Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Looking for the next Josh Pace…

You may have never heard of Josh Pace; however, if you’re a Syracuse fan…you know all about him. In fact, every national champion of recent memory has their own “Josh Pace”.

A role player who steps up tourney time, especially in the Final Four, to do those “little things” that you need to win a championship. Things that the average fan might not expect from that player, but a good coach desperately needs.

This “Josh Pace” might be a starter, a sixth man, a role player, or someone who never before saw the court in crunch time. Ironically, this isn’t typically an injury-replacement either. Whomever it is, the true fans remember them as much as they do the stars. (Maybe not so) Ironically, as a Cuse fan, I remember Pace more than Carmelo from the 2003 tournament. Except for a certain elbow-incident and a certain referee, of which Pay can chuckle about.

Pace's size was no issue in the 2003 tournament, as his ability to rebound and find open man was invaluable for Boeheim's crew.

We know the big names of the past six national champions already…

Kansas [2008] – Brandon Rush & Mario Chalmers
Florida [2007] – Returning 5 starters [Noah, Horford, Brewer, Humphrey, & Green]
Florida [2006] – Noah, Brewer, & Green
North Carolina [2005] – Sean May, Rashad McCants, & Raymond Felton
Connecticut [2004] – Emeka Okafor & Ben Gordon
Syracuse [2003] – Carmelo Anthony & Gerry McNamara

…and on and on…

But did you know these names???

Kansas [2008]

Probably no more annoying face to a Tar Heel fan after last year's Final Four.

Cole Adrich’s first half against North Carolina in the Final Four allowed Kansas to build a lead big enough, even they couldn’t blow it. His physical presence led to several quick baskets in the paint and allowed even more spacing for a ridiculous barrage of 3-pointers from the Jayhawks. Come title game time, Junior Darnell Jackson logged 29 minutes and contributed 8 points and 8 rebounds while only committing 1 foul. Not the easiest assignment when you draw Joey Dorsey (held to 3 shot attempts) and Robert Dozier. I also found it interesting that Memphis got a grand total of 2 points from its bench.

Florida [2007]

Another Florida big man to contend with. Lucky (insert opponent).

Senior Chris Richard was buried behind the starting frontcourt duo of Noah/Horford, obviously for good reason. Meanwhile Maurice Speights had lottery potential off the bench. No problem for Richard, who logged 20 minutes and put up 8 points and 8 rebounds (sound familiar?) despite drawing a guy named Oden more than a few times. Just a breather is all the big men for Florida needed, even as Noah struggled to a quiet 3 point, 6 rebound performance. Richard fouled out; however, all 5 fouls were vital to Florida limiting Oden to dunks, when his team was trailing by double digits. How can I tell those dunks weren’t that effective? Ohio State shot 4-23 from behind the arc despite a dominant big man attempting to control the paint.

Florida [2006]

Nothing more inspirational than a starter taking a backseat in order to win a championship. Right?

Perhaps the year that proves the (lone) exception, Florida was white hot in the tournament and bulldozed their way to an easy national championship (defeating George Mason & UCLA with relative ease). One name does stick out though: Walter Hodge, who saw far fewer minutes than the season prior, yet still provided valuable backcourt depth for Green/Humphrey – while still shooting over 40% from behind the arc – and was a steadying veteran for Donovan’s thin 8-man rotation.

North Carolina [2005]
I know it's a cheap shot, but remember that Atlanta took this guy OVER the likes of Chris Paul and Deron Williams. Savvy!

After a furious second-half comeback by the Fighting Illini, it was freshman -future-#1 pick - Marvin Williams that tipped a ball in to help break a tie and seal the win for Carolina. While Sean May’s 10-11 performance and McCants’ 13-point first half received the bulk of the headlines, Williams has excelled in the 6th man role and made the biggest basket of the night for Roy Williams’ first national championship.

Connecticut [2004]

This guy OWNED the Cuse, much like many former UCONN players.

Two names immediately stick out for any Big East fan: Denham Brown and Rashad Anderson. While Okafor and Gordon got all the glitz, without these two role players, UCONN wouldn’t have been playing for the national championship. Brown, as clutch as anyone in recent memory, was the team’s calming influence during tense times. Meanwhile, Anderson was as close to a Robert Horry-clone, especially when a clinching three was needed, as I’ve seen in college hoops in the last twenty years.

Syracuse [2003]
Where have you gone...Billy Edelin?

The headliner of this post, Josh Pace was a sophomore guard who saw sporadic minutes behind a backcourt that included a freshman PG (McNamara) and a senior – who rarely played in the second half – Kueth Duany. Even troubled freshman PG Billy Edelin (nobody knows what he’s been through), often saw more time than the undersized Pace. With a floater akin to Mark Jackson, Pace gave the Orange(men) three things every team would LOVE to have from its undersized two-guard: 1) weak-side rebounding 2) an ability to get to the hoop and avoid contact 3) 1-on-1 defensive abilities in a zone scheme. Boeheim is quoted as saying that without Josh, there wouldn’t have been a title in Syracuse. Pace’s 8 points and 8 rebounds (funny how often that number gets mentioned) were crucial, especially on long free throw misses by Kansas.

Of course, this list continues.

But the real question is…whose name will be added to that list.


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