Sunday, January 23, 2011

Comments on 18 Games on a very busy Saturday

UNLV vs New Mexico:
In my opinion, this was the ending of the day. This was a match-up of arguably the third and fourth best teams in the MWC. (New Mexico has not played very well so far this season, but they have a young team, and Steve Alford has proven he can develop players over time.)

With 45 seconds left, UNLV trailed by 1 when UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis stole the ball. He was striding towards the basket when he saw Chace Stanback at the three point line. Willis kicked the ball to Stanback, but Stanback assumed Willis was going to go for the lay-up, and so the ball went out of bounds. It seemed like a crushing turnover so late in the game. But just 15 seconds later, with only 30 seconds left in the game, Willis stole the ball again!

This time, Willis drew the foul and made two free throws to give UNLV the one point lead. After New Mexico failed to score, UNLV made another free throw to extend the lead to two points. Now New Mexico had the ball with the shot clock running down and needing a basket to tie or a three to win. And that’s when Kendall Williams tossed the ball out of bounds off teammate Phillip McDonald with two seconds left. The UNLV crowd went nuts. The game was over!

But not so fast my friend, New Mexico’s Kendal Williams proceeded to steal the UNLV inbounds pass, and put up a jump shot. It clanged off the back of the rim, but he was fouled. New Mexico now had a shot at redemption too. Williams made the first free throw, but missed the second free throw, and as time expired, he fell to the floor. The Lobos came up just short. Just a series of crazy plays to end a crazy MWC game.

Memphis at UAB:
This is one of those games that deserves a lot more hype. In 2006, Memphis suffered its only conference loss at UAB. Two years later, Memphis won by 1 point at UAB en route to their second straight undefeated conference season. (This was the game that practically led to a riot when a game-winning UAB basket was waived off.) Even last year’s game was close as UAB pulled within 3 in the last two minutes. And this year’s game was not a disappointment, as it went to overtime. I was distracted with other games, but the key sequence came in the final seconds of overtime. Trailing by three, UAB drove into the lane, but seemed to lose the ball out of bounds. But the UAB player dived to save the ball and somehow kicked it to a teammate for a wide open three. Had the shot gone in, we would have had a second overtime. But instead, it was an air-ball. Another great game, but a tough series for UAB.

Less than a week ago, was predicting an 8-8 finish for Memphis in C-USA. But after Memphis won at a veteran Southern Miss team by 1 point, and after they won in OT at UAB, now predicts an 10-6 finish for the Tigers, which would put them 2nd in CUSA. It just goes to show that any team can change its own destiny by playing better. In expectation, it is not likely that teams will improve after this many games. But every year some teams will begin to peak later in the season, and that is why we watch.

By the way, UTEP is back to being the CUSA favorite again. Despite a shaky non-conference slate, the defending conference champs are currently tied with Memphis for first place.

Clemson at Maryland:
Up by two points, with two seconds left, should you intentionally miss the free throw? The idea is that if you miss, the rebounding team will only be able to get a full-court heave at the basket. But if you make the free throw, they can inbound the ball with the clock not running and get a better shot.

On Saturday, Maryland proved that missing is not always a fool-proof strategy. Maryland intentionally missed with 1.6 seconds left, but the ball ricocheted off the side of the basket and went out of bounds, untouched. That meant Clemson was able to inbound the ball and throw a full-court pass even with the free throw miss. Clemson got a very good look at a three that bounced off the rim as time expired.

Colorado at Oklahoma:
All I have to say about this game is that it was “Star Wars” day at Oklahoma. They had a bunch of people in Star Wars costumes dancing during the commercials, and a special appearance by the guy who played Chewbacca in the original Star Wars films. Also, we all knew Colorado was going to come back to earth at some point, but it would have been fun if their crazy run lasted a little bit longer. Losing to Oklahoma hurts.

Tennessee at Connecticut:
Tobias Harris and Brian Williams facial features seem eerily similar to me. Ok, maybe it is just the haircut. So the upcoming Duke blowout of St. John’s not withstanding, the Big East has pretty much dominated the non-conference slate again. But will the Big East deliver in the tournament?

Villanova at Syracuse:
College basketball is often about match-ups, and Villanova’s great shooting and quickness is just a bad match-up for the Syracuse zone. (Jay Wright’s 10-5 record against Syracuse makes that clear.) There was one play where Corey Fisher sliced through the lane and threw up a crazy shot for the bucket and the foul and Rick Jackson had a look of shock on his face. What do we have to do to shut these guys down? Of course about a month ago I was talking about how Tennesee’s lateral quickness on defense was a terrible match-up for Villanova. Tennesee shut down penetration, and kept Villanova from getting anything other than a series of forced jumpers. Is Tennesee better than Syracuse? Probably not. But in college basketball, style of play and match-ups do matter.

Ohio St. at Illinois:
How odd is it to be watching a Big Ten game and be impressed with the dominating freshman players? Jared Sullinger was the differnce maker for Ohio St., but Deshaun Thomas hit arguably the two biggest shots of the game (when Ohio St. took the lead). And Jereme Richmond of Illinois also had his best performance this season. I’m used to needing to watch Big 12 or ACC games to see freshman shine on the biggest stage. But at least for one day, the Big Ten delivered.

By the way, I’m still in the Terrence Jones camp over Sullinger. I just think given the amount of experienced talent around Sullinger, Jones performance this year has been more impressive. But there’s no question that Jared Sullinger put Ohio St. on his back and refused to let the Buckeyes lose on Saturday.

Rutgers at Seton Hall:
What a brutal week for Seton Hall. They blew a late lead against Georgetown and then lost to Rutgers at home. They probably thought they’d be a .500 team a few days ago, but now they are 2-6 in Big East play. Ouch. I think as a whole Seton Hall is becoming a better “team” without Jeremy Hazell launching threes like crazy. So in some sense, his injury was a blessing. But what they really need is a healthy Hazell hitting threes within a more cohesive offense.

Rutgers coach Mike Rice said the other night that his team needed to not settle for playing better basketball, and start getting wins. And at least against the bottom of the Big East he came through this week beating South Florida and Seton Hall. Whether that translates against better quality opponents remains to be seen, but Rutgers is 3-4 in league play, and that’s a nice start for the first year coach.

Nebraska at Texas Tech:
I said last week that Texas Tech was a scary team. Essentially, I think they have quit on Pat Knight which is why they are playing so poorly. But if they manage to hang close in a game, I think are capable of pulling an upset given all their experience. And despite Nebraska being favored by 10 points on, the Red Raiders did in fact earn the narrow win on Saturday. Texas Tech won with a tip-in with 4 seconds left. Sadly I did not see it.

Virginia at Georgia Tech:
Virginia is another team I would not want to play right now. They have a terrible record, but when their guards get hot, they can be very dangerous. When Virginia’s Mike Scott was injured, it seemed likely they would fold up their tent, but not under Tony Bennett. After playing Duke close for half a game, Virginia dominated Georgia Tech on Saturday.

Minnesota at Michigan:
This game was one of the biggest contrasts in style of all time. Michigan was completely dependent on their ability to make jump shots, and Minnesota was completely dependent on their ability to get lay-ups in the paint. Minnesota was the bigger, more athletic team, and in the long-run that seems like it should win out. But the Gophers turned the ball over at a horrific rate, making things much closer than you might expect. Part of that was an injury to Al Nolen which had Blake Hoffarber as the Gophers only experienced guard for much of the game. But much of it was the Minnesota players just making dumb, unforced errors. In the end, Minnesota prevailed, but the contrast of styles made for a very amusing game.

Eastern Kentucky at Morehead St.:
After a great feature on Kenneth Faried in Sports Illustrated, the rebounding machine pulled down 21 boards in the televised home loss. But he also committed a key offensive foul late in the game with his team trailing by 4 points. The OVC was supposed to be a fun race between a Murray St. team that nearly beat Butler in last year’s NCAA tournament and Faried’s Morehead St. team, but neither team has been dominant, and the OVC race is wide open.

VCU at Old Dominion:
VCU won at Old Dominion, and with three losses in conference play, it may be time to stop labeling ODU the conference favorite. I still think ODU has the best chance of winning in the NCAA tournament of any mid-major because of their size in the paint. But the CAA has a lot of quality teams, and the odds of ODU making the tournament are starting to slip.

Rice at UCF:
Speaking of tournament odds slipping, what has happened to UCF? How can they lose at home to one of the worst teams in C-USA? I don’t think we should take anything away from what UCF did in the non-conference. Winning against Florida is a big accomplishment for a C-USA school in any year. But at 1-4 in conference play, UCF’s NCAA tournament hopes are looking very slim right now.

Louisville at Providence:
Providence became the first team with a losing record in the Big East to beat a team with a winning record in the Big East. Our first true upset 50+ games in?

Charlotte at Duquesne:
Why do the margin-of-victory numbers think Duquesne is now the A-10 favorite? Because when they win, they win convincingly. Duquesne crushed Charlotte on Saturday. Get ready to hear head coach Ron Everhart’s name mentioned for job openings in the upcoming hiring cycle.

Kansas St. at Texas A&M:
I’m going to have about 500 more words on Kansas St. before the season is over, but I think it is fair to ask how a team that was picked to win the Big 12 by the coaches (and me) is 1-4 in league play. Mostly, the offense has gone in the tank. No one has been able to replace Denis Clemente’s ball handling, and turnovers are up substantially. Also, the team’s free throw rate is down substantially, but that is because the team is afraid to go to the line right now. The team is missing free throws as such a horrific rate that they are now being more tentative around the basket. The net result is a Kansas St. offense that has gone in the tank.

Kansas at Texas:
Bill Self is unquestionably one of the best coaches in college basketball, but I disagree with Seth Davis’ halftime assessment that this might be the best Kansas team in several seasons. I think this team has more experience and plenty of depth, but it lacks the NBA level talent of some of the recent teams. Because of Bill Self’s ability to teach elite defense, Kansas is going to be in the hunt until the very end. But I could very well see them losing in the NCAA tournament like they did today, to a persistent talented team.

I cannot wait for BYU vs San Diego St. on Wednesday night!