The final day in Maui is always a sad one. It’s my fifth year coming to this tournament and I know I sound like a broken record, but I can’t emphasize how great it is. It’s such a fun, relaxed, closely packed atmosphere and the competition is always fantastic. This year was, of course, no different.
The two early games were decent, Arizona State knocked off LSU 87-84 in overtime in the Consolation final. It was a really exciting game, and LSU’s Marcus Thornton sent it to overtime by hitting a 3-pointer with 2.3 seconds to go. Later, in the Third place game, Illinois built a 30-17 halftime lead and cruised to a 65-49 win over Oklahoma State. I’d spend a lot of time breaking these two games down, but I want to spend more time on the final and, of course, the Seventh place game.
Chaminade v. Princeton
Yeah baby, the Silverswords did it! They won just their fifth game in the 24-year history of the Maui invitational. The 74-70 win over the Tigers improves the school’s record to 5-65 in the tournament. I’ll say this, Chaminade is a decent team. They could make some noise in D-II this year. I’ll give coach Matt Mahar credit, this is the best the Silverswords have looked since I’ve been coming here. They’ve gotten better every season and have some actual talent and athleticism on the team.
As for Princeton, they have some very good individual players, but it’s coach Sydney Johnson’s first season and the Tigers simply aren’t playing as a unit yet. Senior forward Kyle Koncz and sophomore guard Lincoln Gunn can both light it up from beyond the arc, and sophomore guard Marcus Schroeder played more minutes than any player in Division I basketball last year. Gunn and Schroeder played high school ball together at Concord De La Salle in northern California, so I’m sure they’ll be able to figure things out.
-Chaminade’s Rodrick Johnson dropped in 19 points including two dunks that barely made it. He’s a 6’7 wing player with a lot of athletic ability, for some reason, three years ago the Silverswords didn’t have anybody like him. Now they’ve got a few guys who are athletic and can play.
-During the game I went and sat on the far right corner of the gym to take some video shots. After a few minutes I noticed that everyone’s favorite Dukie, Jay Bilas was standing next to me. So I asked Jay who he thought would win the championship game, his response, “I think Marquette will be tough to beat. They’re playing really well right now. And they play great defense.” We talked for a little bit, he really seemed like a great guy and wasn’t annoyed when a few other people asked for autographs or asked to take pictures with him.
-Mr. Bilas and I continued to talk and I mentioned that Kyle Singler had really impressed the hell out of me during Duke’s first game. His response, “He’s a good player.” Eh, not too much insight in there. Being an Indiana grad, I then asked for his assessment of Eric Gordon, “He’s the best scorer of all the freshmen out there.” So there you have it, Jay Bilas’ insight.
-After Bilas walked away to start prepping for the game, I noticed that the worst official in the history of college sports, Ed Hightower, would be working the final game. In no universe was this going to end well.
-Oh and just to let you know, Bilas was wearing a different shirt today.
No. 13 Duke v. No. 11 Marquette
I have to say, this was an excellent game but as I expected it would be, the officiating was atrocious. Nothing against Duke, they played very well and earned a 77-73 win, but Marquette really didn’t have a chance in this one. From what friends are telling me, even the dynamic trio of McDonough, Bilas and Raftery were all commenting on it. I don’t blame Duke or the “Duke-bias” some people complain about with officials, I just blame a bad crew. The Blue Devils were whistled for 16 fouls, while Marquette got called for 27. Any time the disparity is more than five one way or the other, there is a problem.
One thing I learned from playing basketball on a fairly high level for roughly a decade, is that teams foul virtually the same amount at all times depending on the flow of the game. Everyone hand-checks, everyone bumps on layups, taps arms on jumpers, travels from time to time, etc. It is up to the officials to make sure they call things down the middle, on the same level for everyone. Tonight, they didn’t do that. Greg Paulus was pushing off every time he drove towards the 3-point line, Marquette coach Tom Crean was pleading for a call all night, it never came. At one point, with 3:54 remaining in the first half, Marquette had 10 fouls, Duke had three. Again, I don’t blame Duke, hell if my team could get away with that much I’m sure I’d take it. It isn’t their fault, but it’s hard not to point it out because it totally changed the game.
Quite frankly, with the Golden Eagles/Warriors getting whistled so often, it was hard for them to get into a rhythm. They made a great comeback late, but Kyle Singler stepped up and took over. He finished with 25 points, seven rebounds and was 8-for-8 from the free throw line, including two with 13 seconds left to help seal the game. He was named the MVP of the tournament and rightfully so, he was a beast, except in yesterday’s game when he was hampered by foul trouble.
The place Duke will run into trouble is when Lance Thomas, Brian Zoubek and Singler have to match-up with Tyler Hansbrough and Greg Paulus has to face Tywon Lawson. Right now Duke does not have the post or point guard play to compete with the Tar Heels and that could be their undoing in the ACC this year.
-DeMarcus Nelson has always been a great defender, but he’s really worked on and improved his offensive game. He’s finally realized that he’s athletic enough to take the ball to the hole and finish on a consistent basis.
-Tom Crean thoroughly enjoys the refreshing taste of Diet Pepsi. I’d love to know how many he goes through a game. He’s constantly drinking one.
-Man, I just keep being impressed by Marquette’s Jerel McNeal. He only had 11 points tonight but he guarded up and shut down Gerald Henderson, only allowing him to score seven points after he exploded for 23 against Illinois. Henderson was an absolute non-factor tonight.
-Dominic James finished with 12 points, but he was just 4-for-16 from the field. I lost count of how many times he drove into the lane and missed contested layups. Nelson did a nice job guarding him, but James also needs to improve on his finishing in the paint. If you get that deep you need to either finish, or pass it off if a second defender comes.
-Apparently no one liked Ed Hightower. Crean lit into him several times and even Coach K got into a shouting match with him. Oh, and the entire Marquette section were screaming at him all game.
-Again, Greg Paulus should have stuck with football. He had a few big 3-pointers tonight but he also had three turnovers, just three assists, didn’t play particularly good defense, carried the ball on nearly every possession, missed his only free throw and seemed completely unsure of himself while directing the offense. I bet it’s going to be a huge relief to Duke fans when Nolan Smith finally takes over at the point.
Well, that’s it from Maui as yet another year is in the books here. I’ll be back again next year, the reservations are set and so is the tournament field. Next year the lineup will include: Alabama, Indiana, North Carolina, Notre Dame, Oregon, Saint Joseph’s, Texas and, of course, Chaminade. I’ll have some video clips up tomorrow, so until then, enjoy Thanksgiving everyone, hope yours is as good as mine but (since I’m still in Maui through Saturday) it probably wont be.