At the beginning of the tournament, a friend asked who I liked to win it all. I told him that I had no idea. In fact, there were several reasons. I just hadn’t seen enough games. I did, however, give him my run down of teams that I didn’t like — and it included Pittsburgh, Louisville and Connecticut. I had no idea that Michigan State was that nice…neither did Stanley Robinson.
After last night’s game, I understood how the Big East season unfolded. For the longest time, I couldn’t understand how Georgetown fell apart after beating Connecticut and other tough teams early in the season. The Big East was a league of very talented, but flawed teams. Louisville was really limited to two players and a bunch of gimmicks. Pitt remains the Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight. Syracuse fell in love with its press clippings and the 3 point shot. None of these teams were distinguished by their execution of the fundamentals of the game: on both sides of the ball. Enter last night’s Big 10 and ACC opponents. Two’s of the league’s better teams were thumped last night by traditional powers: the Tom Izzo era Michigan State Spartans and the North Carolina Tar Heels. UConn and Villanova lost for different reasons, but both went down in resounding fashion. (As an aside, the one team that I did like – Marquette – lost early in a game where point guard Dion James played with injury. They were unable to solve Missouri’s pressure and lost a close one.) I’m not suggesting the Big 10 and ACC were better leagues. Hardly. I am suggesting that their top teams (MSU and UNC) were stronger and more balanced than those playing in the Big East.
Thoughts on UConn:
- Connecticut played like a disjointed collection of players who were either thinking principally about their draft status OR were not sufficiently briefed on their opponent to impose their will.
- UConn missed too many free throws. I’m not going to look at the box score again. It was just atrocious. If they make their shots, they probably win the game.
- AJ Price shot a miserable 5-20 last night. Watching him play was like being in the movie, “Groundhog Day.” It was the same play over and over and over again. Price attacks the rim, gets by the initial defender, over-penetrates, gets stuck in traffic…then, either elevated and missed a shot or tried to pass. Invariably the shot was missed or the pass was tipped or simply taken out of his hands.
- Thabeet and Adrien did not take enough shots. Price was too busy jacking it up in the middle of a swarming defense.
- UConn panicked early and often. They played nervous in the first half and the second half.
- The players sense of urgency kicked in long before Jim Calhoun’s. UConn waited until there were about 2 minutes left in the game to start pressing State.
- From the time of Durrell Summers’ thunderous slam over Stanley Robinson until the 2 minute mark, Michigan State simply ran their offense and maintained what’s called “a nice working margin.”
- UConn went 7:54 without a field goal in the second half.
- If they’re able to offer scholarships next year, they should recruit a point guard with a mid-range game who knows when to pull up and drain the jumper.
- Aside from Price’s dreadful performance and the overall free throw shooting, Calhoun’s inability to shift on the fly cost his team. Izzo was dominant — and so were the Spartans.
Grown Ass Man in Search of MORE SHOTS
- I’ve never seen a team built like Villanova shoot that poorly with so many open looks.
- Early in the first half when UNC was building its first large lead, Nova’s offense was stifled because they were trying to run their offense through Dante Cunningham (while he posted on the block). Cunningham was being guarded by Tyler Hansbrough. That wasn’t the problem. The problem was that he was being surrounded by perimeter defenders dropping down into the lane. Jay Wright stayed with that approach too long.
- Villanova was trailing by 10 or 11 and had only scored about 12 points up to that point. Following a timeout, Wright moved Cunningham off the block and opened the middle for Scottie Reynolds, Fisher and Anderson. Villanova seemed to score on their next 6 of 7 possessions. They were in a nice rhythm…then Scottie Reynolds picked up his second foul defending Ty Lawson around the 8:30 mark in the first half. Villanova lost their offensive continuity and Carolina pulled away again.
- The Cats were resilient in the first half and made another run to get within 9 at the half. Villanova didn’t have the same quality of guard play they had a few years ago when Kyle Lowry and company took UNC to the limit.
- Dante Cunningham demonstrated his tremendous versatility on the offensive end, but it was no match for the depth of Carolina. Green, Ellington and Lawson were simply too much.
- I have to give the ‘Nova coaches credit for telling their interior defenders not to bother jumping with Tyler Hansbrough. “Psycho T” wasn’t able to elevate over the Villanova defenders and was unable to draw fouls on the planted opposition. He’s going to have a great deal of trouble at the next level unless he figures out new release points and ways to get his shot off.
Final Note: The better teams won. Carolina did not shoot particularly well. Frankly, this team was similarly constructed last year and had expectations of winning it all. Mario Chalmers and company upset the apple cart last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if Raymar Morgan and Kalin Lucas are able to do the same thing again this year. Ellington and Green will have to knock down perimeter shots on Monday. When they’re sharp, Carolina looks unbeatable. When they’re off, UNC has to worry about whether or not Hansbrough is getting his game stuffed down his grill.