Stuck in Lubbock
Wednesday I was forced, due to weather, to spend an entire day in Lubbock, Texas, as my flight to Bristol, Conn., (via Hartford) was cancelled and so my airline rebooked me for Thursday morning. Stuck in my hotel room with my laptop and a great big flat screen in my hotel room (I highly recommend the brand-newish Overton Hotel), I watched a lot of ball by day on my Synergy program and by night on the family of networks. With no games to call, no radio show to do, no kids to put down for the night, no wife to negotiate "Modern Family" to the bedroom TV so that the man cave can be hoops central, I was left with peace, clarity and a much needed break in midseason. Here are some questions I have received in my inbox (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter account (@gottlieb show) and my answers to those quandaries.
Q: What went wrong with Duke against Florida State?
A: First, this team is good, not great, without Kyrie Irving. Additionally, the Blue Devils really do not have anyone who creates shots for others, so they have to manufacture points off their defense (FSU kept the turnovers down and made Duke a half-court team), set plays and on offensive rebounds. It is important to mention that FSU is an elite defensive team with NBA-level length and strength. Leonard Hamilton has body after body to throw at you and Chris Singleton is an unselfish future pro who was too big and strong for Kyle Singler in the post. Also Derwin Kitchen, 24, played his best game as a collegiate player, scoring a career-high 25 points.
Duke also failed to utilize Mason Plumlee and he failed to be able to get and hold position at the block; Duke never looked inside and instead hoisted 35 3-pointers; Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins looked a little overwhelmed. Curry struggles to guard out on the floor and Dawkins and Curry do not have the next gear to create a shot off the bounce. The Devils can still win a national title, but Pitt, Syracuse, Texas, UConn and Kentucky have similar athletes who can defend the Devils.
Q: Why has Texas Tech not won under Pat Knight?
A: Let me start by saying that United Spirit Arena is awesome. It is big -- too big for a west Texas football city, in my opinion -- but as stunning now as it was 11 years ago when it opened.
There are myriad factors that have left Pat Knight in limbo. First, the arena being too big creates a perception that the place is half empty -- which it has been, even when Coach (Bob) Knight was there -- and players want to play where there are crazy fans. Second, it is a tough fit for Pat, whom every coach I know really genuinely likes as a person and who has an honest approach with players that they should like. But following your father is never easy, especially when you are not in Indiana, where everyone knows you and has known you your whole life. Following your father after he won more games than anyone in the game is also not easy, and then following your father when he left the cupboard bare, additionally problematic. Now in fairness, Pat was on staff, and they have missed on some players that are just not of the caliber of the rest of the league. Baylor, Texas, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and A&M have all made tournament runs and have had NBA draft picks, while Tech has had none.
The other facilities are decent, the practice gym in the arena is on par with Oklahoma State's at the bottom of the league. The locker room will be last on that list when K-State gets its locker room done, too. Additionally Tech, while not a small town, is isolated, and there is not the day-to-day interaction with recruits and AAU coaches like there is with A&M (Houston), Baylor (Dallas) and Texas. Can you win there? Yes, and Tech has a very solid recruiting class coming in. But that does not make it any easier with Knight, a guy who probably felt like he could not turn down the job, and Tech, which probably did not really want it to be his first job, being a weird match that might not make it with Gerald Meyers, its longtime AD, set to retire.
Q: Why are Wisconsin, Notre Dame and Texas A&M so difficult to beat at home?
A: There are all types of man-to-man defense. Pack defense is what Dick Bennett used to take his 2000 Wisconsin team to the Final Four. Essentially it is like a zone off the basketball in that every player on the weak side of the floor (the side without the ball) has at least a foot in the lane. Though every player, unlike a zone, has a man to guard, the idea of a pack is that one player must beat the entire team. It is boring and can be beaten by teams that shoot the ball well over a defender and in transition but, with experienced players who trust each other and are physical, it's tough to play against, especially on the road.
The California Golden Bears recently lost freshman starter Gary Franklin to a transfer. Franklin, a highly touted top-100 ESPNU signee, was leading the team in shots, and was third in scoring and minutes. Starting in his place is Brandon Smith, a recruited walk-on, who was given a scholarship this year, but doesn't have the same talent as Franklin on the surface.
Cal promptly lost to Arizona by a bucket, beat ASU on the road and beat Washington State in OT at home, despite 36 from Klay Thompson. Franklin took terrible shots at times, but was given a lot of rope by Mike Montgomery because Monty thought he was one of the few players he had who could make shots consistently and could create some off the dribble. Cal is playing better basketball with Smith at the point than it was with Franklin.
Franklin, who is a good student from a good family and is a hard worker, thinks he can be a point guard, and Baylor doesn't really have one now or in the stellar recruiting class it has coming in. Franklin, however, suffered an injury to his left arm as a kid, has never really been able to go left because of it and does not have a point guard's mentality. He wants to improve like Ekpe Udoh did off of transferring, and BU needs a point guard, but I think they may both have oversold each other.
Minnesota has also seen gains in its team play since Devoe Joseph transferred to Oregon. Joseph, who is a tremendous all-around talent, had no real position with the Gophers, and he took away minutes from Al Nolen and Blake Hoffarber, the two leaders of the team. Without him, Minnesota has nearly beaten Ohio State and beat Purdue at home.
Penn State has been better playing fewer guys since Taran Buie, half brother of Talor Battle, was suspended. Battle had gotten back to his old self of shooting from any and everywhere, while Jeff Brooks and Andrew Jones are getting more touches without the high-maintenance Buie in the lineup. The frosh held the ball too much, and obviously caused some chemistry issues that PSU seems to have overcome. The Nittany Lions recently had back-to-back home wins over Illinois and Michigan State, respectively.