NEW YORK – The pre-Season NIT gave us four solid teams for the Thanksgiving week event at Madison Square Garden. Oklahoma captured the championship over Purdue in an overtime contest that had March-like intensity. Taking a look back, each team did several things well yet needs other areas to be addressed.
Purdue 71, Boston College 64
Oklahoma 77, UAB 67
Boston College 83, UAB 77
Oklahoma 87, Purdue 82 (OT)
What they did well: Bounce back from a tough semifinal loss. They competed well in the semifinal loss to Purdue, but with a relatively young team the disappointment of losing and getting back on track is a challenge. And they responded with a nice win over UAB in the consolation. They rebound and hit the glass hard, something that had Purdue coach Matt Painter concerned. And in Tyrese Rice they have an outstanding player who can literally change the course of a game, as he did in the consolation against UAB.
What they need: Something they showed in that consolation win over UAB. Simply. patience. Especially in running their sets. They were guilty in the second half of the Purdue game of what did what coach Al Skinner calls “over-aggressiveness on offense.” Basically, Skinner was saying the Eagles didn’t run their offense through and went one on one too early in the set. They got the message and it showed against UAB. “We talked about calming ourselves and not being in a hurry,” Skinner said. “We slowed down, saw the floor better and cut down on turnovers.”
What they did well: Use athleticism to their advantage. UAB is a not a half court, grind-it-out team with a number of wide bodies. They thrive in transition. Good ball movement and penetration are their strengths and they showed both, especially in the first half of the semifinal matchup with Oklahoma. Lawrence Kinnard, a 6-8 forward, can play inside or out. Robert Vaden is a talented swingman and Paul Delaney III can score, run the team and defend. This is a group, big men included, which can all get out and run the floor.
What they need: Toughness. Even coach Mike Davis stressed this following the consolation loss to Boston College. Against Oklahoma it was a case of being worn down by the Sooner size and too much Blake Griffin. The Eagles of BC brought another challenge in the form of Tyrese Rice. “We knew (Rice) could go off,” Davis said, “and he did.” Scoreless in seven first half minutes and with two fouls, Rice exploded the second half with 24 points to lead the Eagles. Paul Delaney III, UAB’s best backcourt defender, missed the BC game with an injury. Regardless, Davis wouldn’t use or accept this as an excuse. Part of that toughness Davis alluded to is the ability to rise and respond to the challenge of a great player like Rice. “We’ll just go back and watch film,” Davis said, “and try to get better from all this.”
What they did well: Defend and take care of the ball. Well, for the most part. The Boilermakers play a tough man-to-man defense with sound principles and good communication. In the latter part of the Oklahoma game there were breakdowns. The Boilermakers are not susceptible to the ill-fated turnovers. They have a versatile big man in Robbie Hummel who can play on the perimeter or inside. E’twaun Moore is a good perimeter shooter who can go on a game-changing streak. They looked very sound in their win over Boston College. In the final they were doing a lot of the same until the last eight minutes and overtime.
What they need: Consistent help from another big man. Robbie Hummel is a good player but the 6-8 forward could use a hand, especially in the paint. In the semifinal JaJuan Johnson did a nice job posting up inside and working near the basket, but in the final he was a virtual non-factor. On the other hand Nemanja Calasan had a big game for the Boilers in the final. Calasan, a senior forward, had 20 points and 8 rebounds to go along with the unenviable job of defending Blake Griffin down on the blocks. Purdue needs either Johnson or Carolan, preferably both, to step up on a consistent basis.
What they did well: Maintain poise. In the first half against UAB, the Sooners trailed. They regrouped in the second half and gradually wore the Blazers down in the semifinal meeting. Purdue offered a more rigorous test. Oklahoma was down nine with less than eight minutes to go. Again, they didn’t panic, and possession by possession trimmed the lead to force overtime. In the extra session they sealed the verdict to earn the championship. “They were in a rhythm,” Oklahoma coach Jeff Capel said, referring to Purdue, “and our guys just kept responding and found a way to get going.” A big part of that poise factor was Blake Griffin. The outstanding Sooner sophomore had better games per Capel but did not force anything all afternoon.
What they need: Something they received the latter stages of the Purdue contest. Balance. With marquee player and inside threat extraordinaire Blake Griffin (18 points, 21 boards) doubled down on the blocks, the Sooners didn’t force the issue. Rather they utilized the guards, notably Willie Warren (22 points), to penetrate and take advantage of the extra attention afforded Blake Griffin. In addition, Blake’s older brother Taylor, “played like a senior,” in the words of Capel. The elder Griffin’s contributions as well as good guard play is something Capel’s team will require on a regular basis.
Tournament MVP: Blake Griffin, Oklahoma
Tyrese Rice, Boston College
Lawrence Kinnard, UAB
E’Twaun Moore, Purdue