Thursday, March 02, 2006

The Sunny Side

The JCCW is back, coming to you live from what I’m calling “WiFi Cavern,” deep in the bowels of the Birmingham-Jefferson Civic Center. I’m here covering the Alabama high school state hoops tournament for my day job and still battling through a nasal blockage worthy of Atlanta at rush hour, though thankfully with the help of the good people at Aleve the “shakes” have kind of passed.

I’ve got a couple of hours before my next game and I’m trying to count my blessings. I’m thankful, for instance, that in the last five days my car hasn’t exploded. That would be bad. I’m grateful I don’t own a log cabin infested by cannibalistic Gila monsters, as I dreamt a couple of nights ago. (Fever + sleep = Weird. Every time.) Thank goodness the Hawks didn’t draft Chris Paul, as otherwise they might be competitive and there’s another basketball team I’d end up caring about.

See, I’m focusing on the positive, because otherwise the fact that my Birmingham-Southern Panthers went from being 40 minutes away from claiming a conference title and homecourt advantage all the way to the NCAAs to having their season ended in exceedingly embarrassing fashion at home by a team they’d just beaten by 16 on the road would be, well, just the teensiest bit depressing. Not to mention that I’m not exactly singing in the shower that during the exact week when my juggling act of sports editing day job, blog coverage, and Hoopville duties has hit its most difficult peak, I came down with my wickedest case of the Crud this season. “You sound like hell,” a coworker told me yesterday when I called back to confirm he’d gotten my story via e-mail. Yeah, well, over the last five days I’ve felt like it.

Enough chit-chat. Here’s all my thoughts, Chris West-style, about the last several days of developments, starting with Saturday’s BSC-Winthrop game:

1) The turning point in that contest? There’s only about 57 different nominees (ranging from Gaynor’s game-icing three with 1:31 to play to Powe’s second foul less than five minutes in) but for the JCCW’s money it was the three-play sequence beginning with 4:08 to play, after Collins’s three-point play cut the lead to 46-41. That was the only point in the game the BSC crowd--a record 2,500 strong, which could actually get quite loud when it tried--really got behind the BSC defense. Everybody standing. Everybody screaming. And it ended with a) an unnecessary Horton foul at the tail-end of the shot clock b) Collins fouling when BSC failed to grab an offensive rebound following a Bradshaw miss c) Powe anti-capitalizing on Shuler’s miss of the front end by turning the ball over down low. The energy level that greeted that defensive possession never re-entered the building, and not coincidentally BSC never got closer.

2) The biggest (only?) positive for this BSC fan to come out of the Winthrop game? Dwayne Paul. He turned an ankle (I think… that’s what the B’ham News reported, but then why was a trainer rather indecorously massaging the back of his thigh during multiple second-half timeouts?) in the opening minute and despite walking around during stoppages like a guy with an eyepatch, parrot, and peg, still managed to be BSC’s best player: team-leading 6 boards, team-leading 4 steals, 8 points all earned battling with guys six inches taller down low. The guy is 100 percent FDA-approved Warrior, and man oh man I can’t tell you how glad I am to get to watch him for another season.

3) The first half of that game was absolutely bizarre. With Powe’s and Viglianco’s foul trouble (TV’s a bit unfortunate on the officiating) and Paul’s injury, I felt lucky that BSC was only down 24-21; with the mountain of missed layups and Horton’s astonishing bricked dunk, I felt furious BSC was down at all. Which means 24-21 was probably about right.

4) The second half … well, Winthrop just played better. No way around it. They made the shots they had to and BSC didn’t, they defended like conference champions and BSC didn’t. If Martin and Gaynor hadn’t hit those last-tick-on-the-shot-clock bombs from somewhere near I-20 in the last 10 minutes, I wonder … but they did, and that’s the point. The better team won.

5) In case there was any doubt that every single thing out my keyboard needs to be taken with a whole Morton’s container worth of salt, I was way off in my pre-game description of Craig Bradshaw as, well, less-than-tough. He banged around all night, led everyone in rebounds with 9, and played outstanding defense against Powe, whose 3-of-7 3 TO performance was far less than what BSC needed on the offensive end.

6) Of the many BSC heckling efforts, my favorite was a student poster waved at Winthrop that read, simply, “You’re Inept.”

7) It was Scarlett Johansson-HOTT in Bill Battle that night. Whether that was because the folks in charge underestimated the impact of 2,500 bodies x 98.6 degrees or because the A.C. in the Battle just isn’t quite up to it, it was far and away the warmest I’ve ever been in the building. The result was a cavalcade of second-half stoppages as, with towel boys curiously MIA, players and coaches had to take responsibility for wiping up the copious amounts of sweat. (Although the game was decided by then, this was yet another thing Winthrop dealt with better than BSC … Horton and Collins each cramped up while no Eagle appeared fazed.) There was one wonderful fringe benefit to this … Gregg Marshall taking a knee and applying a towel to the court as BSC fans chanted (rather sharply, I thought) “Mop our floor!” I for one was impressed with Gregg. I wouldn’t have blamed him—in fact, it might have been even cooler—if he’s turned to an assistant and said “Sure, like the guy in the $3,000 dollar suit’s going to wipe the floor! Come on!”

8) Goodness gracious, how badly do the Big South’s Award of the Year voters dislike Whit-Holcomb Faye? I mean, yeah, there’s that “lewd gesture” matter and all, but short of his pulling a Ron Artest, should the conference’s third-all-time leading scorer really not only not be Player of the Year but left off the All-Conference first team entirely? I can sort of see Leasure as POY given the way CCU finished (though since it took Stevens’ and Harris’s arrival in the starting lineup to really get the Chants going, I wonder if Leasure is genuinely more valuable to his team than WHF), but for WHF to be behind both Martin and Blair for first-team honors means character played a big ol’ honking part in the ballot process. The JCCW’s take? As WHF was the sole difference between Radford being the conference’s fourth seed and duking it out with Liberty and VMI, he’d have had the JCCW’s POY vote, “lewd gestures” be damned.

9) Great to see Reboul get Coach of the Year, which makes a lot of sense when you see all of one BSC player (Collins) on the All-Big-South two-deep. His response-- “No, seriously, Quin Snyder did a better coaching job than I did” (I’m paraphrasing)--was also delightfully classic Reboul. But the praise for Radebaugh has me a little freaked out … like Coach was psychically forecasting his own team’s demise. Which is, ya know, a little troubling.

10) Sigh…I guess that brings us to the CSU collapse, doesn’t it? That last Sigh didn’t really do it justice. Let’s try this again … Siiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiigh. BSC started the season 15-0 at home and finished, in the two biggest games of the season, 0-2. Please excuse me while I find a suitable bridge to hurl myself from.

11) There’s honestly not much to say about the game. When your team enters the postseason and gives up more points than it has in any game all season, what’s there to say? Every loss since the first Winthrop L has screamed for better three-point defense, and CSU shoots 9-of-11 on threes in the first half anyway. I know some of that is just the Bucs getting hot at the right time, but whatever. Bleah.

12) That there was a letdown after the Winthrop game was, of course, inevitable. That’s when you need your home crowd to pick the team up. Too bad the home crowd totaled a whopping 652. Bloody 652! I know BSC is a small school and I know the Tuesday night tip-off isn’t good for off-campus support. But it’s the conference tournament! That’s just not good enough. (Disclaimer: No, I wasn’t there. But I was being paid, by my job, to be elsewhere, and taking a night off when your papers’ teams are playing in the state semifinals isn’t an option.)

13) I do wish Collins, Viglianco, Powe, and Bailey could have departed on a better note. Thanks for the service, guys. You’ll be missed.

14) As for the other quarterfinals, I jotted some snark-free notes for Hoopville. Not quite enough time to add snark here now. Enjoy.

15) Predictions for tonight: Winthrop 87, High Point 74; Coastal 77, Charleston 67. Winthrop gets the title game they really, really didn’t want.


Anonymous said...

Oh trust me. Winthrop wants Coastal. It will be a woodshed beating.

Jerry Hinnen said...

Right. Why wouldn't you have wanted the team that beat you twice as opposed to the six seed you manhandled twice or the three seed you beat by 40 points?

That must have been a very, very tiny woodshed.