Category Archives: College Hoops

Wrap-artee: Tuesday, February 28 (A Leap Day Miracle?)

Last night in Dallas, the New Jersey Nets beat the defending champs. The Nets, who were 10.5 point dogs, are 11-25 on the year, good for the sixth-worst record in the entire NBA. In their last ten games, the future Brooklyn Ballers have won only three contests. But oh, those three games.

On Saturday, February 18, the Nets kicked off a back-to-back-to-back stretch by snapping an eight-game losing streak with a 97-85 wire-to-wire win over the listless (and Rose-less) Chicago Bulls. After a loss to Milwaukee at home, they topped the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, 100-92. Against their Tri-State rivals, the Nets grabbed the lead in the second quarter and never trailed the rest of the way, building their advantage up to 18 points in the third period. And then last night, the Nets beat the Mavs 93-92, thanks in large part to Brook Lopez, who scored 38 points in his third game back since returning from injury. The Mavs only held the lead for a 1:21 stretch at the end of the third.

Three games, three dominating road wins over three of the hottest teams in the league.

The Indiana Hoosiers are 23-7 this year, with a 10-7 mark in Big 10 play. Three of their losses came to bottom-five teams in the conference, and they have dropped three ugly double-digit decisions against the conference’s top three teams, Michigan St., Ohio St., and Michigan. But the Hoosiers have also accomplished a feat never before achieved in school history – they have beaten three national top-five teams in a season, adding last night’s demolition of #5 Michigan St to their wins over #1 Kentucky and #2 Ohio St.

Three games, three victories over the nation’s elite.

Now the NBA is a different animal, and catching a team on the right night in the regular season means a whole lot more than in college hoops. Bad teams beat good teams and it’s rarely anything to bat an eyelash over – heck, the Wizards beat the Thunder this year. But the Wizards won that game at home, and the Nets got their three big wins in fairly dominating fashion on the road.

For the Hoosiers, their win over Michigan St. reverses a semi-swoon of uninspiring play and reinserts their name into the conversation of intriguing March teams.

Are the Nets and Hoosiers just some sort of Leap Day William barter, trading the tears of disappointing losses for the candy of impressive wins? Or is there something substantive here?

I’m not willing to endorse either of them yet, but keep these teams on your watch list. The Nets probably won’t overcome the huge whole they’ve put themselves in and enter the playoff race, but with a healthy Brook Lopez, an increasingly impressive Kris Humphries, an improving MarShon Brooks, and one of the best point guards in the game, this might be the start of a .500 or better second half – even without Dwight.

Those Hoosiers, on the other hand, have had a special energy all year. They’ll land in the 4- or 5-slot and emerge as a prime candidate to either fall in the first round (technically, the second round, stupid NCAA), or take out a 1-seed in the Sweet 16. They’ve proven fully capable of both.

Consistency may be valuable, but moments of extreme success can do a lot to overcome those bad memories. Didn’t Aldous Huxley once say “The only completely consistent people are dead”? Maybe trading your tears for some candy isn’t a bad deal after all.

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When Talent Meets Opportunity

Two men have exceeded the loftiest expectations of even their biggest supporters, leaving the rest of us to split our time between creating puns and conjuring up black swan theories.

As Miami University’s head coach, Frank Haith amassed a 129-101 record, with a 43-69 mark in ACC play. He made the NCAA tournament once. When Missouri had to replace Mike Anderson, they eventually settled for Haith after their public flirtation with Matt Painter ended in rejection. Haith wasn’t an established program builder like Painter, nor was he a rising star like VCU’s Shaka Smart. Hiring Haith was the NBA equivalent of naming a Flip Saunders-type your skipper – a suitable yet unexciting also-ran. You don’t expect him to set the world on fire, but you also know he’ll bring a suitable level of expertise and professionalism to the job.

Meanwhile in New York, the Knicks desperately needed a point guard while they waited to see just how un-washed up part-time lumberjack Baron Davis would be once he returned from injury. Toney Douglas and a beat up Melo didn’t cut it as pick-and-roll ball handlers, Iman Shumpert is better suited for an off-ball slasher role, and Mike Bibby can’t do much more than look like Kermit the Frog on the bench. Enter Jeremy Lin, who almost had to exit when the Bulls cut veteran Mike James. Boy would that have been a mistake.

Lin hasn’t stopped #Linning (and spawning horrible hashtags) and Haith has Mizzou primed for a one seed despite having only one player taller than 6’8″. How does this happen?

Let’s be clear – there’s a reason the Warriors and the Rockets cut Lin and there’s a reason nobody offered him a scholarship. Racial prejudices definitely had something to do with it, but schools and NBA scouts aren’t going to overlook a once-in-a-generation point guard due to some preconceived notions about Asian-Americans.

There’s also a reason Haith didn’t turn Miami into a winter version of the gridiron “The U”. Haith is definitely an excellent motivator and basketball coach – he’s proved as much this year – but he’s also definitely not in that top-of-the-top tier of college coaches.

Haith found a group of talented, experienced players willing to buy into his message of selflessness and his style of play. Lin found a coach who runs a system that has turned mediocre point guards like Chris Duhon and Ray Felton into fantasy basketball monsters.

Recently, the “Wages of Wins” blog ran a post supposedly debunking the myth that D’Antoni’s system is generous towards point guards. They cite Nash’s ability to maintain his numbers even after D’Antoni took the Seven Seconds or Less system to New York and the system’s inability to boost Douglas, Bibby, or Shumpert’s numbers.

And this, in a way, proves my point. Of course D’Antoni can’t turn just any NBA ballhandler into a 17 and 8 point guard, but seeing what he did with Felton and Duhon, and what’s become of them since leaving his watch, proves just how accommodating his system can be for the right player. Nash is a unique and outrageous talent – of course subsequent Suns coaches would cater their system to his unique abilities, thus maintaining his lofty numbers.

Lin couldn’t be doing what he was doing if he wasn’t damn good at basketball – a player significantly better than Douglas or Bibby, although probably not at the level of a Steve Nash. The guy is clearly an NBA player, and an NBA contributor at that. He just needed his shot. Were the Warriors and Rockets inept not to give it to him? Of course not. Lin appears to be the type of player who can make great plays on a consistent basis when a coach runs a bajilion pick-and-rolls with him a la D’Antoni, but as your run of the mill NBA backup point guard not put in a multitude of scoring situations, the Warriors and Rockets probably saw a good but not great option who didn’t have that one outrageous skill that set him apart.

Your Kobe’s and your Calipari’s are going to succeed regardless of situation. They just have too much going for them. Disregarding this top 1% of the top 1%, players and coaches alike need that perfect blend of talent and opportunity to truly reach their potential. It may or may not be fleeting, only time will tell, but Haith and Lin both are proving they have what it takes when the moment is right.