Big 12 Tourney Daily Diary: Quarterfinals

Posted by jstevrtc on March 12th, 2010

After two days of hoops at the Big 12 Tournament in Kansas City, what’s all the talk?  The rocking of chalk.

I don’t just mean the Jayhawk victory over Texas Tech.  The crowds in KC are definitely enjoying themselves and taking in some high-quality hoops, but they’re wondering where the upsets are.  So far, the only real upset we’ve had so far was the first round toppling of Missouri by Nebraska.  As I was talking to some Kansas State fans about this in a local restaurant after the game, one of them spoke the truth:  “Upsets are great, as long as it’s not happening to your team.”

Upsets or no, I’ll say this:  these flyover country folks know how to enjoy college basketball.  It’s obvious from being here how much everyone who’s taken over downtown KC this week, from the fan with the worst seat in the Sprint Center to the highest Big 12 administrator, loves college hoops.  My spot on media row is right beside ESPN’s (and Big 12 Network’s) Holly Rowe, who couldn’t be nicer, and is probably a bigger overall sports fan than anyone in the arena.  Like most experts, she says it’s coming down to Kansas and Kentucky in the final, but also is high on Ohio State.  And when I asked her about certain colleagues of hers who are appearing on certain ABC dancing shows later this year, she smiled, suddenly turned serious, and said, “I’m the better salsa dancer.  That’s all I’m saying.”

Who are the cockiest fans in Kansas City?  The Kansas Jayhawk fans, of course.  So far they’ve won my awards for the greatest number and loudest fans.  I don’t mean cocky in an off-putting way.  They’re not punks about it, just very self-assured about this team of theirs.  And how can you not be, if you’re a Jayhawk fan?

These two Jayhawk fans had already lit their cigars to celebrate a NATIONAL championship. And they obviously have great taste in clothes.

Some notes, through the quarterfinals:

#9 Kansas State 83, Oklahoma State 64

  • From the moment he stepped onto the Sprint Center floor, you could tell something was different about Jamar Samuels.  He barely missed in warm-ups, but neither did the rest of the Wildcats.  You could tell Samuels considered this a revenge game for the home loss that Oklahoma State put on K-State back on January 23.  Then they guy comes off the bench and torches the Cowboys for 21 points and nine rebounds…by halftime.  He ended with 27/10, and only slightly less impressive than that performance was that of Jacob Pullen (19 points/3 assists).  When OSU tried a man-to-man, Kansas State blew by them and got lay-ups.  When OSU tried a 2-3 zone, Pullen shot them out of it by hitting 5-8 threes.  Travis Ford’s club looked tired and K-State’s inflating their lead to almsot 30 at one point in the first half didn’t exactly help.
This little K-State fan is smiling for obvious reasons.
  • After the game, Pullen remarked that they tried to pressure OSU’s James Anderson with tough, in-the-jersey defense at all times and even more physicality when he drove to the hoop.  Anderson got his, though, finishing with 27/5/3 asst, but it took every drop in his tank to do it.  In just the late first half, he was walking back to the bench during timeouts, hands behind his head, and tugging on his shorts at every dead ball.
  • Denis Clemente has been pilloried by pretty much everyone all year long regarding his propensity to fire threes — sometimes well-defended and deep — early in the shot clock.  He’s had Wildcat fans scratching their heads all year long with his decision-making on several fronts, not something you want in your point guard.  He was a different man last night.  Clemente ended the game with 12 points and 10 assists, relying on textbook passes as opposed to flashiness.  Most impressive was his shot selection; he hit 5-11 from the field and didn’t toss up a questionable three all night.  Coach Frank Martin defended his point guard, though, stating that all year long, “People who don’t see us practice every day and don’t see us play every single game don’t understand just how tuned in he is with what we have to do,” and mentioned that at one point last night Clemente overruled Martin on a play call, and it worked out for them with a three pointer by Samuels at the end of the half.
  • The most telling point about the Wildcats — they’re loose.  It’s easy to be loose after a big revenge win, but in the post-game these guys were punching around on each other, laughing, so on.  Nothing like the stoic monotone you can get even from winning players in a post-game presser.  Martin:  “That’s the kind of trust you have in a great point guard.”

#20 Baylor 86, Texas 67

  • Baylor showed you something about themselves last night.  They lost their leading scorer LaceDarius Dunn early on last night after he was called for two quick fouls and a technical for jawing with Damion James.  Instead of panicking, the rest of the squad just absorbed that hit and played to their strengths — slashing, breaking guys down, getting to the rim and taking contact.  And when those slippery guards couldn’t do that, they got it to Ekpe Udoh, whose inside game is so smooth and mature it’s almost scary.  Baylor’s stable of athletes allows them to do this.  There’s nobody in the game today who gets the ball up the floor in transition like them.  Dunn came back fresh in the second half for 17 points, ending with an amazing 19 point/9 rebound/7 assist performance.
  • Just like the Kansas State fellas, the Baylor guys are having fun, here.  And they’ve been having fun all year long.  In the post-game, they were also cracking up, making fun of each other, etc, and coach Scott Drew was taking part as well.  You won’t have much more fun watching a college basketball game if you’re watching Baylor.  Again, I know it’s easy to have fun when you’re winning.  But I don’t think there’s any doubt that winning can happen because you’re having fun.  This season we’ve heard a few teams say the opposite, i.e. they just want to get on to the NCAA (we’re looking at you, Calipari).  You could tell during the whole post-game presser that Scott Drew was trying hard to suppress a very large smile.
  • Not much to say about Texas in this one.  No legs.  Coach Rick Barnes was begging his club for more energy on defense, but it never came.  Damion James was gassed but still managed to post 18/12.  That’s why he’s a Big 12 first-teamer, and possibly the same on a national level.

#24 Texas A&M 70, Nebraska 64

  • If Nebraska had played all year long as they have in this tournament, they certainly would have been better than the Big 12 cellar-dweller.  True, they lost to the Aggies on Thursday, but in their two games here they showed the type of play of which they’ve really been capable all year long.  Their zone defense flummoxed Texas A&M, and Mark Turgeon commented on that in post-game, saying, “We got stagnant against their zone and stopped guarding people ourselves.  But we really executed against the zone late.”
  • Something to watch for in the tournament if the Aggies are in a close one:  Khris Middleton and Donald Sloan from the outside.  Both guys have the confidence and smooth strokes to drill threes late, and they had to against the Huskers.

#1 Kansas 80, Texas Tech 68

  • Bill Self lamented his team’s lack of defensive interest in the first half.  When asked to start the post-game presser with some comments about his team’s victory, Self smiled wryly, hesitated for a moment, and just said, “Pass.”
  • Cole Aldrich also noted that his team as a hole needs more energy on both sides of the ball, adding that this is the best atmosphere they’re going to get in post-season play, and they need to thrive in it.  From here on, it’s going to be crowds rooting for upsets.  He said, “We need…the whole team getting involved with getting pumped up for the game, whether it’s at 11:30 in the morning or 8:00 at night.” Good point by Aldrich.
  • This was Kansas’ 2,000th win as a program, but Self, Aldrich, and Sherron Collins, while paying respect to the people who came before them to elevate Kansas basketball to such status, didn’t see much reason for celebration at this point.  Collins summed his feelings up by saying, “It means a lot,” but cautioned, “We don’t want to put too much focus on it.”  Aldrich: “I think when we’re all done playing basketball we’ll look at it and kind of have a reunion and just kind of hang our hats on just being a small part of that 2,000.”
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