Conference Tournament Daily Diaries: Friday

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2011

RTC is pleased to announce that we’ll be covering all of the major conference tournaments this year — the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC — in addition to the strongest two high-middies, the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West.  Each day for the rest of this week, we’re asking our correspondents to provide us with a Daily Diary of the sights and sounds from the arena at each site.  Equal parts game analysis and opinion, the hope is that this will go beyond the tiresome game recaps you can find elsewhere and give you an insightful look into Championship Week.  Yesterday’s coverage:  ACC, Atlantic 10, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Mountain West,  Pac-10 & SEC.

ACC Tournament - by Kellen Carpenter

  • While it looks like John Henson has found his stroke from the free throw line, the rest of the ACC could take lessons. Jordan Williams spoiled a 16 point and 16 rebound effort against Duke by going 2 for 10 from the free line in the loss. Virginia Tech shot 57.1% against a Florida State team that shot 20% from the line.
  • Yeah, speaking of which, that was a game with bad shooting. A clearly exhausted Malcolm Delaney-led Virginia Tech team only made five field goals in the first half. The Hokies shot 17.9% from the field in the first half. Erick Green had shot 1 of 12 for the Hokies before he nailed what turned out to be the game winner. Miami making up 10 points in 40 seconds was impressive. North Carolina’s buzzer beater was impressive. But an undermanned, overworked, and gritty as hell Virginia Tech team owns the most impressive win of the ACC Tournament so far.
  • After Florida State’s Derwin Kitchen buzzer beater was overturned after the Seminoles had already started celebrating, the tables turned quickly. At least one Hokie fans, embittered after years of bad luck, dashed expectations and hard work turned sour, yelled at the Seminole fans, “SUCKS DON’T IT?” That was a little cruel, but it’s nice to see this tough and unlucky Virginia Tech team catch a break.
  • Twice today, the crowd played favorites in dramatic fashion. The Coliseum was roaring during the impressive North Carolina comeback with the cheers of Miami fans completely and utterly muted. Then in the evening, a Duke crowd tried to drown out the angry jeers of the sizable and furious Maryland crowd.
  • The reason that the Maryland crowd was so angry was because Kyle Singler hates Maryland. Kyle Singler hung 25 points on Maryland in January, 22 in February, and 29 in March. It was enough to break Singler’s late-season slump and enough to carry his team when all was not right with Nolan Smith. Even before disaster struck, it wasn’t Nolan Smith’s night. He went 2 for 11 and had five turnovers. Then the worst kind of deja vu struck Duke fans and their point guard hurt his toe. Though Smith looked okay when he walked out of the locker room where he went for treatment, he was limping after the game, and Coach K declined to say anything about the prognosis until Saturday morning.
  • How often do you see the walk-ons play a pivotal role in a conference tournament game? About eight turnover-filled minutes into the game against Miami, a furious Roy Williams benched his team in favor of Blue Steel, this year’s fan-beloved (and frequently goofy) team of walk-ons. Blue Steel didn’t score and they didn’t lock down Miami, but they played hard and bought Roy time to settle his team. It was fitting that Wes Miller, a patron saint to UNC walk-ons who cracked the rotation and didn’t miss a shot during the 2006 ACC tournament, was in attendance.
  • Is it the shoes? Kendall Marshall is an avowed sneakerhead and he cameout wearing classic Air Jordan II’s in University blue, a pretty sharp look that he had tried a couple of times earlier in the season. When Roy benched the starters, Kendall ended up switching to the more basic Team Jordan home shoe. I’m not going to say that was a turning point in the game, but it certainly didn’t hurt the Tar Heels. On the other hand, Leslie McDonald continued to wear his Jordan II’s the whole game and experienced a similar turnaround. On a related note, the Florida State dance team changed their tops at half time. Clearly, that was a huge mistake.
  • One more thing about Reggie Johnson. He is big.  No, seriously, you may know that he’s 6’10 and over 300 pounds, but somehow he plays even bigger than that. UNC has one of the biggest, if not bulkiest, front courts in the nation and Johnson just bullied them around all game on offense and defense. You know who else is big? Seemingly everyone on the Florida State team. They just have waves and waves of big men who all play tough defense. While Reggie Johnson won’t be able to bully hapless mid-majors in the NCAA, an angry Florida State team that’s soon to reintroduce Chris Singleton to the line-up is a tough draw for any team in the tournament. Speaking of Chris Singleton, though he seemed fine and participated in warm-ups, he didn’t play. After the game, Leonard Hamilton admitted that Chris probably could have played, but that he wanted to make sure that they made the right decision for Chris, which seems pretty hard to argue with.
  • Meanwhile, where Reggie Johnson and Florida State are big, the Clemson backcourt is so small. In the seemingly effortless domination of Boston College, Clemson played three players who are tiny by ACC basketball standards. 5’9 starter Andre Young often played with similarly sized Zavier Anderson, with 5’10 Cory Stanton playing spot minutes. They played well and their size never seemed an obstacle against a relatively small BC team, but you wonder how they will fare against Carolina’s long arms.
  • Of course, when you are playing with the swag of this Clemson team, there is little cause for concern.  Demontez Stitt, in particular, was playing with a decidedly nasty streak. He had at least one vicious stare down after a put-back dunk as well as a very pointed step over a BC player who had fallen down trying to stop another drive. The decidedly pro-Tigers crowd was into the game, with one presumably student corner (of the otherwise sparsely populated upper bowl) standing through the entire game. By contrast, there wasn’t a single Boston College fan in sight.
  • I saw a few fans wearing other team’s colors clap politely for theEagles, but no yelling students and not even a BC t-shirt to be seen. I understand that Boston is a long way away, but I honestly believe it hurt BC’s chances. The Eagles weren’t down further than UNC was against Miami, but while the Tar Heel players seemed to feed off the excitement and energy of the crowd, Boston College just didn’t have that option. The crowd’s indifference mirrored the team’s indifference and many of the athletes played with their heads down and a general air of apathy. It’s a shame because a win would have gone along way towards keeping NCAA tournament hopes alive.

Atlantic 10 Tournament – by Joe Dzuback

  • Boardwalk Hall is a vintage 1929 era performing arts theater and exhibition hall that features a massive barrel vault ceiling. The Hall, noted for a variety of eccentric “firsts” (the first indoor football game, the first indoor helicopter flight…) was renovated in a three year project that finished in 2001. The renovation allows the venue to accommodate a larger variety of events while maintaining the Romanesque architecture of the 1920s.
  • The quarterfinals definitely had a Philadelphia feeling as all three the of conference’s Big 5 contingent had games. Two of the teams, Temple and La Salle were matched in one game, so one (it proved to be Temple) was guaranteed to pass through to the semifinals. Saint Joseph’s who eliminated a stunned Duquesne team 93-90 in overtime, became the surprise semifinalist. “You will see a Philadelphia crowd here tomorrow” promised Saint Joseph’s head coach Phil Martelli. With the City of Brotherly Love about an hour away via the Atlantic City Expressway, Temple has had strong representation in each of the finals games they played here in years past. Philadelphia fans could easily fill the hall (seating capacity 14,000+) for both games.
  • On the last possession of their overtime game, Duquesne’s freshman guard TJ McConnell and Saint Joseph’s senior center Todd O’Brien had a sequence reminiscent of the Big East’s Kemba Walker – Gary McGhee play that ended their quarterfinal match (in Connecticut’s favor as Walker broke McGhee’s ankles on a crossover that left the Pitt center on the court as Walker rose up and hit a jumper). A different day brought a different outcome.  As Martelli described it later, “We switched everything and Todd O’Brien stayed down on a guard (McConnell) and never raised up, (not) giving him a chance to kind of jump into him…” In O’Brien’s (and the Hawks’) case it worked well this time. McConnell’s shot missed and the freshman did not get a call and go to the line.
  • Temple has won every Atlantic 10 Tournament game the Owls have played in Boardwalk Hall. The streak now stands at 10. Temple’s toughest test yet may come tomorrow as the Owls play the Richmond Spiders in the 3:30 pm game.
  • While talking about the La Salle team for next season, Dr. John Giannini may have alluded to problems with his team this season. When asked to identify things he could build on for next season, he responded that “he’s (All-Conference Rookie team Tyreek Duren) a really good guy to build around…I think we’re going to have excellent role definition, and I think we’re going to be very coachable.”
  • Saint Joseph’s Ronald Roberts, the freshman forward who scored 19 points on 9-11 shooting from the floor and 1-3 from the line almost went to St. John’s of the Big East. Roberts committed to St. John’s when the Red Storm was coached by Norm Roberts. When Roberts was fired in March of 2010, Roberts wanted to reopen his recruitment. Johnnies’ coach Steve Lavin agreed and Roberts, a New York City native, headed down the New Jersey Turnpike to Philadelphia and Saint Joseph’s.
  • Some number of Temple students have been watching the Utah State student cheer videos on YouTube. Up by 18 with 1:34 on the clock, a student in the corner behind the Temple bench started the “I believe that we have won!” chant, building the phrase word-by-word as the student section followed. Fans in the opposite corner joined the chant after the phrase was constructed. The student section also mimicked the “Winner Loser” chant also recorded in the YouTube library. La Salle students were devastated.

Big East Tournament – by Rob Dauster

  • Eventually, Kemba Walker has to get tired, right? Last night, he played all forty minutes in a physical, emotionally draining battle with Pitt in which he hit a buzzer-beating jumper to win the game. Tonight, he played all 45 minutes in another physical, emotionally draining battle with Syracuse. This is on the heels of back to back 36-minute outings against DePaul and Georgetown. With Louisville, a team that his going to press Walker for 40 minutes, how long are his legs going to last?
  • Alex Oriakhi is the x-factor for the Huskies. He is their lone interior presence that is capable of battling with the best big men in the country. His work on the offensive glass during the last two games has been nothing short of incredible, whether it is a tip-in or keeping a ball alive.
  • Syracuse cannot go far with Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche at the guard spots. They are simply too inconsistent. Triche was terrible all night. Jardine hit three big threes down the stretch of regulation, but don’t let them fool you. Jardine did not play well tonight.
  • Rick Pitino deserves massive amounts of credit for the coaching peformance that he has had this season. There is no NBA talent on that roster. There are a bunch of blue collar workers that buy into what Rick Pitino is selling. They defend, they execute their offense to perfection, and they play together. With all the injuries that the Cardinals have had this season, its amazing that they are where they are.
  • No lead is safe against Louisville. They were down 14 at the half to arguably the hottest team in the country. They were down 18 to Marquette with six minutes left earlier this season. They won both games. Word of advice– don’t turn over a Louisville game in the tournament.
  • Notre Dame will be fine. Bad games happen. This team dominated down the stretch of the season. Seeing the Irish struggle for 25 minutes shouldn’t change your opinion of them.

Big 12 Tournament – by Brian Goodman

  • The Center Holds: Despite a couple of mild upsets, three of the Big 12’s top four seeds played in Thursday’s semifinals. The top two finishers from the regular season, Kansas and Texas, will meet in the final for the fourth time in six years. Since the Big 12 added its four Texas schools in 1997, none of them have won the conference tournament.
  • After another soft start, The Jayhawks turned on the burners midway through the first half with an exciting stretch of efficient basketball in its 90-83 win over Colorado. Following the victory, Bill Self said his team played some of its best basketball of the season between the ten-minute mark of the first half and the same point in the second half. The numbers bear that out – facing a 22-10 hole, KU went on a 52-22 run over the next 20 minutes. Production from the Morris twins spurred the Jayhawks, and the brothers from Philadelphia hit six free throws in the final 1:13 to help seal the win.
  • The Buffaloes accomplished their mission of clinching a tournament bid, but continued to fight hard for seeding. The blistering run from the Jayhawks didn’t deter Colorado, who could have easily packed it in after Thursday’s important victory over Kansas State. Alec Burks is as underrated a talent as you’ll find from a power six conference school, but will need consistent help from Cory Higgins, who vanished in the second half, and three-points specialist Levi Knutson.
  • The stage is set for a rematch of the Texas-Kansas game from January 22, when the Longhorns broke the Jayhawks’ lengthy home winning streak. KU played that game with heavy hearts after spending much of the night consoling forward Thomas Robinson in the wake of his mother’s death. Ever since, KU and its fans have been eager for another crack at the Horns, and that’s exactly what they’ll get on Saturday.
  • Tristan Thompson was an absolute bear on the glass in Texas’ win over the Aggies, pulling down 10 of his 13 boards on the offensive end. Mark Turgeon called for double teams on the freshman throughout the game, but it didn’t matter. The battle of Thompson and Hamilton against Marcus and Markieff Morris is the marquee matchup within Saturday’s final.
  • After handling Missouri’s frenzied defense on Thursday, the Aggies were able to dictate tempo, but not much else on offense. In the second half, Mark Turgeon‘s team made just two shots over a nine-minute span, one of which was aided by a goaltending call.
  • Over the last few years, an abundance of natural disasters have put college basketball in perspective, and the tragic earthquake in Japan is no different, particularly for Jordan Hamilton and his family. Gary Hamilton, Jordan’s older brother and one-time power forward at Miami, now plays professionally in Japan, but was fortunately unharmed by the day’s events.

Big Ten Tournament – by John Stevens

John Gets His Inner Floriani On in Indy...

  • The big question on the lips of fans and media alike at Conseco Fieldhouse after Big Ten Quarterfinals day: whither the Michigan State Spartans? They’re now 19-13. They have wins over fellow bubblers Washington and Illinois, and now a late-season win over Purdue, a team thought to be pointed toward a 1-seed a little over a week ago. Do they need to get to the 20-win mark (the finals), or, in the event of a loss tomorrow, will 19-14, an RPI of 45, and a soft bubble have us seeing their name pop up on the selection show on Sunday evening? Meanwhile, Purdue has dropped two in a row (this one, and Iowa last Saturday) and the Twitter cognoscenti had them dropping to a 4-seed by the time the second half’s under-4 media time-out was over.
  • Purdue deserves all the credit in the world for how they’ve succeeded without Robbie Hummel. Most of the talk about the Boilers this year has been on exactly that topic; anyone who talks about Purdue basketball begins right there. It’s completely true. But the Michigan State game put Hummel’s absence in stark relief, and not just because he’s Robbie Hummel and an All-American. It’s because right now Purdue would be happy with ANY third scorer, even if it isn’t someone on the level of Hummel. Getting the ball to E’Twaun Moore and saying, “There, go create,” or dumping it down to JaJuan Johnson and letting him operate are fantastic options that can carry you far. But you have to have schemes and methods to get them the ball in spots on the floor where they can do the most good, and that was the perplexing thing about the Boilers’ performance — the total lack of a set offense on most trips. Either they didn’t know what to run, or they did, and just didn’t do it for some reason. Johnson even commented on it in the post-game, lamenting, “That wasn’t Purdue basketball. I don’t know what that was.”
  • Hey, Michigan — as David Bowie once sang…Let’s Dance! I don’t see how you can keep the Wolverines out, now, sitting at 20-11 and having swept bubble-dwellers Michigan State, plus knocking off Illinois today, another bubbler. Early on, it appeared that both teams assumed their “in” status for Sunday, because they came out flat, slow, and listless. Only in the last ten minutes did the energy pick up — at least on the Michigan side. Darius Morris led UM with 17 points on 7-13, but the kid that impressed me was Stu Douglass. He averages only around seven points a game, but only took five shots tonight because he just wasn’t hitting anything. The one he hit was a well-timed three, but that’s not what John Beilein needed from him tonight. Douglass — all 6’3 of him — led the team with seven boards, gave out four assists, never turned the ball over, set screens that got Morris free on several occasions, and covered Demetri McCamey a good bit of the time. That’s a winner for you. McCamey didn’t dish out his first assist until two minutes remained in the second half, and ended the game with four. I don’t get it, and, frankly, I think most people are tired of analyzing what happened to that young man around mid-season.
  • All credit to Northwestern for scaring the bejeezus out of Ohio State, but do you want to know one of the biggest reasons OSU is, in my view, the overall #1 seed no matter whether they win the Big Ten Tournament or not? Jared Sullinger hitting all ten of his overtime free throws. True, 2-12 from the field is a pretty awful night, but he still found a way to score — use that body and get to the line — and he ripped down 18 rebounds. We don’t have to tell you that Jared Sullinger is a special player because you already know that. My favorite evidence to that, though, is how he uses that formidable frame to swat shots, gain position, gobble rebounds…and that he does all of these things in a way that’s evidently pleasing to the refereeing eye. He’s fouled out in exactly ONE game all year. To use your body to your advantage so obviously and still stay in games requires a rare discipline and considerable basketball intelligence, and Sullinger already had those things on board when he arrived.
  • Unless it’s Princeton playing — at which point they’ll call it beautiful, genius, basketball the way it should be played — people get too easily angered at a slow pace to a basketball game. I don’t mind a slow pace to a game any more than I mind it in music or film (I thought “The American” with Clooney was fantastic, and it’s glacial). It’s how much you choose to invest yourself in it. When I tweeted the Penn State 20, Wisconsin 16 halftime score, the snide comments came flooding onto my screen from people not even watching the game. The problem is…they had a point with this one. A 20-16 halftime score isn’t automatically a terrible thing — unless you look at the stat sheet and see that the teams shot 28% (Wisconsin) and 34.8% (PSU). John Gasaway (Basketball Prospectus guru, a man you should both read and follow) just tweeted that Penn State’s 36-33 victory over the Badgers was a 42-possession game. Glacial. But it’s not a slow pace that makes a game tough to watch — it’s bad shooting, and that applies anywhere, not just here. You think Penn State cares? They live on, and they’ll get Sparty on Saturday.
  • I don’t care about pace, shooting, whatever. This is just fun. There’s nothing like a big-time basketball event in a hoops-crazy town. Can’t wait for the semis tomorrow…

Mountain West Tournament – by Andrew Murawa

  • The crowd at Thomas & Mack Arena was pumped for the first semifinal, far before the ball was even in the air for the tip-off. New Mexico and BYU fans were exchanging chants for the last ten or 15 minutes before the game started, and in the first couple possessions of the game, it looked like both teams were a little too amped up for their own good, with four missed field goals before Jimmer Fredette put in a layup after three BYU offensive rebounds. Fifty Fredette points later, including a phenomenal 33-point first half, this night vaulted right up near the top of the list of entries in the Legend of Jimmer, with future chapters possibly being written over the next few weeks.
  • Prior to the game, Fredette came out with his team more than 40 minutes before tip and drilled a host of jumpers, but the next time BYU came out to warm up, Fredette spent his time pounding the ball into the court in a variety of ways, working on his dribbling, and gathering his focus.  After the first hoop of the night, Jimmer added a midrange jumper, a couple of threes, and all of a sudden he had ten points in the first three minutes of the game. From that moment on, we knew that an assault on his career-high of 52 was a realistic probability.
  • In nine of the ten segments of the game divided up by the official TV timeouts, Fredette scored at least two points, with the first four-minute segment of the second half the lone exception. He scored in a variety of ways as well, with deep threes, pull-up jumpers, breakaway layups, and a variety of creative finishes around the hoop. The one thing Jimmer didn’t do much of on Friday night was get to the line – he only scored one point from the charity stripe, ironically the 50th point of the night. For a guy who scores almost seven points a night from the line, his lack of production there was a little odd, but it makes his 52 points even more impressive.
  • All told, a number of records fell on Friday night. First, Jimmer set a new career-high for himself, besting his previous high of 49 against Arizona last season. His 52 was also a BYU record for most points in a game and a MWC record as well. And, with his 49th point, he surpassed Danny Ainge as the all-time leading scorer in BYU history.
  • Amidst all the Jimmermania, there was one real downer of a moment, when New Mexico senior point guard Dairese Gary went down with an apparent knee injury early in the second half. While there is no definitive diagnosis as of yet, Gary did not return to the game, could not put any weight on the knee and looked for all the world to be a guy whose college basketball career is done. For one of the best and most well-respected players in the Mountain West, this was an absolutely terrible way for a great college career to end.
  • While New Mexico head coach Steve Alford tried several different players on Fredette, for the most part it was Gary charged with controlling Fredette in the first half, and he didn’t have much luck. However, Alford insisted that his only adjustment that he planned to make on Fredette in the second half was not to make any adjustments. “We weren’t going to make too many adjustments on him,” he said. “We were going to stay with what we had been doing. We thought even if he got to 50, we hoped he didn’t get to 50, but even if he got to 50, we’d still have the game probably in the 70s and we were scoring well.”
  • When Gary went down with 18:32 left in the game, the Lobos were right there, down just three points with possession. While Jamal Fenton, Kendall Williams and others did an admirable job trying to pick up the slack for their fallen teammate (the Lobos were still within one point with eight minutes left), New Mexico was never again really able to consistently penetrate against BYU’s zone with much effectiveness and when the game started to get away from them late, they didn’t have the calming presence of their floor general to settle things down. Gary provided nine points, seven assists and just one turnover in 21 minutes of action, and while Fredette was amazing tonight, you can’t help but wonder if the Lobos could have made the game even a bit more interesting with their floor general.
  • Fredette on Gary: “He’s the rock to that team, keeps them all together. It’s so unfortunate to see him go down like that. He’s had a great career here. He’s one of the best players that I’ve played against in this league, he’s a great defender, a great guy.”
  • Alford on Gary: “He’s been our little bus. He’s been the guy the last four years, he’s had an awful lot to do with the 97 wins. He did his dangdest to try to get one from the sideline. That’s about the only way he hasn’t won a game for us, is sitting on the sidelines. But he was doing everything he could to help his team from the sidelines.”
  • Last note on the BYU game: while the Lobos had more size than the Cougars, the trio of Kyle Collinsworth, Charles Abouo and Noah Hartsock did an excellent job on the glass Friday night. Collinsworth, for one, had nine rebounds, and while the Lobos did end up outrebounding the Cougs, it wasn’t by much.
  • The nightcap between San Diego State and UNLV had a lot to live up to, and it didn’t disappoint. After SDSU controlled most of the first half – with the notable exception of a six-minute span between TV timeouts when Chace Stanback went nuts – UNLV went right back at the Aztecs in the second half, and with 36 seconds left, we were all tied up at 72 with the Rebs in possession of the ball. But the Aztecs came out of a timeout ready for UNLV’s go-to play and Chase Tapley tipped a ball that wound up in the hands of D.J. Gay with 20 seconds left on the clock. Forgoing a timeout, Gay raced up the court, declined a ball screen from Malcolm Thomas and went left instead, got into the lane and drained a floater to give the Aztecs the lead with five seconds left. UNLV was able to get up a last second shot, but it went awry and we’re left with a BYU/SDSU rematch on Saturday afternoon.
  • This was not Gay’s first run-in with game winning shots this year. At the start of February he drilled a game-winning jumper against Colorado State. “D.J. is a winner. You want a guy like that on your side,” said head coach Steve Fisher.
  • Stanback’s stretch in the first half kept the game from getting out of hand early. With SDSU up eight, Stanback scored a layup, a jumper and then a three for seven straight points to get Vegas right back in it. He scored seven more points, interspersed among a few SDSU baskets to score 14 straight points for the Rebels, and while UNLV has still down ten points at the break, it could have been much, much worse.
  • Last season Malcolm Thomas shot 52% from the line. While he has made great strides this year, he is still just a 66% free throw shooter this year, and when he went to the line with the Aztecs down two with 2:36 left, he had made just three of his six attempts on the night and had just missed the front end of a one-and-one a minute earlier. But, he stepped up to the line and calmly knocked down the two game tying free throws, then did it all over again with 43 seconds remaining, again tying the game back up and paving the way for Gay’s heroics. For the Aztecs to survive and advance in March, free throw shooting could be a major factor.
  • And in the end, we’re left with a rematch between two top ten teams in the nation, as SDSU will try to avenge their only two losses of the season and wrap up their second straight MWC championship, while BYU will attempt to end their affiliation with the conference by taking the tournament championship with them and in the process, give the NCAA Tournament Selection committee one last reason why they should be considered for a #1 seed.

Pac-10 Tournament – by David Ely

  • The story of the day — and probably the story of the tournament — was KevinO’Neill’s incident with a prominent Arizona booster Thursday night. It’s been reported that O’Neill and his wife got into an altercation with a Wildcats booster (who also happens to be a close friend of former Arizona coach Lute Olson) at the lobby of the JW Marriott hotel near the Staples Center. O’Neill and his wife were asked to leave the hotel by hotel security, and USC announced Friday afternoon that O’Neill would be suspended for the rest of the Pac-10 tournament. This was an all-time blunder by a coach whose team was possibly a win-away from locking up an NCAA bid. We’ll never know if the Trojans would have beaten the Wildcats with KO on the sideline, but the distraction leading up to the game couldn’t have helped USC’s cause.
  • Associate head coach Bob Cantu filled in for O’Neill, and according to his bio on the Trojans’ athletic website, Cantu’s previous head coaching experience was as JV coach at Mission Prep High in San Luis Obispo, CA. Cantu said postgame that he actually had coached a game in junior college, but either way, it definitely was a case of being thrown into the fire. The Trojans definitely weren’t outcoached in their loss to Arizona, but the drama filled afternoon probably had an impact on the team’s mindset heading into the game. “We knew it was going to be tough,” USC senior MarcusSimmons said. “But me being a senior, I had to talk to the players and we knew we had to go out there and compete and we knew the game plan. So we just had to move forward and go out and compete tonight like we did.”
  • Now that the Trojans are out, the discussion on whether or not they should make the field of 68 has begun in full force. Arizona coach SeanMiller said they deserve to be in, and Cantu gave his best pitch during his press conference after the game. “My philosophy is when you’re selecting 68 teams, you’re trying to find the best 68 to compete for a national title. If you saw us play throughout the season you’d have to say we’re one of those teams.” My guess is that USC is one of the last four teams left out of the tournament, and I frankly won’t be throwing a pity party for the Trojans on Monday. They’ve lost 14 games this season — a couple of them to some bad teams. Enjoy the NIT, guys.
  • Miller called Arizona’s win over the Trojans its best of the season. Just over two weeks ago, the Wildcats lost at USC and DerrickWilliams turned in one of his worst performances of the season (eight points and 11 rebounds), while NikolasVucevic went off for 25 and 12. This time the matchup played out in favor of Williams and the Cats. Vucevic might have finished with a 16/12, but he was largely a non-factor during the game, and Williams tied for a game-high with 20 points. “Derrick deserves a lot of credit because to me his individual effort was better, and he did a really good job working hard,” Miller said. “Those two big guys (Vucevic and AlexStepheson) didn’t have as much of an impact in this game as they did in our second game.”
  • During a break in the first half of the Arizona-USC game, the mascots from the four remaining teams competed in a game of musical chairs. The first team eliminated was USC. The second team was Oregon. It just so happens those were two squads bounced from the tournament Friday. Eerie. Arizona won the competition if you’re curious. I suggest taking that inside info straight to Vegas.
  • Washington seems to have gotten its mojo back. The Huskies were listless in the first half of their quarterfinal matchup against WashingtonState, but since then the Huskies have been rolling. They outscored Wazzu by 10 in the second half to win 89-87, and then they were in control throughout their semifinal matchup en route to an 18-point win over Oregon. It was encouraging to see the Huskies win easily despite the fact that they went 7-22 from three, and that Isaiah Thomas only hit two field goals. UW won via its physical play on the inside (14 offensive rebounds) and a balanced offensive effort (four guys in double figures).
  • Thomas showed that when he’s not hitting shots, he can still be an effective player. IT finished the game with 12 dimes – his fifth game of 10 or more assists this season. Thomas has posted back-to-back nights with 10+ assists, and he said after the game that sometimes you can get into a passing groove like a hot shooter would with his outside J. “When you’re getting assists it feels like every guy is open,” Thomas said.

SEC Tournament – by Jared Quillen

Alabama vs. Georgia

  • A tough loss for Georgia.  The Bulldogs played a great first half going up 30-21 where they controlled the boards.
  • Travis Leslie made mincemeat of Alabama’s SEC leading defense by scoring 13 points in the first half.
  • Georgia looked to be on its way to an easy victory when the Bulldogs stretched the lead to 48-34 with just 6:43 remaining, but JaMychal Green ruled the second half just as Leslie did the first.  He scored 16 of his 20 points in the second half, 12 of those coming from free throws.  He also finished with 13 rebounds to get the double-double.
  • Sitting in the arena it seemed like Bama fans had given up on their tournament hopes even when the Tide started chipping away at the lead in the second half.  It wasn’t until a Trevor Releford free throw cut the lead to 52-49 that Alabama fans really took notice.  Alabama finished the game outscoring Georgia 31-11 over an 11:43 span to get a 65-59 in overtime.
  • I’m not sure why Coach Fox would call a timeout with just seconds remaining.  Let it play out.  You’re tied.  At best your team knows to take the last shot, they do so and you win.  At worst they take the lost shot, you miss and it goes to overtime.
  • Travis Leslie finished the game with a double-double on 24 points and 10 rebounds.  Trey Thompkins finished with 19 points but only 2 rebounds, a big part of the reason why Alabama controlled the boards in the second half outrebounding Georgia 36-28 for the game.

A little anecdote concerning Georgia Coach Mark Fox

  • On the elevator I encountered a Georgia fan working as event staff.  I asked her how she felt about the loss.  She expressed her frustration and then exclaimed, “We need a new coach.”  Really?  You’re ready to can Mark Fox after only his second year?  Consider for a moment, in the six previous seasons before Mark Fox’s time Georgia was 7-9, 2-14, 5-11, 8-8, 4-12 and 3-13 in conference play.  In his first year, he took a team that had no business winning more than three conference games and got them to wins over Georgia Tech, Tennessee and Vanderbilt.  All top 25 teams.  The Dawgs finished with a 5-11 conference mark and this year despite injuries to Trey Thompkins, Georgia beat rival Georgia Tech, again, and finished with a 9-7 conference mark and surely a spot in the NCAA Tournament, Georgia’s first at-large bid since 2002.  Of course, that 2002 tournament appearance was vacated by the NCAA.  Trust me, you don’t want to get rid of Mark Fox.

Kentucky vs. Mississippi

  • Kentucky was able to avenge its previous two point loss to Mississippi in Oxford by winning today 75-66.
  • The UK/Ole Miss game was close throughout.   John Calipari had the following to say, “I kept telling them late in the game I was really hoping this is a close game because we’re going to be in some other ones,” Calipari said. “And we need this, and I want to see which men step up and make plays.”
  • In fifteen SEC Tournament contests Kentucky has never lost to Mississippi.  That’s gotta get old at some point.
  • Mississippi junior forward Terrance Henry had a double-double with 17 points and 12 rebounds.  Chris Warren sadly ends his career at Mississippi with a poor shooting day.  He went 5-20 overall, 4-15 from three and had four turnovers to go with three assists.  He did have 20 points.
  • Both Doron Lamb and Brandon Knight played 39 minutes for Kentucky today.  You’ve got to wonder if fatigue is going to set in on these freshmen if they make it to the third day of this tournament.

Florida/Tennessee

  • As I noted during the live blog, I’m always a little uncomfortable when a man removes his jacket to reveal brightly colored suspenders.  Bruce Pearl committed just such an offense today.
  • Tennessee certainly gave Florida a scare today but the Gators played smooth and level headed throughout as they have done all season.  This is a team that does not get rattled and that is a valuable asset at this time of year.
  • Am I the only one that thinks that Scotty Hopson is really working that DJ Jazzy Jeff look?
  • The Tennessee/Florida game, like the Alabama/Georgia game, was a tale of two halves.  Tennessee played great in the first half.  Played aggressive and made shots.  Played very disorganized the second half and fouled and fouled and fouled.  Couldn’t stop Florida at all.
  • Tennessee needs some more hustle on defense.
  • It seems like everyone has been saying for weeks now that Tennessee is in the NCAA tournament no matter how many games they lose.  But honestly, what at this point makes you think that Tennessee can win an NCAA tournament game?

Vanderbilt/Mississippi State

  • Vanderbilt’s Jeffery Taylor had the most beautiful dunk of the day as he went up, faked a pass and then dunked it hard.  He followed that up with the toughest dunk of the day when he threw it down despite getting hit by two guys.  No call.
  • Runner-up dunk.  Kodi Augustus right up the middle against Vanderbilt, just after Taylor’s two dunks.
  • When Renardo Sidney is moving toward the basket, it’s best to just get out of the way.  He’s the bloody juggernaut.
  • Ravern Johnson is very very skinny.  Never noticed until I saw him up close today.
  • Renardo Sidney made a three-point basket in the second half and apparently liked it so much he decided to take two more.  The first one was off balance and had no chance.  The second swished.  He shot 23.8 percent on the year prior to this game.
  • Sidney was everywhere in the second half.   Despite playing just two minutes in the first half after picking up two quick fouls, he scored 20 points and pulled down 7 rebounds.  Problem was, Jeffery Taylor was everywhere too.  He had 29 points on 10-17 shooting, 5-9 from three and 4-4 from the line.
  • With about 20 seconds to play and down by four, Mississippi State chose not to foul.  I cannot understand that.  They just let the clock tick and tick and tick away.
  • Vanderbilt came away with the win 87-81.

A Few Notes

  • I am now 8-0 in the SEC Tournament office pool.  We start our March Madness a little early.  That $14 pot is mine.
  • I was happy to see that Vanderbilt only had one male cheerleader.  In a day that was filled with preppy men with taped wrists, it was good to see at least one team understand that the concept of the male cheerleader is not one that sits well with most of us.  I am awarding Mississippi State the cutest cheerleaders award.  And it wasn’t a hard call to make.  Male cheerleaders are not factored in as they are disqualified from competition on principle.
  • Even in the final game of the evening between Mississippi State and Vanderbilt over half of the fans there were basketball junkie Kentucky fans with nothing better to do than stay up until midnight and watch two teams on the opposite side of the bracket from their team.  Kentucky fans make every SEC Tournament game a home game for the Wildcats.
  • The town really is blue everywhere.  If you’re an Atlanta area hotel, restaurant or rental company, Kentucky fans are your Christmas.  If you’re a fan of any other SEC team, you’re mad as Hell.  Even the Alabama/Georgia game with as much riding on it as any game in this tournament probably had 60/40 blue to red supporters and it’s in Georgia’s backyard and both Alabama and Georgia wear red.
  • I heard some media today lamenting Billy Donovan’s wordiness.  One fellow put it thusly, “Billy Donovan defines the saying, ‘Ask him what time it is, he’ll give the history of the watch.’”  I didn’t think that was very nice.
  • Apparently Merita is the official bread of the SEC.  Somehow it sounds funny that any organization would have an official bread.
  • I always wonder how a pep band decides what they want to play.  Today I heard Ozzy Osbourne, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, Journey, Paula Abdul, Jet and Paul Simon.  Eclectic to say the least.
Brian Goodman (748 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.


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