November Basketball: SU-Cal, UNC-OSU

Kate and I went to the two games of the "semifinals" of the 2K Sports Classic Supporting Coaches vs. Cancer, Your Name Here for a Prince pre-season "tournament" last night (the scare quotes are because the four teams playing last night were guaranteed to be playing last night, regardless of what happened in the earlier "rounds"). We were in section 329 of Madison Square Garden, which aren't great seats in an absolute sense, but are pretty darn good for a game-day impulse buy. Not that there was any trouble getting seats-- the lower levels were maybe 3/4 full.

The first game saw Syracuse beat Cal by 22 in a virtual home game for the Orange. At one point, the Cal band came out to do a T-shirt toss, and I have rarely seen a group of people that anxious to get the hell off the court at a major sporting event. One of them appeared to huck his shirt directly at Bob Knight, who was calling the game for ESPN.

The second game saw North Carolina outlast Ohio State, in a game that was sloppy and uninteresting most of the way-- hovering in that frustrating 12-15 point range where the outcome probably isn't in doubt, but it's not enough of a blow-out to write it off and go home early. Carolina made it interesting when we did decide to leave, with about a minute to go, and let Ohio State close to within two, needing some clutch free throws to secure the victory (which we watched from the gate closest to the exit, along with fifty other people who had also decided to leave early, but came back for the final plays).

You cant really take too much from November basketball, but some scatered observations are below the fold.

-- Cal is really small, and were outsized to a degree that you rarely see with a power-conference team. As a result, their main strategy was to chuck up a lot of threes. They hit a reasonable number, keeping the game close-ish until the middle of the second half, but Syracuse held them off without too much drama.

-- Syracuse, on the other hand, built their offense around their big size advantage-- Cal's guards looked like Munchkins next to Arinze Onuaku-- and pounded the ball into the lane at every opportunity. They also got a lot of turnovers by trapping out of the 2-3, providing plenty of fast-break opportunities, though they missed an alarming number of dunks. They also racked up quite a few fouls on Cal's big-ish guys, and their free-throw shooting wasn't as horrific as it can sometimes be.

-- Really nice game from Scoop Jardine, who finished with 22, and 17 points and 11 rebounds from Wes Johnson, who I am surprised to learn is a junior. These guys may be the signature turnaround players that Jim Boeheim always seems to find-- guys who were pretty bad in limited minutes one year, who turn out to be really good when they're running the team full-time the next year.

-- A propos of very little, why does UC-Berkeley get to be "Cal," while UCLA has to be "Uckla," and all the other University of California system schools are "UC-something"?

-- Amazingly, the second game, the one not involving Syracuse, was the sloppy one. North Carolina lost the vast majority of the key players off last year's championship team, and the new guys are clearly still getting used to each other. Ohio State was pretty ragged as well, and shot very poorly.

-- The one thing that really impressed me was how quickly UNC gets up the court. It was really striking to watch-- on a typical possession after a score, Ohio State would bring the ball up the court fairly casually, and all five Tar Heels would be back and set in their defense. Carolina, on the other hand, was always right on the heels of the defenders. The point guard usually beat at least one Buckeye up the court, and the defenders were usually scrambling to get into position.

They don't force shots out of the fast transition-- if there's nothing easy available, they'll back out and run their offense-- and they don't force tempo with a crazy full-court press, so they don't have a huge reputation as a "running" team, but it's really impressive to see the way they commit to up-tempo basketball. This is a Roy Williams trademark, going back to his Kansas days, and when it works well, it's a lot of fun to watch.

Of course, when it's not working well, it's as ugly as any other brand of basketball. There were a lot of silly turnovers in this-- bad passes, travels, palming, offensive fouls-- that kept the game low-scoring and not that exciting to watch. They've got some pretty good players, though, so they should be pretty good later in the year.

Syracuse will play UNC tonight, in what is sure to be an even more pro-Orange arena than last night (there's a huge Syracuse alumni presence in NYC). It'll be interesting to see how that turns out-- Syracuse has a lot more experience, but they're more prone to silly mistakes. I think they can win, but that doesn't mean they will win.

-- Anecdote of the night: Between games, I went to get another beer, and there was a short young guy in a North Carolina shirt wandering around being an ass. While I was waiting for my beer, he grabbed a couple of friends, and was trying to pick a fight with a middle-aged guy in an Ohio State sweatshirt.

The guy pouring my beer was watching the drunken antics, and said "I remember my first beer, too..."

Anyway, it was a fun night. The two teams I wanted to see win, won, and we had a good view of everything (not that there are bad seats in Madison Square Garden). I would've liked a little more leg room, but the guys in front of us left after the Syracuse game, so Kate and I were able to put our feet up over the backs of those chairs, which ended up being perfect;y comfortable. And while there were some drunk Duke fans behind us, they were at least amsuing drunk Duke fans, so it was all good.

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re: why Berkeley is "Cal" -- because it was the first school in the University of California system. That is, back when the system was just one school, the University of California was just shortened to "California" or "Cal". The other schools, having come at the earliest ~35 years after UC Berkeley had been chartered, had to make do with their given names.

As asad sez'.
The real name of UCLA is the University of California, Southern Branch and its team mascot is the Plagiarists and their major rival is the University for $poiled children.

By natural cynic (not verified) on 20 Nov 2009 #permalink

Wikipedia's version is slightly different from asad's. The University of California was founded in 1868, but the Berkeley campus did not open until September 1873. Toland Medical College, which later became UCSF, affiliated itself with the University of California in March 1873, after some 20 years of operation as a private institution. But UCSF has always focused on medical and biomedical education and does not enroll undergraduates, so Berkeley gets the "Cal" designation as the system's oldest campus that enrolls undergraduates. The next oldest UC campus is the University Farm School, today's UC Davis, which opened in 1905. UCLA did not become part of the system until 1919, and as NC says, it was known as the Southern Branch until 1927.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 20 Nov 2009 #permalink

Thanks for the update, although the real up date came the next night!

There are some things you can't see on TV, even HD, what with telephoto lenses and no control over how much of the court you can see. However, my impression was that Cal consistently had bad spacing on the court, and that UNC was not getting the calls that T.H. got last year.

Did you notice any change in play with the new blocking rule under the basket? I didn't.

By CCPhysicist (not verified) on 22 Nov 2009 #permalink