Do you wanna be coached hard?

I got a bit of a surprise today when my class got out early. On my way home I was behind a Lotus and at first mistook it for an Eclipse with a bad body kit on it!  Oops, not sure that the Lotus folks would like that…

When I turned on ESPNU there was live feed from the NCSU practice facility, Coach Gottfried was miked up, and there was running commentary from experts.  I did not know that live practice on ESPN was a thing, but it was an enjoyable way to maximize the free time that I did not anticipate having.  Coach was telling Calvin Leslie (he does not call him CJ) to make himself better with every exercise and the Pack was concentrating on defense in anticipation of the UConn game.  This game is the culmination of Jimmy V week and in honor of the 30th anniversary of NCSU winning the National Championship led by Coach Valvano.  The players will be wearing a commemorative jersey that honors that win.  In place of their names on the back the quote, “don’t ever give up” will be displayed.  I think that is not a bad idea.  It can help remind your players, in the words of UNCG’s Wes Miller, “it’s the name on the front [of the jersey] and not on the back that counts.”  Team play is important even when you have superstar players on the team (think Tyler Hansbrough,  Michael Jordan, or even Cody Zeller).  Being reminded of that is important.  That came through in Coach Gottfried’s practice today.  He asked his athletes, “do you want to be coached hard?”  At first, I thought that was an odd question.  As an elite college player in a premier league, I thought getting coached hard would be a given.  With reflection, and a little chatter from the EPSN commentators, many of these players have been the stars of their high schools or league and don’t know the difference between being coached and being critiqued (something I see in many of my own classrooms).  I like that Coach G is taking the time to work on that concept!

This is a busy time of year for me- as a student, as an instructor, and as an employee-but there is so much basketball going on!  Last night, the Spartans dropped a game 90-79 to cross town rivals NC A&T.  There was lots of hustle on the court, but UNCG could not get simple shots to fall.  I think layup practice might be in order for the Spartans.  Kelvin McNeil showed some strong Spartan leadership on the court last night, both offensively and defensively   I am pretty sad that we only get to watch this smart player for one year.  Another stand out was first year player Kayel Locke.  He scored a career high 22 points and had hustle on both ends of the court.  I look forward to watching Locke mature as a player and team leader.  Both teams were respectable in their free throw  percentages:  NC A&T at 72% and UNCG at 75%, but as a testament to the hard fought game the Aggies attempted 47 FT (making 34) and the Spartans attempted 40 (making 30).  The ref’s whistles got a workout last night!

The ACC-Big Ten Challenge wrapped up with it’s first ever tie. So the series stands at 10 for the ACC, 3 for the Big Ten and this year’s 6-6 toss up. So, the rules state that in an event of a tie the previous year’s winner (Big Ten) retain the title.  ACC needs to work a little harder to get that one back!  Of course, what the ACC is going to look like this time next year is anyone’s guess.  Yesterday, Louisville was taken into the ACC on the heels of the Maryland exit.  That means that I have to watch more of Coach Patino (ugg), but hopefully this means the conference shuffle is over.  I guess this is fine, as conferences are leaving their regional roots, but I don’t want to loose things like in-state rivals and traditional venues.


ACC- Big 10 Challenge starts

Today is the start of the ACC- Big Ten Challenge.  And that means it is also Jimmy V week, where we remember NC State Coach Jim Valvano’s battle with cancer.  It is a timely reminder at the beginning of basketball season that life is much more than stats, plays, and games.  If you need a reminder, take a few minutes and watch Coach V’s 1993 speech at the Espy Awards where he annoucned the creation of the Jimmy V Foundation.  This impassioned speech is one for the record books.

Currently, I am watching UNC loose to Indiana, with 2:30 left in the game and they are down by 30 (the guys are young, this is a rebuilding year).  I watched both NC State and FSU fall to their Big Ten rivals.  Both teams played hard, but couldn’t really get their feet under them.  Wake Forest fell to Nebraska on their home court.  Virginia Tech held their own against Iowa for the ACC.  (UNC just lost to Indiana…they are young, this is a rebuilding year).  I hate seeing the name Zeller on that red and white uniform. Maryland also held up their end of the bargain beating Northwestern; however, the biggest news out of that game might be the Under Armour Shoes.  They are an interesting blend of purple, black, red, and yellow.  I guess Balyor’s highlighter colored uniforms from last year are still worse!

So, the Big Ten is up 3-2 today.  Tomorrow there are six more games. GO Virginia, Clemson, Georgia Tech, Miami, and Boston College!


UNCG vs Rutgers

UNCG just could not hold on and fell to the Scarlet Knights of Rutgers 80-87 today. The 1793 people in attendance got to see some really good basketball in the big barn today though. UNCG was up by 10 at the half and the pace of this game, from the tipoff, was blistering.

Armstrong, as usual, was set to full hustle ( I don’t think he has any other setting) and led the team in scoring today with 25 points. Rutgers coach, Mike Rice, at one point during the game expressed that the Scarlet Knights had nothing that could shut down Armstrong. I like it when he is able to frustrate other coaches (as a player coming off the bench no less!). Most notably, he went 6-7 from the free throw line. UNCG was 62.5% from the line, while the Scarlet Knights were at 84%. The Spartans missed nine free throws and lost this game by 7. This is really a place for improvement because it is the details like this that win (or lose) games.

My spotlight players for this game were Korey Van Dussen and Kelvin McNeil. They played at full tilt, making smart shots, setting up good plays, and thinking fast on their feet. This kind of leadership on the court needs to be paid attention to and rewarded. Both of these men are playing their last year of college ball and players like Locke and White can learn a lot from them.

Rutgers was able, especially in the second half, to split our defense and drive to the basket quite effectively. There needed to be more hustle from the Spartans to recognize and defend against those tactics. Wes Miller took the heat for that saying he needed to coach the Spartans to be better able to finish these close games.

The Spartans match up with cross town rivals, NC A&T, on Wednesday. Shake it off Spartans and come back strong!


What’s the deal with Chaminade?

I am writing this post as UNC is down to Butler by 13 with 3 minutes left to go in the first half.  They are playing in the Maui Invitational tournament and at this moment being totally manhandled by the Butler Bulldogs.  Butler, by the way, is a team that I had picked to watch when asked for my preseason picks (but I don’t want the Heel to loose to them).  This team went all the way to the end of the big dance and lost to Dook.  They have graduated a lot of that talent and taken some growth time, but Coach Brad Smith is an excellent coach.  I like his style and the amount of work he is able to get out of his athletes.

****side note, Roy needs to call a timeout and get the Tarheels’ heads back in this game.  They are looking to go into half time with less than 20 points for the first time since 1998****

By WHY is there a Maui Invitational Tournament  at all? That is a great question and I am glad you asked:

Other than the fact that playing basketball in Hawaii over Thanksgiving break sounds like an awesome idea, there is a great story that created this tournament.  In 1982, when the University of Virginia Cavaliers were the top ranked team in the nation, they lost to the NAIA school Chaminade.  This is a small Catholic school who at the time had 900 students and paid their coach only $10,000/ year (he held down a day job as a counselor at the local middle school).  UVA had 7’4″ Ralph Sampson and Chaminade had a team that was made up of 6 returning seniors.  (In the same year, NCSU won the national title, so it was a year of surprises!)

There was less than 4,000 people  at the game and no major media to document this feat.  This tiny school had taken down a Division I powerhouse.  The news was slow to get to the mainland media and because of the Christmas holiday it took a while to break.  That is pretty hard to think about in today’s connected world.  I get texts of bball updates of my favorite teams right to my phone.  This was, by some accounts, the ushering in of the modern era of college basketball where seeming underdogs take down the big teams, but it was also a big reason that ALL games are covered and videotaped.  EPSN would never want to miss the chance of another huge story like this, so virtually all college games are covered to the max.  The UVA coach mentioned, after his loss, that Chaminade should host a tournament. Two years later, it came to be.  Some think it is the best tournament in the basketball world, offering a neutral court for teams to play (did I mention it was in Hawaii). Chaminade is the only non-division one school that participates.

Yesterday, the Silverswords beat Texas (ouch to the Longhorns) and are set to play Illinois in the next round of this tournament.   Go Chaminade…how can you not cheer for this team?! This is a great start to the college basketball season (not for the Tarheels of course- we are in the second half and they are down to Butler by 25.  I love my Heels and they need to get it together! They will in the next 14 minutes!!!!)

There is a great article on the UVA-Chaminade game.  Perhaps it was the greatest upset we never saw and that is what I love about college ball!

*********** Nov 21, 2012*************

My mother, an basketball fan herself, has asked for an addition to this post, I will let her words be that addition:

in your blog say something nice about PJ Hariston (from greensboro) trying his best to get them back in the game 10 points in a short time. Was the high scorer for UNC!


UNCG vs VT

Again, my non-UNCG job kept me from being able to watch all of this game (in perfect world I could read fiction, teach WGS classes, and watch/blog about basketball for a living).  PJ filled me in on the first half and I watched the last 18 minutes of the second half.

I am not going to do a breakdown of this game, rather I want to congratulate Simpson, Armstrong, and McNeil for an outstanding game.  Simpson came 1 point shy of a personal best and Armstrong and McNeil each set personal bests.

At the nine minute mark, UNCG had been credited with 7 fouls and VT only one.  The game that I watched was not so lopsided as the refs were calling.  As a result, VT made 34/42 from the foul line.  80%….where they should be.  UNCG was 9 points down at the end of the game and missed 5 of their free throws (12/17…70%).  UNCG is decent, but FT are a place that a team should be constantly working and improving upon.  This game it would have been more helpful to have refs in eyeglasses, but missing foul shots keeps teams from dancing in March….and I want to watch UNCG dance in March!

This game was hard fought and VT just pulled away.  I saw some good Spartan play, but I saw some messy passing.  Come on, guys you have Greensboro on your side!

 


UNCG vs. WSSU

Tonight was the home opener for UNCG and we hoped to fill the Greensboro Coliseum with 7,000 fans. At 4,123 in attendance, that goal was not met, but the goal of watching a great game was more than surpassed with a 81-65 victory agains the Winston Salem State Rams!

I had to work at my non-UNCG job, so I missed the first half- the Spartans were up on the Rams 39- 32 when I arrived during the half time break. As the second half started, I saw a more resolute Spartan team than played Friday at High Point. PJ caught me up on how the Spartans had been playing in the first half and some of those issues were still going on. The Spartans need to be more aggressive with offensive rebounding. There needs to be Spartans under the basket with hands up! There were times when the ball bounced out of the hole and nothing but red jerseys were there to nab the ball. I must give Winston Salem State due, those players were hustling and picking loose balls out of our hands. It is in the sloppiness of the passing and the poor guarding of a ball in transition where the Spartan lack of experience and cohesion are seen. The talent is there, but who is directing? I think it will come, but we are going to be watching some choppy ball until then!

The game got really fun with a 30-6 run, initiated by Armstrong and elaborated on by Simpson. The Spartans want to play fast ball and when it all works (and the refs stay out of the way) it is so much fun to watch!

As the lead was padded a bit, Wes put in Jordan Potts. While he went 0-2 from the field, he was 2-2 from the line. He has a nice free throw shot. He is not rushed and follows through. All things I like to see in a free throw. Kayel Locke got some good minutes in this game. Those minutes make me excited to watch this young player grow. His talent is obvious, he just needs some maturity at the college level and he is gonna be great to watch! When you add White to the mix, he and Locke have to potential to make a deadly team!!! At the two minute mark, Wes put in fresh players with Potts at the point. These guys looked good. UNCG’s basketball future is bright!

I like to watch #3 Armstrong play. He has all around great hustle and does not stop playing until after the whistle is blown. I have seen him snatch his own rebounds and speed up the court to assist faster than lightening. I think there are times that the rest of the players on the court don’t realize that is his ball and they just need to get out of the way! Well, as I was doing some crowd watching during a time out I spied a group of fans wearing Armstrong jerseys. I have not seen these in the bookstore, so at the end of the game I went to inquire. It turns out that it was his family, including his mom, who were wearing the shirts and she had them custom made. It was nice to meet her and tell her that I love to watch her son play the game. I’m just throwing it out there that if UNCG made an Armstrong jersey, I would wear it!

How could I not end this post without talking about free throws? Tonight, the Spartans were 71.4% from the line. A HUGE improvement from 2 nights ago. While for this game it did not come down to a few points and a “what could have been” if the missed shots had been made, but a team that shoots free throws well is a team that is more likely than not to see post season play.


Roy Williams and Free Throws

So, today UNC beat Florida Atlantic (shout out to their player Greg Gantt- good shooting), but it was messy, first year ball.  However, my post is about Roy Williams’ post game interview.  By his own admission he rarely addresses free throws when he interviews with the press, which I think is a gross oversight- FT need to be talked about more often. But tonight he did.

In the game tonight the Tarheels shot 4/14 from the line.   At the college level, especially the ACC level, 75% should be the benchmark for this statistic, at all times whether at home, on the road, playing on a carrier, or shooting for fun.  If you do not make that mark, free throw practice starts earlier in the morning and you shoot until you are meeting that basic level.

Roy said they were working on free throw shots in practice.  They shot 200 in four days (I hope that means 200 every day for 4 days and not 50/day).  He told us the lowest guy on the team was shooting 63% (humpf) and there were 14 who were greater than 77%.  Where were those players today?  I know we have a lot of first year players and playing in the Dean Dome is a big deal, but this is a skill you should have been refining since you were 7.  Those shots will be even harder with the crazies in your space.  Roy summed it up succinctly with, “how can it get worse than 4 of 14?”  And that is a great question.  The guys are good players.  Some are just playing in their second game in the Carolina uniform, but the learning curve is steep and conference play will be here before you know it!

I will leave you with one more Roy-ism, “If you can shoot, do it. If not do something else- it’s a pretty easy game.”

I hope that the Heels are brushing up on the SKILL of free throws in the morning.


UNCG vs. HPU

I had such high hopes for our game against the High Point University Panthers, but alas they were not realized. In the 73-81 loss I saw some flashes of greatness, but a team that Wes still needs to pull into a cohesive unit.

I have never been to the HPU basketball arena. That campus, in the middle of the working class furniture town of High Point, looks a bit like I imagine a Disney campus to look. Everything is bright, shiny and digital. It all looks new and freshly painted. There are American flags hanging from all the light poles and the walking paths close at sundown. In the arena itself, I was treated to plenty of pre-game commercials on the three digital screens. I know who is sponsoring their post-season tournament, who their preferred graphics company is, and what hotel is the official HPU hotel. The HPU president, Nido Quebin, had a front row seat with plenty of schmoozing and handshaking to do. The whole front row got snacks in the second half. (I had not had supper and was really wishing I was down there, too.)

I was not there to creep on the HPU campus, I was there for basketball. The HP fans were loud and ready, but plenty of blue and gold made the short drive to see the Spartans play. UNCG lost this game to themselves. Not to put down HPU, they were there to play and won the game; however UNCG had plenty of chances to take control and never did. This might be the worse kind of loss. The Spartans came alive in the last 6 minutes of the game not to be able to over come the distraction of the past 34 minutes. They were only down 1 at the half, but let themselves get down by as many as 19. This was a result of sloppy passing and shooting without looking for the shot (or if someone was in position to take a better one). I do not see a strong leader on this team. Is it Simpson as a senior, Parker as the point guard, McNeil with the extra year of experience? I would like Armstrong to step up because I really like him as a player and he puts it all on the floor. Someone needs to step into this role or we are going to spend this season watching UNCG flounder. And they are too good for that! I want focus on fundamentals over fancy passing. Keep your head in the game and your eyes on your teammates. Talk to each other and push each other, but by all means keep the team going in the same direction!

In the second half, the Spartans could not slow the Panther momentum. I did not see many offensive rebounds and there were gaping holes in the defense that allowed the home team to rack up points. The shots were not falling and we were not capitalizing on turnovers. I want to be writing the opposite of this stuff Spartans! Please give me some good material to work with!

The overall stats were not stellar FG% was 43, we were 40% for threes, and 56.5% from the line. That is one BIG reason we lost this game. We were 13-23, yes we missed 10 free throws and lost by 8 points. NOT ACCEPTABLE! That is a skill and teams get better when they practice skills. Armstrong went 6/6 last game, but 3/8 against HPU. Come on #3, get in the gym early in the morning, practice till it hurts and practice some more! I want to see you in the big dance and FT are one way to get there!


UNCG-Bluefield State

Tonight, the UNCG men’s basketball season opened with an exhibition game against Bluefield State in Fleming gym.  We had near capacity attendance with 1842 and, for me, this was the cherry on top of a beautiful homecoming day spent on campus.  I love to watch the Spartans play in Fleming.  I know all the reasons for playing in the Greensboro Coliseum,  but watching a game on campus just has a special zing to it!

UNCG handily beat Bluefield 102-74, but this was a FAST-paced game.  Well, the players tried their best to make it a fast game, but the refs were particularly picky tonight.  They were calling minor infractions and not letting the athletes find a real groove.  It took over an hour to play the initial 20 minutes of the game! In the first half, Bluefield went into double bonus and in the 2nd both teams did.  It made for a very choppy game to cheer for, however, there were some things to cheer the Spartans for!

The start of the game showed some first of the season nerves, players are still getting each other, and their teamwork, perfected, but at about the 14 minute mark of the first half the Spartans really gelled.   Bluefield scored first and they kept trading the lead back and forth.  Watching the players settle into their spots and run plays I can tell they have worked on in practice really began after about six minutes of play (though they need to find that sweet spot sooner when playing teams like VT).  Beginning of the season kinks haven’t all been ironed out yet.  There were times that fans could see the Spartan’s communication break down and they would loose their man (who would then sink a three, Williams). But it was fun ball to watch!  Some of the guys have been practicing fancy shots (to show up on Sports Center, maybe) and when they work (Williams had a nice one!) they are great.  But there were some that failed and in those moments, I wish they players would concentrate on solid ball playing instead of going for the over the head pass to the guy behind them.  I would take solid play to flashy play any day …but I am just a fan and looove to gush over the dunks as well.  I want it all from my Spartans!

The stats for this game don’t really tell the whole story.  Bluefield was 32% field goals, 29% from the three, and 69% from the line.  Their assist to turnover ratio was a paltry 7:22 and they got called for TWO intentional fouls- one on Simpson and one on White.  Both Spartans went head first into the goal stand/ dance team and that is never a fun sight to witness. I don’t want any broken necks in the name of basketball.

The Spartans field goal percentage was 51, they were 37% for threes, and 70% from the line.  No super stellar numbers there and we have room to improve!  I am really surprised at the final FT stat because for a while in the first half we struggled to get to 50%.  Free throws are a skill and when you practice a skill you get better. At this point in all of these athletes’ careers anything less than 75% (and that is for Derrick) is not up to par.  Games are won and lost on the free throw line and you need to practice.  If your number is not up to snuff, practice earlier.  Case in point for this game is David Williams. Yes, I am picking on him a bit in this post, but he started and needs to be a leader for the team.  He went 0-3 in FT this game.  Nope, you need to do better.

Darrell Armstrong (A fun player to watch and there is no one that works harder on the court than #3) was the FT standout for this game going 6-6!  Way to go Darrell and keep up the good work! We have class in the same building on Thursday and if I see him I’m going to congratulate him.  That is a great stat!

The last six minutes of the game, Bluefield had no real chance of coming back and Coach Miller put in some of the first year players and some guys that get less time.  It was nice to see what we have on the bench and I am impressed.  RJ White is one I am watching.  He’s a big man who in his first minutes on the court soundly rejected a Bluefield shot.  FUN!  These guys are still feeling each other, and I am sure Miller’s leadership, out, but they are close and watching the whole team grow this season is an exciting prospect.

Good job, Spartans!  (Now, we need to get one of those deals that if we score 100 points we get free biscuits)  🙂