Point Blank – March 10, 2017
On measuring teams for Glass Slippers (and the problem with glass slippers is that they can shatter)…Tim Jankovich doesn’t need a “W”, a “w” may suffice…The Clippers were all talk, and then all action...
Part of what makes conference tournament week such a unique cycle is waking up on Friday morning for a serious re-tweaking of some of the power ratings, as teams that have had lackluster seasons suddenly find that the NCAA tournament is just a pair of wins away. For some that becomes a driving force to reach to a level they could not find before, while for others the win(s) that led to a Friday appearance may already feel like it is mission accomplished, and there is the prospect of a letdown instead of sustaining the momentum.
There is a lot to sort through, so it means keeping the jukebox plugged in all week, an appreciation of Peter Green being the theme, and some rather soulful blues providing a proper working background. As we continue to wonder what could have been, it is another live show from an early stage of Fleetwood Mac, and “If You Let Me Love You”, live from Boston in 1970 -
Now time to head to Kansas City for a classic Cinderella setting, while also having the opportunity to appreciate a rather unique opportunity from the other side of that same game.
Item: Is it a glass slipper or a glass ceiling for TCU
TCU entered the Big 12 brackets on a seven-game losing streak, a 1-6 ATS across that span an indication that the Horned Frogs were wearing down via the rigors of a difficult Big 12 schedule. But now it has been a pair of wins for Jamie Dixon’s team over the past 48 hours, including that 85-82 upset of Kansas yesterday.
The good is naturally having momentum and confidence, plus the new motivation of an NCAA bid within the sights. The bad? The fact that it was Kansas that they beat on Thursday, albeit a Jayhawk team that was limited by the absence of Josh Jackson. Does that Thursday win become a boost to go forward, or instead offer a crescendo moment that will be difficult to recover from?
Here is the unique problem that Dixon faces today – his roster does not have any legacy of success. That is an important handicapping notion when determining whether a team can build off of an upset, or fall victim to a letdown afterwards – how much past success have they had, which can lead to at least some degree of comfort in the role.
As such, let’s go to senior guard Brandon Parrish, who set the TCU record for career games played yesterday at 130 – “This is the win of my career, right here, to be completely honest. A lot of times people would tell us that we were never good enough, we would never be able to get it done.”
Hence what may be a problem in this instance, and situations similar to it – if a win is viewed as a culmination, rather than a building block, coming back to play the next day can be a bit awkward. If a team has some kind of legacy to fall back on they can use that experience, but no one on the Horned Frogs roster has played on a Friday in the Big 12 tourney in the past.
There are also some practical basketball components – the TCU ride through the first two rounds brought wins vs. depleted teams, depth-shy Kansas without Jackson (the Horned Frogs reserves outscored the Jayhawks reserves 34-3) and Oklahoma without Jordan Woodard. And then there is that matter of tonight’s opposition…
Item: Will a Cyclone run through Kansas City again
While a lot of focus goes into understanding whether or not a glass slipper fits the particular makeup of a team, there is also the matter of the immediate opposition, and whether or not they are ready to step on those toes. That also makes this evening’s clash an interesting one, because it has not been Kansas dominating this tourney of late, but rather a special group of Iowa State seniors.
Three years ago Monte Morris, Matt Thomas and Naz Mitrou-Long played 184 floor minutes as freshmen in helping lead the Cyclones to cut down the Sprint Center nets on Saturday. They came back and won the tourney again as sophomores. Last March they were knocked out 79-76 by an Oklahoma team that was on its way to the Final Four, though ISU got the cover at +4.5. So where does that leave this core group, which has since added another senior to the starting lineup, Devonte Burton, through transfer? How about 7-1 SU and 7-0-1 ATS in this tourney.
Now this bunch has a chance to set some history by grabbing three championships in their careers, and through their own words before heading to Kansas City it was easy to appreciate how much it means to them. There was also something else apparent yesterday, and it can be a valuable tool for the handicapper around these times – the Cyclones had a heck of a following for Thursday’s win over Oklahoma State.
For some of us these tourney days mean multiple video monitors going, some of them dedicated to a particular conference for ease of following what is transpiring. But here is one small trick that can matter – while the standard is naturally to only have the sound on for one game at a time, move the dial round on Thursday for a few minutes in the early stage of each game, to get a feel for the crowd support the various teams have. While Kansas annually brings a good following to this tournament, in listening to snippets from both Big 12 afternoon games on Thursday, it was difficult to tell whether KU or ISU had the better support sections. TCU’s following? There wasn’t much purple to be found.
For tonight the Cyclones now bring something that they did not have in those earlier tourney wins – the legacy of success that not just brings confidence, but also in how to deal with playing across multiple days. There was also something else I believe was important from Thursday’s win – it wasn’t just the seniors carrying the load. One of the keys to State getting better down the stretch was the play of 6-8 Solomon Young inside, and on Thursday there was also a lot of production off the bench from Darrell Bowie and Donovan Jackson, who combined for 21 points and five rebounds.
By now you can sense where this is going – I will have #574 Iowa State (7:00 Eastern) in pocket at -4 or less, anticipating a poised and steady effort from the Cyclones, with their experience under this pressure being more than the Horned Frogs are ready to cope with.
Item: For SMU is it Just 'Win' Baby…
One of the major talking points in these tourneys is how a coach who’s teams lack depth approaches the cycle, and bucking Duke has stung the pocket a bit, the Blue Devils beating Louisville yesterday because the lack of depth indirectly led to a major plot twist – after falling behind by 11 in the second half, Mike Krzyzewski made the rare tactical decision to go to a zone defense, and it was that zone that turned the flow of the game around, the Cardinals ineffective in knocking down shots over it (they were 4-21 from 3-point range in the game).
An intriguing case study on this front is SMU, a team that I like a lot for the Big Dance ahead, and the Mustangs have been written about as a lead topic a few times. They are going to be a matchup headache for anyone because of their size and style, and it would be no shock if they were still alive on Elite 8 weekend.
But what about this week? Because there are only six players in the rotation Tim Jankovich may not be thrilled about the prospect of three games in three days, especially because the AAC extends into Sunday. That makes today’s opener vs. East Carolina an interesting case study – the markets are trading the Mustangs at -19 right now, in a game in which getting a margin means absolutely nothing to the coach, who would likely be thrilled to win by several baskets less than that.
This provides a way of looking at the depth issue from a different perspective – while it tends to come into play most often with underdogs, who can get worn out and lose contact in a game, this early tipoff brings a rare setting in which it is the heavy favorite that has the shorter bench. And given that the Mustang tempo is deliberate anyway, #335 in the nation, the anticipated pace will also not provide many opportunities for the game to break open.
I am going to have #533 East Carolina (Noon Eastern) in pocket, the Pirates showing just enough life down the stretch to also trust them to compete – they have four outright underdog wins over their last seven games, and note the bench production vs. Temple in yesterday’s 80-69 win over Temple – 27 points and six rebounds. They will not threaten to win the game, but the favorite may end up keeping them in the hunt in terms of the spread, with no motivating force for the Mustangs to go for a kill.
About Last Night, NBA…
As noted in yesterday’s edition, the Memphis Grizzlies were under the microscope in that game vs. LAC because of some rather questionable personnel shuffling being done by David Fizdale, who may be expecting more from his team than there can be. But is was the flip side of the equation, the underachieving Clippers, that may have brought forward the more important food for thought.
Doc Rivers cancelled a couple of things that are usually in the routine for his team – there was no video decision yesterday, or shoot-around. Instead he called for a team meeting, after some unexpectedly poor performances since the return of Chris Paul. It seemed to work, a solid performance in which they led by as many as 22 points, and I do have to use “seemed” because there is that matter of the Memphis issues. But I believe LAC can still be a factor in the Western Conference playoffs, so let’s mark this moment.
First from Rivers: "It was a long meeting, but it was a truthful meeting. We just talked. There wasn't any screaming. It was just a good team discussion about what we want to be and what we need to do. I thought a lot of guys added to it. I think the anxiety was lifted because of the talk. We've got to follow it up and keep doing it. They were disappointed in how they were playing. They knew they weren't playing well. We needed to put a finger on it."
And Blake Griffin: "We know we haven't played the way we should. So sometimes you've got to scrap the film, scrap the walk-through and just talk and let guys get some frustrations out and talk about what they're seeing. So, hearing from everyone was good. Hearing from Doc was good.”
There may be something to see here. One of the reasons to believe in an LAC upside is that Griffin and Paul both missed considerable time, which can have them fresher when the playoffs begin, as long as the various components are on the same page. Hence they go under the microscope for the immediate cycle ahead.
In the Sights, Saturday NCAA…
This one has not quite reached the value point for a full play, with -4 still elusive, but even at -4.5 I will have #748 Nevada (6:00 Eastern) in pocket for about two thirds of a position, and the talking points are worth expounding upon.
One of the on-going thread discussions this week was how some coaches do not take the conference tournaments all that seriously, occasionally even with disdain, and some of that has come from the MWC tourney down the street from me, where coaches would say things off the record to the local media about their frustrations with the setup. When a team was already assured of a spot in the NCAA tourney without winning the league crown, there would often be little interest in reaching the finals. The position that Colorado State is in this evening explains that, and becomes a prime handicapping factor.
What the conference forces on both Nevada and CSU is unfair, and goes against the spirit of competition – both are playing their third game in three days, but instead of getting most of Saturday to recuperate the tourney goes from late Friday tipoffs to a 3 PM championship game. It is the television $$$ speaking, and while the coaches do appreciate what that does for their salaries, they loathe the fact that it reduces the quality of play for that television showcase anyway.
Want some good perspective? The MWC, Pac 12 and WAC tournaments are all going on in Las Vegas right now. All three featured Friday night double-headers. So when are the Pac 12 and WAC championships? Both at a reasonable 8 PM local time. But for the MWC it is that much earlier start, and that is rather ridiculous.
It is tough for Nevada, but the Wolfpack live in the Pacific Time Zone, and had a chance to be in their hotel beds at a normal time. It is much tougher for Colorado State, from the Mountain Time Zone – the Rams were in the Thomas & Mack locker rooms well after midnight locally, or 1 AM on their body clocks, and it makes for an extremely challenging turnaround.
These teams met in Nevada last Saturday and the Wolfpack showed their superiority in pulling away 85-72, winning the boards 43-33 and having two fewer turnovers, and that was with Rams key cog Gian Clavell having 33 points and 9 rebounds in going the full 40 minutes. Clavell’s energy may not allow him to get near that level after he went a full 40 again last night, and for those that did not track the game note how the 71-63 final got created – CSU was down 8 with 12:00 to play, but got a late run-out when San Diego State ran out of gas. Coming down from that rally to even get some rest is a genuine issue, and Larry Eustachy was willing to be open about it - “What time is the game tomorrow? 3:00. I don’t understand why there’s a 9:30 game (on Friday, though the actuall tipoff was not until 9:50). But it’s midnight, these guys are going to bed. It’s supposed to be about the student-athlete. … With the adrenaline and what have you, it’s hard to fall asleep, it really is.”
Colorado State has put a solid season together despite being short-handed, only dressing seven players after a series of suspensions back in January, and the Rams deserve a better chance to play well today than the conference has thrown at them. We can chastise the situation, but also be ruthless capitalists in earning some coin off of it, in a game that Nevada should control the end-game flow.
The complete Point Blank Archive
@PregamePhd (a work in progress, feedback appreciated)