Yet another 1-seed found an early exit in the tournament last night. This time, it was the Indiana Hoosiers who met their fate at the hands of the Syracuse Orange and their famous 2-3 zone.
On a macro level, three things typically beat a zone defense: offensive rebounds, 3-point shots, and transition baskets. Indiana largely failed at all three in their defeat last night. The Hoosiers only made three shots from beyond the arc and had only 11 offensive rebounds (four of which came on one possession and didn’t even result in a made shot). Both of those figures actually fall below their respective season averages of 7.3 and 12.2.
Indiana found some success attacking Syracuse before the Orange could set up in their patented zone, but it was largely a mixed bag. The Orange did a fine job defending in transition last night, greeting the Hoosier break above the 3-point line and forcing wild forays to the rim, like these from Victor Oladipo that resulted in turnovers more often than they did made baskets.
Eight years ago, college basketball was the most important thing in my life.
Wait, wait. I worry what you just heard was “Eight years ago, I really liked college basketball.” What I said was: “Eight years ago, college basketball was the most important thing in my life.” When I was 17, sports were everything, and college basketball was, by far, my favorite. As a Duke sympathizer (it’s a long story that involves a lack of college basketball in Chicago and Jay Williams) living in Illinois in 2005, I felt it was my moral obligation to both the sport and mankind to remind everyone at my high school that ACC basketball was superior. This led to watching games every night, starting arguments every morning, and eventually going to that year’s Final Four just to watch my least favorite team in the history of sports lose to North Carolina.
As I hit my 20s, that love of college basketball — and Duke — slowly fell away. I like to think it’s because I became less of an asshole, but I suspect there’s more at work. When the latest Golden Age of the NBA began to take shape, and it became clear that I was free of experiences like the Baby Bulls and the 2005 Finals, it felt like pro basketball had again turned into the product worth watching. Players like Kevin Durant and Derrick Rose only stoked that fire, and by this season, I’d managed to make it until February before taking in a full college basketball game. With the lackluster slate of NBA games last night, Indiana–Michigan State seemed like as good a place as any to see if I could start things up again.
If the e-mails I sent to my editors reached a level you might call "pleading" or even "begging," you can't blame me. The college basketball currents had been colliding for three months, creating the conditions for a freak wave that finally crested last week and may break at any moment. Against all odds, the bastion of stodgy basketball that is the Big Ten had become the biggest and best show around. I knew I had to get to the Midwest fast, while the magic was thick.
What Big Ten magic, you ask? Oh, the two epic Burke-Craft battles; Indiana's first-half blitzkriegs against Michigan and Minnesota, and the furious comebacks that followed; the Illinois Miracle Minute; Bo Ryan, great coach that he is, stealing game after game despite losing his best defender for the season. And then there's the talented group out in the Twin Cities, the underachievers who rebound like men possessed but keep just losing and now stand on the verge of total collapse ... and it goes on and on. This is a constant, brutal war of attrition, and it's terrific theater.
THE PITCH: Watch the six best Big Ten teams face off in a span of five days. Indiana at Ohio State on Sunday, Michigan at Michigan State on Tuesday, Wisconsin at Minnesota on Thursday. Simple, profound, necessary. The editors sensed my desperation and agreed.
Super Bowl XLVII was also the final game for one of the legends of an era, Ravens Linebacker Ray Lewis. Lewis, who has seen his share of controversy throughout his career, left the stage with his trademark piety, saying, "Man, I didn't play well enough for us to win, but the team and God really picked me up. Haven't gotten away with anything like that in a loooooong time." Lewis then winked, pointed to the sky, and said, "I owe you one, big guy!" God responded, "Dude owes me more than one. Way more. Man, sometimes I have no idea why I keep bailing him out. But we go way back. I dunno, Pete is telling me to cut him off, but then I see those big sweet eyes, and I just can't help myself."
I was sitting at the bar of a ragged little pub-type restaurant in Durham on Friday afternoon — the kind where nobody is overtly hostile, since this is the South, but where they give you 10-13 fries with your lukewarm burger to hint at a menacing presence in the kitchen — talking hoops with an Internet Sports Journalist who, like me, often finds himself in a digitally induced state of disrepair and in need of human company by Friday afternoon. We've been to the same place a few times now, and I think it's mostly a depressing lack of ambition that leads us back. Anyway, after losing a tense negotiation with the bartender concerning lemon slices, I turned to my colleague and tried to justify a personal flip-flop: I liked the Indiana Hoosiers as a title team in the preseason, but now I think they belong somewhere outside the top 10. The excuse I came up with — and this has cop-out written all over it — is that even a certified genius couldn't write about college basketball without pulling so many 180’s from November to April that, when viewed in fast motion, he appeared to be executing a prolonged pirouette.
And that's in a normal season. This season, as you've been told by experts and laymen since the summer, is Wide Open. (If you've grown to hate that phrase, all I can say is that you'll probably continue hating it for three more months, but that it will pay off conceptually during the tournament.) I bought into the anarchy early, because I have an affinity for chaos and unpredictability. Then, without warning, a sneaky childlike desire for order and classification crept into my psyche last week, and I wrote a foolish thing about the unexpected and possibly permanent superiority of Duke and Michigan. For a second, the compulsive side ascended in the battle of the dueling natures, and I imposed order on the wilderness. I felt relieved, but also a little cowardly.
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Tuesday.
Dwight Howard scored 23 points and grabbed 15 boards as the Lakers beat the Nets 95-90 in Mike D'Antoni's first game on the L.A. bench. It was a virtuoso performance for D'Antoni, who, despite a knee injury, was firing on all cylinders with such bench-themed moves as the running bench slide, the sitting bench slide, the Captain Morgan leg, the reverse Captain Morgan leg, Poppo's Droppo, the fussy towel wipe, the angry kick, the Ruppian hop, the Wooden whine, the frustration head-bury combo, the satisfaction back lean, Magglio the Good Pirate, the gentle head pat, the Faustian substitute, the restless foot tapping two-second sit-me-down, the supine cry, the post-dunk defensive urge, the smirk of fierce disbelief, the hurried jump, Nap Time, the furious Chaplain march, the standing contemplative hand-to-mouth, the existential laugh of the oppressed, the recumbent plea, the player's shoulder strap grab-and-toss, the Dutch persuasion, Appletini, and his favorite, the two-clap Crazy James Nai-Nai.
Yesterday we looked at the Third Team and the All-Stoppers squad, and now it's time for the best of the best. Tomorrow is opening day in college hoops, and I'll be previewing the top 10 games. For now, here are my 10 top players for 2012-13. All stats come from ESPN and Ken Pomeroy.
Last week, we looked at the Dangerous Outsiders, the Royal Blues, and the Title Snipers. This week, we turn to four legitimate championship contenders. So far we've examined NC State, Ohio State, and Louisville. See the box below for those links. Now, it's time for the no. 1 team in all the Americas — the Indiana Hoosiers.
If there was one moment last season when a college basketball game stopped obeying the usual laws and got all transcendent on us — when fast-paced, free-flowing athleticism meshed with the beauty of complex execution and became a kind of sublime, gasp-inducing display of fulfilled offensive potential — it came during the Indiana-Kentucky shootout in the Sweet 16.
When I look back at the 2012 tournament, that's the game that will stick in my memory. Hoosiers coach Tom Crean attacked Kentucky with a game plan that some called ballsy and some called insane. Either way, they were right. He played Kentucky's game, at Kentucky's speed. You have to wonder if at some point the week before, a timid assistant tried to approach Crean and say, "Um ... coach? Just so we're all on the same page, you know we're playing Kentucky, right? The Kentucky? The main one?"
In case you were out living a life of leisure, here's what you missed in sports on Monday.
A near-perfect Alex Smith threw for 232 yards and three touchdowns as the 49ers dismantled the Cardinals 24-3 on Monday Night Football. As Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt approached midfield, he was pleasantly surprised when Jim Harbaugh's handshake was far less condescending than usual. It was almost humble, he thought to himself, and that's when he looked down and noticed that his hand was covered in Vaseline.