Sunday, February 7, 2010

Today in the Obscure and The Spartan's Fall

-Oklahoma St. trailed Texas Tech by double digits and was using full court pressure to try to get back in the game. Momentum had seemingly swung in the Cowboys favor. They cut the lead to 7 and got an inbounds steal. And then it all went wrong. First, after taking the steal, Oklahoma St.’s Keiton Page hesitated on a three-point attempt and was called for traveling. Then with Oklahoma St. setting up pressure defense again, Texas Tech tried to beat the pressure by throwing the ball deep. But the pass was off target and headed for the scorer’s table. That’s when fate intervened in the form of the referee’s head. The ball ricocheted off the ref’s head and into the hands of a Texas Tech player. And in the commotion Oklahoma St.’s best player, James Anderson fouled out. All it takes is one referee to ruin your momentum, literally.

-I don’t know where they got this footage, but during the Washington – Arizona St. game they showed footage of Lorenzo Romar on the Milwaukee Buck’s team bus in 1983. The footage shows four other members of the team humming the beat while Romar busts out some sweet Motown vocals. 1983 seems so much cooler than 2009. But really, we need more footage of team buses. They always show footage of players getting off the bus, but that’s dull. Get us the goofy behavior on the bus.

-Nancy Pelosi and Paul Tagliabue were shown prominently in the TV footage of today’s Georgetown game. But they don’t get any credit because they were in a luxury box. You have to go down in the stands where the fans can see you! My wife actually met Paul Tagliabue in person last year. At first she didn’t recognize who he was and started making small-talk about the Redskins, figuring it was a neutral topic for any adult male in DC. But when he kept smirking, she suddenly realized his face was familiar. When she went home and googled him, she couldn’t believe she was trying to talk football with the former commissioner of the NFL.

Illinois vs Michigan St.

For me, the turning point occurred with about 6 minutes to go in a tie game. Brandon Paul stole the ball and had a fast-break opportunity. But as I’ve posted before, Brandon Paul has been struggling immensely on the fast-break. He’s blown a ton of opportunities after Illinois steals this year. But what did Paul do this time? He went up strong and jammed it home one-handed. The crowd went nuts even though it was a single bucket after a decent Michigan St. run. Did the crowd remember Brandon Paul’s struggles on other fast-breaks? Were they just jacked up from ESPN’s college gameday being there? I don’t know. But at that moment, I suddenly believed Illinois was going to win.

Of course Illinois followed this up by running what I call the “Dee Brown” offense. This is from the 2005-06 season when Deron Williams had graduated and the team would just stand around and watch Dee Brown dribble. With 3 minutes left, the team needed to stay aggressive, but stood around and watched Demetri McCamey dribble. This resulted in a number of wasted possessions and gave Michigan St. a chance. But again Paul bailed Illinois out. Paul drove to the basket and his continuation “and-one” was exactly what Illinois needed.

The truth is, Illinois is not a great team this year. (See Pomeroy ranking, RPI, Sagarin, ect.) Based on how they’ve played, I don’t think they deserve to go to the NCAA tournament. I’ll argue about the RPI wins and losses later in the year, but what I mean is this. An NCAA tournament at-large team is a team you legitimately think would not just show up, but could win a couple of NCAA tournament games. And based on a number of close wins (and losses) against bad teams, Illinois just doesn’t have that feel.

But the key for this team has always been the development of three sensational freshmen. DJ Richardson is already playing off the charts. Tyler Griffey is playing at a very solid level for a back-up post player. Thus it comes back to Brandon Paul. If Brandon Paul plays like an elite player (like he did in the 20 point comeback against Clemson), Illinois can be a great team. But Paul isn’t ready yet. He’s spent too much time looking like Alex Legion, taking bad shots, and showing indifference to defense. Illinois needs tonight’s Brandon Paul.

Future generations of Illinois players will always be compared to the 2005 Illinois team. It isn’t fair to anyone, but it is what we do. Demetri McCamey fits the perfect Deron Williams role of the ideal motion-offense point guard. McCamey runs past screens, drives, and hits his teammates in rhythm for open jumpers. DJ Richardson fits the Luther Head role perfectly. He’s knocking down numerous threes and seems to be playing at a higher level than any fan could reasonably expect. But what’s missing is Dee Brown. What’s missing is that extra energy when Illinois gets in a drought. For at least one night, Brandon Paul provided that energy.

As for the Spartans, for all the NCAA tournament success Michigan St. has had, they have not won a ton of Big Ten titles lately. They have not had a lot of seasons where everything fell their way. Two years ago Georgetown had what I’d call the “Eff-you Hoyas” season. Georgetown won a ton of games on the final possession, everyone said they were over-rated, all the other Big East fans despised the team, but all they did was win the Big East regular season title outright. After Michigan St. won late at Minnesota and Michigan, it just seemed like the Spartans were having one of those special seasons where they win all the close games. But not tonight. And now, Michigan St. sits just one game up in the loss column ahead of four teams. If the Spartans want another Big Ten title, they’ll have to earn it.

Final note on this game: The Orange Crush rushing the floor was clearly wrong.

That Other Top 5 Upset

Finally, I probably should comment on Georgetown’s win over Villanova, but all I hear is John Thompson III in my head. (The Hoyas can play with anyone in the country and they can lose to anyone. Jason Clark may have had a special day, but he is a special player. He’s going to do that a lot more before all is said and done.) Perhaps the only astute observation I can provide is this: Has there every been a scarier league to have a double-digit lead than the Big East this year? Even when Georgetown was up 20, I had no feeling of comfort. As it turned out, the Hoyas hung on today, while St. John’s blew a 16 point lead. But the South Florida game leaves me with a queasy feeling for this season. I'm now going to dread foul trouble on Georgetown for the rest of the year.

Zipping through this game a second time on the DVR, this had to be a very frustrating game for Duke fans. First, this game took an extra 30 minutes and cut off the start of the Duke - Boston College game. Second, Duke transfer Taylor King hit a couple of threes late in the game. Third, even though Villanova was blown out just like Duke, and even though the margin of victory was similar, Villanova showed a lot more fight late in this game. But when only Corey Fisher really showed toughness for Villanova in the first 25 minutes, and when Georgetown makes threes like today, they are very hard to beat.