The Bald Eagle family traveled west to the beautiful isle of Maui for Thanksgiving and to visit the brother-in-law. Upon arrival we were pleased to find out that Maui Invitational Basketball tournament was in full tilt. My boys and I passed a few of the Texas players in the lobby after they beat their first round opponent and casually struck up a conversation, telling them we were coming to get them next week in Austin and to be ready for a little retribution for last years loss at Pauley. Then my 3 and 6 year-olds tried to teach the UT players the 8-clap (wish I had the video camera). Before we parted, and after my 3 year’s failed attempt at a Bruin cheer, he proceeded to blurt out, “teach that to your mother”. Not sure where he learned it, but the UT guys loved it! Very funny moment.
Anyway, the second round included a not-to-be missed match-up between UT and Notre Dame, two top-10 ranked, talent-laden squads. My brother-in-law and I scored 4 tickets last minute and we took a 5 minute cab ride with my two oldest boys to Civic Auditorium, a small, quaint little high school-esq facility where the tournament games are played. Since our Bruins will play both these squads later this year, I thought I’d do some live scouting for BN. While not as detailed as Nestor and others will provide us during the actual game weeks, here is my casual observations from seeing these two future Bruin opponents live.
Notre Dame: This is a very talented, balanced team with a solid inside game and some deadly outside shooters. Luke Harangody, the Big East Player of the Year last year, returns bigger and possibly more skilled. He struggled in the first hal to score in the paint against UT’s very athletic front line, but really started to click in the 2nd. He has quite possibly the quickest release that I’ve seen in basketball making it almost impossible to block his shots from 15 feet in. Kyle McAlarney, a sharp-shooting guard from Staten Island NY, can really fill it up. He provides solid senior leadership on the floor and always seem to hit big shots when the game got tight.
Seniors Zach Hillesland and Ryan Ayers split time at power forward and have different games but both can play. Ayers is a bit more athletic and a shot blocker, while Hillesland was just solid defensively and had some nice scores around the hoop.
ND was not the most athletic team on the court but they were the most sound fundamentally. They played very solid defense and got the ball easily into Harangody in the post who is very tough to stop when he turns to the hoop.
Texas: As expected, this is a very athletic team. They return 4 starters and 9 of their top 10 scorers from last year’s team that went 31-7, including a gut-wrenching, last second victory at Pauley last year. They return 73 percent of their scoring from last year.
Their backcourt is absolutely terrific. A.J. Abrams is their floor leader. They went to him consistently at the end of the game to make threes to bring UT back from a late 7 point deficit. Justin Mason also ran the point some and was lighting fast on D and created numerous shots driving to the hoop.
Dexter Pittman started at center and he is Tight End in hoops shorts. At 6-10 298 he is a load down low. Thankfully he is a foul waiting to happen. Worse than AA2 on his worst day. Connor Atchley, a 5th yr. Senior was active around the hoop but really nothing to write home about. I got the same impression last year when I watched him at Pauley. If you don’t put a body on him he’ll sneak in for some put-backs and easy hoops.
Damion James is arguably their best player. He killed us last year. A 6-7’ G/F who can leap out of the building, he is a nightmare match-up. He didn’t have a huge game today, but every time you looked up he was flying above the rim grabbing rebounds or slashing to the hoop for easy points off the glass. If JA can’t guard him this year, he could be our Achilles Heel again.
The game was amazing. For those who didn’t get to see it live or catch the highlights, it was very well played, back-and-forth battle. Very few turnovers, well executed offense, great three pt shooting by both teams and a great ending. Texas was down by as much as 9 late in the game and proceeded to shoot enough threes, foul and then have ND miss some key free throws down the stretch to get to within 1 point with 4 seconds left. After a second missed free throw, UT dribble down the floor and Mason or Abrams (I forget who) launched a desperation 3 from just over half court that hit the front of the rim. I know many of you saw the highlights but seeing it live was electric!! We were sitting in the UT section and they were really hoping for a miracle last minute victory, but everyone left knowing that they just seen a really well played college hoops game… in Maui!!
Overall impressions: We can beat either of these teams but we’ll really need to play well. The thing that really stuck out for me was how physically strong both teams looked. UT’s guards are really physical and attack the rim to grab rebounds and ND’s bigs are all upper classmen who just look imposing. James is a beast and while Atchley is frail, he is really active around the basket. I hope we’re physically strong enough to play with these teams, given our youth.
As for NC, they exceed the hype. Several people have posted here about how they are a lock to win it all. Based on what I saw this past week, I would have to agree. Something catestrophic would have to happen in March for the Tarheels not to win it all. Hansbrough was the best player on the Island, even on one leg. With an outstanding supporting cast, it seems incomprehensible that they aren't cutting down the nets in Detroit.
I’m certain Nestor and the boys here at BN will have much more on these squads during the respective game weeks, and I don’t want to get caught looking ahead to either of these two games, but we could easily loose both if we don’t come out and play some trademark Howland –D and get some production from our bigs and wing players.
I know this post is a bit late but vacation time with the fam made it hard to get this cleaned up and posted. We all have lots to be thankful this year. I’m thankful to be here with my family; thankful for my health and the health of my family; and thankful for my Bruins. Enjoy your Holidays BN’ers.
See you on the Mainland.