Game 079:(2) Northeastern 86, (6) Maine 73 America East Semifinals Sunday, March 6, 2005 Events Center - Binghamton, NY
The point guard position has enjoyed a long and strange evolution. From Bob Cousy to Jerry "The Logo" West, and later to Magic Johnson and Allen Iverson, players of all sizes, shapes and skillsets have assumed the role of one-slotter. The role - even the necessity - of the PG has been a subject of debate among hoops junkies, ever since Cousy accidentally stumbled on a new position back in the middle part of the last century.
"The point guard is expected to move the ball, read defenses, listen constantly to his coaches and to direct the other four players on the floor," Malcolm Moran wrote last year in USA Today. "And he has to score. And be able to do all this with only two eyes, arms and ears. And one brain."
Fire-spitting Latin lightning-bolt Jose Juan Barea, a former MMBOW, is that man for the Northeastern Huskies. But some observers might dismiss his team as a one-man show, in the style of Mr. Iverson - Barea often brings the ball up the floor, suddenly leaps in the air without warning, and softly releases a pretty jumper.
A lot of the time, the shots fall... but you might start wondering if the other four NU players are just there to keep Barea from being quintuple-teamed. In Saturday's quarterfinal win over Stony Brook, Barea took half the team's shots and scored a whopping 41 points.
But eighteen hours later, in the America East semis, the Northeastern star settled into a more traditional point guard role. In a game of runs where Northeastern eliminated the Maine Black Bears with the last spurt (17-3), Barea got his 20 points. But his key statistic, and the one that may have swayed the game in favor of the Huskies, was his 11 assists.
"He understands when to shoot," NU coach Ron Everhart said. "And he understands when to pass it around."
Many of those dimes were flicked to fellow backcourter Marcus Barnes. "He said if I keep running the floor, he's going to reward me," said Barnes, who ended up with 28 points on 10-of-19 shooting. "And he did."
Maine coach Ted Woodward certainly read the previous night's boxscore, and knew going in that his team's main strategy had to be centered on stopping a certain number 5. "We tried to mix it up," he said. "The more we could get him thinking, the more effective we'd be... but he did an effective job in the halfcourt."
Having a talent like Barea requires careful management, and Everhart deals with that issue every time the Huskies take the floor.
"The question, as a coach, is how much do you put the handcuffs on the kid?" Barea's coach said. "That's the big question. How much freedom do you want him to have as a basketball player? We give him freedom as long as he plays defense."
And Barea's next job will be to rein in Vermont's PG and fellow former MMBOW T.J. Sorrentine in next week's final, to shut down one of the twin-turbine engines that makes Vermont roar. If Northeastern can solve the Catamounts, an equation they came just short of solving twice this regular season, Barea's star will shine on a national stage, in the NCAA Tournament.
Which, of course, leads to another big question. The league where Cousy and Oscar Robertson and Isaiah Thomas plied their trades is sorely lacking for solid floor generals these days, and there are whispers that Barea might strike NBA gold if he forgoes his senior season and goes pro. His multidimensional play in games might remind some of another piece of "human spackle" named Jameer Nelson. As everyone knows, he stuck around and dominated Division I basketball. Will Barea?