Weekend NCAA Diary From Denver

Posted 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: Denver, CO
Round: Third
Teams: Morehead State, Richmond, BYU, Gonzaga
Date: 19 March 2011

God Bless Jimmerica, Indeed

  • The crowds at the Pepsi Center have been good both days, with stated attendances in the 18,000-19,000 range. The place seemed to be completely full for BYU-Gonzaga tonight, and arguably 75% of that crowd was either a BYU fan or a Jimmer Fredette fan, whichever comes first. Considering that the closest school was in fact BYU (roughly 500 miles away), and that there were no Big 12 schools in town for this weekend’s games, there’s no other way to spin it than to say that the Denver site was a resounding success.
  • In the Richmond vs. Morehead State game, it was clear from the first few minutes that UR wasn’t going to let themselves get rattled by the situation of playing for a trip to the schools’ second-ever Sweet Sixteen. They acted and played like a much higher seed than a #12, while Morehead State was the team that looked considerably more shaky. Kenneth Faried said about the Richmond defense, afterward: “The whole team, we couldn’t get in a rhythm. That’s a credit to Richmond. That defense is great and it’s hard to play against if you never played against it.”
  • Kenneth Faried has impressed the hell out of me in several ways this weekend. First, his motor doesn’t stop for anything. I spent one entire four-minute segment during today’s game tracking his movements, and it was fascinating to see how he reacted to the ball’s position on the floor. The only way to describe his activity underneath the basket is relentless — he never stops moving and as soon as the ball goes up he figures out a way to get as close to the rim as he can., and his second and third jumps are often just as explosive as his first. I also noticed that he sometimes tries to utilize the Dennis Rodman technique of tipping the ball away from the traffic to himself so that he can catch it under control. Second, even at only 6’8, his defensive abilities near the rim are NBA-quality. His hand-on-leather rejection of Justin Harper’s drive at the very peak of his jump was spectacular and had the crowd buzzing about it for a good while afterward. Third, his attitude is a winning one — often smiling, clapping and supporting his teammates, Faried is confident but not cocky. He has the general makeup of a player who came into his talents later in his basketball career, someone who seems to truly appreciate that he’s having the time of his life playing the game that he loves. NBA scouts are going to nitpick his size and his extremely raw offensive game, but his heart and tenacity are characteristics that cannot be taught and will end up serving some NBA team very well in the long run. The kid is a winner.

Faried is a Quality Kid With a Bright Future

  • The way Richmond is playing now, it’s somewhat hard to believe that they were on the bubble until making a run through the Atlantic 10 Tournament last weekend. The Spiders’ talent in no way approximates some mid-major #12 seed — between the speed of Kevin Anderson, the length and shooting ability of Justin Harper, the touch of Dan Geriot and the wowing athleticism of Darrius Garrett, you feel like you’re watching an ACC or SEC team more than an Atlantic 10 squad. Then when you consider that all of these players have been together for at least three seasons, you can understand why they’re peaking so well right now. Not many teams even in those leagues have two 6’9 or 6’10 players like Harper and Geriot who have the ability to make long mid-range jumpers (and in Harper’s case, threes). These kinds of players, inasmuch as they exist, usually end up at places like Maryland or Texas or Florida, not Richmond. Of course the Spiders will have their hands full with Kansas next weekend, but if Boston U. can play with KU for more than a half, there’s no reason to believe that these guys cannot.
  • I love that Dan Geriot had a great Third Round game tonight, with 13/7 and showing a real confidence in his shot from the mid-range (and even knocking down a three in the second half to essentially put the game away). If you’re unaware, Geriot was a rising superstar after his sophomore season (averaging 14/6), but a summer ACL injury in 2008 robbed him of some of the already-marginal athleticism that he had, and he had to sit out the entire 2008-09 season. His redshirt junior year was a struggle, as his numbers fell across the board, and only this year has he been able to find a groove as a sweet-passing center less reliant on scoring than on picking spots to complement his talented colleagues. These are the stories that make college basketball great.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Weekend NCAA Diary From Tucson

Posted 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: Tucson, AZ
Round: Third
Teams: San Diego State, Temple, Connecticut, Cincinnati
Date: 19 March 2011
Correspondent: Drew Murawa

SDSU's First-Ever Trip to the Sweets (SDUT/K. Alfred)

 

  • San Diego State had a serious home-court advantage in the McKale Center on Saturday afternoon, but the Aztec fans grew frustrated with the officiating in the second half, and coupled with the tight play of their team, the atmosphere in the arena as the game wound down into 15 minutes worth of crunch time was one of more tension and irritation than excitement, and I think some of that tension did more to harm the Aztecs than it did good.  It was, however, hilarious to watch the front row of Aztec fans across the court from me, mostly made up of retirement age people, jump up and down throughout the game, chanting “I Believe That We Will Win” like a bunch of frat kids.
  • Lavoy Allen wrapped up his career at Temple by playing all 50 minutes (as did frontcourt mate Rahlir Jefferson) and posting a double-double of 12 points and 11 rebounds. Allen, who has struggled with not being aggressive enough throughout his career, was certainly aggressive on Saturday, taking 14 field goal attempts and bothering the athletic Aztec frontcourt all game.
  • Down the stretch it was a tight and exciting game, but this was in no way a crisply-executed game. There were turnovers, missed layups, lack of focus, even lack of hustle at times. The plays called by Steve Fisher at the end of regulation and at the end of the first overtime were odd, at best. And at the end of the 1st overtime, Temple controlled the ball with a new shot clock with just over one minute left, and instead of trading two possessions for one, they ran the clock all the way down and gave SDSU the ball in a tie-game with the shot clock off.
  • But Coach Fisher did sum up both sides of a March game like this pretty succinctly. “When you play a game like this and lose, it’s so disastrous for awhile mentally that you can’t comprehend it unless you are there. So we know what Fran is going through, along with his team,” he said. “We’re obviously thrilled that we’re here and advancing, but Fran and his squad have had a great season. These games are hard, they’re hard for both sides. We ran off the floor all smiles and they ran off the floor with tears in their eyes. That’s the nature of what we do.”
  • Jacob Pullen was just absurd on Saturday night in his final college game. He scored 38 points, including six threes, and held Jordan Taylor, a pretty good point guard himself, to two-of-16 shooting. Frank Martin sent him off with these comments: “When everyone in this room questioned me getting hired, he stayed true to his commitment and said, ‘No man, I’m coming to play for you.’ Four years later, we’re in the NCAA three times, made an Elite Eight run. He’s the scoring leader in the history of K-State. Been to the postseason all four years. It’s all because of him. You know, you can coach a long time and never come across another one like him. I’m lucky. I’ve always been around good players. And good players that are better people. And he’s first-class.”
Share this story

Weekend NCAA Diary From Washington

Posted 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
Round: Third
Teams: Butler, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Connecticut
Date: 19 March 2011
Correspondent: Kevin Doyle

Butler Continues Escaping Doom (AP/N. Wass)

  • 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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Diary From Charlotte: Previewing Sunday

Posted by rtmsf on March 20th, 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 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…

Location: Charlotte, NC
Round: Second
Teams: Tennessee, Michigan, UNC, Long Island, Duke, Hampton, Washington, Georgia
Date: 18 March 2011
Correspondent: Frank Barrows

Looking ahead, first from Friday’s second- and third-round NCAA games in Charlotte to Sunday’s competition here, and to the remainder of the tournament, and even to what’s going on in Knoxville:

* No game in Charlotte, and possibly no game staged so far in the tournament, had more implications for the rest of the month than Duke’s 87-45 victory over Hampton. It marked the return of Blue Devils’ point guard Kyrie Irving, who has been out of action since he injured a ligament in his right big toe in a December 4 contest with Butler. His reappearance on the court, and the way he performed against Hampton, significantly changes how Duke can play from here on out and increases the possibility that it can win a second consecutive national championship.

Before Irving, a 6’2 freshman, saw his foot put into a cast December 10, he had in just a few weeks impressed all of basketball with his ability to create shots for himself and others, his capacity for seizing control of a game, his blend of high talent and high smarts. He was beyond precocious. Some said he was the nation’s best at his position. Some projected that he would emerge as the NBA’s first draft choice if he chose to go the one-and-done route. And with Irving driving Duke so magnificently, discussion ensued on the chances of the Blue Devils putting together an undefeated season.

The injury ended all that. Game after game, as Irving sat on Duke’s bench, his foot the subject of endless television close-ups, speculation mounted about whether he would play again this season. One fan website, Duke Basketball Report, has a thread entitled “The Kyrie Irving Toe Rehab Vigil.” It has had more than 372,000 views; most threads there collect a couple thousand, at the most. When the cast came off on February 4, anticipation soared. Word leaked out that he was practicing, at least a little.

So now he’s back, probably not in peak game condition, understandably a bit tentative, maybe a smidge rusty. But against Hampton, especially in the second half, he made several breathtaking plays that indicate he’s not that far from playing as he did in November, when he averaged 17 points and five assists. For example, he swooped in on a long defensive rebound, instantly revved himself into overdrive, sped past two defenders, and blitzed 75 feet for a fastbreak layup that created an eruption in the crowd and among his teammates. All told, he spent 20 minutes on the court, entering the game as a substitute in both the first and second half, and had 14 points on four-of-eight shooting, including two-of-two from three-point range.

Here’s part of what Blue Devils’ coach Mike Krzyzewski had to say afterwards about Irving: “I was really pleased. I thought he was very confident as it moved along.” More from Krzyzewski: “I thought our team was sharp, and I thought Kyrie was sharp. You can’t come on the court after being out for three months and … expect to be fluid. But I thought as the game went along, we were fortunate we got him to play 20 minutes.” And this: “We were trying in the first half to see what kind of rotation we might have using Kyrie, and then in the second half we weren’t worried about a rotation.”

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Daily Diaries: First Four – Wednesday

Posted by rtmsf on March 17th, 2011

RTC will be covering the NCAA Tournament from cover to cover this year, with correspondents at each of the fourteen sites over the next three weeks. These diaries are intended to give you insights to the games, coaches, players, fans media and everything else that you wouldn’t otherwise have known simply from watching on television. As always, feel free to offer suggestions for feedback in future versions that we can pass along to our correspondents. Here’s Wednesday’s Diary from Dayton…

The First Four, Wednesday – by John Stevens

Throughout the whole first half of the Alabama State vs. Texas-San Antonio game, the lament was frequently heard: “What on EARTH are we going to write about from this game?” UTSA came out and just socked the Hornets right in the collective jaw with easy drives into the paint and a defense that induced several unforced errors out of ASU. The halftime lead for UTSA was 27. And I know it sounds cliche’ to say it, but it’s true in this case — it wasn’t even THAT close. Melvin Johnson had 25 at the half — his CAREER HIGH, and ASU only had 21! — mostly on drives to the hole, silky fade-aways, and free throws. Everyone in the place shook their heads, wondering how they were going to endure watching another half of a spanking of this magnitude. Then, ASU coach Lewis Jackson began switching his defenses, Jeffery Middlebrooks started draining threes, and Chris Duncan started crashing the glass in force. The Roadrunner lead had shrunk to nine points late, but the Hornets could get no closer. Johnson only took four shots in the second half, and added just four points to end with 29. Despite the comeback by ASU, the matter was decided early. Johnson was just too good in that first half, and the Hornets simply took too long to shake off their jitters. That may have included the coaches — at one point in the first half, ASU received a technical foul for having six players on the floor. UTSA deserved the win, but I like the way ASU represented itself in the Dance by not just caving in. When they took the floor for that second half, there wasn’t one kid in an Alabama State uniform who thought that game was over.

My first tweet from UD Arena tonight complimented the Alabama State band. By far, the BEST I’ve ever seen and heard. Not only are the song choices original, but that wall of brass that comes from their section just makes you want to cry, and the young fellow on the drum kit will definitely put your subwoofer to the test. From the moment they played their first note, they had the whole arena in their pocket. I was simply one of a legion of listeners in the place who felt that way tonight.

People were tweeting, texting, and talking during the USC vs. VCU game about how they thought it was hard to watch, it was reminiscent of Wisconsin/Penn State from the Big Ten Tournament last week (I was at that game, and it was worse), and they couldn’t stand it. I would agree…but only for the first half. In the second, we saw guys try to take control and lift their squads, and I can always appreciate that. Jio Fontan (14/2 asst) got more aggressive in attacking the hole. Jamie Skeen (16/9) put his team on his back for several stretches, hitting mid-range jumpers and threes in succession, and Nikola Vucevic (11/13), frustrated on offense on this night, concentrated his efforts on defense and the glass. The chess match between coaches also got interesting, as Shaka Smart switched to a zone defense (on which more in a moment) and just flummoxed the Trojans, helping the Rams to distance themselves from USC late in the second half. It was almost as if the Trojans didn’t know what had hit them until it was too late.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

NCAA Daily Diaries: First Four – Tuesday

Posted by rtmsf on March 16th, 2011

RTC will be covering the NCAA Tournament from cover to cover this year, with correspondents at each of the fourteen sites over the next three weeks.  These diaries are intended to give you insights to the games, coaches, players, fans media and everything else that you wouldn’t otherwise have known simply from watching on television.  As always, feel free to offer suggestions for feedback in future versions that we can pass along to our correspondents.  Here’s Tuesday’s Diary from Dayton…

The First Four, Tuesday – by John Stevens

What a privilege to be in attendance for history. Assuming the First Four sticks and they bring it back every year, we can say we were at the first First Four. It took a while for UD Arena to fill, but not only was the 6:30 PM ET start time a tad early for a Tuesday night game, but the interstate highways near the arena are undergoing construction, resulting in several bottlenecks and resultant standstills. If you were hoping to slide in just a few minutes before tipoff of either game, there’s no way you made it. By the late second half of UALR vs UNCA, the place was about 80% full.

Here’s how cruel fate can be: when UAB (and VCU, for that matter) were announced as having made the Tournament, you probably heard what ESPN’s Jay Bilas thought of it. That soundbite, by now, is famous; you know, the one where he slams the committee for letting those two teams in ahead of Colorado and Virginia Tech, even wondering if the committee was aware that basketballs were, in fact, round. On the drive up here today, I was listening to ESPN radio play a clip with the response by UAB’s senior guard Aaron Johnson, the Conference USA Player of the Year. In it, Johnson said, “Nothing stopped me from dancing in my room when they announced us, and even when Jay Bilas was talking down about us and everything, we’re just happy to get to play.” That’s a great response, a kid sticking up for his team and his school. There is no other response. Late in the game against Clemson, the matter all but decided, Johnson hustled back to defend what turned out to be a run-out layup with an and-one opportunity for Clemson. Johnson fell awkwardly, but the play happened right in front of me and it looked like a simple cramp. Wrong. Johnson broke his tibia on the play. The replay showed a left limb that simply should not move the way a foot and leg should. When he was taken off the floor, he tried to restrain his tears. He failed. He and his trainers went right by me en route back to the locker room. The look on Johnson’s eyes was not just one of immense pain. It was one of soul-consuming fear, a look of a kid who wondered if he’d ever walk normally again, let alone ever play basketball for money, as he was poised to do someday. A broken tibia entails an arduous recovery and a long rehab. We hope he makes it all the way back, and fulfills his dreams. The most evil aspect of this was noted in a tweet by Mid-Majority’s Kyle Whelliston — and that’s the fact that if UAB wasn’t selected for the Tournament, Johnson doesn’t play in this game.

What strange statistics at halftime of UAB/Clemson. At the break, UAB was 2-12 from inside the two-point arc, but 7-15 outside of it. Clemson, by contrast, couldn’t hit from three-point range, shooting 1-7. Inside the arc, they fared much better in the first half, hitting a blistering 14 of 20 shots! In the second half, the Tigers fared slightly better from range, hitting 3-6, but a couple of those were late-minute bombs from subs. With just about three minutes remaining, Clemson had shot only two treys, hitting one of them. It’s not something Clemson does well to begin with, and this is the time of year where one of the best things you can do is know yourself. By now, teams should know their strengths and weaknesses, what to avoid, and the best way to play up what they do best. If you don’t have long range shooters, hey, don’t shoot a lot of threes. Not that seven three-point attempts is a lot for a half, but you know this was a point emphasized by Clemson head coach Brad Brownell at halftime. His team followed through, and put the Blazers away easily in the second half on the strength of good shot selection — and, of course, multiple turnovers by UAB.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story