Category Archives: ACC Basketball

Why Duke’s Gerald Henderson Should Not Go Pro

I’m proud to say I’m a fan of Duke basketball.  It started when Christian Laettner hit the last shot in the best game in college basketball history.  I like seeing Duke succeed, and I like seeing Duke players do well in the NBA (which is not always the case).  So, with both of those motivations in mind, Gerald Henderson should stay at Duke for his senior year.  As usual, a list will help us figure out why.henderson1

1.  His NBA Stock

Henderson has NBA athleticism.  The man can hop like few people I’ve seen at his height.  This year it was fun to see some of his skills develop, specifically his jump shot.  Also, he developed an ability to take games over this year, largely in part to not needing to depend on his penetration.  Staying another year will allow him to improve those parts of his game and raise his stock as a draft pick.

2.  Duke Would be Awesome

The Blue Devils will be in good shape next year with scoreres Kyle Singler, Jon Scheyer, Nolan Smith, Lance Thomas, Elliott Williams, and two big incoming freshmen in Ryan Kelly (who is 6’10″ and won the McDonalds 3-Point Contest) and Mason Plumlee.  If Henderson stays, Duke could run away from the rest of the ACC.  They are only losing Greg Paulus and David McClure, which is okay by me.  The only thing that could keep them from winning the ACC is if Wake’s big 3 decide to come back. 

3.  National Championship

If Henderson decides to listen to my advice and come back to Duke, they could win a national championship.  It has been a few years since Duke has been to the Final Four, and I hope Henderson took notice of what happened at UNC this year.  A bunch of upper-classmen came back to win and, indeed, they did. 

If you’re reading this Mr. Henderson, I advise you to come back to Duke for one last hoorah.     

Congratulations to North Carolina: Upper Classmen Win

North CarolinaIt was a great performance and Roy Williams has done it again.  Congrats UNC.

In one of the most dominating championship games I can remember, North Carolina completed the mission and proved everyone right – UNC is the best team in the country.

As a basketball fan that has been very critical of Tyler Hansbrough, I must say that I was happy to see a TEAM led by upper clasmen who came back from testing the NBA waters and was able to finish the job.

Like Kansas, Florida, UNC in 2005 and UConn before, UNC had veteran leadership at every position and off the bench.  It proves home the point that you need upperclassmen to win a championship. 

Since the 1997 Arizona team that had a freshmen Mike Bibby running the point (still had Michael Dickerson and Miles Simon) and with the 2003 Syracuse team that was lead by Carmelo Anthony, Hakim Warrick and Gerry McNamara as an exception, every championship team has had strong leadership from juniors and seniors.

Look at the teams:

  1. 1998 - Kentucky:  Jeff Shepard, Nazr Mohammad, Scott Padgett, Wayne Turner, Heshimu Evans, and Cameron Mills
  2. 1999 - UConn:  Rip Hamilton, Jake Voskuhl, Kevin Freeman, and Ricky Moore
  3. 2000 - Michigan State:  Mateen Cleaves, Morris Peterson, Charlie Bell, and AJ Granger
  4. 2001 – Duke:  Shane Battier and Nate James
  5. 2002 - Maryland:  Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxter, Byraon Mouton, Steve Blake, and Drew Nicholas
  6. 2003 - Syracuse:  Kueth Duany
  7. 2004 - UConn:  Ben Gordon, Emeka Okafor, and Taliek Brown
  8. 2005 - UNC:  Raymond Felton, Sean May, Rashad McCants, Jawad Williams, Jackie Manuel, Melvin Scott, and David NoelTyler Hansbrough
  9. 2006 - Florida:  This is a slight expection to the rule, the leaders were sophomores, Al Horford, Jokin Noah, Turean Green and Corey Brewer.  But you still had Lee Humpry and Chris Richards play key roles.
  10. 2007 - Florida:  See above.  Juniors and Seniors this season.
  11. 2008 - Kansas:  Mario Chalmers, Darnell Jackson, Sasha Kuhn, Russell Robinson, and Brandon Rush. 
  12. 2009 - UNC:  Tyler Hansbrough, Ty Lawson, Wayne Ellington, Danny Green,  and Bobby Fraser                      *Marcus Ginyard played only three games due to injury and will apply for a medical reshirt. 

While “one-and-done” maybe the fade, the teams with the titles have juniors and seniors on their rosters.  That last sentence, is a double edge sword for coaches.  Do you recruit the top tier recruits who may leave after on year?  Or do you search for the four player who has the potential to get better every year?

This is where Roy Williams has a leg up on the the rest of the country.  As a freshmen committing to UNC, you know that the chance to get enough minutes to get looks from NBA scouts if tough.  So you come back. 

UNC will reload next season and should be competing again for an ACC title, but the young Tar Heel may struggle in certain situations.  Williams will look to relatively “new” players to lead the powder blue nation in tough games.

Either way, this team was impressive.

Carolina Vs. Michigan State

To set the right mood for this post, please imagine the guy with the crazy deep, resonant voice from the movie previews.  Now you can continue to read the following. 

Ford Field – music swells.

Two teams – spot lights on teams.

Two quests – cue video montage of highlights from season.

One Shining Moment. - Crowd roars – Cue music and explosions. 

Add own confetti for added flair and mess. 

Now we are all in the right state of mind to look at the last game of the 2008-09 Men’s College Basketball Season.  I will not “breakdown” these teams, we all know them well.  Instead, I will highlight a few aspects that could change the outcome or guarantee victory, or do neither.

1.  Pace - MSU has a more control tempo and chooses it’s spots to fast break.  While UNC throws it in fifth and punches the pedal the whole game putting the opposition in tough positions. 

2.  Rebounding - More specifically, offensive rebounding.

3.  The Referees - If the refs call it tight, the advantage goes to UNC.  If the refs let them play, Michigan State will have a chance.  Either way, I would rather see it called a little looser. 

4.  Raymar Morgan - Morgan must continue to be aggressive and affect play like he did against UConn, even if he is not scoring.Tom Izzo

5.  Coaching - Roy Willams is a great coach, but Tom Izzo is very Bill Belichick in his game planning. 

*Fashion conscious side-note- Izzo is a much better dresser than Belichick.

6.  Three point shooting - Both teams jack-up alot from distance.  MSU averages 15.2 shots from three a game and UNC 16.4.

7.  Share With The Other Kids - Out the six loses MSU has lost this season, five times their opponent had more assists.  

8.  Home Court Advantage – The game is in Detroit but UNC will not be scared.  It could give MSU a needed lift.

9.  Mascot – The Spartan carrys more fear and more of the “I’m going to kick your ass” factor than the Tar Heel.  I still have no clue what a Tar Heel really is.  I don’t think it is a ram.  Anyone? 

10.  Who I Want To Win – I would like to see Izzo and Michigan State complete this season “tie to legend”, with Bird and Magic in ’79.  Much like Kansas did last year with the anniversary of “Danny and the Miracles”. 

Even though I am an admitted Duke fan, I think I will feel a little bit of sympathy to UNC and the players that came back to win a championship and did not.  You rarely see that kind of dedication in the One and Done Era.  I have great respect for the talent of those players and for Williams. 

11.  UNC in Close Games - UNC has not won a tournament game by less than double-digits.  In the regular season, the Tar Heels had only ONE win that was fewer than eight points.  That was a 69-65 victory on the road at Miami in mid February.

Ty Lawson12.  Point and Counterpoint Ty Lawson or Kalin Lucas.  Both players are the main reason their teams are still playing.  Who ever plays better, their team will win.  Speed vs. Speed. 

 13.  Bench Production - MSU’s bench score 28 points per game, UNC’s scores 13.2 but even fewer in closer games.  Izzo expects production from the bench no matter how close the game.

 14.  Foul Trouble – Obvious I think.

15.  Annoucer - There have been a ton of combo’s with ESPN and CBS, but for all the is holy, Gus Johnson needs to calls this game!  PLEASE!

That covers it, everything that could possibly shift this game to either side.  I mus say that this is the best breakdown/preview I have done, EVER.  So much in depth details and just filled with vital data.

Enjoy the game.

I almost forgot – Prediction:  UNC 74, MSU 81

Final Four Preview – UNC vs. ‘Nova

Both Final Four games offer great match-ups.  In the UNC vs. Villanova game, however, the game boils down to two specific match-ups.  Let’s take a little look-see.ty

1.  The ‘Nova backcourt vs. Ty Lawson

Ty Lawson is one of the best point guards in the country.  Good toe or bad, he runs the transition game at an extremely efficient level.  He’s one of those guys who is able to run just as fast dribbling the ball as he does without it.  He’s also a pretty solid offensive threat himself, he’s been averaging about 20 points to go along with his 7 assists in the tourney so far.  People can say all they want about Hansbrough, but Lawson is the key to them winning.

However, if there is one team who can slow him down, it’s Villanova.  In their athletic backcourt you will see:  Scottie Reynolds, Corey Fisher, Reggie Redding, and Corey Stokes.  They’ve already slowed down some of the best guards and shooters they’ve faced in the tourney so far (Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, Levance Fields, Jrue Holiday).  The game will be decided in the backcourt.

2.  Tyler Hansbrough vs. Dante Cunninghamdante

I’m hoping they’ll defend each other, because this is an interesting match-up.  Cunningham is certainly the more athletic of the two, but he may have trouble with the bigger Hansbrough.  Cunningham is averaging 19 points and 8 boards in the tourney, and is really the leader of the team.  If Psycho T is defending Dante, I suggest ‘Nova employ a similar tactic to Oklahoma, give Cunningham the ball early and try to get Hansbrough on the bench with foul trouble.

Though it’s clear that Lawson is the best player for the Heels and is the floor leader, Hansbrough is the emotional leader.  When he gets going and starts banging his chest, it makes their fans go crazy, the TV commentators usually start drooling over him, and the Tar Heels are tough to stop.  But, if ‘Nova and Cunningham and neutralize him with foul trouble like Oklahoma did, and make some outside shots, unlike Oklahoma, it could be a very good game.

Interesting Side Story: Lawson and Cunningham used to play together as kids.

I’m picking with my heart on this one.  In my opinion, the Big East has proved to be better than the ACC, and ‘Nova has played tough teams all year.

Prediction:  ‘Nova 82, UNC 76

Quick Hits 3/31/09

Walking from MemphisMemphis UAB Basketball

It is coming across the wire that John Calipari has agreed to terms and will be the coach of the Kentucky Wildcats.  Calipari took some time, but in the end it was not much of a decision.  It is Kentucky, enough said.  Like UNC, Duke, UCLA,  and Kansas, this is the job you dream about.  The possibility to coach at a school with tradition as rich as Kentucky, is a what coaches work towards there whole career.

Calipari has made Memphis into the powerhouse that it is – a very good program that will dominate C-USA and will have to fight to a No. 1 or 2 seed in the NCAA.  But at Kentucky, if you win either then regular season or the tourney, you are guaranteed a No. 1 seed.

  • But you must win championships or you will be forced out (i.e. Smith, Tubby – thanks crazy Kentucky fans).

I do think Calipari could have become a legend at Memphis, but would struggle to win a championship.  If Calipari is able to bring any of his players and recruits with him, the Wildcats will be a contender and the favorite to win the SEC NEXT season (that might be a not-so-subtle statement on the state of the SEC, but he is that good at changing the culture.)

Curry to Duke

The nation’s leading freshman scorer, Seth Curry, is packing his bags and heading to Cameron Indoor Stadium.  Curry will not be able to play until the 2010-11 season, but will be joining a talented and deep Blue Devil squad – that depends on who returns.

Maybe Seth could convince his brother to sit out next season and join him at Duke in 2010.  I mean, Stephen is the a big reason he is getting interest from Duke in the first place.

 

Draft Declarers

The majority of college basketball players are at home watching, just like me.  But unlike me, many are being tempted by agents and who will paint a picture of teams throwing money at these young men like they have never seen before.

That is why I consider this the time when student athletes can ruin their lives, by making really stupid choices for all the right reasons.  So, unless you are one of the guaranteed top 10-15 picks, DO NOT HIRE AN AGENT and please weigh the options, carefully.

Everyone who does not have the last name Evans, please proceed with caution.

Here is the list of the latest players to declare for the draft:Tyreke Evans

  1. Nick Calathes, guard from Florida
  2. DaJuan Summers, forward from Georgetown
  3. Brandon Costner, forward from North Carolina State
  4. B.J. Mullens, center from Ohio State
  5. Tyreke Evans, guard from Memphis
  6. Gerivis Vasquez, guard from Maryland

This would be a awesome six man line-up.

Things to Come:

  • Break downs of both Final Four Games – Matthew will be look at the UNC/Villinova match-up and I will take the UConn/MSU game.
  • Finale of DTP Bracket Challenge - a last look at the sad state of bracket.
  • Recap of my Preseason Picks – some good, some bad.  All in all, I can’t complain.

Sweet 16 – Day 1 Preview

Big night of basketball ahead of us.  Some very nice match-ups and potential for…what’s the word….yes, madness

Game 1:  UConn vs. Purdue

The Big East can be defined by superior athletes, the Big 10 can be defined by half-court offense and a lot of white guys (maybe half-court offense and white guys are synonymous).  Purdue has had a nice tourney so far, but I don’t see it going any further than tonight.  I really like JaJuan Johnson and their coach, but they can’t handle UConn’s power.  Although…it will be interesting to see how UConn handles the latest recruiting allegations.  levance

Prediction:  UConn 84, Purdue 71

Game 2:  Pitt vs. Xavier

Pitt has had close calls in both of the early rounds and I think this has a chance to be a great game.  Xavier is actually taller than Pitt at just about every position, and they’ve got a big-time stud in B.J. Raymond.  Although my heart wants to pick Xavier, I’m gonna take Pitt for my bracket’s sake.  I don’t think the Muskateers have an answer for Pitt’s poing guard Levance Fields

Prediction:  Pitt 74, Xavier 72

Game 3:  Memphis vs. Missouri

I think Memphis is going to the final four.  I think they’ll win by 15 tonight. 

Prediction:  Memphis 79, Missouri 64

Game 4:  Duke vs. VillanovaGerald Henderson

This should be the game of the night.  It has the biggest upset potential (even though it’s a 2 vs. 3 game), and has some great athletes on display.  Duke has a 3-headed scoring machine in Gerald Henderson, Jon Scheyer, and Kyle Singler.  ‘Nova has a stud in Daunte Cunningham that could really give Duke some problems inside with his athleticism.  In recent history, Duke has had trouble with teams who are filled with athletes, and that certainly qualifies with ‘Nova’s roster.  But even though ‘Nova may have a more athletic squad as a whole, the best athlete in the tourney not named Blake Griffin happens to be Gerald Henderson

Prediction:  Duke 71, Villanova 65

High School Update:  For those of you who don’t know, I live in Hopkins, MN, which is home to one of the top-5 (ranked #4) high school boys basketball teams in the country.  Yesterday they won their first round game of the state tourney by 42 points.  Their entire starting line-up is going D-1, as well as a couple of reserves.  People are claiming (and legitimately so) that this Hopkins team has the best starting 5 in Minnesota high school basketball history.  I’m already planning on attending their state championship game this Saturday.

Conference Tournaments

Mission Possible

It was hard watching the North Dakota State game last night’s game against Oakland for the Summit League tourney championship.  The first half was like watching players I had never seen before in the Bison uniform, they were lazy, lacking the energy and confidence we have been used to here in Fargo.Ben Woodside

In the second half, Saul Phillip’s team finally found their confidence and came back from 16 points down to take the lead on a Ben Woodside jumper with 3.3 seconds left in the game.  The win gives the Bison it’s first NCAA birth in the school’s first year eligible.  NDSU’s win is the first of it’s kind since 1972 when Louisiana – Lafayette made the jump to D1 tourney bid.

Congratulations to the Bison and I know former Bison coach Tim Miles is has to be beaming today.  Miles, currently coaching at Colorado State, was the architect behind the Bison vision to red-shirt this year’s senior when they were freshmen, ultimately planning for last nights game five years ago.

Now, I am not sure Woodside and the Bison can be this year’s Steph Curry and Davidson, but I do expect them to competitive as a 12 or 13 seed.  I would expect them to push whom ever they meet in the opening round.

Remember a couple seasons ago?  The Bison, lead by this years starters, beat an Alando Tucker lead Wisconsin team and a Marquette team with the same three guard combo that the Golden Eagles this season.  Both teams were ranked when they lost to the Bison.  They also pushed a talented, but under achieving, USC team before losing by 4 points this season in a game the Woodside did not play well.

All of Fargo is happy that Woodside is getting more publicity, this kid is as fearless as he is talented and should be given a chance at the next level.

For the second time in less than, ESPN’s Andy Katz wrote a blog post on the Bison.

Big Ten

I have no expectations for the Big-Ten tournament, because I have no clue which versions of teams will show up.  As I write this, West Virgina is rolling over Notre Dame in the Big east tourney by 15 points.

Each Big-Ten has a “not so subtle” Jekyll and Hyde issue, with the Michigan State Spartans doing the best job at control the ugly and disgusting side of their teams play.  That being said, they were embarrassed by Northwestern at MSU.

Every team had horrible loses and impressive wins and could go all the way, but I do expect MSU or Purdue to win the whole thing.

Minnesota and Michigan need to win two games to be considered a “tourney quality team”.  Both had great starts to the season, and both let a great opportunity to cement a return to Big-Ten “top level” competition – I expect them to be there soon.

Penn State and Northwestern are both one win away from the tourney.  Both have beaten top tier Big-Ten teams and really should be given a look if they win one or not.

Big East

PITT, UConn, Louisville, Marquette, West Virginia or Villanova?

I am hoping for another UConn/PITT clash, but this is the Big East tourney, so the legend of Gerry McNamara looms heavy over the Madison Square Garden.

Syracuse has played well strong down the stretch, Notre Dame has not.  PITT is almost unbeatable.  Unless you are Providence – who should be a given for selection Sunday.

UConn is a first round lose away from a No. 1 seed, and Louisville needs to win the Big-East tourney to seriously be considered a No. 1 seed.

I have no idea on WVU.  They are not very deep – actually, no team has a lot of quality depth in the Big East – I could be easily persuaded by good argument from a PITT or UConn expert. The Mountaineers do have stud junior De’Sean Butler who is a legit NBA prospect.

My dream is for Notre Dame to win the whole tourney, Luke Harongody deserves better than the NIT.  Without the tourney Championship, I am not sure they will hear their name called on CBS this Sunday.

ACC Tourney

Just like the Big-Ten, the ACC has a quality through out the conference.  You can call UNC and Duke “heavy favorites”, but they have been beaten by lesser teams this season – aka Boston College – aka Tyrese Rice and Headband Bunch.

Clemson is experienced and should be tough,  Wake Forrest is young, talented and capable of winning whole tourney, and then you have Floria State who came out of nowhere.

Every game will be close and I would not be surprised to see any of the top seeded teams lose in their first game or see them all advance.  I know, bold prediction, but I really don’t know what to expect – see Big-Ten Jekyll and Hyde effect.

UNC needs to find PG help while Ty Lawson recovers, Duke needs Kyle Singler to learn how to shot again, if WF is going to go deep Jeff Teague must play all tourney long like he did against UNC, or James Johnson needs to live up to the hype.

Clemson is very balanced, Boston College is not, and Miami is the most frustrating team in the conference, but still could get hot and ride James McClinton for a couple wins.  North Carolina state should be better, Virginia Tech always gives Duke problems, and Virginia went “Wee, Wee, Wee all the way home“.

Side Note- If any of the Memphis Tigers games are remotely close- the C-USA tourney is on their home court -  John Calipari should have to go the rest of March without hair product.

Notre Dame has pulled back with in single digits.  So you are saying there is a chance?  No, I’m not.

An Apology to Wake Forrest’s Jeff Teague

Through out life, we should learn from our mistakes.  And I have done a good deal of learning in my time on earth.  I am also a man of honor – stop laughing -  and I admit when I am wrong.  Trust me, I was wrong.  So here it goes.

I am sorry Jeff.

I spent days and maybe even weeks breaking down the ACC.  I highlighted every team and most players on those teams.  I predicted that Wake Forrest would finish fifth behind Clemson – which is still possible.  And in that same article, I talked about James Johnson and how talented I thought he was – he still is.  I highlighted Johnson as the “most important player on your team”.  I wrote about the freshmen phenom Al-Froug Aminu and the rest of the first year wonders.

jt2You were the second player I highlighted, but all I said about you was; Jeff Teague is a scorer and who got better in conference play.  He is the only double figure scorer from last season and he and Smith  should compliment each other very well.”

I am sorry I did not write more about you and did not highlight you as the most important player on your team, because you are.

I am also sorry that I did not put you on any of my All-ACC Team’s.  I am even more sorry I did not even put you on the “honorable mention” list.

I am sorry.  Right now, you are the best player in the ACC and are a sure first team All-American candidate.

You lead your team over UNC and scored a career high 34 points on UNC’s Ty Lawson and then held him to only nine points and forced him into 4 turnovers.  I am sorry I listed Lawson on my All-ACC first team and that you made Lawson look silly.  You were the best player on the floor.  No question.

You have stepped up for your team when they needed you and your play as matured.  You are the leader on the No. 2 ranked team in the country – or No. 3, depending on the poll.  You have improved in every major statistical category.

You are raised your scoring from 13.9 to 20.6 ppg.  You average four rebounds, four assists, and four steals a game and you are shooting 54 percent from the floor and 85 percent from the free throw line.

I am sorry.  Right now, you are the best player in the ACC and are a sure first team All-American candidate.  You lead your team over UNC and scored a career high 34 points on UNC’s Ty Lawson and then held him to only nine points and forced him into 4 turnovers.  And I listed him on my All-ACC first team.

So, in closing, I am sorry Jeff for underestimating you and I will never do it again.

Good luck the rest of the season, take it easy on Duke.

Daniel Damico

Duke’s Gerald Henderson: What Is He Waiting For?

We have seen flashes of brilliance.  A knack for making shots in crucial moments and his jump shot was closing on the rank of “consistent”.  His ability to read the court and defenders was improving and his shot selection was much better.  His basketball skills were about to catch-up to his athletic talents.

Gerald Henderson

Through Gerald Henderson’s career, his athletic gifts – specifically his vertical –  have elevated his status.  His ability to jump over and around defenders gave us the comfort that a blossoming into greatness would happen soon.

At the end of last season, Henderson was on the cusp.  All the signs pointed that way, everyone could see it, and we all jumped on the bandwagon.  Henderson was about to move from a potential big-time talent to a bona fide division one super-star.

But that hasn’t happened yet.

This season, we have seen those same moments of jaw-dropping athleticism.  Dunks over bigger players and blocks at the rim when it seemed an easy lay-up for the opponents.  Those moments are spectacular, they are memorable, and they will get Henderson on Sportscenter.

What makes the great players truly great?  They dig down deep and find ways to put those moments together.  Moments which turn into portions of games,  portions that turn into whole games of greatness.  And then maybe, just maybe, a season where everything “clicks”.

But that hasn’t happened yet.

Burden to Bare?

The expectations are here.  The criticism is coming on faster and heavier and Henderson knows something is out of whack.  So why is this different?  Why is this more difficult?  Henderson has risen to the occasion before.  He has been playing with high expectations his whole basketball career.  Both direct and indirect.

Henderson grew-up while  his father, Henderson Sr., won three  NBA Championships.  Two with the Boston Celtics and one with the Detroit Pistons.  During his 13 year career, Henderson Sr. played with many of the greatest players in NBA history.

Henderson Sr. wore the Celtics jersey with the greatest frontcourt of all-time; Larry Bird, Robert Parrish, and Kevin McHale.  He also suited up along side Patrick Ewing, Charles Barkley Isiah Thomas, and Joe Dumars through out his NBA career.

As a  five-star recruit coming out of high school, Henderson was selected a McDonald’s All-American.   When recapping his play against players like Greg Oden, Kevin Durant and Brandon Wright in the all-start type game in 2006, DraftExpress.com called Henderson “The most complete player on the floor”.

Rivals.com rated Henderson as the 11th best player in the country and 2ndbest shooting guard behindhis former high school teammate and current underrted UNC star, Wayne Ellington.  Of the ten players that were rated ahead of Henderson on Rivals.com, all but three, Ellington, Ty Lawson of UNC, and Chase Budinger of Arizona, are in the NBA.

Sophomore to Junior

This preseason, Henderson was selected to the All-ACC First Team with UNC’s Ty Lawson and Tyler Hanbrough, Boston College guard Tyrese Rice, and Miami guard Jack McClinton.  Henderson also appeared on the Preseason Wooden Award Top 50 as athlete to watch as a possible winner of the award.

There has been plenty of ups and downs this season.  In a tough game against South Illinois, Henderson scored a season high 20 points while shooting 50 percent from the floor and going six for seven from the foul line.

In Duke’s next five games, Henderson highest scoring output was 14 points facing 1-AA Montana and in Duke’s 76-60 win over Purdue  in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge,  Henderson had a season low 2 points.

In his defense, in that same game at Purdue, Henderson had nine rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal.  While Henderson is struggling to find offensive consistency, he is too talented and is finding  other ways to contribute.

I Think I Can

We always hear about players who are pressing.  Players pressing because the moment is so big, the other team is highly ranked – or a rival-  and they want to their individual play to reflect the importance of game.

As a Duke player, Henderson is no stranger to crucial games in front of a national audience.

Henderson personally extended the Blue Devils season when he went coast to coast to score a finger roll with11 seconds left in the game to beat Belmont in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament.  Duke plays in the ACC and you can see at least one of their games a week on ESPN.  To top it all, Henderson has played in the greatest rivalry in college basketball against UNC.

In the nine “biggest” games last season for Duke; 2 UNC, 2 Clemson (1 in ACC Tourney), 1 GT (ACC Tourney), 1 Davidson, 1 Wisconsin,  and 2 games in the NCAA Tourney (Belmont and West Virginia), Henderson performed above his season averages, averaging 14.2 ppg, 5.7 rpg, 1.2 steals and 1.6 blocks in those games.  Henderson averaged 12.7 ppg, 4.7 rpg, 1.1 steals and .9 blocks a game through out the season. 

But why is he pressing?

College Education

I believe there are a few reasons.

Other than Grant Hill’s last two seasons, Duke will never feature a “one-man team”.  Henderson is on the most talent rich team Duke has had since 2004.  This years Duke team has multiple McDonald’s All-Americans and other top-tier talent, and Henderson is not the first option on offense.  Like a lot of talented players who are not utilized at every moment, Henderson’s attention goes in and out.  At times, he becomes invisible on the floor.

Duke uses a very fluid offense that favors no one player, other than Kyle Singler.  Coach K features him only because he is a versatile and talented “big-man”.  At times Duke will run a set to get Henderson the ball and let him create, but he is not called-on to carry a team like Stephen Curry does at Davidson.

Secondly, I do think Henderson is forcing the issue and not allowing the game to happen.  Whenever he gets the ball on the perimeter, he is in a hurry.  It looks unnatural.   There is almost the sense that Henderson needs to dunk on the entire opposing team to validate the Blue Devil fans belief in him.

Lastly, Henderson figured this would be his last season at Duke, so everything means more and needs to more memorable than before.  The NBA is calling and and Henderson wants to bluster his resume.

Like any good college student, he wanted to show interested employers that he not only spent the time in the classroom learning the theory.  But that he is talented and experience enough to put the theory into practice.

No Madness Yet

Coach K is not panicking – at least not yet.  No Duke player is in the top five of any major offensive statistical category in the ACC, but Duke is still the third highest scoring team in the conference at 81.7 points per game.  The Blue Devils are fourth in shooting percentage – even after the horrible game against Michigan.  They are also third in threes per game, making 6.1 three pointers a game as well.  But are only shooting 30.7 percent behind the arc, which is the 4th worst in the conference.

Everyone can take a breath deep.  Duke has only lost one game to a better than advertised Michigan team who also beat UCLA earlier this season.

Here is Henderson’s saving grace; everyone will forget by March.

Duke and Henderson will be in enough high profile games and have enough opportunities to erase all the worries and show that he is still a relevant player in college basketball and the NBA.  That he still has the potential to, and can, live-up to all the hype.  Ultimately, that his future is yet to be determined.

Years down the road, when Henderson has been drafted into the NBA and is making millions of dollars playing a game for a living.  We all will look back at these struggles and call this a journey.  A journey to the top of the mountain – a mountain he can probably jump over.

ACC/Big-Ten Challenge Follow-Up: In Defense of the Big Ten

There have been many college basketball types complaining that the ACC/Big Ten Challenge is lopsided and pointless. 

Some say that the Big Ten will never be able to play to the level of ACC and that the ACC will never lose.  So why play? 

And if you were to quickly glance at only a couple of games, you could easily find evidence to back up that claim.

I understand that North Carolina ran over Michigan State at Ford Field—a somewhat “neutral” site.  Duke finally left Durham to play a road game in West Lafayette, IN and even though is was on the Boilermakers home court, Purdue didn’t even show up to play.

But many of the games were hard-fought and close in the final minutes.  There were many showcased teams that focused on the team concept versus teams with a lot of  individual talent.  It paired four highly ranked teams against each other and featured at least six others who will hear their names on Selection Sunday.

While the ACC has never lost the challenge, to say that the Challenge is pointless is a little ridiculous.

A couple of weeks ago, I made a comment that I thought the Big Ten could win or at least earn a draw in this season’s ACC/Big Ten Challenge.  I was almost right.  

Even though they did not win, the Big Ten performed better than it has the last few years of this early season basketball extravaganza. (Now that is a great word.)

The difference this season was the scheduling committee decided to have teams face each other that will end up in the same relative position in their respective conferences.  So the matchups were more even in nearly every game.

Since 2003 the ACC has won the challenge; 7-2, 7-2, 6-5, and 8-3 in both 2006 and 2007.  This season the challenge ended up 6-5 in the ACC’s favor.

Each conference has had teams that were head and shoulders above the rest of the opposing conference in years past.  Yet this season, the play of the teams in the middle of the pack in each conference has been fairly level and is what ultimately made this year’s challenge entertaining.

The matchup of Boston College and Iowa came down to a missed free throw in the final seconds.  Maryland came back to beat Michigan.  Northwestern took over the game with their style of play against Florida State.  And Georgia Tech had a last-second heave at the buzzer to steal the game from Penn State, but could not.

In 2007, the three closest games were VT over Penn state by five, Clemson over Purdue by three, and Indiana over GT by four.  The total was a combined point difference of 12. 

In 2008 the three closest games were Wisconsin over VT by two, Clemson over Illinois by two, and Boston College over Iowa by two.  The point difference of those three games was six.  There were also four other games with a total point difference of 16.

As the Big Ten is reasserting itself as a power conference , I would like for the schools to consistently play each other.  Have UNC host Michigan State next year.  Next season Purdue goes to Cameron to face off with Duke.  Send Minnesota to Virginia to continue with the Ralph Sampson story line.

Establishing rivalries would add another layer of significance to the games and prove that each individual game is as important to win as part of the rivalry, not just a part of the challenge.  There are very few non-conference or non-border-sharing rivalries in college basketball and we could use some more.

Every season the ACC is involved in the same old debate about which conference is the best.  The Big Ten has recently fallen very far from an “honorable mention” in that conversation.  And I can not totally disagree.

Yet since the ACC/Big Ten started in 1999, each conference has had a total of eight teams in the ten Final Fours that have taken place in the same amount of time.  With the ACC winning three national championships and the Big Ten only one.

Below is the break down for each season with the champions in bold

1999 – Duke, Michigan State and Ohio State (because of violations they have forfeited this appearance) – UConn

2000 – Wisconsin, MSU and UNC,

 2001 – Duke and MSU,

2002 – Indiana and Maryland

2003 – none – Syracuse

2004 – Duke and Georgia Tech – UConn,

2005 – UNC and MSU,

 2006 – none – Florida

2007 – Ohio State – Florida

2008 – UNC – Kansas

So to claim that the ACC is a more dominant conference is false.  They are definitely the most hyped conference and the choice favorites of some ESPN “experts.” 

But here is the reality: there are always going to be conferences who have more high exposure players, more future NBA draft picks, more Hall of Fame coaches.  Yet, that does not guarantee a championship, let alone a trip the Final Four.

We have also seen that players who were not draft-worthy when they were freshmen are now projected as a top-ten pick as a junior.  We have seen juniors who were guaranteed first round picks come back to take one more shot at finally winning the last game of the season.

Now more than ever in college basketball, “the playing field is level,” and every team is a twist of fate away from making a run deep into March or losing in the first round to a mid-major. 

Case in point: UNC is a Ty Lawson or Tyler Hansbrough twisted ankle away from booking flights to Detroit in the spring—even though Detroit will still have snow.

So to the the decision makers of the Big-Ten and ACC: You have a good product, it just needs a little tweaking to get the most out of it.  Just get rid of the East Coast bias, promote rivalries when possible, and continue to make fair match-ups.

Even if the ACC continues to win, it will at least be entertaining.