New Orleans – Thursday night’s games in the Big Easy featured the drama and intrigue most expect from the Sweet 16. I was blessed to see it all firsthand.
A few observations:
-The Jimmer is better than you think, but he’s no future NBA star.
NBA minds wonder how he’ll defend at the next level, which is amusing because few NBA players are known for their defense. I could see if the year was 1990, but the next level in 2011 is all about offense. And that’s why the BYU product will get called to the podium at Madison Square Garden in June’s draft. Plus, he’s not going to be a four-quarter guy. He’ll play in spurts due to his limitations.
In the right system – think New York, Phoenix or Dallas – he’ll have opportunities to score in transition. He’ll knock down threes from the corner while some team is occupied with Amare Stoudemire and Carmelo Anthony. He’ll be used sporadically and strategically so he’s not caught in a clutch situation that demands man-to-man defense.
I was actually surprised by the way Fredette put the ball on the floor against Florida. One first-half sequence shook press row.
The Jimmer drove to the cup, ran into a pair of Florida defenders, hesitated and then burst to the glass for the layup. And he did it all with his left hand. It was an impressive effort for the shooting guard. He also hit a three-pointer from Baton Rouge.
Despite the highlights, I believe Fredette’s draft stock probably dropped in the NCAA tournament. He plays in a system that exists to create scoring opportunities for him. He won’t have that luxury at the next level. So you have to look at what he does in one-on-one situations.
And against Florida, he was subpar in those scenarios. Kenny Boynton helped lock Fredette up early. He didn’t have room and he suddenly became a distributor, not the potent scorer he’s been this season. In the second half, when the Gators really frustrated him, Fredette was crafty enough to get to the rim. But when he arrived, he threw up awkward shots against Florida’s long athletes.
Those are the shots he’ll have to complete at the next level if he’s going to be anything more than a role player. And I just didn’t see a lot of evidence to make me believe that he has the ability to finish at the rim against bigger, stronger, quicker athletes in the NBA.
-Florida might win the national title.
Yes, Florida needed overtime to finish BYU. But Florida really struggled from the free throw line and missed chances to turn Thursday’s victory into a blowout.
I think the Gators have developed the chemistry that’s now allowing their talent to blossom. Ohio State is still the favorite. But I won’t be surprised if this squad makes a run to the title game and upsets the Buckeyes.
They have length and athleticism inside. And they’re very quick on the perimeter. They swarmed college basketball’s top perimeter scorer. So they have the confidence now that they can stop any individual they face in their upcoming games.
The difference will be their three-point shooting. They’re good without it. But if this versatile, fast, athletic team can spread the floor with a solid perimeter attack, they can beat any team that’s still dancing. Alex Tyus (19 points, 17 rebounds) looked great against BYU. Don’t sleep on the Gators.
-Butler does it again.
I covered last year’s Final Four. It was easier then to understand the Bulldogs’ success. Gordon Hayward was clearly a five-star player at the collegiate level. They had a lottery pick and a strong supporting cast. But without him, they lost to UW-Milwaukee and other Horizon League foes this year. They weren’t expected to make another run.
But their experience from last season has carried them to another Elite Eight. Where’s the NBA buzz for Shelvin Mack? Some team is going to grab that kid in the second round and he’s going to pull a Ty Lawson by outperforming a bunch of the guys picked ahead of him. He has the confidence that a point guard needs at the next level. That jump shot with under a minute to play killed Wisconsin’s rally and momentum. And he made it look easy.
It wasn’t a rushed shot. And it was very predictable … Butler goes to Mack often in those predicaments. But the Badgers couldn’t stop him.
Matt Howard was impressive, too. Don’t be fooled by the goofy hair or silly quotes. He’s the real deal. And he’s been the toughest frontcourt player in the NCAA tournament thus far. With those two leading the way, the Bulldogs can make another Final Four run. And that would be amazing.
-Badgers’ offensive struggles hurt them again.
Wisconsin’s offense has been criticized all year. It’s one of those schemes that seems fine when it works but if the Badgers are off, it’s easy to see its weaknesses.
The Badgers lived and died by the three-point shot this year. So when they couldn’t nail those shots against Butler, their offense didn’t work.
Tough finish for Jon Leuer, who went one for 12 in his last college game. And Jordan Taylor, another Minnesota product, finished strong but he really seemed rattled early when Butler applied pressure in the first half.
-ESPN.com’s Rick Reilly knows how to slap a man’s shoulder. Every time Jimmer made a big shot, the bestselling author would lean over and slap me on the shoulder. He probably doesn’t know my name. But there’s an imprint of his palm on my right shoulder.
-Random celebrity sighting: Wendell Pierce, a.k.a. Bunk from “The Wire” watched both games. He’s from New Orleans. I think I was the only guy on press row who recognized him.
-Former NBA glue guy and New Orleans Hornets forward P.J. Brown attended both games, too.