NCAA Regional Diary From San AntonioPosted by rtmsf on March 29th, 2011
After another weekend of scintillating and shocking NCAA Tournament results, it’s time to check back in with our various correspondents who were in Anaheim, San Antonio, New Orleans and Newark reporting on the games this weekend.
Location: San Antonio, TX
Round: Regional Final
Teams: VCU, Kansas
Date: 27 March 2011
To read all the diaries throughout the NCAA Tournament, click here.
- This is the second time in this Tournament that I’ve personally witnessed this happen (Gonzaga vs. St. John’s being the other). Kansas’ strategy from the opening tip was to get the ball inside early and often to their big men, Marcus and Markieff Morris. It worked in the beginning as the twins got KU off to a 6-2 start, but VCU started to figure out the entry passes, and before long the Kansas guards were trying to throw the ball into a quadruple-team underneath. The perimeter players weren’t looking to score at all, and I sometimes wonder if a focused strategy to take advantage of a strength (as here) actually backfires in the sense that the perimeter players don’t have an opportunity to play offensively. In the Richmond game, as a contrasting example, the KU perimeter players got going early and UR as a result was out of the game by the second television timeout.
- I love Shaka Smart for many reasons, not least of which is his bulldog mentality of taking on all comers, but watching him get down into a defensive crouch on the sidelines as his players guard the ball on that side of the floor is phenomenal. He moves his feet very well for his advanced age of all of 33 years old. With Brad Stevens Lambeau Leap into the team circle after beating #1 Pitt last week, and Smart acting as a sixth defender for the Rams, youth in the coaching ranks is most definitely served.
- Whew, Markieff Morris (eight turnovers) and Tyrel Reed (1-9 FGs) would like to have this game back. Through the first twelve minutes of action, Markieff had already turned the ball over six times to VCU, including a ridiculous Ewing-step-through travel that he damn well knows better than to do in the college game. Reed suffered a miserable game, and he never looked less comfortable than when Kansas was in desperate need of someone — anyone — to hit some threes down the stretch, but he was badly off on all of them. It was pretty clear to me from my vantage point that both of these guys were feeling the pressure of expectations, and they were generally crushed by it.
- I liked Self’s decision to try to get Josh Selby into the game early to combat the scoring woes of his team on the perimeter. Other than Selby, none of the KU guards are elite talents capable of scoring on demand. It didn’t work out today, as Selby went 1-5 for two points and clearly wasn’t feeling it, but it was still worth the gamble. He couldn’t have done much worse than the pair of Reed and Brady Morningstar (2-16 FGs).
Speaking of Selby, has any freshman in America been a bigger disappointment this season? Hailed as the possible missing piece to a dominant KU team, he looked good in December before tailing off completely the rest of the way to become nearly a late-season afterthought. It’s not very often that high school players good enough to rate #1 in the nation by at least one scouting service will suffer such a weird diminishment of his playing time and influence. Yet, had he been akin to a John Wall or even a Brandon Knight, Kansas might still be playing. The perimeter absolutely killed the Jayhawks today.
For a coach who has lost in the NCAA Tournament to Bucknell, Bradley, Northern Iowa and now VCU, Bill Self sure seems comfortable in his own skin. Guess that’s what a national championship buys you, but even that won’t protect him forever if he keeps losing to mid-majors short of the Final Four. Self’s NCAA record at Kansas is a healthy 18-7 (.720), but when you consider that he’s had four #1 seeds and three of those fell short of the Final Four, you start to wonder if his teams generally get a little too tightly wound in the NCAA Tournament. In his eight seasons, Kansas has only played to or outperformed its seed three times — granted, one of those times resulted in a national championship, but it’s definitely worth mentioning.
It’s a broken record, but VCU’s three-point attack was the difference yet again Sunday. They’ve nailed at least eight treys in each of their five NCAA Tournament games this year, and I’m continually impressed at how they get spacing and proper ball movement to find the shooters in their spots. Even 6’9 center Jamie Skeen got into it, hitting three in the first half when the Morris twins failed to rotate out to him. Self said in the postgame that he didn’t expect a player like Skeen to hit three threes in a half, but as pointed out by a Richmond reporter to me in the presser, Skeen has had a number of multiple-three games this season so it’s not as if he wasn’t capable.
As the clock ticked down and we approached the final buzzer, every head was down on the Kansas squad. They could not believe that they were getting Northern Iowa’d again, especially true after one of the Morrises had told VCU at the pregame warm-ups that their run was ending here today. This will probably be the last we see of those twins from Philadelphia, and I’d bet if you asked privately, many KU fans are happy to see them go. They are very talented, but they talk a lot of trash, often loaf, and their three-year NCAA Tournament record of 6-3 is rather pedestrian given how good those KU teams have been.
With this loss, KU blew a golden opportunity to tie Duke for the most wins in a four-year period, at 133. The KU seniors will leave school with 132 wins, which is still extremely impressive in its own right, but amazingly, only the one Final Four appearance in 2008 behind it.
Location: San Antonio, TX
Round: Regional Semifinals
Teams: VCU, Florida State, Kansas, Richmond
Date: 25 March 2011
- It’s hard to tell in a building like this, but it doesn’t appear to be a huge crowd even with all the KU fans here tonight. I understand the need for domed stadiums, and certainly Louisville, Purdue and/or Notre Dame would have brought more fans here, but it’s a shame when a regional has so many empty seats. I was in Denver last weekend and the feeling of having a capacity crowd standing and yelling together is awesome. The NCAA needs to think more about this when it rewards cities with games. [ed note: the average attendance for both days was 14,433, well below capacity for the Alamodome]
- To that end, San Antonio is a great tourist destination with its Riverwalk and neat downtown area, but other than the Spurs, it’s not a college basketball town at all. Deep in the heart of Texas, this is football country, and it’s hard to convince locals of the attraction of going to sit in a half-empty and darkened dome to watch out-of-area teams for several hours when it’s 80 degrees outside.
- The Richmond Spider mascot could be the worst I’ve seen in Division 1 basketball. First of all, I think I remember a spider having eight legs, and I only see two (four if you could the arms) on this guy. Couldn’t they have added a few more on his back or something? Secondly, he just looks like any other caped crusader type of mascot. Honestly, the group of guys dressed in full Spiderman suits in the second row of the UR section were much better representatives of a Spider than this travesty.
- Josh Selby came into the game at the 13:05 mark of the 1st Half and immediately made his presence known. He hit a three from the left corner followed by one from the right corner on the next possession. Both times he had a huge grin on his face as if to say that the weight of expectations were off his shoulders. He ended the game with 9/3 in fifteen minutes, which isn’t that great on 3-9 shooting until you realize that this was his best game in nearly two months.
- There comes a point in a blowout like this one where you start to see the lesser team come to a realization that they’re not going to advance tonight. UR seemed to hit that point at around the 5-minute mark of the first half after Brady Morningstar hit yet another shot in the seam of their zone to make it 35-11. At one point in the second half, Richmond cut the lead down to fifteen, but Kansas immediately responded with a 6-0 run and essentially took away Richmond’s last gasping breath.
- Speaking of Morningstar, a second-half incident between he and Kevin Smith showed some punkish attitude that made me root against this kid the rest of the weekend. After a made basket, Smith was giving the ball to the ref when Morningstar knocked it out of his hands and walked away. Morningstar turned his back on him and then Smith followed after before the ref got to him to break it up. On the immediate next play, Morningstar knocked down a three from the wing after Smith had gotten hedged on the cut; as soon as it went through the net, he stared down Smith and the ref immediately T’d him up. Most people probably thought that Smith was the instigator because he was the one who stalked after Morningstar at first, but it all happened right in front of me and it was in fact Morningstar who initiated it with the ball-knocking maneuver.
- Richmond had so many airballs in the second half that the Kansas fans actually stopped doing the “air-ball” chant because it got so boring. Speaking of non-boring chants, tonight was one of the first times I’ve actually heard the “Rock Chalk Jayhawk” chant take over a building, and it’s even more haunting in person than it is on television. I’m honestly not sure if I like it or not, but it’s certainly unique among chants or cheers in college basketball.
- Just prior to the Florida State-VCU game, I sent this photo to my sister-in-law who is an NFL cheerleader. Her response: “belly rolls?” Clearly she’s a tough crowd, but you can’t please everyone. Not everyone agreed. At one point during the second half, some of the Richmond band members who were watching the VCU game afterward starting chanting “the design in your hair looks dumb” at FSU’s Terrance Shannon (they were right, it did look dumb). The cheerleaders then turned around and shot the dorky UR students a hateful glance, and they immediately shut the hell up. That’s power.
- Seeing FSU for the first time in person all year, I realized very quickly that if I was going to build a team designed to stop people, it would probably look a lot like their lineup. Long, lean, athletic, the only thing it lacks is a true defensive stopper at center and they had that in Solomon Alabi, who went pro after his sophomore season last year. Now, if they only had a clue on the offensive end, they might be a pretty good team. Here’s an example — in the first half, FSU shot the ball 43 times to VCU’s 24, yet the Seminoles were behind by five points at halftime. Leonard Hamilton’s team had fourteen offensive rebounds, which basically amounted to their ridiculous athletes batting the ball around the backboard and rim until it finally went down (sometimes it didn’t), keeping them alive throughout the half. For the game, FSU ended up shooting the ball eighteen more times and pulled down fourteen more offensive boards, but it didn’t matter because even with all the extra chances, they still lost on a blown defensive assignment followed by a bad decision on offense.
- I hadn’t seen VCU’s Brandon Rozzell play much prior to this evening, but I immediately loved everything about him. From his chucker mentality (two-thirds of his attempts are behind the arc) to his beard/hair ensemble from A Different World, the guy is awesome. He can also play a little bit, and his 12-pt explosion in a four-minute span of the second half (three treys and an and-1) arguably kept VCU in the game when Florida State was surging.
- If Florida State has any basketball fans whatsoever, they’ll be seeing Derwin Kitchen in their nightmares for years to come. You hate to pick on a player who stepped up large with 23/12/3 assts from the guard position, but how on earth you dribble the ball into the ground for too long, not once but twice, at the end of the clock, is beyond me. Then I’m reminded that he did the same thing at the end of FSU’s game against Virginia Tech in the ACC Tournament, and you start to wonder if the kid has a serious problem with his internal countdown. Perhaps he’ll figure that thing out at whatever the senior’s next basketball stop may be, because in large part due to his mis-decisions, FSU is headed home.