March 20, 2010

Scott Ostler, of The SF Chronicle, tried to channel “Hoosiers” when he wrote:

“If it’s an intimidating aura the Butler Bulldogs are going for, they’re going to have to do something about those Indiana haircuts.
Star guard-forward Gordon Hayward, center Matt Howard and 18-year-old (or so it appears) coach Brad Stevens all feature inch-long,
it’s-hip-to-be-square hairdos right out of “Hoosiers.”
Perfect, because Butler’s home gym is the same hoops barn you see in the classic movie’s championship game.
Hayward, a 6-foot-8 sophomore, is as likely as any player in the San Jose sub-regional to wind up as a first-round NBA draftee, maybe this year, but the
drafting team will have to get past the fact that he strongly resembles TV-kid Opie, though Hayward’s not as menacing.
Butler came to the tournament riding a 20-game win streak, longest in the country, but early in the game Thursday, UTEP looked like it might provide the wake-up call for Butler’s dream.
The unimposing Howard, who rocks a wispy mustache, was guarding UTEP’s monstrous (6-9, 275) and Mohawked Derrick Caracter. On one play
Caracter simply bowled over and trampled Howard, dunking to give UTEP an 8-5 lead. Butler suddenly looked slower and smaller than it looked at tip-off.
And beatable.
Maybe the big stage was too big for the Indy kids? The day before, chatting with the media, Butler reserve guard Zach Hahn commented enthusiastically, “California is a great city.”
And San Jose is a great country, where wide-eyed lads from the Midwest can overcome stage fright and steal the show.
Butler was down by six at the half but won the second half, 50-26. It was impressive.
Butler guard Shelvin Mack turned his first name into a verb in the second half, shelvin’ the Miners by hitting 6 of 7 three-point bombs.
True to their Hoosier roots, the Bulldogs won with fundamentals. Pass, pass, pass. Help, help, help. I’d like to peek into the Butler playbook and see if they
have “The Old Picket Fence.”
Hayward had a sub-par offensive game, missing open jumpers, scoring just 13, but he held Miner forward Arnett Moultrie to three points. In the second half, when the Miners went to a full-court press, Butler broke it easily by giving Hayward the ball and letting him dribble through double-teams.
“You know, you’ve got a 6-9 guy that can handle, pass and throw it over the defense if need be,” said Stevens, who is actually 33. “That’s hard to find.”
That’s why Hayward projects as a mid- to late first-round NBA draft pick.
It’s a cute story. Hayward’s dad, also Gordon, was a dandy 5-10 point guard, and he married Jody, who is 5-10. Naturally dad raised little Gordon to be a
point guard. Surprise!
Butler lists Hayward as 6-9, but he confesses he is 6-8. He knows if he lied it might cost him his truthiness merit badge. He’s no slick hipster, this kid. He
says things like, “Butler players want to be thought of as always doing the right thing. That’s what the ‘Butler way’ is all about.”
Hayward grew up a Purdue fan and never knew Butler existed, even though the family lives near Butler. Mom and Dad are Purdue alums, and they
“brainwashed” little Gordon. But when it came time to choose a school, Butler seemed like a better fit. Maybe Purdue didn’t pursue Hayward like Stevens did.
This is Stevens’ third season, and the first prep kid he recruited as a head coach was Gordon Hayward. Together they’re 55-10. And they’re 21 for the last 21.
How could Hayward say no to a coach who went 30-4 his first season? And to a fellow Hoosier, yet, hailing from the possibly fictitious town of Zionsville.
The comments on Hayward from NBA scouts are stuff like “not explosive,” and “no quick burst.” But they all really like him. Must be the haircut.”

Even though they’re out of the tourney, Bob Ryan had this to say, in the Boston Globe, about the effort put forth by Robert Morris:

“Sometimes it’s all about the losers.
Sometimes it’s not about the team that wins. It’s about the team fighting the odds that does everything but win.
Sometimes it’s about the kid who played with a fury (and intelligence) bawling away at center court after his team has come up 3 points short, in overtime.
Sometimes it’s about the fact that, though we all wish it were so, in sports, justice has nothing to do with anything.
In sports, it’s ultimately about results, and so we had South Region second seed Villanova 73, 15th seed Robert Morris 70 after 45 minutes of compelling NCAA Tournament basketball.
No offense, Villanova, but you did not deserve this one.
“I give these guys tremendous credit,’’ said Robert Morris coach Mike Rice. “They really believed, not just in each other, but the system and what we do and the game plan. [They] showed a lot about what as individuals they are and a lot about this team. I’m proud to coach them.’’
The kids from the unpretentious Northeast Conference took it to the team from the mighty Big East. They led from 11-9 right through 58-56 with 1:08 left in regulation. They led by as many as 9 in the first (28-19) and, more importantly, they led by 8 (55-47) with 4:19 to go.
But the team that lost its starting point guard to a season-ending knee injury in December would lose two more point guards via personal fouls in a span of 51 seconds, and thus when it most needed qualified direction, it had none.
Trying to preserve their lead, the Colonials followed an aimless possession with back-to-back turnovers. But as bad and frustrating as that was, what made things even worse was that Villanova was getting the benefit of far too many officiating doubts, as indeed it had been since the ball was thrown up. The Wildcats’ game-tying “comeback’’ consisted of seven successful free throws — not all of them legitimately awarded — and a Mouphtaou Yarou power layup. “You can’t come away with nothing,’’ Rice pointed out. “I don’t remember the possessions per se but I know we didn’t get what we wanted. And it’s just one of those things. You’d like to have a floor general on the floor in the last four minutes. But that wasn’t the case.’’
Does Villanova mentor Jay Wright really know how fortunate he and his team are to be playing Saint Mary’s tomorrow? Maybe.
“I’m going to start by saying how impressed I was with Robert Morris,’’ he said. “What a great team. What effort. They were tough defensively.
“They battled us on the boards. They were smart. I think we might have had a little more depth. I don’t know if we had better players. We had more depth.
The point guard was a big difference. They deserve so much credit.’’
Wright had something else at his disposal that Rice didn’t have. He had a pair of 6-10s, the aforementioned Yarou as well as a slender shot-blocker named
Maurice Sutton, whom Wright shuttled in and out in the waning minutes as part of an offense-defense swap.
Sutton may have saved the game with 21 seconds to go in OT, his team leading by 3, with a where-did-he-come-from block of a drive by Robert Morris’s effervescent 5-6 guard Karon Abraham, a freshman the Big Boys all ignored, because, you know, what are we going to do with some 5-6 kid?
Well, guess what? Karon Abraham was the best player on the floor. The freshman from Paterson, N.J., had a game-high 23, including a banked 4-point play from an impossible left baseline angle with 11:05 left that gave his team a 42-34 lead and raised the little hairs on the back of Jay Wright’s neck. It was a very serious “uh-oh’’ moment.
“We came from 18 down in the first-round game against Clemson two years ago,’’ Wright explained, “and in the course of the comeback, Scottie Reynolds
made that exact same shot for a 4-point play.
“It was bang, three, and one, and I remember thinking, ‘We got this.’ Now I’m thinking the other way. That’s exactly what I’m thinking.’’
And the little guy put an exclamation point on things when he made an acrobatic baseline drive less than a minute later. The 5-6 reject was flat-out abusing them.
“He doesn’t know he’s 5-6 and however many pounds,’’ said Rice. “He’s got such heart and toughness, and he outworks everybody.’’
You might be saying, “I thought you said they ran out of point guards. What about the 5-6 kid?’’ That’s the funny part. He may be 5-6, but he’s just a guard, period. He’s not a point guard at all, which is another reason why the Big Boys shied away from him.
He and his teammates were outworking Villanova; that’s for sure. They grabbed a 28-22 halftime lead, in part thanks to a 21-10 rebound edge and in part because they were in complete synch at both ends of the floor. Villanova, meanwhile, was a garbled mess of a basketball team. Reynolds, for example, was en route to shooting 2 for 15. Other than driving and dishing, the Wildcats didn’t seem to have much of an offensive idea.
In the end, there were just too many things conspiring against Rice and his Colonials.
Reynolds received NBA superstar treatment, scoring 15 of his 20 (all after halftime) from the foul line. As a bona fide college star, he also saved his one
successful three for a big moment, creating a 67-61 edge with 1:15 left in OT.
The longer the game went, the more you knew it would be decided on depth and talent, which was best exemplified when, trailing by 3, Abraham broke
through for a sure layup, only to have Sutton make a play that would never have taken place in the Northeast Conference.
“Are you kidding me?’’ thundered Rice. “We kept getting to the basket, and they’re 6-11, one of their tremendous athletes makes a play. In our league, if
Karon gets a shoulder on a guy like that, it’s 2 points.’’
They tried, oh how they tried. They played the way they’d been taught and they didn’t take one second off. They made Villanova earn it.
“I’m never going to forget us playing Villanova, almost beating Villanova, up by 6 with about two minutes left,’’ said senior forward Dallas Green, the one
who wept at center circle. “I’ll never forget that experience. That’s it.’’
“I’m glad we went through that, and we’re going to learn from it,’’ said Wright. “And I’m glad we had the will to overcome their will, which was outstanding.’’
So Villanova survives and advances and Robert Morris goes back to Pittsburgh.
It takes a lot for a 15 to beat a 2. In its heart, Robert Morris will always believe that’s exactly what it did.”


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