Andre and Nick

Nick Johnson Declares for the NBA Draft

I put all my eggs into the narrative basket and lost.

In November, I managed to get 5 minutes and 37 seconds with Nick Johnson. I asked him questions and he answered. Together, we came to the conclusion that it didn’t matter what the name of the sandwich he got at beyond bread was, but only that he enjoyed it.

When we pivoted to basketball, he had glowing things to say about the progress of Gabe York and the contributions – to his career – of Kyle Fogg. Nick is a bright and thoughtful kid. I thought I had a nice article brewing. And then I asked him about goals.

I like goals. I’ve played sports my whole life and we used to set them there. I have a job and we set them there. I have a life and I set them there. Goals, as it were, have a tendency to help us achieve things. Sometimes we don’t always reach them, but so long as we try – we try real hard – we can’t soon be called a loser.

That Thursday afternoon, when I asked Nick Johnson what his personal goals were, he told  me, “Defensive player of the year.” Immediately I wanted to text my brother. Holy hell! If Johnson was to be the best defender, then Arizona was surely to be the best defenders, and my goodness were they going to be good. Mid-interview, as a professional courtesy, I didn’t text my brother.

But my excitement surrounding his remarks got me  thinking that maybe I was sitting on something bigger than just a nice preview.

I followed the personal goals question by inquiring as to the team goals. “We want to win the Pac-12 regular season. And then on to the tournament, the Pac-12 tournament and eventually get to a Final Four. And then after…” Here’s where he briefly paused. Then smirked. I think I was sitting calmly in my seat, if memory serves me correctly, but I cannot, confirm this. One can only hope that Johnson didn’t notice the fandom oozing out my pores.

He was wearing a gray Nike Jumpsuit. It was simple, with navy shouldering, the block A, a swoosh, and a patch:

NickPatch

You can kind of see it, another A and another swoosh. But also on there was a year, 1997 to be exact, noted on the sleeve patch. That’s the last and only time Arizona won a national title. After noting that his team was trying to get to a Final Four, I had an opportunity to jump back into the conversation.

My interjection, “You wanna put another patch on that jacket, don’t you?”

He smiled again, the consummate team guy, and told me, “Everything will take care of itself.” I thanked him for his time, we parted ways, and I texted every Wildcat fan in my phone.

But I never wrote the story. Like I said, I put this egg in the narrative basket, gambling everything would take care of itself, and it didn’t. Or at least not the way that I had imagined it. Arizona never made that Final Four. They didn’t even win the Pac-12 tournament. Nick Johnson was not your Pac-12 Defensive Player of the Year.

He was the Player of the Year. The conference’s best player on their best team. He became an All-American and Wooden Award Finalist. I had asked Nick Johnson what his goal was and then I got to watch this kid obliterate that goal. That’s just great.

And yesterday he declared for the NBA draft.

It’s a decision I don’t necessarily agree with but that’s the opinion of the same guy who nearly texted everyone who knew while interviewing Johnson. A totally rational move (sarcasm font). We talked about his goals and he exceeded some with flying colors! He had about as complete a season as a college basketball player could have.

But similar to how it all changed on 2/1, Johnson’s decision leaves us with a lot of ‘what ifs’ that will ultimately A) not be answered until at least November, and B) perhaps never be answered. Indubitably, Arizona would have had one of its most talented rosters the school has ever rolled out had Johnson stayed.

As it were, he’s projected as the 20th PG or SG taken (second round) and the sixth Pac-12 player picked. Also to note, that same projection has seniors Shabazz Napier (1st round) and Russ Smith (2d round) picked ahead of Johnson.

Of course, there’s this:

The kid could come back. This was a very tough decisions. But if we’re going to premise this whole thing on goals, I think Nick sees his: the NBA. I also won’t soon assume to know what back room conversations were had or promises made. I won’t assume to know his rationale or decision making process.

What I can tell you is that I asked a kid about what he wanted to accomplish and then he bested that. Color me impressed. But that’s nothing knew with how I’ve long perceived Nick Johnson.

And I guess this is that strange, beautiful, awkward part of college sports. We know these players enter for a finite tenure. Nick Johnson isn’t leaving to take Steinbrenner money. He isn’t taking his talents to a superfriendship and breaking our hearts in Akron. Nick Johnson has had a goal to play at the highest level of the game he loves. How much can we really begrudge him this departure?

Yeah I selfishly want to see more of him in cardinal and navy. His presence would bring Stanley Johnson off the Wildcats’ 2015 bench. Maybe he’s leaving to be fair to everyone else? Like I said, I think there was more for him to accomplish in Tucson. And I wanted to cheer it, fulfill the narrative I had hoped would manifest.

But there’s even more for him to accomplish outside of Tucson. He’s off to do that.

Here’s to hoping Nick Johnson keeps exceeding his goals.

And Arizona puts another patch on that jacket.

Team Enters

BB: Our 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats

I’m always pretty honest here. I don’t love ASU and, despite being 6’5″, I’ve only dunked a handful of times. Fastballs don’t translate into verticals. And so to get my mind around, and my heart into, re-examining this season – if not that game – I needed some time. A passage of moments to absorb everything that was our (my) last five months. Because my team didn’t win and because they were supposed to. Because I watched a season, five months, rest confidently in the hands of Nick Johnson. And then the season didn’t quite make it out of his hands. To tell you that I didn’t hurt sitting in section 407, row B, seat 4, alongside my brother, would be a Badger faced lie. I hurt, alongside a fan base starving to be in North Texas, watching the most exciting iteration of their team – our Wildcats – fall one point short. Pain.

And in this afternoon there will be departures and returns. Perhaps some coaching changes down the line. New developments that might further dictate our feelings about those five months.

But for now, take a walk with me. Certainly not a run because a run might not let us appreciate things, the actual path. By running, we might get stuck with a singular memory of a ball, in hand, with a backlit backboard, and the wrong score. A run would neglect to recall how we got to Anaheim. So let’s walk. Walk to appreciate how we got there and because sometimes it helps to slow things down, make sure that this blog post doesn’t become one big :(. Also, my middle name is Walker. Fun fact.

Like any walk, I suppose we’d have to begin by getting off the couch. Of course that’s where it all began for me. I was amongst the more than 18,000 streaming a basketball scrimmage on a Saturday afternoon in October. On that day, TJ McConnell played defense. Yes, I was ecstatic to watch a 6’1” Pittsburgher play practice defense. A skill he’d assert 39 more times for my viewing pleasure.

But that was just a practice. We needed, craved, the real thing. And soon thereafter, by a convergence of love, convenience, and coincidence, I celebrated the first two games of the season and my dear friend’s wedding. In Tucson. God bless Sunday weddings in November.

Of course the Cal Poly game left something to be desired. The Mustangs (who would eventually win one NCAA tournament game) made eleven three-pointers and raised questions about whether or not the 2012-13 three-point defense was an anomaly or a trend. The Wildcats would go on to allow the 12th lowest percentage of threes in the nation. Opponents would make just 32% of whatever they got.

But Gabe York started, Kaleb Tarczewski grabbed zero rebounds, Jordin Mayes played 4 minutes to turn the ball over 3 times, and the team shot 56% from the line. Was this game foretelling? No, the next game was. An assertion of strength, execution, and we-are-better-than-you up and down the McKale floor.

The tone was set. Arizona would be the most exciting, defense oriented, pace conscious team there could be. At least that’s what we wanted. But their mettle was yet to be tested. Not even a win in San Diego meant enough. A stage, The World’s Most Famous Arena, was the only place to do it. So they went to Madison Square Garden, forced Jabari Parker into what would be the second worst offensive performance of his collegiate career (by ORtg), and left their scent all over the right coast. Early the following week, Carolina would win in East Lansing.

Four days later, Arizona was the number one team in the country. Back.

What do you think of our walk so far? Months of speculation about whether these Wildcats could shoot, lead, or get over their youthful hump had manifested into the nation’s top team. And it was fun. Validation of the previous tribulations that had seemingly set the program back. Number one again.

But this was December. Who cares about rankings – let alone college basketball – in December? The Wildcats had yet to take their toughest trip of the season, a frigid journey to Ann Arbor. I would join them. It become the upset dujour that weekend and perhaps deservedly so. Michigan was a talented squad playing at home. They’d go on to win the B1G and finish a dagger away from their second straight Final Four. Against Arizona, they led for more than 32 minutes. But Arizona won, Brandon Ashley was the best player on the floor during a game featuring countless NBA bound talent, and shit got real. Jim Nantz told me he’d see me in Dallas. I’m serious. The questions weren’t about whether the roster could do this or that, tt became, “Are they the best Arizona team, ever?” Jim fucking Nantz, you guys! And oh was it fun.

There were these:

aaron-gordon-vs-ucla-b

And this:

Rondae Dunk

And more:

aaron-gordon-double-clutch-reverseThere was a game that Washington State scored 7 points in an entire half. They scored just 0.46 points on each of their 54 possessions; twenty-five collective points from a high-major, Division-1 basketball team. That’s what Arizona was going to do to you.

And then these guys came up to see me. My team! Their first trip to the Bay Area in two years and I couldn’t be more ecstatic. My brother was going to be in town! The Wildcats! What a weekend.

But then it all changed.

The prohibitive favorites, winners of 21 straight and the top team in the land for eight straight weeks (a school record), lost in Berkeley. Sure the score read 58-60 and the court was preemptively rushed. How can an Arizona fan get pissed about that? Irrelevant. It all changed on February 1st when Brandon Ashley broke his foot. At the time, we couldn’t really speak of it. The foot failed but the team would not. Adjustments had to be made because there was still season to be played and we had to see Jim in Dallas. We’re on a walk here, right? Brandon couldn’t walk. It all changed.

And I buried that change, still absorbed by the narrative of January 31st, not February 2nd. Prohibitive favorites and now who knows what? Somberly, we left Haas that night with what felt like a season in flux. A proverbial tipping point. But the season couldn’t be buried in one podiatric misfortune. Onward the Wildcats would go. The feeling was buried. The season endured.

Exhibit A was a two-point home win over Oregon. Exhibit B was a hohum dismissal of the Beavers. The next two games would see the Wildcats in three overtimes, escaping with just one win. They lost in Tempe.

It all changed on 2/1 and whatever we buried was soon to bubble up. The aforementioned post-Ashley exhibits were less than encouraging and Colorado’s Keg was looming. Arizona had never won in Boulder as members of the Pac-12. Regardless, my buried feelings and tempered expectations flew to Boulder. With a busy mind, it wasn’t clear to me what would happen. I should have known better:aaron-gordon-dunk-gifColorado didn’t record a field goal for the game’s first ten minutes and Arizona won by 27. And then they won by 28 and then 13 and again we could believe. We could slip back into Goliath’s slippers and feel good in them.

There was a forgettable trip to Oregon before a defensive tour d’force through the MGM Grand Arena. Utah was throttled and Xavier Johnson – who once noted that the Wildcats “weren’t that good” – would make just 5 of 21 shots against the Wildcats after that January remark. And this:

Aaron Gordon BlockThen the Pac-12 championship game – Arizona and UCLA – was every bit the heavy weight battle it was supposed to be. The Pac-12 deserved and needed it. The Bruins punched first, taking it to Arizona’s top rated defense like no other team all season. The Wildcats, however, shot back. Raining from beyond the arc before settling into their more typical defensive effort. But when push came to shove – and it did – Jordan Adams hit the biggest shot. UCLA was your 2014 Pac-12 Tournament Champions. He didn’t touch the ball.

To this point I haven’t mentioned the walk we were on. It had a title, or at least I had one for it, “The Road to Dallas.” But this is the hardest part of the walk. The path narrows and the way more treacherous. Sudden death is a possibility. Sudden death is a reality. This is the NCAA tournament. You know all of this and when Arizona’s name was called on Sunday, you contemplated how you’d get to San Diego, Anaheim, and Dallas. I did. We toed the waters but never hesitated to jump in. Bring on the challenge.

And a challenge it is. Littered with hyperbolic prose surrounding its uncertainty and glass slippers. Goliaths enter and one exits. But you – we of the red shirts – were behind Goliath. The Wildcats were going to win this whole fucking thing.

And then they didn’t.

I had charged down Interstate-5 with my buddy, Jamie – a lifelong Badger, brilliant hoops mind, sports enthusiast, and beer drinker – for Thursday’s games. My brother was flying into LA to join. Jamie and I crashed at a friend’s Wednesday night, worked from Westwood the morning of, and then invaded the Honda Center. For Jamie, the early game was a breeze. Wisconsin was on to Saturday’s game faster than you could say ‘On Wisconsin.’

The Wildcats then took Thursday’s court and Nick Johnson scored 15 points in the games final 2:45. He made all of the free throws everyone thought the Wildcats would miss to send them packing from this tournament. The dismissal of SDSU evoked little sympathy. Self inflated with a brotastic following dripping with little brotherdom, I couldn’t have ushered them out any faster. And they were removed from the game’s hallowed event by the right  team. The Aztecs gave the West coast a go and the big kids will take it from here. Kthanksbye.

Which of course brings us to Saturday and me next to my brother at the tops of our chairs and lungs. The game itself could be dissected; examined for the minutiae of +/- data, offensive and defensive efficiencies, and probability charts. Ultimately, on the grandest stage where only one advances by any means possible – survival – the Badgers bettered the Wildcats. By one point. It needn’t be pretty, you just need to have the extra point.

For Arizona, they didn’t have the extra point. That’s the hurt stuff.

The kind of stuff that doesn’t let you appreciate an Aaron Gordon overtime three-pointer. He of the comically broken shot stepped into a three in the biggest game of his life. Onions. All the game long nothing would fall for the superfrosh. So naturally he grabbed 18 rebounds – nearly a quarter of all available boards in the game – and stuck that three.

It hurts and you maybe don’t get to remember when all seemed wrong, when the Arizona offense was operating at a second grade level, why not Jordin Mayes? He was there for the offensive rebound and the lay-in with sixty seconds left. In the three years of data I can access (hoop-math), it’s Jordin’s only career putback.

That immediate pain might not allow the opportunity to appreciate a moment like TJ McConnell and Nick Johnson hugging at mid-court. I can’t finger the exact situation but into a timeout, deep in the contest with the outcome in the balances and punches being thrown back and forth, the Wildcat backcourt embraced in the middle of the Honda Center. It was the kind of scene you expect to see with a Luther Vandross backdrop. Shit, I thought it meant they weren’t going to lose.

SPOILER: They did.

I’m late on all of this but I needed to get away from the suddenness of zeros and no more games. As noted I’m honest on here and the flurry of “UCONN!?!?!?!?! REALLY!?!?!?!?” texts into and out of my phone was…abundant? Ubiquitous? Fiery? And all of that heat was promptly followed by an outpouring of everything we couldn’t discuss after 2/1. A date we won’t forget and can’t neglect in reviewing, even appreciating, this season. Goliath down a peg.

Which is the end of our walk. A saunter through five of the most exciting and unique months of fandom I can recall. We felt promising optimism and crippling defeat. I saw triumphant revenge, fierce confidence, and assertions force. We hoped, believed, and hurt. We did it together and that’s the overarching importance of sport. 2013-14 was section 407 with my brother; the living room with my best friends;  a bar with countless strangers; every arena I entered. In taking this walk, it’s my hope that you remember where you were and who you were with for each of the shining moments that were this season.

Those illuminated flashes that define our favorite game are brief because they’re shared. If 68 enter and only one leaves, then we have to believe in those shining moments. We can share those and remember when.

The first games begin in November with the promise of a whole season with anticipation for the unexpected and hopeful before us. And then we get caught in a sprint. Running to March in search of the shining moments that just might not come. Everything changed on 2/1 and maybe that’s OK? Maybe it’s not. It’s OK to remember, just don’t get stuck in Haas.

And remember this walk, and all the fun you had watching the 2013-14 Arizona Wildcats Men’s Basketball team.Team Enters

UConn2

Congrats to the Winner of the PacHoops Bracket Challenge: Me

There was an element of awkwardness to the PacHoops Bracket challenge. I had offered up some incredible prizes without the promise of a single one. I couldn’t decide what I wanted to give or what the winner would have earned. But then, as the games unfolded and results fell in, it became clear that I was going to win. Awkward.

SEE ALL OF THE RESULTS

Granted, as the preeminent Pac-12 blogger, it was totally obvious that I pick UConn into the Elite Eight. I mean, anyone with half a blog can see that an eight-loss team with a recent 33-point loss would win a handful of tournament games. The writing was on the wall, clearly. They’d go on to win two games beyond where I had them losing but it didn’t hurt my bracket to pick up those 7-seed points. In beating Florida, the Huskies secured my victory in this Bracket Challenge. Sorry I’m not sorry, Derek the RA.

And before you get any further – if you even got this far amidst my bracket arrogance – don’t even come at me with “you rigged it!” nonsense. I posted my bracket for all to see. Here it is again:Adams BracketAin’t she a beauty? She finished 62,683rd overall.

But the real beauty lies in the fact that 32 of you submitted brackets. That 22 of you picked Arizona (my new best friends) and one of you picked Colorado (hell yeah I like that pick). There were two bids for Sparty (and who doesn’t love Izzo?), one for Bucky (they may have beat my Cats but I liked that team and the shot of Traevon Jackson  on the bench after losing to the wrong Cats nearly broke me all over again), and a handful of Gator picks.

The Bracket Challenge worked, we found The One (me), but that’s really not telling of anything at all. Let’s get serious. Next year I’ll finish last or something.

Just know that I’ve already put ‘ARIZONA’ on the final line. Sharpie.

Harrison Twins

Luther Vandross Appreciation Day

I know you don’t have a dog in tonight’s fight. I don’t and I can confidently say you don’t because it’s Kentucky vs. UConn. The former is college basketball’s lightning rod of criticism. The wrong Wildcats to be in this game if you’re asking me. The dribbling and shooting version of Alabama’s football juggernaut built to win by any means possible in the biggest possible ways. Big Blue Nation, as it were, is the necessary evil to make Cinderella’s story that much sweeter. You probably don’t like Kentucky.

And there’s also Connecticut a year removed from a post-season ban. The Huskies are proving every rule we’ve ever thought about this tournament: hot at the right time, senior guards, Deandre Daniels. Do you realize that Daniels is scoring 3 more points per game since the games turned to tournament games (AAC and NCAA)? When Shabazz is going to Shabazz, there isn’t a lot you can do. But when a 6’9″ guy is going to shoot 42% from distance and also grab 7.4 boards per NCAA game, a run into the title game isn’t out of the realm of possibilities. The Huskies are pistol hot. You probably don’t like Connecticut.

But as we’ve already established, neither one of these guys is your team. The squad we read recruiting rumors and group text about. They’re not ours.

So maybe it is a bittersweet championship. But that’s what happens when everything got put on the line three weeks ago and the ball was tipped and we said “let’s do this shit.” We knew it was going to hurt a little if things didn’t go our way. At this point, I’ve read my share of “despondent locker room” articles and “why next year is still reason for optimism.” I’m hoping to have enough perspective to sit and watch, even enjoy, tonight’s ball game.

But even if you can’t get your mind around that, it’s Luther Vandross Appreciation Dayand may your moment shine.

mascot_end copy

Butch T. Cougar: Winner of the Pac-12 Mascots Death Match

Butch T. Cougar has won the Pac-12 Mascots Death Match. Congratulations to the affable, albeit deadly feline of the Pacific Northwest. And, if you’re asking me, no matter his seeding (#11), he deserved this honor.

In a battle that saw anthropomorphism tossed around like names in a coaching hunt, Butch eliminated a Tree, Devil, Bruin, and a Buffalo. A live Buffalo. He received 2802 votes, was represented by two different writers (Michael Preston of CougCenter and moi), and is now the last anthropomorph standing in the fiercest mascot death match the world has ever known.

So congratulations Butch T. Cougar! What are you going to do next? He’s going to own the PacHoops facebook cover image for the foreseeable future:

butch and ernie

We shall call it Butch and Ernie.

Thanks to every writer who contributed to the Death Match. They were witty, brilliant, swift, and terrific. This is them:

MikeMontgomery

Mike Montgomery Had One Losing Season. Ever.

Mike Montgomery retired on Monday. It was about thirty-two years after he began and in that span, only once (once) did a team he coached lose more games than they won.

Mike Montgomery is a winner. But you don’t need someone who never played for him and who spent most of his adolescence rooting against his best teams to tell you that. There’s a multitude of others willing to tell you that at the drop of a hat. I read tweets from Stanford Basketball and Cal administrators and reporters and Mark Madsen and the rest of the universe.

He had one losing season in his entire career.

He was (is?) the Pac-12 basketball ambassador. He leaves as a retread returns but Ernie Kent can’t and won’t hold a candle to what Montgomery accomplished in the basketball universe. And that’s not a knock on Kent. Perhaps the contrary. Montgomery leaves as the third most successful Pac-10ish coach of All-Time (behind just Olson and Wooden, good company). In just six seasons he’s Cal’s third winningest coach. He notched a Final Four, an impeccable air on nonchalance, and some of my favorite court-side manor:

Furthermore, he’s accomplished the greatest Cal troll job of All-Time. Every UC-Berkeley outlet has had to gush and effuse about the man’s career and, in doing such, has been forced to be highly complimentary of Stanford. Well played, Mr. Montgomery.

And did I mention he only ever had one losing season amongst thirty-two seasons? I did so I should tell you at least a little bit about it. The 1992-93 Stanford Cardinal. Consequently, it was the last time he wouldn’t participate in a post-season tournament. They beat only USC and Oregon in conference play and were led, in scoring, by Brent Williams. According to a LinkedIn search, Brent is now in either wealth management in Seattle or software development in the Bay Area. Your 92-93 Cardinal, folks.

But because this is March and emotions run high. Because we’ve already covered the McDermott story and the Bo Ryan story, I’ll close with the fact that he’s coached with his son, John, for the last six years. That’s something special. We both know it. I don’t know what’s next for either of these men but I know they’ve come to end of an exciting, unique, and bonding road.

I mean, every damn time this stuff gets me.

Congratulations to Mike Montgomery on a career well led.

Ernie Kent

Why I Like the Ernie Kent Hire

When a change is made it’s usually because a change is needed. I understand that’s simple logic but often if something isn’t working – and particularly if it’s trending downward – then a a new direction is needed. Not an adjustment.

What I’m getting at is I like the Ernie Kent hire. Maybe I don’t love it but that’s a strong word I save for only the prettiest girls on Tinder. Kent is not Ken Bone and the job is now Ernie’s. He’s a big personality – have you listened to him call a game – and is likely to bring excitement to a program seemingly devoid emotion.

If you’re curious his pedigree, how many games he’s won and the programs he’s led, I encourage you to read the WSU release. In short, he was pretty successful at Saint Mary’s (90-80) and cyclically good at Oregon (235-174). A graph:Screen Shot 2014-03-31 at 11.08.10 PMYou can see the ebbs and flows of the regime where ultimately the lows outweighed the highs and he wound up at the Pac-12 Networks.

Alas, the point of this is to note that excitement is what Kent can bring. It’s perhaps his most marketable quality in taking over a program that never won a Pac-12 tournament game under Bone. The Cougars finished last in attendance this year with a putrid 2800 fans filling the Palouse.

And speaking of filling the Palouse, some talent wouldn’t hurt. Since 1986, the WSU program has recruited and developed six players into the NBA draft. In his thirteen seasons in Eugene, Kent recruited eventual NBA draft picks. Talent wins in March (see: Wildcats, Kentucky) and WSU is in dire need of it.

No one – except perhaps Kent – will be quick to call Pullman a recruiting hot bed or destination location. But that’s Kent’s challenge. One Tony and Dick overcame as well as Kelvin Sampson. It’s what Bone most struggled with.

And so it begins: The Ernie Kent era in Pullman. Change was needed and so a 180 was made. Tactical and quiet becomes gregarious and big. Welcome to the Coug show.

What shall it bring us?

APTOPIX NCAA Final Four Michigan Louisville Basketball

PacHoops’ Nine-Steps to Normalcy (and November)

If you’re reading this, know that I am well. Also know that I’m not entirely sure who your team is. What your favorite player did when the clock approached it’s termination and took the season with it. But I do know that more likely than not, your season is through. Tough. To help us, I’ve developed a nine-step grieving process which is really just nine things that you’re going to go through while still bumming out about a shot that never left someone’s hands.

It’s swift madness this tournament and game. From where I’m sitting now I wouldn’t have it any other way. Except every other way.

PacHoops’ Nine-Steps to Normalcy (and November):

  1. Run away – Particularly if you’re sitting in the stadium. Contemplate a 6-hour drive home no matter the hour and energy levels. This is a common tactic whenever feelings are felt and while it’s not long-term effective for anything, it’s an option.
  2. Pretend it didn’t happen - Whether you ran or didn’t you can act as if your favorite pastimes are crocheting and new restaurants. Those are safe and never hurt you. The final outcome of a basketball game never makes the new Asian-fusion bistro taste bad. It can, however, make everything taste bitter.
  3. Text it out - Turns out, you’re not alone! Group text is annoying as shit when it comes to figuring out Friday night plans but it’s cathartic as anything when you’re commiserating. Besides,  maybe one of your buddies has a totally new and fresh perspective on why you lost. That’s always fun.
  4. Know and comment on next season – Eff that. College basketball is brief. It’s fleeting. It celebrates one shining moment. You have to capture those moments as best you can. This moment was captured by someone else. But talk a lot about next season starting yesterday.
  5. Read a message board - Just to feel better about yourself and discover that despite how you’re feeling, you really do have perspective.
  6. Close your computer and eat a cookie - I did this and the white chocolate macadamia nut cookie was a little dry but the fudge cookie was to die for.
  7. Watch one interview. Alone - You cannot risk what might be witnessed by a third party so do this by yourself and make sure that you at least know the gist of what’s going to be said. Absolutely no surprises in this time. Then allow the one interview to spiral into all of the interviews and commentaries and replays. We both know it was going to happen so just do it.
  8. Read an article about the coach of the team who beat you and how he took his dad – as a birthday gift – for 30 straight years to the Final Four and how that dad passed away in August and that the first Final Four that coach will ever coach in will be the first he won’t attend with his dad - Yes.
  9. Appreciate the season -  I’m serious on this one. To salvage your irrational fandom, to give yourself a reason to come back, find the ‘remember whens.’ Mention it in that group text or YouTube it. Recall everything that ever got your team into position to even break your heart and know that anything that does break your heart was probably worth it because everything before it made your heart swell. From the edge of your seat to the hallows of defeat, that’s a season. That is sports. For better or worse. Now have another cookie.
arizona-elite-eight

Arizona’s Elite Meeting with Wisconsin

Amongst travel and remote activity, I’ve managed to learn so much about the Wisconsin Badgers. Granted, it helps that my road trip-mate is a born and raised Milwaukeean and lives and breaths Bob Uecker, cheese, Lambeau Field, believes Ryan Braun really did have herpes, and nearly died when he saw this photo:

ArodBoryanI mean, if you’re a Wisconsin boy does it get much better than that? There is, of course, this side of the reality coin:

Anyhow, with that sort of travel companion, I was bound to learn a lot about the Badgers. This is what I’ve got: They. Are. Disciplined. And they’ve been to the Rose Bowl. Arizona has not.

It’s a Bo Ryan team and they cherish possessions like you cherished that Ken Griffey Jr. Rookie Card when you were eight. In eleven seasons, Wisconsin hasn’t ranked outside the top 10 in offensive TO% but twice. And in those two campaigns they were still top-20. This game will not become the Gonzaga game.

But in some regards it could. The Badgers take lots  of three pointers. About 40% of their shots are from deep. When they miss – and they don’t often, making them at a 37.6% rate, 51st in the nation – it results in long rebounds which can turn in to run outs. Otherwise read as transition offense. Otherwise read as Christ Air (if you’re reading with Wildcat eyes). Against San Diego State (good riddance) the ‘Cats struggled to get out and move and you may have noticed their offense was less than explosive. They worked for those 70 points but two of the biggest plays of the game and momentum swings came on transition buckets like the one at the head of this post. Wisconsin, with their long misses, ranks 308th in percentage of shots coming in transition (23.6%); or, right about what Arizona has averaged since Brandon Ashley’s departure. Opportunity, Wildcats.

One point to keep an eye on – as the Badgers love them some possessions – would be the offensive glass. I’m not entirely sure it’s a strong suit of Arizona 2.0BASHLEY but it certainly isn’t a weak point. Wisco hits the defensive glass at the 10th highest rate in the nation. This ensures their opponents don’t get extra opportunities to score.

At it’s simplest form, this is a match up of an elite offense and an elite defense. It’s also just an exciting match up, period. Let’s run down the lineups:

AZWiscoYou and I both know that the above means very little. But it’s still a pretty interesting glimpse into the similarities – personnel-wise – that these two are running. It also interestingly highlights that you can have similar outputs and accomplish those outputs in very different ways.

The Badgers are going to try and shoot their way to Dallas. Not quite at the level of Michigan, but those aforementioned three-pointers are going to be what gets them to North Texas or sends them home. They make 40% in wins and 30% in losses. In either scenario they are taking about 20 three point-jumpers per game. For context, Oregon was shooting nearly 26 threes in losses and just 18 in wins. Did I mention Wisconsin is disciplined?

And how, you might ask, does Arizona defend the three? Sean Miller’s pack line has allowed the 11th lowest percentage of shots to come from deep – just 26.5% of opponent shots. This does not bode well for Wisconsin. But the converse could hold true. Wisconsin, as we’ve noted, is good at making these shots and one way to beat the pack line is to shoot out of it. Ask Oregon who became just the 7th team to make 10-or-more three pointers against Arizona since Sean Miller became coach.

Moving inside the arc, when the Badgers do lose, it’s because someone attacked. Teams that beat UW have gone at them and taken the ball to the rim. It also hasn’t hurt that what few threes those teams took (average 12), they made (average 6). When Wisconsin wins, the opposition’s three-pointers look more like 4-15. They’re not going to let you take or make many threes, we’ve established this. So when life gives you lanes, make layups. Rondae Hollis-Jefferson certainly has, of late.

There will be one elite offense and one elite defense in one elite game.

Maybe we call this one net cutting practice?

wane

WANE: D.A.N.C.E

Honestly, Spencer and I did one of the better NCAA tournament previews you will ever hear. Unfortunately, only Spence, myself, and our respective computers and perhaps roommates will know. Media malfunction. Or user error. This is a basketball blog not a semantics debate so let’s cut to the hoop: D.A.N.C.E. Sure we missed the overall preview but if coaches keep their jobs with Sweet Sixteen appearances, then consider us the Steve Lavin-now-Johnny-Dawkins of podcasts. Listen:

 

Now, as for The Table. This was a tough one to wrap this week. Road trips to Anaheim aren’t conducive to writing but are conducive to content. More to come.

Instead I can just effuse briefly on what a great day it is for Pac-12 basketball. I know it’s “just” the Sweet Sixteen but there’s something to be said about having three teams in it. There’s something to be said about coming from where the Pac-12 did over the past few years and where it is today. That something is: Bravo. The proverbial bull’s horns have been grabbed and the Pac-12 is reminding a lot of people that there is basketball – good basketball – played after 10 pm EST.

A dear friend, new to New York, has noted his increased Pac-12 defense. He’s a Wildcat, as good as they get, but knows he must sing the praises of Kyle Anderson and Dwight Powell for the world to notice his TJ McConnell. Or just to get Kyle Anderson the attention he deserves. And maybe he doesn’t want it? Maybe he – and Dwight and TJ, too – don’t care who’s saying what about them but rather just the simple fact that they’re playing, and 42 other teams are jealous.

And how sweet would it be to watch Stanford and UCLA battle – round 4 – inside the Memphis’ FedEx Forum for the South Regional title. Has a nice ring to it, no? Unless you’re CBS.