Hello and welcome to the first "Musings" of 2009! This column has resolved to be more entertaining and more informative than ever before. It would also like to lose some weight. The New Year's diet starts when we feel like it.
Random thoughts after this week's games
-Kalin Lucas has found his jump shot. This is bad news if you’re in the Big 10.
-Gonzaga and Louisville were officially WAY overrated at the beginning of the season. Is St. Mary’s now the favorite to win the WCC? Is Louisville now the favorite to win the NIT? If either one of those teams is ranked this week, we can safely assume the AP votes drunk.
-I’m man enough to admit when I’m wrong. Pitt, I’m sorry I doubted you. It was a convincing win over an excellent Georgetown team and I promise not to doubt you again until Jan. 19, when you play Syracuse.
-Michigan cannot win when Manny Harris doesn’t bother to show up. Anybody wishing to beat Michigan this season should watch tape of Wisconsin for tips.
-How about those Fighting Illini? They’re suddenly in the mix in the Big 10 thanks to impressive wins over Mizzou and Purdue.
-Ohio State is not a tournament team without David Lighty. Buckeyes fans need to hope for a speedy recovery.
-This week’s reason why you can’t trust the Big Ten network: While watching the Michigan State-Northwestern clash, the scoreboard graphic repeatedly either gave credit to the wrong team for a basket, or didn’t give anybody credit for a basket until well into the next possession.
How hard is it to do even a decent job of broadcasting a basketball game? All you need is a score and announcers who aren’t complete idiots. The BTN hasn’t figured this out yet.
-I can’t remember the last good team that St. John’s beat before taking down Notre Dame this past week. I’d sure like to see them return to relevance.
-ESPN is doing an “announcer swap” on Wednesday night. Their usual NBA crew will cover Davidson vs. Duke, while Dick Vitale and Co. will be shouting incoherently about Michael Beasley. They should’ve done something like “Wife Swap” and trade Vitale straight up for Mike Tirico. I’d love to see how he and Van Gundy co-exist.
-BYU’s big home winning streak went down, and it was very close. That’s a very impressive streak these days, and it took a top 10 team in Wake Forest to end it. BYU isn't nearly as good as they were when Danny Ainge roamed the court, but nobody wants to play them at their house.
-I heard an analyst say yesterday, "Kansas knows they're in the tournament. They're just trying to figure out rotations." Really? A Kansas team with only one notable win is already guaranteed a tournament bid? They may as well just rest their starters for the rest of the season so they're fresh for March. Listen, nobody is guaranteed anything. Remember a couple of years ago when Clemson started something like 85-0 and ended up in the NIT?
-Remember when Cincinnati was good? Oof.
-This week's reason why you can't trust CBS: Their "player of the game" graphic at the end of the Louisville-Kentucky game said that Patrick Patterson had 22 points on 15 field goals. I'm not great with numbers, but that seems a little off to me...
A closer look at...The Bluegrass State
This is a game that I grew up loving. I spent my early years in Lexington during the Rick Pitino era, and have continued following Kentucky pretty much obsessively. Louisville also gained a special place in my heart once they hired Pitino, but they could never hope to take the Wildcats’ place.
The matchup I’m most interested in today is Patrick Patterson vs. Samardo Samuels. Samuels has been a disappointment so far, but the Kentucky guards might help him out by ignoring Patterson completely. It’s happened before…anyway, if Patterson has a big night, it’s going to be a big loss for the Cardinals.
This is one of the more underrated rivalries in college hoops. Kentucky is a state that loves its basketball and when you’re growing up, you’ve got to pick a side. It’s Cardinal Red vs. Wildcat Blue and nothing in between.
Louisville has come out of the gates determined to make amends for some recent poor performances. They’re making attempts to get to the basket and are coming up with layups and fouls.
The trademark Rick Pitino defensive pressure is also causing a lot of problems for the Wildcats. If Louisville has a positive turnover margin, they’ll probably win. Kentucky doesn’t have the weapons necessary to make up for lost possessions.
Six minutes into the game, Kentucky has seven turnovers. I’m no mathematician, but I think that puts them on pace for well over 42 turnovers for the game. They could hit the half-century mark if this goes to overtime. Adolph Rupp must be rolling over in his grave.
Jodie Meeks is making Louisville pay for giving him room to shoot. Granted, it’s a small sliver of daylight about 24 feet from the basket, but you’ve got to guard him anywhere within 30 feet. He’s reminding me a lot of Tony Delk right now except, you know, without the amazing supporting cast.
As badly as UK has executed in the first half, it’s still a close game, which should tell you something about Louisville. They’re just…not up to their usual standards. A better team, like UNC, would have taken advantage of Kentucky’s crapfest and put the game out of reach already.
For my halftime entertainment: Bret Michaels (of Poison fame) tells me that the greatest hard rock song of all time is Guns n’ Roses’ “Welcome to the Jungle.” No way, gotta be “Bohemian Rhapsody,” which wasn’t even mentioned. Freddie Mercury > Axl Rose.
The second half begins with Kentucky still having worlds of trouble with the Pitino press. The Wildcats aren’t moving the ball quickly enough to effectively break the trap. If they can start passing better, they’ll be able to get some easy baskets on the fast break and force Louisville to back off a little bit.
Kentucky has now started to heat up. They’re running the floor, Patrick Patterson is crashing the boards, and Rick Pitino is forced to call a timeout in the midst of a 6-0 Wildcat run. This is much, much better. This is what Kentucky fans want to see ALL THE TIME.
Both teams are playing better in the second half. Kentucky is starting to play pretty good defense and knock down some shots, which is putting all kinds of pressure on Louisville to perform.
The ‘Cats need to start getting the ball to Patterson as often as possible if they hope to come back and win this game. He’s their surest bet to score points right now, Louisville doesn’t have anybody that can handle him.
It’s official, turnovers could completely kill Kentucky’s season. They’re not going to beat anybody of note unless they can take care of the basketball. Just like the US would never beat anybody if the government didn’t take care of Jack Bauer.
Despite the turnovers, Kentucky has made this quite the entertaining game at the end. Two straight steals on Louisville inbounds plays allowed Kentucky to tie it at 71, but then Edgar Sosa launched from about 26 feet with 2.5 seconds left to beat the Wildcats.
Louisville almost paid dearly for allowing Kentucky to hang around but instead managed to finish it in dramatic fashion. I guess it's better to be lucky for one possession than it is to play 40 minutes of great basketball.
Spotlight on...The MAAC
In this week's column, we're finally taking a look at some mid-majors. My guest this week is B/R's resident MAAC expert, Ari Kramer.
Joe Guarr: How did you become a fan of the Jaspers?
Ari Kramer: Manhattan is within walking distance from where I live. I used to watch them when they were on TV during the conference tournament and NCAA Tournament, but I didn't become a dedicated fan until Bobby Gonzalez's last year. My friend invited me to go with him to a game against Marist, the Jaspers won, I had fun, and kept going back to Draddy.
JG: Siena pulled off an impressive upset in March last season, beating Villanova by 21. With all the recent successful runs of mid-major teams, why do bigger schools still tend to overlook them at times?
AK: It doesn't make sense to me. I guess that the guys at Big East or Pac-10 schools think they are better because they are not playing for Fran McCaffery at Siena or Bob McKillop at Davidson.
Mid-majors don't always have tough schedules like high-profile teams have, so when they run into a Top 25 opponent, they want to take advantage of the opportunity.
JG: Niagra and Manhattan are two other MAAC schools that have had some recent success in March (I'm proud to say that, thanks to the Luis Flores bandwagon, I picked Manhattan to beat Florida in 2004.) What are these schools doing that allows them to be competitive with the big boys?
AK: It's all about the coach. The way he recruits, teaches, and handles game situations can make or break a team. For Manhattan, this was evident when Barry Rohrssen took over after Bobby Gonzalez signed with Seton Hall.
Gonzalez was a relentless recruiter, developed his recruits, brought energy to the sideline, and made his players want to win. Rohrssen is a reputable recruiter, but he is not a good coach and that is why Manhattan has struggled during the last three seasons.
Joe Mihalich of Niagara has consistently brought in talent. Not only is he able to recruit players, but he was also able to bring in two solid transfers from Big East schools.
Rob Garrison from UConn and Bilal Benn from Nova were eligible to play at the start of 2008-09. Just from watching Mihalich interact with his players during the game, you can tell that the players have good relationships with their coach.
JG: What's your favorite college basketball memory?
AK: I have a lot, but I feel compelled to tell you about a game I attended. In Bobby Gonzalez's last season at Manhattan, the Jaspers were tied for first with Iona going into the last game of the season.
Back then, finishing in first place in the MAAC resulted in a bye to the conference semifinals, which left the regular season champ with a huge advantage. Conveniently, the final game of 2005-06 featured the Jaspers and the Gaels at Draddy Gym.
The place was packed, the environment was intense, and the game went down to the wire. In the end, Jason Wingate sunk a few foul shots and Manhattan won 78-74.
Unfortunately, the Jaspers lost to Keekee Clark and St. Peter's in the semis. However, they upset Maryland in the NIT.
JG: Let's get some predictions. Who wins the MAAC this season?
AK: It's going to come down to the last week of MAAC play. I like Niagara and Siena for the title. Fairfield can also compete (they lost by six at Siena last week). I've been vacillating lately between Niagara and Siena, but I think I have to say Niagara wins it.
JG: Who's the darkhorse in the MAAC?
AK: Fairfield. They got hot last year and have all their players back. They may be the toughest home team in the MAAC.
AK: I'm personally disappointed in the Jaspers. They have been very streaky, but have the potential to upend the likes of Niagara and Siena.
JG: All-MAAC team?
AK: As of now: Tyrone Lewis, Ryan Thompson, Jon Han, Edwin Ubiles, Alex Franklin. At the end: Tyrone Lewis, Ryan Thompson, Kenny Hasbrouck, Edwin Ubiles, Alex Franklin
JG: Player of the year?
AK: Tyrone Lewis.
JG: Lastly, are there any mid-major schools from across the country (not necessarily just the MAAC) that you can see being able to pull off an upset or two this March?
AK: I like VCU with Eric Maynor and Larry Sanders. North Dakota State and VMI are high scoring teams and if they are on, they will be able to catch their opponents by surprise.
Many thanks to Ari for helping out this week. Remember, if you'd like to share your thoughts on a team or conference, drop a note on my bulletin board and I'll give you the details. It's about time that somebody from Big XII country got their voice heard in this column *cough*
New Year's Resolutions
This being the first 'Musings' of 2009, it's only fitting that we share some college basketball resolutions.
Eric Devendorf: I promise to behave and lead Syracuse deep into the NCAA’s.
Raymar Morgan: I promise to not act like somebody has just killed my puppy every time a call goes against me.
Michigan Wolverines: We promise to make the tourney for the first time in ages.
The media: We promise to think and act rationally. We’ve learned from USC during football season, and we’ve decided to wait and see if UNC actually wins a title before tossing them into a conversation about the greatest teams of all-time.
Mike Brey: I’ll think about wearing a collared shirt and a tie. No promises though, I quite like the beat poet look.
The fans: We promise to realize that our criticism of Tyler Hansbrough as a future NBA bust is our way of making ourselves feel better about him kicking our team’s butt in college.
Gonzaga: We’ll do better in 2009.
Minnesota: We promise to not end up like the football team.
What I'm watching this week
Georgetown's third straight game against top ten opposition. They take on Notre Dame on Monday night. 2-1 over this stretch would be very respectable. It will be power vs. finesse when Luke Harangody and Greg Monroe meet.
For the first time ever, a Michigan State team has opened up conference play with two straight road wins. They'll be at home for the first time since last year (Dec. 17) when Ohio State rolls into town on Tuesday. Can the Spartans get off to a hot start and claim the inside track to a conference title?
Immediately following the battle in the Big 10 is Texas vs. Arkansas. Arkansas already has one upset over a highly-ranked Big XII opponent and will hope to add another.
Two big games on Wednesday as well. First, Davidson rolls into Cameron Indoor. This game will be sans-Dick Vitale, so it should be all right to watch. Oh, and Steph Curry is pretty good, too.
Following that is Gonzaga and Tennessee, a rematch from November's Old Spice Classic. This game has lost a little bit of luster thanks to recent results though.
On Saturday, Michigan State is involved in their second big game of the week when Kansas comes to the Breslin Center.
Most of the students should be back from winter break and things will be noisy. Kansas loses, but it's okay because they've already been guaranteed a tournament berth, apparently.
And lastly, on Sunday, it's your patriotic duty to watch the season premiere of "24." Jack Bauer will hunt you down if you don't.
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