Blogging through the NCAA tournament (Day One)

Blogging through the NCAA tournament (Day One)
Mar 20, 2008, 12:22 pm
12:16-To celebrate opening weekend of the NCAA tournament, I took a short plane ride up from Fort Lauderdale to beautiful Asheville, North Carolina to watch the first two rounds here with DX contributor Eric Weiss. We’re hoping to bring Kenny George in later to help with the analysis. We’ve got the Mega March Madness package on DirecTV, which lets us watch any game we want without any blackout restrictions, and we’ve got all the supplies we need to get us through the next four days of basketball action.

Georgia-Xavier is about to kick off in a few minutes here…now too much to follow here NBA draft wise, but they’ll be more than enough of that over the next few days. Portland State-Kansas will probably be the game we’ll be watching the most closely in this segment of games, which also includes Temple-Michigan State. Let’s hope that the Vikings of Portland State and Pooh Jeter’s boy Jeremiah Dominguez (the Big Sky player of the year) can keep things competitive into the second half. He’s only 5-6.

12:29:-As we watch Georgia grind it out offensively (how did they get here again?) I just remembered that I actually woke up at 4:45 AM to get on an early flight to Charlotte and make it to Asheville in time for the first time. I’m going to have to pace myself today with a short nap if I have any chance to make it to the O.J. Mayo-Michael Beasley matchup at 7 PM EST, and then Arizona-West Virginia at 9:40.

12:45- KU is off to a hot start, and Darrell Arthur is not messing around early. Not much in the ways of competition here, but he’s hit an impressive turnaround jumper, a 15-foot jumper, and had an emphatic dunk. Jeremiah Dominguez has made some nice passes, is controlling tempo, and seems to be keeping Portland State in the game with his playmaking skills. He can really handle the ball it seems, and he’s done a good job splitting screens, and finding the open man off the pick and roll, which Kansas is switching hard on. It’s not too easy though when you have the best defensive guards in the country guarding you, so don’t expect this to last too long.

1:02- A good sign for Kansas is the fact that Brandon Rush’s aggressive play from the Big 12 tournament has carried over to Omaha and then some…he’s showing no hesitation whatsoever taking the scoring opportunities that are presented to him, and is showing his very high skill level on a variety of offensive moves in the process. He has 15 points (6-11 FG), 6 rebounds and 2 assists with 4 minutes to go in the first half. He’s hit 3-pointers coming off screens, pulling up going left, and on the catch and shoot, as well as hit a very nifty floater in the lane. He also rebounded a miss aggressively and put it back from medium range. Kansas is up by 20 points already.

1:11 Half-time, and the score is Kansas 49- Portland State 26. We might want to look for another game now…

2:37- Spent the last hour plus watching the entire second half of the Georgia-Xavier game, which was very good. Georgia was up by double-digits at one point, but Xavier put the clamps down defensively and slowly came back before eventually winning the game 73-61.
Sundiata Gaines kept Georgia in the game with his timely scoring and playmaking, similar to the way he did in the SEC tournament. He’s forced to do far too much ball-handling on his team, as well as take shots that he isn’t really comfortable taking, because of their clear lack of shot-creators, which hurts his numbers somewhat. You still have to love his toughness, strength and all-around feel for the game, as well as the unselfish nature in which he plays. He defends, handles the ball well, hits mid-range jumpers, gets to the basket, and is not afraid to take responsibilities on himself. He’s probably not an NBA player because of his lack of size, freakish athleticism and perimeter shooting, but he will surely make a lot of money playing professional basketball somewhere. We had him on our suggested roster for the Portsmouth Invitational Tournament, and after the way he’s backed that up over the past two weeks or so, it would be pretty surprising to see him not get in.

We’ll probably be watching Kentucky-Marquette mostly after this, but none of the matchups going on right now are all that attractive…

5:50- I actually decided to take an extended nap until about 45 minutes ago, feel like a million bucks now actually thank you very much. I’m watching the Stanford/Cornell snoozefest and waiting for Synergy to finish logging the Kentucky-Marquette and Baylor-Purdue so I can watch the performances that Joe Crawford, Jerel McNeal and Curtis Jerrells had.

6:55- Not a whole lot to say after the Stanford game, except that Robin Lopez is really coming along (as we’ve mentioned a few times over the past few weeks) and that we can’t wait for the real basketball to kick off at some point. After a pretty average day of basketball, we’re really hoping that the USC-Kansas State game lives up to expectations. We’ll be breaking down Jerrells and Crawford in depth later this week based off what we learned from this game and what we need to know from the entire season. Crawford for your information will be participating at Portsmouth, and we’ve heard through the grapevine that Jerrells is considering testing the waters this year, so this probably won’t be the last we hear of those two.

7:38- Not a great start to the USC-Kansas State game. The players look way too juiced and are making mistakes that they usually wouldn’t have a week ago. Michael Beasley got called for two fouls in the first five minutes, O.J. Mayo looks nervous as well, but Bill Walker really seems to be stepping up to the plate here. He hit a spot-up 3, is taking the ball to the basket tenaciously, and just had a beautiful reverse finish off the glass after a very athletic take to the hoop. He forced one bad shot that showed just how amped up he is to make his presence felt, but Kansas State will live with that considering that Beasley is scoreless and without even a shot. USC’s game plan is obviously to deny him the ball and make everyone else beat them. On the other end, they are pounding the ball inside trying to draw fouls and score easy baskets inside. It’s still early, only 16-12 Kansas with 11 to go.

7:45- Davon Jefferson picked up his second foul, sending him to the bench, and Beasley went to the perimeter to get the ball and create his shot nicely to blow by Taj Gibson and get his first shot and basket of the game. Gibson picked up his second shortly thereafter on a foul on Bill Walker. The tide is definitely starting to sway towards Kansas State, and Mayo still hasn’t showed up yet. He’s 0/4 in the first 10 minutes. Beasley has still only taken one shot 12 minutes into the game, which is pretty amazing. Bill Walker is picking up the slack with 12 points. Taj Gibson seems to be suffering from a severe case of butter fingers, having bobbled a number of rebounds and entry passes already. Kansas State leads 23-16.

7:56- The refs continue to not allow the players to establish any type of flow, calling pointless foul after pointless foul just to ensure that everyone remembers how bad NCAA refs are seemingly. The players continue to look nervous—we’re seeing plenty of shuffled feet, bobbled passes, bad shots, careless passes and other mistakes that really limit to quality of basketball. O.J. Mayo just made an unbelievable bounce pass after being trapped on a double right into the hands of Taj Gibson in the paint. He bobbled the catch, but still somehow managed to get fouled. With Kansas State up by around 8-10 points, and USC incapable of grabbing a defensive rebound, Frank Martin is leaving Michael Beasley on the bench with two fouls until he really needs him. Taj Gibson picked up his third foul on yet another questionable call, which is a huge blow for USC. O.J. Mayo continues to draw fouls on Kansas State to keep his team in the game, even if his jumper isn’t falling. Just as I write that, he drills a 3-pointer from about 28 feet out.

8:07- Bill Walker is money in the bank tonight, he hit a tough pull-up jumper from 20 feet a few minutes ago, and then drilled another 3-pointer to give him 17 points for the half. Michael Beasley had a great move towards the end of the half, creating a shot with his left hand, spinning to his opposite shoulder, and then finishing with his right hand, plus the foul. At half-time, Kansas State is up 37-27. Beasley has 5 points and 3 rebounds, shooting 2-2 from the field. Mayo has 7 points and 3 turnovers on 1-5 shooting.

8:33- We’re back in the second half, where Mayo and Beasley both got off to better starts. The bad news for K-State (and us) is that Beasley picked up his third foul just 30 seconds in. Frank Martin is going back to bringing Beasley in and out of the game. Taj Gibson picked up his fourth foul, but considering how nervous he looked when he was in the game (he was a near-train-wreck trying to bring the ball up the floor) that might not be a terrible thing. USC seems to be playing better now. They cut the lead to 4 at the under 16 mark, and Mayo already has 5 points in four minutes in the half. Bill Walker continues to teeter between helping his team and looking slightly out of control.

8:38- Classic Davon Jefferson just now. After a great steal and open-court slam, Jefferson follows up that play by forgetting to box out Michael Beasley, giving up the offensive rebound, and then compounding the error by fouling him, his third. That really hurts considering that Gibson is basically done with four fouls. USC has zero depth to speak of and Kansas State’s two best players play the 4 and 5 positions for them. Ouch.

8:48- My friend David Thorpe of ESPN sent me a text message before this game, asking “is Mayo a PG?” It’s a great question, and one that we don’t really have an answer for at this point until we find out what team he ends up playing for in the NBA. What we do know is that he has absolutely phenomenal court vision, as he showed repeatedly in this game, making some incredible passes that very few players in college basketball are capable of making. He looks like the old O.J. Mayo we’ve learned to enjoy over the past month or so in this, just coming up with a big steal and then the basket+foul after he took the ball cross-court, which gave USC the lead momentarily. He has 8 points in the second half.

One short note on Beasley as well…he’s playing fantastic. Something interesting I took away personally were two consecutive possessions that showed us the type of adaptability you love to see from a player this talented. USC is doubling Beasley in the post, which on one possession caused him to force a shot badly with two defenders draped all over him. On the next play, he caught the ball slightly further out, and right as the double came, immediately found a teammate cutting to the rim for an easy layup. That’s encouraging. Beasley has 10 points in the second half.

The score is 51-50 with to go in the first half. This game has picked up in a huge way and is living up to the hype and then some.

8:56- Davon Jefferson picked up his fourth foul, which brought Taj Gibson back into the game with 4 himself. He looks completely incapable of functioning at the moment, playing tentatively, continuing to bobble everything thrown his way, missing a free throw, and blowing two consecutive shots right at the rim. If SC goes out here, this is going to be a major turnoff for NBA scouts who already were not super high on him.

Daniel Hackett is defending Michael Beasley right now. SC is falling apart as they are getting nothing offensively out of anyone besides Mayo (who is just 4-11 himself and seems to have gone cold) while Beasley is going off on the other end. After being up momentarily, they are now down by 7 with 8 minutes left in the game.

9:10- USC just got their first field goal in about 7 minutes here, but it seems too little too late, as the wheels have completely come off and they are now down by 12 points. Tim Floyd made a major mistake by failing to call a timeout during that long stretch, and his team paid for it in a major way. Michael Beasley and Bill Walker both nailed 3-pointers, and Jacob Pullen was absolutely huge. We’re switching over to the Duke game, where they are shockingly down by 1 point with 1:40 to go!

9:37- Still in somewhat of a state of shock by Duke just narrowly managing to escape Belmont at the very end. Apparently Gerald Henderson had a fantastic game. We moved over to the last 3 minutes of Texas A&M-BYU, where DeAndre Jordan mysteriously has played only five minutes. Apparently he made a mistake offensively and then got called for goaltending right after that, and was yanked for most of the rest of the game. Seems like someone might be trying to keep him at Texas A&M for another season. Pretty unbelievable stuff!

Kansas State of course ended up pulling off the upset against USC, 80-67. Beasley finished with 23 and 11, after only scoring 5 points with 3 rebounds in the first half. Mayo had 20 points, 5 assists, 3 turnovers, shooting 6-15 from the field. I personally don’t think he hurt his stock here, he may helped it actually with the PG skills he showed (even if his teammates refused to finish at times), but we’ll have to talk to some scouts tomorrow and see what they think to get a final read on that.

Texas A&M will pull this one out, and DeAndre Jordan will live to see another day. I can’t remember another player who got drafted in the top 10 after playing only five minutes in an NCAA tournament game (barring injuries or something of that nature). Kind of hard to swallow, and I’m not sure what to think of that at the moment. He needs to nut up and find a way to have a good game against UCLA on Saturday, because it’s going to be difficult for an NBA GM on the hot seat to take the heat involved with using a top 10 pick on such a raw player.

We’ll probably be watching this tape again and breaking down Josh Carter’s performance. He had 26 points, in a game that could be somewhat monumental for his draft stock if he continues along the same lines on Saturday.

Oh, and by the way, nevermind what we said about the games being boring earlier!

10:08- Nothing too monumental to report early from the Arizona-West Virginia game. It seems like Bayless, Buddinger and Alexander have all started off the game pretty well. Bayless hit a very pretty mid-range pull-up from 19 feet (his specialty) and then showed his passing ability by threading the needle for a bounce pass to a cutting Chase Budinger at the rim. Alexander is showing his athleticism on the glass, and hit a very pretty turnaround jumper in the post, as well as another mid-range jumper.

10:45-At the end of the first half, West Virginia is up 31 to 30. Jerryd Bayless picked up his second foul with 5 minutes to go, which is not good news for Arizona. He remains in the game, but will probably have to be much more careful defensively, as the refs here also seem gung-ho about taking any enjoyment possible out of the NCAA tournament. I like the way he is creating for others, either with a full-court heave to a streaking Jordan Hill in transition (which he fumbled off his hands), on a drive and dish drop-off for an emphatic Hill dunk, or just by finding the open man in space in the half-court with a simple, heady pass. This is a low-scoring game, Arizona has only put 30 points up on the scoreboard, and Bayless has played a part in that. West Virginia’s game plan seems to be giving him the outside pull-up jumper, and he’s indeed settling for that shot a little too much instead of using the superior athleticism he possesses in every matchup here to make his way to the basket and get easier shots. West Virginia is definitely playing the game at their tempo. Bayless has 6 points.

Chase Budinger picked up his second foul with 10 minutes to go as well, but did not come out either. He’s made some good plays getting himself easy baskets in transition or knocking down a three pointer coming off a screen, looking pretty aggressive and doing a good overall job of keeping himself involved. He has 9 points at the end of the first half.

Jordan Hill has been a beast on the glass so far, cleaning up anything and everything in his area, pulling down 8 rebounds, and also scoring 8 points, mostly on dunks.

11:18- Joe Alexander is having a pretty quiet game by his recent standards, even though West Virginia is running a ton of plays for him to try and get him started. He needs to get a little better at going out and getting things on his own, although it’s tough since he’s not the most polished offensive player around, and he gets very quiet on the court from time to time. We’ll see if he can pick things up here later in the game. For now, West Virginia seems to be just fine with Alex Ruoff as their number one option.

Chase Budinger is really impressing with his ball-movement and court vision. He gets criticized for being too unselfish at times, but you can’t argue with the fact that he makes his teammates better and seems to play extremely well within Arizona’s offense. He went out and created his own shot with his left hand and finished nicely with his right, a very aggressive, athletic move that really keeps the defense honest and makes us more comfortable projecting him to be more than just a one-dimensional shooter. He’s being aggressive, and that’s all you can ask from him.

11:28- We’ve talked in the past about how Bayless is a better player in transition than he is in the half-court, and this game is pretty good proof of that. West Virginia has completely limited Arizona’s transition opportunities, and Bayless seems to be struggling because of that. West Virginia is face-guarding him in the half-court, and Bayless is not being super aggressive trying to fight through and get his shots. We like the fact that he’s been unselfish and is creating for others, but with his team down by 6-10 points for most of the game, you have to wonder if he should start trying to take over the game at some point here? He’s still stuck on 6 points on 2-6 shooting with about 10 minutes to go here.

11:42- Almost immediately after I posted the above about Bayless not taking over, he went and made three terrific moves on back to back possessions, creating his own shot aggressively from the perimeter and either finishing or drawing a foul, which is exactly what Arizona needs to soften up West Virginia’s strangling perimeter defense. Chase Budinger of all people has been super aggressive trying to create his own shot, taking the ball strong to the basket again and again and drawing a good amount of fouls in the process.

11:54- When Arizona looks back at this game, win or lose, they are going to kick themselves for how poorly they defended. Bayless struggled badly fighting through screens on the perimeter and on the backdoor cuts the Mountaineers continuously ran, giving Alex Ruoff way too many chances to set his feet and get a clean look off. Chase Budinger also had some bad moments where his poor lateral quickness was clearly exposed. Jordan Hill struggled hedging screens on the perimeter to compensate for his wing players as well. When Arizona needed big rebounds, they lacked the size, toughness and fresh legs to go out and get them, which ultimately did them in.

12:00- That’s it for Arizona. Jerryd Bayless was underwhelming on both ends of the floor, scoring 11 points, with 3 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 turnovers on 4-10 shooting playing all 40 minutes. Chase Budinger was very impressive with 23 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 3 turnovers on 8-14 shooting. Jordan Hill again disappeared in the second half like he tends to do, coming up with 16 points and 10 rebounds. Joe Alexander had 14 and 9, on 4-12 shooting from the field.

First Day Summary:

Stock Up:

Joe Crawford (Kentucky)
Curtis Jerrells (Baylor)
Bill Walker (Kansas State)
Chase Budinger (Arizona)
Gerald Henderson (Duke)
Josh Carter (Texas A&M)
Josh Duncan (Xavier)
Jerel McNeal (Marquette)
Robin Lopez (Stanford)

Stock Neutral

O.J. Mayo (USC)
Michael Beasley (Kansas State)
Jordan Hill (Arizona)
Joe Alexander (West Virginia)
Davon Jefferson (USC)

Stock Down:

Dionte Christmas (Temple)
Jerryd Bayless (Arizona)
Taj Gibson (USC)
Kyle Singler (Duke)
DeAndre Jordan (Texas A&M)

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