Conference Tournament Daily Diaries: SaturdayPosted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 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 (pending), Big 12, Big Ten, Mountain West, Pac-10 & SEC.
ACC Tournament – by Kellen Carpenter
- Despite a collective freak-out Nolan Smith is obviously fine. He torched Virginia Tech en route to a 27-point performance. He played 39 minutes and didn’t limp. After the game he said that he had woken up and felt pretty good, was given a shot for the pain and that was that. Smith also basically admitted that there was no injury that was going to stop him from playing the last, precious few games of his college career. Bold words.
- There were other bold words that came from a raucous Coliseum crowd. An insistent six year-old Duke fan had one message and one message alone for Virginia Tech’s star whenever he went to the free throw line: “Delaney! Give me your money! Give me your money!” A Hokies fan, noting that an inordinate amount of time seemed to be taken up wiping the floor, was adamant in his commands to the Plumlee frontcourt: “Stop peeing on the floor, Plumlee!” This apparently applied to both. The winner of the impromptu ACC semifinals heckling contest, however, was an older Clemson fan. For some reason that I do not know, this fan spent the entire game heckling. He didn’t heckle the Tar Heels and he didn’t heckle the referees as a group, but rather singled out referee Les Jones. For forty solid minutes, he yelled at “Leslie” about every single thing. It was weird and oddly masterful. Kudos to you, demented stranger.
- The Tar Heels sent out a mixed message. Dexter Strickland joked on Twitter this afternoon that they were calling his team “The Comeback Kids,” after UNC turned yet another double digit deficit into an overtime win. Kendall Marshall, who played forty minutes, simplyannounced, “I’m tired.” Harrison Barnes didn’t tweet anything, because he is too cool for Twitter.
- Harrison Barnes, in the best individual performance of the tournament, hung 40 points on the Tigers. That’s impressive enough, but the really impressive part is how he did it. He scored his 40 on a mere 17 shots. He made 6 of 8 three-pointers and 10 of 11 free throws. He had 8 rebounds, four of which were offensive boards. When you play like that, you are, factually, too cool for Twitter. Carolina fans will lift a drink to play that speaks for itself.
- After both games were finished, the buzz around the Coliseum was palpable. It’s been ten years since Duke and North Carolina have met in the ACC finals, and the town, as a whole, seems legitimately excited about it. A rubber match to the split series is something that everyone involved with both teams’ desires. With a number one seed potentially at stake, and a not insignificant amount of pride, both seem poised to deliver a memorable showdown. Given North Carolina’s apparent propensity for dramatic tournament finishes, the chances of a great game happening seem awfully high.
- While the rivals exult, Virginia Tech and Clemson fret. Both improved their NCAA stock, but neither was able to seal their destiny with a signature win. There is a degree of optimism for both teams and Seth Greenberg joked that he wasn’t going to sleep because he was so excited about the Hokies chances. A solemn Malcolm Delaney just shook his head and firmly disagreed: After all that had happened over his four years at Virginia Tech, he going to expect the worst and wasn’t going to believe it until he heard it himself. While I’m hopeful for Virginia Tech’s chances, I’m with tough and wise Delaney on this one. That said, I wish him the best. That kid is too tough and too good to never make it to the Big Dance.
Atlantic 10 Tournament – by Joe Dzuback
- And then there were none. Three of the eight teams in the quarterfinal bracket were Philadelphia schools. All three of the A-10’s Philadelphia members punched their tickets to Atlantic City, two by virtue of upsets in round 1 action. La Salle was eliminated Friday night by Big 5 rival Temple. The balance of the Philadelphia contingent was eliminated in semifinal play earlier today. The conference sold 8,285 tickets to the semifinal games, but will be hard pressed to sell 6,000 for the championship game tomorrow.
- Boardwalk Hall magic runs out. The talk in most quarterfinal postgame conferences was Temple’s remarkable run of 10 consecutive wins at Boardwalk Hall. With their 58-54 loss to Richmond this afternoon the streak ends at 10. A shallow Owl rotation, the result of two late season injuries to starters Michael Eric and Scootie Randall, became much shallower and shorter going into the conference tournament. It showed this afternoon as Juan Fernandez, Lavoy Allen and Khalif Wyatt looked gassed and the Owls failed to score at all in the game’s last five minutes. The Spiders retook the lead and scored five unanswered points over that span.
- Can Spiders Dance? According to most in the press contingent and their fanbase the answer is a resounding yes. The Spiders have done enough, they contend, to earn a bid. With a 26-7 record that includes yet another win over a Top 25 opponent, the Spiders indeed appear to have earned the nod. This, however, is where the conference’s deal with CBS shows it’s Faustian side. The consensus at the tournament’s start was that Temple and Xavier were “in”, with Richmond “just barely” in or out, depending on your bracketologist of choice. Dayton was not even on the bubble. The NCAA is committed to inviting every conference tournament champion, irrespective of the team’s other credentials. By delaying their championship game tip-off to Sunday at 1:00 pm, the conference may have forced the Selection Committee into a less than favorable (for the conference) Plan B should Dayton beat Richmond and earn the automatic bid. A wonderful outcome for the Flyers, to be sure, but should the Selection Committee decide (on Saturday night) the championship game is a virtual play-in game for the conference, that would negate Richmond’s regular season work. Four NCAA bids would match the conference’s second highest yield, done twice before, in 2004 and 1996.
- Rhode Island Will Accept a Bid…if Offered. Both Rhode Island and Duquesne used their postgame press conferences Friday to make their case for a bid…to the NIT, to the CBI or the CIT. Confirmed by someone close to the program, Rhode Island contacted the CBI and indicated an interest in participating their 2011 postseason tournament. A similar rumor about St. Bonaventure has also circulated over the past day, confirmed by The NIT Bracket Project earlier today. The NIT Bracket Project lists only Dayton in their projected 32-team field. Rhode Island, one of two A-10 teams who were NIT semi-finalists in 2010, is not even on the NIT bubble, Duquesne is.
- Kevin Anderson for Tournament MVP. While the senior guard has resorted to volume shooting (15-32 from the field, including 4-11 from beyond the arc, 13-15 from the line) to achieve his 43-point total over Richmond’s two game tournament, no one on the Rhode Island nor Temple squads could stay in front of him when he gets to the lane. The MVP will come from tomorrow’s winning squad, so do not discount Dayton’s Chris Wright or Chris Johnson. Wright, a senior forward, has scored 32 points on 13-27 shooting from the field and 6-13 from the line in addition to pulling down 19 boards. Johnson has scored 31 points on 10-20 (6-9 from three point land) and 5-7 from the line to go with 14 boards.
Big 12 Tournament – by Brian Goodman
- Markieff Morris and the Jayhawks wanted another shot at Texas, and they got it. More importantly, Kansas took its fifth Big 12 Championship crown in the last seven years, downing Texas 85-73 at the Sprint Center. The first half was very chippy – Morris was warned repeatedly by the officials after woofing at Texas, KU’s bench was warned at another point, and Thomas Robinson picked up a technical foul. From the tip, you could see how badly Kansas wanted this win to avenge a January 22 loss to the Longhorns, and from exchanges between whistles, Texas wanted to quiet the critics who were quick to point out the circumstances of Kansas’ only home loss of the season.
- Texas threatened in the second half, cutting an 18-point lead to eight behind some hot shooting from J’Covan Brown, but the Jayhawks kept answering.
- Motivation has played a big role in the KU’s most impressive wins of the season, and Saturday night was no different. Whether it was dispatching a hated rival like Missouri or Kansas State at home in convincing fashion, or making good on an earlier loss, as was the case on Saturday, the team operates best when it has a chip on its shoulder and feels like it has something to prove. When accolades like taking the nation’s #1 ranking come along, the team struggles, as it did at Manhattan in a blowout loss. The possibility that from here on out, each game could be the team’s last, should be enough motivation for Kansas to play well in the NCAA Tournament. When they bring their A-game, there are very few teams in the country that can top them, if any.
- In the afternoon, Tyshawn Taylor was announced as Kansas’ starting point guard, replacing Elijah Johnson. The polarizing point guard was suspended by Bill Self on February 11 for breaking team rules, and was reinstated two games later, but Saturday was his first game back in the starting lineup. He responded in a huge way, cutting into lanes, passing in transition and hitting off-balance shots on his way to 20 points. When Texas starting paying him more attention, things opened for his teammates. In the postgame press conference, Taylor explained that he had a green light to be aggressive and told him to attack, and attack he did.
- Kansas’ team chemistry was on display throughout the night. The Morris twins fed one another for lob plays, the team had an assist-turnover ratio on the game of 19:10 and Brady Morningstar, the most senior member of the team, led the Jayhawks with five assists. Defensively, the Jayhawks got Tristan Thompson in foul trouble, and he was rendered a non-factor, playing over 11 minutes. That partially led to 16 minutes of playing time for Matt Hill, and that’s not a scenario that Rick Barnes needs to find himself in come tournament time. Markieff Morris also had four fouls, as the post battle down low displayed a level of contact and out-muscleing usually reserved for Big East games.
- One oddity from the stat sheet – Kansas had six players in double figures, but nobody else cracked the scoring column – not even Josh Selby, who has essentially become an afterthought in KU’s rotation. If Taylor keeps this up, minutes will be even harder to come by for the guard who many predicted to be a lottery pick in June.
- For the Longhorns, Jordan Hamilton led with 21 points, but needed an equal amount of shots to do so. He exploited mismatches on Tyrel Reed for a few baskets, but good looks were hard to come by, though he wasn’t the only one.
- The postgame news conference quote of the night comes from the following lighthearted but half-joking exchange between Tyshawn Taylor and Bill Self: “Coach had faith in me to start me today, and I hope I proved that I could start for the rest of the time.” At this point, Taylor shoots a smirk across the table to Bill Self, who grins for a few seconds and responds “you had two turnovers.”
Big Ten Tournament – by John Stevens
- Tom Izzo’s first words of his post-game comments: “Boy, what a difference a day makes.” Indeed, coach. Less than 24 hours after his team pounced all over Purdue and sent the Boilers and their sizeable crowd contingent packing, the Spartans throw up a total clanger against Penn State, and the Nittany Lions will play in their first-ever Big Ten Tournament final. The Lions forced MSU into even more of a slow, rough, grind of a game than the Spartans wanted to play, and about midway through the second half, you saw the effects. Draymond Green, Derrick Nix and Delvon Roe could be seen bent over, hanging on their shorts during stoppages of play. Even Kalin Lucas was seen panting during the walk to a late time-out huddle. In the post-game, Green and Lucas denied fatigue was a factor, but that’s not something a young man is going to admit. And Green and Lucas aren’t the types of fellows to make excuses.
- Let’s not take anything away from Penn State, though. It was difficult to tell if Talor Battle’s six threes were a result of MSU’s fatigue, or if those shots CAUSED them to grow weary, but we’re siding with the latter. Talor described “The Zone” perfectly. “After I started feeling it, I didn’t even notice if any defenders were around me or not. I just had to keep firing.” Tim Frazier added 22 with an extremely tidy 9-13 shooting night, also pulling eight boards and handing out six assists, most of them to Battle. Draymond Green on Penn State’s timing and Battle’s skill: “We came out OK, then started missing some easy shots, and we picked a bad time for a drought, because that’s when Talor Battle started lightin’ it up from three, jeez.” We were just as impressed with Frazier’s contribution, showing absolute fearlessness in penetrating the lane and either stopping short for a jumper (and this not subjecting himself to a fad charge call) or getting into the lane and drawing some pretty jarring blows from MSU bigs.
- One thing I like to look for as the tournaments progress is which fans from vanquished schools still turn up for the rest of the weekend’s games. The winner for the Big Ten tournament is Indiana. Of the eliminated schools, the Hoosiers were represented here more than the others. That’s not totally unexpected, given the proximity, but Purdue probably had the most fans here this week and now there are few left. They’ve exhibited the biggest delta between fans in attendance while their squad was still alive and fans here after their team was booted.
- I’ve spent an appropriate amount of space in my Big Ten daily diaries and probably more than an appropriate amount in other articles praising Jared Sullinger. That’s not to say he doesn’t deserve it. He obviously does. But on top of his clearly evident talent, Sullinger was a protected player today. No, I’m not espousing conspiracy theories or making accusations. And calm down, Buckeye fans, I’m not discounting Sullinger’s excellence. But sometimes a player can gain a reputation, as Jared has, of being a player who doesn’t foul but can draw fouls on others. Referees talk to each other, and they read papers (and hey, maybe blogs!), too. Today, it was stupefying how every single questionable went Sullinger’s way. Fouls, non-calls, block/charges…he didn’t lose one. And the non-OSU crowd definitely let the referees know about it. I even asked a couple of strangers on press row if I was imagining this or not, and they verified that it was real.
- Once again, let’s raise one to the city of Indianapolis for how they’ve embraced this event. From Broad Ripple to Fishers to Downtown, everyone seems to be into it, even if they’re not going to the games and even if they haven’t had a dog in this particular long weekend of fights. The crowds downtown have been as thick and as passionate as any I’ve seen in my travels, all the local businesses have really gotten behind it (and why shouldn’t they?). And this is all happening while most of downtown is being “reshapen” — which is to say that it’s undergoing some serious construction. It hasn’t spoiled the atmosphere one bit, and that’s remarkable.
Mountain West Tournament – by Andrew Murawa
- For the second straight year, the Mountain West championship was anti-climactic after a great pair of semifinals. San Diego State trailed for exactly 29 seconds all night, led by as much as 23 in the middle of the second half, and generally dominated in a way that even the 18-point final margin does not indicate.
- Following Jimmer Fredette’s 52-point performance on Friday night and the 34 points he averaged against SDSU during the season, the Aztecs knew that there was no stopping Fredette, but they hoped to control him. Their plan on Saturday afternoon was to use a variety of long defenders on him, to keep multiple sets of eyeballs on him at all time, and to force him into the middle when possible in order to get help. While Fredette still wound up with 30, he had to take 25 shots to do it. And, he had his pocket picked by Billy White at least twice during the game and wound up with four turnovers.
- Last year, Billy White was spectacular during the MWC Tournament, played in his home town of Las Vegas. He scored 28 points in a thrilling semifinal win over New Mexico and averaged 16.7 points per game. But this year, though his scoring was down a couple points per game, he may have been even better. He averaged eight rebounds a game, and in the final was terrific, running the floor with abandon and finishing at the rim, hitting the glass hard at both ends of the floor, and harassing and bothering Fredette throughout the game. White has been up and down throughout the year and throughout his career, but he’s probably playing the best basketball of his career right now, just in time for a big run through the NCAA Tournament to end it.
- Offensively, Jackson Emery had an awful weekend. He was 10-35 from the field and 5-23 from three (a number saved some by his 3-8 performance Saturday). However, despite his troubles he harassed Hank Thorns into a terrible second half on Thursday, he came up with five steals on Friday night and displayed excellent senior leadership throughout the weekend. That being said, the Cougars will need his offense if they hope to make a run beginning next week.
- The big question for the Cougars since the dismissal of Brandon Davies has been how their interior players would pick up the slack. While Noah Hartsock, Charles Abouo and Kyle Collinsworth (a player best suited to play guard who was playing the five in the BYU zone at times this weekend) did commendable jobs with their given skillsets to help out on the glass and defend the interior as best they could, the Cougars got exposed pretty drastically on Saturday afternoon. SDSU outscored BYU 40-16 in the paint and 21-9 on 2nd-chance points, and while the Aztecs again failed to clean their defensive glass as well as they do on offense, the Cougars frontline proved to be no match for SDSU. Now, there aren’t many teams in the country that have as good of a frontcourt as the Aztecs do, but the complete inability for the Cougars to throw the ball into the post on offense is going to haunt them in their remaining games.
- The Cougars have played their final MWC game, and while both sides are okay with parting, the split cannot be described as amicable. The perception around the conference has always been that the BYU athletic department and their fanbase are “arrogant.” And frankly, that perception is probably not all that imperceptive. However, the fact is that the BYU fans are generally very supportive of their program, loud and raucous in all the right ways and they create an awful fun atmosphere in which to watch a game. The MWC will miss BYU, no matter how much they don’t want to admit it. And while BYU will take a step down in terms of their new competition in basketball (not a huge step, but a step nonetheless), they’ll now have more exposure, more freedom, and their fanbase will be a major boon to the WCC. Closing the books on the Cougars’ MWC balance sheet, they won one MWC Tournament championship in their time in the conference, in 2001.
Pac-10 Tournament – by David Ely
- I know this sounds blasphemous, but part of me (a very small part, mind you) wishes that I was at home on my couch watching this one rather than sitting a few rows behind the Washington basket. Attribute those feelings to the power of Gus Johnson. During the epic final minutes of regulation — the Isaiah Thomas three, Derrick Williams’ 3-point play, the Terrence Ross three and then the C.J. Wilcox three — and then in overtime — Thomas’ game-winner — I couldn’t help but wonder what Gus was doing on air. Nothing beats seeing IT knock down that step-back J in person, but listening to Gus’ call is a worthy second option. Also, thank God for YouTube.
- You have to wonder how Thomas’ legs feel after three straight games of 38+ minutes. Thomas was on the court all 45 minutes against Arizona, yet he had enough in the tank to rise and hit that jumper in the final seconds. “I’m really tired,” Thomas said postgame. “I’m ready to get on the plane and go to sleep. … Like (Matthew Bryan-Amaning) said, in one of the timeouts I told him, ‘I’m tired man. I’m not worried about scoring. So when I get you the ball, just score. Don’t pass it back to me.’ ”
- After watching Arizona and Washington for three games, I wouldn’t be surprised to see both squads make it to the second weekend of the tournament. The Huskies wowed me with their interior play – 43 total rebounds, 16 offensive vs. Zona – and Thomas bounced back from a 2-11 night against Oregon to pour in 28 points on 10-16 shooting Saturday. Little Zeke, who’s the two-time tourney MOP, has been in a Pacific Northwest bubble for much of the year, but the secret’s out now. As for Arizona, it’s going to be tough for other teams to deal with Derrick Williams (24 points on 8-14 shooting) and all those three-point options. If Kyle Fogg can get back to 100 percent (he only averaged 13 mpg during the tournament) then Arizona is a sleeper to make the Elite Eight. Remember the ’Cats were a last-second defensive breakdown away from winning this game in regulation despite missing 14 threes and getting outrebounded by 11.
- Arizona coach Sean Miller gave a nice lecture on the logic behind fouling on purpose when you’re up three late in a game. He’s what he had to say: “About four years ago I lost a game to Ohio State. We were up three very late. We always look to foul so they can’t make a three and tie. But in this situation there were 14.5 seconds left. Sometimes if you do that with too much time you outsmart yourself because you have to inbound the ball and you have to make free throws. We could have found ourselves in a situation where eight seconds left they have the ball and we’re up two.” Later in the presser: “Say you foul on purpose. It happens at around 10 seconds. The one thing you have to do is foul because as the ball approaches the three-point line, it’s tough to reach in — you could foul them in the act of shooting. So you foul them, you’re up three and now there are 10 seconds left. He makes both free throws. So now you’re up one. Ten second to go, nine seconds to go, you now have to inbound the ball.”
- If he could have had a redo, Miller said the only thing he would have done differently is call timeout and tell his guys not to leave the perimeter. C.J. Wilcox’s defender sank in at the last second, allowing the Washington freshman to get an open look for the game-tying basket.
- The Washington band played the CBS March Madness theme prior to tipoff Saturday. I’m not embarrassed to admit I got goose bumps.
- While the Huskies and Wildcats faithful couldn’t agree on much during Saturday’s game, there was one thing they saw eye-to-eye on. During a timeout in the first half, Dick Vitale had a promo on the jumbotron; both sides showered the televised Dicky V with thunderous boos.
SEC Tournament – by Jared Quillen
Kentucky vs. Alabama
- After Kentucky’s win over Alabama, Josh Harellson said that both Doron Lamb and DeAndre Liggins were faking their leg injuries. Both players fell on the floor in pain in the final two minutes. Apparently they think that’s funny to fake injuries and make the entire Big Blue Nation’s heartbeat go all irregular. For the record, Liggins mentioned he tweaked his ankle slightly but he’ll be fine. Kentucky Coach Calipari says Lamb could be doubtful for tomorrow.” After Lamb fell on the ground in pain Calipari walked over to him and said, “Get up. You’re alright.” Sometimes you need a coach to just tell the player, “Get up. You’re fine.” Well at least that’s what I’d like to see a coach say to one of those soccer players.
- Coach Cal was asked why he didn’t sub out his players. He repeated his mantra “They were still pressing.” Calipari has frequently reminded folks that as long as the other team presses he doesn’t go past his sixth man, noting, “You don’t know my bench.”
- Alabama Coach Anthony Grant didn’t have much to say after the game. He was very proud of his team’s season, as am I. This team overachieved this year. While there is some talent on this team, it’s still not the most skilled team in the world and getting 12 SEC wins is quite an accomplishment.
- That said, Alabama never really did anything to make you think that were a 12-win team today. They never really got going and I don’t think that today’s game was in any way helpful to a bubble team.
Florida vs. Vanderbilt
- Vanderbilt Coach Kevin Stallings was none too pleased with John Jenkins today, noting “The more he missed, the more he rushed.” Where Jenkins had one of his better games of his career against Mississippi State, he was largely ineffective in the second half today.
- Kevin Stallings also made a good point about depth. “In the NCAA Tournament depth is overrated because the timeouts are so long.” Something to be considered when you’re looking for the chinks in Kentucky’s armor. This however doesn’t account for foul trouble. It doesn’t matter how fit your team is if your top guys are on the bench with foul trouble.
- The Gators handled themselves very well, never playing panicked even when down by 12 in the second half. Today’s win over Vanderbilt means that Florida has beaten two NCAA Tournament teams three times this year. Not a lot of teams can say that.
- How do the Florida players continue to play cool even when they’re not performing so well? Erving Walker said the following of himself and Kenny Boynton, “It always helps when coach don’t yank you when you miss one. I would say he’s been real generous to both of us.”
- On the subject of freedom to shoot, Florida Coach Billy Donovan said, “With freedom comes responsibility.” The founding fathers would be proud. Exactly what they believed.
A Few Notes
- Today the “pep” bands played Green Day and Bon Jovi and you know, there’s just something about a horns section playing electric guitar riffs that ruins an otherwise awesome song.
- I can’t make it clear enough just how blue this town is. Everywhere you go there is blue. A quick survey of the student ticket line outside the Georgia Dome reveals a blue line several hundred students long, a blue and orange line about 35 people long and a crimson line about a dozen people long.
- To illustrate just how much the event staff at the Georgia Dome recognizes that Kentucky fans have turned the Georgia Dome into Rupp Arena South, as I was entering today, I heard an employee opening a door for some Kentucky fans entering the venue who said, “Welcome to yo’ house”.
- When visiting Atlanta, make sure to stop by the Varsity Hot Dog and have a chili slaw dog. If you don’t know what that is, look it up. It is awesome. I enjoyed one such hot dog this morning for breakfast, surrounded by blue clad Kentucky fans who were in Atlanta for some reason.
- Press conferences are kind of funny. Sometimes you feel like you shouldn’t ask a question because the coach is having to answer so many already. Sometimes you feel as though you should ask a question because you feel bad that no one else is asking a question and there’s an awkward silence after the moderator says ‘Raise your hand for questions for the players or coach.’ Such was the case today with Alabama Coach Anthony Grant. Not one question for the players. Not one question for Coach. On the other hand, after you just ended your season with a very ugly loss, you’re probably not way excited about a press conference anyway.