Weekend NCAA Diary From WashingtonPosted 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: Washington, DC
Teams: Butler, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Connecticut
Date: 19 March 2011
Correspondent: Kevin Doyle
- No matter what I write or how I write it, quite simply nothing can convey what transpired in the final seconds of the Pittsburgh-Butler game at the Verizon Center on Saturday evening. It doesn’t matter how proficient with words one is—you could be Billy Shakespeare—the feeling of every single person in the arena whether they were pulling for Butler, Pittsburgh or were indifferent to the outcome cannot possibly be duplicated. Suffice to say, I will merely provide you with my experience and reaction to how everything went down.
- It all began following a timeout called by Brad Stevens with just a shade over seven seconds remaining. After Jamie Dixon saw what Butler came out in, he elected to use a timeout. Both teams had none left. What transpired next was actually a very similar play that the Bulldogs ran against Old Dominion just two days prior. Shawn Vanzant—going toward the same basket as he had against ODU—drove down the right side of the lane and threw the ball across his body to a wide open Andrew Smith who calmly laid the ball home. Against the Monarchs, Vanzant flung the ball in the direction of the basket and was fortunate enough to have Matt Howard clean up the garbage; this time the play worked a bit better. After Smith’s bucket, the game looked to be well in hand—far from the case. We had only just begun.
- After sophomore Andrew Smith hit what looked to be at the time the game-winning basket for Butler, the Bulldogs’ bench and section of fans, students, and alums alike erupted in jubilation—they had just knocked off the Pittsburgh Panthers in one of the most dramatic of fashions. The emotional high they were on sunk to the lowest of lows in a matter of seconds as Shelvin Mack bumped Gilbert Brown right in front of the scorer’s table—the play happened so close to me that if I had Yao Ming’s wing span I could have made contact with Brown—sending the 78% free throw shooter to the line for two. The joyous jumps, hugs, and high fives that could be seen in the Butler section of the arena abruptly turned to a crowd of people stunned. They stood motionless with hands grasping their heads and mouths wide open. I distinctly remember turning to the gentleman next to me and we just stared at one another in disbelief. The roles had suddenly reversed as the Pittsburgh fans began to celebrate. Gilbert Brown was arguably their best free throw shooter—he had not missed a freebie since February.
- First free throw, up and pure. Now, the collective stomachs of the Butler faithful are beginning to tighten and the pit is growing bigger and bigger as Brown receives the ball for his second attempt. (Just as an aside, I ostensibly had the same feelings as the Butler team and fans. Even though I had no dog in this fight, it pained me to see Butler potentially lose like this. Little did I know what would happen to Pittsburgh just seconds later.) Brown releases his second shot and it looks good off of his hand—remember, this is a guy who had made 11 straight free throws and shot nearly 80% from the line—but the ball somehow manages to find its way out from going through the hole and comes down into Matt Howard’s hands.
- You know what happens next. Nasir Robinson one-ups Shelvin Mack by committing an even worse foul, Matt Howard hits a free throw, and that’s all she wrote. The entire arena—Butler and Pittsburgh fans alike—were all awestruck. Butler could not believe they won the game in that fashion, while Pittsburgh was in utter shock of what transpired. It was a surreal moment. Even after a good deal of time passed following the game and I was back in my seat after attending the press conferences, I was still having trouble grasping what just happened; I was not alone either, that is for sure. During the early stages of the UConn-Cincinnati game, I commented in the live blog that: “Not going to lie guys, it is pretty hard to go from the ending I saw with Butler-Pitt to the first half of another game. I am still in shock/disbelief of what I saw transpire in the last two seconds and change in the previous game.”
- My words do not nearly do justice to what actually happened, so I suggest migrating over to youtube to check out the last seven seconds of the game.
- Some tidbits for you to chew on before briefly touching on the late night game between Big East foes Connecticut and Cincinnati:
- Just some good ol’ message board fodder. The Butler fans have an amusing thread on so Pittsburgh look-a-likes. I must say, the similarities between Dante Taylor and Biggie, as well as Brad Wanamaker and Laurence Fishburne are dead on. On a more serious note, there is a lengthy discussion of Brad Stevens being a viable option for several of the job openings around the country. Some think though that Stevens may just be a “Butler guy.” I still can’t get over how good of a coach Brad Stevens is. The man’s winning percentage hovers right around 80%, yet he has the physical appearance of a mere graduate assistant. He is a great one, and his team, the fans, and the school know it. There is a reason, after all, why Butler locked him into a 12-year contract.
- This was Brad Stevens’ reaction to his team after the game in the locker room. How great is that? Scroll to 1:18 of the clip.
- Taking the DC metro over to the game—an extremely efficient form of transportation, by the way. One of the better forms of transportation in a major city that I have ever experienced—I saw a handful of Pitt fans, but no Butler. Guess they are either staying on a completely different side of town, or Pitt simply has many more fans going to the game.
- I always find it amusing to compare the school’s mascots. Call me crazy or weird, but I always do it. Furthermore, it is interesting to compare Butler’s Bulldog with all of the other Bulldog mascots around the country as there are dozens of colleges that have the Bulldog representing them. The Butler Bulldog definitely outperformed Pittsburgh’s Panther. Prior to the game, “Hink” was right on the court dancing along with the Butler band, going through pregame warmups, and getting the crowd involved. Kudos to whoever was in that furry suit.
- I chatted with Jamie Dixon’s father, Jim Dixon, for a few minutes before the game in the media room. He was a real character and very fun/amusing to talk to. Although he is definitely in his 80s, several of the comments he made definitely makes him young at heart.
- Basketball wise, the night only could have gotten worse after the mêlée at the end of the Butler game. Simply no way the UConn game could have come remotely close to being as exciting as the game preceding it. Sure enough, it wasn’t. In fact, Jim Calhoun would be the first one to tell you that the game was probably a bit boring and lifeless from the start. In Calhoun’s opening statement in the press conference after the game, he stated that: “We didn’t seem to have life…I don’t think physically it got us but maybe psychologically it did. I didn’t think we had a lot of life. It was our seventh game in 12 days, and a lot of hotel time. And I just didn’t think we had much life.”
- Great, we went from a game that was full of emotion, despair, the agony of defeat, and glory of victory to a game that was lifeless. UConn admittedly did come out of the gates slow and Cincinnati took it to them, but once the Huskies found their stride and woke up they began to control the game’s tempo. The Bearcats would not go quietly as they came back in the second half to take the lead at one point, but UConn regained control and never looked back. The game was actually pretty exciting, but the arena did not have the life that it had during the previous game. There were many times where I caught myself watching the Wisconsin-Kansas State game rather than the game at the Verizon Center.
- Reflecting back on the day—specifically the Butler’s monumental upset over Pittsburgh—I am not sure where that game ranks in all-time NCAA Tournament basketball games, but it has to be up there. Just take a gander at what two prominent basketball minds had to say on the matter: John Feinstein told Patrick Behan that: “”I’ve never seen anything like that. And I’ve seen a lot of stuff.” Rick Pitino said: “That was the most bizarre ending I have ever seen in my 35 years of coaching.
- There is little doubt that this game on Friday evening will be talked about, analyzed, scrutinized, and critiqued on many different levels in the years to come; I am just happy I can say I was there to see it all go down. It is a game like this where a true college basketball fan will be able to tell you where he watched the game and what he was doing while it transpired. Fortunately for me, I was courtside.
Location: Washington, DC
Teams: Butler, Missouri, Pittsburgh, UNC-Asheville, Cincinnati, Bucknell, Connecticut, Old Dominion
Date: 17 March 2011
- It comes across as mundane and unexciting to utter that the two afternoon games at the Verizon Center in Washington, DC, were quite predictable in how they played out. Often times, the term “mundane” is associated with “boring,” but this could not be further from the case. While predictable, the two games were far from boring. The first game of the day—a day full of goodness that comes but twice a year—featured Old Dominion and Butler; two of the most well-coached and fundamentally sound teams in the field. It was plainly obvious even before the game began that this would be a pro-ODU crowd. Old Dominion, located in Norfolk, VA, has a strong contingent of alumni around the Baltimore and Washington area. These people—current students, alums, and fans alike—made themselves heard loud and clear. While Butler brought many fans, they could not compete with the imposing and loud Monarch fans. Although there was a great disparity between both of the team’s fan bases, both teams were right on par with one another from purely a basketball perspective. Today, the Bulldogs got that lucky bounce that put them over the edge and made them the better team by the slimmest of margins.
- I always find that the early games on Thursday start out a little slow, but when a good game transpires the crowd—whether they are indifferent to the teams playing or not—just erupts. College basketball fans live for these opening rounds; we wait all year for this Thursday in mid-March to roll around. Butler and Old Dominion kicked things off on the right foot as it was a true battle and war of attrition between two experienced and proficient basketball teams. As ODU’s Keyon Carter said on media day, “All the bad teams are at home watching now.” That statement could not be truer.
- Old Dominion possesses a towering and intimidating front line with Frank Hassell leading the way, but Butler’s Matt Howard and Andrew Smith were more than up to the challenge. Smith, in arguably the gutsiest move of the day, stood in front of Kent Bazemore who did his best impression of a freight train rumbling down the tracks as he ran over the planted Smith. Although the charge that Smith took shook him up and caused the area above his right eye to bleed, the Butler bench and fans were fired up for the remainder of the game after the fact. ODU made a run in the final two minutes to tie the game, but the heroics were saved for Matt Howard in the waning moments. After he finished what Shawn Vanzant was unable to do, the Old Dominion fans sitting directly across from me sunk solemnly back into their chairs, while the Butler faithful erupted behind me. A great beginning to a fantastic day of hoops, not just in DC but around the country as well. Not going to lie, I was pretty envious of the guys watching Kentucky-Princeton and Morehead State-Louisville. Can’t complain one iota with what that Butler and Old Dominion gave me though.
- As the day went on, however, the games became less dramatic and the interest level of the fans in the arena clearly dropped off. Pittsburgh led UNC-Asheville by just five at the half (30-25), but even the Bulldog players and their fan base seemed to think that it was only a matter of time before the Panthers exuded their superior talents on the hapless Bulldogs. For such a tight game at halftime and for the beginning of the second half, the crowd never really got behind Asheville. At one point in the game when UNCA cut it to a six-point game, I tweeted: “The longer an underdog of vast proportions hangs around, the more they begin to believe.” Problem was that Pittsburgh made the glimmer of hope that Asheville had short-lived.
- Ashton Gibbs is one of the smoothest players you will watch in this tournament. The junior from New Jersey dumped in a quiet 26 points on 6-9 shooting from behind the arc. When Pitt is shooting well from three—look out! I am a big fan of Jamie Dixon—have always loved his style, demeanor, and the way he coaches his players—but as for the Pitt fans, some of them are not my cup of tea. Sitting directly next to the Pitt bench, I had to cope with the Panther faithful sitting directly behind me for much of the game. Incessant taunting of the officiating crew and listening to the same jokes and chants became quite old after the 30th time. I know better though than to judge an entire school’s fan base upon the voices of just a handful of fans.
- After some much needed caffeine and some catching up on other games around the nation—there was roughly a 75-minute break in between the afternoon and night session games—the Connecticut and Bucknell game got underway. During the media day on Wednesday and while walking around the arena early on in the day at the Verizon Center, there was a clear buzz amongst the media and fans that Bucknell would give Connecticut a competitive game. Jim Calhoun made the point that Bucknell was a dangerous team because “they don’t know how to lose” as they entered the Tournament having won 23 of their last 25. Suffice to say, Kemba Walker and the younger Huskies dismissed those thoughts early on. Bucknell may have had the best and loudest fans of the day—there was one questionable chant by the students that called UConn “overrated”—but they could not will their team onto a closer game with UConn. There has been much talk that UConn may have had a hangover from the Big East Tournament, but Kemba Walker put any of those notions to rest as he explained: “Everybody’s trying to say that this team is tired from those five games in five days but there’s no way we could be tired. This is the best tournament in the collegiate level and we just want to play basketball and get as far as possible.” Even Bucknell senior point guard Darryl Shazier went onto say that he entered the game expecting UConn to be at full strength. The Bison are certainly not one of the top teams in the tournament, but the Huskies looked like a legitimate Final Four team on Thursday evening. When the youngsters—Shabazz Napier, Roscoe Smith and Jeremy Lamb—are all playing beyond their years, Alex Oriakhi continues his “mean streak” on the floor, and Kemba Walker is, well, Kemba Walker, UConn is scary good.
- For all intents and purposes, the UConn drubbing over Bucknell was a boring game; the Huskies were never challenged once by the Bison. With the Missouri Tigers playing in the following game—the last game of what was a long day of hoops in DC—the game ostensibly could be anything but boring. Mizzou incessantly plays an up-tempo game as they constantly pressure their opponent and force the issue on the offensive end. The Tigers got out to an early 9-2 lead over Cincinnati, but once the Bearcats woke up they never looked back. Missouri never really threatened once Cincy extended the lead to double digits near the end of the first half. At this point in the night, around 11PM in DC, fans who did not have a dog in the fight and members of the media that no longer had to be at the game began to file out of the arena. The remaining people, myself included, were dying for Mizzou to make a run so there would be at least a little drama to end the day, but the Tigers did not reciprocate. As the game dragged on in the latter stages, I found myself turning my attention to the Michigan State-UCLA game down in Tampa. At the time, I felt like I was cheapening my NCAA Tourney experience as I paid more attention to my computer screen than the game in front of me, but so be it.