BGTD: Maui Musings, Act III

Posted by rtmsf on November 23rd, 2011

The second day of the EA Sports Maui Invitational was once again full of big-time names and games, featuring the two afternoon semifinals between four of the most decorated programs in college basketball history. Let’s review the two games with some thoughts in a surf and sun-infused haze…

Duke 82, Michigan 75

  • For a brief period in the early to mid-90s, there was no bigger rivalry in college basketball than Duke vs. Michigan. Whether true or not, the two schools at the time represented opposite ends of the college basketball landscape, with Coach K’s program signifying all that was right and just in collegiate athletics, and Steve Fisher’s program standing for undisciplined (but exciting) street ball. Of course, such thinking was then and remains intellectually lazy (not to mention subtly racist), but for college hoops fans of yore, seeing the maize and gold of Michigan tipping off against the royal blue and white of Duke this afternoon sent shock waves of giddy anticipation through our body. On to the actual game…

Duke Had Just a Little More Than Michigan Today (Kemper Lasnik/B. Spurlock)

  • Coach K referenced this in his post-game comments, but it was crystal clear from the opening Michigan possession. Duke’s primary objective was to deny the ball to Tim Hardaway, Jr., in hopes of frustrating him and eventually causing him to force things. It worked. We watched closely as Duke’s Andre Dawkins, Austin Rivers and Tyler Thornton put on a clinic in denying THjr the ball during the first half — especially Thornton. His usage of angles and subtle but effective positioning was outstanding; when you watch a defensive performance like that against one of the better scorers in college basketball this season, you really begin to appreciate the coaching that Krzyzewski and its staff does with their players. Hardaway was 0-6 from the field in the first half and the few shots he got were clearly rushed.
  • Really can’t say enough about Trey Burke for Michigan. As a freshman in just his fifth game of action, he was often Michigan’s best player on the floor today. He finished the game with 17/3/9 assts, but it was his shooting and set-up skills in the first half that kept UM from being completely blown out of the Lahaina Civic Center. With a superb backcourt in place to go along with a serviceable frontcourt and enough shooters to run John Beilein’s sets, the Wolverines are going to be just fine. Right now, we’d place them behind only Ohio State and Wisconsin in the Big Ten, ahead of Purdue, Michigan State, Northwestern and the rest. Call us a Beiliever, but we’re sold on this Michigan team.
  • We took some flak for this statement on Twitter, but at least in person, Austin Rivers‘ first step is fantastic. He isn’t a high-flying finisher, but he has a bunch of effective floaters, leaners and other creative shots that he usually gets to drop when he enters the lane. That, combined with his jumper — good enough to keep defenses honest — makes him a fairly lethal offensive weapon for the Devils. Hes’ taking a lot of criticism for being selfish, never passing, getting himself into trouble with over-dribbling… but he’s only played a handful of games at this level. And for the first time in his prodigal life, he’s facing actual defense and he has other players surrounding him who can also play. We don’t get the sense that Coach K is having trouble harnessing the young guard (as compared to, say, Bill Self and Josh Selby), so we’re not all that concerned with those who think he’s overrated. With enough time to learn the game, he’ll be fine.

Kansas 72, UCLA 56.

  • UCLA is a disaster from a chemistry perspective. And from a guard perspective. And from a defense perspective. And from an offense perspective. Seriously, this team doesn’t appear to much like each other; they don’t seem to like the head coach; and they definitely don’t like the sniping fans. If this UCLA team continues on the path it appears to be on, we’re not completely sure that a coach as accomplished as Ben Howland can survive it. It’s hard to imagine a scenario where three straight Final Fours from 2006-08 cedes way to a coach losing his job for non-performance, but goodness gracious, Bruins… UCLA is now 1-3 on the season, staring 1-4 in the face tomorrow afternoon against Michigan, and its only win this season was against a D-II team. In what appears to be another pathetic year in the Pac-12, it’s possible that UCLA finds its legs and makes a bit of a run, but with virtually no solid non-conference wins to hang its hat on, do they have to win the league to go dancing? Probably, right?
  • The post-game storyline was the second half run that UCLA made against Kansas to reduce a 20-point lead to five a couple of times. But let’s be honest — if the UCLA offense is going to be based on the three-point accuracy of Reeves Nelson (career: 25%), Jerime Anderson (37%), and Tyler Lamb (24%), then the Bruins may as well spend all of their resources trying to convince Shabazz Muhammad to join Kyle Anderson in Westwood next year. Because even though UCLA played much more aggressively in the second half, Kansas was still never truly threatened, and the likelihood of those shots dropping from that trio on a regular basis (5-7 in the second half) is virtually nil.

UCLA Has Been On Its Back All Season Long (Kemper Lasnik/B. Spurlock)

  • Much has been made of the fact that UCLA simply doesn’t have very good guard play this year. But it was the big men who really let Ben Howland’s team down today against Kansas. Josh Smith, tipping the scales at well over 300 pounds, was the biggest perpetrator. Last season as a freshman in Allen Fieldhouse, he dropped 17/13, including eight offensive boards, against future lottery picks Marcus and Markieff Morris. This year, against Thomas Robinson, he went for a single point, a single rebound, and five fouls in 13 minutes of action. His sidekicks, David and Travis Wear, combined for six points and six rebounds on 2-10 shooting in 63 minutes of action. Only the much-maligned Nelson showed anything from the UCLA front court, and nine of his 12 points came from beyond the arc. From our viewpoint, the KU front line essentially manhandled them.
  • Kansas, on the other hand, plays harder, is more athletic, can shoot the ball better, and its players seem to like one another. Tonight it was the guards who made the necessary plays to win the game, including a career night from junior Elijah Johnson (23/4). Tyshawn Taylor chipped in with 13 points, and Travis Releford added eight of his own. More importantly, it was the poise shown by the upperclassmen in clutch spots to knock down jumpers when UCLA had crept closer — all three had a key jumper in the last five minutes to keep separation and not allow the Bruins’ momentum to carry them any further. This is what great programs do — they lose two lottery picks and replace them up front with Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey. They lose a couple of backcourt starters and the bench players — Johnson and Releford — successfully move into starting roles themselves. Depending on whom you ask, Bill Self is either a great coach or an above average one, but it cannot be denied that his players improve the longer they stay in his program.

Looking Ahead: Duke vs. Kansas

Immediately after the Kansas win over UCLA, Bill Self made reference to playing Duke as the reason Kansas came to Maui. We asked him about it in the post-game press conference and he didn’t back down from the statement at all. In fact, he embraced it, as did his players sitting at the dais with him. It’s an intriguing perspective for a program that clearly sees itself as equal in stature to the Dukes and Kentuckys of the world of college basketball, but from the perspective of those of us in the media, tomorrow’s game is without question an early-season blockbuster. The Duke backcourt is clearly superior to that of Kansas, but Thomas Robinson may foul out the entire Duke front line if KU can get him the ball on the blocks frequently enough. From what we’ve seen in watching these two teams up close twice now, KU is going to have trouble stopping the shooting of Rivers, Curry and Dawkins, but if Kansas can spread the floor enough to let Robinson get to work inside, he will be able to keep the Jayhawks in the game by himself.

Three of the top six programs in college basketball history were in this event, so there was a decent chance that two of them would end up in the finals. Duke vs. Kansas in any year is a treat, but it is especially so this year when the two teams, at this point in the season, appear somewhat evenly matched.  We’ll be back tomorrow night with additional thoughts from the islands… until then, Aloha.

rtmsf (3954 Posts)

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