The opening session brought you Ohio and George Washington along with your Colorado Buffaloes taking on the DePaul Blue Demons. From the opening game, I took away that George Washington is a very talented, disciplined, and well coached team, and Ohio kind of sucks when they aren't heaving in prayers from the 3 point line. The primary destroyer of worlds was GW forward Kevin Larsen, who used his bulk, if not necessarliy much athleticism, to bully his way to 19 points and 15 rebounds. The thing that struck me most about Larsen, howver, was how smart he was about how he wanted to establish position in order to receive a pass in the post, and exactly what he wanted to do with it in order to scoore the ball from there. He was 2 steps ahead of his defender every step of the way. GW was also excellent at feeding the post, whether it be to Larsen, Kapriva, or Watanabe down on the block. Sophomore Kethan Savage did his damage did his damage from the perimiter and at one poi nt unleashing a filthy dunk on some hapless Ohio big.
On the other side, their best player did seem to get the ball nearly as much as he should. Maurice Daly Ndour was open all game, and generally showed soft hands and the ability to finish when the Bobcats guards looked his way. The 4-11 shooting line doesn't reflect that really, but to me it seemed like he tried to force the issue by driving because of a lack of post touches. The results when he did that were not pretty. At any rate, GW was by far the superior team, and they advanced rather easily to the winners bracket tomorrow.
In that semifinal, they'll face your Colorado Bufflaoes, who schizophrenia'd their way to a win over a woeful DePaul team. A DePaul team who absolutely could not shoot from the outside to save their lives, and yet who kept the game well within reach into the second half. The Buffaloes struggled mightily against the press, at one point giving away 10 straight off of ghastly, completely unacceptable turnovers, and survived mostly due to Xavier Johnson's energy and Askia Booker's assertiveness. At this point, we're all well aware of the, shall we say, quirkiness of Booker's game. He's a shooting guard who wants to be a point guard but doesn't want to pass. all of that was on display this morning in Honolulu. He consistently knifed through the DePaul press to get to the rim or take his patented pull up jumper, and even tossed in a nifty tear drop that we've seen in years past but hasn't really manifested itself this season. The thing is, though, that there were plenty of times early on when he had someone running ahead of him and he just chose to ignore them and take it in himself. Eventually they just stopped running out.
For the most part, that worked out just fine, as Booker had one of his best games as a Buff, but that does not a lead guard make. If he wants to run the show, then it's his responsibility to get everyone else involved, and he did not do that. The weird thing is, he seemed to take greater joy at the passes he DID make than in his scoring. He's just got a weird game.
Similarly, Xavier Johnson is a bit of an odd duck. He either plays with 100% intensity or 110% intensity, and gets in trouble when he does the latter, because he gets far to into his own head. Regardless, he spent the entire game talking to himself, to the point that I wondered if he didn't have a little green imaginary friend on his shoulder with whom he was holding a conversation. That's not a bad thing- it's just XJ, and his energy, ability to spread the floor, and knife into lanes to gobble up rebounds and putbacks are essential to this team's continued success.
Are the nontraditional talents of Johnson and Booker enough to carry the team? I don't know, but I fear they might need to be, because Josh Scott, our expected bell cow, had another poor showing on the offensive end of the floor. I mentioned earlier how impressive Larsen was about having a plan in the front court. Scott was just the opposite today. He just floated along the baseline without a clue or interest in how to put himself in position to receive the ball. On one posession, he received the ball in the post, found himself guarded by a guy who was about 6 foot tall... and passed the ball out, instead of taking the ball up strong. That's about all you need to know about Scott today.
To be fair, he spent way too much time on the perimiter, and this wasn't the best showcase for him, as DePaul wanted to get out and run, and we know that CU's guards have had trouble feeding him in the post, but he had more than enough chances to produce on the low block, and more often than not, he declined. I'm starting to wonder if his teammates trust him down there. He needs to have a come to Jesus moment prior to the George Washington game, or we will lose.
The rest of the rotation performed about as you would expect, some poorly, some really poorly, and some Jaron Hopkins, who can go from brilliant to atrocious in the blink of an eye. Fletcher also put together a nice stretch where he did four good things in a row, so he might disappear for several months now (or maybe a corner has been turned, yay! OR maybe it's DePaul! Boo!
In the late session, there's really nothing to say about Wichita State - Loyola Marymount, other than LMU's point guard Evan Payne can jump out of the gym. Beyone his two highlights, it was a typical blowout. The last game between Hawaii and Nebraska, however, was awesome. I've never rooted harder for a team that I don't care about than I did for Hawaii tonight. And they won in thrilling fashion, even with their best player - Mike Thomas - in foul trouble from the jump, and even having to play one of the most hilariously bad D1 rotation players I have ever seen - Stefan Jovanovic - major minutes because of the aforementioned foul trouble. Rumblin and I have decided that Jjovanovic is now a verb, and not in a good way. Anyway, it was fun to root for someone without really caring, and doing so in what amounted to a real college atmosphere, with Hawaii's band and tiny, tiny cheerleaders supplying the energy. Overall the game resembled a sloppy drunken mess, with the refs contributing just as much as the teams.
My takeaway from today is that Ohio is a bad basketball team. DePaul is a bad basketball team. Loyola Marymount is a bad basketball team. Hawaii is a bad basketball team. Nebraska is... well I don't really know. On the one hand, they played some really bad basketball, but any game at Hawaii needs to be taken with a grain of (Hawaiian) salt, and even with a few days to acclimate, the game still ended around 3 AM their time. Let's just say that they're not a particularly good team. Wichita State is the runaway class of the tournament, and I would follow them up with George Washington and Colorado in that order.
Of final note, Hawaii's arena is really nice, and they sell beer. And their cheerleaders give leis to the opponents' starters and coaches. Look, I'm not going to make the tired and obvious joke hanging out their, but if you want to, go ahead. It's your life, man. Also I found out my hotel has a bunch of turtles, and turtles are pretty cool. One of these days I'm gonna find the penguins. See you tomorrow!