COLUMN: Observations from NCAA practice at Lucas Oil Field
INDIANAPOLIS -- Rather than trying to craft a preview of a pair of games into a coherent story, I'm instead going to try to describe what it was like to watch practice at Lucas Oil Field on Thursday, the site of Friday's NCAA regional semifinals.
Oregon kicked things off, followed by Michigan State, Louisville and Duke. Louisville and Oregon tip off at 7:15 p.m. tomorrow, followed by Duke and MSU at about 9:45 p.m.
* Oregon's shoes are like all their football jerseys combined.
* Oregon was the only school to bring a pep band and cheerleaders, which gave them the loudest crowd noise during the shoot around despite having the smallest fan section.
* The Ducks best three-point shooter -- unguarded at the open practice -- was senior forward Arsalan Kazemi. Kazemi leads the team in rebounds (9.9 per game) and is 0-for-2 in his three-point shooting career.
* Oregon's cheerleaders seem like they could effectively lead the male students in cheers. The male students would probably be led to do many things for the Oregon cheerleaders.
* Dane Fife appears ready to go back to being a head coach. Fife has spent the last two seasons as a top assistant for Tom Izzo at Michigan State, but prior to that he was head coach at IPFW. Fife more or less led the practice, with Izzo strutting around grinning and yelling for his forwards to use their fingers.
* MSU had a brief dunk contest at the end of their session. First place goes to freshman Denzel Valentine. Gary Harris, a freshman from Fishers, was second. Travis Trice, 6-0 sophomore, was third mostly because of consistency.
* There was a brief cheer for Rick Pitino as he walked onto the court, then the small crowd fell silent when the Louisville players walked out. It was awkward.
* Louisville had no interest in pretending this was a practice. The team did nothing but shoot threes and left the court 20 minutes early. Pitino has been here before and he knows how to prepare his team, but that was a little disappointing. Nobody broke a sweat except the ball boys.
* Mason Plumlee was Dukes vocal leader, running the group through warm-ups with little guidance from coaches.
* Duke is the only team here with a female manager-ball boy. Her existence was the only time a ball boy did anything that stood out. The Blue Devils' assistant coaches were much more physically active than the other teams. Steve Wojciechowski was sweating nearly as much as the players.
* The Blue Devils have a senior center, Todd Zafirovski, whose only job seems to be beating up on the post players who see game action, and he beats them up well.
* Duke's practice was easily the most active, so I have more observations about it. Coach K knows exactly what he's doing, and so do his assistants. They even had full team halfcourt drills go on both ends of the court so the fans could see more of the action.
* The player I most look forward to watching on Friday is Louisville's Peyton Siva.
My favorite thing to watch on a basketball court is a pass from the high post to the block. My second favorite thing is a point guard who knows how to play point guard (probably because I grew up listening to my dad rave about Magic Johnson).
Siva is not Magic, but he is a wonderful point guard. He's not great at any one thing, but he knows how to control the pace of a game and set up his teammates. Watching Kate Walker play point guard was one of the biggest reasons I loved DePauw so much, and watching Siva on Friday is going to be a treat.
* I'm really looking forward to seeing how the bigs for Duke and Michigan State match up. Mason Plumlee was the most physically imposing player at practice on Thursday and Ryan Kelly gives Duke a perimeter player with a lot of height.
Michigan State will likely have to play Adrian Payne on Kelly and Derrick Nix on Plumlee to negate the size advantage, but Plumlee is quicker than Nix and Kelly, on the perimeter, will take Payne away from the help-side block, which could weaken MSU's defense.
The problem will be just as significant on the other end, where Plumlee will risk being pushed around by the broader body of Nix. Kelly looks a step slow as he's still dealing with an injury and Payne should be able to exploit that.
* Duke and Michigan State on Friday night will likely be the best game of the regional, and the winner should give Louisville a run for their money on Sunday. I expect the Final Four representative from the Midwest to be a team whose coach's last name ends with a vowel.