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Tale of Two Titles

6 Apr

For those of you who don’t watch/like/pay attention to women’s college basketball, it may be time to turn over a new leaf. Don’t stop reading: by and large, I have been one of that crowd. But when you witness the massacre of the sport that was the men’s championship game (53-41, UConn) compared to the much-more-watchable women’s championship game (76-70, Texas A&M), you should at least be questioning your priorities as a fan. Wonder what you’re missing out on?

First, let’s recall the Butler-UConn game – that is, if you haven’t already subconsciously blocked out the traumatic memory of it. The halftime score was 22-19. Seriously? Understand, while I enjoy the razzle-dazzle of consecutive swishes, I can appreciate a solid defensive game. But I’m sorry – no defense can claim sole responsibility for its opponent shooting 18.8 percent from the floor. That’s like going to the gym and making 1 out of 10 shots, but then accidentally banking in that three that you threw in as a prayer. Totally different circumstances, of course, but as far as numbers … It’s just difficult to be that inefficient when shooting a basketball is what you do. And I say that being an avid admirer of Butler and Coach Stevens!

UConn, for its part, was not stellar either, shooting only 34.5 percent from the field and making just one 3-point attempt out of 11. As for the game in general, it was just ugly. I seriously enjoy basketball, and – I’ll be honest – I stopped watching after halftime. I left the TV on but muted it while I did my homework.

Obviously, all this is not to say that I recommend letting go of all allegation to the men’s game. Quite the contrary. Rather than limit your repertoire of basketball knowledge, you can expand it by watching the women’s game. My dad is a guy’s guy to his core (notice how his daughter spends a great amount of time talking about sports …) and he thinks that if people would actually watch women’s basketball, they’d probably like it. If you like basketball – the fundamentals, a cleaner version of the game – you will probably like this other side of the sport.

After all, in the women’s championship game, Notre Dame shot 46.2 percent from the field, while Texas A&M hit the mark on a blazing 54.7 percent of their attempts. There were six players in double figures, between the two teams. Close to half of the game’s baskets came on assists, which speak to offensive fluidity and proficiency. The game came down to the wire, decided only in the final minute. It was a good game.

Wish you would have watched it? Hey, there’s always next season.

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Creative logic: Wildcat women better than the best

5 Apr

Remember last season when the men’s basketball team lost to Butler, and then the Bulldogs went on to the national championship? If you’re like me, you use that to say, “Hey, the team who beat us went on to the national championship game.” Well, this season, the women’s team is having that same sort of moral victory, only an even better version: Despite an early exit from the NCAA tournament, the Wildcat women can say that they defeated the national champion, as Texas A&M won the women’s title game against Notre Dame on Tuesday night.

It’s that whole fuzzy, fantastical idea of extrapolating the outcome of a game, making it more than just a game, molding it and shaping it into a measure of worth – significant worth. In this case, the game was Kansas State vs. Texas A&M on March 2 in Bramlage Coliseum. Going into the contest, the Wildcats had lost four of their last six games, and the Aggies ranked as the No. 5 team in the country behind “the Sydneys,” as head coach Gary Blair referred to them – Sydney Colson and Sydney Carter, two very impressive guards. It was the last home game of the year for the Kansas State team, and it was a doozy.

Long story short, the Wildcats pulled off probably the biggest upset in their sport that night, and I can’t believe I was there to see it. It was the first women’s game I had been to all season, and somehow I was blessed enough to get a game that won’t be forgotten by the Kansas State coaches, players and their fans for years to come. Really, I won’t forget it either.

And now the Aggies win the national championship? Icing – delayed icing, but icing – on the cake. Not only did a fellow Big 12 team receive the official title of best in the country, but it was a Big 12 team that the Kansas State team defeated 71-67, not so very long before Texas A&M began its tournament run. The Aggies went 33-5 on the season, and only three teams beat them this season: Baylor (three times), then-No. 5 Duke, and Kansas State. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that’s pretty awesome.

Frank Martin talks about the media

27 Mar

 

When the K-State head coach chastised a beat reporter for asking Jacob Pullen how he was feeling after the loss that marked the end of his college career, reactions varied. Some fans of other schools rolled their eyes, categorizing Martin’s reaction as an overreaction. Some media types, particularly those who had played or coached, saw the merit in the coach’s response, agreeing that the question was inappropriate. I thought the above video was quite eye-opening as to Martin’s feelings about the whole scenario.

Here were my thoughts about the whole thing:

  • As a reporter interviewing college students, it’s prudent – heck, it’s just the nice thing to do – to be a little sensitive. If there’s anything that makes a difficult situation even more painful, it’s trying to put into words how difficult the situation is. If you can plainly see how someone is feeling (say, Pullen pulling his jersey over his face at the end of the game, or his teammates sitting on the bench with dejected faces), it’s generally better to try to describe the visuals available instead of asking the clearly distraught 21-year-old how he is feeling.
  • I understand that this reporter probably wanted a quote from Pullen saying exactly what he said: that he doesn’t care about the record because all he wanted to do was win and go to the Final Four. However, a better way to get that quote might have been to say, for example: “You’ve told us all season how the records don’t mean anything for you right now, but because you did become K-State’s all-time leading scorer tonight, how far down the road do you see that sinking in and being able to just appreciate all the accomplishments you had with this group of guys?” Most likely, the answer given would have been pretty similar.
  • All that said, I don’t think there was malicious intent in this question, ill-worded or ill-timed though it may have been. The reporter, in my opinion, did not make Pullen cry. Any competitor, especially after the final game of his career, is going to take the loss hard. Pullen has invested himself physically, emotionally and mentally in this program over the last four years. It’s been his life. Now his time here is over, and that’s a difficult reality to grasp. However, it’s something all seniors go through.
  • When people talk about Pullen, it won’t be about that last press conference. It will be about him being the first player to go through four full years playing for Martin as a head coach. It will be about his maturation throughout that time, from a cocky freshman to a seasoned leader and the school’s all-time scoring leader. And hopefully, it will be about #0 hanging from the rafters of Bramlage Coliseum. Martin said he doesn’t know the criteria for having a number retired but said it would be a “crying shame” if somebody doesn’t figure out a way to get that done for Pullen.

K-State done for tournament; Martin, not so much

26 Mar

The Wildcats may be out of the tournament, but head coach Frank Martin’s involvement is not yet complete, as CBS has requested his services as a guest analyst this weekend. The team’s sports information director said he will be in the studio from 5:30 to 9:30 CT. I don’t know about you, but that’s something I will tune in to watch, as will many others, I’m sure. While the coach’s comments should informative and entertaining for viewers, they accomplish a myriad of other objectives as well.

First of all, what great exposure for Kansas State University. Certainly, the Wildcats have been in the news all season – good news at the beginning of the season and the end of the season, and slightly-more-iffy news in the middle portion. Now, an audience of millions will see the team’s fearless/fearsome leader talking about the game, bringing to mind the team, its storylines, and the university in general.

Secondly, this gives people an opportunity to see Martin in a normal environment – not the intense two-hour span of a basketball game, not the post-game press conference when he is annoyed about a loss and is very ready to go home. When I tell people outside K-State that Martin is really a nice person, sometimes there is a little skepticism. For him to be on here analyzing other teams, it gives people some insight into his intelligence as a coach, his sense of humor, and the cordial personality that is underneath that scary stare and physically imposing demeanor.

Last but not least, Martin’s turn as an analyst will be one more opportunity for all the Wildcat fans to see him in action, and that’s nice, because let’s face it: March is a whole lot less interesting without him.

K-State Report Card: Defense, Rebounding, Offense

19 Mar

Defense: C

In the first half of this game against Wisconsin, the Wildcats seemed to have trouble rotating on defense. Wisconsin is moving the ball well – 7 assists on 11 made shots – and the more the Badgers pass, the more the Wildcats have to reposition. The longer that process takes, the harder it is to play man-to-man defense. Whipping the ball around the perimeter usually leads to finding an open man eventually, and as a result, Wisconsin shot 50 from the floor.

Leading up to this game, head coach Frank Martin said Wisconsin’s big men would make the Wildcats defend pick and roll situations. Because Jordan Taylor is such a capable shooter and shoots so often, going under the ball screen doesn’t work. As such is the case, other tactics must be employed – Martin did not specify what those would be, but he said his team’s success in handling those scenarios would determine its level of success.

Offense: C

The Wildcats had a rough 20 minutes to start the game. For the majority of the first half, only Jacob Pullen and Curtis Kelly had scored, while Wisconsin had eight players with something other than 0 in the points column. Pullen ended the half with 17 points, while Kelly added 9, and the only other scoring came from Rodney McGruder (3 points) and Juevol Myles (1 point).

Rebounding: B-

In the first half of this game, the Badgers outrebounded the Wildcats 14-9, and its total included five offensive rebounds.

Martin had emphasized rebounding as a key to the game because the Badgers monopolize the clock every time they get possession. If they get an offensive board, the Wildcats have to play defense for another 30 seconds. If they get a defensive board, the Wildcats have to go through that offensive process all over again. Basically, the Badgers try to exhaust teams by making them defend for a large part of the game.

Keys to the game from Frank, Curt & Jake

19 Mar

Throughout the season, fans and sports reporters talk about must-win games. Coaches and players fall back on the predictable – but reasonable – rhetoric that every game is a must-win game. This time of year, it’s actually true. No win, no more basketball. Today, the team standing between the Kansas State Wildcats and some more basketball is the Wisconsin Badgers.

According to K-State head coach Frank Martin, keys to the game include keeping the Badgers out of rhythm and rebounding the ball.

“If you give them an offensive rebound, they’re either scoring or pulling it out, and now you are guarding for 30 more seconds and that makes it for a long possession,” Martin said.

Wisconsin is notorious for slowing down the game. In the Big 10 tournament, the Badgers lost to Penn State … 36-33. No I’m not kidding. That’s not a misprint – not the halftime score. They grind down the shot clock and then crash the boards to try and start the possession all over again and do the same thing.

This game will be, among other elements, all about the Js – Jacob Pullen and Jordan Taylor. It should be a pretty compelling matchup. Pullen said Taylor does a good job of using the shot clock, lulling defenders to sleep before taking over a possession. That means the Wildcats have to employ a little variety in stopping him.

“We have to do a great job of defending the ball screen and keeping him in a position where he doesn’t know what kind of defense we’re playing, whether we’re trapping it or soft hedging the ball screen,” Pullen said. “Just really keep him guessing. The other thing is we really got to make him guard. Whoever he is guarding, we have to make sure he plays 36, 37 minutes a game, we’ve got to make sure he is using his energy on both ends, not only on offensive end.”

While Frank Martin said it would be exceedingly difficult to slow down Wisconsin, he said his team has to keep Taylor out of rhythm, not allow him to get comfortable, and to keep him out of the paint.

“When he gets in the paint, then he forces help and then he finds shooters,” Martin said. “They put five shooters out there, four shooters, he is a shooter also, but four other guys outside of him, so then that puts tremendous pressure on your rotations to get to that next shooter. “

Working against the Badgers’ swing offense will be a challenge for the Wildcats, particularly for the forwards because Wisconsin’s big men step out further from the lane than, forcing their defenders to step out and guard further from the basket.

K-State senior forward Curtis Kelly will be one of the players handling this transition, likely matching up against Wisconsin’s Jon Leuer, a 6’10” forward who can shoot from 3-point range.

“I’m going to have to come off screens,” Kelly said. “Instead of dealing with a lot of cross screens I’m going to have to deal with a lot of down screens and stagger screens. And me being a big, that’s going to be a little difficult. But, you know, I’m going to try to do my best to guard the player they want me to guard as best I can.”

Martin said if his team allows Wisconsin to move the ball freely side to side and get it in the paint, the Wildcats will be in trouble because that means Kelly and fellow forward Jordan Henriquez-Roberts get dragged out of the lane, and those are the guys that protect the rim. However, the coach said K-State has faced similar scenarios before, such as playing Iowa State and trying to contain Diante Garrett coming off the ball screen.

“We’ll work on that some today and use some of the experiences from the season to hopefully get us as ready as we can,” Martin said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Get the Best of the Badgers

18 Mar

After the Wildcats’ 73-68 win over Utah State on Thursday night, it’s one win down and four to go. Senior guard Jacob Pullen said he wants K-State to remember him for bringing the school a national championship, and on Saturday the team will have an opportunity to get another step closer as it faces Wisconsin in the third round of the NCAA tournament.

With even 4-seed vs. 13-seed and 3-seed vs. 14-seed games coming down to the wire this tournament, it’s almost a sure thing that a 4-seed vs. 5-seed matchup will be even more intensely competitive. That, as we all know, is why yesterday and today are probably the least productive workdays of the year across the United States.

Some of the stats on the Wildcats give us a little insight on what they need to do to be successful in this next game:

  • K-State is 22-4 when leading at halftime this season. Simply put, it’s imperative that the Wildcats start strong. They have to come out with energy and get some shots and stops early to get into a rhythm. Taking advantage of momentum is much easier than trying to create it once you’re in a bad situation. While the latter option is not impossible, it’s difficult and exhausting, and the opponents a team faces in the NCAA tournament are going to inflict enough hardship; this isn’t the time to make things harder on oneself with careless mistakes.
  • Wildcats are 20-6 when outrebounding their opponents. This isn’t surprising in the least, of course, because defense rebounds deprive opponents of possessions and facilitate fast breaks and offensive rebounds give current possessions new life. As senior Curtis Kelly has become more comfortable on the blocks after missing 9 games in the earlier portion of the season, and as sophomore Jordan Henriquez-Roberts has become stronger and more aggressive at the rim, K-State’s frontcourt has been surprisingly effective, even with Freddy Asprilla and Wally Judge, who quit the team in January.

After watching Wisconsin whip Belmont yesterday, I’ve compiled a few observations about the Badgers. These are some of the aspects the Wildcats will have to watch in order to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

  • The most obvious one: They can shoot the roof off the place if you let them. Against the Bruins on Thursday, the Badgers hit 12 of 22 from 3-point range, and they make 82 percent of their free throws. That’s the best in the country, just in case you’re wondering. I’m interested to see if the Wildcats will utilize a few different defensive sets to try and keep the Badgers guessing and disrupt their offensive rhythm. As for that lethal accuracy from the charity stripe, it would be prudent for the Wildcats to avoid any bonus situations for as long as possible.
  • The Badgers can make runs. Their game with Belmont was very close for probably the first 15, 17 minutes of the game. Then Wisconsin went on a tear to close out the first half and followed it up with another to begin the second half. The takeaway from: K-State is going to have to hunker down and be sharp and energetic for the duration of the game. The instant someone takes a play off because he’s tired, Wisconsin will take advantage. Because of this, expect head coach Frank Martin to sub fairly often, as he has been doing recently.
  • Wisconsin takes care of the ball. The team averages only seven turnovers per game. Last night, Belmont forced the Badgers into seven in the first half, and that played a large role in how close the game was to that point. The Wildcats will need to do likewise on Saturday.

Checking In: Halftime Analysis

17 Mar

Before this game began, I outlined a few key areas. At halftime the Wildcats lead the Aggies 33-22. Let’s see how they are doing in those different aspects.

1) “The Aggies are going to take care of the ball, so the Wildcats had better do likewise. According to statistics of ESPN.com, K-State averages 15 turnovers per game, while Utah State gives the ball away around 12 times each contest.”

Utah State has 8 turnovers so far; K-State has 3.

2) K-State’s defense will need to be as effective as it has been all season, or more so. As part of the Aggies’ strategy is limiting its mistakes on offense, the Wildcats need to hassle them, frazzle them, and generally make them make mistakes.

Again, the turnover numbers. Utah State is shooting 40.9 percent from the floor, which is not awful, by any stretch of the imagination, but it shows that the team is being contained, to an extent.

3) While mentioning the necessity of making free throws is always good for a few rolling eyes, I just think it’s that important. The vast majority of these games will be decided by one or two shots, so even going 15-for-20 from the charity stripe could cost a team a win.

I said this already in a blog for the Kansas State Collegian, but it’s so great that I’ll say it again. The Wildcats made 11 of 11 attempts from the free throw line, and it just so happens that they lead by 11 points at the half …

4) In general, K-State has to make shots. This can’t be one of those 30-percent-from-the-floor nights. If that happens, there is a large possibly the Wildcats’ season will be over.

K-State is only shooting 35 percent from the floor, and 22 percent from beyond the arc, but its performance at the charity stripe is helping out quite a bit. Still, the players should pick it up some in the second half.

Halftime Update of K-State’s Next Opponent

17 Mar

Obviously, it’s by no means certain that the Wildcats will advance to the third round, given their game against the Utah State Aggies has yet to even begin. But in the interest of being proactive, here’s my analysis of the first half of the No. 13 Belmont/No. 4 Wisconsin game.

First of all, the Badgers have the capacity to be lethal from 3-point range. In the first half, they drained 7 of 14 attempts, meaning that shots from beyond the arc accounted for 62 percent of their points. The guys making them aren’t the ones you would expect either: how about forwards Jon Leuer (6’10”) and Mike Bruesewitz (6’6″)? From the outside, they definitely had the advantage over Belmont, and the 34-27 halftime score in their favor showed as much.

However, Belmont is no pushover. The Bruins were actually dominant in the paint. Their two main big guys, Scott Saunders and Mick Hedgepath, run the floor well, and as a result, they end up in good position in transition and either get the basket or the foul the vast majority of the time. So Belmont has the edge in close to the basket.

Another thing to note, one which the announcers have been mentioning often, is that the Bruins play a lot of guys. I think Belmont subs more than Kansas State’s Frank Martin did earlier this season, and that is saying something. They have 11 guys who average 10 minutes or more each game, and 10 players have gotten time in all 34 games this season.

One last comment: the Bruins have done a great job forcing turnovers. The Badgers average 7 per game, and against Belmont they committed that many in the first half.

That’s all for now; enjoy the games!

Tournament still as great as ever, even with 68 teams

17 Mar

I hated the idea of expanding the NCAA tournament. To me, that’s watering down the best thing that ever happened to college basketball. But so far, with the field of 68 – four more teams than in recent years, this first Thursday has been as awesome as ever.

14-seed Morehead State beat 3-seed Louisville by one point on a perfect 3-pointer, and it was the school’s first win over the Cardinals since the 1956-57 season. That’s not just a delicious upset; that is historic. The 8 v. 9 matchup between Butler defeated Old Dominion came down to one basket. 13-seed Princeton took 4-seed Kentucky down to the wire, just barely unable to force overtime thanks to a Wildcat bucket with two seconds remaining. Temple beat Penn State by a mere two points. All that and more, and it’s only 4 p.m. on Thursday!

The kinds of matchups and opportunities and excitement this tournament creates are simply unparalleled. If you’re a college basketball fan, this time of year is heaven. I know it is for me. Walking back from class today, I had to fight the urge to jump up and down and hoot and holler in anticipation of some of the best games of the year. I could hardly get home fast enough.

As I’ve said, this year’s March Madness is already off to an incredible start. I just hope the NCAA won’t take this success and popularity as a reason to expand the tournament more. Four play-in games, fine. Whatever. I probably won’t watch them, and I would guess I’m not alone in that. But if they open it up to 96 teams, or whatever the next number is, that will seriously hamper the competitiveness of this event.

Right now, it’s the perfect length, and the teams who get in are solid teams used to winning. One of the broadcasters just pointed out that every game so far today has gone to halftime with a 5-point margin or less, and five games have been decided by 15 points total. That’s some serious basketball! Every year, good teams get left out, but if inclusion in this tournament ceases to become competitive, the essence of it is lost.

Here’s hoping the tournament will be as exciting in all the years to come as it has been in just the last few hours.