Weekend NCAA Diary From TampaPosted 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: Tampa, FL
Teams: Florida, UCLA, Kentucky, West Virginia
Date: 19 March 2011
Correspondent: Collin Sherwin
- Brandon Knight and Terrence Jones from Kentucky are expected to head to the NBA, and they’ll both be high enough picks in a lousy draft that they probably should leave (assuming there’s no lockout that takes an entire year away). Tyler Honeycutt from UCLA really impressed me as well. He really controls the game for a smaller forward, and can fill it either off the bounce or on the perimeter. His comparable is probably a lesser Stephen Curry, and the rumor is he’s going to the League as well. If there was ever a year to justify leaving early, this is it.
- I don’t see how Florida does it. It took some miracle shots from Erving Walker to get them past a more talented UCLA that dominated them inside. Reeves Nelson and Josh Smith were having their way with the Florida bigs, but somehow didn’t seem to be getting the ball enough. The Gators had no answer for the tandem inside, and are the classic “donut” team without a legitimate big. Patric Young for UF really looks like a manchild out there, and has a huge motor, but he’s still a bit raw. He could be a solution in the future, but I was honestly surprised that UCLA didn’t pull that game out. On most nights, the 7th seeded Bruins would advance, but Walker picked the right day to have possibly the best game of his career. The shot he hit from his rear end with about a minute to go left me with two images; the ball going in and the roar from the crowd, and a UCLA assistant coach slamming his portfolio into the chair next to him in frustration.
- At halftime of UK-WVU, with the Wildcats down 41-33, I had no doubt Kentucky would win. No team that athletic and strong can be held down forever. John Calipari isn’t known as an X’s and O’s guy, but his adjustments to the WVU matchup zone were what led his team to a 9-0 run to start the second half. And I’m not sure why against inferior opponents he continues to call set plays. With the talent he has on the floor, their basic dribble drive motion offense is more than enough for teams to deal with by itself. Why waste some shot clock on a set when if you stick to your pattern you’re most likely going to get a good look in 35 seconds?
- I think Chandler Parsons is almost too unselfish, and needs to assert himself more as a scorer. He’s 6’10 with unlimited range and clearly a good basketball IQ. I wouldn’t mind seeing him attack more, even if to help free up more space for his teammates. Would like to see him gain more of that killer instinct, but part of the problem is Kenny Boynton and Erving Walker have the ball in their hands a very high percentage of the time. I think the Gators have to find him a way to get more touches in spots where he can score.
- Joe Mazzulla really made West Virginia go. When he wasn’t on the floor, the dropoff seemed to be off a cliff. And I’m not sure at all what Deniz Kilicli does well, but it doesn’t seem to be anything but look awkward, clog the offense, and get beat defensively. He might have just had a bad weekend, but between him and the five seniors leaving, Huggins will have plenty of holes to fill.
- The announced attendance for Saturday was just over 15,000 in a building that holds almost 20,000 for basketball. And that’s a very, very low number for a site hosting the Gators in their “other” hometown, and the infamous and insane Blue Mist of Kentucky. Plus West Virginia has an active and engaged alumni base in the Tampa Bay area as well. I would have thought all sessions would be a sellout for sure, but none got even close. I think there’s two reasons for this. First, tickets were $77 per session no matter where you sat. The lower bowl midcourt is the same as the upper deck behind the basket. Tickets need to be scaled so that the best seats cost more (donors and alumni as well as local businesses that are willing to pay for the privilege), and the cheap seats aren’t at such a steep price for people that just want to get in the building. It would have really added to the atmosphere. The NCAA very tightly controls all ticketing for the event, and there are no comps or discounted seats available.
- The other issue is with the new TV contract that allows people to watch all four games at the same time in HD from the comfort of their couch. That is such an enticing option that it’s going to begin to affect attendance. Having been in a full building for these games before, it truly does add to the atmosphere. Let’s hope the NCAA makes some adjustments to their ticketing to help make sure these great weekends are closer to sellouts in the future.
Location: Tampa, FL
Teams: Florida, UCSB, UCLA, Michigan State, Kentucky, Princeton, West Virginia, Clemson
Date: 17 March 2011
- The clock just turned to 12:08, so most of the staff and writers here in the St. Pete Times Forum have been here for over 13 hours. And they just shut the lights off on us, leaving the glow of our laptops, a few monitors, and the shot clocks as the only dim glimmers in the home of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Though it wasn’t as memorable a day as the last time this facility hosted this same round of the tournament three years ago, the only time an opening site has had all four higher seeded teams come away victorious, it was still a great day of college basketball. Today saw all the chalk, as white as their home jerseys, advance to return on Saturday. It was a day that failed the stereotype of “second” (nee first) round upsets galore. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t dramatic.
- West Virginia had all the advantages. The higher seed, the testing gauntlet that is the Big East schedule in their rear view mirror, and a Clemson team that landed in Tampa a mere 31 hours earlier. With logic befitting an organization that thought UAB and VCU deserved a berth over Colorado, Harvard, and Virginia Tech, they were the first two teams on the court for the “second” round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament. The ball was contested in the center jump circle at 12:15 pm. It took until 12:16 for Bob Huggins to be perturbed by the officiating.
- Dressed in an all-black jumpsuit that would make Paulie Walnuts ask who his tailor is, Huggins played to every stereotype and caricature of his outsized persona. His hands spent as much time extended at the hips, with palms facing up and shoulders shrugging towards his intended target, as they did at his sides. He stared bullets through all three officials. He met his players chest-to-chest, and not in that new jumping way that has replaced the high five as a celebration. He burned his laser beams, located where most people have pupils, through everyone that caught his attention. He leaned on one foot when a shot was on its way to the rim, hoping his body would provide the English necessary to get the forgiving roll through the net. He was performance art.
- And all of his gesticulation was necessary, as this version of his team fails to live up to the defensively-minded walls he sculpted previously in both Cincinnati and Morgantown. They couldn’t stop anyone wearing orange, much less the super quick Demontez Stitt on penetration, or Jerai Grant on high-low feeds or dumpoffs. It took a furious 9-0 run by senior point guard Joe Mazzulla to send the teams to halftime knotted at 40.
- But the second half saw a more motivated Mountaineer team defensively, and one more willing to concede space to the Clemson guards. That space kept Stitt and Andre Young from getting to the rim, and their justifiably tired legs were unable to knock down the open shots. WV survived, but hardly looked impressive. This isn’t the Kenyon Martin/Danny Fortson/Da’Sean Butler teams of his past, but still a quality club that can give you fits if they’re knocking down jumpers. It was a win for the Mountaineers. You just wouldn’t know it by looking at their coach.
- The second session saw the Princeton student section bring a little life to the gym. The Ivy Leaguers were for sure the most boisterous fans, if not the most numerous. That title goes to the Blue Mist that is Kentucky Basketball. John Calipari described his dribble drive motion offense in his press conference yesterday as “Princeton on steroids.” He ended up needing every anabolic-soaked needle in his arsenal to hold off an Ivy League school.
- What Bob Huggins is to vitriol and rage, Sydney Johnson is to Zen. The former Princeton player and assistant coach leads his team with a contagious calm. When his team is down 11-2 just after the first media timeout, it looked like the miracle of Douglas Davis’ last second winner over Harvard would be the last win of the 2011 campaign.
- But Johnson never panicked. And neither did his team. They were a study in calm. And they showed that the new “Princeton System” isn’t just 4 out 1 in back cuts. It’s jump stop shooting from mid-range. It’s beating your man off the dribble and getting to the rim. It’s defending the vaunted Kentucky All-Americans on the wing not in sagging defense that is man-to-man in name only, but actual face guarding them and hawking the ball. The Princeton Tigers didn’t lose only by two points because of their brains, but because of their athletic ability. They can play with anyone, and were unlucky not to leave with a win.
- Kentucky only advances because they got the last shot, a beautiful runner in the lane by Brandon Knight with two seconds remaining, his only points of the day. But the Tigers fought hard and with passion. They scored their last three possessions, including two jumpers from Dan Mavraides that looked like they came from a high-major player, not a kid that doesn’t have an athletic scholarship. And they, by proxy, might have proved that Harvard deserved a chance to compete in this tournament as well. It might be time to seriously consider the Ivy as a multiple bid league.
- Florida > UCSB. Two hours of my life I’ll never get back. Boat race. Chandler Parsons is good. UCSB needs like three more players with talent besides Orlando Johnson. Possibly the most boring college basketball game I’ve ever had to sit through. And I’m an alum of USF. And I was a sports information director in the MEAC. So believe me, I know lousy basketball.
- And it looked like we were in for another blowout when Michigan State looked completely overmatched by a balanced and attacking UCLA team. Tyler Honeycutt knocked down shots early, but it looked like the balance of UCLA would be the difference. With a 42-24 advantage at halftime, eight Bruins had already scored, and Michigan State looked helpless at both the rim and on the perimeter. There’s nothing like two straight boat races to finish a long day. Oh, the excitement.
- With 8:35 remaining, Ben Howland had kept Kalin Lucas completely in check, holding to 0-8 from the floor. Draymond Green was putting up buckets for MSU, but nothing Team Westwood couldn’t handle. It was 64-41. Don’t wanna see anyone get hurt now, right? Hey scrubs, get your heads in the game… you’re gonna get some burn in the NCAAs tonight.
- Then Green and Lucas combine for a 10-0 run all on their own. Then UCLA can’t throw it in the ocean. Then Michigan State finally starts taking some threes, and they start falling. Lucas hits a jumper, and it’s 69-61 at the under 4 timeout. The whole building starts buzzing. MSU has done this so many times before in March, and Tom Izzo is the one coach you don’t ever want to count out in this spot.
- UCLA’s Josh Smith, who reminds you of Escalade Jackson when he gets to the scorers table, misses two free throws. Lucas drains a three. Tyler Honeycutt turns it over, and Keith Appling drains a three. Four point lead, a minute to go. Any computer simulation or stat projection will make a team with a four point lead and the ball with less than a minute left a monster favorite to win the game. And that’s why stats lie, because you could ask any neutral fan in the arena, and they probably would have taken Michigan State. Not only did the wheels come off for the Bruins, the axles did too.
- UCLA misses four of their final five free throws. But it’s still not enough as the Sparitans can’t put it away, missing too many open shots down the stretch. Their season ends with Kalin Lucas, a warrior for four years in Lansing, traveling with 0.2 seconds left. He couldn’t even get off a heave of a buzzer beater to cap one of his worst performances in white and green. It’s an awful way to end a great career, and such carnage almost overshadows a 23-11-10 triple-double by Draymond Green.
- There were no upsets on Thursday. And outside of the end of Princeton-Kentucky, there weren’t a lot of times when the quality of play by both teams on the floor was particularly strong. But you don’t always need upsets and great play for drama, and that’s what makes March so thrilling. We’ll see if Tampa can live up to her previous billing on Saturday.