Monday, March 12, 2007

NCAA tournament odds and ends

Once again, I have too many things to do this week NOT to post a blog about the best Oregon basketball team I've ever seen. First, here are a few quotes that get me excited for the road to the Final Four. From my friend J-Lew on the morning of March 10th:
Having watched 1 of my 2 allotted days at the Big Ten Tournament, I must say that it will be a mistake for anyone to select a Big Ten team to go all the way this year. This brand of basketball is the ugliest basketball I have ever seen. I feel like this tournament is setting the game of basketball back 30 years.

On the bright side, I was able to purchase a pretty sweet looking shirt to commemorate my time here....
And this is from J-Lew later on that night:
After 2 full days of action, I am more convinced than ever about the Big Ten. Of course, now that I watched Greg Oden play in-person (and grab 19 freaking rebounds to go along with 4 sick blocks), I am now convinced he would be my #1 pick. Part of the reason that his numbers aren't guady (besides the one-handed thing), is that Thad Matta has a horrilbe offense that involves 3 guards taking turns over-dribbling at the top of the key before having to rush to get a shot up as the shot clock expires...
I put his quotes first so that everyone knows he said it before the Sports Guy said this:
As for the Big Ten, its second-best team (Wisconsin) isn't as good as Kansas, Texas or Texas A&M, and I wasn't even remotely impressed by Purdue (a No. 9 seed), Indiana (No. 7) or Illinois (No. 12), although I do think Michigan State (No. 11) has a chance to crack the Sweet 16 because of Tom Izzo and Drew Neitzel. Regardless, how did the Big Ten send six teams to the tournament when most of its games had the same disjointed, scrappy, uncomfortable flow of a woman's basketball game? Did you ever watch a Big Ten game that didn't involve OSU and think to yourself, "Wow, this is some high-caliber hoops!" Oklahoma State would have been the third-best team in that conference and it's headed to the NIT. Same for Kansas State. And Syracuse.

Final note: Anyone who toggled between the OSU-Wisconsin and Texas-Kansas games knows which conference was better this season. That Texas-Kansas game was the most hard-fought basketball game I've seen since the Heat-Mavs NBA Finals last June ... and Texas was running on fumes. Meanwhile, OSU and Wisconsin were having the basketball equivalent of a rock fight on CBS. Gimme a break. The Big Ten is awful. Don't say I didn't warn you...Other than dunking, is there a noticeable difference between a game involving two Big Ten schools and a high-caliber women's basketball game?

I didn't get to watch Oregon's games this weekend, but I did get to read a lot about them (not the same thing at all), listen to parts of them, see highlights of them, and hear the commentary others were making. I've also watched more than a few of their games this year, so I feel like I can say the following things.

In 2002 I went to the Oregon-Kansas Elite Eight game in Madison and watched Oregon lose. That Oregon team had three great college players on it. That Kansas team was also amazing. The Oregon team this year is better than that Oregon team. Part of the reason for this is Ernie Kent deciding to use the players he has the way he wants to use them. That 2002 team had there players who could run and shoot with anyone, and then two token bigs to fill out the starting five. Robert Johnson, the starting 4, could rebound okay, but he and Chris Christofferson, the 7'2" starting center, couldn't run with the other three guys and weren't that strong inside. This year Kent has started his five best guys almost all season. Oregon starts four guys who are considered guards:
  1. Pac-10 all-freshman guard and Pac-10 tournament MVP Tajuan Porter (a 5'6" freshman from Detroit who bettered Jason Kapono's freshman record for three pointers in a Pac-10 season)

  2. first team all-conference and Pac-10 all-tourney guard Aaron Brooks (a 6'0" senior who hit game-winners against UCLA and Arizona and led the conference in scoring)

  3. 6'6" wing Malik Hairston (who fought injuries much of the season but still managed to become the 10th Duck to ever reach 1000 points for his career during his junior year)

  4. and Pac-10 all-tourney guard Bryce Taylor (a 6'5" guard who was 3-3 from the free throw line, 7-7 from the 3-point arc, and 4-4 on all other field goals to score 32 points in 31 minutes in the Pac-10 championship game against USC).
The only "big" man in Oregon's starting five is Pac-10 honorable mention forward Maarty Leunen, a 6'9" junior that Lute Olson suggested should have been the 10th player on the Pac-10's all-conference team. He does a good job of defending and rebounding while still running with the four guards and hitting 40% of his threes. He averaged 10.8 points and 8.5 rebounds for the season.

The bench is okay, but the most important thing about this team is that all five starters can make you pay on offense. The second most important thing is that the starting five can--and this weekend did--play really good team defense. They have great conditioning, as they showed by winning their three-games-in-three-days by an average of 20.3 points. They're led by a senior who got to play with "the Lukes" (Ridnour and Jackson) and three juniors who have finally been living up to their billing as the best recruiting class Oregon's ever had (back in 2004--if you follow the link Oregon's class for that year is ranked sixth, right behind Indiana and UCLA and right ahead of Louisville and (ahem) Florida. This team won road tests at Arizona and Georgetown and came back from a mid-season slump to ruin the rest of the Pac-10 in the conference tournament. I'll end this section about the Ducks with another quote from the Sports Guy. He's talking about how bad the Pac-10 is, but what's more important is the company in which he puts Oregon:
Anyway, watching all these games and comparing the conferences to one another, I don't see how anyone who knows anything about basketball could argue that the Pac-10 and Big Ten are better than the Big East, ACC or even the Big 12 (my vote for "most underrated conference"). UCLA, Oregon and Ohio State are all good. After that? It's a suckfest.

I've decided to post my bracket here so that people can hold me accountable. I picked it the best way I know how: as fast as possible. Over-thinking ruins all brackets, I say. I might change one thing before the tournament starts on Thursday, which is to pick Southern Illinois over Holy Cross, but I think that the Salukis are going to miss the underdog status they've had in recent years and blow it in the first round. So here are the pictures of my facebook bracket, which I will be using in all pools I might enter this month. Click on the picture for a clearer view.

You'll notice that I have Oregon beating Florida in the Elite Eight (a game that should be amazing to watch), getting revenge against Kansas in the final four, and defeating Georgetown for the second time this year to win the whole thing in Atlanta. I know that a lot of this is wishful thinking, and I've talked myself into it based on how they played this weekend. But if they continue to play the way they did in the Pac-10 tournament, I really believe that they could pull this thing off.
I watched most of Portland's game against Golden State last night. I know that the Warriors were without Baron Davis, but it was so good to watch the Blazers play with energy and poise. There isn't much to say other than the guys I already like keep making me like them even more: R-O-Y, Randolph, Udoka, Rodriguez, and Aldridge. It's also fun to see Freddie Jones, a member of that 2002 Oregon team, dunking on people for Portland now.

Alright, I need to finish my Unit Plan that will serve as part of my final in a really lame class tomorrow night.


Lewis said...

Thanks for the shoutout on the blog btw. I appreciate it.

nicole. said...

i am very sad this is now a sports blog :(

danielle said...

josh, let's hear some philosophy. all of this sports nonsense looks like gibberish to me.