Saturday, January 01, 2005

Defeat Snatched from the Jaws of Victory

Today, New Year's day, the Jackets fall in OT to Kansas 70-68 in a rematch of the NCAA tourney game earlier this year. Emotional, hard fought, controversial, frustrating, it was all that.

So what do you say? All you can say is that this was big-time college basketball, with an NCAA tourney feel to it. What do you say when your opponent's offense consists of nothing but outside shooting - How are you supposed to feel about a team that won the game by hitting garbage shots like crazy in the 2nd half? What do you say when your team is leading by 16 in the 2nd half, and KU's first lead comes in OT? Not a whole lot you can say. I'll try though.

1. This was a classic college showdown. Two top 10 teams. A re-match of last year's OT tourney game. This one goes OT also. Their #1 guy was out. Our #1 guy goes out. The guards battle back-and-forth. It clearly had a tourney feel to it.

2. This is a hard loss to take considering Kansas didn't get their first lead until overtime. It's hard to take when KU was doing NOTHING on offense but launching bombs. Folks, KU was 35% from 2pt range, but 46% from 3pt range. They had open looks, but many of those makes were with hands in their face. What else can you do? This was frustrating because the officiating was terrible. Talk about some critical calls at the end of regulation. Three charging calls in the span of 1 minutes. What on earth??? But I'm already starting drop my frustration as I type this. I'm not going to sit here and blame the refs. We got away with some stuff too.

3. Jarrett Jack clearly is a PTP'er. That kid just steps up and takes the game on his shoulders in the clutch. Jack finishes with 26 points (10-12), 4-4 from FT line, 2-3 from 3pt range, 5 boards, 3 assists, 2 steals, but 4 to's. By the way, Jack played 42 minutes. That's a lot.

4. Here's the problem. The rest of the team was 13-45 (29%). Luke Schenscher ends the day going 1-7 with his one made basket a 3-pointer. Tell me that's not freaky. In fact, thanks to 7-8 from the stripe, Luke is the only other player that finishes in double-figures. How many open lay-ups did we miss? Enough to cost us the game. Isma'il 3-10, Bynum 2-10, Elder 1-4, Dickey 0-3.

5. Anthony Morrow. Wow. Talk about cold-blooded. This kid has one of the quickest releases I've seen. And he hit 2 critical shots in OT. I am pleased with what I see in him and his development THIS season will be critical as we are a team of streaky offensive players. He has clearly staked his claim as a legit outside threat. He also seems to have a little fire in him, which was evident when he ripped away a rebound from a KU player. He did have a small defensive lapse or two, but overall solid on the defensive side of the ball also.

6. Road worries are back. Well, it's hard to win on the road, but last season we seemed to break through with some big road victories. However, away from ATL, the Jackets are 1-2 this season - the lone victory a 1-point squeeker over UIC (who, as it turns out, really aren't that good). Should we be worried? Yes. Yes we should. But this is a marathon not a sprint.

The Jackets outplayed Kansas today and deserved to leave town with a win. Bottom-line is that winning this game was not critical to the long-term mission. The game could mean the difference between a 1-2-3 seed, but getting better is what matters right now. More than anything, these are the type games that prepare the young guys for the limelight of March. The team may have lost, but they grew. They will benefit from traveling to KU and playing in their house, win or lose. Make no mistake about it. The loss will hurt a bit, but the 24 hour rule is in effect. Time for the REAL season to begin - and that is ACC play. This is where boys become men. Blast-off is Thursday night against Miami. Let's hope BJ Elder's strained hamstring is only a minor thing, but those things can be nagging injuries that never go away. Hope that's not the case.