San Jose Pod Daily Diary: 03.20.10 EditionPosted by rtmsf on March 20th, 2010
We’ve got two pretty cool matchups today here in San Jose. First, we’ll start with the strange situation of everyone’s favorite giant-killer, #5 seed Butler, acting as the heavy favorite over #13 seed Murray State, who of course advanced on Thursday when Danero Thomas’ shot at the horn against Vandy dropped. In the second game, we’ll enjoy the Pac-10 renaissance for at least another game, as #11 Washington will try to continue its hot streak (now eight Ws in a row) against #3 New Mexico. We’ll be checking back in throughout the day with our thoughts on the games.
Game 1: #5 Butler vs. #13 Murray State
- Getting ready to come out for the tip of this game, I got into a conversation with two of the young female intern-types who were helping out with the drinks for media. They were discussing whom to root for in this game, and one said to the other: “well, you have to go with the underdog, Murray.” Sensing a teaching moment (hey, Scottie), I said, “yeah isn’t it interesting that Butler is the favorite when they’re usually the giant-killer and Murray is the underdog now?” They were both amazed with that role-reversal and asked a bunch of questions about it. But it illustrates a point about programs such as Butler and Gonzaga — there comes a tipping point where you’re no longer viewed as the plucky little team anymore, and I think Butler is close to getting there (Gonzaga has been there for years).
- Butler came out off to a great start 12-3 as Murray State looked a little off kilter, which is to be expected coming off a great win like they had on Thursday. But eventually they got their sea legs under them and were able to start getting some stops.
- It’s always interesting to watch The Butler Way… they take care of the ball; they look for open teammates; they crash the boards; they contest every shot. Rarely will you see a shot out of the offense, although I did count a couple of them this half.
- Murray’s defense really picked up about mid-half and it showed in that Butler ended up shooting a horrid 8-28 from the field (29%). The Bulldogs were held scoreless for the last 6:24 of the first half. In that time, Murray went on a 9-0 run. That may not sound like much, but in a game trending toward the 50s, that’s a huge disparity.
- It took a while to figure out, but the crowd is definitely pro-Murray State. Again, that’s just weird. Usually Butler is the team that has the non-partisans on their side. Ed Daniel’s follow jam with about a minute left on the break really brought the house down. If this stays close down the stretch, definite home advantage to Murray.
- I’ve been very impressed with Murray’s Isaiah Canaan in this pod so far. He has 8 points and has a real swagger about him like nobody can stop him offensively. Only a freshman and six feet tall standing on a phone book, he is undoubtedly going to be a star in this program the next few years.
- Coming into the second half, I’m reminded of how Butler had played so poorly in the first half on Thursday, but then used the first five minutes of the second half to completely put UTEP under. Will that happen again today? I somehow don’t think it will. I just don’t see Murray getting as frustrated into making poor decisions as UTEP did the other day. I really like the poise of this Racer team.
- Matt Howard picked up his third and fourth fouls within a five-second span at the 17:45 and 17:40 marks of the second half. Butler is used to playing without their big man, as he has nine disqualifications this season, but we’re sure they’d prefer to have had him in there. The immediate impact wasn’t felt, though, as Murray State missed ALL four free throws as a result of the two fouls.
- Butler started taking control defensively in the middle of the half, eventually building an 8-pt lead with around six minutes left. Both Howard and Hayward missed really big layup attempts within the last four minutes when Murray was surging, but eventually they were able to get enough stops in the last few minutes to prevent Murray from running out more than a possession or two ahead of them. Keeping contact is essential in important possession games like these.
- The three by freshman Isaiah Canaan to give Murray a one-point lead very late shows the confidence that I was referring to above in this young player. With everyone returning for MSU next year except for Danero Thomas and Tony Easley, this team is going to be a big problem for higher-seeded teams again next year.
- It was Shelvin Mack and Ronald Nored who stepped up big in this game, especially late, with the drive and-1 to take the lead by three for Butler after the BJ Jenkins miss on the other end. It was a smart move by Murray State to go straight to the hole and try to extend the game from the line rather than putting it all into one shot that Butler would be ready for.
- Ugh. Hate seeing the game end that way, though. It was a Howard missed FT followed by Murray getting themselves into trouble with the last possession. Really feel like they should have burned their remaining timeout there rather than continuing to try to dribble into something. Brad Stevens said after the game that they were focused completely on keeping MSU from getting a clean look for three. Everyone was extended defensively on that last play. He must have mentioned that at least five times during the postgame.
- Hayward said that he feels they just wanted it a little more than Murray State. I asked them what it felt like to be wearing the “white jersey,” in a bit of a role reversal today with Murray playing the typical role of Butler. Hayward responded that he doesn’t feel that seedings aren’t that big of a deal — anything can happen, everybody’s playing to win.
- Butler moves on to the Sweet Sixteen for the second time in four seasons. They’ve now won 22 games in a row, and will have the opportunity to likely shock the world next week with either top-seed Syracuse or their peer middie Gonzaga.
Game 2: #3 New Mexico vs. #11 Washington
- One thing I heard last week in LA at the Pac-10 Tournament that the Washington band has done this week as well is to play the CBS lead-in song, which is just all kinds of awesome. There’s just something about it that gets you in the mood for high-level hoops.
- I expected an athletic, up-and-down contest, and there’s been no disappointment there. Both of these teams don’t waste time running clock. They are always thinking transition. And everything is played well above the rim. There have been some serious blocks, especially from Washington, the volleyball-spike kind of which that makes you want to crawl in a hole and scream for mommy. When UW chooses to play defense, they can do it pretty well.
- Isaiah Thomas is one of the more interesting players I’ve watched this season. He is supremely confident despite his size, but he also clearly knows that he gets out of control occasionally because he’s always looking over at Lorenzo Romar to see his reaction. He has 9/5 assts on 3-9 FGs, but he has a knack for making timely shots, such as when he hit two near-consecutive threes in the middle of the half to help his team make a run.
- To that end, he cannot handle Dairese Gary one-on-one defensively. Gary has taken him to the rack multiple times and uses his length to lay it up and in over the smaller Thomas. There were a couple of and-1 opportunities and really Gary’s 15 pts is the only reason New Mexico is where they are down only 12 points. Daring Hobson has 3 pts on 1-3 shooting and Roman Martinez is playing tentatively due to his foul trouble (3 in the first half).
- There was an Abdul Gaddy sighting in this game! I’ve been on his case all year long, and I’ve heard through the media grapevine that there was a considerable amount of dissent between he, Thomas and Venoy Overton earlier this year. But it seems as if he’s accepted his role on this team, and I noticed that when he was on the bench, he was one of the first players to come over and high-five his teammates. Especially Thomas. So… he’s trying. Sometimes young superstars need some humility and maturity to make the next step. He could be a completely different player next season.
- Quincy Pondexter had a nice first half with 10 pts on 4-5 shooting. I really like how he never seems to try to do things that he can’t do. Elston Turner had a nice half as well, with 8 points, on 2-6 FGs, but it was his two threes that really helped to accelerate the Husky push.
- Washington is playing very well right now, and they appear to be primed to move onto the Sweet Sixteen. Does New Mexico have enough fortitude to save their season in the next twenty minutes?
- This game was decided for some time. Washington dominated this half, and New Mexico never really even threatened. They even tried a zone for a bit until Isaiah Thomas dropped a couple more threes and then they put an end to that. Just a clinic for about the last thirty minutes in this one.
- From the two games I saw of them, New Mexico looked incredibly overrated as a #3 seed. This isn’t to say that just because they’re from the Mountain West that they are by definition overrated, but whatever it was that they were doing all season long, they were not doing it this weekend. I admitted on Thursday that I was suprised that they weren’t all that athletic compared to UTEP or Washington, and it seemed to make a big difference tonight.
- Most of the second half was spent by people on media row and the first few rows of fans trying to keep an eye on a tiny television courtside that had the Kansas-Northern Iowa game on. I’m going to have to look into this more, but I may believe that this is the biggest Second Round upset in the 64-team era. Not by seed, but by relative positioning of the two teams. Kansas was a prohibitive favorite coming into this one, and Northern Iowa was not exactly a major-conference team that had simply underachieved (see: Stanford 2000 or Stanford 2004). The other one I thought of was Kentucky 2004, but I don’t believe that UK team was nearly as dominant as this year’s KU team. There were hardly any pros of consequence on that Kentucky team, and it wasn’t a terrible shock when they lost to UAB in round two.
- The UW fans went wild when walk-on Brendan Sherrer got into the game. Lucky mascot, much? He was in the student section last year cheering the Huskies on, and this year he’s on the team. Quincy Pondexter was in his ear for the entire minute before he got in, telling him how to handle himself presumably. He had played a grand total of fifteen minutes and scored four points on the year. When he got into the game, he got hammered on a reverse layup and, unfortunately for most of the crowd in attendance, he missed both FTs. Seemed a little tight on the release. Romar said after the game that getting to send him in for the last minute was “awesome.” He really lit up when talking about that.
- Lorenzo Romar says that he always thought his team had it in them, but it’s just taken until the last month of the year for things to start clicking. Romar says that he demands that his players guard so that they can run up and down the court and shoot more. He credits their defense to allowing the Huskies to still be playing.
- Steve Alford said that Washington was the best team they’ve played all season. They didn’t feel that they had the defensive intensity in this one, and it cost them. UW hit 52% for the game, and 8-17 from three. Darington Hobson and Roman Martinez combined for only 21 points tonight, which was nine behind their season average. In a game like this where they got down early, you’d have to believe they would need to get more to support what Dairese Gary was doing (25 pts).
- That’ll do it from San Jose. It’s been a good couple of days here with a majority of games coming down to the wire. Butler will move on to play Syracuse or Gonzaga next week in Salt Lake City, and Washington will move on to the East Regional in Syracuse, NY, where they’ll play either West Virginia or Missouri. The Huskies won’t have quite as friendly a crowd in Upstate next weekend.