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Tag:Final Four
Posted on: April 5, 2011 12:35 am
Edited on: April 5, 2011 12:38 am
 

Final Four locales lead to poor shooting games

Posted by Matt Jones


HOUSTON --- Walking into a football stadium and seeing 75,000 people in one place for a basketball game is an impressive sight. With such a large mass of humanity in one place, a collective energy pervades the building and immediately signals to all who are in attendance that an important event is about to take place. From an aesthetic standpoint, it makes the Final Four a tremendous experience.

However as Monday night showed us once again, the football stadium Final Four all too often also produces horrific basketball. The numbers from UConn’s 53-41 victory over Butler suggest it was the worst offensive game in Final Four history. Butler shot 18.8 percent from the field, the lowest percentage of any team in any championship game in tournament history. It was also the lowest shooting percentage of any team in this year’s tournament, obliterating the futility record set by St. Peter’s in shooting 29 percent versus Purdue. UConn may have won the game, but it too contributed to the string of horrendous bricks, going 1-11 from the three point line and becoming the first team to win an NCAA title shooting less than 10 percent from behind the arc.

But the awful shooting didn’t start on Monday. In the Kentucky-UConn game on Saturday night, the Huskies went 1-12 from three point land and won, leading to a preposterous 2-23 total for the weekend. Kentucky shot only 33 percent from the field for the game and went 2-12 from three point land in the first half, even though virtually every one of the looks was completely wide open. In fact, the entire Final Four was one consistent parade of missed open three pointers, leading to a brand of eye-bleeding basketball that does little to sell the college game while played on its biggest stage.

Believe me, I understand the reason these games are played in such massive structures. With 75,000 fans on Saturday and another 70,000 on Monday, the NCAA set a new attendance record for the Final Four and produced not only a large stream of revenue, but also an atmosphere to compete with the biggest sporting events in the United States. So arguing that the NCAA should go back to something resembling a regular arena for the Final Four is unrealistic and akin to arguing that “student-athletes” should miss less class during March.

However we should acknowledge that what we see at the Final Four is not the same game that is played throughout the regular season or in the early rounds of the NCAA tournament. A game in a football stadium leads to a shooting environment that is unlike anything a player will otherwise see. Behind the basket is simply open space, often filled with temporary stands that dont raise immediately as in virtually every arena in America. With no real backdrop to create a context, the basketball goal seems to almost be floating in space. This will often cause even a great shooter to have issues with depth perception that in many cases, he has never previously seen. 

To understand exactly what is occurring, imagine standing in a desert, with no trees, mountains or buildings to help your eyes and brain conceptualize how far a particular object is from you at a given point. Absent the context around you, one is generally guessing to determine distances from a given point, an effect that is exaggerated to an even greater degree in a split-second situation. This occurs on a much smaller level in these football environments, often interfering with the regular routine of a shooter who is used to a regular context in the average basketball arena. Add the additional oddity of a raised court that hovers over the fans in the first couple of rows, and the difference from the players’ norm is real.

The dome effect has never been studied scientifically, but watch any game in such an environment and its power can be proven anecdotally. Over three games in Houston I witnessed not only poor shooting, but more truly bad misses far from their target than I have seen in any games all year. When those games are being had by the four teams playing for a national championship, the effect is even more striking.

The football stadium effect is only going to grow as the NCAA continues to put the Final Four in larger and larger venues. While domes are not new, some of the older buildings would put up large drapes to cover up some sections, which often had a secondary effect of making the arena a bit easier for shooters. Now the NCAA’s policy is go as big as it can get, meaning 75,000 fans will be the norm, not just a one-year attendance burst. That does lead to an amazing show and makes the Final Four experience one to remember. But the basketball game ends up being radically different, and as was the case on Monday night, often brutal to watch.

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 4, 2011 2:29 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2011 2:40 pm
 

Championship Game Preview: Connecticut vs. Butler

Posted by Jeff Borzello

Starters

Connecticut:

  • G- Kemba Walker (23.7 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 4.6 apg)
  • G- Jeremy Lamb (11.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg)
  • F- Roscoe Smith (6.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
  • F- Tyler Olander (1.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
  • C- Alex Oriakhi (9.6 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.6 bpg)

Butler:

  • G- Shelvin Mack (16.1 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 3.5 apg)
  • G- Chase Stigall (3.8 ppg)
  • G- Shawn Vanzant (8.2 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 41.7% 3pt)
  • F- Matt Howard (16.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 40.9% 3pt)
  • C- Andrew Smith (8.6 ppg, 5.5 rpg)

Three keys for Connecticut:

- Guarding the perimeter: Butler relies heavily on the 3-point shot, getting 31.6 percent of its points from behind the arc. Against VCU, threes from Zach Hahn and Shelvin Mack changed the game in the second half. UConn can’t allow that to happen.

- Attacking the rim: Butler struggles when Matt Howard isn’t on the floor; VCU failed to take advantage when he picked up his fourth foul on Saturday. Connecticut has to try to get Howard in foul trouble and then continue to attack if he goes to the bench.

- Role players: With Butler’s litany of impressive perimeter defenders, Kemba Walker might be limited at times. Jeremy Lamb has become a bona fide second scorer, but the Huskies will need more from the supporting cast. 12 points combined from Shabazz Napier and Alex Oriakhi won’t cut it this time.

Connecticut’s X-factor: Roscoe Smith. Connecticut’s perimeter triumvirate of Kemba Walker, Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier need to knock down shots, but Smith could be the key up front. Matt Howard is far more physical and aggressive than Smith, but Smith has shown the potential for big offensive performances. Moreover, will Smith be able to keep Howard or Andrew Smith off the glass?

Stat to Know: Connecticut averaged 72.9 points per game this season, and is 21-3 when scoring more than 70 points this season. Meanwhile, Butler is just 5-6 when allowing more than 70 points in a game. If the game is in the 60s, Butler might have the edge: the Bulldogs have won six straight when scoring fewer than 70 points.

Three keys for Butler:

- Defensive rebounding: Connecticut is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country, picking up 38.1 percent of its missed shots. On the other side, Butler ranks 15th in defensive rebounding. Matt Howard and Andrew Smith need to keep Alex Oriakhi off the glass.

- Slowing down Kemba: This is obvious. Connecticut goes as Kemba Walker goes. If he is limited in transition or kept out of the paint, he is far less effective as an offensive player. Ronald Nored and company needs to keep Walker on the perimeter and force him to beat the Bulldogs with contested jumpers.

- Tempo: It’s not as if Connecticut is a run-and-gun bunch, but Walker and Shabazz Napier are at their best when they are pushing the ball in fast-break opportunities, with Jeremy Lamb filling the lanes for easy baskets. UConn loves transition basketball; Butler needs to limit the Huskies’ run-outs and keep them in the half-court.

Butler’s X-factor: Shawn Vanzant. Vanzant doesn’t get the attention that Shelvin Mack does offensively or Ronald Nored defensively, but he is a key at both ends of the floor. His quickness allows him to pick up steals and be a distruptive force on the defensive end, and he is also an effective 3-point shooter and penetrator. Vanzant has scored in double-figures in eight of his last 12 games.

Stat to Know: Butler needs to hit the 3-pointer in order to win Monday night. The Bulldogs are 22-3 when hitting more than six 3-pointers in a game, but only 6-6 when making fewer than six. Additionally, Connecticut has held opponents to six or fewer 3-pointers on 22 separate occasions this season.

Photo: US Presswire

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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 4, 2011 10:33 am
 
Posted on: April 3, 2011 5:07 pm
Edited on: April 3, 2011 5:09 pm
 

Season Wrap-Up: Kentucky



Posted by Matt Jones

 

It was a strange season for the Kentucky Wildcats, one in which the team turned around its worst SEC road record in nearly two decades into an unexpected Final Four appearance. John Calipari’s team struggled at various points in the year to find any success away from Rupp Arena, but by the time March came around, the Wildcats mixed a surprising conglomeration of three talented freshmen and three wily old veterans into a winning formula. 

 

On Saturday night, the ride ended against UConn, as the Wildcats reverted back to some old bad habits against Jim Calhoun’s team. But that doesn’t change the overall successful nature of the season and the amazing run that Calipari once again orchestrated. In early February many longtime UK followers, myself included, wandered aloud why this year’s Kentucky team had seemed to create such a widespread malaise throughout the Big Blue fanbase. The always passionate UK fans seemed a bit tired of the season and the frustrating nature of this team. But that same group changed everything in just under two months, culminating in a packed house in Reliant Stadium on Saturday night, with blue once again predominating the crowd.

 

The season also once again proved just what an under-appreciated coach John Calipari truly is. While praised (or questioned) for his recruiting abilities, Calipari is rarely given significant credit for his ability to get the best out of his teams. With this group, Kentucky reached heights that no one imagined and a team with far less talent than what he had last year, or will have next year, cut down the nets in the East regional.

 

The Wildcats didn’t however beat the Huskies for five reasons:

 

--- Brandon Knight wasn’t Brandon Knight: The point guard who showcased a dazzling array of skills, but also a cool demeanor that seemed infallible, was simply not himself against the Huskies. He shot 6-23 from the field, but more importantly, did not play with the same precision to which Kentucky had grown accustomed. He attempted to force the offense way too often and except for a quick burst early in the second half, his shots were usually way off target. The Wildcats will rarely win when Brandon Knight is not a star and he was not a star on Saturday.

 

--- The Veterans Left the Building: Junior Deandre Liggins was very effective on the defensive end against Kemba Walker, but otherwise Kentucky’s three grizzled veterans retreated back to their pre-March selves. Josh Harrellson and Darius Miller missed shots that they normally finished and Liggins seemed wholly unable to penetrate and finish at the rim as he had become accustomed to doing. The great stories of the rise of the veterans was a theme of March, but it disappeared against the Huskies.

 

--- Free Throws:  Shoot 4-12 in a big game from the free throw line, and your chances of winning are slim. Kentucky missed crucial free throws down the stretch, including two big misses by Terrence Jones and Liggins in the closing two minutes. Free throws are John Calipari’s achilles heel and even with a team that had been successful all year from the charity stripe, it bit them late.

 

--- Fatigue: I never thought fatigue would be an issue for Kentucky and it had not shown up as a problem all season. But because of an odd stretch in the last ten minutes of the second half, the six-man rotation of Kentucky was gassed. With no stoppage of play and thus no television timeout for a six-minute stretch, Kentucky’s players energy was zapped and they made poor decisions on the offensive end. That gave UConn a lead that it would never relinquish.

 

--- Poor Final Play:  Deandre Liggins made a big shot against North Carolina in the East regional and hit a huge three to cut the deficit late against UConn. But, there probably was a better final look that Kentucky could have had at the basket with its final shot, than a contested three pointer by Liggins in the final moments. UK went far riding Brandon Knight and his decision making ability. But the Wildcats probably wish they had that play to do over again.

 

What’s Next for Kentucky

 

Next season is the year that gives John Calipari his best chance to win a national championship. Many of the pieces from this year’s team will return. Darius Miller and Deandre Liggins should come back to provide senior leadership. Freshman Terrence Jones is likely headed to the NBA draft, but guards Brandon Knight and Doron Lamb still have decisions to make. 

 

But the key to next year’s success is a recruiting class that may (unbelievably) be John Calipari’s best of his career. Four McDonald’s All Americans will come to Lexington, each of whom are immensely talented. The group of Anthony Davis, Michael Gilchrist, Marquis Teague and Kyle Wiltjer could be one of the five best recruiting classes in college basketball history. With that group, Kentucky has its best chance to cut down the nets in over a decade and the pressure will be on to have a monster season.

 

Either way, Kentucky basketball is back among the top 5 programs in America and as long as John Calipari is the coach, they will stay in that position. Many around Kentucky will lament the fact that they were so close to championship No. 8 and fell short, but the chances will be there in the future, the best of which may be next season.

 

 

 

Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 3, 2011 12:37 am
 
Posted on: April 2, 2011 1:16 pm
Edited on: April 2, 2011 1:21 pm
 

Keys to victory: Connecticut vs. Kentucky

Posted by Jeff Borzello

Starters

Connecticut:

  • G- Kemba Walker (23.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg, 4.5 apg)
  • G- Jeremy Lamb (11.1 ppg, 4.3 rpg)
  • F- Roscoe Smith (6.5 ppg, 5.2 rpg)
  • F- Tyler Olander (1.5 ppg, 1.8 rpg)
  • C- Alex Oriakhi (9.6 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 1.6 bpg)

Kentucky:

  • G- Brandon Knight (17.3 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 4.2 apg)
  • G- DeAndre Liggins (8.8 ppg, 4.1 rpg, 2.5 apg)
  • F- Darius Miller (11.1 ppg, 4.6 rpg, 44.9% 3pt)
  • F- Terrence Jones (15.8 ppg, 8.7 rpg, 1.9 bpg)
  • C- Josh Harrellson (7.6 ppg, 8.8 rpg)

Three keys for Connecticut:

- Guarding the perimeter: Kentucky shoots the 3-pointer as well as anyone in the country, with multiple players capable of knocking down the outside shot.

- Getting Jorts in foul trouble: This one falls on Alex Oriakhi. The big man has struggled offensively at times, but getting Josh Harrellson in foul trouble would allow the Huskies to dominate the glass.

- Role players: Kemba is a constant. The nation’s best point guard will get his 25-30 points no matter if his shot is falling or not. Players like Jeremy Lamb and Shabazz Napier will need to step up.

Connecticut’s X-factor: Shabazz Napier: Kemba Walker and Jeremy Lamb have been two of the better players during the NCAA tournament, but Napier has been an underrated asset. He comes in the game and runs the show, allowing Walker to play off the ball. Napier is also a lockdown defender who pushes the tempo.

Three keys for Kentucky:

- Kemba Walker: UConn can’t win without Walker playing well. If DeAndre Liggins can keep Walker on the perimeter and force him to take jumpers, Kentucky will win.

- Keeping UConn out of transition: The Huskies are at their best when they’re running and scoring fast-break points. Kentucky has to limit turnovers and make it a halfcourt game.

- Rebounding: Connecticut is one of the best offensive rebounding teams in the country; Kentucky has to keep Alex Oriakhi and Roscoe Smith off the glass.

Kentucky’s X-factor: Doron Lamb: Lamb hasn’t scored in double figures in the NCAA tournament, but his shooting could be a key against Connecticut. Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier will focus on harassing Brandon Knight, potentially freeing Lamb for open outside jumpers. He needs to knock them down.

Photo: US Presswire

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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 2, 2011 12:09 pm
Edited on: April 2, 2011 12:14 pm
 

Keys to victory: Butler vs. VCU

Posted by Jeff Borzello

Starters

VCU:

  • G- Joey Rodriguez (10.5 ppg, 5.1 apg)
  • G- Bradford Burgess (14.3 ppg, 6.2 rpg, 42.8% 3pt)
  • G- Ed Nixon (7.1 ppg)
  • F- Jamie Skeen (15.4 ppg, 7.4 rpg, 40.2% 3pt)
  • F- D.J. Haley (1.1 ppg, 1.6 rpg)

Butler:

  • G- Shelvin Mack (15.9 ppg, 4.3 rpg, 3.6 apg)
  • G- Chase Stigall (3.9 ppg)
  • G- Shawn Vanzant (8.1 ppg, 3.2 rpg, 42.0% 3pt)
  • F- Matt Howard (16.7 ppg, 7.7 rpg, 42.6% 3pt)
  • C- Andrew Smith (8.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg)

Three keys for Butler:

- Staying out of foul trouble: Matt Howard is prone to foul problems, but he has not fouled out a single time during Butler’s 13-game winning streak.

- Taking care of the ball: VCU thrives when it’s able to force turnovers and get transition baskets. Butler wants to make it a halfcourt game.

- Guard the perimeter: The main key for VCU all tournament has been its ability to get hot from 3-point range. Butler has to get out to the arc and limit open shots.

Butler’s X-factor: Andrew Smith: Matt Howard gets the majority of the publicity down low, but Smith is a player in his own right. He is an excellent defender, shutting down Jon Leuer in the Sweet 16. Smith will need to defend Jamie Skeen on the perimeter, and also take advantage of Butler’s size edge down low.

Three keys for VCU:

- Speed: VCU isn’t the run-and-gun team some people think it is, but the Rams do like to get out in transition and take advantage of their athleticism.

- Forcing turnovers: If Butler is able to make it a halfcourt game and control the tempo and pace by taking care of the ball, VCU could be in trouble.

- Rebounding: VCU is one of the worst defensive rebounding teams in the country, but the Rams have survived by limiting second-chance points.

VCU’s X-factor: Brandon Rozzell: Butler has a tremendous defensive backcourt with Shawn Vanzant and Ronald Nored, but they will likely be assigned to Joey Rodriguez and Bradford Burgess. Off the bench, Rozzell could be a key. He is a high-volume shooter and gets the team rolling when he is hot from deep.

Photo: US Presswire

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Category: NCAAB
Posted on: April 1, 2011 7:58 pm
Edited on: April 1, 2011 8:08 pm
 

Calhoun has taught young dogs old tricks



Posted by Eric Angevine

Experience is one of the factors most often linked to a team with Final Four potential. It is the thing most obviously missing when the Connecticut Huskies take the floor.

At least, the players haven't logged much time on their odometers. Kemba Walker might seem like he's been around forever, but it's easy at times to forget that he's just a junior. With a lineup composed primarily of freshmen and sophomores, the Huskies weren't supposed to get anywhere near Houston, if we're honest about the preseason whispers.

So what gives? Credit the man on the bench, of course. Jim Calhoun is 68 years old, and he's been in the Basketball Hall of Fame since 2005. He's old enough that one of his star players, Jeremy Lamb, is the son of a player who knocked his Northeastern Huskies out of the NCAA tournament in 1984. Live long enough, and these things stop seeming like coincidences and more like the expected fruits of a full life.

Calhoun played the wise, fatherly role to the hilt in Houston, referencing the popular Fred McMurray sitcom My Three Sons (1960-1972) when asked to remark on his status as the elder statesman of the Final Four coaches.

"Shaka is the brilliant and very smart, but cool, fighter," he told the assembled media at Reliant Stadium. "Brad hasn't said the wrong word, ever. He's your middle child. Then we have our problem older child who is also brilliant and a terrific, terrific basketball coach."

Laughter rippled around the room at that. Calhoun didn't need to say the name of his Saturday opponent, John Calipari, for the room to get the joke.

Calhoun might go for the easy chuckle when he's on the dais, but there's little doubt that he came to Houston to take care of business and bring home his third NCAA championship. It took every ounce of his coaching acumen to turn Kemba Walker and a bunch of unproven freshmen and sophomores into the formidable unit that took the floor during open practice today. He'll make it sound easy, because that's what he does. When asked about facing a Kentucky team he already beat once back in November, Calhoun made it sound like a walk in the park.

"On Maui, it was house money. We weren't even supposed to make the (NCAA) tournament, let alone be near it. We just kind of played free and easy," he said. "(Now) I think the stakes of the game are entirely different. I really like that Maui trophy. It's kind of cool. But this is another one I think that's a lot more important and that we'd rather have."

Sounds innocuous, but that statement reveals a lot about how Calhoun approached this season, and why he's considered one of the greatest of all time. Reading between the lines, it seems clear that Calhoun gave his charges plenty of opportunities to mess up -- which they took full advantage of -- without getting called on the carpet too much. Perhaps he showed his kids that he expected more when the Big East season ladled out nine disappointing losses; worked night and day to teach them how to best support the rampaging ninja in the Walker jersey so they'd be ready when it really counted. Whatever he did, it's led to this point: nine straight wins with an option on two more. A program that was an object of pity for sympathetic souls and derision for enemies this summer is now 1/4th of a championship quartet.

The team has become tough and prickly just like the coach who stoked the furnaces of their success. One might say they take abrundage at any suggestion that they lack the power to survive and advance yet again. Well, 'one' might not say that, but Calhoun would. He coined the malapropism in Friday's news conference, once again in reference to Calipari in his days at UMass.

"John really was trying to claim New England," Calhoun said. "He could never say he parked the car in Harvard Yard, he didn't know what clam chowder really was. I took abrundage to it, but I take abrundage to a lot of things."

Check out your Oxford English Dictionary, and you'll find 'LOL' and 'OMG' in it, but not 'abrundage'. Not yet. If Jim Calhoun can somehow convince his Huskies to pound their way into the NCAA final on a wave of abrundage, it's sure to become the latest addition to the lexicon.

Photo: US Presswire

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