Thursday, March 15, 2012
Previewing Portland: Afternoon games
By Ted Miller
PORTLAND -- Let's take a look at the afternoon's games:
No. 4 Louisville (26-9) vs. No. 13 Davidson (25-7)
Rick Pitino isn't here to talk about the past. Or at least the recent past.
Louisville's dapper head man has coached in five Final Fours -- only six other coaches can claim more -- and is the only coach to lead three different teams to the national semifinals. But you are not, by golly, going to get him to psychoanalyze his Cardinals going one-and-done in their last two appearances in the NCAA tournament, including going down to 13th-seeded Morehead State last year.
"We don't feel any pressure," he said. "We treat every game as if it's -- what do you want me to say. We're shaking in our boots? What would you like me to answer? Answer for yourself."
OK, then. Pitino's fourth-seeded Cardinals are a trendy pick to go down Thursday against No. 13 Davidson, a team that owns a win over Kansas, scores in bunches and has won 18 of its past 21 games. Davidson also has a competitive loss at Duke, and some of you might recall a surprising run to the 2008 Elite Eight led by Stephen Curry.
The Wildcats don't seem like a team that's going to become a shrinking violet against a traditional Big East power, even if this is their first trip to the Big Dance since that Big Run.
"For most of us, this is our first tournament game, but we feel like we've been here before because of those types of games [Kansas, at Duke]," junior forward Jake Cohen said.
This one sets up with an obvious angle. Louisville held teams to 62 points per game and 37.9 percent shooting. Davidson averaged 78.4 points per game -- 12th in the nation -- and 44.9 percent shooting.
"Davidson is a unique basketball team," Pitino said. "I've not seen anybody we've faced this year -- maybe with the exception of Long Beach State -- that runs on every single possession."
That might play into the Cardinals' hands, however. They also like to play up-tempo basketball and are relentless with pressure -- both in the full court and half court -- and they force a lot of turnovers. Further, after injuries led to a middling Big East season, Louisville surged with four consecutive wins to win the conference tournament as the 7-seed.
Davidson wants to play its game, but Louisville's defensive pressure will be a step up from the Southern Conference schedule.
"If we handle their pressure well, we'll be in good shape," Cohen said.
No. 5 New Mexico (27-6) vs. No. 12 Long Beach State (25-8), 4:10 p.m. ET
New Mexico coach Steve Alford and Long Beach State's Dan Monson are good buddies who have traveled similar roads. Both pushed their way up through the coaching ranks in the Big Ten -- Monson at Minnesota, Alford at Iowa. And now they meet in the NCAA tournament leading so-called "non-BCS" programs, and they're seemingly much happier.
"It's just been a tremendous relationship," Alford said. "That's why I thought it was unfortunate that we ended up having to be paired, because obviously only one of us gets the opportunity to go into the weekend."
Friendships are suspended in the NCAA tourney.
The first issue that hangs over this matchup is the health of Long Beach State senior guard Larry Anderson. The Big West Conference Defensive Player of the Year -- and three-time captain -- has missed three games with a sprained knee. It would be fair to say he's decidedly questionable. And, even if he plays, how close to 100 percent will he be?
"If it's too sore, then I'm probably not going to play," Anderson said.
Said Monson, "That's a blow. You just don't get by that. And for us to act like it is -- it's a blow. But with that being said, we know we also are a good basketball team without him."
A fair point: The 49ers won the Big West tournament without him. With Anderson out, 6-foot guard Mike Caffey started twice and 6-8 forward Edis Dervisevic started the Big West tournament final.
"We don't know who we are going to start right now," Monson said.
Gordon, a transfer from UCLA, averaged 13.4 points and 10.9 rebounds this season. He won the Mountain West tournament MVP award. Ware, the Big West Player of the Year, conference tournament MVP and Wooden Award nominee, averaged 17.4 points and 3.3 assists per game. He scored 33 in the championship win over UC Santa Barbara.
The Lobos are all about defense and rebounding. They are fourth in the nation in field goal percentage defense (38 percent) and outrebounded opponents in 27 of 30 regular-season games.
Long Beach State, which hasn't won a tournament game since 1973 and is making just its second appearance since 1995, has four productive senior starters, but their centerpiece is Ware, who scored 29 points in a close loss at North Carolina and obviously has a way of showing up when the spotlight is hot.
So there's plenty of intrigue here: Will Anderson play? Which star will demand his close-up, Gordon or Ware? And which coach, Monson or Alford, will send his good buddy packing?