I think the high point of the day came around 5:30pm ET on Saturday. Four games came down to the wire simultaneously:
1) Leading by only one point at LSU with a minute to go, Mississippi St. needed some stops. And the much-maligned pair of Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost came through for Mississippi St. First, Sidney blocked a shot in the lane. Then on the next possession, Bost stripped the ball allowing time to expire. Normally you expect star players to win the game on the offensive end, but today Mississippi St.’s stars won it on the defensive end.
2) Trailing by one point while hosting Iowa, Indiana called time out. Then the Hoosiers wasted about 15 seconds without doing anything which caused a frustrated Tom Crean to call time out again. After this time out, Indiana’s Verdell Jones took a tough pull-up in the lane, and Victor Oladipo missed a tip-in that would have won the game at the buzzer. Iowa held on.
3) Generally, FG droughts are a dumb statistic. If a team is still scoring at the FT line, the fact that they do not make any FGs from the floor is irrelevant. But at a certain length of time, FG droughts do become an interesting stat. And Memphis went 11:47 in the second half vs Gonzaga without making a bucket from the floor. At a certain point Gonzaga just realized that Memphis could not make jumpers and started packing 4 or 5 players in the paint. The strategy almost worked, but a couple of late baskets, most notably Antonio Barton’s game-winner, were the difference. Barton’s game-winning shot was all the more amazing because it was a complete brick. It hit the back of the rim, but instead of the normal ricochet out of the basket area, the ball died, and fell into the hoop. Hey, sometimes when you go 11:47 without a made basket, you catch a break.
4) Meanwhile, on the tree-floor at Oregon, Washington suffered its 3rd straight loss. Despite a relentless effort by Isaiah Thomas to get the ball to the basket and extend the game, Oregon made enough free throws to hang on. Washington was rated 6th in the Pomeroy ratings last week, but 2 losses to Oregon schools have caused their rating to plummet. Credit should go to Oregon's Joevan Catron for a number of key baskets that put the game away late.
Speaking of Washington, things have not gone that well for the Maui invitational field lately. Washington has lost 3 in a row. Connecticut barely won at Seton Hall tonight and Kemba Walker is falling out of the national POY race. Ignoring Saturday night’s game (which is in progress), Kentucky was only 4-3 in SEC play. And Michigan St. is struggling more than any of these teams. You have to believe all four coaches can get their teams back on track, but while these Maui particpants once looked like Final Four contenders, none would be a clear Final Four pick right now.
Other thoughts in my head:
-Thursday night my wife noted the following: Doesn’t Abromitis sound like some sort of medical condition. As in:
“Did you know that kid has been playing with Abromitis all year?”
“Wow, that can really be painful. I’m glad to see he’s toughing it out.”
-When USF plays at the St. Pete Forum in Tampa, why don’t they paint the floor green? A lot of these Big East schools have alternate arenas, but most of them make some effort to make it seem like a home floor. Poor Stan Heath, this is what he is working with.
Georgetown - Providence
I have not had much to say about Georgetown this year. Part of that is because this is such a veteran team, that there are not a lot of NEW observations to be made. But I still remember how upset Doug Gottlieb got when the Hoyas "got lucky" and won a ton of close games with Jesse Sapp, Jonathan Wallace, and Roy Hibbert. And I wonder if Doug Gottlieb is going to freak out when he sees the ending of the Georgetown-Providence game today. Chris Wright made an amazing play to steal the ball, but it looks an awful lot like he calls time out despite the fact that Georgetown did not have any timeouts left. The officials didn’t grant it, so it was not a technical foul. But if I was a Providence fan, I would have definitely wanted two free throws in that situation.
Georgetown continues to struggle in games where a single player gets hot. I think of Stephen Curry in the tournament a few years ago, Armon Bassett in the tournament last year, and even Dominique Jones at the Verizon Center not that long ago. Today Marshon Brooks scored 43 points. I’ve always thought it was because Georgetown did not have a single lock-down defensive stopper. But now I wonder if it might be a flaw in John Thompson’s coaching. He said after the game that when a player is having a career day, he tells the players to focus on shutting off the other players. He figures it is rare that one player can win a game single-handedly. Over the long haul, I think that’s right. But in the NCAA tournament, I’m not sure I would want to risk it. I’d love to see someone (Jerrelle Benimon perhaps?) take it upon himself to become a lock-down defender for this team.
Also, even though he did not play well today, I have to commend Hollis Thompson for hanging tough and realizing what a spark he can be off the bench. His three pointer against Louisville on Monday was the deciding factor, and you need players who are willing to put the team first. After Larry Drew transferred this week in response to his new role as a bench player, I am reminded what a mature decision it is for Hollis to accept a role coming off the bench. As we saw against Louisville, just because he does not start, that does not mean Thompson will not be on the floor in crunch time.
The Illinois vs Northwestern game was not on TV in my area, but thanks to the miracle known as a “Slingbox”, I was able to watch the game. A few notes:
-CBS claimed this was the first time CBS televised a game at Northwestern. Is that really possible?
-CBS kept talking about how long a streak it had been since Northwestern had defeated a ranked team. But their last win over a ranked team came in 2010. I’m not saying it is a meaningless streak, but we’re not talking about DePaul here.
-Northwestern won despite Luka Mirkovic being called for an unintentional punch to the face. Northwestern won despite a bad-offensive goaltending call wiping out a basket.
-Davide Curletti’s block of Mike Tisdale’s shot in the first half was one of those plays that was quite symbolic of Tisdale’s career. For all the big shots he has made, smaller defenders can still easily guard the Illini’s 7 foot center. Bruce Weber responded by putting Meyers Leonard in the game and Leonard proceeded to get a monster wrap-around dunk. You sometimes wonder if the Illinois freshman should be playing more because the seniors continue to fail in key situations. Mike Tisdale seemingly can only score on the pick-and-roll, and when teams play zone he is a non-factor. Mike Davis made some key plays in this game, but he also missed a ton of two point jumpers. Davis, more than anyone, needs to realize the value of drawing contact inside. And Demetri McCamey was once again a non-factor for the first 35 minutes of the game.
Last week I mentioned that Illinois had been unlucky for 7 years in a row, and David Hess recently did a little analysis of what impacts luck. If you have not read it, please check it out.
I really hate the focus on seeding and the bubble this time of year because there are so many games left to play. If teams win, things tend to take care of themselves.
But Northwestern’s resume has to be mentioned. Even with this win, Northwestern is just 1-8 vs the RPI top 50, and 2-8 vs the RPI top 100. As much as I’d like to see Northwestern make a surprise run at the NCAA tournament, if I’m going to cheer for a surprise Big Ten team at this point, it has to be Penn St.
I’ve also started to believe that Alabama is a solid team this year based on their improving Pomeroy rating and great conference record, but we cannot overlook how terrible the SEC West is this year. Alabama is just 2-4 against the RPI top 100 (beating Kentucky and Tennessee.) With the weakness of the SEC West, Saturday Night’s OT win at Tennessee was enormous for the Crimson tide.