Big 12 Tourney Daily Diary: 1st RoundPosted by jstevrtc on March 11th, 2010
I love days like yesterday. Sure, the drive was a beautiful 8.5 hours of the same view — that is to say, farms, farms, and more farms, and where there weren’t actual farms, there was grass. And it’s all flatter than a Shaquille O’Neal free throw. But no matter the surroundings, it’s one of my favorite things to do. Is there any greater feeling — especially right after thawing out from a tough winter — than packing a bag and a cooler (of fruit, granola, and bottled water, mind you), filling the gas tank, and hitting the road? There aren’t many, for me. Especially when the Big 12 Tournament is waiting at the end of that journey. Don’t get me wrong, though — I was thankful for the satellite radio. Have the satellite radio guys received their Nobel Prize, yet? One second, I’m listening to ESPN Radio or Sporting News Radio dudes talking about hoops. Then the NFL talk starts and I switch to, say, the BBC’s Europe Today, or a song by Gomez, or some blues from B.B. King. Then back to hoops talk. Fantastic. And no, we’re not affiliated with them in any way. I’m just being honest.
One of the best parts of any journey like this is when I text my friends who are at their jobs. I’ll send them some generic message asking them what they’re doing, and they’ll respond with some variation of, “I’m at the office, knee-deep in status reports/memos/directives, trying to knock things off my action items list. You never text during work hours. What’s up?” And I’ll type, “Oh, nothing. I was driving to the Big 12 Tournament, enjoying some tunes, a gorgeous drive, a 70-degree day, and the prospect of four days of top-flight basketball. Thought I’d give you a shout. But you go back to your thing.” Even though this is a blog and I’m allowed to type almost anything, I’ll spare you the vitriol that my friends offered in response. Not even close to being safe for work.
So, as the comedian says, I’m here all week. This’ll mostly be about basketball, but you might see some reviews of barbecue restaurants and/or interviews and pics from the festivities here. This is such a great time of year, and this is the conference tournament at which to be. Now, some notes from Wednesday’s games:
Texas 82, Iowa State 75
I didn’t know what we were going to get in this one, since Texas was obviously reeling, having dropped eight of 14, and Iowa State had just scored that victory over Kansas. But is this what Texas needed, meaning the second season to arrive? There’s a small part of me that’s been wondering if Texas mentally checked out at the midpoint of the season after they took their first loss because of the boredom that can take over teams. A longshot, I know. But there aren’t many reasons why a team this talented and athletic can’t get themselves out of first gear, a place they seemed to be stuck since the middle of January.
Was Matt Hill — with his three points, three rebounds, and one block — one of Texas’ most important players against the Cyclones? He averaged 4.3 minutes each game, but logged 12 last night. Dexter Pittman scored 16 points in 19 minutes and never looked winded, a dividend no doubt coming as a result of the minutes Hill contributed. After the game, both Damion James and head coach Rick Barnes made mention of how impressive they were with Hill. When Barnes brought up his name in the post-game, every media rep looked down at their final stat sheets simultaneously as if to say, “Really?” But the rewards are evident in Pittman’s line, not Hill’s.
Damion James returned to the form that had him in the Player of the Year conversation earlier this season. It was clearly apparent that he was taking over this game early in the first half. He barely sat for two minutes the entire game. 28/16/3 stls/2 blks is a man’s line. And it came from everywhere on the floor.
You hear a lot about Iowa State’s two pro prospects in Marquis Gilstrap (17/8) and Craig Brackins (15/6), and sure, they both had fine games despite Gilstrap’s tough shooting night (4-13 from the floor). But let me give some props to junior point guard Diante Garrett who stepped up with 15/4/8 assts, and junior forward LaRon Dendy (12/5/3 stls), whose points came on a perfect 6-6 from the floor. These are two fellows to keep an eye on next year. We didn’t hear much about them this season, but there’s talent there.
And there’s no way I couldn’t mention that a league-high five Longhorns were named to the Academic All-Big 12 first team a few days ago, including Damion James. He’s an education/social work major and you have to have at least a 3.2 GPA to make the first team. Seriously, the guy just puts up numbers everwhere it counts, eh?
Oklahoma State 81, Oklahoma 67
If Oklahoma State’s Keiton Page isn’t a Sprint cellular customer, I’d say he will be by the end of the week, because he must LOVE the Sprint Center. Keiton drilled his first five threes to open his Big 12 Tournament account and put the Cowboys in cruise control early against the Sooners. After the fourth one, I happened to turn to the Big 12 network anchors right behind me and they were shaking their heads in wonder, and I asked the network’s announcer Reid Gettys (remember him from those great Houston teams?) if maybe getting someone on Page might be in OU’s best interest. Gettys laughed, answered me by saying “Would it matter?” and put his face in his hands. Oklahoma was uninterested in this one except for about the first seven minutes of the second half. OU did win the second half, 44-36, but Oklahoma State coach Travis Ford reluctantly admitted that his guys took their foot off the gas pedal late in the game.
Why do we not hear more about Obi Muonelo? Kid averages 13.5 PPG and 5.3 RPG in the Big 12, is definitely one of those “drink-stirring straw” guys for this team, and we hear so little about him. Keiton Page’s 24 points were pretty snazzy, given that streak he hit, but Muonelo posted 15/8/7 assts last night. That’s a silent leader.
Props also to Big 12 Player of the Year James Anderson (who received his award before the game), who’s also on the Academic All-Big 12′s second team, requiring a GPA of between 3.00-3.19. I tell you, I’m impressed by anyone who’s on the all academic team — and my former professors tell me I should be — but especially these game-dominating players like Anderson and Texas’ Damion James.
OU’s best moments in this game came in the first seven minutes of the second half, as noted above, where they held OSU scoreless. Part of that was due to OSU “making the mistake of letting up, a little,” as Muonelo said in the post-game. Just after OSU scored their first points of the half, the mental edge was regained by the Cowboys after Keiton Page clean-stripped Tommy Mason-Griffin in his own backcourt while he was bringing the ball up the floor — and he subsequently took TMG to the hole and got an and-one on him. Ouch.
OSU beat Kansas State back on January 23, which is why KSU coach Frank Martin could be found sitting almost motionless and with unchanging expression while he sat on press row, scouting the Cowboys, who his team gets on Thursday night. Martin, from the Topeka Capitol-Journal: “I’m excited to play somebody that knocked us down the first time around. Does that mean it’s going to be an easy game? Nah. Does that mean we’re winning? No. It just means that’s what I like. I like playing teams that got me the first time. That’s my personality.”
Nebraska 75, Missouri 60
This was just the second time EVER that a 12-seed had beaten a 5-seed in this tournament, which only turns up the volume on the question: Mizzou, what were you thinking? If your NCAA Tournament chances weren’t tenuous enough before this game, well, they sure are now. I was amazed by Missouri’s failure to mentally launch to start the game, and we all know that, if you come out flat, that’s a tough motor to get going when your opponent’s playing inspired basketball.
You need no further proof that the Tigers were sluggish in terms of interest and morale than to look at how many times they turned the ball over — FOUR. Counter-intuitive? Perhaps. But it wasn’t anything special that Missouri was doing on defense, no special schemes, no Freak, no Amoeba. Missouri just mailed in this effort.
Nebraska cut through every defense Mizzou threw at them — full-court, half-court, zone, man — like an extremely well-prepared team. How do you shoot 55.8%? Break the press with the skill of a locksmith and shoot lay-up after lay-up.
I have to ask — anyone else surprised by the lack of production from the Tigers’ J.T. Tiller this year? His rebounding and assists are down from last year, but his scoring (8.8 PPG) is only up by less than a half of a point. Despite being the guy who often guards the other team’s best player, Mizzou fans were still hoping he’d contribute a touch more this season.
Texas Tech 82, Colorado 67
The day started in a fairly empty Sprint Center with this first-rounder in which Texas Tech merely had to overcome their own early propensity to turn the ball over before distancing themselves from the Buffaloes. Once the Raiders took the lead about four minutes into the game, they never lost it again. John Roberson is a really smooth junior guard about whom we hear very little, and the only thing more impressive than his 19 points on 6-12 shooting were his nine assists to four different players.
The most talented player on the floor was Colorado’s Alec Burks. He posted a fabulous 24/10, but those ten rebounds were most of Colorado’s 26 (TTU had 36). The Buffs would be a much better club if they could get some help on the glass. They were ranked 335th in defensive rebounding and 342nd on the offensive glass this season — and that’s out of 347 teams.