Tuesday, February 16, 2010
The Morning After: Kansas gets muddy
By Eamonn Brennan
The Morning After is our semi-daily recap of last night's best hoops action. Try not to make it awkward.
Cole Aldrich had at least 10 points, 10 rebounds and five blocked shots for the sixth time this season.
No. 1 Kansas 59, No. 23 Texas A&M 54: There's a common belief that if teams want to win NCAA titles, they have to learn how to win ugly in the tournament. This is not always true: 2008-09's champs, the North Carolina Tar Heels, were never forced to win ugly in March or April; Tyler Hansbrough & Co. rolled through their six tourney games like they were playing in the Maui Invitational rather than the NCAA tourney. Wouldn't you rather dominate? It keeps things simple. Still, though, it can't hurt a dominant team to get punched in the mouth from time to time, to face a rowdy away crowd on a night when the shots aren't falling and to come away with a victory in a hard-fought, low-scoring slugfest. That's what the Jayhawks did last night.
On a night when Sherron Collins scored a mere seven points and committed five turnovers -- and a night when Kansas hit only one 3-pointer in 10 attempts -- Cole Aldrich was the key. Big surprise, right? Aldrich had 12 points, 10 rebounds, five blocks, and countless other altered shots in the interior. The Aggies, meanwhile, completely shut down in the last few minutes of the game -- Donald Sloan disappeared, as did the Aggies' offensive rebounds and free throws, while Kansas was able to get to the line at a high (56.5 percent FTR) rate.
After the game, Bill Self said his team won "muddy," and that's about as good an adjective as you can use for what we saw from both teams last night. It was muddy. Self wouldn't want them to wallow in it, but maybe it's good for the Jayhawks to get a little mud on their shoes from time to time.
Connecticut 84, No. 3 Villanova 75: Can someone please explain the Connecticut Huskies? (Wait, that's kind of my job? Oh, right.) Actually, Andy's explanation last night is as good as any: The Huskies pretty clearly have talent, they've just not always played up to it. This team has Kemba Walker, Stanley Robinson and Jerome Dyson in its backcourt, a hyperathletic threesome that should compete with anybody in the country. It also helps that UConn played much the same Monday night as they played in a close loss at Syracuse last week: Walker and Dyson used their strength to get in the lane, refusing to force outside jumpers. The Huskies flew around on their own defensive end, using their one main advantage -- a proficiency at blocking shots -- frequently. And UConn got to the line. They got to the line a lot. Jim Calhoun's team shot 44 free throws to Villanova's 20, a product mostly of athleticism and Villanova's inability to stop anyone on defense.
Oh, and make no mistake: Villanova can't stop anyone on defense. The Wildcats are one of the country's best offenses, but their defensive efficiency numbers aren't pretty: Nova doesn't turn opponents over and doesn't force them into particularly bad shots, which is why they have the No. 66-ranked defense in the country and aren't in Pomeroy's top 10 despite the high level of respect afforded to them nationally. Nova is a good team with flaws, and a suddenly organized and viable UConn team exposed nearly every one of them.