Thoughts on the drive home
After blogging the Legends Classic Friday and Saturday for Rush the Court, I crossed over the Atlantic City causeway, merged onto the Garden State Parkway North earlier today and let my mind wander as the South Jersey landscape unfolded...
1. Tim Floyd is complicated -- He landed on my radar during his stint at Iowa State, though he held two D1 head coaching jobs before taking up the first chair in Ames. His drawl shows more west Texas and even big sky than Louisiana, as does his dressing pattern (mostly to brown-tones and flannels). And completely out of step with an image I had of the guy who mixed it up with the OJ Mayo crowd. The Legends folks had a hard time staying on their post game press schedule after the first semi-final game Friday. UTEP had lost a six point half-time lead to Georgia Tech, dropping the decision by 10 points, and twice they advised the press that UTEP was still in a "post game debriefing". The players and coach who appeared for questions were very subdued and used phrases like "poor judgment" and "leadership" throughout their opening statement and Q&A session. Floyd spoke softly, thoughtfully and modestly, that southern/western accent layered over his sentences like sugar frosting on a Hostess Cupcake and emphasized in subtle ways by his choice of phrases and word sequences. Was he as overwhelmed by the circumstances as his players appeared to be? Is this what happened at Southern California -- Country boy thrown under the bus by the sharpies, too modest and selfeffacing to stand up to them? The starting five the next day told a very different story. The coach benched his best candidate for All-CUSA Team and replaced him with a junior who average 4.3 points per game, and at the same time benched his (star) freshman center in favor of a senior who weighed 70 pounds more and averaged 11.0 minutes per game. And it worked. After beating John Beilein's Michigan team by 10 points in the Third Place game, Coach Floyd and his two "benched" starters appeared (on time) for the post game presser, exhibiting very different body language and attitudes about their performances. Randy Culpepper managed to play 30 minutes -- "I'll do what it takes for this team to win. Whatever the coach feels is best. It's not who starts, it's who finishes..." -- and showed the kind of athletic play and shot making that are often associated with players whose time is spent at schools with bigger budgets and better media exposure. The senior guard still took 16 field goal attempts, but he converted three more of them the second day and upped his first day point production (13) by 11 more (24). If he plays as smart for the rest of the season, he will be on more than one All-Conference Team. The freshman scored four more points and grabbed one more rebound than his previous outing.
2. John Beilein is going to have a very long year -- though next season may be more fun. When I saw the probable starters for the second semi-final game Friday I assumed it was a typo. Michigan had three freshmen (two "true" and one "redshirt") starters for their game against Syracuse. The John Beilein I remember from West Virginia (and Richmond) rarely had three freshmen as active players on his squad, much less in his starting five, because he routinely red shirts his freshmen players, having them simply practice with the squad for a year before stepping onto the court to execute his playbook against real competition. There were of course, exceptions like the just graduated Da'Sean Butler from West Virginia, who saw significant playing time, and even a few starts, as a true freshman. But that was how everyone knew Butler would be a special college player. He had to be, Beilein started him as a freshman. Since Canisius Beilein-coached teams have followed on of two possible arcs of development, the Canisius Model in which the team reaches it's highest point of development in the coach's second year, and the Richmond Model in which the team generally improves with each passing season (there are exceptions, but not many). Right now Michigan apprears to be in the Canisius Model, having made the NCAAs in Beilein's second season, and taken a step-back last season (Beilein's third. Three freshmen starters is almost a concession that the season will go for play development and not for conference wins or post season consideration. Too bad, because these Wolverines are talented, but maybe not as wise as other, earlier Beilein-coached teams about breaking down opposing defenses.
3. Memphis may have the players, but UTEP's coach will make CUSA a race -- See #1 above. UTEP has a very competitive roster, and if that squad buys what this coach sells, they should give Memphis all they can handle in conference play. The Miners will have to play road games in Hattisburg (Southern Mississippi), Birmingham (UAB) and Houston (Houston), but the Miners will host Memphis.
4. Tech might find a higher ceiling after Lawal and Favors -- Hewitt passed on the St. John's job last April (to the surprise of many in the New York media) and decided to stay in Atlanta. The reasons may well be named Brian Oliver and Glen Rice Jr. With Favors, Lawal and a lousy break with the conference schedule, Tech could do no better than 7-9 in the ACC last season, but Oliver and Rice should replace the points and keep turnovers down. With a more favorable conference schedule (and a few breaks...), the Jackets may be able to up that to win enough conference games to return to the NCAAs in 2011. Tech beat a good UTEP team and pressured an NCAA-quality Syracuse squad through most of their second game. Brian Oliver shredded the Syracuse 2-3 zone with a 6-11 three point performance. For the weekend games, Oliver converted 18-38 (9-19, 9-19) and 2-2 for an eFG% of 59.2%. He had five turnovers total between the two games. Rice was not as consistent as Oliver, but with Udofia and Shumpert, neither of whom as to be prolific night-in and night-out, the Jackets may, for any given game, ger enough point production to win their share of games.
5. The race for Big East Freshman of the Year is wide open -- Preseason choice, Fab Melo started both games and logged 14 minutes. He scored 0 points on 0-1 and 0-2 shooting. He will be better by season's end, but he will not be "All" Team material for another season, possibly two. Dion Waiters might keep it in the Syracuse family this year, the freshman played for 31 minutes in the two games, shooting 6-12 (1-5, 5-7) and 2-3 to score 15 points. Of course Jeremy Lamb (UConn), Vander Blue (Marquette), JJ Moore (Pitt -- not sure Talib Zanna, a red shirt freshman qualifies...) and Dwayne Polee (St. John's) might have something to say before the season is over. In 2007 Paul Harris was the preseason favorite by a large margin, but the #2/#3 found himself on the bench for large stretches by the end of the season, and Scottie Reynolds of Villanova emerged from a crowded field to take the honor. Would not surprise me if the winner is someone not named earlier (though at this point I think it is between Blue and Waiters).
6. Thanksgiving tournaments are not well attended -- something Ray Floriani noted in a conversation this afternoon. I think Thanksgiving is a family holiday (heaviest travel days of the year), and that takes a toll on attendance. I asked one of the folks from the Michigan Daily why the Wolverines had no cheering squad (UTEP was the only school that seems to have sent a squad), and they replied that the squad went home for the holiday. The games drew between 5,000-6,000 each night, where seating capacity in the Hall is about 13,000-15,000. The crowd looked thin in the upper ring, but was very loud and partisan for the Syracuse game each night, as Orange fans far over-matched fans from their two opponents (Michigan and Georgia Tech). Though the Tech fans, out numbered, did compete on sound level.
The Gazelle Group organized the event and did a great job of making material and the teams available to the press.