Saturday, February 21, 2009

BracketBusters liveblog, second shift: Buffalo-Vermont, Northern Iowa-Siena

That's the current View from the JCCW's Window, but even if the weather outside is frightful, BracketBusters Saturday remains, as the song goes, so delightful. Thanks to the glory of DVR, we're starting at the start of the second half of Vermont-Buffalo. We'll be caught up live soon.

2:16: I was surprised to see a highlight during the BU-Davidson halftime that showed Buffalo leading scorer Rodney Pierce having hit 5-of-6 or something like it. Pierce (to my knowledge) is a "volume scorer," that wonderful euphemism that means "takes a lot of shots and misses a good many." Guess he's coming back to earth--he finished the half 6-of-10 and bricks a three to start the second. Vermont up 45-41 with 18:25 left.

2:19: I'll cop to being surprised any game with Buffalo involved was 41-39 at halftime; the second half to this point has been a little more at the defensive-grind speed I was expecting ... despite a couple of buckets, Vermont's gone under the 7-second mark on the shot clock on two of three possessions.

2:22: Seriously, how the hell did Marqus Blakely wind up in Burlington freaking Vermont? He's got crazy hops, by all accounts he's a good kid, and as he just showed he's got real ball skills, too ... the up-and-under post move was positively old-school-centeresque. And hey, he nearly just finished a wild alley-oop. This guy has power-conference miss written all over him.

2:28: This game is already about 30 times better than either of the two previous ones we've seen today. The crowd's on fire, Mike Trimboli (like Blakely) is a joy to watch--check out first the slice-and-dice into the lane, then the rainbow 3 to put UVM up 55-46--and Buffalo's clearly playing hard if they just don't really have any guys who have the skills to match the Vermont stars. Ah, mid-majordom, how much I love you.

2:33: Of course, just after I brag on him, Blakely blows a bunny. I'll take this opportunity to make the uniform note that Buffalo's road blues are freaking awesome--Duke's, Kentucky's etc. can seriously step off compared to these. Too bad the Bulls are really starting to press on the offensive end--they're down 11 at the under-12 timeout.

2:39: For the MAC's (and the Hoops Junkie's) pride, the Bulls had best at least make this thing close. They're lucky to be down just 11 with 9:45 to play--the Catamounts have screwed up three straight easy fast-break opportunities. This is the current MAC leader and they're not even hanging with the current de facto America East runner-up. (Of course, right after I say that Pierce rains in a three.)

2:47: The Bulls have got to play smarter late in the shot clock--this is the third time this half they've played good D for 35 seconds and then bailed UVM out with a dumb-assed foul. This most recent one (triggering the under-8 timeout) also sent the home team to the line. Vermont by 9, 7:20 to play.

2:52: Hey, whaddya know, an official called the block on a stationary guy standing underneath the basket as UVM's Colin Macintosh rocks an awesome shot fake-and-drive move for the and-one. Buffalo's shooting around 4-for-18 or so this half, Catamounts up 65-51 with 6:11 remaining. This one's just about over. Come on, BB Saturday, at least give us some drama.

2:58: Bob Valvano's always done solid work as one of ESPN's deep-on-the-bench color guys, and he had a great sequence there. Buffalo drives inside and throws up a prayer amongst the threes. "He's trying," Valvano says," but that's just not a good shot." Right then Trimboli throws a great pass to a wide-open post player inside for an easy two. "That's a good shot," Valvano deadpans. Sweet. Vermont up 14, 4:20 left. Game's over.

3:03: Hey, there's some life from the Bulls. A steal of an inbounds pass for a lay-up, a powerful inside post move from that Boudreaux guy who looked so good against Toledo on ESPN2 a few weeks ago, and another run-out from a missed Vermont three gives UB a little momentum. Too bad the officials bailed the Catamounts out on a promising-looking backcourt trap that led to two Vermont free throws--otherwise maybe Buffalo would be making some actual headway. As is, they're still down 10.

3:11: With this game essentially finished, here's the question: has Vermont looked like the sort of team that could do some NCAA Tournament damage? Yeah, honestly, I think they could. Trimboli's a terrific point guard, Blakley can play with anyone, and this MacIntosh guy has looked like a real threat on the offensive end. There are definitely going to be less dangerous 13/14/15 seeds if the Catamounts do make the tournament.

3:13: So, the flipside: what's in Buffalo's future? This is the second team I've seen the Bulls and I just don't see the offensive chops necessary to scare a high seed in a tight, slow March contest. I'll be a little on the surprised side if they survive Cleveland, given that Akron and Kent seem to be playing much better at the moment, but who knows--the Bulls did take UConn into the final seconds, so I could be totally wrong.

3:15: Hmmm, three straight UVM turnovers and it's an eight-point game with around 90 seconds left. Surely Buffalo can't make a real game of this.

3:18: Wow, after a score, Buffalo's down six and have Vermont out of timeouts. The press has caused Vermont all sorts of issues--given that one of Buffalo's few advantages was definitely athleticism and some full-court speed, should they have gone to it earlier? Trimboli's absence (he walked off with what looked like a cramp a few minutes ago) probably had something to do with it.

3:21: Holy crap, Vermont. Another turnover on the inbounds, an offensive rebound after a missed three, and a pass inside for what looks like a sure dunk ... and Blakely comes out of nowhere to stuff him! There's a foul called with the body, UB hits one of two, but what an awesome play that was. This game has suddenly turned into a nail-biter: Vermont up five, 52 seconds left.

3:24: Vermont turns it over! UB ball! Pierce tries to create, Trimboli's all over him ... obvious shuffle of the feet and a travel. Catamounts get it over the timeline, Trimboli cans two free throws, and the entire gym exhales a bit. About time we had something really interesting happen.

3:27: Trimboli hits a couple more free throws, Buffalo misses three or four shots on their final possession, and it's over! I guess the Bulls salvaged some measure of meager pride by not getting totally run out of the gym there ... but yeah, it's not a sterling year for the MAC when their leader falls by eight at Vermont. Not that that's news, I guess.

3:30: Onto Albany! Siena's blitzing Northern Iowa--17-7 when we switch over, and Siena gets an and-one just after. This is an awful matchup for UNI--a team with Siena's athleticism should give them fits, and Fran Fraschilla (man, they pulled out the big guns for this one) notes that UNI hasn't even been hitting threes of late. There's a reason this game is already in the double digits.

3:33 Siena's Clarence Jackson drains a 3 and UNI bricks one over the backboard as we go to the under-8 timeout. Ron Franklin is telling us that's pretty much how it's gone the whole game, and oh man I'm reminded how much I love this man. I could listen to him read ... I mean, not even the phone book. Like, the phone book as written by Thomas Pynchon in Czech, or something.

3:38: Shot clock violation on UNI. Siena responds with another 3 by Jackson. That's ... that's not good. We may not get much drama out of this one, either.

3:43: We're at the under-4 timeout (though with only 2:53 left in the half) and Siena is doing their Siena thing: they take a lot of weird, not entirely advisable shots in the halfcourt, but they also have length out the wazoo and every time they get a chance to run, they do it and they do it right. Edwin Ubiles just went basically one-on-three and drained a six-foot jumper. UNI is going to be nearly perfect from deep to get back into this game, and with Siena's defense that's going to be tough. One the plus side for UNI, post dude Eglseder is seriously scary-looking. I wouldn't mess with him.

3:48: UNI doesn't have any answer for Edwin Ubiles. Sure, he probably walked on that last possession--where he took a couple of those looooooooong Ginobili-esque strides before laying it up, prompting Ben Jacobson to hold his head in disbelief--but they clearly can't keep him in front of them. After yet another short jumper in the lane, Siena's up 20. It's an obliteration is what it is.

3:51: UNI misses a free throw with like 5 seconds left, Siena immediately pushes up floor, and with a second left in the half their PG Moore hits a sweet little runner from six feet. The Saints march into the locker room up 21. You do not want this team across from you in your NCAA bracket. I mean that.

3:55: I could start blogging the Marquette-G'town game, I guess--the Utah St.'s and Sienas of the world are rooting for MU big-time--but screw that, it's BracketBusters. Back in a few.

4:08: Halftime stats are up, and good gracious: UNI shot 5-of-22 from the field. On the road, against a good defensive team, yadda yadda yadda: however you slice it, that's just awful. Give them a modicum of credit, though: they've gotten it inside on their first two possessions and scored both times.

4:15: "That fella is not supposed to be that open," Franklin says as Hasbrouck nails a three from the corner. After UNI's initial "surge" (scare-quotes most definitely needed when you're talking about trimming a lead from 21 to 17) Siena pushed it twice back up over 20. This game is going nowhere.

4:20: There's a brief ray of sunshine on the court for UNI ... but I mean that literally, as someone's opened a door or a curtain or something and sending a streak of light across the gym floor. UNI would have preferred it be a metaphorical ray, I reckon.

4:30: Seriously, folks, Ron Franklin, coming out of commercial describing a made half-court shot by a kid for 25 grand: "He got nothing but cord and floor." If there's not a college basketball blog named "Cord and Floor" by the end of the week, the Internet's not doing its job. Franklin and Fraschilla have been on fire describing Siena's, um, heavyset post player Josh Duell and his future life as a lunchtime YMCA warrior. It might be a little mean-spirited if they weren't so right: because of both his girth and particularly his oversized white t-shirt, Duell is totally going to rock someone's local pickup games for years to come. These guys are the best. Saints still up 18.

4:32: You do have to give Eglseder some credit. His teammates haven't been much, but every time he's touched it down low he's converted ... which he does again here. Panthers down 15.

4:39: Don't look now, but UNI's within 11 after Siena gave into their always just-barely-suppressed impulse to jack up 20-foot jumpers. Guess you can only keep the Saints' freelancing in control for so long. In the meantime, Fran needs to be careful as he says Lucas O'Rear "looks like a Valley player." I love him, but I have to wonder if he'd say the same thing about O'Rear's fellow Panthers Kwadzo Ahelegbe or Ali Farokhmanesh.

4:44: As Ryan Rossiter hits a couple of free throws, I have to wonder if any particularly geeky Saints fans have tried to give him the nickname "Inter." UNI's hanging around, but they haven't been able to get it into single digits yet despite a couple of chances.

4:48: Johnny Moran throws up an airball on a three that would have cut it to 9, and Moore dashes downcourt and finds Rossiter for a lay-up with a sharp, sharp cutting pass. 5-point swing, and this one's just about in the books as UNI calls their last timeout.

4:56: So UNI lines up to apply some full-court pressure, and I think to myself "This is going to end badly," because UNI is just not the sort of team that should apply full-court pressure to a the sort of team that Siena is. And I end up being right before the ball's even inbounded, as a Panther player grabs a streaking Saint's jersey for an intentional foul. Moran misses a three--I honestly don't see any way UNI can beat a good team if Moran's going to be as off as he's been today--and Rossiter hits one of two to put Siena up 13. How long 'til Utah St.-St. Mary's tips.

4:58: UNI's next adventure with the press ends with an and-one for Franklin and Cook fouled out. I think if you're the Panthers and you're down double-digits against Siena with less than three to play ... I don't know what you do, but surely there's something more dignified than the hara-kiri of Saints tearing through a press left and right.

5:03 It's entirely too bad that Northern Iowa's and Creighton's performances through the first half of the Valley slate were both so misleading, because if this game had been between the Saints and Bluejays a) it would have made for a much, much better game b) the winner would have emerged with a much more legit shot at an at-large. Siena can still do it if the bubble stays as soft as it appears and they run the table all the way to the MAAC final--they'd dominated the other mids on their schedule, and it would be a shame if they missed out because they lost by two at a good Rider team. But it's going to be splitting hairs all the way, and if you ask me today, I think the lack of a single signature nonconference upset means Siena has to take the MAAC auto-bid.

5:07: UNI shaves the lead to six with the help of a couple of missed Saints FTs, but it's nothing but sound and fury, man, sound and fury.

5:11: 81-75 is the final. Siena remains as wild, unpredictable, and dangerous as ever. Somewhere, the good side of Rasheed Wallace has a favorite college team it probably doesn't even know about. Now, if they'll only get into the Tournament.

Back in just a sec with the third and final shift.

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