Sports 56 WHBlog Q

March 25, 2009

Glendale, Day 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — Peter Edmiston @ 7:03 pm

Writing this from beautiful Glendale, Arizona…not too bad at all.

I just got back to my hotel after the practice and interview sessions over at the University of Phoenix Stadium.  Impressions follow:

University of Phoenix Stadium:

Awesome.  Really, really awesome.  As big as Reliant Stadium last year (and bigger than the Alamodome), but an entirely different feel.  It feels a bit more intimate and smaller on the inside – perhaps that’s because the normal capacity for football is only 63,000 as opposed to 70,000+ in Reliant.  Regardless, it’s bright and open…hard for a stadium as big as it is to feel somewhat intimate, but it does.

In case you’re curious, the court is NOT on an elevated stage the way it was last year in Houston.  It’s much more like the setup in San Antonio, with the court on one end of the field and bleachers sitting in the middle of the field.  The capacity is around 35-40,000 for basketball, but there’s no way they’re getting that many tomorrow night.  More on that later.  Judging by the shooting I saw from all the teams I watched, it’s not a bad court to shoot on – certainly better than Houston was last year.  Last year, Houston’s setup was a tough one for teams to get adjusted to.  This is better.

The fans:

Nonexistent.  Well, that’s an exaggeration, but not much of one.  It’s a tough economic time for everyone, and it has clearly affected the average fan’s ability to go to these games.  All four of these teams are a long, long way from Glendale, and plane tickets and hotels are not cheap.  My understanding is that Memphis will have around 1100 or so fans here by game time tomorrow, UConn has actually returned some of their 1250-seat allotment, and the other two teams will have roughly their allotment here.  Locally, they’ve sold around 18,000 to Arizonians (is that the right way to say it?), so I think we’re looking at no more than 25,000 tomorrow night.  That will look sparse in such a big arena.  It sucks for the local organizers that the NCAA couldn’t throw them a bone with the teams in the West Region, but they’re just going to have to deal with it.

Missouri:

Now, to the basketball.  Mike Anderson talked about his team’s growth from the beginning of this season until now, and was amazed at what they’ve done.  Consider that they were picked to finish 7th in the Big 12 this season, and they won the thing.  Consider they were a team full of guys who had never won a tournament game, and now they’re in the Sweet 16.  Consider that Mike Anderson was on the hot seat in November, and now Missouri fans are nervous about whether or not they can keep him.  Quite a difference.

The Missouri players appeared rather loose and excited to be a part of things, as you would expect.  They’ve come a lot farther than anyone would have expected, and they feel like they’re playing with house money.  Missouri has a tremendous bench, and they’re not afraid to go 10 deep if the need arises.  To me, the X-factor is how the players respond to the increased pressure of playing in such a huge game.  Memphis is full of players who have enormous tournament experience, while Missouri has virtually none apart from Mike Anderson.  If Missouri shrinks in the spotlight, they will not win – but no one truly expects that to happen.  They are a hard-working, blue-collar team who feels disrespected and is playing with the proverbial chip on their shoulder.  They will be a tough out for Memphis.

Memphis:

Exactly as you would expect.  The Tigers were loose as could be.  I watched the open practice session intently; normally, these things are more or less just a loose shootaround that doesn’t matter, but in this case, I wanted to see how the players, particularly the shooters, would adjust to the University of Phoenix Stadium.  The results were a mixed bag – Roburt Sallie looked very sharp; he looked very much like he was picking up right where he left off in Kansas City.  Tyreke Evans hit a lot of outside shots, and he looked and sounded very comfortable with the whole experience.  Doneal Mack, though, was a little hit or miss – and some of the misses were a bit rough.  That being said, I recall that the shootaround last year in Houston looked like a brick factory, and the Tigers hammered both their opponents.  So you never know exactly how things are going to play out.

With their experience, the Tigers will always be unfazed by this kind of event.  The looser they are, the better they play.  They are expecting a physical battle from Missouri – a lot of bumping, a lot of banging, and a lot of running.  If anyone gives less than 100% effort on defense, John Calipari will take them out so fast it will blow their mind.

Jim Calhoun:

While we are focused on Memphis/Missouri, there’s no question the national focus is squarely on Jim Calhoun.  You can hear the full audio of his press conference on the front page of sports56whbq.com – listen for how much rambling he does.  He sounded truly shaken by what has happened over the last 24 hours.  Not that I can blame him – the Yahoo! Sports report by Dan Wetzel and Adrian Wojnarowski is well-sourced and potentially a hammer blow to his program.  He addressed the controversy with an opening statement that went on for over two and a half minutes, then answered a number of questions.  To his credit, he was not condescending or argumentative, but neither was he particularly revealing.  He was seated (as all press conference attendees are) at a table on a stage.  The table has a blue skirt that is somewhat transparent at the sides, and from where I was sitting, I could see Calhoun’s left leg franctically moving up and down throughout the press conference.  He was clearly troubled by the situation.

Predictions:

Memphis and Missouri will play an exciting, fun game that could well be the best of the Sweet 16.  A lot of tempo, a lot of energy, and a lot of defense.  If Memphis can stick with an aggressive gameplan – break the press at pace, look to penetrate into the gaps in Missouri’s halfcourt defense the way Marquette did, and keep their composure against Missouri’s pressure, they will win.  Memphis is the more talented team.  But Missouri will not be easy to beat…if Carroll and Lyons can dominate inside and get the Tigers into some frontcourt foul trouble, that will be a problem.  How the referees call the game will be crucial.  Hopefully, it will not be a tightly called game, but if it is, whichever team is slowest to respond will be in trouble; remember how the Tigers struggled to adjust against Northridge.  Regardless, as good as Missouri is and as great a season as they have had, they will not beat Memphis tomorrow.

In the other matchup, I truly think UConn is much more talented than Purdue.  Purdue is going to be a tough team to beat because of their determined defense and shooting ability, but UConn is on such a roll, they will win the game.

Special Thanks:

I want to thank our incredible sponsors who help make this coverage happen – Ark Roofing, the most trusted name in Mid-South roofing, has come on board and I thank them for that. Amazing people, easy to deal with, and they’ve been around for a long, long time.  Central BBQ is THE place for Tiger fans who aren’t here to congregate – Craig, his beautiful wife, their awesome staff…they put together a great atmosphere at both the Central and the Summer location.  Go there tomorrow night to watch the game.  Just do it.  Finally, Acura of Memphis – although I couldn’t drive the TL out here the way I did to Kansas City, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t hop over to 385 & Ridgeway to see Greg Hapke and the guys over there – March Madness savings in effect!  Check it out!  Thanks to those great sponsors – if you appreciate our extensive coverage, please consider supporting them.

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