Quick Takes: Texas

Daniel Novinson offers a selection of thoughts from Stanford's Sweet 16 loss to Texas on Friday, including a few stats, an NCAA rant, a look at the atmosphere, and a couple of interesting things he heard after the battle at Reliant Stadium.

Editor's Note: The following story contains commentary from the writer's "real-time" views of the on-court performances and decisions of our men's basketball team. In no way should constructively-intended criticism be deemed as a lack of respect or admiration for our team's obvious desire and commitment.

At least we're not Michigan State. 61-27 with 17 minutes to go right now…

Notes:

Stanford went the first 18 minutes without scoring a basket outside the paint, according to reporters after the game.

That's readily believable because Stanford's starting backcourt scored seven points on 2-of-19 shooting in 82 total minutes. Not sure I really want to hear what Roscoe's expert analysis on that one. ("We bricked open shots." Repeat until the article's 700 words. Fin.)

Brook Lopez recorded his ninth double-double of the season.

Landry Fields' 11 points were his second-highest total of the season (16 vs. Northwestern).

Neither team could get anything going in the first half: Stanford started just 3-of-16 (19 percent), but trailed only 18-9 with 9:23 left in the half. The Cardinal shot 59 percent (10-of-17) the rest of the half to tie those nine-plus minutes 25-25.

Think athletic backcourts don't give Stanford's perimeter guys trouble? The Cardinal shot just 34 percent (22-of-65) on the game. Their only two worse performances this year (27 percent on Jan. 5 and 32 percent on Mar. 8) both came against USC.

Texas won its school-record 31st game this season.

Texas' 15 NCAA Tournament wins since 2002 are the most in the country save for Kansas (with 18 and counting).

Texas leads the nation with the fewest turnovers allowed, and committed just six tonight, their fourth-lowest total of the season. That's not a total shock: perhaps Stanford's biggest hidden weakness this season was its inability to force turnovers with on-ball pressure.

Augustin led the ‘Horns in scoring for the 21st time this season. It was also the 18th game a Texas opponent shot under 40 percent.

Attendance: 32,931. A lot of those trickled in through the first 10 minutes of the first half. Downtown Houston traffic reminded me of the rush-hour 101 in the I-don't-drive-a-Prius lane. I thought they had loads of space in Texas.

After the game, there seemed to be a debate, with Mitch Johnson and Anthony Goods saying that the loss was as much a result of an abnormally bad shooting night as any fundamental difference between the teams. (I'm not sure if the quote piece will fully convey that, but their tone was unmistakable: if we had another shot, we could play with their backcourt.) I suppose that's standard for any competitor, you never want to admit the opponent was out of your league.

Trent Johnson had the benefit of perspective though. They were better, he knew it and he said it plainly postgame.

I agree with him. Yeah, 2-of-17 from the starting backcourt's ugly, but 0-of-7 from Anthony, 2-of-10 from Mitch, 0-of-2 from Fred, those guys have been inconsistent and had shooting nights like that all season. For whatever reason, Goods and Hill went into hibernation for much of the stretch run, and especially in the last two games. (It must have been painful for Goods to watch Fields take his spot in the second half.) Maybe a better shooting night would have cut the final margin in half, and maybe if we played theoretically perfectly, we could have eked out a win, but that's going to be true in virtually any game at this level.

In the end (it's now "just" 61-37 Michigan State) – there are five-or-so really good teams in this country. (By my count: Kansas, Memphis and UNC, none of whom have been tested, unsurprisingly, Texas, maybe UCLA, maybe Louisville.) Those were basically the top-five teams in the country for most of the season, and the rest of Division I-A basketball is playing at a different level right now. Other than Davidson, the highest remaining seed is a three.

All of which is my long way of saying there's no shame in Stanford falling to Texas tonight. There's a reason they're one of the top five teams in the country, and as 50-plus Tournament games under our belt show, the only teams that are going to beat those top five squads will be each other.

Speaking of Coach Johnson, he was surprisingly calm right before the start of the second half, joking around with Fred Washington and Taj Finger. I think he knew he was up against a better team, and his squad was playing good fundamental basketball (save for the shooting), so in some sense in was out of his hands whether he'd walk out tonight with a win. Judging by Stanford's start to the second half, Johnson should think like this more often.

Mandatory NCAA rant:

I don't like the $350 charge to have a phone line installed so I could broadcast. Or the $16.95 for wireless internet. But the most insightful moment came when I negotiated my beverage desires with the two people guarding the soda cans, making sure I don't sneak a Coke onto the court in strict violation of their no-logo policy. Right then, in the background, started the ‘there are 300,000 of us going pro in something other than sports' commercial – the one that the NCAA implicitly pays CBS hundreds of millions each year to run. (If CBS could otherwise sell that commercial time, think about how much more they'd be willing to pay for the Tournament).

That spot is essentially a bribe for America's conscience. Up close and personal, the NCAA is run no differently than the NBA or the NFL, with the Sweet Sixteen feeling no different than the NBA Finals game I attended a few years ago back in Detroit. Yet the perception of the two leagues is drastically different.

Athletes need to start getting paid, or schools need to be more explicit in creating separate academic tracks for athletes and non-athletes, or the NBA just needs to buy the NCAA and turn it into a giant D League. Whatever the solution, the NCAA currently gets the all money and exposure of the pro leagues, and all the moral high ground of the college game. Except every year, they're eroding whatever remains of that high ground, one shining moment at a time, even if the public doesn't care to notice. I'm young, so maybe I'm a wide-eyed idealist easily shocked by reality, but the extent to which the NCAA is deeply hypocritical and flawed amazed me.

Atmosphere:

In the house: Tracy McGrady, John Smoltz, Steve Mariucci and Magic Johnson. The latter three were wearing MSU gear, pushing their celebrity-to-Joe-Fan ratio to Laker-like proportions. Judging by his necklace, earring and bracelet meanwhile, McGrady was rooting for Tiffany's.

I like the raised court – tried in Houston and Detroit Friday – I think it creates better viewing angles for the fans, who are paying out the nose to attend. I'd just give four more feet of siding on every side of the floor, because as it is, it's a personal-injury lawsuit waiting to happen. Coaches also have trouble communicating back-and-forth with their players on the court, as Rick Barnes explained postgame.

How about Brook Lopez heading into the postgame press conference: "Wow, there aren't that many people here." How about Taj Finger heading out of the presser, whispering something to Mitch Johnson that elicited a shrug. Then he quickly grabbed his ‘Taj Finger: Stanford University' placard and rode off into the sunset. Think the past four years didn't mean the world to him?


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