Monday, April 6, 2009

Bizarro Symmetry

The largest victory margin in a championship game since (UNC rival) Duke beat (Michigan State rival) Michigan by 20 in 1992.

Man, I hate the ACC.

UPDATE: Since that '92 Duke-Michigan game, the ACC is 5-0 against the Big Ten in title games.

1992 - Duke over Michigan
1993 - UNC over Michigan
2002 - Maryland over Indiana
2005 - UNC over Illinois
2009 - UNC over Michigan State

Indiana's win over UNC in 1981 is the only other title game featuring the two conferences.

Get a brain!

Allow me to take advantage of the under-4 timeout to comment on the stupidity of Bill Self winning two Coach of the Year awards, first the AP and then CBS/Chevrolet's. (As if anything that an American car company puts its name on isn't discredited enough.) I'll say it again:
It's a travesty that Bill Self gets more praise for Kansas' season than Mike Anderson does for Missouri's. Everyone wants to know how Self did it after losing so many players from a national championship team. Well he did it with two returning McDonald's All-Americans, 5 top 100 freshmen recruits, and the best JUCO transfer in the country, that's how he did it. Mike Anderson, on the other hand, has stitched together a 25-6 season, a Big 12 tournament championship, and an Elite Eight appearance out of a few popsicle sticks, some pipe cleaners, and a jar of paste. Put that in your expectations pipe and smoke it.
Self isn't even the Big 12 Coach of the Year, much less the national COY. Roy Williams benefitted from this myopia in 2006, the idiocy that rewards a coach not for actual coaching, but for how much talent he has after he wins a national championship. It's nuts and makes me wonder if the people who decide these things can focus on more than 3 or 4 schools for a two-year stretch at a time.

So Why are They Here?

Apologies for lack of coverage leading to the Final Four, but I was in turmoil over Calipari. My spirits have been conditionally lifted by the hiring of his ace recruiter and assistant Josh Pastner, who will inevitably leave for Arizona one day, but hey it's the best option now. 

Alright, so I'm just going to give a quick take on what I think got the title contenders to tonight's game, and I'll hazard a prediction, which may be the thing I'm worst at. 

Michigan State

Why are they here? Travis Walton and Kalin Lucas, no question. I have to give a standing ovation to the two defensive gems in a row that MSU turned in against Louisville and UConn. Louisville's 4-deep backcourt rotation could not provide their usual injection of energy and points against Walton and Lucas, along with MSU's own deep guard rotation. Walton's powers of defensive disruption also got to Terrence Williams.  Of course, shutting down a team like Louisville takes all 5 on the floor, and MSU worked together beautifully to deny Louisville passing and driving lanes. The defensive effort got Lousiville, not the most mentally solid team, stuck in a rut they couldn't escape. 

Walton and Lucas performed even better against UConn. A.J. Price, the best player of weekend 1, was 5-20 and could not provide any heroics or game-changing shots to get UConn out of the doldrums.  MSU did a great job of closing off driving lanes, as more than once a Husky guard penetrated only to have to retreat to the perimeter. All that, and that Durrell Summers dunk was SICK. 

North Carolina

It's hard to say anything original about Carolina at this point, especially since Dana O'Neil captured it so well here.  Simply put, Carolina has so many levels of offensive backup, it's extremely difficult to shut them all down.  It took superhuman efforts by Tyrese Rice of BC, Greivis Vasquez of Maryland, and Toney Douglas of FSU and a masterpiece by Wake Forest to beat them this year. 

All that said, it's become glaringly obvious that Ty Lawson dwarfs Tyler Hansbrough in importance to Carolina's chances. Yes, Hansbrough "hustles" and "works hard" but it would mean zilch without Lawson running the show and initiating those devastating Tar Heel runs where he, Ellington, and Green bury you.  Lawson couldn't save UNC against Kansas (shudder) last year, but he might have been able to stem that tide with his new shooting touch. 


Where does that leave us? I think it's safe to say that many fans (myself included) want MSU to turn Hockeytown into Hoops Heaven tonight. But I can't get over the fact that as good as A.J. Price was in the first 2 rounds, Lawson has outshone him since. It's helped that Ellington has finally turned it on so he can follow his PG's lead when Lawson decides it's time to inflict death by a thousand daggers.  It will be a hell of a matchup to see Lawson go against a backcourt that is very capable of taking him off his game. I just don't see Carolina falling flat on so many fronts that they lose this game, unfortunately. MSU will slow them down, but Carolina will inevitably make a serious run. Carolina's defense has improved to the point that they will be able to beat back an MSU rally, if barely. Hansbrough, Davis, and Zeller can keep up with MSU x-factor Suton on the perimeter and Carolina's overall size will be able to frustrate him inside. 

I won't rule out the possibility that MSU will turn in a third straight masterful performance, and I definitely think they can beat Carolina, but I think Lawson's poise and skill carry the night. 

UNC 78 MSU 71

It's been a fun ride. Enjoy.

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Sobering, not Surprising

Your March bloggers are now in somewhat similar situations. Shankar's heart belongs to Indiana, and mine to Memphis. Now that John Calipari is heading to Kentucky, we have a decimated roster, a frantic coaching search, and a distraught fan base wondering (more so than fans would at IU, which has tradition independent of Bobby Knight and is in the Big Ten) how much there is a Memphis without a Calipari. Memphis has tradition, but there's a deep insecurity in the city that was unfortunately assuaged by returning to college basketball glory, and in unprecedented fashion, with the pattern for perennial outsized success firmly laid. 

Calipari could have made his own Kentucky at Memphis, but he went to the one that was already there. That's really all I can say. 

Monday, March 30, 2009

A long night in Memphis and Lexington

Rumors swirling today about whether John Calipari will leave Memphis to take the head job at Kentucky. Despite all the "reports" (many of which are just reporting other reports), this does not appear to be a done deal. For what it's worth, the most recent chatter is that Memphis boosters are trying to put together a last-minute package that will keep Calipari in Memphis.

I have been saying all day long that until it is officially announced by Kentucky, I will continue to believe that this is an effort by Calipari to re-negotiate a huge deal in Memphis. Srinivas can speak to this better than I can, but if that's the case, it would not be the first time for Calipari.

I don't have much to add to this, but I will say that based on my casual surfing, I think that people are understimating the appeal of the Memphis job, both in the abstract and in Calipari's case, specifically. I don't think folks understand the importance of the Memphis basketball team to the city of Memphis, and the resources that the university is willing to commit to the program. After all, Calipari is already the second highest-paid coach in the country, and unlike the highest-paid coach (Billy Donovan), the magnitude of his salary isn't just a function of the largesse generated by a dominant football team.

In any event, it appears we'll find out tomorrow. In the meantime, there are a lot of folks in Kentucky and Memphis who aren't going to sleep well tonight.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Grab some popcorn

Billy Gillispie is out at UK. Kick back, put your feet up, and head over to Rupp Rafters to revel in the chaos.

UPDATE: A TV station in Orlando is reporting that Billy Donovan will be leaving Florida to take the UK job. That'll satisfy Kentucky's insane fan base, but I'm not sweating Billy D at all.

UPDATE 2: Donovan is pushing back on the rumors a bit, releasing a statement that says, "In response to the rumors circulating about my interest in other jobs, I wanted to address this as quickly as possible. I am committed to the University of Florida and look forward to continuing to build our program here." That strikes me as a non-denial denial.

Thursday Recap

Four games, four notes:
  1. Boy, was Pitt lucky to win tonight. A disjointed, sloppy, and sluggish effort from the Panthers. From Dejuan Blair's poor finishing to Sam Young's comically bad shot selection to the entire team's defensive disorganization, it was not a pretty sight. Even Levance Fields' climactic three-pointer was one of those "no no no no no no yes!" plays. Jamie Dixon will be thanking his lucky stars that Xavier struggled to finish around the rim and shot surprisingly poorly tonight.

  2. We said yesterday that the key factors in the Nova-Duke game would be the Wildcats' guards keeping their composure against Duke's ball pressure defense, and Duke's three-point shooting. Well Villanova turned it over on just 16% of its possessions (Duke typically forces turnovers on about 23% of possessions), and Duke shot an abominable 5-for-27 from beyond the arc. End result: 23-point Villanova blowout and much rejoicing throughout the land.

  3. I didn't see the Memphis-Missouri game, but every replay that CBS showed me seemed to involve JT Tiller scoring on a layup off of a curl cut into the lane. Easy, peasy, japeneezy. So much for Memphis' vaunted defense, which allowed a remarkable 1.25 points per possession. Missouri will be looking to make its first Final Four on Saturday, but perhaps the more important battle for them will be finding a way to keep Mike Anderson in Columbia after the season is over. As for the inevitable speculation of Calipari to Kentucky, I can't see either party to that potential transaction being particularly interested in it, for a variety of reasons. Sorry, delusional UK fans, it looks it'll be Travis Ford for you. That's what you get for running one of the game's best coaches out of town.

  4. I also missed the UConn-Purdue game, but as we suggested yesterday, without a hot shooting night, Purdue wasn't going to win this game. And 6-for-23 from 3 is absolutely frigid. The Boilers could never get the offense going this year, and despite returning much of their top talent next year, if they don't find a way to score, it's going to be a similar story.
UPDATE: Just to balance out the less than unbiased appraisal of Memphis' season below, I don't think they did anything that anyone shouldn't have expected in preseason. They may have been underrated by the polls at the time, but a so-so non-conference performance, a sweep through the anemic CUSA, and a sweet 16 exit are not terribly surprising results for this team. This year's award for overachieving goes to the Tigers who won tonight's game. It's a travesty that Bill Self gets more praise for Kansas' season than Mike Anderson does for Missouri's. Everyone wants to know how Self did it after losing so many players from a national championship team. Well he did it with two returning McDonald's All-Americans, 5 top 100 freshmen recruits, and the best JUCO transfer in the country, that's how he did it. Mike Anderson, on the other hand, has stitched together a 25-6 season, a Big 12 tournament championship, and an Elite Eight appearance out of a few popsicle sticks, some pipe cleaners, and a jar of paste. Put that in your expectations pipe and smoke it.

Requiem for a Season

This wasn't supposed to be that team. It wasn't that veteran-heavy, superstar-infused team that was supposed to make it all the way last year, and almost did. It was a team with one great freshman, two proven veterans, and a lot of questions in October. This Memphis Tigers team didn't seem like it had a spark, a heart to push it to greatness. The early losses bore that out, and we settled in for one of those in-between seasons and looked ahead to the next recruiting class. Then, somehow, we moved Tyreke Evans to the point, and we caught fire. And despite myself, I started to see a great year coming from this obviously flawed team that managed to win, and defend, and even shoot. I definitely wouldn't have believed you if you told me in December that this team was a 2-seed. I saw that after all it would be a fitting ending for the careers of Antonio Anderson and Robert Dozier.

And then tonight. The despair, the near helplessness of the end of the first half, and the early part of the second. The hangdog looks, that 1 step that we always seemed to be behind. But we burst through that illusion. We woke up, and we sprinted back toward an opponent who thought they'd left us behind.  We drove and drove and drove, and we trusted our superstar, and it all made us realize too late that if we'd only been ourselves a little bit earlier, Mizzou would have been but paper Tigers. But dammit, we went down swinging, a team that wasn't really made to be there, who achieved a kind of greatness in managing to come up just short. Thanks, Tigers, you left it all on the court for us in the end, and that's all we can ever ask. 

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Quick Hitter: Blowing It

Well, those two games were lost, not won. Purdue could have been much closer and even led the game at various times, but they managed to blow possessions in a variety of ways. UConn was not the dominant team they were last weekend, as Jeff Adrien was not hitting the foul line jumper on the pick and pop and Chris Kramer had A.J. Price largely contained for much of the game.  Despite mostly being outplayed, Purdue was never behind by all that much. But Purdue could never get over the hump, and UConn finally flexed its superior talent in the last ten minutes and pulled away. Purdue definitely fumbled away a chance to push UConn to the last possession. 

Xavier has to be heartbroken as well. Their long drought at the beginning of the second half turned their 37-29 halftime lead into a seesaw game.  They could not push the advantage they had gained from a quiet first half by DeJuan Blair, and the odds caught up with them. Blair came alive in the second half, with rebounding and scoring, but Xavier could still control the game. Pitt was not really clicking offensively or defensively. Xavier had an incredible run of missed chippies throughout the game, and they had turnovers at the most inopportune times, sometimes after big stops.  They were deflated by the final minute, and when Levance Fields hit that gigantic 3 over a good contest, it seemed like Xavier was basically finished mentally, even though they were only down 1.  Not a fitting way for Xavier to end the season. 

Two Big East beasts escape average performances. On to the late games....

Mitch Barnhart, Our Lord and Savior

I know they take their basketball seriously in Kentucky, but I think the reporter who wrote this ESPN wire services story after UK's season ended in the NIT has missed the mark:
Asked about how he feels about all the judgment he's facing after posing a 40-27 record in two seasons at Kentucky, Gillispie said: "There's only one judgment I'll ever be concerned about, and I hope I pass that judgment. That's the only one I'll ever be concerned about, and I'm really proud that that's the only judgment that will ever have a real effect on me, and I hope I pass that one with flying colors."

Gillispie declined to answer when asked whose judgment he was referring to, saying it was obvious, apparently referring to Kentucky athletic director Mitch Barnhart.
Uh, something tells me Gillispie is talking about something more eternal than his job.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Sweet Sixteen Preview: East and West

It's time to get back in the saddle.

After a few days off to catch a breath and reflect on the chalkfest that was the first two rounds of this year's Tournament, it's time to look forward to the orgy of high-level hoops that is coming our way over the next 96 hours. While I'm as disappointed about the lack of Cinderellas in this year's Sweet 16 (no, Arizona doesn't count), the advancement of the consensus top teams in the country should give us some terrific matchups this weekend. Let's preview what's on tap Thursday night.

Pittsburgh vs. Xavier - The big story off the court is Sean Miller leading Xavier against his his alma mater. (Trivia note: Miller was the guy who passed the ball to Jerome Lane for the backboard-breaking dunk that caused Bill Raftery to utter the now-famous words for the first time: "Send it in, Jerome!") And Miller may find himself back at Pitt if Arizona can manage to lure Jamie Dixon away.

Human interest aside, this should be an interesting matchup of two teams that play a similar defensive style. Both teams employ variants of the packline defense, which is pretty much what it sounds like - packing all your off-ball defenders within an imaginary line inside the arc. The goal is to prevent advancement of the ball towards the basket rather than to pressure the ball. As a result, both teams are much better at defending inside and rebounding the ball than they are at defending the three-point shot and generating turnovers. Xavier, though, is in a better position to take advantage of Pitt than vice versa, because the Musketeers are a better 3-point shooting team.

Pitt's offensive strength - inside - runs right into Xavier's packline. But it's not enough to say that Xavier generally defends well inside. Generalities often fall by the wayside when you're talking about exceptional cases, and Dejuan Blair is an exceptional case. Let's not forget his utter abuse of Hasheem Thabeet, who is a one-man packline defense all by himself. And when Blair isn't clicking, it seems that either Levance Fields and the cadre of Pitt's reserve guards, or Sam Young, are.

I suspect Pitt will come out on top, but the only sure thing is that this game is going to be a physical slugfest.

UConn vs. Purdue - Despite being an IU fan, I'm rooting for Purdue to represent the Big Ten well. But this is going to be a tough one.

Purdue is a great defensive team, and it wouldn't surprise me if they found a way to slow down UConn's multi-pronged offensive attack. But Purdue has struggled to score points all year, and going up against the Thabeet-led Huskies defense is not going to make things any easier. Down the stretch against Washington, the Boilers relied heavily on attacking the basket and getting to the free throw line. That's just not going to work against UConn, which has one of the most efficient and least foul-prone interior defenses in the country. The shots will have to fall for the Boilers, and that means Hummel, Grant, and Moore will have to get hot. Jajuan Johnson has definitely improved this year, but it's asking a lot for him to get it done against Thabeet.

Let me also take this opportunity to say a word or two about AJ Price. He was, as Srinivas mentioned below, outstanding this past weekend. But frankly, he's been that way all year. Price has a certain quality that is ideal for a point guard, a quality that Levance Fields shares to an extent. That is, he manages to quietly run the offense and set up his teammates for large stretches of the game, and then suddenly, when the team most needs it, he will start lighting it up from 3, attacking the basket to great effect, and getting to the free throw line. He has great poise and just doesn't get rattled. For all the hype Thabeet gets, Price is undoubtedly the most valuable players on this team.

Duke vs. Villanova - This is probably the Sweet 16 game that I am most looking forward to.

I think Villanova has a real shot to knock off the March's most hated college basketball team. It starts with a very balanced offensive attack. Their win over UCLA featured six players in double digits. They have a lot of guards who can both attack the basket and finish or step back and hit the 3. And Dante Cunningham has emerged as well-balanced offensive threat in his own right, able to score inside through sheer grit, but also highly effective with a mid-range jumper.

The biggest question for this game is how they will handle Duke's ball pressure and denial defense. In theory, they've got the quick, athletic guards that you need to drive right past the pressure and to the hoop. But the Cats don't always play smart, and they can be turnover prone. They got hammered by West Virginia, who plays a similar defensive style, by 20-plus points. If they keep their calm and rely on their quickness, they will be able to exploit the driving lanes created by Duke's defense and finish or pass for open shots. If they can do that and take advantage of Duke's poor defensive rebounding, they will put up a lot of points.

The second biggest question for this game is how Duke will shoot the ball from deep. On average, Villanova's opponents take a remarkable 41% of their shots from beyond the arc. Don't believe me? If you have any doubt about Villanova's vulnerability to the long-range shot, go watch the first 30 minutes of their game against American. Duke has been so-so shooting the ball this year. If they can knock down the 3 and take advantage of Villanova's propensity to foul, they'll put up a lot of points themselves.

So that's it. Villanova's poise and intelligence against the pressure defense (and to a lesser extent, offensive rebounding) and Duke's three-point shooting (and to a lesser extent, ability to get to the free throw line). How those factors play out will tell the story.

Memphis vs. Missouri - I heard a rumor that they're scrapping the pre-game national anthem for a very special appearance from Quin Snyder, who will be "Eye of the Tiger" at center court in only the way he can. (If you know, you know. If you don't, find out. Trust me, you won't regret it.)

This will be an interesting stylistic matchup. The way Memphis has been playing defense, it'll be hard for Missouri to get much going out of the halfcourt offense. Which means they'll be more dependent on generating offense off of turnovers than usual. Which brings us to the most important factor in this game: Can Memphis handle the heat of Missouri's "40 minutes of hell" defense?

"40 minutes of hell," a term first coined by Mike Anderson's mentor, Nolan Richardson, when he implemented the full-court pressing style at Arkansas, is actually a bit overstaed for this Missouri team. They are more selective with the full-court pressure than, say, Clemson. But that's not to say that it's not a critical component of what they do. Their defensive success depends significantly on generating turnovers. The bottom line is if Memphis' guards - not just freshman Tyreke Evans, but senior Antonio Anderson and others - can handle it, they should get some easy buckets breaking the press and win comfortably. If they can't, and Missouri is able to generate turnovers, it could be a frustrating night for some folks around here.

Scandal in Storrs

The big news of the day is not related to what's going to happen on the court the next 4 days. It's about what's been happening on the recruiting trail and in the back rooms of UConn's men's basketball offices.

As part of their commendable effort to investigate the relationships between sports agents and college basketball programs, Dan Wetzel and Adrian Wojnarowski have conducted a thorough investigation of UConn's recruitment of Nate Miles and are reporting that it was fraught with violations of NCAA rules. Unless they are simply fabricating records, they seem to have nailed UConn for, at a minimum, excessive phone calls. The bigger issue they identify, though, is UConn's relationship with a former team manager named Josh Nochimson. Nochimson, it appears, is one of many agents-slash-business-managers-slash-parasites who are polluting the current youth and college basketball landscape. And it appears that the UConn coaching staff was in bed with him, which, because he was effectively a representative of the program and paying for this and that for Nate Miles, is not just an ethical problem, it's a major rules violation.

As an Indiana fan who has had to put up with the fallout of Kelvin Sampson's Phonegate, someone who generally finds Jim Calhoun dislikable, and someone who has heard rumors of UConn's running a dirty program, I hope the NCAA comes down hard on the Huskies.

Wetzel and Wojnarowski are doing good, important work, and I hope they keep up with it. One of the frustrating things about college basketball recruiting is that everyone knows who's cheating, but no one will say. It's about time the major college hoops media stopped trying to be every coach's friend so they could get access and started acting like journalists.

Here is the piece re: the unholy nexus between college hoops, AAU programs, and agents that W&W published a few weeks ago. Both this and the UConn article are worthy reads.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Dick Enberg and the Upside-Down Cheerleader

As is obvious from the title, what I'm about to relay deserves its own post. The UCLA-VCU game really packed in every possible element you want in an NCAA tournament game. An underdog with game versus a blue-blood basketball power. A dynamic star player in Eric Maynor. A fantastic fan section and band for VCU. Clutch threes, a comeback, and a thrilling ending. And also very, very good seats. 

But if there was one thing that will stay with Shankar and me from this weekend, it's this incident. At one point late in the game, with the excitement up throughout the building and the VCU fans in a lather, the VCU cheerleaders went over in front of their fan section to do their routine during a timeout. One part of this routine was one cheerleader walking on her hands. All the way down the court. And back. With no breaks! As she crossed halfcourt the first time, the crowd started to stand, and the whole arena was cheering her on. When she reached the far baseline, she turned around and started back without coming down from her handstand, and we all went completely nuts. As she crossed back over halfcourt, she was right in front of CBS's announcer team of Jay Bilas and Dick Enberg. Shankar suddenly told me to look at Dick Enberg, and what I saw changed my opinion of him forever. All day we had been making jokes about Enberg thinking he was calling the French Open, mistaking Hispanic players for Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario etc. He seems so proper in his way, and calling golf and tennis seems to be the best fit for him at his age. I mean, his signature phrase is "Oh my!" But we love the guy. 

Well right then, as the VCU cheerleader passed in front of his table a second time, the man had jumped up behind his table, with his headset on, and was whipping his right arm around in a frenzy again and again as if to push her on, and he continued until she finally came down from her handstand to a huge ovation. Dick Enberg, rock star. It was incredible. You have to love March Madness. 

Catching Our Breath

First, the big news of the day is that Marquette's Dominic James has been cleared to play against Missouri today! Rumors of his (college career's) death were exaggerated, apparently. I don't know how much this changes my assessment of Marquette's chances, but having him back has to be an incredible emotional lift. If he can hit a few shots and help break Mizzou's intense pressure, even if he's not 100% (which he can't be after this much time off), his skill and heart might just change the game completely. I'm glad, becuase as I said before, he deserved to finish his great career in a game, not on the bench. 

Alright, we're catching our breath after three days of non-stop basketball, and starting another. While 'Cuse and Arizona State get cranked up, I want to review what I gathered from watching the Philly pod in person, as well as a few from watching games on Friday. 

Basketball-related notes from Philly
  • I think the big story out of Philly is UConn's dominance and A.J. Price's explosiveness. Over the last few weeks of the season and Championship week, I was of the opinion that this UConn team with Dyson healthy would be a huge favorite to win it all, no question. I thought Dyson would provide the kind of toughness and scoring versatility to take some of the load off A.J. Price and win games against Pitt, and against Syracuse in the Big East tournament. Now, I've seen UConn from near courtside twice, and I have to say they have put in the two most impressive performances of the tournament by any team.  A.J. Price has an incredible game. In person his ability to absolutely drive daggers into the other team is palpable. Any signs of life shown by Chattanooga and Texas A&M were quickly and devastatingly snuffed out by Price calmly draining a 3 in transition or off the dribble. Price was a stone-cold killer and undisputed leader all weekend, and I think he might just be playing the best ball in the tournament right now. 
  • We watched Villanova-American from our (actual) seats high in a corner of the Wachovia Center, but luckily the arena provides pretty good vantage points from everywhere. We were very lucky to be able to watch American guards Derrick Mercer (5'9") and Garrison Carr (5'11") put on a thrilling show. Mercer showed that he can break ankles with the best of them, because he completely abused Scottie Reynolds multiple times with crossovers. Jay Wright had to give in and switch the much quicker Corey Fisher onto Mercer to contain him. And Garrison Carr...unreal.  Coming off curls, in the halfcourt, in transition, wide-open, closely contested--he drained incredible 3s throughout the game, tapering off as Villanova made its last push. It was pretty breathtaking to watch in person. Even the lifelong Villanova fans we were near were in awe. It must have been a treat to watch a guard tandem like that all season, and American fans gave them the vocal support and respect they earned in a true road environment. Probably the most impressive performance by a guard tandem in a losing effort in the tournament until last night, when Western Kentucky's Orlando Mendez-Valdez and A.J. Slaughter (great names) put on a similar show to push Gonzaga to the brink. 
  • UCLA-VCU was the best game of Thursday, and we were lucky to be down in the 9th row behind the VCU bench. UCLA's sluggishness turned out to be a preview of their flat performance against Villanova. That said, Jrue Holiday is one hell of a player. He's calm, extremely smooth, has great handle, and can finish at the hoop in transition. He's a taller, stronger, version of Darren Collison, but I think it's clear he's not a point guard. If he can develop more confidence in his outside shot, he will be a force to reckon with.
Non-basketball related notes from Philly:
  • On Thursday, while hanging in the main concourse after the A&M-BYU, we saw a UConn fan just knock over a pylon while walking by and not even pause a minute to think about picking it up. He seemed to be mad at the pylon for being there. It do I say...typical. 
  • The reason we were hanging in the lobby between the two Session 1 games was to snag lower level seats for UConn-Chattanooga. Here's a tip: old white guys in team color and logo button-downs probably have good seats. So we landed in the middle of a bunch of good ol' boy A&M boosters on the 9th row from the court. I felt like I was back in Memphis . There were some twenty-something guys to our right who engaged in some playful waving to the Chattanooga cheerleaders during an on-court routine. All in good fun. Their compatriot in front of us, however, was 20 years older....and ten times creepier. I named him the Pervert Captain. He was a little too enthusiastic about admiring one tall blonde, and as the crowd thinned out during the blowout, moved over to get a better look. In his new seat, he engaged in some seriously lecherous staring, and inquired as to what hotel the Chattanooga team was staying at. Disturbing. Moving on...
  • On the subway to the sports complex on Saturday, I think I heard the most obliviously obnoxious caricature of a conversation ever. Two white guys talked about these things, loudly, in this order, and they weren't joking: how they were in a suite for the game, buying commercial property, the merits of the Buick SUV vs. the Lexus SUV, and (drumroll) their stocks! These people really exist. I felt like they were corporate villains from an 80s movie, and Shankar and I should try to humiliate them in some humorous and charming way while saving the old mom-and-pop diner. 
  • When we were sitting in the lower level for the UConn-A&M game, the guys behind us basically made me hate life. Here are some of their astute observations about UConn: "Number 4 is good. And number 12, he's really good." I wanted to stand up and scream at them for wasting such prime sports-fan space on their ignorant asses. The world is unjust. 
  • The UCLA dance team (as opposed to the regular cheerleaders) so transparently has no particular interest in the game, it's funny. I feel like their dance team is probably more of a competitive accomplishment among dancers, and maybe that's the way it is at a lot of schools. In any case, they are basically Laker Girls in training, from their costume changes to their routines to their lukewarm participation in leading cheers. Good times.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

On Waking Sleeping Felines

(Shankar posting here as Srinivas is consumed by the Memphis-Maryland game at an arena bar.)

Posting live from the Wachovia Center, where the Villanova Wildcats just showed that the struggle against American clearly woke them up. The Cats simply devoured UCLA before a de facto home crowd. It was the kind of balanced and complete offensive display that makes Nova a real threat. It also showed how good they can be when they're hitting their shots. For UCLA's part, this game was kind of a raw deal, having to basically play a road game 3000 miles from home at 10 am pacific time, just 36 hours after a late night nailbiter against VCU.

In other news, the Memphis-Maryland game has tipped. The Maryland players decided to spend yesterday's off day making a series of idiotic statements about how mediocre Memphis would be if they had to play in the oh-so-impressive ACC (you know, the conference that has so far lost 4 games to teams seeded worse than them). This nonsense feeds right into John Calipari's Rodney Dangerfield schtick, which he routinely uses to motivate his players. So far, the Terps' moronic woofing (from, among others, local YMCA star Dave Neal) isn't paying dividends, as they're down 29-15. That' what happens when you kick a sleeping Tiger.