Weekend NCAA Diary from TulsaPosted by rtmsf on March 22nd, 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: Tulsa, OK
Teams: Kansas, Illinois, Texas, Arizona
Date: 20 March 2011
Correspondent: Eli Linton
- There is a lot you could say about the Arizona and Texas game, but really what it comes down to is an old cliché: Arizona really did want it more. We could point the finger at Rick Barnes, or the poor play of Tristan Thompson, or the terrible referees who tried their best to ruin it–but Arizona should have never been in that game and they ended up winning. A huge effort from the bench kept Arizona above water while Williams struggled. Arizona’s superhero was just 4-14 from the field, But he stepped up when it mattered most…again. He was the best player in Tulsa–at least as good as the Morris twins—and it showed late in both games when Arizona needed him to survive.
- A lot of people will make a big deal about the officiating this weekend, and I want to say that the crew in Tulsa that did the Memphis-Arizona and Texas-Arizona games (both the same three officials) were absolutely the worst of the year. Five seconds? Really? The NCAA needs to fire these guys. They are taking away from the games. I guarantee, if they do any of the Sweet Sixteen games, they will for sure make a costly call that could have been avoided.
- Also, this game made me lose respect for Kansas Jayhawk fans. Nearly the entire arena was bought out by Kansas fans who were waiting for their Jayhawks to play that night. For the entire Arizona game , they sat on their hands doing NOTHING. No cheering, no expression. I couldn’t believe it. This was one of the best games I have ever seen live, and these Kansas fans didn’t even care. It made me so mad. So I officially declare Kansas fans the dumbest in college basketball. They know nothing about the sport.
- I really felt bad for the Texas players after the game. The one bad thing about fantastic games like this is that there is always a loser. Jordan Hamilton and J’Covan Brown had 41 of Texas’ 69 points, both of them had career games, yet their heads were down during the press conference—they couldn’t even look at the press. They should be proud of how they played. It was a shame.
- No matter how you slice it, Texas underachieved in the NCAA tournament again. Rick Barnes is now 20-19 in the Big Dance, and like Jamie Dixon in Pittsburgh, has a lot of angry fans who believe he can’t win big games–especially in the tournament. The Longhorns are a very talented team, and falling embarrassingly short YET AGAIN would be unacceptable at a basketball school. Lucky for Rick Barnes, Austin just cares about football
- Kansas was handed a treat, playing so close to home. The BOK center was packed to the rafters with KU fans, and it really gave Kansas a home court advantage all weekend. The Jayhawks were not particularly impressive against either Boston or Illinois, but they got the job done. What was impressive was the play of the Morris twins; I guess you could say they had the opposition seeing double all weekend (bam!). But in all seriousness, they were phenomenal to watch in person. They shut down Illinois from driving inside, and I don’t see a team right now, other than Ohio State, that can match their big men.
- After the game the Illinois cheerleaders were crying–that was the kind of night it was for Illinois–They went down in flames. They got almost nothing from their star Demetri McCamey, who was invisible all night. You could see the frustration on their faces as Kansas began to pull away– Illinois kept it interesting for most of the game, but there was just nothing they could do to stop the Morris train. I still consider the Illinois trip to the Big Dance a success in 2011. Nobody expected them to win even one game, and they quieted a lot of critics.
- It was really cool to hear the “Rock Chalk” chant in person. When you hear it, you know its game over. About ten fans started chanting with two minutes left, and it swelled to 12,000 by the end of the game.
- Another great moment in the game was watching the Illinois seniors come off the floor. With about a minute left, Bruce Weber called timeout and brought out his seniors, saving them the humiliation of being on the court for a disappointing loss. Each one got a hug from Weber and the assistants. For anyone that has played high school or college basketball, you know how close you get to your coaches and teammates over the course of four years, and what you watch every weekend in these tournaments are not teams, but a group of guys who have become family. It was a fantastic weekend in Tulsa, and I can’t wait for the rest of this tournament to play out—it’s shaping up to be an all-time classic.
Location: Tulsa, OK
Teams: Kansas, Boston U., Illinois, UNLV, Texas, Memphis, Arizona, Oakland
Date: 18 March 2011
Texas vs. Oakland was one of the best games of the day, but it should have never happened. Texas was not a #4 seed, and Oakland was not a #13 seed. They were much, much better. The day began with an anticipation of a great game. For me, this was going to be the highlight of the day, because I had seen Oakland all year, and I knew what they were capable of, even if the rest of the country was clueless. I had seen it the day before in the pre-practice press conference. Head coach Greg Kampe—making his second straight NCAA Tournament appearance—was poised. His team knew what to expect from Texas, and they had no fear. About 45 minutes before tip-off, Kampe came strolling out of the locker room, the doors had just been opened to the public, and he was the only one on the court. He sad down on his chair next to the court, and soaked in the moment—sure that his team would be victorious. One Republic’s hit single “all the right moves” was playing in the background… “I know things are looking up, but soon they’ll take us down, before anybody knows our name…”
From the tip, the Golden Grizzlies looked and acted like they belonged on the same court. This wasn’t a team from the Summit league, this was a team that looked like they competed at the top of the Big 12 week in and week out. It had all the feelings of an upset. Early on Keith Benson was out muscling Tristan Thompson, scoring six early points, and swinging momentum in favor of the Golden Grizzlies. But something clicked for the freshman after he spent a short time on the bench, and when he came back on the floor, he was a new man. Benson didn’t score again in the first half, and Thompson took over the game.
The defining moment of the game came during Oakland’s final desperate charge. With 50 seconds remaining in the game, down 81-75, Reggie Hamilton fired up a three—the ball went in… and came out. It was such an unlucky roll, that the whole crowd—on the verge of a massive roar for a shot that would have put Oakland within a single possession—let out a huge groan. The arena genuinely felt pain for Hamilton and Oakland. They deserved that three to fall true. Oakland would lose by four. “We just won a game against a team that really got a bad deal.” Said coach Rick Barnes. You would think a man had never felt so bad for winning a game. “This is a really good basketball team, and I hate that its over,” said Kampe, who was choking back tears. “I thought this was a team that really could have done something in this basketball tournament… and we just got a bad draw. Texas is as good as any team. Texas can win the national championship.”
Let the debate begin on why in the world Texas was given a #4 seed, but it was clear that the Longhorns, and for that matter Oakland, were much better than their seeding. But that’s March Madness. “before anybody really knows our name…”
The team that should have won is not always the team that did win. And Memphis found that out in the worst way. No one really gave the Tigers a chance; an inexperienced coach with a young, disorganized team that backed into the NCAA Tournament like an underaged clubber with a fake ID. Arizona had the size, more experience, and certainly more athletic ability. They were the trendy pick. But Memphis had a couple key factors that no one was really talking about—and they were exposed once the game started.
Watching both teams practice the day before, I made this interesting observation: When Memphis was on the court they were having fun. They had a swagger; a cockiness to their game that Arizona didn’t have. At first I thought, “Wow, Memphis has no idea what’s coming to them. They’re going to get blown out of this building tomorrow.” But once the game began, and that swagger and cockiness persisted, you knew that Memphis was playing loose and in control. There was no way they were going to lay down for Arizona. They had too much pride. That was one key factor that showed up in the game. The second factor was that Memphis Coach Josh Pastner was playing his alma mater. He wanted this win badly, and you could tell in his team’s preparation and execution. He outcoached Sean Miller, and his team fed off his energy all afternoon as he stomped around the floor. Pastner put on a coaching clinic.
It was irritating how lethargic and sloppy Arizona’s play was. You expect a lot more from a five seed. But somehow, thanks to Derrick Williams’ solid play and superior athleticism, Arizona just kept hanging around. Memphis really had no one to answer Williams’ ability, though they did do a good job of pestering him and keeping him off the low block.
Memphis deserved to win that game the way they rose to the challenge, but for a series of questionable calls. It may have been one of the worst-officiated games I have seen in a long time. Missed calls, blown calls, and confusing calls filled the game—to the point where press row began to look at each other with puzzled looks, as if to say “are these guys for real? Are they really refs?” But the biggest mistake came at the very end– the “block” by Williams that sealed the game for Arizona. That was a clear foul from where I was sitting on the baseline. The no-call was egregious. Memphis should have had two shots. It wasn’t until after the game did I realize the offical for this game was none other than Jim Burr—don’t know who that is? Maybe this will jog your memory…
Josh Pastner refused to say the refs messed up the call, instead he took the high road, but I’ll say it. Memphis deserved this win. But the most deserving team doesn’t always win; it’s the team that gets the lucky bounce… or the bad call. The #5 Refs defeated #12 Memphis, 77-75.
There was plenty of great action in Tulsa on Friday, but it soon became clear who the real attraction of the weekend was–the Kansas Jayhawks. Like a celebrity with a paparazzi following, the Jayhawks preened around the BOK center like kings all day. During warm-ups, the court was lined with gawking fans eager to get a picture of the KU squad. More KU fans showed up than any other school combined. It was a Rock Chalk party. Even the Boston University fans that made the long trip from the east coast seemed in awe of the #2 team in the nation. But there were a group of people who were neither impressed by Kansas, nor fearful of the basketball powerhouse.
The BU Terriers lived up to their name, as they yapped at the heels of Kansas all night, and Kansas was never quite able to put away Boston for good—turning what was supposed to be a Jayhawk party night into a grind-it-out basketball game. Before the game, Boston was getting some publicity for claiming they would be the first #16 seed to upset a #1 seed. But it was more than just a publicity stunt by Pat Chambers and his boys, they really believed it. And it showed all night. The final score read Kansas 72, Boston U. 53, but the end result was worse than the journey. With just nine minutes to go in the game, Kansas led by just two possessions: 47-41. Not too shabby for a team that had no chance of winning. Again, Kansas is a favorite to win a title, and again, they will face the #9 seed in the second round. Will this Rock Chalk party turn into a nightmare revisited? We’ll find out Sunday how much has changed in a year.
Coming into the final game of the day, I was a big skeptic of Illinois, and well before the final buzzer sounded, I was converted to a believer. Illinois struggled down the stretch in the regular season. And like Villanova and Tennessee, they were given a berth in the NCAA Tournament, though many believed the field would have been better off without them. Bruce Weber’s squad was the ugly girl at the prom that nobody wanted to dance with—just 19 wins and a mediocre 9-9 record in the Big Ten. This was by far the most scrutinized team in this region. Especially after Tennessee and Villanova fell earlier that day—the attitude toward Illinois was: “should we stick around or are you going to fold too?” They faced a UNLV team that had won six of seven, and was coming into the tournament as a possible Cinderella team.
All that changed immediately. Illinois made the first bucket of the game, and never relinquished the lead. And it wasn’t even close. UNLV made just seven shots in the first half, and no player on the Runnin’ Rebels scored in double figures until halfway through the second half. I felt bad for the 300-plus Rebel fans that made the trip to Tulsa from Vegas—because all they saw was an old-fashioned beatdown. Some of the glassy-eyed UNLV players were speechless in the press conference afterwards (they literally couldn’t find an answer for anything that was thrown at them all night!). The experience of the four senior starters on Illinois was apparent, and it adds more validity to the claim that experience is the most important asset to a tournament team. Illinois had the experience, UNLV did not, and it definitely showed through today. Can Illinois use their experience to take them over the top against a superior Kansas team?