Sunday, March 22, 2009

Second Round Thoughts

My friend, Josh, bought two tickets off of eBay on Friday night for the Saturday games in Portland, OR. He’s a UW fan and he and his dad wanted to see them trounce Purdue and step into the Sweet Sixteen. Evidently, Purdue JuJuan Johnson had other plans and now UW is heading home. He did get his money’s worth though because he saw two of the best possible games the NCAA Tournament can feature and were literally decided in the final seconds.

Some thoughts on the two games:

UW v. Purdue
Evidently Purdue plays good defense. I didn’t see them play all year, but when I read descriptions of the squad, they sounded a lot like Washington State. This was not a lazy team. They pressure the ball relentlessly, and may not get a lot of steals, but they limit penetration and contest shots. They are an incredibly active team that chases down rebounds. While some rebounds they got were purely serendipitous, even round balls bounce funny sometimes, they put themselves in position to grab loose balls and UW could not secure easy boards after misses. It was sickening to watch UW get stop after stop, then misjudge the ball, and watch it land in a Purdue player’s hands for an easy layup or jumper. For a team like UW that rebounds the hell out of the ball, this was disheartening, and this is where the game was lost. If Purdue doesn’t get those second chances, the game is not close, but they did, and UW lost.

There were several other things contributing to the loss, however, such as the inability to know when to take good shots (Pondexter’s turnaround at the end of the game when all of his success came from driving to the hoop) or to take any shots at all (Dentmon continued his bizarre passivity by shooting only 8 times this game and pump-faking and passing approximately 30 times). They were unable to stop JuJuan Johnson from being awesome, they guy made some very tough shots and grabbed key rebounds to keep possessions alive. I admired his game, he was huge. Elston Turner not taking open threes. He took, and made, one, but then passed on another. Instead of taking that wide-open shot, he pumped and dribbled in for a baseline floater. I’m not a fan of gunners, but he’s the best shooter they have and it’s actually more selfish of him to not take that three because it hurts the team. It’s a minor thing, but as it turns out a pile of minor things equals going home instead of going to the Sweet Sixteen. He’s young, though, as are many key contributors on this team, so their future looks bright—although I do have concerns as I’ll describe below.

Now some good things… Brockman played a nearly perfect game for him. He did not force things offensively. He bullied anyone and everyone. He took and made layins. I love the way he played and I shudder a bit when I think of the team next year without him. As much as I’ve urinated on his offensive (scoring) game, his ability to go balls-to-the wall is something that will be hard, probably impossible, to replicate. I’m not the least bit convinced that MBA will be able to do this. He’s not tough enough (but who is?) right now and doesn’t seem to have that same drive (but who does?). I guess he’s talented, but he does not seem comfortable or in control of his body yet. The only hope is that Tyreese Breshers will be a similar type of player.

Isaiah Thomas was fantastic. He played with the type of fire and urgency that the team needed. He was fearless the way he kept penetrating and either scoring, getting fouled, or dishing to Brockman. I loved the way he played, even if he did miss some free throws. I’m shocked that his final layin attempt failed, it was the right play, but it just didn’t drop.

Great season by UW, but it’s a damn shame that they’re going home.

Gonzaga v. Western Kentucky
My friend Joel is a huge Gonzaga fan so when I called him during the game to tell him how much I loved Matt Bouldin’s game, here’s what he said: “I have a mancrush on him, he’s my favorite player in college basketball.” I can see why. I’ve watched him intently these last two games and a few things are clear:
  1. he’s a big, strong, guy
  2. he’s got tremendous court vision
  3. he’s aggressive when the game calls for him to be aggressive
  4. he has a good-looking jumper
  5. he’s not quick or fast, but he's savvy
  6. he’s decent on defense, but somewhat disinterested (looks like he sags off of his guys a bit too much when the ball is on the other side of the court)
  7. he is definitely an NBA player.

Joel and I talked about the possibility of him playing point guard in the NBA and it seems like a real possibility to me. At 6’5 225 he’s a much bigger, much better version of Steve Blake, who happens to be starting for the playoff-bound Blazers and playing over 30 minutes a game.

We also talked about Austin Daye, of course, and Joel compared his game to Dirk Nowitski, which is probably accurate from a skillset perspective, but a more apt comparison and a guy whose game he really emulates is Mehmet Okur. Now, Okur has about 70 lbs on Daye, but they play the same. Okur is perimeter-oriented, 6’11, and slow footed. This is Austin Daye. The comment that he's a "guard" are ridiculous. He's way, way, way too slow to guard any decent 2 or even a 3.

The game itself was one of the best I’ve ever seen. These two teams shot the damn lights out. Both teams shot over 50% from the field and over 42% from beyond the arc. Amazing. The game was extremely close throughout and neither team could gain a significant advantage.

Orlando Mendez-Valdez and A.J. Slaughter were in such a zone they were communicating with animals, existing and extinct. They were supernatural and would not let their team down. They could have beaten any team yesterday, Gonzaga was just able to hang on and make a great play at the end.

When Gonzaga plays UNC they need, absolutely need, to get the ball to Heytvelt so that he can take Tyler Hansbrough's virginity; this matchup, friends, is a mismatch in size and talent. Heytveldt is such a superior player and it’s the smart move to get the ball to him.

Here are a few random thoughts about Wisconsin. That is a gross team. As much as I can figure, it seems like their “offense” is this: pass the ball around the court. Pump fake. Pass some more. Take a crappy three with five seconds on the shot clock. They shoot 36% from three, so I guess it’s not such a terrible way to play, but I’d rather rub a cheese grater on my face than sit through another game with those guys in it again. Keep them off of my screen, CBS.

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