San Jose Pod Daily Diary: 03.18.10 EditionPosted by rtmsf on March 18th, 2010
Greetings, everyone, from beautiful San Jose, California. It’s a 75-degree outside the building, but nobody cares about that because it’s time for March Madness, and already across the country today, the games have been insane. Is there any other sporting event in the world that is so consistently awesome on a year-to-year basis? I’m going to be updating this diary by the half so as to accord with NCAA policies. Let me know if you have anything you’d like to know in the comments.
Game 1: #4 Vanderbilt vs. #13 Murray State
- What a crazy early afternoon of games so far – are you kidding me? Two games in OT and a third down to a last-second shot that missed? The one thing that I can’t believe the NCAA doesn’t mandate is at least a running scoreboard to keep the fans here abreast of other games. Because that’s all anyone wants to know about right now is what’s going on in the Villanova – Robert Morris game.
- Vandy is more athletic than you might think, but Murray is right there with them, jump for jump. The only real advantage I see Vandy having is a little more size and length inside with 6’11 pair of AJ Ogilvy and Festus Ezeli.
- This Murray team has the look of a team that won 30 games this year. They have a swagger and confidence that they belong here and have shown no sense of intimidation against their SEC foes. There’s a regional rivalry at play here too, as Murray is located squarely in SEC country and surely gets their fill of talk about Kentucky, Vandy and so forth.
- Murray State forward #43 Tony Easley acts as cheerleader/coach when he’s not on the floor, encouraging his teammates, getting in their ears, and greeting them as the first one off the bench during timeouts. I love seeing that. Every team needs at least one of those players to keep his teammates honest.
- Gotta love March Madness when an upset is brewing… the buzz in the room just turns on like a switch, and suddenly 90% of the arena starts looking to buy Murray State t-shirts and caps.
- In keeping with the style of play of both Murray and Vanderbilt, a lot of players saw action and put up points in the first half. Murray was led by the electric little guard BJ Jenkins with 9 pts and Vandy by Jeffery Taylor also with 9 pts. AJ Ogilvy has been largely unheard from in the game (2 pts, 1 reb).
- At about the 12-minute mark, Vandy seemed to step up its defense and the Racers got a little tentative. The Dores began forcing turnovers but they never got completely over the hump in this half. They had the lead a couple of times, but never really got any separation. One key play was where the game was tied and Ogilvy ripped a rebound and threw a beautiful outlet pass to a streaking player who then got blocked at the other end. MSU immediately came down and hit an open three to go back up by that margin. Huge swing.
- Down the stretch, it appeared that this was Vandy’s game. MSU couldn’t convert ANYTHING inside, missing multiple point-blank layups. The one play that really stood out though (other than the final one) was the three that BJ Jenkins hit with about 1.5 minutes left. He was fired up, yapping at the crowd, pounding his chest. You could tell at that moment that they had the confidence to pull off this upset.
- The last few plays looked to advantage the #4 seed Commodores. First, MSU’s throwaway with around 18 seconds left when the PG turned it over trying to do the Steve Nash baseline pass manuever. Then a beautiful Ogilvy to Beal backdoor cut that led to two FTs which he made under pressure. And of course the rushed three by MSU prior to the final shot. A lot of things went wrong for the Racers yet they managed to stay positive and pull it out.
- “Let the madness begin,” says Racer coach Billy Kennedy. Says it was something he drew up in the huddle, and they made the right plays and Danero Thomas hit the shot. Thomas gives credit to Isacc Miles for finding him on the play. Miles said Vandy is an hour-and-a-half away and it means something to step up and beat an SEC school, especially in the state of Kentucky.
- Vandy’s Kevin Stallings: “both teams made winning plays, they made one more than we did. The things that plagued our team this season showed up today.”
Game 2: #5 Butler vs. #12 UTEP
- There’s still a buzz in the arena over the ending of the last game, but now it’s on to Butler vs. UTEP, which is one of the more compelling games of the entire first round slate. Both Butler and UTEP have a big draw here today, which is surprising given the distance to each school. We’re talking plane rides to El Paso and Indy for sure.
- MY GOODNESS. If you didn’t see Randy Culpepper’s ridunkulous open court tomahawk on a highlights package, make sure you do. It was spectacular. If Culpepper ever sees time in the League, expect this young fella with legs of rubber to take part in the dunk contest at some point. Only 6’0, he can absolutely sky.
- The difference in the athleticism between these two teams is remarkable, especially considering their relative seeding, but that’s never bothered Butler before and I doubt it will today. The Bulldogs are used to this in most cases when they play in the NCAA Tournament. The one major problem they’re having, though, is what to do with Derrick Caracter, who has gone for 12/6 in the first half. When Matt Howard is leaning on him, it looks like a teenager trying to stop a 30-year old NBA veteran. I understand the hype of Caracter — he’s a huge body with quick feet and nice touch. His haircut, however, is a total freakin’ disaster.
- There was a huge roar from the crowd upon the announcement that local favorite St. Mary’s had beaten Richmond. That one shocks me, but you just never know in this Tournament, do ya?
- Butler came out of the halftime locker room and methodically put on a defensive clinic, completely stupefying UTEP at every turn. There was one sequence in particular where the Butler coaching staff was all yelling at their players on a UTEP out-of-bounds play because they knew the formation before it seemed even the UTEP players did! Phenomenal preparation on the part of the Bulldogs and their staff. That’s what we refer to when we make vague references to halftime adjustments — the Butler coaching staff sure know what they’re doing.
- The Bulldogs started the half off on a 22-4 run and really it was never in question again after that. Shelvin Mack was the star, drilling six threes after the break, with most of them dead center. More importantly, it was a complete and utter inability of UTEP to find their people defensively and to get Derrick Caracter involved in the offense that beat them. By the time Caracter was scoring again — ten minutes into the second half — the game was effectively over.
- Randy Culpepper got NAILED on another fast break dunk attempt near the end of the game in what many people around me thought was a clean play. It may have been all-ball, but man it was a HARD fall. He’s only 6’0, as you know, and he gets way, way up in the air. He shook it off, though, and seemed ok afterward.
- There were only nine second-half FGs for the Miners, while Butler dropped ten threes in the half. Really, the only thing that Butler might complain about with this half is their FT shooting, which was spotty at best (12-17).
- With Butler staring at Cinderella #13 seed Murray State in the second round, it’s looking like another Sweet Sixteen trip for the best mid-major program in America (yes, even over Gonzaga).
- Both Randy Culpepper and Derrick Caracter are juniors who could theoretically be back in uniform next year, along with Arnett Moultrie (soph) who didn’t really show up today. You wouldn’t blame them for at least testing the waters, though, to see what kind of professional prospects they might have, but they’re probably going to all be back in El Paso next year, spelling bad news for the rest of CUSA.
Game 3: #6 Marquette vs. #11 Washington
- This was an entertaining, high-scoring and physical half of basketball. You get the sense that Washington is taking kindly to the Big East style of play that Marquette favors, as the Huskies are giving as much as they’re taking tonight. There’s been a lot of back and forth action, which may slightly favor Washington with their deeper bench, but Marquette is used to not playing many people for extended periods of time, so it likely won’t hurt them much.
- Marquette has no answer for Isaiah Thomas yet, as the 5’8 guard has lit their defense up for17 points on 6-8 shooting. The other half of the Washington attack, Quincy Pondexter, has been largely kept in check with only four points on 1-7 shooting. Thomas is clearly feeling it, as his reaction when he hit a 75-footer showed.
- I don’t know why, but I always find Marquette’s unis really cool-looking. This is the first time I’ve seen them up close and in-person and they’re every bit as awesome as I thought they were. The eagle mascot, however, not so much…
- The biggest roar of the crowd in this half was with 0.8 seconds when Isaiah Thomas threw up a three-quarter court shot to beat the buzzer that went in. The problem was… it didn’t count. UW had forced Marquette into a shot clock violation with 2.6 seconds remaining and the refs had called the ball dead right before he dribbled and released. Amazing shot, though.
- Marquette came out of the locker room very strong, and looked to be on the verge of completely blowing Washington away. It was vaguely reminiscent of what Butler did this afternoon to UTEP, with one key difference. Washington got their legs back under them and averted the disaster.
- In fact, once down 60-45, the Huskies went on a 20-6 run where it felt like they were getting a three or a layup on every possession. Isaiah Thomas, who was so hot in the first half, was being keyed on, so Elston Turner and Quincy Pondexter stared going to work.
- Watching Buzz Williams coach is a riot. He gesticulates and motions and waves his arms with the best of them. And there’s no questioning when he’s in disagreement with a referee about something. He definitely works it on the sideline, and his players definitely reflect that intensity with their physicality and hard play.
- This was definitely a pro-Washington crowd that helped the Huskies make the comeback and hold onto it. They had a good number of people dressed in purple in addition to the locals who were probably just wanting a Pac-10 team to win a game. It wasn’t a home crowd, but I’d guess it was around 70/30 in favor of the Huskies.
- In the last eight minutes of the game, all I kept thinking was, “this is freaking awesome.” There’s no better theater than March Madness on the biggest stage with the fans, bands, cheerleaders, coaches and players going back and forth.
- I had a sense that Quincy Pondexter had gotten his schwerve back after a tough first half when he hit a long jumper in the second half comeback. Then Washington started looking for him almost every time downcourt during the last few minutes. When UW got the offensive board to take the last shot, it was clear he would get it, but I didn’t expect that he’d be put into an iso situation at the top of the key. He broke his man down and got to the rim, which is exactly what you want your best player to do there.
- The entire building had already watched a halfcourt shot go in earlier this game (that didn’t count); there was a collective hush when Lazar Hayward launched his 50-foot jumper that only m issed by a foot or so. Nobody would have been surprised had it dropped.
- I really thought a close game would go Marquette’s way given just how experienced they are in that regard. I think the key play that decided it was the Washington offensive rebound that gave the Huskies the last shot. Had MU corralled that one, I think they would have been the team celebrating.
Game 4: #3 New Mexico vs. #14 Montana
- Through the first half, color me unimpressed with the #3 New Mexico Lobos. It’s only a half, and we’ve certainly seen how quickly fortunes can change, but I was expecting them to be more athletic and tenacious than what I’ve seen. Honestly, UTEP in the afternoon game looked more athletic than the Lobos do.
- Montana has to be thrilled with where they are. They’re up one point on the #3 seed and Anthony Johnson has done virtually nothing for them yet (2 measly points). Instead, it’s been Brian Qvale who has blistered the Lobos inside time and time again. 17 big first half points and New Mexico doesn’t seem to have a clue as to what to do with him.
- Something odd was going on when a New Mexico player caused a stoppage in play with about 7:30 left in the half. The ref was carrying around a little post-it note and said something about how “we’ll save that for later.” I have no idea what that could even mean or could be, but it was definitely weird to see him holding this yellow note with a bunch of writing on it and putting it back in his pocket. Are those his instructions for the rest of the game? (snicker)
- During timeouts, I kept wondering why the Montana cheerleaders kept waving to me in unison. Are they leaving? Do they know something about the building that the rest of us don’t? Then I learned that they were actually doing some kind of funky hand motion to represent Grizzly Nation. Ah, the fun things you learn when at the NCAA 1st Round games.
- New Mexico asserted itself early in the second half with an 18-3 run to take control of the game away from Montana. Yet for all his hype, Darington Hobson was not impressive on the offensive end tonight (11 pts).
- Speaking of unimpressive and I really feel bad for the kid, but Montana’s Anthony Johnson had a miserable evening (6 pts on 1-12 FGs). It was all too apparent late in the game when he wasn’t even looking for his shot. He had one drive off a tip-out that he took to the hole that seemed to give him some confidence with a couple of free throws. He followed that up with a long two and I thought he was going to take over the game, but when he drove with a minute left, he was stripped by Dairese Gary as he went up with the ball and that effectively ended the game.
- The other major missed opportunity for the Grizzlies was after a missed FT when Will Cherry drove length of the court and had an opening but was looking for contact on his layup attempt. He overcompensated for the contact that never came and missed it badly. That would have cut things back to one, but instead Montana then had to foul hope for misses that never came. He was clearly very torn up about that miss, and you hate to see that happen to a competitor like that.
- New Mexico looked better in the second half, but right now I’d have to believe that Washington is going to beat them on Saturday afternoon. The Huskies are more athletic and talented man-for-man. Plus, Lorenzo Romar’s team is playing with a fire and chip on their shoulder that I just didn’t see out of the Lobos tonight. Maybe things will change on Saturday, but right now I don’t see UNM advancing.
- Wow, what a day. I’m exhausted, but there were two phenomenal games, one really good one, and one blah one today at this pod. That’s about as much as you can ask for. I’ll be back with a diary on Saturday afternoon, so check back in with us then.