Cracked Sidewalks: “I don’t know what to say here. I’m not sure the Bradley Center has ever been louder. And ever been more sad, as news quietly spread from person to person, that Dominic James career was likely over. … When the clock wound down, the sadness was palpable, as fans realized they’d seen the last of James on the court, what that means to him and his family, the team, and the immediate future. … Fate has been so cruel to Marquette at the end of the past few seasons. Travis Diener, Jerel McNeal, now Dominic James, cut down before they could complete the year — likely aborting a chance at a deep run in March once more.”
How can you feel anything but sadness for Marquette and Dominic James at this point? Having been doubted all year long (I’m sure Marquette fans are tired of the words: “but your last five games”), Marquette loses a close game against UConn, but more importantly, loses Dominic James. Marquette and its fans might unfortunately never be able to tell the rest of the country that they were wrong (and that Marquette is for real). I feel worst for Dominic James, who probably should have left for the NBA after his freshman or sophomore season. We, as college fans, always remind collegians of (a) the players who stayed and for whom it paid off, and (b) the players who went and made the wrong decisions. But I think to the athletes themselves, they probably think more regularly of (c) the players who didn’t go at the right time. Just a sad story around.
Villanova Viewpoint: “Nobody would wish a winless Big East slate on anyone, particularly when it hasn’t happened in 15 years. Unfortunately, the #10 Wildcats came unpleasantly close to permitting DePaul from escaping that ignoble record on Wednesday, February 25, in Rosemont, Illinois. The Wildcats were down eight at halftime and still down by one with as late as the 12:23 mark in the second half, prior to escaping Chicagoland with a far-too-suspenseful victory over woeful, winless DePaul. The Blue Demons entered the game trapped in the Hades of the Big East, with a 0-14 conference slate, 8-19 record overall.”
Question: If DePaul had won that game, would the fans rush the court? An upset the size of DePaul over Villanova is much bigger than it sounds (DePaul is a team that lost earlier this year to Northwestern to the tune of 63-36). But it would be a bit weird to storm the court, because an equally good reason (besides beating Villanova, #10 in the country) is your lone win in the Big East. And that sounds like something rather pathetic to storm the court over.
Matt’s UConn blog: “Need to mention Price again. When the senior wasn’t scoring tonight (12-for-20 from the field overall), he was screaming. After 3s, after jumpers, after big plays — he made a habit of silencing the 19,000-plus at the Bradley Center and then filling that void with a battle cry. Price is very humble when he speaks with the media, but he plays with a noticeable swagger and confidence. When he took Jerel McNeal off the dribble midway through the second half, dropping the Marquette guard to his back-side, Price made sure to look him off before nailing a 15-foot jumper from the wing. Some may call that cockiness. A New York point guard will call that necessary.”
All the press has gone to Hasheem Thabeet and how he’s a game changer. Let me tell you: if UConn didn’t have AJ Price, they would have many, many fewer victories. That said, Kemba Walker will be an absolute star at UConn in years to come.
Pitt Blather: “If you know your Pitt basketball, then you know that Pitt has never won more than two games in the NCAA Tournament. In modern parlance that has meant not getting past the Sweet 16. In the early-70s, Pitt couldn’t get past the Elite 8. … Well, Pitt Blather made it into the Elite Eight of the Pittsburgh Sports Blog Tournament. I’m not optimistic as Blather goes against the strongest #1 seed out there in Mondesi’s House.”
And last but not least…
Brilliant. Simply brilliant.
Addendum: A reader writes in to ask what would happen if Marquette and Villanova end up with identical records — who would win the tie break and receive the 1st round bye. Well, dear reader, I refer you to my seminal blog post in 2007: Big East Tiebreaker. In this case, Marquette and Villanova would have (a) equal records, and (b) equal records against each other. Now, basically, you’d have to go down the list of top teams in the Big East and see if Marquette or Villanova had a better record. It’s still too preliminary to tell what’s going on there, though — Marquette still plays Louisville and Pitt, and Pitt still plays UConn and Marquette. If Marquette can pull out a victory against Louisville and Louisville is ranked higher than Pitt at the end of the season, it looks like Marquette will win the tie break, because Marquette will have a better record against Louisville than Villanova. But honestly, it’s still too early to tell, given the rules for tiebreaking. We’ll keep you updated, though.
Not only is there a game tonight (strange, as usually only the Ivies play on Friday night — can anyone explain why there’s a game tonight?), but it might be the best game this week — Villanova goes to West Virginia.
Let’s look at the facts.
Villanova comes into the game smoking hot offensively, having scored 94 against Providence, 102 against Syracuse, and 102 against Marquette, and not surprisingly, having won all three games. Indeed, they haven’t lost since they played UConn close on January 21st. They’re ranked #13 in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today polls. Also, Big Willie Style fears them. Anything that puts fear in the heart of Big Willie puts fear into my heart.
On the other hand, West Virginia comes in ranked #7 in the country by Ken Pomeroy — above teams such as Oklahoma and Wake Forest (ranked #2 and #7 respectively by the AP), and namely above Villanova, ranked #12. They’re predicted by Pomeroy to win the rest of their games, including tonight against Villanova, their next game against Notre Dame, and their last game against Louisville (all notably at home). And Dan’l B fears them. Anything that puts fear in the heart of Dan’l B puts fear in my own heart.
What this game (and how West Virgina does for the rest of the season) represents is new school vs. old school. New school is Ken Pomeroy, Dan’l B, tempo-free statistics, favoring close losses over good teams over big wins over bad teams, and believing there’s no such thing as clutch play. Old school is Big Willie Style, watching tape, gut instincts, valuing any type of win over any type of loss, and believing that some players rise to the occasion when others do not. And New School and Old School just don’t agree on West Virginia — they don’t even get one measly vote in the AP poll, but they’re ranked 7th in the country by Ken Pomeroy.
New School vs. Old School. Who do you like tonight?
The Quad: This just in, Zach Hillesland of Notre Dame writes for The Quad, New York Times’s blog of all college sports. Zach gives the lowdown on his teammates, including this gem about Luke Zeller:
“Do: engage in a freestyle rap battle. Unbeknownst to almost everyone, Big Smoof is known (at least on our team) as the Matisyahu of the Christian faith. If you really want to do battle, you better bring your Webster’s and a copy of the New Testament.”
Black and Green: The folks over at Black and Green rank the coaches in the Big East. I actually agree with every single selection, except for ranking Boeheim at two over Pitino at three. Calhoun comes in at one, and his stats are indeed impressive — “Two national titles, six Big East championships, 21 NCAA appearances at two different schools” — especially when you consider that UConn has never had a half-court offense.
What a rotten night. You can’t enjoy a Syracuse loss at Providence when it comes 20 minutes before a Hoya loss at Cincinnati.
Syracuse loses three in a row and four out of five, and you can’t enjoy it because…holy crap, the Hoyas have lost four in a row and six out of eight and are in a stone-cold free-fall with a trip to Marquette coming Saturday.
We’ve been tracking these so-called “bad losses,” in which teams from the supposed Top Nine lose to teams in the supposed Bottom Seven. For the first four weeks of conference play, there was only one of these — Notre Dame’s loss at St. John’s on Jan. 3. But in the last four days, there have been three more, two by Georgetown (at Seton Hall and Cincinnati) and one by Syracuse (at Providence).
This could be a symptom of burnout. It could be a sign that the conference isn’t as deep as we thought it was. But it’s definitely a sign that those “Top Nine” and “Bottom Seven” designations aren’t set in stone. Right now, Providence and Pitt are in a tie for fourth place. Cincinnati is alone in ninth. Georgetown and Notre Dame are tied for 10th. Those nine NCAA bids for the Big East look like a pipe dream right now, and even if they got them, they wouldn’t go to the nine teams everybody thought they would.
I don’t think we should lament those losses. Rather than being a sign that the conference isn’t as deep as we thought it was, it could be a sign that the conference is incredibly deep — that teams like Cincinnati and Providence are really quite good. The losses are inevitable — the real question is whether Syracuse, Georgetown, and ND can finish the season strong.
In fact, I don’t really think of the league as being “Top Nine” and “Bottom Seven”. Indeed, I think what the season has shown is that there’s a top three/four, a middle seven/eight, and a bottom five. Watching Louisville and Pittsburgh today, it’s evident that UConn, Louisville and Pitt are currently monsters in the league — head and shoulders above the rest (I’m not quite ready to put Marquette there because (a) I haven’t seen them play much, (b) their strength of schedule thus far. PItt just put on the afterburners against ND. I’m impressed — but that’ll be for another post.
Pitt Blather: This just in, Chas over at Pitt Blather is unable to live-blog the game because his daughter, um, yakked all over his bed. Ahhh…parenthood.
The windchill factor outside today is 4 degrees Farenheit.
Looking at Oklahoma’s Tony Crocker, you’d think it was that cold in the arena.
The junior guard has garnered a good deal of attention on the blogosphere (Vent About Sports, Sports Illustrated) because of the white, long-sleeved undershirt he wears beneath his jersey.
Citing a “condition that slows his ability to stay warm,” Crocker has been wearing the long sleeves for a majority of the season. Perhaps Crocker does have a medical condition. Hyper-cooling of the human body could be caused by a metabolic deficiency, nutrition imbalance, or something else entirely. But whatever the cause, I’m surprised we haven’t heard anything from the NCAA brass regarding a waiver, as Crocker’s undershirt choice is a clear violation of NCAA rules.
Rule 3, Section 5, Article 11 of the official NCAA basketball rules states that while an “undershirt is considered part of the game jersey” it must conform to certain guidelines, including the provision that “both sleeves shall be of the same length and not extend beyond the elbows.”
This rule begs a few questions, not the least of which is: why did the NCAA promulgate a rule like this in the first place? Do they believe that wearing a long-sleeved undershirt created some kind of unfair advantage and therefore they sought to ban the practice? Could it be that Crocker, who in his first 10 games this season averaged 7.9 ppg, and in his last 10 averaged 13.3 ppg, is somehow benefiting unjustly?
I certainly doubt it. I really can’t think of any reason why a long-sleeved undershirt would enhance a player’s performance.
Jim Calhoun is holding a press conference at 2:00 today.
Information was provided by Matt’s UConn Men’s Basketball blog, and though there’s no indication of what this press conference is in regard to, it can’t be good.