When enough reader emails come in on topics worth exploring publicly, I'll put a post together for the site. This is one such time. As always, you can email me any time with questions or comments. I'll never use someone's full name in a post unless they explicitly okay it.
Before returning to Texas and Stanford, a bizarre edition of 'Let's Email'...
In what I have to consider one of the oddest occurrences in four years of blogging Texas sports, I actually received more emails this week about UCLA than I did the Longhorns. Why? Well... perhaps it's not so odd, considering the Bruins have been something of a national story in college basketball over the past month. It started, coincidentally enough, with UCLA's game against Stanford at Pauley Pavilion, which I attended and wrote about. Less than a week later, UCLA won a thriller over Cal in a game that featured another controversial ending and one of the most amazing end-of-game shots I've ever seen.
On top of that, the Bruins necessarily are a story in this year's NCAA Tournament, being a #1 seed and one of just a handful of teams that most of us can imagine winning it all. And, they just won a nail biter of a second round game that featured another controversial call at the end. Add in my announced distaste for Howland-style basketball, and UCLA's been a hot topic in these parts. (Certainly in my inbox, anyway.)
Let's dive in:
Whatever you think of the officiating (more on that later), I don't quite agree that UCLA's path to the Final Four is the easiest. For starters, they joined Memphis as having a legitimately tough second round game. The Aggies were inconsistent this year, but at their best, a team that matches up well with the Bruins. And as we saw, they took UCLA down to the wire. Contrast that with Kansas, for example, which wasn't at all tested in its second round game.
Looking forward, here are the remaining four teams in each region, with Pomeroy rank in parentheses:
|(2) UCLA||(1) KANSAS||(5) NORTH CAROLINA||(6) MEMPHIS|
|(61) W. KENTUCKY||(46) VILLANOVA||(6) WASHINGTON ST||(13) MICHIGAN ST|
|(18) XAVIER||(3) WISCONSIN||(7) LOUISVILLE||(11) STANFORD|
|(19) WEST VIRGINIA||(29) DAVIDSON||(14) TENNESSEE||(10) TEXAS|
If Kansas gets by Villanova, it will have reached the Elite Eight without defeating a single Top 40 team. They'd certainly have to earn it with a win over Wisconsin, but as well as I think they match up with the Badgers, I think the Jayhawks are the team that got the best draw. UCLA's hardly got the terrifying road to San Antonio that teams in the South and East must take, but for my money, Kansas is the team most fortuitously positioned.
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To be honest? I completely, totally defer to Bill Simmons on anything related to the NBA. If Simmons says Collison's a better pro prospect, then as far as I'm concerned, he is. And hell, if we're talking pro prospects here, I'd take Derrick Rose over Collison and Augustin.
While we're on the topic, who said anything about hating Collison? I've emphasized here and elsewhere that I think he's a fantastic point guard and one of the two reasons (along with Love) that I take UCLA seriously to win it all this year. He has great size, outstanding defense, a lovely jump shot, and solid penetrating ability. The most tiresome comments I've received the past two weeks have been from UCLA fans inventing hatred that doesn't exist. As though they can't imagine a sports fan could be sophisticated enough to both (a) prefer Augustin for his team and (b) think highly of Collison.
My preference for DJ as Texas' point guard has absolutely nothing to do with disliking Darren Collison. Among a bunch of players I don't enjoy watching play, he and Love stand out as the ones who play beautifully. I admire them both.
I think UCLA wins that game whether that foul is called or not, so I don't think it's worth getting too upset about. I didn't think the officials did a good job with that game from start to finish, either, so getting hung up on one call doesn't seem particularly fruitful in this instance.
I thought Sloan was clearly fouled on the play, but A&M lost that game throughout the second half as its offense disappeared. I will say this, though: you're right that the A&M bloggers handled that whole thing with class. And so did many UCLA fans. But any Bruin fan who tries to tell you that there wasn't a foul on that play is just spinning. That was a hack, and has to be called.
On the whole, though, I'd emphasize that the officials didn't call that game well at all, including a terrible call on Darren Collison not long before. Both teams were hurt by poor officiating.
Several points here:
- When you're wrong, you're wrong, and the line about naming a quality NBA guard that's played under Howland was quickly dispatched of by the Bruin faithful.
- I wish I hadn't bothered with the line at all, because it's totally unnecessary to the point I was making, which remains valid: Ben Howland offenses are painfully difficult to watch for many fans. His teams remind me a lot of Kelvin Sampson's Oklahoma teams. (Minus any sketchy violations; Howland appears totally on the up and up.) Sampson's Sooners were big, they were physical, they played tremendous defense, and they rebounded the hell out of the ball. They also dragged Big 12 basketball into the mud with one ugly slugfest after another. They were good, but they were hard to watch if you weren't a Sooner fan.
- The one point I'm glad you get that not everyone seemed to understand was that there are a lot of ways to be an effective offense. One such way is the Howland way, which is to make a lot of points in the paint, while limiting turnovers and doing a first-rate job with offensive rebounding. Another way is the Bob Knight way, with lots of motion, solid passing, and high percentage shooting. I don't dispute that both ways are effective ways to help your team win basketball games. I only submit that the Howland way - like the Sampson way - is ugly to watch.
- Along the same lines, not enjoying a Howland-style offense says nothing about my opinion of his team's strength. Last year's Texas team was a true joy to watch on offense, but we defended like a junior varsity high school team. Which is one of the biggest reasons why UCLA played in the Final Four and Texas lost in the second round.
Amen to that. I'd love another game against the Bruins this season. If you're one of those fans who believes that it's either "your year" or not, this one's really felt like "UCLA's year" of late, hasn't it? Dramatic comebacks, buzzer beaters, and a healthy number of breaks going their way have UCLA playing as a team that believes it can win any game at this point. That kind of confidence is damn important in a single-elimination tournament, and no matter what you think about what's happened prior to this point, UCLA is a dangerous, confident team.
But before I'll indulge in rematch dreams, I gotta return my focus to Houston. Stanford, Michigan State, and Memphis all scare me to death.
Long live March Madness.