Thursday, March 20, 2008

Live blogging the Tourney

I'll be passing along notes and thoughts throughout the day as the NCAA Tournament kicks off its opening weekend. Hope you enjoy it.

12:30 Games:

  • MSU-Temple- MSU clearly has the edge inside early with Naymick, Gray, and Suton. But the Owls offense is doing much better from the perimeter so far.
  • Can Georgia really continue their momentum from last weekend? 15 minutes through the first half, it seems so. The Bulldogs won four conference games in the regular season, and four in one weekend. Xavier's defense has to eventually overtake the Bulldogs.
  • Why does Michigan St. always play these ugly, hideous looking games? They have such talented players, it always amazes me when they score 40 points in a game. Temple is shooting 4-14, MSU at 6-16 so far. If the Owls could make some of their inside shots (Sergio Olmos, I'm looking at you), it'd be a different game.
  • The Spartans are taking away the Owls' biggest strength -- 3-point shooting. They've only made 1-9 so far, and they don't have the inside scoring to make up for that.
  • I'm surprised at Xavier's lack of defense thus far. They're giving up too many fast break points. Georgia basically has one bit weapon, Sundiata Gaines, but today everyone is contributing. Xavier can't let this last-place team get so many easy buckets.
  • Xavier couldn't even get a shot off before halftime. To me, that is the mark of an inexperienced team. Xavier's seniors have made 3 NCAA Tourneys, there's no way they should be making that kind of error.
  • Temple has airballed about 3 or 4 shots now. I wonder how often a team wins when airballing that many attempts? They're complaining about fouls, but even so, that seems more like a trend than a coincidence.
  • Halftime Scores: Georgia 35-26 over Xavier. Kansas 49-26 over Portland St. Georgia is shooting 53% at half, Xavier 35%.
  • Temple is starting to get hot at the end of the first half, as their threes begin to fall. Now, they just need leading scorer Dionte Christmas to get going. With two early fouls, he's had trouble finding a rhythm.
  • The big question in the MSU-Temple second half will be, which star can get hot? Christmas and Tyndale have 2 combined points for Temple. MSU has only gotten 3 from Neitzel.
  • Halftime Score: Michigan St. 35-26 over Temple.
  • Mark it down at 15:45 left in the 2nd half. Georgia's center Dave Bliss picks up his 3rd foul with his team up 43-32. Let's see if Xavier can take advantage of the extra space in the lane.
  • Remember how I said that Temple's weakness is inside? If you didn't believe me then, believe me now: Drew Naymick of all people has 7 points and 4 rebounds.
  • The Spartans defense has continued its dominance from the first half. They've only allowed two points through the first TV timeout. MSU has been especially good denying entry passes. When the Owls finally catch the ball, they're out near the 3-point line.
  • Bliss comes back, Jackson goes out for Georgia. Their 2 starting big men have 3 fouls each with 12 minutes still to play. Xavier needs Duncan and Brown inside to take advantage. The problem is Georgia's ability to answer each time. Every time it seems Xavier will make a run, Georgia comes right back with a 3 or an easy layup.
  • Midway through the second half, this is the Xavier defense we're all used to. Steals, rebounds, strong perimeter D, it's all there. You can see why Stanley Burrell won the A-10 Defensive Player of the Year.
  • Tyndale can't even make a dunk. Things are not going well for the Owls. This isn't hockey or soccer. You need to score more than 2 points in 7 minutes to win a ballgame.
  • Xavier finally completed their comeback and they did it in true Xavier fashion. Their defense created a few turnovers, which led to fast break opportunities. That created easy, wide open 3's, giving Xavier the lead after being down by double digits most of the game. Georgia's turnovers seem to be a sign that the Bulldogs are finally falling back to earth.
  • The Spartans are pulling away gradually. Up 18 with 9 minutes to go, there aren't any signs of a let-up. Temple can't hit any shots, no matter where they are on the court. When your strength is outside shooting, your team can look pretty ugly when those shot don't fall. Temple has been unable to penetrate against the stout Spartan D. Morgan, Neitzel, and Lucas are playing great D against the Owls, allowing very little room to the opposing guards.
  • As well as Burrell as played on D for Xavier, Duncan has done just as well for them on offense. He has more speed and athleticism than anyone on Georgia's frontcourt. That advantage has allowed him to drive inside or shoot his mid-range jumper. Georgia's magical run looks almost done here with 5 minutes left and down 8. Their lack of frontcourt production has hindered them when teams gang up on Woodbury and Gaines in the backcourt.
  • Final Score: Kansas 85-61 over Portland St.
  • Upsets are usually keyed when the underdog's star player has a big game. They often need that big performance to push their team over the top. Without that kind of production, the underdog is left playing with its secondary players; these guys normally belong nowhere near the favored team in terms of talent. For Temple, Dionte Christmas' struggles today will be a major factor in the loss. It's tough to win against a top Big 10 team when your star PG shoots 1-9.
  • Final Score: Michigan St. 72-61 over Temple.
  • Final Score: Xavier 73-61 over Georgia.

2:30 Games (Marquette v. Kentucky, Baylor v. Purdue, Kent St. v. UNLV, Oral Roberts v. Pittsburgh)

  • The Marq./Kentucky game should heavily favor the guards. With Patrick Patterson out to injury, all the impact players are in the backcourt. The Wildcats' Ramel Bradley and Joe Crawford key the Kentucky attack. For Marquette, it's a guard rotation of Dominic James, Wesley Matthews, and Jerel McNeal. So far, Crawford and Bradley are winning the battle. Maybe Crawford will finally give Wildcats fans a reason why he was such a highly touted recruit 4 years ago.
  • Marquette's Lazar Hayward is already making an impact for the Eagles. Kentucky has little post presence now. While Hayward is no All-America, he's better than anything the Wildcats have. A big game out of him will swing the battle away from the guards.
  • More reason why Kentucky won't win this game: no one has scored besides Crawford and Bradley. Their rebounding is nonexistent. Even Dan Fitzgerald, the Eagles 3-point specialist, was able to grab a wide-open rebound underneath and put in an easy layup.
  • It looks like Kent St. forgot the game started already. They have six turnovers and one field goal six minutes in. Luckily, their defense is keeping them in the game, holding UNLV to below-average shooting.
  • Kentucky is making up for its inside weakness by playing great perimeter defense. Marquette is only shooting about 33%. The Eagles have also failed to capitalize on the boards. The Wildcat guards are rebounding very well for their size, with 9 boards.
  • The Baylor-Purdue game is an amazing contrast in styles. Purdue's methodical offense leads to plenty of open shots and mid-range jumpers. Baylor plays at a much faster pace, going for 3's and penetration. So far, it seems to be working for both squads.
  • Kentucky and Marquette are playing at an extremely high pace, but their shots aren't falling. The difference, as I noted earlier, is Hayward. He has 9 points and 6 rebounds at the half. Meanwhile, the Wildcats have a heavy imbalance on offense. Only Crawford and Bradley are contributing. Stevenson has done a little, but he needs to do more on defense to stop Hayward.
  • Halftime Score: Marquette 33-29 over Kentucky.
  • Baylor's fast pace is leading to a tired defense. They're allowing Purdue to get open looks off screens and switches. The Boilermakers are a smart team, which is odd considering their youth. Their fundamental play is tough to come back against. So, the Bears can't allow themselves to fall too far behind because Purdue won't turn the ball over much.
  • And I thought Michigan had bad offense. Kent St. has just 10 points at the half. They made 5-23 shots and turned it over 17 times. The Rebels only shot 43%, but when you can create so many fast break opps, it's relatively easy to pile up a 21-point lead.
  • Halftime Score: UNLV 31-10 over Kent St.
  • When will Marquette decide to defend Joe Crawford? He's scored half of the Wildcat points because of his strength and penetration ability. But, someone on the Eagles has to pick him up. Like I said, the favored team can't let a star player get hot against them. Make the role players do the work.
  • Halftime Score: Pittsburgh 47-24 over Oral Roberts, Purdue 46-27 over Baylor.
  • The Eagles are starting to exert their dominance over Kentucky now. A couple steals and a block lead to fast break points and a powerful dunk by Lazar Hayward. They're starting to recognize Crawford and where he is on the floor. Their athleticism advantage over Kentucky is finally showing and it shouldn't be long before the Golden Eagles stretch the lead.
  • We have one game now that is under an 18 pt lead. Kentucky has hung in there longer than I thought they would. The shooting struggles of James (1-6) and Matthews (2-9) have hurt the Golden Eagles. Without Crawford scoring 28 points, the Wildcats would be nowhere near Marquette. It took him four years, but he's finally become the go-to scorer that Kentucky thought they were getting as a freshman.
  • With all the blowouts, I'm going to head out to the Michigan baseball home opener. I should be able to catch the last four innings.

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