A Saturday with the NCAA

by March 11, 2008
4

By Adam Fleischer

I’ve always liked Saturdays. They’re the only day with nothing—no school, no work, no worries. The week is the week, and the fun of Sunday never lasts too long because the reality of the upcoming week is looming tomorrow. Saturdays, though, provide freedom.

With that being said, I woke up this past Saturday morning planning on showering and then trekking to the library to knock out what I could of the five, five, and ten page papers I have due this week. Instead, the following occurred:

I got up as I normally do at about noon (ah, the joys of being 19). Hopped on the computer real quick to peep what was on tap for the day basketball-wise, which probably wasn’t a good idea considering how easily I can be dissuaded from doing school work by any number of factors—with quality ball on TV landing somewhere near the top of that list. Turns out Saturday was my lucky/unlucky day, cause there was some legit college ball on starting early on and lasting all the way until the way-too-overhyped-by-ESPN-Duke-UNC nightcap. That’s not to say it wasn’t a dope game, but we’ll get to that in a minute.

Disappointed that the Cincy-UConn game slated for a noon eastern tip was postponed because of some wild weather in the Midwest (the same weather that kept LeBron from getting to Durham after dropping a mere 38, 10 and 4 in an afternoon home win against the Pacers), I settled for Louisville-Georgetown. Not being able to watch a below average Bearcat squad taking on the Huskies probably wouldn’t leave too many people let down, but I’ve really come to like this year’s UConn team. Either way, the consolation turned out to be a pretty entertaining game.

Louisville and Georgetown battled back and forth throughout, especially in the second half, with the Hoyas ultimately coming out on top, 55-52, behind a DaJuan Summers three pointer in the final minute. It was a big win for them, as they clinched their second straight regular season Big East title. John Thompson III’s guys seem poised for another deep tournament run; they come with a balanced scoring attack, are well coached, work hard on D, and have a valuable, though not overpowering, big man in Roy Hibbert. Similar praises can be sung for the Cardinals, who were plagued by injuries early in the season but seem to be clicking here down the stretch riding their big, David Padgett.

Next I flipped to seventh ranked Stanford in USC’s house taking on the Trojans. Even as a big college hoops fan, I don’t get to see much Pac-10 ball. This is probably a combination of time zone differences, the amount of nationally televised games for the conference, and the questionable-at-best NYU cable which doesn’t carry Fox Sports, home of many Pac-10 games (no YES or HBO, either). The point I’m trying to make here, aside from a plea to get League Pass in dorms next year, is that I was pumped to check out two talented West coast teams.

The Trojans must have been trying to make some sort of statement, and I think they did. Aside from the opening bucket of the game which put Stanford up 2-0, USC never trailed. This was thanks, in large part, to OJ Mayo’s 25 points, 8 boards, and four assists—the most impressive of which came on one of those “how the hell did he throw that so only his guys could get it” type of alley-oops to Davon Jefferson. Mayo wasn’t the only one who put in work, though; Jefferson was one of three other starters to put up double figures against the Cardinal.

Admittedly, I haven’t seen Stanford much, and the times that I have, they haven’t played well. And, although he didn’t have a very good game yesterday, Brook Lopez is a handy weapon to have down low and definitely can cause some problems in the Tournament. After winning all year, the Cardinal have now lost two in a row heading into the conference tournament.

USC has by no means been synonymous with consistency this season, but the talent is certainly there, so it’ll be interesting to see if they can catch fire and make some noise by going deep in the tournament—something which wouldn’t surprise me. I wouldn’t be surprised either, though, if they’ve become a memory after the first weekend.

After the USC win, I got some more left coast exposure in the form of UCLA hosting Cal. The Bruins, who had wrapped up the Pac-10 championship earlier in the week by handing Stanford the first of their consecutive losses, were behind the whole game; the funny thing was, I never felt that it was truly in question for them. In the end, they were able to pull out the victory, 81-80, behind a controversial over the glass floater by Josh Shipp. They’ve done this all season—rallying from behind—and maybe it should flare up some concern about the fact that they’ve needed so many comeback wins. Pac-10 competition is without a doubt, nice, as was their out of conference schedule, but the Tournment brings better teams and higher intensity, so lagging early in games can quickly become costly.

There’s no doubt that UCLA is gonna be a tough out, though. Darren Collison really impressed me. I always like teams that have a point guard who can maintain the tempo that his guys like and handle pressure situations; these are things that won’t hurt come post season. Collison definitely embodies all of those characteristics and much more. I also liked that trailing down the strech, UCLA showed real fight, grabbing some big offensive rebounds, often times multiple per possession. Kevin Love showed some range, nailing a three with under a minute left and the team down four. I love that he can give close to double-double numbers every night, doesn’t seem to take many ill advised shots, and just makes the game easier for those around him. Overall, a nice comeback for a UCLA squad that would scare the hell out of me if I had to play them to advance.

Because of the excitement of the UCLA-Cal game and the absence of excitement in Kansas’ blowout victory of Texas A&M which was going on simultaneously, I didn’t peep much of the latter game. From what I did see, though, and what I have seen this year, I think the Jayhawks can break out of that early round elimination rut that they’ve fallen into in recent years. All three of their losses were by a slim margin (nine, three, and one point, respectively) and there’s something about this year’s team that makes me believe that if everything is clicking, we may still be talking about them at this time next month. Time will tell.

This brings us to the nightcap, and two other teams that may make us remember what they do this March. Even though I was a little put off by the fact that ESPN was billing this as the game of the century, the match up between UNC and Duke met my personal expectations—namely that it was a good game and that Duke lost. For those unaware, the Tar Heels pulled it out, 76-68, behind solid efforts from Danny Green and Tyler Hansbrough. As much as I enjoyed the game, this post has already carried on for longer than I had hoped, so I’m not gonna go much into what, just a couple things that stuck out from each side.

∑ Duke didn’t score in the last five or six minutes, which I was fine with, but begs the question, who do they go to if they need a crunch time shot or just a bucket down the stretch to not let things get out of hand?
∑ The Blue Devils were 10-29 from deep. That’s a decent percentage, but a pretty good amount of attempts as well. They’ve taken the second most threes this season of legitimate contenders (behind Tennessee). As we know, anytime a team falls in love with the three, things can get dangerous. Whether it’s dangerous for them or for the opposition is what we’ll see in the coming weeks.
∑ I really like Kyle Singler. He’s talented, versatile and can definitely create some match up problems.
∑ As with basically every Duke team I can remember, this year’s group plays ferocious D that will, in the very least, keep them in most games.
∑ While I think Duke was lacking in the go-to-guy department, Carolina has that in Hansbrough, they have that in Ellington, and they have that in Lawson’s ability to get others open.
∑ Which reminds me, Hansbrough is a monster. It still astonishes me each that he seems more likely to hit shots when he has contact to absorb than when he doesn’t get bumped.
∑ Ellington has an undeniable scorer’s mentality and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him go off at some point in the Tourney.

One thing these last few weeks have proven is that every team is vulnerable. Saturday also reminded us that a lot of teams are really good. Selection Sunday is less than a week away. Mark your calendars, cause we’ve still got some great college basketball ahead of us.