Thursday, March 22, 2012

And Your Little Dog Too: A Preview of Friday's Game

This is the third preview in our series, following Anchorman for SDSU and A Few Good Men for Georgetown. We had to go a bit further back in cinematic history to find a good match for Kansas - back to the 1939 specifically. I have most of the Wizard of Oz memorized at this point, thanks in large part to a younger brother who watched the movie on a loop from age 3-7 or so. 

For a movie made 40 years before I was born, it holds up remarkably well (granted its been 6-7 years since I watched it so this might be my memory lying to me). But I sincerely doubt you are reading this for my take on the film's place in cinematic history, so lets just get on with the preview.

"It really was no miracle. What happened was just this..."
NC State starting playing its best basketball at the perfect time and got a few favorable match-ups last weekend. The Pack being here is absolutely not a miracle, just improvement coupled with a good draw.  (And yes, this is the line that starts the Munchkinland song. Don't pretend you don't love to watch 100 little people in ridiculous costumes sing & dance.)

"Lions, and tigers, and bears! Oh, my!"
Thomas Robinson is essentially a lion, tiger and bear all rolled into one fearsome player. Only 6'9", he's at his best when in the paint but he's an effective player anywhere inside the 3-point line. He was ESPN's player of the year and has been on just about every All-American team you can find. He's a proficient scorer who also shoots 70% from the free-throw line (so fouling him isn't doing yourself any favors) while being the best defensive rebounder in the nation. Stopping him will be the Pack's biggest challenge by far.

"You, my friend, are a victim of disorganized thinking. You are under the unfortunate impression that just because you run away you have no courage; you're confusing courage with wisdom." 

To Richard Howell, CJ Leslie and DeShawn Painter. Don't foul out in the first five minutes trying to defend Robinson. Sometimes, its ok to just let him score and save the battle for another possession. The worst thing these guys can do is put themselves on the bench with fouls. If Thomas de Thaey has to play, the Pack is in a world of trouble.

"Now that's a horse of a different color"
The polar opposite to Robinson is Kansas point guard Tyshawn Taylor. The senior is the best 3-point shooter on the team (though he ranks third in 3-point attempts), hitting over 40% of his long-range shots. Combined with Robinson, the two represent close to half of the Jayhawk offense every night. Lorenzo Brown will probably draw Taylor for most of the night, and his job will be to keep the quick point guard in front of him and not allow him to create off the dribble of the Jayhawks.

"Next time she squawks, walk right up to her and spit in her eye. That's what I'd do."
I'm just going to assume this is how people dealt with annoying women in 1939 - eye spitting. I would not suggest this exact strategy against the Jayhawks, but I think the attitude is on the right track. Kansas is as dominant as any team in the country inside the arc - they rank 12th in 2-point FG% and 2nd in 2-point FG% defense. But the Pack isn't a 3-point shooting team and cannot become one in this game (Georgetown demonstrated how this is a bad idea in its game against the Pack), so the Pack needs to go inside regardless and not allow the Jayhaws to alter their offensive game plan.

"Just try and stay out of my way. Just try! I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!" 
Lorenzo Brown has officially become the guy you want to have the ball late in a game - just get out of his way. Especially with a late lead, Brown can wait till late in the shot clock and then attack the basket with an infinitely higher success rate than anyone on the roster. He's also slowly developed something of a killer instinct. Pack fans should feel relatively at ease when the ball is in his hands late in a game.

"Frightened? Child, you're talking to a man who's laughed in the face of death, sneered at doom, and chuckled at catastrophe... I was petrified."
To Pack's perpetual fear - the free-throw line. Despite advancing to the Sweet 16 it continues to be a problem, one that nearly cost them the Georgetown game. Lorenzo Brown sort of conquered his fear by going 5-for-7 down the stretch against Georgetown, but Scott Wood missed one of two down the stretch and the Hoyas hit some 3s and kept the game interesting until the final shot. If for no other reason than the heart healthy of its fans, State needs to start making those late free throws more consistently

"Why, anybody can have a brain. That's a very mediocre commodity. Every pusillanimous creature that crawls on the Earth or slinks through slimy seas has a brain." 

What's much rarer than a brain is basketball IQ, something that Mark Gottfried has been instilling in his players all season long. On defense the Pack isn't missing assignments or losing focus. On offense they tend to take good shots more often than not and the careless turnovers have gone down as the season has progressed. For years the team, collectively, had no brain whatsoever but Gottfried has done a complete lobotomy with essentially the same roster.

Oh, you liquidated her, eh? Very resourceful!   

The greatest resource in a basketball game is a possession, and the Pack needs to hold onto each one against Kansas. Luckily the Jayhawks aren't particularly adept at taking care of the ball or turning opponents over (they are right around 20% in both categories on the year)

"I've a feeling we're not in Kansas any more."
No, the game isn't in Kansas but its not far away either - its an easy car trip for the students and fans that regularly attend Jayhawk games. So expect a decidedly pro-Kansas crowd for the Pack on Friday night. They had the advantage of playing two true neutral court games to open the NCAA tournament but they'll be in much more hostile territory this weekend.

"There's a storm blowin' up - a whopper, to speak in the vernacular of the peasantry."  

The Pack has received a storm of coverage, hype & discussion in the last few days as it prepares to take on Kansas. All that hype is great exposure for the program, but you have to worry about how much its impacted the team's preparation and mindset going against Kansas.

"Look what you've done! I'm melting! melting! Oh, what a world! What a world!"
Kansas is one of the four or five best teams in the country on paper. They've won 11 of their last 12 games. They have two All-American caliber players. You can't assume that Kansas will come out and struggle the same way they did against Purdue. If the Pack wants to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time since 1986, they need to play at a new level.

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