5/18/15

Fanta Report: Seton Hall Gets Derrick Gordon; Early 2015-16 Power Rankings



UMass basketball - Derrick Gordon
Derrick Gordon Has Transferred to Seton Hall/ap.org
by John Fanta
@John_Fanta

While Derrick Gordon’s announcement of his decision to transfer to Seton Hall created a lot of buzz because of his impact on the sport, the impact that the move has on the Pirates has huge potential for a program that was in need of another solid guard for the 2015-16 season. 
Gordon, who is the first openly gay Division I men’s basketball player, will join Isaiah Whitehead, Khadeen Carrington, and incoming freshman Dalton Soffer in The Hall’s backcourt. 

In terms of timing in the recruiting process, Seton Hall could not have asked for a better addition this late into it. Averaging 9.8 points, 4.9 rebounds, and 2.7 assists per contest in his junior year at UMass, the 6-foot-2 Gordon not only gives SHU talent, but he can be a leader. 

While the Pirates said goodbye to a three-man senior class and Sterling Gibbs and Jaren Sina, they all had one thing in common – not one of them had any NCAA Tournament experience. Gordon, who started his college basketball career at Western Kentucky, has gone to two Big Dances. 

Whitehead and Carrington are expected to take the next steps in their careers, but question marks lied next to SHU’s backcourt in terms of whether the two could really be at the forefront of steering the Pirates into the right direction as the primary scoring guards. Gordon can certainly help that effort in more ways than one. “I’m excited to work with the guys and just play basketball again,” he said. “Having the NCAA Tournament experience, I know I can help Seton Hall get back to that point.”

How did Gordon come to this decision?

“I really felt like Seton Hall was the place for me because I can maximize my potential there,” he said. “I want to thank Coach Willard and his staff. They could not have been better in this long recruiting process.” 

Gordon said that he met with Seton Hall University President Gabriel Esteban and the administration Sunday on top of the coaching staff. 

“They made me feel so welcome, and to be playing close to home and in the Big East is a win-win,” he said. 

Gordon has the stats to deliver and while it’s only a small sample size, the guard said all of the right things on Sunday evening. For Seton Hall, this news of an immediately eligible, talented, and grounded guard could mean big things in establishing a culture for the future. 

Marquette Making Moves :

Steve Wojciechowski had a big weekend, to say the least. The Marquette head coach received a phone call from Stevens Point High School forward Sam Hauser, who announced his intention to play for the Golden Eagles as a part of the 2016 recruiting class. The homegrown talent put up 17.7 points, 7.3 rebounds, and 3.3 assists per game this past season as a junior, while also leading Stevens Point to the WIAA Division I state title. He received offers from schools including Virginia, Creighton, and Iowa State, among others. 

On top of that, Andrew Rousey will transfer from UNC Asheville to the Golden Eagles. He tallied 19.2 points per contest and was named to the All-Big South Second Team. He will sit out 2015-16, but “Wojo” is building for the future. 

Marquette was also in the news Sunday after a report that said forward Steve Taylor Jr. will transfer to Toledo for his final season. The 6-foot-7 forward averaged 5.9 points and five boards per game, playing just over 22 minutes. A top-100 recruit, Taylor could never find a complete groove as a Golden Eagle. He will sit out 2015-16. 

Power Rankings:

Finally, my early top five for next season:

1. North Carolina
2. Kansas
3. Maryland
4. Iowa State
5. Kentucky

Why is Carolina at the front of the pack?

Roy Williams’ team returns virtually everyone except J.P. Tokoto, and with an All-American candidate in Marcus Paige, the Tar Heels are my top team. Roy Williams needs to be able to develop the returning talent. If he can do that, there is no reason why UNC is not the top team in college hoops. 

I realize the popular team is Maryland because of the addition of Rasheed Sulaimon, but I am not ready to put them at the top. Let’s see if the Terps can factor him in the right way and be better than a Carolina group that comes into next season knowing how to play together.

Follow @John_Fanta and @NCAAHoopsDigest on twitter for up to the minute college basketball news and opinion

4/6/15

Fanta Report: Three Factors in the National Championship


Sam Dekker could be poised for an All-American season in 2014-15. (USATSI)
Sam Dekker is a Key Factor for the Badgers/usatsi.com

by John Fanta
@John_Fanta

It was an especially bitter cold December night in Madison when Duke went into the Kohl Center and commanded Wisconsin, 80-70, in the Big Ten – ACC Challenge.

When the two meet at Lucas Oil Stadium on Monday night, they won’t be playing for an essentially meaningless inter-conference battle. Rather, the Blue Devils and Badgers will be battling for the national championship. 

Bo Ryan, who will be making his first appearance in the finals ever and has led the Big Ten champions to the title game after the Badgers pulled off a 71-64 upset victory over thr previously undefeated Kentucky Wildcats. 

As for the Blue Devils, it’s practically been the Duke Invitational on their side of the bracket. Coach Mike Krzyzewski’s team has been powered by potential first round draft pick Jahlil Okafor. 

What are the keys to this match-up?

Sam Dekker

The Badgers need the 6-foot-9 junior to spread the floor. Wisconsin’s offense is so effective because this team does not only have bigs, but bigs that can score from anywhere on the floor. That can open things up and then force Duke into some issues defensively. With how little depth the Blue Devils actually have, getting to the rim and forcing Okafor as well as Amile Jefferson to guard the tin could play out to be very intriguing. Frank Kaminsky isn’t a key because we know that the All-American is going to make an impact. Back when the two teams met the first time, “Frank the Tank” scored 17 along with nine boards. Dekker only had five points that night. The Badgers will need him to be much better than that. He has scored multiple three-pointers in four out of five NCAA Tournament games. If he can give the Big Ten champs that kind of night combined with his defensive play, Duke could get frazzled. 

Duke’s Defense

While the Blue Devils contained the guard play of Michigan State, it’s safe to say that facing Wisconsin offers a completely different level of difficulty. The Blue Devils should have the mindset that if Bronson Koenig and Josh Gasser are beating them, then maybe it really is meant to be for the Badgers. Wisconsin’s bench combined for 29 minutes as a whole in Saturday’s win over Kentucky. Their reserves aren’t going to put away Duke. It really comes down to keeping Kaminsky and Dekker from getting anybody else involved in the offensive approach of Wisconsin. Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones could really have a field day on Monday night. Gasser and Koenig will have enough work on defense that their abilities to score will take a drop as is just because of the test they’re facing on the other end. As for Hayes vs. Justise Winslow, that’s a fantastic match-up. Hayes scored 12 on Saturday, while Winslow continued to play like a star, pouring in 19. The two add so much to their respective teams because of their length and ability to score from anywhere. What a battle at the 3-spot. 

Who’s Attacking the Rim? 

In Duke’s four losses, the Blue Devils shot 23-of-81 (28 percent) from three-point range. In Wisconsin’s three defeats, the Badgers went 20-of-64 (31 percent). If this match-up gets into a three-point contest, advantage Wisconsin. Duke has the most physically capable player on the floor in Okafor. Not giving him as many touches as possible would be foolish. A key in itself is whether Wisconsin can guard the entry passes, which is just one of the many little things that this game will come down to, but making it a three-point contest is not what Duke especially should do. 

Final Thought

We won’t be seeing UK go for the unbeaten season Monday, but that takes nothing away from this game. Krzyzewski vs. Ryan offers a curious coaching match-up. For Coach K, a fifth championship would put his already historic legacy to another level. For Ryan, a first title would offers as good as a “feel-good” story gets. On top of that, quite arguably the two best players in the country face off. Kaminsky and Okafor have combined to create so many memories in this 2015 campaign. And they’re not done yet. 

9:18. CBS. It’s so much more than a game. There’s nothing better than the pageantry of March Madness.

Follow us on twitter @John_Fanta and @NCAAHoopsDigest during the game for updates. 

4/4/15

Final Four Preview: As Good As It Gets, Krzyzewski vs. Izzo


tom-izzo-mike-krzyzewski-msg.JPG
Coach K and Tom Izzo Square Off Saturday/ap
by John Fanta
@John_Fanta

The lead writes itself. 

Duke – Michigan State is not an “appetizer” to Kentucky – Wisconsin. 

Rather, two coaching legends in today’s era of college basketball facing off makes for just as much of a showdown as the one that will tip off following it between the Wildcats and Badgers. 

For Mike Krzyzewski, his 12th appearance in the Final 4 is a great opportunity. The Blue Devils had quite arguably the easiest path to making the national semifinals, and not making a ninth NCAA Championship game could really be considered a let-down for Coach K. 

While the pressure is on the top-seeded Blue Devils, Tom Izzo is playing with fool’s gold. Even he’s said it – Michigan State’s run to the program’s eighth regional championship in the Izzo era is even a surprise to him. The Spartans have had a gruesome path in the East, getting past Georgia, Virginia, Oklahoma, and Louisville just to reach this point in the Big Dance. While the run is improbable, Sparty has showed the importance of experience. After falling in the Elite Eight last year to the unstoppable UConn Huskies, this MSU team learned a lot. 

But what has Sparty playing so well? 

A defense that has given up 63 points or less in three of the four NCAA Tournament game. Louisville scored 70 in the East Regional Final, but it took overtime to do it in Sunday’s six-point MSU win. 

On top of that, the Spartans share the ball better than any of the other remaining teams in the field. Izzo’s team is fourth in the country, averaging 17.1 dishes per game. 

As far as Duke goes, the Blue Devils have as talented of a frontcourt player as they come, and several surrounding pieces that, on any given night, can go off. 

There is no question. Jahlil Okafor is going to give Michigan State problems. The 6-foot-11 freshman is putting up 17.5 points and 8.4 rebounds per game. The Blue Devils throw in the dynamic duo of Quinn Cook and Tyus Jones and an explosive small forward in 6-foot-6 Justise Winslow, and that makes for a match-up issue.

It will be fascinating to see how the nation’s hottest defense squares off with a Duke attack that is fourth in the nation with 80.6 points per contest. 

The key?

Michigan State shares the ball tremendously, but if Sparty is to win this game, it comes down to tempo. If this is a run-n’-gun affair, advantage Duke. 

We saw that when the two teams met in Indy on Nov. 18 and Duke forced 13 Michigan State turnovers, going on to win 81-71. 

The Blue Devils score at such a fast rate, and have multiple weapons that can explode. 

With the way senior guard Travis Trice is playing, he has the potential to be the best guard on the floor on Saturday night, and he needs to be. But he’ll also need help, and he received that assistance against Louisville. 

While Denzel Valentine threw in his expected 15 points, it was sharpshooter Bryn Forbes who tacked on four three-pointers, totaling 14 points in the win over Louisville. The Cleveland State transfer is really the prime bench scorer for Izzo, and if MSU is going to find enough scoring to compete with Duke, they’ll need Forbes to deliver a duplicate performance. 

The Spartans have no issues moving the basketball around, so hitting the looks from beyond the arc will become all that much more important. They needed all nine to be able to get past Louisville last Sunday. 

While Duke has options, the Blue Devils really don’t have the bench pieces that can go off. But, it’s the type of team that truly has a starting five that defines “versatility.” 

Key Question: Can anyone contain Winslow? 

The question is crucial on both ends of the floor.

I just don’t see how Duke is going to have many issues getting Okafor involved, but the question becomes whether Michigan State can slow down Winslow with Valentine. He is a staple for Sparty’s offense with 15 points per contest. The last thing MSU needs is for him to have an off-day because of Winslow’s defensive capabilities.

On the offensive end, Winslow has scored 37 points in his last two contests, shooting 48 percent in the process. 

Coach K is 8-1 all-time against Izzo. This match-up could be their finest yet, especially with the way MSU is defending and Duke is playing on the offensive end. Something’s gotta give. 

The Pick: Duke 74, Michigan State 69