Saturday, November 26, 2011

The 2011 Legends Classic -- 4 Takaways

After I Got a Few Hours' Sleep Between Monday and Wednesday...
After blogging the Legends Classic Saturday and Monday night, I drove home to write the recap for RTC, sleep for an hour or two before embarking on a 24 hour juggling marathon of personal, professional and avocational responsibilities. Having an hour to actually sit and think...would probably put me to sleep. So before I think too long...

1. Entertaining & Exciting != High Quality & Excellent -- The fans who came out (mostly attached to the schools, which is a shame, these were very entertaining games) were treated to a four game set that included an overtime period between Oregon State and Texas Saturday, necessitated by an Oregon State make on the next-to-last possession of regulation (O State had not held the lead for more than one possession for the previous 32 mintues). Jared Cunningham sank two free throws to force the overtime period. Two other games featured the possible win or tie by the team holding the ball at the end of regulation. Nerve wracking for the winners and very exciting for those who came out to watch. The fourth game, by the way, was decided by seven points (three possessions), saw five lead changes and a tie in the last six minutes of play...hardly a snooze. So why does exciting not always equal excellent? The four games averaged 42.5 fouls (that is 21 fouls per team) and 35.8 turnovers (or nearly 18 per team per game). Each game seemed to have several stretches where both teams turned the ball over on successive possessions, leading to several sequences where the ball would change hands four-to-six times with teams exchanging "one-and-done" possessions, or possibly not taking a shot at all. Television timeouts, which seemed to stretch innocuous fouls into 2-3 minute huddle sessions, brought several promising runs to a screeching halt which fatally disrupted any attempts at a game flow. But the runs, taken by all four teams at various times, coupled with some impressive individual performances and wild end-of-regulation play sequences were strong redeeming qualities. Yes I'd do this again. In a heartbeat.

NC State's Richard Howell dunks
at the end of a run out
in State's loss to Vanderbilt

2. Vanderbilt Can Win Without Festus Ezeli (or Even Johnny Jenkins?!). Oregon State Cannot Without Jared Cunningham -- Coach Kevin Stallings put speculation about the impact of no Ezeli to bed quickly, and the subject of the post game interviews refocused on how Vanderbilt played rather than how they would have played. The Commodores downed two good -- not great -- teams from power conferences. Teams expected to finish in the upper division of their respective conferences, though not to seriously challenge for the top spots in their respective conferences. Given the competition, that Vanderbilt won both games speaks well for the Commodores' depth and poise. They bested middling teams from other power conferences without their starting center who was the team's #3 scorer and #2 rebounder (#1 offensive rebounder) speaks to the talent level that is now available. That is the basic talent level that will sustain them through SEC play. Ezeli, when he rehabilitates and rejoins the squad, will most likely make a difference as to whether the 'Dores finish #5 or #3 (or higher...) this season. His absence will not determine whether the squad has a winning or losing season. Opposing coaches spoke of Vanderbilt's experience in post game pressers, but invariably they mentioned senior wing Jeffrey Taylor, before junior guard John Jenkins, the leading SEC scorer last season.

Can the same be said for Oregon State? Coach Craig Robinson asserted to the assembled press that his team "...have quite a bit of character...", and "...[Jared Cunningham]'s a marked man now. We expect Jared to understand that help [his teammates] get involved...he affects the game even when he is not scoring 35 points a game...". While forward Devon Collier and pg Ahme Starks led the scoring against Vanderbilt, the Beavers' scoring is largely in those three teammates' hands. Though he had seven steals, the Beavers needed more than nine points from the junior off guard against Vanderbilt. Cunningham will need to post more than nine points per game to boost the Beaver's chances in Pac-12 play.

Starks (#3) & Collier (#44) are not enough
if the Beavers are to finish
in the Pac-12's top 3

3. Should Coach Barnes Test His Team for ADHD? -- Counting the two halves of each game separately, Texas "lost" the last four minutes three out of four times (four out of five if you count the Oregon State overtime Saturday). What happened? In the first half of their semi-final versus Oregon State, the Long Horns had just outscored the Beavers 14-7 from the 7:59 mark to the 4:00 mark. From there to the end of the half however the Horns managed eight points on eight possessions, for a 1.00 points per possession rate. The Beavers scored 10 point in eight possessions, good for a 1.25 ppp. Though the Horns retained a five point edge going into the intermission, they had Beavers on the ropes at the 4:00 minute mark, and let them go. The second half of Saturday's game followed a pattern similar to the first half, the Horns again established an edge going into the last four minutes (complements of a 13-6 scoring edge from the 11:50-4:00 mark), but lost focus again, scoring six points in their last eight possessions (0.75 ppp) to Oregon State's 12 points over eight possessions (1.50 ppp). The Horns shot 3-9 from the floor and 9-12 from the line in those two four minute slices, with no assists. Coach Robinson's squad shot 6-14 (with six assists) and 7-8 from the line.

Monday night's Consolation Game with North Carolina State had a similar pattern emerge with respect to "the last four", at least in the first half. Up by 13 at the 4:00 minute mark, the Horns scored their last five points in the half using six possessions (0.83 ppp), shooting 1-6 from the field with a single assist and 2-4 from the line.

NC State Coach Mark Gottfried can only watch
as Texas center Alexis Wangmene stuffs a putback
in first half of the Consolation Game

The Wolfpack scored eight points on seven possessions (1.14 ppp) on 1-2 shooting from the field (on an assist) and 5-6 from the line. Coach Barnes identified fouling as one of the areas the staff had to continue to address with the young team. J'Covan Brown's technical (and fifth foul) as a reaction to his fourth foul became a central theme in the post game presser. Coach Rick Barnes, reflecting on Brown offered "...That's where he gotta grow up. He's been in the program for three years and he's at different role now where these guys are looking for a lot from him...and he just can't do that. This has happened too much and sooner or later he's going to have to figure out that's what's going to keep him from where he wants to be and more importantly, it's a team game, and...he's got to realize it is not about him, there's more to it than scoring points...there's a lot that goes into being a part of a basketball team" Speaking with that gentle Southeastern drawl that tends to soothe the untrained Yankee ear, the coach continued "...he's come a long way...but he's, he ought to have it figured out by now...". In response to a later question about the impact of the technical on the team, Barnes responded "...I'm concerned for J'Covan. We're going to be fine. We've got enough guys who will work...the concerning part is for him. He's a junior, he's been here long enough and he ought to know...but for the team, if he doesn't do what he needs to do we'll move without him. We don't want to do that...everyone likes him...he's worked harder than he's ever worked in his life...but there's more to it...there's a mental side to it; there's a team component side to it...". Acknowledging that the technical "put them back on their heels..." was a mild statement.

Texas Coach Rick Barnes responded
to reporters' questions
but did he have any answers?

Leading 65-52 when Brown was T'ed up, the Horns could score only nine points on their last 16 possessions of the game (0.56 ppp), going 2-12 (no assists) from the field and 5-7 from the line. The Wolfpack scored 21 points on their last 16 possessions (1.56 ppp), converting 6-9 (four assists) from the field to go with 7-11 from the line.

Missing Saturday's semi-final with a rolled ankle
Wolfpack forward Scott Wood
provided outside scoring to complement State's inside game

4. Three For the Post Season? -- I left the 2010 Legends convinced that three of the four teams would play in the post season somewhere (in a tournament that starts with an "N"). Three did, though I was surprised at the details. I am not sure if three of the four teams I saw Saturday and Monday will go to the post season this time. Tournament winner Vanderbilt is the easy pick, assuming they do not hit anymore "Ezeli Bumps" (see Notre Dame's Tim Abromaitis), but which among the others will draw a bid? If Oregon State, the other finalist Monday does finish in the top 3/4 of the Pac-12 they will probably be tabbed. The win over Texas would help if there is any doubt, but Jared Cunningham has to show up. The Texas squad was not impressive, especially in the second loss to North Carolina State. But then neither was Michigan last season, and the Wolverines managed a bid as Coach Beilein's squad did mature and gel as the season progressed. North Carolina State did not impress in their semi-final game with Vanderbilt, but C. J. Leslie was back for his first game and Scott Wood was a DNP. The wing was solid, even on a shaky ankle, in the Wolfpack's win over Texas. And Leslie looked more comfortable than in his first game. Project (by Ken Pomeroy subscription) to tie for sixth in the Atlantic Coast Conference this season, North Carolina has an experienced squad. With Mark Gottfried at the helm and a staff that includes Bobby Lutz and Rob Moxley, the Wolfpack is better prepared to succeed than any of the past five years.

Texas freshman guard
Sterling Gibbs (#13) saw action in
the Consolation Game Monday

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