Conference Tournament Daily Diaries: Saturday

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 13th, 2011

RTC is pleased to announce that we’ll be covering all of the major conference tournaments this year — the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC — in addition to the strongest two high-middies, the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West.  Each day for the rest of this week, we’re asking our correspondents to provide us with a Daily Diary of the sights and sounds from the arena at each site.  Equal parts game analysis and opinion, the hope is that this will go beyond the tiresome game recaps you can find elsewhere and give you an insightful look into Championship Week.  Yesterday’s coverage:  ACC, Atlantic 10, Big East (pending), Big 12, Big Ten, Mountain West,  Pac-10 & SEC.

ACC Tournamentby Kellen Carpenter

  • Despite a collective freak-out Nolan Smith is obviously fine. He torched Virginia Tech en route to a 27-point performance. He played 39 minutes and didn’t limp. After the game he said that he had woken up and felt pretty good, was given a shot for the pain and that was that. Smith also basically admitted that there was no injury that was going to stop him from playing the last, precious few games of his college career. Bold words.
  • There were other bold words that came from a raucous Coliseum crowd. An insistent six year-old Duke fan had one message and one message alone for Virginia Tech’s star whenever he went to the free throw line: “Delaney! Give me your money! Give me your money!” A Hokies fan, noting that an inordinate amount of time seemed to be taken up wiping the floor, was adamant in his commands to the Plumlee frontcourt: “Stop peeing on the floor, Plumlee!” This apparently applied to both. The winner of the impromptu ACC semifinals heckling contest, however, was an older Clemson fan. For some reason that I do not know, this fan spent the entire game heckling. He didn’t heckle the Tar Heels and he didn’t heckle the referees as a group, but rather singled out referee Les Jones. For forty solid minutes, he yelled at “Leslie” about every single thing. It was weird and oddly masterful. Kudos to you, demented stranger.
  • The Tar Heels sent out a mixed message. Dexter Strickland joked on Twitter this afternoon that they were calling his team “The Comeback Kids,” after UNC turned yet another double digit deficit into an overtime win. Kendall Marshall, who played forty minutes, simplyannounced, “I’m tired.” Harrison Barnes didn’t tweet anything, because he is too cool for Twitter.
  • Harrison Barnes, in the best individual performance of the tournament, hung 40 points on the Tigers. That’s impressive enough, but the really impressive part is how he did it. He scored his 40 on a mere 17 shots. He made 6 of 8 three-pointers and 10 of 11 free throws. He had 8 rebounds, four of which were offensive boards. When you play like that, you are, factually, too cool for Twitter. Carolina fans will lift a drink to play that speaks for itself.
  • After both games were finished, the buzz around the Coliseum was palpable. It’s been ten years since Duke and North Carolina have met in the ACC finals, and the town, as a whole, seems legitimately excited about it. A rubber match to the split series is something that everyone involved with both teams’ desires. With a number one seed potentially at stake, and a not insignificant amount of pride, both seem poised to deliver a memorable showdown. Given North Carolina’s apparent propensity for dramatic tournament finishes, the chances of a great game happening seem awfully high.
  • While the rivals exult, Virginia Tech and Clemson fret. Both improved their NCAA stock, but neither was able to seal their destiny with a signature win. There is a degree of optimism for both teams and Seth Greenberg joked that he wasn’t going to sleep because he was so excited about the Hokies chances. A solemn Malcolm Delaney just shook his head and firmly disagreed: After all that had happened over his four years at Virginia Tech, he going to expect the worst and wasn’t going to believe it until he heard it himself. While I’m hopeful for Virginia Tech’s chances, I’m with tough and wise Delaney on this one. That said, I wish him the best. That kid is too tough and too good to never make it to the Big Dance.

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Conference Tournament Daily Diaries: Friday

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 12th, 2011

RTC is pleased to announce that we’ll be covering all of the major conference tournaments this year — the ACC, Big East, Big Ten, Big 12, Pac-10, and SEC — in addition to the strongest two high-middies, the Atlantic 10 and the Mountain West.  Each day for the rest of this week, we’re asking our correspondents to provide us with a Daily Diary of the sights and sounds from the arena at each site.  Equal parts game analysis and opinion, the hope is that this will go beyond the tiresome game recaps you can find elsewhere and give you an insightful look into Championship Week.  Yesterday’s coverage:  ACC, Atlantic 10, Big East, Big 12, Big Ten, Mountain West,  Pac-10 & SEC.

ACC Tournament - by Kellen Carpenter

  • While it looks like John Henson has found his stroke from the free throw line, the rest of the ACC could take lessons. Jordan Williams spoiled a 16 point and 16 rebound effort against Duke by going 2 for 10 from the free line in the loss. Virginia Tech shot 57.1% against a Florida State team that shot 20% from the line.
  • Yeah, speaking of which, that was a game with bad shooting. A clearly exhausted Malcolm Delaney-led Virginia Tech team only made five field goals in the first half. The Hokies shot 17.9% from the field in the first half. Erick Green had shot 1 of 12 for the Hokies before he nailed what turned out to be the game winner. Miami making up 10 points in 40 seconds was impressive. North Carolina’s buzzer beater was impressive. But an undermanned, overworked, and gritty as hell Virginia Tech team owns the most impressive win of the ACC Tournament so far.
  • After Florida State’s Derwin Kitchen buzzer beater was overturned after the Seminoles had already started celebrating, the tables turned quickly. At least one Hokie fans, embittered after years of bad luck, dashed expectations and hard work turned sour, yelled at the Seminole fans, “SUCKS DON’T IT?” That was a little cruel, but it’s nice to see this tough and unlucky Virginia Tech team catch a break.
  • Twice today, the crowd played favorites in dramatic fashion. The Coliseum was roaring during the impressive North Carolina comeback with the cheers of Miami fans completely and utterly muted. Then in the evening, a Duke crowd tried to drown out the angry jeers of the sizable and furious Maryland crowd.
  • The reason that the Maryland crowd was so angry was because Kyle Singler hates Maryland. Kyle Singler hung 25 points on Maryland in January, 22 in February, and 29 in March. It was enough to break Singler’s late-season slump and enough to carry his team when all was not right with Nolan Smith. Even before disaster struck, it wasn’t Nolan Smith’s night. He went 2 for 11 and had five turnovers. Then the worst kind of deja vu struck Duke fans and their point guard hurt his toe. Though Smith looked okay when he walked out of the locker room where he went for treatment, he was limping after the game, and Coach K declined to say anything about the prognosis until Saturday morning.
  • How often do you see the walk-ons play a pivotal role in a conference tournament game? About eight turnover-filled minutes into the game against Miami, a furious Roy Williams benched his team in favor of Blue Steel, this year’s fan-beloved (and frequently goofy) team of walk-ons. Blue Steel didn’t score and they didn’t lock down Miami, but they played hard and bought Roy time to settle his team. It was fitting that Wes Miller, a patron saint to UNC walk-ons who cracked the rotation and didn’t miss a shot during the 2006 ACC tournament, was in attendance.
  • Is it the shoes? Kendall Marshall is an avowed sneakerhead and he cameout wearing classic Air Jordan II’s in University blue, a pretty sharp look that he had tried a couple of times earlier in the season. When Roy benched the starters, Kendall ended up switching to the more basic Team Jordan home shoe. I’m not going to say that was a turning point in the game, but it certainly didn’t hurt the Tar Heels. On the other hand, Leslie McDonald continued to wear his Jordan II’s the whole game and experienced a similar turnaround. On a related note, the Florida State dance team changed their tops at half time. Clearly, that was a huge mistake.
  • One more thing about Reggie Johnson. He is big.  No, seriously, you may know that he’s 6’10 and over 300 pounds, but somehow he plays even bigger than that. UNC has one of the biggest, if not bulkiest, front courts in the nation and Johnson just bullied them around all game on offense and defense. You know who else is big? Seemingly everyone on the Florida State team. They just have waves and waves of big men who all play tough defense. While Reggie Johnson won’t be able to bully hapless mid-majors in the NCAA, an angry Florida State team that’s soon to reintroduce Chris Singleton to the line-up is a tough draw for any team in the tournament. Speaking of Chris Singleton, though he seemed fine and participated in warm-ups, he didn’t play. After the game, Leonard Hamilton admitted that Chris probably could have played, but that he wanted to make sure that they made the right decision for Chris, which seems pretty hard to argue with.
  • Meanwhile, where Reggie Johnson and Florida State are big, the Clemson backcourt is so small. In the seemingly effortless domination of Boston College, Clemson played three players who are tiny by ACC basketball standards. 5’9 starter Andre Young often played with similarly sized Zavier Anderson, with 5’10 Cory Stanton playing spot minutes. They played well and their size never seemed an obstacle against a relatively small BC team, but you wonder how they will fare against Carolina’s long arms.
  • Of course, when you are playing with the swag of this Clemson team, there is little cause for concern.  Demontez Stitt, in particular, was playing with a decidedly nasty streak. He had at least one vicious stare down after a put-back dunk as well as a very pointed step over a BC player who had fallen down trying to stop another drive. The decidedly pro-Tigers crowd was into the game, with one presumably student corner (of the otherwise sparsely populated upper bowl) standing through the entire game. By contrast, there wasn’t a single Boston College fan in sight.
  • I saw a few fans wearing other team’s colors clap politely for theEagles, but no yelling students and not even a BC t-shirt to be seen. I understand that Boston is a long way away, but I honestly believe it hurt BC’s chances. The Eagles weren’t down further than UNC was against Miami, but while the Tar Heel players seemed to feed off the excitement and energy of the crowd, Boston College just didn’t have that option. The crowd’s indifference mirrored the team’s indifference and many of the athletes played with their heads down and a general air of apathy. It’s a shame because a win would have gone along way towards keeping NCAA tournament hopes alive.

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RTC Live: Mountain West Quarterfinals

Posted by rtmsf on March 10th, 2011

Games #185-188.  RTC Live is in Vegas for a big-time afternoon of MWC basketball in the desert.

While the Mountain West Tournament started on Wednesday night with the 8/9 game between TCU and Wyoming, the meat of the matter kicks off Thursday with an interesting set of quarters beginning at noon in Vegas. BYU will get things started in the morning by facing TCU, a matchup which the Cougars should have little trouble with. The second quarterfinal of the day between Colorado State and New Mexico may be the most interesting one. The loser of that game is almost certainly NIT bound (at best), while the winner gets a crack at BYU in the semifinals where a win would go a long way towards getting them back into the NCAA at-large conversation. In the evening, we’ve got San Diego State and Utah kicking off at 6pm PST, followed by UNLV, playing in front of a largely partisan and raucous home crowd, against Air Force. It should be the beginning of a fun three days in Vegas, and we hope you’ll stop in to chat about some good MWC hoops.

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Even More Notes From the Mountain West, Atlantic 10 and WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 14th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament, Joe Dzuback at the Atlantic 10 Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournaments, they will each post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for tonight’s pair of championship games and the A10 semis.

Mountain West Finals: San Diego State 55, UNLV 45

  • The only logical place to begin here is with Kawhi Leonard, who was dominant tonight. The line speaks for itself: 21 rebounds (a career high), including seven on the offensive end. 16 points. Holding Tre’Von Willis to 4/12 shooting from the floor (and at least two of those field goals came when SDSU inexplicably switched to zone at the start of the 2nd half). And throw in a couple assists and a couple steals for good measure. He definitely presents matchup problems for every team in the MWC, and he will present problems for teams across the country. Throw a smaller, quicker guy on him and Leonard will dominate in the paint; put a big man on him and he can step outside and use his face-up game. In the postgame press conference, UNLV head coach Lon Kruger was asked about the possibility of having to deal with Leonard for three more years, and the look that crossed his face (a combination of a knowing smile and a grimace) was priceless before he went on to spend a couple minutes singing Leonard’s praises. While New Mexico’s Darington Hobson and BYU’s Jimmer Fredette rightly are regarded as the best players in the conference, it is Leonard who is the most talented player in the conference.
  • Willis tweaked his ankle late in the game on Friday night, and while he played without incident tonight, he was likely not as explosive as he was earlier in the tournament. How much of that had to do with the ankle and how much was the Leonard factor is up for debate, but Coach Kruger of course brushed off any notion that Willis was hampered by the ankle.
  • The vaunted UNLV homecourt advantage turned out to be much less of an issue tonight than it was either last night or even on Thursday night in the quarterfinal. Maybe it was the earlier start, or maybe it was the Aztec fans’ inability to provoke the UNLV fans into a cheering confrontation as Utah and BYU fans did, but while the Rebel fans sure got loud when Larry Johnson and Jerry Tarkanian were shown on the scoreboard, they were never really a huge factor in the game.
  • Last night in this space I talked up UNLV junior center Brice Massamba quite a bit. Tonight? Um, who? Massamba’s totals: 18 minutes, five fouls, two rebounds, two turnovers.
  • Now, time for me to admit a couple areas where I was dead wrong. This doesn’t happen often (not me being wrong, I’m wrong a lot, I just rarely admit it – ask my wife), so soak it up.
  • First, sometime in the middle of the MWC season I wrote that San Diego State junior point guard D.J. Gay was holding his team back and that head coach Steve Fisher should make the move to freshman Chase Tapley at the point. Well, Gay proved me wrong and Fisher right more or less from that point on. While Gay still doesn’t shoot a great percentage from the floor, he has really cut down on the turnovers over the back half of the schedule, and more important than anything the numbers show, he is the leader on this team. Guys like Leonard and Billy White and Malcolm Thomas and even senior Kelvin Davis are all major cogs for this Aztec team, but it is Gay who makes this team go. Look at his numbers over the tournament, and they’re nothing special (in fact, they’re downright awful): less than 8ppg, six of 26 from the field, 10 assists, five turnovers. And yet, they probably don’t get out of the quarterfinals without him (when he hit two clutch free throws at the end to provide the final margin), they certainly don’t get through New Mexico without him and his seven assists and zero turnovers, and tonight it was Gay’s big three in the face of Oscar Bellfield under six minutes that extended the Aztec lead above one possession for the first time since very early in the second half. Throw in the fact that the guy played 119 of a possible 120 minutes in this tournament (and the minute that he was out the Aztecs looked lost) and its clear Gay brings more to this team than his numbers would indicate. And, just to extend my praise of the guy, he is also a well-spoken, funny kid.
  • The other place I was wrong is about Fisher. For several years now, I have been critical of some of Fisher’s in-game coaching and even his ability to bring along talent. While I thought his decision to open the second half in a zone for a couple of possessions was a similarly goofy decision, there’s really no questioning what he has done with this team. The vast improvement this team has made since opening night when they were absolutely drilled by St. Mary’s is clear and he has really gotten a talented team to buy into team over individual fully. Now, I’ll admit some of this may be because Fisher was just so charming and effusive in his press conferences that he won me over (tonight’s great Fisher quote, on winning the recruiting battle of Leonard over some Pac-10 schools: “we don’t need to get down on kneepads to recruit against the Pac-10.”), but the fact that he has taken a SDSU program with little history and put them in the postseason in seven of his 11 seasons, including now three NCAA visits, says all that needs to be said about Fisher’s ability to coach. The fact that he is just so likable is only a bonus.
  • I chose Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Leonard and Gay as my five for the all-tourney team, with Leonard as my MVP, although I felt awfully bad about not writing down White, Chase Stanback or Dairese Gary. The official tournament team was Fredette, Hobson, Willis, Stanback, White and Leonard (no fair they got to pick an extra one – I wanted my all-tourney team to have eight guys), with Leonard the MVP.

Atlantic 10 Semifinals

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More Notes From the Mountain West and WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, they will both post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for last night’s semifinals.

Mountain West Semis

  • The difference between these four teams when they are playing at their peak is not a whole lot. New Mexico and BYU have been more consistent over the course of the season, but all four of these teams are highly talented and very evenly matched.
  • Even before tonight I felt pretty fortunate to have picked the MWC out of the hat to cover this year. After tonight, the MWC could start a new religion and I would be the first convert.
  • I overheard Danny Ainge talking with Steve Lappas during the break between games say that this iteration of this tournament was as good as any in the country over the last few years. At this point, I’m not inclined to disagree.

San Diego State 72, New Mexico 69.

  • Darington Hobson was the MWC Player of the Year, but San Diego State took some advantage of him defensively, especially in the first half when he was unable to control either Kawhi Leonard or Billy White. Further, in the postgame press conference, Aztec point guard D.J. Gay seemed to imply that they were more concerned about Dairese Gary than they were about Hobson, saying that they in the last sequence they were trying to force Gary to give the ball up to Hobson.
  • Speaking of Gary, when the Lobos found themselves down 11 early, it was he who sparked the team’s run back to eventually take the lead in the first half. But as important as Gary is to the Lobos hopes, it is the combination of Gary and Hobson, each of whom have point skills, that make the Lobos so tough.
  • Kawhi Leonard was the MWC Freshman of the Year, a first-team All-MWC selection and my choice as the MWC Defensive Player of the Year, and yet he is only beginning to scratch the surface of his talent. Tonight he added three threes (after shooting just 19% from three on the season), took on Hobson one-on-one defensively, and yanked down 12 rebounds, including a serious man’s rebound in the final seconds, just before knocking down two free throws to extend the final margin.
  • It was apparent in the postgame press conference just how much coach Steve Fisher loves his squad. At times it seemed like he almost had to control himself from gushing over his squad. Check this: “I told our team at halftime, this is big-time, high-level major college basketball. We played about as well as we can play and we’re one point behind. That’s what they’re telling their team, that San Diego State can’t play better. But we can. We have to. And we did.” And, on D.J. Gay: “I said to our team and the media that I thought D.J. Gay was our most important player. He had seven assists, no turnovers. Guards like crazy. Helps everybody else out and wins.” On Billy White: “He’s a really talented player and a terrific young guy. So I’m proud. I’m so happy for Billy today to have him come home and play as well as he did. He was sensational. When we went out before the game, I grabbed him and told him ‘Make your mom proud.’ Afterward I said, ‘You made everyone proud.’”
  • San Diego State’s freshman guard Chase Tapley and New Mexico’s sophomore post A.J. Hardeman may not get all the press that some of their teammates get, but both had key contributions. Hardeman wound up with 12 points, nine rebounds and three blocks, while Tapley, playing with a broken left hand which has cost him his starting position, knocked down three of his four attempts from three-point range.

UNLV 70, BYU 66.

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RTC Live: Mountain West Championship – UNLV vs. San Diego State

Posted by rtmsf on March 13th, 2010

Friday night in Vegas was as good as could have been expected. Or at least it was for the roughly 18,000 of us who were lucky enough to see as four teams battled it out to the bitter end, watching great players make great plays in March. With the MWC’s automatic NCAA bid up for grabs, Saturday afternoon could be an encore performance. These teams have split the season series thus far, each winning by ten on their home court, and while the Aztec fans will be greatly outnumbered, they’ve got plenty of reasons to be excited about their Aztecs who are playing the best basketball of their season. Both teams are a little beat up at this point (San Diego State’s point guard D.J. Gay came up a little gimpy at the tail end of their game and UNLV’s Tre’Von Willis turned an ankle just under three minutes before coming back to score six of the Rebels’ last seven) and they won’t have a lot of time to patch their bones, but the energy from the electric Thomas & Mack crowd should get everyone’s adrenaline pumping early and often. We hope you’ll join us on RTC Live for what should be a hard-fought and entertaining game between two teams that seem destined for NCAA Tournament berths.

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Some Notes from the Mountain West & WAC Tourneys

Posted by rtmsf on March 12th, 2010

In our attempt to bring you the most comprehensive Championship Week coverage anywhere, RTC is covering several of the conference tournaments from the sites. We have RTC correspondents Andrew Murawa at the Mountain West Tournament and Kraig Williams at the WAC Tournament this weekend.  In addition to live-blogging select games throughout the tournament, they will both post a nightly diary with thoughts on each day’s action. Here are the submissions for last night’s games.

Mountain West Tournament Quarters

  • After a long day and a drive from Los Angeles, I got into the Thomas & Mack Center to see TCU down only four to BYU just about halfway through the second half. Just a couple of minutes later, the Cougars had extended the lead to double figures and the only intrigue left was how much Jimmer Fredette would score. TCU threw everything they had at him, including sophomore point guard Ronnie Moss just wrapping his arms around Fredette’s waist at times, but it was no use. Fredette did it every way: deep threes, pull-up jumpers, taking it to the hole and, of course, hitting 23 of his whopping 24 free throw attempts on his way to 45 points (a MWC Tournament record), including 30 in the second half. And, if that weren’t enough, he added six assists as well.
  • Inside of a minute into the UNLV/Utah game, it was obvious it was going to be a physical game. Both teams tried to exploit the other teams inside, and Utah did so to the tune of 36 free throw attempts (of which they made 31). But if the Utes weren’t getting to the line, they were building a chimney; they made just 13 of their 40 field goal attempts, mostly because UNLV defenders were in their faces constantly.
  • It’s been said before I’m sure, so you won’t mind if I say it again: UNLV getting to play this tournament on their home court every year is a huge advantage. While there were pockets of Utah fans, this was little different than a UNLV home game.
  • After the Utes got three unanswered threes (by Marshall Henderson, Luka Drca and Chris Hines) wrapped around a David Foster rejection to cut what was a 13-point Rebel lead to just four at the half, the start of the second half was electric in the arena. But an early 12-3 run by the Rebels broke things back open and the rest of the half was the Runnin’ Rebels living up to their nickname.

WAC Tournament Quarters

(1) Utah State 84, (8) Boise State 60

  • If Utah State has a weakness it’s against pressure defenses. Boise State was able to hang in the game at halftime trailing by just five by turning the Aggies over and getting easy baskets in transition.
  • If you’ve followed WAC basketball at all this season you may wonder why Utah State’s Brian Green hits his elbow and points to the sky after every game. The answer? “These are my guns, I just reload them.” Green unloaded for 18 against Boise State, which was tied for the game high with both Tai Wesley and Pooh Williams.
  • Boise State fans don’t really like Greg Graham. Will he be joining Hawaii’s Bobby Nash in the WAC coaches unemployment line?

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