Czar Star: Austin Rivers

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Beyond the Lottery: Kyle Singler

Kyle Singler started for legendary Coach Mike Krzyzewski all four of his years at national power Duke University. In his junior year, the 6’9” 230-pound small forward was named Most Outstanding Player at the Final Four after leading the Blue Devils to their fourth national title.

The fact that Duke occupies a glamorous and envied position in the realm of college hoops motivates their opponents throw it into overdrive and battle with added intensity. Playing in the ferociously competitive Atlantic Coast Conference, Singler was tested night in and night out by elite athletes, including many with professional potential and aspirations. He participated in 148 games in this collegiate pressure cooker and averaged more than 17 ppg and 7 rpg in his final three seasons in Durham. Singler accepted whatever role Coach K asked him to occupy, and this translated into his being on the court 87 percent of the time during his junior and senior years.

Singler had season highs of 30 points and 12 rebounds and played all 40 minutes six different times this past year. An unselfish player with good hoops instincts, Singler can pass the ball, rebound the ball and play in transition. At 23 years old, the Oregon native possesses the maturity on and off the court to make his transition to the NBA more easily than a more talented, but less experienced underclassman.

There are a number of reasons a player like Singler will not be selected in the lottery. He tends to play below the rim due to his average athleticism and can be a liability on the defensive end where he lacks the lateral quickness necessary to stay in front of sleek, explosive perimeter players. However, on the flip side Singler’s experience, basketball-IQ, good size for a number 3 and willingness to accept his role on the court and then execute with a high-energy motor will make him a solid addition to an NBA team.

Gameday Dish: Bulls vs. Nets

The Chicago Bulls, 48-18, come to the Garden State tonight on a seven-game winning streak, tied with the Boston Celtics for tops in the Eastern Conference with sixteen regular season games remaining. They are 9-1 in their last 10 and the second stingiest team in the NBA in points allowed at 91.1 per game.

On this first official day of 2011 March Madness, coach Tom Thibadeau has two former NCAA Champions on his impressive roster: first-year Bull, ninth-year NBA vet PF Carlos Boozer (Duke-2001 National Champs) and fourth-year rubber band-man, rebounding stud Joakim Noah (U. of Florida-2006, 2007 National Champs).

However, both Bulls’ big men missed Chicago’s win at home over the Washington Wizards on Tuesday. Noah was out with the flu and Boozer missed his third straight game with a sprained left ankle. So far it seems that the former Gator will be in the lineup tonight, while the one-time Dukie will miss his fourth straight game.

The New Jersey Nets, 22-43, enter tonight’s inter-conference matchup on a five game W-streak, their longest victorious run in approximately five years. Coach Avery Johnson’s squad is a solid 18-16 at home this season. They bested the Boston Celtics on Monday night 88-79. Newly acquired, All-Star PG Deron Williams led the Nets with 16 points, 9 dimes, 6 boards and 3 swipes. Third-year C Brook Lopez added 20 points against the C’s. The Nets are undefeated in March and a big factor has been the 7-footer out of Stanford. During this winning stretch Lopez has averaged 25.8 ppg, 7.6 rpg and 3.6 blocks.

The Nets have 17 games left in their 2010-2011 campaign. They currently sit 5.5 games behind the Indiana Pacers for the last playoff spot in the East. The Bulls have lost 16 times in their last 17 visits to New Jersey and are 18-14 on the road compared to 30-4 at the United Center.

This evening’s contest is an important one for both sides. Each team wants to keep its respective winning streak rolling. With only a fifth of the regular season remaining, the Bulls need to stay hot and focused in order to compete with the Celtics for that top East seed. And if the Nets are to have any shot at the 2011 postseason, they’ll need to grab as many big W’s as they can from here on out.

In an equally compelling storyline, the results of the tie vote are in. Tune in to the Yes Network at 7:00 PM ET to find out which of my lucky green ties best captures the spirit of St. Patrick’s Day. Hope my partner Ryan Ruocco doesn’t show up wearing the same one.

Mike Looks Back: Villanova Then and Now

Prior to my NBA debut with Hubie Brown and the Hawks, I coached under Rollie Massimino at Villanova University from 1975-78. That was a period when Villanova turned it around and it was an exciting time in my career. We had some outstanding recruiting classes, which included the talented guard Rory Sparrow whom I would again coach at the NBA level in both Atlanta and New York. During my third season with the Wildcats we wound up the number one team in the Eastern Eight Conference. That year we made it to the NCAA Elite Eight after squeaking past Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers in the Sweet 16 round with a 61-60 victory, thanks in large part to Sparrow’s contributions on the court. Eventually we lost to the NCAA Tournament runners-up, the Duke Blue Devils, but we had a terrific run.

I have a lot of great memories from that chapter in my basketball career. And because of my rich experience and my relationships with coaches Rollie Massimino and Jay Wright, I’ve maintained ties to the program ever since. I remember the night Villanova upset heavily favored Georgetown to win the National Championship in 1985. I was a young head coach of the Atlanta Hawks. We were playing the Detroit Pistons at Joe Louis Arena that night. I found a cab driver before the game and paid him on the condition that he be waiting for me outside the arena when our game ended. As soon as we got finished with the press conference I raced back to the hotel to watch the game. The Wildcats were seeded eighth in their bracket and wound up defeating the No. 1 seeded Hoyas 66-64. What a night for Rollie – it was magical.

Photo by Elsa/Getty ImagesCoach Wright, who is in his ninth year as head coach, has developed the Wildcats into a top 25 fixture. Prior to joining Villanova, he was a successful head coach at Hofstra University and an assistant to Rollie at both Villanova and UNLV. While Villanova has had success in the past, most notably in 1985 when they captured the NCAA title, the basketball program is enjoying arguably its most prolonged period of success in its 81-year history. Last year, Villanova made its first Final Four appearance since the 1985 season when they lost to eventual National Champion North Carolina.

Coach Wright is a homegrown guy and follows in the footsteps of many other successful Big 5 coaches whose roots started in the Philadelphia area. He has shown a tremendous flair for recruiting, no doubt a result of his natural charisma and energy. Villanova now has a national recruiting pool from which to choose and looks poised to be a tough out in the NCAA tournament for years to come.

Wright’s teams are characterized by strong, tough guard play and an overall feistiness that allows them to compete effectively with bigger teams. The current team is no exception and is led by senior guard Scottie Reynolds, who hopes to bring his tremendous career at Villanova to an end with another deep tourney push. Villanova is also well-represented in the NBA right now with recent grads Randy Foye, Kyle Lowry and Dante Cunningham all contributing to their respective teams.

Villanova (2) will face St. Mary’s (10) in the second round of the 72nd Annual NCAA Championships this afternoon at 1:05 PM ET.