College Basketball Nation: Ashton Gibbs

Ashton Gibbs had a very good career at Pittsburgh. He was a quality college basketball player. But I'm not sure whether his early work as an amateur college basketball analyst is going quite so well.

On Thursday, Gibbs made a rather bold prediction regarding his former team:

 

He followed that up a few minutes later with "They should at least in my opinion..Got all the tools." The first missive was retweeted over 200 times and favorited over 60; the second, more reserved tweet, was retweeted a mere three times. I think we can guess which prediction Pittsburgh fans liked better.

For the record, I think Pittsburgh is going to be good. In fact, I think Pitt is due for a major return to the upper echelon of the Big East. The Panthers have some solid returners from last year's disappointing team, but they also added a top center prospect in Steven Adams and a really nice transfer in former Central Michigan star Trey Zeigler. Slotting those players into a lineup with capable guys like Tray Woodall, Lamar Patterson, Talib Zanna and Dante Taylor should make for a balanced, hard-nosed team with (conceivably) much more defensive edge. I like Pitt. The Panthers are a big-time sleeper.

But a Final Four team? Even with the caveat that this year's landscape is wide open, and I'm assuming a return to a less predictable, less obviously hierarchical NCAA tournament ... no, I do not think Pitt is a Final Four team. That's just a bit ambitious.

3-point shot: Tournament transparency

January, 31, 2012
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1. NCAA vice president Greg Shaheen tweeted out a number of links Monday to the NCAA site where the exact team sheets are online for the selection and seeding process. The selection committee’s transparency process up until the actual computer votes for selection has been a long time coming, but is welcomed. Now everyone can easily see what the committee looks at in evaluating the raw numbers.

2. Pitt coach Jamie Dixon never panicked as the Panthers went to 0-7 in the Big East. He said not having Travon Woodall healthy was a big deal. And it clearly was for Ashton Gibbs and the rest of the team. The Panthers have won three straight (the latest at West Virginia on Monday) and have a winnable Big East schedule that could put the Panthers on the bubble in March. Unlike teams in the Pac-12 and leagues outside the power six -- Pitt has opportunities for quality wins. Also, Pitt will be judged on when Woodall was healthy and when he was not.

3. Missouri coach Frank Haith has to be a finalist for national coach of the year. On Monday Haith coached one of his best games against his mentor and former boss, Texas coach Rick Barnes. Going zone on the final possession was a tremendous move. Haith may not win the award (KU’s Bill Self could win it within the Big 12), but he has done a marvelous job coaching the Tigers without its top post player from the preseason. There have been no hiccups in taking over this team.
So much for a slow Saturday. College basketball fans and pundits alike should know better by now, but we always assume the worst on a supposedly “slow” weekend.

Let’s change the rules, based on what we’ve seen today. If you survey the weekend slate and you can’t find any meaningful games and potential upsets that you’re overly interested in, that means it’s time to call Earl and the crew (everybody has a friend named Earl), stock the fridge and get ready for some good basketball. If this was a lukewarm weekend in college basketball, what qualifies as a great one?

Iowa State 72, No. 5 Kansas 64

Many laughed when Fred Hoiberg began his tenure at Iowa State by recruiting from a pool of players known for their checkered pasts. Royce White, who left Minnesota two seasons ago after a tumultuous stay, led the bunch. But Hoiberg looks like a genius right now after the Cyclones handed No. 5 KU its first Big 12 loss of the season. The win snapped both the Jayhawks' 13-game winning streak over Iowa State and their 10-game overall winning streak (they hadn’t lost since Dec. 19).

The postgame court-storming was well-deserved for the 'Clones and their fans. Hoiberg has as much job security as any coach in the country based on his legendary career in Ames, which allowed him to pursue so many transfers without worry. In other words, he’d get a mulligan if things didn’t work out.

Against Kansas, however, Hoiberg proved that he’s more than a risk-taking recruiter. He can coach, too. Iowa State, a squad that suffered an 82-73 loss at Kansas on Jan. 14, led by three points at halftime. But that didn’t last. The Jayhawks scored 11 unanswered points early in the second half. The crowd’s energy dropped after that KU run, but Iowa State kept fighting, something it had failed to do down the stretch in its earlier loss to the Jayhawks.

White led the charge. With his team leading 56-53 and five minutes to play, he scored the Cyclones' next eight points (three straight layups and a pair of free throws). He entered the game as a 51 percent free throw shooter -- ISU was the Big 12’s worst free throw shooting team at 61 percent overall -- but he was 6-for-8 from the charity stripe in the second half. He finished with a team-high 18 points, nine rebounds and five assists, making up for his six turnovers. The team was 25-for-34 from the charity stripe.

So yes, the same Iowa State squad that lost at Drake Nov. 15 looks like an NCAA tournament team right now -- no matter what my colleague Doug Gottlieb might tweet. At 5-3, the Cyclones are off to their best Big 12 start in a dozen years and sure seem like they won't be fading away anytime soon.

No. 4 Syracuse 63, West Virginia 61

It just can’t happen. Not in late January with the stakes so high. Not when it’s so blatant. Officials in this game missed one of the more obvious and critical goaltending calls of the season. In the final seconds, West Virginia's Truck Bryant air-balled a 3-pointer that ended up in Deniz Kilicli’s hands with his team down by a bucket. Kilicli’s layup was swatted away in mid-air by Syracuse's Baye Keita, but replays showed what looked like a clear goaltending violation by Keita. Officials never blew their whistles.

West Virginia got the ball back and Kevin Jones (20 points, eight rebounds) missed a deep 3-pointer to win the game, but the final outcome might have changed had that crew flagged Keita for goaltending. Now granted, WVU had its chances. Brandon Triche (18 points) hit a pair of free throws with a minute and a half to play and the Mountaineers missed four consecutive shots. But the no-call clearly impacted the game.

Syracuse struggled in its third consecutive game without Fab Melo. The Orange just haven’t looked like the same squad without him and his defensive presence. West Virginia secured an astounding plus-21 (41-20) rebounding edge over the Cuse and had nearly as many offensive boards (19) as the Orange had total. How does that happen? It’s not like the Mountaineers are the biggest team in the country. They were just tougher than Syracuse most of the afternoon. And had it not been for that missed goaltending call, West Virginia might have avoided its 13th loss to the Cuse in 14 meetings.

No. 7 Baylor 76, Texas 71

With 4:09 to go, Texas' Myck Kabongo hit a 3-pointer as Pierre Jackson committed a ridiculous foul to put him on the line for a four-point play opportunity. Texas had been down by 12 points early in the second half, but Kabongo’s shot cut Baylor’s advantage to just one. Cameras panned to Baylor coach Scott Drew on the sidelines. He had the “I can’t believe this is happening at home” look on his face.

Perry Jones (22 points, 14 rebounds) was far more aggressive than he’d been in some of his efforts, but Baylor couldn’t keep the pressure on the Longhorns and nearly blew one at home. J’Covan Brown scored 32 points (11-for-22), his third consecutive 30-point effort. But he had way more time to create a better shot than the deep 3-ball he took with 14 seconds on the clock. His team was down by three points in the closing seconds, so I understand why he’d take a deep shot, but he didn’t have to shoot it when he did. He had more time on the clock.

Here’s where you have to have more question marks about Baylor, though. The Bears are at home. Texas shot 36 percent from the field in the first half and was 1-for-12 from beyond the arc before halftime. Seemed like an opportunity for Baylor to flex its muscle. But it turned into another lukewarm finish for the Bears.

No. 13 Florida 69, No. 16 Mississippi State 57

The Bulldogs just couldn’t handle Florida’s inside-outside attack. Patric Young (12 points, six rebounds) was solid for the Gators, especially after halftime. Bradley Beal led the Gators’ talented backcourt with 19 points. The nation’s leaders in 3-point field goals hit 11 of them as they won their fifth straight and 17th in a row at home.

Arnett Moultrie was 4-for-10 and scored 12 points for a Bulldogs team that committed 14 turnovers. It was MSU's third SEC road loss of the season. At 5-3 in league play, they’d better find a way to compete away from home. They’re certainly talented, but the Bulldogs have really struggled on the road. Thought this one would have been a closer game, but give the Gators credit. They can spread teams out with their guard play and minimize their size disadvantages, a tactic they used to perfection against the Bulldogs.

No. 1 Kentucky 74, LSU 50

The Wildcats are in Beast Mode right now. They’re just crushing teams. LSU entered this game following a tight road loss at Mississippi State. But the Wildcats are just a different animal. Terrence Jones led all scorers with a season-high 27 points and the Wildcats held LSU to a 1-for-9 clip from the 3-point line. Just two Tigers reached double figures.

Although LSU is only 2-5 in the SEC, you have to wonder how dangerous the Wildcats can be in March when a guy like Jones can explode despite some inconsistency this season. He entered the game averaging 11.6 ppg and he only scored five points against Georgia on Tuesday. But this game was further proof that Kentucky is a “pick your poison” kind of opponent. How do you defend a team with that number of studs? The Wildcats have so many weapons.

Syracuse is deep. Ohio State has balance. But no team in America looks as potent as Kentucky right now.

Some more observations from the afternoon games ...
  • It Happened! It Happened! It Happened! Towson wins! The Tigers had set a record with 41 consecutive Division I losses, but on Saturday, a miracle happened when the Tigers beat UNC Wilmington 66-61 despite a 1-for-8 mark from the 3-point line. Marcus Damas scored 18 points. There were shaky moments late -- the Seahawks hit some late 3s after Towson took a 60-53 lead with 1:25 to play -- but the Tigers held on and a justifiable celebration ensued. For reaction from coach Pat Skerry and the Tigers, read Andy Katz's story in the Nation blog.
  • Marquette did its normal slow-start/big-finish thing at Villanova, but Dana O'Neil was at the game, so I'll let her tell you more about it.
  • Duke nearly squandered a 22-point second-half lead against a young St. John’s team. The Blue Devils' 83-76 victory over the Red Storm was nothing to hang their hats on. The Devils should be disappointed that they gave up a late run that could have cost them the game.
  • Middle Tennessee State and Vanderbilt clashed Saturday in a tight game between the two Tennessee schools. MTSU, 20-2 entering the game, has been one of the bigger surprises on the national scene. The Blue Raiders start four transfers who weren’t with the team last season. But their story hit a roadblock in their 84-77 loss at Vanderbilt. The loss snapped Middle's 12-game winning streak and gave Vandy its 10th win in its last 11 games.
  • Is Pitt about to launch a big comeback this season? I’m not sure. But the Panthers have won two in a row after an impressive 72-60 win over No. 10 Georgetown, their fifth win in their last six meetings with the Hoyas. They lost their first eight Big East games, but Nasir Robinson had 23 points on 9-of-9 shooting, Lamar Patterson scored 18 and Ashton Gibbs added 13 for the Panthers, who have now won an incredible 12 straight home games against top-10 opponents.
  • The Mountain West Conference is legit. Proof? No. 12 San Diego State took a tough 77-60 road loss at Colorado State on Saturday, despite Jamaal Franklin’s 24 points. After a brutal travel week in the Rockies, the loss snapped SDSU’s 11-game overall winning streak and its 58-game win streak against unranked foes, which had been the longest such run in the country. Colorado State’s dwindling at-large hopes certainly got a huge boost with this victory, the school's first over a ranked team since 2004.

Roundtable: Four burning questions

January, 27, 2012
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Editor’s note: ESPN.com writers Eamonn Brennan and Myron Medcalf are joined by ESPN Insider John Gasaway to discuss several burning questions in college basketball.

The weekends that don’t look great on paper are usually the ones filled with wackiness. Who should be on upset alert?

[+] EnlargeRoyce White
Peter G. Aiken/US PresswireIowa State's Royce White, left, and Kansas' Thomas Robinson meet Saturday in Ames, Iowa, in a rematch of their Jan. 14 showdown at Allen Fieldhouse.
Eamonn Brennan: "Upset alert" flows a little bit better than "'top-10 team playing a solid conference opponent on the road' alert," but whatever we want to call it, I'm leaning toward Kansas. The Jayhawks travel to Ames, Iowa, for a Big 12 battle with a solid Iowa State team, and one that just so happens to have its best player -- forward Royce White -- matching up with Kansas's frontcourt beast, forward Thomas Robinson. Robinson and Jeff Withey could make life very difficult for White in the paint, but White's versatility could cause the Jayhawks some issues. A re-energized Hilton Coliseum crowd should be in full voice, and if the Cyclones can keep it close down the stretch, they might be able to pull off what Texas couldn't the previous Saturday.

John Gasaway: Sound the alarm and batten down the hatches because the upset alert's on full blast for Syracuse. They're welcoming West Virginia to the Carrier Dome on Saturday, and I just can't imagine the Mountaineers playing two consecutive terrible games. (Oh, yeah, they were terrible against St. John's, trust me.) I'm guessing that by now Bob Huggins has spoken to his team and pointed out the flaws in its performance in a calm, nonjudgmental and supportive manner. I also think Jim Boeheim's players are a little more freaked about Fab Melo's absence than they need to be -- or at least they're playing like it. I say the Mountaineers win a tight one.

Myron Medcalf: Kansas could fall Saturday in Ames. The last time Iowa State and Kansas faced off, the Cyclones took an early double-digit lead but couldn’t maintain it in the Jayhawks’ 82-73 win Jan. 14. But Hilton Coliseum will be rocking for an Iowa State team that’s due for an upset. Royce White is the key.

It’s a little early to be talking about the bubble, but what team has a particularly important game this weekend?

Brennan: BYU. The Artist Formerly Known as Joey Brackets placed the Cougars among his first four out in Monday's bracket update, and that's about right: At 18-5, the Cougars don't have much in the way of quality wins, and they were shellacked at home by Loyola Marymount last week. On Saturday, they'll host Saint Mary's, which beat them soundly (98-82) in the teams' first matchup in Moraga, Calif., on Dec. 29. A victory here would be huge for conference competition, obviously, but it also would go a long way toward improving a résumé that needs improvement amid a schedule that simply doesn't offer many marquee matchups the rest of the way.

Gasaway: It's never too early for bubble talk, particularly in Tuscaloosa, where Alabama is improbably playing its way into this conversation for a second consecutive season. The Crimson Tide were supposed to be a shoo-in for this year's NCAA tournament, but at 13-7 overall and riding a four-game losing streak in conference, Anthony Grant's team is suddenly looking very bubbly. The Tide would be well advised to win that home game against Arkansas on Saturday.

Medcalf: Middle Tennessee might not need the Sun Belt tourney title to reach the NCAA tournament this year. The Blue Raiders have won 12 in a row, and they have a Top 60 RPI. A win against Vandy this weekend puts this underrated team in at-large contention and the Top 25 discussion.

What player or individual matchup are you most looking forward to this weekend?

Brennan: I'm extremely excited to see West Virginia's Kevin Jones go head to head with Syracuse's vaunted 2-3 zone. If you had to design a player to play against said zone, and that player wasn't a lightning-quick point guard with unimpeachable handles, you'd do pretty well with Jones. Long, active and versatile, WVU's star forward can attack the rim, drain 3s from the perimeter, rough it up on the offensive boards and, perhaps most important, provide a go-to option at the elbow -- the 2-3's most vulnerable spot.

Gasaway: It is so on: Michigan's Trey Burke vs. Ohio State's Aaron Craft, in Columbus on Sunday. As if Wolverines and Buckeyes needed a reason to get up for a game against each other, these two point guards were made to be rivals. This was supposed to be the year we all hailed the sophomore-year development of Craft, who's still a lockdown defender but has added new dimensions to his game on offense. Oops. In the "Big Ten point guard" category, a lot of the ink's been going to a flashy freshman instead (go figure). Burke's been fantastic as the floor general for a Michigan team that thinks it can get the program its first Sweet 16 since 1994. I’ll be by my TV for this one, with popcorn.

Medcalf: Thomas Robinson vs. Royce White. Robinson might be the best the player in the country right now. But he rarely picks on someone his own size. Enter 6-8, 270-pound White, who put up 18 points and 17 rebounds the last time Iowa State played Kansas. Should be a war between these two giants.

What’s a slightly off-the-radar game that we should be keeping an eye on?

Brennan: I'm not sure you can call a 3 p.m. ESPN game between two high-profile Big East foes "off the radar," but, given Pittsburgh's struggles in Big East play this season, we (rightfully) haven't heard much about Georgetown's trip to the Peterson Events Center this weekend. But if I were a Georgetown fan, I'd be a little bit nervous. It's not that Pittsburgh has suddenly turned a corner; this week's win against Providence was nice, but it wasn't a season-changer. Still, Travon Woodall appears to be getting healthy, which frees Ashton Gibbs to play his more natural off-ball shooting guard spot, and the Hoyas have found themselves in close games pretty frequently this past month or so. Georgetown should win. But I'd be wary.

Gasaway: Virginia Commonwealth at Georgia State on Saturday. You remember VCU, of course, from a little thing called last year's Final Four. This season, Shaka Smart has the Rams in the thick of the CAA race at 8-2, right behind 9-1 George Mason. Meanwhile, GSU started out strong, but the Panthers have lost three of their past four. Ron Hunter's team has to defend its home floor if it's going to stay in the conference chase. Georgia State has the league's top defense but will be hard pressed to stop Bradford Burgess & Co. This one's off-radar but on my agenda.

Medcalf: Arkansas at Alabama, on the surface, means nothing. Neither team is in SEC contention right now. But I’m convinced that, if Bama loses this game -- it would be its fifth consecutive loss -- it will never recover, and it will go from Top 25 team to NIT or worse by the end of the season. A third consecutive win for Arkansas could push the Razorbacks, who beat Michigan last weekend, in the opposite direction … toward an NCAA tourney slot.
Seven straight losses to open Big East play. A defense allowing opponents well over a point per possession. The usually impenetrable Peterson Events Center and the rowdy fans that inhabit it have borne witness to five -- count 'em, five -- home losses in 21 games. Coming into the season, Pittsburgh was 149-12 in the Pete.

In short, it's been the most un-Pitt of Pitt seasons in 2012, as Jamie Dixon's team, long a haven for underrated prospects blossoming into veteran stalwarts, has suddenly run short on defensive stoppers, ball handlers and glue types. The result has been the Panthers' worst year in memory, a rare plunge for one of the nation's most consistent programs. Needless to say, no Pitt fan is used to this.

Perhaps it's understandable, then, that the Panthers' fans weren't exactly out in force at the Pete on Wednesday night. Pittsburgh got a win -- its first in Big East play, and its first at home since the Dec. 23 loss to Wagner -- 86-74 over Providence. Previously injured point guard Tray Woodall combined with shooting guard Ashton Gibbs for 39 points, 13 assists and just two turnovers in the win. As Pittsburgh news goes in 2012, this is exciting stuff.

Unfortunately, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ron Cook, the signs of promise in the Pitt backcourt were witnessed by a startlingly small Peterson Events Center crowd -- a sign of the current tough times in Panthers' program. To wit:
It was hard to believe it was The Pete.

It was sad, actually. [...]

You easily could count the number of people sitting in the 100 courtside seats in the 12 luxury boxes. The Oakland Zoo -- the arena's famed student section -- was only a third full despite tweets earlier in the day urging kids to get off their "arse" and come out to support their struggling team. Eight minutes into the game, ushers still were moving fans down from the upper levels to make the lower bowl full. That might have happened over the years for some of the one-sided non-conference games against the likes of Arkansas-Pine Bluff, Houston Baptist and Maryland-Baltimore County, but I can't remember seeing it at a Big East game. I also can't remember coach Jamie Dixon nearly begging -- OK, lobbying -- for the fans to come out, as he did Jan. 16 after Pitt's loss at Syracuse. He and his program have been much too successful to have to do that.

Yeah. Yikes.

Cook draws a larger conclusion from this information: Namely, that Pittsburgh is a tough pro sports town, that it's hard to gain traction as a college entity here, and once you have it -- as Pitt hoops obviously has -- all it takes is one losing season before the attendance starts to dry up. That's a shame, but it appears to be the reality. There also seems to be a trend of great student sections simply not showing up these days. Between the Zoo and the Cameron Crazies (who are struggling to get 700 kids in a 1,200-seat section some nights), let's hope this doesn't become a thing. Of course, it's easy to turn up for a big game, or when your team is riding high in the Big East. It's a lot more difficult to show up and support your peers when they're struggling.

But if Pitt ever needed a rocking, rowdy, filled-to-the-rafters Peterson Events Center, that time is now.

TMA: Gophers show heart, Pitt is in trouble

December, 28, 2011
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The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of the night's best basketball action. It needs to start getting more sleep.

Illinois 81, Minnesota 72 (double overtime): This double-overtime thriller said more about Minnesota’s heart than Illinois’ talent. The Gophers were down 48-35 midway through the second half. And then, Tubby Smith applied the full-court press and an ‘80s Detroit Pistons defense in the halfcourt. That changed everything.

The Illini were rattled as their lead dwindled. Minnesota completed a 10-0 run after 7-footer Elliott Eliason forced a Meyers Leonard turnover that Andre Hollins converted on the other end to cut Illinois’ lead to three.

With a chance to put their foot on Minnesota’s throat, the Illini relented against the Gophers’ attack. They’re third in the Big Ten in turnovers per game (13.9) and they committed 21 Tuesday.

Julian Welch had a chance to extend Minnesota’s lead late in regulation but he missed the front-end of a one-and one and Leonard hit a pair of three throws after he was fouled. The first overtime was shaky for both teams. Both had a shot to avoid a second extra period, but Welch missed an easy layup and Sam Maniscalco took an ill-advised three-pointer with time on the clock.

But the Illini pulled away in the second overtime. So what? The bigger issue is that they nearly blew a 13-point lead in home conference game against a team that’s playing without its best player (Trevor Mbakwe is out for the year with ACL injury).

I came away from this game impressed, again, by Minnesota’s tenacity. The Gophers are young at most positions. They had no business putting up that kind of a fight in Champaign, Ill., the first Big Ten road game for a chunk of the players on that roster. If the Gophers can steal a few away from Minneapolis, they’re going to be OK in the Big Ten.

But where’s Illinois’ edge? I think Leonard is a stud and he’s surrounded by talent. The Illini, however, need to develop a little bravado so that they take advantage of teams when they have the opportunity. Didn’t happen against the Gophers. They’ll pay for similar lapses in the future.

Notre Dame 72, No. 22 Pitt 59: The postgame buzz of this upset centered on one question: “What’s wrong with Pitt?” The Panthers suffered their second consecutive loss, their third of the season, in the Big East opener for both squads.

Two of the losses came at home against a pair of midmajors -- Wagner (Friday) and Long Beach State (Nov. 16). The Panthers had won 58 consecutive home games entering the loss to the 49ers.

In Pitt’s third loss Tuesday, Notre Dame took over in the second half. The Fighting Irish connected on 18 of 25 shots in the second half. They shot 50 percent from the field, including a 5-for-8 mark from the three-point line after halftime. Sophomore guard Alex Dragicevich (he scored 17 of his career-high 22 points in the second half) played as 1993 Dan Majerle.

So the Panthers fell to a hot Notre Dame squad that treated the bucket like … a big ‘ol bucket. It rarely missed late. Plus, the Fighting Irish have won 28 consecutive home games.

But Pitt entered the season amid Final Four talk. They returned All-America candidate Ashton Gibbs and attracted a recruiting class anchored by Canadian standout Khem Birch. Right now, however, they’re not even a Top-25 team. They were 1-for-14 from the three-point line Tuesday. They hit 2 of 15 threes in their 59-54 loss to Wagner Friday.

Tray Woodall’s groin/abdominal injury was a major setback for a squad with limited backcourt depth. Woodall returned Tuesday, but he failed to score. Gibbs played a ton of minutes in Woodall’s absence and that seemed to wear him down, something Dixon said he feared. Birch’s decision to leave the program a few weeks ago didn’t help, either.

But Pitt’s problems are extensive. The Panthers possess the 159th-ranked defense in Pomeroy’s adjusted efficiency ratings. They entered the week with the Big East’s worst turnover margin.

If the Panthers don’t correct their problems soon, they’re going to end up in a battle just to make the Big Dance.

Everywhere else: Wisconsin welcomed Nebraska to the Big Ten with a 64-40 whipping. Ryan Evans went 9 for 11 from the field and scored 22 points. The most promising stat line for the Badgers, however, was Jordan Taylor’s 15 points and five assists. That’s the kind of production they’ll need from the preseason All-America going forward. … Georgia needed overtime to dismiss a 4-9 Winthrop squad 92-86... Jordan Tolbert recorded 27 points in Texas Tech’s 74-58 win over CS-Bakersfield … BYU easily defeated CS San Marcos, which sounds like some party school on a Spanish island. The Cougars hit 50 percent of their shots in the 79-51 win. Bad day for the Cal State system, I guess.

3-point shot: Pitt's befuddling offense

December, 28, 2011
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1. Pitt’s inability to score more than 60 points in the past two games is befuddling. The Panthers were playing a possible NEC contender, note possible, in Wagner and then played one of the Big East's bottom third teams in Notre Dame. Yet the Panthers couldn’t crack 60 points and lost both matches. The Panthers were 1-of-14 on 3-pointers against the usual porous Irish defense Tuesday. Travon Woodall was back from an injury and struggled -- 0-for-5 overall, 0-for-3 on 3s. Still, this is a Panthers team that shouldn’t be this offensively challenged. The Panthers were 2-of-15 on 3s against Wagner with Ashton Gibbs shooting 1-of-7 on 3s. The trend will mean that Pitt will slip down to the muddled middle of the Big East for only the second time in Jamie Dixon's eight seasons unless something drastically changes. Pitt has finished in the top two five times, and finished fourth, fifth and seventh -- in 2008 -- once.

2. Minnesota lost to Illinois in double overtime in the Big Ten opener for both teams Tuesday night. But Gophers coach Tubby Smith may be doing his best coaching job -- at the U. The Gophers were thin in experience heading into the season. Losing Trevor Mbakwe to a season-ending knee injury last month should have devastated them. Granted the schedule was soft in many spots but the Gophers still went into that Big Ten opener at 12-1. The Gophers still have a long way to go to ensure a postseason berth but to be this competitive, and playing with this much confidence with such an inexperienced crew, is a credit to Smith and these players.

3. A URI news release says coach Jim Baron will re-evaluate senior guard Jamal Wilson's status in a week after he was suspended indefinitely. But a source with direct knowledge inside the Rams’ program doesn’t expect Wilson to return based on a series of missteps. Wilson may be averaging 17.5 points a game but the Rams have won just one game this season and are one of the biggest disappointments in the country. The Rams are leaning heavily on freshmen since the upperclassmen have been subpar. Baron, who normally has had URI competitive in the A-10, despite not making the NCAAs during his previous 10 years, has two years remaining on his contract. It’s hard to say if he’s under any heat since cash-strapped URI would have to come up with money it may not have to make a change.

Another way to look at point guards

December, 20, 2011
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"True point guard." What do you think when you read that phrase? The immediate connotations to the college basketball fan (or, for that matter, the NBA partisan) are practically hard-wired: A true point is a player that "sets up his teammates," "takes care of the ball," is the "coach on the floor" or the "quarterback of his team."

The college game is so often dictated by guard play -- it is an accepted theorem (at least) that good guard play leads to deep tournament runs -- that college coaches, fans and analysts tend to get a little too caught up in defining a point guard on purely restrictive terms. Does he do this? He's a pure point guard. If not, he's not.

[+] EnlargeKendall Marshall
Peyton Williams/Getty ImagesKendall Marshall may be a true point guard for North Carolina, but he might be awful in another school's offense.
At least, that's the takeaway from Basketball Prospectus writer Drew Cannon's interesting Tuesday ditty about point guards, in which Cannon explains why evaluating point guards is -- or at least should be -- the least zero-sum of any position on the court. Wing players and centers can, with minimal exceptions, be dropped into particular lineups without much of a perceived drop-off in their abilities. Point guards, on the other hand, are incredibly context-dependent, as Cannon shows in his breakdown of UNC point guard Kendall Marshall:
Here's the short version of what I'm talking about. Trade Kendall Marshall for Maryland's Terrell Stoglin or Pittsburgh's Ashton Gibbs. In either trade, both teams would be worse. Maryland and Pitt need their point guards to score because their other players can't create their own shots. Without Stoglin, Maryland would have tons of trouble scoring, even with Marshall zipping passes around -- their top scoring option would probably be freshman Nick Faust, who's been a fine player thus far but not capable of carrying an ACC offense. At Pitt, Nasir Robinson and Tray Woodall have been extraordinarily efficient thus far, but it's unlikely that would still be true if defenses could focus on them rather than Gibbs. And on a team like North Carolina, Marshall is the perfect point guard, just putting Harrison Barnes, John Henson, and Tyler Zeller in the best position to succeed. A guard whose value is more predicated on getting his own shot would destroy that balance.

Cannon runs through a few more examples -- Ohio State's Aaron Craft, Duke's Seth Curry, Wisconsin's Jordan Taylor. In each case (with the possible exception of Taylor, whose longtime scoring efficiency and low turnover rate make him a good candidate to succeed just about anywhere) each guard's performance is in many ways dictated by the personnel that surrounds him. Craft couldn't focus on his amazing perimeter defense and canny, opportunistic offensive play if the team around him wasn't so loaded with talent. Curry couldn't set up teammates the way Marshall does; Duke's offense would then have to run through its wing players and forwards, rather than Curry's perimeter scoring skill.

In adding to Cannon's point, John Gasaway writes that it's time to banish the term "true point guard" from the lexicon in much the same way intelligent basketball observers have banished everyone's favorite, and oft-cited but horribly unrevealing, "rebounding margin." John's key point, I think, is this: "Point guards come in all shapes and sizes."

That seems simplistic, but it's true. A point guard can be, say, Evan Turner, who was really a 6-foot-7 wingman doing his best impression (one good enough to win him the Naismith, no less) of a point guard. A point guard can be whatever its team needs it to be. If you merely need a very good setup man, then you can skew more toward the traditional description of a "true" point guard. If you need scoring from your point of attack, you can go in a different direction. Or, if the glove fits, you can play point guard by committee.

Any and all of these styles can work, depending on the team and the coach and the particular player. What matters is not what the player looks like or how tall he is or the raves he draws for "quarterbacking" his team, (though that can be just as important a function as any other, if more difficult to pinpoint). What matters is how this player -- or players' -- perform. Does he keep turnovers low? Does he make the lineup around them better? Does he accentuate his team's strengths? Does he minimize its weaknesses? Does he fit?

The search for a "true point guard" is inherently frustrating. It asks the searchers to compare practical reality with a vague ideal. Most players don't fit inside such peremptory classifications. Each is different, and each has the potential to be effective in variable ways on variable teams with variable traits each their own.

Is Marshall a "true point guard?" Is he the truest of them all? It doesn't matter. He's a fantastic fit at UNC, and that's all that does.


Hopefully, you ignored college football. Hopefully, you procrastinated putting up your Christmas decorations. Hopefully, after Kentucky's thrilling win over North Carolina this afternoon, you stayed plopped in that couch groove, remote in one hand and snacks in the other, ready to flip from one hoops affair to the next.

Why? Because UK-UNC was merely this Saturday's opening salvo. Sure, it was the best and most important and most entertaining and most talented and most insert-your-adjective-of-choice-here game of the day. But it wasn't the only one. Let's run through the rest of this afternoon's action -- beginning with Xavier's remarkable comeback win over Purdue. (Tu!)

No. 11 Xavier 66, Purdue 63: Technically, a brief glance at the Game Flow illustration in the link to the left tells the story here. The Purdue lead was 20-6 after 10 minutes. It was 33-22 after 20 minutes. It was -- get this -- 55-36 after 30 minutes. Then, in the final 10 minutes, and especially the final five, Xavier staged a marvelous comeback, ending the game on a 30-8 run and holding on in the end to get the most unlikely of wins.

You can look at the box score and know this, and therefore know the story of the game. But believe me when I say this is one you had to see to believe. In particular, you needed to see X guard Tu Holloway, whose late-game transformations -- Holloway goes from inefficient to "oh my God, did you just see that?!?" -- are one of the strangest and most compelling performance storylines in college basketball this season. It pains me to say this, but in his past two games, Tu Holloway became college basketball's Tim Tebow. (I know, I know. I couldn't resist.)

As in Xavier's victory at Vanderbilt on Monday, Holloway was pedestrian to downright bad for much of Saturday afternoon. Before the final five minutes, he was borderline invisible, when he wasn't committing one of his six turnovers, that is. And then, just as it did Monday night in Nashville, something clicked. After the five-minute mark, Holloway went 3-of-4 and scored 13 of his 21 total points, including the three consecutive dagger 3s he stuck in the closing moments when his team needed them most. He won the game with his shooting and finished it off with his free throws.

It's strange, this lightbulb that seems to click only in the closing moments. But whatever it is that goes off in Holloway's head when the game is on the line in the closing moments, Xavier fans will take it. Thanks in large part to Holloway's late-game heroics, the Musketeers end this week with two crucial nonconference wins over two power-six teams, one of which came on the road.

There's a ton of season left, but would anyone want to draw the Muskies in an elimination game right now? For all its occasional struggles -- and by occasional, I mean "for the first 35 minutes of any given game" -- this Xavier team not only appears to be balanced and talented, but also appears to be as difficult an out as any team in the country. If you're up on the Musketeers, you better bury them deep. As long as Holloway's on the floor and the lead is mathematically in reach, you're never, ever safe.

As for Purdue, Matt Painter and Co. will certainly be unhappy to lose a game they controlled for so long in such heartbreaking fashion. And the sight of Robbie Hummel wincing at the end of the Boilermakers bench -- Hummel was crippled by apparently excruciating cramps for much of the afternoon -- was certainly an unwelcome one. But there are bright sides. For one, Hummel's injuries were merely cramps. (Seeing the Purdue senior, in the midst of a heartwarming comeback from two major ACL surgeries, hold his leg after contact is the quickest way this side of an Eli Roth movie to feel one's stomach turn in knots.)

More important, it should be noted that Purdue was the vastly superior team for much of the game. A loss is a loss, of course; no distinction will be made for its type during the résumé comparison season in early March. But the Boilers can take something from this game. They were the better team for its majority -- on the road, in a tough environment, against an experienced and talented team, with its best player cramping late -- and at the end of the day, maybe that's what's worth remembering.

No. 16 Marquette 61, No. 7 Wisconsin 54: Make no mistake: Marquette is a good team. Arguably a very good one. Even without star Jimmy Butler, last season's do-everything scorer, rebounder, glue guy and teammate extraordinaire, the Golden Eagles are still very good.

Even so, this is a borderline shocking result. Why? Because Wisconsin doesn't lose at home, like, ever. Before Saturday, in 11 seasons under Bo Ryan, UW was 156-11 at the Kohl Center. The Badgers were working on a 23-game home winning streak against all opponents; the last time they lost a nonconference home game was Dec. 23, 2008. So for the Golden Eagles to come in and get a win in this underrated in-state hoops rivalry -- well, yeah, that's a shocker, no matter how good this Marquette team is.

Of course, the Badgers gave Marquette the opportunity almost from the starting tip. Wisconsin posted an uncharacteristically awful shooting performance Saturday afternoon, particularly in the first half, when the Badgers scored just 22 points and found themselves in a 10-point hole at halftime. Things improved slightly in the second, but UW still finished 16-of-50 from the field and 5-of-19 from 3. For a team averaging 44 percent from 3 and 50 percent from 2 this season -- a team that relies on slowly working the ball in pursuit of a high-percentage final shot -- that simply won't get it done.

Wisconsin's slow pace -- its greatest advantage at times -- also makes it very difficult for the Badgers to mount a comeback. They tried, and cut the lead to within striking distance late in the second half even despite a tough charging call on point guard Jordan Taylor that cost the Badgers a three-point play and sent Taylor to the bench with his fourth foul. But Marquette was just as good down the stretch. Guard Darius Johnson-Odom didn't have a hugely efficient night (17 points on 15 shots), but anytime he can get his 18-foot step-back jumper off, it becomes an unstoppable offensive weapon. Meanwhile, Marquette is getting good contributions from sophomore Vander Blue and freshman guard Todd Mayo (younger brother of O.J.).

Wisconsin may have shot itself in the foot in this one -- not unlike Tuesday's close call at North Carolina -- but Marquette deserves the credit. The Golden Eagles took advantage early, made enough plays to finish the game and in the process notched one of the biggest wins of Buzz Williams' ever-promising tenure at the program. Impressive stuff.

Illinois 82, No. 18 Gonzaga 75: Maybe Gonzaga beats Illinois on a neutral court. But maybe not.

That's the feeling one got while watching this game, in which Illinois -- a young team but one with talent, which is something yours truly has been saying all season -- never looked overmatched or overwhelmed against a ranked Bulldogs team with designs on a deep tournament run. A little like UK-UNC, this win didn't feel like the benefit of home-court advantage as some deciding factor. Illinois can play with people. Now we know.

[+] EnlargeMeyers Leonard
AP Photo/Robert K. O'DaniellSophomore Meyers Leonard's second-half surge helped Illinois to the upset of visiting Gonzaga.
Of special note? Illinois forward Meyers Leonard. The sophomore missed much of the first half thanks to foul trouble, but he returned in the second with a determined style of play. The end result: 21 points and 6 rebounds on 9-for-11 shooting from the field. Those are impressive tallies any way you slice them, but considering Leonard posted those numbers while matched up with Gonzaga center Robert Sacre, they're doubly so. Throw in the balanced performances from starters D.J. Richardson (19 points), Brandon Paul (13 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds) and Sam Maniscalco (10 points, 6 assists, 4 rebounds) and, well, don't look now, but this Illinois team might well be better than last season's disappointing senior-led squad. It certainly looked the part Saturday.

No. 17 Pittsburgh 61, Tennessee 56: In Maui, the Tennessee Volunteers proved themselves to be a flawed but hard-nosed and pesky bunch, one that would refuse to roll over for their apparently more talented opponents. That quality was on full display against Pitt, which led UT by eight with 1:46 to go. That's when the Vols began fouling, and after an elbow cost guard Ashton Gibbs a technical foul -- and gave Tennessee the customary shots and possession -- the Panthers missed the front end of two one-and-ones and watched as Trae Golden's 3 cut the lead to 58-56 with 11 seconds remaining.

It wasn't pretty, but the Panthers pulled this one out after forcing a jump ball on Tennessee's key possession late. They'll be thankful for that when seeding time comes around this spring. But let it be known: Tennessee was supposed to be rebuilding. That may be true. But don't tell the Volunteers. Because they aren't yielding anything in the meantime.

Other noteworthy results from the afternoon: The jury is still out on Iowa State; the Cyclones don't have any truly bad losses (at Drake is forgivable, and so is a home loss to UNI), but after Saturday's 75-65 loss at Michigan, Fred Hoiberg's rebuilt team hasn't made us sit up and take notice either. ... Ryan Boatright's home debut after a six-game NCAA rules suspension went swimmingly: The freshman guard scored 23 points and led his team to a game-opening 14-2 run in what was arguably a struggling UConn team's most impressive performance of the year, a 75-62 victory over Arkansas. ... Usually, UCLA-Texas is a marquee game. Not this season. The Bruins are now 2-5 after today's home loss to the Longhorns, which was briefly interrupted by a power surge that caused the lights to dim in the aging Los Angeles Sports Arena, UCLA's temporary home. One imagines Ben Howland would have preferred the lights stay off. ... BYU played at the home of the Utah Jazz (hey, there's nothing going on there) and dusted off Oregon with a 13-0 run in the second half of its impressive 79-65 win. Noah Hartsock led the way with 23 points and 12 boards for the Cougars. In other news, the Horizon League began conference play -- yes, conference play -- on Saturday, with the two biggest results a 77-71 overtime win by Valpo at Butler and Cleveland State's 66-61 win at preseason Horizon favorite Detroit. We know to never count out Butler (or Detroit if Eli Holman ever returns), but it's becoming apparent that the Crusaders and Vikings are the teams to beat in the Horizon.

Over the summer, it appeared Ashton Gibbs was preparing to be Pittsburgh's de facto do-everything guard. He was already one of the nation's best pure shooting guards; despite his quirky release, in 2011 Gibbs posted a 127.9 offensive rating thanks to a 60.9 effective field goal percentage and a 64.3 true shooting percentage. When Gibbs came off a screen or caught an inside-out pass from one of Pittsburgh's countless offensive rebounds, his shot usually went in.

But to get to the NBA -- where shooting guards are typically bigger and much more athletic -- Gibbs will have to prove he can play some point, too. The question, then, was whether he could do so and still have an effective senior season for a team in the thick of the national title chase.

As SI.com's Luke Winn proved (in handy chart form!) in his first 2011-12 power rankings, Gibbs was one of the more shoot-first guards in the country last season. The expectation that he would suddenly change that tendency in one season seems unrealistic. He might be more versatile, but he can't be a distribution-minded point guard and a hyper-effective spot-up shooter at the same time. Which means Pittsburgh guard Travon Woodall, a three-year contributor getting his chance to start as a junior, will have to inherit a very important role in the makeup of Pittsburgh's offense. Is he ready?

According to Pittsburgh assistant Pat Sandle, the backcourt transformation won't be quite as pronounced as Gibbs might have expected over the summer. Woodall is going to take over the majority of the pass-first point guard responsibilities, leaving Gibbs to focus on what he does best -- making shots. From the Post-Gazette:
"[Distributing] comes naturally to him," Sandle said. "Because Ashton is such a dynamic shooter we didn't want to take that away from him. We want him to concentrate on moving without the ball and getting his shots. Tray can get into the gaps and make plays. Traditionally, that's what we're looking for."

Of course, Woodall is also going to have to knock down a few shots: He shot just 29 percent from three last season, and his effective field goal percentage was a paltry 42.9 percent. He's been in the gym all summer, and he says he expects his percentage to "shoot up tremendously just based on me being confident shooting the ball." If so, Pittsburgh's backcourt will get a major boost. But if teams can focus on Gibbs, shading him closely on screens and leaving Woodall standing near the three-point line, the Panthers usually reliable offense could struggle -- at least early in the season. We'll see.

Video: College basketball's top seniors

July, 27, 2011
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Eamonn Brennan takes a look at a few of the top soon-to-be seniors in college basketball. To read about who Doug Gottlieb thinks are the top dozen returning seniors, click here. Insider
For the next month or so, our friends at The Mag are previewing one high-profile school per day for their Summer Buzz series. For the sake of all that is synergistic, yours truly will be attempting the same, complementing each comprehensive Insider preview with some adjusted efficiency fun. Today's subject: the Pittsburgh Panthers. Insider

If you've been hanging out this summer, you'll remember this visit with Pittsburgh guard Ashton Gibbs at the Nike Skills Camp in Chicago. Gibbs, who might be the purest shooting guard in the college game, was participating in the Deron Williams Skills Academy. Naturally, he was surrounded by point guards, players used to facilitating teammates and finding their own shots. Gibbs, on the other hand, has been a curl-screen-and-spot-up 2 guard for his entire career. So why sign up for a point guard camp?

Gibbs' reasons were both collective and individual. To have a shot at the NBA -- the senior tested the waters before returning to Pitt this spring -- he has to prove to scouts that he is capable of playing a combo role; he lacks the size and athleticism most NBA scouts want in modern shooting guards. More pressing, though, is coach Jamie Dixon's need for Gibbs to do so much more with the ball in his hands. The Panthers are going to remain as tough as ever on the interior. The steady inertia of Dixon's program practically guarantees it. But for the first time in recent years, questions exist. Chief among them: Can Gibbs do what he's done in his first three seasons -- hyper-efficient spot-up shooting, basically -- while also taking a larger and more diverse command of the offense?

In today's Summer Buzz, ESPN Insider LaRue Cook delved into the Synergy scouting data Insider to prove just how drastic a change this might be:
According to Synergy Sports, more than half of Gibbs' plays last season were spot-ups or screens, and nearly 50 percent of his jumpers were of the catch-and-shoot variety. In other words, Gibbs wasn't generating a ton of points for himself or for others on his own. So Big East teams would be foolish not to double every time he crosses half court, meaning those reserves and blue-chip recruits Dixon keeps stocked better be ready to produce. If not, Pitt won't have an easy march to its 11th consecutive Dance.

Anyone who's watched Gibbs the past three seasons recognizes as much. He's at his best running to space off the ball, where he utilizes screens in classic, fundamental ways. It's as simple as reading your defender and deciding whether to curl, fade or slip; well-coached eighth graders learn this stuff, but so few players execute it well at the college level. Gibbs, on the other hand, is as good as anyone. If not better.

There is some good news here. For one, despite the loss of guard Brad Wanamaker, Pittsburgh does have a suitable replacement in junior Travon Woodall, who notched an assist rate of 28.6 percent in reserve duty last season. Likewise, Pitt's main offensive attack in 2011 came thanks to offensive rebounding, and while the Panthers will no doubt miss the bruising presence of Gary McGhee on the offensive boards, it retains Nasir Robinson (who grabbed a promising 9.5 percent of available offensive rebounds despite playing next to his rebound-hogging counterpart) and will add a top-ranked center (and arguably the highest-profile recruit of Dixon's tenure) in forward Khem Birch. Many of Gibbs' open looks came as the result of rebounds and kick-outs. It's fair to assume many of those same looks will be available in 2012, too.

In other words, Pittsburgh's not going to stop rebounding the ball. That's the most important feature of this team, one that has kept its offense among the nation's best for the past few seasons. But the Panthers weren't just a chuck-and-grab bunch like, say, West Virginia in 2011. They were also efficient before the ball hit the rim, hitting 39.5 percent of their 3s, the 12th-highest percentage in the country. Will those looks still exist for Gibbs? Will he be able to get them if he is the primary ball handler? Will defenses honor high ball screens, or will Gibbs face constant traps and hedges? And if he does, will he be able -- and this is one of the things he said he has worked on all summer, including at the Nike camps -- to attack those matchups with the panache of an experienced ball handler?

We know Pitt will rebound. We know it'll be tough inside. We know Robinson, whose crucial mistake led to Pitt's upset loss to Butler in the NCAA tournament, will be as durably motivated as ever. And we know Gibbs will be able to make open shots. What we don't know is how everything will work before the ball goes into the air. If Gibbs evolves into the multifaceted player he wants (and needs) to be, then there's little reason for concern. If Woodall is as capable as he was last season, then it might not matter. But if neither of those things happen, a team whose offense has drive its recent success will find itself struggling to score for the first time in years. That's not a welcome prospect for any Pitt fan. We'll see.


Letters From Camp are my dispatches from this weekend's Nike Skills Camps in Chicago, with more to come tomorrow.

CHICAGO -- Ashton Gibbs flirted with the NBA draft. The NBA draft did not flirt back.

At first glance, this dynamic might be difficult to understand. After all, Gibbs was a First Team All-Big East selection in 2011, an honor the Pittsburgh guard won thanks primarily to brilliant outside shooting. He was one of the most efficient scorers in the country last season. His offensive rating of 127.9 ranked him among the country's 20 best offensive players. Gibbs got the foul line frequently. His turnovers were infrequent. For the second straight year, his shooting was a lethal weapon, one that helped lead Pittsburgh -- one of the nation's best (and somehow most underrated) offensive teams -- to a Big East title and a No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA tournament.

Despite all that production, NBA scouts shared concerns about Gibbs's size, athleticism, ability to penetrate and create for teammates and -- perhaps more than anything -- whether or not Pittsburgh's lethal two-guard could play the two in the NBA. What about point guard? Could Gibbs make the switch?

After a couple weeks spent testing the waters (and a confusing miscommunication about his desire to stay in the draft), Gibbs realized he would have likely been a late second-round pick. So he returned to Pittsburgh for his senior season with an earful of feedback from NBA scouts and general managers.

That feedback helps explain Gibbs's presence at the Deron Williams Skills Academy Saturday, where Gibbs teamed up with -- and competed against -- a blend of the best returning and incoming point guards in all of college hoops. (About freshmen Marquis Teague and Tony Wroten Jr., who will attend Kentucky and Washington respectively, Gibbs said: "Those guys got a lot of confidence." Indeed they do.) The camp is heavy on strategic instruction designed for guards who spend lots of time with the ball in their hands -- the sort of tips Gibbs seemed to soak up like a sponge.

"It's all the little things," Gibbs said. "When to go and when not to go. How to read the defense. Learning how to make reads off of pick and rolls. Decision-making is big."

This seems like a minimal adjustment, but it's not. In his past two seasons, guard Brad Wanamaker has facilitated much of Pittsburgh's offense, while Gibbs has been the Panthers's designated knockdown shooter. Gibbs comes off screens as well as anyone in the college game, and his lightning-quick release meant the ball experienced only brief stopovers in the shooting guard's hands before it began its arcing departure toward the rim.

Now, with Wanamaker gone, Gibbs will likely be called on to facilitate his teammates' offense as much as his own. He'll play some combo guard, some pure point guard, and some pure shooting guard as junior guard Travon Woodall steps into a larger role in the backcourt and the Panthers incorporate two highly ranked freshmen centers Khem Birch and Malcolm Gilbert into a frontcourt that still includes Nasir Robinson but lost rugged forwards Gilbert Brown and Gary McGhee to graduation.

Fortunately for Gibbs -- or for his draft stock, at least -- Pittsburgh coach Jamie Dixon's new lineup will require Gibbs to be more aggressive. He'll have to get to the rim. He'll need to initiate offense. But he'll also have to do what he does best.

"You still have to knock down open shots, and that's what I do," Gibbs said. "But it's about doing a lot of the little things differently."

It's a series of subtle changes. But if Gibbs can recalibrate his game ever so slightly -- if he maintain his production while introducing new tools to the arsenal -- then Pittsburgh is in for a much-needed monster season from the talented senior.

And when Gibbs initiates his second contact with the NBA in 2012, maybe this time the interest won't be quite so one-sided.

Texas adds another guard to recruiting class

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Texas was one of the losers at the NBA draft deadline as Jordan Hamilton and Cory Joseph were among the players who decided to leave school. With the Longhorns also losing Dogus Balbay and Jai Lucas, who each completed their eligibility, the team needed another guard.

That issue appeared to be taken care of Monday when former Maryland signee Sterling Gibbs, the younger brother of Pitt standout Ashton Gibbs, announced his commitment to Texas on Twitter.

Sterling Gibbs was released from his letter of intent following the retirement of Gary Williams, who described the 6-foot-1 Gibbs on signing day as "a very smart point guard." According to the Washington Post, the writing was on the wall with the arrival of new coach Mark Turgeon.
The new coach said that if any recruits did not stay in the fold that it would be a mutual decision. This past Saturday, when Turgeon took a commitment from junior guard Seth Allen of Fredericksburg Christian, it was a clear indication that he was willing to part ways with Gibbs. Turgeon had recruited Allen when he was at Texas A&M and Allen said the two had developed a strong coach-player relationship.

In Gibbs, Texas gains a player who it could potentially play alongside J'Covan Brown and Myck Kabongo, the McDonald's All-American point guard from Canada who is expected to make an immediate impact.

It's also some positive news for the Longhorns, who have been hurt by the unexpected departures to the NBA and even seen state senators criticize a $200,000 raise for coach Rick Barnes amidst a state budget crisis.
It's important to be confident. It's important to be self-assured. These are the things you hear from your teachers, parents, Intro to Psych professors, self-help authors and daytime TV talk-show hosts. If you don't love yourself, how you can love anyone else?

Good advice, I suppose. Thing is ... what if you're not supposed to be confident? What if a certain situation requires not only humility, but a keen, mature understanding of one's personal or professional limitations? What if, sometimes, the best long-term decisions are made in that frame of mind?

There is a point to all this rambling, and it's about Ashton Gibbs, the Pittsburgh junior who, to the surprise of many, entered his name in the 2011 NBA draft earlier this month. Gibbs has not hired an agent and his decision was initially described as exploratory, but the sharpshooting guard told CBS's Jeff Borzello (proud owner of three Blackberries) that he was 100 percent certain on his plans to stay in the draft:
“When I entered the draft, I entered to get drafted,” Gibbs said. “I feel like I can play on that level and I’m looking forward to the challenge.”

The problem here, simply put, is that Gibbs needs another year in college basketball. He's a fantastic shooter and scorer, but he's a little too small and a little too unathletic to just be a scorer in the NBA. Gibbs would probably work best in the league as a combo guard -- someone who can create plays for teammates, too -- and those skills might be best acquired with another year under Jamie Dixon at Pittsburgh.

The NBA seems to agree with this assessment. Gibbs isn't listed as a first- or second-round pick in any notable mock drafts. ESPN.com's Chad Ford doesn't even list Gibbs in his top 100.

Which is where that whole confidence-versus-doubt dynamic comes into play. Gibbs is a very skilled, elite Division I athlete. From a young age, every coach worth his salt has been telling him to compete with hard-nosed defiance, to work every day at proving he's making the most of his prodigious talent, to never accept failure as an outcome. It's not hard to figure out why Gibbs would take his marginal draft status as a challenge; that's what top athletes are supposed to do.

Still, at this point, the benefits of returning to school far outweigh the riskiness of this year's lockout-riddled draft for most prospects. Gibbs is no different. In other words, let's hope the young star's confidence doesn't lead him to an inadvisable decision. Sometimes, you have to know your limits.

(Update: According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Gibbs will make his decision in "a week or so." It's also worth noting that he seems far less determined to stay in the draft than his statements to Borzello might indicate.)

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