|03.17.09 at 11:40 am ET|
“I think we’re in a good place but I think,” Skinner said, acknowledging there’s still some reservation. “Whether I really feel that, We’ll find out in practice. I’m looking forward to it and I think they’re looking forward to it. I’m just curious as to what the results are going to be. I’ve been pleasantly surprised. They’ve responded.”
Responded and how. The Eagles are 22-11, a No. 7 seed in the Midwest after entering this season picked for next to last in the ACC, and facing USC on Friday night in Minneapolis. However, the Eagles didn’t get to this point without learning a lot about themselves.
While there was some genuine disappointment in losing to an inferior St. Louis team, 53-50, back in November, the B.C. Eagles first really learned how to respond when they dropped an unconscionable 82-70 decision to Harvard at Conte Forum three days after beating No. 1 ranked and unbeaten North Carolina on their home court.
“We’ve had a lot of ups and downs with big wins and dropping (games) to the Harvards of the world,” Rakim Sanders said. “But it’s been a good year. And the experience we’ve had, beating Carolina, knowing we can play with anybody. Having that confidence in our heads has been good for us.”
But confidence can be a funny thing. Just ask their head coach.
“I should have a little more confidence in them but I also know the history,” Skinner said. “I thought we were prepared for the ACC Tournament. Mentally, I thought guys did what I wanted, I thought they were ready to play. I really should, they’ve probably earned that but I’m not quite there yet.”
If Sanders’ shot goes through the basket on Friday instead of ringing off the iron, you could certainly make the point that it would be the Eagles who would have been dancing around the Georgia Dome floor with nets around their necks on Sunday.
“We lost to Duke by a point,” Skinner said of the loss in the ACC quarterfinals. “What they (Duke) did in the championship game is just an indication of where we are because we obviously had a chance to win that game. I’m pleased but not satisfied and so we’re going to continue to work hopefully till I get satisfied.”
Helping the team in its goal of satisfying the coach and themselves is Tyrese Rice. The senior point guard, who scored 34 points in a half against North Carolina in Feb. ’08, has matured into a leader of men. The kind of leader you need come tournament time.
“I’m expecting a lot,” Rice said. “I’m expecting everyone to step up and do what they’ve been doing all year, and a little bit more. I feel like I can step my game up a little bit more, I feel like there are some other people on the team who could step their game up some more and I feel like they feel the same way.”
Skinner said on Monday he can already sense other players responding to Rice and picking up their game.
“We’ve continued to improve and that’s the most important thing, especially for a young team,” Skinner said. “A lot of times, a team hits a plateau and we have not done that. We’re edging upward and obviously I’m very pleased with that.”
Rice has had a first-hand view of the growth on and off the court.
“Everybody’s playing with a lot of confidence,” Rice said. “You see when guys come into a game, they’re coming in to make a difference. We saw Biko Paris come in and probably have the best game of his career against Duke. He came in and was ready. A guy that didn’t play a lot or probably as much as he thinks he should have and comes in and gives us 15 big points.
“Everybody has a certain swagger to them, a certain confidence,” he added. “We’re just trying to bring it all together.”
|03.16.09 at 11:59 pm ET|
At this point in the season, every game is critical for the Boston Celtics and Chicago Bulls. A win on Tuesday in Chicago would inch the Celtics closer to first place in the Eastern Conference. A victory for the Bulls could put them back in the eighth seed. Both teams are hungry for the postseason. The question is, would be Bulls be ready if they made it to the playoffs?
‘Right now, no,’ said Kirk Hinrich. ‘We’ve definitely had our moments, but we need to play much more consistently and bring it every night. At times we’ve taken nights off and it’s kind of hurt us, so we have to make everything count from here on out.’
The Bulls (30-37) lost their footing in the East when the Milwaukee Bucks beat the Celtics (50-17) on Sunday to reclaim possession of the final spot. After getting blown out by the Orlando Magic last week, the Bulls must face both the Celtics and the Los Angeles Lakers in the next five days.
‘[We have to] play defense and be aggressive throughout the whole game,’ said Derrick Rose. ‘[Those teams are] real consistent in everything they do ‘ defense and offense. We’ve just got to stay a little more consistent and play hard.’
The Celtics have beat the Bulls by an average of 17 points in their first two meetings of the season. In their first game, the Celtics held the Bulls to less than 30% from the field. In their second game, Rajon Rondo dished 15 of the Celtics’ 40 assists. Both games were lessons for the Bulls to learn from.
‘I think every night we have to come in with a certain urgency,’ said Hinrich. ‘Consistently, we just need to start playing better basketball for longer stretches of time and we have to hang on. It’s going to be a tight race. People are jockeying for position and we definitely want to be in there.’
An eighth seed in the playoffs would mean a match up with a team like the Celtics, Cavaliers, or Magic, who are currently vying for the top spot in the East. Veteran point guard Lindsey Hunter faced the Celtics in last season’s Eastern Conference Finals as a member of the Detroit Pistons. He understands firsthand the level of competition the Bulls would be up against.
‘I think the first thing that stands out with Boston and with Cleveland is clear cut ‘ their identity is defense,’ he said. ‘They totally take away what you like to do and they make you go to your second, third option. And teams that can do that on a consistent basis are teams that are tough, because that’s tough to do.
‘You have to really be on the same page and really be to the point where guys trust each other no matter what. And when I watch those guys play, I see it. Defensively, I see the rotations that guys aren’t second guessing. And if there is a missed rotation, then guys are talking to each other and communicating. And I’ve been on teams like that so I know what that’s like, and it takes a lot of growth to get there. It takes a lot of growth. And with a young team like ours, I definitely think we can. It just takes some time.’
The Bulls admit they will have work to do if they advance to the playoffs — ‘We’ve still got some kinks,’ said Rose. But with 15 games left to go in the regular season, they are staying optimistic about clinching a postseason berth.
‘Our goal is getting the playoffs,’ Hinrich said. ‘I don’t think anyone is thinking about next year right now. We’re focused on the task at hand and just trying to get into the playoffs and see what happens.’
|03.16.09 at 2:02 pm ET|
It is a scientific fact.
The middle of March has become the least productive time of year in corporate America. Even in these times of economic volatility and stress where’s there’s more pressure to produce, you can almost bet that every office has a pool of predictions as to who is going to advance in the NCAA Men’s Division I basketball championship.
And you can bet people are emailing, facebooking, texting and generally trash-talking each other’s teams, star players and of course, picks.
I might as well get in on the act. So here goes.
Five teams I love in this tournament:
1. Louisville. Rick Pitino knows what this time of year is about. His team was a machine at the Big East Tournament. They won 19 of 21 games this year in the best basketball conference in the country. Any questions?
2. Memphis. Yes they play in the Memphis Athletic Conference, also known as Conference USA, where they have won an amazing 61 straight games. Only Kentucky’s string of 64 versus SEC teams between 1945-50 is better. And they are on a 25-game winning streak. They ARE athletic enough to knock of No. 1 UConn in the West, if of course, they hit those pesky free throws.
3. North Carolina. Assuming Ty Lawson’s toe isn’t an issue, there’s ZERO reason to think he and Tyler Hansbrough won’t lead the Heels back to the Final Four in Detroit.
4. Villanova. These Wildcats are eight deep and it’s a quality eight. That is vital at tournament time because if one or two stars are off, someone needs to pick up the slack. As long as Scottie Reynolds doesn’t go 1-on-5 too often, they should advance to Boston.
5. Xavier. This team lost Josh Duncan, Drew Lavender and Stanley Burrell and everyone figured a step back was in order. All they did was reload with C.J. Anderson, B.J. Raymond and Derrick Brown. One of the most athletic teams in the tournament.
Five teams I wouldn’t bank on heading to the Motor City:
1. Syracuse. Great story. Seven overtimes. Two Big East Tourney wins, including a victory in arguably the most epic (certainly not greatest) college basketball game of all time. What does that get you? A No. 3 seed in the same South bracket as Oklahoma, North Carolina and Gonzaga and 15 sets of tired legs. Don’t be shocked if No. 14 Stephen F. Austin pulls the upset.
2. Wake Forest. Way too up-and-down from January on. Team looked like they were going to compete for a No. 1 seed and challenge UNC for ACC supremacy when they were ranked No. 1 early on. They lost at home to Virginia Tech when they were top-ranked and haven’t been the same since.
3. Boston College. They have been truly one of the fascinating stories of the college season. Al Skinner may not receive the national coach of the year but NO ONE did more to deserve it. He took a group that was picked to finish in the lower third of the ACC and rallied them to beat unbeaten and No. 1 North Carolina. Yes, we know who they lost to just days later but they also beat Duke and should have beaten them in the ACC tourney. But the fact is, they are bracketed with Michigan State, and Louisville in the Midwest, that is if they get by red-hot USC.
4. Duke. Why the hate for the ACC, Trags? Well, if you watched Duke lose at B.C. and you watched the game on Friday night at the Georgia Dome, you realize how flawed the Blue Devils are. If you don’t let Jon Scheyer kill you, you stand a really good chance of doing what VCU did in 2007.
5. Marquette. Sorry Doc Rivers. Another great early-season story. Then Dominic James broke the fifth metatarsal in his left foot. Season over. Jerel McNeal is a fabulously talented player, who can score from anywhere on the court and led a ferocious comeback against Villanova in the Big East Tournament. But there aren’t enough big bodies who score to sustain him in this highly intense environment.
Trags Final Four Take:
Louisville over Memphis in one national semifinal.
Villanova over North Carolina in the other.
Trags Final Take:
Louisville over Villanova.
Also of note:
The US Basketball Writers of America announced their All-Americans on Monday:
DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh, F, 6-7, 265, So., Pittsburgh, Pa.
Stephen Curry, Davidson, G, 6-3, 185, Jr., Charlotte, N.C.
Blake Griffin, Oklahoma, F, 6-10, 251, So., Oklahoma City, Okla.
Tyler Hansbrough, North Carolina, F, 6-9, 250, Sr., Poplar Bluff, Mo.
James Harden, Arizona State, G, 6-5, 218, So., Los Angeles, Calif.
Sherron Collins, Kansas, G, 5-11, 200, Jr., Chicago, Ill.
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame, F, 6-8, 255, Jr., Schererville, Ind.
Jodie Meeks, Kentucky, G, 6-4, 208, Jr., Norcross, Ga.
Jeff Teague, Wake Forest, G, 6-2, 180, So., Indianapolis, Ind.
Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut, C, 7-3, 263, Jr., Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
|03.15.09 at 3:28 pm ET|
The Boston Celtics knew securing homecourt would not be the only challenge in the second half of the season. They also have to fend off playoff-hungry teams that are staying alive one win at a time.
‘Being the defending champ,’ Ray Allen said prior to the All-Star Break, ‘Teams are in our building thinking this in an opportunity for us to beat this team. And if we can prove that we can beat this team, we can beat anybody and we’ll make it into the playoffs, and who knows from there. So we always have to be aware of what we possess.’
On Sunday afternoon, the Bucks affirmed that concern with an 86-77 win over the Celtics in Milwaukee. (RECAP HERE) With that victory, the Bucks reclaimed hold of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference. This is not the last time the Celtics will be caught in the middle of a tug-of-war for a playoff berth.
March 17: @ Chicago Bulls (30-37)
Season: Celtics 2-0
The Celtics have not faced the Bulls since they added veterans Brad Miller and John Salmons, a move that recently helped them beat the New Orleans Hornets by 18 points. The Bulls lost hold of the eighth spot with the Bucks win over the Celtics, and there is there is no better place for them to get to take it back than on their home court. They have earned 20 of their 30 victories in Chicago, tied for sixth in home wins in the Eastern Conference.
April 1: vs. Charlotte Bobcats (28-38)
Season: Tied 1-1
In spite of their record, the Bobcats have been a thorn in the Celtics side. Last year they beat the Celtics in Boston and this season snagged an overtime win in Charlotte. Even though the Bobcats have struggled with consistency, alternating winning and losing streaks, they step up their game against the Celtics. They’ll come to Boston with less than 10 games left in the regular season, an opportunity to bolster their playoff hopes.
April 8: vs. New Jersey Nets (28-37)
Season: Celtics 3-0
The Celtics blew out the Nets twice without Kendrick Perkins and beat them again in March without Kevin Garnett. While Devin Harris and Vince Carter are backcourt threats, the Celtics already know how to win without their bigs. The Nets seemed to lack any motivation on their first trip to Boston in January. With a postseason berth on the line, they will stand no chance of making a push if they show up with the same level of energy in April.
|03.13.09 at 11:10 pm ET|
They also knew there was plenty of time to catch their breath and, thanks to Leon Powe’s career night as well as solid contributions from the bench, the Celtics outscored the Grizz, 81-65, the rest of the way and cruised to their 50th win of the season.
Some quick takes on Friday’s game.
Leon Powe played 41 minutes and committed ZERO turnovers two days after playing 43 in a loss at Miami. He is showing fresh legs and that’s going to be key to protecting Kevin Garnett when he comes back.
Ray Allen had 22 points in 31 minutes.
The Celtics were tougher than the Grizzlies, outscoring them, 48-30, in the paint.
The Celtics clinched a tie for the Atlantic Division title, missing a clinching when Philly beat Chicago in the final game ever at the Spectrum.
Here’s what the Celtics had to say in their final home game before St. Patrick’s Day.
|03.13.09 at 10:37 pm ET|
The name Gasol is like a four-letter word, plus exclamation, among Celtics fans.
On Friday night, the legend grew. As Leon Powe was destroying the Memphis Grizzlies with a monstrous 30-point, 11-rebound performance, Pau’s brother Marc was trash-talking with teammate Rudy Gay at the free throw line.
Ray Allen was a witness to it and heard every word loud and clear.
“Gasol and Rudy Gay were talking on the free throw line,” Allen said. “So (Gay) says, ‘You’ve got to guard Leon.’ (Gasol) says, ‘I don’t care about Leon, let him get 40.’ I looked at him and said, ‘You want him to get 40, he’ll get 40 on you, don’t sleep on him.’ And he goes, ‘As long as it’s not Pierce.’ I said, ‘If it’s 40, we’re still going to win.’ ”
And win the Celtics did, 102-92, over the Grizzlies at TD Banknorth Garden on Friday night. Powe was the biggest reason, with his career-high 30, 11 board, five blocks and three assists.
“So, the free throw line banter was pretty funny tonight,” Allen continued.
And no one was laughing harder than Powe, who reminded everyone at his locker afterward that he scored 41 in college with California.
He also was giving grief to the man who he’s replacing in the lineup, Kevin Garnett, who is still out another week with a strained right knee.
“Me and KG had a little friendly talk,” said Powe, who played a team-high 41 minutes. “I want KG to come back. My body is getting used to these 40 minutes (a game). But that’s our leader, man, and we miss him so we want to be at full strength. And once we’re at full strength, we’re going to be hard to stop.”
On Friday night, it was Powe who was unstoppable.
|03.13.09 at 12:21 pm ET|
This has to feel like Twilight Zone week for Bill Walker.
On Wednesday night in Miami, he played against his college teammate at Kansas State, one Michael Beasley.
Tonight he goes against his high school chum, and NBA Rookie of the Year favorite, O.J. Mayo.
But after Wednesday night, coach Doc Rivers isn’t going to Walker for any scouting reports. Beasley was 4-for-9 with four rebounds and two assists in 22 minutes as he was a force off the bench for the Heat.
“We talked to him about Beasley, too, and he gave us a bad scouting report so we’re no longer listening to Billy Walker and his scouting reports,” Rivers said Friday morning.
Meanwhile, Mayo, to be fair to Walker, can’t be compared to many others in this year’s rookie class. He has started all 63 games this season, averaging 18.8 points a game. This doesn’t come as a surprise to Walker, who knows of Mayo from their days back in Cincinnati at North College Hill High.
“He’s a very good player,” Walker said of Mayo Friday morning at Celtics shootaround. “He’s been playing at a pro style since he was young. He knows all the tricks. It’s going to be tough to guard him.”
Mayo went on to star at Southern California for one year before turning pro while Walker joined Michael Beasley at Kansas State.
Rivers, like every other basketball fan, was enthralled by the six-overtime thriller between Syracuse and Connecticut in the Big East Tournament that ended at 1:22 Friday morning.
“I was up because I watching the Phoenix-Cleveland game,” Rivers said. “So, I was just going back and forth, it was pretty cool.
“I like UConn and coach Calhoun, I was hoping they lost at the end of it, I really was,” Rivers said. “I was thinking, ‘Forget this Big East Tournament, they’ve got a chance to win the NCAA Tournament.’ I think, in a strange way, it was beneficial. Now they can regroup. They have a chance to get their legs back and get ready for their first game.”