College Basketball: 5 Things We Learned This Week

January 14th, 2009
Kevin McNeill's weekly 5 Things column breaks down what's important in the world of college basketball.


This week, we learned that...


1) Virginia Tech once again whiffed in the recruiting department


Coach Seth Greenberg has taken his share of heat for missing out on Stephen Curry three years ago.  After all, Curry is the nation’s leading scorer, and may well end up as the national player of the year.  The Hokies, meanwhile, currently sit at 10-5, and in need of a lot of help to get into the NCAA Tournament at this point.


In fairness, Greenberg was hardly alone.  Despite the fact that Curry was his high school’s all-time leading scorer in Charlotte, no major conference program – even in the ACC, with four schools in North Carolina – gave him a second look.  The only schools to offer the (then) too-skinny 5’11 guard a scholarship were Winthrop, William & Mary, Wofford, High Point, Virginia Commonwealth, and of course, Davidson. 


But what Coach Greenberg has had to live down is that Stephen Curry is the son of Dell Curry, one of the greatest basketball players to ever come through Blacksburg and the school’s all-time leading scorer.  His mother, Sonya, was also an outstanding volleyball player for the Hokies.  The school was Stephen’s first choice from the beginning, and Greenberg only offered Curry a chance to play – if he walked on.  The ‘offer’ has haunted him ever since.


But life is full of second chances.  And lost opportunities.


Last year, Stephen’s younger brother, Seth, committed to Liberty, over offers from William & Mary and the opportunity to follow his brother to Davidson.  Once again, no major program seriously recruited a kid who was thought to be too easily pushed around on the college level.  Once again, Virginia Tech was one of the local programs that missed out.


This time, Coach Greenberg did in fact offer Curry a scholarship, but with the provision that he redshirt as a freshman.  Curry - who wanted to play right away - was none too impressed, telling the Roanoke Times, “they (the Hokies) said they were going to offer, but they kept pushing it back. It's their decision what they want to do and what players they want to bring in. I thought I could have played there."


Instead, Seth Curry is playing for the Flames under Coach Ritchie McKay, who recruited him hard from the get-go.  He is currently leading the nation in scoring among freshmen, averaging over 20 points a game.  In fact, he’s the only freshman in the country in the top 50 nationally in points per game (he’s currently 24th).  He shoots better than 40% from three – shooting better than 45% overall, and even averages a little less than four boards a game (although the team does start five guards).  On Saturday, he scored 27 points on 11-18 shooting in a win over Charleston Southern.


Stephen Curry actually said that his younger brother could be even better than him in a couple years.  And, in case you are wondering, no, Dell does not have another son in high school. 



2) Defense may win championships, but you still have to score


Watching the first 30 minutes of Saturday’s Duke – Florida State ACC matchup might have been the longest 30 minutes the Seminoles have endured all season.


The score was 43-19 with a little more than 13 minutes to go in the second half.  While Florida State eventually found some rhythm and pulled within 10 a couple times, the game was never really in doubt after that.  Overall, the Seminoles shot just 31% from the floor in the loss.


The team is shooting just 42% for the season so far, and averaging 16 turnovers a game.  But it has been much worse when Florida State plays higher caliber competition. 


The Seminoles scored just 48 against Pitt, shooting under 30% for the game and committing 18 turnovers - 6 of them by one-man-show Toney Douglas.  They lost the game despite holding the now-top ranked team in the country to a miserable 33% shooting night.


During their early December loss at Northwestern, the Seminoles committed 21 turnovers, and shot 41% in a 59 point effort.  Granted, the Wildcats are surprisingly second in the Big 10 right now in points allowed, but this is still a team that has now lost their first three Big 10 games.  Even in the Seminoles’ victory over then-21 ranked Gators, Florida State could only muster 57 points on 31% shooting. 


They have one player – Douglas – averaging double digits in scoring.  In fact, in their first six games against fellow Big 6 conference foes, they broke the 60 point barrier just once – a 80-77 win over Cal in the Global Sports Classic in Las Vegas back in November.  That had better improve quickly, or it’s going to be a long season in the ACC.



3) Arizona State has a chance to show that they are true contenders in the Pac 10 this week


The 16th ranked Sun Devils begin a tough road trip this week starting Thursday at USC, followed by a marquee matchup Saturday against # 7 UCLA, and ending next Wednesday at their arch-rival Arizona. 


This week is the toughest on their schedule, and it carries even more weight as they try to bounce back after a loss against resurgent # 22 Cal.  However, the matchup with the Bruins is obviously the most intriguing.  Are the young UCLA Bruins really the seventh best team in the nation, despite losing Kevin Love, Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, and Russell Westbrook to the NBA last year?  Is ASU, who has never before been to the Final Four, ready to unseat a team that has been to the last three? We’ll soon find out, and it should be a great game.


Coach Herb Sendek’s journey from 8-22 in his first season in the desert, to a 21-win campaign last year (when they were shockingly on the outside looking in to the NCAA Tournament on Selection Sunday) to nationally ranked power today is further proof that ASU scored a coup in landing Sendek from NC State three years ago.  With player of the year candidate James Harden leading this team there is no telling how far they could go from here.



4) The feel good 16 seed of 2009?


The Navy Midshipmen defeated Bucknell on Saturday behind 25 points from Kaleo Kina, and now sit at 12-4 and in first place in the Patriot League.  There is still a long ways to go, they’ve only played one conference game after all, but Coach Billy Lange could be on his way to leading his team back to the NCAA Tournament with the League’s automatic berth for the first time in 11 seasons. 


It hasn’t been an easy road back to respectability.  Prior to Lange’s arrival, the Midshipmen won a total of 23 games in three seasons, and never finished higher than seventh place in the conference.  In fact, Navy has not advanced past the first round of the Patriot League Tournament since 2001. 


But in his fourth season, Coach Lange had finally rebuilt his team to achieve a winning record, and came within the last game of the season of clinching the Patriot League regular season title.  They ended up losing a thrilling, triple overtime game to Bucknell in the Patriot League Tournament on a 40-foot prayer at the buzzer – making Saturday’s rematch victory that much sweeter. 


Navy lost its best player since David Robinson with the graduation of Greg Sprink, leading to the Midshipmen being picked to finish sixth in the League in the preseason.  But so far they haven’t missed a beat.  They are riding a four game winning streak, while playing Virginia Tech and Villanova very tight, the latter Lange’s old team.


The difficulty in recruiting to military academies, with sky-high academic standards and military service commitments, should never be underestimated; explaining why the academies often have such a difficult time holding onto head coaches once they see success (see: Air Force).  But for now, Coach Lange is proving to be the right man for the job in Annapolis.



5) Either the ACC or the Big East will dominate come March


In the latest AP and Coaches’ polls, every team in the top 5, as well as 10 of the top 15, resides in either the Big East or ACC conference. 


In the last two NCAA Tournaments, the Final Four participants all hailed from different conferences.  However, every one of the previous eight Final Fours sported two teams from the same conference (the SEC in 2006, the Big 10 in 2005, 2000 and 1999, the ACC in 2004 and 2001, and the Big 12 in 2002 and 2003).


It’s a fairly safe bet that that trend will re-emerge this time around, something to keep in mind when filling out your office bracket come March.