Monday, March 23, 2009

Impressions of Mad Basketball

March Madness began again, and depending on one’s interpretation, the forms of the madness were many. Here we take various definitions and break them down:

A state of mental illness, presumably temporary – Ameer Ali’s flagrant flip of Blake Griffin. He did his best to imitate a WWF move, though Blake was wary of his own reaction. It almost appeared that the Griffin beast was subduing himself post-takedown, like he knew what he was getting into.

Ever notice how Blake gets into bits of entanglement and possible scuffles? There is a reason, though contorted and borderline insane, that an opposing player may rack someone in the (Bill Raftery) onions. I suppose Griffin is used to situations like that since nobody can stop him and he aggravates defenders beyond belief. I see a bit of Rodman in him – ferocious and frustration generating – mixed with Lebron – mightily skilled and unyielding at the hint of resistance. His breakaway dunk on Saturday? Look out below, and watch out for onions…

A feeling of intense anger – Western Kentucky coach Ken McDonald after his unnoticed or ungranted attempt to call at T.O. in the last second of the game against Gonzaga. He was glaringly perturbed, as we saw from his mouthing of that is “B-S!” while pointing at the ref who failed to acknowledge his plead.

Unrestrained excitement – The outcome of the Gonzaga lay-in made one of the Bulldog players’ quite enthused. His plyometric-like two feet bounding exercise that caused his knees to come all the way up to his ears – about 10 times in a row – was astounding. He had to have been sore the next day. Well deserved though, for sure. I believe a Siena player mirrored the same image, in just about the same area on the sideline. Perhaps a Saint was watching over that spot?

How about the final games of each night? Like the basketball world was waiting for excitement to build all at the same time… on Friday, the first O.T. game of the tourney coupled with another one, and, of course, a second extra period in the first Siena game where “we want Moore” nailed the two crucial 3-pointers that had Albany rocking.

Extra anger and frustration – this from the viewer’s perspective. Why can’t CBS try to figure out how to stagger starts of games so that when there are three or four games ending all in unison – and each is fewer than a 5-point margin – that we are able to watch them all in full? Would that not increase the viewing pleasure and ratings rather than having to open two laptops to access the free Madness package online? Or get out the iPhone app and hold a close game in one’s palm? Argh.

Overflowing with eagerness – getting to see North Dakota State’s Woodside go toe-to-toe with Kansas’ Collins. Talk about a shootout. And a fundamentally expert one at that. Yes, they can both catch-and-score, but their individual moves and the way each of them draws attention from the D is fascinating. Tight inside-outs, stop-and-go’s, crossovers, and the ability to finish. Woodside had 37 on 13-of-23 shots. Collins was 12-for-26 for 32 points. Though the latter finished with 8 dimes and only 2 TO’s… plus a big man who made up for any miscues – the same center who managed a rare tournament triple-double two days later, with 10 blocks mind you.

Maybe many were not, but I was intrigued by the Syracuse-Arizona State game, a contest that featured two zone defenses. One that is a traditional 2-3 and a Boeheim staple. Another that is a Sendek standard, an aggressive matchup – one that looks like man-to-man at times. Who said a game with a slower pace wouldn’t feature scoring? The final was 78-67 and five Orangemen reached double figures. And how about Boeheim's backing of Sendek's N.C. State release?
“I thought somebody was pretty stupid and somebody was pretty smart,” Boeheim said. “I’m not going to mention which one.”
Speaking of being mad, did James Harden’s stock sink in three days? If scouts are looking at scoring, then yes. He had 10 points in the biggest game of his career, and six of them came from the charity stripe. The game before, versus Temple, produced practically the same stat line, with a 1-point decrement. He averaged 6.5 boards, 4 assists, and 2 steals, but gee. I like his presence and the consistency he creates for his team. If the next level is looking for takeover though, that wasn’t it.

Making madness a mentality – learning about details of individual programs is insightful, like how team identities are created via certain coaches. What may seem unlikely for one team is another’s MO. John Beilein wants to shoot the three – so, that is what they do:
“The most important drill for the Wolverines in practice, not surprisingly, is a 3-point shooting drill. Players take 50 3-pointers in five minutes, and they have to make a certain number to avoid having to run sprints."
Rick Pitino is glued to statistics. The most influential one is the number of deflections his Cardinals create:
“The Cardinals believe success is determined by deflections, a statistic pioneered in part by Pitino. When they reach 35 deflections in a game, they usually win.”
Not sure how many defections they produced against Siena, but it couldn’t have been 35. The Cardinals only generated three steals to the Saints’ eight. And several of the latter teams’ thefts came in that second half span that pulled them ahead. Close call for the Cards, though it was bound to happen with the feistiness and quickness of that caliber backcourt. Look at this seasons’ losing results – a capable Western Kentucky topped them. And Connecticut’s Huskies ran right through their press for a total of 40, yes 40, points in the paint.

Coach K seemed mad with the President’s choosing of the rival Tar Heels, suggesting that there are other matters with which Obama should concern himself… though Coach K did later say he was kidding. If anything, efficiency was the name of Duke in the latest battle against Texas. The Blue Devils shot 50 percent from 3-point range, took 27 free throws, had 8 steals, and only 9 turnovers. The Tar Heels were just behind in those stats even though they play a much faster pace. Who is most economical?

Mad or not, act as if… this from one of the more enlightening articles the past few days. Harvard women’s coach Kathy Delaney-Smith preaches the positive mentality of becoming what you dream, what you imagine yourself being… “Act as if”, she says. It’s a way to believe, to convince oneself to play, to think, to be a certain way…. As if you are champion, a winner, a competitor. She sure is. I had the pleasure of knowing her, coaching her son at camp, and working with one of her players as a performance consultant. It’s nice to know that she worked to get to where she is, that she was driven to learn basketball and figure out how to teach the game to various personalities, and to dedicate her life to education centered around a ball.

The madness continues…


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