Saturday, February 23, 2008

BB liveblog: VCU at Akron

Greetings and welcome to the First It Might be Annual JCCW Bracket Busters Saturday Liveblog. Sound the kazoos! I've got my "Basketball kicks ass!" Bally shirt on, a pot of coffee at the ready, and I'm going to be here all freaking day, covering the single biggest day in mid-major collge hoops. Schedule of games here--I'll probably start a new post with each game.

This being my first-ever liveblog, there are going to be hiccups--for instance, trying to figure out whether the updates should go at the top (under this little blurb) or at the bottom kept me up last night. (We're going to put them at the top.)

Hope you enjoy.


1:01 p.m. The more important question: if VCU does make the NCAAs what are their odds of pulling the upset or two? My guess is that there's no way they get blown out, regardless of opponent: the kind of D they showed today will keep them in any game you choose. But boy, they made things hard on themselves on offense. If they get a team like last year's Duke with a point guard Maynor can harass into submission and he and Shuler both bring their "A" games, then yeah. But that's twice I've seen VCU in the last couple of weeks (watched their recent thriller against Old Dominion, too) and I just don't see them putting up the points necessary to hang with the 4- or 5-seed they'll probably face, not without forcing a crazy number of turnovers. Hope I'm wrong.

12:58 p.m. As VCU wraps things up the announcers mention again that Akron hasn't lost back-to-back home games (as they just have) since 2002, which should say something about what this win should mean for VCU. But it doesn't. Wins over mid-majors that aren't at-large candidates just aren't taken seriously, which is a shame. If VCU runs the table from here to the CAA title game, after this .... maaaaaaaaybe they get an at-large look. But Drexel had a substantially better resume last season (at least, if you ask me) and got the back of the committee's hand, so I'm not optimistic.

12:55 p.m. The misses kept Akron within a possession at 52-49, but Dials's three is off-balance and short. Rodriguez pulls in the rebound and manages to get across halfcourt without turning the ball over (quite an accomplishment for him based on the last few minutes) and the Rams call timeout. Akron fouls with 8.3 to play, Rodriguez at the line ... hits both. It's over.

12:54 p.m. Hmmmm, Rodriguez (what is he still doing out there?) sort of takes a bunny hop before VCU calls timeout, but it's close. Maynor goes to the line and misses both!

12:53 p.m. Holy crap! Wood gets position down low and lifts a hook over Sanders only for Michael Anderson comes flying out of the proverbial nowhere to make the block. Crowd wants goaltending, I don't see it.

12:51 p.m. Apparently the brain farts aren't limited to one team. Akron fouls Shuler 40 feet from the basket. 52-49 VCU, a minute left.

12:49 p.m. Wow, the only way for VCU to lose this game is to commit a turnover that leads to an easy basket or take an earthworm-level stupid three-pointer early in the shot clock. Rodriguez does both on back-to-back possessions.

12:47 p.m. Akron's getting desperate--they've heaved up multiple hideous-looking threes the last couple of minutes. Dials has hit one and they're still getting offensive rebounds, but teams don't win by panicking.

12:45 p.m. Man, Shuler doesn't make things easy for himself. At least every other shot is of the "Hmmmm, really?" variety. But he makes a reasonable number of them, at least today. VCU now up 49-41, three to play.

12:39 p.m. Nick Dials is apparently Akron's leading scorer, but his little drive to draw a foul on Sanders feels like the first time I've heard his name all day. Which probably goes a long way to explaining why Akron has 41 points in a fast-paced game with four minutes left.

12:37 p.m. Wood inexplicably passes up a layup to try a spin-move-and-hook which predictably misses, and Shuler answers with a three. VCU suddenly back in control, which is what happens when you get six points out of two possessions.

12:35 p.m. Cedrick Middleton drains a three to give Akron the lead, but Maynor does his Maynor thing and sinks a runner off the backboard for an and-1. 41-39 Rams and this should be an exciting finish.

12:33 p.m. What kind of game has this been? Akron has shot 28 percent and trails by two. Ye gods.

12:29 p.m. Maynor realizes the solution to this: get to the freaking rim. 38-34, 7:43 to play. This game's not getting out of the 50's.

12:25 p.m. The game's turned frantic and sloppy again. VCU's Joey Rodriguez tried to draw a foul by throwing up a wild shot in the middle of a 3-on-2 and the officials correctly don't bail him out. The Rams follow up by bricking a couple of threes and Akron scores to come within two. If VCU ever starts shooting straight they'll run away with this, but it doesn't look like they're really capable of that kind of hot streak.

12:21 p.m. Akron hung a banner for "Zippy," their kangaroo mascot, being named Capital One mascot of the year. Uh, guys? Doesn't hanging a banner for your mascot winning a credit card company's fabricated ad-driven contest sort of cheapen what it means to hang a banner for an actual (you know, conference titles and whatnot) accomplishment? Boo.

12:18 p.m. Wood looks smooth down on the block, but he's missed what seems like a dozen four-foot hooks over Sanders. He needs to start hitting those or Akron needs to look elsewhere.

12:16 p.m. Whoops, as soon as I type that they say the Sanders "writes a good sitcom," so at least they're aware. Ed Nixon (see how I've got their first names now that I've got a box score to look at? Why didn't I do that to start the game? Oh well, live and learn) gets a three-point play. VCU with their largest lead since the 7-0 start at 36-30.

12:15 p.m. Sanders makes yet another incredible block and somehow the announcers avoid screaming "It's Larry Sanders' show right now!", so that's a disappointment.

12:12 p.m. OK, so I was sort of guessing at "Kashelnikov"'s name based on what I was hearing from the broadcast team, which was always a bad idea. Quick open of the ESPN boxscore ... turns out it's actually "Pishchalnikov." First name "Kirill." Sounds like a Russian boxer and after he takes an elbow just below the eye and leaves with blood, he looks the part, too.

12:09 p.m. The Rams' Kashelnikov is all over the boards and Shuler connects for the second time already this half, but Akron answers. Both teams much sharper on offense thus far this half. VCU up 33-30.

12:07 p.m. VCU starts the second half the way they did the first: turnovers, quick O, six points, the lead. They're up 29-24.

12:03 p.m. Aaaaaand we're back. Maynor had just four points in the first half and the announcers squawk about how VCU "needs more from him," but Maynor's done his usual hounding job on defense ... the biggest reason the Rams trailed at halftime was their struggles on the offensive glass, which was hardly Maynor's fault. I feel like if we had some magic stat that showed how many points a player had prevented while playing defense, comments like this one would be skipped.

11:51 a.m. I take the opportunity at the break to flip over to Fox Soccer Channel to check on Fulham, the English Premier League squad with half the U.S. National team on the roster. They're in danger of relegation (i.e. being forced into a "lower division), which wouldn't be so great for all those Americans. I arrive just in time to see West Ham score a flukish goal on a deflected attempted clear by the Fulham 'keeper. I also find out they're down a man. Enjoy the Coca-Cola League, fellas.

11:46 a.m. Shuler misses a wide-open three--frankly, that's the kind of half it's been for VCU on that end when not in transition--and the half ends with Akron up one. You get the sense that VCU is the better team--the Rams should be in better shape defensively if they can just box out every once in a while and I would guess they won't shoot as poorly in the second half as they did in the first. If the crowd wakes up and Akron gets some momentum that could cancel that out, but my hypothetical money is on the Rams.

11:44 a.m. Nice, nice pass out of the double by Wood gets Akron a couple of free throws. The announcers talk about the guy going to the line (Milam) isn't a good free throw shooter, a sure-fire guarantee he's going to hit his first. He does.

11:40 a.m. VCU's D is tightening up--they've forced TOs the last couple of Zip possessions and Sanders just swatted another shot. But Wood got a shot up and they gave up yet another o-rebound. It leads to a third foul for Dixon. So that's bad, but Sanders gets a three-point play on the other end to tie the game at 23, so it's not all bad for the Rams.

11:33 a.m. Joe Lunardi is one of the very best things about ESPN, but the guy has never looked comfortable on camera and his quick take on VCU's at-large chances (in a nutshell: it ain't happening) has all the flexibility, warmth, and charisma of one of Jupiter's frozen moons, or something.

Cripes, that's a bad analogy. This thinking on the fly thing is something I'll have to get better at.

11:30 a.m. Akron's Cedric (I think) Middleton rains in a ridiculous three from 25 feet late in the shot clock. Even when the Rams play good D, they don't play good D. All Zips at the moment, 21-14.

11:29 a.m.Again Akron's Chris McKnight grabs an offensive rebound and the Zips convert it into three. They're up 18-12, an 18-5 run since the 7-0 VCU spurt to start the game. VCU just a little helter-skelter on both ends.

11:26 a.m. Clips of VCU's Larry Sanders swatting away various Zip shots to emphasize my last point. Akron's getting after it on the offensive glass right now, though--particularly with Sanders on the bench, I'm not sure VCU has a good answer for Wood.

11:26 a.m. Not the smoothest game offensively to this point. Lots of good interior defense from both teams and it's still 12-11 after 10-plus minutes.

11:23 a.m. Does anybody in college hoops have stickier fingers than Maynor? He just flat robbed an Akron player as he went up for a layup on the break. Great play. Brings back memories of last year's CAA title game.

11:21 a.m. Full credit to ESPN for helping even get BB ever off the ground, but isn't the occasional "countdown" ticker for Memphis-UT kind of a bit of a maybe sort of an ... insult? "Enjoy these meaningless teams while you wait for the behemoth battle later tonight!" kind of thing? I dunno, think I may be being too sensitive.

11:18 a.m. Shot of VCU coach Anthony Grant, who I suspect is leasing rather than buying ... that he hasn't already gotten snatched up by some BCS school is kind of surprising. The teams trade threes and the Zips are up 11-10.

11:13 a.m. Akron brings on injured big guy Jeremiah Wood, who is not in fact a minor character in an Elmore Leonard novel as his name suggests, but one of the alleged best big guys in the MAC. The Zips go to Wood on two straight possessions for four points and then Wood picks up a dime on a fast break. 6-0 since he came in and Akron's up 8-7.

11:10 a.m. James shuler hits a three and VCU goes up 7-0. As starts go, yeah, this one could have been better for the Zips--crowd looks out of it already. Can't think the 11 a.m. start on Saturday morning was good for the students .

11:05 a.m. And we're off! Maynor wastes no time living up to the "good in transition" tag by leading a nice break in the opening seconds.

11:00 a.m. Things are kicking off with VCU at Akron, CAA at the MAC. Not really a hell of a lot at stake bid-wise in this one--VCU's recent home loss to Old Dominion probably ended the at-large hopes for the CAA, and it's Kent St. who have the at-large dreams in the MAC--but it should be a fun to game to watch. You may remember VCU from last March, when Bill Simmons man-crushee Eric Maynor earned the gratitude of a nation when he shot Duke out of the tournament. Seriously: does anyone who's not Duke like Duke?

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