Coaches vs. Cancer.
- Carolina Hangs On. North Carolina 77, Ohio State 73. The marquee matchup of the evening featured Roy’s defending national champs taking on Ohio State and early NPOY candidate Evan Turner in Madison Square Garden. RTC Live was a bust due to MSG’s terrible internet connectivity, but we were still able to witness the game and what we saw was a team in North Carolina that could look utterly brilliant on one possession and really disjointed on the next. The good news for the Heels is that their defense and length, particularly inside, made the Buckeye look worse — as in, totally incompetent — for the majority of the game. Up until four minutes remaining, the game had settled into the comfortable 12-18 point lead range for Carolina. Every time that OSU threatened, UNC would get a key steal or three to stem the tide (Will Graves, with his 14/5, was particulary effective with this). Then OSU seemed to instantaneously find its mojo: the threes that had bricked and caromed off the rim and glass all night long suddenly starting finding their mark. Lighty with a three, Buford with another, Lighty again and Diebler once more along with some forays to the rim by Evan Turner, and the comfort zone that Carolina had shrunk to a very uncomfortable two points with fifteen seconds remaining. The general sense in the building, echoed by both coaches after the game, was that if Ohio State had just been able to find the mark a little better in the first half (29% FG, 10% 3FG, 50% FT), they’d have been right there all along. Problem is that we’re not buying it. In our view, the Buckeyes only started playing well and hitting shots when the pressure was essentially off and Carolina’s defense relaxed. Say what you want about Roy Williams’ penchant for offense, but this Carolina team has the potential to be devastating defensively, whereas on offense they might be a little more suspect (Graves & Ginyard are nice players, but let’s not kid ourselves here). OSU was clearly hurt by turnovers and Turner(over) was the worst offender by far with a triple-double the wrong way — 23/11/10 TOs, but if UNC realizes that its strength may actually lay on the end where they don’t have the basketball, this UNC team could in fact be very dangerous as a Final Four team come March.
- Cal Exposed by Syracuse Size. Syracuse 95, California 73. The interesting contrast in styles simply exposed Cal for what they are — a nice team that’s reliant on great guardplay to win games. We mentioned this during the live-blog briefly, but Cal’s guards accounted for 51 of the team’s 73 points, and the disparity was even worse than that prior to garbage time. Contrastingly, Syracuse’s bigs scored 54 of the Orange’s 95 points, which means that the guards chipped in 41, resulting in a balanced distribution of points that most good teams have. Cal just isn’t going to be able to battle teams with athletic post players like Rick Jackson (8/6) and Wesley Johnson (17/11). We noticed in the first half that the Cal guards, particularly Randle, seemed way too willing to step out another 2-4 feet behind the three-point line to fire away, and this is a good example of what the long Syracuse zone does to players. It makes them think that they have an easy open shot, but the truth is that the shot the player is getting is just a smidge farther outside his normal range, and you end up with bricks all over the joint. Case in point: Cal ended the night at 30% from deep (6-20), and 5 of those came from Randle (25/4/4 assts). Patrick Christopher continues to struggle when the lights are on, as he went 6-20 from the field (0-7 from deep) and only finished with 12 points. We’d like to be able to say that Cal will improve, but with a team of seniors, it’s probable that they’re as good as they’re going to get this year. Syracuse, on the other hand, could be scary good if they continue to get strong and efficient play from Johnson and Jackson inside as well as Andy Rautins (8/4) and Scoop Jardine (22/6/6 assts) on the perimeter. It’ll be very intriguing to see how North Carolina handles the Syracuse zone tomorrow night, as the Orange will be able to throw more size at the UNC players than what Ohio State was able to do tonight.
Puerto Rico Tipoff.
- Nova dodges upset bid. #6 Villanova 69, George Mason 68. The game of the day didn’t take place blocks from Times Square Thursday. Instead, Puerto Rico was home to another top-ten team dodging the proverbial upset bullet, this time from the fighting George Mason Patriots coached by Jim Larranaga. And it was touted freshman Isiah Armwood who will forever live in Nova lore (okay that’s a bit of an exaggeration) with his stunning three-pointer to give the Wildcats a lead with 13 seconds to go on his only shot attempt of the contest. Coach Jay Wright even admitted after the game that Armwood was the last option on the floor to take that shot as the 6’7 freshman isn’t exactly renowned for his outside touch. Villanova never led until the second half and actually trailed by four in the final minute before a clutch Maalik Wayns three (another frosh) and a hair-pulling Mason turnover, along with missed FTs, opened the door for a miracle. Corey Fisher (1-12 FG but 14-18 FT) and Scottie Reynolds (8 turnovers) both looked shaky. Regardless, it’s a good opportunity for Jay Wright to show his team they can be beaten on any night while notching one in the win column. Villanova will be tested again today against a really good Dayton team. Worth noting: freshman Mouphtaou Yarou will miss the tournament with a viral infection leaving Wright thin up front.