Tag Archives: john wall

Dancing in the dark

Editor’s note: It does feel like we’ve been pretty heavy on the college basketball lately. Then again, it’s March. So without further adu…

The story starts under the night sky. You leave work late on a Sunday, just as the day is about turn to Monday. You crawl into your car, and the voices emanating from the speakers start spewing advice.

Beware of the 12-5 upset. Look out for UTEP. There’s gonna be a champagne superNOVA in the South.

You rub your eyes. What are these people talking about?

You flip the dial. Another voice. Wait, an animal show? At this hour?

The voice is talking about Grizzlies and Mountain Hawks and Tigers. About Owls and Bears and Badgers and Huskies.

You take a deep breath and stare out in the deep, dark horizon. Is this a dream? Where am I? Who said that?

Better try another station.

Problem is, you stumble upon a show that’s even stranger.

A farming show? Could it be? Yes, a farming show. They’re talking about Cowboys and Aggies and Gauchos.

Click. Radio off.

Finally, you’re home. You stumble through the front door and collapse onto your couch. Perhaps you can reintroduce yourself to reality through television. It’s 12:15 a.m., so you hit the power button on the remote.

And then you realize. It’s worse than you think.

Your television has been hijacked by middle-aged men in luxury suits. Who are these guys?

They use words like “sleeper” and “upside” and “spurtability”. They ask questions about the abilities of Sam Houston and Robert Morris and Brigham Young.

What? You’re confused. Why are they comparing a former Governor of Texas with a major financier of the American Revolution? And what does Steve Young’s great-great-great-grandfather have to do with anything?

And then you realize. You’ve descended into madness.

*****

So yes, it all starts with the bracket. Sixty-four teams spaced evenly on that small white piece of office paper. Yes, there’s a random play-in game place somewhere off to the side. But that’s OK. It’s a small flaw overshadowed by perfection.

So yes, let’s start with the bracket.

And to do so, we must take a trip back in time. Before the internet. Before printable brackets ran up printing costs at offices around the country. Before ESPN had a network called ESPNU – and 87 straight hours of NCAA Tournament talk. Before the talking heads saturated our heads with cinderellas and upsets and chalk.

Yes, let’s go back to a simpler time. When it was just a kid and a bracket. Such a simpler time.

The tradition went like this: I would wake up on a Monday morning and search for the special NCAA Tournament preview section in the Kansas City Star. Inside, on page C6-7, would be the holy grail. The NCAA bracket. The first opportunity to see every matchup, laid out across the kitchen table. The Final Four logo was always in the middle, reminding us of the goal. Salvation didn’t lie within, it awaited your team in Indianapolis or San Antonio or St. Louis.

*****

Of course, the next part was the best.

You grabbed a pen and made your picks. Simple, right? Easy, right?

You studied the first-round games. You looked for any sort of hint. You analyzed coaches and matchups and the strength of each conference.

You probably made a few homer picks. You knew you had to pick a few upsets. You learned tricks along the way. Always pick at least one 12-5 upset. Nine-seeds actually beat eight-seeds more than 50 percent of the time. 16-seeds? Forget ‘em.

You found teams with great point guards. You searched for teams with experience and chemistry and intangibles.

And in the end. None of it seemed to matter. Your bracket would inevitably go bust. Sure, sometimes you would hit on a big upset. But nobody can be perfect. Nobody.

*****

So what’s the secret? Well, first, you must realize that there is no secret. Yes, you can use modern tools. You can look up offensive efficiency ratings. You can compare advanced RPI metrics. You can use it all. But there is no fail-safe.

Still, there is strategy.

For example:

1. Put all ones, twos and threes through to the second round.

2. Go through the other first-round games and go with your first instinct. If you have to think about it, skip that game and come back.

3. At least one No. 1 seed will make the Final Four.

4. There’s a reason why – since the inception of the 64-team tourney in 1985 — only two double-digit seeds (LSU in 1986, George Mason in 2006) have made the Final Four.

5. Pay attention to coaches. Sure, they might not make much of a difference during the actual games, but there’s a reason why only 15 coaches have won National Titles in the last 20 years.

Breakdown by coaches (* means there actually in the field)
1. *Mike Kryzewski (2)
2. Roy Williams (2)
3. *Billy Donovan (2)
4. Jim Calhoun (2)
5. *Bill Self (1)
6. *Jim Boeheim (1)
7. *Gary Williams (1)
8. *Tom Izzo (1)
9. *Tubby Smith (1)
10. Lute Olson (1)
11. *Rick Pitino (1)
12. Jim Harrick (1)
13. Nolan Richardson (1)
14. Dean Smith (1)
15. Jerry Tarkanian (1)

6. In the same vein, only 13 different schools have won titles in the last 20 years.

Last 20 champs by conference breakdowns (Now, not at the time of the title)

1. ACC (7)
2. SEC (5)
3. Big East (3)
4. Pac-10 (2)
5. Big 12 (1)
6. Big Ten (1)
7. Mountain West (1)

7. If you need a tiebreaker, go with the coach with Final Four experience

Other coaches with Final Four’s in the field (number in parentheses)

1. Kentucky’s John Calipari (2 *though both were vacated…ouch)
2. San Diego State’s Steve Fischer (2) *won a title at Michigan in 1989)
3. Georgia Tech’s Paul Hewitt (1)
4. Georgetown’s John Thompson III (1)
5. Texas’ Rick Barnes (1)
6. Ohio State’s Thad Matta (1)
7. Villanova’s Jay Wright (1)
8. West Virginia’s Bob Huggins (1 *at Cincy)
9. UNLV’s Lon Kruger (at Florida)

9. Lastly, work fast

*****

So let’s do it. Here it is… My 5-minute bracket. A little science… and a little speed.

Midwest Regional

(1) Kansas over (16) Lehigh – Duh
(9) Northern Iowa over (8) UNLV – Panthers are tough and experienced
(5) Michigan State over (12) New Mexico State – See Izzo, Tom
(4) Maryland over (13) Houston – Cougars lucky to get in
(11) San Diego St. over (6) Tennessee – Old coach strikes again
(3) Georgetown over (14) Ohio – Duh
(7) Oklahoma State over (10) Georgia Tech – first instinct… who knows?
(2) Ohio State over (15) UC Santa Barbara – Duh

Second round

(1) Kansas over (9) Northern Iowa – Going with chalk
(5) Michigan State over (4) Maryland – Going with coach with more Final Four’s
(3) Georgetown over (11) SDSU – Going with talent over Fisher’s coaching experience
(2) Ohio State over (7) Oklahoma State – Talent and coaching advantage for Buckeyes

Sweet 16

(1) Kansas over (5) Michigan State – Revenge for Jayhawks
(3) Georgetown over (2) Ohio State – Interior play carries Hoyas

Elite Eight

(1) Kansas over (3) Georgetown – Easy: talent and coaching on KU’s side

West Region

(1) Syracuse over (16) Vermont – (Just nod and move along)
(8) Gonzaga over (9) Florida State – Instinct pick; Who really knows?
(5) Butler over (12) UTEP – Hoosiers was filmed at Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse
(4) Vanderbilt over (13) Murray State – Tough matchup for Murray St.
(6) Xavier over (11) Minnesota – Gophers are a fraud
(3) Pitt over (14) Oakland – Going by rules
(7) BYU over (10) Florida – Ignoring rules; love Jimmer Fredette
(2) K-State over (15) North Texas – (Nodding…)

Second Round

(1) Syracuse over (8) Gonzaga – Talent… check. Coaching…check.
(5) Butler over (4) Vanderbilt – Chitwoods pull it out.
(3) Pitt over (6) Xavier – Toughest call yet, but Panthers are battle-tested
(2) K-State over (7) BYU – Great defense over great offense

Sweet 16

(1) Syracuse over (5) Butler – Probably dumb, but going with Boeheim
(2) K-State over (3) Pitt – Teams are similar; Love Pullen and Clemente

Elite Eight

(1) Syracuse over (2) K-State – The ‘Cats ride ends in the regional final…

East Regional

(1) Kentucky over (16) East. Tenn. St. — (Breezing along)
(9) Wake Forest over (8) Texas – Longhorns are lesson in dysfunction
(12) Cornell over (5) Temple – Cornell almost beat Jayhawks, who destroyed Temple
(4) Wisconsin over (13) Wofford – Anybody know where Wofford is?
(6) Marquette over (11) Washington – Yea, I’ll sell on the Pac-10
(3) New Mexico over (14) Montana – Steve Alford primed to take Lobos deep
(10) Missouri over (7) Clemson – Dream draw for Mizzou
(2) West Virginia over (15) Morgan State — Love Bob Huggins’ sweatsuit

Second Round

(1) Kentucky over (9) Wake Forest – Wildcats chalk it up
(12) Cornell over (4) Wisconsin – Big Red will be tourney darlings
(3) New Mexico over (6) Marquette – Lobos have Big East-type talent
(2) West Virginia over (7) Missouri – Bob Huggins puts clownsuit on Mike Anderson

Sweet 16

(1) Kentucky over (12) Cornell – Sad to say… Wildcats have too much talent
(2) West Virginia over (3) New Mexico – Lobos lack muscle to stay with Mountaineers

Elite Eight

(1) Kentucky over (2) West Virginia – Wildcats have NBA talent and coaching — a potent combo

South Regional

(1) Duke over (16) Play-in winner – (nodding head)
(9) Louisville over (8) California – Honestly, just going with the nine-seed here
(5) Texas A&M over (12) Utah State – Aggies over Aggies… fun.
(13) Siena over (4) Purdue – Let’s hope Gus Johnson calls this upset
(11) Old Dominion over (6) Notre Dame – And the south region implodes
(3) Baylor over Sam Houston State – Bears’ Carter and Dunn play at home in N’awlins
(7) Richmond over (10) St. Mary’s – (nodding head)
(2) Villanova over (15) Robert Morris – (still nodding)

Second Round

(1) Duke over (9) Louisville – Coach K over Pitino — barely
(5) Texas A&M over (13) Siena – Saints not as good as 2009 version
(3) Baylor over (11) Old Dominion – Udoh makes difference for Bears
(2) Villanova over (7) Richmond – Once again, going with coaching

Sweet 16

(1) Duke over (5) Texas A&M – Blue Devils are efficient — Coach K’s OK, too.
(3) Baylor over (2) Villanova – Baylor wins playing “home” game in Houston

Elite Eight

(1) Duke over (3) Baylor – How’d Duke get this bracket again?

Final Four

(1) Kansas over (1) Syracuse

Payback for 2003. But really, it’s about Jayhawks being the more complete and efficient team.

(1) Kentucky over (1) Duke

Blue Devils are talented, but they just can’t run up and down with Wall, Patterson and Cousins.

Championship game

Kansas over Kentucky

This one feels like destiny. And it feels like 2008. Self versus Calipari. Kansas versus an uber-talented freshman guard. I believe the result would feel the same, too.

Kansas 75, Kentucky 68 – in regulation

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Just thinking about Sherron

He looks like the old man in the rec league out there, the one who doesn’t quite understand that his legs and game have deserted him.

He weighs a little more than everyone else. Maybe that’s why. His back aches, and his quads aren’t firing. Maybe that’s why.
Whatever the reason, he is stumbling. This is ESPN Game Day. This is against a rival. This is Bramlage Coliseum. This is the Octagon of Doom or whatever the heck they’re calling it.

And Sherron Collins looks like that damn old man everyone at the gym would pay if he promised to never play again.

They take him out. They stretch his lower back. They massage his upper legs. When they put him back in the game, he hobbles around for a while longer.

So then it makes perfect sense that he makes the game’s most important shot.

***
A couple of weeks ago, a cousin of Nic Wise tried telling me that his Arizona point guard relative played the game of college basketball better than Collins.

Of course I laughed.

A friend of mine who graduated from Kansas State said point blank that he would prefer to have Jacob Pullen on his team rather than Collins.

Another K-State fan soon told him to shut up.

Reason prevailed during these arguments. Notions of basketball insanity were quickly dismissed. But a worry still lingers. These people erroneously questioned the value of Sherron Collins, and I fear it happens on a larger scale.

It seems strange. Collins is flashy, and he’s undersized, and he loves crunch time. He shoots the three. He often drives like a mad man. He’s been part of a national championship. He has what casual observers might refer to as intangibles.

These characteristics normally pop out for admirers of college basketball.

Yet the devaluation occurs. Sherron Collins, a fireball, one of the gutsiest players to wear a Kansas uniform, always does what he needs to do. The moment calls, and he’s there. Situations and games change, and he’s there.

***
Go back to early November, 2, 2006. In his first college game, an exhibition, Collins came off the bench for 24 minutes. He dribbled wildly, navigating his own way to the basket where he missed as many layups as he made.

He would score eight points and contribute five assists.

The crowd would pine for Shady.

Yep, Darrell Arthur did everything that night. He flashed NBA-ready post moves, jammed a couple of times and, of course, he introduced us to that nickname, Shady, one people would repeat for a long time*.

*And Dave Armstrong would improperly join the nickname with his last name, calling the big man “Shady Arthur” for the next two years and producing an untold number of cringes for listeners.

I remember walking home with a fellow group of KU fans. Someone talked about getting Arthur’s jersey. Another person told him not to bother because with that kind of game he would certainly leave after one season. Someone else said he couldn’t believe that he was a year older than Arthur.

What about Sherron? What about that 5:1 assist-to-turnover night? What about the way he darted into the lane, so quick that his own body sometimes couldn’t react?

***
Go back to April 2008. For the major KU fans, I suspect I don’t need to recount the date. However, for the less studious, it was Monday the seventh, and the game was the championship, and the opponent was Memphis.

We all know what happened.

Mario Chalmers stroked a fall-away three-pointer that sent the game into overtime. It would send the Lawrence crowds pouring out of Mass. Street bars and into the streets. It would send the “One Shining Moment” editor scrambling to make that the permanent ending.

Everyone, rightfully, raved about “The Shot.” Few noticed “The Pass.”

The pass came three months after a fight erupted in Chestnut Hill, Mass. Well, it wasn’t quite a fight. People who use the thesaurus too often would probably refer to it as a fisticuff or something.

It started when Boston College’s Rakim Sanders took offense to Chalmers. Chalmers had accidentally slipped into his chest, and Sanders started jawing at him, a little too close for just friendly chatter.

A second later, Collins was there. He could have knocked Sanders’ head off – and probably wanted to – or he could have played the role of peacemaker. In the end, he really didn’t do either. Darnell Jackson calmed the situation down.

But I couldn’t stop thinking about Collins. He ran from the other side of the court in a second to be there for his teammate. I had never seen a person move quite like that when no one else really saw the argument coming.

And it illustrated a point. When his team needed something, Collins would do anything, and he would do it reflexively, as though it were second nature.

And that’s what connects Boston College with “The Pass.” No man could have consciously done what Collins did on that play. It was reflex. It was natural.

View after view on YouTube can’t bring about a clear picture. One second, he’s dribbling, the next he’s falling and still dribbling and making a perfect pass all at once. It almost seems like he skips a frame, like he transcends time.

Joe Posnanski ( I think) would later write a column about Collins’ pass. I unfortunately can’t find it.

This gave “The Pass” its due, its rightful justice. Only, it didn’t. Nothing could. Collins defied basketball logic with that play. He saw an opening few could have seen, burst through it and did something that can’t even be properly interpreted on film.

****
For a while, Collins struggled with his role as the man. And at the beginning of last season, he had to be the man. He couldn’t quite trust anyone else.

Cole Aldrich was still unproven. He had outplayed Tyler Hansbrough months before, of course, but this wasn’t the Aldrich Kansas could lean on just yet.

Tyshawn Taylor and the Morris twins were enigmatic at best. Brady Morningstar and Tyrel Reed hadn’t become the ultimate glue guys and so on.

So against Syracuse, he tried a little too hard. Jonny Flynn made him. Flynn plays basketball with what the players like to call swagger.

Nobody outswaggers Collins, and he wanted to prove it. He did in the first half, scoring 15 points to Flynn’s eight. Then Flynn started scoring and talking and running with a little more energy. He scored 17 points the rest of the way.

Collins tried to keep pace, and made just one shot in the last nine minutes of regulation. At one point, he tried driving on Flynn, who stripped the ball, and Syracuse then went on a 13-2 run.

Kansas had a big lead. It lost in overtime. And it was easy, and probably rightful, to blame Collins.

A month later, he shot the ball too many times against Massachusetts. Kansas lost again.

Then came the Tennessee game. Bill Self said then that it was the kind of victory that could turn around a season. And something changed in Collins, too.

This was the first time since the Massachusetts debacle that Kansas played a tight game. Collins could have reverted to old form and tried to do too much. He didn’t.

In the last five possessions, the last few minutes, he got to the free throw line, and he passed the ball inside to Aldrich. The occasion called for that, and he delivered.

Of course, the occasions change. That’s why he shot and made all those three-pointers against Oklahoma. That’s why he came in at just the right time on Saturday against Kansas State. That’s why, though he could put 25 up if he wanted, sometimes he lets the Morris twins and Xavier Henry do most of the work in other games.

It goes back to his natural ability to respond to situations. He understands the subtleties of the given game and then delivers.

***
Go turn on ESPN. You may have to wait a few hours, or likely just a few minutes, but at some point on any given day, a talking head will gush about John Wall.

Everybody loves John Wall. Did you know he hit a shot to beat Miami of Ohio? Did you know he may or may not have feuded with his hot-headed coach over the weekend?

Wall averages gaudy numbers. He deserves much praise. But he gets it largely because of the numbers and general freshman hype.

Collins doesn’t always put them up. Against Missouri, he hardly scored. He really didn’t have to.

Last night, against Colorado, he hardly cared in the first half. He didn’t have to. Then in the second half, he erupted.
Collins just does what he needs to do, reflexively.

“The kid’s legacy to me is, there’s been a lot of good players here,” Bill Self said, “and he’s gonna win more games than any of them.”

Self said that to the Kansas City Star the other day, and I think you can read even further into the quote.

Collins isn’t just some guy who ends his career with a bunch of victories because he played on good teams.

Of all the recent Kansas players and all the college basketball players in general, no one does more to get his team those wins. There’s no other player who wins games like Collins.

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