NCAA Tournament and NBA Regular Season: A Good Friday of Hoops

Scott MilesSenior Analyst IJanuary 17, 2017

Following a largely stinker of a day of hoops to start the Madness, the NCAA Tournament roared back with a resounding day of play on Friday.

Just one game went right down to the wire on Thursday (Duke-Belmont). Records for futility were set (Kent State, Mississippi Valley State) and nearly set (Winthrop). The average margin of victory was 16. The only “upset” was Kansas State over USC, which I don’t consider to be an upset because they’re both big conference schools and I felt that KSU would prevail anyway.

Thankfully, today provided all the drama. Western Kentucky and Drake—Western Kentucky and Drake!?—played arguably one of the best games in NCAA Tournament history. Stephen Curry defeated Gonzaga—I mean, Davidson defeated Gonzaga, in yet another thriller.

And those upsets we were waiting for? Oh, they were there too. San Diego knocked off perennial power UConn, and just for good measure, Siena blew out Vanderbilt as the Number 13 seeds flexed some tournament muscle.

This has been an interesting tournament so far, to say the least. The teams I didn’t feel should get in, or at least were very borderline (Arizona, Baylor, Oregon, Saint Mary’s) all lost by at least seven points. Baylor gave up 90 points to freaking Purdue—I would have thought Purdue’s football team had a better shot of putting up 90 against an opponent before the basketball team would.

Arizona was competitive with West Virginia, as was Oregon with Mississippi State, but they never had the lead, or a chance at the lead, down the stretch. Miami (FL) totally wiped out St. Mary’s in the second half.

There were a couple of games in my bracket that really caught me off guard. I was really down on Oklahoma, even with my boy Jeff Capel running the ship, because I knew nothing about them except they got killed by Colorado (it’s my theory that a team that loses to the Buffs, i.e. Baylor, deserves no respect.) Also, I couldn’t name a Sooner hoopster since Kevin Bookout graduated – and where the heck is he right now? But they came out and really put it to St. Joe’s tonight, so hats off to the Sooners.

As I alluded to before, Winthrop laid a stinker in the second half against Washington State. The Eagles were battle-tested, having really impressed me in last year’s tourney (knocking off Notre Dame, playing a tough game against a better Oregon team) and I wasn’t surprised when they were tied at 29 with WSU at halftime yesterday. Then, the Eagles decided to try to match Kent State’s scoring output for a half and get blown out. Thanks for ruining that upset pick for me, Winthrop.

All right, enough tournament talk, let’s move on the National Basketball Association.

Actually, let’s just move on to LeBron. He became the Cavs’ all-time leading scorer, surpassing Brad Daugherty for that record and doing it in 168 fewer games – a little over two seasons worth. He finished with 29 tonight, including about four or five dunks that nearly caused Austin Carr to start crying.

(I think Fred McLeod wet himself on the halfcourt alley-oop from Delonte West, but I can neither confirm nor deny that.)

For good measure, LeBron added 12 rebounds and five assists. And he didn’t even get to the free throw line once, though he was not as aggressive attacking the basket as he normally is. He settled for wayyyy too many jumpers, especially in the third quarter when the Cavs as a team threw up enough bricks to rebuild the east side projects.

(I promised you guys I would use that joke once every two months, and there it is. Mark it down that on May 20, which I think is when the first round of the playoffs starts in the ridiculously long NBA season, that I will be pulling that joke out again.)

The fourth quarter was a different story, with LeBron doing whatever he wanted, amon Jones hitting some threes – I loved it. Did anyone see DJ celebrating after LeBron’s fastbreak dunk? He was in the corner in front of the Raptors bench, jumping up and down and flailing his arms like we just won the title.

And how about his flopping on the floor on the phantom foul? LeBron and everyone on the team was doubled over in laughter. What an acting job. How can you not like amon Jones?

(Oh, because he still can’t play a lick of defense. Well, other than that…)

But you know what I loved the most about this game? The defense and the energy, especially in the fourth quarter. The Cavs largely kept Bosh in check after the first quarter—a good decision to have Ben Wallace and Anderson Varejao pick him up as opposed to Z—and Jason Kapono really struggled, missing all three attempts from beyond the arc and scoring just six points as the Cavs D keyed on him on the perimeter and made him attack the basket.

On the new acquisition front, Wallace played pretty solid defense and did nothing on offense. In the 20 minutes he played, I honestly think he touched the ball four or five times, all but once behind the three-point arc. He officially did not attempt a shot and scored one point on a free throw. Yeah, sounds about right.

West and Wally Szczerbiak continue to try to find their roles on offense on this team. It largely comes down to their inabilities to shoot the ball. Both are shooting below 40 percent since joining the team, and Wally’s minutes in particular have been cut. West seems to force some shots from time to time, but he hasn’t been hitting the open ones that much either. Wally just can’t hit anything.

Joe Smith, whom I lauded as the key component to the trade, continues to shine. I’m telling you what, he does NOT miss open jumpers. He’s been unbelievable. How the heck does he keep bouncing around the league? Is there something we don’t know about him that we should? I’m actually like really paranoid there’s something wrong with him.

And how about Devin Brown, who had 14 points tonight and CARRIED the team in the second quarter? Thank God we didn’t get rid of him when we swapped out half of our team. Who knew he had this in him? I don’t think I’ve seen him make a bad decision on the court all year, and he’s scored at least eight points in 12 games since the trade. Not to mention he can rebound, dish out some assists, and play great defense. Devin Brown should definitely get some consideration for sixth man of the year, because he has been indispensable to this team.

OK, enough writing for tonight. I’m a big enough loser as it is to write over 1,000 words on basketball on a Friday night. Time to enjoy the conclusions of the final games of the night.