Tuesday, November 22, 2011
Previewing Maui's second day of action
By Eamonn Brennan
Hopefully you're not the kind of person with a "job" or "responsibilities," because (A) total buzzkill, dude, and (B) either probably disqualified you from staying up until the wee hours to see Kansas and Georgetown finish off a rowdy first day of basketball in Maui on Monday/Tuesday. You missed a great game. I hate to tell you that, but it's true.
The good news? That was only Day 1 (our blog coverage of which can be found here). The second day of the Maui Invitational -- which features semifinals in both the winner's and consolation sides of the bracket -- should offer just as much in the way of quality hoops. Let's run through some previews before things tip off at 2 p.m. ET this afternoon. (Here's the bracket for your reference.)
Memphis vs. Tennessee, 2 p.m. ET (ESPN2/ESPN3): Memphis probably did not expect to be a part of the consolation bracket in this tournament, and it almost certainly did not expect to find itself here as the result of a convincing, comprehensive performance by the Michigan Wolverines. John Beilein's team was better in nearly every way Monday: It was light years more efficient on offense, it was significantly more solid on defense, and Beilein's performance itself was a clinic: His mix of 2-3 and 1-3-1 zone looks out of timeouts confused the Tigers throughout the game, and Memphis never adjusted.
Things may get slightly simpler against Tennessee, but not by much. The Volunteers have already taken on the tough personality of new coach Cuonzo Martin, a personality they displayed in a rugged performance against Duke's talented perimeter offensive attack. But Memphis should have the advantage here: Tennessee is just as raw as the Tigers but certainly less talented, and if Memphis rebounds well and gets the ball to point guard Joe Jackson in space, the Tigers should be able to score easy points in transition. All the talk about Memphis being overrated is beside the point now; Josh Pastner's team (and coaching staff) have much more pressing concerns at hand. First among them is bouncing back from Monday's disappointment. What better way to do so than a win against a hated rival?
Georgetown vs. Chaminade, 4:30 p.m. ET (ESPN2/ESPN3): If Georgetown plays half as well as it did on Monday night, it will have no problem dismantling a scrappy but overmatched Chaminade team. (UCLA did so with ease in the second half, and the Bruins never looked remotely as impressive as the Hoyas.) There's a lot to like about these Hoyas already. Just three games into the season, John Thompson III has his team schooled in the nuances of the Princeton offense.
Former role player Hollis Thompson appears to have taken a leadership role on both sides of the ball; senior guard Jason Clark is a constant threat from beyond the arc; center Henry Sims is an excellent passer out of the high-low pivot; and freshman Otto Porter appears to have a very bright immediate future in D.C. The Hoyas simply have to make shots. They went 40 percent from the field and 29.2 percent from beyond the arc against Kansas. If they can avoid a letdown, expect the makes to come much more easily against the Silverswords.
Michigan vs. Duke, 7 p.m. ET (ESPN/ESPN3): To borrow a phrase from the English football punditry, this one promises to be an absolute cracker. There are storylines galore. Among them is the long-term animus between these two programs (which was riled up by the Jalen Rose "Uncle Tom" controversy, and punctuated by Grant Hill's devastating New York Times editorial, in March); Michigan's desire to avenge last year's near-upset in the NCAA tournament; the battle of wits between two technically brilliant coaches; the emergence of Michigan (and its surprisingly successful freshman point Trey Burke) as a plausible Big Ten contender; the continued development of a young Duke team; and, in particular, in the decision-making of star freshman Austin Rivers -- just to name a few.
Most of that will fade once these teams hit the court, of course, and what we'll get then should be wholly entertaining. Both teams are at their best when they're finding spot-up shooters for open 3s. Duke has Seth Curry, Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly; Michigan has Tim Hardaway Jr., Stu Douglass, Evan Smotrycz and Zack Novak, among others. The difference in this game may be the interior presence of Mason and Miles Plumlee; other than big man Jordan Morgan, it's not clear that Michigan has the big men to keep the Plumlees off the glass on a consistent basis.
In the meantime, watch that matchup at the guard spot, where two freshmen -- Rivers and Burke -- will be battling each other all evening. Rivers' talent remains a tantalizing prospect. Once he becomes intuitive in his on-ball decision-making and tougher in his finishing around the rim, this Duke offense is going to be a nightmare to guard.
UCLA vs. Kansas, 9:30 p.m. ET (ESPN/ESPN3): How's this for a lowercase-f final four: Michigan and Duke on one side, UCLA and Kansas on the other. It's a high-major brand-name fiesta. Not bad, right?
In any case, this game might not quite live up to these teams' mutual histories, if only because Kansas appears to be light years ahead of UCLA right now. The Jayhawks' win over Georgetown on Monday was impressive: Bill Self's team is cohesive on defense and intelligent on offense, and while there are plenty of warts to zap at this stage of any season, Kansas has to be thrilled with the improvements it showcased between last week's double-digit loss to Kentucky and Monday night's hard-nosed win over a very game Hoyas team.
UCLA should take some measure of confidence out of its blowout of Chaminade for a couple of reasons: One, after two brutal losses to Loyola Marymount and Middle Tennessee State to begin the season, a win is a win is a win. But more importantly, the Bruins shot the ball well in the second half -- something they'd yet to do at any point this season -- and they got very capable guard play from Lazeric Jones, Tyler Lamb and Jerime Anderson, who combined for 52 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists. Meanwhile, Reeves Nelson is back with the time, and though he didn't impact the game much Monday, he at least looked engaged. That's a start.
This UCLA team will almost certainly get better as the season goes on. But right now, it's still in the larval stage. Center Josh Smith is still in offseason shape (in other words, he can't play for large stretches of time without needing a breather on the bench) and that's hardly the man you want to see matched up with the athletic whirlwind that is Jayhawks forward Thomas Robinson. Combine Robinson's likely interior dominance with the overhaul intelligence and competence of KU's guards, and, well, yeah: It would somewhat shocking to me to see UCLA give Kansas too many problems Monday night.
That said, even if this game gets lopsided, don't turn it off. Why? Because if you missed Monday night's finale, you missed five ferocious Robinson dunks. The guy is must-see TV (and if you're a basketball junkie, you'll fawn at the passes Kansas makes to get him the ball in alley-oop-worthy positions). Anyway, you've been warned. Don't make the same mistake twice.