March 26, 2007

St. Louis: The best and worst of the Gateway City

Here are some of the best and worst things I encountered during my four days on the banks of the Mississippi.

Best Player: Taurean Green

JP's All-Regional team: Green, Lee Humphrey, Aaron Brooks, Al Horford, Malik Hairston

JP All-Regional honorable mention: Tajuan Porter, who may have had the best individual performance of the tournament so far against UNLV.

Best Cheerleaders/Dancers: Oregon - not even close. They brought the biggest and most polished group.

Best Band: Oregon - again, not even close. Better style and variety and that' s not even considering the fact that they have 9 saxes.

Best Fans: Butler - biggest contingent and while they were the closest to St. Louis, they were also the smallest school in this group. Many were still around on Sunday.

Best Coach: Todd Lickliter of Butler. Had a great game plan against Florida and almost pulled it off. While his team lost, he never lost perspective; never lost his good humor.

Best Food: Ice cream and pulled pork in the media room.

Best Drink: Beer in the frozen fish bowl at Rigazzi's on the Hill in St. Louis. It is more like an aquarium than a fish bowl. I was hoping Jaws wouldn't jump out of it. ("But, oshifer, I only had two beers (holding up three fingers).")

Worst fans: Nike poobah (it says that on his business card) Phil Knight and posse, who showed up at the postgame press conference (who credentialed these guys?) and applauded as Oregon took the podium. Bad form, but when you have more money than God, you don't care about decorum.

Worst food: Stale pretzels in media room

Worst part of downtown: Since I was last here for the NCAAs, which was two years ago for the Final Four, an entire downtown mall has closed and Lacledes Landing is half boarded up. The southern part of downtown around Busch Stadium has some places to go and things to do, but the north end by the dome is basically hotels, the clubs left at Lacledes, and not much else.

Worst engineering idea: Let's take the part of town where all the night clubs are (Lacledes) and make the sidewalks and streets out of uneven brick, so when people come stumbling out drunk at the end of the night, they have an even tougher time staying on their feet. It's hard enough to stay on your feet sober down there.

Worst question Saturday (to Oregon's Bryce Taylor): "Bryce, you guys are the champion of one of the BCS conferences. You've been in the Top 20 pretty much from January on. And yet you are the lowest seed left in the tournament. I was just wondering, do you guys feel like this year's George Mason?"

In nearly every interview I did this season, I was asked who would be this year's George Mason. The answer - from November on - was that there wouldn't be one. That kind of thing happens once every 20 years or so. That's why it's interesting. Nonetheless, people kept looking for them. Once we got three days into the tournament, any potential "George Mason" was already gone, and yet, we still have one guy looking for them. I suppose they'll ask UCLA next. Sheesh.

Worst question, Sunday (to Lee Humphrey): "Late in the first half, you actually broke the twine. Did you have any special spin on that shot?"

Humphrey: "Actually, I stuck a razor blade in the ball before I shot. We needed a timeout."

No, I made that up. I wish he'd said that. I forget what he said, but it was much more polite than it should have been.

You know, I'm still new to this whole ask questions in a press conference thing, but if I ever ask a question like either of those, I do hope someone jabs their elbows into my ribs so I remember never to do that again.

Worst question II, Sunday (to me): "Can I see your id?" Are you very bad word kidding me?? My drivers' license is old enough to drink. Look at that picture over there --->. Does that look like an 18-year-old?

Worst concept of "hospitality": The NCAA media hospitality room. Often at tournaments, the organizers will have a hospitality room for the media, usually in the media hotel. The Big Ten's is pretty good. The Valley's is terrific, and not surprisingly, it was packed every night. The Big East didn't have one at all, so far as I know. The NCAA's is open for three hours beginning with the end of the game on game nights. That's fine, but there's hardly ever anyone there. Among the biggest reasons for that is that most writers are still working then. It would seem that if they are going to go to the effort to do that, they ought to do it when people can go.

Best Landmark: The Gateway Arch. It's smaller in person than it looks like in pictures, but it's still pretty cool.

Worst Landmark: The huge Amoco sign. There's a BP station on the western edge of town that has an enormous Amoco sign on top of the building. It's so big that I don't know how the building supports it. It must be 150 feet across. And it's in this nice, older neighborhood. It couldn't look more out of place.

That's it from St. Louis. I'll see you in Atlanta next week.

March 25, 2007

St. Louis: Yada, yada, yada

That's what most press conferences are like, but there were a few notable quotes, so here they are.

Continue reading "St. Louis: Yada, yada, yada" »

St. Louis: Game wrap

After the game, I followed Phil Knight and posse out of gym as they made a beeline for the Oregon locker room.

After getting their trophy on the temporary stage, the Florida players had a big group hug (Barney would have been proud). It looked like the stage may not hold up, but it did.

The all-regional team was Brooks, Hairston, Humphrey, Porter, Green, who was the MOP. I didn't get a vote, but I can't argue much with that. It's unusual for the losing team to have more players on the all-tournament team than the winners.

The net is now being cut down since it didn't fall off on its own.

Humphrey finished with 23 to lead Florida. Green added 21. Noah also had a big game with 14 each points and rebounds.

Aaron Brooks had 27 and Malik Hairston had 18 to lead Oregon.

That's all for now, but I'll have more later from the press conferences if anything interesting is said. I'll also have my best and worst of St. Louis later on.

St. Louis: Florida repeats Final Four

The Gators finally finished it off and make their second straight Final Four appearance with a 85-77 win over Oregon. With UCLA repeating as well, it's the first time since 97-98 that two teams will be repeating in the Final Four. North Carolina and Kentucky did it those two years.

I'll be back with postgame info and reaction in a bit.

St. Louis: Porter finally finds the range

It might be too little too late (no pun intended), but Porter has finally found the range, hitting two straight threes to bring the Ducks within four with 16 seconds left. Poor free throw shooting has also helped as the Gators have missed three in the last two minutes.

St. Louis: "It ain't over yet!"

An Oregon fan behind me just yelled out, "Hang in there! It ain't over yet!" That was right before Horford bricked a couple of freebies and Maarty Leunen came down for a layup. The lead for Florida is still 6 with 1:53 left.

St. Louis: Oregon still hanging around

Oregon is still hanging around. Brooks, Hairston and Leunen all have four fouls now and are all still in the game with 4:55 left. No reason to save them.

Florida leads by six, but they are leaving a lot of points at the line. The Gators are only 13-21 from the stripe.

Porter is still looking for his first bucket. He's 0-9, 0-7 from three point range. He's not forcing - they're good shots - but on his last one, he jumped forward instead of straight up. That could be his problem.

Florida's up 70-64 and Hairston has just fouled out boxing out on Horford. There's now 3:54 left and time is running out for the Ducks.

St. Louis: Florida starting to pull away

Florida got back to back threes from Humprhrey to extend the Gators' lead to 10, although Maarty Leunen hit one right before the timeout to get the Ducks back to within 7.

Humphrey has matched Brooks with 23 points.

Hairston picked up his fourth foul about a minute ago and Catron came in to replace him. Catron's had such a tough day with fouls, I'm surprised he didn't foul the official scorer checking in. After Humphrey's second three, Hairston came back in.

It's Florida by 7 at the eight minute timeout.

St. Louis: Brooks trying to carry the Ducks

Aaron Brooks is doing it all in an effort to keep the Ducks in this game. He's up to 21 points and has seven of Oregon's 15 in this half. Joevan Catron came in and almost immediately picked up his fourth foul.

Oregon has just called timeout after a turnover and faces its biggest deficit of the game as Florida leads 59-53 with an unlucky (for someone) 13:13 left.

St. Louis: Gators extend lead a little

The credential police went by again yanking at all our credentials to make sure we belong here. Gary Parrish of corporate Big Brother CBS Sportsline said, "We can't even get peanuts in here. How are we getting in here without a credential?"

That's a reference to the fact that they don't allow food in the arena. This is the first place I've ever seen that. If we walk in with a cup the "Liquids Only!" guy checks to make sure that's all we have. I'm tempted to try to bring ice cream in and debate the guy over whether that is any less of a liquid than the ice in my drink, but I'd hate to see good ice cream get wasted over principle.

On the court, Maarty Leunen and Malik Hairston have each picked up their third foul early in the period, and Brooks just got his right after the timeout. Florida is now up six as Humphrey hits another three.

St. Louis: Florida up at half

And interesting and exciting first half, punctuated by a moment of boredom, ended with the Gators up 40-38.

Florida finally stopped turning the ball over. After having nine in the first ten minutes, they only had one after that, which Bryce Taylor converted to a dunk.

Florida also has 11 offensive rebounds among its total of 20. Oregon has a total of 12.

Aaron Brooks took over for Oregon in the last four minutes, scoring nine straight Duck points. He has 14 to lead Oregon, while Malik Hairston has 12.

Florida is led by the three point shooting of Lee Humphrey, who as four of them as part of his 14 points. Taurean Green is the only other Gator in double figures with 10. Noah and Horford are a combined 2-7 from the floor and have eight points.

Right now, our crack staff is changing the nets at both ends of the floor. They'll probably fall off altogether in the second half.

St. Louis: Is there an engineer in the house?

How many engineers does it take to change a net?

Both bands have gone through their full repertoire. The net still isn't changed.

If this goes on much longer, both teams will have to warm up again.

Pat Forde (two seats to my right) thought the guy changing it should wave the old one above his head, but he didn't.

St. Louis: Burning the nets

Lee Humphrey's latest three pointer has dislodged the net from the basket and we have a timeout while that is fixed. We've now had net problems at both ends.

Humprhey has hit 3-5 from three point range and has a steal and breakaway layup for 11 points total. Malik Hairston is up to 12 for Oregon after another nice move in the lane.

Florida is starting to look inside more - finally. I am eternally baffled by their long stretches where they seem to forget about that part of their game. Joevan Catron picked up his third foul the last time down trying to guard Noah and Aaron Brooks, who has two, is back in for Oregon.

In the time I wrote all this, no ladder has appeared yet to fix the net. We may be here a while.

Not only that, we're ten seconds from another media timeout.

Florida has pulled ahead 33-27 with 4:09 to go.

St. Louis: Oregon maintaining lead

One key development in the last segment was Aaron Brooks picking up his second foul. Malik Hairston and Bryce Taylor are picking up the slack. They are a combined 6-7 from the floor. Brooks has the only other two buckets for the Ducks.

Florida is up to nine offensive rebounds and nine turnovers.

When Al Horford was shooting free throws a minute ago, and Oregon fan behind me yelled, "You're ugly and your shoes are huge!" I guess that qualifies as an insult from a fan of Team Nike.

Oregon is up 3 with 7:50 left.

St. Louis: Oregon up now

There were some pretty athletic plays in this last segment. Corey Brewer had a nice scoop shot in the lane. That was followed by Bryce Taylor dunking over Al Horford. Then Walter Hodge tried to put one in over his shoulder and backwards, but that didn't work.

Brewer also picked up a charge and on the next possession, got tied up by two Ducks for a jump ball. Walking back down court, he had a discussion and a laugh with ref Tom O'Neill, probably about the charge, which O'Neill called.

Oregon has hit four of its last six shots and now leads by two with Noah going to the line. Florida is up to seven turnovers already. When they hold onto the ball, the Gators get good looks, but are only 4-11 from the floor so far.

St. Louis: Florida up early

Some key early stats. Florida has seven rebounds already, including four on offense. The Ducks gave up 19 offensive rebounds to UNLV, and a number like that today will probably be fatal.

Oregon has missed two of its first three three pointers, both by Friday's star, Tajuan Porter. The Ducks are only 2-6 from the floor to start the game, but Florida is only 3-9.

Florida has three turnovers already. They have been sloppy with the ball to start each of the last four halves.

The net got caught on the rim at the Oregon hoop. That net also got caught twice on Friday.

The refs have already had to tell the kids on the bench to sit down twice.

It turns out that the Oregon cheerleader that I mentioned the other day that is bigger than all the others is Ernie Kent's daughter.

Florida leads 8-5 at the first timeout.

St. Louis: Lineups being introduced - probably

The lineups are being introduced to the crowd, although we can't really hear them. The PA here sounds like the adult voice in those old Peanuts cartoons ("Wahwahwah").

It's kind of a late arriving crowd. Florida fans appear to have scarfed up a lot of the tickets that Butler and Vegas fans unloaded, but there's still lot of good empty seats and people filing in.

Right before the game, the Duck mascot was going down press row shaking hands with everyone, but he paid special attention to and got a little flirty with Nancy Armour of the AP. I expect her face started to match her red hair.

Oregon is wearing black unis, with green trim and day-glo yellow numbers. People at the top of the arch will have no trouble seeing them.

There's the tip, and we're underway.

St. Louis: Getting ready

We're a half hour before tip and the teams and refs are on the floor. The bands and cheerleaders are in place. The Oregon band is playing "Dude Looks Like a Lady." I don't know who they're talking about.

I had to use all my miles, but I got a seat upgrade for this game. I'm now sitting directly behind Len Elmore. near center court.

My old boss is working the game today. When I was a high school ref, I worked for Tom O'Neill, who assigned the games for the league I worked in south suburban Chicago. He's the referee for today's battle. The three guys doing this game did not work either game on Friday. Maybe we'll have a well officiated game today. For a change.

Both teams will start the same guys that started on Friday. Oregon is going with Brooks, Porter, Leunen, Hairston and Taylor. Florida will use Green, Humphrey, Horford, Brewer and Noah.

March 24, 2007

St. Louis: Off-day Press Feeding

It's the day after the night and before the day in St. Louis. That means two things. First, we had the off-day press conferences. Second, two other elite eight games are happening. I'm writing this one as the Ohio St-Memphis game is starting. I'm not sure I have enough alcohol in my veins to watch the Buckeyes, although you might think otherwise after reading that first sentence. It could be the heat. I underpacked. It's 125 degrees in St. Louis today (with the wind chill) and I have nothing but long sleeves.

This is a pretty Oregon-heavy note because their guys had more interesting things to say...

Continue reading "St. Louis: Off-day Press Feeding" »

St. Louis: Oregon-UNLV wrap

Among the things we learned tonight, we learned that margin of victory can be deceiving in basketball. The night cap ended up being a closer score (4 points), but wasn't really as close a game as Florida-Butler.

Tajuan Porter's final line: 9-17 from the floor, 8-12 on threes, 7-9 from the line for 33 points. Malik Hairston added 14 points and 11 rebounds and Maarty Leunen had 11 and 10.

For UNLV, they shot 28-74, a whopping 26 more attempts than Oregon, but only five more hoops. The Rebels were 9-33 from three-point range, and many of those came late. Michael Umeh and Kevin Kruger finished with 15 each.

I'll be back tomorrow with a preview of the final on Sunday, which tips at 1:40 CT.

St. Louis: Oregon hangs on

UNLV fought all the way to the end, but fell just short as Oregon advances 76-72. Michael Umeh had 8 points in the last 1:20 and Joe Darger hit a three also as the Rebels tried to make an improbable comeback. Ultimately, it was too much Tajuan Porter, who hit 4-6 free throws down in the final minute to seal it.

Oregon will face Florida for a trip to Atlanta on Sunday.

It's pretty funny to see 6'10" Len Elmore interview the 5'6" Porter after the game.

I'll be back with some postgame info and reaction.

March 23, 2007

St. Louis: Rebels not going quietly

UNLV has used a 15-4 run over the last four minutes to cut the Oregon lead to six. They just had a five point possession when Joel Anthony was fouled (bad call) on a dunk. He missed the free throw, but Wink Adams got the rebound (after a pretty big push off that wasn't called), kicked it out to Michael Umeh for a three.

Umeh has just scored again to cut it to four with 50.2 seconds left.

St. Louis: Everything just Ducky

Porter is back in the game for Oregon as they try to run out the clock on this win over UNLV. The Duck lead is 13 with just three minutes to play.

St. Louis: Porter comes up limping

Aaron Brooks hit a layup to stop a 9-0 Oregon run and then Porter hit another three to put the lead back to 14. On the next possession, UNLV finally got a hand in Porter's face and he missed a three. Worse than that, he came up limping. I don't think it's anything too serious because he came out of the game, but is just sitting on the bench. The trainers aren't working on him.

St. Louis: UNLV showing life

Joel Anthony has come in off the bench and scored six straight points to help cut the Oregon lead to 11 with 7:58 to go. The UNLV fans have stayed in the game pretty much the whole way and are especially loud at the moment. That's probably because the band is playing "Viva Las Vegas" again. Is that their fight song?

St. Louis: Ducking for cover

UNLV is starting to fade quickly in this game. The Rebels trail by 18 now at the 11:37 mark of the second half. The Ducks have outscored them 21-7 so far in the second half. Tajuan Porter has another three and 26 total. Maarty Leunen has 11, which puts the two of them just three short of the whole UNLV team.

St. Louis: Porter misses!

Tajuan Porter finally missed. After hitting yet another three to give him 23 for the game, he finally clanked one off the back iron. It then hit the top of the backboard, then the shot clock, the top of the backboard again, and then it almost went it. It wouldn't have counted of course, but when you're hot, you're hot.

Oregon leads by 15 at the first media timeout anyway.

St. Louis: Oregon extends the lead

We're not even two minutes into the half, but Oregon has started on an 8-0 run to extend the lead to 12. Tajuan Porter hit another three to give him 20 points. The Ducks are doing this with little offensive production from their leading scorer, Aaron Brooks, who only has two points on 1-5 shooting.

UNLV's only attempt from the floor so far this half was a Michael Umeh three pointer that was so strong it almost went through the backboard.

And because I know you need to know, the latest cheerleader fashion update is that the UNLV dancers have gone back to their undressed look, while half the Oregon cheerleaders changed back into yellow and the other half stayed in black.

St. Louis: Little man playing big

Tajuan Porter scored 17 straight Oregon points late in the half to help stake the Ducks to a 37-33 halftime lead. UNLV is only shooting 31% to 43% for Oregon, but they're still in the game.

The Duck mascot came over during a timeout and shook hands with James Brown, who was surprised to see him.

The Oregon cheerleaders just did the quickest outfit change in basketball history, going from fluorescent yellow to black in about two minutes. I can put my sunglasses away now. They also dance in their area while the UNLV band plays. I guess they just have to get their groove on, no matter what music it is.

Commissioner Lecrone just stopped by to say hi to the Brands. I imagine they see each other a lot in Indianapolis.

The UNLV dancers and the Oregon cheerleaders, doubling as the dance team, performed at the half. The UNLV dancers found some clothes.

St. Louis: Donovan didn't say no

After the game, someone asked Billy Donovan about the Kentucky job, and he sidestepped it. He said a lot, but none of it was "no."

Donovan said, "All I'm going to say, that has nothing to do with me; it has everything to do with Kentucky. I'm not in control of their decision making process. The only thing I'm focused on right now is our basketball team and trying to coach them and enjoy every moment with them because it's been such a fun group.

I cannot control different things that are out there. And it's not my place to say anything or do anything, because that is someone else's issue. THat's someone else's decision they gotta make. It's got nothing to do with me at all.

So there's always going to be speculation out there about a lot of different things. But I'm not the decision maker in the process."

St. Louis: Darger brings UNLV back

Two Joe Darger threes have helped to bring UNLV back to within two at the second timeout. Joe Catron of Oregon is the only guy who has taken the floor so far that looks like a forward and he's fighting hard and being effective. He has two tough layups inside in a crowd.

The Oregon cheerleaders are now on the floor dancing and cheering to "Make Me Smile" by Chicago. Most female cheerleaders look like gymnasts, petite, but athletic. That's probably because there is a lot of gymnastics involved in cheerleading, but Oregon has one female cheerleader that's a good 4" taller than all the others. She looks bigger than the Ducks' starting PG, Tajuan Porter, who is 5'6".

St. Louis: UNLV cold early

UNLV has hit only one of its first eight shots and trails 7-2 at the first media timeout. Oregon isn't doing much better, except for Maarty Leunen, who has 5 early points.

The UNLV fan contingent across the court from me is pretty fired up. The Oregon fans behind me do a lot of coaching, but they're pretty happy for the moment.

The UNLV band is playing "Viva Las Vegas!" and the cheerleaders and dancers are doing their thing, but what's funny is there are at least three people up in the stands holding up "Viva Las Vegas" signs.

When they were done with that, the band played the CBS basketball theme. That's the first time we've heard it tonight. Neither Florida's nor Butler's band played it. Every band in Chicago last week did.

St. Louis: Where's my sunglasses?

Oregon's out warming up about 10 minutes from tip. Fortunately, the Ducks are wearing white. The band and cheerleaders are wearing fluorescent yellow, which is real hard on the eyes.

Referee Reggie Greenwood is loose. He's dancing to the UNLV band, which is playing a song I recognize, but can't place at the moment. I'm so culturally challenged.

I don't want to say the Vegas dancers are underdressed, but you see more clothes on Victoria's Secret models.

Mrs. Brand has quick hands. She almost dropped her cup with a snack in it, but caught it as it was falling.

In the media work room, nobody was working. We were all watching the end of the Georgetown-Vandy game. If the postgame press conference started, it started in an empty room.

Butler's fans are still here. The representation is pretty even, but if I had to pick one, I'd say Butler has the most fans here.

We're about to announce the lineups, although we won't hear it. The PA here is barely audible.

Fasten your seat belts. This game figures to fly.

St. Louis: Butler couldn't do it

Florida held on to defeat Butler 65-57 in a game that was closer than the score would indicate. Taurean Green ended up leading the Gators in scoring with 17. Horford added 16 and had a key defensive play late as well. With a six point lead and the Bulldogs looking for a three, he chased the guards around the perimeter. Finding it impossible to shoot over him, Mike Green drove to the hole for a layup, but Horford followed that and blocked it into the glass, ending Butler's last hopes.

As coach Donovan is waiting to be interviewed by CBS, Noah walks by on his way to the radio crew and Donovan stops him for a big hand-slap.

Butler's band is playing on. Game effort by the Bulldogs, but they just had no answer for Horford.

The teams are on the floor warming up for Game 2. I'll have more stats and press conference info later on.

St. Louis: Florida sneaking away

Florida is doing the same thing it did to Purdue in this situation, going to Horford. He backed Brandon Crone down, scored and was fouled as Crone reached in while trying to flop. That's the fourth time in this game a Butler post player has hit the deck as Horford backed in and they haven't gotten the call yet.

Crone fouled out on the play.

A jumper by Brewer extended the lead to five, before AJ Graves went 1-2 at the line to get it back to four.

I have now seen four of Graves' 8 FT misses this season in person. Sorry, AJ.

St. Louis: Florida on top again - for now

A Lee Humphrey three and three Horford free throws have the Gators back on top by one for now. We're at the 3:33 time out and Drew Stricher will be going to the line for Butler when we come back. Butler has been outworking Florida on the glass in this half big time. The Gators led at the break 18-8, but Butler now leads in rebounding 24-22. That's inexcusable.

Florida's cheerleaders and dancers don't seem too concerned.

The place is pretty full now. I haven't heard an attendance total yet, but it's a good crowd. Nearly all of it is pulling for Butler.

St. Louis: Campbell from WAY downtown

Butler's Pete Campbell just drained one from about 25' to put Butler back on top by 1 with 7:30 to go. Al Horford has been working Campbell over on the other end though, and just drew a foul from him. Horford will go to the line for a 1+1 when we get back from the timeout.

St. Louis: Crowd coming to Butler's aid

A couple of hustle plays by Butler has gotten the crowd fired up. The last of those was going to the floor for a rebound, after which Butler called timeout.

Brandon Crone, who rarely jumps to shoot, missed a layup and came up limping. He's out now.

St. Louis: Butler starts fast again

Butler started the half on a 12-2 run, with six of those points coming from AJ Graves, to jump out to a 41-37 lead. The refs have come out whistles-a-blazin' and both teams are a starting to show some frustration.

Florida answered that with a 5-0 run, with the last three coming from Lee Humphrey - his first of the game, to put the Gators ahead 42-41.

Then, Pete Campbell hit a rare jumper from inside the line to put the Bulldogs back up at the second timeout.

The Florida dancers, maybe looking to change the team's luck, changed uniforms at halftime.

St. Louis: Finally on board

It's taken all night, but I'm finally on the internet here in the Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis. Trying to blog without an internet connection is frustrating. I've found myself saying things I usually don't, like bad word, very bad word, and extremely bad word.

Butler has scored the first five points of the half to get back within one. The last three coming from AJ Graves, his first of the game.

I'll post my old entries in order, so you can get my full stream of unconsciousness. Click on the St. Louis link in the right column to read them all as I get them posted.

St. Louis: How is Butler losing?

It felt for the entire first half that Butler was winning this game, but you look up at the scoreboard and suddenly, the Bulldogs are down six.

AJ Graves is scoreless so far, missing on all six attempts from the floor, which is undoubtedly part of the problem.

Horford and Noah combined for 18 points, but they also have three assists on three pointers by Green and Brewer. Green also hit a three at the buzzer to extend the Gator lead. Florida will start with the ball as well, so Butler needs to D up right away.

The good news for Butler is that they are winning the turnover battle, which is what the Bulldogs excel at. Florida had nine first half giveaways, while Butler only had four.

St. Louis: Butler still bombing away

Pete Campbell, the Bulldogs’ three point shooting specialist, has come in and hit three in a row to help keep Butler up seven. Florida leads the nation in three points FG defense, but Butler has hit five of its last six attempts.

Florida’s band has orange and blue saxophones. I’m going to have to go over there sometime and check them out.

Joakim Noah has a screwy free throw shot. Actually, “screwball” is a better word. He shoots it up there with what appears to be a sideways spin. He only shoots 65% on the season, but he’s 2-2 today.

St. Louis: Crone dialed in

Brandon Crone has hit two wide open threes as part of a personal 10-0 run to put Butler up 14-6. Florida has taken bad shots, missed easy shots and turned the ball over repeatedly. Other than that, they’re doing fine.

This start by Butler has pretty much ensured that the Gators are in for a long night.

St. Louis: Bulldogs getting roughed up

Butler is wearing black and blue and that may turn out to be appropriate. It’s been pretty physical to start. Bulldogs C Brian Ligon already has two fouls and PG Mike Green, the team’s leading rebounder, went out with a injury to his mouth. It looked like he was counting his teeth to see if they were all there.

Florida has had its way inside when it hasn’t given the ball away. The Gators have three unforced turnovers already, so they only lead 6-4 at the first time out.

Right after the game started, someone came walking down press row to check our credentials to make sure we were all in our assigned seats.

There’s another unforced turnover and the game is tied.

St. Louis: Ready to go – almost

The lineups have been introduced. Myles Brand is in the house. The cool, touch screen stats monitor is ready and in front of me. The internet isn’t working.

Play ball!

(oops, wrong sport)

St. Louis: Maybe for $40/day, it would work

The internet connection that the NCAA charges us $35/day for is not working in the dome 15 minutes before tip off, much to the frustration of all of us assembled.

I got to meet Horizon league commissioner and selection committee member Jon LeCrone before the game. He snuck up here from San Antonio, where he is part of the game management for the NCAA, to see Butler.

I have Butler and Oregon fans behind me tonight. Also, a few Iowa fans, with which I had a discussion about who the next coach there might be. They favor Lon Kruger. I think he’d be better than they had, but they might be able to do better still.

Plenty of good seats still available.

Both teams are warming up, so we should be ready to go soon. Hopefully, you’ll get to read this before I get home tonight.

St. Louis: Killing time in the Gateway City

I found myself in the unusual position of having some time to kill today, so I went out a did a couple of touristy things in the city.

The first place I went was the Gateway Arch, which is also known as the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial. It's one of those things that looks smaller in person than in pictures. Since it's run by the Park Service, we had to go through an airport-like search to get in, although we didn't have to take off our shoes. Underneath the arch is a museum dedicated to the expansion of the United States starting with the Louisiana Purchase and including the Lewis and Clark expedition. You can also take a tram ride up to the top of the arch, but I did that once as a kid and it terrified me, so I passed. Besides, you don't need to go that high up to see East St. Louis, IL.

Then I headed over to Anheuser Busch factory for the tour. It lasted about an hour, during which time we got to see the Clydesdales. They live in what must be the Ritz-Carlton of stables. Clydesdales are bigger than a typical horse (I'm 6'1 and they tower over me), but smell just as bad.

Then we went to the aging area, where they have tanks as big as submarines filled with beer (he said one tank = 200K cases of beer) which had beechwood in them doing something I didn't understand to the yeast. All I was focused on was that it was cold in there and it smelled like a fraternity carpet.

We then went to the original brew house, which is where an earlier part of the process occurs. We had to take an elevator three floors up to get there, and we got to listen to an elevator-music version of the Budweiser song.

Then we went to the bottling plant (after getting buzzed overhead by some fighter jets - which I'm pretty sure was unrelated to the tour). The most interesting part of the bottling plant, besides the fact that they can fill about 2000 cans per minute, is that you need an employee badge to exit the building. Apparently anyone can go in.

After that is everyone's favorite part of the tour. We go to the hospitality room for 16 oz of our favorite beer: free beer. We get to try two samples. I tried something called Stone Mill Pale Ale, which was pretty good, and Kingsbrucke (you'll have to imagine the two dots over the u - my keyboard doesn't have that letter), which tasted like one of those beers that come with a slice of fruit. Those aren't my favorite.

I'm not sure what else there is to do here, but I'll have a little more time on Saturday I think, so I'll have to find something else.

March 22, 2007

St. Louis: Done for the day

Oregon is wrapping things up on the practice floor and the press conferences have been done for a while, so it's about time to wrap up the day.

The dome here is downright palatial compared to the United Center last week. The media work room is the size of a couple of hotel ballrooms. They have a bathroom larger than a closet. We got ice cream during the afternoon, which was quite welcome on this humid spring day.

James Brown is sitting in front of me doing another interview for one of the camera crews sitting here. He seems like a pretty pleasant guy.

It's supposed to rain a lot here this weekend. Fortunately, my hair should be unaffected. Nothing affects my hair, including industrial strength adhesives.

Oh, I do believe I hear a cold beverage calling my name. I'll see you right back here tomorrow.

St. Louis: Noah!

This must have been what it was like when it started raining after Noah built the Ark. People waving their arms, yelling plaintively, "Noah! Noah!" Here, while it did rain pretty hard today, people were trying to get Joakim Noah's attention as he signed some autographs after the Gators' practice session.

Ernie Kent just got out of his press conference, which touched a lot more on academics than the others did. In fact, the others didn't touch on it at all. Oregon happens to have final exams this week, so we learned that the team had Monday and Tuesday off to take some tests. They traveled here yesterday, and five players will have exams given by a university official while they are in St. Louis. Included among those taking tests here are starters Maarty Leunen and Malik Harrison.

St. Louis: Donovan holding court

While Billy Donovan holds court with the CBS crew, his team is running through some drills behind him. He's feeding them some of the same stuff he gave us in the press conference.

Talking about the relevance of seedings, he said "At a horse race, they have odds like 2-1, 3-1, 6-1. Do you think the horses know the odds? They don't care. Same thing here. When the ball goes up, nobody is thinking about their seeds."

I peeked in on Lon Kruger's press conference to see if anyone would ask him about the open job at Michigan or the soon to be open job at Iowa. Nobody did.

Speaking of Iowa, here's a quiz. When a coach leaves a job in the Big Ten for a job in the Mountain West, what does that tell you? I don't mean any disrespect to the MWC here, but the message to Steve Alford is "don't let the door hit you in the butt on the way out." Come to think of it, they might want the door to hit him. He certainly won't be missed by anyone in the state of Iowa when he leaves. Given all the off-court issues with Pierre Pierce and the lack of recent on-court success, I'm surprised he kept the job as long as he did.

St. Louis: My view of the world, or at least the game

I have pretty good seats again for this event. In fact, it's pretty much the same seat. I'm between the circles across from the side of the scorer's table that has "Oregon UNLV" on it. I'm behind and a few seats over from James Brown and Len Elmore, who are calling the game for CBS. I'm also about five seats down from Dr. Myles Brand, the head of the NCAA and Mike Slive, the SEC commissioner, who is also on the selection committee.

I met Slive today. He told me that he would normally sit over on the scorer's table side, but because one of his teams is here, he has to be on this side at least when Florida plays.

You know, it occurs to me that with Elmore and Larry Farmer here doing the game, they might be the second best front line here.

The floor is empty at the moment as we wait for Florida to come out for practice.

St. Louis: Lickliter loose

Butler coach Todd Lickliter seemed pretty loose, as usual, when he met the press after Butler's open practice session today. He started out by saying, "We understand what a great challenge it is to play Florida." I'd be concerned if he didn't.

Right away, he was asked about the classic game Butler and Florida played in the 2000 tournament, which was won on a last second shot by Mike Miller of the Gators. Florida went on to finish second in that tournament. Lickliter talked about sitting two rows from the top of the Hoosier Dome watching Florida on the floor warming up and turned to fellow Butler assistant Thad Matta and said, "What a difference one shot makes."

He was asked about how you defend Al Horford and said, "Why did you have to bring that up? I was having a nice afternoon." He went on about how smart and unselfish Horford is and pointed to the fact that even though he sees a variety of defenses, including double and triple teams, he still has a positive assist to turnover ratio.

Someone wanted to know if reserve three point specialist Pete Campbell was "under orders to start firiing away" as soon as he came into the game. Lickliter said, "We'd like him to wait until he gets the ball first."

Finally, when Lickliter asked if it would change how he does things if two top ten rated prospects knocked on his door, he said,"Do you anticipate that happening?"

He then said they would figure out a way to make things work.

UNLV is on the floor now.

St. Louis: Regional Preview

I'm sitting in a mostly empty Edward Jones Dome in St. Louis awaiting the start of open practice for the Florida, er, Midwest Regional. Sorry for the Freudian slip, but there is good reason to expect the Gators to come out of here...

Continue reading "St. Louis: Regional Preview" »

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