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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Welcome to 2011-2012

Thad Matta had his team prepared with his fake high post, back screen, double low post offense.  Think Princeton offense with the addition of talented low post players.  Duke’s forwards had to move across the lane at least twice to guard the Ohio St players and, in doing so, allowed lay-ups.  If Ohio St were to play UNC running the same offensive sets, they would score at least 90 points.  However, Kendall Marshall would have a field day in transition and in UNC’s half court sets.  UNC would beat Ohio State if they hit 72% of their free throws. 

I loved Doc Rivers as a player, but his son is not a point guard yet.  Duke was a little slow in their half court defense , and never looked comfortable.  Basically, Thad Matta prepared his team well.  They dribble penetrated and kicked to an open cutter or dished to a 3 point shooter all night.  Obviously, Duke rarely allows their opponents to shoot 60% from the field and 57% from the 3 point stripe.  When you add the fact that all 5 Ohio St starters had at least 5 rebounds (and that the Buckeyes out-rebounded Duke by 9), this was an unusual loss for Duke.  However,  I think Coach K tried to teach his team humility after the 10 minute mark in the second half by not pressing or truly attempting to get back in the game.  He will use this loss as an example of what Duke basketball ain't for the rest of this year.  Based on what I saw last night, I would not be surprised if Duke played a goodly amount of zone (say, 40%) for the rest of the season.
Duke and UNC will figure out how to minimize their weaknesses on defense by mid-January.  That’s why they’re Duke and Carolina.  

You heard it here first.  If I were a betting man I would expect Notre Dame could cover a 10 point spread at Gonzaga.  If nothing else, Gonzaga is a Jesuit institution with a "humanistic" spin to it.  Having been educated by Jesuits, I know that the concepts of Humanism and the Jesuit philosophy were at bloody odds for a good portion of European history.  Also, Gonzaga seeks their "free intellectual inquery" by focusing "on Western Culture." This is silly.

At least Notre Dame is vague about its mission.  Notre Dame as an institution pursues "truth for its own sake."  Moreover, it provides a forum where "the various lines of Catholic thought may intersect" and where a "particular creedal affiliation  (i.e., Jesuit or Franciscan, and obviously, the Augustinians)" is ridiculous.

Notre Dame covers.  Oh yeah, NC State will outright against Indiana.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

UCONN Wins the Dog Fight

Butler couldn't buy a bucket last night in what was probably the worst performance in Final Four history.  UCONN's team defense was phenomenal, but Butler missed at least 5 easy shots and 12 good shots.  While UCONN outrebounded Butler by 51 to 40, Butler actually grabbed more offensive rebounds than the Huskies and just couldn't convert.  Other than just having a bad night, I think there is one player who affected Butler's shooting more than any other...Alex Oriachi.  He's my MVP of the game.

Oriachi's 4 blocks came on sure lay-ups or chip shots.  His presence altered many others - there is no doubt that Butler's big men were rushing shots because Oriachi and Roscoe Smith had them intimidated.  On the glass, Oriachi grabbed 11 boards and chipped in 11 points on 5 for 6 shooting.  He only played 25 minutes, and he made them all count.  Walker was deserving of the Final Four MOP and Lamb deserved consideration as MVP last night, but I am giving Oriachi the nod because this was a defensive game and he played the best defense.  Shelvin Mack did not have a point inside the 3 point line.  Howard got nothing in the paint either.  The put backs that he usually gets weren't there; the room and confidence to operate in the post weren't there. 

Finally, this wasn't discussed by the press, but Butler's bench was actually worse than their starters.  They were 0 for 6 from the floor and had only 6 rebounds.  UCONN's bench had 12 points and 17 rebounds.  As I predicted yesterday, UCONN's rebounding combined with the fact that the refs did not call this game tight led to their victory.  If Butler had gotten a few calls inside, allowing them to get to the line a few more times, they may have had a chance.  When the refs let them play, it always favor the bigger team. 

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Yesterday's Wars

Both games were hotly contested yesterday, and they both went according to form.  In the first game, Butler did a good job of getting the ball into the post and getting to the free throw line.  This allowed them to stay even with VCU in the first half despite not shooting well from the floor.  Free throws give you 3 things:  easy points (assuming your team can shoot free throws), tempo control, and fouls against your opponent.  VCU wanted to push the pace and take advantage of superior quickness, but when the clock stopped every minute or 2, it became tough for them to dictate pace.  They also had to adjust defenses to protect Skeen.  Butler took a lead into the locker room at the half because they rebounded well and converted free throws.

At the beginning of the 2nd half, VCU did a great job of getting the ball to Jamie Skeen to grab the lead, but Shelvin Mack was able to score 10 straight points to give Butler a working cushion that they rode until VCU had to start fouling - at that point, the game was over.  I thought Matt Howard's put back to put Butler up six with about a minute left was the dagger.  VCU deserves credit...they played hard the whole game.  Even though they had a deeper bench than Butler, pressing takes a lot of energy.  I thought VCU left it all out on the court.  Shaka Smart will have a nice fat deal very soon, because a lot of schools still need coaches.  However, I thought it was a little odd that one of Smart's assistants was doing all the talking during the "live look-in" at halftime.  It appeared as though the AC was telling Smart what to tell the players when they went back into the locker room.  Smart looked like Ronald Reagan.  (RIMSHOT!)

The CBS / TNT commentators (Barkley, Kenny Smith, Greg Gumbel, Seth Davis, and Greg Anthony) were stepping all over each others' toes.  There are too many people clogging up that stage to make any sense out of their analyses.  Overall, I think Greg Anthony is provided the best analyses of all the broadcasters.  His comment that :Butler "can play well, without playing well" may not have been stated with the most eloquence, but it was 100% accurate.  (Converting free throws isn't sexy, but it's effective.)  Barkley thought VCU would wear Butler down in the 2nd half (which definitely did not happen).  Seth Davis said Butler would win because of their coaching.  You gotta give us more than that, Seth.  You can say that about any team in any game.  The broadcasters' banter was approaching dialogue appropriate in a pub setting...not national TV. 

The second game was ugly in a lot of ways, but still fun to watch.  Calipari definitely messed up in the last minute by not fouling immediately after UCONN got the ball with about 45 seconds to play, but Kentucky got very lucky in getting the turnover with 18 seconds left.  Also, Kentucky was clueless on their last possession.  Granted, Kemba Walker played great defense in forcing Knight to give up the ball, but the Kentucky players were not prepared.  I would have run some sort of hand-off / ball screen play to get one of their guards into the middle and driven the ball much sooner.  Taking a contested 3 is not the result you want, especially since they had time when they took possession.

While Calipari deserves credit for getting this team into the Final Four, yesterday's game was an example of the risk of recruiting players who are likely to be "one and done."  Even the most talented freshman make freshman mistakes.  Kentucky missed free throws, sloppily turned the ball over, and took a lot of bad shots.  On the flip side, you need the horses to win, and it is commendable that Calipari seems to be able to get young players to improve over the course of a season.  He did the exact same thing at Memphis a few years ago and just missed the Final Four last year.  Of Kentucky's 3 super freshman, I think Lamb and Knight should return for one more year.  Terrence Jones has nothing further to prove at the college level.  His 15 rebounds yesterday were proof that he is a man among boys in college.  (Kentucky could be a very tough team next if they can keep Knight and Lamb around.  Their recruiting class is stellar, with 4 McDonald's All-Americans.) 

Other than the mental errors, Kentucky was not deep enough to play in such a physical game.  They were worn out, especially since the clock was running so much late in the second half.  The under 8 minute official time out didn't come until under 4 minutes.  It seemed like all of their shots fell short later in the game.  Props to UCONN for making Kentucky work all game on both ends of the floor.  It is nearly impossible to play only 7 in a game like that and have anything in the tank left in the waning moments. 

Calhoun and his staff deserve credit for putting Kemba Walker in more of a distributor role in the 1st half and running more sets for him in the second half. He got his 18 points, but he dished out a bunch of assists, grabbed 6 rebounds and played phenomenal defense.  Walker made two of the best defensive plays I've seen all season when he stripped Knight leading to a lay up and when he stopped a breakaway by outrunning the offensive player and getting a block to prevent a sure dunk.  He's a winner, and represents the best of New York City basketball...toughness, dedication, and smarts.  I absolutely love the guy.

Outside of Walker, the UCONN big men came up with some big blocks in the game and UCONN as a whole stepped up their rebounding in the 2nd half.  They had 4 players with at least 6 rebounds.  Their scoring was balanced as well, with their big men stepping up and getting their dunks off of great interior passing.  I think they deserve a lot of credit for forcing Kentucky into taking a lot of bad shots.  Of course, Kentucky's youth contributed to it, but UCONN ultimately dictated the game through team defense.  They also ran some great offensive sets against Kentucky's zone.  It was a well deserved win.

BTW, I have a beef with Kentucky...I think they played a dirty game in the 2nd half.  Basketball is obviously physical, but I saw a couple of Kentucky players take cheap shots, including a groin shot in front of the camera.  It reminded me of Georgetown in the 80's.  Of course, UCONN may have disguised similar rough play more effectively...Calhoun's teams have been known to be thuggish on occasion.

Tomorrow, UCONN will do their best to get Howard into foul trouble early.  If they can limit Howard, then it will be that much easier to limit Mack's offensive output.  Butler will fan Kemba Walker and try to provide "flash" help when he is dribbling to at least make him alter his driving angles.  This game could be decided by the refs.  If they decide to call the game tight, then it will work in Butler's favor.  If the high ball screens Butler runs turn into UCONN fouls as opposed to UCONN redirecting the ball handler, then UCONN may not be able to dictate what Butler is able to do on offense.  If Mack is allowed to dribble drive, he will have a huge night.

Walker will have to earn his points, so his ability to dish to his bigs when he is stymied will be crucial.  They need to finish, and I am pretty sure they will get their share of dunks.  Obviously, UCONN is more athletic, but Butler is more than adept at neutralizing teams who possess an athletic advantage over them.  This game will hinge on rebounding .  Why?  I don't see either team getting more than a dozen turnovers.  I don't see either team shooting much better than the other.  And I certainly don't see one team getting out-coached.  That leaves rebounding.  I'll take UCONN by 4. 

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Final Four Thoughts

Now that we have the Final Four set, let's go back to my post of 2/16.  I had UCONN as a team that could easily make the Final Four and that's it!  I named 16 teams and only one made it.  Butler didn't come out of nowhere, nor did Kentucky.  VCU was a shock.  The parity in college basketball is amazing.

It's actually disappointing that the 2 "Cinderellas" have to face off against each other in the semi-finals.  The battle between VCU and Butler for a National Championship would have been, well, a fairy tale.  That said, the Match-ups in the Final Four are nothing short of delightful.

UCONN is riding a formula everyone has seen from them before.  Their two championship teams, in 1999 and 2004, featured high scoring guards, Rip Hamilton in 1999 and Ben Gordon in 2004.  They also featured great shot blocking forwards.  Jim Calhoun's teams feature guards that can shoot and go the the hole, and he teaches his big men to go to the glass as if a shot is a pass off the rim.  It works for UCONN.  This year's team is no different...Walker is a money guard, and UCONN sports 3 players that combine for over 4 blocks a game on the defensive end and, between the same 3 big men, over 5 dunks a game.

Kentucky has so much young talent.  Knight, Lamb, and Jones have hit their stride as freshman.  It is obvious that Calipari can weather a season with freshman and prepare them for post-season play.  This isn't the first time he's done it and, as a friend of mine pointed out astutely in his blog before the Tournament (, Kentucky felt shunned by the Committee in receiving a 4 seed.  I love the UCONN match-up.  It will be a war.  UCONN will win by 7.

Butler going up against VCU is every bit as intriguing.  VCU is averaging over 10 3's a game in the Tournament, so you have to wonder how they will hold up if Butler can limit their 3's.  Of course, fanning your defense out to contest treys allows for back-door cuts and dribble penetration, and VCU has great team quickness.  I believe Butler will try and establish their big men early in the game.  This will allow them to control the tempo of the game.  Since Butler is so well coached and was in this position just last year, I think they will keep this game in the high 60's / low 70's and win by 5. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NC State Coaching Search

Finally, NC State put Sidney Lowe out of his misery.  Lowe is clearly a likable guy, and has shown himself to be a good recruiter.  However, he had more than enough time to build a winner, and just couldn't get the Pack over the hump into the upper echelon of the ACC.  I noticed a few things that Lowe's teams failed to do throughout his tenure, and these problems can be prevented with proper coaching. 

1. Offensive flow / continuity.  NC State was never very good at running an effective half court offense under Lowe.  The Pack were able at times to run the right sets to get favorable match-ups (like an NBA team), but the offense was never smooth and consistent.  I listened to people give excuses for the Pack's inability to execute in this area over the past few years, such as State not having a top tier point guard or the fact that a couple of key players left early, but there is no excuse for sloppy half court execution.  There are a lot of programs that run an effective half-court offense without a top tier point guard.  There are also plenty of schools that have key players leaving early and still have a system in place that players grasp and execute.

2. Defensive effort.  I noticed this more this year than in prior years, but State was awful at getting back in transition.  It was incredibly frustrating to watch team after team beat State down the court and get a lay up or a dunk.  Even teams who are not considered running teams, like Clemson and Florida State, were getting easy baskets on State in transition.  Seriously, here's a great way to get blown out by UNC or Duke...don't get back on defense.  Great idea making things easy on teams that are talented and well coached.  I saw it time and time again.

State's half court defense relied on funneling opponents to a shot blocker, rather than shutting down 3 point shooters.  Granted, State was able to make some spectacular blocks at times because of their athletic ability, but they were one of the worst defensive teams in the ACC over Lowe's tenure.  Opponents that made the extra pass against State were rewarded for the most part.

There were times when Lowe looked like he was turning the corner and moving in the right direction.  Then it seemed like State would lose 5 games in a row and be back to square one.  I think Lowe has potential as an assistant coach / recruiter for a top program like Kentucky or UCLA.  I think players like and understand him.  However, he has never been successful as a head coach at any level.

What State needs is a system.  There are plenty of systems and coaching styles out there.  Roy Williams, Coach-K, and Rick Pitino all have systems.  They adjust their systems to best make their teams' talents most effective.  I think Sendek was able to do it with NC State.  He went from a Pitino style motion offense to e modified Princeton offense.  Sendek's teams ALWAYS played tough defense.  State needs a dedicated coach with a plan that can be modified because, let's face it, State doesn't always get the recruits they want.

As for a new coach, State fans need to be realistic.  Sean Miller is not going to leave Arizona to coach State.  If they made him AD and Head Coach, he still wouldn't do it.  They can't afford enough money to make him consider it, as Arizona is one of the elite programs in the country.  It should be noted that Miller was an assistant under Sendek, so he had first-hand knowledge of how unreasonable State fans can be.  They were unfair to Sendek, because of his "lack of personality."  Five NCAA Tournaments in a row couldn't satisfy State fans, so Sendek headed elsewhere.  I can guarantee Miller is acutely aware of it, so forget Miller.

Chris Mooney would be a good fit, as he has made Richmond a very good team.  Before that, he even made Air Force competitive.  As a Princeton graduate, he has a great basketball pedigree.  I would tap him on the shoulder and see if he is interested.  Buzz Williams would be another interesting choice.  He is a character and has led Marquette to 3 straight NCAA berths.  His teams are tough as nails, which I think State needs.  When you can't out recruit UNC and Duke, you have to out tough them.

We'll see what the selection committee can come up with, but I wouldn't count on a high profile coach.  It wasn't worth it for Lavin and Calipari a few years ago, and I doubt any household names are going to think of the State job any differently this time around.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The First Weekend

As predicted, I got creamed on my bracket.  Louisville was one of my Final Four teams.  I had Pitt winning it all.  It's funny, because I had the VCU/USC winner into the Sweet Sixteen, but I assumed USC would beat VCU, who I didn't think belonged in the Tournament.  The closest I came to a good call was saying Florida State could give Notre Dame problems.  Of course, I picked Notre Dame to advance.  So I'm left with 8 out of 16.  President Obama is beating me.  Sad.

I'm really interested in the Wisconsin v Butler game.  Both teams are very well coached, and they can both shoot from deep.  Florida State v VCU is intriguing as well.  I was impressed at how VCU blew Purdue's door's off, putting up over 50 in the 2nd half.  This week will be different for the Rams, though.  VCU will not get any easy transition hoops against Florida State, so they need to get creative if they expect to score.  I don't expect Florida State to shoot as well as they did against Notre Dame, so I expect VCU will be able to keep it close. 

Ohio State looks unbeatable.  The only thing that can keep them from the Final Four is UNC.  That has the makings of a great game if they both win in the next round.  

On the other side of the bracket, Kansas' athletic ability came through against Illinois.  As is typical of the Jayhawks, they shot over 50% in the game.  Bill Self's team understands when to push the ball and when to back off and run their half court sets.  Their shot selection is phenomenal.

Monday, March 14, 2011

My Bracket

Here it is.  Unlike most, I publish one and one only.  There have been years where I have hit all 4 Final Four teams (2001 and 2004 were the last two times, so I feel I'm due) and years where I have hit only 1 of 4.  Last year I correctly predicted 2 Final Four participants - Michigan State and Duke with Duke winning it all. Also, I predicted Kansas State and Butler into the Elite Eight.  I had Kansas State beating Butler, and luckily won my pool by 2 points.  I never liked the idea of filling out multiple brackets and pulling out the best one after the first weekend.  "Look, everybody...I got 30 out of 32!"  That's weak.  Of course, I have other brackets to try and win online contests, but I'm putting this one out there.

I took a lot of risks, but I still put 3 number 1's in the Final Four.  I am sure I will get burned, but this year was very difficult.  Watch Wofford - they are balanced and experienced.  I wanted to put them into the Sweet Sixteen, but chickened out.  Gonzaga can easily win 2 games as well.  In that part of my bracket, I went with the Lavin factor.  He has made a habit of winning the first weekend. I also chickened out on LIU, because I think Carolina is too talented.  The LIU Blackbirds are for real, though.  They are unusually talented for an NEC team.  It's too bad they're an NEC team, because that conference never gets a higher seed than 14.

I love the way Louisville and Washington are playing and went with my gut on Temple.  The Owls looked fatigued to me last week, I feel like they can play well after getting some rest.  One more team to watch is Florida State.  They may give Notre Dame big problems provided the Noles can find ways to score in their first game and advance.

Let the Madness begin. By the way, a Buffalo Wild Wings opened up on Route 22 here in New Jersey.  If you haven't tried it, I highly recommend watching the games and chowing on wings there.  Of course, given my girth, you may want to discard my dining advice.  A few more pounds and I'll have my own satellites.