Tag Archives: NCAABB

Peach State Players to Watch for During March Madness

The peach state has given the nation some big name players over the years and this season is no different. As we enter March Madness, here are a few key players on their respective teams that played high school ball in Georgia.

The Virginia Cavaliers have dipped into the south and have found themselves some gems from some winning programs. Greater Atlanta Christian has been a feeder school for Tony Bennett lately as he has plucked Malcolm Brogdon and now Isaiah Wilkins. For a second consecutive season, “Uncle Malcolm” has been named to the All-ACC First Team and has helped UVA to a second straight ACC regular season title. Not a lot of flash in his game, it’s Brogdon’s grown man strength that helps him get past defenders and get to the rim at will when he wants to. Wilkins plays sparingly for the Cavs but when he enters he gives the team great energy. Wilkins comes from rich ‘bloodlines’ of stepfather Dominique Wilkins. The athletic forward also has a winning pedigree after finishing his senior season undefeated with a state title at GAC. Evan Nolte has seen more playing time as of late since Justin Anderson went down with a broken finger and an appendectomy. Nolte is a state champion from Milton and provides the Cavaliers with great hustle and streaky three-point shooting.

Atlanta’s own Georgia State Panthers will try to be this year’s Cinderella story and will rely heavily on former Walton Raider Ryan Harrow to do so. The free-scoring guard averages 18.7 points and passed the 1,000 point mark in his career this season while helping lead the Panthers to their first tournament appearance since 2001. Harrow has dealt with numerous injuries this season and did not play in the Sun Belt title game due to a strained hamstring. When healthy, Harrow teams up with R.J. Hunter to form one of the highest scoring backcourts in the entire nation. Another former Walton standout, Karl Cochran, paces the Wofford Terriers.

Cochran started his prep career at Wheeler before finishing across town at Walton. He has averaged double figures his entire career at Wofford and is the Terriers’ leader in all categories including scoring (14.6), rebounding (5.8), assists (2.7), steals (1.8), and blocks (1.1) this season.

The Georgia Bulldogs feature a plethora of in-state talent led by Charles Mann (Milton), Marcus Thornton (Westlake), Kenny Gaines (Whitefield Academy), and J.J. Frazier (Faith Baptist Christian). These players highlight four of UGA’s top five scorers on the season, all averaging over nine points per game. Thornton is the eldest of the bunch and is a senior while Mann and Gaines are juniors and Frazier, just a sophomore. This pack of Dawgs has helped Georgia reach the tournament for the first time since 2011.

Dominant Miller Grove big man Tony Parker won four state titles as a Wolverine before shipping out west to UCLA. It was a slow start to his collegiate career, but Parker has since trimmed up into shape and has turned himself into a major contributor for the Bruins. The big man is averaging 17.2 points over his last five games as UCLA has slowly begun to gain a head of steam heading into the tournament, winning four of its last five games.

Tekele Cotton of Wichita State might not light up the score board but he contributes in many other facets. The senior is one of the toughest defenders on the perimeter for the Shockers. Though he is having a down year shooting the ball (40% down from 45%), Cotton has averaged a career high in assists. The experienced veteran has already made one trip to the Final Four and will lean on that journey to try and get there again in his final season.

Senior Shannon Scott won a state title at Milton but has yet to taste the same team success at the college level with Ohio State. He is the Big Ten leader in assists per game (5.9) and also ranks third in steals (1.8). Scott’s main objective is to run the show on offense and limit turnovers. He has played a key role in the Buckeye’s backcourt for three seasons now.

Tim Quarterman has been a jack of all trades for LSU since graduating from Johnson, Savannah. The sophomore has exploded onto the scene for the Tigers and is a major reason why LSU has made the tournament for the first time since 2009. At 6-foot-6, “Puncho” uses his length to frustrate opponents and score in a multitude of ways. His versatility allows him to guard many positions, and his play making ability is helped out by his vision over smaller defenders. He averages over 11 points, five rebounds and nearly four assists per game.

James Webb III has jumped around from school to school but has found a home in Idaho. He ended up at North Idaho College after starring at Curtis Baptist High School and now calls Boise State home. Webb scores both inside and out as the Broncos’ second leading scorer (11.3) and top rebounder (7.9). Madarious Gibbs out of East Coweta now leads Texas Southern in his final season. Gibbs averaged 26.3 points per game his senior season at East Coweta and now as a senior at Texas Southern, has begun to find his explosive scoring ability leading the Tigers at 14.1 points. Gibbs has struggled from deep this season (25%), but has done damage at the foul line taking 164 attempts. He will hope to leave behind a legacy at Texas Southern and be a part of the first team in school history to win a tournament game.

The wealth of talent in Georgia will not be drying up anytime soon as more and more highly touted prospects are coming through the pipelines. Next year we will be treated to the likes of Jaylen Brown, Malik Beasley, and Tookie Brown who will all try to be the missing piece of their school’s puzzle to bring home a national championship.

Let the Madness Begin

It’s time for the madness to ensue and for brackets everywhere to be nearly worn to shreds with the amount of filling in and erasing as the NCAA Tournament has finally arrived. This year’s edition of March Madness has a clear cut favorite that the entire country feels is the team to beat with Kentucky entering undefeated at 34-0. In what has become a rarity; some local schools in Georgia have made the big dance and will try to become the latest Cinderella stories in Georgia and Georgia State. Let’s take a quick preview of both games before setting our sights to the national stage.

No. 14 Georgia State v. No. 3 Baylor

            The Panthers won an ugly rubber match against Georgia Southern 38-36 to win the Sun Belt automatic bid and head to the dance for the first time since 2001. If they want to have any chance at winning, getting healthy would be a good start. Second leading scorer Ryan Harrow did not play in Sunday’s championship after straining his hamstring. Harrow has missed six games and if you count games where he has left early the total is up to eight, but Georgia State is a perfect 8-0 in those injury marred games. Another key injury occurred after the game on Sunday. Head Coach Ron Hunter tore his achilles while celebrating the title and will be wearing a cast for Thursday’s game.

As far as those who will be on the court Thursday, Baylor poses a tough test. The Bears are the best offensive rebounding team in the nation and are led by the burley Rico Gathers who averages 11.6 boards a night. It will be strength vs weakness as the Bears rank 13th in the nation in total rebounding while the Panthers come in at 247th.  Baylor is balanced on offense with six players averaging over seven points per game compared to just four from Georgia State. Junior forward Taurean Prince leads the way scoring 13.8 points on average. The backcourt duo of R.J. Hunter and Ryan Harrow will need to carry the load for the Panthers and do it in an efficient manner. Harrow finished the season shooting over 50 percent, but Hunter struggled at 39 percent. Hunter, Head Coach Ron Hunter’s son, is the school’s all-time leading scorer and has the ability to get hot. Before a 3-of-15 shooting performance in the Sun Belt final, Hunter scored 35 and 32 points in consecutive games. Georgia State will need its role players to shoulder the load in Kevin Ware and Markus Crider. Both schools have played Iowa State this year with Baylor beating them twice while Georgia State lost by 23.

No. 10 Georgia v. No. 7 Michigan State

            Michigan State has had a down year, but still the tough Tom Izzo coached bunch will be a tall task for the Dawgs who enter the tournament for the first time since 2011. Georgia hangs its hat on strong rebounding and balanced scoring. Five players average over nine points per game and give coach Mark Fox reliable options. Senior big men Marcus Thornton and Nemanja Djurisic are tough players inside that also have the ability to hit the open jumper. Junior guards Charles Mann and Kenny Gaines score in different ways. Gaines leads the team in 3-pointers made with 54 and Mann leads the team in free throws made with 141. Sophomore J.J. Frazier can be an x-factor if he gets hot. He dropped 37 in a win over Mississippi State on the road when he went 7-7 from beyond the arc.

The Spartans are an unselfish team that averages 17.1 assists per game, fourth in the nation. MSU had a chance to win the Big Ten tournament but collapsed down the stretch and fell to Wisconsin in overtime. Travis Trice and Denzel Valentine power the Sparty offense. Branden Dawson is a defensive stalwart and leads the team in rebounding at 9.1. Two key stats entering this game is the fact that the Spartans shoot just 63 percent from the line and UGA gives up no easy looks allowing just 39 percent shooting on the season. The Dawgs will have to grind out a physical game if they want to advance to the next round.

Silent but Deadly — The Georgia Bulldogs

Make no joke about it; the SEC is wide open outside of Kentucky. With just two teams ranked in the Top 25, no one has been able to stand out as the clear cut second best team in the conference. The top of the conference is muddled with teams a win away from claiming second place, or falling all the way into a multiway tie in the middle of the pack. Three teams are tied for second at 7-3 in the SEC, while two more are tied for third place at 6-4.

One team to keep an eye on is Mark Fox’s Georgia Bulldogs. Now in his sixth season at UGA, Fox has compiled a respectable 100-84 record. Predecessor Dennis Felton managed just an 84-91 mark in his five-plus seasons before getting fired in 2009. Fox has brought with him a tough nosed mentality that helped him go 123-43 at Nevada before accepting the position at Georgia. The Dawgs haven’t made a trip to the NCAA Tournament since the 2010-11 season, Fox’s second season, but Georgia is off to a strong start and has a chance to sneak back into the big dance.

The season started inauspiciously when the Bulldogs were stung at Georgia Tech, 80-73 to open up the 2014-15 campaign. Georgia managed to respond well though, finishing 9-3 in non-conference play. Along the way, they were able to pick up nice wins over Colorado, Kansas State, and the emerging Seton Hall Pirates. Losses included a four-point defeat to Minnesota and a hard fought 88-76 loss to top ten Gonzaga.

In conference play, Georgia has also proven to be a tough out. The Dawgs (15-7, 6-4) have already beaten Florida, Ole Miss, and Tennessee. Their losses came to current No. 24 Arkansas by four, LSU in double-overtime by three, and most recently No. 1 Kentucky by 11 at Rupp Arena. The major blemish on Georgia’s record was a 67-50 loss to South Carolina who is just 11-11 overall and 2-8 in the SEC.

Leading scorer and rebounder Marcus Thornton missed the Kentucky and South Carolina games due to an injury. The senior forward has progressed each season and is averaging 13.2 points and 7.1 rebounds per game. He leads a Bulldog team that has five players score in double figures. Kenny Gaines, Charles Mann, and Nemanja Djurisic all average 11 points while J.J. Frazier comes in at 10.8. Frazier, only a sophomore, had the most eye opening game of maybe any SEC player this year when the Dawgs traveled to The Hump to face Mississippi State. The 5-foot-10 guard exploded for 37 points on 12 of 14 shooting and 7 of 7 from beyond the three-point line.

The strength of this Georgia team besides its coaching has been its balanced scoring attack and strong rebounding. With five players averaging double figures, opposing defenses cannot key on just one man. Frazier, Gaines, and Thornton can all get hot on any given night. The Bulldogs also do a good job on the glass averaging nearly 38 rebounds per game. Being able to limit second chance points has been a boon for Coach Fox.

Though they currently sit in fifth place in the standings, Georgia is just a game out of second place. Key matchups loom with Texas A&M, Ole Miss, and Kentucky all on the horizon. If Georgia is able to take care of business and win the games they are supposed to, they should enter the conference tournament flirting with 20 wins. In ESPN’s Joe Lunardi’s most recent Bracketology, he places Georgia as a number eight seed in the West Region. He also has a whopping six teams out of the SEC making the tournament.

The Dawgs look poised to make a run in the SEC tournament and clinch their first March Madness bid in five seasons and if Coach Fox can reach the 22 win plateau, it would be the school’s best record since 2001-02 with Jim Harrick. Coach Fox has methodically built Georgia into a respectable program and has the Dawgs hungry as a silent but deadly dark horse entering March.

Brian Gregory’s Hot Seat

52-62, that is Georgia Tech Head Coach Brian Gregory’s record in three plus seasons at the helm of the Jackets, and this year is looking like it may be his worst with the Jackets currently in the cellar at 0-7 in the ACC. It looks like it is time for another change at Tech. Before Gregory, Paul Hewitt amassed a 190-162 record through 11 seasons, unspectacular if you take away the 2003-04 run to the National Championship. In those 11 years, Hewitt managed six winning seasons. Hewitt’s tenure went south after too many up and down seasons. Three of his last four seasons ended up with the loss column fatter than the winning column.

Gregory was plucked from Dayton after a 172-94 record including multiple trips to the NCAA Tournament and a NIT Championship. The move from A-10 to the powerful ACC seemed like a no-brainer. A strong coach at an emerging school making the leap to the ACC with a strong southeastern recruiting region seemed like the perfect fit. Georgia Tech, who usually manages to hold its own in recruiting, was supposed to bring in enough talent to at least be competitive in the ACC, but instead that has not been the case.

Gregory has managed to ink four 4-star prospects, but many have not panned out. Robert Carter was a key cog inside a year ago averaging over 11 points and eight rebounds, but he has since transferred to Maryland. Guard Solomon Poole was kicked off the team last February and is now Florida Atlantic’s leading scorer. Freshman Tadric Jackson from Tifton is shooting 25 percent and is just 5-51 from beyond the arc. Tech’s lone highly-touted recruit that has actually panned out has been Marcus Georges-Hunt, who is now a junior and leads the Jackets in scoring.

The talent has been there as far as recruiting sites say. Virginia has had just two more 4-star players in the same time Gregory has been at Tech, and Tony Bennett has turned the Cavaliers into the best defensive team in the nation and one of only two schools left this season to be undefeated. Bennett’s Cavs held Georgia Tech to their lowest output in ACC history as they managed just 28 points last Thursday.

If Gregory can’t turn things around, Tech (9-10, 0-7) should be ready to go in another direction. The ACC has only gotten tougher with the additions of Syracuse, Pittsburgh, Notre Dame, and Louisville. The Jackets have not been able to keep up with the dearth of exceptional talent and coaching. The best record Coach Gregory has managed so far is 6-12 in back to back seasons. Six of their seven ACC losses this season have been by single digits, but moral victories won’t keep any coach around. Coach Hewitt, although not an offensive genius, always had teams that could score the ball and be primed to pull an upset. In his 11 seasons, the Yellow Jackets averaged 74.25 points a night. Under Gregory, that number has dropped to 63.67; the second lowest in the ACC. The Jackets struggle to share the ball and hit open shots—a recipe for disaster. They shoot a miserable 25 percent from deep which allows teams to sag off shooters and load the paint.

Gregory has seemingly tried to hang his hat on defense during his time at Georgia Tech which isn’t a bad idea, but when your team is that inept at scoring it doesn’t make much of a difference. Tech has managed to play games tight, but once the bullets start flying in the second half, they have no playmakers to get a shot off. It definitely has been a rough three plus years for Coach Gregory. He by no means has the most talented roster in the ACC, but there is enough talent to be in the hunt for at least a NIT bid.  If this season continues to sputter and Georgia Tech cannot gain any ground, Gregory’s seat should rightfully be on fire. If he is still with the program this offseason, it might be a good idea for him to meet with Paul Johnson and figure out how to turn things around and in the process, save his job.

Eagles Flying Under The Radar

In college basketball, everybody knows the prestigious programs of Duke, North Carolina, Kansas, and Kentucky. In the past decade, Mid-Major programs have been all the rage stealing spotlights and headlines with their exceptional play. 2006 gave us George Mason, 2010 gave us Butler, 2011 Virginia Commonwealth, and most recently Wichita State last season. Nothing is better than a Cinderella story, a true David vs Goliath matchup. Last year, Georgia State narrowly missed making it to the big dance after they fell to Elfrid Payton’s Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin’ Cajuns in the Sun Belt title game 82-81 in overtime after a 25 win season. This season Georgia State is humming along under the radar nationally, but is still a favorite to win the Sun Belt this year, but I’m here to talk about another Georgia school that might have something to say about that, the Georgia Southern Eagles.

A notorious powerhouse in football, the Eagles (10-3, 3-1) have quietly put together a very nice season and have designs on thwarting the Panthers’ dreams of making it to the big dance along with every other Sun Belt school. A true dark horse, the Eagles finished 15-19 a season ago and managed just a 6-10 record in the Southern Conference. So far, it seems like the switch from the SoCon to the Sun Belt has benefited the Eagles. Currently they are second in the conference, one game behind 4-0 UL-Lafayette.

All three of Georgia Southern’s losses this season have come by single digits. The Eagles opened their season in Champaign, Illinois against the Fighting Illini. Southern entered the half tied at 31, but eventually fell 80-71. Their other two losses came against UCF by two and to Texas-Arlington by 1; both road losses. Senior Jelani Hewitt makes things click for the Eagles on offense. The playmaking guard leads the team in points (20.2) and assists (3.8) and has been the leader in these two categories since last year as a junior when he averaged over 19 points and 3 assists per game.

A key addition to this year’s team has been former Greater Atlanta Christian state champion, Trent Wiedeman. Now a senior, Wiedeman was named to the SoCon All-Freshman Team and to the Mid-Major Freshman All-American team which was selected by CollegeInsider.com. Wiedeman found great success early on in his career under Head Coach Bobby Cremins, but found his playing time decrease under new coach Doug Wojcik after he could not get healthy after two ankle injuries.

The big man has been a major boon for the Eagles’ low post game as he is currently second in scoring with 13.6 points and leads the team in rebounding with 6.8 per game. Eric Ferguson, who led the team in scoring and rebounding as a sophomore and junior, is now back with the team after facing a suspension with off court issues stemming from drug charges. After missing the first six games of the season, the 6’8 forward has begun to round into shape and is averaging 8.6 points and 4.9 rebounds on 51 percent shooting.

Hewitt, Wiedeman, and Ferguson make up a formidable trio that should be able to give opposing Sun Belt foes issues with their ability to score inside and out. Georgia Southern’s main strength is its ability to control the glass. They rank 16th in the nation with 40.5 rebounds a game and lead the conference. Compare that with conference favorite Georgia State, who ranks 289th with just 32.1 rebounds per game, and the Eagles have the sizable advantage.  Where the Eagles might hurt down the stretch is their inability to block shots, where they average under two a game ranking 257th in the nation.

Though it is still early in conference play, anything can happen. Head Coach Mark Byington now in his second season at Southern, seemingly has the Eagles believing they can play with anyone. They have played a soft schedule with three non-division one schools, but the close loss to Illinois and wins against South Florida and Florida International have Byington and the Eagles hoping this season’s senior ladened team can open some eyes and make some noise in the Sun Belt.