Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Postgame Shootaround: Maui Invitational

So last night in Maui turned out completely unlike what I predicted in this space 24 hours ago, as UConn and Kentucky managed to win and provide us a Cal vs. Cal championship game, with Michigan State and Washington playing the consolation game for third place. Without further ado, my musings on the Hawaii hysteria:
  • If you don't know, now you know.
Kemba Walker gave us another superhuman outing with 30 points against the Spartans, limiting point guard counterpart Kalin Lucas to just 10 as Sparty was forced to have Draymond Green carry the team on his back. If you had told me Walker would be averaging 30.3 points per game, I would have called you crazy more than once; but the Bronx native is getting the job done for Jim Calhoun and will have freshman Brandon Knight to contend with tonight.
  • Speaking of freshmen...
Knight isn't even the best first-year guy on his own team. That honor is befallen upon Terrence Jones, whose 16 points and 17 rebounds helped Kentucky defeat Washington to advance to meet the Huskies. Jones continues to average a double-double in each contest, with his last one coming against a team he almost ended up playing for had it not been for a last-minute change of heart that saw him take his game to Lexington in an attempt to bring the Wildcats their first national championship since 1998.
  • The players may change, but the results remain the same.
I once again have to take a line from my friend and former colleague Joe Benigno, who has used this tag in many WFAN rants about his beloved New York Jets, because it applies to John Calipari. For all the great talent Calipari recruits on an annual basis, (even though most of it leaves for the NBA in that same time period) one thing has remained an unfortunate constant for Coach Cal: Free throw line inefficiency. The Wildcats could have beaten Washington by double digits if they made foul shots down the stretch as opposed to the 72-67 final margin. However, in typical Calipari team fashion, foul shooting down the stretch almost doomed the Wildcats in much the same manner that it cost Calipari's Memphis team the national championship back in 2008.
  • So who wins tonight?
First off, Michigan State actually gets off easy playing Washington in the third place game, as Kentucky (despite their charity stripe shortcomings) would have been a tougher and much harder to predict matchup for the Spartans. Tom Izzo needs only to focus on Isaiah Thomas and Matthew Bryan-Amaning even though Lorenzo Romar spreads the love, as noted by his five players averaging more than 10 points a contest. Where outside shooting was key for Sparty last night, tonight the biggest determining factor is guard play. Kalin Lucas needs to step up and show the world the player he has become over the last three years as opposed to the lackluster 10-point effort against UConn. Michigan State will win, but Washington will make the Spartans earn it.

In the championship, Kentucky has the marquee freshman talent, but they don't have the man who, if the season ended today, would be the Naismith and Wooden Award winner. Expect Kemba Walker to run circles around the Wildcat backcourt tonight. I mentioned UConn is a lot better than people give them credit for, even their own coach. I asked Jim Calhoun last month at Big East media day whether or not UConn would be a "sleeping giant," and he honestly didn't know. Tonight, the giant gets awakened and UConn solidifies themselves as more than just an also-ran, with Calhoun once again getting the better of Calipari in this latest chapter of their storied rivalry.

No comments:

Post a Comment