At the Watercooler: Talkin' tourneys
With a nice slate of tournament games scheduled for Tuesday night, Myron Medcalf and Eamonn Brennan met at the Watercooler this morning to discuss what they're looking forward to seeing.
Eamonn Brennan: Happy Feast Week, Myron! We're smack dab in the middle of a whole mess of early-season basketball, led by the Maui Invitational and the Legends Classic, so we should probably spend this Watercooler talking about conference realignment.
Just kidding. That's not going to happen. I would rather strike myself repeatedly with a ball-peen hammer. Or take a 3-point shot when Coach Knight doesn't want me to.
Let's talk about hoops, and start in NYC. Some people (including one of our own headlines) called Georgetown's win over UCLA an upset, but I didn't see it that way. I just think Georgetown's good.
Myron Medcalf: First, Happy Feast Week to you as well, Eamonn! And let's put the rumors to bed before we get into this. You and I have NOT been in talks with the Big Ten or the Big East. Now that we've established that, I agree with you. I think Georgetown made a statement about its place in the Big East. Otto Porter impresses me every time I see him play. It's as though he improves every week. I love his game. Starks can go, too. JTIII has a Top-25 team. That's what I learned. I expected too much from Shabazz Muhammad and UCLA. He hasn't practiced. He has been hurt. He hasn't played. And it showed. But pretty spectacular for a guy who was sidelined for months and competing in his first collegiate game, right?
EB: Yeah, and he wasn't exactly hesitant -- that first one-on-one fast-break jumper he took was definitely not a good shot, but it went in, and while he struggled throughout the game in all the ways you mentioned, I actually thought he did a pretty nice job just taking what came to him in the normal course of UCLA's offense. He wasn't totally gunning shots or disrupting things. And his outside shot seems to have improved greatly from his prep days.
The problem wasn't Muhammad, really, because UCLA got some decent scoring from elsewhere. The problem is that they don't really seem to have much of an offense right now. How many possessions in a row did they just sort of stand still in their zone offense, passing the ball around before settling on a 3? There was very little movement, and that will surely improve. I think UCLA is pretty clearly WAY better than last year, with plenty of room to grow.
MM: I agree. Georgetown is the better team right now. Two months from now, it could be a different story. But hey, it's not like UCLA is Texas. No excuses there. I don't care that Myck Kabongo is out. A double-digit loss to DII Chaminade? What on earth is wrong with the Longhorns?
EB: Yeah, dude. Chaminade. That happened. Rick Barnes said his team played scared. I wasn't watching that game until it got out of hand in the second half -- which is crazy in and of itself -- but that sounds about right.
It's easy to say, "Well, Texas is really young," but they are really young. This feels like more of a freak early-season occurrence than a larger statement on Texas with or without Myck Kabongo. I'm going to let it slide. I'm feeling generous.
Speaking of Maui #FREEROTNEI
MM: #FREEROTNEI is right Dat boy good. I mean, you're watching that game, anticipating a Marquette win and then Boom! One-handed, off-balance 3-pointer to win the game. You kidding me? I think Butler made a statement. Clearly, the loss of Crishawn Hopkins hurts. But when Rotnei Clarke is on, I think the Bulldogs have the talent to compete with the A-10's best. And now, an interesting matchup with a North Carolina team that scored 95 points and beat Mississippi State with college basketball's equivalent of a ground-and-pound attack, a la Anderson Silva. This UNC team is very dangerous with all of its weapons.
EB: It's definitely promising that Butler won despite a really poor shooting night from Clarke, and one in which they allowed their opponent about 1.1 points per trip. I'm definitely feeling more bullish than I was during the Marathon. Oh, and nothing against UNC, because they look good but Mississippi State is horrible. You can't lose that many players in six months and be anything but.
Speaking of horrible, I'm not sure if you stayed up for the late one, but Illinois scored 57 points -- 57! -- in the first half against USC. Last season, despite the Trojans being really bad, USC's opponents frequently struggled to break the 65-point barrier. Illinois came out and just destroyed them.
And no, the Trojans did not play well; they are not that bad, and Illiinois is not that good. But it was hard to watch and not be impressed with the Illini. Brandon Paul is passing up bad shots! The ball is moving all over the floor! Guys are playing hard! What sorcery is this?!
MM: I watched it live. And I think John Groce's impact already has affected the program. If they can get Paul to play that balanced basketball (IF), the Illini might be better than expected. Perhaps USC is that bad, though. We'll see in the coming weeks. But I'm definitely intrigued by Illinois.
Speaking of intrigue, Indiana got off to a very rough start, started 1-for-12 from the 3-point line and still won by double-digits against a game Georgia squad. Cody Zeller struggled. But the Hoosiers still finished strong. I'm definitely looking forward to tonight's matchup against Georgetown, a dangerous game for the Hoosiers.
EB: It absolutely is. Georgetown was a really good defensive team last season, and they looked it again Monday night, but they actually scored on the other end, too, which is not something we can say for IU's first opponent, UGA. Zeller's got to get going again -- that's a major matchup advantage for Indiana -- and the Hoosiers can't let the Hoyas run them off the 3-point line, because that is where their offense is still at its most lethal.
It could definitely be close. Much as we all wanted to see IU-UCLA, and all that talent, you could easily argue that Georgetown is drastically more prepared to give the Hoosiers a real test.
Back out to Maui one thing Illinois' win did for them was earn them the second-round game with Chaminade. So they'll probably (repeat: probably!) get to the final. The other side of the bracket, UNC-Butler, is much more interesting.
MM: Yep. Butler is soaring after that dramatic win against Marquette. And as you mentioned, Carolina walked over MSU. What I liked about UNC's win was its diversity. So many guys contributed. The Tar Heels' depth will be a problem for Butler. I think the Bulldogs will need great performances from Clarke, Marshall and Smith. And they need help from their bench, something they lacked against Marquette.
EB: Let's be honest here: The gap in ability between North Carolina and Butler is super-obvious. The Bulldogs will have a chance to win only if they control the tempo throughout, beat UNC back down the floor on defense, and work to get good shots that don't lead to run-outs and fast breaks. For all of Clarke's last-second heroics, he did not have a good game Monday. He forced a lot of bad 3s. If he does that again Tuesday night, I'm not sure Butler has a chance. This is UNC's tournament to lose.
MM: True. The buzzer-beater masked his inefficiency (7-for-21). I'm excited for both games, though. Great basketball ahead. It's probably time to wrap this thing up, but let's go back to Brooklyn for a moment. I know Tom Crean loves to hype his players. And he should. But Jordan Hulls in the NBA? He lost me on that postgame rant. You?
EB: Crean continued by saying I was "without question, a 100 percent lock to win Time's Man of the Year award, no doubt in my mind," and went on to say that "if Myron Medcalf isn't the favorite to win this season on 'American Idol,' I don't know who is."
MM: I had no idea he'd ever heard me sing.
EB: Honestly, Crean can be my PR rep any day. But that postgame interview was only tangentially related to reality.
MM: Best part about the "Hulls to the NBA" take is that it's only November. We're off to a great start, Eamonn.