Saturday, February 23, 2013

Marquette Sings the Vander Blues

In winning 5 of their last 6 games, the Villanova Wildcats have applied a brand of physical defense that we're very accustomed to seeing in the Big East. Bodying up the opposition, harassing the guards as they bring the ball up the court and not letting opposing players get into the paint are just a few of the characteristics of Jay Wright's squad.

On Saturday evening, they applied those tactics to shut down one of the best scorers in the Big East.

Entering the contest, Vander Blue averaged 17.5 points. He likes to get into the lane, which helps create easy baskets for him and his teammates. If he's effective penetrating early, Blue can also start to get some open looks for his jumper. But his recent run of solid play came to an end Saturday.

This situational SnapCall asked players to predict which Wildcat would be tasked with guarding Blue for a five-play stretch in the first half. Ryan Arcidiacono guarded the Marquette playmaker for two plays on this sequence, but split duties with Darrun Hilliard, James Bell and Tony Chennault. 

The Villanova guards took turns bodying up and frustrating Blue. Coach Buzz Williams even saw fit to bench his star for a stretch at the end of the first half because he wasn't effective enough.

With Darrun Hilliard assuming a larger role in the offense, and with the defense starting to tighten up, a team like Villanova can easily become dangerous in March. Playmaking guards, athletic wings and shot-blocking bigs provide a solid foundation for a team looking to make a run in the tournament.

Clemson's Inability to Pass Leads to Blowout Loss

Distribution is an essential part of the game of basketball. If a team cannot effectively pass the ball, it relegates itself to an offensive scheme consisting of a series of one-on-ones. It’s difficult to win that way, especially without a bench full of ballers.

That was the trouble for Clemson in their 72-59 loss against Maryland. They simply do not have enough playmakers to warrant their one-on-one offense. Sure, Devin Booker is good for double digit points every game, but isolation-only offensive renders the Tigers predictable and prone to stretches of stagnation.

SnapCall Question
All of this should have come as no surprise to any fan of the Tigers. After all, Clemson is one of the 50 worst teams in the country in assists per game.

Maryland, on the other hand, excels at distributing the ball. They entered the game averaging 15.3 assists per game, good for 33rd in the nation.

It was clear that Maryland would record more assists than Clemson, but only the best SnapCall players could predict rebounding margin.

As the box score indicates, Maryland’s guards had superior court vision and knew how to distribute the ball. Nick Faust, Seth Allen and Dez Wells combined to account for 13 of the Terrapins’ 19 assists.

For Clemson to have had any shot in this game, they needed to shrink the gap in assists, but as the results clearly show, the Tigers were unable to do that. They finished with just 10 assists, half of which were recorded after the game was already out of reach.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Nikola Pekovic's Hot Streak Comes to an End Against the Thunder

The Minnesota Timberwolves' season has been derailed by a steady string of injuries. First Ricky Rubio went down, then Kevin Love, then Alexey Shved and finally Andrei Kirilenko. One after the other, they fell like dominos and Minnesota's once hopeful season fell apart.

However, if there has been one bright spot - particularly as of late - it's been the play of Nikola Pekovic. The 6-foot-11 center leads the team in scoring, and in February he's been the engine driving the team. In fact, in the T'Wolves' recent win over the 76ers, Pekovic dropped 27 points and hauled in a season-high 18 rebounds.

SnapCall Question
Granted, Pekovic did put up those monster numbers against a below-average Philadelphia unit that lacks any real down low presence due to Andrew Bynum's prolonged absence.

So the real question coming into tonight's game between Minnesota and Oklahoma City was, could Pekovic maintain his recent hot streak when up against stiff competition?

As the correct response indicates, Pekovic ran into Kendrick Perkins, OKC's defensive buzzsaw. Pekovic struggled to get anything going against the Thunder center.

Pekovic was unable to maintain position on the block, and after Ricky Rubio made a few unsuccessful attempts early on to get his center involved, Minnesota gave up trying to run its offense through the post.

For the rest of the night, Pekovic was either sitting on the bench or lost on the court. He played just 22 minutes - the fewest he had since January 5 - and scored only 5 points, his lowest total in over a month.

While the Montenegrin center was playing like a man possessed - at least by Minnesota's meager standards - it turns out that all good things must come to an end.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

NBA Trade Deadline a Big Yawn

While the trade deadline over the past few years has spurred the movement of superstars such as Deron Williams and Carmelo Anthony, this year’s deadline will be remembered for its lack of exciting deals.

Josh Smith, Paul Millsap and Monta Ellis were all rumored to be on the move due to their valuable expiring contracts. As the deadline passed, all three stayed put. 

The prohibitive luxury tax in the NBA's new Collective Bargaining Agreement forces teams to determine whether a rental player is worth risking the future of the franchise. Teams clearly felt that Smith, Millsap and Ellis were not worth mortgaging their young talent or draft picks for short-term gains.

Though the stars didn't end up packing their bags, the “big” deals that went down over the last 24 hours still involved a few playoff teams.

In this Majority Rules SnapCall, we asked the audience which deal has the biggest impact on the rest of the season. Remember: Majority Rules is a question type in SnapCall that asks the audience to guess the majority opinion to get the points.

Houston turned some of their spare parts into the 5th overall pick from last year's draft: Thomas Robinson. They sent Patrick Patterson and cap fillers to the Sacramento Kings for the former University of Kansas standout. Robinson figures to start at power forward and get major minutes for the 8th-seeded Rockets down the stretch of the season.

The major takeaway from this deal is the complete lack of vision that the Kings have for their roster. Sacramento has sold their franchise, and is set to move to Seattle. While trying to re-brand the entire organization, trading a player who was selected in the top-5 just eight months ago seems odd.

Another “major” deal was announced merely moments before Thursday's 3:00 pm deadline. Sharpshooter J.J. Redick being dealt to the 8th-seeded Milwaukee Bucks was not much of a surprise, but gives the Bucks some much needed depth at the guard position. Redick, and his career-high 15.1 points per game, will aid Milwaukee’s attempt to climb the standings and avoid facing the Miami Heat in the first round of the playoffs.

However, sitting above Milwaukee in the 7th-seed, are the Celtics. Boston made their own move for Jordan Crawford. They didn’t have to give up any of their major assets, and still added a productive backcourt scorer. Boston is gearing up for one last playoff run with Pierce and Garnett before father time catches up with them.

Join in the fun and download SnapCall from the iTunes App Store. See if you can gauge the audience's responses on a nightly basis!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Kyrie Irving Dishes Left, Shoots Right

Cleveland's 20-year-old phenom, Kyrie Irving, has taken the league by storm this season. Before he single-handedly stole Wednesday's game from New Orleans, Irving ranked sixth in the NBA with 23.5 points per game, outscoring big names such as Dwyane Wade and Russell Westbrook.

During All-Star Weekend, Bleacher Report mentioned Reggie Miller's praise for the first time All-Star. Miller claimed that the former Duke standout was already the most skilled point guard in the NBA, and referenced the fact that his ball-handling is on-par with Chris Paul's.

For those who need visual evidence, check out Kyrie dropping an ankle breaker on fellow NBA sophomore, Brandon Knight, in the BBVA Rising Stars Game.

After watching the highlights and listening to all the praise over the young point guard's handle, we decided to inquire further about his tendencies with a recent SnapCall.

The SnapCall results demonstrated that the young Cavalier favored his left ever-so slightly.

However, the real tendencies come into play when we break down each drive. On his three drives to the left, Kyrie blew by his defender each time with pure speed. Two of those drives resulted in him drawing an extra defender and kicking the ball out to the perimeter for an assist. The other drive to the left led to a step-back jumper, which clanked hard off the rim.

On his two drives to the right, he was able to create offense for himself. The first time he was matched up against the defensively-inept Austin Rivers. He crossed the young Hornet over and was able to finish for an easy layup. The other slash to the rim ended with a smooth five-foot floater that hit nothing but net.

While Irving is most definitely a nightmare to defend in a one-on-one situation, when going left he seems to lack the aggressiveness to take it all the way to the rim and finish. Defenders who force him in left may see slightly better results than those who try to play him straight-up.

Tune in next time SnapCall covers the Cleveland Cavaliers to prove that you're more prepared to answer our questions than any of your friends.

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

It's Official. Missouri's Mascot Would Dominate Florida's in a Fight

We're not all about X's and O's here at SnapCall Sports. We want to inform and enlighten, but at our core, SnapCall Sports is entertainment.

SnapCall Off-Point
Tonight's matchup between the Florida Gators and Missouri Tigers got us thinking, which would win in a fight? A tiger or a gator?

As the results of this SnapCall indicate, the audience agreed that the jungle cat would dominate the swamp lizard.

Of course, in the SnapCall offices here in Fort Lauderdale, we have a somewhat different opinion. This video of an alligator taking on a python may change minds.

And while any sort of mascot fight remains purely hypothetical, there was nothing hypothetical about Missouri's stunning upset win over the Gators.

Cody Zeller's Post Defense Is Good Enough...For Now

Cody Zeller leads Indiana, one of the most dangerous teams in the nation, in both scoring and rebounding. He was also named a midseason finalist for the Wooden Award and he's a top NBA Draft prospect because of his polished offensive post play. However, if there's one thing that the Hoosier star struggles with, it's defending the post.

Opposing Zeller down low, Derrick Nix, Michigan State's bruising 6-foot-9, 270 pound senior forward seemed poised to do some damage down low.  Enter SnapCall.

SnapCall Question
To the casual fan, the correct response to this SnapCall might have come as a surprise. But any true Spartan fan would have responded correctly because most wouldn't peg Nix as a pure scorer. After all, the Michigan State forward averages just 9.5 points per game and managed just 8 points the entire night and his first shot fell with just 1:49 remaining in the first half.

Even so, Nix significantly impacts the game in other ways. For example, those watching during the 5-possession stretch of our SnapCall question saw Nix set two on-ball screens at the high-post, both of which lead directly to Michigan State layups. He also got Zeller in the air with a pump fake, providing teammate Adreian Payne with an open cutting lane toward the rim. Nix then found Payne for an easy assist.

Also, Derrick Nix's aggressiveness on the offensive end is difficult to assess from the box score alone. Indeed, Cody Zeller was caught off-balance multiple times during those five possessions, allowing the Spartans some easy looks.

If those easy buckets made one thing clear, it's that Indiana's coaching staff needs to think about how to use Zeller's height on the defensive end in ways that will not leave him susceptible to abuse from stronger opponents. And while head coach Tom Crean eventually switched Christian Watford to Nix in order to get a more appropriate matchup in terms of strength, the Hoosiers' initial game plan was clearly lacking.

In the end, the Hoosiers were able to pull off an impressive road win in East Lansing. But they need to be careful with their defensive strategy moving forward. One win is nice, but 6 straight wins are required to become NCAA Champions.

To compete against your friends and the entire viewing audience during big games, download SnapCall Sports (free) from the App Store.

What is SnapCall?

We all like to play armchair quarterback, but are you actually better than your friends at predicting plays, coaching decisions, strategies, or results? How do you think your sports intuition stacks up against the entire TV audience?

These are age old arguments among friends that this massively multiplayer mobile game finally settles. Watch the video below as Yahoo! Sports columnist Jeff Passan -- a featured sportswriter for SnapCall Sports -- explains just how the games works.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Tray Woodall, an All-Time Pittsburgh Great?

Majority Rules
Over the past decade, Pittsburgh has been one of the grittiest teams in the Big East. While the Panthers have had few elite stars during head coach Jamie Dixon's tenure, they have had several legitimate stars.

During tonight's Pitt-Notre Dame game, we challenged SnapCallers to choose the best Pitt player over the past decade. We narrowed the list to three players and broadcast the question to the entire TV audience. Remember, Majority Rules means guessing the majority opinion of the audience, not simply responding with your personal opinion.

Let's take a look at the choices:

Tray Woodall: 2008-13
6-0 Guard from Brooklyn, New York.

Of course, Tray Woodall is still writing his story. When this season began, the Panthers were an afterthought. Now, thanks largely to the senior guard, Pitt is ranked 20th in the country.

Although Woodall's numbers may not jump off the page, his intangibles solidify his position on this list. The Captain's Award winner is a born leader and his hard-nosed perimeter defense sets the tone for Pitt.

DeJuan Blair: 2007-09
6-7 Forward from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Although the hometown hero has been inconsistent with the San Antonio Spurs, DeJuan's dominance displayed during his days as a Panther still bring back fond memories for Pitt fans.

This vertically undersized big man proved that you don't have to be tall to dominate the glass. In his final season at Pitt, DeJuan led the Big East -- and was fourth in the country -- in rebounds per game. His ability to get off the ground quickly allowed for countless second-chance opportunities.

In 2009, Blair dominated throughout the NCAA Tournament. Ultimately, his stock rose and he chose to take the leap to the NBA after just two years at Pitt.

Sam Young: 2005-09
6-6 Forward from Clinton, Maryland.

Here we have another player who dominated the 2009 NCAA Tournament. Right up to the Panters' Elite Eight loss to Villanova, Sam Young was nearly impossible to contain on either side of the court. He averaged 19.2 points and 6.2 rebounds per game that year, his last in Pittsburgh.

However, Young's most notable attribute was his on-ball defense. Night in and night out, Young locked down the opponent's biggest offensive threat. Even now, Young has carved out a role in the NBA as a reserve defender, currently with the Indiana Pacers.

Honorable mentions: Aaron Gray, Levance Fields and Ashton Gibbs.

Have an opinion? Tweet us @SnapCallSports or download the app for free from the App Store.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Miami Hurricanes: Overrated or Title Contender?

The University of Miami narrowly escaped with a 45-43 win over Clemson on Sunday, and with Duke's loss to Maryland on Saturday, the third ranked Hurricanes should move up a spot in the national polls.

SnapCall Poll
Scuffling as they did, Miami's lackluster performance against Clemson begs the question: is Miami overrated?

Let's attempt to answer that question by breaking down their performance against Clemson. In the first half, the 'Canes shot just 7-of-27 from the field, including an abysmal 1-of-10 from 3-point range. They scored a season-low 18 points, yet held a two point lead because the Tigers hit just one of their first 17 attempts from the floor.

Miami finished the game shooting a paltry 3-of-19 (16%) from 3-point range. Suffice it to say, the Hurricanes were fortunate to leave Littlejohn Coliseum with a win.

That said, one game does not make or break a team. So what about the statistics? Well, they don't make Miami's case as a title contender, either.

Entering Sunday, the 'Canes ranked 120th in rebounds per game and 240th in assists. The numbers often don't lie as Clemson had 9 assists to Miami's 8. Even more troubling is the fact that Miami doesn't lead the ACC in any major statistical category. In fact, they don't even rank in the top 5 in the conference in scoring, defense or rebounding.

When it comes to winning championships, star power is a major factor. A quick glance at Miami's roster and we know that they don't posses a Wooden Award candidate such as Duke's Mason Plumlee or Indiana's Cody Zeller. Sophomore guard Shane Larkin is a rising star for sure, but he is not yet among the nation's elite. Seniors Kenny Kadji and Durand Scott are reliable scorers, but neither player is what you would call a go-to guy.

While all of these facts seem to suggest Miami doesn't deserve their ranking, let's look at the alternatives. Michigan suffered back-to-back conference losses last week. Duke just dropped their third ACC game and Syracuse has lost three of their last six games. No. 5 Gonzaga is 12-0 in the West Coast Conference, but they lack quality wins.

Given the resume blotches of teams close to Miami in the national polls, it's hard to argue that the 'Canes are overrated. Although Sunday's win was an ugly one, at the end of the day, Miami is a perfect 12-0 in the ACC. It's just that kind of year in the college basketball.