Jeff Eisenberg

  • How Denzel Valentine evolved into a player of the year candidate

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 8 hrs ago

    Before flying to an AAU tournament the summer before his junior year in high school, Denzel Valentine asked Michigan State coach Tom Izzo what else he needed to do to earn a scholarship offer.

    Izzo's response was blunt. He wouldn't promise a scholarship until Valentine proved his outside shooting wasn't a liability.

    For the son of a former Michigan State star who grew up attending basketball camps at the Breslin Center and staying up past his bedtime watching Spartans games, Izzo's words were humbling yet inspirational. As soon as the meeting was over, Valentine headed straight to the gym, where for more than three hours put himself through shooting drill after shooting drill.

    "I had to drag him out of there," his dad Carlton Valentine said. "That's Denzel in a nutshell. If someone says he can't do something, he's going to work as hard as he can to prove them wrong."

    At halftime of Michigan State's victory over Providence in the Wooden Legacy title game last Sunday night, the greatest Spartan of them all paid Valentine the ultimate compliment.

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  • Three losses to unranked foes raise familiar questions about LSU

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 23 hrs ago

    It doesn't matter that LSU has the favorite to be taken No. 1 overall in next year's draft, a second incoming McDonald's All-American and a bevy of talented veterans.

    The Tigers still can't shake their reputation for being perennial underachievers.

    LSU lost its third straight game against an unranked opponent on Monday, falling 70-58 at College of Charleston. The Tigers trailed by 22 at halftime and never sliced the deficit to fewer than seven during a frantic second half.

    While narrow losses to Marquette and NC State at last week's Legend's Classic weren't exactly encouraging for LSU (3-3), the latest loss is far more worrisome. College of Charleston was projected to finish second-to-last in the Colonial Athletic Association preseason poll after going 9-24 last season. The Cougars have lost to Davidson and Coastal Carolina already this season and needed two late blocked shots in their previous game to hold off Western Carolina by a single point.

    It all added up to 31.1 percent shooting and a frustrating loss. Simmons was no less responsible than his teammates either, shooting 4 of 15 from the field and committing seven of LSU's 19 turnovers.

  • Winners and losers from the Thanksgiving week tournaments

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 1 day ago

    From the Maui Invitational, to the Battle 4 Atlantis, to the Wooden Legacy, Thanksgiving week featured a handful of marquee tournaments. Here's a look at which teams' stock rose and fell:


    1. SYRACUSE In a span of three days, Syracuse sent an emphatic message that it could be a factor in the ACC this season. The Orange dispatched of Charlotte, UConn and Texas A&M at the Battle 4 Atlantis to win the strongest tournament of them all. While seniors Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney are Syracuse's top players, freshmen Malachi Richardson and Tyler Lydon have been pleasant surprises. The Orange have yet to develop a bench and they're turning the ball over too often, but they're also controlling the offensive glass and shooting a blistering 41.1 percent from 3-point range as a team.

    Others whose stock rose: Michigan State, Vanderbilt, Providence, Marquette, Weber State, Iowa State, Villanova, UTEP, Cincinnati   


    Others whose stock fell: Boston College, Missouri, Tennessee, UAB, Notre Dame, Drexel, Texas, Illinois State, Rutgers

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  • Michigan State's supporting cast shows it can carry the load

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 1 day ago

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Bryn Forbes sank jump shots. Deyonta Davis scored efficiently around the rim. Eron Harris made his first meaningful contributions of the season.

    On a night when Denzel Valentine finally looked mortal, his supporting cast showed Michigan State doesn't need its national player of the year candidate to be superhuman in order to beat a quality opponent. Forbes, Davis and Harris combined for 42 points, helping the Spartans overcome a late four-point deficit to defeat Providence 77-64 in the championship game of the Wooden Legacy tournament.

    "It was great to see them step up on a stage like this in a championship game," Valentine said. "I can't have bad games like this, but it was good to know my teammates can pick up the slack when I struggle. Everything happens for a reason, and I think this will help us."

    It's a testament to how good Valentine has been this season that Sunday night's performance was his definition of struggling. The 6-foot-5 senior tallied 16 points, six rebounds and five assists, but early foul trouble threw his rhythm out of whack and led to a disjointed 5-for-14 shooting night.

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  • Magic Johnson on Kobe: 'Closest thing we've seen to Michael Jordan'

    Jeff Eisenberg at Ball Don't Lie 1 day ago

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — Hours after Kobe Bryant formally announced this would be his final NBA season on Sunday, the greatest Lakers legend of them all digested the news with a smile.

    Magic Johnson said he's thrilled that Bryant is retiring on his own terms and that the Lakers franchise can finally begin to rebuild in earnest without him.

    "I was going to support whatever he chose to do, but I think it's good for him and it's good for the Lakers organization to know they're going to move on without him," Johnson told Yahoo Sports at halftime of the Michigan State-Providence game. "It's good for everybody, even the fans. They know now too. Now everybody can get ready for the new Lakers after he's gone."

    Bryant announced his impending retirement in the form of a first-person story published Sunday on The Players' Tribune website. After a 20-year career spent entirely in Los Angeles, he wrote that "this season is all I have left to give."

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  • This hasn't been a November to remember for Boise State

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 days ago

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — When Boise State coach Leon Rice assembled the toughest non-league schedule in program history, he couldn't have predicted how November would unfold.

    He never expected the rash of injuries that has prevented his top players from developing into a cohesive unit during practice. Or the 36-12 disparity in free throw attempts that doomed his team to a season-opening loss at Montana. Or the scheduling quirk that led to his team facing 11th-ranked Arizona twice in 10 days with games against third-ranked Michigan State and mid-major power UC Irvine wedged in between.

    The result is a 3-4 start for a Boise State team projected by many to win the Mountain West this season. The Broncos looked the part for stretches of their 68-59 loss to Arizona in the third-place game of the Wooden Legacy tournament, but their rally from a 19-point second-half deficit fell a few big plays short.

    Boise State is 241st in the nation in points per possession surrendered so far, 200 spots worse than last season. The Broncos don't have a true center to alter shots at the rim, nor have they identified a defensive stopper capable of checking the opponent's top perimeter scorer.

  • Scoring change gives BYU star NCAA's career triple-double record

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 days ago

    Any BYU fans disappointed that Kyle Collinsworth fell one rebound shy of a record-setting triple-double on Saturday night awoke to some good news Sunday morning.

    Turns out the senior forward actually collected that last rebound after all.

    In reviewing the game film of its 95-81 victory over Belmont, BYU uncovered a first-half offensive rebound and shot attempt initially not credited to Collinsworth. The NCAA retroactively approved the scoring change on Sunday morning, giving Collinsworth his first triple-double of the season and a Division I record seven for his career.

    The rebound in question occurred with 2:54 left in the first half after Collinsworth missed a shot. According to a BYU release, Collinsworth "made a clear attempt to follow the missed shot with a left-handed tip, which missed and was secured by a Belmont player."

    Collinsworth finished with 26 points, 10 rebounds and 10 assists on Saturday night and also played excellent defense against Belmont star Craig Bradshaw.

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  • Another loss has injury-plagued Wichita State in a tough spot

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 2 days ago

    It's still only November, yet Wichita State is already in big trouble.

    The Shockers are running out of opportunities to amass the quality wins they'll need to land an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.

    Shorthanded as a result of injuries to star point guard Fred VanVleet, key backup Landry Shamet and top big man Anton Grady, Wichita State fell 84-62 to Iowa on Sunday, sealing a last-place finish at the Advocare Invitational in Orlando. The preseason top 10 Shockers are now 2-4 overall after previous losses to Tulsa, USC and Alabama.  

    Other programs from stronger conferences can overcome a poor start by stacking quality wins during league play, but Wichita State doesn't have that luxury. The Shockers have to get most of their marquee victories in November and December because the Missouri Valley Conference seldom produces more than one or two NCAA tournament-caliber teams. 

    A combination of injuries and a lack of depth has been Wichita State's undoing so far this season. Standout guard Ron Baker has been forced to do far too much because the Shockers simply don't have enough guys around him that can generate offense. 

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  • Arizona's first loss should serve as an early reality check

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 3 days ago

    FULLERTON, Calif. — In the aftermath of a 69-65 loss to an unranked Providence team whose best player spent half the game on the bench in foul trouble, Arizona coach Sean Miller made a startling yet telling statement.

    "I leave this game feeling very, very good about our team’s effort," Miller said.

    Comments like that from Miller are his way of tacitly acknowledging that this Arizona team does not have the talent that previous editions have boasted. Those Wildcats coasted on occasion yet still captured back-to-back Pac-12 titles. These Wildcats can dive for every loose ball, scrap for every rebound and still lose to an unheralded opponent.

    Their best player is a skilled but undersized power forward unlikely to make the NBA. Their defensive stopper is a junior guard who could scarcely crack the rotation the past two years. One of their point guards is a junior college transfer who's more of a scorer than a distributor and the other is a deft passer but stands just 5-foot-8.

    This Arizona team doesn't have the sky-high ceiling of the previous two, but there's certainly room for growth.

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  • Wayne Selden's resurgence sparks Kansas to Maui title

    Jeff Eisenberg at The Dagger 5 days ago

    The Wayne Selden who tantalized Kansas with his assertiveness and efficiency this past summer resurfaced Wednesday night in Maui. 

    The mercurial 6-foot-5 junior torched Vanderbilt for 25 points on only 11 shots, more than enough to lead the Jayhawks to a 70-63 victory over the Commodores in the Maui Invitational title game.

    Selden's performance capped a brilliant three days in Maui in which he showcased a lethal 3-point stroke and the ability to attack the rim. He averaged 19.3 points per game, sank 12 of 17 attempts from behind the arc and got to the foul line 12 times, exactly the sort of numbers Kansas coach Bill Self has been waiting for him to put up with regularity for the past two years.

    A former top 20 prospect heralded for his size, athleticism and scoring prowess, Selden played in Andrew Wiggins' shadow as a freshman and failed to produce the breakout sophomore season many projected from him last year. He averaged slightly fewer points than he had as a freshman, shooting a pedestrian 36 percent from behind the arc while consistently struggling to finish in traffic in the paint. 

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