Thursday, December 13, 2007

Teams Going In Opposite Directions

Let's start off with the good side of things. One of the feel-good stories so far this year has been New Orleans and their new 30-year old coach, Joe Pasternack, who wanted the head coaching job that other coaches left for assistant gigs down the benches at other, higher-profile schools.

So far, it seems that Pasternack was the perfect guy for the job, as the Privateers have now beaten NC State and Colorado on the road. Add to that four other wins, and UNO is 6-1.

The Privateers are also doing it with senior leadership with guys like Shaun Reynolds, James Parlow, Bo McCalebb and Ben Elias. Parlow and McCalebb are from New Orleans and had their families affected two and a half years ago by Hurricane Katrina.

McCalebb can flat out score on anybody, and even declared in the spring for the draft, before water-testing and coming back to school. He's one of the players at the mid-major level that college basketball diehards know probably doesn't get his due from the national powers that be.

The revelation for UNO this year has been juco transfer Kendall Dykes, who is averaging nearly 15 a game on 52% shooting and is his team's leading rebounder to boot. While Western Kentucky are still the favorites in the Sun Belt, teams like UNO, South Alabama and, yes, North Texas all look like contending for the crown.

On the bad side of things there's Louisville, a team that is really in shambles right now.

The most intriguing game of the many I watched last Saturday was Dayton and Louisville. In the first half, you could have removed the names from the jerseys and it would have been Dayton who looked like the preseason Final Four contenders and Louisville the consensus bubble/NIT team.

The final score wound up 70-65, but was only that close because Dayton had a prolonged cold spell from the floor in the first part of the second half. Brian Roberts of Dayton was simply amazing and went for 28 on 10-17 shooting.

Here were the weird things, both on the Louisville side.
1) Rick Pitino benching PG Edgar Sosa with around 10 minutes remaining and the game very close. This is a Louisville team without David Padgett and Juan Palacios. They suited up just eight scholarship players.

Sure, Sosa was playing poorly, but to bench a key player for the last 10 minutes of the second half on a team with little-to-no depth seemed bizarre.

2) The other is Derrick Caracter, who should have to have his named changed for media purposes to Derrick Caracter 'Issues'. This is a guy that, without Padgett available, absolutely needs to perform for his team to have a chance in a close game. Instead he chooses, on one play in particular, to sulk in the lane after being denied the ball on the right block by good Flyers defense. There were other times where Caracter looked content with being fronted in the post.

He led his team with 16 in that game, but that fails to tell any part of the story.

A couple days ago, it was learned that Caracter has been suspended indefinitely for violating team curfew. So, if you're scoring at home, this is a team whose point guard is in his coach's doghouse (for whatever reason, no one ever knows these things when we're talking about Pitino) and is down to seven scholarship players.

But yet, this is analogous to last December when Louisville was 5-4 and looked to be going nowhere then. Watch out for another 'They've really gotten things together" kind of run in last January and February, even though it seems like a stretch right now.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

The Hardly-Live Blog: North Texas @ Texas Second Half

11:40 - FG% for the first half: UNT 32%, Texas 50%. Augustin and Abrams each have 14.

11:43 - Keith Wooden returns to start the second half, and his two illegal picks in the first two minutes started to set the tone for the first nine minutes of this game.

11:46 - It is truly amazing how much better Connor Atchley is this season than last. I look at him and wonder if it's even the same guy. He's about nineteen steps quicker as well.

11:50 - 15:54 remaining, and it's 59-37 Texas. Josh White is still playing great, but so are Augustin and Abrams.

11:54 - Keith Wooden is starting to play better down low, and just had a nice offensive rebound, put back and plus one sequence. 61-40, Texas.

11:58 - Josh White is so exciting to watch, and will go in for rebounds at 5-10 to boot.

11:59 - Josh White is former Oklahoma player Quantas White's brother? How did I not know this? Quantas' little brother hits his fourth and fifth threes. Lead goes to sixteen points.

12:01 - White with another 3! That's six! And the lead's just 13! 64-51! Woo!

12:04- Wooden from 15 feet! 11 point game! (I need to stop with the exclamation points!)

12:05 - Wooden again with a tap in! Single digit ball game. UT on an 18-3 run in the last 5 minutes. 64-55, Texas.

12:08 - UT comes back with baskets from Damion James and Abrams, but Wooden puts one in after that, 68-57, Texas.

12:09 - 7:34 remains in this game and it's a slightly manageable 13 points, 70-57, Texas.

12:12 - I can't help but think if only UNT had played better D in the first half...and those turnovers...

12:14 - Augustin and Abrams are beginning to get their unstoppability cloak back, after a bit of a lull when UNT made their run. 76-61, Texas, 5:43 remains.

12:18 - Quincy Williams misses a 14-footer from the baseline, and he's been off tonight, 80-64, Texas with 4:58 to go.

12:20 - Augustin drives and finishes (common theme tonight) and the lead is back to 19 points. Augustin has a Josh White-like 27.

12:21 - This just in: Augustin and Abrams are really good. They've combined for 50 and somehow, after all that UNT work, the lead is to 20.

12:23 - Wooden muscles his way down low for a bucket and he now has 17 in the second half. Lead is still 18 points, but I've seen so many good things out of them in this half.

12:27 - The Longhorns have had about a 90-second possession after some offensive boards, and the game is coming to a close. Final score in Austin, about three and a half hours ago, 88-72, Texas.

Awesome performances by Josh White (all game) and Keith Wooden (second half), but Abrams and Augustin were just so bloody good all the way through.

The Hardly-Live Blog: North Texas @ Texas First Half

10:25 PM - Ladies and gentlemen, if you are reading this, you may be reading history. Because, to my knowledge no one has EVER done a live blog of a game three and a half hours after the fact. Have I researched that? Absolutely not. And don't try to doubt me with your fact. Don't even try.

10:28 - So it's undefeated Texas, coming off a win at Pauley Pavilion against mighty UCLA, and North Texas, coming off of a comeback win against New Mexico State that they had to fight hard, 75-72.

10:30 - This game was to appear on FSN Southwest at 10:30. But just as I thought, the Stars probably went into overtime, and FSN is having postgame on a game that about 20 people watched. By the way, I worked with FSN SW for my senior year high school internship, and if I hadn't have lost the tape room number they'd be getting an earful right now.

10:33 - This gives me a chance to say screw you, who ever was doing the radio play-by-play for NMSU on Saturday night. We are NOT North Texas State University. And we haven't been since about 1983.
(Note to any Sun Belt fans: This gets us pissed off beyond almost anything else. Like you didn't know that.)

Of course, UNT's broadcasters were covering the Mean Green football game, which at the Sun Belt level of D-1A means absolutely nothing.

10:36 - If this is STARS postgame, then why am I seeing a Cowboys segment on my TV?

10:38 - And the broadcast is on! If North Texas is to win this game they have to play up-tempo and have Keith Wooden and Quincy Williams control the glass. The last time the Mean Green played against a team with this much talent, it was against Memphis in the NCAA First Round, a game where they hung around for a half and then some.

10:42 - It's almost criminal for me to not mention what Texas has done, how everyone is chipping in and how well they are shooting.

10:43 - Opening tip.

10:44 - First three by Texas, this could happen often. And on the other end three possessions, three turnovers for UNT.

10:46 - 7-0 Texas, Johnny Jones needs a timeout. Connor Atchley with five early ones.

10:48 - Make it four early turnovers for UNT. There's some silly play going on out there and they need to calm down.

10:49 - Under 16 timeout, and it's 17-3 Texas. UNT is not closing down on these shooters and Texas is making them pay for it. The Mean Green went down quickly against NMSU, but this is a totally different animal. And Keith Wooden has two early fouls on illegal picks. Ten possessions, six turnovers for UNT. Ken Pomeroy is not pleased.

10:55 - The problem with trying to play uptempo for UNT is that Texas is just as fast as they are in transition defense. And I'm starting to sound like I actually thought UNT would be in this game in the first half.

10:58 - Under 12 timeout and it's 23-8, Texas. Texas is obviously playing well, but UNT can do so much better on defense.

11:00 - Oh come on, guys, it's not like you're Hartford or anything! (Coincidentally, this is UNT's next opponent.) Nine turnovers already. Ben Bell and Collin Dennis don't even have their D games tonight.

11:04 - 29-8 Texas. This could be a horror show before all is said and done.

11:05 - Collin Dennis just got a great steal at midcourt...before missing the layup. Oh dear, Oh dear.

11:07 - Did the announcers just say UT's Dexter Pittman had a body fat percentage of 41 when he stepped on campus??? How do you get a scholarship being that out of shape? Thankfully, for UT, Pittman has lost 70 pounds since then.

11:09 - Josh White converts a four-point play for the Mean Green, 29-12 Texas.

11:12 - Things just a wee bit better for UNT, who are hitting some shots and playing better defense (although it couldn't have been any worse to start), 33-16 Texas.

11:14 - Longhorns have been playing 2-3 zone for much of this game, and UNT isn't able to exploit the holes. Hell, UCLA couldn't crack it either and the pollsters told me they were the number one team in the nation.

11:18 - AJ Abrams is now 5-5 from the floor. 37-18, Texas 4:30 left in the first half.

11:19 - Abrams finally misses a triple, and it's 37-20 with 3:58 left.

11:21 - Josh Bell, commentator X???? That would be Ben Bell. Or perhaps you meant Josh White.

11:24 - Johnny Jones gets T'ed up and basically for just asking why UNT had a foul go against them after DJ Augustin performed a rugby manuever. Ok, maybe not just that.

11:27 - Josh White now has 13 points, and is clearly the best player tonight for UNT. 41-24 Texas with 1:38 left in the half after Rick Barnes takes timeout.

11:29 - Harold Stewart gets an intentional foul called on him for doing nothing with intent seemingly. It's now 46-24 after an Atchley three.

11:31 - End of the first half, and it's 48-26 Texas. Great performance so far by the Longhorns and they are living up to that top-five billing. I don't have the possession stats, but I'd estimate Texas' O-PPP being somewhere in the 1.3 range. The Mean Green's best chance to keep this game close was with rebounding and the transition game, and Texas has more than answered on both fronts.

UNT has, however, been about even for the last 10 minutes in this game. If they can keep that up, play better defense against Augustin and Abrams (tough ask, I know), and have more than just Josh White contribute offensively; that will be a fair showing against one of the best teams in the nation.

Patrick Mills, You Star

The seven-month absence of college hoops in our lives is something that, while somewhat necessary, sucks. So I needed a sport to follow in the bright, skin-reddening summertime.

I've gradually soured on baseball for a variety of reasons to the point where I only watch select LCS and World Series games. The one MLB game I have attended in the last three years, a Rangers-Yankees game this past April, happened on the same night as two NBA playoff games. I felt for my friends, who were surely distracted by my constant use of binoculars to look at the TV's in the suites for score updates/live action.

Eventually, I turned to Aussie Rules Football, a sport I was turned on to a few years back by a lovely brunette foreign exchange student from Tasmania and before that by accident watching the now-defunct Fox Sports World channel one night. The clip at the beginning of this post is of that great sport.

After a summer of following the real AFL (please just go away arena football, you're wasting everyone's time and money with this drivel) and the fast-paced exciting game of Aussie Rules, it was in a word, cool, to see the best individual performance of the first month of the college basketball season come from an uber-talented Aussie in Patrick Mills. (Mills, who is from Canberra, probably grew up preferring rugby and rugby league [two different sports] to aussie rules, however.)

If you don't follow St. Mary's, or can't remember why you think you heard the name 'Patrick Mills' on Sportscenter about three weeks back, the freshman (yes, just a frosh) put up 37 against Oregon in just his fourth college game.

It's said that Mills is adored by the aboriginal Australian community, and if you've even so much as watched him play on TV in his young college career, you'll be able to see why.

Programming note: I'll be back later tonight with what I believe to be is the internet's first ever 'Hardly-Live Blog' of a game when my school, North Texas, plays at Texas in a game that is being played as I type.

(This was facilitated by two things: not enough people paying for the $35 bus and ticket package being offered by UNT athletics, and FSN Southwest picking up the game at the 11th hour, but on tape delay at 10:30 CT due to a hockey game 10 people will watch. [Damned state that cares more about football than hoops and damned televised hockey rights.])

Monday, December 03, 2007

Props to Butler

Is it possible that this Butler team is even better than that 29-win, Indiana-Notre Dame-Tennessee-Gonzaga slaying squad? Well, anything's possible and that previous question makes me sound like some windbag on Around The Horn.

The four power-conference teams Butler has beaten probably won't turn out as good as the aforementioned quartet. (Especially after something like this. Sweet revenge for Tommy Amaker!) But the point is this. Butler's shooting was downright unconscious in Alaska and included a 56-possession, 81 points scored game against Texas Tech (that's 1.44 per if you're scoring at home).

On Saturday against Ohio State, their the same could not be said offensively. They shot 25% in the first half, but their defense kept them within reasonable distance at 30-20. Then, the defense went into complete overdrive, forcing turnovers on 38% of Ohio State possessions and holding them to just 16 second-half points.

Butler also 'took what the defense gave them' (hey, I can use cliches, too!) by using Matt Howard to eviscerate the Buckeyes' let's-defend-the-three defense for 23 on 9-for-13.

Butler opens up their conference slate on Thursday against Detroit (of the Mercy variety, and it might fit in this game) and then has the grudge match from last year at Wright State on Saturday.