Posts Tagged basketball

Wichita St. a No. 1 seed? They’ll have to prove that in March.

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What has Wichita State done this season to warrant a No. 1 seed?

Point is that what happened last season does not count. It may count in the polls (to some voters). But any computer, or aggregate of rankings dismisses last season’s accomplishments out of hand. Why? Because last season is just that last season.

It’s unfortunate for the Shockers that some of their marquee non-conference games featured opponents who probably weren’t as good as their original billing. It’s unfortunate that Creighton left the Valley for the Big East. It’s unfortunate that Valley foes like Northern Iowa and Missouri State aren’t up to par this season. All of that plays into the notion that there is no objective basis to put the Shockers on the No. 1 line. None.

You can look at:

Ken Pomeroy’s rankings – http://kenpom.com/.
The BPI – http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/bpi.
The Massey Composite, which features basically every single ratings metric known to man – http://www.masseyratings.com/cb/compare.htm.
The (gasp) RPI, which is a terrible metric for ranking individual teams – http://espn.go.com/mens-college-basketball/rpi.

None of these have the Shockers on the 1-line. None. And a majority have them clinging to a No. 2 seed. It isn’t about how good Wichita State it. It is about what, under the circumstances, they will never be able to do to prove how good they are.

They’ll probably get a No. 2 seed in the Midwest with Kansas as the No. 1 seed. Hell, K-State may get an 8 or 9 in the same region. One thing is for certain, come March none of the crowing either for or against the Wichita State will matter, only what happens on the court.

Note: This may qualify as a “hot sports take.” I sure hope not.

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K-State’s Rodriguez steps up when the lights shine brightest.

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Angel Rodriguez steps up for a crunch-time layup against Oklahoma.
Photo by Bo Rader

Big-time players step up and make big-time plays.

It’s been an adage ever since then Miami Hurricane football player Santana Moss said something similar after doing just that years ago.  Saturday afternoon in Bramlage Coliseum Angel Rodriguez, the Miami native and Kansas State point guard who plays with a confidence that sometimes may seem larger than his ability, added his own chapter to the legacy of the oft-used phrase.

His No. 16 Wildcats had seen visiting Oklahoma whittle their once 14-point lead down to just seven with 6:24 left to play on a layup by OU forward Romero Osby. Osby blocked a Rodriguez attempt on a desperation drive on K-State’s next possession.  Rodriguez, up to that point, had shot just 1 of 11 from the field. He was 0 for 3 from three-point range.

Kansas State needed a spark.

When the Wildcats got the ball back, the score remained the same, and Rodriguez didn’t waste any time extending the K-State lead.  He took the ball on an outlet from Thomas Gipson, made his way down the right side of the court and with a hesitation move a step inside the free-throw line, blew past Osby and OU forward Cameron Clark for the score off of the glass.  54-45.

Then, after Oklahoma’s Steven Pledger and the Wildcats’ Will Spradling traded a three for a long two, and two free throws by Amath M’Baye cut the K-State lead six, Rodriguez went to the paint again. This time within the framework of K-State head coach Bruce Weber’s motion offense.

Receiving a pass at the top of the key Rodriguez turned down a screen from Gipson to the left side, crossed-over Oklahoma guard Buddy Hield and drove past a host of Sooner defenders for his second lay-in in a row. 58-50.

Osby answered with a jumper to cut the lead back to six, but on the ensuing possession Rodriguez sank his first three-pointer of the game, an off-the-dribble 23-footer with seven seconds left on the Wildcat shot clock. 61-52.

Three huge buckets in 3 minutes 43 seconds of game time that were vital to holding off head coach and K-State alum Lon Kruger’s Sooners.

That isn’t so say that Rodriguez wasn’t heavenly in other aspects of the game before his shots started falling.  He was tough on defense, picking up three steals and frustrating the Sooners by constantly hedging on screens and getting in the grills of OU ball-handlers without a hint of the foul trouble that has plagued him in recent weeks.

He was conscious with the basketball, committing just one turnover and dishing nine assists in 32 minutes of play recognizing the hot hands of teammates Rodney McGruder, Shane Southwell and Spradling, who carried K-State’s scoring load for much of the game. None of which were bigger than a highlight-reel drive, stop, between the legs dribble and dish to a cutting McGruder whose reverse lay-in gave the Wildcats a 64-54 lead with 1:29 to play.

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Rodriguez celebrates late in K-State’s 69-60 win over Oklahoma on Jan. 19, 2013.
Photo by Bo Rader

“Big-time players make big-time plays in big games,” was the quote from fellow Miamian Moss, and it was apt to describe Rodriguez’ effort that helped K-State to it’s 69-60 win over Oklahoma on Saturday, securing K-State’s fourth Big 12 win this season, and an undefeated conference record.

Rodriguez displayed every ounce of that Miami toughness, that moxie on Saturday. It’s why Louisville head coach Rick Pitino once coveted him on the recruiting trail, why some K-State fans worried that former K-State head coach Frank Martin might take Rodriguez along with him to South Carolina last spring, and why Weber has so openly said that the Wildcats need Angel to play well and for a high amount of minutes to find success.

With a mammoth Tuesday-night showdown with No. 4 Kansas in Manhattan that will grant one Sunflower State team sole possession of first place in the Big 12 looming, Rodriguez should have ample opportunity to, once again, step up to the challenge soon enough.

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What about the champions?

Dirk Nowitzki, Jason Kidd and Jason Terry celebrate NBA Championship. Photo courtesy of D. Phillip/ APof

Since the final horn sounded in Game 7 of last year’s NBA finals there have been a myriad of noteworthy storylines with regard to the current NBA season.  Could Phil Jackson and Kobe lead the Lakers to another 3-peat?  Would the new look Chicago Bulls dethrone the Celtics in the east?  And finally, where on earth would Lebron James land?

James, in a media-event, like none of us had ever seen before, shocked everyone when he announced that he would be, “taking my talents to South Beach” to team up with Dwayne Wade, fellow free-agent signing Chris Bosh, and the Miami Heat.  The “Big 3,” then followed that with a self-aggrandizing welcome party in Miami and immediately become one of the most polarizing squads in professional sports history.

Oh, by the way, Tim Duncan and the Spurs were still really good.  Superman was still manning the middle in Orlando.  Oklahoma City had a dog in this fight too with their young and talented team led by Kevin Durant.  Carmelo Anthony teamed up with Amare Stoudamire in New York as well.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, was talking about the Dallas Mavericks.

Dallas quietly went 57-25, good enough to tie the Lakers for 3rd in the Western Conference.  They headed into the playoffs as an afterthought.  We’d seen this Mavs team before, win a good chunk of games in the regular season, then fold in the playoffs.  Dallas has been nearly universally thought of as soft by NBA media types for years.

Heading into the playoffs more pressing matters than the Mavericks were at hand.

This years playoffs were supposed to be all about the Lakers, and whoever would emerge as the beast from the east.  MVP Derrick Rose* had led Chicago to the best record in the League and became the sexy new pick to advance out of the East.  The new “Big 3,” in Miami and the older version in Boston were geared up for a finals run as well.

*Dirk was a distant 6th in the 2011 MVP voting despite leading Dallas to a 55-18 record in games that he played.  The Mavericks were just 2-7 in games he missed due to injury.

Miami, Boston, and Chicago dominated first round opponents.  Los Angeles had little trouble with New Orleans.  Oh yeah, the Mavs advanced too, heading into a second round series against Kobe, Phil and the Lakers.

Then the Lakers tanked and were eliminated in 4 straight.  Nevermind Dallas, the team who laid the beat down to the defending-champs.  This was all about the collapse of LA.  This was about the Lakers losing.  At least that is how the media portrayed it.

On other side of the bracket Lebron James looked like the greatest player in the world as Miami dominated series’ against both Boston and Miami.  All of a sudden the NBA playoffs became some sort of Miami Heat invitational.  All the hoopla, all the fireworks from the off-season were paying off.  Miami looked primed to kickoff their Dynasty in high-fashion.  It was “Miami is going to win the NBA finals, and I’m not even sure who they are playing.”

Has there ever been a team (Dallas) who put on such a great playoff run and remained so under-the-radar?

After crushing the Mavericks in game 1, Miami took an 88-73 lead in game 2 with just 7:14 left to play.  It came on a 3-pointer by Wade, right in front of the Dallas bench.  As Dallas head coach Rick Carlisle called a timeout, Wade and James celebrated.  Wade held up his shooting hand for a good 5 seconds after the shot hit, stared at the Dallas bench as James came over also scowling, and mock-punched Wade in the chest.

Bad move.

Dallas closed the game on a 22-5 run, spurred on by aging veterans Jason Terry and Jason Kid they closed the gap to just 4 points with just over 3 minutes to play.  Dirk took it from there, scoring the Mavericks’ final 9 points of the game, and Dallas escaped with a 95-93 game 2 victory.

Still, after the game it wasn’t about the comeback.  It was all about Miami and how they choked it away.  Many in the media dismissed it as an event where Dallas just had nothing to lose, Miami took their foot off the gas.  No way the Mavericks could stand toe-to-toe with Wade, Bosh and King James when the pressure was on.

Miami then took a hard-fought game 3, the first in Dallas, and claimed a 2-1 in the series.  The question at that point wasn’t who is going to win the series, it was only a question of who (Wade or James) would emerge as the Finals MVP and best player on the Heat.  Wade was looking like he did in the 2006 Finals in which he torched Dallas for over 30 points a game en route to the Championship and MVP trophies.  James seemed to shrink in the 4th quarter.  No mention of Dallas who came back time after time in the game on numerous spectacular plays by Dirk and was only a shot away from sending it into overtime in the closing seconds.

When Dallas took game 4 86-83 to even the series at 2-2 it wasn’t the Mavericks who were the story. Nor was it Nowitzki, who battled a 102 degree fever, en route to 21 crucial points including a driving lay in to put Dallas up by three with 15 seconds left to play.  It was James, who scored just 8 points in the game, that gained the attention of the media.

Wade and James’ stole media attention again with their mocking of Nowitzki’s fever.  Heading though the tunnel prior to game 5, both players covered their mouths with their shirts and began coughing and laughing.  Nowitzki dismissed their act as, “childish.”

Still, not many really believed that Dallas could take the series.  Lebron was sure to bounce back with a phenomenal game 5, right?  Wrong.

Dallas took game 5, behind incredible, team-wide 3-point shooting. The Mavericks went 13-19 from deep for the game.  Everyone chipped in.  JJ Barrea, the waterbug-quick guard drove the lane as well as hit from deep, Dirk hit an incredible high-arching 3, Jason Kidd hit timely jumpers.  Jason Terry, who had himself been non-existent in the fourth quarter of finals games but still found the confidence to call out James in between games 4 and 5 hit two nail in the coffin type threes to put the game out of reach.  James notched maybe the least impressive triple-double in NBA history, fading once again in crunch time and while Wade was in the locker room getting treatment for injury.

Even with the 3-2 series lead many felt that the series was still Miami’s to lose.  They still had both the remaining games at home. and if they could nab a win in game 6 history has been very kind to home teams in game 7s.

Jason Terry had other plans.

Dallas’ veteran guard again backed up his claims of Lebron James having trouble keeping up with him, scoring 19 first half points as the Mavericks took a 53-51 lead into halftime.  From that point on it was a team effort, Kidd, the 17 year NBA vet, made timely jumpers, dished assists, and played uncanny positional defense. Barrea pestered the Heat with his quickness.  Terry kept hitting. Even little-used big-man Mahimi got into the act with a key offensive rebound and buzzer-beating elbow jumper to close out the 3rd quarter.

But it was Nowitzki, the MVP, who stepped up in the 4th quarter after having an otherwise pedestrian game.  Dirk scored 10 points in the final quarter, to close out the championship.

And with the final seconds winding down.  With players untucking their jerseys.  Heat players looking bewildered. Heat fans emptying the aisles.  Mavericks players and fans rejoicing in the stands, on the court and via satellite in Germany and Dallas.  Nowitzki walked of the court and into the tunnel in a manner quite synonymous to his team’s entire championship season, quietly, and under-the-radar.

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