A couple of thoughts on the NCAA championship game.
1. Because of Carmelo Anthony and his ilk it has become expected for college freshman to do great things. With the hevay emphasis on AAU ball and summer basketball camps, college freshman are much more seasoned than they were 10 years ago and it is no longer a novelty to see a Kevin Love, an Eric Gordon, or a Michael Beasley mentioned in Conference POY and even National POY conversations.
As such, I had to catch myself being surprised at Derrick Rose's cold start in the first half. But was it really so strange? He's still an 18 year-old kid playing in front of millions, with a rabid fan-base (or even a city, if you heard Calipari's pre-game comments) relying on him. He was seeing double teams from different angles - it was obvious that the Jayhwaks' top defensive priority was to stop Rose - and wasn't able to find his offensive rhythm. He finished the first half shooting 1-4. He was regularly giving up the ball early in the possession, not confident in his ability to score, or at the very least penetrate and create. Instead his passes were more statements of surrender.
When he did get going in the second half, he was great, his 15 second half-points keying Memphis' run. All I'm saying is its not so shocking that it took him until the second half to get going and play with confidence. It's also not shocking that he missed an important free throw near the end...
2. So Memphis lost on free throws. Up four, with a minute to go they clanked four in a row (3 by CDR, 1 by Rose) until Rose made his second attempt. Not such a surprise. Anyone who followed college basketball this season knows that free throws were topic number one when anyone wrote or talked about Memphis. It really got going in the past month and a half when they lost the #1 vs. #2 match-up to Tennessee by throwing up bricks from the line and letting the Vols come back, and more recently as they shot well during their tournament run, the media unleashed an equal amount of "Memphis doing it from the foul line" stories. We even picked them to miss out on the Final Four because we were so sold on their shortcoming.
Sometime between the Tennesse game and the tournament Calipari tried to quell the free-throw panic, saying, on PTI, something like that free throw shooting is the 25th most important skill that he valued in a basketball player. At the time it sounded reasonable, I thought, sure maybe everyone was exaggerating it a little too much.
But looking at CDR and Rose brick those shots, so visibly nervous before and after, I couldn't help but feel bad for them - especially when the game went to OT and they eventually lost. You can't evaluate free throws just as you would any other skill - passing, shooting, etc. as coach Cal did with more than a little bit of arrogance on the aforementioned PTI appearance. Because when these kids are at the line (especially if the game is in the balance - and they are kids after all) they are made to feel the attention of the entire arena, and the country. More than any other basketball skill, free throw shooting relies on the mental component.
The more I think back to Calipari's words the more he sounds like a parent coddling their child, refusing to label them as wrong or weak, or anything else that's negative, and promoting a positive self-image at the expense of reality. Perhaps thats all coach Cal could do with so much of the season already passed and so much of an avalanche falling on him regarding the FT woes. But regardless if he exacerbated his team's mental problem or not, it was only fitting (and sad) that it was the free throw shooting that did them in.
And a question: Did anyone else think that Rose's two was originally called a two, only to be overturned twice (to a three, and only then back to a two) during the referees' conference?