Please rescue the Horns
Mar. 12, 2007 | feedback
We'll get to the March Madness predictions Tuesday. In the meantime, some awards from the weekend from someone who watched an insane amount of college basketball over the past four days.
Player of the weekend: Georgetown's Jeff Green, a silky-smooth 6-foot-8 forward who might be the best all-around player in college hoops. Green carried the Hoyas on Friday night against Notre Dame (30 points, 12 boards, 12-for-14 free throws, the game-clinching three-point play), then tossed up a 21-5 against an overmatched Pitt team in the finals. He's one of those Battier-like "glue guys" who can affect games without putting up huge numbers and always seems to be involved in the 2-3 biggest plays of the game. Two things to note here:
1. Originally, I left him off my Under-22 Olympic Team (still a work in progress) because the team already had enough size and I wanted more shooting, but after watching him in that Notre Dame game, I can't leave him off. That was the best performance in a college game I've watched this year that didn't involve the words "Kevin" or "Durant." And every Olympic team needs a glue guy. So I'm making room for him.
2. Chad Ford's latest Top 100 draft list has Green ranked 14th behind four other small forwards or shooting guards: Thaddeus Young (10), Al Thornton (11), Chase Budinger (12) and Corey Brewer (13). The next three weeks should shake out that group, but you could make a case for each of those guys getting that 10th spot. Young has the most raw talent. Thornton is already 23, which makes him the best bet to make an impact right away. Budinger is the most intriguing of the group, a phenomenal athlete with a sweet shooting stroke, almost like an evolutionary Brent Barry (and like Barry, he sucks on D). Brewer wins points because he has the most defined NBA position (he's a shooting guard with size), although he's my least favorite player in this group. And Green is the best all-around player and a winner. Needless to say, I like him the most out of that group.
(One other player who's growing on me: Kansas' Brandon Rush, another one of those glue guys who can affect games in a variety of ways. He did a great job on Durant in the second half Sunday, even though Texas could have neutralized his quickness by posting up Durant to take advantage of the height difference ... but Rick Barnes decided against it because it would have made too much sense.)
Funniest live shot: Danny Ainge sitting next to Durant's mother and grandmother during Saturday's Texas-Oklahoma State game with one of those "I swear, this was just a coincidence!" looks on his face. That was like a deleted scene from the "Blue Chips" DVD.
(By the way, instead of scouting top prospects and buttering up their families, Ainge should be back in Boston convincing Paul Pierce that it's OK to pretend he has plantar fasciitis for the next five weeks.)
Funniest random moment: The "ESPN GameDay" producers deciding it would be a good idea to have Karl Ravech and Rick Majerus step away from the desk so Majerus could describe how he'd defend Alando Tucker (played by Ravech) ... and Majerus running out of breath in about two seconds. Even Hugo Hurley is in better shape than Rick Majerus.
Dumbest idea: Right before the NBA playoffs, imagine if the NBA had the Eastern and Western conferences play tournaments at neutral sites, then LeBron and the Cavs ended up playing Friday night and Saturday afternoon, then capped things off with an overtime game on Sunday afternoon in the finals. And then we started the playoffs on Thursday. Everyone agrees that would be ridiculous, right?
Well, that's what happened to Texas this weekend. The Longhorns were a No. 3 seed in the Big 12 tournament and played the late game against Baylor on Friday night -- a game in which they trailed by 20 in the second half, then made a phenomenal comeback by pressing full court and riding Durant (24 of his 29 in the second half). Eighteen hours later, they were battling a backs-to-the-wall Oklahoma State team that needed a win to make the NCAA Tournament ... and they pulled out a hard-fought win on Durant's 3-pointer in the final minute. Less than 24 hours later, they jumped to a 19-point cushion against Kansas in the championship game before an exhausted Durant hit the wall and they blew the lead in about five seconds (ultimately losing the game in OT). So Texas ended up playing two hard-fought games AND an overtime game in the span of 42 hours.
And this makes sense ... how?
(Note: Don't even get me started about barely .500 NC State team winning three games in three days and turning themselves into a legitimate Cinderella story before running out of gas in the ACC finals against North Carolina. Four games in four days? That's acceptable? Why not stagger the games on Wednesday-Thursday and Saturday-Sunday? I feel like NC State could have taken UNC if the Wolfpack weren't dead in the first half. More importantly, we were robbed of a chance to see Sidney Lowe unleash his gigantic red sports coat on March Madness. Did he borrow that thing from Suge Knight or Cedric the Entertainer?)
Most annoying story: Tyler Hansbrough's broken-nose mask (or as I like to call it, "the Schnozzaroo"). Not even Jennifer Aniston's nose got this much attention in 2007.
Funniest exit stage right: To Duke for losing to NC State in the ACC quarterfinals ... and legitimately, I might add. Nice work, fellas. I can't wait to see Coach K fighting back tears during the tail end of the inevitable VCU loss on Thursday after Eric Maynor strips Greg Paulus for the game-clinching layup. It's gonna be great. I'm already giddy.
Best controversy that never ended up being a controversy: During the Kansas-Texas game, Kansas was up by three (63-60) with six minutes left in the second half. Mario Chalmers drove to the basket, made the hoop but got called for a charge on D.J. Augustin, who shot two free throws on the other end to apparently make it 63-62 ... only Chalmers' basket was counted as well. If you don't believe me, check out the play-by-play. Did the announcers mention this or explain it? Of course not. I'm still confused. And apparently, so are my readers, because I received 200 e-mails about it.
Most overrated conference: A tie between the Pac-10 and the Big Ten. So hard to choose between these two. When you're watching dozens of games over the course of five days, it's impossible not to notice the varying quality of play from game to game. For instance, I watched the Patriot League final on Friday and jumped right into the Oklahoma State/Texas A&M game ... it was like going from the "rookie" level to "All-Madden." There's just no comparison.
Anyway, watching all these games and comparing the conferences to one another, I don't see how anyone who knows anything about basketball could argue that the Pac-10 and Big Ten are better than the Big East, ACC or even the Big 12 (my vote for "most underrated conference"). UCLA, Oregon and Ohio State are all good. After that? It's a suckfest. I watched the USC-Stanford overtime game on Thursday night because I wanted to see Brook Lopez -- by the way, he needs between three and 15 more years of seasoning in college before I'm willing to accept him as a top-10 pick -- and found myself thinking, "Wow, this feels like a possible preview of the NIT finals ... and if that's the case, I think I'll be skipping the NIT finals."
So what happened? USC won the game, reached the Pac-10 finals and earned a 5-seed in the NCAAs; Stanford somehow cracked the NCAAs as a 11-seed with an 18-12 record; and if that's not enough, Washington State earned a 3-seed in the same regional where Texas received a 4-seed. ARE YOU KIDDING ME???? It will never happen because Washington State won't beat 2-seed Georgetown in a million years, but I sincerely hope Texas (15-to-1 odds to win the championship) and Washington State (40-to-1 odds) play in the regional finals, just so everyone in the Tournament Committee will feel like an idiot because the No. 4 seed is laying five points to the No. 3 seed. Well done, fellas.
As for the Big Ten, its second-best team (Wisconsin) isn't as good as Kansas, Texas or Texas A&M, and I wasn't even remotely impressed by Purdue (a No. 9 seed), Indiana (No. 7) or Illinois (No. 12), although I do think Michigan State (No. 11) has a chance to crack the Sweet 16 because of Tom Izzo and Drew Neitzel. Regardless, how did the Big Ten send six teams to the tournament when most of its games had the same disjointed, scrappy, uncomfortable flow of a woman's basketball game? Did you ever watch a Big Ten game that didn't involve OSU and think to yourself, "Wow, this is some high-caliber hoops!" Oklahoma State would have been the third-best team in that conference and it's headed to the NIT. Same for Kansas State. And Syracuse.
Final note: Anyone who toggled between the OSU-Wisconsin and Texas-Kansas games knows which conference was better this season. That Texas-Kansas game was the most hard-fought basketball game I've seen since the Heat-Mavs NBA Finals last June ... and Texas was running on fumes. Meanwhile, OSU and Wisconsin were having the basketball equivalent of a rock fight on CBS. Gimme a break. The Big Ten is awful. Don't say I didn't warn you.
Worst performance: A three-way tie between Duke, UCLA and the cable technician who hooked up an HD box to our bedroom TV on Saturday, couldn't get any of the channels to work and realized after an hour that the signal coming from our cable wire wasn't strong enough to get the box working, then decided that he needed to go under our house to fix the wire, only he had to go to another job, so he promised he'd return later in the afternoon. Did he return? Of course not. We never saw him again.
So to recap: He replaced our WORKING digital box with an HD box that did NOT work, never switched them back, left us without TV reception in our bedroom for two days for no real reason, inadvertently caused us to miss the two-hour season finale of "Maui Fever" and caused the Sports Gal to flip out to the point that her head actually did a 360 Sunday night when she realized that "Maui Fever" didn't record. I wouldn't even describe her phone call as "angry" to Time Warner today -- it was more like "homicidal." We've had more problems with the company over the past year than the Kings had with Ron Artest. You couldn't do a worse job. It's not possible. I'm spending the next four months trying to short its stock.
Best performance: Kevin Durant. I know, I know ... everything's been said. But you had to watch him for three straight games to truly appreciate what happened.
On Friday night, he started out 0-for-12 against Baylor, spotted Baylor a 20-point lead in the second half, then rallied Texas back by dropping 24 points, hitting every conceivable shot AND anchoring the front of the full-court press. He just wouldn't be denied. It was an MJ-esque performance. On Saturday, he sprung for 26 against a hungry Oklahoma State team and drained the deciding 3, which was significant because it came off an offensive rebound in the final minute and ruined Rick Barnes' quest to freeze out his best player for the last five minutes of the game. On Sunday, Durant destroyed Kansas in the first half (21 points in the first 13 minutes) before hitting the wall, then rallying at the three-minute mark with a game-saving offensive rebound and putback (with Texas down five), then a ridiculous three-point play when he got fouled on a jumper to tie the game. By the time OT rolled around, he was cooked.
Still, it's impossible to believe that this kid is 18 years old. He's the best college player I've ever seen. Ever. And while we're on the subject, Durant has that same MJ/Kobe-like quality in which he can start a game hot and get you immediately thinking, "Wow, he might score 60 right now, I wonder if I should alert my friends?"
(Note: This seems like a good time to mention that Texas nearly won the Big 12 tournament despite the fact that the Longhorns played three tough games in 42 hours; they have a coach who has no idea how to get his best player the ball; D.J. Augustin shot 8-for-33 in three games and made about 475 bad decisions; and A.J. Abrams shot 10-for-32 the last two games. When you can compete at a high level when you're not playing well, that's pretty good. Remember this when you're filling out your bracket this week.)
Best quest to fill up my e-mail box: To Rick Barnes, who generated more "what the hell is this guy doing?" e-mails than anyone in recent memory.
This was my favorite one, courtesy of Eric in Boston on Saturday: "As a favor to the Texas Longhorns' fan base, someone needs to do a public service announcement for the Texas AD letting him know that coach Barnes is KILLING their chances of winning a title. I just watched Barnes inexplicitly keep the ball out of Durant's hands the entire second half, and then on the big 3-pointer he hit at the end (note Durant only got the chance to shoot because it was a scramble for the loose ball) Barnes was telling him to pull back out and reset!!! Are you serious? This is one of the worst coaching jobs I have EVER seen. I am shaking with anger and I am not even a fan of Texas."
(OK, one more, courtesy of Adam in Indy: "With about 6 minutes left in the second half of the Texas-Kansas game it hit me. Rick Barnes is the Art Shell of college basketball. Blank stare ... check. Inability to react to flow of game ... check.")
Best jinx: To my friend Lewis, a diehard UCLA fan who asked me for help getting him Pac-10 championship game tickets last week (I had a connection), leading to an incriminating chain of e-mails with me, Lewis and my connection in which Lewis never wrote anything like, "By the way, I don't want you guys to think that I feel like UCLA is a mortal lock to make the finals, because I don't feel that way at all ... but if they do, I'd sure love to be there for the final game." So what happened? UCLA got bounced on Thursday and we made fun of him for the rest of the day for single-handedly altering the course of the Pac-10 tournament, culminating with Lewis writing, "I just puked in my office." I think he was serious. You have to love sports sometimes.
Best sign that the 2007 NBA Lottery is officially driving me crazy: When George Washington (Red Auerbach's alma mater) won its tournament and snuck into the NCAAs as an 11-seed, I wondered to a friend if we needed GW to make the Sweet 16, because that would mean Red was helping it out in the karma department, and if that was the case, he'd definitely help the Celts out with the ping-pong balls on May 22. Now I'm on the GW bandwagon so this sick scenario has a chance to play out. I need professional help.
Best quest to give me a heart attack: To Holy Cross for blowing an 18-point lead at home against Bucknell before squeaking out an eight-point win. I didn't even remotely enjoy the second half of this game and never want to discuss it again. At least we made it. But how far can we go? Can the Cross make the Sweet 16? Also, when will Rick Barnes finally kill Texas' season? Can the Pac-10 send more than one team to the Sweet 16? Other than dunking, is there a noticeable difference between a game involving two Big Ten schools and a high-caliber women's basketball game? What does the Sports Gal's bracket look like? How will Lewis jinx UCLA in the tournament? Who's the biggest sleeper of the double-digit seeds? Is Greg Oden alive? Was Florida playing possum all along? Can anyone beat Kansas?
We'll answer these questions Tuesday and Wednesday.