NEW YORK CITY – Five points of note from coaches vs. Cancer :
The final day results :
Consolation: Illinois 80, Maryland 76
Championship: Pittsburgh 68, Texas 66
1. Pitt can beat you many different ways. Their guard play is solid. The big men might not engage in a classic “old school” post-up style but they are active. Overall, one player can emerge and step up on a given night. In the semifinal win over Maryland, it was freshman forward Talib Zanna who energized Pitt with a 14-point, 12-rebound effort. On Friday against Texas, foul trouble relegated Zanna to a 2-point, 6-board effort in 15 minutes. More than taking up the slack was Ashton Gibbs with 24 points, 19 after intermission. Yes, on that “given night” virtually anyone Jamie Dixon’s rotation can be the difference maker. To a player, the Panthers are just fine with that.
2. Illinois cares extremely well for the ball. In the overtime loss to Texas in the semifinals, the Illini turnover rate (turnovers/possessions) was 15%. In the consolation with Maryland the rate was 17%. Both are impressive figures against defenses which are not exactly chopped liver. Bruce Weber’s club is respectable up front and strong at the guard spot.
One player who can do damage in both areas 6-3 guard Demetri McCamey. He’s strong enough to finish in the paint and had admirable range on the perimeter. Many observers have Illinois pegged for fourth behind Michigan State, Purdue and Ohio State in the Big Ten. If that’s the case, the conference is going to be a dog fight with several teams capable of doing significant damage come March. And the Illini won’t exactly be an easy out
3. Maryland left 0-2 for New York but showed their young players are making contributions while getting valuable experience. I took notice of the work of 6-10 sophomore center Jordan Williams. He scored 14 points with 8 rebounds against Pitt. In the consolation Williams did not score in the first half but had a strong second half, finishing with 15 points and 13 boards. In typical Gary Williams fashion, Maryland plays hard each night out. Williams is enthused with the group he had. There is reason to be as they should improve each time out, and surprise a few people along the way.
4. Texas was another young team with a fine showing. The Longhorns finished within a possession of knocking off No. 4 Pittsburgh but do not want to hear anything regarding “moral victories”. When one of the Texas players was asked what the team can take from this experience he simply replied, “second place.” To paraphrase the lottery slogan, Texas was “into to win it.”
Barnes cited the first ten minutes of the Pitt game as crucial, noting his young team came out too passive on defense. A 26% turnover rate, the highest of any team in the four games, and something a young team can be prone to, did not help either.
5. Pitt does not win “ugly.” After the final Jamie Dixon of Pitt was asked to comment on critics who say Pitt “wins ugly.” “They must be looking at me,” Dixon quipped. Pitt averaged 71 possessions the prior three contests before the final. In the final the pace was more half court, but credit both defenses. They stopped transition and forced teams to make several passes and use clock before settling on a shot.
Offensively the Panthers will run and attack the basket if the opportunity is there. The “win ugly” label comes from their tough half court defense, which makes the opposition work and often struggle, not from a supposed walk-it-up-the-floor offense. The “ugly” part of Pitt basketball is encountered by the opposition, having to face that defense. As Dixon added, “I’d rather ‘win ugly’ than lose pretty.”
The Final breakdown:
Possessions, Offensive Efficiency
Pitt 66 103
Texas 65 102
Ashton Gibbs (Pittsburgh) (MVP)
Trevon Woodall (Pittsburgh)
Jordan Hamilton (Texas)
Jordan Williams (Maryland)
Demetri McCamey (Illinois)
Brings Back Memories
The Coaches vs. Cancer event is always a favorite and brings to mind the wonderful event and work of the coaches association in fighting this dreaded disease. This year took an added meaning and reflection. A few days prior to the Garden games, Bill DeFazio passed away at age 63, a victim of pancreatic cancer.
DeFazio, a friend of St. Anthony’s coach Bob Hurley from youth, actually coached the girls at St. Anthony’s before moving to Marist. He retired from the sidelines two years ago, the winningest girls coach in Hudson County history with a superb 576-169 record. He coached both Marist and St. Anthony’s to state titles and won a number of other championships along the way.
DeFazio was a great tactician and motivator. And colorful on the sidelines, to say the least. Veteran writer Jim Hague remembers the night DeFazio (about 50 at the time) made a long jump clear over the bench at Dickinson High School. A book of DeFazio stories could fill quite a few pages – and probably sell at a brisk pace.
Three years ago I had the good fortune to see one of his teams play. They won a state tournament game with a fairly comfortable margin and DeFazio worked every possession along the sideline. At times he would plead, yell and still encourage his girls. Make no mistake: as much as he yelled at them for a mistake, he was devoted and would do always be there if they had a problem on or off the floor.
This past Spring the court as Marist High School was named in his honor. It shouldn’t be a surprise so many of the young women he coached and taught valuable lessons of life, were there for the celebration.
He is in several halls of fame. Beyond those wins, accolades and other awards is the work DeFazio did in touching and influencing the lives of so many young people. As good a coach as he was, that was the area Bill DeFazio truly excelled.