Sunday, January 16, 2011

Life is Good

Here are some things I am thankful for this season:

1) Two Hour Games - College Basketball has ruined all other sports for me. As much as I have historically loved football, this season has convinced me that games are just too long. But maybe I'm just bitter that I sat through all those Vikings games, while the Bears and Packers are in the NFC title game.

2) Fran McCaffery – Iowa is not very good yet, but seeing them on Sunday reminded me how happy I am to see that Todd Lickliter is gone. Was that really Iowa following a made Minnesota basket with transition lay-up? Was that really Iowa taking multiple transition three pointers? In tonight’s episode of the Journey, McCaffery talked about how Iowa fans miss the days when Tom Davis used to run-and-gun. And I’m glad to see him attempt to embrace it, even if it is going to take a few years to get the talent to make it work.

Aside #1: The Big Ten is now down to four coaches who hate college basketball. (I.e. prefer brutally slow-paced games.) That list includes Bo Ryan, Ed DeChellis, Bill Carmody, and John Beliein. Bo Ryan isn’t going anywhere, and I can’t blame Penn St. for trying to shorten the game. But the Big Ten only needs one Princeton-style offense.

Aside #2: By the way, how lucky is Minnesota to have a week off and then play Michigan and Northwestern back-to-back. If there was ever a time to practice playing against 1-3-1 defense and the Princeton offense, the Gophers got a gift by the Big Ten schedule-makers.

Aside #3: The ACC is getting slower. In 2008, there was only one slow team, NC State, and they were a last place team so it was hard to blame them for wanting to slow the tempo. Now Virginia, Boston College, and Clemson have started to move to the dark side. Steve Donahue said he was going to play much faster than he did at Cornell, but it has not happened so far. I think he prefers trying to win to trying to impose a faster-paced system.

(Much to my surprise, Wake Forest head coach Jeff Bzdelik is not playing a slow-paced system as he did at Colorado. Apparently he wants to make sure Wake Forest gets blown out every game. Of all my pre-season predictions, none looks better than picking Wake for last in the ACC.)

But back to things I am thankful for:

3) JaJuan Johnson – Has he been playing out of his mind or what? I can’t believe that he didn’t get the final shot when trailing by two against West Virginia. He was making impossible shot after impossible shot. Why not give him the chance? I was among those who thought Purdue would struggle this year. Johnson was good but not great last year, and I thought there was no way he could perform at a high level with so much defensive attention focused on him. I was wrong. Johnson has become a superstar.

Aside #1: It is hard to argue with Ryne Smith’s shooting, but Lewis Jackson’s ability to take the ball to the basket and draw fouls seems to be the missing piece for Purdue. Or maybe both are important, but I’m a sucker for driving guards. The three point shot might not fall, but if you can beat your man off the dribble, that’s always there.

(You probably think it odd that I praise a team that lost twice in the week, but nothing about Purdue’s performance convinced me they were a bad team.)

4) North Carolina's inconsistent three point shooting – North Carolina is in a perfect sweet spot. They are one of the must-see “brand names” in college basketball, and yet most of their games have been competitive this year.

Many factors have been identified as reasons for North Carolina’s struggles, but my favorite factor is their inability to knock down wide-open threes. Teams used to have to work so hard to keep North Carolina out of the paint, and then Wayne Ellington and Danny Green would just punish them. Now those same shots just seem to clang off the rim.

I’m in an odd position this year. As a Gopher and Fighting Illini fan, I want North Carolina to win and remain a quality non-conference victory. But as a fan of college basketball, cheering for North Carolina against Georgia Tech just seems wrong.

5) Colorado – It depresses me a little bit how much we “know” at this point in the season. (Just look at the Big Ten standings and it has already started to sort into various tiers.) But what I love about college basketball is when a team just goes out and proves us wrong. Colorado was supposed to be an 8th or 9th place Big 12 team. And the defense still is not great, so maybe they still will be. But winning at Kansas St., and beating Missouri and Oklahoma St. at home has Colorado at 3-0 and first place in the Big 12. Sweet.

6) Duquesne – But I also like it when the margin-of-victory numbers pick out a surprise. Ken Pomeroy picked Duquesne as an A-10 sleeper and they just beat league favorite Temple.

7) The SEC title race – Kentucky has feasted on two terrible SEC West teams at home, but they have all their good games coming up. I just have no idea which games those will be. Who else is good in this league? Why is everyone so inconsistent?

8) Afternoon basketball – If you have Monday off, enjoy the quadruple-header.