Matt O'Leary, a versatile forward. (For you New York folks, he's similar to Manhattan's Emmy Andujar with a couple of extra inches.) O'Leary is a great passer out of the high post, and Loyola loves to run some high/low action with him and Thomas. In general, O'Leary has been great for Loyola with 7.4 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game. He is great at finding cutting teammates from the high post and is also capable of putting the ball on the floor and going to the rim. He can also knock down a three-pointer or two if left open on the perimeter.
Two other guys that can do a lot of damage are Milton Doyle and Jeff White. Doyle originally committed to Kansas but then transferred before appearing in a game for the Jayhawks. Now a redshirt freshman, he he has won MVC Player of the Week once and Newcomer of the Week twice. Against Campbell on December 13, he went off for 32 points. He does a tremendous job driving to the basket, and he is great at drawing contact and finishing through it. Doyle is not a great three-point shooter, but he keeps opponents honest at 34.8%.

JD: The Ramblers shoot 48 percent from the field as a team. How much of that is attributed to efficient shots, given they only shoot 34 percent from three?

JK: One of Loyola's biggest strengths is finding efficient shots in its halfcourt offense. As a team, the Ramblers shoot 53.4% on two-point field goals, which ranks in the nation's top 50. This is in large part because the Ramblers share the ball very well and also have guys like Doyle and White who can break down a defense on their own and get to the bucket. When the offense is gelling, Loyola is consistently getting good looks in the paint.
Also, that high/low offense I mentioned earlier with O'Leary and Thomas produces a lot of high-quality shots. Thomas does a great job of sealing off his man, and at 6'8" O'Leary has the size to make a pass over the defense if Thomas is fronted in the post.

JD: Porter Moser only plays a seven-man rotation, but none of the regular players average more than three fouls per game. Against a Fordham team that is prone to foul trouble, does Loyola's discipline give them an advantage?

JK: As a whole, Loyola definitely does a good job of staying out of foul trouble, and it could be an issue for Fordham since the Ramblers also get to the line more than 21 times per game. However, sometimes Loyola's lack of foul trouble comes as a result of poor defense. The Ramblers rank only No. 262 on Kenpom in defensive efficiency.

JD: Touching up on our first question, what are Loyola's biggest strengths and weaknesses heading into MVC play, and what are their keys to victory Monday night at Fordham?

JK: As I mentioned earlier, Loyola's biggest weakness has been holding on to large leads. It's something that has obviously really frustrated Moser. If the Ramblers could realistically be 9-2 right now if they had executed just a bit better in the second halves of those games. I'd say Loyola's biggest strength this year has been its patience and unselfishness on offense. The Ramblers are No. 3 among MVC teams in assist rate and No. 62 nationally. Another bright side for Loyola is that this team is very young. There are only three seniors on the roster, and they barely play. Moser starts two juniors, two sophomores, and a freshman, so there is good reason to believe this team will grow as the year goes on.
For Monday's game, Loyola should look to follow its usual game plan and try to do most of its damage inside with Fordham's defense being subpar this season. The Ramblers also have to get Doyle going. He is Loyola's best athlete and the only guy really capable of taking over a game on the offensive end, but in Loyola's last game against Northern Illinois, he scored only 10 points on 3-of-11 shooting.

Leadership By Example Is Aaron's True Craft

Perhaps Aaron Craft's greatest trait is his mental makeup that has taken Ohio State deep into March over each of his three years. (Photo courtesy of ESPN)

By Patrick McCormack

Aaron Craft has shown what it means to be a winner for Ohio State. 

The senior point guard has made three Sweet Sixteens, two Elite Eights and a Final Four in his career, and his third-ranked Buckeyes showed their winning culture Saturday night when they came back from eight down with 1:15 left in regulation to beat the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 64-61, improving to 12-0.

Craft may have made the biggest defensive play of the game as well. With the Buckeyes up 61-60, he stripped Notre Dame guard Jerian Grant. The ball hit off of Grant and gave Ohio State possession.

"They were calling it pretty tight," Craft commented, recalling the play. "I was trying to keep my hands off of him. He is a great player. He hit some in my face and hit that three. I was fortunate enough to get a hand in there and it hit off of his body, and (we) got the ball back."

The 2013 Big Ten Tournament's Most Outstanding Player didn’t remember much of the final minute of play, but he does remember his teammates making big plays.

"I don’t really know," the senior point guard said. "It was a big blur, but I give our guys a lot of credit, they never stopped and they never gave up. I can see Shannon (Scott) running around like he is crazy out there, getting deflections and getting tipped balls and things like that. That was the main thing, guys making free throws down the stretch. Shannon made two big ones and we made five or six in a row that put us over the top,” Craft said.

Craft, who had 10 points and three assists, saw his team’s intensity picking up as they made their comeback.

"It was kind of what we should have been doing the whole game," he said. "Not picking up the full court trap, but the intensity, the sense of urgency. The guys made some plays, and the ball rolled our way a couple of times too. It is definitely a whirlwind. We’re going to go back and watch this, and we've got to be excited with the win. Obviously, Notre Dame is a great team. They will do well the rest of the year."

The senior leader saw the team’s lack of offense affecting their defense.

"I don’t think we were trusting the system as much as we needed to," Craft said. "It was something we definitely talked about going into the game. They change defenses a lot and we had to recognize it and move on from it. We did a great job of that today. We took some bad shots, didn’t attack very much. The worst part was missing offensively affected us defensively. The two ends were tied together tonight, and that is not what great teams do. Give them (Notre Dame) credit, they made some big shots, but if we are not making shots on offense, we need to tighten up our play defensively."

Craft sees this test one they can learn from and go forward with.
"Hopefully we can learn from it," he said. "We can enjoy it. Notre Dame is a good team, but we have a long way to go. We have one game left until the Big Ten season. You cannot take any game lightly. We will enjoy this one until we get home and then we will work to get better."

The Buckeyes have one more non-league game remaining against Louisiana-Monroe before they start league play at Purdue on New Year’s Eve. Craft, who made the All-Big Ten Defensive Team twice, said the team needs to guard if they want to win games.

"I think for this team to be the best we need to be, we need to hang around on defense," he said. "We're going to have nights where we're going to hit shots, but if we want to beat great teams and make a run in the Big Ten season, we have to play defense. The best part is these guys have been around. They see what it takes, and it takes defense. “

Ohio State head coach Thad Matta said Craft’s play for the Buckeyes is far more than he expected when he brought him in.

"Aaron has definitely exceeded my expectations since he has got here," Matta said. "I date back to the second game of the season (his freshman year) against Florida. The two top teams in the country. After that game, I realized I have something special here. From that moment on, he has been terrific."

Craft showed his leadership and ability to make big plays tonight. This was a good test for his team. The next test will come on January 7th, when the Buckeyes travel to East Lansing to square off against fifth-ranked Michigan State. If Ohio State wants to be successful, Craft will need to continue to lead the team to the top of the Big Ten. 

Ohio State stuns Notre Dame to win Gotham

Notre Dame's Demetrius Johnson stopped by Ohio State's stifling defense. (Photo courtesy of The Ohio State University)
By Jason Schott - Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor

Ohio State stunned Notre Dame in the final two minutes to pull out a 64-61 win on Saturday night in the Gotham Classic at Madison Square Garden.

Notre Dame looked like they were on their way to a big victory when Jerian Grant hit a three-pointer with 1:58 left to give them a 58-50 lead. It stayed that way until there were 48 seconds left and Ohio State's Laquinton Ross got a layup that started a major run. On the inbounds, Notre Dame's Demetrius Jackson turned it over, leading to a Lenzelle Smith, Jr., layup. Incredibly, Ohio State forced another turnover, and Shannon Scott got a layup, and all of a sudden it was a two-point game, at 58-56 with 41 seconds left.

Ohio State fouled Jackson on the inbounds pass and he hit two free throws to make it a four-point game. Ohio State went back down the floor quickly and Smith, Jr., attempted a three from the corner, and he was fouled with 32 seconds left. He went to the line for three free throws and made all of them. Smith, Jr., then hit a layup with 16 seconds left to make it 60-59 Ohio State with 16 seconds left.

Notre Dame had plenty of time to attempt to win the game, and Grant found an opening and drove the lane, only to have the ball stripped and he, in turn, fouled Smith, Jr., sending him back to the line where he made two more free throws to make it 63-60. Notre Dame had 10 seconds, still plenty of time to make something happen. The Irish got the ball in with ease, no rare feat in this chaotic final minute, and Grant raced up the court. After Grant passed the halfcourt line, he was body checked by Aaron Craft, sending him to the line, where he missed one of two free throws.

Notre Dame had to foul immediately, but it took four seconds to foul Craft, so he went to the line with three seconds left. Craft went to the line and hit the first free throw to make it 64-61, and missed the second, leaving the door open for Notre Dame to tie it. Demetrius Jackson had a nice look from the side, and he just missed a three that would have tied it as time expired. What Ohio State did was quite remarkable in the final 48 seconds. They scored 14 points, made eight of nine free throws, and forced three turnovers.

Notre Dame Head Coach Mike Brey said of the loss, "We're going to move forward fast because we don't have much time to dwell on it. I loved how my team played in the second half to give ourselves a chance against a really good team in what was a road atmosphere. I didn't see much blue and gold, saw a lot of red and white, even though I thought this was a Notre Dame town. Hard one...Hard one to live with." Brey said of the last two minutes, "You have to give them (Ohio State) a lot of credit; that a great defensive team. They really turned the heat up on us, flustered us. Quite frankly, I was impressed how we got into an offensive rhythm to give us the lead because we had a hard time doing anything offensively (in the first half)."

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Brown Continues To Rise Above For Manhattan

Already a two-time reigning Defensive Player of the Year in MAAC, Rhamel Brown continues to be largely overlooked, much to Steve Masiello's chagrin. (Photo courtesy of Manhattan College)

In many ways, Rhamel Brown is the Rodney Dangerfield of college basketball.

For starters, the back-to-back MAAC Defensive Player of the Year is not considered the most recognizable face on his own team, as that honor is reserved for senior guard George Beamon. Brown is also arguably the best shot blocker in the New York area, but does not even get his due credit in that department either, no thanks to the rejection ability that Chris Obekpa has brought to St. John's. The Brooklyn native has been a de facto head coach on the floor as well through his vocal leadership by example, but still; for some reason unbeknownst to head coach Steve Masiello, does not get enough respect.

"I'm going to say it every time I speak," Masiello said after the Jaspers' 84-81 overtime win over Bobby Hurley's Buffalo team at Brooklyn's Barclays Center this afternoon. "I don't know what you guys are watching. He's one of the best big men in the country."

Surprisingly and undeservingly snubbed from a first team all-MAAC selection last year in favor of Loyola guard Dylon Cormier, Brown has reprised his role as one of the most integral pieces to Manhattan's puzzle. Despite only averaging nine points over Manhattan's first eleven games, Brown is making up for it with over six rebounds and four blocks per contest, even improving his free throw shooting to a 63 percent mark during the Jaspers' 9-2 start.

"It's phenomenal," Masiello said of the impact Brown, whom he inherited from his predecessor Barry Rohrssen, has made on the Manhattan program. "It's one of the reasons our defense is where it is. Rhamel Brown may not be the best scorer or those types of things, but he's by far our most valuable player, because he changes the game and he's so underrated."

Amid his constant getting lost in the shuffle, Brown continues to produce and fill stat sheets everywhere, evidenced today by his eight points, six rebounds and four blocks, which is impressive enough when you consider he only played five minutes in the first half due to racking up two quick fouls as Manhattan struggled to catch up to Buffalo after losing Michael Alvarado and Donovan Kates when both guards were ejected for leaving the bench during an altercation five minutes into the game. Nonetheless, Masiello took notice of yet another versatile performance.

"I've been saying it, I'm going to continue saying it," the coach stated with regard to how valuable Brown's contributions are. "I'm a huge Rhamel Brown fan. I hope you guys (media) get on the fan club with me. I'll send you guys some stuff over Christmas if you want to join, and then we'll go from there."

Hey Steve, you won't have to look very far for your first recruit in this endeavor.

Manhattan Escapes Brooklyn With Overtime Win

George Beamon's underrated brand of basketball came to Brooklyn today, with his 22 points being instrumental in Manhattan's overtime win over Buffalo. (Photo courtesy of the New York Post)

One year ago tomorrow, Manhattan came undone in their Barclays Center debut, as a technical foul assessed to head coach Steve Masiello swayed the momentum of a game the Jaspers looked to be in control of, yet ultimately lost to South Carolina. Just four minutes and 55 seconds into today's game 364 days later, it looked as if history would repeat itself after RaShawn Stores received a technical of his own during an altercation with a Buffalo player.

There was one difference, though: Manhattan had George Beamon today.

The senior superstar continued his return to the MAAC elite this afternoon, scoring 22 points in an 84-81 overtime victory over Bobby Hurley's Bulls, a win that the Jaspers (9-2) had to gut out after Michael Alvarado and Donovan Kates were ejected for leaving the bench to break up the aforementioned scuffle.

"I couldn't be more proud of our team," Masiello said after a game in which Manhattan trailed 75-68 with 45 seconds remaining in regulation. "It's one of the greatest wins we've had since I've been here. From a mental toughness standpoint, I thought we bent, bent, bent, but we never broke."

Such resiliency was probably not in the forecast in the final minute of the second half, as Buffalo went on an 8-1 run to take their seven-point lead behind 20 points off the bench from Shannon Evans. However, Shane Richards emerged from a relatively quiet showing with a three-pointer on the ensuing possession to cut Manhattan's deficit to four points before the Bulls extended their lead on a Jarod Oldham free throw.

Playing without a timeout, it looked as if Manhattan squandered their chance to remain in the game after Rich Williams missed a three-pointer with 22 seconds left, but Rhamel Brown scooped up the miss and found a streaking George Beamon, who converted a layup and drew a foul in the process. Beamon's free throw pulled Manhattan within two before the Jaspers sent Evans to the charity stripe on the other end, where he made one of two shots to keep the door open for the preseason favorite to win the MAAC.

With 5.4 seconds remaining, Richards was at his most valuable, drawing a foul in the act of shooting a three that would have tied the game at 77. The sophomore calmly made each free throw to pull the Jaspers even, leaving Buffalo with a chance to win at the buzzer, but Evans' jumper from the free throw line bounced off the front rim.

After missing most of the first half due to two early fouls, Rhamel Brown made his presence felt with a huge deflection of a Buffalo pass in the extra session, with a Beamon free throw giving Manhattan a 78-77 lead two minutes into the overtime period. Following another Brown steal, Beamon put the dagger into the backs of the Bulls with a three from the left baseline to put the Jaspers ahead 81-77.

"He makes me a better coach," Masiello said of Beamon. "He's getting on himself before I even say a word. He could care less about scoring, all he cares about is rebounding and winning."

Beamon picked up a big rebound with Manhattan ahead 81-78 with 1:38 to go in overtime, but was unable to capitalize as Joshua Freelove tied the game at 81 with a three of his own. Two empty possessions later, Buffalo's Will Regan turned it over in his own end, as Williams converted a layup to put Manhattan up two, a lead the Jaspers extended on the first of two Stores free throws. However, the junior guard's miss gave the Bulls an opportunity to send the game to a second overtime, but Evans' three at the buzzer fell short.

Manhattan now takes an eleven-day hiatus before opening 2014 with the resumption of MAAC play, with the Jaspers' next contest being a January 2nd road trip across the Hudson River to take on John Dunne and Saint Peter's University.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Jabari is Boss as Duke takes it to UCLA at MSG

Jabari Parker proved himself worthy of No. 1 NBA Draft pick yet again with 23-point, 10-rebound effort to propel Duke to 13-point win over UCLA at Madison Square Garden. (Photo courtesy of CBS Sports)

By Jason Schott - Daly Dose of Hoops Contributor 

Duke Blue Devils. UCLA Bruins. Two of college basketball's elite in a packed Madison Square Garden for the CarQuest Auto Parts Classic on Thursday night. 

It was a fun night, as Bruce Springsteen was part of the crowd that saw Duke beat UCLA 80-63. The game was tied at 37 at halftime, and the game was still tied at 45 four minutes into the second half. Duke then went on a 12-2 run capped by an electric Jabari Parker dunk with 12:43 left. Duke maintained an eight-point lead the rest of the way, and sealed the win when Amile Jefferson got a layup to make it 76-63 with 1:25 left.

Head coach Mike Krzyzewski said of the win, "We're obviously really happy. We beat an outstanding team, a team that's very difficult to defend because they score at all positions, and well coached, and I thought their zone stood us up. We were playing out by the NBA (three-point) line, in fact a little bit beyond it on the wings. We just didn't attack the zone very well, and I thought it hurt our defense. I thought we were having problems with their zone and we took the offense to the defensive end of the court, and they can shoot. They got six threes in the first half, and in the second half, we did a much better job." 

Coach K continued, "We did a really good job of hitting Amile (Jefferson) in the middle of the zone and he ended up being like a toss-back for those of you they still have toss-backs? Anyway, bounced right back to our guys and it got them rhythm shots, and Jabari got us off to such a good start in the second half against their man (to-man defense). Our bench, Amile and Rasheed (Sulaimon) played extremely well and, so good, I mean, Amile that's the best he's played since the start of the year, and for Rasheed, that's the best he's played this year. He's been practicing well the past two weeks and it paid off. I was so happy that big shot put us up 74-63, and to see his teammates be so happy for him and supportive of him is really good." 

Jefferson had 11 points on 5-for-6 shooting, 7 rebounds, and 2 assists in 23 minutes. Sulaimon had 8 points, 5 rebounds, and 4 assists in 18 minutes, and the basket that Coach K referenced occurred at the 2:00 mark in the second half. 

Jabari Parker led the way for Duke with 23 points on 7-for-13 shooting, 10 rebounds, and 5 assists. Rodney Hood and Quinn Cook had 14 each.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Fordham/Monmouth Preview

Now 6-3, Fordham heads to New Jersey, where freshman point guard Justin Robinson and overachieving Monmouth await. (Photo courtesy of the Asbury Park Press)

Fordham has had two games to shake off their 104-58 drubbing at the hands of Steve Lavin and St. John's nearly two weeks ago at Madison Square Garden, and the Rams have responded well, with a come-from-behind victory at Colgate and a win at home against Howard that fits the definition of taking care of business.

Now just six days removed from the Christmas holiday, Fordham faces a matchup that is not to be taken lightly, as they renew the third game in a four-year series with Monmouth, who is playing much better than their 5-6 record lets on. Picked to finish last among eleven MAAC teams, King Rice's Hawks are the epitome of a scrappy team who fights on every possession, catching many opponents off guard with their young roster. Monmouth may not have a senior in their rotation, but guards Andrew Nicholas and Deon Jones are as good a set of leaders as any other team in the area.

After our Q&A took a brief hiatus for the Howard game due to the lack of a full-time media member who covers the Bison, we are back with our traditional preview tonight, enlisting the services of the great Josh Newman to help us get to know the Hawks. In addition to his stellar work covering the Knicks and Nets for our friend Adam Zagoria's ZagsBlog and SNY, Josh also replaced a local legend this season when he took over the Monmouth beat at the Asbury Park Press from the immortal Tony Graham. Here's what Josh had to impart regarding the residents of the Jersey Shore as they welcome Fordham into West Long Branch.

Jaden Daly: At 5-6, Monmouth is already playing much better than expected and continuing to overachieve. What do you feel has been the biggest oversight from everyone who predicted the Hawks would struggle this season?

Josh Newman: I don't know if I would call it an oversight, but maybe more of simply the unknown. Monmouth struggled, mightily at times in the NEC and now, it has moved to the MAAC and has eight freshmen on the roster. Based on just those factors, it's understandable why someone would pick Monmouth to finish last in the MAAC, which is obviously a tougher group of teams than the NEC. As the season has unfolded, it's become clear that King Rice not only has talent, but that this group of players has really bought into what he and his staff are preaching on both sides of the ball. 

JD: Fordham has been among the best in the nation this season at defending the three-point line. Will this defense inspire a change in tactics from Andrew Nicholas, or should fans expect him to take up his usual residence beyond the arc?

JN: Nicholas will not be changing what he does, and King Rice will not ask him to either. Nicholas is a gunner, which can be a good thing or a bad thing for Monmouth depending on the day. Nicholas is averaging 6.5 3-point attempts per game this season and hitting at 39.4 percent from deep, both of which are career-highs. He had an abysmal three-game stretch against Seton Hall, St. John's and Penn State; in which he shot 1-for-14 from 3-point range, culminating in a benching at Penn State, but has been pretty solid otherwise. 

JD: In a lot of ways, Deon Jones is very similar to Mandell Thomas, most notably in style and the ability to slash inside to the basket. What is the biggest key to this matchup for both players?

JN: I think Jones simply needs to stay out of foul trouble and on the floor, which hasn't always been easy for him as he likes to play an aggressive, high-energy brand of basketball, especially on defense. A lot of the focus regarding Fordham has been on Jon Severe, but Thomas and Branden Frazier are capable of hurting Monmouth, so Jones, Nicholas and Josh James are really going to have to be up to the task defensively.

JD: In their win over St. Francis, Monmouth essentially rendered Ben Mockford into a non-factor. How much more of an effort will it take to do the same to Jon Severe?

JN: With what Severe has done so far, he will obviously be the focal point of Monmouth's defense, but keep in mind that other than Mockford, the Hawks have effectively defended George Beamon, Michael Alvarado, Jalen Cannon and Jordan Reed. Trying to slow down an opponent's No. 1 option is nothing new, but Severe, who has a bright green light on offense, will likely be an entirely different animal. Deon Jones seems to be the likeliest candidate to start out defensively on Severe, who has struggled recently against St. John's, Colgate and Howard.

JD: Finally, King Rice's three 6-10 freshmen are becoming more confident with every game, and the improvement is noticeable. Which of the three has the potential to make the biggest impact against Fordham's four-guard lineup, and will foul trouble be an issue?

JN: Foul trouble is unlikely to be an issue, mostly because Monmouth is deep up front and King Rice likes to mix and match with his post players. Zac Tillman will get the start at the 5, with Tyrone O'Garro at the 4, but Rice will not wait long to go to Chris Brady and Greg Noack off the bench. Foul trouble has been rare for Monmouth's big guys. As for the biggest impact on Saturday among the three freshmen, I think Brady is beginning to harness his athleticism and has really looked like a true rim protector and defensive presence in the lane. He has at least two blocks in three of the last five games. If Fordham decides to penetrate, they'll be running into Brady at the rim. 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mick's Return To Big Apple A Winning One As Cincinnati Outlasts Pitt

Mick Cronin is justifiably all smiles tonight after his Cincinnati team prevailed in a defensive clinic at Madison Square Garden, defeating Pittsburgh 44-43 in Jimmy V Classic. (Photo courtesy of the Boston Globe)

Cincinnati and Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden. Sounds like a classic Big East showdown, doesn't it?

Realignment be damned, the Bearcats and Panthers gave the impression of a mid-March conference tournament battle in Cincinnati's 44-43 victory, a grind-it-out struggle that was more reminiscent of a Bengals-Steelers game than a matchup of two former college basketball rivals now peddling their wares in the American Athletic and Atlantic Coast Conferences, respectively.

"I thought it was a well-played game," Mick Cronin said after Titus Rubles' putback with 4.2 seconds left gave Cincinnati the edge in a game marked by a suffocating defensive scheme that is vintage Bearcats. "It's like when a pitcher throws a no-hitter and wins 1-0, and then you say 'oh, well it wasn't exciting.'"

Exciting or not, the win was a solid character test for a now 8-2 Cincinnati team, who handed previously undefeated Pitt their first loss of the year despite being outscored 19-1 at the foul line. Granted, the Panthers attempted 26 more free throws, but Cronin, now in his eighth year at his alma mater after rebuilding a program Bob Huggins left for dead from the ground up, was more than satisfied.

"Against us, everybody says 'take care of the ball and let them run,'" he said. "You've got to learn how to win those games. We had two losses, (to New Mexico and Xavier) we gave up 53 percent (combined shooting) from the field. I don't care who you are, you've got to get stops to win games."

And get stops Cincinnati did, forcing Pitt into an 11-of-35 performance in which the Panthers played the final 14:54 of regulation without a field goal, rendering a normally dangerous Lamar Patterson into a non-factor with just 11 points on the evening as the Bearcats turned back the clock to a reminder of where the program used to be.

"Although we didn't score a lot of points, guys," Cronin intimated, "that's the best offense we've run in a long time. We got a little soft from dominating teams in November and then getting away from it, but we played in the Big East. We understand."

It is the Big East experience that has enhanced this Cincinnati team, a squad that bears resemblance to the 2011-12 Sweet 16 team despite being much deeper, according to Cronin, since it has played essentially the same style and rebounded from a one-sided loss to Xavier in much the same fashion.

"I coached in the Big East when I remember saying 'if I get the 9 (seed in the conference tournament, I'm doing a good job,'" Cronin said.

No one questions Mick Cronin's tactics now, even if his wins are unattractive.

Monday, December 16, 2013

South Carolina Scouting Report

(All photos courtesy of Gary Moore)
Less than 24 hours removed from winning their sixth consecutive road game after defeating UNC Wilmington, Manhattan attempts to improve to 7-0 away from Draddy Gym when the Jaspers head to Colonial Life Arena to face Frank Martin and South Carolina tomorrow night in a rematch of last year's defensive battle at the Barclays Center, one in which the Gamecocks prevailed after seizing momentum from a technical foul assessed to Manhattan coach Steve Masiello in the second half.

As he did several times last season, our friend Gary Moore of The College Hardwood has returned to provide a closer look at South Carolina, who is located right inside his home base of Columbia. Without further ado, here's Gary's scouting report of the Gamecocks and the matchup they present to the Jaspers:

Greetings again, this is Gary Moore from the College Hardwood with a preview of the South Carolina Gamecocks, Manhattan's next opponent on Tuesday night.  This is my second season covering University of South Carolina Basketball and the Gamecocks have eight new players in Frank Martin's second season at the helm. I have had a chance to see the Gamecocks in person so far twice this season.  Here's a scouting report of South Carolina.

Game Reviews

South Carolina has only played five games this season, which are the second fewest games played by a Division I team so far this season. (Grambling State has only played three games as of December 12)

Frank Martin's Gamecocks are 2-3 on the season with their wins coming over Longwood and Florida International at home.  All three losses are on the road; a two-point heartbreaker at #14 Baylor, a fourteen-point loss at intrastate archrival Clemson and a twenty-seven point drubbing at the hands of #7 Oklahoma State.   Those three teams are a combined 23-4.

I was at Colonial Life Arena for the wins over Longwood and FIU.  The Gamecocks started out slowly in the first fifteen minutes against the Lancers, as they were only up 18-11 after nearly fifteen minutes, but South Carolina outscored Longwood 64-33 the rest of the way to win convincingly 82-44.

In their second home game, the Gamecocks again struggled at the beginning of the game as the Golden Panthers actually took a 42-39 lead into halftime and still led 51-49 with thirteen minutes left in the game. However, a 12-4 run would propel South Carolina to an 84-72 win.

Starting Guards

Villanova transfer Tyrone Johnson starts at point guard for the Gamecocks.  He leads the Gamecocks in scoring at 12.2 points per game, assists at 4.4 per game and minutes, averaging 31.2 minutes per game.  Johnson is averaging a 2:1 ratio in assists to turnovers per game.

Freshman Sindarius Thornwell is the Gamecocks' second leading scorer, averaging 11.8 points per game.  He scored a career high 20 points against Baylor.  Thornwell has struggled in his last two games, shooting 6-of-17 from the field and failing to score in double digits after scoring in double digits in the first three games.

Starting Forwards

Sophomore Michael Carrera has struggled in his first five games.  Despite averaging the same number of minutes as last season, the forward from Venezuela is averaging 6.6 points and 6 rebounds a game, both categories slightly down from last season.  Carrera's field goal percentage is at 32 percent, which is down significantly from 44 percent last season. 

Carrera is a favorite with Gamecock fans.  Carrera brings a lot of energy to the team when he is on the court.  As I noted last season, he is the South American answer to former Stony Brook forward Tommy Brenton.  Carrera is always hustling, sometimes too much, which gets him in foul trouble.

Perhaps the most improved Gamecock is sophomore forward Mindaugas Kacinas.  Kacinas has seen a significant increase in minutes; 29 minutes per game this season, up 14 minutes from last season. That has resulted in him averaging 7.6 points and 8.4 rebounds per game.  Kacinas is also shooting 53.6 percent from the field.

Freshman Demetrius Henry has also been a very solid presence up front for the Gamecocks.  Henry is averaging 8.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game.  He scored 14 points in the win over FIU.

South Carolina has greatly increased the depth on their team from last season, as eleven players average nine minutes or more per game.

Bruce Ellington, one of two seniors on the team, has only played one game for the Gamecocks this season.  That's due to the fact that he is also one of the best wide receivers for the Gamecocks' football team. Ellington played seventeen minutes in the loss to Oklahoma State, scoring both of his points on free throws. Ellington is the most beloved Gamecock due in large part to his football exploits, and when he gets a basket or a steal, a loud "BRUUUUUCE" chant will echo through Colonial Life Arena.

With the additions of Thornwell, Johnson and several freshman guards, sixth man senior guard Brenton Williams has seen a slight decrease in minutes.  A year ago, Williams was the Gamecocks' leading scorer, averaging 11 points per game, shooting 44 percent from the field and 38 percent from beyond the arc. This season, Williams is averaging 8.4 points per game while only shooting 38 percent from the field, including 32 percent from beyond the arc.  Williams is still lethal from the free throw line, shooting a perfect 12-of-12 from the line after shooting 84 percent last season.

Freshman Jaylen Shaw only averages 12.5 minutes a game, but he scores a lot in those few minutes.  Shaw is averaging 7.8 points per game while shooting 62.5 percent from the field.  Shaw is 7-of-12 from beyond the arc this season and also is second in total assists on the team with 10.

Freshman Duane Notice is the backup point guard, averaging nearly fourteen minutes per game.  He averages 2.8 points and 2.8 rebounds per game.

Sophomore six-foot-eleven forward Laimonas Chatkevicius is averaging 9.5 minutes per game. He averages two points and a little over two rebounds per game. Freshman forward Desmond Ringer averages 1.6 points and 1.6 rebounds per game.

After averaging eleven minutes and two points per game last season, sophomore walk-on forward Brian Steele has only played for one minute in one game this season.  Freshman Justin McKie, son of South Carolina great B.J. McKie and Reggie Theus Jr., son of basketball great Reggie Theus, have only played sparingly in three games and two games, respectively.


Obviously, depth is a strength with the Gamecocks' eleven-man rotation.  They can go six-deep with their guards.  South Carolina has much more size than last season with the additions of the six-foot-nine Henry and the six-foot-nine Ringer.  

Defensively, the Gamecocks have been solid.  They are third in the SEC in FG percentage defense at 39.6 percent, as well as third in three-point FG percentage defense at 28.6 percent.  They are sixth in the SEC in scoring defense at 66.4 points per game and are fifth in rebounding margin in the SEC at +5.6 rebounds per game.

Offensively, the Gamecocks are a good free throw shooting team, averaging 70 percent from the line, which is fifth in the SEC.  They are also fifth in the SEC in three-point FG percentage, shooting 35.3 percent per game.


This is a very young team that starts three sophomores and two freshmen, so it is no surprise they have struggled at the start of the season.  They are not shooting the ball well, as they are 287th in the country in FG percentage at 41.7 percent and are 282nd in the country at points per game at 67.8 points per game (which is also last in the SEC).

Despite their depth, it has not translated into double-figure scoring depth.  Only Johnson and Thornwell are averaging in double digits.  In each of their two wins, the Gamecocks had four players score in double figures.  In their three losses, only two Gamecocks scored in double figures. 


Frank Martin is entering his second season with the Gamecocks.  Last season was his first season as a head coach without a postseason appearance.  In his five previous years at Kansas State, Martin coached his teams to four NCAA Tournaments, as well as an NIT appearance.  In each year his team made the NCAA Tournament, his Wildcats won at least one game in the tournament. In 2009-10, his team made the Elite Eight.

Gamecock fans truly love watching Martin on the sidelines.  There is no subtlety, pretense or hiding emotion with Martin.  He wears his heart on his sleeve, or in his case, his hand over his face when his team is not playing well. His burning death stare is already legendary in Columbia, and you can hear him often as clear as a bell on the court.  Late in the game vs. FIU, Martin screamed at Carrera "WHY ARE YOU DRIBBLING?!" when Carrera was fumbling around with the ball.  The crowd was in stitches at another priceless Martin moment.


The game against Manhattan will be the Gamecocks' first game since the twenty-seven point loss to Oklahoma on December 6, and it will be another nonconference home game.  The Gamecocks have only lost one nonconference home game in the past two seasons.


Frank Martin's team has much more talent than last season.  The problem is that the Gamecocks are also very young with only two seniors, both of whom come off the bench.  They are just finding their way offensively. 

South Carolina was greatly bothered by Oklahoma State's height and aggressive defense.  The Gamecocks committed a season high twenty-four turnovers against the Cowboys.  This doesn't bode well against Manhattan's pressure defense. The Gamecocks will need to cut down on the turnovers and get balanced double-figure scoring from at least three of their players to defeat a very talented, aggressive and experienced Jaspers team.