BGTD: Maui Musings, Act IVPosted by rtmsf on November 24th, 2011
The environment in tonight’s Maui Invitational championship game was phenomenal. Duke and Kansas both had the strong support of fans passionately cheering for their teams, and it was a shame to see either one go home a loser after what was a great tournament. The ESPN-funded tournaments in Puerto Rico, Orlando and Anaheim this week are all are fine and well, but the organizers haven’t figured out that teams playing in front of crowds with more empty seats than filled ones loses much of what makes college basketball exciting and special. Sure, Maui is in a preferred situation in that it can engineer fabulous matchups like Kansas vs. Duke, but the tweets from around the country raving about the environment in Lahaina tonight suggest others should strive more to mimic what they have.
Let’s jump into some musings on the Duke-Kansas championship game first, followed by the Michigan-UCLA third-place game.
Duke 68, Kansas 61
- Tyshawn Taylor is such an enigmatic player. In the first half of tonight’s game, he was mostly spectacular, with 13 points and three assists to lead KU to a nice four-point lead over Duke. In the second half, he quite literally self-destructed, committing a ridiculous eight turnovers and only adding a single assist as Duke kept pushing forward. Think about it, in a game played in the 60s for both teams, that’s eight additional second half possessions that Taylor single-handedly gave to Duke. The most crushing error Taylor made was at just under a minute to go when he simply lost control of his dribble on a Ryan Kelly hedge with Kansas down two points. It wasn’t a disastrous turnover by itself, but it allowed Duke to gain the possession where Tyler Thornton received a pass under duress (arguably after a Seth Curry travel) and dropped in a closeout three from the corner. Kansas will once again win a lot of games this year, as they always do, but the knock on the Jayhawks coming in has been whether you can trust Taylor to get it done when the heat is on — tonight’s second half performance is highly suggestive that you cannot.
- Moving back to that game-winner, what can you say about the onions on Tyler Thornton tonight? Not only did Mike Krzyzewski sub in the sophomore over his all-world freshman Austin Rivers at the end of the game, but a kid who had attempted a grand total of nine shots all season coming into tonight’s game made Coach K once again look like a genius by hitting not one, but two, contested threes from the corners. Krzyzewksi said that Thornton essentially won the game for Duke, and no doubt the image of his scissor-kick jumper will cause KU fans nightmares for years. As Bill Self said in Tuesday’s press conference, Kansas came to Maui to play the Blue Devils. KU fans probably felt like they had a pretty good chance to knock off Duke, a team that has now beaten the Jayhawks in four of the schools’ last five matchups dating back nearly two decades. But Taylor’s erratic mishandling of the basketball in combination with Thornton’s confidence in his jumper resulted in yet another crushing blow against Coach K for the school from Lawrence.
- Jeff Withey is another in a long line of Kansas big men who will be very effective in his career. The junior was stuck behind the Morii the last two seasons, but so far this year, he’s shown flashes of what he can do. A legitimate seven-footer, he’s already gone for 7/6/4 blks against Kentucky’s stable of athletes, had a nice 6/6 versus all of UCLA’s beef inside, and tonight played the more heralded Mason Plumlee to a standstill — Withey had 14/10/2 blks, while Plumlee went for 17/12/2 blks. More importantly, he altered numerous shots and helped to cut off driving lanes from the Duke guards that allowed Kansas to stay ahead or even with the Devils for much of the game. His foot speed (or lack thereof) causes him to reach too much (he’s averaging four fouls per game this season), but he’s someone who is going to be a key contributor on both ends of the floor for Bill Self this year.
- Ryan Kelly may have been the most nondescript Maui MVP we’ve ever seen, and certainly nothing like Kemba Walker’s 90-point effort last year. Still, the guy is quietly effective. He had 17 points in each of Duke’s three games this week, and his ability at 6’11” to both stroke the ball from outside (7-18 in Maui) and take big men off the dribble to get to the line (20 FTAs in Maui) presents significant problems for Duke’s opponents. He’s nowhere near as good as Dirk Nowitzki, so don’t take this the wrong way, but his game resembles the former NBA MVP and current world champion. Plus, you gotta love the beard.
Michigan 79, UCLA 63
- When Reeves Nelson isn’t getting in the way on the offensive end or losing his man on the defensive end, he’s quite adept at rolling his eyes, making faces, and generally acting very frustrated with his teammates and the world in general. On one sequence in the first half of today’s game, after spending a few seconds staring at the ceiling, he tapped the ball dismissively back to Lazeric Jones on the inbounds, and then proceeded to walk completely upright 80 feet downcourt with his back turned on the ball the entire time. Walking is putting it lightly — the truth is that he sauntered. We’re having a lot of trouble understanding why Ben Howland lets this guy get away with so much — as a scout next to us put it after that scene, “he’s not good enough to act like that.”
- Michigan’s Jon Horford had already put up the best game of his young career by the end of the first half today. He was 5-5 from the field, displaying good hustle and touch around the basket, for 12 points and seven rebounds. Horford, of course, is the 6’10”, 250-pound son of former NBA player, Tito, and brother, Al (from the back-to-back Florida national title teams). As much as we bag on the UCLA front line, they’re still tall and bulky, so for Horford to break out in this way against the likes of Josh Smith, the Wear twins, and Nelson, is impressive. He still looks a little timid on occasion and his hands are not especially soft, but wow, if Michigan can get 20+ minutes of solid production out of him this year, the Wolverines will be in fantastic shape in the Big Ten and beyond.
- UCLA came to Maui and proved that it was better than a D-II team and that’s about it. The Bruins have serious structural problems, but don’t let anyone tell you that it’s only in their backcourt. That’s obviously a big issue, as only ‘good’ Jerime Anderson is capable of playing high-level basketball right now (and ‘bad’ Anderson makes too many appearances as it is), but the frontcourt has a number of problems of its own. We’ve discussed Nelson already, but Josh Smith is too out of shape to consistently dominate inside, and the Wear twins are inconsistent at best. Now at 1-4 with games against Texas and Richmond remaining in the non-c0nference, Ben Howland’s team has really put itself up against an RPI and strength of schedule wall going into the next phase of the season.
- Tim Hardaway, Jr., made himself some money this week in Maui. In front of a collection of numerous NBA scouts, Hardaway played two highly efficient games and a third where once he figured out how he was being defended (by Duke), he became effective. NBADraft.net currently has the shooting guard in the mid-lottery of the 2013 draft, but in speaking to its founder during a break about Hardaway, he seemed to agree with our assessment that he’s three feet high and rising. The apparent knock on THjr is that he’s not athletic enough to play the wing successfully in the NBA, but maybe the drive where he went down the right side of the lane and threw down a tomahawk one-hander against the UCLA defense changed some minds today. For the tournament, he averaged 20 PPG, nearly five RPG and three APG, while shooting 50% from the field.