Not to gloat, but being a lucky bastard is fun. For those of you who don’t know, every Thanksgiving I spend the week in Maui with my family. Of course, that trip always coincides with college basketball’s best preseason tournament, the EA Sports Maui Invitational, so we always get tickets. This is my fifth year at the tournament, and it is always a great time. The games are played in a facility smaller than my high school gym, and some of the best teams in the country always attend. If any of you ever get a chance to make it out for this event I really can’t overstate how great it really is. Anyway, since I’m not doing anything other than relaxing this week, I’ll give you a daily wrap-up of my observations from the games and happenings on and off the court here.
Chaminade v. No. 11 Marquette
I’ll say this for Tom Crean’s Golden Eagles, they sure know how to play down to their competition. This game was WAY closer than it should have been. And the tide only turned when Jerel McNeal scored eight points during an 11-2 run late in the second half, that put away the Silverswords. Marquette pulled out the 74-63 win, but they shouldn’t be too happy about it. Their problem is that they’re talented but show absolutely no sense of urgency. They are content to just coast through games. Dominic James only scored 11 points and he was twice as good as anyone on the floor. McNeal’s late flurry was the only sign of life from Marquette all game. James, McNeal and Wesley Matthews are all fantastic players but they never play well at the same time.
One huge issue that will haunt “Team Crean” is their utter lack of any post presence, particularly on defense. Chaminade’s Marko Kolaric, a 7-foot Serbian corpse, had 19 points and 14 rebounds. Now I know you’re thinking that he must be decent if he put up those numbers against the nation’s No. 11 team, think again. You don’t need to watch the kid play to know how bad he is. Here’s a clue: He’s 7-feet tall and he goes to Chaminade. That should tell you something. If Marquette faces anyone with a decent front-court they are screwed.
Some observations from the game:
-Crean’s tan is in mid-summer form. The problem is, so is his team.
-Chaminade mainly runs the vaunted “fist” offense. Which apparently consists of running in circles but never actually getting open and positions the aforementioned 7-foot Serbian 18-feet from the basket. Genius.
-The only people standing for the entire game were the dozen or so Chaminade students who made it to the game. Guess who was sitting one row behind them? I wanted to slay them all with “SILVERSWORDS!!!!!” by the end of the first half.
-Sean McDonough, Jay Bilas and Bill Raftery all genuinely seem to like one another. Which is a shame, because I’d love to tell you that between breaks they had to be restrained from pummeling each other. But hey, there’s still two days left, anything is possible. I decided to drop in as many pictures of those three as I could.
LSU v. Oklahoma State
Hey remember two years ago when LSU made that miracle run to the Final Four? Yeah, don’t expect that to happen again any time soon. Oklahoma State didn’t impress me at all and they were clearly the better team in this one. LSU tightened the score at the end, but the Cowboys pulled it out 83-77. Oklahoma State’s James Anderson is a stud. The freshman dropped in 25 points and took over the game in stretches. He needs to get better on the boards and not rely on his athleticism as much, but he’s got a very bright future.
All-in-all a pretty ho-hum game, not too many observations except for the fact that McDonough, Raftery and Bilas don’t get a break. They will be covering every game today. Brutal schedule. Then again, they got to go to Maui while Dickie V is stuck in Kansas City. I do have to mention that orange is a horrible color for a t-shirt, and Oklahoma State fans revel in it. Problem is, I’d single them out, but Princeton and Illinois all use it. You people disgust me.
Princeton v. No. 13 Duke
Despite the fact that I absolutely loathe Duke and its fans, I have to say the Blue Devils should be pretty good this year. They steamrolled the Tigers 83-61 and though they obviously should have won easily, they looked pretty good doing it. Freshman Kyle Singler is the real deal. The kid is a stud, despite his obvious allergy to the sun. The kid is so pale he’s almost clear. I can just see Wojo running around behind him all week holding an umbrella over his head while the kid takes a stroll on the beach. I couldn’t look at him and not think of the “Ginger Kids” episode of “South Park.”
At 6’8, Singler is clearly a complete player (defense doesn’t count at Duke), likes to work from the outside-in and is the opposite of tentative. Usually freshman need at least a few games before they have the confidence to attack, not so with this guy. He finished the game with 21 points and 12 rebounds. And the thing that impressed me the most was his offensive rebounding skill. Certain players just have this instinct for where the ball is going to be on every rebound – Rodman, Malone, Shawn Marion, etc. – Singler clearly has it. He pulled down nine offensive boards in 27 minutes. Not a bad night. The problem for him is that Duke has absolutely no solid post players, so Singler may be forced to play on the interior on the offensive end. Clearly that’s not where he’s at his best, but since he’s 6’8 and has some skill, he may play there out of necessity. That would completely hamper his game.
But currently Duke has Lance Thomas and Brian Zoubek occupying the post. Thomas is nothing more than average and at 6’8 really can’t be relied upon to dominate in the paint. And the 7’1 Zoubek is the definition of a stiff. The kid is embarrassingly bad. How did he get a scholarship to Duke? If you look up the term “useless” in the dictionary I’m pretty sure you’ll find a picture of a 7’1, un-athletic white guy from New Jersey. In 17 minutes Zoubek had nine points and six rebounds and the tallest guy Princeton put on the floor was 6’9. That’s pathetic.
-Duke freshman Taylor King constantly looks worried or like he’s about to cry.
-Greg Paulus should have stuck with football.
-Gerald Henderson’s right elbow looks fine. No lingering effects from when Tyler Hansbrough thrust his face into it.
Arizona State v. Illinois
Illinois came out on fire for this one. They took a 20-0 lead before the Sun Devils finally scored. The 77-54 Illinois win didn’t prove much because ASU is terribly average, so we’ll see if the Illini are for real tomorrow night against Duke. Personally I think they were motivated by the fact that the father of one of the team’s walk-ons was in the building. That guy happened to be Michael Jordan.
It’s funny, because this was the nightcap of the opening night of college basketball’s premiere preseason tournament, between two teams from major conferences and almost no one was focused on the game. All the flashbulbs were aimed in the direction of “His Airness.” On a side note, Jeff Jordan played 11 minutes, had one point, one rebound, one assist and three turnovers.
Illinois proved that if Brian Randle and Shaun Pruitt can stay healthy and out of foul trouble, the Illini could be a tough match-up for a lot of teams. The problem will come when they have to go deep into their front-court. They have no depth there…well, OK, they have no quality depth there.
-Bruce Weber didn’t like it when I asked him “Hey Bruce, where’s Eric Gordon,” but truthfully he took it in stride. Seemed like he laughed it off. I’m sure inside he was thinking of ways to have me killed.
-Illini fans have “Rasheed Wallace syndrome,” they don’t think they’ve ever committed a foul. Come on guys, you can’t argue every call, if you do it cheapens it when you really should be pissed about one.
-Illinois freshman Demetri McCamey looks like a solid player and he should be pretty good in time. But, alas, he’s not going to make anyone forget about losing Eric Gordon or missing out on Derrick Rose.
-Mr. Jordan’s security detail is ridiculous. They won’t let anyone within 15 feet of him. I mean I know he’s famous, but it’s not like he’s the Prime Minister of Lebanon. He’s a former basketball player with a gambling problem. OK, so he was the greatest player of all-time, still I don’t see why he needs an armed escort.
-Arizona State’s female fans are not well represented in Maui. I’m shocked I expected to be neck-deep in hot ASU co-eds. Aside from one or two there’s nothing worth talking about. Sadly enough, Illinois is pretty well represented, but their co-eds look like they haven’t seen the sun since 1998.
Well that’s it for the opening day here. I’ll be back tomorrow after another full slate of games. Until then: Aloha bitches!