Friday, January 23, 2009

Doubleheader teamthoughts

Yeah, you obliterate your toughest conference opponent-to-date on the road like this on national television, you get a random Google image representation of your mascot to lead off the post.

So last night was one of the very rare instances when the wonders of modern television offered up a mid-season mid-major doubleheader. Of course, it wasn't a national doubleheader--ESPN had Big 10 and Big East dates to (understandably) cover--but between IUPUI visiting Oakland on our local Fox Sports Detroit and ESPN2 carrying the St. Mary's at San Diego game in the late slot, it worked out just fine. Thoughts:

Oakland 75, IUPUI 57

How is this team 5-3 in the Summit? Dude ... Oakland is not a bad team. Steady, in-control point guard with quicks? Johnathon Jones, 10 assists to 2 TO, check. Insane long-range bomber? Erik Kangas, 8-of-11 from 3, 33 points, check. Rangy, athletic inside-and-out wing? Drew Maynard, check. Requisite size inside? 6-9 Will Hudson, 6-11 Keith Benson, 7-of-13 combined shooting, 14 combined rebounds, 4 Benson blocks, check.

Head coach Greg Kampe apparently doesn't trust the bench at all--the Golden Grizzlies only went seven deep and Kangas and Jones played the entire game despite it being over with 4 to play--but otherwise, this is absolutely your prototypical league champion from a conference like the Summit. That these guys beat Oregon, hung with Iowa and Michigan, won at a good Wisconsin-Green Bay team, and handed league leader North Dakota St. (a team sitting 70 places above them in the Pomeroy ratings) their only conference loss to date doesn't surprise me at all. Those losses to Centenary (by 20!) and Southern Utah (by 16!) ... yeah, those surprise me.

There is no justice in this world. At halftime I clicked over to the West Virginia-Georgetown game on ESPN and the Purdue-Minnesota game on ESPN2. You probably won't be surprised when I tell you that I would take the utterly anonymous Fox Sports Detroit crew over either of the two ESPN teams--Mike Patrick and Doris Burke for WVU-G'town, Brent Musberger and the train wreck that is Bobby Knight trying to call a live basketball game--in half a heartbeat.

Weird. The announcers made a little point in the second half about how a lot of shooters say they love the Oakland gym, for whatever reason. Sounds a little "Um, OK guys, whatever you say" to me. But, uh ... take the Golden Griz's team results from 3 and add them to the nights put in by IUPUI's three best three-point shooters (by percentage) and you get a total of 18-for-33, or 54.5 freaking percent. Huh. (The gym's effect did not seem to affect the Jaguars' Alex Young, 25 percent from 3 on the season, who jacked up 7 anyway and hit one of them.)

Fun. If you ever happen to come across IUPUI on TV, Shoeless Ron Hunter really might be the most animated coach in college basketball. He alone is reason enough that you ought to come across IUPUI on TV a lot more often.

St. Mary's 65, San Diego 42

Annihilation. This game was supposed to be close. St. Mary's has had as good a year-to-date as they could expect (17-1 is 17-1 is 17-1), but doesn't have an RPI top-50 win and not so long ago beat dreadful Santa Clara by a single point. San Diego of course had the NCAA first-round takedown of UConn last year, and after taking a few lumps in a rugged nonconference slate, they'd beaten Mississippi State to kick off a six-game winning streak and a 4-0 WCC start. They were at home in the same Slim Gym where they'd won last year's WCC auto-bid. The line for this game was St. Mary's minus-only-3.5.

Nevermind all that. The supposedly vulnerable Gael D left the San Diego offense ... hmm, you can pick your own metaphor on this one:

a) broken and bloody, shattered, lying dying in the street
b) in the kind of tatters normally reserved for sweaters the moths have dined on for the last several years
c) gasping for breath like a fish in a Faith No More video

The right answer of course, is "all of the above": the Toreros finished the first half with all of 14 points and behind by 18. Against a team as offensively efficient as St. Mary's: good night, Gracie.

Terror. People say this about mid-majors all the time, but if I'm a power-conference team, St. Mary's really is just about the last team I want to see in my NCAA pod. Patty Mills, Omar Samhan, and Diamon Simpson are probably the best one-two-three punch in all mid-majordom, Gonzaga included. The 6-7 Simpson doesn't get nearly the pub the other two guys do, but he's a relentless rebounder, a long and active nightmare of a defender, and knows enough to stay out of Mills and Samhan's way on the offensive end when they need him to. On top of those three, the other two starters are both seniors. Disappointingly meek submission to Texas in last year's NCAA first-round notwithstanding, this team could not be any better built for March. With one little caveat ...

Mills needs to get his three-point shot in order. San Diego played off of him for the most of the night, and it didn't matter--Mills is so quick he got to the rim almost whenever he wanted anyway. But he also got tempted into taking a few wide-slap-open threes, which he kindly bricked more often than not. He finished 2-of-6 from outside and frankly looked even less comfortable taking those shots than that. Mills is right at 33 percent for the season, and while that's not a terrible percentage, it's still awfully low for someone who shoots the 3 as often as he does--9 jacks against San Francisco, 13 against Santa Clara, 25 in a three-game stretch in late December. For St. Mary's to reach their full giant-slaying potential, they need Mills to either start knocking more of those down or start focusing even more on making sure someone else gets the same shot.

Poor Gyno Pomare. (That's pronoucned "Geno," but for you giggling sixth-graders in the back.) The 6-8 Torero forward was one of my favorite players last March, one of those guys who just doesn't seem to have the athletic chops needed to make a major impact in the post at this level. But he's as crafty with his body as they come and wills the ball into the basket time and time again; he was the best player on the court during that UConn game. Unfortunately for him, he's struggled a bit with injuries this year and then, even worse, he had to square off with Omar Samhan last night. Samhan has been an absolute monster this season and was at his most monstrous last night: 8-of-9 from the field, 11 rebounds, and perhaps even more importantly he ate poor Gyno whole on the defensive end. Pomare started 1-of-9 from the floor and finished with only 6 points and 5 boards in 29 minutes. Get 'em next time, buddy.


ryan said...

Problem besides the depth issue (only 8 scholarship players healthy) is the poor defense Oakland plays on most nights. They aren't especially quick on the perimeter, nor are they strong in the post. Benson can swat shots, but often gets muscled out of the way for rebounds.

Having said that, Oakland would present a nice challenge to a 3 or 4 seeded team, granted they get that good of a seed.

Jerry Hinnen said...

ryan, first, thanks for stopping by. The lack-of-defense explanation makes sense--it's hard to see how a starting five as offensively talented as OU's would struggle in the Summit, but IUPUI didn't offer much in the way offensive creativity the night I saw them. Still think OU is going to be hella dangerous come the Summit tourney, though NDSU is so experienced by now I have to think they're the favorites.

Thanks again for reading!