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 seemed...how 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.