ATB: Epic Night in MSGPosted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2009
Six OTs. Syracuse 127, Connecticut 117 (6OT). Every once in a while there’s a game where as you’re watching it you just know something amazing is going to happen. Maybe it’s the bounce the players have on the court or the electricity in the air of the crowd. Maybe it’s the way a seven-foot-three giant outhustles a guy half his size for a loose ball on the floor, or the way a shooter comes hard off a curl to drill a 28-footer like it was a floater in the lane. It’s unclear how you know what you know, but you know that you’re witnessing something special, and you’re not alone – everyone in the joint can sense it, and the fans watching from home feel it too. There are only a few games in our personal history that we can remember having that sensation. The Laettner game was one – we realized it when UK started nailing threes all over the place to erase the 12-pt Duke lead in the blink of an eye. The Arizona-Gonzaga second round game in 2003 was another. Tonight’s Syracuse-UConn game was the latest.
Games like this, you don’t just watch. All the senses are engaged. You breathe them. You taste them. Even better, these games breathe you. They inhale the collective emotions and anxieties of everyone in the building, and like a living organism, emit a beautiful poetry of synaptic orgasmica. The final game time was just shy of four hours (an absurd length for a hoops game), but the second half and OTs felt like about fifteen minutes. It’s like nestling up with a loved one or stumbling across your favorite movie on TNT. Time no longer matters. That’s how you know. Our Big East correspondent, Rob Dauster, was live-blogging this game from his Blackberry inside MSG tonight, and reading through his posts is like reading the wild scribblings of a man reaching hoops nirvana (and exhaustion). There was one post that he made that absolutely crystallized this game for everyone tonight – “Every single person is standing in this gym.“ Because that’s what it comes down to: the crowd, the players, the gym – all in unison, all making magic happen. For what it’s worth, Rob, every single person at home was standing too.
Now let’s get to the game itself. Obviously, we’ve been saying all year that Syracuse has F4 talent. The problem has been that they haven’t been able to maximize that talent, but the Orange are now showing signs that they’re starting to figure it out. This SU team has a swagger that we haven’t seen since the G-Mac days, but the key difference is that Jonny Flynn, Eric Devendorf, Paul Harris, Arinze Onuaku and Andy Rautins are far more talented than McNamara’s last two teams. We fully expect the Orange to have nothing left in the tank for WVU tomorrow night, but we’d be utterly shocked if this team laid an egg in next week’s NCAAs. The Cuse plays hard, and we just have a sneaky suspicion this year that they’re going to make some noise in this year’s Tourney (Flynn’s Charles Smith impression notwithstanding).
As for UConn, they had three possessions in the first five OTs to win the game, and each time they dribbled the ball around and forced up some horrible shot. Even the play that gave them the tie to send it to OT before Devendorf’s absurd three at the end of regulation was off of a broken play. This is indicative of the same problem that has plagued this group of Huskies since they got to Storrs – they’re just not clutch. Here we are discussing a group of juniors that spent several weeks at #1 this year, and they’ve yet to win a postseason game. Not one! Husky fans are going to get angry at us and declare that they were able to win some meaningless game against Gonzaga or whoever during the regular season… but they’re UConn, an elite program, and they should know better than that. Legacies are built in March (that’s how Calhoun built his), and this group of players remains suspect until they prove once and for all that they can play championship level basketball in tournament formats. We’re still waiting on it.
Whew. Were there any other games today/tonight? We covered the afternoon games in our mid-day ATB, but our basic conclusion was that Arizona, K-State, Miami (FL) and Northwestern had irrevocable losses today, while Kentucky, Virginia Tech, Minnesota, Baylor and Michigan helped themselves. See that post for further analysis on those games. Meanwhile, in tonight’s games there were two other top ten teams besides UConn who decided that the quarterfinal round was enough for them this week, but the majority of the bubble teams helped themselves this evening.
- Oklahoma St. 71, Oklahoma 70. We had a feeling this one would go this way. James Anderson made sure of it with 2.3 seconds remaining as he sunk two huge FTs to simultaneously ensure OSU’s inclusion in next week’s NCAAs and knock their rival’s hopes for a #1 seed into oblivion. Blake Griffin had 17/19, but OSU successfully limited his touches to only nine FG attempts. OSU is red hot going into tomorrow’s semifinal game with Missouri, now having won eight of nine.
- West Virginia 74, Pittsburgh 60. What have we been preaching all year in this space about Pitt? You get DeJuan Blair in foul trouble, and they’re all of a sudden an average team. Guess who fouled out in eighteen inconsistent minutes? Yep. Blair had his second-lowest rebound total of the season (5) and Pitt went to 0-3 when their superstar big man fouls out of the game. This is exactly what will finish Pitt in two weeks. WVU on the other hand is proving all the Pomeroyians right – they’ll move into the semis to play an exhausted Syracuse team with a very good chance at getting to Saturday night’s finals.
- Penn St. – PSU put an end to Indiana’s nightmare season tonight, but it’ll take a quarterfinal win over Purdue on Friday to fully convince the Committee that the Nittany Lions are a worthy entrant. Their RPI is in the 60s, but they have six top fifty wins including road wins over Michigan St. and Illinois and a home win against Purdue, the top three teams in this conference.
- San Diego St. – Today’s game against UNLV could have been an elimination game, as both teams were squarely on the bubble, but it would be hard to believe that SDSU would be left out at this point. They’re trending very well (9-3) and they just defeated fellow bubbler UNLV twice in a row. The MWC deserves at least three teams (esp. if the SEC gets more than that), and outside of MormonLand (BYU and Utah), this is probably the league’s third-best team.
- Maryland - Greivis Vasquez had 17/10 assts to keep Maryland in the conversation for an NCAA bid today, but the Terps will definitely have to beat Wake Forest tomorrow and possibly Duke/Va Tech on Saturday to get back into the picture. It couldn’t have helped that a report came out today that Vasquez is already thinking NBA.
- Dayton – UD is a team nobody, and we mean nobody, is talking about, yet the Flyers have an 8-3 record against the RPI top 100. They’re a lock for the Tourney, but we’re wondering why nobody is discussing a team that might get as high as a 6 or 7 seed on Sunday.
- Boston College – BC earned another shot at Duke with a mundane win over Virginia tonight in the ACC Tourney. The Eagles are no lock, but wins over Duke and Carolina tend to carry a lot of weight, so if they lose tomorrow, they’re still probably in ok shape.
- Florida – The Gators got the first of probably two wins they need to feel comfortable with a victory over Arkansas tonight. Not that it matters much, the Gators are softer than a charmin roll and will be out immediately if they do manage to make it. Auburn is next.
- USC – Another team nobody talks about whatsoever this year, but the Trojans greatly improved their NCAA chances with a win over Cal by nearly getting double-doubles from three different players tonight (Taj Gibson, Demar DeRozan and Daniel Hackett, who needed one rebound). USC is only 3-8 against the RPI top 50, but they’ll have an opportunity tomorrow to get a marquee win against UCLA in the semis.
- California – The Bears are still a Tourney team, but they’re slumping at the wrong time, now having lost three of four down the stretch. A 12-8 record against the RPI top 100 has them safely in, though they’re now probably looking at a seed in the 6-8 range rather than a possible 4-6.
- Washington St. – Wazzu probably needed to win the Pac-10 Tourney, but given the unpredictability of this league and the way the Cougs have been playing lately, it wasn’t unrealistic to think they had a chance to do so starting with UCLA tonight. However, not with Taylor Rochestie going 1-11 from the field (a far cry from his last trip to LA – 33 pts).
- Rhode Island – Jimmy Baron had eight threes but it wasn’t enough as Rhodie (along with Providence) probably is on the outside looking in as we go into the final weekend of conference basketball. They were 6-7 against the RPI top 100, but their RPI hovers in the mid-60s, which when combined with today’s loss, won’t be good enough.
- New Mexico – Despite New Mexico’s 12-4 conference record, the Lobos gave up ten threes and 53% shooting against a team they could not afford to do so to, and even though the Lobos have finished strong (9-3), they haven’t beaten an RPI top 100 team on the road all season.
On Tap Friday. We’ll be back Friday with a special weekday edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite! So if you’re dwelling in your cube with no access to ESPN 360 tomorrow, join us and we’ll carry you through the day’s games until you get home and watch them yourself. We’ll have a schedule of the best games tomorrow morning on BGTD, but from tonight’s viewpoint, the ones we’re most excited about are the Big East semi between Louisville and Villanova as well as the Patriot title game between American and Holy Cross.