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Questions And Answers: With Raphielle Johnson

College basketball season is getting to the most interesting part. Since this blog is mainly focused on Cincinnati and other happenings in the Big East, I thought it would be a good time to broaden the horizon. For that, I asked my friend (on twitter anyway) Raphielle Johnson some questions. If you don’t know much about him, here is a quick rundown. He writes for collegehoops.net, and hosts a show Wednesdays, and Thursdays at 6, and Saturdays at 11 am on hoopstalklive. He’s on on twitter. Raphielle is one of my favorite people to follow, so follow him. We talk some Big East, national favorites, player of the year, conference tournaments and how awesome I am. I made the last one up. Thanks to Raph, yeah I call him Raph now, let’s get to it. 

What’s your take on the Big East as a whole this season?

The Big East has been wild this season. I still like Pittsburgh as the class of the league right now. There’s no crime in losing at St. John’s, especially in the final seconds. They’d won games at both West Virginia and Villanova without Ashton Gibbs, and Nasir Robinson’s been one of their most important players when not many outside of the program expected that in September. A lot of the other teams have dealt with losing streaks within league play, notably Georgetown, Syracuse, UConn and Villanova, but I expect a couple of these teams to get outside of the league and make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. The league’s been that good this season. 

Cincinnati seems to be sitting pretty firmly on the bubble. Do you think the Big East will get 10 or 11 teams in, UC being 1?

I can see 10 teams getting in, with Cincinnati (or Marquette) being the team that decides whether it’s 10, 11 or even 9 should both not take care of business down the stretch. The encouraging thing for the Bearcats is the seemingly renewed energy coming from Yancy Gates. Can he play better? Definitely. But at least after the last two games one doesn’t have to ask if the young man cares. If he can build upon the last week they should get it done and make the Tournament. 

For the people that don’t follow you on twitter, you seem to watch every single game that’s on at any time. What’s your typical set up like for a busy Saturday of hoops?

My setup on a Saturday is a pretty simple one: two televisions and two laptops (the second laptop has come recently with the upgrade to a Macbook; if not for wanting to see so many games the PC would have been part of a firecracker “experiment” by now). Just have to be quick with the remote and have an idea of what to keep an eye on for the day and it isn’t much of a chore at all. Quite enjoyable in fact.

 It’s getting to be tournament time. Who are a couple of teams way under the radar that people should know?

One that’s risen a bit due to their 13-game win streak is George Mason. That’s a very good basketball team that’s played unselfish basketball on both ends of the floor, something they failed to do in limping to a 17-15 record a season ago. Luke Hancock can be a matchup nightmare due to his ability to play the role of a “point forward” for the Patriots, and guards Andre Cornelius and Cam Long can get it done on the perimeter to go along with Ryan Pearson up front. Charleston’s received its fair share of praise due to Andrew Goudelock but another player who’s gotten it done for them recently is forward Antwaine Wiggins, who missed all of last season with a torn ACL. I also like Belmont in the Atlantic Sun and Weber State, despite the loss of leading scorer Damian Lillard early in the season, has fought its way into a top three spot in the Big Sky and could be a threat to win that automatic bid. 

Keeping in the tournament theme, what’s the best non-power conference tournament people should pay attention to?

The non-power conference tournaments I’d keep an eye on are the Big South and Horizon leagues, and for different reasons. The Big South has opened up with Coastal Carolina’s leading scorer and rebounder (Desmond Holloway) being suspended indefinitely for academic reasons (he’s unlikely to return). Liberty’s been their closest competition throughout but the Chanticleers have recently lost to both Gardner-Webb and UNC Asheville, and they also dropped last year’s tournament final on their home floor to Radford. As for the Horizon, the Butler team many left for dead is alive and well with a chance to win a share of the regular season crown. With Shelvin Mack and Matt Howard in addition to Ronald Nored this is a nucleus that knows what it takes come March. Add in two other outstanding teams in Cleveland State and Valparaiso both led by excellent players (CSU’s Norris Cole and Valpo’s Brandon Wood), and a few other teams capable of knocking off anyone and you’ve got the makings of a wild tournament. 

Who is the best team in America?

I like either Ohio State or Pittsburgh. While recent results shouldn’t be the only factor in who gets the top spot I’m not a fan of the simplistic “win and you rise, lose and you fall” theory in ranking teams. A 6-year old who can understand the basic math of box scores can do that. Ohio State’s two losses have come on the road to teams who are both undefeated at home (Wisconsin and Purdue), and Pitt’s two most recent losses have come to Notre Dame and St. John’s…and we saw what the Red Storm did to Duke at MSG. 

NPOY: Jimmer, Kemba, Sullinger, Ibrahima Thomas, someone else?

My National Player of the Year would be Fredette, and I think his resume for the season merits such an honor. But it seems that people have stuck to the number “3” in discussing the award. From Fredette/Sullinger/Walker to Fredette/Smith/Sullinger. Personally, it’s time that Arizona’s Derrick Williams be involved in the race. From 16-15 to 23-4 as a team, and he’s averaging 19.7 points and 8.1 rebounds per game with nine double-doubles. At the least he’s a First Team All-American in my opinion. (ED: had Williams in the question, and took him out. Damn.)

 Do you like the new time and coverage set up for the NCAA tournament?

I like the setup, although it does take away from the excitement of bouncing around from one great finish to another. That being said, now no one has to fork over nearly $80 for the DirecTV package, and the games will be available on TV for everyone. Sure some may have to do some investigating the night before as to what channel TruTV is, but it’s a whole lot better than having to pool together multiple laptops so you and your friends can see all the games outside of your area without having to pay more money. That can be spent on food and beer or something to that effect. 

Do you think social media, like twitter, has been a good thing, or a bad thing for college sports and college sports coverage? Yeah, I asked a real question.

I think it’s a double-edged sword. On one hand it offers great access and networking for all, from fans to players/coaches to media. But on the other people have to be even more careful in not taking the first bit of “news” they see and running with it. We all have to be smart in what we say, and even a simple retweet can led validity to a statement that can be completely unfounded. 

How did you end up writing about hoops? And on that, how did you end up on collegehoops.net?

I started writing about college basketball about seven years ago; it was always something I wanted to do and given my love for sports it simply made sense. The editor at CollegeHoops.net, Shawn Siegel, was looking for writers at the time and I sent something in. It took a considerable amount of work to get better at it and I still have a long way to go, but CHN’s been a very good experience for me. 

Do you have any advice for people who want to get into blogging, or who have a blog and want to try and make it grow?

My advice for anyone would be to do it because you enjoy it. While some emotions can be lost in words when read, one thing that can’t be hidden is when you don’t care. Just like sports or any other endeavor people can see subpar effort. 

A hundred thanks to Raphielle. You can tell why he is one of the better writers out there, because as he said, you can tell when people care, and he put a lot of thought into his answers. UC doesn’t play Georgetown until 9 tomorrow, so tune in to his show. He’ll probably talk about the game at some point, and you can all thank me for it. I don’t know why you would thank me when he’s the one talking about it, but that’s on you. Speaking of thanks, one more time, a big thanks to Mr. Raphielle Johnson. Thank you for reading.