Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Thoughts from the Past Several Days

This morning I posted as my facebook status "Forget Christmas. March Madness is the season for me." And it's true, there is no better time of the year for me. The last two nights, I have been up in my bedroom, with my laptop onto #pixelvision (in my case last night - Dayton vs. GW) while watching the championship games on ESPN and the Deuce. Yes, college basketball is my mistress (and yes, I said that to my wife, who immediately gave the "you're an idiot" laugh).

So, I finally got to see the Golden Grizzlies of Oakland on the Deuce last night. And talk about an impressive win over IUPUI. Derick Nelson and Keith Benson are terrific. Nelson had 36 points and 9 rebounds, while Benson had 17 rebounds and 6 blocks. Benson had only 8 points, less than half of his season average, but Nelson made up for that and more. That's a nice one-two punch to have come the NCAA tournament. Right now, Lunardi has Oakland as a 14 seed playing Villanova in the Midwest region. I like that matchup for the Golden Grizzlies because they have size in Benson that will give the smaller Nova team some trouble.

I was able to watch a good part of the Oakland-IUPUI because I was able to shut off the Butler-Wright State game early in the second half last night. The Bulldogs were just flat out dominant in beating Wright State by twenty five. If it wasn't Matt Howard scoring at will inside, it was Shelvin Mack and Zack Hahn burying three after three. And don't forget Gordon Hayward.

Lunardi has Butler as a six seed right now, which is an absolute joke. A couple of months ago, I wrote about how Butler needed to get Howard more involved. Well, Brad Stevens took care of that as Howard has scored in double figures in eleven of the last twelve games. As a result Butler has looked even better. The games against Siena and Wright State last night were impressive. If you don't think Butler is one of the best sixteen teams in the country, you haven't watched much college basketball recently.

It was sooooooo great to see St Mary's win Monday night vs. Gonzaga. I had said several times, most recently in their second loss to Gonzaga during the regular season that they were missing the ability to have someone drive the lane and be able to either score or create a scoring opportunity. Well guess what? Randy Bennett added a new wrinkle Monday night to have Mickey McConnell screen roll at the top of the key, grab the pass and drive the lane repeatedly for layups. Stephen Bardo, doing the color analysis for the game, commented that Gonzaga coach Mark Pew was going to see that play over and over in his sleep later that night.

For the Gaels to win without a big game from Omar Samhan, speaks volumes for the way St Mary's is playing right now. And the game the Gaels got from Ben Allen was huge in the win. They will be a tough out in the tournament and the No Clue At All can't leave them out this year. And of course Gonzaga was already in the tournament, so one less non-deserving Power Six bubble team makes it. MUAH HA HA HA.

Speaking of mid major tournaments, is it just me or has there been mostly chalk in the tournaments? Teams that were on the bubble had they lost - Siena (MAAC) and Old Dominion (CAA) won. Teams that were safely in the tournament - Northern Iowa (MVC) and Butler (Horizon) won. Teams that had dominant seasons in their conferences but would have been sadly left out had they lost - Murray State (OVC), Oakland (Summit) and Wofford (Southern) also won. So far the only leagues that were upsets, slight as they were - the Atlantic Sun (defending champ ETSU), Big South (Winthrop) and Sun Belt (North Texas). Even Cornell won the Ivy.

That leaves the only mid major team that could be a bubble team if they lose their conference tournament is Utah State in the WAC. The Aggies have wins at home over BYU and Wichita State and have dominated the WAC again, but they will definitely be a fence team if they don't win the tournament in Nevada.

There are three things in life that I have not been able to figure out - 1) Women. 2) How people can walk in the street when there is a perfectly good sidewalk to walk on and 3) Why Tom Pecora insists on having his Hofstra team dribble down the shot clock late in games while up only a few points.

Sorry Jerry Beach, but Saturday night, the Pride had several chances to put additional points on the board and put away Northeastern. But instead, they ran the clock down each time and it ultimately cost them. With 2:08 left, Hofstra was up by four and had the ball. Hofstra runs the clock down to about 5 seconds left on the shot clock and they have one shot blocked and Charles Jenkins misses a two point jumper.

After Northeastern's Matt Janning hits a layup, on Hofstra's next possession up two with 1:27 left, the Pride run down the clock and Vines misses a three point jumper with a couple of seconds left on the shot clock. Vines gets his own rebound though with 58 seconds left. Again, Hofstra runs the clock down and when Jenkins attempts his usual drive into the lane, he turns the ball over. Kauri Block hits the game tying layup and the game eventually goes into double overtime.

Simply put, the game should have been won in regulation by Hofstra. This has happened time after time over the years and that's why I call it "Pulling a Hofstra". The thing is I see this with not just Hofstra but other teams as well. And most times, folks, it doesn't work. Hofstra needed to run it's normal offense in the those two possessions. Remember it's the team that scores the most points that wins. Points are your friend, not the clock.

And here's the kicker, the night before against Georgia State when Hofstra had the ball with 30 seconds left down one, they ran their offense. Greg Washington had an open look on a jumper, took it and buried it with 16 seconds left. Then Georgia State's Joe Dukes tried to run the clock down and drive the lane himself. Washington played great defense and took the ball from Dukes. You would have thought Hofstra would have learned something from that previous night. Guess not. That may sound harsh, but that's how I see it.

That being said, the coaching job Pecora did - taking a team that was 2-7 in conference and getting them to win ten out of their last eleven games before losing the heartbreaker to Northeastern, was perhaps his best in his tenure at Hofstra. And this is coming from a coach who has had 20 plus wins in four of the last five seasons. He has most of his key players returning next year, including Jenkins, the CAA player of the year. And he has a key transfer, Mike Moore from Fordham joining the mix. As far as I am concerned, they will be one of the four best teams in the CAA next season.

Back to the Richmond experience. This year's CAA Tournament is living proof of how great college basketball really is. I think Jerry Beach is convinced. Sold out crowd on Sunday. Loud and exciting. As Kyle Whelliston ALWAYS says, you should go to a conference basketball tournament. There is nothing better. Nothing.

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