Feb. 13, 2007 | feedback
I watched three college games (Gonzaga-St. Mary's, Wisconsin-Iowa and Florida-Kentucky) and most of the Oregon-Arizona game on Saturday, as well as Texas-Oklahoma State and the second half of Santa Clara-Gonzaga Monday night. Thanks to the power of TiVo, you can zoom through commercials and free throws and bang out an entire game in 40-45 minutes. Anyway, Gonzaga beat St. Mary's and lost to Santa Clara; Wisconsin pulled away from Iowa in the last 10 minutes; Florida held off Kentucky in a subpar game; Arizona snuck past Oregon in a nailbiter; and Texas won by 29 at home.
Some random thoughts ...
• The Texas-Oklahoma State rematch was marred by the fact that the Cowboys took a two-hour dive on live TV. So far they've played 14 home games, six neutral site games and just five road games ... and they're 0-5 in the road games. That's embarrassing. They have two potential second rounders -- JamesOn Curry, the troubled guard who's been in college since the mid-'80s, and Mario Boggan, an undersized, 23-year-old power forward who lacks a definable NBA position (much like Alando Tucker). I don't see Curry making it, but Boggan intrigues me because the NBA has gotten faster/sleeker/smaller and there's an established track record of undersized power forwards getting playing time (Ryan Gomes, Craig Smith, Jason Maxiell, Luke Walton, etc.). That's the single best value you're going to find in the draft -- those guys always go 15-25 spots too late and always end up getting playing time.
Neither Boggan (16 points, 3 boards) or Curry (5-for-13, 12 points, no assists) helped their causes last night -- their team got annihilated by the Longhorns, who are finally figuring out how to make opponents pay for double-teaming Kevin Durant (they shot 56 percent last night and 8-for-15 on 3-pointers). The star of the night was D.J. Augustin, the freshman PG who played an absolutely brilliant game (19 points, 8 assists, 2 steals) and validated every Texas fan who e-mailed me last week to argue that I was dead-wrong about him. (Note: I wrote that he was too out of control and too inexperienced to get Durant the ball in the right spots.) Hey, when he plays under control like he did last night, he's an absolute stud. There's no question. As crazy as this sounds, Augustin will probably determine their March Madness destiny more than Durant; if he gives them two great weeks, they can beat anybody.
As for Durant, he played a sloppy game for the first 25 minutes, had trouble getting the ball within 20 feet of the basket (in his defense, it's tough to get the ball when your coach doesn't run plays, high screens or picks) and wasn't rebounding at all ... and then, out of nowhere, he totally took over the game. With Texas leading by nine at the 13:30 mark, Durant scored 11 of the next 15 points, controlled the boards and extended the lead to 17. Ball game. Somehow, he ended up with 21 points and 12 rebounds. Over everything else, that's what makes Durant special -- great players take over games for extended stretches, almost like how players caught fire and changed colors in the old "NBA Jam" arcade games. That's what he does, and that's what makes him different than every other player in college hoops. Yes, I still have him ranked above Greg Oden.
• I have a new favorite player: Chase Budinger, the Arizona freshman best described as a taller Thunder Dan Majerle with a 45-inch vertical leap. By the way, that's an estimate -- he might have a 55-inch vertical leap. Hell, it might be 70 inches. But he shoots 3s, fills the lane, jumps over everybody, even has red hair and one of those chin goatee thingies. Just an electric player. He might be the most exciting white guy since ... I don't even know. Was Majerle even that exciting? Tom Chambers? I'd have to go all the way back to the great Paul Westphal.
Everyone made a big fuss about him in the preseason because he's also a world-class volleyball player, so it's not like I hadn't heard about him before ... but I wasn't prepared to see him tear apart Oregon (30 points, 10 boards) and carry himself with a "you guys suck, I'm the best player on the court" demeanor. He almost reminds me of one of those sneering California skateboarders who hang outside banks, ride railings of the outside staircases and terrify the customers as they're trying to head inside. In real life? I hate those kids. In basketball? I want them carrying themselves like that. Anyway, I was really impressed -- he's a sure thing. I'd rank him fourth for the draft behind Durant, Oden and Noah, assuming he comes out (which he probably won't).
• Speaking of Noah, I love how his draft stock dropped because he stuck around for an extra season and everyone started picking him apart. Um, didn't we learn from the Chris Paul debacle? Right now, he's ranked fourth behind Brandan Wright on just about everyone's board (with one notable exception: the underrated Jonathan Givony of draftexpress.com, who has Noah ranked third AND Durant ranked above Oden); I could see him sliding to fifth or sixth as everyone talks themselves into Al Horford and Julian Wright because of the whole "upppppppside" thing. Meanwhile, he's even better than he was last season -- if you applied my Table Test to him, he's still one of those guys who brings X amount of things to the table and takes absolutely nothing off it, and he'll be better as a pro when he's playing with better teammates. He's a winner, he's always in the right place at the right time, he always makes the right decision on either end, he doesn't care about stats, he's immensely fun to play with and he makes 5-6 important plays per game that will not be reflected in the stats.
One silver lining: Because he's playing on a deep team and everyone keeps picking his game apart, he's definitely dropping out of the top three and possibly the top four. Well, Phoenix owns Atlanta's pick as long as it's not in the top three; I guarantee they're salivating over the chance that (A) that pick will be in the 4-to-6 range, and (B) Noah could fall to them. Can you imagine a better fit for Phoenix's frontcourt than Joakim Noah? Let's say they drafted him, and let's say they moved the other two first-rounders and maybe even Boris Diaw for a shooter (someone like Rashard Lewis or Mike Miller). Imagine a front seven of Nash, Stoudemire, Marion, Lewis/Miller, Bell, Noah and Barbosa? That's a 70-win team if everyone stays healthy.
(By the way, if anyone in Phoenix's front office is reading this right now, they're probably screaming, "Shut up! Shut the hell up! Dammit! He's ruining everything!")
• The Florida-Kentucky game was totally disappointing. Noah and Horford battled foul trouble the whole game; Kentucky couldn't hit anything from outside (3-for-22 from three!); and the only players who acquitted themselves well were Chris Richard (some huge minutes in Noah/Horford's place), Randolph Morris (kept Kentucky alive in the second half), Corey Brewer (Florida's slashing swingman who always seems to make 2-3 big plays down the stretch) and Ramel Bradley (Kentucky's point guard). Just an ugly game. I hate the five-foul rule because it's too much of an X-factor (especially during March Madness); for instance, Noah and Horford played 42 minutes combined against Kentucky. That's just stupid. It's the single dumbest rule in college hoops. I'd change it to a six-foul DQ with a catch -- if you commit a fifth foul, the other team gets to shoot two technical free throws as well.
Three other highlights from the game:
1. During the pregame show, they ran a pseudo-"Cribs" feature during which Andy Katz (wearing a sweater out of the Eric Mangini collection) visited the five-room suite where Florida's four juniors live (Noah, Horford, Brewer and Taurean Green). Strangely riveting, not just for the posters (Bob Marley, 2Pac, etc.), the decorations (Noah had his dad's French Rolling Stone cover on the wall) and the video game setup (a tiny room where Brewer admitted that he plays constantly), but because of the way Katz had a nervous smile on his face the whole time best interpreted as either, "I hope these guys hid everything" or "I hope we don't see any torn condom wrappers." When I'm running ESPN8, this will be a half-hour show every week: "Andy Katz's College Cribs."
2. We were blessed with the presence of Erin Andrews for this game, and if that wasn't enough, they showed footage of Erin during her days as a "Florida Dazzler" (the name for Florida's cheerleaders) from 1996-2000. I feel like you need to know these things.
3. On the "We Might Need To Throw Some Water On Him" scale, Dickie V was about an 8.5 for this game. That's when I realized that the single most underrated play-by-play guy in any sport is ESPN's Dan Shulman, who's morphed into the modern-day Pat Summerall, one of those nuts-and-bolts guys who never overpowers the game, never suffocates you with information and says everything as concisely as possible. And sure, he doesn't have much of a choice because Dickie V is talking 90 percent of the time and apparently doesn't need to breathe, but still ... it's hard to imagine anyone doing a better job announcing a game with Dickie V.
• As for the Iowa-Wisconsin game, I spent most of the time studying Alando Tucker, the "Player of the Year" candidate and divisive draft prospect who projects as a tweener for the pros and loses points because he's already 23 years old. Of course, I liked him -- he's an inside-outside scorer with a power-post game and great hands around the basket, one of those guys who will always get his 20-25 in college even if he's shooting like crap. Reminds me of Bonzi Wells, only without the police record. I'm sure he'll go about 20 spots too late in the draft, one of the smarter teams will draft him (like Phoenix, Dallas or San Antonio) and figure out how to take advantage of his offense while minimizing his defensive deficiencies (he's too small to defend 2-guards and doesn't have the height to handle forwards). Maybe he doesn't make much sense as a pro, but when you watch him in college, he doesn't make much sense either. My first impression was that he's a gamer and a winner ... but I need to see him a few more times to be sure. I was confused by Wisconsin in general. That's a 23-2 team? Really?
(By the way, as you get psychologically prepared for all the annoying March Madness subplots, make sure you're ready for the 10,000 inevitable cuts to Alando's mom in the stands. She's animated, she's loud and she can't be more than seven years older than him. Every network will make sure you will be tired of her by Round 2. We might have to kidnap her before the tournament, just to be safe.)
• As for Iowa, they have a lanky freshman named Tyler Smith that I liked. He's a little undersized for a forward but beats people off the dribble, creates shots for teammates and makes things happen on D. Plays above the rim, too. Interesting player. But the biggest shocker for me was that Steve Alford couldn't get a clothing deal this year -- he wore a dark Iowa rubgy shirt with matching sweat pants. He looked like a divorced dad who was picking up his son at his ex-wife's house and taking him to the dog track.
• Another fun running subplot this season: If you ever wanted to know what Private Pyle would have looked like 35 years later had he not taken his own life, check out Rick Majerus. When they cut to him during halftime of the Wisconsin game, I kept expecting him to refer to his play-by-play guy as "Joker."
• Only saw the highlights of the West Virginia-UCLA upset but couldn't help but notice WVU's disorienting yellow uniforms and how they blended in with the creepy yellow-and-blue court. How does any road team play well there? No wonder UCLA lost. Just watching those highlights gave me a headache -- I felt like I was shrooming with Josh Heytvelt and Theo Davis. The NCAA might have to step in there.
• Why did I watch two Gonzaga games in three days? Well, Gonzaga was the major story of the week since two of its players (Heytvelt and Davis) were suspended for getting caught in their car with pot and shrooms. (In their defense, they're going to college in the state of Washington. What else are you going to do? I think they should throw the case out.) Also, I became a WCC pseudo-junkie while preparing for my two ESPNU broadcasts (both WCC games); as I studied tape, I was shocked to discover that (A) Gonzaga wasn't that good, and (B) the conference seemed to be wide open.
Four weeks later? Not as wide open. The potential sleepers in the conference (St. Mary's and San Diego) couldn't get any momentum going, leaving Santa Clara as Gonzaga's only real threat. I wasn't sold on the Zags even before the pot/shrooms thing -- one of their best shooters (David Pendergraft) has flaming red hair, their best scorer (Derek Raivio, a skinny freelancer who makes jumpers from crazy angles) looks like Christian Bale in "The Machinist," and another starting guard (Matt Bouldin) looks like he bought Dan Dickau's old afro on eBay. I don't think they have a potential NBA player on the roster (not even Jeremy Pargo, a 6-2 athlete who does a little bit of everything). So when Santa Clara ended Gonzaga's 50-game home winning streak, it wasn't all that shocking because the Zags have no inside scoring without Heytfelt, so if they go cold for a prolonged stretch, anybody can beat them (something to remember for the WCC tournament in three weeks).
But here's what WAS shocking: Have you seen Santa Clara yet????
First of all, nobody on the team averages more than 10 points a game and they're 19-7. (Seriously. You can look it up.) Second, they threw a whitewash at Gonzaga for the entire second half. (At one point, I was half-asleep and mistakenly thought I was watching Brunswick School battling Rye Country Day in the Fairchester League playoffs.) And third, their two slash-and-kick guards (Brody Angley and Danny Pariseau) look like they're on hiatus from "Maui Fever." Still, they're one of those whole-exceeds-the-sum-of-the-parts teams that could definitely steal the WCC bid next month, then pull off one of those crazy "15-seed over the 2-seed" upsets in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament when CBS shows their bench jumping up and down like little kids at least 200 times. Don't say I didn't warn you.