Sunday, November 23, 2008

Two Down, Seven To Go

Puerto Rico Final: Xavier vs Memphis

How wild is it that one of the most important non-conference games of the season may have been decided by an incidental goaltending violation?

At the 8 minute mark, Xavier led 51-45, but thanks to some suffocating defense by Memphis, Xavier barely got another shot at the basket in the next 6 minutes. Only three free throws allowed Xavier to nurse a 54-53 lead. Then, (and I apologize if I got the names wrong, I had the game on mute in the exercise room), Antonio Anderson accidentally hit the rim on a Dante Jackson shot that clearly wasn’t going to go in. That goaltend, combined with an And-One free throw, gave Xavier the cushion that they would milk to the end.

I’m sure in March this game is going to be mentioned over and over again in discussions about seeding for Xavier and Memphis. And Memphis can thank an out of control bump of the rim for costing them a seed line.

Three other thoughts:

1) How wild is it that Xavier turned to freshman Terrell Holloway to make the free throws in crunch time. Holloway may not be a one-and-done NBA player right now, but he is proving that there are still plenty of impact freshman in college basketball.

2) If these teams re-match in March, I’m guessing the game is in the 80s and not 63-58. It is unfortunate to see two great teams fight so hard and play such ugly offensive basketball. But when you take marginal shooters, great defense, and play a 3rd game in 4 days, this is what you get.

3) You can certainly question the Memphis shot selection. Hey Tyreke Evans (cough, cough), 4 of 17, 1 of 6 from 3 point range is not good. But the thing I’m starting to observe about the DDM is how it really wears the other team’s defense down as the game progresses.

Sure in the first 5 minutes, any good team can defend the drive, but at the end of the first half, most teams start to be a step slow. And that’s when Memphis really dribbles in and gets the easy baskets and fouls. We saw it in the Memphis vs UMass game where Memphis was UGLY in the first 10 minutes, but then started taking it to the basket and scoring more. And we saw it again against Xavier where Memphis trimmed an eight point deficit down to three points before the half, basically by catching Xavier a step slow. Memphis might not quite have the shooters to be a Final Four team yet, but there’s no doubt John Calipari has a system that works.

Elsewhere in Puerto Rico, Missouri beat USC. This was definitely not what USC wanted in this tournament. They went in thinking they might steal a win from Memphis and instead ended up with two losses to unranked BCS teams in Seton Hall and Missouri.

On the other hand Seton Hall got exactly what they wanted. They got two wins against BCS competition (USC on Thursday and Virginia Tech today) and an RPI improving loss to Memphis. That’s a good formula for an NCAA bubble team.

With the Coaches vs Cancer and Puerto Rico Shootout in the books, that still leaves seven fun tournaments this week. Here’s Monday’s slate:

Paradise Jam Title Game
UConn vs Wisconsin

CBE Semis
Florida vs Syracuse
Washington vs Kansas

Maui Quarters
St. Joes vs Texas
Indiana vs Notre Dame
North Carolina vs Chaminade
Oregon vs Alabama

And the NIT, Anaheim, Old Spice, and Legends tournaments are later in the week.