Good afternoon from beautiful Albany New York, where I will be courtside for these games:
#12 VCU v #5 Saint Mary’s
#13 Iona v #4 UConn
#12 Drake v #5 Miami
#13 Kent State v #4 Indiana
Obviously, the game of interest for many of our readers will be the UConn/ Iona one, featuring a Big East squad and an Iona squad that people love for their consistent winning ways. And also their head coach, Rick Pitino, who has become a person of interest for the Red Storm fans.
Pitino, despite being at Iona, draws national attention. The media has gravitated to him and his assistants, hoping to hear him let something slip about his future. Meanwhile, UConn fans are demanding more from their coach, Dan Hurley (once also the object of St. John’s fan affections).
For my money, I’m interested in how Miami handles a key injury against a very experienced Drake basketball team. News, notes and reflections below.
3:40 left in the first half and St Mary's has done a really good job of finding effective offense against VCU. Mostly because of the offensive rebounds.... They're shooting one of 10 from outside the arc but 9/16 inside. VCU is hanging with them by doing much better at shooting the ball, they're at about 50%.
Halftime 29-28 Saint Mary’s on top of VCU at the half. 11 from VCU Rams’ Ace Baldwin, 10 from Saint Mary’s Gaels’ Mitch Saxen. It’s weird watching a live game with a TV feed of another game, but Xavier/ Kennesaw is pretty exciting.
5:00 left. Despite leading by less than 10, Saint Mary’s seems to have the rhythm of this game locked. VCU is reduced to jumpers, some from the midrange. Michell Saxen has really good hands in the post offensively, and has been an excellent defensive presence on the defensive end. The Gaels’ continued strong work on the glass - 11 of 26 possible offensive rebounds - is keeping them in control. They’re not sped up at all by VCU’s press.
63-51 final, Saint Mary’s moves on to face the winner of...
Expect some weird whistles, a lot of up and down action, and some violent collisions in the paint. Hurley (UConn) and Pitino (Iona) have a lot of fans in the press,
It is very much like a UConn home game complete with booing for the Iona players and coach.
U16 Nothing louder than when the hometown Andre Jackson throws down the dunk in transition for UConn. Huskies are up 14 to 11 on the Gaels, under 16. Iona looks game for this one, though.
Fun fact! Neither coach has won an NCAA game with their current team! (Gotta get there to lost in the first round, though, which is a step up from where #sjubb has been.)
U12 Iona is leaving gaps in transition, when the Husky ballhandler is on one side of the floor and the receiver runs the channel on the other side. UConn has been able to cut through the Gaels for shot opportunities. The Gaels also need to muck this game up a bit - it’s been too smooth for UConn.
U4 Andre Jackson is a 28% 3-pt shooter, and Iona is giving him room - guarding the drive vs the shot. Donovan Clingan is an absolute monster in this one defensively, and has 4 points and 6 rebounds. I cannot tell if Iona is running the Huskies to exhaustion, but they are certainly better when the pace is up and down, despite allowing the Huskies to get deep in the paint. 32-30, Iona Gaels lead Connecticut right now.
39-37 at the half, with Iona in the lead. UConn might be lucky to be that close, shooting 14/36 overall (39%) and 7/20 inside the arc. This is a really good game. UConn’s size has been an advantage, as well as the 3-point shot making, but Iona is dictating the tempo, fast, then slow, then fast. The Gaels are leaving what look like openings for the Huskies, and then disrupting shots near the basket. That takes quickness and energy... can they keep it up?
U16 The adjustments Dan Hurley made at the half have been really effective. Huskies are getting the ball into the paint and abusing the Gaels. Pitino is having a lot to say to his players when they come off the court. 52-43, UConn up on Iona, and with a 15-4 run, Huskies are batting the Gaels around like tennis ball.
3 min left. UConn has continued to dominate, and there is a malfunction with the net. The fine folks at the MVP Arena are quickly fixing it, many fans have moved on to go home or check out the Fan Fest outside on Pearl Street. The scribes wait to hear from the losing coach, of course. And the winning Dan Hurley.
Now, it’s 7:55 in the evening and time for Miami vs Drake, which may be the best game of the day, fingers crossed. Drake and Miami seem to have traveled decently well, but the rest of the arena is a little sparse. Probably spaces where Indiana fans soon will be.
U16, Drake is up 5-3 on Miami. Not a barnburner, but I am digging the matchup inside. Darnell Brodie (Seton Hall transfer) is a huge man. Norchad Omier of Miami is using his quickness to get to the rim, and Brodie cannot keep up. Yes, Miami isn’t converting these shots. But the ideas look good.
U12. Miami is trying to pull an Iowa State here. Shooting 8% from the field. They are 1/12 from the field, missing like they haven’t practiced in this arena, and the 6/8 from the line is doing a LOT of work for them now... as is their defense to keep them in the game. Drake is 4/11 with five turnovers.
Drake calls a timeout. Drake has gone nearly five minutes without a field goal, has had a shot clock violation and flirted with a second, and calls a timeout. Drake is good, but they needed to put a little more distance between them and the ‘Canes, but they did not. It’s 13-9 Miami and bad winds are starting to blow.
Here’s a thing that popped up in the news feed from a reputable source. Some deal to bring a Rick Pitino to St. John’s?
NEW: St. John's intends to finalize a deal with Rick Pitino to hire the Hall of Famer as its next head coach, sources tell FOX Sports.— John Fanta (@John_Fanta) March 18, 2023
My story: https://t.co/9tILHTkAnK
Oh yeah, back to the game, note that Fairleigh Dickinson made Purdue’s guards look like teenagers with no heart, now that FDU became the second 16-seed to defeat a #1 seed.
Miami’s Isaiah Wong just put on a clinic on how to stick with a pivot foot until you can get a shot off. I’m impressed. He made the shot and drew the foul.
44-41, Drake still in the lead but Miami closing in.
U4. I *think* Miami is trying to put backcourt pressure on Drake in the last three possessions. TBQH they were really BAD at it. Drake has generated two open threes and really were not bothered. Miami pulled the defense back to pressure in the halfcourt and that’s been better. Drake has extended the lead to 55-49 on Miami.
2 minutes left and things have gotten tight. Drake is falling apart. Should never have faded the Miami pressure... or they found some better ways to deploy it on the inbounds passes. Tied at 56, 2:20 to go.
1:11, Miami forces a shot clock violation, still tied at 56.
Miami wins 63-56. Drake scored 1 point in the final 5:40 of the game. The Drake Bulldogs folded like a crepe, played like a team that was straight cooked.
Indiana/ Kent State is up next. Hoping that they can end the evening with a solid matchup.
U16 Trayce Jackson-Davis has 2 blocks, an assist, is double teamed on every possession; he has a well of gravity on the floor for Indiana. But the Kent State team with the awesome names (Cli’ron, Miryne, Sincere, Malique, Voncamer) have ridden 5 Voncamer Davis points to a 7-7 tie at the U16.
U12, Indiana leads 19-14. Kent State has gotten wise to shepherding Jackson-Davis into a corner where they can trap him when he gets the ball. Kent State is 5/16, but they clearly want to play ugly and with effort.
Half, Indiana leads 35-27. Kent State is 6/26 inside the arc, 4/12 from deep. But they play hard and have 10 offensive rebounds. The Golden Flashes led by Sincere Carry’s 9 (on 11 shots). The Indiana Hoosiers got 13 from Race Thompson. Trayce Jackson-Davis scored 10 with 7 rebounds, 4 assists + 3 blocks. Indiana is 2/7 from outside the arc, but has earned 9 free throws.
Just under 16 min left. Kent State took a time out, then got the U16 TO about 30 seconds later. Kent State has definitely lost the plot, driving into the teeth of the Indiana defense, but losing the ball. Indiana is flowing and Kent State is trying to hit 9-point layups or something. 10-6 to start the half by the Hoosiers; it’s 45-33 Indiana.
Time to call it a night. Indiana is able to run and is up 71-57.