Weekend NCAA Diary From ChicagoPosted by rtmsf on March 21st, 2011
As you’re no doubt aware, we’ve had our cadre of correspondents traveling around the country to each of the eight NCAA sites over the weekend. We’ve asked the guys to produce a weekend diary of the games they witnessed including analysis, commentary and opinion concerning the sights and sounds at their venues. Our hope is that the diaries will give you insights into the games that you may not have otherwise had from watching them on television or catching the highlights package afterward. Let us know how we do…
Note: for all of the opening weekend diaries, click here.
Location: Chicago, IL
Teams: Notre Dame, Florida State, VCU, Purdue
Date: 20 March 2011
- JaJuan Johnson and E’Twaun Moore’s careers ended before they could get the finish that they and their coach wanted. Moore, who became Purdue’s all-time leading three-point shooter on Friday against St. Peter’s, couldn’t get into a groove with only 10 points on 5-15 shooting, including 0-3 from beyond the arc. Johnson scored 25 points and grabbed 14 boards, but he was forced to watch a layup line go to the basket around him on defense. “You want those guys to go out with a bang,” Matt Painter said. “They deserved better than this.” To his credit, Painter took the high road when discussing the difficulties his team faced this season, including the loss of Robbie Hummel to injury and the suspension of Kelsey Barlow right before the start of the NCAA Tournament. “I don’t think that had anything to do with it,” Painter said about Barlow’s suspension. “Obviously, he gives you athleticism and length. He’s a versatile guy you can put on a lot of different people. We still get beat with him. There’s no question. They were very good. They were beating a lot of people tonight.”
- Joey Rodriguez is VCU’s little engine that can. The 5’10 senior point guard has been as enigmatic as his team this season. On Sunday he played almost perfectly with 12 points, 11 assists and no turnovers. “I thought Joey Rodriguez was excellent,” said Matt Painter. “I thought he was the difference in the game. He ran the team. He found shooters. He found guys diving. He was persistent, very determined.” Shaka Smart went even a step further, “These guys are hungry guys. Joey’s nuts. He wants to win the whole thing, I guarantee you. And he kind of leads the way for everybody. So I’m not worried about there being a letdown.” If Rodriguez plays like he did on Sunday the Rams have a chance.
- The Florida State Seminoles are that elusive extra something that the ACC has been looking for since the 2006 Boston College Eagles: a team besides North Carolina and Duke that makes the Sweet Sixteen. Leonard Hamilton’s crew will be joining those two blue bloods in the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament after two convincing wins over Texas A&M and Notre Dame. “For me personally as a coach I’ve felt all along that we could get to this point,” said Hamilton. “Our goals are to be a program of significance in the ACC and on a national basis.”
- Florida State was led to the Sweet Sixteen by Bernard James, who came back from throwing up in his hotel room to record a double-double with 14 points and 10 boards. “I’m still not feeling 100 percent, I felt like I had to vomit during the entire game,” James said. “I’m just glad that I was able to contribute tonight and play the minutes that I did.”
- The Big East has great coaches, but it didn’t have great teams this season. Pittsburgh and Notre Dame - the top two teams in the conference – proved that during the third round. As Ben Hansbrough fouled out of the game with 3:19 remaining the problems for Notre Dame were on display. The conference hasn’t been able to keep up with the athleticism of their opponents. FSU players like 6’5 Michael Snaer and 6’4 Derwin Kitchen bothered ND all game and forced difficult shots. “I would give more credit to the length of Florida State,” said Mike Brey. “The offensive end of the floor seemed small and you couldn’t get stuff around the bucket.” Hansbrough was the Big East’s Player of the Year, but hounded by FSU’s defenders he finished 5-13 from the field and was never able to get into a rhythm. The Big East needs great players to elevate its teams to the Final Four and championship-level squads it desires. Of course there are still two Big East teams remaining and one of those teams has that exact player; Kemba Walker of Connecticut is the type of player that can carry a team to NCAA Tournament victories on his own and the Huskies are now the conference’s best chance at getting a team in the Final Four for a third straight season.
Location: Chicago, IL
Teams: Notre Dame, Akron, Florida State, Texas A&M, VCU, Georgetown, Purdue, St. Peter’s
Date: 18 March 2011
Notre Dame 68, Akron 56
Akron thought that is was going to shock the world, not by beating Notre Dame, but by pounding them inside. The Zips tried to use Zeke Marshall, Nikola Cvetinovic and Brett McKnight to go in the paint and pound the Irish in the paint. “I told the guys before the game that the headline after the game was going to say mid-major pounds Notre Dame inside,” said Akron head coach Keith Dambrot. “That was our game plan. We felt that was the best opportunity we had to win.” Unfortunately that plan had one problem, none of the big men could hit a shot. Early shooting woes left Akron in big holes in both halves and the Zips finished 23-64 (35.9%) from the field overall. Notre Dame didn’t play a perfect basketball game either. The Irish turned the ball over too much and were getting hurt early on the defensive glass. Carleton Scott helped fix one of those problems with 14 defensive boards, but the other could be an issue on Sunday against Florida State. The Irish got a big lift from Tim Abromaitis in the second half with two big threes after Mike Brey had pulled him early in the game. Abromaitis finished 3-3 from deep and had 14 points. “He’s a veteran,” Brey said. “He’s been through so much. I don’t worry about his psyche. And his demeanor is here. So at the end of the day, he’s going to be pretty good over time.”
Florida State 57, Texas A&M 50
It was Chris Singleton’s first game back in over a month, but there were moments when it would’ve been tough to tell during Florida State’s victory over Texas A&M. The junior forward played a number of crunch-time minutes and scored five points. “I reluctantly played him only because he had doubled up on all his rehab,” said Seminoles head coach Leonard Hamilton. “He had such a strong desire to want to come back and be a part of the NCAA and be with his teammates that I had a hard time not giving him a chance to work through practice and see — to give him a true evaluation.” Singleton knew he was ready for game action, but he had to give just test it out. “I’m a confident player, so I’m pretty much — I’m sure of myself,” he said. “Every time I step out on the floor, I don’t think anything’s going to happen. But with injuries, you never know what’s going to happen. I could have a setback, but I wasn’t thinking about that. I’m looking forward, not behind.” There is still some rust for Singleton to work out. He airballed one shot and committed three first half fouls, but as the game wore on he seemed to get into more of a rhythm. It’s obvious that his teammates still trust him, as they went to him on multiple occasions with the shot clock winding down hoping that he’d generate offense from nothing on the wing. The health of Singleton should just add to what looks like a very intriguing match up on Sunday between the #3 offense in the country according to Ken Pomeroy (Notre Dame) and the #2 defense (Florida State). It should be quite the battle of wills.
Purdue 65, St. Peter’s 43
Purdue’s could have taken a step back when Matt Painter suspended Kelsey Barlow, but the defense appears to be in tip-top shape. The Boilermakers allowed 43 points to St. Peter’s on 66 Peacock possessions. That’s the best defense Purdue has played since its first two games of the season against Howard and Alcorn State. “I thought we played well defensively. You know, they’re a tough team to play against, and you watch them on film, and they really mix it up, and they get after you,” said Purdue head coach Matt Painter. “The one thing I wanted our guys to do is just try to knock them out of their sets, don’t let them get into a rhythm, and I thought we did that today. There’s no question that we were a lot better on the defensive end.” The Boilermakers didn’t force too many turnovers, but they dominated in other areas. St. Peter’s attempted only six free throws the entire game and their free throw rate of 6.9 percent was the lowest Purdue has allowed all season. Purdue watched a lot of shots go up, but not many went down as the Peacocks shot 17-58 from the field (29.3%). And then, mostly thanks to JaJuan Johnson who had 11 defensive rebounds, the Boilermakers controlled the glass and didn’t give up second chance opportunities. In fact, the only way St. Peter’s was really able to score efficiently against Purdue was by not allowing the Boilermakers’ defense to set up at all. Now, St. Peter’s was the second worst offense in the NCAA Tournament field according to Ken Pomeroy, but still, it seems like the trademark Purdue defense is ready to get stops in March.
VCU 74, Georgetown 56:
For the second season in a row the Georgetown Hoyas ran into a mid-major buzz saw. The feisty Shaka Smart led VCU Rams were ready from the tip for John Thompson III’s squad. Even Chris Wright’s return from a hand injury wasn’t enough to get Georgetown over the top. The Rams are a reflection of their coach. Smart roams the sidelines with fist pumps, a quick hook devoted to players’ contributions at any moment and a bench to support the habit. And when VCU is shooting like the Rams did on Friday night (12-25 from three) they’re almost impossible to beat. The pressure gets a lot of the press, but you don’t see it too often. It’s the hectic pace, the fury and passion that the Rams play with that gets into opponents. Things like the bench jumping for joy on every made three-pointer or the coach shouting out directions. You would’ve never known that the Rams were the team that had to play on Wednesday, other than the fact that they looked more prepared from the start. The legs never gave out and the Rams cruised to a big victory over the final eight minutes or so of the game. Purdue better be ready, because the Rams are coming and they’re not scared of anything.