It’s Wednesday, which means I’m coming at you with another NCAA Shootaround. I hope y’all enjoy. Also, check out the NBA podcast that went up today as Levi and I discuss the Chicago Bulls and the wayward Minnesota Timberwolves.
Duke vs. St. John’s
Obviously, the big storyline from this game is Coach K getting number 1,000. Although, for a good portion of the second half it looked like he’d have to wait at least a few more days. I’ve never cared for Duke, but I do have a tremendous amount of respect for Coach K and the program that he’s built. He’s also worked wonders for Team U.S.A.
That being said, I thought Duke looked really good for the last eight or so minutes of this game. I’m not going to remind you all that Jahlil Okafor is really good at basketball. Tyus Jones was the most important Duke player in this game though. He made tons of plays on both ends of the floor, and they always seemed to come at the right time. Another player, who didn’t even get mentioned in my last Duke post, is Amile Jefferson. He is an overlooked member of the Blue Devil frontcourt, but he is putting up great numbers. Granted, a lot of pretty good players could put up big numbers by taking advantage of the double and triple teams that Okafor draws on a consistent basis. However, Jefferson is capitalizing on those opportunities and there is something to be said for that.
St. John’s played really well from about the 10:00 mark in the 1st half to the 10:00 mark in the 2nd half. I was really hoping to be able to title this column “The Knighting of Sir’Dominic Pointer”. Too cheesy? I didn’t think so. Yes, that is his real name. I wrote earlier in the year that you ought to watch St. John’s play if given the opportunity. That still holds true. They are fun to watch, and in some ways a blast from the past. They are an athletic bunch and when they get to the rim they finish well. Unfortunately, the Johnnies don’t shoot particularly well from deep and that allows defenses to pack it in down low and force them to shoot outside. The Red Storm is a solid group, but likely isn’t a major threat for a deep tournament run unless they can cut down on mental mistakes and improve their perimeter offense.
Syracuse vs. North Carolina
Rakeem Christmas is having himself a merry season. He continued that on Monday night in leading the Orange against North Carolina. He has been one of the most improved players in the NCAA; along with teammate (and Duke transfer) Michael Gbinije. Trevor Cooney is another key piece for the Orange, and fits the “white point guard who shoots 3’s and never does anything remotely flashy” mold, a la Gerry McNamara. Jim Boeheim is probably going to be the next coach to reach 1,000 wins, but this season won’t go down as one of his more memorable. A lack of depth paired with inconsistent play will likely relegate the Orange to a lower seed in the tournament, assuming they make it, and a first or second round exit will follow. (I realize that technically they are calling it the second and third round now, but I’m from the South so I hate change. Sue me.)
North Carolina is a very enigmatic team. They’ve been up and down this season, but if they can pull everything together down the stretch they may have a solid tournament run in them. The main reason for optimism is point guard Marcus Paige. Paige is one of my favorite players to watch. He does everything well. He shoots threes, distributes the ball, and plays good defense. UNC does have its issues though. They turn the ball over too much, especially when Marcus Paige is out of the game. The up-tempo pace may contribute to some of that, but still that needs to be improved upon if they wish to be a legitimate title contender.
Texas vs. Iowa State
Sometimes in life we choose to believe things that are almost certainly untrue. I’m choosing to believe that Texas wearing all grey uniforms was a subtle jab at Iowa State for never using accent colors on any of their uniforms. Their non-white uniforms in both football and basketball have legitimately no white, black or gray accent anywhere, except for maybe their facemasks in football. Due to this, I’m always reminded of ketchup and mustard when I watch them play. Other teams with more or less the same color scheme (USC is the first that comes to mind) don’t have the same effect. Anyway, just a really long side note to this game.
If Texas were even an average outside shooting team, they would be a top 5 team. Their frontcourt is HUGE. Myles Turner is probably the best big man in the country west of the Mississippi. His play draws comparisons to former Texas standout and current Portland Trailblazers star LaMarcus Aldridge. Cameron Ridley has a Shaq-like presence with his overwhelming size. The point guard Isaiah Taylor has startling speed and quickness, but needs to work on both perimeter scoring and finishing at the basket. Back to Texas’ outside shooting though, they gave up infinitely more alley oops than they made 3-point baskets in the first half. And when I say “infinitely” I’m actually not exaggerating, they didn’t make a single three in the first half. C’mon what is this 1969? Note: Texas shot significantly better in the second half and, as a result, made it a competitive ball game.
Bizarre accentless uniforms aside, the Cyclones and “Hoiball” (named for coach Fred Hoiberg) are an exciting team. Georges Niang is the star and is a polished offensive player inside and out. He hits 3’s, scores at the basket, and is a great high post passer. Jameel McKay is the most fun player on the team. His dreadlocks and ferocious dunks have led to him being nicknamed “Manimal Jr.” For those of you wondering, yes, I did just make that up. As far as I know, I’m the only person to ever call him that, but I think it works.
Florida vs. Alabama
Sloppy. Sloppy. Sloppy. I don’t have that much else to say about this one. Florida has been one of the most disappointing team’s in the country this season. They move to 11-9 after this win, but for a preseason top 25 team that shouldn’t be the case.
Alabama, on the other hand, came into the season conservatively hopeful of an NCAA tournament berth, but that looks like a pipe dream at this point. The Crimson Tide got dunked on with 20 seconds left to lose the ball game, and the best aspect of their team is their defense.
Alabama’s biggest issue is the fact that if their offense is called on to win them a game, then there is a 99% chance that they are about to lose. They play an exceptionally slow pace and an outdated brand of basketball. Also, for a team that plays so slowly, the Tide has a significant amount of trouble getting to the rim. Oh well, like Alabama fans have been saying for the majority of the Anthony Grant era, maybe next year.