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30 Years Ago: Shocking Death of Len Bias 5

Posted on June 19, 2016 by Dean Hybl
Len Bias was an All-American at Maryland.

Len Bias was an All-American at Maryland.

It is hard to believe that 30 years have passed since that shocking day in June of 1986 when one of the brightest young basketball stars of the day was suddenly went from a sports icon to a national symbol for the drug epidemic that seemed to be plaguing the country at the time.

During his college basketball career as a member of the Maryland Terrapins, Len Bias was known as one of the most athletic and talented players in the game and was expected to be an impact player for the Boston Celtics, who chose him with the second pick in the 1986 NBA draft.

Instead, his shocking death on June 19, 1986 became the impact moment for America’s war on drugs and led to harsher laws that negatively impacted the lives of many low-level drug users, a disproportionate number of whom were young black men, who were suddenly faced with mandatory prison sentences.

Even though the Internet was still nearly a decade away, in the days following the death of Len Bias information, much of it proving to be inaccurate, was coming out fast and furious from a national media that was surprisingly captivated by the story.

Even today, it is not typical for a sports event other than the Super Bowl, Olympics or some other large event or a major tragedy to cross into the general national consciousness. However, because of the shocking and abrupt nature of Bias’ death and the fact that drugs were involved at a time when the national “war on drugs” campaign was at its apex, the death took on a larger than normal stature. Read the rest of this entry →

Final Four Berth For Syracuse Calls for Trip Down Memory Lane 1

Posted on April 02, 2016 by Chris Kent

Syracuse is back in the Final Four for men’s basketball! The Orange are making their second trip to college basketball’s biggest stage in the last four seasons, the shortest time between trips for the school in the history of the program which has now reached six Final Fours. This is the fifth time that Syracuse coach Jim Boeheim has lead the Orange to the Final Four in this his 40th year as head coach of his alma mater. Syracuse punched its ticket to the Final Four with a thrilling 68-62 win over top-seeded Virginia in the NCAA Tournament’s Midwest Regional final on Sunday March 27 at the United Center in Chicago. The Orange overcame a 16-point second-half deficit to post the victory.

Jim Boeheim will be coaching in his fifth Final Four as head coach of the Orange.

Jim Boeheim will be coaching in his fifth Final Four as head coach of the Orange.

Syracuse is only the fourth double digit seed to ever advance to the Final Four and the first 10 seed to do so. The Orange will face Atlantic Coast Conference rival North Carolina in the national semifinals at NRG Stadium in Houston, TX. The Tarheels, the East Regional champions, are the tournament’s only number one seed to make it to the Final Four. A pair of two seeds will collide in the other national semifinal with South Regional champion Villanova meeting West Regional champion Oklahoma.

This improbable run by Syracuse marks what March Madness is all about. Living on the edge. Dramatic finishes behind thrilling comeback efforts. A team that was on the NCAA bubble but has shown why they deserved to be in the tournament. A gutsy and gritty team that has thrived off their chemistry. The Orange have only been ranked once all season which was on November 30 when they placed 14th in the AP top 25 poll and 19th in the USA Today Coaches Poll. They have only received votes on three other occasions during the season with those coming on December 7 and 14 and again on February 15. Syracuse was not even ranked in either of these preseason polls.

Although schools like UCLA (17, 11), Kentucky (17, 8), Duke (16, 5), Kansas (14, 3), Indiana (8, 5), Ohio State (10, 1), Michigan State (9, 2), and Louisville (10, 3) are college basketball thoroughbreds with a combined 101 Final Four appearances and 38 NCAA championships among them, the Orange program has its own high caliber history. The Syracuse program has stood the test of time by reaching at least one Final Four in every decade since the 1970’s started. That peaked in 2003 when the Orange won its’ only national championship.

Boeheim was an assistant coach on the 1974-75 Syracuse team that reached the school’s first Final Four. This is the first time that the Orange have made two trips to the Final Four in the same decade. Furthermore, Boeheim and Syracuse have made some of their loudest statements by beating some of those storied aforementioned schools in their Final Four seasons. The NCAA Tournament history of the Orange includes two wins each against Kansas and North Carolina and one win over Indiana in years that they went to the Final Four. Syracuse beat Kansas in the 1996 West Regional final and defeated them to win it all in 2003. The Orange beat North Carolina 78-76 in the semifinal of the East Regional in 1975 and again in the 1987 East Regional final. Syracuse’s win over Indiana came in the Sweet 16 in 2013.

Boeheim was elected to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame in 2005 and has beaten fellow hall-of-famers in Dean Smith, Roy Williams, and Rick Pitino in NCAA Tournament play at least once each. This all supports the fact that Boeheim and the Orange program have risen to beat some of the best in the game when the stakes are the highest. In the process, he has positioned Syracuse in the national spotlight consistently throughout his career as a national contender year in and year out, despite not having the same NCAA Tournament accomplishments of other storied schools as is measured in quantity.

However quality has always been there and has continued even after reaching the program’s pinnacle in 2003. Since cutting down the nets as national champions 13 years ago, Boeheim has had the Orange in postseason play every year but one including 10 trips to the NCAA Tournament. During that same time, he has also led Syracuse to two Big East outright regular season championships (2010, ‘12), guided the Orange to four appearances (2005, ’06, ’09, ’13) and two wins (2005, ’06) in Big East Tournament championship games, had multiple teams rise to the number one ranking in the country, lead two teams to number one seeds in the NCAA Tournament (2010, ’12), garnered the AP national coach-of-the-year honor in 2010, and lead Syracuse to a school record 25-0 start (2013-14). Boeheim has done some of the best work of his career during this time and the teams, players, and coaches he has had reflect nothing but class and excellence for his program as well as the game.

Despite not always getting the top 20 recruits to become part of the Orange, Boeheim has been a steady example of how to use coaching, leadership, and a fierce competitive nature to get the best out of his players and teams as a whole. While he has had talented players on his Final Four teams such as Derrick Coleman, John Wallace, Carmelo Anthony, and Michael Carter-Williams, an equally important factor if not more has been the chemistry he has had on his teams. Chemistry refers to the way people work together in their interactions with one another. The more everyone can work together in support of a common goal, the better chemistry they have and this can have a positive impact on winning. Boeheim is the epitome of this and it has always stood out as an admirable quality in his coaching over his 40 years at the helm.

Chemistry is something that has been a common thread to all the Final Four teams in Syracuse history. The Orange have had a talented key player on each of their Final Four teams. However their other four starters over the years have been highly productive making them multi-dimensional. For example Howard Triche and Greg Monroe were senior co-captains that brought steady production and leadership during the school’s 1987 Final Four season. Even when Syracuse won the national title in 2003, he had serviceable role players come off the bench in Billy Edelin, Josh Pace, and Jeremy McNeil. While Boeheim has not always had a lot of depth, he has still been able to turn to a player or two off the bench to contribute and battle the opposing coach with the matchup game. Look no further to a player like Steven Thompson who was a key reserve on the 1987 Final Four team and then started for three more years.

Over the years, the Orange have played a lot of thrilling games that have captivated the hearts of Syracuse fans throughout Central, NY and captured national television audiences. There have been thrilling and dramatic finishes and elaborate wins where the Orange strutted their stuff. So here is a trip down memory lane for Syracuse fans and alumni of the program. The school’s five previous trips to the Final Four have been exciting. More thrilling dramatics could be in store in Houston this weekend. Here is a look back at what the Orange have done in their previous trips to the Final Four. Perhaps this look back offers a glimpse into the immediate future for Syracuse. If nothing else, thrilling competition usually takes place when the Orange are in the Final Four. Read the rest of this entry →

NCAA Fortunes of Syracuse Orange on the Bubble 1

Posted on March 11, 2016 by Chris Kent

Will the bubble burst for the Syracuse Orange come selection Sunday in another two days? That is in the hands of the NCAA selection committee. While ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi forecasted earlier in the week that the Orange were his last team to receive entry into the field of 68, Syracuse will have to sweat it out over the next couple of days. What happens with other “bubble” teams in conference tournaments will largely dictate whether or not the Orange receives a bid.

In his 40th season as head coach of the Orange, Jim Boeheim finds his team sitting on the NCAA bubble.

In his 40th season as head coach of the Orange, Jim Boeheim finds his team sitting  on the NCAA bubble.

One of these teams is Oregon State. The Beavers lost to California 76-68 in the PAC-12 tournament quarterfinals leaving them at 19-12. Oregon State, who went 9-9 in the PAC-12, won three of their last four in conference play. The Beavers split their regular season series with conference champion Oregon, Utah, and California who all finished in the top four of the final PAC-12 regular season standings. Their best win is against the Ducks who went 14-4 in the conference and 26-6 overall. As of press time, Oregon is still alive in the PAC-12 Tournament.

Other teams battling with Syracuse on the bubble include Monmouth (27-7, 17-3), Michigan (21-11, 10-8), Tulsa (20-10, 12-6), Connecticut (21-10, 11-7), Texas Southern (18-13, 16-2), St. Mary’s (27-5, 15-3), and Holy Cross (14-19, 5-13).

The fates of all these teams – along with that of Syracuse – are still to be determined with how they do in their postseason tournaments being a big factor. Yet, the committee will also be looking at their full body of work during the whole season. Where teams place in the Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) is always a big factor along with what a team’s record is against any top-25 teams that they faced during the season.

 

Some of the issues facing the committee will be projecting a team from a non-power conference into the field versus a team from a power conference that might have had a down or sub-par year but still has a decent overall resume like the Orange. How a team finishes the season is also looked at in addressing its’ whole body of work.

For example does a Monmouth team who gained national prominence this season behind head coach King Rice, the former North Carolina starter for the late Dean Smith, get an edge over the Orange who had a down but competitive year in a tougher and power conference in that of the Atlantic Coast Conference? Syracuse finished 19-12 in the regular season and went 9-9 in the ACC where they placed 10th. Monmouth lost to Iona 79-76 in the championship game of the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Tournament on March 7. The Hawks beat Notre Dame, Georgetown, UCLA, and USC this year. While perennial NCAA Tournament participants Georgetown (15-18, 7-11), UCLA (15-17, 6-12), and USC (21-12, 9-9) had down years, those are still positive wins for the lower profile Hawks. Read the rest of this entry →

The Palestra: College Basketball’s Most Beloved Arena 3

Posted on February 01, 2016 by Mike Raffone

The Palestra

As the NCAA basketball season inches towards tournament time, allow me to highlight my favorite place on the planet to watch college hoops.

As Philadelphia’s most revered sports venue, the Palestra is appropriately called the Cathedral of College Basketball.

Recognized as the birthplace of college basketball, this hallowed arena opened its doors on the University of Pennsylvania campus on January 1, 1927. On that seminal day, Ivy League rivals Penn and Yale tipped off in what would become the first of thousands of games held in this building.

Named after an ancient Greek rectangular enclosure, the sparkling new facility was designed to house 8,722 spectators.

However, more than 10,000 excited fans crammed into the Palestra to witness Penn beat Yale 26 – 15 on its opening day.

Since then, the Palestra has hosted more NCAA college basketball games than any other arena in the country.

Beginning 1955, the Palestra has also served as the home court for the round robin of Big 5 college basketball games. Though not an official league or athletic conference, the Big 5 boasts five successful college basketball programs located within a 17 mile radius of center city Philadelphia. Read the rest of this entry →

State of NCAA Men’s College Basketball is Debatable for What is Best for Game 6

Posted on April 11, 2015 by Chris Kent

As the 21st century moves forward, college basketball is becoming more and more known for the early departures. The so called “one and done era” has been alive for more than a decade. Gone are the days when student-athletes made a splash as a freshman and then continued to do so over three or four years in college.

Look no further than Kentucky for proof of this. Since John Calipari was hired as the Wildcats’ head coach in 2009, Kentucky has been the prime source of the “one and done era.” Add in a few sophomores who decided a second attempt at a Final Four or a national championship was worth coming back for and the Wildcats have been a landslide leader in this trend of kids leaving school early for the riches of playing pro basketball.

A total of seven Kentucky players declared to enter the NBA Draft earlier this week.

A total of seven Kentucky players declared to enter the NBA Draft earlier this week at a press conference shown here.

Last year was no different. After falling two wins short of becoming the first undefeated national champion in 39 years – following their 71-64 loss to Wisconsin in the 2015 national semifinals – , Kentucky announced that seven players from last year’s team have declared for the NBA draft. Among the seven are four starters including the starting backcourt of sophomores Andrew and Aaron Harrison, freshman center Karl Anthony-Towns, and junior power forward Willie Cauley-Stein. The others are forward Trey Lyles and guard Devin Booker, both freshman, along with 7-foot sophomore center Dakari Johnson.

All seven have the ability to play at the next level as either starters or reserves. Some have the potential to start right away for anybody while the fortunes of others will be influenced by how the NBA Lottery turns out. Early mock drafts have Anthony-Towns competing with Duke freshman center Jahlil Okafor – who has also declared for the draft – for the top overall pick. Anthony-Towns is  6-11 and weighs 250 while Okafor is 6-11 and 270. Both were among the nation’s dominant big men last season.

Should all seven of these players be drafted, it would set a new record for the most players selected from one school in a single draft. The Wildcat’s six selections in the 2012 draft – lead by top overall pick Anthony Davis – is the current record. Davis had lead Kentucky to the national title in 2012 in what was Calipari’s first championship. Read the rest of this entry →

Duke and Wisconsin Meet For National Championship 2

Posted on April 06, 2015 by Chris Kent

The national championship of college basketball is here. After an exciting March of dramatic finishes that separated the pretenders from the contenders, the cream of the crop surfaced at The Final Four in Indianapolis, IN this past weekend. Three of the four number one seeds reached the Final Four with Duke, Kentucky, and Wisconsin all winning their regions to advance to college basketball’s biggest stage. Meanwhile, Michigan State was no slouch as a seventh seed. The Spartans reached The Final Four for a nation-leading seventh time since 1999, all under one of the elite coaches in the country in Tom Izzo.

Bo Ryan has taken the Badgers to new heights with back-to-back trips to The Final Four.

Bo Ryan has taken the Badgers to new heights with back-to-back trips to The Final Four.

With the Blue Devils defeating Michigan State 81-61 and the Badgers upsetting undefeated Kentucky 71-64 in the national semifinals on Saturday, Duke and Wisconsin advanced to tonight’s championship game. This is virtually an even game. Both teams have been ranked in the Associated Press Top 25 poll the whole season and have a combined record of 70-7 entering tonight’s title game. The Badgers are 36-3 and won the regular season Big Ten Championship as well as the conference tournament title. The Blue Devils finished second to Virginia in the ACC regular season standings at 15-3 and reached the ACC Tournament Semifinals

before losing to Notre Dame who went on to win the tournament title.

Wisconsin’s victory on Saturday avenged their loss to the Wildcats a year ago in the national semifinals, a 74-73 thriller that was decided on a 3-point basket by then-freshman guard Aaron Harrison. With the Badgers returning to The Final Four this year, Wisconsin has become a national program. Badgers’ head coach Bo Ryan has emerged as a great coach and has brought national prominence to the Wisconsin program in this his 14th year at the helm of the Badgers. This followed his highly successful career in the Division III ranks as head coach at The University of Wisconsin-Platteville where he won four national championships in the 1990’s.

Ryan will be matched up against Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski who is no stranger to the national championship game. This is the ninth national championship game that Krzyzewski has lead the Blue Devils to. He is 4-4 in the title game. The two schools met earlier this season back on Dec. 3 in Wisconsin where Duke prevailed 80-70 in the ACC/Big Ten Challenge. Blue Devil freshman center Jahlil Okafor had 13 points and six rebounds while senior center Frank Kaminsky scored 17 points and grabbed nine rebounds for the Badgers. Read the rest of this entry →

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