From the Stands
By Trey McLean
Co-op Game Day
- I wouldn’t say that I am “shocked” that Colorado didn’t get into the NCAA Tournament, but I am surprised. I thought they did enough to get in but what do I know? I know this- the season is essentially over for the Colorado Buffaloes in all the major sports, and since they don’t play baseball and I don’t spend much time talking track or swimming, N.I.T. or tennis, this is my official “See Ya, CU” shout out. The receipt should be under the door and you can just leave your keys in the room. Enjoy your N.I.T. appearance.
- And you enjoy your N.I.T. appearance as well, Nebraska. I know we still have baseball to come, but your time with us is coming to an end.
- I’m not going to spend a lot of time arguing about teams that should not have gotten in and teams that should have gotten in because invariably the slighted fall early in the N.I.T. and the ones that snuck in show themselves well in the NCAA; however, I do have some thoughts…
- The Big East got 11 teams in the NCAA Tournament, which is an NCAA record. The Big East is now to basketball what the SEC is to football in the media’s eyes- the Cat’s Meow. I’m not sure how Pitt gets to stay close to home as the No.1 seed after losing their opening round Big East Tournament game while Duke wins the ACC Tournament and gets shipped out west for their endeavors? Cincinnati was the No.7 seed in the Big East Tournament, but they are No.6 seed in the NCAA Tournament? It’s clear to me that the media and college basketball loves them some Big East and they definitely are reaping the benefits of that right now. Every team in the Big East with a winning record got into the Dance. Not a winning record in the conference, but a winning record overall. Marquette and Villanova were both 9-9 in conference play and got in and Nova, losers of their last four regular season games, lost last Tuesday in the opening round of the Big East Tournament to 9-23 South Florida. Yet they get a higher seed than Mizzou? They get in, period? Come on.
- Look what you made me do, selection committee, you made me use Duke as a sympathetic team and defend them. Yuck. I don’t like Duke. Please do not make me do this again.
- The Big 12 got five teams in and this is as curious to me as anything out there. The teams are Kansas (No.1), Texas (No.4), Kansas State (No.5), Texas A&M (No.7) and Missouri (No.11). No brainer for the Jayhawks, who earned their No. 1 seed as the winners of the both the Big 12 regular season (again) and conference tournament (again). But how in the world does K-State, who was the No.5 seed in the Big 12 Tournament, get slotted above Big 12 No.4 seed Texas A&M? They were both 10-6 in Big 12 play, but by virtue of their win over Kansas State they finished No.4 in the league. K-State, so hot down the stretch, lost to N.I.T.- bound Colorado on day two of the Big 12 Tourney, their first game of the Tournament, while the Ags got to the quarterfinals before losing to Texas. I don’t see the logic in that at all. And Missouri, ranked 10 days ago, gets a No.11 seed? Looking at the breakdowns the Tigers were one of the last six to get in. How in the world can they slide so badly so quickly? I find it hard to believe that Mizzou dropped nearly out of the field of 64 yet Cincinnati is a No.6 seed.
- Look it, selection committee, you just made me defend Texas A&M. Why are you doing this to me?
- As for Texas, it is pretty clear what is going on. The media and selection committee do not trust them. While they were Charlie Sheen-hot a month ago and considered by some the top overall seed, they have since cooled off. Those doing the choosing see a team that reverted to some bad habits from last year, where scoring droughts and defensive breakdowns against teams that would be considered inferior undid the season. It is an extremely critical view the committee took of Texas, and not one that I think they took with other teams in other conferences, but it is what it is. It isn’t like yelling and screaming is going to change anything, so Texas will need to deal with it, as will we.
- Seth Greenberg and Virginia Tech are out. Again. Seth Greenberg feels like his team was railroaded. Again. Despite their upset of Duke, again, they are N.I.T.-bound. Again.
- Four play-in games? What is that? And why do three of those play-in game winners have to play a Big East team? No.1 seed Ohio State, No.1 Pitt, No.5 seed West Virginia and No.6 seed Georgetown all get the play-in game winner. Explain that, please. A No.6 seed gets a play-in game winner?
- I think it is ridiculous that teams that won their conference tournament, however small the conference, have to play in the play-in game. That isn’t fair. Why should they have to fight their way in AFTER they won their way in fair and square? If a conference has an automatic bid for winning that conference, they should be immune from the play-in game. These games should be used for those bubble teams that are not conference champions. If Missouri was one of the last six teams in, then they should be playing in that game. Not UTSA, not Alabama State, but the true bubble teams that have to sweat out Selection Day as “At-Large” selections, not the teams that handled their business.
- Jeff Capel was fired, as was Pat Knight. I expect Billy Gillespie to be a candidate at both places. I also expect I’ll dislike him at either one of those schools, too.
With football off for spring break and baseball a week away from the start of conference play, this week we will get all up in the NCAA Tournament.
The Horns handled their business in the early part of the Big 12 Tournament, sending the sooners home and earning Jeff Capel a visit from the Turk, then overpowering the Aggies in the semi-finals for another double-digit win. Hey, not bad when you go 6-0 in hoops in a single season against your two biggest rivals, AmIRight? On Saturday Texas got a rematch with Kansas and honestly the Jayhawks looked like they had that game circled on the calendar for a long, long time. Actually, they looked like Nebraska wanted to look in October against Texas in Lincoln. Sorry, couldn’t resist. While Texas struggled to hit shots and committed a lot of fouls, KU couldn’t miss anything and seemed a step quicker and more energetic from start to finish. Still, with Kansas on fire, the Horns had opportunities to get it to a basket or so several times, but in front of the ridiculously pro-Jayhawk crowd Texas couldn’t get it done. Texas is now 0-6 in Big 12 Championship games and Kansas is once again the Big 12 Tournament Champion.
And that has nothing to do with the NCAA Tournament. Once a team gets in the slate is clean and everyone is 0-0. It is a 6-game Tournament that most coaches break down into three mini-Tournaments. The winner of the four-team pod to start it off gets to the Sweet 16, the winner of the second 4-team pod gets to the Final Four and then, of course, it is the Final Four. Texas wasn’t given an easy road to the Final Four, but there is no doubt they can get there. There is also no doubt that if Texas takes anyone for granted they will be going home. The Horns get to start in Tulsa, but to get back to Houston and the Final Four they will need to go to Anaheim to make it happen. I like the attitude of the team, who rather than pouting or complaining about being a No.4 seems to understand they limped to the finish line, blew at least a share of the Big 12 Championship and lost to Kansas in the Tourney finals. They have a great approach to their seeding and rather than rage against the machine, they are just going with it. Let’s take a look at the four-team pod Texas is in and what Texas can expect to face.
The West Regional
Texas plays in Tulsa on Friday at 11:15 am against Oakland. Hey, I’d sure like it to be in prime time as well, but what are you gonna do? Lunch and Tournament basketball. Sweet! While Tulsa is close enough to Texas for a quick trip, the idea that Texas in Tulsa is “close to home” is as silly as Lindsay Lohan’s criminal defense strategy. It’s Oklahoma and they don’t like us very much. Sure there are Texas fans up there, but there are just as many people up there that don’t like Texas and will show up for an opportunity to see Texas lose (like I would do). So the competition is tough and the crowd will not be as Longhorn-friendly as some think. Expect to see a ton of Memphis fans in Tulsa. It’s a closer drive than Austin by about 60 miles and hoops is what they do and what they love. Ever seen The Pyramid? They love their Tigers and they will fill it up. They had to win their way in to the Tourney via the Conference USA Tournament and head coach Josh Pastner has the fans believing. They filled up the AAC in Dallas a few years ago and that’s almost the same distance. Expect to see it a very pro-Memphis crowd and many there to just root against Texas. Still, we are here and that’s that. Let’s take a look at who Texas is playing in round one and who they will play if they get to round two. Here are the two games in the pod:
No.4 TEXAS (27-7) vs. No.13 Oakland Golden Grizzlies (25-9)
Friday, 11:25 am
No.5 Arizona Wildcats (27-7) vs. No.12 Memphis Tigers (25-9)
Friday, 1:45 pm (~ 30 minutes after the Texas/Oakland game)
Yeah, I know it is a misleading name. They are nowhere near the East Bay. I first heard of them a few years ago when they won their way into the NCAA Tournament by winning the play-in game. This is no stereotypical small, private religious school on the east coast. They are from a Rochester, Michigan, which I’m sure you have never been to (I haven’t) and they play in a conference you probably have never heard of (the Summit League) and are a public school with just under 20,000 students. It was founded in 1957 by the widow of John Dodge (yes, the car company is named after him) and was originally in the Michigan State University system before going independent in 1970. Notable alumni include David Hasselhoff and Robert Englund, although neither graduated, and Curtis Armstrong, who did. Since Armstrong is the graduate with a degree, that means Booger from Revenge of the Nerds is their Matthew McConaughey. As for their basketball team, they are solid and have to be considered a serious upset candidate for what they bring to the table.
The Golden Grizzlies (does that sound like something from Church’s, or is it just me?) have played all comers this season, playing most of the Big Ten, West Virginia from the Big East and Tennessee, who they beat by seven in Knoxville. They won the Summit League Tournament for the second year in a row in convincing fashion, destroying their competition en route. This team is battle-tested and has played in most of the big venues in the Midwest, so they will not be intimidated by the opponent, the situation or what is at stake. The star of the team is Keith Benson, who already has the NBA’s attention. The redshirt senior is 6-foot-11, 230 pounds and plays inside at center and leads the team in most categories, including scoring (18.6 ppg), blocks (124), rebounds (10.1 rpg) and most surprisingly minutes played per game (32.2). He is the heart and soul of the team and everything goes through him. He is physical and long enough to handle the inside (evidenced by those blocks) and talented enough from the outside- he’s 9 of 22 from the 2-point line- to open up his game inside. The one thing he doesn’t do well is shoot free throws, but that isn’t anything to people following Texas basketball. He’s the real deal and will be a load inside for the Texas big men to handle.
On the wing they start Will Hudson and Drew Valentine, although the 6-foot-5 Valentine is more of a guard than a forward. At 6-foot-9, 235 pounds, the senior Hudson has center skills. He averages 12.5 points per game, 7.1 rebounds per game and has 33 blocks on the season. He is primarily a low block player (0-6 from the 3-point line) and shoots a solid 71% from the free throw line. Valentine, on the other hand, shoots 41% from outside the arc and will spot up as team pack down inside to defend Hudson and Benson. The guy that drives the bus is point guard Reggie Hamilton. At 5-foot-11, 175 pounds, the junior is the smallest guy on the court, but he’s second on the team in scoring at 17.4 points per game and leads the team with 5.4 assists per game. He’s a driver and a slasher, using his size and quickness to make things happen, whether a dish or a shot. Fellow guard Travis Bader leads all starters from behind the arc, shooting 45% and adding 10.5 points per game. They bring three guards off the bench in Ryan Bass, Larry Wright and Ledrick Eackles and they all share time and minutes spelling Hamilton, Valentine and Bader, but only 7-footer Ilija Milutinovic comes off the bench to spell the big men. And he is the second best 3-point shooter on the team, shooting 45%. If you’re thinking Benson plays a lot because he doesn’t get into much foul trouble you’d be right as he averages just over three personal fouls per game.
Watch for Oakland to go right at Tristan Thompson, like Kansas did, and try to get him in early foul trouble. They will pull him outside with the shooting range of Benson. They want Hamilton to penetrate and get the Texas defense to collapse on him, opening shots up outside. They average 86 points per game and allow 76 points per game, so the quicker the pace the better it will be for them. So what happens?
I think they are going to run into a defense like they haven’t seen in a while. Texas will be fresh and a fresh Texas team is going to be as quick or quicker than anyone they have faced. You can’t practice playing against speed and that is going to affect them. They need to get rebounds and make shots and I see Texas slowing this game down with a zone defense and making them work for every basket. I think Texas wins a lower scoring game by wearing Oakland down. But to do that they are going to have to knock down some outside shots to win. I’m looking at you, Cory Joseph.
The Memphis/Arizona game should be entertaining as Josh Pastner is a former assistant and player with the Wildcats. This is not the Tiger team you remember from the John Calipari days. They have plenty of talent but very little experience and zero skins on the wall. A perennial Tourney team with Cal, the Tigers are back in the NCAA Tournament after missing last year, making this Pastner’s first post-season appearance. On the roster there are two juniors and one senior and the rest are freshmen and sophomores. Everyone wants to pick the 5/12 upset somewhere, but this isn’t one of those to me. The Tigers don’t have a real go-to guy with 10 players averaging double-digit minutes two more averaging five or more minutes. Freshman Will Barton is their leading scorer, averaging 12.3 points per game and fellow guard Joe Jackson and forwards Tarik Black and Wesley Witherspoon average nine points per game. With some many young players, the Tigers have been up and down this year, losing to Marshall, Rice and SMU yet winning the Conference USA Tournament. They will roll out a lot of athletes, but you just don’t know what you will get.
I think they will give Arizona a game and senior Will Coleman has the size to compete with Arizona’s big man (more on him in a second), but I think Arizona probably wins this by eight or so points and gets to round two. Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that Arizona gets in early foul trouble and Memphis gets by. What will that look like for Texas?
I think the Horns would dominate the Tigers because of their lack of overall size. They don’t have a proven center that can handle Tristan Thompson and they lack consistent scoring from the outside, and the Texas defense would be smothering like they have never seen. For all those reasons, Texas would likely be favored. And for all those same reasons, Arizona will likely beat Memphis.
The Wildcats won the Pac-10 regular season title and lost to Washington on a last second shot in the Pac-10 Tournament Championship. On the selection show, both Greg Anthony and Charles Barkley not only have Arizona beating Texas in round two, but have them making a deep run in March. The key to Wildcat success is big man Derrick Williams, the aforementioned Arizona big man. The 6-foot-8, 241-pound sophomore is the Pac-10 Player of the Year and a future lottery pick in the NBA. He averages 19.1 points per game, 8.1 rebounds per game, shoots 60% from the 3-point line and 74% from the free throw line. Just like Benson, he’s the real deal. He can create his own shot and on the defensive end does a great job of staying out of foul trouble. Everything Arizona does revolves around him, but as a team they can shoot well and play good defense. They shoot 40% from the 3-point line while holding their opponents to only 26%. They are very athletic, but not very big and hold only 3-rebound lead over their opponents per game (34.4-31.2). This team has only one senior on the roster and there could be some concern of nerves if the game gets tight. Like Memphis, they missed the NCAA Tourney last year, but they have all the talent to move out of this pod.
But so does Texas, which is why they are the higher seed. Williams is going to be a load and surely will get his points, but the lack of dominant rebounding from Arizona and the size Texas can bring off the bench makes me think Texas out-rebounds them and plays a very physical defensive game. Of course, once again the guards will need to make some outside shots for the Horns to get to the Sweet 16, but I think they will do that enough to get to the Sweet 16 and the next 4-team playoff.
What else did you think I was going to say?
From the Stands