Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Tuesday Morning Shootaround

Still waiting for my internet to get fixed. Gotta love comcast...

Anyway, I watched entirely too much basketball last night - 5 games in total before giving up during Oregon-Alabama. As I said yesterday, Feast Week is easily the best week in the college hoops season that doesn't come in March. The games yesterday: Texas-St. Joe's, Notre Dame-Indiana, UConn-Wisconsin, Florida-Syracuse, and Kansas-Washington. Six (or seven depending on where you have the 'Cuse) ranked teams, nine with tourney hopes, played yesterday. My thoughts on the games:

Texas 68, St. Joe's 50: Texas won this game with defense (how often have you heard that the last few years). The 'Horns pressured a St. Joe's team (who looked like they weren't ready to play) throughout the game, forcing 18 turnovers. The Hawks made a little run at the end of the half to cut the lead to 37-28, but an 11-2 Texas spurt (aided by three St. Joe's turnovers) put the 'Horns up 48-30 and all but sealed the win. I knew Texas was going to be big this year, but still, they are huge. They start Dexter Pittman, Connor Atchley, and Damion James at the three (a guy who averaged a double-double last year) and bring Gary Johnson (14 and 10 last night) and Alexis Wangmene (8 and 7) off the bench. Those are a lot of big bodies for Rick Barnes. But I'm not convinced of their point guard situation yet. Abrams is clearly more comfortable running off of screens in a half court offense (he did pretty well handling the ball in transition), and Justin Mason, as good as he is, just is not a point guard. If the 'Horns want to be a Final Four team, Dogus Balbay or Varez Ward is going to have to step up and push for more minutes handling the rock.

For St. Joe's, I was really disappointed watching Ahmad Nivins. He ended up with 14 and 13, but he seemed genuinely uninterested for most of the game. I mean, the guy is long, athletic, and strong and could feasibly average 18 and 12 in the A-10, but he is going to have to work a lot harder than he did last night.

Notre Dame 88, Indiana 50: Really not all that much to say here. Notre Dame got a lead early and put it in cruise control by the end of the first half. Kyle McAlarney, who was 2-13 in his first two games, finally got into a rhythm, knocking down 6 3's. Tory Jackson, who is one of the most under-appreciated players in the country, scored 21 and had 6 assists, but also turned the ball over 5 times. I really like Jackson's game (he reminds me a lot of Taliek Brown, the PG for UConn the year they won the title with Okafor and Gordon). He is quick with the ball, getting in the lane just about whenever he wants. Once there, he is a very good passer (has led the Big East in assists the last two years) but he can also finish with a variety of floaters and finger-rolls. He's also a pesky defender and a great rebounder for his size. He's a perfect point guard for Mike Brey and this Notre Dame team that has so many offensive weapons.

On the other side, I was really impressed with how hard Indiana played. The talent isn't quite there yet, but one thing you have to credit Tom Crean's team for is that they didn't give up, even down 30 late in the game. There are a few pieces to build around. Freshman Nick Williams, who signed with Crean at Marquette, showed a lot of upside, although he is still a little raw. I also saw a lot to like in Tom Pritchard, the Hoosier big man that came into the game averaging 16 and 10. He is a crafty lefty in the post. He's got a slew of fakes and has tremendous foot work. When he gets the ball on the block, he knows what he wants to do with it and is patient enough to take his time and make his move. He's not a great athlete, but he has a nose for the ball. He'll be the guy that Crean runs his offense around this year. Pritchard had 14 last night.

UConn 76, Wisconsin 57: The first thing to note about this UConn team is that Jim Calhoun has been going with a seven man rotation early on. One of the things that has really bugged me about Jimmy C in recent years is that his notorious "quick hook" has gotten quicker and quicker, and he would end up going 10 or 11 deep and using guys that had no business playing in the Big East. He wasn't doing that last night (well, as much - AJ Price got pulled about 40 seconds into the second half for taking a bad shot). UConn's strength this year is going to be their guard play. AJ Price, Jerome Dyson, Craig Austrie, and Kemba Walker wreaked havoc on Wisconsin guard's. UConn is back to their old ways, running Calhoun's 2-2-1 press then dropping back into man-to-man. I was really impressed with Kemba Walker (this was the first time I saw him play). He is probably going to be the quickest guy on the floor every game this year, and he takes advantage of that. He is an absolute terror defensively, as he had four steals last night (two of which led two 1-on-0 fast breaks) and forced about 3 or 4 more turnovers. He still is a freshman and makes freshman mistakes (he had 7 turnovers himself, a lot of which were just a result of over-penetrating and playing too fast), but Calhoun will live with Walker learning as he goes when he gets 12 points, 8 boards, 4 steals, and 2 dimes out of him. Another thing that impressed me was that out of UConn's big four (Dyson, Price, Hasheem Thabeet, and Jeff Adrien), Dyson was the only one that played well (21, 3 dimes, 3 steals). Price struggled all game as he is battling a variety of ailments (abscessed tooth, sprained ankle, coming off the torn acl). Thabeet and Adrien combined for 23 points, 15 rebounds (10 offensive), and 4 blocks, and seemed like they were getting pushed around a bit on the blocks by Wisconsin's bigs. And the Huskies still beat a good Wisconsin team soundly. When the Huskies get it going this year (and when they get Stanley Robinson and Ater Majok eligible), they are going to be tough to beat. One last note - Thabeet looked much better defending on the perimeter last night. What Bo Ryan did was take whoever Thabeet was guarding (usually Keaton Nankivil, who led the Badgers with 11) and use him as a screener, both off and on the ball. While he still is not great at it, Thabeet looked much improved at defending the pick and roll. His inability to do so is what cost UConn their first round game against San Diego last year.

Wisconsin did not look very good last night. They don't really have a scoring option on the block (although I'm sure a lot of that had to do with Thabeet's presence), Trevon Hughes really struggled against the Huskies pressure, and if it weren't for a tremendous start (5-5 from deep in the first 10 minutes), Wisconsin might have been run off the court in the first half. I'm not and never will be worried about a Bo Ryan coached team, but right now they look like they are a ways behind Michigan State and Purdue.

Syracuse 89, Florida 83: This is the second time I've seen the 'Cuse play, and they are really going to be good this year. I probably would put them at fifth in the Big East right now (behind the big four). Jonny Flynn is the same Jonny Flynn from last year. Paul Harris is just as tough, but as added a 15-17 foot jumper that you must defend. Arinze Onuaku has gone from a 275 lb fat boy to 275 lb of muscle (seriously, he looks like he should be on World's Strongest Man). Kristoff Ongenaet, Rick Jackson, and freshman Kris Joseph are all going to be able to provide hustle, rebounds, and defense inside. And they've gotten back the two things they were missing last year - perimeter shooting from the wings (Eric Devendorf and Andy Rautins) and another guy that can penetrate and score or create shots for others (Devendorf). But the biggest change I see in this year's team is that Jim Boeheim has them playing a lot of man-to-man, which makes it all-the-more difficult for a team to prepare for the 'Cuse. Boeheim has himself a tough team that is going to make some noise this year.

As for Florida, I want to know where their defense was last night. For some reason, Billy Donovan decided to play predominantly 2-3 zone last night, which Syracuse tore apart. Personally, I think that Donovan was trying to see how good this zone could be if he wanted to use it later in the season. He has a ton of guys that are long and athletic and can cover a lot of space in a hurry, which is exactly what you want in a zone. Offensively, it all starts with Nick Calathes. I hate to use cliches, but the kid is just one step ahead of everyone else. The best comparison I can give for Calathes is Jason Kidd. They are both bigger point guards who can make any pass with either hand, know where people are going to be before they get there, do not need to look when they make a pass (seriously, Calathes probably looks on about a third of the passes he throws), and both have an ugly, but effective, set shot three pointer. The best example was this play from last night. Calathes had the ball on the wing, and Alex Tyus (who played great last night, more on him in a bit) was in the opposite short corner. Syracuse was in a zone. Calathes drove baseline (to his right), and after two dribbles zipped a pass right to the center of the paint. It looked like the pass was to nobody, but Tyus, as Calathes was driving, was curling around into the middle of the paint, where he got the ball and got an easy look (I forget if he finished the lay-up or got fouled, but it resulted in two points). Calathes finished with 19 and 7 dimes. As for Tyus, he just knows how to get open. He is a lanky, 6'7" athlete, but he is very active and scored 24 last night on a variety of put backs and dunks off of Florida's ball movement.

Kansas 73, Washington 54: Kansas is exactly what you would expect. Sherron Collins and Cole Aldrich are both as good as advertised. Collins last night had 18 points, 5 assists, and 2 steals, but more importantly made great decisions and was the leader for this young team. Perfect example: after a bit of a scrum for a rebound, Markieff Morris and Justin Dentmon got chest to chest and started jawing with each other. As the refs headed over to break it up, Collins said something to Morris and kind of forced him to head back to the bench, then as the game headed into the commercial break, you could see Collins talking with the ref for a while. No way I can know what was said, but by his body language and gestures, it was clear that Collins was going to bat for his young teammate. That's what senior leaders are supposed to do. Aldrich looked like the real deal last night. He did miss a couple easy ones inside, but for the most part played great. He ended up with 16, 9 boards, and 6 blocks. What impressed me the most were his outlet passes. There were two or three in the first half when he grabbed a rebound in traffic, kept it above his head, turned and flung the ball 50 feet up the court to a Jayhawk in stride, leading to a fast break. And all of that would happen in the span of about a second and a half.

For Washington, they have a long way to go. Brockman is a horse inside, but beyond him they aren't anything too impressive. Isaiah Thomas can score, but he has a long way to go before he lives up to his name. The rest of that team - Quincy Pondexter, Dentmon - looked downright awful at times last night. The days of Brandon Roy must seem like a long time ago for Lorenzo Romar.

Other scores of note:

  • Davidson 76, Florida Atlantic 60 - Stephen Curry had 39 points and 4 assists in the win.
  • Wake Forest 62, Winston-Salem 31 - A week after scoring 120 points in a game, the Demon Deacons held a team to 31 when they struggled offensively. Don't hand Duke second place in the ACC just yet. 
  • UNC 115, Chaminade 70
  • Miami FL 80, San Diego 45
  • Kentucky 91, Longwood 57
  • Ohio State 61, Bowling Green 57 - BJ Mullens had 2 points in 11 minutes.
  • UNLV 80, UTEP 67
  • Oregon 92, Alabama 69
  • Yale 53, Oregon State 52

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