posted on February 25, 2013 00:04
Learning Quite A Bit By Taking Trips Through Historic Arenas
Saint Louis U. and Missouri traveled to two of the most storied buildings in college basketball this weekend.
The Billikens went to the site of the state championship game in Hoosiers, and Missouri headed to the home of eight national championships in Rupp Arena.
And that’s where the similarities come to an end.
Yeah…SLU won. Yeah…Missouri lost.
But, even if it would’ve been the other way around, I’ll tell you this…just personally: I really enjoy watching the 2013 Billikens play. And, man, I really cringe watching the 2013 Tigers play.
I’m well aware of the fact that this statement can fall under the umbrella of what I call on Twitter an “ATFT.” That stands for After The Fact Tweet.
Here’s an example of how an ATFT goes down:
Person 1 tweets: “Man, that was a ridiculously good play by Phil Pressey.”
Person 2 tweets 10 minutes later after Pressey pulls a shoot/pass to no one in the final minute of overtime: “Sure didn’t look like a good play by Pressey there.”
It’s cutting-edge shit.
But, I promise you---not that you’d be able to prove otherwise---that as I watching the Billikens play Friday night at Hinkle Fieldhouse, I was thinking, “Even if they lose this game, I love watching the way these guys play.”
To attempt to settle the segment of raging Missouri fans reading this, I said the same thing about the 2012 Tigers. My affection for that team is not tainted by the loss to Norfolk State.
They made the extra pass to get the open look…and they knocked it down. It was beautiful.
The 2013 Billikens play intense defense, as is well documented, but the work they do to get high percentage shots is overlooked. Starting the second half Friday night, SLU had a run of layups---in the half-court offense, mind you---that not only allowed them to come back…but it allowed them to pull away.
It was layup after layup.
They were getting these high percentage shots all while managing possessions with 2010 Butler-like efficiency. They turned the ball over a grand total of four times in an incredibly hostile environment.
And this was against a Butler team that had, in that same building, beaten potential #1 seed Gonzaga…and a few miles from there…beaten #1 Indiana.
This was against one of the best basketball minds in coaching, Brad Stevens, who after the game re-stated his admiration for the Billikens, telling reporters sometimes there isn’t much to break down…and that often people try to analyze that which isn’t really needing analysis. “That’s a really good team over there.” Stevens has called Saint Louis U. a Final Four-caliber team.
For Saint Louis U. fans, it’s what you’ve seen for the last month and change. The Billikens are consistent…and they’re relentless.
And then 24 hours later…three hours to the south-southeast…we saw one of college basketball’s most inconsistent teams take the floor in Lexington against a Kentucky team that wasn’t necessarily killing it with Nerlens Noel…and has been even worse without him.
But, Missouri on the road is a well-known story. It’s a bad one. And, if it weren’t for the horrendous operation at Mississippi State, it’d be a winless one.
Of course, on the other side of it, the Tigers had lost by a combined seven points at LSU, Texas A & M, and Arkansas.
They were all there for the taking…and late in the game…they were all handled questionably by Phil Pressey.
Add another one to the list with Saturday night’s loss in Lexington.
If you want a quick summary of why Missouri is 19-8 overall and 8-6 in a bad basketball conference, watch about 125 seconds from Saturday:
1. The final five seconds of the first half.
2. The final 30 seconds of the second half.
3. The final 90 seconds of overtime.
Wrapping up the first half, Phil Pressey drains a three to give Missouri a 35-29 lead and momentum going into the locker room. However, the Tigers don’t play defense for the final seconds of the half, and Kentucky’s Willie Cauley-Stein is left wide open for a thunderous dunk to close out the first 20 minutes. The lead goes down to four…and the Wildcats have the momentum…which they used to jump out in the second half on an 11-4 run.
And what about the final 30 seconds of regulation?
Missouri fans have seen this song and dance before.
I wish I could’ve gotten action in Las Vegas on what the “play” would be when Phil Pressey called timeout crossing half-court in a 71-71 game.
Following the timeout, Pressey dribbled around for 25 seconds…and then drove to the basket and fired up a contested shot that missed.
And then there’s final 90 seconds of overtime. When you see the final score of 90-83, it’s hard to believe the game was tied at 79 with 1:30 left. But, it was.
Kentucky took a two-point lead, and with less than a minute left, Missouri’s attempt to answer was Pressey taking a three. A contested three. So contested, as a matter of fact, that while he was in the air, he decided to pass it…to no one in particular. Kentucky picked up the loose ball…and for all intents and purposes…that was it.
I can’t express enough respect for what Frank Haith did in 2012 with the same players (minus Laurence Bowers) that Mike Anderson had in 2011. But, I can’t understand how he continues to watch his 2013 team fumble games away late.
These aren’t bad breaks. These aren’t opposing players making incredible plays. These end-of-game debacles are self-inflicted wounds.
But, as Missouri fans learned last year, in college basketball, your legacy is determined by what you do in the NCAA Tournament. Barring a collapse down the stretch, the Tigers will get in.
And, once both Missouri and Saint Louis U. are in, they both could be quite dangerous…for the same reason…even though they play different styles of the same game: teams could overlook them.
Missouri’s record will not be impressive. Even if they win every game from here on out…which I wouldn’t rule out…they’re still an eight-loss team. But, for those of us who have watched them play damn near every game, we know that, as Dick Vitale kept saying over and over Saturday night, their end of game play is the difference between a good season and a great season.
If the team (in particular, Pressey and Haith) manages end of game situations better just half the time at UCLA, at LSU, at Texas A & M, at Arkansas, and at Kentucky, this seemingly average team has a comfortable Top 25 ranking. And yeah…while as a Missouri fan I would much rather have had them win all of those games they wound up losing…the potential upside is that they sneak up on some people in the NCAA Tournament. And, this year’s NCAA Tournament field will be, in my opinion, absolutely wide open.
The same goes for Saint Louis U. The Billikens are national unknowns. Guys like Brad Stevens know all about them. But, the average college basketball fan on the East Coast or the West Coast couldn’t tell you much, if anything, about them. Going back to the free-for-all I anticipate in this year’s Tournament, I think that could be huge for Saint Louis U.
But, the bottom line is they’re just a damn good team.
Team…being the key word.
Missouri was a damn good “team” last year.
I think the 2013 Tigers have the talent to be a good team this year when it counts, but time is running out…for the coach and the individual to figure out how to execute…when time is running out.
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