First off, I’d just like to thank both Villanova and UConn for what turned out to be a fantastic basketball game last night. After a fairly boring weekend of sports, this was just what the doctor ordered (If I’m the Doctor). While the game wasn’t played at the highest of levels, it was exactly the kind of intense, back and forth game that makes college basketball (especially conference games) so much fun to watch. Think about that last statement for a minute. Though we hear it often and probably dismiss it without much thought, how many games are actually fun to watch? I’d say not nearly as many as most would guess. It’s an entirely different phenomenon for a game to be fun than it is for one to be interesting or intriguing. While last night’s game was all of these things, it was, in its purest sense, fun to watch…and isn’t that the ultimate complement that a fan can pay to a sporting event? Anyway, here’s my take on some of the game’s participants and determining factors:
- Despite Villanova’s bevy of skilled perimeter players, most people had dismissed their chances against UConn prior to last night due to the enormous height advantage that the Huskies boast, especially along the front line. However, the lack of offensive skill amongst UConn’s power players (Boone, Armstrong, Nelson, Adrien) makes it especially tough for them to take advantage of this difference in size thereby imposing their will and style of play on the smaller Wildcats. In contrast, Villanova’s guards are quick and skilled enough to be able to spread the floor and draw defenders out onto the perimeter. By doing this, Villanova creates lanes for penetration while also freeing up each other for open jumpers. It is this combination of skill and athleticism that allows Villanova to create favorable matchups for their best players. On the other hand, UConn’s big men aren’t proficient enough offensively to allow them to consistently pound the ball inside and take advantage of their size differential. Because of this, it’s tough for UConn to punish Villanova inside and thus make them pay on the defensive end for employing three and four guard lineups. Further proof of this lies in last year’s National Championship game, as the primary reason that UNC was able to emerge victorious against Illinois was the consistent inside scoring of Sean May for which Illinois had no answer. As a remedy to this, I’d look for Jim Calhoun to try and post up Rudy Gay on Randy Foye or Allan Ray if these two teams meet up again this year. This move would serve two purposes: (1) Provide UConn with some semblance of consistent inside scoring and (2) force Foye or Ray to play extensive minutes defending down low which could result in either (a) foul trouble or (b) fatigued legs late in the game.
- While I don’t read any of the local Connecticut papers, I’m pretty sure that Rudy Gay is being skewered for his defense on Allan Ray and (to a lesser extent Randy Foye) in the second half. Gay did do an awful job on Ray early in the second as he repeatedly went underneath pick and rolls as well as cheated through a number of baseline screens. It was these gambles that freed up Ray and led to his four early second half threes that re-invigorated the crowd and lifted the spirits of his teammates. While there’s no excuse for Gay’s lackluster effort in those specific instances, it seems to me that just as much of the defensive blame should fall in the lap of Jim Calhoun. While Gay may be a tremendous athlete, he is still 6’9”. Even the world’s most agile 6’9” player is going to have a tough time dealing with quick 6’2” guards who possess NBA three point range. Add to that the fact that Gay’s never guarded a player of the skill and quickness of either Ray or Foye and you’ve got a recipe for confusion on the defensive end. Even when he wasn’t being run off of screens, Gay was still seemingly unsure of whether to crowd his man and risk giving up the drive or to lay off and allow the three ball. More often than not, Gay made the wrong decision. Ray’s 18 second half points are a testament to that. Once it became clear that UConn wasn’t going to be able to pound the ball inside, Calhoun would’ve been well advised to go with a lineup that featured Gay at the four and some combination of Anderson, Brown, Austrie, and Williams on the perimeter in order to better match up with Villanova’s guards.
- While I’m on the subject of Rudy Gay, I thought I’d give my thoughts on his NBA prospects. It’s been well publicized that NBA GMs are in love with his potential and that either he or LaMarcus Aldridge will end up as the #1 pick in this June’s NBA Draft. As with all things related to the NBA Draft, the stock of Gay is one based heavily in his potential and upside. In most articles about Gay, you’ll read praise for his abilities quickly followed by criticisms of his overall game. The most common knock on Gay that I’ve read is that he drifts and gets lost in games. While this may be true and will most assuredly have to be corrected if Gay is ever to truly realize his immense potential, there is another aspect to Gay’s game which, with marked improvement, could catapult him into another stratosphere as a player. That skill is one of the most basic and fundamental of all the tenets of basketball: Dribbling aka Ball Handling. Gay doesn’t take advantage of his athleticism and body enough by challenging defenses and going to the hoop. I don’t believe that this is due to a lack of fire or a reticence towards contact as much as it is a reflection on his inability to create off the dribble. On the occasion that Gay does go to the hoop it, more often than not, involves but one dribble. If Gay can jab step, dribble and take two big steps to the hoop then he is able to get to the rim quickly and decisively and the results are generally favorable. However, when Gay is stationed near the three point line he often settles for a three pointer or (at best) a pull up jumper off of one dribble. If Gay were to improve his handle to the point where he could put the ball on the floor for four or five consecutive dribbles and use those dribbles to create for himself, then he would become the kind of player who was able to take over games at the offensive end even when his jumper wasn’t falling or defenses were collapsing on him in the post. It is my assertion that Gay’s tendency to “drift” is more a product of his inability to create from the perimeter than it is a question of his head and a general lack of fire or drive.
- It's a moot point because Marcus Williams and Rashad Anderson ran the old "two man huddle" play in the final seconds of last night's game but Mike Nardi's decision to eschew a wide open and game clinching layup with less than 15 seconds left last night was completely, and totally inexcuseable, especially for a senior point guard. It's just another in a long line of examples of players being unable to think the game and instead becoming completely dependent upon their coaches to tell them how to react to each and every situation on they encounter on the court. Nardi ought to buy Allan Ray a Valentine's Day hooker tonight to show his appreciation of Ray's steal (and subsequent free throws) that sealed the game for Nova. If it hadn't been for Ray, the fans in Philly may have stoned Nardi to death.
Sweet! I'm not going to be murdered tonight!!
- I can’t adequately express how much nicer it is to watch a game broadcast by Sean McDonough, Bill Raftery (and even Jay Bilas) than it is to have to sit through anything that involves Dick Vitale. Last night’s game featured none of the hallmarks of a Vitale special (read: harping on the same point incessantly, shout outs to random friends and restaurants (Broken Egg in Sarasota!), non-stop discussion of either (a) recruiting classes or (b) the benefits of staying in school) instead, last night’s broadcast was chock full (gasp) analysis, good natured ribbing and, of course, numerous Raftery-isms such as “Onions”, “To the tin”, and the always fun kick start “MantoMan!”. If I could pay a fee to have this crew replace any crew that includes Vitale, I’m pretty sure I’d be willing to pay a couple thousand dollars a year.
- Did anybody see Jay Wright pose for a picture with two, um, well endowed co-eds last night as he was wading thru the crowd on the way to the locker room? I did, which means that Mrs. Wright probably did as well. Bad times.
While I wasn’t overly excited to watch the Kansas-OSU game last night, NBC was bombarding us all with pairs figure skating so it’s not like I had a lot of options to choose from once UConn-Villanova came to a conclusion. I actually really enjoy watching Kansas play if only because they’re a terribly young and talented team. I enjoy watching teams like this because it seems you can literally see players and combinations of players developing before your own eyes. I’d love to watch this team play together next year when the bulk of their contributors will be sophomores and juniors. However, with Brandon Rush (among others) possibly declaring for the draft once the season ends it looks as if the next month or so will be our only chance to see this entire unit in action. While Rush has far exceeded the expectations that many had for him (his basketball IQ and passing were vastly underrated) the player who received the most buzz from scouts coming into the season was undoubtedly Julian Wright. The ultra versatile Wright spent his senior year in high school playing the point (at 6’9”) and has evoked comparisons to Kevin Garnett. While Wright is versatile like Garnett, he is already a far superior passer to KG. In fact, Wright reminds me a lot more of another versatile (former) All-Star forward, Antoine Walker. While Antoine has become something of a joke at this point in his career, the fact remains that he was a top tier NBA player whose wide array of skills made him the closest thing to a true point forward since Scottie Pippen. Like Walker, Wright is 6’9” and a superb ballhandler. He is the best passer on Kansas and they are most effective when running their offense through him, as evidenced by the last 5 minutes of last night’s game. Also like Walker, Wright is still developing his offensive game at this point (Walker was hardly a finished product when he left Kentucky) and has a long way to go before he’ll be able to be a player whom an NBA team can depend on for consistent scoring. The key difference that I see between these two is the overall athleticism edge that Wright possesses over Walker. Wright is more agile and active than Walker and seems to have enough athleticism to compete down low in the NBA, which is something that’s always been a detriment to Walker’s interior scoring and could be seen as part of the reason why Walker eventually took his game so far away from the basket. I’ll give you a hint on the other “part” of the reason: It’s short, Italian and it’s not walking through that door ladies and gentleman.
One more thing that I noticed during the Kansas-OSU game: OSU freshman guard Byron Eaton’s headband. More specifically the style in which he was wearing his head band. In short, Eaton was wearing his headband on top of his head ala DeShawn Stevenson circa 2005. Don’t think we haven’t noticed you biting DeShawn’s style…streets is watching, son.