Saturday, February 21, 2009

BracketBusters Liveblog, first shift: Northeastern-Wright St., Butler-Davidson

10:47: Welcome to the second annual JCCW BB LB! Stretched out, that means the Joe Cribbs Car Wash BracketBusters Liveblog. We'll get underway with Northeastern and Wright St. at the top of the hour, or the bottom of the hour. I forget which is the right term. Until then, enjoy the beautiful reminder of glories gone by above. See you in a few.

11:00: Aaaaaaand here we go. Got my coffee, finished my oatmeal, put my pants on, let's do this. As with most of the weekend's BB games, not a ton on the line between Northeastern and Wright St.--the Huskies' recent slide removed any faint, twinkling hope of getting the CAA a second bid. But I have this suspicion that the Horizon has surpassed the CAA as a league, and a big win by Wright today would cement that suspicion. Love that ESPN's giving us the national anthem to start the day. BRING IT.

11:08: The announcers are trying to sell the "if you LOOOOOOOOVE great defense, you're in for a treat!" line, even though I've never, ever met either a hoops or football fan who's actually said "screw offense and points-scoring, I want to see a grind-it-out slog!" Wright and NU don't look too offensively challenged in the early-going: Wright's up 3-2 3 minutes in.

11:12: Actually, to this point both teams look perfectly competent running their sets--they just don't appear to be particularly sharp shooters. Speaking as someone who actually watched the second half of that Penn St.-Illinois tragedy the other night (there was nothing else on! I swear!), things could be so much worse. Wright's up 7-4. Not surprisingly, the home team seems to have a little more pep for the early tipoff.

11:17: In the wide shots, you can tell Wright's Nutter Center (that's their gym, not a British asylum) is awfully, depressingly empty. Quite a shift from the certifiably-bonkers Niagara gym we saw last night. You can blame the weather, if you like: assuming the weather two hours down the road is similar to the weather outside my window here in the A2, it's colder than colderson and the snow's almost blizzard-esque. Bleah. NU up 11-10 at the second TV timeout.

11:22: Typical: NU runs a neat little backdoor play for Matt Janning, he gets the slip pass, goes up ... and both watches the ball slide off the rim from two feet and gets called for the charge. After our color guy's insistent harping that Wright can't shoot threes, they've of course started 3-for-4 for outside. Irony rules the world, I'm telling you. Tied 15-15.

11:32: Gotta say, Wright's supposed to be the favorite in this game--they rank higher in both Kenpom and BBstate--but I like the way NU's playing a little bit better. Wright hasn't figured out how to get the ball inside against the Huskies--in fact, they've somewhat comically turned the ball over with a couple of ill-advised interior passes--and they probably will cool off from outside sooner rather than later. They'll go to the line to tie the game at 19 after the under-8 timeout, but if I was scoring this one, I'd give the first round to NU.

11:35: Just as I start to throw some praise Manny ADAKO!'s way for his defense (ADAKO! because, come on, doesn't it seem like when you say ADAKO! [pronounced uh-DOCK-o] it comes in all-caps and an exclamation point?), he rather dumbly runs over someone on the offensive end for his second foul. Despite ADAKO's foul issues, NU continues to look the smoother, smarter offensive team--Wright doesn't look like they've got players like Janning or Eugene Spates, both of whose confidence with their shots stands out like a beautiful thumb in a game like this. NU's got an and-one to push their lead to four after the commercial.

11:44 Nice for NU to sort of make me look good--they force a turnover and some good ball movement leads to a wide-open three for Spates, which he drills. Timeout, Raiders. They're down 31-22, and the legitimately tortoise-esque pace means that lead's a little more intimidating than it otherwise would be.

11:50 Halftime, and NU's pushed the lead to 13. Wright's got about as many answers for the Huskie D as I've got for providing stability to Southeast Asian commodity markets. What's sad for those Raider Rowdies in those bright yellow shirts is that Wright punched above their weight from outside--they shoot less than 30 percent as a team, but they hit 4-of-9 in the first half. If they'd shot their average or slightly less, they'd be even further behind.

11:57: Time to switch over to the Butler-Davidson game on regular ESPN. Viva la headliner! If it's half as good as last year's Drake-Butler classic in Hinkle, we'll be lucky.

12:01: I'm hardly the first person to comment on Steph Curry's, uh, youthful appearance, but his voice is seriously about three octaves below where you'd expect it to be based on his middle-school countenance. It's all part of why he's awesome.

12:05: Tip-off! Over/under on shots of Dell Curry in the crowd: 47.5.

12:06: For the record, I like Butler in this game. I don't think Lovedale can handle Howard and if Curry's worried about his ankle--and how isn't he?--he's not going to be able to carry them the way he might be able to otherwise. 5-5 after some excellent inside passing from both teams.

12:10: This has been the problem for Davidson in every game I've seen from them this year: Curry trying just a little too hard, deciding to do a little too much. He's put up a couple of seriously questionable shots, and his ankle makes what was a bad idea to start with an even worse one today. He's got to tone it down. BU up 7-5 at the first media timeout.

12:13: Ugh. Weak offensive foul call on Lovedale is his second. That should really hurt the home team. A pretty game over the first few minutes has gotten a little helter-skelter and less precise.

12:15: Good Lord, the official is up in Bob McKillop's face screaming at him. Shut up and do your job, zebra.

12:18 Just I start to mention how the game's been stuck at "Butler 7, Davidson 5" for what seems like ages, both sides get great looks inside for lay-ups. That's what we're here for, fellas. Calm down a bit.

12:23: Curry's got nothing. He's not confident in his shot, he doesn't look comfortable going up, he's clearly not interested in getting to the rim at all. On the other end, with Lovedale sitting Davidson predictably has no answer for Howard. BU's up 6 with Howard going to the line to finish an and-one. This kind of--no, really--sucks, but I think this game is already mostly over. Sorry, Davidson fans.

12:27: Honestly, Davidson's lucky they're not down further than 17-7. Curry's 0-for-7 from the field, they've turned it over left and right, and Butler's missed multiple great looks from 3. (Gordon Hayward, where's your shot, buddy?) Jimmy Dykes just said Curry's ankle looks fine. I think he's just flat wrong.

12:30: You know how I know Bob McKillop doesn't suck? He just brought Lovedale back into the game with his two fouls--if you fall behind by 20, what's the point in having him available in the second half?--and he immediately drew a foul and blocked Butcher at the rim on the other end. A three by Barr--Curry is at least showing off as much vision as ever--and Davidson's within four.

12:33: Curry finally goes to the rack, and whaddya know, he gets an and-one out of it. Meanwhile, on ESPN2, Northeastern's up 50-45, 7 minutes left. I switched over just in time to see ADAKO! step back and hit a jumper after a Wright St. brick. Nice to see nothing's changed over there.

12:37: Wow, full credit to Davidson third-string inside dude Ben Allison, who just went up-and-under and drew a foul on Howard. That was ... unexpected. Hayward's finally figured his shot out, though. He's hit a couple of threes and Butler's up 23-17, 5:45 left first half.

12:41: Butler's up 10 at the under-4 timeout after Hayward got a transition bucket, but the game's bogged down again. I wanted aesthetically-pleasing basketball, damn it. I'll try not to hold it against them.

12:46: As Ratt once so sagely told us, what goes around comes around. After the ticky-tack offensive foul call on Lovedale early in the game, he just got away with a blatant push-off before hitting a banked-in J. Butler by six.

12:47: As Jimmy Dykes explains to us who his "most valuable" players are--does anybody care? Anyone? Bueller?--ESPN gives us a giant graphic that completely obscures the court as the broadcast completely misses a Butler basket. Nice job, idiots.

12:56: Kraaaaaaaaaazy sequence there: both teams turned it over in transition multiple times and Butler finally got a lay-up out of it. Curry wrapped up the half with a short little J to get Davidson within 34-27, but he's still 2-of-12 from the field. I swear, this feels like the eighth time this year I've watched Davdison and at the half the announcers are saying things like "He's not shooting well, but Curry could get hot at any time" or "Curry really struggling from outside, the opposing defense is doing a really good job of keeping him off-balance, etc." I think he misses Richards's ball-handling more than anyone's letting on.

1:01: Northeastern finishes up their warm-and-comfy win in Dayton, downing Wright 69-57. Colonial repreSENT. (Or whatever.) In the ESPN2 studio, Tom Brennan not surprisingly says what everybody else is afraid to: Curry took some genuinely awful shots in that first half. Brennan is far-and-away the WWL's best studio analyst, which is why he's like their sixth-string guy, of course.

1:09: We get a snack-size helping of Buffalo at Vermont while the other game's at the break. Frankly I'd expect the Catamounts (Catamounts!) to hold serve against the offensively-challenged Bulls at home, but it's the visitors who are up 6-2 early. Another lively crowd reminds me of how somnabulant the Wright St. arena was. I thought Dayton was a hive of mid-major basketball fandom--what happened, Raiders?

1:10 Aaaaaand we're back at DU's Belk Arena ... and, hey, Curry starts the half with a three. He was going to hit one eventually, I guess. Law of averages and all. Hayward answers with a trey of his own.

1:14: This drives me utterly and totally insane: BU's Veazley drives to the rim, Curry's standing approximately an inch outside of "directly under the basket," and Veazley gets called for the charge. I don't know if NBA-style semi-circles under the rim are the answer, but officials have got to let those calls go when the defender isn't even trying to stop the offensive player from reaching the basket. Bleccccch.

1:23: Davidson's picked up their play a little bit--three from Archambault, better D inside--but Butler's started raining threes (Hayward's now 4-for-6 after missing two wide-open ones to start the game) and has gone up by 13. So of course as ESPN goes to commercial they talk about Curry. I guess that's the way of the world. Dykes or Nessler (don't remember which) said that McKillop looks like Mark Few's older brother. That's ... kind of a good call, actually.

1:30: I'm not sure I've ever seen that before: Davidson just committed four fouls on a single Butler possession. Three in a row as they tried to keep Howard under wraps and then another on Hayward as he dribbled around the perimeter. The game itself is the same-ol', same-ol' at the under-12 timeout: Davidson looking more lost than Matthew Fox (ZING!) on offense, Butler getting enough offensive rebounds and jumpers to keep the lead in double digits, Curry popping up every now and then but mostly turning the ball over. His line 5-17, 15 points, 7 TOs. Yipes stripes, Stephen.

1:34: As much as I've blithered about how bad Curry has been, he's spent the last couple of possessions on the bench and Davidson looks even more rudderless, even more toothless without him. Butler now pulling away: 60-44, 8:45 left.

1:39: Under-8 timeout, BU still well in control. Dykes was just gibbering about "fistfighters" vs. "wrestlers" and why one was more likely to win a basketball game than the other. What about mixed martial-artists? Where do they fit in? Superheroes? Politicians?

1:41: Bulldogs by 16, 6:14 to play, you can go ahead and put this one in the books for Butler. Huge win for them, and for the Horizon--with a road win like this one on the books, BU would have to totally collapse to miss the NCAAs. If one of the many Horizon lurkers can pick BU off in Hinkle at the conference tourney (a tall hill to climb, but still) this'll be a two-bid league. w00t.

1:45: Wow, there's a Davidson student in a costume Nessler refers to as a "white lobster." Good for that kid. He surely lives a more interesting life than most of us. (I mean that sincerely.)

1:54: Under-4 timeout, and this is officially a beatdown. Can't say I think too highly at the moment of Davidson's chances of making any kind of repeat NCAA run--assuming they get in, there's plenty of teams out there that can corral Curry the same way Butler has today. He's got to trust his teammates just a little bit more, his teammates have to do just a little bit more to deserve that trust. If they don't, they'll still win the SoCon auto-bid, but with their mid-major cover obviously blown long ago, it's just awfully hard to see them beating a half-decent power conference team. Man, do I hope I'm wrong.

1:59: Gosselin hits a jumper over Howard with a hand in its face, but even on a successful possession you can see how hard Davidson's had to work for their points. That's a statement that's as cliched as cliches get, but it's true: with Curry unable to create for himself, they haven't come close to figuring out how to get open looks. Everything's been pulled teeth.

2:04: Attention power-conference teams who will face Butler in the NCAAs: the Bulldogs crushed Davidson beneath their heels despite the fact that Matt Howard's been totally MIA in the second half. Consider yourselves warned.

2:06: Well, it's been good for Butler, but this game didn't close close to being good for theater. Maybe Vermont-Buffalo (two-point game at the half) and especially UNI-Siena will give us some drama. I'll be back with a new post to cover those games after a break.

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