Friday, March 13, 2009

Numbers to Chew On

The Register invites you to share your memories and/or experiences of Thursday night/Friday morning's epic, 6-overtime UConn-Syracuse Big East quarterfinal game.

Meanwhile, here's some numbers from and thoughts on the game to chew on:

  • It's been such a long time. It was tied for the second-longest known Division 1 college basketball game in history, following only Cincinnati's 75-73, seven-overtime win over Bradley on Dec. 21, 1981.
  • Three is a magic number. It was just the third six-overtime game in college basketball history.
  • The elapsed time of the game was three hours, 46 minutes.
  • It was the fifth multiple-OT game and the longest game in Big East tournament history, eclipsing a three-OT thriller in the 1981 championship game. Syracuse won that one, too, 83-80 – thanks to a last-second shot by Leo Rautins, father of current Orange guard Andy Rautins, who buried six 3-pointers and 20 points on Thursday.
  • Iron Man. Last year, Syracuse point guard Jonny Flynn posted a stretch of 313 consecutive minutes played, which featured seven straight complete games. He played the entire game in 11 of the Orange's final 16 games. But he truly outdid himself on Thursday, logging 67 of the game's 70 minutes.
  • Iron-clanging man. Arinze Onuaku is as bad a foul shooter that the Big East has ever seen. He shot 36-for-120 (30 percent) from the line this season. In conference play, he was even worse: a hideous 16.7 percent (10-for-60). Yet sure enough, in a tie game with 2 minutes, 4 seconds left to play in regulation, Onuaku calmly stepped to the line and swished a pair of free throws to give Syracuse a 66-64 lead. Naturally, they were the only two freebies he hit in five attempts on Thursday.
  • Better late than never. Amazingly, Syracuse never held a lead in the first five overtime periods. It trailed by as much as four in the first OT, three in the second, six in the third, two in the fourth and four in the fifth. The Orange's first lead after regulation came on Rautins' 3-pointer 11 seconds into the sixth OT, and they never looked back.
  • Despite the above-mentioned fact, UConn showed plenty of moxie coming back from the brink in regulation. The Huskies trailed by seven with just under 4 minutes to play, by four with 1:23 left and, of course, by two until Kemba Walker's putback with 1.1 seconds to play.
  • Windmill City. With 7:45 left in the first half, Gavin Edwards blocked an Eric Devendorf shot. Kemba Walker grabbed the loose ball and hit a wide-open Stanley Robinson, who sailed in for a windmill jam that put a jolt in the crowd. As soon as Robinson's arm cocked back in windmill mode, Calhoun hopped off the bench, ready to yank Robinson from the game for such unnecessary showmanship. But when the dunk went down, Calhoun regained his composure and let Robinson stay in. Good thing. Without Robinson (28 points, 14 rebounds) UConn would have likely lost in regulation. (Or maybe that's not a good thing).
  • Walker, a freshman, made just his second collegiate start and first since Nov. 17 against Hartford (when A.J. Price sat out with a high ankle sprain). He started over slumping senior Craig Austrie, who hadn't hit a 3-pointer in three weeks. Walker tried to do a little too much and struggled (4-for-18 from the floor, five turnovers). But he did grab 11 rebounds, none bigger than the offensive stickback he made with 1.1 seconds left in regulation, helping to send the game into OT.
  • Austrie's shooting woes continued (2-for-13), but his only field goals were huge: a 3-pointer with 7:37 left in regulation that tied the game at 54, and a 3-pointer with 1:02 left in regulation that brought UConn to within a point.
  • Hasheem Thabeet was called for traveling at one point in the second half. Jim Calhoun shouted to official John Cahill, how made the call. "John!" Calhoun shouted. Cahill turned around. "Good call," the coach said. Don't see that every day.
  • 244: Number of combined points scored by the two teams, easily shattering the prior Big East tournament record of 189 (Villanova 97, Pittsburgh 93, 2OT on March 4, 1998).
  • 209: Combined number of field goal attempts by both teams.
  • 82: Combined number of field goals.
  • 58: Combined 3-point attempts.
  • 70: Number of minutes in the six-overtime game.
  • 67: Number of minutes that Flynn played. ("I can't even feel my legs right now" – Flynn, after the game)
  • 61: Number of minutes UConn's A.J. Price played. ("I felt as best as you probably can feel after six overtimes" – Price, after the game)
  • 34: Points scored by Flynn.
  • 33: Points scored by Price.
  • 27: UConn turnovers.
  • 22: Number of rebounds by Syracuse's Paul Harris.
  • 78.4: Syracuse's team free throw percentage for the game (40-for-51).
  • 64.2: Syracuse's team free throw percentage for the season.
  • 57.1: UConn's team free throw percentage for the game (24-for-42). ("The players are probably exhausted, I'm not. I could practice right now. Foul shooting, probably" – Calhoun)
  • 16: Number of free throws hit by Flynn, in 16 attempts.
  • 8: Number of players who fouled out (four on each team).
  • 4: Number of UConn players with double-doubles.
  • 1: Still UConn's regional seeding for next week's NCAA tournament? Maybe not.
  • 1: Number of Big East tournament wins by the team I covered in six trips to Madison Square Garden (four for Providence, two for UConn). It's all my fault, sorry.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

PRE-GAME PRIMER: Kemba to Start?

Greetings from the World's Most Famous Arena, where the Stones recorded their famous 'Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out' shows in 1969, where Led Zeppelin recorded its 'Song Remains the Same' film in 1973, and where The Who sold out four straight nights in 1974 after just a single radio announcement. (Other famous shows: George Harrison's Concert for Bangladesh, John Lennon's impromptu onstage jam with Elton John, Concert for New York shortly after 9/11).

***It looks like Kemba Walker could in the starting lineup tonight. During the Pitt-West Virginia game, two UConn assistant coaches told me they believed that Jim Calhoun would start Walker over Craig Austrie. But both coaches also admitted that Calhoun himself probably isn't 100-percent sure who he'll start at that particular time, however.

Calhoun apparently called out Austrie in practice the other day, telling the senior he's got to step up. Austrie went out and had a terrific practice, after which Calhoun told him that if he continues to play that way, UConn can really do a little something.

Still, it appears Austrie may have to do his damage off the bench tonight.

Wouldn't be shocked to see a big night from Walker. The New York native shined in his last appearance at Madison Square Garden – a scintillating 21-point, four-assist, five-rebound effort in a Jan. 15 win over St. John's (granted, it was St. John's). Walker was dealing with a strep throat earlier in the week, but he practiced with the team on Wednesday and should be good to go tonight.

***Quiz time: What solo artist holds the record for most MSG performances, with 60? And who holds the record for most performances by a band, with 52 (from 1979 through 1994)?

***That's all I've got for now. May add a something off the Pitt-West Virginia game a little later. "Incompetent" Wally Rutecki is one of the officials in this one.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Interesting Quinnipiac Poll Results

Sorry to bring this up again. Hopefully this will put an end to the whole "not a dime back" saga:

University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun scores a slam dunk as Connecticut residents say 61 – 30 percent that he should keep all of his $1.6 million salary, rather than donate a portion to help with the state’s economic problems, according to a Quinnipiac University poll released today. (From March 3 – 8, Quinnipiac University surveyed 1,335 Connecticut adults with a margin of error of +/- 2.7 percentage points).

By a 68 – 12 percent margin, Connecticut residents have a favorable opinion of Calhoun, the independent Quinnipiac (KWIN-uh-pe-ack) University poll finds.

His salary is “about right,” 48 percent say, while 43 percent say it is “too much.”

A total of 69 percent of Connecticut residents heard or read “a lot” or “some” about Calhoun’s response to a question about his salary asked at a recent press conference. Of that group, 51 percent approve of the way the coach answered the question, while 43 percent disapprove.

Those who know about the press conference say 80 – 16 percent that Calhoun should not be disciplined for the way he answered the question.

When asked if they are fans of UCONN’s men’s basketball team, 54 percent of Connecticut residents say yes.

Now, Nutmeg Staters (I just moved here about eight months ago, so I'm still new to this), you're going to have to explain this to me:

But in an open-ended question, where respondents can give any answer, Connecticut residents were asked: What is your favorite Connecticut-based sports team. Results are:
· 29 percent for UCONN’s women’s basketball team;
· 22 percent for UCONN’s men’s basketball team;
· 3 percent for UCONN football.

Men go with the men’s team over the women’s team 28 – 21 percent, while women back the women’s team 36 – 16 percent.

Gotta admit, I can't wrap my head around this one. I've never quite understood the attraction of women's basketball here in Connecticut ... or anywhere, for that matter. I know the team is as dominant as any women's team has ever been this year, but seriously ... women's basketball? Unwatchable, in my book. Why would I want to watch basketball played at a level no better than what I could watch in a decent local men's recreational league?

Seriously -- I hear women's basketball fans say thing like: "The men might dunk, but the 'girls' play the game the way it's supposed to be played. There's more teamwork, better passing, they hit their free throws," blah, blah, blah. Please.

Ever watch A.J. Price play? Levance Fields? Blake Griffin? Jonny Flynn? The skills at the men's level are so much better, it's not even worth discussing. And the athleticism ... come on. Do I need to see dunking? Well, yeah ... it's exciting to see Stanley Robinson throw down an alley-oop slam off a pinpoint pass from Price. It's nice to see the game played at a level I could never dream of playing at, rather than a level I used to play at in high school. (Yes, I'm of the opinion that a good high school boys basketball team could beat a good women's college team at least more times than it loses).

Ahh, had to get that off my chest. Sorry, the whole thing just boggles my mind. Bring on the hate mail.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Thabeet, Blair Are Co-Players of the Year

Inexorably linked after their two confrontations in the past few weeks, Hasheem Thabeet and DeJuan Blair shared the stage again on Tuesday: they were named Big East co-players of the year.

Thabeet, UConn’s 7-foot-3 junior center, averaged 13.6 points and10.8 rebounds this season, and his 4.5 blocks per game were second in the nation. With 89 blocks in league games this season, Thabeet is already second on the all-time Big East blocks list with 243, trailing Patrick Ewing by only five.

Thabeet won his second straight conference defensive player of the year award on Monday. Seriously considering entering the NBA draft last spring, Thabeet decided to return to UConn for at least one more season, in order to improve his all-around game.

“I always want to get better,” he said. “Coming back this year, I got way better. Every day, I keep getting better. I’m just happy with the progress I’m making, thanks to the coaches who’ve helped me get to where I am right now.”

Blair, a 6-7, 265-pound sophomore center, averaged 15.6 points and a league-leading 12.4 rebounds. He shot 59.6 percent from the floor and notched 17 double-doubles. Blair, last year’s Big East co-rookie of the year, was the only unanimous selection to the league’s first team.

Blair was never better than on Feb. 16, when he went for 22 points and 23 rebounds in Pitt’s 76-68 win over UConn in Hartford. Thabeet had just five points and four rebounds before fouling out.

In the rematch this past Saturday, Blair was limited to 28 minutes due to foul trouble and finished with just eight points and eight boards. Thabeet poured in 14 first-half points but was held scoreless (on just two shots) in the latter half. He finished with 13 rebounds and five blocks.

Thabeet is almost certain to enter this June’s NBA draft, and Blair is likely to enter, as well. Both players helped their respective teams to 15-3 Big East records, tying for second place. They’re also the first players to share the league’s player of the year award since UConn’s Caron Butler and Pitt’s Brandin Knight were tabbed in 2002.

The award is decided by a vote by the conference’s 16 coaches, who aren’t allowed to vote for their own players.

Also, Georgetown’s Greg Monroe was named Big East rookie of the year, Villanova’s Jay Wright earned coach of the year honors, and Alex Ruoff of West Virginia earned the scholar-athlete award for posting a 3.79 grade-point average.

Of Thabeet, Trains and T.O.

Hasheem Thabeet has been named the United States Basketball Writers Association District I Player of the Year and Jim Calhoun Coach of the Year. (District I represents Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut).

Jeff Adrien and A.J. Price also made the All-District Team. Joining them is Boston College's Joe Trapani, a Madison resident and Daniel Hand High graduate, and Vermont's Mike Trimboli, a Norwalk resident and Trinity Catholic grad.

Here's the list:

Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut
Jim Calhoun, Connecticut
Jeff Adrien, Connecticut; Jimmy Baron, Rhode Island; Weyinmi Efejuku, Providence; Tony Gaffney, Massachusetts; Ricky Harris, Massachusetts; A.J. Price, Connecticut; Tyrese Rice, Boston College; Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut; Joe Trapani, Boston College; Mike Trimboli, Vermont

***Metro-North will make things a little bit easier for UConn fans traveling from New Haven to New York City to see the Huskies in the Big East tournament.

Select inbound afternoon trains from New Haven will have additional cars for Thursday’s game. For the late night return to New Haven, two trains will have additional cars. The same pattern would pertain to Friday night if UConn wins on Thursday.

For Saturday’s championship game, two inbound afternoon trains from New Haven will have extra cars if UConn is playing. In addition, an extra train will depart New Haven at 5:45 p.m. and arriving at Grand Central at 7:20 p.m. (This is in addition to the regular 5:55 p.m. departure.)

After the game, an extra train will depart Grand Central at 12:12 a.m., arriving New Haven at 2:01 AM. (This is in addition to regular 12:22 a.m. departure.)

***Every now and then you learn something from ESPN. Very rarely, but it does happen.

This morning, for instance, I learned that Calhoun once coached against Terrell Owens. Yup, that Terrell Owens -- T.O. himself. Owens was on the Tennessee-Chattanooga team that UConn crushed, 100-71, in an opening-round NCAA tournament game on March 16, 1995 out in Salt Lake City. (Maybe this is common knowledge to UConn fans, but it's new to me).

T.O.'s line? 0-0 FG, 0-0 FT, 1 rebound in 1 minute of play. And no doubt, plenty of yelling at his coaches for not playing him enough, and his point guard for not getting him the ball.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Would He, Haralson?

Couple of quick notes from practice today:

Jim Calhoun said Scottie Haralson might start instead of slumping Craig Austrie in UConn's opening Big East tourney game Thursday night. Nothing's set in stone yet, and it could very well be a ploy for Calhoun to light a spark under Austrie.

Haralson hadn't been told as much by Calhoun, and didn't even know it was a possibility until being told by reporters after practice.

"It makes me feel good, to know that he's starting to get more confidence in me," Haralson said. "I'm just looking forward to making a good adjustment, and hopefully it'll build my confidence more and I'll be more comfortable being in the starting lineup ... Hopefully, I'll start. If I don't -- oh well ... I'm just going to come off the bench and try to help my team win."

For what it's worth, Haralson practiced with the first team all day today. He was also the last player off the court, working on his 3-point shooting long after everyone else had left (and, by the way, draining most of those treys).

"I always pride myself in always being the first one in and last one off the court, because I love getting better, getting more shots up," Haralson said. "It translates to the game, so I try to get more shots in every day."

***Hasheem Thabeet almost didn't practice today due to a pulled groin, but Calhoun doesn't think it's too serious.

***Kemba Walker wasn't even at practice due to a strep throat. The earliest he'll return to practice is Wednesday.

"If he's ready to go (Thursday), we won't say it's a game-time decision," said Calhoun, shaking his head, in an obvious reference to Levance Fields' situation on Saturday. "We'll let you know what it is."

***Calhoun said that Charles Okwandu has shown vast improvement over the past several weeks, largely due to practing against Thabeet every day.

"Charles is a different player than he was first semester," said the coach. "He'd be playing some significant minutes right now."

A Thabeet Repeat

Big East awards announced this morning:

Defensive Player of the Year
Hasheem Thabeet, Connecticut

Most Improved Player
Dante Cunningham, Villanova

Sixth Man Award
Corey Fisher, Villanova

Sportsmanship Award
Alex Ruoff, West Virginia

Sunday, March 08, 2009

The Envelope, Please ...

So how’s this for a formula to determine the Big East’s Player of the Year:

***Take the leaders in five key categories (scoring, rebounding, blocked shots, steals and assists) and give them points for their ranking (i.e., Luke Harangody was first in scoring, so he gets 30 points; Chris Wright was 30th in scoring, so he gets one point).

***Reward players for being in multiple categories with five points per extra category (Harangody ranks in two categories so he gets five points, Terrence Williams ranks in four categories so he gets 15 points).

***Then add a point total to each player equaling their team’s wins (Louisville’s Williams gets 16 extra points, Notre Dame’s Harangody gets eight, DePaul’s Will Walker gets the bagel).

Did I have too much free time at the airport today? Maybe. But it's pretty tough picking a Big East Player of the Year this season. Using this formula, here are the point totals for POY candidates:

Terrence Williams, Louisville – 73
Jerel McNeal, Marquette – 70
DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh – 67
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame – 63
Earl Clark, Louisville – 59
Hasheem Thabeet, UConn – 53
Jonny Flynn, Syracuse – 53
Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall – 51
Dante Cunningham, Villanova – 50
Jeff Adrien, UConn – 49

I’m sure there are some flaws here. Should Jeremy Hazell be ahead of Dante Cunningham or Jeff Adrien? Probably not. Shouldn't Thabeet be higher up? And where’s Husky-killer Sam Young? 45 points.

Still, I can live with Terrence Williams as Big East player of the year. The official POY will be named on Tuesday around 5:30 p.m. at Madison Square Garden, in between sessions of Day One of the Big East tournament. Also named at that time will be Coach of the Year, Rookie of the Year and Scholar-Athlete. Tomorrow, Defensive Player of the Year, Sixth Man of the Year, Most Improved Player and Sportsmanship Award winners get named.

Here are my picks:

Player of the Year: Terrence Williams, Louisville. Best player on the regular-season champions. One of two players to rank in four of the five above listed categories (Georgetown’s Greg Monroe was the other). Didn’t score a whole lot (13.2 ppg) but did enough of everything else to warrant this award.

Gotta admit, it is tempting just to give this to Luke Harangody. All he did was back up last year's POY award by winning the league's scoring and rebounding crowns -- again. But the Irish are NIT-bound, so giving him the award would be akin to giving Andre Dawson MVP in 1987 while with the Cubs, or A-Rod MVP in 2003 with Texas (ummm ... OK, bad example on the last one).

Coach of the Year: This is even tougher to pick than Player of the Year. You really can make a strong argument for Jim Calhoun. Yes, the Huskies were picked to win the Big East and wound up finishing tied for second. But did anyone really expect them to go 15-3 overall and 8-1 on the road in league play? And consider two of those losses came to one of the top four teams in the country, both times without Jerome Dyson.

Still, Calhoun takes himself out of the running since they were picked as league champs, so we will, too. Really, not many teams exceeded expectations this year. The biggest surprise is probably Providence, which was picked to finish 10th and wound up tied for seventh with 10 wins. But the Friars may not even make the NCAA tourney, so I won’t go with Keno Davis.

Rick Pitino won 16 games and Jamie Dixon won 15 in the best conference in America. Still, their teams were picked to finish second and third, respectively. I think I’ll go with Villanova’s Jay Wright, whose Wildcats finished fourth after a nice late-season surge and appear to be a team that can really do some damage in the Big Dance.

Rookie of the Year: It was all downhill after he housed Hasheem Thabeet for 16 points on a variety of shots in his Big East debut, but Georgetown’s Greg Monroe gets the call. Monroe was among the league leaders in scoring (12.9), rebounding (7.2), blocked shots (1.0) and, most surprisingly for a 6-10 center, steals (1.94). He beats out West Virginia’s Devin Ebanks (barely), Rutgers’ Mike Rosario and Louisville’s Samardo Samuels.

Scholar-Athlete: I have no idea. Not smart enough to figure this one out.

Defensive Player of the Year: The biggest no-brainer of all: a Thabeet repeat.

Most Improved Player: Villanova’s Dante Cunningham upped his scoring average from 9.7 a year ago to 16.0 this season by adding some shooting range to his game.

Sixth Man Award: Is it Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Corey Haim or Corey Feldman who comes off the bench for Villanova? Whichever one it is, he gets it.

Sportsmanship Award: No idea on this one, either – but I’m pretty sure it won’t be DeJuan Blair.

All-Big East Teams

Hasheem Thabeet , Connecticut, C, Jr., 7-3, 263, Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania
Terrence Williams, Louisville, F, Sr., 6-6, 210, Seattle, Wash.
Jerel McNeal, Marquette, G, Sr., 6-3, 200 Chicago, Ill.
Luke Harangody, Notre Dame, F, Jr., 6-8, 251, Schererville , Ind.
DeJuan Blair, Pittsburgh, C, So., 6-7, 265, Pittsburgh, Pa.
Sam Young, Pittsburgh, F, Sr., 6-6, 215, Clinton, Md.

A.J. Price, Connecticut, G, Sr., 6-2, 181, Amityville, N.Y.
Wesley Matthews, Marquette, G, Sr., 6-5, 215, Madison, Wis.
Jonny Flynn, Syracuse, G, So., 6-0, 185, Niagara Falls, N.Y.
Dante Cunningham, Villanova, F, Sr., 6-8, 230, Silver Spring, Md.
Da’Sean Butler, West Virginia, F, Jr., 6-7, 225, Newark, N.J.

Deonta Vaughn, Cincinnati, G, Jr., 6-1, 195, Indianapolis , Ind.
Jeff Adrien, Connecticut, F, Sr., 6-7, 243, Brookline, Mass.
Earl Clark, Louisville, G/F, Jr., 6-8, 220, Rahway, N.J.
Levance Fields, Pittsburgh, G, Sr., 5-10, 190, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Jeremy Hazell, Seton Hall, G, So., 6-5, 185, Bronx, N.Y.

Weyinmi Efejuku, Providence, G, Sr., 6-5, 210, Fresh Meadows, N.Y.
Dominique Jones, USF, G, So., 6-4, 205, Lake Wales, Fla.
Scottie Reynolds, Villanova, G, Jr., 6-2, 195, Herndon, Va.
Alex Ruoff, West Virginia, G, Sr., 6-6, 220, Spring Hill, Fla.

Yancy Gates, Cincinnati, F, Fr., 6-9, 255, Cincinnati, Ohio
Kemba Walker , Connecticut, G, Fr., 6-0, 175, Bronx, N.Y.
Greg Monroe, Georgetown, C, Fr., 6-10, 240, Gretna, La.
Samardo Samuels, Louisville, F, Fr., 6-8, 240, Trelawny, Jamaica
Mike Rosario, Rutgers, G, Fr., 6-3, 180, Jersey City, N.J.
Devin Ebanks, West Virginia, F, Fr., 6-9, 205, Long Island City, N.Y.

Who's Better Who's Best?

So who's the best high school basketball player in Connecticut? Check out this online package from today's Register and vote.