College hoops is here! And it kicked off in a big way for those of is who are in Indianapolis.
I did not plan on going to the Champions Classic. I have a couple acquaintances who I know could have easily gotten me decent seats. But L’s city basketball tournament was starting last night, at the exact same time as the KU-Michigan State game, so I decided to be a good dad and stick with her.
Until I got an email late Tuesday morning with the offer of a free ticket. I scrambled to make sure L could get a lift to her game and then jumped all over that ticket. That was a wise course of action, as I had a solid night downtown.
One of my acquaintances is a very well connected booster. I met him and some other friends at the team hotel for a drink before the game. While I was enjoying a Woodford Reserve I got to meet several people who work in the basketball office, a few coaches wives, a member of the coaching staff, and a member of the broadcast crew. I acted like I was supposed to be there and listened quietly as folks discussed the search for a new football coach, past coaching searches, and how each of the last two KU athletic directors made colossal fuck ups that brought KU football to its current lowly state.
That was fun!
On to the game. I was sitting with a guy I know very casually, who lucked into some great seats when his brother-in-law got called away on business. We were 15 rows off the floor, behind the basket on the KU bench end of the court. Other than the basket being in the way on some plays, they were great seats.
Even better was how KU play for the first 30–35 minutes of the game. A steady, controlled effort that built a big lead and answered every Michigan State run. Those last five-plus minutes did get a little ragged, and I think KU’s relative inexperience really showed in that stretch. But MSU never had the ball with a chance to tie, so I’ll chalk this up as both a nice W and a learning experience.
Oh, and I got off my Indy losing streak! KU had played here two other times in the 15 years I’ve lived here. I saw both games, and both were losses: to Michigan State in the 2010 Sweet 16 and to Kentucky four years ago. Throw in driving to Louisville to watch the Elite 8 loss to Villanova three years ago and it had been a long time since I had seen KU win a game in person.
Quintin Grimes looked really good in his first real collegiate game. He seems like one of those kids who can do anything he wants, but at the same time never tries to do too much. And he still has clear room for improvement in his game. Despite kind of a ragged stat line, I thought Devon Dotson was really good, too, at least on offense. MSU really didn’t have an answer for his speed. He just needs to learn how to be smarter in using that speed.
Dedric Lawson seemed to have an off-game, yet he still went for 20–14–6, which is a hell of a night. That came without hitting any jump shots, missing several relatively easy shots at the rim, and struggling against MSU’s size. You always wonder about these high-tier transfers, who come in with impressive stats at another school, and how they will fit into a different system where they’re surrounded by other great players. But, man, he is legit.
So plenty to feel good about in a game that shouldn’t have been as close as the final score. I was worried about this one, figuring although KU is more talented, they are new to each other where MSU was loaded with experience. KU needs to find consistent shooting, teach the freshmen how to play defense, and build a solid bench. But there’s a lot of promise with this squad.
It was fun looking around before and during the game and seeing how many former KU players were in attendance. I had confirmed sightings of: Scot Pollard, Raef LaFrentz, Mario Chalmers, Sherron Collins, Brandon Rush, and even Joel Embiid who is in town to play the Pacers tonight. I saw another guy who played way back in the day but couldn’t place his face. I couldn’t decide it if was Roger Morningstar or other dude from the 1970s.
Fortunately we were in a mostly KU section. The building was probably 75% crazy Kentucky fans. I still have PTSD from the experience against UK in that building four years ago, so I was really glad we weren’t playing them. We were pretty much opposite the one big MSU section, although there were a few Spartans scattered around us. It is always hard to tell how the fans are split when you’re in the middle of one of those groups. I would say KU and Duke probably had about the same number of fans, each spilling into two sections, slightly more than Michigan State.
My favorite UK fan was sitting two seats from me. He was a good ol’ boy who would constantly take videos while narrating them. I really should have asked for his YouTube name so I could check them out. He was also hitting the beer pretty hard. He ordered two Bud Lites and two “Coolers” Lites, acting like he was buying for his friends and then proceeded to pound all four. “Coolers” Lite might be my favorite name for a shitty beer I’ve ever heard. He was all fired up for the 30 minutes between games and the first five minutes or so of the UK-Duke game. Then he got sullen and quiet and just complained about all the “pussy ass calls” the refs were hitting his Cats with. Pussy ass is an interesting phrase, too.
OH MAH GAWD DUKE. Holy shit, man. Seriously, they put on the most impressive layup line I’ve ever seen. They had skinny white dudes throwing down 360s. Zion Williamson was casually throwing lobs to people. He’d occasionally toss down a dunk of his own, but would often stop at the 3-point line and drain a 3. The UK fans were all over him. “Fall in love with it!” is what the drunkard to my left said every time he took a 3 in warmups.
And then the damn game started. Kentucky just ripped KU apart in this game four years ago. It honestly looked like KU was a D2 team bussed in for an exhibition game that night. I think what Duke did to UK last night was even more impressive. It was downright scary. Every single piece Duke has looked amazing. And the scary thing is, they weren’t really playing good team basketball. They just overwhelmed Kentucky with their raw talent. RJ Barrett and Cam Reddish were just putting their heads down and beating people one-on-one, or pulling up and drilling threes. It’s not like Kentucky doesn’t have talented, athletic kids on their team. The scary thing for the rest of the college basketball world is that if Coach K can get his team listening to him and playing together, this Duke team could be untouchable. Us Duke haters can hope they either never click and are always trying to just play hero, AAU ball, and that good coaches will find tendencies to exploit and ways of slowing them down. But good Lord they looked amazing. And I only watched the first half!
My favorite Coach K moment of the night came when Kentucky was shooting free throws in the first half. It was a two-shot foul. I noticed after the first shot K jumped off his bench and started screaming at the ref nearest to him, pointing at the three-point line. A couple subs were checking in, so he had a 10–15 second break when he could just lay into this ref. My best guess was that he was complaining that one of the Kentucky guards who was standing behind the shooter had stepped over the arc before the first free throw. Again, on a two shot foul. This is like the most meaningless thing you could complain about, but K was red in the face and screaming. I guess this is part of his method – Dean Smith used to do the same thing – arguing about tiny little things to just wear down the refs over the course of the game. It seems silly and petty to me, but I haven’t won 1100 D1 games, so what do I know.
Anyway, college hoops is back! Way too early; what can’t we play these games the first week of December when the teams have shaken the rust off? But, still, the Road to the Final Four has begun.
(Oh, and L’s team won their tournament game. I was getting text updates from other parents, one of whom described the first half as a “shit show.” They were playing a team they beat by 20 in the regular season but were only up 5–4 at halftime. Fortunately they pulled away to win by 10, L scoring six, all in the second half.)
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