Daily Archives: March 23, 2008

‘Curry’ing favor in the NCAA Tournament

Could Davidson be the next George Mason, or maybe, just maybe, the next Villanova ’85?

As long as Stephen Curry is around, there’s no reason why not. Who’s going to be brave enough to tell the kid who was passed over by every big program in the area in which he grew up that he can’t get the job done now?

Much like he did to lift the Wildcats over Gonzaga in the first round, scoring 30 of his tournament-high 40 points in the second half, Curry hoisted Davidson and legions of underdog fans everywhere onto his slight shoulders and beat Georgetown by scoring 25 of his 30 points in another brilliant scoring binge.

Curry was doing nothing — absolutely nothing — for about the first 30 minutes of the game until he was fouled while shooting a 3 midway through the half. He buried the shot and then the harm that went with it, and the four-point play further trimmed what had been a 17-point deficit to 11. The rally was on.

Curry did everything again, scoring from behind the arc — his ill-advised but perfect bomb from well beyond the top of the key with a hand in his face brought the house down — and his dazzing, silky slices through the lane for tough reverse layups made turned a rally into a lead. The Hoyas were stunned and had no answer, allowing the once-snubbed recruit-turned-second Team All-American to slip between double teams to get the inbounds pass even though Georgetown had to foul, helplessly putting an 89 percent foul shooter on the line.

Yes, a brutish Wisconsin awaits and a track team in Kansas looms ahead. But Mason beat North Carolina and UConn on the way to the Final Four two short years ago.

Don’t say it can’t happen. Especially when it already has.

The most impressive team through two rounds of the tournament?

That would be the North Carolina Tar Heels.

UNC scored on 15 of its first 16 possessions against Arkansas, romping to a 22-point lead by the 11-minute mark of the first half. The Heels scored more than 100 points for the second time in the tournament and were never threatened, getting their scrubs more than 3 minutes of garbage time in the NCAA tournament again. What other team can make that claim?

The thing about UNC is that it’s beginning to look like Ty Lawson is back to full speed. While the opposition hasn’t been great — though the Hogs had been playing pretty well coming in — North Carolina is getting better looks at the basket than it has all season, and a lot that has to do with Lawson breaking defenses down. Tyler Hansbrough continues to be a beast and Deon Thompson showed flashes of what he could be every single night by the time he’s a senior.

A dominating performance.

If Georgetown behemoth Roy Hibbert didn’t do serious damage to his NBA draft status, there’s no hope for the scouting profession. His six-point, five-foul performance in a game he should have dominated from start to finish was embarrassing. Woe the NBA team sucked in by Hibbert.

Butler proved to be the tough out everyone envisioned it would be, taking Tennessee to overtime before faltering down the stretch. What a shame the Bulldogs had to be saddled with a No. 7 seed and a second-round matchup against a team that only a few weeks ago was ranked No. 1 in the country.

Tennessee won another in what is becoming a lengthening line of ugly winning performances. But what guts they showed in turning back Butler, and what cojones Vols coach Bruce Pearl showed on a couple of play calls with under a minute to go in overtime.

Miami again did the ACC proud, playing with a much better Texas team throughout. Frank Haith is definitely building something down there.

Congrats to Western Kentucky. Enjoy Kevin Love, Darren Collison and Co.

Louisville just dusted a solid defensive team in Oklahoma. The Cardinals look like they may well be the Heels’ biggest threat in the East right now, though Washington State could be a potential trap game.

Memphis just keeps finding a way, but it did a poor job of holding onto leads against Mississippi State. Poor foul shooting will doom Memphis.

Villanova looked a lot better against Siena than it did in its win over Clemson in the first round. The Tigers obviously had something to do with that, though I’m sure that’s small consolation to Oliver Purnell, who is a coach to watch over the next few years.

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Duke, UCLA, and the rest of Day 3 at the NCAA Tournament

A few thoughts on Day 3 of the NCAA Tournament…

You figured it was going to go one of two ways for Duke.

Either the Blue Devils would rip off an unbelievable shooting display for at least four games and reach the Final Four, or they would suffer through a poor shooting day and leave early.

In fact, Duke’s season ended with two poor shooting games, but one victory. But that win came at the expense of an upset-minded No. 15 seed, a game that, looking back at the numbers, Duke should’ve lost.

But they didn’t, and the Devils moved on — or maybe limped on — to the second round and West Virginia. This time though, when the shots didn’t fall, there would be no Gerald Henderson heroics at the end. 

Credit Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins with a brilliant game plan. Knowing the Devils were susceptible to quick point guards, he played two of them and got a monster game out of Joe Mazzulla, who nearly ripped off a triple-double. The reserve point guard actually had a whopping 11 rebounds, five of them on the offensive glass, as West Virginia cleaned Duke’s clock on the boards, grabbing 19 offensive rebounds.

There were other factors, though. DeMarcus Nelson hasn’t played well in about a month, and had a combined eight points in the two NCAA tournament games. Kyle Singler, despite his tremendous upside, had only six points against West Virginia. And Greg Paulus, as good as he is in the college game, is only a help defender when it gets to tournament time. Athletic point guards just destroy him.

Belmont, though, deserves at least some credit in West Virginia’s win. The Bruins gave Duke 40 minutes of pure NCAA tournament hell, and for a team that relies heavily on the jump shot, Duke’s legs were spent in the second half less than two days later against the Mountaineers. Those 15 straight missed 3-point attempts had as much to do with Belmont as West Virginia.

 

In a tournament with a bunch of great games through just three days, none may have been better than UCLA’s 53-49 win over Texas A&M.

Aside from maybe the Duke/Belmont game, no contest has packed the drama of A&M taking a 10-point second-half lead on top-seeded UCLA.

But the way the Bruins came back to win was incredible. When Luc Richard Mbah a Moute decided against taking a wide open 10-footer with his team down by four with 7 minutes to go, one had to think that maybe the Aggies were going to pull this off.

But then Kevin Love took over.

The standout freshman showed why he is so highly regarded in a stunning 5-minute stretch, blocking four shots in that span — two on one possession — and swishing two dazzling fadeaways to bring UCLA to the brink of victory,

And then Darren Collison — sorry Heels’ fans, he’s better than Lawson — who had kept his team afloat in the first half, made two tough, tough runners to give the Bruins the lead.

In the end, UCLA, which was down and seemingly out and looking downright afraid, locked down and held A&M without a field goal over 7 minutes, methodically putting together an impressive comeback.

Destiny, anyone?

 

Michigan State won a typical NCAA tournament-Michigan State-type game. Tom Izzo is so good in the NCAAs, and his Spartans just kept hanging on to beat a good Pitt team. The game was close the entire way until the very end and Michigan State never let up, never lost its composure. 

Izzo’s teams are built for this time of year, and it would not be a shock if the Spartans found a way to beat Memphis next week. 

 

Xavier isn’t the greatest team in the world, but it may be the toughest.

The Muskateers fought through another game they very well could have lost, pushing past Purdue in the second round. Xavier only goes about eight players deep, but they don’t back down from anybody. The Muskateers fell behind 7-0 and came back. They gave up the lead with under 5 minutes to go, called a timeout, and came back with an 8-0 run, getting a shot-clock-beating 3 from C.J. Anderson and a big dribble-drive from Josh Duncan.

This is not a team that will be intimidated. Let’s just hope they can play UCLA. That would be a war.

 

The more I see them play, the more I like my Wisconsin Badgers pick.

I’ve got Wisconsin beating Kansas to go to the Final Four, and the Badgers did nothing to deter me from that feeling on Saturday, dismantling Kansas State with relative ease. Only Washington State had an easier time on Saturday than did Wisconsin.

 

That said, Kansas is still scary-good. But there were times in the Jayhawks’ game against UNLV when their offense stalled quite a bit. Wisconsin will try to do the same thing to them, but with better players and a better coach. 

Of course, Wisconsin would likely have to beat Georgetown first.

 

If North Carolina can avoid the upset and the ire of Duke fans everywhere when it plays Arkansas, the Heels are not going to be able to rest easy with Washington State up next. Wow, were the Cougars were awesome in hammering Notre Dame.

 

It will be interesting to see if Tennessee has as much trouble in the second round as Duke did. The Vols didn’t put American away in the first round until about the 5-minute mark, and they get Butler, a seasoned team, next. Tennessee could find that its legs are gone in the second half, too, while Butler will be fresh after routing South Alabama on Thursday.

 

Stanford slipped past Marquette in overtime in a bizarre game that featured Stanford coach Trent Johnson being ejected in the first half.

What kind of official tosses a guy in the first half in the NCAA tournament? 

Anyway, a nice win for the Pac 10, which looks pretty strong with Wazzou, UCLA and Stanford all reaching (or likely to reach) the Sweet 16. 

 

Any upsets looming on Sunday?

I’m still wary of Butler over Tennessee, and it’s impossible to pick the two 12-13 matchups. I won’t ever be comfortable about a UNC victory until the clock reaches all zeros, so I don’t know what to think about that one. And I’d like to see Davidson shoot over Georgetown, though I think the Hoyas will just be too physically imposing on the Wildcats’ shooters.

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