Weekend NCAA Diary From TucsonPosted 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: Tucson, AZ
Teams: San Diego State, Temple, Connecticut, Cincinnati
Date: 19 March 2011
Correspondent: Drew Murawa
- San Diego State had a serious home-court advantage in the McKale Center on Saturday afternoon, but the Aztec fans grew frustrated with the officiating in the second half, and coupled with the tight play of their team, the atmosphere in the arena as the game wound down into 15 minutes worth of crunch time was one of more tension and irritation than excitement, and I think some of that tension did more to harm the Aztecs than it did good. It was, however, hilarious to watch the front row of Aztec fans across the court from me, mostly made up of retirement age people, jump up and down throughout the game, chanting “I Believe That We Will Win” like a bunch of frat kids.
- Lavoy Allen wrapped up his career at Temple by playing all 50 minutes (as did frontcourt mate Rahlir Jefferson) and posting a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds. Allen, who has struggled with not being aggressive enough throughout his career, was certainly aggressive on Saturday, taking 14 field goal attempts and bothering the athletic Aztec frontcourt all game.
- Down the stretch it was a tight and exciting game, but this was in no way a crisply-executed game. There were turnovers, missed layups, lack of focus, even lack of hustle at times. The plays called by Steve Fisher at the end of regulation and at the end of the first overtime were odd, at best. And at the end of the 1st overtime, Temple controlled the ball with a new shot clock with just over one minute left, and instead of trading two possessions for one, they ran the clock all the way down and gave SDSU the ball in a tie-game with the shot clock off.
- But Coach Fisher did sum up both sides of a March game like this pretty succinctly. “When you play a game like this and lose, it’s so disastrous for awhile mentally that you can’t comprehend it unless you are there. So we know what Fran is going through, along with his team,” he said. “We’re obviously thrilled that we’re here and advancing, but Fran and his squad have had a great season. These games are hard, they’re hard for both sides. We ran off the floor all smiles and they ran off the floor with tears in their eyes. That’s the nature of what we do.”
- Jacob Pullen was just absurd on Saturday night in his final college game. He scored 38 points, including six threes, and held Jordan Taylor, a pretty good point guard himself, to two-of-16 shooting. Frank Martin sent him off with these comments: “When everyone in this room questioned me getting hired, he stayed true to his commitment and said, ‘No man, I’m coming to play for you.’ Four years later, we’re in the NCAA three times, made an Elite Eight run. He’s the scoring leader in the history of K-State. Been to the postseason all four years. It’s all because of him. You know, you can coach a long time and never come across another one like him. I’m lucky. I’ve always been around good players. And good players that are better people. And he’s first-class.”
- In the press conference, Pullen was asked about his emotions after playing his final college game, and Martin was absolutely incensed that a reporter would dare to ask Jacob Pullen to reflect on his career: “There, you got him to cry. Is that what you wanted? Great question.” And then he proceeded to glare at the reporter while Pullen answered the question.
- After getting beaten on the glass in the first half, the Wildcat bigs turned it around in the second half and owned the boards themselves. In the first half, Wisconsin grabbed 53.8% of the offensive rebound opportunities and 69.2% on the defensive end, but in the second half K-State grabbed 35.3% of the offensive boards and 84.2% of the defensive opportunities. Curtis Kelly and Jamar Samuels, in particular, used their length to great effectiveness.
- Wisconsin’s role players were huge on Saturday night. Between Josh Gasser, Mike Bruesewitz and Tim Jarmusz, Bo Ryan got 30 points on 9/11 shooting, with 14 rebounds and three assists mixed in there. While Taylor struggled most of the night, those guys have the Badgers still dancing.
Location: Tucson, AZ
Teams: San Diego State, Northern Colorado, Temple, Utah State, Connecticut, Penn State, Cincinnati, Belmont
Date: 17 March 2011
- Not only is Temple sophomore Khalif Wyatt an excellent defender, a dangerous three-point shooter and an athletic slasher, he apparently has a future in coaching. Owl head coach Fran Dunphy had this to say about the huddle before the Juan Fernandez’ game-winner on Thursday: “When we called timeout, we were discussing what to run and Khalif Wyatt, who I listen to all the time, he’s got sage advice for me often, said, I think we need to just put it in Juan’s hands.” So in addition to Wyatt’s ten points, three rebounds and two assists, give him a bit of an assist to the coaching staff as well.
- Temple’s Scootie Randall played for the first time in seven games on Thursday, coming back from a foot injury by coming off the bench and playing six ineffective first-half minutes. He will likely play again on Saturday, but he is clearly not ready to be a major factor for the Owls.
- Penn State had some injury troubles of their own, as senior forward Jeff Brooks dislocated his right shoulder while blocking a shot at the beginning of the second half. He was taken to the locker room immediately and later returned to the bench with his arm in a sling, never to return. He played just ten minutes in the game and had six points, two rebounds, two assists and a block, and his presence was missed after the injury.
- For the Nittany Lions, the careers of four important seniors, Brooks, Talor Battle, David Jackson and Andrew Jones, are now over. While the way it ended was heartbreaking, Battle and his teammates can take solace in the way they went out. “For the rest of my life I’ll know that we didn’t come out here and just get beat. It took a heck of a shot from Fernandez to beat us,” he said, adding, “I bet you one thing, for the rest of our lives, we’ll be able to watch the 2011 “One Shining Moment” and always have to see that shot.”
- There were a couple of bad postseason streaks which were storylines in some of the games at the Tucson pod, and Temple head coach Fran Dunphy got the day started off right, by breaking his personal 11-game losing streak in the NCAA Tournament, a record. In the second game of the day, San Diego State broke an ever more daunting streak by winning their first NCAA Tournament game in the history of the program. One negative postseason trend continued, however, in the final game of the night, as Utah State’s loss to Kansas State dropped Stew Morrill’s career postseason record (in both the NCAA and NIT) to just 1-15.
- While the big story in the SDSU/Northern Colorado game was the Aztecs’ first NCAA win, UNC senior guard Devon Beitzel made sure to make spectators sit up and take notice of his game. The nation’s 13th leading scorer wound up with 25 often spectacular points, knocking down six threes and keeping his Bears in the game well into the second half.
- Kawhi Leonard is clearly one of the best players in the nation, but on Thursday afternoon, he showed an aspect to his game that will either leave future college opponents shaking in their sneakers or future NBA personnel guys drooling. Leonard made three of his five three-point attempts on his way to 21 points for the game to go with his typical ten rebounds. “He’s such a hard guard, he is just so versatile,” said Northern Colorado head coach B.J. Hill. “He is so strong, that is what’s deceiving. You don’t realize how strong that guy is. And when he can hit jump shots like that, it just makes him a complete player and one of those guys that is really hard to guard.”
- “The Show” and the rest of the Aztec fans were all over on Thursday, even with a little meet-and-greet area with tents and food set up a block or so away from the arena. While they never got particularly loud against Northern Colorado (the game was never seriously in doubt in the second half), if the Aztecs find themselves in a tight game on Saturday, they could provide a boost. “They’ve been big for us all season long, whether on the road or at home,” said senior point guard D.J. Gay. “If the energy seems to get low, the fans do a great job of standing up, clapping and cheering and getting us energized. We call them our sixth man, and we couldn’t ask for a better sixth man.”
- Wisconsin’s win over Belmont was headlined by the usual suspects, Jordan Taylor and Jon Leuer, but the Badgers also got major lifts from a couple of role players. First, Mike Bruesewitz returned from a sprained knee and played 28 effective minutes, notching eight points and nine rebounds and giving his teammates a lift. “He came in right off the bench, got an offensive rebound and put it back in, like, behind his head,” said Leuer. “And I saw the guys on the bench get pretty excited about that, especially after what he’s been through.” Then there was sophomore Jared Berggren who came into the game with six three-pointers in his career and proceeded to know down both of his three-point attempts in the span of about four minutes in the second half.
- While the game wound up a 14-point win for the Badgers, they got past a tough team in their first game. Unfortunately for Belmont, it was just an awful matchup for them. The Bruins’ have earned a reputation as an aggressive and physical defensive team that winds up putting their opponents on the free throw line quite a bit. Unfortunately, Wisconsin is not only the best free throw shooting team in the nation this season, they’re in the running to become the best free throw shooting team in recorded history. To put it in perspective, the Badgers made 20 of their 25 free throws tonight, good for 80%, and their percentage for the season went down as a result.
- Belmont does sport a couple of players who would like right at home in a Bo Ryan offense. Junior center Mick Hedgepeth has largely been a post player for Belmont head coach Rick Byrd this season, but he showed his ability to step away from the basket and knock down perimeter jumpers this evening, knocking down two three-pointers. Similarly, sophomore point guard Kerron Johnson is the type of aggressive, penetrating, point who could slip into a role with the Badgers (provided he cuts down on his turnovers, that is) in the tradition of Jordan Taylor, Trevon Hughes and Kammron Taylor, among others. The Bruins lose Jordan Campbell and Jon House, but there is no reason they shouldn’t be a contender next season. Good luck getting somebody to come play you guys though.
- Yesterday, Jacob Pullen was unable to practice. He received IVs throughout the day as a result of the flu (I refuse to use the phrase “flu-like symptoms” – he may not have had the flu, per se, but I still ain’t using that phrase), yet judging by his performance today, he kicked that illness on down the road right quick. He played 37 minutes Thursday night, scored 22 points and handed out five assists, and seems ready to lead his Wildcats on another exciting charge through March.
- Aggie senior forward Tai Wesley got whistled for his second personal early in the first half on a charge in the post that he adamantly disagreed with (nevermind that it was likely a good call). Morrill put him on the bench for a few minutes, during which time KSU expanded a two-point lead up to nine, before bringing him back, probably earlier than the coach wanted. A minute later, Wesley picked up his third on a dumb foul (he admitted as much himself) and the Aggies were lucky to go into the half with an 11-point deficit.
- It’s been said before, but Frank Martin is sure a fun guy to watch on the sidelines. If you were to just watch him, you’d probably have no idea whether or not his team was playing well, or even winning. But you’d have fun.
- The Aggies lose five seniors this offseason (Wesley, Pooh Williams, Tyler Newbold, Nate Bendall and Tyler Green), and they’re now in rebuilding mode, according to Morrill. “We’re kind of starting over,” he said. “I’ve warned our fans that, you know, we get a little used to some conference championships and kind of expecting to get to the NCAA Tournament. But we’re kind of rebuilding and starting over. We’ve reloaded a few times during my time at Utah State and hopefully we can do that again and have a good basketball team. That’s the thing with seniors, they eventually go, you know. And these guys are now leaving us. And that will be a big loss.”
- The bigger question for Morrill, aside from replacing, you know, 66% of their offensive production, is the future of this program. Morrill has never gone out of his way to schedule a particularly tough non-conference slate. This year, the Aggies traveled to Georgetown for an almost unprecedented out-of-region matchup, but normally the Aggies will play BYU, Utah, Weber State, and then whoever they can get to come to their place. As a result, they’ve not had a non-conference strength of schedule better than 153rd in the nation in the last ten years. And, as a result, they’re doomed to opening round games in the NCAA Tournament against teams like Kansas State, Texas A&M, and Marquette, as they’ve played the last three years. Thus far that scheduling philosophy hasn’t worked in terms of NCAA success. Now is about the time that they need to decide if they are going down with that ship, or if they might like to try a different tack with regard to scheduling. An educated guess? More of the same for the Utah State.