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Ben Ball Roundup: Role of Emotion/Focus/Experience In March "Madness"

Let me share a story from few years ago. I just finished law school and was getting ready to start the dreaded Bar Bri courses to prep for the Bar exam. I will never forget what I heard from the Bar Bri instructor in our very first day of the class. I remember guy telling us the how getting ready for the bar exam was not a sprint yet we had to find a way to put our work every day. He then brought up the example of the Yankees (before they got all roided up in the mid 90s). He said to take the same approach for studying the bar exam that Derek Jeter, Bernie Williams and Paul O'Neil were doing under Joe Torre day in and day out. I remember how that note from him really stuck with me and I used it as a motivation in to study and prep at an intense but steady pace leading up to the exam. 

So why exactly I am starting today's roundup with that story? I have been thinking about the exchange I had rye in a thread earlier yesterday about how much all the bulletin board material really matters in times like this wrt to March Madness. I think rye is right that when a team finds itself in the NCAA tournament the thought of one and done alone should be enought to get it amped up for every game. I agree with that. However, I do strongly believe a little motivation and that extra edge can always help in games like we will have on Thursday night when two teams will give it all to get to the next round. I also think this team by now understands how it is being doubted by folks all around the country and frankly within here on BN. And I think one of the main source of this uncertainty is whether this team is capable of bringing that steady and intense focus every game. From Adam Maya in the OC Register:

Moments after their victory against Washington State, the Bruins seemed to shrug off a third encounter with USC. They had pounded them in their previous meeting and saw no reason why the next one would be any different. They said all they needed was their "intensity."

After the Bruins lost in the Pac-10 Tournament semifinals, they still maintained they could have been undefeated. While it's true no one has blown out the Bruins, other teams have gotten the best of them (see Michigan, Texas, Washington, Arizona, even USC).

You don't shoot 27 percent like UCLA did against the Trojans last week simply because you had a bad game. Your opponent had something to do with it. If they fail to realize that it's not only arrogant but dangerous. UCLA should instead be feeling like it has something to prove. Not because it is a six seed and has been sent to Philadelphia. How about because it has beaten just one ranked opponent all season?

As much I hate to agree with Adam he is right. I do think our Bruins have something to prove. I do think think in years past they gave us that steady and focused effort every game leaving no doubt they left everything on the court. I am not sure we can honestly say whether they have done it every game this season.

For his part Coach Howland is counting on the experience in his team. He shared the following with Jim Rome yesterday before heading to Philly (thanks gbruin):

JR: Hey Ben, how good does it make you feel – I mean it’s a different year, it’s a different team, you’ve got a tough tough road – but, to have guys that have been there before, does that give you extra confidence going in?
CBH: Yeah, our guys are very familiar, our seniors with this situation, having played in 16 tournament games during their career, and so they know what to expect. It’s a different level of play. Obviously if you lose you go home, your season is over, for your seniors your career is over. So there’s a lot on the line.

One of those seniors - JS - is the subject of profile pieces in both the LA Times and the Daily News today.  The articles note how the kid has been nothing short of a warrior battling through multiple surgeries:

Shipp needed to show even more grit in the years that followed, fighting his way back from a hip surgery that wiped out his 2005-06 season, and another in the spring of 2007.

Howland says he thinks that Shipp's occasional shooting struggles can be traced to summers spent rehabilitating instead of practicing. USC guard Daniel Hackett, who played with Shipp on a junior team, sympathizes.

"It's hard to come back like he did from hip surgery; not a lot of guys can do that," Hackett said. "Hips, elbows and knees are something you use a lot in basketball to go through screens. Every time you fall, you fall on that."

Through pain and missed shots, Shipp's expression rarely changed.

"Always, always," center Alfred Aboya said. "He's always smiling, so you never know if he's sad or mad."

Shipp explains his demeanor this way: Basketball is a game, it's supposed to be fun, so why should he sweat the ups and downs? Besides, he had a feeling things would turn out fine.

Everything has turned out all right for JS at least in terms of his own game:

"He really got in great shape in the offseason," UCLAcoach Ben Howland said. "He wasn't overcoming hip surgery, like he had been, and he really is lean."

It wasn't just the body Shipp improved. He refined his shooting stroke.

The 6-foot-6 Shipp entered the season a career 31.7 percent shooter from 3-point range, but he is making 43.8 percent this season and averaging 14.4points per game.

He also led the Pacific-10 Conference in 3-point shooting, connecting for 54.4percent and averaging 16.3 points in the 18 contests. The stamina Shipp built during the offseason is a big reason he is playing well now.

"I can feel it in my overall game," Shipp said. "It shows in shooting, but I can feel it in my defense, and with a lot of other things."

Rather than folding late in the season, Shipp is flourishing. He is averaging 19.3 points and is shooting 59.5 percent from 3-point range.

We are going to need JS and his team-mates locked in early on. VCU is not a team we can afford to fall behind, especially in a setting like we are going to find ouselves in on Thursday night. So the question will be whether he and his team-mates will come in with that steady and intense focus on Thursday night and maintain it throughout that game and beyond.

We can see Coach Howland is counting a lot on the experience of his three seniors. Hopefully they can provide the same leadership the Yanks got from the triage of Jeters/Williams/O'Neil during their 90s run (until Clemens and others came in to muck it all up) towards championships.

I am sure JS, DC and PAA more than anyone understand the nature of one and done and will play with the sense of urgency, but I am also hoping all the negativity and doubts hurled toward them will fire them a little more, giving us every extra edge we can use this time of the year. It's March.  One has to be naive to think emotion and passion don't have any part of this "Madness."