Tournament Week Musings

Tournament Week Musings
Nov 21, 2006, 05:54 pm
Georgia Tech

Georgia Tech put in a solid opening effort in Maui. Things got a bit testy in the first half, with Javaris Crittenton not handling Purdue’s aggressive on-the-ball defense well at all. Georgia Tech looked very much last year’s inexperienced squad early on, struggling with turnovers, a lack of offensive cohesion, and blown defensive assignments

However, the Yellow Jackets calmed down in the second half and the hard-fought game turned into a blowout almost instantly. There is elite athleticism at every position and with so much versatility, Hewitt should have the ability to play a variety of different ways.

The shot blocking presence of Thaddeus Young helped sometimes spacey Ra’Sean Dickey out a lot in the second half. With the extra rope on the defensive end, he appeared to do less thinking and more playing. His offensive game continues to get better. The junior could have a big year now that he’s not shouldering the load entirely by himself. Freshmen Mouhammed Faye and Zach Peacock also look good, with both already having stolen minutes from previously established returnees.

One cause for concern could be the lack of minutes and production from Anthony Morrow, as this team definitely needs his outside shooting presence. But he should do better once he is fully recovered from a preseason back injury, and Tech hasn’t really been tested to the point where they needed him anyways.

Don’t be surprised if Georgia Tech has a few more “freshman moments” over the first half of the season, but the quick turnaround yesterday evening leads me to believe that this is a team that could be really scary come Tournament time. We learn more tonight against another young team in Memphis that can probably match the Jackets athletically, though not in size.

Yellow Jacket Freshmen

Purdue rotated lead guards Tarrance Crump, Keaton Grant and Chris Kramer in pestering Crittenton the full length of the court, and the touted freshman struggled with the pressure so much in the first half that it was hard to watch at times. He was clearly rattled at times, and responded by forcing his own offense and making several poor decisions that can only be described as “typical freshman”. Crittenton looked way too predictable and very containable off the dribble, and showed little of the shooting touch that he displayed this past spring.

Then came the second half, where Crittenton completely changed the game by putting one of the most convincing Gary Payton impressions to be seen at the college level since the Glove himself. He completely changed the momentum of the game with defensive anticipation that led to multiple breakaway lay-ins for himself or teammates and suddenly began to slice through Purdue’s previously effective defense at will, scoring on acrobatic slashing moves and getting to the line whenever he wanted.

There could be a few more hiccups along the way, but one thing is clear. He’s good, folks.

Thaddeus Young may have been the slightly less impressive future lottery pick on the night – the news about the news about his knee tendonitis is particularly disturbing, because it showed in his first step explosiveness last night.

Aside from hitting one 3-pointer, Young was at best when playing the traditional power forward role. He covered an astonishing amount of ground as a weakside shot blocker and offensive rebounder, and really overwhelmed Purdue’s frontcourt at times with his strength and athleticism. His frame is out-of-this-world for a SF prospect, but he didn’t look good taking the ball to the basket. Young displayed phenomenal court vision early in the game, but struggled to get by smaller Purdue defenders after tweaking something in his knee and didn’t come close to making anything in the midrange off the bounce.


It is pretty clear that Matt Painter will have this group playing to the best of their ability, but those thinking the Boilermakers could contend for that up-for-grabs 3rd place spot in the Big Ten race may have been overzealous in their predictions. This team willingly defends on the perimeter and has a few athletic options in the paint, but my first impression is that this team is a few horses short of being able to compete against NCAA Tournament-caliber teams on a regular basis. Boilermaker fans must overjoyed to learn that Carl Landry has regained most of his explosiveness, and that Chris Kramer appears to be an immediate-impact roleplayer. A middle of the pack finish in the Big Ten is a very attainable goal for Painter in his second season.


This game was a baffling for several reasons, though the final outcome wasn’t one of them.

Kentucky is a team that could really go in either direction. The freshmen are better than advertised, and played like it in the first half tonight. Tubby attempted to push the tempo all night, and it is pretty clear that players such as Derrick Jasper and Perry Stevenson are perfect fits in such a system. Then Smith chose to let his old guard - Ramel Bradley, Sheray Thomas, Joe Crawford, and Bobby Perry lead the charge in the second half. He didn’t slow down the tempo with his halfcourt standbys in the game, but let the freshmen sit while DePaul ran his upperclassmen off the court.

DePaul was having big success defending Randolph Morris in the paint, with true behemoth Wesley Green doing a good job of keeping him from getting too low in the paint and Jerry Wainwright’s seemingly endless rotation of athletic, long-armed combo forwards continually pestering him at the rim. Then Wainwright took Green out of the game. Suddenly Kentucky was winning the halfcourt battles, and Morris was having his way in the post. Game over.

It was the briefest of first glances, but one gets the feeling that Derrick Jasper is going to be very, very good for Tubby Smith. Even with Morris’ big second half, it isn’t clear whether the former Burger Boy will ever develop into a quality NBA center. Tonight’s matchup against UCLA should give us a much better idea how legit Morris’ fast start is, as Ben Howland will be able to rotate fundamentally sound, athletic, aggressive post defenders on him all night. UCLA’s explosive combo guys are much more disciplined than DePaul’s, and also seem to like playing defense a bit more.

Wilson Chandler continues to develop, looking improved as a perimeter shooter, defending effectively when he wasn’t stuck on Morris, and using his extreme length to finish just about anything around the rim. The soph is still a couple of years away, but his professional outlook is a good one.


I thought maybe Alabama would do better with Xavier’s man-to-man than they did against Iowa’s zone, and I was right. Xavier is long and athletic around the basket, but is completely lacking a traditional post presence on either end of the floor. They didn’t have anybody to contain Mark Gottfried’s imposing frontcourt, and they weren’t willing to go zone like most teams will this year against the Crimson Tide. On the other end, Alabama gave the Musketeers a clinic on how a zone should be executed, putting Xavier on complete lockdown over the final ten minutes of the game.

It looked as if the Musketeer players hadn’t practiced against a zone much at all, and certainly weren’t expect to see any at the Paradise Jam. This isn’t a team suited to bust a zone in the first place, with Drew Lavender tending to dribble-start the offense, top spot up shooter Justin Doellman forced to play more on the interior, and Stanley Burrell not half as dangerous when he’s not creating for himself. There were huge holes in the middle of the floor that Xavier didn’t even attempt to exploit until it was too late.

This was a game that showed the importance of balance on the court. A lack of balance not only made it tougher for Xavier to counter an Alabama tactical wrinkle they were struggling with, but also made it tougher to exploit the Crimson Tide’s biggest weaknesses.

I’m sure Sean Miller is already back at the drawing board, preparing his team for the next time they face a zone defense.

Alabama has some critical weaknesses that could lead to an early NCAA Tournament exit, but the Crimson Tide certainly impressed in the Virgin Islands. The extra depth isn’t particularly impressive, but the more rested core of Steele, Gee, Davidson and Hendrix certainly is. With Gee still more of a bull in a china shop in all situations other than when he has a direct lane to the basket and none of the roleplayers a factor, Alabama is quite vulnerable attempting to play what essentially boils down 3-on-5 in their halfcourt sets.

Mychal Riley was only 1-6 from beyond the arc in the championship game, but hit several perimeter jumpers, contributed in other areas, and certainly forced Xavier to pay attention to him on the perimeter. This team is always going to be in trouble when Steele is off from the perimeter, but Riley could be a guy that helps Alabama get to that next level.

Quick Takes

- Josh McRoberts is looking even more tentative than he did last year, and doesn’t seem excited about exploring that mid-post game which would make him such an appealing professional prospect. He looks good as a facilitator and garbage guy, but McRoberts is selling himself short if he wants to be a pure face the basket player.

- Did anybody else notice Coach K’s short rotation last night? Most coaches tend to start out giving inexperienced players the chance to adjust to the D1 level and prove themselves on the court, and then narrow the rotation as the season wears on. It keeps players fresh and makes a team more versatile in the end. It was clear that the Blue Devils suffered from fatigue and an unbalanced offensive attack last season, so hopefully last night’s rotation was a product of the unique opponent rather than a continuation of the recent trend. A player like Gerald Henderson needs to be on the floor, and the Blue Devils will certainly need his athletic presence against an explosive Marquette backcourt tonight.

- North Carolina-Gonzaga should be one of the most exciting matchups of the season tomorrow night. Neither team has been truly tested, and the Zags have the experience to exploit UNC’s lack of it. It should be interesting to see how the much-improved Josh Heytvelt handles a real frontcourt. The pace should be blazing fast, and the score high – could this end up as a 105-101 type of final?

- He commits turnovers like a pre-embargo Mark Cuban racked up fines, but I really like Marquette's sophomore Jerel McNeal. He's a straight-up nasty defender, has a mature frame, and despite some god-awful decision making tendencies does display decent court vision and might have some combo guard in him. If McNeal ever learns how to shoot it, he's an NBA prospect.

- I know I'm probably late to the party, but I've certainly added Darrell Arthur to my growing list of one-and-done candidates. Though the competition has been admittedly sup-par, Arthur has been Bill Self's best player thus far and appears to be a much better basketball player than most were giving him credit for. In terms of physical tools, he's built and moves a bit like Antonio McDyess, and while Arthur doesn't have McDyess' natural tenacity around the basket just yet, Arthur is doing a great job of being a physical presence. I don't think McDyess shot the ball this well this early, either.

Early Top 25

I know I’m cheating putting this out in the middle of the week, but here it is nonetheless.

1. Florida
2. North Carolina
3. Kansas
4. Alabama
5. Duke
6. Wisconsin
7. Pittsburgh
8. Texas A&M
9. Ohio State
10. Georgetown
11. UCLA
12. Arizona
13. Syracuse
14. Connecticut
15. Washington
16. LSU
17. Marquette
18. Georgia Tech
19. Gonzaga
20. Maryland
21. Nevada
22. Memphis
23. Wichita State
24. Southern Illinois
25. Texas

If you are wondering about Kansas, my justification is that there was a lot of ground between the "big 3" and everybody else, and nobody else has done enough to take none of the candidates to replace the Jayhawks did even close enough to justify taking over the spot. Furthermore, I've always leaned toward the side of "what would happen if two teams played tomorrow" or even "what will they do in March" as opposed to "what have they accomplished thus far" when it comes to my Top 25. I know most people prefer the latter, but my opinion is that we have W-L records and even the RPI to quantify the "what have they accomplished" angle.

Along these lines, Kansas is a relatively young team that is only going to get better as the season goes on. They hit Oral Roberts on a hot shooting night, and are missing their top two post defenders from a season ago.

By the same token I really can't justify dropping a backcourt-green Georgetown team as far as I did, but that loss just seemed to be a bit more significant in terms of the preferred qualifiers I listed above.

Tourney Predictions

CBE Classic:Duke over Marquette (consolation: Texas Tech over Air Force)

Preseason NIT:North Carolina over Butler (consolation: Gonzaga over Tennessee)

Maui Invitational: Georgia Tech over UCLA (consolation: Kentucky over Memphis)

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