Thursday, March 31, 2005

Killing Time

As is customary, I'm a few days behind everybody else when it comes to talking about what's transpired so far in the NCAA's. Since UNC doesn't play until Saturday, and the Steelers haven't signed the next Cedrick Wilson, now's as good a time as any to take a look back at the NCAA tournament (I'll save the Bellhorn bashing for later).

... In all honesty I probably watched 25 college basketball games this season -- the 20 or so Carolina games televised in the DC area, the 2 or 3 Duke games where I thought the Blue Devils had a least a shot at losing (by the way, there's nothing worse than watching a game with the express intent of hoping a team loses; on the other hand, there's no better feeling than opening up the paper and reading that Florida State beat Duke the night before), one Georgetown game my buddy Andy made me watch, and the one William & Mary - George Mason game I was unlucky enough to attend in person. That's it. I never saw Illinois play during the regular season. I only saw two Big East games and one I still have nightmares about. The aforementioned Hoyas game was surprisingly not bad. But I also witnessed St. John's and Duke in a game that had all the athleticism of a middle school girls pickup game -- but without the talent. I'd rather watch an Ashlee Simpson Show marathon than be forced to watch basketball like that again. But I think you get my point: Other than UNC, I haven't seen a whole lot of basketball this season.

... So imagine my surprise when teams like Bucknell (Bucknell?!) upset Kansas, or 13th seed Vermont beats 4th seed Syracuse.

[Before I continue, a quick aside: I forgot to mention one other game I saw as part of my 25-game season package: Vermont and Northeastern in the conference championship with the winner getting an automatic NCAA berth. Jay "don't call me Jason, or Jayson -- especially Jayson" Williams was serving as one of the commentators. That has nothing to do with anything other than I thought it was interesting that a 23-year old first round pick was doing the play-by-play instead of, well, playing. I'm guessing he didn't ride his motorcycle to work. Anyway, the Vermont - Northeastern game wasn't more than a few minutes old when Northeastern's best player -- a feisty, quick guard named Jose Juan Berea who ranked 8th in the country in scoring -- was about three seconds late in jumping on a loose ball and instead of actually going for the ball and trying to create a jump ball situation, he instead started throwing haymakers. You know, punches.

Yeah, I was surprised too. And it wasn't like the subtle kicks Christian Laettner used to sneak in during his college days, or even the not-so-subtle crotch-knocker antics of Chris Paul. Instead, it was like someone off stage yelled, "Go!" and Berea took that to mean, "be as obvious as possible as you try to knock the crap out of the unsuspecting Vermont player with the basketball at the bottom of the pile. Berea got in two punches, one which looked to be pretty solid. Jay Williams made what I thought was the obvious point that Berea should be ejected.

Not surprisingly, after huddling for several minutes and even looking at instant replays of the incident, the officials decided to pretend like nothing happen and play on. When I flipped on the game before all this transpired, I really didn't care who won. I'd heard about Vermont's Coppenrath and a little something about Berea. Well, after the "Mike Tyson Story" was re-enacted during a basketball game, I was hoping for two things: a Vermont blow-out, and the officials to be reprimanded at half time, via the scoreboard jumbotron much in the same way General Zod and his peeps were called out by the Elders before being banished to 2-D mirror city.]

OK, make that a not-so-quick aside. Anyway back to my rambling retrospective ... Or a West Virginia team with more white dudes than "Hoosiers" summarily out-hustle, out-three point shoot and basically out-play every team they faced until the Louisville game. I mean, how can you not like a guy named Pittsnogle? And don't even get me started on Villanova. First, they should've won. I said it before, but it worth repeating: they got hosed on that phantom travel call with nine seconds left in the game and they were down three. And if I knew they were so good -- especially Kyle Lowry, I might've actually watched more Big East basketball.

... And then there's Michigan State going rebound-crazy as they not only beat the Blue Devils, but do it by fouling out Williams and containing J.J. Redick. Michigan State was impressive. They manhandled a Duke team that have as their center a guy who doubles as the "World's Strongest Man" when he travels with the circus during the off-season.

... Speaking of Duke, is it a given that J.J. Redick and Williams are both coming back next season? Every time I turn around I'm hearing that Sean May, Rashad McCants, Ray Felton or Marvin Williams may head straight to the NBA (although May says he ain't going unless he's the first overall selection, which he doesn't expect to be the case), but not once this season have I heard mention of either Redick or Williams. Personally, I think they're ready. And I say that for one reason. I want Duke to go winless next season. And I want them to do it with Lee Melchionni as the team leader. He's the type of player that when people see him out with J.J. Redick, they refer to him as, "the guy who makes J.J. actually seem cool."

And before I forget, there are some rumors floating around (rumors from the New York Daily News? Get out of here) that Marvin might have played his last game in the Dean Dome. I prefer to believe the HeelsBlog on this one.

... I mentioned above that I didn't see Illinois play one regular season game. Well, I saw the them play Arizona in the round of eight and I have a couple of thoughts. First, I remember seeing Hassan Adams during his senior year of high school during one of those episodes of "The Life." In case you don't remember, it was the last time ESPN had any decent non sports-related programming. Basically, cameras would follow around a pro athlete, or soon-to-be big-time athlete for a day in their life. It was pretty interesting stuff. Anyway, I remember they followed Adams around and even showed him during one of his high school games. Well, I hadn't seen him since, but other than the last play of the game, he pretty much had his way against Illinois. The guy made beating opponents off the dribble look easy and had enough rebounds to qualify for honorary membership as a Michigan State Spartan.

I remember thinking during the first half that if Carolina played defense against this Illini team like it did against Villanova and Wisconsin, they might lose by 30 points. It's not that Illinois has better athletes than UNC -- they don't -- it's just that if you don't play defense against this team (especially perimeter defense) they will light you up. And not only that, Deron Williams should be tested for steroids. He looks like a strong safety out there. In fact, if UNC and Illinois meet in the finals, I think Roy Williams should put Troy Polamalu out there to guard Williams with the understanding that he's the goon (and not in the Temple sense of the word where the idea is to hurt a player, but instead to scare the opposition by acting unpredictably without actually having to get physical). He should let his hair down, wear a headband, wristbands and the old-school shorts from UNC's 1982 championship season. If that doesn't take Deron Williams off his game, Illinois deserves to win.

... Changing gears a bit, now that UNC's in the final four, there's been some talk about Matt Doherty's role in this team's success. Well for starters, he's certainly responsible for McCants, Felton and May being Tarheels. And he won 26 games his first year in Chapel Hill -- he should get credit for that too. In terms of him building this team into a final four contender and then getting the boot, I'm not so sure. Look, he got a raw deal in that UNC A.D. Dick Baddour never made clear why he got axed (although it was quite clear to everyone else). But I'm pretty sure that if Doherty had stayed in Chapel Hill and nothing changed, we currently would be wondering how we plan on beating ACC upstarts Clemson and Florida State next year after getting swept by both teams this season -- and doing it with eight walk-ons because all the scholarship players either transferred or went pro.

In fact, I heard John Feinstein say today that he has a pretty reliable source tell him that during Doherty's last season, some associated with the Tarheel basketball program had to go get Raymond Felton, who had left campus and was headed for Latta, SC because he didn't want to play for Doherty. McCants is one thing. To see him pout on the bench during his first two seasons would've surprised no one. I never once saw Felton do anything to show up his teammates or his opponents in his three years in Chapel Hill. And to think that Doherty pushed that kid so far over the edge that he was willing to quit mid-season should raise some eyebrows.
Somewhat related to this, Feinstein also mentioned that Doherty might take the SUNY-Stony Brook job. This is interesting when you consider he won National Coach of the Year during his first season with UNC, and the year before he was one of the best young coaches in basketball when he "coached up" Notre Dame.

... Finally, just in case you can't get enough Billy Packer bashing (and who can this time of year), here's an exhaustive look at why Packer is awful.

... Now, on to Saturday night.