Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Hug, The Drought, Three Dog Night, and other anecdotes

Game of the Night that Everyone Watched

Huh, both teams shot under 40%, the score was in the 60’s – sounds like a boring Big Ten game to me. Oh how the box score lies. If you didn’t enjoy Memphis vs Tennessee, you just aren’t a college basketball fan.

-Can you believe Tennessee (with a 3 point lead) gave the foul and sent Memphis to the line rather than risk a tying three pointer?

-Can you believe Dick Vitale accurately predicted that Memphis’ amazing three point shooting could not be sustained through the whole game?

-What about Joey Dorsey getting in J.P. Prince’s face and talking trash when Prince tried to go to the free throw line in the final minute? (This happened not once, but twice mind you.) And what about the cruel fate of the 47% free throw shooter make both shots to spite Dorsey? Memphis has come a long way in terms of earning national respect, but Dorsey threw a lot of it away in that final sequence.

-So where was the DDM offense? OK, I actually thought Memphis did some unique stuff, including a great sequence of passes near the end of the game that didn’t result in a basket, but as I expected, a team with quick guards was able to slow down the Memphis penetration. Memphis essentially became a jump shooting team and when they weren’t taking 3 pointers, they were taking 8-foot jumpers instead. Those aren’t horrible shots, but they do give ammunition to those who think that Memphis is really missing an offensive post-player.

Calipari may be able to sell high school guards on his new offense, but I’m still not a big believer that he has re-invented the wheel. As I said a few days ago, the numbers say that Memphis wins on defense. The Tigers ability to force turnovers while holding Tennessee to a low shooting percentage kept them in the game more than the DDM.

But while the Tigers did get 10 steals and 9 blocks, Tennessee’s guards consistently fell back and limited the transition game for the Tigers. I remember one sequence where Tennessee took a three pointer and three(!) Volunteer players had already sagged back defensively and were nowhere to be seen for a rebound. Now that’s a commitment to transition defense.

Game of the Night that No One Watched

Trailing by three points with less than 10 seconds left, Utah’s Tyler Kepkay tried to catch New Mexico off guard. Kepkay went for a two pointer instead of a three. He promptly missed before putting in his own rebound as time expired. Look, I’m all for extending the game, but if you take a two with that little time left, you better make sure you make it.

New Mexico broke an 18 game losing streak at Utah and with first place BYU visiting New Mexico soon, Steve Alford’s club has a legitimate chance of climbing into the at-large discussion.

Game of the Night that wasn’t available in most homes

Most of the time this season, the bonus games available on the Big Ten Network have been painful to watch. And on paper, Indiana vs Northwestern was no exception. Yes, Northwestern had been competitive in Bloomington, and yes you wondered how the players would respond without Sampson. But who knew the game would be this good? Some quick thoughts:

- Dan Dakich is really heading towards Gene Keady territory with the hair. I hate to rub it in, but when you become the head coach and they show your face on TV every five seconds, it needs to be said.

-Umm, random Northwestern fans. You know you are winless in the Big Ten right? So when they pan the camera by you, please don’t say, “We’re number one.” Say “Go Team”. Say “Let’s go.” But please don’t say “We’re number one.” Actually, that goes for all non-Tennessee fans. This is quite possibly the only crowd behavior more idiotic than yelling “overrated” which implicitly implies that your team’s dominance is not that impressive. Or, to put it another way - wow, you must really suck to lose to us. On a related note, I have no problem with chants of “airball”, “fouls on you”, or “NIT”.

-Welcome to Indiana North. When Indiana went on a big run to take the lead, I momentarily thought there were more Indiana fans than Northwestern fans at the game. (Hey, it happens. See Georgetown note below.)

-How did Kevin Coble score 37 points? I mean really. Doesn’t Indiana have any shut down defenders? I’m looking forward to someone scoring 32 in the NCAA tournament against Indiana and me leaning over and saying, “That’s almost as many as Kevin Coble got against them.”

-An Indiana fan I know pointed out that he usually adds 6 points to any Indiana lead because Gordon is so terrific at drawing fouls and making free throws at the end of the game. And for a moment, the game appeared headed that way. Gordon drew contact and made two free throws with 30 seconds left to give his team a 3 point lead. But then the fun began.

-So let’s start with the premise that the announcers mention the same factoids about player’s every game. For example, they always mention that Gopher’s freshman Blake Horfarber made a shot from his back to win the state title. (Trust me, if the Gophers get good at some point in the next 3 years, you too can get very sick of this piece of video footage.) Similarly, they always have to say how Tennessee’s Tyler Smith transferred because his dad died, how Kevin Coble’s mom had cancer, and in this instance, how Northwestern freshman Michael Thompson was the first Chicago City League player to attend Northwestern since the beginning of time.

So with Indiana leading by 3 and keying on Coble, it was up to Michael Thompson to try to win the game. Thompson drove the left side of the lane and made a lay-up to cut the lead to one. Then Indiana in-bounded it to Gordon on the premise that the lead would once again be 3 points. Then something occurred, that Indiana fans might affectionately call “the Hug”. A Northwestern player appeared to wrap his arms around Gordon causing him to lose balance and travel. Upon further review the contact was actually pretty limited, but it still gave the ball back to Northwestern down 1 with a chance to win a Big Ten game.

So of course Thompson, the man who had just hit the lay-up, the man who could end a winless streak in conference, the only Chicago City League player at Northwestern since the beginning of time, the savior, drove the lane and missed the lay-up. (Kudos to DJ White for terrific position defense on the play.) And Northwestern remains winless in Big Ten play.

But hey, Northwestern and Oregon St. may be winless in conference play, but NJIT just ended their second season in Division 1 at 0-29, the most every losses for a team to go winless. Ouch.

What about Kansas vs Oklahoma St.?!!! Wasn’t that a great game!?!

Oh, that was good too. I just don’t have much to add. Arthur fouled out. Also, Byron Eaton is playing much better. In his last 5 games, he’s shot 60% from the floor while still making it to the line at an unbelievable rate. He made 14 of 16 free throws against Baylor and 16 of 18 against Kansas. Look, I was down on him early in the year when his numbers were down across the board relative to his career averages, but now that he’s finally playing well, his team is finally clicking. Too bad they had that 6 game losing streak at the start of Big 12 play.


What was more irritating?

-The end of the game involving a painful sequence of fouls.

-Some Butler fans throwing things on the court when it was apparent their team was going to lose. (Every school has some idiot fans who try to make everyone else look bad. See Illinois - beeds)

-ESPN cutting away while action was going on and showing video of Bruce Pearl with the weak tagline that Pearl once was an assistant under Keno’s father. Look, I already hate the in-game promotion, but do you have to run a video during the final two minutes of a close game?

Games that may only interest me

-Is Illinois trying to lose these games? With just under 13 minutes left in the game, Illinois went on an 11 minute FG drought. This is just embarrassing. How can you not score at all at the end of the game? The poor offense allowed Michigan to take the lead and hold on to win. McCormick said it well, “Michigan now leads by 4. And in this game, that’s huge!”

-Because DC is a city full of people from other parts of the country, there are always a lot of road fans at the Georgetown games. It pisses me off, but I accept it. What surprised me is while Syracuse clearly had the most road fans this year, Cincinnati's small group of fans were quite possibly the loudest road fans of the season. I think the student section from Cincinnati must have made the commute. Hats off to them for their enthusiasm.

-What has happened to Marcus Sikes this year? His minutes and production are down across the board. Last year Sikes scored 19 against Georgetown and he didn’t even check into this game until late in the first half. I really respect Mick Cronin, but I believe players can reach a comfort zone in some road arenas. And to not involve a player in the game plan who burned the Hoyas last year, seemed like a mistake.

-Chris Berman nickname alert: For the first time in awhile I got to bust out my moniker for Doc River’s son Jeremiah when he stole the ball and took it in for a hang-on-the-rim dunk. “Jeremiah was a Bulldog. Was a good friend of mine. And the Hoyas hand Cincinnati their worst loss of the season, 73-53.”