Welcome to our weekly feature: This Week In Hoops. Every Monday morning we’ll take a quick look back at what we learned from the last week of games and a look forward at this week’s slate. TWIH took an extended timeout during the NCAA Tournament because there were simply more important things to cover at the time. And now, it’s back and as good as ever.
What We Learned Last Week
- Sigh. Duke is our national champs. With surefire lottery picks Jahlil Okafor and Justise Winslow battling foul trouble the entire game, the Blue Devils needed clutch contributions from freshman guards Tyus Jones and Grayson Allen. Bo Ryan made some questionable choices down the stretch and the officials were far from acceptable, but the way Jones played in crunch time, Duke was going to win that game. Coach K cements his place as the best coach since John Wooden, Winslow and Okafor head to the draft, and the ACC fears what Grayson Allen could become next year.
- Kentucky’s perfect season ended in the Final Four with a loss to Wisconsin. A week later, the Wildcats’ top SEVEN scorers declared for the NBA Draft. For Karl-Anthony Towns, Willie Cauley-Stein, and Trey Lyles, this decision was a no-brainer. The Harrison twins found themselves in a tough spot. Scouts aren’t very high on them, but staying another year won’t do much good. They’ll get drafted, but who knows when. Dakari Johnson and Devin Booker certainly could have capitalized on a chance to shine next season, but like every Kentucky player in recent years, they had to have a bit of a fear of being out-recruited. Sure, Dakari Johnson would see more playing time with Towns and WCS gone, though Haitian sensation Skal Labissiere makes his way to Lexington next year. I can’t blame them for leaving. Both will be first round picks and leaving too soon beats leaving too late.
- The NBA still exists! March’s biggest storyline has to be the issues in Oklahoma City. No one who watches basketball can feel right about Kevin Durant’s foot issues. Whether they are creeping and chronic or the Thunder medical staff was just too aggressive, the situation does not bode well for his future. Meanwhile, despite wild efforts from Russell Westbrook, the team finds themselves on the outside of the playoff race. If they were to miss the boat, can you fire Scott Brooks when his team was short-handed for so much of the year? What will grow louder. KD to DC rumors or Russ to LA rumors?
The Week Ahead
In College Basketball
Well, no more games. Important thing to watch for this week and in the coming weeks: transfers. With the new “Russell Wilson Rule”, seniors who have graduated and are eligible to play next season have become hot free agents. Keep an eye and ear out for where players like Drexel’s Damien Lee end up. You may see something here at Palestra Back on the subject in the near future…
In the NBA
There’s 5 things to watch for in the season’s final week:
1. Jockeying for seeding will be key and I’m not sure there’s a more important race than the one between Chicago and Toronto for the 3rd seed in the East. Both Atlanta and Cleveland would probably rather see Toronto in their half of the bracket than have to battle the Bulls in the second round. The Hawks play the Bulls on Wednesday, possibly withe chance to decide the Bulls’ fate.
2. Seeding in the West is a mess. Other than the Warriors, the rest of the playoff teams find themselves in a high stakes game of Rock-Paper-Scissors. Most would love to avoid the surging Spurs. Many might want a crack at the suddenly hobbled Rockets or home court advantage against the nicked up Trailblazers. None of the teams in the mix of 3rd-6th seeds play each other this week, so look for scoreboard watching and mini-tanking to set-up preferred match-ups.
3. At the bottom of the Western Conference playoff picture, the Thunder still find themselves on the outside looking in. It could come down to Wednesday, when OKC gets the floundering Timberwolves, while the Pelicans take on the hot Spurs.
4. The battle to sneak into the Eastern Conference playoffs is just as competitive, but between teams that are much, much worse. It’s truly sad that either Anthony Davis or Russell Westbrook will be sent home while two of Boston, Brooklyn, Indiana, and Miami will play a first round series. There’s nothing about that seems fair.
As for those spots in the playoffs, Boston and Brooklyn are in the driver’s seat. Brooklyn has no reason to slip into the lottery (they don’t own their own pick), while the Heat might be alright with securing some ping pong balls (the send their pick to Philadelphia if it falls outside the top 10).
5. Speaking of which, pick protections come into full focus this week, with no team scoreboard watching more than the Sixers. They still have hope for 4 first round picks, though Miami and OKC haven’t been eager to help that cause. Wednesday’s Miami-Philly game might end in a scoreless tie.
In Palestra Back
First off, I need to mention the logo at the top of the homepage. Originally designed by my girlfriend Emily, it will now be featured in a variety of colors, that will change every once in while. You may have noticed the changes recently. And you might have added up that the current color scheme honors our national champs, the Duke Blue Devils. Sometimes the color will have meaning and other it will just be for fun.
Also, you may have wondered over the past week or so, “What is Shane going to write about now that college basketball has ended?”. I’d be lying if I said the same thought hadn’t gone through my own head.
Fear not, my loyal readers. The NBA playoffs will provide plenty of intrigue over the coming months, with the draft and free agency following. I’m a draft nerd, so the weeks leading up will have TONS of coverage. This Week in Hoops won’t run regularly throughout the summer, but a tweaked version of Tuesday Top Tens will (a pre-NBA playoffs/final college rankings edition will run tomorrow). I’ve been saving some of my more fun, but less time sensitive ideas for the seemingly empty season coming up. There’s a note in my phone where 30+ fun and goofy future blog posts live right now. I’ll have tons of rankings, debates, and looks into the past and future throughout the summer.
These days, basketball never slows down, and neither will Palestra Back. The fun has just begun.
Enjoy the games this week.
(Note: Every edition of This Week in Hoops will end with a song. I’ve compiled all of these songs into a playlist that you can find here.)
Shane McNichol is the founder, editor, and writer at PalestraBack.com. He has also contributed to SALTMoney.org and ESPN.com. Follow him on Twitter @OnTheShaneTrain.
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