Tuesday, March 17, 2009

The Monster Mash! - A Method to Our March Madness (Part 1)

Way to go, Howard University. You scheduled our Spring Break during the Tourney...AGAIN.

Yeah, I know some of you are sunbathing on Mexico's beaches, or ghost-riding your yellow buses to Alternative Spring Break, or even working on a cool project with your Engineers Without Borders team. But...by choosing to schedule our Spring Break alongside the beginning of the NCAA Tournament, our Board of Trustees effectively rubbed out the only remaining remnant of passionate college basketball fans on our campus. Howard University, you are who we thought you were. Nice going. (Generating sports buzz on this campus is about as hopeless as a 2-3 zone once the other team starts draining trays. Maybe I should have chosen to go to Notre Dame after all....NOT.)

Since this is my last year as a undergraduate college student, I refuse to sit idle during March Madness. In a last ditch effort to inject some excitement into the 2009 NCAA Tournament, I've banded together a gaggle of writers from the World Wide Web, from print, and even from New York City (who has no area teams in the Tourney, mind you) to tell us, in as many or as little words as they need, why You Should Care About This Year's Tournament. This is not meant to be completely factual, or dispassionate, or even logical: We simply asked them to riff on some of the most intriguing scenarios present in this year's NCAA tournament, or whatever. Heck, this might shape up to be some fun.

Since I've already rambled about #15 Morgan State and the MEAC, I'll politely move out of the way for now. (Don't worry, I'll get into The Fray sooner than later...)

Because here at Points Off Turnovers we strive to be consummate gentlemen, let's start this party off with our friend Krystal Johnson, fellow English major at HU and huge college basketball fan. (Gentlemen, I'll start the bidding war for her phone number later....)

Her impassioned words about the Missouri Tigers (West #3) begin after the jump...

The Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball

To understand Missouri's recent climb from oblivion to the NCAA tournament, you have to study head coach Mike Anderson's basketball ancestry. If you remember, Anderson was discovered by Nolan Richardson while playing JUCO ball in Birmingham. Richardson was so impressed by the opposing player that he offered him a scholarship to the University of Tulsa, where Richardson had been given his first head coaching job. And coach Nolan Richardson could COACH, having been mentored in the art by legendary Texas Western coach Don Haskins. After graduating from Tulsa, Anderson remained under Richardson's tutelage, serving as his assistant for twenty years− three at Tulsa, then seventeen at the University of Arkansas. During those championship-caliber seasons, Anderson became fluent in Richardson's patented 40 Minutes of Hell" approach to defense and transition. He retooled and renamed Richardson's style, and implemented the "Fastest 40 Minutes in Basketball" first at UAB and now at Missouri, where the Tigers are making their first NCAA tournament appearance since 2003.

Anderson's focus on defense and transition has served the Big XII tournament champions well, with the Tigers entering the Dance second in the nation in both steals per game and turnover margin. The squad boasts the Big XII co-defensive player of the year in J.T. Tiller, a guard who has locked down some of the most potent scorers in the conference this season. Mizzou's relentless defensive efforts are made possible by the team's depth. Their rotation, which regularly includes as many as eleven players, runs teams with more tightly-run benches to exhaustion. The Tigers' offensive game, while prone to inconsistency, leads the Big XII in scoring− a statistic bolstered by the inside play of forward DeMarre Carroll and the outside shooting of guard Matt Lawrence.

Missouri finds itself seeded third in the West region, outranked only by Connecticut and 2-seed Memphis− a team many analysts believed would draw a top seed. While Mike Anderson has his own history of upsetting heavy favorites (see UAB's 2004 tourney win over 1-overall seeded Kentucky), his Missouri team will have to add some inspired offensive play to their relentless defense if Anderson is to join the ranks of his mentors.- KJ

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------Krystal, way to step up and show us dudes how to bring the heat. To tell you the truth, Missouri's sounding pretty good right about now...(Running off to change bracket). On a related note, thanks for giving me an excuse to twist the knife in the collective backs of Duke fans. (How did it FEEL to lose that championship, Coach K?)

Next up, we've got fellow New Yawker, fellow short film actor, and fellow WeThirst! partner-in-Christ Michael James. Since UConn's the closest team to New York City in this year's tournament (Syracuse is FIVE hours north), he's decided to give us his musings on their chances. (Connecticut residents, just be glad that we decided to embrace you as our own for a change.) His words are after the random picture...

UConn: Navigating Their Way to the Motor City

UConn's road to Detroit will not be an easy one without Jerome Dyson.

The Huskies had the rare combination of clean defense and dirty offense this year; they had the fewest fouls committed, and most fouls taken. They have been able to strip, block, and board the ball with nothing but the ball and air molecules making contact with the hands. They have also been able to score in the paint with sweaty armpits, elbows, and palms to the face. In other words, the zebras and the huskies can share the same habitat just fine. However, the fall of one member of the wolf pack may cause a little bit of unrest between the two species, but it may not be too severe.

Dyson lead UConn in steals per game with 1.8 for the season. Ever since he got injured against Syracuse last February, he has been found difficult to replace. Three of their four losses came in the final six games of the season, which were all the games that followed Dyson's fall. Their last game was also a loss to the neighborhood friendly Syracuse by a score of 127-117. Statistical analysis is not needed to see the big difference of gameplay, as UConn surrendered over 100 points for the only time this season, and were forced to play Mike D'Antoni style, with a season high 117 points scored to no avail.
While Hasheem Thabeet and Jeff Adrien continue to command on defense, there will have to be an upset for UConn to not make it to the sweet 16. But come that time, UConn will be a top seeded team with a lot of vulnerability. To make up for Dyson's absence on steals and points/assists to turnover ratio, UConn will need a lot out of Kemba Walker to pick up the slack. A key player to watch will be Stanley Robinson, who will see more minutes in the tourney if he can step up on defense. A.J. Price has had a lot of defensive work done for him all season; without Dyson we will all see whether or not he is just a bad defender or was lazy this whole time.

While it is not healthy thinking for teams to get ahead of themselves, Missouri and Memphis players are probably gunning for UConn. They won't admit it unless either of them meet and beat the Huskies. My projection for UConn will be that they'll fall in the elite eight.

----------------------------------------------------------------------------------To the REAL King James (lol), nice work as always. Yeah, I've definitely got Memphis coming out of the West region. (Sorry Missouri!)

Okay folks, let's now extend a round of applause for the infragable Johnathan Tillman, engineer of our first Guest Post here at Points Off Turnovers. Like I said prior to our last collaboration, J-Till's "currently finishing up at the University of Maryland and serves as the creative force behind the blog Fundamentally UnSound. However, Johnathan started his collegiate career in the city of Pittsburgh, and has agreed to share his insight in relation to the Pittsburgh Panthers. And now that's he's a regular, don't be afraid to let him have it in the comments. Take it away, Tillman-san...PITT: Walking Around the Borders of Success

There are teams that are consistently great. The Patriots (who New Englanders didn't know existed until 2001), the Lakers, and Duke Basketball fall into this category. Conversely, there are teams that are consistently terrible. The Clippers, the Lions, and any team with Stephon Marbury fall into this section (sorry, Mike). Then, there are those teams that hover around the periphery of greatness, getting their respective fanbase's hopes up only to crush celebratory dreams—usually with something completely ridiculous and avoidable. If you need help with some examples, I present the Buffalo Bills, the Dallas Mavericks, and the New York Jets (sorry again, Mike). Another one of these types of teams is a little closer to my heart; and that is the University of Pittsburgh Men's Basketball team.

Pitt, under Ben Howland's protégé, Jamie Dixon, has been a staple at or near the top of the Big East for about a decade. But I'd like to focus on the last four years, which is the time I became a fan at the school. Pitt's tournament exits, in order, are at the hands of Patrick O'Bryant and Bradley, Howland's UCLA team (excusable), and Drew Neitzel and Michigan State Spartans. The reason why the two bookend losses are inexcusable is because the Panthers were the better team in each game, yet lost because one player decided to be indefensible to a team that prides itself on defense. It also bears mention that Pitt, because of its lofty regular season success, has a rather large bandwagon proclaiming that, "This is the year!" only to be disappointed and solemnly saying, "Same ol' Pittsburgh."

But this year feels…different. The reason why I feel Pitt failed in previous years is because they didn't have that one guy that could put his team on his back for 17 minutes. I mean he doesn't have to be Mike Singletary (this one, not this one), but he has to be able to take over when duty calls. This year, like a terrible Spades hand, Pitt has two-and-a-possible game-changers; and in the Tournament, that's enough to win six games in a row. Point guard LeVance Fields is your prototypical college floor general: high assist-to-turnover ration, leadership intangibles, and the ability to make pressure shots when he fails to lead in offensive execution for his team. Sam Young, known as "The Grizzle" around the campus (inside joke) is quietly one of the best small forwards in the nation, even though he looks like Greg Oden's younger brother. He has taken a fundamental move—the pump fake—and made it an unstoppable weapon; so much so that Rick Pitino has to spend time coaching up his players on the move. Then, there's DeJuan Blair, the bullish big man and best offensive rebounder in the country. His progression this season is what Pitt has been searching for since the days of "Crafty" Carl Krauser. He gives the Panthers an added dimension–the superstar effect—that could get them over that Sweet 16 hump. If you don't know, ask Hasheem Thabeet. Throw in role players like Jermaine Dixon and Gilbert Brown, and Pitt just may have what it takes to get to Detroit. As a fan, I've decided to reserve my Pitt boasting until they get past the Sweet 16. With a second round game against Tennessee looming, it's not a mortal lock…even though it should be. Pitt is the best team in their region by far, and has the best player in that region as well. However, with more bandwagon members than ever, either this is the year it comes together, or there'll be a massive collection of people letdown…again.


Folks, make sure to check out Part 2 a little later. Let us know how we did in the comments. And if you haven't done it yet...make sure to fill out your bracket!

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